"I'm not staying here, Doctor. I already said this was a bad idea, and I think the TARDIS disappearing on us just proves it."
"Well where do you propose we stay, then?" the Doctor asks, unruffled. He has the newspaper he'd stolen from the Dennis' mailbox, and is scanning through the classifieds.
"Anywhere but here! Next town over! London — you said you had friends there."
The Doctor shakes his head and looks at Rory inquiringly. "Didn't you ever get lost as a child — no, this town's too small to get lost in. But still. The first rule of getting found when you're lost is to stay where you are. Which is why I always tell you lot not to run off. No self-preservation."
Rory rolls his eyes. "We're not seven."
"Seven might be better. Amelia certainly was sensible at seven."
"Amelia is in a time machine that only you can fly, and you're down here in Leadworth with no way to ring her up, let alone get your spaceship under control, I don't see how —"
"Right, which is why staying here is our best option; introduce as few variables into the equations as we can. Now. We need to find accomodations. And whatever passes for an electronics shop these days."
"Well if you want to 'stay local' you're going to have to settle for Miriam's junk shop." Rory stops walking. He should've seen it sooner, but the Doctor had distracted him. "Oh no. No no no."
"What?" The Doctor stops as well.
"Doctor, this is my flat! I live here!"
"Really?" The Doctor looks back and forth between Rory and the flat, as if checking that he's really next to him and not already inside. "The landlady said it was empty."
"Will live," Rory amends uneasily. But he's not giving in. "Mum and Dad didn't split 'til '95. But still." He shakes his head. "Staying in Leadworth is bad enough. Staying in the flat I'm going to grow up in? Out of the question. Somebody's bound to recognize me."
"How can they recognize you, you haven't even lived here yet." The Doctor draws his arm around Rory's shoulders and steers him towards the door.
"That's not —"
"And besides, you're only five. Four? Five."
"Doctor, I meant in the future. Somebody's going to say something, aren't they?"
"Did they? Say something. It is your past."
"I don't know, we haven't actually moved in yet!" Rory snaps.
"That's the spirit!" the Doctor cries, looking triumphant. He claps Rory on the shoulder. "Don't worry, time sorts these things out. If we're lucky we won't be here too long at all. And you do have one of those faces, remember?" He pats Rory on the cheek and bustles through the door like he already owns the place, and Rory can't even figure out when he lost the argument.
Rory gets a job at the grocer's. It's not much, but it's better than nothing, which is what his nursing degree has evaporated into. Though he doesn't mind that too much, there've been so many advances in technology between now and his own time that he's pretty sure he'd go mad or accidentally muck it all up. Though he might just go mad anyways, with all the deja vu he gets any time he recognizes any of the people in the village, looking strange and out of place, twenty years younger than he's used to.
He's getting better at ignoring it, though, he thinks to himself as he closes the door to the flat. "I'm home," he calls. The only response is a clatter from down the hall. It's about all he gets half the time, so he keeps talking, moving towards the kitchen. "I brought some more peaches, since all the ones I brought home on Tuesday are mysteriously gone, and I don't care what you say you've done to the fridge, there's not a dimensional portal in the crisper drawer, just tell me when we're out and I'll get more."
The Doctor pokes his head out from the cabinet under the sink, his hand coming up through the drain. It looks like it might be stuck. "Why don't you have one of those sink blenders? I need something with a better rotor." He waves the hand, still caught by the drain, in a little circle.
Rory sets his bag of groceries on the stovetop, the only place relatively free of clutter, and pulls a bottle of olive oil from the pantry. "You mean a garbage disposal? We don't even have them here in my time. I think I've seen three in my life." He pours the oil on the Doctor's hand and wrist, trying to get enough so it'll slide through whatever tight spot the Doctor's got himself stuck against. "And one of those was in a film."
The Doctor just hmms, letting Rory work the oil into his skin, between every finger, around the joint of his thumb. The Doctor's skin is cool, which he's got used to, and soft, which he hasn't. If it weren't for the way the Doctor's fingers curl and flex against his own, more like blades of grass than anything else, Rory would think the Doctor wasn't even aware of what he was doing.
"Try not to get stuck again," he mutters as he steps back, searching for a cloth.
"I'm never really stuck." The Doctor's hand slides through the sink easily now, releasing with a slight squelch. "Or, not for long," he amends.
They've been here nearly two weeks.
The worst part — well really there's about fifty worst parts, including the no Amy and the fact that the Doctor seems to have no concept of how to fend for himself in an explosionless situation, and that they've somehow ended up in Leadworth and he keeps seeing people he knows and he's living in his old flat somehow, and he can't even use his own NHS number, because it belongs to a five-year-old him who still lives in Brighton — But really, the worst part has to be the no Amy. The Doctor assures him she's safe on the TARDIS, but until he can actually contact the TARDIS, Rory's going to continue to worry, thank you.
It's a time machine, you'd think getting somebody a message would be simple. Especially when you haven't even gone anywhere spatially.
He wonders if it's serendipity or fate or some strange design, forces none of them can fathom that means Rory is sitting here, in 1989, in the flat that he and his dad will move into in seven years. That he'll grow up in. That he had grown up in. He keeps looking over his shoulder, expecting either to see the furniture he's used to, the curtains and dishes, or to see the whole place come tumbling around the Doctor's ears as he decides to explore the wiring in the utility closet under the stairs. As it is, Rory's already discovered where the odd stain in the cupboard came from.
He keeps his old room; it's strange to see it so unfamiliar, but it would be stranger still to use his dad's room, or to try and imagine the Doctor in his. Though the Doctor probably doesn't use it much either way. If his time on the TARDIS hadn't made him suspicious, he now knows with certainty that the Doctor never sleeps more than three hours at a stretch. Less, usually. The sitting room is like some mad scientist's laboratory, bits of machinery strewn everywhere and half-constructed contraptions on every surface.
