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I fall behind, but the second hand unwinds

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River always enjoyed spending time with her father, but the circumstances were a bit less than desirable. The moment she spotted him holding three anachronistic go-cups of coffee, her hearts sank. He was in the middle of an Angel-infested 1938 New York City without the TARDIS. No Doctor, no Amy. He didn’t have a vortex manipulator like she did.

She followed him for two blocks before he finally became a bit more aware of his circumstances. He turned, and his eyes widened when he spotted her. He looked calm, but River knew him well enough to see the fear in his eyes. She answered with a bright smile and hoped he couldn’t tell that she was just as scared as he was.

“I just went to get coffees for the Doctor and Amy.” Rory held up the go-cups. “Hello, River.”

“Hello, Dad.”

Rory’s jaw sagged as he took in his new surroundings. “Where am I? How the hell did I get here?”

Before River could speculate further, Grayle’s men closed in and forced River and Rory to visit the man himself. It didn't help that witty observations and wry commentary spilled from their lips as they met Grayle. That was the Williams in both of them showing. It was an absurd situation to begin with, made worse by the fact that they caught Grayle stroking a Qin Dynasty “vase,” which was actually a chamber pot. The resulting giggles caused Grayle to snarl at them.

“Separate them,” he ordered. “Put him in the study.” He sneered at River, baring his teeth. “Take Miss Malone to see the babies.”

“I can go with her,” Rory insisted as one of the men grabbed River’s arm.

“Go with them,” she urged, passing him just long enough to hand off her tablet. “Signal the Doctor,” she mouthed as she was hauled to a door and unceremoniously shoved inside.

“You’ll last longer with these,” the man said and tossed a pack of matches at River’s feet.

“And the entire point of this is?”

“Just a bit of humor.” The man smirked at her and slammed the door, the locks engaging after him.

River rolled her eyes and scooped up the matches. She still had her vortex manipulator, and Rory had her tablet. Between them, they could possibly signal the Doctor.

Around her, scraping noises and giggles came from every corner of the room. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up and her skin crawl. There was a theory about one of the ways the Weeping Angels could breed, and … she scraped a match against the wall and held it up to see dozes of cherubic angel statues clustered at her feet. They were of the similar sort that Tabetha Pond liked to collect. River privately vowed to smash them all the next time she saw her grandmother.

Well, there was a slight issue. She needed to use her vortex manipulator to signal the Doctor, but she also needed to keep the cherubs in sight. The match went out, and she quickly struck another. Holding it up, she risked darting glances around the room to see if there was anything she could use as a makeshift torch. Sadly, whatever brains Grayle’s henchmen lacked, they did have enough to ensure it wouldn’t be easy to keep a light.

She struck a third match and backed toward the steps, nearly running over a cherub. She kicked it out of the way and hastily opened her vortex manipulator just as the word “Yowza” appeared on screen. “Hello, sweetie,” River whispered as she backed onto the stairs. “I hope you’re not late this time.” She struck a fourth match and held it in her left hand while hastily programming the vortex manipulator with her right. As soon as she finished, that match went out. She grabbed the final match from the pack and struck it to find herself face to face with an angelic cupid statue, lips puckered as if it was about to kiss her.

The floor above her began to shake, and River sighed with relief. It was working. Oh, her bad, bad boy, he was going to burn New York. Provided they got out in one piece, she planned to thank him very thoroughly.

Just as she heard the TARDIS materialize above her, the final match went out.

-----

Amy bolted out of the TARDIS, not bothering to wait for the Doctor to do his so-called final checks. Rather, he was primping himself for his wife. Well, fine, he could do that, and she was going to look for her husband.

She spotted him in the study just as soon as she ran out the door, and she rushed to him. “Rory!”

“Amy, I am so glad to see you.” Rory’s wrist was trapped in the clawed hand of an Angel, and he pulled at it. “It’s weak, but it trapped me. I’ll be fine, you’ve got to find River.”

“Where is she?” Amy glanced around the room as the Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS. He crouched by the knocked-out Grayle and slapped his cheeks.

