"Oh, Amelia," her mum said disapprovingly. "That's another shirt ruined, then. Is it not possible for you to go one afternoon without coming home all-over grass stains?"
"I was playing Raggedy Doctor with Rory!" Amelia protested. "We saved the whole world from the alien invasion. It was important."
"Raggedy Doctor, Raggedy Doctor," her mum said. "You tell your raggedy doctor that if he ever shows up, he'll have a nice big bill for all of the clothes he's cost me. Go and change. I swear you'll be the end of me."
Amy sighs into her pint. Rory's late. Unlike him.
Year Four in school, they'd done a bit on astronomy. "Amelia Pond," the teacher said, "please tell us what stars are made of."
"Will I not get in trouble for talking about stars?" Amelia asked without thinking, her mind deep in the workings of a strange blue box she never actually saw the inside of. But there was a swimming pool - that's what matters.
"Why on earth would you get in trouble for that?" the teacher asked, and then Amelia got in a little bit of trouble for asking if she'd get in trouble and she had to write a few lines. The teacher was right: it was a ridiculous, frivolous question, though she hadn't known those words very well at the time. It nagged at her, though, why she'd asked it. Of course there were stars and of course you could talk about them. Why wouldn't there be?
She dreamed she asked the Raggedy Doctor and he just smiled and held a finger to his lips. So she told Rory about instead.
"That is a bit weird," he said. "But you know what? I've heard weirder. So who are we saving the world from today, eh?"
Even since starting his nursing program, Rory's been punctual. She checks her watch again and rolls her eyes. She's missed him while he was gone, not that she'd ever tell him so. Leadworth is dead boring without him. She thought nothing could ever make Leadworth interesting, but Rory does, somehow. He sees the charm in it and he makes her see it too. He could bring ducks to the duck pond.
She was ten, still playing Raggedy Doctor in the woods, Rory with two inches of wrist showing now out of the sleeves of her dad's old blazer.
"And the world is saved again from nasty slimy aliens!" Amelia cried, flinging her arms up. "Yeah, wooo!" She danced about.
"Yeah," Rory echoed obediently. He looked about and then sat down on a log. "Oh, I brought you something." He reached into the pocket of the blazer and pulled out a posy of starry white flowers. "Mum and I picked these. She taught me how to tie them together."
Amelia held them to her nose. "They're lovely."
Rory blushed. Amelia blinked. She'd think about that blush later - much later. She tucked the flowers into the pocket of her overalls.
"Well, come on then!" she said. "Just because the world got saved doesn't mean it's safe! Look over there! Aliens!"
Rory trotted along behind her faithful as ever.
Rory and his mum, Amy thinks fondly. Picking flowers together, knitting horrible jumpers together. And wasn't that a Christmas, that first year he'd learned to knit. Bless. The Christmas tree he'd tried to put on the front of it had been more like a green blob with tentacles. But the next one had been better. She has a little stash of them now. On the latest one, you can almost tell they're meant to be snowflakes and not just blotches. She wears them anyway, when it's cold out and she's got nothing to do but knock around the house. They feel homey.
She's the one who taught Rory how to climb trees. She was fifteen then. Even wearing a skirt, she could shin up a tree in nothing flat. He was awful at it, for all that he's lanky.
"This is a complete shambles," she said, sitting on the branch above him. "I can't believe you can't do this."
"Well, you can't knit, so we've all got talents, haven't we," he said in frustration, trying again to pull himself up.
"Brace with your feet," she advised him. "No, against the trunk, and pull on the branch. Oh, hold on." She dropped out of the tree and down to the ground. He stood there looking at her in total bafflement. She made a cup of her hands and braced her knees. "Come on then, up you get."
"We don't have to do this," he told her.
"Absolutely we have to do this," she told him. "Rory Williams, if you want to continue to be my best mate, you need to get yourself up that tree. So come on. Here we go. Boldly on et cetera. Otherwise there's plenty of lads down in the football game on the green who'll climb trees with me."
"Name one," Rory said.
"...Jeff?" Amy said after a few moments of awkward silence.
"Oh, Jeff, of course," Rory said to the air. "It would be, wouldn't it."
"Well, then go on," she said impatiently.
"If I break my leg with this nonsense," he began, and she made a rude noise.
"Good practice for nursing, then," she said, and held out her cupped hands again. He put one hand on her shoulder and his foot in her hands and she boosted him up to the branch. He hooked his arms over it and struggled up until he could straddle it.
"Ow, ow, ow, okay, okay," he said, finding a comfortable position. "Okay. Okay. It's not so bad up here, actually."
