"This is such bullshit," Ampora groans. He's bent over, forearms resting on his knees, head and hands drooping; you sit beside him in the waiting-room chairs, absently rubbing his back. "Like, I have never in my entire fuckin life observed bullshit as profound or totally unnecessary as this right here, Dave."
"Still not letting you punk out," you tell him, cheerfully. "Just yell if you're gonna hurl again."
He just droops further. Frankly, you don't envy Dr. Helsing--and seriously, is that even her real name, she doesn't look even a bit like Hugh Jackman--the prospect of an hour spent with Ampora in this particular mood, but you've gone this far with the whole goddamn project, you're not about to back out now. "We can go to the scarf store afterward," you'd offered. Even that hadn't seemed to signify.
You'd told Fef, back before the Great Meet-Up, that you weren't qualified for this shit, and you'd meant it; and she had reminded you that nobody expected you to provide Ampora with actual therapy, just a helping hand and a firm smack when indicated, and that trying to get him to go to a shrink right off the bat was not a thing that anyone could possibly imagine working out well. It's now been a couple months, and he hasn't spent the night drunk in a ditch even once, or thrown cutlery at anyone, and he's even demonstrated the occasional flicker of sensibility.
Dr. Z had apparently come to the same conclusion.
"He's approaching stability," Zahhak had said. "Granted, he was so far away from it in the beginning that there's still a way to go, but I think he's getting there. It might be as well to have him evaluated properly."
His pal Helsing wasn't a psychiatrist, just a general practitioner, but she'd kept up with the cognitive behavioral therapy trend and did a lot of screening for the patients who came to her inner-city clinic. The SPCT initiative is ramping up and you're having to work with an actual lawyer to set up a 501(c)3 organization to handle the fundraising shit, and all in all you kind of want to get Ampora into therapy sooner rather than later, for your own mental well-being.
He's now been sick twice from sheer nerves, and you'd give him another Dramamine if you thought it'd do any good. Thank fuck nobody else is in the waiting room with you; Dr. H has cleared her schedule for the afternoon, and you hope her office carpet is easily cleaned. "C'mon, dude, you faced up to Eridan 'Blue Stripy Scarves Totally Go With Purple Sweaters' Ampora, jetlagged and with like two hours of sleep; you can talk to a little blonde English lady for an hour, no sweat."
He twists to look miserably up at you. His hair's coming down. "She's gonna ask me shit."
"Yeah, that's kind of the point. Also, it's not like you never told anyone your story before. You told me, remember?"
"Yeah, but you ain't a doctor, Dave, an you ain't gonna, like, analyze me."
"Pff. Everyone analyzes the hell out of everyone else all the time. Besides, whatever you tell her stays between the two of you. Nobody else gets to know about anything you say unless you let 'em."
"Huh?" He looks at you, confused.
"Doctor-patient privilege, dude. She's literally not allowed to tell people stuff. Unless, I dunno, you're like 'so yep I'ma go home and take a whole bottle of Tylenol, got it all planned out' or something. Which, don't do that, kay?"
"I ain't a patient, I'm a troll," he says, and then realizes what he's just said and groans, covering his face with his hands. You sigh and rub circles on his back. This is definitely, but definitely, beyond your capability to fix.
"Mr. Ampora?" She's standing in the doorway. When you haul Cronus to his feet and walk him over, you're not surprised to find they're pretty much the same height: Greta Helsing is not a large woman. "Come on in. Thank you, Mr. Strider."
Ampora gives you a beseeching look; you put an arm around him, give him a little side-hug. "I'ma go run a couple errands, okay? Be back by the time you guys are done."
The doctor's office door closes behind him, and you are only a little surprised to find you feel kind of sick yourself with apprehension. Nope, you tell yourself, fuck that, it is time to go do shit that doesn't involve worrying about Ampora for once, such as, hey, you need to head downtown to check out the Apple Store that just opened near the harbor, you can be there and back in time to pick him up.
As it happens, you're late, because fuck parking in this city. Fortunately this doesn't matter, because when you get there the waiting room is still empty and Dr. H's door is still shut. You text Bro.
TG: hows class going
TT: Karkat dislikes numbers. I assume you're still waiting for Ampora, or you'd be home by now.
TG: cant blame karkles for that one dude
TG: numbers suck
TT: You just resent having to use your phone to calculate tips, little man.
TG: shit you got me
TG: yeah im still waiting
TG: kind of wondering what the fuck theyre doing in there
TG: i mean when he went in he was a wreck
TG: you can picture it
TT: Only too clearly.
TG: so either she has superhuman powers of shooshing freaked out trolls
TG: or he passed out and shes taking the opportunity to fuck around on the internet or something
TT: Give it another ten minutes and then text Dr. Z.
TG: ten four
It's exactly nine minutes later when the door opens and Cronus shuffles out. Dr. Helsing is smiling, but you think she looks tired. You don't blame her.
