'Eyyyyyyy, guess who's not dead. Unless at school is another way to say dead. In which case yes.
Well, believe it or not, I actually have an update for the chapter, so get excited. Fair warning: my writing style's probably different now. Hopefully not bad, though?
For all my regular readers (if you guys still exist. sorry, sorry.) a recap:
Robin is finally acclimated to her position as conductor of her high school marching band. Unfortunately, most of her life is still up in the air. Her brother Robert, who has unbeknownst to her recently started dating Tharja, is pushing her to audition for piano performances from her new home. Robin has taken his advice and should hear back from her first audition soon. Then there's Chrom. The majority of the school seems to think they're dating, and after a round of Seven Minutes, it seems Chrom might, too. Oblivious to Chrom's feelings, Robin finds herself thoroughly confused by Stahl's. After confiding in her the cooking job he's been keeping secret from his parents, Stahl seemed to almost initiate something romantic before pulling away abruptly. With little more than a veiled reference to Chrom's affections, the boy seems willing to forget the event entirely. Fortunately, the rest of her closest friends, Sumia, Cordelia, and Gaius, remain constant, a support buffer as Robin pushes on. In the near future, Robin needs to decide if she will audition for a scholarship for Plegian, her old music school. However, she still has not even begun to approach it.
To my lovely reviewers (sorry if I miss you. Once again, blame it on the time gap):
whovian18: thank you! pretty sure everyone's had at least one 'let's just pretend I didn't walk in on your make-out sesh' experience. generally mortifying for all involved... As for romance... let's just say it's building.
Laude: 1) heheh. Yes, I do have a poorly maintained AO3 account. Glad you found this one. 2) Stahl is a precious angel that needs to be protected at all costs. No matter how this all goes down, you have my assurance he leaves happy. 3) The Morgans are not related to the Robins. Because it's been awhile, here's the breakdown of introduced children:
Cynthia idolizes Sumia.
Owain and Lissa have, as of yet, no known relationship.
F!Morgan is M!Robin's chess club underclassman.
Yarne is Panne's younger brother.
Lucina is Chrom's cousin.
Brady is Maribelle's younger brother.
Severa is Cordelia's younger sister.
Kjelle and Sully have, as of yet, no known relationship.
4) Thank you!
insertxcoolxnamexhere: You're making me blush! I'll have to keep that under consideration for m!Morgan. I have to agree. He and Henry are another matched child-parent pair. As for pairings... both Inigo and Cherche will be introduced soon. And Frederick will get his day in the sun!
Matthew Terra: Bam! New chapter!
Blazing Sceptile: Thank you! A certain someone actually debuts this chapter, a certain someone with links to a lot of characters that have been sorting of fading into the background. Unfortunately, introduced characters just have to struggle with new characters until everyone's all one happy band family. Or Robin needs to meddle more. :(
richieqeckos: Heheh. No one's quite out of the romance woods yet. As for Chrom and Anna, they're going to get some good scenes in the future. All I can say. That and that I was heartbroken to discover they couldn't romance in game.
The LoZ-Fan Yami-Chan: No, no! Complaining is good! I'm trying to work on my romance writing, so this is good! When you find a pairing, you point it out!
Guest: Poor Chrom has been bumbling on the edges of that for a little while now. Did Robin like it? Not so sure Robin quite knows either. People aren't her forte, and she's not much better with feelings either. As for the S-support, it... could get a little racier? There hasn't been too much full-blown romance, but if there's a call for it... I'll try anything once!
ChocoIsu: Take an even longer chapter! I love LucinaxYarne, mostly because in game she doesn't try to change him. He changes for her, and if that isn't adorable, I don't know what is. As for romance, it's building!
Random Chicky: Kellam will get his time to shine! Why perhaps... (actually I can 100% confirm) next chapter!
pureshadow013: Frederick's love for fire gives me life. Whadda nerd.
Concealing Eyes: Heheheh. Cannot confirm nor deny SumiaxGaius. Heheheh.
Chew-a-Pick: Not a good day for the average guys. Not to worry. They'll get a good one sometime soon!
Cormag Ravenstaff: Annnnnnnaaaaa! She's finally here! With a major, recurring part! Not gonna lie, I loved writing her. And I love her in general. And don't shoot, because I swear the Anna-Gaius interactions will indeed come into play. And I'ma catch up on your fic.
Mattariago: I have to catch up on your fic, too! Tharja will be back next chapter to solve more problems!
DietMilk: Thank you!
Shout out to all my new followers/likers! Love all y'all crazy kids!
And now... After a long hiatus...
It was Monday afternoon, setting sunlight pouring through the broad windows of the school hallway, and instead of Robert, Sumia, or Stahl at her side, Robin was walking out of band with Chrom. He was quieter than any of the other three would have been, and it was refreshing, Robin decided. The chatter of the others, while interesting, was just a little exhausting, and Robin's body already felt heavy. "Are the two of you fighting?" Chrom asked. At Robin's raised eyebrow, Chrom colored pink. "You and Stahl. You kept tossing him weird glances all practice. N-not that I was watching. Well… um… just a little… Unless you mind. You just seemed… upset about something."
"We aren't fighting," Robin said. She and Stahl were getting along just as they always had. Perfectly one hundred percent normal. There was that minor detail. That one little issue where Stahl's blurry, flushed face had imprinted itself into her brain, but other than that totally normal. Of course, that particular innocuous image resurfaced at the most random times. Like mid-class, mid-conversation, and right now actually, Robin thought as a blush of her own started to blossom. "It's nothing. Now, you wanted to ask me something about band?"
Chrom's hand drifted to his tattoo. Narrowing her eyes, Robin watched his thumb caress his bicep. This was a nervous tic she had long filed away. "Um. Yes. Do you think we should… uhhh… rearrange the saxophone section?"
"No. Why? Did I do something wrong with their seating arrangement?" Robin asked. Chrom flinched. He had suddenly, over the course of the week, gotten extremely jumpy and generally pinker than usually. Robin watched his face turn red in mild fascination. It was a little like watching the speed ripening of a tomato.
"No! No, you're fine. Um. Yes. Well… I… uh… actually kinda wanted to talk to you about something else, but you and Cordelia were already talking and I needed a reason to get you and…" Chrom glanced to Robin, and Robin realized she had been staring. She pulled her gaze from the boy to the tiling. The brief glimpse of Chrom's even redder face made Robin flush as well. "Er… W-w-what… uh… Are you… Ahhh… Hang on. Give me a sec." The boy inhaled, exhaled, and inhaled again. "What are you doing?" Chrom blurted out.
