Spoilers: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.
Word Count: ~3800
Summary: The slow path and the winding road sometimes intersect. In a small world, they do so more often.
Feedback: Yes, please. Comments are more than welcome.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Doctor Who belongs to the BBC and these particular characters spring from the imagination of Steven Moffat. I'm just having fun here. No harm or material profit is intended.
Note: Written for the 2011 Remix Redux challenge, for heddychaa. Mostly based on One Long Starless Night, Two Old Soldiers Met at a Crossroads , but with a few elements of Plastic Dolls Floating Across the Atlantic, Toy Soldiers Crowding the Pacific. Thank you to heddychaa for letting me remix their story, and I hope I haven't made too much of a mess out of it.
Thanks also to my beta, Beth Winter, who did a very quick job and saved me from embarassing myself with tense mistakes.
"And stay out of t-"
With that, the Doctor was gone, and Rory settled in for the long haul. All the Romans who'd been around were now either stone or just plain gone, so he could be in for a long wait. That was fine, though.
As it turned out, he didn't even get the chance to wonder whether his rumbling stomach was mere habit, or if he really was hungry. There was another spark to signal a Vortex Manipulator being used right in front of him. And the person using it wasn't the Doctor.
It was a dark-haired man in a long, dark coat. As soon as he arrived, he rushed toward the Pandorica. Rory barely managed to intercept him and push him back.
"Stay away," Rory warned, brandishing his sword for emphasis.
The man backed away from the sword a little. Not far, though. He looked Rory in the eye and gestured to the Pandorica. "I have to open it. I made a mistake, but maybe I can still fix it."
After that explanation, he tried again to get to the Pandorica, perhaps thinking that Rory would let him through this time. No such thing. This time, Rory didn't just push him back, he forced the man all the way to the back of the cave. It was surprisingly easy, too. "You can't open it."
Only now did the man really seem to see Rory. He put a hand on Rory's bare arm, not to push, just a touch. He gave him a long, searching look, and then cast his glance around the cave. "You're a Nestene construct. All of the others turned to stone. Why didn't you?"
Rory frowned. This wasn't anything he should be talking about. He decided to go for evasive. "It's a long story."
The man nodded. "One we don't have time for, okay." He held up his hands and Rory carefully relaxed his grip. "Let me ask you something. Do you know who that cage was built for?"
"The Doctor." The words were out of Rory's mouth before he could stop himself.
"Yes." His shoulders sagged. "They made me help build it. I found out too late the cage was for him." The man closed his eyes and swallowed. "By then, they'd already locked him up and everything started disappearing. I'm out of options. Maybe the Doctor still knows something. " He opened his eyes again. With a deep breath, he pulled himself up straight. "If I can get him out of that cage."
Rory stepped back and sheathed his sword. "The Doctor isn't in there."
That caused the other man's eyes to widen. "What? But…" He didn't finish that sentence. Instead, he studied Rory's face some more. Finally, the shock was forced off his face by a brilliant smile. "That's the Doctor, all right." Then he frowned again. "So why are you guarding it? Who's still in there?"
"Someone important. To me." Rory didn't want to say any more than that. It might even have been too much already.
After a few seconds silence, the man nodded. "I can understand that." He gave Rory a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Well then, looks like I have some heads to bash in before they all disappear. Best of luck, my friend." And he teleported out.
It was only a few years after that, even before the Romans came back, that Rory saw him again. Or someone like him, at least. He was noticeably younger this time. No lines on his face, no panic in his eyes, no urgency in his movements. He just teleported in, looked around, and smiled as soon as he saw Rory.
"Ave, centurio," he said, and Rory realized he was actually speaking Latin. And even in Latin, he was turning on the charm. He took a bow. "The name is Sextus Horatius ." There was no way that was his real name. Fluent in Latin or no, he wasn't dressed like any Roman, Celt or Gaul Rory had ever seen. And he didn't behave like one, either. "I seem to have taken a wrong turn somewhere. I don't happen to be near Pompeii, do I?"
