Author's Note: With word going around about the "heartbreaking" exit of the Ponds, I guess my brain wanted to prepare myself with writing an angsty exit myself. Ginormous thanks to Charina for suffering through beta-ing this. You're the absolute best.
Rory sat in the office of his flat attempting to read the latest medical journal he'd received at the hospital, but couldn't gather the motivation to learn about the latest technique in cardiothoracic surgery. "Not my specialty," he muttered as he laid the material on his desk. His eyes drifted to a picture taken three Christmases ago. It was the year the Doctor had arrived on his and Amy's doorstep to announce he wasn't dead. Something the two of them had known for months thanks to their daughter ratting out her husband.
The picture in question contained the Doctor, Amy, Rory, and their two daughters—River and Moira. The younger girl had been two at the time. Her sixth birthday was two months ago. Realizing it had been that long since everyone was together set Rory's nerves slightly on edge. His family hadn't heard from the Doctor in that time, but that wasn't entirely worrisome. Despite being a so-called Lord of Time, he usually managed it poorly. You could go weeks on end without hearing from him, then within two days time he would show up on your doorstep wanting to watch a football game, leave, return a few hours later in your timestream (months later in his) with River in tow offering to babysit Moira, and call you three times with at least one instance occurring while another version of himself was in the flat.
No, it wasn't the Doctor's absence that piqued Rory's interest, it was River's. His elder daughter usually maintained steady contact with her parents. She especially kept up on events regarding her younger sister, even if Moira only knew her as Aunt River (usually with Uncle Doctor by her side) so as not to confuse things greatly.
Whether by phone or visit, River usually checked in with her family every week or two. Rory chalked her silence up to the fact that he'd been pulling a lot of double shifts at the hospital lately, but the more he thought about it, he hadn't heard Amy relay any stories about her recently either. Wanting to put his mind at ease, he reached for the phone on his desk. When the Doctor had given Rory and Amy this home, he'd worked his magic on their phones so that they always had a direct line to Stormcage and the TARDIS.
Punching the assigned speed dial setting for Stormcage, Rory heard sirens wailing in the background as soon as the guard on duty picked up the line. He shook his head as the guard quickly and shakily ran through the standard greeting.
"Uh, hi. I was looking for River Song, but I'm guessing by the chaos in the background that she's escaped. Again."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. She left a note saying that she was going to the 42nd century and that she'd be back for tea later today if you want to try and call back later." The guard answered.
"I'll do that, thanks." Rory replied. All the guards at the facility were used to both the Ponds calling and River escaping on a regular basis, so protocol was usually bent when it came to passing along information about escaped prisoners, or at least the one in particular.
Hanging up and immediately placing the handset back against his ear, Rory punched in the line for the TARDIS. An unfamiliar voice answered.
"Oi! Who is this and what do you want?" she asked.
"Umm, sorry I was trying to reach the Doctor."
"Busy at the moment. Can I take a message?"
Rory hesitated. Timestreams made his head ache and he didn't know if he was talking to a companion from the past, present or future.
He'd apparently waited too long. "Hello? You there?" the mystery woman asked, her voice now taking on an annoyed tone.
"Yes, sorry. I was looking for River Song. Has she been around lately?"
"Oh," the woman answered, her voice growing softer and sympathetic, instinctively setting Rory on edge. "I'm so sorry. She's dead."
Rory felt like the ground had been rent from under him. He grabbed on to his desk for dear life, even though physically he was safe in his chair. No. This can't be happening. She's supposed to outlive me. By centuries. No no no.
Through the loud buzzing in his ears he heard a new voice in the background. "Donna, who is it? Give me the phone. Hello? Who is this?"
"Rory," he breathed, in too much shock to be concerned with possible foreknowledge.
"Hello, Rory. I'm the Doctor." The man hesitated slightly before continuing, curiosity evident in his voice. "Might I ask how you know Doctor Song?"
He heard River sing the word spoilers in his mind, so he asked the only safe question his brain could think of. "How old are you?"
"Well, that's a bit rude and forward, especially for someone I don't know."
"Timestreams," the word Doctor fell short on Rory's lips. This wasn't his Doctor, and he didn't deserve being addressed as so.
"I'm nine-hundred-and-four." The man answered without hesitation.
Too early, Rory thought. Wordlessly, he hung up the phone and held his head in his hands, tears falling between his fingers. He didn't know how long he sat like that before Amy and Moira returned home from their shopping outing.
The two of them entered the flat singing the latest single by the current popular heartthrob at the top of their lungs. Like her mother, Moira had boy-crazy tendencies even at such a young age. River had told him once not to stress too much about it, that she wouldn't be too wrapped up in it when she was a teenager.
Wait, he thought as a new horror crossed his mind. If she's met her as a teenager, then she still comes to see us. How does one hold a funeral for someone who, somewhere/somewhen, is still alive?
Amy. How am I going to tell Amy? Instantly, he was thrown back into time when she had shrieked his name on Demon's Run holding out an empty blanket. How was he going to tell Amy that River was gone, and this time for good? Except not really. He felt a familiar pain starting to form behind his eyes whenever he thought too much about timestreams.
A knock at the front door broke his train of thought. He heard Moira quick steps running before she opened the door with a delighted squeal of "Uncle Doctor!"
Rory listened closely for a moment to see if the Doctor had brought anyone with him. The only person whoever showed up at the door with him was River. If he ever picked new companions, they never were brought to meet the Ponds.
Companions. His brain, trying to work faster than normally possible, caught on that word. It took a brief moment for the connections to be made. A story. The Doctor had told Rory and Amy a story once about one of his companions. Her name was Donna.
The woman who picked up the phone said she was Donna.
Donna was in the Doctor's past.
Donna knew that River had died.
The Doctor knew that River had died.
Donna was in the Doctor's past.
The Doctor had known all along.
A soft sob escaped Rory before he clamped his hand over his mouth. His mind went into overload. Images, sounds, words, stories, memories he shared with Amy, River, and the Doctor. Their lives all intertwined in a jumbled mass of space/time. All of it based on a lie.
Without thought, Rory wiped his eyes, rose and made his way downstairs. His legs held him up well considering how he was shaking all over. As he walked down the stairs, he saw the Doctor hugging Amy, with Moira bouncing excitedly at their side. The Doctor's grin faded into an expression of pain as his eyes fell on Rory.
"Moira, go play outside." Rory said quietly.
"Okay, Daddy," she answered happily as she grabbed hold of three of the fingers on the Doctor's left hand with the intention of dragging him alongside. "C'mon, Uncle Doctor, let's go play!"
The Time Lord's eyes never left Rory's, and he shook his head. "Not today, Poppet," He said wringing his fingers from her small hand.
"No! Don't you touch her. Don't even speak to her." Rory shouted before shaking his head in an effort to control himself. Normally he would've been amused at the identical looks of shock on his wife and daughter's faces, but the fact that the Doctor still wore the emotion of pain on his prevented him from doing that. "No, sweetheart," he tried again, this time in a softer tone. "Just you. And please stay out there till I tell you it's okay to come in."
"Okay, Daddy," she repeated, this time with a hushed voice. Knowing it was a rare occasion for her father to yell, the young girl quickly made her escape.
I scared her, Rory thought. I'll have to fix that later.
"Rory, what's going on?" Amy asked.
"Bloody Rule One," he answered with venomous quiet as he stared down the Doctor.
Amy rolled her eyes. "What did you lie about this time? You and River have yet another wedding you didn't invite us to?"
At the sound of her name, the Doctor's eyes slid from Rory's face to the floor.
"You selfish bastard," Rory hissed. All the energy and rage he'd been feeling since that dreaded phone call made its way into his fist, which made its way into the Doctor's jaw.
"Rory!" Amy screamed as the Doctor began to pick himself up off the floor.
"Amy, it's deserved," the Doctor said as he waved off her assistance in getting back up on his feet
"The one time, the single time, you can show up in a timely matter is when you're caught in your lie. You swore!"
"I know I did, Rory."
"You swore! You said, 'On my life, she will be safe.' It was a lie. And you knew it was a lie."
"I did." The Doctor made no move to defend himself. He stood there with an expression of deep sadness and regret, willing to take any abuse aimed at him.
"What are you talking about?" Amy asked with large eyes and a growing terror in her voice. "Rory, what are you saying? What did he lie about?"
Rory looked at Amy and then back at the Doctor. "No, I will not be the one to tell her. You do it. Do what you should've done ages ago."
The Doctor sighed and looked at the floor for a few seconds to compose his words before looking back up at Amy. "River's dead."
Amy took a step back away from the man she titled her best friend. "What?"
"She's gone. I'm sorry. I'm so, so, so very sorry." He reached a tentative hand out towards but she took another step away.
She turned towards her husband. "You know about this?"
"I just found out," he answered. "Ask him how long he's known about it."
She turned back to the Time Lord. "Doctor?"
"It happened before I met you," he began calmly. "In my previous regeneration. She called me to the Library. It was the first time I met her. Back to front lives, and all that. Umm, should we sit down or something?"
"No." Amy and Rory answered simultaneously.
"Right. Well, the Vashta Nerada had taken over the Library, an entire planet of books really, and in order to save the world's population one of us had to die."
"It should've been you," Rory spat.
The Doctor nodded. "I tried. She knocked me unconscious and handcuffed me to a pipe or something. By the time I woke up she was already strapped into the machine. I tried to talk her into letting me take her place—begged her—but she wouldn't hear it. She told me wouldn't change a single bit of our lives together."
"Why didn't you tell us about this before?" Amy asked.
"The first time you met her, we didn't know who she was. All I knew then was that we'd met once before, and that she knew something about me that no one else in the universe knew. And then we got to know her more, and found out she was your daughter… what was I supposed to say to you Amy? 'I'm sorry I'm the reason your daughter was kidnapped and that one day in her future, my past, I get her killed'?"
"Some version of the truth would've been better than this," Rory answered.
The Doctor could only hang his head in silence as a response.
Rory turned to Amy. Her eyes were distant and her mouth was still slightly opened in shock. Not knowing what else to do or say, he reached out and wrapped her in his arms. The three of them stood there in silence for a few minutes, no one having a clue as to what to say next.
Amy spoke first. "We should do something. We don't have a body, so we can't do a funeral, but we can at least have a memorial service or something. She deserves that. It may only be just us, but still…"
Rory thought of his disturbing hypothesis from before and turned to the Doctor. "She'll still come and visit us, won't she? She knew things about our future."
The Doctor's jaw worked back and forth as he debated what all to tell them. Smartly he avoided the traditional deceptive answer. "Yes," he replied softly.
Amy's face took on a new level of horror. "We have to pretend like we don't know? I can't lie to her."
"Rule One doesn't go for just River and me," the Doctor pointed out.
Amy shook her head vehemently. "No. No, I can't do that."
"Amy, I'm sorry, but you have to."
"No!" Rory shouted. "No more lies. Not anymore." The Doctor's left hand rose to scratch his cheek. A stalling tactic Rory was all too familiar with. "Out with it," he commanded.
"The last thing she said to me, she was strapped into the machine ready to give everything for me. I told her that I could rewrite time, keep her from doing this. But she told me, 'Not one line. Don't you dare.'"
"And we're supposed to just be alright with that?" Rory asked.
"It's what she wanted."
"I don't care what she wanted! She's my daughter. She's already given up all her regenerations for you, and now you demand her life, too? No. You go. You go and fix this right now." He felt Amy slip out of his arms and move slide slowly down the foyer wall to sit on the floor, but Rory was more focused on making the Doctor fix what was wrong.
"I know she's given up so much for me. I know that, but I can't disrespect her wishes like that. I just can't," his voice remaining ever so calm and quiet. Like he was talking to a child. Like this was a conversation he'd rehearsed in his head for years.
"Doctor, please," Amy whispered from the ground, her tears evident in her voice and on her cheeks. "Please go save her."
The Doctor kneeled slowly to be by her side, his hand reached out to her shoulder, but a quick glance up at Rory showed that wouldn't be a wise action, so it went and rested on his knee instead. "Amy, I tried. I am trying. I've been trying for years, but I can't undo this."
"Because I'll die in her place. I'll never meet you, all those adventures and memories will be gone."
"But I'd still have my daughter."
"Yes, but she wouldn't be your daughter. She wouldn't be River."
"So? I'd at least have my baby. I'd have Melody."
"But you wouldn't have grown up with her. Would you ever have been with Rory if she wasn't there?"
Rory and Amy's eyes locked onto each other. Rory wanted to shout that of course they would still have wound up together. They were destined, a constant that would always be. But instead he felt the old doubts and fear arise. Doubts that hadn't crept up since his first adventures in the TARDIS.
"You need to go," Rory said.
The Doctor didn't argue, just nodded. He turned to Amy and softly apologized. "Amelia, I never meant to hurt you like this. I am truly, so sorry."
Wordlessly, the two men walked out the front door, down a block, and turned right into the alley where the Doctor usually stashed the TARDIS when he visited them. Rory wanted to turn his back, march back into his home and never look upon the other man again, but deep down he knew that his daughter loved the Doctor and only for that reason did he stay put until the other spoke.
The Doctor cleared his throat before starting. "I cannot properly say how much the two of you mean to me. You're my family, and that's a word I haven't been willing to use for a long, long time. I never intended to hurt you both. I know what it's like to lose a child, and I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone. But just so you know, I'm trying to fix all of this."
Rory shook his head. "You said you wouldn't rewrite time. How can you fix it?"
"Because I don't think she's fully dead. I was able to store what was left of her energy in the Library's database. She's not fully dead."
"But she's not fully alive either. Sounds like she's some file on a server."
"True, but I'm trying to devise a way to transfer that energy back into a body. I've been running some experiments using Flesh and—"
"No, I won't let you do that."
"Rory, if we do nothing—"
"There is no 'we'. And no. I'd rather she be dead than reanimated into some version of Frankenstein's monster. No."
"No. You just can't stop, can you? Every time you get an idea, you cheapen her. You caused us to lose her as a baby, you're the reason she gave up all her regenerations, and you're the reason she's dead. Stop it." Rory stared down the Doctor until the other man's eyes fell to the ground. Rory ran his hands over his face. It couldn't have been more than an hour since he made that horrible call to the TARDIS, but he felt more exhausted than he had in ages. "Just go," he begged quietly. "Go and don't come back. Ever."
The Doctor cringed. "I can't do that. At least not from your perspective."
Rory rolled his eyes, "No, of course not. Life can never be simple like that."
"Don't worry. You'll make it abundantly clear when she has her back to us that I am anything but welcome."
Rory felt conflicted at this. Part of him was thrilled at this, that the Doctor was getting a punishment he deserved. But still this man had been a very dear friend of his for years, his son-in-law, family. He didn't know who she was then, part of his brain reasoned. But it was too soon; his mind wasn't close to being ready to processing all the news he'd learned today.
For lack of a better response, he nodded once and turned to walk out of the alley. He heard the TARDIS door shut softly behind him. As it began to whine its way into a different place and time, Rory turned to watch it disappear. He wasn't entirely sure why; maybe it was out of habit, but deep down he knew he was waiting. Maybe if he stood here for another minute it would reappear. The Doctor and River would come bouncing out and proclaim it had all been a trick; that everything always has been and always would be fine. He stood there for ten minutes. Waiting. But there was nothing.
He felt tears again and did nothing to stop them from falling.