All That's Published Isn't Truth
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, and they don't like me. And, I'm pretty sure, neither does the rest of the Harvest Moon fandom right now. :P
Summary: When Elli's self-improvement kick threatens to drive both of them mad, the doctor finds himself compelled to take his nurse firmly in hand and explain that you can't believe everything you read online.
When Dr. Timothy Neil Trent slipped quietly into his nurse, clerical assistant, and best friend's bedroom in search of a bottle of Advil, only to find a batch of chocolate-chocolate chip cookies he'd given her for the Spring Thanksgiving Festival two weeks ago completely untouched despite her self-confessed sweet tooth and adamant declaration that baked goods could work miracles, he began to feel a faint inkling that something was Not Quite Right.
When, a few days later, he came back from a Wednesday morning hike to find Elli smiling bravely despite the obvious effort it was not to break into phobia-fuelled panic attack as little Stu Greene happily decorated his big sister with worms and beetles of all description, the inkling grew stronger.
When he crept into Elli's room again a week later, to check up on the cookie situation, only to find her favourite books, the fairytales and Brontes and every Jane Austen work known to man, inexplicably gone and replaced by the Kafkas and Sylvia Plaths and postmodern poetry collections that he knew for a fact bored her to tears, he became uncomfortably uncertain that he would discover very soon that his worries were not without basis.
And finally, when he came down one morning to prepare for another day of work, only to find the sweet, cheerful brunette clad in sky-blue and lace that normally occupied the front counter replaced by a sullen young woman, garbed in black velvet with trailing sleeves accompanied by a corset of deep red satin and several heavy silver chains and fishnet gloves, short silky hair unnaturally blue-black, eyes darkly ringed with black liner, his mind screamed at him that it was time to intervene.
But first, hopefully, to discover just what in the nine hells was going on with her lately.
"Elli," he began as congenially as possible, approaching the desk as gingerly as one might approach a pack of wolves, "may I have a word?"
She looked up.
"Oh, good morning, Doctor," she greeted so brightly that for an instant, he relaxed slightly.
If the changes were merely superficial, perhaps he could live with the bizarre outward trappings. As ridiculous as the racoonish eye makeup was.
This hope was short lived, as she gave a small noise of remembering something very important, and then immediately forced her smile into non-existence until her expression was pure snotty indifference as she continued.
"Um, what I mean is, life is a meaningless descent into the void, as futile as death despite the sweet release of the grave, and, um...stop being such a sell-out!"
The doctor, quite justifiably in his opinion, stared for several bewildered moments. Finally...
"Elli, what the hell are you talking about?"
"I'm only telling you the truth you don't want to hear," she said airily. "If I'm too hard-core for you--"
"That's enough, Elli," Tim broke in sternly. "Now, either tell me what on earth this is all about, or I'll send for Popuri to 'turn that frown upside down'."
"You wouldn't," she hissed.
He observed her stonily, arms crossed.
"Fine," she pouted. "I've just been trying to improve some things about myself lately."
The doctor pondered this.
"Which led you to dress like a particularly low-rent Reniassance Faire?"
"I borrowed this from Popuri, actually," she announced importantly. "She said I was welcome to raid her closet if I ever felt the need to Goth out. Did you know that almost all her clothes are red or black, with a little bit of white thrown in when Lillia makes her buy it?"
"I can honestly say, I did not know that," Tim admitted. "But you didn't really tell me why you went to the effort of borrowing Popuri's clothes, and stealing Jeff's oil paints for eye makeup."
"Yes, I did! I just said, it's in the interest of self-improvement. In addition to being disgustingly fat, hideously abusive to Stu, and incredibly snooty, I'm also unbelievably shallow, so I'm looking to develop some depth of character."
"Through the use of bad makeup," Tim surmised slowly. "Does that also explain why you now own a copy of The Bell Jar, The Infinite Jest, and everything Franz Kafka ever wrote before he died and was reincarnated as an insect?"
"I heard those are really deep," she replied, gazing up at him wide-eyed and so serious that he could feel the corners of his mouth twitching with suppressed laughter.
"Fair enough. And I suppose that skipping desserts for the past season, and breakfasts and lunches when I don't all but force-feed you, are your attempt to diet."
"I really need to lose some weight."
"By skipping meals? You know better than that, Elli."
"I also know better than to let myself get into this state," she sighed sadly, attempting to pinch the fat at her waist and failing miserably due to the utter lack of it.
He gazed for a long moment at the tiny former brunette, eyes lingering on arms that narrowly escaped being scrawny, the gentle curve of her waist shown to beautiful advantage in the corset that was apparently good for something after all, and slender legs encased in the same fishnets that composed her gloves.
Alright, so maybe this new look wasn't entirely bad, he admitted silently as his eyes flitted over the swell of small but beautifully shaped breasts beneath that flimsy, clingy material. In fact, he could get used to this; maybe he could convince her to move onto tight leather pants, and—
Focus, man, he chided himself. He was a long way to solving the riddle of his nurse's sudden and nexplicable descent into insanity, and something felt a little wrong about thinking thoughts like this about a girl who might be suffering severe psychological problems.
