The ever-growing island
K. Ryan, 2012
Written for Charina, and set after Berlin in River's timeline, and pre-Rose in Nine's.
The Vortex Manipulator—not new, but lovingly restored—flung her out onto the foreign beach as if she was sand from a boot. She landed in a tumble; careless, and harsh, and caught up in a maelstrom of poisoned air and noise —pure, screaming, broken fists of noise that seemed to move through her and steal her heartbeat. Her eyes stung. There was ash in her mouth.
Oh she had read about this. Taken in its stories like air. The island that has grown out of itself again and again, in a haze of smoke and ash and heaving waters. It fit River's mood. It fit the ache she still felt from her own newness, and all the slamming doors in her head.
It was in the Java Book of Kings; shipping records from 1631; a small, stubborn streak of smoke in the 1970s, its discarded body taken apart by mad explorers, and growing ten inches wider every year. Krakatoa was a stupid, foolhardy, tragic place to be.
But after Berlin, River Song was drawn to something that visibly refused to die.
The Doctor watched the mountain explode. He watched it over, and over again. He let himself get close enough to its edges to blister, to be rocked by quakes that could be felt all the way from these small, panicked stretches of the Sunda Strait all the way to Perth. He watched ash fall and the sky roil, and knew that the sea would be cold for years after, as if numb with shock from the earth and rock that had tried to flow in its place.
Sometimes, he saved people. He never asked their names. Mad German volcanologists, who quoted Pliny and couldn't help grabbing at new-formed pumice even as he coaxed or dragged them away in crucial prior weeks. A Sumatran village found themselves somewhere else . An archaeologist, looking for sixth century accoutrements from the Java Book of Kings , and unaware that he'd be found in little bits during later years if he didn't—just— run. The Doctor was almost proud of that one. The absurdity had made him laugh.
But then he was back, at two minutes past ten on the 2nd of August, 1883, and he'd be drowning in air that was no longer air, and water turned to fire; until the loudest recorded sound in that history rendered him blessedly deaf.
He was standing at the edge of the Island. It was suicide, of course. Suicide to anyone who wasn't The Doctor. He could not longer hear the old girl at his back, but he could feel her around him and beneath the earth, even deeper than the explosions that plumed the air though his smoke-ruined eyes.
Time. He waited at the edge—blood racing, skin tight, knowing that there was one moment between slipping into her and running away and choking to death like Pliny at the edge of Pompeii—using up regenerations endlessly in this dying place until there was nothing left. Pliny again. He never had managed to stop the old bastard from rowing out there—from seeing what was what. The old genius-git had been madder than than a German volcanologist. It was gorgeous, really.
The Doctor sagged against the Tardis. No air. Hearts in sluggish, helpless rhythm. The fire a dying scream in the sky. Time to go in.
He heard something that might, almost, be his name.
River knew she couldn't stay. Her ears already rang and her eyes already streamed, and if she stayed too long she'd either die or start thinking of those already dying. She was meant to be in the Luna Library. For all her supervisors knew, and thanks to the careful persuasion of one of the Nestene, that was exactly where she was.
"I am," she muttered, coughing her voice away to nothing, "Going to regret that date."
But the island was beautiful. She would return later, she thought. When this time was preserved under newer layers. The world went white with another explosion, Burning ash flecked her hair, stung her skin.
When the dazzle left her eyes, she saw a man. Only just—she caught his shape, the long line of his leather coat, as anachronistic as her own. Pale skin and eyes fixed on the destruction that heaved at their backs, and cut their time ever shorter. Wild eyes, bright even through the smoke.
And, a part of her couldn't help but think, no matter how raw and strange this was, really ridiculous ears. Still coughing, she fumbled for her notebook, and the charcoal that seemed almost funny now, in a dire sort of way. She drew them out and tried to catch him. Tried to catch the mountain and the small plants that still struggled at the edges of things, and the long, dark figure of a man. One swipe sketched in his shoulders; that coat; leg and boot and a clenched hand. He was leaning against something. Its shape almost lost to her, until the stick in her hand snatched up what she couldn't understand and showed her, blurred and impossible.
Recognition flowed over River like skin, even as the different doors in her head shuddered and creaked and screamed to kill him, to save him, to tear-and-end-and-keep-and love-and-hurt-and—
He didn't hear her. This world was too busy ending. He was slumped at the base of the Tardis.
River knew what to do. The Tardis always knew what to do, soothing away some of River's aches even as she tried to haul the Doctor's heavy, awkward, too-broad body inside, and frantically send them all safe into the cooler fires of space.
His skin was hot, and almost frail. It gave too easily beneath her anxious, curious fingers once she had him on the floor by the console. A harsher, quieter, more alien console than the one she had seen before: its walls stippled and strange. She let one hand brush against the nearest; the patterns might have been still, she could feel its joy in her throat. A warm buzz that caught her breath and said safe no matter that Amy and Rory seemed too far away, or that a younger self bit her lip to keep from bleeding.
She looked at the Doctor. At this Doctor, who was stirring under her hand. Swallowing and groaning and trying to cough up a volcano's worth of ash. He never seemed this helpless when she'd killed him. River swallowed. "Oh, hush, sweetie." The words were hoarse and small, barely audible over the ringing in her own ears. "You will be all right."
The Doctor could barely see. There was Tardis-light, and Tardis-weight against his back, but human hands eased him up, gripped too-firm at his upper arms as he coughed and spluttered. He felt a tangle of curls against his face, and skin that smelled warm and human under singe and smoke. He groaned. He should pull away. Run away. Stand and see what grabbed at him now, and make sure they never bothered again. The fires were all gone.
Something jerked his head up. He blinked, but saw nothing except the faint smudge of a face under wild hair. The figure shook him, and did a good job at it, too. Shook him hard, and he saw lips moving. Expected words and only heard more ringing, and own heartbeats.
"Who are—" he felt the words, but they held no sound.
Lips pressed against his own and the body he could not see shaped itself as female, and shuddering, and very right, there on the floor. The kiss startled him. He caught himself just laying there, fire-dazzled and deafened, while someone kissed him like she knew him. And it was infuriating. His tongue met hers, his hands rose to find and encircle a waist. He trapped her lip. Bit it. Tried and fought and he felt her surprise and that she laughed at him. She arched into him as one hand tangled in her hair. Kissing her throat, he could feel the noises she made. He strained to see her face, and then laughed as he gave that up for lost. He kissed her back until, when she broke away with a shove, he could taste more than ash.
He did hear the Tardis door, and something that might have been a laugh, might have been a sob.
And when he had eyes to see again, the Doctor could see that his leather coat was gone, and there was a hand print on his shirt, stark and in charcoal.
The dead weird thing was, he reflected later, a new jacket shorter and sleek and easy about him, and his shirt cleaned, it hadn't even been volcanic ash. It was ordinary earth charcoal, the sort you got at an art shop, even in the 51st century.