John sits behind the professor's desk, idly gliding his fingers over the worn wood and staring out at the empty mahogany benches that curve around the room and face the stage. A small smile ghosts across his lips as he imagines the benches filled with students and the air buzzing with excitement to hear the day's lecture. The room would fall silent as soon as she started talking, each student hanging on her every word because when she taught, it could only be described as magic. Her words would wrap around each student and pull them in, hypnotizing them with her voice as she turns a lecture into something so much more.

John sighs heavily because today the lecture hall has a very different feel to it. The air hangs heavy as if the room itself is mourning the loss of the professor who will never again sweep through its large entrance doors and bring it to life with only her presence.

A plate outside the doors reads:

Lecture Hall 36

Professor River Song

Archaeology

And underneath it is a note:

Class cancelled for the week. x

He can't help but wonder how many students have read that note and shrugged it off as Professor Song just off on one of her expeditions, none of them knowing that she'll never return.

Today is the day she dies and tomorrow morning the news will spread of her death, the plate outside the lecture hall will be changed, all of her possessions will be removed and nothing, nothing will be left except for memories that will someday fade away.

Clenching his teeth together, John closes his eyes in an attempt to think of something, anything, else, but is only greeted with images of her. Not at as his professor, or advisor, or friend, but as his mother. The woman who always chased away his nightmares, never let him have fish fingers and custard before bed, taught him about the blue stabilizers when his father wasn't looking, and was always, always, there when he fell.

He had her as his mother for far too short of a time to make proper memories, so they come few and far between, mostly fuzzy, but better than nothing. And really, it's the small things he remembers most- how she would always walk barefoot in the TARDIS, sing unnecessarily loud in the shower, and always put her hair up when she was cross. However, the day she left sticks in his mind as if happened just yesterday.

XxX

"The shoe laces are not going to be cross with you if you tie them, dear," River says, shooting the Doctor a glare as she ties John's shoes for the third time that day.

"But daddy said," John starts before River stands and cuts him off, "Well daddy," she pokes the Doctor in the chest rather forcefully, "is going to be in a heap of trouble if I come back to untied shoe laces."

His eyes widen, "Will daddy get a time out?" he whispers, as if that's the most terrible thing that could ever happen.

A smile tugs at her lips as she places her hands on her hips, her eyes still narrowed at the Doctor, "Yes. A very long time out."

"Is that a promise?" the Doctor asks, eyebrows raised and eyes lit with amusement. River rolls her eyes, but any attempt at being cross with him is soon gone as he pulls her into his embrace. The Doctor buries his face in her curls and takes the moment to drop his forced smile and tightens his hold on her, knowing that when he lets her go, she'll be gone forever.

"Send me a message if there's any trouble, okay?" he whispers. River pulls away, rolling her eyes again, "Sweetie, I'll be fine."

When River turns back to John, he's watching her with the same lost puppy expression he always adopts before she leaves, as if he just doesn't know what he's going to do with himself while she's gone.

Repressing a smile, she kneels in front of him, "You have something right there," she says, pointing to his chest. John looks down but as soon as he does, she pops him playfully on the nose. "Gotcha," she says softly, a fond smile playing across her lips. He wrinkles his nose, smiling brightly before flinging his arms around her neck and hugging her as tight as he possibly can.

Wrapping her arms around his small frame, she whispers, "I'll be back before you know it."

"Promise?" he asks, his voice small.

River pulls back and presses a kiss to his forehead, "Promise."

"Now," she says, standing up and facing the Doctor, "Can you please stay out of trouble while I'm gone? For once?"

"River, I am not always getting in trouble."

Her eyebrows rise, "Sweetie, trouble follows you wherever you go." She pauses, "Thinking about it, you should stay right here until I get back, so then I know you're not in any trouble."

Before he has the chance to protest, River kisses him quickly but finds his arms locked tightly around her when she tries to pull away. When he looks at her, his eyes are intense and oh so old and it takes her breath away. But there's something else there, a deep sadness that he's been trying so hard to hide from her and she just doesn't understand why.

The Doctor brushes the back of his finger along her jaw before capturing her chin between his thumb and forefinger. He kisses her then, a deep, slow kiss that makes her want to all but melt into him, her fingers curling around the pale blue cotton of his shirt. She faintly hears John's noise of disapproval and she knows if she were to look at him right now, he'd be hiding behind his hands.

River breaks the kiss with a smile that quickly fades when she sees tears in the Doctor's eyes.

"I love you, River," he whispers.

"I love you, too," she says, her brow knitted together in concern as she brushes her thumb lightly over his cheekbone, wiping away a tear. Her hearts feel as if they've been knotted together and she wants nothing more than to ask what's wrong, to comfort him, but the look in his eyes tells her not to.

