Rescue Dogs by JohannesTEvans | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter Fifteen

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They walked home from the cinema in silence.

Valorous could feel his skin twitching, feel the prickle on it under his skin – it wasn’t an especially warm night, but he’d been sweating a lot throughout the film, and all of his clothes felt too heavy and too uncomfortable and too stimulating.

People had looked at them, as they’d gone into the cinema.

Valorous had all but barked at Cecil to pick the film, hadn’t even listened to what film he’d picked – and he didn’t remember the title, had zoned out on the opening credits. It had been a mundie action film, guns and shooting and explosions.

Some of the ballistics stuff had been wrong – most of it had been pretty much right. Valorous couldn’t remember most of it, had been distracted by how dark it was and the movement of the people in the room, the sound of people eating popcorn, and the noise of feet shuffling. Every time someone had gotten up to use the bathroom he’d felt his whole body sort of sing with new awareness, felt himself tense and open outward to invite in more information, to hunt and search for any sensory cues – any sights, scents, sounds, magical flares, any breezes or shifts in the air currents.

Every time he’d done it, tensed and opened himself up, he’d felt as though a floodlight was being shone directly into his eyes – surrounded by so many people, in such a loud and dark and also bright environment, it was overwhelming. Agonising.

“You okay?” Cecil asked as they stepped out from the cinema building into the street, leaning toward Valorous and speaking in an undertone, directly into Valorous’ good ear.

“Four people in that room recognised me,” he said. He had his sleeves pulled down over his hands, and he was rubbing the fabric of each of his sleeves between his thumbs and forefingers, and his hood was pulled up. It was one of Cecil’s hoodies, one of his older ones – it wasn’t as if it was all that big on him, but it smelt of Cecil, and it was worn and soft and comfortable, a steel grey that had faded a bit with so many washes. He was wearing it over a light blue blouse, a laced one, and his trousers were dark green and made of a fae plant weave, his dark blue leather boots.

“How many recognised me?” Cecil asked in an even voice, not sounding too stressed about it. Valorous didn’t know if he was hiding the stress, or if it was really something that didn’t matter to him.

“One or two, maybe,” Valorous said. “None of them focused on you after the initial glance and intensified gaze, so they probably recognised you as an old teacher, not necessarily as a nonce. And none of them seemed to recognise us both together.”

They kept walking, and Valorous focused on Cecil’s worn-out trainers – he’d come to the Majoks’ office directly from the gym, and he’d showered and changed, but was basically dressed for work still, in a hoodie, trackies, a vest.

“That was a magical cinema,” Cecil said quietly. “How many people in that theatre? A hundred and fifty seats, let’s say, it was maybe seventy percent full?”

“About a hundred and twenty,” said Valorous. “Give or take.”

“How many active magic users?”

“Thirty or forty.”

“How many blonds?”

“Fifty or sixty.”

“All natural?”

“Four with obviously dyed hair. One with a wig.”

“Any ex-soldiers?”

“Six.”

“How many members of the Lashton Big Five?”

“Three Renns, Two Sorrels, no Laithes, no Kings but me. The usher was a Pike.”

“How—”

Valorous gripped hold of Cecil’s wrist, silently begging the old man to shut the fuck up, and when Cecil turned to meet his gaze Valorous saw the complete comprehension in his face, the knowledge of exactly what he was fucking doing as he asked.

“That why you don’t like cinemas?” he asked softly, raising his eyebrows and looking at Valorous, and Valorous somehow couldn’t handle it, the weight of Cecil’s eyes looking at him like that, looking right at him, inside him, through him. Cecil’s eyes were blue, but they weren’t blue like Valorous’ were.

Valorous’ eyes had always been a paler colour, kind of shiny even before the magic had liquefied the colour and burned out the texture in them – it still felt weird when he looked at photos of himself as a young kid, pictures of him close up, when he could see the flecks and furrows and crypts, all the patterning in his irises. You couldn’t see it anymore – it was still there, you just, you couldn’t see it. There was too much molten magic in them, made his eyes look liquid instead of like human eyes, how they were supposed to look.

Cecil’s eyes were a nice blue, dark, and Valorous liked the patterning in his irises, the layered blues.