"Of course it's not," she said, swinging herself up easily. He scooted awkwardly down the branch to leave her a space and she settled in next to him. "It's brilliant up here."
"If you like bark," Rory said dubiously. "Leaves. Nesty...bits."
"Rory," Amy said, and he turned to look at her, and she kissed him, half just to see what would happen, and half because she wanted to kiss someone, and it might as well be Rory, because he made her feel special and because he listened and he smelled nice and he'd never ever ask her about it again if she didn't want him to.
"Ah, you're right," he said. "It's completely brilliant up here. Love trees. Can't get enough."
"I thought not," she said in satisfaction and she kissed him again, just for fun, before she dropped out of the tree and left him to find his own way down.
"Rory Williams, Rory Williams," she mutters to herself, tipping her glass to watch what's left of her pint slosh up the sides. Honestly, she's never quite sure what to do with herself when he's not around. Leadworth is dead boring when he's away.
She smiles into her pint and drains it, pretending not to hear him. He lopes over, still in his scrubs, hauling his messenger bag over his head and dropping onto the stool next to her. "Amy! Didn't you hear me calling?
"Might have," she says, tossing her hair back. "Maybe I didn't recognize your voice."
"I haven't been gone that long," he says gently.
She turns to face him, shifting around on her stool. "Feels like it. What have you brought me?"
"I'll give it to you later," he says. "I was thinking."
"Yeah?" she says, tapping for another pint and one for him too. "About what?"
He gets that serious-Rory look that makes her want to tweak his nose and run away the way she used to when they were younger. "I think we should go out."
"We are out," she says, and blows into the foam on her beer.
"No," he says and leans closer to her, his hands clasped on his knees. "I think that we should go out. You and me. Us. We should go out." He takes a deep breath. "As a couple."
"You and me?" she asks, pointing at herself.
He exhales heavily and looks at the ceiling. "I was thinking, yeah, might be...a laugh. If you like."
She stares at him. Rory Williams, her stand-in for the Raggedy Doctor. Her best mate. The boy - the man now - who's knitted her a jumper every Christmas for years, and the red scarf too, the one she's wearing. She taught him to climb trees, but he taught her to make daisy chains. She's pretended not to know he's in love with her for as long as she can remember. But here he is, looking at her with his stupid face all full of hope and nerves.
"Yeah, all right," she says. "Why not." She smiles at him and his whole face lights up. Tentatively, he leans forward to kiss her. She wraps her arms around her neck and kisses him first.
She was walking through the woods behind their house, thinking about how awful England was. They'd been here a whole week and it was all rubbish. Her room had a crack in the wall and she had sworn she'd heard whispers. Her mother had told her to stop being foolish. She was lonely. It was hard to be alone in a place as small and stupid as Leadworth, but somehow it had happened. All she had was a patch of trees that she couldn't even pretend were far enough away from the house to be a magical land.
"Don't go too far, Amelia!" her mother called from the yard, where she was planting flowers behind the house as Amelia's father tied climbing roses to a trellis, muttering under his breath when the thorns stuck him. "It'll be dark soon!"
"I won't!" Amelia shouted back, extremely cross. They could at least pretend she was beyond their sight. There weren't many trees, but they could imagine there were a whole forest of them, if they had any imaginations. She had just turned back when a boy appeared, stumbling over the top of a log, a jar of fireflies in his hand.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded.
"Letting these go?" he said as if it were a question. "I took them off some lads. Seems cruel to keep the poor bugs all pent up - they're only trying to live." He looked nervously behind him, as if the lads were close at his heels, but Amelia couldn't see anyone else. She could hear shouts, though, at a distance.
She studied him. He was tall, a little older than she was, all elbows and knees and sandy hair. He was breathing fast - he must have been running through the dim woods with his ridiculous jar. "Who are you?"
"Rory," he said. "Who are you?"
"Amelia," she told him and stuck out her hand. "Come on. We'll let them go in the garden. No one will come in."
"Thanks," he said, and took her hand, swinging the jar gently in the other hand.
They let the fireflies go one by one, to make it last, and then Amelia's mother drove Rory home so that he wouldn't have to walk back through the woods. Amelia pressed her face to the car window as Rory waved and closed the front door behind him.
"Well, it looks like you've found a friend already," her mother said. "England won't be so bad, now will it?"
Upstairs, a light came on. As the car pulled away, Amelia saw Rory pull back the curtains. He smiled down at her and twitched them shut again.
"Amelia?" her mother said. "It won't be so bad here."
"It might be all right," Amelia said grudgingly. Outside, fireflies blinked like tiny stars in the dusk, and inside, her heart was glowing too, just a little, a small light in a big dark world. She had a friend.
And they all lived happily ever after.