A/N: Big moment chickadees - this is my 80th story. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but hey, it is what it is. Spoilers for 6x07 so do not proceed if you haven't seen it yet. (Can't understand why you wouldn't have, you've clearly got the internet, even if the BBC is mean in your country.) Anyway, hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think! =]
The sky was a faint orange colour, just visible through the treetops. His stomach clenched with longing, and he determinedly turned his attention to the puffed out little girl, leaning against a tree trunk in front of him.
"Do you do a lot of running?" she asked, her dark eyes alight with excitement and adrenalin.
"Oh yes," he replies, "Natural with a job like mine."
"And what's your job?"
"I'm the Doctor," he smiled broadly, almost like a particularly pleased child, then whipped his head around to find the source of the snapping twigs and rustle of a long, powerful body making its way along the forest floor. He couldn't see it, not yet.
"What's your name?" he asked, his eyes still squinting through the low light. He searched in his pocket for his sonic screwdriver, pushing a box of matches, a Mini Babybel, King Arthur's sword and a set of Ikea alan keys aside before his fingers curled around it. He scanned the area around them. It was getting closer.
"Lorna Bucket," she said, her breathing easing off a little now.
"Lorna Bucket?" he said, momentarily distracted. "That's a brilliant name."
The little girl grinned, pleased that he approved.
"Well Lorna Bucket," he said, stuffing his screwdriver back into his pocket and holding out his hand. She took it. "I have only one thing to say to you."
They sped off, and milliseconds later, the jaws of a gigantic snake crushed the tree trunk Lorna had been leaning against only moments ago. Their footsteps pounded over the rough ground, and they stumbled over tree roots and fallen branches. There was a creaking noise, growing louder and louder, and the Doctor looked up, distracted enough to not even consider the orange sky.
It was difficult to tell from a distance, but it was definitely set at an odd angle, and then at an odder angle, and then, gaining speed, it came crashing towards the earth. The Doctor looked over his shoulder, his hearts pumping in his chest. He couldn't see the creature, but it had a knack for hiding. He had less than a second to decide.
"Run!" he yelled.
"We are running!" Lorna yelled back, and he yanked her along, faster than ever.
The Doctor threw Lorna ahead of him, but the branches of the tree collided with the top of his head as the entire thing smashed into the ground, sending a shockwave under his feet. He toppled to the ground and Lorna came rushing over, a small cut on her head from when she'd fallen.
"Blimey," the Doctor said, getting to his feet and touching the top of his head gingerly. There was a lump forming already, but he couldn't worry about that now. He couldn't worry about the shake in his legs, or the fact that his lungs were on the verge of giving up.
And then he heard the crackling sound nearing them as the snake slithered closer, and grabbed Lorna's hand once more, setting off into the forest as fast as they possibly could.
"I think," the Doctor wheezed, collapsing at the base of a tree five minutes later, Lorna following suit, "We might be all right here, just for a little while."
"We can follow the river," Lorna said, in between sharp gasps of breath. "That'll take us straight into the village."
"We don't want to lead it there though."
"What is it?" Lorna asked. "Is it an anaconda? I've read about those, they've only got them on a few planets, I never knew we had them here."
"It's not just any anaconda," he said, giving her shoulder a pat, ""It's the mother of all anacondas. Literally. She's the Eve of the snake world."
"What are we going to do? Are we going to kill it?"
Lorna shifted away from him slightly, her arms wrapped around her knees.
"It's just scared. It's scared and it needs food, that's all."
"It killed my mum," she said in a quiet voice.
The Doctor sighed, rubbing his face with his hand. He put an arm around Lorna and pulled her close into his side. "It didn't kill her with the intention of taking your mum away from you," he said. "It killed her because it eats people. I know it's not a pleasant thought, but you eat scranglers, and they have children too. It's...well, it's the food chain. It's just trying to stay alive."
"But it'll kill the whole village eventually! It'll get all of us! It'll get me!"
"Listen to me," the Doctor said, his voice low, brimming with promise. "I am not going to let that happen. I'll reason with it, when I get the chance, and take it somewhere it can inhabit safely."
"Oh, I'm sure I'll find somewhere," he said, casting his gaze back to that great orange sky. Admittedly he couldn't think of anywhere for the creature to go where it wouldn't destroy every living thing in sight, but it needed to be given a chance. Its life was equal to Lorna's, to his own, to everyone's in that village. He had to try, and if that didn't work out, he'd have to think of something else.
"I wish my big sister was here," Lorna said sourly, picking up a twig from the ground and throwing it into the river. "She'd know what to do. She's really good at stuff like this."
The Doctor gave her shoulders another comforting squeeze.
"She's not actually my sister," Lorna continued, picking up another twig, and sending it flying towards the river. It overshot a little, landing on the opposite bank, but after a few seconds, rolled down into the water. "My mum found her, a few years ago. She was dying, so mum brought her home and...well, she never really left."
"She sounds good, your mum."
Lorna nodded, and a tear trickled town her rosy cheek.
"I think she was planning to leave soon. She doesn't really like it here. I don't like it here actually, it's boring. Nothing ever happens."
"Apart from giant snakes."
