Spoilers: This story chronically takes place just after the next-to-last scene of "Day of the Moon" and right before "Silence in the Library." Being familiar with "Day of the Moon" is essential before reading the first half of the fic. Spoilers from series 1-5 also make an appearance. Please note the tense shift between the first scene and the rest of the fic was done on purpose. This was my first time writing River other than a passing mention in a previous story, and my second time writing Eleven. Please forgive any errors!
"There's a first time for everything."
"And a last time." She forces herself to watch the TARDIS fade away, the familiar vworping sound of the machine echoing through the room because the bloody infernal man had left the brakes on … again. She finally turns away, eyes shut as she swallows rapidly. She's under surveillance now, and she will not let them see her cry. She dashes a hand over her eyes, opens them and sees him.
Oh, it's not the him that's just left, she knows that. Nor it's the him that she saw in Utah, shot by the impossible astronaut. It's him. Her Doctor, leaning nonchalantly against the wall, one leg crossed over the other, the Stetson she'd seen in Utah cocked over one eye. He pushes it back, raises an eyebrow and gives her an amused smile.
She's halfway across the cell, not sure whether to slap, shake, or snog him, and he takes the choice away from her. He grabs her by the arms, spinning her neatly until she's pressed against the wall and his lips are on hers. Everything is right about this kiss. His hand is on her shoulder in the right place, and he's not flailing about like a teenage boy who was kissed on a dare.
They break apart, both breathing so hard that she wondered if his respiratory bypass has kicked in.
"You've gotten much better at this," she says.
"Oh, I was quite rubbish back then," he agrees.
"Oh, no. Not now."
Much later, they're crammed into the narrow bed in the cell, the thin blanket and sheet wrapped around them. Their clothes litter the normally tidy cell, and the Stetson is haphazardly hanging from the security camera in one corner.
"We could have gone in the TARDIS." River eyed the wobbly Stetson. "I imagine we've given them a show they'll never forget."
"Nah. I disabled the cameras while you were being dropped off."
"Haven't you been the busy boy? So sure you were going to get lucky?"
The Doctor shifted uncomfortably. "Well," he drawled after a moment, "I figured unless you took me out with that gun …"
She laughed and ran a hand through her hopelessly mussed curls. "So, you really thought that was interesting?" River questioned lightly, taking the leap and figuring that this Doctor had come from far enough in the future that he would be willing to confirm what had happened.
"Well, considering that before you, I hadn't been properly snogged in quite a number of years, I was a bit out of practice." His brow furrowed and she imagined him flipping through a very large file cabinet of memories. "Actually, I've only been snogged five times before you, since the Time War ended, of course. So, really only five times since my ninth regeneration. Well … six. Or maybe seven. It depends on if you believe the rumors you heard about me and Liz the first." He waggled his eyebrows at her.
"Oh, I can imagine you were quite the ladies' man before the Time War."
"Most of those weren't for romantic reasons, mind you. Well, Amy's was, but that was because she was confused. Can't tell you why. In your future, you see."
"Amy?" The thought was a bit horrifying. "But, Rory …"
The Doctor tapped her lips. "Spoilers," he reminded her in a patronizing tone and she scowled.
"Now, my tenth incarnation? He got around. Had to kiss Martha Jones for a genetic transfer, but she took that the wrong way. Was quite awkward for a long time after. And Donna …," he laughed at the memory, "I needed a shock to get a poison out of me. She shocked me. It was like kissing my mother. Not that I've ever kissed my mother in the way that Donna kissed me, but I'm sure it would be the same. Absolutely terrifying. Then there's Madame de Pompadour. She was quite a lovely lady. Very skilled."
She almost laughed, but she knew he hadn't told her all of them. "And Rose?" she asked quietly.
"Twice. Once you know about, when I had to take the heart of the TARDIS back from her. The other she was possessed." His eyes took on a slightly wistful look and she let the subject drop. Rose Tyler was a subject that he didn't bring up very often. She knew about the shop girl from London and the pain that he experienced when she became trapped in an alternate universe. It had magnified when he made her go back with the clone of his tenth incarnation, then subsequently took the memories of Donna Noble. Both were thorny issues they had worked through in her past and the future of the Doctor who had just left her.
