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Chapter Two

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“Hi, Aunt Noble,” said Valorous, holding the phone in the crook of his elbow as he finished typing up an intake form. There were a few arrest reports on his desk that he needed to type up before he finished up for the night, assuming he didn’t get called out anywhere, but it had been a pretty quiet day, all told.

Presumably the desk had put him through because he was the least likely in the building to actually be scared of Noble King.

“Well, if he wasn’t such a shitty dealer they wouldn’t have arrested him,” he said, pressing save and then wrestling with the system, which was about as old as computers were and slow as fuck. “We’ll let him out on bail so long as you hand over his passport, and given that it’s the first offence we’ve arrested him for, he probably won’t even go inside.”

He leaned away from the phone as the volume went up, narrowing his eyes slightly at the sheer noise of it, and typed up the date on the next admission form.

When she’d tired herself out, he leaned back into the phone. “Yeah. He’s in his own cell, everyone in the lock-up was scared to look at him, let alone touch him. Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be there. Thirty-three years, right?”

He hung up the phone, slotting it into place, and when the Sergeant came over, Valorous looked up at his face.

“That Noble King?” he asked.

“She’s my aunt, Serge,” said Valorous. “She wants me at her anniversary party on the fifth.”

“That why she called the fucking switchboard?”

“Nah, she’s trying to intimidate someone into letting out Generous without travel conditions. Whenever she calls, the switchboard put her through to me so she can’t freak anyone out.”

Sergeant Stark was a stout man, round around the middle and with square shoulders, and he had a permanent scowl on his crushed-in face like a bulldog. Now, he said, “She doesn’t freak you out, then?”

“She can’t do a thing to me,” said Valorous. “I’m a King.”

“You’re police before you’re a King.”

“What, do you want me to tell her that so she’ll rough me up?” asked Valorous, and he kept the Serge’s gaze, didn’t look away from him as he put his elbows in the arms of his chair, leaning back. “I could arrest the woman myself, and I’d still be a King, sir.”

“And what about Cecil Hobbes?”

“Cecil Hobbes?” Valorous repeated, ignoring the angry little burst of fury that came up in his chest, tilting his head. “What about him?”

“Is it true you’re shagging him?”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“Apparently you were walking his dog with him, some nasty massive thing with a muzzle on.”

He stiffened, but he knew that defending the dog wasn’t the best course of action from here, and instead he let his lips shift into a slight smirk. “Yeah,” said Valorous. “Why, Serge, what’s the issue? You got a problem having a gay national hero on the force?”

He said it very loudly, so that Subha and Derek and Vance and Evelyn all looked over, and the serge’s face crumpled slightly, his jaw setting. He opened his mouth, glancing over to them, but as Valorous grinned up at him he could see the older man rethinking it, knowing he couldn’t easily say what he wanted to say without a chance of being brought up on it, no matter how he phrased it.

“Finish this up,” he said sharply, gesturing to his paperwork, and Valorous turned back to work, still grinning as he typed.

Once he had everything squared away, he set all the papers into his file boxes, putting them into alphabetical order, grabbing a bottle of surface cleaner out of the bottom drawer of his desk and scrubbing over the surface of the wood, then polishing out his keyboard, his monitor, his mouse.

“You do that to your desk at home, too?” asked Subha.

“Uh huh,” said Valorous, flipping his keyboard over and wiping over the back of it before he dropped it down. Sliding his fingers under the bottom of the desk, he felt for the place where the painted symbols were smooth and poured a little magic into them: his desk flared with light as the enchantment activated.

“Paranoid,” said Subha.

Valorous shrugged. “Force of habit.”

When he’d first started in the office two floors down, some of the boys had seen him cleaning his desk every night and had started doing shit like spitting on the surface after he’d gone home or trying to hide rubbish in his file boxes.

Valorous had been kind enough to animate the enchantment in such a way that it flared with light as a warning, but Rickard Heston had made the mistake of trying to put his ball sack on his computer monitor anyway, and gotten half the hair between his legs singed off for his trouble.

None of them tried anymore, but he still liked to make sure no one fucked with him.

CECIL, 18:15: r u cuming

VALOROUS, 18:16: omw

He wasn’t late. The appointments were scheduled for half six, and he arrived like a minute before that, coming into a little office that was on the third floor of a building across from a private hospital that Valorous had had to go to one or two times when he was still a teenager, mostly for physio.

