This isn't the first time that London has burned.
He's been here a long time, now. There are days in which he tries to think about all of it, all the huge history he's seen, and on those days the long time seems to have flashed by him too fast to hold onto. Other days, he doesn't want to think about it. Other days, he leans against the etched stone and whispers to it, and the time that has passed seems very long indeed.
But today all he can think about is fire. Fire in the sky, and only he can remember how the lights burned up there. It's lonely to be the only one who remembers.
London burned when the Vikings came. It burned again for the Normans. He wasn't here, then, but he heard of it. There was a time it had burned due to a more sinister threat, too, but they just called it the Great Fire and assumed no one in particular had been to blame. He knew better. He'd been in Rome then, at the Vatican, but he knows that nothing that happens in London is ever an accident or a coincidence.
Today, he is thinking about all the times London came so close to destruction. It's difficult to think of anything else, with bombs falling and dirigibles in the sky. He's known every time that this isn't the day London falls. It isn't today, either. He knows because he's seen it, in some other life, watched it greet the 21st century just as proudly as it has greeted every century before.
But today might very well be the day he falls.
Still, he'll get her to safety first. He got a rope around the Pandorica and he's dragging it, trying to get it out of the warehouse before a bomb can fall on their heads. His legs are burning and the muscles in his shoulders are so tight he fears they'll tear away from the bone and leave him helpless. He strains with all his might to move the stone prison with its precious cargo. He's no mere human, hasn't been for so long now. He knows he can get this box to safety.
Even after all this time, it's hard for him to think of it. Of becoming something more than human. Trying to remember, trying to make sense of it, always leaves him queasy and lightheaded, like he'd worked a 12 hour shift at the hospital and hadn't stopped for supper. Thinking about 12 hour shifts at the hospital make him queasy as well. None of it makes sense and none of it's right.
Well . . . This one thing is. Keeping the Pandorica safe, and what it holds inside it. This is right. This has always made sense.
He might be killed by a bomb today. London is burning again.
One foot in front of the other. After nearly two thousand years, there's little sense in trying to rush things. Just one foot, and then the other. The Pandorica moves, a little. Another pull, and it moves a little more. Just get it deeper. Get it underground. He stayed back in the shadows when they put it in the warehouse. They want it in the museum but they're waiting until after the war, when London will be "safe." Too many eyes, and the world is getting too crowded and too small for him to hide anymore. They'll put him in a museum, if he's not careful. That is, if museum is your code word for "tiny white room with lab coats and long needles and men with guns." They'd study him if they could get their hands on him, and they'd never let him go. Best to stay out of sight, he thought. It's not much longer till the day comes that they can leave this dirty great box behind them. Seventy years or so. Not long at all.
With the pace he can manage, he's not sure they're going to make it. Best not to miss an appointment with the Doctor, though. He's quite frightening when he's cross and says things that make even less sense than the daft things he says when he's happy. One foot forward, then the other. The box is scraping across the ground with as much urgency as he can muster, and there are explosions rocking the world around his head.
Two young women, in stockings and heels, are running and shrieking, caught out in the open and too panicked to get to safety. A man in a blue coat comes streaking in from a side street and gestures to them. "This way!" he is bellowing at them. "There's a cellar here, come on!"
He hadn't thought anyone would be out in the open, but he is strangely unworried about being seen. When he saw the first bombs fall, he donned his old Roman clothing, taking comfort in its familiarity as he prepared himself for this battle against weight and gravity and London in pieces. The man in the blue coat has left the girls to fend for themselves, is standing in the street staring at him in shock, but he doesn't care. He just puts one foot in front of the other. Two thousand years, and he's not about to start giving a shit now.
"I've heard the legends of you," the man says.
This man isn't from London, is he? Sounds American.
"How nice for you," he grunts, and drags the Pandorica behind him. He's got better things to do today.
"You're the Last Centurion. You've been standing guard over the box since it first showed up in recorded history. No one's seen you in . . ."
"Long time," he grunts. A little girl who heard a noise and got curious. Found him with his hands pressed to the box, murmuring at the place he knows it opens up if you've got the right tools. He doesn't remember exactly when that was, but the little girl had petticoats and a mobcap and those haven't been in fashion for quite some time. He shows himself on occasion, but wears less noticeable attire and tries not to attract attention and certainly doesn't bloody announce himself as the legendary centurion. The girl had just got lucky. She must have told the whole world about it.
"And you're still here."
The man sounds touched and slightly in awe. Why?
"Still protecting it, even in the middle of the London Blitz . . . What's inside, soldier?"
The man stands with a straight back, the posture of a soldier. He's wearing a uniform, so it's not like the posture is the only giveaway. His eyes, though. They're old. So old. Like his, he thinks. An old soldier just like him, and for some reason it loosens his tongue.
"Something precious that belongs to me."
