Rory was a dead man. He wasn't quite sure who was going to kill him but he couldn't see making it out of this situation alive. After all, River Song was smiling at him from across an alien pub.
And -oh God- she just crooked her finger.
He looked behind himself to see whether the Doctor had somehow materialized without his noticing. There was a short, orange spiky sort of creature managing to look impatient at Rory's hovering in the doorway despite having no discernible face. He apologized and moved out of the way.
Rory looked back at River Song. She pulled out a chair and patted its seat.
He wondered if he should go find Amy. Normally, he would've chewed off an arm before willingly interrupting one of her spa days, but this was River Song. Something was liable to explode any minute. Rory made a mental note to stay away from the windows. Especially since they were in space. Maybe if he ran for it, he could find his way to whichever conference room the Doctor was hosting a peace treaty in . . .
There was a sharp whistle and the life-noises of the pub died down for a moment.
"Centurion!" River yelled across the room and he felt himself freeze as if it were Jurassic Park and she the T-Rex. "Yes, I see you! Get over here!" Now everyone was looking at him. There was nothing for it, he had to smile politely, move across the room as if he weren't marking the nearest exits, and take the seat next to the only person he'd ever seen make the Doctor jittery.
"I promise I won't bite." She grinned with teeth.
"That's not what the Doctor said," he replied.
She laughed and he suddenly knew there was something wrong. It was the tone -too sharp- and the length -too long. This wasn't the sound of a joke. This was the kind of laughter he heard from a patient right before they keeled over. This wasn't happiness. This was hysteria.
Automatically, he went into crisis-mode. He straightened up in his seat. His heart-rate evened out. His hands steadied. All his senses heightened. Did her breathing sound a little too heavy? Were her pupils a bit too dilated? He grabbed her wrist. Her pulse was hammering. Her skin was clammy.
"Ah, I forgot," she said and her voice was weaker than he'd ever heard it. She tried to pass it off as a whisper. "You're a nurse. That's nice. You know, I dated a doctor once." She giggled and it sounded a little bit like gallows humor. "Well, three, but don't tell him that."
"What's wrong?" Rory asked. "Are you sick? Have you been injured?"
"Yes. Very good. Amy's a smart girl. I see now why she married you." Her eyes flickered around the room,taking in all the people laughing, drinking, and talking near them. Somewhere, someone pounded on a table. River closed her eyes for a long moment and then seemed to remember herself and they popped back open to search the room again.
"I don't mean to be rude, but you look terrible, River."
She pulled her hand from his grasp and patted him on the cheek. "Such a sweet-talker."
"What are you doing sitting in a pub when you obviously need medical attention?"
"I admit," she said with far too much flippancy, "that things have not gone quite to plan."
Traveling with the Doctor had taught Rory to see when people were using words as a smokescreen. It had also given him the nerve to call them on it. "Meaning what, specifically?"
"Meaning, I had meant to pop in for a quick drink, maybe watch the Doctor sign the Latordian Peace Treaty -he's always been ridiculously proud of that-, and pop out before anyone noticed I was here."
"Someone noticed I was here."
"I'm assuming you mean someone other than me."
She smirked and though there was a fine sheen of sweat on her forehead, her eyes were sharp and aware. There was even a twinkle to them that couldn't be explained away by fever. He was shocked to realize that she found some part of this funny. "I'm guessing whoever poisoned my drink."
"Poison!" he exclaimed and her eyes widened in panic at the sound. He tried to get his reaction back under control. "You've been poisoned?"
"Please, keep your voice down." River glanced around the room again and he found himself doing the same. He wasn't sure what he was looking for. What did poisoners look like, anyway? He imagined thin, sallow-faced men with lanky black hair and yellow teeth. But he didn't see anyone that looked like Snape. He did see someone that looked like Jabba the Hut though. He suddenly had one of those Look-At-My-Life moments before shaking his head to clear it. This was serious.
"I'm sure whoever spiked my drink is still in the room," she explained, "and watching for signs that the poison has kicked in before attacking. I'd rather they think it hasn't kicked in yet. Also . . ." River Song paused and shifted in her seat like a kid who'd forgotten there was going to be a test. "I'm a little embarrassed. Poison is such an amateur mistake."
"What kind of poison?" He reached out toward the half-empty glass sitting on the table. His hand paused in the air, asking a question. She shrugged her shoulders as if it were the least important thing in the world. He tried to sniff it as surreptitiously as possible. Unfortunately, he was pretty sure it looked like he was trying to drink with his nose.
