Dissonance: 4.6

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Casper:

“So…” Casper asked. “What happens now? You gonna ask me stuff about what happened, or…”

Doctor Sharpe shrugged, sidling across to the wall at the base of the staircase and leaning against it on her shoulder, placing her coffee cup on the floor.

“If that’s what you want me to do, then sure,” she murmured. “Pretty sure it’s not, though. I know I wouldn’t want to start there.” Behind her, Peter stepped inside and hung up his coat, before moving on past the two of them towards his office.

“I’ll be around if you need me,” he called behind himself. “But you’ll need to come in. I’m gonna have earphones on to give you some privacy.”

“Thanks.” Both Casper and the Doctor replied at once.

“… So,” she asked, returning her gaze to him. “How’s living here working out for you? Peter seemed to think you were settling in pretty well.”

Casper gave the woman a shrug, resting his chin on his arms, themselves balanced on his knees.

“Yeah,” he answered. “It’s going good, I think. I feel safer here; that’s for sure.”

“That’s good,” she nodded. “And you’re settling in with the family well?”

“I think so. Bex is acting like I’ve lived here forever already,” he smiled. “Kid’s a hugger. Peter and Sarah have been really nice, too.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. And James?”

Casper hesitated a fraction of a second at that, but just a fraction. James had been being weird lately.

“Yeah. James is cool. He still won’t admit how lame some of his anime are.”

To that, the Doctor laughed.

“Oh, so he’s dragged you into them too, huh?”

“Maybe.” Casper grinned.

“So,” she murmured, her voice more casual now. “Everything’s good? You’re not having any problems?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “I think so, at least. I mean, what am I supposed to say? It’s not perfect, but I like that no one hits me?”

“Yeah,” Doctor Sharpe agreed. “I see your point. But there’s more to making sure you’re in a good place than just making sure you’re physically safe.” She hesitated for a moment there, then shrugged and lowered herself to the ground, sitting at the base of the stairwell in a squat. “Okay. Tell you what. You tell me the three biggest problems you have with staying here, and we can go from there to see if there’s any need to change things up a little.”

For a while, Casper didn’t answer, simply gazing down at her in thought.

“Problem?”

“… A little.” He muttered. “… These are nice people. I don’t wanna complain, you know?”

“I get that,” came the reply. “But you’re staying with this family for at least the next couple of weeks. Probably months. That means that right now, these guys are acting as a foster family to you, even if it’s not official. So, I think it’s important to make sure you can make a place here.”

Doctor Sharpe picked up the coffee cup by her side, and brought it to her lips.

“Damn.” She sighed. “Empty. So, if your problems with staying here are small, then that’s great. It means good things, just teething pains. But if they’re big, then I think they need to be addressed, and I think you deserve to have some backup when it comes to addressing them, because it’s important that you’re able to speak your mind.” She shrugged. “So, what have you got for me?”

Again, he hesitated for a while before he spoke.

“… I don’t like all the Japanese,” he muttered, embarrassed.

“The Japanese?” the Doctor asked. “What do you mean?”

“… Everyone else here speaks Japanese like, really well, and I think they keep forgetting I can’t? So they’ll get like, halfway through a conversation at dinner, and I’ll just be sitting there like a lump because I don’t know what anyone’s saying.”

“… Yeah. I can see why that’d get to you.”

“It makes me feel dumb.” He shifted his gaze to his feet, hiding his cheeks behind his knees.

“That’s fair,” Natalie murmured. “And the second one?”

“… It feels rude to say.”

“Heh,” she chuckled. “I asked for this, Casper. If anyone, it’s me that’s being rude.”

Casper took a deep breath.

“… The food’s weird,” he muttered. “Like, Peter works late, and Sarah went back to the university after James got a little better, and I don’t think she really knows how to cook anyway. So, like, all we eat at dinner are these store bought lasagne things? They’re kinda gross.” He paused. “Am… Am I allowed… I mean, I’m still furious with her, but… Am I allowed to say I miss my Mom’s cooking?”

“I think you’re allowed to say whatever you like,” came the reply after a moment. “And how would you want that problem to be fixed? Just better food?”

“No,” he grumbled. “That just sounds dumb. And I get it; they’re busy. But, like… I can cook. Mom taught me. So I was thinking… Maybe I could make dinner?”

“That sounds like a fair thing to ask,” Natalie nodded. “I could help you talk to them about it, if you like. I don’t see it being too big of a problem, as long as you prove you can do it safely and they keep a few of those dreaded store lasagnes in the freezer.” She shot him a small smile. “And your third problem?”

Casper considered this one for a while.

“… Honestly, it’s kinda hard to think of anything else I have a problem with. I like it here. I’m happier.”

“Heh,” she chuckled. “A teenager without complaints. I should write a paper on you.”

Casper opened his mouth to snipe something back, but she raised a hand.

“Sorry. That was a bad one. I’ve had a long day.” She rubbed her eyes. “Okay. That sounds good so far. A couple problems settling in, but stuff we can fix. That’s good. How about your parents?”

“… What do you mean?”

“Well,” she murmured. “Where do you want to go from here? Do you plan on staying away from them forever? Do you want to try and fix things? How do you want this to resolve?”

Casper mulled the question over for a few moments, then gave the older woman a defeated shrug.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “To be honest, when I ran away… I wasn’t exactly planning on staying away forever. I just wanted to get away. I couldn’t stand being with them right then, you know?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I can get that.”

“But,” he sighed. “The more I stay away… The more I kinda wanna keep staying away. I mean, at first, I was angry. Like, really, really angry; just thinking about everything they did and just… All the fear.” He took a breath, spending a moment to try and let the anger pass before it had a chance to build, just as Freja had shown him. “But now, I don’t even know. It’s like… Like they just make me kinda sick?”

