Amy dies on a Thursday. That's what her death certificate says, anyway, right underneath 'cause of death: bronchial pneumonia'. To be honest, Rory isn't keeping track of the dates or days anymore.
The last words she ever says – to anyone – are 'not like this'. Rory understands. They've fought monsters and aliens and ghosts and it shouldn't be ending in a hospital bed on Earth, lungs crackling and heart slowing until eventually there's nothing left. Rory holds her hand and tells her that he loves her, and then she's gone, red hair fanned out on the white pillow like blood in the snow.
The Doctor leaves flowers.
The funeral is on a Wednesday, and Rory wears the suit he'd bought to wear on their wedding day. His great aunt kisses his cheek three times and tells him she's sorry. Rory doesn't know what good being sorry will do anyone. It wasn't anyone's fault, after all. Not even the Doctor's. There's no-one to blame but Amy herself, and she's gone.
After the funeral, they all go to Amy's favourite park and eat cucumber sandwiches in the rain, and then Rory goes home by himself and tries to pretend that his world isn't ending.
The Doctor sends him a postcard from the moon, saying he's sorry he couldn't make the funeral. He tells some story about being captured by Daleks and forced to wear a dress, and Rory throws the postcard away. The Doctor wades through time like water. He has no excuse to be late, let alone absent.
The Doctor doesn't write again, and Rory repaints the master bedroom, turns the spare bedroom from a nursery back into a study, and tries to forget that it was ever not like this, that it was ever two souls rattling about in this house and not one.
The Doctor comes back for him a year later. It's the anniversary of Amy's death and Rory is sitting by her grave. Someone has placed a bouquet of lilies on her headstone and it smells pungent, too strong for the quiet church graveyard.
Rory hears the Doctor before he sees him, recognises the cautious tread on the ground, and doesn't even bother turning around.
"How long's it been for you?" he asks him. The Doctor hesitates before answering.
Rory turns to look at the other man – because here, in the rain, that's just what he looks like, another lonely mourner in a cemetery of ghosts and bones – and watches him scuff his shoes awkwardly on the grave grass.
"It's been a year, Doctor," says Rory, and he can't help sounding bitter because he is bitter.
"I know," says the Doctor, crouching down so that he's level with Rory and placing a hand on his shoulder. The touch is too familiar for comfort. "I waited."
"Two weeks," Rory states thickly, and the Doctor sighs.
"Until you were ready," he corrects. Rory narrows his eyes.
"Ready for what?" he asks, trying and failing to keep his voice steady. "Ready to move on? Because if you think that's going to happen any time soon – you left us, Doctor. You left her to die – then you're wrong. She's dead. Amy's gone, and you left."
The Doctor sighs and looks back at Amy's headstone.
"I do miss her, Rory," he says, quietly.
"You miss not being alone," Rory accuses. He feels a pang of guilt at realising the same could be said of himself, but he and the Doctor are not the same, they're not.
The Doctor looks back at him.
"And you'd know all about that, wouldn't you?"
Rory looks away. He doesn't want Amy to hear them talking about her absence like she's not here.
"Have you come to take me away, then?" Rory asks him, quietly. The Doctor's hand tightens on his shoulder – Rory had forgotten it was even there – and he nods.
"If you're ready," he answers.
Rory thinks about it. He thinks about his cold house, empty of anything but second-hand furniture and half-faded memories. He thinks about Amy, cold underground. There's nothing here anymore but a grave and wilting lilies left by someone else.
He stands up, and the Doctor follows suit.
"Let's go, then," he says, as decisively as he can manage, and the Doctor takes him by the hand and they go.
The first place the Doctor takes him to is 1873, saying he has some unfinished business with an old friend. The unfinished business turns out to be getting Rory a haircut from the best barber the Doctor knows, has ever known and will ever know. Rory ends up sitting in a wooden armchair in front of a dying fire in a front-room slum, a man he doesn't know hacking away at his hair with what appear to be shears, whilst the Doctor sits cross-legged on an old couch, drinking watery tea and extolling the virtues of Victorian hairdressing.
When the Doctor leaves the room to investigate a strange screeching sound outside – it turns out to be a cat, walled up in a derelict building for good luck – the barber stands in front of Rory and tells him that the Doctor is the best man he's ever met, that Rory is lucky to have a friend like him, that he would die for the Doctor if he had to.
Rory almost tells him that he'll probably have to one day, that the Doctor isn't there for him like he thinks – two days for the barber could be a hundred years away for the Doctor – but he doesn't. He remembers the time Amy had had incurable faith in the Doctor and how happy it had made her, despite all the times he never turned up, all the times he let her down, and he thinks all that might have been worth it for the overjoyed smile on her face every time he eventually arrived. He can't deny this man his belief. Instead, he smiles thinly and thanks him for the haircut, and when the Doctor returns with a spindly cat in his arms and a furious expression, Rory helps him track down a suitable owner.
After 1873, the Doctor takes him to a planet with an unpronounceable name. The Doctor refers to it as 'Treasure Planet', and Rory supposes it's a fairly accurate title. Everything is made of gold or silver, even the inhabitants, and Rory thinks that Amy would like it here. She always liked the spectacular, the magnificent and the impossible. That was one of the reasons Rory had never understood why she'd loved him.
