Every time Rory and I flew away with the Doctor, we’d just become part of his life. Even though he married our daughter, he never stood still long enough to become part of our real lives. Come to think of it, neither did she. As much as Mels was a constant presence in my life until I was 22, in the 10 years after that, River breezed in and out as much as the Doctor did. We never knew which her we were going to get, and like the Doctor, we started to maintain a diary.
Then came the year of the slow invasion. The time our daughter and son-in-law came to stay. And like two trains, our lives suddenly collided.
The psychic paper beneath her pillow was burning, and River was still halfway asleep as she reached for it and flipped it open.
“The park in front of your parents’ house,” it read. “22 July 2020. Come quickly.”
She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and swung her legs over the side of her cot. She tried to remember the last time she properly saw Amy and Rory in London, but that would require a strong cup of coffee and perusing her diary. First, planning an escape. There was always phoning out for 500 pizzas for intergalactic delivery. She hadn’t done that lately, and-
The paper burned again, and River glanced down. “Don’t bother with dressing. Come now.”
If the summons had been to any other location, she would have taken the command much differently. But this was the Doctor, and he was with her parents. Her hearts seized as she grabbed her dressing gown and shoved her diary and tablet into the enlarged pocket. Something was wrong with Amy and Rory. She dropped to her knees and peeled the emergency vortex manipulator and pocket plasma blaster she kept off the underside of the mattress. Thank goodness they hadn’t confiscated this batch yet. She strapped on the communicator, palmed the blaster and left Stormcage with the alarms blaring after her.
She materialized at the entrance to the park. Slowly, carefully, she did a sweep of the area. Nothing out of the ordinary. No aliens, no unusual human behavior. Just dozens upon dozens of little black cubes heaped upon window ledges, cars, postboxes, doorsteps, tucked into flower pots and more. Warily, she approached one and picked it up.
“Good morning, dear!”
River looked up to see the Doctor perched atop the jungle gym, lanky limbs entwined around the bars. He lay on his stomach, peering at the cube with a magnifying glass. “Good morning, sweetie,” she said slowly and did another scan of the area. “Where are my parents?”
“Sleeping, I imagine! They do entirely too much of that. So much of the universe to see, and they waste approximately 30% of their lives sleeping. And what were you up to?”
“Sleeping!” She approached the jungle gym, more than annoyed. “Doctor, I’m not even dressed.”
“Please, River, we’re in a public park.” He glanced up and spotted her dressing gown. “Oh.”
“I am going to get a cup of coffee from my parents, and then I’m going back to bed.”
“You’re not even curious about these?” He waved a cube at her.
Actually, she was curious. Extremely so. But the Doctor was being petulant, and she was standing in an old dressing gown and wool socks in a public park at the crack of dawn. The cubes didn’t seem to pose an immediate threat, so coffee first.
“Doctor!” Amy’s voice echoed from across the street, and River turned to see her parents rushing across bearing cubes of their own. “River! Oh, Doctor, did you drag her out of bed as well?”
The Doctor saluted them with his cube. “Invasion of the very small cubes. That’s new. Come along, Ponds. All of you.”
“Does he call random people Ponds as well?”
And for the first time, River noticed Brian Williams standing just behind Rory, holding a cube of his own. Her breath caught. No, she wanted to say. No, she wasn’t a stranger. She had spent as much time in his house as a child as she had in Tabetha and Augustus Pond’s.
“Oh, sorry.” The Doctor scrambled down from the jungle gym and waved his hand absently at River as he strode toward the TARDIS, studying the cube. “Dr. River Song, Brian Williams. Brian, the wife.”
“You’re married?” Brian gasped.
“That’s not even half of it,” Rory muttered, sotto voce.
The surprise worked better than the longed-for coffee, and River’s brain began working normally again. She herded them all to the TARDIS just as the Doctor set one of the cubes on the console and held his hand out for hers. She handed it over and took out her tablet to scan them. “They’re absolutely identical,” she determined. “It’s like someone manufactured them and distributed them all over the place.”
“What if they're bombs? Billions of tiny bombs. Or transport capsules, maybe, with a mini-robot inside. Or deadly hard drives. Or alien eggs. Or messages needing decoding. Or they're all parts of a bigger whole. Jigsaw puzzles that need fitting together,” Brian guessed.
“Very thorough, Brian. Very, very thorough. Well done. Stay here. Watch these. With me, remaining Ponds. Dear, I need some equipment from your library.” With that, the Doctor sprinted up the stairs and disappeared down the corridor toward River’s library.
Amy tugged River aside. “Is this an alien invasion? Because that’s what it feels like.”
