Disclaimer: I asked put possession of Doctor Who on my Christmas list. Still waiting on a reply.
A thick stream of gooey, delectable goodness dribbled from the corner of the Doctor's mouth, down his chin, and finally dripped onto the TARDIS console below him. But the Time Lord was blissfully unaware of this fact as he strained his arm to scoop even more custard onto his fish finger and popped it into his mouth, his free hand scratching his head thoughtfully as he peered over the controls and wondered what wonderful place he should have his Old Girl take him next.
The Ponds must have gone to bed, tired out from their adventure on the planet Rynolin (a place where all the greenery was made entirely of bells; the grass would tinkle under your feet as you walked on it). The Doctor tried not to think about how the trip had been merely been a means of diverting Amy and Rory from thoughts of what had happened earlier that day... thoughts that he was attempting to distract himself from at that very moment.
The sudden noise from above nearly made the Doctor spill his bowl of custard. Craning his neck back as far as it would go, he stared upward quizzically, waiting to see if the noise would occur again.
One, two, three-
His curiosity peaked, the Time Lord marched over to the TARDIS doors and swung them open, where he was nearly smacked in the face by the source of the noise: a pair of legs almost as skinny and gangly as his own. Suspicions rising on who the owner may be, the Doctor inclined his head up and broke out into a large grin as his hypothesis was confirmed.
"Rory the Roman! What brings you out here on this lovely evening?"
It took the young man a moment to snap out of his thoughts and become aware of the world around him again. But even when he did, he still didn't break his gaze from the sight before him as he replied, "Just enjoying the view."
And what a view it was. The TARDIS hung suspended in deep space, just far enough away to get a full view of the seemingly endless galaxy that the human called home.
Though he had seen the sight many a time before, the Doctor never tired of looking at the origin of his favorite race, so he pushed his bowl onto the top of the spaceship and proceeded to scramble up after it. After a series of thrashing limbs, muttered curses, and nearly pushing Rory off the edge, the two men miraculously ended up side by side atop the TARDIS roof.
"You know, Rory, I've always thought that you were the cautious one," the Doctor commented.
With a brief sidelong glance, his friend pointed out, "Have to be with you and Amy around."
"True, very true," the Time Lord agreed. "Which is what makes me wonder: what is the cautious one doing atop the TARDIS when at any given moment I could start her up and incinerate you in the Time Vortex?"
Rory stared off into the night sky, thousands of stars right at his fingertips. "I said I have to be cautious around you two. But when I'm alone, no one I need to protect... well, all the time I've spent with you's taught me not to be afraid of a little danger anymore."
Though Rory wasn't looking at the Doctor, the Doctor was looking at him. Even after all they've been through together, he hadn't realized just how much Rory had changed from the nervous, socially awkward amateur nurse to the fearless Last Centurion. The Boy Who Waited was a boy no longer.
"Well, what have you been doing up here?" he asked curiously.
Rory shrugged. "Sometimes I just like to be by myself. To think."
"I like thinking! Thinking's nice, I do it all the time," the Doctor rambled as he retrieved another fish finger from his pocket. "What have you been thinking about?"
"Well, actually, it was about this morning..."
If Rory noticed his friend freeze mid-bite of his favorite snack, he chose to ignore it. "And speaking of which, there's something I've been meaning to ask you-"
"Fish finger?" the Doctor offered out of nowhere.
Rory blinked. "Sorry?"
"A fish finger, goes great with custard," he explained cheerily. Maybe a little too cheerily, even for him.
"Er... no thanks," the Roman refused. "Amy made me try that once when we were kids. Haven't touched it since."
"You should really give it another shot," the Doctor encouraged. "You'd be amazed by how much your tastebuds can change in your life, and I should know. I've had eleven of 'em."
"Maybe some other time," Rory promised evasively. "But Doctor, about today. When we were in Berlin-"
"You know what I've never tried before? Jammie Dodgers and custard! I think I have one in my pockets somewhere."
"I've got it! How about fish fingers and Jammie Dodgers together in custard? Oh, my tongue is tingling just thinking abou-"
"Is River safe with you?" Rory finally blurted out.
The Doctor's random assortment of words quickly came to a halt at the mention of his bespoke psychopath. "What?"
"River, my... daughter." His brows scrunched together at that, still wondering how those words managed to fit themselves together. "You saw what she did today. She nearly died to save you. There's nothing in the Universe that she wouldn't give for you, and honestly... that scares me to death."
There were no malice in his words; he was simply stating the facts. But that didn't stop the all-too-familiar guilt from beginning to tug at the Doctor's heartstrings.
Turning to look the new father in the eye, the time traveler replied, "Rory, I promise you that I will always keep your daughter safe."
"Oh, I know you will," Rory said, his gaze returning to the stars. "What I want to know is if you have."
"What do you mean?" the Doctor asked slowly, though he couldn't quite hide the tremor in his voice.
The Roman sighed heavily. "I never told you this, but when we were exploring together at the NASA base in Florida, River explained to me what the backwards timelines are like, for her. And she said that the day she sees you and you don't recognize her... she thinks it'll kill her."
The Doctor's eyes closed as he broke apart the cookie in his hands, feeling the crumbs escape from his grasp and fall into the gloom below.
"And then today, at the hospital," Rory continued. "You just stood there by the window, barely saying anything, couldn't even bear to look at her. You weren't worrying about what might happen to her, I could tell. It was like... like you already knew."
