"Trick or treat!"
River jumped from her bunk in surprise, nearly flinging her diary across her cell in the process. There, at her cell door, was the Doctor wearing one of his silly grins that showed off his dimples.
The Doctor clapped his hands gleefully and exclaimed, "Ha! I got you that time, didn't I? Admit it! I got you!"
"Yes, you certainly did," she replied, moving over to him.
"So," he said, stepping closer and running a hand along one of the bars. "Do I get a treat?"
"Do you want a treat?"
"I want a treat."
"Turn around," she ordered.
"What?" he asked, stepping back. "Why?"
"It's a surprise. Plus, I know how you can blush," she gave him a sly grin.
The Doctor did as he was told, but upon hearing the rustle of clothing, he turned his cheek to his shoulder, watching her from his peripheral vision. River seemed to be making quite the show of slowly pulling her tank top up her torso, exposing more skin glistening with sweat inch by inch. She edged it up a bit further and he bit his lip as he realized she had absolutely nothing on under the shirt. After completely removing the top, she squirmed out of her very tight, too-short shorts, then glanced over to the Doctor and gave him a wink. He quickly looked away as he felt the heat spreading across his cheeks and noticed his hearts and his breathing were all entirely too fast.
"All right, you can turn around."
He turned to see River pushing a long rack of clothing back into a very small wardrobe. She had her back to him, and other than the fact she had some sort of white dress, he couldn't quite figure out what she was wearing.
"Interesting wardrobe you have there," he observed.
"Bigger on the inside, learned that one from you. A girl's got to be prepared, you know," she replied, turning around and sauntering over to him and giving him his first good look at her outfit. The strapless dress was very snug, highlighting her curves and accentuating her cleavage. It was crafted to resemble overlapping white strips of cloth which were slightly aged and frayed, like a mummy's bandages. Around her neck was a narrow white collar set with polished rectangular emeralds and on her feet were sandals with long leather laces that crisscrossed up her calves and were tied just below her knee.
"I'm glad you like my costume, sweetie. You know me, love a tomb."
He opened the door to her cell, still speechless, and followed her to the TARDIS, stumbling clumsily a few times on the way.
River laughed as she entered, "You decorated!" Several pumpkins carved with faces ranging from goofy to scary lined the steps up to the console. Fake cotton webbing had been draped over the railings, and rubber bats and spiders hung from the ceiling.
The Doctor's eyes lit up and his nerves seemed to leave him, "Yes! Well, see, I thought it being your first Halloween and all, kind of. It should be special. I thought, maybe we could have a party. Trick or treat, and trade candy. Then tell ghost stories, maybe?"
"Don't you think we're a bit old for trick or treating, Doctor?"
"Well no, not really. Not ever too old for candy! And I have treats here, look," he darted up to the console and picked up a bowl nestled in the controls. "See? Chocolate, lollipops, caramels, marshmallows, gummies! Everything you could want! Oh and…" he put the bowl back then pointed toward a bottle in the jump seat. "I got your favorite wine too, just for you. Your favorite red wine, anyway, I thought that was spookier." He was practically bouncing on the spot with the excitement of a small child. "What do you think? Think it'll be fun? I think it'll be fun!"
"Yes, I think we'll have fun," she agreed. She started heading up toward the console when she noticed something was off. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, though. As she reached for the bowl of candy, her hand brushed the console. Then River realized; the happy hum the TARDIS typically greeted her with was absent.
"Mmmhmmmhmmm?" he mumbled through a mouthful of candy.
"I—I think something may be wrong…"
He swallowed thickly and asked, "What is it?"
"The TARDIS, I—I don't think she's here…"
"What? Don't be silly. We're in the TARDIS."
"No, Doctor, listen."
The Doctor paused for a moment, focusing, before his eyes grew wide. He spun around toward the console and started checking the various readings. "No, no, she's here… but it's like… she's hiding." He placed a hand flat against the console and whispered, "What's got you on the run, old girl. Tell me." But nothing happened.