The Doctor lets him wander off on his own for a bit while he goes to 'see a man about a dog' – the dog turns out to be an actual metal dog, and Rory is more surprised by the fact that he isn't surprised – and Rory finds himself in some sort of marketplace. The stalls are full of gold, precious stones and other trinkets that would fetch inordinate prices on Earth but here are traded for the equivalent of pennies. Rory even witnesses one market trader – a squat, six-legged man who appears to be made of copper – sell a ruby encrusted goblet to a tall, emerald woman in exchange for a kiss on the cheek. The whole thing is so very alien and yet so very human that it makes him shudder a little.
Aware that his appearance sets him apart quite spectacularly, Rory shuffles over to the nearest stall, trying desperately not to blush with embarrassment at being so totally unable to fit in. The market stall owner looks almost human, young and female with cascading hair, but she has three black eyes and skin like mother-of-pearl. She smiles broadly when Rory approaches.
"Well, you're something different!" she tells him. Rory manages a grin in return.
"Not where I'm from," he replies, surveying her stall. She's selling coins, thousands of different varieties from, Rory presumes, hundreds of different planets.
"You're definitely different here," she continues, interrupting his browsing. "I'm tempted to put you up for sale. I bet you'd fetch the highest price of anything I'm selling."
"I doubt it," he says, gesturing down at his checkered shirt and battered Converse. "I can hardly compete with gold and silver."
The stall owner raises one of her three eyebrows.
"When everything else is gold and silver," she says. "There's no competition. You'd win, hands down."
Rory feels a sense of pride before realising that she'd essentially been volunteering to sell him for slavery.
"Well, thanks," he says. He's about to walk away when he spots something familiar, nestled in between a pile of reddish oval coins. He picks it up and feels the familiar weight of a British Earth penny between his fingers, and the stall owner laughs.
"Found something you like?" she asks. Rory looks at her, embarrassed at being caught in his nostalgia.
"Something I know," he corrects. The stall owner smiles benevolently.
"When you're lost, that's the same thing," she says.
Rory wants to tell her that he's not lost, that he's here with a friend, but then he notices her red hair and he thinks of Amy and his breath hitches and he can't say it.
"How much is it?" he asks. The stall owner furrows her brow, trying to remember the price.
"You can have it for a story," she answers. Rory clutches the penny tighter in his fist, feels the familiar copper on his skin.
"All right," he agrees, and she claps delightedly.
"I want you to tell me why you're here," she says.
"Someone asked," he says. She pouts.
"That's not a good story at all," she says, sulkily. "Have you never heard of narrative structure? Plot? Characters? Story arcs?"
"Well, where do you want me to begin?"
She tilts her head thoughtfully.
"Well," she says. "Todorovian theory states that there must be a beginning, a middle and an end, but it doesn't say which order they should come. Linear narrative structures are the most common, however, and they always start at the beginning. I always find that reassuring, don't you?"
Rory thinks she might be a little mad, but he acquiesces anyway, running a hand through his uncombed hair wearily.
"I lost someone," he says, because it's always best to be blunt, rip the plaster off in one fell swoop, and he sees the stall owner shudder. "Someone very important to me. Someone I loved. I think I loved her the most, actually. And I lost her. I was alone for a long time, after. And someone – someone we both knew – thought that I shouldn't be. So I'm here, trying not to be alone."
His voice is trembling now, thin and weak where it hurts to speak, and the stall owner is looking at him sympathetically.
"I saw it in you, you know," she says, after a few moments. "I saw that you'd lost. You didn't seem whole, for some reason. But I think you could be."
Rory isn't sure what she means, but he smiles in what he hopes is a grateful manner anyway.
"All that for a penny," he says, shakily. The stall owner shrugs.
"Things only have the value that you give them," she states. "To you, it's worth more than its monetary value. It's home. It's an anchor to something you know, someone you knew. Although, truthfully speaking, it's not really worth a penny in your time, either. You know, in Interplanetary History, we learnt that some archaic Earth money is worth more than its weight in copper. That's why they're so collectable here." She leans in, conspiratorial, and grins wickedly. "That penny normally costs the equivalent of about a hundred of your pounds, you know. It's a collector's item."
Rory's eyes widen.
"Why did you sell it to me for a story, then?"
"Because you knew what it was worth," she responds. Rory swallows, his mouth suddenly dry.
"Well, thank you," he manages to say. She smiles in response, and Rory is about to leave when he spots a small, rusted silver coin, about the size of a five pence piece, discarded on the ground, half peeking out from underneath the red velvet sheet of the stall display. He frowns and bends down to pick it up. The stall owner watches him curiously, and he straightens up, extending his hand with the coin to show her. She wrinkles her nose.
"Oh, it must have fallen off the table," she acknowledges. "But you can have it, if you want. It won't sell."
Rory inspects it a little closer. It's almost completely plain, a small disc of grey metal, but for the odd, circular symbols on both sides. He's no expert, but it's familiar.
"What is it?" he asks, turning it over in his hand.
"A pandak," the stall owner answers. "The most common denomination of Gallifreyan currency."
Rory can feel his pulse quicken. He's holding a piece of the Doctor's heritage. He wonders if the Doctor ever held a purse of these, ever ran to the shop with his friends after school to buy Gallifreyan sweets with a fistful of silver coins. It seems like such an Earth tradition, but Rory knows the Doctor, and he wouldn't put it past him.
