Alexander always took the subway in the early morning hours. The city was quiet at this hour; there was practically no one out who could bother him or recognize him. But perhaps most importantly, there was never any line at the coffee shop. He took a sip of his espresso and sighed. Maybe coffee isn’t gonna help me relax much, he thought to himself, but it makes me feel better. Alexander was never one who liked to stand out. He was happy letting other people take the spotlight while he quietly played his part, incapacitating criminals and paving the way for Zariel or Noa or Trevor to handle the rest.
But when the news broke that he was being suspended from the team, all of that changed. Now it felt like no one on TV or social media could go five seconds without talking about Saturn, poring over old photos and videos to try and find some clue that would tell them why it had happened, examining every aspect of his life that the Bureau allowed people to access and discussing it ad nauseum. He almost felt sorry for the other members of the team; he had no idea just how exhausting it could be.
As the subway slowed to a stop, Alexander realized his fears had followed him there. The platform was riddled with paparazzi, their cameras already flashing before he even got off the train. He dropped to the floor and covered his head, groaning as the lights and sounds started to get overwhelming. Oh, come on! Why today of all days? I’m already stressed about this therapy thing, I don’t need this on top of it! He almost considered just staying on the train and getting off at the next station, but then he heard a commotion outside.
“You stand back, you hear me?” shouted a woman. “I’m with the BHPA, any closer and you’ll regret it!” Alexander tried to peek out the window to see who it was, but the camera flashes were too intense that he couldn’t make anything out.
The subway doors opened, and Alexander instinctively backed up. “G-Go away!” he shouted, covering his face. “No questions!”
“Alexander, it’s me,” said a voice. “It’s alright, no one’s gonna hurt you.”
“Huh? Who–” Alexander cracked an eye open and squinted. “D-Doctor Lawson?”
“What’re the odds that we’d get off at the same stop?” Lorelei chuckled. Even though Alexander could only catch a glimpse of her through his half-open eye, he could tell she looked just as pretty as she did the other day, her long coat giving her an extra layer of sophistication and class. “Are you okay?”
“I-I’m… yeah, totally,” Alexander muttered. He tried to put his arms down, but the flashing from the cameras nearly blinded him and he put them back up again. “N-No, actually. I’m…”
“Shh. It’s okay.” Lorelei stepped closer, reaching into the pocket of her coat and pulling out a pair of sunglasses. She placed them on Alexander’s face, her soft hands brushing his hair out of the way. “Is this better?”
“Um…” Alexander blinked. The dark lenses definitely blocked out the flashes from the cameras, but it also made the actual subway nearly impossible to see. “I… think so? But I can’t tell where I’m going.”
Lorelei smiled and grabbed Alexander’s hand. “That’s okay. Just stick close to me, okay? I’m gonna get us out of here.”
Before Alexander could get another word in, Lorelei pulled him in and started walking the two of them out of the train and onto the platform. She snaked through the crowd, waving a badge in front of her and shouting something that Alexander couldn’t make out through the sheer amount of noise surrounding them. All the while, he clutched her hand tightly, like it was a life preserver in the middle of the ocean.
Soon, they were outside, only a block away from the building where Generation 6 worked. Alexander looked ahead and felt a cold pang of fear stab him in the heart. The crowd outside the building was even larger than the one on the subway platform. “Fuck,” he whispered, shuddering.
“Alexander?” Lorelei asked. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s too much,” he murmured, tears starting to well up in his eyes. “I-I can’t…”
Lorelei looked around and spotted an alleyway. She led Alexander to it, practically dragging him as his legs started to give out from fear. Once they were tucked away where no one would spot them she knelt down, holding his hand gently but firmly. “Alexander, please talk to me. Tell me what’s happening.”
“There’s too many people,” he sobbed, wiping a stay bit of snot from his nose. “A-And they all want me to talk to them, and they all hate me, a-and–”
“Shh, shh, it’s alright.” Lorelei wiped Alexander’s tears away with the back of her hand. “They don’t hate you, they’re just looking for a story.”
“Yes they do! Everyone thinks I’m a fuckup! EE, and Zariel, and–”
“Eleanor doesn’t hate you either. She wants what’s best for you, just like I do.” Lorelei inhaled sharply. “Zariel is… difficult, sometimes. But I don’t think she hates you either. Not really, anyway.”
“How do you know?” Alexander sniffled. “You barely know her.”
