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DW Fic: Despatches from the Rear

Title: Despatches from the Rear
Author: 
[personal profile] kaffyr 
Characters: Brian Williams, Gus Pond, Tabetha Pond, River Song
Rating: PG
Edited by: my beloved dr_whuh, aka 
[personal profile] buckaroobob , with invaluable help from [personal profile] a_phoenixdragon 
Summary: Brian Williams didn't mind getting older. He did mind losing people he loved. A story of what might happen after.
Author's Note: I find myself returning again and again to the fallout from The Angels Take Manhattan - and, because I have never quite reconciled myself to that ending for The Family Pond, writing things that might or might not be fixits. While the timing in this story is such that it simply doesn't jibe with the events in Ports of Call, it posits much the same potential outcome. 
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They belong solely to the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement and take no coin. I do, however love them all and thank the BBC for letting me play in its sandbox.

***************

Brian got the first message three linear days after Amy, Rory and the Doctor left for New York.

“Brian! We’re in the Big Apple!” Behind Amy, he saw what he later identified as Central Park. To her right, Rory watched her with his usual slightly nervous adoration. He never said a word, which didn’t surprise his dad; Amy usually did all the talking, and neither Brian nor Rory minded. After five minutes of jerkily edited New York travelogue and non-stop commentary, Amy leaned in to the camera and said, “We want to let you in on a secret. We’re thinking of staying here a few months. Haven’t told the Doctor, yet.”

Brian didn’t roll his eyes, but he sighed. He wondered how precarious their last destination must have become to prompt Amy, of all people, to sound that excited about putting down even temporary roots on Earth. Mind you, New York was quite the destination if you weren’t used to gallivanting across all time and space ….

“That’s exciting, is it?”

Amy’s response — just a tad measured, so she understood everything he hadn’t asked — took slightly longer than you’d think one of the Doctor’s powered-up connections would. Wouldn’t you know it, Brian thought, the worst interference you can get is right here. The last call, from Deschimon City was clear as glass and fast as you like, and that was 60 light years and god only knows how many real years away.

“Yeah, well, sometimes the biggest adventures are here at home. Look, Brian, we’re … running late, just wanted to touch base with you. Love you oodles, you know. Rory, say goodbye to your Dad, will you?”

“Right. G’bye, Dad. We’ll be—” Rory swallowed, and his eyes looked rather bright. “We’ll be in touch. Love you.”

“You, too.” Brian signed off, and looked at his mobile for a moment, as if it held the answer to his sudden unease. When no dire message appeared on the tiny screen, he sighed again, turned it off, and put it in his shirt pocket.

**********************************

The next message he got was by post, in a bulky tan envelope. At the top was the address: Chanson and Corrente, Barristers and Solicitors. Brian squinted at it suspiciously. Written in faded ink was the stern directive not to open for 365 days after receipt. It didn’t look like a joke, nor an advert, nor a scam attempt. He went to throw it in the bin, but held off. Instead, he took it over to Amy’s and Rory’s, handling it as if it were some sort of poisonous snake, and put it in the livingroom secretary, then put a check mark on his calendar, the one he’d bought for next year.

*********************************

After that, the calls got progressively less frequent. When he started getting letters in the post, Brian really started to worry, despite — or perhaps because of — their unremitting cheeriness. Amy and Rory had always been inveterate callers; nothing seemed to delight the two of them more than ringing up to tell him they were in the middle of some supernova or another, so a switch to the written word made no sense. Well, the non-texted written word, Brian silently but dutifully amended.

If they’d still been travelling with the Doctor, it would have gnawed at him less. They had occasionally vacationed in places and times from where even the Doctor’s technical know-how had trouble boosting the signal, Deschimon City notwithstanding.

This, though … this was New York! And every time he tried calling, he got either their answer-phone, or he couldn’t get through at all.

He tried writing his own letters back, sending them to the address Rory had finally thought to provide, but after three efforts, he stopped, dogged by the suspicion that they were lying unopened in some post box in Manhattan, or Brooklyn or … or … Staten Island, or wherever.