“Do you wanna talk to them?”

“… I dunno.”

“You know you don’t have to be scared anymore, right?” she asked. “You have the pow-”

“I’m not scared,” Casper snapped, once more trying to let his anger flow away from him. “I’m done with that shit. I know that if I went back, right now. I could call Peter, or Sarah, or you, and whatever they did, they’d be punished for it.” He reached down towards the stair below him, his knuckles rapping out an agitated staccato against the wood. “But I don’t want it to be like that. I fucking hate the idea that they’d only hold off of hurting me because they knew it could get them in trouble, you know?”

He lifted his gaze towards Natalie and was momentarily surprised. His vision was blurry. Was he crying? He wiped his eyes. She was moving forwards. Not far, but a little. When she reached the base of the steps, he felt her mind graze against the edge of his bubble. He shifted back. He didn’t want to feel her pity.

The two were silent for a time then, Natalie leaning carefully against the bannister while Casper dried the anger from his eyes.

“What would you say to them?” she asked. “If they were here.”

Casper sighed.

“I’d tell them I used to let myself go hungry at school,” he muttered, his voice tired. “Because grabbing my lunchbox meant being in the kitchen with them.”

In the corner of his eye, the Doctor nodded.

“… I’d tell Dad how much I hated it when he stopped being able to look me in the eye.” He allowed himself a hollow chuckle. “I’d tell Mom how I hate that she still can.” He hesitated. “…I’d tell her she’s disgusting… And him? I’d tell him he’s just a coward… More than anything, I’d tell them how badly I want to hate them.”

“Would you like to be able to say that to them, some day?”

“… Yeah,” he muttered. “To be honest… Yeah. I kinda would.”

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Bonus Chapter: Doctor Sharpe.

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Author’s Note: Oop! Nearly forgot to put the playlists in! Here we are! Casper’s Groovez and Bex’s Songz!


Doctor’s notes, Subject #24235. Samantha De-Lorrie. Session 2.

Notes and recommendations of attendant therapist, Natalie Sharpe:

  In the two weeks since her kidnapping during the elvish incursion, Samantha has been making positive steps with adjusting, both to her manifestation (Type two: Significantly enhanced internal and dermal durability, thermal resistance, mild strength increase) and to her experiences while in the elves’ captivity. Samantha has noted that the group sessions are particularly helpful in this. However, problems have been noted, including continual concerns over loss of dermal sensitivity. Next session not originally scheduled for another two days, but an earlier appointment was booked on short notice after the apparent manifestation of additional metaphysical abilities.

  Upgrade of classification from type two to type three manifestation is pending based on the findings of this session.

Transcript of audio-visual session recording taken down by supervisor Pearson is as follows:

A knock sounds at the office door. Doctor sharpe looks up from her case notes.

Doctor Sharpe: “Come in.”

The door opens. Samantha enters.

Doctor Sharpe: “Hello, Sam. How are you feeling today?

Samantha: “I’m uhh. I’m fine, I think. Sorry to come in at short notice like this.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s not a problem, Sam. I’m glad you told us so quickly. It was the right thing to do. Telling me promptly helps to minimize the potential for harm, and allows for you to reintegrate back into your life much more safely and easily. Now. Would you mind telling me exactly what happened?”

Samantha: “R-right. So I uh. I was studying. Trying to catch up on assignment work and stuff. C-can’t exactly ask my teachers for an extension on grounds of secret evil kidnapping, you know?”

Doctor Sharpe chuckles.

Doctor Sharpe: “I could actually provide you with a medical certificate to give to your professors, if you’d like. Nothing about evil kidnappings, per-se, but I could write up something analogous. There’s no need for you to be placed under extra stress after what you’ve been through.”

Samantha smiles.

Samantha: “Y-yeah. If you could, t-that’d be kinda great. Crunch time’s sorta the worst possible time for this to be happening, you know?”

Doctor Sharpe: “I do. So, you were studying?”

Samantha: “Right, yeah. So I was at my computer, trying to get out a couple hundred words on the fall of Carthage. Underlying factors and stuff. A-and I had some tea next to me; chamomile… it’s supposed to be good for stress.”

A pause.

Samantha: “A-anyway, I r-reached out to grab it, a-and it was cold. I guess I must’ve lost track of time or something.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It happens.”

Samantha: “Yeah. S-so I just kinda sighed and figured I’d drink it anyway, but when I try to, it’s hot.”

A pause. Doctor Sharpe makes a note in her pad.

Doctor Sharpe: “Your tea got hot?

Samantha: “Yeah. But I mean, like, really hot. Like, hotter than when I boiled it, hot.”

Doctor sharpe makes another note in her pad.

Doctor Sharpe: “I see. And then?”

Samantha: “Well, I mean, then I just kinda stared at it for a second, before I guess it must’ve superheated or something, because that’s when the mug exploded. Steam and pottery everywhere.”

Doctor Sharpe appears concerned.

Doctor Sharpe: “Oh. Oh dear. Are you okay? Did it burn you?”

Samantha: “No. I guess my other powers were good enough to save me there. No burns, no cuts. It ruined my laptop, though… I think I still have a couple shards in my hair.”

Note: Samantha’s manifestation was previously shown to allow her to withstand around five hundred degrees centigrade temperatures without sustaining damage, with skin durability slightly below that of unreinforced aluminium.

Doctor Sharpe nods a few times, before setting her pad aside and retrieving a hand recorder from her desk.

Doctor Sharpe: “One moment, Samantha.”

Doctor Sharpe activates the recorder.

Doctor Sharpe: “Patient name: Samantha De-Lorrie. Patient has displayed potential mid-level metaphysical ability; some form of touch based thermal manipulation. High priority testing required to determine whether this is a physical trait. If not, recommending immediate recategorization to type three due to conjunction with pre-existing type two traits. If metaphysical, I am recommending provision of basic metaphysical instruction to prevent possible dangerous incide-”

Samantha interrupts recording.