“Because I’m good at my job. I’m here to help you two get along, but more than that? I’m here to help you.” Lorelei wrapped her arm around his shoulders and pulled him in close. “I want to try something with you. Try to sync up your breathing with mine.”
“Huh?” Alexander asked. “Wh-What’s that gonna–”
Lorelei scratched the back of Alexander’s neck and hummed softly. “You ask a lot of questions,” she giggled. “Try to just relax for now. Breathe with me. In and out.”
Alexander’s heart skipped a beat. Oh gosh. Ohhhhhh gosh. “Um. O-Okay.” He took a slow, deep breath in time with Lorelei, and then exhaled as she did.
“Very good,” Lorelei said. “Keep going. In, and out.”
Alexander nodded. In and out. Alright, this is… fine. His chest rose and fell with hers, and as it did he felt her hand softly pet the back of his head.
“You’re doing such a good job,” Lorelei whispered. Her lips almost touched Alexander’s ear, and he felt heat rushing to his cheeks. “Focus only on your breathing and the sound of my voice. In… and out.”
In and… out… Alexander blinked heavily. He didn’t think this would work nearly as well as it was. He could feel his heart rate slow down with every breath, and as he closed his eyes he could swear the crowd of reporters outside the building started to get quieter and quieter, as if her embrace was muffling them somehow.
“What do you think, Alexander?” Lorelei’s voice cut through a haze Alexander didn’t even realize he was lost in. “Are you ready to go in?”
“O-Oh…” Alexander shook his head and blinked a few times. “Um, y-yeah. I think so.”
“Good.” Lorelei smiled and adjusted her glasses. “Wanna take the back entrance?”
“The… back entrance?”
“Yeah, through the parking garage.”
“…We have a parking garage?”
Lorelei blinked at Alexander before breaking out into a giggle. “Oh, sorry! I guess you wouldn’t have been in there, if you take the subway every day. I’ll show you where it is. I don’t think any of the reporters would be there.”
Alexander blushed and nodded silently. Lorelei took his hand and led him further down the alleyway, around the side of the Generation 6 building, where he spotted a driveway leading underground with a guardpost at the entrance. Lorelei flashed her badge as she approached the guard, but once he got a look at Alexander he immediately raised the arm and let them pass.
“Well, I hope that little adventure won’t put a damper on our first proper session!” Lorelei said brightly. Her smile was warm and inviting, even if her “office” was anything but. The folding chairs had at least been replaced with a sofa, but it was still worn-down and clearly used. Lorelei, meanwhile, was sitting in a fancy-looking office chair, fresh out of the box.
Alexander sat nervously, his back never touching the rear cushion. He brushed some stray hairs out of his face and shrugged. “I-It’s whatever. I mean, uh, thanks for getting me out of there. I’m sorry I got… overwhelmed.”
“Oh, that’s no problem! And don’t apologize for that, Alexander. That wasn’t anything you could control, there’s nothing for you to be sorry about.” Lorelei looked down at her notebook and tapped her pencil against it. “So, before we talk about Zariel, I’d like to go over your relationships to the other members of your team. Is there anyone you’d like to start with?”
“Uh, I dunno.” Alexander thought for a moment. “I guess EE? She’s, like, my boss. She’s okay.”
“Well, I mean, she’s fine. A little strict sometimes, maybe? Um, she can be kinda demanding, I guess.”
Lorelei scribbled something down in her notebook. “Okay, who’s next?”
“Keani’s alright,” Alexander said. “We don’t talk much, but she’s always been really cool. But, like, maybe a bit standoffish? I feel like I can’t approach her sometimes. She can get intense.”
“That’s Dolphin, right?” Lorelei asked. “Sorry, I’m still trying to get a handle on all the names.”
“Yeah, that’s her. Always hanging out with her animals. She’s got a mini SeaWorld down in the basement, it’s actually kinda cool.”
“Maybe you’ll have to show me sometime,” Lorelei winked. “So, is there anyone else you’d like to talk about?”
Alexander froze. What was that?! I-Is she flirting with me? “U-Um…”
Lorelei adjusted her glasses. “Something the matter, Alexander?”
“No! I mean, uh, no, I’m okay.” Alexander rubbed his eyes and sighed. “Let’s see, ah… Trevor’s a bit obnoxious, I think. He’s not mean or anything, he just has this ‘frat bro’ energy.”