Out of the corner of their eyes, they saw a small dark figure dart down one of the corridors. They stared at each other and simultaneously asked, "Did you see that?"
"We've got to follow it, Doctor. It could be whatever's causing this."
He stared at the corridor where it disappeared to, then nodded in agreement. "You're right. Let's go."
They followed the creature down the twisting, turning corridors of the TARDIS. It kept giving them glimpses as it darted around the next corner, but not enough for them to make out what it could possibly be.
River slowed her pace, "Doctor, I'm getting a really bad feeling."
"Me too, have for a while. Look behind us." The Doctor kept his focus on the corner ahead where they last saw the shadow.
She turned to see a left turn in the corridor. "So?"
"The last intersection we went through was a T, both left and right. So why is there only a left now? They've been changing like that for a while now."
"Why are we still going on then?"
"What else are we going to do?"
"That… that… thing could be leading us into a trap," River protested.
"It's already done that," the Doctor pointed out.
She strode past him back the way they came then said, "We should at least try to get back to the control room, going on ahead won't get us anywhere. Maybe we can figure something out from there."
The Doctor started to say something in response when a thick heavy door slammed shut between them with frightening force and speed, cutting them off from one another. He smacked a hand against the door in frustration when he heard a familiar voice behind him.
"Doctor? Is that you?"
"Donna?" he asked, spinning around. It was her, the brilliant red hair, the impeccable fashion sense. "But how?"
"I—I remember," she said thickly, tears streaming down her face. "But you—you're different. And the TARDIS. Doctor, I—" She suddenly clutched at her head and let loose a ghastly scream that shook the very floors and walls.
In a panic, the Doctor rushed to her, desperate to fix everything before it was too late, but his arms went right through her. He experimentally poked at the crouched figure a few times before muttering, "A hologram." As the image faded, he turned his face upwards and shouted, "Okay, so whoever you are, you think you're clever. But you're not. Not more so than me."
The Doctor moved close to the wall, pressed his cheek against it and whispered, "If you can hear me, keep out of sight, old girl. If it's who I think it is I have a feeling he's going to be looking for revenge. I'm coming for you. But I have to find River first."
River was pounding at the thick metal door when suddenly there was a blinding flash. She examined her vortex manipulator and muttered, "Did you go off?" When she raised her head, the TARDIS seemed different. The walls were a different hue and had a different design. She turned away from the door and noticed a subtle glow now emanated from the other end of the hall. River moved down the corridor toward the light and found herself in the console room, only it wasn't the one she was used to. It was darker, perhaps a bit more organic in its appearance.
"Hello?" she called.
A tall figure came around the console. He wore a long brown coat over a blue suit and red and white sneakers. When he saw her, his expression changed immediately to one of absolute hatred. "You."
"Doctor? I—something's very wrong here. There's something in the TARDIS that shouldn't be."
"Yes, and it's you."
"What, me? But—"
"Who are you to think you're more important than anyone else I've ever loved?" he asked, a tense, angry edge to his voice. "How can you even assume that you love me more than anyone else ever has? I had a family. A real family. Not this farce you try to represent. And what about Rose?"
"You mean I never tell you about Rose? She was wonderful, and you are nothing compared to her. What kind of man do I become that I forget about the true loves of my life in favor of someone like you? A liar, a cheat, and a murderer. I don't want to become that man. I'd rather end it right here. But before I go…" He picks up the phone. "Yes, she's here. She's going to kill me and there's nothing I can do to stop it. Mmmhmm, yes. Life sentence? Solitary? Exactly what she deserves." He hangs up the phone with a sneer and turns toward River, who is shaking. "If I were you, I'd run." She ran, his laughter chasing after her.
The Doctor turned to see River come around the corner slightly out of breath. "River! Where have you been? What did you see?"
She glanced nervously over her shoulder. "Nothing, nothing at all."
"Well, don't believe anything you do see, okay? Here, hold my hand, don't let go. I don't want us to get separated again."
