Inspired by rupzydaisy's lovely series of one-shots titled Running. You guys should go check it out. Seriously. I'm not exactly happy with the ending of this one-shot (I feel it sort of just fizzles out), but oh well. You can't have everything. ~madis
"One of the good things that come of a true marriage is, that there is one face on which changes come without your seeing them; or rather there is one face which you can still see the same, through all the shadows which years have gathered upon it."
She leaves her invitation pinned to his door, signs it with two kisses, one for each heart. He's off saving the world, keeping the heavens from being stripped of its bright stars. She waits for him in the winter bare garden, watches the sun turn black as Ragnarök begins. Three winters of eternal cold, and snow the farther north you got, with never any Christmases. River sets out the dark blue blanket on the frozen dry violet grass, sets down her picnic basket next to her, and considers fairy tales.
She'd found the note telling her where to go tucked away at the beginning of her diary, where she kept the end. Their end. And while it is true she doesn't know how their first meeting will be, she sees him getting younger every, every time, slowly turning away from her into his past. Seeing this small remnant of her Doctor had almost made her cry: the way his writing hitched upwards at the corners, the way his hand had loosened as he'd caressed the word dear and love, making them just slightly bigger than the other words. You'll have fun at Asgard, the note had said. It'll be a picnic. Wear that blue sundress of yours; you know how it's always been a favorite.
She'd wondered, with a rush of girlish excitement that she hadn't felt since Mum and Dad had finally started dating, whether it'd be him: a Doctor who would know her. And it wouldn't even matter—she wouldn't mind having him not be married to her yet. Just please let him know who she is. Melody Pond. I'm Melody. It's me.
And a small, traitorous part of her hopes that it'll be the one who called her dear and signed his title with love.
She'd called in sick to work; Margary, who worked in the office and who handled such matters, said she hoped River would feel better soon, and to not forget that she had that appointment with the new intern, Anita Sharpe, come Monday.
Don't worry Margary. I won't be forgetting about Miss. Sharpe.
Margary: such a dear. She had been River's first friend at LU, back when they were students there. Young, friendless River Song, who wore sass like it was the newest fashion and who had a chip on her shoulder miles high. Margary had ignored all that, so they'd become friends anyway. When she'd told the Doctor about her new found friend, haltingly and cheeks flushing pink, because she hadn't really had a friend before, your parents didn't count, not really and truly, he'd smiled. Really, properly, truly smiled at her. He'd never done that before, and right then and there she'd decided that she was in love with him, real, proper, true love. The kind people would die for.
Yeah. Die for. That kind of love.
Once the sun reverts back to its normal color of an icy lemon-yellow, the sort of color you'd find in the insides of lemon meringue pies, River knows he's coming. She uncorks the sparkling cider and pours herself a glass. Her hearts are fluttering in her chest like birds. The Doctor had called for her. For her. He normally didn't, you know, and while leaving cryptic notes inside of diaries he wasn't supposed to be opening in the first place didn't necessarily count as normal, it still counted. And when had they ever been ones for normalcy, anyway?
She hasn't felt like this since their wedding night.
"River?" His voice cracks on the end of her name, and if she had stopped to think at all she would have considered its timber odd.
"Hello sweetie." She turns towards him, all curves and curls and an arch smile, champagne glass in one hand. And then she stops.
This isn't her Doctor. Her Doctor is awkward and fumbling, with floppy hair and a bow tie and that lantern jaw of justice. Her Doctor is sweet and cruel and terrible and lovely and sad. This man standing before her is like someone had raided the men's modeling school and found the tallest, skinniest candidate they could find and stuffed him in a suit. He is, in one word, hot. Hot with really, really great hair.
It's not fair. It's not fair. She recognizes him immediately, of course: this is Rose's Doctor. You can see it in the way he stands, in the way he squints at River and says, "What the hell are you doing here?"
Inside she is trembling. At least he still knows who you are. At least you have that.
What she says is, "Oh sweetie, don't be like that. Aren't you glad to see me?"
"Not particularly, no." He stands there, just at the edge of her blanket, one hand in the pocket of his trousers. He stares at her, face set and implacable.
"Oh come. Sit down. I've brought you a picnic." She pats the space on the blanket beside her, and after a long moment he sits, long limbs awkwardly positioning themselves in the limited space provided. She pours him a glass of cider, and he sips it thoughtfully.
"I've never liked wine," he comments.
"I know. That's why I brought cider."
He studies the pale amber liquid, twirling it around the inside of his glass.
She studies him.
After the pause grows too long, she says, "Shall we do diaries then?" and pulls out hers. The cracked binding creaks in her hands, and it opens flat, the pages loose. At his raised eyebrow she adds, "Did you honestly think I'd go without pockets? You daft man." She doesn't bother mentioning that they're bigger on the inside. That part should be obvious.
"Diaries?" he asks instead. "Isn't it just yours?"
Another blow. She covers it up with a smile. "Haven't bought yours yet, I take it."
"No . . . Ought I have?"
"Sweetie, you'll need it. Even I have trouble keeping track sometimes."
"Hm." Something behind her distracts him. Suddenly he is smiling, as if he can't help it, all over his face.
Oh, she thinks. There you are.
There he is: that impossible man.
She can see him now, in that crooked smile.
The Doctor after all.
"Look River," he says. "Spring." His voice catches on the word, shaping it funny.
Around them the garden is coming to life. It happens in a silent rush, all at once: flowers opening to the sun, demurely turning up their faces to be kissed by the sky; the huge tree next to them leafing in a sudden gasp; the grass racing down and away to cover the far distant hills in their soft violet down. After a long winter spring has finally arrived.
"Hah!" the Doctor exclaims. "The terraforming must have finally kicked in. I told them it was a stupid thing to start a war over and oh. River, you're crying."
"Don't be stupid. I'm not crying."
"You're also lying," he observes.
"Of course I'm lying. I always lie." She wipes at her tears with the backs of her fingers. "Sorry. It's just beautiful, is all." She flaps a hand to indicate the scene before them.
"Not very many people cry when they find something beautiful."
"Well, I've learned to appreciate beautiful moments whenever I can." He considers her for a moment, the way you would an extremely rare museum piece, head slightly tilted to one side. Then he sighs, and River isn't sure what's in that sigh, but it sounds like resignation.
"It's not every day I get ambushed by a hamper and a pretty lady. What's in here, anyway?" He grabs at the hamper, flipping open the lid. River reaches out, batting away his hands and snagging it back. "Ah-ah-ah," she says. "My hamper, my rules. Knowing you, you'd find the desert first."
"Oi! Not fair." He pouts, and she laughs at him.
Relief. It's called relief.
Maybe he's not her Doctor, but he's still the Doctor. The man she swore to love, no matter what shadows may come. And that makes all the difference in the world.