“Lad,” rumbled Cecil, and Valorous realised the two of them were standing still in the middle of the street and Cecil’s hands were on him, his palms coming to cup Valorous’ forearms, palms resting over his elbows and keeping him framed in. He’d turned their bodies away from the main street, so that they weren’t as obvious to passers-by, Valorous supposed. “Did he do that with you? Make you go in cinemas for that?”

“We went to the cinema for Impeccable’s birthday, I was eighteen. I wasn’t home much – I didn’t get to go to everyone’s birthday things, to parties. Uncle Jack booked out a cinema and arranged a screening of some film she likes, this sailors romance from the 90s, all of us in there, and I couldn’t…” He remembered all the sweat on his body. When they’d gone outside he’d felt like he was freezing, the sweat lingering underneath his clothes and the cold air getting under his collar, up his sleeves. Impeccable hadn’t even been angry.

It's not like they’d ever been close, the two of them, not as though Valorous had ever been close to any of his cousins, but Impeccable hadn’t been angry, when she’d realised he’d not even been paying attention, that he’d not even been able to pay attention, that he hadn’t taken in a single thing about it.

“You’d like it, I think,” she’d said, and she’d gone as if she was about to touch him, but then hadn’t. “The film. I wouldn’t have invited you to come with us if I didn’t think you would – I’m sorry. You look ill, you look… you look bad, Valorous. Do you need anything?”

He’d felt a bit guilty about it, about it being her birthday and her thinking instead about him, shivering and cold and not right in the fucking head.

“And Myrddin?” Cecil pressed him.

“Not the cinema,” Valorous said. He was staring at Cecil’s chest instead of at his face. He could see it rising and falling. “The theatre, the opera. But I had to… I had to do that, yeah.”

“Why the fuck did we go to the cinema, then?” Cecil asked quietly, and Valorous bit his lower lip, chewing the inside of it – Cecil’s hands came up to cup his cheeks, his thumbs sliding across Valorous’ cheekbones until he let it go. “What, you wanted to test if you could enjoy it now?”

Valorous nodded, feeling the warmth of Cecil’s palms against his skin.

Cecil furrowed his brow, looking down at him, studying him. “How much of the movie did you take in, lad?”

“The bald guy was the hero. His mother was dead. He… lives?” Cecil’s mouth flattened a bit, his expression crumpling, and Valorous looked to the side to keep from keeping his gaze, shifting his hands in his sleeves again. “It’s not like you were watching it either,” Valorous muttered. “A lot of it, you were watching me.”

“I’m used to watching you at the same time I do something else,” Cecil told him, patting his cheek, and he took Valorous by the shoulders and turned him bodily away, nudging him to walk the same way he nudged the dog sometimes after she’d gotten really fixated on something.

Valorous walked.

“Was going to the cinema Dot’s idea, or yours?” Cecil asked after a few minutes of the two of them walking together, and Valorous sat on the question for a little bit before he answered it.

It hadn’t been her idea, in retrospect. The session was more of a blur of memory now that it had been overwritten with all the noise and sensation from being in the cinema – his eyes ached and his ears still felt slightly like they were ringing as they walked along together, his elbow touching Cecil’s.

They’d talked about the other night, about the fireworks, about the boys. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d basically blacked out by that, just been overcome with the fight, the urge, the…

“Were you scared of me?” Valorous asked. “That night?”

“A little,” Cecil said. “I was more scared of what you’d do to those boys, do to yourself.”

Valorous was quiet, shifting his tongue around the inside of his mouth, the tip of his tongue tracing the inside of his lower lip. They hadn’t talked about it, really, not at all. Cecil usually wanted to talk about it, about shit that was bad or rough or just made him fucking insane – that was the whole reason he went to fucking therapy in the first place, wasn’t it?

He'd been avoiding it, he guessed. Avoiding Cecil.

“You coming home with me?” Cecil asked.

He’d been surprised that Valorous wanted to go to the cinema, and Valorous had thought he’d say no, that he’d say he had other shit to do, or that he didn’t want to go right after therapy, but when Valorous had just asked and said he wanted to go, Cecil had agreed immediately. He did that, sometimes. Valorous thought he’d agree to almost anything sometimes, if Valorous seemed insane enough.

