1. The Doctor is not always right.
Tony is three-and-a-half years old, and the Doctor is trying to tell him that Jammy Dodgers are better than chocolate biscuits.
Tony doesn’t know what most of the words he’s using mean, and he does know that the Doctor is very smart and a little bit magic. This time, however, he feels that he’s missing a very important point.
“I’s chocolate,” he insists, waving the biscuit in the air.
The Doctor sighs in exasperation, and Tony takes another bite.
The Doctor is wrong. Chocolate is always best.
2. The Doctor is his brother-in-law.
Tony is six years old, and they’re doing family trees in class.
“Tony,” says Miss Bridget, making him jump guiltily and drag his thoughts away from the tree-house which he wishes he were in right now. “Come up here.”
Reluctantly, he obeys. He’s not in trouble, is he? She can’t know that he wasn’t paying attention. Can she? He eyes her suspiciously, remembering the Doctor’s maybe-joking-but-maybe-not warnings about psychics.
“Tony, what are your parents’ names?” Miss Bridget asks, and he relaxes. She just wants to draw a tree thing for his family. That’s okay, then.
“Pete and Jackie,” he answers.
Miss Bridget writes the names side by side on the board and connects them with a line. She makes the line into a T and writes Tony’s name at the bottom.
“That’s showing that Tony comes from his parents,” she explains to the class. “Do you have any siblings, Tony?”
Tony thinks that this is probably one of those fake questions which she already knows the answer to, because everyone knows about his sister. Then again, Miss Bridget is very old, and sometimes old people don’t know things that everyone else does, like how to take pictures with their mobile or what good programmes are on the telly.
Miss Bridget draws another line from the long part of the T, makes a little bend in it, and puts Rose’s name next to Tony’s.
“Tony’s sister is also from his parents, so she’s connected to them, too,” says Miss Bridget. “Do you have any grandparents, Tony?”
“Aunts or uncles?”
“Alright, then,” says Miss Bridget warmly. “That’s Tony’s family. Now you –”
“What about the Doctor?”
“Sorry, Tony?” asks Miss Bridget, looking confused.
“The Doctor,” Tony repeats. “He’s family. Where does he go?”
“Oh,” says Miss Bridget, nodding. “Is the Doctor your pet, Tony?”
“No,” says Tony scornfully. “He’s a person. He helped me build a tree-house. He tells fun stories and sometimes he and Rose argue and that’s funny but then they kiss and that’s gross.”
The classroom erupts into giggles behind him, and he flushes.
“It’s true!” he says hotly.
“Of course it is,” says Miss Bridget, but there’s a twinkle in her eye which means she’s laughing too, just quietly. “The Doctor is Rose’s husband, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” He’s never heard the Doctor called that before. It sounds weird.
“That makes him your brother-in-law,” says Miss Bridget. She writes his name on the board beside Rose’s, and connects them like she did with Tony’s parents.
Tony wrinkles his nose.
It sounds weird.
3. The Doctor is not (fully) human.
Tony is twelve years old, and he’s been forbidden to play outside until he finishes his homework.
Tony is not happy about this. The Doctor, who is babysitting him (despite the fact that Tony is plenty old enough to stay home on his own, Mum), is even less happy. He’s pacing restlessly, his left hand tapping against the right side of his chest in that weird habit of his. One-two. One-two. One-two.
Eventually, he heaves an exaggerated sigh and strides over to the bookshelf. He pulls the books down one-by-one, flipping through them at an incredible speed and then tossing them over his shoulder with brief comments. Tony pauses in his maths work to watch.
A romance novel is met with a derisive snort.
“They deserve each other.”
Toss. Thump. Historical fiction.
“Well that’s a bit rubbish. She’d never have gotten away with that in the real palace.”
Toss. Thump. Mystery novel.
“Call that a mystery? It’s obvious from the second chapter.”
