A/N: I don't know why I wrote this. Honest to god, I don't, especially when I've got like four other fics I've been neglecting, and I'm so sorry for that. Really sorry. But um, I became obsessed with Doctor Who last summer. And then I became obsessed with River/Doctor. And then, well, I suppose this was inevitable, wasn't it? So, attempt to enjoy my first Doctor Who fic!
Well, y'know. enjoy it as much as you can. It is Darillium, after all.
River Song paced up and down the living room of her flat, twisting her fingers together and chewing on her bottom lip almost nervously. She was wearing her favourite dress - his favourite dress too, she thought with a flicker of a smile - and her hair was done just so. Relax, River, it's just another date night, nothing is different, why are you so worked up?
But it felt different, there was no denying that. She knew she was getting really rather late in their timey-wimey relationship, and as much as she hated to think about it she knew these days were some of her last with the Doctor. The last time she had seen him was at the crash of the Byzantium, and she knew she was dangerously close to the end when she was introduced to her own mother like a total stranger. That had hurt, though she didn't show it. She couldn't show it if she wanted to.
A sharp knock on the door startled her out of her thoughts. She took a moment to smooth her hands over the dress and check everything one last time in the hall mirror before pulling the door open and beaming. Yes, this was definitely her Doctor, the Doctor she hadn't seen in far too long. "You've gotten a hair cut?"
"And, a new suit!" He twirled around to show it off, caught one foot on the other and very nearly tripped into the flowerbed. He steadied himself as River giggled and gave her what he hoped was his most charming grin. "What do you think?"
"It's lovely, sweetie. What's the occasion?"
Pain flashed across his face, for no more than a second, but long enough for her to notice and furrow her brow with worry. A moment later his usual grin was back in place. "No reason. Can't a man treat his wife every now and again?"
"Oh, I should hope so," she agreed, chuckling, and he offered his arm.
"Shall we, Ms. Song?"
"We shall, Doctor."
He led her towards the police box on the lawn, hesitating for only a moment to point his sonic over one shoulder and lock the front door. River couldn't help but hurry ahead into the TARDIS, breathing a sigh of relief as soon as she was inside. "I've missed the old girl," she admitted once he had joined her, though they both could hear the undercurrent of her words all too clearly. I've missed you. I haven't seen you, this you, in so very long, I was almost starting to think it was finished for me.
He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. "I know you have," he murmured into her hair. "I'm sorry."
She relaxed into his embrace, savouring the feeling. "Don't be," she said, though her voice was light and carefree - a far cry from what she really felt. "I'm here now, that's all that matters." She turned in his arms and kissed his cheek, regaining her composure before slipping away and sashaying up to the console. "So, where are we off to this time?"
There it was again, a momentary wince of hurt, one that she chalked up to feeling guilty about staying away so long, before he all but skipped up to join her. "Darillium!" he chirruped, throwing a lever and sending them off into the vortex. "They've got these towers there, three of them, great big things a kilometre tall each. They're made of this... stuff, it reflects light like nothing else, so it's like they're glowing all the time. And that's not even the best part, because the towers there sing. Literally, sing - well, no, that's a lie, they don't sing, it's more like they hum. No words, just a melody -" He paused, flashing her a goofy grin. "A melody for my Melody. It's supposedly one of the most beautiful sounds in the universe."
River snorted at the Melody jibe and sat back in the jump seat, crossing one leg over the other. "Supposedly?"
"Supposedly. I've never been." There was a trace of his usual self there, his eyes glinting with child-like excitement, but something was still wrong, something she couldn't quite place.
She hesitated. "Sweetie, has something happened?" she asked carefully. He danced around the console for a moment, flicking switches that didn't need to be flicked and turning dials that didn't need to be turned before answering.
"No, why do you ask?"
"Is something going to happen?"
He faltered then, the spring in his step disappearing and his hands stilling on the controls and that was answer enough for her. "You know I can't tell you that," he said quietly.
She stood up and in three long strides she was at his side, one hand covering his on the zig-zag plotter. "You already have," she admitted, and when he met her eyes his were full of sorrow. She searched his expression, trying desperately to think of something, anything she could say to make it go away. "But whatever is going to happen, we're together now. Remember that. We're together now, and whatever is going to happen isn't going to ruin tonight. Okay?"
"River..." he started, but she effectively cut him off with a kiss.
