Sorry for the wait. Now working on two major stories at once; it's time consuming. And I actually fully intend to follow through on In Quiet Desperation, which I'll concede is rare for me. More seriously, though, I am well aware of how slowly this story has progressed for the past, *ahem*, year, and I apologise profusely. I suspect my tardiness has pissed off a good deal of my readers – but what can you do?
In fact, how many of you who started reading this some time in 2011 are still reading this? Give us a shout by the usual method so I can thank you personally, but even if you don't, thanks for putting up with me.
Let's carry on. I use a rather famous John Maynard Keynes line in this, see if you can spot it.
CHAPTER 42. The Flight of Katherine Broad: 2 April 2011
It was as simple as that. Amy had been following the Windcatcher for well over an hour, shadowing his every move, scanning her surroundings for followers and darting between trees to keep hidden. Once she'd convinced herself that everything was in place, she'd made her move.
But she'd been too obvious. Too direct. He'd seen straight through her plan, and when the truth dawned on him that he was indeed being shadowed by the Time Lady, she'd panicked. And ended up here, with a gun pointed at her head.
"The sword, if you please." The Windcatcher's voice was light, polite, yet laced with the calm satisfaction of victory.
He was tall, about the same height as she was, his silver-white hair streaked backwards and his gold-framed spectacles glimmering in the sunlight. He looked about fifty in human terms, with a high-set chin, fair complexion and a proud demeanour, but Amy was under no illusions about his nature, because there was no way someone with those eyes could be human. They were gunmetal-grey, perfectly circular and glowed from within, lit by tiny rivulets of electrical activity dancing through the irises.
He held out his free hand, repeating the order to hand over the weapon. With a gun aimed squarely between her eyes, Amy had little choice but to flip the sword over in her hand, offering him the handle. His smile broadened as he took it, his eyes running up and down the shining silver blade.
"It's beautiful, I'll give you that. I haven't seen Gallifreyean engravings in a long, long time," he murmured.
Despite her situation, and the fact that she was constantly on the lookout for an escape, she couldn't help but be a little startled out of her defensive mode by that. "You can read it?"
"The gene was spliced into me," he replied, still with that same wry smile. "But you already knew that, didn't you? You know all about me."
Amy shook her head quickly. "No – no, just what Johansen told me."
"Which is more than enough. Knowledge is power, Miss Pond." He placed a hand to his glasses, evidently activating a communicator of some kind. "Base, this is the Windcatcher. I have the mark, require collection."
"Are you going to kill me now?"
"Would you like me to?"
Somewhere deep inside her, a dark whisper urged her to reply in the affirmative, to just nod her head and let him end it – but she dismissed it instantly.
"I'd like an answer, Miss Pond," he repeated.
"Alright," she replied, that old cocky smile on her face once again, and made her move.
The Windcatcher was rapid, his reactions enhanced by technology and genetics, but even he couldn't possibly keep up with Amy as she dove to the ground, the bullet whipping through her hair as it fanned out behind her. She balanced herself, her centre of gravity hovering just above the ground, before springing, cat-like, at him.
Her idea was simple: get back the sword. Her leap had propelled her straight at him, so his gun hand was knocked away, the second bullet sailing harmlessly into the air. For a brief moment, it looked as if she had the upper hand – but she hadn't counted on his experience.
Whilst she'd jumped, he'd taken the slightest step to the side, so her leap took her ever so slightly off-centre. When she collided into him, the momentum spun him around... perfect for the sword in his other hand.
Amy never saw it. The first she knew of it was an explosive pain right across her side as the flat of the sword slammed into her. It all happened far too quickly for her to react and before she knew it she was on her back, clutching at her side, a groaning mess on the floor.
He stood over her, smiling in much the same way she had been, pressing the sword underneath her chin. She gasped as she felt the cold bite of the metal in her neck, gazing up at him with wide, fearful eyes.
"I admire your fight," he told her, "but that was stupid. What made you think that was a good idea?"
