She had two expedition offers, and she was having a devil of a time deciding between them. River took another sip of wine and swiped between pages on her tablet. Both were fascinating. One was to the lost ruins of Xrabora 9, where it was said there was a rare chalice beneath the ruins of an old religious temple. The other was a chance to discover what happened to the lost planet known as the Library. She pursed her lips and considered.
“Well, you’re not offering me near enough funding to make me consider that,” River mused aloud. “Interesting, but risky. Sorry, not at this time.” She tapped several keys and filed the Library away as a future consideration and wrote back her acceptance to Xrabora 9.
“Really, Dr. Song, we keep telling you prisoners aren’t allowed wine,” the guard on duty said as he approached her cell.
“And, I keep telling you, you’re welcome to share it.” River raised her glass.
He scowled at her. “There’s probably something in it.”
“Would I be drinking it if there was something in it?” She took another sip and hummed in the back of her throat. “Excellent vintage. Quite rare, actually. I’d really hate to let this bottle go to waste.”
The guard hesitated, then crept closer to the bars. “I’m really not supposed to while I’m duty.”
“It’s in the Bible, isn’t it? You wouldn’t be unfaithful at all if you drank wine. It’s what everyone drank back then, because it was far more sanitary than water.” River picked up the spare wine glass sitting on her bookcase and poured out a measure. “The health benefits are quite excellent, and I assure you that the wine will in no way make you incapacitated.” She passed it through the bars, and he took it. She toasted him and took a drink. He watched her, and seeing no ill effects, took his own.
As he slumped to the ground, River took another sip of wine. “However, I didn’t say anything about the wine glass.”
He was close enough to where she was able to pick his pocket for the keycard and maneuvered his hand up to deactivate the thumbprint scanner. The doors swung open, and River turned around for her tablet and vortex manipulator.
“Now, you’ll only be out a couple hours, and I just might be back by then. Well, months for me but you wouldn’t know, would you, darling?” River reached under her bed for her blaster and checked the charge. “Now that you’re taken care of …” She pivoted and aimed the blaster at the man flanked by creatures that appeared in the door to her cell. “What do you want with me?”
“I’m merely here to issue an invitation, Dr. Song,” the man replied smoothly.
She arched an eyebrow. “Sorry, you’ll have to make an appointment. I’m busy.”
“Oh, but I’ve been waiting quite a long time. Do you know who I am?”
River cocked her head, intrigued by the man. Something about him seemed familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. “A Jack the Ripper cosplay reject?”
The man sighed. “Really, could you take this seriously?”
“Oh, I’m always serious when uninvited guests show up in my cell. It really is bad manners not to phone ahead.”
“Then, we should take the discussion elsewhere.” The man waved to the creatures around him, and River turned her full attention to them. They looked like pallbearers with hideous faces, rather pointy fangs capping the end of teeth that were in bad need of dental treatment, and atrocious hats that her sweetie would simply adore. Not caring that the alarms would sound, she let off a blast stream of fire that cut the line straight through their abdomens, causing them to disintegrate. They howled, then instantly reformed. She mentally swore. She hated monsters like these.
“Tell me, Dr. Song, what do you know of Trenzalore?” the man asked, and she gasped before she realized it. “You’ve heard of it.”
She took care not to let her fear leak through. “Yes, and you’re mad. We can’t go there.”
“We can indeed go there. I’ve been waiting for many years for the right bait to come along to lure the Doctor. Do you think he would come for his pretty, pretty wife?”
River snatched up the vortex manipulator, grateful that her diary was already secure in the modified pocket of her trousers. “It’s the one place he should never go, and I’m not going to be the one to lure him there like a cow to slaughter.” The creatures advanced, and River hit the emergency key on the manipulator. Her cell, the man, and creatures snapped away as she whirled into the vortex.
A few seconds later, she landed on her bum, not prepared for the sudden time travel. Grey clouds stretched overhead, and she smelled fresh-cut grass. The ground was damp from a recent rain, and she could hear buses and cars on the road nearby. She got to her feet just as she heard the door open behind her.
“River?” Rory stepped outside, a plate of raw burger patties in his hand. “What’re you doing?”
River breathed a sigh of relief. The emergency button worked. It was set to take her to the one place on Earth she would always be welcomed and sheltered: her parents’ home.
“Where’s Mum?” She tucked the blaster away and quickly started to usher Rory in the house. “I need to talk to you both. Have you either of you been approached by any strange men that look like pallbearers?”
“She went out to the store to get a salad.” Rory took in her disheveled appearance and set the burgers aside as soon as they reached the kitchen. “What’s going on? Are you OK?”
“I’m not sure what’s going on.” And, she silently added, she wasn’t OK.
River locked the door behind them and ran through the kitchen and lounge to the front door and locked that as well. She moved back into the lounge, flicked the curtains aside and peered out the window. Ordinary street, ordinary day. Whatever that man was, whatever those creatures were, they wanted her. Worse, they wanted the Doctor, and if they knew enough to come for her, they would go for her parents as well. “Call Amy, get her home now. Tell her to keep in the most public spots possible. Don’t take any side streets or alleys.”
“River, you’re scaring me.”
