note: title from William Shakespeare's Macbeth Act 5, Scene 5; takes place post-The Girl Who Waited, AU.
and all our yesterdays
"Where is she? Doctor-"
The phone rings. The Doctor answers. Too quickly, Rory thinks.
"That was River," the Doctor says, "She says she has something important for us."
"Doctor, where is she?" Amy asks again.
The Doctor turns his back to them and sighs.
"She's gone, Amy. I'm sorry."
Sounds fade; the familiar and haunting dream of freedom fades. Blue gives way to white. She can feel molecules splitting, time caving in; her skin tingles, vibrations digging into her bones.
The floor is cold under her arms, white shapes looming against a white backdrop. She closes her eyes and waits for nothingness, for silence.
She thinks of Rory's gentle hands.
The air splits suddenly with heat, and it seems like a strange way to fade out of existence - with so much noise and light. Something cracks and sparks and her vision blurs as sleep takes hold, and she sees a shadow, feels a hand on her arm; bright light and a soft voice and a clap of thunder.
The ground beneath her is soft and cool. Something passes over her skin, and it takes her a long moment to realise it's wind - gentle and unreal. She barely remembers; too many years of white rooms and stillness. She blinks heavily, trying to pry her eyes open, to move, to run. Something warm rests on her arm, and a voice floats at her left, calling her name in smooth tones.
"Amy? Can you hear me?"
She forces her eyes open, raising an arm to shield her eyes from the clouded sunlight. The figure hovers above her, suspended and displaced, and she tries to move away, instinct overriding the calm.
"Amy, Amy it's all right. It's me."
Familiar and yet foreign; close and yet far. Amy struggles into a sitting position, hands digging into the soft ground: sand, she realizes. Crouching next to her, a pale face etched with worry and regret.
She doesn't mean for the word to sound so disbelieving, so bitter. Her head clears and she looks around, her vision focusing and the world sharpening. They're on a beach, and it's a cold, grey day with spots of sunshine.
Sand for miles and miles.
"Are you all right?" River asks gently, a steady hand at her back, supporting her weight.
"Where are we?" she demands, forcing herself to her feet. River stands close, hand outstretched to catch her. Amy resents her compassion, but says nothing. "How did you-?"
"Bad Wolf Bay," River answers, taking a step back. Amy releases a tight breath.
"In a manner of speaking," River replies, looking over her shoulder. There's a small group of people halfway down the beach, standing still, as if they're waiting.
Amy glowers. "This really isn't the time for spoilers."
River smiles weakly and shakes her head. "No spoilers," she promises. "This is Earth, just not your Earth. Back when the Doctor was in his Tenth regeneration, a rift opened between two parallel worlds, ours and this one. Rose, his companion, along with her family and a human version of the Doctor relocated here."
" 'Relocated,' " Amy repeats darkly.
"They were trapped, initially," she amends honestly. "But it's complicated. I don't want you to think of it as second best."
"How else should I think of it?"
River winces and looks away. The wind sweeps her hair in front of her eyes, shielding her face from Amy's view. She looks so fragile suddenly, so lost, bathed in dull light and surrounded by greasy and blues. Amy's throat tightens and she coughs awkwardly.
"So, what is this, then?" she ask, and River turns back, a bright sheen over her eyes. "I mean-what happens now?"
"You have a choice. I can take you back to our reality, if that's what you want."
Amy shakes her head. "I'll die."
"You'll never have lived," River corrects, but her voice is soft and sympathetic. Amy scowls at that - how could she know, how could she understand? - and then remembers: time can be rewritten.
"And my other option?"
"You can stay. Build a life here. It's a few years earlier, but a similar world." River reaches into her satchel and gives her a hand-held computer and a small, velvet bag. "This comes with all the information about this version of Earth - politics, finances, best restaurants." A slight smirk. "And there's enough money there to get you started on a new life, if you wish."
Amy frowns and peers into the bag, eyes widening. "It's bigger on the inside."
"The TARDIS' gift to you," River says, and there's a fondness in her voice that Amy doesn't quite understand. She knows bits and pieces, fragments of things she remembers from before, whispers of a past life before mirrors and red waterfalls. But here, now, this woman in front of her - her daughter - still a stranger.
