Outtake Part Two

Bashir had noticed that the illnesses and injuries to which he was called were beginning to repeat themselves. It wasn't multiple people developing the same illness, but the same person calling him again for the same symptoms, often before he had fully recovered the first time. Yet to everyone except Bashir, it was as if the first time had never happened. The cases came in varying orders, and the same one might occur at different times of day, but they always repeated.

~ Chapter 18: Endless Cycle

Ben pulled the doctor's carriage to a stop in front of the livery stable, and Bashir got out before his slave had a chance to open the door for him. In the stableyard, the big slave owned by the stable's proprietor was just helping his master's son to mount. Bashir winced as the white man flicked his riding crop across the slave's bare shoulders before laughing carelessly and riding off.

"Are you all right?" he questioned, taking a step forward.

"Yes, massa," the slave replied tonelessly, and seeing no blood, Bashir took him at his word.

"Wha's that?" Ben questioned, cocking his head at a sound from inside the barn as he led the horses toward it.

"Jus' a kitten," Humphrey dismissed, reaching for the reins. "Here, I'll take yoh horses for ya."

The whimper came again, and Bashir's eyes narrowed. "That was no kitten!" he hissed, pushing past Humphrey and running into the stable. "Come on, Ben!"

As Bashir quickly found the injured child and dropped to his knees beside him, Ben's eye fell on the blood-smeared pitchfork, and he frowned in puzzlement. "But Humphrey said you saved Cletus before…"

"Ben!" Bashir hissed. Startled, Ben's eyes met his for a moment, and he drew his finger sharply across his throat. I'll explain later, he mouthed, just as Humphrey appeared behind Ben.

"That don' look like no kitten to me," Ben pointed out to the other slave. "If you knew he was hurt, why didn't you tell the doctuh?"

Humphrey blinked. "He's black," he protested, as if that explained everything.

"That don' matter," Ben insisted. "If he needs a doctuh, Massa Bashir don' care if he's orange with purple polka dots."

Bashir looked up, startled that Ben should have chosen the same example he did. But then, he reflected, that alien he treated on the station had had rather memorable coloring.

"Massa won't pay him for it," Humphrey said doubtfully.

"He don' care 'bout that, either," Ben assured him, watching as Bashir tenderly lifted the child onto the hay bales.

He treated the child's foot with gentle care, and then had Ben carry him to the shack where he lived with his parents. When they had taken their leave of Leanthy, they returned to their room in the boardinghouse, and as the door shut behind them in privacy, Bashir turned to his slave. "You had a question, Ben?"

"Yes, suh," he admitted. "When I first met Humphrey, he tol' me what a good massa you was, an' that you helped Cletus after he ran a pitchfork through his foot."

"And you're wondering why it seems he remembers none of that, and the same thing happened again," Bashir finished.

"Yes, suh."

"It's because we're trapped in a holoprogram," Bashir explained. "With a limited number of scenarios that can happen, I suppose they're bound to start repeating themselves."

"Don' it seem kinda useless treating that boy, if you know it's jus' gon' happen again?"

"Yes," Bashir admitted. "Though I've treated real patients knowing they were quite likely to injure themselves the exact same way again in the near future… To turn my back on that kind of suffering — even knowing it's not real and will happen again no matter what I do — would kill something inside me, Ben. It would make me less a man; as much a monster as that man who could talk about drowning children like kittens."

oOo

"I have to check on Cletus' foot before we drive out to the Honeymead plantation," Bashir told Ben as he dressed the next day.

"I c'n hitch up while you do," Ben suggested.

"No!" Bashir said sharply, then at the startled look of hurt that flashed into Ben's eyes, immediately tempered his voice. "I mean, I'd rather you stay with me."

"Whatever you say, Massa," Ben said dully, and Bashir wished he could apologize, could explain the fear that had sharpened his voice.

Since noticing how events had begun to repeat themselves, he had started to be paranoid about letting Ben out of his sight around other people, afraid that the scene where he was found by slave traders would reenact itself, and Bashir's search for him would begin all over again. Aside from any injuries to Ben, he feared he didn't have enough money to purchase the slave a second time — though in worrying over it in the dead of the night he had reasoned it would not be morally wrong to rob holograms of holographic money in order to help a real human being. But even if he could pull off a bank robbery, it would not prevent Ben from being further hurt in the meantime.

He dared not tell Ben of his fears, not wanting to destroy the small sense of safety his presence offered. And without explanation, he couldn't even apologize for the unnecessary harshness of his voice that had made Ben feel himself even more a slave. He settled for gently squeezing the man's shoulder as he passed, hoping the human touch would convey what he dared not try to express in words.

oOo

Leanthy eyed Bashir with suspicion when he and Ben arrived at the little shack. "Don' know what you think you needed to come back here for," she protested. "Us darkies can take care of ourselves without a white man's help."

Bashir didn't bother to respond, crossing to the pallet where Cletus lay whimpering softly as he shifted restlessly on the pillow. "He's feverish," Bashir accused, resting a hand for a moment on the boy's forehead, "so don't tell me he doesn't need a doctor."

"It hurts, Massa!" Cletus whimpered.

"I'm sure it does, buddy," Bashir said soothingly. "But you're going to be all right."

"Jake," Ben whispered brokenly, looking at the boy's pain-filled face.

