f: Doctor Who
c: Oswin, Larry, Sally (Amy/Rory)
s: Café/fandom AU. Sally’s mouth curls. “Is he still writing Wincest?” she asks.
“No,” Larry says quickly.
“Periodically,” Oswin replies. “Mostly he writes Destiel now. Has anyone ever mentioned to you how much you look like Carey Mulligan?”
n: [Title from The Guild, obvs.] Good grief, I do come up with the dumbest fic ideas, don’t I? Anyway, basically, this is an AU where Oswin Oswald from Asylum of the Daleks ends up meeting the people from Blink through participation in the Merlin fandom. Maybe it’s a bit meta. I do love incidental characters. Much love to my really really helpful twitter feed, who suggested various things when I asked. I liked this, maybe one day I’ll write another one.
It’s a dull Thursday afternoon: Oswin’s scalded her wrist making lattes, her hair isn’t doing anything particularly flattering, and it is, of course, pissing with rain. There are only a handful of customers in the small café and none of them are looking at her, so she’s checking twitter, phone propped up against a pile of Twinings boxes while she pretends to be doing something with a teatowel.
In between someone apparently writing haikus about Colin Morgan’s eyes and someone else livetweeting the latest tumblr One Direction wank, Larry’s posted a new photo. Oswin taps on it automatically, rolling her eyes as the picture takes a ludicrous amount of time to load – the wifi here is bloody awful, especially in wet weather – and then freezes when it does.
The background of the photo is oddly familiar, because it is in fact just around the corner from here.
She’s known Larry for two years now, but she didn’t know he lived locally.
Thinking about it for a moment, Oswin skims her gaze over the latest digital spy spoiler posts, and then goes to send Larry a DM.
Oswin’s been online and in fandom long enough to know how to spot the potentially dangerous people and weed them out before telling them where she works and inviting them over. Besides, she’s been betaing Larry’s fic for eighteen months now and while it’s contained its fair share of angst, implausible scenarios and – one terrifying month – mpreg, there’s been a reassuring lack of noncon and violence. That’s no guarantee of anything, of course, but it doesn’t hurt either.
He comes in Monday, accompanied by a blonde girl who seems to be swallowing down an amused smile. Oswin guesses that this is Sally even before Larry introduces her, because she reads Larry’s LJ posts and also between the lines of a lot of his tweets, and knows that Sally is his sister’s best friend and there’s a whole world of pining and things going on.
“And you’re Oswin,” Sally says, holding out a hand, while Larry mostly seems wide-eyed and bemused about the whole situation. Oswin guesses that she’s the first fandom person to cross the line into real life for him; it’s been so long since she started going to meet-ups that she’s almost forgotten the first dizzy blur of someone stepping out of a computer screen and into your reality.
“I am,” Oswin agrees on a grin, and then cocks her head in Larry’s direction. “You do really write excellent gay porn for a straight guy.”
His cheeks blossom into a flush, but he smiles anyway. Straight guys in slash fandom occasionally feel rare enough to be unicorns, and Oswin can barely remember how she ended up as a beta for one; she thinks she answered a post on the merlinxarthur LJ comm, something like that anyway.
“He won’t tell me his username,” Sally confides, sliding onto one of the stools at the counter and pulling a menu towards herself.
“I hope you don’t mind I brought Sally,” Larry blurts, slightly awkward, “I mean, I didn’t think you were a murderer or anything…”
“He totally thought you were a murderer,” Sally says without looking up, adding: “can I get a green tea cookie and a cappuccino, please?”
“I’m pretty sure if I was going to kill you I’d have found a quicker way of luring you here than two years of talking about knights in armour and brothers shagging,” Oswin points out.
Sally’s mouth curls. “Is he still writing Wincest?” she asks.
“No,” Larry says quickly.
“Periodically,” Oswin replies. “Mostly he writes Destiel now. Has anyone ever mentioned to you how much you look like Carey Mulligan?”