"All done. Can I have a word with you, Mr. Strider?"
You look at Cronus, who is considerably less green and does not appear in immediate danger of falling over. He does look slightly dazed, but he nods at your unspoken question. "--Sure," you tell the doctor, and step into her office.
It's evident that she doesn't have a ton of cash: her desk is an old metal affair that looks like it's been around since the forties, the rest of the furniture is mismatched and just as shabby, but every flat surface is covered in books and papers. "Have a seat," she invites. "Firstly I should say he's in much better shape than I expected, given what Equius told me. It seems you're a good influence."
You shrug. "I try, you know? He's been pretty good lately. Has nightmares, though, and he gets super depressed. He was kind of, ah. Nervous. About coming here today."
"I'm not surprised. He's had experiences that'd give anyone PTSD; it's impressive that he's doing as well as he is. There's a great deal of work yet to be done, though, and I'm not the one to do it. I plan to talk to Equius and, if he concurs, refer Cronus to a colleague of mine who's not only qualified but actually very good at her job."
"It was hard as hell getting him to agree to meet one new doctor," you say. "He's not gonna be thrilled about having to go through it again."
"I know. I've discussed it with him, though, and if he doesn't feel comfortable with Dr. Serensky we can continue sessions with me until we find someone he can work with. I have to emphasize, Mr. Strider, that he really needs a stable and supportive home environment while we work through this. If you're considering making any major changes at home, I'd advise you to put them off until he's in better shape."
"We're hoping to move," you admit, "but fu...god knows when that's gonna happen, if we can even find a place we can afford, it's all up in the air. But yeah, okay, I take your point. Not gonna be, like, randomly adopting anyone else in the near future."
"Splendid. Let's schedule an appointment for next week."
In the car on the way home Cronus is still somewhat subdued. You keep glancing at him and not saying anything; finally you pull into the parking lot of a 7-11 and put the Buick in park. "Dude," you say. "Are you okay or what?"
"Huh?" He shakes his head a little, fins flapping, and blinks at you. "Oh. Uh. Yeah, I'm good."
"You were in there for a long time."
"Yeah," he says. "We were talkin. Uh. You said nobody gets to know what we talked about."
You almost say I didn't mean me, but stop yourself in time. "Yep. That's all between you and her. But, like, did you like her? Are you okay with going back?"
"I threw up in her trash can," Cronus informs you. "An' she didn't kick me out. She even got me a cup a tea."
"Oh," you say. "Well."
"I think I'm in love."
You can't not laugh, and after a moment he joins in, wobbly and uncertain. "Did you do the eyebrow thing?" you manage, gasping.
"More'n once. I even did the, you know, the fin thing--" he flutters them, which makes you crack up again--"an' she just asked me interestedly about seatroll mor...somethin."
"Morphology. Man, I think you better give up hope, Greta Helsing's not available."
"Hope is a treasure a great price, Dave," he says solemnly, and just like that you know he really is going to be okay.
When you get back Karkat is industriously building a castle out of flash-cards and Bro is waiting for water to boil for mac & cheese. "Gave up on the addition and subtraction?" you inquire.
"Do not start with me," Bro says. "I will skin you. Hey, Cronus. How'd it go?"
Ampora blinks, not having expected interest from that particular quarter. "Uh," he says, "good, I guess? I'm supposed to go back next week."
You refrain from mentioning his digestive pyrotechnics. "Cool," Bro says, and dumps macaroni into the water. "Dave, you get to do the afternoon lesson shit, I have to go downtown to meet with the goddamn lawyer again. Won't that be fun, Karkles?" he adds. "Dave can teach you more sentences."
"I know sentences," Karkat points out. "Lessons are dumb. Dave, take me to the quarium."
"No can do, little dude. Today's a busy day."
"Take me to the quarium tomorrow."
"We'll see," you say. Cronus is looking somewhat wan. "--You want any lunch, man?"
"Nah." He swallows hard.
"Go take a nap or something, then, while the rest of us eat. You look grey. Like, greyer than usual."
He flips you off, but he goes willingly enough. Once he's out of the room Bro quirks an eyebrow at you, and you shrug. "She was pleased with him, I guess? Said he was in better shape than she expected. She's gonna get him to see some other doctor friend of hers who's a real shrink. They were in there for a long time."
"So I gathered. She didn't say they were gonna put him on anything?"
"Not so far." You remember him asking you for a handful of Xanax before the ride on C. Fef's private jet, and have to smile a bit. "Although if I was her I'd give him a scrip for tranquilizers just for the sake of her office furniture. I dunno, I think it went pretty good. She didn't respond to him hitting on her."
Bro rolls his eyes. "Of course. Sometimes I wonder how he'd react if someone ever actually did, y'know, respond. Probably run away in terror."
You laugh, and when Karkat knocks over his creation and shows every sign of gearing up for a tantrum you just scoop him up and hug him before he can begin.