Warnings: Spoilers up to and including 'The Wedding of River Song' and the 'Night and the Doctor' minisodes for Doctor Who. And AU for the end of season 3 of Stargate Atlantis.
Author's Note: Thanks to the ever so wonderful csiangel for the beta job, and to quiet_jay for the amazing art!
"Tick tock goes the clock..."
She woke up with a start, the old nursery rhyme stuck in her head.
She hadn't heard it in years, but it had never left her. She still remembered it. One part of her knew that she could never forget it, even though every part of her wished she could.
It was a reminder of one of the worst moments of her life, and she could never erase it. Time can't be rewritten.
Arms wrapped up around her from behind, and she startled, before remembering who it was, and where she was. Her breathing and heartbeat started to calm down with this realisation. She was safe; nothing and no one could hurt her here. He wouldn't allow it. They wouldn't allow it.
"It was just a nightmare," he reassured her with a soothing voice.
For a second, she was tempted to believe him. But deep down inside her, she knew it was anything but a nightmare. It was a memory. One she had hoped would never come back to haunt her. But she had been wrong; she would never be left alone.
She felt him pressing a kiss in her hair, and couldn't stop the small smile from stretching her lips; he would always have a soft spot for her hair. She let herself be soothed by the hand he was running in her hair. He brushed strands away from her shoulder to kiss the skin there.
Her eyes closed at the sensation, her back relaxing against his bare chest. He always knew how to help her let go of the day's worries when they found their way to each other at night.
She sat up, her back completely straight, her eyes snapping open as the nursery rhyme came back to the front of her mind. She felt him tense behind her, and for one second, she wanted to laugh it off. But she knew he wouldn't buy it; he knew her too well by now.
"What is it?" he asked, tightening his hold on her, as if he was afraid she would disappear.
"Just an old memory that I thought I had buried a long time ago."
"Do you want to..."
"I'm fine," she cut him off, not wanting to talk about it.
"Are you sure?"
"No," she admitted with a sigh. "But nothing can be done about it."
She shushed him and forced him to lie back down on the bed before doing the same. She rested her head on his chest, just above his heart. She was safe here in Atlantis, with John. They couldn't get to her, here.
"Tick tock goes the clock
'Till River kills the Doctor"
River woke up with a start; the sound of the TARDIS materialising took away the remnants of her dream. She got up from her bed and grabbed her diary as the blue door opened.
"Hello dear," the Doctor said, pointing his sonic screwdriver at her cell door to unlock it.
She was careful to sway her hips as she walked towards her husband. She smiled widely as he gulped audibly. He was still young enough to be embarrassed by all the flirting, and she hoped that neither of them would grow too old for that.
"Where are you taking me tonight?" she asked as she stopped just before him.
"What? No 'I've missed you'? No 'good to see you'? No welcome kiss?" he concluded, as she wondered when he would get to that.
"If you insist," she replied with a pout.
But both knew that he didn't have to insist for her to kiss him.
He cupped her face in his hands and leant down to brush his lips against hers. She smiled against his lips, and deepened the kiss. She knew they wouldn't let themselves go. It didn't matter that he probably extended the TARDIS perception filter around them, they were still in the middle of a corridor in Stormcage; they couldn't risk anyone finding out about their little secret.
Breaking the kiss, she pushed past him to enter the TARDIS. The familiar hum welcomed her as she stepped inside. She sent a thought to the ship, and put her hand on the time rotor.
"I'm still amazed," the Doctor said, coming to stand beside her.
"The link you two share. This should have given me a hint about who you really were. She loved all my previous companions, but there has always been something special about you. I should have known. You're her child."
"I'm sure future me and the TARDIS concealed everything from you so you wouldn't know before it was time."
She thought for a moment about this future version of her, the one who will know the past version of him. She could only guess how hurtful it would be for her not to have this man trust her completely, implicitly. She was sure she would die a little every time, even if she had her memories to hold onto.
"What are you thinking about?"
"I'm trying to guess where you will take me tonight," she replied, even though she knew he would easily spot the lie.
"Well, I thought we could let the TARDIS decide for us, this time," he said, not calling her on the lie. "She loves taking us where we have to be."
"Why not? At the very least, if she's the one choosing our destination, there will be less risk of us running into trouble."
"Oh but dear, you love running into trouble," he replied, running a hand up and down her arm. "It's funnier this way, you've said it yourself."
"I do, sweetie. But that doesn't mean we have to, every single time," she said, rising to her tiptoes to kiss his lips.
"Well, we could stay here, too," he suggested, putting his hands on her hips. "The risk of us running into trouble would be considerably lessened."
"This is tempting," she replied, as he started to kiss his way down her neck. "But you've promised me an adventure."
"Oh, trust me: this will be an adventure, too. Your parents are asleep, we have the TARDIS to ourselves..."
She pushed him away from her, and couldn't help her smile as she saw the surprise written on his face. She would make it up to him later, but right now, she was curious as to where the old girl was planning on taking them.
"I'm going to change. Why don't you release the commands to the TARDIS, in the meantime?" she added, as she saw that he still wasn't moving.
Though he said it under his breath, she heard it clearly, but chose not to call him on it. After all, he was partly right; she was evil when it came to flirting with him.
She left the control room and walked towards the wardrobe, knowing that the ship would have clothes suitable for where she was taking them ready for her.
She was alone. Again.
She was in a new school, and another school year was beginning, but she already knew that it would turn out like the ones before that.
The other children didn't understand her, they never did, and they probably never would. No one understood her, not even the adults. They were all careful around her because she was different. She didn't choose to be different; she had never even wanted to be different. If she had a choice, she wanted to be like any other kids of her age; but she never was and never would be. From the moment she was born, she was different. Unique.
The children at her new school wouldn't be any different than the ones before. This time, she didn't even try to get to know them. Her past experiences taught her that it wouldn't turn out well. She was better off on her own from the very beginning; this was how she would end up anyway. Maybe this time, though, they wouldn't point and talk about her as if she couldn't hear. Deep inside her though, she had no illusions that it wouldn't happen anyway; but maybe it would minimize her pain when it did.
She sat under a tree, pretending to read a book when she was actually observing her new environment. It was what she had learned to do whenever she was facing a new situation: observe and assess the threats it could pose. For the moment, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. As their instincts told them, the other children were keeping away from her, not even sparing her a glance. Not even adults were paying her attention. She liked it this way.
She had realised a long time ago that she wasn't supposed to act like that. She had realised that she received a training other children of her age didn't. By the age of six, when most kids were learning to read, she had to assess combat situations. But that was in another lifetime. She wasn't sure she was supposed to remember it, but she did.
She wasn't anything like the children at this school. For one, she was older than them, she just didn't look like it. Regeneration, they had called it, when they explained how the Doctor could change his face. They had never told her she could do it, too. She didn't remember a lot from that night, just a bright gold light, and then, nothing. The memories of her previous self came back a couple of years later.
She had regenerated into a baby, and had started a new life. A lonely life. She grew up in foster homes, never to be adopted. She didn't know how, but she had kept her birth name, the name her mother had given her; she remembered her face from the photo she had, and she could hear a soft voice whispering words she couldn't make out. They had never found her, but she was still looking over her shoulder once in a while, sure that they would suddenly be there. She knew that her life as an 'ordinary' child would come to an end sooner or later; they would never give up their precious asset.
She sat, reminiscing over the past few years, but she still kept her eyes on the crowd before her eyes. Her thoughts were interrupted when she noticed a girl coming her way. She wondered for a second if she had been sent by other children to find out who she was, but a cursory look around the playground told her that no one was paying attention to either of them.
The girl stopped a few feet from her, and she wanted nothing more than to tell her to leave. She didn't want people trying to know her, because then, when they started talking behind her back – and they always did – it would hurt. But her past experiences had also taught her that the sooner she answered the questions from the other children, the sooner they would leave her alone.
Somehow, though, she knew that this time, it would be different. She took a second to observe the girl before her. She was about her age – well, the age she was supposed to have in this body – but apart from that, they couldn't look more different. While she had long dirty blond hair, the other girl had short black hair. She was obviously well-cared for, and for a second, envy coursed through her body; would it be the same for her if her parents were raising her? She pushed that thought away as soon as it came; thinking about what couldn't be would do her no good.
"What are you reading?" the other girl asked, as she sat down across from her.
"Little women," she heard herself answer, still surprised that this girl was talking to her.
"You're going to love it! I have the sequels. You can borrow them if you want."
She shrugged at this other girl's offer, not really sure what to make of it. Never had someone done something like that for her. She had understood that it was something common amongst the children to swap things, but it had never happened to her. It was strange to have this girl who didn't know her making that kind of offer.
"Are you new to this school, too? We've just moved here from Upstate. It's strange to be in the city. Have you always lived here?"
"The others are strange," the other girl continued. "I tried to talk to a few of them, but they just moved away. I guess that since we're both new, we should stick together. Can we?"
The girl seemed so hopeful that a part of her didn't want to disappoint her. She nodded, and returned the smile she was receiving. Maybe this time, it would really be different.
"I'm Melody," she replied, closing her book.
"Elizabeth. I'm sure we'll be great friends."
"Maybe it's one of the most peaceful planets out there, Elizabeth, but you, better than anyone else, know our track record. Can't you just translate the text from the videos Lorne and his team brought back?"
He didn't add that she would be safe here, in Atlantis, but she could hear it in his voice.
"I can, but there are some parts that are unreadable, and I need to see those ruins for myself."
"My team can go there and we'll make another video for you where you can see every little detail."
She had to resist hard to not roll her eyes at his offer. She knew, from the moment she had realised she would need to see the ruins to complete her translation, that John wouldn't like it. What reassured her was that it had nothing to do with the recent change in their relationship.
Ever since the incident with Niam that had sent her into a nanite-induced coma over two years ago, he had been wary to allow her off-world. Not that he had the last say in this particular matter; she was still the leader of this expedition, and while she would always take his opinion into consideration, the decision was hers to make.
And she told him exactly this, raising a hand to stop him before he could start protesting.
"Ok, then. But Lorne's team is coming with us, too."
"Major Lorne and his team already have another mission planned. I believe your team will be more than enough for an uninhabited planet with no known threat."
"It's the 'no known' part that I don't really like."
"I know, I know. But I'm not letting you out of my sight, you've been warned."
That she could accept; it was reasonable, and she knew he would do that for anyone in the expedition who didn't carry a weapon off-world.
"Now please, go get your team ready. We're leaving in half an hour."
She almost expected him to say something about leaving so soon, but he stayed silent. He would probably use those precious minutes to read Lorne's report about the planet, in order to be prepared for anything that might come at them. But she would be really surprised if they ran into any kind of trouble, even though the team seemed to attract it like a magnet.
He started to leave, but stopped when he reached the door, and turned back towards her.
"You're sure we can't ask another team..."
"No!" she stopped him before he could go any further.
She watched him leave and started to gather everything she would need for her trip off-world. She radioed Carson and informed him that he would be in charge, as the only member of the senior staff who was staying behind. She knew he didn't like it, but she expected little to no trouble at all during her absence. With both Rodney and John, her number one troublemakers, off-world with her, Atlantis should be safe.
With everything set, she left her office to go get ready to go off-world, too. It didn't happen very often, and she was still feeling a mix of excitement and fear at the thought. There was a part of her hoping that it would never go away.
She found John waiting for her in her quarters with her vest. She didn't need to check to know that the pockets contained everything she would need from power bars to stylus for her tablet. She could have stopped to get it herself before going to the Gateroom, but she appreciated his thoughtfulness.
"Thank you," she said, taking the vest from him and pecking his lips.
"Well, I'm going to let you change. Unless you need my help with something," he added as an afterthought.
"Go!" she ordered, trying but failing to hold back a smile; she was sure he would have been happy to help, but then, they would be terribly late, and it wouldn't do.
Once she was alone, she packed her backpack with her tablet, some books that would help her with the translation, and a couple of other things, including a change of clothes, just in case. She had made the mistake of not bringing one before, and had ended up covered in mud, no thanks to one John Sheppard. The trip back to the Gate was an uncomfortable one, and she made sure John knew she wasn't happy about it.
Quickly changing into a black t-shirt and off-world BDUs, she put on her vest and was about to grab her backpack when she thought she saw something in the corner of her eyes. She immediately turned towards it, and was relieved when she saw nothing unusual. Ever since she had that nightmare the night before, she had that strange feeling that something, someone, was watching her. She knew it wasn't rational, but she couldn't shake it off.
Shouldering her backpack, she left her room, hopeful that this mission would turn out to be useful. The text she had started to translate talked about the history of the planet, but some parts of the text were referring to something else she wasn't able to identify just yet. She hoped that the parts of the text that she couldn't read would talk about this. It could be nothing important, but it could turn out being vital for their fight against the Wraith and the Asurans.