Rory shook his head. He wanted to say something to that effect as well, but before he could find his long disused voice, Horatius had seen something in the gloom behind Rory. Horatius turned on Rory, not letting him finish his sentence. "Is that the Pandorica? It is, isn't it? Oh, this is just…" Now Horatius was lost for words. For a little while at least.
"I thought it was just a fairy tale," he said at last. "But here it is, solid as anything."
He moved to touch the Pandorica, but now Rory stepped in and grabbed his arm. "Stay away."
After only the barest moment of hesitation, Horatius abandoned the Pandorica as his target. He backed away. Instead, he smiled again at Rory. "As ordered, centurion." He produced a hip flask from somewhere and offered it to Rory. "Can I offer you some refreshment?" A wink. "Or anything else?"
Rory refused the offered flask and ignored the wink. Horatius shrugged and sat down next to the petrified remains of another Roman soldier, taking a sip from the flask. "I really hadn't intended to end up here, you know. Something's a little wacky with…" he shook his head. His smile returned, and he directed it at Rory again. "Never mind. I'm sure we'll find a way to pass the time. Right, centurion?"
Rory backed against the Pandorica, taking comfort in its solidity. "You'd better leave."
Horatius shrugged. "You don't know what you're missing out on. Too bad." He fiddled with something on his wrist. "Well then, centurion. Vale." He touched the device on his wrist and vanished as the Doctor had, all those years ago.
There was silence, after that, until the Romans came.
The Romans caused a few busy years. When they first came, the soldiers wouldn't listen when Rory said they couldn't approach. When he sent a few of them limping back to camp, others drew their weapons. Things got bloody then. He could still hear the screams. Eventually, a legate arrived, willing to talk. Rory reluctantly agreed to transport to Rome, if only because that was the only way to make the soldiers stop trying to kill him.
The trip to Rome was nice. He could see the sun again, for a few weeks at least. It didn't look like the sun he remembered, and there were no stars in the night sky. He'd forgotten about that already.
The Pandorica was placed in a temple on the grounds of the Imperial Palace, for personal perusal by the Emperor. For the next few years, Rory found his vigil broken every so often by visits from courtiers. Soon, however, the spoils of another war came in, the Pandorica was moved to a vault at the back of the temple, and basically he'd exchanged a cave in Britain for a cave in Rome.
Years and even centuries passed like that, only broken by the few weeks every three decades or so when the Pandorica was moved to a new vault. The glimpses of civilization Rory caught in those times didn't make much sense to him. Britain as he knew it didn't exist yet and might never. He remembered being a Roman, but these weren't Romans as he remembered them anymore either. The quiet of the vaults was almost preferable to this world, where people honestly (and correctly) believed earth was the centre of the universe, and that the stars belonged in fairy-tales.
Slowly but surely, in these sporadic movements from vault to vault, Rory found himself in France. Then, after the French king bought several French knights' freedom, in England. Finally.
It wasn't much different from Rome, really. For a little while, the Pandorica was a curiosity that was carted around the country on display, but then the box, and Rory with it, disappeared into the royal vaults. At least this time, he got visitors.
The first time, it was Horatius again. When he teleported in, he looked confused for a moment. Then he flashed a thousand watt smile at Rory again. He bowed. "We meet again, centurion. Must be destiny." He looked around. "You did some redecorating, I see."
"Your aim hasn't gotten better," Rory told him. "You're still nowhere near Italy."
Horatius nodded. "Yeah, too bad. There's definitely something weird going on. But I'm sure we can make things interesting here." He took a seat on a nearby crate and gestured at the Pandorica. "You know, I've always wondered. What will happen if that thing is ever opened? Do you know?"
