The hallway was quiet save for the click of professional shoes across the tiles, though when he concentrated Rory could still hear the echoes of the meeting. The scent of sample fragrances still hung heavy in the air, wafting out of the doorway. He was convinced that it was permanently embedded in his clothes—a fact of life he'd recently come to appreciate, since Amy (or at least, the sense of her) was always right there. The discussion of how to market that scent to other people, however, had been too dry for his tastes. He'd told them he was stepping out for air, but in all honesty, the idea of seeing “Because he's not going to wait an eternity for you” plastered on a billboard next to Amy's face made him uncomfortable in ways he couldn't quite pin down, and his wry suggestion of “The scent of impatience” hadn't been met kindly.
In hindsight, he realized perhaps he'd been somewhat... kicked out of the meeting. He couldn't help but grin at the fact that Amy had managed to accomplish that with such subtlety. Maybe this was her destiny after all. At least, he thought, she'd always be easy to find here. The longer he watched them pass, the more the various businesspeople seemed to blend together. Save for one with a rather professorial air that kept returning to the boardroom door, slowing, and the continuing past in the milieu.
It wasn't until the third time he passed that Rory finally focused on the man, and the fourth before he could properly get the words out.
“Doctor? What are you doing here?” he asked, unsure how he hadn't noticed him properly the first two times. Even if the universe sometimes seemed to turn a blind eye to the Doctor's fashion eccentricities when they travelled, it seemed especially impossible that the rule might also apply to fashion and marketing executives.
“Shh, shh,” the Doctor put his hand over Rory's mouth, drawing the wary attention of several passing businessmen. “I'm just checking in.”
“Amy's in a meeting.”
“I know. I just wanted to say hello. Maybe have a look in.” The Doctor stood on his toes and craned his neck to peer through the frosted glass of the conference room, but it made no difference. He pulled the sonic screwdriver from his pocket and aimed it at the window.
“Maybe you should come back later,” Rory said, moving the Doctor's arm away from the glass.
“No, no. It's all right,” he said, turning on his heel.
“So it really is just 'hello' then?” Rory asked, with some small amount of disappointment he didn't bother hiding. “Not a quick romp around the nearest ancient civilization, or--”
“Yes, it's just 'hello.'” The Doctor cocked his head. “Has she made you her secretary?” he asked.
“Do I get a 'hello'?” Rory asked.
“No, of course, if you were the secretary you'd be in the meeting...” the Doctor continued before noticing Rory's look of disapproval. “What? Yes! Of course you get a hello.” The Doctor gathered Rory into a hug. “Hi!”
“Hi,” Rory said absently, images of the Doctor pulling them back into his chaotic world running through his head at light speed. “I'm sure you're here for something more than 'hi.'”
“Nope. Just hi. Hello!” The Doctor turned to return the awkward wave of a passing intern carrying a tray of coffee into the meeting. “How's it going? Wait!” he said, turning back to Rory. “Are you asking to go somewhere?”
“No!” Rory said, then, deciding that had been perhaps too emphatic, he continued: “Amy and I are happy. And I am not her secretary. She's just working at the moment and...”
“Good,” the Doctor said. “Because I am travelling alone now.”
“No, of course,” Rory replied, watching the Doctor somewhat warily. Despite the Doctor's assertions, Rory found himself beginning to suspect that the Doctor was travelling with a companion. One he just didn't want him to meet. Like a flesh-eating monster or a secret girlfriend (thoughts of the Doctor, his son-in-law, having a secret girlfriend filled him with an defensiveness he knew was both misplaced and entirely unnecessary, considering his daughter would no doubt take far more dangerous retribution). Perhaps, he thought, it was the draw of the TARDIS. He tried to push this thought into the far corners of his mind and pretend it hadn't occurred to him, but Amy would be in the meeting for another few hours. He'd really just planned to... well, he'd planned to wait, but the Doctor's presence had reminded him of just how much waiting he'd already done. “So... want to, I don't know, get tea and catch up if you don't need to run?”
“I parked the TARDIS in the break room,” the Doctor said, already on his way down the corridor.
“Here we are!” the Doctor proclaimed, waving his hand out toward the horizon as if he'd just finished the skyline himself.
“We're in London,” Rory said, glancing around. It looked unusually normal, but just to be sure he asked, “London when?”
“London now!” the Doctor said cheerfully.
Rory glanced back at the door of the TARDIS. In retrospect, the trip had been rather short. He'd followed the Doctor into the TARDIS, the Doctor had grabbed his coat, and then the doors had opened on the Thames. He could swear he hadn't even heard the engines.
“You haven't been to London.”
“Not yet, but we're going soon and—was this Amy's idea?”
The Doctor looked pensive for a split second, as if doubting his own intentions, then barrelled on. “She did say you were jealous when I took her to London.”
“It wasn't the London part I was jealous of.”
“Right!” the Doctor pulled a face, but recovered quickly. “Well, best to take advantage while we're here.”
“I suppose,” Rory said, not quite convinced. “So, what's gone wrong here?” Rory glanced up at Big Ben. The scaffolding had been removed, though the repairs still hadn't weathered enough to be unnoticeable. “Aliens, monsters, alien monsters? Sentient goo?”