When she reached the Gateroom, John and his team were already there, waiting for her. She tuned John's voice out, as she heard him start to give his team instructions about her safety coming first and foremost. They didn't need him to say it, they knew their job, but it still didn't surprise her. She looked up at the control room, and nodded at Chuck to dial the Gate.
As it slowly came to life before her eyes, she thought about what she would find beyond it. Ancient ruins, even in the Pegasus Galaxy, were always a rare treat, and she knew she was lucky to be able to see this one with her own eyes.
The wormhole appeared, and she followed John's team, stepping through with Teyla and Rodney at her sides, no doubt as per John's orders. From what she could see, the planet didn't look any different from plenty of others; the Gate was situated in the middle of a clearing, with woods surrounding it. It didn't look like people, aside from her teams, came here for quite some time, maybe not since the Ancients left this Galaxy ten thousand years ago.
It felt strange, knowing that they were amongst the first human beings stepping on this planet's soil in centuries, but it wasn't the first time it happened; planets and cities that were thriving when the Ancients were in Pegasus, were left to decay after their leave. Atlantis had been one of these, until her people came through the Gate.
"Well, Colonel, lead the way," she said, as she saw that John was waiting for her to take in her surroundings.
With the Ancient ruins being 20 minutes away from the Gate, she had plenty of time to observe the world around her.
The TARDIS materialised with the brakes on. River rolled her eyes at the Doctor's back as she entered the console room. She slung the small, but dimensionally transcendental, bag on her shoulder as she walked up the stairs. It hadn't taken her long to change into the pants and white top the ship had provided for her, but it looked like the Doctor started to be impatient as he was already waiting for her by the doors; he could be such a child sometimes.
She stopped beside the console for a moment. It always surprised her how different he could be from one minute to the next. He was one of the funniest and nicest people she ever met, but threaten one of his friends, and he was a danger, even to himself. If she didn't have Amy's stories, if she didn't get to know him and to what lengths he would go for his friends, she might still believe that the Church was right about him.
Shaking herself mentally out of this place in her mind, she smiled when the Doctor turned towards her, hopefully completely oblivious to what she had been thinking. Walking to him, she stole a quick glance at the screen, preferring her way to do an environmental check to the Doctor's, and joined him at the doors.
"So, where did she take us?"
"I don't know. She wouldn't tell me," he said, pouting just a bit. "Shall we?" he asked, opening the door for her.
They stopped right outside the TARDIS, letting the door close behind them. They had arrived right outside of what look like an archaeological site, though it hadn't probably been discovered just yet. River smiled at the sight before her; she could already guess what his next words would be.
"Oh, she clearly favours you!"
And she had been right on spot.
She didn't reply anything, knowing that it would be useless. Instead, she walked towards the ruins, wanting to know more about another long lost civilization. She could hear the Doctor following her a few steps behind. She knew archaeology wasn't his kind of thing, but he put up with it for her. He preferred to live History, and she had come to love it, too; she learned so much more from spending a few hours with a people than from visiting the ruins left after their disappearance.
She noticed writings on the walls, and wondered which civilization she was facing, and whether or not she had encountered it before. Maybe they could go back in time once she was done here, and see it for themselves. She was sure the TARDIS would indulge her.
Before she could get any closer to the wall, she heard footsteps and voices coming from their left. She turned to the Doctor without making a sound and saw that he had noticed it, too. Given the state of the ruins, she had thought this planet was uninhabited, but she had obviously been mistaken. They stood their ground, as it was too late for them to go back to the TARDIS without being noticed.
As the group of people came into view, they froze for a second, before raising their weapons at them: earth weapons for three of them, she noted, and one she didn't know for the tallest of them.
"No known threat, right!" she heard one of the men say quietly, before he raised his voice to them. "Who are you?"
"We could ask the same thing about you," she replied.
"Look, we're unarmed, so why don't you lower your weapons?" the Doctor said, raising his hands to show them that they were no threat.
"Oh yeah, no weapon? So what's that in her hands?"
The Doctor turned to look towards her, and saw the weapon she was aiming at the newcomers.
"Where did you get that?" he asked, his voice getting high and squeaky.
"It was in my bag," she answered, shrugging.
"She gave it to you? Oh she..."
"Sweetie," she interrupted him, "maybe we can go back to that, later," she said, never looking away from the group in front of them.
"Why don't you lower your weapon," the man said again, bringing back the Doctor's attention to him. "I don't know if you've noticed, but you're outnumbered anyway..."
River smiled widely and barely managed to hold back a laugh at his words.
"Oh don't worry about that. I could easily shoot down the five of you before any of you have time to pull the trigger."
"I really shouldn't find that hot," she heard her husband whisper.
She unsettled them, she realised, as she saw them gripping their weapons tighter. She wondered for a second if she would have to use her weapon against them. But before her thoughts could go any further, the unarmed woman put her hand on the man's arm, and stepped from behind him.
She wondered what would happen now.
Elizabeth knew that she had to take the matter in her own hands. She had been as surprised as the rest of the team to find other people standing in the ruins, and it had taken longer for her to recover from it.
She saw things slowly escalate, and she knew she had to step in before they went any further. She put her hand on John's arm, and felt him barely stiffen under her touch; he knew what she was about to do without her even saying it out loud. And he didn't like it, that much she was sure of.
She slowly stepped from behind her military commander to place herself, with her hands raised, in front of him. No surprise showed on the two strangers' faces, but she knew that for the moment, she had the upper hand. Now, she just needed to use her negotiating skills to the best.
"We're peaceful explorers," she started. "We came here to take a look at these ruins."
"We're here for the same reason," the man replied.
"Good. Why don't we work side by side, then?" she offered.
Elizabeth watched as the two shared a look, before the woman slowly lowered her weapon. She intimated John and his team to do the same, and was relieved that things got resolved so easily.
"You're from Earth," the woman said, provoking surprise among the Lanteans.
"How do you know that?" Rodney exclaimed, instead of trying to deny it as they should have done.
"These weapons are from Earth. From here, I'd say P-90 and Beretta 92 from the early 21st century. This," she said, gesturing to Ronon's gun, "is clearly from a completely different planet, though. I never came across one like this, before."
"Who are you, people?" John asked, coming to stand beside Elizabeth.
"I'm the Doctor, and this is River Song. Hello."
"What kind of name is 'the Doctor'?" Ronon said, raising an eyebrow.
"A good name," the man just replied, outraged.
"What did you mean by 'early 21st century'?" Rodney interrupted Elizabeth before she could introduce herself and the team.
"Well..., we're not exactly from this time," the Doctor answered.
"Judging by your clothing, and the bowtie, I'd say you're from the sixties," John said, gesturing to the Doctor, and River barely stifled a laugh, "but I doubt they had developed time travel at this time. Not to mention that the Gate wasn't used at that time."
"First, bowties are cool, really cool. Tell them, River."
"Oh, you know how much I love this bowtie, Sweetie," she replied.
"I know you do," he said, straightening said bowtie before turning back towards the team. "Second, what's this Gate you mentioned?"
"The Stargate," John answered, and continued when he saw that they didn't know what he was talking about. "The Ring of the Ancestors? The big round thing in the clearing that can take you to other planets, and from where you came through?"
"Oh, they're still in use in this part of the universe? They're a bit boring," he added for River.
"If you don't know about the Stargate, and you're not from this planet, how did you come here?"
"We have a ship," the Doctor answered John's question with a shrug.
"We've introduced ourselves, but we still don't know who you are."
Elizabeth had to wonder for a second if the other woman's remark was made to prevent further questions about their ship. She was curious, and she guessed that Rodney and John were too. It was probably somewhere in orbit or on the opposite side of the ruins as they hadn't come across it during their walk from the Gate and she couldn't see it anywhere nearby.
"This is Colonel John Sheppard," she said, gesturing to the man at her side, before moving to the rest of the team. "Doctor Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan, and Ronon Dex. And I'm Doctor Elizabeth Weir."
Elizabeth noticed the surprise written on River Song's face, but it was gone a second later; if she hadn't been looking at her, she would have missed it. She wondered what prompted it; she had never met this woman before, but she reacted when Elizabeth introduced herself.
"Shall we start?" River offered before Elizabeth had time to ask.
In spite of her curiosity for the other woman, Elizabeth nodded at John, and followed her to the ruins. She didn't need to turn to know that he was following her, while his team was keeping an eye on this 'Doctor'.
"One of my teams already came here, and brought me some footage of the ruins. I've already deciphered a good part of the text about the history of the planet, but some parts of the text were unreadable. And... What the...?" she exclaimed, prompting John to put himself in front of her.
"What is it?"
"It's all in English," Elizabeth answered to John.
"But that's impossible. It was in Ancient!" Rodney exclaimed, stating the obvious.
"It's our ship," River started, and she knew that the Doctor almost interrupted her to clarify that it was his ship. "She has a translation matrix. Whatever the language, spoken or written, you'll hear and read it as yours."
"It's quite practical as not everyone in the universe speaks the same language," the Doctor added, though it wasn't needed.
"Wait a minute: she?" John asked, having noted the used of the pronoun. "Don't tell me she has a name too?"
"Oh, she does. Do you want to tell them what it is, Sweetie, or should I?"
"Sexy," he mumbled but loud enough for everyone to hear.
Elizabeth could barely contain her laughter, and as it was, her team all had huge smiles on their faces.
"Who would name a space ship 'Sexy'?" Rodney asked.
"Probably the same type of people naming a whale 'Sam'," John answered before the Doctor even had time to open his mouth to protest.
Knowing her two friends, Elizabeth knew that the conversation was about to deviate, and she didn't want that to happen in front of two strangers, and possible allies. She stalled Rodney's reply by putting a hand up, and turned towards River.
"Maybe we should get to work. And actually, this translation matrix is a good thing, as I'll be able to check if my translations were correct."
It would be a great advantage, she realised, as she could refine their ever growing Ancient-English dictionary, and surprise Daniel in doing so.
River smiled at her, and extended an arm to invite her to precede her inside the ruins.
It was only a couple of months after they first met at school that Melody realised that she had stopped looking over her shoulder. She hadn't noticed it at first, but now, she realised that she wasn't afraid that they would find her anymore. Nothing had changed really, except that for once, she had someone to watch her back. Elizabeth had said so one day after some kids had tried to bully her. Melody could have defended herself quite easily, but no one needed to know about that.
For the first time in her life, she had a friend, someone who cared about her. It was strange; she had never experienced that before. First in Florida, and then in New York, she was alone. Up until Elizabeth had walked to her in the playground; two newcomers at the school allied against the others.
What surprised Melody the most was that Elizabeth didn't ask for her story. She didn't pressure her to know about her life. Usually, the other children kept asking questions that she simply wouldn't answer, up until they walked away from her and never talked to her again. With Elizabeth it was different; she accepted her silence, and talked about her own family. Melody had understood early on that it wasn't to make her envious of her life, but because friends told each other these things. It was a concept Melody couldn't grasp before.
Before Elizabeth. It was strange how she now divided her life before and after someone. It had never happened before, as she had always been alone. Even in her previous life, she had never done that; there had never been a before and after them: they were always there. But now, she could, and she didn't want to go back to 'before'.
There were times when Melody wanted to talk to Elizabeth, to tell her story, but she held herself back every time. She knew that Elizabeth's impression of her would change if she did, she knew that she could lose her only friend. And she wasn't sure she could stand to be alone anymore.
"Melody?" Elizabeth's voiced jolted her out of her thoughts. "You were deep in thought. What were you thinking about?"
"Tomorrow's math test."
If Elizabeth saw through her lie, she didn't say anything. She just accepted that there were things she couldn't pry from her. It was new to Melody; even her foster families never understood her need for privacy, secrecy.
"Maybe you could help me? I didn't understand this," Elizabeth said, pointing at a problem.
Melody smiled; while Elizabeth was among the best students of the school, she always had a harder time to grasp scientific stuff. Melody, on the contrary, always understood them even before the teacher had finished explaining. It was as if it was already somewhere in the back of her mind, and she just needed something to prompt it to the front. No one but Elizabeth knew this, though; it was their secret.
She explained everything to Elizabeth in simpler terms, and she could see the moment her friend understood it.
"You'd make a good teacher one day, Melody."
It wasn't the first time her friend told her that, but she had always dismissed it. She knew it just wasn't in her future. Her future wouldn't be a happy one spent with friends and family, it just wasn't possible for her. She might have escaped them, she might have stopped looking over her shoulder, but she knew that it was only a matter of time before they found her. So, she would never become a teacher, of that she was sure.
"I'm glad I can help you," she only replied.
Teyla was wary of the two newcomers. They hadn't expected to encounter anyone, and especially not people like them. Even though they didn't say so explicitly, she could read in their body language that they were not like them. There was something else, something more with them, but she didn't know what.