Brian wondered if Augustus and Tabetha were similarly concerned. He didn’t think so; when he saw them, as he did now and then, they seemed very happy with the letters, and the accompanying piles of sepia-grained pictures which Tabetha assured him were obviously Instagrams, although Brian was dubious. They mentioned nothing about the lack of calls and spoke confidently of Amy booking a flight home for her and Rory for the holidays, or perhaps in the spring.

So he said nothing when Tabetha talked about seeing her daughter again, just nodded and smiled, and accepted another cup of tea. He really didn’t want to force them to admit that they were worried. It seemed cruel, at least until Brian could determine whether he was being pointlessly paranoid.

In the past, Amy had obliquely suggested that her parents knew less about her impossible life than Brian did, and that they really were happier that way. The idea was anathema to Brian, perhaps because he couldn’t imagine his boy or Amy without all that wonder surrounding them, perhaps because it irked him that anyone would deny the obvious, like the wrinkles around their daughter’s eyes, or the new hint of grey in Rory’s hair.

But that was Gus and Tabetha for you, he thought. Although they’d been reluctantly willing to acknowledge the reality of their daughter’s raggedy Doctor after his apparent appearance at the reception, they weren’t eager to talk about him.

Not for the first time, Brian desperately regretted the stomach bug that had sent him home directly after the church ceremony. It had taken him months — and his dinosaur flavored introduction to the Doctor — to sort out what actually happened, since most of the guests, apart from Rory’s in-laws, couldn’t really remember a blue box apparating on the dance floor. Rory had muttered something about something called Torchwood and “drops in their drinks” but refused to say much more.

So Tabetha and Gus read the letters, refused to notice the telephonic silence, and went on with their lives. Brian pored over his letters, noticed the brittleness of some of the paper, and felt something heavy and frightening settle in his stomach.

Weeks went by, then months. Brian watered Amy’s plants, and looked out the kitchen window at the empty garden, hoping to see a blue box materialise in the rose bed. Summer was a memory, autumn was ceding its place to winter. Christmas was only a fortnight away and Gus had phoned him — finally confused, finally worried — to ask why on earth they hadn’t heard from the kids yet.

Brian went to the livingroom secretary, and pulled out the package from Chanson and Corrente, Barristers and Solicitors.

He looked at it a long time, and at the calendar he’d marked. There were still a few months until he should, properly, open it.

Calendars be damned, he thought.

He took the package into Amy’s and Rory’s livingroom, sat down, and tore open the envelope.

***********************************

“But why wouldn’t she tell us? Why not us? Why just you?”

Tabetha’s eyes were swollen and red. So were Gus’s. They clung together like frightened children on their sofa, staring at him. Tabetha looked as if she was trying to be angry, and failing miserably. Gus just looked bereft.

Brian, sitting stiff and uncomfortable in the grey barrel-chair opposite them, now thought he understood why Amy hadn’t mentioned anything to them beyond “study programs abroad” and, later, “research trips for the job.” He remembered the night Rory and she had talked to him about two thousand years of waiting on a forgotten timeline, and how he’d looked at his son with outright awe, and worked very hard not to be afraid of him. He thought of his daughter-in-law’s childhood barren of parents, before the Doctor and she had willed the universe back into what they’d decided was its proper shape, how she’d loved them so fiercely and protectively. His daughter-in-law, he thought distractedly, might give the Good Lord a run for his money when it came to willpower. As for the Doctor ….

“She never told me why,” he said carefully. “But I think she was afraid of frightening you—”

“What, frightening us more than we are now?” Tabetha was truculent, and reminded him more than a little of Amy.

“—of frightening you away from her.” There, he’d got it out, he thought, taking another sip of tea and trying not to grip the saucer too tightly.

They looked at him, and he could see the tumblers falling into place. They might be almost belligerently oblivious, but they were not stupid. Perhaps their obtuse refusal to consider the increasingly weird absence of their child actually stemmed from an unconscious realization that everything was not alright. That everything was, in fact, all wrong, Brian thought.

With that, the full weight of their absence hit him. He put the teacup down, hard.

“We would never be frightened of Amy, nor of anything she could do,” Gus said, soft and full of hurt.

Brian looked Gus in the eye, and sighed. “Maybe you’re right.

“But if Amy got it in her head that she could scare you, I think it would be hard to make her change her mind, don’t you?”

