Valorous had come to the session directly from work, although he’d very nearly been late, and he sat completely still in the seat across from Dot, staring down at his hands. She’d made them both a cup of tea, but he hadn’t touched his yet.
He’d filled out the stupid little form, and he didn’t know how long they’d been sitting in silence for, but it had been a while.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“You know,” he said.
He’d been too late to see Cecil before he’d gone in with Manny, but he wanted Cecil, wanted him now, and he thought about it, about walking out into the office and pounding on Manny’s door and demanding Cecil end his session so that they could both go home, except that he was pretty sure Manny wouldn’t let him, and that Cecil would tell him no.
“It will help,” said Dot quietly. “To talk about it.”
“No, it fucking won’t,” muttered Valorous. “You just have to say it will help to talk about it because your job depends on saying that.”
“You want to get Cecil because you’d talk to him about it, right?”
“No,” said Valorous. “I don’t want to fucking talk to him either, I just want to go home.”
“We can talk about something else,” suggested Dot, and Valorous grit his teeth, pressing his hands together and gripping so tightly that he feels like both of his hands will shatter, his jaw creaking.
“I don’t want to talk about anything else,” he said.
Dot exhaled softly, and said, “I’m sorry, Valorous.”
“Why?” he demanded, looking up at her, at the sad expression on her face, the doleful eyes, the downward turn of her lips, as she looked back at him. She looked so fucking calm, so easy, even though she was meant to be feeling what he was feeling, and he hated it. “For me?”
“I can see you’re upset about it,” said Dot quietly. “I won’t know exactly what happened until you tell me.”
“Bullshit. You can just— You can read it off the top of my head.”
“Only if you were to think about it linearly, from start to finish,” said Dot. “Which you’re not doing, because you’re upset.”
“Guy got killed,” said Valorous coldly, and she nodded her head.
“You deal with murders often, don’t you?” she asked, and he stared back down at his hands, and his fingernails looked clean but he was pretty sure they weren’t, thought there had to be dirt caked under there even though he’d worn gloves at the scene, that there was probably blood, something. The thought made his skin itch, and when he got home he wanted to sleep, but first he’d probably get in the shower and scrub every inch of his body, and under his fingernails especially.
“Me and Cecil went on a hike last week,” said Valorous, “with the dog. With Ruby. And we walked all day up to Harken and got the bus back. And we talked about shit. And he asked why I wanted to be a cop, and I said I never wanted to be a cop, especially, just that I didn’t want to be a spy and I didn’t want to be an assassin and it got lined up for me and I was good at it so I went and I did it and he went fucking quiet, like I’d said something sad. He does that. When I say something he thinks is sad, he just goes fucking quiet, because he won’t say it, because he’s not a therapist and he doesn’t know how to say it nice. Nicely.” Valorous inhaled, taking his hands apart and digging his fingernails against his knees, wishing that he had trackies on instead of dark jeans, wishing he had softer fabric to hide in. The hoodie was good, one of Cecil’s, and he’d pulled it on before tugging his jacket on overtop. “He thinks— He knows that I know. He knows that I know what I am, that I’m fucking pathetic, that I’m a freak, but he doesn’t say it.”
“Do you think that’s what he wants to say?” asked Dot, looking at him seriously, her pen still on the notepad instead of scribbling at it. “When you see him go quiet, when he holds his tongue to avoid saying something, is that what you’re frightened he wants to say to you, that you’re pathetic?”
Valorous dragged the laces loose from his shoes and toed them off, bringing his legs up onto the chair and tucking his hoodie over his knees, his socked feet folded underneath him, sitting cross-legged in his place.
It was what he was thinking. He didn’t say it because it was true, and he wouldn’t say it even if he wanted to – the problem with Cecil and the things he thought and the things he wanted to say was that the things he thought were too true and too accurate, and he didn’t want to say anything, because he didn’t know how to say anything and be nice, how to say anything and be kind.
Valorous was pathetic.
