After a week on one of the rainiest planets in the universe, a stopover on the silver beaches of Malthyria IV is just what the doctor ordered. Or, in this case, just what the Doctor ordered, as it was his idea. With a double embrace and a squeeze on the shoulder for each of them, he promises the Ponds – he insists on calling them that, and Rory has long since stopped minding it – a proper beach holiday, and as soon as Amy and Rory step out onto the beach they know that he's going to make good on that.
The sand really is silver, bright enough to glitter without being difficult to look at, and no hotter or harder on the feet than any other beach sand Rory has encountered. The sky is achingly blue, as is one of the suns (the other two are a more familiar yellow-white), and the violet waves that lap the shore leave behind traces of green-tinted foam. It's virtually empty save for a flock of unidentifiable birds running through the shallows. Rory thinks it's the most peaceful place he's ever seen.
There's a whoop of laughter behind him and the Doctor goes barreling down the beach at full tilt, scattering the birds. "Last one in the water carries the bags back!"
Amy, usually unhesitating in her eagerness to follow the Doctor, stops short. "Oh, what," she gasps, laughter bubbling up. "Tell me he's not wearing that."
"I really wish I could." The Doctor's bathing suit is even more old-fashioned than his usual getup, a blue-striped one-piece that covers him from shoulders to midthigh. It's utterly ridiculous, but of course the Doctor is sporting it like it's the most natural thing in the world. If nothing else, it makes Rory feel slightly less self-conscious about the brightly patterned shorts that were the only suitable thing he could find in the wardrobe. "At least there's no bow tie?"
Amy smothers another giggle and lightly punches his arm. "Don't give him any ideas."
Rory laughs himself, and takes her hand. "Come on," he urges, and for once in his life he's the one pulling her along. They run into the waves hand in hand, both of them losing their footing when the water reaches chest-deep.
"That's the spirit!" the Doctor crows as they get their feet back. He looks like some kind of wading bird, all legs and arms, with bits of spray making his hair unruly. "Nothing quite like a beach holiday, didn't I say? Breathe it in! Well, not the water, obviously," he adds as Amy gives him a wry look. "First rule of swimming: Know where the water is and know where your head is, and keep the two in the proper order. Or perhaps it's the second rule; the first is probably something about making sure that it's water first."
Amy bends her knees, dipping slightly in the water. This isn't Rory's first beach holiday with her, so he's well out of the way when she hooks a foot behind the Doctor's knees – or something; she's done it to Rory often enough, but he's still not sure exactly what it is she does – and pulls his legs out from under him.
The Doctor rises again easily on those gangly legs, sputtering and shaking his hair out of his face. He levels a finger at Amy, somewhere between accusation and amusement. "You do not play fair, Pond."
Rory tilts his head incredulously. "And that surprises you?" The response is a splash to the face from each of them, and by that time he's laughing too hard to defend himself.
This is a tourist beach, even if it's the off-season, so when the suns reach their high point and everyone needs a bit of a break there's a shop to turn to. It's a small one, selling sandwiches and touristy things and all the little things that people tend to forget when they go to the beach. They lose Amy for a while to the shelf of cosmetics made with glittering beach sand, while Rory finds himself fascinated by something even more unexpected. Here they are on the other side of the universe, and God knows how many years away from their own time (and in which direction), and there by the door is the same rack of trashy paperbacks that he'd expect to find at any airport or train station back home.
The titles are different, obviously, mostly by authors he can't even begin to pronounce, and all the text has that slightly squiggly look that says it's getting translated in his brain, but there's no mistaking the bright, glossy covers and the raised metallic lettering. He's been spending a lot of time in the library lately, absorbing the literary classics of several civilizations, but he hasn't run across much in the way of low literature. The desire to see what an alien culture considers mindless entertainment proves irresistible. He eventually chooses one that seems to be a spy thriller about the troubles of a single girl in the big city and can't help grinning a bit at the shopkeeper's disdain when she sees it.
Even the Doctor raises an eyebrow when he sees the cover. "And to think that last week you were reading Hadrassian poem cycles."
Rory shrugs. "I'm on holiday."
