we’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone.
only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion
“The Doctor numbered the envelopes,” River says, and Amy doesn’t care. “You got three, I was two, Mr Delaware was four.”
“So?” Rory asks, and at least he’s trying and hasn’t given up yet.
“So where’s one?” River asks.
“You think he invited someone else?” Rory says.
River says, “Well, he must have. He planned all of this to the last detail.”
“Will you shut up?” Amy says, “It doesn’t matter.”
“It mattered to him,” River says, and this is how she’s managed to get this far: by focusing only on what she can do.
“He’s dead,” Amy says, and sounds like she still can’t quite believe it.
“But he still needs us, Amy,” River says, and wishes this was easier. “The Doctor knew he was going to his death, so he sent out messages. When you know it’s the end, who do you call?”
“Your friends, people you trust,” Rory says, and in the way he’s staying strong and calm in all this River sees a centurion who waited two thousand years for the girl he loved.
“Then who’s number one?” River asks, and she hates that she doesn’t know the answer. “Who did the Doctor trust the most?”
Before anyone else can say something the back door opens and three people walk into the diner.
“You’re sure this is the right place?” the blonde girl asks, and frowns at her surroundings. Judging from her accent River wants to say she’s a Londoner, but there’s something about her that’s somehow off.
“Positive,” the tall man in the leather jacket says, and he does something to the lock of the door but the girl’s blocking River’s view. He sounds like he’s from the North, though the North of what River doesn’t quite know.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” the second man says, and his pretty face is twisted in concern, and River feels like she should know who he is. His accent gives him away as an American, but she doesn’t think he’s ever even been to America, at least not as it is in the twenty-first century. He’s the first to notice them, and he blatantly checks out all three of them until his eyes stop their journey down River’s body at the blue envelope in her hands. He nudges the one in the leather jacket, and says, “Doctor.”
That’s when it clicks, when it starts to make horrible sense, and River says, “Oh.”
“Hello,” Leather Jacket says, and grins, and she can’t quite think of him as anything else than a strange man with big ears and a mad grin. She thinks that if she starts thinking of him as the Doctor, it might just kill her. “I see we’re here for the same reason,” he says, nodding at the envelope and rooting around in his pockets. He pulls out a chipped mug, a half-eaten carrot and a piece of string, and looks sheepish as the blonde takes them with a long-suffering eye roll. “Ah, here we go,” he says, and produces a TARDIS blue envelope from the depth of his left jacket pocket, and it’s labelled number one. “So, any idea why we’re here? ‘Cause I haven’t got a clue.”
He seems absurdly pleased by that, and the other two look like all this is just normal business, and it quite probably is.
Amy and Rory look at each other, and then at River, and Pretty Face leers and says, “They’re probably wondering what else you’ve got in your pockets, Doc. Want me to tell them?”
The blonde smirks, and Leather Jacket rolls his eyes and says, “Don’t start.”
“Listen,” River says when she’s finally found her voice again, and she doesn’t feel as confident as she sounds. “Whatever brought you here, it wasn’t meant to happen. This is completely wrong, and you need to go. Now.”
Leather Jacket frowns, and the other two exchange a look behind his back.
“Wait, hold on,” Rory says, and points at Pretty Face, “You called him ‘Doctor’, didn’t you? That wouldn’t be the Doctor, would it?”
“Yep, that’s me,” Leather Jacket says, and preens. “One and only. Hello!” He grins and waves at them, and River’s never seen him so brittle or so fundamentally hurt.
“But that’s impossible,” Amy says, and when she steps closer to him River grabs her arm to hold her back. “That’s completely impossible. You’re not,” she stops, and her lips shape words that won’t come out, and then she shakes her head like she’s refusing to believe this.
“And why’s that?” Leather Jacket asks, and his whole body has tensed and shifted into something that is grim and curious to equal amounts.
Amy opens her mouth to speak again, and River squeezes her elbow. “Just leave it, Amy. Please.” Amy looks at her, and something passes between them, and River wonders if all the Doctor’s companions have the ability to share these looks.
“Right,” Amy says, and shifts closer to Rory.
“As for you,” River says, and turns to the other three, “you should really leave now.”
“Do you make a habit of inviting people and then asking them to leave as soon as they’ve arrived?” Leather Jacket asks, and he seems genuinely intrigued.
“I didn’t invite you,” River says, “and I’m not asking.”
“Why this place?” he asks, like she hasn’t even spoken, and with him looking at her like he is it’s difficult to see him as anything but the Doctor.
“I don’t know,” she says, and doesn’t break his gaze because that would be losing a game this him doesn’t even know how to play yet. “Does it matter?”
He shrugs, and his companions watch him closely, and he says, “I don’t know. Why’s this diner called Bad Wolf?”
The blonde frowns, and says, “Wait, I’ve heard that before. I’ve heard that lots of times.”
“You need to go,” River says again, and loosens the catch of her holster. “Don’t make me tell you again.”