He smelled nothing.
"Odorless and almost tasteless," River said. "At least they didn't try something obvious. That'd be insulting."
"Yeah," he began to agree before thinking better. "What am I saying? No! This isn't a compliment. This is serious! Do you know what kind of poison? How much time do we have?"
"Not a very effective kind. I'm not dead yet. Must be one of those I've developed a resistance to over the years. That's good. It narrows the list down considerably. I'll probably survive. If I can get out of this pub."
"I assume that's where I come in."
"Clever boy," she purred and he swallowed.
He glanced down at her hands on the tabletop -clasped probably to cover the shakes- and realized what was strapped to her left wrist. "You're wearing that time-travel . . . thing-y," he said. "Can't you just pop out of here?"
"Oh, if only it were that easy, dear," she replied. "Time travel hasn't been invented yet. Well, as far as this lot knows. Did you know, time travel has actually been invented eight times throughout history? Each discovery was completely unrelated to the last. And each time, a totally new method was thought-up. Can you imagine? There are actually -at least!- eight different ways you can travel through time!" The way she said that, she suddenly sounded just like the Doctor. It made Rory want to bang his head on the table. For God's sake, there was some unknown poison working through her body and it seemed like she'd be happy to give him a lecture on comparative technology throughout cosmic history.
"Tragically, that does limit my options," she continued with sudden seriousness. "If I just suddenly disappear now in a flash of light, there'll be panic. As you know, the Doctor is right now finalizing a very difficult peace treaty. Two thousand years of war. Anything could set it off again. I don't think the Doctor would thank me for that, do you?"
"No," he agreed with a cringe. "Probably not. But I don't think he'd like the idea of you dying from poison either."
"That's why you're going to help me walk out of here." She pushed herself back from the table and Rory couldn't help reaching out for her arm. River laughed and patted his hand like he was the one needing comfort.
"Can you even walk?" he asked.
"We're about to find out." And then she had the audacity to wink.
Using the table for leverage, she stood and only with the barest of satisfied nods did she give any indication that there had ever been any doubt. River placed a small, shimmery piece of plastic next to her glass as currency.
Looking up, she tutted at Rory's obvious distress. "Don't worry. I've been in much worse straits before," she said. "There was one time the Doctor and I were half undressed and in the middle of - wait. I can't tell you that." A look of worry ghosted across her face and the corner of her mouth creased with a tiny frown. "Ask me something about my past."
"When's the last time you saw me?"
"Three weeks ago, from my point of view, linear time," she replied. "The Doctor loves Beeshane markets. There was a Shakespearean play. Really, how could he stay away? One of the first places he took me was a Beeshane market. Oh." Suddenly she went quiet and purposeful. She twisted her arm in his grip so that her hand was tucked into his elbow. He was quite confused but was following her body language enough to realize that the situation had just taken a turn for the worse. "Let's get out of here. Now," she hissed through a smile.
"Right," he said. "Right." He tried to lead River through the pub as nonchalantly as possible. The problem was that he was trying to keep an eye on her in case she fainted, he was also trying to keep an eye on the entire room in case the poisoner tried to attack, and he was also trying to look like he wasn't doing either of those things. Oh, and he was wondering what they were going to do once they were outside the pub and why River Song had suddenly become so panicked. The final tiny piece of his brain left unoccupied by those bigger concepts focused on things like breathing, walking, and wondering where Amy was. Luckily, the entire way across the room, River Song kept a running monologue about all the different cultures she had written thesises about over the years, which worlds she had visited as a child, and what she'd had for lunch every day the last week.
When they finally walked out of the pub into a busy corridor, Rory let out a breath without realizing he'd been holding it. River's reaction was not as happy.
"Oh, this is bad. This is very, very bad," she muttered.
"What? Why?" he asked. "Are you feeling worse? Do you need to sit down?"
"No, it's not that. I wish it were," she said. "I'm having a hard time controlling what I say."
"You think it's the poison?" he asked.
"Must," she replied. "The filter between my mind and my mouth isn't what it should be. There's no telling what I might say. Ha, the Doctor would've loved that one. Especially the next Doctor; he adores word-play." Her hand on Rory's elbow gripped him so hard that he winced and expected there would be a bruise later. "I need a change of subject."
She stared at the dozens of busy alien people walking past them in the corridor and then glanced at the door they'd just walked out. There was another human-looking woman standing there, staring at them both.
