Thanks to such_heights for betaing this for me, and cheerleading.
Rory took another sip of the green alien wine, and sneezed. He winced, and leaned against the counter of the bar. It wasn't actually his drink — it was Amy's, but she'd handed it off to him when she'd decided that a drink that made you sneeze, while hilarious to think about, wasn't actually all that fun to drink. The locals called it birch, but the Doctor referred to it as sneeze-wine, and Rory was beginning to think of it that way as well. But the taste was actually kind of nice, so if he just sipped at it slowly he could almost ignore the sneezing.
He turned to look as something was set down on the bar next to him. The Doctor had just set down a small silver platter, with ten fluted shot glasses, each filled with a slightly glowing red liquid, arranged in a circle. They jiggled but didn't move.
Rory raised an eyebrow. "Jello shots?" The Doctor never wandered near alcohol. Jello shots certainly didn't seem his style.
"Jam," the Doctor replied easily, sitting down and twisting in the stool to lean against the bar, looking out at the dance floor. "I'll need my sugar unfermented if I want any sort of chance at keeping up with Amy tonight."
Rory laughed. "I've seen your dancing, remember. It's possible she's hoping you'll get tired out and stop."
"Not a chance." The Doctor ran his finger around the corners of his glass, digging out the last bits of jam, and popped it into his mouth, licking it clean. "My dancing skills are unsurpassed."
"Your dancing skills are something, all right."
"Thank you." The Doctor seemed to take that as a compliment — which it wasn't. He handed Rory one of the shining shot glasses. It reminded him a little of a lily, if all the petals were trimmed where they started to curve away from each other. The Doctor clinked their glasses together. "Cheers."
"Cheers," Rory mumbled quickly. There was no elegant way to down a shot of jam — stickier than a jello shot, which was the closest equivalent Rory could think of, given the setting, and the glass was taller than a regular shot glass by at least an inch. Only some dedicated tongue action, like what the Doctor was now providing, would pull the jam from its home. Rory watched, aware of his cheeks reddening as the Doctor cheerfully slid his tongue into all the corners of the clear glass. Then he realized he was staring, and tipped his own glass up as well, a quick swipe of the tongue carving out a nice divot of jelly, though there was plenty left in the glass. The jam was warm, spiced, but that definitely wasn't what was causing the heat in Rory's stomach. He gripped the glass tighter.
"How're my boys doing?" Amy said, appearing out of nowhere. Rory looked up. She was breathless, hair spilling messily over her shoulders. She wrapped one arm around Rory and leaned against him. She kissed his cheek. "Sure you don't want to come dance?" She asked every time they went out.
"I'm sure." His answer was always the same.
Her reply growing up had always seemed to imply, if not outright state, that he was missing out on a lot of fun by that choice. But lately it had changed. "Could use a breather," she said. She looked around, but the rest of the bar had filled up. Rory gathered up their drinks and they moved outside.
The outside deck of the bar was set up like a sitting room, with chairs and sofas tucked into the various curves of rock, carpeted with luscious, thick grass. But the view above was extraordinary — a whole galaxy of bright new stars glittered in the air, sweeping out in the barest hint of a spiral. The atmosphere shell on the space station provided no distortion, unlike a planetary atmosphere, and the stars looked like you could reach out and touch them.
"It's gorgeous," Amy said, still sounding a little breathless.
"The Bar at the Beginning of the Universe," the Doctor said. "Well, the beginning of the Third Great and Bountiful Human Empire. They were still a bit starry-eyed with their ideals."
"There's no way you took us somewhere this nice on purpose," Amy continued. "Every time you do try to take us somewhere nice, we end up somewhere else, like the snake planet or the plane of unending darkness."
"That was only the once!" the Doctor protested halfheartedly. He deposited himself on a plush sofa with a slight bounce. "I let the TARDIS pick," he admitted at last.
Rory and Amy both laughed at that, and joined him on the sofa. It was a tight fit for all three of them, but none of them seemed to mind — Amy had her legs tucked up and braced against the Doctor's knee, and he in turn had his arm around Rory, who was slouching against him cautiously. "She likes Rory, that must be it," Amy said.
"I have no problem with the TARDIS liking me if it means we get to go to places like this," he replied, feeling a little foolish. But the truth was he did like the TARDIS, though the idea that she liked them back was something he was still trying to wrap his head around.
