Matt had to make a real effort not to bounce in his seat on the way back to Cardiff. Still, no one could blame him for being excited; he rather felt like he was going home. His phone bleeped, earning him a series of glares from everyone else in the quiet coach.
"Sorry, sorry," he mouthed, contrite, hastily switching his phone to silent as he opened up a text from Arthur.
About to start driving over from Brumland now. Kaz is on a train but probably won't get in until later tonight. You, us, beer, yes?
Works for me!
Excellent, see you then. 7 at the usual - last one there buys the first round.
As Matt disembarked from the train, laden with bags, there was a bit of a murmur in front of him. He looked up and saw a bunch of school kids staring at him. He grinned and waved, and one girl piped up, "Welcome back, Doctor!"
Even being in Cardiff Central train station felt like a homecoming, and that was before he spotted Janet, one of their drivers, waiting by the exit. She swung all of his bags into the boot of the car like they weighed nothing and shook his hand enthusiastically. "Great to see you, Matt."
"Yeah. Yeah, you too. It's great to be back." He folded himself into the back of the car, and found he couldn't stop smiling.
Turned out he was the first one to get back to their block of flats, so he took the opportunity to stick some rude post-its on Karen's door before having a shower and making a vague attempt at unpacking, which mostly left his bedroom looking like a tip. Nothing new there, then.
His heart was beating a little fast by the time he'd got dressed and was attempting to do something with his hair. He'd been in touch with Karen and Arthur pretty much constantly over the past few months while they haven't been filming, with Arthur texting him photos of his ridiculous tinfoil sculptures and Karen calling him at the weekends to catch up. But it had been a while since he'd actually seen either of them, and for reasons he couldn't quite articulate to himself, there was a layer of nerves underpinning his excitement at getting to spend time with them again.
"Oh, get it together, man," he muttered, slapping himself, but instantly regretting it. "Ow!" He rubbed his cheek, wincing, then grabbed his things and headed out the door.
There was a pub down by Upper Boat that most of the Doctor Who cast and crew frequented - it was comfortable and unfashionable, so didn't attract too many people. There was always a free booth or two, and generally speaking everyone left you alone. He and Karen had spent a lot of time here during the early days of filming, and once Arthur joined them, they were rarely to be found anywhere else on the evenings they didn't have filming in the morning.
Karen and Arthur were both already there by the time Matt arrived. They'd grabbed their usual booth, and Karen was talking animatedly, hands flying everywhere, and Arthur's laugh was loud over the background noise of the pub.
Matt found himself struck into stillness by the sight of them. Karen's eyes were bright and Arthur's smile was huge and the two of them were glowing with happiness at being in each other's company again. He didn't know how this was possible, but he seemed to have forgotten how beautiful they both were, and being confronted with the reality of them again after absence made something ache inside him.
He swallowed. He'd told himself a long time ago that this wouldn't be an issue, that he would never allow his own absurd feelings on the subject to wreck two wonderful friendships, not to mention their working lives. It was a decision he intended to stick to.
Right then. He took a breath, pushed open the door, and walked into the pub.
"Matt!" Karen spotted him immediately and bounced out of her seat, racing over to him. She nearly bowled him over with the force of her hug, and he staggered slightly as he returned it, sliding his arms around her waist and revelling in the familiar warmth of her, her laughter bright in his ear.
She tugged him over to the table, and Arthur was already getting to his feet to hug Matt too. He swung Matt around, lifting him into the air a little and leaving his feet kicking futilely just off the ground, which had Karen cackling with laughter.
"Get your hands off me, you fiend," Matt protested, hitting Arthur's shoulder until Arthur relented and let him down.
"Good to see you, mate," said Arthur, clapping him on the back. "And you owe us a drink."
Yeah yeah, all right." Matt shook his head and wandered over to the bar to get three pints.
"To Team TARDIS!" Karen said with glee when he returned, clinking their glasses together.
"To Team TARDIS," Matt replied, smiling at her.
