Rescue Dogs by JohannesTEvans | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter Seventeen

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When Valorous finished up at the office on Saturday morning, he felt like there was a subtle vibration under his skin, his clothes feeling too tight and too heavy, his hands twitching. There was a thickness in the air that had nothing to do with the weather or the actual air pressure and everything to do with the tension woven through his own body.

It had been a long fucking day. He’d gone along to Regents Drive to pick up a statement from a witness in a murder a few months back – she was sick, the old lady, and she didn’t leave her house much, had seen the whole thing through her window, but subsequently wasn’t much up for the trip down to the station, and in any event, didn’t want to be a witness anyway.

Valorous didn’t have any illusions about the fact that they sent him there so that people on the street would see him walk in and be appropriately intimidated, maybe – maybe that she’d be intimidated herself, although she wasn’t actually.

Ursus Hound lived on Regents Drive, and Valorous had seen him as he’d come down from the lady’s front door, descending the ramp she’d had put in – the young lad had seen Valorous and blanched, and Valorous had thought about what his piss had smelled like when Valorous had caught him the other day like a frightened rabbit, how he’d shook and cried.

He'd wanted to say something – he’d meant to say something.

He’d meant to hold up his hands and say something about peace or that he was safe or that it was fine, but the kid had taken one look at Valorous and fucking bolted, and the worst thing about it, the worst fucking thing, was that Valorous’ body had jumped with the sudden instinct to chase after him.

Like he was an actual fucking dog, and Ursus Hound was a real fucking rabbit, like Valorous was really going to chase him down and what, scream at him for fucking running?

He hadn’t mentioned it when he got back – the others would have said to him that he should have. That innocent people didn’t run from cops for no reason, as if what Valorous had done to him hadn’t been a fucking reason.

It had stuck with him, though. He’d wanted to talk about it with Cecil, but he knew Cecil would be busy, that he wouldn’t be home when Valorous got out – he’d seen when he was looking through Cecil’s phone that he was going for a pint with Coshel Fenwick. His plan when he came out of the station was basically to go and watch them.

He could go unseen, when he wanted. It would almost be like old times, watching Cecil and Coshel at once, following them from one pub to whichever ones they went to next, getting close enough to hear them talk or at least to read their lips.

When he came out of the back of the station though, it was to find his Uncle Heinous outside, bundled in his grey coat with his hands stuffed in his pockets. He was a small man, really – he was 5’6”, about dead between Cecil’s height and Valorous’ own, and he was pale and pink, bald, his eyebrows a gingery blond colour.

“Hello, love,” he said quietly, and Valorous was surprised at how he felt to see the other man, feeling his lips curl into a smile. “Jack gave me a bell – said you might want a bit of a chat.”

“I didn’t say anything to Jack,” Valorous said.

“No, other people have been talking to him, though,” Heinous said quietly, seriously. “About this business with those boys and those fireworks.”

Valorous shifted the position of his bag on his shoulder, and he looked away from Heinous, sliding his hands into his pockets.

Heinous asked, “Is that your dad’s old coat?”

It was. Valorous remembered what he’d used to look like in it – people asked him sometimes if it was a vintage piece, where he’d bought it, and he normally just shrugged and said he’d picked it up in a charity drop rather than telling people it was his dead dad’s favourite coat. It was a nice coat, dark blue leather, and he did his best to take care of it, never took it on jobs, when he was working abroad or when he’d be liable to get it soaked with blood.

“Yeah,” Valorous said, because he hadn’t said anything for a long time.

“I remember when he bought it – used the first paycheque he’d gotten from our mother, Dauntless, once he was discharged from the army and worked for the family instead.” He was smiling slightly as he said it, the expression faint, but there, and real. “That tear on the inside of the lining, underneath the right sleeve, where it’s repaired, sewn back shut, I fixed that for him. He’d only had the coat two weeks, tore it chasing after some poor prick he was shaking down for money, who Vainglorious had followed over an iron railed fence. I thought he’d fucking cry – he was twenty-three, kept babbling about how your mother would think he was such a prick. He was always desperate to impress her.”

Valorous touched the inside of the jacket lining, felt for the thread and dragged his thumb slowly down the golden thread, a different colour and weight to the rest of the blue silk lining.

“Oh,” said Valorous, not knowing what else to say. “I didn’t know that,” he said, because he hadn’t.

“Why don’t I give you a lift home?” Heinous asked, nodding back to his car – a green Ford Cortina from 1969. Valorous knew the car very well – it had been his dad’s car, one he’d bought for the year he was born, and Valorous remembered sitting back up on a workbench in the garage and watching his father stripped down to his shirt with his sleeves rolled up, stained with grease and filth from working on her.

