A/N: I've already done a Derillium fic, but I wanted to do another; one which addresses some of the recent developments in River's history and how she reacts to certain things. I think I may end up doing this again and again until we reach Derilluim in the series and then I'll be so disappointed. Anyway... Seriously, go read someone else's story, like all those rewrites of their incredibly epic kiss at the end of Day of the Moon. Many of them are going to be better than this. There's too many questions surrounding River now.
And honestly, she's developed so much that all of her reactions in the Library are almost completely out of character. She really only looked slightly crushed. And she never got truly mad. And the whole professor thing. And Derillium + the back to front relationship. Stuff just doesn't make sense anymore. And I guess I should say that this is AU to Silence in the Library, but seeing as I think Silence in the Library is started to be out of character, even if it was one of the most epic episodes ever, that might contradited my point. Who cares? AU to SitL.
Also, I think there's only one reference to Douglas Adams in here. I'm not sure, he's so epic I use him a lot, but the first person to find it gets double epic points. And the reference isn't not that obscure.
Spoilers: anything River-ness is subject to scrutiny, but not everything is directly incorporated.
Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who
At long last. Professor River had earned the title.
She had planned on pursuing her professor-ship directly after obtaining her doctorate. This and that got in the way – an impossible time traveler, adventures beyond her wildest imagination, becoming the most feared villain in all of the 51st century, and a cell in the universe's highest security detention facility. But finally, after years of working towards her mastery, she had succeeded. And she already had an expedition lined up; one headed to any archaeologists dream planet.
River leaned against window frame of her new apartment and stared out at the city below. On the streets below, a group of children were playing together and singing songs. Of all the people living down there, how many of them would turn around with a gun in hand to try and shoot her? How many of them were still terrified of the infamous Doctor Song, Time Criminal? A smile curved around the corners of her lips.
Today had been a great day. The orange sun began to sparkle against the industrial backdrop of the city. It did feel a bit weird, however, to not be a doctor any more. He and she had fought over that, just for a few days, about how they couldn't both be Doctor Songs. He refused to take her name. It would be a racial catastrophe – maybe even a black hole – if she used his name. But now... the Doctor and Professor Song. They could be distinct now.
But... One step further away. Another station down the track. River shook away the insatiable sadness. Today was a good day. She would not allow her life to get in the way. Well, she would try at least. She turned away from the window and stared about at the sparsely furnished apartment. Compared to the Stormcage, this place was a luxury room on some honeymoon planet. Compared to the Stormcage, almost anywhere was a luxury room. The persistent, annoyingly truthful part of her brain insisted she remember that she had stayed by choice, because of that promise and that obligation. A now fulfilled obligation.
River turned back to the window, marveling how bright and cheerful the world looked when she finally felt free! All the miraculous things she had seen with the Doctor and almost none of them compared to the beauty of a simple sunset when she had paid penance for every old mistake. And- she closed her eyes, remembering an old conversation with the Doctor.
"You don't have to punish yourself like this," he mentioned. His fist was clenched against the bars of her open cell, as if he wanted to reach out and tear the Stormcage from foundation to ceiling just for her. "You don't-"
"I do," she murmured, cupping his fist in one of her hands and trying to pulling the tension from him.
He refused to be sated. "River, please." He was pleading, but not pleading for another piece of information. The warmth – the feeling of being loved – rose from her toes and cascaded through every part of her body. He cared. In retrospect, that was probably the last time she would see their love in his eyes. He was so young... "Would my forgiveness count for anything?"
"Everything," River whispered. She had reached up, placing a finger against his lips. "But I've made my mistakes, Doctor. I've made my choices. I will pay my penance."
His hands slipped around her, bringing her close. "I've forgiven you." They shared a tender, parting kiss, just like they always did. And he went back to his life of adventure. And she had focused on, somehow, retaining her redemption.
River sighed and her eyes traveled the almost habitual path to her diary's home on the main table. She had lived in this apartment for all of two days and the diary already had a home. Her gear for the next expedition was spread out over one of the large wooden chairs. Nothing much: some packed lunches, a pen, two books, and a file containing all the information on the Library. Everything else was already at the ship. They would be leaving in the morning.
Again, habit made her reach down and pick up that lovely little blue book. In someways, she supposed, being so attached to a book could be worrisome, especially considering what had happened during the Cathosum incident. River opened the books and flipped through the pages in the middle, when everything had made sense. The beginning and the end had been too confusing. And she still didn't fully understand everything, even if she had lived through everything but...
