It looked more than a little foreboding, but the Doctor assured him Amy would be perfectly safe. Still, Rory couldn't help but be thoroughly creeped out when he first laid eyes on the stasis unit. Well, “stasis unit” was a vastly oversimplified description, the Doctor had said; it wasn't just preserving her, it would be healing her, staving off the effects of the devastating plague she'd contracted and slowly, slowly clearing it out of her system. There was a proper name for it, but Rory didn't remember it, so “stasis unit” it was. At least that was better than “glass coffin.”
He sat huddled in the control room, feeling every bit like a scared child as he hugged his knees to his chest and tried desperately not to think about how cold and still Amy had looked when they found her in the quarantine zone, or about the fear in the Doctor's eyes as they rushed her (he did his best not to say “her body”) back to the TARDIS. He tried to shake off the ill feeling in his stomach from the moment he'd realized this might be the only chance he ever got to carry his bride over the threshold, and it was while she was slowly and painfully dying. Instead, Rory concentrated on what an idiot he must look right now, half-hidden under the console, leaning against the base of the rotor. He supposed it didn't matter; when it came to the Doctor and Amy, he'd long since lost his dignity, and he doubted either of them cared.
“Rory,” the Doctor’s voice called, shortly followed by his boots striding into Rory’s sight-line. “Where’ve you— oh.” The boots stopped directly in front of where Rory sat, and the Doctor popped his head under the console to look at him. If he found Rory’s choice of location strange, he thankfully didn’t mention it. “I’ve got her settled,” said the Time Lord, “if you’d like to, you know, visit her.”
A tremendous euphemism, “visit,” thought Rory, but he didn’t say as much out loud. “No, I… I can’t,” he muttered, looking away. The Doctor nodded in understanding, and stepped back as Rory scooted out from underneath the console and stood. “How, um,” he started, voice cracking. “How is she?”
“Much as she was,” admitted the Doctor, “but she’ll be okay, I promise. When she finally wakes up, she’ll be in perfect health.”
“Well, it takes a while,” said the Doctor, “and we don’t know the full extent of the severity of her condition. Best case scenario, she should wake up in about six to ten months.”
“Months?” Rory choked on the word. “What’s the worst case scenario?”
The Doctor was silent for a moment, chewing on his lip, as if he were deciding how best to proceed. “This disease isn’t airborne,” he said. “We’d have caught it otherwise. She has to have been in contact with a carrier’s bodily fluids to have been infected. Best case, she had a chance encounter with a little bit of blood. Fast-acting, yes, serious, yes, but ultimately mild.” There was a shadow behind his eyes as he spoke, however, that gave Rory pause.
“Doctor, tell me.”
The Time Lord sighed. “This disease is being worshipped with almost cult-like devotion. You heard those doctors, if you could even call them that. These people honestly believe that it is divine intervention, sparing the worthy and purging the unclean. If someone in that hospital decided Amy was to be judged…”
Now Rory really was going to be sick. “Wh-what are the chances of that?” The silence that greeted him was too much to bear; he turned away from the Doctor, grabbing hold of the railing and willing himself not to scream, or faint, or vomit, or some combination of the three, so violent were the roiling feelings in his gut.
“There’s a… there’s a bruise,” said the Doctor, almost inaudibly, “on her arm, inside her elbow. A track mark, if you will, at least it might be.” Rory felt hands on his shoulders, as if to steady him. “The important thing, Rory, is that she’s going to be fine.”
“But when, Doctor?” He said, not looking up. “Years from now? Decades?”
“Does it matter? She’s in complete suspension. She won’t age, she won’t even notice she’s had more than an ordinary night’s sleep.”
“Of course it fucking matters!” said Rory, spinning around to face the Doctor. “It matters because I know. It matters because there is a living person in a fucking box in a room down the hall whom I happen to love!”
“Rory,” said the Doctor, looking confused. “You swore. Twice. Why?”
Rory pinched the bridge of his nose. “Doctor, I cannot do this, your whole ‘absent-minded professor’ thing, right now. I am about three-quarters of the way to a complete mental breakdown, so please, please, let’s just not.”
“Brilliant idea,” said the Doctor, turning around and running his hands over the console. “What do you want to do? I’m thinking somewhere nice, somewhere calming. How do you feel about dogs with no noses?”
“Are… are you insane?” Rory was dumbstruck. “You can’t possibly expect us to go anywhere right now?”
“Why not?” The Doctor asked. “We're hardly going to spend the next several months-to-years moping around the TARDIS until she wakes up when we have all of time and space at our disposal, are we? I mean, she'll hardly notice.” There was a hard quality to the smile he showed Rory then, a desperate caricature of joviality. “No dogs, then?”
