you find them half in an exposed panel in the back of the library closest to the console room. their trouser leg’s on fire; you use your shoe to snuff it out.
‘thanks, ryan!’ they say, beaming, pulling themselves out of the circuitry. there’s a smudge of something black on their nose, and it looks like they’ve lost one of their earrings. ‘that was proper annoyin’ me.’
you’ve long since learned that there’s no point in asking why they didn’t just put out the fire themselves. no point asking about the jewellery, either; there’ll be a copy of it on the tardis console within a day.
(‘reckon this kind of thing’s why they keep us around, hey?’ grand— grah— granddad said once, as yaz slowly and disapprovingly pulled alien porcupine quills (‘don’t call them that! it’s rude! and why’s it alien if it doesn’t come from earth, anyway? you’re the aliens here? honestly, the cheek of humans.’) out of the doctor’s back.
‘well, yeah,’ you said. because. well, yeah.)
‘yeah,’ you say. ‘well, no. not uh. yeah?’ god, you hate when your words trip up on you. it’s only the knowledge that the doctor doesn’t care (and, in fact, gets tongue-tied much worse and much more often than you do) that stops your cheeks from burning. ‘look,’ you say, and the doctor snaps to attention. ‘is this gonna explode if you step away for a sec?’
‘uh,’ they say. ‘probably not?’ the tardis makes a soft sound, and the doctor grins, pleased. ‘definitely not. you mean more than a second though, yeah?’
‘sorry, yeah. def more than a second. though i guess it depends on, uh.’
they look at you expectantly. there’s no pressure in it though, like there never is. you want to be better for them, want to make them proud, but you’ve never got the sense that they’d be disappointed if you didn’t. which is kind of the whole point of this stupid thing, isn’t it?
you bring your other hand (which you’re pretty sure that the doctor had definitely noticed and then definitely forgot to ask about) from out behind your back, showing them the envelope you’d been hiding.
‘i know you said time doesn’t really, like, matter? here? but we’ve been keeping calendars still, and uh. if we were on earth then it’d, uh…’
you chicken out, pushing the envelope closer to their face instead until they take it from you.
‘huh,’ the doctor says. ‘did the tardis tell you when my birthday is?’ they wiggle a nail underneath the seam, and slowly start to open it. ‘because if she did, then she needs to tell me too? i forgot when it was centuries ago.’ how can someone so chaotically messy open an envelope so carefully?? ‘well. i say centuries, technically what i mean is—’
you watch as they slide the card out.
‘oh.’ their voice is very soft. you can’t tell if that’s a good or bad thing.
‘um,’ you say, after a few moments of silence. ‘is it bad? should i not have gotten you anything? i mean, i just...’
they slowly trail a finger over your clumsily written ‘happy father’s day’. you’d tell them that they’re gonna smudge it, but you’d done that yourself when making it.
it’s not even good. it’s just some shitty offwhite cardstock that you’d folded in half and doodled a little wonky tardis on the front in sharpie.
(you’d mostly done that because of the inside. you know you’ve messed it up, but she’d provided you with a stencil of one those weird circles that’s on all the doctor’s things. and yeah, maybe she was just having you on, or she hadn’t understood you, but you’re pretty sure that she knew what you meant when you stood in front of the tardis console and asked, very self consciously, whether she could help you write the doctor’s name.
you still wrote ‘to my weird space dad’ underneath in english, just in case)
‘it’s perfect,’ they say, quietly. ‘thanks ryan,’ and their eyes are wet and shiny and shit, you never know what to do if someone’s crying.
‘you’re welcome, dad,’ you say instead, because you know it’ll make them laugh.
it does, thank god, and they reach up to punch you in the shoulder, forgetting as always how much shorter than you they are.
‘so,’ they say, rocking on their feet, ‘we gotta play footie or somethin’ now, right?’
the only thing funnier than hearing an alien literally older than christianity say footie, is the thought of the two of you playing football together.
‘there’s no way we could do that without breaking something,’ you point out. the something would probably be one of you.
‘yeah,’ they say, hands fluttering with happiness. ‘and?’
and you can’t argue with that, can you?