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Thanksgiving 2015 

 

Riley was waiting for Robin outside Claremont as soon as Wednesday classes were let out, sitting atop his pride and joy. Well, it wasn't really _his_ pride and joy yet - but the loaner motorcycle, black and chrome and shiny thanks to an evening's worth of dedicated polishing, was sturdy, functional, and could be trusted to get him and Robin from Bayview to North Bay in a reasonable amount of time. He'd been a little nervous about making this invitation, especially when it meant at least two days over at the home of his counterpart and his mother's duplicate, but in the heat of the moment he was confident it was an acceptable risk. 

 

"Hey, babe!" he said with a wave as he caught sight of her coming through the main entrance. "You ready t'go?" He had a black helmet under his arm and another on the back of the leather seat - safety being something his all-too-human frame meant he was extremely conscious of. 

 

 

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Robin had grave reservations about accepting a sleep over offer. She still had trouble falling asleep in the more-familiar Claremont dorms and at Riley's sort-of house, escaping to the rooftop might prove more difficult. Or worse, rude. She'd made certain the few clothes she owned were all freshly cleaned. Everything she owned still fit easily inside her black backpack and that was, as usual, slung over her shoulder. She'd cashed in a favor to have her unruly curls put into twists for the special event. 

 

She ghosted through the crowd on quiet feet as most kids were filtering out to their parents for the vacation weekend. If it hadn't been for Riley's offer, Robin would have been staying behind with the other students with no where to go. Robin offered her boyfriend a small smile, her nerves diverted by the sleek bike. "Lessons at the garage going well?" She asked before leaning in to offer a quick kiss of greeting. Her grey gaze dropped down to the bike and her smile widened, "It's very pretty."

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"You know black's my favorite color," he joked, patting the obsidian steering column. "I'm not s'posed ta do any tricks with it," Riley admitted, "but it'll get us to North Bay." He patted the back of the bike. "We'll go up over Cent'ry, then we'll take Route Nine up t' Peyton's house." He still didn't call it home, not when he was thinking about it - home was, and ever would be, nuclear cooling towers rising high above the Forest Primeval. "Wander says if I take good care of 't, she's mine once I can fix 'er up and take 'er part again. Then I can take you anywhere y'need ta go. Called Peyton," he added, his voice growing softer. "She says she'n Riley are waiting for us over there." 

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"Well, then we probably shouldn't keep 'em waiting, hunh?" Robin said, her brow creasing just a little. She admitted after a slightly too long pause, "I'm nervous."

 

The words were short, not quite sharp, but uncomfortable. That Robin was willing to admit to having any emotion about any given situation was some serious growth. Dr. Marquez would probably have been proud. She reached out a hand, not waiting for a response to her admission to snag the helmet that was waiting on the seat. Robin was clearly more hearty than a normal human - her wrestling of the Alkahest had certainly proven that much - but she still didn't really think of herself as bullet-proof. They still hurt, after all, and even if she could have survived a motorcycle crash, it wouldn't have been a pleasant experience. Carefully, she tugged the helmet down over her hair.

 

Touching her backpack once more to make sure that her possessions were secure, she slipped onto the back of the bike. Though she'd never actually ridden on a motorcycle before, her balance and athleticism made the transition smooth and she settled onto the back of the bike surprisingly lightly. She slipped her arms around Riley's waist, a little tighter than strictly necessary but not uncomfortably so. 

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Feeling pretty good about himself, Riley started the motorcycle, smiling as the engine rumbled beneath them with power. He donned his own helmet, sliding it on neatly over his freshly-shaved head. "You're hanging on just right, baby," he commented before starting them off, heading down the road with what turned out to actually be a considerable amount of care. Driving the motorcycle was still new to him, and even though Wander had said he had a real natural talent, he didn't want to risk ruining the moment with his girl. "Peyton says she has a lot of questions for you!" he called as they headed into traffic, "but I wouldn't worry 'bout it! She gave the other Riley's girl the third degree when she came by too."

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Robin briefly considered leaping off of the back of the motorcycle at that bit of news. Her shoulders hunched slightly and her hands tightened on one another locked around Riley's waist. "Great. I do so good with personal questions," Robin said, the words dry for all that they were shouted back over the wind. If she hadn't been so tense, the ride would have been a more enjoyable one. There were certainly things to enjoy about being tucked against Riley's back with the city whipping past. Unfortunately, the dread knotting her stomach was less than conducive to enjoying the scenery. She paused and then added, tipping her head to the side to shout over his shoulder, "Other Riley's girlfriend is probably not a homeless kid from the Fens, Riley. I'm still not sure your, uh, Peyton's gonna be super thrilled about any answers I give her."

