The Boat Race by roku kyu
The characters from Doctor Who are the property of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and associated enterprises. I do not own them and do not make any profit from this fiction except for my own enjoyment in spending time with them.
He sits in the corridor, leaning up against the door, his chin resting on his drawn-up knees.
Understanding the futility of the act but somehow unable to make himself leave.
He thinks of the space he occupies and wonders if in any of his lives, he had ever felt this small.
Like all complex events, this starts out simply.
A simple project: build two model boats to enter into the race in New York’s Central Park. No cheating allowed by using the TARDIS synthesizing circuits; just the pages of a how-to manual and whatever materials they can scrounge up from dusty storerooms.
The heady chemical aroma of model glue wafts through the console room. He sits cross-legged in his shirtsleeves, using tweezers to delicately place a curved piece of pine in exactly the right position.
"Doctor, I need another sail-thingy. At least I think I do. And let me know if the mast on the right looks straight."
He doesn't look up, too absorbed in his own boat, but he absently corrects her nonetheless. "Starboard, not right, Sam. And I'll be there in a moment."
"Starboard and port, windward and lee, fore and aft." Her voice bubbles with laughter as she peeks out from beneath her tousled blond fringe. "Own up, Doctor! You were a pirate in one of your former lives!"
Lifting his gaze, he grins at her sprawled comfortably on her stomach on the thick oriental carpet.
He feels a brief flash of amusement as he remembers his youthful commandeering of the TARDIS.
"Oh, aye, ye were, me parrot tells me so. Ye sailed the seven seas with Bluebeard, wearing gold hoop earrings and saying 'Arrrrr!'"
"Well, I won't deny that I might have dropped in for a visit, but I was never a member of any crew. Not to mention that your view of eighteenth-century pirates is hopelessly romanticized by the twenty-first century entertainment industry. Real pirates were usually criminals with weak morals and even lower hygiene standards."
"Bad breath, eh? So when they would shout, 'Shiver me timbers,' they really did shiver the timbers?"
"Once again, they were considerably less talkative than the media would have you believe. Your average pirate was about as chatty as a backstreet mugger and twice as likely to cut your throat."
Sam pouts, but her blue eyes sparkle above a smudge of paint on her nose.
"So there never was any 'Arrrrrr'?"
"I believe I may have heard a backstreet mugger use that term once."
She growls in mock anger and flicks her paintbrush at him, spattering his waistcoat with blue paint.
It takes the TARDIS' robotic housekeeping programs the better part of the day to clean up the console room after the paint fight.
Despite the giddy fun, they eventually reach the end of their toil, and two model boats sit proudly on the shelf above the fireplace, waiting only for their radio controllers to be purchased and installed. The first boat is a grand eight-sailed yacht nearly a meter in length, a pleasure to the eye with its white hull and cerulean blue trim. The second is a sleeker, more compact racing sloop, red-trimmed and jaunty.
They dub their boats, "Great Expectations I and II," respectively. In honor of their kindred spirits.
Simple companionship. Simple happiness.
Earth, AD 2005. A balmy Saturday in New York City.
They stand tense and expectant on the shores of the Conservatory Pond in Central Park. Unfortunately there's only one space left for late entries, so by mutual agreement "Great Expectations I" takes the available spot. Sam sails her creation expertly among the various small craft bobbing on the water, as the Doctor cheers enthusiastically at her side. She makes a respectable, stylish finish.
They leave the park with their boats tucked under their arms, chattering happily about their plans to enter the Doctor's sloop in the next month’s race. He goes on to program the date into the TARDIS' memory banks.
Happiness is both seductive and deceptive.
Seductive, because suddenly you can’t imagine life any other way.
Deceptive, because nothing lasts forever.
One Earth month later. Another sunny Saturday in Central Park.
He stands on the shores of the pond, watching as Great Expectations II flounders in the wake of a passing yacht. There are people all around him, cheering on their children or friends, basking in the sunshine of the perfect day. There are people all around him and yet…. He waits, looking anxiously through the crowd for a familiar blond bob, listening for a schoolgirl’s enthusiastic shout.
He knows that on this second trip to New York, she wants some freedom, some time alone to explore the city and see the tourist sights. He also knows that she's become caught up with a performance art group from NYU, performing street plays to raise money for a women’s shelter.
