Cecil adjusted his position in the seat across from Doctor Majok, spreading his knees slightly and feeling the slight click low in his back as he sat back in the chair, pressing his shoulders into the seat.
“Old bones?” asked Majok.
“As if you’d know anything about it,” said Cecil quietly, giving the other man a wry smile, and Majok smiled his thin smile back.
“Now now,” he said reasonably. “My bones are considerably older than yours.”
Cecil chuckled, rubbing his hand over his jaw and rolling his shoulders. “I’m up to five days a week at the gym, and now that it’s colder, Ruby’s feeling more up to walking longer distances.”
“She’s a German Shepard?” asked Majok.
“She’s a mix of a few things, we’d guess to look at her,” said Cecil, “but yeah, GSD based on her colouring and her ears, probably a bigger dog by the shape of her muzzle and her coat – I think maybe a Leonberger. She’s a lot better in the cold than she was in the summer. She’s fucking taking it out of me, that’s for certain.”
Majok’s smile was a warm thing, and he tilted his head to the side slightly, his gaze lilting over Cecil for a moment, taking him in, examining him. Cecil had to wonder what it was like for him in this line of work, how much time and experience had taught him to glean from someone else’s appearance, from the small changes in their expression, from the way they held themselves.
“Has anything been troubling you this week?” asked Majok, keen as a knife at the whetstone. “You seem more than tired physically.”
Cecil exhaled, reaching up and rubbing at one of his eyes. “Monday morning, some local kids got a box of fireworks and set them off on my front doorstep,” he said quietly. “The past few months, most of the time they’ve had a go at my house, it’s been, luckily for them, nights where Valorous was at his own flat or elsewhere.”
He could see the comprehension dawning in Majok’s eyes as the angel shifted up slightly in his seat, leaning forward. “What did he do?” he asked, and Cecil exhaled.
“Well,” he murmured, “in fairness to the lad, those little cunts haven’t set fireworks off at mine since January. They’ve thrown pig’s blood, or paint, or eggs, or fucking, I don’t know, toilet paper, but they haven’t set fireworks off. Valorous leapt out of bed like we were being shot at when they started going off, and he was…”
Cecil trailed off for a second, remembering it – there’d been bright, sharp flashes coming in from around the curtains from the window, and for a second when he woke that was all he saw, just the scattershot of colours overlaid with loud bangs and explosions from outside, all of it lighting up the room with shadow and lightning shot. And then he was alright, glowing from the inside, his blue eyes shining from the inside like he’d swallowed a torch, his skin aglow with red where the magic was bubbling under the skin and putting colour through his blood, except for where the scars were on his body, those lit in stark white against the red backing, his lightning scarred arm like something described in tales and stories.
“It was like he was ablaze,” said Cecil. “And at first, I think— If it hadn’t been for the dog, I think he probably would have just been that he’d have woken up shocked, put the fireworks out. But of course, we do have Ruby, don’t we? She was fucking terrified. She was letting out these awful, high-pitched barks, running back and forth in the corridor, trembling violently as anything. She was scared shitless when she saw him, of course, because he was like one of the fucking things brought to life. Then he was outside, and…”
His stomach gave a lurch at the memory, his elbows rested on the window sill and the curtains pushed aside, at the slight of Valorous reaching into the box and holding a set of lit fireworks like they were a bouquet, utterly undeterred by the flash and bang and shoot of them right in his fucking face, not even daring to burn him, his body silhouetted by the flashing fire and colour.
He didn’t know the kids that bothered him by name or even by face. He knew that there was no singular group of them – he’d scanned Valorous’ police reports, and although none of the instigators had ever been arrested, Cecil knew that the majority of them were just local teenagers who wanted to terrorise somebody, and knew that a local nonce was an acceptable target, one they’d not be punished for even if they were caught.
They scattered like fucking pigeons, a group of five or six of them on the crest of the hill, watching – they’d probably been laughing together, drinking, until Valorous burst out of the house like a shot toward them.
Valorous had caught one of them, some pudgy lad near twice his size, screaming by the hair and wrestled him to the ground, and he hadn’t been able to make out the words, but he’d been able to glean from context – and the fact that Valorous seemed to be about to shove the fireworks down his throat – that he was probably begging for his life.
Cecil had concentrated on the dog, had turned his head away and picked Ruby up, whining and struggling, up the stairs and shutting her in the wardrobe with him, where all his clothes drowned out most of the noise and it was completely dark – she was on top of him, what with the limited space, but she’d calmed down after a few minutes, breathing heavily and with her whole body weight rested on Cecil’s chest, her nose wet against his neck.