“Okay,” Valorous said, and eased his back off his shoulder, walking to the passenger side and sliding into the seat, and for a second he felt like he was seven years old again, huddled in his father’s coat and pushing his schoolbag down onto his feet to get it out of the way. Ready to talk to him about his day – about what weapons he’d been training with, what he’d been learning, what he’d been doing.

His father had used to say he didn’t have the opportunity to go to the sort of school that Valorous did, that he was never smart enough for it like he was – that he was playing catch-up, that Valorous had to help him out and give him the crash course.

Valorous had laughed a lot in this car as a little boy – laughed and laughed, corrected his dad for not knowing his capital cities or his ruling monarchs, for not knowing the difference between a glaive and a poleaxe and a halberd, for not knowing the difference between a spell and an enchantment. His dad had used to jab him back, quiz him on the differences between different handguns, shotguns, rifles, make Valorous rattle off calibres and ranges.

The hitman that had shot him, a big Lancastrian called Billy Trotter, had gotten him just on his way out of the shower – mostly dressed, but it was because of the water that he hadn’t heard Valorous was home as well, he thought. The guy hadn’t been much of a professional, but the shot had been good.

Vainglorious, dead, had been sprawled on the floor with his face angled toward the ceiling, one of his eyes filling with blood, his jaw dropped, his brains leaking out of the hole in the back of his head.

Valorous’ shot had still been better – he’d shot Huck through the back of the head, and the hole in his forehead had been dead centre. He’d told Uncle Heinous when he’d picked Valorous up from the police station, and he remembered still the look on the other man’s face, the stricken expression before he forced himself to slightly smile and say, “You did a hard thing, love. You did well.”

“Why are you here?” Valorous asked as Heinous pulled away from the station carpark and out onto the road.

“Did you want to kill them?” Heinous asked, not taking his eyes off the road, his expression blank, his voice sort of toneless in a way that made Valorous’ stomach churn. He was glad it was Heinous and not Noble – it would always have been Noble, never Jack. Jack was never the disciplinarian in the family, and really, nor was Heinous, but at least he could be direct. “One of those boys, all of those boys?”

“No,” Valorous said. “I wanted to scare them.”

“Did you mean to scare them as much as you did?”

“No,” said Valorous. “It was, um…” His voice suddenly sounded thick, and his eyes almost tearing up. “I talked to my therapist about it, she said, um, probably a trigger, um, for my PTSD. There was a threat, so I responded to the threat, I just followed my training, and then, um, instead of hurting them or killing them, I just took their phones, ‘cause it was something I could do, I guess?”

“I thought about as much,” said Heinous quietly. “What are you going to do?”

“We’re not charging them,” said Valorous. “The boys, any of them – they all have their phones back, and none of ‘em have the money to sue, and anyone who would, um, wo… wouldn’t. Because of who I am. I talked to a solicitor, an angel solicitor, about— about if they’d take the case pro bono, or I’d pay anonymously, and not even make it that official, but so that they could get money? Like, I could give them, give them money, but they said it wasn’t feasible. That none of them wanted money from me anyway.”

He wiped at one of his eyes, smearing the tears away.

“You wanted to give them money to make it better?” Heinous asked. Valorous didn’t know what to make of his tone.

“I wanted to give them something,” Valorous said. “I saw one of them today, one of them who, um, who pissed himself when I grabbed him the other night. Thought he was going to do it again just looking at me, he went all fucking pale like a corpse and bolted. Some of those boys are going to have nightmares about me until the day they die.”

“All five of them, I’d bet,” said Heinous, and Valorous looked down at his knees. “But they put fireworks right on your doorstep, could have set the house or any of the three of you alight – could have killed you. Could have hurt you.”

“They didn’t mean to do that, exactly.”

“No, they just wanted to scare a local paedophile and didn’t mind if they killed him or his dog in the process. They got more than they bargained for, with you being there, that’s all.”

“You don’t think I should offer them something?”

“They don’t want anything you could offer them, love,” said Heinous, and his voice was gentler this time. “It’s good you’ve not arrested them or charged them in any official capacity, but all five of them were already known to the police, as far as Jack seems to have heard.”

“They’re just kids,” Valorous said.

“They’re young adults,” Heinous said. “Old enough to understand consequences – and while I’m hardly defending what you did, love, I expect it has taught them and many of their friends not to go knocking on the same doors again.”