Sally rolls her eyes, and Larry finally sits down beside her at the counter. Oswin starts heating the milk for Sally’s cappuccino, adding: “can I get you anything, Larry?”
“This is so weird,” Larry murmurs to himself, before shaking his head and adding: “English Breakfast, milk, two sugars, please.”
Several drinks later, Oswin’s shift has finished and she’s moved into one of their booths with Sally and Larry. She’s learned that Sally isn’t technically in fandom, but enjoys hearing about everything from Larry – she has the slight air of an anthropologist investigating a new culture, but it at least isn’t patronising – and so conversation flows easily enough without anyone needing to clarify what shipping is or to hold back on casual Mean Girls quotes.
“Are you into his Phonebox Angels stuff too?” Sally asks Oswin, jerking her head at Larry, who immediately looks affronted.
Oswin shakes her head. “I have enough trouble keeping up with my dash as it is without adding a billion conspiracy theories in there too.”
She’s RPF-d with the best of them, of course, but she draws the line at joining the slightly disturbing forums she knows Larry frequents: the ones where they try and pick apart the meanings of a bunch of similar easter eggs on DVDs. Oswin’s pretty sure it’s just the companies realising that if they get the internet intrigued then they can generate a shitload of free publicity, but she keeps this opinion to herself because Larry and his The Angels Have The Phonebox t-shirt are sweetly harmless.
“It’s more complicated than that,” Larry says, but they’ve had this conversation before and his smile is soft.
“If it doesn’t have Katie McGrath’s boobs or gifs of Tom Hiddleston on it I’m not interested,” Oswin says firmly.
Sally hides her giggle in her tea, while Larry says: “we have I volunteer as tribute memes now.”
“Only a year late,” Oswin teases, patting his hand.
She’s been lonely since she moved to London; she’s been trying not to think about it, but an afternoon spent with real human company and not just her laptop screen is a reminder about the family and friends she left behind, and it’s a little bittersweet to remember she’ll be going back alone to her studio flat. It’s not that Oswin regrets it; it’s just that she doesn’t really know anyone here yet, and the isolation might be getting to her a tiny bit.
Maybe she’ll get a cat. She could call it Gandalf.
Amy is ridiculously tall and pretty, fiercely redheaded, and apparently never watches the weather forecast because Oswin has never seen her in anything that correlates to the temperature outside. It’s pretty cold today, and Amy’s in a pair of eyewatering shorts. Oswin appreciates the view of course, but a voice that sounds a lot like her grandmother’s is mumbling hypothermia in the back of her mind.
“Can I get… seven black coffees, six bacon sandwiches and one of those weird muesli bar raisin things?” she asks, flashing Oswin a quick, brilliant grin before frowning down at her iphone screen as it chimes.
It’s six-thirty in the morning. Oswin hates this shift, particularly because she was up until nearly two downloading the latest episode of Suits and has the feeling she’s going to keel over when the adrenaline wears off.
“All of them for you?” she asks, reaching for the coffee filter.
“I wish,” Amy murmurs, stifling a yawn behind her hand. “Rory’s been working all night in casualty and I thought I’d bring him and his mates breakfast.”
Amy’s husband is also ludicrously tall – Oswin’s a little concerned that any future children they have may end up looking something like giraffes – and tends to wear a vague, harried expression when he comes in in his crumpled scrubs. It took Oswin a while to realise that they actually were married – they’re both barely in their early twenties, after all – and has since been regaling her twitter feed with possibly invasive details about what has rapidly become her new favourite ship.
“You didn’t want to make it yourself?” Oswin asks, raising a teasing eyebrow.
“Fuck all that Tupperware Cath Kidston stuff,” Amy replies, waving a hand. She’s had three different jobs in the four months Oswin has known her, and there’s a badly-hidden restlessness to her that’s kind of fascinating to watch from a safe distance. Oswin’s aware that she’s not exactly good at staying in one place for very long either, but Amy wears it much worse. “I mean, no offense or anything.”