“Good.” River snatched the house phone off its base, pressed it into Rory’s hand, and ran upstairs to secure the windows. She peered at the streets again, her stomach churning when she saw them rapidly clearing. It shouldn’t be like that. It was the middle of the day, but even the park was vacant. No, no time to get Amy home. She had to get her parents out of here. But, where? She ran through the possible places in her mind and discarded all but one. Madame Vastra, Victorian London. They might not be safe, but it would be safer.
“Dad, change of plans!” River ran downstairs as Rory approached the foot of them.
“River, she’s not answering her mobile.”
“Give me that.” She snatched the phone from him and hit the redial. “Amy?” she asked as soon as the line connected.
“Why, hello there, Dr. Song,” the man’s voice came through the line, smooth as silk. “Missing someone?”
“Let her go,” River snarled into the phone.
“What happened to Amy?” Rory demanded.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t go after your parents? The Girl Who Waited and the Lone Centurion. The Doctor is equally attached to them as well. Would you like to know the rest of the guest list to our little party?”
River hung up on him and grabbed Rory’s hand. “Dad, you have to trust me.”
She felt his hand tremble in hers, but he kept calm and steady. “What’s going on? Where’s Amy?”
“She’s been kidnapped. I’m not sure by whom, but he’s using her as bait for the Doctor. He’s using all of us as bait, and we have to keep one step ahead until I can find him.”
“Bait? For what?”
“For where! Hold tight!” River activated the vortex manipulator and Rory moved in closer, grabbing her arm.
They landed in a heap just inside the doorway of an old Victorian home. River gained her feet and slapped the locks of the front door into place just as Jenny descended the stairs.
“Dr. Song! It’s good to see you!” She took in their rumpled appearance without missing a beat. “What’s the matter?”
“Where’s Vastra and Strax?”
“Madame Vastra’s taking tea, and Strax has the weekend off. Wish we’d never told him about those. He’s gone off to Glasgow,” Jenny said as River rushed through the house to Vastra’s favorite parlour.
Vastra arched an eyebrow as River burst into the room, Rory and Jenny on her heels. “Dr. Song.” She indicated the empty seats around her. “Please take a seat. Have some tea.”
She really wanted a good, stiff drink. “Madame Vastra, please. We don’t have much time. They’ve taken my mother, and they’re coming for us. They’re going to use us to get to the Doctor.” She paused, catching her breath. "Tall man in a top hat, has an entourage of pallbearers who missed their true calling as ghouls."
Vastra frowned and set her cup aside. “I was wondering,” she said. “I recently paid visit to a man who gave me a message for the Doctor. You would understand it.” She produced a paper from the sleeve of her gown and passed it to River. “Do you know what this is?”
“Space-time coordinates,” River replied, glancing at the paper quickly.
“What for?” Rory asked, peering over her shoulder.
“Are these valid?” River asked.
“He said something about pallbearer-like creatures called the Whispermen and mentioned a word to go along with coordinates, one I’ve heard in connection with the Doctor before.” She nodded as River’s face went pale. “You know that word.”
“What word? What the hell is going on?” Rory demanded.
“Trenzalore,” River confirmed, and Vastra gave a single nod.
“What’s that?” Rory asked.
“The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave,” River explained to Rory. “I don’t even know it. I just know that it’s there; it’s been whispered for centuries. His grave, it’s on Trenzalore.”
She heard the distant click of the front door locks bursting open, and there wasn’t enough time to barricade the doors to the parlour. The masked pallbearers glided in. The Whispermen, River realized, as their whispers haunted the air, repeating the words “Tell the Doctor. Tell the Doctor.” Their mouths opened, and before River could react, Jenny and Vastra disappeared.
Rory grabbed the only weapon at hand, the butter knife lying beside Vastra’s scone plate, and moved in front of his daughter. “What are these things, River?”
“Whispermen,” she replied. She aimed her blaster at them, even though she knew it was useless.
In front of the door leading out of the parlour, the face of the man shimmered into view.
“Tell the Doctor that his wife and friends will be lost for forever more unless he goes to Trenzalore,” he intoned.
“No,” River protested. “He can’t go there. The Doctor can never go to Trenzalore!”
The Whispermen sucked in a breath, and the blaster clattered to the ground. Rory spun around to find that River had disappeared as quickly and silently as Vastra and Jenny had. He turned back to the door to find the Whispermen were gone as well.
“River?” Rory paced the room, fear churning in his gut. “River!”
He spotted River’s vortex manipulator, abandoned on the carpet. He scooped it up and turned it over in his hands. He never really watched River use it, but it was the only thing he had acc. He had to get out, and he had to get help. He needed to get the Doctor. He studied it for a moment, then pressed the button to go back to the last location.
He re-appeared in the lounge of his and Amy’s house, almost like nothing had happened. The only disturbances were the burgers he abandoned on the counter in the kitchen and the phone where River had dropped it. Rory grabbed it and redialed Amy’s mobile. When it switched to voicemail, he dropped it back on the receiver. He jumped as the back door burst open.
“Hello, Ponds! I’ve got a brilliant idea, how would you like to join Queen Victoria for tea? We’d have to do it early in her reign, seeing that I accidentally got myself ban-” The Doctor cut off as he wandered into the room and saw Rory. “Rory the Roman!”
“Doctor.” Shaken, Rory turned to him. “What’s Trenzalore?”
The Doctor’s face went sheet white.