Valorous nodded, his arms crossed loosely over his chest and his gaze out of the window, at the other cars, at the traffic in the street, at the people walking by. It was just before four, and the school traffic had already started, but not the biggest part of the rush hour traffic yet.

“Do you think people are talking about it?” he asked. “Me being with Cecil?”

“I expect that it’s actually put to rest a good many of the rumours about him,” Heinous said. “The boy he was with before, that one was seventeen, eighteen? You’re close to thirty, Valorous. You might be a short little prick, my dear, but you’re no boy any longer, and you don’t resemble one.”

“I didn’t look like much of once since I was about fifteen,” Valorous said – that made Heinous go quiet, and Valorous in another mood might have harped on at him, might have crowed about it, but he knew what that was, that it was a desire to deflect and get away from the emotion. That he did that, picked fights to get away from the feelings.

“How’s work?” asked Heinous when they stopped at a set of traffic lights.

“I handed in my notice,” said Valorous, and he didn’t look to meet Heinous’ gaze as he looked across at him, though he felt the weight of his uncle’s stare before he looked back to the road and kept driving.

“Oh, Val,” he said. “Thank God.”

Valorous bit the inside of his lip, and he gripped more tightly at the fabric of Cecil’s hoodie under his dad’s jacket. “You think I should never have taken the job?” he asked. “You never said.”

“No, what business of it of mine to tell you that? You didn’t seem excited about it, but then, you never seem excited about much anymore. It’s been a long time since you were a boy eager to tell me about your glasses at school, and funnily enough, it feels longer still since you were telling me about the last dragon you’d slain.”

Valorous couldn’t really remember a time when he was excited about things – not excited in the way that Heinous seemed to mean, anyway. Not excited like a kid got excited about things.

“Don’t think about how things could have been different, love,” Heinous said. “I know it’s easy, I know it’s what soaks up your thoughts and your focus on bad days, but thinking about it gets us nowhere fast, and nowhere far, either. Change what you can, but dwelling on what you can’t? That serves no one.”

“I’m dwelling on it a bit,” said Valorous. “Um, Dot, my therapist, she said, she says, um… It’s healthy to think about. Not to dwell on it, I don’t mean it like that, but like, to think about why I made the choices I did, or if it felt like I had a choice at the time. To think about, um… past agency, and what’s changed, I guess? Because I’m not good at that.”

“Thinking about the past?”

“Having agency.”

Heinous took in a long, slow breath, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. Valorous’ dad had used to wear driving gloves, ones that matched not this jacket, but the duster coat that’s in one of Valorous’ wardrobes – his plump, short fingers look strangely bear against the wheel.

“No, you’re not, are you?” Heinous asked rhetorically. “I— Well, not to be a hypocrite, but let’s dwell a bit, while we’re dwelling.”

“Are we dwelling?”

“We’re dwelling. I wanted to apologise, actually. When Jack phoned me, I… Were you happy, growing up with Noble and Jack?”

“What do you mean?” Valorous asked, and Heinous sighed quietly, which meant that wasn’t the right question, or the right answer, or whatever – Valorous supposed the fact that he didn’t know what the question was even supposed to mean was part of the fact that he didn’t have much agency in the first place. “I don’t know, Heinous, I… I didn’t, really, did I? I grew up at Idloes Sant. I had to, so I didn’t fucking kill all of them in my sleep. And then when Myrddin took me, after that, and I could sleep well enough that I didn’t have to board at Idloes anymore, I barely went home anymore. None of them really knew me – I didn’t really know most of them, still don’t.”

“Well, how can they know you when you don’t know you, love?” Heinous asked, and Valorous looked ahead as Heinous stopped on the road in front of Cecil’s house, looking confused for a second, a shadow passing over his face. “I could have… sworn…”

“It’s the enchantments, they’re new,” Valorous said, and made a gesture so that the gates on the drive opened up – blinking a few times, Heinous shook his head as if to get the lingering confusion out of his head, and pulled up onto the drive, and Valorous flicked his fingers and closed the gates behind them.

“Who needs a clicker?” asked Heinous faintly, more to himself than to Valorous, and Valorous got out of the car. He didn’t know what to make of the fact that Heinous had driven them here instead of to Valorous’ own apartment – Valorous was glad that he hadn’t. Cecil’s house was more of a home, really.

“Why are you sorry?” he asked, shouldering his bag.

“I was talking to Indistinguishable about it the other night,” Heinous said as he got out of his side. “And I just— I know it might not have been immediately different. Schools in Camelot are not necessarily better than in Lashton, but I—”

“The fuck are you talking about?”