It's taken a couple false starts to work it out, but they've settled on a system of 'if the door is open, you're not likely to get blown up by anything I'm working on' on the Doctor's part, and Rory knocks from just outside regardless of whether the door is open or not. It's worked so far. He's also become able to read the sounds coming from the room — too frantic or too quiet are both bad, but what he hears now is a stream of friendly muttering, and the occasional zap of electricity, the clink of metal. He knocks, and at the eventual 'hmm, yes?' steps into the room. The air smells faintly of hot solder.
"Well, yes and no." The Doctor looks consideringly at the machine in front of him. It looks like he's gutted a tape deck, the speakers and the buttons still visible in the mess, but the head readers are hooked up to the innards of a cash register, and there's something that looks oddly like a plastic daffodil jammed where the antenna should go. It looks absurd.
"I'm pretty sure this should be able to get a signal to the TARDIS. I can't say for sure, there's nothing else to test it against. But I'm pretty sure — well, mostly sure — it'll work. We just need to find the TARDIS first."
"Find the TARDIS? I thought you said you knew where it was!"
"I do, I do!" The Doctor raises his hands reassuringly, though the effect is lost when he speaks again. "Probably." Rory advances on him and he hurries to continue. "It's like an electron cloud. I know where it is, generally, in relation to the nucleus — that's us, by the way — but the TARDIS could be anywhere within that area." He puts his hand over Rory's. "But range isn't a problem, I just need to put together a signal that only the TARDIS will be able to pick up." He smiles, the pressure of his hand forcing Rory to look him in the eye. "We'll get her back, Rory, I promise. I'm not about to live the rest of my life in linear time again."
Rory snorts. "We've been here two weeks, Doctor, you're not allowed to complain about that just yet. It's not your wife out there on a spaceship gone mad."
The Doctor sobers. "That's the other thing. We still need to figure out what made the TARDIS take off again. There must be something preventing it from getting too close; even Amy can work the fast return switch." It's not a promising thought. "But once we do make contact with Amy, having the TARDIS' information banks on our side will make things easier." He smiles brilliantly again.
Rory nods hesitantly. He's not unaware of the fact that the Doctor keeps using the word 'we,' but the limit of Rory's ability to help is his ability to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. It doesn't feel like much at all, even as he ushers the Doctor out to the kitchen for his second — and more successful — attempt at spaghetti bolognese.
And then after all that, he's not even home when the Doctor makes contact. He hears the Doctor babbling away happily about something when he goes to knock on the door, and it's not until he hears a second voice reply that it clicks that it's not just the Doctor talking to himself. He throws the door open.
"Rory!" Amy's voice is tinny in the mutilated speaker of the tape deck, but recognizably her. "Hey, babe!"
"Um, excuse me, I was talking —" the Doctor taps Rory on the shoulder.
"My wife," he says, automatically. It's been over two weeks —
"Doctor, you've had me on the line for nearly an hour —"
"You were at work! I had things I needed Pond to do — and I was right, too, if you'd been home I'd have got nothing done —"
"Oi, Doctor! Zip it!" Amy interrupts their squabble. "Look, like I said, you've had your turn, and this processor thing you're having me do to the TARDIS won't even be done for another forty minutes. Go get a snack or something and let me talk to Rory for a bit, yeah?"
"But I don't need a — oh. Right." The Doctor looks at Rory warily, like Rory is going to maybe rip his bowtie off and eat it, or try and take the cap off the phone receiver and crawl inside it. Which is ridiculous — he'll make the Doctor eat his own damn bowtie. "I'll just —" the Doctor jerks his thumb over his shoulder "—kitchen."
It's only been four days for Amy, which has been long enough to make her worry like crazy, but not to the point of aching like Rory. But he's had the Doctor, and she's been knocking around in a ship she can't control, so it's not like she's not rattled.
"It's good to hear your voice," he confesses, feeling like a sap.
"The TARDIS is weird with no one else in it," she says. "I don't — hurry up and get back here, yeah?"
"Yeah," he says, trying to keep his voice from shaking, because he is a gigantic sap.
"Are you keeping the Doctor in line?"
"It's weird, Amy, did he tell you? We're living in my flat."
There's silence on the other end of the line and for a moment Rory thinks he's lost the connection.
"You're what? The one on Waterson Road? Won't somebody recognize you?" And with that the whole story comes tumbling out. It's such a relief to actually hear someone agreeing with him about the insane things the Doctor does, the frustrating way that no one else seems to notice anything is odd.
"You can't let him get away with things, Rory," Amy says. "He's — no, selfish is the wrong word. But thinking about people is not his first priority. You've got to smack him around some."
"I know," he replies. But when the Doctor comes back for the phone again, a half-empty jar of olives in his hand, he hands over the receiver without a word. He hangs around a few more minutes, just to listen to Amy's voice, but already he feels in the way, and he slides out the door to go and actually put his bag away from where he'd dumped it on the floor when he'd first heard Amy's voice.
It's not all work, though. "I do any one thing for too long and I start to go a bit off," the Doctor explains easily, as if Rory's not wondering what counts as 'a bit off' if this is normal. "You've seen Mary Poppins, right? The one with the banker." He has a kite in one hand, and they're walking down the road towards the open fields past Amy's house. Rory concentrates on the kite, and not the houses. The kite is orange, the traditional diamond shape, though it's got no tail. "I start socializing with bankers, looking into investment firms. I made a CPA subroutine for a robotic dog once, you know. Not that I think he ever got the license."
"Why would you do that?"
"Boredom, mostly." The Doctor tests the wind. "It was the seventies. I had the time."
"You've always got the time," Rory mutters, sure the Doctor can't hear him, but his eyes are sharp and flit quickly to Rory's face.
"Run this out, will you?" he says quietly, and hands Rory the body of the kite.
Rory doesn't know what else to do, so he does.
The kite flutters in the sky, the thin twine in the Doctor's hands the only thing tethering it against the breeze, which doesn't reach as low as the two of them, planted solid against the ground. He watches the kite bank and twist as the Doctor controls it, guides it through the air, makes it swoop and twist, free in the air if not for that one string.
