Amy and Rory were beginning to regret taking up Aunt Sharon's offer of a holiday in the States. They
had heard things about California. Some good. Some bad. She had arranged everything, from the plane tickets to the hotel, where they had first class service and dining. It was a nice wedding present, even if they had delayed it for a while.
Two days into their stay in San Francisco, and they were beginning to get a little bit miserable. They felt jet- lagged, a sensation they weren't used to feeling with their now- normal travel method. The city was loud and confusing; even the famous trolleys seemed to stop at irregular intervals. They had tried renting a car, but Rory, who'd refused to allow Amy anywhere near the steering wheel on this backwards vehicle, got so confused with all the one- way, nearly- vertical streets they'd returned it almost immediately. So far, the only highlight had been the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, where Amy had gotten lost in her version of heaven.
The Wharf hadn't been bad either, and they still had plans to see the infamous Golden Gate Bridge at some point during their trip. They were wandering around the city, finally settling enough to take in its charm, when unexpectedly, their daughter showed up- wielding a gun.
"River…" began a surprised Rory, "is there something you want to tell Mummy and Daddy before we ground you and take away all lethal weapons?"
River looked relieved to find she'd run into a version of them who knew her, and who were even comfortable enough with her to make jokes.
"Oh, you know, Dad. Just sort of ambling around, seeing what kind of trouble I could get into. There may have been a bit of a disturbance nearby which I'm pretty sure traces back to… Never mind. Now, did you really think you'd be able to find all my weapons?" She tossed them a teasing smirk.
Rory shrugged. "Seemed like the thing to ask an assassin trained child- they do grow up so fast."
River actually threw her head back and laughed at that, holstering her gun and taking them in, before pulling Amy, then Rory, into a hug.
"So, where are we then? Second honeymoon compliments of Aunt Sharon?"
"Yes," replied Amy, "though it is a bit more underwhelming from our first."
"Hmm. I can imagine. The Doctor, and you of course, told me some of the places you went on that first one. Definitely more interesting. But I'm biased. I would be a whole different person if that one had taken place on Earth."
Amy laughed conspiratorially while Rory's ears turned a bright red. He cleared his throat.
"So, erm… have you been here before?"
"Yes. A few times. Care for a tour guide? This city's not too bad, once you get to know it."
"Oh, I'm sure it'll catch up to me eventually. Or, we'll hear about it. Either way, we have time right now."
"Come on, Mr. Pond!" squealed an excited Amy despite her husband's hesitant look, "Let's get a proper tour by a proper guide." She linked one arm through Rory's and the other through River's, who proceeded to show them the best parts of the city.
"I'm not sure about this," said Rory as Amy pressed the fake large moustache to his face. His hair had been temporarily grown out, thanks to one of his daughter's 31st century extending gels, and he was donning a bright yellow jacket. Amy was concentrating on her husband- her own red locks had been dyed black and extended long past her own bright yellow top, down to her striped trousers.
"It's a costume party, Rory. This is part of the costume."
"But Sonny and Cher, Amy? Why couldn't we do something a bit less… conspicuous?"
"Says the man who's been frequently known to wear a Roman centurion costume."
They met River, who was in a stunning floor length- gown reminiscent of Jessica Rabbit, much to Rory's slight dismay and Amy's delight, her tamed curls darkened from their familiar blonde to take on a reddish- hue, and they were making their way to the costume party when they heard a large explosion not too far off in the distance.
"And that's my cue. Dad, Mum, I'm going to check this out. You two go the other way, and maybe we can cut it off in the middle." She ran off before they had a chance to ask what they were looking for. Although, on second thought, they realized they'd probably know when they saw it.
They had just spotted the large feathered creature in the middle of what looked to be an explosion, when they both turned, hoping to see their daughter come in with some sort of plan. She was nowhere to be found. When the bewildered creature turned and spotted them, Rory had just enough presence of mind to grab Amy's hand as they both started running.
They ducked into an alley and the creature, which had been gaining momentum, continued its journey past the dark passage. Amy peeked out, verifying it was safe, and then she and Rory stepped out onto the street. And collided with a woman wearing an elaborate Cleopatra outfit.
"Oomf," protested Rory, who had become the cushion on which she landed as she fell.
She grunted, then lifted herself off him, just as a man caught up with her and surveyed the scene.
"Donna- I said run after the people running from the Phoenixca, not into them."
