When Amelia Pond was seven years old, she met a Doctor from space. That was what she said, anyway—loudly and at length, to anyone who would sit still long enough. Rory Williams sat still, because when he was seven years old he already had an idea that something about Amelia was sort of fun, even if she occasionally yelled at him or squished mud in his hair.
"...and he was tall and he had sticky-uppy hair and a tie and a sonic screwdriver that went deedledeedledeedledeedledeedledee--"
Amelia had to stop for a breath at that point, and Rory leapt on the pause to ask, "Was it it like a magic wand?"
Amelia gave him an impatient look, and so did Rorarius, looming over her shoulder. "It's not magic, it's sonic," she said witheringly.
Rory did not find those two entirely dissimilar, when he was seven. (Not so much later, either.)
"Anyway," Amelia continued with a full set of lungs. "He's really really old, too, probably about fifty, and he's got a blue box with a swimming pool inside and a library and the swimming pool is in the library and it can fly and goes bang and it landed on the garden shed, and he said he had to fly around a bit because his box has engines and they're going to explode but when they're not going to explode he's coming back--"
"What's his daemon?" Rory asked in the pause of another whooping breath.
"What?" Now Amelia looks at him like he's really said something stupid.
"His daemon," Rory said. "Your Doctor. What is it?"
She just rolled her eyes at him. "He hasn't got a daemon, stupid."
"What?" Rory blinked, and in the center of his palm Aemilia went perfectly still.
"That's how you know he's an alien," she added, and Rory let her carry on with the story.
The joke, or coincidence, or whatever it was, was not lost on the people of Leadworth, from the moment Amelia Pond and her daemon called Rorarius moved in down the road from Rory Williams and his daemon called Aemilia. For some reason, the sheer obviousness of it seemed to urge everyone to comment on it more often, not less.
"It's completely stupid anyway," was Amelia's opinion. "They don't even sound the same, really. And they're Latin."
They were ten, and sitting under the apple tree in the Williams' garden, the one Rory could not remember ever bearing fruit. Rorarius was a St. Bernard, and Amelia was snuggled tight against his flank; Rory lay on his belly in the grass, watch Aemilia nose about as a guinea pig. "What's Latin?" he asked.
Amelia flapped a dog-eared copy of the Cambridge Latin Course around. "Rorarius. It means a kind of solider. And Aemilia," which she always said as Eye-milia, which Aemilia secretly liked but which Rory thought was a bit pretentious, "is just a girl's name. It doesn't even mean anything."
"What's Rory mean?" Rory asked, but Amelia wasn't listening to him, maybe hadn't been from the start.
"So I don't see why everybody makes such a big bloody deal about it," Amelia continued, and Rorarius gave a disapproving growl low in his throat. Amelia stuck her tongue out at him. "Don't start. You sound like Aunt Sharon."
Rory rolled onto his back, squinting at the sun through the wide leaves of the tree. "I like it," he said.
"No," and he wouldn't be able to say this if he was looking at her face, would never admit it to anyone at school, but, "us. Our names. I like it."
There was long beat of silence, and he sort of wished he could see her face, or at least her daemon's face, or maybe he didn't. Milia nuzzled his ear with a soft, blunt nose.
"I think I want to be called Amy from now on," Amelia said, in a funny strangled voice, and the Cambridge Latin Course was never seen again.
It wasn't like you were going to ever mix them up, of course, even with the full names. Amy was loud and wild and took no prisoners, and Rorarius seemed to delight in finding outlandish new shapes—a peacock, a crocodile, the two-humped sort of camel. One day after an outing to the zoo, Amy missed a whole day of school because Ree was a small Asian elephant and couldn't get out of the attic. When Rory came round that afternoon to check on her, Aunt Sharon—all thin lips and tight smiles—politely turned him away at the door, saying that if Amy wanted to see him she could change her daemon into something that could come downstairs.
So Rory climbed the tree outside, with Milia following along as a squirrel, and when Amy saw him she forced open the window and tried to climb out to meet him, only to have Ree catch her in his trunk. Rory sat on a branch, and they called back and forth about elephants and collapsing ceilings and what the Raggedy Doctor might do on a safari until Aunt Sharon came and chased Rory away with a broom.
Though when he wasn't with Amy—which, granted, was almost never—Rory was shy and quiet and polite to his teachers, and Aemilia was almost always something small and quiet and frequently rodentine. When he was with Amy, of course, Milia had to keep up with them, but still was never as big or showy as Ree: if he was a wolfhound, she was a terrier, and if he was a young stag, she was a hare, and if he was a falcon, she was a sparrow, and if he was a howler monkey, she was...probably hiding in Rory's pocket by that point.
Still. They really weren't anything alike, and the names in the class register were always child first, daemon second, so there was absolutely no grounds for getting them mixed up. Amy had every right to bite the last substitute teacher who made such a silly mistake.