It occurred to him, only at that point, that she could well have fucking bitten him, panicked as she was, but all he’d been thinking of was getting her away from the fucking noise and brightness as quickly as possible.
“I don’t know how long he was out there for,” said Cecil. “This was— I don’t know. Three or four in the fucking morning, dark as fuck outside. When he came back in, he was covered in soot and smut, so you could see he’d been handling the fireworks, but there wasn’t a burn on him, not even a singe to his clothes or his pyjama bottoms or his hair. He was just smeared with black like he’d been down a mine, and he was holding one of these kids’ shirts that he’d ripped off his back, all their phones in it, like a kind of makeshift sack, you know. He wrote up a report and took them all down the station, and all these kids have had to go into the station if they want their phones back – all of them were obviously taking pictures, recording video, you know.”
“Would that be admissible as evidence?” asked Majok. “I assume he didn’t take them following proper police procedure.”
“What, after hunting them down like frightened rabbits and throwing their own fireworks back in their faces? No, I don’t think he did,” said Cecil. “But I don’t think it’s about that, to be honest – out of however many he caught, four of them have been in with their parents to the police station to fetch them back. I know a lot of parents don’t really bollock their kids these days, but in this case, it’s not really needed, I don’t think.”
“People are quite frightened of Valorous King,” said Majok, and Cecil nodded, laughing helplessly. “His colleagues didn’t have anything to say about it?”
“Well,” Cecil muttered. “Yeah. He’s not exactly pleased about it, though. He was feeling pretty pleased with himself, when he went into the station the next morning, and then… I don’t know. I expect that a lot of his colleagues were pretty pleased and impressed that he beat the shit out of a few local kids, and when they said as much, in no uncertain terms, he realised that was what he’d fucking done. Don’t get me wrong, they scared the shit out of the dog, and I’m guessing that Valorous doing what he did has put the fucking fear of God into them, that they’re probably not going to try that again, but fucking Hell. They’re cuntish little kids. Beating the shit out of them is a bit of a medieval approach.”
“Did you tell him that?” asked Majok.
“You don’t have to sound so smug.”
“Am I smug?” Majok retorted, arching an eyebrow.
Cecil sighed, tipping his head back in the seat. “No,” Cecil muttered. “But you’re right, which is almost as bad.”
“Did he ask for your opinion?”
“No,” said Cecil. “Thank God. He hasn’t been home at night the past few days, not with me working and him as well – he’s been around in the mornings, was today when I left him for work, but he was mostly sitting with Ruby. Laid on the floor with her, you know. She’s doing okay, but he feels bad about it. I know he’s been home because it’s so fucking clean, especially the kitchen.”
“What does he do with his time?”
“Other than clean? He’s been warding, I think. He hasn’t mentioned it to me, but I’ve seen his enchanter’s chalk out and a whittling knife out, and I’m pretty sure he’s been taking off and putting back the skirting boards. A lot of it is on the fences, though. I’m gonna ask him about it tonight, what exactly he’s done. I can’t follow enchantment very well, and I wanted to wait until I had a longer time free to hear him out about it. He’s— The lad’s said he’s no real expert in enchantment, but I’m fairly sure that he only says that because he’s thinking of himself in comparison with Myrddin Wyllt. He’s been fucking… glum. I’ve just not had a fucking evening off to actually talk to him about it – I’ve felt a bit of a cunt leaving it until today.”
“If you haven’t had the time, you haven’t had the time,” said Majok. “You’re both adults with your own work schedules. What precisely is there to feel guilty for?”
“Well, I don’t know,” said Cecil. “Not talking to the lad about what’s up with him until after your sister’s talked it out with him first?”
“And what about how you’re feeling?” pressed Majok, his lips curved into the faintest of patient smiles, his eyes dark and understanding behind the glass of his spectacles.
“How I’m feeling,” Cecil echoed. He tapped his fingers against the arm of the chair, and he thought about all the feelings he’d been feeling this week – the ache in his bones, how fucking tired he was, how he’d gone through every night this week, alone with the dog, with Valorous not in the house, wanting to fucking drink. It was part of why he’d been spending so long at work, why he was working so hard, and then why he was going out for long walks with Ruby, after – she was enjoying the walks, that was true, but it was the fact that he needed them too, even if he was freezing his fucking bollocks off walking her in the wet and the cold, rain or shine – or, more accurately, rain or dismal dank winter’s evening. “I’ve been drinking more. I’d been managing it, but the last week has really tipped me over. Can’t concentrate on a book, can’t settle, can’t do anything except fucking throw myself into things at the gym, or walks with the dog.”
