an: for dr_helenmagnus on LJ 3
i'll show you the way (the way i'm going)
The Doctor spins toward the door as the TARDIS lands, lips curving up despite himself. "Doctor Song! Excellent timing."
River closes the door behind her. "You picked me up, dear."
He waves her off. "Yes, well we're both excellent, then - at lots of things - dancing and Vetivian Skiing and solving timey whimey monster crises."
"There's a problem?"
He throws the TARDIS into flight and turns to face her. "Dracnoids in London."
River nods, amending his flight patterns absently. "I met a Dracnoid once. Grabby fellow."
The Doctor frowns, flustered, and shakes his head. "There'll be none of that," he says, with just enough jealousy to make her smile. "Got a call from UNIT-"
"You answered your phone?"
The Doctor hesitates, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly. "Well, no, not exactly."
River arches an eyebrow and waits, letting him dance around the console aimlessly. He's fidgety, more so than usual, and she can guess the reason why. Finally he sighs and leans across her, pressing the button on the answer phone. A smooth, familiar voice filters through, and River's eyes widen.
"Is that Martha Jones?"
"No." She shakes her head. "Always wanted to," she enthuses, half-listening to the message. "There's a section of my thesis on her. She's brilliant."
"Yes, she is. Saved the whole world."
The Doctor halts, frowning. "You remember that?"
River hesitates. "Sort of. Not as well as you, I'm sure." She watches his face carefully, and when he flinches away she drops the subject, returning his attention to the problem at hand. "So. Dracnoids?"
"Yes, big Dracnoids, apparently. There's a nest in Bexley and UNIT refuses to negotiate on the basis of not speaking Dracnoi - which is just ridiculous, really, because I speak everything."
"Includingbaby," he stresses. "You should know." River rolls her eyes fondly. "There's bound to be danger and running and explosions and things, so I thought you might enjoy it."
"I don't want to interfere," she says carefully, "I know you don't get to see much of her anymore."
The Doctor scoffs. "Of course you aren't interfering, don't be ridiculous. It's just your type of adventure! You might even get to shoot stuff."
He sounds excited, his voice brimming with anticipation, but he looks away from her as he speaks, concentrating intently on the blank scanner, his shoulders pressed tightly together. He risks a glance at her every so often, but never holds her gaze, and River lowers her voice.
"You don't want to face her alone," she guesses gently.
The Doctor straightens, eyes narrowing. "I never said that."
River shakes her head. "You didn't have to, sweetie."
There's a long silence, and she doesn't press. Doesn't ask. When the pause drags and he looks away, she excuses herself to change, giving him time alone, time to process what he does and doesn't want to tell her. She'd old enough to know, now - which burdens he'll let her share.
When she returns, he's more relaxed - still anxious and awkward, but he tries to smile and she loves him for that, for the way he brushes his hand over hers and stands too close, breath hot on her neck and the shell of her ear. Loves the way he hesitates, then finally confesses,
"I wasn't exactly...kind to her, while she was here."
River smiles gently, squeezing his arm just above the wrist. "Tenth regeneration, yeah?" He nods, and she gives a mock-heavy sigh, "So you were overly emotional, arrogant, pedantic-"
She laughs at the way his face scrunches and his arms flail. "But true."
He looks away, then, scrubbing at a clean spot on the TARDIS' cloister bell with his thumb. River smoothes circles across his back comfortingly. "I know, sweetie," she murmurs.
He cracks a smile. "I know you know." Though he doesn't face her, he leans in slightly, gravitating into her warmth. "How do you apologise for something like that?" he asks, and though she knows the question isn't directed at her, she answers anyway.
"Answer her call."
He looks up, then, a hesitant smile brightening his face. "You'll stay?"
"Wouldn't miss it."
The smile turns into a full-blown grin, and he tears away, skidding around the console as he lands the TARDIS, grabbing her hand as he bounds toward the door. She stops him just before he can open it, pulling him back slightly.
She smiles. "I believe you've forgotten something."
He looks adorably confused for a long, aching moment, then he giggles, a stifled, bubbly sound that she craves so often, hears so rarely. "So I have," he says, straightening the lapels of his jacket. Without any encouragement, he leans in and kisses her, one arm sliding around her waist and the other on her shoulder, drawing her in, keeping her close. River responds instantly, tangling her fingers in his hair, opening her mouth under his. The Doctor lets out a muffled, high pitched laugh, but it doesn't stop him from stepping in, slotting his leg between hers and pulling her closer.
When they part, they're both flushed and slightly breathless, wearing matching smiles. River grasps his hand firmly in hers and inclines her head toward the door.
"Come on. I'm sure she's got loads of embarrassing stories to tell." She stands back for him to open the door. "Did you snog this one too?"
"Genetic transfer, it was a genetic transfer!" he protests, flailing his free arm in front of his face.
"I'm sure it was, sweetie," River teases - then catches the suddenly dour expression on his face and frowns. Following his gaze, she turns to see where they've parked, right behind UNIT headquarters (spot on, for once) and, as it turns out, directly in front of Jack Harkness.
River squeezes the Doctor's hand gently, then lets go. The Doctor swallows tightly. "Jack."
Jack nods, unfazed by the new face. "Doctor."
There's a heavy pause, and River resists the urge to roll her eyes. The Doctor rocks on the balls of his feet and gives a sharp, awkward wave. "Hello."
