Well, I've finally reached the end! Thanks for the reviews, and thanks for reading. Much gratitude, as always, to Kodiak, my wonderful beta!
Twenty-four hours later, John was sitting in bed, propped up by pillows, and feeling warm, fuzzy and happy – all things considered. He wasn't drugged enough to make him feel loopy, and unfortunately, not enough to ease the ever-frequent slivers of painful memories, which would sporadically and unexpectedly invade his relaxed state. Once Carson was certain his patient wasn't going to keel over from a brain contusion or haemorrhage, he'd happily rolled out the good drugs, and John's head and hands were now vague throbs on the horizon.
The previous day or so had passed in a haze of nausea, pain, and blurred vision for John. Every time he'd drifted off into a pained and fitful sleep, it had seemed he'd been woken by an apologetic member of Carson's staff, or by the good doctor himself. The questions were always the same: Did John know who and where he was, did he remember what had happened, what day it was? By the sixth time he'd been woken, he hadn't waited for Carson to ask the rapidly annoying and repetitive questions, and had pre-empted, mumbling the answers irritably: he was John Sheppard and was in the Atlantis infirmary. He'd had a run in with a punching bag and had come off worse for wear, been shot by Ronon – again - and was concussed. Finally, seeing as it was only two hours since he'd last been woken, he presumed it was the same day as when he'd been asked the last time, just two hours further down the line. Carson had chuckled, tortured John with his trusty penlight, tutted, and popped something more in his IV line, resulting in John falling back into another restless sleep.
"Good afternoon, Colonel. You're looking a little better."
Kate Heightmeyer's cheerful voice jolted John from his reverie.
He smiled warily, instantly comprehending why the psychologist had turned up to see him.
"Do you feel up to talking?" Kate asked brightly.
The psychologist was straight to the point, and John considered his options carefully. He was starting to feel better, and he also knew he had to talk to Kate eventually - Carson had made it clear that very morning, so, what was the point in putting off the inevitable? The sooner it was over and done with, the sooner John could leave and go back to his quarters, or that was how Carson had put it to John.
"Sure. Why not?" he answered amiably, though his exterior calm wasn't mirrored within, not even with the benefit of Carson's painkillers.
Kate sat down next to John's bed and opened her notebook. Smiling sympathetically, she drew in a breath before talking.
"Good. I'd like to talk about how you felt recently when you escaped Carson's care…Carson says you feel better now that you've watched the recordings of the wraith…" John smiled to himself as Heightmeyer paused as she tried to phrase delicately what the files had shown.
"Feeding on me?" John helpfully supplied.
"Yes…feeding on you…I'd like to understand how you feel they have helped you to come to terms with your torture," she concluded.
John raised his eyebrows, and let out a sigh. He really wasn't in the mood to dissect his 'feelings', but had reluctantly come to the conclusion that Kate's exposure therapy had helped him somewhat. Give credit where it's due, he thought to himself.
"Yeah. I'll give you that one. It worked. I feel better. I was sceptical, I won't deny it. But, hey, you're obviously not a psychologist for nothing – congratulations," he answered a little too flippantly. John wondered if the drugs had loosened his tongue a little, or whether seeing Kate had automatically made him become self-defensive and a little condescending.
Kate eyed John, obvious concern marked in her features.
"I don't need congratulations, Colonel. I'm glad you feel this has helped you." A look of determination crossed Kate's face. "However, we still have much to discuss, and just because you're feeling better now, doesn't mean we can discontinue our proposed therapies for you."
Ah, so Kate didn't believe John was really recovered, and had come to poke around in his head some more. No surprises there. For a psychologist Kate was okay, but leopards didn't change their spots, and she was still eager to chip away at his psyche, desperate to catch any loose fragments that fell by the wayside.
"Look, I'm good – really. You were right. Watching the recordings was cathartic. I'm not obtuse enough to think I'm 'all fine and peachy' again. That's going to take time. But, I really don't want to watch the files again, or even think about them. Okay?" John's happy place was rapidly vanishing; Kate was pulling John kicking and screaming away from his temporary, drug-induced haven.
"Colonel. I know you think you've come to terms with your torture, and I hope that's true. But – and it's a big but, you still need to discuss your thoughts, memories and feelings. In fact, you won't be allowed to return to any sort of duty until I'm satisfied you have received the treatment I deem necessary to facilitate your full recovery."
Kate paused, and realised she hadn't drawn a breath for a while. Calming herself, she looked into John's tired and haunted eyes. "I agree that it's not in your best interest to watch the recordings again. I do want to discuss with you what went through your mind as you watched them, though," she stated firmly. "We can break down what you felt, and how watching helped you." Kate looked John squarely in the eye, and ploughed ahead, knowing John wouldn't like what she was going to suggest. "I know how you feel about group therapy, but I want to press ahead with that. Carson tells me he'll be releasing you to your quarters tomorrow, and we've tentatively cleared our diaries for tomorrow afternoon for our first session. Okay?"
John's heart sank. He looked momentarily away from Kate, and briefly closed his eyes. The thought of group therapy made him want to go AWOL again. Agreeing to it when he felt desperate and helpless was one thing, but he was a lot better now, wasn't he? Couldn't she see that?