What she knew for sure was that they weren't part of this galaxy. If they had been, people would have talked about them, and she would have heard about them one way or another. They didn't go unnoticed.
She shared a look with John, and nodded as she understood that he wanted her to keep an eye on this 'Doctor' while he stayed with Elizabeth and the woman. Ronon was stuck baby-sitting Rodney, as the scientist really shouldn't be left alone while off-world. As she returned her eyes to the Doctor, she saw that he was playing with a weird object, pointing it towards the ruins. She almost wanted to ask what he was doing, but she wasn't sure she wouldn't be stonewalled.
As she raised her eyes back to his face, she noticed he was looking at her, a smile on his face. She smiled back, and he took it as an invitation to walk towards her.
"It looks like your CO wants you to watch me. I can understand it. And he's probably right."
"Why? Are you dangerous?" she asked, joking a bit.
"I can be. Even for those I love."
If she had expected him to joke back in reply, she was taken aback when she saw in his eyes that he was dead serious. She couldn't help but wonder what could have happened for this man to believe that he was dangerous to his own friends. She noticed some sadness in his eyes, too; it was carefully concealed, and if she hadn't been so good at reading people, she would have missed it.
Instead of stepping away from him, as he probably expected her to, she came to his side. She almost wanted to put her hand on his shoulder, but she didn't know how he would react to it. So instead, she started to speak in a soft voice.
"There was a moment when I thought I would be a danger to my friends, and my people. We have these enemies, in this Galaxy, called the Wraith. Colonel Sheppard said that they were like vampires, but they suck the life out of you instead of blood. A Wraith scientist experimented on my ancestors, and I possess some Wraith DNA. It gives me the ability to feel them when they're close, but at one point, I thought that they would be able to control me. I was afraid I would end up hurting the ones I love."
"But you never did."
"No. But I almost convinced myself that it would be better if I left everything behind, and ran."
She had never admitted that to anyone, before. No one knew where her thoughts led her after she had found out about her 'gift'. But when her ability turned into an asset during the Siege, she had decided to stay and help her friends and her people the best way she could. And thus far, she hadn't regretted her decision. Nor did she regret her decision to hide this from her people; they didn't need to know that some of them possessed the DNA of their worst enemy.
"That's the difference between you and me. I have hurt my friends before, and I will hurt them again. But I don't walk away from them when there's still time."
She didn't know what to reply to that. She could see on his face that she wouldn't be able to convince him that he wasn't a threat to his friends. And maybe he was right, and he was; she didn't know him, and she might be mistaken, but she couldn't imagine him posing a danger to anyone.
"Take River, for example," he continued, without her asking him to. "She was separated at birth from her parents because my enemies wanted to create the perfect weapon against me. And they almost succeeded. The child of my best friends, and I couldn't do anything to stop them. I still can't, because changing her past would mean changing who she is now."
There was nothing she could say after this. She could see how it still tortured him, even though it obviously happened a long time ago. It also didn't surprise her when it revealed that he was older than he looked; she had already seen in his eyes that he was older and wiser than any of them.
"Why don't you tell me about these Ancients?" he asked, cheerfully.
The mood change almost gave her whiplash, as John would have said, but she still complied. He did seem sincerely interested to learn about the Ancestors.
"That's really fascinating," Elizabeth said, as she examined a portion of the wall.
"The text or the fact that it's already translated?" River asked, smiling.
"Both, I guess."
They had been working side by side for the past hour. Elizabeth had wanted to start with the parts of the wall she had already translated, to make sure that she hadn't missed something, or misinterpreted the text; the Ancients were known to be ambiguous about certain things after all.
They finally moved on to the part of the text Elizabeth hadn't been able to decipher before. It was still hard to read, but with the both of them, they were making good progress. Moss had grown over the wall, and River was cleaning it with the tools the TARDIS had provided her, while Elizabeth transcribed the text, and sometimes took photos.
Leaning against one of the walls they had already examined, John observed them working side by side. He was surprised by how easy it was for them to work together when they didn't know each other a little more than an hour before.
"This translation matrix is really useful," Elizabeth said, as she compared the captures she made from the video Lorne's team took, to the wall before her; she still couldn't quite grasp the fact that the text that was in Ancient was now in English before her eyes. "I don't suppose you have a spare one I could borrow?"
"Sorry," River replied. "And anyway, it only works if the Doctor is around, and conscious. It wouldn't be of much use to you."
"It was worth a try. Daniel would have been amazed by this. And a bit jealous, too, I guess. He's an archaeologist," she added for River. "He's our leading expert on the Ancients. He even lived with them on another plane of existence for a while. Long story," she replied to River's raised eyebrow.
"The Doctor and I have our fair share of long stories, I understand. And I'm an archaeologist too, so I understand how useful the TARDIS translation matrix can be. Now, what is this?" she asked out loud, as another portion of moss fell to the ground, revealing a strange line.
"The ghosts of your past must be faced before you can lay down your burden," Elizabeth read. "I think it talks about the ascension. And look, it looks like it's a plaque or something."
"Maybe there's something else underneath. Let's see if we can take it off the wall."
River took a small trowel out of her bag, and placed it carefully beneath the plaque, slowly lifting it off the wall. Elizabeth helped her by holding it so that it wouldn't fall on the ground and break. When it finally came off, they were faced with circuitry, the last thing any of them expected to find in these ruins.
"It looks like it's dead."
"Lucky I have an expert in Ancient technology on the team," Elizabeth replied to River, before turning to look for Rodney. "Where's Rodney?" she asked John when she couldn't see him anywhere nearby.
"He was driving Ronon crazy so he killed him, and now he's burying the remains. Kidding," he answered to her raised eyebrow. "They were bored, so I sent them on a perimeter tour. You need him?" he asked, raising his hand to his radio.
"Actually, I may be able to help too," River intervened. "Sweetie, I need the sonic!" she called.
"What for?" he asked, throwing it towards her anyway.
"A little bit of repairs. Now, let's see if we can do this," she said, turning back to the wall, with Elizabeth by her side.
She selected the correct setting and pointed the sonic screwdriver at the circuitry in the wall. It lit up, and the next thing the two women saw was a bright light just as their respective men shouted for them.
As the white light subsided, Teyla put her hands away from her face. She froze when she noticed that Elizabeth and River were nowhere in sight. John and the Doctor were already in the ruins, looking everywhere, but she already knew what they would find: nothing. She didn't know where the two women were, but the one thing she was sure of was that they wouldn't find them that easily.
John had his radio raised to his lips, and she didn't need to hear what he was saying to know that he was calling for their leader. But she never replied. She had to inform her other teammates of the situation.
"Rodney, Ronon, this is Teyla, please pick up," she said into her radio.
"What is it, Teyla?" Ronon answered the next second.
"Report back to the ruins, immediately. There's been an incident."
"What happened?" Rodney asked, unable to cover the worry in his voice.
"Elizabeth and River Song were examining the ruins when they disappeared in a flash of light."
"We're on our way," Ronon replied. "We'll be there in five."
Now that she ensured the wellbeing and return of her two teammates, Teyla walked towards the two men who were now examining the same wall the women had been working on when they disappeared.
"Ronon and Rodney are on their way," she told John.
"Good. Maybe McKay will be able to make this work," he said, pointing at the circuitry in the wall. "And bring them back," he added.
"I'm sure he will."
"If River hadn't taken my sonic screwdriver, I would have already solved the problem, but then, there wouldn't have been a problem to begin with because she wouldn't have been able to make it work if she didn't have the sonic. Why did I have to give her the sonic?" he asked aloud, before catching Teyla and John's eyes. "Sorry. I have a tendency to ramble when I don't exactly know what to do."
"It happens to the best of us," John mumbled, before bending to pick up the plaque Elizabeth had placed on the floor. "The ghosts of your past must be faced before you can lay down your burden," he read out loud. "I guess I don't take a risk by saying that it has to do with the ascension, right?"
"It sounds like they will have to face a test to see if they are worthy," Teyla agreed with him.
"But neither of them wants to ascend, so they shouldn't have to."
"You know as well as I do that it is not how it works, John. They have activated it, and unless Rodney finds a way around it, they might be stuck wherever they are until they take the test."
Before John had time to reply, they heard hurried footsteps coming in their direction. Not even five minutes had passed since Teyla radioed them, but Ronon and Rodney were already there. They had run as fast as they could, and for once, Rodney wasn't even complaining; he dug out his data pad, and went to work immediately once John explained what happened.
John put a hand on Rodney's shoulder to thank him, before stepping back, and enjoining the Doctor to do the same. The scientist was better when no one was breathing down his neck. They heard him mumble as he checked the circuitry, but none of them could make out the words, only that he didn't seem very happy with it.
After about five minutes, he finally turned towards the rest of them, and they could read on his face that he didn't have good news.
"It's completely fried. The way I see it, it can only transport one person at a time ordinarily, but this time, it transported two people provoking an overload. There's no way I can repair it, even with the right components. I have never seen anything like this before."
"So how do we get them back?" John asked.
"Not with this. I don't know where they are, but I do know that they're still on the planet. This thing doesn't have enough energy to transport them elsewhere. The Daedalus is on its way back, and if I remember correctly where this planet is, it's close to its route. I'd suggest we go back to the City, contact Caldwell, and ask to make a little detour. They should be here by tomorrow morning, and they'll be able to lock on Elizabeth's beacon."
"Tomorrow morning is too far away," the Doctor replied and John nodded in agreement. "But I can find them with my ship."
He was already running to where he landed the TARDIS, the team following close behind, without even asking; there was no way they would let this man leave without them if he could find Elizabeth and River.
When they took the final turn, they saw the Doctor snapping his fingers, and that's when they finally noticed his ship. The two Earthlings' eyebrows went up when they noted that not only was it an old British telephone box, but that there was no way in hell they would all fit inside. But as the doors opened to the Doctor's summon, they saw that the inside didn't look like anything they thought.
"It's bigger on the inside," Rodney exclaimed as they came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs leading to the console.
"And I'd love to explain how it's possible, but now is not the time," the Doctor replied. "Close the doors, will you?"
Ronon obeyed without question, having understood that whoever this man was, his technology surpassed everything he had seen before.
The team walked up the steps and stopped before the console as the Doctor typed frantically on a typewriter, looking at a screen at the same time.
"What?!" he suddenly exclaimed, surprising everyone in the room. "What do you mean you can't find her? You can always find River! She's your child! Search again!"
The Doctor was starting to get frustrated, and even though he knew the TARDIS wasn't to blame, it felt good to take it out on someone.
"What's happening?" John asked, although he guessed that it couldn't be good.
"Wherever they are, she can't find them, or doesn't want to," he added, glaring at the time rotor.
"Why wouldn't she want to?"
"I don't know!" the Doctor shouted throwing his hands up.
"What is going on here? And who are these people?"
The Doctor turned towards the voice, and there Amy was, with Rory by her side, both in their nightwear. The Lanteans observed that the Doctor calmed down instantly, and looked like nothing was going on.
"Nothing," the Doctor said to good measure, hoping that they would believe him.
"Right, and I'm the Queen of England."
"Which one?" the Doctor asked, trying to steer the conversation away from what they might or might not have heard.
"Stop it, Doctor. What's going on?" Rory asked. "Who can't you find?"
And so they heard. The Doctor started fidgeting, delaying his answer, though he knew it would be to no avail; they would get it out of him at one point or another. It might as well be done right then and there.
"Their friend, Elizabeth, disappeared in some ruins we were at... Along with River," he added, turning back towards the console.
"What?" Amy asked. "And you said you can't find them? You can't find my daughter?"
"Your daughter?" John exclaimed, earning him a glare from both Amy and Rory. "Right ok, not the moment for that. I'm John Sheppard, by the way," he said, extending his hand to them. "Not the time for that either, I see," he let his hand drop by his side when they returned their gaze to the Doctor.
"What's going on?" Amy repeated her first question, as she and Rory stood on either side of the Doctor.
Knowing they would keep asking until he told them, and that they had a right to know as River's parents, the Doctor started telling them the whole story, from the moment he went to pick her up at Stormcage right after they retired for the night, up until when the white light engulfed them.
"So what now?" Rory asked. "If the TARDIS can't find them, and you can't repair whatever it was that transported them, how do we bring them back?"
"We don't," John replied, realising that they exhausted their options aside from waiting for a couple of days for the Daedalus. When they all turned towards him, he added. "It's up to them, now."
With Elizabeth now in her life, Melody experienced new things. Swapping books was one of them; they were both avid readers, and if Melody hadn't an extended collection at her foster family, Elizabeth didn't mind letting her borrow books without getting one in return.
Elizabeth had all kinds of books, which was surprising for a girl her age. By the end of the year, they had both read the complete works of Shakespeare, and she didn't know why but Melody felt like she knew him, like she had met him in the past. It was silly, and she had dismissed that thought as soon as it came, but it was still somewhere in the back of her mind whenever she read one of his works.
