A plot bunny spawned from the depths of Twitter, given to me because I had fewer of them chewing on my shins than some of the other lovely ladies who write for this section. Also, I think because it's ninja-centric, and for some reason people seem to think that I like ninja. Absolutely no idea why that would be…
Kenneth D. Rich, better known to most of his teammates as 'Psyche-Out', and to certain members of the team as variously as 'the meddling goddamn shrink' or 'osekkai okkuu rokudenashi', which Storm Shadow knew perfectly well that he understood to mean 'nosy annoying bastard', but used anyway when he could get away with it.
Snake Eyes generally stuck to 'Sir', but somehow managed to convey exactly how useless he thought the efforts of the psychiatrist were with that single sign. The effort that Psyche-Out expended to make sure that the people being trusted with high-tech, experimental, and highly dangerous equipment were relatively mentally sound. Obviously useless if you were a (choose whichever term was applicable) ninja/Ranger.
Beach Head was by far the louder, but much the easier to deal with of the three worst offenders in the Avoid The Shrink At All Costs club. His personality disorders were fairly straightforward and if ordered to meet with Psyche-Out, he'd complain loudly but do as he was told.
The ninja, on the other hand…
Psyche-Out had had many problem patients over the years. Never before he'd joined G.I. Joe, however, had one of the biggest problems with a patient been simply finding the patient when he wanted them.
But the problems didn't stop with actually managing to corner the ninja he wanted (usually after several hours of diligent searching, and then only usually because the ninja had been located and snapped at by a superior officer). No, once he actually got one of the pair cornered in his office or their quarters and started talking to them was when he came close to pounding his head against his clipboard.
'Tight lipped' didn't begin to cover it. The normal, fairly innocuous questions one usually asked to get a patient talking, such as "How have you been feeling?" or "How are things going for you in life?" would be met with looks of utter blankness, or if he was really lucky a monosyllabic "Fine." More probing questions would also fall to the ninja powers of Denial and Ignoring The Question. It was only by open threats of standing them down from active duty that he'd ever managed to make any progress with either Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow.
And lately, even that had been only marginally effective. Displaying what Psyche-Out had mentally termed "textbook narcissism," both ninja were apparently convinced that due their admittedly unique and highly useful skill set, being stood down from duty because "The shrink claims I'm repressing trauma" wasn't going to happen. In Storm Shadow's own words, "Unless I can't breathe for myself, am missing more than half my blood, or have more than three major limbs broken, I don't need to be taken off duty. I sure as hell don't need to be stood down when I'm in perfect health, just because the nosy bastard is feeling particularly overbearing this week."
This was frustrating to no end. It wasn't the little things that Psyche-Out was worried about; Storm Shadow's mild OCD, Snake Eyes' tendency towards occasional mild depression, both ninja's well developed sense of paranoia. No, it was the things like 'were involved in a complete clusterfuck of an ambush in Vietnam and watched their friends die', 'entire family was killed en route to pick him up at the airport', 'face was permanently scarred saving his teammate from a helicopter crash', 'was accused of the murder of his uncle and mentor, was ostracized by his family, had his best friend try to kill him multiple times, and forced into service to a morally reprehensible employer for several years' issues that he worried about.
It was after two weeks of Storm Shadow somehow managing to squirm his way out of his standard weekly appointment (the damn man was as wily as a fox) and after several threats of being stood down from duty had failed to make an impression that Psyche-Out had had enough.
Storm Shadow was practicing his aim when the greenshirt jogged up onto the shooting range, elbowing his way past several of the appreciative spectators.
"Storm Shadow? Sir?"
Tommy ignored him; he was listening to the telltale mechanical whine of the pigeon thrower. He fitted another arrow to his bowstring.
"Sir? Psyche-Out needs you."
There! The whine changed in pitch, and a second later the target was spinning through the air. Tommy listened to the hiss of air, raised his bow, drew, waited a millisecond, and let the string slide off his fingers.
There was a sharp splintering crack as a thin clay shell shattered in midair. Tommy pulled his blindfold off and turned to eye the greenshirt, who was staring at the air where a second ago a clay target had been. It was one of the new batch, and he wasn't quite used to the idea of ninja yet.
"Did the shrink say why he wanted me?" Tommy narrowed his eyes. "It's not time for my appointment."
"No, he just said he wanted you and Sergeant Snake Eyes…you just…is that a bow? And were you shooting…you hit that thing blindfolded?"
"It can wait, then." Storm Shadow moved to tug the blindfold back on and turn back to his target shooting. "And yes, I did."
"Jeez…that's just straight up…" The greenshirt cleared his throat, apparently mentally snapping himself back on-task. "He also said to tell you that if you don't show up within ten minutes, you're back to appointments three times a week and he'll have Hawk issue you orders to attend every single one."
Tommy glared. The greenie went white.
"Fine." Tommy shouldered his bow, pivoted on the ball of his foot and stalked towards the motor pool, which was the closest entrance to the Pit. Behind him, the greenshirt let out a very audible sigh of relief.