"Who is she?" Rory asked.
"The bounty-hunter that will or already has turned me into the Shadow Proclamation, mattering on your point of view. Sadly, she doesn't know that yet and so still thinks she needs to catch me. The funny thing is, I would've preferred she caught me here. When she does catch me, I was with the Doctor at the time. We were having a wonderful dinner together on Raxacoricofallapatorius." River whipped her face around to look at him. "Don't tell him that."
"O-kay, don't think I could if I tried," he said. "Why doesn't she just grab us right now?"
"She's traveling in time too. So same problem I'm having. If she disrupts the signing of the treaty, she'll be the one running from bounty-hunters next." River gave a little wave to her pursuer. The woman scowled. "Oooh, shouldn't have done that. Lowered inhibitions. Not good. Let's get moving, shall we?"
Next thing he knew, she was leading him through the crowded corridors. "How can you move so fast?" he asked. "Aren't you supposed to be at death's door?"
"Lots of practice," River replied. A second later, she swayed and he had to put an arm around her shoulders to keep her up. "Thanks for that. Isn't there any corridor that isn't packed like sardines? Did you know, I never heard that saying before I met the Doctor? His companion at the time, Ashley, used the expression. Sweet girl, but, you know, American. Anyway, Sardines were extinct by my time and I've never been terribly interested in marine eclipsazoology." She made a sound of frustration in the back of her throat and yelled over her shoulder. "Will you please stop following me!"
Rory glanced back and saw that the bounty-hunter was no more than three meters behind them. All the aliens in the corridor stared. He smiled and apologized.
"Probably shouldn't tell the Doctor about that either," River continued. Rory held on to her tight and tried to increase their speed through the hubbub. "Not about the sardines going extinct. He already knows that. But about Ashley. He hasn't met her yet. He can't know. He has a bit of a rough patch after you and Amy - And you shouldn't know that either. Oh, this would be a really good time for me to stop talking."
River bit hard on her lip and Rory couldn't decide whether it was in pain or to shut herself up. Probably both. He was starting to get worried that they'd never find an empty corner when he saw a familiar blockade up ahead. Funny how he'd found himself at the end of the day where he started it. Just behind those guards and beyond that door was the TARDIS. It had a room and guard all to itself. Despite the fact the Doctor had insisted it was unnecessary, Rory thought the Time Lord had been pretty proud of himself to merit VIP parking.
Rory had never been so happy to see futuristic police tape and a cupboard.
"This way," he whispered to River. "Only a little bit further."
She nodded her head. He half-carried her to the cordoned off area and the suspicious eyes of the TARDIS guards. Of course, in Rory's opinion, all Latordians tended to look suspicious. He couldn't decide whether it was the lack of eye-lids or the two thousand years of war. Either way, he pasted on his biggest grin.
"Hello!" he greeted them. "Just back from my jaunt around the space station. You know, you have an amazing amount of really fantastic corridors. They go on forever. In fact, my feet got tired and so I thought I'd just sneak back into the TARDIS for a little kip." He reached out for the police tape stuff and was going to duck both him and River underneath it when a Latordian stepped in front of him.
"Who's that?" the guard asked, staring at River Song. Rory looked at the pale-faced woman in his arms as if he hadn't realized he had a fevered person molded against his side like he was about to run a three-legged race.
"Oh, her!" He laughed. "Chuh! She's just . . . a friend?" Really, that wasn't meant to be a question. He tried to cover it with more laughter. "She really enjoyed your pubs. If you know what I mean." Rory made an overt drinking gesture with his free hand.
The Latordian blinked in that really weird face-scrunching type of way. Rory thought it must have been very difficult to go through life without eyelids.
"She's not your wife," the guard said.
"No, Amy's still at the spa -Oh!" Suddenly, it occurred to Rory what this must look like. His wife being away somewhere else on the ship and him returning early with a drunk woman in his arms. They thought he was having an affair! For a moment, he just stood with his jaw open, torn between shock that anyone could think such a thing and anger that anyone would think he'd do such a thing. "No! Nonononono!" he said, alongside frantic gestures with his free hand. "It's not that. We're not - No. I love my wife. This is . . ." He faltered when he had to think of how to explain. He looked at River in a panic.
She stopped biting her lip, sighed, and pulled out a flap of psychic paper. She flashed it at the guards, who immediately stood at attention, before tucking it away again. Inside her shirt. Apparently, River Song kept a piece of psychic paper in her bra. He really wasn't surprised.