“There’s something in the cubes, perhaps?” Rory turned over the cubes. “You know, like in Spaceballs, when the alien pops out of the guy’s stomach.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Amy groaned.
“I don’t know,” River admitted. “I know about as much as you do. I’m not finding any data on these cubes, and if the Doctor’s just as clueless, then we need to do additional research.”
“Which we will do in your kitchen, Amy,” the Doctor announced, lumbering down the stairs with an armload of equipment. “I need to set up a lab.”
“Why our kitchen? Can’t you just do it on the TARDIS, where there’s already a lab?” Amy said, following the Doctor out of the TARDIS.
“Because I want to observe the cubes in their natural habitat.”
“I think you really just want an excuse to take over our kitchen,” Rory said, following.
River turned back to Brian. “Will you be OK?”
“Of course.” He waved her off, then frowned. “You weren’t with him the last time. When we were with those dinosaurs on that spaceship. You know, with Nefertiti and the hunter.”
It was an automatic reflex to say it was spoilers, but she bit her tongue. Brian wouldn’t know any better. “I’m a time traveler, like the Doctor,” she explained. “We don’t always travel together, and we meet at different points of our timeline.”
“Kind of like that book. The Time Traveler’s Wife.”
Which she actually wrote under a pen name, but she wasn’t going to tell Brian that. “Yes, very much so. We’ll be back soon.”
She walked into the kitchen of her parents’ home just in time for the Doctor to cut across her path with the largest pot they owned. He filled it with water. “Need to cook up some cubes, see what happens.”
“Well, that’s not going to be my breakfast,” Amy muttered.
“Right, I’m due at work,” Rory said and kissed Amy’s cheek and patted River’s shoulder. “You two can handle him.”
The Doctor glanced up from the pot, astonished. “What? You’ve got a job?”
Three mirror expressions stared back at him, with equal parts astonishment and exasperation. “Of course he has a job, sweetie,” River said.
“What do you think Amy and I do when we’re not with you?” Rory asked.
“I imagine mostly kissing,” the Doctor replied.
Rory arched an eyebrow and shrugged, pleased with that.
“I write travel articles for magazines, and Rory works at the hospital nearby,” Amy explained as Rory disappeared into the lounge.
“My shift starts in an hour,” he called. “You don’t know where my scrubs are?”
“In the lounge, where you left them,” Amy replied and moved to the coffee pot.
The Doctor startled and stared blankly at Amy before catching River’s eye. She winked, and he blushed. There was indeed some degree of truth to her parents spending their time mostly kissing. He picked up a wooden spoon and poked a bit at the cubes. “Well, it doesn’t look like there’s electrics in there to fry.”
“Which is probably a good thing.” River bussed his cheek, and before she could pull back, he quickly turned his head and returned the kiss. He glanced at Amy’s back, blushed and resumed prodding the cubes with the spoon.
“Amy, are those spare clothes still upstairs?” She chose her words carefully, in case Brian happened to walk in. She wasn’t sure how he would take the Ponds keeping a room for her, though to most people they merely called it their guest room.
“Yes, in the bureau. I’ll be up myself in a second. Want a coffee?”
“Love one,” she said gratefully and headed for the stairs.
She had helped the Doctor pick the house out, insisting there be at least two bathrooms. She ducked into the downstairs loo, splashed water on her face, then headed upstairs. The clothes were where Amy said they would be, and River quickly began to change. She’d just pulled on clean underwear and picked up the light sundress when the soldiers burst in.
“Hello, boys,” River said casually and reached for her dressing gown.
“Ma’am, I insist you come with us.”
She pulled her blaster and trained it on the soldier who spoke. “I normally wouldn’t mind having a roomful of soldiers burst in on me when I’m in my knickers, but my husband’s downstairs. He’d get ever so jealous.”
Through the gaps between the soldiers, she saw Rory being marched out of his own room, wearing the top half of his scrubs and pants. His eyes went wide before squeezing them shut. “Sorry, sorry,” he babbled. “Look, can’t you at least let us finish putting on our clothes?”
“There’s six of us,” one of the soldiers pointing his gun at Rory said.
“Yeah, well, she takes after her mother, and I don’t want her to get cross. Or put holes in the wall. We just got a new paint job.”
“Dad, I’m not going to hurt them very much.” But because she didn’t want anything to happen to Rory, she lowered the blaster and allowed the soldiers to march them downstairs.
They heard voices: the Doctor, Amy, and a third voice that River recognized from when she was doing the research for her thesis: Kate Stewart, the daughter of one of the Doctor’s oldest friends and head of scientific research at UNIT.