Cecil wouldn’t even be able to say it would all be alright without pointing that out by accident, and sometimes, he still did.
“What does pathetic mean to you?” asked Dot. “What is it about you, I mean, that you think makes you uniquely pathetic? Enough to comment on?”
“I’m not fit for the world, am I?” asked Valorous.
“You’ve survived,” pointed out Dot with a small smile. “You’ve survived, you’ve done a lot of great things, you’re here with me. You’re arguably fitter for the world than I am.”
“Well, that’s different,” said Valorous. “You’re an alien.”
He didn’t like it, once he’d said it.
Normally, saying that to someone like Dot, it’d be taken as racist, would make someone back the fuck off – even an angel, hearing something like that from someone like Valorous, they’d assume it was racist, because it was a racist thing to say. It didn’t really land the same, saying it to Dot who could see the thoughts in his head as easily as she could see the expressions on his face, except that Valorous could control the latter.
Angels were aliens – they were from a different dimension, a different world.
But angels weren’t meant to know that Valorous knew enough to think about it that way, to realise that the way angels did themselves.
“Does it still matter?” asked Dot.
“Does what still matter?”
“You’re not with the king regent anymore,” Dot pointed out, and her voice was quiet and reasonable but what she said made his skin itch, made his teeth feel like they were throbbing in his skull, made him want to pick and pull at everything he was made of. “Your instinct is to hide what you know about other people. Angels, for example: you know more about us, about how we think, how we talk amongst ourselves, than you ought to know. Do you still have to hide it from us, that you have this knowledge? If you’re no longer a spy, does it still matter?”
Valorous took this in.
He took it in, but he didn’t digest it, didn’t think he was ready to – knowing things about fae or angels or different countries or different political factions or just people, he didn’t keep those secret just to spy. Knowledge was power, and it was dangerous to seem too powerful – and people responded poorly to the idea you might have power over them they didn’t expect.
It wasn’t as simple as she was making it, but judging by the expression on her face, the softness of her smile and the warmth in it, she knew that.
“Would it be easier if I got offended?” she asked. “Stormed off, called you a provocative, bigoted little prick?”
“I mean, yeah, that’d be much easier,” said Valorous. “Can we do that?”
Dot laughed, and he didn’t, but for some reason it was comforting, and it did make him feel better. He put his hands into the pockets of the hoodie and thumbed at the soft fabric on the inside of the pockets, the fleece lining old and worn and not nearly as soft as it probably was when it was new.
“Is that what you wish Cecil would do? Walk away from you?”
His eyes were suddenly burning, filling up with tears and feeling wet and heavy, his face throbbing, and he shook his head even as he snatched a tissue out of the box that Dot held out to him, wiping his eyes.
“No,” he said. “I wouldn’t let him.”
It wasn’t as if he tried to hide it, and he knew that Cecil had mentioned it to Manny because Cecil had said he had, but he wondered what she thought of it, the fact that he followed Cecil around sometimes, watched him while he was alone or while he was working, or that he picked up Cecil’s phone every other day and looked at who he was texting (nobody, pretty much) or scrolled through his emails and saw what was there, or how he opened Cecil’s post and paged through his bank statements and his junk mail and all the rest.
He didn’t know why it made him feel better, tailing Cecil, examining Cecil. He’d heard people talk about stalking at work, murderers or abusers sometimes, or people brought up on harassment charges, and people said all sorts of shit – it was obsessive and they didn’t think it was a big deal, or they were protective, or they were curious, or they loved the person so much, and Valorous liked Cecil, but he wasn’t protective of him. He was obsessed with him, but he knew most people wouldn’t want him, not like Valorous wanted him. He was curious, but not that curious, because Cecil didn’t actually have that much to him, didn’t do much.
He liked to watch him.
He liked watching Cecil the way that some people liked watching fish in their tank. It was calming, relaxing. Comforting.
“He couldn’t get away,” said Valorous. “But he wouldn’t, now. He wouldn’t want to. He doesn’t want to. He loves me.”