She glared at him, spitting out a globule of thickened blood in his direction. She wasn't about to play his game.
"What the hell do you want with me?"
"Me? I'm on a contract. You'll have to ask my employers when you get the chance."
"And they are...?"
She was really letting sheer defiance drive her words now, trying in vain to try and shift the balance of power just a little way back towards her, so the last thing she expected was for his smile to broaden, his gunmetal-grey eyes twinkling.
"Well, I'm guessing you've already heard them. After all, you and the Precept have past history, don't you?"
Her breath hitched in her throat, her face paling to a pearly bone-white as her mind raced back to a chilly, wind-swept London morning, months ago now, and a rescue of a certain blone-haired girl...
"You brought her into this, Amelia Pond," the Windcatcher continued, his voice quiet and tinged with a distant, wavering note that sounded almost like... almost like...
She glared at him, channelling her fear into defiance, her doubt into rage. "You can't have her. She's gone."
"Who says I want her?"
"Don't get all moral-high-ground to me," Amy spat. "You lot were chasing after her. You tried to shoot her. Now she's gone, out of your reach," she snarled at him, a twisted analogue of triumph flashing across her pale features.
The Windcatcher gazed at her for a moment, the smile fading as if forgotten in his stream of thought, washing away into pensiveness.
"You saved her."
"You know she could have helped you, you know that alone you'd be much less capable of making it out alive, let alone escaping, but you still sent her away." It wasn't a question.
She didn't care. "Yes."
"All your ability, your power, your immortality – but you still think like a young girl from that lonely blue planet," he murmured, his head tilted in curiosity as if she were an enigma to be unlocked, not a mark to be captured. "You really are so... human, aren't you?"
"I..." Amy spat out, her unsteady breathing driving the point of her own sword deeper and deeper into her skin, the point on the verge of penetration, "am not human."
"Clearly not, or we wouldn't be standing here." Evidently bored of the conversation, the Windcatcher placed a finger to his glasses and reactivated the communicator. "Windcatcher to Base, I'm waiting for pickup." No response. "Windcatcher to Base, can you hear me? For the sake of – it's me!"
Plainly, no one was responding. He shook his head, disregarding the communicator and gripping the sword with both hands. The sword moved lower, shifting from its resting point underneath her chin to settle right in the hollow of her throat. One little push, she knew, and...
"You're going to kill me now, aren't you?" It was odd, really. She didn't think she'd be so calm.
"I don't have to. I could take you into custody, wait until my men arrive," he answered, though for the first time, his unflappably cool demeanour had cracked slightly.
"Then why haven't they?"
"I..." He hesitated, catching himself, a rare sign of doubt. "It doesn't matter. I still have you. You're mine."
"You – you could take me alive," she answered quickly, breathlessly. "Take your chances."
"But you wouldn't go quietly, would you? You'd fight, defiant until the end."
She shook her head. He kept talking.
"You're right, after all. You aren't human... you're a Time Lady. And Time Ladies don't die easily. If I tried to take you alive, you would stop at nothing to escape. You wouldn't care how many people you trampled under your foot to be free," he spoke quietly, slowly, as if truly seeing her for the first time.
Amy didn't answer, her eyes averted, clouded and empty. He'd tapped right into her deepest, darkest fear, exposing the problem that she knew had only one true solution.
"So, Amelia Pond," He tightened his grip, the sword pressing so hard into her neck that Amy could feel her skin piercing. "Would you like me to kill you?"
She clamped the voice down as best she could, but she couldn't exactly escape the situation. She swallowed nervously, a coiling sensation deep inside her. "You're going to anyway, aren't you?"
"Not if you don't want me to."
You do. She screwed up her eyes, once again forcing the whispers away.
"I don't have to tell you."
"I don't have to kill you."
"You don't want to?"
He narrowed his eyes, studying her.
