Title: Cold Fish
Author: Shenandoah Risu
Content Flags: descriptions of injuries
Spoilers: SGU late Season 1
Characters: Dr. Brightman, Everett Young, Tamara Johansen
Word Count: 2,580
Summary: Sometimes they don't know if they're even talking about the same person.
Author's Notes: Written for the LJ Comm gate_women.
Disclaimer: I don't own SGU. I wouldn't know what to do with it. Now, Young... Young I'd know what to do with. ;-)
Thanks for reading! Feedback = Love. ;-)
She's had that nasty nickname since she was little.
Alison Brightman has never been an emotional child. Growing up she has always seen restraint and nerves of steel around her: her father is an air traffic controller – one of the best, and the one that gets called in when others run screaming into the night. On the forefront of events of September 11, 2001 he guided hundreds of flights to a safe landing. Her mother still works in a high-level bio-hazard lab, where one wrong move can spell instant death. Her older brother is a sniper with Special Ops (although officially she doesn't know that) and her younger sister teaches kindergarten – Alison thinks of her as the toughest one among them.
There isn't much that derails the Brightman clan. "Grace under fire" is the motto they live by.
Alison wanted to be a brain surgeon, but then her brother's career pointed her towards the military and the situations in which thinking on one's feet is an absolute must. She found herself being courted by the Air Force, and finally she decided to make the call and commit to it.
She's stationed at the Air Force Academy Hospital in Colorado Springs and she quickly figures out that there are two kinds of doctors at the facility: those that know, and those that don't. She's never been one to be nosy or gossipy; she suspects a high-level clearance division and works towards earning the trust and respect of everyone around her.
She sees some awful injuries, and it's a struggle to keep herself calm and direct all her energies towards her patients, rather than get mired in empathy and worry.
The others call her a cold fish.
It's not that she doesn't care – on the contrary, she believes in channeling her skills and long spurts of unwavering concentration which allow her to operate on some of the most hopeless cases and save the lives of many.
It's just jealousy, her sister tells her.
She smiles and nods. Grace under fire, she thinks. Grace under fire.
And she tries to treat as many of the difficult cases as she can, and slowly a grim picture begins to emerge. Based on the types and severity of the injuries she sees she figures out that they all come from the same type of combat – and it's not like anything she's dealt with before.
There is a large number of severe burns, very localized, flesh burnt to a crisp; fractures so severe as if the soldiers had been run over by cement mixers, and puzzling cases of serious internal trauma with no external marks. Some of them remind her of that old urban myth of the poodle cooked inside out in the microwave.
If those came in once or twice, they'd be freak accidents. But she sees them again and again.
She develops a system of microsurgery, of fixing small elements in a large injury – a network of small functioning blood vessels across a large deep burn that allows neighboring areas to build back up, and she sees spectacular successes. It's painstaking work that requires a steady hand and the ability to ignore the big picture and concentrate on the smaller elements.
Her colleagues shake their heads and decry her seeming lack of compassion, but she proves them wrong again and again, as she wrestles one dying person after another back to life. The families call her a cold fish but the patients tell a different story: how her calm demeanor gave them something to hold on to, hope against despair, a professionalism that let them know things would be all right.
Sometimes they don't know if they're even talking about the same person.
One day she begins work on an especially difficult case: countless broken bones, multiple burns and internal damage that give her pause. The man's name is Everett Young, and despite his ordeal he's conscious as she examines him. She suspects brain damage of some sort – torture, most likely.
As always, she begins with a detailed observation of his injuries, their location and type, and she understands that they were received in order: internal trauma first, then the burns, then the fractures. A story takes shape in her mind: a prisoner of war, probably long-term, an escape or invasion, a final assault, and being left for dead.
She reports her findings to the injured man, as she always does; she believes in full disclosure, and since he's somewhat alert she sees no point in keeping the severity of his condition from him. He stares at the ceiling, his breathing labored, and she tells him what she sees.
