Damsel in Distress
Spoilers: Up through "Let's Kill Hitler"
Disclaimer: I don't claim to represent the creators of Doctor Who. I'm am not making money off this story.
On Raxacoricofallapatorius she had missed him by a matter of weeks. A bubble of excitement and trepidation built up under her breast bone. She was so close to finding him again.
River Song took one last look at the swamp-pit of a planet that the Raxacoricofallapatorians called home. The sky was a purple verging on psychedelic and the mud under her feet was the unfortunate shade of vomit, but worst of all was the cloying smell of cinnamon and refuse that pervaded her senses. Time to go. She quickly entered the teleport code into her ship's remote, then tucked it into the front pocket on her trousers just as the blue beam whisked her away.
"I'm going to need a week long soak in the tub," she said as soon as the interior of her ship materialized around her. She pulled a strand of her corkscrew hair in front of her nose, then made a sound of disgust in her throat. She reeked. Unfortunately a quick blast in the sonic shower on board her ship was all she had time for.
Despite her physical state, River had a hard time keeping the grin off her face. She waltzed her way down the cramped corridor from the command deck and down to the facilities, unpacking her pockets as she went. Various weapons from laser sharp knives to tiny but deadly firearms were discarded haphazardly, but her blue diary she she brought up to her lips and kissed, sending a resounding smack echoing through the ship. She placed it reverently on a metal shelf, then continued disrobing. With a brief sigh, she stuffed her clothing into the incinerator. She had been rather fond of that outfit.
River set the shower to maximum sterilization and stepped inside. The sound waves tingled over her skin, sloughing off the dirt and stench in an effective if not completely satisfactory way. When she was done, her curls gleamed and bounced and her whole body glowed squeaky pink. She quickly threw on a pair of jodhpurs and a leather vest from the discarded pile in the corner.
Once back on the tiny command deck, River took her place in the Captain's chair in front of the full screen monitor. She gave the ship's control panel a friendly pat.
"I hope the Ambassador of Tevis doesn't miss you, dear, but I'm going to need you for just a bit longer." She grinned, remembering how easy it had been to seduce the beautiful, willowy ambassador and try out her new lipstick formula. She hoped the hallucinations were pleasant ones. Her last victim had almost died of fright - not her intended outcome.
The ship was small and functional and decorated with tasteful minimalism. It was no TARDIS, but it did have the one feature that had been a must in her chosen form of transport. River let her fingers trace over the blue orb that was the centerpiece of the ship's control panel. If she had any hope of catching up with the Doctor, then the ship's vortex manipulator was a must-have.
From the information she had gleaned from the planet, it took River a bit of number-crunching to calculate the co-ordinates of her destination. Her lips turned up in a satisfied smile as she placed her palm fully on the vortex manipulator and engaged the engines.
This time, Doctor, you won't escape me.
"Where to next, Rose?"
The girl chewed her lip as she turned the question over. "You know, Doctor, I've always wanted to visit Japan."
They were facing each other across the TARDIS console, bathed in the blue-green light from the time rotor in the central column.
"Japan?" Jack butted his head between the two. "We've got all of space and time and you wanna go to Japan?"
Rose shrugged, her eyes never leaving the Doctor's. "I dunno. It just sounds, you know... nice." A faint blush spread over her cheeks. "Besides, I adored Hello Kitty when I was a kid."
The Doctor answered her with a wide grin. "You want to go to Japan because of a toy?"
Rose laughed and nodded. "Yeah. Is that all right?"
He laughed. "Your wish is my command, my lady." He flipped a console lever with vigor and sent the TARDIS spinning towards Rose's home planet.
"Don't mind if I sit this one out, do you?" Jack said, flopping down onto a chair with a bit of sulk. "I'm feeling like a third-wheel here."
"Yeah, whatever," Rose said as she bobbed over the TARDIS console with barely contained excitement.
"Sheesh. Are you gonna ignore me too, Doctor?"
"Did Jack say something?" The Doctor asked Rose.
She giggled in response. "I'm sure I didn't hear anything."
The Doctor's eyes suddenly narrowed. "Wait. What was that?"
