Tessa sits outside the door to Dr. Potter's office, biting her lower lips nervously. She takes a deep breath, visibly steels herself, and sets her shoulders. She lifts one hand and gives a tentative knock on the door.
“Enter!” Calls a voice from behind it.
Tessa opens the door and wheels in, trying her hardest not to cringe away, or simply to run. Doctor Potter is sat at her desk, taking notes, and looks up as Tessa enters.
“Miss Nikolaides? I'm Doctor Potter. Please take a seat wherever you feel comfortable,” she says, and nods to the chairs across from her desk. “You may stay in your chair, of course, if you're more comfortable there.”
Tessa wheels over, and stops next to a wide armchair. She hauls herself into it, tucking her legs up onto the cushion next to her, and leans back against the soft back of the chair.
Doctor Potter gives her a professional smile, then stands and comes around her desk to take one of the other chairs, at a diagonal from Tessa. She has a clipboard in hand, and jots down some notes on it once she's sat down again.
“Let me first lay down what the rules of this place are,” she begins. “Everything said in here is confidential, unless I feel you are a threat to yourself or others. I will not censor or censure you; anything you say in this room is permitted. Feel free to swear or scream or yell; I promise you I've heard worse.” She adjusts her glasses. “You may choose to answer any questions I ask, or you may choose to remain entirely silent, or anything in between; this is all about you, Miss Nikolaides, and these things cannot be forced. Let me know if you do not currently wish to discuss a topic and we will shelve it for later. I will not tell anyone you are receiving therapy, and you are free to treat me as a stranger should we meet outside this room. Do you have any questions before we begin?”
Tessa looks at her for a long moment, and then, very slowly, nods.
Dr. Potter nods back. “Now, would you like to start? What is it that you're looking to get out of these sessions, Miss Nikolaides?”
Tessa's eyes dart from point to point in the office, taking note of exits and escape routes, as her hands tangle together in her lap.
“Call me Tessa, please,” she finally says. “I don't know where to start. I just want to be-” she pauses, and looks around again. “-less fucked up, you know?”
Dr. Potter takes some more notes, and nods. “That's why I'm here, Tessa. As far as I see it, we have a few main areas you seem to need help with; your family, your disability, your imprisonment, and your recent return.”
Tessa looks thoughtful and sad and sort of – well, like a teenaged girl out of her depth.
“That sounds about right,” she admits. “But- there's one more thing. I- I have these-” She looks away, hands knotted together and white-knuckled. “-these instincts. They're- they- it's hard to put into words.”
Dr. Potter nods again, jotting something else on the notepad. “How long have you had these instincts, Tessa?”
There's a soft, helpless laugh and Tessa shrugs. “All my life, I guess? But they've never been this- this bad before. This strong.”
“And what do they tell you to do?”
Tessa looks away again. “Have you ever been- hungry and horny at the same time?” She whispers. “And angry and sad and jealous? Except it's nothing like that at all, that's just the closest I can come to describing one of the things I feel?”
“I can't say I have,” says Dr. Potter. “But I can help you, nevertheless. What triggers these instincts? Is there a particular thing, or are they constant?”
Tessa looks back to the doctor, still looking worried and lost. “Some of the are constant. The urge to- to hoard things.” She looks paler, scared. “To pick up little trinkets, to take them from people, and to put them all on my bed.” She looks down, and whispers. “I sleep on my jewellery, now. I have to. Pile it on my bed, and lay on top of it. Or I can't sleep.”
Her hands clench into angry fists, bronze nails cutting fiery crescents in her palms. She's shaking with anger and frustration and fear.
“I only want to- to eat people-” she chokes out “-when I'm angry or- or when I meet someone I love- I loved. Fuck.” She sobs, curling in on herself. “Why do I want to fucking eat people?” She starts to hyperventilate, eyes wide and darting around the room.
“Breathe, Tessa. In through the nose, one, two, three, four-” Dr. Potter takes notes as she talks, keeping one eye on her patient. “-hold, one, two, out through the mouth, one, two, three, four, hold, one, two-”
She repeats it, over and over, getting Tessa to focus on her voice and her instructions, coaxing her out of the panic attack. It takes a long few minutes, and, recognising the signs, Dr. Potter has a trash can at the ready which Tessa promptly vomits into, sobbing.
Tessa wraps her shaking arms around the trash can and vomits again, steaming tears dripping off her face. She spits, and looks up at Dr. Potter through her hair.
“I'm so fucked up,” she whispers, pale and tear-streaked.
Dr. Potter shakes her head at that. “This is all treatable, Tessa. It will take therapy, and medication, but you can be a fully functional person again. It will just take time.” She gives Tessa a small smile. “And you are already taking the right steps. You're acknowledging that you have an issue, and you're seeking treatment.”
They sit in silence for a few more minutes as Tessa composes herself. Dr. Potter hands her a paper cup of water so she can rinse her mouth, and then a mint to help with the taste.
“How long have you suffered from the panic attacks?” Dr. Potter finally asks.
Tessa looks her in the eyes. “Since the- the room.”
“And how frequently would you say they occur?”
“Every few days. It's usually- when I'm alone. At night, in the dark.” Tessa shudders slightly.
Another few notes. “I can give you medication that might help, but we should see if therapy can treat it first. Do you think you are currently depressed, Tessa?”
Tessa looks down, brow furrowed in deep thought. “...no. No, I don't. I haven't thought about killing myself for months. And I'm- I'm pretty happy with life, besides all the other stuff, you know? It sounds awful, but-” she shrugs slightly. “I have friends here, and stuff to do. I get sad, and I get down, but I haven't been- back there.”
