“Hi Arianna. I’m Dr. Leah Charles. You can call me Leah.” Ari shifted uncomfortably in the cushy armchair across from the woman. “It’s okay if you’re uncomfortable or nervous right now.” Leah assured her, giving her a soft smile. “James has told me a little bit about what you’ve been going through, but I’d like to hear it from you.”
“James?” Ari asked curiously.
“I suppose you know him as Bucky.” Leah replied, a small chuckle escaping her. “I don’t generally call people by their nicknames. I suppose it’s probably jarring to hear his name differently from what you know, so I’ll call him Bucky when we’re in our sessions.” Leah offered.
“Okay. Thank you.” Ari whispered, shrinking in the chair.
“Before we start, I would like to lay a few things out. This is a safe space, and everything we speak about, even if it’s over text, the phone, email, or any other form of communication, stays between us unless you tell someone or give me permission to, or if I think you’re presenting a danger to yourself or others.” Leah assured her. “Friday is disabled in my office during the sessions, and the room is completely soundproof.” At Ari’s confused expression, Leah let out a little laugh. “Bucky likes to scream when he’s frustrated. Stark installed it after it scared some of the other patrons.” She admitted, winking conspiratorially. Ari nodded in understanding, chuckling slightly. It definitely sounded like Bucky. “Nothing you say here will be judged, and all I want to do is help you. Do you understand?” Ari nodded once more, and Leah gave her another smile. “Another rule I place in my sessions is vocal confirmation. I need to make sure that you understand. This is a place you can speak freely.”
“I understand.” Ari replied meekly. “What if I don’t want to talk at all.” She challenged, somewhat shyly.
“That’s okay, too.” Leah nodded. “I have lots of books you can read, and some meditation tapes. Steve has told me that I can talk to you about some of his sessions, if it helps. Sometimes, he doesn’t talk at all. Sometimes, people just need a peaceful space to think.” Leah smiled. “Since this is our first session, I want to start with a small evaluation. It will help me know where you’re at, so I can make a recovery plan tailored to you.” She presented a clipboard with a piece of paper clipped to it and a pencil. Ari hesitantly took the clipboard and surveyed the paper, chewing on her lip.
The form consisted of several neat boxes. In the larger ones were statements, which Ari was supposed to rank from 0-3, 0 being not at all and 3 being nearly every day. She read through the statements, taking her time to contemplate them.
Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems? (circle only one number per line)
- Little interest or pleasure in doing things
Ari circled the number three.
- Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
That one was only a one. With Steve and Bucky surrounding her, she no longer had issues falling asleep.
- Feeling tired or having little energy
She circled the three, though some of that was probably due to the fact that she was still recovering from severe dehydration and starvation.
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Feeling bad about yourself-or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down
She boldly circled the three on this one, pressing the pencil harshly into the paper and nearly ripping a hole in it.
- Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television
That one only got a one, she’d read through her entire book in a day and a half with no problems, and the three of them had watched a movie just the night before.
- Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed. Or the opposite-being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual.
She contemplated that one before hesitantly circling the number two, more than half the days.
- Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way
She hurriedly circled the zero. The thoughts hadn’t even crossed her mind.
- Feeling nervous, anxious or on edge
That one got another bold three.
- Not being able to stop or control worrying
Another bold three.
- Feeling unproductive at work or other daily activities
She circled the one.
- Having trouble focusing on achieving your goals
She looked up to Leah at this one and cleared her throat.
“I don’t have any goals right now, so what do I do for this one?” She asked nervously. Leah smiled.
“You can circle the zero for now. That’s what we can start with, setting you goals so you have something to work towards.” Leah replied. Ari nodded and did as she was told before handing the form back to Leah. The woman turned and quickly typed the numbers into some computer program before filing the paper away and turning back to Ari with a soft smile. “Okay. Did you have any other questions about the form?” Leah asked. Ari shook her head, before remembering that Leah requested vocal answers.
“No.” She spoke.
“So, let’s work on setting some goals for you.” Leah smiled and leaned back in her desk chair. “What’s something you want to do?”
“Um…I’d like to be able to be alone in the dark.” Ari replied. Leah’s smile didn’t change as she nodded her head. “But I get really scared. It brings me back to the room I was kept. I don’t like it.”
“Okay. So maybe we can make that a long-term goal and set smaller, short term goals to work up to it. How does that sound?” Leah suggested.
“Okay, that sounds good.” Ari nodded. “I just…don’t know how.” She admitted nervously, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth.
“That’s okay. That’s what I’m here for.” Leah replied easily. “Let’s start with something small, okay? Something that we know you can do.” She urged. Ari licked her lips and cast her eyes to the ceiling thoughtfully.
“I think I’d like to try going outside.” She hadn’t been out since she’d escaped from the warehouse, nearly dead.
“That’s a great one, Arianna.” Leah nodded enthusiastically. “Let’s set that as your goal for the next session. How does it make you feel when you think about going outside?” Leah asked, waiting patiently for Ari to gather her thoughts against the pounding that had started in her chest.
“Really nervous.” She admitted meekly.
“That’s okay. Can you tell me why?” Leah asked.
“Um, I just…every time I think about it, all I can think about is that there may be more, and they’re watching me, and I’ll get taken from Bucky and Steve again.” She admitted, knowing that she had to be fully honest with Leah in order for this to work.
“Does it scare you that you could be taken, or does it scare you that you wouldn’t be with Steve and Bucky?” Leah asked, picking to the heart of the problem delicately.
