A/N: While this story stands alone, it does reference some of my previous works. You might enjoy reading them for additional background information so I will mention the titles as they are referenced.
And last, but certainly not least, I cannot thank Labyrinth enough for her help with the technical issues involved in PTSD therapy.
What was that? Brenda awoke with a start. She was sure she had heard a noise. Was it in her sleep, or was it real? She wasn't sure, but despite her lack of certainty, she began to hyperventilate. Her heart was pounding, she was sweating, and she had balled the sheets up in her fists. She looked over at Fritz. He was sleeping peacefully beside her and she didn't want to wake him, but she resolved that if she heard it again, she would. She lay there and didn't hear it.
Through the window she watched the moon doing its eternal dance with the clouds. Gradually her body regained control. I'm imaginin' things again. I'm just bein' silly, she mentally scolded herself. Then she heard it again. It was coming from the bathroom. A scratching noise.
It was him. Phillip Stroh was coming through the window again. All of her synapses were going off like sparklers and she was only partially able to stifle her scream.
Fritz opened his eyes. "Brenda? What's wrong?"
She didn't answer. She just got out of bed and removed her gun from her dresser drawer. Fritz was instantly fully awake. The moonlight illuminated her hand holding the gun. It was shaking. He got out of bed and moved cautiously to her side. Very carefully he took the gun from her hand as he whispered, "Let me have it." Once he had put the gun back in the drawer, he put his arms around her and whispered, "He's not here, honey. Phillip Stroh is in jail. He can't hurt you again."
"No, Fritz, he's here. I heard him. He came in through the bathroom window." Urgency and fear infused her whisper.
"You must have heard Joel."
"No, it's him!"
"All right, wait here. I'm going to check the house."
"No, I'm comin' with you. We need the gun," she whispered as she opened the drawer again. Fritz reached in first and took it in order to placate her and keep the gun out of her still shaking hands.
Brenda's breathing was still shallow and her whole body was quaking. But Fritz knew she wouldn't get back into bed so he nodded and put his arm around her as they walked through the duplex, turning on all the lights as they moved through each room. He checked all the windows and locks and they did a complete walk-through, checking every conceivable hiding place as they moved. When they reached the bathroom, Brenda began shaking even more violently.
Fritz turned on the light and said, "See, honey, the window is locked. No one came in through the window." He opened the shower door. "And see? There's no one in the shower. Everything is ok."
Brenda nodded and shut her eyes for a minute. "I'm sorry, Fritzi. I know you think I'm just bein silly but I really did hear it. Twice."
"What did you hear?"
"Stroh. He was tryin' to get in the window."
Just then they both heard a scratching noise. Fritz started toward the sound to check it out, but Brenda grabbed his arm. "NO! He'll kill you!" Her whisper was panicky.
"Honey, it's not Stroh. It's all right." He pried his arm out of her grip and moved to the window, opened it and looked out. "I think I see what it is. There's a bush rubbing against the side of the house. I'll fix it. You go back to bed."
"No. I'm comin' with you."
They each pulled jeans over their night clothes. Brenda grabbed a flashlight and held it for Fritz as he broke off the branch that was rubbing against the building in the wind.
When they finally returned to bed, he laid there listening until Brenda's breathing became deep, slow and regular before he finally allowed himself to fall back asleep.
The next morning at breakfast, Fritz debated bringing up a sore subject. In the past, whenever he'd suggested that Brenda get therapy to help her deal with the trauma of Stroh's attack, she'd just about bitten his head off so he'd dropped the subject. But five months later, she was still obviously traumatized. It was time to insist.
"Honey, I'm worried. This Stroh thing is still a problem."
"Fritzi, I'm fine. I don't need to see a therapist. I heard that branch. It was real, not imagined."
"I know it was real. But the point is that you were terrified that it was Phillip Stroh. If everything were fine you would have known that what you heard couldn't possibly have been him. You would have realized that it was just a branch and would have gone back to sleep. I think we need to get some help."
"I don't need to see a shrink. I am not crazy."
"I know you're not crazy. But we need some help with this. I need help with it too. And I want you to come with me."