The breeze swoops low enough to buffet against his skin and for a brief cloudless moment he is the kite, tugged at and unable to break away.
He should have thought of it. He doesn't know why he hadn't. But it hadn't even occurred to him that he might run into either of them, until there he is, standing at the end of the aisle in the supermarket, staring at Amy's mum. She's holding a box of tea in one hand, and is studying the jar of strawberry preserves in her other hand. She looks to be about six months pregnant.
Part of Rory is still trying to process that Amy's parents are alive — he still has half a head full of memories from a timeline where they never existed. And while he remembers them being around, too, in this new timeline, it somehow doesn't feel as immediate. Amy's mum is nice, but it's a bit like seeing a stranger at your birthday party. He blinks. And then there's the part where she's supposed to be in Scotland, isn't she, Amy wasn't born here, she moved here, he knows that, and maybe Amy's mum is just visiting her sister or something, but there she is, but not really, and —
Rory realizes he's staring. He wants to just turn around and leave, but he can't. He's at work, his break isn't even for another hour. But that's Amy's mum, right there. Twenty years younger and she looks even more like Amy. Amy who is right there, but she's not born yet, and even if she was, he can't just — it's like the universe is mocking him.
Something panicked rises up inside him. He backs up, bumping into someone. He turns and flees, not even sure if he manages to stammer out an apology, tossing aside his apron before running out the door. The panicked feeling is rising in his throat, welling up inside him until it threatens to choke him. Everything familiar is pressing close around him, but it isn't reassuring. He feels smothered. Everything's familiar, but it's wrong.
"Rory!" The Doctor greets him cheerfully, his arms full of air duct and plumber's strap. "I've had a thought about the containment system —" He stops, and cocks his head to the side. "Are you all right?"
Rory sags back against the door, feeling a bit foolish now. "I —" he tries to catch his breath. "Amy's mum was at the store. She's — pregnant."
The Doctor's eyes widen in understanding. He tosses the tubing onto the one chair in the front room and sweeps Rory up in a surprisingly tight hug. Rory probably should feel stupid, but instead he just feels relieved, and he clutches at the Doctor, hiding his face in the man's shoulder.
"It's all right, Rory," the Doctor says quietly. "Amy's still in the TARDIS, she's fine. You're fine." The Doctor strokes a thumb along Rory's spine. "You humans, your brain isn't cut out for this stuff. The big, abstract stuff it can handle, but the little things, like meeting yourself, or a relative, something that's tied up with the life you've lived already, your brain doesn't know what to do with it. It doesn't know how to contextualize the information."
"I thought you said there wouldn't be a problem being in Leadworth." Rory doesn't move.
The Doctor sighs. "I thought neither of you were here yet."
Rory laughs shakily. "Yeah. Me too." He toys with the fabric of the Doctor's shirt between his fingers. The Doctor has relaxed his grip slightly, but hasn't pulled away. Rory is content to stay as well — the Doctor's attention isn't usually focused so closely on him, and it feels... good. Different.
"You're doing brilliantly, Rory. It won't be much longer, I promise."
"Don't lie to me, Doctor," Rory says. He pulls back just enough to tug the Doctor down by the neck, and kisses him roughly on the lips. The Doctor pulls back, shifting his grip on Rory, but not letting go entirely, and Rory follows him. A long moment passes and then the Doctor gives in, kissing Rory back. It's soft and slow, though, a gentle kiss. The Doctor's hands come up to cradle Rory's head, and when they break apart, he bows his head forwards to rest against Rory's.
"Did you get that move from Amy, or did she get it from you?" the Doctor asks after a moment. He sounds a bit breathless.
"Amy's got more finesse than that," Rory replies, feeling a bit flip.
"I'll have to take your word for it." The Doctor pauses and licks his lips. "Rory —"
"Shut up, Doctor." He kisses him again. The Doctor's mouth is cool.
"Right. Shutting up. I — nnnnnnnngh." the Doctor sucks in a breath as Rory shoves a hand down his trousers. It seems to flip a switch in him, though, suddenly bringing him to life as he rocks his hips into Rory's hand, biting and sucking at the tendon beneath his jaw. He's growing hard quickly in Rory's hand, and he strokes him faster, the Doctor's reactions making him feel powerful.
The Doctor grabs Rory by the shoulders and pushes him back against the wall. Rory has only a spare second to think that they need to get more furniture before the ability for rational thought is lost entirely. The Doctor has him pinned against the wall and grinds their erections together, Rory's hand now trapped between them inside the Doctor's trousers. He tries to tug it free but the Doctor rocks against him, harder, and Rory gasps.
Rory kisses the Doctor again, using his free hand to tug at the Doctor's shirt, plucking at the buttons one by one. The Doctor's hands smooth over his shoulders, restless. He puts a hand on the Doctor's cool stomach, and the smooth skin jumps beneath his touch. The Doctor licks his way inside Rory's mouth with long, broad, unhurried strokes. He doesn't seem to need to breathe, and at last Rory has to pull away, just enough to gasp in another lungful of air. The Doctor's mouth slides away, breath ghosting over his cheek.
"You're very confusing, I hope you know," the Doctor says, his voice unsteady.
"Sorry, I thought I was being pretty direct," Rory replies. He cocks his hips forward, sliding his hand around to the curve of the Doctor's hip.
The Doctor makes a strangled noise and lets go of Rory's arms in favor of his waist, tugging at the fly of his jeans. Rory doesn't let the Doctor do more than pull it open before he pulls him closer, cupping his arse and rocking eagerly forward, the fabric adding an extra layer of friction. They press together from chest to cock, rocking harder and harder, their tempo increasing as they clutch and gasp. The Doctor bites his ear and Rory jerks, bucks, and topples over the edge, coming messily. The Doctor grins, looking triumphant, and Rory reaches between them again, but he doesn't have to do more than stroke him before the Doctor is coming as well, his fingers tightening until Rory is sure he's going to have bruises.
