Ancient and Forever

by nostalgia [Reviews - 2]

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  • Teen
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Het, Romance

River was reading in her cell when TARDIS arrived. She put the book to one side and sat up on the edge of her bed as the blue box solidified in the corridor outside. As she waited for the door to open she tugged at her prison-issue top, nudging it until a few millimetres of bra strap were visible. She smiled, hoping the Doctor would notice and imaging the fought-off blush when he did.

Finally the door of the ship opened and the Doctor stepped out. He waved at her and walked over to stand at the door of her cell. River stood, moving to join him on her side of the bars.

“How long since Egypt?” he asked without preamble.

“Three days.”

“Good, we match, no need for diaries.” He paused. “How's prison working out?”

“It's wonderful,” she said with just a hint of sarcasm. “You wouldn't believe how decadent the meals are.”

The Doctor pulled the sonic screwdriver from his jacket pocket and undid the lock. He swung the door open and stepped into the cell without waiting for an invitation. Well, it wasn't like she was going to refuse him anyway.

“Our wedding night didn't go very well,” he said.

River nodded, a little disappointed that he hadn't swept her up in his arms already. “The rain did rather put a damper on things, no pun intended. Every star in the sky, you promised me.”

The Doctor shrugged guiltily. “I should have checked the weather report. I swear I had no idea it was monsoon season.”

“You can make it up to me,” she said generously.

“I intend to.” He gestured towards the TARDIS. “Your parents are spending a few days at home, I thought I'd take you for a spin.”

“Not a date, then?” she asked, trying not to look hurt.

“Of course it's a date!” he replied, dragging a hand through his hair. “I just didn't want to sound like a lovesick teenager.”

His choice of words pleased River immensely. She smiled. “I'll just get my things,” she said, moving towards her storage locker. “What sort of weapons will I need? Should I bring the handcuffs?”

The Doctor stopped her with a hand on her arm. River managed not to shiver at his touch. “No accessories this time, it's guaranteed safe.”

River's smiled grew wicked. “Who said the handcuffs were to keep us safe?”

She saw him suppress his own grin. He winked at her. “I have better ones on the TARDIS anyway. In case the need arises.”

“Oh, I hope there's some arising involved,” said River, slinking into his personal space. She waited for him to kiss her.

He didn't. “We'll see how it goes,” he said, taking her hand and tugging her out of the cell towards the TARDIS.

River laughed as he pulled her along. “I hope you're not this hasty about everything you do.”

He opened the door and pushed her gently into the TARDIS. “I'm a Time Lord,” he said, almost managing to sound dignified.

“What does that mean?” asked River as he joined her inside the ship.

“It means that some things are worth waiting for.” He walked over to the console with a spring in his step. “Right,” he said, setting the coordinates, “let's aim for summer this time.”

---

They were sitting on a picnic blanket under a large tree. The air was clear and filled with birdsong, and two suns shone brightly in the sky. River watched as the Doctor unpacked the basket he had brought from the TARDIS.

“Given what Amy told me about the fish fingers and custard, I have to say I'm slightly concerned about what you may have put in the sandwiches,” she said, breezily.

The Doctor looked up from his task. “What's wrong with banana and ketchup?”

“Everything!”

“It's nicer than it sounds,” he said, rather sulkily. He lifted a Tupperware box from the basket and opened it. “Do you like fruit?”

“When it's not covered in ketchup, yes.” She reached to take the piece of fruit from the Doctor's hand, but he moved past her outstretched hand and, to her surprise and delight, popped it straight into her mouth.

It was slick with juice and tasted a little like a spicy apple. River raised her eyebrows slightly and swallowed the morsel, watching the Doctor's expression and noting the slight hitch in his breathing.

“I thought you didn't go in for public displays of romantic affection?” she said, lightly.

“This is isn't public,” he replied. “This planet is uninhabited.”

“Was that a deliberate choice?” she asked, hopeful.

“Of course.” He picked another piece of fruit from the box. “More?” he asked, not quite managing to sound casual.

“Please.”

This time his fingertips brushed against her lips as he slid the bit of fruit into her mouth. When he pulled his hand away River made a great show of enjoying the taste and licking her lips afterwards. “Another,” she said, lowering her voice a little.

With the third slice his fingers strayed past her lips, and she licked at his fingertips, watching him steadily to see how he'd react. The Doctor's sexuality was a matter of some debate in academic circles, and River had a few theories of her own.

