James isn't sure what to make of this.
He's seen counsellors before, of course. There was that time he got angry in Year 4 and broke a kid's nose (by accident! ... mostly). They decided he had "issues" and sent him to talk to a stuffy old guy whose office smelt like stale cheese.
There was the time he saw an educational psychologist, too: a dumpy middle-aged lady who said he was very smart, yes, but mostly in maths, so "being bored" wasn't a good excuse for throwing chalk at his English teacher.
This is different. For one thing, the counsellor is a guy in his mid-twenties with a Spiderman badge pinned to his white t-shirt. For another, he's here for what even James has to admit is a good reason: he killed someone.
"I'm not crazy," James says abruptly.
The man -- Rob, apparently, born in Kenya and recruited into CHERUB at age seven -- smiles. "I didn't think you were."
"Okay. 'Cos I mean, I'm only here cause Mac and Meryl said. Not 'cos I'm hearing voices or anything. Just because, you know, Miami."
Rob nods. "I spoke to your mission controller, John. He's a nice guy."
"Yeah," James agrees, wondering vaguely what that's got to do with anything. "He's cool."
"He told me about what happened."
James picks at his nails.
"Do you want to talk about it? It's okay if you don't."
James looks up with a confused frown. Isn't that the whole reason he's here? To talk about it? He can't just sit here and not talk about it, can he? "Um..."
Rob just sits there.
"...I guess I do," he says quietly, looking at his nails again. "I mean, I--"
He stops. He was about to say, I didn't mean to. Or maybe, I didn't know what I was doing. Both would be lies, of course. He's a fully-trained agent, he's handled firearms before -- maybe killing someone wasn't the desirable outcome, but he was aware of that probability before he pulled the trigger, and he still did it.
Sometimes he looks at the person he was just over a year ago, and wonders how he went from being James Choke, class clown and trouble-maker, to James Adams, license to--
"What did you enjoy about Miami?" Rob prompts.
James stares at him. After a moment, he realises Rob means the city, and not The Big Terrible Thing That Happened There.
"It was okay. I liked the beach. It was my first time in America, all my holidays when I was little were to Cornwall and Blackpool and stuff. Keith took me and Junior to Disney World and Universal, too."
"So you liked America, yeah?"
"Yeah," James decides with a small smile. "I wanna go to New York, next."
Rob laughs. "Maybe a mission'll come up."
"Maybe. But with less ... shooting."
"You didn't like that."
The arm of James' chair is suddenly very interesting. "'mnot supposed to, am I? No, I mean -- I like paintball. An' I like target practice. Just, not..."
Rob seems to watch him for a moment before saying, "Just not shooting people in real life."
"No," James says, and manages to refrain from adding 'cos I already said I'm not bloody psycho. "But I had to. He was in the way-- he was gonna kill me-- I had to."
"How did you feel?"
James thinks about this. "...scared." Then, "It was the whole, the adrenaline thing, you know, on any mission when stuff happens and-- I was a bit scared, yeah, but I was also, I was just doing everything. And then after, I could hardly park the car cause it'd all gone."
He's worried, for a moment, that Rob won't understand. He barely understands what he just said himself. But the man's nodding, and James remembers that yes, the guy's an ex-agent too, and he's done this sort of thing before, and he knows. It makes him feel a little better.
"How have the last few days been?"
James thinks about pancakes and bars at the end of the universe and decides not to mention any of that to Rob. "Okay. Um, I had to talk to the FBI, but only a bit. It's been okay since I got home. No classes," he adds with a guilty smile.
Rob smiles back. "Enjoy the break while you can. How's your sleep been?"
"...I had -- some bad dreams, kind of," James admits quietly. "But not last night."
"What did you dream about last night?"
Reddening, James pokes at the arm of his chair again.
Rob grins quickly and says, "Never mind. Your other dreams, they were about what happened in Miami? The shooting?"
"Yeah. Yes." Beat. "Actually, one was about the Green Goblin being my dad, um, but then, then I had to shoot him, so it was still--"
Now he sounds like a crazy person.
But Rob smiles faintly again and says, "It was still scary, I get it. Have they been waking you up?"
"Yeah, but ... when I went back to sleep, it was okay."
Rob nods and asks a few more questions, and James fidgets and provides a few more answers, but all in all the man seems to be satisfied that James is not, in fact, crazy.
Sadly, this means he will have to return to classes on Monday.
James supposes it's a fair trade. He'll still get Thursday afternoons free for another couple weeks so he can continue counselling. And anyway, as nerdy as it might be, he really wants to get back to Maths -- he's almost completed the GCSE course, and he wants to get the exam over with so he can move onto A-level.
So killing someone isn't really the end of the world.
Especially when you don't officially exist.