"Oh, right. You need help," she replied sarcastically.
"Yes, I do. We both do, and I'm going to call Dr. Leonard today."
"She works for the LAPD. She isn't gonna see us."
"Then she can recommend someone. But I'm calling her today."
Brenda just glared at him over her coffee cup and replied, "Suit yourself, but it's a big waste of time and money."
Fritz took one last gulp of coffee, got up and put his dishes in the dishwasher. Then he turned back to Brenda. "We both have insurance and we need more sleep than we're getting now, so just humor me, ok?"
She still didn't want to see a therapist but also didn't want a fight, so she just shot him an annoyed look and said nothing.
"We'll get through this together, honey," Fritz said as he kissed her goodbye.
I guess I have been keepin' him up nights. But since she still didn't like the idea of seeing a therapist, she employed a well-worn defense. Well, I can't think about it right now. I have to get to work. And with that thought, she blocked it from her mind.
Later that morning, Fritz called her. "Honey, I called Dr. Leonard and explained what we're dealing with. She also maintains a small private practice and she agreed to see us."
"See me, you mean," Brenda replied sourly.
"No, I said us and I meant us. You're not the only one who needs help with this. I need help too, so we've got an appointment to go together." He gave her the date and time. "If you can't do it then, I'll change it, but this has to be a priority for both of us."
"Fritz, I told you this mornin' that I don't want to see a therapist."
"Well, I do and I need you to go with me. This is a problem for both of us. Now, can you make this appointment or not?"
Brenda took out her calendar and heaved a big sigh for dramatic effect. "I guess that's as good a date as any. I'll pencil it in."
"Not pencil, in ink. Or better yet, with a Sharpie," Fritz countered.
Rolling her eyes, she replied, "I don't have a Sharpie but I wrote it in ball point pen. Is that good enough for you?"
"I guess it'll have to do. Just make sure that you underline it." But when his little attempt at humor brought only a frozen silence, he simply said, "Thank you, honey. It means a lot to me."
"I guess I should say 'you're welcome' but that's not really what I want to say."
Fritz knew she was perilously close to changing her mind so he just told her he'd see her at home and ended the call.
After filling out the initial paperwork they spent the next 15 minutes sitting in Dr. Leonard's waiting room. Brenda scanned the patient notices and artwork on the walls, then picked up a couple of magazines and flipped through the pages without seeing them. The heel of her shoe was broadcasting her emotional state in a kind of staccato Morse code so Fritz touched her hand to quiet her and whispered, "Stop."
It looks just the same, Brenda thought when they were called into the office. Dr. Leonard greeted them and gestured for them to take a seat on the couch.
When they were seated, the doctor explained that the purpose of the first meeting was to assess the problem that Fritz had referenced in his phone call, and to discuss treatment options. She then asked them to describe the problems they were experiencing.
Brenda sat rigidly on the couch and said, "I feel like we're wastin' your time, Doctor. I'm fine."
Fritz gave her an annoyed look, turned to Dr. Leonard and said, "No, we're not fine."
"I am not crazy," Brenda countered defiantly.
"No, I don't think you're crazy, Brenda. I think you're an incredibly strong woman. But I also suspect that you could use some help with this," Dr. Leonard explained. "Do you want to tell me about the incident last week?"
When she didn't answer, Fritz turned to her and asked, "Do you want to describe what happened last week, or do you want me to?"
Brenda, irritated, replied, "Since this whole thing was your idea, why don't you tell her?"
"Last week, my wife woke up in the middle of the night…" Fritz began but was interrupted by Dr. Leonard.
"Excuse me, Fritz. But since it sounds like you, Brenda, experienced this event, I'd like to hear about it from you," the doctor explained.
Brenda sighed and recounted waking up and hearing a strange noise. "Fritz discovered that it was a branch scrapin' the side of the house and we took care of it."
"Is that all?"
"Yes, that was it. Oh, and we went back to bed," Brenda added.
Dr. Leonard then turned to Fritz and said, "Do you have anything to add?"