"What was what?" Rose said. She walked around the console to stand next to the Doctor.
Jack rose from his chair. "I heard it, too, Doc." He rushed up to the monitor and glanced over the readings. "Yep, it's faint, but we can track it."
The Doctor leaned over to take a look. "If I just do this..." He twisted one knob and pulled another. "It should pinpoint the signal and voila!"
A static sound came over the communications speaker and broke into the velvet tones of a woman's voice.
"...Sector ten sigma zero one, quadrant alpha pi three three. I repeat, this is a universal distress call. My vessel is adrift. I require assistance. My location is..."
The message looped back to the beginning again.
Jack gave a whoop. "A Damsel in distress. Now there's something I can get excited about. I wonder who she is?"
"Well, we're not going to find out, are we?" The Doctor said as he slammed a button that ended the recorded message.
Rose frowned. "We can't just leave her. She's stuck in space."
"Oh yes we can. I've seen this before. They send out fake distress calls to trap unsuspecting travelers and then bam," he slammed his hands on the console, "if you're lucky you're dropped off on the next habitable planet with nothing but the clothes on your back. If you're not... well, it could be worse. Isn't that right, Jack?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Doctor." Jack gave a large grin. "I've always left 'em with their clothes."
"Yes, but what if it's not a trap, what if it's real?" Rose said.
"Oh Rosie," The Doctor chucked her on the chin, "it seldom is. Don't worry, I'm sure she'll pull someone more gullible into her trap after we're long gone."
"Don't patronise me."
"All right, I'm sorry." The Doctor squeezed her hand and gave her a sincere smile.
"Tell me there's no chance that someone might seriously be in trouble and we'll just go on our merry little way, yeah?"
The Doctor glanced from Rose to Jack, then heaved out a sigh. "Fine. We'll go take a look. But if this turns out exactly as I predicted, then I get to say 'I told you so'. Is that a deal?"
"Deal," Rose said with a nod.
River was leaning back with her feet crossed on the control panel when the transmissions receiver began to bleep.
"Well now, that didn't take you very long," she said with a private smile. She flicked a switch to open a channel then carefully modulated her voice before speaking. She didn't want to ruin the surprise quite yet. "This is Emiya Stone, Ambassador of the Third Tevisian Empire. Did you receive my distress call?"
"Your call has been received. What is your status Ambassador?" The voice had a clear American lilt.
River frowned. She had no doubt that it was the TARDIS who had hailed her, but who as that? "Excuse me if I first require your identity before I answer any questions."
"My apologies, Captain Jack Harkness, at your service, Madam."
Well wasn't this interesting, River thought. River had certainly heard of the self-styled Captain Harkness who had a reputation almost as long as the Doctor's, but she never knew that he and the Doctor were acquainted, let alone that he'd ever traveled with the Doctor. "Captain, what is your affiliation?"
"None that I know of," the Captain said. "It's just me and two others - we're... explorers."
River withheld a snort. Explorers indeed. "Ah. Of course. Very well. My ship's vortex manipulator has failed and my fuel cells are almost drained of power."
"Do you mind if we bring you and your vessel on board? I've done a few manipulator repairs in my time. Pretty sure I can get her running in no time."
"Whatever you say, Captain." River leaned forward and examined her features in the reflection of the ship's monitor. She'd taken the age down just a touch and wondered if the Doctor would notice. Regardless, she couldn't wait to see the look on his face.
River followed the Captain's instructions to wait, and before long the TARDIS materialized around her ship. When the process was complete, she stood, brushed imaginary lint off the fabric of her jodhpurs, and lowered the ship's hatch. Trepidation and excitement bubbled under her skin. The last time she had seen him she had been a confused mess of emotions. Her whole body had been a battleground, the war being fought between the programming of her childhood and her own innate sense of right. Right had won, and she had saved the Doctor at great cost to herself, but it hadn't mattered because she was finally free. It was all because of him.
Afterwards, he had left her to find her own way in the world. Well, she had. And now she was ready to see him again. She retrieved her Diary and stepped through the hatch and into the Doctor's TARDIS.
