The Doctor was devastated, so River stayed with him as long as she could stand it. But they had never spent much chronological time together, and now was a rubbish time to start. For someone who'd been locked up most of her life she was terrible at being tied down. She needed to feel in control, not directed by his moody whims and his machine's agenda, as loving as it may be. He was difficult at the best of times but this certainly wasn't one of those. His temper was legendary and she saw far more of the Oncoming Storm than the ancient child that kept her parents entertained for so long. They ran but he didn't laugh, kissed but he didn't smile. He missed the Ponds but he refused to talk about it, snapping whenever she tried to bring them up. She had seen more of him than he had of her, so she knew it got better, after a time. But when she started having some of her old murderous thoughts she knew they couldn't go on like this any longer.
But she'd made so many promises. Promised her mother to be good. Promised Amy to look after the Doctor.
It was a good thing she was clever.
She carried the vortex manipulator with her always, her old familiar escape hatch. At first she was almost shocked he didn't think of it, as genius as he claimed to be, but he was so good at self-loathing when the mood struck him that she chalked it up to being distracted by despair. But she caught him staring at it sometimes when he thought she wasn't looking, felt his hearts speed up when it brushed against his arm during the rare times he let her close, and as she secretly did the research she needed she began to understand.
The problem was not that he was unaware of the obvious solution. He knew he could see Amy and Rory again.
But he knew they could not come with him.
So he thought this half existence was better: to dwell on the pain because he deserved it, and avoid another goodbye because he hated them.
But she'd seen more of him in the past two months than she ever had before, and she knew that he was wrong.
They'd just overthrown a corrupt secret society by unearthing an ancient treasure when she saw her opportunity. He'd been the one to uncover the final clue – or so she'd let him think – and his smirk is almost manic enough to convince her this will work. He'd taken to wearing a ridiculous pair of glasses whenever he wanted to look clever, and they were perched on his nose now. He never told her where he got them, but she knew they had something to do with her parents by the way he recoiled when she insulted them.
"Nice work, sweetie," she crooned, and he took a step back at the predatory look in her eye. There was always a flash, in these moments, when she assessed how easy it would be to end his life when he isn't expecting it: a shot to both hearts, more poisoned lipstick. But it isn't murder on the agenda tonight, its resurrection.
"River, what are you doing?" He ignored her half the time but today he's not far enough gone not to recognize something is different.
"Can't I congratulate my husband on saving another world?"
He floundered, not really buying it but unsure how to respond, when she latched her arms around him and distracted him with a kiss as she typed the coordinates into her vortex manipulator.
He heard the click of the buttons and tried to get away. "Wait, River … What … What are you doing? Stop!" But she persevered, and held him tight until she felt the familiar jerk of being ripped from one temporal point and deposited in another.
"For your own good, sweetie," she said into his neck.
They rematerialized into a neat little yard to the sound of shrieking children. A boy and a girl, looking about ten years old, were playing a rousing game of football, and the girl seemed to be winning by the use of dirty tactics. She kicked the boy, not the ball, and took off down the field when he dropped to clutch at his ankle.
"Oi, behave," scolded a familiar voice, and River watched at the Doctor froze. All he'd seen was the children, but she was facing the other direction, where a very familiar couple sat on a blue swing on a white porch. She'd been so wrapped up in worrying about the Doctor she'd barely taken the time to acknowledge how much she missed them.
"Amelia." His voice was full of breathless relief, and she was so glad it wasn't rage. She wasn't entirely sure how he'd take to her meddling.
She stayed put and watched as the two of them ran to each other. He folded Amy in his arms and swung her around and laughed, laughed, laughed. She looked away and caught her father's eye but there was no jealousy on either end. Amy and the Doctor had a bond they'd never be fully able to understand, and that's simply the way it was. Neither of them would be what they were if they didn't.
Rory gave them a moment before he shuffled off the porch. Time has obviously passed. He wasn't nimble by any means, and his hair showed the first signs of turning grey. River figured they might be roughly the same age now. That was new. Though she supposed he had two thousand years on her, really, and between her regeneration and the way she could still control her appearance just a little how she looks wasn't an accurate reflection of how old she really was anyway.
When the Doctor and Amy broke away he left one arm around her shoulder. He was positively grinning now, all boyish enthusiasm as if the past two months had never happened. He might be sour about this later, but apparently he was going to embrace it now.
"Mr. Pond. Permission to hug? Not that I waited to ask – sorry about that. But—"
"Shut up and come here," Rory said with a grin of his own. Though their embrace wasn't quite as raucous it still went on for quite awhile.
