His mind was made up before he even began to think about what he was going to do next. He was fantastically bored and it just didn't seem right, you know, not having the Ponds' in the TARDIS. He missed Amy's bold Scottish accent ricocheting off the thin metallic walls as she teased Rory about his latest death experience and Rory's dulcet tones as he scolded her and then kissed her. He loved the way they would always kiss, and he could tell that it would be them together forever; Amy and Rory Pond. But he left them because he knew that he would end up getting them killed because he was just so careless all the time, and he didn't know if he could cope having his best friends' deaths on his already burdened conscience. And he absolutely could not do it to their daughter either. She had lost her whole childhood because of him, and he wasn't going to let River get hurt because of him ever again.
But he had left his Amelia Pond as Amy Williams. Dear Amelia, it was time for her to stop waiting for him because what he had said was true; he wasn't some superhero who saved the world day and night, he really was just a madman in a box who had done a truly spectacular job of screwing her life up. Like mother like daughter. He took River away as well when Amy finally got her back after months of waiting (although it wasn't quite the right River – they had been searching for Melody), he told them they had to leave her because otherwise he would never have met her. He was selfish; an old decrepit Time Lord, depriving a mother of her child because he couldn't bear losing all those times with River Song. And speaking of River Song, that was his plan – he really needed to talk to her.
'Just talk,' he murmured aloud in defence, expecting Rory to clip him around the head in a kind of paternal warning, but when he looked up, he remembered that no one else was here. It was almost kind of melancholy. Maybe when he spoke to River he would ask her if she wanted to come along for a while. And he soon batted that idea out of his head – he wouldn't be able to live with that woman; he wasn't sure if would be able to keep away from her for very long and would probably end up handcuffed to something that would be very awkward (for example, a bed-post…)
But he was alone, sat in silence, with no one to talk to but himself. Yep, he was going to see River. She would understand how he was feeling – she too had spent most of her life by herself, always alone. But he needed to ask her something as well, something that had been playing on his mind since he dropped the Ponds off a few hours ago, something that might just have the power to change the entire dynamic of their relationship. Well, he said relationship, what he really meant was the I-find-her-very-attractive-and-she's-in-love-with-me-but-it's-wibbly-wobbly-and-confusing thing they had going on.
He wasn't going to lie, it wouldn't have done himself or anyone else any good, he really did think he might just have fallen in love with her, and he was pretty sure she knew this. When he had been dying in Berlin, resting painfully on those cold marble steps, he had whispered in her ear. And he told her this, 'Find her. Find River Song and tell her something from me. Tell her I would give up everything to be with her. Tell her I love her.' And of course, she didn't understand how much of a significant impact that made on her life. He had timed those to be his last words though, telling the truth for pretty much the first time in his life.
But with the added issue of her parents always watching their every move when they had the rare opportunities to be together, it was proving rather difficult to get a head start on things. And he didn't know what was going to happen now, after what he had seen. Freaky eighties hotel thing had just happened, and he had made mistake 229 – looking when you're specifically told not to. To be fair though, when someone tells you not to look, it does tend to have the opposite effect. But he looked in, past the number eleven on the door (for, he presumed, his current regeneration – very intelligent whoever had made this thing), and he saw her. He saw River song, sat daintily on the edge of the hard mattress, looking straight in front at the wardrobe, like she was trying to figure out who she was. Then, like she had heard his breathing or something, she snapped her head over to look at him and he looked him in the eyes, so he shut the door.
Why had she been in his room? Out of all the horrific things he had ever seen, all the things that had plagued him, been like a pinch of salt on his dapperness, why did he see her as the most terrifying thing? He wasn't afraid of her, he thought so anyway. Maybe one day he would be. Who knows? Well, she does. So that's why he is planning to go and see her, so he can ask her if all this, all their life together is nothing but a heart-wrenching lie…
X – X – X
'Doctor River Song,' he announced loudly, strolling from the doors of his bright blue time machine, a huge confident grin on his face. His hearts skipped a beat when she looked up at him, one eyebrow hooked, and the smile she shot back at him made his insides melt slightly.
'Hello Sweetie,' she murmured in surprise, although she did not forget to add her term of endearment for him onto the end of her greeting. She stared up at him in shock, like none of this was ever supposed to happen, and she automatically reached for her diary, lying carelessly atop her grey cabinet. Everything in her room was grey; the curtains, the bed and the sheets, the walls, it was all so monotonous. But then it all seemed so much brighter with her presence. He stared through the clichéd cell bars (they had never really done the best job of keeping her in had they?) and just found himself unable to drag his gaze away from her.