"Aren't they valuable here, then?" he questions. "I mean, after the fall of Gallifrey, surely they became more collectable?"
The stall owner shrugs.
"Not really," she says. "They come from a dead civilisation. Here, that's a symbol of bad luck. No-one will want it. You can have it."
Rory wonders if the Doctor knows that his culture is now a bad omen. It makes him a little sad to think of it, and he swallows.
"OK," he says. "Thanks. But could you maybe wrap it up for me?"
The stall owner looks at him a little concernedly, but does as he asks, placing the coin in a small black box and tying it with a silver ribbon.
"Thanks," Rory says again.
"Thank you for the story," she replies, smiling. "And say hello to the Doctor for me."
Rory leaves her with the feeling that he's just been given something very valuable indeed.
When he meets up with the Doctor an hour later, the Doctor is flushed and excitable, cross-legged at the cafe table. Rory pulls out the chair opposite and sits down. The Doctor beams.
"You missed a right old adventure, Rory!" he tells him, long limbs struggling at their confinement in the small chair. "I wish I could do it twice. Well, technically I could, I suppose, but that would make a lot of time porridge and that's really my least favourite kind of porridge. Apart from Scottish porridge. Or maybe Welsh porridge - "
"I got you something," Rory says, interrupting him, knowing from experience that this is the only way to stop the Doctor from babbling forever. The Doctor's eyes light up in expectation, and Rory rolls his eyes.
"You'd think it was bloody Christmas," he mutters, rooting around in his jacket pocket and producing the box. He hands it over to the Doctor, who holds it up to his ear and shakes it slightly.
"Is it..." the Doctor begins, inspecting the box with a look of disbelief. "No, no, surely not. You couldn't find one of those here. But it sounds just like..."
He pulls the ribbon undone and takes the lid off the black box, and a smile spreads across his face when he sees the coin. Rory's stomach ties itself into a little knot at the Doctor's unbridled joy, but he doesn't let himself focus too heavily on that. He thinks instead of Amy's brilliant grin when she found the pearl earrings he bought her for their wedding, and he winces. It still hurts to think of her. It's not the same stabbing pain it once was, though. It no longer cuts through him like a dagger to the ribs, tearing at flesh and leaving him doubled over, struggling to breathe. It's an ache, now. It's a yellow bruise, the skin intact but flowering with spilt blood beneath the membrane.
The Doctor is looking at him strangely now, and Rory breathes in and exhales, focusing on restoring his heart-rate to normal.
"Thank you, Rory," says the Doctor, warily. Rory manages to smile.
"Don't mention it," he says. The Doctor still looks concerned, a little wrinkle of worry in between his brows, but Rory ignores it.
"Where next?" he asks.
The Doctor doesn't look any less worried, but he answers anyway.
"You choose," he says.
Rory chews his lip thoughtfully. He can go anywhere he wants.
He's suddenly tempted to ask to go back to Earth in 2011, just to see what the Doctor would say. He wonders if the Doctor would grant him that request. A part of him thinks he would, just to see Amy again, all consequences be damned, but the rest of him knows that the Doctor would look at him, disappointed, and take them to Mars in 1908 instead. He doesn't want the Doctor to be disappointed in him. He doesn't want him to regret coming back for him, for all he sometimes regrets having to leave.
"Cardiff, 1960," he decides. "I want to see my granddad. He died in 1961. I want to know what he'd have thought of me."
The Doctor seems a little hesitant, but agrees anyway, although not before forcing Rory to try a slice of every cake on the menu.
1960 isn't everything Rory thought it would be. It turns out that the TARDIS has a bit of a history with Cardiff at this time, and after a few problems, they eventually manage to land about a mile from Rory's granddad's house. The Doctor is incredibly apologetic. Rory just wants a cup of tea and a sit down.
"I really thought I'd sorted that out," the Doctor is muttering, more to himself than Rory. "I extrapolated the Rift frequencies and co-ordinated it with the TARDIS' in-flight navigation system... there shouldn't have been an issue..."
Rory sighs and stops walking, turning on his heel and placing his hands on the Doctor's shoulders. The Doctor immediately stops talking, eyes wide, and Rory catalogues this for future reference in case he ever needs to shut the Doctor up again.
"It really doesn't matter. We got here in the end," Rory tells him, and the Doctor's eyes dart from left to right before he grins and claps Rory on the shoulder in a way that he probably thinks is manly. Rory winces.
"You're right, El Roro!" the Doctor beams, then immediately seems to regret it, his face contorting into an expression of disgust, nose wrinkled and lips pursed. "Let's pretend I didn't call you that. I think it's for the best. Now, where does your granddad live?"
"About five minutes that way," he says, pointing down the nearest street. "If the street name my dad got from Googlemaps is the same in the '60s."
The Doctor nods. He seems a little uncomfortable at not being entirely in control of the situation, but is apparently happy enough to defer command to Rory on this matter. The thought that he's equal to the Doctor in this makes something like pride swell in Rory, and it must show on his face because the Doctor grins.
"Well, lead the way," he says, and, smiling, Rory does.
Rory's granddad, Arthur, lives in a terraced house with his wife – Rory's grandmother, although when she opens the door and he tells her he's a friend of her brother's, she tells him to call her Manon – and a veritable library of dusty old books that makes the Doctor coo.
