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The lone and level sands stretch far away

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“Well, as always, it’s a pleasure, River Song, but I’m handling this one just fine on my own. The Doctor didn’t need to send you to baby-sit me.”

“He doesn’t even know I’m here. The time distortion over this area of Vancouver has been active for months, and I’ve been investigating it since a similar incident in New York in the 1930s.” If River’s voice hitched ever so slightly, neither of them bothered to point it out. “I’ve been able to trace it to a specific source, and it just so happens the crew of this TV show is filming where it’s at. What about you?”

“Same distortion, been spending the past few months trying to figure out how to dismantle it without completely sacrificing one of Vancouver’s best-known war memorials.”

Being crammed together in a costuming wardrobe wasn’t the best or most comfortable place to have a meeting with one of your oldest friends, but if there was anything that River Song and Jack Harkness knew, it was how to maintain a cover. To the crew of the television series being filmed, they were merely acquaintances having once acted on a long-running sci-fi series at different points over the past decade. In reality, Jack had been the one to land River a very memorable date with a pair of Nestene duplicates, and River was one of the few people that could make Jack go sheet white and snap to attention with a crisp salute.

They’d missed each other dreadfully.

“Becoming, but not quite you,” Jack mused as he fingered one of the waves curling on the swell of River’s breast. They had straightened her hair before styling it into waves, and it had even taken him a moment to realize who she was. “Wonder what the Doc would think?”

River didn’t answer, because she honestly didn’t want to sound bitter. She absently twirled one of the waves around a finger. He most likely was sulking on that cloud she’d left him on, after weeks of trying to coax him out of his growing grief for her parents. She had hoped that her mother’s afterword had brought him some measure of peace, and it had briefly. Then it suddenly snowballed until she had a literal Grinch on her hands. Life became an endless round of stony silences punctuated by the two of them screaming, sniping, and growling at each other over every little slight.

She had enough Ph.Ds to know that it was their grief over so many things bubbling to the surface: her parents’ death, their mishmash of a marriage, and enough emotional baggage to fill Space Titanic. He showed his grief outwardly, and she buried everything deep inside her until the pressure was too much. So, she’d gone out for milk … and hadn’t been back.

Jack raised an eyebrow at the lack of an answering innuendo. “Are you two OK?”

Because he was Jack, because their shared history stretched back to sharing really bad faux Chinese and too many hypervodkas at Luna University, she shook her head. Her breath hitched as his arms came around her, and she turned her head into his shoulder, feeling the burn of tears that refused to fall.  She felt Jack’s fingers in her over-styled hair, lightly massaging her scalp as he rocked her back and forth. He didn’t whisper sweet, comforting lies in her ear. He knew better.

-----

The Bronze Angel, according to the guidebook, was built in 1921 as a memorial to those who worked for Canadian Pacific Railway who lost their lives in World War I. The angel had a fallen soldier in its arms, the angel gazing down him. 

Jack and River knew the truth.

“It’s been here since the 1920s?” Jack squinted at the statue from a safe distance, looking every bit like the tourist he was pretending to be. Beside him River, hair back to normal, was keying in data in her tablet. “Why didn’t you just hop back to then and take care of it?” 

“It’s been dormant until the last year or so, which makes me think it was really a statue until then.” River peered over the lenses of her sunglasses at the statue. “Just like the ones in New York. I know about the babies, the cherubs. But, not every statue of an angel is technically a Weeping Angel. They become infested. It can’t be like humans, like with Amy. That which holds the image of an angel becoming an angel.” River was very proud that her voice didn’t tremble at her mother’s name.

“Well, let’s hope they don’t have a sudden yen to start a conversation with tourists.” Jack absently rubbed his neck. “I don’t fancy having my neck snapped today.”

“That last happened three weeks ago last Tuesday, yes?” 

“You pulled that one out of your ass.” Jack coughed and scowled. “Monday, actually.”

“Oh. Well.” River winked, and Jack grumbled under his breath. She tapped on the iPad mini she modified for this excursion. Her normal tablet would draw unwanted attention. “We need to act like tourists,” she murmured under her breath. “Go pose for a photo.”

“You’re taking a picture with that?” Jack gestured to the slab of electronics in River’s hand.

“It's a thing people in this era do. Now go And smile!”

