The next few months passed by in a blur for Rose.
She remembered scattered details that she'd rather forget. She wore black to the funeral because that was what you were supposed to do, but it was so strange, standing there at the edge of an open grave, accepting condolences without really hearing the words. Nine's funeral had been modest, only a handful of people. The only thing she remembered with any startling clarity was the moment they'd lowered the casket into the ground.
The plot for Nine's grave had not been far from the same gravesite that held John Smith. She'd visited both in a single day, dropping red roses on the latter's gravestone, brushing her hand across the in-graved words that marked out his name and dates, with only the single phrase of Allons-ywritten underneath, his favorite catchphrase.
Two men she loved, both lying in the same graveyard.
She hadn't been back to London since then, but a few months afterwards, the Doctor had requested a meeting with her in Hyde Park on the west side of the city. Rose found she could not decline him.
When she arrived, she had a newspaper tucked under one arm and her suitcase rolling behind her. She found the Doctor sitting at the park bench alone, eyes alit with merriment at the sight of Melody glaring at some ginger-haired boy who was threatening to tug her pigtails. Instead of playing with the other children, Melody seemed content to sit on the grass with a book open in her hands. The little girl studied Rose as she picked her away across the green fields towards the Doctor, and Rose suddenly felt foolish for wearing designer high heels for a meeting in the park. She'd come straight from the airport, but Melody's scrutiny made Rose wonder what she was thinking.
Rose had never been able to tell the age of children, but Melody looked older than her age by years, imbuing the brooding nature of a teenager.
"She seems to be enjoying herself," Rose remarked, wryly.
The Doctor offered a prideful grin. "She likes to read. A nose always in a book. Can't seem to pry them away from her."
Rose turned to study the Doctor acutely while his attention was on other things; he seemed better than she expected, given the circumstances. She could see the dusky bruising of too little sleep and too much worry under his eyes, but at the same time, he watched Melody with such fondness that Rose couldn't help but smile. Rose had always known he was good with kids, but it was another thing entirely to be foisted into the role of a single parent to a child that had been traumatized her entire life. But if anyone was capable of handling the task, it was the Doctor. A few sessions of that deprogramming device, Melody was slowly emerging out from her shell, but Rose knew any progress had just as much to do with the fact that the Doctor could bring out the inner child in anyone.
Rose sat down next to him on the bench, and quietly offered him her newspaper. "River was making the news again."
The Doctor hesitated, then unfolded the newspaper.
Authorities announced they have officially closed the murder investigation of River Song, with inconclusive findings. Famous for such heists as the London Museum of Arts break-in of '06, and considered responsible for more than fifty million pounds in stolen artwork, River Song's story gained a new level of notoriety when she escaped prison and was suspected of stealing the British Crown Jewels during the months it had gone missing in the previous year.
Since then, conspiracy theorists have come out of the woodwork, running rampant with notions that Ms. Song may have been involved in any number of politically-charged events, including the death of the Silence's leader, Madame Kovorian.
Scotland Yard has not made any further comments regarding the investigation, but stated there will be a news conference later this week. The closure of the investigation coincides with the 18-month anniversary of her escape from Stormcage Correctional Facility...
"Donna responsible for this?" he asked.
"I suspect," Rose agreed. "She's the only one I can think of that can pull those strings. I talked to Rory and his wife – Her Royal Highness," to this, they both rolled their eyes, "And they both heard whisperings about the investigation hitting a lot of walls. Rory said he'd keep an ear to the ground for more information."
"You're still not back at Division, then?"
Rose shrugged. "I'm taking some time off. Besides, Martha has my old post in Cardiff, and she and Mickey seemed to be settling in well."
For a moment, the Doctor stayed silent. "So," he asked. "How many are following you today?"
"Three," Rose answered immediately. "They've switched vans, but they're rather obvious."
"Like a pair of peacocks in a sea of elephants," the Doctor mused, with a sour face.