He knew it was an angel-run business as soon as he crossed the threshold – their enchantment had that flavour to it, and he felt himself frown slightly. He hated angelic enchantment, because it was almost impossible to disable or adjust – not being able to follow the symbols or feel for the weaknesses by hand, you basically had to destroy panels of it at random, and that was always a difficult gamble.

Cecil was already there, his hands in his pockets but his back straight, dressed in a thick, green jumper and speaking with a tall, bald Black man who wore glasses.

“Sir Valorous,” said the man that wasn’t Cecil, putting out his hand to shake. He had a looser grip than Valorous expected. “My name is Doctor Manute Majok, welcome. My sister’s just attending to a family matter down the street, but I thought you could fill out your intake form while we wait.”

Cecil was looking at him, his lips pressed together but not quite smiling, and Valorous scowled, pulling his hoodie strings tight so that his hood clung tighter around his head, and he nodded.

“Mr Hobbes told me he’d give you an intake form to fill out,” said Majok.

“He gave it to me,” said Valorous, a note of challenge in his voice, but Majok was calm and undeterred as he set out another copy of the form on the top of the reception desk, and Valorous irritably filled it out, writing in his name and his DOB and his profession and who referred him and how much he ate and how much sleep he got and how much he exercised.

Where it asked, “What’s your main reason for seeking out mental health services?” he wrote “Emotional blackmail.”

“Are you a telepath?” he asked.

“No,” said Majok. “But you’ll be with my sister, Dot, and she is. Will that be a problem for you?”

“Nah,” said Valorous. “I don’t care. People like you get into someone’s head either way.”

“That bothers you?” asked Majok.

Valorous shrugged. “If you want in my head, it’s your funeral.”

He felt like there was a burning heat rippling under his skin, his body almost aching, and he didn’t want to be here, wanted to be at the fucking gym, not in a fucking therapist’s office.

“You’re angels,” he said.

“Yes,” said Majok. Valorous watched his face to see if he would glance at Cecil, but he didn’t: he just gave Valorous a small, pleasant smile, his lips shifting up at their edges. He wore a glamour over his face, the symbols for it written on the inside of his shirt collar, and Valorous itched to know what the glamour was hiding. Was his head on fire? Did he have no skin? Was he eyeless, or did he have dozens of eyes, like some angels did? “And you’re human, but I suppose you’ve spent more time in fae lands than Mr Hobbes has.”

“I’ve gone a lot through fae lands, yeah,” said Valorous slowly. “I’ve travelled, done work here and there, competed in sports and games, fought.”

“Lashton, I’ve found, is an interesting mesh of fae and human cultures,” said Majok.

“No fae where you come from?”

“Not fae, no. The next dimensions are inhabited by some magical peoples, but no fae tribes and clans as inhabit these islands,” said Majok. “It was something of a surprise for me when I came – something to adjust to on top of everyone being white enough to blind a man.”

Cecil sniggered at that, smirking down at his feet, and Valorous twisted his lips.

“We’re not that pale,” he said. “Where are you from? Kenya?”

“Sudan.”

“So you’re a Muslim?”

“No.”

“Christian?”

“No.”

“What, so you’re a Sikh or something?”

“Jesus Christ, lad, would you shut up?” said Cecil, and Valorous rolled his eyes, doodling on the corner of the intake form.

“Are we gonna stay longer just ‘cause your sister’s late?”

“We’ll let you out at seven-thirty precisely, Sir Valorous,” said Majok calmly, but Valorous could see that race and religion were good vulnerabilities to poke at, if he wanted to get him angry – he had stiffened slightly, his face flattening a little. “Here’s Dot now.”

Dot was also tall, and he saw the similarity between her features and her brother’s, although she was rounder where he was square: she had a round jaw instead of a sharp-edged one, round shoulders and a belly and an arse instead of being shaped more like a ruler dressed in a cardigan and shirt, and she wore a patterned wrap around her head.

“Hi, you must be Sir Valorous!” she said brightly, putting out her hand, and Valorous shook it. “Sorry I’m late, got held up – you ready to go?”

Valorous opened his mouth, closed it. Her brother had a sort of calm, muted personality – she was… different. Brighter, more colourful somehow, even though she was also dressed in normal, business casual clothes.

