because promises murder us backwards when people like me don't keep them
Beep. Beep. Beep.
It was a soft incessant noise he could hear just above the wheeze and groan of the TARDIS engines, but every attempt he made to discover the source of it seemed futile. He'd just dropped off Dorium's head – a life in shadows, a life of nights that he was eager to start. Finally. "What is it, old girl? Just – just tell me." The TARDIS groaned, and the beeping persisted, as the Doctor's hands flew over the typewriter, his eyes scanning the screen above his head. Finally – finally – the beeping desisted and a message appeared on the screen.
MEMORY BANKS FAILING. PLEASE SEND HELP. CAL.
His hearts dropped as he stared at the words. "No. No no no no no! I haven't had time yet – no!" She scanned the code of the message, tracing its signature. "When was this sent?" He swallowed heavily, his hearts in his throat. Two hundred years – two hundred years he'd had to say goodbye and never once had he returned to that place. Never once had he thought about saving her in any permanent kind of way. After all – he was headed to his own death and he thought – he'd thought – "No!" He pounded a hand against the console and the TARDIS whirred in high-pitched irritation.
"Sorry, sorry girl – but please. Please. Help me – no, not me. Help her. Help River." The TARDIS seemed to vibrate at that, shiver all around him and the numbers on the screen increased in speed, flying by rapidly – so rapidly he couldn't even keep up anymore. Soon enough numbers flashed on the screen and without him even moving a muscle, dials flipped and switched, and the lever pulled back, sending them whirling into the Vortex. He gripped the console and hung on tightly, watching the screen as they re-materialized in orbit around the planet.
His wife's tomb. He shuddered at the thought, staring at the screen as the TARDIS whirred in concentration, code after code flying across the screen. Finally a fuzzy picture appeared – a very small, very scared, very familiar little girl.
"Doctor!" She smiled in relief. "I knew you'd come – I just knew you would. I'm so, so sorry Doctor. The lateral memory banks have taken damage. The Library files – my files are fine. But that's where I stored them all, Doctor. We lost Dave first – Miss Evangelista... I can't save them – their programs are too old to be properly transferred." She spoke in a distressed voice and the Doctor frowned up at her.
"River – is she – River's still intact?" His voice felt too thick to properly push its way out of his throat and he looked up helplessly as Charlotte nodded.
"She wanted to make room, Doctor. Asked me to delete her first." Charlotte bit her lip and the Doctor's hearts squeezed together in his chest. Oh, River. "I told her that her memory files were more complicated than that. More complicated than the others because she was uploaded direct. I haven't forgotten my promise to you, Doctor."
"How long – how has she – can we repair the memory from here?" He was speaking to the TARDIS now – the ominous press of time against his shoulders and back. He didn't have time to play catch up. The TARDIS hummed in concentration and CAL closed her eyes with a smile of delight.
"She – your ship – she's making a connection. I can transfer River's files to her matrix, but she can't take the others." The ship shuddered and the Doctor watched as the readout showed room after room after room being deleted rapidly.
"She has to make room. But – but River will be alone." He whispered. And he would carry her ghost around with him forever. He felt tears sting his eyes and he rubbed a hand over his face. "Would she want that? Sexy – stop, we have to think. Would she want that?" The ship ignored him, deleting and deleting and deleting, groaning with irritation and he thought if she were still human, she'd be livid. "It's her life. What's left of it. I put her in that data core and I didn't know any better. I was ignorant and stupid. I didn't know any better. She would have hated it –she would have- "
"Doctor." CAL interrupted softly with a shake of her head. "It's already done. The TARDIS has completed the transfer. I'm sorry."
"CAL, how long has it been for her there?"
CAL's forehead wrinkled and she looked at the Doctor in sympathy. "Longer than you want to hear Doctor, so I'll not tell you. She was... content, I think. She was at peace with your decision."
"But she wasn't happy, was she?" He knew the answer – knew it before he'd even asked. Knowing River as he did now – and still it was so little but enough for him to understand that all he'd done back then was place her in another cage, against her will. "Never mind." He whispered, scrubbing at his eyes wearily. "I know. Thank you, CAL. For keeping her safe."
"You're very welcome Doctor. I'm sorry I failed you at all." With that she faded from the screen and the monitor blinked for a moment.
ZERO ROOM DISABLED AND REALLOCATED.
"What does that mean?" The TARDIS seemed to sigh and simply repeated the message, scrolling it insistently across the screen. "What?" Nothing but the slightest nudge against the corner of his mind and a persistent hum. "I suppose I should just go see what it was reallocated for then?" He muttered in irritation before leaping up the stairs and moving throughout the ship at a rapid pace. The Zero room hadn't been used in a long time – once a recovery room for any injuries or regenerations, but he hadn't used it in ages. He found it easily enough though, punching in the code and stepping into a completely different room.