He moved his hand away and leaned in towards her, lips parting slightly. With a bare centimetre between them he paused. “I'm not very good at this sort of thing,” he said, almost in a whisper.

“Kissing?” she breathed.

“Dating.”

She lifted her hand to his chest, willing him to close the gap between them. “I'm sure you'll be a very good student.” She closed her eyes and waited.

A loud noise broke through the ambient sounds of the meadow. The Doctor pulled away and it was all River could do not to scream in frustration. He looked off into the distance.

“I thought you said this planet was uninhabited,” said River, trying not to sound like she was complaining.

“It was probably just an animal,” he said, doubt and hesitation obvious in his voice.

“It didn't sound like an animal,” said River, rather reluctantly.

The Doctor nodded. “We should investigate,” he said, rising to his feet. He looked almost relieved.

River stood as well. “Just to be on the safe side.”

The Doctor pointed towards a row of trees. “I think it came from that direction,” he said, moving off without waiting to see if River would follow him.

She did, of course.

---

Beyond the trees they found a silver space vessel settling into a patch of short grass by a lake. River recognised the design at once. “That's a Cybership,” she said, reaching into her bra. “A scout ship, by the look of it. Probably a three-man crew at most.” She pulled a small black sphere from her cleavage and pressed the concealed button on the surface. She held her hand out flat as it morphed into a compact laser gun.

The Doctor stared at it. “I thought you didn't bring any weapons,” he said.

“I didn't bring any extra weapons,” she corrected. “You can't expect a girl to wander about unarmed in a universe as dangerous as this one, surely?”

“Most people manage,” he countered.

“I'm not most people.”

“You really aren't.” He turned his attention back to the ship. “What are Cybermen doing here? There's nobody on this planet to convert.”

River shrugged, adjusting her grip on the gun. “Maybe they're looking for other kinds of resources. All that metal must come from somewhere.”

“I suppose,” said the Doctor, who didn't sound convinced.

“Would they abandon a mining operation if a scout ship didn't report back?” she asked, taking stock of the ship's visible defences.

“They might. They can be surprisingly cautious at times.”

“Well then,” said River, “let's give them something to be cautious about.”

---

River stepped over the smoking body of a Cyberman to join her new husband at the command station. “What are you looking for?”

“Database,” he said, without looking up. “I want to see why they were here.”

River looked around. “I've never actually seen one of these things from the inside. It's a lot more cramped than I'd imagined.”

“Cybermen don't have much interest in physical comfort.”

River made a face behind his back. “I know that. It's not like I was expecting wallpaper and family photos.”

The Doctor glanced at her. “Sorry.” He seemed sincere.

“Smaller on the inside must seem strange to you,” she remarked.

“It does a bit,” said the Doctor, his attention turned back to the screen in front of him. With a frustrated sigh he pulled out the sonic screwdriver and scanned the console with it.

“Why do you look at that thing when you work?” asked River, curious. “It doesn't have a screen.”

“It helps me focus on the telepathic link.”

“It's psychic?”

“It's part of the TARDIS. Sort of. It's difficult to explain.” He turned to her. “There's something underground, about three kilometres directly beneath us. A chamber of some sort.”

“We can go in the TARDIS,” she said, nodding.

“Sorry about the picnic,” said the Doctor, “it didn't turn out like this when I planned it in my head.”

River shrugged. “Business before pleasure. Besides, we might get this all sorted out before the tea gets too cold. I hope you used a good Thermos.”

“I did,” said the Doctor, as though his pride were wounded by the implication.

“I'm still not touching those sandwiches, though.” The Doctor opened his mouth to protest, but she silenced him with a raised hand. “Work first, arguments later.”

---

They stepped out of the TARDIS into a large underground cavern lit faintly green by a softly glowing fungus on the walls. They covered the short distance to a large metallic cube covered in symbols. The TARDIS didn't translate it, but River knew the language. “That's Old High Gallifreyan,” she said, examining the writing, “but I don't recognise the words.”

“It's very old Old High Gallifreyan,” said the Doctor. “The dialect of the earliest Time Lords.” His voice was soft and low.

River knew she had to say it. “Doctor, it's very unlikely that there's anything alive in there after all this time.”

“I know,” he said, as though it were nothing. He stepped back. “I think I know what this is.”

“Then tell me!”

He spun to look at her, excitement in his eyes. “It's a TARDIS. From one of the first generations.”

River looked at the cube with new eyes. “It must be millions of years old,” she breathed. “And you say you don't like archaeology.” A thought struck her. “We can't leave this here for the Cybermen to find.”