"You talk too much. Spoilers." The teasing spark in her eye was gone as quickly as it had come. "Promise me, Doctor, tell me that tonight you'll live in the moment and not worry about whatever's troubling you. Please."
For a long moment, all that could be heard was the steady thrum of the engines. Finally, the Doctor nodded. "I promise," he managed. She gave him a relieved little smile, though it was a moment before the sadness truly left either of their eyes. There was another pause, and the Doctor drew a long breath to compose himself before clapping his hands, grinning and shouting, "Okay!" loud enough to make her jump and laugh. "Darillium, we're off to Darillium, the Singing Towers... of... Darillium." He punctuated each word by operating a control on the console, and the TARDIS landed with her usual cries of protest.
"You've left the brakes on again," River commented, taking the coat he offered with a smirk.
"I love that noise, it's a brilliant noise!" he insisted as usual, tucking his sonic into his pocket. His face did a funny thing then, falling for a fraction of a second and then brightening before she entirely noticed. "And, I've got something for you."
"I do." He tapped her on the nose, grinning from ear to ear. "Stay right here." He disappeared into the TARDIS's corridors and she rolled her eyes, waiting patiently for him to come skidding back into the console room. "Catch!" He tossed a rectangular box at her and she plucked it effortlessly out of the air, smirking.
"TARDIS blue," she observed, running her thumb over the wrapping paper. He nodded and gestured for her to open it. She unwrapped the paper carefully and lifted the lid, and for a moment she stared at the object inside, not quite believing what she was seeing. She looked up at him again, and he was still looking extremely pleased with himself. "Where on Earth...?" she asked softly, lifting the sonic screwdriver out of the box and twirling it between her fingers. She activated it curiously, making sure it was real, and they both jumped when a shower of sparks burst from one of the lights.
"It's not from Earth, silly, I made it here. Do you like it?"
"Oh, I love it... but whatever is it for?"
"Our anniversary, of course!"
She gave him a look. "Have you forgotten when our anniversary is? Again?"
He tried to look offended, though it came out closer to sheepish than anything else. "Didn't forget," he mumbled, "Wasn't my fault sexy dropped me off a week later. No, not where you're coming from it's not, but you've forgotten that we're standing in a time machine. I could make it our anniversary with a press of a button... yes, alright, that was a clever excuse to give you a gift, because maybe I'm feeling particularly nice tonight, and maybe giving you a sonic screwdriver is the highest honour I could bestow upon you - unless you'd rather me take it back?"
He pretended to grab for the screwdriver and she laughed, holding it out of his reach. "Absolutely not, it's wonderful... thank you, honey." She spun it in her hand one more time before slipping it into her coat the way he had with his.
"You're very welcome, dear." He leaned forward and placed a kiss on her forehead before pulling back and beaming excitedly again, reaching for her hand. "Well, come on then!"
Pushing her worries to the back of her mind, River followed with a broad smile. The Doctor threw the doors open, and instantly a song floated in and filled the console room. It was faint, far-off, but just loud enough to make River stop and gasp at the sound of it. "That's nothing, once you're actually there, it's supposed to be mind-blowing," the Doctor said excitedly, pulling her out of the TARDIS at something just short of a run.
He had parked them at the bottom of a hill, half-tucked into a lush forest. It was a clear night, stars pinpricking the dark sky, and the higher they climbed the better they could hear the towers' song. When they reached the peak, they both stopped dead, taking in the view.
The hill they stood on stretched around in a great horseshoe, making up the sides of a massive valley. The open space played host to an inlet of water, connecting two bodies of water - on the outside, the sea, which spilled into the valley and became a series of shallow tide pools. And rising up from those were the Singing Towers of Darillium. They shone the colour of ivory even in the dark, glowing almost eerily, and true to the Doctor's words they emitted a sound unlike anything River had ever heard - a voiceless tune, like a million voices humming in perfect harmony with no real form, just an ever-changing, twisting, breathtaking melody.
"It's beautiful," she said softly after a few minutes, feeling as though if she spoke any louder it would ruin the atmosphere. She tore her gaze away to look back at the Doctor and was mildly alarmed to see tears tracing down his cheeks. "Doctor?"
"Not as beautiful as you," he whispered, pulling her into a hug and kissing the top of her head. "Not as beautiful as you, my gorgeous River Song. I love you, you know."
She leaned back and reached up to brush his tears away, smiling faintly. "I know, of course I know, you sentimental old fool. Why are you crying?"
