Robert Baratheon sat on the sofa in Davos’s office, knees spread, arms resting on top of the cushions. He seemed to take up nearly all the space in the room and had barely stopped talking for the entire hour. None of that would be a problem, if he were the only one seated there. As it was, there were three men in front of him, but only one of them had spoken at all.
“It all started when our parents died, I’m sure, that’s where you shrinks think all the trouble comes from, don’t you? Well you might be fucking right. It was when I was fourteen, Stannis was thirteen, and Renly doesn’t remember it…”
As he mentioned each of his brothers, Robert vaguely gestured in their directions. Stannis was seated on his left, crowded up against the side of the couch, his head held high, his jaw moving in a way that suggested he was grinding his teeth. There were enough chairs in the room for Stannis to have his own space if he wished, but he seemed to want to stay where he was on principle, if only to remind Robert that he, too, existed in that same time and space. Renly was curled up in the tall, green armchair on Robert’s right, so preoccupied with his phone that Davos wondered if he even heard their conversation. Davos usually asked for phones to be put away, even in group sessions, but Renly seemed to be more at peace there, and if Robert would not allow him to be included in the conversation, Davos was content to let him be.
Davos had spoken to all of them when they’d entered his office, but eventually, Robert talked over him as well.
Besides, it wasn’t as if Davos read nothing. Their actions told him more than they likely wanted to.
Davos picked up his laptop. “Thank you all for coming in, but I’m afraid our time is up for today.”
As soon as he spoke, Renly sat up straight, his phone tucked away at his side.
“If you want to continue, I’d like to see each of you individually for at least one session each. Then we can continue sessions as a group, if you want to.”
“Why?” Stannis asked.
“I think if I got to know each of you as individuals, it would help me understand your family dynamic.”
“Good idea,” Robert said.
“I don’t think it is,” Stannis said. “I think it’s three times the money.”
"Gods you’re stingy, Stannis. You’d have to pay me twice what we’re paying Davos to listen to your whining.”
Renly had retreated into his phone again.
“It was just a suggestion,” Davos said. “I didn’t mean it to cause any trouble.”
“Now you’ve got the man apologizing, Stannis, are you happy now?” Robert said.
“We don’t need another session,” Stannis said, nodding at Davos. “Thank you very much.”
“I’ll take it,” Renly said, from where his eyes were still glued to his phone.
Both of his brothers looked at him at the same time, mildly surprised.
“I just agree with Dr. Seaworth,” Renly went on. “Maybe this sort of thing takes more than just one hour?”
“Maybe it’ll do you some good,” Stannis said.
Renly smiled and put away his phone. “So I’ll see you this time next week?”
“See you then,” Davos said.
Renly talked for nearly half of an hour, and said nothing throughout it all. He seemed to make an art of it, of sharing as much as possible without telling Davos anything significant. With Robert there had been some pleasantries, but he’d gotten directly to the problem, or at least directly to what he thought the problem was.
"Whose idea was it for your family to come here?” Davos said.
"Is this a test?" Renly asked. "Trying to get me to tell on someone?"
"No, I was just wondering.”
"Robert wanted to,” Renly said without hesitation, shrugging. “He thinks the trauma he and Stannis went through as kids meant they should see somebody. Stannis was annoyed and honestly he has a right to be. Robert's been a man’s man for so long, never asked anybody, well rarely asked anybody for help, drank and ate and screwed like that’s all a man was supposed to do. He used to say he should have been a professional boxer, and would have been, if he didn’t have to take over the family business at such a young age.” Davos didn’t ask about the tension in Renly’s voice. “And now, twenty years after the fact, Robert wants to go to therapy because, as Stannis says, it’s a trend. He feels a little betrayed, I think.”
“Stannis,” Renly said. “He said I should come along, that I have issues of my own to work through…"
“Did he mention which issues?” Davos said.
“Did your brother tell you what issues he thought you had to work on, or did he just vaguely….” say you have issues, he thought to himself.
"Do you think you have narcissism?"
"Is it something you have or something you are?” Renly said, smiling at his own cleverness.
It sounded at first so much like one of his glib questions that Davos didn’t say anything, expecting Renly would just keep talking. When he didn’t, Davos blinked and cleared his throat. “Well narcissistic personality disorder is a clinical condition, but narcissism is also a word people use casually. It’s the difference between someone being depressed or having clinical depression, being anxious about a test or anxious all the time. Is it something that’s affecting your behavior right now for a specific reason, or is it a fundamental part of your psyche that’s disrupting your daily life?”
When Renly didn’t say anything, Davos went on. “May I ask what his reasons are?”
“What reasons does Stannis give for thinking you have issues with narcissism?"