“You can stop doing that, you know,” says Tony, rolling his eyes. “I know you’re not actually reading them.”
The Doctor stops mid-toss.
“Who says I’m not actually reading them?” he questions indignantly.
“You can’t be,” sighs Tony. “The fastest anyone can read is, like, 5,000 words a minute, and they still don’t get everything. I saw it on the telly.” It was a bit of a disappointment, really. Tony knows that a good portion of the things the Doctor says are half-truths, at best, but to find out that something he’s always been so impressed by is a lie felt like a betrayal. It also made him feel a bit stupid, because he’s not a little kid anymore and he knows that the Doctor isn’t really magic. He just kind of wishes he were, sometimes.
“Is that so?” says the Doctor, but he doesn’t sound annoyed like he usually does when someone calls his bluff. If anything, he sounds amused.
“Yeah,” says Tony. He tries to go back to his work, but the Doctor sits down on the table before he can, crumpling papers and getting in the way. “I’m supposed to be doing maths,” says Tony half-heartedly.
“Tony,” says the Doctor, and Tony looks up, his heart leaping despite himself at the devilish glint in the Doctor’s eyes. “Go get a book.”
“What book?” asks Tony, still trying to sound disinterested and not really succeeding.
“Any book. You choose.”
Tony thinks for a minute, then runs up to his room and fetches the latest book in the Midnight series. It’s about a high school student named Erik who’s also a vampire hunter who fights off the undead hordes almost single-handedly while trying to figure out if Bella, the girl he has a crush on, has actually fallen for the vampire prince she’s supposed to be seducing in order to infiltrate their government. It’s pretty cool, but more importantly, it just came out yesterday, so the Doctor can’t possibly have read it yet.
When he returns, the Doctor is making a very complicated-looking aeroplane out of his maths homework. He glances up as Tony enters, and holds out his hand expectantly. Tony hands him the book, and he flips through it in less than a second, just like he did with the others.
“Now,” he says, tossing it back to Tony. “Open it up and give me a page number.”
Tony frowns at him suspiciously, but opens the book, making sure to keep it angled so that the Doctor can’t see. He then flips to a different page, in case the Doctor’s rigged it to fall open a certain way, or something.
“One hundred and eighty two,” he says, and the Doctor flops back onto the sofa, fixes his eyes on the ceiling, and begins to speak.
“‘. . . and plunged the stake into its heart. The vampire crumbled into dust just as Bella gave a hair-raising shriek, and Erik spun around.
“Oh, crap,” he muttered feelingly.
Werewolves. There were flipping werewolves. More vampires were closing in, too, and to top it all off Bella seemed to have twisted her ankle. And this morning he’d been worrying about a chemistry test . . .’ Good enough, or would you like me to continue?” the Doctor asks.
Tony gapes. He looks down at the book. He glances over his shoulder to make sure there are no mirrors. There aren’t. He stares at the Doctor, who is grinning smugly – which he probably has a right to, seeing as he’s just quoted, word for word, a book that he’s literally only looked at for a second.
“But that’s impossible!” Tony blurts out. “They said, it’s ‘cause your brain can only absorb however much information –”
“Human brains,” says the Doctor, looking, if possible, even smugger. “Mine, on the other hand, is designed and trained to read a language with a multi-dimensional grammar structure and over two hundred tenses. It can absorb a little old English novel like that.” He snaps his fingers.
“Oh,” says Tony, a bit faintly. “Right . . . ‘cause you’re . . . right.”
The Doctor’s smile fades.
“Tony,” he says, very carefully, with an odd expression on his face. He looks . . . worried. “You know that I’m not human. Not entirely, anyway.”
“Yeah, I know,” says Tony, because of course he does. It’s just that it’s always been on the periphery, not quite connected with anything, like how Mum must have been a kid at some point. She might say ‘when I was your age,’ but he can’t picture her as anything but his Mum. People might mention from time to time that the Doctor’s an alien, but that doesn’t make it real. “I just . . . never really thought about it.”