Arthur rolled his eyes.
"Oh, please," said Karen. "Stop pretending you're too cool for us. You didn't have to sign on for another season, loser."
"Yeah," Matt agreed, "Rory could have been met with a mysterious accident off screen."
"Oh come off it, Rory can't die again, that would be ridiculous," said Arthur.
"You know, somewhere I can feel Steven just sitting up with a glint in his eye, saying 'challenge accepted'," said Karen. "I wouldn't put it past him. Anyway, you're going to get your name in the main credits now and everything, don't pretend like you don't love it."
"All right, all right, that is going to be pretty cool," Arthur admitted.
"Yeahhhh it is," Matt said, beaming at him. Arthur grinned back.
Work would start on Monday, but for now they had a glorious summer weekend to sit back and enjoy each other's company. Then they'd have to get in the mood for Christmas, as well start filming some odds and ends for specials, and all in all it was a strange way to begin the series, but it was exciting.
He'd missed the Doctor a lot. True, the Doctor had proved to be one of those characters that you never really left behind, because he knew it was the only thing a lot of people saw when he looked at him, and he was okay with that. But that wasn't quite the same as filming an episode and delving right down into the hearts of him, and Matt couldn't wait to get stuck in again. It was also true that he'd missed Amy and Rory nearly as much as he'd missed Karen and Arthur.
He had his friends back, the Doctor had his Ponds back, and all was right in the world.
The pangs he felt in his restless heart at times weren't enough to put a damper on that, not when Karen was sleepy and drooping on his shoulder between takes, not when Arthur was doubled over with breathless giggles as he mangled his lines during a readthrough. He was so, so lucky to have this kind of friendship, and it would be enough.
"I want to go out," Karen announced one night.
"We're already out," said Arthur, gesturing around the pub.
"No, out out. I want to go dancing. We never go dancing any more."
"Because we have conclusively established that Matt dances like a drunken giraffe, and it's embarrassing to be seen with him."
"Hey!" Matt flicked a peanut at Arthur to dispute at least the second half of that statement.
"Go on," said Karen, turning on the puppy dog eyes. "You want to really."
It was a familiar argument, and Matt watched Arthur's pretend resolve slowly crumble. They'd both do anything Karen wanted, and they all knew it. They were Amy's boys on-set and Karen's boys the rest of the time, it was just how it worked. Matt didn't mind at all, and he knew Arthur didn't either.
"I will take you dancing," Matt said gallantly, "even if Darvill is a stick in the mud."
He extended his hand, and Karen took it with a smile. "Why thank you, Mr. Smith. You are most kind."
They grabbed their coats and wandered out of the pub, waiting on the street corner until Arthur came running up after them.
"All right, all right, fine," he said. "But only because I'll be bored otherwise."
"That's the spirit." Karen linked arms with both of them, and they walked off into the night.
The following is all true, though you'd be hard pressed to get them to admit to it:
They skipped all the way down to Karen's club of choice, singing the Doctor Who theme song.
When they got to the club, no one recognised them for a while, but eventually Karen started getting noticed, and the whole thing ended up with Matt and Karen leading the entire dance floor through an extended rendition of the Drunk Giraffe.
That took them up until three am, at which point Matt was having even more trouble walking in a straight line than usual and they all ended up bundling back into Arthur's flat because it was on the ground floor and stairs were hard okay.
Arthur had laughed good-naturedly, Matt's face pressed against his shoulder because Arthur was soft and warm and nice, and with one thing and another all three of them had stayed there for the night. Arthur had the largest room out of any of them, complete with a huge double bed, which was grossly unfair and Matt complained about it constantly. Tonight, however, he was grateful, because it was warm and comfy and after Arthur made them all drink three pints of water and kick off their shoes there was room enough for them to all curl up and sleep.
Matt faceplanted onto one side of the bed as Arthur crawled up to take the middle, Karen already half-asleep on the other side.
"Mmm," Matt said appreciatively, mostly to the pillow. "This is nice."
