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Eye of the Beholder
by LJC

"What do you mean, a date?" Julia stared at Alonzo as if he'd lost his mind.

"Dinner, dancing, the whole package, I've been saving this program for just such an occasion." He grinned. She smiled, she couldn't help it, he looked like such a little kid when he smiled. They were in her lab inside the geodome, which she still thoughts of as Mary's greenhouse, and she was trying to test a box of roots and leaves to see if they were edible, food stores were getting low and she'd been working for two hours straight with little progress. She glanced back down at her glove, tapping in commands absently.

"I don't know... I mean, I have so much work to do, Danzinger brought that batch of vegetation I've got to test, and camp physicals to record—" she stopped when he put his hand over her mouth. Her eyebrows shot up, but she stopped talking.

"I'm sure Eden Project can survive without you for three hours, querida." He slipped the diagnostic glove off her hand, and her protests were muffled beneath his hand. Her could feel her frown beneath his fingers, but he continued to smile, crouching down next to her and bringing his face within centimetres of hers. Despite herself, she giggled, and he removed his hand, kissing her lightly.

"A date, huh?" Julia sighed, resting her forehead against his.

"No pressure. Just a date. An honest to God date."

"Flyboy, sometimes I think you're insane."

"Pick you up at seven, Doc!" Alonzo grinned, and then headed off to his own tent to program what he was going to wear, leaving Julia banging her head softly against the table.

"What have I gotten myself into?"

Julia slipped on her gear, peering around the clearing to make sure she was alone. She keyed up the program Alonzo had flagged, and read the parameters, trying to figure out what to wear. She felt silly, standing there in her wrinkled sweater and ripped and mended pants trying on virtual dresses, though she remembered the catch phrase that had become popular when vr programs had hit the market back on the stations: No one ever has a bad hair day in VR.

"Whatcha doing?" True Danzinger's voice appeared out of nowhere as Julia was spinning around, seeing a floral print skirt twirl in her minds eye. She yanked off the gear, feeling the heat rushing into her cheeks as she found the ten year old girl standing before her.

"Promise not to laugh?" Julia crouched down to meet True's eyes, and the girl nodded. "I'm going on a date."

"With Alonzo?"

"Yep. I'm trying to find just the right dress. Silly, huh?"

"Kinda," True giggled. "I like the one you wore to Bess's wedding."


"Yeah, but you can't wear that one, because Alonzo's seen it already." True slipped on her gear as Julia stifled a laugh.

"Oh yeah? Who told you that?"

"Everybody knows that. You can't wear the same dress twice," she held her head up high, grinning. "Besides, in vr you never have to wear the same thing twice. Want help?"

"Sure, a little virtual shopping never hurt anyone," Julia slipped on her gear, and they two of them browsed through the files, trying to find just the right dress.

Julia fidgeted as she waited for Alonzo in her tent. She couldn't believe how nervous she felt, it was silly. They had been doctor and patient, best friends, and now lovers. Why was she nervous of a silly little thing like a date?

Maybe because she hadn't gone on a real date in 4 years, 26 if you counted travel time.

"I'm losing my mind," she whispered to herself, running her fingers through her long dark blonde hair, unknotting the tangles absently. She reached for her brush, and was poised in the act of running it through her hair when the pilot stuck his head in the flap.

"Are you decent?"

"Would you want me if I wasn't?" Julia quipped, and he grinned.

"Most definitely," he kissed her ear. "You all set?"

"Ready as I'll ever be. Tell me, this dinner, what will we actually be eating?"

"Protein packs, but I swear, it'll be just like fish in white wine sauce with new potatoes. You do like fish?" he frowned, suddenly worried, and she laughed.

"Sounds delicious, Mr. Solace."

"Then shall we, Ms. Heller?" he offered his arm, and she slipped her arm in his.

"We shall."

"True-girl!" Danzinger bellowed as the ten year old came bounding into the dome, and caught her around the waist, throwing her over his shoulder like a potato sack. "Where've you been? I've been looking all over camp. I thought Yale was teaching you and Uly history?"