Footsteps distract them, and they turn to see Martha hurrying towards them. "Doctor, you made it! Thank god, we've got -" She halts in front of the trio, looking from one person to the next, and frowns. "Where's the Doctor?"
Jack and River both point, and the Doctor straightens his bow tie proudly. Martha stares. "Seriously?"
"It's a perfectly respectable face!" the Doctor sputters. River and Jack exchange an amused glance.
"I think it's the bow tie she's focusing on, Doctor," Jack says.
The Doctor, affronted, glowers at him. "Bow ties are cool."
River pats his arm indulgently. "Whatever you say, sweetie."
"Sweetie?" Martha echoes, just as Jack turns to River and extends a hand.
"Captain Jack Harkness."
"I'm just saying hello."
River smirks. "You never just say hello." She looks him up and down slowly, dragging her eyes across his chest. "The Winged Divers mean anything to you?"
Jack grins, suddenly lighter, and leans forward. "Best weekend of my life. Well, the last hundred years of it, anyway."
"You wearing lipstick?"
Stepping forward, Jack presses both palms to River's cheeks and kisses her, a long, close-mouthed kiss that she returns with equal fervour, bending back as he supports her weight. Martha shrugs, not really surprised, as the Doctor flounders around them, poking Jack in the arm and grabbing at River's shoulder.
"Oi! Husband here!"
River pulls away, laughing, and Jack sets her back on her feet, easily dodging the slap the Doctor throws his way.
"I take it you two know each other?" he huffs, standing between them.
River's eyes dance as she peers around the Doctor, and Jack leers. "Intimately."
The Doctor splutters, looking back and forth between them. "Wha- but you- and you- and he-"
Jack laughs, shaking his head and pointing. "Oh, look at his face, that is priceless."
At the same time, Martha finally dislodges her shock enough to ask, "Sorry, did you say husband?"
The Doctor glares at River, then turns to Martha. "Long story, end of the world - got suckered."
"Oh, shut up."
"Not a chance," he retorts, before throwing his arms around Martha in a tangle of limbs. "Martha Jones! You look wonderful."
She laughs, pulling back slightly to look him over. "You look...twelve."
"He does have a bit of a baby face, doesn't he?" River agrees.
The Doctor huffs. "What does that make you, then?"
"Extremely lucky, dear."
"Good answer." Grabbing River's arm, he pulls her closer. "Doctor Martha Jones, Doctor River Song." To River: "She's an actual, cooldoctor, unlike you. Archaeology," he huffs.
"At least I earned my title," she volleys back with a smirk. Turning to Martha, she extends a hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Martha blinks, still confused. "I leave you alone for a few years and you get hitched."
"Well, to be fair, it's actually been several centuries for me, and I've been married several times since then. I still doubt it was a real chapel, but I got hitched to Marilyn Monroe-"
"That was me," River interrupts, and the Doctor waves her off.
"What? No, it wasn't. And then there was Calamity Jane - beast of a woman. She tried to shoot my hat off!"
"What are you talking about, there's no way you could have-" River grins, all teeth and bright red lips, and the Doctor shakes his head frantically. "But- you-" He huffs dramatically. "River."
He laughs softly and moves in, hands barely restraining themselves at his sides. "You bad, bad girl."
"You love it."
He taps her nose. "Obviously."
"Sorry to interrupt," Martha says, "But we've got a bit of a problem, here. You know, fire-breathing monsters?"
Spinning around, the Doctor claps his hands together and nods. "Right! Yes. Lead the way!" He gives a clumsy, elaborate half-bow, ushering Martha ahead. Jack hangs back, falling in step with River.
"So." He keeps his voice low, out of earshot. River wings an eyebrow in question. "He seems better."
"My parents did him good, I think. Less tragedy there than his last regeneration."
Jack shakes his head, following Martha as she leads them through the UNIT hallways. "I meant with you."
River shrugs. "Early days, now. Though I think we're criss-crossing from time to time."
She offers him a wistful smile. "It could be worse. He still knows me, at least." She watches as the Doctor speaks animatedly to Martha, who laughs in response. Beside her, Jack studies her face, the lines around her eyes and lips from both wear and joy.
"I don't know how you do it," he says, voice full of both awe and sympathy.
"Nor I, you," she says pointedly, and Jack tilts his head in acknowledgement.
"Good thing we aren't one person."
River winces - "Again." - and Jack's eyebrows shoot up.
"Something to look forward to, then?"
River rolls her eyes, but her smirk is mischievous, and Jack grins in response. "Oh, you certainly enjoyed it."
"I bet I did."
"Stop it," the Doctor shoots over his shoulder, and Jack holds up his hands.
"We're just talking."
The Doctor glowers, but returns to his conversation with Martha, and Jack smirks. "Possessive, isn't he?"
River smiles, a soft, amused look so full of love that Jack has to taper down the jealousy that coils in his chest. "It's all so new to him," she says quietly. "I think he's just still amazed that there's someone like him, sort of."
Jack shakes his head. "I think you're selling yourself short."
Martha stops, opening the door to a small conference room and motions them inside. The Doctor's already there, grumbling about military strategies, and attempting to make himself taller next to the large, impressive General stationed in front of an array of screens. River positions herself at the back of the room, just close enough to the Doctor to intervene if necessary, but far enough away as to not look intimidating. Jack watches her closely as she catalogues every person in the room, their strengths, weaknesses, weapons, positions. She looks so calm, so disinterested, leaning against the wall behind the Doctor, but he can tell by the way her fingers rest across her arms, stiff and poised, the way her eyes casually scan every part of the room the same way she had in the hall and outside - since the moment they'd exited the TARDIS. He glances at the Doctor, who's leaning over the table mid-explanation, and wonders if he knows. If he getsit yet, or if that's still to come. If he ever will.
