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‘You know who I’d be, right, who I’d really like to be out of everyone?’

In this mood, flushed from one too many whiskeys, gesturing with his glass, Vince was garrulous. And cute. Like a puppy, a little puppy, excitable and eager and about to widdle on the floor if you didn’t watch him.

Stuart smiled his come-to-me smile, the only one he had, and lifted his glass, tacit permission for Vince to carry on.

‘I’d have to be the Doctor,’ Puppy-Vince said. ‘Only not the Doctor, not any of the ones we’ve had, I’d be something new, I’d be the next one, I would. I’d be new, I’d wear leather, that’s it, a big coat, I can just picture me in a big leather coat, and I’d be tired from all I’d seen and ready for something fresh. I’d do up the TARDIS so it looked more organic, more alive, I’d...’

‘And what about your accent?’ Stuart asked in his drawling lilt, to slow the flow. ‘A northern Doctor, how would that go down?’

‘Planets are round, right, they all have a north, what’s wrong with that? I’ll be the first Doctor with a Northern voice. I’ll do it for all us Northerners...’

‘Of course you would, Vince. But the thing is...’ The smile slithered across his mouth like temptation. ‘You’re not the Doctor.’

‘No, I could be though, I could, me, I...’

‘If I had to choose, I might be the second one.’ Stuart sipped from his glass. ‘The musical one. With the flute.’

‘Patrick Troughton played the recorder, not the flute.’

‘Yeah.’ Stuart paused, pulled his heel onto the seat of the sofa, rested his hand on his knee, loose and amused. ‘Him.’

‘I liked him, he was good, he was.’

‘You could be the assistant. The sailor. Ben. No, wait, the other one.’ Again the pause, the smile, the flash of eyes to check Vince out, make sure he was still paying attention. ‘Jamie. The one in the kilt.’

Vince stared for a moment and gulped at his drink, covering confusion. Didn’t know what was worse, Stuart thinking about him in a kilt, him, in a kilt, or that, in spite of claiming not to give a toss about the show, Stuart even knew the names of the second Doctor’s assistants. Finally he gave the sideways twist of his head, the downwards look that meant, no, can’t agree, daren’t say so, though.

‘Never get me in a kilt,’ he muttered.

‘Pity.’ Stuart’s eyes were mocking. ‘Might suit you. A skirt. For men. An excuse.’

‘I don’t need an excuse. And I don’t need a kilt. Jamie!’ Vince curled his lip and blew out his breath.

‘Or the one with the scarf,’ Stuart said. ‘I wouldn’t mind, if I had to. I could be the one with the scarf.’

‘You?’ Vince scrunched his forehead together in dismay. ‘The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker’s Doctor? You?’

Again the smile, slow, measuring, drawing out the moment for the perfectly-timed delivery.

‘And you’d be my dog. My pet robot dog...’

‘Stuart...!’ An expression of drunken distaste crossed Vince’s face.

‘He says “Yes, Master”. Follows him around. I could give you orders and you’d have to say, “Yes, Master”...’

‘Fuck off!’

‘My own ...robot’

‘K-9 can get to places the Doctor can’t go, he does get to places where the Doctor can’t, he saves Leila, he can open locks, he’s amazing K-9 is, best friend you could have, man’s best friend, the Doctor’s best friend... Oh, my God!’ Vince laughed, his previous shamed, angry hurt forgotten, raised his near-empty glass in a toast. 'Oh.... my... God! Thanks, Stuart. You’ve just said that I’m your best friend, your best mate ever!’

Stuart’s eyes slid sideways and his come-to-me smile almost became something warmer.

‘Fuck off,’ he said. ‘Twat.’

He drained his glass, in one fluid movement getting to his feet and sashaying to the door, that walk of his, always looked as if he was on the verge of dancing.

‘I’m going to bed, don’t drink all the whiskey if you stay.’ Stuart said from the door. ‘You will, won’t you? You will stay.’

It was only after Vince had finished his drink and was at the door of the guest room that he realised Stuart’s parting words hadn’t been a question, or a request.

It had been an order.

Fucking pet robot fucking dog.

Vince’s head rolled against the door frame, his eyes closing in frustration and shame.

K-9. Man’s best friend, saves the day, takes orders, never gets thanked, never gets petted...

‘Woof,’ he said.