She opened her mouth, seeking an answer, trying to form a response that simply couldn't be put into words. All that was left was the end, the final, quiet realisation that this was it, alone, far from help, far from him, where no one could hear her, no one could be hurt by her.
He raised the sword, the metal glittering in the silent, preparing the final blow – and she flinched. She flinched. At the last moment, she betrayed herself, closing her eyes, not wanting to watch, to see her own end. She just wished he would do it quickly, before she lost her nerve – what was taking him so long?
Though, it did give her once last chance to see him again, feel the brush of his lips against her forehead, the fabric of his bow-tie under her fingers. Even now, she could hear him, she could feel him, distant yet never gone, never leaving her. Maybe, just maybe, she'd see him from the other side, she'd see all of them – Katherine, Rory, her parents-
She opened her eyes, expecting to see her doom – but she didn't. Instead, she saw the sword falling from his limp hands, the glow vanishing from his eyes, sparks falling like rain from a gaping hole in his head.
She scrambled onto all fours away from him, reclaiming her falling weapon and fleeing for impossible, miraculous safety – only to run straight into someone else.
The girl's fair skin and golden-blonde hair seemed to glow in the morning sun, a trick of the light perhaps – or, more likely, a by-product of the fact that Amy had never been so pleased to see Katherine Broad in her life.
Kate lowered her long, scoped rifle, a wry, triumphant smile on her face.
Nothing got up the Doctor's nerves quite like being powerless.
From a cold, objective point of view, he really should have been more relaxed than he was now. All the pieces were in place; all his plans were in motion; everything was coming together. The equaliser field was primed, fuelled by the hopes and dreams of the Earthsphere billions which. Like an avalanche, the outpouring of energy would be impossible to hold back once the first little push was given. Jack, and Michael following afterwards, were far beneath trying to harness that energy, channel that unstoppable force into his TARDIS. And Amy, wonderful and clever girl that she was, had managed to find the quantum link that Stanley had mentioned yesterday, so with a little hope, and a lot of luck, he'd land right on top of her.
All the pieces were in place. Now came the waiting... but he'd never been good at that. Not like she was.
Then again, there were so many things that she was good at – no, that she was amazing at – that he wasn't. He remembered what he was doing when he was twenty-two... running around the fields of blood-red Gallifreyean grass, which even now were like countless shards of twinkling glass in his mind's eye.
Really, at this age a Time Lord was still a child, yet there she was – so quick, so sharp, so strong. Even from far away, he could still feel her fighting with every bone an cell in her body.
Fighting the past that he had bequeathed her.
To be fair, much of the diary had nothing to do with him. Rather, he wasn't mentioned for much of it. Instead, it was mostly the musings, worries and unspoken wishes of a lonely young girl growing up in a village where she didn't quite fit.
Even so, he could see himself woven throughout, even if he wasn't mentioned by name. His fingerprints were on every page, his presence – or, rather, his absence – hidden in the curve of every letter, buried beneath every word.
And then, just occasionally, he'd come across a place where little Amelia's shell had cracked.
June 15, 1999, the diary read. He hasn't come back yet.
October 21, 2001. Still hasn't come back. But he will. He will.
January 3, 2003. I wonder if he'll ever come back for me... he has to. What would I be if he didn't?
He jumped up, startled out of his reverie by the low, rattling growl of the giant repticore. The sun was just beginning to rise on Earthsphere, the light glimmering off Machariam's golden scales. It was a majestic sight, the proud arch of his back, the bright glimmer of his sky-blue eyes, but it also made him look old. Very, very old.
"Right – drifted off, sorry." The Doctor snapped the diary shut and stuffed it into his pocket, putting it out of his mind. "So we're done? We're good?"
"It is ready," Machariam replied. Behind the repticore, the to and fro of the repticore colony hadn't stopped, but there was still a more relaxed vibe to it, the thrum of activity beginning to wind down.
"And the link...?"
"Is finished. Your TARDIS is now coupled with ours. With luck, that will mean that when your machine goes active, so will ours."
