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by: Coraline Larson
The cold crushing wave of a fresh panic attack loomed over her like a falcon about to dive for an unfortunate rabbit. Cora's small frame trembled with anxiety and fear, desperation spiking her pulse and tightening her chest until she was certain she was going to suffocate. Her vision had started to blur with tears when a gentle touch on her hand drew her attention suddenly. She flinched at the unexpected touch but in a moment her hand turned underneath his and gripped it as if it was the only thing keeping her head above water in the raging sea of panic.

Cora looked up at Tristan, her misty green eyes red-rimmed, tired and bloodshot, and searched his blue-green gaze. It had been so long since they had been together... She wasn't the same girl he had known anymore. Would he still be so concerned for her after he found out the things she had done? He wanted to know where she had gone just now, but could she really tell him? Her jumbled thoughts were momentarily derailed by the return of the waitress with their waters, though Cora ignored the new beverage for the moment.

"I'm not the Dark Lady anymore." She blurted out the sentence seemingly out of the blue before she could think of a more coherent way to articulate what she wanted to say to her friend. Cora winced and tried to explain herself, her voice soft and pained. "I don't... the Dark Lord... there was a- a compulsion... some sort of magic or-or-or legillimency or something h-he put in my head t-to make me... make m-me what I was..." God, she hoped he understood her rambling. But she couldn't stop now to explain better or she would never get all of it out.

"Twi-twisted my... my everything... m-memories, emotions, ev-even my thoughts... until I was n-nothing but what he w-wanted. A weapon. H-his faithful p-p-pet..." She let out a pitiful, quiet sob and tried to stifle it in the back of her free hand as her eyes filled with tears. Cora looked up at Tristan, her expression showcasing just how lost, alone, and vulnerable she felt as she whispered, "... I broke it. I br-broke what h-he did to me and it's... it's awful..."
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by: Tristan Viridian
Her eyes held something different in them. Something beyond The Dark Lady, beyond Coraline...she was broken. Bloodshot grey-green orbs met his with an unfathomable sorrow and his heart wrenched. Tristan gulped and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. His hand never left hers but he did utter a polite thanks to the waitress who dropped off their requested beverages at the table. It wasn't until she disappeared again that he let his body relax, hoping that would help her in turn.

Tristan's eyes narrowed in concern as he let her say her piece; He took in her words with a quiet nod and didn't break his gaze upon her, even if she chose to look away. Her stuttered speech, her trembling, her meek demeanor... this was all foreign territory. "I see..." He said. "If it was anything I said...I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."

As it was clear she was going to start crying, he found himself getting up from his seat, sliding into the booth next to her if he let her, and he draped an arm over her shoulders for comfort. Only if it was welcome, of course. If she wanted him to move or leave, he would reluctantly abide her wishes. He sat there beside her and let the silence settle for a beat, before fetching his billfold from his coat pocket. He set down a couple of notes for the drinks, covering both of them and left a fairly hefty tip for the waitress and bartender before looking over at her with an idea.

“This might be a long shot, but would you care to join me for a stroll? Might help to get some fresh air, in the city, outside of this stuffy little place.” It wasn’t an insult to the bar, it was just getting busier as they sat here and given the delicate nature of their little meeting, he figured she’d prefer something a little freer. “Don’t worry, I won’t be too devastated or anything if you want me to just up and leave.” He offered her a small smile, dipping his head low to find her eyes again.
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by: Coraline Larson
'He's not saying anything... he's going to leave and he probably should too. Look at the way he's looking at you; he's disgusted. You're weak and he can't stand the sight of you...'

Anxiety and the lingering tide of the barely-avoided panic attack drove her thoughts into a dark spiral of self-deprecation and disgust as the raven-haired woman watched her friend's reaction. His eyes narrowed at her when she finished speaking and she couldn't stand to keep eye contact with him any longer, looking down into her untouched glass of water in shame. Whatever he said in response to her jumbled explanation was lost in the diatribe her mind had spiraled into as her anxiety rose again. Maybe he was telling her he was leaving. She wouldn't have blamed him if that was the case. Cora didn't know what she had expected from her estranged friend but when he stood up and moved she fully expected him to head for the door to leave.

