Title: How to be Human
Fandom: Doctor Who
Spoilers: Up through "The Wedding of River Song"
Summary: The Doctor leaves the scene of the crime, but where will he go from there?
Disclaimer: I don't claim to represent the creators of Doctor Who. I'm am not making money off this story.
How to Be Human
Humans could be so alien, sometimes. The Doctor watched from the monitor as Amelia Pond spent her grief into the chest of the machine that had helped him to fake his death. The Doctor in a Doctor suit is what he was. He tried to ignore the lump in his throat at the girl's anguish. His was a highly evolved species; none of this leaking all over the place when things got a little emotional.
And then there was Amy's daughter, River Song. Good girl, he thought, getting on with business. She'd brought up the fact that they would need to burn the evidence and she'd given the grieving Ponds some garbage about his body being a miracle. It was just another excuse, another lie. If he was truly dead, he'd decompose like any other carbon-based life form and the only miracle would be that of his atomic essence returning to the embrace of the universe. The Teselecta that mimicked his dead body, on the other hand, was a miracle of science.
The best lies held a morsel of truth in them and River was as consummate a liar as he was. Unfortunately, she was also his wife.
He stifled the very inappropriate urge to giggle.
A hand on his shoulder made him jump.
"Sir, it's time."
The Doctor turned to find the stalwart Captain Carter, the only being in the universe, besides River, who knew he had not died at Lake Silencio, Utah. He cleared his throat. "Yes. I suppose so. Canton has officially stated that I'm dead to whoever is watching and River will make sure the Teselecta receives a proper send off. I suppose it's no use hanging around any longer."
He looked back towards the monitor. Rory was pulling his wife up by her arm. There was a grim look on his face as he wrapped her into an embrace. River, standing beside them, turned to look directly at the Teselecta. Her eyes were pale as stone. The doctor stepped back with a start.
"I'm glad you took Ms. Song into your confidence, sir. But if you don't mind me asking, what about the other one?"
The Doctor shifted his gaze to the stillness of the Lake on the horizon. The astronaut, having fulfilled its destiny, had vanished beneath it. She was also... his wife. "I believe that once she has escaped from the suit, she will deliver herself up to the correct authorities and confess her crimes."
Captain Carter nodded. "It is the only way. We will each do our parts. You are a hero to many, sir. We will do whatever is in our power to ensure your continued safety."
"Yes, but what if I'm not the hero you believe me to be?"
In the end, it didn't matter. The TARDIS took him into the vortex and away from it all.
He flipped a lever and pushed a few buttons, then turned around and slouched against the TARDIS console. It was awfully quiet. He tapped his fingers just so he could hear the drumming sound they made. When he began to pace, he knew he was in trouble.
"Where to next? Gotta lie low, gotta keep under the radar," he said in a mutter.
The TARDIS lights took on a sharp quality.
"Tone it down," he said. "I know, I know. I've left them all to deal with the mess. I'm just rubbish at cleaning up after myself."
The lights dimmed to a sullen red.
"Yes, all right. I realise it wasn't fair to her. But in all honesty, she was going to kill me first. I simply took advantage of the situation."
His world tilted unexpectedly. His feet flew out from under him and he landed on his arse.
"Oi! Now that was uncalled for." He rose to his feet and straightened his jacket. Then, after a moment, he slumped back against the console and brushed his fingers along its edge. "She would never have let herself kill me, you know. River Song - the woman who continues to ensure my survival, despite being conditioned to murder me. You can appreciate the irony, can't you?"
He shrugged. "Or maybe you can't. But you knew." The air inside the TARDIS was as still as a held breath. The edges of his mouth turned up in the twitch of a smile. "In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't have a direct hand in the very fact of her existence."
The red turned into a bashful blue.
"You made her for me, didn't you?" There was nothing to confirm or deny his question, but he shook his head nonetheless. "Oh sexy, you marvelous creature. Too bad we're back to where we started eh?"
He looked over to the chair where a well thumbed blue book waited. His diary. Her diary. It was one and the same. After he'd given her the sonic, he'd gone to pick it up from where he'd left it, and he had brought the diary with him, too. It only made sense that once her part of the story was written, he'd write his between its pages. Now it waited for his last installment.
"I'm not ready to say goodbye," he whispered.
The persistent lump in his throat had turned to a deep ache in his chest. He lifted his fingers up to his cheeks and found wetness there. Now he was leaking. That's what came from hanging around with humans.
It was not in his current personality to brood. Maybe in his last incarnation, but now he just couldn't bring himself to a full mope. What he was, was lost. He steered the TARDIS drunkenly through the stars and in and out of the vortex, searching for something but knowing he would never find it.
A few times he entered the co-ordinates for The Stormcage. He erased them before he went any further. Those stories were already written and it wouldn't do any good to cross his own time stream.
He found himself hurtling towards The Library. The TARDIS materialized on a high walkway and he was halfway to the door before he realised his folly.
Time can be rewritten. The words taunted him from the recesses of his mind.
Not this time, not her time. He grimaced and smacked himself in the head a few times.
