Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Doctor Who. Only my love for the show.
Thank you for reading.
River was sitting in her garden when she heard the faint crackle of a footstep in the leaves. In an instant she was on a knee, using the bench to steady her gun arm aimed expertly in the direction of the sound. Standing at the end of her sight was an awkward man in a tweed jacket and bow tie in front of a big blue box.
"It's just me!"
Putting her gun back in her holster, River sighed in frustration. "Really, sweetie, you should know better than to sneak up on me like that! I didn't even hear the TARDIS."
"Oh, that." He ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it out of his face. "Let's say I've learned a few tricks."
River smiled and settled herself back on the bench. "So, where are you taking me this time?"
"Um, well…" The Doctor wrung his hands and looked around the garden distractedly. "Actually, I… I just have a… question."
"And I have an answer. Spoilers."
The Doctor's features changed. He looked more serious, maybe even a bit pained. "No, really, it wouldn't be."
The look on his face concerned her. She patted the bench. "Come, sit."
Once he was next to her, River could tell he was older than the last time she saw him. Sure, he looked the same, but she could see it in his eyes. He carried himself a little differently too. They sat there in silence for quite a while before the Doctor finally spoke. "How do you do it?"
"Deal with me when I didn't know you?"
River studied his face intently. The pain she saw there was all too familiar. She knew what he was going through like no one else. "How late is this for you?"
"Very. Actually I… I… don't really know how much time I have left with you." The words were drawn out, as if each one caused him great agony. He turned his gaze from her and stared intently at the ground. River saw the unmistakable sparkle of a tear at the corner of his eye.
Placing a hand on his arm, River said, "I cry sometimes, but only when I'm alone. Mostly I just hold it all inside. It isn't easy, it never has been. Even when we knew each other equally, it was still hard. We knew what was coming. But no one else can really understand, can they? I never thought of trying to track down a future you to talk about it. You really are quite clever, you know that?"
He managed a forced laugh.
She slid her hand down his arm to hold his hand. "How are you dealing with it?"
The Doctor took a deep breath. "Not… very well. Not as well as you. It's hard. I've lost so many companions, friends, loved ones. It always hurts." He shifted his gaze from the ground up to her eyes. "But it's so different with you. Usually they're gone in an instant. But with you… you're slipping from me so slowly… and there's nothing I can do to stop it."
River tilted her head toward him. "Time can be rewritten…"
The Doctor laughed openly this time. "I can't believe you just said that! You'd kill me! You know how many times you've threatened me over that!"
She smiled and brushed the hair from his face. "Yes, I probably would kill you."
They sat there together for a while longer before the Doctor spoke again. "I… I guess I didn't really expect any answers, but it helped just to see you again. The real you; the one who loves me."
"It helped me too, my love."
"Now, I… I'm so sorry, I have to go."
River scooted closer to him and nestled her head into his shoulder. "What's a few more minutes to a mad man with a time machine?"
He checked his watch then shot a nervous look toward the TARDIS. "It's… er… a little more complicated this time…"
River lifted her head to look at him inquisitively but they became trapped in one another's gaze. They were drawn to each other, pressing their lips together. Their kiss was filled with a lifetime of passion, of longing, and tinged with sadness. It lasted forever and no time at all.
While their lips still lightly brushed, the Doctor whispered, "I love you."
Without moving, River whispered in return, "I love you too."
They reluctantly parted and the Doctor rose and headed toward the TARDIS. As he reached the doors, River called to him. "I did so hope you were going to finally take me to the Singing Towers. Do you know how many times you've promised that now?"
The Doctor paused with his hand on the lock, trying to gather the courage and strength to say the words. He opened the door and started to step inside, but in doing so turned once more toward River. "Next time you see me, I promise. We'll go."