River catches his eye and Jack gives a disarming wink before tuning back into the Doctor's speech.
"...clever creatures, very fast, hell of a stinger."
"Their tails and claws are filled with poison."
"Don't worry - it's not deadly to humans. You just itch for a week," Jack says. "Everywhere."
"What about you?" Martha asks, directing her question to the Doctor. "Is it deadly for you?"
He grimaces. "Extremely."
"No, wait! I've got it. River, do you still have that harmonica from Upupa?"
"It's in the TARDIS. Why?"
"Dracnoids hate bebop."
Martha blinks at him sceptically. "You're kidding."
"Nope! Anything in the key of F, really - their ears just aren't tuned for it. Gives 'em a nasty headache. It'll make them easier to relocate."
The General frowns. "Relocate?"
"Yes, relocate," the Doctor stresses pointedly. "More than likely their ship crashed or they got caught after we closed the crack in her mum's bedroom which you may or may not have done yet, actually, so, never mind that. River, grab the mouth organ from the TARDIS and before you say anything, either of you, not that mouth organ."
River and Jack exchange shrugs before she pushes off the wall, sliding past him a bit too closely. "That one's for later," she murmurs in his ear. The Doctor flushes, straightens his lapels and shoots a nervous glance at Martha. River grins, pausing in the doorway. "Coming?"
The Doctor frowns.
"Not you, sweetie." She smiles at Martha. "Need your badge."
Martha blinks. "Right. Yes." She nods to the General. "I'll be right back." To the Doctor: "Behave, yeah? They're on your side."
"I'll watch him," Jack says, throwing an arm around the Doctor's shoulder, who immediately shoves him off. Martha hurries to catch up with River, nodding occasionally to passing commanders as they make their way back toward the TARDIS.
"So," Martha ventures, "You and the Doctor?"
River smiles. "Strange, isn't it?"
"Yeah. No! Sorry." Martha purses her lips. "I just meant - I'm not used to seeing him withsomeone, you know?" She frowns. "Well, I guess you don't know, but-"
River laughs. "Oh, believe me, I know."
Martha hesitates, but doesn't ask. "So, how long have you been travelling with him?"
"I don't, really," River answers, pushing open the door. It's started raining while they were inside, and Martha pulls her black jacket tighter around her waist. The TARDIS looms in the distance, stoic and soft, and River immediately relaxes at the sight, the soothing hum that strengthens the closer they get.
"What do you mean?"
"We see each other often, but I don't travel with him all the time. I have other commitments, some more fortunate than others."
"And how long have you been...together?"
River shrugs. "Depends on your perspective."
"What do you mean?"
"We're both time travellers. We're going in opposite directions, mostly. Well, sometimes," she amends as they approach the TARDIS. "I've known him all my life. He's known me a bit less."
Martha starts to ask, then gets distracted as River pushes open the door easily. "Hang on, don't you need a key?"
River smirks. "I don't."
Martha follows her inside, keeping pace as River weaves through the hallways. "We keep diaries," River says, answering her unasked question. "Things we've done together, and then compare."
"Is that what he meant when he said 'spoilers'?"
River nods. "From his point of view, we've only been together a little while. From mine...he keeps getting younger." She pauses at a door Martha doesn't recognise. "Wait here."
Before Martha can protest, River slips inside, and when the door closes it vanishes into the wall. Martha frowns, running her hands over where the frame used to be, and knocks quietly. "River?"
There's no answer, but a moment later River turns the corner and holds up the harmonica for her to see. "Got it."
Martha shakes her head. "I'm not even going to ask."
River laughs, "Best that you don't, really," and Martha wonders if she's referring to the walls, or to their earlier conversation. River deftly changes the subject, asking Martha about her family, work, Mickey.
"Did the Doctor tell you all this?" Martha asks finally.
"Some," River says, as Martha flashes her badge at the guard to readmit them. "I do a lot of research on my own."
Martha starts to reply when Jack, the Doctor, and several UNIT soldiers round the corner. River passes the Doctor the harmonica, and Martha watches as his hand slides over hers and lingers just a touch before pulling away.
"A patrol team located the nest," Jack says, filling them in as the redirect their course toward the garage. "It looks like they're moving out."
Over Martha's shoulder, the Doctor and River exchange a glance. It's only a second, but Jack has a feeling the same conversation in words would take hours. He chances a look at Martha, who seems similarly on edge, and Jack gives her a sympathetic nod. They both know. They've both been there, and though they've moved on - or at least Martha has - there's still that ache that clenches every time the Doctor moves around River and lets his hand trail across her back, or she leans into his personal space and he doesn't move away; when they share a look, just one look, that says everything they don't wish to speak aloud.
Martha clears her throat and the Doctor jumps. River smirks, and Jack raises his eyebrows.
"Come on," Martha says, yanking open the driver's side door of the closest Jeep. "We've got aliens to catch."
"Well," the Doctor whispers, scratching his cheek as he surveys the machinery in front of them, "the good news is the nest isn't actuallya nest."
"What is it?"