What would it hurt, just to see her one last time?
He could. Very possibly, he could do it without interfering. He could sneak in and nobody would be the wiser. He would just stay to get a glimpse of her. His wife. Then he would leave and never come back.
The Doctor looked up at the time and date on console monitor. He was late, as usual. About three years too late, this time. The last time he'd missed them by a matter of hours and all he'd been able to retrieve was the sonic and the diary. He slammed his hand into the TARDIS console, then quickly nursed his hurt hand.
"Sorry, old girl, didn't mean to take it out on you." The Doctor hung his head. "Why do I keep doing this to myself? What is the point?"
He stood in silence for a long moment, then, drawing in a breath, he prepared to send his ship back into the vortex. His hand hesitated over a lever when something caught the edge of his attention. It was just beyond the range of his ears.
"What is that?"
He swiveled the monitor around and focused in on the anomaly he was hearing. It sounded like nothing more than the static background noise of the universe. But there was something else there.
"Look," he said to the air around him,"do you see that? What is that? Yes, I know - it's just noise. But look!" He stabbed his finger at the monitor readings. "That is not just noise. That is a signal."
He toggled the controls, fingers flying fast. "It's barely there, very faint. But that's because it's being sent out in a radius to all points in the universe at once. No wonder it sounds like background noise."
The Doctor felt the flush of excitement run through him. He couldn't speculate. He deliberately stopped himself from speculating, in fact, because he didn't want to botch this with preconceived notions.
"We've got to trace it back to it's source, sexy. And we have to figure out what it means. It's been around for a while and... well, would you look at at that - it's not just broadcasting everywhere in the universe, it's also broadcasting everywhen. It's a timey whimey signal!"
Realisation hit him like a punch in the stomach. He staggered backwards with the force of it.
"Oh, how could I be so stupid. Of course it's timey whimey. It's her signal, the one from the top of the pyramid."
He drew in a jagged breath as something inside him cracked. He'd married her to get close to her, to prove his trust in her, to make her his equal. But that was the end of their story. He had used up all his coin with her in the days leading up to his date with death. He had married her when there was nothing left.
Now he was leaking again in the most undignified fashion and the pain in the middle of his chest was too much to bear.
"Signal has been isolated. Searching for translation." It was the voice of the Amelia Pond interface.
"No. Just shut it down. Please."
"Signal has been isolated. Searching for translation."
The Doctor, with a grimace, reached for the console and swiveled the monitor his way. "Look, I'll shut it down myself if I bloody well have to."
As he reached to clear the monitor, he paused. The isolated signal scrolled across the screen in a short series of blips and beeps looped to repeat infinitely.
... . .-.. .-.. - ... .- . . - .. . ... . .-.. .-.. - ... .- . . - .. . ... . .-.. .-.. - ... .- . . - .. . ... . .-.. .-.. -
"Morse code," he said under his breath.
"Morse code identified and confirmed," the interface said. "The translation is -"
"Don't bother," he cut in as a slow grin began to spread across his face, "I can read it myself."
"- Hello Sweetie."
"Where's it coming from? What's the point of origin?" His voice sounded shrill in his ears. He had risen from the depths of despair and was now riding up the wave of hysteria.
The co-ordinates blinked on the monitor.
"Take us there. Now."
The TARDIS responded without hesitation and soon they were flying through the atmosphere and out into space. They found the orbiting vessel in a matter of minutes and with quick shift of location, the TARDIS materialised inside.
The Doctor was out the door before the TARDIS engines had time to wind down.
He found her in a rigged up storage compartment in the back of the vessel, which itself was nothing more than a short-range transport. She was frozen solid.
"River, River, River," he said over and over as he moved away obstacles to get to her. His hands hesitated but he dared not touch her in this state. His own breath came out in puffs. It was awfully cold in here, even for him.
Forcing himself to slow down, he tore his eyes from her pale blue lips and lavender skin and sought out her surroundings.
"What have you done, my girl? What did you do?" He scanned the the contraption she had bolted herself to and the tubes and wires poking out of her. There was a rudimentary monitor over her head. He scraped a layer of ice off it and banged it a few times before it came to life with a green glow.
"Okay, okay," he said, taking in deep, calming breaths. "You're still alive. Barely. But where are your brainwaves? The rest of you is alive, but where are you?" He flicked out his sonic and began some scans of the system.
When he found what he was looking for, he stopped and stared at her. Apart from the blue tinge, she could have been asleep. Her hair was a halo around her serene expression. "Oh River, what have I done?"
It didn't take him long to trace the link between her and The Library mainframe. It stretched out over the miles from the orbiting craft to the planet's core in a tenuous thread. The thread had been held in place for three years, but was now degraded almost to the point of disintegration.
"I'm surprised it's held up this long, quite frankly." He did a few more scans with his sonic. "The craft is running on critical systems. There's not enough juice left. Won't be long before there's nothing left to keep it in orbit. We've got to get you out of here."
