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that had you pulled apart

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Vivian Cooper answered the door knowing, somehow, that it would be the boy. She couldn't have told you why. Just a feeling, one that came even before the ring at the bell: as she sat with her tea, she became quite convinced she would see young William Parry again today, and she would have to tell him where his mother was.

So that when the bell did ring, she gave herself a few breaths to collect her thoughts. Then she got up, leaning on her stick, and made her slow way to the door, reaching it just as the second ring came. The knob was solid under her hand.

It was William, and a strange woman. Mature, fairly well-dressed. Both of them were tanned, and looked as if (it was the easiest way to think it) they had been on adventures. Not a clear wound - but then she stopped, and saw that the boy was missing the ends of two fingers on his left hand. Good God.

"Hello, William," Vivian said, and she looked up at the woman, expectantly.

"Hello, Mrs Cooper," William said, quite politely. "This is Dr Malone. She's a friend."

He was still such a fierce boy. Wherever he had been in the past months, that hadn't changed in the slightest. The woman, for her part, held out a hand and said, "Mary," when Vivian shook it, so that Vivian offered her own name back.

"We're here for my mother," William said, and Vivian had to fight not to sigh.

"Yes," she said. "I know. Come in, dear, come in, we'll have a talk."

She turned away, but out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw the boy start, and Mary put a hand on his shoulder. And something darted by her legs - it was a cat, with a remarkable coat, but she didn't get to see it more than a moment before it had led the way into the living-room, with the piano in the corner.

Vivian settled herself down into a chair, nodding to Mary to take whichever she liked. She wasn't very surprised when William sat himself on the piano-bench. The cat leapt up into the boy's lap and fixed Vivian with a look almost as fierce as William's.

"Where's my mother?" he demanded, arms wrapping around the cat - which the cat, surprisingly, did not seem to object to.

Vivian said, "She's at Phoenix Ward, dear," because there was no use trying to hide it, and he would of course want to know the name of the hospital immediately.

William was on his feet at once; so was Mary, but the woman was attentive mostly to William, not to Vivian. "I told you, she's not ill!" he said, and looked to Mary for support. "She's not! She's just - "

"She's quite ill, dear," Vivian said, sighing heavily. "The night you left she had an awful confusion about enemies in the house and it was all I could do to keep her from hurting herself, and then she was just a terrified little wreck, you can't imagine."

Vivian did not add that Elaine had exhausted herself searching all over the house for William, or that in the end she was curled up crying his name. The boy looked stricken enough; knowing that would have been simple cruelty. "The doctor said she has - oh, what was it?" She shut her eyes to try to remember. "Co-morbid schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder," she recalled, as if reading it off the page again. When she opened her eyes, she had to look away. Young William's stare was impossible to meet; Vivian's eyes fell on his shoulder, where Mary's hand was resting. "He said that considering the disorders her prognosis was excellent, but - "

William looked as if he were biting the inside of his mouth. Mary squeezed his shoulder and then spoke. "Could you put us in touch with her doctor, please? There are issues of guardianship that need to be sorted out."

Yes, Vivian thought of saying, I imagine. Of him, and of her, and how are you involved in all of this? Aloud, she said, "Yes, of course. Just let me find my diary, dear."

*****

Mary took the task of arranging with the staff at Phoenix Ward out of Will's unresisting metaphorical fingers, and wished she were better at this. Will had kept the same stunned look - well, stunned to eyes that knew him somewhat - since Mrs Cooper's description of his mother's collapse. Mary hadn't said anything about it: Will had clearly wedded himself so firmly to the idea that his mother wasn't ill, with all of a child's persistence, that he was having difficulty adjusting to the reality that she was, and very, with a mind beginning its adulthood.

He clung to his daemon and looked thoughtful, and a little lost. Mary called the hospital and got a time, and then called their lawyer and gave him the new information, and then called for Will to get back in the car and drove them both to Phoenix Ward. She didn't try to talk to him. Will Parry was a boy of very strong emotion, and great ferocity. Just now, he didn't know what he was feeling (she thought) nor where to point that ferocity and it would do neither of them any good to give him a target in herself.

But his eyes were a little haunted as they drove up.

Mary wasn't certain how much of what the doctor said Will actually heard, but she tried to remember it all, noting some of it down and remembering to ask for copies of the bits of file they needed for the lawyer. Will's eyes roamed everything restlessly, and his hands were in his pockets, because Kirjava remained outside. There were disadvantages, Mary thought, as well as benefits to one's daemon being so clear. (She gave a moment's effort to see her own - flitting from a desk to the top of a chair as they went along).

Eventually the orderly took them to the lounge; they were the only people there, perhaps because it was not normal visiting hours. And there was a woman sitting reading a book, who didn't seem to have noticed, and the look on Will's face fair broke Mary's heart.

She sat down near the door, because it was the closest thing to out of the way she could find. Will stood for a minute with his hands clenched and then took a deep breath and three steps forward.

"Mum?" he said softly, and the woman looked up.

Mary had the intense feeling of spying on something private. It seemed to take the woman a pause to understand who this person was; then it was written all over her face and she was half getting up, half pulling Will down to her, to wrap her arms around him and begin to cry. Will, and it was like a shock to the heart, was crying too. Woman and boy both apologizing over one another, clinging to one another: I'm so sorry I left and I'm so sorry, my baby and other words.

Eyes burning a little, Mary stood up and said to the orderly, "I'm just going to wait outside."

"Yeah," the young man said. "Of course."

She noticed that he was looking away, as well.