“Tell me, since when did science run the military, Kate?” the Doctor’s voice floated toward them from the kitchen as they walked through the lounge.
“Since me. UNIT's been adapting. Well, I dragged them along, kicking and screaming, which made it sound like more fun than it actually was.” Kate didn’t bat an eye as Rory and River were marched into the kitchen.
“All my life, I dreamed of standing where you are right now,” Amy told River a bit wistfully.
“I know the feeling,” she replied and they shared a smile. It was an Amy and Mels moment, brought on by stealing certain adult magazines and swapping fantasies as they lay on the floor of Amy’s childhood bedroom. Of course, reality was a bit different as Rory covered himself and gawked at Amy, and the Doctor was doing his best to look at River and not look at her at the same time. He failed and wound up babbling.
“Right, cubes. Cubes! What do we know about the cubes?” He snatched the pot off the stove and held it so it strategically covered a good bit of his lower body.
Ignoring the Doctor, Kate studied Amy, Rory, and River and tut-tutted a bit. “The family Pond-Williams. Amelia Pond, Rory Williams, and their child rumored to be born off-planet and older than they are.” She held up her scanner, nodding when River’s two heartbeats flared into view. “Interesting to see our files be confirmed. As for the cubes, we've been freighting them in from around the world for testing. So far, we've subjected them to temperatures of +/-200° Celsius, simulated a water depth of 5 miles, dropped one out of a helicopter at 10,000 feet and rolled our best tank over it. Always intact.”
“That's impressive. I don't want them to be impressive. I want them vulnerable, with a nice Achilles's heel,” the Doctor said.
“We don't know how they got here, what they're made of, or why they're here,” Kate said.
“And all around the world, people are picking them up and taking them home.”
“Like iPads have dropped out of the sky. Taking them to work, taking pictures, making films, posting them on Flickr and YouTube. Within three hours, the cubes had 1,000 separate Twitter accounts.”
Amy flushed and the Doctor muttered under his breath about Twitter. Amy’s desire to check Twitter had landed them into an awkward and sad situation in the days before the Doctor erased the records of himself. River frowned. Which made no sense, when she stopped and thought of it. The Doctor being this far along in her parents’ timestream meant that they were passed the time he had gotten his records wiped. How did UNIT still have them? Maybe Oswin Oswald’s record wipe hadn’t been as throughout as they thought.
“I've recommended we treat this as a hostile incursion. Gather them all up and lock them in a secure facility, but that would take massive international agreement and cooperation,” Kate said.
“We need evidence,” the Doctor protested. “The cubes arrived in plain sight, in vast quantities, as the sun rose. So what does that tell us?”
“They wanted to be seen and noticed?” Amy guessed.
“Well, more than that. They want to be observed. So we observe them. Stay with them, round the clock. Watch the cubes.” He set the pot back on the stove. “Day and night. Record absolutely everything about them. Team cube, in it together.”
“Right. This member of team cube is going to be late for work. Can I really go get dressed now?” Rory begged.
“Well, I predict that this will be a disaster of epic proportions,” Amy said as she and River sat at the kitchen table, a line of cubes arranged between them. “So, we’re just sentenced to watching these cubes for days?”
“Hardly. I doubt the Doctor will last for five hours.”
“You’re giving him an awful lot of credit.”
“He’ll find it fascinating at first. He’ll play with the cubes, think they’re terribly romantic in a way. He’ll try various experiments, and we’ll pop down to M&S to replace the pots he ruins. Then he’ll get impatient, yell at the cubes and pout just a bit. Then, he’ll be determined that the cubes won’t beat him and will stare petulantly for another hour before giving up and coming to us and complaining about it. Five hours, Mother.”
“Yeah, I know that much. I’d given him three.”
They exchanged smiles and sipped at their coffee.
“Pond, I accidentally ruined that frying pan of yours! Sorry!”
Amy and River clinked coffee mugs and laughed.
“I’m surprised the Doctor sent for you though. Sure, the cubes are odd, but it’s not like it’s the end of the world,” Amy said.
“What? Can I not want to see my wife?” The Doctor shuffled out of the kitchen and dropped into the third chair, cube in hand. He tossed it from hand to hand.
“Doctor, you were doing everything possible when we were on the TARDIS to keep us from finding out that you were taking our daughter on dates while we were sleeping.”
“That’s because I didn’t know she was your daughter then.”
“The amount of spoilers flying about is fascinating.” River picked up her tablet and brought up the morning news, which was all cube-related. “I’ll just pretend I’m not sitting here listening.” She glanced at the Doctor out of the corner of her eye and lowered her tablet. There, just for a brief second, there was a look of unspeakable grief.