Instead, he slid back into the booth with her and... hugged her? His arm came around her slender shoulders in a gentle gesture of comfort, drawing a quiet sob of relief from the trembling witch. Cora turned slightly into his hug and tentatively wrapped her arm around his middle in return, desperate for any sort of comfort and reassurance she could find. The silence that settled between them was almost more soothing than anything he could have said to her and helped Cora focus and breathe through the last vestiges of the panic attack. When Tristan moved to grab something from his pocket and paid for their drinks she assumed their reunion was over and he would leave, but she was surprised by her old friend once again when he asked her to go for a walk with him to get some fresh air.

Cora's lips twitched upward at the corners in what might have been a smile if one didn't look too closely at it. He wasn't just leaving her after her embarrassing outburst? In fact, it seemed quite the opposite. Merlin's beard... The gentle little smile he gave her was still just the same Tristan that she remembered from their school days: always there when she needed him and right there with comfort and companionship. She wiped her eyes briefly and looked up at him again, a tentative smile blooming on her face.

"It's been twenty years since I've seen you, I don't want you to leave already," Cora answered him softly. "A walk sounds like a good idea. As long as you don't make me run after you with my little pixie stature, that is," she tried to tease him, referencing the nickname he used to call her when they were young. She had been so small and delicate, and with her penchant for yelling in Gaelic when she lost her temper.... pixie wasn't too inappropriate of a moniker. The memory broadened her smile a little as she waited for him to get up first so they could leave.
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by: Tristan Viridian
He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled a small, blue kerchief, offering it to Cora to wipe her tears. He would have done that for her, but Tristan didn't want to overstep his bounds--since he was already tiptoeing that borderline by being this close...

"Pixie!" His eyes lit up and he just laughed, "I'm sure you'll keep up just fine, I won't be walking too fast."

The night after the ambush left him with a pain in his shoulder that trailed down to his legs. He hadn't had much time to exercise or stretch to get some physical therapy in but he figured a walk would be fine. "Or you can always hop on my back and I'd carry you like we did at school. Just like old times, right?" He distinctly remembered some bully from their transfiguration class stole their wands (which were later found hanging above a broken stall in a bathroom) and changed her shoes into a couple of slimy lizards so she couldn't wear them anymore and they had a long walk in the rain to get back to her dorm. Tristan, of course, played the hero and let carried her all the way across campus in the rain, barefooted, too. His own stature had changed since they graduated--he wasn't the lanky teenager from their school days, but a muscular-built ex-soldier. The suits didn't do much to showcase that form, but he was a lot stronger than before.

He looked down to her with a wink, and slid out of the booth, fastening the buttons on his suit just before he held out his hand to assist her. If she took it, he squeezed her hand for reassurance and even let her take the lead, putting his hand on the middle of her back for stability and guidance. He looked back with a polite wave at Seamus and the waitress before opening the door for Cora, where they were welcomed by the cool breeze of the summer night.
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by: Coraline Larson
Cora accepted the handkerchief he offered, feeling more than a little embarrassed that she had shed even the few tears she had in front of him, and delicately dabbed the moisture from her grey-green eyes before handing him the blue cloth back. The jovial ring of his laughter drew her gaze back up to his face as he assured her he would take a slow pace for her. A smile softened her expression as she took a pull of her until-now-untouched water and nearly choked when he teased her about their 'old times' at school. "You right arse! I nearly choked!" she coughed lightly to clear her throat, a glimpse of her normal self peeking out in the playful scolding she gave him before taking another, more careful sip of water.

It took her a moment to recall the occasion Tristan was referring to but once she did Cora chuckled softly as well. "That bloody git, what was his name.... oh, Terrence Bentley! He used to tease me something awful," she added, her nose crinkling in distaste. "Wasn't that the time he pushed me in the lake and transfigured my shoes into.... lizards, wasn't it? Ugh, that cruel little twit...." Cora finished with a scoff, thinking about the incident and the bully in question. Bentley had been one of the bullies that had bedeviled her for, of all things, being adopted, and had frequently cornered her after their Transfiguration classes. Tristan had never stood for his friend being bullied and had often ended up as much a victim for his chivalrous streak as well, but together the two of them had always made the best of it. After all, they had each other.

