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Timebomb

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The Tardis was still and quiet as the Doctor waited on the kettle to heat up, leaning back against the kitchen counters and planning out her afternoon. It was the perfect time for a cup of tea, a book, and maybe a nap, and the plush chairs in the library were calling to her. Graham, Ryan and Yaz had just left, off to go enjoy their regular lives for a bit, and she was planning to leave the Tardis right where it was while both her and the machine recharged for a bit.

The kettle screeched and she poured her tea, stirring in several heaping spoonfuls of sugar and gently blowing on the surface to cool it before taking a tentative sip. Her tea was perfect, the quiet was perfect, and she was fairly certain nothing could spoil her afternoon.

Without warning, the Tardis lurched into space, sloshing her tea all over her hand and prompting a surprised exclamation from the Doctor. Grabbing onto the countertop for support, she unceremoniously slammed the mug down, spilling the rest of the tea in the process, grabbing a tea towel to wipe the hot, sticky liquid off her hands and stumbling to the control room to figure out just what the heck her ship thought it was doing without her.

She had barely reached the console room when the ship lurched in a different direction and the Doctor sprawled forward, catching her fall rather painfully on her hands. “Hey!” she exclaimed aloud, glancing up just in time to see a pair of boots on the other side of the console. “What are you doing?!” she yelled at the figure attached to them, staggering ungracefully to her feet.

“Oh no.” A terribly familiar voice came from the other side of the pillar… but it couldn’t be. The Doctor felt her hearts stop and the blood drain from her face as River Song stepped around the console and into view, pulling a lever to stop the TARDIS’s flight. “Where did you come from?” River asked.

It took the Doctor a minute to get past the shock of seeing her wife for the first time in so very long, and she shook her head as she tried to think of actual words to say. “Uh. Came from the kitchen, I guess… I spilled my tea.” She wiped her hands on the tea towel and stuffed it in her coat pocket, glancing up at River, hungrily taking in the sight of her. It had been so many years, so very long since Darillium, and the Doctor hadn’t expected to see River again after that. He’d said his goodbyes, gotten as much closure as could be expected… so now to see her standing here in the Tardis, very much alive…

“The Doctor isn’t here, is he?” River asked urgently. “Oh, he better not be. That would be just my luck.” River stomped to the entrance of the hallway the Doctor had just come from, searching for a face she knew.

“Why?” the Doctor asked suspiciously.

River turned back to her, taking her firmly by the shoulders and staring fiercely into her eyes. Funny, she was a bit taller than the Doctor these days, and with those boots… “I need you to tell me if he’s here or not, right now.”

“What are you hiding?” the Doctor raised one eyebrow at her wife.

“I’m not hiding anything. I just don’t want to see him,” River said simply.

The Doctor’s stomach dropped. Didn’t want to see her? And yet here she was, and River didn’t even recognize her- well, why should she really, with this new face- it was like a knife to the gut. “Why not?” she found herself asking, trying to keep the note of hurt out of her voice.

River pursed her lips impatiently. “Okay, more accurately, I don’t want him to see me. And if he’s here, we’ll turn right around and go back to Sheffield, and you’ll pretend like you never saw me.” She gave the Doctor a sharp look, but the Doctor knew her only too well. There was a catch in her voice, a tiny wobble to her chin, and a sincerity in her eyes that told the Doctor something was wrong. Something she didn’t want to talk about, especially not to her husband.

There was only one way to find out what it was, and this new face was as good a disguise as any. “Er. No. He’s not here. He… uh… stepped out,” the Doctor’s mind raced trying to spin a believable lie. “To go get croissants. Won’t be back for a while.”

River gave her an odd look. “Croissants? In Sheffield, of all places? When he could just go to France and…” she shook her head. “Oh, never mind. If I ever figure out what’s going on in that head of his, the universe just might end.” She stepped back over to the console and flipped a few switches, quiet, and the ship easily swayed back into motion. “I should have figured he was travelling with someone these days. You’re just his type, too,” River glared down at the new console, looking for something, and punching a button when she found it.

The Doctor frowned. “Am I?”

River looked up at her, expression softening. “Sorry, I didn’t even introduce myself. I’m River Song. An old friend of the Doctor’s.”

Interesting way to put it, the Doctor thought, but she forced a smile anyway. “Nice to meet you.”

River looked at her expectantly, and the Doctor realized she was waiting for her to introduce herself. “Oh! I’m… uh…” John Smith, no, she couldn’t say that… Jane Smith? River would see right through that… “Yasmin Khan,” the Doctor blurted out the first female name that she was relatively certain River wouldn’t know. “My friends call me Yaz, though, you can call me Yaz.”

River gave her a smile, looking almost like her old self. “Nice to meet you, Yaz. And I really am sorry about the kidnapping.”

The Doctor grinned back. “It’s alright. I’m always up for an adventure. Love a good adventure.” She came to stand next to River at the console, stuffing her hands in her pockets to remind herself not to touch anything and give away that she knew how to fly the ship. “So where are we going?”

“Got a bit of a rescue mission, actually,” River said. “Isn’t there a screen? She’s usually got a- oh, here.” She pushed a button and a projection appeared between the crystal columns on a large wall. It took a moment for River to locate the appropriate controls, but when she did, the projection burst into color, text in both English and Gallifreyan. “A few colleagues were out trying to get an artefact, and they ran into some trouble. So they called me.”

“Why’d you need a Tardis for that?” the Doctor asked, watching her work and trying to keep an innocently curious tone to her voice.