“Brian’s still in the TARDIS. I’ll go round him up for some lunch.” Amy pushed away from the table. “Then, I’ve got to get some writing done.”
River waited until the front door closed behind Amy before turning to the Doctor. She wouldn’t have long. “OK, what’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The Doctor pulled out his sonic and ran it over the cube again, muttering under his breath.
“Yes, you do, don’t lie about it. I can see it in your face, honey. What happened? Why am I really here?”
With a sigh, he put both the cube and sonic down, but wouldn’t meet her gaze. “Spoilers,” he said after a moment.
He wasn’t talking about the two of them, she realized, and her stomach knotted. Something had gone wrong. Something with her or her parents or all three of them. “It’s going to be all right, my love.”
He patted her hand and gave her a sad smile. Then he leaned over and kissed her cheek, lingering a moment as he pressed his face against hers. She turned her head to turn it into a proper kiss just as the door opened and she heard Amy and Brian’s voices. It was enough to have the Doctor pull away. But he kept holding River’s hand and didn’t let go until Amy set their lunches in front of them.
True to River’s prediction, the Doctor lasted five hours before he flopped theatrically on the sofa in the lounge.
“Well, this is getting boring,” he muttered and tried to spin a cube like he would a basketball. “Anything happening elsewhere?”
“Nothing on the telly or online,” Amy said from the table, where she had her work spread out. “What, did you expect for them all to suddenly snap together like Legos and take over this corner of London?”
River set aside the magazine she’d been reading and got to her feet. “Come on, sweetie, we’re going out.”
The Doctor perked up and leaped to his. “Going out! I like going out. Going out means doing something. Come along, Pond.”
“You two go without me. I’ve got a deadline.” Amy dismissed them with a wave and squinted at her computer. She rubbed her eyes. “Think I need glasses,” she muttered.
The Doctor stilled and stared at Amy for a long moment, then shook his head briefly. “Deadlines will still be there when you get back. Hurry up and fetch your coat.”
“It’s the middle of July, I am not wearing a coat. Go, spend some time with River. You don’t see her enough. Check on Brian, would you? He headed back to the TARDIS after lunch.”
“Sweetie, let Amy finish her work,” River coaxed, all but pulling him toward the door. She scooped up the purse Amy had lent her and took the spare keys off the hook. “Mum, want us to bring back takeaway?”
“Oh, that’d be lovely!” Amy’s eyes lit up. “I’d go for a curry, wouldn’t you?”
“I’ll get enough for all of us.” River hesitated. She knew what her parents like, what the Doctor was willing to eat. “What about Brian?”
“Get him some of the beef. He’s good with spices. There’s a tenner in my wallet, take that with you. No hitting up cashpoints, young lady.”
River rolled her eyes good-naturedly and ignored the wallet.
As they walked out to the street, the Doctor stared at River as if she’d been speaking some odd language. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked for what felt like the tenth time that day as she turned to the right and headed toward the shopping district.
“That’s all very domestic,” he said, waving back at her parents’ house. “Jobs and deadlines and takeaway curry.”
“That’s what happens when you’re not here, sweetie. Their lives go on, and they’re happy with what they’ve made of them. You gave them a huge financial boost when you got them the house and car. They can pursue their dreams, not just make do because they’re tied to a mortgage.” She took his hand. “Amy’s no longer a little girl sitting on her suitcase waiting for you to come and rescue her.”
He didn’t say anything as they wound their way through the streets. It was the longest he’d been quiet all day, and it was enough for River to worry. He peered at the cubes blankly, his thoughts in the past. The Marks & Spencer had arranged the cubes into an artful display, while H&M was offering a sale where they’d be given out free with a £50 purchase. Hobbycraft was offering craft ideas, and various recycling groups were already starting petitions on how to dispose of them properly. As if they had any idea what proper was when it came to the cubes.
“Do they still need me?”
The Doctor asked this in a small voice as River used her bankcard at a cashpoint. She’d been telling the truth when she waved off Amy’s money. She made sure to have her own accounts seeded for this era. “Of course they still need you, sweetie. They’re always going to need you. They’re just not going to wait for you any longer. There’s a difference. They’re in their 30s now. Ten years of you roughly. Of us, really.”
“Had things been different, you’d be what … 8? 9?”
“9. But they’re not different, and I keep telling you, I’m happy with my life. So are they.” River said as she approached the M&S. She had hoped to spend just a few minutes picking up new pans, but wound up spending about 15 minutes luring the Doctor away from the toys and the sweets in the food hall.
“Brian doesn’t know about you,” the Doctor pointed out as they headed for the curry restaurant that Amy preferred. He shifted the bag of pans from one hand to the other.