“Do you need this?” asked Valorous, and she took the intake from him, gesturing for him to go ahead of her into one of the offices – there were three, one for Doctor Manute Majok, this one for Doctor Aluel Majok, and a third for Doctor Faizah Manal Hashim Abdelrahman. “Your other sister isn’t from Sudan?”

“She’s much younger than we are – she Fell to Khartoum, we’re from further south,” said Dot, gesturing vaguely, but she didn’t seem uncomfortable or nervous about it. She seemed a bit flustered by the state of her own office, which was messy, and Valorous slowly stepped into the room and watched her rush over to her computer, nudging her mouse around the desk to get her monitor to flare back to life, and then fluff up the cushions on the sofa, and then pull out a notebook, try three different pens on it – she kept putting the spent ones back into the basket even though they didn’t work, which made him itch – and then decide she didn’t want that notebook and grab another one.

Valorous moved slowly to sit down.

“Should I call you Dot?” he asked. “Your brother called you that.”

“Oh, Dot works,” she said. “Dot, Dottie, it’s all good to me.”

“Why Dot?”

“It’s short for Dorothy!” she said cheerfully, picking through her basket for more pens, and Valorous looked in horror at the way she kept pulling out more and more pens, almost half of them not actually working, some of them in pieces.

“But your name’s not Dorothy. It says Aluel on your nameplate.”

“Oh, they called me Dorothy in the war – World War 2, this was!”

“Why, they couldn’t be arsed to pronounce Aluel?”

“It’s a funny story, actually, I showed up during a bomb raid and it was my first time in London, and they were expecting this girl named Dorothy who was a nun, a nurse instead of a doctor, and they saw that I wore a headpiece and they assumed that it must just be what nuns wore in Africa, you think people are ignorant now, they were clueless then—”

She stopped talking, because Valorous had pulled out the first pen she’d tested that had worked, handing it to her, and he took a piece of paper and the basket of pens closer to him. He didn’t meet her gaze right away, pressing his lips together as hard as they would go.

“I wondered how long it would take you to break,” she said pleasantly, smiling at him in a way he didn’t like. “I thought it would take you longer.”

“You’re a telepath,” he muttered. “Your brother said.”

“Yep!” said Dot, and she opened up the first notebook she’d picked up, putting her pen to the page. “Are you okay with me taking notes?”

“Sure,” said Valorous, shrugging.

“Apparently Mr Hobbes was saying that you might want to try to break in here to access his records,” said Dot, and she said it so evenly and so reasonably, without a hint of judgement or anger, that Valorous stared at her in surprise. “And I see that he was correct to make that prediction. Now, I’ll be happy to translate the notes I’ve made on you if you like, but I take my notes in the old tongue, and so do Manny and Faizah – non-angels can’t really comprehend it or look at it for too long, let alone translate it, so I’m just going to warn you now that you can steal records if you like, but you won’t be able to read them.”

“Right.”

“Are you okay with me taking notes? I know it makes some people uncomfortable – I’m happy to make notes afterward, if it puts you off to see me writing things down.”

Valorous put his attention to testing pens, ignoring the question, dropping the ones that didn’t work in a pile on the floor. “This wasn’t just bait for me, you just had all these shitty pens that don’t work,” he said. “This place is a mess. Maybe you should be in therapy.”

“Oh, I am,” said Dot, infuriatingly unmoved. “I just never get around to it, I suppose. Does that bother you? A bit of gentle chaos?”

“It’s not gentle chaos, it’s a basket of a hundred pens and like three of them work,” said Valorous. “What the fuck is the point of that?”

“There’s not a point,” said Dot. “No big plan. I just always get a new box of pens and I empty them into the basket, and I rifle through for ones that work, and the bin is on the other side of the room because I always want to throw notes I’ve made away and then I go, no, no, I don’t want to toss that, actually, so I have the bin all the way over there so that I just put a page aside on my desk and then I decide if I want to throw it away or not, and I don’t end up having to rifle through the bin every few minutes for something I threw away but didn’t really want to. But that means it’s too far away for me to toss out pens unless I remember, which I never do.”

“That’s insane,” said Valorous. “Are you kidding? Is that a joke?”

“No joke, just my life,” said Dot, beaming.

“You don’t think that puts patients off? You just saying you’re lazy and indecisive?”

“I don’t know,” she said idly, shrugging her shoulders. “Does it put you off?”

“I was already put off.”