They're ushered inside from the cold and Manon calls for Arthur to light the fire while she puts the kettle on, leaving Rory and the Doctor to stand in the hallway awkwardly. Rory coughs, and the Doctor looks at him.
"So, you haven't met him before?" he asks. Rory shakes his head.
"He died the year my dad was born," he whispers, taking care that his grandparents don't overhear them. "About a month before, actually."
He suddenly wonders if perhaps he should have gone back for his dad, asked if he'd like to come and visit the father he'd never met, and his throat tightens. The Doctor pats him on the back.
"He wouldn't have come," he tells Rory, and Rory knows he's right. "Too close to home. You don't miss something you never had, but you miss the chance to miss it."
Somewhere between the odd syntax and jumbled words, Rory knows the Doctor has a valid point, and so he nods, ignoring the dryness in his mouth and the uncoordinated jump of his heartbeat, focuses on the Doctor's hand on his back, which is now rubbing reassuring circles in the space between his shoulder blades. He remembers that Amy used to do that before he had to go into work at short notice to help save the dying, and he reflexively tenses. The Doctor's face falls almost imperceptibly and his hand falls back down by his side. Before Rory can explain, the door next to them opens and they're greeted by a tall man with wavy black hair.
Rory knows immediately that this is his granddad, and he's surprised to find that he doesn't even feel the smallest pang of familial recognition. It makes him feel a little nostalgic, makes him think back to the photographs his dad used to have of this man with captions like 'dad, 1954, with mum'. This man doesn't look like Rory's granddad or his dad's father. He just looks like a man, another stranger through time.
"Arthur," says the man by way of greeting, extending his hand. The Doctor perks up almost immediately, taking the man's meaty hand between his two slender ones and shaking it excitedly.
"It's an honour to meet you!" he says, smiling brightly. Arthur raises his eyebrows warily, and Rory makes a mental note not to introduce the Doctor to any more of his ancestors without explaining etiquette to him first.
"I'm Rory, and this is the Doctor," Rory says, as the Doctor drops Arthur's hand and steps back, standing next to Rory. "We're Brian's friends. We were in the neighbourhood and he spoke so highly of the pair of you that - "
"Can't imagine that lad spoke too highly of me," he interjects. "But he spends half his time singing his sister's praises, so I can well believe that. You're both welcome to stay for dinner, if you want. I'm sure Brian's told you that she makes a mean lamb hotpot."
Rory looks at the Doctor, and the Doctor looks back at him. They have all the time in the world, Rory thinks.
"We'd be honoured," says the Doctor. He sounds like he means it.
They end up sitting in the dining room, the Doctor at one end of the table and Rory at the other, with huge casserole dishes of stew and an endless stream of small-talk. It's comforting in much the same way as a cup of tea; familiar and warm. It doesn't feel like home. It doesn't feel like family. It makes Rory feel odd to think that, in this room, the Doctor is his anchor, the person he is closest to, despite the family bonds he shares with the other two people at the table.
Arthur has finished his meal already. The Doctor is following close behind, whereas Manon and Rory are both struggling slightly. Arthur clears his throat and turns his attention to the Doctor. They've been getting on famously throughout the evening and Rory feels more than a pang of envy that the Doctor is getting on better than Rory with his own grandparents. He supposes that they have no idea who he really is, but it hurts a little all the same.
"So, Doctor," begins Arthur, and the Doctor politely puts down his fork and turns to face the other man. Rory doesn't think he's ever seen him act so cordial. The Doctor has shared meals with kings, queens and verified gods, and he nearly always ends up with his dinner in his lap. Rory files this away as a question to ask later. "You've heard all about my family. Let me ask about yours. Do you have any family? A wife? Children?"
The Doctor doesn't falter in his answer.
"No," he replies. Rory shoves another forkful of potato into his mouth in the hope that he will be spared the same question. He doesn't know if he'll be able to stomach giving the same response, no matter how truthful it is.
Arthur pats the Doctor's elbow sympathetically. Rory recognises the gesture as one that his father often implemented when Rory was a child, scared of the dark and afraid to go to sleep, and he can't help but laugh. Arthur frowns and turns to him.
"What about you, Rory?" he asks, and Rory feels his blood run cold. The Doctor opens his mouth to answer for him, but Rory cuts in.
"No," he says, hurriedly, and once the answer is out, he can't take it back. He has no wife. That's it. It's done.
Arthur's eyes darken a little.
"Arthur," says Manon, warningly. Arthur raises a hand to silence her, and pulls his chair out. He stands up and gestures for Rory to follow him.
Swallowing hard, Rory does, meeting the Doctor's worried gaze as he leaves the dining room and goes to stand in the hall with Arthur. Arthur shuts the door behind them and turns to face Rory. He doesn't look best pleased.
"I know your type, you know," he says. Rory frowns.
"I don't - "
"And Manon will tolerate it, which means I will put up with it, but understand this; after you have finished your meal, you and your fancy man will remember that you have somewhere else to be. You will thank my wife for the meal, politely make your excuses and leave. Do I make myself clear?"
It takes a few seconds for his implied meaning to sink in, and when it does, Rory's heart threatens to push through his ribs.
"No, no, I'm not – I mean, I had a wife – she died," he tries to explain, and Arthur's face softens slightly.