Samantha: “U-um… Doctor Sharpe? Uh… What’s a type three?”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe deactivates her recorder.

Doctor Sharpe: “Right. Fair question. This was going to have to be explained to you at some point. Well, basically, the government classifies superhuman abilities into three categories. We have type ones, like me, who are effectively able to use stored energy to cause some metaphysical effect to happen when we want it to.

Doctor Sharpe waves a free hand, demonstratively allowing a small burst of electrical energy to manifest between her fingers.

Doctor Sharpe: “In terms you’ve heard before, type ones are mages. We learn to cast spells, but our bodies are otherwise human.”

A pause. Samantha appears to be staring at Doctor Sharpe’s hand.

Doctor Sharpe: “Then we have what we thought you were: a type two. In the basest sense, these are people who tend to have advanced physical abilities because of the presence of magical genes in their DNA. In layman’s terms, they’re crossbreeds; people with superhuman abilities because they have non-human genetic ancestry. Based on the type and strength of the powers you manifested, we believe that in your case, one of your grandparents was probably some variant of golem. That would certainly explain the increased durability.”

A pause. Samantha continues staring for several seconds.

Doctor Sharpe: “As I said, however, I believe you should now be classified as a type three. Type threes are fairly simple. While a type one means a mage, and a type two means a crossbreed, a type three simply means both. You manifested a supernatural physical ability during your time in captivity, and have now demonstrated what seems to be a fairly straightforward case of an entry level enchantment. We’ll need to do some further testing to make sure, of course, but this does seem to be the most probable present diagnosis.”

A pause. Samantha remains silent, continuing to gaze at Doctor Sharpe from her seat.

Doctor Sharpe: “… I can see you’re going to need a moment. There’s a coffee machine in the hall. Would you like anything?”

Samantha nods, but remains otherwise unresponsive. Doctor Sharpe places the recorder into her pocket, then presses a button on her desk console.

Doctor Sharpe: “Leah? I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind heading into the hall and grabbing my patient a latte? She’s just had a bit of a shock.”

Doctor Sharpe thinks for a moment, then adds:

Doctor Sharpe: “In an insulated cup, please, Leah.”

A voice on the intercom replies in the affirmative, and both Samantha and Doctor Sharpe wait in silence. After a few minutes, Doctor Sharpe’s receptionist steps in, and passes Samantha a cup, before excusing herself again.

Doctor Sharpe: “Thank you, Leah.”

After a few seconds, Samantha takes a sip of her coffee.

Doctor Sharpe: “I know this may well feel a little too big to handle all at once.”

Samantha makes a single short chuckling noise, before once more falling silent.

Doctor Sharpe: “But I want you to bear in mind, this is something that’s entirely under your control. Once you’ve been provided some basic schooling, it should be easy enough to avoid accidentally activating your new power. From there, you will be free to either continue to pursue magic as a vocation, or to simply ignore it completely for as long as you like. This doesn’t need to be anything stressful. Remember that.”

Samantha slowly nods, and takes another sip of her coffee.

Doctor Sharpe: “Is there anything else that you’d like to discuss with me today?”

Samantha shakes her head.

Samantha: “I… I think I’ve had enough knowledge bombs for one day, thanks.”

Doctor Sharpe nods.

Doctor Sharpe: “I’ll organize the tests and have someone call you to arrange a time when you get home. Would you like to have someone see you home? You seem a little unsteady on your feet.”

Samantha nods.

Samantha: “Y-yeah. That… That’d be good. Thanks, doc.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s quite alright, Sam. Leah will have someone ready for you.”

Samantha chuckles as she pushes herself upright.

Samantha: “Yeah. Heh. I guess Leah’s awesome like that.”

Doctor Sharpe smiles.

Doctor Sharpe: “She is. Until next time, Sam.”

Samantha exits the room and Doctor Sharpe sighs.

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, that was a bad move. Longest goddamn day.”

Doctor Sharpe takes out her recorder, and resumes recording.

Doctor Sharpe: “Personal notes, patient number 24235, session two. No significant notes to record at the present time. Patient responded with shock to the nature of her manifested abilities. Response is not unusual. Magic is a word that tends to have that effect on people, as does the realization of partially non-human genetic backgrounds. It would have been preferable to present that information to her at a less stressful time, but given that she was likely under the impression that her touch randomly caused things to explode, I thought it best to provide her the full explanation to alleviate those concerns. Attempt may have backfired. Will observe closely to ensure this knowledge does not hamper her recovery in the coming weeks.”

End of recording.

Notes and recommendations of supervisor Pearson regarding case #24235:

No additional notes to record. Will observe further before material conclusions are drawn.

Report Concludes.


Doctor Sharpe:

Natalie sat back in her seat and let out a groan. It had been another long day. The last two weeks had been full of them. Ever since the incursion into New York and the only broadly explainable attacks by the birds, every department had been pressed to the grindstone, delivering press releases, constructing cover stories and, in her case, tending to the traumas of the dozens of victims they’d left behind.

In the back of her head, Natalie started counting the seconds. It would take around two minutes for someone to arrive and escort Samantha back to her home. Natalie waited for exactly two and a half minutes in the blessed quiet of her office, before pushing herself out of her chair and grabbing her empty cup, before stepping towards the door. She needed coffee.

The day wasn’t even done.

“Clocking off early today, Leah,” she murmured as she passed the receptionist’s desk. “If I have any other emergency appointments, can you redirect them for me?”

“Sure thing, love,” she heard the older woman reply from behind her. “You got a hot date planned?”

“Heh,” she chuckled. “I wish.”