Of course, River had always been very sassy and provocative and…sexy…really (he internally blushed at what Amy and Rory would say if they ever found out about all of this), but this was one of the few times he had ever really had the time to notice how shockingly beautiful she was. Her eyes, just big, in his favourite shade of blue, cobalt like the sky in the evenings in October. Her lips, looking simply delicious in a startling shade of red and he found it difficult to tea his eyes away. And then there was the hair; oh, that hair. He adored it - it was just so springy and bouncy and amazing. She just fitted together perfectly and he reckoned she was the kind of woman who would look fantastic at any time – whether she was sobbing her heart out with mascara all down her face, or laughing hysterically.
'Okay then, where and when have we just been?' River asked, flicking manically through the flimsy pages of her diary, and the Doctor paused, wondering how good she would look with glasses, before quickly replying with, 'Berlin. The last time I saw you was in Berlin.'
'Which time?' she asked absentmindedly, still flicking through the pages and the Doctor's hearts leapt into his throat. "Which time"? They went to Berlin together more than once?
'Erm, the one where you…erm…kissed me,' he said awkwardly, staring down at the floor like a little kid who was being scolded by a headmaster. She laughed softly and he swore it was one of the most enchanting sounds he had ever heard. She motioned for him to come into her cell and he did so quietly before she laid the book to one side, evidently not having yet found the appropriate page, and she responded, 'You're going to have to be more specific than that Sweetie.'
She winked at him and he blushed crimson before stuttering out, 'The time when you kissed me and poisoned me and…killed me…' The smiled left her face and it was her turn to drop her head and look embarrassed. 'Yeah, sorry about that,' she whispered towards the floor and he chuckled. 'Wasn't your fault,' he hastily replied, a disgusting taste coming into his mouth at the thought of that damned eye-patched woman. There was a brief moment of silence before River broke it by asking, 'So, what exactly are you doing here my love?'
The Doctor glanced around at her small, rundown cell which, considering her personality was actually very tidy. Everything was in neat piles: make-up, books, underwear (more internal blushing), and a large pile of pictures and photographs. But they weren't the spoilers that had brought him here.
'I came because I wanted to ask you about something,' he stated with a false air of confidence, knowing that pretty soon he might have to try and drag the truth out of her. He wasn't leaving here until he had an answer, but he wouldn't use that as a threat because he was pretty sure River wouldn't mind those prospects. 'A question or a favour?' she asked, standing from her position on the end of her bed, meandering around two metres away from him. When he responded with "both" (technically true), her lips broadened into a huge grin and she replied, 'It's sounding better with every word Sweetie.'
He cleared his throat just as she closed another metre gap between then, and he was quick to reply. 'Not like that,' he said loudly, flapping his hands unnecessarily, using wild hand gestures instead of words to get his point across. She smirked and stopped even closer, a déjà vu moment appearing like when she had kissed/poisoned him before. She traced a finger across his collar bone, and looked up at him, a large smile still imprinted upon her face. He was desperately fighting the urge to squirm a little, but he breathed out and then said, 'River, I just came from the hotel, and I need to ask you why…why I'm supposedly afraid of you.'
Whilst he had been speaking, she had been moving her face uncomfortably close to his, making his explanation a bit ragged in areas, and she had brought her lips so close to his they were exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen every time they respired. However, when she had heard his embedded question, and related it to the hotel, she knew exactly what he was talking about.
She took a few steps back from him, and he looked vaguely disappointed, but became even more so when she whispered, 'I think you should go, my love.' The regret and angst in her voice was obvious, but there was also a partial tone of warning, like she was subconsciously telling him to get out. 'I can't leave River. I just left your parents, and I feel so alone and this has just been playing on my mind for ages.' He looked for something to kick in annoyance to display his point, but the room was so clean he could not find anything. But she just reciprocated her words, repeating them fully, 'I think you should go, my love. Now,' she added on. She looked up and he saw danger lights were flashing around her, and he knew he was pushing it, but he really needed an answer.
'River, please. It is something to do with something that happened before, or it is something to do with…us?' She smiled sadly at his reference to "us" and he noticed how her voice sounded a little softer. 'Sorry my love,' she muttered, 'But no spoilers.'
'How am I supposed to trust you when you just don't tell me anything?' he groaned in frustration, growling at the ceiling and then hanging his head, avoiding her gaze. 'I-I-I don't know,' she stammered, her lack of preparation for his sudden questioning becoming more and more obvious with every word that she spoke. He realized that this was a new part of their timeline that neither had yet experienced. Well, that was a first, neither of them knowing what was to come. And that scared the life out of him – more than this beautiful woman in front of him supposedly did. And then an idea clunked into his brain.