They stay pressed together, the Doctor's head on Rory's shoulder, Rory slowly settling his hand on the Doctor's hip again. Both of them are still breathing raggedly, and Rory closes his eyes for a moment. They are in the front room of his childhood house, and for the first time the absurdity of that hits him. But it's hard to concentrate on that with the solid weight of the Doctor against him.
Nothing changes after they have sex, which surprises Rory.
"Why would it?" Amy asks, at their now-nightly phone call. "It's not like you two weren't having sex before."
"Well, yeah, but —" Rory sputters. "That was different. That was with you."
"Yeah, and this isn't. Y'know, most people actually find it easier to have sex with only one person at a time."
Rory bites his lip. Amy makes it sound so uncomplicated, but for her, sex just kind of is.
"Honestly, Rory, you've got to stop being surprised when people like you."
Easy for her to say. She hasn't spent most of her life chasing after someone who barely noticed she existed.
He sighs and swaps hands on the phone, moving it to his other ear. If she thinks he's given in, she won't pursue the subject, so he asks her instead about the TARDIS, about the information the Doctor has asked her to find. She takes the bait and moves on.
Rory's thoughts don't.
He's in the kitchen, listening to the one record they have — Ziggy Stardust. Everything else was too old for his tastes, even though it was brand new. The Doctor doesn't say anything, just fixes himself a salad and sits down next to him. Their knees bump companionably.
"I've made all the progress I can on getting through to the TARDIS. Whatever's keeping it from locking onto us and landing is preventing me from getting a proper read on it as well."
Rory watches the record spin around and around, Bowie's voice scratchy and tinny below the needle. "So what're you going to do?" That's not what he should be saying. But it's what comes out.
The Doctor puts his handful of lettuce back down in the bowl. "Well, normally I'd find the signal that's jamming me and stop it, but I can't, because I don't know where it's coming from, since it's jamming my scans." The salad bowl lands on the table with a heavy porcelain clatter, and Rory starts. He looks at the Doctor closely, but the Doctor has turned off, shut down from the inside. A silence descends on the room, their breathing the only slight noise. The Doctor clasps his hands, and presses them to his forehead.
"Well, it can't be jamming everything," Rory says slowly. He's well aware he knows almost nothing about the stuff the Doctor is working with, but hopefully he can jog a thought loose. Seeing the Doctor at loose ends is — unsettling. "I mean, you were able to get in contact with the TARDIS, yeah? And Earth tech still works. Contemporary stuff, I mean." His mobile phone is useless. But he assumes that's because of the lack of cell towers.
"Of course contemporary tech still works," the Doctor says, not moving his hands away from his face. "If normal things stopped working, people would notice something was wrong a lot more quickly, wouldn't they? Hardly a good hiding technique."
"Well, can you use that somehow?"
"Yes, I'll just use a shortwave radio and a flashlight to find an alien presence so powerful the TARDIS can't even get past it," the Doctor says sarcastically, leaning back and waving his hands around to illustrate.
A couple of months ago, Rory would have taken this as a jab, but he's learning. He just keeps throwing out ideas. "Well, does the field cover the whole planet? Can Amy at least land in, like, China or something?" Hopefully someplace with a nice friendly airport.
"I'm not going to China, they don't like me there," the Doctor says sourly. But he shifts his weight forward, letting his chair come down on all four legs again with a thump. "Wait a minute, what did you say?"
"About China?" Rory asks slowly.
"No. Well, yes, but also the part about the TARDIS. Of course — if I can figure out what frequencies I can't reach the TARDIS with, I can put together a sort of negative of what this thing is. The more I can bombard it with at once, the better a picture I can get."
Rory nods, pretending he understands what the Doctor is saying. He has no idea what it has to do with China, but he'll just go with it.
The Doctor stands. "Come on. You get to help me make a satellite dish."
It's late summer, that time of year when the humidity sinks heavy, just starting to swell in unbearable heat. Rory's got his window open to encourage a breeze, and he's turned off all the lights except for the small reading lamp next to the bed. He should be sleeping, since it's almost two in the morning, but the rumble of heat thunder somewhere close by had woken him up, sure for a moment that it was the TARDIS landing. Yesterday he'd dreamed that the TARDIS had landed in the middle of the kitchen, and he'd had to explain it to his father.
There's another rumble and he moves to the window. The clouds in the sky are thick and heavy, blocking out the stars, but it doesn't feel like it's going to rain. It's just going to be oppressive and stifling.
There's no breeze, but he hears a rustling in the apple tree and looks over. It takes a second for his eyes to focus, but then he sees that it's the Doctor in the garden. The Doctor is in shirtsleeves, the arms rolled up above his elbows. The lights are all out, but he's pulled one of the branches down a little to inspect it, looking at the small buds of fruit or maybe the leaves or the branch itself. He lets it go and the branch snaps back into place with a soft spring, swaying slightly as it settles. He looks up over his shoulder and spots Rory unerringly.
Rory ducks away and sits back down on the bed. He thinks for a minute, frozen like a statue, then suddenly makes up his mind. He only stops long enough to pull on an undershirt and shoes — armor to make the Doctor more comfortable — then he's moving down the stairs.
The Doctor is still standing under the apple tree, staring up at the clouds. Rory approaches him slowly. He considers standing further away, but this time he recognizes the flush of shame and want for what it is, and tamps down on it, instead coming to stand close enough that their shoulders bump together. It feels — good.
The Doctor glances over at him. He takes his hand out of his pocket and sets it lightly against Rory's back. He can feel it through the cloth of his shirt, tracing up and down along his spine.
"I used to climb this tree all the time when I was a kid. I thought the apples from the top of the tree always tasted better than the ones you could reach from the ground."
"They always do."