The Doctor brushed past the repticore, inspecting the device in the forest clearing. Much of the foliage around the clearing had been cleaned out by the workers, leaving a circular, ornate floor of twisted, blood-red hardwood. Attached to them were the columns he'd seen before, twisting up into the sky, and in the centre was the console, a dark, ochre-brown mass of hardwood and switches. Despite the structure's organic appearance and intricate design, the glow emanating from below hinted at its true nature – this was no showpiece.
The Doctor strode around the central console, inspecting it with his sonic. It hummed merrily in response.
"Brilliant." He pocketed the sonic with a rather satisfied air. "So. When Michael and Jack get back with some juice, I send Amy's location to your TARDIS, and we-"
He stopped dead in his tracks, turning slowly to face the giant repticore. "What do you mean, no?" His voice was light, yet just uneven enough to put anyone listening on edge. But Machariam was not so easily fazed.
"You. Not we."
The Doctor took a single, weighted step towards the repticore. "We?"
"You will have to do what you need to do alone. We cannot assist."
"My primary concern is my people, Doctor. Save your friend – but do not count on our help. I have a species to save."
Something hot, dark and formless was manifesting itself inside the Doctor, and his voice was just gaining the slightest roughness around the edges when he next spoke. "Your TARDIS is linked to mine, you know. I could control the power and the navigation myself."
There was a thin, rattling noise, a sharp intake of breath over Machariam's scales as they tensed inwards. "Would you really do that, Doctor?" the repticore asked quietly. "Would you really?"
The Doctor turned away, leaning heavily on the central column. He ran his hand over the bark-like material on the outside, feeling its rough, organic texture, the warmth emanating from beneath seeping upwards into his fingers. It was so utterly unlike what he was used to when it came to time machines – a marvel of the skill of countless generations of repticore, a monument to the blood and toil of untold thousands, so unlike... yet so like his own, in that it was the last relic of a race on the precipice, hanging desperately onto its existence.
"No," he finally answered. He turned around to face the aged repticore elder once more, his face impassive. "But I wonder if you've ever asked yourself the same question."
With that, he left, leaving the repticore colony without taking a moment to stop and look back. Machariam, however, did, his sky-blue eyes gazing after the youthful, ancient alien long after he had vanished beneath the undergrowth.
In all the years Kate had known Amy, first as a complete oddball, then as an unwanted enemy and finally as close a friend, she'd never known the Scot to be short of a word or two. Sure, Amy might have been a little speechless, even a little stunned on occasion (especially recently) but she'd always had something up her sleeve: a sharp retort or some other bone-dry remark to leave on the table.
Not this time, however.
This time Amy just stared, mouth agape, her eyes shining with disbelief. The Time Lady closed and opened her mouth once, twice, clearly trying to find a way to push through her astonishment and reassert herself.
"You came back," she eventually managed, completely at a loss to say anything else.
"I did," Kate said.
"You saved me."
"You're my friend. Of course I did."
Just like that Amy was around her, embracing her like she was the Time Lady's life-raft amidst the raging torrents. Kate felt Amy whispering trembling thank-yous into her shoulder, the ginger digging fingernails into her back. She reciprocated, tightening her own embrace – which drew an immediate gasp.
She broke off, catching the briefest flash of Amy's pained grimace before the Time Lady collected herself, smiling gratefully back at her. Kate, however, had other concerns, and wasn't about to be distracted.
"Ames, what's wrong?" For the first time, Kate looked at Amy more closely, noticing speckles of blood on Amy's chin and a thin cut to her neck.
"Nothing," Amy replied, but her self-conscious wiping away of the blood told a different story, as did the way her hand kept involuntarily reaching for her side.
"-I'm telling you, it's nothing-"
"I have to see," Kate cut her off firmly. She remembered back to that insane episode the Time Lady had put them through a few days before, where Amy had refused to self-heal her horrendous-though-fake injuries. It was the most drastic sign Kate had received that something very, very dangerous had clicked deep within Amy, and that the Time Lady was far more reliant on her friends than she was willing to admit.
