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here’s to all the boys who came along

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The thing of it is, the box needs a lot of looking after. It isn’t just the Blitz—it’s the Fire of London (that one was a very near miss, especially considering that he’s plastic), the Black Death (first a small group of the extremely pious founded a sort of cult praying that the mysterious box would protect them, then the rest of the community decided it was clearly some sort of idol and wanted to destroy it) and the Great Plague (he’d learned his lesson by then and made sure the Pandorica was well hidden once all the dying started), the Civil War (Cromwell wasn’t too pleased by the “extravagance” of the design), various attacks by everyone from Vikings to Normans to Wat Tyler and his peasants.

He mostly feels like he’s experiencing all the worst of British history, and none of the best. Trouble seems to find him (or, more likely: Amy; he’s always been more than aware that he’d be living the universe’s most boring life if it weren’t for her tendency to find trouble wherever it might be lurking), but it’s not like he can take a break and check out a Shakespeare premiere at the original Globe or make friends with Oscar Wilde or something (though Wilde seems exactly the sort of person the Doctor would be best mates with). He can’t even look up Churchill or anything, even though he knows the man knows the Doctor and met Amy, but…he just can’t risk it. Can’t risk any of it. So he stays with the box, and that is all.

The best thing (and worst thing) about being plastic is that there aren’t any human…urges to attend to. He doesn’t have to eat or sleep or make a run to the loo, and no matter how bad the epidemics get, he’s never going to catch anything (though that doesn’t stop him from trying to use his nursing skills to help those nearby). But that also means there’s nothing to distract him, nothing to do but protect the box and think, and two thousand years of waking hours is a lot of thinking time. He runs circles in his own head, obsessively goes over every single thing he can remember from the other universe, the one where he was just Rory Williams, who always seemed to have skinned knees and who worked hard and somehow (he’ll never know how) got Amy Pond to fall in love with him. He talks to Amy and tells her he loves her, confesses his sins, dreams of what could be, but she’ll never hear him. He sings every song he’s ever heard and walks through the plot of every movie he’s ever seen, and then he starts all over again.

Circles and circles and circles, and no way to ever escape.

(Somewhere along the way, he becomes a mad man with a box. He knows Amy would appreciate the irony.)

--

(Every day, he finds new ways to hate the Doctor. It takes much longer than that to figure out new ways to forgive, but he gets there eventually.)

--

The thing about dying is: it’s cold. It’s like being pulled down (slow or fast: it depends on the kind of death) into murky icy water, the greenbrownness closing over his head. Except the cold is more than cold; he suspects that it’s the coldness of space, the kind that lurks between the stars (most of the universe is made up of cold. He knows that, knows it in his bones, but it isn’t something he’d tell anyone, not even Amy).

The cold doesn’t last long. After it’s taken him over there’s nothing, and then he wakes up (to more cold that time, actually, with a poncho and icicles hanging from his nose) or becomes a Roman or whatever joke the universe wants to play on him today (the universe, he’s learned, is more mischievous than Amy, more mercurial than the Doctor, more confusing than River. The universe doesn’t resemble anything about Rory at all).

He doesn’t have nightmares anymore, not the ordinary kind where he’s attacked by rabid giraffes or where Amy decides she’s tired of him or where all of his teeth fall out. Instead, his worse nights are full of murky greenbrownness and a cold so cold it can hold the stars in place.

He asks River one night about what it’s like to regenerate (and it would just figure that Rory-the-Boy-Who-Always-Dies would have a daughter who keeps being reborn). It makes him uncomfortable, the way she looks at him before she answers: her eyes compassion deep (she’s his daughter, little Melody, whom he never really got to hold, and she shouldn’t have eyes that old. The age of her face he can handle, the prison-breaks and flirting with the Doctor and guns and hallucinogenic lipstick. But it’s her eyes that seem so very wrong to him).

It’s like the birth of a star, she tells him. Yes, a star exploding inside of her. Molten light and heat like the center of a star, burning and burning without burning up.

And it’s this, maybe more than anything else, that makes Rory begin to understand just how not-human Time Lords are.

--

Here’s the thing about spending two thousand years being plastic: plastic isn’t biodegradable. It doesn’t break down over time, and it doesn’t forget. Every second of those two thousand years is still preserved perfectly in his mind. They won’t be softened by time or forgotten with age. They’re always there: slick and hard and with an edge of that awful plastic scent.

He can lock the memories away most of the time, keep them firmly tucked in the back of his mind. But they’re always there, and they’re not going anywhere.

(Maybe he’s the only human in the universe who remembers what it’s like to be not a human. It’s not a comforting thought.)

--

So about the universe’s sense of humor (more unpredictable than Amy’s, more whimsical than the Doctor’s, crueler than River’s):

Rory’s a nurse. (And okay, he brings it up a lot, but it’s important, all right? His identity has always been built around Amy and nursing, and if anyone wants to understand him, they need to understand that.) He heals and soothes. He stitches up cuts and changes catheters and administers medications. He explains what the doctors will do, tries to make the whole hospital thing less scary. And he’s good at it.