Oswin shrugs. “I mostly just make soufflés and try not to bugger up anyone’s coffee orders,” she replies, “I’m nobody’s Nigella.”
Amy grins at her, dropping onto one of the stools while she waits for Oswin to sort out the order; Oswin decides discretion is the better part of valour and won’t tweet about all this until she’s actually gone.
“The problem with plants,” Oswin explains to Nefertiti, her flowering cactus, “is that you’re pretty and all but you don’t talk back. Or make tea. Or get me birthday presents. Or volunteer to do the dishes at any point.”
She sighs into the silence of her living room – small but cosy, crocheted cushion covers that are hipster and crafty, not old lady, Nolan Batman posters, fairylights – and contemplates repainting her nails for the third time this week. She’s not supposed to have painted nails in the café because of the whole health and safety thing, but she makes sure not to chip anything off into cupcake batter and it’s not like anyone ever checks.
Fandom names for cats she types to her twitter feed – 634 followers and counting – and sits back to let the @ replies pour in. Lots of people send her pictures of their own fandom-named cats, which is very cute and enjoyably distracting and takes her through the lonely post-dinner hour when she kind of misses having someone around to bicker over TV channels with.
The arguing she doesn’t miss at all, the slammed doors and frustration, but the good-natured bickering… that’s something you don’t even realise that you want to keep until it’s gone.
“Now,” Oswin says aloud, “now I name my plants after ancient Egyptians and live in front of the Food Network.”
She refreshes the Interactions page of her twitter to find a new reply from Sally: are you getting a cat? You should let me know so I can come over and cuddle it.
Oswin assumed Sally would only follow her for a couple of days before being scared off by her idly tweeted musings on unsuitable characters making out with each other in TV shows, so the fact she’s still there is… well, it’s kind of nice actually.
Still deciding, she tweets back, but I’ll let you and @undernightingale help pick the name if I do.
The reply is almost instantaneous: Great! Want to join our trip to the cinema next week to see something dreadful? :)
Oswin DMs Larry. Am I cockblocking anything?
Nothing to cockblock, he replies. You should come, it’s fun.
“Well,” Oswin says to Nefertiti, “look at me getting a social life.”
“Any sign of Amy?” Rory asks as he comes in, pushing down his hood to reveal shift-messy hair. It’s been raining all afternoon and there’s a horrible cold breeze that rushes in every time someone closes the door.
“Should there be?” Oswin asks, reaching for a mug to start Rory’s usual latte.
Rory smiles at her, tired and fond. “I told her my shift finished an hour earlier than it actually does, so she should be here soon, anyway.”
Timekeeping is not one of Amy’s strong points; it’s not really one of Oswin’s either, unless she’s being paid for it. She’s a damn good beta, but she works to her own time, which has, at least, made Larry a faster writer if he’s trying to submit stuff for fests.
The café’s fairly packed, presumably because nobody wants to go outside into the horrible weather. Oswin’s journey home takes two buses and a bit of a walk and even with a 60k hockey fic on her kindle to get on with, she still isn’t looking forward to it. People are leaving their umbrellas in the holder by the door, though none of them are a patch on Oswin’s, decorated with pin-up girls and resting in the cupboard that passes for a staffroom so no one can nick it.
Sally and Amy come in within minutes of each other; Amy claims her cup of tea from Oswin and waltzes over to Rory in a skirt so short Oswin nearly scalds herself making Sally’s drink, attention well and truly caught by the sheer expanse of thigh. Sally follows her gaze and then straightens up.
“Is that Redhead and The Boy?” she asks.
“Maybe,” Oswin allows, grabbing the powdered cinnamon.
“You are aware that you’re probably invading their privacy, don’t you?” Sally says cheerfully, winding wet waves of hair around her fingers.
