Tony Tyler loved bedtime stories. There were very few things that seemed make him happier, unless you counted brightly coloured paints or chocolate digestives. It was his all-encompassing enthusiasm that elevated it from chore to cherished. Plus, it was the only big sister activity that Rose did that the Doctor was allowed to get in on. Anyways, most of the other ones involved flying food or bouts of loud crying.
The Doctor was starting to think that the young Tyler was some sort of mastermind. A few seconds of noise, and he was willing to do nearly anything to make it stop. Sweets, putting on a film... He'd even let Tony play with his sonic screwdriver once. Rose had acted like he'd handed the child a loaded gun, which was unfair. He hadn't let the boy out of his sight for a single moment, and besides, it wasn't as if it didn't have a safety setting. All of which he'd tried to explain to her, but she wouldn't hear any of it. She'd even threatened to tell Jackie, so he knew she meant business. He'd had to solemnly swear that he'd never let Tony near the sonic screwdriver, or any other piece of advanced technology he happened to have on his person, again.
Then there was the time Tony had been playing with his windmill-shaped biscuits, making little 'pew pew bsssh!" noises whilst he made them fly around. They didn't look like Daleks, not really, but it had given the Doctor the absolute creeps. Rose had sworn up and down that she'd neither seen nor heard of any Daleks in this universe. Eventually, he was able to stop thinking about it all the time, but he was still having nightmares about the world cracking open and a million million Daleks pouring out from the Void. Not every night, but often enough. (REM sleep was rapidly topping his list of things he did not like about being human.)
One night (the Doctor's 75th Day of Being Human), seven weeks after they had come to Bad Wolf Bay for the third time, Rose was unavailable for story time. Jackie had strong-armed her into going to a charity event. Pete was being dragged along, too, but mercifully, Jackie had not insisted that the Doctor go. Bless her.
Pete grumbled a little louder than necessary while Jackie fussed over his white tie and scarf. The three of them stood in the foyer, dressed to the nines. It was a little before six-thirty in the evening.
Sarah, Tony's babysitter (she preferred 'childminder', but Jackie never seemed to remember that) held the boy on her hip. "Say goodbye to Mummy and Daddy," she said in an unnecessarily saccharine tone.
Tony grunted and wiped his runny nose on her shoulder. "No!" Currently, this was his very favourite word.
"I send these people a six-figure cheque every year," Pete groused. "I don't see why I also have to go to this bloody dull dinner."
"It's a dinner and gala," Jackie said. "And the tickets came because you sent them a cheque. Besides, you need to show your face. Torchwood's under a lot of fire, what with the press and that bridge." She cast an eye over her shoulder, catching the Doctor and Rose in her displeasure.
"That wasn't our fault," Rose said. She was wearing a long gold gown with a rather daring neckline and a slit in the skirt that went almost all the way up to her hip. Some designer had begged her to wear it to the event tonight, and she'd said yes, after her mother had talked her ear off for a couple of hours. The Doctor couldn't decide if he loved it or hated it. She looked spectacular—he'd made sure to tell her so, just in case she hadn't noticed—but she was also going out, without him, and it wasn't something you could really run in. And the shoes looked dreadfully uncomfortable.
"It was a little bit your fault," Pete said. "But never mind." He adjusted his collar one last time and Jackie went to say goodnight to her son.
"Why doesn't the Doctor have to come?" Rose asked again.
"Really," he said quickly, "it's all right. I don't mind."
Rose glared at him. "Why do I have to go?"
"I don't want him within a hundred miles of this," Jackie said. "Next thing we know, the shrimp cocktails will come to life and try to strangle everybody."
"Harry Belafonte isn't on the guest list, is he?" Pete wondered, smirking.
"Oh, don't get bogies on Mummy's dress, love," Jackie sighed. Sarah hurriedly tried to help her clean off. "Oh, it's okay. No one'll notice it, long as I keep my wrap on."
"But why me?" Rose pressed.
"Because people have been asking about you. We've got appearances to keep up."
Inner-Donna's hackles went up. Should he be insulted? "I can do appearances," he said, not at all petulantly. Really.