There are lounge chairs and umbrellas set up along the beach, so after lunch Rory claims a spot. Settling in takes some effort; the residents of this planet are very large and significantly bottom-heavy, not to mention the prehensile tails. He eventually props himself up on a few folded towels, which is fairly comfortable and keeps him from sliding into the hollow at the back of the chair. Amy opts to sit on the sand itself, closer to the shore, staring out at the waves and listening to the ocean, although Rory notices that she's careful to sit close enough that they can both see each other. The Doctor is nowhere to be seen, having disappeared off on his own when it became clear that the two of them really do intend to sit still for a while. Rory can't shake the nagging feeling that he's going to come running back any second with some sort of complicated and improbable trouble following him, but he decides that even if it's inevitable there's no real point in worrying about it. He's starting to suspect that whoever wrote that prayer about accepting the things you cannot change was basing it on an encounter with the Doctor. He offers his wife a loving look, which she returns, and settles down to read.
This book is, he determines right away, exactly what a beach read should be. The plot is ridiculous, the characters are over-the-top, and even as some part of his brain is pointing out all the flaws he can't put it down. Of course, he's also quick to admit that part of the reason it's holding his attention so thoroughly is because the culture barrier means it's taking some serious effort to understand. He's just about worked out which of the suns the intergalactic terrorists are trying to detonate, but he's got no idea why the heroine is so angry about what her nest-brother said to her boss. After one particularly confusing scene, he realizes he's not even sure how many legs the heroine has.
Some time around the fifth chapter (good news, the heroine has found an encrypted message that could lead her to the terrorists' base of operations; bad news, the charming young computer expert who's helping her decode it has a girlfriend), Amy wanders up the beach to read over Rory's shoulder for a bit, then makes herself comfortable in the chair by his feet. There's more than enough room for her and she seems happy just to sit without talking, so it's another several chapters (bad news, the heroine has been captured by the terrorists; good news, the charming young computer expert is intent on finding her and he's beginning to question his commitment to his girlfriend) before it occurs to him to wonder what she's up to. It's the light touch of her hands across his feet that finally demands his attention, and he peers cautiously over the edge of the book. "Amy? What are you doing?"
"Painting your toenails orange," she says matter-of-factly, not bothering to look up. Well, he did ask. She holds up one hand to show her matching manicure, a bright melon color that Rory recognizes as one of her old favorites. Which means it's not one of the ones she just bought, which means that she packed nail polish for a day trip to the beach. Rory knows better than to be surprised by that.
He sighs gently and tries a different approach. "Why are you painting my toenails orange?"
"Because I thought it might suit you," she says playfully. "I like your toenails and I like orange, so I thought it would be a good combination. And I was right." She leans in with a grin and tilts her sunglasses down. Peering out from between the tinted lenses and the wide brim of her hat, her eyes seem to glow. "And because you are handsome and wonderful and sometimes I get a bit of amusement out of making you look a little silly." She kisses him. "And sometimes you let me get away with far too much."
"That part's definitely true," he agrees. Not that he'd have it any other way, as she well knows. "But I knew what I was getting into when I asked a madwoman to marry me."
She kisses him again and he pulls her into his arms, which proves to be a bad move as he overbalances and they both sink into the chair. There's a shriek of startled laughter, a muffled apology when Amy's elbow crashes into his chin, and when Rory can tell which direction is up again the Doctor is standing over them with a quizzical expression. "Are you just stuck, or should I come back later?"
"Definitely stuck." Amy manages to free a hand and holds it out to the Doctor. "Where have you been, anyway?"
He grabs her hand and manages to disentangle both of them. "Just down the beach a bit, throwing stones at the sea birds. They're throwing them right back," he adds quickly, catching Amy's startled look. "Gameplay's fairly straightforward, though the scoring is a bit complicated. And as the score is currently fourteen to pineapple and there's no way I can catch up on my own, I could use some backup."
He's giving them that grin, the one that promises something new and exciting and always delivers. It's already caught Amy, of course, and now both of them are looking at Rory and waiting for his answer. He grins. "Of course I'll play. But you'll have to wait a bit." He indicates his feet and gives Amy a dry look. "I don't think I'm allowed to move until my nails dry."
