Author's Note: Merry Christmas to all! Once again I come bearing Christmas fluff/drama for all and sundry.
This grew out of a character profile I was working on for Psyche-Out. We're not given much information about his background, but he was certainly able to attend good schools and devote himself to an esoteric field, which argues some level of material comfort. But money doesn't always mean happiness, after all, so I thought a lot about his intense focus on paranoia/fear/brain manipulation and concluded that our shrink needed some exploration. Fortunately, G.I. Joe loves its misfits.
The characterization of Mrs. Rich is a blend of several women I've known in real life. None of their children speak to them any more.
The 'cows' line is a mixed reference to a couple of different Biblical stories.
Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.
by Totenkinder Madchen
December 24th, 1988. 1524 hours
The phone rang. 2nd Lt. Kenneth Rich AKA Psyche-Out, a highly-trained member of a secret team of soldiers tasked with facing the most extraordinary threats modern terrorism had to offer, jumped like an electrocuted frog and eyed the phone as if it, personally, was trying to crawl down his throat and plant its eggs in his chest cavity. He didn't want to answer it.
After several moments of cautious deliberation, Psyche-Out picked up the phone. "Hello?" he said, pitching the word a little lower and hoarser than usual. Maybe he could convince her she'd gotten a wrong number.
"Don't tell me you're gettin' a cold, shrink," a deep voice drawled at the other end of the line. Psyche-Out relaxed a little. Oh, good: it was only Beach Head. "You're a worse complainer'n Clutch when you get sick. You got those forms for me yet?"
Psyche-Out faked a cough and switched back to his normal tone. "Just a little. Yes, I've got the forms. In fact, I had your copies sent down an hour ago. Haven't you gotten them yet?"
"Well, if Ah'm calling, then no Ah haven't," Beach Head pointed out. "Who'd you send 'em with?"
"Waldorf." Psyche-Out pulled the greenshirt's open file towards him. Beach Head groaned, and Psyche-Out continued before the other man could say anything more. "I know, I know, he's a little annoying. But he benefits from increased responsibility, and it does him good to have a menial job occasionally."
"Well, he ain't here yet," Beach Head said. The big sergeant major's tone was grumpy to say the least, and Psyche-Out couldn't blame him. Very few Joes liked being on base during the holidays. Beach wasn't exactly a social animal, but he hated the way the Pit ran on a shoestring while every soldier that could went home to see their families. An AWOL greenshirt was just one more headache during an already strained security situation. "Ah'm gonna go check the obstacle course. Someone probably thought it was funny t'throw him in the mud pits again."
"Good idea, sergeant m-" Click. Psyche-Out shrugged and put down the phone again, wondering whether he should open Beach Head's file to make a note about his abysmal phone manners. Probably not, he decided. Beach was rude to people for the same reason Timber peed on things: it was all about marking territory. Cutting off the conversation like that was his method of establishing alpha status over his hierarchical superior but supposed personal inferior. If Psyche-Out set a precedent of noting every little incident, Beach's file would be eighteen inches thick.
The phone rang again and Psyche-Out, his mind full of personality profiles and appointment schedules (which reminded him, Duke was due for his six-month eval on the 29th), picked it up without thinking. "Did you find him?" he asked.
"Kenny, is that you?" the voice continued. Emphatically not Beach Head, unless Beach had suddenly turned into a woman and developed a faint trace of a New York accent. In the background, there was a rattle of metal as multiple bracelets and necklaces clacked together. "Can you hear me?"
For a moment, Psyche-Out contemplated hanging up on her. He'd done it in the past, mostly while in the throes of college finals—something he'd justified after the fact by his own sleeplessness and short temper at the time. But if he did so, he knew her next call would only be harder. Picking up a stress ball, he settled back in his chair with a sigh. "Hello, Mom."
"Is there something wrong with the connection?" his mother demanded. "You sound strange."
"No, Mom. I've just been busy." He cast his eye over the desk and wished it were more true. Aside from Beach's forms, there weren't many loose ends to tie up. "Lots of paperwork to finish. My patients find this time of year very stressful."
"Don't be ridiculous, Kenny. They're just looking for attention. Probably so lonely that they can't get anyone to pay any attention to them." His mother's tone was disinterested. "Tell them to go work at a soup kitchen and leave you alone. Honestly, all you have to do is be firm with them, Kenny. When are you getting here?"
Paulina Kerr Rich, better known as Mom, was under the impression (purely for purposes of national security, of course) that her son was treating traumatized soldiers on a base somewhere on the east coast. Psyche-Out wasn't in a hurry to disabuse her of this notion, since it gave him one more excuse for not going home for the holidays.
"I told you, Mom, I can't make it this year."
At that, his mother sighed loudly. "Don't be ridiculous!" she repeated. It was one of her favorite phrases. "You're a lieutenant, aren't you? You can tell them what to do. You pack up and come home, and we'll have a nice Christmas. Your sister's bringing her new husband!"