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"Yeah, well, her Riley's not..." Riley thought of a lot of ways to describe himself, then settled for, "He's not me! He's gointa college classes on the weekends and he wears nice clothes all the time." He shook his head, still concentrating on the road, and said with confidence, "She's gonna see that yer a self-reliant badass who knows how to take care of people! She's gonna like you just fine." He was almost entirely sure of that. His own mother would certainly have appreciated Robin, who'd have had a place of honor in Raymond even if her growing superpowers meant she'd be confined to the facility and its immediate environs for likely the rest of her life. The thought that taking Robin back to his homeworld probably would be impossible swelled up, acid-hot, in his gut, but as usual he did his best to push aside those feelings. "And she said I should getta real cutie so I got that part 'lready."

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"Its weird to think that if I'd met your doppelgänger we'd have nothing in common, even though we're from the same world. Dimensional stuff is weird," Robin commented, diverted from her fears at least to contemplate that oddity. Her chin dropped down onto Riley's shoulder, her body finally starting to relax a bit into his back, "I guess. I can probably just edit heavily. I'm pretty good at not saying that much. Hopefully I won't stick my foot into it too badly."

 

Riley more felt than heard Robin's sigh before she shifted the topic, "So do you celebrate Thanksgiving where you come from still?"

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"Yeah, but not at the enda freakin' November," Riley said with a snort. "I mean it's a harvest festival, right? If you're just takin' your crops in now in this climate, ya screwed. Nah, we do it at the enda October, sorta mash it up with the old Halloween. There are parties, games, and, uh, other stuff." The truth was, Riley had figured out just how much he liked girls during one of his last Thanksgivings back on his homeworld, but he definitely wasn't ready for _that_ conversation with Robin! "Wild turkey's easy to catch, too, so if the huntin' and harvestin' are good, everyone gets their fill. Everybody needs a party 'fore winter comes." 

 

The Smith-Finn residence in North Bay was by no means the largest house in the neighborhood, or even on the broad, tree-heavy and big-lawned block of mansions with which it shared space. In fact, it was probably one of the smaller houses Robin had seen once they'd turned off into North Bay. But the two-story grey stone house  had the look of age and weight to it, and certainly looked much bigger on the inside than any place Robin had seen back in the Fens. "Mom said it usedtabe a gatehouse," Riley commented as he rode his bike up alongside the house, "back when all this was Wading family property. But the Wading heir spent all his money like this," he made a 'getting drunk' gesture, "and my mom and dad bought it when they turned the old mansion into condos." He looked at the house and made a soft, nervous sigh as he took off his helmet. "Looks different here." 

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"No wonder your home held up so well during everything. It looks kinda like a fortress," Robin commented as she went to slip off the back of the bike. The words were a little muffled as she pulled her helmet off as well before setting it carefully on the back end of the bike. She reached up to smooth out her hair once it was free, making sure the twists weren't all tangled. It was a nervous sort of gesture before she reached out to slip her hand into Riley's. His off-hand as Robin had less issue with tying up her dominant hand than her boyfriend generally did.

 

Shifting her worn backpack a little higher on her shoulder, it had thankfully not occurred yet to Robin that Thanksgiving might be a thing people dressed up for. The house was imposing enough. "It's not so much about a harvest festival as about a bunch of the white folks that came over here from Europe almost starved to death and then the people who already lived here shared their food and so its about being thankful for friends and family and stuff more than the harvest. I guess its being thankful that someone else knew how to get food so everyone didn't starve. But I haven't had a proper history class in like four years so I imagine there's stuff I've missed."

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They were greeted at the door by a figure who was at once familiar to Robin and alien at the same time - the figure of Riley Smith-Quinn of Earth-Prime. He was taller than her Riley by a good two or three inches, and broader in the frame - but softer despite, or maybe because of, that broadness. He had a short, albeit patchy, goatee that Riley admitted to coveting, and his plaid, loosely-fitting flannel shirt and slacks gave him the look of a nerdy lumberjack. "Riley," he said, the two young men giving each other sharp looks before he nodded politely to Robin. "And you must be Robin. Hello, I'm Riley Smith." He reached over and shook her hand, his grip noticeably softer than the Riley she knew. 