"No. It's not okay." John turned to look at Kate, and exhaled wearily. "I know you think you're trying to help me, Doc. Trust me, I've been through this before, and, yes, I'll admit I lost it for a while there." John cringed as he remembered his previous behaviour. "I'm good now. I'll talk to you if you insist, but, please, don't make me go through everything in front of my team and Elizabeth. I can't bare my soul in front of them…I just can't."
John saw Kate's concerned expression. She reached to pat John's arm, and smiled warmly.
"Nobody expects you to 'bare your soul', Colonel. What I'm proposing is that we discuss how everybody felt, and how we're all coming to terms with everything. I think you'll be surprised at how angry everybody was. They don't pity you or think you're weak. Give your friends a chance, and give yourself one too. You might be pleasantly surprised, you know."
"I doubt that," John answered in a quiet voice.
Kate closed her notebook, and looked John in the eye.
"Give it a try. One session. See how we go. If you really feel it's tortuous, we'll re-evaluate, okay?"
John sighed and ran a shaky hand through his hair.
"Fine. One session," he agreed reluctantly.
Kate nodded and grinned in obvious relief.
John's attention was suddenly drawn to a figure walking toward his infirmary bed. He squinted and instantly recognised Teyla's lean and graceful form striding towards him.
"Teyla!" he called out enthusiastically, relieved that he had a distraction and an excuse to encourage Kate to disappear.
The Athosian's eyes sparkled as she nodded at John, but as she studied John's features, he noticed a questioning frown appear on her features.
"Am I interrupting? I can come back later," she asked politely.
Kate stood and turned towards Teyla.
"No, not at all. I was just leaving." Kate turned back to look at John. "Colonel? I'll see you tomorrow at 1500 hours."
"Lucky me," John whispered to himself.
The psychologist nodded at Teyla and then strode purposefully away, obviously happy at her little triumph, John concluded.
"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?" Teyla questioned lightly, as she sat on the vacated chair.
John slumped further into his pillows and grimaced.
"Kate has scheduled a group therapy session for tomorrow afternoon, and I kinda had to agree. She's on cloud nine that she's got me by the short and curlies…" he complained.
Teyla's eyebrows shot to her forehead.
"Short and curlies? Do I want to know?" she asked, laughing warmly.
John snorted and chuckled back at her.
"Probably not," he answered honestly. "Basically she knows I have no choice but to agree, even though I'd rather wrestle a wraith…" John paused as he realised what he'd said. Would he rather fight a wraith than talk in front of his team about his emotions and thoughts regarding Kolya's actions towards him? He seriously considered the dilemma for a few seconds. Nope. He'd much rather go mano y mano with a wraith, he swiftly concluded.
"I understand, John." Teyla's sympathetic and soothing voice permeated John's weary and over-taxed brain. "I think I would feel the same. But, when I learned of my wraith heritage, Kate helped me to face things I had not thought of…and things I did not want to admit. She helped me greatly. Perhaps you should keep an open mind?" she entreated.
John exhaled and sat a little further up in his bed, wincing as his head pounded at the change in angle.
"Teyla. You know how…how did you put it? Oh yeah…how socially inept I am. Group therapy is worse than torture for me."
Teyla shook her head sternly.
"Yes. I understand. However the only way to become adept socially is to practise talking John."
"Fine, fine. I'll give it a go. It's not like I have a choice anyway, is it?"
"No, it is not. As Ronon would say, you will have to 'suck it up' John," she laughed deeply and loudly, and John couldn't help but smile at the Athosian. "Get some rest. You look as though you need some," Teyla instructed her friend.
"Yeah, okay." He yawned as if to confirm how tired he was. "Teyla?" John called as the lithe woman started to walk away. "Thanks."
Teyla stopped and turned around smiling fondly at John.
"Get some sleep John," she urged. "And, you're welcome."
John glumly sat on the bed in his quarters. Carson had discharged him from the infirmary that morning, and John had scurried off to his quarters gratefully. Rodney had escorted him from the infirmary, and John had been concerned by the scientist's awkward demeanour; Rodney's quiet and considered words had been very uncharacteristic, and John was beginning to realise he wasn't the only one to have been affected by Kolya's actions.
John had sat quietly for an hour going over things in his mind. He'd then taken some of the painkillers Carson had given him and had slept for a short time. He'd been woken by Teyla bringing him lunch, and he'd managed to eat all of his soup and sandwich, and keep it down.
Looking at his watch, John cringed as he studied the numbers on the watch face: 14:55. In five minutes he was expected to be at the group therapy session, and fear engulfed him in such a fierce wave, that he seriously considered heading back to the infirmary to tell Carson he was feeling sick.
A knock on his door startled John, and he stood and quickly waved his hand over the door sensor, allowing the door to slide open. Ronon stood in the corridor, arms folded across his chest.
"I've come to walk to the therapy thing with you. Thought you could use a bit of company," the Satedan explained gruffly.
"You mean you thought I wouldn't show up, so you've come to escort me there," John corrected his friend.
Ronon smiled dangerously, and raised his eyebrows, but remained silent.