“No, no dogs!” Rory shouted. “You're taking me home!” He took a deep breath and rubbed his hands over his eyes as he thought. “You're taking me back to Leadworth, back to the night we left, and when Amy wakes up, you're taking her back. She won't understand, she'll be confused, she'll hate you, she'll hate me, but it won't matter because she'll be home and safe and away from you before you can injure her or kill her again.”
The strange smile had long since faded from the Doctor's face, but the hardness remained. “Is that what you think of this, Rory? Of what I've shown you? All the beauty and wonder of the universe, and you want to go home because one thing went wrong?”
“'Went wrong'?” Rory scoffed. “How dare you stand there and act like this is no big deal?” He stared at the man before him. Never before had the Doctor looked so alien. “This is what you do, isn't it?” He asked, voice dripping with bitterness and scorn. “You breeze in to save the day, then run away, hit the road before you have the chance to get attached to something. Sure, you take a couple of us along as your playthings, but it doesn't mean we mean anything more to you, 'cause if one of us breaks it's 'oh well, too bad, off to the next adventure'? That's... that's sick!”
“That's what it takes sometimes,” said the Doctor coldly, walking around to the other side of the rotor.
“What it takes to what?”
“To survive it!” The Time Lord shouted. He swung back around the rotor and stood toe-to-toe with Rory, eyes ablaze with rage, grief, and pain the young man knew matched his own. “Don't you understand? I am nine hundred and seven years old. It doesn't matter if you die tomorrow or if you die an old man, I will still be here long after you. So yes, I might shut down sometimes and pretend that I'm not affected, but that's because if I took a second, even one second, to take the weight of all that baggage, every loss, every death, every single death, I'd buckle under it and never move again. Do you understand that, Rory?”
Faced with this display of raw emotion from the Doctor, Rory found his own righteous anger drop out from under him. He stared in shock at the anguished face that managed to look both very old and impossibly young. The Doctor let out a sigh of air, closing his eyes and running a hand through his floppy brown hair. Rory became very aware of how close together they were standing, but pressed against the railing as he was, he could hardly change that. “I, um...” he tried, but trailed off. At his ineffectual noisemaking, the Doctor opened his eyes again. He too seemed aware of the little distance between their bodies, but he made no attempt to move. Instead he seemed to examine Rory for a moment, eyes narrowed in speculation. Rory was about to ask what was the matter when suddenly, and quite without warning, the Doctor leaned forward and planted a searing kiss on the younger man's lips.
For a brief moment, Rory sank into the kiss, but quickly his rational brain took control, and he pushed the Time Lord away. The Doctor's eyes were wide with surprise at suddenly being propelled backward, but he looked utterly unrepentant.
“What the hell?” Rory sputtered.
“Sorry,” shrugged the Doctor. “Isn't that what usually happens when two people have a tense moment in that sort of physical proximity?”
“I, er, —what?”
“Come on, Rory,” he said, “don't pretend you didn't enjoy it, at least a bit.”
Rory thought about it. Despite feeling it was decidedly unfair to spring something like that on someone in a heightened emotional state, he had to admit it had been a rather nice kiss. Furthermore, it was the first moment in hours where he wasn't thinking about Amy, which— guilty as it felt to admit it —felt amazing.
“Remember what I said about that impending mental breakdown?” He said.
“Really, Rory,” said the Doctor, “how do you feel?”
“All right,” Rory admitted.
“Is that all?”
“...Best I've felt in hours.”
A bizarre little smile played across the corners of the Doctor's mouth as he stepped closer again. “Then why choose fear?”
Against all logic, Rory felt himself smile. “We live in a time-travelling spaceship,” he said, gesturing all around them. “We fight aliens so much you'd think we do it for fun. Fear's my life.” That earned him a giggle from the Doctor, who leaned as if to continue, but still Rory hesitated. “I haven't— I'm not, I mean—” He stumbled over his words, but the Doctor shushed him with a finger against his lips.
“Don't think about that right now,” he said. “No labels, no worries. For now, there's only us. There's only this. Please.” The Time Lord's face suddenly looked vulnerable, almost afraid, and Rory realized this was as much for the Doctor's comfort as his own. Somehow, that erased the last of his hesitation; when kissing started up again this time, it was he who initiated it.
Afterwards, stretched out languidly on the control room floor, Rory's mind did eventually come back around to Amy. He hated himself for the relief he'd found in this singular act of betrayal, but as he rested with his head on the Doctor's bare chest, he couldn't bring himself to hate the act itself.
Forget regret, he thought. Forget regret.