He only shook his head, lips curled into the saddest of smiles, still shedding silent tears. She realized that she wasn't going to get any answer out of him and shrugged her coat off, exposing her bare arms to the warm summer air and pulling him down to sit with her. He shifted, arranging her in his lap with her back against his chest, and they sat like that for what could have been an eternity, listening to the towers sing, each of them lost in their own thoughts.
The next thing River was aware of was movement, swaying from side to side with the obvious intentions of being gentle but failing spectacularly. She blinked her eyes open, trying to remember when they had closed in the first place, to find that the Doctor had gathered her in his arms and was carrying her carefully back down the hill towards the TARDIS. "I can walk, you know," she reminded him, and he yelped with surprise, jumped half a foot in the air, and sent them both tumbling head over heels down the rest of the slope.
The Doctor scrambled to his feet first and hurried over to where River was picking herself up a few feet into the forest. " River, I am so sorry..."
"I hate you."
"You were asleep, I thought, and then suddenly you were talking -"
"Still hate you." She grabbed his shoulders and used them to pull herself up to his level, pecking him on the lips to stop the string of apologies still falling from them. "Come on then, back to the TARDIS."
The Doctor frowned. "But you're awake now, don't you want to go back to the towers?"
River gave a low chuckle. "I'm awake now, yes, but I can think of quite a few other things we could do instead, can't you?" There was a moment before the Doctor fully registered her words, and when he did he grinned again.
"Oh, I think I can."
"What are we waiting for then?"
"Doctor! Doctor, where've you gone now...?"
The all-too familiar Scottish accent made both River and the Doctor freeze, their grins disappearing. River gave him the best scowl she could muster. "Doctor, why is my mother yelling from the TARDIS?" she asked, her voice dangerously calm.
He looked between her and the portion of the TARDIS just visible through the trees, scratching at the side of his face awkwardly. "Um?"
"Well I had hoped they would stay out of our way!" he exclaimed, his arms flailing outwards, and she rolled her eyes and pushed past him.
"I definitely hate you," she shot over her shoulder.
"No, you don't!" he called back, but she had already stepped out of the forest.
Amy was standing in the doorway of the TARDIS, looking around with a frown. As soon as her gaze fell on River, it evaporated to be replaced by a bright smile. "River, what are you doing here?"
"Well, I was in the middle of a date with my husband," River retorted, pretending to sound miffed, but smiled back and allowed herself to be pulled into a tight hug. She had missed this Amy almost as much as she had missed the Doctor who jogged up and hugged both women from behind.
"Ah, all my Ponds together again!" he said happily.
"Dad's here too?" River asked hopefully.
"Of course dad's here too." The Doctor led them both back inside the TARDIS, where the Roman in question was just entering the console room.
They spent a few minutes catching up while the Doctor sent them back into the vortex again. "Well, I am glad you're all here, it saves me the trouble of tracking you down," River admitted, and when three pairs of eyes fixed on her, confused, she smiled. "I have an announcement."
Rory stiffened visibly and Amy clapped her hands over her mouth, looking between River and the Doctor with wide eyes. "Oh my god, you aren't -"
"No!" she said quickly. "No, sorry, that... no. What I was going to say was - I'm a professor now. And a little while ago I was approached by a colleague of mine..."
Nobody noticed the Doctor's grip tighten on the console until his knuckles turned white. Nobody noticed the way his shoulders tensed and his teeth ground together, nobody noticed his desperate struggle not to run from the room and shut himself away from the universe for a very, very long time. And - he was very glad for this - nobody noticed the single tear he allowed to roll down his cheek, because he knew exactly what his wife was about to announce.
"... an entire planet, imagine it, a library that spans an entire world..." Her voice was full of excitement. "The leader, Mr. Lux, he's a real piece of work, but everyone else on the team is perfectly lovely, I'm really looking forward to it."
"Oh, River, that sounds so exciting!" Amy exclaimed. "We're so proud of you, when do you leave?"
"Tomorrow afternoon, actually..."
The Doctor's head snapped up at that. Tomorrow afternoon. He could just remember an overheard conversation between Donna, Anita and Other Dave all that time ago at the Library. Four days on a ship...
Give or take, River Song had four days to live. River Song, his wife, his friend, the beautiful and brilliant and unstoppable River Song would be dead in a matter of days. It hit him at last, the horrible truth - and worse still, this wasn't just the last time he was going to see the love of his life. This was the last time Amy and Rory were going to see their daughter.
