For the first time, his mind was quiet.
There were usually thoughts, millions upon millions of them, swirling in his head. An elaborate spiderweb of knowledge and imagination, spinning about and giving him company as he made his way through this one human life, determined to embrace everything.
But now, everything was still and peaceful. A train passed, speed causing the apartment to vibrate slightly as the conductor blared its horn through the sleeping city. He lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling while she dozed and used his chest for a pillow. He didn't mind that. Didn't think he ever would. His hand moved through her curls, dry now and a bit tangled from not being properly brushed. They'd been a little too busy for that. His fingers slowly separated out each curl, wrapping it around a long, slim fingers before letting it spring away.
He'd never done anything like this. Ever. The closest had been when Rose Tyler had taken a fancy to him in high school and that had been a wonderful confusion of emotions, hormones and more than a bit of paralyzing fear. When he'd finally gotten the courage to kiss her, Rose had disappeared, her family suddenly moved to Europe because of her father's work in the military.
"Penny for your thoughts?" River's sleepy mumble vibrated against his skin.
"I'm just surprised," the Doctor admitted. "You know, you're all … flirty and everything. I've seen you kiss 26 men and four women, and that's just around me."
"Of course I counted!"
"I'm not jealous!" He poked her shoulder. "I thought that you'd …"
"No." River pulled back so she could look down at him, the street lights spilling in through the window casting a halo around her mass of curls. "I wanted something they couldn't take away from me, something I could control. That turned out to be it."
"Why me?" His thumb brushed the apple of her cheek, surprised to find tears there.
"Oh, my love." She covered his lips with hers and showed him.
When the Doctor awoke, it was to a bedroom stripped bare, the lingering stench of chloroform instantly alerting him as to what had happened. He fought off the fog of being drugged and scrambled out of bed, managing to at least find his trousers.
When he raced into the kitchen and the living room, everything was gone. The luggage, the pictures, every bit of personal decoration was missing. His tweed jacket was folded on the table, and a note rested atop it. Two tear stains dotted it, blurring the ink to the point that the letters bled into each other. But, he could still read it.
"I'm sorry, my love."
The Doctor burst into the newsroom, camera bag over his shoulder and a burning purpose in his life. "River! Where are you?" he announced to the room at large. Several reporters shot him death glares and one person sent a balled-up sandwich wrapper in his direction.
"Oi, skinny hobo," Donna from personnel looked up from her desk. "Some of us are trying to work."
"Donna!" The Doctor sailed over to her desk. "Donna, Donna Noble! The most brilliant woman in this office!"
Donna snorted. "That's not going to get you out of the lunch you owe me, sunshine." She turned back to her typewriter, and he spotted the form she was filling out. A form for personnel files about terminations and the circumstances.
And the name …
He lunged, ripping the sheet from the typewriter.
"Oi!" Donna yelled.
But, he paid no attention to her as he read the name, the reason, the date effective. He lowered it to see Donna's sympathetic look. "I'm sorry, John," she said, quietly. "Amy told me you liked her. Funny, I thought she had a thing for you, too."
He couldn't hear her. All that existed was the screaming in his mind.
He dropped the note on Donna's desk and stumbled into the darkroom, ignoring Kirby's shout and Amy's voice. He managed to hold it in until he'd gotten the door shut behind him, and the equipment hit the ground with a sickening thud. He stumbled to the tables and, in a scream of grief and rage, swept the tubs off. The last tub caught the glass plate River had given him by the corner and spun it out and across the room. It hit the wall and shattered.
He sank to the ground and buried his head in his hands.
The door cracked open. "Doctor?" Amy asked hesitantly.
He scrubbed his face with his hands, unable to look at her. "Amelia Pond," he choked.
"John." His real name rushed out of her, and then she was on the floor with him, cradling him close as tears rolled down his cheeks, splashing on her dress. He didn't want to cry. He wasn't a crier. But, for some reason, he just couldn't stop.
Rory slipped in, and he and Amy exchanged pained look as their closest friend fell apart.
"Any better?" Rory asked three weeks later.
Amy shook her head as she rocked Melody, holding her close as the baby nursed. "No. Kirby says he's going to let him go. Too many people out of work to waste on a man moping around doing nothing. We barely got him out to the fire on 3rd this morning, which probably bought him a couple days. But, he kept searching for her in the crowd." Rage vibrated through her, toward the woman who abandoned her best friend. "Why did she do that, Rory? Why did River just leave him like that?"