“No. None of them do. Brian, Tabetha or Augustus.”
“And there’s no pictures.”
River glanced over her shoulder at him. “Sorry?”
“In the house. There’s no pictures of you, River, I checked. There’s lots of me.”
It was something that hadn’t escaped River’s notice either, and she swallowed. “I suppose,” she said after a moment pasting on a smile, “they didn’t want to accidentally put up any spoilers.”
The Doctor frowned. He stared at River, then at the cubes. Then he nodded, tweaked his bow tie and strode ahead of her into the curry shop. She gave him an odd look and followed, fairly sure he was concocting some sort of strange plan involving her and her parents.
“I’m bored,” the Doctor whispered.
Sleepily, River turned onto her side and noticed she’d only been asleep for maybe an hour. “Sweetie, you’ve been bored all night,” she murmured.
“Well, I’m even more bored now.” He punctuated this by fiddling with the hem of her pyjama top. “How can you not be bored?”
“Because I was asleep.”
“I mean before then.”
“Because, unlike you, I know how to slow down. Otherwise, I’d go mad in prison.” In a lot of ways, the day spent at her parents was a lot like a day at Stormcage. Just with more room and easier access to a kettle. Well, legal kettle. She had one hidden under a perception filter in her cell. “Doctor, you’re being silly. I’ve seen you relax before.”
He tugged at the buttons on her pyjamas. “Let’s go to the TARDIS.”
“Sweetie, can it wait until morning?”
He flushed. “River, I’m bored.”
She rubbed her eyes and levered herself onto one elbow. She noted the way he was fidgeting and that his trousers had gone tight in certain places. “Doctor, are you trying to tell me you want sex?”
“Ssssh!” He held a finger over her mouth and turned panicked eyes to the wall dividing her room from Amy and Rory’s.
“Sweetie, they’re asleep.”
“They can still hear!”
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that my parents have sex. Frequently. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be existing to even have this conversation with you.”
The Doctor’s cheeks were so red that River was quite sure they were glowing in the dark. “Let’s just go to the TARDIS, dear,” he insisted. “Please.”
Amused, she donned slippers and followed him downstairs. They had relocated the TARDIS into the Ponds’ living room, so they didn’t have to go far. He tugged her toward the doors and spun her around to press her against them, kissing her deeply. It didn’t take long to get into it, to make quick work of his shirt buttons as he peeled off her pyjama top.
He kissed his way down her neck and across the tops of her breasts, one hand sliding into her knickers to rub her through the cloth. “You’re in a hurry,” she managed, her voice hitching as she raised her leg to give him better access.
“I told you, I was bored.” He reached behind her to pull the door open and spun her into the beckoning warmth of the console room. He pushed her against the entryway and shoved her pyjama pants and knickers off. Then he slowly started to kiss his way down her neck again, pausing to take a nipple into his mouth as he slowly slid one long, slim finger into her.
She let out a low moan. Then a strangled gasp.
“What?” The Doctor looked up, flushed.
At a loss for words, River peered over the Doctor’s shoulder. He looked where she did and noticed Brian standing next to the console, sheet white and staring at them like he was witnessing an auto accident. “Brian!” The Doctor squeaked and immediately tried to cover as much of River as he could with his body. But instead, he only wound up tangling his feet in her pyjamas and pitched them both out of the TARDIS, back into the Ponds’ lounge and into the table.
“What’s going on?” Amy called out, as she and Rory clamored down the stairs.
“Ah, nothing, Pond! Nothing at all, just checking the uh … how many cubes we can fit on a table!” The Doctor stammered as Amy and Rory rushed around the corner and froze.
“Right,” Rory said as Brian appeared in TARDIS doorway. He kneaded his temples. “Dad, I thought you went home after dinner.”
“You told me to watch the cubes,” he said, doing his best not to look at the Doctor and River.
“That was 20 hours ago.” Rory pushed his hands through his hair. “Right. We need tea. Lots and lots of tea.”
“Four days!” The Doctor ranted. He snatched a cube off the coffee table and smacked it. “Not a single change in any cube, anywhere in the world. Four days, and I’m still in your lounge! And I’m bored.”
“You said we needed to be patient, sweetie,” River said, flipping through her tablet. She was starting to feel antsy herself and … well … bored. Since the Doctor’s aborted attempt at seduction had resulted in a rather nice-sized lump on River’s head from where she smacked into the table leg, along with copious amounts of mortified embarrassment, they hadn’t tried sex again. The Doctor could almost look Brian in the eye.
