he holds me so tight and turns me to gold in the sunlight
"Promise you won't forget us, Doctor."
"Oh I doubt that Ponds. River would never forgive me."
After Berlin it had occurred to him in a moment of brilliant insight in the middle of the night.
He'd been sitting in his repair swing, fixing things that didn't need fixing while the Ponds slept, and he kept his hands and mind busy to outrun the guilty thoughts that surrounded the image of River in his mind.
Twice she'd sacrificed herself for him. He hadn't wanted it, but of course he couldn't change what she'd done, and probably wouldn't anyway. She'd given him all her regenerations and what would he do with them?
Live a bitter, lonely life once she went to the Library.
Once she died there. Neither of them could have survived the transfer.
He closed his eyes, and swung for a moment, his hands slack in his lap, still holding two loose wires. The memory of her face rose in his mind. Hush now, spoilers. The blinding flash of light, and then... nothing.
Nothing, not even a body to bring back to her parents, to cradle in his arms – she's just been gone.
He sat up suddenly, the TARDIS issuing an encouraging hum as he opened his eyes. "How could she just be gone?" He whispered to himself, but the ship hummed around him, insistent and growing in pitch. "Bodies don't just burn up. There should have been something. In fact-" He leapt up, the wires dangling loose as he brushed them aside and paced back and forth quickly. "In fact, her body shouldn't have been affected at all. Data surge that big – her mind and hearts would have been gone like that," he snapped, "but her body – where was her body?"
He paused and the TARDIS whirred in excitement. "OH. Oh. Oh you idiot!" He smacked himself on the head and grinned. "But that would mean it would have to be while I'm – and not until – and I still have to make – yes. Oh yes. You know what I am Sexy?" He laughed in delight, twirling on the spot with his arms spread out. "I'm brilliant."
"Now your turn."
"Our turn what?"
"There are things I haven't told you two. But one day I'm going to come here, and I'm going to need your help, and you have to promise to give it to me. No questions asked."
"Help with what Doctor?"
"Can't tell you. But promise me anyway."
"I promise, Doctor. We promise."
Really he could have been patient. Waited for his natural end, but he'd given her the screwdriver and kissed her goodnight and sent her to her death and it felt like that action alone should have been enough to kill him.
But nobody ever died of broken hearts – not even him.
He materialised silently in their garden, and waited. River had left her Alpha Mason gun behind at his request – trading it for Jack's squareness gun instead. He closed his eyes and waited for the Ponds.
She'd been happy, and beautiful – just as he remembered when he first met her. Her hair a bit longer and darker. She'd just been so happy, and he hadn't realized why until halfway through the evening. She thought that this meant they were linear – from here on out. He'd cried when he realized – given her the screwdriver anyway, because his younger self needed to believe he'd saved her in some way.
"Doctor?" Amy's head poked through the door and he glanced up with a grave expression. She entered the TARDIS and Rory followed. They weren't much older than when he'd dropped them off. "Is it time? To keep the promise?"
He nodded, standing, with River's gun in his hands. "Isn't that River's? Is she here too?" Rory asked, looking around as if expecting to see his daughter at any given moment.
"No. She's not. She's gone." His voice felt rusty, old and incredibly rough and unused. Amy's eyes met his, instinct or shock kicking in, he didn't know.
"Gone? Gone where?" She exclaimed. "Doctor – you promised you'd take care of her. Where is my daughter? Explain."
He sighed, facing them, and he could feel the burning in his eyes, but no tears would come. "I lied."
"What the hell does that mean, Doctor?" Rory this time, his arms folded across his chest as he glared at the Doctor. "You promised. I would never have let her-"
"Oh she was River Song, Rory! Nobody let her do anything, least of all you or I." He sighed in frustration, his hand gripping the gun while he dragged the other one through his hair before adjusting his bowtie. "This is the truth – I met River long before I met Amy, or you."
They stood side-by-side, solidly together as always, Rory's arms around his wife as Amy levelled her best Scottish glare on the Doctor. "How long?" She asked.
"Not even this face. She strode into the Library- not a library mind you but the Library. Whole planet, full of every book ever written. Four thousand people had disappeared one day and no one knew why. No one had been there for hundreds of years and she had a team. Five really good people. Well four really good people and one who was a bit of a stick in the mud. She made him keep his helmet on, because she didn't fancy him. That's not the point. The point is she walked up to me, said 'hello sweetie' and blew my life apart." He paused, feeling his throat tighten as he spoke, because he'd not willingly remembered any of this for a long long time. And knowing that she was there now, made his chest ache all the more.