“Shock. He’ll be fine.” He glanced around and strode up to Rory, pulling out his sonic. He scanned the Angel and flicked it up to check the readings. “It’s holding you very tightly.”

“Can’t we just break the arm off?”

“Amy, please,” Rory begged. “I’ll be fine, you’ve got to find River.”

The Doctor frowned from where he was inspecting the Angel’s arm. “Where is she?”

“They took her to see the ‘babies.’ I don’t know what it means, but it doesn’t sound good.”

“I’ll find her.” The Doctor patted Amy’s shoulder.

“How?” Amy held up the battered copy of Melody Malone. “Can’t we just use this?”

“Can’t read ahead, Pond. But, we know enough that you need to break the Angel’s wrist. At least it’s not yours,” he told Rory.

“But, River wrote the book,” Amy protested. “Surely she’d make it useful, leave us some sort of spoiler-free hint, a list of previews, something like that.”

“You mean like a chapter index?” Rory asked.

“Rory, you are brilliant!” The Doctor soundly kissed his cheek and took the book from Amy, turning to the chapter index. “Aha! She’s in the cellar!”

Amy pushed at him. “Go, go, I’ll get Rory out.”

The Doctor whirled around and started to run toward the stairs, when he noticed more chapter titles. He stumbled and grabbed hold of the chair; his hearts nearly stopping when he got a good look at the final chapter name. With a roar, he heaved the book across the room, nearly hitting Amy with it by accident. “No!”

“Doctor?” Amy asked.

“No, I’m not ready for that!”

“Talk to us!” Amy insisted.

The Doctor strode up to Rory, pushing his nose into his face. “You get out of that statue without breaking it.”

“How?” Rory asked.

“I don’t know, just do it!” The Doctor ordered and ran from the room.

“Has he gone mad?” Rory wondered as Amy picked up the book. She carefully opened it to the chapter index and ran her finger down the list of chapters. Everything seemed familiar until … She sucked in a breath. “Oh my God.”

“Amy? What does it say?”

Face pale, Amy’s gaze met her husband’s. “The title of the last chapter. It’s called ‘Melody’s Sacrifice.’”

-----

The Doctor had the locks to the cellar open in less than 30 seconds and was halfway down the stairs before he noticed the baby Angels. Sucking in his breath, he swung his sonic from side to side before leaping back up the stairs and slamming the door behind him. She wasn’t there. River wasn’t there. Where the hell was she?

He paced the hall, hands fisting his hair. Rory being taken back to the past was bad enough, but River. It was like offering a five-course banquet to starving penguins. OK, that made no sense, but he was sure it made sense somewhere. It made sense to him, and that was all that mattered. She could take care of herself, naturally. He didn’t need to worry so much. Except, he did, and this entire setup with the Angels seemed wrong, wrong, wrong.

A sharp cry from the parlor interrupted his thoughts, and the Doctor walked back in to find Rory on the floor, his arm cradled protectively to his chest as Amy knelt by his side and murmured empty words of comfort. “You got your wrist out,” he said.

“Yeah,” Rory managed, and the Doctor could see the blood and the angry purple bruises running down his arm.

“You broke your wrist instead.” He dropped to his knees next to them. “The book said the statue would be broken, but you broke your wrist. You changed the future!”

“Because she’s my daughter,” Rory gritted out.

“Doctor?” Amy asked.

“Easy there.” The Doctor helped Rory to his feet and Amy flanked him on the other side. “Come on, Rory the Roman. You brave soldier. Let’s go fix your arm.”

They helped him into the TARDIS and up the stairs to the medical bay. The Doctor busied himself with several instruments before grabbing a jar. “Fastest way to do this,” he said and opened it. Little lights, like fireflies, floated out in a cloud and surrounded Amy and Rory. Gradually, the injuries from Rory’s arm faded, and he flexed it as the lights went back into the jar. “Nanogenes. Very good and fast little healers. Your arm’s fine now, Rory. Oh, and you won’t need those reading glasses anymore, Pond.”

Amy pulled Melody Malone out of her jacket pocket and arched an eyebrow. “So it seems. Couldn’t you have done it before I spent the quid on those reading glasses, Raggedy Man?”