"Watching you perform some sort of antic?"
Chrom winced. "S-Saturday. What are you doing on Saturday?"
"Nooothing? Do you want us to do a gig somewhere?" Robin asked. It had been awhile since they had performed, and her fingers almost itched for it. Even the piano alone hadn't been enough, lately. Not that she disliked it, but there was something about conducting, a certain exhilaration the piano lacked. Robin couldn't shake the urge she needed to pursue it.
"No. Well, yes. But like a just-you-and-me gig. Without music. Because it's not a gig," Chrom said. Robin squinted at his bright red face. He had lost her. Cordelia insisted Chrom was very smooth with girls, but Robin was also suspicious this was one of her fantasies, like Chrom's supposed dancing skills—which weren't bad, but definitely didn't 'induce swooning within a five foot radius.' "Gods. I-I-I'm sorry. Lissa said I should be witty, but… Oh, I can't believe I just… Ummm…"
"Just say it straight out," Robin said. She didn't have all day, and if Chrom kept tripping over his tongue, it would be a long walk back to her house.
Chrom sighed in relief. "Let's go bowling on Saturday. You and me. And Robert and Tharja. Like a thing, you know? A 'thing' thing."
It almost sounded like a date, but Robert and Tharja… she didn't think they were dating. Tharja fancied him, as she recalled, but Robert, the boy who blushed at the sight of an ankle, Robin couldn't picture him with a girlfriend. Besides, Chrom hadn't called it a date, and even if he had, it wasn't like she had anyone else anyways. Unbidden, Stahl's lidded stare and parted lips resurfaced. Robin bit down on her own bottom lip. "Sure."
"Good. Uh. Good, good, good." Chrom glanced down at her. "Um. Wow. Um… Sorry. I didn't really have anything planned to say after this. I figured you would say no. Had this massive speech written out for it. Soooo, how—"
He stumbled into her side with a grunt. Robin peered around him to find a redhead on the ground. "Well, hellooo, handsome. Lend a girl a hand, will ya? She just walked into you and bounced right off." The redhead stuck out a hand. As Chrom and Robin stared, she tossed them a quick wink. "Little faster than that—"
"I am going to murder you, you—you—"
"Too slow." A rather large boy, face purpled to the color of the t-shirt stretched across his chest muscles, barreled around the far corner of the hall. The girl tilted her head back and groaned. "Victor," she cried. The boy's plum colored face scowled even deeper. "Upside down, you almost look homo sapiens."
"You sayin' I'm gay?" Victor, plowing down the hall at full speed, was terrifying. He was built like a bull, large in every aspect, beady eyes trained on something red. If Robin was the girl, she would be more concerned that Victor could wrap one hand around her waist and crush it. That was, in fact, what she was a little concerned with right now.
Before Robin could propose they run, the girl leapt to her feet in one lithe motion. "I'm saying you lack intelligence, sweetheart," she cooed. Victor let out a roar as the redhead wiggled between Chrom and Robin with a giggle. As Chrom's hand wrapped around Robin's, the redhead peeked over their shoulders. Victor skidded to a halt inches from the pair, still snarling at the girl between their shoulders. "Wherever is your brother, by the way?"
As Victor surveyed them all with a twisted glare, Chrom pulled Robin closer to his side. When she attempted to stand her ground, the boy's tug only tightened. "Suspension. Where you put him with your… your…"
"My newspaper feature on the intimidation tactics he's been using on your fellow classmates to cheat off of their work? Please, dear, don't strain yourself. I know your brain is just as pea-sized as his." The girl propped her head on their shoulders. She smelled very floral, a soft scent at odds with her sly tongue. "Have I met either of you formally? Name's Anna, might know me as the newspaper editor, or the Secret Seller?"
The newspaper… they had mentioned that a few weeks into English, but Robin had waved it away almost immediately. Sumia had claimed the entire operation was insanely cut-throat. The newspaper was very popular anyways, and the articles, while gossipy, were supposedly well written. Chrom squeezed her hand, and Robin turned back to Victor. The boy was still gritting his teeth at Anna. "If you were as smart as you think you are, you would have written on me, too," he said.
Anna sighed. "Yes, sweetie, I know you're cheating, but I need you to lead me to the rest of the members in your little ring. Just enjoy your freedom while you've got it. Now, let's see… you're Chrom, obviously… So you must be Robin? Are you two here to rescue me?" Anna said. She didn't trust this girl, Robin decided. Something about Anna's impish smile screamed warnings at her. Victor may be a bull, but Anna was something sneakier, deadlier.
"Just back away from us and the red-head." Victor ceased his growling at Anna to gape at Chrom. Robin groaned. The school prince was, of course, a do-gooder.
Victor clenched a fist, flexing his impressive biceps. "You don't turn around, and I'll smash your heads in." Sighing, the Robin raised hand to massage one temple. She really didn't have the time or patience for this. Gangrel from two weeks ago had left her with more than her fill of bullying. Victor ground his teeth. "Starting with your little girlfriend."
Chrom snatched Robin's hand in his, almost crushing her fingers in his suddenly tense grip. "You lay a finger on her, and I'll—"
"Listen. We saw Gregor coming this way down the hall. The guy's huge. You'll probably be the one with the smashed head if he sees this." Robin frowned at the hulking boy towering over her. Victor tilted his head slowly to the side, contemplating. "It's really not worth it for a little scrap like her. Right?" Anna and Chrom, thank the gods, remained silent. With a grunt, Victor turned on his heel and fled. As the boy turned out of sight, Robin extracted her hand from Chrom's and looked to Anna. "You're welcome, I guess. You also have a death wish. Just so you know."
"Pfft, I flirt with death on a regular basis. Death even flirts back, sometimes. Can't help that I'm irresistible." The redhead shot Chrom a roguish wink. "Anyways, you're the transfer student. We haven't really met in nonlife-threatening circumstances, so let me introduce myself again. I'm Anna, the Secret Seller or the school newspaper editor. I wheel and deal in those things people don't want anyone else to know. I know everything about everyone, and—for a secret of your own—I might just write a little somethin' somethin' on your object of interest."
Anna stuck a hand out to shake, but Robin ignored it. There was something off about this girl. Something in her eyes was distinctly wrong. "If you know everything about everyone, why do you need their secrets as currency?" Robin asked.