The Doctor waved a hand. “We can worry about that later. We may have other things to worry about.”

“Such as?”

“The early models were... erratic. Moody.”

Your TARDIS is erratic and moody,” she pointed out.

He shook his head. “She's been bred to obey. This thing...” He looked at River. “Early TARDIS travel tended to attract people with no sense of self-preservation. Or those with a death-wish. They could turn on you without warning. There were a lot of... accidents.”

“So what's the plan?” asked River.

The Doctor touched the hull of the ship without answering the question. The metal under his hand spiralled away, creating a doorway. The space was deep and black with an air of potential menace. He held out his other hand to River. “Shall we?”

She took his hand. “This is probably a very bad idea,” she said, because it seemed like someone should point that out.

“I know.” He was grinning.

“At least it'll be something to write about in my diary,” she said, aiming for levity.

Together, they stepped through the doorway.

---

River stared up at the ceiling, impossibly far away. She looked at the dark walls covered in deep roundels. Finally she let her gaze fall on the console at the centre of the room, the time rotor still and unlit, the controls with just the barest resemblance to the ones she knew from the Doctor's TARDIS.

She broke the oppressive silence. “It's magnificent.”

The Doctor moved towards the console. “Photographs and holograms really don't do these things justice.” He ran a gentle hand along the edge of the console. The lights flickered.

“What was that?” asked River, suddenly on alert.

“It's detected a Time Lord,” said the Doctor, still caressing the controls.

“Surely it's dead? Even a TARDIS doesn't live forever.”

“Not under normal circumstances, no.”

“So what -” River broke off as a beam of light shimmered into existence around the Doctor.

He groaned in pain and leaned against the console with his eyes screwed shut. “It's in my head.”

“What's it doing?” she demanded.

He opened his eyes. “Downloading. It's catching up on what's happened while it was asleep down here.”

“It's hurting you,” said River, raising her gun.

“Let it!” he snapped. “It needs to know.”

“Doctor, I don't want to poke at a wound but you destroyed Gallifrey.”

“It'll understand,” he insisted.

“Are you absolutely certain?” She hadn't lowered her weapon.

“River, I'm not going to -”

The time rotor lit up and, with a sudden jolting movement, began to rise and fall.

“It's taking off!” cried River. The walls started to shimmer in and out of existence. She knew what that meant. “No!” She tried to pull the Doctor from the light, but some invisible force repelled her and threw her to the floor. As she struggled to sit up the ship dematerialised around her, leaving her behind in the cavern as it disappeared with the Doctor still inside.

---

She was on her feet and inside the Doctor's TARDIS in under twenty seconds. The doors slammed shut behind her as she raced towards the console. Her hands worked automatically as she tuned the scanner in on the departed ship -- a TARDIS could always track another TARDIS, at least in theory. She pulled the dematerialisation lever without so much as a glance at the coordinates. It didn't matter where that thing had taken the Doctor, she was going to get him back no matter what.

The ancient TARDIS was hanging steady in deep space when she arrived. She scanned the area. A dead zone, nothing for a hundred light years in any direction. With a sinking feeling she finally looked at the coordinates on the screen.

Gallifrey. Or rather, the place where Gallifrey had once been. It had brought the Doctor to the only grave his people had. That didn't bode well.

Materialising one TARDIS inside another was risky at best and galaxy-endangering at worst. River didn't care, setting the controls for the short hop to the other ship. The TARDIS shook around her as it bounced off something and retreated. The other TARDIS had its shields up.

“Come on! You're a newer model, you must have some sort of advantage over that old thing!”

She almost kicked the console in rage before she thought better of it. That wasn't the way to handle the Doctor's ship, however much he might forget that himself on occasion. It certainly wasn't appropriate from that ship's own child. Calming herself as best she could, she laid her hands on the console. “Please. Help me. Neither of us wants to lose him. There must be something you can do.”

There was a long pause, then the background hum pitched up a little and something flashed onto the scanner screen.

SAFETY PROTOCOLS ENGAGED.

River got the idea immediately. “I'll turn them off,” she said, nodding as she reached for the right combination of switches. She had no idea what the TARDIS would do, but she trusted it as much as she trusted herself. More, in fact.

She watched on the screen as the TARDIS executed a number of short hops, crossing its own timeline in ways it never should. Soon the other TARDIS was surrounded by blue boxes, each one turning slowly on its axis.

The TARDIS sang.

