"Are you sure you can't come with us this time?" the Doctor asked. Hopefulness filled his eyes as he leaned against the bars of her cell. He glanced up and down the prison's curved passage then whispered with a mischievous glint in his eye, "I'm not sure you're aware, but the TARDIS, see, she's a time machine. We could travel for years together and I can bring you back before sunrise."
"You know I can't, sweetie," River replied with a smile that only barely concealed the regret behind her words.
"I can hope though," he said with a sigh. "There's always hope, you know."
"That's what you keep telling me."
"I just… I wish we had more time together," he said in a voice completely devoid of his usual joviality. "I miss you."
"I know, my love. Believe me, I do too," she said as she reached up and brushed her thumb against his cheek. She hated seeing him so sad, but she wanted to gaze at him forever just because he was here in this moment with her and not thousands of years or billions of miles away. She slid her hand so her finger curled behind his ear then drew his face toward hers. As she closed her eyes, all that mattered was the connection to him, the movement of his lips over hers, the tingling of his hands as they slid around her waist. The Doctor was smiling as they parted; a gesture she happily returned. She tried not to think about the inevitable day when surprise and confusion would replace that look of contentment in his eyes.
"I left a surprise for you in the library," River said, smoothing his lapels. "It will keep you busy until you see me again."
"I will see you again?" the Doctor asked as he backed away reluctantly. "Soon?"
"Yes, my love. And it was wonderful."
"I look forward to it."
"I loved every moment of it," she replied, watching sadly as he disappeared into the TARDIS.
As he stepped through the doors, the Doctor frowned and thoughts of River consumed him. Leaving her was always hard and it only got harder as time went by. He walked by Amy and Rory on his way to the console, neither acknowledging them nor noticing their concerned looks. He didn't say a word as he automatically went through the motions of sending the TARDIS into the vortex.
"I'll be in the library," he mumbled as he strode off toward the corridor that led deeper into the ship.
Once out of sight, his demeanor sunk lower. His shoulders hunched, and his feet dragged like boulders along the metal floor. The longer he knew River, the more time he wanted to spend with her, but it seemed like he had less and less. He wondered how much time he had left with her. River always indicated that she knew him in many of his regenerations, but then, she also admitted she lies.
The Doctor entered the library to see a large white envelope with a tangle of curly red ribbon in the seat of his favorite chair. Picking it up, he turned it over to reveal a ruby kiss over the seam of the flap. The corner of his mouth twitched a bit, threatening a small smile. He settled himself in the chair, opened the envelope and pulled a magazine from inside.
"Knitting for Girls," he read from the yellow cover. He stared at the magazine, not quite sure what to make of it. Surely it was a joke. He looked in the envelope. It was empty. No note, nothing else. "Knitting?" he asked in disbelief.
The Doctor turned back the cover to the table of contents. The section on hats had been circled in bright blue marker. "What, does she want me to knit a hat?" he asked. "She kills hats. Especially my hats. She's a hat murderer. She's like… River the Ripper to hats!"
Pausing only briefly to look over the instructions for a scarf, he flipped to the indicated page. But instead of a pattern for a hat, it contained a picture of River. She was leaning against the console wearing a silky blue blouse, the golden glow of the TARDIS highlighting her curls and making her appear generally radiant. The smile the Doctor had been holding back finally broke free as he gazed at the photo. She was so beautiful. Brilliant too. He rarely got a chance to really appreciate her like this, when no one was running, or in danger, or dying.
A happy sigh escaped his lips as he turned the page, but his breath caught in his throat as his eyes came to rest on the next picture. It was of River leaning on a chess table holding a pawn against her lips. He looked over his shoulder. It was taken there, at his chess table. Or one exactly like it in an identical library. His eyes turned back to the photo and he took in the details. Around her neck was a bow tie that looked quite familiar. He reached up and brushed his fingertips against his own, wondering why she would be wearing it. His eyes slid down her shoulder to her arms, which were positioned just so to accentuate her cleavage barely contained in her low-cut dress.
