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Almost Human

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Chapter One: Welcome to Therapy

 

I hate therapy.

To be fair, I’d never gone to therapy. Not even after Mom died, or after that last big fight Dad and I had. School offered grief counseling which I didn’t attend, and after the fight with Dad I was too wrecked to even think about bringing up the topic to some stranger. So I never did. I’d never been to therapy, but I knew it could be helpful, and deep down I knew I needed to do this. This had been a long time in coming, and Bekkah finally tracked down someone trustworthy enough for me to speak to about my ‘issues’.

Issues. I hated that word. It made me sound broken. I wasn’t broken, I just wasn’t quite whole anymore. There were fissures and cracks. Sometimes the seams ripped. But Kieron always fixed it, so I really didn’t need to be here.

They said I had to, though. Kieron agreed. I needed to be able to control myself when he wasn’t around. I needed to control my emotions better because they could trigger my powers, apparently. It was a working theory. Alona theorized that my ‘powers’ didn’t come from Kieron being in danger, specifically, but from my emotional reaction when he was in danger. Something in me snapped because panic consumed me and it was just a reaction. I needed Kieron safe, so I made him safe.

Kieron… My thoughts shifted toward my perpetual briefly, leaving me sighing as I sank lower in the cushioned seat. It wasn’t uncomfortable. Nothing about this place was uncomfortable, which really only made it worse. It was calming here. Relaxing. There was a gentle breeze filtering in through an open window somewhere behind me, with natural light brightening the room. Outside, I could hear birds chirping. The scent in the air made me think of a warm summer’s day. Calming and relaxing, all I needed for therapy, and yet it just made me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because I didn’t want to do this. I knew I needed to, I knew I needed to get a handle on my emotions, but did anyone really want to go to therapy? To sit down and discuss their problems in detail?

The room was spacious and almost empty, save for a long red couch, a desk with a man sitting behind it, and a few shelves along the walls which boasted book titles I couldn’t read. The Etherian alphabet, when they used it, could be so confusing to me. I would have to learn it eventually, and I wanted to, but at that moment, with the war, it wasn’t entirely vital. What was vital was this, apparently. Bekkah’s idea, one I argued against for a while, but in the end she got Kieron on her side, and I always caved when his eyes were glowing like that.

The man behind the desk looked human, but I knew he wasn’t. He was Etherian, and when his eyes met mine they were just a little different. A little too wrong, to be human. The pupils were slits instead of round orbs like mine. Once upon a time I’d been caught up in the differences; now they didn’t matter. I had bigger worries.

Like my anxiety, for starters.

“So, Terry,” the Etherian said, pulling out a notebook and a pen. It was a little surreal to see them using setups and items like we did back home, on Earth, but they had luxuries like us and those we didn’t; they just chose not to use them half the time, preferring a simpler lifestyle. However, the cities utilized what advancements they had, such has hover-cars, and electricity. Outside the cities, they kept it simple, with fire for light, and electricity only sometimes.

“Yes?” I asked.

He looked down at his notebook briefly, dark eyes blinking. “It says here you’re bonded to an animalistic perpetual named Kieron.”

“Well, yeah. But you already knew that.”

I’d gone from city to city, town to town, giving speeches and attempting to unite everyone in the war against Exrie and his army of screamers. The only reason I was here now, seeing this guy, was because he was on our side. Bekkah never would have recommended him to me otherwise. She searched for weeks for the right therapist, unbeknownst to me, and sprung this on me two weeks ago. I’d barely had time to even get used to the idea before it was time to come here.

She was trying to get Ashere to come too, but he outright refused, said he was fine, and slammed the door in her face. He wasn’t doing very well with losing a leg; it had never healed or grown back, like it should have with perpetuals. Golden weapons really were their kryptonite. Ashere lost his leg after being shot with golden bullets, and he’d made little progress accepting this fact and getting over it. Maybe he never would. He was angry, and sullen now. Bitter. I couldn’t blame him.

I blamed myself.

My fault, after all. All my fault.

The Etherian smiled at me. “I am aware of your relationship with Kieron, in that you have discussed it briefly in your speeches. However, I would like to know what you think about your relationship.”

I didn’t particularly like therapy. This was only our second session; the first was last week, when we arrived in town and Bekkah had all but shoved me into this man’s office. We spent an hour doing introductions – yes, I was human; call me Terry; only Kieron was allowed to call me ‘human’; yes, I had panic attacks and anxiety; no, I didn’t used to have it like this.