She gasped as her eyes snapped open. Her surroundings came quickly into view: orange-black skies and the acrid stench of decay. Amy Pond’s brilliant red hair hung in her face as she crouched over River.
“Mother,” River breathed.
“You’re all right!” Amy helped her to sit up, and the women embraced. “I’m not sure what happened. I was on the way home, and these creatures emerged from the shadows. I fought them off, but next thing I knew, I was here. Where are we? Where’s Rory?”
“They left him. Someone needed to get a message to the Doctor, and it had to be Rory. They’re probably on their way here.”
Amy nodded, hands balled into fists. River managed a smile. Anyone else would be worried, but not her mother. Fury radiated from her, and River dearly hoped that the man behind the Whispermen had the chance to get the full force of Amy's Scottish temper. “The Doctor needs to stay away from here, doesn’t he?” Amy asked.
“He won’t, because he is a sentimental idiot.” River shivered as she inspected where they were more closely. They were surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of gravestones, and on a hillside close to them loomed an extremely large TARDIS, tattered and battered by the elements.
“That can’t be the TARDIS,” Amy said as River got to her feet.
“It is,” River confirmed. It was one of the saddest things she’d ever seen, and an ache bloomed deep within her chest. “When a TARDIS is dying, its internal components begin breaking down. Everything that makes it bigger on the inside leaks out, and it grows. It’s the TARDIS as you and I know it, but it’s far in the future. That's the Doctor's grave.”
Amy's eyes cut away, and she took a deep breath. “Right. Makes sense. What else would he be buried in?” Amy started up the hill, then stumbled to a halt, eyes riveted on a particular grave. “River?”
“Amy, we probably should-”
“No. River.” Amy gestured and stepped aside, and River found herself staring at her own grave. Her hearts seized momentarily, then she shook it off and approached it. She trailed her fingers over the simple, engraved name, and for some reason thought about the expedition to the Library she had turned down.
“That’s your grave. Why is your grave here?”
“Everyone has a grave, Mother.”
“Why would it be here? Why not on Earth with … with us?”
“Well, logic dictates that I would be buried next to my husband.” River stared at the enlarged TARDIS. “But, there’s nothing logical when it comes to us, is there, sweetie?” And, somehow, she didn’t think that the Doctor would choose for her to be buried here. Where, she never wanted to think of, but she would like to imagine it was near her parents. Regardless, there was something odd about it. “That might not be my grave. And, if it’s not my grave, then what is it?”
“Decoy? Secret entrance?” Amy asked.
“I like secret entrance.” River toed the spongy ground in front of the headstone, then took two paces to the left. The ground gave way, and Amy and River plunged into the ground.
“So, where’s Amy? Where’s River?” Rory demanded as he followed the Doctor into the TARDIS. “What’s Trenzalore?”
“I’ve heard of it, of course. Not long after Utah, actually, from Dorium. You remember him, tried to help us save Amy and River on Demon’s Run. He mentioned Trenzalore, so did a few others. Many suspected what it was, but I never wanted to find out myself.” The Doctor ran down the stairs to the wiring beneath the console, and Rory followed. “River would know though. River always knows.”
“She said your grave was there,” Rory confirmed. “And there was a secret, one even she doesn’t know.”
The Doctor reached for a wire and pulled it down. “Do you know where she was in her timeline?”
“Well, we didn’t exactly have the chance to compare notes.”
The Doctor held his hand out and beckoned to Rory’s. “Give me your hand. Did the Whispermen or the strange man address River by her full name? Is she in university?”
Rory raised an eyebrow, but he extended his hand. “No. Madame Vastra called her Dr. Song.”
The Doctor took it and held it up to the wiring. “Did River correct her? Say she was anything else?”
“What else would she be?”
“She didn’t say she was a professor?”
“No, why would she?”
“Then, there’s a possibility she doesn’t know. Younger River. Knows a lot about me, not everything. Not what she knew the first time.”
“The first time? You mean in Berlin?”
The Doctor pressed the wire to the back of Rory’s hand, and he hissed in pain. “Ow! The hell?”
“The space-time coordinates on that piece of paper River held. You saw them, right?”
“Then, they’re still in your mind. I just hooked you into the TARDIS’ psychic interface, and she’ll decode them from there.” The Doctor hooked the wire back into the console, taking care not to look at Rory as he spoke. “When you are a time traveller, there is one place you must never go. One place in all of space and time you must never find yourself.”
Rory rubbed the back of his hand. “It makes sense if it’s your grave.”
“Oh, but Rory the Roman. It’s more than that. River told you I had a secret I will take to the grave. It’s not the secret we should be worried about. It’s the grave. Trenzalore's where I’m buried.” The Doctor started up the stairs, halted. He gripped the rail tightly. “Rory, we have to go there. We have to save them. Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. They’ve always been there for me, helped me when Amy was taken by the Silence. Amy and River … I owe them. I have a duty.”
“If you weren’t going for them, I’d make you,” Rory said, then gave him a pleading look. “Please tell me you’re not going to make me wear the Roman armor again.”
The Doctor scoffed. “What, you have to look the part.”
“I’m sure I can look the part in jeans and a shirt,” Rory retorted as the Doctor ascended the stairs to set the coordinates.
“Well, hang on. Once she figures out where we’re going, she’ll fight us every step of the way.” And the Doctor pulled the lever, jerking them into motion.