Cora smiled as she followed Tristan out of the booth, taking his offered hand without even thinking about it as she stood up. Her head still felt slightly foggy in the aftermath of the panic attack and flashback so the petite woman took a moment to steady herself before heading toward the exit. As much as she didn't want to admit it, she was grateful for Tristan's steadying hand on her back while she navigated through the small crowd of patrons that had cropped up while they had caught up. The gentle gesture made her smile again as she remembered the nickname she had given him back in their school days for his penchant for such chivalrous behavior.

"Mo ridire galánta..." Cora breathed the Gaelic phrase with a soft giggle once they were outside on the much quieter sidewalk. She turned to smile at Tristan, looking more like the young girl he had known in the past than the hardened assassin he had last seen, and repeated herself. "Mo ridire galánta. 'My gallant knight'. I used to call you that when we were kids... I remember now," Cora added as they started off down the street.
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by: Tristan Viridian
Tristan just laughed. The memory of the bully seemed to lighten her spirits which might have been odd, but it was indeed a pleasant thought since they managed to find a stronger friendship through adversity. Everyone always said they would just "laugh about it later", and here they were. "Those were the days. Clear wanker, that one. I'm sure he's living it up somewhere, maybe running his parent's store like he kept bragging about." Tristan rolled his eyes. He didn't wish the worst on the kid who didn't know any better than to pick on his fellow classmates, but he was sure he was living a quite, humble, if not miserable little life in the rural parts of England.

He held the door and let her head out first, but together, they stepped out into the crisp, evening air. The streets were busy but the sounds were nothing like the confined sound of chatter and bar noise. He offered his arm again as they started to stroll, wandering in the direction of a park he knew was nearby. It even smelled like a sweet summer rain was inbound, but London always smelled like that. Damp. Dreary. But as he looked down at his current company, he thought to himself that she brightened even the darkest moments of his life. A smile found his lips as she spoke in Gaelic, her voice like a gentle melody when she use the old words. "That you did. Wasn't much of a knight back then, getting my ass beat up on the grounds more than once per school year?" He chuckled. "But you know even now I still don't think I'd want to fight back." His mother was a pacifist; While Tristan was a soldier and would surely defend himself, it would take a lot to push him over that edge. It wasn't that he'd gone soft, but being the Hand to King didn't put him too much in the arena, so to speak.

He made sure to keep a slow and steady pace for her to move with ease and not rush her. Tristan was relatively taller than his companion for the evening stroll, which was a humorous contrast to the days before; the lanky teenage version of Tristan who was inches shorter than he was now, closer to the height of the pixie who tolerated him in the woeful days of puberty and all of the awkward nonsense that seemed to follow. He never really bragged about his new physique but held a certain pride over it in his own mind. His mother didn't raise a cocky braggart, after all.

"Oh, if you need to leave or step away, feel free. I can even send for a car, if you’d like—but right now neither of us should try to travel by any other means—“ he meant apparating, since her fragile state and his aching bones would only make things worse. “I'm just walking towards a little park over that way--but you don't have to feel obligated to stick around with the old, lonely marine." When he was in this area, Tristan always made the walk down to the park before heading home. As a Marine, he used the routine to clear his head before diving back into work, and now that he had company? It was lovely. Still, he wanted her to know she was more than welcome to stay, as it was clearly written in his blue-green gaze.
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by: Coraline Larson
Those were the days, indeed. A small nostalgic smile bloomed on Cora’s lips as they walked, her thoughts absorbed with memories she hadn’t been able to remember until just recently. Even the weather reminded her of the days she and Tristan had spent exploring the castle grounds during their free time. The smell of rain either having just fallen or a new shower about to break, the damp ground, clouds covering the stars above… Even though it was rather typical English dreary weather, Cora smiled at the memories it evoked. When Tristan laughed and countered her old nickname for him the raven-haired witch couldn’t contain the genuine peal of laughter that came from her like the gentle tinkling of a bell amidst the sounds of traffic and pedestrians around them.