Of course, that was when the entire asteroid started to shake. The lights flickered and went out. Amy shrieked and grabbed at the arm of the couch.
"What was that?" asked Rory. "This is an asteroid, it doesn't have tectonic plates —"
The Doctor was standing before the shaking even stopped. He peered into his sonic screwdriver. "No energy signatures — not an attack. Or well, not energy weapons." He twisted the knob of the screwdriver. "No. No sign of engine drives either."
"Then what was that?" Amy asked. She stood cautiously. The ground didn't move again, but the lights stayed off. The only source of light now was the brilliant stellar display above them. Not enough to see by, but enough that silhouettes could be made out against it in contrast. Rory could see the edges of the Doctor's floppy hair and the strong line of his chin, but no other details until the sonic screwdriver lit it up again, tinged green. He looked pensive. And excited.
"I'm not sure," the Doctor said slowly. "Let's find out." They stumbled through the dark, moving carefully over the uneven floor. There was a second tremor, less powerful than the first, but there was something odd about it. It didn't shake as much, not physically, but Rory felt more unstable than during the first one.
The Doctor put a hand under his elbow. "That was the artificial gravity generator."
"The first tremor must have taken out the power substation. But the gravity shifted for a moment there with that second one."
"Is that what that was?" Amy asked.
"Lowered to one half Earth standard for thirty seconds." There was a clanking noise, and then the screwdriver lit up again. Rory realized that instead of leading them back to the bar, the Doctor had brought them to an industrial-looking hallway. Probably a service corridor of some sort. It was much more sterile than the public corridors they'd seen earlier. Something hissed, then there was a hollow clank. "A pneumatic seal, brilliant," the Doctor muttered, not sounding impressed at all. "Help me shift it."
It took all three of them to push against the pressurized seal, unable to open on its own with the power still cut. Once they managed to get it open and rush inside, the door snapping shut behind them again, there was a dim red line of emergency lights lining either side of the corridor.
"Evac tunnel," the Doctor explained. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a torch, which he handed to Amy. She passed it to Rory, so the Doctor shrugged, retrieved an identical one from the still too-small pocket, and handed it to her as well. "On its own air supply and pressure-sealed in case the asteroid's atmosphere system destabilizes."
"Which is not going to happen, right?" Rory asked quickly.
"Of course not," the Doctor replied, equally quickly. "Probably not. You do want a comforting lie, right? We're all perfectly safe."
The ground beneath them shook again, and this time Rory could feel a brief moment where his feet left the ground, before they were all reattached to it with a sharp stumble. The Doctor clutched Rory's shoulders tightly. "You sure you don't want to rethink that, Doctor?" Rory asked. The Doctor clapped his shoulders, and steered him towards the center of the tunnel.
"Which way?" Amy asked.
The Doctor waved his sonic around for a moment, then pointed. At the same time Rory noticed the arrows engraved on the floor, pointing in the opposite direction. He tapped one with his foot and raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, but those are for the evacuees. We're not evacuating, are we?"
Rory sighed. "No, we're not."
Amy was already halfway down the hall. "Come on, you two, stop flirting! Or at least start walking!"
The Doctor immediately started walking, and it took Rory a moment to catch up. "That was not flirting."
Amy grinned at him, sly. "Looked like it to me."
"That's not how I flirt," he protested.
"Yes it is," the Doctor said, patting his shoulder. "I should know, I'm an expert at flirting badly."
"Yeah, cuz that was him flirting back."
"No it wasn't," Rory started, then he saw the Doctor nodding cheerfully. "Oh."Amy laughed, a bright sound in the dimly lit tunnel.
"Be kind, Amy," the Doctor said, sounding amused. "Remember you weren't always good at this either."
"I know, but this one you can't tell me is my fault, since I've been pointing it out for months now."
"Yes, loudly," Rory said. He'd thought the Doctor had decided to just ignore it. Apparently not. "But maybe we could discuss this after we've figured out what's happened to the asteroid we're standing on? Preferably before it decides to vent its atmosphere?"
"But where would be the fun in that?" the Doctor squeezed his hand quickly, then reached out to steer Amy around a corner. "There should be a maintenance junction through here, and if it doesn't have a work terminal, it should at least have a map. Safety regulations." There was a work terminal and a map, which was probably for the best, as there was no power for the terminal.