Dot’s eyebrows slightly raised, and maybe someone else would have asked him, would have said, “Did he say that?” But Cecil hadn’t said that, and Dot knew that he hadn’t, because Valorous thought about it even though he didn’t want to think about it, didn’t know how. Cecil did love him, Valorous thought.
He loved Valorous the same way he loved Ruby.
“Do you think that when he doesn’t say anything, because he’s frightened that what he’ll say won’t comfort you – that it will be too true… Is that why he doesn’t say that out loud either?”
“I don’t think he’d say it to anyone,” said Valorous. “I think he’s fucked in the head. He’s here too, after all.”
“Mm, I see,” said Dot, voice considering. “I don’t think either of you are fucked in the head, personally. For what it’s worth, Valorous, I look at you and I see a young man who’s never really been able to know a reliable love – and Cecil has that, too.”
“Why does reliable matter?” he asked, and Dot looked thoughtful, and it wasn’t because she didn’t know the answer, or even that she didn’t know how to phrase it, because Valorous expected she’d been asked before, but the people who’d asked her hadn’t been him, hadn’t been like him. It wasn’t as though she only wanted to give him the answer he wanted to hear – she wasn’t scared, either, or at least, he didn’t think so, wasn’t scared of how he might react. She was thinking about what she was going to say because she wanted to say it in the way that was most healthy, or the way that was least damaging.
Same as Cecil.
Dot met his gaze, tapping her fingers against her chin, and said, “It’s one of the most important things that we reach children. That things will happen, that they’ll happen regularly, and that even though we can’t predict what will happen over all, we can be assured that things will remain stable regardless. To be able to rely on shelter, food… Love. The assurance that no matter what we do, no matter what happens, we’ll still be loved and cared for.”
“Bullshit,” muttered Valorous, and he was scared she’d keep pressing on it, but she didn’t. Scared wasn’t the right word, anyway. He wasn’t scared, he was…
He met Dot’s gaze, then exhaled.
“Do you like cops?” he asked.
“I like you,” said Dot.
“You have to like me, I’m your patient. Or, you have to say you like me in case you hurt my self-esteem and I kill myself.”
“I don’t think you’d kill yourself just because I didn’t like you.”
“Want to risk it?”
Dot laughed, and said, “Well, as much as it probably confirms your suspicions, I have to say that I still like you, Valorous.”
“What do you think about the police?”
“I sometimes have to rely on the police as part of my work,” said Dot. “In the case that a patient will potentially harm themselves, or harm somebody else, I’m obligated to inform somebody. As much as possible, at this practice, we’d avoid the police where possible. We’d contact another less violent authority – if someone’s unwell, the police will often frighten them more than they’ll offer help. The police don’t really rehabilitate anyone – a lot of police function is in intimidation and threats of punishment, and the orchestration of punishment. I don’t trust the police service, as a whole, and I hate to rely on it. Sometimes, they’re the only option I have left, and then, I do, and sometimes, they’re good.”
“Not all the time, though,” said Valorous. “Not most of the time.”
“No,” agreed Dot. “How about you?”
“I never thought about it,” said Valorous. “I never fucking met a cop until I was working for them. I wasn’t here. I couldn’t get done for a crime – if I did something criminal, I’d not be brought up in front of a fucking court of law or police or shit.”
“That’s lucky,” said Dot.
“Fuck off,” muttered Valorous, and Dot laughed, leaning back.
“Did you want me to say something different?” she asked, with enough severity that it was comforting, or pleasing, or satisfying – it was like going toe to toe with someone for a bout in the arena, the first moment your weapons clashed and it sent a throb through your shoulders as you kept your stance and stood your ground, felt the ring of it through the blades or through your armour. Grounding, that’s what it was. “You didn’t want to be a policeman.”
“I didn’t not want it,” muttered Valorous. “That’s the thing, I just went with it. And I do the work that’s put in front of me. Not because I care about it, or because I wanted to be it, but just… because it was given to me. Kids dream of being a knight, a warrior, a chosen one.”