Anna's perpetual smirk widened. "I like you. She's a keeper. Now, as it so happens, I think I owe you."
Anna was still smiling at her, Robin realized. The redhead thought she was owed something for the rescue. "Don't even worry about it. I'm not interested."
"Mmmno." Anna took a step forward. "Now, what would you like?" If someone could threaten to fill a favor, Anna probably just had.
Chrom made some odd noise at her side. A warning or encouragement, Robin couldn't tell, but it did nothing to shake her suspicion of the editor. It was her smile, Robin decided. No one should turn their smile into a weapon. "Honestly, everything about your business is leery. My business is my own, thanks."
Anna's Cheshire cat grin didn't falter. "First, I'm a reputable businesswoman. We don't leer. Second, this little pure hearted hero of justice act is cute, but why pretend? Everyone's out for a profit. So, what can I do you for?" Anna asked.
"Nothing, thanks." Robin edged around the editor and just hoped Chrom would follow. Behind her, Anna cleared her throat.
"I don't think you understand, dear." Despite its softness, the redhead's voice echoed down the hall. "I take debt very seriously. Now, what would you like? A nice feature on you? Air out some of your musical genius?"
"Just consider this a favor. I did this for you for free," Robin said. Chrom had indeed followed her, although she could see him tossing glances at Anna over his shoulder.
Anna giggled, and for a brief moment, the hallway was quiet. "Oh, wait. You were being serious? Listen. I could bring you to the top of the school food chain. We could kill Chrom's fan club in one fell swoop. I rule this school. Anything you want, I can swing. And let me just say, I've been tossing around ideas for your story for quite some time now."
"No. Just no." Interviews were a headache. That much Robin definitely remembered. That and that they had a nasty habit of dredging up all the past she didn't want to surface or remember. Friends, family, ambitions, nothing was private in these things.
"Riiiight," Anna called. "Well, I'll have the paper mock-up tomorrow. Whenever you change your mind, approve it. If we just slide in the right interview, you'll have one rich paper." Robin had already decided never to see the editor again.
When Robin walked into Biology on Tuesday, another boy, a stranger, was already sitting in Stahl's seat. The class itself was quiet, but Robin could feel more curious glances on her back as she passed each row. When Robin approached her seat, the boy in Stahl's place leaned back. "You're in my way," Robin said. And in Stahl's seat, she finished silently.
The boy gave her a slow once-over. His eyes were curious rather than malicious, but Robin resisted the urge to squirm under his gaze anyways. "So you're Robin."
"Do I know you?" she asked. He was still measuring her, and Robin almost wished Stahl would arrive right now. Not to defend her, but just to be present, a warmth against her side amidst all the strangers. That was something that had never bothered her before—being surrounded by strangers.
"U-um, no. You were in the paper today." The boy flipped open the newspaper. She was sitting at a piano under the spotlight, dramatic in black and white, the cover article. Robin knew that picture. It was an older one, from her fourth or fifth concert. "And we recognized you—"
She snatched the paper from his hands. "The hell is this?" The boy popped his mouth open and closed like a gasping fish. It was Anna's newspaper, and there was the girl's name, right under the front page's title. Anna had written this article. Robin only had to skim it to see it was her history. Every single concert she had ever played at, from her first at seven to her last at fifteen, they were all here. Her hands felt very cold. Her head felt like it was swimming somewhere in the clouds. Robert would worry. And then there was everyone else. All of her friends who wouldn't learn this on her own terms, but instead in some skewed version spat out to suit whatever Anna's regime was. She had to shut that down. Now.
Dashing out of biology, Robin turned a small circle in the hallway. Bouncing to see over the heads of other students, Robin couldn't find a single clue as to the room's location. If she knocked on every door, she'd find the newspaper club room eventually, Robin supposed. "Lost something?" She didn't have to turn around to see his face. Stahl's voice alone was enough to dredge up memories of Friday night and send Robin's stomach plummeting to her feet. "I've been told I'm an excellent finder. Mostly of food, but maybe it carries?"
Spinning on a heel, Robin scowled at Stahl's easy grin. Warmth was starting to spread to her face anyways. Stupid, rebellious fair skin. "I'm looking for the school newspaper. Anna. They've got a room, right?"
"It's by the counselor's office on the second—Hey!" Robin made four long strides before Stahl trotted to her side. "Uh, class? That's not happening today?"
"Anna and I have business. That needs to be sorted now."
"Doesn't Anna have class?" So Stahl hadn't seen the paper then. Robin suppressed a small sigh of relief she only just realized she had been holding. When had it even begun to matter what people thought of her? Then again, if she was responsible for the leadership of an organization, it was only natural to worry about her member's opinions. Right? Stahl was frowning at her, eyes scrunched in concern rather than their usual mirth. He wasn't just a band member. Suddenly uncomfortable under his gaze, Robin skipped up the steps two at a time. "What's going on? Robin. Robin, just slow down for a sec."
Peeking into the newspaper club window, Robin could just catch a glimpse of its red-headed editor digging through a stack of papers. "Looks like Anna doesn't have class either."
"Either? Robin, we have class." She pursed her lips at him and slammed the newspaper door open. The room was a cramped mess. Old computers lined the walls, and stacks of newspapers littered the floor. Sparing them a lazy glance from the center of it all, Anna returned to her papers with little more than a quirk of her lips. She'd wipe that smug look off her face soon enough, Robin decided. Wading through the sea of papers, Robin left Stahl to straighten up the piles she kicked over.
With the harsh fwap of quickly unfurled paper, Robin held the newspaper in the air at Anna's side. The red-head snorted and set down her papers, some log incomprehensible and unimportant to Robin. "It's always the same with you types. Busting down doors first, asking questions later. I mean, my gods, so predictable it's positively dull." With a sigh and a shrug, the redhead flopped into a nearby chair. "Please. Sit down." Robin scowled deeper, and Anna rolled her eyes. "Or not. Stand and be uncomfortable then."
"I'm not here to banter with you," Robin snapped. "Recall your newspaper. Now. Fix it."
"Fix it? It doesn't work like that, dear. The paper's already been distributed. I couldn't recollect them all if I wanted to." Anna propped her long legs on the chair intended for Robin and gave her a long stare. The redhead's eyes were cold, calculating, at odds with their warm color. For the second time today, Robin resisted the urge to squirm. "Which one of my reporters interviewed you?"
