The Judoon was fast and River was fast and the bowtie was maybe not ideal for running in, after all, but Rory did his best. It was strange how often 'let's go back to the TARDIS' turned into 'run, run, RUN in a completely different direction'.
The Judoon had headed into a street lined with stalls offering fruit of all kinds, the pounding of his boots merging with the sounds of commerce and (becoming more prevalent) the noises of distress.
"We shouldn't let him get much further!" shouted River, glancing back at Rory. "Weshouldn't go much further!"
And then, as if he had heard her, the Judoon stopped. He reached for his communicator. People stared, moved back slightly, pointed.
River and Rory stopped too.
"This is our chance," said River, pushing hair out of her eyes. "We need to get the people away from the Judoon. Or the Judoon away from the people."
"Why?" asked Rory, trying to control his breathing.
The Judoon had already replaced his communicator and was looking over the crowd.
River grimaced. "He'll start interrogating people."
"Let's say he's looking for the Doctor…" said Rory. "If he found him, what would he do to him?"
River narrowed her eyes. "Does that matter?"
"If I could draw his attention, he wouldn't care about the people, right?"
"Probably not, but you would have his fullattention."
"Let me guess – that's bad?"
"Listen; I'll take care of him. Do what you want. He won't touch you, I promise." She looked like she meant it. She reallylooked like she meant it.
Rory swallowed. "It's a plan."
"Remember, you've got the sonic."
"I've got-" He paused, sighed. Nothing surprised him anymore. "Point and press, right?"
"Right," said River. She adjusted her jacket and slipped into the crowd.
Rory looked around. Already a few locals were staring at him. Well, if the Judoon was looking for the Doctor, Rory would give him the Doctor.
He would just… He took a breath. That didn't help much. (Really, it had been much simpler at home, when Amy had been there, smiling, encouraging him…) He drew back his shoulders, straightened the bowtie. He didn't have time to be nervous.
Rory approached a few people gathered in front of a stall selling purplish fruit. "You should leave the market right now," he said, using his most gentle voice.
The people summarily quit considering the fruit and turned to stare at him.
"That fruit is… bad for you." He fondled the jacket collar a little, couldn't help to tap his trainer.
"Rory?" asked the oldest person.
"No, I'm not Rory! I have a bowtie!"
"Rory?" asked the youngest.
"I'm the Doctor! Run! Please?"
"It's a vegetable, not a fruit," said a child.
Rory decided it was best to move on, best to make the Judoon see him; so he smiled, sort of bowed, turned unsteadily (completely unintentional) and ploughed through the crowd.
Then, in the space of thirty seconds, he scared a few chicken-things, patted a few noseless dogs, hugged a few lampposts, snatched and juggled some fruit. Gave an old man's hat the thumbs up, grinned brightly at an old lady, handed a small child a dropped toy. "You!" he announced, pointing to a young woman. "Be magnificent!"
And here came the Judoon.
Towards him. Oh, good. And River was nowhere to be seen. Even better.
Rory casually opened the jacket and squeezed his fingers into the inner pocket; caught the lumpy end of the sonic screwdriver and fished it out. He realised he wasn't entirely sure what he was supposed to do with it.
Still, the Doctor would… The Doctor would… Rory took a deep breath and marched straight up to the Judoon.
The Judoon stopped, stared at him. At his face. At the screwdriver. At the bowtie.
"I am the Doctor and you are a space rhino and you're always in the way." Rory shook a finger. "And you won't ever be able to catch me! So there!"
Rory envisioned the actual Doctor (past or future or raggedy or whatever) watching from the shadows; mortified or possibly pleased.
The Judoon reached towards his belt and Rory, startled, pointed the sonic at the closest lamppost and pressed the part he thought he was supposed to press. Surely it would amount to something.
A nearby quasi-watermelon exploded, to the delight of the chicken-things and the noseless dogs; as bits of pulp fell to the ground, they happily devoured them.
A drop of juice hit Rory on the cheek and he made a noise halfway between a laugh and a whimper. He was quite certain things like this didn't happen to the Doctor.
At least the locals got moving, running in all directions; that was always something.
And then he saw River, at the edge of his vision.
The Judoon didn't seem to care at all about the fact that Rory had made a watermelon explode; he tugged a rod of some kind from his belt and raised it. Pointed it at Rory's forehead.
River did nothing, so Rory did nothing.
There was a light and a sound and no particular discomfort; and the Judoon replaced the rod.
And now, River smoothly inserted herself between Rory and the Judoon. Rory tried to pass her the sonic, but she slapped it away. "So, is he the one you're looking for?" she asked, and Rory privately thought that maybe bluntness wasn't the best tactic here.
But: the Judoon said, "No."
River put a hand on her hip. "Just what I thought."
