Of the Doctor, Doctors, and Doctoring
Not my characters. A sequel to my Firefly/Torchwood crossover "Bereft, Be Rift, Be River".
"How many women named River have you met out of order?" Amy feels compelled to ask the Doctor, soon after they pick up the girl, stranded in the wrong time, whose timeline is apparently bound up with the Doctor's and a man calling himself Jack Harkness.
"It's hard to believe in coincidence by now," the Doctor whispers back. They're watching River Tam, barefoot in a flowing dress, lying down and listening to the floor. Since they're in Cardiff the Doctor is taking the opportunity to refuel on Rift energy.
River hears them, but she also hears the loving-but-sad song of the TARDIS, that had been through so much, all wrapped and warped in the Multiverse. Rory is bringing her tea. He has two thousand years in his head, but they're mercifully wrapped in woolen forgetfulness and reincarnation. Amy's head holds the world.
The Doctor hasn't met her yet, but his head is full of another River, like it was when she met him. River Tam wouldn't mind being uploaded to a library where hurt never happened again – if the crew of Serenity could be there too, of course.
"Do you take your tea with lemon?" Rory asks.
"You're very unflappable," River says, smiling. "And no."
He shrugs and gives a crooked puppy-smile. "I've seen a lot by now."
"I bet. The TARDIS told me when you are, Doctor," River says, now in a lotus pose and sipping her tea. The Doctor and Amy join herself and Rory in a picnic around the console. The Doctor likes "jammy dodgers" – faced Daleks with them and a lie. She likes it here in the TARDIS, the psychic status a hug, keeping the thoughts of the other members less intrusive.
"So you can read the minds of everybody?" Amy asks. She butters a slice of toast.
"I don't mean to enter the doorways, but the thresholds tilt and I fall in. It's been more peaceful since I got rid of Miranda."
The Doctor's eyes go wide. "You're – you're that River?"
"What is it?" Rory asks, muffled by his mouthful of sandwich.
The Doctor explains how a colony of humans made-make-will-make it to the Blue Star System and lost contact with Earth, mistakenly believing Earth was destroyed. He talks about the civil war that followed, the triumph of the Alliance, the encroachment of the Reavers. He tells his companions about what Miranda told the world, thanks to a ship full of brave people who sheltered a broken girl.
"You have to go into my past," River tells the Doctor.
He's so young-old, all the power and sorrow and love in a funny package of a gawky young man. But he gets it quickly. "That was just one secret."
"Just one girl."
"What is it?" Amy is the one that asks, this time.
"The place you were experimented on," Rory says quietly, "there were other children there, yeah?"
"Ohhh." A gleam enters Amy's eyes. "Right up our alley."
"I swear, Mal, the girl was right next to me, and bam! She went all disappear-y on us. Again."
"All I'm saying is that your record when it comes to her bein' safe ain't the brightest among us, Jayne."
Zoe coughed. "What's that whooshing noise, sir?"
Simon Tam sighed in relief as the big blue box began to materialize. "Oh, it's them."
"Gorram freaky time machine," Jayne muttered, but was drowned out in Kaylee's delighted squeal as River emerged, bearing bags full of fruit she said were from Earth-That-Was.
The TARDIS went away almost as soon as she closed the door. Kaylee didn't manage to get a glimpse inside. "Ain't the Doc gonna say hello? I liked him."
"They haven't met us yet. Makes them shy. And they're eager to run to the saving and derring-do."
"Hey, is that red-headed lady still married to that nurse?"
Mal frowned at Jayne before he ruffled River's hair. "Glad to have you back, Albatross."
River extracted something from a compartment in a sack filled with peaches. "Captain Harkness gave me a gift. It's a first-generation iPod. Solar-powered charger. He said it was worth sixty platinum to collectors last time he was in our area."
"What'd he give you that for?" Simon asked among the gasps and desires to hold the shiny white box with its little screen.
"He says I'm going to save his life someday. When he's younger."
"I will have to say that this whole tricky business has its perks," Mal said happily, wondering if Fess Higgins was still crazy about antiques as he used to be. Inara's old client had outlived his Pa and still sustained a hero-worship of Jayne. Higgins' Moon was a lot pleasanter these days. School and hospital and everything. Zoe planned to have her baby there, Wash having unknowingly planted one before his demise.
The Doctor really didn't like having guns pointed at him. He remembered the time he was shot to temporary death. Wasn't that fun.
"Captain Reynolds, I'm sorry that this is probably difficult for you to follow, but we really have met River and we really are supposed to help you out."
"You can ask her," Amy suggested, her hands up. "She's psychic, after all."
"River?" Simon said quietly, stepping aside to let her look at the strangers whose strange machine had appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the cargo hold. Even after knowing what she could do, he instinctively shielded her from everything.
River looked like she had a headache. "A lot at once. Alien?"
"No such thing as aliens," Jayne scoffed.
"Put the guns down. They're friendly," River said with soft authority.
Mal and Zoe holstered their weapons. "You're saying they're aliens?" Mal asked.
"We didn't believe in Readers at first," Zoe pointed out.
"We're not aliens, me and Amy," Rory said, cautiously putting his hands down. "He is, though. We're his friends."
"We need to borrow River for a little while," the Doctor explained. "If she wants to come, of course. Otherwise we could just chat for a bit, get the data we need."
"Simon should come too. He knows the way."
"The way to where?" Simon asked.
"The Academy. The other lambs need saving."
On the one-year anniversary of the Miranda Wave, Mr. Tam, father of Simon and River, could not resist turning on his set to see if there'd be some sort of memorial. He'd had to denounce his children publically and disinherit them to keep his job, his home, and his marriage (though he lost the last one anyway). But he had a growing, gnawing suspicion that his son had been right all along. He drank pretty heavily these days.
He nearly had a heart attack when the face of his daughter, all grown up now, filled his screen. He touched the image, wishing he could burrow through. At first he didn't even realize what she was saying. Then…
"We are the children of the Academy. The Alliance wanted to make us into weapons to keep you frightened and quiet." Her voice quavered. "It hurt. A lot of us died on the table. But they have realized their mistakes. We made them see they were wrong. We turned out to have strange friends from far away."
"If your son or daughter, brother or sister, whom you lost to the Academy wants to go home, and if you'll take their broken minds and make them loved and well, then they'll go back to you. But some of us can't go home."
"Oh xiao nuhar, please come home," Mr. Tam breathed.
"For those of use who can't go home, we have a mission. We brought you the Miranda Wave and the story of the Reavers. With the help of the repentant Alliance…" Was she smirking a little? "…We're going to start fighting back. We're going to destroy the Reavers, clean up a mess instead of hiding it. Zaijian, nimen. Gongxi ni."
River curled up in her bunk with a happy sigh. Tomorrow she'd be flying the ship to Osiris to pick up the twelve former Academy students who'd survived the experiments and had recovered their minds sufficiently to be useful to the Cause. Serenity had official business now under the newly elected administration as transport for the Reaver-Annihilation Corps - though they still did other jobs on the side for extra coin, they could now pick and choose their associates without fear of starvation - and the future was bright.
She wondered how old she would be when she met Captain Harkness again. She wondered what she'd be calling himself; whether he would have met the Doctor yet. Then she drifted away to a place where everything was quiet and shiny.