River squatted down by the console, locating some cables and wires before pulling the vortex manipulator off her wrist and patching them in. “Well, my vortex manipulator couldn’t seem to find the coordinates, for starters. Besides, they said their VMs stopped working once they got within the planet’s gravity, and I didn’t want to risk all of us getting stranded there.” The screen popped to life with new information as the Tardis communicated with the little device.

“Vortex manipulators don’t sound very reliable,” the Doctor tried to keep the look of distaste off her face.

River laughed. “Yeah, the Doctor hates them, too. They’re actually not that bad, no matter what he might say.”

“Not that bad to the point where you needed a real time machine to do what you needed?” the Doctor couldn’t help teasing.

“Oh, shut up, Yaz,” River laughed again, no real venom behind her words. “Yes, I needed a real time machine for this. You and the Doctor can gloat later.” She flipped a few switches and twisted a knob and stepped back for a moment to let the ancient machine change course. “Four of my colleagues are stuck here. Captured, actually. I don’t have a lot of detail, they only sent me a short message, but it seems like the local species thought they meant harm to them, so they’re currently locked up.” River frowned.

The Doctor nodded slowly, turning the information over in her mind. “Are you sure it was your colleagues who sent the message?” she asked slowly.

River paused. “I don’t have any reason to believe it would be anyone else,” she mused aloud. “What are you thinking?”

The Doctor shrugged, staring up at the screen that River had brought to life. “It’s just odd that you’ve been called to a planet, by yourself, that you can’t get off with the equipment they expect you to have. In my experience, you’re not usually allowed communication devices in prison.”

“Have a lot of experience with that, do you?” River cocked an eyebrow.

“Just the once. Or twice. Or so,” the Doctor mumbled under her breath. “My point stands, though.”

River was quiet for a moment, considering. “I’m still not going to let my friends rot and die on this planet, you know. That’s why I borrowed the Tardis, so I have a better shot at getting them out.”

The Doctor looked away, pretending to be fascinated by the projected screen. “You know, the Doctor would probably just help you if you asked, instead of you having to steal the Tardis for yourself.”

River smiled. “I’m sure he would.”

“So, why don’t you?”

River’s smile melted away, and she sighed almost imperceptibly. “It’s difficult to explain.”

“Well, go on, I’m smarter than I look.”

River gave her a look, tired and sorrowful and unwavering. “Yaz, it doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it.”

“But-“

“I can just take you back to Sheffield and you can wait with the Doctor for me to bring the Tardis back, if you’d rather.”

The Doctor crossed her arms stubbornly, but dropped the subject.

River turned away, effectively ending the conversation, and attached a thigh holster to her leg. She checked to make sure her gun was in working order, failing to notice the Doctor struggling to keep the look of distaste at the gun off her face, and pulled a map and some small objects out of a little bag that the Doctor recognized- once upon a time, he’d made it bigger on the inside for her- then transferred the objects to an outer pocket for easy retrieval. She slung the bag over her head so it crossed her body and pulled up on the lever to land the Tardis.

The Doctor subtly glanced at the screen out of the corner of her eye, hoping River was preoccupied enough not to notice. The Tardis had a bad habit of displaying coordinates only in Gallifreyan, which River would see through instantly if she saw her reading it. Unfortunately, the text was far too small for the Doctor to read from as far away as she was.

“You don’t have to come,” River told her, nodding towards the door. “I expect it’ll be pretty dangerous out there. You could go finish your tea,” she suggested.

“Nonsense.” The Doctor grinned and bounded to the doors, hopping out into the dry, oppressive heat and holding the door behind her, waiting for River to follow. “Wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

River couldn’t help but smile, shaking her head a bit. “Well, I can see why he likes traveling with you.”

The Doctor looked back over her shoulder at her wife with a grin. “Come on, then!”

With one last check of the ship, River followed her out the doors into the hot wind and pulled the door shut behind her.

Red dust swirled around their feet, the two suns in the sky cast ominous shadows on a tall, crumbling building made of the same dusty red rocks the landscape sported. The Doctor pulled her hood over her head in a feeble attempt to shield herself from the flying dust and blinding light. Turning her back to the wind, she shielded her eyes with her hand and looked upward, noticing several golden satellites hovering across the sky in the near atmosphere. They seemed to crackle with electricity, sparkling and emitting a low buzz that hung in the air.

They seemed vaguely familiar, vaguely upsetting, but the Doctor couldn’t quite put her finger on why.

She turned back to the building. It looked as if it had been there for millenia, and yet also looked like it could come crumbling down at any moment. “Is that where your friends are?” she called to River above the howling wind.

River was waiting on a device from her bag to pick up a signal, and nodded after a moment. “Are you sure you want to come?” she asked again.

Ignoring the pit in her stomach, the Doctor nodded. “Lead the way,” she told her wife.

 

****

Thousands of feet underground, in a nearly pitch black room, a surveillance monitor popped to life with the image of a hooded figure and a woman trudging across the barren ground. The beast sprawled in front of it sat up and pulled the monitor closer with a giant paw, narrowing its eyes at the image. Its snakelike head tilted to one side in an attempt to make sense of what it was seeing, and after a moment it bared its fangs in a crude smile. “Unbelievable,” it muttered to itself, hardly daring to believe.

“What?” A second beast lifted its head, squinting in the light of the monitor.

“You were right. They’re here.” The first beast turned from the monitor, rising up onto all four paws, wiry hair on its lionlike body catching the light from the monitor behind it and making it look nearly electrified. Its tail twitched excitedly. “Call for Grimmith. Ready the pod. Our time has come.”