"You'd think the government would hire better surveillance for us."
"It's a formality," the Doctor waved away the topic. "Paranoia on their behalf, but can't really blame them. It'll settle down after a while."
Rose sighed heavily. It wasn't like they were concerned anymore that government agents were going to come after them, but she still hated being followed. "How is—" she began, then stopped herself, biting her tongue. She had to choose her words carefully. "How are you doing?"
He smiled with the eyes of a lonely man. "Well enough, soon enough."
"Oh, I don't know. Depends on the weather."
Rose smiled. The exchange was simple enough that a bystander wouldn't find it too curious, but the message was clear and meaningful to those that knew how to follow the conversation. It was all subtext and shadowy dialogue – the life of a spy.
"C'mon," she announced with a soft smile. "My old flat isn't far from here. Haven't been in for some time, but I've still got a key. Do for some tea?"
The Doctor stood. "Sounds delightful, Rose Tyler."
He turned and hollered back for Melody, and the girl looked up and then gathered her things eagerly, tossing one last glare at the ginger-haired boy that had earlier annoyed her. When she joined them, Rose dropped her gaze to the cover of the book and nearly laughed when she found Melody clinging to Peter Pan. How appropriate, Rose thought, sending a raised eyebrow towards the Doctor. She suspected it had been a gift, and she knew without asking who'd picked it out. She couldn't really tease him much over it, though; Melody needed as much childish wonder in her life as she could get, and if books provided that, Rose was encouraged.
They strolled in amiable silence, and a few minutes later Rose turned her key and pushed open the doors to her London flat. She hadn't been inside in months, and she was too exhausted to shed tears of regret over the state inside – not anything as mundane as dead plants and dust and stale air. No. During the time when she had still been suspected of being a conspirator, the authorities had searched her possessions from top to bottom; Rose froze at the threshold in surprise to find the place turned upside down and torn apart.
She had not thought about purchasing another flat, at least not yet. Truthfully, in fact, she had not thought about much at all— but she should have expected something along the lines of this. Her name was cleared, as were all the other MI6 agents, but there was still things left to clean up. A certain Ms. Sarah Jane Smith, a hired administrator within the agency, had visited Rose earlier, hours after they had come in from their coup over Kovorian. Sarah Jane had offered condolences while a crew had gone about cleaning up the mess that Kovorian had left behind, beginning with clearing allegations and charges. Among other things, Sarah Jane had even offered Rose the option of counseling, on the house, but Rose had politely declined.
The list of things she wanted to talk about was short to nonexistent. The dust had settled, Kovorian was dead, the Silence had been disbanded and a nation and its children saved. She was only now thinking about the moral objections to the whole brainwashing the Silence thing, watching- and witnessing, in more ways than one—the results of the Doctor's eleventh hour plan. To look at him, one would never think him capable of such cold, hard calculation. The Doctor had been calm when the authorities had come to question him, even while he'd been covered in River's blood. His report had been detailed and accurate. From what Rose understood of the situation, his actions were being implicitly condoned for the good of the nation.
She almost wished Nine or John Smith were here, so that she could say to them, You see, look how well you've trained him. How much like you he is.But the thought made Rose turn her head away.
Recovering with a smile, Rose announced plans for tea yet again, and walked through her shambled flat towards the kitchen. She set the kettle on the stove first, then braved the fridge and pantry, discovering only several canned goods and a variety of perishable items that had turned sour or molded over in the months since anyone had stepped inside the flat. The refrigerator stank of spoiled milk when she opened it, and contained a lonely sickly stick of celery. The freezer, at least, revealed a half-eaten box of rocky-road ice cream that was salvageable. If nothing else, she could spend her time here comfortably munching away at her preferred food of comfort.
The kettle whistled, and Rose set out two cups quietly while the Doctor adjusted two overturned chairs and set them beside the kitchen table. In the background, Melody had already settled into the corner with her book open again, lost to the wonders of Never-Never Land.
