Title: A Life Full of Spoilers (Complete)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters: River, Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, Twelfth Doctor, Tenth Doctor; Guest appearances by Jack, Martha, Rose and Donna.
Pairing(s): River/Doctor, Amy/Rory
Summary: Melody Pond, Mels, River Song - whatever name she goes by, who better to tell her tale than herself? This is her full story, from beginning to end.
Rating: R, for a small sexy scene.
Wordcount: Complete at 20,266 words, omg.
Beta(s): Many thanks to , for her awesome and ridiculously mad beta skills.
Notes: Spoilers up till and including "The Wedding of River Song." It's canon compliant, as far as I can tell, but it certainly goes above and beyond what we've seen thus far to sketch out River's life. Speculation about s7 (the fields of Trenzalore, etc) and onwards are included, but obviously it's just that - speculation.
Notes #2: Happy birthday, ED! Hope you enjoy this!
"I wish I could tell you that you'll be loved. That you'll be safe and cared for and protected. But this isn't the time for lies. What you are going to be, Melody, is very very brave."
From the start, her life unfolded like a fairy-tale.
She needed to be brave, be strong, a tiny body carrying the weight of more accountability than any child should have to endure, especially one only hours old – but Melody Pond was never destined for mediocrity. Hardly the thing legends were made of, and rest assured, Melody Pond or River Song, whatever name she went by, was legendary in her own right. The Doctor's Wife, yes. The Doctor's bespoke psychopath, of course. But the story of her life traveled light-years, through millennia, and when all was said and done, her story numbered alongside the legends of Cleopatra and Joan of Arc. (Not that Cleopatra wasn't a slight letdown in reality, as River would one day learn.) Oh no, Melody Pond began with a bang that would never fade.
This is her story.
River Song remembers little of her childhood.
Melody Pond would rather forget.
She is barely all of two years old when her guardians begin her training. No time for coddling. No time to let her grow. She learns weaponry alongside walking, alongside her arithmetic and linguistics. Such a gifted child, this child of TARDIS. Such a remarkable mind. Madame Kovarian visits from time to time, but her mind is always wiped clean by her guardians. So she plays in an empty house where a quiet and fidgety man named Renfrew takes care of her. He is her only friend, her truest friend, though he hardly remembers her. She calls him Ren and he calls her… he can't remember what most days.
She hates the way Madam Kovarian speaks her name. "Mel-ody," she would say, like a gunshot broken in two. "What marvelous things I have planned for you. The girl who will kill the Doctor, my mighty weapon."
They have their version of him, this Doctor, a manifesto of all his faults and failures and all the times the Doctor lied. And oh, there are so many of them. So very many. She is conditioned on tales that would turn a grown man's stomach; responsible for so many deaths, this one mad man with a blue box, responsible for so many losses. Arrogant, cruel, stubborn – he is the worst of any species.
She is raised on stories of the Doctor, from one source or another.
"Run," Renfrew would say, on occasion, breaking into hysteria. "Go, child! Run away as quickly as you can!"
She never ran until he died.
When she first dies, she is nearly seven years old.
It would seem that her beginning was more bitter than sweet, but oh, it is so much more than that. Regeneration is something Melody has been taught about since the cradle, but her lessons are just that: academic. The reality – the reality is a wonder, a metamorphosis of the mind and body, but not the soul. She reverts in age, and a toddler's concept of the soul is hardly something advanced, but even then, even standing in the midst of dancing energy, a garland of waves, glowing light, a cascade of orange and amber – oh, she understands more than most the beauty of it. The brilliance of it is undeniable.
When it is all said and done, a man with hazel eyes finds her.
There isn't much Melody can remember at that point, beyond the feel of sturdy arms around waist and a warm blue blanket at her shoulders. Her fingers are small and uncoordinated and she blinks blearily up at her savior; he smiles down on her.
She doesn't know how, but she ends up on the shores of England. She spends four years in the care of an elderly couple incapable of having children of their own, and they are pleasant and warm – for the first time, she discovers the tenderness of a hug, the comfort of a fire, but time waits for no one. Not even a Timelord.
When she is old enough, she escapes as planned, finding her way to a place she hopes to call home.
She stomps the foot of a bully trying to steal chocolate pudding from a tiny boy, and turns around to a sight to remember. The boy holding his precious dessert to his chest as if someone else might try to steal it, and a girl with frizzled red hair approaches them from behind.
"Oi," the redhead calls to the boy. "Was someone trying to pick on you again?"
"Nope," the boy lies, then thrusts out the pudding. "I saved this for you."
The redhead brightens. "Oh. Chocolate! My favorite."
There's a pause. "Hi. I'm Amelia Pond. This is Rory."
"Mels," she returns.
Amelia looks her up and down, once, and then decides, "Okay, then. You're all right."
She is raised on stories of the Doctor, from one source or another.
"So the raggedy man has a magic box, eh?"
"It's a time-machine. It's blue. And don't you say I'm making it up, because I'm not! I'm tired of people always saying that."
Mels shakes her head. "Oh, no, I believe you."
Amelia blinks. "You do?"
"Be a bit boring if the universe didn't have stuff like that, I think."
"Oh," Amelia pauses, then smiles, a bit mad. "But you should see him! He's so silly. Kept spitting things out and saying things that didn't make any sense."
"But is he hot?"
Amelia makes a face. "No, he's funny."
"But how can he travel in time?"
"Because he's got a time machine, stupid!"
Rory, the Roman. Mels almost can't believe it, but she knows. Dangerous thing, foreknowledge, but the one thing she always knew about was her parents, the famous companions of the Doctor. Amelia Pond and Rory Williams. Watching her father stumble around her mother as a child, though, it's a wonder she was ever born.
"Give me some credit, Mels," Rory says, picking up books before they tumble over. "I know how to talk to women."
"I was just saying," she replies, ever-so-helpful. "You might want to be more vocal, a bit more assertive if you like a girl—"
He pauses, eyes going wide for a second, before confusion and awkwardness descend. "Oh," he says, as if an epiphany has sunk in. "Oh, um, Mels. You know I love you. You know I think the world of you, but, um, I don't actually feel that way about you—"
"Oh, you daft idiot!" she snaps, and god, wouldn't that be an Oedipal complex turned on its head. "Of course I know that!"
He blinks, red-faced. "Then what are we talking about here?"
She sighs, because it's hopeless, utterly hopeless, isn't it? At this rate, she'll die of old age before she's even born (and yes, she knows how nonsensical that sounds, but it makes sense if you try not to think about it too much). They spend a few more minutes on the topic before Mels resists the urge to smack her father upside his head at how obtuse and simultaneously obvioushe's being, but her mother walks in and the conversation ends with a subtle glare aimed at the back of his head.
Love will find a way, they say.
Rory Williams just better find it soon, is all Mels is saying.
"What do you plan to do after schooling?"
"Don't know, Rory. Not all of us are cut out for university."
"But you've got to plan for something!"
Mels rolls her eyes. "I'll think of something, but I'd rather be in prison than subject myself to more school. It's not like I'm going to become a doctor or a professor or something, not like you."
"I was thinking nursing school, actually," he admits, then turns to Amy. "And what about you?"
Amy shrugs, and Mels crash lands next to her on the sofa, throwing an arm over her best mate's shoulders. "Amy here is going to coast by on her good looks."
"Am I now?" Amy protests with a jab. "I'll have you know I'm exceptionally clever."
"Right, right," Mels laughs, then grabs Amy by the chin. "But you're so adorable. Really should put that to good use."
"I was thinking about becoming a rock star, actually."
"Good, you become a rock star, Rory will become a nurse, and I'll—" she pauses, and decides. "I'm thinking world domination."
"Always good to aim high," Rory says with a nod.
When they turn around nineteen (well, this body turns around nineteen; she's a tad older), she steals a car and takes a road trip. When she comes back, she tells Amy and Rory that she spent it in Spain, but that's a lie. Her holiday was a bit further away than that.
The holographic billboard rotates above her head in neon-green. From one angle, it reads in English, another Alzarian, another – some language she doesn't know yet, but will someday. From any angle, they advertise an "alien house of pleasure." She has a good idea of what that might be, and curious enough to want to know more, but she has other priorities. She's found the closest thing to a way-station for aliens this side of the Wales–England border, and on her first day she gets into a fist fight with a trio of Blathereen and flirts her way into an arm-wrestling match with a Ceporill. Considering the latter is all hands (literally, its body is comprised of sixteen appendages), it garners her some attention and the next thing she knows, she's being approached for a job.
Steal this, they say. We'll pay handsomely.
Mels obliges, because all this training should go to some use, after all.
Trouble sometimes follows her back to Leadworth, but the most annoying incident is hardly life-threatening; she manages to skydive off a bell tower to escape a group of irate Borginor machines, and the only damage done to the city is to some silly bus she borrows and a lovely garden that she has to take a detour through. Only lands her one night in jail.
The jobs become more frequent over the next few years; Mels pops back and forth until one of her trips lands her on a cargo ship headed for Alpha Canis One.
She comes back a year later and simply says, "Had some things to take care of."
Amy rants and Rory worries – but they are always there to take her back when she returns.
Just like family.
…Well, no, maybe not just like family. But then again, Mels has never done anything the normal way.
The Earth almost ends, and it's all traced back to Leadworth. Of course, the only time something interesting happens at all in that place, and Mels is lightyears and lightyears away on the Planet of the Cheetah People. Teach her to take a wet job at the last minute, and at a steal of a price too. Mels is tracking an escaped Qurrino through the Third Sector, cutting and slashing at an intricate mesh of vines and moving trees, and all the while the Doctor is in Leadworth, stealing her mother and defeating Prisoner Zero, warning the Atraxi away from little ol' Earth.
Oh, Mels could just kill herself over that missed opportunity.
Next time, Doctor.
It's a promise to herself she intends to keep.
She visits one of the most famous Companions.
Visit is the wrong word. She crash lands in the Royal Hope Hospital in the summer of 2007 when a job of hers goes awry, and somehow Martha Jones is the intern that stitches her up. Mels knows more about the Doctor's life than most could learn in two lifetimes, but information about his Companions is oddly lacking. She has a picture of Martha Jones (Martha Jones-Smith, after she marries some bloke). Mels knows the most about Martha in comparison to the other companions, mainly thanks to the thirty-first century Torchwood archive files she got her hands on as a child, when her guardians were still tutoring her in all things Doctor.
"You've made quite the mess of yourself, haven't you?" Martha says, wincing in sympathy when she spies Mels' biggest gash. "How did you manage this, then?"
"Motorcycle accident," Mels says tartly, smiling. "You know how it goes."
"No, I really don't, but I guess I can imagine."
Martha has a lovely smile, and it's obvious the Doctor has a thing for pretty women, even if rumor has it he's never bedded any of them. Mels stores that information away for later, because she can just imagine all the fun she can have with a beguiled Doctor. She shares a passing resemblance with Martha, and Mels knows just as much as the next girl over that a pretty face is perhaps the handiest of assets. Wouldn't it be poetic? If the woman who killed the Doctor was someone he never suspected? Or maybe the deed could be done in a way he wouldn't see coming – because that would be glorious, wouldn't it? Beating the Doctor at warfare, at his own game.
Mels likes the idea of that.
"I'm marrying Rory Williams," Amy exclaims, half in disbelief. "Can you believe that?"
"Hardly," Mels replies, with only a touch of wryness.
She misses their wedding, mainly because a Nestene duplicate gives her a shot at stealing a time-traveling device that she thinks might be helpful in her endeavors. It turns out to be a bust, though not entirely. The Nestene have swappable heads, which makes for an interesting first date at the very least.
Oh, well. She's never been a wedding sort of person anyway.
"Well, let's see! You've got a time machine, I've got a gun. What the hell – let's kill Hitler."
Okay, maybe not her best idea, but you have to admit, it had flare.
