Vienna, March 1914
The Doctor leans absently against a pillar to the side of the room. He has been watching her move gracefully around the floor, with no end of men eager to be added to her dance card. He sees her break away from her current dance partner as the music ends; she curtsies politely.
He smiles at her as she approaches him, her bustled blue ball gown skimming the floor. Her long black hair is cascading down her shoulders in waves, its shine almost indigo in this light. Her eyes are deep sapphire, encircled by black lashes. Her thick fringe is drawn to one side revealing her eyebrow, raised, as she smirks at him. Mischief, he deduces from her expression.
She holds out two hands to take his. "Dance with me."
"Now now dear, you know I don't dance," he smiles fondly at her, "and I told you I would only bring you here on the condition that you wouldn't expect me to."
"Yes, but you say that about all sorts of things, and you normally change your mind." She pulls gently on his hands in an effort to persuade him.
"Not on this Clio." He ducks down to look into her eyes to be sure she understands. He frees one of his hands to stroke her cheek.
"Well that's no fun at all now is it?" she teases.
"Off with you now, there are at least ten more names on that card."
She releases his hand a little reluctantly. "It's a pity that there's just one man that I actually want to dance with. But he has no interest." She winks at him as she turns to be met by a blushing boy in a suit. She takes his slightly clammy hand to lead him out and he stumbles over his own legs. The Doctor grins: he knows the feeling.
On the far side of the ball room River watches the exchange. A man, who is definitely wearing a girdle under his outfit, is talking at her. His chest is puffed and his cheeks are glowing red. His voice is strained as he shifts uncomfortably on his feet. He is desperate to impress someone.
Oh yes, me! thinks River, realising that she hasn't spoken in some minutes.
"Hmm?" She turns her gaze to the man momentarily before returning it to the other side of the room.
"Do you prefer Brahms or Wagner?" he queries. She looks him up and down and can tell he's hoping for Wagner.
"Brahms. Wagner is rubbish," she responds and goes back to looking over his shoulder. "Would you excuse me?" she asks the, now almost purple, man. Without waiting for a response she moves to stand next to a pillar, her fan up to her face as she peers over it.
The Doctor is laughing at Clio's attempts to lead and the young man's scandalised reaction. His face is soft and full of love. More than a friend I think. It's not a face she has seen before but she would recognise him anywhere. She can't decide whether to approach or not.
Like so many times in her past, he takes the decision out of her hands. His grey eyes lift and lock with hers. Her hearts feel as though they have stopped beating, as though they are bound by an invisible rope that he's holding. In his eyes she sees something she has never seen before: he is floored. His jaw might as well have dropped to the ground. She lets the fan fall to her side.
The Doctor feels his hearts plunge into his shoes as he gazes across the sea of eyes and into a pair he knows better than any other. Why she thought she could hide from him behind a fan is a mystery.
She must know that he has maps of the landscape of her irises: their valleys and mountains, the arrangement of their colours, and how they flow and change with her mood and the light. He has catalogued her every emotion delivered through those beautiful eyes, he could almost read her thoughts in them by the last time he saw her.
Right now, for example, she is conflicted.
It has been so long since he last saw her he is forgetting to breathe, or perhaps he can't. But he is smiling now, laughing even. His legs are carrying him across the dance floor, cutting a straight line through the assembled dancers. His arms reach for her, encircling her small warm waist and gathering her to him. He is kissing her; he can't stop himself kissing her. "Oh River, River," he cries between fierce kisses. He breaks away to look at her, to make sure she is real, pushing her ringlets roughly out of her face.
"Doctor," she is concerned, "you're crying." She says it like she has never seen it before. She hasn't. The violent emotion that is flowing out of him now is new to her. She holds him stroking his hair under her hand, her forehead pressed to his and she feels like weeping too. Hush now.
The music plays on but the dancing has stopped. The erstwhile dancers stand with various shades of embarrassment, scandal and glee painted across their faces as they watch the scene unfolding. Amongst them is a raven-haired girl, quivering in shock as she lets her dance card flutter to the ground. She turns to leave.
"Wait, Clio!" he shouts after her but she doesn't want to wait, her legs are moving and she's not inclined to stop them.
"Wait, wait," he says, softer now, as he catches her by the arm just as she reaches the door. His voice is still thick with tears.
She turns, her face stricken.
River is suddenly unsteady; she props herself against the pillar. She observes the Doctor and Clio across the room. He is explaining something to the girl and her expression is softening. She lifts a lithe, graceful hand to the Doctor's cheek and dries a tear with her thumb. He holds her comforting hand to his face and kisses it. He lets it drop; she nods her assent and leaves.
The dancing has started again. River sees the Doctor making his way back to her, taking the less disruptive route around the floor this time. She moves to meet him. His is smiling broadly and his eyes are still hazy with tears, tears of joy. He remembers the last time, she doesn't yet.
"What did you say to her?" River enquires.