Gone were the white walls and ceilings and floors. Instead there was... a bedroom. Rich blue carpets and lavender walls – dark wood shelves lining one wall and books and books filling them. A large bed sat in the center of the room and on the furthest wall was a covered bench in front of a solid wood table, and hung along the wall was a large rectangular mirror. No – not a mirror, not really. It showed a reflection of the room but seated in front of it was-
"Hello, sweetie." She sounded tired, but her smile was warm and genuine and she had tears in her eyes.
"River. Oh, oh." He moved over to the bench, sliding himself onto it and pressing a hand against the glass. "I am so sorry." He whispered the words and she pushed her own hand against the glass there and she closed her eyes, tears escaping to roll down her cheeks.
"Liar." She chided him gently and he leaned forward, pressing his face where his hand had been.
"I didn't know."
"No, you didn't. Not then. But you do now. You will do when it comes your turn to put that neural chip in that sonic and hand it over to me, my love. You're not sorry. You saved me the only way you could. And I- when are we for you?" She paused and looked at him with a considering expression and he smiled tiredly.
"Oh Doctor." She laughed. "Aren't we all?" She sighed softly and he pulled back, his hands pushing against the glass – the wretched glass that trapped her from him.
"No." She spoke in a commanding voice. "You know that I understand. Saving me – no matter the cost to you or me – you know I understand that. What a pair we make, my love. Such selfishness – it's a wonder we managed to fall in love at all."
He couldn't argue with her – not really. But his selfishness in saving her to the Library far exceeded hers in tearing apart time to save him. She'd done it to save his life. He'd done it to preserve a memory. He felt a sob claw up the back of his throat and he choked on it, dropping his head to the desk.
"Oh, sweetie." She breathed the words out and his shoulders shook. "Stop it. Honey, stop it – shhh. Don't do this to yourself. If you just died – you have so much to look forward to. So much time, so many adventures. So many nights. You get to watch me grow up." She smiled indulgently and he turned his head, his cheek flat against the cool wood of the table as he stared at her.
"And what about you? I just keep you here? Trapped in a prison all over again at my whim?" His voice was broken and she trailed her fingers against the glass delicately, smiling down at him.
"You'll be here with me, when you can. And she'll be with me, when you can't. You know I always felt her – in my mind, every single time I stepped over that threshold. It was like – like coming home. Being wrapped up in a mother's arms, and she is you know – in her own way she's as much my Mother as Amy. I won't be alone. And I'll know you're safe." He stared at her, his skin pale with shock and then flushing with anger.
"And what kind of a life is that River? Not even a half life." He spat the words out, pounding a fist against the table and watching as it reverberated against the wall. "Barely a sliver and you'll what? Just go along with it? You're not my River, because my River would as soon as-"
"Shut up!" She ground out, her voice strident. "You idiot man. You just never think. All I want to do is rail at you, Doctor. I want to yell and scream – you left me." She spoke slowly, her eyes sparking with a familiar rage and he stopped to stare at her. "You left me alone in that Library. For hundreds of years. I've not seen your face or heard your voice – I was sure I never ever would. Not at first – oh no, Doctor, at first I thought you would be coming. Surely. Surely," she scoffed, tears trickling down her face, "you'd come to save me. Rescue me, just like you always had. But you never came. And nothing happened. And nothing kept happening. It took me three hundred years to stop hoping. To finally realize you just weren't coming. And that's when I started asking – begging Charlotte to delete my files. To just let me die."
He stared at her in silent shock, his mouth open and his eyes wide. "River..."
"I'm not done talking, so you will listen to me." She insisted hotly and he closed his mouth rapidly. "She'd promised you – oh you probably thought yourself so clever, extracting a promise from the mind of a child." She stopped then, pausing to close her eyes and take a deep breath. When she opened them again, she looked calmer. "She would you know. If I asked her. The TARDIS would delete me. Is that what you'd prefer?"
He stared in horror, feeling as though a weight had collapsed against his chest, crushing it inward, bone splintering until it drove right into his very hearts. "No!" He gasped out, before drawing a lungful of air that ached and burned. "No." He repeated. "No I never – never ever." He pressed a hand against the mirror as he stared at her. "It's unfair. You – I got to watch you regenerate, River. I got to feel you flow through me – all of time and all of you all through me. We could have – we could have had lifetimes."
"We will." She promised. "Just not how you expected. You still have – spoilers, but my love, it is not over for you yet."
"And now it never will be? Madman and his box – only now you're part of that. How long until this drives us mad River? To never be able to touch you-"
"You can touch me." She pointed out and he sighed.
"And once you go to the Library?" He asked practically. "What then?"
She smiled softly. "Doctor." She glanced around the room and laughed gently. "You know I remember this room. From when I was younger. You'd – sometimes you'd disappear into it. And you made me swear up and down I'd never go in-"
"Isn't this spoilers?" He pointed out with a half smile and she shrugged with an innocent expression.
