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June 21, 2017

 

Winifred considered herself to be in fairly good shape. Certainly she was fitter than she'd ever been prior to arriving at the Academy, largely thanks to the demanding 'physical education' classes that were part of the curriculum, not to mention the extracurriculars with which she found herself involved. Consequently she did not feel particularly compelled to spend any of her remaining free time making use of the school's many training facilities, yet with classes finished for the day that was exactly where she was headed with quick, clipped strides.

 

Robin had been spending less and less time in their shared dormitory room over the past weeks - months, really. Her friend was absent many nights, out patrolling the Fens neighbourhood Winifred suspects, either sleeping elsewhere or catching brief naps during the day. When she was about campus is was almost exclusively to train, pushing herself harder and harder. At first Winifred had said nothing under the assumption that Robin was spending more time with her boyfriend and later she'd reasoned that there was nothing wrong with being driven, especially as she focused on her own projects. Eventually it had become clear that Robin was pointedly avoiding socializing, intentionally keeping to herself. In Winifred's experience that was the sort of behaviour the preceded downing an untested serum of one's own devising. Metaphorically, in this case.

 

Stepping into the Academy's less fanciful gymnasium the alchemist pursed her lips slightly as she scanned the large room. This was only the first stop on her list of likely places to find Robin but she was hoping traipsing across rooftops wasn't going to be necessary.

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Luck was with Fred as Robin was in the gym, working on the uneven bars. She'd clearly been at it for some time as the sort of swinging, flipping and twisting she was doing from one bar to the other wouldn't have made her work up a sweat unless she'd been going at it without break for a while. There were fresh scrapes on her bare arms, likely from whatever she'd gotten up to last night, on top of fading bruises from the past week's rounds in the Fens. Robin had always been driven but this was a different level, even for her. It took a moment to register Fred's arrival but when she did, Robin flipped off of the bars, landing quietly on the mat in a crouch. 

 

"Fred? Everything okay?" Robin asked before she'd fully caught her breath. 

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"Ah well, that's an excellent question, isn't it?" Winifred tsked, closing the distance from the door to the gymnastic equipment. With ongoing coaching from the more fashion forward among their circle the displaced Victorian had managed to update her aesthetic but her straight-backed posture was still hard to miss. Somewhat less refined was the displeased noise in the back of her throat as she got close enough to take better inventory of Robin's varied injuries. "Testing the capacity of a hitherto unremarked upon talent for accelerated healing, are we?" Her roommate knew Winifred well enough to hear the irritation in her voice while she rummaged about in her messenger bag for cotton swabs and disinfectant among the more esoteric supplies. Robin knew Winifred well enough to know that suppressed irritation sometimes seemed to be her default mood but it was rarely so pronounced as to be immediately evident. "Come over to the benches. You're sitting still long enough for me to at least look over that mess."

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"Uh oh," Robin commented as she dutifully headed for the bench she was pointed to, but without any actual fear in her voice that many students might have had at pricking Fred's temper. Robin had no desire to toe to toe the Alkahest any time again soon but it was less a lack of healthy concern for her well being and more that she trusted her roommate's temper even if she'd tested it. Robin dropped with boneless grace to the bench that she was pointed to and obediently sat still for any poking and prodding. "What did I do? Did I miss a thing? I might have missed a thing..."

 

She trailed off as if she were searching her generally picture perfect memory for whatever event she might have been absent for. 

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Winifred grumbled as she swabbed at the most severe scrapes and cuts on Robin's left arm. "Were I feeling glib I'd point out that you've missed several nights of sleep of late." She doubted her ministrations were in time to avoid any immediate infection but she hoped to at least mitigate some of the risk. Part of her was not overly upset about any potential stinging, either. "To answer your question directly, however, no you haven't missed any specific appointment of which I'm aware. That said you haven't been very good about keeping me appraised of your terribly busy schedule of reducing yourself to a pulpy, sleep-deprived precipitate so what do I know?" The look she shot her roommate while depositing the first swab into the garbage can at the end of the bench was more glum than irritated. "Frankly, you have me worried."

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"Aw, Fred, I'm sorry," Robin apologized, looking contrite as she sat still for any ministrations that might have stung. It wasn't like Robin didn't have a significant pain tolerance; the 'advantage' of spending nights turning herself into the aforementioned pulpy mess. "I didn't even think you'd be worried - not that you don't care, I mean! It just, you know, didn't occur to me that anyone' would be wondering where I was."

 

Which, really, was Robin's problem in a nutshell. Oh, she'd happily worry about her friends but it didn't really cross her mind that they might be worried about her. Robin flexed her hands once or twice against the tape before she began to unwind it as clearly today's exercises were over anyway. "There's nothing to worry about, though. I've just been thinking and I do that best when I'm busy."