"Then I'm sorry for your loss," he says, his voice still hard and steely. "But don't think I didn't catch you two looking at each other. I'm not stupid. Don't play dumb with me. You seem like a nice young man, and your... companion is decent enough, but not under my roof, you hear?"
Rory closes his eyes, can hear his pulse drumming in his head. He can't even begin to explain how wrong his grandfather is, so he doesn't. He's tired. He doesn't have the energy.
"OK," he sighs.
They leave before dessert, the Doctor promising Manon that he'll pass on a message to her brother. Rory doesn't miss the disdain in his grandfather's eyes as he shuts the front door behind them, and the Doctor doesn't miss the sadness in Rory's face as they walk away.
"I'm sorry," he says. Rory shakes his head.
"It's not your fault," he replies. "Different times, wrong impressions. Can't be helped."
The Doctor looks far from mollified, but doesn't reply. Rory shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans.
"Cup of tea?" the Doctor offers, and Rory nods, even though the Doctor almost invariably puts too much milk in.
"I'll make it," he offers, and if the Doctor looks inordinately happy about this prospect, Rory ignores it.
After that, Rory takes the Doctor to his childhood. He drags the Doctor up to visit the ruins of the old castle on the outskirts of the town, shows him all the places he used to play with his friends after school, and the Doctor manages to find a cat-eating alien masquerading as a local shop owner and convince it to go back to its home planet. Rory thinks he spots a red-headed girl, barely out of nappies, in the arms of a young woman, but he blinks and she's gone. He doesn't go after them.
The week after, Rory shows the Doctor the boy who bullied him as a teenager, all spots and insecurity. The Doctor responds by cutting a hole in the boy's schoolbooks. Rory remembers the incident from fifteen years ago and laughs himself hoarse when he realises who the real culprit was. The Doctor seems ashamed when Rory tells him this, but not ashamed enough to apologise.
Two days later, Rory decides that he wants to visit the hospital he used to work at, visit it on his first day as a fully qualified nurse. He wants to visit his cousins at their country house in Spain, wants to see his aunt at her job a few years in the future and see if she made a success of herself, wants to tell his primary school best friend that it's all right to like girls instead of boys. He's been making lists of all the places in his past that he wants to visit, all the events he wants to relive. None of them involve Amy. He's beginning to get better at compartmentalising his lifespan. There's BA – Before Amy – DA – During Amy – and AA – After Amy. He has resolved to never willingly visit an event that falls into the middle category. He tells himself it's because he wants to move on from the past. He knows that, in reality, it's because he wouldn't be able to leave.
He pads into the TARDIS hallway, searching for the Doctor. At this time, the Doctor is usually in the kitchen, but he's not there. Frowning, Rory thinks of all the places he likes to go when he knows – or thinks – that Rory is busy. He's already checked in the library, the indoor garden and the swimming pool. All were empty. The only room left is the Doctor's bedroom. Rory heads towards it and knocks on the door. There's no answer, but Rory has a feeling that the Doctor must be in here, so he opens the door anyway.
The Doctor is sitting on his bed, staring at the blank white wall opposite, when Rory finds him. He does a double take at the sight of the Doctor's bedroom. For some reason, he's never seen it before, never thought to seek it out, and it's nothing like he imagined. He'd imagined a cluttered space, full of books and gadgets and tweed, a small room trying to contain a big personality and failing miserably. Instead, he's faced with a room that's twice as large as his own, and three times as empty. It's Spartan in its minimalism, the only furniture a small army-style cot, a desk and a bedside table, upon which sits an old-fashioned desk lamp and a pair of reading glasses. He's taken aback by just how alien it all is. The Doctor has always appeared human, despite his idiosyncrasies and knowledge, and this room refutes that completely.
Rory clears his throat, and the Doctor jolts, turns to face him with a startled grin.
"Woolgathering," he says by way of explanation. "Trying to remember the plot of the eighth Harry Potter book, actually." At Rory's puzzled frown, he winces. "Spoilers. Yes. Sorry. What did you want?"
Rory takes a step into the cold room and shivers unintentionally. The Doctor looks apologetic.
"Different body temperatures, I'm afraid," he explains. "The TARDIS will change the room temperature according to the median room temperature of its inhabitants. Just give it a few moments."
Sure enough, it already feels slightly warmer. Rory sometimes loves technology. Of course, sometimes he hates it, too. He thinks of his first ever desktop computer, and can't suppress a smile. The Doctor raises an eyebrow quizzically, and Rory flushes.
"I was just wondering where we were going next," he asks.
The Doctor frowns.
"We've just got back," he says.
"I know," Rory retorts defensively. He doesn't want to explain that he's been sitting in the kitchen for the past three hours, thinking intermittently about Amy's laugh and the Doctor's inability to stay silent for more than ten minutes at a time. "But you know, time waits for no man. Or Timelord. Or does it?"
The Doctor smiles.
"No," he says. "Not exactly."
"Right," says Rory. "Well, I was thinking we could go to London in 2017. That's only a few years ahead of where you left me and I just wanted to see if my aunt – what?"
The Doctor's expression has transformed from amused to unimpressed, and Rory's pulse begins to quicken with anxiety and – to his horror – anger.