In all seriousness, though – and that's something Mels never tries to be, serious, that is – it is the day she is reborn. Regenerating into a new face, a new body – she's done that. But it's traveling in the TARDIS that's the revelation, because it's an unheard whisper in her ear, a voice in her head. The TARDIS, so vast and magical; there's a connection there that Mels can't grasp. Oh, but it is glorious, and she realizes she is on the precipice of something great, something absolutely wonderful. The Doctor and his TARDIS – why does it feel like a piece of herself, missing all these years, has slotted into place? Like a puzzle finally solved. A mystery revealed.
The front doors have been kicked in and the gateway is open now, a vast universe with limitless possibilities at the threshold, and it's like she's seeing everything for the first time.
"Tell River Song something for me," he gasps, dying. The Doctor.
The deed is done; her life's pursuit accomplished.
Why is she suddenly regretting it?
She leans down, and he whispers words of endearment into her ear, of love, and Mels pulls back and thinks, who is this River Song? And how, pray tell, has she made the greatest man Mels will ever met fall so hopelessly in love with her? There's a brief stab of heartache in a place she didn't even know existed, a place where she had been cold and worn numb.
When he dies, there is an ache in her, a stillness. A thing of confusion and pain.
"Who is River Song?" she ask the others.
And then her mother shows her, like a crystal ball.
It's just a moment, one brief shining moment, staring at the truth in the face of River Song, a face still unfamiliar to herself, a face of another woman – and she knows. She knows, and accepts, and realizes all in one breath – that man, that impossible man, that Doctor…
That's her man, and that's that.
The drugs the Sisters give her at the hospital wear off and the prescription they provide her does nothing but dull her senses, making her even more afraid to close her eyes. Because when her eyes are closed, she only has her mind as company, all her memories, all her thoughts – and for the moment, that's the scariest place that she can imagine.
Eventually she finds herself reaching for a blue journal, and thinking about how terrible it is that she's handed such wonderful grand things, just to have them taken away again. The Sisters of the Infinite Schism discharge her from the hospital five days later, releasing her into the wild like a wounded animal tended back to health. The best-known hospital in the Universe is damn near at the arse-end of it. But there are advantages of being this far off the beaten path. No one knows the name Melody Pond here, and so it's a perfect transition, a perfect place to reflect and restart.
River Song, quite the mysterious girl, even to herself.
And then she realizes it's a love story, really – with a few added twists to spice things up. Instead of the standard Boy Meets Girl, it's more Boy meets Girl's Mother. Girl's Mother gets it on with Girl's Father in a timey-wimey blue box and procreates with Timelordy DNA to produce Girl. Girl is kidnapped. Girl grows up with superpowers. Girl kills Boy. Girl falls for Boy. Girl saves Boy.
In that order – although depending on who you ask and from whose perspective you're listening, it gets a little more complicated than that because time, well – it's a relative thing.
This is what history knows: River Song is said to have studied archaeology in Luna University circa 5120, under the tutelage of Professor Candilor, and was granted a rare doctorate in archaeology of the twentieth through fiftieth centuries, with a minor in Old High Gallifreyan and sixty-two other known alien dialects.
Records and surveillance feeds indicate that the University was eventually infiltrated by two of the Silence, Madame Kovarian, and two members of the Church on the eve of Christmas, 5123. This footage was gathered as crucial evidence in the defense of the defendant in the case of the Shadow Proclamation v. Melody Pond, but was ultimately unhelpful because the defendant pleaded guilty on all charges and was punished with imprisonment for a sentence to be served by a term no shorter than 75 consecutive standard-universal years.
But history is riddled with gaping holes.
There's almost an extinction level event on Planet Ardos on the third ring of the Vesta Solar System. It remains a mystery to the masses, but River knows, because she is there, and possibly, probably, had something to do with it occurring in the first place. Though, in her defense, she also has something to do with it not occurring, too. The almost part? River prefers to take credit for that, rather than the extinction bit.
Also, in both her defense and condemnation, she had help.
"Jack!" she screams, and damn his fine-and-immortal arse, she will not go down this way. "Move it or lose it!"
"Tell me what to do!" he screams back.
"Make sure those things," she yells with some emphasis, mainly because she isn't yet sure what to call the sentient beings yet, other than ugly and angry and hellbent on killing River even if they have to take a whole planet with them, "don't fire off anymore live rounds! We are in the heart of the reactor core. I love an explosion as much as the next girl, but we can't have things going boom in here."
"Done!" Jack responds, then grimaces, looking at his gun forlorn. "Suppose that means I have to put my gun away?"
"If you don't mind," River retorts, wryly. "I do rather like having my head attached to my body. Though I once dated an Auton who made that little bit an optional part of the anatomy. Made for some interesting make-out sessions."
"Oh, you," Jack replies, grinning. "I think I'm going to like you."
She smiles back. "Sorry, love, I'm taken. Now hand me that control panel. I need to reverse the polarities and cross the control rod energy signatures so that I reroute them to the cooling towers."
"How do you know this stuff?"
"This? Oh, this is nothing. This is just Nuclear Physics. I once piloted an obsolete TT Type 40, Mark 3, one of its kind. After that, not much seems rather impressive by comparison."
Jack stops, turning to stare. "The TARDIS," he calls, in a knowing voice.
"Oh," River blinks up at him, surprised by his knowledge. "Not just a pretty face, are you?"
He gives a slow smile. "Ran briefly with the Doctor. Even left my damn vortex manipulator in the back of his ride."
"Oh," River coos, rather interested in that bit. "A vortex manipulator. Those are hard to come by."
Mels was never one for studying, but River absolutely loves it. She pulls the heavy book onto her lap, slipping a finger in the spine as she slowly turns the pages one by one. Around her, the Luna library has been turned into a temporary cramming session, but she isn't studying for any test.
"The Gamma Forest," a stranger reads over her shoulder, aloud. "Nothing ever really happened there. Why are you wasting your time with reading about them?"
River looks up in surprise at the interruption; not many people can manage to sneak up on her. "There's always some rather interesting bits to be learned from a civilization."
The truth is, rumor had it, the Doctor once ran there. And wherever the Doctor is rumored, River has her nose in it. Not that she expects others to understand that. Which, of course, makes this man's intrusion all the more unwelcome when he plops down in the seat next to her, grabbing a book and thumbing through a literary translation.
"Riddled with mistakes, you know," he muses, tapping his finger on a page for Shakespeare. "Well, not mistakes. There are equivalent words for things in their native tongue. Rough translations, but I suppose it makes for an interesting read, eh? A rose by any other name is actually another name there. It's called a weed in the Gamma Forest. Loses some of its beauty, don't you think?"
"No," River answers, tartly. "And how would you know this anyway? I thought you said it was a boring civilization."
"I'm a contrary man by nature," he answers. "And you're River Song."
She sits back, hands folding together. She's never seen this man before, which makes her wonder how he knows her, but he's cute enough that she doesn't outright mind. Lovely hazel eyes. She might've mistaken him for the professor-type if it hadn't been for his attire. He wears loose-fitting jeans and a rugged military-inspired jacket in a dark moss color, and a simple black tee underneath. It might've looked normal on a student, but he's too old for that, nearly in his forties if one could trust looks as a factor in telling ages. (She didn't, for obvious reasons.)
"Who wants to know?"
He smiles. "The language," he continues, as if she'd never spoken, "you should study it. One of the most interesting things about the Gamma Forest."
She shouldn't be shocked when he finds her in the middle of a dig on some tiny remote planet, her findings forgotten as soon as she peers up at him, the sun around his profile creating a blinding halo. "Hello, sweetie," she greets with a curl of a smile. "It's been a long time."
"Has it?" he preens. "It's been a blink of an eye from this end. The Imprisonment at the Alpha Solar System was last Tuesday for me. Though," he stops, scrutinizing her a little with a tilt of his head, "your hair was a little longer, and darker, I suppose."
"Spoilers," she admonishes, and his face lifts in a quick grin.
My, he is a tall, gangly thing, isn't he? Like a giraffe still growing into his limbs. Still, imagining that lean body up against hers isn't exactly a hardship for River, and she takes a great amount of pleasure in standing up, brushing off the dust on her slacks, wrapping one hand around his neck, and dragging him into a good, long kiss hello. She gets another thrill at his response, instant and warm, very inviting. So they've done this enough that he feels comfortable, eh? She stores that pleasant thought away for scrutiny later.
"Tell me, my love, where are you going to take me today?"
His grin widens. "Oh, River, I've got just the thing to show you!"
They end up going to Easter Island and saving Elvis from a mob of intergalactic fangirls. (Yes, it's exactly as outlandish as it sounds, but then again, she finds that everything with the Doctor usually is.)
He figures out quickly how young she is (and that's something she's never once felt, except in his presence. But if you can't feel young around a nine hundred year old man, when can you?)
"What gave me away?" she asks.
"Give me a little credit," he replies quickly. "I know you like the back of my hand. And that saying means quite a bit more than usual considering how often my hands have changed. Old, young, wrinkly – there was a bit where they had liverspots on them, ugly things, liverspots, can't say I miss them much. But all my hands, all versions, I know them well – and you, River Song. I know all versions of you just as well. Better."
She knows the rumors, the gossip, and no matter what the Doctor may think, she will only place it in the same realm as archeology if there is some truth to it. And that's the maddening frustration of it all. Is she the Doctor's Wife? Or will she be the Doctor's assassin? River doesn't know what to think of that, nor should she allow herself to care, except for the dark whispers of fixed points and unaltered timelines. She is a child of the TARDIS. She knows what a fixed point means, and she fears it, rightfully so.
When she tells him this, he simply smiles. "Oh, River, River, River," he tells her, tapping a finger to her nose. "Even fixed points can be rewritten. Remember that!"
Rule number one: the Doctor lies.
Tick-tock goes the clock,
And what then shall we see?
Tick-tock until the day,
That thou shalt marry me?
Tick-tock goes the clock,
And all the years they fly.
Tick-tock and all too soon,
You and I must die.
Tick-tock goes the clock,
He cradled her and he rocked her.
Tick-tock goes the clock,
Until River kills The Doctor.
April 22, 2011.
A fixed point. An unavoidable task. Run and run, hide and seek, and it all comes down to this. She rises from the water like a monster, and she feels like one too. The suit is attuned to her struggles and counteracts them, and panic swells in her chest because she knows what waits on the surface. And this time, this one time, she hopes the Doctor isn't waiting for her. But there's a dark shadow in the murky waters, and the helmet breaks the skin of the surface, rising up, and bright clear day greets her. The steps to the shore are heavy and weighted, and River fights with every breath but it's useless.
And he doesn't run, even though he knows. Stupid, stubborn man – why doesn't he run? She can't stop it.
"You're not supposed to," he tells her. "This has to happen." And she doesn't understand, can't comprehend beyond the horror of it. "I know. It's okay. This is where I die. This is a fixed point. This must happen. This always happens. Don't worry. You won't even remember this. Look over there."
And she sees herself, and her parents – and this doesn't make any bit of difference except adding a new dimension to the horror. Everyone she loves is here, and she is still helpless.
And she remembers the Doctor's earlier words.
When she drains her weapon and watches time become undone, she knows exactly what she risks.
All for you, my love.
"But this is fixed," the Doctor argues, confused. "This is a fixed point in time."
"Fixed points can be rewritten."
"No, they can't, of course they can't, who told you tha—"
She almost can't believe the damage to the White House – she's never been before, but the crumbling chunks of brick and concrete, the shattered glass sprinkled like fairy dust, the thick layer of dirt and grit, it's wrong and she knows it.
"A T-rex," Madame Kovarian tells her. "It trampled through the place and took down the eastern section. The Vikings took down the rest with grenade launchers and a missile taken from an F-16. You see?" she asks River. "The temper of time when you deny it."
The world has turned to chaos. It's for a good cause, but she's already done the calculations in her head. She knows how long this universe will last, and somewhere out there, somewhere in the known universe of limitless and timeless possibilities, is a man that will be very, very cross that she has trifled with the nature of time, even if it was for his own good.
