It’s when he’s reaching down one of the heavier glassware boxes for Julia and his back starts to twinge that Rory thinks maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. He’s already had to help move three patients and rush two others down the hall, and he’s not really supposed to be lifting anything bigger than a football. But what was he going to say, no, I think I’ll just stand here and be useless, get someone else to help? That’s why he came to work in the first place. He didn’t think he could a third day of sitting on his hands, even if he is still a bit sore from last week’s incident on the stairs. He swears, much as he loves Amy, he’s never moving furniture with her again. Fighting aliens, yes. Armchairs, god, no.
“Rory, are you sure you’ve got it?” Julia says, laying a hand on the box to steady it. Rory hears the glass rattling inside and realizes he must be trembling with the effort.
“Maybe you’d better take it, now that it’s in reach.” He smiles apologetically and bends down to let her get her arms around the box properly. “Have to get back to my patients.”
This is just not on, he thinks, shaking out his arms as he leaves the supply room. Haven’t got time for it. As he turns the corner back to emergency, he nearly runs into a little girl. She’s turning frantic circles outside the toilets, the knuckles of one hand shoved into her mouth. Rory glances up and down the hall, but there’s no one else around except the doctors hurrying by.
“You get lost, sweetheart?” he asks, crouching down to her level. The girl spins around, turning wide, panicked eyes on him. Her face is covered in freckles, and she has fair hair tied back in two scruffy tails. She can’t be more than six. Although her cheeks are dry, Rory can tell she’s hyperventilating, can hear the little keening sounds she makes instead of crying. She nods solemnly, and for a moment Rory can’t breathe, either.
“I’ve seen your mum,” he says, forcing himself to concentrate on now, tonight. “She cut her hand, yeah?”
The girl just nods again. Her expression doesn’t change, but she does lower her fist.
“I know what room she’s in. Come on, let’s go find her.” He almost thinks better of it, but then holds his arms out to the girl. She considers him briefly before reaching back and allowing him to scoop her up. There are at least a dozen reasons why he shouldn’t be doing this, but while she is nearly too big to be carried, Rory knows she isn’t too big to want to be. Not when she’s scared. He remembers how it was, and he remembers his father carrying him anyway.
As soon as he gets her sat on his hip, though, he knows he’s going to pay for it. Nothing hurts now, but he can feel the muscles starting to tense. Rory shifts the girl just a little bit higher and starts down the hall. A moderate shuffle is about all he can manage, and his arms start to go numb before they’re halfway there. She finally starts to quiet around the time they pass the triage station.
“She’s going to be all right, you know,” Rory says, shifting her upward again. “Your mum, I mean. Just a stitches sort of thing.” He can feel her turning her head to look at him, but he doesn’t dare take his eyes off the ground and risk tripping now.
“You don’t know that,” she says warily. “You didn’t see.”
“‘Course I do,” he answers. “I’m a nurse. And I did see, when she was waiting. From a distance, but still, I’ve seen loads of people with cuts like that, and every one of them got sewn up and got better.”
The girl sighs, and it might be exasperation or it might be relief. After that, she clings to him silently until they arrive outside the room.
He gets the door open and both of them inside without incident, but when he stoops to set her down Rory feels something hitch in his back. He has time to think this can’t be good, to straighten up very deliberately, and to walk out of the room waving off her mother’s thanks. Then the pain hits him all at once, as though it were waiting in the hallway and he had just stepped into it.
Rory shuts his eyes and sucks a breath through clenched teeth. For a moment, he thinks he might be sick. Holding himself very still, he tries to think of anything other than the searing pain in his back. When the worst of the dizziness passes, he realizes he’s still in standing in front of the door. Someone–Julia–has him by the arm and is saying, “Rory! Rory, are you okay?” over and over.
“Not really,” he mumbles, shaking her off. There is a row of chairs a little ways down the hall. He takes a cautious step towards it, and winces.
Rory takes another step. “Hurt my back last week.”
“Here, let me help you.” Julia takes his arm again. “No, but just now I came down the hall and you were just standing there, completely spaced out. And you’ve gone all grey.”
“Well, I guess that’s why they wanted me to take another day off work.” Passing doctors are casting worried looks in Rory’s direction, and he is dimly aware that later he will be embarrassed by all this.
“Rory! You shouldn’t have let me make you get that box down.”
“I shouldn’t have done a lot of things,” he says, resting his hand on the wall as they stop by the chairs. “Carrying a primary-school girl from one end of the ward to the other being chief among them.”
She narrows her eyes at him evilly. “I almost don’t feel sorry for you. Almost. But I don’t think you’ll have fun trying to sit down, so.”
Julia is right about that. Between the two of them, they eventually manage it, but his back has seized up so badly that bending even slightly makes the pain unbearable. Everything starts to get a bit hazy. Other people are hovering now, or coming and going. Someone takes his phone. His boss is speaking to him very seriously, and Rory nods along without really hearing any of it. Whoever has his phone is saying “Hello, Amy.” Shanshan wants to know if he’s sure he doesn’t need to go to triage. Maybe he should try to get seen?
“No,” Rory says, when he realizes what she’s asking. He shakes his head emphatically. “No, I saw my doctor last week, I’ll just call the office tomorrow. I’ll be all right until then.”
“Are you sure?” Shanshan says, but Rory is already losing focus again. The background murmur fades, and people start to wander away. After an indeterminate amount of time, he feels something being pressed into his hand and glances up.