“It’s okay,” says the Doctor, but something about his expression makes Tony think that maybe it’s not, really. “Take your time.”
“I’m not . . . I’m not scared or anything,” he says, just to be sure that the Doctor understands. That would be ridiculous. It’s the Doctor. “It’s just weird. And awesome.”
The Doctor blinks.
“All that crazy stuff that you do,” says Tony eagerly, dropping the book, “that’s ‘cause you’re an alien, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes,” says the Doctor, looking bewildered. “How did you think I did it?”
“I – well –” Tony drops his gaze, suddenly ashamed. “I’d kind of started to think that maybe . . . itwasatrick,” he finished in a rush.
“Oh, Tony.” The Doctor moved to stand in front of him, pushing his chin up and forcing him to look into his warm, smiling eyes. “Never with you.”
Tony feels an answering smile spreading across his face. All those things the Doctor does – his boundless knowledge, his incredible coordination, all those brilliant, impossible, tiny, huge things – they aren’t magic, and they aren’t tricks. They are way, way cooler than that.
“Now!” says the Doctor, spinning away from him and snatching up the homework-turned-aeroplane. Before Tony can protest (not that he would have, anyway), he sends it sailing out the open window. “Oh, would you look at that,” he says with mock surprise. “Your maths paper has escaped. Guess we’ll have to go after it.”
“Guess we will,” Tony replies, grinning.
The Doctor grins back, with that smile which shows all his teeth and makes him look a bit mad.
“Allons-y!” he declares, and seizes Tony’s hand as he bounds out the door. Tony allows himself to be dragged along, laughing.
The Doctor isn’t magic. The Doctor’s just the Doctor: not quite human, not quite grown up, and totally, one hundred percent awesome.
Tony is perfectly okay with that.
4. Just because the Doctor doesn’t follow anyone else’s rules doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have his own.
Tony is sixteen years old, and a police officer is handing him a telephone.
“Does it have to be my mum?” Tony asks, and hates how small and scared he sounds. The officer looks slightly sympathetic and mostly amused, and shakes his head.
“Honestly, kid, I don’t care who you call, as long as it’s an adult who can be responsible for you.”
Tony doesn’t have to think very hard. Without hesitation, he dials the number of the person who is least likely to call his mother.
It rings once, twice, three times. Tony shifts under the officer’s gaze, beginning to worry that the mobile he’s ringing has once again been abandoned on Rose’s desk or a lab bench or the bottom of the Thames . . .
“Mr. Anthony Tyler! What can I do for you today?”
“I need you to come pick me up.”
There is a sudden silence on the other end of the line, then the sound of movement, and when the Doctor speaks again he’s lost the too-chipper, flight attendant tone.
“Where are you?”
“Police station. Downtown. Near Gino’s.”
“I know the place. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Just sit tight, Tony.”
“Not like I have much of a –”
The Doctor’s already hung up.
As it turns out, the Doctor actually gets his timing right, for once. It’s been ten minutes exactly when Tony hears footsteps approaching, and the voice of the bobby who brought him in.
“. . . not pressing charges. Think he doesn’t want to admit that he got beat up by a kid.”
Tony can’t suppress a bit of a smirk at that, but it falls away when the Doctor replies.
“Thank you, officer.” His tone is icy, not the casual cheeriness which he typically uses with strangers. Then he steps into sight, and Tony’s stomach drops.
Tony has seen the Doctor annoyed, offended, and impatient, but he’s never seen him really angry, let alone how he looks now. He is absolutely livid. It’s in every line of his face, every sharp step as he stalks over to Tony, who shrinks back involuntarily.
The Doctor avoids his fresh bruises as he grips his chin to get a better look at the swiftly-darkening black eye, but the touch isn’t so much gentle as it is carefully controlled.
“You’ll be fine,” he says shortly. “Come on.”