She swung the door closed behind her, and moved to the coffee machine. She placed the cup in the slot, punched in her code, and slid the coins into the slot, leaning her forehead against the surface of the machine while it poured, taking the few seconds she could to rest her eyes.

“Hello, Natalie,” came a voice from somewhere to her left. “Ready to go?”

She didn’t reply, holding up a hand blindly towards the speaker, silently telling him to wait. She held that point until the machine had finished making her coffee. Then, she picked up the cup in her free hand, raised it to her lips, and took a long drag.

“Okay,” she muttered, shaking herself. “I’m alive again. Ready when you are, Peter.”

She opened her eyes once more just in time to see Mr Toranaga grin.

“So,” he murmured, turning to stride back down the hallway towards the car park. “The rough days are universal, huh? Good to know.”

“Yeah,” she replied, falling into step behind him. “Those civilians you guys rescued took a pretty bad hit, you know?”

“I’m aware,” Peter replied. “You should have seen them when we first got there. One of the kids they’d picked up was mid-manifestation. Longest night of my life.”

“I heard about that,” Natalie nodded, pausing to take another long drag of her coffee. “Uncontrolled biokinesis, right? How’s he doing?”

“The doctors say they’ve removed the last of the tumors successfully,” came the grunted reply. “He’s been put in isolation while we formulate a training regime. His parents are taking it about as well as can be expected.”

“God,” she let out a humorless chuckle. “Those poor people.” They reached the door to the carpark, Peter stepping forwards to hold it open while she slipped out past him. “We are so lucky this whole thing didn’t make international news.”

“It did,” Peter groaned. “We had to crush the story. The higher ups are calling it the worst secrecy breach in three years. A major event, in a major city, with over a thousand anomalous avian predators released into the streets and four different cell phone recordings of lightning bolts rising out of Central Park; one of which caught a frame or two of something that honestly looks like a flying kid. It’s a clusterfuck.” Peter’s voice was beginning to rise steadily as he vented. “And that’s not even going into all the damage the female did on the bridge before she put one of our goblins in the hospital. Did you know she blew up a truck? She blew up a truck.”

“… Did you say a flying kid?”

“Yeah,” he muttered, raising his hands to his face. “I have a specialist looking into it. Frankly, that’s the biggest worry of all. An unknown party strong enough to be capable of unassisted flight? That’s a walking, breathing secrecy breach.”

Peter left Natalie to stew on that in silence as they made their way to his car and climbed inside. It was an effort, thinking on all the potential implications and risks, not to mention the addition of yet another dreaded layer of complexity. Eventually, she opted to set it aside.

“So,” she asked. “How’s Casper settling in? You’ve had him staying with you for, what, two weeks now?”

“Since the day after the attacks, yeah,” came the reply. “He’s doing okay. Still won’t tell us where he went or who he stayed with. Guess he doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble. Thanks for agreeing to talk to him, by the way.”

Natalie shook her head.

“It’d be better if it wasn’t me, you know,” she muttered. “I mean, his mom’s my supervisor, after all. I’m supposed to be an unbiased party.”

“His mom was your supervisor,” Peter corrected. “I had you reassigned to Pearson. Sorry, but it was probably gonna have to happen anyways, now that you’re in charge of giving therapy to the kid who lives with her son. Besides, he asked for you.”

“He did?”

“Yeah,” Peter replied. “Asked for the same woman who was helping James. Apparently he says good things about you.”

Natalie wasn’t sure how to feel about that. It was the oddest feeling, being told she gave good therapy.

“James won’t be there, will he?” She asked after a moment, reaching for a change of subject. “I’d prefer he not see me in any of his personal spaces, if possible.”

“Yeah,” said Peter. “He said he was going to catch a movie with a friend this evening. Should be out for the next couple of hours.”

“Good. I think that’s probably for the best.”

The two sat in silence for a moment, before Peter spoke again, oddly hesitant.

“Can-… Do you mind if I ask a question?” He asked, his eyes oddly focused on the dashboard as he started up the car.

“Of course,” she replied, one eyebrow raised. “Something wrong?”

“Wrong?” He laughed. “No. Uh. Just… Not sure how to phrase it.” He paused for a second. “So, a couple months ago, I started getting the sense that James might, uh…” he stopped again, seemingly struggling for words.

“… Might what?” Natalie probed, her raised eyebrow climbing further still.

“It’s-” he paused again, then grunted. “It was little stuff, you know? Looking a little too hard at the men on tv… Getting more excited than normal about his friend, Charlie. Small things.”

“Oh!” Natalie realized, instinctively locking her face into a neutral expression. “You think he’s gay?”

“I-” Peter let out a frustrated sigh. “I don’t know. I had the feeling he might be leaning that way, but then the rape happened, and I…” He trailed off, frowning at the road ahead.

“Have you spoken to him about it?”

“Hah!” Peter snorted. “God, no. I have enough trouble talking to the kid about the easy stuff. I wouldn’t even know where to start on that mess.”

“… Would it be a problem if he was gay?” Natalie once more made an effort to keep her tone neutral.

“Of course not,” he replied immediately, his tone a touch defensive. “That’s not the point. It’s just…” He stalled out again, his eyes set determinedly on the road.

“Don’t know how to ask?” She prompted.

Another sigh.

“No,” he grumbled. “It’s-… I’m worried about him is all. I mean, what if he really is gay, you know? His only experience with a man was painful as hell. Wouldn’t that, you know, make it harder for him?”

“Ah,” Natalie nodded, finally understanding. She allowed her face to slip out of its rigorously neutral expression, and gave him a smile. “I see. Well, yeah. I can see why you’re worried about it. I don’t think you need to be, though.”

“You don’t?” He finally allowed himself to glance across at her, his fingers relaxing a little on the steering wheel.