"It's sort of a nest, if a nest catered more toward adults and had less to do with child rearing and more to do with feeding and hierarchies and training of adolescent hunters to...well...hunt, I suppose, so in that case I guess you could say it's less a nest and more of a hive, really. Or a pack."
"A hive," Martha repeats.
"Well, I say hive..." The Doctor scans the console again.
Martha shakes her head. "How is that the good news?"
"It's good news because the Dracnoi don't develop speech until their early two-hundreds, so most of them will be able to understand us and we can possibly work out some sort of arrangement."
"And the bad news?" Jack asks warily.
"The bad news is they seem to have taken remnants of abandoned alien and human technology in order to make a biatomic interaxel sub-fusion engine."
"I swear you just made that up," Jack says, at the same time River looks away from the door for the first time since arriving.
"Tell me it's not Hilon-based."
"Ah..." The Doctor leans over and licks the console. Martha groans in disgust and Jack shakes his head. "It's Hilon-based."
River mutters something under her breath in what is decidedly not English, and the Doctor nods in agreement.
"Care to fill us in?" Jack snaps, and they both have the decency to look guilty.
"Sorry. Ah, yes, Hilon gas, not from around here, tends to blow large craters in things during liftoff."
"Things as in the Earth?"
"Quite possibly, yes. But! Lucky for you lot I just so happen to have..." He roots around in his jacket pocket and starts laying things out on the console. "A torch, two bits of playdough, a mouth organ - shut up- four Jammie Dodgers - yuck, stale! - aaaand," He rifles even deeper. "Ah ha! Safety pins."
Martha shrugs. "Well, you've saved the world with less."
The Doctor makes a face at that, but she ignores him, moving toward the entrance to find the strongest signal to contact UNIT. The Doctor puts Jack in charge of guarding the tunnels while River sorts through the leftover technology in search of something useful. Martha joins her a few minutes later, dropping to her knees to help.
It's mostly silent, save for the occasional shuffle and muted crash caused by the Doctor, and Martha keeps peering over her shoulder at him while he works.
"He's certainly not as...graceful as the last time I saw him," she whispers to River.
"He's all limbs this go around, bless."
"You've met him before? Before this regeneration, I mean."
River nods. "Once, by accident. I ambushed him on Asgard with a picnic, thinking I'd be getting an older version." She purses her lips in fond exasperation, and throws Martha a meaningful glance. "A mucholder version."
Martha laughs in surprise. "You booty called the Doctor?"
"As often as possible."
"And she never invites me," Jack pitches in, still keeping his voice lowered. "Shame, really. You don't know what you're missing."
"I think I have a pretty good idea," River tosses back.
Jack attempts to waggle his eyebrows. "Want a demonstration?"
"I'll call you."
"I know you will."
"So I have already."
"I'll take that as a yes."
"Take it any way you like."
"Oh, I definitely will."
Martha stifles a laugh as the Doctor moves over to them, positioning himself between Jack and River. "Stop it, both of you! This is serious Earth-saving alien business, and I can't concentrate with all your-your-your eyes and your flirting and your-your-your-"
"What? No! There's tension? There's no tension! She's married and you're-you're-you're Jack!"
Jack grins. "He's so easy."
"Oh, don't you wish," River murmurs.
"You've no idea."
The Doctor huffs. "I'm right here, you know!"
Simultaneously: "We know."
The Doctor sighs, but his lips curve up in the slightest of smiles. "Impossible," he mutters.
"You like it."
"No, I don't." He turns to Jack. "Guard the door."
Jack gives a mock salute, and when the Doctor turns his back, rolls his hips provocatively. Martha chuckles quietly and River returns her attention to the tech, every so often setting something aside for later use. The Doctor has positioned himself under the console with the playdough and safety pins, rewiring and sonicing. River peers over at him every so often, her expression always the same.
Martha hesitates. "Before, you said you and the Doctor travel in opposite directions. What does that mean?"
"It's complicated," River says after a pause, "Mostly, our lives are back to front. Things he's yet to do, I've already done. Same for him, though it's a bit different."
"You said you've known him all your life."
River nods, picking up the scorched remains of a laser gun and dusting it off. "I met him once, when I was very, very young. I don't really remember it."
Martha nods, silently mulling over her words, watching as she handles each weapon with ease and precision. It should worry her, Martha knows, that someone so comfortable with violence could be with the Doctor. She wonders if he knows, if he's seen this side of her. If it matters this time around. But there's something in her eyes, in the lines around her mouth, in the way she peers at him out of the corner of her eye; the way she guards him, protective but never suffocating, that Martha can't help but respect.
She sighs and reaches for a large piece of keyboard. "There's a rumour, you know," she says quietly. "About him."
River chuckles. "There are lots of rumours about him."
"I know, but this one..." Martha hazards a glance over her shoulder, then leans in. "They said he died. For good. When I called, I wasn't sure..." She flinches, trailing off, and then jumps when River places a cold hand over hers.
"He'll always be here for you," she says gently. "All of time and space. He's never truly gone."
Martha nods, about to ask, when Jack moves from the doorway quickly. "Guys, I think we've got company."
From under the console: "'Ree 'ore 'inutes!"
Down in the tunnels, a sharp scratching sound grows louder, and River is already on her feet, gun in hand, one of the discarded but apparently functional weapons over her shoulder. "You may not have that, sweetie."
"'Eal the 'oor!"