And it was his fault.
He threw a lever, knowing the TARDIS would take them where he wanted for once - though ironically, it was also the last place in all of time and space he truly wanted to be. "Sweetie?" He fixed on a grin and turned back to the family looking up at him expectantly. Just as he knew she would, River saw right through him, and stepped away from her parents to take him aside. "Tell me what's wrong."
"Nothing's wrong." He couldn't look at her, not now. He kept his gaze locked on the floor.
"Something is wrong and everyone knows it. Now, I don't give a damn about spoilers any longer, you tell me what's bothering you right now," she hissed.
"Look at me." Something in her voice made him finally meet her blue-green eyes, and he realized with a pang that they were full of tears. "I want to help you."
"You can't." Can she? No, of course she can't... but what if she could?
"Is this about the Library?" she pressed, and his breath caught for just a moment. "I know something was bothering you that whole time, and that's all we were talking about..." She stopped for a moment. "I won't go."
"I'm not going on the expedition, I'll conveniently come down with the flu and back out."
He stared at her in disbelief for a long moment. As much as he wanted to beg her not to go, help her to create some mysterious illness to keep her far away from the Library, he didn't know what kind of damage it would cause to their timelines - maybe even to the universe. And beyond that, he could hear a faint trace of disappointment in her voice and he knew just how much she wanted to go. He steeled himself for what felt like the millionth time that night and fixed on a stern look. "Absolutely not, you've clearly been looking forward to this, you aren't going to back out on it now."
"I am too, if that's what's hurting you," she said stubbornly.
"Nothing is hurting me, and you're going on that expedition."
"Spoilers. There's a difference."
"Whatever." She was still frowning at him and her eyes had gone that one shade of green it always was when she was about to cry, and he sighed, reaching out to brush a strand of hair behind her ear and cup her face in one hand. His thumb reached up to brush away a stray tear and he mustered an encouraging, though otherwise false smile.
"I'm fine. Really, I am - and besides, you said it yourself, we were going to live in the moment tonight, remember?" She began to nod but opened her mouth to speak, and he cut across her quickly. "Well then relax, everything is okay." His gaze shifted for a second and his smile became a little bit genuine. "And your parents are giving us funny looks, we really should get back to them."
She barked a laugh at that, looking over at her parents and back to him with a faint grin. "Alright, alright... I'll try if you will. And remember that I love you, no matter what."
He managed to chuckle and kissed her forehead. "I will. And I love you, too." They stood like that for a moment, him with his hands on either side of her face and his lips on her forehead, her with her hands gripping his wrists and her eyes closed. The Doctor was the first to move, pulling back and giving her a grin before wandering back to her parents. She followed, but not before throwing a lever on the console with a smirk. I'm not going home, not yet.
They spent some time in the console room, catching up and chatting. River couldn't remember the last time she had been lucky enough to do such a thing, and relished every moment. It wasn't until Amy interrupted River's retelling of an eventful evening involving Jack Harkness and a Silurian with a jaw-cracking yawn that the Doctor insisted the reunion come to an end. "Goodnight, sweetie," Amy said with a smirk, pulling River into another hug. "We'll see you again soon, yeah?"
"I hope so," River replied, hugging Rory and frowning slightly. "You will if I have any say in the matter." She looked over Rory's shoulder at the Doctor, but he had managed to put on a remarkable poker face and was smiling warmly.
"Go on, to bed with you," he said, gesturing towards the stairs.
Amy narrowed her eyes. "If I didn't know better I'd say you just want us out of your hair so you two can -"
"Goodnight!" Rory said quickly, grabbing Amy's arm and towing her away from a red-faced Doctor and River, who had collapsed into the seat in a fit of laughter.
"Stop laughing, they're going to kill me!" the Doctor squeaked once they had gone.
"Oh, honey... well, let's make your last night memorable, shall we?" River purred, and they shared a look before taking off down the corridors of the TARDIS hand-in-hand.
River lingered on her doorstep, not quite ready to leave. Despite being on the TARDIS for hours, it had been mere minutes since she left the flat. She gave the Doctor a sad little smile, leaning up against the doorframe. "Thank you," she said quietly. "For everything."
"You say that as if it's the last time we're going to see each other," the Doctor retorted with a weak chuckle.
A beat of silence, and then, "No."
"Rule one, the Doctor lies."