Shelly was the first girl in their year to get a bra (and show it off in the girl's bathroom, and also possibly to Mitchell), and Ursula was the first one to get her period (according to rumor that Amy happily relayed), and Jeff was the first one to get a hair on his chest (and announce it to the class in the middle of biology) but Toby was the first one whose daemon settled. The fact that she'd settled as a frog didn't seem to bother him; rather than announcing it, he just set her on the corner of his desk in a little dish of water, smirking like he was going to burst, while around him the other fifteen daemons in the room changed shape out of boredom at least once an hour. Nobody actually noticed until it was nearly the end of the day, at which point pandemonium broke out, as everyone wanted to gather round and look.
"Could you feel it? Did it hurt?"
"Did you tell her how to settle?"
"Why'd you want her to be a toad, anyway?"
"She's not a toad, she's a frog!"
"What's the difference?"
They were all staring as if she wasn't the exact same daemon as yesterday, as if Toby wasn't the exact same boy, and Rory kept getting stepped on and couldn't see anything. The teacher had given up trying to restore order as the last bell approached, so Rory slipped off to see where Amy had got to, once he realized she wasn't part of the scrum around Toby's desk.
He found her sitting out by the bike racks, leaning against Ree, who seemed determined to out-do himself this time by becoming a giant panda. He had even started snacking on a small birch. Amy had her knees to her chest and was looking across the road with a squinty-eyed glare, but Rory couldn't imagine what the bollards had done to her, so he sat down gingerly next to her. Milia immediately tuned into some sort of reddish-brown badger-looking thing and climbed on Ree's head.
"All right?" he asked her.
Amy sniffed loudly. "I don't ever want him to settle," she mumbled into the sleeves of her jumper.
Rory blinked. "I...don't think you have a choice about that. I think it just happens."
"Not to me," she said, small and determined.
But they both grew up—and in Amy's case, up and up, and there was hair in new places and voices hit new octaves, and it was only a matter of time, Rory knew, before childhood came to an end.
He was fifteen when it happened to him; he couldn't have said exactly how he knew, just that one morning he pulled the blankets off his head and looked Milia in the eyes and said, "Seriously?"
She whined a little, shifting her weight from side to side. "Don't you like it?"
He reached out and stroked one soft, floppy ear. "It's good," he said. "Just..."
"You'd prefer it if I was a tiger," she said anxiously.
"Well, yeah," he said, because didn't everbody want a tiger daemon? (Or a wolf, or a falcon, or something...you know...cool.) "But this is good, too."
"Really?" she asked.
"Really," he said, and she was so overcome with joy that she bounced up onto his bed and started licking his face.
By now more of their year had settled than not, and it wasn't so novel anymore, but Rory still got a few pats on the back, a few catcalls. Toby seemed vaguely jealous of Milia's sleek head, and some of the girls cooed over her big brown eyes. Amy, though, when she came walking in with Rorarius as a bird-of-paradise on her shoulder—she took one look at Aemilia and scowled.
"A beagle?" she demanded, as if Rory had deliberately chosen something to insult her. "Seriously?"
Rory shrugged, because what do you say to that sort of thing? "I kind of like it."
"Oh, seriously," she said, and stomped away, and didn't speak to him for nearly a week. It was like he'd done something to personally betray her and Rory hadn't a clue what to do about it.
Amy had declared that she wouldn't let her daemon settle, and for a while it almost seemed like she was going to manage it. She turned sixteen and seventeen and eighteen and Ree kept changing, picking the strangest animals he could just to prove that he still could, or so it seemed. Amy left no illusions as to her own level of maturity, of course—she snogged just enough Leadworth boys to utterly destroy her reputation, and then she got a job in Gloucester, which turned out to be--
Amy raised her chin at him. "Is that a problem?"
"Is--yes, Amy, it's a problem!" He stared at her, at Ree behind her (some kind of emu today) and waited to hear that this was all a joke. "I mean, isn't it dangerous?"
"It's just kissing," she said, flipping a lock of hair out of her eyes. "And despite what people around here seem to think, that's not the same thing as sex."
Rory desperately wanted to know just what Amy knew about sex, how Amy knew anything about sex, who else knew anything about Amy in conjunction with sex and where he could find them and...and...do something horrible and illegal. He felt hot and cold all over just thinking about it. "So you're fine with letting any random bloke kiss you for money?" he asked, half-stammering over the words.
"Sometimes it's girls," she pointed out.
Rory's brain switched off and went away for a little bit.
"Anyway, I don't know why you're making such a big deal about this!" Amy carried on, standing perfectly still and proud while behind her Ree paced and bobbed his head as if he'd like nothing more than chipped beagle on toast for a snack. (Emus weren't carnivores, were they? Were they?) "It's a perfectly safe job, and the money is good, and the worst thing I'm liable to get is a cold sore."