'Am I afraid of you because of something that happens in the future?' he enquired, trying sly side-questions, trying to prise her open. River just shook her head, refusing to answer any questions. Her curls bounced and her breaths echoed off the dull walls, seemingly louder than they really were. He was beginning to get a bit impatient with her now. 'How are we supposed to have this fantastic relationship if we don't tell each other anything?' he pursued even further, turning her spoilers about them against her. That, evidently, struck a nerve.
River rose to her feet and approached him steadily, although there was nothing loving or attractive about her standing this close this time. She positioned herself just a few centimetres away from him. 'You just have to trust me. I know, you have no reason, but please my love…' she whispered desperately, and he knew that he should stop; he knew that this question was hurting her, but right now, he was too curious to care.
'River, why am I afraid?' he demanded, becoming furious out of impatience. He reached out and grabbed her shoulders and pulled her body up close so they were resting against each other. His fingers dug slightly into her shoulders and she winced a little. He looked intensely into her eyes, and he thought he saw a glimmer of hopelessness, a glimmer of almost giving up. And he saw the chance. He was breaking through her defences; one more layer to go, one more sharp shock would do it. And right now he was too close to an answer to be rational, too close to care about her feelings or how he was hurting her.
'River just tell me!' he roared, his voice booming through the halls of the empty prison, the magnificence of an angry Time Lord coming into play. His cheeks were beginning to redden, his eyes darken, transforming from a light swampy colour to a dark and threatening kind of green. His eyebrows were narrowing, and although she had the information, it seemed all too much like he had the power. He stood merely centimetres higher than her, but as his fury began to rise and bubble dangerously close to the surface, she felt like she was shrinking fast towards the ground, encompassed within his beautiful rage. She remained silent in his firm grip, her eyes glazing over as she just observed his face, and he noticed she wasn't concentrating and he angrily snapped his fingers in front of her face.
'River, why am I afraid of you?' he cried again, knowing in his hearts and head that she knew. But he took her silence as smugness, and he felt his emotions soaring as he overlooked the small tear dripping from her cheek. Why wouldn't she tell him? She knew, and she never said a word. He had had enough of her spoilers; he just wanted a straight answer for once in his life. He just wanted to have a reason to trust her; he wanted a reason to justify his feelings towards her. But all she had given him was a bundle of flirting, lies, kissing and sarcasm. He had seen her in his room, sat so quietly, and he had said "Of course". But why, why did he say of course? Lucy Hayward had said that once you had seen your room, you wondered how it could ever have been anything else. And yet he, the man soaked in the blood of the innocent, the man to whom death would be a Godsend, did not understand. Or rather he did not have the courage to look beyond the vision of her in his room to understand.
He just wanted to hear the reason fall from her lips, he wanted to be able to blame someone else for the fear that he experienced from not being in the know. She opened her mouth, but her words failed her. River looked up at him and what she saw made her want to run away and hide and never step foot near him again. He was angry, and terrified. Never a good mix, especially for him.
'I wish I could tell you, believe me, but I just can't!' she managed to throw back at him, although her voice sounded too timid and afraid for her liking. He took a violent step towards her and replied, in a low venomous tone, 'Why should I be afraid River? What have you done to me that has caused this?'
Oh so now he was blaming her? But he had a point. She knew why he had seen her in his room, and she knew why she had seen him in her room. They were both so terrified of one another, that something in their relationship might mess up and they would never spend those years together. But this time, for him, his fear was deeply subconscious, buried along with memories of the future. She knew he was afraid of her for killing him, and because he was just so good, his brain had realized that it would be her. It just hadn't notified him yet. That's why he was afraid, because he knew, deep down, that once upon a time, she killed him. But she couldn't tell him that – the universe would probably implode or something else seemingly ridiculous.
'I can't tell you Doctor. It would destroy you! One day, I will tell you, but you're just going to have to wait until the time is right,' she shouted, and he almost growled in anger. Deciding against that, he yelled back, 'Why is it up to you to decide what I should know and when I should know it?'
Right now, he was being unreasonable. 'Because I care about you!' she cried back, the truth residing deep in her words being ignored by the ignorant man in front of her. He smirked and then darkly replied, 'You care? Then why do you lie to me all the time? I just wish sometimes that I hadn't met you River Song!'
That hurt. And that was definitely going too far. He went so far to lie to try and get her to tell him the truth.
'Why are you such a big-headed idiotic childish murdering bastar-' she began hotly, but her sentence was cut off before she got to the rude part. Before she could move out of his way, he raised his hand and he slapped her wildly around the face, the short but defiantly loud slap alerting him to what he had just done.
In the second that passed after his hand left her cheek, a stinging inflamed on her face and she swirled around and looked the other way, clapping a hand gently to the side of her face where he had so vehemently struck her. That had really, really hurt, like he had let his entire anger surge out of him in that one slap which she had bared the brunt of. Tears caught themselves in her eyelashes and she shuffled out of his reach so he couldn't touch her. After the initial shock had worn down, she suddenly snapped to reality and realized what had just happened.
He hit her. He actually hit her. And that registered as pain on a physical, emotional and mental level. Of all the bad things they had been through together, all the times he had lost his temper, he had never before laid a finger on her. She whimpered weakly as she moved over to her bed and silently laid down, pulling the covers over her fully clothed body.
He hit her. Oh God, he had actually hit her. He hadn't meant to do that. He knew he was getting angry, but it was at the supreme height and crescendo of his rage when he had fuelled that slap, and it had surprised him when he had done it. And then he felt absolutely disgusted with himself. There were no words for the hatred he held in himself at that moment when she had looked at him briefly after his palm came into contact with her cheek, and he had seen the distress and despair in her expression. And then when she had crossed the room, looking like she was going to burst into tears, his hearts had broken. After all this time, all the things he had seen, all the blood curdling things he had stopped, he had turned himself into a monstrosity.
That was the correct word, he was a monster. He now stared at her trembling form, lying heaped underneath the covers of her duvet, and his hearts shattered into a billion pieces with the confirmation of what he had just done. He couldn't believe he had gone that far. He had hit River Song. His River Song, the woman he had somehow managed to fall unconditionally and irrevocably in love with over the past four years. She would probably never want to see him again. He had not only left her with a physical bruise, but with an emotional one as well. He had destroyed her belief in him – he seemed to be doing that a lot with the Ponds today.
He cautiously approached her bedside, where he heard muffled sobs beneath the cover, and the shaky breaths emanating from her still quivering lips. Just the smallest bit of her hair was visible, a few curls springing out uncontrollably from underneath the grey quilt. His hands trembling wildly, he drew back the duvet from her head and was immediately hit with a bright red hand mark on her deathly white cheek. He could see the obvious contrast between the white and red and he almost fell to his knees and wept when he saw that scarlet mark grazing across her face. There were tears trickling down her nose and down the side of her face, running along the edge of her cheek, close to falling off the edge onto the mattress cover. Her eyes were nearly as red as her cheek, and she did not try and fend him off when he brushed a quivering finger against her damaged and imperfect skin.
She knew he hadn't meant to do it, he would never ever hurt her with a malicious intent, but he had this time, even though it had been an accident. She felt her hearts calm down, the normal double rhythm slowly returning as he traced his cold fingers against her burning skin, and she dared to feel comforted as well; comforted by the man who had, not two minutes ago, slapped her menacingly around the face. She felt his lips on her temple, and then a tiny droplet of water collided sharply against her slapped cheek. A tear, from one fallen God to another. A tear shed from him for her.
'I'm so sorry River,' he whispered shakily, his voice fragile and weak, like if he tried too much harder, the pain and unbearable guilt of what he had done would rip him apart, 'River, I'm so, so sorry.' She felt another tear on her cheek and she brushed it off, trying to give the impression that she didn't even want to know him anymore. She just stared straight at the light grey wall, ignoring his desperate and sincere apologies, her hearts breaking into fragmented pieces with every syllable. When he finally shut up, she managed to cluster together enough will-power and energy to hastily whisper, 'Get out of here. Now.'
It was intended to be a command, and when he rose from his knees and made his way across the room, she almost dared to believe he had (for once) listened to her, but when she heard his voice, lightly rejuvenated, she wanted to get up and scream her words at him. But he spoke nonetheless, and he did not stop.
'One of the first things I can remember is waking up at the crack of dawn and running over to my window and gazing outside. I must've been only eight years old, just a toddler,' he began, a tone of acceptance beginning to seep into his voice. 'The suns rose from behind the orange hills. Gosh, those hills, they always looked like they were on fire, each individual blade of grass shining magnificently like shards of glass. But the suns reflected off the silver leaves in the Versal forest, and it looked like the whole thing was sparkling like a piece of tin foil. It was so beautiful.