"Oh! Why didn't you say?" The guard looked at Rory with a different but still disapproving expression. "We had no idea you were coming, ma'am."
"That's perfectly all right," River replied magnanimously, like a long-suffering queen to her subjects. "I wasn't planning to be here. Actually . . . " She smiled at the Latordian as if the only thing keeping her upright wasn't Rory's arm around her shoulders. "I'd really appreciate it if you didn't mention this to the Doctor. He thought I wasn't going to be able to make it. But there was a sudden change of plans and I thought Rory here could help me sneak into the TARDIS so that I could give the Doctor a little surprise." She bit her lip again but somehow combined with a tilt of her eyebrow was able to make it look coy and suggestive. Suddenly, he really hoped not to see River for a very long time, because Amy already idolized the woman and really didn't need more opportunities to learn from her tricks. With their powers combined, he and the Doctor would be completely helpless.
The Latordian guards' laughter could only be described as dirty.
"We understand, ma'am, and won't let on," he said. "I like surprising my husband, too."
"Good man," River replied with a nod. She nudged Rory with her elbow. "Lead on."
At the door, she paused and called back over her shoulder, "Oh, and the woman in the purple coat? Poor thing just doesn't know how to take no for an answer. If you could take care of her for me, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks!"
Rory looked back in time to see the bounty-hunter overhear River and scowl before turning back into the crowd. He half-expected to hear the woman say, 'Until we meet again, River Song.' There was just something about River that made Rory think of James Bond. The door had barely hissed closed behind them when she collapsed to the floor.
The TARDIS stood in front of them like some big, blue glowing monolith. He was terribly tempted to tag it and yell, 'Safe!' But the fact that River looked ready to pass out any second got him back on track quick.
"Maybe we should have them get the Doctor," he said, while crouching down beside her. He grabbed her wrist to feel her pulse. It was going so fast, it was difficult to tell one beat apart from the next. She shook her head, causing her curls to fall into her face. "At least let me take you into the TARDIS and-."
"Tattle-tell," she whispered.
"I promise," he said, "I won't breathe a word."
"Not you," River said. "The TARDIS." She began to program her wrist device.
"I can't let you go like this," he replied, trying to pull the device off her wrist or at least keep her from fiddling with it. River tried pushing him away but he'd met children with more strength.
"I know what I'm doing," she told him. "I'll be fine."
He grabbed her hands and held them at her sides. Rory was trying to figure out how to tie up her hands so he could put her in a fireman's carry, when she suddenly seemed to give up on fighting him at all.
"I'm sorry, Rory," she told him and he was about to tell her that he was used to patients fighting him when they didn't know better. But she was a sneaky, sneaky woman. While he was busy thinking about getting her in the TARDIS and rearranging his face into his understanding nurse expression, she smashed her lips into his.
It wasn't really a kiss. It was just a sudden smooshing together of faces. Before he could think better, he had thrown himself back across the room and far away from River Song. She took advantage of his momentary distraction to finish programing her destination.
"Thanks, Rory," she told him and pressed a button. "I owe you one." Then she disappeared in a flash of light.
For a good five minutes, Rory only sat in the small cupboard with the TARDIS at his back and the metal door in front of him.
"I have no idea what just happened," he said to himself.
And of course, that's when the Doctor decided to arrive. The door opened. Rory looked up. The Doctor looked down.
"Hello, Rory," the Doctor said.
"Hello, Doctor," Rory replied.
The Doctor stepped in so that the door would close behind him. Together they stood in the small cupboard, illuminated by the TARDIS. It didn't take long for the silence to get awkward.
"So, is there a reason you're sitting on the floor?" the Doctor asked.
"Yeah," Rory answered. There was another minute of silence. Finally the Doctor nodded.
"Good, good. Glad we had this chat." He clapped his hands together. "Can you budge over a bit? I need inside the TARDIS."
"Sure. Yeah." Rory scooted over just enough that the Doctor could open the door and step in.
"You staying out here then?" he asked.
"Yeah, I think so," Rory said. "Yeah."
"All right. Suit yourself." The Doctor ruffled Rory's hair before closing the door.
He'd just picked up River Song in a pub. He pissed off some time-traveling bounty hunter. The Doctor's wife kissed him. Worst of all, River Song now thought she owed him a favor.
Yep, he was a dead man.