Disclaimer: I don't own them, I just adore them.
The Ponds were asleep. Again. They seemed to do an awful lot of that sleeping business, even for humans. In any case, the Doctor was bored. And, madman with a box that he was, boredom wasn't something he tolerated very well. Unfortunately, he had promised Amy he wouldn't do anything dangerous while she and Rory slept, and he was still feeling rather guilty about that time he was 12 years late to rescue her, girl-who-waited and so-on, so he thought he should probably keep his promise. Luckily for him, he thought of something that would not be (alright, well, it was fairly unlikely to be, anyway, but you never quite know with her) dangerous, yet certainly exciting (his spine shivered in expectation), and provided that the TARDIS cooperated and made sure his bedroom was far enough from her parents, and he got her to keep the screaming down a bit, wouldn't bother the Ponds at all. Boredom indeed. The Time Lord and his almost Time Lady were never bored together.
However, the Doctor, knowing he had several hours to kill before the snoozing Ponds awoke, decided he could at least make this special for River. His River. Oh he did love that look she got on her face when he surprised her, and this would be the perfect opportunity. He didn't know how long he'd be able to whisk her away for, and the Ponds were in the TARDIS, so he probably shouldn't make this a birthday visit (those were his favorite – once after a somewhat disastrous adventure he spent a week hopping from birthday to birthday to cheer himself up) …maybe he would just make up a holiday. Yes, that sounded wonderful! Leaping up from the couch in the console room and clapping his hands together, he did a brief twirl before wandering excitedly around the room, trying to come up with the best holiday. River day? - no, too obvious. River's hair day? – well, that was good, but he'd save it for another time. What else did River love…well, him of course (he smiled smugly to himself), but Doctor day would be a bit too self-serving. Lipstick day? Yes! Perfection. Now, to make a cake.
An hour later, the Doctor placed his small round (ish) cake in the console room, leaving a ridiculous mess behind in the TARDIS kitchen, but growing increasingly pleased with himself as the night went on. He had scrawled "Happy Lipstick Day, River!" across the cake in red frosting above a pair of kissy-faced lips, modeled to the best of his abilities after River's own, though he'd had to take a short breather while calling to mind that image, as it was a bit on the distracting side. He had even come up with some clever lines about River and lipstick to sprinkle into his conversation. This was going to be absolutely perfect!
Now that he was thoroughly prepared, all that was left was to pick up River. He wanted to be as surprising as possible, so he followed River's instructions to make the TARDIS invisible the silent way, hooked up the scanner properly also according to her instructions - really, if he wasn't so excited to see her at this point he would be a bit cross about driving the TARDIS according to her instructions - and finally, turned the break off. When and where should he get her, then? Definitely Stormcage, as it added an extra bonus of happy-to-see-you-sweetie whenever he was breaking her out of jail. Not that she needed him to break her out for most of her timeline, oh but anyway, back to the point. He dialed in her cell in Stormcage as the destination, and thought he would let the TARDIS pick the when. She always seemed to have a good grasp on the timeline of his River, child of the TARDIS that she was. All he asked was that it was a time River would be particularly surprised to see him.
River's cell came into focus on the scanner as the TARDIS materialized outside of it, and the Doctor realized he should have been more specific. His old/young face contorted into a deep frown and he smashed a fist onto the TARDIS controls. "HAPPY surprised, dammit! I wanted it to be a happy surprise!" Without tearing his eyes away from the scanner, in the way one couldn't tear one's eyes away from a train wreck, the Doctor began hitting various controls attempting to send the TARDIS back into the vortex. When he realized that the TARDIS had apparently gotten it into her mind to stay put, he punched her a bit again, though with less strength in it now, as he primarily felt defeated, and tried to assess the situation.
When he'd arrived, he had caught sight of a much younger version of himself sauntering off to the TARDIS parked on the opposite side of River's cell, giving the parting remark of "You know what they say, there's a first time for everything." Now, he remembered this moment extremely well, and yes, he had eventually realized how much of a dolt he had been, which is why he wasn't particularly interested in sticking around to see River's side of the scene play out. Undoubtedly she'd be very upset with him at the moment, and it didn't seem like an appropriate moment to surprise her with Lipstick Day. Then, as he watched the scanner while attempting to get the TARDIS to depart, he had watched it get infinitely worse. His River, his beautiful, clever River replied "And a last," as younger him dematerialized in the TARDIS, and her face just absolutely fell. He had never seen her look so utterly defeated. Even, he hated to think of it, when she died for him in the Library when he first met her, there had been more life in those wonderful, sparkling eyes of hers than there was now. Had he not been so distracted with trying to leave, he might've been able to save the situation by jumping out at that moment and saying something along the lines of "No, dear, that isn't how it works at all! You'll still get to kiss me, see?" and gently kissing the life back into her. Now, as he tapped his fist against the TARDIS controls with slowly decreasing vigor, he realized it was too late. And the TARDIS wouldn't leave, so he would have to simply watch the scene unfold until another opportunity presented itself. He had feelings, yes, and he had gotten better at that recently, what with loving River and all, but big emotions were still a bit human-y at times, and he really wasn't sure what an appropriate moment in a tragic scene such as this one would be, so he leaned against the railing behind him, and, assuming that the TARDIS wanted to torture him with the sight of his wife in an incredible amount of pain because of him, resigned himself to watching for the time being.
