Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who - obviously, or this episode would have gone differently

A/N: I only just recently added River as a character, she used to be an OC, but then I decided that the whole thing would probably just better if I used the show's own marvelous characters. Augh! I can't believe they made the Doctor such an idiot in this episode!

The Doctor shepherded everyone into his blue box like a hurricane on fire. Behind them, smoke and flames licked the walls of the room. Ironic, because the rest of the place was drowning.

This had to be done quickly.

Even the Tardis would sustain damage in a nuclear explosion.

The Doctor hit buttons and pulled levers, and finally the engines started. The Tardis began to fade. By the time the Mars base blew up, she – and all of her passengers – were gone.

"But..." Mia said with a frown, "it was just a box."

"It's bigger on the inside!" Yuri exclaimed.

"Yes it is!" The Doctor agreed with a roar.

Adelaide was silent, just staring at the technology around her. Any other occasion, she might have been awed, her mind opened to even newer possibilities about what the universe might hold. But not today.

"Now!" the Doctor proclaimed. "For London, England! November 21, 2059."

Everything went still. Literally. The humming of the Tardis became silent. Adelaide, Mia, and Yuri were all frozen with the expressions they had been wearing. They weren't even breathing. Confused, the Doctor flipped a few controls.

"What's happening?" he gasped. Suddenly, he wondered if this was the consequence of him changing a fixed point in time.

A new voice came from behind him. "Make that 2259 and I won't whack you over the head with this frying pan."

The Doctor whirled around. Standing there was a woman. A very familiar woman – the last the Doctor had seen of her, she'd been dead. And she was also brandishing a rather hefty piece of iron with a handle.

"Hello Doctor," she greeted, and at the same time, knocked on the Tardis console four times with her free hand.

The Doctor subconsciously counted the knocks. He backed away from her slowly, his eyes widening. "Four..." he gasped.

River snorted. "I knew you had a thing for the number four... but I didn't think you were this paranoid," she scoffed.

He swallowed loudly. "What did you do?" he finally asked.

"Froze them in a temporal rift bubble – thought it might be easier if I didn't have to explain who I was," she said sweetly. Then she looked down at her watch. "And I only have five minutes 'til it fades... I want to be outta here by then."

"But you..." the Doctor looked around. "You're in the Tardis!"

"Yes, dear," River said patiently. "That's what I do."

The Doctor opened and closed his mouth, unsure of how best to respond.

"Stop that! You look like a fish!" River ordered.

She moved past him to twist of the dials by his right arm.

The Doctor spluttered, "You can fly the Tardis?"

River stopped him with a raise of her hand."No more questions because after all," she pointed out, waving her wrist with the watch, "time's-a-ticking! And I still need to save you."

"But I don't need saving," the Doctor told her, looking at her with piercing eyes.

River didn't look at him and continued to work on the controls as she explained, "This time, you do. I'm not letting you live with this the rest of your life, you have enough nightmares already, without them being self-inflicted."

She stopped working. "I know," she began slowly, "that you have rules against changing time lines, but I just can't let you do this. I can't," she emphasized, her voice was pained.

"And exactly how are you changing my timeline?" the Doctor asked, his arms folded.

"By letting you keep a little piece of yourself, Doctor," she said. "When time restarts itself, the Tardis will take you, Adelaide, Yuri, and Mia to earth in the year 2259. I'm specifically programming the Tardis to not allow you anywhere near their own timelines while they are on board."

"But why?" the Doctor asked, his voice cracking.

River looked at him and gave him a half-smile. "Because Captain Adelaide Brook has to disappear – one way or another. If I let you reach her home, either time will start running together and dissolve, or she will die at her front doorstep. That's the way it has to be."

"What do you mean, 'die at her front doorstep'?" the Doctor half-demanded.

The egregious woman turned to face the three frozen figures. "Look at her, Doctor. Do you think she'd be the type of person to allow you the control over life and death? Because if you save her, that is exactly what you'll be doing," her voice was going into lecture mode.

"Are you saying she'd commit suicide?" the Doctor asked, looking at River with a cocky, bemused expression. "That is the..."

"Doctor! Look. At. Her."

Startled by the woman's emphasis, the Doctor turned, and looked at the captain of the first crew to ever land on Mars. And then he saw the expression on her face. His eyes widened.

"She's disappointed in me, isn't she?" the Doctor asked slowly...sadly.

"More than anyone has been in a while, I'm afraid," River said quietly. "Being alone so long is leaving thoughts to grow in your head. Thoughts that should never be grown. You're going mad."

The Doctor slumped, and used both arms to support himself as he leaned over the Tardis console. "I couldn't see more people die". His shoulders shook.

River smiled sadly. "No one really gets a say on who lives or dies, Doctor, only life itself."

The Doctor looked up at her, he couldn't help but have a flashback of her wire up to the library's mainframe, ready to sacrifice herself for everyone trapped inside. "Then what are you doing?" he asked, his voice cracking.

"Hoping, Doctor. Hoping."

The Doctor allowed himself a small smile. "No really," he asked, "What are you doing?"

"I think that if you drop them off in the future – far enough so they can't do the time stream any damage – you'll be able to save them and keep the fixed point intact," River explained.

"Honestly." The Doctor actually jumped when her voice changed. "The idea that you could actually be the ruler of time... what in the universe were you thinking? That was the most idiotic plan you've ever had, and believe me, I've watched a fair share of idiotic plans."

"Are you calling me an idiot?" the Doctor asked, looking slightly amused.

"That's because you are," River sniffed. "I hope the fact doesn't get you into any worse trouble than this," she gestured around her. Then her expression became serious again. "It's bad enough to see you suffering from time war and the death of your family. You are not, I say not, going now be responsible for the death of yourself. Of your character. Of the reason so many people adore you."

The Doctor swallowed, licked his lips, and asked sincerely, "Am I getting to old for this? Be honest, please."

River scoffed, "Never, Doctor."

Then tenderly, she approached him and placed a gentle palm against his cheek. "You'll never be too old for this, not as long as I have a say."

"You know they'll never get to see their families again," the Doctor said after a period of silence. He motioned at the still figures of the Mars crew.

River bent her head forward. "But they're alive," she breathed. "And you saved them."

"But I would have ruined it if it weren't for you," the Doctor reminded her softly.

River nodded. "But it wasn't my decision to go back... and Doctor, I'm sorry, but I'm going to leave in less than a minute."

It was the Doctor's turn to nod. "Thank you," he said sincerely.

"Remember," River said with a slight smile. "If you do anything stupid..." she picked up her frying pan.

The Doctor smiled, not a big smile, but his hearts did seem to be warming up. "I will do my best to impress you."

"You'd better," River told him, "because otherwise you're going to kill me for this."

The Doctor chuckled at this. River smiled widely.

"One more thing, River. How do you know how to fly...?" the Doctor never finished his question.

The woman smiled and mouthed, "Spoilers." Then she vanished.

Like a film on pause left to play again, the Tardis regained her hum. In the back, Adelaide, Yuri, and Mia began to move. The Doctor blinked. River – that woman, he wondered who she was. But there were more pressing matters to attend to. The feeling of being a dark angel, the last of the Time Lords, had vanished. His hearts were lighter and he felt more at ease than he had in weeks.

Apparently whatever she'd been doing to the Tardis console had worked because the engines were now activated. They were flying through the time vortex.

Where on earth did she learn she to fly the Tardis? the Doctor thought to himself, really curious. He couldn't stand mysteries, which is probably why he went out of his way to solve most of them.

"Doctor!" Adelaide finally spoke up; her voice was hard. The Doctor lost his train of thought. "I thought you said our deaths were fixed."

The Doctor waved off the idea with a flick of his hand. "'Course not!" he said. "I've only just realized... but you're disappearances are fixed... not necessarily your deaths. If I just bring you to a later year..." he flicked on the scanner to make sure that was where they were going. "... like, 200 years into the future: you get to live, everyone gets to think you're dead – not happiest thought but it'll have to do – and the space-time continuum is saved!"

Adelaide looked skeptical. Mia and Yuri were still trying to grasp a hold on their current situation. Both were still in a bit of painful shock after what happened on the base.

The Doctor noticed and said more softly, and less enthusiastically, "I promise things will turn out. It will be hard. It will be. But you're also alive."

Adelaide tilted her head. Something was different about the Doctor. It was like a switch had been turned off. A good thing she figured. She wasn't so sure she wanted to see the Doctor he had been turning into.

"But you said '2059'," she pointed out.

"My mistake," the Doctor proclaimed. "Make that 2259! Great year for people who like bow ties! Not to mention the year they actually discover a moon made of cheese..."