"Mononucleosis," Rory put in. "Bird flu. And did you know cold sores are a kind of herpes?"
She stamped one foot into the pavement. "You're being unreasonable!"
He grabbed a double fistful of his own hair, because he couldn't give in to the urge to throttle her. "You're being...Amy!"
Half and hour after he walked away from her, she came and got him. Actually, Ree came slinking around the children's play park, to the extent a Great Dane could slink at all, and Amy trailed awkwardly behind him. "I thought you'd be proud of me," she said bitterly. "Getting a job and all."
"There are loads of other jobs, though," Rory said, looking at the grass between his feet. "You're really clever, Amy, you could do all sorts of things."
"Not like you, though." She circled around him, skittish as a deer. "Nursing school and all."
Rory shrugged. "Not exactly medical school."
"Not exactly a kissogram, either."
They ended up sitting on the swings next to each other for a long time, their daemons curled up at their feet, and Rory let questions drift through his mind without giving them voice. Why didn't Amy look for a proper job, something she could make a career out of? Why had she told Rory, out of all the people in Leadworth? Why did she care what he thought? He didn't ask, because he was afraid he sort of knew the answers to some of them; didn't ask, because he was afraid he'd got the others horribly wrong.
Finally Amy said, "It doesn't mean anything, Rory. I don't even know them."
"Exactly," he said.
"It only matters if you care," she said firmly.
Rory looked at her profile in the darkness, sketched out with street lights and the distant moon; in the darkness her hair was almost a forgettable shade. Acting on pure impulse, he leaned over and kissed her, and not just on the cheek; he might not have exactly hit her lips, either, but he was working in that direction and she couldn't possibly mistake his intent. When he pulled back, she was looking at him with wide, startled eyes.
"Like that?" he asked, hating how strangled he sounded, like Amy had him by the throat even though they weren't touching at all.
"Yeah," she said, and it was same tone of voice she'd used the day that she stopped being Amelia. But this time, she snaked one arm out, and took Rory's hand in hers; this time, he was determined not to let go.
The Raggedy Doctor turned out to be real. That was enough of a shock for one day. When you factored in the other aliens, and the other other aliens, and the fire truck, and the end of the world--
Sort of boyfriend, Amy called him, to the man with the sticky-uppy hair and the raggedy suit and no daemon in sight, not even a hint of one. Rory had stared, he admitted it, and probably said a number of foolish things, and was quite probably very little help at all in the long run.
But he was the one who found Amy sitting in her garden when he came back that night, long after Leadworth had pulled itself back together; found her crying softly, and knew instantly why. He didn't ask her permission to come to her side, but what he found there stopped him cold.
Amy was sitting in the grass, long legs splayed out in front of her, and Ree was huddled between her knees in the shape of a great white swan. That wasn't so unusual, except something about the way he held himself, something about the hitch in Amy's voice--
"Not a word," Rorarius hissed; he so rarely spoke in front of Rory that for a minute he didn't know where the voice was coming from. "Not a single word, or so help me I will bite you."
So Rory didn't say anything. He knelt down beside and a little behind her, and Amy sort of dove into his shoulder; she wrapped her arms around him like he was going to fly away, too, and he propped her up as best he could. The grass was wet and it was cold out, but Aemilia settled against thigh with a high whine and Rorarius laid his long neck across Amy's lap, and they sat for a long time under the mocking stars.
"She ought to be happy," Milia muttered at one point in the next few weeks, before Rory shushed her. "At least nobody's saying she's mad anymore, are they?"
In Rory's mind, that was sort of the problem: he could scarcely imagine how the Doctor could've been any crueler. Amy stayed home for days, pottering around the garden and waiting for the magical blue box; it was weeks before she properly laughed. It was one thing to run off and abandon a little girl with an empty promise like that—children don't understand, children forget. But this time Amy was old enough to know exactly what he'd done to her and even guess at why, and it hurt more than words could say to watch her try to hope.
Maybe even she had stopped believing in the Raggedy Doctor, in the end. Now she didn't have a choice in a matter.
But she got over it, or through it, or around it—Rory wasn't certain what the appropriate preposition was in this case. Amy got by, and he and Amy got on, and Ree got used to chasing after her on stubby legs, only very rarely taking flight. After its moment at the center of the universe, Leadworth settled comfortably back into insignificance.
And one day Rory caught Amy scrolling listlessly through the jobs section of Craiglist, her most recent costume crumpled on the bedroom floor.
He bought the ring the same night.
It cost much, much more than he was ever going to admit, and even Milia thought it should be bigger. ("Tasteful! It's very tasteful! Who wants a big gaudy thing on her hand? Not me!"
("You haven't got hands."