“No,” she murmured. “Your son is still a child, Peter. Whatever sexuality he has, I expect it’s still in the early stages. He might not have even discovered it himself, yet.” Now it was Peter’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “It happens,” she shrugged. “Some of us are late bloomers, after all. Besides, I expect he’s probably doing his best not to think about sex at all right now.” Peter opened his mouth to speak, but she raised a finger to quiet him. “And yes, I expect he probably will have some problems to overcome when it comes to dealing with his sexuality in the future, but you need to realize, those are problems he’ll probably have to deal with regardless of whether he’s straight or gay or whatever. He’s a rape victim. There’s baggage attached to that, no matter what you end up liking. What’s important, and what I’d like you to remember, is that he has a loving family, some good friends, and-” she chuckled. “-A qualified therapist. He’s a strong kid. You can trust him to find his way, alright?”

“… Right,” Peter muttered. “Yeah. You’re right. Thanks.”

“It’s no problem, sir.”

They were silent the rest of the way to the Toranaga house. After a few minutes, Peter put the radio on. Natalie pulled out her phone and began checking her emails, taking the chance to finish her coffee before it grew cold.

The rest of the journey was undergone in silence, neither of the car’s occupants really feeling any need to talk to the other more than they already had. The house was quiet when they got there; almost empty, but for the sandy haired boy gazing quietly at her from his seat halfway up the staircase, his chin tucked up against his knees.

“You the doctor?” He asked, his voice calm.

“Yes,” she replied. “I’m Doctor Sharpe. Or you can call me Natalie. It’s nice to meet you, Casper.”

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Interlude 1

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Doctor’s notes, Subject #24170. Alias: David. Session 2.

Notes and recommendations of attendant therapist, Natalie Sharpe:

In the week since our previous session, David has continued to exhibit no noticeable changes indicative of deviant manifestation. The observation period has been closed and the all clear provided early due to special circumstances. David’s father works with the office of -REDACTED TO ENSURE ANONYMITY-, and has given assurances that he will provide notification should David begin to demonstrate deviant abilities. David’s parents have noted a few marked improvements in his day to day behaviour since beginning to sleep in their bed and resuming school. They note that he seems less angry, more generally talkative and that while he still cries regularly, invariably following his still frequent nightmares, he no longer attempts to hide it from them. His mother continues to list a concern, however, in that she feels he may be hiding something from her. Such concerns are valid, and often true, but caution has been advised. Children in David’s situation often hide things from their parents more because they do not feel ready to address them yet than due to any need for deception.

With regard to concerns raised last week over anti-social patterns forming, the scenario seems unlikely. Upon his return to school, David immediately resumed his highly social behaviour, going so far as to have made a new friend by the end of his first day back. It is possible that he wishes to form a new social group for the purposes of self redefinition, but that remains conjecture.

Transcript of audio-visual session recording taken down by supervisor Sullivan is as follows:

A knock sounds on the door, Doctor Sharpe turns in her chair to face it.

Doctor Sharpe: “Come in.”

The door opens and David enters, accompanied by his mother. The two hug briefly.

David’s Mother: “Are you sure you’ll be okay? I promise I’ll be right outside.”

David: “Yeah, I’m sure. Love you Mom.”

David’s Mother: “Love you too, sweetie.”

David’s mother exits the room, closing the door behind her. David turns to face Doctor Sharpe, still standing close to the door, as he did before.

Doctor Sharpe: “Hello David.”

David: “Hey, Doctor.”

Doctor Sharpe: “How are you feeling today?”

A pause.

David: “Better, I think. A little bit at least. I’ve been sleeping better.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s good to hear, David. Are you still having thoughts about what happened?”

David: “Yeah, every night, pretty much, but when it wakes me up, Mom and Dad are there and they help me feel a little better.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s good to hear, David. Your parents told me that you tried sleeping alone again on Tuesday.”

A pause.

David: “Yeah. I thought I was ready. I wasn’t.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “Do you want to talk abo-”

David vehemently cuts Doctor Sharpe off.

David: “No.”

A pause.

David: “Sorry. It… it wasn’t fun.”

Doctor Sharpe nods.

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s fine. Your parents also told me you’ve made a friend.”

David: “Yeah, Nathaniel.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, would you like to tell me about him, David?”

David: “He’s… Fun, I guess. Kinda dorky, a little lonely. He seems just as messed up about stuff as I am sometimes and that… kinda helps, I think. We’ve been watching anime together.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Oh yes? Anything I might have heard of?”

David: “Uhh, no offence, doctor, but I’m pretty sure you don’t watch anime.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs.

Doctor Sharpe: “You’re right, I don’t, but my roommate in college watched them all the time. I couldn’t help but pick up a few things.”

A pause.

David: “Spacefighter X.”

Doctor Sharpe grins.

Doctor Sharpe: “Never heard of it.”

David: “Course not, it only came out last year.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Let me guess, giant robots fighting in space?”

David: “Well, yeah, but there’s politics and stuff, too.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs.

Doctor Sharpe:My roommate used to assure me of something very similar.”

David scowls.

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, that aside, I think we’re getting a little off topic here, David. Why don’t you tell me a little more about Nathaniel?”

David: “Yeah, okay. He’s… he’s nice, you know? Not that fake kind of nice that you get from teachers or people who just want you to like them. He’s… I dunno, kind? He came to my house yesterday to hang out and I was busy playing castles with my sister, so instead of pulling me away, he just grabbed some pillows and joined in. I mean, what kind of person just randomly gives up two hours of time just to make a five year old happy?”

Doctor Sharpe: “You did.”

David: “Well, yeah, but she’s my sister.”

Doctor Sharpe: “True enough. I don’t think we’ve discussed your sister yet, have we?”

A pause.