"I told her that I was going to dance with my wife," he replies lifting and swinging her in his arms, laughing and holding her perhaps a little too tightly.
"She's very understanding," she quips, surreptitiously trying to glean information.
As usual he doesn't take the bait. "Yes, yes she is."
"So, what about this dance? So strange to see you on the side-lines just now, not like you."
"No River Song, it's not one bit like me."
He takes her hand and spins her towards the dance floor. Turning her into his arms, he holds her firmly and leads her in a waltz. Her feet match his, step for step, and he presses his cheek to hers. She can feel his smile and her hearts race. She had always wondered how he could be so often clumsy, but then be so composed on the dance floor. Just as the thought strikes her again, he deftly slips his arm into the small of her back and dips her over it. The blood rushes to her head and she laughs. He is staring down at her with both eyebrows raised, wearing an expression that she can only describe as, Well, what do you think of that? The music ends and he eases her back into an upright position drawing her close, his hand stroking her back. She rests her face on his chest and breathes him in.
The usual question is not asked: When are we for you? Although she has her diary secreted on her person, she doesn't need to ask. The clues are all there: his new face and how he is behaving. He hasn't seen her in a very, very long time. River always knew that he would go on living long after she had gone, and that she might meet versions of him that know how she dies. This version certainly does, and she doesn't want to think too much about that. All she wants to think about is that he is here now, and she is here with him.
She only saw him yesterday, a younger him. He turned up at Stormcage to bring her to see the silver lakes of Pleneron. Of course, they couldn't land as the lakes were enormous pools of mercury, but they watched from orbit as the lakes rolled about on the surface of the planet. Afterward they did some rolling about of their own.
She regards the man in her arms now. He is roughly the same height as yesterday's version but older looking. He's handsome still, but in a different way, less boyish. She reaches her hand up to his cheek, his eyes close at her touch and she strokes the lines next to his eye with her fingers.
"You've never seen me look this old," he chuckles
"No," she says simply. He opens his eyes to meet hers and reads fascination and love. He sees her pupils dilate: her tell.
"You like it?" he asks, but it's not a question. She kisses him deeply now, removing any doubt that might have lingered.
Conscious of their location, he takes her by the hand and leads her from the ballroom out to an adjacent drawing room. The air is cooler but there is a fire burning in the hearth. They are alone.
He feels that he should perhaps ask her when this is for her, but his fear at her reciprocation of the question is too much. He wouldn't be able to answer. Besides, he knows where it is for her, in or around. He had noticed the edge of a tattoo on her back. He had been there when she got it. They had been married many years from both of their perspectives that day. That's enough to be getting on with.
She is standing at the garden doors staring out at the full moon throwing a blue light on everything, the dew on the grass like a carpet of stars. Her face is lit on one side by the glow of the fire and on the other by the eerie, dead light of the moon. She gazes in wonder at the vista. It has always impressed him how, in spite of the wonders of the universe she has witnessed, her chest will still swell in awe at something so mundane as a garden in the moonlight. He approaches her and wraps his arms around her, enveloping her. She leans back into him and sighs.
"River Song, have I ever told you how beautiful you look in the moonlight?"
She turns in his arms and looks up at him lovingly. Over and over again, she could say, but teasing seems redundant tonight. So instead she kisses him with renewed urgency, her fingers knitted in his hair. He shudders at this familiar touch, one he had long ago given up on ever feeling again. His skin sparks and he is reborn in her embrace. He hitches his arm under her legs and carries her to the fireside. He lays her down for the second, last time.
She is reclining facing the hearth, her head propped on her hand. He watches her face reflect the last of the dying embers. He memorises the dip of her neck into her shoulder, the spiral pattern of her curls, the darkness of her lashes blinking slowly, silhouetted by the glow. He records the relaxed line of her arm, the curve of her breast, the undulation where her waist becomes hip, her dear feet folded onto one another. He sighs and she turns to look at him, like a question kindly asked.
"Ridiculously happy," he answers and kisses her softly, "and you?"
She smiles openly and earnestly and replies, "More than ever before."
He sits up to dress, buttoning his shirt. "You actually fit in here," she remarks at his outfit. She gets up and gathers her discarded garments and begins to dress herself, mindful to retrieve her diary and bag from beneath the chair cushion where she had stashed them upon entering the room.
"Your companion will be wondering where you've got to. Clio is it?" she says while the Doctor pulls up the zip of her dress and kisses the base of her neck.
"Yes, Clio," he responds with a slight start, remembering her after being so thoroughly transported into the past, "she'll be OK."
"She's really very beautiful Doctor."
"She really is," he replies and takes his wife's face in both of his hands and searches it. She closes her eyes enjoying the sensation of being held by him. He kisses her on the nose. "Now come on my bad girl, before they find us and arrest us for indecency." She gives him her hand and lets him lead her back to the TARDIS.