As she set foot outside her ship, she was swept away by the song of the TARDIS. River looked around her and barely held back the gasp. The TARDIS had provided a spacious hanger for her ship in muted yellows and gold, all organic and beautiful.
"Yeah, it takes a bit to get used to it."
River looked down to see a young woman with blond hair and wide eyes standing in front of her. "I don't think I've seen anything quite like it," she said in all honesty.
"The TARDIS is one of a kind," the young woman said. "Did you know I never knew this room existed until just now?"
"Really?" River could believe it. She knew the TARDIS was a wonder from the last time she had set foot in it.
"My name's Rose by the way," the girl stuck out her hand, "pleased to meet you, Ambassador."
The air was sucked out of her lungs for a moment and River stared at the girl. she looked so young, so innocent, but two words came to her: Bad Wolf. Rose. Rose was traveling with the Doctor. That meant... She didn't know what that meant. River shook her head. "You can't be."
"I'm sorry," River said as she stuck out her hand. "Call me Emiya."
"Are you okay?" Rose asked gently.
"Yes, yes. Just a bit shaken up. I've had quite an ordeal, you see."
"Let's go back up and I'll fix you a cuppa." Rose turned to lead her through the TARDIS, then paused and looked back. "You do like tea, don't you?"
"I'd kill for a cup of tea," River said and meant every word.
She had regained her wits enough to follow Rose through the TARDIS corridors, but her mind was running ahead. Somewhere she had miscalculated. She had found the Doctor, but which Doctor? Her research had dug up images of several of his regenerations and there were stories and myths aplenty surrounding the Doctor and Rose Tyler. There was at least one, maybe two regenerations between this Doctor and the one she knew. She needed to tread lightly or risk changing her own timeline.
As they were walking, River said, "Where's Captain Harkness?"
"Oh, he's with the Doctor. They were arguing 'bout something so I decided to come down and meet you."
"You must have a large crew to run a ship this size."
Rose smiled and it was like the sun coming out. "There's just the three of us at the moment. The TARDIS only needs one person to run her."
River couldn't help but smile back. Oh Doctor, she thought, I can see why you liked this one. "That's extraordinary. Do you mean that if I wanted to pilot this amazing vessel I could do it all by myself?"
"Oi, don't get any ideas. I meant only one person could. One specific person. Only the Doctor."
"Don't worry, Rose. I"m not going to make off with her." River trailed her hands against the walls and felt the tingling response. The TARDIS knew her even though River had never seen the TARDIS like this before.
Rose took her to one of the living areas and set a kettle to boil in the kitchenette.
As she watched Rose prepare the tea, River's stomach became more and more wrapped in knots. What had she gotten herself in to? This new TARDIS felt alien yet familiar all at once and she was torn between fear and excitement at meeting this version of the Doctor.
"The Captain said you were explorers," River said, keeping her voice at just the right airy tone for friendly conversation.
"Yeah, sort of. We just like to travel."
"And this Doctor - he's the leader of your expedition?"
Rose laughed. "He'd like to think so."
"He doesn't change, does he?"
"What was that?" Rose said as she swirled the tea pot then began to pour into two clean mugs. The steam curled and rose to the TARDIS's hexagonal patterned ceiling.
"I said, things don't change, do they - men always assume they're in charge, whereas the truth of the matter is, it's us who run the show." River raised the mug Rose had handed her to her lips.
"I think I like you, Ambassador," Rose said with a smirk. "Come on, let's introduce you, shall we?"
The TARDIS console room was located across the way, and River, steaming mug in hand, followed Rose inside. She looked about her with wonder at the strange, yet familiar design of the room. It was more organic, less cluttered, and even somehow a little more beautiful than she remembered. But it was also less grand and something had been lost with its lack of complexity.
River itched to get her hands on the console itself. It had been such a long time since the TARDIS had allowed he how to pilot her and the memories of that terrible but brilliant day were dredged to the surface. She hardly recognized the shape and layout of the controls, but River knew that as soon as she laid her hands on the console, the TARDIS would show her exactly what to do. Just like it had done before.