Melody was now facing a new experience. After much convincing, and reassurance from Elizabeth's parents that she wouldn't be an hindrance, her foster parents and case worker had agreed to let her spend New Year's Eve and Day at Elizabeth's. It would be their first sleepover, and Elizabeth's parents had already promised that it wouldn't be their last.
From the moment she arrived, she had felt at home. It was easy for her, as she was used to moving from foster home to foster home once a year. But the family made her feel welcome, as if she belonged there. As strange as it was, Elizabeth's parents had never asked for her story. It might be because Elizabeth had already told them that she didn't want to talk about this part of her life, but still, Melody found it strange that they didn't want to know more about their daughter's friend.
Their day had started slowly. Elizabeth's father had already brought a second mattress for Melody, apologizing that it wasn't much. Melody didn't want to say it in front of Elizabeth's parents, but it was more than anyone else did for her. It wasn't that they weren't nice to her, they were, but they all made her understand that her stay would only be temporary. With Elizabeth's parents, even though she knew it was just for one night, it felt different.
The girls spent most of their afternoon helping Elizabeth's mother making the New Year's Eve dinner. It wasn't something new for Melody, as she had more often than not helped her foster mothers make dinner, but still it was different. Elizabeth's mother didn't mind when the girls started a flour fight, she even took part in it when Elizabeth's father came into the kitchen, and asked what was going on. All three of them ganged up on him, and he quickly had to concede defeat.
After they helped with the cleaning, the girls were sent to the bathroom for a much needed bath, and as she was waiting for Elizabeth to be done, towelling her hair dry, Melody realised that for a little while, she felt as if she belonged to the family. It was a foolish thought, and she pushed it quickly to the back of her mind, but it kept coming back whenever they included her in one of their family traditions.
"Melody, are you ok?"
They were in Elizabeth's room, and it was well past midnight, but neither of them was feeling tired enough to sleep. They were sitting on each end of Elizabeth's window seat, looking out into the night sky.
"I was just thinking."
"You certainly do that a lot," Elizabeth joked.
"You're one to talk!" Melody replied, throwing a pillow at her friend's head.
"What were you thinking about?"
"My real mom."
She hadn't meant to say it; she hadn't even realised that she had been in her mind until she heard what she said. She never allowed herself to think about her, because it hurt; it hurt to know that somewhere, there was the woman who had given birth to her, and she had never come to save her when she needed saving. It hurt to know that she had been abandoned, that she might be lost but no one was looking for her.
"Do you remember her?"
"No. I was just a baby when she left me. But when I was at the orphanage in Florida, I had a picture of her holding me in her arms."
She had expected Elizabeth to ask about the orphanage and Florida, as she had never mentioned them before, but that question never came.
"Do you still have it?"
"No, I lost it years ago."
Silence fell over them, as both girls returned their eyes to the night sky. There wasn't a cloud, and the stars were visible, even with all the city lights. Melody found herself thinking about her mother, that woman in the photograph, and she wondered how different things would have been if she hadn't abandoned her. She wondered if her life would resemble Elizabeth's even in the slightest.
But, after a while, she stopped seeing the woman in the photograph as her mother. Elizabeth's mother slowly replaced her, with Elizabeth's dad just beside her, and her friend was holding her hand, and smiling at her. She started wondering if she could be part of Elizabeth's family, one day. But it was wishful thinking, and it would never come true.
"I wonder what's out there," Elizabeth whispered, breaking the silence once more.
"I don't know. But one day, I'll find out, and I'll tell you."
It wasn't wishful thinking this time; she knew that the day would come when she would travel amongst the stars. It had been written for her a long time ago, and even though she should feel scared because it would mean that they had found her, she felt a bit excited too.
"Maybe I'll come with you."
"Maybe," Melody replied, even though she knew it was impossible.
The two twelve years old kept looking at the stars, thinking about what could be, what could never be, what would be, and what would never be.
When the white light subsided, River and Elizabeth blinked a couple of times, trying to get rid of the bright spots hampering their vision. Looking around them, they noticed that they weren't in the ruins anymore. If they had to guess, they would say they were somewhere underneath the ruins. A ray of light came from somewhere above them, but it was dim.
River was about to speak but Elizabeth raised her hand to stop her. She needed to contact her team before they did anything else.
"John, please come in," Elizabeth said in her radio, hoping that her second in command would pick up. "John?"
Nothing but static answered her. She tried again twice, moving about the room, but it was useless; the radio signal wouldn't go through those walls. She shook her head at River and let out a small sigh in defeat: they were on their own.
"I guess there is something causing interference in these walls."
"Probably why the Doctor isn't there yet," River said under her breath, before asking, louder. "How did we get here?"
"I think that whatever we tried to fix, you activated it while doing so. It transported us here, wherever we are."
"Why do you think that is?"
"I think the text on the plaque was about the ascension. See, there was a time when the Ancients were like you and me, well more or less," she started to explain, as she thought of their advanced physiology. "We consider them as the first evolution of humanity. At one point, they reached a stage where they were able to shed their physical bodies and live as pure energy on another plane of existence. But to be able to do that, they must leave everything behind, lay down their burden, metaphorically."
"So whatever these Ancients have created there, it's to help them achieve this ascension, right?"
"Yes. We've come across a place like this before," Elizabeth replied, thinking of the time John was stuck in the time dilation field. "The people in there were seeking ascension, but they were also attacked by a beast. They ended up realising that the beast was a manifestation of their fear."
"So, we're going to come across a beast?" River asked, already drawing out her weapon.
"I'm not sure. But whatever it is, we must overcome it in order to continue on our journey to find a way out."
"Are you sure this way out exists? If this is a path to the ascension, they shouldn't need it."
"I know. But those who fail also exist, and I can't believe they would leave them to die in here."
At the very least, Elizabeth hoped that she was right to believe so. Taking her flash light out of one of the pockets of her vest, she lit it, and walked beside River towards the only way out of the room. They didn't know what they would encounter, but both felt reassured that they weren't alone in this; at the very least, they had each other to rely on.
For the first few minutes of their walk down the corridors, they were silent, waiting to hear something or someone coming their way. After a while though, Elizabeth grew tired of the silence, and she took advantage of the fact that they seemed to be alone to ask River the question she had on her mind since they met.
"Why did you react when you heard my name?" she asked, and she felt more than saw River stiffen beside her. "And don't say you didn't. You covered it up pretty quickly, but I still saw it."
"It's just... I've read your name before," she lied, hoping Elizabeth wouldn't catch it.
"Spoilers," she replied, though her voice lacked the teasing it usually had. "The Doctor and I travel through time and space, but it's never a good idea knowing your future."
"Do you know yours?"
"No. The Doctor is very careful about that. I just know that at one point, I'll start meeting a younger him. See, that's the catch with us, there will come a moment when we're back to back. Younger him and older me. And I dread the day he won't even recognize me," she admitted in a whisper. "Have you ever met a man who knew everything there is to know about you? A man you weren't supposed to fall in love with but you couldn't help yourself?"
"No," Elizabeth answered, even though she could understand what River was saying.
"This is the Doctor and I. I don't know whether we should call it a romance or a tragedy."
Elizabeth didn't know what to respond to this; she had never lived through something like this before. Her relationship with John seemed easy compared to the Doctor and River's. Yes, they had some difficulties at first; it took them some time to define the line between their personal and professional relationships, but that was nothing compared to what she had just heard.
"How can you do it?" she asked, knowing that, were she in her place, she wasn't sure she would be able to.
"I love him. And without him, I'd just suffer more than every living thing in the universe," she added, reciting the words that had sealed their fate on the top of that pyramid. "My parents taught me what love meant. I was lucky enough to find it, and even if it means that one day, I'll see in his eyes that he doesn't know who I am anymore, I wouldn't change a single thing."
River wasn't one to speak so openly to stranger, usually, but this was no stranger beside her, even though Elizabeth didn't know it. And in a way, it just felt good to be able to talk about it. She couldn't share that with her parents, or with the Doctor. They would understand but she refused to burden them with that.
It was true what she said about Amy and Rory having showed her what love was; growing up with them, even if they didn't know who she really was, had brought her where she was today. The Church had made their biggest mistake by taking her to Leadworth; her mother's stories about the Doctor had ingrained some doubts in what she had been taught, and her meeting with him, his stubbornness to save Amy and Rory while he was dying, the words he whispered in her ear that day, finished to convince her that he was worth it.
She had never regretted her choice, and she never would, not even in the moments he frustrated her so much she just wanted to shoot him into his next regeneration.
Elizabeth was about to say something when they heard a sound. They stopped in the middle of the dark corridor and strained their ears in the hope of identifying it. Elizabeth shined her flash light down the corridor, hoping to see something, but it was a waste of time as the darkness extended as far as they could see.
"Tick tock goes the clock..."
As soon as she heard the nursery rhyme that had haunted her teenage years, Elizabeth froze. So caught in her own fear, she hadn't noticed that at her side, River stood frozen too.
River knew it couldn't be real, that they couldn't be there, but her fear got the better of her. These were the ghosts of her past. And this is when she understood the line written on the plaque; this was the burden that she had to lay down, and she wasn't sure she could do it. One look towards Elizabeth's face told her that she wasn't ready either. Not wanting to add to her fear and confusion, and remembering the promise she made so many years ago, she calmed down, and hid her emotions behind a mask.
She put her hands on Elizabeth's shoulders, and forced her to face her.
"I won't let any harm come to you, Elizabeth," she repeated the words she had said in a previous life.
Elizabeth had a strange feeling of déjà-vu, but she couldn't say why. Still, River's words reassured her, and she slowly nodded.
Satisfied that Elizabeth would be fine, River drew her weapon out of her bag, even though she was pretty sure she wouldn't have to use it. After all, Elizabeth had talked about this all being a metaphor; nothing they would see here was real. They would all come from their imagination, and a part of River wondered at the technology behind it all.
"Let's go. The sooner we find that way out, the better it will be," River said, enjoining Elizabeth to start walking again.
"Doctor, why can't the TARDIS find her? Why can't the TARDIS find River?"
It wasn't the first time Amy asked the question in the past hour, but this time, they could hear the worry in her voice. The Lanteans hadn't exactly understood how the young woman could be the mother of the woman who disappeared along with Elizabeth, but they had seen stranger things in the Pegasus Galaxy. And right now, she sounded like a mother who lost her daughter.
"I don't know, Amy," he repeated again.
He had tried to run the scan again, and he had even checked the wiring twice, just in case, but nothing could explain why the TARDIS couldn't find her. There were only two possible explanations at this point: either they were dead somewhere or the TARDIS didn't want to find them. The second explanation was the only one he allowed himself to think about for the moment.
"If they can't help us, I think it's time we head back to the Gate and contact the Daedalus," Rodney said, turning to John.
John nodded his agreement; if they weren't able to find their own way out, the Daedalus would be their best chance to get them back. Sending Rodney back and contacting Colonel Caldwell now would mean that they would be there by the morning, Waiting for just a couple of hours would delay their arrival by a few hours as they would be closer to Atlantis, but further away from here.
"You're sure they will be there by morning?" John asked just to be certain.
"I can't pinpoint the exact location of the ship just like that," Rodney replied, snapping his fingers for good measure. "I'm just saying that given the route they take, when they left Earth and the approximate location of the planet, they should be there by morning. Give or take a few hours."
"How many hours?"
"It might be up to a day."
This wasn't the answer they were all waiting for. But it wasn't like they had another choice. The Doctor's ship couldn't find them, and they couldn't radio them to have more information. This last thought made him realise something else.
"What if the Daedalus can't find them?"
"What do you mean?"
"We can't radio them. What if there's something causing interference wherever they are? It's not unheard of. It's possible that the Daedalus won't be able to locate Elizabeth's beacon and transport them on the ship."
It was obviously something the scientist hadn't thought about before given the surprise registering on his face. They could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to find a solution to what might turn out being a problem.
"We'll have to find a way around this interference if it does exist."
"I can help with that," the Doctor intervened. "Well, the TARDIS probably can. Your ship will need the TARDIS base code, but it'll take a while without K-9. But I'll make it work, don't worry."
"What's K-9?" Amy asked, raising her eyebrows.
"Oh, I've never told you about him? K-9 is my tin dog."
"You have a tin dog?" John said, not quite ready to believe him.
"Yes," the Doctor replied, on a tone that indicated that it was absolutely normal.
"Ok, now that we've established that he's even weirder than we first thought," Rodney started, ignoring the glare his teammates were sending his way, "shall we go?"
"Yes. Teyla, you and Rodney go back to the City and contact the Daedalus. Tell Colonel Caldwell to be there as fast as possible. Ronon and I will stay here in case they come back in the meantime."