The Doctor shut the TARDIS doors and locked them, then set off east down the cobbled path along the south bank of the Thames. “I thought we were just going for tea.”
“Doctor, have you ever just gone for tea?”
“Yes, actually. Once, in--”
“Once,” Rory said.
“Things tend to happen.”
“Oh!” the Doctor exclaimed as they passed by the intersection of a small street. “Have I told you about Bear Gardens? It was midsummer, and Bill and I--”
“Of course,” Rory said dryly as the Doctor continued on unabated.
“We weren't far from here, and--”
“Does this end in 'Exit, pursued by a bear'?”
Their stroll led them past several cafés, though the Doctor didn't slow until they reached the London Bridge Tube Station, and the Doctor pushed inside, weaving through the crowd of tourists.
“Wait,” Rory said, glancing around the station. “We just left the TARDIS and you want to take the Tube?”
“It's an authentic experience,” the Doctor said. “I don't recall you complaining about taking transit when we were on Artonica Nine.”
“Those were hovercrafts!”
“This is why I usually bring Amy along.”
“What're you trying to say?” Rory glared, reaching for the Doctor's sleeve to pull him back from the turnstile.
“She's not so,” he waved his hands around Rory's face, “cynical. This is the Tube. The Tube is cool.”
Rory shrugged, peering over the Doctor's shoulder at the machine. “Where are we going?”
The Doctor rubbed his hands together. “That's the best part about the Tube. I don't know!”
“I was certain it was here,” the Doctor said, standing in front of a half-full carpark.
Rory put his hands in his pockets and looked around at the shops and galleries. “I'm not even clear on what we're looking for.”
“No matter, now,” the Doctor said, disappointed. “That's the problem with London. It keeps changing.”
Rory inclined his head. “Most things do.”
“It's a bit more than that, though,” the Doctor said. Rory waited a long moment for him to continue, but instead the Doctor continued walking and Rory contented himself with peering into the windows of the blocks of flats they passed. He and Amy had been looking for a new place closer to the city, and he figured he may as well have a look around while tailing the Doctor, if nothing else was going to come along trying to kill him.
“Cities like this, they're not just what you can see, and what you can see isn't necessarily what's there,” the Doctor said after they'd passed several streets.
“How do you mean?” Rory asked, pulling his attention back from a rental advertisement posted in a lower window.
“The bigger a city is, and the older it is, the more its people—past and present—shape it. What they believe about it, no matter how true at the time, becomes it.” The Doctor's tone was suddenly distant and more measured, far from the rapid-fire explanation Rory was used to. “London has always been family, in a way,” he continued after a pensive moment. “Even though your government has wanted me dead, or captured, or... but the point is sharing the stories, passing them on, watching them grow. That's why I travel with people. To share stories. It's what a family does.”
The Doctor bent over the map of the Northern Line, tracing his fingers over the stops. Rory peered over his shoulder.
“I think we're meant to be on the other branch,” Rory offered, pointing toward the opposite platform. “We can change if we go a few stops backwards.”
The Doctor nodded, then pulled out a pair of callipers and began to measure the distance between the stops on the map.
“I'm not actually horrible at all this, no matter what Amy's told you. I only got us lost the once, and now she drives and navigates anyway, so there's no point in you punishing me too.” Finally, after a moment of standing in awkward silence. “I was rambling, hm?” Rory sighed. “Okay, what's the problem, Doctor? I'm trying to be okay with this, but something is obviously odd or unusual here... because nothing has been odd or unusual. I know I told you I wanted to stop travelling and make a life for myself and Amy, but that doesn't mean you can't tell me if something has gone off.” He waved his arms uselessly at the Doctor, who at least paid him enough mind to stop measuring the Tube map. “You're being strange. Even for you.”
“Sorry,” the Doctor said, taken aback. This was as close to a monologue as he'd seen Rory deliver. “Nothing is wrong, actually,” he said, and in a rare turn of inflection, it sounded like he believed his own words. “I come down here to visit,” he said, returning to his usual aloof tone. He laid a hand on the wall of the subway tunnel. “Parts of it are built right through the TARDIS.”
Rory spent a long moment being silently sceptical, then asked “How?”
“The TARDIS exists at all points and in every moment all at once, so when you have a fixed point like this, it's unavoidable.”
“Is that how a fixed point works? I thought fixed points had to do with time.”
“There are different types. This is a fixed idea, only suspended in space and given form, so it's a kind of... imagined... thing. It's sustained by what people think about it—it's why everyone up there,” he pointed up above toward the ceiling and the streets above, “is okay with this map. It matches what everything down here actually is, rather than what it currently is. It's... more of a dynamic fixed point. Ish. It's... let me demonstrate.” The Doctor pulled a pack of gum from one of his pockets.
“Is that what you brought me down here?”
“Think of it as a tour that might come in handy one day,” the Doctor said, putting five sticks of bubble gum into his mouth before offering one to Rory.
“As opposed to all the other ones, that won't?”
“Yes, those ones,” he replied, rather muffled.