It will sting to face that recrimination in the eyes of the man that she loves. And she loves him so. She knows nothing if not that love, and she will face the utter emptiness of time and the universe alone if she has to, but before then, she will give him everything she has, and more.
So she smiles at Kovarian, and says, "And?"
"So much effort in making you," Kovarian seethes. "And all of it for nothing."
It takes her three weeks (roughly, given time doesn't actually exist) to turn the tables. River is held captive in a cave outside Madagascar until a brigade of soldiers rescues her. Amy Pond, of Leadworth, is the girl who grew up with a crack in the wall, with the universe pouring into her dreams every night. River is at the center of this anomaly, so she knows what's going on, but her mother – oh, Amelia Pond. No wonder the Doctor chose her as a companion.
"And where is the Doctor?" Amy asks. "If he was here, he'd know how to fix this."
River looks to her. "Oh, he knows. And so do I."
"The only thing that will restore time," River says, forcing a light smile, "is his death."
Amy pales, as predicted. And also as predicted, recovers quickly with a tight nod. "Well, then, let's see if we can come up with a Plan B."
Her father, Rory the Roman, isn't a hard man to convince because no matter what world, what alternate reality, what point in history, there is one constant in the universe when it comes to him: Rory Williams will forever be at Amy Pond's side. Every so often the princess rides off into the sunset with the boy next door. Sometimes, that's just destiny. River may have gotten her feistiness from her mother, but she learned how to love from her father, it seems.
"Captain Williams," Amy greets, utterly clueless, bless her heart. "Good of you to join us."
"Aye, Ma'am, a pleasure as always."
Afterwards, River teases Amy with the same smile that Mels used to give Amelia. "Don't you just love a man in uniform?"
Amy snorts and rolls her eyes. "Says the woman that has a fetish for bow ties and tweed."
She remembers, then forgets, then forgets to remember.
Numbers, theories. They build and fall. The process becomes repetitive, but not as tragic. It's kind of like a trade-off, and the entire time she keeps Kovarian by her side because she knows the woman is up to something, but what? What could it be? Kovarian doesn't talk, but her eye-patch does when they figure out the tech.
It takes them another (approximate) three months to track and capture the Silence, one by one until they've got well over two-dozen.
She never forgets after that.
There is something terrible about the way Amy and Rory distribute the guns and rifles, handing them out to every willing man or woman, soldier or not, and she is reminded, suddenly, of the nights where they used to stay up late and study (or not, as the case was), and how they laughed and joked together; the night of their dance when Rory spun her around the platform until Amy cut in and Mels went to spike the punch.
This universe is wrong.
A child of the TARDIS knows that better than most.
"Captain Williams," River calls, when he's at the entrance of the pyramid, talking to some of the men at the bottom of the stairs. When she walks inside, his gaze finds hers immediately, eyes quickly scanning her because she's out of breath and sweating. There's a bench against the wall, a rifle resting on it. Clutching at her sides, she inches the rifle aside and collapses onto the seat. "I've figured it out," she tells him. "We need a distress beacon."
It's the only thing she can do for the Doctor.
The only thing that will make him see.
Amy says, "I'll go find him. Don't worry. I'll get the Doctor back here. We'll make him see."
It doesn't take her mother long to pack what she needs (weapons, weapons, and more weapons), but getting transportation proves more problematic. Not like they could hire a taxi service that would take them from Egypt to England, now could they?
… Well, maybe.
If River used her hallucinogenic lipstick again.
"Don't worry," Rory says. "I've secured alternative transportation."
And then, before she even knows it, its suddenly the end.
"I can't let you die."
"But I have to die—"
"Shut up! I can't let you die without knowing you are loved. By so many and so much. And by no one more than me."
He pauses, and his face is open and so clear, and god, does she know this man. She knows what he's thinking, every emotion, every thought – in that moment she knows him better than himself, and trusts him in a way that should shatter her to pieces. It may still.
"River, you and I, we know what this means. We are ground zero of an explosion that will engulf all reality. Billions on billions will suffer and die!"
And he still doesn't get it, does he? "I'll suffer...if I have to kill you."
"More than every living thing in the universe?"
She stares, and has no doubt in admitting, "Yes."
"Then you may kiss the bride."
(He does, indeed, make it a good one.)
The cell is cold.
She sits in a corner, on the bench that is her bed. She tries to force from her mind how familiar this is, being imprisoned. She grew up in an orphanage, but it wasn't all that different to this cell. Dark, dreary colors, all of it. She can feel her way along the wall to the toilet and the tiny sink, blindfolded and hands tied behind her back, because it's what? Twelve feet by eight? She knows the contours of the room, but the darkness is overwhelming, so she stays on the bench, unmoving, as long as she can.
And suddenly, there is a familiar noise and the darkness turns to light – and when she looks again, the Doctor is leaning against the TARDIS, just leaning casually in that posture of skilled juvenile carelessness that he wears like a second skin. His eyes betray his age, though – and his concern.
"Hello, sweetie," she says with a deep smile, meant only for him.
"So," he says, loftily. "Care for a spin around the universe, Mrs. Doctor?"
"Don't know. Seems that my dancing card may be filled for the next few decades or so."
"Mind if I cut in?"
"You may have to ask the Warden that. Do love a man in uniform."
"Now don't let your eye go wandering already, River. We've only just been hitched."
She wraps her hands around the bars, smiling brazenly as she presses against the door. "You'll just have to keep my undivided attention, then, my love."
"The fields of Trenzalore," he mutters in his sleep that night.
She stares at him and smiles, finding his mutterings adorable.
Forget the beginning and the end. It's always the middle that counts most.
River quickly works out how it goes. It's not entirely front to back, though there is a certain poetry to that. Thankfully, she crosses over her timeline more than once, and so does he – not a surprise really, that they have a trend they break more often than not. It makes things interesting. Which Doctor she will run into next? She's gathered enough to know, for the most part, that in the near future she will meet a husband and two knowing loving parents, but one day – one day, she will have to prepare herself to keep secrets from those that once knew everything about her.
But that's a concern for another day.
Right now, she enjoys the liberties afforded to her, and oh, she takes such grand liberties. The days are ever-so-dull, but the nights. She escapes as often as the Doctor comes to visit. He's supposed to be a secret, a dead man walking, but the advantage of being a Timelord is that he can always claim to be an earlier version of himself. Anonymity is wasted on him.
So, it turns into a thing, an adventure in itself, this marriage business.
"River!" he grunts, scandalized, batting her hands away from his pockets. "Not in front of your parents!"
"I was just reaching for your screwdriver, sweetie."
"That wasn't it."
"Oh, and you don't think that I can tell at this point?"
He blushes a wonderful shade of red, eyes darting to her mother and father in the back, ever so flustered and all manners of things that just make River want to kiss him all the more. He's right, of course. She can't do half the things she wants with her parents looking on. Rory has his back to them, rocking on his heels and looking up at the ceiling as if it's the most interesting color he's ever seen.
Amy, on the other hand, simply calls out, "If you two lovebirds are done playing find the object you screw with—" and Rory chokes on air, "we could really use a way out of here."
"Of course, of course," the Doctor calls, fumbling to pull the screwdriver from his pocket. "Rest assured, Amelia Pond, I'm working things out as we speak."
River sends him a wink over the console.
The TARDIS. God, what a wondrous thing, and River could stand there admiring her forever it seems, twisting in and out, fitting into herself just right, the little subtle lines and graceful gleams of metal – no wonder the Doctor calls her sexy. The TARDIS is the single most beautiful thing in River's eyes, but this – this is more than just perception. The TARDIS is her home, the first real home she's ever had.
"My lovely thing," she murmurs one night, running a loving hand along the walls. "Where have you been my entire life?"
The TARDIS hums as if to answer, I've always been here, waiting for you. And I always will be.
And River could almost cry.
Later on, she snags the vortex manipulator as soon as she sees it in a box of forgotten items in one of the back rooms. (Leave it to the Doctor to toss aside such a rare item.) "You won't get jealous, will you?" she asks the blue box. "There's no competing with you, but a girl needs her own method of travel to keep up with him."
The TARDIS hums, and River laughs.
"Oh, well, I won't make him chase me too badly."
The TARDIS has some minor difficulties, and the Doctor insists on handling it by himself even though River already knows exactly what the issue is – but some things just aren't worth the fight, and god forbid she shows him up too much in front of her parents.
So, they lounge in the back while the Doctor buries himself in wires, when Amy suddenly speaks up, "You know, I never did become a rock star."
River nods along. "I never managed that world domination bit either, though in my defense, I gave up without ever really trying."
They both turn to glare at Rory. "What?" he sputters in protests. "So I'm supposed to apologize for being the only one in this lot that actually followed through on what we said we'd become?"
"It wouldn't hurt," Amy remarks.
"I would feel a little better," River admits.
Rory rolls his eyes. "River, stop being a bad influence on your mother. Amy, she gets this from you." He turns back, hollering over his shoulder. "And Doctor, are we going to be ready to move any time soon?"
"Impatient lot, you Ponds!" the Doctor yells back in annoyance.
"So you're asking for my help?" River interrupts, cutting to the chase. "A prisoner. Bit strange, isn't it?"
"Extenuating circumstances," the man in a business suit replies. "Do this, and we'll cut back your sentence by ten years."
"I'll still be here for sixty, then," River argues.
The man crosses his arms over his chest. "One expedition at a time, Doctor Song. Do this long enough and who knows? You might even be pardoned entirely."
She smiles, leaning forward. "So, what, exactly, do I have to steal?"
"The greatest love story," a man in the market says to them, "is one that ends in the greatest of tragedies. Come now, buy that book and have at your fingertips the story of the most epic romance known to mankind."
River smiles indulgently at the merchant, bumping shoulders with the Doctor. "I don't know, I was rather hoping for a happy ending."
It's there – quicker than a blink of an eye, but River sees it: the Doctor's eyes fall a fraction of an inch, downcast, then back up again. He smiles, passing on the book, tugging River's hand to move to another stand, and it's all babbling about this and being excited about that; if she hadn't been a woman so attuned to his emotions she might've bought the act.
River decides to divert those thoughts, both his and hers, so she flirts shamelessly with every man that passes them by. After the first hour, he's scowling at everyone that nears her before she can even look their way.
She laughs and bats her eyelashes. "Jealous, my love?"
She hears him hurrumph under his breath. "Well, of course not."
"Oh, you say it, but do you mean it?"
"I always mean precisely what I say, River Song. Nothing more and certainly nothing less!" She laughs again, so he continues, chasing after her with a pointed finger. "I can ignore my wife's penchant for kissing half the people across the known universe, because I still know the thing I knew the very first time I met you." He stops, whirling around to step into her path, staring her down. "We're meant to be, you and I. River Song and the Doctor. The Universe couldn't stop that."
She feels herself go a little breathless. "From the very first time you met me?"
He nods, and steps further into her personal space. It's all River can manage to resist for a full second before she's melting right into him with a kiss, all coy flirtation abandoned in the interest of something more physical. It's such a rare treat, this spoiler, but she doesn't want to press too hard for fear of it becoming quicksand under her feet. She wonders about what she could possibly do at their very first meeting that could ensnare the curiosity and attention of a man like the Doctor; she supposes one day, she'll find out – but she's in no rush. Oh, no. She knows as much as he does that his first meeting will likely be her last.
"I love you, River Song," he says, very softly when they pull back. "I know I don't say it with the same flair as you do, laying your life and the whole universe on the strength of it, but I mean it just as much. My wife, the greatest adventure I've ever known."
She taps him on the nose. "And don't you forget it, my love."
Once, she comes back to the Tardis beaten and bloody, and spends three days straight sleeping in recuperation. The Doctor flutters about her and questions and demands, but she won't speak of details. For once, spoilers has nothing to do with it; it isn't in the slightest about the Doctor or his future or past. Yet there are things River never wants to share, never wants to discuss. She may love him more than any reasoning can hold, but long before she was the Doctor's Wife, she was a bespoke psychopath, not even his. That has a lasting stamp on her soul.