At last Rory braved a glance at the Doctor, his eyes full of the fear that could only be of a father for his child. "Doctor, what happened to River when you met her for the first time?"
The Doctor had never really thought that he and Rory had anything in common apart from a mutual affection towards Amy. But at that single moment, he could see those two thousand years passing through the Centurion's eyes. So full of pain and loss, watching history go by right in front of him and unable to do a thing to stop it.
Rory was an old man in a young body. Just like the one the Time Lord saw in the mirror whenever he could bear to look at it.
So he told him. He told things to Rory that had never been said to anyone else. He and Donna had made a silent agreement to never speak of the Library again, and Amy had just gotten her daughter back and wouldn't be able to handle the thought of losing her again. But Rory was the battle-hardened Last Centurion, he could take on anything, and he had a right to know what would happen to his little Melody.
Once he had finished, the Doctor expected anger, loathing, or at the very least, disappointment from his companion. While Amy was one to plow on through their travels and never look back, Rory always seemed to carry an underlying demeanor of regret, grieving for the normal life, the normal family, that had been ripped from his hands the night the Raggedy Man crash-landed in Amelia's garden.
But instead, Rory placed a reassuring hand on his friend's shoulder. "You did the best you could, Doctor."
"But what if it's not enough?" The Doctor hoisted himself onto his feet and began pacing on what little room there was of the police box. "I know River now- you know River now. Do you really think she would be happy staying in one place for eternity, never being able to visit the stars again?"
"Look, I don't know about you, with your regenerations and all," Rory told him. "But the rest of us can't run forever. Eventually we all- even River- will just have to... stop."
The Centurion rose and placed both hands on the Doctor's shoulders, forcing him to halt in his mad pacing. "What matters is that you tried- you did everything you could to save her. Sometimes, with all the destruction you witness everywhere you go, I get afraid that... that you'll stop trying. But you can never do that. No matter what, Doctor, you have to always try."
He would have never guessed that it would be quiet, wallflower Rory who would manage to lift his spirits, but he supposed it was fitting. Those few times when Rory chooses to really say something, you'd better listen, because it will always be worth your time.
"We'd better get back inside before Amy starts looking for us," Rory said.
"Ah, yes," the Doctor conceded. "Can't do much without her boys, can she?"
The two shared a smile that spoke volumes before beginning the perilous climb back down.
"Oh, and Doctor?"
"About, er, you and River..."
The time traveler nearly lost his grip at that one, but just managed to delay his next regeneration before squeaking out, "What about us?"
Rory landed just in the TARDIS doorway and started helping the Doctor to the same spot. "You know what about."
Once the two men were back on the same plain, the Gallifreyan swallowed back his anxiety. "Yes, well, nothing's set in stone yet- at least not in my timeline- but I expect that quite soon we'll be... what's the word you humans use nowadays?"
"Dating?" Rory offered.
The Doctor wrinkled his nose. "A bit commonplace for as... uniquea relationship as what she and I have, but for the purpose of the discussion, yes, dating."
The father eyed his foe carefully, and the terrified, paranoid part of the Doctor's mind imagined him calculating the number of ways he could snap the Time Lord's flimsy bones in two.
"I suppose I should threaten you," Rory commented as he turned to close the TARDIS doors.
"Yes, that is generally the practice," the Doctor responded.
"Right then..." Rory puffed his chest out slightly and stood on his toes so he could speak eye-to-eye with the Doctor, and the words that followed were a few octaves lower than his usual voice in the hopes of coming off as intimidating: "If you do anything to hurt my daughter, I swear there is nowhere in time and space you could go to hide from me. I will find you, I will bring my gladiator sword, and I will ... do bad things to you."
After a moment of somewhat tense silence, he asked, "How was that?"
"I believe that will do," the Doctor assured him.
Rory instantly deflated, obviously dissatisfied with his performance. But all relief of not being physically mutilated by the Roman aside, the Doctor really didn't mind. He knew that Rory didn't always know what to make of his psychopathic, part Time Lord, alarmingly mischievous, altogether unconventional daughter, but he also knew that he still loved her regardless. And as the nurse had said so himself, what matters is that he's trying, doing his best to be the father that River had to live without for nearly her entire life.
Rory turned to go, but he was soon stopped in his tracks by one simple "Rory?"
The aforementioned twisted back around to be met by a fish finger pointed at his face, the childish beam of a certain Time Lord looming just behind it. "You know you want to."
He almost said no, but upon looking into the pathetic, shamelessly begging expression that rivaled even Amy's, the Roman sighed and plucked the snack from his fingers. How River ever managed to get her way with him was far beyond him.
The Doctor's smile broke out into a full grin as they both made their way toward the back corridors of the spaceship. "Well, that settles it."
"What?" Rory asked curiously.
"You are now officially a member of the TARDIS crew." He clapped his friend on the back. "Welcome aboard."
"And the last ten months don't count because..."
"It's been a tradition since the dawn of time," the madman explained (not a lie, he insisted to himself. Just a... minor exaggeration). "Every companion must go through this right of passage: fish fingers and custard."
With a soft chuckle, Rory indulged in the Doctor's wishes by leaning over and dipping the treat into the syrupy topping.
"Geronimo," he said before heroically sticking it in his mouth.
And you know something? It wasn't half bad.