The station shook again, and this time the gravity stayed out. "Doctor?" Rory asked as he pushed himself away from the ceiling. Amy grabbed his leg and pulled him back down. She had one boot hooked around a pylon strut, the other braced against the wall.
"Found it!" The Doctor said. "It's three levels down. Which should at least be quicker with the gravity out?" Neither Amy nor Rory gave him a pleased look at that.
"Maybe if I wasn't beginning to agree with Rory about the possibility of the entire atmosphere destabilizing," Amy said. "Stairs. Now."
The stairs were, fortunately, easier to handle in zero-g, the three of them zipping along, using the rails only as occasional hand-holds, the stairwell a narrow drop that led them straight down into the asteroid's interior. They bumped along in the dark tunnels, their torches lighting up occasional patches of wall or floor, but nothing that gave any sign as to what was happening.
"Where are all the people?" Amy asked at one point. "There should be a maintenance staff or something, shouldn't there?"
The Doctor shook his head. "Mostly service droids, or robots. Small, specialized machines. There would be a sentient crew as well, but for a station of this size it's small, probably only three or four people. Hopefully they'll all be in the control hub. Though they don't seem to be having much luck, seeing as the gravity hasn't been restored yet."
Leaving the stairwell, they soon found their answer. A figure was slumped in the hall, sprawled out as if they'd fallen where they'd stood.
"Oh my god — is he dead?" Amy asked.
Rory hurried over, checking for a pulse. He frowned. "He's got a pulse, but it's really faint." He pressed a finger against the nail of the man's thumb, then after a moment peeled open an eyelid and shined his torch at the man's face. "He's not just unconscious, he's in a coma."
The Doctor crouched down next to Rory, and used his sonic screwdriver to scan the man. "His brainwaves are dangerously low." He hmm'ed, but didn't say anything else. Then he stood. "He's got no physical injuries, so let's at least get him where he won't be stepped on." They carefully moved him so he was tucked up against the wall, as out of the way as they could make him, and weighted down so he wouldn't float away.
"Whatever's doing this is looking for energy. Cheap and fast — first the power substation, then the gravity generator, then humans. It wants whatever it can get its hands on, and as soon as it can get it. Obviously it's not very bright, or it wouldn't have drained the first two to the point where they couldn't operate any more. At least it's learning."
"So it's something alive?" Amy asked.
"Yes. There was something —" the Doctor sighed. "I can't remember if this region of space has any sort of history or legend about this sort of thing. Spacefaring cultures are just as bad at seafaring when it comes to passing on stories, but unfortunately they're just as prone to exaggeration. If you're ever at a market and someone tries to sell you something from the post planet of Munar, don't buy it, it's a scam. They weren't lost at all, the entire civilization evolved into — oh."
Ahead of them, something shimmered through the air. It looked like a wave of particles, moving in formation, or like one of those schools of fish whirling through the ocean. As they watched, it banked and turned, shooting through the open area, as if it was searching for something.
"It's a skrea nebula," the Doctor said, his voice tinged with wonder. "They're rare — very rare. There've only been ten sightings in recorded history." He waved a hand through the air. "They're a semi-collective life form. They start out as individual entities, but as they age, living co-dependently in the swarm, they form a psychic field until they collectively act as one. That's considered the mature form. Though no one's ever seen the full process, or been able to explain how they maintain the field as undeveloped single entities."
"And are they what's eating the power systems?" Amy asked.
"They must be," the Doctor said, heading towards it. "It makes sense — and if they can even feed off of the electrical impulses of the brain, it's no wonder there aren't more reports of contact with them." The skrea was still looking for something.
"If it's eating people's electrical impulses, is it going to go after ours next?" Rory asked.
"No, that worker probably just got in its way, while it was trying to get to the gravitational systems. It's not, as a species, very good at communication with human-type life forms. The big problem is that I think it's found the atmospheric containment system." Rory looked up to see the skrea moving upwards, much more comfortable in the zero-g environment than the three of them. "If we can't stop it from siphoning off that energy, everyone in non-contained parts of the station are going be exposed to the vacuum of space very quickly." The Doctor tossed Amy the sonic screwdriver. "I need a distraction. See if you can get the gravity back on or the substation up, even if it's just long enough to draw it away again. The gravity's more likely to have a manual backup system." He clapped them both on the shoulder, and used the force to help push himself up, climbing the grated wall like a monkey.
"What are you going to do?" Amy called.