"Knew I'd get you in my bed eventually," said Arthur, in a voice hoarse from an evening of shouting and laughter.
"Give over," said Karen, and thumped him in the side.
"Owwww. Matt, Karen's bullying me again."
"Shush. Quiet time now, children. Go to sleep."
The next morning, Matt woke up to the heavenly smell of bacon.
"Morning, all!" Arthur said with unnecessary cheer.
Karen promptly burrowed her head under the pillow with a groan. Arthur went round to her side of the bed and crouched down with his plate of bacon sandwiches.
"Karen," he crooned, "I've got bacon. Baaaaacon. There can also be coffee."
Karen made a considering sort of grunt and sat up, her hair in total disarray and covering most of her face. She grabbed a sandwich and nodded seriously. "Acceptable."
"You're a god, Arthur," Matt declared, as Arthur put a whole tray of breakfast things down in the middle of the bed, sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed and helping himself to toast.
"I know," said Arthur.
Matt forced himself upright, feeling gross after sleeping in his clothes but impressively well-rested and hangover-free. He poured out coffee with all due reverence, and they sat and enjoyed an impromptu post-sleepover picnic.
Karen's knee bumped companionably against his as she ate her sandwich, and his fingers brushed against Arthur's when they both reached for the butter at the same time, and all in all Matt thought that even if the TARDIS showed up right now there was nowhere else in time and space he'd rather be.
Filming 'The Doctor's Wife' was an exciting time for all of them. It was a great script, and the starstruck effect of meeting and working with Neil Gaiman extended even to Arthur, who dropped his usual pretence of cool and bounded up to Matt's trailer when Neil arrived on set, flailing around with excitement and nerves.
The script was beautiful, but shooting it proved intense. A lot of night shoots in quarries, which filled Matt with nerdy joy but made Arthur almost unbearably cranky, and a lot of emotional scenes, including ones with Amy that Karen loved doing but left her jittery and not quite herself for hours afterwards.
Working with Suranne was a joy, and Matt was having a great time watching the TARDIS come to life, but he was missing working with Karen and Arthur. After the Christmas episode and Night Terrors, he'd not had all that much in the way of scenes with them. In fairness, they still spent all their off time together so he couldn't exactly miss them, but he was looking forward to the next filming block, the series opener, and the chance to really do some good work together.
In the meantime, they had TARDIS scenes to shoot, which were always some of Matt's favourites. Today was the day that the TARDIS herself was saying goodbye, and even in rehearsals Suranne had been heartbreaking, so he was braced for some heavy going in this scene. The director, Richard, informed him that he wanted emotion, tears, the whole business. Not just from Matt, either, but Karen and Arthur too. Matt braced himself for a long day.
When they'd finally filmed the goodbye scene to everyone's satisfaction, Matt felt like a bit of a wreck - so much so that Suranne came over and hugged him.
"You were wonderful," she told him soothingly. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, fine. Just - you know."
She nodded, looking a bit bright-eyed herself. "Well, I'll see you next week, that's me done until Monday. Take care, all right?"
"Yes, ma'am," he told her, saluting. She smiled and went over to say her goodbyes to the rest of the crew, leaving Matt to slump down on the TARDIS couch, trying to pull himself together again. He knew plenty of actors who could perform with absolute emotional truth and then shake it off the moment they walked off stage or the cameras stopped rolling, but Matt wasn't one of them, not with scenes like this. He took a deep breath.
"Hey man, are you okay?" Arthur asked, coming to sit down next to him, Karen following after him.
"Yeah. Need a breather, that's all."
Arthur put his hand under Matt's elbow and tugged him upright. "Come on then, none of us have to be anywhere for a bit, let's go put the kettle on."
"Ah, yes, the answer to everything."
Karen slipped her hand into Matt's as they walked off set and back to the trailers. They all sat in Matt's trailer and drank tea and didn't talk about anything in particular - Matt was reasonably sure Arthur was going on an extended monologue about how great some band he saw last week were, but honestly he wasn't paying that much attention. They were here, which was the main thing, and in a little while he'd be back to normal again.