“I want too much attention, talk about myself too much, spend too much money, spend too much time on my phone. Stannis doesn’t have an ounce of real confidence, so he doesn’t know what that feels like.” Renly looked down at his phone quickly.
"Who were you on the phone with, that first week, if you don’t mind me asking?” Davos said.
Renly's face instantly lit up. “My boyfriend, Loras.”
"How long have you been together?”
"We grew up together, so we were friends for ten years, but we’ve been officially dating for three.”
“Have you been out to your family for a while?” Davos asked.
“I told them when Loras and I started dating. They weren’t surprised. Stannis thought it wasn’t anything to make a big deal out of, and Robert said, ‘It’s better to like cock than nothing.’”
"And what was that like?"
"What was that like?"
“Yeah," Davos said calmly. “What was it like?”
Renly stared at the table, not like he was looking at anything on it, but like he was looking through it, and he laughed, as if forcing himself to. “Is that important?”
"You don’t have to tell me, but I’d like to know.”
“It…” He swallowed. “Can I have some water?”
“Help yourself,” Davos said, as Renly walked over to the pyramid of miniature water bottles Davos had on a side table and opened one for himself.
After sitting down with it, Renly seemed to have pulled his face back into a calm, easy expression. “It wasn’t a surprise,” he finally said and shrugged. “That’s all.”
“I’m sorry,” Davos said.
He laughed again, that tight, forced sound. “Why are you sorry?” He gestured with the water bottle as if it were a goblet of mead. “Because my brothers are predictable? I like them that way, it helps.”
“It helps with what?”
Renly bit his lip.
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” Davos said.
“It just helps!” Renly snapped.
Davos leaned back in his chair and let the words sit in the air between them. Renly didn’t apologize, but he shifted uneasily.
“Do you want to be here, Renly?” Davos asked.
Renly opened his mouth. He closed it.
“Is there a reason you came here other than just wanting to?”
“I wanted to show Stannis I wasn’t scared. Because he is, he’s terrified.”
“What do you think he’s afraid of?”
“Actually being vulnerable around someone. He talks a big game about how therapy is a ‘waste of money,’ but he’s just afraid of what he might find out.”
Davos smiled. “You’ve given this a lot of thought?”
“No. He’s just my brother. I know him too well.”
It was quiet for a minute, and Renly looked at his phone again.
“How close are you with your brothers?” Davos asked.
“You need that spelled out?” Renly rolled his eyes.
Davos cleared his throat. “May I ask what you’re hoping to get out of these sessions?” he said, noting that they were coming up on the end of the hour.
“What am I hoping to get out of it?” Renly asked. The same smugness from a moment before still lingered on his face, but the question was still sincere. He was genuinely bewildered.
“Yeah,” Davos said. He leaned back in his chair again. He wanted Renly to be the one that spoke next, even if it was only a smug quip.
Renly stayed quiet. Either he didn’t want to say that he didn’t know, or he did know, and he would not share.
“Because you know,” Davos said, “there’s no wrong reason to want to go to therapy.”
“I did it to show him up,” Renly said.
“Stannis. He thinks I can’t face my own problems, when he’s the one who’s too scared to actually say anything. He thinks I’m a narcissist, he thinks it’s my fault that we barely speak to each other. Well fine. Then I’ll make him feel small by doing everything he’s too scared to do.”
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs, like a Bond villain about to reveal their master plan.
“I know what you think. You think we’re all fucked up and we ought to mend things and be one happy family again, and you probably think I’m a terrible person but you know what?” He laughed. “I don’t care. The hour is over, and I’m leaving.”
Davos chose his next words carefully. "You don’t have to be close," he said. "We drift towards and away from each other throughout our lives. Just because you’re blood relatives doesn’t mean you and your brothers have to be close. It’s usually good to mend things, one way or another, but that mending doesn’t have to look a particular way."
“No!” Renly said. He looked all of about ten years old in that moment.
“No? No what?”
He looked at the floor. “I want... I want us to be... a family. I want them...”
When Davos was sure he had drifted into silence, he leaned forward. “It’s normal to want your family to love you. It doesn’t make you selfish. And it certainly doesn’t make you a terrible person.”
“I don’t know, I might be,” Renly said.
“Our time today is over, but I would like to talk to you again, if you’re okay with that?” Davos asked.
“Thanks for talking with me today.”
“Yes, well, I’m very interesting.” He wiped at his eyes and stood up. “You have my credit card information from last week?”
“Yes. I hope you have a good day.”
“You too,” he said. He smiled at Davos once more before he left, and it seemed a little softer, a little less guarded than it did an hour before.
Davos liked to think so.