David: “Not really, no. I… Sorry. That’s kinda personal. We’ve only had one session, and I-“

Doctor Sharpe raises her hand.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s fine, David, we can talk about something else, if you prefer. How have you been finding your life back at school? You went back on Wednesday, correct?”

David: “Yeah, it’s good. I was starting to feel way too cooped up at home. Kinda bums me out sometimes, though. I wanna play games with my friends, but my mom said if I fell, it might make the skin patch come off and I… yeah.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “I wouldn’t worry about that too much, David, If you use a new one every week or so, the adhesive should hold up against a scrape or two. There’s nothing stopping you playing ball games with whoever you want.”

David sighs.

David: “I know, but… Nerves, you know?”

Doctor Sharpe: “Yeah, I know.”

The two are silent for a time. Doctor Sharpe moves to her fridge for a soda and offers one to David, who declines. Doctor Sharpe returns to her seat.

Doctor Sharpe: “Have you thought any further about what you would like to do with regard to your markings?”

David shakes his head.

David: “No. I mean, yeah, I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t decided yet. I… I think I wanna get rid of them, but I’m still not one hundred percent sure. There’s… stuff.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs slightly.

Doctor Sharpe: “Not feeling like sharing much today, are you?”

David opens his mouth to reply, but Doctor Sharpe raises a hand.

Doctor Sharpe: “It wasn’t a criticism. This whole thing is a process, and it works best when you feel comfortable enough to share things without being pushed.”

David nods.

David: “It’s just… there’s some things I really want to figure out on my own first, you know?”

Doctor Sharpe: “I do. I’m here if you need help with any of them, though. Okay?”

David: “Yeah.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, then, is there something else you’d like to talk about with me, or would you rather we called this to a close for the day?”

David hesitates for a time, opens his mouth to speak, then closes it again. Doctor Sharpe watches quietly, hands folded in her lap. After a few minutes, David sighs.”

David: “Not right now. Sorry.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s fine, David. You can hold off of telling me until you’re comfortable doing so. Would you like to go back to your mother?”

David: “Yeah, please. Sorry.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s not a problem, David.”

David nods, before exiting through the door and closing it behind him.

Doctor Sharpe opens her desk, retrieves a hand recorder, and begins recording.

Doctor Sharpe: “Personal notes, patient number 24170, session two. Patient appears to be recovering well on an emotional level, his resumed social activity and decreased signs of stress at home are both good signs. Hearing his description of Nathaniel, the relationship seems healthy, and the traits mentioned point towards an additional source of support in his recovery. If David is indeed trying to redefine who he is in the aftermath of his assault, this new connection seems a healthy start. Side note. I feel the need to address a possible conflict of interest. Nathaniel, the boy David recently befriended, is my -REDACTED TO ENSURE ANONYMITY-. I feel it is possible that this could be an issue going forward into future sessions.”

End of recording.

Notes and recommendations of supervisor Sullivan regarding case #24170:

No new notes to record. Concerns regarding a possible conflict of interest have been explored and factored. No action required.

Report Concludes.

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Prologue: David.

Doctor’s notes, Subject #24170. Alias: David. Session 1.

Notes and recommendations of attendant therapist, Natalie Sharpe:

                David (Pseudonym provided by parental request, to be removed if deviation abilities are confirmed) has displayed mild to moderate behavioral change since occurrence of primary event: sexual assault by an unnamed individual. Behavioral changes are concerning, but within expectations. Parents report that David has been angry, withdrawn and largely non-communicative since the event, frequently displaying signs of recent crying, but never doing so in their presence. Subject discharged from hospital three days previously. No signs reported of physiological or metaphysical manifestations: weight, body temperature and brain activity all normal for a child of his age. Mild decrease in muscular strength flagged as concerning, possible sign of type two manifestation, but no corresponding change in bodily density. Listing shock and physical trauma as probable cause. Overall risk graded as low.

                Behavioral changes are cause for possible concern, if antisocial patterns develop, could lead to greater risk of harm in the event of deviance.

Personal note from attendant therapist: ‘While I am aware that the social and emotional well-being of the child is not the concern of this examination, I still feel a moral obligation to point out the need for sensitive treatment of this issue for the sake of his development into the future.’

                Be advised, David has been noticeably skittish with all adults besides his parents since the event, more so with males than females.

Transcript of audio-visual session recording taken down by supervisor Sullivan is as follows:

David enters, standing by the doorway for several seconds. Notably, his marks of purity and pain, obtained during the sexual assault in question, seem to have been covered, presumably with makeup. He lifts a hand to the side of his face, apparently reassuring himself that the marks are still covered.

Doctor Sharpe: “Hello. My name is Doctor Sharpe; Natalie, if you prefer. What’s your name?”

David: “Don’t you already know my name?”

Doctor Sharpe: “Yes, but I feel it helps if you have a chance to introduce yourself to me, rather than me just knowing these things.”

Both David and Doctor Sharpe are silent for a short period of time.

David: “…David.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, David. Have a seat, if you like.”

A pause.

David: “Do I have to?”

Doctor Sharpe: “No, you don’t have to. If it makes you feel more comfortable to remain close to the door, that’s perfectly understandable.”

A pause.

David: “Is this the part where you ask me where on the doll the bad man touched me?”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “I take it your parents let you watch Law and Order, then?”

David laughs.

David: “Sometimes.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs as well.

Doctor Sharpe: “Just let me note that down here, it’s very important.”

David appears to grow mildly agitated.

David: “Is it?”

Doctor Sharpe: “No, it’s not. I was joking, David. You can relax.”

A pause.

David: “I already told the other doctors, I don’t know who he was.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s not why we’re here, David.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “We’re here to make sure everything’s okay with you; to make sure that what happened didn’t hurt you permanently.”

Doctor Sharpe stands, retrieves a soda from the fridge and offers one to David, who accepts.

