The Boy Waits
He works hard in school. The teachers like him, he supposes, but they don’t tend to notice him much. He’s one of the quiet ones, the no-trouble children, the ones that no one worries about.
He likes being in the playground, and in the classroom. He even quite likes the walk to and from home. It’s nice, calm, even if the other children are laughing or the teacher is shouting or it’s raining enough to soak him through.
Home is different.
On a good day, he slips in quietly and goes straight to his room to start his homework. On a bad day — or maybe a normal day, because the bad days are definitely more common than the good days — he’s noticed as soon as he walks through the door. There’s always something wrong. He’s rumpled his clothes; he’s wet from the rain; or just the usual problems. He’s too scrawny. Too weak. Too stupid. Too annoying.
After listening to this litany, he’s sent to his room to put his things away, and given a few minutes to sniff and rub his closed eyes with the back of one hand. Then it’s dinner time.
He eats quickly, he always has. Getting the food inside him before it can be taken away, or thrown across the room in anger. Once the plate clipped the side of his head. He said nothing, just let his eyes well up as the blood did.
They’ve just returned from a planet full of four-headed telepaths, and the Doctor is rambling on as he skids around the TARDIS console.
“ — I wouldn’t be insulted if someone thought that about me, but then again I suppose I’ve heard worse, maybe it’s different hearing it through four sets of ears at once… anyway, time to check you two over.”
“Check us over?” Amy asks, raising her eyebrows as the Doctor passes her. “What for?”
“Oh, psychic seeding; sort of like a psychological tick,” the Doctor replies lightly, flicking two switches on the console and coming back to face Amy. “Nothing to worry about, I’ll just do a quick scan to make sure you haven’t been infected.”
“How are you going to scan? And what happens if we are ‘infected’?” Rory interjects, concerned. The Doctor flicks him one of his grins.
“Time Lord. I can connect to your mind. I won’t be able to see anything rude or secret, don’t worry, I’m just skimming the surface quickly.”
Rory is about to protest again, but Amy has already nodded and the Doctor has a hand to her head, his fingers resting lightly against her temple. He closes his eyes for a few seconds, and Amy seems to frown minutely, and then he steps back.
“All clear,” he finishes. “Rory, you next.”
Rory nods nervously, and then the Doctor is right there. Rory could feel the Time Lord’s mind on his own; and despite himself, he remembers.
The Doctor’s eyes meet his, open, dark and serious for a split second — and then he moves away again, back to cheerful and manic. Amy sees nothing.
She never does notice anything. He never knows why she’s friends with him, but she is, and he doesn’t complain. He follows her everywhere, the quiet boy tagging along after the loud red-haired girl, always getting in the trouble that she somehow manages to sidestep. He gets taken around her house for dinner, for sleepovers, for parties, for playing games. He adores it; adores her. She’s so bright, so colourful, and all he seems to need to do is keep up. And he can do that.
But he has to go home sometimes. And home is dark and cold, and being sent to sit on the staircase without moving for hours, and not getting dinner, and waking the next morning bruised and numb and tearful. And then he gets to school and starts to work, and she leans over and is whispering things and passing notes like nothing’s wrong and somehow for a while nothing is.
He loves her for making the world right again.
“So, Doctor, where to next? I don’t fancy turning up to explore an alien world looking like this,” Amy calls across the console room. Rory and the Doctor are spotless, but Amy has somehow managed to get drenched in something purple and bitter-smelling. Rory privately thinks that it would take a lot more than that to stop her being beautiful, but doesn’t voice the thought because he knows that Amy would tease him for being romantic.
“Then go and shower, Pond,” the Doctor laughs. “You know where it is. There should be some good, odour-removing soap in the cupboard!”
He has to shout the last few words, because Amy has already made her way out of the room, pretending to flick the purple stuff in Rory’s direction as she passes him. He flinches — he still does, when people do things like that — but he doesn’t mind. It was Amy.
“So, Rory,” the Doctor says from the other side of the console, still flicking levers and twisting controls. “Rory, Rory, Rory.”
“That’s me,” Rory replies, leaning back against the metal bars. “Rory Pond.”
He and the Doctor swap amused expressions at each other at the in-joke. The Doctor flips a final switch as the TARDIS hums before falling back into the seat next to the console, his eyes on Rory.
“Rory Pond,” he repeats, his voice quieter now, slightly more serious. “You’ve always followed her, haven’t you?”
“I suppose,” Rory agrees, unsettled as always by the Doctor’s sudden jump from light-hearted to serious. The Doctor doesn’t speak, but his silence compels Rory to explain himself more.
“We’ve always been friends, ever since she moved to England,” he explains. “Went to the same school, got paired up for everything, spent time at each other’s houses, the works.” He shrugs, dismissing the subject, but the Doctor is more attentive than that.
“Not quite true, though,” he says softly, still gazing at Rory. “She was never invited back to your house, was she?”
