I’m the Doctor. Do everything I say. Don’t ask stupid questions. And don’t wander off.
“Hang on–is that a planet out there?”
He tries to shoot her a really exasperated look, a look designed to quell that insufferable…bouncing that she’s doing. “Yes, of course it’s a planet.”
She points an immaculately-manicured finger at him. “You promised me a planet.”
Her eyes get very wide and her voice shrinks down to a tormentingly adorable squeak. “Five minutes?”
Damn damn damn damn damn.
He can’t say no, of course.
Five minutes can’t hurt, can they?
They’re sitting under a tree in a marketplace on Haur Dhurri, drinking fruit liquors and enjoying the bustle of the crowds and the strange smells of the vendors’ wares, when Amy says out of nowhere, “How do Daleks reproduce?”
The Doctor chokes on his drink.
“I mean, they’re creatures under all that robot, yeah? Real creatures? But don’t they need the robot part to...move around, and stuff?”
He stares at her.
“How do they…you know…do it?”
She’s actually waiting for an answer. He wipes fruit liquor off his face with the back of his hand and replies incredulously, “Amy, I know a lot about the Daleks, but–” he coughs, “there is a line, and I have no plans of crossing it.”
“It’s a perfectly natural part of life, Doctor,” she teases, edging closer to him.
He edges away, slightly terrified. “We’re not even going there, Amy. We’re not even going there.”
The first thing he is conscious of is cool fingertips on his face, hushing across his closed eyes, over his cheekbone, trailing with a little stumble over his lips. Soft hands frame his face and he gasps, and then the pain hits into him like a wave of ice, filling his limbs and burning over his whole skin. One quick burst of sight is too much for him and he forces his eyes shut, hiding in the darkness.
“What happened?” he hears himself croak.
“They threw you down from the engine bay.” Amy’s voice. He wants to weep. It is quiet and clear, and his mind seizes upon it, letting it pull him through the blinding pain. “You broke more than a few bones. You’re healing now, the nanomeds have been in your bloodstream for about four hours, but you have a while to go.”
He cries out without meaning to as a fresh wall of pain shudders through him. “The Diell–”
“They’re okay. Ratch got them away in time.”
They are both silent for a while, listening to the low buzz of the nanobed and the deeper, fainter rumble of the ship’s engines beneath them. The Doctor breathes through the fire that’s eating through his body. Slowly, the agony relaxes into a dull ache. He can move his fingers.
“I’m not supposed to let you try to get up,” warns Amy.
He opens his eyes. Her eyes are shining with worry, her pink mouth pursed, her hair unbrushed and wild. Their faces are inches apart and he could seize her lips with his own if he had the nerve to lift up his head–he stops himself too late and the thought runs into his heart, and he stares at her in amazement.
“Are you all right?”
He can’t even blink. “No,” he breathes.
They are trying to fly the TARDIS out of a meteor shower when Amy points to the keyboard and asks, “What does this button do?”
“Busy, Amy,” he replies through gritted teeth, revving the temporal isometry pump with his left hand and typing in coordinates with his right. Something explodes above his head and he can feel himself nearly shriek with frustration.
“No, really!” she yells. “It might–”
“BUSY!” he roars.
Amy glares at him, and then the TARDIS bucks and throws them both to the glass floor. The Doctor’s head cracks against something and he sees stars as the universe seems to spin inside-out and grow very very cold very very fast–the TARDIS doors are swinging before his eyes, and his ears are filled with a deafening thunder he’s never heard before, the sound of something coming to swallow him up–
–and he’s lying on the floor gasping for breath while the console and Amy’s ankles blur back into focus.
“Busy,” growls Amy.
He’s too foggy to comprehend what’s going on, but about thirty seconds later there’s a grinding creak and the TARDIS slams to a halt. Sunlight and fresh air stream through the doors swinging weakly on their hinges. The lights flicker wearily for a moment like a sigh of relief.
Amy is slumped on a chair. The Doctor props himself up on his elbows and finds he’s gaping at her. “Did you just…fly the TARDIS out of a meteor shower?”
“Oh, yeah, I flew the bloody TARDIS,” she shoots back scathingly. “Don’t be daft. You passed out and I hit the panic button.”
“The pa…” He stumbles to his feet, clutching at the console for support. There in the corner of the keyboard, inexplicably smoking, is a red button brightly stamped, “PANIC.”
“I’ve never noticed that before,” he remarks dazedly, wondering how badly he hit his head.
Amy smirks a little too devilishly for his taste. “You don’t panic much, do you?”
It’s the year three thousand, two hundred and forty-five, and he’s panicking, because Amy was just around the corner and now she’s not, and she never wanders off, it’s the one thing he’s ever told her that she obeys, and if it were anywhere else he wouldn’t be so worried but it’s wartime San Francisco and he’s damn terrified, the sky is raining explosives and the city is a minefield and insurgents are gunning down anything that moves, and Amy’s not fast, and she’s not agile, and if anything happens to her–oh god, if anything happens to her–he promised he’d get her back for tomorrow morning, for stuff, and he still hasn’t shown her the library, and will the two of you please SHUT UP SO I CAN THINK FOR A MINUTE!