The poor bastard. "Mom, I can't. I have obligations here."
"Obligations more important than family? There's no such thing. Are you hiding something?"
"No, I'm not, I just-"
"Because you know you can tell me, don't you? I've always been very observant and intuitive. My friend Jenny—you know Jenny, Jenny Rogers, who works at the health club—she says she thinks I might be a little bit psychic. I told her that it's possible, but of course it's just Jenny being stupid. That dumb bunny doesn't have two brain cells to rub together. But that she thinks I'm so observant I might be psychic, isn't that interesting?"
The pause was expectant, and Psyche-Out tried very hard not to sound put-upon as he answered. "Yes, Mom, that's fascinating. Listen, I can't talk long, I have a lot of work to do."
"What's wrong?" Mrs. Rich said sharply. "Honestly, you are hiding something. Did you finally meet someone?"
"No, I haven't met-"
"Or are you gay? Because I expected that. It explains a lot, I mean, you going into the Army with all those types of people-"
"Don't you yell at me! That's elder abuse."
"Mom." Psyche-Out called on all his training to keep his voice level and calm. "I'm not gay. I'm not hiding anything. I'm just very, very busy, and my patients are relying on me. You always taught me to be responsible, didn't you?"
"Well, yes," his mother conceded reluctantly. "But if your patients can't wait a couple of days, they shouldn't be in the Army, should they? I don't think this country needs crazy people defending it." Perhaps sensing that this tack wasn't working, she switched gears with masterful swiftness. "Don't you want to meet your sister's husband? You weren't even at the wedding, and you know it meant so much to Yvonne for you to be there."
Psyche-Out couldn't quite restrain a sigh this time. "Mom, I met him. Remember? Last Thanksgiving?" When Yvonne, who'd fallen in love with a kindly, sensitive type, had spent two hours in the guest bathroom talking her fiance out of a nervous breakdown after Mom and Aunt Claire ganged up on him. "And I wanted to be there, but I had to work. I have a couple of PTSD patients—" named Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow "—who really needed to be monitored—" so they didn't kill a prisoner "—and that took precedence."
His mother's tone changed again, turning sad and beaten-down. "Look, Kenny, if you don't want to spend time with your family you can just say so. I know we're probably not interesting enough for you any more. I'll love you even if you ignore me, you know. I can't help it, you're my son. I just wish you'd act like it."
Well, that was rich.
Psyche-Out was keenly aware of the ridiculousness of his situation. So many of the men and women he treated hadn't had his advantages—a mother and father who weren't dead yet, a sister he got along with, a family home in a nice part of San Francisco and the money necessary to pursue higher education. Under those circumstances, he had no right to be exasperated with his mother, let alone hide from her.
But a normal kid doesn't fixate on fear and paranoia out of nowhere. His mother's voice on the other end of the phone brought it all rushing back: the prying questions, the constant judgment, the way everything anyone ever did became all about her and what she felt or wanted. She'd wanted him to be a lawyer or a doctor; psychology was barely acceptable, and psychology with paired emphases on trauma counseling and sonic manipulation of the brain . . . Well, she'd stopped listening around the word 'emphases' and declared that her only son was hurting her by wasting his time this way. She'd always known what was best for him, after all, and wanted him to be happy. She didn't have much time left, and she was always so lonely and in so much pain from the worst case of glaucoma the doctors had ever seen—couldn't he find it in his heart to give her the time of day once in a while? Why didn't he love her? What kind of son didn't appreciate what she did for him? What kind of son didn't understand that his stupid refusal to just do as she asked was hurting her? Why was he trying to tear the family apart?
And now here he was, lying like a rug to get out of spending time with her. Just like she used to accuse him of doing.
He liked irony better when it was just a literary concept he could argue about with Flint.
"I'm sorry, Mom," he said. "I'm not trying to hurt you or anybody. But these people are relying on me."
"We're relying on you," his mother insisted. "It's important to me to have the family together for the holidays! I've been so run down and stressed lately. I thought you were supposed to be worried about peoples' health, Kenny!"
He was beginning to worry about his own, but he'd been trained for this. Mostly. "I'm not dismissing your concerns," he said, mentally retreating into psychiatrist mode. "Everyone has different experiences, and I can never understand exactly what it is you're feeling or thinking. That's not possible. But right now, I'd like to ask you to trust that I want what's best for everyone when I make my decisions."
"How am I supposed to trust you?" his mother said. "You don't seem to care about what I think, and you certainly don't care about your family. How are you supposed to take care of other people when you ignore the people who love you? What kind of doctor does that make you, anyway?"
A sharp knock thankfully rescued Psyche-Out from answering. "Mom, I have to put you on hold," he said. "There's someone at the door." His mother huffed, but he didn't give her a chance to reply, just pressed the hold button and dropped the phone with a sigh of relief.
Waiting patiently outside the door was six feet of black-masked death, bristling with weapons. Otherwise known as PTSD Patient #1, Snake-Eyes, and Oh Thank God A Distraction. Psyche-Out hitched his usual professional expression into place as he opened the door. "Afternoon, sergeant. What can I do for you?"