("Well, of course I'm speaking hypothetically.") He made six different plans for proposing, each one more elaborate than the last, and ended up just sort of shoving it at her over drinks in the pub, while she was talking in a vague, dreamy way about drama school. She stared at the closed box slack-jawed for a few minutes, as if it were going to go off like a grenade, until Rory asked, "Is it okay?"
"Of course," she blurted, "yes, it's—you—oh, damn it." She fumbled the box open and stared at the ring helplessly.
"Are you okay?" Rory asked, fisting his trousers.
Ree's head popped up over the edge of the table. "I accept on her behalf."
"You can't do that!" Milia yelped.
Rory reached across the table and took Amy's hand. "Say something," he pleaded. "Anything. Call me an idiot."
"You're an idiot," she said automatically, and then she lunged across the table to kiss him, barely catching the box in one hand before their flailing elbows knocked it off the table. The rest of the pub noticed the scene, and a few people broke into scattered applause or wolf-whistles, and under the table Ree demonstrated to Milia, once again, that swans are the only sort of bird with teeth.
In retrospect, Rory decided he couldn't have done it better.
Everything had been going so well until the Doctor jumped out of his cake, too.
He was holding a cat in the crook of his arm, which was very clearly not a daemon, given how ferociously it was trying to get away from him, and he let it go as soon as he'd dragged Rory out of the pub. "What—you--what," was initially the extent of Rory's ability to vocalize, until they got to the end of the lane and saw Amy standing out front of a funny blue box, having a chat with Lucy the Stripper.
"Amy," he blurted, because seven hours ago he'd helped her set up camp back in her aunt's drafty old house, make stupid jokes about not seeing the bride before the wedding, and suddenly the Doctor was back and she'd been snogging him and wait a minute, he might actually recognized Lucy...
"Rory!" She smiled widely, too widely, and Rory noted that Ree had completely hidden his head under one wing, like he couldn't bear to watch what happened next. Milia, who had been running a little ahead of him, actually growled at Amy, who lost her smile entirely.
There was a moment of silence so awkward that even the Doctor seemed to cotton on, this time.
"So," Lucy said loudly—she had Amy's red hoodie on, so she was very nearly decent, and Rory realized that she used to work as a kissogram with Amy, that they'd been friends. Somehow that would've been less awkward than this, in the long run. "I'll just, yeah. Good to see you again, Amy."
"Yeah," Amy stammered. "Bye."
Rory thought he ought to be saying something, but there didn't seem to be words for a thing like this, for the outrage that made his stomach knot around the solitary pint he'd managed to get down; if it had been anyone else in the world, anybody normal he might've managed to get his head 'round it, might've known how to feel angry or betrayed; but this was the Raggedy Doctor, the fairy tale come to life, who didn't seem to want to be bound by rules and reason, and--
It only matters if you care.
"Well, come on," the Doctor said, throwing open the doors of the blue box and diving inside. "What are we waiting for?"
"So were their daemons real or weren't they?" Rory remembered to ask, later on, when Venice was long ago and far away.
"The girls?" the Doctor said. "Of course not. Part of the perception filter. You lot expect to see daemons, so bang! Load of pelicans to go with the load of creepy girls."
Amy leaned over a railing at him. "But what about Isabella? She had a proper daemon going in...so did the rest of the girls. They must've done."
So had Amy, and something about the way Ree was pressing himself very close to her legs and hadn't even wanted to take a swim in the canal, well, it made Rory anxious. Milia even forgot she was supposed to be cross at them and went over to have a sniff, earning herself a nip on the nose for her troubles.
"They had daemons when they were humans," the Doctor said, not paying very much attention to Amy's body language at all. "Once they started turning into fish...poof!"
"Poof?" Rory echoed incredulously.
"Yes, poof." Now the Doctor looked up, at the horrified faces that Amy and Rory were sharing, and rolled his eyes. "Oh, don't be so dramatic."
"Dramatic?" Amy shrieked.
"Yes! Dramatic." The Doctor pivoted on his backside, swinging his legs out of the well below the console and propping his shoulders against its base. "You lot are obsessed with daemons. Always have been, always will be."
"Just because you don't have one..." Rory said, giving Milia a scritch on the muzzle just because he could, thanks.
The Doctor sighed. "You know, there is a planet where the autochthonous intelligent species walk around with a piece of their brains in their hands," he said airily. "It grows that way. Very peaceful race. Fabulous cooks."
Rory glanced at Amy, who was making the exact sort of face that he was feeling, and the jealous part of him liked the fact that there were some things on which she'd always side with him. Like brains in hands. "That's disgusting," Amy declared flatly.
"Hmmm." The Doctor smirked at them. "Says the species that lets a bit of their souls walk around on the outside of their bodies."
It took Amy a second longer than him to work up a response to that, blinking and staring. "Are you saying we're disgusting?" he asked, pulling Milia close.