The Doctor’s grip on Tony’s shoulder is just short of painful, but that doesn’t frighten him half as much as the cold silence which accompanies it as they walk out to the car. He doesn’t understand why the Doctor’s so upset, and his confusion his swiftly heating into anger. The Doctor doesn’t even know what happened; how dare he treat Tony like he’s done something horrible, like he’s disappointed him.
Finally, Tony works up the courage to speak.
“He started it.”
The brakes screech and Tony slams painfully against his seatbelt as the car goes from eighty to zero in two seconds flat while simultaneously jerking far enough sideways to get them off the motorway.
“The police said that you threw the first punch,” says the Doctor, his dangerously calm voice doing nothing to slow Tony’s racing heart.
“Yeah, I did, but he was asking for –”
“Don’t you dare,” snarls the Doctor, and Tony is so startled by his tone that he looks up. The Doctor’s hands are white-knuckled on the steering wheel, his eyes dark and stormy as he glares. Tony lowers his eyes again.
“Well, he was,” he mutters, a little petulantly.
“Just let me explain!” Tony protests, lifting his head to glare back, anger giving him daring.
The Doctor holds his gaze for a moment, a muscle jumping in his jaw, then softens minutely.
“Alright,” he says. “Explain.” He doesn’t have to add “and it had better be good.”
Tony takes a deep breath, and begins to explain.
“We were in Gino’s, and there was a story on the telly about that new bill or whatever about extraterrestrial immigration. It was talking about Torchwood, and I was telling my mates about some of the stories you and Rose bring home, and this bloke next to us cut in, and . . . he said that aliens weren’t people.”
The Doctor looks shocked for an instant, and then his face floods with so many different emotions that Tony can’t identify any of them, and then he slumps back with a sigh and runs a hand over his face. It’s disappointment, again, mixed with exhaustion this time instead of fury. Tony doesn’t think it’s much of an improvement.
“You didn’t have to hit him,” the Doctor says.
“I didn’t,” says Tony. “Not at first. I told him that he was an idiot and that aliens have thoughts and emotions just like humans and I’d take most of them over a stupid wanker like him any day.”
The Doctor’s lips quirk upward despite himself, and Tony feels a little rush of triumph.
“How’d he take that, then?”
“He said that aliens should stay on their own planets and if they didn’t, we should shoot them on the spot. That’s when I hit him.”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, I know,” says Tony. “I wanted to.”
“You shouldn’t have,” the Doctor modifies, serious again. “You’re better than that, Tony.”
“Better than what?” Tony snaps. “Than standing up for my family? For what’s right?”
“You don’t need violence to stand up for what’s right,” says the Doctor, calmer, exasperated rather than angry, “and one ignorant bigot in a pizza parlor is not the forces of darkness rising up against you. Trust me; I’ve dealt with both.”
Tony gives him a Look, and he smiles, small but genuine. He reaches out and ruffles Tony’s hair in an affectionate, teasing gesture. Normally, it annoys Tony to no end, but right now it’s the most reassuring thing in the world. The cold lump of fear which has settled in his stomach begins to melt.
“Come on, then,” the Doctor says, starting the car again and pulling back onto the motorway. “Home.”
“‘Home,’ my house or ‘home,’ your flat?” Tony asks, suddenly nervous again.
“‘Home,’ my flat,” says the Doctor. “We’ll see if we can do something about that face of yours before your mother sees you. And don’t be too worried; I doubt she’ll be all that upset with you. She’s a bit of a fan of violence, herself.” He rubs his cheek with a grimace. Tony suspects that there’s a good story behind that, but he can’t bring himself to ask about it just now.
The Doctor must sense the discomfort in his silence, because he glances over at him and his expression turns gentle.
“I’m sorry if I frightened you, Tony,” he says softly. “I do appreciate the sentiment; I really do. But violence has to be a last resort. Always. Otherwise we’re no better than them. Do you understand?”