"We finished early, and I was with Julia."

"Next time, tell me."

"Okay Dad," True sighed dramatically, and rolled her eyes, though upside down and backwards, her intended audience only observed the dramatic sigh part.

Danzinger set her on her feet, recognising that tone. He hated it when his daughter humoured him. "What were you up to?"

"Julia has a date." True grinned, and Danzinger's eyebrows crept towards his hairline.

"A date, huh? She and Solace are nuts, you know that?"

"Well, I think it's romantic," Bess entered the main room of the dome, stripping off her gloves and pouring a cup of what passed for coffee as far as the Eden Advance was concerned, real beans being almost extinct, and any seeds they might have to plant here on G889 were either locked up in some sealed cargo pod hundreds of klicks away, or long munched by some unsuspecting Grendler.

"Romantic," Danzinger repeated, sarcastically, and True rolled her eyes again. Bess giggled.

"Yeah. Romantic. When you're as in love as those two are, you find yourself doing stuff like that. Dates, long walks, arguing over little things just so you can make up, you know."

"No, I do not know," Danzinger snapped, and immediately regretted it when Bess favoured him with one of those I know more than you think I do little smiles.

"Didn't you and Mom go on dates?" True crawled into his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck, and he tipped his head back, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling.

"True, your mom and I were lucky to be working in the same sector together, we didn't have time for long walks and candlelight dinners."

"Bet you wish you did," True surmised, and he rested his forehead against hers.

"You're a nosy kid."

"I know." She scrambled down, and ran off to find Yale and Uly. John watched her go, swallowing hard.

"Julia had better have those samples done," he muttered, and Bess slid into the chair opposite him.

"I bet you're a closet romantic, John Danzinger." She speculated, grinning. "And I bet there were a lot of nice dinners with the lights turned low, and Stations Radio playing in the background."

"Maybe in your quarters, dirt-walker," somehow he made the Stations epithet for the last vestiges of humanity raised on their mother-world an endearment rather than the curse it had become, and Bess's grin widened, "but not in mine."

Once again inspecting the clearing outside of camp, where the ground was hard, but at least dry and free from the ever present snow which had blanketed the camp for week, Alonzo too a deep breath and turned on his gear. A table and two collapsing chairs were set up, wobbling only a little on the frozen ground when Julia tested it with her finger. She couldn't help but smile.

"Here we go." He keyed the program and suddenly G889 was forgotten, and he straightened the black tie around his neck, pulling his tuxedo cuffs a fraction of an inch lower, the gold cufflinks sparkling in the candlelight.

He looked up to see Julia standing in the door of the restaurant, her hair held back with combs and falling in soft waves to her shoulders, which were laid bare by the red silk dress. He whistled.

"You like?" she asked, shyly, as he held her chair out for her. "True helped me pick it out."

"Who would have thought the munchkin would have unfailing fashion sense?" Alonzo fell into her blue eyes, artfully arranged holographic red silk forgotten for a moment as he saw a delicate blush rise in her cheeks at his unflagging attention.

A waiter appeared, looking starched and French, as set two glasses of fine wine before them, and Alonzo raised his glass in a toast. "To our first, and hopefully not last, real date."

Julia sipped her wine (which didn't taste the slightest bit like the brackish melted snow it highly resembled outside VR) and smiled, playing with the silverware. A dark haired hologram took the stage, and began to sing a slow, sexy two hundred year old jazz melody.

"While we wait for our dinner, would you care to dance?"

"I would be delighted," Julia took the hand he offered, setting her napkin down on the table, the white line feeling amazingly real between her fingers. Amazing what they could do with VR technology these days she thought absently as they swayed to the music.

"You look beautiful," Alonzo breathed as they danced, feeling her cheek against his, her breath warm on his cheek.

She said nothing, and he pulled back, frowning a little.

"What, don't you think I mean it?"

"No... it's just... I'm not. Bess, and Devon—," She shrugged, and he hugged her close to him, still frowning.