A passing ship in the night.
"Anyway," River continues after a moment, "You can also get in touch with some of the Doctor's friends; work for this version of UNIT or Torchwood, if there is one. I'm sure they'd value your help."
River shakes her head and mutters something about a daft old man. "It's all explained in there," she says, gesturing to the computer. "Everything you need to know, plus a little extra."
"But how could you- I mean, how did you know what had happened? Did the Doctor-?"
Amy's eyes are wide, her lips parted, and the emotion there makes her look younger, lighter: hope. River recognises it easily, a gift she's both held and lost many times throughout the years. "A long time after," she says quietly. "He never forgot. And he never forgave himself."
The light fades away, and Amy sinks into herself, the lines on her face starker, her stance tighter. (River swallows the guilt.)
"Good," Amy snaps. "He shouldn't."
"He's not perfect, Amy. He's done a lot of harm in the universe…and a lot of good."
Amy remains quiet a long moment, staring at the items clenched in her hands. "The bad doesn't necessarily cancel out the good," she murmurs to herself, and River nods.
"Nor make them unimportant." Amy looks up in surprise, and River shrugs lightly. "Something you used to tell me."
"She used to tell you," Amy corrects.
"You're the same person," she says fiercely, and Amy blinks in surprise. "You're just as much my mother a she is. I couldn't-"
River stops abruptly, turning to look out at the waves. Amy doesn't understand, not entirely, but she recognises the grief.
"You came back to save me."
"The Doctor is brilliant and wonderful and kind. But sometimes, he forgets. He forgets to be so kind." She smiles weakly, as if she knows, and Amy thinks of all the days that are coming for her, all the days she hasn't lived through. The Doctor's fear and distrust. Her chest tightens at River's words: "You can't blame him for it, Amy, nor can I," she says softly. "But that doesn't mean I can't fix it."
Amy nods and tries to smile. Another thought, unpleasant and brittle, makes her frown. "What about the Amy in this universe? There can't be two of us here either, I'm assuming."
"No, there couldn't be," River agrees, "But there is no Amy here. Different timelines, different events. Not everything is the same."
Amy stares blankly out over the water. "And Rory?" she asks tightly, determined not to care.
River smiles gently and leans forward, showing her a few keys to press and commands to enter. The screen blinks once, and then a picture appears with a wall of text at its side. "Name, age, location, driving record - how did you get all this?" Amy asks, scrolling through the information in a daze.
"Spoilers," River drawls, and Amy scoffs, more amused than annoyed.
"That's just an excuse for law breaking you don't want to tell me about."
"Much more concise though, yes?" she teases, the slightest hint of insecurity hiding in her tones. Amy wonders if anyone else would have caught it, if anyone else could hear it; or if it's just for her, just because of her.
"River…" Amy sighs and shakes her head. "Who are you? How did…I still have so many questions."
River nods somberly. "I know. I wish I had time to answer them for you."
"Can't you tell me anything?" she pleads; she doesn't care that she sounds desperate, that she's searching, begging for answers to a life that isn't even hers anymore. "Just…Rory. Is he okay? And Melody… you…we left you there. We left you behind. I never-"
"Amy," she interrupts gently, catching her eyes. "None of that was your fault. I don't blame you for it, in fact I…" she trails off, shifting her gaze over Amy's shoulder.
River doesn't answer.
"Tell me, River. Please."
She exhales sharply. "I owe you," River says simply. "I owe you my life, as it is now. Time can be rewritten, almost always, but you…you let me stay."
Amy nods slowly. "So you could be with the Doctor."
River voice is tinged with fondness and laughter. "It's always about him, isn't it?" Amy's jaw clenches and she looks away, curling and uncurling her fist. "I don't regret one moment of my life, Amy," River says, "Even the painful ones. And whether you believe it or not, you saved me. Your voice in my head my whole life." She smiles wistfully. "The Last Centurion."
"You remember that?" Amy asks, anger giving way to disbelief.
"Part Time Lord," she returns, and Amy huffs in exasperation.
"How could I forget."
River gives her a half-smile, a familiar smile, the kind of smile the Doctor gives her - used to give her - will give her - but not anymore. The kind of smile the calms and comforts, even as it breaks your heart.