Heinous seemed surprised that he didn’t know as he trailed after Valorous toward the house. “Well, we were going to take you, I was going to take you,” he said. “After Vainglorious died, we— we ended up taking you to Lashton to enrol early at Idloes Sant and be under Jack and Noble’s guardianship, but I wanted you with me.”

Valorous’ feet stopped moving on the path, and he slowly turned his head to look at Heinous, really look at him. He remembered being a little boy and finding the man faintly dull and a little odd, but loving and friendly, affectionate in a way he grew unused to after his dad died; he remembered being not bored exactly by him as a teenager, but simply uncomprehending of him, of the fact that he was a clerk and that he played boardgames and liked spreadsheets and all the rest.

He couldn’t really take in what had just been said to him.

“You had a job,” Valorous said. “It’s not like you had a wife, or, um,” they’d never actually discussed this, and he felt hotly embarrassed all of a sudden, “a husband? You couldn’t have taken me into the witch general’s office on days I was off school and you were clerking.”

“Oh, I’d have taken a sabbatical until you were old enough,” Heinous said, “and Indistinguishable and I— Well, that’s why we were talking about it. He would have moved out of his apartments at Camelot University and we’d have moved into a house together so that you had two of us to rely on. He brought it up because he was saying one of the houses we were looking at that was quite close to the university campus, it just sold the other day for quite a bit…”

He trailed off, and Valorous worked on autopilot, opening the front door and gesturing for Heinous to come inside, closing it, opening the other.

“Hi, Ruby,” he said softly, and he watched her body language as she went from excitedly up on her feet, her tail wagging, to her body stiffening as she looked past Valorous to Heinous. “Stand right there, please, just stay still for a second?”

“Alright,” Heinous said, and stood still as Valorous crouched down and caught Ruby by the cheeks, rubbing at them before stroking her side and feeling her relax a bit, feel some of the tension eke out of her body.

“Good girl, Rubes,” Valorous said, and he took a meaty stick out of the jar, breaking it in half and giving one half to her. Cautiously, not taking her eyes off of Heinous, she took it in her mouth, and then stood there on all four paws with her tail between her legs and her shoulders down and her head slightly forward. Heinous glanced at her, and away again, and she chewed and swallowed the stick.

Heinous took the other half when Valorous gave it to him, and Ruby regarded him suspiciously.

“Don’t pet her, please, and don’t stand over her,” Valorous advised. “She’s probably gonna take it from you and then walk off to her bed – say good girl, praise her, but no touching, and try not to look at her much once she’s taken the treat.”

“Right,” said Heinous softly, and held out the treat as Ruby slowly approached him. “Hello there, Ruby, aren’t you gorgeous?”

Heinous was holding the treat out by the very tips of his fingers, and in mirror to his caution, Ruby took it in the very edges of her teeth before quickly turning away.

“Good girl!” Heinous called after her, but he was smiling as Ruby went over to her bed.

Valorous filled the kettle and put it on to boil before refreshing Ruby’s water bowl.

“You’re good with her,” Heinous said. “This, um, this rescue dog thing, you’re good at it.”

“I’m not as good as Cecil,” said Valorous. He was thinking about living in a house instead of in a boarding school dormitory – thinking about living with Heinous and Indistinguishable instead of Maybeetle and the other boarding staff, and the other kids; about them instead of Noble and Jack and all his cousins. “I’m not patient like he is.”

Doctor Indistinguishable King was the head of the Necromancy Department at Camelot University, and had been for twenty something years – Valorous didn’t know if he’d already been made head when his father had died, or if it was something he had been willing to give up to look after it. Valorous liked Indistinguishable, although he was the kind of freak most necromancers were – he was generally more interested in the dead than the living, and all of his friends were hundreds of years old, and mean, which Valorous had always liked, on the days in his life where he’d hung out in Indistinguishable’s office, or when the man had come to see him in hospital or for one birthday or other. He’d even taught Valorous a good bit of magic, although Valorous didn’t like how necromancy tasted, how it felt, when he drew on it.

“He hated kids,” said Valorous as he poured tea. “Indistinguishable.”

“He hates the living,” Heinous corrected. “And it’s different, for family. He was— In all honesty, at the time, I think he was actually rather excited. He had a better handle on your magical potential at that age than Noble or I – we discussed it, and we were thinking that we’d send you back to Sons of Cumhaill and continue what Vainglorious had been doing – bring you home every weekend, every weekend, if you wanted it. It wasn’t as though we could afford it, between the two of us, and, uh…”

Valorous was pouring hot water onto their tea bags, and watching the water rust to a reddened brown.

