A Message for the Doctor
He'd set the TARDIS coordinates to random, trusting that she'd take him somewhere he needed to be, even if that somewhere was back to Amy and Rory. Every possible lead and follow-up and mad, impossible theory had been exhausted. He didn't know where to look anymore. He would have to return to them eventually, tell them that he had failed to find their daughter, or was still failing. He still had all of time before him. He might still find her eventually, but it seemed now that eventually would be too late for Amy and Rory.
He checked the console screen as the TARDIS engines ground to a halt: a library in the late twenty-first century. He frowned at the screen a moment, then shrugged and swept down the stairs and out the doors, his coat flying out behind him a little.
(He'd found the green coat in the wardrobe a few weeks ago. It wasn't tweed, true, but he thought it had a certain bit of flair, and it went wonderfully with his bow ties.)
He stepped out the TARDIS doors and into the middle of an aisle of shelving. This particular row was abandoned, but he could hear papers shuffling and patrons speaking quietly in the distance. No Vashta Nerada here, thank goodness. The last thing he wanted was a repeat of that adventure.
He glanced around the shelves as he walked down the aisle. This was a periodical collection, he realized. He glanced back at the TARDIS. "Now why would you bring me here?" he asked quietly.
"I needed a research assistant," a familiar voice replied.
He spun around. Standing at the end of the aisle, her arms full of books and a smug smile on her face, was River. "Oh. Hello, dear," he said, heading down to meet her.
She immediately shoved all her books into his arms. "Hello, sweetie," she replied, leaning over the books to kiss him lightly. "Did you get my message on the psychic, then?"
"Um, no—" he replied, hastily trying to balance the books in his arms as he recovered from the kiss. Don't be ridiculous, he thought, it's only been four and a half weeks since—
"Oh, the TARDIS must have intercepted it, then," River said, her gaze shifting behind him and her smile growing fond. "She's good like that, you know."
"I know," he said with some difficulty as he clamped his chin down on the top couple of books. "River—"
"Right, sorry. My things are back this way," she said, and with that she led him through a few more rows of shelving before they emerged on a cozy study alcove, where quite a few books were already piled amid a mess of papers and notebooks. The Doctor slid the enormous stack of books onto a corner of the table as carefully as he could.
River meanwhile cast through a few stacks of papers before she extracted the beaten blue diary and began thumbing through it. "So, where are we up to, then? Have we done the Fellowes Fair on Aruada?"
"Yes, we have," he replied as he pulled out the small notebook he'd been using to keep track of their adventures. He shuffled through the pages quickly. "Yes, got it right here." He thumbed ahead a couple more pages. "The Jeonossi ruins?"
River blinked at him, then shook her head. "Doesn't ring a bell." She smiled. "Sounds like a good time, though."
He smiled back. "It was."
She flipped back several pages and glanced up at him, squinting. "Have we done Berlin yet?"
Now it was his turn to blink at her. "What's in Berlin?"
Her face was inscrutable. "You'll see, sweetie. Anyway," she continued, snapping her diary shut and putting it down, "thank you for coming along. I know libraries aren't really your cup of tea, but I could use your help with this little project."
"And what is this little project?" he asked, glancing across her notes and the books scattered across the table. The subject seemed overwhelming to be something about aliens and UFOs, which might not have been so unusual if this wasn't the twenty-first century.
"Researching undocumented and poorly documented alien encounters around the turn of the twenty-first century," she replied. "I enrolled in a twenty-third century university for a bit of fun, but I thought it might be easier to find contemporary sources back here."
"Isn't that cheating?" he asked, smiling at her slyly.
She leaned across the table until their faces were inches apart, her smile just as sly as his. "Only if I get caught, sweetie," she said in a low voice. She winked at him, and then the moment was over, and she was shuffling through notes again as though nothing had happened.
"An—Any particular reason why you picked this subject?" he asked, picking up one of the books at random and leafing through it.
"Oh, extraterrestrial studies are getting to be quite popular," she replied. "I thought I might be able to bring a unique perspective to it."
"Right. So what do you need me for?"
"I really don't," she said, smiling at him briefly, "I just like having you around."
And that was good enough for him.
He spent the next couple of hours going through her books and pointing out mistakes. The hour after that he bugged her about taking the TARDIS to get dinner or lunch or whatever meal she was supposed to eat next, he was fairly certain he had an outstanding reservation at the biggest restaurant in the galaxy and wouldn't it be better than hanging around in this library for the rest of the evening?
At which point she shoved a list of newspaper articles about crop circles at him and told him to go find copies or scans of the originals for her. He almost protested, but the look she gave him when he opened his mouth made him decide it was probably better to just listen.
He stalked down the labyrinthine rows of shelves, the list half-crumpled in one hand. He paused when he reached a wall, and finally glanced down at the list to see where he might start looking.
The headlines came from a variety of papers, but one line of text immediately drew his eye: "Leadworth's crop circle." From The Leadworth Chronicle. Printed 29 August 2011. Amy's time.
He almost ran straight into the wall in his haste to find the paper, and it still ended up taking him a good ten minutes to find the right part of the library. They had a rather large collection of the original papers archived here, and once he'd sonicked the door and the appropriate cabinet open he found the paper at once. The print was a little faded, and the paper browned with age, but it was still quite readable.
He smoothed the paper out on the table and opened it to page four, where the story was printed underneath an aerial spread of the crop circle itself.
He stared at the photograph a moment, then closed his eyes and sighed.
"I don't suppose you have anything to say about this?" the Doctor asked, dropping the newspaper on the table in front of River.
She glanced up at him, then picked up the paper and leafed through it quietly. For a moment he thought he saw her smiling, but when he blinked the expression was gone, and her face was unreadable.
"It's not my handiwork," she said evenly, folding up the paper and sliding it back across the table towards him. "It is rather nicely done, though, isn't it?"
This time she smiled and let him see it. "Sweetie, I have better ways of getting your attention than writing in a cornfield in Leadworth, believe me."
His stared at her, his brow furrowing. "But then who—"
River laughed at him, loud enough that the sound of it echoed around the library's high ceilings. "Oh, sweetie." She sobered almost at once. "I know where you are. If you've done the Fellowes Fair that means you've done Demon's Run."
He swallowed. He'd been trying not to think about that. It had been nice to forget for a few hours what an utter failure he'd been at finding her—the proper her, the Melody Amy and Rory would want to see again—but the moment she said the words it all rushed back.
And suddenly the crop circle made sense. He glanced at the date on the paper again, doing calculations against all the messages Amy and Rory had been leaving for him, all the phone calls he'd never picked up. They'd been waiting all summer. All summer for word from him, for word of Melody. And he'd given them nothing.
River seemed to be reading his thoughts. "You should probably go," she said quietly.
"Yes, yes, I—" He swallowed again and picked up the newspaper.
They walked through the shelves again, back to where the TARDIS waited for him. He opened the doors, but River stopped at the threshold. "Do you want to come?" he asked.
She shook her head, smiling sadly. "I shouldn't. You need to talk to them on your own."
"All right." He stepped back towards her a little awkwardly, and the next moment they were kissing. It wasn't as involved as some of their other kisses, just their lips against each other, her hands on his shoulders and his hands at her waist, even after they pulled apart.
"Good luck, sweetie," she whispered. "And… I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, River," he replied.
She didn't say anything, just smiled at him again, her eyes seeing something beyond him, remembering.
He kissed her again, just briefly, then stepped into the TARDIS to leave. To find Amy and Rory, and explain it all to them if he could.
And that's that! Thank you all so much for reading this little lark of mine! Even if you never commented, I appreciate your readership all the same!