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Author's Note: This is a coda to "Real Life" that I felt compelled to write (mainly because I just could not get it out of my head after the ep aired). Amy Hull is a perfect friend who lets me make her read stuff, and corrects my grammar and writes really good notes when I remember to give her hard copy.
Needing the Lie
The mess hall wasn't crowded. Halfway into Beta shift, only a few dozen crew clustered around the windows nursing drinks, late lunches, and early dinners. Among them, Voyager's Chief Engineer was deeply engrossed in a cup of the closest Neelix could get to raktajino and the last chapter of "Women Warriors At the River of Blood."
Rorg growled in both pain and pleasure as her teeth sank into his shoulder. The bruises were darkening on his cheek as M'nea marked him as her own, the taste of his blood in her mouth as she wrapped her hands around his throat--
B'Elanna blinked as a shadow passed over the padd she was reading, and she smiled up into Tom Paris' face. Her smile faded when she saw the serious cast of his features. Her first thought was that the Doctor had found something wrong after they had beamed him back from the wake of the distortion. "What's wrong? Are you--"
"I'm fine." He shook his head, not the wisest course of action, considering he had just been thrown about in the Cochrane, without enough plasma collected to put them off rations for more than a week. But what concerned him now had nothing to do with the spatial distortion he had only narrowly escaped. The spasm of headache passed quickly, and he sought to assure her. "The Doc gave me a clean bill of health, after submitting me to quite the lecture on reckless behaviour." He attempted a half-smile, but it didn't really take. "I think there's something you should know."
He sat in the empty seat beside her, scrubbing his face with his hands. "It's about his family."
She sat, stock still and paler with every passing second as he relayed the conversation he'd had with the emergency medical programme before being discharged from the sickbay.
"I had no idea," she said woodenly, staring down at the tabletop.
"I figured as much," Tom gave her hand a squeeze."Hey, I know you'd never do anything like that on purpose--"
Her head snapped up, colour coming to her cheeks. "I just wanted to give him a dose of reality--not tragedy."
"We don't know that--yet."
"But you said--"
"I don't know how to programme turned out. But in case... in case, I wanted you to be prepared."
"I should talk to him."
"Are you sure?"
She nodded, a muscle twitching in her jaw. "It's my fault."
"B'Elanna, you told me yourself it was a random set of algorithms--"
"If I had just left him to his fantasy, then none of this would have happened." She pushed away from the table, scowling, and Tom looked up at her, concern clearly written across his features.
"It's still not your fault. All you were trying to do was help."
"Yeah. Help." She picked up her padd, still frowning.
Back in her quarters, B'Elanna sat on the bed, padd in hand, still frowning. She had completely lost interest in Rorg and M'nea, the novel supplanted by her modifications to the Doctor's family programme displayed on the tiny screen. What she had told Tom was only half-true... She had purposely modified the programme so that it was more likely to chose a negative outcome each time the Doctor made a decision, never imagining anything like this would be the result. She thought the worst he'd have to deal with would be sibling squabbling, and maybe a few burnt dinners and dirty dishes. She would have never... not if she'd known.
The Doctor's family had made B'Elanna ill. That was the whole, unvarnished truth of it. No one's family was smiles all the time, never an argument, never a tear. No one's parents were perfect, and no one's children were perfect. And Charlene! That wasn't a mother, that was a fantasy.
Her fantasy, she thought miserably.
The rest of the whole, unvarnished truth--the part that made her feel ashamed and guilty and settled in the pit of her stomach like a lead weight--was that B'Elanna had dreamt of a family like the Doctor's programme as a child.
She had really believed her daddy was the best daddy in the whole universe. And she had thought her mother thought so too. Then he had left, and nothing was the same any longer. During the day, she would remember not to mention him, because of the look that would come over her mother's face--a dark, hollow look that spoke as much of sorrow as anger. But when B'Elanna would wake in the middle of the night, tears wet on her cheeks, calling his name and no one came to comfort her. No one came to hold her hand and tell her it would all be all right someday...
Klingons did not tell their children such lies. Like Vulcans, they believed the sooner their offspring learned the harsh realities of life, the better off they would be. Humans coddled their young, making them weak...
Except, she was half-human.
She had needed the lie so much...
"Don't," B'Elanna said to herself, the sound of her own voice shockingly loud in the sudden silence. "Just don't."
B'Elanna learned to hate her mother, and everything she hated about herself, she blamed on her klingon half. Now, having seen that half close up and having realised she needed it--that it was just as much a vital a part of who she was--she was actively trying to explore both her human and klingon heritages without prejudice.
But she wasn't quite succeeding. Not by a long shot. The disastrous dinner party had brought all of that home, and more. And it had driven her to destroy something precious. Someone's family.