'That day, my parents took me to the academy, and I looked into the untempered schism. My God, it was so incredible and from that day on, I always wanted to travel. I was so young. A few years later, I must've only been a teenager, we went to the museum, which is where I first found the TARDIS. I was just a stupid kid but I nicked it and never looked back. I wanted to escape from the dullness of my home planet, I wanted to see the things that me and my friends had only ever dreamed about.
'It was so exciting, being able to go anywhere and everywhere, no parents or scholars telling me what to do, it was heaven. It was all so fantastic, but I got lonely and so I went home for just one day, not even bothering to go and see my parents, telling myself I would go and see them next time, and I lured a girl who I later described as my granddaughter. Her name was Susan, and she was such a clever girl. I really like her grandfather, there was a sort of familial bond between us. And so we travelled until we picked up Barbara and Ian, her teachers. I was a bit grumpy and tetchy back then and I really didn't like them to begin with, but our adventures were brilliant. There was the time old Sexy here took us to Skaro…'
And the Doctor told River absolutely everything. He told her of every single adventure, like his first encounter with the Cybermen, the times he battled with the Silurians, the many times he defeated the Sontarans. He told her of every companion; Sarah-Jane, Romana, Leela, Ben, Polly, Victoria, Ace, Liz Shaw and every other fantastic person he had travelled with, and he told her of the terrible sacrifice Adric had made and the devastating consequences for Jamie for his mistakes.
He told thousands of stories, some short, some incomparably long, that were rich and magnificent, the words fitting together perfectly, telling the incredible story of his life. He told her of every regeneration, and every pain, all the hatred and murder he had seen and caused and he painted the most horrifying images of long lost battles.
But he told River of every love, all the beauty he had seen, and all the amazing wonders of the universe; The Medusa Cascade on Christmas day, the Shining Hills of Sacrament Valley on America XII.
She did not know how long he spoke, it could've been hours or days, or even weeks, but his voice shook with emotion as he recalled every detail he had never had opportunity to forget, of his life to her. And why should he do this? Because by telling her everything, every feeling and thought he had ever had, he was proving that he trusted her.
And when he reached the point in his story where he handed Rose over to his duplicate Doctor, and he watched as she kissed him like she had never done for him, River jumped from the bed, flew across the room and flung her arms around him, embracing him in a tremendous hug of pity and distress. He clutched back onto her, burying his face in her hair, his cheeks streaked with tears, and he laid one hand on the lower part of her back, the other resting in her curls.
'I would give it up for you,' he suddenly whispered into her ear, like he was passing her his deepest secret, and in a way he was, 'I would forget everything, good and bad for you River.'
With a strangled sob, she drew away from him and looked him in the eyes. She realized what he was trying to say by choking out that last line, and she didn't know if it was the right time to repeat it, but to hell with the time lines. 'I love you,' she murmured into his chest, and he traced a finger across her injured cheek. He put a hand on her waist and gently looked her in the eyes. He saw her pain, but also her forgiveness, and she saw the maddening sense of guilt reflected in him.
Tentatively, for this was the first time he had ever initiated this with River, he pressed his lips against her soft pink ones and kissed her like there was no one else in the entire creation of everything that he loved more than he loved her. And it was true. Of all the times he thought he had been in love, this was the most real, the most impossible and the saddest, but she loved him and so nothing else mattered.
She did not respond, but just allowed his lips to move and sweep across hers, and she allowed his hands to rest protectively on her waist as he kissed her for the first time. 'I love you River Song,' he whispered, breathing out the words as they were nothing but instinct. He left her gaze for just a second and glanced towards the TARDIS and then smiled. 'Come with me.'
He was making her an offer she could not refuse and although there was nothing more that she wanted but to leave all this behind and travel with him forever, she knew it would never work. She sadly shook her head, and rested a finger against his lips. 'I love you Doctor, so much, but I can't. You know I can't.' He nodded in acceptance, knowing he should never had mentioned it and he frowned softly at her, thinking it was maybe time to leave. But before he could escape from within a metre of her, she laughed and grabbed his elbow and pulled him into another kiss.
'Just because I can't come with you, doesn't mean you can't stay for a while.' He looked confused for a moment before she glanced towards her bed and then back at him. It was a very sudden change in expression, but his downtrodden face turned to one of happiness, and he winked at her. 'Well, I suppose the universe can wait for us River, just this once.'
Neither of them dreamed that night, but they didn't need to because all they ever needed was right next to them; in body, soul, and hearts.