“Mhm.” Lorelei wrote in her notes. “So that just leaves… Mode? No, wait, Trevor is Mode. Revolution is the last one.”
Alexander nodded. “Yeah, Noa’s really nice. Just always friendly and fun to be around. Maybe a little too energetic sometimes?” He scratched the back of his head. “Uh, I’m sure Zee’ll tell you about this, but she and Noa used to be close.”
“Used to be?”
“I don’t know the details, I don’t like gossip. But whenever they’re together, it’s… tense.”
“I see.” Lorelei scribbled it down and folded her notebook closed. “So, if it’s alright with you, I’d like to talk a bit about what happened this morning.”
Alexander shifted in his seat. “Do we have to?”
“You had an anxiety attack, I’d think that’s an important thing to discuss.”
“It wasn’t–” Alexander gripped the armrest of the sofa tightly. “I’m not like that, okay?”
“Not like what?” Lorelei pushed up her glasses. “Is there something wrong with having anxiety?”
“I can keep my cool. I can work under pressure. I’m not…” Alexander felt his heart pounding, reverberating through his whole body. “I’m not incompetent.”
Lorelei smiled kindly. “Oh, Alex.” She stood up and moved closer to him, rolling her office chair until it was right in front of him. “I don’t think you’re incompetent. You’re a bright young man, with an amazing gift. But ignoring your anxiety will only make things worse. It’ll just get bottled up until you can’t contain it, and then…” She shrugged. “Well, we’ve seen where that gets us, haven’t we?”
Alexander swallowed. “Y-Yeah. Yeah, I know.” He sniffled and rubbed his forehead. “But even if you know something, it’s hard to actually make the change.”
“Oh, I know– I mean, uh…” Lorelei giggled. “Sorry!”
Alexander felt himself smiling too. She’s really pretty when she’s not so serious. “So, what do you recommend?”
“There’s a lot of coping strategies for when you find yourself in a stressful situation,” Lorelei replied, “but I’d like to start with lowering your baseline anxiety. Are you familiar with hypnosis?”
“What, like that thing with the pocketwatch?” Alexander raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that, like, fake?”
“Not at all. There’s a lot of pseudoscience around the fringes, people claiming it can do far more than it actually can, but the technique is sound.” Lorelei smiled. “Would you like me to show you?”
“U-Um…” Alexander shifted in his seat and blushed. “I dunno, ah… I’m not sure I want you worming around in my head any more than what we’re doing right now.”
Lorelei chuckled. “Oh, it’s not mind control or anything like that! All I want to do is bring you to a relaxed, focus state of mind, and give you a suggestion so you can bring yourself into that state whenever you want. It’ll be like what I did earlier to help you calm down. When you were focused on your breathing? That was hypnosis.”
“Really?” Alexander tapped his chin and thought for a moment. I guess it’s not that scary after all. Actually, it was really nice when she did that with me, so… “So that’s all we’re gonna do, right?”
“I promise.” Lorelei reached out and touched Alexander’s hand. “I’d never do anything you weren’t comfortable with, Alexander.”
Alexander looked down at his hand, then up at Lorelei’s warm smile, then back to his hand again. “Sure!” he blurted out. “I mean, um, yeah, l-let’s try it.”
“Wonderful,” Lorelei said. She stood up and pulled a small remote out of her pocket. As she continued talking, the blinds on the windows in the room slowly descended. “Now, you can stay sitting up if you’d like, but you can also lay down if that might help you relax.”
“Uh, alright.” Alexander pulled his legs up onto the sofa and scooched down, resting his head on the armrest. Despite its somewhat squalid appearance, it was surprisingly comfortable.
“Now, you’re gonna think this is cheesy, but I actually do have a pocketwatch I use for this,” Lorelei smiled sheepishly. “If you think that’s too much, though, we don’t have to use it.”
“No, uh, let’s try it.”
“Great.” Lorelei knelt down next to Alexander and reached into her pocket. She pulled out a silver pocketwatch on a chain and held it a few inches above Alexander’s face. “So, I’d like you to stare intently at this watch. Really focus on it for me. I’m going to swing it back and forth, slowly, and I want you to follow it with your eyes.”
Alexander nodded. Lorelei began to gently swing the watch, just enough that Alexander would have to move his eyes around to keep track of it. He tracked it diligently, noticing how the shiny metal reflected the light bouncing around the room.