Basic things. It was terrible. I hated discussing private matters with a stranger, but Bekkah assured me this man, Whitaker, was a professional and could help me navigate my anxieties and my bond with Kieron. The thing was, though, I didn’t need help navigating the bond. I liked the bond just fine how it was. There was no reason to study it.

“Terry?”

I blinked, aware that I had been silent for a little too long. I sighed. “The relationship is fine,” I told him.

“How is it fine?”

I bristled. “What makes you think it’s not?”

He blinked at me, calmly, before scribbling something on his stupid notepad. The scratch of the pen was grating. “Were you always quick to anger?”

“I’m not angry.”

“Defensive, then.”

I sighed heavily. “No. I guess this is new. Kind of.”

“And by new, you mean…?”

“Well, I wasn’t like this before I met Kieron.”

Before I met Kieron, I wasn’t ever this defensive, or prone to bursts of violence or anger. I wasn’t ever this aggressive, but I supposed that was what happened when one was an aggressor. I was the aggressor in our relationship, and Kieron was the subgressor. We still didn’t entirely know what this meant; it was a rare, symbiotic relationship not many knew much about. That was fine. I liked that our relationship was unique, and I needed no help navigating it, thank you very much.

“So you think Kieron changed you?”

I shrugged. “It’s a little complicated.” Except, not really. I was the aggressor, plain and simple. But I didn’t feel like telling him that, because that was private, and he had no right to know that much about our bond.

A warmth brushed against my mind, briefly. Kieron, easing my mood through the bond. I melted into my chair, sighing as I relaxed.

Two more days, I told myself.

I’d see Kieron again in two days.

“How is it complicated?”

I glared at the man from where I leaned back in the chair.

“Forgive me, I don’t mean to overstep,” Whitaker said, shaking his head. “I only mean that I do understand bonds, and I was under the impression that was why your friend brought you to me, and why you accepted to speak with me.”

I shrugged. “Our bond is fine.”

Strong, warm, and open. I liked it open. I hated it when he had to close it for whatever reason, even if it was just only slightly. My mind knew the difference between completely open and partially closed. The sudden closing of it was enough to send me into a panic, which… yeah, maybe I did need help with that. Sometimes Kieron needed to close the bond when he was in a fight, and he’d been working on his mental shields more and more ever since he’d been attacked mentally by a telepath of some sort. Sometimes, it was necessary to close the bond, or at least partially close it. And I needed to be okay when that happened. I couldn’t panic every time.

But I did, because I enjoyed it open. I wanted it open.

I shifted in the chair, looking away. “Look, I came here for some answers on how to not panic during certain situations, not to discuss my bond.”

“I was under the impression your panic attacks were connected to your bond.”

I gritted my teeth. “Just tell me what I need to do to calm myself.”

That was all I needed. I just needed to keep my emotions in check, and calm myself when my anxiety spiked so Kieron could concentrate. He could feel my panic through the bond, feel the anxiety, and it made him tense and eager to reassure me, since that was his job as the subgressor. But during a fight, that could get him killed. I needed to learn to control this.

“Managing anxiety is only helpful if you know your triggers,” Whitaker said, frowning thoughtfully. “Do you know your triggers? What sets you off the most? Do you feel a general sense of anxiety, or does it come and go?”

“Comes and goes,” I said, frowning. “I think. It’s not all the time.”

I was fine when Kieron was next to me. It was when he left that the anxiety started. A side effect of the bond, and me being the aggressor, he told me. He felt it too, but he’d trained his whole life to fight what he felt, so he was more in control of himself.

Whitaker scribbled on his notepad again. “Can you describe what makes you anxious, or when you think you become anxious?”

I pressed my lips together into a thin line. I knew what made me anxious, but had no desire to speak to him about it. Something primal in me absolutely forbade it; he was an outsider, a stranger, and Kieron was mine. The bond was mine. The anxieties that came with it were mine. To describe my anxieties to him would be to describe the bond to him, describe how deep it went that there was, in fact, an aggressor and a subgressor, and he had no right to hear about any of that.

Whitaker watched me for a moment. “I understand it can be hard to trust me, but you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t think I could help you. Rest assured that whatever you tell me here will not be spoken to anyone else without your consent.”

That wasn’t the point.

“When do you think you become anxious, Terry? And why?”