"The end of the world," Rory answered. It was what he had told everyone who had ever asked, and he'd had the stories to back it up, too. And it wasn't even wrong. If the Pandorica opened at the wrong time, Amy wouldn't have healed and his world, at least, would end right then and there. If it opened at the right time, well then, who knew what might happen? The Doctor hadn't exactly explained his plans, so all Rory could do was trust it would work.
Horatius wasn't having any of it, though. He scowled at Rory. "Not the version for the tourists, centurion. I know the fairy tales, too. I mean, really, what will happen?"
Rory countered that question with another question. "If you're not a tourist, what are you? People don't generally just drop in here out of thin air."
"They don't generally drop in here at all, by the looks of it. Aren't you lonely, Lone Centurion?" Horatius had pulled out his flask again, and again he was offering Rory a sip. Even if Rory were thirsty, though, accepting it would mean giving up his post next to the Pandorica. Horatius had chosen his distances well. Close enough to hold a conversation, but not close enough that Rory could do anything else without stepping away from the Pandorica. And Horatius knew it. He shifted to sit more comfortably on his crate. "And as for what I am, I…"
Horatius paused, and Rory could see his eyebrows shoot up, then drop into a frown. Worry. It didn't last long. Horatius recovered with a speed that indicated long practice. He simply shook his head and continued, "… it's really not that important. I'm here, and you look like you could do with the company." He grinned and patted the area of the crate next to him. "There's not too many comforts here, but we can make do."
Horatius was right about that. Rory could do with the company. But Horatius also unnerved him, especially that look of worry just now. What had that meant? It almost seemed as if he'd meant to say something else, but had forgotten what he wanted to say in the middle of the sentence.
Horatius took Rory's long silence as a refusal. "Still not interested, centurion?" He sighed. "Such a shame." He hopped off the crate and started fiddling with his wristband. "Then I know better than to stay where I'm not welcome. Goodbye again, centurion."
And he was gone, again.
Several years later, the next visitor, if you could call it that, was Queen Victoria. Rory barely knew how to hold himself. Kneel, salute, simply stand and answer… all of it seemed wrong, somehow. She was also full of questions, asking them plainly, and not stopping until she either had the answer she wanted to hear, or until she was convinced Rory could say no more.
Rory didn't think he'd made a good impression. That hypothesis was pretty much confirmed when a few days (weeks? Not much longer than that, certainly) later, a whole group of soldiers and scientists showed up. They wanted to study the Pandorica. It was the first time Rory heard the name 'Torchwood.'
Torchwood was persistent. At first, they tried to be polite. But since Rory kept refusing to tell them what they wanted to hear, and, more importantly, kept refusing them access to the Pandorica, they eventually resorted to force. And, that, of course, forced Rory to use violence as well.
It was very obvious when they'd decided to stop using reason. Before, the soldiers had kept their sidearms shouldered or holstered. This time, all of them came with weapons drawn and aimed. He hadn't hesitated. He'd drawn his sword and charged the nearest one. About all the protection Rory had was that they didn't want to shoot the Pandorica or each other. Nevertheless, he took a number of bullets, enough that he started to fear he'd stop functioning if he let this continue any further.
For the first time in centuries - for the first time in more than a millennium - for the first time since he'd shot the love of his life, Rory fired his own hand-gun.
He didn't want to think about it.
Eventually, it helped convince Torchwood that he was better left alone. He was technically imprisoned in the warehouse he was now in, but since he didn't particularly care about going outside, that was fine.
When Harkness first came to visit him, a few decades after that, Rory first thought that Horatius had come back again.
He'd heard someone moving, and he called out "Who's there?" He hadn't really expected an answer. Torchwood still came to this warehouse, but they left the area where they'd stored the Pandorica well enough alone.
Still, "A friend," someone answered, with a voice Rory recognized as Horatius'. When he stepped into the light, he looked like Horatius, too. Fearing another attempt at… well… fraternization, Rory's hand went to his sword. "Whoa, touchy," his visitor said, immediately spreading his arms, hands open and palms out, to indicate he wasn't armed. He smiled, but it wasn't Horatius' flirty grin. Rather, it was the smile of a schoolboy introducing himself to a new class, all nerves and 'don't hurt me'.