Meanwhile, River stood exactly where she had when she just kissed the Doctor, left hand gripping the bar of her cell, staring straight ahead. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of her mind, it dawned on her that she ought to close the door to her cell and act as though she hadn't been gone for days saving America from the Silence in case a guard came by, but she couldn't seem to bring herself to move.
He had never kissed her before. It was his first kiss, and so, it must be her last. A first time for everything, he said. Would she ever again see the man who understood the power he had over her, who initiated kisses and so much more instead of responding to her affection like a fish on dry land? It was nearly enough to make her laugh. Except it seemed her mouth wouldn't open, she was clenching her jaw so hard. The metal of the bar was pressing into her fingers as she gripped it as for dear life. How could she take it? How could she continue acting as though everything was fine, River the flirt, saying "Hello Sweetie" to a man who wouldn't even TRUST HER, for God's sake. Somehow, she knew she must, for this Doctor had clearly known her at least some, and the Doctor she knew, truly her Doctor, despite his avoidance of spoilers, had never mentioned her turning into an absolute lunatic and shooting his head off. Yet, in this moment, she truly couldn't imagine going on this way. Again, damn their timelines, she knew she couldn't kill herself tonight if he already knew her, so it seemed like, yet again, she was trapped. She was also trapped between an extreme desire to scream and an extreme desire to dissolve into tears, so it seemed her body had just decided to clench itself up and not move. With a substantial amount of mental effort, gritting her teeth even further so that her skull began to ache, she forced her left hand to slide the door shut and release the bar. As it dropped to her side to match her right arm, clenched in a fist so tight her muscles were beginning to quake, it hit the soft/hard bulge of her diary in her left pocket. At the concept of writing down her most recent adventure with the Doctor, in which she had been forced to watch herself kill him with parents who didn't know they were her parents, then subsequently told that he didn't even TRUST HER, then kissed him for the last time, the dam in the River broke.
River Song wasn't much for crying, so this was unlike anything she had ever experienced. Her body began to shiver and shake uncontrollably, and, before she even realized she had unclenched her jaw, the sound of her elevated heartrates was replaced by the sound of her howling and wailing. Deathly afraid that she would be seen in this state, she scrambled into the corner of her cell, behind her desk, and curled up into the fetal position with her back against the wall. Then the tears really began to fall, and oh how they fell. She didn't think she could stop them, and for once, she didn't want to. He wasn't there to see her, she didn't have any appearances to keep up for the Doctor who was only just beginning to know her, and it hurt. Oh how it hurt. So she let it hurt. Her fingernails began to cut into her palms as she pressed her fists against her forehead, but she didn't care. Let it hurt, let it all hurt her, she couldn't feel any worse. The same applied to the ache in the back of her skull she was getting from hitting her head against the wall behind her, and to the way her jaw hurt from how hard she was clenching it in between screams. And still, the tears continued to come. They poured down her face, darkening the cloth at her neckline and on top of her knees. She didn't bother to wipe them away. After several minutes, she settled into a steady rhythm, knocking her head against the wall, her fists against the ground, and alternating between howling and whimpering as she let herself really feel what it meant to be losing him, yet still having to face him. She continued that way for nearly an hour, and only as the hour ended did the tears begin to slow. Not because her sadness was exhausted, but because physically she was too exhausted to continue. Unable to even bother to crawl into bed, and with the pain in her head growing after an hour of gentle, and sometimes not-so-gentle pounding, she, for once, let herself cry herself to sleep in the corner of her lonely cell. Strangely, it seemed, it was the easiest she had gone to sleep in weeks now, and the sleep the deepest.
