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Three. Two. One.

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Amy doesn’t really like first times. First times means there’ll be more times, and in general repeat experiences are a bad thing. The first time she comes home to just Aunt Sharon worsens into the second, third, sixth, hundredth. The first five minutes she spends waiting quickly sour into months, then years. She doesn’t like to have to look for things. Something missing is always in the last place you look for it, Rory’s dad says, but Amy prefers it to be in the only place she looks.

She supposes she’d have a better opinion of first times if they didn’t either tend to be so bad that she never wants to repeat them, or wonderful and singular and never repeated again, no matter what mysterious strangers in shabby clothing and floppy hair promise you. So she tries to get the first times over with as quick as possible, skipping over single instances in order to keep control of the overall pattern.

The first day of school is always something to barrel through. Pick the seat in the back, scope out the teacher, decide if the course is going to be worth her time. Most of the time it’s not, and she reads magazines behind her desk, stares out the window and makes up stories to tell Rory later. Rory’s her only friend, and she tells herself it’s because otherwise he’d have to be her first friend — well, second friend. Well, only friend if you don’t count liars. And there she goes again, so Rory counts as only. She makes up new things for them to do all the time, because she doesn’t want Rory to ever be ordinary. To go dull and tarnish like the silver Aunt Sharon takes out every now and again to polish and then lock up once more.

Firsts are easier when they’re disappointing. She only decides to give sex another go because she can’t really imagine it’s all as terrible as all that, if humans are still doing it after millennia — and at the drop of a hat, if the telly’s to be believed. Still, telly didn’t have Jeff fumbling up its skirt in the dark, clumsy hands and too-sharp teeth. The second time is hardly better, even after she takes matters into her own hands, and Jeff may not be her friend, but he’s alright enough and she doesn’t want to see things get worse, so that’s the end of that as well.

It’s not that she doesn’t like new things, far from it. It’s that she doesn’t like going back to the same things. Because things are never the same as when you left them. Growing up is a constant reminder — clothes don’t fit any more, classmates move away. Psychiatrists poke and prod her, talk of trauma, repression. She’s not repressed, thank you very much.

She doesn’t mind being called crazy. She does mind being called wrong.

But new things are hard to come by in Leadworth. She doesn’t have the money to travel, and a secret part of her is a little afraid of traveling too much, running out of new things to do and explore, so London she saves for holidays, and further abroad than the UK is a rare occurrence. So she makes up stories, tries to meet new people. Strangers are unpredictable, different. Each one is a one-and-only, never have to see again, unique experience. If she expands on that a little with fibs and make-believe stories about herself, well, it just ensures that if a second encounter does happen, it’s just a new singular experience.

Jeff’s too goal-oriented, he’s just interested in the end result, he doesn’t want to put a lot of effort into things. But Rory — Rory isn’t as good at stories at her, but he’s willing to follow, and he knows a lot of useless facts that tend to end up making things more interesting. Also, he’s a better climber than her, which is good for getting in and out of second-storey windows. Also, Amy thinks, Rory hates first times as much as she does.

But that’s not really it, she figures out. It’s just that Rory wants to be talked into things — wheedled, begged, bothered, run over and dragged along. The idea that someone wants him there is intoxicating to him. He might grumble and hide it, but once asked outright, he almost never turns her down.

Which probably explains how the first time they have sex is in the tent they’ve pitched in Morrie Cooper’s empty field. It was late October, and cold, and neither of them owned a sleeping bag so they had a blanket each, draped over their shoulders, and a bottle of wine to warm them up as well.

The wine didn’t last very long.

Neither did the sex, frankly. It was just fumbling under the blankets, laughing and gasping, Rory red-faced and stammering in that way she found inexplicably endearing. She doesn’t even realize it was Rory’s first time until he says something the next morning. Part of her feels a little bad, but she’s not sure why, except that there’s that expectation there, no matter how silly that is.

And then Rory wants to do it again. Well, he doesn’t put it so bluntly — she doesn’t think he’s capable of that — instead he suggests they catch a movie, or go out for a meal when he gets off work on Friday, if she’s like to, maybe, before she cuts him off, tapping his nose.

“All right. But I get to pick this time.”

Rory is a little bit addictive. He does everything with such fascination, his face is so open, that Amy finds herself drawn in in a way she hasn’t been before. She’d find herself actually looking forward to the next time she’d see him, and that wasn’t right, that wasn’t supposed to happen. But then Rory would say something like ‘Have you ever actually done it in the back seat of a car?’ or ‘Why would I have a problem with you having a job?’

Surely they couldn’t be doing anything serious if it was all just one-time things. They never did the same thing twice. Well, almost never. Mostly not ever — it wasn’t a relationship.

“I’m her boyfriend —”

“Sort of. Boyfriend.”

After the ache of the TARDIS disappearing a second time had faded, her gut still twisted over the look on Rory’s face as she’d said that. It hadn’t lasted long, between everything else that happened that day, but it lingered. She found herself studying Rory’s face from time to time, looking for something she’d missed.

The fact that she saw him every day might have been one of those things.

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It starts off small. Offhand comments, things she says unthinking.

Except not unthinking, really. Forgetting, more like.

“I never thought there would be this much people shooting at us!”

“Wait — you don’t... It’s just regular tea? Not space tea or anything? I always imagined, you know, little pellets or whatnot.” Fish custard, she’s thinking.