The Doctor took the book back from Amy. “We need to track where River is. She still has her vortex manipulator.”

“And, she gave me her tablet.” Rory handed it to him.

“Good girl,” the Doctor murmured and began using it to home in on River’s location. “It shouldn’t take long. Baby Weeping Angels. That’s what they sent her down into. Don’t have much power, probably about as much as the Angel that caught you, Rory. But enough to relocate her somewhere else. Did she say why she was here?”

“I assume for the same reason in the book? To investigate the Angels. They didn’t leave us alone for long,” Rory said.

River’s tablet beeped and the Doctor crowed with delight. “She’s within a few blocks of here.”

“Winter Quay?” Amy asked. She held up the book in response. “That’s the next chapter after The Cherubs in the Cellar. Death at Winter Quay.”

“Right! Off we go Ponds!” The Doctor skidded to a stop to readjust his hair and bow tie, then sniffed the inside of his wrist. “Maybe I should go-”

“Oh, stop primping for your wife, and let’s get a move on!” Amy grabbed the Doctor’s arm and hauled him out of the medical bay.

-----

She waited for him. She would always wait for him. It was the Pond thing to do – to wait, to hope, to believe, to fight. She would always look for a way out, and she would never give up, no matter how much the bitterness in her heart grew. Because she was a Pond.

-----

She was in another building. Not quite like Grayle’s, River realized as she inspected the surroundings. Hotel. Early 20th century-style hotel. No? Maybe? Flats? She ran a finger down the row of postboxes and frowned at the dust. Unused for a long time. But, there was light and heat.

A bell sounded behind her, and she turned around to see the gates to the lift opening. “Cliché, but I’ll take the ride,” River murmured; more to not feel so alone in the empty foyer. There were no buttons in the lift, but it seemed to know where it was going. It creaked and swung, and she wondered for a moment if the cables would break and she’d crash to the bottom floor in a spectacular mess. Hell of a way to go.

The gates opened, and a line of rooms stretched down the hall, little brass nameplates outside each one.  She glanced at the names as she wandered down the hall, then paused before one. She ran a finger over the name as her hearts began to pound erratically.

The door swung open to reveal a seemingly empty flat. She wandered inside and wished for a torch, a drink, and the Doctor – not necessarily in that order.

“River!”

She jumped, then spun to see Amy rush into the flat. OK, her mother would do nicely. “Amy,” she said with great relief as Amy swept her into a hug.

“You’re OK! You had us worried when the Doctor didn’t find you.”

“I’m still in 1938 then?”

“Yes! Just a few blocks from where you and Rory were.”

“Blocks?” The heart pounding turned into full-on dread as River ran through the implications. “The Angels work by sending you back in time, feeding off your potential time energy. Why would it send me just a few blocks away?”

“River! Amy!” The Doctor ran into the flat, Rory on his heels. “Get out of here! Don’t look at anything!”

Rory slammed the door and locked it. “No offense, Doctor, but I think we’re better off in here than there at the moment.”

“Rory, you don’t-”

Rory cut the Doctor off by sweeping River into a hug. “You’re OK? They didn’t hurt you?”

“I can take care of myself, Dad.” But she hugged him back all the same. She had her husband and her parents, and they were the greatest power and comfort to her in the universe.

“There’s one out there. It was smiling at us. Me and the Doctor. Why would it be smiling?”

The Doctor brushed by them to peer into the other rooms. He stopped up short when he reached the bedroom and backpedaled away. He grabbed River’s hand as he did so, tugging her away from the door. “Don’t look in there!”

“What’s the matter?” Amy asked and peered in the room.

Before her was a twin bed with a mound of covers. An old woman, she realized, with long, stringy hair and a face so deep-set with wrinkles that it was hard to distinguish any facial features. “Who’s that?” Amy asked the Doctor.

“Sweetie?” River whispered. He merely turned away and squeezed her hand as hard as he could.

“Amy,” the woman moaned.

“You know me?” Amy approached the bed and took her hand. “How do you know me?”

The old woman’s eyes filled with tears. “Mum,” she whispered.