"Not this time."
"Why don't I believe you?"
"Because you, my lovely River, are impossibly stubborn." He grinned a little and tapped her nose with a finger. She managed a thin smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.
"I should go," she said after a moment, sighing. "I still have to finish packing and I need to be up early."
"Of course." He nodded and took a long breath through his nose, forcing himself to almost-smile back.
River rose up on her toes and kissed him tenderly. "Goodbye, my love."
"Goodbye, River Song." It was a miracle he managed to choke the words at all. She smiled at him again - one last time, he thought - stepped inside, and gave him a little nod before closing the door.
"Explain," Amy demanded as soon as he re-entered the TARDIS. He stopped short for a moment, startled at her sudden appearance at the top of the stairs, wrapped in a housecoat with her arms crossed over her chest. Clearly she had either woken up or not been able to sleep. He shook his head, feeling like a stubborn child, and ignored her, starting the ship up and taking them away from River's flat. "Does this have something to do with River?" Amy tried, joining him, and after a tense pause the Doctor nodded once, though he wouldn't turn away from the console. "Well then I have a right to know, she's my daughter."
"I can't," he said, his voice cracking.
"Amelia!" He turned on her, snapping suddenly, the pain and the grief rapidly becoming fury. She stumbled back half a step, her eyes wide with confusion and something he refused to accept as fear. "I can't tell you, Amy, not right now, and I won't, so do not ask me again!"
She stared at him for a long moment. "Doctor, I -" she began, her voice softer, but he cut her off.
"No! Just... go, please, I cant... I need to be alone." He turned away again, studying the Gallifreyan writing on the console intently. There was silence for a minute before he heard her footsteps shuffling away, and he stood there a while longer before throwing a lever and trusting the TARDIS to take him - well, anywhere, he wasn't going to be picky. All he knew was that he needed an escape. He threw himself into the seat and pulled a hand over his face, sitting there in silence until the TARDIS landed.
He didn't fully register where he was until he had closed the doors behind him.
It was just the way he had remembered it. The room was massive, the ceiling soaring high overhead, sunlight streaming through the windows and creating patches of light on the hardwood floor. The great circular desk sat abandoned, the computers unused and dusty, the colours in the tapestries fading. How long had it been since the last time he was here, he wondered, and then the grief crashed over him again and his hearts constricted. "Why did you bring me here?" he demanded of his ship, but she didn't respond. Of course. He turned and pulled roughly on the door, but it stayed firmly shut. It wouldn't open inwards, either, no matter how many times he tried - and then he was pounding relentlessly on the wood, shouting curses and pleas and her name over and over, in English and Gallifreyan and a million other languages, begging her not come here, begging his ship to take him anywhere else in the universe. Bad Wolf Bay or Canary Wharf, that he could handle. Donna's house would be a relief. Even going back to Darillium would be a blessing, because it wouldn't be the Library, and that was exactly what he needed.
Eventually he quieted, sliding down the police box to sit on the cold floor, his face buried in his hands. He sat there for what could have been seconds, or hours or weeks or maybe even years, weeping quietly. It wasn't until he heard a gentle whirring that he looked up, and his gaze fell on the statue by the help desk, which was turning to face him.
This is cold. Even by your standards, this is cold. He thought her words echoed to him through time and space, or maybe it was just his memories, but he was too shocked to care either way. He wondered if this was payback for everything he had done to her, all the times he had hurt her, because this was just cruel. He stood slowly and made his way over to the statue, and now he saw why Donna had been so disgusted at the idea of putting human faces on statues. Her blue-green eyes stared blankly into his own, her lips curled into a small, polite, and entirely false smile. She looked so different without her usual mane of curls framing the face, but there wasn't a doubt in his mind that it belonged to her.
"River..." he breathed, and his hand raised of its own volition to stroke along her jaw the way it always had.
"I am courtesy node 710/aqua. Please enjoy the Library, and respect the personal access codes of all your fellow readers, regardless of species, or hygiene taboo." He flinched, because it was her voice, her face, and he didn't know where the other woman's face had gone and he wasn't sure he entirely preferred this one. In fact, he was positive he didn't prefer this, because all it did was remind him that she was gone.
He heard the TARDIS door open and two sets of feet started towards him. Then, a gasp from a woman and a startled yelp from a man reached his ears, and the Doctor closed his eyes. He wasn't looking forward to this. "Why is River's face... that's not really... is it?" Rory asked.