The lovely, comforting whir cut off her train of thoughts. River jumped and dropped her little blue book back on the table. The thunk resonated through her small apartment. She stood frozen, her mind trying to work out what possible reasons he could have of coming to see her. They were so early in his time stream now. He never came looking for her, nowadays; and yet...
The music stopped and then there was a pause. River started moving towards the door to her apartment. He knocked. She opened the doors, preparing to say something incredibly witty and intelligent that would flip them straight into their current cycle of harmless flirting, but...
It was her Doctor. He stood on her threshold, looking like- River's mind struggled to keep up with all the new information. Her Doctor; looking the exact same way he had the day she first met him, so many years ago. His eyes were old, and there was the same freckle just on the left side of his nose. But what about the tracks of their timeline? How was this even possible? They stared at each other for a long while before collapsing in each others arms.
They were at the end of both tracks, River could tell. They had both lived through almost everything with each other. This was the Doctor that knew everything about her. This was the Doctor she trusted with anything and everything, forever and always. Having his arms around her felt like home. She tried to speak, but the words caught in her throat, coming up as a choked sob. He stepped back, holding her at arms length and whispered, "River." She drew him into the apartment, still incapable of speech. All those years of preparing for everything to be the last. The last... everything. And now. It didn't make sense.
He caught up the diary, and, before she could move to stop him, flipped through the entire thing. "We're almost even then," he said, his voice hoarse. "One more left for you."
She leans against his arm, as if breaking contact would cause him to evaporate. Had she ever been this clingy? "One?" She finally formulates the word.
He wasn't looking at her; his hazel eyes fixed on the cover of her diary and occasionally jumped to the window. The orange glow of the sunset was beginning to fade. "I could ask you not to go, you know. I could ask. I would beg, if I thought it would do any good." He turned to look at her and tears sparkled in his eyes. "I haven't seen you in so long."
"What?" River mentally smacked herself. She hadn't been forced to use monosyllabic responses since second grade! What was with this? "People would think that a time traveler wouldn't have that problem." The joke fell flat in the silence between them. They simply stared at each other. Finally, River broke the awkwardness, "You'd think after all these years, we'd know what to say to each other."
An soft smile turned the corners of his mouth up. "You really should not have hit that big red button back on Betelgeuse Nineteen."
River huffed. "That was you! You said it was blood control. You insisted that everything would be fine. How was I supposed to know it unleashed a swarm of carnivorous orange goo?" An odd expression crossed his face when she mentioned the carnivorous swarm, but it passed so quickly that if he hadn't previously been downhearted-
"Vermillion," He insisted. "It was vermillion goo. Be specific, salty."
That stupid endearment. She glared at him. "I hate you."
"I know." He brought his arms around her and pulled her close, staring into her eyes. River rested her check on his chest. She tried to stay in control, but her emotions were running wild. She started to shake. "Hey, hey," the Doctor murmured, pressing a soft kiss against her hair. His hearts beat rapidly; she could feel four beats, over and over in her ear. Safe. Home. "It's okay."
Tears stung River's eyes. "It's you. It's really you." And for once in her life, River stopped fighting. She was always fighting; she always had to know what was going on. The reasons. The whys. That wasn't important now. She wrapped her arms around his neck and stared into his eyes. Deep, chocolate, sad eyes. So sad. She kissed him. And melted.
Of all their years together, she had tried to pick which was the best kiss, the most memorable, her favorite. In truth, she could barely remember what happened. But it was good. They didn't even make it to the couch. The floor was just as comfortable.
Everything that followed should not be related to a public audience. Especially considering it took them three days just to leave her apartment. And another two to make the TARDIS completely and totally uncomfortable. And another two after that to have a much more relaxed time together, just talking about the things they had done and seen, and some slow, private interactions. A whole week spent in the enjoying what a linear life could have been.
River stared reluctantly at her watch. It had been the best week of her life, but all good things had to end. She could tell that the Doctor was starting to get a little antsy at staying in the same place for so long. And she still had that expedition to take care of-
The past week had been odd, in that way. He had danced around the topic of the Library with pleading looks and very obvious changes of conversation topic. All the clues pointed to one thing; the first time she met him. And something that went very, very, very wrong. A dozen possible situations had already presented them to the time traveling archeology, but she pushed most of them aside. She couldn't afford to speculate.