"I'm going to try and reason with it!"
"What?! What if it tries to eat your brain!" Amy made to push off Rory and follow the Doctor, but Rory held onto her.
"Don't worry, I've got a little more resistance built into me than you lot." He waved at them, one-handed, from the side of the wall. Rory decided they'd go for the substation first, just in case the Doctor kept up the monkey impression. "But on the off chance I don't succeed, get everyone in the Evac tunnels." He pointed at a panel on the wall. It was a small, round globe. Rory remembered seeing them along the hallway. "Emergency alarm. Just like your fire alarms back home. There should be one in the control room for Evac instead of fire."
Amy let out a low growl of frustration. "I don't like this —"
"Now you sound like Rory. Rory, that was said in fondness. Now scoot." He turned away from them. Rory and Amy exchanged a look, but they moved off in the direction of the power station.
The power station — or substation, technically, the actual generator was the station, but that was buried deep below them and inaccessible, probably even to the skrea — had been one of the first things built when the asteroid was developed into a space station. As such, it had been put in place before the artificial gravity system had been installed, and was designed to be accessible in zero-g as well as in one-g, and Amy and Rory had no trouble moving through the massive room to find what they needed. The problem was getting it to do what they needed. The Evac alarm was simple. Neatly labeled, it sat next to a status map of the Evac tunnels, next to an alert monitor, that would theoretically show where an atmospheric breach or a fire was located. Right now the map was empty. Rory hoped it would stay that way.
Amy pushed the button. Nothing happened. "Is it out of power, too?" she asked.
"Fire alarms have their own backups," Rory said. "Maybe it's just the battery backup on this one that's dead."
Amy frowned in doubt, but she reset the sonic screwdriver and let it loose on the alarm. This time there was a resounding whoop and brief flash of lights somewhere, and a monotone voice encouraged all visitors and personnel to evacuate the station. Only a few lights were flashing in the power room though — the skrea had probably drained them.
Amy pocketed the screwdriver. "Of course, this means no one will be coming down here to help us out." Rory didn't look at his watch. He didn't want to know how long the Doctor had been on his own.
Restoring the power proved to be much trickier. No handy signs here.
"Of course it doesn't come with instructions!" Amy said. "What would be the point of that? The only thing you'd normally want an untrained person to be able to operate in an emergency situation is the emergency power-off." The emergency power-cut switch sat peacefully on the wall, utterly useless.
"Unfortunately, we want something that does the opposite," Rory agreed. He tapped at a dead screen. "If this substation just processes the power from the generator into a useable form, does that mean the generator's still working, and we just can't use the energy, or do we have to restart the generator?"
Amy was at the manual controls. "I think the generator's still working — if this schematic is right, the atmospheric controls are powered off the same generator, just through separate channels. So it must just be the transformer." She thought for a minute. "Just think of it like blowing a really big fuse?" She smiled encouragingly, but Rory wasn't buying it.
"We did an emergency drill once at the hospital, using the backup generator and everything. The maintenance team spent more time getting the hospital reattached to the mains than they did switching us over in the first place." He moved over to the double-barred insulated door that led to the actual converter array.
"It just drained all the available energy, including from the safeties, which probably read it as an overload, and shut down," Amy argued, looking at the readings in the last, now-fixed positions.
"Amy, neither of us are electrical engineers. I don't even know where the power in our flat comes from!"
"Yeah, but the Doctor told us to fix it, so we're gonna fix it."
Rory thought for a minute, looking at all the equipment running around them, conduit and wires everywhere, color-coded, though he didn't know what they meant. "Is there a backup system or something?"
"A what? Maybe —"
"Like a secondary valve or route or something. In case the main one busted and they still needed power while they fixed the mains."
Amy was running her hand along the readout panel."Yellow," she said at last. "There's a bunch of stuff in yellow that doesn't have the little alert-sign next to it."
"Great!" He tried to pick the yellow pipes out of the mess. "Now how do we turn it on?"
"Looks like the mains are green. Are there any places where those meet?" Amy frowned. "Like a junction box or something? Or a switch we can flip?"
"Not out here." Rory looked at the barred door. "If there's a junction anywhere, it's going to be in there."
Amy nodded. "Right." She moved to join Rory, and they unbarred the door, the tight latches requiring them to brace against each other and push rather than the simple twist and tug normal gravity would have allowed them. "Maybe we should've gone for the gravity generator first after all," Amy said.
