Flowers in Bloom
There were only a handful of steps between the TARDIS’ front doors and the door leading to the house but when your husband’s stride was more than twice your own, a handful of steps quickly becomes a long walk in thick mud. Rory rushed up to Amelia and scooped her up from behind. He was so determined to keep her out of harm’s way that he was ready to pitch a quick reverse and deliver her right back to the control room. As much as it disturbed him to even contemplate it, he was sure River had a pair of handcuffs somewhere on board.
“Ger off of me!” Amelia shouted, kicking wildly, her stockinged feet thumping against Rory and then against the steel door in a mad fury.
“Ow!” Rory hissed. “Stop biting!”
Amelia’s legs went wilder just as the front door opened. The old woman appeared in the doorway, eyes blazing and filled with rage.
“You—” She began to say when Amelia clapped her right in the jaw and sent the woman crashing to the floor. Rory and Amelia stopped their struggles. He just held her under the arms like a puppy, both staring in awe at the unconscious figure on the threshold. Amelia, feet dangling off the ground, just hummed very quietly.
“Amy—” Rory started to say when she sighed in exasperation.
“Well, I didn’t mean to!”
“I said to ‘get’ her, as in ‘fetch’ her, not ‘kill’ her,” the Doctor declared as Rory carried the old lady onto the ship.
“This has the potential to scar me for life,” River quipped, watching the procession with her parents in the lead.
Amelia grumbled, “I might have kicked her in the face . . . a bit.”
“A bit?” The Doctor asked. “She’s coughing blood—”
“She’s coughing,” Rory interrupted. “And then she’s bleeding. Those two events are not connected. She is not, therefore, ‘coughing blood.’” He laid the woman out on the seat near the console and looked her over.
“We’ll argue the semantics later,” River said, hoping the two men in her life would focus on the task at hand. She and the Doctor quickly scanned for signs of life in the area under the ship while still clasping the switches that kept the Etgard transport ship afloat. “Dog,” River said.
“There is always a dog!” The Doctor exclaimed, confirming her findings.
“Mother, can you turn that spanner clockwise?” River asked Amelia of a wrench to the far side of the console that neither she nor the Doctor could reach.
“The red one?” Amelia asked, moving to the switch.
“Why does it always have to be a dog?” The Doctor demanded, bracing himself.
“It’ll be over in a moment, my love,” River said as she threw him a look of sympathy.
“Wait—what’s wrong with the red spanner?” Rory asked, turning towards them.
“It is possibly the only thing in the TARDIS that I would consider truly and heinously evil,” the Doctor said with some heat.
Amelia moved her hand away from the red spanner as if she’d been burnt. “I’m not touching that,” she said, shaking her head.
River turned to the Doctor and said, “Do you see what you’ve done?”
He looked supremely nonplussed. “I simply told the truth.”
River scoffed, “Why start now?” She looked to Amelia. “It’s a dog whistle.”
It was Rory’s turn to scoff. He looked to the Doctor and asked, “You can hear dog whistles?”
Trying to retain his dignity, the Doctor said quite dismissively, “Infrequently.”
“Or the opposite of that,” River corrected. “Mother?” Amelia turned the red spanner and a high-pitched wail rang through the Doctor’s mind. The dog ran from the crash zone. “Clear,” River called out. Amelia silenced the sound.
Shaking his head, the Doctor exhaled and muttered, “And now I am in desperate need of a mango.”
Rory sighed. It was one thing to have someone so very alien as his best friend; it was another issue altogether to consider that as potentially his future son-in-law.
Just as the TARDIS disappeared from Surrey, the Etgard ship fell to earth.
Amelia turned to the unconscious woman and asked, “So, how’d this happen?” The Doctor explained what he thought occurred that night. Amelia absorbed it all and then her thoughts got snagged on one small piece of the story. “So, wait, if she gives me back those years, she dies?”
The Doctor and River immediately glanced to one another and neither said a word. They both understood that because of the phrasing of the question any answer could have significant consequences on Amelia’s consent.
“Why aren’t you answering me?” She asked. She could feel that she’d struck a nerve.
Rory understood what was happening. “We probably shouldn’t assume any of this. I mean, after all, she is unconscious and hasn’t confirmed it. For all we know she’s this old because . . . she . . . likes discounts . . .?”
They all looked at him in a way that suggested he wasn’t at all helping.
“I’m old because I’ve had my full of the human experience, thank you very much.” Her words surprised them and they turned to her as she blinked her eyes open and hissed at the pain in her jaw. Her accent was toned down a bit, the vowels longer, more neutral and flat. Almost American. She shrugged, wiping the blood from her mouth with her housecoat sleeve. “Living forever is fine if you don’t have to outlive everyone you care about.”