Amy and River wandered through the catacombs and narrow tunnels beneath the TARDIS, stopping every so often as Amy wavered and grew dizzy.
“Dimensioning forces,” River explained as she wrapped an arm around her shoulder and helped her to walk. “This deep in, and they make you feel a bit giddy. Have to be careful. The TARDIS is in ruin, and the telepathic circuits are distributing the strands of memory that belong to other people who have been in the TARDIS. That's what makes up the data banks.”
Amy clutched her head, letting out a low moan of pain. “It’s like I’m viewing someone else’s life. Those faces in the data banks I saw before my wedding. I can see them, but they’re wandering around the TARDIS. Someone named Rose. Who’s Rose? And Donna? DoctorDonna?”
“Amy!” River shook her a little. “We have to get out of here!”
And Amy began trembling, staring at River in shock. She pulled away, pressing her back into the elaborate webbing that kept them from falling off the narrow walkway. “You died.”
“Spoilers!” River cried.
But Amy didn’t hear, too lost in the memories that weren’t her own. “You died saving all those people! And the Doctor too. But, he didn’t even know you. How is that possible?”
“Amy, come back to me now! Don’t look at anything else!”
“I deserve to know how my daughter died!” Amy yelled at her. “Don’t you want to know?”
“No! I can’t!” With one last tug, River pulled Amy free from the room, and the women reached the stairwell. Amy slumped onto the bottom step, and River dearly wished for a drink of water. She dragged her hands over her face and took several deep breaths.
Amy hunched over, hugging her knees to her chest. “He didn’t know who you were,” she said in a small voice.
“Our lives are back to front, Mother, you know that. My past is his future, and my future is his past. It makes sense that the first time he meets me that I die.” River said this in a great rush, repeating the words that had formed such a large part of her life. It didn’t make the heartache of knowing the day was coming when she would meet her Doctor, and he would stare straight through her without knowing her, any easier to bear.
“Not all of it,” Amy snapped. “Or Berlin would have been the last time the Doctor ever saw you, and it wasn’t, was it?”
“No,” River conceded.
“We weren’t even there. I don’t recognize the Doctor in what I saw. He had this spikey brown hair. A long trenchcoat. I know he has other faces. This is one that hadn’t met us yet, isn’t it? Why didn’t he tell us?”
“How could he?” River said softly, disturbed that what Amy described sounded like his tenth incarnation. “You didn’t know for a long time who I was, did you?”
“No,” Amy replied.
River sat next to her. “Mother, when it’s my time, if it’s saving the Doctor, then know that I did so on my own free will. Any time, every time, I will choose him. Wouldn’t you do the same for Dad?”
“Of course,” Amy snapped. “It’s called marriage.”
River laid her head on her shoulder. Amy had worn the same scent of gardenias ever since they were in high school, and every time she smelled it, she always thought of her parents. “Then, why would I choose anything else?”
Amy let out a breath and wrapped an arm around River’s waist. “I know we haven’t always been the best, and we’re still working things out. But, we love you. You know that, right?”
“Of course. I’ve always known.” Tears threatening, River got to her feet before she could turn into a blubbering mess. There would be enough time for tears when they got out of this mess. She held out a hand to Amy. “Let’s get out of here before we start re-living memories of the Doctor’s hat collection. I lack a weapon to shoot them with.”
Amy laughed and took it. River tugged her to her feet, and together they ascended the stairs. They emerged just outside the tomb, in the shadow of the enlarge TARDIS.
“Well, well, here you all are.” The man who visited River in her cell approached them, surrounded by more of the Whispermen. “Dr. River Song and Amelia Pond. The wife and mother-in-law of the Doctor. I see that you have found each other. And the other guests as well.” He gestured behind them, and River saw Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.
“Dr. Simeon,” Vastra said. “This is not possible.”
“He died,” Jenny protested.
“He died, but the creature that possessed him lives on,” Vastra confirmed.
“What creature?” Amy asked.
“The Doctor had an adventure with the three of us in Victorian London, 1892, involving this man,” Vastra explained. “Dr. Simeon is better known as the Great Intelligence.”
The name sparked a memory from her studies long ago, and it took River a moment to place it. The Great Intelligence was something her sweetie, in his second incarnation, had fought. “He doesn’t have a physical form,” River told Amy. “But, he has the power to control minds. Some say he’s a parasite, but it’s unknown who he really is or what he wants?”
“Isn’t it obvious, Dr. Song?” the GI said. “Surely you as his wife, a human evolved to be part-Time Lord, is smart enough to figure it out.”
“Where exactly are we?” Vastra asked.
The GI smirked. “Welcome to the final resting place of the cruel tyrant. Of the slaughterer of the 10 billion. The vessel of the final darkness. Welcome to the tomb of the Doctor.” The GI gestured to the mutated TARDIS. His voice was as pleasant and calm as when he first breached River’s cell in Stormcage.
“Why is it here?” Amy asked.
“It was a minor skirmish by the Doctor's blood-soaked standards. Not exactly the Time War, but enough to finish him. In the end, it was too much for the old man.”
“Blood-soaked?” Jenny gasped.
“The Doctor’s been many things, but never blood-soaked,” Vastra spat.