"Okay, okay. I'm coming. Just don't shoot me again all right? I'm beginning to get a complex about you stunning me."
"It's never personal, Sheppard. Just doing my job," Ronon answered gruffly.
Sheppard exhaled and stood, gathering all his courage for what lay ahead.
"I know big guy. Just trying to lighten the mood."
Ronon shrugged at John, and gestured for him to walk ahead.
"It's not that bad. When Teyla made me go I just said how angry I was and grunted a few times. Left the talking to the women – and McKay, of course."
John managed a soft snort, and took in a deep breath.
"Let's get this over with," he muttered under his breath, as he struggled to control his rapidly escalating heartbeat.
"He's so not coming, Carson," McKay complained loudly. "He's five minutes late, and Sheppard is never late. You can set your watch by him. Can't we just start without him? I'm a busy man, you know, and I can't afford to be here as it is, without having to wait for reluctant flyboys to turn up to…"
Rodney's voice trailed off as the door to Kate's office opened and John, followed by Ronon, entered.
"Colonel! How nice of you to grace us with your presence. Some of us have important work you know…"
"Rodney! That's quite enough, thank you. The colonel's here now, and that's all that matters," Carson interrupted, a warning note evident in his stern voice.
Rodney gave Carson a derisory glare, but as he looked at John's pale and anxious face, his features softened in concern.
"Yes, well, you're here now, I suppose," he agreed reluctantly.
John looked at everyone one in the room, and licked his lower lip nervously.
"Sorry I'm late guys. I sort of lost track of time a little," he apologised sheepishly as he studied a spot on the floor.
Kate stood and walked over to John. Taking his arm, she gently guided him to a chair between herself and Carson, as Ronon took a seat in between Teyla and Rodney.
"That's quite all right, Colonel. You were only a few minutes late," she reassured the obviously nervous and jittery pilot.
John nodded distractedly, and his wandering eyes found Elizabeth's. Aware of his stare, she smiled warmly, and nodded her head, as if to let John know she was here for him. At that moment John suddenly realised how much he valued Elizabeth's belief in him. He smiled nervously back, before looking down at his hands, which were picking jerkily at the belt on his pants.
"It's good to see everyone," Kate began confidently, "and I'd like to thank you all for making the time to attend this session. We all know why we're here, so I'd like to start by asking each of you to explain how you felt about what happened to Colonel Sheppard when he was captured by Commander Kolya." Kate paused and looked at Rodney. "Dr. McKay? Let's start with you, shall we?"
Rodney jumped from his distracted state, and glared at Kate.
"Why me? Can't someone else go first? Why is it always me? Does everyone think I'm some sort of emotionally open person? Because, hello? I'm not."
"Quit complaining and answer the question, McKay," Ronon growled.
"Or what?" McKay challenged. "Maybe you'd like to go first? Because you're so open to discussing your feelings, aren't you, Mr. Monosyllabic Neanderthal…"
"Rodney!" Elizabeth's stern voice was reproachful.
McKay looked at Elizabeth belligerently, and shrugged.
"What? He's not exactly forthcoming, is he?"
"Unlike you, McKay. You seem to enjoy acting like a hormonal girl…"
"Ronon!" It was Teyla's turn to add her reproachful voice to the proceedings, which were rapidly descending into chaos.
Carson studied John's anxious and obviously pained features, and his eyes slid down to John's bandaged hands, which were clenched tightly to the sides of his chair; his fingertips white from the taut death grip he had on the seat. Carson could see John was either ready to bolt, or throw up, and he wondered if the poor man was going to survive the session without ending up back in his infirmary. Clenching his injured hands like that was certainly not helping them heal, and Carson wondered how John wasn't crying out in pain at his own actions. Was John really going to be fine, was everything really going to be okay again?
"That's enough!" John's shout soared above the other voices in the room, jolting Carson from his thoughts and cutting through the previous noise, giving way to a deathly silence.
"I…I was scared, and it hurt like hell. I… crap.. I was frustrated and angry. But, I'm good now, I'm okay," he assured his friends. John's face brightened and he ploughed ahead confidently. "You know, this is like AA or drug addiction therapy, right? We've come here to talk about us being victims of a meglomaniacal Genii, and a hungry wraith, haven't we?" John paused and breathed deeply, because he knew what he had to do. Looking around the room he saw his friends were angry, hurt and desperately trying to cope with a situation that they were unable to prevent and come to terms with by themselves. At times like this, John knew he had to lead by example. Putting aside his own fears after his little confession of his feelings, he smiled at each person in the circle of chairs.
"Okay. Everyone calm down. I'll do it properly, 'fess up and go first." John paused and looked earnestly at each person in turn, before settling his gaze on Carson. "Hi. My name's John. I was captured by an evil Genii, and I was fed on by a wraith..."
The corners of John's mouth twitched and his eyes twinkled. Looking around the group of people, Carson saw John's attempt at levity had hit its mark. First Elizabeth smiled, then Teyla's soft mouth gracefully curled. Ronon let out a deep chuckle, and finally one side of Rodney's mouth moved upward. Yes, Carson concluded, as he smiled at John's lopsided grin, John was going to be fine.