"I wish I could have known you better," Amy admits, startled by her own words, the hollow sound of her voice.
"You're my mother," River says, as if it's the simplest thing in the universe. "You know me best of all."
Amy nods, and hesitantly places a weathered hand on River's arm. River covers it instantly, and Amy inhales sharply at the gesture. "Thank you," she whispers, and River nods, unable to speak. "So. Does this mean I'm finally older than you?" she asks with a smirk, and River laughs, bright and beautiful.
"Not even close," she says, and Amy chuckles awkwardly, her cheeks unaccustomed to the expression.
River releases Amy's hand and fiddles with the settings on her vortex manipulator. She turns around, glancing again at the group in the distance, then looks to the sky and frowns. "I have to go soon," she says, regret playing at the creases around her eyes. "The portal will close, and I need to be back on the other side."
Amy nods, but tightens her grip on River's arm instinctively. She can see it now-traces. Fragments of herself in River's speech and gestures and confidence; the reflection in her eyes that reminds her hauntingly of a lonely child, waiting on her suitcase in the night. She wants to ask, suddenly, if it was worth it: any of it, all of it. Her lips move but there's no sound, and River speaks first.
"Will you be all right?" she asks, and Amy wishes she had asked first. (Now she never will.)
"I'll be fine," she says, but the answer is automatic.
"I wish-" River starts and stops abruptly, and shakes her head. Amy smiles - genuine and humbled - and squeezes River's arm before letting go.
"You saved me," she says. "You saved me when no one else would or could."
There's a pause, a hole in the air, before River steps forward and wraps her arms around Amy's shoulders. Amy stiffens, unaccustomed to warm or weight of another body. Then she sighs and carefully brings her arms up to rest on her daughter's shoulders, one hand brushing her hair in even strokes. River pulls back after a moment, awkward and unsure, and Amy tries to brighten; tries to be brave.
"You tell the other me to be good to you, yeah?"
"You will be."
River waits, then, as if she knows. Amy hesitates, then pulls off the make-shift armour and the belt and the brace. "Won't be needing this, will I?" she asks rhetorically, holding onto the items, the last remaining proof of her thirty-six years. On an exhale, she rips the belt away from the armour and the brace and hands River the sheath she made for her sword.
"Will you give this to Rory? Something for him to-" She swallows tightly. "I don't want him to feel guilty."
River takes the sheath gently, almost reverently, and meets Amy's gaze. "I will. I promise."
River looks at the sky again. "I need to go. You can probably catch a ride with them-" She gestures over her shoulder at the people moving towards a car. "-Rose is her name. Just tell them you know the Doctor."
Amy tries to laugh. "All access pass, eh?"
River winks. "Completely."
She turns, then, moving a few feet away. One of the women in the group looks up, suddenly, and River gives her a long wave. Wait, it says.Wait for her.
River looks back, sheath in one hand, fingers hovering over her wrist.
"Tell the Doctor…" I hate you. I love you. I miss you. I blame you. Amy shakes her head. The wind blows soft against her face. "Tell him I forgive him," she says finally, flatly, but River reads through the tone and nods sympathetically. Amy clears her throat and points at River, a quirk to her lips. "And if he doesn't marry you he's an idiot."
River chuckles, a sly glint in her eye. "I'll be sure to mention that."
Amy grins. "You'd better."
River inhales sharply. The sky is getting brighter.
"Goodbye, Amy," she says softly, and vanishes in a crackle of light.
A soft whisper follows after her: Goodbye, Melody.
River places the black sheath with the brown cord in his hands. Rory stares, disbelieving. His lips move, but there's no sound. Amy peers over his shoulder, confounded. "Isn't that-?" she starts. Rory looks so pale.
"Amy?" Rory breathes, his eyes fixated on the holster in front of him.
"She wanted you to have this."
Rory's head snaps up. "The other - you talked to her? How? Where is she?"
"She's safe," River says quickly, touching Rory's arm briefly. "It's very complicated, but I promise you, she's safe."