 

"Mom! They're here!" Riley-Prime called as he led the two of them inside. The house itself was well-appointed, with modern furnishings despite the antique exterior. The big-screen TV, Playstation 3, and over-stuffed leather furniture in the den alone all could have been afforded by a lucky family in the Fens - but all of them together, especially with equal signs of wealth throughout the house, were proof that the Smith-Quinns of this world lived far better than their counterparts elsewhere. As her guests arrived, Peyton Smith walked quickly out from the kitchen, her World's Best Mom shirt covered by a flour-dusted apron. 

 

"Riley!" she declared with a determined smile, giving the short, wiry reflection of her son a hard hug before turning to Robin. "Hello there, young lady. Welcome to the family. I'm glad you're here, I just put the turkey in so we'll have plenty of time to talk." 

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It was more than a little disconcerting to meet this world's version of Riley for Robin. It was strange to think that her boyfriend and she would have so little in common if she'd met this world's version instead. She couldn't even come up with a scenario where their lives would intersect. She offered her hand, her grip firm but not inhumanly so. Robin's strength, even if it reached into unnatural levels, came entirely naturally to her. 

 

"Yup, Robin. Nice to meetcha," she agreed as she shook his hand and wondered briefly if Riley's Prime counterpart found the meeting strange. Her attention, however, was quickly diverted by Riley's not-Mom. Robin was keenly aware that she was out of place in this house and twisted her hands together in front of her tightly. 

 

"Oh. Good?" Her voice turned what should probably have been a statement into a question. She forced her hands to her side and her posture to relax. Making a stab for manners rather rusty, she offered, "It's very nice to meet you, Ms. Smith. Thank you for having me over for Thanksgiving."

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"Any friend of Riley's is always welcome in this house," said Peyton with an unshakeable confidence. In the gaze of this successful nuclear consultant, Robin could see a shadow of the survivor Riley had described, the woman who had led a post-apocalyptic community even as a world of heroes died all around her. "Boys, why don't you go upstairs and see if you can find the extra silver. We have to pretend to our guest we always live this well." She grinned and watched the two Rileys go upstairs, the two young men watching each other warily, before turning to Robin. "Why don't you join me in the kitchen, Robin?" 

 

The kitchen too had been refurbished. In clean days, all the silvered, polished surfaces would have looked like something from the space age. But with the turkey in the oven and various other Thanksgiving delicacies in the middle of being made, the kitchen bore the marks of hard use. "We're making sweet potato pie," she commented, pointing to a bowl of fresh-looking sweet potatoes by the big, almost-industrial-sized kitchen. "We'll scrub those, then boil and mash them. So tell me about yourself, honey," she said warmly, "Riley tells me you live in the Fens?"

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Robin watched Riley - her Riley - go. Her mute dismay showed only in the flat line of her lips and the slight tensing of her shoulders under the battered leather jacket she wore like armor. Her grey eyed gaze met Peyton's, wary. "Yes, ma'am." She agreed despite her clear desire to do anything else. She followed Riley's guardian on quiet feet, her sneakers making no real sound on the kitchen floor. 

 

Once inside, Robin hesitated before taking her back pack off and after that her jacket which she hung over the back of one chair with careful hands. The thin t-shirt she wore under was worn and faded, too light for the weather outside certainly. Without it, the hard lines of Robin's too lean arms were much more apparent and she turned towards the bowl of potatoes, clearly ready to work. At the question, Robin bit back a sigh, her movements even as she went to first wash her hands before reaching for the first potato. 

 

"I met Riley at Claremont. I just started this year too." Robin offered, her tone even. Her gaze didn't lift up from the steady movement of her hands as she found words to describe her home life without divulging more than she wanted to, "But yeah, I was born in the Fens. S'where I sleep when not at school."

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"I'm sure you know about Riley and what happened to him?" she asked as she cracked open the oven just long enough to check the turkey. "I know my son isn't a liar - I just want to make sure anyone he's close to understands his story. And...I've never been to the Fens," admitted Peyton as she worked, digging through the neatly labeled, neatly ordered drawers in order to find the books . "I moved here from Mississippi when I was twenty - and I bought this house before Riley was born." There was no mention of Riley's father; no surprise, given what had happened to Peyton's marriage in this reality. "What's it like for you there?" 