She isn't like the Doctor. She can't command a legion of willing followers with a flash of a charming smile. She isn't like the Doctor. She doesn't befriend when she can just as easily beguile. She isn't like the Doctor. She won't let an enemy stand if she can cut him down at the knees.
She was raised a weapon, and weapon she remains for better or worse. Some days, she is proud of that. Others, not so much. When she needs an escape, she isn't afraid to let things get messy but there are moments in between the chaos, a single breath's span, just after she rises to her feet among a pile of her fallen enemies, and River Song is reminded that even after escaping her childhood, she is still a byproduct of it.
She slips back in time and completes her doctorate in archeology, along with five others degrees that she chooses to do on a whim.
"This is it," a fellow archeologist breathes in awe, practically shaking with anticipation as they sweep the sands off the metal. "This is the singular greatest find we will ever discover. The great Box of Timsoes. The people fought and killed and decimated civilizations for this. Who knows how much it's worth? Priceless! A legion of hunters, and we - we have found it—"
River grabs a blowtorch and switches on the flame.
"What—" he breathes in horror, "What are you doing?"
"Oh, just leaving a message," she answers, tartly, and begins writing in Old High Gallifreyan.
They've barely synched diaries before she finds a pair of interesting items.
"Handcuffs?" she asks, dangling the metal from her fingertips. "And tell me, sweetie, why do you have handcuffs in our bedroom?"
He gulps, and laughs nervously, only managing to squeak out, "Spoilers."
Another explosion sounds in the distance.
River reaches for her gun. Someone throws a Molotov cocktail at the ground, and the street outside the building erupts into flames. She ducks low and tries to avoid the fire, but the sound of more bottles hitting the floor tells her the best option of escape is not out but up. Fire spreads, and River takes for the stairs. She climbs quickly, clambering up the rubble and passed broken shards of a crumbling building.
So much for an easy job, River thinks ruefully.
She moves swiftly towards the rooftop, then kicks a door open to discover three armed guards and a very, very irate dictator. "You!" he seethes, jabbing a finger at her. "Damn you, River Song. This is all your doing!"
"Aww, you flatterer!" Her smile turns cold. "The next time you plan on kick-starting a slave business, do remember that you'll make enemies. And I am not one that you can afford."
"Look around you, Ms. Song. You have one gun, and I have three guards. There's no escape."
"One, there is always an escape. Two, I can take your guards. And three, it's Mrs. to you."
She fires off a few blasts, ducks and whirls and then dives off the rooftop with a smile. Wind rushing through her hair, her long evening gown flaring around her – and lands neatly into the anti-gravitation field of the TARDIS, suspended in mid-air as soon as she's passed the doors.
"Hello, Sweet—" she begin with a flourish, then stops, cold.
An unfamiliar man is helming the TARDIS.
It isn't an unfamiliar man after all; she's met him before, once, long ago. "You're the man from the library."
He flinches, hard. "A library," he corrects, as if the distinction is special. "The Luna Library, 5120. Good memory."
She always remembers a cute face, and this one belonged to the man that first told her about the people of the Gamma Forest. She remembers his hazel eyes the most, but as she steps closer, a feeling of surreal epiphany sets in. She can read the achingly familiar impetuousness in the lines of his body, the lanky grace in the way he leans casually against the console of the TARDIS. His face looks older by at least a decade, and he wears that same moss-colored military jacket and loose-fitting jeans as he had the last time she'd seen him in the University.
She needs a moment to process all this, but she can't help but move forward anyway, running her hands over the contours of his unfamiliar face. A smaller chin, thicker lips, a slight stubble of hair where he's forgotten (or refused) to shave, and his ears – bless him – his ears are still as ridiculous as ever. He closes his eyes as she acquaints herself with this new image, and she feels both her hearts beat wildly against her chest at this revelation.
She takes a bracing breath, struggling to contain her emotions. "Hello, sweetie," she says, and his eyes open and he smiles.
The Twelfth Doctor.
It occurs to her that there is nothing straightforward about the Doctor. He's all slippery lines and sharp angles, and he could never just present himself in an uncomplicated manner like everybody else she's ever known. She thought that type of singular mystery and elusiveness was a Timelord thing, but maybe it isn't. Maybe it's just that he's a riddle, and every time she thinks she has him figured out, he's gone ahead and changed the rules.
"You're staring," he admonishes, as he flips a switch and shuffles around the TARDIS, not a single twirl to be seen.
"Your face has changed, my love. A girl is allowed to gawk."
"Well, stop it," he whines. "It's a tad uncomfortable to be stared at like that. What am I, a three headed-goldfish? Close that hanging jaw and unwiden those eyes, it's just me. New face, yes, slightly different personality, yes – I like apples again, FYI – but I'm still the same man you love."
"How did it happen?" she asks, before she can stop herself.
"River," he admonishes softly, and when he taps his finger to her nose, she feels like crying. Her Doctor, her beautiful brilliant Doctor - if he's regenerated, then that means tragedy and death must've occurred. "Hush now. You know some stories mustn't be told. Has to be lived."
He wraps her up in his arms, and she gives a watery smile into the curve of his jacket – not tweed, but cotton and some synthetics. He has more weight on his frame this time, not muscle-y but certainly more meat, toned without being lanky, and he might actually be a few inches taller.
She starts crying, then.
"You know," he says, soothingly, rubbing her back, "Maybe its time I give you pictures of all my past faces? Won't be a spotter's guide, but it might help when you encounter other versions of me."
"So I'll encounter more versions of you, then?"
"Spoilers," he says.
She's really beginning to hate that word.
She needs something utterly familiar then, so she heads to Leadworth immediately after the Doctor drops her off at Stormcage. She needs a mother and father old enough to recognize her, though, so she sets her vortex manipulator to a date that's at least a decade after their last run with the Doctor – and, of course, she gets more than she bargains for.
"Rick!" Amy calls from the front yard. "You climb down that tree right this instant and come have your supper! It's getting cold."
"Yes, Mum," a boy of seven years of age calls back, sighing sullenly.
It's too much.
River taps in old coordinates, and rushes back to Stormcage.
"Hi, Honey, I'm home."
She feels her shoulder tense, staring at the far wall of her cell as the voice behind her startles her into freezing. It's a familiar voice, soothing and yet cocky, and very young. She holds her breath and turns around, and there he is – her Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor. A tight gasp escapes her lips and she can't quite control the tremor in her voice as she returns her customary greeting.
He misses it at first, continuing on with a flare of his hands. "Pack your things, Mrs. Doctor! We've got an adventure to get to and you—" he stops midsentence, staring at her, "you look awful. Pale. What have you been doing? Do they not get sun around here?"
"Open the door, sweetie."
He does, without much fanfare, frowning as he uses his screwdriver. "Leave you alone for a few days, and look at the state of you. I swear I only just left you in this place three days ago. When is it for you, then—oomph."
She kisses him, and he has a heady familiar taste to him, pliant under her lips and skillful tongue, fairly flailing at the unrepentant insistence in the kiss. His hands eventually land on her shoulders, brushing against her sides as she wraps herself up into his warm embrace. Her fingers slid through his hair, and he makes a choked sound of pleasure in the back of his throat, rather small but telling. When she pulls back, he looks a bit dazed and a hint aroused, though you'd have to know him well enough not to mistake that flustered look for something else like embarrassment.
"No adventure this time," she tells him. "Just take me home, my love."
They don't leave the TARDIS for two whole weeks.
His fingers are light and careful as they trail against her hip, across her stomach, up to the swell of her breasts. Such delicate fingers he has, long and nimble. She watches as he strips himself of clothing, and a quiet hunger goes through her, a familiar heat pooling between her thighs. She's gentle – oh, so gentle this time, and he picks up on the atmosphere and responds in kind.
They kiss, hands fumbling, mouths latching onto patches of exposed skin, just long enough for him to grow half-hard, to feel his breath turning heavy with expectation, and then River slides down his body towards his waistline. She places light kisses against his chest and over his abdomen, while her hand slips under the waistband of his boxers.
She watches, enraptured, as his expression darkens, and he looks glorious to her in this light, the faint TARDIS color thrown off against the walls highlighting the sharp angles of his throat and jaw as he swallows. River slides his boxers free. She's still not entirely undressed, still has her shirt on if nothing else and it's a thing that hasn't escaped his notice because River can feel his hands fumbling for the hemline to tug it up and off. She ignores it, and pushes him against the mattress so that she can straddle his waist between wet and sticky thighs.
"River," he moans, and she takes him in.
Turns out, she's pregnant.
Not unexpected, entirely, considering the amount of times she's had unprotected sex with the Doctor – but it still sends her into a spiral of shock anyway. A Timelord and a human with Timelord DNA; River can only wonder at what the offspring will be, and that's a whole host of complications in and of itself. Because before she was ever River Song, she was Melody Pond – and Melody Pond knows that being a child of the TARDIS has its setbacks.
Approximately ten seconds after she finds out she's pregnant, not even long enough to get over her shock, River knows one thing: few can ever know about this child. She escapes Stormcage that night and travels to fiftieth-century London. She rents an apartment under the name Miss Versing Or, and sets up a small shop for rare books in the flat below her apartment.
No one will ever lay a hand on it – him, her? River doesn't know its gender, its name, how long it'll be before she sees a face, but one thing she vows: it will never know the darkness that she suffered in her own childhood.
She spends seven months there, before her stomach swells to a proportion bigger than even the circumference of her hair, and figures it might be time, perhaps, to let some others in on the secret. So, she drops a note with a clergyman of some infamy in Italy, and runs the whole gamut of misinformation on an alien invasion that would downright tingle the Doctor's spidey-sense into high gear.
When he lands in the TARDIS and throws open his doors, she hooks a hand against a jetted hip and smiles. He takes one look at her protruding stomach, goes weak in the knees, stumbling a bit, mouth working to make words (it comes out like a noise). "Wha—" he begins.
"But how?" he asks, alarmed.
"Oh, honestly, how is it you call yourself a doctor?" she replies, a little irritated because they've gone over this three times now, and yes, he has a right to be shocked, but she's seven months pregnant and she has a right to be annoyed. "Don't give me those puppy eyes! You know how, Doctor, and when. If I recall, we had about two weeks doing little but staying in the TARDIS, romping through the sheets together."
"Two weeks?" he sounds bewildered, protesting. "But we've never spent two weeks straight in the TARDIS!"
He sounds genuinely put out by that.
"Oh," she freezes, realizing something. "Ah, yes. I guess that hasn't happened for you yet?" She frowns. "Bit late for a spoiler alert now." She cups his face gently with a hand, patting him once lightly. "Just be a good boy and knock me up when the time comes, eh? I've gotten attached to this baby in the last seven months, and I wouldn't want anything to jeopardize its existence."
His arms are flailing. "So, what? I need to look out for a point in time when we're really, really randy, and just not let you leave the bedroom?"
"For two whole weeks!" he sputters.
"Relax, my love. You won't be complaining." And then she pauses, head tilted aside, remembering that at one point she did in fact attempt to leave the TARDIS, sometime around day eight, and… oh. "That's probably why you brought out the handcuffs," she says in realization.
"I brought out the handcuffs?"
She sends the Doctor off to retrieve her parents so that they can tell them together, and the Doctor panics and pales and begs for her to come along, but an unfortunate thing she's discovered about her morning sickness: like all things, it can't tell time in the TARDIS and she ends up sick pretty much all the time. She needs a few more extra days of quiet before she can brave time-traveling in her condition. So she sends the Doctor packing, with explicit instructions that he return to pick her up in three weeks' time, on the day of her birthday, at 12:01 pm.
Two days after the Doctor leaves her in her London flat, the Twelfth Doctor stumbles upon her doorstep, beaten and bloody. "Hi, honey!" he greets, smiling a bit crooked. "God, you look radiant!"
He promptly passes out at her feet.
It shocks her to see him like this, not only with this face, but these battle scars as well.
"Since when do you come back bloody from a fight?" she asks his unconscious form.