"She-" Rory's jaw clenches as he stares at the object in his hands. "I don't understand. She was erased from time. How did you-"
"Yes, interesting question, Rory, how?" the Doctor interrupts, harsh and disapproving. "How can you promise them that, River?" His tone of voice makes her wince; Rory and Amy exchange a glance. "She's gone, she never existed, nothing in this universe can sustain that kind of paradox without-"
"Shut up, Doctor," Rory snaps, suddenly angry, suddenly defensive. He takes a step toward River, his back to the Doctor, Amy at his side. "Tell me, River. Please. What happened?"
"She's in another universe. A parallel world."
"That's impossible," the Doctor scoffs.
"You can do that?" Amy questions the room, and the Doctor waves his hand in front of his face, frustrated.
"No, of course you can't do that! You can't just pop over to another universe without tearing a whole in the fabric of this one - and that one - and even if you could there's no telling what kind of universe you'd put her in, if it would have any similarities to-"
"Dårlig Ulv-Stranden," River interrupts, and the Doctor immediately stops. For a moment, he doesn't look as though he's breathing. So still, too still, until he steps forward, close to River, close enough to touch. His voice is low and searching.
"What did you say?"
River turns, facing him directly; like the universe has closed and there's just them, just this moment. She says nothing, but she doesn't need to.
"That's impossible," the Doctor repeats. "It's completely, utterly impossible."
"Nothing's impossible, my love," River murmurs, the endearment like the echo of a ringing bell - constant and unintentional.
He paces - three steps away, three steps back. "But you…how? How did you know? How could you possibly…have…" he trails off, lips parting, eyes wide.
"Okay," Amy says finally, "What are you two talking about?"
Distracted: "A few years ago, a rift was opened between our world and another, parallel universe, big rift, dangerous rift, my friend-" The Doctor swallows and shakes his head, his voice falling to barely a whisper. "People were trapped there. The rift only opened for a little while, just long enough to…straighten things out…before it closed for good. But Amy…older Amy, she…she could have survived there. No paradox."
Rory frowns and pinches the bridge of his nose. "So, let me get this straight - you took Amy back in time, to another universe, and just, what? Left her there?"
"I couldn't stay," River says, "But she'll be all right. She has friends there, friends of the Doctor. They'll take care of her." She looks at the Doctor as she speaks. "I promise."
Amy curls her hand over Rory's shoulder, shifting her gaze from him to the Doctor. She hasn't seen him look this way, not in a long time, with his heart in his throat and his eyes sharp and wet. She wants to go to him, but he isn't looking at her, or Rory, or the empty casket for a forgotten sword. He's staring at River, and she's staring back, and whatever they're saying doesn't need words. Doesn't need language.
Then he turns to them and nods.
Rory exhales sharply and Amy smiles, shaking Rory's shoulders as he huffs out a laugh, clinging to the sheath in his hands.
"What'll she do?" he asks softly, more to himself than to people around him.
Amy wraps her arms around his shoulders and smiles. "She'll find you. She'll find their Rory." He looks at her with wide, damp eyes, and Amy kisses his cheek. "I know she will."
The Doctor's voice breaks the moment. "And you!" He suddenly turns on River, stalking forward and grabbing her wrist, shaking her arm. "You went through the breach with a vortex manipulator?"
River smirks at his obvious distaste of her travel methods. "Well, we can't all have your wheels, Sweetie."
"You could have been killed! Atomised in the middle of a temporal rift or-or- trapped in the void or split between your consciousness in one universe and your physical form in the other - shut up, I know what you're thinking, not like that! - or you could have been trapped there with her. In another universe. Forever."
River raises an eyebrow. "Would you have missed me?" she asks, coy and amused.
"I-" he starts, stumbling over words and thoughts.
"Is that true?"
River and the Doctor both turn to Amy, and River smiles somewhat indulgently. "Is what true?"
"What he just said, about…being atomised or trapped or…?"
She looks back and forth between them as they exchange glances. Then River shrugs carelessly. "Everything has its risks."
"Then why do it?"
River falters. It's just a flash, barely a second - her smile vanishes and her shoulders tense, and Amy knows there's something wrong, something she's missing, but River recovers too quickly: "It was the right thing to do."
Amy smiles at her gently, a bit confused and a bit grateful and just barely proud. When she looks away, attention focused again on Rory - still overwhelmed - River exhales slowly, her eyes fluttering closed.