"Yes, my wife omitted some of the critical details." Fritz replied, his irritation matching his wife's. He then filled in the missing parts of the story and concluded by saying, "She has had a lot of experiences like that and I felt it was time that we both got some help."
"But they're gettin' better," Brenda said, "So I don't think I need help."
"Feeling vulnerable enough that you need a gun to protect yourself must, in itself, be extremely traumatic," Dr. Leonard observed.
"Doctor, I am… I was a police officer. My job, for over fourteen years, was catchin' murderers. I always needed a gun. It was as basic to my line of work as this couch we're sittin' on is to yours. And, besides, I'm an excellent shot."
"That's true, you are an exceptionally good marksman," Fritz said taking her hand, "But you were shaking so hard last week that I was really afraid that you'd shoot either yourself or me."
"But how many times have you needed a gun to protect yourself in your own home?" Dr. Leonard asked.
"Off hand, three times that I can recall." Brenda was trying to sound casual.
Dr. Leonard dropped her eyes and made a note on her legal pad and then continued. "Are you still carrying a gun?"
"Yes, I am. Stroh may be in jail but there are other criminals I arrested who have relatives and friends who carry grudges. I would be in danger without it."
"So you don't think that grabbing your gun in reaction to these flashbacks places you and others in danger?"
"Not as dangerous as not bein' prepared if someone else came after me." Brenda's jaw was set.
"I can't order you to lock up your gun, but I think you ought to consider that carrying your gun while you're having flashbacks is extremely dangerous."
"Doctor, I am not givin' up my gun. Besides, I'm so busy durin' the day that I only have flashbacks when I'm home at night. And, like I said, they're gettin' better."
Dr. Leonard didn't have any legal ground to compel Brenda to surrender her weapon but she suggested, "I'd like you to think about the potential consequences of reaching for your gun during a flashback." When Brenda didn't respond she continued, "But for now, why don't you describe your involvement with Mr. Stroh."
Brenda gave an abbreviated summary of her investigations of Phillip Stroh, his breaking into their home, and his attack on her and Rusty, and finally having to shoot him.
"That was a horrible ordeal. Have you had nightmares about it?" Dr. Leonard asked them both.
"No. Well, a few right after it happened, but none lately."
"I see. What about you, Fritz? Have you had any nightmares?"
"Yes, I keep on having one nightmare."
"You do? You never told me that," Brenda said.
"They started when you were in Atlanta. I didn't want to make you feel responsible for them. You were dealing with enough," he explained.
"Can you tell me about it?" Dr. Leonard asked.
"A couple of years ago I assisted Brenda in investigating the rape of several undocumented women and the murder of one of them. The man who did it turned out to be an officer in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau. When I caught up with him he was holding one woman hostage. He was pointing a gun at Brenda and threatening to shoot them both. I came around the side of the building and was able to shoot and kill him just as he was about to fire at Brenda.
"In my dream, he's holding the woman and pulling the trigger. But they morph into Stroh and my wife. He's killing Brenda and I can't get to her and I can't shoot him. I'm completely..." Fritz was overwhelmed with emotion and was unable to finish his sentence.
Immediately Brenda turned to him, put her arms around him, and teared up. "I never knew… I never knew you were hurtin' too."
Dr. Leonard offered them a box of tissues and waited until they both regained control. "This is not uncommon. PTSD doesn't only affect the person who experienced the trauma. Whole families can be involved. But the good news is that I think we can work through this so you both can put it behind you."
"I'd like that for both of us, Doctor. But Brenda has to want it, as well."
When Brenda heard that, she sighed and stared at her hands but she was immediately challenged by Dr. Leonard. "Brenda, how does it make you feel hearing that Fritz is also feeling the effects of your encounter with Mr. Stroh?"
Brenda didn't look up because she didn't want Dr. Leonard to see her blinking back tears, but those tears made their way into her voice. "Not good. I never wanted my job to hurt Fritz in any way. If our home hadn't been a crime scene he never would have…" Her voice trailed off.
"Never would have what? I never would have felt anything? I never would have been bothered by it?" Fritz was amazed and angry. "Brenda, you're my wife. How could you believe that I wouldn't be affected by someone trying to kill you? Or maybe you thought you just wouldn't tell me. That's it, isn't it?"