“Uh huh, you said here you’ve been in psychotherapy before. Was that recent?”

“Nah, I had to see counsellors all the time when I was a kid,” said Valorous. “A man killed my father, and I shot him in the back of the head with his own gun.”

“I’m sorry,” said Dot, sobering up a bit and looking at him with a serious look on her face, but he was relieved she didn’t make a big deal about it, saying how awful or horrible it must’ve been. “How old were you?”

“Nine.”

“Nine, wow,” said Dot. “So your mum sent took you to a counsellor?”

“No, I never talked to my mother,” said Valorous. “I saw some counsellors in Lashton when I lived with my family, and then part of being a boarder at Saint Idloes included that shit as a matter of course. Doctor Maybeetle was in charge of boarders, and he’s a child psychologist, so even if it wasn’t formal, every conversation with him included being psychoanalysed.”

Dot nodded her head, writing that down – when he automatically looked at her notebook to see what she was writing, he found that the symbols she was writing blurred and swam before his eyes, so he couldn’t even distinguish them from each other, let alone try to read a line of it.

“Enochian,” he said.

“We don’t call it that,” said Dot. “Does it bother you, being psychoanalysed?”

“Everyone does it,” said Valorous. “But most people do it for normal reasons – gain, self-defence, strategy, to make money. Psychologists, therapists, counsellors, whatever. What you do is… Different. You don’t just see how people are and use it – you try to change it.”

“I don’t know if I’d agree with that,” said Dot. “For me, as far as I see my job, we’re not here to change how you think or how you feel. We’re here to facilitate what you need – some people, they just want to talk about their lives out loud and try to decide on what to do next, or see their decisions from the outside. They don’t necessarily want to change anything about themselves, but just understand themselves better. For a lot of people, though, the work they do with a therapist is to understand themselves better and the wounds they’re carrying that they want to heal from – which can include changing themselves, yes, but only in the sense that setting a bone to heal changes you.”

“You were a doctor before?”

“I’m a doctor of medicine, yeah,” said Dot. “But during the war, I started getting interested in psychology and psychotherapy – the field as we know it is very new, but I’ve been following along with it. How about you, are you trained in medicine? I expect it’s impossible to be a magical knight and not pick up a few things here and there.”

“Field medicine,” said Valorous. “The basic stuff. I’m a pretty powerful mage, more so than most people are, but you can’t get through healing magic on just raw power. Try to stem a wound and you can end up just closing an artery.”

“I don’t know if it’ll make you feel better about being here,” said Dot, “but this sort of work is the same. There are no quick fixes, no brute force solutions. We have to go slowly to see what we’re doing in this line of work, and let things heal at their own pace.”

“You can’t fix me right away, you mean,” said Valorous. “You probably can’t fix me at all.”

“Probably not,” said Dot, still unflinching. He hated telepaths, because you could never get a feel on them – they knew what you were trying to do and they were better at presenting false signals, harder to read, because you couldn’t catch them by surprise in exactly the same way. Myrddin was virtually immune to them, but no matter how many times he’d talked about how you could push out a telepath or disguise what you were thinking, what you were thinking, Valorous had never been able to understand it or put it in practice. “I don’t know if you’re in need of fixing. What about yourself would you like fixed?”

“Being crazy, I guess,” said Valorous. He had a pile of forty pens on the floor beside his foot, and he’d put two that worked on the table, but only one of them had a lid. “Cecil says I have OCD.”

“You might,” said Dot. “I wouldn’t be able to diagnose that or any other condition right away, but if you want to explore diagnosis, we can – apart from therapeutic techniques, if you want to try medication down the line, we can discuss that. Manny and I are both medical doctors, like I said, so we’re qualified to offer medication or other medical intervention beyond psychotherapy. Are you worried about potentially receiving a diagnosis?”

“No,” said Valorous. “What’s the point being worried? If I’m crazy, I’m crazy. You putting a label on it doesn’t give me something I didn’t have before.”

“But it would be a confirmation that there is something wrong,” said Dot. She had a nice manicure, her nails pink and with fancy tips on.  “I wouldn’t use the word crazy – it’s a fairly negative word, I think, too negative. Mental illness comes with negative connotations we don’t ascribe in quite the same way to physical illness or injury. Is that why you’re here, do you think, to see if you are crazy or not?”

“I’m here because Cecil’s making me.”

“I saw you put emotional blackmail.”