The Doctor stares at the ground briefly, moving to stand behind River, just to her left, and hesitantly places his hand on her spine. She leans back just slightly, just enough, and he moves that much closer, the front of his shoulder brushing the back of hers, his hand moving to firmly rest at the centre of her back.
"You didn't have to lie," he tells her gently - no blame, just comfort.
River shakes her head. "She's not ready."
The Doctor steps away quickly, too quickly, and Rory eyes him warily before turning his attention to River. He stands there awkwardly for a moment, torn between moving closer or further away. River watches him sadly, a brave mask affixed that doesn't reach her eyes.
"Thank you," he says finally, gesturing with the sheath. "I don't really know what to say, but…"
"You don't have to say anything."
He nods. "Thank you."
Softly: "You're welcome, Rory." She nods in their direction. "Amy."
They both smile, still somewhat dazed, before moving up the stairs. "We're gonna get some sleep," Amy offers, then adds cheekily, "You kids behave."
Rory groans and the Doctor flushes and Amy winks at River before disappearing down the corridor. River deflates almost immediately, moving away, closer to the console. She runs her fingertips over the typewriter keys, the stabilisers, her touches gentle and reverent. The Doctor watches, abnormally silent, listening to the TARDIS hum, almost a song, a lullaby that seems to soothe the woman before him more and more with every almost-note.
"How are you doing that?" he asks, surprised at the airiness of his own voice.
River looks up as he approaches and shrugs one shoulder, refocusing her attention on the console. "I don't know," she murmurs honestly. "She just…knows what I need."
He nods slowly, forcing down the envy and clutching at the awe. "She's good at that."
River doesn't reply, lost somewhere in her own thoughts, in the gentle melody the TARDIS has wrapped around her. He can barely hear it, barely understand, but he knows she hears it - feels it - more acutely. Every motion, every noise, every whisper. There are so many questions pressed against the inside of his lips, fighting to be spoken, to be answered. He struggles to remain quiet; he owes her that much, he reasons, owes her this one moment of peace.
"So," she says finally. "Where are we?" She reaches for her diary, torn and aged, tucked inside a satchel on her belt. "Have we done the Aleon Fires yet?"
The Doctor winces. "Berlin," he says carefully. "We just did Berlin."
River's hands still over the pages. "I see. How long ago?"
"A few months."
"And you haven't seen me since then," she guesses.
He shakes his head. "Before that was Demon's Run, and before that America."
River inhales sharply and closes the book, securing it gently back in the pouch. "I haven't done America," she says, but her tone is flat and she avoids his gaze.
"You'll like it," he lies. It tastes bitter in his throat, but she throws him a smile anyway and agrees.
"I'm sure I will."
"I'm sorry," she says suddenly, still staring at the console, her hands resting gently on the levers. She's told him before, a long time ago, in a moment similar to this one; but he knew then, so she'll tell him now - tell him as many times as it takes.
The Doctor frowns and takes a step closer, hesitates, then steps to the side; closer, but not at all. "What for?"
She huffs out a laugh. "You know what for."
"That's not how it works."
She looks up finally, confusion and guilt marring her face. She looks so old, so tired.
"You did what you were trained to do. You had no choice."
"There's always a choice."
"Maybe," he acknowledges, "But we all make mistakes."
"We don't all go on homicidal rampages," she corrects stiffly.
"We don't all sacrifice ourselves to save a stranger, either."
River shakes her head. "You were never a stranger," she admits, barely a murmur. "My whole life…I should have known." She slides him an amused glance. "Anyone with a bow-tie can't be all that bad."
He smiles briefly, but shakes his head. His voice is low and deep and River moves involuntarily, a hand reaching for his arm, barely aborting the movement. "I destroyed my whole world, River. I painted myself as the defender of the Earth, a protector. But there are always two sides. You know that better than anyone."
"You're a good man, Doctor," she says, catching his guilt and soothing it with a brief touch to his hand. She goes to release him, but he wraps his fingers around hers and holds tightly.
"You're a good woman, River," he returns, just as soft, just as honest. He holds her gaze and stares at her until she nods, until she believes. He doesn't let go of her hand. "You saved Amy," he says, unable to keep the awe and pride from his voice. "You mad, brilliant woman."
River smiles, and the Doctor tugs her forward suddenly, eliciting a bright laugh as he wraps his arms around her shoulders and buries his face in her hair. River returns the gesture immediately, tucking herself even closer, both hands resting on his shoulder blades, her face turned into his neck. He can feel her smile against his skin, her warmth and weight. This close, he can hear her mind, a whispering of static, blue and gold. It's almost too much, too intimate too soon, but he forces himself to hold on, to let go, to accept even just for this moment that there might be more to this than confusion and fear.
She smells like prison soap and marigolds and Time.
"Thank you," he whispers into her hair. He doesn't clarify, but she seems to know, to read his mind as he can read hers. She doesn't answer, not with words; instead she holds on tighter, and presses a kiss to the shell of his ear.
When she pulls back he's blushing, and she shakes her head, smiling fondly. "So," she says brightly, "Stormcage?"
He rolls his eyes. "You know, only you would be that excited to return to prison."
Her eyes sparkle with amusement. "Three square meals a day, free housing, private showers - what more could a girl ask for?"
"How about…." He drags the word out, mulling over locations in his head. "Persepolis VII!" He turns abruptly, sliding around the console and grappling with the scanner as his shoes slip on the floor. "A city within a city! Great big walls and rooms and dirt!" He frowns, his excitement waning. "Lots and lots of dirt." He glances under the console at her footwear. "No dirt," he decides, swinging his hand down on another button. "Huuun! The first moon of Huuu'an - three u's, both of them - completely covered in purple fog! Well, not fog, more like gas. Well, not really gas so much as evaporated elix crystals copulating with the Brisiliks in the atmosphere that produce a toxic…well, um…" He scratches the back of his neck and shoots her a sympathetic glance. "Well, bug vomit, really." He winces, and River laughs.
"You don't have to take me anywhere, sweetie," she interjects.
He huffs indignantly. "Well I'm not taking you back to prison - not right now, anyway. Besides, you've got a vortex manipulator, you can pop back - or forward, I suppose - whenever you like."
He catches her gaze briefly, searching, and she interprets easily what he isn't saying. What he's silently asking. She's never said no - never has, probably never will - but she isn't certain, and her eyes flicker to the corridor.
"Amy and Rory-"
The Doctor waves his hand dismissively. "Rory Schmory. It's my TARDIS and I'll have abroad whoever I like." River arches an eyebrow, and he deflates slightly. "Well. If she says it's all right," he amends, stroking the console. "But she likes you, don't you dear?" he questions, and the TARDIS jolts sharply in agreement. "See!" he says, hanging onto the scanner to keep from falling. "It's settled, then!"
River laughs and pulls herself upright just as he flicks another switch and the whole room lurches again. She reaches for the stabilisers, but he slaps her hand away playfully. "Ah ah ah! That's cheating!"
"That's flying responsibly," she corrects, and the Doctor snorts.
"Since when do you do anything responsibly?" he fires back. The TARDIS swings abruptly and he loses his footing, stumbling into her side. She grabs his waist and pitches him upright.
"Since the last time I let you fly her, she locked us out for three days."
He grins back at her. "Doctor Song, was that a spoiler?" he teases, unable to resist the light, flirty atmosphere.
"Just a little one."
"Looking forward to it."
The TARDIS does another spin, jolts, and then stops. The Doctor grins, slides over to the typewriter and leaves a note for Amy and Rory. River reads over his shoulder and slaps the back of his head.
"What was that for?" he moans, rubbing his skull.
" 'Mrs. Robinson and I?' "
"You started it!" he protests.
Hotly: "I did not."
"Depends on your point of view."
"Pet name?" he suggests hopefully.
"I hate you," she mutters.
Grinning, the Doctor straightens his jacket primly. "No, you don't."
River smiles, reaching up to straighten his bow-tie and run a hand through his hair. "No, I don't."
The Doctor crooks his finger against her cheek, lingering just a bit longer than necessary before grabbing her hand and pulling her down the steps.
"Where are we?" she asks, though he can tell by the light in her eyes and the excitement in her smile that she doesn't care.
He makes a grand gesture of opening the door and waving his arm with a slight bow. "Ladies first."
River laughs - "Thank you, sweetie." - and pushes him out the door.