four rivers the doctor never knew
by artemis of ephesus
river, who ran
She runs. Eighteen and finally free of the academy, she steals a gun, hating the touch of the cold metal on her hands, leaves a note, scrawled and scratched across the back of her graduation certificate, straps a vortex manipulator to her wrist, and runs. She doesn't know where to, only where from. Running, always running: latching onto inter-planet transporters, diving into the occasional dimensional portal, across the universe and the stars and the galaxies, never stopping, never daring to look over her shoulder in case she catches herself watching and calling. There is no back for her now. There never will be. Not after what they have made her become.
Then, one day, she meets a man; all tweedy and braces and strange forms of headwear covering messy brown hair that's always falling into his eyes. He's young on the outside and older on the inside, just like his ship is simultaneously a small blue box and the most extraordinarily complex and beautiful creature she has laid eyes on. Apart from him, she will come to think. And without planning to, she finds him running alongside her, this man she had never even met before that day but feels such an affinity with.
He offers to take her with him, and she almost takes him up on it, wanting to know him, to understand him, to run with him in joy and exhilaration and not in fear. And then she remembers why she is running and leaves him staring after her as she disappears into the sunsets, bewildered and worried and ever so slightly lost.
river, who loved
She remembers their first night together like a vivid dream, lying in the curve of each other's bodies under the swirling skies of Elysium, vermillion and gold and sapphire blue against a pitch black universe. He had shown up on her doorstep that evening, taken her hand and led her to the TARDIS; made her look away while he programmed the details of their flight. He brought out wine and the last of the strawberries they had hand-picked on earth on their last trip together. They had sat for hours in silence, her head on his shoulder, his hand on hers in her lap, watching the patterns dancing in the emptiness of space above them, protected by the soft golden glow of the TARDIS around them, until she could stand it no longer. She felt her lips brush against his, kissing him, at first slowly and gently, then more forcefully, passionately. She had shivered as his hands ran through her hair, skimmed across the curve of her breasts, slipped her dress straps down her shoulders and fumbled with the zipper, running over her warm skin like water and electricity. She had never wanted something so much. Her body was on fire under his hands, his tongue, him. With him, she forgot who she once was, all the pain and fear and hatred. All that mattered then – all that matters now - was them.
And just for a moment, every planet in every universe and every time stood still, and she claimed him as hers.
river, who destroyed
After Elysium, she stays. She writes herself anew, putting her past behind her (though that was never an easy thing, being a time traveler and all), running side by side with her lover in exhilaration rather than fear. For a few years, their timelines become parallel, their lives synchronous, even their thoughts begin to merge into one. They tease and banter and argue and invent crazy pet names for each other. He teaches her to fly the TARDIS, and she teaches him how to land her without the brakes screeching – which she knows he will never stoop to. He likes those screeches.
A year and a half after that night, they exchange rings and names on a lonely beach on a parallel earth, and he cries with joy. And three days later, she shoots him in front of three hundred people, bends to whisper three syllables in his ear, and leaves without looking back. She doesn't want him to see her tears as he dies. He is the best man she ever knew, and she has destroyed him.
It isn't the last time she sees him, though – the wibbly-wobbly of the time-space continuum prevents any form of closure. He's younger those times; he has been her lover but she hasn't yet been his. Or the other way around. They smile and banter and every time she sees him she thanks all the gods in all the heavens that she can see him again, bittersweet as each meeting is. And she hates herself for what she had to do, back then, in his future.
One day she will realise that some days, through some stroke of sheer brilliance, everybody lives.
But not today.
river, who was
Years later, he turns up on her doorstep one last time (not that she knows it), with a new suit, all smart and handsome, and a new haircut that doesn't constantly fall into his eyes. He takes her to Darillium, where they sit in an orange sunset and make love as the towers sing to them, the song building and swelling to its final climax and showering the sky with lights. And he cries, this time of loss and loneliness, and he will not tell her why, and nothing she can say will comfort him.
And now he watches her die. The same man, but newer; younger. He hasn't even met her before. There is no way that he could possibly understand exactly what he means to her, what she will mean to him. Only his name, whispered in his ear, gives him the slightest of clues. The irony of the situation overpowers her. She thought she had watched him die, and now it was him watching her. And there's nothing he can do.
But it's not over for him. Time has come full circle now, and she can finally accept it. Because she knows who she is now. She is River Song; friend, lover, destroyer, creator. A force to be reckoned with.
You and me, time and space. You watch us run.