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Winifred gave Robin a long, flat look while she worked to rephrase her initial response to her friend's assurances into something marginally less scathing. Eventually she settled on, "Yes, I can see how repeated concussions would work wonders for clearing one's head." She threw away another cotton ball and applied an adhesive bandage over Robin's wrist. "Certainly better than talking a problem over with a confidant. And as an added benefit, had something gone wrong we would have had no idea of where to begin looking for you. Top marks across the board, really. Well done." She grumbled to herself while rising and walking around the other girl, sitting back down on the opposite side and holding out her hand. "Other arm," she demanded, disinfectant at the ready.

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Robin gave Fred a sidelong grin that she clearly hoped would diffuse some of her roommates temper before she shifted on the bench, "If I was getting hit in the head, I'd have more bruises on my face. See, no concussions, just abrasions." She dutifully turned to let Fred fuss over the scrapes and bruises of her other arm, this one including a nice shallow graze from what was probably a bullet. "I like to get my thoughts in order before bothering people with them, s'all. I really, really didn't mean to make you worry. If you want, we can write an 'if lost, return to...' and put your information on the collar of my shirt?"

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Winifred's glare was positively acidic and she was someone who knew a thing or two about acids. "Improbably that ranks in the upper half of your recent plans," she judged in an accusatory grumble. She pursed her lips at the long line scored across Robin's arm, finding her basic supplies insufficient. "I expect any insistence that you should be visiting the nurse's office rather than the gymnastic equipment would fall on deaf ears. Have you put your thoughts in order enough to 'bother' me with them yet? If not I can fill the silence with additional admonishments for the next several hours at least. You've given me quite a bit of material and I've set aside the time from my schedule either way."

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Robin sighed, the muscle in her arm flexing at the light touch automatically before she repressed the autonomic response. "It'll heal on its own," Robin pointed out even if it might have been fuel to the fire. "I..." she hesitated for a moment, clearly dancing around phrasing things which was not something that Robin normally engaged in. She wasn't inclined to treat Fred's responses with the sort of verbal care that a student more concerned about the Alkahest might have. Finally she huffed out another sigh, this one longer and indicative of surrender. "Just trying to figure out,  you know, where I'm going to go." She admitted with clear reluctance. "It doesn't really seem fair to risk making you stressed about graduation too. I mean, you have lots more options - you're brilliant and all - but I know we're in the same boat for family to fall back on." Which was to say none. "And so, you know, seems mean to bring it up at all?"

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Expression softening noticeably Winifred looked up from Robin's arm with a small frown. "Temporarily setting aside the obvious issue I take with any implication you somehow have less to contribute," she began, raising a finger to emphasize her words, "you must have realized the same concerns would be weighing on me whether or not you broached the topic. I hazard we'd find a solution more readily by pooling our efforts." She finished bandaging Robin's arm to the best of her limited ability - though not so thoroughly that she thought her roommate might be tempted to tear them off at the first opportunity to regain mobility - and began packing the supplies back into her bag. "I suppose it would be jejune to say that in lieu of traditional family we do still have each other and our friends?" She allowed herself a bit of a smirk at the sentiment, genuine though it may have been.

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"Thank you," Robin said, politely grateful even though she had clearly thought the bandages were unnecessary. She wasn't the sort to be churlish when a fuss was made over her. "An' sure, 'course we have friends and each other. I'm not planning on dropping off the edge of the planet after graduation but I don't want to be a burden on anyone. You're not just smart - you're super smart. There's loads of scholarships for you to go on and get advanced degrees. I'm sure there's internships in lots of the crazy tech companies around here. My skill set is a bit more limited and having powers, well, it means I can't go to like the police academy. Or most of the military."

 

Robin blew out a sigh, as she added with a bit more reluctance. "And there's still work I need to do in the Fens, I mean, I still haven't found what I'm looking for out there." Another small shrug. "Going to miss Claremont a lot when there's nasty weather next year if I don't start to get used to napping in it now. That's mostly what I've been doing; re-acclimating. "

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Winifred raised both hands, clenching and unclenching her fingers in the air as if struggling to resist the urge to grab Robin by the shoulder and shake her violently. Her friend could practically see counting slowing in her head as she forced herself to remain composed. "Lord in Heaven, of all the fool things...!" Squeezing her eyes shut for a moment the alchemist let out a strained breath before opening them again. "You are not going back to-- to-- to living on the streets! I won't have it! Ridiculous." The way she worked her jaw and lowered her hands to grip the edge of the bench said she was holding back a few more choice words. "'Burden,' really. How many times have you literally had to carry me somewhere? 'Burden.'"

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"That's different," Robin replied, hoping for soothing with her tone, pausing to add, "Besides, you don't weigh more'n a feather. I could carry you across campus without breaking a sweat, honest."