“Not really. He’s not been home, so just… No.”
“Would you say you’ve missed him?” asked Majok.
It dropped into Cecil’s awareness like a stone into water, sending ripples through him – of fucking course he’d missed him. He’d gotten used to having the lad around, but it was more than that, wasn’t it? It had been a hard fucking week, and the fireworks actually had panicked him, even if it was more for fear for Ruby than fear for himself – Hel, because it was fucking fear for Ruby than himself.
He'd been having dreams that week imagining it, what it might be like if one of the little cunts took it upon themselves to break into the house and have a go at Ruby because she had the misfortune of being a fucking nonce’s dog, if they got at her while she was in the garden and he was distracted.
If they’d set fireworks off while she’d been in the garden, set them off in her face or thrown any of them at her; if they thought to poison her, or chase her around, or bait her.
They must have been able to hear her fucking barking while they were outside, must have heard the urgency and the distress in it, the squealing, desperate whine to every bark, her paws skittering on the floor, how the only reason she hadn’t pissed herself was because Cecil had been up at midnight and had let her outdoors.
It was fucking fun for them, after all. Just an extension of baiting him – they didn’t give a fuck about the dog, didn’t care if they hurt her, if they freaked her out, caused her any distress. All they knew and all they cared about was that Cecil was a nonce, and if he was a nonce, he was fair game and it was all in good fun to terrorise him – and if he was fair game, his dog was too.
They didn’t account for his having Valorous King in the house as well, and that of him and Ruby, he was the real fucking guard dog.
“I’ve missed him,” Cecil said finally, aware that he’d been quiet. “Of course I have. I’ve been wanting to fucking drink because he hasn’t been there – I’ve been exercising a lot more because he hasn’t been there. And at the same time, it’s been… I’ve been frightened.”
“Of Sir Valorous?”
Cecil inhaled, and he wanted to shut the question down, to just shove it away and almost ignore it, but he knew that wasn’t the fucking point of therapy, that he was meant to sit with discomfort, fucking take in uncomfortable questions.
Had he been frightened of the lad?
Yes, probably. When he’d been on fire, standing up from bed and glowing like he’d been struck by lightning; yes, when he’d gone outside. He’d been scared he was going to kill one or more of those stupid fucking kids when Cecil had been in the wardrobe with the dog, cradling her in his arms.
Except that when Valorous had come inside with his t-shirt sack of confiscated phones, sooty and smelling of metal and sulphur, he’d been quiet, exhausted by his chase and capture of every one of them. He’d closed the door with the quietest click he could, and when Cecil had come out with the dog, Valorous had looked small and vulnerable standing there, although his eyes were still wide enough that they caught the light strangely.
Cecil hadn’t been able to tell if they were still lit up with magic, or if it was just that they were reflecting light strangely because of their colour, because of the liquid nature of them.
“What did you do to them?” Cecil had asked.
“Put the fear into them,” Valorous had said, his voice hoarse and crackling, like he’d been breathing in smoke, which of course, he fucking had. That had scared him, Cecil thought. The way he’d said it. His eyes had seemed silver-grey instead of blue for a second, and it wasn’t like he’d spoken with a Welsh accent, but there was something about it, about the way he looked, the way he’d pronounced the words, that had made him feel like a ghost of Myrddin Wyllt. “Took their phones. I’ll put a report in when I’m at work. Are you okay, Ruby?”
He’d put out his hands to her, and when she’d dropped her big skull into his palms, he’d dropped to the floor on his knees and held her, buried his face in her fur and looked about ready to weep, to sob his fucking eyes out, but he hadn’t. He’d just gently carded through her fur, stayed there on the floor while Cecil had boiled the kettle for them, while he’d run a bath.
“I was frightened of him,” said Cecil. “Of— I don’t know. Not of him hurting me or the dog, but that he’d have killed one of those kids, or hurt them permanently, you know. But I was grateful he’d done it. I was mostly frightened of what they’d do to the dog. I haven’t been thinking about it, but I don’t— I don’t want anything to happen to her. Not because of me, not because of things I’ve fucking done.”
“Is that what’s contributed to your poor mood this week? Anxiety about Ruby?”
“Probably,” muttered Cecil. “Anxiety about the dog, and pining for the lad as if I am one.”
