Word Count: 3,457
Characters: Doctor/River, original characters
Notes: For River, this takes place post-Demon's Run as an adult, but pre-1969. Also, chapter 3 accidentally went to my main journal instead of my writing one. Oops. I apologize for the mess-up!
Summary: Oh, but it all made sense now. River Song was Melody Pond, and Melody Pond was River Song. And River couldn’t tell them that she was Melody because with one single misstep, she could have easily wiped herself out of existence. That, the Doctor knew, would be a very bad thing - a story of the three months between "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Let's Kill Hitler."
Prologue | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2
When they arrived at the TARDIS, the maintenance worker who had guided the Doctor up to River's aborted execution was waiting for them. Her uniform was a bit more splattered with gunk than before, and she hummed under her breath as she worked. Not entirely satisfied with her lot in life, the Doctor surmised, but dealing with it the best she could.
“You’re back. Thought you got burned at the stake,” she said as she wiped off the side of the TARDIS. She stepped back and studied her work. “Was trying to figure out what to do with your ship. Some of the gunk got splashed on her. I cleaned her up.
“Being burned at the stake is boring,” the Doctor informed her. “What’s your name?”
The woman rolled her eyes and returned to wiping away at the side of the TARDIS. “Ennista.”
“Ennista! Brilliant name, Ennista!” The Doctor swept his hands toward River. “This is Dr. River Song. We’re off to save your planet!”
Ennista snorted and tossed the rag in a bucket. “Not sure it’s worth saving if you ask me.”
“Ennista! Ennista, Ennista,” he chanted, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and directing her toward one of the more unsullied parts of the platform. “Look up there, Ennista. What do you see?”
She cocked an eyebrow. “Raining shite?”
“Well …” He wrinkled his nose a bit. “Besides that.”
Ennista rolled her eyes, shook her head a little and squinted up at the tree leaves. “Leaves. Something that could be called sky, but I hardly ever see it.”
“Now, don’t be cynical. Life’s too short to be cynical, and I can hear your smirk back there, River,” the Doctor called over his shoulder. “You’ve got dreams, don’t you, Ennista? Tell me, what would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?”
Ennista gave him a wary look. “You’re kidding. That’s got to be the lamest come-on ever. Do you really allow him to do this?” she directed at River before sighing. “Fine. I wanted to be a lawyer. Happy? Except the last king had all the lawyers shoved into … that pit there.” She indicated a spot in the distance. “The screams were terrible. No lawyers here now. But, there’s something about it, you know? Helping people. Some people want to be a med, but I like the law. Just a dream though.”
“Thing about dreams, Ennista? There’s always the chance they can come true.” The Doctor opened the TARDIS door and jerked his head toward the inside. “Want to go with us?”
Ennista peered around the Doctor at River. “Don’t you think the missus would have a problem with it?”
“It’s all right, Ennista. I know what he’s doing. Bless.” Rive gave the Doctor a fond look and stepped around him onto the TARDIS.
His eyes darted around as he tried to puzzle out the meaning behind that statement. He was offering someone a chance to explore the universe? Well, that’s what he always did. Maybe that’s what she meant. Or not. Maybe she meant something else entirely, and he wasn’t getting the meaning of it. He could ask her, but that would probably lead to 17 different answers and six innuendos, four of them guaranteed to make his clothes feel really uncomfortable.
“You go on,” Ennista said. “I …”
River popped back out of the TARDIS holding a thin stick. “There is something you can do for us here, Ennista.”
The Hydropi were an aquatic species that evolved from fish. Over the years, and a few experimental procedures involving humans, they had evolved into a bipedal creature. The pictures that River pulled up on her tablet showed them look like a shorter, stockier human but with gills that allowed for breathing. It caused their skin to be an array of colors -- from a shimmering gold to a lovely multi-colored hue. They were bald, which meant they found River’s hair to be an immense source of fascination.
“Why her hair?” The Doctor groused as he watched her be surrounded by Hydropi, all eager to touch her curls. “I have perfectly nice hair.”
“It’s the way of the universe, sweetie,” River said with great amusement and closed her eyes, letting out a low moan of pleasure. “This is the most lovely scalp massage I’ve ever received.”
He scowled. “Oh, just stop that. We’re on serious business here.”
River hummed a bit. “Jealous, my love?”