“Tell that to the leader of the Sycorax, or Solomon the trader, or the Cybermen, or the Daleks.” The GI strode up to River, his nose nearly in her face. His lips curled into a smile that could give a child nightmares. “Tell that to Melody Pond. The girl who grew up knowing every one of his failures. Tailor-made to kill the Doctor. Oh, how I wish you’d been effective, girl.” He moved to Amy and inclined his head. “Tell that to Amelia Pond, whose mere association with the Doctor caused her only child to be taken, tortured, brainwashed. She will never give birth to another.”
The words were true on a level. The Doctor had the blood and regrets of so many on his hands. Doctor, the name for healer, was also synonymous in some places for being a warrior. Like in the Gamma Forests. River’s hands curled into fists, wanting to do something, anything, to fight back against this man.
“The Doctor is a good man,” Amy ground out. “He’s saved so many. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. Yes, my daughter was taken from me, but he got her back. She is safe and whole and happy.”
“But, did he ever tell you how she suffered along the way?”
“How did you come by this information?” River cut in, mostly to spare Amy from any mention of her childhood. “You’re a mind without a body.”
“And, I still am.” The GI reached for one side of his face and dug in, fingers tearing through flesh as he ripped it open to reveal nothing beneath. The funereal clothes he wore dropped to the ground, and the Whisperman next to him moved into the spot where the GI had stood. Slowly, he morphed into the man that Vastra addressed as Dr. Simeon. “There, you see?”
He approached the doors to the TARDIS and ran his hand over the wood. “The doors require a key. The key is a word. The word is the Doctor's. But not just his.” He spun to River. “The key is a word lost in time. A secret hidden in the deepest shadow and known to him alone, but there is another who shares that secret.” He lifted a bony finger, pointing it at her. “And she’s standing before me.”
“She doesn’t know,” the Doctor's voice echoed through the clearing. Moments later, he and Rory emerged from the same tunnels that Amy and River had traversed minutes earlier, both disheveled from their own journey.
“Amy!” Rory rushed to her side.
“Rory!” She threw her arms around him just as he embraced her.
He pushed her back to arm’s length for a moment and drank in the sight of her. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. River took care of me.”
The Doctor sauntered between the GI and River, flicking him just the briefest glance before spinning to River. He spread his hands and gave a sheepish shrug. “Sorry, honey, I’m late. Traffic was hell.”
She smiled. She couldn’t help it. He was such a show-off. “Well, it turns out you were right, sweetie. You were late to your own funeral.”
“So I am.” He moved into her personal space and lightly tapped her nose. “When are we, Dr. Song?”
“It is not the time for meaningless questions,” the GI snapped.
“This conversation is between me and my wife,” the Doctor snapped back. “If you would kindly just shut up about three seconds, you will get your turn.”
River reached into the pocket of her trousers and pulled out her diary, the pages mostly fresh and new. She turned it to a place not far from the beginning, and the Doctor placed his hands over hers. “That’s enough. It hasn’t been long since Utah for you, has it?”
“Long enough for me to have done it twice,” River said.
“Ah. That puts it in perspective.” He kissed her cheek and nuzzled slightly. The affection made her toes curl. “There, you see? Now, it’s your turn,” he told the GI.
The GI scowled, and River wasn’t sure if he was more annoyed over being ignored, not being taken seriously, or the Doctor’s display of affection. “Open the door, Doctor. Speak. Open your tomb.”
“No,” the Doctor said, stonily.
“Do you know what's in there?”
He kept his focus on the GI, ignoring Dorium’s voice in his mind. No living creature may speak falsely or fail to give answer. Well, here’s an answer for him. “I will not open those doors.”
The GI strode forward, catching the Doctor’s face in his gloved hands and squeezing tightly. “Doctor. What is your name?”
He bore his gaze into the GI’s and didn’t say a word.
River privately admitted that the moment was rather hot. Amy would later agree.
The GI let the Doctor go. “The Doctor’s family, his friends. Stop their hearts.”
The Whispermen swarmed them, cornering Amy and Rory in one area and Vastra, Jenny, and Strax in the other. River found herself caught between the GI and the doors to the TARDIS.
“Madame, Boy, assume combat stance,” Strax ordered.
“But, we’re unarmed!” Jenny protested.
“Do not divulge military secrets!”
“Rory!” Amy scanned the area, looking for anything to use as a weapon as Rory moved in front of her to shield her.
“Your name, Doctor, answer me!” the GI ordered.
Rory snatched up a metal pipe and thrust it into one of the Whispermen. Like when River shot at it earlier, its stomach disintegrated, then reformed.
“Doctor who?” the GI demanded and waved a hand toward River.
A Whisperman materialized in front of River and shoved her against the doors. She grabbed his arm and tried to push it away from her, but he pinned her so she couldn’t move. A knee to the groin would be ineffective, and she wondered if biting him would do any good. Her teeth were about the only effective weapon she had left. She longed for her hallucinogenic lipstick, but doubted that would work either.
“Please, stop it,” the Doctor said as the Whispermen pinned Amy and Rory to pillars. One of them sunk its hand into Rory’s chest, and he screamed with pain.
“Rory!” Amy screamed and began beating the Whisperman that was on her. It responded by reaching inside of her chest, grasping her heart. “Doctor!”
“Amy! Rory!” River cried, then gasped. She looked down to see the Whisperman’s hand buried in the right side of her chest, the other reaching for her left heart.
