Amy had used hunger as an excuse to get out of the marshal's office, away from the tension between the Doctor and Jex. She and Rory went to the saloon, because it was the closest thing to any sort of proper restaurant that Mercy had. One well-meaning woman had tried to waylay her, saying the saloon wasn’t a place for a proper lady. “Since when have I ever been proper?” Amy replied and led the way into the saloon. It was dark and smoky and fit her mood … and what she wanted to do. She grabbed a table at the back of the room.
“Amy?” Rory startled when she pulled her mobile out of her jacket pocket. “I don’t think this is a good place to have your phone out.”
“This is likely the least of the strange things they’ve seen here,,” Amy retorted and went into her contacts list. She didn’t go far, the name she wanted was at the top. Tongue between her teeth, she quickly tapped out a text message.
Rory peered over her shoulder. “Is that … ?”
“Yeah.” Maybe it was the comments Kahler Jex said about her being a mother. The kindness, the sadness, the ferocity. Maybe it was seeing the Doctor get so dark that Amy worried she wouldn’t be able to pull him back. Oh, and how would she ever be able to explain it if she hadn’t? But Amy wanted to see her daughter so very much. “When’s the last time you think the Doctor’s seen River?”
“For us, for him, or for her? Because we did go to that avian acrobatic special on that planet with the all the balloons a couple months ago.”
“Yeah, but he’s now 1,200 years old. Said so. But that doesn’t seem right, I think that was a much younger him there. So, this is an older him. He’s been alone for so long, Rory. Why isn’t he seeing River?” Amy bit her lip, then her phone lit up with a response to the message. “One moment.” She pushed away from the table and walked outside, slipping into the alley next to the saloon. She turned used the phone’s built-in compass, then texted those coordinates and the year. She turned off the screen as Rory joined her. “He’s worrying me, Rory. I’ve never seen him be that cruel, never shoot someone in cold blood.”
“He is a war criminal, Amy,” Rory said gently. “Shooting him would save everyone.”
“But, didn’t he also teach us that all life is precious?” Amy paced, shoving her hands through her hair. “I still remember killing her. Kovarian. It was in another timeline, but I killed her for what she did to our baby. To the babies we’ll never have because of her. I can still see her death. It’s always going to haunt me, Rory, because it didn’t change anything. I thought I’d feel better, but I didn’t. It didn’t get Melody back. It didn’t keep River out of Stormcage.”
“That’s why you stopped him,” Rory surmised.
Amy hugged herself and Rory crossed to her, wrapping his arms around her. He would never admit it to Amy, but he would have gladly shot Jex if it had meant saving everyone. He’d felt little remorse over Kovarian’s death. He wondered if it was because of all those years as the Lone Centurion, but … he rocked his wife and pressed a kiss to her forehead. It didn’t matter. Amy mattered, and this bothered her so much. “So, checking in on River?”
“Yeah, in a sense.” Before she could elaborate, they heard the sizzle and crackle of a vortex manipulator a few feet away. Amy immediately pulled away from Rory and rushed toward the figure still swirling in smoke, throwing her arms around her daughter. “You came.”
“As soon as I could. Had to get myself out of a riot first.” River returned the hug with one arm and used the other to keep soot on the period dress she wore off Amy. “I was in Sicily, 1801. Working on the release of General Thomas Alexandre-Dumas. The way they treated him was abhorrent, and Napoleon, the little rat, isn’t going to do him any favors either. But, he needs to be out because he has a rather important son to father.” River studied her mother, squinting a bit as she adjusted to the darkness. “Something’s wrong.”
“It’s the Doctor,” Amy said.
“Is he hurt?” Alarmed, River quickly surveyed in the quiet town. “Where is he?”
“No. No, he’s fine. Physically, that is. It’s just. You. He needs you.”
River went into the marshal’s office through the back door. It made her entrance less conspicuous and gave her more time to assess the situation and to Amy’s detailed recount of hers, Rory’s and the Doctor’s day in Mercy. She had no idea when the Doctor was. While still traveling with her parents, obviously, but she had her suspicions about the Doctor based on the information Amy had given her about his age. Her gut said he was doubling back on his timeline, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the specifics. Nor if she was even allowed to know really. She’d not yet experienced whatever event caused her parents to stop traveling with the Doctor for good. It wasn’t a day she was looking forward to.
She went through several scenarios, discarded them. She could see him in the main room, hooded eyes and arms crossed over his chest, back to the cell that held the alien Kahler Jex. The name alone sent chills up her spine, and she found herself clenching her diary tightly. His experiments were particularly well known and embraced by the Silence. She stared at her hands and wondered if Jex would remember a little girl the Silence once had him study. That was a memory they allowed her to keep.