But surely she'll show up to cheer him on as he had cheered her.
It doesn’t take long before he realizes that he waits in vain. After a while, it becomes too much for him, so he turns off the radio controller and watches as his creation sinks quietly beneath the surface, leaving not a single ripple as it disappears from sight.
He knows that it's his own fault, some basic flaw in the boat's design that he couldn't see while building it. But had she been there, they would've laughed together at his failure. He might've waded into the pond to stage a daring rescue of his vessel, soaking his clothes and incurring the wrath of the other racers. They could've fled from the park clutching the boat and giggling, running from the disapproving glare of the mounted policeman.
He stands alone at the water's edge, suddenly acutely aware of what people see when they look at him: a middle-aged man in strange clothes staring sadly as his toy sinks beneath the surface. If they knew his true age, he would appear even more pathetic.
So he turns and leaves the park, the disappointment and loneliness increasing with every step.
He's not quite sure when it turns into anger.
He thinks he has it under control. He thinks that he can tame it or suppress it…so when the pain and betrayal finally twist into a rage so intense that it bursts savagely through the smooth façade of his self—control–it shocks him almost as much as it shocks her.
She cringes under the assault of his words, her eyes wide with disbelief.
Inexcusable, he shouts at her. Unreliable, thoughtless!
But because she's Sam and therefore brave and honest, she faces up to his anger.
"Doctor, I'm truly sorry. It was absolutely rotten of me to stand you up, and I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself, but believe me, I didn't mean to. I wasn't trying to skive off; I was just so caught up with the Uni group that the date completely slipped my mind!"
She had forgotten him.
As they all eventually forgot him.
"Yes!" She wilts in relief, completely unaware of the effect of her words. "We were having a brilliant time, the Uni lot and I, and it never crossed my mind that you might have been…" She trails off, suddenly aware of the fury radiating from him. "I’m sorry, I just–"
"Forgot." The word is sharp-edged, hard. "You found something more important to do."
"No, not more important! I realize how important that boat race was to you, and I meant to be there, but…well, all right, I don’t know why it mattered so much to you that I should be there, but I’ve apologized over and over again, and I don’t know what else to do, except…"
He strides away from her and grasps the console, trying to bring his temper back under control.
Just say it, Sam. Please say it. Say that you understand, and it's like all those times when your best friends abandoned you, leaving you to stage protest rallies or hang banners all alone. Say that you'll make sure not to do that to me again, because you know how much it hurts when a friend isn't there for you. Say that you understand.
"I don’t understand." Sam is at his side, blinking back angry tears. "I don’t know what to do other than say that I'm sorry."
My enemies remember me, Sam. Why can’t my friends?
It's not about the race. It's not that I lost.
It's that I thought you had my back. The way I had your back.
But when I turned around, you weren't there.
"Stop giving me the silent treatment, Doctor! Stop punishing me, and talk to me instead! I didn't know that something as little as this mattered to you. You're the Doctor; you're always so strong! I didn't think you could be hurt like this."
Because I'm the Doctor, and so I don't merit the same consideration that you'd give any other friend. I can't be hurt by you; I can't be hurt at all, or lonely or sad, because I'm an alien who couldn't possibly have the same feelings that you have.
The sense of betrayal feeds his anger once more, but he's weary now, weary and bitter and tired of being misunderstood, so he spits it out at her in words that are cold and uncaring.
"Let me tell you something, Sam. I've had two kinds of companions in my lives: those I could depend on, and those I couldn't. I thought you were of the first sort…but if not, I'll have no trouble in treating you with the same consideration I showed the second. Just let me know what to expect from you."
Her face goes red as if he has just struck her–because he has. He finally achieves the satisfaction of knowing that he's hurt her as much as she's hurt him…except it's not satisfaction, it's a sick, cold feeling twisting between his hearts.
Once spoken, cruel words can't be unsaid.
Not even if you have a time machine beneath your fingertips.
Her blue eyes fill with tears, but now they're tears of rage, because he's finally pushed her too far. In her anger, there is cruel honesty.
"So that's it? I make one mistake, and suddenly I'm Companion Second Class? I might've messed up, Doctor, but you're being bloody unfair in expecting me to read your convoluted Gallifreyan mind! I didn't know that boat-racing meant so much to you! If you'd told me right away, I might have been confused, but I would've taken steps to make sure that I–"
"It's not about the Rassilon-cursed boats!"