He let that sink in. Gus nodded reluctantly. “When she got the bit in her teeth, she was always hard to stop,” he said. “But she should’ve … she shouldn’t have ….”

The tears welled up, and Brian remembered the many times Amy called Gus her own wee Dad, as if he was the one who had to be protected. He coughed a little and rubbed at his nose, trying not to get teary himself, for somewhat different reasons.

“I know,” he said. “Rory didn’t tell me everything, either.” That was true enough at first, and so he wasn’t really lying, he thought.

“The Doctor,” Tabetha said. “Has he done something to her? Has he hurt my Amy?” She put her arm around Gus, and hugged him hard while she glared at Brian.

Right, Brian thought. The real reason they were here, not the relatively simple Your Daughter Travels With an Alien to the Past, Present, and Future, And Also to Other Planets discussion.

“No, no. He hasn’t hurt her or Rory,” he said, pointedly emphasizing Rory’s name, to remind them that he had someone to worry about as well. “In fact, I’m not at all certain that they’re with him now.”

“Well then, where are they? I mean, they’re obviously not where they said they were,” Tabetha said.

Brian grimaced. “Actually, I think they are.”

He drew another deep breath, then let it out. “They’re just not where we can reach them. They’re … er … well, they’re in the past.”

“In the past,” Tabetha repeated.

“Yes.”

“Well, then, when do they come back?”

Brian closed his eyes.

“They can’t.”

*******************************************************

All in all, it was pretty horrible, that night with Gus and Tabetha. Brian remembered it for years.

But they got through it, each in their own way.

Tabetha, who was a bit of a journal writer, took her heartbreak there. Gus said that every time one of the letter packages arrived from Chanson and Corrente she’d wait until Brian left to head back to London — he was the one to whom the packages always came, even when there were letters for the Ponds included, and he knew that hurt them — then shut herself in the study for hours, day after day, writing.

Gus himself looked to Brian for support, something Brian initially resented, but came to appreciate. Gus had a bit of the whimsical in him, just like his daughter, and Brian missed Amy almost as much as he did Rory. He took to ringing up the elder Pond regularly; they’d talk about Brian’s home-improvement projects, about the weather, about what to do with Rory’s and Amy’s house, about the memories they had of their children. Gus and he would laugh a lot, and cry sometimes. While Tabetha would rarely leave Leadworth, Gus would visit London every couple of months. That’s when Brian would talk to him at length about Amy’s and Rory’s adventures, all the ones he’d never had anyone else he could talk with about. Gus learned about the dinosaurs, and the truth about those blessed cubes, and about Rory the Roman.

Eventually, Brian even told Gus about the Pandorica, and the rebooted universe. The night he did that, the two of them drank far more brandy than either of them were used to, as Gus considered for the first time and Brian once again ruminated about, the fact that Amy had essentially created them.

“Your daughter is, not to put too fine a point on it, a ringer for God,” Brian said, peering blearily at Gus and waving a finger at him. “You ought to feel very lucky.”

Gus nodded vaguely, his hands clasped loosely in his lap as he leaned forward toward the fire in the grate. “I always felt as if she somehow defined us, you know. Tabetha always laughed at me, but I’m not sure she didn’t agree ….”

He fell silent for a bit, then looked over at Brian. “What d’you suppose they’re doing now?”

“Hmm. I’ll bet they’re catching a street-car,” Brian said, swinging into their regular guessing game. “They’re going to a war bonds show.”

They looked at each other and smiled, although Gus’s attempt was a trifle wan.

They now knew when their children were. Amy and Rory had quickly admitted on that very old paper of theirs that they had initially landed in late 1930s New York City. They must have known that the packages of letters they sent forward, obviously to be delivered at pre-determined points, would look, feel, and even smell old once they arrived in the post.

Frankly, Brian thought, they’d have been foolish not to know that writing instead of texting or calling would have alerted their loved ones to the fact that something was off, but perhaps that was just him. Amy had written of their complete surprise that the mobile had actually gotten through to them, even a few times; the jiggery-pokery with which the Doctor had equipped it apparently burned out after those last precious calls, with no place to recharge the mobile. Amy said it had to do with time paradoxes, the ones that cast them up on the shores of long-ago New York.

