The Heart Is an Open System

by AstroGirl [Reviews - 6]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Hurt/Comfort

Author's Notes:
This is set sometime between "Snakedance" and "Mawdryn Undead." Many thanks to Snowgrouse for the beta, and KerrAvonsen for Aussie-picking.

The Heart Is an Open System
by AstroGirl

Tegan let out a yell, clutched at the nearest object on her bedroom shelf -- a clay figurine, souvenir of some planet or other -- and threw it hard against the wall. The tinkling crash it made expressed her feelings so well that she immediately grabbed another knick-knack and sent it shattering after the first. Underneath the anger and frustration, a small rational voice was informing her that this was a really stupid idea, that it would only mean a mess to clean up later and that nothing that broke that satisfyingly could ever be properly repaired. But better this than smashing in the Doctor's face. Better this than anything else she might do in a mood like this.

Tegan blinked tears from her eyes, wiping angrily at her face. That was something else destroying things was better than: breaking down in tears, useless and weak. She'd been taught to be strong, and that, at least, was one thing she wasn't going to let anything or anybody take from her.

Her fingers curled around another object, a hand mirror. Seven years' bad luck, she thought. Well, at least this time it would be bad luck she brought on herself. She tossed the mirror to the floor and was about to stomp it into oblivion with her heel, when a quiet knock at her door interrupted.

She turned towards the door, furious. "Doctor, I said I didn't want to talk about it!" She could imagine him standing on the other side of the door, that befuddled, kicked-puppy look on his face, and the thought made her stomach churn. She didn't want to deal with that. She wanted to feel angry, not guilty, damn it! Why couldn't he just let her be?

The door began to open. She picked the mirror up off the floor, thinking that she might just throw it at him as he came in, but her body never quite followed through on the thought, and when Nyssa's face appeared instead of the Doctor's, she was glad it hadn't. "Oh," she said. "It's you." She looked down at the mirror in her hands, caught a glimpse of her own blotchy, scrunched-up face and quickly dropped it onto the dresser, glass side down.

"I thought I'd come and see how you were," said Nyssa softly, stepping into the room and letting the door close silently behind her.

"I'm fine," said Tegan. "I'm bloody marvelous, considering I'm stuck on this rackety old excuse for a spaceship, with a bloody idiot of an alien who can't even steer."

"I'm sure the Doctor will get us there eventually," said Nyssa, only the sympathy in her tone keeping Tegan from snapping out a sarcastic reply. She took a step closer. "I didn't realize you were so eager to see the gardens on Thelerious Beta. I'm sure the Doctor didn't either, or he would have--"

This time, Tegan did interrupt. "I don't care about the ruddy gardens! That's not the point!"

"What is the point, then?" Nyssa asked, sitting down on Tegan's bed and regarding her with warm, gentle eyes.

Tegan drew in a ragged breath and ran an hand through her hair. She was glad she'd got rid of the mirror. She probably looked horrible. "I don't know. Just... everything." She sat down heavily on the bed.

"You're going to have to be a little more specific than that, I'm afraid." Nyssa smiled, and although it was the last thing she felt like doing right now, Tegan found herself smiling back, just a little.

"All right. It's like..." Tegan closed her eyes for a moment, gathering her thoughts. "When I got the flight attendant job, I thought, here it is. I'm finally doing something. I'm taking control of my own life. And you know how well that worked out."

Nyssa nodded, wordlessly encouraging her to continue.

"Well, when I got back and found I'd lost the job, I didn't know what to do with myself. I felt like such a failure. And after all of this--" She waved a hand in a vague gesture meant to indicate the TARDIS and the entire universe beyond it. "--everything seemed so ordinary. You know?" Nyssa nodded again. "So when the Doctor showed up again, I thought, all right. Here's my second chance. If it's my own decision to stay, it'll be different. It might be fun."

"And it hasn't been fun?"

Tegan's first impulse was to respond with an angry denial, but the look on Nyssa's face was so serious and so concerned that she couldn't quite bring herself to reply with what even she had to admit would be a lie. "No, it has been, I suppose. A lot of it has. The problem is..."

"Yes?"

"The problem is, every time I start to relax and feel comfortable, he'll go and do something that reminds me all over again that I'm not in control at all. He is. The Doctor. He's in control, and he's so, so... irresponsible." Tegan's fingers clutched at the edge of the bed, and stupid angry tears pricked threateningly at her eyes again. "He promises a day in the park and ends up in the middle of a battle, and he's just so bloody happy about it! It's all a game to him."

"That's not really fair, is it?" Nyssa's lips, Tegan thought, had thinned just a little, and while her voice was as soft and reasonable as ever, Tegan could hear a note of hurt under the words somewhere. She felt rather bad about that, but at the same time oddly satisfied at having finally got a reaction other than calm sympathy. "The Doctor is a good man," Nyssa continued. "He may be a little difficult sometimes, but he does care, Tegan. I think you know that."

Tegan drew in a slow breath, ran a hand through her hair again. "No, I know. And I'm fond of him, really, most of the time. But..." She trailed off, her thoughts a jumbled logjam in her brain, words sticking somewhere in the back of her throat.

"But?" The calm sympathy was back. Tegan decided she didn't really mind it.

"I don't know!" She was a little surprised by how loud, how angry the words came out. "Fine. Fine, the Doctor's a good person. He does good things. Fine. But where was he when my Auntie Vanessa got killed? What good did he do Adric, in the end? What happens, Nyssa, when he presses the wrong button and shows up a hundred years too late, and it means I get blown up, or... or eaten, or something. Or you do?"

Nyssa reached out and took Tegan's hand. "Oh, Tegan. Of course he's not perfect. No one is. And no one is ever completely safe."