"Where are we, what happened to her, why are we here?" Amy demanded, her voice shaking.
The Doctor was quiet for a long moment. "The Library. It's an entire world... a library that takes up an entire planet, the core is an index computer and the shelves are full of every book ever written. It's been abandoned now, the place is teeming with swarms of Vashta Nerada - don't worry about them, just stay out of the shadows..." He shook his head, distracted, and took a deep breath. Do it quick, like a band-aid, he reminded himself. "Tomorrow for her, and a very long time ago for me, River Song is going to leave on an expedition to investigate this place. And I'm so sorry, but she isn't going to come back."
The silence that met his words was deafening. "Excuse me?" Rory said finally, his voice full of disbelief.
"Please, Rory, don't make me say it again."
"No, I heard you... she... what?"
"Save her then." Amy's voice was flat an emotionless, and that was what finally made him turn. Both their faces were white as sheets. Rory's eyes were darting around the room, his eyebrows pulled together, clearly trying to process the information, and Amy's hands were beginning to tremble.
The Doctor started to step forwards, reaching for her, but decided against it at the last moment and clasped his hands behind him, looking down at their shoes. "I can't."
"Yes you can, you've got a bloody time machine," Amy snapped, and now he could hear the grief begin to enter her voice. "You save her. Save my little girl."
"Even if I wanted to - and believe me, Amelia, I do - I couldn't, the timelines are too complicated and I can't be sure if it's safe -"
"I don't care!" Now Rory was protesting, and fleetingly the Doctor wondered if he would run him through with his sword from his Roman days. Part of him thought it would be a blessing. The rest of him agreed. "I don't care about safe, she's our daughter, she's your wife, why won't you try?"
"That's not how it works, I just can't!"
"Then what is the point of you?" Amy accused, and her words hurt him as much as they did the first time she spoke them.
"I don't know!" the Doctor roared, and both Ponds flinched. "I don't know," he repeated, his voice soft and broken, and for a horrible while all he could do was stand there while Amy sobbed into Rory's chest and he buried his face in her hair, his shoulders shaking with silent tears. "I'm so sorry," he whispered, needing them to believe him. "So, so sorry, you have no idea..."
"I think I do, actually," Amy said thickly, raising her head and gazing at him with puffy eyes. Rory looked over and they stood like that for a minute before he led Amy back into the TARDIS without a word.
"I'm sorry," the Doctor called again, but the only reply was the click of the doors shutting behind them. He lowered himself to half-sit on the desk, his gaze sweeping around the room, and he must have cried himself out before because his face remained dry. "I'm sorry."
"Tell me about that day."
Amy's voice was soft and sad just like he had expected, but that didn't stop his hearts nearly bursting with joy at the sound of it, because neither of the Ponds had spoken one word to him for days. He looked up from the swing seat under the console and pulled off his goggles, giving her a concerned look.
"Please, Doctor. You were there, I know you were, and I want to know what happened there. I need to know."
And so he told her, the words falling from his lips effortlessly, much to his surprise. He told her of the message on the psychic paper, of Donna's horror at the statues, of the eerily quiet planet and the security camera that was, in a way, a little girl. He told her of the expedition's rather explosive entrance and the way she had smiled up at him from inside that helmet and the way he and Donna had torn up Lux's contracts, and she had laughed at that - the sound was small and hoarse but it was an honest-to-god laugh from Amelia Pond, and he had to grin back. He told her all about the Vashta Nerada and the fate of Miss Evangalista and the concept of ghosting, and he knew by the creak of the glass floor overhead that Rory had joined them and was listening, too. He appeared at Amy's side and took her hand while the Doctor carried on about Other Dave chasing after them and Donna disappearing. He told them about Anita, about the planet self-destruct and about finally learning the truth about CAL and talking the Vashta Nerada into allowing them a day to save everyone. And then he was telling them about the way she had knocked him out and handcuffed him, hooking herself up to the computer rather than him, and the words were coming as easily as they had before and he couldn't quite believe it was possible, and all three of them were crying now but rather than the heartbroken sobbing he had anticipated, their tears were light little streams and nobody made a sound. His voice was quiet when he spoke of the 4,022 people - including Donna - that had been returned to reality, and of the last run he had with River in order to save her.
And then he and Donna were flying off in the phone box again, off on another adventure, and he closed his eyes and leaned back in the seat, finished with the story and emotionally drained. It was a few minutes before anyone spoke, and it was Rory who broke the silence. "You said you saved her."