“I’ll always smile for you, baby,” Jack flirted in an abnormally loud voice, drawing a few stares, gawks, and one teenage girl who promptly keeled over with a shriek. River blew him a kiss and held up the tablet, ignoring the mobile phone cameras that were suddenly pointed at her. Better me and not the statue, she thought as she took the “photo” of Jack posing seductively … well as seductively as he could without shedding his shirt in the middle of February. Had it been July …

“I’ve got it,” she called to him, and pulled up the image. She zoomed in and ran a standard diagnostic. “Definitely infested. I have a theory about those. This, along with the Statue of Liberty, was made of copper and bronze. Eventually, those form a patina. While it adds considerably to the protection of the sculpture, people aren’t wrong when they claim it’s an infestation. “

Jack peered over River’s shoulder at the readings. “The patina’s drawing the angels,” he surmised. 

“The chemical reaction of patina formation is like a siren’s song to them. They’ll use the slight fissures caused in the statue and take it over, becoming an Angel.” River exited of the screen. “That answers several questions I have.”

“About what happened to your parents?” Jack asked softly.

“Among other things.” River tucked the iPad in her handbag. She shot a sunny smile at her friend and. She slipped her hand into his. “Let’s go have a drink.” 

“No destruction of a national monument? You’ve gotten tame in your old age, Professor.”

“Not until tonight. And keep bringing up my age like that, and I’ll restrain you.” 

“Pretty please?” Jack’s eyes lit up. 

“Not in a way that you’ll like.”

“I’ll never get that bondage session with you, will I?” Jack sighed and tugged River after him to find the closest bar. Neither of them saw the tall, thin man in Victorian clothing and a small brown-haired girl watching them from the other side of the statue.

----- 

She chose the catsuit because she needed the feel of the leather against her skin, of the corset cinching in her waist a bit too tightly. She’d lost weight since her parents’ death, and that had been a good thing when it came to her wardrobe. River stuck the last hairpin in her curls and stared at the stranger looking back at her in the mirror. The drinking, the forced joviality hadn’t done her any good. She had her questions answered about one thing – why so many Weeping Angels had infested New York. By destroying the Bronze Angel, she was stopping the same thing from happening to Vancouver. 

But it wouldn’t stop the other things. It wouldn’t stop the feeling that her marriage was disintegrating beneath her hands, even though she was trying to scrape all the broken pieces together as fast as she could. It didn’t abate the drifting she’d felt since her pardon – earned, been granted when her records were altered, even her mind hurt when it came to figuring that one out – and there was no more Stormcage. Then no more Amy and Rory. Everything she knew was slipping away, and she didn’t know how to stop it. No matter what she had done, except those first few years in her first regeneration, she’d always had Amy, Rory, or the Doctor.

She could go back to a past Amy and Rory. She could be hugged by her mother and offered tea by her father. There would be a blissfully ignorant younger Doctor, stumbling in to lure all of them on a trip. There was plenty of time in the 12 years between her birth and when her parents left on that final trip that she could pop back. But she didn’t trust herself not to spoil it for them, to change time so none of them would go to New York. Because what would happen then? Would the Angels had gone to London?

She closed her eyes tightly as tears threatened again and hated herself for them. Forcing one foot in front of the other, she slid on her holster and checked her plasma gun. Killing a statue. That ought to be nice and cathartic.

-----

“Well, the known methods of killing them are either create a paradox, have a crack in time suck them away, or quantum lock them,” Jack summarized as they walked through the park to the statue. “All courtesy of yourself.”

“Not hardly. But, thank you, all the same. This one should be fairly simple. You watch, I’ll cover the statue with the blanket. We’ll dismantle it and figure out what to do from there.”

“Furnace?”

“I was thinking tossing it in supernova, but that’ll be difficult with a vortex manipulator.”

“Well, you can always use the TARDIS.”

“Jack, I’m not going to use a vortex manipulator to send myself and a Weeping Angel onto the …” River’s voice died away as she saw what Jack was seeing, then swore under her breath. Perfect. He was right. She didn’t need to use a vortex manipulator. Not when her husband and his latest companion were sitting feet away from it having a bloody picnic. She wasn’t even surprised by this sort of thing any longer.

“Well! Doc!” Jack bounded ahead and settled himself on the blanket next to the companion. Clara, River remembered. Clara Oswin Oswald, and she came with a host of secrets of her own. “And the always lovely, Clara Oswald.” He raised her hand and kissed the back of it.

“Still am not going to that club with you,” Clara said by way of greeting, brushing him off, but grinning all the same.

“You know him?” The Doctor said, rather indignantly. 