Sometimes after he read the letter in which Amy talked about losing the mobile, Brian would find his own phone. He’d listen to the one message he hadn’t picked up. It was a brief one, and they’d sent one picture, in front of what he now knew was the first tenement they’d lived in. But he didn’t read that letter or listen to the message very often.

By now, the children’s missives were written in the middle of the Second World War, and Brian was learning all about American tire drives, ration cards and Ted Williams going off to be a soldier. He sometimes felt guilty about his fascination with their stories.

Amy and Rory were still obstinately silent on how and why they’d been stuck there. Or, Brian often thought darkly, why the Doctor couldn’t simply rescue them. Had the alien actually died? Had he been the one to pay the price of time travel, and not the kids? They never said.

Believe me, we want to tell you everything about what happened, and exactly why we can’t come back, Rory wrote in the third or fourth letter Brian received from Chanson and Corrente, But the one thing the Doctor left us was an understanding that Time can’t be fooled with. If you knew why we can’t leave New York — well, you couldn’t get to us, but even your knowing might throw Time out of whack. And I really couldn’t trust Amy’s mum not to try something, so that’s right out. Trust us when we say we’re in New York for good. And trust us when we say we’re happy. I mean, we do have electric lights and indoor plumbing, and aspirin and sulpha drugs and penicillin, and movies. Someday, we’ll have telly. And New York is pretty much a universe in itself. I don’t even miss the mobile much!

Rory was complete rubbish at telling lies, even on paper. Brian had had to put the letter down for a moment, as he struggled with pain, frustration, and tears.

He cried a lot, now. He didn’t care. Sometimes it was the only thing that helped.

He was still determined to track down Chanson and Corrente, Barristers and Solicitors. There was something about the firm name; he’d periodically worry at it, like a dog at a bone.

****************************

Brian didn’t mind getting older. It was the way of the world, he thought, as he polished Rory’s school first-aid prizes. It didn’t matter where you lived, on Earth or out in space. It didn’t even matter if you could travel to the past or future in a time machine. You got older.

But he did mind losing more people. He had so few of them. Losing Tabetha to cancer had finished Gus as surely as it had her. Brian knew his friend might have lived on had his daughter been there to chivvy him out of his final depression, but she hadn’t been there, and that was that.

He missed them so much.

******************************

Brian put the last plaque down very carefully on the mantelpiece and looked around the living room, disappointed that there was nothing left to clean. He went to the sofa and sat down. Only for a moment, he thought; he was sure he had some other things he had to get done … but the sofa was so welcoming that after a half hour it was really hard to summon the energy necessary to get vertical.

And why shouldn’t he have an afternoon nap in his own place, he thought to himself, sleepily. No reason at all. Rory used to do it, when he was home from the hospital and Amy was writing, or out on a modeling job. His son had sworn by the sofa’s soporific powers. Brian settled in.

He had finally begun to think of the house as his. He’d sold the Leadworth house Rory had grown up in two years after he lost the kids. He’d told everyone he had already been living in a rented flat in London to be near them, and since they had moved permanently overseas (the fiction he, Tabetha and Gus finally agreed on) they’d sold it to him. He said he’d developed a bit of taste for London, then obdurately refused to say anything more.

He needed the place. If he couldn’t be near them, he could live where they once lived, and keep it up. He pottered in the garden, he made sure the rooms were immaculate, except for their bedroom, which he shut up exactly as it had been.

He must have slept for a while. He awoke with a snort, then groped for the glasses that had slipped from his nose to the top of his head.

The first thing he saw as his vision resolved was the picture of Amy that Rory had taken in Venice. He sighed.

He missed his girl terribly, he thought. He loved her, and not just because he’d been jubilant that she’d finally made up her mind about Rory. She brought light and life into his life. She’d stirred up the dangerously placid life of a widower, even before he was kidnapped by the TARDIS. She was part of him almost as much as Rory was; his almost as much as she’d been Gus and Tabetha’s.

The doorbell rang.

****************************

“I’m the courier from Chanson and Corrente,” she said as he opened the door to her.

