Joan said your bow tie's crooked John. They stop in just before the gates to the dance hall; half-laughing, she straightens it for him. Her fingers are long and slender, and he wants to capture them with his lips and kiss kiss kiss them. But he is aware of how un-proper that is, and so refrains.

(when did you ever care about proper?)

Always. He'd always cared.

And then he is distracted by the shape of her mouth, the way it tilts at the curve of her upper lip, a smooth, straight shape and so very, very pink. He remembers what the pink of her lips had tasted like when he'd caught the color with his teeth.

John? She is looking at him. Ready to go in? He smiles at her and leans in close to whisper you are beautiful.

He is going to marry this woman. He is going to marry this woman, and he is going to keep her.

She gives the bow tie one last tweak, smoothes out the fabric with her fingers. John's not really sure why he'd picked a bow tie; normally he favored ties himself. But he'd had a few bow ties left over from dinner parties past, and they'd just screamed at him pick me, pick me. Bow ties were alright, he'd supposed. And then came the distraction of thinking about picking up Joan for their date and by God, he was going to marry that woman.

Stop it, she tells him. We have a dance to get to. But she is smiling, as if she can't help it, all over her face.

John is going to keep her—


(But he couldn't just stand there and watch children cry.)


The Doctor goes back. He never goes back. (Unless someone he loves is on the other side. Which is often.)

John had loved Joan.

He still loves her.


Where is he? John Smith.

He's in here somewhere.

Like a story? Could you change back? And that might-have-been world in her eyes is brighter than any star.

Yes.

Will you?

No.

I see.

No, she doesn't see, not at all. And oh—he needs to get the words just right, because John is still here, a made up story in another man's head. And Joan is not young. She will not be swayed by the pretty promises of stars. Joan has had her heart broken.

Is having her heart broken.

Get the words just right, and maybe she'll stay. But she speaks before he does.

He was braver than you, you know. In the end. That ordinary man. You chose to change, but he chose to die.

He hears her unspoken question: when you grow up, will you die for the children?

And he knows right then that the words will not be enough.


John Smith was a story.

But oh God, how he was an important one.


It's an ordinary bookshop, called Sparrow and Nightingale. Inside there are thousands of words. The keeper of several of those words is signing her name in each flyleaf. No, she tells the man, it's not just a story, no. Every word of it's true. I found my great grandmother's diary in a loft. She was a nurse in 1913. She fell in love with this man, John Smith—except he was a visitor from another world. She fell in love with a man from the stars. And she wrote it all down. They exchange goodbyes, and she reaches out to sign the next book. Who's it for?

The Doctor. The man's voice is very sad.

To . . . Doctor. Funny. That's the name he used. Then she finally listens to his sadness, looks up. Oh. And there he is, old and tired. She hadn't expected him to be so tall.

Was she happy? Please tell me she was happy. At the end?

Yes. Yes she was. Were you? The question sticks in her throat, and she knows—she knows she will never receive words. Because the look he gives her breaks her heart.

No one should ever be allowed to be that sad.


Out there somewhere Melody Pond is crying. (Will you die for the children, Doctor? Will you die?)


Why was it that out of everything in that hospital ward, the one thing that stood out to him was the bow tie? He tells himself that with a bow tie people won't be able to trap him in car doors anymore. He tells himself that it's because he is not that man anymore (even though he is) the man who wears swirls on his tie. He tells himself that bow ties are cool.

But that's not why.

(This man is more human than he has ever been before. All of that flailing and quirkiness is the hiding behind man so no one will see the fragile bits inside his hearts.)

The Doctor is a very, very good liar. And this is why River Song is so, so dangerous.

She sees his fragile insides, carves them out with a spoon and tastes them. She loves him and she hates him.

River Song can hurt him.


Look at you. You still care. It's very impressive, I'll give you that.

"River—please." He's gasping from the pain; the stairs carve into his body, making hollow dents with their edges. He can't—he can't—

"Again? Who is this River?" Melody exclaims. I am sorry. I am so sorry. You were crying in the dark, in the silence, and I could not whisper words of kindness to you. I could not—"She's got to be a woman. Am I right?"

None of that matters right now. "River. Please. Help me." He can't he can't he can't—"Save Amy and Rory." Stupid, sad, silly old Doctor. He still cares, even as the poison slices open his hearts. "Help me."

"Tell me about her. Go on." River, River. Oh Melody Pond—come along Pond. He'll never get to say that to her now. Tell MelodyRiver is River is River is

His mind is a broken loop and all he can think of is I wore a bowtie. And she said to me your bowties crooked John. And then she laughed and then she cried. I break everything. I break even the wonderful Pond. Melody is a duck pond with no ducks. The river in the forest because there are no words for a pond. No words for ducks.

He screams from the pain and the anger and the frustration. "Just . . . help me." Broken man: now he is crying. (Your humanity is showing, Doctor.) Because he chose to die. Dying for the children.