“Told you I met a friend of yours when we stopped by that tavern on Galaxia 6. Keep up!” She whipped her head around so fast that the ends of her hair smacked the Doctor in the face. “He’s still sulking,” she informed Jack.

A sneaking suspicion wound its way through River as the Doctor spat out Clara’s hair while muttering under his breath, suddenly shifted and met her gaze. His eyes widened a bit, and his breath caught. The glimmers of a bright smile appeared, then just as quickly faded as he stared at the blanket a moment. 

“You’re Dr. Song! Or Professor? The Doctor says it can vary from one time to the next.” Clara rolled to her feet and threw her arms around River. “He talks about you all the time. This and that about the wife. Wasn't sure why I hadn't met you though, then I ran into Jack on Galaxia 6, and we had a few drinks. Nothing else, much to his dismay.” She raked her gaze up and down River’s figure and hummed. “He didn’t tell me how hot you are. Look, when you’re done with chin boy over there-“

“Right, well. We’ve done our part.” Jack cut in, taking the blanket from River’s suddenly limp hold. He strode to the statue. “You got that sledgehammer, Clara?” 

“I borrowed a few other things from the TARDIS." She handed him the sledgehammer. "You can always pop off that shirt off while you’re using that.” 

“In February? I could catch a cold! What would Nina say?”

Clara waved her mobile. “She’d say you’d better get me some video, Clara.”

“I can do that in a hotel with considerably less clothing if you’d like.”

“I told you, not into guys that way! Go on now! And you two!” Clara waved her hand at the Doctor and River. “Go make up! I swear, if he sulks anymore, I’m going to have the TARDIS lock him in a room with Gangam Style and the Harlem Shake on endless loop, followed by all four Twilight features in a row. Then the real torture begins.”

“Good God!” Jack said, his face sheet white. “You’re sadistic.”

“Turn on for you, immortal boy?” She linked arms with him.

Jack patted her hand. “Immensely.”

“Still not getting in my pants.”

“Pity.”

They strode arm-in-arm toward the Angel, theatrically snapping open their blankets and covering the face before setting to work. Before long, Clara had produced a small chainsaw from her handbag and was struggling to use it while Jack used the sledgehammer on the base.

River couldn’t bring herself to look at her husband, because she wasn’t quite sure what to say. It’s on the tip of her tongue to greet him as breezily as she’s always done, but it felt painfully inadequate as a first step in addressing all the things that had brought them to this point. It was different when she ran into the increasingly younger versions of him, because he didn’t know any of it. But this was her husband, and for all intents and purposes, she had walked out on him when he needed her the most.

She was doing a very good job in wallowing in her own guilt, so much so that at first she didn’t notice when he took her hand. The same hand he had healed with his regeneration energy. He laced his fingers with hers, squeezing gently. She looked up and saw at the reflection of love and guilt in his eyes. The breath she hadn’t realized she was holding whooshed out. He wasn’t angry with her. Not now.

“Hello, sweetie.” It came out in a hoarse whisper.

“Hello, dear,” he replied, and he was promptly drowned out by the sound of Clara’s chainsaw. Rolling his eyes, he tugged her around the corner of the building and into the TARDIS. The noise was replaced by a low and soothing hum, and everything inside her loosened.

“You’ve seen this one before,” he guessed, as she didn’t bat an eye at the changed console room. “This is post-Manhattan.”

“Yes. We didn’t even have to check.”

“No.” He stroke a thumb over the ring she wore, the same one she’d had on the night he healed her hand. The same one an older him had placed on her finger for their 300th wedding anniversary. “You know Clara then.”

“I’ve met her more than a few times.”

“Good. That’s good.” He paced away from her. “Well, really not good. I mean, it’s good that you two have met. I wasn’t sure how early I needed to go, and I didn't realize she had met Jack."

"I know he's been going out since we've been here." Looking for the Doctor in his spare time, River realized. Of course, that was Jack. He'd do it for her.

"You know, it’s my turn,” the Doctor cut into her thoughts.

“Oh?” 

“You know.” He waved his hand at the console. “Apologize.” He frowned. “You know, we never did get the milk.”

Out of sync again, but this time only slightly. They had long ago learned to finish any arguments before leaving each other, because there was no telling which version of the other they would find next. More habit than anything, she forced a smile. “I’m sure Clara managed, sweetie.”