"So, you're reading incomprehensible books and skipping meals because you think you're shallow."
"I'm not dieting because I'm shallow, I'm dieting because I'm fat," she explained patiently. "Although, I think that makes me a bad person too, because it proves that I don't have the self-control to resist overeating. If I had Ann's metabolism, it would be one thing, but by letting myself gain weight, I'm neglecting every woman's duty to have a perfect body, and making the atmosphere in general uglier by putting my bulgy, disgusting self into it."
The doctor nodded very slowly.
"Ah. And the bit about treating Stu badly? Were his complaints, by any chance, after you made him do his homework?"
"Oh, Stu hasn't complained."
"Then why is there a problem?"
"Because, doctor, yelling at him when he puts a bug on me, just because I'm deathly afraid of bugs, is something that only an uptight, uncaring, abusive spinster aunt would do."
"I see. But I don't think you've answered my real question yet."
"You've told me why you're giving up sweets and skipping meals, letting your little brother run wild, reading books you can't stand, and reinventing your personal style, but you still haven't mentioned where exactly you've gotten the idea that you're fat, abusive, and shallow."
She blushed slightly.
"W-well, you know how, last season, I was borrowing your computer a lot for research?"
He nodded slowly, wondering helplessly if this would ever start to make sense. She continued.
"While I was doing my research, I found this really neat site, with stories about almost everything. It even had stories about Mineral Town! Then I found another site, where a lot of people met on an online bulletin board, like the one at the Supermarket, and they were talking about Mineral Town there, too!"
"And...these people described you as fat, abusive, and shallow?"
"Some of them," she replied sadly. "There was one person, named Rhianwen, who seemed to really like me. Really, really, really like me, in fact. The way that Jeff likes Sasha. I think she brought up a shrine at one point. It was kind of scary. But enough people thought I was a terrible person that I really doubt they can all be wrong."
The doctor sighed.
"I think you had better show me this site, Elli. To be honest, I still have no idea what you're talking about, and I suspect that I won't until I see it for myself."
And so, without another word, Elli led her boss upstairs to his room, sat down at the computer desk, and called up the site.
That feeling of horrendous foreboding returning, Tim settled in for a good, long read.
When he staggered back downstairs several hours later, eyes blurring and head chock-full of metre-thick melodrama, sweeping generalizations, and gross misinterpretation of simple events, it was to find his little Gothlet seated serenely at the counter, humming to herself as she went about her paperwork.
"Feeling better?" he asked as he approached and leaned heavily at the edge of the desk.
She started to nod, then stopped.
"Of course not," she replied with the same flat monotone that he was coming to hate bitterly. "Life is a black cloud of misery, and you're a sell-out and a fool if you don't realize it."
he sighed, rubbing his eyes wearily. "Listen, Elli, I think we
should talk about these observations."
"What do we need to talk about, doctor?" she asked, blinking confusedly up at him. "Someone's pointed out the flaws in my personality, and I'm trying to grow as a person by improving on them."
"And in doing so, driving your faithful Doctor insane," he murmured as she tugged at the edge of her fishnet glove and made a face at the uncomfortable, itchy fabric. "Look, those stories you read? They're just that: stories. And every story needs a villain. Although, granted, that seems to be Rick an inordinately large percent of the time," he admitted, "but if people want to interpret being completely unaware of Karen's advances as posessiveness, and conveniently forget that he only objects to Popuri dating Kai, and had absolutely no problem with it when that farmer who constantly changes his name married her, it's all a matter of creative license."
"But…if Rick's the villain, why do all the stories say that I'm a terrible person?"
"The strength in contrast," the doctor replied gently. "The easiest way to make the heroes of the story seem more likeable and overall perfect without making them obnoxiously perfect and super-powered is to exaggerate the faults of others – or, in some cases, create them out of nowhere, apparently. For example, if someone needs to make Karen seem beautiful and perfect, but fears that their readers will get tired of hearing about her 'long, silky golden-streaked tresses' and 'eyes of brightest emerald green', it's a simple matter to speak at great length about the plain, unappealing little nurse, spiteful out of jealousy of the heroine's great beauty."
Big brown eyes beneath a fringe of – he groaned inwardly – blue-black blinked in confusion.
"I didn't say it made sense. And anyway," he continued, rolling his eyes slightly, "the villain isn't always Rick." Here he stopped, and glared briefly at her. "I found your Favourites list, by the way."
"Uh-oh," she murmured, blushing brightly.
"Elli, why do about half of your favourite stories feature me going insane with jealousy when a man looks sideways at you?"
"I'm sorry, Doctor," she sighed. "But you're just so…deliciously evil in those stories. I'd probably have you committed or authorize electro-shock on your behalf if you really acted like that, but in a story, it's kind of…I don't know, sexy."
"Well," he said, clearing his throat and raising one hand to hide his faint blush, "I promise that some evening, when it's just us, I'll put on a white half-mask and an opera cape, and entreat you to sing for me, my angel of music or something."