“Some kids dream of being policemen,” said Dot, and Valorous stared at her, frowned.
“Well,” he said. “Not any kid I ever knew.”
“Do you want to talk about today, Valorous?” Dot asked softly.
Valorous leaned back in his seat, pressing his hands further into his pockets, burrowing down a bit in the hoodie. “We arrested a woman for murder. Last night, she said she came home, and her husband was already home, and he must have tripped, landed forward onto the, um, the dishwasher, all open? Is what she said. I don’t know if that’s true, or if she stabbed him outright, but either way, she’s four months pregnant. Two kids already. Her hospital record, and the kids’, it’s just, constant, consistent shit. For fucking ten years – and that’s just what she went in for, the stuff she had to go in for. Badly broken bones, stitches sometimes. So the charge is murder, and maybe it’ll go down to manslaughter, but we’re pretty sure he was unconscious when she stabbed him, so that counts against her. For it being self-defence, I mean.”
He was thinking about the dishwasher, the blood still dripped all in it and over the blades and the knives, and the state of the kitchen, the shattered plates where he’d fallen. She said he must have come home drunk and fallen – maybe she pushed him. Maybe she stabbed him and then lowered him down.
He didn’t know. He didn’t care.
He’d killed plenty of men for far less provocation than she had, and he’d never be up on charges for fuckall. No one would dare.
“You’re trying not to think about it,” said Dot softly. “But I can see it. The gap around what you’re trying not to think about. Like a shadow.”
“They made me come. I thought it was ‘cause I interviewed her last night, the mother, Helen. But that’s not why. The older boy is nine, the younger one is seven. He’s got a poster of me up on his wall. Fae poster, too, so it’s fucking… It’s painted. They got it secondhand somewhere for him, but that’s not all he has – he’s got the stamps I was on. Imprints. DVDs of me fighting in bouts and tournaments and shit, and he’s got his own toy armour based off mine. He stared at me like I was a fucking god. Asked if I was going to save his mother when I was there to fucking arrest her. Sergeant Stark thought it would be funny, make me see how far I’ve fallen, whatever the fuck, but what the fuck do I care? All I care is that it was cruel.”
He felt sick. Not just for saying it out loud, but thinking about it, the way the boy had stared up at him like Valorous was larger than life, like he could scarcely believe Sir Valorous King was a real man who could be standing there before him, and he hadn’t even remarked that Valorous was short.
People did, sometimes, but not fans.
The ones that followed his fights knew that he was short, compared to the people he fought in the arenas, compared to pretty much everybody – to the boy, Valorous had seemed stupendously tall, and he’d said so breathlessly.
His brother had had more of an idea what was going on, had realised that Valorous in his collared shirt and jacket was there as part of the police effort.
“Does it bother you, having fans?”
“Not really,” Valorous murmured. “Suppose it goes with the territory. It’s not normally adults – unless you’re actually into sports, being a fan of me is like… It’s not even like being a fan of an MP, it’s like being a fan of a minor ambassador. For people who give a fuck about the knights, it’s a bit different, but they do think of us almost like old knights. I’m more like a character in stories than a real guy to them, especially to the kids.”
“That must be difficult, now you’re in a different kind of story,” said Dot evenly, after making a note on the page. “It’s open-ended, and a very different genre, not quite as exciting as people would like.”
“You didn’t feel like a hero this evening,” said Dot.
“There was no fucking point to what we did,” muttered Valorous. “Fuck heroism, there was no justice in it. She killed her shitty husband – good. She should have done it five years ago. Now she’s gonna go to prison, her kids are gonna go into care. Even if she dodges the murder charge, she probably won’t get them back, but he’d probably have killed her if she hadn’t killed him first, or just kept making her miserable.”
“Most people would say that none of that makes murder justifiable,” Dot said. “She took a man’s life.”
“He didn’t deserve a life,” muttered Valorous. “We’ve got no fucking right interfering. If we were fae, we wouldn’t.”
“Depends on the fae,” said Dot, “but I take your point.”