Psyche-Out's office was painted a soft, calming blue. Instead of hard chairs, the psychiatrist had a soft, overstuffed couch and a pair of very comfortable chairs. The filing cabinets were situated unobtrusively against the wall and painted the same soft blue. There were several pictures, all of which were innocuous and soothing.
It was so obviously designed to put someone at ease that it set Tommy on edge. He didn't trust people who tried to put him at ease; in his experience someone trying aggressively to get you to relax was either an enemy agent trying to get your guard down, an enemy agent trying to weasel intel out of you, or a woman trying to get you in bed. Any of these warranted keeping your wits about you.
Snake Eyes was already there. He was standing at ease, but managing to keep his spine ramrod-straight. The aura of 'I don't want to be here' was unmistakable.
Psyche-Out was sitting at his desk, calmly looking over some paperwork. Tommy actually used the office door, well aware that any more entertaining methods of entry would earn an unbearably long lecture about 'deliberate provocation of authority figures', 'a need to show off is a textbook sign of narcissism', and 'possible tendencies towards mild sadism.'
"What do you want?" Tommy asked bluntly. "I was busy."
"I'm sure you were." Psyche-Out set the paper he'd been studying in his outbox and looked up at them. "Remarkable how busy you are, particularly when I want to talk you. You weaseled your way out of your last two appointments by being busy."
Storm Shadow shrugged expressively.
"And you, Snake Eyes. You've been purposefully requesting missions every time you've got an appointment. Would you really rather be deployed in hostile territory than cooperate with me?"
Snake Eyes mirrored Storm Shadow's shrug.
Psyche-Out sighed. "I've threatened before to stand you both down from active duty unless you work with me to work out your issues."
"I don't have issues." Tommy said flatly.
"Sure you don't." Psyche-Out narrowed his eyes. "Zartan."
Tommy firmly kept himself from frowning at the name. Psyche-Out wasn't fooled. He leaned back in his chair. "As of now, both of you can consider yourself removed from active duty. And since I know how much you both hate being bored, and since my usual assistant is on vacation, you can help me out. I'm going to the gym." The psychiatrist stood and pointed at the pile of paperwork in his inbox. "That needs filing; the cabinets are in alphabetical order. And just because custodial won't touch this room while they know you're in here, the carpet and couch need to be vacuumed. There's one in the storage closet down the hall. My keyboard needs cleaning, the monitor needs to be dusted, and the desk needs to be polished. And while you're at it, clean out the coffeepot and get it ready to go again. Two and a half scoops."
Storm Shadow didn't move for a long moment. Then he glanced sideways.
Snake Eyes was eying him back. He tilted his head ever so slightly; Storm Shadow nodded the tiniest fraction. The black mask crinkled as Snake Eyes smiled just a bit.
Tommy turned back to Psyche-Out. "This is stupid beyond belief."
"I really don't care what you think of me or my methods as long as it helps me help you." Psyche-Out crossed his arms. "Am I going to have to involve Hawk?"
Snake Eyes sighed audibly. Tommy just glared.
"Good. After you finish with my office you're free to go. I'll see both of you later tonight. Would you prefer to have your appointments here or in your quarters?"
"My quarters." Tommy growled irritably.
*My quarters.* Snake's signs were short and sharp.
"Excellent. I'll put you down for seven and seven thirty, respectively." The psychiatrist strode out of his office.
They waited for a few minutes, Tommy listening intently. When the sound of the psychiatrist's footsteps faded away, Tommy nodded to Snake, who promptly settled himself comfortably on the couch. Tommy sauntered around the desk and appropriated Psyche-Out's chair.
"You know, brother." Tommy leaned back contemplatively, propping his feet up on Psyche-Out's desk. "A wise man once said 'do something badly enough once…'"
*Or do something aggravatingly enough once.* Snake Eyes smiled.
"And you'll never be asked to do it again. I agree completely." Tommy pulled open a desk drawer at random. He paused for a second, and then grinned slowly. "Would you look at this…he's got superglue in here. Dibs on the filing cabinets."
*Refile them first.* Snake Eyes thought for a second. *Japanese.*
Storm Shadow grinned. "I've got an idea for a system, even…funny how some kanji look similar to one another, isn't it?"
Psyche-Out got back to his office after a long, tiring, very satisfying workout. He ambled into his familiar office, went to his desk, reached underneath, and detached the small voice recorder he'd taped to the underside of his desk. He pushed the 'rewind' button.
He was fully aware that leaving two ninja in his office, alone, was a recipe for chaos. However, if he could figure out exactly what they'd done, he could make them un-do it, or at least more easily un-do it himself.
The tape hit the end. He pressed play.
There was a moment of silence. Then Storm Shadow's voice.
"Hello, doctor. I know you'll listen to this."
"I do appreciate the effort, but it was almost insultingly easy to find this device. Next time I suggest a smaller bug, and hide it somewhere less obvious."
Dammit, he could hear the smirk in the ninja's voice.
"Anyway, I'm going to turn this off now. And then my sword brother and I are going to do the work you so nicely asked us to get done. It's terribly boring stuff, however. We'll have to figure out some way to make it more interesting. See you tonight, doctor."