Can't you see, Sam?
It's about friendship and sharing and making plans together and seeing them through. It's about connecting with a person on this one facet, and knowing that you can count on them in this one small arena, this one quiet harbour in your lives.
Except that you find out you can't count on them and then you realize that you're the only one who feels that way about this relationship, and that to your friend, you're just the interest of the moment, the flavour of the month, and they're already forgetting you…
…which means that they're just steps away from saying goodbye.
He looks up and meets her gaze, and it's filled with the same pain as his, and the same betrayal–but no, the betrayal is even worse. She's angry and hurt and defiant as she swipes her hand across her nose.
Suddenly it becomes clear to him. Finally he is the one to comprehend why she can't understand him.
The realization hits him hard, so hard that it takes his breath away, and the shame is so intense that it makes him flush to the roots of his hair.
What he has just done is tantamount to emotional child abuse.
He retreats so quickly that his words stumble over one another.
"Sam, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I shouted and swore, and I’m sorry I was unkind. It doesn’t matter about the boat race. None of it matters. Forgive me."
He looks at her tear-filled eyes and wonders how he could have been so blind. He sees the gulf of years yawning between them: years, decades, centuries.
He'd thought of her as a kindred spirit, when in truth she was barely more than a child. A child far from home, lost in a universe filled with vampires and aliens. With him as the only familiar object.
Should he blame her for seeing him as a parent instead of a partner?
She needs him to be The Doctor, always strong, always kind, never angry or vulnerable or sad. And if he sometimes grows tired of being The Doctor, and if the child within him whimpers for someone just once, just once to be The Doctor for him–
It isn't her task. It's more than unfair of him to place the burden of his expectations and past disappointments on her thin shoulders. She needs him to be patient and understanding, and if she forgets about him and ignores him, it's only because she's growing up and testing her wings. Until the day she's ready to leave him for good, she needs him to be there for her.
But by showing his pain and anger and hurt, he has betrayed her, tearing away the ground beneath her feet. It's no wonder that she's looking at him as if he were the embodiment of her darkest nightmares.
"I'm sorry," he whispers again.
But once said, cruel words can't be unsaid. Trust can't be rebuilt in a heartbeat. Or even two heartbeats.
"Fine." Her voice is tight. "Just like that, everything is supposed to be fine. Nothing matters, no one's angry, and everything goes back to normal. Because you say so. Well, I have news for you, Doctor. It doesn't work that way for us humans. And I've had enough!"
She turns and bolts from the console room.
He listens to her footsteps running down the corridor, fading in the distance, then the far-off sound of her slamming door.
Later. Much later.
He knocks on her door. No response.
Sighing, he pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and pens a quick note.
The TARDIS says that you haven’t eaten today.
Please come out and have dinner with me.
I’m truly sorry.
He slips it under her door, then sits down to wait, his arms around his knees.
It isn't long before he hears her footsteps approach the door. He looks up hopefully, but the handle doesn't turn.
Even muffled by the barrier between them, he can hear that her voice is husky with tears. His hearts sink a bit more.
"I know you're still out there, but…I'd like you to leave me alone for awhile. Don't knock, don't slip notes under my door. I…I have a headache, and I just need to get away from this for some time. I don't want to see you or hear you, so please…"
"All right," he whispers, and although she can't hear him, he hopes she knows he understands.
He sits a few moments longer, contemplating the feeling of smallness.
She'll forgive him eventually, he knows.
She'll come out from her room and exchange a few words with him, still angry around the edges. He'll counter her anger with light, friendly remarks until she thaws a bit more, maybe laughs at one of his jokes. Slowly, they'll proceed down the road back to friendship, as he carefully monitors his words and actions to make certain that he doesn't disturb the fragility of her healing trust.
Soon there will be some crisis, some adventure, and he'll once again be The Doctor and she his intrepid companion, fighting monsters and defeating evil on some far distant planet. She'll be brave and daring, supported by her innocent belief in justice, and he'll be beside her, always wise and powerful and strong.
And he'll never again show her the side of himself that had frightened her so badly–the part of his persona that could be angry and petty and cruel in its neediness. The side of him that had seemed so alien to her, but was in truth…
He rises to his feet and walks away from her door, feeling the weight of centuries and the vast, empty spaces between the stars.