After contemplating the picture longer than he had intended, he continued through the magazine. The pictures became more suggestive as he flipped the pages, all of them taken in the TARDIS. One showed River in his private study wearing a very tight tank top and an impossibly short plaid skirt, her hair in braids. The next photo River lounging by the pool in a gauzy white blouse with a TARDIS blue bikini underneath. After that, a sheer nightgown that left very little to the imagination.
Hesitating slightly, he turned the page once more. He involuntarily bit his lip as the paper curled back to reveal River nude in front of a fireplace. It looked familiar somehow. He lowered the magazine and stared wide-eyed as he realized it was his fireplace in his library. He studied the picture more closely and noticed the barest hint of a hand with a gold watch at the very edge. His gold watch, his hand. But he was never here with her like that. He'd definitely remember something like that. Unless… "Spoilers," he whispered.
Was this the wonderful time she had mentioned as he left? He thought about going back and asking her, but he knew she wouldn't tell. All she'd do is tease him with tantalizing hints, partial promises, but no more than that. How could she be so marvelous and maddening all at once? Returning his gaze to the photo, he found himself becoming lost in it, imagining the possibilities of the circumstances surrounding it. As he studied it, he could almost smell the scent of her hair; feel the warmth of her soft skin under his palms. Heat grew within him like the heart of a newborn star, spreading through his body to his extremities. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat as a longing breath carried a single barely audible word, "River."
In a storm of flailing limbs, the Doctor fell off the chair and the magazine went flying. He grabbed futilely at the air trying to catch it but ended up flinging himself on it as it hit the floor. He sat up, hugging it tightly to his chest.
"What? Who? Me? Yes, hello! Hi, I'm the Doctor," he babbled.
Rory was standing in the doorway. "Er, Amy was worried. She told me to check on you," he said. He peered at the magazine which was upside down in the Doctor's arms and asked, "Knitting for Girls?"
"Well, yes," the Doctor began in what he hoped was a mild conversational tone. "I thought I'd knit a hat, see. I like hats. Hats are cool. Besides, I missed my knitting lessons when you lot dragged me off to 1969."
"You aren't a girl."
"Well spotted!" the Doctor replied, rising to his feet. "And you aren't a Roman."
"Technically, I was."
"And technically, I could be a girl," he said as he turned away from Rory.
"Is there something you're hiding?"
The Doctor spun around, hugging the magazine tighter and exclaimed, "What? Me? No, what would I have to hide? I have nothing to hide! What would I hide? Nothing! There's nothing!"
"I meant about you being a girl."
"Oh, that!" the Doctor exclaimed, trying too late to keep the relief from his voice. "No, not like that! I mean in the future, I could regenerate into a girl!"
"Does that happen?"
"Yes, it does."
They stared at each other in an uncomfortable silence until Rory said, "I've thought about learning to knit."
"You? What? Do you want to knit a cosy for your sword?" the Doctor asked.
"No, I just used to like watching my Gran knit." He paused for a moment before asking, "Could I look at that?"
"This?" The Doctor held up the magazine with a look of surprise that suggested it had just magically appeared in his hand. "Oh, no. No, no, no. You don't want this one! This, this, this—it's all messy! Marked up! Practically ruined! Yes! With, ah, notes and scribbles and doodles and yarn stains and needle punctures and knitting accidents and things and stuff. And also shenanigans!"
Rory arched an eyebrow and asked, "Knitting shenanigans?"
"Yes. Knitting shenanigans," the Doctor confirmed. "I'll tell you what, though, I'll get you a nice glossy clean crisp fresh-off-the-press copy. How's that? You'd like that, I bet!"
Rory peered at him suspiciously before he said, "Well, okay then. A new one will be fine."
"Excellent!" the Doctor exclaimed, clapping his hands. "You just go on now and tell Amy I'm fine. Just fine! And, er, I'll just be right behind you. Go on, off you trot now."
Once Rory was out of sight down the corridor, the Doctor closed the library door quietly and locked it. "Well, maybe not right behind you," he whispered. He returned to his chair further appreciate the art woven just for him into the pages of Knitting for Girls.