"She expected me to know her. I didn't have a clue. And her face..." His gaze unfocussed and Rory cleared his throat.
"She talked about that with me once, long time ago. Said she thought it would kill her."
The Doctor looked away at that, swallowing thickly before he sat heavily in the jump seat, his eyes glued to the weapon he held cradled in his palms. "Turned out the Library was infested. Why it was abandoned so long ago. Vashda Nerada." He whispered.
"What're those? We never – that's not one we've come across is it?" Amy whispered, and her voice sounded fearful but he couldn't look up.
"Shadows – flesh eating shadows. Not every shadow, but any shadow. River – I didn't trust her. Didn't trust that book and how she knew me. Until she whispered my name in my ear. My real name – my proper Gallifreyan name. I knew for her to know that we – we would be – so I trusted her. Ran with her. We lost every member of her team until it was just River, Mr. Lux and I. And then we discovered – the whole planet was an index filing system. Largest library in the universe, happened to have the largest computer core in the world. And the smartest computer program – the living mind of a little girl. She saved them. All four thousand of them – saved them to the hard drive." He recounted the story as succinctly as he could, refusing to look up, his fingers tracing the barrel of River's gun, over and over again.
"What happened? Could you save them?" Rory asked quietly and he sighed heavily.
"Made a deal with the monsters. One day – and they could have the whole Library for the rest of time. I could be a bridge; help the computer download all those people. Save them. But I'd die doing it." He looked up then and if he thought his hearts could feel more pain, they might have at the crumpled expression on Amy's face.
"She wouldn't let you die."
"Why not? No offense Doctor but you'd just regenerate." Rory spoke in an obstinate tone.
"No. I wouldn't have. Would have killed both my hearts at once. You need one working heart in order to regenerate. And River – well – she knew didn't she? Knew that I had to live – had to meet Amelia, had to find a crack in your wall and save the universe and watch you marry Rory and take you both with me." He pleaded for understanding and Amy stared at him with tears in her eyes.
"No you, no us, no us – no River." She whispered. "Oh my poor little girl. She stopped you."
"Mean right hook. Knocked me out cold. I woke up handcuffed to a wall and she was – she said goodbye. And she explained that I'd see her again – I had all that to come. You watch us run – she said. And she died." His voice was so low by the end, but he heard Amy's strangled sob and looked up to see Rory supporting her weight as she buried her face in his shoulder. "I gave her a Sonic – I mean this me. It drove then me mad that she had it. But inside I found a memory imprint – a way to save her. So I uploaded her to the data core, and left her diary there with her. It's funny because I know now she'd have hated it. A perfect virtual world – like heaven."
"She'd have torn you apart had she known." Amy laughed, but it caught on a sob halfway through and she sank to the floor, Rory with her, holding her all the while. "So this is why you came? To tell us this? That you've known our daughter would die – this whole time?"
"No. Berlin. Do you remember Berlin?" He looked up with determination and Rory and Amy frowned in confusion.
"She gave me them all. All her regenerations. Only supposed to get thirteen, I'm the eleventh and now I have twelve left. Thing is – I don't want to live that long. Not without her." He spoke quickly, his hand tightening around the barrel of the gun and Rory shifted forward, loosening his hold on Amy.
"Doctor, no – River wouldn't ever want that. You know that."
"No, Rory. Rory the Roman. The thing is – there was a blinding light when she died. I had to look away. But there should have been a body. And it never occurred to me until after Berlin. Why wasn't there a body?" He stood up, and looked down at Rory sadly. "It'll have to be you Rory."
"What'll have to be me?" Rory stood in confusion and the Doctor pressed River gun into his hand.
"I need you to kill me."
"You hate guns."
"Yes. Well no. Well yes – a bit. They have their uses. I'm not saying go there with nothing, River. Just take the squareness gun instead."
"Squareness guns are useful."
"Sure, for making holes. How will that protect me?"
"Still? After all this time?"
"Kill you? Have you lost your mind?" Rory shouted, while Amy scrambled to her feet beside him.
"You have to. You have to. I have to be regenerating in order to do it. I thought I could wait – wait for it to just happen naturally and go then – but I can't. I can't. Why should I wait?" He spoke quickly, refusing to take the gun from Rory's hands as Rory tried to shove it into them.
"Wait for what? Do what? Explain, Doctor!" Amy shouted, pressing herself between the two men and Rory backed off, gripping the gun and pointing it at the floor.