Amy gasped and Rory moved to her side. “Melody?” she asked.

“Mum. Dad.” The tears trickled down her cheeks, and she looked passed them, to the outside of the room, to where the Doctor and River stood. She struggled to sit up, and Amy tried to help. As soon as her arms were around her, the woman relaxed into her embrace. “Mum,” she whispered and her gaze met the Doctor’s. Words of a musical language that made no sense to Amy and Rory’s ears came from the woman’s lips before she slumped in Amy’s embrace.

Amy gently lowered the woman back to the bed and brushed her hair back from her face. She could see it now, in the eyes and the curl of the hair. She held a hand over her mouth and turned into Rory, struggling for control. He turned her away from the bed, to where the Doctor and River stood in the other room. The Doctor was stoically focused on another wall, his hand gripping River’s so hard that the knuckles had gone white.

“Someone please tell me what’s going on,” Rory demanded.

River dragged in a breath, surprised that her voice was as steady as it was. “Dad, that’s me in that bed. And I just died.”

-----

Rory closed the door behind him, passing his hand over his eyes as he joined the assembled group in the small lounge. The Doctor stood by the window, arms crossed over his chest and staring out the window. River had the sonic and was running it over the walls while Amy inspected the other flats on the floor.

“I don’t get it,” she said, walking back into the flat and re-locking the door behind her. “Every room is the same thing. They’re all old and in bed. What is this place?”

“That’s what I initially came back to 1938 to investigate,” River said as she studied the readings on the sonic, then compared it with the notes on her tablet.

“She died of old age, as far as I could tell,” Rory said as he sank onto the sofa, making sure not to refer to the husk of a woman in the other room as the older counterpart of his daughter. “I don’t get it. What happened?”

“This place is policed by Angels,” the Doctor said dully. “Every time you try to escape, you get zapped back in time.”

“Was it built by them?” Amy asked.

“Or grown. It doesn’t matter how it got here, just what it’s for.” The Doctor ran a hand down the wall.

“It’s some sort of Angel prison, right?” Amy asked.

“Maybe it’s food,” the Doctor murmured.

“Food?”

“Displacing someone back in time creates time energy and that is what the Angels feed on,” the Doctor said. “But, normally, it's a one-off, a hit-and-run. If they could keep hold of their victims, feed off their time energy over and over again... This place is a farm, a battery farm. How many Angels in New York?”

“It’s like they’ve taken over every statue in the city,” River said, taking the seat next to Rory's. Amy sat with her, putting her arm around her shoulders.

“Yeah, the Angels take Manhattan because they can. Because they've never had a food source like this one, the city that never sleeps!” He pivoted, pointed at her. “And you! You’re a complicated space-time event. I didn’t know when I was on the Byz-” He cut off, remembering that he didn’t know where she was in their timeline.

“I’ve done the Byzantium, Doctor, I remember that well.”

“You’re like a sun to them,” he murmured. “A supernova. They’ll feed and feed and feed off you, and they won’t let you stir a foot outside this room.”

“But, you were just zapped over to this building,” Amy said to River.

“Yes, because it was the babies. They weren’t at full power. Next time I try going out that door, they’ll send me back in time.”

The creaks and groans of the building around them intensified. Rory moved to the door and pressed an ear to it. “What was that?”

“They’re coming for me,” River said calmly.

“But, what does it mean?” Amy’s hold on River tightened. “What’s going to happen to her? Physically happen?”

The Doctor slumped into a chair and rubbed his hands over his face, unable to speak.

“I’ll be sent back in time. 30 years, 40 at the most,” River told Amy. “I’ll live out my life in that room, and I’ll die in that bed.”

“Will we be here? Me, Rory, and the Doctor?”

“No,” the Doctor said.

“How do you know?”

For the first time since running into the flat, the Doctor’s eyes met River’s. “Because, she was so very pleased to see us again. It’d be even worse. A prison more powerful than Stormcage. She would never stop trying to escape.”

“No,” River acknowledged, “I wouldn’t.”