"You have all of space and time at your disposal, Rory," says the Doctor, and he's as close to emotional as Rory as ever seen him. Rory can feel himself follow suit. "I can take you to the planet of the cats, to a world where everything is made of milk, or even just to Earth in a million years time. But you just want to relive your own timeline. You just want to look into your own past, dwell on all the things that made you, and I don't understand! Amy never - "
"I'm not Amy!" Rory shouts, and he suddenly feels so angry that he's certain he's becoming feverish with rage, his blood throbbing in his veins and his ears. "I'm not bloody Amy! Amy is dead, she's dead and buried, and she's not fucking coming back! Is that why you took me along, Doctor? Because I'm the closest thing you have to her? Because you can't have her, and I'm the next best thing? Well, if you don't want me here, Doctor, feel free to take me back at any moment!"
He finishes only when he starts to feel out of breath, panting and red and so full of everything that he's never said that he's worried it will all burst out if he continues. The Doctor looks at him sadly.
"Oh, Rory," he says, his quietness a stark juxtaposition with Rory's loud fury. "Is that what you think? That I only wanted you in the context of Amy?"
Rory doesn't answer. He doesn't need to. He wets his lips to speak, but doesn't speak. He can't. The Doctor closes his eyes and puts his head in his hands.
"If that's what you think, then I'll take you back," he says, his voice still a low hum of melancholy, and Rory aches. "I'll take you to one more place, and then I'll take you back. I'm so sorry, Rory. I'm sorry if that's what you think."
"What else should I think?" Rory grits out, as quietly as he can manage with the blood still pounding in his head. "Tell me, Doctor, what else is there? You never wanted me here before. It was always Amy-and-the-Doctor, and sometimes you let Rory tag along. That's all I ever was. That's still all I am, even without Amy."
The Doctor rubs his eyes and folds his hands in his lap. He looks so small and vulnerable that Rory's heart twists, tells him to take the Doctor in his arms. He doesn't.
"That's not what you were," the Doctor says. "That's not what you are. Oh, Rory. I'm sorry. I really am."
He doesn't say anything else after that. Rory doesn't know what else there is to say.
He puts his hands on his hips, then rubs the bridge of his nose agitatedly.
"One more place, then," he says. The Doctor nods sadly.
"If that's what you want."
It's not what Rory wants, not even close to what he wants, but what he wants is something he can't have, can't even ask for, so he'll settle for it. He's used to that.
"Fine. Where next?" he asks, folding his arms.
The Doctor shrugs.
"Don't you want to choose?" he asks. Rory shakes his head.
"You don't like my choices. That's become apparent. You choose."
The Doctor looks at him sadly, but nods. He stands up, brushing imaginary specks of dust from his knees, and heads for the console room. Rory follows, trying not to think about where the Doctor might be taking him. The Doctor tends to enjoy visiting strange new worlds, showing Rory exciting things that he's never seen before. Rory finds himself hoping that his last trip will be memorable for at least one good reason.
They step out of the TARDIS into a cold, sunny day in mid September, and Rory's heart almost stops when he realises where they are. He spins on his heel and braces himself against the door of the TARDIS, trying to remember how to breathe.
"No," he manages to gasp out. "Not here. Take me somewhere else, Doctor. Please."
The Doctor crosses his arms, wearily.
"One last trip," he says. "Rory, The Doctor and Amy. I thought you'd want this."
Rory manages to shake his head, his lungs threatening to give out. His head is spinning.
"Not this," he says. "Not this day."
In a little over three hours, Amy will suddenly turn from being bright and happy to weak and ill. She will collapse in their front garden, breath hitching, lips blue. Rory will be powerless to help her.
They have three hours. Rory doesn't want them.
"Take me back," he begs. "Please."
The Doctor reaches out, takes Rory's face in his hands and meets his fearful gaze.
"Tell me why you don't want this," he says, and Rory closes his eyes, shaking.
"She's dead, Doctor," he says. "She's gone. That's not – that's not her out there. That's not my Amy. Oh God, she's gone."
And it hits him like it never has before, hits him like a lead ton that he could go back and visit her in any timeline and she wouldn't be the right Amy. She won't have grown as a person. She won't have more laughter lines or crow's feet or freckles that come with age. She'll be a ghost. Barely a living memory. Amy is completely gone in any timeline that matters.
"I'm sorry," says the Doctor, and he moves his hand to Rory's chin, forces him to look up and meet his eye. "I really am sorry that it took this for you to see what I've known for a long time."
Rory's breath hitches in a sob, and suddenly the Doctor is hugging him tightly, and Rory is hugging back, desperate hands clutching fistfuls of ridiculous tweed.
Amy's gone. The Doctor still wants him.
The Doctor still wants him.
The Doctor sets down a mug of tea in front of Rory, who accepts it gratefully with still shaking hands. The Doctor folds himself into the chair opposite and steeples his fingers under his chin, fixing Rory with a penetrating stare, and Rory sighs.
"I'm sorry, OK?" says Rory. "I'm sorry that I said all those things. That you didn't really like me. I was just... well. You know."
"Yes," agrees the Doctor. "And I'm sorry that I had to do that to make you realise." He gesticulates inarticulately. "I know it was... a bit not fun."
"Just a bit," Rory concurs, smiling wryly into his tea. The shock is subsiding now, he thinks. The Doctor is still looking at him, and Rory notices that his bow-tie matches his eyes. He wonders if there's any way of articulating that without it sounding inappropriate, and decides not to mention it.
