Characters: Rory Williams and River Song
Rating: K+ (for a bit of kissing - it's River Song, what do you expect?)
Summary: Rory Williams died. But he didn't. It's all fuzzy and a bit distracting.
Authors Note: This is one of those story ideas that bounced around inside my head for months. It started out as something else entirely, and ended up as this. It's an unusual form for me, so I'd love to know what you think about it. Does it work?
The story is complete at one chapter. It is also posted on the who_contest challenge in livejournal - I'd highly recommend having a look on there if you'd like to find some other excellent stories.
Rory Williams dies.
Sometime later he wakes up.
It is dark and the air is full of the sounds of sleeping bodies. He can smell sweat and animals. Not at all what he imagined the afterlife would be like.
He realises he is in a tent when he sees daylight through a gap in the canvas. The shaft of light reflects on a suit of Roman armour propped against the side of the cot. He knows it is his armour. He remembers its weight against his chest even though he knows he has never worn armour in his life.
He runs his hand along it. The metal is smooth and cool to touch. There are cracks of wear in the leather straps that are as familiar as his own fingernails.
He died, he thinks. He touches his chest, expecting to find a bloody mess. But he is wearing a coarse linen under-shirt and his body feels whole. He hurts as he moves, but it is a stiffness rather than pain; like he's spent the day on horseback or fighting in one of the border campaigns.
He's never rode a horse, unless you count a Shetland pony when he was seven. And fighting a what?
He lies down and considers his situation. The men that shuffle in their sleep around him have been his friends since childhood. Rena, the pretty serving girl curled on the floor nearby is probably dreaming of that kiss and 'tumble' she has been demanding for nearly a year. He has slept on this cot since they came across the water twelve months ago.
So why does it feel wrong.
He closes his eyes against an overwhelming dizziness, but instead of darkness he sees the most beautiful face in the world framed in red hair. He hears screaming like a terrible echo.
He opens his eyes again. He is breathing too fast.
One of the soldiers snores. Someone farts. These are sounds he has listened to since he enlisted as a teenager.
That first day in the camp, he runs through the motions of Roman life like an automaton. He dons his armour, rolls up his bed roll and marches with the Legion as though he has been doing it all his life. Rena pinches his bottom during a meal break.
He bats her away as he feels his face flush. He thinks 'Okay, just go with it. The Doctor will be here soon. He'll sort it all out.'
At night he lies in a blanket roll that feels as comfortable as an old jumper. The noises around him are familiar, but still the strangest things he has ever heard. He doesn't fall asleep for a long time.
When he does he dreams of another life and as he wakes he expects to see long red hair on the pillow. Instead he wakes up to the smell of damp grass and horse manure. When he reaches out to her side of the bed, he finds the canvas of the tent still wet with dew.
The first days are the hardest. He's in a Roman camp, with Roman friends and Roman memories, but all he can think of is how much he wants a Big Mac when his dish is filled with slop again. His feet hurt at the end of a day marching and he wishes he had a decent pair of trainers. Every time he sees one of the scrawny messengers running up and down the line he wonders why they don't just send a text, or set up walkie talkies.
Gradually, though, it gets easier. The memories of the other life become less invasive.
He is not sure when the Roman camp becomes his real life. It might be the day he beats a Centurion on the sword ground with tricks he could never have known as a nurse. Or the time that Rena pinches him and he doesn't pull away. Or when he watches the Legionaries drill through their paces in the clearing mist and he knows he has never seen anything so wonderful.
He still fights to remember the little things about before; the tree in the garden at home, sitting on the stairs listening to her mutter after an argument, the Doctor. But the memories are falling like water through his fingers. The tighter he tries to hold them, the quicker they slip away. One day he sees her face, but he cannot remember her name. It scares him.
He knows he should stop waiting for them, but he can't help expecting her to walk over the hill.
As the camp becomes clearer the old life almost completely fades away. Some days he is so busy with the tasks of Roman soldiering that he does not think about it at all.
But he cannot escape it in the dreams. He has nightmares of lizard people and a glaring white light that frightens him more than any barbarian hoard. He dreams of the girl with red hair, a blue box and a hospital. There are fish-men in the rain, and wedding dresses. And always the girl with the red hair. She kisses him, and whispers her name.
Every morning he wakes and slips his hand across the bed. He knows he isn't going to find her warmth beside him. He keeps trying until the day he forgets.
The dreams stop. The Roman camp becomes the only real world. He still sees her face, but he stops trying to remember her name.
Five months pass. Then six. He takes care of the horses, he drills with his friends, he marches. The dream voice in his head is quiet but never totally silent. Stonehenge, it says as they make camp.
One of the Centurions talks to him the next day. There are reports of a disturbance up north. While the Commander is away on Caesar's business, the Centurion wants Rory to lead a scouting mission. Rory agrees. The reports are interesting; men made of silver walking the countryside. The Centurion thinks it's the ignorant natives confused by the Roman armour. Rory isn't so sure. He doesn't say that it sounds like a dream he once had.
He's getting his stuff ready with his little group of soldiers when a rumour of 'someone' filters through the ranks. A beautiful woman, they say, who hands out kisses like pennies. Rory ignores them. He's already got enough trouble trying to persuade Rena to leave him alone.
The woman comes towards them surrounded by an entourage of soldiers and clerks and hangers on. "Cleopatra," someone hisses beside him.
The dream voice in Rory's head says that Cleopatra never visited England.
What is an England?
She is a beautiful. She looks proud and capable, although those are the maddest curls of hair piled on her head. She is being shown around the camp. Rory cannot hear what they are saying, but he can tell by the inclination of the Centurion's body and the the tilt of the woman's head that she is flirting outrageously.
Everyone is watching. It's hard not to. There is something about her that demands attention.
He decides he'll just stay out of her way. The sooner he is out of here, the better.
It is too late. She spots him and catches his eye before he has a chance to look away. Her smile falters. For less than a blink of an eye it is like she has seen a ghost. She must think she knows him, but he has never seen her before. Then just as quickly as it appeared, the look has gone. She flashes him a predatory smile. Perhaps he just imagined it, but he cannot shake the impression of vulnerability behind the facade.
Without waiting for her companions she strides over. Her shoes are the most impractical thing he has ever seen for walking in the churned mud. But they look familiar, somehow.
"This is Rory," the Centurion says. There is a smudge of red lipstick on his cheek.
"Not a very Roman name, Rory," she says.
He thinks she might start flirting with him too. Might even kiss him and that panics him in a whole other way. Instead she stands too close and just looks at him. It feels like she is staring deep into his soul. Her expression is so intense that it makes him ashamed of what she sees there.
"Rory. Nice to see you again."
"Ummm. Hi," he says.
"Looks like you're waiting for someone?"
His heart skips a beat. He imagines this time he's the one who looks like he's seen a ghost.
He wants to tell her that he was waiting for someone, but she never came. That was a whole other life.
She smiles at his confusion.
"No, actually," the Centurion says. It sounds like he is hundreds of miles away. "Rory was just about to leave. There are reports of trouble up north. Nothing for you to worry about, your majesty, just the locals stirring up trouble..."
She leans even closer until her nose is almost touching Rory's. The Centurion is still talking far away, but Rory feels that the distance is measured in years and not miles any more. "Someone gave me a message for you, Rory," she says.
"Who would give you a message for me. I don't know you."
"Oh, you don't. And you will. So shut up and listen."
She whispers into his ear.
That night he dreams of the red-haired girl again. And he knows her name is Amy. And he knows that she is coming.