"River, honey, will you sing?" He asked. They were standing in a flower room; a room they had only discovered two days ago. Above them, the stars twinkled. The Doctor came up behind her and splayed his hand over her lower back. She leaned back against him, resting her head against his shoulder. He was so soft and comfortable. And they fit together so well.
"No," River murmured, "not unless you sing first." She hadn't heard his voice in years. Looking into his face, she saw an odd mixture of expressions cross his face. There was a pregnant pause between the two of them.
The Doctor grabbed her hands and started to pull her away from the flower garden. "Come on. Let's take one more trip and then," he paused, closing his rich, wonderful eyes, "and then I'll drop you off at your ship." She wanted to protest, but something in the way his shoulder slumped stopped her. He looked shattered.
The walk through the TARDIS only took ten minutes, in which time he kept his arm looped over her shoulders and her arm tight around his waist. So many unspoken words passed between them in those ten minutes. Exchanges of love. Words of grief. Benedictions of devotion. When they reached the consul room, River asked, "Where are we going?"
"You've always wanted to see Derillium," He said, throwing a couple of switches. River took up her position on the opposite side of the circular consul. They hadn't flown the TARDIS together for years. From her point of view, he had been defensive and annoyed when she corrected his style of flying. And from his point of view, she hadn't learned. But now, they could fly it together.
River cocked her head, peering through the crystal cylinders at him. He was saying goodbye, she could tell. And apologizing. It made sense, in a way. She'd see him at the Library, he would be there. But it would be that dreaded day where he didn't know her. Would she die as well? That didn't really matter. Whether she died or not, she would not let her worry about the expedition ruin their last hours together. "Yes. I've only told you about five hundred times."
The Doctor winced. "Well, yeah. Good fun." The TARDIS threw itself into the vortex, stabilizers on and everything. He had even released the breaks! The space ship whirred and humming, playing her sad flight melody. The Doctor and Professor Song flew the TARDIS through the vortex, laughing and joking as they had for so many years.
In a few minutes, they landed with barely a noise. The Doctor extended his hand, and she grabbed it. They ran out the door and into the sunlight of a totally different planet. Well, actually, the lack of sunlight. River shivered. "It's freezing here. How does this planet even survive?"
The Doctor stared at her like she was crazy. "It's night, River. The Singing Towers are best at night."
"You've been here before then?" River wondered. They started walking somewhere, but her eyes hadn't fully adjusted to the dark. Of course, he never had any problems with that: stupid Time Lord eyes.
"Nah," he said, "just read all the tourist journals-" River stopped walking. "-and they all said to see the Towers during the day; so, take the opposite and... Sweetheart? You okay?" She tried to formulate words to reply, but ended up opening and closing her mouth like a goldfish. At his inquisitive touch, River lost it. She bent over, clutching her stomach and laughing like a mad woman.
"You read the tour... the tourist journals?" River sputtered, leaning against him for support. Her laughter rang through the dark.
The Doctor huffed. "I'm going to ignore you now." She eventually regained control of her senses and they set off down the dark grassy field. The night was gorgeous out, with two giant blue moons hanging against the backdrop of black-brown-red sky. Distance lights whizzed and danced, as the planet of Derillium was close enough to Route 101010 that the passing space ships looked a bit like a trail of flying stars dancing through the universe. And to think that said ships passed the planet thousands, ten thousand, a million years ago.
After awhile, they stopped walking. River sighed, "Sweetie, we're lost."
"No-" She looked around for the nearest something to bash her head against. Not again. "-we aren't," he insisted, even if he was peering through the darkness and looking completely befuddled. "We're just looking for a cliff face."
"The kind of cliff that you take one step and you die because they're rough rocks at the bottom. In the dark." She kept her tone completely non-sarcastic. "Fun."
"I'm not lost," the Doctor insisted. He started walking again, heading it what River was sure was the direction they had just traveled. Stupid, stubborn, obstinate man! She trudged along just behind him, not feeling up to poking a fight. In all the battles they fought, picking the right battle to fight could be the difference between winning and loosing. And River liked winning.
And so, after ten more minutes of useless wandering through the dark, River sighed, "And you even read the tourist journals this time!"
He huffed. "I'm not lost!"
"You just squeaked," River retorted, "you're lost."
"Not as bad as you were at Asgard," he snorted. Out came his screwdriver – in the dark, River didn't notice that it looked different from what she remembered, only that it was oddly red. "That direction," he pointed, after the sonic beeped a couple of times.
"Moi?" She rolled her eyes. "You were the one who insisted we had to explore the Lokin Caves."