"I broke my arm when I was twelve — branch broke under my weight, and dad said I was too old to climb it any more." He points out the branch in question, still whole. "He was right, but I was so cross." He thinks for a second. "That was when Amy started playing with me more. I wasn't supposed to do anything 'rough,' like play football or climb on anything. But Amy was a girl, and younger than me, so it would be all right." He and the Doctor share a look. Little had his dad known. "And by the time the cast came off, it was too late to suggest any games of my own. I was stuck with you." The Doctor's hand stops, but it doesn't move away. "And maybe sometimes I'd protest, but mostly because that was what I was supposed to do. I didn't want the others to know I was actually having fun."
The Doctor's not slow. "And are you still having fun?"
There's grass under his feet and a flash of lightning somewhere above him. "Yes. Definitely."
The hand at his back tugs him closer, and then the Doctor's kissing him, soft and sweet and lighter than the air. Rory leans into it, arms over the Doctor's shoulders like a slow dance. It's surprisingly easy like this, neither one of them pushing, just standing there kissing slowly.
Rory comes downstairs in the morning to find the Doctor where he'd left him, at the kitchen table. The sitting room has run out of room — or power outlets, is Rory's actual guess, as he sees cables trailing along the floor. He checks to make sure the Doctor hasn't unplugged the fridge and stolen that circuit, too, but the light comes on and the air is cool, so he just grabs the milk and pours himself a bowl of cereal.
The Doctor makes an annoyed noise. He has a box of unidentifiable wire ends and an actual screwdriver on the table with him, next to the remains of a clock and what used to be a table lamp. "Couldn't the two of you have lived in a town a bit bigger? One with a population of five? Or at least a full-time post office?"
Rory shrugs. "You were the one who didn't want to go to London."
The Doctor looks up, tapping the wire in his hand against the table. "You seem to have changed your mind about that."
"Resigned to my fate, more like." He pushes the cereal around his bowl, refusing to explore his own change of view.
The Doctor doesn't pursue it. "Amy's performing some scans on the TARDIS, but we haven't found anything yet. Is there anything about the village that seems different to you, different from how you remember it?"
"Doctor, I told you, I haven't even moved here yet. I don't know what's changed."
"Come on, Rory, this town is boring enough that a new bench for the duck pond is probably cause for celebration!"
"Well, that was only because it was dedicated to Mrs. Henderson, the librarian, when she retired after fifty years, and then she got absolutely plastered at the party, and — oh. Guess you're right, yeah."
The Doctor growls and buries his hands in his hair.
Something the Doctor had said clicks over in Rory's brain. He tumbles the sentence over slowly in his head, chewing on his spoon. "Hang on, say that again."
The Doctor makes the same growling noise, but this time with an upwards inflection.
"No, that part about the new bench —"
"— For the duck pond."
Rory points his spoon at the Doctor. "What duck pond?"
The Doctor looks at him warily. "The duck pond. Down — you know, that way —" the Doctor points in the general direction of the center of town. "By the square, where we met, that duck pond."
Rory frowns, picturing the square. He shakes his head slowly. "I don't follow." The Doctor stares at him. "There's that horrible 18th-century statue of Captain Bowen, with all the ivy, but there's no pond." He stands up, putting his empty bowl in the sink. "Well, I say it's a horrible statue, but only because we thought he looked like an ogre when we were kids. Amy used to dare me to climb it, and of course I got caught and —" he stops as the Doctor stands abruptly, abandoning his work at the table. "Right, fine. Whatever," he grumbles.
The Doctor stalks back into the room, but only long enough to grab the phone off the counter and walk back to the sitting room again, the phone cord playing out behind him. Rory follows him out of idle curiosity, enough to see the Doctor jam the receiver into the cash register drawer, the cradle hanging a good foot off the floor as the cords stretch taut. He turns, hands Rory his cell phone, then grabs him by the other arm, pulling him towards the front door. "Call Amy," is all he says.
"Wait, what, I can do that now? Why didn't you do that earlier — hold on, where are we going, I'm not dressed, I have to go to work —" But it's too late, the Doctor is already dragging him out the door and down the street. Rory stumbles, trying to at least turn around so he isn't being dragged backwards. He manages it, though he almost takes the Doctor down with him before the Doctor relaxes his grip enough for Rory to twist his arm around. He realizes he's still holding the phone in his other hand. Maybe Amy can explain why the Doctor has suddenly gone mental.
Amy picks up after only two rings. "Rory? Are you back? Where are you?"
"The Doctor figured out how to make my phone work. And he seems to have gone a bit barmy at the same time."
"Barmy how?" There's a splash on the other end of the line, then another.
"Hold on, are you in the bath?"
"Yeah, so what?" Another splash. "The TARDIS has settled down, and I know where you two are, even if I can't get to you, so I thought I'd take five minutes to myself and unwind, is that a problem?"
"The really big bathtub?" The Doctor looks over his shoulder at Rory, confused.
"Rory," Amy says, resolute. "Barmy."
"Right. Remember the statue of Bowen down by the bookstore?"
"The ogre statue! Yeah, what about it?" He can see the square up ahead — the Doctor's right, Leadworth is small.
"The Doctor thinks there's supposed to be some sort of duck pond there or something. Except there's not, of course."
"...Duck pond?" Her voice sounds odd.
"I remember a duck pond." She sounds confused.
"Well, I don't," he says, as they round the last corner. And there's the statue. Though — something looks a little odd.
"I don't believe it!" the Doctor says.
"Yeah, it's next to the parking lot across from the — oh."
"Bookstore," Rory fills in for Amy. The Doctor is staring at the statue of Captain James Bowen, of the HMS Argo. There was more to the plaque, but Rory'd never read it since the base of the statue had been so overgrown with ivy that the name was all you could make out. He frowns at the statue. "It's in a ditch."
"The pond?" Amy asks. There's more splashing, then a door, and Rory faintly hopes Amy stopped to grab a towel or a bathrobe.
"The statue," he replies. "It's the same, it's where it should be, but it's — lower down?" he hazards. The Doctor lets go of his hand to walk in a circle around the statue, then he takes out the sonic and points it at the statue. "It's in a square kind of ditch. That's weird."
"The duck pond is sort of square."
"Doctor, what's going on? I still don't remember any duck pond, and Amy says she remembers both."
