Written for the "Competition" one-shot challenge at who_contest on Dreamwidth.
All families, no matter how close, no matter how harmonious, experience some amount of conflict. Even in those whose members all love, understand, and tolerate each other, life is never perfect. Every individual is different, has their own likes and dislikes, reactions, moods. Thus, when any two people interact on a daily basis, they must disagree on something. For some families, things go along swimmingly for the most part, then occasionally erupt into a battle royale. For others, there’s a constant undercurrent of dissatisfaction that everyone’s learned to deal with, that when an outsider mentions how well one gets along that sibling or this parent, one smiles and agrees whilst secretly thinking, “Yes, but have you heard his snoring?” And of course, there’s a whole spectrum of tension in between.
The TARDIS family was no different in this regard. The Doctor had brought them together and made them a family, over Ryan’s protests concerning Graham, and it took them a little time to gain traction, but for the most part, the strange time-travelling wooden box became more of a home for them than they’d had with their separate biological families.
Perhaps in order to nurture their relationships with one another, the Doctor had given each of them their own living space, all located on one dead-end corridor. Each flat consisted of a study and a bedroom, furnished to appeal to their tastes. Yaz’s room was rather spartan, stacked with books on criminology, psychology, and forensics. Graham found that his space included a small kitchenette for preparing tea and snacks, so he didn’t have to trek all the way back to the full kitchen near the console room. Ryan was delighted that, in addition to a workroom for studying for his NVQ, he’d been granted a nice computer setup so he could stay in touch with his mates.
What they couldn’t figure out, however, was how the communal areas fit in. Ryan’s flat was opposite Yaz’s, and Graham’s was on the end of the hallway, but each flat had one door that led from the study to the lounge, a large, warm room with sofas, a telly, and a counter with a kettle and teacups on one end, and a Clom Attacks! pinball machine, a card table, and bookcases filled with the entire run of Universal Geographic Magazine on the other. Yaz was sure that the lounge was situated between her and Graham’s flats, whilst Ryan knew it sat at the entrance to the hallway beside his own flat. Graham hadn’t bothered to think about it; he didn’t see any need to question the eccentricities of the TARDIS’ layout.
Similarly, a door led from each bedroom (and one from the lounge) into the communal bathroom, and it took them a few days to realise that the only door leading out always took them back whence they had entered. A light on the bedroom side of the door glowed when the room was occupied, and they had surprisingly few collisions, most often when they’d just returned from an adventure and everyone wanted to shower off the slime from the Great Fens of Im’garylok. Yaz had learnt early on to stash a few changes of clothing in the locker room by the swimming pool and head there instead, leaving Ryan and Graham to fight for priority.
As far as normal routine went, if there is such a thing in the TARDIS, their individual schedules kept them from vying for the bathroom. As an older gent, Graham didn’t sleep as much as he used to in his younger days, and most evenings, he’d doze with his tea in front of the telly, drag himself off to bed in the late evening, and be up by what passed for five in the morning. Yaz preferred early to bed, early to rise, though not quite as early to rise as Graham. Ryan loved his late nights and sleeping in. The cycle was so consistent, they all instinctively knew when the occupancy light would be on and who it signified - except, of course, on those days in which the Doctor roused them out of their beds to push them out of the door and show them some new galactic wonder.
The bathroom was a wonder in itself. Large and spacious, it was partitioned for privacy, not that they had ever shared the room with each other. A large, fast-filling bathtub with a convenient seat and a shelf full of toys, powders, and poufs occupied one corner. All it lacked for comfort was jets; those were reserved for the jacuzzi next to the aforementioned swimming pool. The shower could have easily accommodated all three of them at once and sported four different types of shower heads, nine dispensers for bath gels and hair products, as well as a heat lamp up above. The toilet was a technological marvel, or so they assumed, as none of them had gotten up the courage to test out all the buttons and levers. They did discover early on that it had a heated seat.
They each had their own cubby holes for their toiletries and racks for their towels, and the cabinet always had fresh towels (and linens) and refills of their favourite supplies when they needed them. The cabinet adjusted automatically to changing tastes; when Ryan found a new cologne he loved at the bazaar in Jafalchned’s capital city, a new bottle appeared in the cabinet to match the one he’d purchased. The only thing the bathroom didn’t do was put the new supplies in their cubbies itself.
The TARDIS crew didn’t want for anything regarding their material comfort whilst living on board the time travel capsule. Everything they needed, and most things they wanted, were provided, often before they even thought to ask. Thus, it was fertile ground for the bitterest of conflicts, and they were embroiled in it long before any of them realised it had even begun.