“Yeah,” says Tony, and he thinks that he does. The Doctor has always expressed distaste for violence, but the way he’s talking – it’s like an order, like a rule. And the Doctor hates rules, so if he’s making one now, then in must be for a good reason.
This is important to the Doctor, and if it’s important to the Doctor, it’s important to Tony.
5. The Doctor is mortal . . .
Tony is twenty years old, and the bottom has just dropped out of his stomach.
His brain stopped working at the phrase ‘critical condition,’ and he struggles to kick it back into gear as his father continues to speak on the other end of the line.
“We’ve got our best people working on him, but we’ll just have to see. I can send the zeppelin if you want to fly down –”
“Yes,” says Tony, without hesitation. He has a class this afternoon and a date with Katie tomorrow night, but right now, all he can think of is the Doctor.
“I thought so,” says his dad. “It’s already on its way.”
Two hours later Tony is in Torchwood’s basement, standing outside a hospital room built for containing alien contagions and occasionally used by the Doctor when he needed stitches or (once) broke a bone. It was an interrogation room before it was converted, and Tony watches through the two-way mirror as Rose clutches the Doctor’s hand, tears running down her face. The Doctor himself is unconscious, has been, apparently, since a few minutes after he stepped between Rose and a panicked fugitive’s improvised projectile.
Only the Doctor, Tony thinks, could managed to get himself impaled by a javelin in twenty-first century London. It might have been funny, except for the fact that he hasn’t woken up.
Tony’s throat is tight as he studies the Doctor though the glass. As much as he may tease him about the grey in his hair and the wrinkles on his face, he’s never really thought of him as old. He looks old, now, his skin pale against the sheets, his face worn beneath the unforgiving lights, and it occurs to Tony that he doesn’t know his actual age. There’s a lot that Tony doesn’t know about the Doctor, a lot of half-joking comments and fantastic stories that he can’t always judge the truthfulness of. That’s never bothered him before now, but he suddenly wishes he had asked, wishes he had pressed. There is so much that he doesn’t understand behind that familiar, loving face, so much the Doctor promised to explain when he was older, and now it might be too late.
In the other room, a few feet and a world away, Rose leans forward and whispers something in the Doctor’s ear.
His eyes flutter open.
Tony nearly collapses in relief. Rose is laughing, crying, and the Doctor is smiling, weak and shaky but there. A Torchwood physician is sweeping in, taking vitals, giving orders. Mum is clinging to Dad, visibly restraining herself from rushing in after him.
Then, in less than a minute, it’s quiet again. The physician informs them that the Doctor will be fine, with rest, and is gone. The Doctor drifts back to sleep. Mum moves to stand beside Tony at the window.
“Rose looks shattered,” she says, sounding worried.
“Yeah,” Tony agrees, feeling a little guilty that he didn’t notice sooner.
“Oh, come on,” she says, smiling lovingly and pushing him ahead of her. “You sit with him, I’ll take her to get some supper.”
After the predictable argument, Rose eventually concedes to go upstairs for a coffee, at least, and Tony sinks into her vacated chair. He takes the Doctor’s hand.
He doesn’t realize that he’s crying until a cool hand wipes the tears from his face. He jumps and looks up into a familiar pair of brown eyes.
(5 ½. . . . and that’s okay.)
“Tony.” The Doctor’s voice is weaker than usual, rougher, but still warm and steady. “It’s alright.”
“Not it’s not,” Tony protests, his voice catching and cracking. “You – you’re –”
“Yeah, this time,” Tony says. “But what about next time?”
The Doctor shrugs, then winces as the movement tugs at his wound, invisible beneath the sheets.
“Next time is next time. I’m not going to live forever, Tony, and I can honestly say that I would not give that up for anything in the world. Wait!” He holds up a finger, closing his eyes and holding his breath in anticipation. A moment later he relaxes again, and smiles. “See? Twenty years ago, the Universe would have taken that as a challenge. Well, the other universe. This one’s a bit kinder, I think. Either that or it hasn’t figured out who I am, yet. Shhh!”