Bashir's eyes shadowed, understanding that Cletus must remind Ben of his son. "Miles will find him, Ben," he said softly. "We'll get him back for you, I promise. His son," he explained to Leanthy. "He was sold before I bought Ben; I have my agent looking for him."

"Don't know why you bother," Leanthy remarked sourly.

"Because no family should be split apart," Bashir said firmly, "no matter what the color of their skin."

He knelt beside the pallet, opening his bag on the floor next to him. "Let me just listen to your heart a minute," he murmured, pressing his stethoscope to the boy's thin chest.

"What good you think that gon' do?" Leanthy taunted scornfully.

Bashir glanced briefly back at her, but didn't respond. "Good," he said finally. "No sign of shock, anyway, so let's take a look at that foot, shall we?"

Cletus whimpered as Bashir unwound the bandage, feebly attempting to pull his foot away. "Easy," Bashir soothed. "I know it hurts, but I have to see how bad the infection is." As the last fold of bandage fell away, Cletus' foot emerged swollen and hot to the touch. The boy's dark skin hid any redness, but as Bashir gently turned it to view the paler sole, he saw the tell-tale red streaks of infection. Thankfully, they barely reached to the heel; there was still a chance of saving the foot if he could get it cleaned out. He wondered briefly if his makeshift swab had missed some contaminated particle, or if the whiskey hadn't been a strong enough disinfectant — or even if it was written into the program that Cletus' foot would become infected, and nothing he did could possibly have made a difference.

"Ma'am…Leanthy," he caught himself, looking up toward her, "I'm going to have to operate and clean this out again."

"I cain't stop you, Massa," Leanthy said scathingly.

"He's strong enough to put him under this time, so he won't feel anything," Bashir assured her. "Ben, I'll need you to monitor his vitals while I work."

"Me, suh?" Ben asked blankly.

Bashir eyed him searchingly for a moment. Even if his subservience was less an act than the doctor would prefer to believe, he had received a Star Fleet officer's first aid training; as dreamlike as that world must seem to him now, he couldn't have forgotten all of it.

"Yes," Bashir said briefly. "Just watch his pulse and breathing, and let me know of any change; you'll do fine. Leanthy, I need some strong lye soap and hot water."

Leanthy gestured with her chin without speaking, her resentment obvious. She would hate him simply for being a white man, he knew, even if he saved Cletus' life.

Getting up, he crossed to scrub his hands with the harsh soap. He had washed up with whiskey when nothing else was available, but preferred not to be left smelling like a drunk the rest of the day.

Once the boy was sleeping deeply, Bashir made an incision, pus welling out as he enlarged the wound in the top of Cletus' foot. He wiped it away, then swabbed deeply into the cavity to get all the infection.

He stitched the incision closed, but left the wound in the sole open to drain.

Leanthy had remained disapprovingly silent throughout the operation, but now she spoke. "I gots some salve that's good for wounds, if you ain't too proud to take it from a darky."

The first time he played this scene, Bashir had questioned her closely about what was in it. Now, he merely smiled his thanks as he accepted, anointing the wound with the thick salve before once more bandaging it.

"He's wakin' up, suh," Ben said quietly.

"Good," Bashir approved, checking Cletus' pulse. "Once he's conscious I can give him a dose for the pain, and then I'll be on my way."

Leanthy snorted softly.

"And out of your hair," Bashir added drily. "But I'll be back this evening to check on him."

oOo

Humphrey was watching anxiously for Dr Bashir when he and Ben arrived at the livery stable. "Massa Doctuh, Cletus is bad sick."

"I've seen him, Humphrey," Bashir assured him, marveling at the difference between Humphrey and Leanthy. Humphrey was amazed that a white man could be kind, but accepted it once he was convinced of it. Leanthy had been made bitter by years of slavery; she hated all white men, but believed herself that it was proper and right for them to be her masters.

As he looked at Humphrey now, a suspicion began to grow in his mind that hadn't occurred to him before. "Humphrey…Cletus isn't really your son, is he?"

"No, suh," Humphrey admitted in a low voice.

"It was a white man, wasn't it?"

"Yes, suh…but he weren't no man."

"Monty?" Bashir guessed.

"Yes, suh."

Bashir shook his head in disgust. "He can't have been older than fifteen!"

"Yes, suh."

"Does he — know Cletus is his?"

"Yes, suh," Humphrey repeated in the same dull tone. "That's why he like tormentin' him so much. But I claim 'im as mine, an' I love him like my own son. He gon' be all right, massa doctuh?"

Bashir forced a smile, disgusted at Monty's behavior. "Yes," he promised. "I cleaned out the infection; he'll be fine." He spoke with more assurance now than the first time he had treated Cletus for this infection, trusting that the scenario would play itself out as it had done before, and Cletus would indeed be fine.

THE END

A/N: At first I was going to do both parts the first time they happened, and then (once it occurred to me that this wouldn't likely be the only doctor part that only happened once…), I thought of doing them both the second time they happened. Then I thought of doing both, and I like how it emphasized the repetition! Barbie

I proofread all my stories at least once before posting, but if you see any mistakes I might have missed, please let me know!

Please note that I have internet access only once a week, and may not have time to respond to all reviews/messages. If you have questions regarding my Deep Space Nine alternate history, check my profile first to see if they're answered there. Thanks for your understanding! Barbie