If anyone else had said that Rory would have laughed it off. But this is the Doctor, and he isn’t guessing. He knows. Rory looks away, letting his eyes skim over the interior of the console room, not really seeing anything. There is silence; even the TARDIS seems to be quieter, as though she doesn’t want to interrupt.
A few minutes pass.
“How old were you?”
Rory turns back to the Doctor at the question but only meets his eyes for a moment before looking away at the console again.
“I don’t remember,” he says quietly, hesitantly. “It was always like that, always. Until I got a bit older.”
“Did it stop, eventually?” The Doctor’s voice is curious without being intrusive. Rory takes a few tries before he manages to nod.
“I got too old, I suppose. Taller and bigger. I mostly got left alone then.”
Rory sees the Doctor nod in response in the corner of his eye.
“But you still remember it — think of it — dream of it?”
Rory moves over to the console mostly for something to do, staring down at the controls without touching them.
“All the time,” he says. Then he gives a short, humourless laugh. “Amy thinks I have weird dreams all the time — you know, the ones where you’re being chased by a giant lollipop or something, and you wake up sweating but afterwards it’s funny.” His hands tighten their grip on the edge of the console. He turns back to the Doctor, who is still watching him with that odd look in his eye — it’s not quite pity, and Rory can’t make it out.
“Don’t tell her,” he says. “There’s nothing she could change about it now, she’d only feel bad.”
There’s a moment’s pause, and then the Doctor nods, his eyes no longer on Rory.
After dinner is the worst time. Alcohol brings out the worst. He tries to do everything right; he doesn’t answer back, doesn’t forget a single chore, doesn’t resist.
Somehow it isn’t enough.
He has to go to hospital only once, with a broken arm. He comes back to school with a brightly coloured cast and for once is the centre of attention.
“How did you do it?”
“Did you get to pick the colour?”
“Did it really hurt?”
“How long have you got to wear it?”
He feels himself growing in the light, but it’s still not enough — not until she’s with him, making jokes and inventing games to play with her temporarily impaired best friend. He holds onto her in his mind when he’s home — thinks of her Scottish lilt during the shouting, looks at the blues and purples of the bruises and thinks of the painting she did of the two of them.
It was the bruises that sent him to medical school. They fascinated him as much as they hurt him; he spent hours in the library pouring over books, trying to find something to soothe them.
“There may be something I can do,” the Doctor murmurs one day as Amy is walking a distance away. They’re on some great alien beach, all blue sand and yellow water, and Rory tries not to stumble as he makes his way across the sand.
“About what?” he asks, but something about the Doctor’s tone has already told him. He keeps facing straight ahead.
“Your nightmares,” the Doctor says quietly.
Rory frowns a little.
The Doctor turns away from the sea, shading his eyes against the sunlight.
“Ah, there — perfect spot. We’ll let Miss Pond wander on for a bit, she’ll come back.” Rory looks in the direction that the Doctor is pointing, and sees a few bigger rocks further from the shore; they’re flat and dry. The two of them make their way over to them, feet sliding in the sand, until they can sit down on the oddly cool stone and watch Amy a distance away.
“Time Lords have some telepathic capabilities,” the Doctor begins, his tone light. Amy is far too far away to hear. “We can dip in and out of minds, help fix things.”
He turns to Rory, who looks resolutely out across the golden waves.
“I wouldn’t do anything without your permission,” he continues, “but if I sat with you while you slept I could guide you away from those memories, teach you not to return to them every night.”
Rory can hear the concern in the Doctor’s voice; it’s almost fatherly, brotherly. He still doesn’t look at him.
“What about Amy?” he asks after a while. He sees the Doctor shrug in his peripheral vision, hears him turn back so that they’re both watching the waves glitter and shine.
“Amelia Pond,” the Doctor says. “Not that I’d normally approve, but in this case; I’m sure there’s some… galactic shopping centre we can send her for a few hours?”
It takes some time; Rory’s not quite himself or perhaps he’s being more himself that he has been in a long time, but eventually he nods wordlessly.
The Doctor puts a hand on his shoulder, but says nothing, until Amy’s voice is heard.
“What are you two doing, turning into pensioners? Come on!”
Rory can’t help but smile. The Doctor’s hand slips off his shoulder as they stand.
“Better not keep her waiting,” the Doctor jokes as the two of them make their way back towards her.
Even when the kicks and punches morph into snide comments and neglect, he can’t move on. He tries to; tries to think himself into being strong, confident, brave. It’s easier when she’s there, because she’s all of those things and somehow it’s catching. But it doesn’t last, and when things go wrong or something isn’t the way it was supposed to be he’s back at home, muscles sore from tensing, eyes sore from crying. He has his own place now, a little flat above the corner shop, the most he could afford when he turned eighteen. It’s pokey and plain, but he likes it; it’s small enough to stop him feeling like a child again, at least while he’s awake. When he’s asleep, his mind sends him back there. He dreams, wincing and fidgeting until he flinches himself awake, lying in bed with his eyes wide open for a few minutes before falling asleep again. It’s not a problem while he sleeps alone, but when she joins him — impossibly, fantastically, she’s chosen him again — he has to explain it somehow. He laughs it off, and she gets used to him waking at odd times in the night. It doesn’t even wake her up anymore.