“Aye, well you were gallant enough to keep doin’ it despite the beatings, mo chara,” she chuckled, reverting back to her natural Irish accent and language as she relaxed with her old friend. “And I think standin’ up for the faisean beag that couldn’t defend herself was quite knightly, for the record, Tristan.”

Cora giggled softly again as he explained where he was headed and that she didn’t have to stay with the old, tired marine. “Tristan, if you’re old so am I. You’re barely a week older than me,” she teased him. Her expression turned more sincere and genuine as she added softly, “And this is exactly what I needed. I still can’t hardly believe you’re here after all these years, just when I needed my friend the most. It's almost too good to be true...” She smiled up at the marine a little shyly.

(mo chara= my friend, faisean beag= little pixie)
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by: Tristan Viridian
The pixie's Irish accent peeked through, and the use of more Gaelic terms just made him smile. "Seems fair then. I accept that." Tristan reached up and scratched his face, feeling the scruff of his incoming beard rough against his fingertips. He'd been knocked in the face several times, kicked down even more than that, and hit with schoolyard spells from those bullies to shield his best friend from their antics. She’d helped him with his studies when things in Potions and Charms became too difficult for him to manage, and he could never thank her enough for that assistance. Ravenclaws were revered as the intellectual bunch, held to a certain standard he needed to achieve. Tristan strived to be at the top of the class, or at least achieve high marks for his studies, to make his mother proud. Coraline was a huge part of his success back in the day and protecting her was well worth it. He just wanted to keep her safe and make her smile at the time, and to hear her appreciation for those events so long ago even though they'd hit a bump in the road after graduation.

She became someone...different. He did too, there was no denying that. Their time with the Death Eaters barely overlapped, but they kept going on very separate paths with very different aspirations. Damn. They'd lost so much time because of that.

As they walked, Tristan let a little bit of silence settle. He took in the city air, and the patches that weren’t filled with vehicle exhaust or the foul stench that rolled up from the Thames every now and then, felt nice. He was just having a nice walk with his oldest friend, on a lovely evening. “Is there anywhere you’d like to go? You just name it and I can take us there.” Since she hadn't seemed like she wanted to take off, Tristan asked in case she wanted to get refreshments elsewhere or maybe sit in a quiet area away from the city street.
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by: Coraline Larson
For the last several days silence had been anything but welcome for Cora. Silence meant she could hear the oh-so-faint-but-still-very-there whispers of her dark half. Silence meant she was alone with the memories and flashbacks that seemed to be triggered by everything and nothing all at the same time. It meant she had to figure out the emotional cyclone that she felt like she was stuck in, as emotions she hadn't been capable of feeling now seemed magnified tenfold. It meant she was alone, as she deserved to be for what she had done.

But the silence that had fallen between her and Tristan was different. This was... gentle. Comfortable. Like coming home to your favorite spot on the couch with a cup of tea and a soft blanket after a long time away, or crawling into the warmth of your bed on a cold night. Cora smiled and gently hugged Tristan's arm that hers was entwined with as they walked. "Oh, I'm not in any hurry and I've not got any plans tonight, Tris. Honestly, I'm just happy to be here with you. I missed you," she added a little shyly. It was true though. Her memories of her best friend had been some of the first that came back to her after the curse had been broken, and her heart had ached that someone so important to her and so loved had been lost to her. Finding him here when she so desperately needed a friend was almost like fate smiling on her she felt.

"When I broke... what He did to me... I remembered you. I remembered our friendship. And I just..." Cora trailed off for a moment as she seemed to search for the words to describe her emotion. "I was devastated that I had lost you... You were really the only friend I had and you were more like a brother to me than just a friend. And... and I lost you..." The witch fell quiet when she finished, a little embarrassed that she had been so candid with Tristan. She hung her head slightly to try to hide the tears that had started to form in her pale green eyes once again.
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by: Tristan Viridian
"I've missed you," Tristan said, a smile at his lips at once. "But no plans huh? He didn't tug at that thread too hard. She'd already mentioned something about having 'guy trouble' so perhaps a date was out of the question, but far be it from him to hold her against her will. If she needed to leave, he'd accept that. But that smile turned upside down when she proceeded to explain...

