Leather creaked as Joe shifted on the couch. Waiting for my patient to settle, I watched a bird basking in the sun out on the balcony, the drapes billowing through the open door with a soft breeze.
‘Mary wants to see me tomorrow,’ he said.
‘Go on,’ I said.
‘I…’ He sighed. ‘It’s been a long time coming. I wanted to get to this place. But now we’re here I don’t know what I’m going to say. How do I make up for seven years?’ He waved a hand lazily. ‘I know, day by day. Still…’
‘What do you think brought Mary round?’
‘Matt wants to meet me. She’s not sure about that yet.’
‘So, he wants to. What do you think about that?’
‘Honestly, that just makes me more guilty about the whole thing. I was too much of a dick to be there from the start. There’s so much I’ve missed. But that’s what happens when you run.’
‘Last time you mentioned -’ I said, licking a finger and flicking through the file, ‘that avoiding difficult things actually just isolates you and takes away choices, you said you’re doing to yourself what you’re trying to avoid.’
‘I hear you. If I want to be free I have to not escape anything that feels like it might trap me. Avoiding complications or responsibilities just means they own me in a different way. I miss opportunities.’ He should’ve been his team captain by now. He’d turned down promotion twice.
‘You’ve come a long way since our first session.’
‘It’s simple. I’m not that scared kid any more: I have to face things, take charge. Simple doesn’t mean easy, though.’
That’s how it is with them. A need builds until it bursts into an outlet – escape, strength, control, recognition or anonymity, whatever. But that still leaves something unresolved. Joe’s father had died when London fell, yet the impact he’d made on his son lingered.
Leather creaked. ‘I mean, what do I say tomorrow?’
I watched the drapes fluttering, weighing up a response. I’m not his friend – I’m his therapist. My job is to enable him to help himself figure out what to say to someone he left pregnant at the altar. ‘You’re looking to re-establish a connection. It’s a case of being honest, patient -’
‘Answerable. Responsible.’ Said hesitantly, fishing for a confirmation.
‘That frightens you.’
‘Sort of my whole thing, isn’t it?’
‘I know I’m not my father. I won’t repeat those mistakes. Though when I vanished… that was just a mistake in the other direction. I’ve already done damage. Getting back into their lives… who is that really for?’
‘Matt wants to meet you.’
‘He wants to meet the guy behind the action figures. Not the guy on your couch.’
‘Does that idea come from him or Mary – or is it just you?’
‘He must have some sort of expectation. It’s only natural. I don’t know if I can live up to that.’
‘Is your worry that he will want you around, or that he won’t?’ I asked.
He lay there for a while, rolling that around. A cloud passed across the sun. ‘Huh. Oh, man. That’s… I’ll need to chew on that one.’
‘Let’s put a pin in that for next session, then.’
‘Mary did let me have a photo.’ He fished in his pocket, saying, ‘His thing affects photos though,’ as he passed it back over his head.
Matt looked a lot like Joe. The photo had been taken in a busy park, with everyone else in the shot washed out, vague. So second-generation cape. A need to be noticed? I noted that down – possibly something to bring up as things developed on the Matt front.
‘I see the resemblance,’ I said, trying to draw things out with a less intense approach. I returned the photo.
‘Yeah. It’s… I mean, he looks okay, doesn’t he? He’s decent in school.’
‘If he’s fine, I mean – that’s good. I can’t have done too much damage. He’s well-adjusted, it seems. I’m still a dick, obviously.’
Yes. ‘What matters is how you move forwards.’
Joe’s phone bleeped, insistent. He checked it and groaned, shooting to his feet. ‘Sorry, something’s come up. I must dash. But you’ve given me a lot to think about. Same time next week?’
‘I’ll see if I can tack some more time on the end.’
‘Great,’ he said, walking out into the sunlight.
Joe stood on the balcony, hair fluttering in the wind. Sparks trailed from his fingertips as he rose into the air, heels then toes lifting from the floor. For a moment it struck me, again, what my patients were to the rest of the world. How much more human the parahumans were to me, lying on my couch without the silly branded capes and masks. Then he shot into the sky with a discharge of lightning, leaving a sharp burst of ozone on the summer breeze.
I pressed the button to call the next patient.
(If you like this, go read Worm.)