Rory feels worn out. Old in his bones. He hasn’t been so tired since he started working years ago, since those awful first few weeks on the night shift. He worked in emergency then, and he was always in motion–taking vitals, starting IV lines, wrapping gauze, checking room after room after room. After his shifts he would lie awake for hours, back stiff and eyes sore, unused to sleeping through the rhythms of the morning.
It’s not even the shift changes, now. When he gets home from work, he goes to bed early and sleeps the whole night, but it never feels that way in the morning. Some days he sleeps straight through his alarm and wakes to Amy shaking him instead. Tea does little to help, but he continues to put the kettle on out of habit. He curls his fingers into the hot ceramic of his mug, lets the steam flush his face. The warmth is comforting, anyway.
It’s his day off. That, and already past eight in the morning, and the day he was going to get up early and make eggs for Amy before she left for work, though she doesn’t know that. Rory frowns at the clock for a moment, then lets his eyes fall closed again. He feels very heavy and hollow, somehow all at once. Distantly, he hears Amy knocking about in a cabinet elsewhere in the house. Then a door closing, then her footsteps in the hall. When he can feel her weight on the floor, he blinks, his eyes adjusting slowly to the light.
Amy stands with her back towards him, drumming her fingers on the closet door as she inspects her options. Still loosely braided from the night before, her hair trails forward over her shoulder. Her bra doesn’t match her knickers at all. The disparity–royal blue satin, and black cotton with small yellow moons–makes him smile. Gorgeous, impossible Amy. Rory watches her posture change as she reaches further into the closet. The shifting planes of her shoulder blades are lovely, and he thinks of the small freckles just at the end of her spine. He wants to go and stand behind her, to feel her shoulders notch in below his own, but the weight on his body is already too much.
After another moment, Amy snatches a hanger from the closet and floats the dress across the room. Reaching over him, she lays it out on the empty side of the bed. “So,” she says, batting his alarm clock onto the floor and hopping up to perch on the nightstand. “How long have you been watching?”
“How long have you been standing there?” He doesn’t get the tone right, but it doesn’t matter. Amy has enough sass for the both of them. Always has done.
“The utter scandal,” she retorts. Rory smiles, a little stupidly, he knows, but he can’t think of anything to say in answer.
“You still there?” Amy leans forward, nearly catching him in the eye with her knee. He turns his face down into the covers as she cards her fingers through his hair. “Rory?”
“I’m here,” he murmurs against the sheets. “Just tired.”
Amy’s hand travels down to his neck, and she sighs. “I know you are. It’s been happening a lot, yeah?”
“No, it’s not that,” she says quickly. “No, of course not. Don’t be.” She is quiet for a moment, working a tight muscle with her thumb. “I just–should we be worried about it? Do you need to see the doctor?”
Rory rolls over to look at her. “What, so we could go around to all the dangerous planets? Spend some time being chased by bloodthirsty robots? Have a few near-death experiences to get my heart rate up?”
Amy stares at him quizzically. “No, Rory, you’d probably just get a few blood tests.”
Oh. Not the blue-box kind, then. “I thought you meant–”
“Yeah,” she says, tracing a finger down his collarbone. Her voice has gone very low, and he can’t tell whether she’s wistful or sad. “I know.”
Under the sharp fluorescent lights of the break room, Rory stares at his sandwich. It’s a very nice sandwich, and Amy, who hates slicing tomatoes and cheese, made it because she knew he didn’t feel like pouring a glass of juice, much less assembling his lunch and packing off to work. But two bites in, his throat has gone dry, and he’s not sure it’s worth the effort. He feels sort of empty, but not hungry, not really. He takes another mouthful and nearly chokes, coughing till he feels a sick little twist in his stomach. Well, settles that. When he gets his breath again, he folds the wax paper back around his sandwich and nudges it to the side.
The door thumps open and shut behind him. Trainers squeak on the floor, and then he feels a light poke in his spine. “Afternoon, Rory,” Siri says, and drops into the chair across from him.
“You shouldn’t do that while I’m eating,” he responds automatically, folding and refolding his napkin.
“I know,” she says. “But you’re not exactly eating, are you?”
“Mmm.” He can never tell if Siri is teasing or scolding him. When Amy takes that tone, he always looks at her eyebrows to decide, but Siri is so pale and her hair is so light that he really never knows. He flicks the sandwich over to her.
“I don’t want it,” she says, unwrapping her own lunch. “I want you to eat it.”