"Dramatic," the Doctor repeated. "You're both brilliant. It's just that your souls belong on the sofa and mine belongs in here." He thumped himself on the chest for emphasis. "Different species, different rules."
Rory considered that for a bit. This time Amy was the one to speak up. "So Isabella and the rest. Their daemons didn't go away, just...went inside them?"
"Something like that," the Doctor said. "Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't still there."
That seems to comfort Amy a bit, but Ree didn't budge from where he'd settled himself at her feet.
It was hard to get worked up about a wedding when someone was willing to die for you, and after the Dream Lord, Milia stopped growling so much and Rory decided that maybe it was a bit cool to have the hero from the fairytales turn out to be real. They spent a day on a beach made of shimmering, prismatic beads of jelly, and afterwards he and Amy engaged in some unapproved behavior in the infamous pool.
"What do you think the Doctor's daemon would look like?" she asked, at one point, floating beside him, and he couldn't stop himself from getting a little tense but could stop himself from being horrible about it. "If he had a proper one, I mean, on the outside."
"A cockatiel?" he offered.
She splashed at him and declared, "That's stupid!" in the same way she'd looked at Milia and said seriously?
"Look at his hair, though," Rory put in.
That set her giggling. "No, no...he'd really have to have a donkey or something. The chin."
"A giraffe," Rory suggested.
They weren't even being serious, just joking around; but when they finally climbed out of the pool and dried off (and coaxed Ree out of the water; he was doing laps)--when they meandered back to the control room, they found the Doctor on his stomach under the console, talking to the TARDIS. "Oh, there's a good girl, you're a lovely one, aren't you?" he cooed, not even doing anything with the tools strewn around him, just talking and stroking a rib of steel.
Rory glanced at Amy, who nodded slightly, eyes wide. "Could you even have--?" he whispered softly.
"Alien, remember?" she shot back. "His daemon could be anything."
He tried to take it as another alien thing, that the Doctor sometime talked to Ree and Milia like they were people. Milia usually just stared at him, squirming awkwardly, until he rolled his eyes and asked Rory properly; Ree, however, sometimes actually had conversations with him, no matter how Amy tried to interrupt.
The exception was after Amy was swallowed by the earth, when they had the Silurian woman captive—the Silurian who was all hissing defiance, and her funny little daemon, neither lizard nor bird. Rory had seen just enough of aliens to know what the daemon meant, but he couldn't quite articulate it to the others; and anyway, in the middle of it all, the Doctor suddenly crouched down and told Aemilia sternly, "You'll keep them in line, won't you?"
"I'm not going to get Amy killed," Rory told him.
"This isn't about them," the Doctor said severely; he was still addressing Milia. "This is about the whole world. It's about the whole history of the world, if this goes wrong."
"We got that, thanks," Rory said, coming to stand over her.
The Doctor looked grim. "I don't think you do, actually."
"If we screw this up, people are going to die," Rory said stiffly. "Amy and Elliot are just going to be the first. I know you think I'm thick, Doctor--"
"I'm not telling you this because you're thick, I'm telling you this because you've got to be the leader," the Doctor said firmly. "You've got to be the best that humanity has to offer, but you, Rory, have got to the best of the best, because you've seen what's out there and what's to come and more than any of the others you know better. And that means you, Aemilia," and he looked down at her again, "have got to bite him if he's going wrong."
She squirmed restlessly, and to Rory's surprise, answered him. "I'm just a beagle--"
"Just a beagle?" the Doctor echoed. "Just a beagle? My god, who've you been listening to?"
Rory blinked. "Pretty much everyone ever?"
The Doctor sighed. "Rory. Look. I got the measure of you the minute I met you, long before I ever decided to let you on my TARDIS. Because a beagle is loving and loyal and occasionally a bit single-minded the way a wet cat is a little bit cross, but most importantly it hasn't got a single ill-tempered bone in its body." He looked at Milia and then back at Rory. "You are good, and that covers a multitude of other sins."
And then he scritched Milia between the ears, as if this was the most normal thing in the universe to do; it richoceted through Rory like a small, powerful electric shock, if shocks weren't entirely unpleasant. Then the Doctor straightened up and clapped Rory on the arm. "Don't let them do anything foolish," he said, and then he was off, ready to follow Amy into the earth.
Dying hurt more than he thought it would, but he could still see Amy's eyes, right to the end.
His name was Servius Aemilius Tretius, born in Gaul and raised in Alba; his daemon was called Aemilia, and so was his sister, which was sort of confusing, though she was likely to bite if you got them mixed up. (The daemon and the sister both.) When he joined the legion he got another cognomen, though: Rorarius, the rearguard soldier. He sort of liked it when the Celts shortened it to "Rory."