It took a moment for her to register that two men were staring at her. Both were red-faced and a little short of breath - no doubt due to the argument Rose had mentioned - and neither of them looked like the Doctor. There was no match for any of the pictures she carried in her diary either. For the second time since she had set foot in the TARDIS, River lost her ability to speak. Which one was he?
One of the men, the slightly shorter one with the boyish good looks, grinned and gave a short bow. "Ambassador Stone, welcome aboard. I see Rose has taken good care of you."
River raised an eyebrow. He was cute in a conventional sort of way but his twang gave him away. She stuck out her free hand to shake his proffered one. "Captain Harkness, I'm grateful indeed for your assistance. I don't know how much longer I would have lasted adrift in deep space." River turned to the other man, who looked at her with a scowl before returning to play with the switches on the TARDIS console. "And you must be the Doctor. I've heard so much about you."
"Is that so."
He was tall, but not as tall, a little broader in the shoulders, and his ears certainly commanded attention. His hair was cut very short and he was dressed so benignly it was hard to imagine that this man was the Doctor at all. Except there was the look in his eyes that was exactly the same. It was time to get a grip on her bundled nerves, River thought. This one was going to be a tough nut to crack.
"Quite so," she replied.
"And who, pray tell, has been divulging all this information."
"Rose was very informative. Weren't you, my dear?" She cast Rose a conspiratorial glance.
Rose chuckled. "The Ambassador and I, we go back a long way."
The Doctor kept his mouth sealed tightly shut.
"I can see that not everyone is pleased to have me on board," River said lightly.
Jack said, "Don't worry, Excellency, he's just an old sourpuss. Rose and I, we'll take good care of you."
"I'm sure you will, Captain. I must warn you, though, I think I know your type."
"And what type is that?" Jack said with a smirk.
"The type to take advantage of a helpless, stranded woman."
Jack eyed her up and down. "Somehow I don't think you're helpless. See, I know your type."
River laughed. "I like you."
"Tell me, Ambassador," the Doctor spoke up suddenly, "where is the rest of your crew? Surely such an important person as yourself would not travel alone."
"No, of course not, Doctor." River said as she let just the right tone of despair seep into her voice. "I'm afraid my crew are dead. We were attacked planet-side and they gave their lives to keep me safe. I was the only one to escape."
"Oh my god," Rose said. "How dreadful. Why were you attacked?"
"I think someone is trying to incite war between Tevis and Raxacoricofallapatorius. My delegation had just landed when we were attacked."
Rose gasped. "But we were just there."
"Yes, pretty coincidental don't you think?" The Doctor said in a low voice.
River could feel the animosity coming of him in waves. This one isn't to be trifled with. He obviously had no clue who she really was, but he knew she wasn't who she was pretending to be. She was going to have to be very cautious.
"Doctor, I'm sorry you don't believe me, but I promise you that if I can get my ship's vortex manipulator back on track then I'll be on my way. I have superiors to report to back home."
"Tell you what," he said, his mouth twisting into a manic grin, "why don't we take you there ourselves. The TARDIS can travel anywhere in space and time, we'll be there in a flash."
"Oh, I wouldn't want to put you out of your way. No, it's fine. I'm pretty sure the manipulator was hacked by the same crew who attacked me. If I could just borrow some spares and Captain Jack for a moment... I'm quite sure he won't mind one bit."
Jack leered at the look River threw him but the Doctor shook his head. "It won't be any trouble at all, Ambassador," the title was said with a patronising sneer, "we'll be on our way then." He flipped levers and pressed buttons as he began working the console.
River walked over and placed a hand on his arm. His leather jacket felt cool to her touch. She rather liked it. "Honestly, that might not be a good idea."
He shook her hand off. "Why not? Is it because you're not who you say you are?"
"No," River gave him her most charming smile, "It's because Tevisians always shoot first and ask questions later. It's our motto. A strange vessel appearing in our airspace is going to draw attention of the worst kind and I wouldn't want my rescuers to have to defend themselves."