[Lifeline ordered me to schedule an evaluation,] the ninja signed with visible reluctance. [ASAP. He said it's that or give me sleeping pills.]
Psyche-Out's eyebrows shot up. "So, trouble sleeping. Are you having nightmares?" Snake-Eyes' shoulders slumped a miniscule fraction—not noticeable to a normal person, but Psyche-Out was a trained professional. For a moment, he felt a guilty surge of relief. "Well, if Lifeline's worried, we should look into this sooner rather than later. You're on base for Christmas, so how's tomorrow morning at nine AM sound?"
After a moment's consideration, the ninja nodded. [Don't try to shrink me,] he warned. [Everyone has nightmares.]
"Yes, but you've been through far more than most people, and your brain reacts accordingly when it tries to compensate for its trauma." Snake-Eyes cocked his head at that. "Believe it or not, even ninjas get traumatized," Psyche-Out added. "Ask Storm Shadow about it. I'll see you tomorrow at nine AM. Oh, and if you have any nightmares tonight or remember any of the ones you've had in the past few days, write them down and bring the paper to me, all right?"
"Because I'm an oracle. If you dream about seven fat cows and seven thin cows, you're going to be king of the Israelites."
[I don't think Hawk would like that.]
"I was being sarcastic, Snake-Eyes. Very unprofessional of me, in fact, which I apologize for." Psyche-Out shook his head. "Just give it a try, all right? It'll help us get to the root of what's causing these nightmares in the first place."
Snake-Eyes still looked skeptical—in body, anyway, since his face was impossible to read even on the days when he wasn't wearing a mask. Psyche-Out made a mental note to send a message about the dream journal to Scarlett, who not only knew where the ninja slept (hem hem) but could be relied on to help out.
Finally, though, Snake-Eyes nodded. [No Rorschach blots,] he signed warningly. [It's just dreams. And I've already had my six-month eval.]
"Yes, you did." It was eighty-seven pages long and had to be extensively censored for national security reasons before it was filed. "But if it's blots or drugs, which do you prefer?"
[I'm already cooperating by agreeing to a session. Don't push your luck.]
"I'm not going to get anywhere by pointing out that I outrank you, am I?" Psyche-Out said wryly. Snake-Eyes' silence was eloquent in and of itself. "I didn't think so. Tell you what: I won't pull out the Rorschach blots if you promise to actually come in by the door this time. Deal?"
They shook on it, and Snake-Eyes faded back into the shadows of the corridor. Psyche-Out shook his head and rubbed his eyes, a little bewildered and admiring in spite of himself. Some days he read his teammates' files and was amazed they could even get out of bed, but they did—and routinely did things he'd never thought possible. It was nice to be occasionally reminded that people weren't just tangles of complex, utterly fucked-up psychological problems. He served with skilled, loyal men and women who somehow managed to survive and keep going despite those problems.
And one of them had just accidentally rescued his Christmas. Taking a deep breath, he stepped back into the office and picked up the phone again.
"Hi again, Mom. No, it looks like I won't be able to make it this year . . . No, I really can't, it's an emergency . . . I know . . . I know . . . I'm sorry, but it's just not possible . . ."
Two corridors away from Psyche-Out's office, a red-headed woman was patiently lingering. She'd been taking a walk in the administration section with her boyfriend when something pulled him away, and now she learned against the wall and read a paperback while she waited for him.
Snake-Eyes stepped out of the shadows and snapped his fingers, drawing her attention. [Done,] he said, and briefly explained what had happened.
Scarlett looped her arm through his. "You big liar," she said affectionately. "What did you do that for? You've been sleeping just fine."
[Just an impulse.]
"I repeat: big liar."
The ninja nudged her gently, smiling under his mask. [I liked you better when you didn't know my tells.]
"Of course you did. Can't have anyone cracking the facade of the badass spooky death warrior, right?" Scarlett leaned into him, and he wrapped his arm around her, finding comfort in her warmth. "It's okay, Snake," she added in a softer tone. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
[No, it's just . . .] He snapped the fingers of his free hand, seemingly trying to find the words and having a difficult time of it. Finally, he huffed out a sigh of exasperation. [I miss my family, Shana. But I loved them, and I know they loved me. He has a family, and he's in there hiding from them because his mother is performing the Death of a Thousand Cuts on his self-esteem. To have a family that doesn't love you . . . that's . . . Hell. That's sad.]
"So you gave him a way out." Scarlett pressed a kiss to his masked cheek. "You're a good man, Snake."
[Not really. But I play one on TV.]
She laughed. "Sure. You know, Lifeline is going to give you hell when he finds out you used his name in vain."
[It's for a good cause.] Snake-Eyes shrugged. [And when Psyche-Out realizes I lied, he'll be grateful enough to cover for me. I might even get away without any more evaluations for a while.]