“What sort of painkillers did they put you on?” Tony asks, managing a watery chuckle.
“No idea, but they’re rrreally good.” The Doctor grins, then frowns. “I was saying something. Ah! I’m older than I look, Tony.”
“That must make you what, like, a thousand?” Tony jokes weakly.
“Something like that,” the Doctor agrees, his eyes going distant. He’s tapping against his chest again, one-two, one-two, the same rhythm as the heart monitor but slightly out of synch.
“Why do you do that?” Tony questions abruptly, because he’s always wondered but he’s never asked, and he thinks he knows where this conversation is going and he’s in no hurry to get there.
“What, that?” The Doctor glances down, looking as if he only just realized he was doing it. His hand stills. “I never told you?”
“No. You always do it when it’s just you and me, not when anyone else is around. Why?”
“Didn’t want to upset your sister,” says the Doctor. “You remember that I wasn’t always part human?”
“Yeah,” says Tony, because he does, but he’s always been somewhat unclear on the specifics. “Time Lord, right?” He knows that much – kind of hard to forget a title like that – but the rest is just a blur of probable exaggerations and almost certain lies and a few bits which are just mad enough to be true.
“Right. And Time Lords had two hearts, but I only have the one. Thing is, I remember having two, so it was a bit . . . disconcerting, for a while. Still is, sometimes. So that’s all it is. Nervous tic.”
“Right.” That explains a lot and also raises a lot more questions, but some of them will have to wait. “So why don’t you let Rose see?”
“I dunno,” says the Doctor. “I guess I didn’t want her to think that I . . . lost something, by staying here. Which is a bit ridiculous, come to think of it, because of course I did lose an awful lot and it was more than worth it, and anyway, it’s not as if I became part human as a result of staying here; more the other way around, really . . .” He trails off, frowning. “I was going somewhere with this. Oh! Right!”
His voice turns heavy and serious.
“Everything has its time, Tony. Even me. It’s better that way.”
Tony shakes his head in denial, his throat too tight to speak.
“Tony, I have seen forever,” says the Doctor earnestly, gripping his hand more tightly than he should be able to in his weakened state. “I’ve seen immortality, or near enough. I’ve seen what it does to people. I’ve seen whole civilizations crumble under the weight of it; entire societies stagnate and go mad. This way – the human way – burning bright and hot and fast – that’s how it should be.”
“I don’t care how it should be,” Tony chokes out, tears spilling over once more. “I care about you.”
“And I’m right here,” says the Doctor. “I’ve got another fifty years in this body, if I’m lucky – which this body has been, so far. Funny, because I thought that about the other one, but it turned out to be a bit of a red herring – maybe all the luck was in the hand . . .” He’s rambling again, that stream of nonsense which usually means he’s not paying attention but right now probably has more to do with the painkillers. Normally, Tony’s happy to let himself be swept away by it, but not today.
“What if you’re not?” he interrupts, and the Doctor blinks at him. “What if you’re not lucky?”
To his surprise, the Doctor laughs.
“Oh, Tony,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m already lucky. I’ve got Rose, and you, and you parents, and so many other brilliant people . . . and you’ll be alright, Tony, when the time comes. You’ve got a good heart and a strong backbone and excellent friends, and those are all you’re ever going to need.” His voice is getting drowsy, his eyelids drooping.
“Tell Rose to get some sleep. She looked –” Yawn. “—knackered. Been up for thirty . . .” Yawn. “. . . two . . . hours . . . seven . . . teen . . . min . . .”
The Doctor trails of mid-word, his breathing evening out into a peaceful slumber.
“I’ll tell her,” Tony promises softly.
In his sleep, the Doctor smiles.
Through the ache in his chest, Tony smiles back.