Highlander Returned – Rebecca Preston

Brianna Kendall sat back on the overstuffed leather couch in her therapist’s office, feeling her habitual twinge of amusement at how absolutely stereotypical it was. Daniel was great, of course — there was nothing trite or stereotypical about the treatment he offered, and she trusted him more than the vast majority of people in her life, if she was honest… but the couch still made her laugh if she thought about it too long. It was probably just one more indicator of her problems with vulnerability… it was easier to laugh at her situation, to find things to poke fun at, like the trite image of lying back on a sofa and confessing all her problems, than it was to actually do the work of therapy. To take her pain seriously, as Daniel was always nudging her to do. Well, taking her pain seriously sucked. Sometimes she just wanted to laugh at the couch. “Where’d you go?” Daniel asked, tilting his head slightly. He was sitting opposite her on a comfortable hard-backed chair. He was a tall, slender man who always looked like he should be wearing glasses — something about his face seemed to cry out for them. Or maybe it was the way he was always glancing down at his notes, then up at her. “Just thinking about therapy,” she said. She’d learned by now not to bother trying to be dishonest with Daniel. After all, as he’d told her many times, the only person she was hiding from was herself. At the end of the day, he was only here to help her get to grips with her own trauma. Hiding from him wouldn’t help her do that.

“Thinking about how long it’s been.” “Four years isn’t so long in the grand scheme of things,” Daniel said softly, smiling. She’d never been able to figure out how old he was. She was usually so good with ages — quick profiling came with the territory of her old job — but Daniel could have been anywhere between thirty and seventy for all the good her careful scrutiny would do her. “I guess not. I just… wish I’d made more progress by now. I mean, I haven’t even gotten the nightmares to stop.” She sighed, irritated with how useless that admission made her feel. “I know it’s not about results, necessarily, but…” “It’s understandable to be frustrated when we don’t get the results we want,” Daniel said simply. “The nightmares are a particularly problematic symptom for you.

They stop you from sleeping well — which as you know has a considerable impact on your quality of life. Your mental and your physical health.” “Exactly.” She could tell he was luring her into a trap. “Exactly. They suck. It’s just — it’s been four years. I should be able to…” “Should?” Daniel said softly. “According to who?” “According to me.” She rolled her eyes, suppressing a laugh.

“I know, I know. Control issues again.” “How are you doing with the nightmares, now? Tell me about the most recent one.” “Last night,” she said, shaking her head. “Woke me up around four. I don’t remember all of it — I was in the house this time, though, when the fire ripped through. Which I prefer to the ones where I’m outside, honestly,” she said with a sigh. “I did okay, though. I got up, I went through all the breathing exercises, got back to bed by five. Then I had to get up at six, so…” “Well, if you’re worrying about progress,” Daniel said, flipping back through his notes.

“A similar occurrence three or four years ago would have been different, hm?” “I guess so,” she admitted. “Back then a nightmare meant I was done sleeping for the night. Getting back to bed for an hour of sleep is … better than nothing.” “Patience,” Daniel said simply. “Perhaps the most difficult virtue to sustain. But the work of developing it is invaluable in all areas of our lives, not just trauma management.” “True,” she said, leaning back a little against the couch. For all that she found the stuffy old couch ridiculous, she had to admit it was comfortable. Their first few sessions, when she’d joked about it, Daniel had offered her a chair instead, but she’d insisted on the couch. If you couldn’t go along with a cliché in your therapist’s office, when could you? A lot had changed in the four years since she’d started seeing Daniel.

She’d turned thirty, for a start… something that had come and gone without any of the mid-life crisis anguish about aging she’d been expecting. As a younger woman she’d always thought that if she wasn’t married by thirty with children on the way, she’d be worried… but her late twenties had brought more than enough chaos with them to be getting on with without adding all of that to the mix. Like a career-ending disaster that still haunted her dreams every night… “Speaking of patience,” Daniel prompted her with one of those gentle smiles playing around the edges of his mouth. “How’s the new job?” “Ugh,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Stressful. Good, I guess, I mean…” She sighed. “I feel like you ask me that every month. I hate being freelance.” “It’s a shift from your old way, that’s for sure,” Daniel agreed. “Tell me more about it.

” “I mean — as a corporate negotiator you don’t really get a position and keep it, you know? Not many companies have constant need of your services, so it’s not as if a longterm stable gig is an option for me. It’s nice not to feel held down anywhere, but… I don’t know. I miss the stability of Chicago PD.” “Financially speaking?” “Definitely not,” she said with a grimace. “Whatever complaints I have about my new gig, money isn’t one of them. It’s downright obscene what these companies pay contractors like me. I’ve almost paid off my apartment because I can’t think of what else to do with the money. Which I’m grateful for, don’t get me wrong,” she added hastily, “but I just… I don’t know. Money isn’t everything.” “So you’re financially secure,” Daniel prompted again.

“What was it about your old job that offered stability?” “I just — knew who I was. I knew all my coworkers, I knew what my purpose was. Knew I was one of the good guys, that I was doing the right thing,” she said, shaking her head. “I mean, obviously policing is … well, pretty politically charged these days, but I was a hostage negotiator. That’s pretty black and white. Getting innocent hostages out of the grips of the bad guys.” She sighed. “When I’m helping negotiate contracts and salaries and buyouts, half the time I feel like I’m helping the bad guys. I saved a telecommunications company a hundred grand on payroll last week. Sounds great, scored me a bonus that’ll pay my mortgage for a year — but what does it actually mean? It means a hundred grand that could’ve gone to their employees just… didn’t.