When Brenda didn't respond, he turned to Dr. Leonard and said, "This is classic Brenda. She hides things all the time that she thinks I won't like."
Still fighting back tears, Brenda replied, "Fritz, there was nothin you could have done. What would have been the point?"
"The point, Brenda, is that I'm your husband. I love you. And I need to know when someone hurts you. Even if I can't go out and arrest him, I still need to know so I can help you, so we can deal with it together."
Dr. Leonard asked Brenda, "How do you feel about what Fritz just said?"
"Oh, I understand what he's sayin', Dr. Leonard. But I'm not doin' it to hurt him. I just don't want to upset him when there's nothin' he can do about the situation."
"But, see Brenda, it's you hiding things from me that makes me mad," Fritz replied.
"Fritz, you say that you get angry when Brenda hides things from you. Yet you hid your nightmares from her."
Neither Fritz nor Brenda responded but Fritz's surprised look told Dr. Leonard that he hadn't considered that his keeping things from Brenda was a problem too.
"We will work on improving communication. But right now I want to go back to the Stroh shooting." Dr. Leonard then turned back to Brenda. "When I saw you several years ago, you had just been hit with a cattle prod and had been forced to shoot your assailant. It sounds like a similar situation. Are you experiencing the same things now that you did then?"
"No, actually, they're not the same. I know you didn't believe me when I told you, but I really was fine. Oh, the cattle prod burns were painful, but I didn't have any nightmares, flashbacks, nothin' bad at all."
"Why do you suppose that's true?" Dr. Leonard asked.
"I'm not sure, but I think it's partly because I was able to regain control of the situation pretty quickly. I had a much harder time with Stroh."
"Didn't you have to shoot them both?"
"Yes, but other things in my life were happenin' at the same time that I shot Mr. Jones. I was diagnosed with early onset menopause and Fritz proposed. Oh, and my parents were comin' to visit, and we were house huntin'. I didn't have time to get all upset about somethin' I got control over so quickly."
"You killed Danny Jones just a few minutes after you met him," Fritz added. "You've been obsessed with Phillip Stroh for years. Doctor, she turned our spare bedroom into a satellite Murder Room. She had pictures of all of his victims up on the wall. And she even went so far as to send flowers to Stroh to commemorate the day that he killed that woman."
"So you were obsessed with Stroh and not with Jones," Dr. Leonard observed. "Do you think it was healthy to invest so much of your time and energy in pursuing Phillip Stroh?"
"Fritz thinks I was obsessed with him," Brenda admitted and then attempted to acquit herself. "But if it hadn't been for me, Stroh would still be out there rapin' and killin' women. It took me four years to finally get Stroh, and that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't kept focusin' on him."
Brenda wanted to divert the attention from her long lasting obsession of Phillip Stroh. "But, as far as shootin' Stroh is concerned, you have to understand. I had no choice. He broke into my home and almost killed both a teenage boy and me. And Stroh and Danny Jones weren't the only people I've had to shoot. Oh, it was never pleasant, and I always wished it hadn't been necessary, but it's an unavoidable part of the job."
"So you're telling me that you've had trauma after trauma."
"I guess I don't look at it like that. The way I see it, if you're gonna be chasin' down murderers you have to know that they're gonna fight back. Shootin' them was awful, but if I hadn't, they would have most likely killed me or someone in my squad."
"So you see it as a kill or be killed situation?"
"Sometimes it is, but not always. I usually was able to catch the murderer without havin' to fire my weapon. But sometimes it was just unavoidable. I suppose I could have worked parkin' meters, but gettin' justice for the victims of violent crimes was why I became a police officer in the first place. It's what I have always wanted to do. And sometimes that meant that I had to shoot the murderer."
Dr. Leonard nodded her understanding and said, "It sounds like the two of you have faced the same thing that our soldiers face on the battlefield."
"I think I've had to use my weapon more than Fritz has, but it's not somethin' either one of us has to do very often," Brenda replied.