“Please!” the Doctor begged as the Whisperman’s left hand sank into River’s chest. She screamed in pain as it squeezed both hearts at the same time, the sound echoing across the fields. “I’ll say it!”
“No!” Her vision wavered as the pain, oh god the pain, grew unbearable. “Please, don’t!”
“Doctor!” Amy cried.
“Get away from her!” The Doctor strode to River and tried to shove the Whisperman aside. It merely squeezed both her hearts tighter, and River felt herself slide toward blessed unconsciousness. “Let her go!”
“Doctor, you can’t,” River begged, her voice barely a whisper.
“I’m not going to tell him.” He leaned in close to River’s ear and whispered.
The doors opened.
The creatures released their hold, and Amy, Rory, River, Jenny, Vastra, and Strax fell to the ground. Rory caught Amy in his arms while Jenny and Vastra hugged each other with relief.
When the creature let River go, the Doctor tugged her into his arms before she could hit the ground. “Is everyone all right? Is everyone OK?” he called, his gaze flicking to each of his friends before returning his attention to her. “River, are you all right?”
“You shouldn’t had done that, sweetie,” River coughed as she regained her breath, the pain slowly fading away like the aftermath of a muscle cramp.
He squeezed her, not quite sure what to do to help her. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He trembled a bit and tried his very best not to telegraph how badly he was shaken. He hugged River hard, patting her curls and rocking her slightly. “You were always going to know my name. I was always going to tell you. Trenzalore or no, you deserved to know.” He helped her to her feet. “Do you know what’s in there?” he asked the GI.
“For me, peace at last. For you, death everlasting,” he said. “Won’t you invite us in?”
The Doctor dragged in a breath and glanced over his shoulder at Amy and Rory, holding hands. They stood in solidarity, in support of him as always. His Ponds. He reached for River’s hand, and she took it. They approached the doors together. He grabbed one side, she the other, and they pulled it open as the Cloister Bell rang.
The inside was beautiful in a macabre way. Vines and branches entwined around the stairs and railing, leading up to where the console once stood. In the center stood a glittering mass of light, like a spinal column with veins snaking out of it. It reminded River of pictures she’d glimpsed in Rory’s medical texts in Leadworth a long time ago.
“It’s beautiful,” Jenny breathed.
“Doctor, what is it?” Amy asked.
“Traveling through time is like a wound, tearing through the fabric of reality. Scar tissue if you will. These are all my travels, from Gallifrey to Trenzalore, including the ones I haven't lived yet.” He pulled out his sonic and aimed it at the entwined timelines, and voices emerged. As they echoed through the room, the Doctor groaned in pain and fell to the ground.
“Doctor!” Amy raced to his side as River pulled him into her lap. Amy knelt next to her and ran her hands through the Doctor’s hair.
“I shouldn’t be here,” the Doctor gasped. “The paradoxes are … very bad.”
The GI tossed him a disdainful look and approached the time stream. “The Doctor's life is an open wound. And an open wound can be entered.”
“No, it would destroy you!” the Doctor yelled.
“Not at all. It would kill me. It would destroy you. I can re-write your every living moment. I can turn every one of your victories into defeats. Poison every friendship, deliver pain to your every breath.”
“It would burn you up. Once you go through, you can't go back. You would be scattered along my timeline like confetti.”
“It matters not, Doctor. You thwarted me at every turn. Now, you will give me peace as I take my revenge of every second of your life. Good-bye, Doctor.” The GI stepped into the Doctor’s time stream and faced them, smirking as he disappeared.
The Doctor screamed in pain, and Rory dropped down next to them. “He’s in cardiac arrest,” he said, checking the Doctor's vitals as best he could.
“His timelines are getting rewritten,” River explained. “Everything he’s ever done, all the worlds he saved, the people he rescued, all of that is being undone.”
“Jenny, Strax, with me,” Vastra ordered and led them outside so she could use her scanner.
River gently laid the Doctor on the ground, and she, Amy, and Rory gathered around him. “There’s something that can be done!” Amy cried.
“The Dalek asylum, Utah, the Silence, everything is becoming unraveled. I can feel it just enough, see those timelines unraveling in my head.” River stared at the timeline, and realization began to dawn. If the Great Intelligence could poison his time stream by scattering itself, couldn’t the same thing happen in reverse? She thought of the memories Amy had glimpsed as they passed through the TARDIS. “Mother, you said I died saving him.”
Amy’s eyes lit up. “Yes! Yes, you did!”
“River, no,” the Doctor said feebly.
“Shut up, Doctor,” Amy ordered.
“Can you do it?” Rory asked, and River heard the hope in his voice. “Can you help him?”
“No, River, please,” the Doctor begged, reaching for her. His fingers brushed the hem of her trousers. “Amy, Rory, if she goes in there, she will die. Her body will burn up, and no regeneration can bring her back. She’ll be torn in thousands of pieces, echoes throughout time and space.”
“But, those echoes will be enough to save you, right?” Amy demanded.
“Amy, please. Don’t let her do this.”
Over the Doctor’s prone form, Amy, Rory, and River’s gazes met. Held. They knew what needed to be done, for the good of the Doctor and the universe. “You be a good girl, Melody,” Amy said and pulled her daughter into a hug.
“Oh, Mother, that would be ever so boring.”