She moved over to her terminal. "Computer, run Doctor's Family Programme Alpha-Rho on this terminal, full visual and audio, from Stardate 50836.2, 2030 hours."
She sat and watched the programme unfold, the dinner party ending and the scene changed to the next time the doctor had entered. At first, she was amused by the situation--it was so different from the sugary family she had eaten dinner with. But she could feel the Doctor's growing frustration as well, and her smile faded, replaced by a stony frown as the programme went on.
The family meeting--when had anyone ever had a family meeting that hadn't ended in shouting and tears, she wondered--was bad, but not as bad as she feared. Her heart went out to the Doctor as Belle hugged him. He hadn't made a mess of things, she had.
The programme cycled forward into the next afternoon, and at the first sight of the dagger of the kut'luch, she gritted her teeth, knowing what was coming.
Jeffery made her cringe. She had known boys like him--humans infatuated with what they believed to be klingon culture, going on about honour and the way of the warrior without bothering to really learn about life in the Empire. They made her ill, with their posturing and posing, not to mention their atrocious accents. And yet at the same time she knew that she had been his polar opposite, shunning her klingon heritage, trying desperately to fit in among her human classmates.
Her hands balled into fists, nails cutting into her palms as the dread eating at her grew, until her chest was tight and her eyes smarted with unshed tears that didn't fall until all of them were clustered around Belle's hospital bed.
She terminated the programme, glancing at the readout to note that hours had passed and she hadn't moved. Her hands hurt, and she carefully unclenched her fists, her breath coming in ragged gasps. She impatiently whipped the tears from her cheeks, and smacked the table with one hand in frustration.
"I did this to him." Out of jealousy and anger and her emotional baggage, she had done this to the Doctor. And she had no idea how to make it right again.
"But I have to try," she said to the black screen.
B'Elanna closed her eyes, and took a deep breath before entering Sickbay.
The Doctor was with Ensign Parsons, and looked up and met B'Elanna's eyes before his eyes slid away from hers, smile still plastered on his face as he reminded the ensign to continue to drink large quantities of water and rest. The ensign thanked him, slipping off the biobed, past B'Elanna, and out the door.
"Doctor--" B'Elanna began, not quite sure what to say, and he smiled brightly.
"Tom told me--I know about your daughter, and I wanted to tell you how sorry I am."
His smile tightened, and she could see in his eyes the pain that was less than a day old flare up.
"Thank you," he said quietly.
She looked down at the padd in her hands, and then barrelled on. "I rewrote the programme. I adjusted the parameters of the programme and the randomizing element, so if you run it again--"
The Doctor smiled sadly, and shook his head. "No."
"Lieutenant, I appreciate what you've done. But I can't."
B'Elanna frowned, and then started again, shaking her head. "But your daughter... that wasn't fair--"
"No. It wasn't," he agreed. "But I can't just go back and pretend none of it happened. I will simply have to accept the fact that real life is most often not fair."
"No, I mean the programme extrapolated the worst case scenario in each step. I fixed it--"
"You can't fix a family. I know that now. You can only take things as they come and try to make the best of them. What-ifs and should-haves are irrelevant."
B'Elanna stared at her feet, the tightness in her chest returning. The Doctor sighed.
"This isn't just a programme to me--they are--were my family. As odd as this may sound, they were as real to me as you are. It wouldn't be right."
"Of course. You're right." She met his eyes, feeling heat rise in her cheeks. She had treated his family as just another programme, a computer subroutine. They hadn't been real to her. Until recently, she had continued to think of him as simply a set of parameters. But the pain in his eyes was as real to her as that of any flesh and blood being. As was the guilt she felt at being the source of that pain. "I just... I never meant for it to happen the way it did."
"Well. I'm sure you didn't. You were, after all, just trying to help me expand my programme and learn. And I appreciate that, I really do."
She shifted her weight, looking down at the padd still clutched in her fingers. "If you want to talk about it... I'm sure you'd be more comfortable with someone like Kes--"
"Actually, I would like to talk about Belle. I still have all the memories I implanted in my programme, and it would... it would be good to talk about her. If you have time..."
"I'd be honoured."
"Thank you." He smiled at her, and she felt the knots in her chest begin to loosen a little.
The Doctor took a deep breath which caught a little. He tried to mask it by clearing his throat, and B'Elanna tentatively reached out to touch his shoulder, giving it a squeeze and then withdrew her hand. She wanted to tell him it would be all right, someday. She wanted to very much, but the lie stuck in her throat. He seemed to read it in her eyes, however.
And then she knew he wanted to believe the lie.
So did she.
He picked up a still photograph from his desk, tracing the outline of the child's smile. "Belle was a truly amazing child," he began, his voice clear and strong, and B'Elanna listened, offering what comfort she could the only way she knew how. And that seemed to be enough for both of them for the moment..
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