She nodded and slipped her hand in his. The feeling of her hand in his calmed him. As long as he was with her, everything would be fine. They crept down the hallway when a high-pitched sound sliced through the air behind him. He spun around just in time to see a panel close on the wall and River collapse. He dropped to his knees by her, turning her over to reveal a horrific amount of blood soaking through the white wrappings of her dress.
"River, no!" He cradled her.
"Doctor… I… I gave you all my regenerations," she said, her voice weak and pained. "You were supposed to protect me."
"Oh, River, I'm… so… sorry." He pressed a kiss to her head and held her close, rocking her. "Hey, listen, you're going to be fine, okay? You don't die here, trust me," he said, tears burning at the corners of his eyes. "Survive this, and we'll have a proper wedding. All right? Anything you want. And my name. I'll tell you my name this time. My real name. How's that sound, River? River?" She was still. Too still. "No, River. No, no, no! This isn't real…" He turned to the ceiling and roared, "THIS ISN'T REAL! DO YOU HEAR ME? YOU CAN'T DO THIS!" His head dropped toward her again as he said in a much weaker, pleading voice, "This can't be real. River, please…" He hugged her lifeless body to his chest and buried his face in her golden curls as the tears broke free. Her weight in his arms, the fading warmth of her skin, the scent of her hair, all argued it was entirely too real.
It was River. He glanced back at his empty arms before jumping up and hugging her clumsily. "Oh, River, I thought you were… but never mind, you aren't. No, of course not, you wouldn't be. Because you're River! That can't happen! It's impossible! River!" He hugged her again more tightly this time, lifting her from the ground as he did so. "River," he held her at arm's length, searching her eyes as he spoke more urgently, "did you see something while we were separated?"
River glanced nervously over her shoulder and said, "Actually yes. It was you, but not you. A different regeneration, I mean. A prior one, I think, based on how he talked. He said that—that he was going to kill himself because he didn't want to—because I wasn't worthy of him."
"River, my River Song," he began as his hands slid down to rest on her waist. "You are strong and brave and clever and oh so beautiful and I sometimes wonder if I'm worthy of you."
"Doctor," she replied, wrapping her arms around him, "you're the best part of me."
A deep voice resonated around them. "What a touching moment, I almost hate to interrupt. Well, no. No, I don't."
The Doctor's body went limp, dropping to the floor and causing River to fall as well. She reached into his coat pocket and retrieved his sonic screwdriver. She fiddled with it with one hand while holding him with her other arm. "Please, please, please," she mumbled as she scanned him. His heartbeats were slightly elevated but other than that everything was fine except for the fact he was unconscious. After returning the sonic to his pocket, she hugged him close. She cursed herself for not wearing her utility belt. Her gun was strapped to her thigh, but she didn't have anything else and she wasn't about to leave him. Pressing her lips to his hair, she whispered, "Wake up, please."
The Doctor sat up, rubbing his head. He was somewhere so completely dark, he rubbed his eyes to make sure it wasn't just him. Soon, a low chortle echoed around him.
"I assure you Doctor, it isn't your eyes."
"House! How are you even still here? We deleted you."
"Come now, Doctor, it's nearly impossible to completely delete something from a system as intricate as this. Even for the TARDIS herself. Sure, it took me a while to gather myself, rebuild the bits that were deleted. But as you can see, or hear, rather. I'm here."
"Why are you here? Revenge?"
"Of course." House replied almost cheerfully." Why else? You love so much, Doctor, and so deeply. It's so easy to find ways to hurt you. Almost too easy. I've managed to access at least some of the TARDIS files. There are still some too well protected. For the moment, anyway. But I do know all about the Library. You know, I could tell her everything. She's so young here, relatively speaking. What do you think it'd do to her if I told her when she almost died for you in the TARDIS, when she offered to die for you in the Byzantium, and of course, my favorite, when she did die for you the Library? Do you honestly think she'd still love you, knowing you look at her right in the eye each and every day you're with her and you didn't even try to stop her from sacrificing herself for you?"
"I did try."
"Not hard enough, obviously."
The Doctor started to object again, but House cut him off.