"Too late for that now," Rory said. "If there was an emergency switch, it should be somewhere accessible." He swung his torch around the dark interior room. There were fewer pipes in here, but what there was was bigger, huge mains that looked like trees, branching out into smaller arrays near the ceiling, distributing power out to different systems throughout the space station. There were three of the huge 'trees,' 120 degrees apart from each other in the circular room. There was no circuitry or piping connecting them, but there was a console in the center of the room. Of course, it had no power either.
Amy looked over at the blue pillar, her hair a bobbling cloud around her head. She'd tried to twist it up and tuck it into her collar, but it kept floating out. "What's blue, then?" she asked.
Rory shrugged. "Tertiaries? Safeties? Return line? Decoration?" Amy threw him a look. He shrugged again. "As long as you're sure it's not the blue that're the secondaries."
"I'm sure." She leaned past him to look at the dead console. "There were manual controls out there, there's got to be something in here, too."
"Where? There's nothing here."
Amy tapped at the console experimentally. Then, holding on to Rory with one hand, she kicked at it. It rang oddly — some of it was the dullness that he guessed was due to the shifted gravity, but the rest definitely suggested it was hollow. Fortunately, once they were actually looking for it, these panels were easy to pull off.
The cabling inside was a mystery to Rory. The coloring didn't match the pipes, and there seemed to be twice as much of it as there needed to be. Once again he was reminded that he was a nurse, and not an electrician. Amy tugged at some of the cables experimentally, but nothing happened. They all seemed to be plugged in.
"There's a switch here, I think," she muttered at last.
"Can you tell what it does?" Rory asked.
Amy rolled her eyes. "Does it matter? The power's cut, so it either does what we need, or it doesn't do anything, and I'll reset it." Rory refrained from asking what might happen if they did need to throw that switch, just not first, and let Amy get on with it. She pulled it down, and there was a sharp clang.
They waited. For a long moment nothing seemed to happen. Then there was a warm hum, and LEDs and indicator lights started to come on. Amy and Rory backed out of the compartment and looked around as the lights in the room came on. They were a little dim, and the gravity was still off. But the power was definitely on.
"Success!" Amy said, reaching out for a high five, which Rory obliged. "Let's find the Doctor."
Rory nodded. "We're still breathing, that's a good sign."
So was the Doctor, when they found him. He was lying flat on his back, breathing in and out slowly, his eyes wide open. Rory leaned over him, but didn't touch him. He didn't blink.
"Rory, what's wrong with him?" Amy tentatively put a hand on the Doctor's chest. "Hey, you, wake up." She looked at Rory. "Oh god, did the skrea try and eat him? Where did it go?"
Rory looked around. It hadn't even occurred to him that he hadn't seen it. But they definitely hadn't passed it, though maybe it could shift through walls, how else could it have gotten to the power station —
"I've got it," a hoarse voice said. Rory looked down again. The Doctor was grinning up at them, though he looked a bit strained. He hadn't moved, but his eyes were more aware.
"Where?" Amy asked.
The Doctor swallowed, slowly. "Remember how I said they were a collective consciousness formed by a psychic field?" Amy nodded. "And that they weren't very good at communication with species like yours?" Amy nodded again. The Doctor's pulse stuttered under Rory's hand and his eyes glazed over for a second. "Well, let me just amend that to say that they're not good at any non-psychic communication, and that the psychic field also seems to be what keeps them… coherent."
"What did you do?" Amy asked, suspicion rising in her voice.
"I may have accidentally destabilized them."
"Well there are so many records of Time Lord-skrea contact, of course I should have known what would happen when a species with telepathic abilities comes into contact with a psychic conformation," the Doctor said sarcastically. Then he paused. "Actually, it's possible that I should have. Ah, well, lesson learned." The Doctor closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. It seemed artificial, and Rory realized it was the first time he'd seem him close his eyes since they'd found him.
"So they're…" Rory floundered a little.
"Upset that they can't integrate themselves with my nervous system."
"What can we do?" Amy asked. "Can we get them out? Or get you out? If we do, are they going to go right back to draining the power from the station? Should we get the TARDIS —"
The Doctor shook his head, though it looked like it cost him a lot of effort. "They navigate using their combined senses. They're not going anywhere until my own abilities stop interfering with theirs."