Whenever I’m alone. Whenever I think there’s something wrong with Kieron. I can’t help it but I know I need to control it. This wasn’t such a problem until…

Until we bonded further. Until he bit me. Until we gained a secondary, animalistic bond because Kieron was an animalistic perpetual, and he had instinctual needs and desires. After that… I did become more anxious. I remembered panicking, and lashing out at Kieron, when he closed the bond to regain control of himself. And then that presence, Perez, nearly took over his mind and he’d had to be locked away in his mind for a while, sealing the bond… and that had been torture. It drove me crazy.

I pushed to my feet, smiling thinly. “I think that’s our time for today.”

Whitaker quirked a thick brow. “We still have fifteen minutes.”

I glanced at the clock. “Fourteen, and we’re done for today.”

He sighed. “Very well, Terry, but I do think you should consider your answer for our next session.”

I rolled my eyes, and took my leave.

Bekkah was waiting for me in the lobby. She stood from her chair, frowning at me. “You’re early,” she said, quirking a dark brow.

I shrugged. “Any news?”

“They still aren’t due back for two days.”

I sighed, nodding at her. She led the way out of the building.

Kieron wasn’t due back for two days. Just two more days. He’d been gone a week already, much to my chagrin. Times were busy right now, and everyone had a part to play, or so I’d been told by our Elder contact, Haelix. As far as Elders went, he was alright. He was Dettere’s replacement, since Dettere had been killed in an ambush. An ambush I kept Kieron from by drugging him. Guilt trickled through me. Kieron forgave me, but it didn’t change what I did.

We hadn’t eaten omelets since.

“How… are they?” I asked Bekkah.

She smirked at me, as we exited the building. It was a cloudy day, the sun not visible and the streets more than a little dark for the time of day, but at least it wasn’t raining like it had been lately. “You would know more than I would,” she told me, and she had a point.

I shrugged. “Kieron’s fine,” I said. “I can’t speak for the others.”

“I’m sure they’re fine as well, or Kieron would have told you.”

True.

Kieron left two weeks ago. He wouldn’t tell me where he was going, only why he was leaving. Nearly a year ago, a certain group of Etherians emerged, wishing me dead so they could refuse Exrie and his army of Screamers to get what they wanted. It made sense, in theory; he couldn’t use me for power if I was dead. I’d once tried it myself, after Kieron died in my arms. The first time.

My entire body stiffened, the images of Kieron’s lifeless body still too fresh in my mind. The steam, the shaky, rasping breaths, the blood and pallor of his face… The blood on my hands, red gloves I never wanted…

Relax. The word floated through my mind, lightly brushing against my own thoughts. I swallowed, attempting to focus on breathing normally. This had been happening a lot lately, these small panic attacks. I would be fine one moment, and then a thought would trigger a memory, and I’d be lost in my panic. Lost in my need to make sure Kieron was okay.

Normally, this wasn’t such a problem. I could handle it just fine when Kieron was next to me. I could reassure myself immediately that he was there, that he was fine and alive and mine.

But Kieron wasn’t here right now. That was the problem.

He wasn’t here because nearly a year ago, Etherians tried to kill me. They very nearly succeeded, and he dedicated a good portion of his time to hunting them down and taking care of them himself. They were dangerous, he said; they needed to be dealt with so I could be safe.

I would never be safe. I was tired of being kept safe.

But, that was why I was here now, and Kieron was not. Because I needed to be kept safe, and Bekkah was my babysitter. She would protect me, Kieron said. I needed to do as she said. I was kept safe, and Kieron wasn’t here because he was out there still hunting down those who wished me dead.

He told me why he had to leave. He didn’t know how long he’d be gone, but he wouldn’t close the bond unless he had to. That was good, otherwise I wouldn’t have been okay with this.

I wasn’t okay with it, honestly. I didn’t want him out there hunting down people to kill. I knew it was in his nature, I knew he was animalistic and everyone assumed animalistic perpetuals were monsters without a conscience, but Kieron was different. He wasn’t an animal. He wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. And I hated that he was killing now, without remorse. It made sense to him, though. These people came after me, they wanted me dead; he was protecting me. Protecting his bonded. His boyfriend. And I couldn’t fault him for that, because I would have done the exact same.