Ten minutes into watching River's collapse, the Doctor had turned from furious at himself into plain distraught. Had anyone been in the console room to observe him, they would have seen him take up a gentle chant of "River, no, oh River, no, I love you River, I'm so sorry River" muttered under his breath over and over again, though he himself didn't realize he was doing any such thing. Then, he began to wince slightly each time she hit her head against the wall, and, slowly, one by one, tears began to trail down his cheeks. He didn't sob, and really, he hardly noticed. All he could see, hear, and feel was what came at him from the scanner, from his River. Finally, as she fell asleep, without realizing what he was doing, he walked slowly down to the TARDIS door and swung it open softly. Zombie-like in his need to go to her, to fix her, to love her, he soniced open her door as quietly as he could manage, stepped inside, and picked her up. He was stronger than he looked, the Doctor, and when his River needed him, he was stronger than he knew he could be. He nearly sobbed aloud as he caught sight, close-up, of her tear-stained face and clothes, but he clenched his jaw in an echo of hers from earlier and simply walked her into the TARDIS. She was so deeply asleep and exhausted in every way that she didn't wake, but as he placed her so gently on the console room couch, her hand slid down his side and in her slumber, she grabbed onto his hand. Just barely resisting crying out again, he gripped hers tightly, and the ghost of a smile formed on her lips. Sitting down on the floor next to her prone form, he took their clasped hands to his mouth and gently pressed his mouth to her knuckles. There he sat for who knows how long, staring at the profile of her face until she began to stir.
River awoke slowly, her mind groggily dredging up the memory of where she was and what she had been doing. She kept her eyes closed, not wanting to face the walls of her cell and the dreary constant rain outside of Stormcage. Groaning softly, she brought her right hand up to massage the back of her head, pressing through the mess of curls to the sore spot. Leaning her head back into her hand, she touched the soft fabric of the couch and jolted upright. As she did so, she yanked her left hand out of the doctor's grip, pulling him out of his own silent reflection.
Seeing the Doctor, River exhaled slowly and tried to gather the strength to pretend that nothing was wrong. She gave him a weak smile and said, "Hello Sweetie" as cheekily as she could manage, which, admittedly, was not very cheekily at all. Assuming that he was the relatively young Doctor who had just had his first kiss, and that he had somehow decided to come back to check on her, she began trying to make an excuse for her appearance. "I know it doesn't look good, but I was just so tire-"
"River, no. Don't. It's me River, really me. America was a long time ago for me, and I knew I was an idiot, but I was too self-satisfied to imagine this is how I made you feel."
As happy as she was to see a version of the man she knew and loved who clearly loved her back, her first thought was of what he would think of her after witnessing that breakdown. He would think she was so weak. Her eyes threatening to fill with tears again, River turned her head away from him and muttered quietly, "How much did you see?"
He slid his right hand along her left cheek and gently turned her back to look him in the eye, letting her see the tears gathering in his eyes to match her own as he replied, "Everything, River, and don't you apologize or try to hide it from me, I love you, and yes, our lives are a terrible jumble sometimes, but I love all of you, and you need to know that. I don't love you just when you're cheerful and flirty, I love you when your heart is breaking because of me and I can't think of a way to fix it, and sometimes that's what I need to see to remember who you really are and what you mean to me, my beautiful River."
At this, the jumble of relief, happiness, and remaining sadness was too much for her, and she began to cry again. He pulled himself up onto the couch next to her, swinging her legs across his lap as she buried her face in his shoulder and cried and cried and cried. He rocked her gently, and eventually the tears began to let up. As the last one fell down her cheek, he wiped it away and tilted her face up towards his. She smiled that radiant smile for the first time that night, and before he consciously thought of the idea, he was kissing her. Thinking back to that first kiss, he tried to make this one its absolute opposite. He sunk a hand into her hair as the other wrapped around her back, and he kissed her with all the affection, devotion, and skill that she had kissed him with that first time. She kissed him back hungrily, taking in the feel of his lips against hers as a woman who thought for sure she had drowned takes in an unexpected breath of air. He broke the kiss and, after catching one more tear that escaped her eyes, this one purely of joy, he whispered into her ear, "See, River, it wasn't the last. And yes, you will keep seeing younger, increasingly clueless versions of me, but I promise, however I have to do it, you will see me again, this me." Thinking back to what she had told him about Darillium, he added, "And I can promise this won't be our last kiss either."
"Oh, she replied, pulling him back for another kiss. "And ho-o-o-o-o-w, do you know that?" she asked, yawning as she said it.
"Spoilers," he replied, trying to keep the sadness out of his voice as he tilted them over to lie spooning on the couch, "Now go back to sleep, I'll be right here when you wake up. And," he leaned closer to whisper into her ear again, "I can prove that I know how to do more than just kiss you once you've had some rest." Nodding her support of this suggestion, River snuggled back into his embrace and closed her eyes. The Doctor didn't need much sleep, but he could choose to take a nap if he wanted to, so he closed his eyes as well, happy, despite his initial misgivings upon landing, that the TARDIS had taken him to this moment in River's life.
And that is how it came to be that when the Ponds awoke and groggily stumbled out into the console room they found their ever-restless Doctor and their gun-wielding daughter curled up together asleep on the couch, smiles lingering on both their faces, with a forgotten cake reading "Happy Lipstick Day, River!" growing stale off to the side.
AN: It's my first fic, so reviews are extra-appreciated. :)