"So turn them off," Amy said.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "I can't just turn them off, Amelia, it doesn't work that way. Remember our lovely stay in the Côte d'Azur in 1783?"
"Mostly, at this point," Amy said shortly. They'd all spent the trip with varying levels of memory problems, induced by trauma varying from bumps on the head to incidental mind-sharing. "And you did technically manage to avoid being detected by the Familiars."
"Yes, but it wasn't pleasant."
"No, it wasn't," Amy said. "Then you died on us, and yelled at us for saving you."
"Yes, I did." The Doctor paused, and this time Rory couldn't tell if he was thinking, or just unable to move. "Though without the incidental trauma of a TARDIS crash, I might be able to control a transfer better. And the transfer wouldn't have to last so long…"
He looked like he was seriously thinking about it. Rory groaned. "Oh no. You can't mean — I'm not doing that again."
The Doctor grinned up at him weakly. "Sorry, Rory. But it'll be easier for you than Amy, as we've already been through this dance before. And I wouldn't be transferring my entire consciousness, like last time." He reached up with one hand, but his control over it looked suspect, so Rory grabbed it gently and placed it back down on his chest. "It won't be for long, just enough time to get this lot sorted and on their way — they got caught in the wake of a Solturian cruiser, otherwise they never would have approached the station in the first place."
Rory thought about it for a moment, then sighed. He couldn't think of any better options. And he wasn't making Amy go through that. "You promise not to give me everything this time? Being you was bad enough, being me again afterwards was like mental whiplash; I felt like I was fifteen again." It had been frightening, suddenly being reminded of everything he wasn't.
The Doctor squeezed his hand, and Rory realized he was still holding it. "We'll hold off as long as we can, all right? If we can get somewhere with external venting, or actually outside, preferably away from the docking area, the skrea should have an easier time of reintegrating and getting away safely."
It wasn't a promise, but it was the best he was likely to get from the Doctor, who of course was more concerned with the skrea than himself. "All right."
"Will the bar work?" Amy asked.
"Too close to the flight paths," the Doctor replied. "That's part of the reason it's got that view. We should be near the center of the station, though. Get us in an Evac tunnel and the maps should be able to point us in the right direction."
"Right." Amy looked at the Doctor for a moment. Other than his arm, he hadn't moved at all. "Can you get up?"
"The skrea might be interfering with my navigation system, too," the Doctor muttered.
Amy sighed and looked at Rory. "Guess it is good that we didn't go for the gravity system."
"Hey," the Doctor protested halfheartedly as they hauled him up. In zero g, Amy was able to handle him on her own easily, and he trailed after her, like a leggy tweed scarf. "You're lucky this is me you're talking to, Pond. Other me's wouldn't be so forgiving. Or psychic. And then where would we be?"
"Not having to carry you," Amy retorted.
"Point. And with no way to communicate with the skrea."
Rory decided not to argue that point, letting Amy banter with the Doctor while he fought with his own nerves. It didn't feel like a fair fight, and the worst part was that the Doctor was sure to get an eyeful of it. He tried to push them down again, instead wrestling with doors and helping Amy guide the Doctor up a narrow stairwell. He looked up at the emergency hatch over his head. They were all crammed together into the narrow tube, but there was no telling what was outside. "Right, should we do this here, or once we get outside?"
"Outside," the Doctor said. He wiggled his fingers experimentally. They responded slowly. "I don't know what they'll do once I'm not slowing them down any more." He rolled his head in a slow circle. "Best to give them all the head start we can."
Rory nodded, and opened the hatch. They hauled the Doctor out, him helping as much as he could, which wasn't much.
Outside was more of the fantastic starscape they'd been looking at earlier — only a few hours, if Rory's watch was to be believed. If anything, the stars were brighter, with no buildings nearby spilling any light. Around them was only the bare rock of the asteroid in its natural state, a few dark shapes in the distance the only sign of habitation other than the hatch they'd just crawled out of.
"All right," the Doctor said, seated propped up against Amy. "Now, as soon as I'm no longer interfering with the skrea, they should be able to reintegrate with each other, and then they'll take off. If they don't, we might be able to encourage them spacewards with the sonic screwdriver, but hopefully it won't come to that." Rory sat down across from the two of them, seated cross-legged so he was within arm's reach, while the Doctor's legs splayed out to the side. It looked like it would be uncomfortable once the gravity came back on.