He had no idea why he sought out the strangers in camp, the ones who'd come to "Cleopatra;" he'd thought there was something suspicious about her from the start, and now she had callers? He wasn't sure why he watched for them, except the men were saying the girl had red hair, and red hair had always upset him: like his sister Aemilia, redheads were always less than, always not quite in a way that he couldn't pin down. They upset him so much that he usually followed them around just to tell them so, and so maybe that was why he went looking for this one.
Then he got a glimpse of her face and his mind twisted violently to one side.
He had enough sense to hide behind one of the tents, where his men wouldn't see him; for a moment he was lost, and when he surfaced he was kneeling on the damp grass, Milia licking his face and murmuring "I know, I know, I remember--" in a high whine. She said it in English; too: it all unfolded in his mind, a language and a life, Amy and the Doctor and the whine of a Silurian gun. He was still Servius Aemilius Rorarius, that still felt real, and he fancied he could hear a clicking noise, like a broken computer; because he was Rory Thomas Williams, too, and that didn't just feel real, that felt true.
He thought he might be going mad. He thought he might be going sane. He didn't know what to think anymore.
But when "Cleopatra" asked for help, he was the first volunteer; he spoke Latin to his men to convince them to come, and English to the Doctor when he finally saw his face. "Impossible things just happen, and we call them miracles," the Doctor said when he finally noticed, curiously calm and a little bit awed. "Never managed to see one yet, but this would do me."
He didn't feel like a miracle; he felt broken and lost, some stretched between, and it hurt deep down in the bottom of his chest. But if even the Doctor could call this magic, he wasn't about to take it for granted. And he wasn't about to leave his men alone with Amy—or her with them.
He found her above, wrapped in a blanket, and of course it didn't matter who had given it to her, he'd find the culprit and put him on stable duty later. Ree had settled at her feet, all properly tucked in like he could paddle away over the grass; Milia hid behind his knees, in the drape of his cloak. "What's your name?" Amy asked, looking through him.
"I'm...Rory," he said, watching her. Watching for the little flicker of an eyelid before she turned her face away. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said, but she wouldn't look at him, and Ree had suddenly jumped to his feet. "It's just...not what you expect Romans to be called. What's it short for, Roranicus?"
Rorarius, he wanted to say, but the real Rorarius--her Rorarius--was looking at him closely now, in biting range. So he mumbled something, and when he caught her eyes again these were tears streaming out of them.
His heart seized with something like hope. "You're crying."
She touched her cheeks like she didn't believe him, blinked at the wetness on her fingers. Started crying harder.
He couldn't stop himself shifting closer to her, because he could remember the last time he'd seen her cry. "Hey. What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said with a little hiccup. "It's like..." A smile fought its way onto her face, a ray of sunlight under the stars. "It's like I'm happy." She pressed a hand to her mouth, brows knitting. "Why am I happy?"
That stretched feeling was getting worse, like his heart was too big for big chest to hold. "What's the matter?" he asked, hoping he wasn't going to send her into the same sort of painful fit he'd had when his memories had crashed together.
"Nothing," she said, and reached out to touch his face. Her fingers were cold, and the knit of her glove was soft. "I don't know why I'm doing that," she blurted.
He caught her hand and held it tight. "It's me," he said. "Amy, please..." Remember me, remember this, remember who I am because I'm not so sure myself. "It's me."
She jerked away, and Ree stepped between them, wide wings spread and mantled as if he could protect her. "I don't know you," she said without feeling. "I've never seen you before in my life."
"You have," Rory said, and Milia came out from behind him now; Ree hissed at her. "You know you have. It's me."
"Why am I crying?" she demanded.
"Because you remember me!" he shot back, like he could make it so, desperate to believe, to make it real. "I came back. You're crying because you remember me."
Milia and Ree were nose to nose now, staring and rigidly still, barely breathing. And Amy looked at him like she could almost believe--
And something stretched, something clicked furiously away in his mind, something that made his whole body trembled and hurt and Milia howl in shock and fear. Something that meant Rory wasn't Rory anymore--
He held her afterwards. It was stupid of him; he could see she was gone, no pulse, no breath, no belligerent swan lurking beside her. Milia hadn't stopped howling, but Rory himself felt strangely numb, hollow; fitting, since he clearly didn't have a heart.
He talked to her, because even with Ree nowhere in sight he couldn't believe she was gone; couldn't accept a world, even a dying one, without her in it. Maybe that was how Amy had felt, when they'd escaped the Dream Lord, but this time there were no games to play, no dreams to wake up from. Just Amy's lifeless body and his empty chest and deep and final black of starless night.
"You'd have laughed at that," he told her, as he made stupid little jokes in the dark; "...please laugh."
No laughter, though: just ridiculous miracles, and ridiculous hats, and the Doctor's ridiculous idea of testing him.
