Psychology is a lonely existence, made lonelier by the place in which you practice.
Zoë has learned in her short tenure on Atlantis that it's not an easy thing to become friends with people who view you as a secret keeper. How many Catholics can claim a friendship with the priest who absolves them of their sins? In many ways, she feels blessed to have met Evan and to have been given this opportunity. In many others, she wishes she'd never left Boston.
It's far past a decent hour and she's in the mess hall with Evan, Teyla and Ronon and they are each telling stories of childhood and teenage exploits. So far, she has learned that Ronon would have been a juvenile delinquent if he'd lived on Earth as a teenager and the man she sleeps with, the man who knows a handful of her own darkest secrets, has been keeping from her the fact that he played the tuba in the high school band.
'Tubas are bigger than you,' she says through laughter and this description makes Ronon laugh, as does the offended expression on Evan's face. 'How did you hold it up?'
He flexes his muscles. 'I've always had these bad boys.'
Zoë looks at him, then at Teyla, and the two women break out in peals of laughter. In fact, they're too busy laughing to realize that Sheppard has arrived in the mess and is standing at the head of their table. When she sobers slightly, he smiles a little and points to the balcony behind their table.
'Could I have a moment, Doc?' he asks and she nods, excuses herself from the table. At Evan's questioning look, she shakes her head and squeezes his shoulder as she passes by him.
They exit the mess and step out onto the balcony, coming to rest at the railing. The city is dark all around them, with pinpoints of light coming from the various towers and spires and the effect is beautiful, like standing in the center of a constellation. They stand shoulder to shoulder, neither of them speaking, for what seems like eons but is, in reality, only a few quiet minutes.
He breaks it first.
'She took a chance on me, four years ago when we started out on this project. She risked her job to make sure I came with her.' His hands clench and unclench against the night air. 'I failed her.'
He shrugs. 'By not protecting her, by not living up to the high standard she set.' He looks at her and she sees a broken boy instead a brave Colonel. 'By getting her killed.'
Zoë sighs, turns away from him. The night air is cold against her cheeks and she can hear laughter drifting out from the mess. She tries to remember what life was like before she met Evan and she can't, which both elates her and scares the hell out of her at the same time. She wonders if John can remember what his life was like before Atlantis, and as she sneaks a glance at him and sees the concentration on his face as he stares out at his city, she realizes that no one here probably remembers what life was like in the before.
'I've read the reports, John,' she says, her voice tired even to her own ears. 'She made the choice to save you all at the risk of her own life. From everything I've read about her, she was a greater good kind of woman – one life for the lives of many.' He says nothing and she looks at him once more. 'You loved her,' she says.
'We all did.' The response is too automatic, too rehearsed, and it doesn't take a trained psychologist to see that he's repeated it to himself one too many times in the last four years.
'Perhaps, but you were in love with her.'
He hangs his head. 'Let's just say that I cared about her a lot more than I was supposed to.'
She knows that it's an admission that takes a lot out of him. She smiles at him slightly and pats his shoulder.
'You're cleared for duty, Colonel.'
He looks up from the water below, surprised. 'What?'
'Do you know what the point of all these mandated sessions is?' she asks and he shakes his head, messy hair catching in the gentle ocean breeze that's kicked up. 'To determine if Atlantis is screwing with your head. I sit on my couch and I listen to you and in the middle of these random conversations I look for indicators that the time away from Earth is having a detrimental effect on your minds. I needed you to be open and honest with me, to give me something that would prove to me you weren't the asshole your bravado presented you to be.'
He smiles at this, a flash of a grin that's blaring white against the darkness.
'I'm sorry I brought up Doctor Weir,' she says. 'It was unfair of me and insensitive.' It's her turn to smile slightly. 'All the things a good psychologist should know not to do.'
'And I'm sorry I asked you about Lorne. It isn't any of my business and you're just doing your job by asking us all these questions.'
'That's the hardest part of this, you know, the living amongst my clients.' She turns back to watch the black ocean crash against the pier below them. 'I sometimes wonder what my life here would be like if I hadn't met Evan, if I'd be alone in this place.'
John snorts in disbelief and she turns to look at him.
'You kicked Rodney's ass in your underwear,' he says with what sounds like a mixture of awe and affection. He's grinning from ear to ear. 'If it wasn't for Lorne, I probably would have asked you out myself.'
She laughs and they turn towards the door. 'I would have turned you down,' she says and he frowns at her.
'Because,' she says as she holds the door open for him, 'Rodney told me you're a man whore.'
She smiles at him for good measure and he begins to laugh – loud and deep from within his chest – and when he tells the group at the table what she said, they all join in and for the first time in a long time, Zoë wonders why they told her in graduate school that psychology was a lonely profession.