"The Doctor can take you to your City or even your ship with the TARDIS, it will be faster," Amy offered.
Teyla noticed that Rodney was about to accept the offer while the Doctor seemed ready to refuse to go anywhere, so she spoke before any of them could.
"It's ok. The Gate is only 20 minutes away. We will walk. And going to the Daedalus would be of no use as it wouldn't make them arrive faster."
"And you'd probably need the exact coordinates to find the Daedalus and we have no way of knowing that as they're currently in hyperspace," Rodney added and Amy nodded in understanding.
"Come on, Rodney, let's go", Teyla said. "The faster we leave, the faster we contact Colonel Caldwell and are back."
"Doctor," John said, stopping his teammates from leaving by holding his hand up. "If need be, can you take us back to our City?"
"If need be, yes," he replied, though both men were hoping that they wouldn't have to resort to this.
"Should we bring a medical team?" Rodney asked, understanding what hadn't been said out loud.
"The TARDIS has an infirmary," the Doctor piped in as John was hesitating.
"And I'm a nurse," Rory added, hoping that his medical training wouldn't be of use.
"We won't need a Jumper then, Rodney."
The scientist nodded, and those who stayed behind watched as Teyla and Rodney left, the door closing behind them. They might be sending them to go get their best hope to find Elizabeth and River, and they all realised that.
Rory wrapped his arms around his wife, knowing even though she wouldn't say so that she needed it. It wasn't the first time they were afraid of losing River since they found out she was their daughter, far from it. And although they had met the older her in their past, they were still worried that time would be rewritten. River wasn't a fixed point in time like the Doctor's death was; nothing prevented her life from being changed drastically from what they already knew.
"I'm going to wait outside," John said, breaking the silence that had fallen upon them since Teyla and Rodney had left.
"I'm coming with you," Ronon replied.
The two Lanteans left the other three inside, and walked towards the ruins. Ronon leaned back against a column still partially intact, while John chose to walk the perimeter one more time. He hoped to find a clue as to where the women ended up, though he knew it was a lost cause.
When he came back towards Ronon, he saw the Doctor, Amy and Rory walking towards them, the latter two having changed out of their nightwear.
"What are these ruins?" Amy asked, stopping on the outer edge.
"They were left behind by people we call the Ancients," John answered. "Elizabeth would be better at explaining everything, but since she isn't available at the moment, I'll give it a try."
With Ronon's help for the history of the Pegasus Galaxy, John told them most of what they knew about the Ancients and their links to both galaxies. He could see that while Amy and Rory seemed to be genuinely interested by it, the Doctor kept glancing towards the place where Elizabeth and River disappeared.
"So, why did you take River here?" Amy asked the Doctor, in the end.
"I didn't. We let the TARDIS decide of our destination."
"And the TARDIS always takes you where you need to be," Rory said, remembering what the Doctor once told him. "But why would River need to be here?"
"I don't know."
And for the first time in a long time, he really didn't.
It had taken them less than 20 minutes to go back to the Gate. By then, they had decided that while Teyla would brief Carson and Lorne, Rodney would contact the Daedalus. They just had to hope now that nothing would prevent the message from reaching Colonel Caldwell and his crew.
As soon as Rodney dialed the Gate, Teyla sent her IDC through.
Once they arrived in Atlantis and the Gate closed behind them, they saw the surprise and worry register on the faces of the people present in the control room.
"Teyla? Rodney?" Carson called from where he stood behind Chuck's chair.
"Can you please ask Major Lorne to come to the briefing room?" she asked as she and Rodney started to ascend the stairs.
That made Carson even more worried if that was even possible, but he still did as Teyla asked. If there was something he hated even more than flying a jumper, it was for something to happen while he was in charge of the City. And it looked like he was exactly in this situation, he thought as Teyla told him that Elizabeth had disappeared while off-world.
Rodney was already at the console, not even having taken time to put down his backpack. He knew that time was of the essence if they wanted the Daedalus to be there as soon as possible.
Given the urgency in Carson's voice, Lorne hadn't lost any time in coming to the control room. And when he saw that only Teyla and Rodney were back, he feared the worst. He followed Teyla and Carson into the briefing room under the watchful eyes of the control room crew.
"What's going on?" Lorne asked, as soon as the door closed behind them.
"When we arrived at the ruins, there were other people there as well. A man and a woman."
"Did they attack you?" Carson interrupted, voicing Lorne's thoughts too.
"No. They're peaceful explorers, just like us," Teyla replied, even though she knew that it wasn't entirely true: they weren't anything like them. "After we determined that they weren't a threat, Doctor Weir decided to take a look at the ruins along with the woman. They found some circuitry hidden behind a plaque, and when they tried to repair it, it teleported them away. We tried to radio Doctor Weir, but wherever they ended up, they are out of reach."
"Do we know if they're still on the planet?" Lorne asked.
"Rodney believes so. He didn't think it could have transported them off the planet. He took a look at the circuitry, but according to him, there's nothing he can do to repair it."
She paused, letting everything sink in. She knew it was a lot to take, especially as neither of them expected something like this to happen. But it seemed like trouble was following them, wherever they were.
She knew that she omitted a couple of things, including the fact that not only did River Song have a weapon, but they also have a ship, but she needed them to focus on what was more important: finding Elizabeth and River. Teyla was usually a good judge of character, and something told her that neither the Doctor and River nor Amy and Rory would present a threat to the team.
When she saw that Carson and Lorne took it all in, she resumed talking.
"Rodney is sending a message to the Daedalus. They should be close enough to reach the planet by tomorrow morning."
"At the earliest," Rodney added as he entered the room. "We lost a few precious minutes back on the planet, which means thousands of light years for the Daedalus."
"Do you think they can find a way out on their own?" Lorne asked.
"We don't know," Teyla replied. "We have searched the ruins, but we have seen no sign of another entrance. It might be further away, though. We haven't explored the rest of the area, yet."
"And it could as well be on the other side of the planet. We have no idea where to search for it. We don't even know if it exists."
Teyla knew that Rodney had a tendency for drama, but this time, he wasn't overreacting; they really had no way to know where the two women ended up or even if they had a way out.
"What did they have with them when they were beamed away?" Carson asked, worried about the health of his leader and this woman he didn't know.
"Elizabeth had a few power bars, her radio and her flash light."
"And this River had her gun," Rodney said, before Teyla could stop him; but he had no way of knowing that she omitted this part.
"A gun?" Lorne reacted before turning to Teyla. "Why didn't you tell us that these strangers had weapons?"
"Because they pose no threats. They're peaceful explorers, just like us."
"You have no way of being sure of that. Doctor Weir could be in danger. Doctor Beckett, I request permission to take my team to the planet."
"We're leaving in ten," Lorne told Teyla and Rodney before leaving to go get ready.
"Are you absolutely sure you can't repair the circuitry?" Carson asked, turning towards the scientist.
"It's completely fried." At his friend's pointed look, he sighed. "I guess I can still bring all the spare parts I have in the lab. It doesn't hurt to try, and I'll have plenty of time until the Daedalus arrives."
"Good. And ask Doctor Zelenka to go back with you. A second opinion might help."
"He's going to love it," Rodney replied, ironically, as he left the room.
"Why didn't you tell us about the weapon?"
"They're not a threat to us, I'm sure of that. Only River Song carries one, and it's not like we were unarmed either."
Carson had to give her that one.
"Do you know if they have water with them?" he asked, the doctor in him being worried.
"I don't think they do. Elizabeth's stayed behind, and River Song only has a small bag with her, just large enough to store her weapon."
"I have to say that even if we don't know this River, I'm a bit relieved that at least, they can protect themselves."
"So am I."
"I should probably go back with you, too. If they're in need of medical assistance..."
"No, Carson. Elizabeth trusted you with the City and you can't leave. I'm sure that they're going to be fine, but in the case they need a doctor, the Daedalus has one onboard."
Teyla could understand Carson's need to do something, but this time, he had to stay behind, for the sake of Atlantis. When she saw him nodding in agreement, she smiled in reassurance; everything would be fine, they had to believe that.
They left the room and were halfway down the stairs when they saw Lorne and his team enter the Gateroom.
"Where's McKay?" Lorne asked, obviously not wanting to lose another minute.
"We're here, calm down."
Rodney and Radek were coming from the other side of the room, both their backpacks loaded with all the equipment they would need.
"Why can't we take a Jumper again? You know that I have a very sensitive back."
"The ruins are only twenty minutes away McKay, and you've already seen for yourself that we can't land a Jumper close to them anyway."
Lorne's tone was clipped, but Teyla couldn't really blame him; he was worried for Elizabeth, just like the rest of them.
Carson signalled Chuck to dial the planet, and she turned towards the Gate. Beside her, she could hear Radek muttering under his breath, and held back a smile. The Czech scientist was not happy that he had to go along. But she agreed with Carson on this decision; Rodney and Radek often proved that they were even better when working together. And this time, they needed them to be at their best.
The Gate opened, and they didn't lose a minute to walk through. Once on the other side, Teyla radioed John to inform him they were back with some reinforcements.
With a nod from Lorne, Teyla took point with Rodney and Radek following and two of Lorne's men flanking them.
She had stopped looking over her shoulder, she had stopped being scared, it was why it had happened, she knew that. They had found her and took her away from her life.
She should have guessed it would happen; lately everything went well, more than well, really. And that was usually when things started to go south. She was about to get a new life, a life she hadn't allowed herself to dream of. Elizabeth's parents wanted to adopt her, and they finally got the go ahead from her social worker, the previous day. She was going to have parents, a sister and a best friend at the same time, and now it was all gone.
But it wasn't about her that she was worried. She let her eyes fall on her best friend lying on the floor beside her, still unconscious from when they drugged them. She didn't know why they had to take her, too. Or at least, she didn't want to think about it. They were going to make her pay for having escaped all those years ago, and she was worried that they were going to use her friend against her.
They had told her many times that friends were a weakness, that she could trust no one but herself. Even when she was far away from them she believed it, up until she met Elizabeth. This meeting changed everything. But now, she realised that just by being friends with her, she had put her at risk. If anything were to happen to her, she would never forgive herself. She would never be able to look at her face in the mirror, she would never be able to face Elizabeth's parents again. And that would be for the better, because she was pretty sure they didn't want anything to do with her anymore.
Elizabeth started to stir, and she sat down beside her. It took her a few tries before she managed to open her eyes, and when she did, the first thing Melody saw was incomprehension. It lasted only a few seconds, until Elizabeth remembered what happened, and sat up abruptly. She groaned, and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands.
"It's the chloroform. It'll go away in a few," Melody explained.
"Are you ok?"
"Yeah. I woke up sixteen minutes ago," she said, hoping that her friend wouldn't ask how she knew exactly how much time has gone by. "I've looked around. The only way out is this door, but it's locked. The window is too high for us, and anyway, it's barred."
"What do you think they want with us?"
"I don't know," Melody lied. "But I won't let any harm come to you, I promise."
She made that promise as much as to herself as to Elizabeth. If she could help it, she wouldn't let them do anything to her friend. She'd rather die again, than watch them hurt Elizabeth.
She was surprised by how calm Elizabeth seemed to be. She knew it was just a facade, though, but she was proud of her for wanting to keep up the appearances. It was starting to get chilly. Through the window, Melody could see that it was almost sunset. She wrapped an arm around Elizabeth, and brought her close to her side; it wouldn't do them any good if they were to fall sick.
"Do you think they already know we're missing?"
"Yes. There were other people on the streets when they took us. Someone reported it. I'm sure they're already looking for us."
"But they don't know where we are."
"They'll find us."
Melody knew that she had to be convincing enough for Elizabeth to believe her. She wanted to believe it, too, but she knew them. She knew they had made sure that all their tracks were covered. It might be up to her to free them, and she wasn't sure she wouldn't be able to do it.
She needed to figure out where they were first. She knew that she hadn't been unconscious for a long time, which meant that they were still in New York. But aside from that, she was lost. If she had been awake when they had been transported here, she could have at least taken a guess, but she would have probably tried to escape then.
She felt Elizabeth move against her, before she stiffened suddenly.
Melody heard the fear in her friend's voice, before she followed her eyes to the ceiling. They were there. She didn't remember until she saw them looking down from the ceiling. They were the monsters from her childhood, and unlike most monsters, those were real. They hurt her whenever she wasn't following the instructions. They were all around at the orphanage when she was growing up.
But as she remembered them, she also remembered something else: once you stopped looking at them, you forgot them. She needed Elizabeth to stop looking; they wouldn't go away, but at least they wouldn't remember. She quickly counted the figures she saw above her, and knew that she had no chance at escaping; they would stop her before she even got the door open.
"Melody? What are they?"
"Bessie," she tried to get her attention, using the nickname only she was allowed to use, "I want you to look at me. Now! They won't hurt you."