"The Nestenes took a memory print of her and got a bit more than they bargained for," he explained, as they packed Amy into the Pandorica. "Like you—not just your face, but your heart, and your soul." He beamed down at Milia, who was lurking at Rory's heels. "You might be plastic, but that's one-hundred-percent beagle right there, the genuine article. Good girl."
"I couldn't stop him, though," Milia said anxiously, tail tucked. "I couldn't save her."
The Doctor sighed. "The Nestene command protocols are hard-wired; that's why I had to be sure of you, daemon or no daemon. No more Nestenes, though, which means you don't have to worry about that anymore. And as for Amy--" He waved his screwdriver and sealed the Pandorica around her. "She's only mostly dead. The Pandorica can stasis-lock her that way."
"But—her daemon--" Rory sputtered.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Always with the daemons," he sighed. "Rory, tell me, when you were learning about alternte dimensions so as not to be impressed by my TARDIS, did you happen to stumble upon the law of conservation of mass?"
"That...matter can neither be created or destroyed?" he hazarded, not certain where this was heading.
"Exactly." He leaned very close to Rory's face. "So where do you suppose a daemon goes when a person dies? What happens to the matter when you can't see it anymore?"
His eyes dropped to the middle of the Doctor's chest, in between the two ridiculous hearts. "Inside?"
"Good a guess as any," the Doctor said with a shrug, and clapped him hard on the shoulder. "So as I was saying, the Pandorica can stasis-lock Amy just as she is—it's the ultimate prison, you can't even escape by dying. All it needs now is a scan of her living DNA, and it'll restore her, daemon and all."
"And where's it going to get that?" Rory asked.
The Doctor checked his watch. "In about two thousand years."
It wasn't the sleeplessness that bothered him so much; he could lay down quiet and still and let his mind drift, and that was restful enough when he needed it. It was knowing that the pulse in his wrist, the hunger that gnawed him, the fierce urge to gasp when he held his breath—that these were all just illusions, tricks of the programming that made his body go.
He could still feel Milia, and she could feel him, but there was no longer any limit on how far they could separate; he tested it once in the empty years at the Vatican, playing hide-and-seek through vaults of astonishing treasure. He didn't have to eat or drink—sometimes forgot to, actually, if he'd gone without for long enough. He wasn't sure if he had to breathe or not, because in light of the Doctor's warnings he didn't dare find out, but he was willing to guess that he didn't, not really, not when all the other biological imperatives suddenly weren't.
"I suppose it's a bit like being a daemon," Milia had said while Rory ruminated on these things.
Rory had looked at the black void of the Pandorica. "Swap one Rorarius for another, is that it?"
Milia nosed at his hand. "I just meant--"
"I know what you meant," Rory said, and scratched behind her ear where she liked it. "And I meant what I said. I don't need to eat, I don't get old, I'm not human..."
You are Rory Williams and you are never going anywhere ever again.
Milia licked his hand again. "You're close enough. You're mine."
"Of course I am," Rory said, leaning against the cold, black stone.
Milia was flesh and blood, a proper beagle daemon, and after a few centuries she started to show her age: white hairs on her snout, a certain drag in her steps, more nights spent cuddled by the fire or in Rory's lap and fewer races and chases and games. Rory certainly felt older, more tired, and true to the Doctor's word he'd picked up scrapes and scratches, bloodless cuts that didn't heal. His Roman clothes and armor didn't decay or fade, but his cloak melted to a hard greyish crust where it caught fire once, and so he tolerated every notch on his sword and only dressed up for show.
Time unspooled around him, and he tried not to draw too much attention to himself, but it didn't really matter if he intervened with the stars all burnt to ashes. A little germ theory here, a ray gun in the wrong place there, and he wasn't sure if history was more or less perturbed by his presence: empires still rose and fell, and some things kept falling, right off the face of the universe. Just like he had. People and things and events and places—a Thursday here, a Pope there, and at some point he realized Poland didn't exist, and in 1939 the world woke up at war and nobody knew why.
(In 1941 he nearly lost them both—Aemilia and Amy—in one fell swoop; he hauled the Pandorica out through the flames, though his arms and legs blistered and melted and ran, and only paused when he heard a burning wall crumble, followed by a high, sharp cry. It was the first time in centuries he'd felt anything like pain. Milia healed with the faintest scars, though, and his skin cooled into gnarled grey ripples that couldn't possibly be mistaken for flesh. Fifty years of long sleeves, then; small enough price to pay.)
He visited the National Gallery almost daily 1983-1989, and he brought Amy her own birth announcement; none for him, of course, but he slipped under the ropes to press the newspaper clipping against the Pandorica's side like she could see or hear. "Almost time," he told her. "The Doctor is going to have everything sorted, just like you always said. Any day now."
The light of a torch suddenly bobbed in his eyes. "Oi! You there! What part of keep out don't you understand?"