River is used to dealing with the unexpected, so she simply rouses him and helps him back to his TARDIS, where she cleans him and tends to his wounds as best she can. "Relax. I'm not becoming a soldier, if that's what you're concerned about." He pauses, head titled aside as he reflects on something. "Might've become a 'mighty warrior,' once upon a time, but someone made me see the errors of my ways."
He looks to her, pointedly. "Who do you think, River Song?"
And it's as good as any spoiler.
She follows him into the bathroom, helping him as he starts to unbutton his shirt, fascinated by how different he is to the man she married on top of a pyramid, and yet how utterly the same. He has similar mannerisms, and the look of him isn't as dramatic a change as her regenerations have been, but she knows from the way he moves about in her presence that this is still a new thing for him, a new body.
Propping her hip against a sink, she crosses her arms and watches him wipe ineffectually at some blood on his neck. "Tell me how you died."
With his shirt half off, he freezes at her words. "I'm sorry?"
"You're not going to make your pregnant wife repeat herself, are you?" When he doesn't say anything, she prompts him. "Doctor?"
The shirt comes off, his gaze meeting hers. There's a long scar that runs the length of his torso, and the sight of it rips a small gasp from her lips. She's lost one of his regenerations already, somehow. The thought of him dying is nearly panic inducing – dizzying, considering she still has yet to live through his death, the regeneration that turns him into the man in front of her. Will she be present for the Eleventh Doctor's demise? God, she hopes she is, but a part of her also hopes she isn't because it would tear her apart to witness that, even knowing she'd still have the Doctor with her even after that end.
He looks away, toeing off his shoes and unbuckling his pants. "River," he starts, and she knows he's not going to lie to her, that he's going to say he can't tell her that, so she turns quickly, facing the sink. "I love you," he says quietly, voice barely audible as his hands settle on her hips. "I love you in a maddening, frightening, indefinable type of way. You make me see colors when I'm blind, and I swear you've got a knack of finding news ways to shock me even after centuries of loving you. Ask me something I can do, and I'll promise you it – but even I can't break some rules."
"They're your rules," she insists, a little petulantly.
She wonders, for a beat, if he's hiding something else entirely. There are days in which she wonders what he knows of her future, wrapped up in the timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly nature of their relationship, the dangerous waters of foreknowledge. Does he already know how it ends? How they end? It wouldn't shock her if he did. Nor would the fact that he could stare her down and smile, knowing it. The Doctor has had to lie about such things before, and he's always done it marvelously – but she's the only one ever to have seen through it.
She can see through it now, the way his fingers falter mid-stroke; he's hiding something. She knows it. Spoilers is practically written across his damn forehead. She should hate him a little for that, for how he keeps things from her – but the shoe will shortly be on the other foot, so it's not like she can fault him for it either.
They park the TARDIS in the backyard of her flat for nearly three weeks, and he leaves at noon precisely, just seconds before the Eleventh Doctor re-materializes in virtually the exact same spot that Twelve left vacant.
"Hello, Birthday Girl!" the Doctor announces with glee, coming through the door. "And we have company!"
Her parents come stumbling out, and Rory tears up at the sight of her. "God," he breathes, a little choked, "And I at least wanted to be the cool granddad."
When the time comes for her to give birth, there's an inconveniently timed alien invasion.
Of course there is.
The Doctor recruits her parents into staying with her while he takes off into the night and just leaves her in labor. Just leaves her in the TARDIS like an abandoned kitten. (She knows that isn't fair, that he has a legitimate reason not to be glued to her side, but she's in labor – a screaming agony of pain – and he isn't there to bear the brunt of her screaming in person, so forgive her for thinking uncharitable thoughts about him while a baby squeezes out of her vagina. God, she swears the kid has a head as big as its father's.)
"Relax!" Rory says at one point. "I've got everything under control."
"Oh, no," River says, shaking her head – and okay, maybe she's panicking a little. "You are not delivering my baby."
"I'm a nurse!" he protests.
"You're my father!"
For a short period of time, Amy ends up with the catcher's mitt, so to speak, though not after a few freak outs and one near-fainting spell. "God," Amy breathes, almost hyperventilating, "Remind me to never have a child again. I guess last time I didn't realize it was this messy, what with everything going on. Bloody horror movie graphics with – oh, um, I think I see the head!"
The Doctor arrives just then, slamming the door shut behind him against an explosion. He flips a lever on his way to her and the TARDIS takes flight, babbling, "Don't worry, River, I'm here! I'm here! The invasion stopped, Earth saved, and—" He skids to a stop in front of them, and then says, "Oh, good, it only has one head. I was worried about that, actually."
"Doctor!" River yells.
"Here, here!" he rushes to her. "Out of the way, Amy! I can handle this!"
"Really?" Amy practically leaps away with tangible relief, though she quickly frowns. "You sure you know what you're doing, Doctor?"
"Yes, yes! Been studying up since I found out about the pregnancy. Watching videos and reading books and talking to the TARDI—" River screams to remind him she's there. "Oh, yes, yes! I'm focused, I'm here! Um… push?"
Despite a certain amount of expected flailing, the Doctor is the one to deliver his own child.
"Now, I know your former housing was really loud and cross when you first met her," the Doctor tells their baby, "but she's normally not like that, I promise." He pauses, studying the face a little, and then adds, "Yes, yes, at least she's very pretty. It looks like you've taken after her looks too, you lucky thing. Not that it means much to our kind. I was half-hoping you'd have ginger hair."
"Doctor, what are you doing?" River asks.
Amy rolls her eyes. "He claims he can speak to babies."
"I can," the Doctor insists. "Gallifreyan ability!"
"Sweetie, don't lie. It sets a bad example for the baby."
The baby gurgles a little. "Yes, yes," the Doctor says, "Don't you listen to anything anyone else says. Your dad's got you now." He pauses, then quickly responds to some unheard question, "Oh, yes! Didn't I make introductions yet? I'm your father. Hello!"
And then River is holding back tears as the Doctor gives a watery smile at the little baby in his arms, looking as full of love and emotion as she's ever seen him. She watches as he walks the baby to a small wooden cot in the corner, one she's never seen before. It's old, very old. She peers at it a little.
"Sweetie," she says, and tries to read the Gallifreyan at the side. "Where did you get that crib?"
Amy exchanges some sort of look with Rory, while the Doctor appears to miss the question, too wrapped up in gently laying down the baby. It strikes her then, how very old and lonely his life was before, how distant he had been to the thought of a family. And she knows, suddenly and without any doubt, that their child will not suffer the same fate as Melody Pond. No one will dare lay a hand on their child. River Song once threatened the destruction of all of time and space for the love of one man.
She would risk it all over again for another man, now.
"And what would you like to be called, eh?" the Doctor asks, and the baby babbles. "He wants to be called Dicky." He laughs down at the baby. "Not sure about the unfortunate phallic implications of it, but okay!"
Things slide into place, into perfect heartbreaking clarity, the moment the Doctor announces that Rory has convinced the baby that another name is slightly more suitable: Richard, which soon shortens to Rick. River shivers as she remembers a visit to Leadworth (nearly a year ago for River; nearly a decade in the future for River's parents) where a little boy will play on the front lawn of a house with a blue door and red convertible parked in the driveway.
That boy's name was Rick.
And that boy referred to Amy as his mother, not River.
River realizes things in an instant, and it makes bitter poetic justice, in a way.
Amy and Rory never had the chance to raise their child. Why not their grandchild, then? She knows Rick will never be safe, otherwise. Not if the universe ever found out where he came from – the Doctor's child, River Song's son, the only child of the TARDIS has one of her own; there wouldn't be an enemy in all of time and space that wouldn't want their way with Rick. River cannot allow that. She cannot and will not allow her son to inherit her childhood.
"Rick, son of Amy Pond and Rory Williams," she whispers one night, pressing a kiss to the baby's forehead. "You'll be safe this way, my sweet baby boy."
She looks up to find the Doctor standing in the doorway, and his face crumbles then, for half a second, when he realizes what that she means to do. She wouldn't do it without his permission, without discussing it with him at length, but with a start, River searches his face and knows that look – that look of infinite grief. She doesn't even have to convince the Doctor because somehow he already knows, or guesses, or he's reached the same logical conclusion just as she has.
He recovers, hides his sadness with another smile – small but sincere. "We couldn't place him in better hands."
She goes back to Stormcage after that, and serves out a chunk of her time. It isn't that the Doctor doesn't try to keep her company, but he's used to a life on the run and she needs to keep still for a while. The windowsill in her cell is high up and small – not good enough to sit and look out, so River often makes arrangements to stand and see. The view looks out over the ocean that surrounds the correctional facility, the high security measures and laser grid barely visible in the misty fog. She can see the seagulls scattered over the sands, can see the faint trace of a horizon, can see the sun setting, the ocean hues of blue and green and –
Sitting there, River grows up quite a bit.
The Twelfth Doctor shows up at her cell, wearing a baseball cap with a strange insignia on it. "Well, now, River Song, turn that frown upside down. It doesn't suit you at all!"
"Well over a thousand years old, and you're still as corny as a geeky teenager."
"One thousand three hundred and seventy-four," the Doctor tells her, "And geek is the new chic."
River picks herself up, smiling when her fingers reach to run across the hull of the TARDIS. The Doctor scurries past her, peeling open an orange on his way to the controls. "So," he says, "where to?"
"Wherever," River answers, but before she can even think to answer beyond that, he's already flipping switches and pulling levers and moving about and around, a mad man in his box, and River is lost in the art of following him. He still leaves the brakes on, but she saddles up beside him and drops the lever.
"Admit it," he teases, watching her from the corner of his eye, "You like it when I leave the brakes on."
Smiling up at him, she reaches over as if to kiss him, and just when he leans forward she plucks his hat off his head. "Indeed," she agrees, and tosses the baseball cap into the waste disposal at the side, ignoring his indignant shout of protest when the TARDIS garbles it up. Tilting her face towards the door, it's like River can suddenly feel the warmth of the sun again, and she breathes in the scent of citrus, of oranges. It smells like home, strangely.
"Now take me somewhere fun," she tells him, and kisses him full on the lips just for good measure. "And no museums!"
When she returns to Stormcage, she sends a message to the Eleventh Doctor to pick her up. He arrives fashionably late, but not too late, and she pulls him into a kiss and a smile, and she can almost see the way he drops his shoulders in relief.
"Hello," he beams, happily. "Where to?"
"Anywhere," she tells him. "Everywhere."
"The fields of Trenzalore," he mutters in his sleep that night.
She stares at him and frowns. She still thinks his mumbling is adorable, but now she knows him well enough to also wonder what his dreams are preoccupied by.
The Doctor and his secrets.
Some things never change.
When she lands them in prison in the third quadrant of the Alpha Solar System for "indecent behavior," the Doctor folds his hands across his chest and glares. "I hate you, you know."
"No, you don't," she singsongs, and looks down in confusion to discover the Doctor has a random black marker streak across the back of his hand. "What's that?" she asks, curiously.
The Doctor stares at the mark for a long moment, then scrubs it away and smiles. "Nothing," he insists. "Now tell me, how do you plan on getting us out of here? It's only fair you have to figure this one out."
"Oh, I plan to get us out the same way I landed us in," she says, and removes her hallucinogenic lipstick from her décolletage. "By kissing the common sense right out of a man."
The Doctor looks a tad miffed and jealous as she plants one on the guard, but River merely laughs and promises to make it up to him.
"You better!" he says, and his eyes belie his anticipation.
She visits a young Amy and a bashful Rory, and even if they know River's true identity at this point, she isn't going to be spilling any more beans about a child that will soon run through this house.
"So, mother-in-law, do you have any fish fingers and custard?"
Amy glares at him, and turns to River. "I'm thinking about getting drunk again. You?"
River grins; she has no idea what "again" refers to, but she's always up for a late drunken night with her mother-slash-best friend.
Dear Diary, she writes, dated February 12th, 1839; Richmond, Virginia.