The Judoon stared at her. "There is a problem?"
"No, not at all," said River. "Just a little… curiosity." (Despite seeing nothing but her rather extensive hairdo and the top of the Judoon's head, Rory knewshe smiled.)
The Judoon stared some more. "What kind of curiosity?"
"How about you meet me in that bar" – she pointed – "at, say, midnight? I can explain it all to you."
"That is not acceptable."
"I can't do it now." River made a sad little sound. "Midnight. Take it or leave it."
A few seconds passed. Then a few more. Then the Judoon said, "Midnight." And then he turned and jogged off.
River faced Rory. Her eyes glittered.
"What just…" said Rory.
"He scanned you. You're not a Time Lord." She patted his cheek. "Still a human in a bowtie."
"Right." Rory slipped the sonic back into the pocket, stretched. "I never want to see another scanner again."
"Thing is, he's still heading for the Doctor. Run?"
There was indeed an ambulance parked in the middle of the shopping street (its side said the amyrory hospital, for some reason). In addition to the many medics, people steadily emerged from the shops with food and drink and blankets and soap.
A great deal of street was illuminated, but it was still, indisputably, night.
The Doctor darted about patting heads and straightening blankets and smiling at people.
Amy smiled a bit, too. At least the people seemed okay. "Doctor, none of this makes sense," she hissed, at the first opportunity.
"I think it makes perfect sense," said the Doctor, between twirls. He grinned. "I know what's going on."
"Yeah, great, wonderful, and so on." She pointed. "Doctor!"
River and Rory-in-the-bowtie were across the street, waving. Rory looked breathless and mussed and trailed a shoelace (but the bowtie was impeccably straight), and he laughed a little too enthusiastically. And now he started waving at other people, too.
River looked like… well, River.
The Doctor sighed with relief.
They met by the ambulance, which was wheel-less and vaguely shaped like a barrel.
The Doctor made straight for Rory, clamping both hands onto his tweed-covered shoulders. "Look at you! You're wonderful! I should make all my companions dress up as me! It could be a test!"
"Yeah," said Amy, looking and grinning. "Look at you!"
"Eh," said Rory.
The Doctor grinned "Half a day as me and you're just a little tousled! And you have lipstick on your cheek!"
"They thought River was Amy." Rory sighed. "They wanted pictures."
"Why does the ambulance have our names on it?" asked Amy. "And why are all these people staring?"
People were gathering around the ambulance, and they were definitely staring quite a lot.
"I wonder that too." Rory blushed, turned away the best he could. He ran a hand through his hair; Amy watched. Then she lazily wound her arms around him and kissed him on the lips.
The crowd offered a collective gasp.
"We met a Judoon," said River, completely ignoring everyone who wasn't the Doctor.
"We met three," said the Doctor. "Shut them in the fairy lights museum. What did you do with yours?"
"Oh, he's here somewhere. Presumably gone to let your three out, if his frequent use of the communicator is anything to go by."
"Hm. We should…"
"Mm. Not least because these people are going to start queuing to see Rory any moment now."
"Stop it, Ponds," said the Doctor, swatting. "We've got talking to do!"
A while later, in the nearest deserted alleyway, Rory made his best grimace and said, "And I thought it was over now." The Doctor had just held a monologue that had contained the words 'paradox' and 'future-Rory' far too many times. It was definitely not over.
River pulled out her journal and a pencil, flipped to a seemingly random page and scribbled something. "It hardly ever is," she offered.
"Thanks," said Rory.
Amy squeezed his hand. "It's not all bad. You're getting a haircut."
"My hot husband from the future told me." Amy looked at River. "Did you know about the gambling board?"
River shook her head, looking a little forlorn. "No, but I'm not surprised."
"And you know something and you can't say it," said the Doctor.
"Of course. There's a difference between a single paradox reliant on information, and…" She trailed off, grinned.
"Do you have anything meaningful to add?"
"Just that you should send the notice via the psychic paper. You'll need it to trade messages with the scanner sphere."
The Doctor rubbed at an eye, and said, heavily, "I have to create a paradox."
"Oh, you love it. Wouldn't have happened if you'd gone sightseeing, like I told you."
The Doctor glared.
River replaced the journal. "Lucky one of us has a shred of patience. This has been exciting, if not particularly eventful. Rory made a spectacular you. I'm thinking of adding him to my spotter's guide; might as well, you know."
"Speaking of that…" Rory tugged hesitantly at the bowtie, unravelled it slowly. "We're done for now? You can have this back now, right, Doctor?"
"Hm?" said the Doctor.
"Do you want the stupid bowtie back?" Amy supplied helpfully.
"Oh! Keep it. Until we get back to the TARDIS. No, that's not nice, you can keep it, full stop. You deserve it!"