"None of them? You? Your name's on the article. Don't pretend you didn't dig this all up online, Anna," Robin said. "Look. All I want is for this to go away. Take it down. Now."
"Or I could not." Anna studied a strand of hair she had twirled around one finger. Even sitting still, the editor exuded dangerous, coiled energy. "You know… I don't think I will."
"Wh-What?" The sound of the newspaper crinkling in her fist seemed even louder in the silent room. "This is my life. My business. You-you can't just write about my childhood, without my permission, and then refuse to take it down when I ask," Robin said.
"Who interviewed you? Give me a name, and I can verify the permission."
"You!" Robin said, flailing the newspaper cover in its editor's face. "Your name is on the freakin' front page. Right above this invasive quote above my first concert you ripped off of someone else's interview." Balling up the paper, Robin tossed it at Anna's lap. "I spent months accepting the fact that I would have to move back to this one horse town. I don't need this reminding me that I use to live somewhere where I could be something. And you know what else I don't need? This screwing up what I'm building here so—"
"Hey." Stahl's touch on the small of her back sent an electric shock up her spine. Robin could sense him rather than see him again, and it was making her buzz. "Relax. You're shouting." But he couldn't make her relax. Not with his hands burning through to her skin and his murmur tickling her ear. Stahl last Thursday could have relaxed her. Stahl today muddled her. Flushed her skin. Letting him come along was a bad idea.
"Oh, my. Does the boyfriend know about this one?" And distracted her, too, apparently. Robin grit her teeth as Anna rose in a fluid motion, swinging her feet off the other chair. "Anna, editor of the school paper, the Secret Seller. Want me to write your story?"
"You stay away—"
Stahl chuckled gently. "Thanks, but I doubt it'd be interesting. Just an average guy." Anna paced around them anyways, eyes flitting over his frame. Stahl's hand withdrew from her back and left Robin feeling cold. What was it she wanted then? The hazy, distracting heat or the lonely, isolated cool?
"Don't—Don't distract me," Robin hissed. As Anna rounded her side, the redhead met her glare with a feline smirk before returning to Stahl.
"Oh, I could market you, sweetheart."
Robin lunged for her. "Robin!" Stahl wrapped his arms around her before she could get a finger on Anna. Pushing a hand against the arm around her waist, Robin wiggled in Stahl's grasp to glare at him. "I-I'm sorry. We're leaving."
"What? We're not going anywhere. I'm not going anywhere. Let go of me, Stahl. Now." Her demands fell on deaf ears, and the arms coiled over her shoulders and waist only tightened under her struggling. All a shot to his side got her was a sharp exhale against her ear and a weakening in her knees.
Anna raised an eyebrow at the blush flooding her skin. "It was a pleasure, doll. Robin… not so much. Come back when you're feeling a little nicer, and we'll see about doing business."
"Stahl! Stahl! Let go of me, now!" The arm wrapped around her shoulders was strong, pinning her arms between them. Robin balled her hands into fists anyways and beat against his chest. Stahl half-dragged, half-carried her out of the room. He set her on her feet in the hallway. "You ass!"
"Don't 'Robin…' me." Stahl had enough nerve to look guilty. Pushing against the arm around her waist again, Robin could feel a flush rising again. It was only because she was upset. Definitely not because her unfortunately attractive, very platonic best male friend was pining her to his side. Dangerous territory, there. Upset, she was upset. "You-you manhandled me. I was in the middle of an important discussion, and you just—"
"Caught you before you gave Anna a black eye?" Robin could feel his chuckle vibrate in his chest through her splayed hand. "But really… are you okay?" Stahl asked
He was pulling her into his energy again, warm, comforting, a little like sitting by the fireplace, except the fireplace had nice eyes. Dark colored, long-lashed eyes that were currently studying her expectantly. "No! No, I am not okay." Robin was not about to let Stahl sweep her away. With another firm push, Robin felt his arm fall from around her waist. Stumbling back a few feet, she could finally breathe properly. "My privacy has just been invaded, and you want me to play nice with the girl who did it? I'm not. And I'm not asking for your support, or permission, or whatever you think I need from you first."
As Stahl opened his mouth, Robin spun on her heel. He didn't follow her—thank the gods—or try to call after her. Half running, half stumbling down the hall, Robin just needed air. Busting open the first exit she could find, she collapsed against the back of the school and buried her face in her hands. Bringing Stahl had been a disaster. When had he become so godsdamn distracting? If he was nearby, there was no way she was going to be able to handle Anna. With a growl, Robin jerked her head back up
A boy was staring at her, a huge black cat wrapped in his arms. They both watched silently as the cat wiggled out of his arms and padded over to Robin, poking its nose into her elbow with a meow. "Gah—Minerva, don't." Minerva began to rub against her side anyways as the boy spluttered. Cats, Robin wondered, were they the ones that could sense depression? Minerva blinked up at her with a face unusually knowing for an oversized fluff ball. "I told you to stay away from strangers," the boy hissed, kneeling down and pulling the cat back into his arms.
"It's just a cat," Robin said. Minerva, curled up against the stranger's chest like a small child, meowed again. An intelligent cat that peeked over the boy's arm to wiggle its nose at her, Robin amended. "I don't think it needs to worry about strangers."
The boy huffed but didn't move from her side. "Minerva's not just a cat. And Minerva's a she. Not an it," he said. Just visible under the hood of a jacket, his sharp eyes, twisted into a glare, aged his face, but everything else about him, from his childish pout to his mismatched socks, did the opposite. He was her age. Maybe younger. Under Robin's gaze, he flushed, pulling his hood further over his face. Minerva wiggled out of his one-handed grasp to hop in Robin's lap.
"Well, it seems Minerva likes me," Robin said. Something about the warmth in her lap eased the knot in her stomach. With a hesitant hand, Robin began to stroke Minerva's back. The cat buried its face in her chest with a purr as the boy gaped.
"You must have food in your pockets," he muttered. Crossing his arms over his chest and properly sitting at her side, the boy continued to sulk. "I already fed her today by the way. So Minerva probably doesn't want any of your food anyways." Petting Minerva was a bit like what Robin imagined stroking a cloud would be like. Soft and soothing. "And she likes it more when you scratch behind her ears. Bet you didn't know that."
"Is it a contest?" Robin asked.