Or rather, it didn't sing. It spoke. River couldn't make any sense of the sounds, but she knew somehow that this was the language of its own kind, something she and her own species were never meant to hear. She
felt tears forming in her eyes, but she couldn't say why.

The other TARDIS sang back. For a few tense minutes the sounds of the ancient universe flew back and forth between the two vessels, increasing in urgency and volume. They were arguing, but River wouldn't have been able to explain how she could possibly know that.

After a tense negotiation (River assumed), the air shifted and the Doctor materialised on the floor of the console room. He lay still as River rushed over to him. His hearts felt weak when she checked them, but they were both still beating. He opened his eyes, pushed himself up shakily. “What happened?”

“I'm not sure.” She helped him to his feet. “Some sort of deal, perhaps.” She looked at the scanner. Their TARDIS was still surrounding the other one. “Doctor,” she said, dropping her voice, “we can't just leave that thing out there. Anyone could get hold of it.”

The Doctor was grim. “She knows that.”

The TARDIS shook as it — all of it — began to spin faster, orbiting around the other TARDIS at increasing speed.

“What's happening?” asked River.

The Doctor didn't need to examine the controls. “She's inverting her temporal field. She's going to throw it across time. Hold on,” he added, taking a grip on a railing.

River copied his example. They watched on the screen as the other TARDIS began to fade in and out as it fought back. Everything shook. She heard objects thudding to the floor in the nearest rooms. The gravity failed for a few seconds, knocking her breath away when it returned again, momentarily too strong.

Then, at last, the other ships on the screen vanished. This was the only TARDIS remaining in the space that had once held Gallifrey. The Doctor looked over at River and she nodded to indicate that she was fine. He went to the controls.

“Where did she send it?” asked River, joining him.

“Event One. Otherwise known as the Big Bang. It won't survive that.” Now that the danger had passed there was a horrible sadness about him.

“There was no alternative,” said River, gently.

“No,” said the Doctor, expressionless, “there never is.”

River stepped back to give him some space as he moved the TARDIS to a new location, one less filled with sorrow.

---

They had agreed without speaking that a brief rest in the vortex was what everyone needed. River woke up in a spare bedroom, alone. She sighed, looking at the empty space beside her. She had hoped to have her husband bedded by now, but given recent events that was obviously off the agenda for the short term. She sat up, swinging her legs to the side of the bed. After taking a few moments to settle her emotions, she got dressed and headed for the kitchen

“Tea?”

“Yes, please.” She took the offered cup and looked at the Doctor. “Have you noticed that the noise has changed? The noise the TARDIS makes? It sounds -”

“Sad. Yes. She's in mourning.” He didn't look very happy himself. “She feels guilty about what she had to do.” He shrugged, adopted a more neutral expression. “She'll be alright. Best not to push her for a few days, though. Let her do her own thing.”

River nodded, sombre.

The Doctor sat his mug of untouched tea on the counter top. “And what about you?”

“I'm fine,” said River.

“I really am sorry about that date.” He touched her arm and River put her own mug down next to his.

“You were going to kiss me,” she said, uncertain if reminding him now was really the best idea.

He didn't seem to mind. He nodded. “I was, yes.”

River looked up at him, hands tense at her sides and her hearts beating faster than usual. “Well?”

The Doctor looked at her. After a long uncertain moment he lifted his hand and tilted her chin upwards a little, then he moved in slowly to meet her lips with his own.

River moved her hands to his hair, pressing her body against his. It was slow and thorough, with a tenderness that wasn't unexpected. As they parted again she moved her hands down to his shoulders, unwilling to let go of him just yet. “Do you have any plans to consummate this marriage?” she asked, keeping her voice steady and light.

“Things keep getting in the way,” he said, softly. He twirled one of her curls around with his fingers.

“Well, we're safe now. Nothing can happen while we're in the vortex.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Nothing?” There was a gleam in his eyes that she had seen before, at the picnic.

River decided to risk it. “Show me where you sleep.”

“How can I deny my own wife?” He moved his hand from her hair and used it to stroke her arm with a gentle intensity. “It's not very interesting,” he said, moving and catching her arm in his as he led her from the kitchen.

“Then we'll make it interesting,” she told him. She paused. “Those handcuffs you mentioned earlier...”

The Doctor laughed. “We'll start with the basics, I'm a bit out of practice.”

“Well, I'll soon fix that.”

The Doctor stopped for a moment to look at her. “Yes,” he said, sizing her up with his eyes, “I'm sure you will.”

River laughed and followed him to his bedroom.