"Look at you," the Doctor said when he finally pulled away. "Amy and Rory. Rory and Amy. The Ponds. Alive and well. Together."
He glanced around and saw the children who'd stopped to stare at the reunion happening in their backyard. "And … offspring," he managed.
Amy laughed. River was happy for them, but she wasn't selfless enough not to feel a pang at seeing someone else living the life she should have had.
"Yes, introductions," Rory proposed, using it as an excuse to extricate himself from the Doctor's grasp. "This is Brian," he said, placing his hands on the boy's shoulders. His hair was a dusty blond, and River couldn't see any of her father in him except for the way he carried himself as if ready to step between the strangers and the ones he loved if they turn out to be a threat.
"And this," Rory finished, resting his hand on the girl's head, "is Abigail." The girl was a few inches taller than Brian, probably a couple years older, and her straight brown hair fell halfway down her back.
"You're the Doctor," Abigail said with all of Amy's certainty, though the accent was jarringly American.
"I am indeed," the Doctor confirmed, sinking to his knees so he was almost eye level with both children. "How did you know that?"
"You're wearing a bowtie. No one else wears bow ties."
"Bow ties are cool," he said, straightening it, and River couldn't stop herself from rolling her eyes.
"They are not," Abigail argued. Brian said nothing at all, just continued to survey the group warily.
"All right, break it up. This is Melody – your sister."
Hers was hardly a story fit for children, and the fact her parents had told these two about her pleased her more than she'd ever admit. It shouldn't matter, really, what these children did or didn't know – but she was glad not to be forgotten all the same.
She didn't expect the smile that lit Brian's face. "Seriously? Cool! Mama says you've had almost as many adventures as the Doctor! Could you tell us some?"
"Actually kids, do you mind going inside for a bit?" Rory interrupted. "We'll tell stories later, if our guests stay for dinner."
As the children grumbled and eventually listen to their father, River watched the way the Doctor floundered, stumbling over his word until he muttered, "ummm … yes … I supposed that could be managed."
Everyone relaxed, but the moment stretched too long and became slightly awkward. "I'll go make some tea," Rory offered.
"I'll come with you. Dad." His face lit up as she followed him into the house, leaving Amy and the Doctor alone. It was the stereotypical American dream – two story, white picket fence. She half expected a dog to come charging out – or knowing them, perhaps an Ood. Only the blue color of the porch swing was out of place. Rory moved about the kitchen with ease, putting the kettle on and pulling a box of tea from one of the cabinets.
"The neighbors think we're quaint because we still make tea."
"The life you two have led, and it's the tea they find quaint?" she asked with a raised eyebrow and a smile.
"Well we haven't told them about the time travel and the aliens."
She laughed at the droll manner he could describe all the insanity of their lives. He was always the same, no matter what time she found him in. Steady, dependable Rory. He was older, but he seemed relaxed as well.
"You look happy," she said, sitting down at the kitchen table.
He pulled up a chair beside her. "That's because I am. You look tired."
"That's because I am," she parroted.
He reached out to cover one of her hands with his own. "How long has it been since Manhattan?"
He whistled. "It's been almost ten years for us. That was the part I could never quite wrap my head around – how sometimes we'd fly off in the TARDIS and life on Earth would continue without us, and other times we'd sneak out of our anniversary party and the Doctor would bring us back after seven weeks of adventure and no one would even know we had gone. Not sure how you and the Doctor keep it all straight."
"The diaries help. Mostly we don't talk about anything important enough to be a spoiler." Rory surely noticed her bitterness, but bless the man he didn't mention it, though the hand on top of hers tightened slightly.
"Have you stayed with the Doctor all this time?"
She nodded. "He's needed me. I don't know how much Amy told you about those last moments in the graveyard but he didn't take it well. He's been blaming himself for what happened ever since."
"He shouldn't do that."
"But he does."
"Will you bring him back here again?"
"I could. But I won't. The only thing the Doctor hates more than endings are repeats. He didn't want to come here because he didn't want to face another goodbye. But he deserved an ending less terrible than the one he got in that cemetery, so I dragged him here. But he'll never move on if he doesn't leave you behind. His wallowing isn't doing the universe any favors."
"I understand that – I think." She wanted to laugh at the way his brow scrunched, but she was simply too weary. When he spoke again she could read the nerves in his hesitation. "But you could still visit on your own, right?"
Her heart did some strange somersault in her chest. So rarely in her life had she felt wanted."If that's an open invitation."