Rory relaxed his grip on his sword. "How did you get in here?" he asked, instead.
"I suppose you could say in a way I belong here," the man said. He approached, but carefully. "I just came to talk. Can we talk?"
The visitor was now quite near him. "Jack Harkness," he introduced himself. "Mind if I sit?"
Rory nodded at that, too. He sat down himself, too. It was far too long since he'd really done that. Just take comfort in the solid hum of the Pandorica at his back, and no weight on his feet.
The visitor sat down next to him, back resting against the Pandorica as well, and the sigh that escaped him as he sat down felt very familiar to Rory. It was the kind of sigh he'd have uttered if he'd still breathed.
"It feels alive," Harkness said.
"She is. She's alive."
"Is that why you've been protecting it?" Harkness asked. Rory didn't answer. Harkness let the silence stretch for a while, but he was no Horatius. He didn't give up when Rory refused to talk. "You're lucky. You know why you're here, and what you're doing." He sounded wistful. He wasn't really talking to Rory, just talking to break up the silence. "I wish I knew."
He kept on talking, too. "I heard you gave Torchwood quite a bit of trouble before they left you alone." There was more amusement in his voice now, but that was really not appropriate for what Rory had to do to get Torchwood to leave him alone.
"I'm sorry about that," he said.
"I don't need your apologies," Harkness said dismissively. "I know I've wanted to do worse to my keepers sometimes. It's just that they know how to stop me."
Rory looked up at that statement, confused. Harkness saw his frown, and nodded. "We're anomalies, the both of us. I haven't been around as long as you have, but…" He paused, frowning himself. "I remember that I came here, in the 19th century, but I can't remember where I came from. It's all a blur. And what I remember doesn't make any sense."
"I know how that feels." The words were out before Rory realized, but it didn't matter, because Harkness was now in full flow.
"I remember the stars. I dream of them. And that's crazy enough, because there's no such thing as stars. But sometimes, I even think I remember different worlds, strange worlds with strange creatures, and with different stars." Harkness shook his head. "Does any of this even make sense?"
Weirdly enough, it did.
"Why would we know what stars are if they never existed?" Rory asked in reply. It was the only comfort he could give. Anything else would have been telling. Rory hadn't been with the Doctor long, but Harkness' description sounded very similar, all right. Somehow, Harkness had travelled. Maybe he was 'Horatius' after all? But then why didn't Harkness remember that? Or why didn't Horatius?
Rory's reply had struck Harkness silent. But now his cautious smile expanded to Horatius' grin. He laughed, and Rory heard the hope in it. "True enough. Thank you, centurion."
Harkness – Jack – visited regularly after that. It helped. Together they watched and worried as the warehouse got emptier and emptier without anyone ever coming in to take anything out. They both remembered that there were more boxes, but they'd apparently never been there.
Rory had a sense of the shrinking world now. Jack had come to him in the early 20th century. The years passed quicker now. Rory had a vague awareness that World War II should be coming, but it still took him by surprise when the bombs started to fall.
And then other things started to fall, too. Those bombs must be falling nearby, threatening the structure of this warehouse. It wouldn't be safe here much longer. He had to move the Pandorica.
It had been a long time since he'd had to try to move it, and he'd usually had help. But eventually he got the Pandorica moving, and then it was easier to keep going. Not before time, too, because a crash behind him told of at least one roof beam collapsing. Then parts of beams started falling around him, too, and the temperature started to rise. Rory pulled harder. He had to get out of here.
He was halfway out when lightning arced next to him and Harkness appeared. He fell to the ground almost instantly.
