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Not So Bad, When You Get Used To It

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Sue heard a door open somewhere to her left and behind her, but she didn't turn, still staring down the road for the inevitably delayed van that was supposed to pick her up.

A voice said, "Weather's about to break. You can wait inside if you want."

She looked over to see Dr Crowley leaning against the door frame. "Accessible?"

He scowled. "Wouldn't offer if it wasn't."

Heavy drops of rain decided her. She spun her chair. He slithered out of her way to stand behind the door, holding it open as she whizzed into the greenhouse. She stopped, circumspectly, about a wheelchair-length clear of the door to get her bearings.

He closed the door on the rain, sauntered past her and slouched down onto a bench, putting him on the same level that she was. They weren't the only ones there. Two small girls played tag up and down the paths while their parents watched and chatted. Dr Fell perched primly on a bench with a book in his hands, and a few students wandered or worked on the beds. The greenhouse itself looked surprisingly accessible at first glance, with its raised beds, and benches, and hard paths that would be easy to wheel along. When she glanced back at Dr Crowley she saw the corner of his mouth lift in something that could be either smirk or smile.

He said, "You want the tour?"

She blinked and nodded hesitantly, and he beckoned one of the students over to show her round.

The student, mousy-haired, grey-eyed, average in everything else, fell in beside her. "I'm Warlock. They/them," they said, giving her a wary look.

"Sue," she replied, moving forward at a steady pace. "Uh. She/her. You know this well then?"

They relaxed slightly. "I'm a Botany student, I've had lessons in here for years. The tour rules are simple enough - stay on the paths and don't damage any of the plants."

"I think I can manage that," Sue remarked dryly.

Warlock grinned back. It softened all the sharp and wary lines of their face and left them distinctly - good-looking - in their own way. "Expect you can," they said, and began to describe what was where.

Sue had to blink again, caught out by the unexpected way that Warlock took her statement in their stride. As if he just assumed she was competent to judge what she could and couldn't do. So many people she met thought their assumptions over her ability levels overrode her assessment of her ability levels. "What's it like taking Botany with...?" She indicated Dr Crowley's direction.

Warlock shrugged. "It's not so bad when you get used to it."

"No?"

"Nah. Granted rumour isn't exactly wrong, but he knows Botany really well and he's good at getting it into your head too." Warlock grimaced. "Then again, I've met worse people. At least he's honest about it."

"There are worse people than Dr Crowley?"

"Sure, the ones like my father that claim to be nice and then turn around punish you the moment you fall out of line with their wishes."

"Oh," Sue said, recognising the type. "That sort. The ones that speak at you and over you instead of to you. Like you aren't there."

"Yeah. But I'm free of him now, and living with my godparents instead." They pointed out the prettier of the plants they passed, including a clump of carnations.

"What are they like?" Sue asked, eyeing the flowers, more to make conversation than anything else. She didn't try to touch, mindful of the no-harming-the-plants rule.

Warlock grinned again. "I think 'Opposites attract' was practically invented for them, but they've both got kind hearts. About the only way they are alike, that. It's like having an angel and a demon on your shoulders sometimes, but they mean well, and they - well, they're happy for me to be me."

"I get that. Not the commonest thing around."

Warlock looked oddly interested at that. "No," they agreed. "It isn't."