"And Doctor Song, in prison all her days?"
"Her days, yes. Her nights… well, that's between her and me, eh?"
River looked dismally around her cell, the sparse furniture and harsh, unforgiving light coming slantwise through the bars. She wasn't the only prisoner in Stormcage, but they were smart enough to keep her on her own, far away from the other inmates. For her safety or theirs, she wasn't sure. At least she didn't have to deal with cell mates. She had the whole miserable place to herself.
A foot thudded in the corridor outside, and she tensed, pulling her knees closer to her chin. She was huddled against the cold wall, trying to make herself as small as possible on the narrow cot.
The guard said her name as if it was a curse. She glanced up, mustering her strength.
"Dr Song, if you please. It's polite to refer to someone by their salutation, not their first name."
The guard sneered at her.
"This is for you."
He shoved a plate through the slot at the base of the bars, the tin plate rattling on the stone floor.
"If I had my way, we wouldn't be feeding you three squares a day. I heard who you killed. You deserve to rot here."
"Yes," River replied. "I suppose I do." She was careful to look down, to not let him see the truth shining in her eyes: it didn't matter how long she stayed in this hole. The Doctor was alive, and that's all that counted. Pulling herself up from the bed, she flashed a smile at the frowning guard. "Thanks, dear." She picked up the plate, inspecting its contents. Meat and rice, and a piece of bread. No cutlery. "What, no knife and fork?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
The guard scoffed.
"As if we'd be so stupid," he replied.
"Well, I wasn't going to say anything, but…"
The guard didn't answer, only gave her one last contemptuous look and then turned on his heels and marched away, his feet clattering on the stone floor.
River sat down on her bed, eating with her fingers, not caring about decorum. She was hungry enough. She hadn't eaten since the day before, in the Luna University Library. Before Kovarian had nabbed her. Before she'd killed the Doctor at Lake Silancio and been taken into custody. Before she'd been pronounced guilty and thrown in Stormcage to rot. It has been a long day.
Or, if you considered the alternate timeline, it hadn't been any time at all. And all the time there ever was.
River paused, the slice of bread half way to her mouth. Did she consider the alternate time line? She'd have to, if she was to consider herself a married woman. And she did consider herself a married woman. But did the Doctor consider himself a married man?
River put the plate down and shoved it away from her, her half finished dinner suddenly repulsive to her. It was an alternate time line, and the Doctor was a robot at the time. Had it just been a ruse, to get her to reverse time?
River nudged the plate to the slot at the base of the bars with her foot, and then returned to her bed. She lay down, curling herself up into a ball. The lights from the corridor outside cast her shadow in sharp relief on the wall behind her.
"It's my wedding night, you know," she addressed her shadow, turning on her side to see it. "And here I am, all alone." She tried to smile, but it came out more like a grimace. "Well, it's better that way. I'd be a rubbish wife, anyways."
"If I'd known you felt that way, I wouldn't have come," said a voice from the other side of the bars. And achingly familiar voice. A voice River loved above everything in the entire universe, including the universe itself. She bolted upright, rushing to the bars, if only to catch a glimpse of his beloved face.
"Doctor?" she breathed.
He stepped out of the shadows like a hero stepping into the princess's castle. A smile tugging at his mouth.
"Hello Sweetie," he said.
River let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding.
"Course I'm here," the Doctor replied. "Where else would I be?"
"I thought you were laying low," said River. "If they find you here…"
The Doctor waved his hand as if her objection was of so little consequence that he didn't even consider it.
"It's a prison, Doctor," she reminded him. "They have cameras watching me."
"And as far as they're concerned, you've gone to sleep like a good little prisoner," the Doctor said, with a smug smile. He held his sonic screwdriver aloft, waving it at her triumphantly. "Their puny cameras are no match for my screwdriver. On that note…" He turned the screwdriver onto the door of her cell, and it swung open with a gentle click. Looking pleased with himself, the Doctor stepped through into the cell.
River could feel tears welling up in her eyes. She had never been so glad to see anyone in her life.
"You came," she said.
The Doctor took one look at her, standing in front of him with tears clouding her eyes, and swept her into his arms
"Course I did," he said against her hair. "It's your first night in prison. I couldn't let you go through that alone."
River pressed her cheek into the scratchy tweed of his jacket and breathed the scent of him in. He held her close for a few precious seconds, his one hand resting possessively on her hip while the other rubbed calming circles on her back.
"Besides," said the Doctor, pulling away so that he could see her face. "It's our wedding night."
River laughed weakly.
"And what a wedding it was."
"Clearly you've never been to Centauri weddings," said the Doctor. "Quiet and solemn occasions where everyone wears black. It's the funerals that are rip roaring parties. Never miss a Centauri funeral, it's a bang up time."
But River didn't have time for his babbling at the moment. This was more important. It needed to be cleared up as quickly as possible, before her heart got tied up more than it already was. Better to make a clean break.
Gentle but insistent, River tugged the Doctor so that he was sitting beside her on the narrow cot.
"Mind you, I rarely miss a party," the Doctor continued, oblivious to her. "You know how much I love to dance. In fact…"
"Doctor." River put her hand over his mouth, effectively ending his stream of words.
The Doctor stopped talking abruptly.
"River? Is something wrong?"
River shook her head, her sandy curls bouncing with the movement. She'd finally got used to them, but they often got away from her.
"I need to know, Doctor," she said. "I need to know if it was real."
The Doctor looked into her eyes, and there was no silliness about him now. Now he was serious, and God help the universe if the Doctor was serious.
"Was what real?"
"Everything. The wedding, the kiss, your…" her voice caught in her throat, getting stuck on the lump that was lodged there. "Your forgiveness," she managed.
The Doctor took her hand in his large, tapered one.