The Doctor crossed his arms over his chest. "Didn't I hear you say the 'Third Tevisian Empire'? Well now, that must be... let me see... of course!" He beamed in response. "The Third Tevisian Empire as ruled by the grand Emperor Rudolph the Second. Good ol' Rudy. We're as thick as thieves, you know. I'll just call him up and let him know we're on our way."
"You're making it up."
"Not me. You are."
They stood almost chest to chest, and glared at each other. River felt a thrill tingle up her spine. Oh yes, this was exactly the same man, and how she would enjoy sparring with him.
Suddenly the floor beneath them tipped. They were thrown off balance and crashed down together. Somewhere in the background River could hear Rose shriek but her field of perception had narrowed down to the fact that the Doctor was lying on top of her and staring down at her.
"Tell me who you are," he said in a soft yet dangerous voice.
She was caught by the memory of her doctor lying beneath her as she kissed him and breathed her life into him. He felt so different now, and his eyes were hard and cold, not filled with love and awe. Her stomach became a hollow pit.
"I'm nobody," she said.
He must have sensed her defeat because his expression switched from cold to warm in an instant and his mouth twitched in a smile. "Somehow, I doubt that."
"Doctor!" Rose's voice broke the spell and River realised that the ground was pitching and yawing beneath them.
"What's going on?" River said as the Doctor scrambled to his feet and helped her back up.
She clung to the console and watched him work. With boyish glee he bounded around her, checking the monitor, twirling dials and punching buttons.
He laughed then looked at her with that manic grin. "It would seem that we are under attack."
River joined in with the laugh. Some things never change, she thought.
Her glee was short lived. Something slammed into the TARDIS with force and shook them all sideways again. Smoke began to billow up from beneath them and when she waved it away, she saw the Doctor lying not far from her.
"Is everyone okay?" She called out as she crawled over to the doctor.
"Yeah," came Rose's voice. "I'm all right."
"A little bit of a bruised ass but other than that I'll live," Jack said from somewhere to her right.
"What about you, Doctor?" Rose asked, coughing in the smoke.
"Rose," River said, her voice shaking as she leaned over the Doctor, "can you get over here?"
His face was pale and his eyes were closed. There was an ugly gash on his temple leaking reddish orange blood. River pressed her ear to his chest, twice, and let out a breath when she distinctly felt the thump of both his hearts.
"Oh god, oh god, Doctor!" Rose skidded down next to them; her fingers fluttered about his face frantically.
"He's okay, just knocked out. Can you get some of that tea we were drinking?"
"Tea? How can you think about tea at a time like this!"
"Yes, tea. Or celery. If you have some celery, that should work, too."
"I don't even know what you're talking about," Rose said. She cradled the Doctor's wounded head in her lap and attempted to stop the flow of blood with her shirt sleeve.
"The tea will revive him, Rose," River said to the girl. Her heart went out to her, she was so innocent and she had no clue that she had completely lost herself to the Doctor. Just as I have, River thought.
The TARDIS tilted again and shuddered. Rose and River had to scramble to keep the unconscious Doctor from sliding into the console.
"We're still under attack," Jack called out. He had managed to make his way to the console himself and was bashing at the monitor. "I can't get any readings, though. Whatever they're using, it's causing some damage. Do whatever it takes to get him back on his damn feet. He's the only one who can pilot this thing."
River looked up at Jack. "What did you say?"
"I said he's the only one who can fly her. We've gotta get out of here pronto."
River shook her head. She turned to Rose as she stood. "See what you can do - I promise the tea will help him - he just needs to inhale it."
"Wait, I think I've got something," Jack said. "A message. It says... Give up the thief or you will feel the wrath of Tevis." Jack turned to look at River. "Why do I suspect they mean you?"
"Just hold on to your knickers, Captain," River said as she gripped the console with both hands to steady herself. "Because I'm no ordinary thief."
The song of the TARDIS flowed through her and greeted her like an old friend. The ship was different from the last time she had piloted her, but it didn't matter, because River Song was the child of the TARDIS and she would know her in any form. She ran from button to lever to dial, first strengthening the TARDIS's protective bubble against further attack, and then plotting their path through the vortex.