"There she is!" A fraught voice comes rattling up the painting-lined corridor, followed by a clatter of footsteps. The Doctor looks down at his wife unable to contain a smirk. "What did you do?"
"I didn't think they were going to miss one tiny little egg," she says biting her lip. "Whoops?" she shrugs.
He laughs loudly: she never changes.
"Well then," he says. "Run!" And they do.
They barrel through the TARDIS doors out of breath and laughing.
"Ooh, another makeover!" River says rushing up to touch the console unaware that she is being observed by a girl sitting atop the stairs with raven hair and a quizzical look. The TARDIS hums a greeting to her daughter and River sighs. Clio blinks and tilts her head. A smile tugs at the corners of her mouth as she watches River throw a lever and bring them into the vortex. Clio's fringe is now lying heavily on her brow and her impossibly blue eyes peer out from underneath. She decides to clear her throat to attract attention. River's head snaps around looks up with a warm smile. "Hello."
"Hello." Clio returns the smile and rests her cheek on her upturned hand.
"River," says the Doctor, "Clio asked if she could meet you earlier."
"Oh yes?" asks River as Clio stands and descends the stairs with a slightly goofy smile on her face studying the other woman. Finally, she sticks out her hand and River takes it. The girl grasps it quite firmly and giggles. River looks to the Doctor bemused.
"Oh, you're a bit of a hero of Clio's, she's always wanted to meet the great River Song!" he says with his hands clasped behind his back, rocking on the balls of his feet.
River, slightly unsure what to do when faced with a 'fan' asks, "Would you like an autograph?"
Clio and the Doctor both snort their amusement. River is perplexed.
"No, no, meeting you is more than enough of a dream come true." Clio steps back for a moment. "Sorry. No. That was a lie." She bounds forward and folds River into a tight embrace, squeezing her a little too much. River wraps her arms around the girl and strokes her hair. Clio unceremoniously lets go and jumps back, still grinning like a Cheshire cat.
"What do you think Clio?" asks the Doctor, enjoying River's confusion a bit too much for her liking.
"The hair! I know you said Doctor, but it doesn't stop does it?"
He laughs again and River rolls her eyes at him and bats his arm.
He drops her at Stormcage and she enters her cell. He kisses her now for the last time. He thinks he should feel something else, but all he feels is happy. He breathes in her sweet breath, his forehead resting against hers and sighs, "Well, best be off." He steps away from her, still holding her gaze.
"Until next time," he lies.
"Next time," she lets him. He turns and moves towards the TARDIS.
"Doctor!" she calls and he turns, "For goodness' sake, take that girl dancing." She winks and he laughs. "I will," he promises and disappears into the TARDIS.
Later that day, River takes her diary out and opens the next blank page. Her pen poised above the paper, she considers what to write. It is impossible. She knows, at some point after she is gone, that he will read this. She also knows that it has been such a very long time for him before today, and she can't do it to him. She can't have him waiting for her all those years, for that one last meeting. She wants him to move on, to be happy. And meeting him today he was happy, even before he saw her. So she puts something in, just for her own memory, and snaps the book shut just in time to hear the TARDIS materialise. A younger Doctor bounds out clapping his hands.
"River Song, the night is young and so are we! Where to?" He sonics the cell door open with a flourish.
"How about a night in by the fire?" she proposes.
"What? No galaxies to discover, people to enslave or treasures to pilfer? I am disappointed."
She raises an eyebrow at him and smirks. "Well, maybe a little enslaving."
He coughs, adjusts himself and motions for her to lead the way. She strides past him into the TARDIS and he follows behind giddily.
Clio brings the Doctor a cup of tea. "You really miss her don't you? I never knew…that is to say I knew, but I never realised really how much."
"Yes Clio, so very much." He accepts the tea.
"It really knocked me for six you know, watching you like that, I don't think I've ever seen you get misty eyed, let alone that. You were mad with happiness!"
"Something like that," he laughs, "and I have been like that before I'll have you know. The day our son was born for example. Oh, she was so beautiful that day Clio, all huge and puffing and gorgeous. Of course she was swearing at me in 8 different languages…" He stares smiling off into the mid-distance at the memory.
Clio kisses him softly on the cheek and strokes his hair. "She was amazing wasn't she?"
"Oh Clio, she was more than amazing, your grandmother was, phenomenal."
He leaps to his feet and she follows after him, bounding up to the console. He starts pulling levers. "Where to? Time and Space are our oyster-s!"
Clio grins at her grandfather. Daft old fool, she thinks fondly.
So many times he had paused on that entry of her diary, some memory recorded for herself alone he had always thought. He runs his finger along the old words. She simply wrote: Vienna – stole an egg, met someone new, danced a little. She sketched the egg and now, for the first time, he sees it hidden in the intricate pattern. She had deposited two tiny hearts bound together inside an infinity symbol, just for herself, and maybe for him today. Oh, that woman.