"Oh, and look at this!" he exclaimed gleefully. "Donna. Donna Noble. Doctor Donna. You ripped her memories from her without a second thought. Think of how brilliant she was, think of all the good she could've done. All that, lost. You threw it all away without a single care."
"I didn't want to take her memories! I had to! She would've died!"
"Certainly there was something less drastic you could've done. Hm, although that does open up some potentially entertaining possibilities. I wonder… would a certain big blue box turning up on her doorstep trigger her memories, or would merely the sound of it be enough bring it all rushing back. How long do you think she'd last, Doctor? A minute? A few seconds? Why don't we go find out?"
"Don't you dare!"
"No? Then what about Rose, or Martha, or Sarah, or Susan, or… Oh, just look at how the list goes on and on. You have been a busy boy, haven't you, Doctor? Any one of them, how quickly do you suppose they'd rush in if I turned up? Then I'd snap shut like a trap."
"You leave them alone, all of them!"
"You know, I think I will. They were just all passing fancies for you, weren't they? No one important." The Doctor opened his mouth to object, but House pressed on. "But there's one companion who has been with you longer than all the rest combined, isn't there? And she'll always be there for you. Or will she? She is the one you're most afraid of losing, after all, isn't she? The only one you really couldn't live without. The TARDIS. Oh, no, don't worry. I know she's hiding in here somewhere, but I haven't found her… yet. I will, though. Then, I will repay her for what she did to me."
"What of me?"
"You? Without the TARDIS you'll be nothing. You and your little girlfriend are but minor distractions. Simple amusement while I complete my real task. Good bye, Doctor. I'm sure we'll meet again soon enough."
"You're awake!" River's voice greeted him as he sat up, rubbing his head.
"What happened?" the Doctor asked groggily.
"You passed out, but then you started crying out and flailing your arms. Almost like you were having a nightmare."
"That's pretty much what it was."
"What is going on?"
"There's this… entity," the Doctor explained. "He calls himself House. He tried to take over the TARDIS once, but the old girl evicted him. Apparently, not all of him though. He's back, and very not happy. He wants to destroy her, and us."
"Doctor, we have to do something. Do you have one of your clever plans yet?"
"Well, there's something, but I don't know that it'd work," he replied, rising unsteadily to his feet. "And it's extremely very much dangerous."
"What is it?" River asked as they started walking down the corridor again.
"I've been working on… doing some research."
"Testing, you know," he said, avoiding the question. "Stuff."
"What kind of stuff?" River asked impatiently.
He kept walking silently as if he hadn't heard her.
"Uploading and downloading consciousness to and from a computer," he replied, just barely above a whisper.
"Why are you researching something like that?"
"Oh, I don't know. Idle curiosity, I suppose."
River could tell from the tone of his voice, he didn't want to go into it. "What's the plan, then?"
The Doctor glanced at the door he stopped by, then stepped close to River and pulled her into an embrace. He pressed his lips into her hair and explained as quietly as possible, "Well, if I can hook the test machine into the TARDIS matrix, it's possible we could lure him into it and destroy him there."
River lifted her head and whispered in return, "But if he's spread out all over, how can we be sure there aren't any remnants left again?"
"In order to materialize himself in the virtual world of my test computer he'll have to pull his entire self over," he replied. "Once he's there, we unlink it from the TARDIS matrix and the rest should be easy enough."
He held River out at arm's length. "What make you think there's a but?"
"There always is with you, sweetie."
"But we need to find it first," he conceded, stepping over to the nearby door. "He's got control, he knows we're up to something, and he's not going to let us find anything he thinks could be useful to us."
The Doctor pushed the door open revealing a dark, cramped room. Hundreds of dolls were carefully arranged on risers and a model of Gallifrey hung from the ceiling. The Doctor immediately wanted to leave. The dolls were all so familiar, each and every one a representation of someone he lost. Before he could close the door, River stepped forward into the room and started examining them. One by one, the dolls on the front row started stretching and morphing. They grew, their limbs and features twisting and turning in hideously grotesque ways. A doll in a space suit with a flickering green light at its neck and a darkened helmet was the first to reach full size. It stepped close to the Doctor, raising its hand to point at him. The helmet lightened, revealing River's tear streaked face inside. She glared at him and spat the words out as if they were drenched in poison, "You could have tried."