“Are you mad?” Valorous asked. His voice came out low, the words kind of toneless, but when he risked a glance at Cecil, the other man shook his head.

“Nah, not mad,” he said. “Not fucking angry. I was talking to Doctor Majok about it, and, uh… I’ve missed you, I suppose.”

Valorous suddenly felt like he was pulled back into his body, his skin suddenly fitting him when it hadn’t felt like it did before, when it had felt faraway and not really, fully attached to him. “What?” he heard himself ask.

“I missed you,” Cecil repeated, his voice harder, but still quiet. “I’ve gotten used to you, you little fucking prick – you don’t think I’d notice that you’re not there with me?”

“I have been there with you,” Valorous said.

“While I’m awake,” Cecil said. “While I’m not at work. You haven’t even been stalking me like you usually would, watching me. Not that I’d regularly encourage you to fucking do it, but I’ve noticed the absence of it.”

Valorous flinched when Cecil’s hand came to touch him, slid across his shoulders and then down to his lower back, then wrapped around his waist, gripped him. Valorous could feel the warmth of his body, feel the weight of Cecil’s muscle, lighter than Valorous’ own.

“Did you think I’d kill them?” Valorous asked.

“The boys?” Cecil asked.

Valorous nodded.

“You talk about it?” Cecil asked before he let him go. “With Dot?”

They’d talked about it, Dot had said he’d probably been avoiding Cecil until he’d been in to see her, if he suddenly felt different about it, about talking about it with Cecil.

“That’s healthy, it seems to me,” Dot had said quietly. “That you’re safeguarding your emotional state – that you know for something that might be upsetting to discuss, emotive, you want to speak about it with an outsider before you might talk it through with Cecil. Someone closer to you, to the situation.”

“I wouldn’t have killed them,” Valorous said quietly. His fingers felt like they ached, or tingled, or just felt raw and heavy. He thought about how they’d felt as he’d hunted them down – Aled Jones had screamed when Valorous had grabbed him by the collar and hauled him down; Lynch had shuddered under the grip Valorous had on his hair. One of them – Hound – had pissed himself when Valorous had loomed over him. He wouldn’t have killed one of them. He wouldn’t have. “They were… they were boys,” he said.

“Yeah,” Cecil said. “Do you see them that way? Did you, when you were chasing them down?”

“I’m not sure,” Valorous said, honestly, because he wasn’t. They were all teary-eyed and trembling, and although all of them to a man – to a boy – were taller than Valorous, but had seemed very small when he’d hunted them down and pinned them or wrestled them under his control, and even smaller when each of them had come into the station. “I was a man, by the time I was their age,” he said, because Cecil was looking at him, and because it was true, and there was no point not saying it when Cecil knew that was what he thought. “I was treated as a man. I’d killed men myself – on the battlefield or otherwise.”

“Yep,” Cecil agreed. “Would you want that for them?”

“No.”

“No,” Cecil echoed, and Valorous clenched and unclenched his hands again, still walking forward. “It’s not right, the life you have, lad. There’s no wonder it doesn’t feel like any of it fits you.”

“Because of Myrddin,” Valorous said quietly. “But if he hadn’t taken me, I would have—”

“If he hadn’t taken you, you’d have been sent off to the Castle or some other school for lads like you – you’d have turned out right, in the end. But that’s not what I mean. Myrddin, sure, but I mean… My time with the king regent, I wasn’t ever brought into that world, not really. He fucked me, sure, but I stayed where I was in life – on that cusp between magical and mundie, and we’re more mundie than not. But you? You got taken off that cusp and brought into the wholly magical: you lived in fae and magical realms, you played by their rules, were governed by that strength of magic, that lifestyle, that sort of time.

“You keep saying about it, how it doesn’t right fit, being what you are – having gone from being one of the game pieces to not being on the board. It’s not just pulling at you because you’re used to someone else pulling your strings for you, lad – you’ve gone from one world to another.”