Rory Williams was familiar with every inch of River Song's copy in a way that Amy would never be. It was the intricate relationship between copy editor and reporter. He rested his hand on Amy's shoulder and thought back to the stories she reported, alone and with the Doctor. "I think," he said after a moment, "there's more going on than any of us can begin to realize. I think maybe she left to protect him."
"Fat lot of good that's doing," Amy shot back, agitated. "I want our raggedy photographer back, Rory."
"Maybe I can help."
Rory handed the Doctor a thick envelope the next day and a takeout order of fish fingers and custard.
"Your favorite lunch and information. These are the archives of all of River's articles related to the Silence. And, Amy says you're skinny, even for you." Rory grabbed the Doctor's sleeve before he could toss the envelope away. "Look, I know you two worked closely together. But, so did I on the copy side. I think the reason why River left had everything to do with the Silence."
"I've read all her work. For years and years, ever since that day, I've read every scrap of information on the Silence. That's why she sought me out to begin with. I don't want it." The Doctor pushed the bag and envelope back toward Rory, and he shoved them back in the Doctor's arms.
"You've got the most brilliant mind in this place, other than River's. The reason why she left is in her copy. Now sit down and read it, or I'll have Amy start leaving Melody's diapers in the developing bins. The used ones. And you've got an assignment with Amy at 3. Show up to it." Rory left him.
The Doctor dropped the meal and the envelope on the table, muttering under his breath. The flap opened, and an article slid out. He was reading it before he even realized he was doing so. Then, he scrambled to find a notepad and pencil for taking notes. Then, he began eating the fish fingers and custard.
He devoured his lunch.
He met Amy for the assignment.
Time began to move forward again.
"I'm looking for information," the Doctor said as he sat across from Dorium Malldovar, leader of a gang especially renowned for procuring such knowledge. He made his move on the chess board and leaned forward. "What do you know about the Silence?"
"They're a myth," Dorium replied.
"Where's your proof?"
The Doctor pulled out the photograph he took from River's mantle. Dorium's face paled.
"You recognize them, don't you? Two little girls. Amelia Pond. But, the other …," he tapped the blonde-haired girl next to Amy. "You know who she is, don't you? Ah, yes, I can see that." His eyebrow winged up. "And, I also see that really big gun in your hand. I'm impressed. You really don't like the fact I'm winning this game, do you?"
Dorium cocked the pistol. "Doctor, as lovely as it was to make your acquaintance, I really must regret ending our meeting early. You do understand, don't you?"
"But, of course." The Doctor relaxed into his chair, folding his arms behind his head.
Dorium's trigger hand twitched. "You're not screaming," he murmured. "Why aren't you screaming? Begging? Pissing yourself?"
"Now that would be quite a mess, wouldn't it?" The Doctor replied calmly.
Dorium lunged forward, pressing the cool barrel of the gun to the Doctor's forehead. "What do you have on me?" he hissed.
A gunshot rang out, and Dorium howled as the bullet shattered his wrist. The gun fell into the Doctor's lap.
"Well, guess you won't need these anymore." The Doctor quickly emptied the gun, then held up the brownie camera. "Aw, give us a smile, Dorium. It'll look great on tomorrow's front page." He snapped a couple pictures, then lowered the camera to see River standing behind Dorium. He shot out of the chair, barely remembering to tuck the camera away. "River, what the hell are you …"
"Duck!" River yelled, and he did, the bullet barely passing over the top of his head. He pivoted and found himself back to back with River. "What're you doing here?" he asked as about a dozen men came running into the room.
"Saving you, what does it look like?" River dipped her hand into the Doctor's pocket and grabbed the bullets. "I can handle six of them. 10 at the most if I reload. As soon as the door's clear, run!"
"I'm not leaving you!"
"You don't have a gun!"
The Doctor frantically patted his jacket, then pulled out the screwdriver. "I have this!" he said, waving it threateningly.
"You have a screwdriver? What're you going to do? Build cabinets?"
"That's really quite rude!"
River began shooting, and the Doctor waved the screwdriver, somewhat offended that they weren't taking him seriously. He grabbed his copper flashlight out of his pocket and thwacked one of the men in the head with it. He promptly went down.
River spun them toward the door, and as they made a quarter-turn, the Doctor spotted the shelf along the wall, items stacked high on it.
Another half-turn, and they were close to the door and next to the shelf. Stepping away quickly, the Doctor quickly used the screwdriver to unbolt the shelves from the wall.
As soon as the last screw was loosened, the shelf collapsed, all manner of illicit and explosive items falling to the ground. The Doctor barely recognized one of them as a grenade as he grabbed River's hand. "Run!" he yelled, tearing up the stairs. River shot the last of her bullets over her shoulder and, hand in hand, they raced through the abandoned building and into the street.
They'd cleared the explosion, but not quite far enough. He felt the punch of air, the heat and the smoke, and tackled River. They hit the pavement as the ground vibrated, and he did his best to shield her body from the raining glass. His ears rang and his eyes stung, but he clung to River as if his life depended on it.
"Doctor? Doctor? John!" River squirmed under him, and with a shock, the Doctor realized it was the first time she'd ever used his real name.
"I'm fine," he managed, carefully rolling off her and helped her up. "Are you hurt?"
"No, no, I'm not." She wore a long black dress that definitely wasn't in fashion, but looked absolutely gorgeous anyhow. Red shoes peeped from beneath the torn silk. Her hair was in a disarray, and her face was smudged and bruised.
She was the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen.
He wanted to kiss her more than he wanted his next breath. But, he held firm and grasped her shoulders. "The little girl. That was …"
"That was me," River confirmed quietly.
"Amy. They took Amy."
"And they gave her back." Tears rolled down her cheeks. "They gave her back because she had people who loved her and who were willing to pay anything to get her back. Because you and Rory saw everything. There was no one to do that for me. So, they kept me."
"I have to tell it to you now, or I never will." She grabbed his hand, pulling them into the nearby alley as sirens sounded in the distance. "They used to use me to ferret out other children. I didn't want to, but I was so, so scared. They kept threatening to shove me into a gas chamber. I've seen other children go in … and never come out. So, I did what I was told."
She fiddled with his bowtie, trying to reassemble it into some semblance of order. "I ran away at 18. Ran and ran and ran until I was sure they couldn't find me. I changed my name, my looks the best I could."
"Why can't Amy remember?"
"It's how the Silence work. Copious amounts of drugs." She laughed a bit bitterly. "How do you think I was able to drug you?"
"We really need to have a talk about that," he said, not quite wanting to start a fight just yet.
"Oh, my love." River trailed her fingers down his cheek, and he leaned into the embrace. "They found me. The day you took that picture. You got that shot because they were sending a message to me. I went to Chicago with copies of all my data. It's there in a safe deposit box in your name. Go find it and keep doing what I'm doing."
"We'll go together. Right now. The Model T's parked a few blocks from here. There's a train out of here at 1:14 and …" The Doctor tried to nudge them toward the street as he babbled.
River laid a finger over his lips. "Don't you understand? I have to leave."
"What? No, you can't leave! I just found you again." He gripped her shoulders again. "What happened at your apartment doesn't matter. I forgive you for it. For all of it. Absolute, completely and until the end of our lives, I forgive you for anything and everything you could possibly do. I read your stories again, River. I figured out what you're trying to do. We can do it together! River, we …"
"Shut up!" She nearly screamed the words. "You can't go with me. Don't you see? The Silence would just target you next. They'd go after Amy and Rory, and they'd especially go after the baby. They'd kill all of you, and I can't let you die! They'll exploit Melody the way they exploited me." Her voice was choked from tears and smoke. "They'll go after everyone I've ever loved, and there's no one I love more than you."
The Doctor whirled, screwdriver at ready, to see one of the cops reporters from the newspaper standing at the alley. "Harkness?"
"Hey! John Smith! Wow, we weren''t expecting to have a photog out here at this time of night, and instead we got the best of the best! Why're you standing by yourself? You're missing some great action out here."
"I'm not by myself, Harkness, River's with …" But he knew even before he turned around.
She was gone.
"The Silence was founded in the 1880s," the Doctor explained a few weeks later to Amy and Rory as he held Melody in his lap. He had gone to Chicago and found the safe deposit box and the blue diary it contained. "They discovered their niche of finding orphaned children or obtaining them from poor, overwhelmed families. They made a tidy profit selling those children into factory work, as servants, even overseas to work in the fields and as soldiers. When Prohibition started, it was just a sidestep for them to start running the speakeasies and to have the law go after them. It was a cover for the children."
"Then, why did they kidnap me?" Amy asked. "I asked my parents, but they never wanted to talk about it."
"Quick money. Grab a kid who's well-off, hold them for ransom. They don't want to sell you into slavery because there's always a ready supply of orphans, and you're worth more because your parents actually loved you."
"And, River was one of them?" Rory asked as he poured out tea.
"One of the orphans. Her quick mind, her looks? She was no use to them as a servant or slave. Not when they could turn her into a weapon. You two apparently bonded while you were there, Amy. She got a broken arm when they drugged you before returning you, trying to protect you. Best thing they could do to wiping your memories. But, as part of the ransom package, they'd taken a photograph." The Doctor pushed the picture of young Amy and River he'd found on River's mantle over to her. "She never forgot you."
"She started right after I went on maternity." Amy ran a finger around the photo. "I wish I'd actually talked to her. She looked like she wanted to a couple times. Never did."
"So, she decided to go into journalism as a way of outing the Silence?"
The Doctor nodded to Rory. "City by city. Usually leaves once they sniff out where she's at. One step ahead of them, that's my girl."
"So, you have her diary now?"
"Left it in the safe deposit box," the Doctor told Amy. "Best place for it."
It didn't surprise Amy or Rory when the Doctor resigned.
"What're you going to do now, my raggedy photographer?" Amy asked as the Doctor lashed the last of his suitcases to the Model T.
"Oh, Idris and I will travel 'round the country for a bit." He patted the car fondly. "Take in the sights! There's a big world out there, Amelia Pond. Time to go live in it."
"You better come back, you hear?" Amy held Melody close and gave him a watery smile.
The Doctor moved quickly, crushing his oldest friend and his goddaughter in a bear hug. "Oh, Amelia Pond. I'll always be back. I said I'd be here for all of Melody's birthdays, eh?"
"That you did," Amy said with a laugh.
"Rory Pond!" The Doctor gave him a salute. "Take care of your girls!"
"And you take care of yourself, Doctor!"
He gently lifted Melody from Amy's arms. "And as for you, Miss Pond, you grow up to be a brave girl, you hear me? You'll always be surrounded by love, and as long as I have any say in it, you'll always be safe. But, no matter what, Melody, you must always be very, very brave." He kissed Melody's forehead as she reached for his bowtie. He shifted her to one arm, used his free hand to loosen the bowtie and handed it to her. Melody instantly fisted it and tried to shove it into her mouth.
Amy took the baby back and kissed the Doctor's cheek. He waved to them, cranked the car, then swung into the driver's seat.
"Doctor!" Amy yelled over the engine. "I was wondering something. River's real name. You know it, it's got to be in her diary. What is it?"
The Doctor's eyes twinkled. "Her name's Melody!"
Six months later
River Song was the best hire any Philadelphia newspaper could make. Her stories riveted readers and sales skyrocketed. Her work, which she had started at a paper further west, was slowing bringing the attention of a notorious group called the Silence to light. Her articles dived into how they exploited children and the poor, syphoning badly needed aid into the pockets of those who claimed to represent the church. She was, in a good area of the city, public enemy No. 1. It was a status she was, quite frankly, very comfortable with.
Her nights were extremely lonely.
"Song, we need you for a ribbon cutting in 20. New Kress down on 24th," her editor barked.
She winged an elegant eyebrow, her heart aching as she remembered the last one she covered. "I've got this due by 5."
"It can wait. We don't get out and cover this, and the boss will have both our asses. You've got a photog for this one. Grab him on the way out." His brow furrowed. "Weird fellow."
"Oh?" River tossed a pencil and a couple of notepads in her purse. "Why?"
"He came from a paper to the west. Wouldn't say where. His work's gold."
River tore through the newsroom, walking as fast as she could manage without calling extra attention to herself, her editor's words ringing in her ears.
"Claims he can only work with one reporter though. But, maybe you can get through to him."
She strode into the darkroom and committed the ultimate sin.
She hit the lights.
And there he was, perched on the stool in tweed, bowtie and floppy hair, eyes sparkling. That blessed, wonderful screwdriver poked out of his top pocket.
"Hi, honey," the Doctor chirped. "I'm home!"
River's breath hitched, and she released it on a sob. "What sort of time do you call this?" she managed through the tears.
He moved off the stool and to her, his thumbs brushing away the tears. "The right time," he murmured before pulling her into his arms, pausing in kissing her long enough to slam the darkroom door shut and press her against it. "It's time to show you that there are people in this universe who love you very much," he breathed into her ear, "and no one more than me."
They managed to make it to their assignment.