Friday night was traditionally takeaway night, and they usually congregated in Karen's flat out of force of habit more than anything. Karen phoned in their order to their favourite Chinese - and they'd tried every Chinese takeaway this side of Cardiff at least twice - while Matt opened a bottle of wine. Arthur seemed mostly engaged in the important business of making himself comfortable, kicking off his shoes and propping his feet up on the coffee table.
"I still can't get over the fact we're going to America in two weeks," Arthur said, picking up one of the glasses from the table as Matt poured. "That's going to be something else."
"I know, it's brilliant."
They'd all been overly excited about filming the series opener ever since they'd first heard about it - Alex was coming back, and then they'd actually be flying out to the States, so the whole thing sounded like the best thing ever. Alex was flying in on Monday, then it was the readthrough, and the excitement everywhere was palpable. Alex herself tended to have that effect on people, let alone River. Matt couldn't wait, because they still hadn't done all that much with all four of them, and from the look of these next two scripts, they'd have a bunch of scenes together.
"Alex is going to out-cool all of us, though," said Arthur, evidently thinking along the same lines.
"Yeah, well, that's sort of what she does."
"Swooning over Alex again?" Karen asked as she hung up the phone. "Yeah, I'm with you there." She landed on the sofa next to Matt, smiling brightly at him. "What about you and Alex, anyway? We were speculating about whether there was anything going on there earlier this year."
"Hey, leave me out of this," said Arthur.
Matt rolled his eyes.
"Oh come on, you two love flirting with each other, it's not that much of a stretch."
"To be fair, it kind of is," Matt replied. "Are you and Arthur going to get married in real life?"
Karen sighed and folded her arms. "Okay fine. You blatantly have a thing for her, though."
"Everyone has a thing for Alex," said Arthur. "Sue from catering has a thing for Alex."
"You know, now you mention it, Alex does always get the biggest slice of fudge cake when she's here," Karen said thoughtfully.
"See? It's the hair, it's magical."
Matt laughed. "Well that's true."
"All praise be to the Kingston," said Arthur.
The food arrived and they all had fun with their new favourite pastime, which was coming up with increasingly wild theories about who River Song was. Arthur had a particularly detailed hypothesis about River being a future incarnation of the Doctor, so Karen and Matt teamed up to come up with equally detailed reasons as to why he was clearly wrong.
"Would the Doctor flirt with himself, do you think?" Matt asked.
Karen and Arthur said "yes!" simultaneously, which was probably fair.
Matt laughed and preened, shoving back his hair.
"Ugh, oh god," said Karen, and got up to clear away containers and take them out to the rubbish bin.
"So," Arthur said, mock casual, as Karen left the room. "You and Karen?"
Matt tried not to panic. "What?"
"You don't have to answer, but I thought I'd ask. The way you look at her sometimes, it's written all over your face."
Matt didn't know what to say to that.
Arthur's face changed. "Sorry, that was out of order. Forget I said anything." He flushed and got up, picking up glasses to clear away.
"Hey." Matt reached out to grab Arthur's wrist, staring up at him. "Hey. Listen."
The words were forming themselves in his mouth, but there was still time to swallow them down and just return to normal. Arthur put the glasses down again slowly, not taking his eyes off Matt.
"What's going on?" came Karen's voice from the doorway. Both of their heads spun to look at her, and her expression was unreadable. "Should I leave you alone?"
"No," said Matt, quiet and heartfelt. He stretched out his other hand. "Kaz, come here."
She walked over and held his and Arthur's hands. "Hey," she said softly. "Are we having a moment?"
"Apparently," said Arthur, glancing at her.
"The thing is," said Matt, then faltered. "The thing is--"
Karen and Arthur shared a look.
"If this is going where I think it's going--" Arthur started.
"Then we have a bit of a confession to make," said Karen.