"We could go to Narnia," says the Doctor, suddenly, and Rory barks out a laugh because that's just so typical of the Doctor. One thing is done. It's time to move onto the next. There's no time for talking about it.
They go to Narnia. Rory writes Amy's name in the snow and watches it melt, appreciating the symbolism. He thinks she'd appreciate it too. The Doctor gets a cold.
They're sitting in the control room when it happens, the Doctor dabbing at his nose with a handkerchief that has the initials 'VR' sewn into it, Rory contemplating their next destination.
"I thought we could stay in the TARDIS for a few days," announces the Doctor. Rory narrows his eyes.
The Doctor points at his red nose in response, and Rory sighs.
"I need time to recuperate," the Doctor explains. "Maybe go to bed with a hot pear. Is that what people do when they're ill?"
"Hot lemon," Rory supplies neutrally, and the Doctor shudders.
"No, I don't like lemons. Or pears, actually. Hot melon? Would that work?"
Rory rolls his eyes.
"Pity. I like melons. I think I might be slightly delirious."
Rory furrows his brow in concern and stands up, heads over to the Doctor and presses a hand to his forehead.
"You don't feel warm," he says. The Doctor grins apologetically.
"I have a fever, then," he tells him. Rory looks at him, confused, and the Doctor continues. "Lower body temperature, remember? If I feel normal to you, that's not normal to me. Now, where can a man find a melon around here?"
"Bugger," says Rory, because he can't deal with this right now. The Doctor narrows his eyes.
"I don't think that would help," he says. He pauses. "Although there is a race of people on Lunar Station Five who swear by it as a cure to hayfever."
"I didn't mean – never mind," says Rory. "Just go to bed, OK?"
"Fine," says the Doctor, a little petulantly. "But I expect a melon within the hour."
He heads out of the control room a little shakily, and Rory is about to sit down again when he hears a crash. Swearing under his breath, he follows the Doctor, who is now sitting in the hallway looking dazed.
Rory rolls his eyes, and pulls the Doctor to his feet. He puts the other man's arm around him and, wondering why he can't remember a scrap of his nursing training, hauls him down the corridor and into the Doctor's bedroom.
Setting the Doctor down on his bed, Rory sits next to him and places his hand on the other man's forehead again. It's odd to be told that there's something wrong when it feels so normal. It goes against everything he was ever taught. He's getting used to that, though.
He's about to stand up and fetch the Doctor a glass of water from the kitchen when suddenly the Doctor is leaning forward and then his lips are on Rory's and Rory's breath catches a little in his throat because he'd always imagined that this would feel weird, would feel wrong – imagined that even when it was dark and he was alone under the covers – but it doesn't. It just feels like kissing, smooth dry lips and uncertainty, and Rory is kissing back.
But this is the Doctor.
Rory pulls away. The Doctor tilts his head to the left, eyes interested and searching. Rory gulps.
"Erm," he stammers. "All right."
With that, he leaves the room. The Doctor doesn't call after him.
The Doctor finds him the next day in the TARDIS library, reading a book from 2034 about the medical properties of non-citric fruit. Rory is curled up in one of the larger armchairs, and the Doctor stands in front of him, hands clenched nervously behind his back. He clears his throat when Rory fails to notice him.
"Oh," says Rory, shutting the book. "Sorry."
"No," the Doctor says, bashfully. "I'm sorry. Although, I suppose we can both be sorry, if you want."
"All right," Rory agrees.
He can't pretend not to hope that the Doctor won't bring up what happened the previous day. He doesn't know how to address it. But of course, the Doctor is the Doctor, and he brings it up.
"I owe you an explanation," he starts, and Rory sighs, picks the book up again.
"It's fine," he says.
"No," the Doctor disagrees. "It's not. Let me explain."
He takes the book from Rory's hands and sets it down on the table in front of them and Rory sighs, folding his arms.
"Explain, then," he says. The Doctor runs a hand through his hair and rocks on his heels, and the display of nervousness is so endearing that Rory would hug him if he didn't feel so awkward already.
"It's an unfortunate fact of Time Lord biology," the Doctor begins. "That when we're afflicted with a fever, some of our more... basal instincts come to the surface. Our judgment goes a bit higgledly piggledy. It's a bit embarrassing, truth be told. I'm sorry you had to witness it."
Rory can feel himself flush. The Doctor hadn't meant it at all. It had been a symptom, a side-effect, and Rory had kissed back.
"All right," he says. "OK. Good. So it won't happen again, then?"
The Doctor scratches his forehead. His ears are turning red.
"Not if you don't want it to," he answers quietly.
Rory thinks about the first time he met the Doctor. He remembers that the first thing he'd noticed had been the strong curve of his jaw line, so at odds with the almost feminine gracefulness of his neck. He thinks about the first time he'd dreamt about the Doctor, how he'd woken up in a sweat that had made Amy laugh and laugh when he told her. He thinks about the smile on the Doctor's lips when Rory gave him the pandak from the gold and silver planet.
Rory stands up. Amy is gone. The Doctor wants him. The Doctor wants him.
"What if I did?" he asks. "What if I did want it to happen again? What if I'd wanted it for – for ages, but I'd been too busy living in the past to realise it?"
The Doctor's lips waver in a terrified half-smile.
"I suppose it might happen again," he says. "If you're sure - "
"I've spent way too long being unsure," Rory says, taking a step closer, noticing that the Doctor falters but doesn't move away. "I'm sure."