“I said I wouldn’t come unless he went too. Didn’t think he’d actually do it.”

And he’d been fucking furious, too, when Cecil had come home and said he’d found somewhere, just like that, and they’d made an appointment, and now he was here, and he wanted to be sick, except that was an overreaction, really – it wasn’t a big deal. It was more of a chore, like everything else, and just Cecil trying to get rid of him.

“Mr Hobbes is your partner?”

“He used to be my PE teacher,” said Valorous. The pen he was holding scribbled on the page, and he dropped it on the table.

“He has a PE teacher’s vibe,” said Dot thoughtfully, and it made Valorous laugh even though he didn’t mean to. “Can I ask why he’s making you?”

“Because I’m crazy.”

“Is that what he said?”

Valorous dropped a few more pens onto the pile, listening to the plasticky click they made. “He’s trying to… help me. Be normal. And I think he thinks that I’m too much for him to actually, um, fix. But that’s not really it. He’s crazier than I am – really what he wants is for us to go to therapy so that you’ll say I have daddy issues and that I’m self-sabotaging or whatever by fucking him, and then we’ll break up. Because when he says it, I won’t listen.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because he’s crazier than I am.” He dropped more pens aside, putting aside three that actually worked. “I tried to fuck him, when I was in school, and he always said no, but now we’re together, now I’ve come back to Lashton.”

“Okay,” said Dot, still not sounding surprised, just politely interested, like they were talking about what coffee they liked or how he looked after his armour. “How does he help you?”

“He, um. I don’t know. He’s there. He’s calm. He says shit that I do, but he doesn’t have a go or whatever – he says nice stuff. About me, about how people should treat me.”

“That must be wonderful to have,” said Dot.

“He’s a paedophile,” said Valorous, looking up and meeting her gaze. “He wanted to fuck me when I was a kid – he thought I was hot. He wanked over me, and he fucked other teenagers, because he is a nonce.”

Dot nodded, but she didn’t look angry or uncomfortable or annoyed, which was just fucking weird.

“Which makes him a rapist,” said Valorous. “Not by standards in Cymru-Loegr or the UK, but he’s fucked plenty of men that are sixteen, seventeen, which would be underage in a lot of places. Fucking teenagers, a lot of them students. Do you find that disgusting?”

“Do you?”

“No.”

“No?” asked Dot, arching her eyebrows. “You don’t think so?”

“I don’t really agree with age of consent laws,” said Valorous. “Take me and Cecil – I wanted to have sex with him when I was fifteen, but if he’d let me suck him off like I wanted to, he could have been arrested because I was underage and his teacher. But I initiated everything, I tried to seduce him, for months. I was the one that wanted sex, but he’d be the criminal. It’s just infantilising. We didn’t have them until the last few hundred years – fae don’t have them. They think the concept is insane.”

Dot nodded her head, making a note on her page, and Valorous looked down at the symbols then tried to blink the blur out of his eyes, looking back up at her face. “Does Mr Hobbes agree with you?”

“Cecil. He’s not Mr Hobbes, he’s Cecil.”

“Cecil, then.”

“No,” said Valorous. “He thinks the age of consent should be seventeen instead of sixteen, and that there should be different punishments for sexual offences – especially for like, teachers, nurses, priests, other people in positions of power. He’s got a lot of books about it, you know. Psychology and psychiatry and sexual abuse and the effects it has on you, but also about like, prison abolition and stuff like that. He’ll tell you he’s not a communist, but he’s not, like… Normal. He won’t call himself a communist but he believes in everything communists believe in. He thinks it’s disgusting that I’m police.”

“That must be hard, having him disapprove. Did you always want to be in the police force?”

“Not really.”

“Do you enjoy the work?”

“I guess. Are you just going to keep asking me disconnected questions the whole time?”

“This is our first session,” said Dot, shrugging her shoulders. “I suppose this is just us getting a feeling for one another, seeing how our styles suit each other, and for me, getting a foundation of who you are, what you need. Is there anything you’d like to get out of these sessions together?”

“I don’t know,” said Valorous.

“You said that you think Cecil only wants you to come because he thinks it’ll make you break up with him,” said Dot, and Valorous scowled, regretting having said that. “Are you worried you might do that?”

“No,” said Valorous. “We’re meant to be together.”