We arrived at the house we were staying in for the time being. We’d been here for weeks now, since before Kieron left with Haelix. It was probably the longest we’d stayed in one spot. We were always moving, always traveling, heading for yet another town or city so I could give yet another speech about how I was on their side, and we would win this fight with Exrie. Everyone just needed to be patient, and keep working together.

I was tired of giving speeches. I hated being the figurehead in a war I was never allowed to fight in. I was always kept safe.

The house itself was nice. Large. The outside was cement and plaster, painted a dull gray color. The trims around the windows were white, in contrast. It held four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a spacious living room and a massive kitchen. It was a nice house, but it always felt so empty.

This wasn’t home. It wouldn’t ever be home.

I didn’t have a home anymore.

I’d given up trying to live a normal life in a small, one-bedroom apartment. I’d given up trying to hold a normal job, even if it was only online and I never had to do that much. John found me twice at my apartment, and it led to bad things both times. He led the Screamers to me, captured me for them, and Kieron’s second death was entirely his fault.

And yours, a part of my mind whispered. Tendrils of cold wrapped around my spine. You are not guiltless. It’s your choices that left Kieron dead.

Dead.

A shiver ripped down my spine. I was happy I was close enough to the couch I could collapse into it without alerting Bekkah anything was amiss. Kieron wasn’t dead anymore, I kept telling myself, but still the images lingered. His blood on my hands, his weakening presence in my mind, his stuttered breaths still loud in my ears…

It didn’t happen, though.

A dream. A nightmare. A cruel vision.

It didn’t happen.

He was safe. Kieron was safe.

Relax. The word penetrated my thoughts again.

Sorry, I sent back through the ever-present bridge in my mind, connecting myself to Kieron. I wasn’t sure what I’d do without it – it’d happened once, and only once, but that was more than enough for me. When are you coming back, Kie?

Soon, was his usual, vague answer. He couldn’t give me a precise time, because he couldn’t come back until the job was finished. He had Haelix with him, but I still worried. He said they were close to finishing off this group; two stragglers remained. There were different cells in the group, and this cell was almost gone. He would be home soon. Two days, he said. Just two more days.

I could do this. Two days.

“Any news on Kaspin?” I asked, changing the subject to get my mind off Kieron’s absence.

Bekkah sighed. “His hearing is next week.”

Kaspin was Kieron’s brother. A brother he didn’t know he had until the mystical walls in the Caverns of Knowledge told me so. When I was captured by Exrie and Kieron and the others came to get me, they found Kaspin locked in a cell beneath the building. Since then, he’d been held by the Elders, who were attempting to determine his fate. They initially wanted to get a reading on him to determine how ‘viable’ he was, but his shields were too great and he refused to let them in. He did terrible things, he said. Things he had to do, for Exrie, otherwise he would have been killed. He said that if the Elders saw that, they would immediately vote him guilty and throw him back in the Lake.

I couldn’t blame him for being worried about the Lake, but at the same time, the fastest way to clear his name was to let them past his shields to read his memories. Even if he did bad things, Exrie forced him to do it, so they couldn’t really blame him, could they? Yes, it was his DNA in the golden weapons; his DNA somehow helped create them. But he didn’t know anything about the process, and he said he wanted to no part in it, but it wasn’t his choice to make. He was found in a cell, after all; he was a prisoner.

I hated the whole thing. The whole situation.

Poor Kaspin. First he was locked in the Lake for simply being an animalistic perpetual, then he was taken out by Exrie and forced to create murderous weapons and to do terrible things which obviously plagued his mind. Poor guy. And poor Kieron. He just learned he had a brother, and got to meet him two months ago, and now Kaspin might wind up back in the Lake before they got the chance to know each other.

We’d visited Kaspin a few times, but we needed to keep moving for the most part. We were only staying here now because I apparently needed therapy, and for some reason things had died down lately. The screamer attacks happened less frequently. Exrie seemed to have disappeared. I knew he was still out there, and perpetuals were still dying, but for us things had been rather quiet. It was good, really. We needed a break.

I just wished I could actually take a break. A vacation with Kieron, just the two of us, alone and relaxing somewhere. The thought made me sigh. I wanted it so badly. Soon, Bekkah said. We could hopefully have a brief vacation soon.

This was almost a vacation, to be honest. Staying in one place for so long. We’d been traveling a lot, doing more speeches, but for two weeks we’d been here. Ashere was here too; we always brought him with us, despite how grumpy, bitter protests. He wanted us to leave him behind. He said he was a liability. Dead weight. Useless.