“They’d keep cycling you back more and more, faster and faster. A drug they can’t quite get enough of, and a woman stubborn enough to keep trying to fight her way out. And I can’t stop it.” His voice broke. “I can’t stop it, because we all witnessed her future.”

“Well, don’t go writing my obituary yet, sweetie,” River retorted as the crashing got louder. “If I can get out, it’ll cause a paradox, just like the Byzantium. The well’s poisoned, and this place would unhappen.”

The Doctor bolted to his feet. “That would be almost impossible!”

River rose to hers, her face nearly in his. “Loving the almost.”

“River, be serious! Creating a paradox like that takes almost unimaginable power! What have we got?” He threw his arms open. “Tell me! Come on, what?”

Amy grasped River’s left hand in her right. Rory flanked the other side and took River’s right hand. “We won’t let them take her,” she coldly told the Doctor. “That’s what we got.”

“That’s it? True love against the Angels, do you seriously think that’s going to work?”

“She’s our daughter!” Rory yelled.

“She’s my wife!” The Doctor yelled back.

“She’s standing right here!” River snapped. “And I am perfectly capable of making my own decisions.”

A huge crash cut River off, and the lights flickered. River gently extracted her hands from her parents’ and ran them up and down the Doctor’s stiff arms. “My love, I have to try.”

He lifted his hand as if to brush it through her hair, then he fisted it and turned away. “They would be chasing you the rest of your life.”

“Then, they can join the mile-long list of everything else that’s chasing me.”

“River, I’m not sure this will work.”

“Husband, shut up.” River turned to her parents, about sick of the Doctor’s tantrum.  “We’ll split up, meet back when we can. The TARDIS is at Grayle’s, right? I’ll see you there.”

Amy threw her arms around her. “You be a good girl, Melody,” she whispered.

“Oh, Mother, since was being good any fun?” River winked and hugged Rory as well.

He patted her hair, kissed her forehead, and took Amy’s hand. “We’ll go first. We’ll see you when we can. And then, how about we go down to the pub?”

“Family outing. Love it.” Forcing a bright smile, River waved her parents off as they bolted out the door. “Well, my turn. I’ll see you-” she started to say, but the Doctor whirled around and stalked to the door, grabbing her hand. He peered out and scanned the hall before offering her a shaky smile.

“Run?” she asked.

“Run!” And they bolted.

Two Angels immediately moved to intersect their path, and the lights went out. Stepping backward, River ran into another door and tugged the Doctor onto the stairwell with her. They took the steps two at a time, nearly falling over when an Angel appeared on the landing below.

“The roof! Up, up!” The Doctor pushed River up ahead of them, and they raced up the stairs. “Fire escape, we can take it to the street from there.”

It was up three flights of stairs, but they were so used to the running that they were barely winded as they ran onto the roof. New York City spread before them in a tapestry of lights and smells.

“We might be able to-” The Doctor’s jaw fell as they saw the Statue of Liberty lurching over the side of the roof, fangs bared. “Isn’t that cliché? Since when does Lady Liberty have fangs?”

“Since Lady Liberty was infected like every other statue here.” While the Doctor kept his eyes on the statue, River searched for the fire escape. She found it off to one side, but then she froze. In the distance, just blocks from where they were, the Empire State Building – less than a decade old – stretched into the air. She wandered to the edge of the roof and gripped the side. “There’s always a way out,” she murmured, remembering how she had faced the Silence and Canton Everett Delaware III. 

“What was that?” The Doctor glanced over his shoulder, then yelped. “River, what are you doing?”

“Doctor, keep an eye on that!” She ordered and nimbly climbed onto the ledge. The wind rustled her skirts as she gazed at the traffic below. She didn’t see her mother’s bright hair and hoped that Amy and Rory would get out OK. Oh, who was she kidding? Rory the Roman would always ensure that Amy was OK.

“Sweetie, do you remember 1969? How Canton cornered me in the Empire State Building, and you caught me as I jumped off the ledge?”

“It still gives me nightmares! Not to mention the six times you’ve had me catch you flying in space, that stint on the universe’s tallest Ferris Wheel, and when you decided to go naked cliff diving on Planet One. River, I’m not going to be there to catch you this time!”