"Who won't hurt me?" Elizabeth asked, as she returned her eyes to Melody.
"The people who have kidnapped us," Melody reacted quickly. "Remember? I've promised you I'd protect you."
Silence fell around them, and even though Melody could see that Elizabeth tried to be strong, she was getting more and more anxious. Night was falling outside, and Melody didn't know if they were going to have some light during the night; she needed to find a way to make her friend forget about their surroundings.
"You want to play a game?"
"Ok," Elizabeth answered, though obviously getting that it was a way to change her mind.
"Close your eyes." She waited for her friend to do as she was told, before she continued. "You remember telling me about the holiday you took to France? Just try to visualize it in your mind. Think that we're there, and not here. What should we do together?"
"We're in Paris. We go all the way up the Eiffel Tower," Elizabeth said after a few seconds of silence. "We're lucky because it's a sunny day, and we have a beautiful view of the city. We're the only ones up there, and it feels like we're the rulers of the world."
"What do we do after that?"
"We go to the Louvre. You're going to love it there. It's full of masterpieces from every point in History. It takes us hours to explore the museum, and we're exhausted by the end, but it's worth every minute. After that, we go to..."
"Tick tock goes the clock
He cradled and he rocked her..."
Elizabeth jumped at the sound of the nursery rhyme.
"What was that? Melody?" she prompted when her friend didn't reply.
Melody had no doubt of what Elizabeth saw on her face: fear. It was the nursery rhyme that haunted her worst nightmares. It was the nursery rhyme she kept hearing at the orphanage. She had never forgotten it, but she hadn't thought she would hear it again one day.
"It will be ok, Bessie, I promise," she finally answered.
"What was it? What does it mean?"
"I don't know."
And she really didn't. She had tried for years to figure it out, she had heard it all, but she had never understood it. She had never understood why they would make her listen to it over and over again. She had never understood what it had to do with her.
"Tick tock goes the clock
'Till River kills the Doctor..."
"Let's go back to Paris, Elizabeth," she said, needing to change both their minds. "What do we do after the Louvre?"
Elizabeth's voice wavered when she started to speak, and Melody knew hers did to, but she didn't know what to do to stop it.
In the end, Elizabeth fell asleep, and she kept watch over her. She had never been one to sleep a lot, anyway, and she feared to close her eyes in these circumstances. A soft light was coming from the window, and she knew it wasn't made to reassure them, but to allow their captors to keep an eye on them.
It was almost dawn when she heard footsteps coming their way. She debated for a second if she should let Elizabeth sleep and deal with them alone, but decided that she didn't want her to wake up in fright.
"Bessie," she whispered, gently shaking her. "You have to wake up."
"Melody? What..." Elizabeth sat up quickly, remembering where she was. "I thought for a second that it was just a nightmare."
"There are people coming. Remember, I won't let them hurt you."
Elizabeth didn't have time to reply anything as the door opened to let people through.
Melody's breath caught in her throat when she saw the woman who was a permanent fixture in her nightmares. The eye-patched lady, Madame Kovarian, was there, right in front of her. She hadn't seen her a lot in her years at the orphanage, but the few times she saw her were the worst moments of her life; it had always involved the spacesuit, and her being its prisoner.
"Well, well, Melody, long time no see," Madame Kovarian said.
"You know her?" Elizabeth asked, but they both ignored her.
"You hid well all those years. It's too bad a simple photo in a newspaper gave you away."
When the newspaper took a photo of her class after they had won a school trip to Washington, Melody hadn't thought that it would help them find her. She hadn't thought that this photo would lead to her losing the life she had made here, in New York. She hadn't thought she would lose everything for a photo.
As soon as she thought that, she remembered that she wasn't alone in this; her best friend was here, too. And she had to save her; she had to stop them from hurting her.
"It's me you want. And you have me. I won't run away again. Just let her go, you don't need her. Please."
She knew that pleading with them would do her no good in the end; it would probably mean that she was in for a punishment because weapons don't beg. But she didn't have a choice: she had to get Elizabeth out of here.
"Oh, of course we don't need her. But I've told you before Melody: friends are a weakness that has to be used. She's your weakness, and I'm going to make sure you don't forget it this time."
Melody grabbed Elizabeth's hand and squeezed hard. She knew what was going to happen next; she had no doubt of it. And surely, when Madame Kovarian spoke, she said the words Melody had expected.
"Kill that girl."
Melody knew she had no choice. She had promised Elizabeth that she wouldn't let anything happen to her, and she would make good on that promise.
The man who entered with Madame Kovarian raised his gun to Elizabeth and pressed the trigger. Before they could react, Melody had put herself in the path of the bullet. It pierced one of her hearts, and she fell to the floor, her face in the dirt.
She heard Elizabeth's cries, she felt her hands on her body, but before she could do anything else, the man who had shot had already grabbed her and taken her out of the room.
The regeneration energy started to course through Melody's body, drowning Elizabeth's cries, though they still resonated in her head; she thought she would never be able to forget them.
Madame Kovarian crouched down before her, a smile on her face. She had been expecting this issue, Melody realised with a start. Even if she hadn't sacrificed herself for Elizabeth, she would have still regenerated; Madame Kovarian wanted a blank slate to work on.
"It's time to move on. You're going to love Leadworth. Or not. But if you want friends, we'll give you friends. The best friends you could ever have. Now, let's see your new face."
The last thought on Melody's mind before she started to change was for her best friend, a best friend who thought she was dead.
They had been walking down the dark corridors for more than an hour now, and there was still no way out in sight. At the very least, they hadn't heard the nursery rhyme again, and they both considered it a relief.
Still, these few words stayed in the back of Elizabeth's mind the whole time. She wanted to warn River about what they might find on their path, but she remembered so little about this part of her childhood. Only intense fear and a few lines of the nursery rhyme had stuck in her mind. The rest of it, she forgot all about it, or at least she tried to. There was still something she refused to forget or think about – which was paradoxal, she knew that – and she definitely wasn't ready to talk about it, even less with a stranger.
"Is that a door?" River asked, jolting Elizabeth from her thoughts.
Elizabeth followed River's eyes to what was definitely a door before them. She raised her eyebrows at it, as they stopped a couple of feet away.
"Do you think we have reached the exit?"
"No. It would be too easy," Elizabeth replied, thoughtful.
She knew that River was counting on her. She studied the Ancients, she knew them, as much as you could know a people who disappeared thousands of years ago. It was her job to be sure that they wouldn't fall into a trap. But the thing was, this time, she didn't know; she had never encountered something like this before, if you excluded the sanctuary inside the time dilation field.
This time, she could only guess what would be waiting for them on the other side of the door. And whatever that was, it had something to do with laying down their burden before they could ascend. And if for a while they both thought that the technology might not work, the nursery rhyme they heard earlier proved to them that it was functioning.
They took a step closer to the door at the same time, and smiled at each other. Elizabeth shined her flash light on the door, and they both noticed that there were engravings on it. They had no doubt that the writing before their eyes had been Ancient, but the TARDIS translation matrix turned it into English.
"The trial lies behind that door," Elizabeth read one part of the text.
"So I guess that opening the door to let out the ghosts of our past isn't metaphorical, after all," River said, pointing to another part of the text.
"No. Well, let's see if the panel still works."
Elizabeth passed her hand over it, once, twice, but nothing happened. She sighed in defeat.
"So what now?"
"Well, I still have the sonic screwdriver," River said, taking it out of her pocket. "But first, I think we should rest. Whatever form the trial behind this door takes, I think it's better if we're at our best."
"You're right. I have a couple of power bars," Elizabeth replied, taking them out of one of the pockets of her vest. "But we don't have water."
"Oh, I do."
Elizabeth watched in amazement as River took a bottle of water out of her small bag.
"How do you do that?"
"The bag is dimensionally transcendental."
"And in English."
"It means that it's bigger on the inside," River replied, giggling. "It's pretty useful, you have to admit. But if you're impressed by that, wait until you see the TARDIS. That's the Doctor's ship. She's magnificent." They shared a smile, before River took a sip of water. "Trade you?" she said, holding out the water with one hand and taking the power bar with the other.
"Thank you. So you have a ship?"
"The Doctor does. He comes and takes me for a new adventure every night."
"You don't always travel with him?"
"I can't. Not yet, anyway. I have to make good on a promise I made, first. But we still make the most of every night," she added, with a grin that left Elizabeth no doubt that they didn't limit themselves to adventures outside their ship. "It does help that the TARDIS can travel in time."
"Time travel can be dangerous," Elizabeth said, remembering her older self, who sacrificed her life for the expedition.
"Yes, it can. But see, the Doctor and I are Time Lords, him more than me. We have all of time in our heads, and we know all about fixed points in time, and how we can't change them without destroying everything else. I made all of time collapse once trying to prevent a fixed point from happening. Thankfully, all wasn't lost."
"One of the Ancients, Janus had developed a time machine, but the others didn't want him to use it because it was too dangerous. A team in the Milky Way had found it, and used it. All didn't go as planned at first," she said, remembering the video Jack had shown her after they had re-established contact with Earth. "But like you said, all wasn't lost, and they were able to fix it. But still, I think the Ancients were right when they said it was too dangerous to play with time."
"Still, aren't you curious about all those lost civilisations? About the future?"
"Not really, no. I don't want to know about the future. Foreknowledge is a dangerous thing, I think. As for the past, like I said, I think the risk of making a mistake is too important. I guess I'm worried about the grandfather paradox."
To say that River was surprised by Elizabeth's answer would be an understatement. It might be because she was the child of the TARDIS, but she couldn't imagine not wanting, or not being able to travel in time. This had been a part of her for as long as she could remember: she was born in the 52nd century on Demon's run, and when she was just one month old, she was brought to Earth to grow up during the 1960s.
But she knew that it wasn't just her. When she was studying at Luna University, she had gleaned information about the Doctor and the companions he had before her parents, and she had soon understood that time travel was a part of them too. Maybe if Elizabeth were to travel with the Doctor for a while, she would change her mind, but River knew better than to ask her; even though Elizabeth had barely talked about her job, she had understood that it was important, and that she wouldn't just up and leave.
"River?" Elizabeth called.
"Sorry, I was deep in thought."
"I could see that. Shall we see what is on the other side?"
River nodded in agreement, and put the bottle of water back in her bag. She grabbed the sonic screwdriver, and choosing the correct setting, she pointed it at the panel. It lit up, and they shared a satisfied smile.
Elizabeth started to raise her hand towards the panel, but she was stopped by River before she could try and open the door. The other woman said nothing but took her gun out of her bag, before nodding at Elizabeth to proceed.
When the door opened, all they could see before them was darkness. Not even a ray of light filtered through a door or a crack in the wall. They took a step inside the room at the same moment, and when they cleared the threshold, the door slid shut behind them before they could do anything to stop it.
They were plunged in the darkness, Elizabeth's flashlight not being able to light up the whole room, and Elizabeth found herself taking River's hand in her own. River squeezed her hand in reassurance, before enjoining her to take another step inside the room.
"Tick tock goes the clock
And all the years they fly"
They froze as they heard the nursery rhyme so close to them.
"I should have probably told you before," Elizabeth started, her voice barely above a whisper, "but I'm not ready to face these ghosts."
"It'll be ok, Elizabeth, it'll be ok," River repeated, needing to believe that herself.
Just as suddenly as they were plunged into the darkness, bright lights came on, rendering them blind for a moment. When they were finally able to see again, Elizabeth gasped at the sight: the monsters from her childhood, the ones she remembered in her dreams only to forget about them when she woke up, were there with them.
Dozens and dozens of Silence surrounded them, and even though River knew they couldn't be real, instinct kicked in before her reason did.
As soon as Elizabeth fell to the ground, River started firing her gun. She knew she couldn't hurt them, because they weren't real, but she couldn't stop herself. She remembered all too well all these years they had frightened her. But she wasn't the same person anymore; she wasn't Melody Pond, a scared child raised to kill the Doctor, she was River Song, his wife, and she was stronger because she had him and her parents loving her.
The lights flickered, the Silence disappeared and she finally stopped shooting.
When Elizabeth raised her head, she noticed scorched marks left by River's gun all around the room. Aside from that, the room was bare; there was no equipment, nothing on the walls. All she could see, apart from the door they came in, was another door on the other side of the room.
She slowly stood up, and took a look at River; she could see that the woman was shaken up. She didn't remember anything before River asked her to duck; she knew she had seen something, but she couldn't remember what.
"What happened?" she asked.
"I shot at some monsters, but they're gone now."
"I don't remember."
"It's probably better this way. Shall we leave now?" River said, indicating the door she had also noticed while she was shooting.
"Yes, let's go. The trial is probably over now."
Keeping close to each other, River itching to take Elizabeth's hand to reassure her that it was over, they started walking towards the other side of the room. But before they could reach the door, they heard a voice that made their insides freeze.