“I didn’t set up that tumblr account I was thinking about making,” Oswin replies, which is usually what she says in situations like this, and it never sounds less incriminating. Like, never.
“I suppose that gets you brownie points,” Sally agrees, taking her chai latte from Oswin and wrapping her hands around it. “Ooh, that’s lovely, thanks.”
“I can’t help it if they’re adorable,” Oswin points out on a shrug, looking away from where Amy and Rory have their heads bent together over mugs, easy with intimacy in a way she can’t ever imagine herself being.
Sally shifts to look as soon as she can without being conspicuous, while Oswin goes to clear a table of plates.
“Okay,” Sally admits when Oswin gets back to the counter, “they are very lovely and so forth.”
“OTP,” Oswin sighs.
Sally smiles, but with something a little exasperated in it. “You have no idea how much time I have to spend googling stuff to be able to talk to you and Larry, you know.”
“It’s expanding your cultural horizons,” Oswin says virtuously, then looks up to find the bloke in the corner with three different iPads apparently wants a refill on that very cheap filter coffee he’s drinking. She rolls her eyes, and adds: “BRB. AFK.”
Sally’s laughter follows behind her.
Tuesday afternoons are always really slow, and Oswin’s trying to fill out an online job application form for a web design job that she’d probably be better suited for than working in a café, since she’d get to sit down all day and natural lighting is overrated, or else why would they make vitamin supplements?
What she’s rapidly learning is that it’s so long since she had to fill out profiles for anything serious that she’s forgotten how to write about herself without using the word khaleesi, or quoting Avengers.
“Tell them you’re like Lisbeth Salander with people skills,” Larry suggests, gaze on his iPhone.
“My tattoo isn’t a dragon,” Oswin replies idly.
“You have a tattoo?” Larry asks, attention gone from the message board he’s been clicking around – which, you know, sure, the angels have the phonebox, the angels will always have the phonebox – and expression politely inquisitive.
“Tattoos,” Oswin responds. “Ask nicely and maybe one day I’ll tell you where I’ve got the Stargate Earth symbol.”
“You won’t show me?”
“No,” Oswin says. “No, sweetheart, I will never show you.”
They both burst out laughing the minute they meet each other’s gazes. “Seriously?” Larry asks. “I mean, seriously?”
“I’ve made lots of life choices,” Oswin shrugs, “I have to live with some of them.”
The café is still quiet, so she rolls up her sleeve to show Rory the cursive Mischief Managed on the inside of her left upper arm, the one management insists she keeps to herself during business hours. She had no idea if this is because they don’t want to be the kind of people who have tattooed employees or if they just never got over Deathly Hallows, but it’s not like she can ask.
“Nice ink,” Martha remarks, coming up to the counter and making Oswin jump. Martha’s one of the doctors at the nearby hospital, so Oswin’s getting to know her basically because she’s in here half the time.
“Oh,” Oswin manages, “um, thanks. I mean, I know it’s-”
The impulse to defend her tattoo choices to non-fandom people is ridiculous and one she shouldn’t have, but she hasn’t quite overcome it yet.
“Hey,” Martha interrupts cheerfully, “I’m pretty sure FictionAlley got me through all the dull bits of med school.”
She hands Oswin the money for her coffee and, like an afterthought, pulls down the shoulder of her jumper to reveal a beautiful, stylised butterfly on her shoulder.
“Huh,” Oswin’s said when Martha’s gone.
“Tell ‘em you’re a pioneer,” Larry suggests, picking up his phone again.
“Of what?” Oswin asks.
Larry shrugs. “Let them figure it out.”
“Darling,” Nina says when she skypes Oswin, because Nina is the kind of person who calls everyone darling for no real reason, and even though Oswin kind of hates that about her, she likes the sound of it right now.
“Hi, Nina,” Oswin replies, resisting the urge to fluff her hair. They’ve been broken up for a year and it’s better this way, if occasionally frustrating and/or saddening.