"So," Rose broke the ice, "Why did you want to see me?"
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "I need an excuse to see you?"
Rose stared. Once upon a time, perhaps not. But ever since John's death, Rose had counted on one hand the number of times the Doctor had willingly subjected himself to her company for a social call. After Nine, her presumption had been they'd go through the whole song-and-dance of the Doctor's guilt and withdrawal all over again. She was pleasantly surprised to get his call, but she still thought it odd.
He gave Rose a sheepish look, admitting, "All right, so I might have come here because some one made me promise."
He shook his head like it didn't matter, but she suspected she already knew. "It's about Nine. I—" he had the look of a man unsure of how to proceed. "Before he died, he had a message for you."
Rose stared. A thousand things shot through her in an instant; she briefly wondered how he knew anything at all about Nine's deathbed confessionals, but the thought was quickly overridden by a flare of pain and grief – a steep stab of regret at opportunities lost, at forever being the girl that had love snatched from her hands because of a universe that conspired to keep her from the men that she loved. First John, now Nine. It was enough to make a girl wonder about karma and her past lives.
"What was it?" she asked, with baited breath.
"He loved you," the Doctor answered, simply.
Rose was thankful she was already sitting down because the declaration made her knees go weak. Tears stung her eyes, and she'd always known – or suspected – but it was another thing to get confirmation of it.
"He said that?"
The Doctor paused, then admitted with a wince, "Not… precisely. He couldn't get the words out, but River knew what he meant." That answered one question. Though whenRiver had conveyed this message to the Doctor was a mystery. Rose felt herself deflate, as the Doctor continued, "You really didn't need him to say it, did you?"
Rose paused, then after a beat admitted to herself that, no.It wasn't necessary. She'd known.
She'd always known.
"His last thoughts were of you," the Doctor said. "I think that says more than enough."
Rose busied her hands with scooping two sugars into her tea, just to keep herself preoccupied. "Well," she recovered, swallowing heavily, "What are you supposed to do after you fall for the perfect guy – perfect guys, really, in my case. I mean, after that, who could compete? I'd need a bloody clone."
The Doctor watched her, smiling softly. "Well, I heard John had an identical twin brother in the military. Maybe you should look him up?"
She laughed, wryly. "Yeah, right. Third times the charm."
The Doctor took a sip of his tea. "Ah, Rose Tyler. Never make fun of the idea of love. It'll surprise you, yet."
A day later, the Doctor double-checked for tails before he pulled his car to a halt at the docks. The wind had stopped at some point after sunset. It was cold, certainly- but it was damp and still, the kind that hung menacingly, the calm before the storm. It was nowhere near bad enough to make him rethink the voyage ahead; nothing could, really.
Melody was already pulling open her door, leaving without waiting for his permission. It was progress, but slow. There were still moments where he saw her training kick in, those brief pauses where she was awaiting an order rather than a response. But today, he could sense anticipation in the air and Melody was responding like any child should – with eagerness that made her impatient. The Doctor grinned and climbed out of the car, joining her quickly on the pathway to the docks.
"Wait until you see the TARDIS," he exclaimed with excitement, passing by a few stands that sold tourist merchandize that sat along the pier. "It's bigger on the inside, you know. Beautiful and colorful and—" he twirled about, earning a crinkle of amusement from Melody around her eyes, especially as he picked a fez off the corner stand and plopped it on his head, "like nothing you could possibly imagine."
"I don't know," Melody responded, quietly. "I think I could imagine a great deal. And that's a hideous hat."
He smiled at her, popping her on the nose with his finger. "Nonsense. This hat is cool."
"You really going to wear that in public?"
He frowned. She was getting more and more judgmental of his fashion sense every passing day. (The thought secretly thrilled him.) Tipping his fez to one side, he examined himself in the mirror, and then grinned. After paying the merchant a few pounds for the hat, they continued on their way down the pier, though this time Melody seemed to keeping a certain distance from him, as though mortified to be seen walking down the dock with a man in a fez.