"I didn't know they were there to eat random travelers."
"I told you," River insisted, sighing again.
He walked into a tree. "Ow," he complained, rubbing his forehead and moving around the tree. "No you didn't. I don't remember you saying anything about the Lokin Caves."
She snickered at his misfortune and avoided each and every tree perfectly. He would have walked into the tree even if it was light out. That was part of his personality. What a klutz. "Besides for my very loud and insistent shouts of 'Doctor, you idiot! NO!'?"
"Besides that," he said, not paying any attention to her.
Typical, River rolled her eyes. She should have figured he would be just as childish and annoying he had been when she first met him. Although, it really didn't bother her. He could have been as childish and annoying as he wanted to be and she'd still follow him, this time, at least. On their next adventure, well, she was back in charge. Unless- the nagging feeling that something was very, very, very wrong came back.
They cleared the miniature forest and reached the edges of the cliff. Both the Doctor and River stopped short. The Singing Towers were directly in front of them. Well, they assumed the Towers were directly in front of them, seeing as there was singing... and... darkness... Not much was visible beyond some twenty meters or so out into the abyss. They listened to the song.
But they didn't hear the same thing.
The Doctor heard a low, grieving melody, laced with one little upwelling of hope. He thought he heard an Old Gallifreyan harp in the mix. The tune was barely recognizable as some rendition of an old Earth symphony: Bach, maybe Dvorak. As he listened, voices started to come out, softly at first, until they reached a crescendo of sadness. The Doctor knew the voices – everyone he had traveled with, everyone he had ever loved. Tears started to drip from his eyes.
River heard a lullaby. The longer she listened, the song seemed to cycle through her life. Her caretaker, the one she could barely remember. A long pause in the music. Silence. A mother's broken, saddened, frightened attempt to comfort their terrified little child. A lost, lonely, tortured teenager, sung to sleep by a caring, wonderful, impossible, old man who never seemed to care what she did, but loved her unconditionally. The song started to become happier.
"Doctor?" River whispered, as she turned to look at him. He was crying. The Doctor pulled his hand from her grasp and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, letting him draw comfort from her. The invisible Towers continued to serenade them. "What do you hear?"
"Everyone," he murmured, pressing a sad kiss into her hair. "Everyone I've failed to save." His voice caught. She recognized the symptoms. She had heard him this raw only three times: the time he talked about his family and companions, from his children and grandchildren – especially Susan – to Romana to Rose and all the others; when the daleks burnt, and burnt for the last time: she had made sure of that; and when he had told her his name. "River, darling, do you have to go to the Library?"
He was pleading, imploring. River closed her eyes, wondering where she could gain the courage to refuse him. "I can't run from the past, sweetie, even if it is the future." And her heart broke in two. "Doctor, is that the first time you meet me?"
The Doctor looked away, tears racing now. He started to shake with sobs. The two of them sat in the damp grass on the edge of the cliff and held each other. River rocked him, singing a gentle lullaby. The Singing Towers copied her, joining her in the melody and cascading the harmony throughout the entire abyss. "Yes," he whispered.
River closed her eyes and tried to block out the pain welling in her chest. "Will I-" she paused. "Will I see you again?"
He pulled away, almost sharply. Their eyes sought each other as both time travelers stared, searching for some reaction from the other. "I hope so," murmured the Doctor. "I should work. I mean, I did work. Here." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a screwdriver which he pressed into River's hand. She closed her fingers around it and started to go numb. "I don't want to lose you, River," he whispered, brushing the tips of his fingers along her cheeks. "I don't ever want to lose you."
She leaned into his touch, and whispered the words that they had danced around throughout the their entire time together. Oh, they had their synonyms and private jokes: I hate you; monkey strudel; sweetie and salty; shut up; and spoilers. But once, just once before, had they both dared to say the words allowed; everything had always been implied. "I love you, Doctor," she whispered.
"I love you, my River Song," he responded. They shared a kiss that rivaled any number of amazing kisses on any scale, across any planet, in any time zone. Both time travelers were crying, but together; together their pain didn't seem so bad.
The Singing Towers cried for the couple, but neither River nor the Doctor paid much attention to the lonely, haunting song that filled the air around them. The Towers knew. The Towers could sense, intuitively, that in their perspective weeks, both River and the Doctor would be dead. The Library. Utah. The final train stations on the track of life. The tears were understandable; especially as each cried for the other.
And the universe cried with them.