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Still Life

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Amy broke the silence. "There aren't any sheep."

"Hm?" Rory blinked, but the view he'd been taking in wasn't the spare vista of rocks and scrub trees in front of them. It was Amy's profile; how the backdrop of gray sky gave her hair a deep chestnut color, how it fell in smooth waves that framed the shell of her ear and the hints of her features. His eyes flicked away from her for a second as he processed her words.

"No," he said after a moment. "No, I suppose not."

"It looks like there ought to be sheep."

She was still there when he looked back. Still sitting with him among the rocks and grass, unchanged. That shouldn't have come as such a relief, but it seemed their ordeal with House was still set in his nerves, even if he was trying to put it out of his mind.

"Spoken like a true Scotswoman," he said. "The most tranquil place in the universe, and you're lamenting a lack of ungulates."

Amy laughed. "Ungulates," she echoed. Her tone was mocking but she was smiling when she turned to face him. "Who even uses that word?"

"Ponds!" came the shout from behind them, and they turned to see the Doctor taking long strides up the slope, breathing the air as if it alone could sustain him. And well, Rory figured, he was an alien; maybe it could.

"Brilliant. You've found my favorite hill." The Doctor reached the top and levered himself down, straight-legged, to rest on a convenient outcropping of rock, hands picking lazily at the carpet of greenery growing around him. "It has the most spatially appealing distribution of boulders, with just enough moss to be pleasant."

"Do not--" Amy pointed a finger at him and he stopped for a moment mid-pick, but still brought the small sprigs pinched between his fingers to the tip of his tongue. Amy grimaced, before continuing, resigned. "--put that moss in your mouth, Raggedy Man."

The Doctor chewed, spat, and flicked the rest of the moss from his fingers to the ground. "Permian age," he said, looking pointedly at Amy. "Relatively speaking. This planet's Permian age, must be." He smoothed his jacket, ignoring Amy's eyeroll.

"You can taste the time," Rory said.

"Not exactly." The Doctor waved a hand, clearly glad Rory had brought it up and trying to be nonchalant about it. "But basically . . . yes."

Amy tossed her hair. "Show-off."

"And time here, well . . . " The Doctor trailed off, eyes scanning the horizon. "It's different, isn't it? Smoother. Calmer. The Eye of Orion is the most tranquil place in the universe because time runs every which way and no-way at all."

"I thought it was from 'a bombardment of positive ions'," Rory said.

He furrowed his brow. "Again, not exactly," he admitted, and took another deep breath. "It's difficult to explain, but time travelers . . . we leave a wake in the stream wherever we go. There's a push and a pull to every action, everywhere and everywhen. Not here. It takes more than time travel to affect things here. Even she thinks it's--"

He broke off, swiped a hand at his face, and coughed. He looked up at the sky.

"Doctor?" Amy said gently.

A thought settled at that moment--a picture, crystal clear in Rory's mind, of a place he'd never seen.

the deepest mirrored lake | soundless | surface skimming | intertwined

Eventually, the Doctor looked down at them again, wearing a distant smile. "Even she likes it here," he finished.

Amy blinked away her own thoughts, looking out behind them, and Rory followed her gaze. On the far ridge, the TARDIS sat where they had left her, nestled among a copse of gnarly trees beset with brambles. For once, she seemed to blend in with her surroundings, not ignored or passed over by a trick of perception, but belonging, just exactly there. Rory didn't understand how, but he knew--he knew as easily as breathing--that she was content. He closed his eyes, his own thoughts skimming over memories of another life. The years spent with a silent, solid companion. The long, lonely wait for the time when they could talk again.

"And you, Ponds, stumbled upon the best seat in the house," the Doctor said. His voice was bright again. "It usually takes me an age to find it. She never lands exactly here."

"Maybe she's worried about your diet," Amy said.

"Permian age," Rory said, thinking of time twined in curling moss, and remembering the yellowed pages of an old textbook shared year after year among Leadworth's primary school students. "That's what you said?"

The Doctor patted the section of rock beside him. "Give or take a millennium."

"So . . . " Rory eyed Amy with a sly smile. Amy's eyes widened, with a look that said she was unsure exactly what he was planning but if he was going to rag her he'd better be prepared to face the consequences.

"No sheep, then?" Rory asked anyway.

"Not for several hundred million years," the Doctor answered slowly. "The Eye of Orion is still too young for--"

"Don't even say it!" Amy cried, laughing, but the Doctor just looked at them, perplexed.

"--ungulates?" he finished.

Rory raised an eyebrow at her, and Amy chucked his arm. Then she stretched out, arms behind her head, shaking her hair to fan out around her on the grass.

"My boys," she said, staring up at the faint traces of cloud upon cloud in the sky. "Where should we go next?'