Captain America, the Black Widow and the Lone Centurion sat in the museum cafeteria, drinking rubbish coffee and talking about the gods.
"The question we need to answer," Natasha said, "is whether there really is a trickster god trapped inside that box downstairs."
"There isn't," said Rory immediately. "The perfect prison couldn't hold him; that's the whole point about being the actual cleverest person in the universe. He just waited until he figured out how to escape, then went back in time and told himself how. Then escaped, and went back in time... he's allowed to do those things, see."
"So there's a trickster god free in the-- wait, it was just that easy?" Steve blinked. Natasha threw him a sardonic glance to say, easy?
Rory shrugged. "Well, he had help. And, no, he's not free in the universe. Not exactly - see, after he escaped from the Pandorica, he skipped ahead to the end of the world. So I think he doesn't actually exist until then."
Steve wasn't sure how to respond to that, so he latched on to what he did know - he had help meant accomplices. Hunt them down, they would find the trickster, like digging out Nazis in wartime Europe. "So who helped him?" he asked.
"Oh," Rory blinked. "I did."
Next to him, Natasha leaned back and slowly moved her hands from the table. "You broke into the most perfect prison in the history of the world and released the prisoner inside?"
Rory nodded. "Breaking in turned out to be easier than breaking out. Sonic screwdriver, setting eight-four-nine dash apprehension." He gave them a sardonic smile. "Key codes are different for a race of telepaths and empaths."
Steve worried at his bottom lip. "Rory. You're not making it easy to believe that you're not a threat here. Give us something. Good guy or bad guy?" Rory sighed, dragging a hand across his face.
"Neither. Both. Good guy, or I want to be, but... Narrow focus guy. I didn't have room to think about good or bad or tricksters or the thousand-year death of the universe. I needed the Pandorica. Because nothing inside it can get out. Everything was dying and the Pandorica was the safest place in existence." Rory's brow creased as he struggled to remember something Steve didn't know if he could even comprehend. "And I needed... him."
"The trickster?" Natasha asked.
"The Doctor. I needed the Doctor. And I didn't believe the things they said about him."
Steve held his breath, trying to imagine a man faced with the end of the world, someone who had seen stars and knew they were real. Rory had watched the stars fade away, and all he thought about was a safe place and a doctor. "Rory," he asked, "what's in the Pandorica now?"
Rory shrugged off the question uncomfortably. "Okay, so he drops out of the sky and disaster follows him, that's true. But if it wasn't following him it would just go somewhere else. It's not the Doctor's fault any more than Loki is Thor's." His mouth turned downwards. "But people got scared and locked him away, and now the whole universe is dying."
"How long?" asked Natasha in a low voice. "Is this something that will come in our lifetime, and can we stop it?"
"He'll stop it. The Doctor. He probably has some big plan, it's just... there's something he needed to wait for. And because time is his playground, he didn't bother with waiting - he's gone straight there. So, yeah, when we see the Doctor again it'll be bad but he promised me he could fix it, so..."
We, thought Steve. "Rory," he said again, more firmly this time. "Rory, who's in the Pandorica?"
The breath that forced its way from Rory's throat shook, and Rory slumped like a puppet whose strings had been cut. "...Amelia Pond." He swallowed, and straightened his shoulders like speaking the name aloud had been the hardest part. "My Amy," he said. "We were going to be married. A long, long time ago in the future. Pretend that makes sense. She's-- she was... Protecting her was supposed to be my most important job, you see, and... I killed her."
His voice, a thin reed, broke on the last word and he dipped his head to hide the obvious tears that threatened to spill. "I'm sorry," he muttered, blinking furiously. Steve reached out to touch his hand, just as he moved it to swipe at his eyes. When he looked up they were bright but mostly dry. "I didn't mean to do it," he said, "and it probably wasn't really my fault, but... I stopped making excuses about fifty years after I realised I was the only one listening to myself. I killed the woman I love. But if I can make it to the end of the world, then I can see her again.
"As long as she's in the Pandorica she's not really dead. Or she is dead, and that thought drives me crazy again and again... but if I can carry her to the end of the world, along the slow road like this, then he can bring her back. He promised me."
Rory Williams watched the middle distance as he spoke. He was a creature of myth and shadow like this. His back straight, his head held up and the vastness of his task written in pain on his face. He was every fairytale of atonement and enduring love, and Steve felt like something small sitting next to him. Rory dropped his eyes to the tabletop with a tired sigh.
"And then, once he fixes her, he can save everything else. Maybe even me, as if that matters."
The silence drew out until Natasha said quietly, "You said that you held her while the stars went out."
Rory swallowed. "I didn't need the stars any more. Not without her."
They said their goodbyes, and left him to guard the Pandorica alone, as he always had. He wanted to stay in touch. They'd helped him get back to her, back to his watch when he would have just walked the world in oblivion, so he was grateful. But the end was coming so close now, and it wasn't long before his friends stopped returning his calls. So Rory Williams the Lone Centurion walked his rounds about the museum. He sat in the CCTV room making tea and letting it go cold as the end of the world pulled in around that tiny circle of light called Amy.
And one day he heard a familiar grinding gasping sound in the heart of the sun, and he knew. It was time to run again.