“…be here soon. You going to be okay?” It takes him a moment to realize Barbara’s standing in front of him, and that she’s handed back his phone.
“Yeah.” He pockets his phone and scrubs a hand across his face. “Fine. Tell everyone thanks for me, will you?”
“Of course. Feel better,” she says.
Almost as soon as Barbara’s gone, Julia steals around the corner and down the hall. Her way of being sneaky makes her look nothing so much as extremely suspicious. “What the hell are you doing?” Rory says, not entirely sure he’s not imagining the whole thing.
“Shhh!” Julia hisses. “I was never here.” She opens her hand over his and lets several pills fall into his palm.
Rory frowns. “What’re these?”
“What they’d give you if you got seen, probably. If anyone notices they’re missing, I just happened to knock over some bottles, is all.”
“You’re insane,” Rory says, but he tips them into his mouth and swallows them all the same.
“I believe the correct response is, ‘Thank you, Julia.’ Oh,” she fishes in her pocket and produces several small packets of crackers. “Eat these. I take no responsibility for people who get sick taking things on an empty stomach.”
“All right,” he says, shaking his head to clear it. “Thanks. Go on, go back to work before one of your patients codes or something.”
“I know, yeah.” She starts to head back the way she came, calling back over her shoulder, “Say hello to Amy for me. And look after yourself this time!”
“Right,” Rory says to himself. With a sigh, he tears open one of the packets, somewhat the worse for its time in Julia’s pocket, and shakes the shards of cracker into his hand. His back still hurts, but he doesn’t feel so foggy anymore, just exhausted. And whatever those pills were, they ought to help. Or cause him to die by morning, because goodness only knows what assumptions Julia made in order to pick them out. Definitely one or the other.
Rory feels a tug on his sleeve and turns to see the little fair-haired girl regarding him seriously. “Hello,” he says. “What’re you doing out here?”
“Mum said to run and say thank you, but then there were all those people.” She looks down at her shoes, then back at him. “Are you okay?”
He’s lost count of how many people have asked him that in the past ten minutes alone, but the look on her face–like she knows the answer and is sure it’s her fault–throws him. Rory eats a bit of cracker and offers one of the less battered packets to the girl, but she just shakes her head.
“I’ll be just fine,” he says, after a minute. “Nothing’s broken. I ought to be more careful, is all.”
“But–” The girl bites her lip, then blurts out, “But I hurt you!”
Rory shakes his head. “No, love, you didn’t do anything wrong. I just forget sometimes I can’t do everything. Not a robot, eh?” She almost smiles at that.
“Besides,” Rory adds teasingly, “We’d none of us be in this mess if my wife hadn’t nearly dropped a chair on me when we were moving it downstairs.”
“Oi!” Amy calls from halfway down the hallway. “I heard that.”
The girl laughs. “Sorry,” Rory calls back, but he’s smiling, and so is Amy.
”I suppose I shouldn’t be too worried, then, if you’re making jokes at my expense,” Amy says, sitting down beside him. “When they phoned me, they made it sound all life and death. And I see you’ve made a friend?”
“I’ve been better,” Rory admits. “But I’ve been worse. And yes, except–where did she go?” They both glance around, but the girl must have run back to her mother’s room, because she is nowhere to be seen.
“I guess I scared her off. Sorry.” Amy shrugs. “Well, homeward?”
“Oh, please, yes.” Rory tilts his head against Amy’s momentarily. “Let’s get out of here.”
It’s a bit of a walk to the car, but Amy keeps an arm around him and it’s not so bad. When they step outside, he realizes she has on her house slippers rather than her shoes, she had left the house in such a hurry. She wouldn’t have been sleeping–it’s not past eleven yet–but she’s wearing an old jumper with several holes in it and her hair has started to frizz. Rory thinks suddenly that he loves her very much. It must show on his face, because Amy gives him a funny look as she helps him into the car. But she doesn’t say anything, just walks around to the other side and gets in herself.
“So what happened, anyway?” Amy says, fumbling for the keys. “They said you hurt yourself carrying some things? A kid?”
“Some boxes, yeah,” he answers. “And the girl you saw. She’d lost track of her mum.”
“Definitely bigger than a football.” Amy rolls her eyes. “Rory, I love you, but you’re kind of an idiot sometimes. You can’t just do things like that. What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know.” Rory leans his forehead against the window. “Can we fight about it when I’m not…you know?”
“Yeah. Of course. Sorry.” Amy drives in silence for several minutes. When they reach the level crossing, she stops for the train and shifts to face Rory while they wait for it to pass. “Remind you of someone, did she?” she says quietly.
Rory looks up. “Yeah,” he says back, and thinking about it makes his chest hurt.
“It was stupid,” she whispers. “But I would have done the same thing.” She reaches over to squeeze his hand and gives him a sort of crumpled smile.
“Well, look at the pair of us, then.” Rory stares at his lap. “Making good, adult decisions.”
“Oi. They’re not all bad. I married you,” Amy says, a little cheekily. “Besides, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The crossing gate lifts, and Amy resumes driving without letting go of his hand. It’s a bit dangerous, but for once he doesn’t feel like making a fuss. In the warm dark of the car, drowsiness and a sense of security are slowly overwhelming everything else. And they’re almost home now–just a little further down the road.