"N-no." The stranger pulled his hood over his face again, but it did nothing to hide his blush. "Whatever. Minerva. Let's go." Minerva let out a plaintive meow. "Nngh. Fine." The boy jerked his gaze up to Robin with a scowl. "You're upset. Minerva says so."
Robin laughed, weirdly high and a little breathy. So even the cat could tell something was wrong. If only Minerva could tell her what. "No I'm not." Gods, that sounded pitiful even in her own ears, Robin decided, just as high and breathy as her laugh. The stranger didn't even flinch. Glancing down to the new, pinching sensation blooming in her hand, Robin found Minerva biting down lightly on the skin. If a cat could scold, Minerva probably just had. "Fine. Maybe I am. So what? Why should I tell you anything? You even have a name?"
Robin wasn't even sure how to explain it all if the boy asked. "Dunno. Don't care, either," he said. Minerva stuck out one little paw and hitched a little claw in the stranger's coat sleeve. The boy huffed. "Fiiiine, Minerva. I'm… mildly—very mildly—concerned. Only because my… acquaintances will get upset if I don't help a—and I quote—"damsel in distress" again. And one or two get scary when they're angry, so—Whatever. Gerome. You're carrying all your tension in your shoulders."
If more blood rushed to Gerome's face, there'd be none rest for the rest of him, Robin decided. She squared her shoulders—Were they tense? Rolling them definitely felt better—and frowned. "I don't need your help," Robin said. "I'm—"
"Fine?" Gerome snorted. "Your emotional health is important. Not only is it critical to your mental state, it's also critical to your physical health and decision-making. Neglecting your emotional health is irresponsible." Gerome rattled it off dully, but rapidly, like he had said it all before. "Additionally, your emotional state—more specifically the decisions you make during that state—affects the people around you. So if you won't maintain it for yourself, you should maintain it for the people close to you. There's gotta be at least one starry-eyed moron worrying about you somewhere out there." Or maybe he heard it all before.
"Whatever," Robin muttered. She knew he was right, of course.
"I'm going to teach you a breathing technique." Gerome tugged on his hood and closed his eyes. "Close your eyes, too. I'll know if you don't."
"Yeah, right. I have no reason to listen to you and none to trust you. I'm leaving." As Robin moved to stand, Minerva sunk her claws into her jeans. Robin leaned back against the brick wall with a growl. "Your cat is awfully intelligent."
"Not my cat. My mom's allergic. Minerva's her own cat besides. Now shut up and close your eyes." Ignoring how stupid she felt and how stupid all of this was, Robin drifted her eyes shut. It wasn't like she had anything better to do. They sat in silence as the minutes dripped on. First period had to be almost over. Did Stahl go back to class, Robin wondered. Or was he somewhere on the other side of the school being lectured by some other grumpy boy and his cat? Neither here nor there, Robin reminded herself. Her priority was the newspaper not him. And the newspaper was still out there.
"This is stupid," Robin said.
"It's only been like two minutes. You needed a few before we started breathing." In the darkness, Gerome's voice sounded deeper, with a tinge of gentleness hidden under all the roughness. "Okay. Now, just inhale when I say inhale and exhale when I say exhale. Clear your mind. Let go of your worry."
"I'm not forgetting about anything." If she let go, then she couldn't fix it. Dad had taught her long ago, after her first failed audition, to internalize every failure, every issue. Forgetting meant accepting, and accepting meant Anna won.
"It's not forgetting. It's… expressing. Silent expressing."
"I'm not doing that either." That meant burdening people. The second reason she had learned to internalize everything. The reason she should be working on pulling Anna's paper out of the public eye before everyone felt compelled to pity her. "I need to be out there actively fixing things. Not here. Sitting on the ground with a complete stranger and his cat becoming one with nature."
"Not my cat," Gerome muttered. "And it's not becoming one with nature. It's becoming one with yourself. Your tendency to compartmentalize all of your issues is written all over the pinch of your face. Do I have to tell you again that's unhealthy? Not to mention counterproductive? If you try to face your problems while distracted with all the other issues in your life, the stress will crumple you. Now, just relax. If it doesn't work, fine. Now inhale."
Clenching her fists, Robin did. This was so incredibly stupid. "Exhale." She was stupid for going along with it. "Inhale." Her breathing sounded loud in the silence and a little raspy. Perhaps she was coming down with a cold? "Exhale." Whatever. Anna was the primary concern. If she wouldn't take down the paper directly, there must be some other way, Robin decided, to dispose of the thing. "Inhale." Just recollect it? Really, the only goal was to keep the people she knew from reading it. The band, her brother… Stahl. Who was probably worrying right now. "Ex—Just forget it."
Robin popped her eyes open. Blinking in the sudden light, Robin found Gerome scowling down on her. "You're doing it all wrong," he said. Minerva pawed at some of Robin's hair with a disapproving mewl. "I told you in the beginning to let go. Not worry more. Don't even bother lying," Gerome snapped as Robin opened her mouth. "Your fingernails are practically drawing blood from your palms."
"Well that's because your advice is wrong." Robin rose to her feet, sending Minerva tumbling from her lap with an indignantly fluffed tail. "I'm not putting up with this. It's stupid, and I have things to do."
Gerome scooped Minerva, now a giant, puffed-up ball of fur with two beady eyes in the middle, and stood up as well. "You're going to hurt someone like that," he announced. The boy was taller than her—why was everyone always taller than her?—, and towering over her, there was almost something ominous in his bearing.
"You don't even know me," Robin growled. The words were like ice on her skin anyways. Ignoring the little chill down her spine, Robin left the boy and his cat behind the school. Second period started in fifteen minutes anyways.
Stahl wouldn't look at her during band. It was probably for the best, Robin decided, because the meaningful glances the rest of the musicians were casting her left her nowhere else to look. Therefore, it was hardly unusually she noticed the tight set of his mouth and all the sighs that rose Stahl's shoulders and dropped them back down. It was her fault, of course. Not the noticing. That was… his. Somehow. Friday. The sighs, though. Robin knew those sighs. Those were the sighs Dad used to sigh at the table, long after Robin was supposed to sleep, the sighs after he and mother had their long, long discussions, the ones they had after all her auditions and interviews as a child. The thinking sighs, Dad had called them. The only way to fix his had been by getting performances. To fix Stahl's… the paper needed to go first.
"Robin?" Her brother was looking up at her, confusion and poorly masked concern in his voice. If anyone knew her head, Robert would, and Robert liked to worry.
