Summary: This is how their story ends: right before the beginning. Eleven/River, oneshot.
A/N: Word count: 1525. This isn't as good as it could be, and it's self-beta'd just to warn you. But still… So wanted to write it. (I, with many thanks, blame elisi LJ for her meta-ing!)
Disclaimer: So, so very much not mine. I make no money, etc.
From behind, long, spindly hands encircled her waist, and lightly pulled her against a strong, familiar chest.
She smiled, her eyes half-lidded as she gazed over the balcony, watching the dazzling display in the sky. All around them, there was music. The singing towers of Darillium, humming a song that never stopped. They stood on the outskirts of the city, vibrating crystals that grew to the sky. And below, the people celebrated – fireworks.
He'd brought her here on an apparent whim, knowing that she would only want the one trip – she had work to do, after all.
Archeology. She found it interesting. But at least partially, she had chosen it because she knew exactly what he'd think of it. Time travel, she scoffed.
"Hello, sweetie. This is beautiful."
And they watch, and listen.
"I thought I was the one who was leaving," River murmured.
"You won't see me for… a while, not really," he clarified. His voice hitched ever so slightly. "As the last firework goes off, I'm going."
She twisted around in his grasp, and looked up to meet his eyes, searchingly. He didn't want to go, she realized. "Why?"
"Because if I stay any longer, I won't be able to leave, and I have to."
"Spoilers," he said, a hint of a smile crossing his tired face. His eyes flitted across her face, as if memorizing every detail all over again.
He was wearing a new suit. And he'd changed his hairstyle – just slightly. The kind of thing nobody would notice unless they knew you very, very well. And yet, from the moment she'd opened her door and realized it was him, she had seen the change. And wondered why.
"Haven't heard that in a while," she teased him. "I thought I'd lived through nearly all of your early days," she said, smiling.
"Oh, River Song." He chuckled darkly, and River shivered. "There are always surprises left. You should know that. It's what makes the universe such a grand place. You never know what's coming, it just comes, and sometimes it's terrible, and sometimes it's great. But the universe is never predictable; even when you know everything that happens, something else will come along and…" He looked directly at her, with that stormy gaze reminding her exactly what he was – he was more than anybody she'd ever known. The Doctor. The Last of the Time Lords, eternally burning through the stars.
And yet, just a man, as she was just a woman.
"…And surprise you," he finished, a unending second later. The speech had described the universe, but was meant for her. Did that make her his universe? River wondered, amused by the prospect.
"Definitely, definitely surprising," she agreed. "So, no hints?"
Something was bothering him, something big. Something was causing horror in his eyes. She'd seen it many times before, but never like this. Never so close at hand.
He's supposed to make a flippant remark.
"No hints," he said solemnly.
"Something's going to happen."
"Maybe." He smiled. "But that's the fun part, River. Something always happens."
"What, so my next little mission is going to be trouble?" River smiled wickedly. "I can handle trouble. I can handle you, after all. And if I can't handle trouble, then I'll just have to call you in, now won't I?"
For some reason, this playful remark made him flinch – and River was more and more worried.
"Doctor…" she murmured. She pulled him into a warm hug, and felt him hold her tightly. As if the moment he let go, she'd disappear forever.
He was broken, so broken. Underneath the stars and the fireworks, they held on to each other, drinking each other in.
She was so very, very happy, and he was so very, very sad. Theirs was a story, and River still didn't know most of it. And that was okay.
Well, usually it was.
At time like this, she wondered.
Eventually, River stepped back, but remained in his arms. Her Doctor was such a tactile person, always needing to feel her there. She'd never complained; it was endearing. But right now, he seemed so fragile. He needed to hold her. It was right, and so wrong.
"The next time you see me," he began, hesitantly, "it'll be different. More different than anything you can imagine. And it'll be so, incredibly, impossibly hard on you. It's not fair of me. It's never been fair of me. I'm heartless, completely heartless, and utterly selfish when it comes to you. I know what you'll have to do, and it will always be because of me that you have to do it." He laughed mirthlessly. "I tried, River, oh, but I tried. But you just had to be you. You had to be River Song."
There was despair. And then, there was this, something even more terrifying. Resignation.
"I don't understand," she murmured. For some reason, she could feel tears welling up in her eyes. Silly of her, really.
"You will," he promised. He paused for a moment. And then, he suddenly kissed her warmly, a kiss of simple, pure love, mixed with saline sorrow.
They were both crying. It was… odd.
He slipped something into her jacket pocket, right beside her ever so precious diary.
When they broke apart, they searched each other's watery eyes. Slowly, River touched the object in her pocket. Her eyes widen. "The sonic?"
"My screwdriver," he agreed, smiling. "Never lose it, or I'll be very, very angry with you, River Song." He was saying her name quite often this night. Savoring it.
"I… Yes," River swore.
"Good." He smiled. "You deserve so much better."
River smiled cheekily. "I do, don't I?"
"You deserve the universe. You deserve the stars."
"You've given me both," River said quietly, "and so much more."
"Thank you, River."
She leaned forward on tiptoes, and whispered it in his ear.
He shuddered, and pulled her close.
The fireworks grew louder, more deafening.
"The grand finale," the Doctor said.
"We should watch."
Neither of them even spared a glance. Instead, they danced.
The last, tiny little pop. The show's end. And still, the towers of Darillium sang.
"Would you like to do the honors?"
"Always, sweetie." River smiled, and took out the sonic screwdriver he'd given her. She pressed the button, and it hummed in her hand.
A whirring she knew so well. The TARDIS appeared to their left, that wonderful blue box.
He freed one hand, and snapped his fingers. The door opened. He drew her in, one arm never leaving her waist.
Reluctantly, he let her go, and began to pilot the TARDIS. River sat against the railing, looking up at the console with a dazed smile. It felt warm around her. Home. Unconsciously, she caressed the cool metal beneath her hands.
They took off, and moments later, landed. He had used the blue "boringers" to make it a smooth ride – that was a first.
And finally, he turned back to her, smiling widely. But she could still see the tiredness, and it was obvious that he'd been crying as much as she.
"Home again, home again," River said, laughing.
He did a little mid-step jig (his silly little mood swings), and then swept her up in his arms, laughing delightedly. His hands tangled themselves in her hair, and her arms found their way around his neck. They kissed again, drawing it out for as long as their air supply could allow, until both of their knees had gone wibbly.
Not long enough.
"I'll see you soon," she promised.
The Doctor smiled at her, a little bit of that childishness back in his eyes. "Until then, River," he said. Then, he placed one last kiss on her forehead, and let her go. She winked at him, and walked down the stairs to the door.
"River!" He called, and she turned around questioningly. "Call me if you need me, and don't forget to pack yourself a lunch!" he called down the hallway.
She laughed. "And you, Doctor, had better do your laundry! The TARDIS shouldn't have to take care of all of it!"
Their little jokes.
He grinned, and she turned around and left before he could follow.
And she closed the doors behind her, stepping right on her doorstep, only seconds after she'd left.
It soon began to disappear with a lovely grating sound. She didn't turn back to watch.
For some reason, that had felt like goodbye, but he hadn't said it.
That was okay. He didn't like goodbyes.
River reached into her coat pocket again, feeling the sonic screwdriver resting there, completely at home. She decided. As long as he was with her, nothing could be so bad.
Oh, that Doctor of hers. He'd never say two things, out of fear. Goodbye was one of them. I love you was the other.
But neither of them needed to say those things. They understood each other perfectly, that way.
She didn't like goodbyes either.
"I do love you," she mumbled into the chilling breeze. And she looked up, gazing at the stars.