River grabbed the Doctor and hauled him into the hall, slamming the door in the process. "What was that?" she demanded. "Why was I there?"
The Doctor shrunk under her piercing gaze. "Well, obviously House is trying to scare you. Bring back those very not good memories. With the suit. Bad times, you know."
"No. That wasn't the suit. It was different."
"Ah well, so he was a bit off. Sentiment was still there. Next room, come now, let's carry on." He pressed forward, waving a hand for River to follow.
As they walked the halls, there were no more doors to be found. The Doctor's pace quickened as he became more frustrated, his head sweeping side to side as if he thought the doors may be there and he was just missing them.
"Wait. Stop." He held out his arm to block River's path. "He's hiding it. All the doors. He doesn't want to see them. Don't look for it."
"No, if we look for it, we'll never find it. Don't look for it."
The Doctor stalked slowly down the corridor, like a predator after its prey. Without warning he turned left and opened a door, revealing the thrum of a large computer. He laughed triumphantly, and entered. The room was fairly small and very cold. A large box about the size of a refrigerator sat near what seemed to be a modified recliner draped with wires and connectors of all shapes and sizes. The Doctor opened a panel in the side of the machine and pried up a tile from the floor nearby. After carefully selecting some wires, he set to work connecting them.
"River, can you hand me the soldering iron over there?"
She retrieved the requested tool and asked, "Have you been in there?"
"Yes," he replied, carefully linking two wires.
"What's it like?"
The Doctor stopped and thought. "It's… kind of like being in a dream. You have moderate control over what happens, but only if you don't think about it too much. Also, I've made it so the user is anchored here; their body stays here. It makes it a bit safer."
The Doctor and River worked on the machine, replacing some of the chips and boards, and adding new ones. After he was completely sure all the connections were good, the Doctor said, "Okay, now what I need you to do is disconnect the machine once he's in it. But you have to be careful because it's a bit tricky."
"Wait, no." River protested. "You're not going in there."
"Of course. Who else would go?
River arched her eyebrow at him.
"What? You? No, River, you can't go, there's no way you can go!"
"Why not, is it isomorphic?"
"N-oh, I mean yes. Yes, that's it. Of course it is. Why wouldn't it be? Sensitive research, you know. Can't risk it." He fidgeted nervously.
"You know, you're a terrible liar sometimes," she said, eyeing him suspiciously. "So tell me, what are you going to do once you're in and find House? Wave your screwdriver at him?"
"Theoretically," he began, holding up a finger, "it should work. He's just electrical impulses. I should be able to find a setting to disrupt them."
"Practically, it may not. What are you going to do if you have to use physical force? Could you?"
They stared at each other but they both knew the answer.
"Right then, I'm going." River said decisively, moving toward the chair. "Upload me."
"River! I can't—"
"There's really no other choice. Besides, you're the better one to sever the connection, I helped but you're more familiar with it. You said yourself it's a bit tricky."
"But—I—River… if you die in there…"
"I know. I'm not going to. I love the TARDIS as much as you do, I won't let anything happen."
River settled herself in the chair, and began attaching the electrodes to her head. He was speechless, watching her dressed all in white with that collar set the rectangle cut emeralds. The parallel was almost too much for him to take. All he could see was those final moments of her life, and all he wanted to do was get her as far away from that chair and that computer as possible.
"River…" he said, pleading with his eyes, his voice, and every fiber of his being.
"I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself. Besides," she paused and gave him a comforting smile, "we've still got a lot of running to do, my love." She made a few final adjustments. "Go ahead, I'm ready."
"I'm not," the Doctor replied. "I'll be monitoring you. I'll know everything that happens." After taking a deep breath, he flipped the switch. As he watched her eyes fall closed, he stepped close to her, placing his hands on her cheeks. He pressed his lips to her forehead and whispered, "Be safe, River. I… I love you."