His first irrational thought was that she glowed like sunlight. He stepped back, partly out of a nebulous sense of dread, and partly to get a better angle on the woman. Fawn camel coat against the November chill, the shiny copper fall of lace around her neck flowing out from behind the coat’s collar; licorice-brown, tightly-tailored trousers tucked into gleaming bronze boots. Her hair outshone everything she wore. It was a living explosion around her oval face, drawing attention to the iron-blue of her eyes.

The eyes ….

“The courier.”

She smiled slightly. “Yes.”

“This is the first time they sent the letters by courier.” He looked over the rims of his glasses.

“This is the first time they’ve needed to,” she said. She smiled again and this time it felt frighteningly personal and extremely intense. “May I come in?”

He hesitated.

The smile slipped. “There is something I need to give you.”

He still didn’t move.

“I promise I’m not dangerous. You can let me over your threshold. I’m not a thief, not a killer, not even a vampire.

“Not to you.”

Brian felt it in the pit of his stomach suddenly, a flutter that he hadn’t felt for years.

“Do I know you?”

“No.” She hesitated. “Not really.”

Brian stepped back again, this time to gesture her inside. “Come in, then.”

The woman walked across his threshold and into the living room. She didn’t sit down, instead making a beeline for the mantelpiece, and the pictures of Amy and Rory. She picked up the framed wedding portrait and held it to her breast. Brian was neither surprised, nor insulted at what he should have considered a breach of his privacy.

“You know my son and my daughter-in-law.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” she said. She had tears in her eyes.

Both of them were still as statues; Brian stayed in the entry to the living room, feeling the flutter grow inside him, unwilling to move until the woman spoke again. When she remained silent, he tucked his chin in, adjusting his collar as he did, and started in. Always best to be plain.
“Who are you?”

Another almost intolerable moment of silence.

“You’re my grandfather.”

He was confused for a second; he’d asked her for her identity not his—

Brian’s brain caught up with the words. The breath huffed from him in a little cry and he finally understood that phrase about blood pounding in one’s ears. He edged his way to the sofa and sat down, managing it rather well, he thought, given the circumstances.

“Well.” It was the best he could manage.

“My name is … I’m called River Song. Amy and Rory named me Melody Pond.”

The blood was still pounding in his ears. “Which do you prefer?”

That took her aback, apparently. She licked her lips and said, “Which would you like?”

Years ago now, he’d sat and watched Tabetha and Gus connect the dots. Now he was doing the same thing.

You’re Chanson and Corrente. It’s—”

“I’m sorry. I never could resist a bit of wordplay, and Mum didn’t mind,” she said softly.

Brian peered more closely at her and his eyes narrowed. She looked to be in her late 40s, which meant this was, if she was who she said she was, a visit out of time. And of course she was who she said she was. He probably knew it from the first flutter of his stomach. His mind proceeded to the next thought, trying not to race there too quickly, but unable to stop. That this was a visit out of time meant there was something that helped her travel through time. He felt himself getting breathless again.

“River Song.” He tried it out, relishing the prettiness of the name. “Melody Pond.” That was beautiful, too, but— “Not Williams?” He was a little bit hurt.

“Don’t you remember? To the Doctor, we were all Ponds. We were all Mum’s family to him,” she said gently. Brian thought about that, about his girl, the one he’d been missing.

“I suppose so,” he finally said. “I suppose so. But why call yourself River Song, then?”

“There were reasons,” she said, looking haunted for an instant. “None of them change the fact that Rory is my dad, and that will never change. And you, Brian Williams, are my grandfather. And I have wanted to see you again for such a very long time.”

He didn’t understand her last comment, as this was their first meeting. He didn’t care, though, because he was now as excited as a child on the night before Christmas.

What if he were wrong? He swallowed, adjusted his collar again. There was nothing to do but take the plunge. “Why are you here, and what do you have to give me?”

Her eyes were large in her face and she looked both too young and too old, and Brian felt the flutter build to an ache so deep that his heart, which he thought had long since broken and healed, threatened to shatter again. He rose to his feet, hoping his legs would hold him up.

“Come here, River.” Brian’s voice cracked. “Come here.”