River rolls her eyes but moves swiftly to help Jack barricade the door, while Martha hurries to check for other entrances.
"There's one here!"
Jack curses, but it's too late. Three large, scaly creatures burst through the door, knocking Martha to the side. They screech, rearing up on back legs and towering over them as the Doctor scrambles out from underneath the console.
"No, no wait wait wait! We're here to help!" He follows it up with a strange, mimicked sound, guttural and high bitched, and Jack winces.
River smirks. "You should hear him in bed."
"That an invitation?"
Whatever River intends to say is cut off by a long wail, as one of the Dracnoids pushes forward, tail swiping angrily behind it.
"Watch the claws!" the Doctor calls, dodging just in time.
"I take it they aren't open to negotiations?" Jack hollers back, ducking.
"Well, it's either negotiations or annihilation."
Martha scrambles out of the way and positions herself between Jack and River. "How do you get those mixed up?"
"They don't have consonants; it's very confusing!" His voice swings up to a high yelp as he jumps out of the way of a claw. Behind them, the door bursts open and three more enter, circling around the room, trapping them in the middle. "Aaah okay. Right." The Doctor scratches his cheek. "This could be better."
"Can we start shooting yet?" Jack hollers, barely managing to push Martha out of the way of a large set of jaws.
"No! No shooting, don't start that! They're just scared!" He tries again to speak to them, waving his arms urgently. River keeps one eye on him at all times, blaster extended with her finger on the trigger.
"And angry!" Jack points out.
Martha gasps. "If these are the children, then where're the parents?"
On cue, a loud rumble rises up from the tunnels, and Jack glares. "Oh, you just had to ask, didn't you?"
Scurrying back into the circle, the Doctor brandishes his sonic like a weapon. River moves so they're back to back, each watching the Dracnoids as they whine and scrape at the floor.
"What are they doing?" Martha asks.
The Doctor swallows tightly as an even larger, toothier creature enters the room, sliding in like a snake and then unfurling to its full height, towering over them. "Waiting for mummy."
"We have got to get out of here."
"We can't lead them to the surface," Martha interjects, calling on the radio for backup. "Doctor!"
His eyes light up. "River! Bogota!"
"I haven't done Bogota!"
"How can you not have done Bogota! It was after New New China!"
"I haven't done that either!"
He leans in closer, still shouting over the hiss of the Dracnoids. "But you did the thing with the- the- the- tongues and thingsand- you have to have done Bogota!"
"Well, be sure to take me when I'm younger, then!"
"You were younger!"
River dodges a tail. "Obviously not!"
"Are they always like this?" Martha gasps, ducking out of the way.
Jack nods. "Always."
"Sweetie, look out!"
The Doctor looks up just in time to see a sweeping tail. He blinks, and the next thing he knows he's on the ground. Jack stands over him, firing at the creature, and Martha screams, a short, restrained cry, and rushes to where he's fallen. "Doctor! Are you okay?"
He scrambles to his feet, holding on to her arm as he whirls around. "River!"
At the far end of the room is a body, so still. His lungs freeze and he's running before he realises it, at her side and rolling her over onto her back, brushing her hair away from her face. Her eyes are closed, and there's a smear of blood around her temple.
"No, no, no, River, River, dear, can you hear me? River?" He shakes her lightly, patting her face, running his hands over her skin. "Martha!" The cry is strangled, helpless, and Martha throws a quick look at Jack before darting over to them, dropping to her knees.
"Is she all right?"
"She's unconscious, I think she hit her head, I-" His hands still over her waist, and he pushes her shirt up quickly, the colour draining from his face. Her skin is dark, bruised with a tinge of orange. "No. Oh, no."
"What is it? What's wrong?"
Moving her gently, he runs his hands over her back. Her shirt's been torn, and there's a deep gash in the skin. "We have to get her back to the TARDIS."
"Her skin's already starting to turn, we don't have much time. Jack, I need your vortex manipulator!"
"Little busy here, Doc!"
The Doctor's voice shakes. "Now!"
Martha places her ear just above River's lips, her fingers on the pulse point in her wrist, and nods. "She's still breathing."
The Doctor cradles her to his chest, repeatedly brushing her blood-matted hair away from her face. Her skin is clammy and hot, and Martha's eyes widen as she realises the colour from the puncture wound is spreading down her arms and across her neck. "Come on, River, hold on. Hold on."
Behind them, the creatures' shrill cries echo through the metal walls as Jack does his best to hold them off. They're too big to attack more than one at a time, thankfully, but he's outnumbered, and Martha is torn between helping him and the Doctor.
Finding a lull, Jack tears the vortex manipulator off his wrist and tosses it to the Doctor. "Here!"
He turns to Martha and snaps it around her wrist. "Take her back to the TARDIS, Jack and I will finish here; on the console, press the green button next to the sledge hammer, there's an injection, get it to her as fast as possible-"
"I thought you said it wasn't deadly to humans?"
"She's not human!"
"What? How can she not be human, she-"
"Just do it, Martha!" he snaps, and when she catches his gaze sees for the first time pure fear. "Please."
She nods, and the Doctor quickly sonics the manipulator, locking it to the TARDIS. Transferring River's weak frame into her arms, he watches as they disappear in a crackle of electricity. He stands frozen, just for a moment, muscles tight and hearts pounding. On the floor near his feet is River's blaster, and he picks it up, holding it tightly in his grasp.