The Doctor looks at the sonic, then shakes it and looks at it again. "Nothing."
"Nothing's wrong?" he asks.
"Nothing's there." The Doctor looks from the sonic to the statue, then back again. "It says there's nothing there. No pond, no statue. Just air." He steps forward, into the low ditch, and touches the statue cautiously. Nothing happens. He clambers up on the pedestal. "Amy, look up the town planning records. See if you can find any mentions of either the statue or the pond. Look for pictures, satellite images, anything you can find," he yells.
"Got it," Amy says.
Rory is uncomfortably aware that they're in the middle of the town square, and the Doctor is climbing the same statue he got in trouble for climbing when he was ten. "Doctor, you should probably get down."
"I'm not done yet." The Doctor is looking the bronze Bowen right in the eye, as if expecting him to spill all his secrets. "It's not a distortion field, or a chameleon circuit. It's —" he touches his hand to the statue's face and flinches back. Rory steps forward, but the Doctor keeps his balance, not that he would have had far to fall. "It's a time bubble. This small part of space can't decide that timeline it belongs to. In one, there's a statue. In another, a duck pond. In another, nothing. And there's probably more than just those three." He hops off the statue and steps back onto the tarmac with Rory.
"Why can I only remember the statue, if Amy remembers both? Shouldn't I remember both, too?"
"I'm not sure." The Doctor just stares at the statue.
"What's he found out?" Amy asks. "What's a time bubble? Is it like the crack in my wall? Rory?"
Rory stares at the Doctor's solemn face. It's obvious the man doesn't have any answers, and he doesn't know what to say in the face of that.
When Rory finishes his shift at the grocer's, he goes straight back to the square. While he would have bet on his own that the Doctor would still be there, no less than five people had stopped him during the day to mention it to him in some fashion. It makes him nervous — they're supposed to be keeping a low profile.
Then again, he thinks, looking at the Doctor, in shirtsleeves and his trousers rolled up to his shins, barefoot, he should have remembered that that was impossible.
The Doctor waves at him as soon as he catches sight of him.
"What have you been doing?" Rory asks.
"Wading," the Doctor says simply.
"I still don't see a duck pond."
"I haven't either, but my trousers started getting soaked regardless somewhere around one o'clock." The Doctor tugs at one leg of his trousers.
"How does that work?"
"The timelines are trying to sort themselves out, merge properly. Unfortunately, it's not quite working out."
"Is that why the TARDIS can't land?"
"I think it did land. And we stepped into a pocket of the past. Stirred something up, and so the TARDIS read the area as unstable and took off again."
"So we'll just go somewhere else, then, somewhere without any of these bubbles."
"No, Rory, don't you see? We're in one of those bubbles. That's why you only remember the statue; your memory is adapting to this timeline. And it's why the TARDIS can't land again. The TARDIS can't lock onto a different reality."
Rory feels his blood go cold. "So we're stuck? We can't be — we can talk to Amy on the TARDIS, we've got to be able to get to her."
The Doctor puts a hand on his arm. "We will. I'm working on it, I promise, Rory."
Rory stares at him. He doesn't know what to say. He's sick of waiting, sick of the uncertainty. The Doctor doesn't seem like he cares, not nearly as much as Rory does. "It doesn't feel like that from where I'm standing."
"Rory, I promise you —"
Rory steps back sharply, shaking his head. "You keep saying that. But we're still here."
"All right, then, you try manipulating the laws of physics from a different dimension and no technology more complicated than a blender."
"Why won't you take this seriously?"
"You think I want to be here? In this boring town, with its boring people and BORING NONEXISTENT STATUES!" The Doctor stomps away from him, and Rory lets him. He wants to throw something. "You're so self-centered, the lot of you. I don't know why I put up with you."
"Neither do I," he bites out. And then he really has to go, before he does something he regrets.
He doesn't go home yet, either. Instead he finds his way to the field behind Amy's house and sits where he can just see the window of her old bedroom — not hers yet — and listens to his heart trying to beat its way out of his chest.
Rory is starting to suspect it's not the damp heat that's making it hard to sleep. It's the emptiness of the bed. Of course, this is only a single, which helps, but he's used to Amy being there beside him. He's even got used to the occasional third body if the Doctor decides to stay a while instead of sneaking off as soon as he's sure Amy and Rory are both asleep.
Of course, he's a nurse, he's used to odd shifts and working long hours; he's not staying awake all night. But usually when he does go to sleep, he'll drop off right away. Now most nights he's up for at least an hour, staring at the ceiling or out the window. It's frustrating. And he's getting less sleep, so he's frustrated. Not enough to be snappish at customers, but he's still a little surprised at the way he blew up at the Doctor.
He's picking at a loose thread in his blanket and trying to think of something other than counting sheep and missing statues when the door creaks open softly. He looks up and sees the Doctor peering at him from around the corner.
"I was just — nothing." The Doctor steps back.
Rory sighs and sits up. "I wasn't sleeping. Did you find something? Should I —"
"No, you don't need to get up," the Doctor says, stepping into the room. The light is out in the hallway, too, he realizes. The Doctor comes over and sits on the edge of the bed. He's in boxers and a v-necked undershirt. His arms look strange bare. "I'd forgotten how quiet it is here."
"You've said that a couple times today alone."
"Not the town, the planet." The Doctor waves his hands in circles, then a larger one, to indicate the two.
Rory frowns. "Sorry? I don't follow."
He can just make out a fond smile on the Doctor's face. "It's like the difference between sleeping near a quiet country road and next to the M4, being on a planet or being on the TARDIS."
"How do you manage to sleep at all?" Rory blurts out. Getting used to the traffic was the worst part of going to uni in London.
The Doctor chuckles, but doesn't say anything. His posture is still stiff, his back hunched, like he's waiting for something.
You, you idiot, a voice that sounds suspiciously like Amy nudges him. He remembers the first time Amy propositioned the Doctor on their behalf, how she'd been sure that the Doctor liked Rory as well. "Do you want to stay?" he asks quietly. He figures that's like apologizing.