Matt's stomach twisted uncomfortably, but they squeezed his hands in double reassurance.
"We may have, um. Fooled around a bit, once, last series. It didn't -- I mean, nothing really happened, it was just--"
Matt blinked. "Wait, when did that even happen?"
They both looked immensely sheepish.
"Er," said Arthur. "It may, possibly, have been after we shot all the wedding stuff."
Matt burst out laughing, he couldn't help it. "Seriously? Just because you got married on TV doesn't mean you have to actually consummate it, you know."
"Shut up, all right?" said Karen. "Nobody consummated anything, that's my point. We were going to, but, well."
"It didn't -- well, it didn't feel right. Not without you," said Arthur.
"Really?" Matt went quiet and still at that. "Oh."
"Yeah," said Arthur, not quite looking at him.
"So..." Matt began.
"Oh for god's sake," Arthur said, and leaned down to kiss him.
Matt squeaked, his hands flailing wildly for a second before he felt Karen grab them both and press one to Arthur's hip and one to hers.
The sofa wasn't really big enough for three people and Matt had a horrible feeling that they were going to send it tipping over backwards at any moment, but he couldn't bring himself to care as long as they didn't stop touching him.
Arthur was still kissing him, legs straddling his waist and his long, cool fingers tangled in Matt's hair. Karen curled up beside them, whispering indistinct encouragements in Matt's ear, and then when Arthur broke away she cupped Matt's face, tilting his head towards her and kissing him too, her mouth warm and sweet.
It was almost too much; Matt hardly knew what to do with himself. He wanted to touch every part of them, in case this was the only chance he ever had to show them how he felt.
"Are you sure?" he asked, breathless as Arthur mouthed at his neck, teeth nipping at his skin in a way that would leave marks in the morning. "Are you both sure?"
"Of course," said Karen, tracing lazy circles around the buttons of his shirt. "We've just been waiting for you."
Arthur murmured his agreement against Matt's skin, the vibrations making him shudder.
"Oh, well, in that case," he said. "I think you've waited long enough."
That earned him an affectionate thump in the ribs from Karen, who rolled her eyes and started kissing Arthur instead.
"Hey!" Matt pouted, put out.
They both ignored him, and well, he couldn't really complain about the view. He'd seen them kiss all the time on set, but this was different. They weren't the Ponds this time, just Karen and Arthur, and it was different. Better, in truth, because this was something the whole world didn't get to see.
He stood up to move next to him, wrapping his arms around them and nuzzling Karen's throat, wanting to be close enough to them that he never had to stop touching them. Karen started leading them away, out into the hallway and towards her bedroom.
"Come on, boys," she said, and in this as in all other things, Matt and Arthur did as they were told.
"Moooorning," came a voice. "Baaaaacon."
Matt's eyes opened fuzzily, his mind still in a fog of deep sleep. It took a moment, but indistinct colours started to form in the shape of Karen asleep beside him, her mouth parted and her eyelashes dark against her cheek. Affection bloomed huge in his chest, along with a whole tangle of other feelings he'd have to sort through later.
Matt sat up, and was confronted with the glorious sight of Arthur carrying another plate of wonderful food, though this time he was in nothing but boxers and had a huge, smug smile on his face.
"Amazing," said Matt, with feeling. Karen made a sleepy sound next to him.
"Good morning, sunshine," Arthur said, leaning over to push her hair back from her face.
"Hi," she said, eyes still closed.
Matt bent down and kissed her cheek, and she smiled at the touch. He looked up at Arthur, who was already putting the plate down on the side.
"Yeah," Matt agreed, "food can wait until later. Come here."
He shifted closer to Karen so Arthur could fit beside him. Arthur reached over him to take his hand and tangle their fingers together, resting his forehead on Matt's shoulder.
"Sleeeeep," said Karen, wrapping her hand around theirs. "Sleep now."
Matt could already feel himself drifting again, anchored by the warmth on either side of him, and he let himself go gladly.