It’s more than slightly awkward for Rory, lying down in the bed he and Amy share, in his jeans and a t-shirt and odd socks. It’s even more awkward when he feels the Doctor’s weight settle on the mattress behind him.
“Rory, look at me.”
Rory turns over to see him, meeting the Doctor’s eyes warily.
“Rory Pond,” the Doctor says, and there’s fondness in his voice. “Roranicus Pondicus, you trust me, don’t you?”
Rory swallows, thinking about this, even though he doesn’t really need to. He nods. The Doctor smiles, a little sadly.
“Good,” he says quietly. “Now go to sleep, Rory.”
Easy for you to say, Rory thinks, but actually sleep comes quickly. He’s exhausted, and even as he turns back onto his side, his back to the Doctor, his eyes are starting to close of their own accord. He barely notices the Time Lord lie down behind him, barely feels those long fingers rest their tips on the side of his head as sleep overwhelms him.
“You’re nothing but a worthless piece of —”
“You don’t even know what I’m talking about, do you? So stupid —”
“You’ll never be anything, you’re useless, why don’t you just give up —”
He can hear the voices getting louder, can hear a sleeve being rolled up, can hear them getting closer, and he cowers waiting for the blows to rain down —
“Stand up, Rory.”
He jumps slightly, confused. The voice seems to come from behind him, but he is up against the wall. Without understanding it, he feels a hand in his, and another on his shoulder.
“Come on, Rory. Stand up.”
He can’t help but listen to that voice. It’s not demanding, not criticising; just encouraging. He pushes with his feet, sliding his back slowly up the wall until he’s upright.
“That’s it, that’s wonderful, Rory.” He can hear the smile in the voice now, and warmth like sunlight. He’s still shaking, but it’s lessening. The hand on his shoulder gives a reassuring squeeze.
“Now, look at them Rory. Look at them.”
“I — I can’t — I —” he mumbles, fear closing his throat. He hears something of a laugh, but unlike what he’s used to, it isn’t mocking. It’s friendly.
“Of course you can. Go on.”
Slowly, hesitatingly, he turns his head — and then he sees them. Really, properly, for the first time in a long while. And after a moment, he realises.
“I’m taller than them,” he whispers to himself. The hand on his shoulder squeezes gently again, and he speaks up. “I’m taller than you!”
It’s childish, maybe, but it works. He sees them for what they are.
“That’s it; you’re doing it. That’s it, Rory.”
They begin to disappear; the surroundings of the house, the shouting, the darkness, everything begins to fade away, until it’s just him standing there, alone. Or not.
“Congratulations, Rory Pond,” says the Doctor, standing in front of him with an odd expression on his face again; Rory realises that it’s pride. “You just conquered your demons.”
“… I couldn’t find it in the colour I wanted, so I go to talk to the sales assistant and she got right snooty with me.”
“Yes, the Juriaites find the colour blue offensive, they don’t tend to stock it.”
Rory’s head feels fuzzy and calm, but as he wakes he frowns. The Doctor is here, and so is —
“Amy!” Rory says, sitting up suddenly, surprised and confused. He glances at the Doctor, sitting on the edge of the bed, and then back at Amy, leaning casually against the wall. Two shopping bags in neon green are at her feet.
“I thought you weren’t back for a while…” he manages, still sleep-slowed.
“Yeah, I came back early; apparently I offended someone enough to get escorted out of the mall.” She grins and shrugs. “The Doctor told me what you two were doing though.”
Rory feels his heart start to pound. He looks at the Doctor, shocked and more than a little hurt, but the Time Lord is smiling. Amy is still talking.
“Trying to get rid of your silly dreams so you wouldn’t wake me up definitely gives you points,” she’s saying. “Don’t see why you were all shy about it, though.”
Rory stares at the Doctor, gratitude welling up inside him. He feels the weight on the mattress shift as Amy sits down next to him, and arm snaking around his neck suggestively.
“And, seeing as we’re here,” she says, and she’s giving him that smile that always makes him melt and then she’s kissing him…
Rory barely notices the Doctor laugh and leave the room, but later he seeks him out. The Time Lord is sitting under the main console, fiddling with bits of wire. He doesn’t turn around as Rory approaches.
“Rory, could you pass me my screwdriver,” he says, engrossed in his work. Rory sees that it has rolled along one of the supports, and fetches it. He hands it back to the Doctor.
“I just wanted to say — ” he begins uncertainly. The Doctor turns and gives him his full attention. Rory swallows.
“Thanks,” he says quietly. The Doctor smiles.
“Rory, you’re a very brave, very kind person. You would have managed it sooner or later without me.” He turns back to his work. “I just sped things up.”
Rory opens his mouth to say something else, but there’s a clatter of heels and Amy is in the console room and it’s back to the three of them, the Doctor, the nurse and the kissogram.
Rory can feel himself growing.