"Oi! Make yourself useful, Space Boy, and help me up!" He reached down and pulled her arm, steadying her before helping Rory to his feet.
"Sorry," he turned to them, pointing toward the creature that was nowhere in sight. He held a device in his hand, pulling out an antenna and shaking it, before whirling around and pointing it in different directions. "I can't get a reading on this."
"And just what is that supposed to be reading?"
"Firey- wirey, alien explosiony…stuff."
"What?" asked Rory incredulously, wondering if the man in front of him was serious or seriously disturbed. He spoke like someone making it up as he went along, which wasn't unusual for- he shook that thought out of his head quick enough. He couldn't imagine someone else on Earth would actually be that serious about aliens (aside from those who'd actually met them, or whose daughter was one- partially), but this was San Francisco- who knew what people believed here? But, he did give the alien a name- so that might mean either the man was completely bonkers, or knew exactly what he was talking about.
"Right, oh, what I mean is well, foreign beings, well, I say foreign, I mean to you. I mean not from this planet."
"Give it up, you know you're not going to be able to explain it without sounding like a complete nutter," grumbled with woman with him.
"She's right," he said with a nod toward Donna, turning his eyes back to his device, hitting it forcefully.
"So, you were chasing that thing too- the Phoenix thingy, yeah?" asked Amy, curiosity leading her toward the device in his hands.
"Phoenixca, and what do you mean, too?"
"We were investigating it," proclaimed Rory matter- of- factly.
The man looked up at them, then looked at his friend with a smirk, "Oh, is that what you call it?"
Donna didn't seem to find their methods as amusing as he did, only giving a slight shake of her head as she continued looking around them.
"Oi! We didn't have time to get a good look at it- we heard an explosion, went and found the creature, and then it began chasing us."
"And you do this often, do you? Investigate incredibly dangerous alien things?" he asked patronizingly, hoping to get these ridiculously dressed people out of harm's way.
"As a matter of fact, we do," said Amy, arms crossed as her temper flared in light of the man's incredulity. "In fact, we have a friend who manages to get us in way more dangerous situations than a flaming bird thingy all the time."
Thoughts of Jack quickly passed his mind, until he remembered Jack was still in Britain last he checked. "Oh really," he pushed, now sure that the young woman and unassuming man's idea of dangerous involved stepping into the middle of traffic, "and just who might this friend be?"
Rory, who had his suspicions about the man, was just about to say the Doctor's name, when he heard his daughter come up behind them.
"Lost it," said River mournfully, eyes on her scanner. "I chased it to a road not far from here, then it disappeared suddenly. No telling where it got to." She looked up, taking in the couple who had joined her parents, when her eyes settled on the man and her face lit into a flirtatious smile.
"Hello Sweetie," she purred, rummaging in her bag until she came up with her diary.
"River Song?" the woman on the Doctor's right asked, a slight hitch in her voice.
"Ah, so I'm assuming we've met," said River, flipping toward the front of the diary.
"River, what are you doing- ahh! So you're the friend who always gets these two in trouble," he said, pointing to the two next to her.
River raised one eyebrow at her parents, who shrugged as they pointed to the Doctor in amazement, surprised to be meeting a different version of him.
"Yes, we do tend to find danger more often than not. Though you're one to talk, my Love."
Amy, who hadn't stopped inspecting the Doctor since River revealed who he was, saw him visibly flinch at the endearment. She knew how reluctant her Doctor had been the "first" time she'd met River, but always assumed it was because he hated the fact she was from his future. Now, seeing this other him's reaction, and the outright... what was that? Rage? Pain? Fear? on his face made her question any previous notions she'd had.
"Now, have we done scuba diving on the Lakes of Merene yet?" River asked, paging through her diary.
The Doctor looked away from her and let his gaze wander, purposely not meeting his other companion, Donna's, eyes.
"We just did the Stalling Gates of Cairn," he grunted reluctantly.
"Ah!" said River, her face lighting up in joyful remembrance.
"Whelp, looks like the Phoenixca has run off. Nothing to be done now. Professor, a pleasure. Now let's go, D-ionilla," he stuttered out as he reached for Donna's hand. River smirked playfully at him.
"Ah, so you don't want me to know her real name yet. Though, Dionilla? You're slipping up in your young age, Doctor. Usually you're a much better liar than that."
"You caught me off guard," he argued.
"Mmm. I certainly hope so, Sweetie."
"And you're friends here, what are their names? Seeing as the Doctor so rudely forgot introductions again," chastised Dionilla.