The TARDIS was at the far end, docked quietly away from the bigger ships. He quickened his pace, and then had to remind himself to slow down when he found Melody trailing after him. There was a look on her face that spoke of anxiety, but it was dulled and hidden by the long curtain of her hair as she glanced away.
He walked back over to her, then offered her his arm. With a deep breath, Melody took his arm and then marched alongside him up to the TARDIS. As much as he was concerned over Melody's sudden withdrawal, his heartbeat couldn't help but quicken in anticipation. Weeks of solitude up at his flat in London had been stifling – stifling for them both. But he'd talked about sailing the open seas since the first night he'd ushered the pale girl into his home, and more importantly, Melody had always listened. Now, they were here. The plan had been executed flawlessly, and everybody had played their parts well.
Now, to reap their reward.
As he helped Melody climb on board the ship, a familiar voice rang out with words that warmed the Doctor down to his bones. "Hello, sweetie."
He turned around, and there she was – River Song, in her full glory, whole and healthy after months of recuperation. He'd been getting regular updates from Jack the entire time, but it was another thing to see her standing on her legs with his own two eyes, especially since the last time the Doctor had seen her, River had been bed-ridden and comatose.
It had pained him to leave her in that condition, but unlike the rest of his friends and comrades, whose names had all been cleared, River Song was still wanted for murder. She was still a felon, escaped from prison. So, measures had been taken to fool the proper authorities. To the world, River Song was now dead. And thanks to Donna's interventions earlier in the week, the investigation into her death had drawn to a close.
Melody's grip on the Doctor's hands tightened, reminding him of her presence at his side. As many times as he had tried to assure Melody, she still seemed scared of this moment – confronted with the same mother that she had almost killed months back. River sensed the anxiety, and perhaps even shared it, because she swallowed thickly, eyes a sheen of water.
"Hello, Melody," she whispered, and gave a watery smile.
"Hi," Melody returned, demurely, still clinging to the Doctor's hands.
It tore at him a little that they were greeting each other like acquaintances or strangers. He'd had the luxury of getting to know Melody for months, and already he loved her quiet intelligence and voracious thirst for books, an unhindered sense of imagination and wonder that had not suffered even at the hands of the Silence. But in many ways, he felt he had taken something from River – and now was her chance to get it back.
But River sensed that something too overt would just scare the child, so she pulled back and took a deep breath, hands wringing together. "So," she began, then looked up. "I have many questions, but first order of business. What on Earth do you have on your head?" she asked the Doctor.
He grinned back, lessening the tension in the air as he gave her a little twirl to showcase the hat. "It's a fez. I wear a fez now."
"I told him it was stupid," Melody said, as though she were trying to defend herself.
And then, all at once, River and Melody exchanged some sort of look. "Ah, yes, well. I hold him down, and you dump it over board?" River asked her daughter.
"Wait," he began, "wha—"
They responded with all the agility and coordination of a stealthy pair of thieves, needing no further communication. Before he could properly defend himself, he found River holding him down and Melody snatching the hat right off his head. With a delighted squeal, she threw it into the air, and River pulled back just in time for him to witness the fez sail through the air and land in the choppy waters below his ship.
The girls collapsed into giggles in unison, and he should have known they'd bond over torturinghim. After all, it was River Song and Melody. His girls.
"I hate you," he told River.
"No," she acknowledged with a grin. "You don't."
He would have responded, but she reached up to kiss him and then he became rather preoccupied.
It was a new day, and a new dawn, and River felt better than she had in years.
Beside her, the Doctor was still asleep, sheets wrapped around his naked torso, hair a bedridden mess. The past few months, she had almost started to believe this moment would never come, but every time she felt doubt creeping up, she remembered Nine's parting words. "Don't be like me. I lost so much, but I gave up even more." And every time she thought of that, her resolve to find her way back to the Doctor and Melody only intensified.
Now, here she was.