"Don't you see, Pond? Full-circle. She killed me. No chance of regeneration, no cure, no way out. But there's always a way out and she found one. Gave me her life –" He stopped himself, pressing his shaking hands to his face for a moment as he fought for control. "I'm going to save her. Not just to a hard drive – save her life."
"Wait – okay so you're gonna just – just give them back to her then?" Rory asked in confusion and The Doctor looked at him and grinned.
"Ah ha! No flies on the Roman. Yes. Yes."
"But wait – if you knew you were gonna save her why'd you give her the sonic and have yourself upload her?" Amy looked at him distraught, tears still on her face as she gripped his forearms, hard.
"Because that was for me. Not me now, me then – I was – it was going in to a rough period for me. I can't explain it all – it would take too long, but if I'd seen her again, just thinking that I'd never done anything... thinking she died when I knew she was – would be – I don't know that I would have ever become this me, Pond. And I needed to be this me because you needed a Raggedy Doctor." He whispered the words fiercely, before pushing Amy away and facing Rory. "Coordinates are already set. We'll materialized in cloaked mode – do not turn that monitor on. I'm telling you this now, just in case I can't then. You don't want to see that – I wish I could erase it." He walked over to the console, pressing his hands against it gently. "You don't need that Ponds. She'll take care of getting River in here – I've added some improvements." He grinned. "Now, best to not shoot me in front of the time rotor. We know how wrong that can go. Just once should do it Rory – aim for a heart yeah, just to be sure."
"But you'll change. Everything about you will change. Your face, your tastes, your personality. Doesn't that scare you?" Amy protested as he walked over by the railing, shrugging his tweed off and adjusting his bowtie in preparation. Rory still stood, the gun slack in his hand. "What if – do your feelings change too?"
The Doctor looked at Amy sadly. "No. I know you don't understand-"
"When Mels changed into River it was like a whole different person Doctor-"
"She'd been trained, and conditioned. He whole life, Pond. Different face, different personality, different tastes – but always the same person behind them. Same memories, same hearts, same soul. She changed less than you thought – it was just the first time she let you see her." He spoke evenly, trying to maintain patience even though he was eager – eager to finish this, eager to get started. Eager to get River. "Faces don't matter. She won't care what I look like – just that I'm her Doctor. And I may have a whole new face and personality, but she'll love me anyway. And I'll never stop loving her."
Rory nodded once, lifting a shaking hand, the gun trembling as he stared determinedly at the Doctor down the barrel. "Will this work?" He begged in a voice that was as steady as his hands.
"It has to. It has to Rory. I can't – I'm not going to lie. For once. I've never done this – anything like this. But I'll save her or die trying. And you know that." The Doctor promised solemnly and Rory nodded, his finger hovering over the trigger.
His breathing was sharp and ragged and he hesitated before squeezing his eyes shut. "I can't do it – I can't. I can't just shoot you Doctor-"
"Oh give it here." Amy shoved Rory aside, taking the gun and swinging it toward the Doctor. "If you don't survive this, I will kill you twice." She spoke evenly before pulling the trigger.
The light was red, but the Doctor didn't shut his eyes.
He welcomed it.
"We've never been like this."
"On the same page. Just think Doctor, all those white blank pages in front of us."
"I'd always hoped we could. One day. Go forward – together. Are you crying my love?"
"I just – I love you."
"I love you too."
It hurt. But in a welcome way – a way that reminded him. He was alive. He was dying, but he was alive and he could fix this.
He clutched his chest, feeling the build up of energy as he fell to his knees on the floor. "Sexy-" he gasped the word out and the ship – his beautiful, glorious ship who loved River possibly more than even he did – stirred into action. The levers pulled and whirled on their own and they were off.
"Doctor. Doctor are you – can you- it seems stupid to ask if you're okay. I just shot you. Oh my God I just shot you." Amy gasped, the gun clattering to the glass floor at her feet as she pressed her hands to her face in shock.
"What do we do – Doctor is there anything we can do?" Rory knelt by the Doctor, his voice urgent and concerned.
The Doctor managed to shake his head in a negative jerk, his whole body trembling as he held back the force of his regeneration. "No. Just have to wait – just have to wait, so I can make it." His whole body twitched and he found himself flat on his back against the glass floor, one hand still clutched over his chest. "I can make it. Have to." He could feel his internal body temperature rising, his skin glowing gold as he felt the ship still her vibrations. They'd materialiazed.
"What now – what do we do now-" Amy's frantic questions were cut off by the sight of transportation dust whirling on the floor next to him. And then she was there – hair still pulled up, tears still wet on her cheeks, and oh so still. "Oh my God. River!" Amy cried out, moving to run over but Rory stood out of the way, gripping his wife by the shoulders and holding her back.