She squirreled those feelings away and slipped quietly into the room. Neither man noticed her.
“How goes the evening, marshal?” River asked softly.
The Doctor’s head snapped up, not bothering to disguise his shock over her arrival. She could see it in his eyes. Surprise, a bit of annoyance … and relief. She let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. He was at least glad to see her. Mostly.
Jex squinted through the bars. “That you, Sadie?”
“Not hardly,” the Doctor answered, and River stepped fully out of the shadows. He rocked back and forth on his heels before making a sweeping gesture from River to Jex. “Kahler Jex, Dr. River Song. You probably recognize her from your files as Melody Pond.”
Jex immediately gripped the cell bars, studying River intently. “Oh. Oh, yes. How interesting. You’re one of the lucky ones.”
“Lucky?” The words burst forth before she could rein in her self-control. “I was lucky?”
“Well, yes. Look at you, healthy and strong. My, my, you grew up to be interesting. Oh, I heard of you, you know.” He slanted a glance at the Doctor. “They say she’s a war criminal. Killed the last of the Time Lords. Oh, but she was quite a weapon. But, you know all that, don’t you? I’m glad you turned out OK. You’re doing well.”
“I’m doing well?” Her voice cold and ruthless, River approached the cell. She gripped the bars with one hand, a knife pressed into Jex’s side with the other. “You tortured me, Jex. You tortured hundreds of others and for what? You performed experiments on your people, and your world’s alliance with the Silence is well-documented. How much did they pay you to brainwash a little girl from Earth?”
“I’m sorry.” Jex held up his hands, a genuine look of remorse on his face. “I truly am sorry. For what I did to you, to all those people.”
Disgusted with him, River whirled around and sheathed the knife. “I’m sorry,” she said, careful to disguise her relationship with the Doctor and her parents. It wasn’t something she wanted Jex to be aware of.
The Doctor didn’t say anything. He dismissed Jex and strode into the back room. River looked over her shoulder at the Kahler slumped, defeated, on the cot in the cell. He wouldn’t be going anywhere, she surmised, and followed the Doctor through the back of the office and out into the blessedly cool night.
He was leaning against the side of the building, arms crossed over his chest once more. “Why are you here?” he snapped as soon as she walked outside.
Well, if you’re going to act like a petulant child ... “Amy sent for me.”
He grumbled under his breath, and she caught the mutterings about her mother interfering. “When are you?”
Bad, bad mood. His theatrics were starting to grate on her, so she deliberately took her time in pulling out her diary and made a big show of flipping through the pages. Oh, she already knew when she was. She’d figured that part out with Amy. “Have you done the Maze of …”
“Have you done Manhattan?” he immediately asked over her. “1930s. Have you been to Manhattan?”
“No. No, I haven’t.” She lowered the diary carefully. There was something about those words that sent a chill straight to her soul. She could feel his gaze boring straight through her. Fury and grief and so much anger. Something happened then. Something happened in Manhattan between him and her and possibly her parents. Her own annoyance quickly dissolved into concern and a worry that made her gut churn. “What happened in Manhattan, Doctor?”
“Spoilers.” He hurled the word at her like a curse and walked away, pacing toward one of the outbuildings. “Go back to whatever you were doing, River. Tell Amy you did your job.”
“I should think not.” She tucked her diary away in the handbag she carried and set it atop a closed barrel. “What happened with Jex, Doctor?”
“I figured Amy would have told you.”
“She did. I want to hear it from you.”
He refused to look at her, and she could almost see the fury rolling off him. “My morality is a prison,” he said. “Do you find that I am a moral man? In all your studies, in that so-called thesis you wrote, did you conclude that I am a just and moral man?” He paced again, fisting his hair before dragging his hands through it.
“You are a man. You are a good man, with the absolute best intentions.” This was no time to soothe his ego, she knew. “But, you’re flawed, just like the rest of us. You inspire people to do great things, and you inspire others to do terrible ones. It doesn’t mean you don’t do great things.”
He suddenly stalked up to her, his mouth at her ear. “What if I told you I’d been about to shoot him? That I dragged him out of Mercy, over that border, had him on his knees and gunpoint. Tell me, am I a good man then?” He didn’t wait to let her answer. “You didn’t hear the screams. None of you did. All of those people, his own, the ones the Kahler brought onto the planet from others seeking an effective means of brainwashing and creating an army. All of those innocents, helpless and tortured, and then there it was. Just a quick flash on the screen. A name, an age, the organization the contract was from, but it was enough. Do you know what it did to me to see your name on that list?”
She trembled, but she stood her ground. She met his gaze, her eyes calm and voice cool. “And would killing him have changed anything?”