"This is Meli and her husband William," said River, not missing a beat as she coolly fudged the truth.
"And they're your...?" searched the Doctor, battling with River in their never-ending game of one- upmanship.
"We're her friends with mouths of our own, thank you very much," said an irritated Amy, impressing the Doctor with her bold fury.
"Right. Well, it seems you have this well underhand, so we'll just be leaving," said the Doctor, pulling Donna along with him. River, Rory noticed, covered her pain at his dismissal by pretending to be entirely tied up with looking for the creature, her head down as she studied her scanner far harder than he knew was strictly necessary.
He sidled up close to her and whispered in her ear, "You know, your mother was pretty oblivious to what was in front of her too, until someone gave her a big shove in my ever- grateful direction. Perhaps it's time I returned the favour."
She looked up at him, her eyes shining, her smile small but extremely grateful.
"He's just... not there yet," she defended weakly.
"No. But what's the harm in sowing some seeds?" He kissed her forehead, anxious to offer what cheer he could. "Why don't you go and see if you can't track down this thing again, and I'll go talk some sense into that thick son- in- law of mine?"
She let out a grateful sigh of relief and thanks at that, hoping at least the mystery of the creature, if not her parents, could get the Doctor to stay just a while longer.
Rory and Amy made their way down the road until they had come up near Donna and the Doctor. When they were a few paces away, Amy held Rory back, hoping for some answers about her friend's wholly overdramatic behaviour. The Doctor, fortunately, was too occupied to pay them much mind. Donna, it seemed, was being quite stubborn about remaining where they were. The Doctor was trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade her to go.
"Donna. We're leaving. Now."
"Now, wait just one stinking minute, Spaceman. Won't they need our help?"
"She just has to get the creature near water. Then it'll scare back to its home planet when it sees how wet this one is. River Song is more than capable of doing that all on her own."
"I'm sure. But I still think she could use an extra pair of hands."
"She has her... friends."
"You think she's lying about that? She had friends the last time we met her."
"She's lying about their names. These people don't seem right- are they her students or part of her team?"
"You lied about my name- she's allowed to have friends, Doctor."
"Well." He shook his head, now pacing back and forth. "I suppose I could..." Even from this far away and in this younger body Amy could see his mind working, trying and failing to find a legitimate excuse to run away from her daughter. She was too curious to interrupt him now. She continued to hold Rory back even as she strained her ears.
"But Doctor- River Song." He continued pacing, refusing to acknowledge what he already knew Donna was getting at. Amy held her breath at the emotion in the woman's voice. "I thought she was dead."
Rory stopped breathing at that statement. Amy's hand clenched hard around his arm, pain immediately etched on her face. It was his turn to hold her back as she tried to rush forward, to make that woman take back her horrible lie.
"I told you about the diary. We meet in the wrong order. Her Doctor is further on in my timestream. We go in opposite directions."
"Well then- no point in running away from this one, Doctor," declared Donna, comprehension and determination kicking in.
"I can run away from anything I'd like."
"She's your future."
"Not if I don't' want her to be."
"Can you avoid it?"
"I can if we go. Now."
"But," her voice was soft with compassion and understanding, "why?"
"Because," he struggled with an explanation, "because I already know how she..."
Donna had come to stand next to him, stilling the anxious Time Lord with a hand on his arm.
"Then do you really have time to waste?"
"And how exactly would it work, Donna? Knowing every single moment of every single second we're together exactly how it all ends? Could you do that? Allow yourself to care for someone all the while seeing them...? Every time, Donna. All I see is that look on her face. That last look. Or that first look. Like I'd killed her because I didn't know her. Like I'd broken her heart. We travel in the wrong order. So, assuming I could ever even see her without replaying her death, one day she won't know me. I can't- how am I supposed to-"
He was passionate. And sad. Rory breathed in deeply, closing his eyes as he processed the information he'd overheard. Amy's heart lurched for him, wanting to go up and engulf him in a tight embrace and change his words to more lies.
"Let's go. Now." The Doctor tried once more to turn from Donna.
"Doctor-" said Donna, reaching for him. "You keep concentrating on the ending. And the beginning. But you yourself said, she made you promise. Perhaps, whatever happens in the middle will be worth it."
"Best not let's find out," he said, weakly.
"Everything ends, Doctor. That doesn't mean it's not worth having. Would you have run from Rose," he inhaled sharply at the name, "if you had known from the beginning how you would lose her?"