Actually, strike that. It wasn't Harkness, it was Horatius. "Centurion?" the man asked as Rory helped him up. His clothing was torn in places, and he was dirty, as if he'd had to make several close escapes. "Oh, thank goodness. If anywhere's safe, it should be here." Only now he looked around. His eyes widened. "Oh, no. It's happening here, too?"
"What's happening?" Rory asked. He had a feeling this wasn't about the bombardments going on outside.
Horatius held on to Rory's arm tightly, as if making sure he was solid. He was breathing hard, too. Something had sent him running. "People are disappearing. Everywhere I go, things disappear. I only just got away last time before the floor disappeared from under me." He paused to take a breath and to swallow. He also let go of Rory and straightened himself. "I thought if I could find you, I'd be safe." He shook his head. "But it seems things are coming apart here, too."
He had barely finished talking when another roof beam came falling down. Horatius ducked to avoid it and… was gone. Rory pulled away the rubble, but Horatius hadn't been crushed under the beam, he'd just disappeared. Completely.
Rory couldn't search much longer, because those collapsing beams had been getting in early, beating the rush. The whole roof was coming down. He had to get out of here now. To make things worse, fires were starting, too.
In the end, it was Jack who pulled him out. He'd waded into the fire to pry Rory's fingers from the ropes he'd been using to pull the Pandorica along, showing the blatant disregard for his own life that only an immortal could have. He pulled Rory out of the blaze and out of the rubble, away from the Pandorica.
Rory fought him every inch of the way.
Resentment couldn't last all that long, however. Jack helped fix the damage the fire had done to him, using little bits of 'anomalies' from the Torchwood archives that hadn't disappeared yet. And then Jack showed him how to be a little more… subtle about his surveillance. With Torchwood thinking he was dead, Rory had to. He was in a lot of jobs in private security around then.
The world was getting scarily small. Rory was pretty sure Egypt hadn't ever been in Asia, for one. And while he couldn't say from personal experience, he'd been taught in school that the United States consisted of a little more than about five cities with a few hundred miles of countryside in between. Worse was the day he woke up and found out that apparently Great Britain had always consisted only of Greater London and some surrounding villages. Well, and Cardiff, for some reason.
Even scarier than that was that Jack was starting to forget these things, too. He remembered Antarctica, and he knew about Tehran and Johannesburg and Belgrade long after these had ceased to have any meaning to anyone else. Still, sometimes Rory would reference something he remembered, and Jack would look at him and frown. He didn't say anything, but the frown was enough.
One day, Jack couldn't remember Torchwood.
The next day, Cardiff had never existed.
A week later, Jack didn't show up.
He had never existed.
It was time.
It was the end of everything. The Doctor launched the Pandorica toward the TARDIS, and Rory waited with River and Amy on the last island of reality that was left. He looked to the doorway, beyond which had been a world getting continually smaller. Now the doorway was all that's left.
And someone appeared in it. At first, Rory thought he recognized Jack Harkness, but Jack had been gone for weeks now. Then he realized it was Harkness, or at least one more of his doubles he'd been meeting through the years. Let's call him a much older Horatius.
Horatius simply looked at the rising Pandorica, and smiled. Then he caught Rory looking at him, and recognition dawned. Just as the doorway itself was swallowed by the shrinking world, he raised his arm, and saluted.
"Have we met?" Jack Harkness asked as he shook Rory's hand. Rory had introduced himself simply to stop Jack and Amy flirting. Not that it was working. Or rather, now Jack had started to include him, too. "I've got a feeling I should know you."
"I don't know," Rory said. He couldn't tell anymore. He'd met at least three different people who looked like Jack. He'd known one version of this man very well, but the others, so little. Which of these was Jack Harkness?
Note:Why is Sextus Horatius called that? Following the pattern, young Jack's pseudonym's first name should really start with a J, but there are no Roman praenomina that start with a J or even an I. But the praenomen 'Sextus' is commonly abbreviated to 'Sex.' I thought that would be appropriate.