This time, the injuries were nowhere near as bad but they still made Amy flinch when Kate touched them with trembling fingers. Much of her right side around the lowermost-rib upwards was covered in an ugly, purple-brown bruise, with the top of the bruise delineated by a long and rather deep cut.
"It's not that bad," Amy told her, though the way she forced the words through gritted teeth said otherwise.
"I'm guessing you can heal it in a hurry?" Kate asked, trying to keep the situation as light as she possibly could – things were tense enough without either of them showing it.
"Sort of. Should take care of itself in time."
Nevertheless, Amy let her tend to the wound, using some of the dressings they'd taken from the villa as a bandage. It clearly hurt like hell, as Amy's knuckles were bone-white as she held up her clothing for Kate to do her work. Between that and the dull, irritating pain in her head, it was slow work, but she got it done. She'd never let a mild headache stop her doing anything before, she wasn't about to-
"Katherine?" Amy looked down at Kate, concern on her brow as the blonde rubbed her temple, wincing. "You alright?"
"Hm? Oh yeah, fine. Just a headache," Kate replied off-hand, ignoring the sudden bolt of sharp, red-hot pain that had shot across her skull. That hadn't been so mild. "Don't worry about me; you're the one with the bruises here."
"You worry about me way too much," Amy whined.
"Oh, shut up and let me put this bandage on."
She did so, though it was tough work as Amy kept flinching and gasping every time she touched the bruises or applied any pressure. Kate suspected that there were a few cracked ribs under there, but Amy wasn't about to elaborate on it.
"Where exactly did you learn all this?" Amy asked after a few minutes, trying to keep the thickness from her voice.
"The internship, mostly," Kate replied as she fixed the last portion of the bandage.
"That was years ago. You can't have remembered that much from it."
"Well..." Kate hesitated, trying not to bring up awkward topics, but she knew that Amy would spot such an obvious lie from a hundred miles off. "Rory has been teaching me a bit while I've been staying with him."
"You're dating him?"
Kate had to stop tending to Amy at that, instead staring at her in total disbelief. "You've barely escaped being captured and killed, you're injured, we're being hunted in the middle of an artificial paradise planet, I've got a goddamn headache and you're asking me that?"
Amy pouted, some of the old petulance resurfacing again. "What? I have a right to know, don't I?"
Kate took a deep breath before starting. "Amy-"
"Look, I'm not going to kill you or hate you or do anything terrible if you are," Amy said right over the top of her. "I'd just like to know-"
"Amy," Katherine repeated, but to no avail.
"-because I do still sort of care about him and I want to make sure he ends up with the right-"
"Amelia!" Kate yelled, at last shutting up her friend. "I am not dating him," she said firmly. "Not like that, anyway."
"Meaning?" Amy asked, an eyebrow raised.
"It means that we're not a thing. We're not dating or an item or a couple or whatever you want to call it. We are just friends," Kate told her, forcefully emphasising the last two words to try and get it through the Time Lady's occasionally thick skull – emotions and relationships were not exactly Amy's strong point, and she had a knack for missing the blatantly obvious.
This time, however, was different. "But you like him," Amy pointed out, her eyes narrowing slightly.
"I do," Kate admitted with a slight hesitation, knowing that lying would be a bad move at this point but looking for an escape nonetheless.
"And he likes you."
That was an even more unnervingly direct statement of fact – but fact it was. "He – he does."
"So what's the bloody problem? Sort it out, you useless git-"
Kate snorted. "So says you, who broke up him just before the two of you were about to get married and probably spent ages moping after him when he was gone."
"You know why I did that," Amy snapped, her eyes flashing. "You know why it couldn't have worked out. But last I checked you were living with him in Leadworth."
"Temporarily," Kate pointed out. "I'll go back to London once it's safe and finish my doctorate."