Which reminded her …
River sat up, hugging the sheet to her chest. "Why are you here? Popping around because you're suddenly up for a shag isn't quite your style."
"Well, the shagging was quite nice …"
She smacked his shoulder. "Would you be serious for a moment? I thought … you told me that our lives were running directly opposite of each other. It wasn't all that long ago that we had sex for the first time for you … and what I thought was the last for me. And now that kiss. What does that mean? And where in my timeline did you come from?"
His dark eyes were sober now and he sat up as well, not replying. She sighed. She knew he wouldn't tell her. "I think I better go," he said after a moment.
River sprang up, wishing her gun wasn't buried in her discarded clothing. "I know the rules," she said, "but tell me this - are we, or are we not, going in the opposite directions in our timelines?"
"We are," he acknowledged. "For the most part." The Doctor ran a hand through his shaggy hair, scanning the room. He picked up his tweed coat, bowtie, pants and trousers … and her gun. He pocketed it. "What? You might shoot me," he pointed out when she scowled at him.
"The way I'm feeling right now, I'd rather castrate you first," River hissed. "What the hell are you doing crossing your own timeline?"
He snapped his fingers and the familiar interior of the TARDIS emerged from where he had finally remembered to camouflage the machine. He placed a hand on the door and gazed sadly at her. "I'm far enough ahead in my timeline that what we've done won't affect anything you or I will do in the future. I'll be back soon. I'm working on a gift for you."
"A gift?" Her eyebrow winged skyward.
"Just a small one." He leaned forward, kissing the corner of her mouth. "You will see me again. I'll tell you then."
"Oh? And just how long will that be?"
Soon enough turned out to be roughly three years of linear time for River. The future Doctor's unexpected visit had done much to lift her spirits. She met with the Doctor several more times, he knowing her less and less with every encounter. It hurt, but nothing near the heart-shattering pain of that kiss. Emotional subtlety wasn't one of the Doctor's strong suits, and it never had been. But, she was grateful that his future self knew to be there with her when the kiss happened. The years had been long and lonely at times, but she knew she would see him again. That kept her focused.
Her heart rolled over in her chest when she opened the door of the single-family home she rented to find a very familiar blue box in her living room and its occupant planted on her couch thumbing a tablet computer she kept magazines stored in. She leaned against the entrance to the room and drank him in. This had to be the future Doctor once more, she realized. They had grown far enough apart in linear time that his younger self wouldn't seek her out.
"Taken up an interest in archaeology magazines?" she asked casually.
"Rubbish, all of it," the Doctor tapped the machine so it turned off. He rolled to his feet and held his hand out to her. "Come with me," he beckoned.
"Always," she breathed. "But, I have to be back by tomorrow morning."
"You do?" he asked just as casually.
"Yes. I'm leaving on an expedition to the Library. You know, the planet." She saw something flicker in his eyes. "You can't come with me. You'll just scare off my team."
"I'm not that invasive."
"Need I remind you who got us captured during the excavation of Buckingham Palace on Earth?"
The Doctor snorted and she rolled her eyes. Her hand found its way into his and he squeezed it … hard. "So," she said lightly as she followed him into the TARDIS, "what have we done together?"
He didn't reply, but slipped his hand from hers. "I told you I had a gift for you," he said. "A small one."
"You told me that three years ago," she informed him and took her place across from him to help him navigate the ship. "Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise," he replied and quickly entered the coordinates before she deciphered them.
He told her to go and dress and to make it formal. When she emerged from the wardrobe in a vivid emerald gown cut in a style she knew he appreciated, she noticed that he changed as well. He wore a dark blue suit and, for the first time, she noticed the new haircut.
"Well, well," she murmured with appreciation. "You're taking me on a date."
"Professor Song," the Doctor informed her, "I would never stoop to something so mundane." He bent his arm and she slipped hers in the crook of his. "We are going on an adventure."
"Sweetie, going to the store for milk with you is an adventure."
He took her to the Singing Towers of Dorillian, which ranked among the most spectacular things she had ever seen. They reminded her of the skyline of 21st century New York, but these majestic buildings vibrated in a way that it felt like the planet was filled with the most beautiful music. Different buildings could play chords and as they picnicked, a variation of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" wafted through the air.