He simply looked at her, pain etched on every feature of his face, his expression answer enough. He turned away and expected her to follow. Suddenly her entire attitude changed completely as she crossed her arms and a smirk played on her face.
"What?" he asked obtusely, even as her smile grew and she opened her mouth to speak.
"Doctor, we need you. Please. Don't go yet," said Rory as they began to approach him, unable to bear any more news about their friend and daughter's future.
He looked up at him, then shared a look with Donna, considering.
"We're not going. The Doctor's quite interested in helping you and your friend."
"No, I'm not. Like I said, I have every confidence she can handle things."
"He's just playing hard to get," Donna confided to Amy loudly.
"No. I just remembered we have somewhere to be."
"Oh, and would that be the Stalling Gates of Cards?" said Donna, teasingly.
"The Gates of Cairn, and what's that got to do with anything?"
"Well, as far as I can recall, I've never been there," said the older ginger with a gleeful smile.
"Of course you have. Must have done," insisted the Doctor, realizing his earlier mistake.
"Nope. And I've been there since you first met River." She turned to Amy, whose devilish smile was growing to match Donna's. "So that must mean, you did it alone. Together."
The Doctor gulped, thinking quickly and not at all liking the matching grins on Cleopatra and Cher's faces. He turned to Sonny Bono, who's lip was also curling up.
"Doctor, do you date River Song when I'm asleep?"
"Of course not!" he bordered on yelling. He put his hands in his pockets as he took in the three people in front of him. "She just needs help sometimes. What am I supposed to do, leave her alone to deal with an army of Ice Warriors?"
Amy smirked, seeing her own best friend before her eyes and not his former regeneration.
"Right. And do you hold her hand during these... dealings?" she asked, loving how flustered he seemed even now.
"She needed to be pulled out of the way!"
"And do you show off for her when you're doing your Martian thing and making the bad guys run away?" Donna continued, adding the Martian bit just to throw him further off kilter.
"Donna, I've told you- Gallifrey wasn't even in the same galaxy as Mars!. And... sometimes it takes grand gestures to... to get the point across."
Rory, Amy, and Donna all stole glances at each other, smirking as they made the Time Lord squirm in his denial.
"Hmm. Don't think I didn't notice the way you took a nice long look of her in that gown she's wearing, Doctor," teased his former best friend, even as she fixed her own wig more firmly on her head.
"I'm a fan of cartoons!" he argued, entirely unconvincingly of course.
Amy snorted, Donna scoffed, and even Rory chuckled at that completely pathetic excuse for an excuse.
"Right," said Donna in a sarcastic tone, "so let me get this straight. There's a beautiful woman back there who adores you, puts up with you, and attracts you, who you see alone at night, when you take her to exotic places in order to show off for her and to hold her. But these aren't dates."
The Doctor crossed his arms, trying to give her the look that sent armies fleeing. She crossed hers right back and scolded him with her eyes.
"Well, it seems a shame to break a good streak," she said, turning and tugging on Rory's arm. "You mentioned River Song could use our help?"
"Yes," interjected Amy, "yes she could. We could. She's tracked the creature several times, but every time it seems to get away from her."
"Transvortextual planetary leaping," murmured the Doctor to himself, "the creature hops from its planet back here when it feels trapped."
He sighed. Then he looked long at Donna's face, where a knowing smile was growing larger by the second.
"Oh, alright then. I'm sure I could find some way of... assisting Professor Song. Come on, Donna. And no mentioning the word date!" he warned as he stormed off.
Donna winked blatantly at Amy, the two of them wearing matching grins as they set off to regroup with River. Rory contemplated the situation with a chuckle, appreciative of the fact that the man who constantly ran away from everything was always so easily convinced to stay with his Melody, his River, even when he didn't know her. And, letting his protective paternal instinct out once more, pushing aside the reservations that came with tonight's new information about her demise, he gratefully realized that despite the pain she experienced and would experience with their mismatched timelines, his daughter would always be in good hands.
A/N- Those who've followed my stories know my aversion to writing abnormally long one- shots or chapters without a break. This is TO BE CONTINUED in a chapter currently titled "Not Those Times," which will solve the alien crisis. Disclaimer: I have only ever visited San Francisco very briefly a long time ago. Please forgive any mistakes in scenery.
As always, reviews are greatly appreciated, especially when playing with newer voices like Donna and Ten.