'He'... Even though he'd been gone for years, the name of the Dark Lord was still difficult to say.

His eyes pulled together in concern as he let her talk through her trauma. Tristan knew she was telling him the truth, because he knew her. He was close enough to know the look in her eyes, her sincerity. The pain in her tone unsettled him as he remembered seeing her before, during those days after she'd become the Dark Lady. That persona was a complete 180 from the sweet young woman he had befriended in school. “I see,” He said, solemnly. “Cor, if it was something I said that caused this, I didn’t mean to…” She had to know that Tristan was sincere too. As a soldier, he was familiar with PTSD and the issues that came with working for the Dark Lord was similar enough--if not worse--than anything he'd seen in the field.

Still, her sentiment was warming, and Tristan brought his eyes to the concrete as they walked. "You didn't lose me. We just...grew apart." That much was true. They were on different paths at the time, heading off in different directions, into different horizons. "You can't blame yourself for something that happened, all of that was out of of our hands. I was looking for my father and you..." His voice trailed off, but he knew he couldn't bring it up again, he was trying to divert her from having any discomfort. "Good thing we're not the same people from that time. And I'm okay with that."
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by: Coraline Larson
'Grown apart…'

The distant, detached feeling that seemed to precede her flashbacks rolled over her like a fog rolling in from the sea on an unsuspecting ship. The small woman’s step stumbled and the faintest whimper tore from her throat as the memory bulled its way through her psyche…

/It was done. She had done as He commanded and hidden her shameful heritage. No one would ever know that she was anything other than what she should be. No one would know that the Dark Lord’s prized pet was a mudblood. His reputation and His honor was secure, she assured him. He forced her to her knees and delved into her mind to see exactly what she had done, to ensure that His pet had done what she had promised, and found himself impressed with her resourcefulness. He had even praised her! But he found something disturbing in her memories when he delved deeper too…

‘Who is the handsome young man in all of these memories with you, my pet? Does he know the shameful truth? Have you taken care of him too?’ He crooned in her mind, still rifling through her head as if it were a magazine for his leisure.

‘H-his name is Tristan, master… he is m-my best friend, my brother…. I… I haven’t b-been able to locate him, master…’ She pleaded with Him to leave her brother out of it, that wherever he had disappeared to meant that he was never going to be a problem, but He was furious that there was a loose end. He took his fury out on his pet then, torturing her mind and her body until she collapsed from the agony.../

Cora’s eyes took on a glassy, unfocused look and her body trembled and began to go limp, her grip on Tristan’s arm loosening as she began to fall.
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by: Tristan Viridian
Tristan stopped, his eyes wide as he watched her. She’d done it again, fallen back into something that caused her to drift farther and farther away. shit…what did I say? He wondered. Genuine concern was worn on his face, as he observed her and instinctively let his arms out to catch her so she wouldn't stumble and fall off of the sidewalk. Tristan pulled her toward him, almost twirling her as he did, landing her into his arms, braced against the side of his body for stability, as she fell into a ragdoll state. He held her close and searched her eyes. “Cora…do you hear me?” He panicked, ready to dial for help or even apparate somewhere safe if he needed to get her some help. No, he thought quickly. Apparating with her in this state would only make things worse.


Tristan squeezed her lightly against him and softly whispered: “It’s going to be okay, Coraline. Just stay with me, okay?” Only a rare lot were able to use her full name without exacting her wrath, but she needed calm, familiarity, something to hold onto and not get completely taken over by the madness.