"Me, too?" John pipes up, tugging lightly on the leg of her trousers. River smiles suddenly, picking him up and pressing a kiss to his temple, "Yes, I love you, too. Always and forever."

Handing John to the Doctor, she smiles fondly at them, running her fingers lightly through John's hair with one hand as if trying to tame it. "My boys," she says softly, straightening the Doctor's bow tie. Then she's rattling off everything for them not to do, reminding them to stay safe even if it is boring, giving one more 'I love you,' and then she's gone, the TARDIS door shutting behind her.

Forever.

XxX

John slides his finger down the side of the cake, watching the Doctor with wide eyes to make sure he is not turning around. Licking the icing from his finger he hums happily, distracted by its yummy goodness and no longer paying the Doctor any attention. When he feels he's being watched, he slowly lifts his eyes to find the Doctor looking at him with eyebrows raised and arms crossed.

"And I suppose you didn't just steal some icing form your cake?"

John pauses before shaking his head furiously, adopting his most innocent expression.

"Right," the Doctor says, his tone giving away that he obviously does not believe him, "How was it, then?"

John grins hopefully, "I'd have to taste it again to really be able to tell."

"I have an even better idea," the Doctor states, plopping a large, deliberately ridiculous party hat on John's head, "How about we actually eat it, yeah?"

John nods enthusiastically, the party hat sliding down over his ears and half covering his eyes. The Doctor pulls out six candles and hands three to John. Together they strategically place the candles on the cake, their expressions identical as they concentrate on placing them in just the right spot.

As he carefully lights the candles, the Doctor smiles sadly, "I made your mother a birthday cake once- brought it to her just after a class. She insisted that she light the candles because I would somehow burn down the entire university." He chuckles fondly, watching the small flames flicker on top of the candles with a distant look in his eyes.

Shaking himself, the Doctor smiles brightly at John before taking a very large intake of breath and beginning his very long, very ridiculous, and very loud rendition of the happy birthday song. John giggles, but once the singing stops, he focuses on the six candles with the upmost concentration before squeezing his eyes shut, making a wish, and blowing them out.

When he opens his eyes, his hearts drop.

He had wished, hoping that maybe when he opened his eyes, his mother would be there, her fingers intertwined with his father's and smiling brightly, commenting on how he's growing up way too fast for her liking or asking what in the name of sanity was on his head.

But she wasn't there, even though she had promised him that she would always come back.

"Do you remember what she told you?" the Doctor asks softly, pulling John from his thoughts.

When John only looks at him curiously, he continues, reaching over and placing his hand on the left side of John's chest, over his heart, "She is with you here," he moves his hand to the right side, "and here. Always."

XxX

After his mother left, the library was a room his father made him promise to never go in. Of course, being the curious child he was, he just couldn't resist trying, but unfortunately the TARDIS was on his father's side and the moment he caught sight of the door, it disappeared, relocating to a different area. His father would spend at least an hour every day inside the library and when confronted about why, he was always keen to change the subject.

Now, fifteen years later, it isn't uncommon for him to spend days holed up in the library, leaving John frustrated and constantly wondering what exactly he's doing.

Today, as John walks down the silent corridors of the TARDIS, he feels drawn to the library door and is surprised when it doesn't disappear on sight. John's fingers hover uncertainly over the door handle, but when the TARDIS gives an encouraging hum, he pushes on it and enters the room.

It's not the papers strewn all over the floor and desks, or the strings stretching the length of the room that hold hundreds of different papers that surprises him- it's the room itself. This library is not the library he remembers from years ago. This library has walls that double as shelves and curves to make a circle that forms the room, the books reaching all the way to the domed ceiling from which a rather large moon can be seen and filters in an orange sunset-like glow, perfectly mimicking a room from the Library.

Ducking under the papers that hang from the strings, John makes his way to the opposite side of the room where his father is hovering over a desk, scribbling furiously across a piece of paper.

"Figured she'd let you in sooner or later," the Doctor comments absently without looking up, continuing to scrawl across the paper.

John leans over the desk, his eyes skimming the paper before furrowing his brow in confusion, "What are you doing?"

Finishing the sentence with a flourish of his pen, the Doctor spins on the heels of his feet and walks through the room, scanning the hung paper and answering with a vague, "Working." Finding the piece he's looking for, he snatches it down and tosses it carelessly over his shoulder, replacing it with the paper in his hand.

"But why here?"

The Doctor's shoulders visibly droop as his expression changes from one of concentration to sadness, "Because here, if I imagine hard enough, I can feel her. Like she's with me."