Suddenly his eyes move, and for a second he looks at her, actually sees her, before he slips into unconsciousness.
And she knows she's been right. What she's seen in that moment is a piece of herself in a complete stranger: grace under fire.
She finds a crude wound on his inner thigh – one that will likely need a skin graft. It looks different from the others, precise, as if cut on purpose. Possibly self-inflicted, she guesses, and takes a closer look with a pen light.
"A tattoo, or a branding," she realizes. And the rest of the story falls into place. In enemy hands, sold into slavery, marked, and liberated or escaped later.
She fights for his life for weeks, slowly patching him up, grafting new skin onto old injuries, setting bones, coaxing lost reflexes back into being.
Sometimes he's awake, following her with his eyes but never responding to any inquiries. But occasionally, when she looks at him, he smiles, and she knows it's just a matter of time.
She tells him that. His eyes close again.
One day he is gone, and she's told he was moved to another ward for long-term rehabilitation. And for the first time she rebels. She knocks on every door, talks to everyone, ignoring the whispers that the cold fish has passion for something after all.
A few days later she's called into the office of Dr. Warner, whom she has long suspected as being one of those who know.
She signs papers, lots of them, and she's told she's been given top-level clearance.
"I don't really care," she responds. "I want to see Colonel Young."
Warner smiles and motions her to sit down. And then he tells her about the Stargate Program, and the fight against the Goa'uld, and the staff weapons burns, and the ribbon devices, and the Jaffa. She doesn't bat an eye – she had expected something far more colorful than the Air Force battling aliens across the galaxy.
Warner seems taken aback at her outward calmness but finally relents.
"Colonel Young has been moved to the infirmary at the SGC."
"I would like to see him, he's been my patient for so long, I think I owe it to him to see his convalescence through."
Warner concurs and that very afternoon she's taken to the underground facility.
Seen one secret base, seen them all, she thinks and keeps pace with the young airman who is terribly excited about showing her around. She puts her hand on his arm. "I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I'd like to see my patient now," she says.
He shrugs, a little disappointed, and leads the way.
Young is asleep as she enters the room. She breathes a quiet sigh of relief and places her hand on his. He opens his eyes and smiles at her. "Hey, doc," he rasps.
It's as close as she's ever come to breaking into tears in front of a patient. Grace under fire, she reminds herself. She smiles back at him and gently squeezes his hand.
Days later she's engulfed in a dire emergency with an alien entity on the base, a shooting, a total lockdown that seems to last forever, and everyone looking to her for guidance as she's suddenly the highest-ranking medical officer in the facility. It only takes her a moment to formulate a plan and contribute to the solution of the problem. She feels a little bit like her father, landing a dozen planes at the same time, but she's done it before and she manages, and it earns her the respect of the entire base.
Young's recovery is quick after that. Thanks to her early work his injuries heal well, and she's particularly grateful for the Goa'uld healing device and the beautiful exotic-looking woman who wields it with great efficiency. She's a former Goa'uld host who visits Earth frequently to volunteer her skills.
"You know what," the woman, whom she has come to know as Kendra of Cimmeria, says one day, "People keep calling you a cold fish. I think they're wrong. They also think I'm a head-in-the-clouds nature-worshipper. They're wrong about that, too."
They share a brief smile. Alison nods to herself and gets back to work, thanking Kendra for her time.
Little by little she tells Young the whole story, the way she reads it from his injuries. The only thing he has to supply is the name of the Goa'uld – Amaterasu. To save his team he agreed to serve her for six months. The time was nearly up when a rival system lord raided her holdings and he became a casualty, found accidentally by an SG team and sent home to die.
They don't talk much. She knows all she needs to know from his wounds, she respects his privacy, and he's grateful for that.
They don't call her a cold fish anymore – Young sees to that when he's well enough to leave. She turns down the offer to lead the medical team at the SGC, because all the additional administrative work would have taken too much time away from her patients. Dr. Lam, the new head of the infirmary at the SGC, is grateful to have access to a veteran advisor like Alison and puts her in charge whenever she's unavailable herself.