“I think both.” Ari replied unsurely. “I don’t want to go back to those people, but the thought of being separated from Bucky and Steve makes me more nervous than that I think.” She admitted.
“It sounds like you might have a little bit of separation anxiety from Steve and Bucky, and some paranoia.” Leah informed her.
“Separation anxiety?” Ari asked.
“Yes. Separation anxiety is what happens when we start to feel anxious, nervous, or scared, when we’re away from certain people or things. It’s fairly common in situations like yours. You equate Steve and Bucky with safety and being away from that causes you to feel that anxiety, the tightening in your chest, when it gets hard to breathe.” Leah explained. Ari nodded in rapt attention, drinking in everything Leah was saying.
“I think…” She started slowly. “I think that’s what happened the other night, at the apartment. They weren’t back and everything got dark and then I was in that room again.” Ari explained.
“But it went away when they came back?” Leah asked.
“Uh, yes.” Ari nodded in response.
“So, what if Bucky and Steve went outside with you? You wouldn’t even have to leave the tower grounds, maybe just go sit outside with them for a bit?” Leah suggested. Ari had to admit, it did sound nice.
“Yeah, I think that sounds good.” Ari nodded, allowing a smile to show on her face.
“Great!” Leah chirped happily. “It looks like our time is up.” She glanced at the clock as Ari’s face screwed up in confusion.
“It’s already been an hour?” She asked wondrously. Leah chuckled and nodded at her, blond hair bouncing as she did so. “Wow. That wasn’t so bad.” She stated. Leah laughed at this, beaming at the girl.
“I’m glad to hear that. Let’s set another appointment for three days from today. That would be Thursday. Does the same time, two pm, work for you?” Leah asked, scrolling through her schedule on her computer.
“Yeah.” Ari replied with a solid nod.
“Great. I’ll see you then. I can’t wait to hear about outside.” Leah said, but there was no patronizing in her face or tone.
“Thank you, Leah.” Ari thanked softly before stepping out of the office. Steve and Bucky were sitting in the waiting room, but both jumped to their feet when she approached them.
“How’d it go, doll?” Bucky asked, almost nervously.
“It went…good. I feel really good.” Ari replied, nodding. She felt lighter than she had since she’d returned, and it was nice.
“Great.” Bucky sighed in relief, drawing her into a hug. She giggled as he tickled her slightly and shoved him away.
“Get off me, you oaf.” She rolled her eyes playfully. “Um…” She suddenly seemed to shrink in front of them.
“What’s up, sweetheart?” Steve asked gently.
“Leah and I set a goal for my next session. I’m supposed to go outside. Would you go with me? I’m…scared.” She admitted.
“We’d be honored, doll.” Bucky nodded, beaming at her.
“How about tomorrow? We can get some coffee from the café in the lobby and sit out front.” Steve suggested knowingly. He’d had the same goal when he’d first started seeing Leah, right after being thawed, and that’s exactly what he had done.
“That actually sounds super nice.” Ari nodded.
“Are you ready to go home?” Bucky asked, tossing an arm over her shoulders. She nodded, a new bounce to her step, and the three of them walked in tandem to the elevator. Friday immediately took the elevator to their floor and they stepped into the hallway.
“Little lady!” Sam was standing outside of their door, hand poised to knock, but he opened his palm in a wave when he saw them.
“Sam!” Ari squealed, ripping herself from Bucky’s arms and hurrying towards Sam. He accepted her embrace easily. “I just got out of my first therapy session and I feel really good.” She beamed up at him. He smiled gently back at her.
“I’m glad, Arianna.” He replied softly.
“What do you want, birdman?” Bucky grumbled good naturedly, nudging the man’s shoulder with his as he scanned his retinas and the locks on the door clicked open.
“I wanted to bring this to Arianna.” He held out a paper bag. “It’s my momma’s famous chicken soup. Best comfort food on God’s green Earth.” She took the proffered bag and skipped in after Bucky and Steve. Sam followed, closing the door behind him.
“Thank you, Sam. That’s very thoughtful.” She grinned.
Steve knew that one therapy session wasn’t going to change everything, and Ari wasn’t going to magically get better overnight. But this was the happiest he’d seen her since she’d awoken, and it made his heart do a little dance in his chest.
“Good job, convincing her to see Leah.” Steve turned, pressing a sweet kiss to Bucky’s lips. The dark-haired man smiled into the kiss.
“And that’s my cue to leave.” Sam snarked from behind them, patting Steve on the shoulder as he exited the apartment.
“Guys…what’s this?” Ari asked in a choked voice that immediately had the two of them turning to her, panic shooting Steve’s pulse rocketing. She was holding the repaired teapot delicately in her hands.
“It’s your teapot. Do you like it?” Bucky asked.
“It’s…beautiful.” She sniffled, peering at the gold inlaid in the areas it had shattered. “How’d you do it?”
“It was Steve’s idea.” Bucky glanced over at his boyfriend lovingly. “We sent it to a pottery shop, and they did it. It’s called Kintsugi. It’s a traditional Japanese method of repairing broken pottery. The idea is to accentuate the breaks and fractures instead of trying to hide them. Kind of like a celebration of the things that make it unique.” He explained.
“It’s supposed to prove that just because something is a little broken doesn’t mean it isn’t still beautiful.” Steve murmured shyly. Ari had a sudden feeling that he wasn’t exactly talking about the teapot anymore. Ari carefully set the teapot down, pushing it away from the edge of the counter, and launched herself at Steve. The blonde caught her, startled, as she wound her arms around his trim waist and squeezed him tightly.
“Thank you so much.”