“I didn’t see them as boys,” Valorous said again, because it seemed easier than saying anything else in response to what Cecil had just said. He felt distantly like he wanted to cry, but the sting was somewhere deep in his guts, and wasn’t making it to his eyes. “But I knew that they were. That I should see them that way.” He swallowed hard, because he really hadn’t thought it until afterwards.

He'd seen that they were all small and weak, compared to him, compared to damn near anybody – big enough to set off fireworks and harass some cunt on his own and his dog, maybe even beat him up altogether if they got him on his own and were in the right mood, but not anything else. He hadn’t thought of anything at all: he’d only thought of hunting them down and that was the goal the whole of his world had narrowed down to, the guiding light that shone even through the flare of the fireworks and the explosives and the scent of the burnt powder in his nostrils.

Even on the way into the station, he’d not really fucking thought much of it – he’d thought of them as men grown enough to know better, every one of them, cowards, to poke a bear and be so frightened for it to come out after you. True enough, they hadn’t known Valorous would be there, but not to expect any extreme response, or any response at all except to be able to laugh at their victim…

It had been easy to think of them as men, even while they were shaking and crying. Cowardly men, grown men, and then he’d…

“Did you ever get arrested?” Valorous asked. “When you were a boy?”

“No,” Cecil said evenly. “Always followed the rules, really – sought out discipline where I could find it. Never wanted to be sent home to my dad for his take on what discipline I needed, did I?”

Valorous nodded his head.

“You’d never have been arrested by the coppers, you said before,” Cecil said, and he looked somewhere between concerned and intrigued as he looked at Valorous, like Valorous was a puzzle he was struggling to untangle, to understand.

“Some of my cousins would be,” Valorous said. “Not most of them, though. We’re criminals – us and the Laithes. But we’re not gypsies or fae, we’re white, most of us, and richer. We’re not like the Renns or the Sorrels, or the Pikes.”

“Were any of those lads…?”

“One of them is a Pike,” Valorous said. “Lynch – he doesn’t use the Pike surname, and I think Lucien Pike is his great-grandfather or something. But, um… It’s what Coshel Fenwick was saying the other day. He didn’t get to be a kid, or wasn’t, um, he wasn’t looked at as a child in the same way. Nor was I, but it’s… That was where the fuck with my head was, right? I was treated as a man in every respect – I could fuck, I could kill, own property, sign contracts, my acts were my own, basically from as soon as I became a knight, from when I was 13, 14. If I’d wanted to get married, no one could have stopped me – Noble and Jack, they’d have been pissed, but I could have. The only reason people would think it was fucked up because they were more from this side of things, from this side of life, of magical culture.”

Cecil seemed to have got caught on something, and was looking concernedly at Valorous as he asked, in a very cautious way, “Did you want to get married?”

“We talked about it,” he said. “About— About the value of my marriage prospects. As a— from a diplomatic perspective.”

Cecil took in a very slow breath through his parted lips, over his teeth, and he looked like he wanted to say more about it – Valorous felt his feelings shift and squirm inside him, felt kind of off-balance the way he often did when he’d said something off-hand and suddenly Cecil was fixing on it as if it was really important or significant.

“What does this have to do with the conversation?” Cecil asked instead, and Valorous blinked, distracted from his own anxiety. “Being seen as a kid?”

“Well,” Valorous muttered, and he thought about how each of them had come in, most of them with their mums and a sibling or two behind them, small and wet and shivering, none of them looking like the hard men they tried to look like, usually. “It was the way everyone talked about it. Laughed about it.”

“You talk about that with Dot?” Cecil asked.

Valorous looked at him suspiciously. “You talk about it with Majok?”

Cecil gave him a faint smile, and the two of them turned down the street and went in toward Cecil’s place.

“What have you been warding?” Cecil asked.

“No one will ever cross your threshold without your willing it again,” said Valorous, and he didn’t know that he liked how it came out, because it made Cecil’s expression twitch – it was too formal, maybe, or just too… Too different. It was hard, sometimes, to force himself to be colloquial in exactly the right way, or to make it sound natural when it wasn’t natural, especially when it was about something like this, about magic. He just wanted it to sound impressive, to be… He wanted it to make Cecil feel safe. “No one can cross over the boundary,” he said. “Or even, to be honest, look in for too long without feeling they need to move along. The postman should be alright. You’ll need to ask delivery people to phone you or something to let them in or they might not be able to find the right house.”