“So,” Nina begins, leaping straight in – they follow each other on twitter, which eradicates any and all small talk, really – “LBD. Discuss.”
Oswin shrugs. “Fun, as long as you stay away from the internet’s commentary on it. Everyone in it should make out with me. You?”
“The latter half of videos have that bloody ‘wait five seconds before you can skip this ad’ thing on them,” Nina complains, “I am sick of watching Anne Hathaway cry.”
“It’s called Adblock,” Oswin says on a sigh, “I told you that.”
“I swear my laptop is just getting progressively worse since you moved to London,” Nina sighs. “You’ve done too much stuff to it that I don’t understand.”
Oswin’s good with technology – like, good with technology – and she does have this tendency to leave her exes with a bunch of upgrades to their stuff that they have no idea how to use. Possibly it’s a passive-aggressive thing; she’s never looked too much into it.
“Also, you really need to use your Pinterest for something other than soufflé recipes, Os,” Nina continues, “it’s starting to look kind of crazy and desperate. You need to get laid already. Do you want me to send you Cumberbatch?”
Oswin covers her face with her hands. “I did your birthday present shopping while hammered, yes, but do you have to keep bringing that up? And calling it Cumberbatch?”
“The internet would never forgive me if I didn’t,” Nina says blithely, because Nina is awful, Oswin has no idea why she decided to stay friends with her once they broke up. “Actually, I’m not going to send you Cumberbatch, but the Ann Summers site’ll still have them, right?”
“I will disconnect this call,” Oswin warns. “You aren’t allowed to talk to me about sex anymore unless it’s implausibly happening between characters on TV.”
“That’s a stupid rule,” Nina tells her, rolling her eyes. “Fine. Are we going to pick a tumblr confessions account to troll or go back to whining about how the BBC cancelled The Fades?”
The Fades is like the new Firefly, except that only about thirty people give a shit, instead of the entire internet.
“There’s this guy that comes into the café with Martha who kind of looks like Tom Ellis, actually,” Oswin muses.
“Then you should hit that for the good of mankind,” Nina says solemnly. “Also, fuck knows when the new series of Miranda is going to be.”
“You give the best advice,” Oswin tells her dryly.
“I do,” Nina agrees. “And if you do become a crazy cat lady and don’t call your first cat Loki, I’m disowning you.”
“All-night Avengers marathon at the PCC,” Larry announces, laying a leaflet down on the counter. “All six films in one night in a cinema with sticky floors and basically no ventilation, you’re coming.”
Oswin obediently looks at the details. “But no one has ever enjoyed The Incredible Hulk,” she points out.
“You can nap during that,” Sally points out, reaching for one of today’s pecan cookies.
“You’re coming?” Oswin asks her.
Sally shrugs. “I like superheroes and all aspects of Robert Downey Jr,” she explains.
“Don’t we all,” Oswin murmurs.
She’s still got the flyer when Amy comes in later; she hones in on it while she’s waiting for her coffee, sees where Larry’s circled the marathon.
“That’s it,” Amy announces, “Rory’s switching his shifts and we’re going. Are you going, Oswin?”
“Yeah,” Oswin says, momentarily blindsided by the apparent collision of her own life with the lives of her customers, “with a couple of mates.”
This is how, a month later, she finds herself sitting watching Captain America at five in the morning in a room full of people who cheer most lines of dialogue, Amy cheerfully eating popcorn and elbowing Rory every time it looks like he might close his eyes – “I’m a nurse, we do night shifts, I’m fine, okay” – on her right side, and Larry sleeping on Sally’s shoulder on her left.
Maybe she should be feeling more like a third wheel. Maybe this should be weirder than it is. Maybe it’s just the growing sleep deprivation talking. Whatever it is, Oswin smiles in the flicker of the screen; all in all, this is kind of wonderful.