"Well, well, Melody, long time no see."
They turned around, and there she was, the eye-patched woman, Madame Kovarian.
Elizabeth didn't know her name, but this was the woman who haunted her dreams for years after her release. She remembered these words as the first ones she spoke all these years before. But this time, it was different; Melody wasn't there, she died that day.
River wasn't surprised to see Madame Kovarian, she even expected her. But she had hoped to be wrong. Her last encounter with her captor, even though it happened in an aborted timeline, and she had had the upper hand, was still vivid in her mind. For months, this woman had taunted her, knowing that the Doctor wouldn't leave her a choice but to kill him once he was inside the pyramid. And she had been right, though none of them had anticipated his plan.
"It's just a hologram," Elizabeth whispered. "She can't be here. She can't be real."
"Friends are a weakness that has to be used," Madame Kovarian said again.
"Friends aren't a weakness," River started speaking before Elizabeth could even open her mouth. "They're a strength. My friends and my family are a strength to fight against people like you, Kovarian. This is over," she concluded, shooting her gun at her.
The hologram disappeared before their eyes, leaving them alone once more. This time, River was sure of it, it was really over. Even though this reality's Kovarian was still around somewhere, protected by the Church, it didn't matter anymore; as long as she had Amy, Rory and the Doctor, she couldn't get to her anymore.
Neither of them noticed that River had called Kovarian by her name, a name that, for Elizabeth, she shouldn't know.
"I'm sorry," Elizabeth said, turning towards River.
"Don't worry. The ghosts of my own past aren't any better." Actually, they're the same, but you're not supposed to know that, River thought. "I think we're safe now, but we should go, just in case."
This time, they reached the door without being interrupted. Unlike the previous door panel, this one was still working, and Elizabeth passed her hand over it. The door slid open, revealing another corridor, but this time, they could see light a few hundred meters away; their ordeal would soon be over.
"We probably haven't laid down our burden the way they expected us to," Elizabeth said, watching as the door closed behind them.
"Probably not, but we didn't want to ascend, so I think this is alright. Let's go find our friends. They must be worried."
Elizabeth had no doubt that no truer words had been spoken.
Amy was sitting on the ground, with Rory by her side, his arm on her shoulders, when they heard footsteps coming their way. Beside the Doctor, John and Ronon tensed, but relaxed almost immediately when people came in sight; she could only guess that the new arrivals were part of the expedition they briefly mentioned.
She got up from her place on the ground, followed by Rory. Teyla nodded in their direction, and they nodded back; it was strange, because even though she ddidn't know her, Amy felt like she could trust this woman.
"They have weapons," Rory whispered in her ear. "Stay here, I'll be right back."
Amy nodded, keeping an eye on the newcomers. They didn't look any different from John, which told her that they were probably military, too. When John pointed at her, probably telling them who she was, she decided that it was time to step forward.
"Amy, this is Major Lorne, and his team. They came here because..."
"They don't trust us?" she interrupted John, and he had the grace to look sheepish. "It's ok. It's not like we completely trust you either. We don't know each other after all."
"No, we don't."
"Where did Rory go?" the Doctor asked, causing everyone to look his way.
"I don't know. He just said he'll be right back. Is your ship coming?" she asked, turning towards Rodney.
"Yes. Like I said, they should be here by tomorrow morning at the earliest."
"Until then, we just hope that they find their way out on their own," John added.
"And that they hadn't been transported to the other side of the planet, I guess, too?" Amy said, and Rodney nodded. "So what do we do until now?"
"We wait," John replied.
"I'm used to it. I'm the girl who waited after all."
She could see the Doctor wince at her words, but after all, it was the truth. She had waited twelve years for him to come back, and again another two years, before she went on her first adventures with him. But she knew that the Doctor was thinking about the Older Amy, the one who waited thirty-six years for him to come and rescue her.
Still, she wasn't blaming him for those fourteen years she had waited for him in Leadworth; if he had come back that same night, as he had promised her, she probably wouldn't have Rory or River in her life, and she wouldn't be the same. And even though she had already told him many times, a little reminder wouldn't hurt. She put a hand on his arm, and when he turned towards her, she smiled at him in reassurance. He smiled back, and she knew that they understood each other without the need for words.
When the Doctor's eyes returned to the ruins, hers followed suit. She knew that they were both hoping for the same thing: that River would soon come back to them, unscathed. She shouldn't worry like this, because if someone knew how to defend themselves, it would be River, but she was still her daughter, the one she had lost but still got to raise.
"Hey, what is he carrying?" Lorne's voice jolted Amy from her thoughts.
Both she and the Doctor turned to see that Rory was walking towards them, holding his sword in his right hand. She rolled her eyes before turning towards the Doctor.
"You know it's all your fault, right?"
"What? Why is that?"
"You were the one to tell him that he should keep the sword. And you!" she shouted to her husband, not leaving a chance for the Doctor to answer. "You do know that a sword holds no chance against these guns, right?"
"It makes me feel better to have this when I think of all these guns being possibly trained on my daughter."
"You didn't tell us there was a child involved, Sir," Lorne said, turning towards his CO.
"Yeah, this isn't exactly the case. Though you didn't really tell us how it was possible," John said, turning towards Amy and Rory.
The couple looked at each other, then at the Doctor, and started to tell their story. They could see that even though the group had probably faced stranger situations during their time in this galaxy, they hadn't expected to hear this kind of story. They knew that their family was out of the ordinary; it wasn't often that you have a daughter older than her parents, and married to their best friend. But they were a family, and as strange as it sounded, it was working for them.
When Amy and Rory finished telling their story, silence fell upon the group. No one seemed to know how to react to something like this. Being sorry for them wouldn't be enough, and any other words would be useless; nothing they could say could change the fact that Amy and Rory had been robbed of a regular parenthood.
Finally, after a couple of minutes of awkward silence, it was Lorne who spoke up, and they were all grateful for this.
"Sir, I was thinking that with my team, we should take a look around the perimeter."
"Yeah, it would be a good idea."
Just as they turned to leave the group, they heard footsteps coming in their direction. The Lanteans raised their weapons only to lower them again a couple of seconds later when Elizabeth and River appeared from behind the ruins.
"Oh thank god," Rory whispered as Amy was already running towards their daughter.
River was ready to receive her in her arms, and they hugged each other tightly for a long moment.
"It's ok, Mum. I'm here, I'm fine."
Smiling at the sight, and a little bit surprised at River calling this young girl her mother, Elizabeth continued towards her friends, nodding at Lorne and his team. Her eyes then locked with John, and she could see the relief in them. She knew it must have been torture for him not to be able to do anything to find her, to have to wait for her to find her own way out.
She stopped a couple of feet away from him, and while she would have usually resisted the urge to fall into his arms, this time, she didn't. His arms closed around her, telling her that if she didn't take the first step, he would have. While their relationship wasn't a secret, they had promised themselves from the very beginning that they would maintain a professional relationship during their working hours. But this time, it was different.
"You ok?" he whispered in her ear.
"I will be."
These three little words told him everything he needed to know; something had happened while she and River were alone, something that had shaken her up quite badly. His arms tightened around her, and she buried her face in his neck.
Elizabeth didn't know how long they stayed like this, but when they separated, John introduced her to the two people she hadn't met before. River was in Rory's arms at the moment, her father as John informed her. She wanted to ask how it was possible, but she knew it wasn't the time.
After a long hug with her father, River kissed him on the cheek, and walked towards the Doctor.
"Hello Sweetie," she said, one of her hands coming up to straighten his bowtie.
"Hello dear," he replied, kissing her.
"Thanks for the sonic," she said, handing it back to him.
"You're welcome. But maybe you should have your own one day. It'll be easier that way."
"Thank you, Sweetie, but first, you'd better improve yours."
"Improve my sonic screwdriver?" he replied, outraged. "I'll have you know that it's perfectly fine the way it is."
"It still doesn't do wood," she deadpanned. "You've spent your last two hundred years on the run, from me I might add, and you haven't had time to add one little setting?"
Before he could reply anything, Rory intervened, knowing that it would only escalate from here, and lead to blatant flirting or worse.
"What happened to the two of you?" he asked the question that had been on everyone's mind.
"Later, Dad," River answered, noticing that Elizabeth wasn't ready to talk about it just yet. "For the moment, we should leave."
"Why don't you come back with us?" Elizabeth offered, surprising even her own friends. "I still have to explain to you what happened down there."
"Another time," River promised. "Let's go," she said, taking the Doctor's hand in her own, and leading him towards the TARDIS, knowing that Amy and Rory would follow.
Elizabeth debated with herself for a moment, wondering if she should voice her thoughts. She finally made up her mind; she had no doubt she could trust them with this information.
"Wait!" Elizabeth's voice stopped them. When they turned towards her, she continued. "You said another time, but you don't know where to find us. We live in Atlantis," she revealed to the surprise of the other Lanteans. "You should have no problem finding the exact location."
River and the Doctor nodded, both knowing that even without the right coordinates, the TARDIS would be able to take them there.
Turning away from the group once more, they took the last few steps towards the TARDIS, and they could pinpoint the exact moment Elizabeth and Lorne's team finally saw her.
"He told us there's a perception filter around the TARDIS," Rodney started to explain to them, but Elizabeth raised her hand; she didn't need to know right now.
When River turned towards them just before closing the door, Elizabeth raised her hand and waved at her, and she waved back.
The TARDIS dematerialized before their eyes, and Elizabeth suddenly felt emptiness inside her, and she couldn't explain why.
"Elizabeth, are you crying?"
At John's word, Elizabeth brought a hand to her face, and indeed tears were rolling down her cheeks; she couldn't explain those either.
"Let's go home," she just said.
The teams and Carson had listened intently as Elizabeth told them what had happened after she and River were transported away. She had no choice but to tell them about the time she had been kidnapped during her childhood. She knew that it wouldn't leave the room, and that they wouldn't ask about it in the future. Not even John would ask, though she knew that he would be there if she ever felt the need to talk.
She had pushed it to the back of her mind, trying not to think about it anymore, but sometimes, it came back to the front. It had taken her a long time to get over it. She had never been able to mourn Melody properly because her body had never been found. But with her parents and a psychologist's help, she had finally let go. But she had never forgotten her best friend.
Seeing the eye-patched woman today had brought back her childhood fears. She knew that she would need time to forget about this whole ordeal. Even though it had only been a hologram created by the Ancient technology, it had still felt real for her.
Maybe she would ask Kate's help, if only because she was the leader of the expedition, and they needed her to be at her best. And she knew that once her report fell into the IOA's hands, they would want to make sure she was still fit to do her job, and she would rather take the initiative than wait for them to ask for an evaluation.
She had had bouts of insomnia after the kidnapping, and she wasn't surprised when she was still awake in the wee hours of the morning. John was sound asleep, spooned up against her back. Not wanting to wake him up, she got out of bed slowly, and putting her robe on, went to stand before the window.
Atlantis, with all of its lights on, was standing out against the night sky. She would never tire of this view; even in ten years, if she had the chance to still be there, she knew she would look at her City with the same wonderment. She hoped that she would always be able to protect Atlantis and the people working there from any threat, should it come from this galaxy or from Earth.
Rumours about her own dismissal as Atlantis leader had flown a couple of years ago, and she knew if General Landry and O'Neill hadn't stood by her, they would have turned out to be true. As she had told Teyla once, she had almost been ready to hand them her resignation, but the thought of leaving her people, her friends, people she had come to care about into unknown hands had stopped her from doing it. And really, she didn't know if she would ever be able to leave; it was her home, now.
She looked at the stars against the dark sky, and she surprised herself wondering where the Doctor, River, Amy and Rory were. She didn't even know if they were still in this era. Meeting them had certainly been a real surprise; from what John had told her during the debriefing, Amy and Rory were from Earth, from the 21st century too, while the Doctor was, for lack of a better word, an alien.
As for River Song, she wasn't really sure that she completely understood what they had told her of her story. It was frightening to know that there were people out there raising a girl to be a weapon. At the very least, it ended well, as they were reunited with their daughter; their older-than-they-are daughter, but their daughter still.
She had barely spared a thought about having children – being in a serious relationship with John certainly prompted these kind of thoughts – but she could imagine the despair Amy and Rory felt when they lost her.
Two arms wrapped around her from behind, and she startled.
"Sorry. I didn't want to frighten you."
"It's ok. I just didn't hear you get up."
"You couldn't sleep?"
"No. I guess I'm afraid of having nightmares."
"You know I'm there to hold you in my arms."
"Was the nightmare you had a couple of nights ago related to all of this?"
"Yeah. They don't happen quite often these days, but they're still here. Or at least, they didn't. I'm sure I'm going to have a brand new stack of them now," she tried to joke, but it fell flat. "Do you think we'll see them again?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Maybe. But I wouldn't be surprised if we don't."