"To a computer, nothing more."
"You still saved her."
The Doctor smiled sadly. "To a computer, Rory. Her consciousness lives on in that virtual world, yes, but physically..." The smile disappeared, and guilt was beginning to creep back up on him. "She can't possibly like it there. It'll be too mundane, I shouldn't have trapped her there like that, she'd be better off -"
"Don't you dare say that," Amy said, cutting him off. "Don't..." She sighed, and after a pause she smiled faintly. "She's River Song, she's Melody Pond, do you really think she won't figure out some way to make that reality as exciting as this one was for her?"
"No, I just -"
"Well then shut up."
"I killed her though!" He insisted, his voice catching. "Don't you see, it's my fault! She died because of me -"
"You said she did it herself." Pain flashed across Rory's features for a moment, and no wonder - regardless of how they were acting, they couldn't be over such a thing so quickly.
"Because I didn't stop her first!"
"Because she punched you and knocked you out," Amy pointed out.
"Why won't you be angry with me?" the Doctor demanded suddenly, and both Ponds looked completely nonplussed. "I sent your daughter to her death and I didn't do a thing about it! I let her kill herself in that Library, I could have done more but I didn't, you should hate me!"
"How can we possibly hate you? You didn't know her then, you didn't know us, how were you supposed to know any of this was going to happen?"
He looked between the two of them helplessly. "I... I'm.. I don't know." He sighed heavily and buried his face in his hands. "I'm so sorry."
Amy blinked, a memory surfacing suddenly of the three of them in the bubble universe discussing the Time Lords. 'You want to be forgiven.' 'Don't we all?' His voice was the same now, tight and pained, and she sighed, stepping forwards, crouching, and taking both his hands in hers. "I know you are. And I don't just forgive you, Doctor. I thank you."
He looked up at her with puppy eyes. "Why, whatever for?"
"For loving her," she said simply. "You loved her, and she loved you, and you made her so happy, I hope you know that. And as a mother I really couldn't ask for anything more."
"Agreed." Rory nodded firmly. "Thank you, Doctor. You're forgiven."
The Doctor was quiet, acknowledging their words with only a nod. "You shouldn't be comforting me," he croaked finally.
Amy frowned. "Why not? She was your wife."
"She was your daughter."
"She is our friend," Rory put in, and the Doctor and Amy looked up at him with their brows knitted together. "She's our friend, whether she's Melody or Mels or River. She's a good friend, and a good wife, and a good daughter. And I really don't think she'd want us to be acting this way, do you?"
The Doctor frowned, feeling like a small child being scolded. "Well no, she wouldn't, but I can't exactly help it," he said grudgingly.
"You could try," Rory pointed out, raising an eyebrow, and the Doctor sighed.
"I could try," he agreed, smiling faintly, and the silence that followed wasn't awkward or sad like the others had been, but it was almost respectful - a moment of silence in her memory, the Doctor thought bitterly, his hearts twisting in his chest.
"Doctor?" Amy asked quietly after a minute, and he looked at her questioningly. "Could we go somewhere nice? Anywhere at all? Only we've been cooped up in here too long, and -"
"Say no more." The Doctor smiled genuinely then, jumping to his feet and half-skipping up to the console. "Do you have anything in mind, Mr. and Mrs. Pond?"
Amy and Rory joined him. Their faces were still lined with sadness, and really, he couldn't blame them if he tried. But they were both smiling just a little bit, and he knew that they were trying to follow Rory's advice the same way he was, because it rang true. The last thing she would have wanted was for them to spend their time moping. Amy shrugged her shoulders. "You're the captain."
"Technically, she's the captain, I just press the buttons," he reminded her, nodding towards the console, and Amy rolled her eyes. "Fine, fine... you heard the ginge, take us somewhere nice, anywhere at all." He flashed the Ponds a grin and threw a lever, and for a moment he swore he heard her laugh in his ear along with those of her parents. He smiled to himself, his voice barely a whisper when he spoke again, repeating words he had overheard her saying all that time ago. "Next stop, everywhere."
It rained on my face a little bit while writing this. NO REGRETS.
Yep. There we have it. The ending's a bit rubbish but I don't tend to hold much control over my own writing, it just... happened. So, what d'you think? If you'd be so kind to shoot your thoughts down in a review, that would be rather lovely...