Today the Doctor took us to visit Abraham Lincoln. He was taller than I expected, but very well-mannered and every bit as inspirational as I expected. The lowlight of the evening was when the Doctor attempted to confiscate his top hat but Amy put a stop to that. The night turned an unexpected corner, however, when the vampires showed up…
California in the 1970s is very groovy and happening.
Canton Everett Delaware III? Not so much. They stumble upon him as he's investigating a string of unanswerable murders that lead to aliens abductions, and so it seems destined that they join him. It isn't until the third day that Canton pulls her aside and asks, pointblank, "You don't recognize me, do you?"
She blinks at him. "Why? Have we met before?"
"Yes, of course—"
"Wait!" she cuts in with a lazy smile. "Spoilers, my good Canton. Can't know too much about my own future."
"But," he says, eyes narrowing. "You didn't recognize me then, either. How could you not know me then, and not know me now? When do we first meet?"
She rolls her eyes and offers a shrug. "Perhaps I did recognize you then, but I just lied. A girl has to keep her mystery somehow."
She likes Canton, she really does. And if, as it seems, she has another adventure with him in the future with the Doctor at her side, she can see them growing to be close friends. But she has no idea how to answer his questions, mainly because she hasn't figured out her reasoning yet. If she lies about knowing people and doing things in the future, she's sure it's so that she can preserve the credulity of plausible deniability and spoilers.
"How do I know you're not lying to me now?" he asks.
But it's very difficult explaining all that to outsiders, so River merely laughs. "You don't."
They visit Rick frequently, and especially for his birthdays and holidays. It stings, to be seen as the doting aunt and uncle to their own child, but River tries not to focus on it. When he turns two, River watches him play with the Doctor with a row of toy trucks and some Legos that the Doctor builds into an elaborate fort. She aches just watching him, because Rick has the Twelfth Doctor's eyes but the Eleventh's nose and chin, and she doesn't know how to explain that away.
"He's doing well," Rory tells her. "Absolutely brilliant, you'll be unsurprised to find. I'm not sure we'll be able to keep up with him much longer, and he's still just a toddler."
"You'll do fine," River insists. "You did fine with me when I was a kid, and you were the same age as me."
Rory snorts. "We mostly just picked you up after you'd landed yourself into trouble."
"That's all parents should ever really do," River says with a cheeky grin. "Besides, you were one of my two best friends. How many dads can say that about their little girl?"
Rory's chests puffs with pride a little, before they redirect their attention back to watching the Doctor play with his boy. "It's not right, you know. I sometimes feel like I'm stealing something from him."
"You're not," River says, and bumps shoulders with him. "You're keeping his son safe. Our son, your grandson – the future of us all."
(She doesn't know just how much truth there is in that statement.)
When Rick turns seven, she takes him on his first adventure with the Doctor.
It involves a picnic at Asguard, and a relatively unsuccessful attempt to teach the Doctor and his son how to play poker. Rubbish bluffers, the both of them. The only moment of any concern is when the picnic gets taken over by a small infestation of exploding mushrooms, but Rick merely laughs it off. "Gruesome," he says to River in approval. "And that's a cool word. How many words sound like what they mean? GROOO-some. The 'groo' part sounds icky."
Afterwards, the Doctor hoists Rick onto the TARDIS console and he smiles with glee when the TARDIS responds with a warm glow.
"Can I pilot?" he asks.
The Doctor bops him on his nose with a finger. "If you want, but you have to pay attention and do exactly as I say!"
Rick pulls levers and runs amok, twirling around after the Doctor like a tiny shadow, but when all is said and done, right before they land, Rick reaches to remove the brakes when he thinks no one is looking. River stops, staring, surprised at his intuitiveness.
Rick shrugs. "Seemed like the thing to do," he tells her in a whisper, sheepishly.
Years and years pass.
Funny how life seems short, even married to a Timelord.
The field of Trenzalore is where the Doctor dies.
River knows better than to place her faith in superstition, but when she is summoned there by a mysterious message she assumes has been sent by the Doctor, she realizes something else is different about the fields; something is special. There is a saying she does not learn for quite some time: On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature may speak falsely or fail to give answer, a question will be asked.
A question that must never, ever be answered.
She doesn't know how, but she is captured. Her arm is done up in black marks and she keeps losing time, and when she finally comes to, she is trapped, handcuffed, in a cave, and outside there is a meadow of wildflowers. River has been crying. She doesn't remember why, or when she began, but she can feel the wetness on her face, the panic in her veins. She can't see, not yet, but while she waits for her eyesight to adjust she can hear his breathing and the rustle of the clothing as he settles; can feel his hands land against hers.
Somewhere in the darkness of the cave, the Doctor is sitting quietly on his knees, eyes downcast, and something is very, very wrong. "Silence will fall when the question is asked," he says tightly, and she feels the puff of his breath on her cheek. "Did I ever tell you, River, that I've known this day was coming since the day of our wedding?"
Then she knows why she can't remember: The Silence.
She stares at the rough outline of him. "What day?" she chokes out, but she knows the answer already.
"The day that I die," he tells her. "Oh, River. River Song, my wife. My bespoke psychopath turned lover. I'm glad that you're with me in the end, even if that makes me a selfish bastard. And I suppose I am, aren't I? Do have done the things I have done to you, to allow such darkness in your life when I could have rewritten time. But not one line, I promised. My wife."
"Shh, now," she soothes, because even if she doesn't know what's going on, she can't stand the stench of guilt on him. "I know you have your secrets; so do I. And whatever crimes you think you've committed against me, I forgive you. Have forgiven you. Will forgive you, forever and always."
"What did I ever do to deserve such loyalty and love?" he asks her, in all seriousness.
She shakes her head because even after all this time, he still doesn't get it, does he? "What didn't you do, my love?"
He sags against her, and she panics when she feels the wetness of his shirt: blood. There is an injury to his chest, something gaping and open – and this is how it all ends.
"You've never asked me," he says to her. "Haven't you ever wondered?"
"The most obvious question. The oldest question, hidden in plain sight."
"I don't understand," River replies frustrated, with tears streaming down her face.
"Doctor," he says. "Doctor who? Ask me, River. Ask me my name. You're the only person I've ever wanted to tell, the only person I ever could."
She reaches down to press her lips to his temple. "Then tell me, my love. What is your name?"
He grabs the lapels of her jacket and pulls her ear to his lips, whispering in a voice so faint, so soft, she has to strain to hear it. But hear it, she does – and the name is one that will forever be etched in her mind like a branding of fire. She smiles softly, and pulls back – and suddenly, there's a flare of light, orange and rust, a dance of energy that she recognizes all too well. The colors swirl and bleed around them, and she's never been in the midst of a regeneration before that wasn't her own, but she holds tight to her husband as he dies.
… and then is reborn.
She kills all the Silence on the planet.
Every last one of them.
"Damn it!" he swears, peering into a mirror the TARDIS provides. "I'm still not ginger."
"I know," she replies in mock-sympathy, "But at least look at your teeth!"
"Oh, quite right, quite right!"
"Lucky you didn't knock those front two in with that fall."
"I didn't so much as fall," he insists, frowning, "as much as I sauntered in a vaguely downward direction."
"Right, my love. Of course."
The scramble to reacquaint herself with him isn't as arduous as expected because she's already acquainted herself with him a number of times – and besides, beneath the alterations he's still the same as ever. If there is one constant in the universe, it is not the speed of light or gravity or Pi, and it's certainly not time. The one constant in the universe is that River Song will love the Doctor. Any and all versions of him, with a deep and abiding affection.
But there is a change in him she isn't expecting. He crosses more lines than he needs to and takes himself further out into the cold, all for a quest that has always driven the Doctor, a need to explore and challenge and, generally, right any wrongs that he stumbles upon. It's strange, seeing such a driven Doctor, especially when he seems to have no particular destination in mind, but there is a steel that is on the surface now, one that the Eleventh Doctor only hinted at, and even then you'd only see it if you knew him very well or caught him in a rare moment of icy resolve.
She's seen a lot of things come and go as she's run steadily through life, but the future is always a mystery to her – or the past, depending on the perspective. The Doctor's regeneration puts a lasting stamp on their need for secrecy, because he no longer looks like the Doctor of any records. But even so, lies and omissions need to continue because the past is never just the past and the future has a history of complicating the present.
River packs her journal. "Off to Stormcage," she calls, before she's through the doors of the TARDIS without a further explanation.
She makes no apologies about her abrupt departures, but then again, she likes to think she makes up for it with grand entrances.
She drops in on him one lazy Saturday afternoon, and when her trench coat slides off her shoulders, she's wearing nothing underneath.
She gets into plenty of trouble by herself.
A blow catches with the underside of her chin, the force knocking her to the floor. She lands awkwardly, garbage bags cushioning the impact but doing little to stop the back of her head from knocking against the side of the dumpster.
Her solo adventures aren't always violent, though she'd be lying if she said it didn't happen more often than not. There was that lovely intellectual revolution in the thirty-first century of the Berlmina Galaxy that she helped along. But for every peaceful trip, there's a bloody coup. Yet she does good in her own way; uses her skills to do small things like help reroute supplies and aid to the indigenous people of the Ubabilas, or gives a lending hand to a single man who needs a lift across the universe. She also, on occasion, holds off hordes of Cyberman from breaching into a small corner at the arse-end of the universe, and makes a formidable name for herself among the Daleks.
So, while certainly not doing as well as she likes, sitting in a dump and a pile of garbage, when her enemy smiles nastily at her, River climbs up to her feet again and goes back for seconds.
She always wins, eventually.
It's something she learns about herself, and she makes sure the rest of the universe learns it too.
Rick turns nine.
River takes him to New Year's Eve in New York City on the eve of the new century. The 19th century.
"This is awesome," he breathes excitedly. "Is it always like this? Time-traveling?"
She smiles down at him. "Time-traveling is as odd as one would expect."
"How do you stop yourself from altering history?" he asks.
"Sometimes you can't," she tells him. "But I think certain moments in time are fixed. Tiny, precious moments. Everything else is in flux, anything can happen, but those certain moments, they have to stand."
She thinks that this moment, shared with her son, might be one of them.
She drops her son back to her parents, and Amy is waiting for her near the front door with a lifted eyebrow. "And what trouble did you two get into this time?" she asks, in mock-admonishment.
"Our secret," River teases, miming a zipper over her lips.
Rick laughs and then takes off past Amy, screaming down the hall about all the wonderful, precious things he saw on this latest trip. Rory appears after a beat, and catches him in a hug when Rick launches himself into his arms excitedly, still babbling away. From this angle, it's easy to understand why nobody has any difficulty accepting that Rick is Rory's son, because they have the same build, the same hair, the same innocent face too. Amy and River come to stand side-by-side for a moment, watching them, before River laughs and shakes her head.
"They really do look alike, don't they?" she says, and shares a sidelong glance with Amy.
"I don't think family resemblance really means much to Timelordy DNA," Amy points out.
"Nonsense," River replies airily. "I had your hair the first seven years of my life before I regenerated. Genes matter."
It isn't until a full beat later, when there's a sudden absence of a response from Amy, that River realizes something is wrong. She looks over, and Amy is older now, with just the beginnings of wrinkles around her eyes, the faintest look of age added to her beauty, but for a brief moment, she looks older than River has ever thought of her.
"You first regenerated when you were only seven?" Amy asks, sickly.
They've never really discussed it in detail - her childhood. For obvious reasons.
"Don't you dare say spoilers," Amy warns.
River presses a hand to her mother's shoulder, knowing exactly why this news is so upsetting. Melody Pond first died in a back alley somewhere in New York City, starving and afraid, and it took her decades and decades to realize the hazel-eyed man that picked her up and rescued her afterwards was really the Twelfth Doctor. None of that, of course, is any consolation to the grief a mother would feel upon hearing this news.
Amy stares with a sheen of water in her eyes. "Sometimes I wonder if my imagination of your childhood is worse than what really happened, but it isn't, is it?"
"I found you shortly thereafter," River tries to console. "You know my childhood. You were there, right alongside me."
"It's not the same. I should have been there to protect you from the beginning."