"That's all right," said Rory. "It's yours, you should have it back."
"Might want to keep it for future use," said River, giving him a Meaningful Look and a smirk.
"All right, I'll keep it. Thank you, Doctor. Do you want the jacket back?"
The Doctor hesitated, looked down at the grey coat, then up at the hat on Amy's head. (Amy stuck out her tongue.) "Yes," he said, firmly. "But I'll let you wear it till we're in the TARDIS. We should go there now, I think."
"What about the compensation?" asked Amy, when they sneakily passed the ambulance on their way back to the TARDIS. Not one of the locals noticed them (most of them seemed very much recovered now), and there wasn't a Judoon in sight.
"Later," said the Doctor. "We have things to do first!"
Rory took a break from sneaking apprehensive looks over a shoulder and snorted. "There's the toaster to rewire and a ladder to hold?"
"And Amy and I have a game to play," said River.
Amy grinned. "Can't keep the pocket dimension waiting!"
The Doctor squinted at Rory. "You look unhappy, Rory. Why do you look unhappy?"
"What?" said Rory. "No, I'm not."
"No, you look unhappy."
"I… It's just that all River and I did was walk and meet a yellow alien while being spied on by you! And I was scannedand it was… And you talked to me from the future. It's just kind of strange."
"But now the boring part is over." The Doctor was quiet for a moment. "What if I made a thing to keep the ladder in place? You can help me in the ceiling."
Rory sighed. "Will you show me how to use the sonic? Just the basics?"
"Ha! I can, if you want me to. You've gotthe sonic, haven't you?"
"He does," said River. She presented the Sour Sour. "And I've got this. For you, Sweetie."
"My favourite!" The Doctor snatched it, licked at it, made a face, then a different face, licked it again; and then he threw it over a shoulder. "They haven't changed the recipe yet. Too sour!"
The Sour Sour soared through the air, barely visible. And then it fell toward the ground... fell… fell… and bounced ineffectually off a Judoon helmet.
All four of the Judoon were there: three of them still brushed the odd string of lamps from their armour; the fourth was helmetless. "Correction: 3360 transgressions," said the Leader.
"Run," moaned Rory.
The darkness was complete when they reached the TARDIS; lights were few and far between here, and the cloudy weather meant no star was visible.
The Judoon hadn't caught up with them yet, and the Doctor found the key relatively quickly.
The breeze had picked up and Amy clamped the hat down onto her head, her hair streaming behind her, getting in Rory's face and tangling with the unravelled bowtie.
They scrambled inside; River kept an eye on the approaching Judoon for a long moment until she slipped inside. The TARDIS was welcomingly quiet.
The little light that had started it all blinked even more insistently now, though. As soon as Amy lowered her hand, the Doctor snatched the hat and threw it. After that, the light was no longer visible, which was kind of a relief.
Rory folded his arms. "So we're all just okay with this? Waiting for something to happen? Doctor, aren't you worried? About unwriting time and all those things you talked about?"
"Yes. But that's the great thing about time travel."
"Think about what you've seen here… Isn't it exciting?"
Rory thought. There was the Judoon and the sphere, but then there was also the attention he'd got, which was confusing and a bit embarrassing; and then there was Leerd and the statues. And then there was that ambulance. That had been nice. And his future self, fixing things. That was also nice.
River squeezed his shoulder.
The Doctor grinned.
Before he knew it, Rory grinned back. It wasa bit exciting.
"So!" exclaimed the Doctor, lacing his fingers. "The Judoon will leave once they see us leave, I should think. We appear to have some time before we need to save the Universe… What do you say we come back a little later and make the most of the bubble farm? And I believe we have a lottery ticket to buy and a compensation to hand out!"
Rory frowned. "Won't the Judoon maybe wait here until you come back?"
The Doctor snorted. "No." He grinned up at the gaping hole in the ceiling, passed the fallen ladder and positioned himself next to the space/time throttle.
"Their files – along with everyone else's – will say that the Doctor doesn't usually return," River informed them. "At least not to the same century."
"What if they find the other you?" asked Rory.
"They won't," said the Doctor.
"I'm going back," said Amy. "You know, want to see the singing houses, not just climb over them."
"We have to go back", said River. "Rory's got an appointment."
"River's got a date," said Rory.
"Yes, well, first things first." The Doctor fiddled with the controls. "Five days should do it. Should we change clothes now or shouldn't we?"
"We should," said Rory, glancing longingly at his own orange cardigan on the console seat.
"Just do it," said Amy.
"Might cause another paradox if you don't," added River.
The Doctor grinned broadly, as if that was just what he wanted to hear. Then he looked from River to Amy. "Would either of you be interested in a bowtie?"