Dot nodded her head, seeming to take that seriously, and then she said, “A lot of people around Lashton don’t really believe in destiny, or the idea of anything being predestined. It must be a different story, when you’re a child of prophecy.”

Valorous took that in, because she didn’t say it mockingly or scornfully, or like it was fantastical like some people did. “How much do you know about me?” he asked, and Dot looked thoughtful, pressing her lips loosely together, her eyes closing slightly as she thought carefully.

“I don’t know, I’ve read about you in the papers. You’re Sir Valorous King – I know that you’re a knight of the realm, that you were a member of the King’s Service. I’ve read about you commanding battalions as part of the army, and I’ve read about you winning tournaments and competitions – I know that you’re a champion jouster, that you’ve championed the arena in Camelot a lot of times, that you’ve met a lot of royalty in these islands head to head, whether fae or human. But I’ve read about some of the prophesied fights – there was a griffin that came through a dimensional tear in Camelot, and it was said that whoever defeated it would be the king’s shield, right? That was you. And there were other ones too, of course – different little quests here and there.”

It was always weird, hearing about it from the outside.

He never really thought about it, when it was his life, didn’t much think about it being destiny or not – he went where Myrddin told him to, and if a beast needed killing, he killed it, and if a task needed doing, he did it. People always said that the “quests” they set were hard or arduous, but that was only because they weren’t Valorous King. Things that were impossible for other people were easy for him.

It had nothing to do with being a hero in the literary or prophetic sense: it was a vocation. He could slay dragons and quiet unsettled tombs and break curses, but he couldn’t balance a spreadsheet, no more than an accountant would be able to do any of the shit he did.

He normally only heard about the prophecies after he’d fulfilled them – Myrddin always said that the future was set out but only in the sense that there were guideposts, and everything that went on went between them or around them. It was impossible to accurately interpret a prophecy until you had all the pieces, which meant that you could only understand it after the fact, and even then, people didn’t always agree.

“Do you wish people knew different things about you?” asked Dot. “All of us, when we go through life, know that people have perceptions of us, and it’s difficult to contest with, when those perceptions don’t match up with how we see ourselves, but when you’re a celebrity or a public figure, all of that’s multiplied, isn’t it?”

“I guess,” said Valorous. “It never used to matter.”

“What do you mean?”

“What people think of me, normal people. I’m not real to them, I’m just a storybook character, a legend. They can’t understand me, because they’re not meant to – I’m not meant to, either. When you say I’m a knight of the realm or a child of prophecy, that’s not something I chose to be. A knight of the realm isn’t a person. A child of prophecy isn’t a human being – or a fae, or, you know what I mean. I’m more like a tool or a device or a game piece.”

“I never thought about it like that,” said Dot, making a few notes down on the page. “Is that a hard transition, to go from being a game piece to being a person?”

Valorous put the last of the dead pens on the floor, and he picked out lids from the dead pens and matched them to the best ones he could of the twelve left on the table, then dropped them all in the basket. It seemed weirdly empty, with the massive pile of dead pens left on the floor.

“Because Sir Serena is Myrddin’s new favourite, you mean?” asked Valorous. “Because I’ve just been demoted to civilian life?”

“Is it a demotion?” asked Dot, tilting her head. “I suppose I thought it was more like a retirement, letting you rest.”

“What does that mean?” asked Valorous. “Rest? What do you mean by that?”

He’d caught her off guard with that, and he hadn’t even meant to: she looked disarmed, leaning back in her seat, thinking through the question. “To… relax,” she said. “To play, to sleep, to have fun. To do all that without the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

“I never carried it,” said Valorous. “I never had to. That’s what I just told you – I didn’t make decisions, I didn’t choose who or what I was. I just did what I was told. Now, I’m supposed to make all the decisions, but there’s no right answer, no direction. How’s that rest? How’s that more fun?”

Dot looked at him, her lips shifting into a small smile, and then she said, “I suppose it isn’t. But Cecil helps?”

“Yeah,” said Valorous lowly. “Of course he does. Because he knows how that stuff… works.”

“We can make that a goal,” said Dot. “Better equipping you to cope with not having a formal structure to rely on, how unpredictable life is. How do you feel about your relationship with Cecil?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is there anything about your relationship with him that you’d like to be different? Anything between the two of you that you’d like to be better at?”

Valorous stared at her, not understanding the fucking question – if he wanted anything to be different, why would he even be with Cecil? What would the point be?