“Ooh, I like her,” Pretty Face says with a wide grin, and the blonde elbows him in the ribs.
Leather Jacket rolls his eyes, and with gruffness that is almost convincing says, “Try to keep it together, Captain.”
River freezes, and her hands drop uselessly to her sides, and she says, “Captain. You’re Captain Jack Harkness.”
Pretty Face and Leather Jacket look at her, and at the same time say, “Yes. Why?”
The blonde stifles a laugh behind her hand, and they mock-glare at her until she pretends to be sorry.
“God, I didn’t recognise you like this. I’ve only ever seen the grainy CCTV footage,” River says, and she sounds awed and overwhelmed.
“CC–what,” Jack asks, and looks at her like she’s mad.
“And you,” River says, and turns towards the blonde girl, “You’re Rose Tyler.”
“Yeah, so?” Rose says, defensive and unnerved, and steps closer to the Doctor.
“Oh,” River says, and looks at him, and she feels absurdly emotional. “Oh. You’re so young, I barely recognised you at first. This is just after the Time War for you, isn’t it?” The Doctor’s expression turns to stone, and it still doesn’t hide the pain he’s feeling, and Jack steps closer to him and Rose takes his hand. “Oh, Doctor. Please believe me when I say that I am so, so sorry.”
“Who–“ the Doctor starts, and River shushes him because she isn’t ready to be asked this question, not here and not now and not by him.
“No, sweetie,” she says, and swallows against the involuntary tightening of her throat. “It isn’t time yet. There’s so much you need to do before you get here.”
“Then why’d I get this?” he asks, and holds up the envelope, and he looks at River unkindly now.
“It wasn’t intended for you,” she says, and it isn’t a complete lie. “It was a mistake.”
“Oh, but I don’t think it was,” the Doctor says, and this is what she loves and hates about him.
“Alright, yes,” River says, and she’s desperate to get them out of here because she knows none of this was meant to happen. “The message was meant for you, but not yet, not this you. You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Why would I believe you?” the Doctor asks, and she wants to scream.
“Because you can feel that this isn’t right,” she says, and takes a few cautious steps towards him. “Tell me you can’t feel how wrong all of this is. Tell me you can’t feel the timelines unravelling even as we speak. Tell me, Doctor.”
He looks at her for a long while, and River wonders if this is the moment he learns how to play the game, and then he breaks eye contact and says, “Let’s go.”
“But,” Jack says, and Rose looks as confused as he feels, “we can’t just leave.”
“Yes, we can, Captain,” the Doctor says, and ushers them back towards the door. He hands River the envelope, and says, “Make sure this reaches its destination.”
“I will,” she promises, and she doesn’t understand why he believes her. He sonics the door, and holds it open for Jack and Rose, and before they can slip through and disappear River says, “Thank you. Both of you.”
“What for?” Rose asks, and with the hostile way she’s looking at River right now she thinks she understands why the Doctor loved her so.
“For everything you’ll do,” River says, and Rose looks at Jack, who just shrugs and takes her hand as they leave.
The Doctor looks at her before he closes the door behind himself, and he offers her a small, sad smile, and then he’s gone.
“Uh, what was that?” Rory asks, and River turns around to find him and Amy staring at her.
“Not important,” she lies, and she’s already taken out her scanner and is trying to find a way to get this envelope to the right Doctor.
“River,” Amy says, and she sounds a little choked and a lot angry, “who were they?”
River stops fiddling with the scanner, and meets Amy’s eyes when she says, “The man in the leather jacket was the Doctor, and the other two were Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness. They travelled with him.”
“What, like me and Rory?” Amy asks, and looks confused.
“Something like that, yes,” River says.
“How come they didn’t know you?” Rory asks, and offers her an apologetic smile when she looks at him.
“They were with him long before any of us ever met him,” she says, and tries to sound like it doesn’t matter. “Their Doctor was broken and still so young, much younger than the one you know.”
“He didn’t look young,” Amy says with a twitch of the eyebrow.
“Or broken,” Rory adds.
“There are moments in the Doctor’s life,” River says, and doesn’t quite know why she’s telling them this, “in all the Doctor’s lives, when he’s happier than he can remember ever being. They’re brief stretches of time, in which travelling in the TARDIS is fun and wonderful and nothing terrible happens at all.”
“And?” Amy asks, and River doesn’t think they understand what she’s trying to tell them.
“And I think we just saw the end of one,” she says, and turns back to her scanner.
“Oh,” Amy says, and sounds sorry. “He’ll be okay, though, won’t he? I mean, the Doctor’s always okay, isn’t he? Isn’t he, River?”
“Don’t worry about him, he’ll be fine,” she says, and is certain.
“How can you say that?” Rory asks, “We just watched him die.”
“Yes,” River says, and looks at him and Amy, “the Doctor died surrounded by those he loved, and now we’re going to honour his last wish.” She holds up the blue envelope, and she thinks they’re starting to understand.
that we’re not alone.