"Yes?" Robin forced it into an even tone.
"You… stopped conducting? Did we do something wrong?" Robert was watching her carefully.
"Ah… yeah. The flutes," Robin said. Maribelle narrowed her eyes suspiciously. At Maribelle's side, Libra glanced at Robin through a waterfall of blonde. "You guys need to play louder. I couldn't hear you at all."
"That's cuz we we're restin'," Brady growled. "Unless my music is wrong."
Godsdamnit. The blonde freshman blinked up at her with his puppy-dog eyes. "It's… right. Sorry. I guess—"
"You do look a little tired, Robin. It's probably that, right?" Sumia's voice was like a chime, and while the attempt was sweet, Robin knew no one believed it.
"Ahh, yeah. Let's—"
"Let's end practice early today," Chrom said. Before she could object, the boy already had his trumpet case out and was urging Lucina to do the same.
As everyone else packed up, Stahl slipped a stack of crumpled loose-leaf on to her stand. Robin chanced a glance at his face, despite the sudden wobbliness in her fingers. Leaning on the stand's edge, Stahl wasn't smiling. "Biology notes," he murmured. "Figured you didn't go."
"Surprisingly thorough." But not quite as surprising as the nonchalance in her voice. "Didn't sleep through class today?" It was the first thing she could think of, and it sounded vaguely insulting. Robin flicked her eyes back up to Stahl's, looking for some sign he didn't take offense.
"Didn't go," Stahl replied simply.
"You should have," Robin said. Stahl's mouth set itself in an even thinner line than before. Robin winced internally.
"I was talking," he said. "To Anna. You know, I don't think she knows who published that article any more than you do. Perhaps—"
"You can't do that." It popped out before Robin could stop it. Anna would destroy him if it suited her, and she had definitely threatened him when the three were in the paper room. Judging by Stahl's confused frown, the boy hadn't noticed. "Just—Anna's dangerous. And you're… you."
Stahl's eyes narrowed. "What does that mean?"
"It means that…that…" That the thought of her taking advantage of you twists me in five kinds of knots. Robin couldn't tell him that, though. She couldn't even open her mouth to start the phrase. "That I don't trust you near her," Robin scolded. "You believe in people too much. A few honeyed words, and she'll have you tripping over your own feet to help her."
"I'm not tripping over my own feet to help her. I'm suggesting that you just take a step back for a second," Stahl said. If she took a step back, Anna would just slink right in to that spot. And then turn him against her. Or make him worry about her. Robin wasn't sure which was worse.
Stahl's frown had already begun to darken. The excuse worked, and Robin decided to run with it. "I get it," Robin said. "She's rather pretty." Something in Stahl's eyes flashed at that. Wait. Did he find Anna attractive? Robin forced whatever was rising in her throat back down to her stomach. "And that's apparently distracting you. If you can't keep the two matters separate, just stay out. Don't use me as an excuse to talk to her." It came out snappier than she wanted, and Stahl's jaw dropped.
The boy seemed stuck processing. Was he formulating an excuse? Or something else? With a shake of his head, Stahl restarted. "What? Robin, that's not at all—I'm not the one being distracted by Anna. You're letting her get in your head and wind you up. Just—"
"Don't tell me to reevaluate," she growled. Something about Anna wasn't right, and even if she ensnared Stahl, Robin wouldn't be fooled.
"I'm telling you to listen," Stahl replied. He pulled away first, and the sensation of parting with that frown on his face left her speechless. Robin snagged his hand in both of hers before she could second guess it. Stahl's hand, at least, was still warm, even if hers felt icy. But she couldn't think of what to say, and when Stahl freed his own fingers, Robin let her hands fall to her sides.
On Wednesday during biology, Robin barged into the newspaper room again, only to find it deserted. Not only was the redhead missing, most of the papers were gone. The room was almost bare, a few stacks of old editions and some computers adorning one corner. Whatever Stahl thought about Anna and her pretty face—were redheads really his type?—, Robin would prove him wrong. She flipped through the newspapers first. They were meaningless to her, one on some sports star, another on the brute from Monday. There was one she pulled out, Cordelia's face emblazoned on the cover, a feature on the redhead's injury. Cordelia would probably be disappointed in her right now. She also wouldn't have let Stahl stop her from giving Anna a strong slap.
Setting the paper down, Robin turned to the monitors. One was on, and Robin slid into the rolling chair in front of the screen. It was another log. Names ran down one column, time stamps down the other. Outside of Anna's name, most of it was nonsense. But it had been the last thing someone examined before leaving… Next to the monitor was a printer, a battered model from years ago, but it still worked, Robin discovered as she printed out the log. Perhaps someone else would understand it. Nothing more on the computer was opened, and hesitant to touch anything else, Robin left the machine alone. Tucking the mysterious log into her bag, Robin snuck out before anyone returned.
Biology still ran for thirty minutes, but Robin couldn't go now. Stahl would know, and Robin didn't really know what to do with him. Instead Robin let... something tug her back to the back of the school, where Gerome was already leaning against a brick wall. "Don't you have class?" she asked, looking down on him.
Gerome scowled as Minerva hopped out of his lap and nudged against Robin's leg with a purr. "Don't you?" he replied. As Gerome continued to grumble, Minerva began to paw at Robin's leg. "She wants you to sit down. You're here for the breathing exercise, right?"
Squatting next to Minerva, Robin frowned. "No. I'm just here."
"Well, Minerva seems to think you still need it." Gerome sighed. "Fine. We can try again. Don't waste my time."
"Say what you want. It's all in your shoulders again, and I skipped first period for this. Close your eyes." Hands fixing his hoody for maximum face coverage, Robin supposed, Gerome closed his own eyes. Perhaps he was a good person, too, under all his gruffness. The boy's reddening face clashed with the soft pink of his hair as he continued to tug on his hood. "Hurry up. I can feel you staring at me."
"Fine. Just hang on." Once Robin sat herself Indian style on the ground, she turned to dig through her bag. Minerva's ears perked as she pulled a small tin from her backpack. Cracking it open, Robin had to suppress a smile as the cat nuzzled her fingers out of the way of the tuna fish. "Minerva likes fish, huh?"
"D-don't bribe Minerva. Those tricks won't work on her. Just shut up and close your eyes."