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"I'm not sure any of us can really understand what his world is like," Robin said, the words as careful and measured as the movements of her hands cleaning the spud she'd been given. She wasn't surprised that Peyton hadn't been to the Fens, but brief resignation flickered across her features. Really, no one who lived like this would probably ever have reason to drive through. She gave a shrug of her shoulders, shifting the thin t-shirt she wore with the gesture. The fabric had been washed too many times, the colors well faded from their original brightness and the fit was poor, too baggy on Robin's muscular frame. She was diplomatic enough to neither point out that Riley wasn't actually her son, nor that most people in Peyton's socioeconomic strata didn't visit the Fens. "But I think Riley's more honest'n most folks."

 

Once she'd scrubbed one potato clean she set it aside and picked up the next. Robin's hands were not pretty, per say. Her knuckles were flattened from multiple microfractures and as her skin blanched under the water, the network of scar tissue was more obvious. But they were strong and she didn't seem to flinch from the hot water as she set to meticulously scrubbing the next potato. "S'alright." Was Robin's laconic and arguably untrue statement on her home tone. Her gray gaze remained on her hands as she worked, "I'm used to it. S'what I know, really. Less confusing than Claremont is at least."

 

That was true. As dangerous as her life in the Fens was, there wasn't much time for more than survival and her own personal quest to keep the streets safe. At Claremont, though, there was all sorts of social interactions, to say nothing of the expectations of school and a regimented schedule again.

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The two Rileys returned at that point, carrying both the extra silver and a neatly folded tablecloth that Robin's Riley stepped out into the yard to shake clean of dust. Even without their physical differences, there was something profoundly different in the way the two young men carried each other. The Riley in here, who hugged his mother lightly before shooting a glance at Robin, was relaxed, even confident. Like the Riley she knew, maybe his body didn't match his soul - but he was still more comfortable in his own skin than the Riley outside, whose tension veritably crackled in the air. 

 

"Woah!" declared Riley-Prime, his voice noticeably deeper than the Riley she knew, looking admiringly at Robin. "You're cut. How much do you lift to get that kind of definition?"

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Robin glanced down at her forearms, pausing briefly in her potato peeling. Absentmindedly, she turned one arm so the wrist faced upwards. "Uh," Robin said, having to cast her mind back to the weights in Claremont's gym. There was no further solution in the mystery of where her powers came from, so the testing was an ongoing part of her weekly routine alongside training which was the only time Robin actually lifted for her physical exercise. Her focus, usually, was on honing her athletic and martial skills as Robin had little interest in how much weight she could toss around in a pinch. "Do you mean bench press? My bench press is around a ton and my bicep curls are usually the five-hundred pound weights, but the definition's mostly from training and gymnastics, honestly."

 

She shrugged a little as she turned her grey-eyed gaze back to finishing up with the potatoes. "I used to do gymnastics a lot when I was little. That's one thing that's been nice at Claremont. I get to do some of that again. The gym is really nice."

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"Nice!" said Riley appreciatively, shooting a glance at his counterpart outside in the yard. "You and he must, uh, get along really well." 

 

As the boys set the table, shooting each other the occasional sharp glance as they did so, Peyton resumed her conversation with Robin in the kitchen. Riley's 'mother' was obviously an old hand in the kitchen, working with a smooth economy that suggested much practice, and it wasn't long at all before they were filling up the casserole pan with her personal formula of sweet potato, brown sugar, and marshmellows - emphasis on the latter two. "So I know Riley has been discussing a career in emergency work," said Peyton, something Robin had not really heard from her boyfriend, "what are your plans for the future?" 

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"He has?" Robin asked, clearly startled by that news. The only thing Riley ever told her was about his plans to get back to his own world and help them. Having a back up plan wasn't a bad idea, Robin imagined, but she'd not really expected it from the tense archer. She stopped to think, debating and discarding polite lies. Robin really wasn't very good with lying in general. Avoidance, she had that down, but she was well aware that any off the cuff idea would probably be clearly just that. 

 

"I don't have any," Robin said, eventually settling on the uncomfortable truth. She looked down as she poked marshmallows into place in the dish so as to not have to meet Peyton's eyes. Her mouth flattened. Some of the heat crept back into her tone as she meticulously straightened marshmallows that didn't need the attention, "But I'm going to help the people in the Fens so they don't have to be scared at night. It's not like a paying job, but it's the right thing and I'm good at it. And I'm getting better every day."