"Oh, no, I'm sure I'll —" the Doctor demurs, but his shoulders stay tight.
"I can't really sleep either," Rory plows ahead. "Got used to not sleeping alone, I think."
The Doctor hesitates. "I'm a very restless sleeper."
"I know. Just —" he doesn't know how to say it, so he just flips the end of the blanket over. "Just get over here."
The Doctor only hesitates for a few seconds before he's moving up, sliding in between the sheets. Rory scoots over a little to make room for him, sliding his arm under the other pillow so it's sort of around the Doctor's shoulders. It's nice. Different from how the Doctor usually is, but nice. Feeling bold, he leans forward and kisses the other man.
There's that familiar lag as the Doctor processes what's going on, but it doesn't last long, and soon the Doctor's kissing back, fingers ghosting along Rory's jaw. His kisses are slow, languid, almost chaste at first. He doesn't press, there's no tongue, just light kisses that somehow still steal his breath. Taking advantage of the arm already around the Doctor's shoulders, he pulls him closer. The Doctor moves easily, pressing against Rory, chest to chest and groin to groin, knees knocking together companionably, the soft pad of a foot brushing against his ankle. He's still just half-hard, but that's fine, getting off isn't the point. It's the touch, it's knowing someone else is there. He slides a thigh between the Doctor's, just because he can, and kisses him harder, sucking on his lower lip, nipping at flesh.
The Doctor hums a little and rocks against him. His hands smooth over Rory's bare back, following the muscles to the spine, shifting lower until he's gripping his arse, fingers digging into Rory's flesh.
Rory's rapidly losing his cool, and he leans back a little, breaking contact with the Doctor's mouth. He opens his eyes to see the Doctor staring at him, that little triumphant gleam in his eye. That one that he doesn't know what to do with. He leans closer again, ducking his head down a little to trail along the Doctor's jaw, mouthing at the rough skin. The Doctor doesn't move, and Rory presses harder, daring him to give. He slides a hand under the Doctor's shirt, dragging it up to his armpits. The Doctor doesn't loosen his grip on his arse, though, so he leaves it there and places his hand on the center of the Doctor's sternum. He can feel the strange double beat of his hearts, rapid and unsteady as Rory moves his thigh, grinding his erection against the Doctor's. He can feel it against his lips as the Doctor's pulse quickens, and he picks up his pace.
The Doctor gasps and bucks hard, hands flying up to Rory's face, dragging him back up for a hard kiss. Rory kisses back, tongue sliding into the Doctor's mouth. The Doctor meets him easily, kissing like he doesn't need to breathe. His erection is hard against Rory's, and he can't take it any more.
"Come on," he says, voice rough. "Come on." He puts his hands on the Doctor's hips and he yanks, pulling the Doctor on top of him. The Doctor lets out a strangled groan and pulls away entirely, shuffling backwards off the bed until his feet hit the wall with a thump. In the same motion he jerks at the waistband of Rory's boxers and swallows Rory to the root. Rory jerks and shouts. It doesn't take more than a moment of suction before the sudden wet heat has him coming hard down the Doctor's throat. The Doctor pulls off again, kneeling over Rory. He puts his hand inside his own pants and brings himself off with short, efficient strokes. His knees seem to buckle then, and he falls back on the bed, though he only half makes it. Rory clutches his arm where it lands over his chest, but he's too wrung out to do anything more.
He floats, hazily, for a while. When he comes to again he's surprised to see that the Doctor's still there.
They don't say anything about their argument, they just get back to work. "The TARDIS is confused because it's trying to land somewhere that doesn't exist. We could land you back in Leadworth, the real one, but until we know exactly how far this bubble extends, I think the safest place for you is right where you are in the Vortex, Amy."
"The Vortex is boring, Doctor."
"It's not supposed to be exciting, Pond, it's the nothing between existence." The Doctor sounds like he's explaining something to a five-year-old. "Now, Rory and I have to figure out how to pop this bubble."
"That sounds a little... not good," Rory says cautiously.
"Metaphorically," the Doctor reassures him. "What have you found, Pond?"
"All signs point to duck pond," she says chipperly.
"Good!" He claps his hands. "So we know where to concentrate our attention." Then he starts dragging things out of the front room, and Rory can only watch, dumbfounded.
Whatever it is the Doctor's making is too big to carry whole, so they carry the parts over to the square — the Doctor has liberated one of the shopping trolleys from the greengrocer's, and Rory makes a mental note to take it back — and assemble it on the lawn. Buried among the detritus is what probably used to be a speaker, a colander with the bottom knocked out, and a couple hundred feet of braided electrical cable, still insulated with asbestos, but everything else is just mysterious junk, its origins lost to the Doctor's machinations. Putting it together doesn't even help, it just looks like a really wobbly tower, or a first year art student's drunken attempts at modern art.
"Now, the thing to be careful about is the temporal differential. This bubble isn't really a bubble, it's just popped up a layer from its own timestream into ours. We need to tamp it back down, but keep ourselves here at the same time. And without destroying either one in the process."
Suddenly Rory feels a lot less confident about what the Doctor is planning.
"Don't you pop my husband, Doctor," Amy warns. "Or yourself."
"I wasn't planning on it, but your concern is noted." The Doctor flips a series of levers and cranks a rotary knob, and the machine flares to life with a low rumble. "If we work out the temporal differential slowly, the bubble won't burst. It'll ...dissolve." Rory opens his mouth but the Doctor holds up a quelling finger. "Which, yes, real bubbles don't do, but seeing as this is a metaphorical bubble, it's going to dissolve." Rory sighs and nods.
The noise from the machine builds, and Rory blinks as the sky starts to wobble. "Uh, Doctor?" The sky blurs and jumps a little to the left.
"Don't worry, Rory, it's all right." The ground trembles underneath their feet and the Doctor grabs onto the machine. "Woah!" He presses some buttons, then whips out the sonic and uses it to adjust something as well. "Hang on, hang on — there we go!" The rumbling softens out and the Doctor steps back.