"It's not a bribe. It's an apology for knocking her off my lap yesterday." Before she closed her eyes, Robin caught a glimpse of Gerome's pout.
"Inhale." Relax. This time Robin would—But Dad had never been wrong before. "Exhale." Why had she come back at all, then, Robin wondered, if not to breathe? The fish for Minerva, if she was being… honest with herself, may or may not have been an excuse. "Inhale. And unclench your fists." Stretching out her hands with a scowl, Robin couldn't ignore the tension in the boy's tone. He was about to stop it again. "Exhale." If she cleared her head, just a little, perhaps she would have a better time with the log. Clear. Clear. Just focus on something else. "Inhale." Smells were sharper in the dark. Robin could catch not only Minerva's fish, but also the grass and her own shampoo. "Exhale." So were sounds. Gerome's voice had become almost melodious, a masculine tone as regular as a clock. The birds in the nearby trees sounded feet rather than yards away.
"Inhale." Touch… Minerva had crawled into her lap long after finishing the fish, now a fluffy heater over her legs. Then there was the grass under her fingers, slippery and cool. Touch… touch… Stahl's hand had hardly been cool under her fingers yesterday. "Exhale." Where was he now? In biology? Somewhere with Anna trying to fix Robin's problems? Or had he abandoned that pretense? "Inhale." That redhead would wrap him around her fingers and leave him heartbroken. The satisfaction of the impending 'I told you so' didn't make Robin feel any better. She felt a little sick just imaging the pair being… any kind of intimate. "What are you doing? I didn't tell you to exhale then. Stop. It's all screwed up." Robin blinked her eyes open to Gerome's scowl. Shit.
Robin dropped her bag with a resounding thud as Anna, draped over the conductor's stand, flashed her a glimmering smile. "You know, most people would be thrilled if I offered to feature their blossoming club. But you look—"
"A little tense," Anna finished.
At Anna's side, Chrom ventured a shy hand out to Robin's shoulder. "Robin? Just relax. It's an apology." So perhaps Stahl wasn't the only one dealing with Anna behind her back.
"So there's something for you to apologize for, Anna? Go on then. I'd love to hear it," Robin said. The girl was pretty, beautiful even, but Robin couldn't help but glare at her. For everything.
"Actually, I'm apologizing for paper as a whole. A friend of yours was rather… persuasive. Very insistent that you'd prefer an article on the band instead of you. And then the boyfriend agreed." Anna treated Chrom with a wink.
"Well, good thing neither of them make my decisions," Robin snarled. "Just get out. Now."
Anna huffed. "Darling—"
"Robin said go." Sumia had risen to her feet, gentle face forced into a firm glare. With a shaky voice, the brunette continued. "You're—you're the one who wrote those things about her. So best I can tell, y-you probably owe her. Big time. B-because those upset her. If I were you, I would leave now, before I—"
"Gah! Stumbles! Slow down there!" Springing to his feet, Gaius squeezed between musicians and instruments to Sumia's side. Anna's mouth popped open in mild amusement. "Anna's just a little… She runs on cold-blooded killer mode all the time. Just have to remind her every now and then that we aren't all out to steal her money." What? Robin looked from Gaius to Anna. They knew each other, twin faces of amused acknowledgement coloring their faces. Then… did Gaius know of the article? There was something she didn't understand somewhere in this.
"Wait. Stumbles? As in Stumbles of the…" Anna made some odd hand-waving gesture, wide grin plastered over her face. It was perhaps the first honest smile Robin had seen on the editor. As Gaius buried his face in his hands, Anna stuck one of her own out to Sumia. "Anna, a pleasure. Did you know he wet the bed until the ripe old age of nine?"
"Well, you're not a natural redhead, but I don't tell that to all your friends." Robin frowned. Anna and Gaius seemed close, and while Gaius was slightly unsavory, he was hardly a bad person. Definitely a person who had defended her in the past. Why then would he not mention… this? Glancing back to the pair, Robin found them still clutching at Sumia's hands, the puzzled brunette between them. "And that only happened once. When I was nine. While watching a scary movie. Just—just so we're all clear on that." With a suspicious frown, Sumia let Gaius tug her back to her seat.
Clearing her throat, Anna pulled her eyes from the pair. "Now, where were we… Ah, yes, interviewing. Just… let your band organize this mess or something, and I'll talk to a few of them. Easy-peasy. Set them off to do whatever, and I'll talk to you first." Anna watched her process all of it for a moment. "Listen. Whether you like this or not, it'll be good for the band. The questions will be strictly professional. Get them set up, and join me outside." Gritting her teeth, Robin set the band to organizing sheet music before following Anna outside.
So this was Stahl's type. Somehow that was the first thing she could come up with alone with the editor in the hallway. Anna was definitely stunning, curvy in all the right places, voluminous red hair—apparently dyed, though. Would that be a turn-off? A little part of her hoped it would be—, and confidence galore. "Admiring the view?" Anna asked. The girl smirked, displaying her flawlessly white teeth.
"Why are you even here?" Robin asked. "You've got a lot of nerve to stalk back in here and try to write another work on the band. I'm not giving you anything. You've already got it from your first 'interview' of me. Isn't that enough?"
"I actually took you out here to threaten you. That okay?" Anna's expression was sweet, but Robin couldn't quite doubt the words she had just heard from the editor's mouth.
"Sweetie, you're playing a very, very dangerous game. I don't take prisoners. Well, except maybe as hostages. Which I have one of, coincidentally. Whoops?" Anna said, gaze focused on her chipped fingernail paint.
"What?" Robin felt a little wobbly. That had been the main goal in removing the paper, to minimize the amount of damage she would deal to her friends. Of course, of course it was all for nothing. Of course the paper would be replaced only to dangle someone else over a much brighter fire.
"Remember when I said reputation in high school is everything? High schoolers—as I'm sure you know—can be so very, very cruel to the people they perceive as worse than them or lower than them. And people who try to jump the social food chain, get a little cozy with important people… Well, you've experienced that yourself." Anna looked up from her short fingernails to flash Robin a grin. It was the lighting, Robin decided, that made the red-head look positively predatory. "You know… you could be considered an important figure. I mean… they hardly love you, but they don't hate you. At any rate, the school knows you now. You have my paper to thank for that. Might even have gotten you a few admirers of your own."