And she does, oh she does, now and always. He's waited two thousand years, almost, with seventy to go and he's prepared to wait two thousand more if necessary. Indescribably precious and if he can just get them both to safety and wait out this last blink of an eye, he'll get to keep her. She promised. Their wedding day is still to come and he will see it.
"I've got to get this underground," he says, and begins his work again.
Another pair of hands land on the rope and suddenly the burden is just the tiniest bit lighter. He glances over and sees the man in the blue coat is helping him.
"Why?" he asks, after a moment to think of all the possible questions he might have asked.
"I don't know," the man laughs, and suddenly he notices that the man has amazingly good teeth. Not typical for this time and place. There's something about this man, isn't there? "I've always been so fascinated by your story, so I guess I just wanted to play my own little part in it. Let's get your treasure someplace it will be safe, okay?"
He doesn't know why he allows it. He's watched too many people try to take her away and she's been moved too many times, and it always makes him angry when strangers get too close. But the man is grinning at him and the bombs are falling and they're moving faster now. So he lets the man help him. They get the Pandorica to safety, with the man pausing once or twice to escort some terrified civilian out of the street when they run like terrified rabbits across their path, then catching back up. The man chatters about inconsequential things—a show at a dance hall last week, how he came to volunteer for this war, his hopes that his favourite café will still be standing tomorrow—and he lets the sounds wash over him without responding. It's nice, for some reason. He thinks it's been a long while since he really talked to anybody. He's gotten bad about keeping track of time.
The man is working hard and yet he's laughing as he tells his stories. He just keeps working, because he's forgotten how to smile. It's been so long and he thinks he won't remember how to smile until he sees her face again. The man is outrageous, asking him to join him at the little café, asking what Romans wear under their skirts. He has the feeling that informing him it isn't a skirt would just encourage him. But he feels something strange stretching his face. His lips are turning up. Maybe he does remember.
They rest, in the musty cellar where they've chosen to hide. He leans against the box and presses his hand to it, closes his eyes, wills her to feel him trying to touch. The man in the blue coat is breathless, leaning against the wall and recovering from his exertions.
"You'll be all right in here?" he asks, seeming hesitant to leave even though he's professed a need to get back up there and help. The man in the blue coat has a truly curious disregard for personal safety. He could get killed by a bomb just as easily as anyone else, but he doesn't seem to care. "You need anything?"
"We'll be fine," he answers. Didn't mean to, but then the words are there and can't be called back.
"We?" the man says blankly, casting a disbelieving look at the Pandorica. "Soldier, what—"
"Thank you for your help."
He doesn't do anything to look threatening. He's learned over the years that he doesn't need to. He's wearing the outfit of a Roman centurion and wielding a sword and somehow the knowledge that he can shoot you with a gun hidden away in his hand must leak out through his eyes. He just . . . stands. If you stare at them long enough, a lot of them get nervous and go away.
The man in the blue coat doesn't. He just looks sad. "Can I ask one more question?"
"Don't suppose I can stop you, since you just asked one."
"What are you waiting for?"
He didn't know it was so obvious he was waiting.
"Someone who can open it," he answers.
"Maybe I can help you find them."
He doesn't know why this man is so human, so compassionate, so curious. War isn't the time for such things.
"I don't need help. I just need to wait for him."
The man goes stiff and there's a sudden tightening around his eyes. "Him?"
"No one. Just a doctor."
The man is leaping toward him, eyes wide and wild, and suddenly there is a sword between them pointed at the man's throat. The long years when the blade was his best companion have made him quick with it.
"What kind of doctor?" he hisses, stepping away from the sword, hands raised.
He knows, doesn't he? The man in the blue coat knows, it's in his eyes, those too-old eyes.
"I expect you don't really need me to answer that."
"When is he coming?"
"Not in your lifetime."
Surprisingly, the man in the blue coat laughs at that, a bitter laugh that must take like ashes in his mouth because you can hear the burned-up hopes in the sound. He suddenly relaxes, looks more friendly, less wild. It's clearly an effort, but when he smiles it looks real.
"I haven't introduced myself, have I? I'm Captain Jack Harkness."
They shake hands.
"You can call me Rory."
"Remember me, Rory. I get the feeling we're going to see each other again."
There is an incredibly suspicious wink, then Captain Jack Harkness and his long blue coat are gone.
Rory sinks down to sit with his back leaned against the Pandorica. Rory the Lone Centurion, Rory the nurse, Rory the idiot, Rory Williams. Engaged to Amy Pond for the last two thousand years and he'll see her soon. Seventy more years. Hardly any time at all.
He doesn't need to sleep, but he can close his eyes and go into a kind of trance and block out the sounds of the bombs falling. When he rouses himself later, there's a blanket draped over him. He looks around, but he and Amy are alone. The Doctor will be here soon, and Rory rather wonders if a man in a blue coat will be waiting to see him too.
A/N: I'm pretty sure it's impossible for Jack Harkness to be in this version of London because I don't think he can exist in a continuity where there's no outer space. But the image of the two of them working together popped into my head and wanted to be written, so I did!