“No,” the Doctor acknowledged. “No, it wouldn’t. Except if the Gunslinger comes back tomorrow and kills all those people, it is on my hands, River. Because I chose to let him live. Like I let so many others live, and these are the consequences. Their blood is on my hands, and none of you get that!”
“You really think that?” River hissed, grabbing his arm. Her nails sank into the tweed with an iron grip, her lips nearly against his. “You do not have the monopoly on hatred and self-loathing in this relationship. You are not the only one who’s left someone alive when all you want to do is strangle them with your bare hands. You stopped me once before, remember?” His pupils flared, just a bit, and she knew he remembered when he had stopped her from killing Madame Kovarian. “Jex’s death will be a stain upon your soul, because you’ve seen that he’s tried to atone for what he’s done, because his friend sacrificed his life for him. Even more so, you’d break my mother’s heart.”
“Because clearly, I haven’t broken it enough.”
Her grip on him tightened. “I have yet to forgive myself for shooting you in Utah, for poisoning you in Berlin. I don’t care that it was a robot, that it was staged. I will always have that on my soul, just as you have Gallifrey. It doesn’t make what Jex did right. None of it. But, it’s not your call to make. Let him go. Send him away, and let those two settle the feud. You’ll save everyone, and you’ll honor the death already made. Let fate decide what happens to Jex, not you.”
He leaned into her now, pressing his forehead to hers. “Would you do it? On his knees, in front of everyone, would you have done it?”
And she thought of pushing the gun against Madame Kovarian’s temple. “No. Because, that would make me just like him. A wise man once told me that.”
“Must have been a fool.”
“No. I have a feeling it was because he cared a great deal for my soul.” She risked running a hand through his hair, and he closed his eyes, sagging into her. “Just like I care a great deal for his. You’ll do the right thing. I know it.” She gently kissed him. Just a light peck. But it was enough for him to return it, to open his mouth beneath hers. Then he was kissing her with a fierceness that nearly stole the breath from her, backing her up until she was pressed against the barrel she’d left her diary on. She wondered just how long it had been since he’d seen her, and that concern flared up again.
His fingers dove into her hair, working the hairpins keeping it in a messy bun loose. They scattered across the dirt as her curls sprang free. Her hands slipped beneath his tweed to encircle his waist and run her nails up his shirt, smirking when she heard his sudden intake of breath. He kissed his way across her cheek then down the side of her neck, licking and nibbling at her pulse, biting just hard enough to leave a mark. She pinched his back in retaliation for that, then pressed her hips into his. He groaned, nuzzling the skin just above the underdress that peeked above the morning dress she wore. He tugged it down just enough to expose one of her breasts as her hands made their way into his hair.
It was desperate. It was lovely. She wanted to continue so badly. But the barrel was digging into her body, and she could hear Amy and Rory’s voices coming from somewhere nearby, so she gently pulled away from him. Breathing ragged, he stared regretfully at the marshal’s office. She sympathized. There was a time and a place for everything, but not here. Not with her parents about to walk in on them. They could comfort each other later. But, he kept his arms around her, and she leaned into him after she fixed her dress. “How is it you Pond women always have the most unshakeable trust in me?”
“Genetic trait, my love.” She smiled and was pleased to see that he was finally smiling back, that the tension keeping his body rigid had eased. Yes, she surmised, she had done her job well.
“Will you stay?” he asked, twirling an errant curl around his index finger before tucking it behind her ear.
“Until morning. I left General Dumas in a rather messy situation, and I really need to get him out of those carpets before he asphyxiates.” It wasn’t just that, she thought. She was a visual reminder of the torture that Jex had inflicted. The Doctor would keep his promise, but it would be much harder if she stayed. Besides, it was more likely Jex would let something slip about her to her parents, and then it would cause a bigger issue. No, she had no role here beyond tonight.
“Hey, you two! Now that you seem to be done snogging the daylights out of each other, and don’t think that I didn’t see you because I did, I found us some proper tea. Rory has food,” Amy called from the doorstep. She smiled and held up two tin mugs. “Mind if we join you? You know, we were supposed to be meeting you in Mexico for Day of the Dead,” she said to River as she sat on the stoop. “Someone apparently can’t drive.”
“Always critical of my driving skills, Pond,” the Doctor scoffed.
River sat next to Amy on the step and rolled her eyes as Rory hauled out plates of food. They laughed, talked, and gazed at the stars across the Texas desert. At one point, River noticed the Doctor was giving the three of them sad looks, like he was seeing them all together for the last time. She brushed it off, but thought of his questions about Manhattan. She wondered if it had something to do with that. She would find out soon enough.