“We weren't ever actually looking for a café, were we Doctor?”
“Of course not. Cafés are all wrong. Everyone just sitting still and passing the time like it doesn't matter and... existentialism.” The Doctor made a sour face, then started blowing a bubble. “Cafés are one of the chief obstacles of...” he held up one finger as he finished the bubble, then pulled the gum out of his mouth. Rory turned and looked down the tunnel instead. “...happiness. Camus agreed with me, once I got him out and about. Anyway! Rory, turn around, it's just gum. Well, and a metaphor. Now, think of this as space...”
As they passed from stop to stop and the Doctor's list of fantastical stories grew, Rory began to worry about the Doctor's health, and about his predicted death, and if this really might be the end for him—his last tour before he was resigned to his fate. Some kind of self-delivered eulogy. He'd seen him do it once before, in a way. There was a pang of guilt that he hadn't pulled Amy from her meeting. For a friend like the Doctor—whatever trouble tended to follow him—it would certainly have been worth it if this was, in fact, it.
Rory realized, with great surprise followed quickly by a sense of odd irony, that he could use this opportunity to set an example he both wished Amy would follow while she was on her adventures, and one he knew she couldn't. When the Doctor ducked into a candy shop, he pulled out his mobile and called.
“Rory, hey. Why are you calling? Is something wrong?”
Rory intended to say Yes!, but the words wouldn't come. He couldn't bring himself to pull her away from her dream for something that he was certain would only break her heart. “No, I was just calling to say 'Hi.'”
“Where are you?”
“I just ran into an old friend. We're... out.”
There was a pause at the other end of the line. “An old friend?” Amy asked.
“Yes. Er, it's complicated.”
“It's not the Doctor, is it?” Amy's glare was palpable even over the phone.
“No. No, just an old friend.” Rory rolled his eyes at himself. Perhaps this had been a bad idea after all.
“All right. That's suspicious, you know. But I have a meeting I need to be in, so I'm going to run. Love you.”
“Love you!” Rory said, and smiled as Amy made kissing sounds at him and hung up. That, he thought to himself, ...I'm not sure that helped.
“Why are you doing this, Doctor?” Rory finally asked as they passed over another cobbled street.
“Do what?” the Doctor asked.
“This...” Rory trailed off for a moment. “Okay, I guess this is normal for you, going around explaining things. But I live here! Or I will, soon. Why are you doing...” he waved his hands uselessly at the Doctor, trying to illustrate a point that his mind refused to get a fix on, “...this here, now?”
“Don't you ever want to tell stories? Didn't anyone ever show you things like this when you were younger? Family, or...”
“What, like my dad?”
“Yes, exactly! Didn't your dad ever tell you stories that made the world just a little bit bigger?”
Rory tilted his head to the side, frowning slightly. “Are you saying you think of me as your son? Because I'm...”
“No! It's just on my mind, because—“
“Doctor!” the sound of Amy's voice cut through the Doctor's words, though he looked more than relieved to be cut off.
“Amy!” Rory cried, catching her into a hug. “How did you find us?”
“Hello, Doctor!” she said, letting go of Rory and wrapping her arms around his neck. “You said 'old friend,'” Amy said, turning back to Rory. “It wasn't me, obviously, and it wasn't Mels... or River. Which means you were lying about it being the Doctor.” She frowned, then added “I can't believe you lied to me about the Doctor,” between her teeth before punching him playfully in the arm. “Also, the TARDIS was parked in the break room.”
“Well!” the Doctor exclaimed. “Now that we're all here, I have something I wanted to tell you!”
“I knew it,” Rory mumbled, though his gaze was drawn to Amy's stomach, and a nagging wonder as to whether Amy didn't have something to share as well, what with the Doctor's apparent fixation on family. Surely the Doctor wouldn't break that news... then again, he was the Doctor.
“Oh! I do, too!” Amy declared. Rory smiled and placed his hand on her stomach. “We've decided on a slogan and I've signed the contract!”
“Wonderful!” he said, recovering quickly and pulling her into a hug and kissing her on the forehead.
“What was that about?” Amy asked, pushing Rory away to half an arm's length.
“What?” Rory asked, feigning innocence.
“This.” Amy put her hand on Rory's stomach. “What was that supposed to mean?”
“The Doctor was talking about family and fatherhood, I just thought...” he trailed off.
“Doctor!” Amy gasped, gripping Rory's shirt sleeve.
“Well,” the Doctor said, fidgeting slightly.
“Wait,” Rory said. “You're not dying, you're...”
“If it helps, Rory, I was a grandfather before I got to be a father, too.”
“It's a good thing his death is a fixed point in time,” Rory said, setting his cup of tea on the break room table. “Because otherwise I'd kill him myself.”
“Who's to say you don't?” Amy asked with half a grin, still holding the fresh contract protectively under her arm.
“You wouldn't stop me?”
Amy laughed. “Rory, he's just made me a grandmother. Do whatever you need to do.”
“I'll bring the car around,” Rory said with a smirk, returning the mug to the office dishwasher before taking Amy by the arm. “Do you think he'll let us babysit?”