“I am not jealous. I do not know the meaning of the word jealous!”
“Clearly not, especially since you’re just standing there and shouting while waving your arms about.”
The Doctor dropped his arms and decided to ignore her.
“Right,” he muttered under his breath. “Stopping disease from devouring planet. Who here knows about Ityicha?” he added in a louder tone.
“They’re nasty,” One of the Hydropi giving River a scalp massage said with a hint of disdain. “Tree people.”
“Yes, and you’re water people, which I’m sure some would find equally distasteful.” The Doctor spun back to him … her … it? There really needed to be a better pronoun for species who didn’t have a gender. “It didn’t stop your planet from developing a trade agreement with it now, did it?”
“You’d have to speak with Jim the Fish,” the Hydropi said.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. “Who’s Jim the Fish?”
He, the Doctor decided it would be safer to use that, gestured to the immense body of water that spanned most of the planet. “Doesn’t visit the surface. You have to go see him.”
“Well, that would be lovely, except my friend and I can’t breathe underwater. Oh, I won the breath-holding tournament on N’plexa a time or two, but I highly doubt it’ll suffice for what we need to do.”
The Hydropi didn’t say anything for a moment as it wrapped a finger around one of River’s curls. “Ityicha uses suits.”
“All right. Haven’t been scuba diving for a number of years. Back in a tick!” The Doctor darted back into the TARDIS and up to the wardrobe room. He’d managed to find a couple of diving suits and scuba gear from various eras when River joined him. Her hair was messier than normal from the massage, and she was abnormally quiet as she picked up one of the scuba masks.
“We’ll lure him to the surface,” she declared.
“River, River! An underwater city! It will be beautiful. Just think of it!” The Doctor handed her a snorkel. “Probably don’t want to use that though. Don’t think it extends long enough.” He took it back and tossed it over his shoulder.
River took a slow, deep breath. “I’ll investigate up here.”
Now he paused. Because something was off. He knew River Song. She’d been eager to crawl over historic sites, break into the Pandorica, lead an expedition to The Library. An underwater kingdom with a mysterious being known as Jim the Fish? That should be a siren’s song to her. In the low light of the wardrobe room, he saw her drawn face and the lines of tension around her eyes and mouth.
He carefully set the scuba gear he held down. “You’re afraid of water,” he observed.
She didn’t answer, just met his gaze. “Spoilers,” she finally said.
“But, in 1969. You landed in the swimming pool just fine.”
“Spoilers! I haven’t done that yet! Besides, I wasn’t trapped in it now, was I?” River shot back before turning away, and he knew she’d just let something slipped herself. Somewhere, somehow, River had been trapped in a body of water and it had led to a fear of it. Anger flared, just for a minute, because whatever it was had been so bad that it led to one of the strongest women he knew having a phobia.
“It’s OK to be scared,” he murmured.
“It’s a stupid thing to be scared of. I’ll deal with it. I’ve always dealt with it.” River picked up one of the diving suits and visibly shuddered.
“No. No, not if it makes you feel like this.” He placed his hands over hers and waited until she was able to look into his eyes. His hearts lurched, one right after the other, and the thing he’d been feeling since Demon’s Run returned. He knew what this cost, to let herself be vulnerable to a single person. He thought of all those little tells, sprinkled throughout their time together. An unusually intense look. Closed eyes and a quiet sigh when she thought he hadn’t been looking. All that pressure to keep time in its proper order, and she dealt with it magnificently. She had remained strong for her team, for Amy and Rory, for Father Octavian and the Church, for him. No, he knew what it cost to let your guard down for just those brief seconds, and it humbled him that she was able to do that with him.
It turned out they didn’t need the suits.
“You can use this,” one of the Hydropi said, handing the Doctor two thick blue pills.
River began to laugh.
“What?” The Doctor peered at the pills, squinting at them.
“It’s just … oh, never mind.” River took one.
“No, what? What is it about two thick blue pills that has you laughing, River Song?” He bopped the end of her nose with his index finger.
“Oh, my love.” She sidled up to him and whispered into his ear. “You haven’t had any performance issues lately, have you?”
He blinked. “Performing what?”
River’s gaze swept from his head to linger at his belt buckle, then back to his head.
“No, River, I don’t …” It suddenly hit him. “River!”