“I’m not really hungry.” He takes a drink of water instead.
“That’s what you said yesterday. Is Amy letting you skip dinner, too?”
Rory shakes his head. “I haven’t been feeling well.”
Siri crosses her eyes at him over a bite of her sandwich.
“It’s not catching,” he protests, but she just boggles at him and keeps on chewing.
“Anyway,” he says, to fill the silence. “I’m seeing my GP next week. If it’s not better by then–”
“Good lad.” Siri claps him on the arm, then jumps up from her chair. “In the meantime, there’s got to be something we can pinch from the fridge that you’ll eat.”
Rory sits on the exam table, legs swinging over the edge. It makes him feel small, childish, though he was never so stiff or so tired when he was a little boy. But he never could have sat and waited so calmly, then, either. It’s been a long time since he worried about small pains like pinpricks or the sight of his own blood, and now the exhaustion trumps his larger anxieties.
When his doctor comes in, Rory starts to drift a little, let himself go slack. He does as he’s told, but he’s not really aware of the directions themselves, just the sensations that accompany them. The penlight shining in his eyes, the cool metal of the stethoscope moving across his back, then his chest. The doctor’s fingers gentle but firm around his throat, probing. He hears himself saying, “No. Ah. A little,” and then she is pressing lower, a little more sharply.
“Yes,” he says, fully present again. “Yes, ow, that hurts.” She releases him, and he coughs, reflexively.
“Well, Rory,” she says, shoving her hands into the deep white pockets of her coat and rocking back on her heels. “You look fine. Lymph nodes are a little swollen, but we’ll wait for the blood work before we worry about that. You’re what, now, twenty-seven?” She picks up his chart. “Maybe it’s catching up to you. Nursing’s hard work.”
Rory smiles hesitantly, nods.
“In the meantime, there are some things you can try. I’ll have the nurse give you a list when she comes to draw your blood–supplements, dietary changes, exercise.”
He laughs, just a little chuckle. He can’t help it. “Exercise?”
“Obviously, it’ll make you more tired at the beginning, but you should eventually start to feel more energetic, more alert.”
“Right, I know. But if I could work up the energy to go for a run in the first place, I wouldn’t have a problem. I can barely take out the rubbish.”
“Try swimming,” she says, a little too brightly. “Low impact. Good for sore joints.”
Amy snatches the slip of paper from him as soon as he gets in the door. She takes it down the road to Tesco and brings it back at the bottom of a paper sack filled with food he doesn’t want and vitamins he doesn’t need. Rory’s not even sure what half these things are: q-u-i-n-o-a–is that a sort of rice? He shakes the box experimentally, then picks the whole sack up and carries it into the kitchen.
“You didn’t have to rush off and buy all this,” he says, setting the groceries on the counter. Amy is rinsing what looks to be kale in the sink, and he leans over her shoulder to give her a kiss.
“I know,” Amy says. “But you didn’t have to clean the kitchen last week, and you did. It’s how it goes.”
“Yes, well,” Rory answers sheepishly. “How it was supposed to go was that I’d make dinner tonight.”
Amy looks at him as though he’s said something very interesting. “Do I cook when I’m sick?”
“I’m not sick, Amy.”
“You’ve just got home from the doctor. Do you feel like cooking?”
“Did you have plans for cooking?”
“I could, um, I could make us waffles. Again.”
Amy tilts her head up to the ceiling and laughs, really laughs. “Rory,” she finally says, switching off the water and shaking out the kale. “Rory, I love you dearly, and if you actually want to eat waffles I will make them for you. But we are not eating waffles again any time in the next six months if I have to fix dinner every night.”
“You’re too nice to me.” Rory says.
“Mmm, nope,” Amy replies. “That’s the wrong answer.”
Rory scrapes his food around his plate absently. The kale and not-rice don’t seem to agree with him; what little he’s eaten sits heavy in his stomach. Can food be too healthy? He suspects that this is something he should know, perhaps does know, if he really felt like thinking about it.
“Is that all you’re eating?” Amy asks, piling her silverware onto her own empty plate.
“Hmm? Yes.” Rory stands to clear the table and puts his hand on Amy’s shoulder. “No, it’s okay, I’ll do it.”
“You barely touched your food,” she says, peering suspiciously at the plate that, okay, he will admit he is holding just a little high.
“I ate the fish.” He takes her plate and sets it on top of his. “It’s fine. Just a bit of a stomachache.”
Amy frowns. “Do you want something else? Soup? Tea?”