“Sorry,” Heinous said to Valorous’ back. “Am I making it worse, telling you this?”

“I hope you don’t take it like an insult, or take it personally, when I say that, um… I don’t think it ever occurred to me that you, or, maybe not you, but definitely not Indistinguishable, um— It never occurred to me that he might love me so much that he’d want to be my guardian. Or that you… I remember how much you were involved, when I came back to Lashton – I remember being angry about boarding at Idloes Sant instead of going back to Sons of Cumhaill. But that it was you who insisted on the counselling referrals, and that shit.”

“Oh, Val,” said Heinous. “We would have moved the Earth for you – I’m sorry you didn’t know, that we didn’t… we didn’t show you.”

“Did Noble argue with you?”

“Not exactly,” Heinous said, taking his tea once Valorous had doused it with milk and sugar. “No, we discussed it. Noble was worried about you being sent back to a military environment after killing a man, particularly given how strictly disciplined they were – and especially given that both Indistinguishable and I have served ourselves, given that I still work for the army despite not being a soldier… She was actually… Please don’t think less of her for this.”

“No,” said Valorous.

“She was reluctant to take you, at first. Even before we realised that your nightmares were a safety concern, the fires you started in your sleep, she was concerned about having you in her house with the other children.”

“Oh,” said Valorous. “Nah, I don’t think less of her for that. That’s common sense.”

“Once she had you, once she saw how… how shut down you were, she was worried about you going back to Sons of Cumhaill, and to be honest, so I was I. I thought other children would be better for you, and I know that Vain always gave you a rather strict, regimented household, and I suppose I just… I thought a house more like that, an actual family home, would help.”

“It did,” said Valorous. “To be honest, Heinous, most of what fucked me up was, you know, seeing my dad get murdered, shooting his murderer in the head, being as powerful as I am, and just… having a destiny. There’s no reason it would have been different growing up with you and Indistinguishable or still going back to Sons of Cumhaill versus Noble and Jack and Idloes Sant.”

“Do you wish we’d protected you from it?” Heinous asked, suddenly so serious Valorous didn’t know what to do with it.

“From my dad getting murdered?”

“From your destiny,” Heinous said. “Do you wish that— Do you wish we’d told him no? The king regent, when he wanted to take you back to Camelot?”

“How the fuck were you gonna say no?”

“We could have sent you to the Castle. Could have brought you elsewhere. I could have insisted that I go with you, or Indistinguishable, or—” His voice hitched in his throat, and suddenly Valorous’ Uncle Heinous looked so fucking sad and so fucking small and Valorous didn’t know what to do, what to say. “Are you angry that none of us did, love? Should we have? Because every time, every time he took you away, and then when he was dispatching you on all these missions and you were just a boy, you were just a boy, and we let him— And I’d ask, and you’d tell me it was what you wanted, that I couldn’t understand  - I know you had similar conversations with all of us, over the years, that you’d brush us off, and I wanted to, to respect your choices, because you’re so powerful, you had such… I hardly knew better than you did. But should I have stepped in anyway? Should one of us have tried to stop him anyway?”

“You couldn’t have stopped him,” said Valorous.

“Should we have tried?” Heinous asked, and he sounded so desperately urgent that it made Valorous’ chest ache, made his stomach churn.

“I don’t think it would have helped,” Valorous said softly. “But, um… thank you. For telling me, and um— it makes me feel better. That you were thinking about it. That you cared.”

“I’m sorry,” said Heinous.

“I think you did your best,” Valorous said.

“We could have done better,” Heinous whispered.

“No point dwelling,” said Valorous. “Isn’t that what you just told me?”

“Mm,” Heinous hummed, giving a small nod of his head, and then he jumped – Ruby, who’d stood up to stand beside him, jumped too, but then looked slowly up at him with her big brown eyes, her tail very gently wagging. She had her toy scarecrow in her mouth. “Oh,” he said. “Hello, Ruby. Do you want me to…?”

Ruby growled, and Heinous hurriedly retracted his hand.

Valorous reached for her, and when she touched the scarecrow to his palm, he gently tugged it from side to side, then let it go. She laid down on top of his feet, and he patted her side.

“Sorry,” Valorous said, giving Heinous a faint smile. “She is trying.”

“I know, love,” said Heinous, and the way he said it, Valorous wasn’t certain if he was saying it about the dog or Valorous himself. “I know.”

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