“Cecil acts like it’s pathetic that I’m police,” said Valorous. “But he’s right. Why the fuck am I police?”
“You want to resign?”
“I don’t know,” said Valorous.
“Is there other work you’d like to do better?”
“I don’t know.” Valorous leaned back in his seat. “I don’t think I have to work. Like, money-wise. I don’t look in my account, really, but I took an allowance in service to the crown, plus a lot of prize money, awards, shits. I’d have to go into a bank to check, but I’m pretty sure I’m a millionaire or whatever.”
Dot’s face didn’t change, and Valorous tried to pretend he was being casual about it, like it was normal, like it didn’t make his stomach roil like frothing waves, like it didn’t make him want to be sick.
“Why do you feel you have to be normal about it?” asked Dot, and Valorous turned his face away, fidgeting.
“I don’t know. ‘Cause that’s… mental. Because it’s bad that I have a lot of money and I don’t even look. ‘Cause I don’t even know that I do have all that money, except that I’ve tried to spend a bunch of money before just to see what would happen, if it would run out or get low, and I’ve never had a problem. Not since I was like sixteen.”
“You don’t get bank statements?”
“I’m meant to pick them up from the bank in Camelot. I just… never do. But I don’t know that I’m rich. I won’t know unless I look.”
“Would you rather that you were, or weren’t?”
“The fuck kind of question is that? Obviously, I’d rather be rich.”
“And you’re scared to look?”
“Time’s up,” said Valorous, and Dot gave him a small smile, a nod of her head. “D’you think I should quit?”
“I think, like everything else, you should think about it,” said Dot. “You wouldn’t be thinking about quitting if you weren’t, on some level, dissatisfied or angry with or otherwise not okay with your work – especially given that it’s a position you were funnelled into rather than one you sought out, there’s no particular ambition keeping you in situ.”
“Cecil will be pissed.”
“If you resign?”
“If I tell him I’ve got money,” murmured Valorous. “And that I… don’t look at it. That’ll piss him off, not that I have money or don’t have it, that I don’t know. He’ll say I’m fucking stupid for not looking. He’ll say I’m ungrateful, and an idiot, and that I don’t take care of myself.”
“Would you rather look alone, or take him with you?” asked Dot.
Valorous didn’t answer, standing up and slipping his feet back into his boots without bothering to lace them up, and he trudged into the main part of the office, didn’t say anything, just dropped his head directly against Cecil’s chest where he was waiting and stayed there. His hands were in his pockets still, and he didn’t bother to try to hug him, just tipped his weight into Cecil’s.
“Oh,” said Cecil, automatically putting his hand up and touching the back of his head through the fabric of the hood, even as he glanced over to the other people in the waiting room. “You alright?”
“Carry me home.”
“No. Come on,” said Cecil, sliding his arm around Valorous’ back, and Valorous walked where Cecil guided him and kept his body pressed up against his as they went down and out of the building, into the street. “Fuck me. Was it that bad?”
“Oh, I see,” murmured Cecil, and he put his knuckles under Valorous’ chin, tilting up his face to examine it, and then he cupped his cheek. Valorous stared up at his face, at the furrow of his brow, the press-together of his lips. “Very bad?”
“Can you hurt me tonight?” asked Valorous, and Cecil nodded seriously.
“Yeah, lad, I can do that.”
“And carry me?”
“I’m not fucking carrying you.”
“So you don’t love me.”
Cecil smirked at him, squeezing Valorous’ cheek. “Beat that arse of yours black and blue, shall I? Flog you?” There was a distance in his eyes, where the smirk didn’t reach, because he was concerned, worried, and he wasn’t saying it.
Valorous nodded, and Cecil took hold his hand and squeezed it as he led him up the road, and Valorous let himself be led.
A street away from home, Cecil turned without warning and hoisted Valorous up onto his shoulder, and Valorous laughed against his back as he was hauled home. He didn’t cry, but his eyes watered. He made sure he wiped them dry before Cecil put him down.