so long this year

by Lady Mercury [Reviews - 0]

  • Teen
  • Swearing
  • Angst, Character Study, Het, Introspection, Standalone

Author's Notes:
Post-ep for "Asylum of the Daleks." This story brought to you by the review chapter in my analysis textbook and Emily Jane White's "Time on Your Side." If you'd like to know more about the math involved, the lovely people at Minute Physics have a very accessible and generally spiffy video on the subject.

After, Amy wakes with the sun slanting into her eyes. She reaches for him, still a little hungry, a little desperate. But the other side of the bed, while distinctly rumpled, is empty and already cold. She freezes. Of course. Of course he’s gone. You made sure of that, didn’t you? Whatever you convinced yourselves last night, the adrenaline’s worn off now. What was there really left to say? Fisting her hands in the sheets, she takes a breath and makes it steady. Then she grasps the bedpost and pulls herself to her feet. Still, she thinks, he could have said goodbye.

The rough wood of the floor warms slowly beneath her as she knots her dressing gown and brushes out her hair. She is working through a particularly difficult snarl when something thumps in the hall. The noise would hardly merit notice on its own, but it’s followed by what can only be a violent cascade from the bookshelf. And then, while she’s still holding her breath: a stream of plaintive cursing, of the sort Rory only employs when he feels quite sure he’s alone.

“Ow,” he says. “Bugger. Stupid sodding buggered ow–”

“I can hear you,” she calls, curling her toes against the floor.

There is a pause, in which Amy can hear books being gently lifted and stacked. “Erm, yes,” Rory calls back, sounding embarrassed. “Good morning?”

Her feet relax, flattening out along the wood. Laying the brush aside, she steps into the hall.


“I’m sorry,” Rory says for at least the fourth time, pouring her tea. “I really didn’t mean to wake you. I was looking for something, was all.”

“Rory, it’s all right. Honest.” She swings her leg under the table, knocking her foot idly against his chair. “I was awake anyway.”

He starts to take a drink and sets his mug down abruptly, looking a bit stricken. “God, Amy, I’m sorry. I didn’t even think–”

“I thought you’d gone again,” she agrees, gazing down into her tea.

For a moment he is quiet. “I was only down the hall, love,” he says, opening his hand across the table. His wedding band, a worn but cheerful gold, shines on his finger again. It sits a little crooked, and Amy can see the skin beneath it is still very pale. It hadn’t been off long.

Distracted, she misses her swing. When she kicks him in the shin by mistake, he doesn’t even flinch. “And only down the street, even before,” he adds. His Adam’s apple bobs in his throat, and Amy grabs his hand.

“What were you looking for?” she says, to spare him.

He shakes his head, biting off half a smile. “You’re going to think it’s stupid.”

“That’s not fair.”

“No, I mean, it is stupid. But last night after you fell asleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and so finally I had to go and look.”

“Rory, tell me,” she says, giving his wrist a tug.

“I will.” He tries another smile, and it crosses more of his face this time. “But I have to show you, too, and whatever you and the rest of the house might say, the bookshelf’s still not forgiven me. Drink your tea and we’ll go have a look.”


Amy leans in the doorway, watching Rory lift the heavy book down from the edge of the shelf. He runs his palm over its surface, smoothing away whatever dust hadn’t been shaken loose earlier. The cover is a stylized geometry of dots and curves–the sort of artwork reserved for books on space, physics, or–

“Rory, you did not go through all this bother for a maths textbook,” she groans.

Rory’s shoulders drop just a little. “You think it’s stupid,” he says. “I told you it was.”

She wants to put her whole fist in her mouth, but she curls her fingers over the doorjamb instead. “No. No, I’m sorry. I just–” She feels her nails biting into the soft wood, and she stops. “I want to know the rest. I do.”

He ducks his head, glancing up to meet her eyes. “Okay,” he says, after a moment. He hefts the book a little closer to his chest and comes to stand beside her. “You remember Cath?”

Amy shakes her head, although the name does stir vague memories: a long, dark braid; an impish smile.

“I had a flatmate in nursing school who was reading maths,” he continues. “Ridiculously smart. I think she’s a professor now. She was always on about the daftest things. The less sense they made, the more she liked trying to explain them to the rest of us. Infinity was her favorite–probably told me that one at least a dozen times.”

“And this was her book?”

“Yeah. She had so many by the time she finished, I guess she couldn’t keep them all. Anyway,” he says, paging through the book. “The thing she was always trying to explain to me, and that I couldn’t get out of my head–well, I found it at the beginning, here.”

“‘Countable and Uncountable Sets.’” She presses her cheek to his shoulder, feeling the sharpness of bone against bone. The seam of his jumper rests at the corner of her eye. “Rory, I think this might be a bit over my head.”

“That’s the wrong page.” He flips past lists of numbers hedged in by curling brackets, past diagrams of arrows and number lines and circles stabbed through. The margins are filled with notes in red ink, in a neat handwriting that cannot be Rory’s. After a moment, he sighs and closes the book. “It appears I’ve lost the page. And it’s over mine, too, love, but we only want the beginning of it, really.”

“Do you remember what it said?”

Rory shuts his eyes. “It’s like, suppose you take all the fractions up to one. And you could count them if you had time, although of course you don’t. One goes to one, and two to a half, and three to a third, and on. So that’s a countable infinity.”

Amy nods into his sleeve, the wool scratching lightly at her face.

“And two is bigger than one, yeah? But you can count all the fractions up to two just as well as one, and more than that, you can send things between them.” Rory’s talking faster now, the words tumbling out almost as though he’s reciting. “If you take any number up to one and double him, there’s only one number up to two you can get, and you can reverse it to get him back.”

“Now you’ve lost me,” she admits.

“The longer the gap, the more that’s inside it, right? That’s what we’d expect. But it isn’t true. It doesn’t matter; one and two, or one and a thousand, or one and the age of the earth, love. Length isn’t size. It can’t always tell you how much is there.”

He swallows after he says it, and Amy can feel the muscles tighten all the way down to his shoulder. “Oh, Rory,” she says, reaching to take one of his hands off the book.

Rory sets the book on the side table and swipes at his eyes with his other hand. “I shouldn’t have said that last night, about the arithmetic. God, I’m so sorry. The things you’ve done–it’s really not fair of me to still be asking that question.”

Amy bites her lip to stop her whole face crumpling. “It’s not nothing, though, Rory, and I wish I hadn’t–”

“I wish we hadn’t any of it,” he says, laughing sadly. “But it’s still better than this time last week. Or yesterday, even.”

“It shouldn’t take a Dalek in my head to get us talking,” she says. “Or a bloody maths book.”

Rory laughs again–a small laugh, but a real one. “I know, love. We’ll get there in time.”

Amy lays her hand on his waist to turn him for a kiss. He still smells like iron and soot and the stale water of that awful planet. She can feel the arches of his hip bones through his jeans, and as he gives in, she realizes again how little height he has on her. It makes her chest ache a bit to think how slight he really is. But he holds her tightly, the same as always, and even through his jumper she can feel his warmth.

It’s been a horrible month, one of the worst of her life. That gap’s ending, though. If they’re still holding hands at the end of the next one, she thinks it will be more than enough.