"Oh, right, that doctorate you won't even talk about," Amy said in a slightly mocking, sing-song tone. "Don't bullshit me, Katherine. And don't you dare lead Rory on."
"I'm not!" Kate's voice had risen to a frustrated half-shout, fuelled by the throbbing in her skull. "Look, Amy, we're all friends and I like you a lot now, but don't assume you know everything about me, because you don't, not by half-"
"You're human!" Amy shouted right over the top of her. "You're mortal! And without my mindlink, you'd have a completely normal mind! Look – I'm giving him to you, take him! Stop giving me all these bloody excuses, because it'll just hurt you and him, and besides you don't have any excuses compared to mine-"
Kate's voice had dropped completely, soft, barely above a whisper, but even so it sliced straight through Amy's frustrated rant. Amy did a double-take, thrown off-balance by the complete shift in Kate's mood – from fiery, energetic and defiant to soft eyes, sad smiles and comforting squeezes of her hand.
The same way she talked to people when she knew that they didn't understand.
"You are so wrong," Kate repeated, but her voice was still so soft, so gentle. "I do like him. I do. And I wish – I wish so many things were different, but everything happens for a reason, Amelia. You know that even better than I do. There's a reason Rory and I aren't together. There's a reason I decided to come aboard the TARDIS a second time. And there's a reason I'm here, helping you."
"But I sent you away for a reason as well. You were free. You were safe." Amy's temper had been quelled, but the frustrations still lingered.
"And when have I ever asked for that?" Kate asked. "I don't run to safety. I run from it. You should know that by now."
"Even though you might not make it out?"
Kate chuckled gently. "Amy, In the long run-"
"-we're all dead," Amy completed, her voice tinged with bitter acknowledgement. "I know. But not today. I swear to you, not today."
Kate smiled, giving her hand another gentle squeeze. "You sound just like the Doctor," she joked. "And thanks, I don't plan on dying today – what the hell is that?"
They'd both covered their ears at the noise, their faces screwed up in sudden agony. The sound had come from nowhere as Kate had been speaking, and the first thing either of them could compare it to was a rather sharp rake being scraped with cruel precision over a chalkboard. The double-whammy of the noise and her headache doubled Kate over instantly, the girl crying out in pain.
It was clear where the sound was coming from because at the same moment the Windcatcher's fallen body had been engulfed in a thin, blue-grey cloud, concentrated especially around the still-sparking hole in his head.
Using her shoulder to shield her uncovered ear as best she could, Amy retrieved her sonic from her skirt pocket and scanned the body from afar. The results weren't the easiest to read through the squint induced by the hellish din, but they were clear enough.
"Nano-bot cloud!" she yelled upon reading the scan.
"What?!" Between the screeching racket and the hands over her ears, Kate didn't have the slightest hope of hearing her.
Even in this situation Amy still managed to roll her eyes. It took some effort, but she ripped one of the Kate's hands away and screamed into her ear.
"It's a nano-bot cloud! He's self-repairing!"
This time Kate got it. Even if she hadn't yelled it straight into her ear, though, she would have quickly worked it out because the body had begun to jerk into life, the arms and legs gyrating wildly in their sockets like something out of an old horror flick. As it did so, the sound died away, replaced only by a thin, mechanical hissing.
"Okay. I did not need that," Kate declared as she straightened herself, rubbing her tortured ears. "Now what?"
"He'll be awake soon," Amy told her quickly, already beginning to step backwards from the rapidly reanimating body. "I can't stop the repair."
"What, is he some sort of robot?"
"Sort of, yeah. But he's older and smarter than any robot you've ever dreamed of," Amy told her.
"So it's time to go," Amy replied, grabbing her hand. "Run!"
Kate didn't need a second invitation. They sprinted from the scene as one, dashing between the trees beneath the flawless morning sky.
Not long to go now. Most of the pieces are in place, you should be starting to form an idea of how this ends (on top of the fact that I've already rather told you, to an extent).