The Doctor smiles a little more brightly.
"Then," he says. "I think we could probably arrange for it to - "
Rory kisses him this time, hands in the Doctor's hair, and the Doctor responds enthusiastically, uncertain hands wandering from Rory's hips to his waist before finally settling around his shoulders.
The Doctor doesn't kiss anything like how Amy did. He clearly values feeling over finesse, emotion over technique, and it's exciting, enthralling, like learning him all over again. Rory wonders how many people he's kissed like this. It could be one. It could be a hundred.
When he pulls away for breath, the Doctor is beaming, and runs a hand through Rory's hair to tidy it where he's mussed it in his eagerness.
"Rory Williams," he says. "I think you did that just to shut me up."
"When we were in Cardiff," he says. "I discovered that I could make you stop talking if I raised my hand like I had something important to say. I think I like this way better."
The Doctor's eyes are soft now, less hungry than they had been and more careful.
"I always think you have something important to say," he says. "The people who think they don't are usually the ones who do. So this is probably a more reliable way to - "
Rory wastes no time in proving the Doctor absolutely right.
"You seem to be awfully good at coping with death," observes Rory one morning, while he's still in bed and the Doctor is getting dressed in front of the mirror. The Doctor doesn't have a mirror in his bedroom, and has taken to pushing into Rory's room in the morning to get dressed. Rory can't even pretend to mind. He's almost finished, now, with just his bow-tie to go.
"I have to be," the Doctor answers, not faltering in his actions even slightly, and Rory supposes he's been accused of the same thing before by a hundred different people. For some reason, this makes something flare within Rory, a desire to push and push and keep pushing, watch the Doctor bend and bend and break and snap, feel the heat of the power that breaking the Doctor would give.
"For a man with two hearts, you can be astonishingly heartless," says Rory, infusing his voice with some of the bitterness he still feels when he thinks of Amy. They're currently floating above Earth in 2945. Amy is dust here.
The Doctor cocks his head, thoughtful rather than offended, and Rory wonders if he can break the Doctor, if the Doctor hasn't already heard too much in his thousand years of life to be shocked anymore. The thought makes Rory feel oddly sympathetic.
"I wouldn't say that coping is the same as not caring," the Doctor responds, finally. He pulls open the drawer underneath the mirror and starts rummaging around for a suitable bow-tie, selecting one and starting to fasten it with long, deft fingers. "Death has a different sort of meaning when you have the whole of space and time at your fingertips. It's not a case of never seeing that person again. You can go back and visit them whenever you want, if you're willing to keep track of higgledy-piggledy timelines and whatnot." He stops attempting to tie the bow-tie and turns to face Rory, contemplative. "The problem is that there will never be any new experiences. Not really. You can go and visit them when they're ten years old and tell them a story, or take them out for tea and scones when they're thirty, but to them, it will always have happened. You can't really create new memories. There's a cut-off point, and that's their death. All their possibilities are rendered impossible, just like that." The Doctor clicks his fingers, and Rory shudders. The Doctor steps over and sits next to Rory on the bed.
"There's also the small fact that I've had to get used to my own death a fair few times," he continues. "And the fact that every time that happens, I come back as someone new and completely different."
"But you come back."
"Well, in a manner of speaking." The Doctor looks pensive now, and Rory is beginning to regret pushing, the feeling of power dwindling and being replaced by a sense of melancholy and a desire to comfort the other man. Not that the Doctor has ever showed any need to be comforted, of course. "But the process is still final. That incarnation of me dies. The me that follows is someone entirely different. I mean, I distinctly recall that I liked jelly babies in a past life." He shudders. "Can't stand them now. Too much like eating little people. I don't eat people. Never have, never will. Not a fan. But the point still stands, you see?"
"That cannibalism is bad?"
"That every time I die, I'm gone for good. Only the memories are the same. Isn't that the same as your concept of death?"
Rory thinks about it. He thinks about how Amy is gone completely, that she will never laugh or cry or call him an idiot again. He thinks about how he can remember the first time they met, the last time they kissed, the eleventh time they went grocery shopping. He thinks about how the images linger, but the pain doesn't. Remembering her now is like remembering Christmas as a child. It doesn't sound so different after all.
"I suppose," he acquiesces. The Doctor looks gratified, and turns away, craning his head to look in the mirror from his awkward angle on the bed.
"They call me the man with many faces," he carries on. He pauses, finishing fastening his bow-tie. "Well. Only one face at a time. Although I suppose that depends on how you define time - "
"Do they ever stay, after?" Rory asks. "After you've gone, I mean. Do they ever stay with the new you?"
The Doctor suddenly stops, as though frozen in time, his bow-tie still hanging loose around his neck. Rory swallows hard. After a few seconds, the Doctor turns around and meets Rory's curious gaze with a beaming expression that Rory can tell is false.
"Hardly ever," he answers. He looks soft around the edges, Rory thinks, and it's such an endearing sight that Rory sighs and pulls back the covers and lets the Doctor crawl in, his warm self filling all the spaces between the covers that Amy has left, and Rory thinks that says everything.
"I'll stay," he says, a little more softly than he intends to, and the Doctor cranes his head, meets Rory's eyes with his own, and smiles a small smile that somehow fills the room with everything that needs to be said.