Tegan shook her head dismissingly at Nyssa's words, but clutched gratefully at the reassuring comfort of her hand. "You don't understand. I close my eyes sometimes, and I see monsters. Horrible things."

"The Mara?" Nyssa asked, her voice nearly a whisper.

"And other things." Tegan shuddered. "And Auntie Vanessa, and Adric. And I think, if the Doctor hadn't come along, I'd be sleeping at night just fine. Sometimes I think he ruined my life. Just... changed it all round 'til I don't know what it is any more. And he doesn't even think about it. Doesn't care. It's all, 'Right ho, off to the next adventure!' Nothing touches him for long. It isn't natural!"

"Just because he doesn't talk about it doesn't mean he isn't affected by the things he's seen." Nyssa's voice was very quiet, very controlled, but her hand tightened a little on Tegan's. It took a moment for Tegan to realize why.

"Oh, Nyssa. Hell. I didn't mean you. Oh, hell, I've done it again, nattering on about my own stupid problems when you--"

"It's all right."

"No, it isn't! It isn't. It's horrible of me. And here I am, accusing the Doctor of acting like he doesn't care."

"It is all right." Nyssa smiled at her, an expression that somehow managed to be both a little sad and a little cheeky at the same time. "But I think you've managed to make my point about him for me." She squeezed Tegan's hand again.

Tegan's shoulders drooped. She could feel the anger finally draining out of her, and being replaced with... what? Tiredness, mostly. Tiredness, and a warm gratitude for Nyssa's presence, and the vague feeling of having let her feelings make a fool of her, not for the first time, and probably not for the last. She was quiet for a moment. Then, "I know I over-react to things," she said. "Always did. I threw some real tantrums when I was a kid. Turned into family legends, some of them."

Nyssa's eyes twinkled a little in amusement. "I can imagine," she said, not unkindly.

"I really don't understand how you can be so... so calm, though. After everything you've been through, everything you've lost. I'm sorry to keep dwelling on it, but I just can't imagine..." Tegan shook her head. "I wish I knew how you coped."

"I do think about it, of course. My father, my planet... I miss them terribly." Sadness flickered behind Nyssa's eyes, but her face remained composed. "But I try to hold on to the good memories. I'll always have them, here." She touched her forehead. "As long as I live, Traken does, in a way. That's something of a comfort."

"I suppose," said Tegan, unsure whether she quite believed it or not.

Nyssa gave a little shrug. "Besides," she said, "there isn't any point in dwelling on the bad things, is there? You can't change them, so you simply have to go on. I prefer to think about the present, and the future."

"That all sounds good, if you can pull it off. But you have to wonder, don't you, about that 'changing the past' stuff. I mean, how easy is it to put the past behind you when you're living in a bloody time machine?"

Nyssa looked a little alarmed. "Tegan! You mustn't think about that sort of thing! The Doctor explained why we couldn't go back and save Adric. Interference in the course of one's own timeline can lead to temporal instability effects whose consequences could be--"

"Stop, stop!" Tegan put a hand to her head, miming the effects of a headache that, now that she thought about it, probably was coming on for real. "You know I don't understand all that technical nonsense. And to be perfectly honest, I don't really care. I'm sure there are good reasons. All I'm saying is..." She paused, not knowing quite what it was that she wanted to say, only that she felt very weary and very, very far away from home. "Is that it doesn't make things any easier," she finished lamely. She closed her eyes for a moment, unsure whether they were about to start tearing up again or not. "I guess I can see why the Doctor keeps dashing about all the time. All the things he's probably seen, in however long he's been doing this, he probably doesn't want to stop long enough to think about any of it, either. Maybe I'm just jealous that he mostly manages to pull it off." The words conjured up an image in Tegan's mind, of a particular befuddled, hurt look she'd sometimes glimpsed deep in the Doctor's eyes. The memory of it only made her feel worse.

Nyssa was silent for a moment, looking at Tegan with an expression that, oddly, also reminded her of the Doctor, but in one of his softer moods. Then, wordlessly, she slipped an arm around Tegan's waist and rested her head against Tegan's shoulder.

Tegan stiffened a moment in surprise, although she couldn't have quite said why, except that perhaps she was more used to being left alone or argued with than hugged when she got into these sorts of moods. But she put her arms around Nyssa in return. "You're a good friend," she said, and her heart suddenly felt a little lighter, as if it had been waiting to hear her say those words.

"So are you." Nyssa gave her a little squeeze, then pulled back to smile at her. "I mean it! You're far too hard on yourself."

"Good thing I have you to keep me grounded then, huh?" Tegan suddenly realized that she was smiling. "Don't know what I'd do if you weren't around to cheer me up. And keep me from killing the Doctor." The smile was joined by a laugh, and that felt good, too.

"You'd manage." Nyssa hugged her again, then let go. "It feels like we've landed again. Do you want to go and see if perhaps we've made it to the gardens this time, after all?"

"All right-- Oh, no. I'm probably a complete mess, aren't I?" Not waiting for an answer, she snatched the mirror up from the dresser, peering into it critically. Somewhat to her surprise, she didn't look too bad, after all. She looked like herself.

"You see?" said Nyssa. "You're fine. Now, you're not going to throw anything at the Doctor if he's gone and got it wrong again, are you?" Nyssa's eyes twinkled a little.

"Nah. I'll behave myself. Promise. Well, at least for now." She smiled back.

Of course, she had to admit she really had no idea just how long "for now" would be. But never mind. Next time, she'd at least have enough sense to skip the smashing-things stage altogether and just go right for the hug. The thought that Nyssa would be there to deliver one was a surprisingly strong comfort.