They chatted over a meal of smoked salmon from Gruzi, cheese from an island on New Earth, olive oil and sea salt crackers from a 21st century Tesco and a wine that the Doctor could actually tolerate because it was made from grapes that were originally cultivated on Gallifrey. They swapped casual stories from times they experienced together, and River reveled in the freedom of being able to share everything with him for once.
Pleasantly stuffed, her heels kicked off, she reclined on the blanket and felt herself truly relax for the first time in years. It was perfect, she thought, her eyes fluttering shut and her thoughts drifting with the music. A slice of true paradise. Everything she had gone through since she was just a mere girl had come to this point, where she could have wine and just be with the man she loved. Her rational heart began to hope. They had experienced everything together, he'd said. Maybe this was him telling her that from this point forward they could live in a linear timeline. If this was the case … hell, she'd let him tag along to the Library after all.
Her eyes opened seconds before his lips settled over hers. They parted, and her hands found their way into his hair. She thought the years of celibacy would lead to a certain urgency, at least on her part, but they made love with the lingering slowness of those who felt they had all the time in the world to enjoy this sort of intimacy.
As the sweat cooled from their bodies and he shifted to his side, she caught the glimmer of tears in his eyes. "Why are you crying?" she asked.
He took a deep, shuddering breath and turned away, but not fast enough. She saw the tears roll down his cheeks and she quickly sat up, dread rolling in her stomach. "This is it, isn't it?" she asked quietly. "The last time."
The Doctor didn't reply, and her heart plummeted. She squeezed her eyes shut and fought her own tears. She worked her way back into the gown, and by the time she got her hair back into some semblance of order, he wore everything but his suit jacket. The dark blue suit, she realized, remembering the Gallifreyan color of mourning.
"Did you not think I wouldn't figure this out?" Anger replaced the grief, and she was OK with it. She could manage anger a hell of a lot better than sadness. "Why the hell are you making me hope like this? I thought you were coming here to tell me that we could be together in linear time. You better …"
The Doctor quickly fished through the jacket and held out a familiar object to her. "And, here's your gift!" he said in an artificially cheerful voice. "Something that will help you on your expedition."
Anger quickly dissipated when she realized what he was giving her. "My own screwdriver!" she snatched it eagerly, her eyes lighting up. "Are the cabinet-making lessons included?"
He scowled. "You won't let me live that down!"
"Of course not, Sweetie." She kissed the corner of his mouth, felt it curve into a smile. "You know how long I've been begging for one of these."
"You mean not including the approximately 34 times you tried to smuggle one off the TARDIS?"
"You teach me how to fly the TARDIS, but you never gave me my own sonic. You even gave Sarah Jane a sonic."
"Sarah Jane I could trust with it." The Doctor tapped River's nose. "Now that you're a big girl …"
She huffed with a bit of indignation.
"… I know you will use this properly and not dismantle it to make an explosive that leveled two cities."
"It was three cities, and I only did it to get us out of that Slitheen jail cell. You thanked me afterward, didn't you?"
"I thanked you until I realized the sonic abuse you committed."
"Would you rather I'd gone to plan B?"
The Doctor shuddered. "I have no desire to ever see that be done to a Slitheen. Plus, the smell is horrific. We'd have to get an ion bath to get rid of the stench."
"True. Ion baths are rather painful." River glanced at the screwdriver in her hand. "I won't ask you the obvious questions because I already know the obvious answers." Her eyes met his. "Will you be all right?"
He gave her a sad smile. "You know me. I'll always be all right."
She wrapped her arms around him, held him close as she felt his tears drip onto her dress. She pressed her cheek to his hair and rocked him, knowing she could fall apart later. "What will you do now?" she asked.
"Oh, I've been fancying a trip to Utah. Haven't been there for a couple hundred years."
River's heart seized, and she knew exactly where he was in his timeline. "You're right," she forced herself to say in a normal voice. "Not a bad time to go back for a visit. Maybe, when I come home, we could visit Paris together."
He lifted an eyebrow. "How mundane."
"An adventure, Sweetie. It'll be an adventure."