"Then I'd love to."
He grinned at her, but the moment was interrupted by the shrieking kettle. She moved to get it but he told her to sit and returned quickly with two steaming cups. They drank in silence for awhile. She'd been forced to keep the Doctor moving constantly, rarely stopping even to rest, never for anything besides that. It was a relief to be still.
"We're so sorry," Rory said out of the blue.
"Now you sound like him."
"We're your parents, and we couldn't protect you, and we let you be raised by some monster!" He gained vehemence with each phrase, and she was glad for his indignation on her behalf, but she hadn't been angry about such things for years.
"You're not responsible for what that eye-patch wearing bitch did. It wasn't your fault. Wasn't even the Doctor's. I came to terms with that a long time ago. And I told you before – you did raise me. You were there for Mels when she didn't have anyone else."
"I still can't believe that was you. You were a right terror."
She smiled wickedly. "I was, wasn't I? And you were always so obviously in love with Mother. It was a little disgusting."
"Oh hush. Didn't anyone ever teach you to respect your elders?"
"Nope. You must have missed that one."
"There's so much of Amy in you," he marveled. The simple statement meant so much because she knew how devoted he was to his wife. How different would her life had been if she'd grown up like those children upstairs, with two fantastic parents instead of years of isolation? She would have been loved, cherished, spoiled – but she wouldn't have known the Doctor, would never have piloted the TARDIS or become a famous archeologist. Everything that made her her would be gone. She'd be Melody, not River.
"That may be the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."
Rory was just as embarrassed by praise now as he'd been as a child. How many daughters had that firsthand knowledge about their fathers? She had a strange sort of luck.
"Do you think they've had enough time out there?" Rory asked, finishing his tea.
"I doubt it. They could probably talk through the night."
"Then you should come meet the children properly. We've told them so many stories. Abby's enamored with the Doctor – but Brian's quite fond of you."
And she found that she was hardly jealous at all. After all her parents had been through with her, they deserved an uncomplicated life. "Lead the way, Dad," she said before following him up the stairs.
Amy could hardly believe that after all these years her best friend was beside her. She'd come to terms with their separation years ago. Wished she'd had the chance to face him properly, hug him one last time, and tell him to live a wonderful life without her, but accepted it was not to be. And now here he was, as if not a day had passed, so young and old at the same time, all floppy hair and ridiculous wardrobe, with eyes sadder than she'd ever seen them.
He took her offered hand and she pulled him toward the porch swing. It was such a shocking shade of blue that all the neighbors talked, but she'd insisted on the color, needing the familiarity to ground her in such an unfamiliar world. The Doctor sat down and Amy curled into him, leaning against his chest and pulling her knees up beside her. He dropped a kiss on the crown of her head and pulled at the end of the French braid draped over her left shoulder.
"This is new," he said, poking her in the face with it.
She laughed, and the band squeezing her heart that she'd learned to ignore loosened just a bit.
"Well, hair care technology leaves something to be desired in this decade. Takes ages to get it to curl properly. Not worth it most the time, with those munchkins to chase around."
"You told me you couldn't have children. Back with the Daleks – when you and Rory almost got a divorce – you told me that was why."
"They're not ours," she admitted. "I mean they are, in all the ways that matter, but not biologically. We adopted them when they were young. For years I'd think of River, wandering these very streets alone. We couldn't save her from that. But Brian and Abby, we could."
"You're wonderful parents, I'm sure."
"Rory is. He's a natural. Would strike down anything in the galaxy for even looking at them cross-eyed. Heaven help the boys that will try to come chasing after Abby someday. And I'm learning. I love them so desperately. But sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night terrified some crazy woman in an eye patch is going to steal them away." She had friends there, but no one she could talk to about such matters. Rory would listen, but any mention of Demons Run would remind him how he blamed himself for not rescuing their daughter and she didn't want to do that to him. Amy swiped at the tears in her eyes and managed a weak smile. "You're wearing my glasses," she said.
The Doctor reached up to touch the frames self-consciously, but did not take them off. "I wear glasses now. Glasses are cool."
"I'm not arguing. You're the one who said they were ridiculous."
He frowned, hesitating before continuing. "They remind me of you. That's why I wear them. And because they do actually help with the reading."
She was glad to be remembered, but she also knew what it cost him to hold on to those memories and wished he would let go. She and Rory spoke of the Doctor sometimes – when the stars were actually bright enough to be seen through the city's smog or they noticed something on the news he'd taken them to see – but they did not dwell on what could not be changed. "You didn't come in the TARDIS," she finally said.