“Yes, the three of you! Not me! I hate being patient. Come along, River, we’ll leap ahead a few weeks into the future. Quick jaunt first. Restore my sanity.” He tugged her out of her chair. “Monitor the cubes, Pond!”
“Is that your way of saying you’re taking my daughter out into the universe for a shag?”
“Hush, Pond. Give my regards to Brian!”
“Doctor, I think I should stay.”
He paused in mid-tug. “River, they’re not doing anything.”
And she thought of the look he had given her four days earlier, how sad he had been when he’d seen her with her parents. As much as she wanted to travel, as much as she wanted to throw him onto the closest horizontal surface and sate the itchy, crawly desire that had been getting worse, her gut knew the truth. Something had happened to either her or her parents, and her time with them was running out. She needed to stay.
“Are you sure?” he asked quietly.
“Sweetie, why did you ask me to come in the first place?”
And there it was, that flash of grief. He rubbed a thumb over her cheek. “You know, you’re always right, dear.”
“I’d like to think so.”
He leaned in and kissed her. She let herself sink into it, to enjoy that one moment of slow, molten heat. “I’ll be back in a week,” he whispered and kissed her forehead. Then he waved to her parents and disappeared into the TARDIS.
“A month,” Amy predicted.
“Three months,” River corrected.
Amy slipped an arm around her waist. “Are you sure you didn’t want to go? Nothing’s happening with the cubes. I think we’ll be all right.”
“No regrets. Why don’t we go out for dinner with Dad and Brian?”
It was nearly three months to the day the cubes arrived.
While the world still puzzled over them, life had returned to normal. To alleviate boredom, and to rack up a few favors for future use, River went to work with UNIT to investigate the cubes. She liked the work, and she liked Kate Stewart, who didn’t have any issues with a part-Time Lord archaeologist on her team. She wanted to use science to discover the truth, and River couldn’t fault her for that.
She took a few breaks of her own: a few side trips and a couple of returns to Stormcage, just to remind them not to let the cell out, and to give Amy and Rory a few evenings alone. She still had quite a bit of her sentence to serve. But the majority of time was spent with Amy and Rory, and she was getting to know Brian better.
Amy had gone out with her friend, Laura, and Rory had the night shift, so River picked up takeaway and headed to Brian’s house.
Brian had moved to London a year after Amy and Rory did, after his wife had died. Leadworth held nothing but too many painful memories, he explained, and that was something River could identify with. He struck her as a lonely man, one who found a new life after inadvertently being introduced to the Doctor.
“Brian, it’s me,” she called out as she let herself in using the key she borrowed from Rory.
“In the parlour,” he said, and River hauled the bag into the room in time to see Brian setting up a tripod and fixing a camera. He settled on a stool and motioned to the other side. “Check the focus.”
He sat back and faced the camera as she made the adjustments before giving him the go-ahead to speak. “Brian's log. Day 67. Cube was quiet all night, once again. Cube was quiet all day. As per previously, no movement, no change in measurements. End of entry.”
“Please tell me you don’t watch it all the time,” River said as she switched off the camera.
Brian flushed. “I learned my lesson there. I film it while I'm asleep. When I wake up, I watch the footage on fast-forward. I email the result to UNIT. My middle name is diligence.”
River smiled and unknotted the plastic bags holding their meals.
“Now, don’t humor my log. I’m doing what the Doctor asked. Thank you,” he said, accepting a Styrofoam container and waving her to the seat next to him. “Golf?”
“That would be lovely.” And about the only thing Brian would watch other than the news and his growing fascination for sci-fi television. He quizzed her on whether something was true or not, and while not as verbose as the Doctor, River found that she was happy to discuss the wild inaccuracies of terrestrial television with her grandfather.
“I’ve been doing some thinking lately,” he informed her as he scooped up fried rice.
Brian took a bite and set his food aside. He took a thick album off the table, one River recognized as having Rory’s school pictures. He carefully flipped through it until he came to an image of Amy and Rory together at their wedding. Then, he tapped on the background. “Something about you has been bugging me since the day you arrived. That’s you, isn’t it?”
River leaned over and inwardly cursed. Yes, there she was, dressed in black and outside the window at Amy and Rory’s wedding. “I explained how things work with the Doctor,” she said. “That hasn’t happened for me yet. But, it will, some day.”
“You and the Doctor been married awhile, yes?”
“Quite a long time.” River set aside her food, no longer hungry.
“Why aren’t you with him? Why are you still in Amy and Rory’s spare room?” He tilted his head. “They’ve got clothes for you. I didn’t realize that until recently. I take care of the place while they’re away with the Doctor. Noticed the clothes in the bureau and wardrobe. They’re not Amy’s.”