She gets all the tricky cases, the severe long-term injuries, the multiple surgeries, the painstaking patch work.
And she is sent out into the field a lot. When the Goa'uld are defeated they are almost immediately replaced by the Ori, and suddenly she sees even more combat injuries. She patches Young up a few more times, and they share comfortable moments of silence. She's sad when he's reassigned to command an offworld base, but she trained the doctor there herself and she knows Simms is a capable physician who is able to deal with the odd demands of an offworld infirmary. She hand-picks a young paramedic, Tamara Johansen, to accompany him to Icarus Base.
She feels a strange kind of grief when the Icarus mission is lost on the Destiny. When Colonel Young calls her up on his first visit via the Communication Stones she's relieved and promises him to be there should he ever need her, and he says he's counting on her. She asks to be transferred to Homeworld Command in Washington, DC, so she can be available should her skills be required.
He keeps his word.
One day she finds herself in the body of a young girl, with Tamara and another young woman assisting her in a make-shift thoracic surgery that would scare even the most experienced doctors. But Alison has always been good at separating her own feelings from the task at hand, and after the initial puzzlement over the situation she tells herself that it's just surgery under fire, with inadequate tools and inexperienced helpers. Same old, same old. Grace, she repeats to herself.
She focuses on what needs to be done, and as she expected things go rather well, until a particularly hard hit of enemy fire severs her connection with the ship. She's frustrated, but she also knows that Tamara has a bit of cold fish in herself as well – one that she can dig out and use when she has to.
She sits and waits until she finally gets word that the surgery was a success. She visits as soon as possible to check on her patient. Dr. Rush will recover, she is sure of it, but it will be difficult and painful without the proper medications.
She doesn't hear from the Destiny folks for quite a while, but when she does again it's quite possibly the biggest test of her career: the ship has been taken over by an invading force of hostiles and she is forced to operate on friend and foe alike. Not that it matters to her – a patient is a patient, whatever side they may be on, but Destiny has very few supplies and it takes all her skill and ingenuity to lead the team of surgeons to save as many lives as possible. To make matters worse her trusted friend Tamara is gravely injured.
It's the hardest thing she's ever done – cutting the dead baby out of her colleague to save her.
And for the first time in her life Dr. Alison Brightman cries in the operating room.
She hardly recognizes herself and throws everything she's got into saving the life of the woman who led the invasion. She wants nothing more than for Kiva to live, so that one day she may know that the death of Tamara's daughter will always be on her hands.
She learns that Young is the father, and her heart breaks just a little bit more.
She's fearless dealing with the invasion strike force and quickly earns their respect. She doesn't mince words with them while everyone else cowers. They pretty much leave her alone after that. But when she demands to see Young they refuse.
She is sent back at gun point, under protest, when her work is done, and Kiva has died despite her best efforts. Back at Homeworld Command she takes some time off. She tries to find the cold fish in herself, and it seems to be gone. All she knows is the pain and the grief and the despair for what she was helpless to fix.
She goes back to work but she feels different now, unbalanced, frightened.
Until Colonel Young comes to see her – he's in someone else's body, of course, but she knows his mannerisms, his movements, the cadence of his speech. She's relived to see him alive but he's a broken man, and they talk – about the baby, Carmen is what Tamara named her, and Riley's death, and his divorce, and they hug each other and she cries a little.
He leaves, going back to the ship because he has no choice, and she understands that if he can do it, so can she. She looks at herself in the bathroom mirror.
"Hey, cold fish," she says, and suddenly she has to laugh.
She wipes off her tears and goes back to work, doing what she does best and beginning to accept that she is indeed in the right place – that they all are. She thinks of the Destiny crew and their challenges, and how they weather their situation with grace under fire, for as low as they may sink, giving up will never be an option.
And she hopes they all have that cold fish within them that they can rely on when things get difficult.
For her, it's a badge of honor.