Word Count: 1400
Rating: PG for a bit of language; gen
Spoilers: Takes place shortly after "Phantoms"; spoilers for that and "Common Ground"
Summary: Conventional Earth therapy doesn't work so well in the Pegasus Galaxy, Kate discovers.
Notes: valleya gave me the following quote as her prompt for the Pay It Forward meme: "Beware the anger of a patient man", with a request for a Sheppard-centric story somehow developing that theme. Here you go!
The afternoon sun through the windows of Heightmeyer's office glazed her red hair, individual strands glimmering like a skein of woven copper thread. John found it distracting: he'd been used to her as a blonde, and his eyes kept going from her eyes to the new, vivid color surrounding them. She'd spent one round trip of the Daedalus on Earth -- leaving with blonde hair, coming back with red. John supposed that there was a metaphor in there somewhere, but damned if he could --
"If you're too tired, John, we could continue this tomorrow," she said, and he jumped, yanking his gaze back to her face.
"Nope, I'm good." Too quick, maybe? He tried to read her face, but as always, her true feelings were hidden behind the professional mask. In honesty, he was tired, and scatterbrained; the feeling reminded him of being drugged, and it scared him, scared the hell out of him, although Carson said he didn't seem to have any of the enzyme in his system. Words like electrolytes and messed-up metabolism had been bandied about, along with more ominous words behind his back, words that could ground a pilot: depression, PTSD, obsession.
Above all else, he would have loved to get out of Kate's stifling office -- go back to his quarters, sleep, shut himself away for a little while. But quitting a session early was a sure-fire mark in her book, a black mark to follow him just as damningly as anything in his military record. He crossed his arms, leaning back on the couch in a calculated pose of nonchalance -- not realizing his mistake until her eyes went like twin laser beams to his chest, guarded behind the barrier of his hands.
"Do you still experience pain from the feeding marks, John?"
"No," he said shortly.
"You know I'm just trying to help you."
There's nothing wrong with me except that people won't stop WATCHING me. He could feel their eyes in the corridors -- weighing, judging. He hadn't felt that, not here on Atlantis, since the very early days after Sumner's death. He'd proven himself since then, a thousand times over. But it had followed him, even here, the question that no one would ask to his face: Is he unfit for command?
"I'm fine," he lied to her china-doll smile.
"So you claim, but you look like crap, Colonel."
"Let he who has not been working all night in the labs," Sheppard made a stab in the dark, "cast the first stone. How's that glass house doing, Rodney?"
"Ha," Rodney said flatly, reaching for a bottle of water from the mess hall drinks table. He was wearing short sleeves, and the pale scar on the inside of his forearm cut a line from elbow to wrist -- nearly invisible unless you knew where to look.
"You know, on second thought, I'm not that hungry." John raised a hand. "Catch you later."
"Hey, Colonel --"
But he was out in the hall already, and shaking, an uncontrollable tremor of anger that he couldn't stop.
"Do you consider Kolya's survival on Dagan a personal failure, John?"
He laughed; he couldn't help it. "Kolya's survival? That's a nice, value-neutral way to put it, don't you think?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"You know exactly what I mean."
"You're slow," Ronon said, after the fourth time he laid John out on his back in the gym.
John wiped his face, picking himself up, and pasted on a smile. "I'm always slow compared to you."
"Slower than usual, I mean. And tense." Ronon's lip curled, a grin of challenge. "You going easy on me?"
"Why would I go easy on you?" Sheppard retorted, forcing himself not to look at the bandage around Ronon's upper arm, while the muscles in his own arms knotted like steel cords.
"You gotta loosen up a little bit, relax when you fall," Ronon was saying, demonstrating as he spoke. "In a real fight, you'll hurt yourself if you tense up like that."
"Do you feel that recent events have affected your relationship with your co-workers?"
Co-workers: he wondered if the impersonal phrasing was deliberate. "Which recent events would those be?" John's hand fisted in his pants; he forced himself to straighten out his fingers, letting go of the rumpled cloth. "Letting Kolya torture me to death in front of everyone I know? Letting myself fall under the control of a Wraith device and shooting two people who depended on me?" Because you shouldn't have been out in the field so soon after Kolya, a small voice in his head taunted him.
"You tell me." The setting sun made a halo behind Kate's head as she made a small notation on the computer in front of her. "Is that how you see it, John -- letting these things happen to you?"
He snorted, feeling her trap closing around him with velvet-soft jaws. "What would you call it? Blaming other people isn't going to change a thing."
"No, but assigning blame where it belongs -- with Kolya, with the Wraith -- might make you feel better."
"How do you know who to blame?" he challenged her. "You weren't there."
Blue and golden light in the gym, shining through the stained glass windows -- a riot of color in Teyla's hair, on her shoulders. She offered him a bottle of water, padding on bare feet to sit next to him.
"Thanks." He drank deeply, and leaned back against the smooth, cool wall, closing his eyes.
"You know that we will listen if you want to talk, John." Her voice came from the red-tinted darkness behind his eyelids.
John laughed softly, but not at her. "I've got Heightmeyer for that; Elizabeth has me on regular therapy sessions." For all the good it did.
"I said that we will listen," was Teyla's quiet reply.
"What's your plan for dealing with this situation, John?"
"What makes you think I have a plan?"
Heightmeyer's gaze was level, unafraid -- and maybe a little more astute than he usually gave her credit for. "You always have a plan."
Well, why not lay the cards out on the table. "I'm going to find Kolya and kill him," John said simply.
There was no condemnation; nothing ruffled her smooth face. "I see," she said quietly. "That's a tall order of business."
"I know." And he closed his mouth, leaving it at that.
The silence stretched on; then Kate sighed, looking at her watch. "It looks as if we're out of time for today." She stretched, and folded her laptop shut, laying it on her desk. "I think that we could take these sessions from daily to twice a week, if you're agreeable to that. I'll let Elizabeth know."
Poised to leap off the couch, John paused, frowning at her. "So you think we're, uh -- making progress?" Like hell.
Kate smiled at him, a weary smile that broke the china-doll facade and made him, grudgingly, like her a little bit. "Not at all. But it's fairly evident to me that the daily sessions aren't making much difference." She began gathering up her paperwork. "On Earth, I'd recommend some different forms of therapy that you might try, because the amount of anger that you're carrying around can be very destructive, to you personally, as well as to people around you. But we aren't on Earth, and I'm slowly coming to realize that, here, a certain amount of anger is -- necessary, perhaps."
John eyed her, cautiously, and then quirked a somewhat insincere half-smile. He didn't trust her compromises any farther than he could throw her. "Does this mean you're coming around to my side, Doc?"
Now it was her turn to laugh -- a small laugh, not especially amused. "Perhaps, but only in certain ways. On Earth, John, my job would be to help you release that burden of anger you carry -- to let it go. Here, perhaps, it might be more beneficial to -- not let it go, exactly, but direct and channel it. To shape it into a tool for survival, rather than letting it rule you. Can we agree to meet halfway?"
His knee-jerk response to that was -- well, anger, because she sounded so damn reasonable and he knew there had to be a catch somewhere. Stop patronizing me. But he'd spent his life distrusting therapists, distrusting everyone. The Pegasus Galaxy had, for once in his life, taught him trust, as well as other, harder lessons.
"I'll hold you to that 'maybe', Colonel." She smiled at him, and to his own surprise, he was able to return it.