"And this Doctor is a weirdo, if you want my opinion. Because really, who would wear a bowtie, nowadays?"
She laughed heartily at his words, and she knew it was what he had been aiming for. She was grateful to have him in her life, even if he had been just a friend: he made everything better.
"Come on, let's go back to bed," he said when she calmed down. When he felt her reluctance, he added. "I promise I'll try my best to keep your nightmares at bay."
Even though she knew he couldn't possibly do that, she still felt safer. She nodded, and let herself be tugged back towards the bed. He lied down, and she curled up against his side. His arms went around her, a touch grounding her to the present moment.
Despite not really wanting to sleep, she felt herself relax when he started to hum lightly. Soon enough, sleep claimed her.
She knew she was dreaming, because she was back underneath the ruins, back in the trial room. She was on the floor; River was shooting but she didn't know at what or whom. When it stopped, she found herself back on her feet, and facing the eye-patched woman.
She wanted to run, but she couldn't; her feet wouldn't move. The eye-patched woman started talking, saying the same words she had in the reality. And then she heard River speaking, beside her. She heard her called the eye-patched woman 'Kovarian'.
She woke up with a start, sitting up in bed, and breathing heavily. John was immediately at her side, his arms wrapped around her.
"It's ok, Elizabeth. It's over, it's over."
"She couldn't have known. I didn't tell her. I didn't even know. She couldn't have known," she kept repeating, tears in her voice. "She couldn't have known."
River was sitting on the stairs in the console room, nursing a cup of tea. Amy and Rory had gone to bed a couple of hours before, and she didn't know where in the TARDIS the Doctor was, but she didn't care. She needed to be alone right now.
These past few hours had awakend memories she had buried in the back of her mind a long time ago because they were too hurtful. She had tried to forget all about her second regeneration, even going as far as to pretend that she had regenerated into Mels in that back alley in New York. She had lied to her parents and the Doctor, and if they had noticed inconsistencies, they didn't say anything.
But now, they knew the whole truth. She could have continued to lie to them; they weren't there with Elizabeth and her, and they didn't know what happened, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. So she told them everything about her life in New York, how she had been free from Madame Kovarian, the Church, the Silence for more than a decade, before they found her. She told them about her friendship with another girl who turned out to be the woman they had met. She told them about regenerating into Mels and being brought to Leadworth to grow up alongside her parents.
And now, she was exhausted. She knew that it wasn't as much the whole ordeal on the planet as it was the discussion that caused her tiredness. She wasn't used to sharing so much. She had never been one to share her feelings, and she was glad that the Doctor was the same on that aspect; they were really made for each other.
Even though he tried not to make a sound, she heard his footsteps coming down the steps behind her. He sat down beside her, and she took the opportunity to rest her head against his shoulder. He took her cup of tea from her hands, and forced her to rest her whole body against his side. His chin rested on her head, and she was sure that her hair must be tickling him, but he said nothing.
He stayed silent, and together they listened to the low hum of the time rotor. That, combined with his presence, had the gift to relax her. Only when she was in the TARDIS could she really let herself go. Outside of the ship, she had to pretend to always be strong; outside of these walls, she was River Song, the woman who killed the best man she had ever known. But she didn't blame the Doctor for this; she had chosen to go along with his plan, to be seen as a murderer, because she knew it was the only way.
But she lived for the nights the Doctor came and got her out of her prison, for the adventures they lived together, for the freedom she had in the TARDIS. She knew that on a day like this, he would never be the one to push the levers that would take her back to Stormcage. She knew that on a day like this, if he had his way, she would never leave again. And sometimes, she wanted to believe that she would let him have his way.
She let her eyes close, and snuggled further into him. She breathed into him; he smelled of time and space just like her. They were the last two of the Time Lords, he wasn't alone anymore, and she would make sure that he would never be.
"You're not falling asleep on me, I hope," he whispered, not wanting to break the mood.
"Good. I'd hate to try and carry you to bed, only to fall on my butt."
"Are you implying that I'm fat?"
"No, of course not!" he quickly replied, and she chuckled.
"Good." She paused, and behind her closed eyelids, she saw images from the day, and especially Elizabeth's face. "I didn't think I would see her again."
"You never looked her up?"
"No. I tried to forget all about this. She was the first friend I ever had, my only friend at the time. And I was the one to put her in danger. She thought I was dead, and it was probably for the better. She lived her life, and look where she is now."
"She's travelling the stars, just like you. Maybe it's time to tell her the truth. I bet she has seen so much that she wouldn't even blink when you tell her."
"I don't know about that."
"River, we let the TARDIS decide where to take us, and she thought that we, you needed to be on this planet at the same time as Elizabeth. And from what you told us, she never forgot. She still remembers you, and I think she'll be happy to know that you're alive."
River didn't answer anything to that, she couldn't. She wanted to believe him; she wanted to go to Atlantis and see Elizabeth and tell her everything. But a part of her was afraid, not that she would be rejected, she didn't think it would happen, but to put Elizabeth in danger again. And what kind of friend would she be if she did that?
Pushing away from the Doctor, she got up from the floor, and walked towards the console. It was time to go home to Stormcage. She pushed down a lever, and made sure not to leave the brakes on, just to annoy him a bit.
The TARDIS materialized, and she walked to the doors, the Doctor following close behind. But when she opened the doors to the outside world, it was to find out that they weren't in Stormcage. Instead, they were outside, in an alley somewhere in the universe. She was ready to turn back and input the correct coordinates when the Doctor pushed past her to go outside.
"Can you smell that, River?"
"What? Garbage?" she replied, not having the patience to play his games today.
"No. It smells of time. It smells of... you," he finished turning towards her with a surprised look on his face.
His words surprised her, but then she took a good look at the alley, and this was when she realised that it wasn't just any alley. She had been here before. It happened a long time ago, in another life, but she had been here. She stepped out of the TARDIS and went to stand beside the Doctor.
"We're in New York. This is where I regenerated the first time."
"And it sounds like you're still here," he said, as a baby started crying close by.
She was ahead of him and found her baby self first, hidden inside clothes too big for her. She reached out to take her baby self into her arms, but the Doctor held her back.
"I don't know about you, but I don't feel like dealing with Reapers in New York, today." When she shook her head no, he released her, and bent down to pick her baby self. "Shh, it's ok, Melody, it's ok."
To his great surprise, she calmed down immediately, and started looking at him with big eyes.
"She remembers you," River said. "She feels safe with you. I will always feel safe with you."
"So what now? Why did the TARDIS bring us to this moment? What do you remember from this night?"
"Nothing. Just what I've been told when I started asking questions. I was abandoned in a hospital. I know that whoever brought me here told the nurses that my name was Melody."
"Maybe this is why we're here. Maybe we're the ones to bring you to the hospital."
"She needs a blanket. Would you...?"
"Yes, of course," she replied, already turning to go back to the TARDIS.
"And don't wake your parents up. They can't know we're here, or they might want to rewrite time, and you made me promise to never do that, not even one line."
She almost told him that she had never said such a thing when she realised that he must be talking about her future self. She wondered for a second what would happen for her to make such a request, but she already knew the answer he would give her: spoilers.
She walked back inside the ship, and the TARDIS, bless her, already had a blanket waiting for her on the jumper seat. She sent a silent thank you, before picking it up. It was a regular blanket, but one she remembered from her early childhood in New York. She would keep it for several years, up until she lost it after being taken into yet another foster home.
She left the TARDIS, but not without checking the location of the nearest hospital first, and walked towards the Doctor, she could see that he was talking. He stopped speaking when he spotted her, and to this day, she couldn't remember what he had been telling her.
She handed the blanket over to him, and he wrapped it tightly over the little body.
"Shall we?" he said, trying to meet her eyes, but she kept looking at baby Melody in his arms.
"Yes. There's a hospital just a block away from here."
They stayed silent during the walk there. In the Doctor's arms, baby Melody was still wide awake, and kept her eyes on him. River had to smile at that; even in a body so young, she was still fascinated by the Doctor.
Finally, the hospital came in sight, and they entered and went directly to the nurse station.
"Hi," the Doctor said, and River was grateful that he would be the one speaking. "We've found this baby all alone in an alley."
"Yes, I'm afraid it happens sometimes, sir," the nurse replied. "But don't worry, we'll take good care of her."
She held out her arms to take the baby from the Doctor, but River stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"Just wait." She stepped closer to him, and looked at her baby self who turned her head towards her. "Never forget this: you are loved. There are people in this universe who love you so very much, and who will always be with you in your heart. You're going to be happy, I can promise you this." She stopped, barely able to contain her tears anymore; she knew that they didn't have a choice, but it didn't mean that it didn't hurt. "Can you... can you kiss her on the forehead for me, Sweetie?"
"Of course," he replied, and pressed a long kiss on her forehead, and River could almost feel it now on her own.
When they turned back towards the nurse, handing Melody over to her, she had an understanding and sad look in her eyes. They had no doubt that she was thinking they were her parents and were abandoning her, and she couldn't be farther from the truth.
"Sometimes, it feels like we have no choice, but it's not true. The parents can still have a change of mind."
"They won't. They can't," the Doctor replied. "Come on, let's go," he added, taking River's hand on her own.
"Wait. Her name is Melody. Just make sure they don't change it."
"Don't worry. I'll get her a hospital bracelet with her name on it."
Satisfied that her baby self would get taken care of, River nodded, and followed the Doctor out of the hospital. It had been harder than she thought it would be. But now, everything made sense: who brought her to the hospital, why she kept her name, it all made sense.
She knew that this would be their secret; her parents would never know about this, because they wouldn't understand. And who would blame them? They could have had their baby back, raise her, but instead, she would be raised by strangers, in another decade. But the Doctor was right: she would never want to change her own past. She had good memories of her time in New York, memories that she didn't want to push to the back of her mind anymore.
"You were right. Let's do this," she said, squeezing his hand.
Elizabeth was tired, and even the cup of coffee Chuck had waiting for her upon her arrival in her office wasn't enough this morning. She had barely slept the night before. After her nightmare, she hadn't been able to go back to sleep, in spite of John's attempts.
She had spent the rest of the night thinking about what she had remembered, what she hadn't noticed when she was inside the room. She hadn't told John about that; she didn't want to, because one part of her thought it was her mind playing tricks on her. But another part of her wanted to believe that it was true. Whenever it let itself be heard, she shut it out; she couldn't think like that.
She was reading the same line for the third time when John entered her office, and sat on her desk. He looked at her for a moment, before asking:
"Yes, I'm just tired."
"You should take a break." When she was ready to protest, he continued. "Come on, Elizabeth, it's almost lunch time. The City won't fall apart if you take an early break."
"I guess not. If you're with me, Atlantis should be safe."
"You hurt me, Elizabeth," he said, putting a hand over his heart but smiling at the same time.
"You'll live," she deadpanned.
She got up and walked around her desk. As she was walking past him, he stopped her, a concerned look in his eyes. She reassured him with a smile that she was fine, and even though they both knew she was lying, he didn't call her on it.
He released her arm, and his hand went to the small of her back. While at any other time she would have stopped him, today, she needed this reassuring touch to ground her to reality.
They were crossing the catwalk when they heard a strangely familiar sound. They looked down, and there, in the middle of the gateroom, the TARDIS was materialising under the surprised looks of all the people there.
Due to their training, the airmen were the first to react, pointing their weapons at the strange box now parked in front of the Gate. It was only when River and the Doctor appeared on the threshold, their hands raised, that Elizabeth and John shouted at the same time:
The airmen stood down at their CO's orders, and the newcomers let their hands fall at their side.
"Thank you," the Doctor said.
John was about to join them in the Gateroom when he noticed that Elizabeth wasn't moving. Her eyes had found River's, and she couldn't bring herself to look away. Every thought she had had the night before and this morning came back to the front of her mind, and she couldn't shut them up this time.
"Who are you?" she asked her, surprising everyone.
"If you're asking that, Elizabeth, then you have it all figured out," River replied, smiling and letting her hands fall to the side.
"Who are you?" Elizabeth repeated, her voice trembling slightly.
"You know who I am."
"No... It's not possible," Elizabeth said, shaking her head no. "You can't..."
"You know that nothing is impossible. You live in Atlantis, you travel the stars. Impossible can't be part of your vocabulary anymore."
Elizabeth knew that everyone was watching them, waiting to know what was going on. But she didn't care. She couldn't stop looking at River, searching for something on her face that would tell her that the other woman was lying. But she saw nothing.
River's eyes were locked on Elizabeth's and she saw the exact moment she admitted the truth to herself. Now was the time to say it out loud and make it real.
"Say it, Elizabeth. Say my name."
It took her another few seconds for the name to be spoken out loud, seconds during which every eye in the gateroom were focused on Elizabeth.