"You don't see where I'm going this." The redhead placed a finger on her chin and leant in, her face inches away from Robin's own. Robin swallowed, and the editor's smirk only deepened. Proximity was something she had never been comfortable with. Whatever was glimmering in Anna's eyes suggested she knew it, too. "That's because you're out of your league, dearest. Tell me who published you, or I print this very lovely, very personal interview a good friend of yours gave me. It was a very sweet action… But then, sweet never holds up well against the harshness of jealous people."
Robin backed a few steps. With some space between them, the girl began to pace. "You published this. Or anyone with access to the internet. I don't know. How many times do—"
"You auditioned for a pianist seat in some concert… three weeks ago? That's not on the internet." The editor leaned against a locker with a sigh.
"Then you called the university that auditioned me. I don't know, Anna. I don't know what's going on, and I'm beyond caring. Does it even matter? Or do you just get some perverse pleasure out of watching people squirm?" Robin wanted to tug at her hair. It wouldn't make anything better, she reminded herself.
Anna watched her with narrowed eyes. They were almost catlike slits, absorbing and measuring every little facial tic. An unfriendly version of Stahl's observant gaze. "I didn't publish your article. I've been considering interviewing. For quite a while. But I'd never publish something without the interviewee's consent. And I'd never steal from other sources. That's cheap. The skeleton was done the night before publishing, but I never filled in the interview."
"I find that hard to believe, coming from the person who wouldn't remove my article when I asked," Robin spat.
Anna rolled her eyes. "It doesn't work like that. I told you. Now. Tell me who interviewed you, who published your article, and like I do to anyone who deals behind my back, I'll destroy them. You don't keep secrets from the Secret Seller. Especially not when her reputation's on the line."
"I don't know who published this."
The redhead rose from the locker and crossed her arms over her chest. "Fine. I destroy you first. You have a week to change your mind, or it's your friend's head on the chopping block. And then the next. And the next. And then maybe at some point your brother's." Whipping the band room door open, Anna closed it behind her with a sharp click.
Robin knew exactly two people stupid enough to approach Anna, and Gaius watched Sumia like a hawk. Slamming her hands down on the folding table, Robin ignored Olivia's squeak. As Olivia, Kellam, and Donnel all scrambled for the sheet music Robin had scattered off the table, Stahl began to play with the corner of the sheet he still had in his hands. Any hope she had plummeted through the floor. "What the hell did you do, Stahl?"
"Nothing important," Stahl said. He was smiling at her, one of his careful, comforting ones that warmed her face like the sun's rays warmed the Earth. Robin just felt cold. "Hey… Really. It's no—"
"Godsdamnit, don't tell me it's nothing!" Someone under the table flinched, sending more music to the ground.
"Maybe we should talk outside?" If Stahl thought his even voice would be enough to placate her, he didn't know her at all. "Robin…?" The smile that pulled on his lips was almost apologetic, but it was still a smile. Some variant of the smile he had probably given Anna when she lured him into believing her.
"You—you—How naïve are you? Gods. Gods, gods, gods. I can't—I don't—I told you—from the very beginning—to stay out of it." Her voice was shaking, barely, but enough that Robin could hear it. She couldn't handle this. This was a different sort of pressure. A pressure she had religiously avoided since childhood. "You shouldn't have meddled."
"I was just trying to help," Stahl said softly. He had begun to round the table, and Robin just knew if the boy got much closer she wouldn't be able to think straight. What was it Gerome had mentioned? Meditative breathing? Inhale, exhale, inhale—And Stahl's face was much too close for her to even breathe properly. Not with her emotions on a high already. Gods. Had he known he trusted her with his innocent expression when he talked to Anna? "Don't even worry about it. Please."
"Oh. Oh, please? Please. That makes it all better. Never mind the bit—" Breathe. Robin could practically hear Gerome snapping at her about the tension in her shoulders. She closed her eyes, and the darkness was a little better. In the isolation, her breathing sounded feather soft, controlled. "What did you tell her?"
Reopening her eyes, Robin found Stahl simply staring. His lips were parted, and his gaze was fixed on her face. Warmth radiated from his hands, hovering just over her shoulders. Was that the wrong thing to ask? Stahl blinked, ripping his eyes from hers. Running a hand through his hair, the boy sighed. "I feel really bad about this… but I can't tell you," Stahl said.
"You need to tell me." Stahl just shook his head, still focused on his shoes. She couldn't tell him about Anna. Watching him ashamed over this… it made her sick. Anna was going to regret this. But before that, Robin needed to know what she was dealing with. "Is it about... the thing you told me about? With the food?" Hopefully he understood she meant the diner. Whether he did or not, the boy shook his head again. What else? Stahl didn't tell her much. At least not much beyond paying work and school work. What was it Anna had said… Something about jealousy and important people. "Anna. Omigods. Anna. The two of you…"
Stahl blinked. Then something clicked into place along with the glimmer in his eye Robin had seen a few days ago. "N-no. Robin, I've told you that's not a thing."
"Together. With her. You did something. Something she can prove." They had kissed. Robin buried her hands in her hair. At least kissed. Stahl had at least kissed a girl hellbent on screwing with her life. Kissed. She needed more air. "You betrayed me. You—you—"
"Ahhh, Robin?" She lurched into Stahl's chest with a squeak, just registering his gasp. Kellam rubbed at his nose, face colored a sheepish pink. They were in the band room, she remembered. Everyone was staring, and Robin wasn't sure which was worse, the realization she had just exposed herself to their curious gazes or that she had just exposed Stahl to them. "N-not to interrupt, but—"
"Get back to work." Kellam flinched. "All of you. Back to work. Now." Twisting around, Robin found Stahl still silent. Robin searched his face, his eyes still unwilling to meet hers, the powder pink beginning to dust his cheeks and nose, the scrap of bottom lip caught in his teeth. He had been with Anna, and the thought was like an ice cube in her belly. "You, too. Or don't. Don't care."
"Then maybe I should take a quick minute."
So... If you're wondering where the extra segment is this chapter... This particular installment is a whopping 10,000 words, aka the largest yet, and there wasn't anything I wanted to cut. That, combined with life conflicts, means the extra I had planned for Cordelia doesn't exist. Apologies. Hopefully the regular chapter will get you your FE:A fix for a little while!
Next installment: A bowling double date! Gerome joins band! Robin gets her audition results! People go to the movies! Everything is awkward! About half of it is misunderstood anyways!
As always, I love your reviews, opinions, pairing suggestions, etc. Even more so after a break! I need to get into the swing of things!