She examined each framed picture on the bureau, her eyes roaming along with her fingers, tracing each line and angle of the little girl's face. Trying desperately to remember that meadow...that day at the seaside...whatever had prompted that smile... To force her mind back to those early nearly forgotten years, to roll back the fog which covered and obscured her earliest childhood memories. To remember what it had been like... what it had felt like... to be that little girl.
Each photo was so tantalizingly familiar, tugging at her mind and her memory. Cloudy images she could almost see... if only her mind would focus. If only they would stay still long enough for her to look at them. Feelings and impressions she could almost feel... almost remember... almost reach out and...
But not quite.
"I knew you'd come back here. As soon as you could."
River spun around at the sound of his voice, so unexpected in that place at that time. "I couldn't stay away. You shouldn't be here, though," she pointed out. She'd known as soon as she'd found him standing there that he was her Doctor, of course. There was no one else he could be.
He smiled without apology. "Me? I'm fine. They're gone now, anyway. From here. Safest place in the Universe for me, at the moment. Probably."
She glanced around the room again. It was all so achingly familiar. So much a part of who she was. What she was. She couldn't ever remember having been here before in her life. And yet, at the same time...
She recognized it all.
The bed in the corner, a warm blanket tucked neatly around its small mattress. A rug covering the floor, protection against the cold wood planks; a child's collection of toys spread invitingly across it. The mobile hanging before the room's high window, its tinfoil solar system so reminiscent of the Doctor's own first stars. A universe for a child who could never have looked out the room's one high window.
Though she knew, without even needing to think about how she knew, that it was possible to get high enough by climbing onto the sink and then stretching to reach the ledge below the window...
She looked back at the Doctor, turning away from the many comforts and kindnesses which contrasted so sharply with the cruel efficiency of the warehouse lab. The proof that someone had seen the child who'd lived there as something so much more than simply a weapon. "The Silence never did this. Any of it."
"No. They wouldn't have, would they?" He thrust his hands deep into his pant's pockets before continuing, sounding almost guilty, like a small boy with his hand caught in the biscuit tin. "I didn't think you'd miss that. Seeing it all again, now."
"But you never told me. All this time... You could have, you know. Yet you never did. Why?"
He smiled, a sadly apologetic smile. "How could I? I mean...I knew where you were, River. I was here. I could have stopped them at any time. Saved you. And you were..." He inhaled a ragged breath; his eyes glistened as he looked at her. "I could have saved you and I didn't."
She wanted to hold him. To comfort him. To remind him that, of the two of them, he was the only one who could remember her pain. And only because he'd chosen to share it.
But she knew he knew all of that already.
She almost –almost – asked him why, when he'd known there was nothing he could do and that she'd barely remember any of it anyway, he'd bothered to come at all. Only, even as she'd opened her mouth to speak, she'd known the answer. Because she would have come herself, if their roles had been reversed. There would have been nothing else she could have done.
Because there were those memories. Fragments, really. Impressions, mostly.
They were there.
"But you did, my love." She'd intentionally emphasized the last two words. His gaze sharpened as he looked at her; he'd noticed. She forced herself to chuckle. "You didn't think it was ever just Amy's stories, did you?" When he simply stood there looking baffled, she continued, "That made me dream of marrying you...? When I was a little girl?"
"You were serious?"
She didn't have to try to laugh this time; the dear man was so completely shocked. "Sweetie, why else do you think I wanted to kill you and kiss you? Don't get me wrong, you do cut rather a nice figure in an evening jacket, and the whole not-dying dying-slowly saving-everybody-anyway business was fairly impressive, but... really? Do you honestly think I'd have given up a promising career as a psychopath and several lifetimes of regenerations so easily if I hadn't been at least a little in love with you already?"
"But..." he began, but closed his mouth again quickly. She simply watched and waited; she could see him thinking. "I'm very clever," he observed after a minute, grinning crookedly at her.
She laughed. "Yes, you are. Sometimes even when you're not trying to be."
He rocked back on his heels. "Yes... well... Sometimes," he admitted, chuckling as he came back down flat on his feet.
"But, you know," she added, growing serious again. "Sometimes, it's not about being clever."
"It's not?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow at her.
She refused to take the bait. "No. It's not. Sometimes," she continued, reaching up and slowly adjusting his bow tie before smiling back up at him. Willing him to believe. "Sometimes, my love, it's all about you just being you."