“I’d tell you to make us proud, but you already have.” Rory choked back tears and Amy pulled him into the hug as well. They stood together over the Doctor, united in their love for him.
“Take care of him for me,” River whispered to her parents, her eyes shining with unshed tears. “Please, watch after him.”
“Always,” Amy vowed.
“River, please,” the Doctor begged.
She dropped to her knees, took his hands, and brushed his fringe out of his eyes. “I have to, sweetie. Spoilers. You will see me again.”
“You don’t need to do this,” he begged. "Please, River."
“As a wise woman once told me, it’s called marriage.” She pressed her lips to his and felt the tears running down his cheeks and allowed herself to cry. “I love you.”
“River,” he gasped, and she got to her feet and approached the time stream. It was now scarlet, red with the Great Intelligence’s poison that was affecting every part of the Doctor’s life.
River glanced over her shoulder, drank in the sight of them in one last time. The Doctor, now held in Amy’s arms, Rory on his other side. The Doctor and his Ponds. They would be fine. She would make sure of it.
Then, she leaped into the time stream.
I don’t know where I am.
All I know is that I was born to kill the Doctor.
Now, I’m going to save him. Every time, all the time. Right from the very beginning.
I will be there to catch him when he falls, and he will be safe. My Doctor.
It’s called marriage.
A bright flash of light filled the room, and Jenny, Vastra, and Strax re-appeared, Strax nattering on about a battle. Amy and Rory stood together near the time stream, and the Doctor was a few feet away from them, on his feet and looking as healthy as when Rory first saw him just an hour earlier.
“She did it?” Rory asked.
“We’re all restored, that’s all that matters,” Vastra told Strax in an effort to cut off his tirade.
“She did it, and we are not all restored,” the Doctor confirmed. He whirled to them, eyes burning with anger and guilt. “Look at what she did.” He jabbed a finger at the lazily turning time stream. “Your daughter. I hope you’re both proud.”
“We are,” Amy said, striding up to the Doctor. Annoyed, at how he was acting, she got in his face. “She is a good girl, and she saved you. Saved all of us.”
The Doctor stared over Amy’s shoulder. The time stream was again pure white. All those healed timelines. Healed by his wife, who once again sacrificed everything she was to save him. He thought of the Library, of Berlin, of when she broke time. Every time, again and again, she gave of herself while he stood by and did nothing.
The answer, really, was very simple.
Amy noticed where his attention was focused, and she caught on quickly. She grabbed his arm. “You can’t go in there. That’s your own time stream!”
“I have to get her back, Amy.”
“How?” Jenny asked.
“Is she still alive?” Vastra asked. “It killed Dr. Simeon.”
“River’s got one advantage over the Great Intelligence. Me. Now.” The Doctor turned to Amy and Rory. His Ponds. Always together and always so strong. He wasn’t quite sure he could speak for a moment, as his love for them rushed through him like a wave. “If I don’t come back, and I might not, go to the TARDIS. The fast return protocol should be on. She’ll take you home, then shut herself down.”
“Doctor, there has to be another way,” Amy pleaded, grabbing hold of his coat. “Use the TARDIS, use something! Please, save River, but her sacrifice's meaningless if you die as well!”
“Amy. My Amelia.” He hugged her. “What would you do if it was Rory?”
Amy sniffed and pressed her face into his shoulder. “Then, let me go after her instead. I’m her mother.”
“No,” Rory said. “I should go. I’m her father.”
“My Ponds.” The Doctor pressed his face into Amy’s hair and fought back tears. “You’re right. She does you proud. No. Don’t cry, Amelia. I’ll get her back, and I’ll bring her home to you both. I promise.”
“You promised that when she was kidnapped. You swore on your life you would bring my baby back, and you didn’t,” Amy sobbed.
“I won’t be bringing your baby home. I never will, and I will regret that for the rest of my life. But, I will bring your daughter back.” He slid a finger under Amy’s chin and tilted her face up. “I have to go after her. I’ve let her go too many times.” He gave her a wry smile. “It’s called marriage. Together or not at all, eh?”
Amy sniffed, managing a smile through her tears. “Took you long enough to figure it out, you great numpty.”
The Doctor kissed her forehead and stepped aside so Rory could comfort her. “Take care of her, Rory.”
“Always,” Rory vowed. “And, you take care of our daughter.”
The Doctor nodded to the Paternoster Gang. “Vastra, Jenny, Strax. ‘Til the next time.” He glanced up at the timeline and straightened his bow tie. “Geronimo,” he murmured and stepped into it.
She landed in a misty area, fog billowing out of the ground. River pushed herself into a sitting position and scanned the area. She couldn’t remember what she’d done, but she knew the timeline was fixed. The Doctor was safe. So were her parents. She’d done what Amy had guessed she would do, and it had to be enough.
But, why did she feel so alone?
Well, that wouldn’t do. She’d been in worst positions. River gained her feet and dashed a hand over her eyes as the loneliness and exhaustion from splintering herself through the Doctor’s time stream threatened to engulf her. She wept, silent tears as she tried to figure out where she was.
“You can hear me. I know you can. You’re inside my time stream. Every thing you see is me.”
As he spoke, she saw his various incarnations run past her. All the ones she saved and the ones yet to come. All of his faces. She would never forget them. “I can see you. Your past incarnations. All your good days, all your bad,” she said in a shaky voice.