 

Recognizing that she was probably not helping Fred's agitation and more concerned with the upset she was causing than the potential of getting flung halfway across the gym, Robin reached out to catch one of the hands that made tiny throttling motions her direction. Trapping Fred's hand between her own calloused ones, she gave the back of it a soothing pat, "It's not going back so much as moving my time between Claremont and the streets from fifty-fifty to full time again. It's really not so bad, Fred." That was a lie and Robin recognized it even as she said it. No one wanted to live on the Fens streets, not even vigilantes. She sighed, "Okay, its no walk in the park but its nothing to stress over. With my abilities and all, its way way better for me than pretty much anyone else living out there. What else am I gonna do, Fred? My folks' killer is still out there somewhere. Hunt him in between shifts at some fast food joint? I could clean houses like my mom did, maybe. That might be flexible enough in the hours I work."

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With her free hand Winifred massaged one temple to ward off an oncoming headache that had nothing to do with her more dangerous condition. Things always became delicate when Robin raised the spectre of her parents' murder directly. "In the kindest possible way, don't you think that proves your current strategy to be flawed?" she suggested, softening her tone and resisting the urge to poke her friend in the forehead every time she said something appallingly stubborn. The slightly patronizing patting of her hand she could take in the spirit intended but the self-denigration she would not tolerate. "You can't possibly bring your best efforts to bear while subsisting in abject squalor. Besides, I've seen the grades you achieve while devoting a meagre fraction of your attention to your studies; the notion that you are fit only for menial labour is provably false. If you insist on trading on your extra-human abilities surely your leadership and insight would lend themselves to private security or the seemingly constant construction work throughout the city!"

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"There's nothing wrong with menial labor," Robin pointed out, her tone mild enough that she wasn't truly angry but rather with the sort of impatience of someone who'd protested that multiple times to fellow prep-school students. "But construction's not a bad idea. Though, unskilled, I'd be making as much as someone who cleans houses for the record. You don't really make decent money unless you've got a trade there. Electricians make decent money, I know. My dad was..." She cleared her throat, giving a short, sharp shake of her head. 

 

"Anyway," Robin changed the topic abruptly away from those musings, "Sure, I make okay enough grades but I'm not getting a full ride to any sort of university with 'em at this point, especially since there's some years missing on my transcript. So, gotta figure out something to do. Its not like I can stay here after I graduate - that gets creepy fast, you know?" 

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Winifred bit her tongue to keep from opining that if there was nothing wrong with menial labour they wouldn't call it 'menial' but expected her expression communicated the sentiment despite her efforts. The quiet dignity of cleaning up after someone else's messes largely escaped her. "Construction offers the opportunity for advancement! Surely there are opportunities for learning more of the trade on the job for someone bright and disciplined!" Apprenticeship had certainly been the model in her day though she'd gathered that a mix of theoretical learning and job experience was broadly favoured in the present day. She wasn't entirely clear how one accrued that experience without first being given a job but was sure there had to be a system in place.

 

"Regardless, you're not the only one thinking about housing after graduation, you know," she continued primly. "Everyone is still working out specific plans, of course but I've discussed finding lodgings to rent with some of the others, thereby divvying up the costs. You would know this if you were around more frequently."

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Robin gave a small nod at that, her expression thoughtful. "They wouldn't mind the strength thing so much on a job site." Robin admitted before huffing a sigh, "Wish that the whole police or army thing wasn't totally out of the picture but if wishes were burgers, we'd have plenty to eat." 

 

Absently, she shifted, stretching out the last kinks of her back and neck before replying, "I'm sorry, Fred," she told her roommate, "I wasn't really trying to avoid anyone, just not fit company a lot of the time. I mean, I came here and I was hopeful that it'd give the edge I was missing to, you know, figure out what happened but I haven't made any headway at all and I don't think I'm going to," that hurt to admit, it really did, and it likely came across in the flattening of Robin's vocal affect. Still, she moved forward, "Its been pure hard-headed to think that I just needed to take down more gangsters."

 

She huffed a breath, abruptly shutting down the line of conversation that headed towards her parents and their unsolved cases. "I'm here now. What sort of plans are you making?"

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Winifred answered by placing a hand on Robin's shoulder, tilting her head to look up at her roommate with sympathetic eyes. She'd lost her parents at the same time she'd lost literally everything and in many ways it was too big for her to have ever really processed, too big to ever feel truly real. Even so it was an absence that ached, woke her up with a cry more nights than she cared to admit. Robin's loss, she knew, was felt far more acutely.

 

"You let me worry about all of that. I have it on good authority that I'm 'brilliant and all'." Her voice was low and soft as she managed a small smile. "Right now I'd really just like to spend some time with my friend."

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