He wasn’t.

He just a little broken, but in time he would mend. We could get him a prosthetic leg. We told him this, but he stubbornly refused. Hopefully he would come around soon. I hated seeing him like this.

Especially since it was my fault.

If I hadn’t let myself get captured…

If I hadn’t picked for Kieron to die the first time, instead of my family…

If only, if only.

I made mistakes. A lot of them. Ashere suffered for it.

My fault, and no one could convince me otherwise.

Ashere didn’t outwardly blame me. He never said he did. He never looked me in the eye and accused me. Never jabbed his finger at my chest and said, ‘this is all your fault’. He never blamed me outright, but he blamed me anyway. He had to. He had to know this was all my fault.

Human.

Kieron’s sudden voice in my head left a shiver inching down my spine. Sorry, I tossed back at him. My negative thoughts were… not necessarily painful to him, but annoying. Prickling.

Bekkah pushed open the door to the house we were currently staying at. It was a two-story house, with newly painted walls and clean carpet floors in the living room and bedrooms, while the rest had hardwood floors. It looked like a normal house back home, which always threw me off for a moment, no matter how long I stayed here in Ethereal.

I hadn’t been home in months. I wondered how my brother was doing. He was probably worried about me, but I told him I’d be okay. I told him I probably wouldn’t be back for a while. He wanted to come with me, ever the big brother, but he had Lacy and his kids to worry about. They were held hostage by Exrie, after all. Lacy now knew everything. Well, maybe not everything, but she knew about Ethereal and the war now. There was no hiding the truth from her after what happened. She was angry that she was kept in the dark for so long, but in the end she did agree that ignorance was bliss because now she worried about me and Kieron even more.

I hadn’t been to see them in months. I hadn’t been home in… Well. I didn’t really have a home anymore. I let the lease lapse on the apartment. I missed the place, and I thought maybe Kieron did too, but with the war and everything it just didn’t seem right to live on Earth while Ethereal suffered. So I decided to lose the apartment and stay here, at least for now. I’d visit Tommy once in a while, I assured him, but right now I was needed here. It wouldn’t be forever.

“I’ll check on Ash,” Bekkah said.

I nodded at her, silently wishing her good luck. She disappeared down the hallway, toward the only downstairs bedroom. The door closed quietly behind her, and I climbed the stairs toward my bedroom. Our bedroom. Mine and Kieron’s.

I missed him. Two weeks was a long time. He’d been gone longer, certainly, but I always missed him just the same. Perhaps it was co-dependence, and maybe it wasn’t entirely healthy, but it worked. It worked just fine, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It was great when Kieron was here, after all.

It was when he was away that the issues started.

The anxiety, the panic attacks, the nightmares…

Whitaker wanted me to think about my triggers. I already knew what they were. Discussing them felt too personal, though. Too intimate. I wasn’t ready to do that yet. I didn’t want to see a therapist. I was fine.

But I knew I wasn’t. I knew I had issues. I didn’t used to have panic attacks. I didn’t used to have anxiety like this. They said it was probably the bond triggering stuff in my mind, but I still needed to learn to control it better. Control my rampant emotions better.

I can do this. I could. I could do this. I could handle therapy. I’d get better at controlling myself, controlling my emotions, and Kieron could stop focusing so much on his barriers and shields. I leaked a lot, after all. It distracted him in battle, which wasn’t good. So I had to do this. I could do this.

How’s it going, Kie? I asked through our bond.

He didn’t always answer. Sometimes he was busy, after all. But he tried to answer as much as he could. Maybe he needed the contact as much as I did.

Almost done, he said, but I already knew that. How was therapy?

I bit on my lower lip. I debated lying, telling him it went fine, but he’d know if I lied. It went okay, I guess. I still don’t like it. I’m not used to discussing this stuff with people, so it’s just… weird, for me. There. Not really a lie.

Would it help if I was there?

I wanted to say yes. It was always better with him next to me. But since we were discussing him, I’d probably feel a little awkward and self-conscious if he were sitting next to me while we discussed him and our relationship. Maybe, I said.

I’ll be back in two days.

How are you? He wouldn’t tell me if he was hurt. I knew that. But I still wanted to know, still had to ask.

I’m fine, he said, his usual response. Is Bekkah keeping an eye on things?