"Couldn't. I told you. Time-lines. Paradoxes. A timey wimey disaster waiting to happen."
"So how did you get here?"
The Doctor heaved a great sigh. "Your daughter and that vortex manipulator of hers. Carries two. I tried to tell your husband that once. He preferred to take the slow path. Thought it was more romantic."
"It was." She laughed, but the sound didn't convince either of them. "I had to choose him, you know. I wish we'd had the chance to say a proper goodbye, but he's my husband and he needed me." She needed him to understand that. She'd chosen Rory well before Manhattan, and the Doctor knew that, and she'd been absolutely right. But it had still felt like a betrayal, the way he'd begged her to return to the TARDIS with him and she'd ignored his pleas and blinked.
"I know. That's the way it should be – the two of you against the world. But I've told you before – I'm a selfish old man. We'd talked about you leaving but I still couldn't stand to let you go. Seared on my hearts, you both are. It hurts." His voice broke by the end, and Amy was shocked to see tears flashing in his eyes.
"Doctor." She pulled him to her the same way she'd cradled Rory in the graveyard when he'd been overcome by her appearance. Whatever had she done to deserve two men who loved her so desperately? "It's all right."
"It isn't. I break everyone I touch. Because you were right. It is running away. The most amazing running away anyone in this galaxy could manage – but if I just keep running fast enough I don't have to face everything I've left behind. I promised Brian nothing would happen to you – but I lied. I knew ever since the hotel with the Minotaur that traveling with me put you in unimaginable danger – but I couldn't let go. You tried to save yourselves but I wouldn't let you out of my grasp. And the worst part is I knew something would happen, because it always does. Everyone always breaks. It's only a matter of time."
She pulled away so he'd be forced to look her in the eye. Everyone acted like she didn't know when she was being scary – but she knew. "Now you listen here! You didn't break me. You took a lonely little girl and you showed her things more amazing than she could ever imagine. It was always my choice to go with you. Rory and I both knew the risks, and we made that choice together. And what happened in that graveyard wasn't a tragedy. It was a new beginning. We're happy here, and we have each other, and we're safe."
"You lost your child because of me. You could never have any more children. You almost got a divorce!"
"If not for you and the TARDIS we'd never had River at all! Can you honestly say that would be better? And if not for you and those Angels, Abby and Brian may have never had any parents, and they'd die alone before we were even born. You didn't break us – and you saved them."
He opened his mouth, and then clamped it shut. She wanted to wipe the tears from his cheeks but didn't dare, because that would mean acknowledging that he'd shed them.
"Ha. You can't argue with that, Raggedy Man!"
"I suppose that I can't." A small victory, but it was a start. She snuggled back against his chest.
"Have you been looking after Melody?" she asked.
"She's been looking after me, honestly. Though I think I've been wearing on her last nerve lately. You were right: I should stick to the science. Human emotions – I can't seem to understand them."
"Then you need to find someone else to travel with. Someone who's desperate for adventure and doesn't mind the risk. Because I can't stand to think of you out there all by yourself. You need to move on. We'll both always have the memories, but you have a long life ahead of you, and you need to share it."
"But it hurts. Every time someone leaves me it hurts so much."
She wished she could change that, but it was beyond her control. She could have stopped it once, perhaps, by not falling in love with him as a child. She'd built her whole life around waiting for him to come back so once he finally did she threw herself into that life with such enthusiasm. She'd wanted him to need her as much as she needed him. After their parting they'd both paid the price for that.
"But remember how wonderful it is while they're there? Would you take back all the memories we had if it meant you never had to live that day in the graveyard?"
His answer was immediate. "I wouldn't give back those memories for anything."
She thought perhaps he did. His smile wasn't as bright as it should have been, but there was fondness in his voice again when he uttered, "My brilliant Pond."
She wondered how long it had been for him since the Angels, but didn't dare ask. But there was something she couldn't resist bringing up. "You went to visit me again. When I was just a little girl."
"You told me to."
"I did not!"
"Oh. Well you will. Damn. Spoilers. If you haven't written the letter yet, then how did you know?"
"I got a brand new shiny memory about a week after I came here. Turns out I didn't bite those four psychiatrists after all. Just laughed when they told me you weren't real, because I knew they were wrong. You saved my parents a lot of headaches."
"But did it help? You, I mean?"
"To know that one day my Raggedy Man would come back and whisk me away? Of course it did."