"Amy. Amy, we have to let him – we have to – it's all up to the Doctor. Stop." He pushed her further back, all the way across to the other side of the platform. "We can't be too close, remember?" He wrapped his arms around Amy and she buried her face in his chest, turning her head to watch in fear.
"River." The Doctor gasped, using every ounce of strength to roll over onto his knees and crawl over to where she lay. "Oh, River." He breathed her name out, and felt his heart give out – stop beating even as he reached forward, dark gold energy pouring from his skin. He pressed his hands against her face, concentrating and directing the energy and flow. He'd only every had to consciously channel this energy once before – and it wasn't easy.
Her eyes flew open and she gasped, a sharp, shocked sound that made the blood in his veins sing. "Doctor?" Her eyes darted across his face, to his hands to the golden light surrounding them. "No. You idiot." He smiled at her protest, even as he leaned in closer.
"That's my lin-" He cut her off with his mouth covering hers, feeling the energy pour through him, through her, as he counted in his head. She hadn't known what she was doing then – but he'd been trained. He counted them out in his head – one, he wanted to give her everything back, two, he felt her moan into his mouth as her hands came up to touch his face too, increasing the energy flow, three, she pulled his face in closer to hers, four, her mouth opened and he felt her mind flood and intertwine with his as she helped redirect the energy flow between them, five, her hands tightened and she drained the energy from him, six, and suddenly she was shoving, pushing him off and breaking the connection far too soon.
He fell back with a thud – she was stronger than she looked, always had been, and he protested incoherently. "River, no – I –"
"I can count too you bloody idiot." She knelt over him, waiting for the energy to die down and when it did, she grabbed him by the braces and practically shook him. "You stupid, reckless, you could have killed yourself – you almost did and I swear to God once you feel better I am going to kill you." He smiled weakly in response, still too weak to do much of anything to stop her from abusing him readily. Not that he'd stop her, even if he could. She was always loveliest when she was angry at him.
"River?" Amy's voice – small and hesitant and River looked to her left, shock written across her face.
"Mum? Dad? Oh he dragged you two into this?" She didn't move from his side, so Amy and Rory rushed over to her, both landing on their knees as they hugged her fiercely, one on each side of her.
"Ponds." He spoke in a weak voice and River slapped his shoulder sharply.
"You shut up and rest." She glared at him as Amy and Rory pulled back, and Amy brushed a hand over her daughter's hair.
"It's longer. And is it a bit ginger?" Amy grinned proudly. "I like it."
"Really? Our daughter just died and was brought back to life and you're talking hairstyle choice?" Rory spluttered and Amy and River both glared at him.
"She's fine! And the Doctor's fine. Well, fine-ish." Amy amended, looking down at the Doctor with a proud smile. "You did it Doctor."
"Wait – I thought he was supposed to regenerate? New face, new personalities. He's still the same. Floppy hair. Bowtie." Rory waved a hand and River grinned from beside him.
"Redirected the excess energy. He healed, but he's still fine. Happened once before to him. Of course, then he birthed a whole human-clone but since the receptacle was better this time, it'll work out much better." River spoke in a smug tone and the Doctor smiled up at her, feeling the shaking in his limbs start to subside. Amy and Rory wore twin expressions of incredulousness on either side of her and he laughed weakly. He'd missed this. All of them.
"Wait – what?" Amy asked even as Rory spoke too.
"Human clone? There's two of him running around?"
"Well no – not in this universe. It's a long story – some other time." River waved her parents questions off, leaning forward and pressing her hands to his face. "Are you alright yet, my love?"
"Getting there, I think." He whispered, struggling to push himself into a sitting position. As soon as he was up, he pulled her into his arms, tears filling his eyes as he pressed his face to her hair. "River."
"You're an idiot." She spoke in a tear-filled voice. "I can't believe you'd – well actually I really can believe you would. You impossible man." She pulled back and pressed a kiss to his mouth, softly. "You just never give up, do you?"
"Some things are worth never giving up on, River Song." He whispered to her, pressing a kiss to her nose. "Never ever."
"Can you stand?" She asked, pushing herself up and then reaching for his arms to help him. Rory came around, helping to lift him and they both got him to a leaning position against the console.
"You cheated." The Doctor finally spoke, glaring at her. "I don't mind about the face. Blatant favouritism, but fine." She laughed at that, her eyes lit up as she arched a brow at him.