"Of course it was real," he said gently. "I said I forgive you, and I do. You may be in prison, River, but you are innocent."
River couldn't help the giggle that bubbled up.
"I've never been innocent in my life, Doctor. Not since they took me away from my mother and raised me to be a killer."
"But you're so much more than that now," the Doctor reminded her. "You're River Song!" As if that explained everything. And, in a way, it did.
"I didn't know I could love you more than I did before," she said. "But somehow, I do."
The Doctor gave a sigh; just a tiny one, but close as she was, River heard it. He pulled away, and River mourned the loss of his warmth.
"River…" he started.
River looked into his eyes, so very old, like wells of deep memory. His voice was still gentle as he continued.
"Never do anything like that for me again," he said.
"No," said the Doctor cutting her off. "Listen to me, River. Fixed points in time cannot be moved. They can be played with, manipulated, fudged, but they can't be altered. No matter what is at stake, even if it's me, the universe is more important. All those people out there living their boring, ordinary, oblivious lives are more important."
"Not to me," River reminded him.
The Doctor pulled her close again, and River rested her ear on his shoulder, listening to the staccato rhythm of his double hearts beating in tandem with hers.
"Never, ever do that again," he said again, in her ear. "Promise me, River."
"I won't." She could lie too. She knew she would turn the universe upside down and inside out before she lost him again.
"Oh, before I forget." He dug into one of his endlessly deep pockets, and pulled out a small object, that he flipped to her.
River caught it easily, turning her hand over and opening her closed fingers to reveal what was inside. Her eyes flew to the Doctor's, wide with shock.
"Don't you like it?" the Doctor asked, looking nervous. He tugged at his bowtie. "Because I can get you another. I just thought… you know…" he trailed off helplessly.
River tore her eyes away from him, and looked back down at the object in her hand, watching as the light from the corridor glinted off its polished surface. She picked it up, holding it up to the light.
"It's beautiful," she admitted, examining the ring from various angles. It was a simple band, plain and unadorned, made of a silvery metal.
"It's amarna, from the planet Midnight," the Doctor explained. "Hardest substance in the galaxy. I had a bit left from a visit a while back, and when I explained the situation, the TARDIS leant a hand with shaping it."
River held the ring up, noticing for the first time the minute swirling letters etched on the inside of the band.
The Doctor smiled.
"The TARDIS doesn't translate High Gallifrayan," he admitted.
"But I think I can read it." She sounded out the letters, her mouth forming the sounds though she did not voice them. Once again, her eyes grew round as she realized what it was.
"Now you know," the Doctor said. "For real this time. It's your secret to guard now, River Song."
River nodded. She took the ring, and placed it in the Doctor's hand.
"Put it on?" she asked.
The Doctor smiled, taking her hand in his and slipping the ring onto her finger. It rested there, cool against her skin.
"You may kiss the bride," River said, her eyes filling with tears once again.
The Doctor leaned forward, pulling her to him. His kiss was soft but plying – the possessive kiss of a husband. River buried her hands in his ridiculously long hair and prayed to whatever deity was listening that this moment would never end.
But it did, as all moments do.
The Doctor leaned his forehead against hers, and River closed her eyes, savouring their closeness.
" But I'm serious about fixed points, River. If you're going to be my wife, you have to learn the rules," he reminded her.
River pulled away from him, searching his face.
"Do you mean it?" she asked. "About being your wife. We're not playing games with each other any more? I know it happened in an alternate time line, and you were a tesselector at the time, but… are we married?"
"You've got a ring on your finger, haven't you?" the Doctor asked. He pulled a small object out of his pocket, shoving it on his own finger. "And look, I've got one on mine. Universal symbol for 'married'."
"Yes, but… is it real?" She had to know, she had to be sure. She loved him so much her heart ached.
"Do you doubt me?" the Doctor asked, giving her a wounded look.
River put her hand on his cheek.
"I do. Have you forgotten Rule One? The Doctor lies."
The Doctor shifted her hand from his cheek to his lips, kissing her palm.
"Not any more I don't. Not to you. From now on, I am completely honest with you. Always."
River heard his words at the lake, echoing in her mind, haunting her.
You are forgiven, always and completely.
"Oh, my love," she murmured. "We both know it doesn't work like that. There's too many spoilers between us."
"As much as I can be," amended the Doctor. "From now on. That ceremony we went through, do you know what it is called?"
River shook her head.
"Well, you wouldn't," said the Doctor. "I'm the only one in the universe who knows it. Or, I was. Now you do, too. It's a Gallifrayan handfasting ceremony. It indicates that in all regenerations, through all time and space, two individuals are tied to each other. It was binding, and it was real."
River wanted to speak, but couldn't get past the lump in her throat. She did the next best thing, capturing his lips in a kiss. She thought her heart would shatter with the love she had for that man.
The Doctor grinned, pulling her to her feet, keeping a firm hold on her waist and holding her against him.
"Let's go. We're late."
"We have all of time and space. How can we be late?"
The Doctor's grin grew wider.
"Come along, Pond. We've got places to go and things to see." The Doctor glanced around her sparse cell. "As nice as your new flat is, I don't really fancy spending my honeymoon here."
River glanced up at him through her lashes.
"Where are we going?"
The Doctor ignored her question.
"Hurry up, the TARDIS is waiting for us." He caught the worried look on her face, and grinned. "Don't worry, I'll have you back to your keepers before they even notice you're gone. Nobody will know I was even here. "
"You think of everything," River said huskily, wrapping her arms around his neck and smiling at him through her lashes. She was beginning to find her footing again, now that she knew where things stood.
The Doctor chuckled in her ear, a deep sound that reverberated through her and made River shiver with anticipation.
"Your days will be spent in Stormcage," he said, his voice low and rough. "But your nights, your nights Mrs. Dr. Song, are all mine."