Yeah. She patrolled several times a day, and slept on the couch near the front door to make sure no one tried breaking in on the ground floor. There were no trees near the house so it would be difficult for someone to climb to the second floor to break in. She kept a close eye on things to make sure I was safe. I was always kept safe.

She been keeping up your training?

I winced. Uh… not exactly.

Before Kieron left, he was training me with a sword. We’d done this a few times, but if we didn’t keep it up I forgot the techniques and stances, so he was trying to be more frequent now. I was making progress, according to both Bekkah and Kieron. Slowly, but steadily making progress.

I also had a gun. They got me one, finally. It was considered a weapon for the weak here in Ethereal, but I was human and would always lose in a hand-to-hand fight against a screamer or perpetual. So they got me a gun. I’d fired it only a few times, while we were traveling. We didn’t want to make too much noise and draw attention to ourselves while we were stationary. Kieron also demanded that, when practicing with the gun, he had to be present. So no gun training in the meantime, just sword training.

But even that had lapsed in Kieron’s absence. Bekkah was busy, after all, keeping an eye on both me and Ashere. So I couldn’t blame her for not having time to teach me. Plus, training with her just wasn’t the same as training with Kieron.

I want you to keep up your training, Kieron said, clearly disappointed that Bekkah hadn’t been working with me. You’re doing well.

Praise from him always made me smile. I love you.

You too, human. I’ll be back soon.

He’d been more open about saying stuff like that, too. I loved it every time.

Alright, I’ll see you then. Be careful.

Aren’t I always?

I snorted and shook my head, aware that he couldn’t see me. I felt it when he slipped out of our conversation. It wasn’t a physical feeling, exactly, but a niggling little thought, that my mind was more my own.

There was a knock at the bedroom door.

Bekkah poked her head in.

“How’s Ashere?” I asked, glancing at her.

She shook her head, sighing.

I bit my lower lip, nodding. Still bitter and upset, then. I couldn’t blame him.

“Are you hungry?” she asked. “I’m going to fix Ash some soup.”

“I could eat,” I said.

She nodded and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Hopefully things would get better soon. I still wanted my vacation with Kieron, but right now there were more pressing matters. I understood that, and I knew he would always want to see to my safety first, but that didn’t mean I had to like it.

I exited the room, meeting Bekkah in the kitchen. It was large, a dining room and kitchen combined. Everything in this house looked rustic but new, if that made sense. It did in my head. Bekkah looked over from the stove, watching me for a moment.

“Everything okay?” she asked, quirking a brow.

I nodded. “Yeah, I just… can I help?”

“I think I know how to make soup.”

“I trust your cooking,” I said, shaking my head. “I just… hate feeling useless.”

“Kieron?”

I shrugged. My arms weren’t itching like a fire burning through me. I knew he was safe, at least for right now. I just hated feeling so useless, and I hated waiting. I needed to be doing something. “I just need to keep my mind busy.”

“Alright,” she said, nodding. “I’ll let you make the soup. And after you eat, we can train some more.”

I’d been trying to really focus on my training. Bekkah said I was getting good with a sword, but practice makes perfect. I still had a lot to learn, but I wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I once was with it. She tried to keep up my training while Kieron was gone, and when he got back he’d work with me again.

I didn’t really like sparring with Kieron. I liked his presence, his company, but I didn’t like hurting him. He said it was okay, he’d heal just fine, and it was a part of my training. If I couldn’t draw blood on him then how could I fight a screamer? I could understand that part, but at the same time, as bad as it sounded, I’d rather fight Bekkah.

“So, how’s Ash?” I asked as I cooked and she stood back, watching me. “I mean, really?”

She gave me a downplayed version, usually. She said he was healing as much as he could, but his leg would probably never regrow. He’d probably be stuck like this for the rest of his eternal life. She told me he was handling as best he could, but he was still angry.

I wanted to know the absolute truth.

“He’s angry,” she said finally. “Very angry, and bitter. I think he needs counseling, but he won’t go. He doesn’t want anyone seeing him like this.”

I nodded slowly, sighing heavily as I stirred the soup. “We could drag him there?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know if that would help him or if it would just break him further.” She sighed. “I don’t really know what to do, and he’s not really getting any better.”

“How can we help him?”

“I don’t know. I’m just trying to give him time to adjust, but he’s not really working through his issues. Maybe Kieron will have better luck when he gets back.”

“Maybe,” I agreed quietly.