Cecil stopped with his hand on the gate, and Valorous didn’t know what to make of his expression, the tight smile on his face before it softened and showed a little more, widened. Valorous remembered being a kid and never seeing him smile much – he’d smiled or laughed at his own nasty jokes sometimes, but he very rarely smiled at school. He smiled when Valorous stalked him – smiled at his dogs, or at cute things in the street, at old people.

“I should have done it before,” Valorous said. “Is that what you’re thinking? Before, when I always came around to take your statements after the kids were messing with you, I should have just done it then?”

Cecil’s expression shifted, his lips parting, his eyes softening, and Valorous didn’t know what to do with all the guilt inside him, all the fucking guilt and the weight of it.

"I was thinking it was slight overkill," Cecil said quietly, pushing open the gate and nodding for Valorous to go ahead of him, “but now that you mention it, may-fucking-be.”

Valorous didn’t manage a laugh as he walked down the path and unlocked the door, stepping inside. Ruby’s paws skittered on the floor as she ran up to greet them, and Valorous sat down on the floor as Cecil crossed the threshold and closed the door behind them.

“The other cops didn’t see them as kids?” Cecil asked, leaning back against the wood, his arms crossed across his chest.

“It was the fact that they did,” Valorous muttered, rubbing his chin against Ruby’s head as she shoved her face into his chest, breathing heavily and wagging her tail, looking up at him lovingly with her big eyes. “Like, they didn’t… I’m not saying what Coshel said isn’t true, because it is, right? Like, some kids, they get that thing, they get like, not seen as kids because they’re brown or poor or rough. Even these kids, some of them, I bet they get that. But it was the fact that everyone knew they were kids, because like…”

He wanted to throw up, and he concentrated on the soft texture of Ruby’s fur under his fingers as he grabbed handfuls of her ruff, scratching at it and making her grumble lowly – it was a happy grumble, contented, and she went all loose and dropped like a heavy sack into his lap, her paws up so that he’d rub her chest and belly, too.

“Like, I had to write it up,” he said, “but they wanted to charge them, they were going to… ‘Cause I didn’t. I wrote it up, what I did, but there wasn’t any camera evidence or injury, there’s no reports except for mine, and I just said they were making noise so I confiscated their phones. I didn’t even write it down, about the fireworks. For all you could tell from the report, they were playing Knock Knock, Ginger.”

Cecil was looking down at him, expression unreadable, and Valorous met his gaze from his weird, twisted position, bent double over Ruby with his head laid on her side.

“I told you they were all pleased about it, what I did, that they all but fucking cheered, but it was…”

Rickard Heston had smacked him on the back. Said he’d done a good thing, that he had no idea he had it in him to be such a good fucking influence in the community, and then Derek had said more of them needed that sort of thing. Joked about putting him out on the Halloween fire patrol, teaching them some firework safety by properly fucking scaring them, except…

“Well, if they were adults, this could be assault charges,” Evelyn had said, and she’d winked. He felt like it was burnt into his fucking skin, that wink. “But they’re just a bunch of fucking kids – and their parents are only really pissed off because you pulled them out from in front of the telly to come get their fucking phones back.”

Cecil’s hand was touching Valorous’ cheek. He was crouched on the floor, cupping Ruby’s head with his other hand and cradling it in his lap, playing with her ear.

“They thought I did it because I knew they were kids,” Valorous said. His voice felt thick suddenly, his throat full. His eyes were a little bit wet – Cecil’s thumb was touching through the tears. “They— Because that’s why they do it. They know, right? That’s why people do it, to kids, instead of adults. Because they can.”

“Yeah, lad,” Cecil whispered.

“And—” He sort of hiccoughed in the middle of the sentence, snorting in a breath. He felt hot and cold at once, and closer to throwing up, and like his insides were on fire. “And he— Myrddin, he knew that he could, because I was, because I was—”

“Yeah,” Cecil said again when Valorous couldn’t finish the sentence, and the noise that came out of Valorous was wet and ugly and barely even fucking human.

They didn’t get up off the cold hall floor for quite a while after that.

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