She looked over to the Doctor and to River. “Not like you two.” Her eyes settled on the Doctor. “You think I didn’t see you, Time Lord? I’ve taken my share of regenerations. I can spot your kind easily. How funny your people are. Reach your Zenith and then you start over. It’s darling.” She glanced to River. “And you, Time Lady, going backwards, getting younger before my eyes. How many millennia until you look like her?” She gestured to Amelia. “Centuries past already and more to go. Forever stretches before you both and still, you have each other.” She smiled and then quoted River with scorn, “My love.”
Her blue eyes then settled on Amelia and Rory. “And you two won’t be without each other for long. Human years are so short.” She sighed. “Time falls like a house of cards.”
“You could choose someone,” the Doctor offered. “To keep back your loneliness.” He didn’t bother to mention how touch and go that usually ended up for himself. “Companionship is a grand thing and you are a symbiote. You and another moving side by side through time.” He offered.
“Of course. That never occurred to me. I’m glad we’ve met just as I’ve given up. My life has meaning now.”
He frowned, narrowing his eyes. “I swear you were nice people.”
She waved him off, disgusted. “A planet made up of children. Aside from being sociopaths, all children are nice.”
Rory snorted and said, “Yeah, sure, if you discount that minor hiccup.”
“Your planet was made up of children?” Amelia asked. Her eyes were wide in wonder.
“Aside from the random elder who lived the length of time and wanted to move on—”
The Doctor grumbled, “‘Length of time.’”
“There is such a thing as having seen it all, Time Lord,” the woman snapped. She looked back to Amelia. “And of course, when we wanted to have a family we allowed ourselves to get older. As for me, I’ve been on this planet from the time of Rome and I am tired. I am alone. There have been companions, loves over the years but most humans, despite what they say, have a deep aversion to eternal life and an even deeper curiosity about things they can never know while still breathing. The ones that crave eternal life, I have found, have a certain flaw that should never be allowed to live past its due date. And so, here I am. The tedium has been borne. I am finished.”
Both Amelia and River declared at the same time, “You’re lying.”
She huffed. “Fine, what if I am? What does it matter?”
The Doctor gave her a warm grin and asked, “Who was he? Or she, if you will. Or . . . they?”
“I repeat again, what does it matter?” She asked, frustrated. “Find a person who has lived long enough and they each have someone just like my someone. Never got to grow just old enough with them. Lifetime of regret or whatever is left of their lifetime and then its over. Except it will never be over for me unless I make it. This isn’t natural for me anymore. Being here has made me too human. I can’t—” her voice broke. “I can’t do it again.” She looked to Amelia and Rory. “I had to land on a planet where the people rarely saw their hundredth birthdays.” She looked to the Doctor and River. “You know what that feels like. They’re like flowers through the seasons.”
The Doctor and River exchanged looks and each took a deep breath, neither speaking.
Amelia turned to Rory and realized just how further along he was and suddenly became terrified of the idea of losing him to the natural progression of time and age and living without him for so much longer now.
“I want my time back,” the little girl said as if she were lost in thought. She went to the woman and said, “I don’t want that to happen to me.”
“Finally!” The woman replied. “Some sense.” She started to crack her knuckles.
“But,” Amelia interjected. “I won’t take them if it means you’ll die.”
Rolling her eyes, the old woman reached over and touched Amelia’s cheeks. “Fine. You’ll get them all minus a moment.”
“No—” Amelia began but it was too late. In an instant, it was over. Amy Pond stood sixteen years, minus a moment, older and the Etgard woman sat frail, weak, even more grey . . . and so very happy across from her.
“Why did you do that?” Amy asked. She was very still and it was clear from the look in her eyes she was conflicted.
“Oh my dear, we both got what we wanted. It’s a resolution. Be happy.”
Amy felt strong hands on her shoulders and she knew who it was. She always knew. She turned her head slightly, looking down to the gold band there almost glowing under the lights. Rory. It was her Rory. She turned and wrapped her arms around him. He pulled her away from the dying woman.
River took her parent’s place and crouched before the woman. “What’s your name?”
“If you’re thinking about a headstone, no worry. After a few thousand years there isn’t much left after we die.”
“Please. Your name?”
She smiled. “Adrial. Addi most of the time.”
“Addi,” River said. “There’s nothing we can do to change your mind?”
The Doctor walked up behind River and he caught glances with Adrial and they both knew the answer to the question.
To River she said now with so much less scorn, “My love, the happiness of an ending is only really known by the person it is ending for. For me, I wouldn’t change this. None of it.” She took River’s hand and whispered, “Not one line.”
The Doctor felt that. In his core he felt it acutely. His hand immediately went to River’s shoulder and he held her, he held onto her. The idea of ever letting her go was tearing something inside of him apart.