"Not really. I peeked once of course. So clearly a woman's bedroom and I thought-" Her voice caught and she laughed, clapping a hand over her mouth. "I always thought maybe it was Rose's room." She finished softly. His breath caught and he shook his head.
"No." He spoke softly and she sighed.
"Jealous of myself – go figure. It certainly seems fitting doesn't it?" She trailed off, looking at him seriously. "Try not to come in here too much when I'm out there. Looking back I know now – it was when you needed me. A me – this me – the one who knows you inside and out. I would, Doctor – I would choose to be with you in any way I can. I was prepared to live my life in a universe where I could never touch you again. Is it so different now?" She smiled, and it burst forth across her face like a sun chasing away rainclouds. She looked beautiful. Radiant.
"But to be separated like this."
"But to be together like this." She countered with a smile and he dropped his head. "And not so separate, my love. Close your eyes."
"Just do it." She instructed smoothly. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes. He felt the hum and whir of the TARDIS at the back of his mind. And then – oh. A gentle push that morphed into a stroke as her mind curled around his.
"River," he whispered out loud and she laughed, and he felt it within his very mind – his soul. Keep your eyes closed. He squeezed them shut and her mind burst across his own, sharp metallic greys and glittering blacks and she raced along his nerve endings until it felt like he was being touched, everywhere all at once. "Oh my-" Yes.
He felt alive with energy, sparks of electricity shooting around under his skin as she moved her mind across his, pushing here and nudging there, pausing to study each reaction. It was the closest he'd ever felt to another person – oh he'd combined the physical with telepathy before, but this – this was different. This was nothing but pure mental energy, with no physical link to anchor him, to keep him in the moment. He'd never felt so intimate with anyone before.
When her mind finally receded, he felt awash in a sort of afterglow – a pleasant hum under his skin and his mind alight with bursting synapses and fulfilled action potentials. "Hmm, it'll need practice." She smiled at him gently as he opened his eyes and looked up at her with wonder.
"She's linked to you, and I'm part of her now, sweetie. She doesn't... doesn't push those boundaries – not really. But then what's physical intimacy to a TARDIS? But you and I... well, it's different. And I think it can be practiced. Well, we'll have plenty of time anyway." She nodded thoughtfully.
He swallowed and stared up at her. "How – was it difficult? How long would you be able to sustain it, do you think?"
"I'm not sure. I think it's strongest in here – I couldn't feel your mind as much before you came in. I think she may have made this room a little special." His fingers twitched against the wood of the table and she tutted. "You are not scanning the room right now to find out. You look exhausted. When did you last sleep?"
"Nagging already? I was a bit preoccupied with dying and then being a robot and then trying to fix time, and then avoiding dying and getting married so I could in fact, actually die. Only not." He added and she laughed softly.
"I've got years of nagging experience behind me, my love. And if I don't see that you take care of yourself, who would?" She snorted under her breath. "Not you surely."
"I was going to go get you, actually. Well, not you you but you – younger you. Didn't want you spending your first night in that cell. Well, any night honestly." He admitted and she smiled.
"You also have a time machine, and trust me when I tell you sweetie, you'll need to be well rested for that first night." She grinned and he sat back, spluttering inanities. "Oh look – you're blushing. Bless."
"I am serious. You need to go to bed. Sleep. Get me after." He nodded, shifting back before hesitating.
"What about – what about Amy and Rory?" Her expression saddened and she shook her head.
"It'll take care of itself, my love. No need to tell them any of this." Her eyes were sad though, and he knew looking at her – that she'd outlived them and seen their end. He felt oddly hollow, yet content with the thought. Amy and Rory were human. She was not. And he supposed he was grateful that she lived past their end.
"I don't want to leave." He glanced around and grinned. "I'm not going to." He shrugged off his tweed coat, laying it on the bench next to him even as he reached up and tugged the end of his bowtie undone. Braces were unsnapped, and he toed off his boots, kicking them until they hit the wall with a thud. He unbuttoned his shirt as he stood, moving over to the bed. He stripped the rest of his clothes away before sliding in between the cool sheets. He looked over at the mirror to see her climbing into bed as well and when he turned his head to the ceiling, he grinned.
There was a mirror over the bed. "I know. Kinky old thing isn't she?" River asked with a smile and he laughed. She was on the side of the bed that he wasn't occupying and he sank into the pillows, his hands folded over his stomach as he looked up, watching the spill of her hair across the pillows behind her. He reached out to the empty spot to his left and she did the same to her right. "Almost."
"Can you – can you sleep with me?"
"I don't know if I can do it the whole night, my love. But we can certainly try." She smiled and blew him a kiss, and he grinned stupidly. "Close your eyes."
And he did.