"It's just a few hours on a Thursday night," Jackie said, ignoring him. "It's hardly gonna kill you. All right, then?" She eyed them all with satisfaction and smoothed the front of her blue organza bodice. "Everybody smart? Rose, is that eyeshadow really right for this?"
"What's wrong with it?"
"Mr. Tyler, sir." Morris had come inside. "We had better get going, or we're going to be unfashionably late."
The Doctor gave Rose a kiss on the cheek, since Donna prompted him not to smear her lipstick, and waved them out the door. Soon, the car was driving off, and it was only him, Sarah and Tony left in an entire mansion full of nothing to do.
"All right, Tony," Sarah said. "Time for you to go to bed!"
"No! Noooo!" The toddler's protests followed them all the way upstairs.
The Doctor stood there alone for a few moments at a loss. It was rare that he was left alone these days. During the day, he was usually at Torchwood or doing Torchwood related stuff—which never got him out of the South of England, sadly—or he was with Rose. Wandering around London with Rose, eating with Rose, sleeping with Rose. Even watching telly with Rose, though to be honest that had only happened on one occasion. They were in the midst of that utterly brilliant phase where they couldn't get enough of each other. It was like in the old days, really. (Except with lots of shagging.) Sadly, all the adventures were Earth-bound and occupied one place in linear time.
He realised that this was the first time in nearly seven weeks that they'd been apart. Panic welled up inside him. He should go after them. He still had a tuxedo somewhere in Rose's—their bedroom cupboard; he was reasonably sure that all the window glass had come out at the cleaners.
Don't be clingy, Donna advised.
"Am not!" he cried, and then he was immediately grateful that he was alone in the foyer. He really needed to stop doing that. If Dr. Poole got wind of it, she'd have him in a straight jacket by morning. She was a small-minded and supercilious woman; he wouldn't have trusted her to know his shoe size. Martha had promised to find him someone else by the end of next week.
He took out his mobile phone, realising that he had another option. He called Donna.
After two rings, she picked up. "What's wrong?" she answered.
"Hallo, Donna! What? Oh. No. Nothing's wrong, I just—"
"Then why are you calling me? I thought you all had that orphans' charity tonight?"
"It wasn't orphans, it was something else…"
"I don't know. I wasn't paying attention. Anyhow, I'm not going."
"Lucky you," Donna said wryly. "But why are you calling me?" There was a voice in the background.
He frowned. "… Is this a bad time?"
"Sorta, yeah." Was he imagining things, or did she seem a bit out of breath?
"Oh. Sorry. I'll let you—"
"Okay! See you tomorrow!" The call ended abruptly, leaving him staring at the mobile. So much for that.
Hardly the first night you've ever been alone, inner-Donna said.
That was true, of course, but it felt different this time.
Never liked being alone.
It was just the edge of a thought, almost as if she were trying to hide it from him. Which was unusual—most of the time, he had to work to keep her thoughts separate from his own. It never went the other way.
At this, she—the part of his mind that was her—shifted, almost shuddered inside him and he had to shake himself back into the exterior world. That was different…
Instead of worrying about it—what she wanted to do—he took the stairs back up to his old suite of rooms.
The young TARDIS sat in the middle of the living room, giving off a warm and pleasing glow of orange-gold light. She was still largely spherical, but she'd grown to about 1.63 metres across. He grinned as he brushed a delicate branch with a finger and felt her respond with eagerness. She was longing to go somewhere, anywhere. She wanted to float on eddies in the Vortex, drift on endlessly, ending anywhere, whenever, never.
"Me, too," he said softly. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the vortex manipulator. He'd been trying to coax her to imitate other objects—mostly boxes, even a cardboard one. (Police box being the ultimate goal, of course.) So far, she didn't seem to comprehend what he wanted her to do, or she was just being stubborn. Anyways, the upshot of this difficulty was that he needed the manipulator to help direct her. At least, for now. Mostly, she wanted to communicate through telepathy, which suited him fine, but Rose didn't have much in the way of psychic abilities, so—
He turned around. Somebody had knocked on the door. Nobody ever knocked on this door. (Mostly because he was only ever in here to check on the TARDIS.) He opened the door a crack, and stuck his head through. "Rose?"