But the universe decides to make him a soldier. And not just any kind of soldier, but one belonging to the—what was it that Amy said the Doctor had called it?—the greatest military machine in the history of the universe. Veni, vidi, vici. Pugio, gladius, spatha, pilum. Hastati, Principes, Triarii.

Invasion of the hot Italians, Amy used to say, imagining fit men strutting around in armor and calling people “amore” and “tesoro,” like in a movie that involves tossing coins in Roman fountains. But Amy couldn’t have imagined anything like the reality of Roman warfare: the blood and mud and shit, the screams and the stench, the absolute lack of mercy. He’s killed people, a lot of people, and even if that didn’t ever happen in this universe he’s living in (is this the fourth he’s lived in? Or is it the fifth? Can’t they just settle on one and stick with it? Except he knows he’ll follow Amy through every single one that exists or did exist or could exist, because she’s Amy), he remembers them. Not in his dreams, not in this current life without nightmares, though that would be bad enough. He remembers them randomly, for no reason, in the middle of an aisle at Tesco or while changing a lightbulb in the House-the-Doctor-Gave or (worst of all) when his hands are tangled in Amy’s hair and her mouth is doing unbelievable things. Suddenly there’s blood, hot and coppery, all over his hands, and it isn’t because he’s trying to save someone.

He’s never been scared of blood, never flinched at the sight of it. But somehow it’s different when it’s blood he shed.

(He doesn’t like to consider the fact that sometimes nurses cause pain, too. He reminds himself that sometimes temporary pain is necessary in order to heal, that it’s completely different from what he used to do with knives and swords, but sometimes he’s giving a shot or taking blood, needles in skin, pushing in or sucking out, and there doesn’t seem to be a difference at all, and he hates himself.)

The second time he comes back to the real universe from one where he ended up being a soldier (a different kind this time, with guns and a beret and a patch over one eye), he looks up at the sky (he isn’t sure who he’s addressing, but there’s got to be something) and says, “Very funny.”

--

His parents think he’ll go back to school, study to become a doctor. But he’s content with his position (Amy doesn’t need two doctors in her life. One is more than enough, and he’ll always be here to pick up the pieces in the aftermath).

--

He was a little boy, gangly and awkward, with skinned knees and hair that flopped into his eyes, who loved Amelia Pond even while he was terrified of her (and maybe loved her because he was terrified of her? He’s never been able to sort all that out, but at this point it doesn’t even matter). Even before he met her (if anyone ever makes a movie of his life, he thinks they should shoot the before-Amy time in black and white, because color only arrived with Amelia Pond and her big stories and her thick accent), he was not exactly a risk-taker, but having this daredevil alive girl (Amy’s always been alive in ways he’s never been able to comprehend) running around getting into more trouble than he could have imagined made him even more conscientious.

He thinks that he and Amy make each other more-so. If she hadn’t met him, maybe she would have calmed down a bit eventually, learned from her mistakes and matured in the ways the adults in her life wanted her to (instead of the ways she eventually did, which are infinitely better, even if they can’t see that). But Rory was there, digging his heels in and holding onto the other end of the rope, keeping her balanced and calling for help when something went awry (again), allowing her to go as far as she could, to be as much as she could. And if he had to be a little more of a stick-in-the-mud, a little bit more responsible and boring to let her do that, well, that was okay with him. It was a small price to pay just to be near her.

(When they were little, she’d take his hands and start to spin. Faster and faster she would urge him, and then she’d tell him to lean back. And they would be spinning and spinning and if one of them were to let go, the other would go flying off into space, and probably get all kinds of hurt. Amy would laugh and laugh and shout with glee, Don’t let go!

As if he needed to be told.

Rory will never let go.)

--

Sometimes he feels like he lives in a universe with only four people. Because who could ever possibly understand anything about him now? Only Amy, only River, only the Doctor.

(But then there are those moments where River or the Doctor will remind him how not-human they are, and he feels like it’s only two people. And then there are the worse moments when he remembers the other lives he’s lived and thinks that Amy will never be able to understand him now, either, even though she loves him as much as he does her. And then he feels very, very alone.)

--

He thinks about the other, older Amy probably a lot more than he should.

It’s easy enough to understand: he had failed her, in a way he hasn’t yet failed the Amy in this world (most of his worst fears involve doing so), and it had felt just like he’d imagined it would: worse than anything he’s experienced, and after two thousand years and all those lives and universes, that’s saying something (it felt worse, somehow, than shooting her with the gun in his plastic hand—that had been totally beyond his control in a way this wasn’t). He can’t quite convince himself that it wasn’t really Amy that he failed, because she was.

She’d looked so different, lines etched deep on her face, but still beautiful—he can’t imagine her otherwise. Her voice had dropped an octave and she said and did things his Amy never had (but those samurai moves had nothing on hating the Doctor). But when he closed his eyes, she still smelled like his Amy underneath the scent of plastic and metal, and her lips had felt the same under his, if a tiny bit rougher.