The sky softens again and then for a moment it flickers out entirely, a new, cloudier sky superimposed on top of it.
"What is that?" Rory asks, shouting now to be heard over the noise of the machine.
"That's the other universe bleeding through!" the Doctor shouts back. "But it's coming in too fast! I can't slow down the stabilizers! Amy, can you hear me?"
"Barely! There's all sorts of static on the line!" Amy's own voice is a hiss of static.
"I want you to take the temporal stabilizers and reverse their polarity for me."
"How do I do that?"
"Bicycle pump three times, then spin the cold water tap open all the way."
"Right, bicycle pump."
Without warning the sky bursts open all around them, water pouring down out of the blue sky.
"Secondary integration!" the Doctor hoots. "We're almost there! Rory, hold that line steady!"
Rory wipes some of the water from his face and nods, tightening his grip on the cable. "These electrical connections are waterproofed, right?"
"What?" the Doctor shouts back, his back to him.
"Doctor, it's pouring buckets and we're going to land in a pond!" Something in the machine starts to smoke.
"Don't worry, we're almost there!"
"That doesn't actually answer my question!" Rory shouts back, but it's obvious the Doctor isn't listening. He's knocking at something on one of the panels and shouting into the phone.
"Amy, when I say to, I want you to take the main inducer — the wibbly lever — and throw it as fast as you can, all right?"
"Good! On three. One —" the clouds are bleeding into the sky again, and Rory can't tell if the blur is him or the water falling into his eyes.
"Two —" Something sparks across his skin, and Rory thinks he sees lightning in the sky.
"Three!" And the sky roars to pieces, lightning whiting out his vision, and for a second all he can see is the Doctor leaping to pull the cables from the machine as it sparks and shudders an explodes in electric fury.
When Rory opens his eyes again, he's momentarily confused that the ceiling above him isn't that of his childhood bedroom. Then it resolves itself into familiar warm copper, spiralling down in jagged angles. He's in the TARDIS.
"Heyyyyy!" Amy says, sitting down next to him. She brushes his hair from his forehead. "Long time no see."
He frowns. "What —"
"You got yourself knocked out by lightning, you idiot." She smacks him lightly in the chest, and then grabs his hand, squeezing tight. He squeezes back and she leans in to kiss him lightly on the lips. He sighs into the kiss and tries to pull her closer, but she doesn't let him, a firm hand keeping him pressed to the mattress.
"To be fair, I told you that was my fault, Pond." The Doctor has slunk into the room while Rory was concentrating on Amy. He leans over Amy to smile at Rory. Rory looks at the two of them. Before, he always envied the ease of their closeness — he's always had to work hard to be close to either of them — but it feels different now. It's not them and him, it's not him and Amy and the Doctor, it's the three of them. Together.
"I told you so," he says to the Doctor. His voice feels a litle hoarse.
"Yes you did." That's an apology. He knows that. A month ago he wouldn't have.
"All the time bubbles sorted out then?" he asks.
"You just let us worry about that." Amy says. "You scared the crap out of me; you're staying right there."
Impulsively, he tugs her hand. "It can wait a little longer, can't it?"
The Doctor steps back from the bed. "It shouldn't take me too long, I can just —"
"I meant you too, Doctor."
The Doctor looks at him, and there's a smile in his eyes, one Rory usually only sees when the Doctor is talking to Amy. "I know that. It shouldn't take me too long to automate the process. Now that I have adequate equipment." He leans in again and kisses Rory on the forehead, then turns to give Amy the same treatment. "Keep an eye on that one for me, won't you, Pond?"
Amy winks at the Doctor, and watches as he bounds out of the room. Then she turns back to study Rory. "Look at you, being all forward." She gives him a look of suspicion. "What exactly did the two of you get up two without me?"
"I told you," he says.
"Not in nearly enough detail, obviously," she counters. "You're both... relaxed. You're not sizing each other up any more."
"We weren't doing that before!" he protests.
"Someone should've told you two, then."
"He's different when he's not around you," Rory says. But that's not quite it.
"No, he's different when there's no running around and explosions, that's all. You just missed it last time. When he's not running around showing off."
Rory tilts his head. "I guess, yeah. I mean, I felt useless, but I think he did too, a little bit."
"There you are then. Equal footing." Amy looks smug.
He still doesn't actually want to talk about it — not when the Doctor could walk in at any minute — so he tugs her closer and this time she follows eagerly, leaning down to kiss him again. He opens up to her, losing himself quickly. "I missed you," he murmurs.
"Missed you too," she says, and nips on his lower lip. She's sweet and soft and familiar, intoxicating and addicting. He slides a hand underneath her shirt, moving up her back. Amy rocks against him gently, braced with her elbows on either side of his chest.
"Be careful, he's still recovering," the Doctor says quietly from the doorway. They pull away from each other, but only a fraction.
"I'm good," Rory protests. "Just a little stiff." Amy smirks at him.
The Doctor kicks his shoes off. "I think we could all use a chance to just... reacclimatise." He shrugs out of his braces as well and flops down on the bed. He looks between the two of them. He's smiling, that pleased look he has when he sees something new. Rory ducks his head, then corrects himself and looks back up.
Amy reaches first, kissing the Doctor first, then Rory again. Rory kisses her and then the Doctor, pulling the other man closer. The Doctor nestles in, curved up against the two of them, hands reaching out. Rory shifts, trying to make more room for him, and something in his ribcage squeezes. He gasps.
The Doctor backs off a little. "Careful."
"I'm fine," he protests.
"You always push yourself too hard." Amy says. She slides off him, curling up on the opposite side as the Doctor. "Relax. We're not going anywhere." She puts an arm around his waist.
There's a pedantic little part of him that wants to point out that's not true, but he quashes it down. They're all here right now, and that's good. The Doctor is smiling at him with sleepy-eyed fondness, and yeah, he'd like to stretch this moment out as long as he can.