Yaz noticed early on that of all the things provided for them in the bathroom, there was only one that they all shared. She and Ryan had their favourites of the soaps and shampoos, and she suspected that Graham chose his randomly according to his mood at the time, but they all used the same toothpaste. The modest tube sat on a shelf above the basin, below the large mirror and between the cups that held their toothbrushes. It boasted exceptional teeth-whitening properties, but otherwise contained a plain bluish-white paste with an unexceptional mint flavour.
It didn’t surprise Yaz that her flatmates squeezed the tube in the middle rather than from the bottom up, or that when the tube neared empty and required extra effort to produce enough paste for a tooth-brushing, it fell on her to throw it out and fetch a new one from the cabinet. After all, she had a sister who behaved the same way if she let her. She replaced it again when the second tube ran out, but by the third, she realised that she’d let the blokes mutely con her in to picking up after them, and she decided to let the flattened tube sit there and see what would happen.
It was not an easy decision. Brushing time turned from a quick task to minutes of coaxing enough paste onto her brush to clean her teeth, and judging from the length of time the light by the door stayed on in the mornings and late evenings, Ryan and Graham weren’t having better luck. It took a couple of days, but finally, one morning, Yaz stumbled bleary-eyed into the bathroom to find a fat new tube sitting on the shelf.
If she thought that was going to be the end of it, she was sorely mistaken. A couple of weeks later, it all began again, morning and evening battles with the toothpaste tube to get just one more dose if she could. On one particularly fateful morning, after her shower, she was hanging her towel on the rack when she noticed two notches cut into the edge of her shelf. She looked down at Graham’s shelf first, then found a similar notch on Ryan’s. Someone was keeping score.
Interestingly, the terms of engagement were drafted and agreed upon without ever uttering a word, or even acknowledging there was a conflict at all. Somehow, they all knew the rules:
You must produce enough toothpaste to adequately brush your teeth. If you cannot, you lose and must replace the tube.
You may not skip a regular toothbrushing.
You may not hide or obtain toothpaste from another source or otherwise complete your task using other materials.
Rule 3 came about as Ryan considered fetching a new tube from the cabinet and hiding it behind the items on his shelf. He’d gone so far as to get it out, but as he poised his hand to open it, he found he couldn’t: it just didn’t feel right. He put it back and returned to wrestling with the old one.
Graham relied on a technique Grace had shown him for coaxing out forgotten bits of paste by running the flat body of the tube over the edge of the basin. Because the counter was rounded, it didn’t work as well as it had at home, and he found himself searching the room for the sharpest corner on the hardest surface. It also didn’t help him with getting the last bit out, a deceptively large amount of paste gathered under the collar. He found moderate success in delaying the end of the tube by scraping out enough using Grace’s method, then squeezing what was left back into the body. If one of the others was going to win, then at least he’d make them work for it.
Ryan scraped the paste with the handle of his toothbrush, the same way he’d done with tubes of grease and a tool handle in the garage. Like Graham, he found that the rounded plastic didn’t work as well as straight, hard metal, so he brought in a spanner which worked wonders until the time he pressed too hard and ripped the tube open. One point for him.
It didn’t occur to Yaz to find a tool for the situation, so she began estimating how much was left and how much she should use to engineer it to run out sometime during the Graham-Ryan-Graham chain in the late evening and early morning. She discovered that the amount of toothpaste needed to brush adequately was highly variable, and her use often became excessive when the volume of the tube dipped under ten percent. She even began throwing in extra brushings, in the afternoon and early evenings after meals, when it looked beneficial. After all, dental hygiene is of utmost importance, isn’t it? Her machinations seemed to have a positive effect: though she started with a two-point deficit, it didn’t take long for her to make it up and even pull ahead for a bit.
Winning and losing were as obvious and as silent as the war itself. When a tube was discarded, the responsible member often spent the rest of the day cross and snappish and was greeted by knowing smiles from his or her adversaries as soon as the event was discovered. Ryan in particular took any losses hard. After splitting open the tube of paste, he sulked so much that even the Doctor noticed his foul mood. She tried to cheer him up by taking them to the primeval forests on Chilapsid to view the great reptiles, but the occasional sniggers from Yaz and Graham, not to mention the ten-minute dash through the thick tropical foliage to avoid becoming lizard chow that ended with a tumble down a rocky slope into a murky green pond, did nothing to improve his disposition.