“Very good,” Lorelei said. “And as you follow the watch, I want you to take a big, deep breath in.” She inhaled alongside Alexander, before releasing with a sigh. “…And out. Very good. Feel your body relaxing as you take another deep breath. In… and out.”
As Lorelei continued, Alexander felt his body relax more and more. He was surprised this was working as well as it was. He had a hard time remembering the last time he felt so calm.
“You’re doing so well, Alexander,” Lorelei said proudly. “Now, as your body becomes more and more relaxed, you start to notice your eyelids becoming heavier and heavier. It’s getting hard to keep them open, isn’t it?”
“Mmm…” Alexander blinked, and suddenly it took genuine effort for him to open his eyes again.
“That’s right,” Lorelei smiled. “I know you want to close them, Alexander, but you have to keep them open for me. You can do that, right?”
“Mhm,” Alexander hummed.
“Good boy,” Lorelei purred. Something about the way she said that seemed strange to Alexander, but it was hard to focus on why. He was too busy focusing on his breathing and keeping his eyes open, struggling to keep up with the pocketwatch as it sailed through the air above him.
“Just feeling so relaxed, so tired,” Lorelei continued. “The more you try to keep those sleepy, heavy eyes open, the more tired you feel. It’s like there’s a weight pulling your eyelids down, pulling your mind down into relaxation. The more you struggle against it, the heavier it feels, until it just becomes too much to bear, and you…” She waved her hand over Alexander’s face and snapped her fingers. “Sink.”
Alexander’s eyes slipped shut. He already felt relaxed, but now it was as though he couldn’t even remember how to be tense. He sank further into the sofa’s cushions, noticing but not registering the sag of the fabric, the slowness of his breathing, the way Lorelei’s weight shifted as she studied his reaction.
It was a long moment before Lorelei spoke again. “It feels good to be like this,” she asked, “doesn’t it?” Alexander barely understood that it was a question. Everything felt so slow, like he was moving underwater. He nodded slightly, unwilling to do anything that would break this moment of bliss.
“It’s okay, Alexander,” Lorelei whispered, touching his shoulder and squeezing gently. “You don’t have to answer. You can just listen. It’s so easy to listen when you’re so relaxed. It’s so natural to listen to my words. It feels comfortable, familiar, like snuggling up in a warm blanket. You like to feel this way, Alexander.”
She wasn’t asking a question, but Alexander felt himself agreeing with her words. Everything Lorelei said made so much sense.
“In fact,” Lorelei said, her voice a low, seductive purr, “you’d like to feel even better.” She held up her hand and pressed her thumb and middle finger together. “When I snap my fingers, you’ll feel yourself going twice as deep into trance, feeling twice as relaxed, twice as happy, twice as obedient. You want this, don’t you, Alexander?”
He let out a quiet mewl of acceptance, and Lorelei grinned.
Alexander’s eyelids fluttered. He gasped as his whole body became even more relaxed, so relaxed that he didn’t think he’d ever experienced anything like it before. He let his mouth hang open and felt a small trickle of drool creep out of the corner of his mouth.
Lorelei petted Alexander’s head softly. “Good boy,” she said. “You’re such a good boy for me. You like it when I’m pleased with you. You like making me happy. And the best way to make me happy is to be open and obedient. I want you to repeat that for me, Alexander. Let it swirl around and sink in to that soft, pliable mind of yours. Open and obedient.”
“Open… and… obedient…” It was a struggle for Alexander to form a single word in his mind, let alone a thought. But Lorelei commanded him to, and he knew he had to do what she wanted. He had to make her happy. “Open… and obedient… open and obedient… open and obedient…”
Alexander shuddered and moaned. If he felt relaxed before, now he didn’t know if there were even words to describe what he was feeling now. It was like the very idea of tension had been erased from existence. There was only Lorelei.
“I didn’t tell you to stop,” Lorelei giggled. “You still want to be open and obedient for me, yes?”
“Yesssss…” Alexander drooled. “Open and… o-obedient…”
“That’s right,” Lorelei purred. “And we’ll have plenty of time to make you even more open, even more obedient. But, right now, I’m going to bring you back up. You’ll feel refreshed, calm, and happy, and even though you can let the details of your trance fade from your memory, you know that everything we did today was perfectly normal. You know that you trust me to help you with your anxiety and any other problems you have, and to make you feel good.”