She popped the pill.
“I do not appreciate that joke, River, and my performance is just fine!” he ranted, quite sure he was as red as … well, red. It only took him another couple minutes to realize that her skin had changed. She looked like River, but her skin was covered with shimmering gills. Intrigued, he took his own pill and felt the change ripple through him. It wasn’t a bad change, more like stepping into a large freezer. “It gives you water-breathing capabilities.”
“So it seems.” River wandered into the water, just up to her ankles. It would be enough to satisfy her body’s need to breathe in the water for the moment. She pulled an elastic out of her pouch and started to tie her hair back. “You might want to lose the tweed, sweetie.”
“Point. Very expensive to clean, and it needs new lapels.” He shrugged out of the tweed, gave a mournful look at the torn lapels and accepted River’s toolbelt from her. She had changed into some sort of long, flowing dress with leggings that looked similar to the outfit she’d worn in Utah. “How many guns are you wearing?”
“Care to make a physical inspection?”
“Just asking,” He dropped the tweed and belt inside the console room and pulled the TARDIS door shut before kicking off his shoes. He padded over to her wearing striped socks. “We’re going under water.”
“And, there’s a thing called waterproof guns.” She reached for his hand, and they laced their fingers together.
He raised an eyebrow. “Spoilers?”
She gave him a sad smile. “Spoilers.”
“Well, then. Let’s go meet Jim the Fish.”
They waded into the water after the Hydropi until it was just past waist level. Then they dived. River squeezed the Doctor’s hand tightly, and instinctively they took a breath before following. It took the Doctor a moment to realize it was safe to keep his eyes open. His breath whooshed out at the same time his eyes opened, and he was relieved to find he could breathe as normal. The pills also gave the benefit of ensuring that the water didn’t sting their eyes either.
“River.” It was more to test his voice, and other than it sounding a bit watery, it was normal. He glanced over to see she had opened her eyes, but was still holding her breath. She focused on him, and he could tell when she started to breathe normally after a moment of brief panic as her body adjusted to the water-breathing. After a moment, she began to laugh, and so did he. Fish and other tropical plants wafted around them, and it was like standing in the middle of an aquarium, looking at it from the inside-out.
“It’s beautiful,” she breathed as they swam after the Hydropi. Coral reefs had been turned into elegant buildings, and fields of seaweed waved gently as farmers pruned the crop. The sand was white and clean, untainted by pollution. There was no garbage, no plastic rings that could ensnare a fish and strangle it. “Do you think this is where J.K. Rowling got the idea for that one task in Goblet of Fire?”
“Could very well be.” He’d long suspected that Rowling had done some sort of time traveling but had been unable to confirm it. “This is very much like Harry Potter, isn’t it?”
“It’s like Gillyweed, but not.” River spread the fingers of her free hand. “Not webbed, and I don’t think Harry sprouted gills like this.”
“Well, you need some poetic license there.”
“I suppose. Pills are vastly easier to handle than stuffing a bunch of Gillyweed in your mouth. The Hydropi are more like humans than the Merpeople as well.” River raised an approving eye as one Hydropi with golden gills swept by them, tall and proud and carrying a spear. “In the most appealing of ways.”
The Doctor snorted. “Harry Potter fan then?”
“Yes. Always have been. They were about the only books I cared for when I was little. When the last one came out, my best friends and I attended the book release.” River’s eyes sparkled.
The Doctor’s narrowed. “Define attended.”
She winked. “Oh, I might have broken into the storeroom when they were delivered two weeks earlier and nicked three copies.”
“And then we might have spent the evening of the release telling everyone spoilers.”
He glowered at her. “I suppose you were one of the people who thought it funny to drive about before the sixth book came out and yell, ‘Snape killed Dumbledore, page 606!’”
River merely grinned.
“Oh, look, we’re here.” River brushed by the Doctor as the Hydropi came to a stop outside of a large building with a somewhat neat bed of sea plants tended near the entrance. The Doctor was quite expecting some sort of grand palace akin to Tricopa’s and was about to comment on that when the door burst open and a Hydropi was ejected from the building so fast that it left a trail of white bubbles obscuring the door.
“Stay out until you pay off your tab!” A purple-gilled Hydropi yelled after the one he’d just thrown out. He dusted his hands off on his apron and gave the Doctor and River a steely glare. “You two aren’t Hydropi. You better not be from that filthy Ityicha.”