“Well, that might account for her yelling about putting something unidentifiable in her tea.” He scratched the back of his head. “I wasn’t sure if she was talking about that Flarn I’ve had in there for the past couple of centuries or sour milk.”

“It’s an acquired taste.”

“That’s what I keep telling her.” He walked back to her and peered closely, frowning as he scrutinized every line of her face. “You’re hurting.”

“I’m fine.” The response was automatic, and he frowned.

“No, you’re still hurting.” He tapped her nose.

“Doctor, I’m-“

“Let me help you for once, River!” The shout burst out of him, and it took them both aback.

She recovered first, adrenaline pushing through her blood for the first time in weeks. It was like waking from a coma, and all of a sudden the world seemed a bit brighter. She led with it, with the anger pumping through her veins. “I don’t need help!”

He spun and clutched at his hair with his hands. “You are such a Pond! So damn Scottish!”

“I’m about as Scottish as you are!”

“Ponds, Ponds. Brilliant, mad, stubborn Ponds.” Ignoring her response, the Doctor gesticulated. “The universe created the three of you to drive me absolutely mad.” He whirled, coat billowing theatrically. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to work. You and me.”

“Can you really think of any other way to make it work?”

“No! It’s just …” He kicked at one of the panels. “All these years and still rubbish at it.”

“Sweetie …”

“No, I’m going to get it right.” He walked back to her and took her hands. “In the graveyard, Amy said for you to watch over me.”

“Of course she would, she-“

“But, she didn’t ask me to watch over you. Not then.”

She chuckled. “That’s silly. I can take care of-“ 

“It mattered. The entire time. Didn’t it?”

It was on the tip of River’s tongue to laugh it away, but something in his eyes caused her to reply with a honesty she hadn’t allowed herself to vocalize in years. “Yes. Of course it mattered. They’re my parents. And I’m never going to see them again.” Her voice hitched on the last word, skating up an octave. She took a couple sudden, sharp breaths to stop the sobs before she could betray herself.

He pulled her into his arms and held her as she finally cried for her parents. She felt the press of his face against her hair, and when she pulled back, she saw he had been crying as well. She fished in his pockets for a handkerchief. Arms around each other, they sank onto a bench alongside one of the walls. He gently rubbed circles on her back as she composed herself. 

“I don’t think any less of you if you show a weakness,” he murmured.

“The last time I did, you said I embarrassed you.”

“And you said the same thing last time I tried to help you.”

“That’s because you wasted your regeneration energy on me.”

“And you deserve it.”

“No, I don’t!” She pulled away. “I don’t deserve any of it. Doctor, even though you erased those records, I still know what happened. I still killed you.”

“You had my permission.”

“And then I told her to go. Amy.” She stared into his eyes. “You were right. It’s my fault she’s gone.”

That had been the straw that finally driven her out the door all those weeks ago. That last fight, which had started over something so mundane that she couldn’t even bother to recall it. But she would always remember how it ended. How he had wielded words as sharp as swords and torn her hearts to shreds.

“You told her to go. If it hadn’t been for you, Amy would still be here, and we could have found a way to rescue Rory. But, you told her to go, and she’s gone, and I can’t ever get her back. It’s your fault, River.”

“I’m sorry.” In the here and now, who knows how many years for the Doctor, he apologized. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“But, it doesn’t make it any less true. That’s what you believe.”

“Yes …”

She turned away from him.

“… and no.”

Her hand squeezed the balled up handkerchief.

“You told her to go, but she would have gone anyhow.”

She took several deep breaths until she was sure she could look at him without crying or slapping him. Breath shuddering, she turned back to him.

“If you had told her to stay, she would have listened. Yes she would,” the Doctor cut in as River opened her mouth to protest. “You’re her daughter. I noticed how she and Rory segregated their lives, kept you separate from their world in a way that they didn’t even do with me. Still, Amy would listen to you. She would always listen to you. But, River, you were right. If Amy hadn’t gone when she did, she would have been separated from Rory, probably for good. We could have found her again, but … I told you what happened to them on Apalapucia.”

She nodded. She remembered the night the Doctor had shown up in her cell, upset about what had happened to her parents on that planet, that her mother had inadvertently been separated from them for 26 years. That he had lied to the older Amy to trick them into getting younger Amy back onto the TARDIS. How furious both her parents had been in the end once Rory had told him what happened. 

“I tried, after you left, to see how close I could get to the paradox. The TARDIS refused.”