He doesn’t, but it’s manageable and it would make Amy happy. “Tea, maybe,” he says, laying everything in the sink.
“Okay. Go sit down, then.” Amy brushes past him into the kitchen and gives him a little nudge.
Rory obeys, wandering into the living room. As soon as he sits down, the fatigue he’s been pushing off all day finally descends on him. He sort of collapses across the sofa, one side of his face pressed into the cushions. The upholstery is scratchy, and he squinches his couch-side eye shut. It throws his depth perception off–he can’t really see the coffee table anymore, so he has to fumble about for the remote.
When he flicks the telly on, it’s set to cartoons. Fine. Good. It’s nice to have something in the background, but the colors are too bright and his eyes go a little unfocused. After a few minutes, he hears the kettle whistle, and then Amy sets a mug in front of him on the table.
“Thanks,” he says, watching Amy sit down.
“Superheroes, eh?” she says. Rory creeps forward so his head is in her lap, and she passes a hand through his hair idly. “I thought cartoons were for Saturday mornings. How’d you even find them?”
“Dunno, it was just on. Think it’s the channel.”
They sit quietly for a while. Rory isn’t really watching, but he can tell that the parts of the show that make Amy laugh are probably not intended to be funny. Dimly, he is aware of an episode ending and another starting–a marathon, perhaps. He is very nearly asleep, overtones of Batman bleeding into his first faint dreams. Then there is a crash in the back garden, and he startles painfully. He tries to open his eyes, but everything has gone dark.
“What the hell is going on?” he says, and then he can see again, and he realizes Amy’s hand had slipped down to cover his eyes.
“Oh, sorry,” she says, drawing it the rest of the way back.
“What were you doing?” He sits up, and Amy walks over to the coat closet, pulling out a torch.
“Reflex, I guess. Scary noises, cover your eyes? I dunno.” She switches the torch on and off a couple times. “Coming?”
“Yeah.” He pushes himself off the sofa to follow Amy through the house. “Does it sound to you like someone’s trying to pick our back lock with a cheese grater? Or something else that should never be attempted?”
“Something,” Amy says. “Something, or the Doctor.”
“No screwdriver, though. We’d be able to hear it.”
“You never know. Ten quid says he lost it down a sewer grate.”
“But why wouldn’t he just knock?”
Amy gives him a longsuffering look. “That, Mr. Pond, is a question the universe will never answer.” She puts her eye to the peephole, sighs, twists the key in the lock, and then yanks the door open without warning.
The Doctor stumbles over the threshold, shaking out his hand and cursing under his breath. Something clatters to the ground–Rory thinks it might be an oyster fork, of all things. Then the Doctor straightens up and brushes off his clothes, which appear to be slightly charred, and offers his usual manic grin.
“Ponds!” he says. “So lovely to see you. Although I’m not, strictly speaking, here or back–but I will be soon!–and perhaps you won’t be so happy to see me in the morning after you have a look round your garden, but the TARDIS seems to–well, she isn’t broken so much as she just sort of decided to stop working for a bit, which–”
“Doctor,” Amy says. “Sentences. Breathing.”
“Right, yes.” He tugs on his lapels.
“And maybe while you’re at it, you could tell us what you’re doing to the house?” Rory says, picking up the bent and rusted little fork.
“I would really love to stop and chat,” the Doctor says. “But I can’t stay. I didn’t think you were home, and I needed a few things to fix the TARDIS, so I thought I’d let myself in and then be on my way. And then back, later. Eventually.”
“You thought you’d let yourself in, using flatware?” Rory’s still fuzzy, and the fork is the only thing he can fix on to keep track of what’s happening.
“Yes, well, I dropped my screwdriver in a storm drain and haven’t had a chance to rewire it.” The Doctor fiddles with the hem of his jacket. Ten quid for Amy, Rory thinks. “Anyway,” the Doctor adds, brightening. “Have you got any spare toasters, spatulas, florist’s wire, birthday candles, whisks, or light bulbs? Not the fluorescent ones, those are rubbish. The old ones–you know, Edison-y and such.”
“You can’t have our toaster,” Amy says. “And they’re not rubbish, they’re more energy-efficient.”
He sticks out his tongue at her. “Four out of the six would do it, really. It’s just a patch job until I can get to the parts dealer. Ten centuries, four decades, eighty light-years, and two blocks away.”