Addi smiled to them and in a voice, so much like a song she said, “And in that moment I left myself, I saw beautiful things.” She almost blinked but her eyes didn’t open. She inhaled but she didn’t exhale. She was gone and in a whirlwind of incandescent light and embers, she vanished.
“Five thousand years and she died alone,” the Doctor said. River put her hand over his and rose, leaning a bit against him.
“How exactly are you defining alone?” She asked. He couldn’t answer. “Surrounded by people who were concerned about her welfare? That can’t be ‘alone’ can it?” She turned to face him. “But yes, having someone who loves you being right there with you when it happens . . . is preferable.”
“I know,” she said with a blushing smile that was also a little sad. “Your firsts are my lasts. And since I plan to be with you to the bitter end then I know. I’ve known for a while now. You’ve already seen the end for me. Don’t worry. That’s not the side of the coin that I fear.”
“Don’t,” she warned, her eyes glittering. “Not one line,” she whispered, repeating the old woman’s words, not knowing what those words did to him.
He bit back something hard and nodded. He finally managed to say with resignation, “Spoilers.”
Rory stared deeply into Amy’s eyes and re-memorized everything. It was as if when he committed her to memory then he’d never lose her again.
“I’m sorry,” Amy said, her hands rubbing his sides. “I just—”
“Yeah,” he said. He leaned in, resting his forehead against hers. “Don’t apologize. And I understand. I think.”
“Well, let’s not forget the awkward abyss my childhood was so . . .”
“I seriously doubt I would want to return to that, even for a do-over.”
With a smile, she nodded. “Excellent point.”
“Honestly, I don’t even really want River on this ship much less an actual child.”
Amy laughed. “True. Some of our adventures haven’t really been kid-friendly.”
They both looked over to their daughter who was side by side with the Doctor, her head on his shoulder.
“How exactly do we feel about all that?” Rory asked.
“We as in we parents?”
“Well, is there anything we can do about it?”
Rory sighed. “I doubt it.”
“Then we feel grand about it.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.”
Amy pursed her lips and gave him a little playful punch in the shoulder. “Okay, dad, then you go and tell her what for.” Rory blanched. River Song may have been his daughter but his daughter was still River Song.
“Mmmhmm,” Amy hummed. “Very brave.”
“Mum, dad?” River called out to them. “Hungry?”
“Starved,” Amy said. She’d just grown two feet and four stone and no, marshmallows were not sufficient breakfast food.
The Doctor looked to River, “Old Shanghai, New Mumbai or Little Little Havana?”
“Little Little Havana?” Rory asked.
River grinned and said conspiratorially to the Doctor, “You set that up quite nicely.”
He grinned, looking proud of himself. “You know I love Little Little Havana.”
“What’s the extra ‘little’ for?” Rory asked. “Small people? Compression field? The entire town fits in a locker at King’s Cross?”
River poked her elbow into the Doctor’s side and pushed off towards the console. The Doctor’s eyes lit as he turned to Rory. “None of the above actually. It is called Little Little Havana because Cuba eventually colonizes an Earth-like terrafill they built that orbits VY Canis Majoris which is a red hypergiant and, incidentally, was the third largest star in the whole universe. The other two went supernova ages ago. They renamed the star ‘Little Havana’ which, I think, is absolutely adorable given that it’s now the largest star in the universe and quite ironic too—”
“Wait, can they do that? Just rename a star?”
“Oh, of course. They live there, why not? Honestly, Time Lords didn’t call your star ‘Sun.’”
“What did you call it?”
Rory frowned at him, narrowing his eyes. “Hilarious.”
“And thus,” the Doctor finished, “Little Little Havana, though the planet itself is the size of Aldebaran so even more irony.” He chuckled to himself. “Those Cubans. Best mangoes in the universe. I’ve taste tested.”
“. . . Of course,” Rory muttered. “Aldebaran . . .” He looked to Amy. “Now I have to study the star charts in the library too?” He shook his head. “You’d think in two thousand years I’d have bothered to pick up a book?”
Amy kissed him. Mouth to mouth and for a very long time. His cheeks were the color of plums when she finally pulled away. The smile on his face refused to subside.
“What was that for? In particular so I know to do it again.”
“Two thousand years of not even picking up a book.”
“Oh,” he said, understanding her. He’d waited lifetimes for her and nothing at all had distracted him. That’s how much he loved her. How much he would always love her. “Well, yes. I’d definitely do it again.”
She kissed him again.
The Doctor turned to River. “Your parents are very . . .” he tried to think of a word when River supplied with a gleam in her eyes,
The Doctor blushed. “Or bad. Very very bad,” he said with a smile. “Now come on you two, hold on. And I don’t mean to each other’s faces. Next stop, Little Little Havana.”