“Sooooo good,” Alexander murmured, his eyelids fluttering.
Lorelei smiled. She reached out and gently clasped Alexander’s hand. “I’m going to count up to ten. With each number, you’ll start to feel more aware and awake.” As she counted up, Alexander slowly felt the peaceful, relaxed bliss fade from his mind. He almost struggled against it; a part of him didn’t want to wake up, at least not yet. But Lorelei squeezed his hand tighter, and he knew that she wanted him to wake up. The need to make her happy was greater than his desire to stay in trance.
Soon, Lorelei was at ten, and Alexander opened his eyes. He sat up and sighed, yawning and stretching out his back.
“How do you feel, Alexander?” Lorelei asked.
Alexander grinned. “Amazing! Gosh, I can’t remember the last time I felt so good.” He scratched the back of his head and looked down sheepishly. “Hey, uh, how long was I out? I still feel a little fuzzy, it’s hard to remember what we all did.”
“That’s very normal with hypnosis,” Lorelei explained, “especially if one goes as deep as you did. You’re an excellent subject, Alexander.” She touched his shoulder and squeezed. “I can’t wait for our next session.”
“Th-Thank you!” Alexander blushed. “I can’t wait to go under again either.” He paused and blushed even harder. “I-I mean, um, I… can’t wait for… our next… session.”
Lorelei giggled. “Aw, you’re cute when you’re flustered! But you won’t have to wait for our next session. I’ve already prepared a series of hypnosis audio files for you to listen to.”
“You have?” Alexander felt his heart skip a beat. Oh, gosh, she did all that for me? Wait… “But, how’d you know I would respond to hypnosis?”
“Well, I didn’t make them for you specifically. They’re just general files I send to my patients if I’m practicing hypnotherapy with them.”
“Oh…” Dang, I’m almost disappointed. But I guess that makes sense. “Well, I’m looking forward to getting those.”
“I’ll make sure to email them to you.” Lorelei stood up and adjusted her glasses. “And who knows? Maybe if there’s something specific I want to work on with you, I could make something custom.”
Alexander felt his cheeks start burning. “Th-That’s, um… y-you don’t have to–”
“Oh, really, I’d be happy to do it!” Lorelei interrupted cheerfully. “It’s my job to help you overcome your anxiety, after all. And, on that note, I’d like to make another request.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I think this whole situation is likely exacerbating your anxiety. So I’d like you to do whatever you can to put it out of your mind. And that means I want you to minimize your training at the Generation 6 facility.”
“Huh?” Alexander shot up, confused. “B-But I need to stay sharp so I can stay on the team!”
Lorelei reached out and touched Alexander’s cheek, brushing some stray hairs away from his eyes. “I understand that, but it’s more important for you to get this anxiety under control. It would only be a temporary pause, too, just until I think you’re in a good place. And if you need to stay in shape, I’ve been told there’s a gym within a few blocks of your apartment.”
“I… guess that makes sense.” Alexander was almost saddened with Lorelei pulled her hand away. Wait, what am I doing? She’s my therapist, I shouldn’t be crushing on her like this! Even if she has a… really nice voice…
“So, here’s what I recommend,” Lorelei continued, seemingly oblivious to Alexander’s affections towards her. “Listen to the files I’m sending you at least once a day, and find something else to occupy your time besides training. Something relaxing. Maybe binge a show you’ve been meaning to watch?”
“Um, maybe.” Alexander stood up and scratched the back of his head. “So, when’s our next session?”
“Let’s shoot for three days from now. I normally like to do weekly sessions, but since we have a bit of a compressed time schedule, it’s best to do more regular check-ins.”
“That makes sense.” Alexander reached out his hand and offered it to Lorelei. “Thank you, Doctor Lawson. That hypnosis stuff was really nice.”
“My pleasure, Alexander,” Lorelei smiled, shaking his hand. “I’ll see you later?”
“Yeah,” Alexander sighed.
“…Alexander,” Lorelei said after a moment, “you can let go of my hand now.”
“O-Oh, right,” Alexander muttered sheepishly. He pulled his hand away and quickly walked out of the room, hoping Lorelei didn’t see him blush. Ugh, why am I so easy to fluster? I shouldn’t be like this. I’m a superhero! I gotta be tough and cool, not some meek little schoolboy who can’t talk to girls! He looked down at his hand and smiled dreamily. …But, gosh, she’s so pretty…