Melody was asleep in her own bed, close enough that River could slip out and visit her anytime she wanted. Her daughter was only seconds away. The thought warmed River, even as she realized it'd be a long journey in connecting with each other. But the journey was exactly what River had fought for – a chance to raise her daughter, be there to tuck her in at night, and comfort her and laugh with her, and fight with her when she entered her rebellious teenage years. To watch her grow old and find love and become whatever she wanted to be. River had such strong hopes for her daughter, but no matter what, in the end, she just wanted to be therefor Melody.
These last few months, in her own absence, River had trusted the Doctor to be that person for Melody. And he'd done wonders in that time – so well, in fact, that River thought about bringing up the idea of marriage with him, because if he'd taken to the role of fatherhood so well, he might have liked the part of a husband too. But she couldn't think of how to voice the thought; she'd never been the clingy type, and had never really thought herself the marrying type when she was younger. It was only after John had first popped the question to her years ago that River realized she liked the idea of growing old with someone, an endless adventure of love to last a lifetime. Her first love had passed away, but by some unfathomable gift from the universe, River had found the Doctor in his wake.
She wasn't planning on letting him go, either.
It was difficult to think of anything that wasn't just dreadfully smug of her while looking over the long naked stretch of the Doctor's back, the faint redness of her fingernail scratches standing stark against the smooth lines of his back. The night had been spent reacquainting herself with the Doctor, and they'd made love several times; a collision of mouths and bodies, panting words of love into sweat-soaked skin and stroking hands across every inch of each other. She'd missed him so much, so desperately, and he'd been just as mad with want, forcing her onto her back, gripping her by the shoulders so that he could lay heavy over her, thrusting into her with such rash, mindless abandon that River's eyes had watered with the release of her orgasm.
Now, she watched him sleep and was mesmerized. Something about the debauchery of her thinking must've stirred the Doctor from his sleep, because the next thing she knew, he was waking. He pressed his face into the pillow and then stirred, groggily opening his eyes. He looked surprised for a moment, then gave River the sweetest smile. Their eyes connected, and she couldn't help but stare, until she sat up, holding the sheets over her front a little, but giving him full view of her bare back.
"Marry me," he said, out of the blue.
She turned her head and looked at the Doctor, dazed, and then managed, "What?"
He rolled over and plopped himself up on forearms, looking at her. "Marry me, River." She stared at him with an open mouth, for once having no words, no quip, no thought in response. The Doctor laughed. "Cat got your tongue, Miss Song?"
He sounded far too smug and full of himself, as if he already knew her answer; truth in fact, she shouldn't have been surprised, but the sheer abruptness of the moment had her blinking. Turning a little to face him, River tilted her head down and examined him. It was possible, she reflected, just possible, that there was a creature out there in the cosmos somewhere that was more ridiculously gorgeous than the man beside her. River was just as confident, however, that she was unlikely to ever discover said individuals. And even if she did, River was absolutely certain she wouldn't want them spread out naked across her bed as much as she wanted the Doctor here, night after night.
With a laugh, she shook her head. "I still don't even know your name," she pointed out, archly.
"My name?" he mused, then shifted closer.
He reached around her waist and then pulled her back against him so that she was lying across him, and he couldn't seem to stop his hands from running once briefly across her hair – he lovedher hair. Then, with no forewarning, he bent to her ear and whispered a name, just a few syllables, and River's eyes widened with unbridled joy.
"There," he declared. "Now what do you say, River Song? Let me make an honest woman out of you?"
"An honest woman? Never," she teased, then sighed rather dramatically. "But I suppose now I have no excuse not to marry you."
"Is that a yes?"
"Sweetie," River said, reaching over to kiss him. "That's a hell yes."
A/N: OMG, finally. *collapses*
This fic went on for too damn long, omg. 95K! Egads. And now it's finally up on this website. And much love to all the people that read and reviewed! A simple review on this fic is greatly, greatly appreciated!