Perhaps because he took all setbacks personally, Ryan was the first to begin searching for improvements to his technique. He found a small hand-held vacuum system in the bazaar on Tel-Fovnia and was so eager to try it out that the merchant dominated the barter, and he walked off with the device but without his belt, shoes, and mobile. It turned out to be not much better than scraping the tube manually, but worse yet, now Graham and Yaz knew he was searching for outside help.
Graham’s discovery of a matter replicator device on a later shopping trip was probably the most effective. The smallest version was the size of a large suitcase and weighed about forty kilos, but it boasted that it could duplicate any matter weighing less than twenty grams and smaller than one millilitre, which was exactly what he needed. Sadly, in practice, it not only worked about an eighth as efficiently as advertised, but it also briefly dimmed the lights of the TARDIS when it was turned on, then was inoperable for two days.
For her part, Yaz asked the Doctor to set up a localized time field in the toilet, to try to refill the tube with the last bit that was used, though she claimed, “So I can go back to before I dropped my ring down the drain and get it back.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” the Doctor insisted, going into a fully detailed description of the workings of both temporal physics and the TARDIS’ plumbing systems, but finally relented after repeated requests, figuring that experience is the best teacher. Yaz placed the empty tube of toothpaste on the verge of the sink and retreated to her room, outside of the proposed field. The Doctor, in the console room, engaged the field and Yaz watched as… nothing happened. She’d hoped to see time rewind like it always did in the movies, with a fast-reverse rewind of the day’s events, ending with the tube fattening just a bit, regaining its last squeeze of paste, but of course the Doctor had been right. Perhaps the room was a little younger, but that was all.
Thus Yaz, Ryan, and Graham resigned themselves to the fact that the established ways are best and dug in their heels, prepared to fight this battle until the end of their days on the TARDIS.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
“You call this place the attic?” Ryan asked, looking around. The vaulted room was piled high with furniture, crates, mounds of loose objects including clothing both folded and stacked neatly and draped over other things. It reminded him of that room in that Harry Potter film, with the big cabinet and the bigger fire.
“Yeah,” the Doctor affirmed as she strode in and started peering closely at this or that. “It’s where I put my stuff that isn’t as important as other stuff but is still stuff I want to keep.”
“It’s not an attic, then,” Ryan pointed out as he stepped inside, Yaz and Graham close on his heels. “An attic’s supposed to be at the top of a house, just under the roof. This place is on the same level as everything else.”
“No, it’s not,” replied the Doctor. Picking up a can, she opened its lid, sniffed, grimaced, and clapped it shut, throwing it back on its pile. “This place is just above the library. So it could be an attic. Though it’s below the cricket pitch. It’s the library’s attic, then.”
“It can’t be above the library,” Yaz protested. “We just passed the library about fifty feet back. There’s been no turns, or stairs or ladders.”
She turned and pointed behind them. “What about that one?”
They all turned to gape at the trap door in the floor, through which the head of a ladder poked. The door they’d just walked through was nowhere to be seen.
“See?” the Doctor asked. “Attic.”
Graham shook his head to clear his confusion. The longer he stayed with the Doctor, the more often he found he needed to do that. “All right, attic. So we’re looking for this Medal of Blasphemy thing then?”
“Mitela vu-lathphini,” corrected the Doctor. “If we spread out, with four of us, we should find it in no time.” She began searching the pockets of a ski jacket that she had pulled out from the bottom of a stack.
With an exasperated frown, Yaz glanced at her friends before asking, “What does this thing look like, Doctor?”
The Doctor stopped to think. “It's a gray metal box, longish, a bit like a clicker for your telly, though those are usually black plastic aren’t they? And they’ve got loads of buttons. This doesn’t. Well, it’s got buttons, but not loads. Just three, one for calibration, one for detection, and one for playing the planetary anthem. So just like a clicker if you don’t got plastic and only got on/off and volume.”
Yaz outlined a rectangular shape with her hands. “Like this, then?”
“Oh, no, not that big. More like a key fob for your car.”
Ryan groaned. “How are we supposed to find something that small in here?”
“Don’t worry,” the Doctor smiled. “We’ll find it straight off. I know I put it in something, so start there.” She returned to frisking the ski jacket.
Following her lead, Ryan picked up the small chest sitting on a shelf next to him and opened it to peer inside. Yaz began rooting through a nearby crate, while Graham climbed his way over furniture and between piles to get further into the room. “So what is this thing anyway?” asked Ryan. “And why do the Lipoms want it so bad?”
“To be honest, all it is is a DNA scanner,” replied the Doctor. “It’s attuned to the Lipom royal family, so it can identify who the rightful heir is when the monarch dies. Nifty little gadget, actually.”
Graham paused in his spelunking. “If that’s what it’s for, why do you have it, Doc?”
“Last time I came out this way, they’d abolished the monarchy and established a constitutional republic, so they didn’t need it anymore.” She shrugged. “I guess they changed their minds.”
“So you put something like that in here?” squeaked Ryan. “I thought you said you only put unimportant stuff in here?”
The Doctor shrugged once more. “It’s not important to me.”
“Is this it?” Yaz pulled a metallic object out of the crate she had been searching. It wasn’t quite gray or rectangular, with a hard body at least twice the length of a key fob that tapered in the middle and ended in a knob on one end, and it had only two buttons, but this wouldn’t be the first time the Doctor’s description of something turned out to be wildly inaccurate and she thought she might as well ask.
Grinning widely, the Doctor hopped over to see what Yaz had found. “Oh.” The disappointment in her voice confirmed Yaz’s suspicion. “Not even close. That’s a… well, I don’t know what it’s called, really, but it’s a Korvanian device. They use it to polish their horns and claws. Uses sonic technology, actually. Primitive but effective.”
Yaz turned it over in her hands. “How do you use it?”
“Just press the button there - no, the other one - and then stroke it along the length of the horn,” she explained. “Takes off any dirt and shines the surface while strengthening it.”
Yaz turned back to the crate, no longer interested in the polisher, so Ryan strode over and took the device from her to inspect it. “Handy that,” he remarked as he thumbed the buttons. “Could you use it to polish other things?”
“It wouldn’t work on a car, if that’s what you’re thinking. Not tuned for paint. Take it right off, it would.”
“No,” Ryan drawled as he eyed the other two, wondering if he could say what he was hoping without them noticing. “I was thinking more like, well, it works on horns and claws, so it might work on teeth.”
Yaz and Graham whirled to stare, first at Ryan as they realised what he was getting at, and then at the Doctor for her response.
“It does work on teeth, but it’s really not meant for humanoids.” She pointed at the tip. “The sonics get between, so you don’t have to floss, but it’s a bit hard to get deep in your mouth with that knobby thing, and it makes your skull buzz like anything. And if you use it too long, your gums start to bleed. Mind you, that’s minutes, like fifteen.”
“But it’s got to beat brushing, don’t it, Doc?” asked Graham. “Just gotta be careful.”
The Doctor shook her head. “I wouldn’t recommend it. Honestly. Stick with the tried-and-true method.”
“There are two more here!” Yaz announced as she dug deeper in the crate. “Perfect!” She handed one to Graham then inspected her own, grinning happily.
The Doctor rolled her eyes as her fam pocketed their treasure and turned back to their work.
“So you had these Korvin things living here in the TARDIS then,” Graham noted as he searched a cabinet.
“Korvanian, and no, never. Not that I ever asked, but I wouldn’t have turned one down.” The Doctor was crawling under a table to drag out some cardboard boxes. “Big, furry blokes, kind of a cross between a boar and a giraffe. Two legs, though. And they smell like strawberry custard. But they’re a pack society and a bit claustrophobic. Don’t like walls and low ceilings.”
“But you have three of their horn polishers,” Yaz pointed out.
The Doctor backed out from under the table and stood up, hands on hips. She stared at each of her companions in turn then shook her head and paced off. “See, that’s what I don’t get. What is it with you humans not wanting to brush your teeth?” She didn’t see the nervous glances exchanged behind her back. “Those Korvanian whatsits, I got those the last time I had three of you travelling with me. Well, not humans, exactly. One human, yes, but a Trakenite and a Trion. We saw those things in a shopping mall on Korvana and they insisted on getting them, even after the shopkeep showed them the list of health and safety warnings. I got them out of there, but it’s all they would talk about, and we had to go back for them. You would have thought it was Christmas, afterward, like Santa had brought them everything on their lists.”
“Well, I think they’re wizard,” murmured Ryan.
“Why?” demanded the Doctor. “What’s wrong with brushing your teeth? What aren’t you telling me?”
They all answered at the same time. “Too messy,” supplied Yaz. “And you never quite get everything.”
“I hate the taste,” said Ryan. “You ever had orange juice after brushing your teeth? Eugh.”
“I been doing it for almost sixty years now,” grumped Graham. “After that long, anything’s ripe for a change.”
The Doctor threw up her hands in exasperation. “All right,” she groaned, “don’t tell me. They didn’t either. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“It’s okay, Doctor. We got you.” Ryan grinned first at Yaz then at his grandfather, and was pleased to see their relieved smiles. Without speaking a single word of it, the battles were fought, the truce was signed, and finally, peace prevailed.