He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and immediately sent for a car, one of his local contacts he’d ordered to standby. The towncar pulled up just a few minutes later with the instructions to drive them towards the penthouse, Tristan’s residence. It was clear across London and this traffic might take them a little bit, but at least she’d be seated in the quiet cab of the car instead of out in the street where noise was distracting and even jarring. He had no intentions of sweeping her away tonight; he had no idea he'd even run into her at that bar tonight, of all nights. Tristan just wanted to get her to someplace safe and quiet.
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by: Coraline Larson
/Pain… everything was pain… He had been so angry with her failure. So angry… eventually the torture had ended and she was sent back to her handler and taken back to his home. Stored in her gilded cage until she was required again. Her mind felt foggy… Try as she might, she could no longer remember why the Dark Lord had been so angry with her.../

Cora had no awareness of anything outside of the horror and agony of the flashback that had latched onto her mind like a wolf with a rabbit. Her body remained limp and doll-like as Tristan held her in his arms and tried to care for her, with half-mumbled pleas and moans of pain escaping the raven-haired witch every so often. After several long minutes, the flashback finally began to subside and Cora stirred slightly in Tristan’s arms. Her pale green eyes fluttered open and she whimpered almost inaudibly at the anxiety the episode left gnawing in the pit of her stomach, curling instinctively against her friend as she recovered.

“... I’m so sorry… I- I’m not okay, Tris… I’m sorry…” she murmured, lost and a little panicked. Oh god, why had she even come out tonight? First she had argued with Matt, now she had ruined Tristan’s night as well… She should have just stayed home.
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by: Tristan Viridian
“It’s alright, I’m right here…” He whispered to her as he let his fingertips travel over the length of her arm, gently brushing over with a feather-light touch. “I’m not going anywhere.” Tristan leaned his head on hers and hummed as the car drove on, weaving through the traffic in the streets. It was a beautiful little melody, one he remembered from their days in school. It was a song she used to sing to herself when she’d study, one that stuck with him all this time. He’d hum it to himself whenever the need struck him, through his days in the military and even through the darkest times after his mother passed, and it made him feel at peace. It was soft enough so only she could hear it, and that combined with the gentle massage of his hand along her arm—Tristan hoped that could coax her back out of the traumatic daydream that stole her away from him.

He looked down and saw that her eyes were shut, and checked to make sure she was still breathing. She was, and it was steady. Tristan wore a light smile, pleased that he’d been able to lull her to a tranquil rest, and he leaned them back against the rest of the seat still keeping her in his hold. It was loose enough she could get away, as not to make her feel trapped or held against her will.

Then, he had an idea.

“James, head to the Airport, please.”

Tristan knew there was some place in the world they could go to, a place they talked about whenever they thought about her ditching the NEWTs or whenever he’d been bullied by the kids mean enough to call him a bastard in his class. It was a moment he’d been waiting for, to steal her away to a beautiful place outside of England, and he couldn’t wait to surprise her when she woke up. Once they arrived, he’d send word to King he would be on holiday for a while…for a couple days, at least.
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by: Coraline Larson
Dear Merlin… how did she deserve a friend like him? ‘You don’t…’ the darkness in her head whispered, ‘and it’s only a matter of time until you hurt him again. You know it’s true…’

Cora curled up against Tristan’s side and buried her face in the softness of his jacket, inhaling the comforting scent of his cologne and trying to push back the wave of panic once more. She focused on the soft touch of Tristan’s hand on her arm, the sound of his heart beating strong and steady with her head resting over it… This was good. She was going to be okay, she told herself. It wasn’t until she noticed the song he was humming softly that Cora believed it though.

‘Amhrán Na Farraige’. Song of the Sea. The song was an old Gaelic lullaby that her mother used to sing to Cora and her sister when they were little girls, still scared of thunderstorms and the monster under the bed and too frightened to go to sleep without a lullaby to keep the scary things away. The raven-haired witch smiled just a bit as she remembered singing it to Tristan when he was down or too stressed out to think clearly, the lanky boy he used to be so unlike and yet remarkably the same as the man that held her now. It didn’t take long for his deep soothing voice to lull her into relaxing and Cora drifted into a doze as they drove through the city.

“Mm… where we goin’, Tris,” she mumbled into his chest when she heard him direct the driver to the airport. She was barely awake, but much calmer and more at peace than she had been previously at least.
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