Rick stumbles upon them like this, and bless him, like a child that he is, he misses the tension in the room entirely. "Mum!" he screams, and both women turn to him. He grabs Amy's hand and drags her down the hall. "Let me show what I got from my trip!"
The Twelfth Doctor takes her ice-skating on the River Thames in 1814, and when she's sauntering through the halls of Stormcage again, she sees her father – except it's a far younger version of him than she's used to, and he's wearing Roman garb. She's heard the stories and seen the photographs, but this is the first she's ever seen of Rory-the-Roman.
Rory looks confused. "I've come from the Doctor too."
"Yes, but at a different point in time."
"Unless there's two of them," Rory jokes.
"Now that's a whole different birthday," she remarks, off-handedly.
She pulls her diary free and reads, as Rory says, "He needs you."
From that point on, she knows more than everyone.
Night will fall and drown the sun
When a good man goes to war.
Friendship dies and true love lies –
Night will fall and the dark will rise.
When a good man goes to war.
Demons run, but count the cost.
The battle's won, but the child is lost.
"Well, then, soldier, how goes the day?"
Seeing the Eleventh Doctor again is both a blessing and a curse. Her heart soars just at the sight of him, but he is so very young and so very angry. When she was younger, that had stung – feeling the full force of his aggravation, the lashes of his frustration landing like a whip on her back. Now, she's older and wiser and she knows how to handle his outbursts, ones that would have had others cowering. Oh, but River Song knows the Doctor better than anyone; she knows his tells, his quirks, his virtues, and his failings. His anger has always been a cover for his guilt, and it is high time she stops it in its tracks before he becomes something he was never meant to be. The Doctor is many things, but she cannot let his guilt consume him into becoming a soldier.
The Universe would never be ready for that.
It all unfolds. The words he needs to hear, the cot, the Ponds standing to one side and – Melody Pond, River Song – this is where it changes for the Doctor. This is the moment he realizes what she is, who she is, how important.
And the next time she will see him, he won't even know that.
Afterwards, she drops the Ponds back to their house and has the most awkward conversation she has ever had with Amy and Rory, and to add insult to injury, it's over a particularly detestable pot of lukewarm tea.
"How—" Amy begins, then stops and shakes her head. "I don't even know what questions to ask."
River stays silent because she's not sure what answers she could give. It's suddenly claustrophobic to see these two, Amy Pond and Rory Williams, so young and burgeoning, stepping into the light of a revelation that River has known all her life. She's never really planned for this conversation; should have, probably, but there is no roadmap in her relationships. Never has been. Mels announced her identity on the eve of war in the heart of Berlin, with Hitler locked nearby in a cupboard. River tells them over her crib – her son's crib, the Doctor's crib – and it feels just as striking.
"Forget this," Amy declares, abandoning her tea. "I need to get drunk."
"I'll get the glasses," Rory says, a little too quickly.
There are still adventures to be had.
In Copenhagen, she and the Eleventh Doctor exchange looks under the watchful eye of Jim the Fish, a particularly nasty intergalactic loan shark who deals in shillings, rupees, euros, yens, and dollars. They're not interested in money, though – rather information.
"Tell me," Jim says. "Have you ever heard of the fields of Trenzalore?"
"Can't say that I have," the Doctor answers.
"Well, it'll be interesting. Too bad you've crashed a party where I don't trade in secrets, but in money. Now, leave, because I'm not impressed with your reputation, Doctor. I deal with life and death on a daily basis, and you don't scare me. So, what's to stop me from killing you and whatever whore-companion that is with you?"
A tick above the Doctor's eye twitches. "No need to be rude, Jimmy."
"Go bugger off and boff your floozy," Jim tells him.
"Boff? What sexual metaphor am I missing with that?" the Doctor asks, before shaking his head to dispel the question. "And I told you not to be rude!"
Jim laughs. "What are you going to do, teach me some manners? I believe you brought a sonic screwdriver to a gunfight, Doctor. There are least a dozen guns in here, all aimed at your head."
"Oh, but I have something better than all your guns, and better than even my screwdriver."
The Doctor rocks on his heels. "River Song."
The name gets a reaction from the crowd that even the Doctor's name didn't, but that's because this crowd is more the type to swallow at the gleam in River's eyes as she grins, the pulse of her energy weapon echoing through the room in ominous promise as she sets it to full charge.
Jim the Fish fidgets, all six hands and appendages of him. "River Song. As in, the River Song?"
"Yes, the one you had the unfortunate impulse to call a name just seconds ago. Perhaps not the best thing to do, insulting a lady's honor like that."
"Oh," River coos. "I'm a lady now, is it?"
"Always a lady to me," the Doctor tosses back with a smile. "Lovely lady with a lovely gun and killer heels, and a nasty disposition for defeating things that can make her angry. Should probably remember that myself, for self-preservation's sake."
"Oh, you flatterer, you!"
"Only saying what I think," he grins. "I do so love the heels."
And then gunfire breaks out.
"I'm not an idiot, you know."
River looks to her son, age fifteen now. "Never called you one, sweetie."
They dangle their feet off the edge of one of the cliffs on Mount Rushmore, coats pulled tight against their chests to ward off the chilly wind. It is March 18th, 2166, and it is the commemorative inauguration of the addition of Obama's sculpture to the mountain.
He sighs, rather too sullenly for the good time they were having just moments ago. "Were you ever planning on telling me?"
"Telling you what?"
"That you're not my aunt," Rick declares, no-nonsense and matter-of-fact. "You're my mother."
For a long beat, longer than River cares to admit, she can't think of a single thing to say – and she wonders if this was anything at all like what Amy and Rory had to endure when they'd been confronted with their child's ostentatious declarations. Turnabout was only fair play, she supposed – though this was hardly in the same league.
"How—" she begins, before cursing herself for beginning that way because it only confirms his statement. She should have started with a denial. Shaking her head, her shoulders drop and she admits defeat. "Clever boy," she remarks with a laugh. "When did you know?"
"Since I first stepped into the TARDIS," he tells River, "and she told me I acted just like my father."
The lies begin, and she knows she won't be able to stop them now.
She's never seen that astronaut suit before; she doesn't know who that little girl is; she hasn't the faintest idea who the Silence are; she won't tell Amy and Rory who kills the Doctor; she is ever-so-angry enough with the Doctor to slap him. (That last one is actually a bit fun.) Everything she says, every moment, every action – it is carefully constructed. If she weren't a certifiable genius, she might've had trouble keeping it all straight in her head.
But she isn't thinking in the slightest when she pulls the Doctor forward for a kiss; isn't thinking about rules and timelines andspoilers because to her, the Doctor has never been off-limits. He is hers, like she is his – and the moment of clarity is worse than a slap across the face, because his first kiss means she just had her last.
Into the void, she goes, careening towards that fateful day where she'll look into the eyes of the Doctor, and he'll look back and see nothing but a stranger.
Rick is nearly eighteen, long and lanky like his father.
"So," she greets, smiling. "I was thinking. Rick Williams sounds like the name of an adventurer."
He looks up, surprised, but quickly catches on. "Anywhere?"
She nods. "Anywhere."
He smiles. "Then I want to go everywhere."
Funny how life seems so short, even as a mother to a Timelord.
When she sees the Doctor again, it is the time of the Pandorica.
River connects the wires as the TARDIS continues to spark and explode, but her attempts to release the door simply sets more sparks flying from the console. When she rewires the coupling and rushes to the door, it finally unlocks, but only to reveal a solid stone wall. She knows, oh, she knows – she knows exactly how bad this is, how everything rests at stake. The end of the Universe, and still, still, her last thoughts are of him, her Doctor.
"I'm sorry, my love," she whispers before the end.
Except it isn't the end.
Repeat, times infinity.
So it turns out she does attend Amy and Rory's wedding after all.
She looks on from the outside as the celebration hits full swing, laughing softly to herself as Amy and Rory collapse against each other in giggles and love-struck smiles. It is such a beautiful moment, so precious. The journey ahead of them will be bumpy, so very bumpy, and she wishes them the best – and a wonderful wedding night, especially. (It is the night, after all, when she is conceived.)
She's dressed in a heavy winter coat when she calls out to the Doctor, stopping him just before he leaves. It's a bold move, when she teases him about their wedding. She's hidden so much in the last few days, so many lies ("Doctor, that Centurion..." she deadpanned in false ignorance and confusion.); this time, she wants him to know the truth.
Can't, though. Mustn't. Spoilers.
"River," the Doctor finally asks, eyes shining with curiosity and intrigue. "Who are you?"
"You're going to find out very soon now," she promises. "And I'm sorry, but that's when everything changes."
She dematerializes before she has to answer anything more.
She rematerializes right at the stroke of midnight, and the guards startle to see her. "Don't worry," she instructs airily. "I'm returning!"
"Doctor Song," a guard stops her on the way to her cell. "You have visitors."
"Oh, do I? The official kind that check in at the front gate? Well, that's a change."
"Ma'am," a person speaks behind her, and she turns to see a man in military uniform. "I'm Father Octavian, a cleric from the Second Class. There's a situation that needs your area of expertise—"
"Explosions or sand?"
"Explosions or sand," River repeats, a bit slower. "Those are usually where I'm most in my element."
He flushes, looking unamused. A cleric lacking a sense of humor. How shocking. "A bit of both, I suppose. Doctor, we need help with the recovery of one of our oldest star liners, the Byzantium. The ship's captain, Allistair, has broken off communication—"
"I'll need two things," River interrupts. "A killer dress and some platform Louboutins, twenty-first century, preferably red."
Octavian's annoyance flares. "We are clerics of God, Doctor Song. Not a shopping complex."
They make arrangements for her to visit a twenty-first century clothing boutique in London. She chooses her store very carefully, as well the precise timing. January 2005, just days after New Year's. The shop's name is Henricks, and while it isn't as selective as River usually likes in clothing, she can't argue about the help.
"What do you think of this?" River asks, stepping out in a long black dress that fits her like a glove.
"Perfect," the salesclerk says, lounging against the counter in the fitting room. Her pin IDs her simply as Rose, but River, of course, knows quite a bit more about this particular London girl. "Whoever you're trying to impress will love it."
Rose offers a brash, youthful smile. "Definitely."
River just laughs, hands sliding down her hips, feeling the material against her palms. "I'll take your word for it, then."
She blows herself out of an airlock and flies through open space right into the Doctor's awaiting arms. And it's easier than she expects, doing this again – she might even being getting the hang of it, the perfect balance of teasing and coy, of innocent flirtation and deeper affection, of truth and lies. The Doctor – bless his hearts – is getting younger and younger by the adventure, and it must be very early in his timestream if he's introducing her to her own mother.
When all is said and done, they stand on the sandy beach and make small talk. "Octavian said you killed a man."
"Yes. I did. A good man. A very good man. The best man I've ever known."
"Who?" the Doctor asks.
She smiles. "It's a long story, Doctor, can't be told. It has to be lived. No sneak previews. Well, except for this one." She leans forward, and she can tell exactly how she's affecting him by the play of emotions across his face: beguiled, infuriated, endeared and, yes, a bit turned on all at the same time. "You'll see me again quite soon, when the Pandorica opens."
The Doctor laughs, and he shakes his head as if she's speaking absolute rubbish. "The Pandorica, ha!" He leans much more into her personal space than she had into his, whispering right into her ear. "That's a fairy tale."
River can't help but laugh along. "Oh, Doctor, aren't we all?"
She says goodbye to Amy and then dematerializes, only to rematerialize for another trip to see her. Not that hard, switching the coordinates on the military's vortex signal so it sends her to Leadworth instead. She isn't quite sure about the time, but it must be spot on because twenty minutes later she finds Amy waiting for her with an open bottle of Cabernet.
"The Doctor's dead," Amy announces, thirty seconds into the conversation.
River freezes, knowing then exactly where they are relative to one another. She watches as Amy tucks away her own diary, and well – she probably shouldn't spill the beans quite so easily, but River Song is getting a bit sick and tired of tossing bloodyspoilers every which way, and the look of devastation on her mother's face isn't something she can abide for long.