The commander and his lieutenant cast him dark looks and leave him standing alone on the broken pavement.
He thinks for hours. For days. When the battle has moved on he stays behind, creeping through the silent, shattered city in his time machine, not daring to touch the past or the future, climbing through block after block of wreckage and death to find her, to bury her if he has to. He tries to silence these thoughts but they burn holes through his heart, they fill up his stomach with dread, they prick at his eyes in a way the smoke and the acrid wind never could.
He refuses to let himself ask the question how long before you leave her too?, because he knows the answer.
After fifty-one hours, his hands numb and bleeding from searching through debris, his voice nearly gone from shouting her name, he leans back against a broken wall and closes his eyes. He wonders if he has ever been this lost.
He opens his eyes.
It takes him forty-two seconds to run to her, and on second forty-three the ashen streets of San Francisco have vanished and there’s only her, her body in his arms and her hair in his face and her arms around his neck and her neck against his mouth. She’s filthy and shivering and she reeks of smoke and refuse, and he breathes in her skin and her clothes and kisses her neck again and again and lifts her off of the ground, off of San Francisco in a war, off of Earth, off of everything but him and his thudding hearts, whispering to him with every beat, you would have stayed with her until she died–until she died–until she died–
When he takes her home, he takes her millions of years before his people lived there, before wars or time locks or any risk of running into someone he shouldn’t. So many years it’s been, every one of them sharp and searing against his sense of time, and somehow this world is familiar in its strangeness. It is a planet young and blazing with life, and so empty–silent and tilted over the edge like a candle about to fall, a throat swallowing in fear.
In the early morning they steal out of the TARDIS into a motionless forest, leaves flashing silver in the rising sun. The fiery sky sets Amy’s ginger hair aflame with color. They walk through scarlet grass as high as their knees, neither of them able to say anything, both listening for birdsong that is never there.
“What is this place?” ventures Amy, barely audible, and he knows she’s not asking for the word Gallifrey, she’s not asking for poetry–he knows she doesn’t know what she’s asking for, and he can’t answer her question, because even after eight centuries he doesn’t know himself. He gives her back her own question, almost hesitantly, and then waits for her words in the still air.
“I think it’s sad,” she says, and her voice sounds coarse with wonder. “Very sad. Like…an old picture, of someone you never got to meet. Not,” she adds, “that you’d know what that feels like, I suppose–there isn’t anyone you can’t go meet.”
He looks around himself at the silent fields. “There’s some people.”
She’s silent too, for a moment. “Don’t you think it’s funny though?” she murmurs, and he stares at her, at the sunlight fiercing across her face. “On Lymic everybody talked about this place like it was beautiful. And, I mean, it is. Beautiful. But that’s not what you notice first, that’s more of an afterthought.”
He wonders, if he touched her hair, if it would burn him. “After…?” he whispers.
“…Wanting to get away.”
He takes her hand.
She asks him why, and he can’t tell her, even though he tries. It’s because death follows him wherever he goes, ripping loved ones from his arms. It’s because monsters are real. It’s because there are things out there that want to eat her. It’s because he’d rather lose her to Rory than lose her to a bomb, rather lose her to Leadworth than to the Weeping Angels. It’s because he’s so in love with her he can’t even speak, and this is the only way he knows to save her life.
When he shuts the TARDIS doors between them, he promises himself he will never go back.
He means to ask her, will you come back with me?, even though he knows he has no right, even though he knows he is opening his arms wide for the unimagineable suffering that will come when she is killed at his side on some planet thousands of years in the future. He parks the TARDIS haphazardly in her garden and notes off in the corner of his mind that he may have destroyed her shed again; but that doesn’t matter, because there she is, in the same clothes he left her in not an hour ago, her hair glorious in the morning light, standing in a patch of weeds and watching a dejected Rory walk off the property (he notes off in the corner of his mind that he may have destroyed her marriage again). He knows she’s heard him land, but she doesn’t turn around. It’s probably been at least six hours for her. He imagines tear trails streaking her face and anger in her eyes. He imagines getting down on his knees.
When he reaches her, she doesn’t move, but he steps up behind her and wraps his arms around her waist like he has so many times, presses her against him, feels her body breathing in and out under his hands, closes his eyes and puts his face against her hair. Her arms reach up and entwine themselves in his. He kisses the side of her face, where her hair stops in little curls around her ear, and then opens his mouth to say something, to apologize, to ask her to come back, to ask her to speak.
What comes out of his mouth, in a hush of lips against skin, is, “You will marry me, won’t you?”
Amy moves, and turns around in his arms, and the tear trails are beautiful on her shining face. Her eyes sparkle, and her lips smile, and she whispers, “Don’t ask stupid questions,” before kissing the Doctor into the TARDIS and closing the doors behind them.