"Now, that might just scare you," she said mildly, eyes sparkling with mischief, her bleak, somber pose all but forgotten.
"Not as much as it scares me that the other half of your favourite stories featured me having…uh, relations with Carter."
"Say what you want," she said airily, "but the best of friends make the best of lovers."
"Look, Elli, the point of this, quite aside from me doing things to Carter or locking you in the cellar in a jealous rage—"
"Doctor, we don't have a cellar," she reminded with a giggle.
"—is that creative license can do some strange things, and just because they write you this way does not necessarily mean they actually think of you as such."
"Well, what about the people on the message boards?" she demanded, pouting.
Tim winced, suddenly recalling that other little thing he was supposed to do. With a reluctant sigh, he climbed to his feet.
"I'll be right back."
Another hour and a half saw the young man staggering back downstairs to the main room of the Clinic, eyes blurred almost to the point of blindness.
At the sound of heavy, exhausted footsteps behind her, Elli looked up from her Solitaire game, and bolted from her chair in a second to help him to the couch.
"I'm sorry you had to go through that, Doctor," she fretted, kneeling in front of him and waving a finger before his eyes in an attempt to get them to focus. "It's horrible, isn't it?"
"I-I don't understand a single thing I've read in the last hour and a half," he said, baffled and disillusioned at the state of humanity.
She shook her head, straightened up, and flopped to the sofa next to him.
"So, are the message boards all about creative license, too?"
He laughed weakly, head still spinning from all that fractured logic, pettiness, and general negativity all in one place.
"You know, Elli, sometimes people only see what they want to see, and no amount of reality will change that. And try to remember, it's really hard for a person to see much of anything except their own ribs when they have their heads rammed firmly up their posteriors."
"Doctor!" she exclaimed through a fit of laughter. "That's not very nice!"
"Elli, were you reading the same message boards I was? These are not nice people. These are…professional complainers, or something. And now, we're going to go upstairs and have some milk and cookies, because I'm willing to bet you skipped breakfast this morning, and if I catch you dieting again, I'll tie you down and force-feed you ice cream."
"What! Why!" she demanded, outraged, focusing very hard on not asking him what else he might tie her up for.
"Because you don't need it, and it's bad for your health and your mental state."
"Okay, no diet. But I'm still shallow," she reminded him sadly.
He sighed, bordering on irritation.
"You are not shallow. At least, not that I've ever noticed. Come on, no one who gives the appearance of a simple country-girl while holding inside her pretty, glossy brown head enough education and common sense to be a qualified nurse at twenty-one years old is shallow. And while we're on the topic, I think we should schedule a trip into town within the next few days to have that dye removed."
"Alright," she agreed reluctantly. "Can I at least wear the fishnets a little while longer?"
"Not to work," he replied immediately. "I don't want our patients to suspect that they're going to be a human sacrifice."
"Now, that's clique-ist," Elli said disapprovingly. "Not all Goths engage in human sacrifice – lots of them can't even stand the sight of blood!"
"Well, I may not be fat or shallow, Doctor, but I'm still terribly, terribly mean."
He stared again.
"You," he said slowly. "Mean."
"And not only to Stu; to everyone."
The doctor sighed and rubbed his eyes again.
"Elli, if you were mean, I might not have to work to keep Jeff from spending every waking minute in our waiting room. If anything, you're far too nice; don't think I don't know about the day last week you let the children play in here. Lillia always tells me how sweet you are, too, and hints that you'll make someone a fantastic wife someday. And as for Stu," he hurried on as she blushed down at the floor, "if he hates his mean, tyrannical older sister so much, why on earth does he want to spend every moment of the day playing with her?"
"Okay, maybe," she agreed reluctantly.
"No, not maybe; definitely," he said firmly. "These people don't know you, and just because they've put it into type doesn't make it true. You're not perfect, but to the people who love you – your friends, your grandmother, Stu, me – you're far more than good enough."
"Y-you?" she squeaked, flushing until she felt distinctly as though her face had burst spontaneously into flames.
His flush matched hers as he coughed.
"Uh. Well, yes."
The next moment, his eyes widened until they neared the size of dinner plates, as he found a cuddly, affectionate little Goth snuggling into his arms and kissing him soundly.
"I'm sorry," she murmured several moments later, when his reluctant attempt to put her down finally managed to coincide with his her reluctant attempt to pull away. "That was awfully forward. After all," she added with a little giggle, "I'm not Karen."
Tim halted in the act of pulling her close for another kiss, and sighed.
At least we're not the only ones being misrepresented out there...
End Notes: Hehe! Written after a brief, foolish stint on the message boards, because everyone deserves one bratty react-a-fic in their fanfiction career. Anyway, I wouldn't take this too seriously, because first of all, Rhianwen wrote it, and she is overall as serious as a sad-clown juggling penguins. Secondly, I just happen to be the most obsessive Elli fangirl in existence, so of course it's going to annoy me when I'm always told that "the doctor deserves better, because Elli is mean, and ugly, and fat, and shallow." But that doesn't mean anyone has to agree with me. :)