So, she leans forward and admits the truth, for once, point-blank and simply as she can – and God, what a rush it is to do that, for once.
For the first time ever, when exiting Stormcage, she uses the front door. It seems a bit dull but she's been outright pardoned, so might as well, eh? And since the Doctor spoiled her well and good enough, River Song figures she should set out to become a Professor. But, of course, there are stops along the way. Her first is another trip to Leadworth, but a different timestamp.
She stands outside the house with the blue door, just staring. She doesn't know why she hesitates to go inside, but for a beat, River just wants to soak in the moment, let the stillness wash over her like tranquility in a pill. The beat must last longer than she intends, because suddenly Rick is standing right beside her.
"Anything I can help with, or did you just want to talk?"
River smiles over at him, tall and stubbly. "Why? Did I look like I needed to talk?"
"It looks like you have a lot of on your mind."
"Since when have you gotten so wise?"
"Son of two geniuses," Rick answers.
"That gives you intelligence," River says, tartly. "Not wisdom."
Rick smiles. "C'mom, mum. Let's go inside."
"How about a walk, instead? Seems like such a beautiful day for it."
"All right. Where to?"
"How about the Pegasus Galaxy? 4120?"
Rick's smile grows to an infectious laugh. "I've always wanted to see that."
The next time she sees the Doctor, it's the Twelfth Doctor, with a different haircut and a newer suit.
Before she can manage to even greet him, he kisses her, kisses her like he's trying to convince her with just his lips and his hands and tongue that it's as much of a relief to see her as she is to see him. It's been so long since she could revel in this liberty with her husband, she gets a little swept up in it. It's a startling sort of possessiveness, deep and rich and filled with more emotions than can be told, but it seems to be mutual and River isn't one to argue. She was so convinced she'd never see a Doctor that knows he's her husband again.
Afterwards, he pouts. "You never said Hello, sweetie."
"When did you give me the time, my love?" she teases, reaching for her clothes.
"So," he says, still lounging in bed. "Where to?"
She turns around, tilts her head aside, and decides, "The Singing Towers," she tells him. "I've never seen them before."
For some reason, it takes convincing; their earlier mood seems to dampen with some atmosphere she can't figure out, but she only catches it in snares, in stolen glances when he thinks she isn't looking. It takes her nearly two weeks of pestering before she can get him to redirect to the Singing Towers, and oh, it is a beautiful sight to behold. She dresses for the occasion in a long red dress with shimmering beads and a plunging neckline, and they sit at the edge of a cliff with a picnic basket between them. The music pulses off the towers of the Darillium, and it's so moving, so completely engulfing; the cavernous space echoes with such a fine tune that she's lost to the beats – until she notices the Doctor crying.
"Oh, my love," she breathes, and leans down to kiss his tear-stained cheek. "What a beautiful song this is."
"Not half as beautiful as you, River Song," he says. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
"More than once, but less than infinity," she teases.
"I'll have to remedy that."
She folds herself against him, using the blanket at their feet to ward off the chilly night air. The stars shine above them, gleaming and glistening and more than she could ever count, and far more than she could ever visit. He even hands her a lovely-wrapped gift near the end of the evening – her own screwdriver, a gift of such delight that it sends her into his arms with a fit of laughs; they tumble a little, rolling over as their merriment mingles with the harmonics of the music. He makes love to her again on those cliffs of the Singing Towers, holding her so close that she never feels the lick of any chill.
It is the perfect, romantic evening – but she feels the weight of preoccupation on her Doctor's shoulders, a secret she know he's withholding. She lets him keep it without fuss.
She's used to secrets.
Her life is full of spoilers.
"I have a job for you," Mr. Lux says. "An expedition set to leave in thirty-six hours."
"Oh," River says, mildly intrigued, but her first thought is that the Doctor will absolutely love this.
The Tenth Doctor.
She should have known she'd stumble upon him one of these days. He has a companion of his own, and River isn't too sure yet which one it is because he got on quite a bit before he met her mother. She handles this face much better than she handled the revelation of the Twelfth; if she is going to be the Doctor's Wife, at least she should manage to have some fun with his varying personalities and faces. When she gets a moment alone with him, she unpacks her diary, ever so blissful, and even thinks to herself, 'And, oh, he is a baby-face, isn't he? This one is already going to be fun, I can tell.'
God, she can be such a fool sometimes.
It takes her a few beats to realize what has happened, what is happening, and even still she wants to refute it. She presses her hand against his cheek, imploring, caught on a precipice and for the first time in her entire life, afraid of the jump. Afraid that the Doctor won't catch her.
"Doctor," she breathes out, "please tell me you know who I am."
And when the Doctor answers, "Who are you?"
… she feels like dying.
'River, River, River,' she can hear the Doctor's voice in her head. 'You knew this day was coming. Be strong, my wife.'
Donna constantly watches her, eyes alert. It's strange, seeing this woman that he once referred to as his best mate, and River doesn't know what to do under the scrutiny except endure it. It feels like her insides are bleeding out, and she has the answers that everybody wants, but she can't tell.
She takes in a long breath, and exhales through the pain.
It ends with handcuffs.
She should have known.
It's a frantic few minutes wiring up the chair and constructing headgear that can manage the upload. She does the math in her head quickly, realizing that if she times the transfer for the countdown, it'll be a cleaner upload. She's trying so hard – so very hard – to keep her focus on the task, but then he comes to, and it's all she can do not to break down. But she'll be strong, she'll be brave in the end, because it's just beginning for him and he's always known it was going to begin like this – with a bang.
"River," he eventually breathes. "You know my name."
The computer comes on. "Auto-destruct in 10..."
"You whispered my name in my ear."
"...9, 8, 7, 6..."
River places the circlet on her head to connect her to the Library.
"There's only one reason I would ever tell anyone my name—"
"There's only one time I could."
"Hush, now," River cuts in. ...3, 2... "Spoilers."
When you run with The Doctor, it feels like it will never end. But however hard you try, you can't run forever. Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark, if he ever, for one moment, accepts it.
Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day.
Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all.
Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call... everybody lives.
The sun rises in a clear blue sky, and there's a gentle breeze in the air as River makes her way across the garden. What adventure will she have today? A billion, billion books at her fingertips, countless adventures to explore and be had, but today River thinks about putting all of that on hold and enjoying a nice, quiet evening on the front porch. She hadn't often had peace in her life; restful moments snatched in between the craziness of her adventures, yes, and there were plenty of long stretches that she served out in Stormcage where she was so alone with her thoughts that she could often hear them echo off the walls. But peace? Peace was a thing that River may not have ever known in life, except in the arms of her lover.
It is a strange thing, the way time moves here. A blink, and it's a lifetime. She's lost track of her lifetimes in this place, and many things seem to lose meaning. When she isn't looking, it's like things reset, a default in place, and River can hardly keep track.
But it isn't bad, for an ever after.
"— very clever," a familiar voice rings out with pride, from nearby, "and don't think I don't know you were apparently planning this for some time. Quite the feat, to think this all up at a moment's notice, but you have to promise to visit. I know your mother and I weren't exactly the most conventional parents but this is a hell of a way to shuffle them off into retirement. Just take good care of the TARDIS, you hear? Can't have her wasting away and being useless; she's meant to be used and explored – oh, no. Wait. That sounds wrong. Scratch that. Forget that. Don't tell the TARDIS I said that; she can be quite cross as much as any woman – don't tell your mother I said that either. And where is your mother anyway? I thought you said she'd been here as soon as we arrived!"
River almost starts weeping at just the sound of his voice – his ostentatious, rambling, gorgeous voice – she could pick it out of a voice among billions. Her hearts seem lodged in her throat, and she shouldn't hope about it at all. For a brief beat, she even thinks she's gone insane – that she's finally cracked under the endless time and space in this mainframe of never-ending stories, but the footsteps come ever-so-closer and she just turns in time to see her son and her husband striding through the gardens – and if she is going crazy, then so be it. She doesn't want sanity if the cost of it would be this moment.
The Doctor is wearing tweed and a bowtie, the Eleventh Doctor; she doesn't know what's going on but she doesn't care in that moment either; her son has changed his looks apparently, regenerated, but one look and a mother knows. Rick is handsome, dark-skinned and tall, taller than either of them, in a crisp business suit that makes him look like something straight out of a magazine.
They catch sight of her simultaneously, and River just stands there, staring, needing the support of the porch banister to remain standing.
The Doctor puffs out his chest and smiles, hands flailing a little before he settles them against the lapels of his tweed jacket. "Hi, honey," he beams. "I'm home."
And she squares her shoulders and deadpans back, "And what sort of time do you call this?"
The moment breaks a split second later and then she's running towards him and he's scooping her up in her arms, twirling her about as they both break into peels of laughter. She peppers him with kisses, still too giddy with the rush of this moment, too filled with happiness to let the anxiety of fear creep in. Please don't let this be a lie. Please don't let this be a dream. But everything is a dream in this place, and she pulls back to stare at her son.
"How?" she manages, with tears in her eyes.
Rick offers a sheepish smile, and she has to scoop him up in her arms just as well, pulling him into a hug until he grunts and pulls back. "Had a while to think about this," he admits, scratching the back of his head. "You, and this Library. Never sat well with me. I've just been waiting for Dad to shuffle off his ridiculously long mortal coil before we could do anything about it, but I reworked a few things in the mainframe and used some of the TARDIS's components to make this work."
"This?" she asks.
"You and Dad," Rick answers. "You guys are finally going to sit still for a while, together." He rolls his eyes. "Dad's been calling it retirement."
She stares, then looks back to the Doctor. "You're… you're dead?"
"Oi," the Doctor says, sounding chagrined. "No more than you, you know. Took me a little longer to reach this point than you, though. Lived another four hundred and fifty years before I finally kicked the bucket – and that's a stupid saying, kicking the bucket. How is kicking a bucket at all like dying?"
"But you look just like the Eleventh version of you."
He beams, and leans in. "Always knew that was your favorite," he says with a wink.
She's so happy and ridiculously overwhelmed that she has to pull them into a hug again, the both of them.
She looks to Rick, freezing, "But you're not—"
"Nope," he cuts in, quickly. "Just visiting. It has to be a quick trip, like – another thirty seconds or so. Sorry. The TARDIS won't be able to keep up the connection for long."
"He's been traveling for a while with me," the Doctor tells her, then frowns a little. "And the TARDIS has been playing favorites."
"You can't stay any longer?" she asks Rick.
"Sorry, Mum. This was mostly a drop-off visit. Oh, don't cry! I did this so you wouldn't be sad."
"Oh, I'm not sad, you idiot," she tells him, tells them both, still crying. "Do you—do you have any idea what it's like to see you both after all this time?"
"Twenty seconds left," Rick informs.
She spends ninety percent of it just hugging him for dear life, wondering about his life, his regeneration, where and when he was going to go next with the TARDIS. The next mad man with a blue box, and she really needs to stop crying; she doesn't want the last moments he has with her to be filled with tears, but they aren't sad tears – they're really not. Every mother has to let go of her children, and she couldn't be prouder of him.
She tells him all this in some mad, rash ramble that would make the Doctor proud.
"Be safe," Rick tells them both. "And don't let retirement make you dull."
She clasps hands with the Doctor as he says, "As if we knew how. And don't you worry about us! Just take care of the TARDIS, and she'll take care of you!"
"Of course, Dad."
She watches him dematerialize seconds later, leaving her leaning heavily against the Doctor for support because it's felt like she's just run an emotional marathon. She turns towards her husband, resting her chin on his shoulder, peering up at his tuff of hair and that beautiful, youthful face – and he is definitely right. This is her favorite version of him.
"Another four hundred and fifty years after I was gone, eh?" she asks him.
"Missed you every single day," he informs.
She leans over to press a kiss against his cheek. "Tell me about them. Tell me about Rick, and my parents. Tell me about everyone – everything."
He kisses her softly, and promises, "Of course. There's no more need for spoilers."