"What the hell are you doing?" Jack said. He reached to pull her back, but River danced out of the way and continued to let her hands fly over the console.
"Leave her, Jack," the Doctor said from behind them. "She's flying the TARDIS."
River turned to glance at him. He was sitting up with a cup of tea and makeshift bandage over his head. Rose's arm circled his shoulders protectively. River winked, then returned to the task at hand.
"Everyone, hold on," she said, joy bubbling out of her. The TARDIS leaped beneath her, shuddering and lurching until she found the stabilizers and then everything went still.
River let out a laugh. She turned and collapsed against the console. "Well, boys and girls. No serious damage done. Hope you don't mind if I hop out here, then you can all be on your merry way."
She strode towards the TARDIS doors. Suddenly the Doctor was in front of her.
"No you don't. Not until you tell me who you are."
"You move pretty fast for a man with a head injury."
"I'm not a man. But then you know that. You knew the tea would revive me."
"A super heated infusion of free radicals and tannins. Of course."
"You're definitely not an Ambassador of Tevis. They were after you for stealing their ship, weren't they?"
River shrugged. "Could be that I did borrow it... Although I was going to take it back. They must have some kind of tracking device in the ship. You don't need to worry, though. I jettisoned the vessel before we entered the vortex."
"Who are you." The Doctor said flatly.
River reached up to touch his cheek. "I'm sorry. I don't think I can tell you. It's all wrong. I don't think you're supposed to know who I am yet."
"But you can fly the TARDIS." His voice had a rough edge. "I thought... I believed they were all... gone."
"Oh Doctor. I think I understand now. You're very close to the Time War, aren't you? And once again I'm sorry - I'm not what you think I am."
His hands clutched at her shoulders and he gently shook her. "You have to be. You have to be. They can't all be gone."
"You think you're all alone, but you're not. For starters, you've got her," River looked back to Rose who was standing a ways off, her hands clutched together and her eyes a little wet. "And one day you'll meet me properly, and when you do, nothing will ever be the same again. I promise you."
River brushed her fingers across his mouth and smiled a little as she leaned up and kissed him. She was surprised that he didn't back away instantly, so she leaned in to him for a fraction of a second, simply losing herself to the moment as long as she could allow. When she pulled back, his eyes were glazed over. It was easier, this way. The hallucinogens from her lipstick worked their way through his bloodstream and she allowed the psychic suggestion to take hold in his mind. It was difficult to trick a Time Lord like this, but if River was an expert in anything, it was Time Lords, and this Time Lord in particular.
"What did you do," Rose said as River let go of the Doctor. "You've done something to him, haven't you?"
"Rose, you lovely child. Take care of him, will you?" River met her and put her hands up to the girl's face. She planted a brief kiss directly on her lips. "And if you ever need help, don't hesitate to ask the TARDIS."
She left Rose with the same glazed look in her eyes and turned to find Jack.
"My turn, is it?" Jack said. "One kiss for each of us and we forget you were ever here?"
"I"m afraid so," River said as she leaned up to kiss him, too. Jack, however, ducked out of her way.
"I don't think so. Who else is going to remember to erase the TARDIS records of your visit?"
River shrugged. "I'm sure she'll keep my secret for me."
"I'll keep your secret, too, River Song."
River blinked, then a slow grin spread across her face. "I should have known."
"You are required reading material for first year Time Agents. Your thesis on the Doctor is brilliant, by the way."
"Really? I haven't finished it yet. Oooh, does it earn me my doctorate?"
"If I was still a Time Agent, I'd have to say I can't tell you that. But since I'm not... you betcha it does." Jack grinned.
"Doctor River Song. I like the sound of that," River said with a smirk. Then she gave Jack a quick kiss on the lips before he could react. "Sorry, Captain, but I don't trust anyone to keep my secrets except myself."
She looked towards the doors; her university was waiting outside. Perhaps her research on the Doctor should be purely academic from now on. River took one last walk around the console, her fingers brushing the surface as she went. "You keep him safe for me, too."
Her last act was to program the TARDIS to leave as soon as the doors were shut behind her.