She didn’t quite run; there wasn’t space in the narrow room for that. But she was in his arms almost before he opened them, knocking him back into the sofa and holding him with surprising strength.

When they finally disentangled, her laughing breathlessly and Brian beaming in delight, she dug into the pockets of the coat she still wore.

It dangled from her hand, a broad leather strap bracketing what looked like an unnecessarily large and overly complicated Rolex.

“One question: Do you get easily nauseated?”

Without prompting, he took it from her, and fastened it around his wrist quite efficiently, despite his shaking hands. “Not in the least. Especially if there’s tea handy.”

She smiled, eyes glittering with tears and wicked joy, and showed him the watch’s twin, on her own wrist. “This is a vortex manipulator. And Mum and Dad always have tea handy.”

He reached for her hand.

-30- This entry was originally posted at http://kaffyr.dreamwidth.org/349625.html?mode=reply, where there are currently comment count unavailable comments. You can comment there or here; I watch both.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
ljgeoff
Mar. 3rd, 2015 02:52 am (UTC)
Bravo! Thank you for the excellent fic; it's made a wonderful end to the day. I could see the whole thing, and it was so good.
kaffyr
Mar. 4th, 2015 05:59 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked the story, and that it ended your day well. Thanks for reading, my dear!
a_phoenixdragon
Mar. 3rd, 2015 07:44 pm (UTC)
Gods, I am THRILLED TO BITS that you posted this!! I loved it when I first read it - and I love it even more now! Thank you, thank you for this...THANK YOU.

*Happy!Hugs*
kaffyr
Mar. 4th, 2015 06:00 pm (UTC)
Sweetheart, you made this story possible; you sparked my writing it, and you gave me some much needed advice at the end, so take a bow yourself!

flowsoffire
Mar. 8th, 2015 02:54 pm (UTC)
♥♥♥ Oh, this was so wonderful—such deep, thoughtful and moving insight into Brian's mind. The characterizations are delightful, and the deep bonds between Brian, Amy and Rory very clearly and movingly conveyed. I love Amy and Rory actually managing to reach Brian with a call at first, how it all seemed pretty normal to him at the time, yet little things seemed off, some he thought nothing of, some that left him with a bit of unease he couldn't quite explain. Then the way he steadily grew more and more anxious as it became visible that something was wrong, and how lonely he must have felt as he waited and worried, Gus and Tabetha remaining quite oblivious. Until it all burst into their faces. The insight regarding the Pond family was very interesting, with Amy's protectiveness and her fear that they wouldn't be able to cope with the truth of her life and it might frighten them away… little girl with abandonment issues, seeing everybody disappear from her… ♥ I love the way you showed how the three parents coped each in their own way, too—and the idea of Amy having created her own parents is so very troubling, indeed. And now Brian was the one telling the stories from Amy and Rory's mad life and history too, bless ♥ Love that terribly bittersweet moment about the one phone call Brian had missed, their sending stories from WWII, Rory trying his best to reassure his father. And Brian losing more and more, growing more and more tired. Did I mention you were just squeezing my heart all along. ♥

And then there was River. And that whole part was just glowing perfection—I mean, your description of her is just surreally beautiful, full of such warm life and light. And this woman, this wonder was Amy and Rory's. ♥ I love every bit of their encounter, the way she indirectly told him who she was, her going straight for the picture, Brian's shock as he slowly processed it all. The firm name, and the wordplay. His actually asking which name she preferred, so thoughtful. That tiny hint about seeing him again. Their embrace was just an utterly delightful moment—and the ending ♥♥♥ Eeeee! So many feelings.

Thank you so much for this! It's just a big flutter of amazing ♥ I love it. Delightful.
kaffyr
Mar. 8th, 2015 03:41 pm (UTC)
Bless you for this thoughtful review! You always take such time to talk about how and why you liked a story, and you have no idea how much I appreciate that.

That tiny hint about seeing him again.

I'm pleased that you caught that; I almost didn't put it in, and then remembered that Brian would have known Mels, and she him.

Again, bless you for reading!
flowsoffire
Mar. 14th, 2015 09:40 pm (UTC)
^_^ Always happy to make a great writer happy!

Love any Mels reference! ;)

You're welcome! *hugs*
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )