Author's Note: Here's our final installment. I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone for reading this, signing up for alerts, favoriting, and reviewing. I appreciate it very much and I hope you've enjoyed the adventure.
Despite Guss' sulking, it didn't take long for the tension in the cafeteria to dissipate. Conversation resumed as platters of breakfast foods were passed around the table. By the time their plates were piled high, everyone was talking. Multiple conversations developed; Rory found himself pulled in to a debate over whether or not bacon or sausage was the best breakfast meat. Noora was asking Steed and Kelly questions about the ship. Amy was teasing the Doctor about his fondness for bow-ties, which prompted Raneri to talk about the wardrobe peculiarities of her uncle. Soon other members of the crew, Guss included, were talking about eccentric relatives with strange clothing choices. The Doctor was sputtering protests but when Rory caught his eye, he winked. Rory lowered his head, pretending to study his plate as he fought back laughter.
When the meal was over, the crew split up. Steed took three others with him to prepare the ground vehicle. Commander Kelly escorted Noora, Roona, and Loora out. The older women were speaking with the commander as they walked together. Raneri approached Rory, Amy, and the Doctor. She ran a critical eye over the Time Lord.
"Do I pass inspection?" he asked. He started to reach for his nonexistent tie and stopped, grabbing the lapels of his tweed coat instead. Amy's lips twitched.
"You look much better than you did last night," Raneri replied, motioning for them to move with her. They stepped out into the hallway, following Kelly and the Mullettes. "I'd like to check you over one more time, but we need to get you back to your ship."
"Don't worry," the Doctor told her. "My friends will look after me. Rory's a nurse and Amy's… persistent."
"Sounds like a perfect combination," laughed the blonde, glancing over her shoulder to grin at Amy and Rory. Up ahead in the corridor, Kelly had stopped and was motioning the Mullettes through a door. Noora went last, stopping long enough to shake the commander's hand. Kelly waited while the Doctor approached. Raneri stopped a few feet away.
"I think this is where I say good-bye," she told them. "Take care, you three. Maybe we'll meet again sometime." There were handshakes all around and then the trio moved on to where the commander was waiting by the door. She offered her hand to the Doctor and he took it with a smile.
"I'm sorry we don't have time to get to know all of you better," Kelly said.
"I think we've seen you at your best, Commander," he told her. Her smile widened and she shook hands with each of them before motioning them out the door.
The outside of the ship reminded Rory of an oversized airplane. They went down a short flight of steps to the ground, where the Mullette women were waiting. Roona and Loora hung back as Noora stepped up to meet the trio.
"You're returning to your village?" the Doctor asked. Noora nodded.
"As much as I'd love to stay and learn more about our guests, it's time to go home and begin the long work of rebuilding." The Time Lord nodded and Noora smiled at him. "You know, up until a few days ago, I thought I was an old woman who had seen everything. You three have shown me that there's so much more to know." She waved the Doctor forward and he moved, dropping to his knees so their eyes were level. She leaned forward, touching her forehead gently to his for a moment. When she drew back her eyes were glistening. She patted the Doctor's cheek before turning to Amy. Amy followed the Doctor's example and knelt down, only to find herself folded into the older woman's arms. Noora murmured something Rory couldn't hear into her ear before releasing her. Amy stood, moving to stand beside the Doctor as Noora approached Rory. He knelt as well and the older woman reached out to cup his face.
"I will miss hearing your thoughts, Rory," she murmured. "I know I don't have to worry about you taking care of those two, but don't forget to take care of yourself, eh?" She patted his cheek softly before drawing back.
The Mullette women moved away, disappearing into the jungle just before the ground vehicle arrived. Rory had wondered how well they could travel in a jungle with no roads, but one look at the vehicle's giant tires removed his doubts. They had to climb a ladder on the side of the car to get up to the seats. They settled into the middle bench and a glass dome whirred into place, closing them off from the jungle. Steed advised them to use the safety restraints and once they'd clicked them into place, he started them forward with a jerk.
The trip to the TARDIS in the ship's ground vehicle took a couple of hours. Steed and another man sat in the vehicle's front seat. Amy, Rory and the Doctor were in the middle seat, and two more men sat in the rear. Rory sat in the center of the seat, his fingers laced through Amy's and her shoulder brushing his. The Doctor was staring out the window, watching the passing scenery.
"So," Rory said, looking at Amy, "you were going to tell me about the star whale." She turned her head to meet his gaze, her grip tightening on his hand as she began to talk. She told him about a giant space-ship, a crying girl the Doctor wanted to help, meeting Elizabeth the 10th, and finding a giant whale trapped at the heart of the ship. The Doctor spoke up at that point, explaining how Amy had freed the whale. The creature had stayed, continuing to carry the humans and their ship safely on its back. They'd just finished telling him about meeting killer aliens called Daleks in Churchill's bunker when the vehicle jerked to a stop. The Doctor turned in mid-sentence to look out the dome. Rory could see his grin reflecting in the glass when his eyes landed on the TARDIS.
"That's your ship?" Steed asked. "That box?"
"Yes," the Doctor replied, his voice full of pride.
"But… it's a wooden box."
"It looks like a wooden box," corrected Rory.
"Just wait and see," Amy added, grinning. Steed shook his head and reached for a button to lower the dome.
"You three are either brilliant or bonkers," he muttered, holding out his hand. "Either way, I'm glad to have met you." They shook hands all around before climbing out of the car and crossing the short distance to the TARDIS. Rory had never thought he'd feel so glad to see the blue box. He waited impatiently while the Doctor ran a hand along the door panel before slipping his key into the lock and opening the door. Amy looked back to wave at the men in the vehicle before slipping inside. Rory went after her and the Doctor came last. He slipped past them, bounding up to the center console. They followed more slowly; Amy had her arm looped through Rory's and their shoulders brushed as they walked up. Once they reached the console, the Doctor turned the monitor so they could see the faces of the men in the ground vehicle, grinning as he pushed buttons, turned dials, and pulled a handle to launch them into the vortex. The men stared, their faces full of shock, as the TARDIS vanished before their eyes. Amy laughed, leaning into Rory. He couldn't help smiling.
"Well," the Doctor asked, rubbing his hands together happily, "where to next?"
"The med bay," Rory replied, letting go of Amy and moving to steer the Doctor toward the steps. "I want to check you over." The Time Lord pulled a face and Amy laughed, stepping up on his other side.
"You have to get those bandages off before we head for the beach," she told him. The Doctor's brows lifted.
"Yes," Amy replied.
"Somewhere warm, sunny, and festive," Rory agreed, guiding them into the corridor.
"I know just the place," the Doctor told them, his eyes lighting up. Rory steered him toward the med bay as Amy demanded to know where they were going. The Doctor refused to answer, telling her it was a surprise. Rory smiled to himself as they continued down the hall, enjoying the banter and teasing. It seemed impossible that he'd ever felt the TARDIS' corridors were unnerving; they felt welcoming now. He was home.