"Well yeah. But I think she's going to stay now. Because Mum's gone, and Dad's...well, Dad's fallen apart a bit. She's been really good to me. And to him. But I don't want her to stay here for us. I don't want her to be miserable."
"Looking after the people you love doesn't make you miserable," he tells her quietly. "It's not fun, and it's not exciting, and nobody ever plans to have to do it, but if you love someone, you have no other option, because you don't give yourself any option. If she left you guys now, she'd regret it forever, I'm sure."
"I don't want her to."
"No, of course you don't. Because you love her and you want her to be happy. All this means is that she'll put her plans back a few years, until your Dad's back on his feet, and you're old enough to look after yourself. It won't hurt her, and I'm sure she knows that."
Lorna said nothing, and eventually, after all the twigs around them had been launched into the river, they set off again, heading towards the village.
"We need to warn them," the Doctor said. "So they can be prepared in case it -"
There was a scream in the distance, loud, high, and blood curdling.
Lorna's tiny hand found his own automatically and they were off again, running as fast as they could, while the screams of terror grew in volume.
"Is it killing people?"
The Doctor could tell from the wobble in her voice that she was fighting back tears of fright. She wouldn't be able to cope if she lost another family member. She wouldn't be able to cope if she lost that big sister of hers.
"No, shouldn't think so," he lied. "Snake that size, only needs to eat two or three times a year."
There was a crash, that sounded like one of the lodges being smashed to pieces. The Doctor sped up, Lorna hurrying alongside him, tears staining her flushed face.
They soon reached the clearing where the village stood, and the Doctor froze. There were only a couple of lodges left standing, and the logs that had made up the others were scattered everywhere, splintered and broken. The villagers were running, screaming, though some were lying dreadfully still on the ground, blood pooling around them.
The snake was coiled in the centre of the clearing, its head raised far above them, looking down at those fleeing from it. It seemed to be focused on one particular girl, who wasn't running, but staring the creature down. She was holding a small table in front of her, like a shield, and the snake was watching her, its long tongue flicking out into the air, tasting her scent, tasting her bravery.
"River no!" Lorna screamed.
A long black tail flew out of nowhere, casting Lorna off into the air. She landed twenty feet away, and curled into a ball, groaning.
The Doctor had no time to check if she was okay. He was fumbling in his pocket for his screwdriver, his hands shaking.
He could see it. She was so young, her eyes, even at this distance, had barely seen the horror they would by the time he would meet her in The Library. She couldn't have been older than fifteen, her blonde hair spiralling around her like golden corkscrews. Even as a teenager, he could see that her biceps and triceps were well developed, and her nose. He hadn't realised it before but it had a hint of Rory about it. It wasn't quite so elongated, but there was a shadow of him in her features, and he could see a flicker of the determination in her eyes that he had seen so often in Rory's, when Amy was in danger.
The snake lunged at River and she dived out of the way, managing to turn her fall into a forward roll. She was back on her feet in an instant, and the snake turned its head towards her new position.
"Listen to me!" The Doctor called, not wanting to find out if its second attempt would be luckier than its first. "I know you can understand me, just listen!"
He patted his outside pockets, still searching for the screwdriver, and stumbled around to where River was, standing in front of her, a shield between her and the snake.
"Yes, you're scared," he said, looking into the dark, bottomless eyes above him. "You've found yourself very far from home, I know. But let me help you! Leave these people alone and I can help you find a new home, a suitable home."
Something collided hard with his stomach, knocking all the air out of him. He flew upwards, and landed with a thud on the ground. He coughed and spluttered, eventually managing to take in a few deep lungfuls of air, his ribs burning which each rise and fall of his chest. The snake whipped its tail around again, this time colliding with River. She screamed, the table falling out of her grasp as she too was sent through the air, landing heavily in the wreckage of one of the lodges.
The snake lowered its head, its jaw dropping beyond what was reasonable, and the Doctor felt ice cold fear flood through his veins as he realised what was about to happen.
"No!" screamed Lorna.
"Move River! Move!"
She was curled on the floor, gently stirring, but not moving fast enough. The Doctor leapt over a log, his feet tripping on debris as he sprinted towards her, his hand still rifling through his pockets. His fingers closed around the handle of something, but it wasn't the screwdriver. He knew what it was, and also knew what he now had to do.
On my life she will be safe.
He wrenched the sword out of his pocket, the blade slashing his jacket lining, and without stopping to reconsider, swung it through the air. There was a dreadful slicing sound, followed by a loud thud, and an almighty splatter, as something thick and wet splashed over the Doctor.
River sat up, holding a trembling hand to her head. She was covered, head to foot, in scarlet blood. She looked at the snake's head, its jaws still open, its fangs still bared, and then looked at the Doctor.
"D'you often carry a sword in your pocket?" she asked.
"Well," he said, shrugging his shoulders, "I make an exception where Excalibur is concerned." He examined the gilded hilt, before jamming the crimson soaked blade into the ground and reaching out a hand to pull River to her feet.
"I'm the Doctor," he said, as Lorna came running over, wrapping her arms around River's middle. "It's an honour, Miss River Song."
She arched one bloody eyebrow, and, as was his habit by now, the Doctor gulped.
"You've heard of me then?"