“What about your relationships with other people?”

“I don’t have other relationships,” he said.

“No, not romantic relationships,” said Dot. “I meant, you know, friendships, family relationships, relationships at work…”

“I knew what you meant.”

“Alright,” said Dot. “And what about… Now? How do you feel right now, about your life?”

“It’s my life,” said Valorous. “It’s what’s happening. I wanted Cecil, now I have Cecil.”

“You don’t have any other goals in life?”

Valorous thought about it, and then said, “We have a dog. Ruby. Cecil’s dog. She’s a rescue. I want to help her. I’m not good at… I’ve never had a dog before. Or been with a dog, around a dog. I want to help make her better.”

“Better?” Dot asked. “What does she need to be better at?”

“She’s scared of everything. She doesn’t know how to play. She pisses inside sometimes – she has to wear a muzzle with other dogs, or she’ll bite. She’s reactive, Cecil calls it. She was chained in a yard for most of her life, so she’s not really well-socialised, and she’s clingy, and she barks a lot.”

“How will you help her?”

“Do what Cecil does. Feed her, and love her, and make her feel safe.”

“We all need that in our lives,” said Dot.

“I guess.”

“I notice here, it asks if you’ve ever thought about suicide, and you left it blank. Do you mind if I ask why you didn’t answer?”

“To a normal person, my life is suicidal,” said Valorous. “All of it, it’s risking death, going up against what would be certain death, if just for the fact that it was me doing it, so I knew I wouldn’t die.”

“Okay,” said Dot. “Have you ever gone into something hoping that you would die?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“Okay,” said Dot. “Well— Sir Valorous, I—”

“Not Sir,” said Valorous. “No one calls me that. You don’t have to call me that.”

“Valorous,” said Dot, and Valorous nodded his head. “I know that you said that you’re here because Cecil made you, but I’d like to make this a good experience for you – for us to have fun, for us to be able to work through absolutely anything you want to work through. If you come in and all you want to do is complain about work, you can do that.”

“And if I have OCD? Or— PTSD. Or anything else?”

“We’ll work through it,” said Dot. “I’d rather not focus on diagnoses right away – what I’d like to do for at least the first few weeks is talk things through, see what you’re dealing with, how you cope with stress, what you baseline is for moods. If later on, psychotherapy isn’t helping, and you’re having severe symptoms, we can address that.”

“Drug me.”

“If needed,” said Dot. “Do you think you need medication?”

“Not really,” said Valorous. “I don’t even drink much.”

“But you exercise,” said Dot. “And you use very powerful magic – that gives you a rush that drugs and alcohol can’t.”

“My body is made for that magic,” said Valorous. “It flows through me – not using it would be like you not using your telepathy. And I like exercise.”

“Do you think you might come to like therapy?” asked Dot.

“Do you care about stuff like that?” asked Valorous. “Does it make you feel insecure if people don’t like you, if they don’t enjoy the therapeutic process?”

“Sometimes,” said Dot, so honest it made his skin crawl. “I’ve always very much craved to be liked, which is hard for me, not always easy. Especially as a doctor, as a psychotherapist, it’s not my job to be liked – it’s my job to help, and sometimes, giving a patient the right advice or attention means they won’t like you. The same as you might not like your gym instructor, but you get stronger and do better with their guidance.”

Valorous stared at her. “Has it been an hour?” he asked.

“Nearly.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t feel like you’re done?” asked Dot, tilting her head. “You want to keep going?”

“No,” said Valorous – he said it too quickly, because she smiled, and he ignored her, picking up the pens in a huge handful and bringing them over to the bin, dropping them all inside.

“It was really nice to meet you, Valorous,” said Dot.

“I’m not what you expected.”

“No,” Dot agreed. “Am I what you expected?”

Valorous pressed his lips together, leaning back slightly. His hands twitched at his sides, but he resisted the urge to cross his arms over his chest. “No,” he said.

Dot grinned at him.

“I just need you to fill out this form before you go,” she said, and he took it, staring down at the table printed on the page.

“State how much I want to kill myself from 1-10?”

“The questions are simple,” said Dot, smiling at him. “But what I do with these numbers is I mark them all down, and later on we’ll be able to chart how you felt each week, look at how things have improved or gotten worse on a graph.”

Valorous filled them in almost at random.

“Thank you,” said Dot, and put the form aside.

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