“I’m not asking you to catch me this time.” River slowly turned so she was facing the Angel.

“River, I’m serious!” The Doctor whirled around. “You’ll die!”

“I’m going to die anyhow! Doctor, I’m not withering away like that old woman in that room. I’ve been in far too many prisons to let myself be caged in a tiny room with no hope of escape.”

He thought of the Library, yet another prison he had sentenced her to. But it wasn’t a fixed event, and he was still trying to find a way out. But not to end it here, not like this. “River …”

“Sweetie, this will work. If I die now, it’ll cause a paradox that will wipe out the Angels. You know I’m right.”

And therein was the issue. He knew she was right. One jump, and it could wipe the Angels out. If River was right, the Winter Quay would never exist. He wasn’t sure where they would wind up, but it wouldn’t be here in the middle of an Angel-infested battery farm. But then there would be the Library. There would be another cage, another prison. All the books in history to keep her company, but was it really a kindness?

River gave the Statue the beady eye and took a deep breath before giving the Doctor a warm smile. “Time can be rewritten, my love. Remember that.” She closed her eyes and took a step back.

Before she could lose her balance, the Doctor leaped forward and grabbed her bodice. “Would you stop sacrificing yourself for me?” he yelled, pulling her forward.

River swung her leg out wildly before regaining her balance. She tried pushing his hand away. “Doctor, stop being an idiot!”

“Wife, shut up,” he snapped and climbed onto the ledge. He peered over the side. “Well, not as far as my fourth self fell, but will most likely send me into my next regeneration. I wonder if I’ll be ginger this time?”

“This is insane! Get down!” River tried pushing him back onto the roof, but the Doctor caught her by the waist.

“If you’re right, and I’m hedging on a slightly growing chance of that, all of this will no longer exist. And, if it doesn’t …” He squeezed her waist. “I wouldn’t want the same face anyhow.”

“You shouldn’t commit suicide for me.” Her voice shook. “That’s a stupid waste of a regeneration. You embarrass me!”

“Your father changed the future because you’re his daughter,” he said softly. “I’m going to change the future because you’re my wife.” He smiled. “Together?”

“The Weeping Angels are behind us, and death lies below. I’ve never had a dull moment with you yet,” River said, not bothering to hide her tears.

He laid his lips on hers. “Geronimo,” he murmured.

“Geronimo,” she replied.

And as Amy and Rory reached the roof and screamed their names, they jumped.

-----

River bolted into a sitting position, awareness coming back in a rush as she took in her surroundings. The last thing she remembered was jumping from the roof of the Winter Quay with the Doctor. They weren’t in New York, that was for sure. Actually, it almost seemed like they were in her parents’ back garden.

Then again, judging from the way Brian was gaping at them with the garden hose dangling from his hand, they were in her parents’ back garden.

“Grandad?” River got to her feet as Amy and Rory rushed out of the TARDIS.

“You did it! The paradox worked!” Amy hugged her.

“Where did you lot come from?” Brian gestured to River’s ruined clothes and Amy and Rory’s rumpled appearance. “Where’s the Doctor?”

“Oh God!” Her hearts leaping into her chest, River whirled around and nearly ran the Doctor over. “You’re OK!”

“Of course we’re OK, thanks to you! We got lucky! We could've blown New York off the planet. I can't ever take the TARDIS back there. The timelines are too scrambled.” He pulled her into his arms, his slight frame trembling as he held her close. “I could have lost you.”

“Sweetie …”

“Don’t ever do that again,” he murmured. Ignoring Amy, Rory, and Brian, he kissed her, his hands slipping into her hair. Her mouth opened beneath his, and she hummed into his.

“I can’t promise that,” she murmured.

“I know,” he sighed and kissed her again.

“So,” Rory said, “how about that trip to the pub? I could use several drinks.”

“So do we all, husband,” Amy said and led him into the house.

Brian shook his head and finally remembered to turn the water off. “You two coming along then?”

“In a bit,” River said, and before the Doctor could follow them, she tugged him into the TARDIS for an outing of a different kind.