Because of me.” She sighed, rubbed her face. “I don’t know. It’s ethically gray. Half the time I feel guilty I haven’t gone back to the police force yet.” “Are you considering that?” Daniel asked, tilting his head thoughtfully to the side. That was the annoying thing about therapists. She’d said a thousand times that she could never go back to her old job — the trauma was too much, she had too much anxiety now. After what had happened, the deaths she’d failed to prevent… no, there was no way she could ever handle another negotiation with stakes like that. She was broken, well and truly.

And her colleagues, for all that they’d been understanding and kind about the whole thing… she could tell, when she looked in their eyes, that they knew it, too. They knew her career was over. Knew they couldn’t trust her in the field. And fair enough, too. And Daniel knew all that — she’d told him a hundred times or more. But every time she brought it up, he asked her the same gentle, neutral question. Are you considering going back? Of course she wasn’t. But she hated saying it. “No,” she said through gritted teeth. “Nothing’s changed.

That door is still closed for me.” “You bring it up a lot,” he said gently. “For someone who’s so resigned to that chapter of their life being closed…” “Yeah, well, I wish I could go back,” she snapped, feeling her temper flare and for once feeling a little too exhausted to hold it back. “I wish I wasn’t … damaged goods, I wish I hadn’t screwed up that job so badly, I wish I could just… toughen up and shake off these nightmares and go back to saving lives. I was good at it. But I can’t.” “You’re showing me how you feel about that. Give it words.” “Angry,” she said through gritted teeth, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. She knew it was important to name your feelings, even if they felt incredibly obvious.

“And I guess… a little guilty. Ashamed, almost. Like I should be stronger.” “You’re doing incredibly well, Brianna,” Daniel said softly. She shut her eyes for a moment, grateful to hear him say it — even if it was a little difficult to believe. “You’ve been through a great deal in the four years since we’ve been working together. You’ve closed a chapter of your life, retrained, and entered a new career… a career in which you are excelling. You’ve developed functional and reliable mechanisms to cope with the symptoms of trauma that are still with you. And your interpersonal relationships are flourishing.” “That’s true,” she admitted, grinning a little.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten on this well with Mom since I was a teenager.” “And you’re dating,” he prompted her, smiling. “Oh, yeah. Ben.” She laughed. “Of course, yeah. God, I can’t believe it’s nearly been a year.” “How’s the relationship going?” “Good,” she shrugged, “oh, that’s right — I’ll have to reschedule my next appointment. We’re going away.” “Oh, yes?” Daniel smiled.

“A holiday?” “Something like that,” she shrugged, “it’s our one year anniversary coming up, so I suggested we do something. Ben’s always been obsessed with European history and I’ve never been to Europe, so… we’re doing a big trip together.” “Are you looking forward to it?” “I guess,” she said automatically… then caught herself. “I mean… I don’t know. If I was going on holiday alone, Scotland wouldn’t be my first choice, you know? I’d want to do… like, the south of France, or the Greek islands or something. Somewhere that screams luxury and relaxation. Scotland… I mean, I’m sure it’s beautiful, Ben says it’s gorgeous this time of year, but I just… I don’t know. Not my first choice, that’s all. But relationships are about compromise.” “You’re a skilled negotiator,” Daniel pointed out, raising an eyebrow.

“Was there no happy middle ground between where you wanted to go and where Ben wanted to go?” That needled her a little. “I mean, he wanted to do a booze bus tour of the United Kingdom, so I think a tour of historical sites is … well, something of a compromise. We’re staying in nice hotels, at least. I made sure of that.” Daniel was silent, looking at her patiently. It was one of his favorite tricks — digging a big pit of silence between them that she’d always feel obliged to fill with words. “I just… he’s so rigid,” she said irritably. “I love him, we’ve been through a lot, he’s good for me, but I just… he’s so inflexible when it comes to what he wants to do.” “Have you had any further conversation about the idea of him coming along to one of your sessions with me?” “Not really,” she admitted, biting her tongue. She hated talking about her boyfriend with Daniel.

It always made her feel like a failure… like if she was really succeeding at therapy, at self-actualization and all that stuff, that her relationship should sound healthier than it did. She honestly was happy with Ben, but there was something about the questions Daniel asked about him that always made him sound terrible. “I mean, I’ve brought it up a few times, but he’s always very … dismissive of the idea that it might be useful. I don’t know. He’s one of those people who don’t believe in therapy.” “Like you,” Daniel said with a mischievous smile. “I seem to remember you expressing similar sentiments when you first got here. And you’re a prime example of the fact that people can change their minds.” “I’ll keep talking to him,” she promised, smiling. “If you can change my mind, you can change his, I bet.

” “I hope so.” Daniel had some kind of superpower when it came to their sessions — she heard the soft chime of the bell that told her that their session was over, just as it seemed to have reached a natural end all by itself. “I hope you have a restful holiday, Brianna. I’ll look forward to hearing about it. Any crises —” “I’ve got your number,” she promised, smiling as she got to her feet. It was true — the office’s emergency number was saved in her phone, and she knew that Daniel would be more than willing to talk her through any panic attacks that came up. But she’d never used it… and she hoped she never would. How stressful could an overseas holiday with her boyfriend be, anyway?

.

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