He will die for her. His wonderful, beautiful, child-like Melody Pond. Because when he whispers in her ear he will get the words just right.


"He said no one could save him. But he must have known I could."

Look up Rule One please.

He would have never, ever told her because out of anyone, Melody Pond deserved to live a long and happy life. She was only a child. (But sometimes children face the things that grown-ups refuse to.)

She gave up her long and happy life for him, and he will never forgive her.


You're this Doctor's companion. What exactly do you do for him? Why does he need you?

Because he's lonely.

And that's what you want me to become.


"Suppose there was a man who knew a secret. A terrible, dangerous secret that must never be told. How would you erase that secret from the world—destroy it forever—before it can be spoken?"

"If I had to, I'd destroy the man."

They stand together, and the Doctor looks at the black lines of evidence on his skin. "'And Silence would fall.' All those times I heard those words, I never realized that it was my silence. My death. The Doctor will fall."


The Doctor. Such a lonely little boy. Lonelier then and lonelier now. And who will you be without the Doctor, sir? Who will you be?

Such a sad, lonely little boy.


Craig is looking at him, confused. What are you doing here? In a toy shop.

"I'm the Doctor," he announces. "I work in a shop now. I am here to help. Look, they gave me a badge with my name on it in case I forget who I am. Very thoughtful as that does happen." (Only once, and those were very special circumstances with very messy consequences.)

He taps the name badge, grinning like an idiot. See, look how cool this nametag is!


(He will never use the name John Smith again. The Doctor will do just fine, thank you very much.)


Doctor? Doctor who?

He doesn't know anymore.


He was braver than you, you know. In the end. That ordinary man. You chose to change, but he chose to die.


They stand there screaming at one another on top of the pyramid. Time is in pain collapsing around them. River is almost crying, and he hates himself. Because he was supposed to rescue Melody Pond from the monsters, and instead here he is, screaming at her.

But he is so angry that it almost doesn't matter.

Wasn't she supposed to be the best of him? Weren't they all supposed to be the best of him?

"You embarrass me," he informs her.

Her nostrils flare at the challenge—now she is angry. Great. Two angry people, on top of a pyramid.

But that doesn't matter, because time is in pain.

She is talking now, fast. "Those reports of the sun spots and the solar flares. They're wrong. There aren't any. It's not the sun. It's you. The sky is full of a million, million voices, saying, "Yes of course. We'll help." You've touched so many lives, saved so many people. Did you think when you're time came you'd really have to do more than just ask? You've decided that the universe is better off without you. But the universe doesn't agree."

"River, no one can help me. A fixed point has been altered. Time is disintegrating."

"I can't let you die—"

Stupid, infernal woman! Doesn't she see? "But I have to die!"

"Shut up!"

No, now she is angry. This is River, tearing apart time for the Doctor. This is River, trying to save his life. This is River, messy and human.

"I can't let you without knowing you are loved. By so many and so much. And by no one more than me."

This is River, crying.

"River, you and I, we know what this means. We are ground zero of an explosion that will engulf all reality. Billions and billions will suffer and die."

"I'll suffer if I have to kill you."

"More than every living thing in the universe?"

"Yes."

Oh God. Oh God, please no.

"River— River. Why do you have to be this?" Why'd you have to be so much like me?

I.

Break.

Everything.


(But River doesn't care. She fell in love with a doctor. A healer. A wise man. And she is going to do what it takes to keep him.)


A piece of cloth about a foot long.

Oh. Right. Never mind.

He knows why he picked a bow tie now.


(And now you may kiss the bride as the gun spits spits spits green fire, and it's funny, you think that you are still kissing her as time

moves

forward)


Who will that sad, lonely little boy be without the Doctor?

(You will be a husband. A lover. A friend. A man.

You will die. And you will live.)


"So, River, where should we go to next? I know of a wonderful planet where the people all have purple hair. Imagine that! Purple. Sometimes a stunning shade of chartreuse, too, which isn't really purple, but that's not the point."

She leans her head against his shoulder, looks out to everywhere. They are sitting, feet dangling over the edge of the TARDIS doorway. Before them the nebula is dusting a beautiful silver pink explosion into the void of space.

They are holding hands, and while with the other he gestures vividly to portray his point, the other is rubbing circles into her skin. Oh, how she loves his fingers. How she loves every bit of him, even the steamships of his bones. She will hollow them out and make them into the most beautiful of rooms.

On impulse she kisses him on the cheek, that small dip between the corner of his mouth, and then the chapped pink of his lips, which is always a bit cool like winter trees. For a little while there are absolutely no words. (Because they're speaking them already.)

He presses a kiss on her hairline, loving her hair tenderly. "You are beautiful, wife." She laughs up at him. His hair is sticking up in all directions, from where she'd ran through her fingers. His bow tie is askew, the collar of his shirt sticking up unfurled to touch his throat. One brace is undone, slipping nearly off his shoulder.

She says, "Your bow tie's crooked, love," and takes it off him entirely.