That was how he met Harold, the new head of security at the Gallery, and eventually how he got the night watchman's job, the third or fourth time Harold caught him slipping under the ropes. Rory explained his love of history and fascination with the Pandorica "myth," and Harold didn't ask how a man with such a young face could have such an old daemon. Walking the rounds was hard on Milia's scarred hindquarters, but it was worth it to curl up next to Amy every night, Milia snoring gently in his lap while he shut his eyes and listened for the faintest sounds of the Pandorica's mechanisms clicking over.
His rounds took him past the stone...thingies...in the gallery east of the Pandorica. The cards on the walls gave them eight different names in six languages; the other security guards called them "the Pepperpots," which was exactly what Rory had thought when he first saw them some ninetten hundred years previously. The footprints of the Never-Were, the Doctor had called them, but not their proper name, and except for a spot of target practice Rory hadn't given them much thought in the years spent in the Underhenge.
They looked about as different as he did—a bit more scuffed and chipped, faint stains on the unnatural stone—and Rory sometimes gave them a pat on the plunger as he went by, not out of any real affection (because he knew that these things had helped make the Pandorica, had helped make him) but a sort of solidarity: they were, for good or ill, the only other things that had lasted as long as he had, Amy excepted.
So he could admit he was a bit disappointed when one of the Pepperpots suddenly went mad. He heard the ruckus from two floors away—he had better hearing than Milia—and came running, slowing down when he saw the hunk of stone out position. "What's going on?" he called, aiming his torch even though he didn't really need the extra light.
Distantly, he heard a familiar voice ordering someone to run, and something tightened in his empty chest. In the nearer term, though, the Pepperpot had rotated to face him. "Drop the device," it intoned in a grating, electric rasp. Milia's hackles went up, and she growled.
From the back of the galley he heard that voice again. "It's not a weapon! Scan it, it's not a weapon!" The Doctor, it had to be, for the first time in nearly two thousand years. Milia's tail tocked side to side, twice.
The Pepperpot gave out a whistling noise, and some long-dormant interior sensor told Rory he was being probed. "Scans indicate intruder unarmed."
"D'you think?" Rory asked, and let the torch fall. The hinge in his hand had been a bit stiff since the 1770s, but the Pepperpot didn't even try to evade the shot. It gave out a hideously modulated squeal and went silent.
Milia shot forward in the next second, heedless of the danger. Out of the shadows Rory saw the Doctor, just as he remembered him—of course, he was probably come straight from the Underhenge—and just behind him a great white shape of glossy wings mantled wide. Milia stopped dead in her tracks; she even adoped the classic pointing posture, except for her wildly wagging tail.
"Oh, my God," said the swan she was pointing at, and a little behind him, Amy squinted and said, "Aemilia...Rory?"
He felt stupidly frozen as she raced towards him, and for the moment he forgot every stiff joint, every dead spot in his skin where the tactile sensors had failed, every scuff and scratch, every empty year. He barely even saw the Doctor, or the little girl whose daemon was busily imitating the stuffed polar bear in the east gallery. There was only Amy, alive and warm, as perfect as his memory and clinging like he'd never harmed her; and somewhere at their feet, Milia was rolling over like a puppy again, and Rorarius covered her with his wide wings.
He had waited for two thousand years and it had been worth it, every single millisecond. The whole rest of the universe might've gone wrong, but for the moment everything was utterly right.
Of course it got more complicated than that.
When Rory Williams was seven years old, a new family moved in down the road, including a little girl his own age. He watched them from the safety of the overgrown hedge, the little fat man and the tall thin lady and the girl whose daemon was never less than twice her size. Aemilia hissed in his ear. "Go say hello!"
"They're busy," Rory muttered, lurking lower in the hedge.
"If you don't go," Milia said, "I'll go without you. Just see if I don't."
Rory stared at her, because he was pretty sure that wasn't even possible except for the superheros and witches on the telly, and anyway Aemilia had never talked to him like that before. "What if I don't want to?"
She suddenly dropped to the ground and turned into a beagle puppy, all ears and paws, no bigger than a loaf of bread. She got the bottom of Rory's shoelace in her teeth and started pulling, though, and with a deep breath he followed her over the road (stopping to look in both directions for traffic, of course).
The little girl with the bright red hair didn't see them at first, but her daemon did; it went perfectly still and then suddenly turned into a fledging cygnet, just sprouting the first glossy feathers of flight. The girl frowned at him first, and then looked up, and saw Aemilia all but leading Rory when really it should've been the other way around.
For a moment the two daemons stood stock-still, nose to nose (well, nose to beak) and looked into one another's eyes, seemingly frozen. Then Milia licked the swan and the swan bit her, and the girl laughed and said with a funny accent, "I'm Amelia Pond."
"Rory," Rory blurted, and when Amelia laughed at him, he had the strange, fleeting sensation that somewhere he had heard the sound before.