(He can’t stop himself from thinking that maybe her hard edges came not just from betrayal and abandonment, but from being without him. Is that selfish? He can’t decide. All he knows is that he feels like he’s finally found something he can give her: pieces of herself that she wouldn’t have without him. Without him she’d be that Amy, and even though he still loves that Amy—any Amy, every Amy, all the Amys—he’s so glad she’s the Amy he has.)

It wouldn’t have worked, of course, the two Amys, his two wives, trying to keep them both with him here in Leadenworth, no matter how much he might have wanted to. And it wouldn’t have been fair to his Amy to split his love between them (though in his more sentimental moments, he thinks it wouldn’t have worked that way—that he would have just found more for the other Amy; he can’t imagine running dry for her). Eventually, he thinks, the other Amy would have realized it wasn’t working out and gone off somewhere else, and that would have eaten at him, knowing that she was without him out there somewhere in the world, but at least she would have existed.

It’s better this way, his logic tells him. It’s not like she’s actually dead: she just…doesn’t exist (except that he knows what it’s like not to exist to the people who love you, and he wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone. He’s glad he doesn’t have nightmares anymore; he thinks if he did, many of them would probably involve an Amy who doesn’t recognize him and a friendly punch on the shoulder that lacks the love she always lets propel the hit) . The universe, this time at least, is as it should be.

That doesn’t stop him from mourning her.

(Sometimes he thinks that other Amy, with her years alone and her hard edges, would be able to understand him and his plastic memories better than his Amy can. He hates himself for the thought: it feels like a betrayal.)

 

--

He knows his insecurity is his worst quality (and he has a lot of them, so that’s saying something), but she still loved him after 36 years (and hated the Doctor), and he thinks maybe it’s time to put that gnawing, insistent uncertainty to rest.

--

He had always imagined that their kids would look like Amy (and yes, he imagined it quite a bit—he’s always been the one who thought about things like marriage and a family, and most of the time he thinks Amy’s just humoring him with the whole domestic thing): ginger, of course, and those legs for miles, and pale freckles the perfect complement to her skin. He hoped, rather desperately, that they wouldn’t have his nose (or his knobby knees. Or his general clumsiness. Tiny Amys: that would be perfect. They can have his eyes if they have to inherit anything from him at all). He thought he had a pretty good shot at being right. There’s no way that Amy’s DNA isn’t stronger than his—Amy’s lifeforce has always been more intense.

He barely got a chance to glance at his baby Melody (or, actually, the fake version the Silence had tricked them with), just long enough to breathe a sigh of relief that her nose appeared tiny and perfect.

And then she was gone, melting away and replaced—improbably, impossibly—with a grown woman with curls that definitely didn’t come from either him or Amy and a competence with a gun that makes him nervous even as he admires her.

He looks for bits of them in River and sometimes even finds them.

He knows it doesn’t work like that: Mels is—was—proof of that. But knowing it doesn’t stop him from looking (from believing).

The color of River’s hair isn’t too off from his, he notices, and there might be something of Amy in the curve of her cheekbones when she smiles. He thinks maybe she’s also got Amy’s chin.

Her nose, thank God, is nothing like his.

It’s foolish, this trying to find himself and his wife in her features, like looking at a modern painting and trying to find something recognizable, but it’s better than thinking of the baby that’s been lost to them and what she might have looked like.

Besides, soon enough he realizes that he only has to stop looking at her face and start looking at her actions to see how he and Amy could have made this person. River, he knows, would think nothing of waiting two thousand years guarding a box for the one she loves—she’s sure her boyfriend is more important than the whole universe. And she gets this smile on her face right before she plunges into some kind of crazy, dangerous escapade that, despite her mouth not looking anything like Amy’s, somehow manages to look just like her mother’s. And one afternoon on a trip to Brighton (he wants to take her on regular holidays, too, not just the ones to Space Florida and Apalapucia, and she goes gleefully along), she confesses that she learned how to use a gun so well because she had to, and he thinks of all the weapons he’s carried in all those other lives, and he understands.

Maybe there will be other children with Amy’s hair and eyes, but now there’s River. He can’t stop himself from the way his heart aches when he thinks of their baby Melody, but he wouldn’t trade River for anything, not only because he knows her and loves her even if she makes his head spin, but because every time she “drops in” for a visit (they find her making beignets in the kitchen or drinking Scotch swiped from Churchill on the roof) he finds another way she reminds him of Amy (or, more terrifyingly, himself).

--

If Amy is adventure and mischief and throwing caution to the wind, he’s home and security and firm ground under her feet. It’s not as flashy, but he doesn’t really care. He has Amy, and she seems to want him along on all her silly adventures and then to come home and snuggle with him at night (and do more than snuggle, of course), and even if he’s not a cool Roman with a baby anymore—just a nurse from Leadworth—he can live with that.