 

Her grey gaze lifted then, stormy and dark as she met Peyton's gaze. Her voice, however, was very polite, "Would you like me to put this in the oven, ma'am?"

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"Yes, thank you," said Peyton with a calm levelness in her tone that didn't make her sound much like Riley at all - or maybe it did, when Robin listened closely to the nervous energy that vibrated at the edges of the woman's speech. This was what Riley might be like in a decade or three, with that crackling fire banked and redirected by life. If he lived that long. 

 

When the food was in the oven (and only needing the occasional monitoring from Peyton or the other two in the house, though it was Peyton who insisted on doing most of that double-checking), the family adjourned to the living room to watch football. Peyton and her Riley were both Heroes fans, and sitting on the couch next to her Robin's Riley admitted he liked the game too. "All it needs'just the green space, right? We did it on the plant lawn with flags 'n stuff." The two boys talked to their mother (and Riley talked to Robin), but the tension between them was still there - they didn't seem to have much to say to one another. 

 

Around the first quarter of the game, there was a knock at the door that caught Peyton in the kitchen with Riley, and another Riley upstairs. "Can you get that, Robin?" called Peyton. 
 

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Robin was a quiet presence, interjecting little in the sports watching. She knew enough about football to follow the bulk of the activity but it had never been of particular interest to her and, even if it had, her quiet unease with this domestic environment would probably have squelched any desire to participate that she might have had. She kept her hands laced together, mentally bracing for the inevitable suggestion to Riley - her Riley - that she was an unsuitable partner. Really, she'd known that was coming since Riley issued the invitation. Anyone born in this world would want more than a homeless kid from the bad side of town for their offspring. 

 

"Yes'm," she said as she stood up from the couch, relieved to have something to do other than stare at a game that she really didn't want to watch. She crossed to the door on quiet feet and opened it at the knock. "Uh, hello?" 

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The older man standing at the door was unfamiliar to Robin, his greying black mustache and hair, together with his suit and tie, probably typically gave him an air of dignified authority that was at odds with the startled look on his face. "Oh, ah, hello," he said cautiously as he looked Robin up and down, his eyebrows crinkling together. "You must be a friend of Riley's. I'm Casey Quinn, I'm Riley's father." 

 

From behind Robin came a strangled sort of noise, and turning around she realized it was her Riley, staring at the door like he'd seen a ghost. "...Dad?" 

 

Just behind him was Peyton, a look like flint in her eyes. "Well, look who the cat dragged in. I guess you got my message." She folded her arms and glared at the man, the house silent except for the sound of television.

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Robin held the door open, her expression less than welcoming as she took in the tableau. It wasn't too hard to surmise that there was some sort of weird friction between Prime-Riley's parents, nor the fact that her Riley had not been warned about this potential which, personally, Robin didn't approve of. That was fairly obvious on her features as she frowned at both of Riley's not-parents.

 

"I'm Robin, Riley's girlfriend," she offered, perhaps less friendly than she might otherwise have before adding with a nod towards the frozen form of her boyfriend, "That Riley."

 

She stood still for a moment, struggling with her instincts as she was well aware that she could actually punch no one in this particular scenario. When all you had was a hammer... Robin took a few steps back towards Riley, her movements slow and quiet like she was afraid he might bolt, "You okay?" Robin wanted to know, her voice low as she discarded manners in favor of support. Her gaze cut towards her backpack and jacket, already planning her exit strategy for them both.

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"Dad!" The voice coming down the stairs sounded very much like her Riley. The tension on Riley-Prime's face, the body suddenly drawn up tight like a bow-string, that was familiar too. The boys were both at a loss for words, but their reactions were very different as Riley-Prime stared at his biological father. 

 

"Hello, Riley, Riley," said Casey, echoes of Riley's contralto in his own deep voice. "Robin." He didn't quite say hello to Peyton, but the two of them did lock eyes for a moment. "I'm sorry, I know I should have called. But when you mentioned Riley's dimensional duplicate was here, I thought I should stop by to say hello." 

 

"So you think you can just walk back in here, after everything you said to me? Everything you did to your son?" demanded Peyton, her eyes flashing with banked fire. "What, were you hoping this one was a girl?!" There was old hurt, and a shared resolve from Riley and his mother. But Robin's Riley had turned and was running out the back of the house, bolting for the yard and the towering oak tree in the backyard, its leaves yellow and red beneath his feet as he began almost racing his way up the bark. 

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