"I didn't mean to suggest that you find yourself in a battlefield situation on a daily basis, Brenda. But can you understand that on the occasions that you are being attacked, that your mind and even your body rebels against that situation? After all, your brain is hardwired to protect you, and it doesn't turn itself off automatically after you put your gun away."
Brenda thought about it for a second and answered, "I guess that makes sense."
Simultaneously, Fritz said, "Yes, I can see that." Then he continued, "Maybe that's why my nightmare always starts with Agent Myers and Marisol."
"That's very likely," Dr. Leonard agreed. "Just knowing that someone was trying to kill another person would have been traumatic. Add to that the fact that he also intended to kill your wife, and then you had to kill him. That would probably be impossible for you to handle on your own."
Fritz nodded. "It was horrible, and I had nightmares about it for weeks afterwards."
"I'm sure it was. And it can have severe consequences. It can make someone suicidal. Have either of you thought about committing suicide or have you ever attempted suicide?"
"No, never," Brenda said.
"No," Fritz said simultaneously.
"Good. I think that you'd both find couples therapy helpful so I'd like to make another appointment for you both. And Brenda, I'd like to give you a prescription for something to take to prevent more of those flashbacks. But first, I need to ask you both if either of you have ever abused substances."
"I'm an alcoholic, Dr. Leonard, so I don't want to take any medication," Fritz explained, "But I'll come back for my next appointment."
"Are you drinking now?"
"No, I've been clean and sober for over ten years now."
"Have you ever abused any other drugs?"
"I used pot in college," Fritz admitted.
"I ate some brownies once that had marijuana in them, but I didn't know it. That was the only time," Brenda added.
"All right," Dr. Leonard then turned to Brenda, "What about you? Are you also an alcoholic?"
"No, I'm not. I drink a glass of wine almost every day but I usually have just one glass. And I don't feel I have to have it." Fritz's nod verified what his wife was saying.
"Have you ever abused any other substances besides your experiences with pot?"
Brenda remembered a case in which she smoked hashish in Azerbaijan in order to protect her CIA cover, but knew she couldn't discuss that. "Fritz thinks I'm addicted to sugar, especially chocolate," Brenda admitted.
"Brenda, the prescription I have in mind is an antidepressant to help eliminate those flashbacks. Fritz, since it doesn't sound like your nightmares are as severe as Brenda's flashbacks and I understand your objections, I won't prescribe anything for you."
Dr. Leonard wrote out an appointment card and a prescription for Brenda and, when she saw the hesitation on Brenda's face, said, "This is a proven medication. You'll need to take one tablet daily and you should start seeing results in about two weeks."
After Dr. Leonard described the possible side effects, Brenda hesitated, "I don't know, Doctor."
"The side effects generally are experienced by adolescents. Please trust me and take the prescription anyway. You need to call me if you experience any of the side effects I mentioned, but I doubt that you will. I think you'll find it helpful."
Fritz tried a joke. "It may keep you from shooting me by accident."
Brenda shot him an annoyed look but she took the prescription and dropped it into her purse.
Dr. Leonard concluded the session by saying, "I'm glad you both came to see me. I'm sure that, if we all work together, we can have a successful outcome."
"Thank you, Dr. Leonard," they both said as they left the office.
In the car, Brenda noticed that Fritz had taken a detour and asked, "Where are we goin'?"
"To the drugstore so you can fill that prescription."
"Fritz, I don't think I want to fill it. I don't need to be takin' tranquilizers."
"Dr. Leonard said it's an antidepressant, not a tranquilizer. And you don't need to be carrying your gun when you're shaking like a leaf, either. Believe me, I'd rather you take a pill than pick up your gun. And wouldn't it be worth it if the flashbacks disappeared?"
"The gun wasn't loaded," Brenda lied.
"Remember, I carried it too so I know it had a clip in it," Fritz countered as he pulled into the drugstore parking lot, "So give me the prescription and you can wait in the car."
"No, I'm comin' in too. There are some other things I need to pick up while we're waitin'." So, while Fritz took care of the prescription, Brenda filled a basket with shampoo, conditioner, and cosmetics.
To be continued…
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