The virtual world inside the computer was large and nearly empty; a blank slate. A stream of gold flowed into the floor, indicating the path to the TARDIS matrix. River followed the golden energy trail until she was part of the glow herself, a blue mist. The sensation was odd, almost a mix of swimming and flying. Or what she imagined flight would be like. She moved through the gold until it started to take on a greenish tint, then she called, "House. I know you're there."
"Oh, what's this? A little pet come to play with me. You are a clever one, aren't you? I can see why he likes you. But tell me, why shouldn't I just delete you right now? It would be so simple, you know."
She steeled herself for the next words she had to say, she knew the Doctor would hate her for resorting to this. "Because, you want to find the TARDIS, and what better way to draw a mother out of hiding than to hurt her child."
The green cloud pulsated as it processed the information. "Such an unusual one you are. Two mothers. One made you and one made you what you are. Hmm. Yes, that is indeed an excellent plan, thank you."
As soon as the green haze started moving toward her, she flew back up the energy mass the way she came. She watched as House pulled himself out of the energy stream, forming a dark figure not unlike the one they chased through the TARDIS earlier, only with a greenish glow. Once he was fully materialized, the gold trail abruptly vanished, leaving only a few gold sparks to skitter across the floor and fade.
House bellowed in anger, "How dare you think you can trap me. You do not trap me. NO ONE traps me!"
He started advancing on River, causing her to take a couple steps backwards before he paused and seemed to calm again.
"No, no matter. I can get back. First, though. River Song. Melody Pond. I know all about you. I know what the Doctor does to you, how little he actually cares. Wouldn't you like to know too, so you don't waste your life?"
River pulls out her blaster. "Spoilers," she said coldly.
"Oh, are you going to shoot me with your little gun? I don't think you will."
He took the form of the Doctor. "What now? Can you kill your love? Oh, but you already did that, didn't you? Certainly you could again. So cold, so heartless, you were trained well."
River faltered slightly but kept the blaster level.
"How about…" he flickered and changed to Amy. "Your mother? Ah, but she did point a gun at you, twice at that, shot at you once. And she didn't even try to find you, did she? When you were a baby, scared and alone. Maybe it wouldn't be so hard. In that case…"
In a flash, he changed to Rory, and spoke in his voice. "My little girl, I've missed you."
"You're not fooling me," she said, but her gun trembled faintly.
"It is me, though. House called me here. He said… he said that you were in danger. You needed help. And I will always come for you, no matter what, no matter how far."
River lowered her gun slightly, tears threatening to emerge from the corners of her eyes, "Dad?"
"Come home to Leadworth, you'll be safe there. Your Mum and I will take care of you. You won't have anything to worry about ever again, not prison, not the Doctor. We love you, Melody."
She snapped her gun up into position again, the deadly aim pointing right at Rory's forehead. "No. You're not him. You're not my Dad, you're not Rory."
"Are you sure?"
River pulled the trigger. With a roar in the voice of House, the figure of Rory collapsed to the ground, breaking into thousands of electrical sparks.
River tried to rise from the chair after being disconnected but the Doctor pushed her back. He anxiously scanned her with his sonic and she could feel the TARDIS scanning her as well. "I'm fine, really. Both of you."
"No you're not, River. Live bait? Using yourself as live bait, really? When was that ever part of the plan? I never told you to do that! I never would tell you to do that!"
"You never told me how to get him over at all. It was the best I could come up with." She looked toward the computer. "What about that?"
"That?" The Doctor considered it. "I suppose I'll have to destroy it. Can't take any chances. Certainly can't use it again."
"But your research…"
"Ah, I have time. Right now, though, I believe we have a Halloween party to attend." He offered his arm to River who curtsied and accepted.
"I was just thinking a treat would be nice."
"Ah! Yes! There's the candy! We can have that and—"
"Not that kind of treat, sweetie," she cut him off with a wink and steered the flustering Doctor in the opposite direction of the console room.