"Querida, you are the most beautiful woman on this planet," he whispered in her ear "and you don't know how to take a compliment."

"No, I was... I'm not beautiful, I'm just average. That way I can relate to patients better. Women are threatened by beautiful doctors, and male patients..."

"Are tempted to fall in love? Like me?" He pulled back to watch her face.

"They are less likely to take a beautiful woman seriously, so I was specifically designed to be average."

Alonzo frowned, and though the music hadn't finished, he led them back to their table. "Who told you that nonsense?"

"My mother."

"Some mother, who destroys her kid's self-confidence like that."

"No, it wasn't like that. My mother wanted me to be the best doctor possible."

"You mean the Council wanted you to be the best doctor. But what about the woman, did the council, or your mother ever think of that when the messed with your genes and your head? That's a terrible thing to do to a little girl." Alonzo shook his head. He just couldn't imagine what it must have been like for her, growing up knowing that she had been created not out of love, but to fulfil a purpose, to just be a Doctor. The Doctor. Nothing beyond that, and the sad thing was, she really believed the lies that they had told her. She didn't understand that he was alive because of her, not her genes, that half the camp at one time or another had put their lives in her hands not because of her chromosomes, but because they trusted her, and believed in her, even when she did not.

"Maybe. I don't know. It was all I knew, I didn't know any different. Medicine was my life, and it came so easily to me..."

"But not to others?"

"No, they always had to work harder. There weren't many students genetically skewed towards medicine on the Stations when was growing up."

"So they always had to work harder?"

"Yes. I felt terrible, I mean, it wasn't their fault. And the harder I worked, the worse they felt."

"And what about what you felt?"

"I..." she trailed off, looking lost. "Alonzo, all I'm doing is stating facts. I don't have a problem with the truth, and the truth is, I was lucky to have the advantages I did."

"You were the Council's tool."

"I know that. And I hate them for it, but without them, I wouldn't exist. I wouldn't be who I am. And I'm flattered that you think I'm beautiful."

"But you don't believe me."

"No," she laughed. It was just beyond what she could ever have imagined for herself, this man looking at her like she was the sun, the moon and the stars. It made her uncomfortable, because in the back of her mind she would always hear her mother, Reilly, her teachers reminding her that she owed all that she had to them.

Nothing was her own.

Except Alonzo. And her life now on G889, that was her own, had to be her own, she had made a choice.

"What was your mother like?" he asked, remember how disturbed she had been by the dreams recently, when they all had dreamed of their mothers.

"Strong. Powerful. The Council was her world, I don't know if there was much left over for being a mother. Jennifer Heller had an agenda. I guess I was a part of it, I don't know. When I was little, I would ask her about my father. She just said he was a good man, one of the Council's brightest doctors. He died on the Stations before I was born, I never knew him."

"Did she love him?"

"I don't know. They never had a marriage contract, that much I know. It was more... I think they had me to see what kind of genes they could combine. That sounds petty, but I always wondered. Wondered if she ever felt... if she ever had been in love."

"She never told you?"

"Oh no. No, love wasn't a common topic of conversation. Once I got to med school, we didn't talk much." she played with the silver rings on her right hand, twisting the one around her thumb back and forth. "I thought I was in love, once."

Alonzo stayed silent, watching her relive the memories. "It was when I was a doing my residency on the Stations, he told me... His name was Paul. He told me he loved me, but all he really wanted was to say he had the partnership of the best doctor in the sector, but that was all. When we broke it off he said wanted to see if there was anything more than just the Doctor. And he didn't find anything."

"He must not have been looking very hard." He caught her slim fingers in his own, and raised them to his lips, caressing her knuckles with a light kiss. She smiled sadly.

"No, he was right. There was nothing else, then."

"And now?"

"And now, I have you," she squeezed his hand. "You don't know what that means to me, Alonzo. To have someone who thinks of me as more than just a robot, an automaton who can spout textbook chapters and wear the glove."