"No, sorry…" Sarah blinked up at him. "Sorry to disturb you, Doctor. I know you're busy, but…" Sarah Porter was in her late twenties, dark-haired, a bit on the heavy side, and shy. At least, she was shy of him, which he couldn't fathom. He'd always been nice to her.
"Is everything all right? Is Tony okay?"
"Oh! No! He's fine! But he was asking for you. I told him you were busy, but he's fussing, so I thought if maybe you could just come and say goodnight…"
The Doctor relaxed his hold on the doorknob; his fingers throbbed as the blood returned to them. "Of course." He closed the door firmly behind him. He would have locked it, but Jackie had had a fit the last time he'd done that. (He'd promised not to lock any doors if she promised not to let any member of the household staff into his living room.)
Sarah led him back to Tony's bedroom. "Here he is, duck," she said sweetly.
Tony was sitting in the middle of the floor playing with a stuffed rabbit. The rabbit had over-sized ears and wore a red velvet waistcoat with a vastly oversized pocket watch sewn to one hand. When Tony saw the Doctor, he got to his feet and gambolled over to him. "Doctor!"
Grinning despite himself, the Doctor swooped down and scooped the boy up into his arms. Tony squealed with delight. "Somebody's putting off their bedtime," he said, giving Tony a raised eyebrow.
"Story," Tony replied.
"I read him one already," Sarah said. She was tidying up a bit, fluffing pillows and smoothing bed sheets. She wasn't here for twenty-four hour care; she had her own home to go to most nights. She only stayed here when the Tylers were out or otherwise too occupied to watch Tony themselves. She didn't have any kids of her own, as far as he knew. Wasn't married, or at least she didn't wear any sort of ring. He wondered if she had a boyfriend waiting on her somewhere.
"That one about the eel?" he asked.
"No," Sarah said with a small smile. "We've moved onto mice." She handed him a slightly-damp cardboard book. "If you don't mind…"
"Nah, 'sfine." The Doctor tickled the boy under one arm, making him giggle. "You go ahead, see to whatever else Jackie has you doing. I'm sure I can handle this." Getting one child to fall asleep? No problem!
In the back of his mind, someone was laughing.
Three hours later, the Doctor tip-toed carefully from the room. Tony was tucked in, all snug and looking deceptively angelic.
Warm milk and soothing lullabies (Donna wasn't going to let him live that down any time soon) had had no effect. The story about the mice hadn't interested him. However, he had enjoyed hearing about K1 the robot and Sarah Jane, and Harry, and the Brigadier. By the end of that, his little eyelids had been drooping (at last!) and it had been a delicate matter of seeing him tucked in without waking him up again. All in all, though, the Doctor had to admit that he felt he'd won some sort of victory. The child was asleep, after all, and he hadn't cried once.
You like it, Donna observed, a little bit surprised. So was he, he realised. There seemed to be whole reservoirs of patience inside him that he hadn't been aware of. It helped that Tony, even in the midst of the so-called Terrible Twos, was a sweet and intelligent child. He'd do his parents proud.
Speaking of parents… He'd wandered down to the kitchen to find something to nibble on when he heard voices. He recognised Pete's and Jackie's, but he didn't hear Rose. Frowning, he took his cup of blue-raspberry jelly (they'd started appearing in the fridge a couple of weeks ago, and he found he liked them very much) and went out to greet everyone.
Pete was saying, "Jackie, I haven't done that sort of interview in three years."
"You'll do this one," Jackie replied. She was very cross, but as the Doctor was reasonably sure it wasn't him whom she was cross with, he ventured a cheerful hallo. Jackie glared at him. "So it's you, then!"
The Doctor faltered. "Me?" Oh, blast it.
She pointed at his midnight snack. "You're the one who's been sneaking jelly! Those are for Pete's lunch!"