"It's the bowties, sweetie. You know what they do to me." She winked and Rory cleared his throat and she rolled her eyes. "Oh seriously, Dad, still? How long have we been married? I'm not a little girl."
"You're always my little girl." Rory pointed out, stepping over and hugging her tightly. "Why do you look like an astronaut?"
"Oh, standard procedure on inter-stellar expeditions. Horrid aren't they?" She rolled her eyes and Amy came over too, wrapping and arm around Rivers shoulders.
"How did she cheat Doctor?" Amy asked, her voice curious.
"She gave me ten regenerations-" he glared at River and she giggled, interrupting him.
"I only took six back." She grinned. "Now we're even. You have six, I have six. I've no intention of out-living you love." She smiled brightly, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to his mouth.
"Now we're linear." He whispered and she grinned in response.
"Well, that wasn't so hard was it?"
"Do you ever wonder what normal feels like?"
"But you could have had a whole other life. Could have never given Amy that diary – never brought me back. You could have been happy."
"Happy is subjective my love. And subjectively, I think there's no way I could ever be happier than I am right now."
"But we're backwards and wibbly-wobbly and that hurts, sometimes."
"And sometimes, it's so wonderful I can barely breathe. I wouldn't change a thing, sweetie."
"Not one line?"
"Not one line."
"What're you doing?" He leaned against the console, watching as she stood there in a loose champagne coloured silk nightdress, her eyes glued to the screen above her.
"Connecting to the Library's hard drive, sweetie. Are my parents all tucked away for the night?" She arched a suggestive brow his way, before stroking a few more keys, and turning toward him.
"Yes." He pulled her against him, pressing a soft kiss to her hair, which spilled down over her shoulders now. "What were you doing in the Library's hard drive?"
"Deleting myself." She whispered, and his arms tightened around her convulsively as he stared down at her in wonder.
"How did you know-"
She laughed softly. "Oh sweetie, you honestly think I didn't inspect every inch of that sonic after you gave it to me? I found the neural relay on the second flight day. Honestly."
"You knew –" He stared down at her before pressing his forehead against hers. "You knew. And you went anyway?"
"I knew – soon as I saw you there. Blank look on your face, and so abrupt. I knew. But we'd had such a long time, sweetie. I thought – if that was everything – it was enough." Her voice thickened and he cradled her face in his hands, pulling her in for a soft kiss.
"It was never enough. When it comes to you, River, I am possibly the most greedy, selfish man in the entire universe." He whispered the words against her mouth and she smiled.
"I'm not complaining." She spoke warmly and he grinned back at her. "I had to delete her though. Me? Her? I'd never have been happy there. Without you. Without my parents."
"I know." He whispered. "I mean, well, I didn't know then when I did it but I knew when I made it." His fingers migrated naturally into her hair, combing through the long strands with a grin.
"You did what you had to, my love." She responded softly, her hands on his face as she stood on tip toe and pressed a kiss to the tip of his nose. "I understand." She looked up at him with a content sigh. "So now what?"
"Now, I don't know." He grinned in delight as he looked down at her. "Nothing in my diary or yours. No spoilers. No anything. Now, my River, now we begin."
"We're already begun," she laughed softly at him with a shake of her head. His fingers, still in her hair, tangled even further amidst the soft strands.
"Yes but now we go forward together. You and me. Same page." He reminded her and she grinned brightly.
"Sure you won't get bored? I mean, I don't get to swoop in and out of your life anymore. No more mystery. No more drama- " He snorted out a laugh at that and she glared at him. "What?"
"Bored? You are possibly the least boring person in all of existence River Song. Promise me one thing though." He whispered and she glanced up at him with a questioning smile. "Come time for our next regeneration – don't concentrate on a dress size. Concentrate on the hair."
"Oh you absolute idiot. The hair? Really?" He nodded, winding pieces around his fingers as he looked down at her. "It hasn't worked for you so far, dear."
"Well, no. But you're far more clever than I am, River Song." He pressed his face into her hair, inhaling deeply.
"I wonder, Doctor..." she spoke softly, looking up at him hesitantly, her expression unsure for a moment, before she pressed herself against him, her hands sliding down to his waist as she pulled him into her body.
His breath caught at the feel of her, warm and soft against him and he swallowed heavily. "Wonder what?" She leaned in, her lips brushing against his chin, dragging up his jaw line until she pressed a soft kiss to his ear. His breathing increased, and his hands tightened in her hair uncontrollably.
"How do you feel about children?"
"Do you promise to love, honour and cherish this woman, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, until death do you part?"
"Oh even beyond that."