The waiter appeared with two steaming plates, but Julia suddenly didn't feel very hungry. She pushed her potatoes around on her plate.

"Penny?" He said, and she blinked. "Old Earth saying, penny for your thoughts?"

"Are you still thinking New Pacifica might be a nice place to 'hang out for a while?'"

"Yeah. Maybe I've been a flyboy too long, y'know? I probably have great-great nephews and nieces back on the Stations by now, maybe it's time to start my own family."

"Hold on there, Flyboy, this is a little serious for a first date, don't you think?" Julia laughed nervously, but he caught her hand again, squeezing it and smiling.

"Hey, it's something to think about."

"I don't know about having kids. I never thought about it. That's a lie, I used to think about it, back when I was in med school. The Council suggested I not discount the idea of passing on my gifts..."

"Forget your gifts, how about a little girl with your blue eyes?" he teased, leaning across the table and kissing her lightly. She closed her eyes, sighing. Feeling bolder, Alonzo kissed her jaw, her cheekbone, and captured a blonde curl, twisting it around his finger. "Maybe a little boy with your eyelashes," he kissed just below her eye, so as not to dislodge the gear he knew he couldn't see thanks to the magic of technology.

"Hey, your eyes aren't too bad either, flyboy," she murmured, threading her fingers in his dark hair, and staring into his smiling dark eyes.

He thought back to the day when he had thought he lost her forever, when they had voted to leave her behind. He had spent that entire night haunted by that decision. He had been blinded by anger, anger that she had come to him, and then rejected him, when he voted. But finally he had realised that it wasn't her fault. To save Uly from Reilly, she had experimented on herself, and it had gone terribly, terribly awry. Remembered her strapped to her bed as Devon and Yale questioned her, remembered her choking sobs as he had walked out of the tent. Remembered her eyes as he pulled her out of the bushes, the lost little girl look, the fear and pain in her eyes as she had fallen into his arms and wept. He couldn't bear to think of her as a child, with that same empty, lost look.

They had sat that night by the fire, and she had told him, in fits and starts, between tears and anger, how she had tried so hard to chose between loyalty to those who had given her life, and those who had taught her that her life was her own. And then they had abandoned her, without even asking why. Without knowing what she had sacrificed for them, how pressured she had been to reveal their location, and how she had done her best to protect them from her "benefactor".

She had told him about the injections, how she couldn't bear to see Uly torn from a mother who loved him, cherished him as her mother had never valued her. How jealous she had been of the little boy, seeing Devon's unconditional, fierce love for the boy. A love she had never known, until him. That was when he had fallen that last few inches in love with her, the immeasurable space between infatuation and attraction into lasting love. At least, he prayed it would last.

When she had stood atop that ridge, screaming take me! to try and put herself between him and a ZED's bullet, he had known. When she had stood over him and admitted she couldn't bear the thought of losing him, with tears in her eyes admitting that no one had ever believed in her the way he did... he had known. But he hadn't told her then.

"Te amo, querida," he said softly, and she blinked. He covered her lips with his own, tearing off his gear and hers, and they stood, food forgotten. She almost forgot to breathe. When they finally parted, she smiled.

"What did you say?"

"You know what I said."

"C'mon, tell me!"

"What, they didn't make you learn Spanish in those fancy schools on the Stations?" he teased her, and she tickled the sensitive spot below his ribs until he laughed uncontrollably. "Uncle! Uncle!" He hugged her tight, forcing her arms to her side.

"Spill it, Flyboy!" she growled into his sweater.

"I love you," he whispered, resting his chin on the top of her head, and she laid her cheek against his chest.

"Oh," she said, and then chewed her bottom lip, a slow smile spreading across her face. "I like that." She wrapped her arms around his torso.

"Yeah?" He pulled back from the circle of his arms to watch her face.

"Yeah," she confirmed, and he kissed her soundly. Author's note: This story is dedicated to Carol Flint, whose scripts have given us such a wonderful relationship to watch grow and evolve. I can only hope I do it justice.


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