“Your file says you attempted suicide after the accident. Would you like to talk about that?”
Tessa looks a little distant. “I mean- everything hurt. Everything. They were dead, and it was all my fault for being such a freak.” She lets out another helpless sob-laugh. “And the pills were just- right there, you know? Fuck. It seems like I was a different person, though. A lot of people say that, I think. I read about it, afterwards – like there was someone else in your body, and you were just- watching?”
Dr. Potter nods. “That's a very common description for depression, yes. And you don't feel you're that person at the moment?”
Tessa shakes her head, looking thoughtful. “No. I still- I enjoy things, you know? Not the temporary, while-you're-there enjoy, but the long term, contented warmth? That was all gone for a while. It isn't now.” She shrugs. “I'm almost grateful for it, though. If I didn't have that experience, Suzy...” She shakes her head. “Well, I'm sure you know all about that.”
Dr. Potter takes a few more notes, and accepts the change of subject. “You mentioned you felt like a freak. Do you still feel that way?”
“A little,” admits Tessa, looking away. “But- here's the best place, I think. I mean, look at Athene; I don't stand out in the slightest compared to her. And the way everyone here just- accepts what you look like. That helps.” She sighs. “But every time I look in the mirror, I remember what I used to look like. When my eyes were blue, and my teeth were normal, and I didn't have a horn growing out of my skull. When I worried about needing braces, and whether I'd ever get a date.”
“How do your extranormal features make you feel, Tessa?”
“I- well, I kinda like them? But I also kinda hate them.” She makes a complicated face, like a dog chewing a toffee. “They're reminders of everything I've been through, good and bad. They make me- well, they make me me, you know? Even though I miss looking normal, I sorta wouldn't go back to it? Does that make any sense?”
“Above all else, you're still a teenager, Tessa. Most young people feel just as lost as you do, as their bodies change and develop,” Dr. Potter says. She gives Tessa a small, genuine smile. “You just have a little more to deal with than most. It's perfectly usual to not know how to feel about your appearance.”
“And bras are a bitch to get on right,” Tessa manages to joke, jerking a thumb over her shoulder at the twisted, stunted wings that twitch feebly on her back.
“I can imagine,” Dr. Potter agrees. “What would you choose as your least favourite extranormal feature?”
Tessa looks down, deep in thought, and her hand almost involuntarily raises to her mouth; to her teeth. “The teeth. They- do you know how easy it is to bite through bone? It's really fucking easy, with these. And they're scary. The eyes can be creepy, but they let me see in the dark a little. The wings are useless, but inoffensive. The fire- I can live with it. But the teeth? They're just there to hurt things.” Her head sinks even lower. “And I- I like hurting things. Even though I shouldn't. You should never look at your friend's gaping neck wound and be turned on and hungry. That's not a normal thing to think.”
“There's no such thing as 'normal', Tessa.” Dr. Potter says, jotting down some more notes. “Everyone's different, and even if you feel these things, it shouldn't stop you from functioning as a person. You might need to adjust some things, to do certain things differently. How were you dealing with these feelings before?”
“Ignoring them, for the most part,” Tessa says, shrugging and giving the doctor a wan smile. “Sometimes eating a bunch if it was bad, but they'd never been this bad before. Fighting Athene is helping, I think. Like an overpressure boiler blowing off excess steam. Tinkering helps, too. I've got a prototype design for some powered armour in progress, which is really taking up a bunch of time, but it really helps. The total focus, you know?”
“I do. It's a wonderful thing, the ability to shut everything else out for a little while.” Dr. Potter adjusts her glasses again. “You've mentioned Athene a lot. Would you say she's had a significant impact on you?”
“Well, yeah. She's- she gets it. She lives it, every day, and she knows.” Tessa's looking more cheerful, slightly less pale. “You know how rare that is? Finding someone who knows every dark, monstrous thing you feel, and who accepts you, not despite of it, but because of it?” She looks to the side, a faint, luminous blush rising to her cheeks. “I have a crush on her, I know. But even if she never feels that way about me-” She shrugs. “-she gets it. That's more important than anything else. I'll be her friend until one of us dies, if it goes on like this, no matter what else happens.”
“It is excellent that you have a friend who you can talk to about these things,” Dr. Potter says. “Now, to end on a high note: what is your favourite extranormal feature, would you say?”
“That's easy,” Tessa says, with a shadow of a smirk on her lips. She flourishes her nails to the doctor, bronze shining faintly in the light. “These. I love them; they're impressive, they're practical, and it gives me an excuse to play with an angle grinder every few weeks.”
Dr. Potter nods again. “That's good, Tessa. I think we've made some progress today, and there's plenty to talk about in our next session.” She gives Tessa another professional smile. “I'll get you a leaflet on how to handle anxiety with breathing exercises and other self-administered treatments. Hopefully it should help with the panic attacks.”
Tessa nods at that. “That- sounds like a good idea.” She pauses for a long time, silent as Dr. Potter fetches the leaflet and hands it to her. “And thank you. I don't know how much it means to you, and I know you're getting paid to do this but – thank you. It means a lot, that there's someone who'll listen.”
“I don't do this for the money, Tessa,” Dr. Potter replies. “I do it to help people like you. Everyone needs a little help, now and then.”
Tessa nods and gives Dr. Potter a tentative smile, then wheels out of the office.