David: “The doctor at the hospital said I was recovering fine.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Not that kind of hurt, David.”

A pause. Doctor Sharpe opens a second can of soda and walks with it towards David. He flinches slightly as she approaches. Doctor Sharpe hesitates, before placing the can on the floor and returning to her seat. David mumbles something too quietly for the recorder to pick up, before retrieving the soda, returning to his position by the door, and drinking. David looks out of the office window for several minutes. Doctor Sharpe watches David in silence.

David: “I… I remember it sometimes.”

Doctor Sharpe: “I imagine you do, yes.”

David: “H-he said it would stop hurting after a while, but it didn’t.”

A pause. David begins to cry, wipes his eye on a sleeve, takes three deep breaths, and continues.

David: “I keep remembering it when I try to sleep. It keeps me awake, makes it harder.”

Doctor Sharpe consults her notes briefly.

Doctor Sharpe: “Your parents didn’t mention any sleep problems.”

David shakes his head.

David: “I didn’t tell them.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Why not?”

David: “I didn’t want them to worry.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Trust me, David, they’re already worried.”

David: “I know.”

A pause.

David: “Is there anything you can do to help me sleep? I’m really tired.”

Doctor Sharpe: “There are a few things we can try, yes.”

David: “Can you give me some pills or something? Something to make the memories go away for a while?”

Doctor Sharpe: “Pills are certainly an option, but we don’t really want to depend on them, especially not at your age.”

David crosses his arms and frowns.

David: Imitating Doctor Sharpe, “Not at your age.”

Doctor Sharpe raises her eyebrows.

Doctor Sharpe: “You’re twelve, David. Too many pills could cause problems.”

David: “So could not being able to sleep.”

Doctor Sharpe: “There are other things we can try for that besides sleeping pills. For instance, you might find it easier if you tried sleeping somewhere where you felt safe. Maybe your parents’ room?”

David: “But that’d make them worry even more!”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “It may sound strange, David, but having you close by might be enough to help them worry less.”

David: “That’s stupid.”

Doctor Sharpe shrugs.

Doctor Sharpe: “Yeah. Adults are stupid sometimes.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “Have you spoken with anyone about your markings?”

David moves his hand to the side of his face, brushing a finger against the point where the mark of purity sits.

David: “It still feels weird having them there.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s understandable.”

David: “Does it feel weird for adults when they get them?”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “It can take some getting used to, yes. I remember when I got my mark, a lot of my friends used to tease me about it. They kept asking me who the lucky boy was. I imagine it’s a little harder for you, though. Most people get them by choice, after all.”

David: “I guess that makes sense.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Have you spoken to anyone about your options in that regard?”

A pause.

David: “One of the doctors at the hospital said they could bleach the skin, cover them back up or something. I’m not sure how I feel about doing that, though.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s understandable. Would you like for us to talk it through together? It may help you decide how you feel about it.”

A pause.

David: “Sure.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Good. I’m glad. Well, first of all, there is the social aspect. How do you feel about interacting with your friends and family members with the markings?”

David: “It… it feels weird, sort of like everyone’s staring at me for having them.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That is a concern, yes. People in your position often find that the presence of the marks attracts a degree of unwelcome attention. As you are probably aware, the purity marks usually appear when an individual loses their virginity. In kids your age, this can often lead to a degree of unwanted questioning. How do you feel about that possibility?”

A pause.

David: “Not great. I… I’ve been sort of hiding it from people whenever I leave the house.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Yes, I noticed you had them covered up. Did your mother do that for you?”

David: “Y-yeah.”

A pause. David hesitates for some time, staring at the floor, before raising the cuff of his sleeve to his cheek, seemingly in an attempt to wipe the makeup off. Doctor Sharpe speaks before he has a chance to start removing it.

Doctor Sharpe: “You don’t have to take it off if it makes you uncomfortable, David. I promise, I am not going to judge you.”

David seems relieved, quickly returning his hand to his side.

David: “Thanks. It… I know it’s not good to lie, but…”

Doctor Sharpe: “No. In this case, I think it’s perfectly reasonable. It’s a very private thing you’re trying to deal with and you don’t want your peers to know. You aren’t doing anything wrong.”

A pause.

David: “Thanks, Natalie.”

Doctor Sharpe nods in acknowledgement. David shakes his head.

David: “Eww, no, sorry. Calling you Natalie feels weird.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs slightly.

Doctor Sharpe: “I guess I can understand that. Moving on, do you have any problems or concerns about the idea of covering the marks that you’d like to talk about?”

David: “Yeah… I… I’m kinda worried about… what if it doesn’t look real?”

Doctor Sharpe: “I can assure you, David, the process is very thorough. I’m sure the doctor showed you some pictures. Besides, no one is going to question it much if your face doesn’t look exactly the same. To be honest, most people don’t pay that much attention.”

A pause.

David: “Could they do it in time for me to go back to school?”

Doctor Sharpe: “Probably not. If you decided to go that route, you’d probably have to keep wearing makeup, like you are now. As I understand it, the surgery has a bit of a waiting list.”

David: “So then how do I stop my friends from finding out? I mean, I know I can cover them and stuff, but what if it rains or something?”

Doctor Sharpe nods.

Doctor Sharpe: “That is a valid concern, David, but not as much of an issue as you might be thinking. We usually supply skin patches to people in situations like yours, to help hide the markings for the time being. I was informed that these ones should be a decent match to your skin color.”

Doctor Sharpe opens her desk drawer and rifles through it for a few moments, eventually finding the patches in question. She stands and moves to place them on a table in the middle of the room. Doctor Sharpe returns to her desk to allow David to take the patches without coming into contact with her. David takes the patches and examines them for several seconds.

David: “They look all weird. They feel wrong, too.”

Doctor Sharpe: “I know. These aren’t as realistic as the surgery will be, but as long as you keep them under makeup, they should hold up fine for the time being. That way, if it rains and your makeup gets washed away, you’ll have time to excuse yourself and go get help.”

David: “Are… are there any downsides? Is there something bad the surgery might do?”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “It… it depends on what you call a downside. For one thing, if we clear the skin, it stays clear. The marks won’t come back the next time you have sex.”

David’s expression changes to one of disgust.

David: “That’s fine. I don’t ever want to do it again anyway.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “You may feel differently about that when you get older.”

David: “I don’t care. Right now, I never want to do it again. It hurt.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe nods.

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, you can make that decision when you come to it. Even if you decided you didn’t like it, the markings could be tattooed back on eventually, if you wanted.”

A pause.

David: “Sure.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, I hope talking about it helped you see everything a little more clearly. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”

David shakes his head before looking over his shoulder at the door.

David: “No. I think I want to go back to my mom now. Sorry.”

Doctor Sharpe: “I understand. To be honest, I think you did very well for a first session. I’m glad. Until next time, David.”

David: “Yeah, bye.”

David opens the door and exits the room.

Doctor Sharpe waits for the door to close, then sighs. She produces a hand recorder from her desk drawer and begins recording.

Doctor Sharpe: “Personal notes, Patient 24170, session 1. Patient exhibits no observable signs of deviant cognitive changes. His emotional intelligence seems unusually well developed for a twelve year old, although not to any degree that might indicate some empathic ability. I suspect he is simply ahead of his age group in that regard. His reaction to the concept of engaging in sexual activity at some point in the future is, while understandable, still concerning. Action may need to be taken to prevent him from forming unhealthy or inaccurate attitudes towards sexual activity on the basis of his negative experiences.”

End of recording.

Notes and recommendations of supervisor Sullivan regarding case #24170:

                Doctor Sharpe reports no visible or cognitive evidence of deviance manifestation. An all-clear will be issued pending the results of a two week observation period. Doctor Sharpe requests permission to pursue additional sessions with David on a pro-bono basis for therapeutic purposes. Permission will be granted provided the all-clear is received. On a related note, Doctor Sharpe may be too emotionally susceptible to engage in higher level work. Requesting approval to restrict her to positions with level one clearance only.

Report concludes.

James walked out of the office, deep in thought. Talking with Doctor Sharpe had given him a lot to think about. His mother, Sarah, got up quickly, moving towards him with that same look of poorly hidden concern she had been wearing for days now. She looked exhausted, deep lines etched into her face, drawing the pale skin taut.

“How was it?” Sarah asked, reaching out a hand for James to grasp as she made her way towards the receptionist, a large woman seated in the only comfortable looking chair the waiting room had available.

James didn’t answer immediately. He was too busy gathering his thoughts in an attempt to make some sense of them to be fully aware of his surroundings.

“It was… fine, I guess,” he answered eventually. “It was good having someone I can talk to about… stuff.”

James could tell by the way his mother’s grip tightened around his hand that something he had said was painful to her. Even so, she kept her face carefully controlled. The boy waited patiently as Sarah spoke briefly with the receptionist, before leading him gently from the doctor’s rooms.

“You could always speak to your father and I, you know?” She said quietly as they walked towards the car. “We’re your parents after all. We care about you.”

James sighed. Guilt was a hard thing to deal with, even when applied unintentionally.

“I know, Mom. It’s just… There’s some stuff I don’t want to talk to you about because you’re my parents. I… I’m scared you’ll… look at me different.”

“We won’t,” Sarah replied in that same gentle voice. “I promise.”

‘You’ve been doing it all week.’ James bit back the words, refusing to say them aloud because he knew they would only hurt his mother. Unfortunately, it seemed his silence was equally hurtful to her. She gripped his hand tighter, as if to remind herself that he was still there. He gritted his teeth, angry with himself. He had no idea what to say.

“Hey,” Sarah spoke eventually into the silence, her voice quavering slightly in betrayal of the cheer she forced into the words. “Wanna go get some ice cream on the way home?”

James shook his head, forcing a smile.

“No thanks, Mom. Can we just go home? I promised Bex I’d help her build a spaceship today.”

James wasn’t sure what he would have done without his sister there. It was amazing just how grating people talking soothingly became after a solid week. It had eventually reached the point where he thought it would drive him mad. The only escape the world had offered was Rebecca. At five years old, she lacked the subtlety to pretend everything was okay when it wasn’t. When everyone else around was spouting hollow sounding platitudes and half-heartedly promising that nothing was different, Rebecca wanted to build spaceships with her older brother. James had no words to express how thankful he was of that.

Sarah smiled, slightly more genuine this time. Seeing James spending time with his sister had seemed to reassure her recently.

“Sure thing, kiddo.”

The two drove home in silence, freed from the social obligation to converse by the blessed presence of the radio. Sarah let James pick the channel. Arriving home, James tracked down his sister, marched her into the small playroom the two of them grudgingly shared, and proceeded to dump the entire contents of their Lego collection out onto the floor. Both James and Rebecca understood the universal truth that Lego was simply better when it was in a jumbled heap. The two then constructed the grandest spaceship of which they were capable, complete with engines, living quarters and, because Rebecca was five, Dumbledore’s office.

Later, at dinner, James told his parents about his nightmares, including what Doctor Sharpe had said about sleeping somewhere he felt safe. Both Sarah and Peter, James’ father, had agreed to let him sleep in their room without hesitation.

That night, James got a decent night’s sleep for the first time in a week. When he woke in the dark, whimpering and mewling quietly, his parents gently shushed him back to sleep, reassuring the crying boy that everything would be alright. For the first time that week, James believed them.

Next Chapter: