Summary: "Day Twenty-Nine. Tonight, either Strood or Darian will become the second person to leave the Big Brother house."
Spoilers: Bad Wolf
Notes: Written for the Doctor Who Minor Characters Ficathon for grapefruitzzz, who requested Strood with: a bucket, someone running down a corridor, and a kiss. Huge, huge thanks for extremely helpful betaing to charliecarter, drox and uktechgirl.
Disclaimer: The DW elements belong to the BBC. Big Brother belongs to Endemol.
The transmat beam doesn't care who you are, where you are, what you're doing. It just reaches down from the sky and plucks you out of your life, like the giant hand in the Global Lottery infomercials.
Strood, as it happened, had been in the middle of an argument with his boyfriend.
* * *
They were all sitting in the living room. Except Leigh, of course; she still hadn't managed to go an hour without being sick. That was one of those things they edited out for broadcast, the constant background of retching noises that permeated the house for the first few weeks. Little things like that really took the shine off the experience of being a housemate, compared to the way you imagined it when you were watching. Little things like that, and the mortal danger.
"So, right, if you 'ad to choose -- right? -- would you rather snog someone you didn't fancy -- like, a total minger -- with tongues and everything, right? -- or shag the most beautiful girl -- or bloke, whatever takes your fancy, eh, Strood? eh? eh? no offence! -- if you knew they had, like, every disease there is?"
The retching, the mortal danger, and the endless pointless conversations.
* * *
The argument had started over nothing, the way most arguments do. A nothing that substituted for a something too vague and complicated to talk about directly. Then it had escalated -- a dismissive shrug on Mark's part, a needless insult about being boring in bed on Strood's -- and suddenly they were leaving the lift yelling at each other, perfectly audible to all the neighbours. Live reality, completely free right there in the corridor, no need for TV.
"Well, if you feel that way, maybe you should just leave!"
He still didn't know where it had come from. He didn't want him to leave. They were happy together, most of the time. Weren't they? It was like ... like he'd suddenly been possessed or something.
"I should leave? It's. My. Flat. Remember?" Mark had glared at him for a long moment, venom in his eyes, then stormed off towards the door. Maybe that was the vague and complicated thing, the financial thing. Or maybe it was just the future. That was always vague and complicated, wasn't it? Or--
And then he had felt it. That strange stretching sensation as the transmat began tugging every cell of his body in every direction at once. "Mark!" he managed to shout.
Mark turned and started to run back along the corridor towards him. The transmat beam stretched time too, making him seem to slow, every stride taking longer and longer, Zeno's Paradox made flesh. Until finally there was all time and no time and bright, bright light and everything and nothing and then he was lying on the floor with the music playing and the contents of his stomach fighting to escape.
* * *
"But like, all diseases? I mean, some of them are incurable aren't they?"
Strood could sense the conversation taking a turn for the worse. Best to keep quiet for a bit and see what the others said, make sure he didn't come out with anything too outrageous, but didn't seem like a prude either.
Crosbie stood up quickly. "I think the chicken needs turning." Strood watched her retreat to the kitchen with a pang of envy. It was a good gimmick, that, the cooking thing. The viewers probably loved it. And it gave her an easy get out for uncomfortable situations.
It was normal to think about other people's strategies like that, wasn't it? Yes, it was. Must be. You always got a sense that there were strategies lurking under the surface when you watched it, even if people were too canny to admit it in the Diary Room. But even if he was exceptional for doing it, that just meant he was a better player, didn't it? More likely to survive. And that was the most important thing -- to survive. To get back to Mark. To fix things. It wasn't that he wanted the others to be evicted. They were all right -- some of them, anyway -- but their lives hadn't been left on a cliffhanger like his. He couldn't die not knowing whether Mark would mourn him.
Maybe he'd have been better off as a contestant on Blankety Blank, without his memories of life before the transmat to torment him.
"Well, Strood doesn't have to worry about any of this, what with his boyfriend that he never tells us about!" Linda's voice had a supremely irritating way of dissolving into a cackle at the end of every sentence. She'd be out as soon as she got nominated, but she'd managed to cement herself with Skip's group so that probably wouldn't be for a while.
"Aww, don't be mean, can't you see he's worried about the eviction?" It bothered him that Lynda could tell. He'd already discounted her as a real threat -- for a little while, he'd thought her cloying niceness was a front for some complex plan, but even the most dedicated schemer would have given up on changing Leigh's bucket by now. But she could still be dangerous, with her tendency to be so open and honest.
"Don't be silly," said Skip, "they can't evict you, you're too tall for us to do the archway thing!"
The others erupted into laughter and Strood joined in, keen to show what a good sport he was. Not like that git Darian, the public would think. He's always so precious about that sort of thing. Strood had been annoyed when Darian had been called to the Diary Room that morning and he hadn't. That was hardly fair, and he'd said as much to the others. But probably he'd just gone in and had a good whinge and alienated more viewers. All Strood had to do was make everyone see that he was more easy-going and prepared to laugh at himself and he'd be sure to win the vote.
So why did Lynda have to ruin the effect by putting a reassuring hand on his leg?
But Linda was right -- he had kept quiet about Mark. But that was because he didn't know whether he knew him any more. Didn't really even know whether he was still his boyfriend.
* * *
It had been their anniversary the week before. Strood took Mark out to the restaurant three levels up. Fairly swanky, he thought, but Mark was unimpressed. Didn't say anything, but his eyes kept twitching from side to side, little glances that said "Is this it?"
They had made the weirdly tense sort of conversation that such occasions demand. Determined to demonstrate their happiness, but unable in public to say the sort of things they did behind closed doors. The tone stayed light-hearted, but the simple fact of what date it was freighted each word with unmerited significance.
At least, that's how Strood had felt, through every awkward pause and slightly too intense look. Maybe Mark had as well. He didn't know any more. Not just because of the argument, though he hadn't expected him to react the way he did to what he'd said, but because of Big Brother. Thinking so much about strategy had made Strood start to wonder whether he was strange to analyse everything so much. Maybe Mark had just been making conversation, without any instant replays or predictions of the next line running through his mind.
At the end of the night, they hadn't made love. He was too drunk, Mark said, even though he'd purposely stopped after the second glass of wine. He kissed him, affectionately but without passion, then rolled over and went to sleep.
* * *
"The unexamined life is not worth living." That was one of the catchphrases from another pre-Spaceflight format, Greek Philosophy. Revived on channel 223 a couple of years back, but it lost what audience share it had fairly quickly and all the participants were disintegrated. Mark had stuck with it 'til the end though, so Strood had too. That was what being a couple meant, watching the same programmes. Sharing your life like that.
And now his life was being examined by everyone on Earth. Well, not everyone; there were sixty houses after all, and BB's ratings had been on the slide for years now. But still a decent fifty million or so. And yet all he cared about was whether Mark was one of them, whether they were still united by the television.
There were no clocks in the house, but surely there couldn't be long now until voting closed. Had Mark moved on with his life, Strood's involuntary absence making him decide he didn't need him? Or was he there on the sofa, the way Strood imagined, jabbing the remote's voting panel frantically?
And if he was, who was he voting for?