River and Anthony meet for tea and coffee every Saturday.
Anthony checks his pocket watch. It’s old, with a picture of his family inside. Mum and Dad, Scotland and Britain rolled into one. He sits in his parents laps, half on each, drooling and blank eyed, surprised from the sudden flash of the camera. The small, tiny face of his sister, cut out of a larger photograph, is glued onto the bottom edge of the photo over the foot of baby him; her face is small and black, her teeth a crazy white line as she blurs out of the camera’s focus.
Two minutes past. She’s late.
He sighs, sitting back in his chair, slips the watch back into the breast pocket of his overcoat. The chill snap of post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas pervades the air, but they always meet outside every Saturday, even when it’s raining. The café has the drinks waiting for them, and a scone for them both. Blueberry, raspberry. Every Saturday for the last fifteen years. Before that it was a restaurant, before that the park for when he was too young to be interested in food. Outside of their Saturdays they’ll occasionally run into one another, but that usually involves gun fights with various loan sharks and the end of the universe once. But Saturday, as a rule, is sacrosanct. He’s brought his wife and the kids, she’s brought her husband. But normally it’s just them, and a chai tea for her, a coffee with sugar for him.
And she’s late.
Anthony reaches over, adjusts the chai so it’s sitting straight in the saucer. The steam swirls hot in the air; he sits back, straightens out the photo album on the table in front of him. His coffee sits by his elbow, already half empty.
He plays with the cover of the photo album, flipping it open, shutting it again, fiddling with the clasp. It’s all in here, all of it. He’s supposed to meet with Granddad tomorrow, go over everything with him.
He isn’t sure how he feels about that.
The Doctor, newspaper clippings, the adoption certificates, photos of family and friends. Mum and Dad’s death certificates are in the back, as is a photo of River, of Mels, of Melody.
Anthony’ll explain his sister to Granddad last of all.
He checks his watch again. Five minutes late now. With other people that would be no cause for worry. But five minutes has a different meaning for his family than most.
God. How is he going to explain all of this to Brian?
He folds his face into his hands, creasing out the lines under his eyes, on his forehead. Time travel is a terrible gift, one he’s glad was never offered him. He isn’t sure if he’d have said no.
The man and woman at the table opposite have been quarreling; there are two red spots high on her cheeks, and she won’t look at him. Her spoon taps-tap-tap-taps the side of her cup. Anthony finds himself caught by that singular four beat, remembers voting for a man that no one really understood.
That’s politics for you.
When the woman scowls at him, too, her mouth opening in a red wound to hiss something at the man opposite her, Anthony looks away, not wanting to get caught up in people, people, people. He’s a people watcher, not a people person. Always has been. It’s how he was able to spot his grandmother in a crowd of university students, orchestrating events so she would fall in love with ponds and ducklings.
It’s how he found his sister, wandering small and cold in the dark, crying her eyes out, gold still sparking off her from regeneration. (not fair, not fair, because he had to let her go to leadworth, keep timelines intact. he’d cried, and river smoothed back his hair and everything will work out dear. it’ll all work out. not for melody, he’d whispered back, and she’d agreed with him. no. not for melodies.)
It’s why he’s always looking for police boxes on street corners long after they were decommissioned. He’s heard the stories. He knows. And he’s found boxes, all with the wrong man inside of them. Only once did that man know the Ponds, and even then it was a different face and old, so old. Far, far older, and much sadder. But he’d smiled when Anthony introduced himself, and of course he remembers the Ponds. Of course he did.
How could he forget the Ponds?
They had tea.
“Hello sweetie.” She plants a kiss on top of his head, moves around the table. Sitting down, she adds, “I’m used to young and twenty at the moment. You’re older. And wrinkly.” She appraises him as frankly as he appraises her.
“Of course I am. It’s what we humans do. Get wrinkly.” She’s bright and young, and there’s a smear of red dust on her cheek. Probably just came in from a dig. “You look younger,” he comments dryly. (happier. he really means happier.)
“Oi, old man. I don’t get old. I mature.”
He snorts. “Yeah, yeah. If that’s what you’d call it.”
“Hey!” They laugh together, and she takes a sip of her tea, which is still just warm enough.
He pulls his diary out from the inside of his coat pocket, settles back to grin at his archaeologist sister. He doesn’t ask her why she’s late. It’ll probably involve some daring-do with guns and madmen and saving the world. He’ll hear all about it anyway. She’s such a show-off, he thinks fondly.
“So River, where are we up to this time?”