"A little help here!" Jack calls, and the Doctor snaps back, tucking the weapon into his trousers as he skids back into the circle, dodging teeth and claws as he dives on the console. Grabbing the harmonica, he takes a deep breath and produces a long, loud note. The Dracnoids cower back, shaking their heads and wailing at the sounds as the Doctor plays higher and higher notes.
"Doctor, I think that's good," Jack says, watching as they coil into themselves. The Doctor doesn't seem to hear him, and finally Jack snatches the instrument from his hands.
The Doctor rounds on him, but Jack shakes his head. "She wouldn't want that," he says softly.
The Doctor swallows tightly, his anger deflating as he takes in the pained creatures around him, all of them hissing and whimpering. He nods once to Jack, a gruff, silent thank you, and Jack shrugs.
"Besides," he says with a grin, "'Death by mouth organ' isn't something you want to add to your repertoire."
Electricity crackles as they appear in the TARDIS, and Martha immediately jumps up, scouring the console for the green button. Locating it, she slams her hand down and the TARDIS immediately whirs; a compartment opens beneath the console, and Martha grabs the package, crouching at River's side as she unrolls the vial and needle, swiftly and expertly preparing the injection. She mutters a quick apology, then plunges the needle into River's thigh. "Come on, come on, come on."
River doesn't move, and Martha lowers her ear to her lips. Nothing. No sound or breath. Martha curses and begins CPR, murmuring after every shared breath, "Come on, please. He needs you. Please."
The colour has stopped spreading, but she's still so warm, her face flushed and her skin damp with sweat. Martha presses her hands over one heart, then the other. "Come on, damn it, wake up!"
Inhaling, Martha tilts River's head back again and breathes, counting the seconds. She pulls back when River coughs suddenly, shifting away, hands reaching out blindly. Martha grabs her wrist but loosens her hold when River whimpers, and she hushes her softly.
"Hey. Hey, I've got you, you're all right."
"He's fine," Martha assures her.
River pries her eyes open, already halfway to a sitting position. "I have to get back-"
"You're not going anywhere."
She shakes her head and grits her teeth through the pain. Her whole body feels bruised, her skin hot and her hearts racing. The room spins, but she tries to shake Martha off. "No, I have to-"
"River!" Martha grabs her around the waist as she falls, and River cries out, a short, sharp sound that she immediately tries to hide. "River, you can't, you need to stay here."
River inhales deeply, trying to still her mind. Everything's blurry and her head is aching but it doesn't matter. "He needs me. I need-" She gasps, grabbing Martha's arm as another wave of pain rolls over her. Her vision goes black and then wavers, inky and wet, and she shoves Martha away weakly.
"He told me-"
"I'll be fine, go help him."
Martha shakes her head. "I'm not leaving you."
"The antidote is already combating the poison, there's nothing else you can do here, and he needs you."
"I promised him I'd look after you," Martha says, reluctantly helping River move across the floor so she can lean against the chair. "Now stop moving and let me see that wound."
"You're shaking." Martha pulls her jacket off and drapes it over River's legs. Pulling her shirt up to the middle of her back, Martha inspects the puncture marks, still dark purple and orange. "The progression has stopped, but it isn't getting better."
River tries to wave her off. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters to him so it matters to me, now shut up and let me help you!"
River coughs, the sound mixing with a grating laugh, and breathes in quick, sharp breaths. "Knew I liked you."
Martha glares. "There should be something in the med bay. Don't move," she warns, "I'll be right back."
River shakes her head. "No time. We have to get-" She moans and squeezes her eyes shut. "We have to get back."
"I'm not leaving you," Martha insists again.
"No," River murmurs, "TARDIS."
"We'll take the TARDIS."
Martha stares at her incredulously. "I can't fly it!"
"I can." River opens her eyes, and shakily points to a lever on the console. "Push that so the yellow light comes on. There's a switch on the other side of the console, throw that, then move the zig-zag plotter three notches."
Martha hesitates, then jumps up. Speaking quietly, River walks her though it, step by step, issuing coordinates and directions from the floor, watching with a weak smile as Martha dances around the console. The TARIDS wheezes, and River strokes the floor, cool beneath her touch. Martha throws the last lever and the TARDIS rematerializes, and with it, envelopes Jack and the Doctor into the control room.
Jack whirls, confused, and Martha grins. "I did it. I flew the TARDIS!" Jack laughs at her exuberance, rushing to her and swinging her around in a circle.
"Oh, if only you weren't married, Martha Jones."
"Like that's ever stopped you before," she teases, elated. Then she sees the Doctor, crouched over River, shaking her shoulder, and she freezes.
"River. River, darling, can you hear me?" He cups her cheek gently in his palm. "River?"
Martha swallows tightly. "She was fine. I gave her the antidote." She says it like a question, almost a prayer, and the Doctor nods.
"It doesn't always-" He cuts himself off. "River. Come on, please," he whispers, lips against her ear. "Come on, dear."
So softly he barely hears it: "You don't have to shout, sweetie. I'm not deaf."
Martha and Jack sigh in relief, and the Doctor gives River a stern look. "Don't ever do that again."
"No promises," she whispers, fumbling for his hand.
The Doctor closes his eyes and leans his forehead to hers. "River-"
"It's okay," she murmurs, stroking her thumb across the back of his wrist. She can feel his hearts beating against hers, their rhythm guiding hers, slowing her pulse. She breathes in time with him, and the Doctor waits until she squeezes his hand in reassurance before he moves away.
"Oh," the Doctor breathes, glancing at River as he reads the scanner, "Oh, you mad, brilliant woman."
He grins, grabbing Martha in a quick hug. "Brilliant Martha!" He moves to Jack. "Brilliant Jack!" Spinning, he strokes a hand over the cloister bell as he slides around the console. "Brilliant TARDIS!"
"What happened?" Martha asks again, following him.
The Doctor almost preens, nodding in River's direction. "She had you extend the air shield around the TARDIS and converted it to trap the Dracnoids."
"Like a net?"
"No, it's not a net! It's not a net at all! It's a four dimensional compression field with an external barrier that automatically resizes and repositions anything within its shell in order to lock their bio-signatures to the TARDIS so they can travel safely on the hull." Martha and Jack raise their eyebrows simultaneously, and the Doctor huffs. "All right, fine, it's a net. Point is, they're trapped."
"Then so are we."
"Wrong! We'll just take them with us."
"Take them where?"
Martha frowns. "Why didn't we just do that in the first place?"
Without looking at one another, the Doctor and River both answer: "Too easy."
Jack rolls his eyes. "You really are married, aren't you?"
The Doctor smiles, peering around the console as he eases the TARDIS into the Vortex. "Across all of time and space."
"Such a romantic," River murmurs.
Crouching beside her, he carefully slips his arm under her shoulders and lifts her to her feet. She stumbles, leaning into him heavily. Jack moves to help, but the Doctor shoots him a quick glance and shakes his head. "Come on. Let's get you to bed."
River smirks. "My favourite place."
The Doctor rolls his eyes. "Not like that."
"Always like that, my love."
Throwing a blushing look over his shoulder at Martha and Jack, the Doctor mutters under his breath, half embarrassed and half proud, "Well, yeah."
River laughs softly as they slowly make their way down the hall, her head against his shoulder and an arm around his back. Jack turns away, and Martha rests a hand on his shoulder. "We've all been there," she says, but Jack shakes his head.
"It's not that."
Martha frowns. "What's wrong?"
Jack hesitates. He takes the vortex manipulator back, fiddling with the strap as he secures it around his wrist, absently running his fingers over the leather band.
"It's the first time - in a long time - that I've seen him this happy," he says quietly. Martha flinches, and Jack gives her a small, understanding smile. "God knows I wish it were me, but..." He trails off, staring intently down at his hands for a long moment before he meets her gaze. "She's going to die soon. I saw it, in the future."
"How do you think?"
Martha looks away, remembering the last half hour, the way she'd struggled to get up, to fight, to go back to him though she could barely breathe, let alone move. The way she protected him, guarded him, saved him when he couldn't - or wouldn't - save himself. "Can we tell him?" she asks, "Maybe he could-"
Jack shakes his head. "Too much foreknowledge. Besides," he murmurs, "I think he already knows."
Martha wants to ask, but before she can find the words, the Doctor comes skidding back into the room, his face flushed. He avoids their gaze, bonding up to the console instead and shocking the TARDIS into flight. Jack rolls his eyes and needles him, "Ditching us for a quickie? Doctor, I've never been more proud."
"A quick what?" He frowns, scratching his cheek. Jack grins. The Doctor blushes even more. "No! No, we weren't - that's all humany and-and-and- balloons and other- we don't- stop it."
"Balloons?" Martha laughs.
She shakes her head. "You are a strange one this go around."
"Strange and repressed," Jack adds helpfully. "We could fix that, you know. Give me an hour."
"More like five minutes," the Doctor mutters, and Jack laughs.
"Ah, so she is teaching you! Excellent. I thought I was going to have to come supervise."
"Not that you wouldn't enjoy it."
"Oh, greatly, Doctor. You've got yourself a hell of a woman."
The Doctor smiles, pure joy tempered by fear and trepidation. Instead of replying, he swings himself around the console and lands the TARDIS with a shudder. Pushing an orange button, a sharp hiss comes from outside, and the Doctor hurries down the stairs and throws open the door, watching as the Dracnoids lope away toward the tree line.
"Dracnoids home on their planet, humanity safe." He slings one arm around Martha's shoulder, one around Jack's and grins smugly. "You should call me more often."
Martha punches him in the shoulder.
The Doctor drops them back at UNIT headquarters, hovering outside the TARDIS as Martha checks in with her team. Jack stays next to him, arms folded across his chest, studying him intently. The Doctor shifts under his gaze, nodding toward the group of soldiers.
"You work with them, now?"
Jack shrugs. "Sometimes. When they need it." He follows the Doctor's gaze to Martha. "She's doing great."
He smiles. "She's always great."
Jack throws a backwards glance into the TARDIS. "Will she be all right?"
"River?" The Doctor waves a hand carelessly, but his expression is distant. "She'll be fine."
"I'm always fine."
Jack laughs shortly. "You're a terrible liar, Doctor."
The Doctor straightens his bow tie. "I'm a brilliant liar."
"Whatever you say," Jack mutters as Martha walks back over to them, smiling.
The Doctor grins, shoves off the TARDIS and wraps his arms around her shoulders tightly. "Martha Jones! Saving the world again."
She laughs, hugging him back tightly. "Just Bexley."
The Doctor grins, pushing her back to hold her at arm's length, fingers curled around her shoulders.
"Thank you. For everything."
"Anytime." Martha hesitates, staring at him intently. "Who is she, Doctor?" she asks softly.
The Doctor swallows. "She's a Time Lord. Or part Time Lord, at any rate."
"Why didn't she just regenerate?"
"She can't. She - she doesn't have any left."
Martha's chest tightens at his words, their ramifications. "I'm sorry."
"So am I," he whispers. Then he smiles, a bright, silly smile just for her. "You're brilliant," he says gently, "Every day, every moment, you, Martha Jones, are brilliant."
It's an apology, she knows, a soft, tender-spoken apology, and she swallows tightly. "You're not so bad yourself, you know." Leaning up, she presses a kiss to his cheek. "I'm glad you found someone," she says honestly. "You deserve to be happy."
The Doctor smiles, but it doesn't meet his eyes, and Martha knows he'll never believe her. She hugs him again regardless, bottling down all her questions, keeping her lips pressed firmly together over the secrets she shouldn't know.
"Don't waste it, yeah?" she murmurs. "However it ends..." She pulls back and smiles. "She loves you. Let her."
The Doctor nods once and squeezes her arm before stepping back. Martha gives Jack a mock salute. "I'll see youlater, mister."
"Anytime. Every time, really. And if you get sick of that husband of yours..."
Martha laughs. "I know where to find you."
Giving the Doctor one last look, Martha turns back to the compound,
"Doctor." Before he can protest, Jack wraps his arms around the Doctor's shoulders in a warm hug. "God you're bony."
"You're a giraffe. All legs." He steps back to look the Doctor up and down. "I like it."
"You like everything."
"What can I say? I'm versatile."
The Doctor pats his shoulder. "And so much more. It was good to see you."
"You too, Doc."
The Doctor inclines his head toward the TARDIS. "Better go."
"Gotta take care of the missus," Jack agrees, then stops him before he can fully enter the door. "If you hurt her, regeneration will be the least of your problems, clear?"
The Doctor nods stiffly, eyes clouded with regret. "Understood, Captain."
Jack releases his arm and gives a bright smile. The Doctor laughs, shaking his head, and points a finger at him as he ducks back inside. Once the door is closed, and the TARDIS is in flight, the Doctor braces himself against the console and exhales. His arms are shaking just slightly, his mind still reeling. Behind closed eyes, he can still see the blood in her hair, the pallor of her skin; can still feel his hearts racing, panicked and helpless. The TARDIS hums under his palms, doing her best to calm him. The Doctor strokes the console in return.
"Thanks, old girl," he whispers. "Thank you."
The TARDIS whirs gently. The Doctor straightens, tugging off bow tie as he makes his way down the hall, back toward his room. River's still asleep, passed out from the pain reliever he put in her tea. He'd managed to convince her to change her clothes and lie down 'for a moment,' though he has a feeling she wasn't entirely deceived, and it worries him how easily he managed to convince her. How much pain she had to be in to let him.
Shaking away the thought, he moves into the washroom, fills a shallow bowl with water and returns with it and a washcloth, setting them both on the nightstand. Pulling off his boots, jacket, and braces, the Doctor sits on the edge of the bed next to her and carefully cleans the cut on her forehead, occasionally murmuring to her when she stirs fitfully.
Moving on to her side, he carefully unbuttons her shirt - his shirt, he notes bemusedly - and leans over her to check the punctures. They're fading, faster than they would on a human but still too slowly for his liking. The discoloration is still visible around her neck, along her side and over her back and stomach, but by some miracle, it didn't reach her hearts.
River stirs under his touch, her eyes fluttering open. She hums softly, smiling. "Much more fun if we're both awake."
The Doctor huffs fondly, shaking his head. "How are you feeling?"
"Better," she says automatically. He presses on her side, and she winces.
She closes her eyes and leans into him, her face pressed against his thigh. "I'm all right."
He clenches his jaw, fingernails digging into his knee even as he strokes her side gently. "I don't have to tell you how monumentally stupidthat was."
"I'd prefer if you didn't."
Shifting, she struggles into a half-upright position and takes his hand from his knee, unfurling it between her own. "I'm not going to apologise, Doctor," she says gently. "And I can't tell you it won't happen again."
"I can regenerate, River," he says bitterly. "You can't. You can't take these kinds of risks."
"I can, and I will, if it keeps you safe."
The Doctor struggles, fighting the urge to shake her and make her see. "River."
Squeezing his hand, she pulls him down onto the bed with her, resting her head on his chest and curling herself into his side. "You're not going to win this one, my love."
"I never win," he grouses, bringing his free hand up to comb through her hair.
"As it should be."
Swallowing tightly, the Doctor shakes his head, gripping her hand as tight as he dares. "You could have died."
He sighs exasperated. "Melody Pond," he mutters, intent on scolding her; but she looks up, and her eyes are so bright, her smile so soft, her face so full of love and trust and hopethat he can't bear to take it away; can't spend another moment hurting her when all she's ever done is care. Pressing a kiss to her forehead, he runs his hand gently over her back beneath her shirt, careful to avoid the wound as it heals. "My River Song," he murmurs. "Why do you have to be this?"
She presses her lips against shoulder. "Because I love you," she says, because she can. Here, with him, in this moment, they're words she can dare to say, and knows he won't run.
"River," he starts, licking his lips anxiously. "You know that I-"
She lifts and kisses his jaw. "I know, sweetie."
Crooking a finger under chin, he ducks down and kisses her, soft and lingering.