The Doctor leaned towards Rory. "You ready?"
Rory frowned. "No."
"Good, neither am I." He smiled that same shaky smile. "The important thing, Rory, is that until I retrieve that part of me that you'll be holding onto, don't touch anyone but me." Rory frowned at him. "You'll have my psychic abilities, yes, but I can't give you the ability to control them, too. You come into contact with anything sentient and it will go very badly. For both of you."
Rory swallowed. "All right."
The Doctor grinned. "Great. Now, you shouldn't have to worry about it for long. But better to be forewarned."
Rory nodded. At least the Doctor had stopped short of saying 'nothing could possibly go wrong.' He shared a look with Amy.
"All right, let's see if we can't do this the civilized way." The Doctor put a hand on the side of his neck. Then he grinned. "You're looking at me like I'm going to bite your head off." He leaned back a little. "Amy? Help."
Amy rolled her eyes. "Well, at least you're not head-butting Rory. I like his skull the way it is, thanks."
"If this is your idea of being comforting, it's not working," Rory said, bouncing his knees nervously. It was like the worst kind of stage fright.
She smiled softly. "What're you worried about? You did fine — you did great last time, and this time you're even more prepared. You'll be brilliant. You always are." She reached around the Doctor to grab Rory's collar, and took advantage of the zero g to pull Rory closer, into a kiss. Then she pulled away to kiss the Doctor in turn, hard and fast on the lips. Then she turned back to Rory. "Your turn, boys."
The Doctor chuckled, and Rory felt his cheeks go red. "You heard the lady, Mr. Pond," he said, and Rory had, so he leaned in. The Doctor's lips were dry, and cool, but he put some force into it, and Rory opened up a little, letting the Doctor lead. He felt a gradual warmth spreading through him, into his chest and up the back of his neck. Everything suddenly seemed sharper, and then suddenly the Doctor felt heavy, like he was pressing down on him, and Rory backed away.
The Doctor leaned back, touching his lips absently. "Well, that was definitely better than headbutting. I should remember that for next time."
"Next time?" Rory repeated, but he could tell the Doctor wasn't paying attention. Though Amy certainly was. The look on her face made him want to blush again, but before he could think about it any longer, the Doctor started to glow.
It wasn't the Doctor, he realized. It was the skrea, reforming themselves into a nebula. They flashed and whirled, lighting up bright and brighter as they twirled around each other, creating funnels and divots, some parts flashing and other parts flashing back, like fireworks or lightning through clouds. It reminded Rory of a lecture he'd been to on imaging the brain, except this was nothing like that, obviously, because — he shifted away what was obviously a stray thought of the Doctor's, and returned to watching. The nebula moved further away from them as it worked itself out, motions getting smoother and smoother every moment. And then it seemed to gather in on itself, and moved away from the station like it had been shot out of a cannon. They watched until it had disappeared from sight entirely.
The Doctor let out a breath. "There we are." He sat up, finally able to move freely. "Much better. Time to get back to the TARDIS."
Rory coughed. "I think you're forgetting something, Doctor." He felt a little lightheaded. Or itchy, inside, like something was crawling around his skin, checking it out, trying to set up home. Except it wasn't physical, but he could feel something there — He shook his head. He remembered this feeling from last time, that nagging feeling that something wasn't right. Last time he hadn't been able to figure it out. Knowing what it was, this time, didn't help. "Doctor."
"Right you are," the Doctor said, and this time he leaned forward himself, right into Rory's space, and kissed him. Harder, hungrily. And with a judicious amount of tongue. Rory grabbed onto his jacket, leaning into him. He was actually glad for it when the Doctor set his hands on his hips, fingers pressing into his skin, giving him addition contact points, things to focus on, ground himself. When he let go, he was breathless, and shaking slightly. Though that might have been the sudden evaporation of psychic energy from his — he shook his head. Another stray Doctor thought. Then he caught a tendril of another one as the Doctor moved his hand away, and he felt his cheeks heat up.
"That's it, yeah?" Amy asked, breaking the silence. "You're both back to normal, right?"
"For relative definitions of normal, yes," the Doctor said. He patted Rory's hip and stepped back.
"Then I guess it's safe for me to do this," Amy said, and moved in to snog Rory as well. He could taste her excitement, overlying a faint hint of worry and then relief. Probably he shouldn't be able to tell all that from just a kiss, but the Doctor obviously wasn't worried about it, and it felt good, to really know that Amy had been worried for him, so he let it go.