The Doctor glanced at Pete, who sighed. He imagined Jackie putting together a brown bag for her husband, complete with Marmite-laden sandwiches, biscuits, an apple… He couldn't fathom how Pete could actually like Marmite, but then again, so did Rose. No accounting for taste.
"I'm sorry?" he ventured. "Is Rose—"
"Never mind us, we're fine," Jackie snapped. "How are you Jackie? Did anything interesting happen at the gala? Did you have a good time? Why are you home so early?"
Pete shook his head, warning the Doctor not to engage. "All right, Jacks. I'll call Smith's office first thing on Monday."
"Tomorrow," Jackie said, whirling on him with all the deadly intent of a jungle cat. "After Rose's stunt tonight, we're going to need—"
"Stunt?" the Doctor broke in. "Is she all right? Where is—"
"She went upstairs," Pete replied, holding up his hands. Then he pointed at him. "You're going to want a napkin."
The Doctor looked down. He had blue jelly down the front of his white shirt; the cup was a crumpled ruin in his hand. He grumbled curses under his breath and excused himself to go upstairs.
The door to their room was closed. He hesitated a moment, looking down at the blue stain and wondering why he hadn't disposed of the cup already.
He knocked lightly before letting himself in. "Rose?" She'd locked herself in the bathroom. He binned the jelly in the rubbish basket next to the dressing table. "Rose, are you all right?"
There was a long moment of silence before he heard her murmur, "Be out in a minute."
"Are you hurt? Do you need—"
The door opened, and Rose tumbled out. Her make-up was a ruin, her hair was disheveled and the person who'd designed her dress was going to be very unhappy. There was a red stain on the skirt—punch, he noted with no small amount of relief.
"What—" he began, but she'd launched herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck. "What happened?" he asked gently as she clung to him. He squeezed her reassuringly.
"Doesn't matter," she muttered and then buried her face against his neck. "Just glad to be home." He was burning with curiosity, but he held his tongue. She rewarded him with a kiss. "Mum thought you'd have the house in cinders," she said, nearly smiling. "What did you do tonight?"
"I put Tony to bed," he said.
She blinked at him. "Really?"
He wondered when she'd stop being surprised every time he interacted with her brother without prompting. Other than that one time that they'd found that baby crying on a hillside outside of Athens, he'd had very few opportunities to prove himself unfit for any sort of childcare duties. As he'd said a million times, he liked children. Still, she seemed incapable of forgetting his initial distaste for the screaming infant—screaming, drooling, smelly… Yes, he'd been awkward and done his damnedest to let her do all the handling, but he'd been unnerved by the little thing. He'd cared, of course he'd cared, but it had been a relief to hand him over to Argyros and his wife. Little Oedipus (Eddie, Rose kept calling him) was better off with them.
It was surprising how much it bothered him to remember. Maybe because Donna had years of experience babysitting young cousins and the children of friends, and a very strong desire to be a mother herself… Well, that put a shadow over the whole thing. He didn't want Rose thinking he was unfit to be a parent, because… Well, he didn't. What if they… Well, maybe. At some point. In the future. Assuming… Well.
"Did he give you much trouble?" Rose asked. She reached over her shoulder in an attempt to find the top of her zipper. He gave her a hand.
"Nah. Told him a story about this giant robot Sarah Jane and I dealt with once. Out like a light."
"Giant robot?" Rose wondered. She stepped out of the dress.
"Yep. I was just having a bit of a snack when—" He pulled at the front of his shirt. Right. Damn.
"Mum?" she asked.
"No, I've just got butterfingers. Why is she so—?"
"Because I made a complete ass of myself, and there were cameras, so now she's got to play PR-clean-up."
He raised an eyebrow. "Doesn't Pete have his own PR assistant?"
Rose's lips grew thin. "He did." He opened his mouth, but before he could ask, she said, "Can it wait 'til morning? I just wanna go to sleep."
He nodded. Soon they were nestled together under the covers. The Doctor spooned up behind her, one arm around her waist and dreamt of Tony playing games in the garden with K1, climbing all over him, both of them laughing. It was a nice dream.