Majok smiled at him gently, and said quietly, “You were alone for quite some time, Cecil, after leaving prison. You’ve become used to having Valorous living in your pocket, and after an upsetting incident, he hasn’t been present in the evenings when you’ve had nothing to occupy your time – and you don’t have other consistent or regular friends. When you spoke to no one, you were likely inured to your loneliness, having no points of comparison; now you have Valorous, but he’s just one person. You have no other friends, no regular companions. Who do you speak to, except for him, and me?”
“No one,” murmured Cecil. “Lads at the gym while I’m working, and that’s all.”
When he got out of the session a little while later, Valorous was still in with Dot, and Cecil waited in the waiting room as Doctor Majok’s next patient came in, a thin girl who looked sickly and pale and very thin, like a stiff wind might bowl her over. Cecil guessed at her age as being around seventeen until she turned her head and he saw the silver scales scattered across one of her cheeks, shimmering where they burst out from under the surface.
Angels had scales like that.
“I’ll just be a moment,” Doctor Majok informed her before slipping into his office again, and Cecil waited in silence across the room from the angel girl, who sat back in her own chair, her hands folded delicately into an even more delicate lap.
“Are you Cecil Hobbes?” she asked in a voice like tissue paper, so thin it sounded about ready to tear at any moment.
Cecil didn’t say anything right away, raising his head to look directly at her instead of keeping her in his periphery: she was looking directly at him with eyes as silver as the scales that crested out from under the purpose of her skin, the reveal of what she was like underneath.
Many angels bled silver or gold, Myrddin had used to tell him on the evenings that he was feeling wistful and meditative, when he wasn’t interested in fucking but wanted Cecil there anyway. It used to set Cecil’s teeth on edge, the way that Myrddin talked about angels – Cecil had never felt one way or other about them as a teenager and a young man, had never had cause to take up with them or have much exposure to them, but Myrddin’s hatred of them had been, funnily enough, the thing that had frightened him most about the man.
Myrddin never said as much, obviously, never said that he hated angels or loathed them or even disliked them, but now and then he’d talk about angels in his delicate, musical voice and sound so dreamy even as he described them as things, called them its, spoke about them with the casual disdain that someone else might talk about vermin.
It was always glancing, came up on the off-hand, never dominated conversation, but whenever it came up it would have Cecil’s blood running cold, uncertain of himself and wondering if Myrddin was going to call on him to agree or to validate whatever the fuck he was saying, but thankfully, he never did.
Angels could be unsettling, sure, but no more than humans or fae, no more than fucking anybody.
“Why’d you ask?” he heard come out of his mouth, the tone of his own voice tired and resigned.
He waited for it, for her to call him a paedo or a nonce, to say that she’d heard about him and the things that he’d done, to say he was a scumbag or a cunt, or something like it. He waited for it as she looked at him, studying him as though he was an interesting specimen, an object worthy of study.
“My brother,” she said (pretty much every angel called other angels their siblings), “he adopted a rescue dog a few years ago – fifteen or twenty years ago, now, I think. He was named Panda Bear, a grey hound with vitiligo, and you had rehabilitated him for six months or so. There was a photograph of you with him as a puppy. We loved that dog very much, Mr Hobbes, and he had a very caring home until he died in his sleep. Thank you very much for your work.”
Cecil couldn’t digest it for a second, just stared at her, utterly uncomprehending. His stomach had gone from feeling anxious and messy, flipping over itself in turns, to feeling still as anything in the base of his gut, and he couldn’t tear his gaze away from her.
“Oh,” he said finally, struggling to get the single syllable out around the lump in his throat. “You remembered me from that photograph?”
“I don’t forget faces, Mr Hobbes,” she said with a shrug, and then Doctor Majok called her name and she was on her feet and disappeared into his office, and Cecil was alone in the room, reckoning with the strange weight of what had just happened on his shoulders, his head almost spinning with it.
The emotion was too distant, too filmy, to be called euphoria, but there was a positivity to the rush in his head as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and scrolled through his contacts as quickly as he could, desperate to hold onto the positive motivation while he still had it in his grips.
CECIL, 7:38PM: Hey, are you around in Lashton any time soon? Care to go for a pint?
COSHEL, 7:39PM: sure, why not? I’ll be about on Saturday, lmk what time suits you to meet
Valorous came out of Dot’s office, shrugging his jacket on.
“Do you like the cinema?” he demanded.
Cecil wondered if this was a trick question. “Yes?” he hazarded.
“Well, I don’t,” declared the lad.
“… Okay,” said Cecil.
“Can we go?”
“To the cinema.”
Cecil opened his mouth, looking past Valorous to Dot, who was smiling indulgently at him, all the warmth in the world shining out of her face. He closed his mouth, considered his options. “Sure, lad,” he said finally. “Why not?”