“Brian, it’s really not my place to tell you this …”
“I just want you to know that I like you. I accept you and the relationship you have with my son and daughter-in-law.” Brian patted her knee. “It’s unconventional, but I want them to be happy.”
River’s mouth opened and closed, and her brain went there. “Brian, what sort of relationship do you think I have with Amy and Rory?”
“One of those ménage-a-trois ones, of course!” Brian beamed as he got the pronunciation right. “Though I do hope the Doctor is aware that you’re cheating on him. It’s in your best interest to be honest with him, and why are you laughing?”
She couldn’t help it. She broke into peals of laughter, collapsing into the cushions and covering her face with her hands. “Oh, I wish it was that simple,” River choked out and made her decision. She couldn’t leave Brian like this. Not now. “Brian, do you remember Mels Zucker?”
“She’s a hard one to forget.”
“I’m Mels.” She smiled at his confused expression. “I’m part-Time Lord, like the Doctor. When a Time Lord is gravely wounded, they regenerate. That’s what happened to me. I was wounded in Berlin, 1938, and I regenerated.”
“From a black woman to a white one?”
“Oh, yes. Regenerations can go all sorts of ways. There’s even one Time Lord who was known for changing from a man to a woman.” And here came the hard part. “But, before I was Mels, I was someone else, Brian. I’m part-Time Lord because my parents are human, and I was conceived in the vortex. When I was a baby, I was taken away from my parents and experimented on. I didn’t see them again until I was Mels.”
Brian didn’t say anything. As the silence stretched, River wondered if she needed to call Rory and have him swing by once he got off shift. Instead, he hunched forward and pressed his hands to his eyes.
“Ten years ago,” he said, “not long before Amy and Rory moved to London, I remembered that they had gone on a trip. Meeting a friend in Utah, they said. They came back, and I remember they were so sad. They tried to hide it, but you know, we’re parents. We know. We all talked about it, Marissa and I, Tabetha and Augustus. We thought she had a miscarriage and didn’t want to tell anyone. That’s Amy.” He dropped his hands and that piercing gaze, so like Rory’s, met hers. “But she didn’t miscarry, did she?”
“No,” River confirmed. “She gave birth to a healthy baby girl.”
“And that was you?”
“You mean all this time I was on them for about adopting a kid, you were there?”
“It’s complicated.” Near tears herself, River decided it was high time they break out the wine. “Do you want a drink?” she asked, getting to her feet with the sudden urge to do something.
“What did she call you? As a baby before you were kidnapped?”
“Melody. Williams, though I went by Pond. Everyone called me Melody Pond.” She went into the kitchen and found the wine glasses and the wine. She poured out two large glasses and carried one back to Brian.
“Why didn’t they tell me?” She heard the hurt in his voice, and her hearts ached.
“I can’t tell you that, Bri-“
“Grandad,” he cut in, fiercely. “You call me Grandad.”
For a moment, she couldn’t speak, and she was deathly afraid of weeping. She hadn’t known until that second how much she craved for her family to know her. “OK, Grandad.”
Pleasantly buzzed from the wine she shared with Brian, River was nearly back to her parents’ when the familiar voice came from the park across the street. She spun, smiled. “Hello, sweetie.”
The Doctor emerged from the shadows, dressed in his tux. He angled his hat jauntily and strode toward her, twirling his cane. “And where have you been, my bad, bad, girl?”
“Having dinner with my grandfather.” When he was close enough, she pulled him to her. “But, I think I’m ready for dessert.”
“And here, I was hoping we’d go dancing, wife.”
“Oh, I have no objection to dancing, husband.”
With a grin, he swept her into a waltz and promenaded her around the vacant street, still dotted with cubes. For all of his natural clumsiness, dancing was something that came easily, and one of the things she loved best about him. The lights around them spun as he turned her in circles, and by and by, she became more drunk from him than the wine. She loved life. Despite the cubes, her parents were happy and the last three months with them had been wonderful. Her grandfather knew the truth about her. And her husband was gazing at her as if he had found all the answers in the universe in her eyes.
He led the dance into the park and the waiting open door of the TARDIS. He snapped his fingers, and the door swung shut behind him before he laid his lips on hers.
They left a trail of clothes from the console room up the stairs to their room, which was helpfully relocated to be the first one they reached. They were greedy, greedy, greedy, with enough time apart to give the sex a desperate edge. She was surprised they even made it to the bed, but just barely before the ache became too much, and she was desperate for him.
She pushed him onto the bed, then scrambled over his hips and lowered herself onto him. His eyes darkened before fluttering shut, exposing veins in his neck as he arched beneath her and groaned. She loved this position, loved watching the look on his face as she rolled her hips and took him as deep as possible. She kept a slow, steady pace, deliberately driving them both mad before he toppled her over and drove both of them to completion.