He tried not to think about what he was doing. There was a chance, a very large, unthinkable chance, that he could lose her in the process. He didn't think about the many things that could go wrong when he broke the link to her waking mind trapped in The Library mainframe. Her body could be too far gone to take her back. Her mind could fight the transition and flee the other way. She'd wake up but her hearts would not. She'd wake up and die and not regenerate. She'd wake up and hate him.
He didn't think. He simply changed the settings on his sonic and pointed it at the component that controlled the link. With a flick of his wrist, he reversed the polarities.
He held his breath a very long time.
River twitched and drew in a shallow gasp of air. Her eyes fluttered open. She moved her lips and he leaned in to catch her whisper. "What sort of time do you call this?"
Before he could respond, her eyes rolled back in her head and she began to shudder violently.
"No, no, no!" Throwing caution to the wind, he yanked out her tubes and wires, then grabbed her out of her rigging. He cradled her close as he ran towards the TARDIS. The doors were already open wide to embrace them. "She's going into cardiac arrest."
He took the steps to the sick bay two, three at a time. The Doctor worked efficiently to resuscitate her. He was always good in a crisis. Everything he needed was at his fingertips, and when he finally had both her hearts alive and pumping, he began the process of warming her up a few degrees at a time. When he could do nothing more but wait for her to regain consciousness, he slumped down in the nearest chair.
He didn't know he had fallen asleep until he was woken by the sound of the cloister bell.
With a start, he leaped from his chair and flung himself towards the console room. "What is it now?" A quick look at the monitor made him shake his head. The orbiting craft had run out of power and was starting a free fall to the planet's surface. "Okay, I've got it. You can turn that off now. Let's get out of here."
He sent them into the vortex.
"So, where are we going next?"
River was standing at the foot of the stairs. She was wrapped up in one of the cream blankets from sick bay and her skin was so pale it was stark. But her eyes were bright and her gorgeous lips puckered into a smirk.
The Doctor opened his mouth, then shut it again. He screwed up his eyes and rubbed them with the heels of his hands. When he blinked, she was still standing there.
"You shouldn't be up yet. You're going to need time to recover your strength."
"Yes, I know, sweetie. Why do you think I'm standing at the bottom of the stairs and not up there throwing myself at you."
A weight fell from his chest. He reached her in a second and enveloped her in his arms as delicately as he could manage.
"I'm not going to break," she said as she sagged against him.
"You almost died. Were dead, in fact. I witnessed your death the first time I met you." He let his fingers brush over her curls. "How did you know?"
"When you gave me the sonic I knew something was wrong. I saw it in your eyes. Let's just say I decided to take a few small precautions on my next mission."
"You call rigging yourself up to a remotely controlled flesh ganger and faking your own death a small precaution?"
She leaned back to look up at him. "You're not the only one allowed to cheat death, you know. And it would have worked beautifully if you hadn't have fouled it up."
"Ah yes, about that... I'm terribly sorry. I would never have uploaded you to the mainframe if I had known your body was in orbit."
"It took me a long time to figure out how to reprogram the ship's distress beacon through the neural link alone."
"You're amazing, you truly are - but honestly - morse code?"
She shrugged. "I didn't have a lot of room to work with."
He brushed his fingers across her jaw. Her skin was warmer than it had been, but still cool. "River," he said with a rough edge to his voice, "I thought I'd seen the last of you. I thought we had run out of time."
The look in her eyes became gentle and serious. "What is time to a Time Lord?"
"My most precious commodity when it concerns you. You did tell me not to rewrite a single moment."
"When is it for you? I don't have my diary -"
"Don't worry, I appropriated it on my last trip to The Library. But I don't think you'll need it anymore." He leaned forward and spoke low into her ear. "River, the last time I saw you, we sort of got married."
She raised an eyebrow. "Oh, now I see."
Her voice was still rough and scratchy from being unused, but her breath felt warm against his cheek and it sent a delicious thrill through him.
"Come here, you," she said, and pulled his head down to meet hers.
Her lips on his were cool and warm at the same time. Something budged inside him when she wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned into him. He could feel her twin pulses as he cradled her head with his hands. It made him want to leap for joy.
When she pulled away, she was shaking. "I think I'd better sit down."
"Oh. Sorry. Yes, you're still recovering. I'm so stupid. Here let me -" River let out a cry of alarm as he hoisted her up into his arms and carried her up the stairs to a waiting chair. "Is there anything you need? Anything I can get you? Fish custard?"
"Oh, heavens no. Although I'd kill for some tea."
He gave her a sharp look. "You really would, wouldn't you."
River laughed. "Of course, sweetie. Without blinking. Now hurry along and make yourself useful."
The Doctor turned to obey, then stopped and swiveled back to her. "You know, just because you're my wife, doesn't mean you get to boss me around."
"It most certainly does. Tea?"
"Coming right up." He waltzed down the stairs with a grin on his face. River was alive! He'd fetch her a small moon if she really wanted one. He paused when he noticed that he was indeed leaking again. Those pesky tears refused to co-operate. He didn't give a damn. For once, their universes were perfectly aligned, his and River's, and there were no more spoilers. "By the way," he called up to her, "is it all right if we visit your parents?"