Even with a three-man team they barely manage to clear a score of tungsten by the end of the afternoon, but the birds seem to consider it a good effort. One of them gives Rory a sharp peck on the foot as they leave, which the Doctor assures him is the exact opposite of hostile. "It's quite approving, really. I wouldn't be surprised if orange claws become their next big trend."
Rory doesn't think he's ever going to shake the feeling that the entire universe is quietly mocking him. It's surprising how little he minds anymore, though.
The Doctor shades his eyes and studies the suns, which are starting to dip low over the water. "Well, come on, then," he says. "It's getting late. We'll want a good seat for the show."
"Let me guess," Amy says. "The birds have a sports team, don't tell me the lobsters have a ballet corps."
"Not on this planet, although I do know of one where they do if you're interested." The Doctor puts his arms around their shoulders and steers them back towards the lounge chairs. With a little bit of forward planning this time Rory is able to settle into a position where he can sit upright and hold Amy at the same time, and the Doctor squeezes in next to them with minimal effort. They're on a planet of large aliens with far more than two legs apiece; three humans to one of these chairs is no squeeze. "You're at the beach on a planet with three suns," the Doctor says, encouraging them to look out over the water. "You're going to remember this sunset for the rest of your lives."
The sky is already starting to dim, that brilliant blue washing out and going yellowish around the edges. The Doctor begins talking, his voice taking on that soft, eager tone that's half lecture, half storytelling. "A planet with three suns is a rare thing," he says, "but Malthyria IV is something unique." He points to the two yellow suns. "Malthyxides and Caphria are the heart of the system. They circle each other, and the rest of the system orbits them both. They travel across the sky together, always visible as two separate stars but clearly operating as a unit. Technically, Malthyria is a binary system, with two suns that shine all the brighter for being near each other."
Malthyxides is barely touching the lip of the world now, sending a lance of fire across the water. The sky is turning orange, but even as the colors are blazing brighter the air is growing colder. Amy snuggles closer against Rory, who holds her tighter and kisses her hair as Caphria burns a second streak onto the surface of the sea.
The Doctor continues, pointing higher up at the smaller blue sun, which has yet to make its descent. "Agathem is something different, though. It's not part of this system. It's a wandering star, a little blue traveler that got caught up in the suns' gravity and decided to dance with them for a while. It's racing along just inside this planet's orbit, a little wobbly for being so close to it, but otherwise acting as a third sun for Malthyria IV alone, while the rest of the planets in the system might never be affected by it. Eventually its orbit will change and it will spin off into some other corner of space, but for now…"
Amy smiles softly. "For now it's a binary system with a friend."
The Doctor laughs, equally soft. "That's one way of putting it."
The suns continue to sink, taking the sky and sea through a thousand colors as they descend. It's beautiful and breathtaking, and Rory knows that the Doctor is right: He's going to remember this moment forever, both for the sunset and for who he's sharing it with. He touches the Doctor's shoulder in thanks and feels his appreciation returned in the hand that meets his for a moment. He then returns his attention to his wife, who's as bright as a star herself in the multicolored light. Her eyes are closed and her head is beginning to drift towards his shoulder. He shifts his body slightly to make her more comfortable, giving her permission to fall asleep in his arms. He's not too far from sleep, either. "I dreamed about you," he murmurs. "For two thousand years you're all I dreamed about."
She makes a quietly amused noise, the one she makes when he says little things like that, things that are so simple and true but seem to overwhelm her. "Even though you didn't sleep?"
The Doctor responds before Rory can figure out how to. "Love dreams," he says, sounding dreamlike himself. "The body doesn't matter. Wherever it finds itself, love dreams." He leans in just enough to brush Amy's hair back, and then does the same to Rory. It's an unexpected gesture, but one that makes Rory feel contented. Protected. Perfectly secure.
The last bit of orange light disappears under the water, leaving only one small and improbable sun to watch over the world and bathe it in blue and purple light. Below it, wrapped in the glow of the silver sand and the whisper of the waves, love dreams.