They lay next to each other catching their breath, and River felt much, much better. “How long has it been for you?” she asked when she managed to find her voice again.
“Since I was here, or when we last had sex?”
She chuckled at that.
“I just took one trip. Maybe two. Maybe seven, but I didn’t run into you on any of them, dear. How long has it been?”
The Doctor peered at her. “Three months? And you haven’t gone mad?”
“Sweetie, it’s been a nice break. I went back to Stormcage a few times … and maybe had a go at that Pxyran library I’ve always wanted to see.”
“That’s my girl.” He tapped her nose. “I was worried there for a sec. Wondering if all that Pond domesticity has rubbed off on you. I’d have to stage an intervention.”
“Only you would stage an intervention from everyday life, my love.” River rolled onto her side and trailed a finger down his chest. “I’ve been helping UNIT. Making sure that my younger self has an easy time of it when she interviews Kate Stewart in about 12 years for her thesis.”
He made a noncommittal sound and twined a curl around his finger. “Kept the TARDIS monitoring all the newsfeeds. Nothing from the cubes, I take it?”
“Nothing other than people accusing Banksy of being behind it.”
They slept, the Doctor worn out to the point where he even slept for several hours before waking her up. He insisted he was bored again, and she had no issues helping him to alleviate said boredom.
“Come to breakfast,” she invited as they stepped out of the TARDIS just as dawn broke. “Amy and Rory would love to see you.”
“Come with me after.” He tugged her back to his side and kissed her nose. “We’ll check in on the Ponds again in a few months.
“I can’t, my love.” She straightened his bow tie. “Not at this second. Brian found out who I am last night.”
“As in who you are to Amy and Rory?”
River chuckled. “He seriously thought I was in a three-way relationship with them. That’s more than just a little odd. I had to tell him after that. I don’t know how they’re going to take it.”
The Doctor took her hand and squeezed. “River, why don’t Amy and Rory talk about you?” he asked quietly. “Why are there no pictures of you?”
“You asked me this three months ago. I don’t know.” She squeezed it back. “I never asked. Doctor, I’m not a little girl anymore. I don’t need to seek mummy and daddy’s approval.”
“Yes, you do. All children seek their parents’ approval. Why haven’t you asked?”
Her breath caught, and she swallowed past the lump that formed in her throat. “I’m not afraid of much,” she replied. “But, I am afraid of their answer to that question.”
“Do you think they don’t want you? Will reject you if you asked to be recognized? River, this is Amy and Rory-”
“Who aren’t perfect. If anyone knows that, I do. My mother keeps her emotions to herself, and my father has an inferiority complex the size of the moon. They are good people, Doctor, and I love them very much. I’m just not sure they love me as much as I love them.”
“That’s not true.”
Startled, River turned to see Rory several feet away. His hair was tousled, and he still wore his scrubs, now rumpled and a bit dirty from his long shift. His eyes were ancient and tired, and he looked like he’d been punched in the stomach. “Rory …”
He rubbed a hand over his eyes. “River, we love you. Amy and I. We really do.”
“You love Melody,” River said gently. “The daughter you lost.”
“Who happens to be you, standing in front of me now.”
“Then, why are there no pictures of me in the house? It’s been nine years. Why didn’t you tell Brian who I am?”
Rory blinked, at a loss for words. “I think we really should talk with Amy about this.”
“No, Rory. Brian is your father, and you helped make that decision. Tell me why.”
Rory stared at the Doctor helplessly. “Doctor …”
“You owe her an answer, Rory,” the Doctor said quietly. “She is your daughter. If you’re so proud of that, then why are there more pictures of me in that house than of her?”
Rory didn’t say anything. In the house next door, a television flipped on and the chatter from the BBC morning news drifted out the open window. At the end of the block, a couple of children scrambled down the stairs and raced across the street to the park.
River closed her eyes and turned away. “Doctor, I’m ready to leave now.”
“River, wait,” Rory pleaded.
She ignored him. She marched toward the TARDIS, belatedly realizing that her vortex manipulator and tablet were in the spare room upstairs. But she kept going until she was in the console room, and the TARDIS hummed around her child as if to soothe her. She placed a hand on one of the levers and realized that it was shaking. She fisted it and tried to control the emotions that were struggling to break free.
Be brave … be brave … be brave …
The door softly opened and closed, and the Doctor stepped up to the console. He laid his hands on her shoulders. With a muffled sob, she turned to him and let him hold her until the shaking stopped.