“And for good reason! Doctor, you could have-”

“I’m aware of it. Instead, she took me to London in the 1970s, where I was found by a member of the Churchill estate. They had something for me.” He reached in the inner pocket of his coat and pulled out a letter that had been read many, many times. “And, you’re wrong.”

“About?”

He offered the letter. “Read for yourself.”

River unfolded the letter and immediately recognized her mother’s handwriting.

Hello, old friend,

It’s been seven years since Rory and I landed in the past. I’m not sure where this is for you, but I’ll assume that you’re reading this when you need to. It’s why I sent this to Churchill’s office. He remembers me, from before the cracks were closed, and said he would get this to you.

It’s not so bad here. We landed outside the Winter Quay, but it’s not like when we were there the first time. We’re not trapped here, but we know better than to try to hop out of this time. I wasn’t sure what we would do for money, but a courier found us a few minutes after I arrived. Turns out some unknown relative of ours “died” and left us pretty well off. Thank River when you see her next time.  

Speaking of River, that’s the thing I didn’t tell you when I left. I assumed it, but then I realized it’s you and you need shoving and a knock in the head at times. I’m trusting you with my daughter, Raggedy Man. You remember our talk after your “miraculous” return from the dead.

River arched an eyebrow. That was new information. “Talk?” 

“Don’t ask.” The Doctor rubbed his cheek and muttered, “Damn Scottish.”

You take care of River. She’s going to kill herself doing the same thing to you, and she won’t let you see when she’s hurting. Yes, you know how to be a good husband. Just like you know how to be a good friend. Rory and I had a lot of time to talk about how we handled things with her, and we have a lot of regrets about that. We’ll tell her ourselves, next time we see her. And we will, because she’s River Song.

She smiled at that. 

Take care of yourself. Live a good life. Love our daughter. Be happy together. And stop moping, because I’m quite sure you’re doing that. And please tell River she might want to finish that book soon.

Love always,

Amy 

“See?” The Doctor tapped River’s nose. “Wrong.”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“You’ve not finished with the book?”

“You haven’t looked? I never got past the first page,” she admitted. “I couldn’t.” She handed the letter back to him. “I suppose I should start figuring out how to get back to them and finish the book. I’ll gather what I need, and I’ll get out of your-“

“Do none of you Pond women ever listen?” The Doctor threw his hands up in exasperation. “Stay, River. Please.”

“But, you and Clara. You’re in early days, and-“

“I don’t care. Clara likes you, and quite right too.” He took in her outfit and flushed and quickly tucked the letter away. “You are hot.”

“Well, thank you, sweetie.” Her hearts felt lighter, much lighter than in awhile.

“Look, we’ll even take Jack. He can distract her while you’re getting the book done. Please, let me take care of you this time. Let me make it up to you.” He gave her the look that she and Amy had once dubbed the sad puppy-eyed look. Big, big eyes and that earnest face.

What resistance she had melted, and she nodded. “I’ll stay.”

“And, are we OK?”

She smiled and nodded. “We’re OK, my love.”

She saw the breath whoosh out of him at those words. He bounced to his feet and tugged her to hers. “We’ll just collect Jack and Clara and be on our way.” He raced to the door, started to yank it open, then spun back to her. “Right, forgot. Important thing.”

“What important-“ Her breath stole away as he kissed her. Deep, deep, with his hands diving into her curls as he pulled her flush against him. She returned it, and she felt her body shake off the last of the coma state she’d been drifting in for weeks. She wondered how long they had until Jack and Clara were finished dismantling the Angel.

“Whoa! Doc!”

Clearly not long enough.

“Nice moves, chin!”

River peered over the Doctor’s shoulder to see a dirty and triumphant Clara and Jack standing in the open door with large sacks dragging behind them. Jack winked, and Clara gave her a thumbs up. “Should we leave you two alone?” she asked.

“No, no, because River’s staying. And you’re staying,” the Doctor informed Jack. “Getting rid of Weeping Angel, then we’ll go from there. Right, River, find us the closest supernova. Let’s see what you two chopped up.”

River moved to the console as Jack opened one of the bags to point out something on the Angel statue, and he and the Doctor quickly launched into a discussion of theories while Clara added her opinion. It wasn’t quite the same as traveling with her parents, but it was a good energy. She patted the console and felt the TARDIS’ answering hum. Yes, her and the Doctor. Jack and Clara. They would make a wonderful team. It was good to be home.

And it was even better when they allowed her to be the one to shove the Weeping Angel to its ultimate doom.