“Yeah, you’re not going in our kitchen. Rory just got it sorted last week, and I don’t want you knocking things over. I’ve met baby goats more coordinated than you.” The Doctor rolls his eyes, and Amy ignores him. “You can watch telly with Rory while I collect everything. Incandescent bulbs, though–I might have to check the attic.”
The Doctor follows Rory into the living room and sits down beside him with a huff. “I’m going to be late, that’s it. River is going to kill me. Not literally,” he adds abruptly.
Rory raises his eyebrows. “Right, then. Is she waiting now? Here?”
“No. I’m sorry, Rory. I wasn’t planning to be here myself. She’s at Luna University again–she’s a brilliant professor, you should be ever so proud–no doubt trying to explain to a student why I haven’t arrived to help judge his dissertation.”
“So she’s doing well?”
“Oh, very,” the Doctor says. “I’ll give her all your love…if I ever get there myself.” Scrubbing a hand across his face, he turns to look at Rory. “And you and Amy. How are you?”
The sudden attention makes Rory uncomfortable. He leans forward to inspect the mug still sitting on the table. “I dunno, same as usual, I guess.”
“You look tired.”
“Yeah.” Sipping the cold, watery tea, Rory wonders if he can get by with hedging. Probably not. “It’s kind of been a thing.”
“Do look after yourself, Rory.”
“Same to you.”
“I suppose that’s fair,” the Doctor says. “Does Amy know?”
“She knows. I think she worries.” He stares into the dark water at the bottom of the mug. “I had some tests–they haven’t come back yet–but my doctor said she thought I was just working too hard. Feeling my age, whatever that’s supposed to mean.”
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised.” Rory glances at him, and the Doctor sighs. “You’re young enough, but you’ve done quite a lot of things that can wear a body down. Time and space are like that. For goodness’ sake, Rory, you spent more time being plastic than England’s spent being a country!”
“Most of that never happened anyway.”
“If you remember it, that probably doesn’t matter.”
Rory can remember quite a lot, and things involving swords and burning plastic are quickly rising to the top. He takes another drink. “I don’t want to talk about this,” he says, slumping against the back of the sofa.
The telly is still, still playing cartoons, and Rory watches Batman jump off a building and counts how long before he reaches the ground, because it helps with the rushing in his ears. Batman reminds him of nothing but being a little boy on Saturday mornings, and gradually he feels his heart slowing to a normal pace. “Sorry,” Rory says, when breathing is easy again.
The Doctor only shakes his head, as if it doesn’t matter. His expression is very hard to read; it reminds Rory of the face his mum makes when she finds a baby bird on the ground and has to go looking for the nest. Not her problem, but she can’t walk away.
Drinking his tea slowly, Rory goes back to the cartoon. The Doctor manages to sit without fidgeting for once, and the silence is not uncompanionable.
“Well, this is rubbish,” the Doctor says eventually. “Robin’s become a bit of a prat, the Batmobile isn’t meant to fly, and Batgirl has gone missing entirely.”
Rory just about chokes. “When have you ever spent enough time sitting still to develop opinions about cartoons?”
“I was on Earth for a bit in the seventies,” the Doctor answers, sounding a little peevish. “And it wasn’t a cartoon then. It was Adam West. In repeats.”
Amy comes back then, which is good because Rory can’t think of a single thing to say. The mental picture of the Doctor sitting in front of an old rabbit-eared telly with Batman on the screen is too ridiculous for further comment.
“I can’t find your stupid light bulbs,” Amy says. “Come on. You. Me. Attic.”
The Doctor stands up, and Rory is about to follow, but Amy shakes her head. “There’s not room for all of us. Too many boxes. Besides, I think someone may have broken the lock on our back door,” she says. She glares at the Doctor rather pointedly, but Rory can tell she's trying not to smile. He stays.
He doesn’t know how long they are gone or remember falling asleep. When they come back down, he half-wakes to the sound of their voices. None of the words fall into place. Rory doesn’t bother to open his eyes. He hears the Doctor kiss Amy goodbye, or maybe it’s the other way round. The Doctor leans down and kisses Rory too, just a light brush on the forehead. Then he’s gone, like he always is.
Rory smacks his head on the pool wall again. He pulls up short, clinging to the side and trying to recover the wind that’s been knocked out of him. Small waves from the other swimmers’ strokes lap against his shoulders. The rough edges of the tile bite into his chin, but it’s grounding. He shuts his eyes, breathes slowly through the nose.
