From The Outside Looking In
Disclaimer: The usual stuff. None of it's mine.
Author's Note: Ooh it's another Doctor/River one-shot from me. Who knew? Hehe. This one jumped into my head at work & so I'm trying to scribble something down on my break. Hope y'all enjoy.
I had always been fascinated by them, whenever they appeared. They made my busy shift running plates back and forth to the boiling kitchen bearable, almost enjoyable when I could sneak glances across at this strange couple. They came every third Friday of the month at nine o'clock- regular as clockwork which was strange in itself because nothing about them was regular. They looked different each time they arrived in the restaurant and not just because they were wearing different clothes or had a different hair cut but they seemed to be different versions of themselves and interact in new ways each time. Almost as if they were coming together from random points in their lives just to share this moment. Sometimes they dressed as if they'd been to a formal event and other times they looked like they'd just come out of a war zone- all tattered and covered in mud. Sometimes one would be dressed a certain way and the other would be the opposite. I loved the way they laughed when they looked at each other when that happened. They ate a strange combination of things, puddings and mains and starters all mixing together while she drank wine and he swirled his soft drink with a variety of straws and mini umbrellas he produced from nowhere. You could never predict what they'd do or how they'd look when they arrived but the only constant was the way they acted towards each other.
That was the thing that really drew me towards them: the love they always had for each other. I watched them and I saw it, every action dripping with love and devotion. The way she straightened his bow-tie. The way he tried to order for her and always got it wrong but she'd just laugh and eat it any way. The way he stared at her when she was talking as if she was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen. The way she brushed his hair out of his eyes. The way she rested her head so gently on his shoulder as she curled up next to him. The way he reached for her hand when they walked out. It was like their love was a glow around them and every action, every touch, reflected it. It was so strange to see a couple so beautifully, and so consistently, in love each time. Even when they argued, when they squabbled like school children, you could still see the love etched in the lines of their faces. They'd often be there, long after everyone else had left and I was alone sweeping the floor, bickering about all the things in the universe that no one else would think to question. They argued passionately and used a thousand words I didn't understand and no one ever seemed to win but they didn't mind. They just shrugged and kissed and laughed about being far too clever.
They always seemed… Not perfect, never perfect. I wouldn't say anyone could ever be perfect and certainly no relationship could be but these two seemed as close as you could get. They seemed so in tune with one another, so oblivious to the rest of the world, so focused on that person sitting opposite them that it made my heart beat faster just to watch them. I knew nothing about their relationship other than those few snapshots I glanced over the years but it seemed the closest that I would ever come to a romance like you see in the films. They were my hope, my proof that sometimes, ever so occasionally, things went right. That sometimes people made it. That occasionally there were happily ever afters.
So I suppose that's why it bothered me when I saw her tonight. Any other person, any other night, and I would have just walked by. But this was her and it was their night. She was dressed in a long silver evening gown, her hair was in sleek curls that sat just on her shoulders and a collection of shimmering jewels that glistened at her neck and her wrist. She was more elegant that I'd ever seen her before, almost regal looking, and yet there was a stiffness about her that had never been present before. She walked in alone. Whether they were laughing, kissing, bickering or merely glancing at each other they'd always entered together- I don't think I'd ever seen her without him before. It was almost like seeing half a person, I was so used to seeing them as a couple. She came in, she ordered the usual drink and sat at the normal table, she picked out the same bizarre combination of food as usual and ate it alone all the time staring across at his chair with an expression I couldn't read on her face. It wasn't as if she was sad, it wasn't even as if she was angry at him for not being there but almost as if she was imagining what he would be saying if he was there. She seemed to be picturing him, pretending he was with there like he usually was. All night I walked past her and tried to pretend my heart wasn't breaking, that I wasn't dying to ask her what had happened, but at the end of the night I felt I could no longer help myself.
"On your own tonight?" I blurted out as I brought her a final glass of wine across to her table as everyone left around us. She looked at me and blinked quickly, as if she were genuinely unaware there was anyone but her in the room.
"Yes. Yes I guess I am." She smiled sadly.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to pry." I blushed quickly. "I've just seen you here before, often, with your… friend." I muttered.
"Yes, yes, of course you have." She laughed. "But he won't be coming here any more, I'm afraid. I'm sure you'll all miss him. Everyone misses him. He makes such an impression wherever he goes, my Doctor... I'm sorry I'm being terribly rude. I'm River Song." She extended her hand and I shook it nervously. "Can you sit with me a moment? Or is that not allowed?"
"I'm sure I can." I glanced around at the lack of other customers and sat opposite her gingerly. "I'm Lizzie. So why won't he be coming back, if you don't mind me asking?"
"It's complicated." She sighed, looking sadder than I'd ever seen her before. "We're not exactly a… normal couple." She laughed lightly.
"I had noticed. I knew there was something different about you." I said as I watched her fiddle with her hair anxiously, betraying her inner emotions.
"Our timelines have always been strange, backwards, messed up completely." She sighed and blew a stray strand of hair out of her face lightly. "But I've always been able to deal with it. I wouldn't change it. Not who we are, what we are. Now though, now he barely knows me. He would never come out with me, sit with me, laugh with me. He has only the slightest idea of who I am. The worst thing is he doesn't even want to know. His life is fine without me. And the next time I see him, or the time after that maybe, if I'm lucky, he won't know me at all. Not even the tiniest flicker of recognition will flash in his eyes and then I don't know what I'll do and I… I don't know why I'm telling you all this, I'm sorry."
"It's fine." I said as my hand jerked uneasily. I wanted to take her hand, to squeeze it until I could squeeze all the pain out of her voice. "And I'm so sorry. I don't know how you can cope with that. I know I couldn't"
"I don't know if I can." She said sadly, her eyes filling with tears that would never fall. "But I have to try. He can never know, I can never tell him. So I might just… Come back here, for a while, if that's okay?"
"I'll keep your table." I smiled as I stood back up and tucked my chair in clumsily, sensing the conversation was over. "For as long as you need it."
"Thank you, Lizzie." She smiled and sipped her wine and I walked away, feeling tears well up in my eyes. I glanced back at her looking for sad, so broken. So much for my happy ending.
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