"I actually meant restoring the gravity generator," Rory said as they pulled apart at last. "But that was all right, too."
"All right?" Amy repeated, punching his shoulder.
The Doctor spoke at the same time. "Now that they're not in danger of being put in a coma by plasmic life forms, I'm sure the station engineers will have that under control themselves."
Sure enough, before they were halfway back to the TARDIS, there was a polite — live, not automated —announcement for all guests to find a stable berth, and thirty seconds later the gravity returned in a slow swell of sensation.
"Ugh, my skin feels all funny," Amy said, rubbing at her cheeks.
"That's your body trying to restore proper circulation to your body now that it has to fight gravity again," the Doctor said. The crinkle of his smile said he was laughing at them.
"You've got two hearts, shouldn't you have it worse?" Rory asked. Walking was suddenly both fascinating and boring.
"Quicker recovery time, actually," the Doctor said. "Plus, I'm more accustomed to zero g than either of you. I could show you, actually — I think the TARDIS finally grew back the Zero Room."
"You've got a zero g room in the TARDIS?" Amy asked. "Great! I was a little disappointed that they restored the gravity before we got to have some real fun with it."
Rory had a good idea of what Amy's idea of 'fun' involved.
"No doing anything messy in there, Pond, it's also impossible to clean." Obviously the Doctor did too.
Amy frowned. "We'll just see about that."
"There's thousands of rooms in the TARDIS, Pond, find one that's cleanable using conventional methods." The Doctor ushered both of them inside the TARDIS. "And besides, I think Rory's going to need time to recover from that little psychic exchange first."
"What are you talking about, I'm fi—" Rory was cut off mid-word as a gigantic yawn cracked his jaw open. "Um."
"That's right, last time you crashed for almost 24 hours," Amy said.
Rory blinked, leaning against the console. "I thought that was the tuberculosis."
"Actually, I think in that case the psychic transfer made sleeping through the recovery easier. You needed sleep to recover either way, the Familiar had been draining your energy, but this way involved less medication." The Doctor put a hand on his shoulder. He was definitely laughing at him. "Also, Rory, you're leaking emotional energy like a beacon."
Rory frowned. "I am not."
"What am I thinking right now?"
"Well, you're — I am not adorable! Oh." He stopped. "I thought I wasn't supposed to be psychic any more."
"Just natural human aptitude. Your brain's scrambling to recall its norm right now. You need to give it a chance to recover. Come on. I think we could all use a nap."
"I'm still not adorable," he muttered.
"Yes you are," Amy said. "Both of you. And I'm seconding the nap idea."
The sound of the TARDIS's engines were a familiar background noise as they moved down the hall to the bedroom, encouraging him to sleep. He was exhausted, but he didn't want to sleep. He wanted to stay up, and talk, and figure out why the Doctor kept looking at him like that — he stumbled a little as Amy pulled him to a halt before he walked right past the bedroom.
"Really glad we got rid of the bunkbeds," Amy muttered as she closed the door.
"But they're —" Amy pushed the Doctor down onto the king-sized bed. "All right," he said instead.
Rory kicked off his shoes, made the executive decision that anything else required more hand-eye coordination than he possessed at the moment, and flipped up the soft quilt to slide underneath. He could already feel his head going fuzzy, like he'd just worked a triple at the hospital, and he let the Doctor tug him closer to the center of the bed so Amy could slip in behind him. He found a comfortable spot braced between the Doctor's shoulder and the pillow, and Amy's arm wrapped around his waist. She kissed the back of his neck, and he felt a sudden burst of happiness. He ducked his head, surprised, and somewhere someone laughed.
He could hear the two of them whispering something — probably about him — but he wasn't worried about it. He was floating on a cloud of contentment and a burrowing sensation that might be joy. He suspected the Doctor was still projecting at him, a little, either to keep an eye on him or to make sure he actually did rest. Someone patted at his head as the thought passed through his head, and he knew he was right. But it was working, and he didn't mind being looked after, so he set it aside. Right now he had some stray thoughts to chase down, like whatever was insisting that maybe they could just build a really big bunkbed. He was pretty sure that wasn't his thought. But he probably didn't want to give it back to the Doctor, either.
Then Rory dismissed it entirely, and he slept.