“We’re travelers! Just visiting! I’m the Doctor and this is …” The Doctor glanced at River only to find that she was no longer standing there. No, she’d gone ahead and had pushed her way into the building.
“Now, this I like,” River said with great enthusiasm.
The Doctor peeked over the shoulder of the apron-wearing Hydropi to find that the building was actually a cross between a bar and a dance club. A rather well-stocked bar stretched down one wall, and a platform extended from the opposite wall with a glitter ball twirling from the coral ceiling.
River turned back to the Hydropi bartender. “Where’s Jim the Fish?”
He sniffed at her. “There’s no one here by that name.”
With a smooth motion, River had brushed back her skirts, drawn her blaster and held it to the Hydropi’s forehead. “I’ll ask you again. Where’s Jim the Fish?”
The bartender peered down the barrel of her gun and gave a little snort. “That stuff doesn’t work under water.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t challenge her like that,” the Doctor warned.
River pirouetted and shot the glitter ball. It exploded into a thousand fragments, suspending in the water before slowing drifting to the sand that served as the bar’s floor.
“My glitter ball!” the bartender yelled.
“Told you,” the Doctor said with a slight sigh. “River …”
“Not now, sweetie, I’m negotiating.”
“With guns?” He tried to ignore the rather inappropriate tingling her theatrics were causing. That’s what it was, he told himself. Theatrics. He shouldn’t be liking this so much. Except he did. A bit. Maybe more than a bit. More annoyed with himself than her, he addressed the bartender himself. “Look, she’s not going to hesitate to bring this building down around us, and I’m rather partial to this shirt. Don’t want to get it messed up. We just need to know where Jim the Fish is, get some information and be on our way.”
The bartender gazed mournfully at the remains of the glitter ball. “That cost me a ton to import from Earth. Genuine antique from the late 20th century.”
“You were ripped off.” River picked up one of the fragments and inspected it. “It’s foil glued to plastic. This is … 48th century, yes? The real deal would have fallen apart long ago regardless, or you’d need a time traveler.” River dropped the fragment and strode over to the bartender. No, the Doctor realized, not strode. More like sashayed. Oh, she’d figured something out, and he had a strong hunch he knew what it was.
“I think,” River said, lazily tracing her finger down the center of the Hydropi’s chest, “that you’ve struck a deal with a Time Agent. Oh, a lot of this stuff in here is highly illegal, especially since it’s lifted from other centuries. Like that bar my sweetie is standing next to. Comes from a place called Mercy in the 1800s, United States. How do I know that?” She flashed a smile at the Doctor. “Spoilers.”
The Doctor coughed, shifted nervously and wished he had his tweed to hide … things. Bloody things.
“Taking items like this to another century and selling them? Oh, I think the Time Agency would have a thing or two to say about that.” River smiled serenely. “Now, you either take us to Jim the Fish, or I’m going to have a little chat with a former Time Agent I’m on extremely good terms with. I’m sure he’d be very interested in this discussion we’re having.”
The Doctor just stared at River as his brilliant mind worked it out. Granted, she spent the majority of her time in an era the Time Agents were known to own, but still … She winked. He nearly smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. Jack Harkness. Of course. He really shouldn’t be that surprised, but it was a small world … er universe actually.
The bartender glared at River, then jabbed a finger at a door in the back of the room. “He’s in there asleep. You owe me a glitter ball.”
“I owe you nothing. I won’t, however, put a hole in that pride and glory that’s your bar. Come along, sweetie.” River kept the gun out as she strode to door and kicked it in.
“Sorry,” the Doctor whispered. He quickly scurried behind her, wondering who was actually in control at the moment … and realizing that it wasn’t him. It hadn’t been since he’d stepped foot on the planet. It was an odd thing, really, and the only other times it’d happened to him recently had been because of River. 1969, the Pandorica, the Weeping Angels, the Library … he tried to chafe, but he had to admit that he was a bit impressed. Normally it was everyone else trying to keep up with him.
River was standing over a bed, gun pointing at the cowering Hydropi clutching the blankets to his chin with one hand and a wicked-looking harpoon in the other. “Hello, Jim. I think it’s time we had a little chat.”