There was a click, and then just the softly crackling static of blank tape. Psyche-Out cursed softly, and then slowly surveyed the room.
It looked fine. Great, actually. The carpeting had been vacuumed, the desk had been polished, his favorite expensive executive pen was gone from the little wooden stand next to his keyboard…
He pulled his desk drawer open. Pens, pencils, paperclips, erasers, scratch paper…but no solid stainless steel pen that could write at any angle and underwater if he ever had the inclination.
Cursing again, he reached for a filing cabinet. Maybe they'd stuck it in there…
He pulled on a drawer. Nothing happened. He pulled harder. Nothing. He examined the lock; it wasn't locked.
He narrowed his eyes and looked closely at the seam between the drawer and the body of the cabinet. Sure enough, there were several tiny dots of a clear substance adhering the metal closed; Psyche-Out sniffed. Superglue.
Half an hour of work with a pocketknife later, and he'd managed to break the knife and pry the cabinets open again. He glanced inside the first drawer and groaned.
Carefully inked kanji looked innocently back at him from every file tab. Psyche-Out had a working knowledge of Japanese-it was a useful language to know in a field where journals were published multilingually-but the files had been rearranged in no apparent order, or maybe in some order that only made sense if you were a goddamned sneaky-bastard passive-aggressive purely because you couldn't be aggressive-aggressive wily son-of-a-bitch ninja.
The missing pen, however, was conspicuously absent.
A sudden memory flitted through Psyche-Out's mind.
You know, it's really remarkable how rarely people look up. That had been from the larger and quieter of the sneaky-bastard ninja. With a horrible sort of foreboding, Psyche-Out looked at the ceiling for the first time since entering the room.
Just above the door was the missing pen, stuck neatly and deeply into the exact center of a ceiling tile.
Psyche-Out said a very bad word.
"…and Maintenance is going to have to replace the tile." Psyche-Out sighed. "What the hell got into me? Why didn't I just stand them down? Why'd I have to let them in my office?"
"You're the psychiatrist." Doc calmly stirred a dollop of honey into his tea and started on his pork chop. "I just fix broken bodies. You fix the broken brains."
Psyche-Out sighed again. "They're just so…deliberate in their efforts to drive me mad. And they're depressingly good at doing it. It's damn near impossible to out-think them; I bugged the office, but they found it in about ten seconds."
"Storm Shadow can hear a tape recorder running." Doc grimaced. "I remember testing his hearing when he first joined the team…he was recording scores that a German Shepard would be jealous of." A scowl. "I'm still considering sending him to Iowa City so that smug bastard Toyjevak can see for himself just how good my data was. "The limited scientific equipment available for his research" my ass. He wishes he had my toys."
Psyche-Out frowned. "I should have thought of that…that's how he found it so quickly."
"Well, and both him and Snake Eyes habitually search rooms for bugs. It's like you or me hitting the light switch and starting the coffeepot when we walk into our office. Ingrained habit."
Psyche-Out shook his head. "Textbook paranoia. Of course, they developed it in response to repeated attempts on their lives, so I can't exactly claim that it's baseless. In their line of work, I'd say it's actually quite useful."
"True. And I'd actually say their tendency to try and stay ten steps ahead of us is a survival instinct too, actually. Have you tried this pie? One of the quartermasters managed to get his hands on a bushel of fresh blueberries."
Psyche-Out glanced over with interest. "No, I haven't…I forgot to grab some."
"If you want some, you'd better get it before Beach decides its time for dessert. I'll hold my thought."
A minute later, Psyche-Out settled back into his chair. "Anyway, they don't seem to realize that I try to get them to talk to me because it would help them. They've got me firmly labeled as 'enemy'. I can't make any progress with the stubborn bastards unless I threaten them with medical leave or orders to comply from Hawk, and that only digs me deeper into the 'enemy' hole. And they're too goddamn good; the brass loves the results they get."
Doc thought for a long moment. "Have you considered just letting them be for awhile?"
Psyche-Out blinked. "What?"
"Leave them alone for a few months, unless one of them seems to be on the verge of imminent mental collapse. Which I don't think will happen; they've both gone through a lot, but generally speaking they don't seem to let it interfere with their work."
"They've been through a lot…" Psyche-Out paused. "But then you might have a point. Maybe if I tried softer tactics…back off for a bit and see if they come to me."
"I know. But it can't hurt to try. And if nothing else, maybe if I let them off the hook for a month or two they'll relax around me if I happen to bump into them in the mess hall or the gym occasionally."
Doc smiled. "When trying to out-weasel a ninja, it's always helpful if the ninja doesn't know you're trying to out-weasel him. Takes a delicate touch; don't over-do it."
Psyche-Out smiled. "That's downright Confucianism you're channeling there, my friend."
"I've learned a few things over the years." Doc sounded smug. "And if that fails, bribe them. Snake Eyes likes tea and baked goods if you can bribe the kitchen staff into making them for you. Storm Shadow likes tea and Thai food. If all else fails, get Scarlett."
"I'll keep it in mind." Psyche-Out stood and picked up his tray. "Now, I've got to go finish refiling my paperwork. Damn ninja."