He’s never been very good at swimming. It softens some of his angles but throws his balance completely off, and he doesn’t know what to do with the time it gives him to think. When he used to run, his muscles would ache enough to take his mind off everything but getting home. Knocks on the head or no, this is gentle in a way he mistrusts. But he can’t run now, so he dips below the water and kicks away.
Hands over his head.
This morning, he tried to make omelettes and realized the spatula was missing. And the spare, and the whisk, and the eggbeater, for good measure. He knew why.
Stroking back. At his hip. He ought to take a breath.
How many other things have gone missing that way? The candles, of course, and the light bulbs, if they found any. Perhaps a bit of wire.
Other side now. Lane divider’s a little close.
If that were all, it wouldn’t matter. Take it, he would say, does say. But there are things that are missing that he knows can’t be replaced. That hot summer night they had come home alone, Amy in shock and he too sick from the Vortex to do more than lie beside her.
Missed a breath. He keeps losing count.
He supposes, now, that that was when it had really started–the tiredness and all. But in the morning when he'd finally stopped heaving, it hadn't seemed fair for them both to be down at once. If it was anyone’s turn to break, surely it was Amy’s.
Wall’s coming up. The turn starts here.
And then they’d been back on the TARDIS and running everywhere again. He couldn’t afford to be exhausted, and when he was he blamed it on the terror and the dashing about. But now–
He turns to breathe and misses his stroke, choking on a mouthful of water. The chlorine burns the back of his throat. Rory grasps for the lane divider and blinks his eyes clear. Then he goes under again, still hollow, still leaden and stiff. He doesn’t feel any lighter, but the water does hold him.
Rory lifts the sheets and rolls onto his back. Amy will be along in a moment. In the almost-dark, he studies the cracks in the ceiling and waits. The day starts slowly to bleed back to him. His doctor rang this morning–said his tests came back, all clear. Which isn’t, Rory thinks, the same as saying nothing is wrong. He knows better than that. Whether it comes from his bones or somewhere deeper than his body, this heaviness is his to carry. For now, anyway.
Amy comes to bed and lies beside him, watching. They’re not quite touching, though he can feel her breath on his shoulder. Something about the positioning reminds him of that miserable first night back, and his chest tightens. She had taken her turn, then, and now he’s had his own, but Rory knows there are many things she still holds. He sees the bitter twist of her lips when pink and blue invitations come in the post, the way she starts when the computerized voice in the lift calls out the floors. The traces her fingers leave on glass.
“Amy,” he says, hearing the uncertainty in his own voice.
She leans forward to kiss him on the temple. “No worries, Rory. Whatever it is.”
Rory sighs. “I’m just lucky to have you. And I’m sorry it’s been so hard.”
“You are lucky,” Amy says cheekily. “Very lucky indeed. But so am I, and I wish you wouldn’t look so surprised at it.” She curls an arm around his waist. “If it were meant to be easy, marrying you wouldn’t have involved so much paperwork.”
He laughs, despite himself. “But we did sickness and health, love, not all of time and space.”
“Rory, you numpty, it’s the same thing.” Amy thumps his chest lightly with her fist. “Wherever we go and until we die, and you’ve known that since the years you watched my bloody box.”
“That’s what I mean–I don’t want you to feel like that’s something you promised me. Like you owe me for it.”
“There’s a difference between taking turns and owing, Rory. And some things you do because you want to.”
Rory is quiet for a moment. When Amy blinks, he can feel her eyelashes moving against his forehead. “It’s like, when the Doctor was here, and we didn’t mind he broke the door–”
Rory makes a protesting sound.
“Okay, we minded a little. Bloody expensive locksmith we got, and the rosebushes were a shambles. Mostly we were just glad to see him, though. He can have our whisk and our birthday candles and the hour it took to find the stupid light bulbs, because we love him. But he can’t have the toaster, or the time it took you to tidy the kitchen. And he understands that, because he loves us, too.” Amy goes up on her elbow, forcing Rory to look her in the eyes. “Rory, you’ve never tried to take my toaster, and I hope you’d tell me if I was taking yours.”
“We only have the one between us, love.”
“It’s a metaphorical toaster, Rory.” She yawns, rolling back onto her side of the bed.
“It’s a little ridiculous, is what it is,” but Amy did learn metaphor from the Doctor, after all. He smiles, though he knows she can’t see it in the dark.
“Your face is ridiculous,” she answers, kissing him a bit crookedly before burrowing under the covers. “Rory, I love you. Now go to sleep.”
And he does.