And then she realizes, of course. Yes, the Doctor is real, and yes, she really met him. And yes, he’s really back. But there was a lot of time in between those two events. Twelve years. A lot of time imagining things, and telling herself stories. And the stories have crept their way into memories.

Not that the Doctor has really noticed. He’s mentioned that he’s traveled with others before, and so she figures he just gets this type of question all the time. He just answers matter-of-factly.

“Used to have pellets. Got boring quick. Why would you want pellets when there’s Argosian stew? Or chips. Still love chips.”

“Shooting’s pretty much a given. We’ll find you some proper trainers, promise.”

Never in any detail, though. Just hints. Which is fine, really. Everyone’s got to have secrets. She certainly isn’t planning on sharing all of hers with the Doctor. Running away in 5th form. Kissing Jimmy Stover behind the greengrocer’s.

But still. She’s got to remember what’s really him and what’s things she just wants to be true. So bit by bit, she tells him. Not a lot at first, just little tidbits about what she used to daydream about, him and her exploring the universe together. Chasing stars and rescuing people. Mostly it’s not so different.

And then he starts dropping tidbits as well. It’s harder to see, because he doesn’t actually say that they were people he knew. But after the third or fourth one, she starts to recognize the crinkle in his eye, the softness around his mouth that means a fond memory. She’s not the first Scot he’s traveled with. The comic books on the shelf in the library are brittle with age, but they’re dated 2052.

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Rory Williams is the most frustrating creature the Doctor has ever travelled with. He refuses to be impressed by anything.

Oh sure, he’s had companions in the past that have taken in the impossibilities of travelling through space and time with nary a blink, but they tended to come from civilizations more advanced than iPod-loving, petroleum-fueled 21st century humanity. Rory hadn’t even seen his species to the next planet yet, and yet he found the inside of the TARDIS as un-wondrous as the inside of a lorry.

It was a little insulting.

Even coming back from the dead didn’t seem to rate more than ‘confusing,’ and while in hindsight the Doctor could put that one down to Nestene programming, it never changed, not even (hours) days (centuries) later, when Rory — human Rory — trod the halls of the TARDIS with the memory of two full millennia inside his head.

Though at least their visits to the 12th century were more eventful than Rory’s own.

“Doctor, the Sontarans didn’t exist in the timeline I lived through,” Rory muttered as he carefully sawed through their bonds. He’d managed to take out two of the hired thugs before they were overwhelmed — better odds than the Doctor would have given them the first time he’d met the boy.

“Oh, he’s always been like this,” Amy explains carelessly, picking her way across the stepping stones. The rocks are slippery with moss, and the water fast-moving, so her concentration is in the right place — following behind her, the Doctor has already slipped once himself. “It’s nearly impossible to change his mind once he’s made it up, you’ve got to move fast.”

“That’s what you get for not moving chronologically, Doctor,” she says, reaching the far bank, and the Doctor’s foot skids off the rock, landing him shin-deep in the cold water.

There are moments of wonder, though, and it reminds him how much he lives for those, immeasurable unpredictability. That moment of realization that what’s chasing you isn’t a vampire but an alien, or when the rebellion knocks out the force field in your cell, that flickering spark of energy that sets a nebula ablaze.

If anything, it makes him try harder. The Corollans ability to regrow their limbs — Rory’s entranced and won’t leave the medical wing for hours. Five-dimensional art on a spaceport in the 32nd century leaves both his companions engrossed to the point where they don’t notice when the Doctor keeps going, thinking they’ll catch up, which turns out to be a mistake, which turns out all right five hours, three explosions, and one near-decompression later.

He tries to get over it, for the most part, because it’s not like Rory’s fighting with him; Rory’s genuinely interested in the new things he sees, he’s just also interested in figuring them out. He likes Rory, quite a bit — he’s attached to the two Ponds more than he should be, probably. And, well, there’s things he’s gotten to see himself that he wouldn’t without the two of them.

Everything’s a trade-off. But he wouldn’t trade the universe for the two of them, and apparently they won’t either. He always falls for the impossible people.

Still, somehow, it doesn’t hit him until after he’s had sex with the two of them — was ambushed into it, really — that he was expecting Rory to be reluctant about the whole thing. To balk, need coaxing. He stared at the ceiling, hearts beating faster at the memory of the way Rory had pushed him towards the bed, Amy already waiting.

“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”

Amy makes a noise and pulls back a little. He supposes he should have waited until they were dressed again, or at least not kissing. “Which part? The space ship and an alien part? Not so much.” She tucks her hair back behind her ear. “The rest, yeah. Kinda.”

Rory sighs, thudding his head lightly against Amy’s braced arm. “Amy.” His eyes are closed.

“What?” she replies carelessly. “We did.”Amy explains about her eighteenth birthday, and then Jeff’s. Rory stays quiet, his hands still skimming over Amy’s soft skin. Neither of them mention his birthday.

Still, it is their first time in a space ship, or with an alien, and with him, and every experience is the first time you experience it for a linear being. That’s very Zen of him, isn’t it? He thinks it is.

It’s better than admitting he’s in some sort of competition. Because that would be absurd.

“You keep frowning like that, your face is going to stick that way,” Rory murmurs, poking his side.

“Hasn’t yet,” he says.

“There’s always a first time.”