Their lives had been so interconnected for so long that she ached to think that it was over. He'd leave and she would never see him again. After the cemetery she'd held onto a tiny sliver of hope that he'd discover a way to find her – and he had. But once he left now he'd never be back.
"You should stay."
"What?" He jerked in shock, but he did not refuse, even though she'd seen firsthand what that would cost him. But it wasn't what she meant.
"Not forever. I know you couldn't stand the boredom. And I'm not sure how the world would keep itself together without you. But for a couple of days. We'll talk about old times, you can get to know the kids. Store up some happy memories until you can find your next distraction."
"Amelia Pond, you were far more than a distraction."
"Not an answer, Doctor."
He'd admitted once that his older incarnations didn't do domestic. But he'd come to Christmas diner when he was supposed to be dead, made a fool of himself on the dance floor at her wedding, and spent months sleeping on their couch because he suspected their time together was ending. He was domestic enough. Perhaps that was the consequence of traveling with a married couple.
"I'd like that." This time his grin was genuine, and Amy found herself grinning back. "As long as the wife agrees, of course. She's my ride. Strange, that. Vortex manipulator is a terrible way to travel, though I suppose I owe it a great deal, now." He paused midway through his ramble to appear comically distraught. "They haven't invented the Wii yet, have they?"
It felt so good to truly laugh again. "I'm afraid not."
The Doctor swore he didn't need to rest but Amy made up the couch for him anyway before slipping away for some girl talk with River. He'd just finished some modifications to the TV that he was very proud of and flopped down on the sofa when Rory entered, carrying a blanket.
"Rory! I just fixed your TV. Television in this decade is rubbish, and I know how Amy loves her EastEnders, so I modified it so you pick up a few channels from the future. Just don't have your neighbors over for a viewing party. That might be a little hard to explain."
Rory smiled and shook his head, but he didn't let the Doctor derail him from his mission. "I never got a chance to thank you properly."
He sat up suddenly, all adolescent awkwardness in an ancient's body. "Thank me for what?"
"For turning me into a man almost worthy of Amy."
"Rory Williams, the boy who waited. The last centurion. The Angel's final victim. That wasn't my doing."
"It was," Rory insisted. "I was never special until your adventures forced me to be."
But the Doctor shook his head, not buying it for a second. "Perhaps all the peril brought it to the surface. But those traits were always there inside you. Abounding loyalty. Incomprehensible devotion. Innate goodness. Unending patience. That's what made you the only man who could deserve her."
Perhaps it was the subtext, or perhaps he'd know for a long time. "You love her."
"Not the same way you do. She's human, and this was always going to end. If it wasn't the Angels it would have been something else, someday. But she was the first person these eyes ever saw. I shall never forget her."
"I know how you feel."
Their eyes met, and on the eve of their final parting understanding passed between the two men that transcended all that had come before. The Doctor looked away first, knowing he'd miss this man almost as much as his dear Amelia. "I suppose you do."
The Doctor stayed for two more days, and the Williams household made the most of every minute. They ate fish fingers and custard at odd hours – much to River and the children's disapproval. They spoke of their adventures well into the night. Rory and Amy shared about their life in New York, where Rory was a doctor and Amy worked part time at a publishing house. The Doctor built a telescope and taught Abigail and Brian the names of all the stars. He modernized most of the technology in their house but destroyed their toaster. He played football with the kids. River teased them all. They stayed far from Central Park.
But the Doctor and River both grew restless, and all the adults knew without speaking when it was time for them to go. It was a beautiful autumn day, the leaves as red as Amy's hair, and everyone knew it was a moment that would be emblazoned into their memories forever.
They hugged their daughter first, and then Amy stepped forward to look at the Doctor one last time. She pulled two photos out of her jacket pocket: a family portrait taken a few months previous and a Polaroid Brian had taken the night before of the three of them on that crazy blue swing, Amy in Rory's lap, her head thrown back in laughter as they all leaned toward each other. "You keep these in those ridiculous pockets of yours so you'll always remember the good you've done for us."
He tucked them away under her watchful eye, and then she clung to him tightly. "We'll always love you, Raggedy Man," she whispered. "But it's time to stop waiting."
He kissed her on the forehead, and he kissed Rory on the mouth, and while everyone was left sputtering he threw his arms around his wife, and they were gone.
So that's it. I feel better about the ending now! The Angels Take Manhattan had some fantastic scenes, but I wish the Doctor and the Ponds had been able to say a more proper goodbye, and thus this fic was born. I am not a River fan, so I hope her voice turned out all right.