The ground rumbled and River pitched forward onto her hands and knees. “What’s happening?”
“I’m inside my time stream, and it’s collapsing.”
“No!” River scrambled back to her feet. “Get out of here! There’s no use in you being a sentimental idiot!”
“I’m sending you something. From our past. Look up, dear.”
She did and saw the bow tie floating in the wind, gently winding its way toward her. She reached up and gently took it, automatically wrapping it around her hand.
“This was a promise we made to each other in a timeline that no longer exists. I know there’s some who question the validity of what we did, but I never did. Melody Pond. River Song. My wife. Even when you’re not here, I can always hear you. I can always see you. I kept running away from you, because I know how you died, and the more I was with you, the more knowing your future hurt. I don’t know how to say goodbye to you, River, and I don’t think I ever can. I’m a selfish, selfish old man.”
She pressed the bow tie to her lips, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“River, River, come to me. I know you can. I promise, I will be a better husband to you. We’ll never be linear, and we’ll row endlessly over who drives the TARDIS better, but we’ll have a good life together.”
She managed a shaky laugh and pressed another kiss to the bow tie. As she did, she saw a familiar shape in the distance, illuminated by the glow of his time stream. Just a few feet away, yet it seemed like miles. “No, you’re another echo.”
The Doctor stretched both hands toward her, beckoning her to him. “I’m not an echo. I’m me. And you’re you. Melody Pond, daughter of Amy and Rory Pond. Child of the TARDIS. My wife, who’s always saving me. Just once, just for the hell of it, let me save you.”
As he spoke, River stumbled forward until he was able to reach out and tug her those last few inches, pulling her into his arms. She sobbed into his shoulder, and he rocked her back and forth, whispering to her in Gallifreyan. He was crying too, she realized as he kissed her, long and deep, hungry and a bit desperate as he pulled her flush against him. Her hands fluttered, a bit useless for once, before deciding to slide into his hair as she returned the kiss with all the passion she had for him
She wasn’t sure how long they stood like that, for every time they tried to stop kissing, they couldn’t. They would part, eyes would meet, then they were kissing again. Finally, he cupped her face in his hands, his thumbs softly stroking her cheeks as he took ragged breaths. “Promise me something,” he said hoarsely.
“Anything, my love.”
“Don’t go to the Library. No matter how many times you’re asked, turn them down. Please.”
It was one of the places her echo had gone. One of the stronger memories. She hadn’t quite managed to save him there because it was the Library. For at some point in her future, she would say yes to that expedition, and her real self would sacrifice herself to save him. It was the future Amy had glimpsed, the memory that the TARDIS leaked. “It’ll rewrite history. All those people trapped in the data core.”
“We’ll find another way to save them. But, I’m not losing you again.” He kissed her again with a bit more of that lovely desperation, and River briefly wondered if they would add shagging in the middle of his time stream to their lengthy list of sexual accomplishments. But, suddenly, the Doctor broke off the kiss as he noticed something over River’s shoulder.
River turned and saw the hunched man standing before the graves. “Who’s that?”
“Never mind,” the Doctor told her. “Let’s get back.”
“No, who is he?”
“He’s me. You know that. There’s only me here. Now, let’s get back to your parents.”
River shook her head. “Sweetie, I know all your faces. I knew them even before this. That’s not you, none of your regenerations.”
“I said he was me. I never said he was the Doctor.”
Comprehension began to dawn. “You chose your name as the Doctor,” River said.
“You once told me that the name of the Doctor meant warrior, meant healer. But when I chose it all those years ago, I meant it as a promise. Just like you chose your name, River Song.” He held her close. “This was the secret that you didn’t know. He was the one who broke the promise.”
“What I did,” the man said, “I did without choice.”
“In the name of peace and sanity.”
“But,” the Doctor intoned, “not in the name of the Doctor.”
“Are you all right?” Amy asked, setting coffee in front of River.
“Yes. Yes, I’m fine.” River reached for the cream. Outside, the Doctor and Rory bickered over the grill, as the Doctor vowed to improve it, and Rory tried to prevent him from ruining another expensive piece of equipment. They had taken Vastra, Jenny, and Strax home, and they returned to find that only five minutes had elapsed in Amy and Rory’s time. Enough time to save the burgers that Rory left behind. “I don’t really remember what happened from when I stepped into the time stream to when the Doctor came for me.”
Amy sat across from River with her own mug. “There’s something troubling you.”
She nearly brushed Amy’s question off, then decided to reply with the answer to a different question. “Minor timeline rewrite. What you saw, me in the Library … I promised the Doctor I’d never go.”
Amy sighed with relief.
“And, Mother, if the Doctor offers to take you to Manhattan in 2012, suggest some place else.”
Amy frowned. “I like New York City.”
“So do I. Maybe another time. Actually, just make sure I’m there, OK?”
Amy arched an eyebrow, but didn’t press. She sipped her coffee. “That was the Doctor’s secret. His name? And his time stream being in that tomb?”
“Yes,” River lied. “Yes, it turns out that way.”
“So, what is it? His name?”
“Spoilers.” River winked, drank her own coffee and tried to quell the feeling of dread in her stomach. The man buried in the Doctor’s time stream. She had a feeling they would be seeing him again very soon.