John pauses before speaking quietly, "She's always with you. With us. Remember?"

The Doctor smiles sadly before nodding and looking back at the papers. After a moment of silence, lost in thought, he says, "I never told you the rest of the story."

When John frowns, not understanding, he takes a steadying breath and continues, "Her sonic screwdriver had a neural relay. She died, but her conscience was still alive, still holding on. So I uploaded her conscience to the data core of the Library. I saved her," his voice is heavy with sadness and John doesn't understand- he should be happy. He could save her- really, properly, save her.

As if reading his mind, the Doctor speaks again, running his finger absently across the paper in front of him, "If I was meant to save her, I would have found a way by now. And now she's stuck there. In a hell I placed her in." His voice is bitter and heavy with defeat that is just so unlike him.

"Maybe," John starts softly, "Maybe you should let her go. Let her…move on."

When the Doctor looks at John, the pain is clearly written across his face, "I can't," and when he turns around, John almost misses the last few words, "I'm too selfish."

XxX

John paces the corridor just outside the console room, wringing his hands together and trying to mentally build up his courage. After another few minutes he straightens, sets his jaw in determination, and steps into the console room.

Ducking under the console, he finds his father sitting on the swing, sleeves rolled up and goggles on as he messes with wires and settings that probably do not actually need fixing.

"Hey," John says, announcing his presence.

"Hey," the Doctor replies absentmindedly, still focused on the wires in his hands.

John shuffles his feet hesitantly, "I wanted to talk to you about something…"

The Doctor gives the wires a twist, earning a shower of sparks and a reproachful groan from the TARDIS before sliding up his goggles and looking at John expectantly.

He immediately blurts out, "I want to study archaeology."

If he had blinked, he would've missed the sadness that flickers across his father's face for just a split second before he wrinkles his nose in distaste, "Archaeology? Rubbish subject."

Looking away, John disregards his comment and continues, "I want to study at the Luna University."

Out of the corner of his eye, John notices his father visibly tense and time seems to slow as he waits with bated breath for a response.

"John, you know you can't."

The Doctor's voice is quiet, but stern, as if to end the conversation, but John has no plans on giving up easily.

"She would never know," John insists before softening his voice, "I just…I can't remember her anymore. I have pictures and all those stories you tell me, but I can't remember." He pauses before quietly stating, "I just want to see her again…"

"Could you really do that?" the Doctor asks softly. "Could you really walk into class everyday and have her look right at you, right through you, because she doesn't know who you are?"

Standing a little straighter, John answers with determination, "Yes."

The Doctor regards him in silence for a moment before pulling his goggles back down and reaching for the wires, "Well okay, then."

XxX

On his first day of class he is early, all but bursting through the large entrance doors, practically bouncing down the sloped aisle and spinning in a circle on the heels of his feet to fully take in the lecture hall before plopping in a seat behind one of the curved benches on the first row.

The moment she walks out on the stage, her heels lightly clicking against the floor, papers in her hands and paying him no attention whatsoever, he feels as if he can no longer breathe and a pain he wasn't expecting washes over him as if someone has their fists clenched around his hearts and is forcing the life from him.

His eyes follow her as she walks to her desk and sets her papers down before rummaging through a drawer and pulling out a pen. She's even more beautiful than he remembers and he can't help but smile as she leans over to write on one of the papers and he sees a long, thin chain necklace hanging from her neck. At the end of the necklace dangles a gold band and engraved on the inside of it is the Gallifreyan symbol for eternal love. Given to her on their second wedding, it is promise from his father that means his love for her exceeds past the limitations time has given them.

John knows the only time that necklace is off her neck is either when she's with her Doctor and is wearing it proudly on her finger, or when she's with an earlier Doctor and must put it away to avoid spoilers and unwanted questions.

When she looks up, surprise flickers across her face at the sight of him before she smiles slightly, "Lecture doesn't start for another ten minutes, dear."

His voice is stuck in his throat, but he's saved from trying to force out a reply by two students running into the room, out of breath, asking how late they are and if they've missed the lecture.

River regards them with a repressed smile and an arched eyebrow, "Ten minutes early, actually."

One of the students smacks the other over the head with his book, "I told you the clock was wrong."

"Oi!" exclaims the other, rubbing at the back of his head and glaring at his friend, "Don't get your knickers in a wad, mate. At least we're not late."

As they find a seat and continue to bicker, River chuckles softly and turns her attention back to her paper.

Tuning out everything else, John replays how she looked at him over and over in his head, suddenly thinking this was a very bad, very not good idea. Of course his father had been right- she had looked right through him. There hadn't been any recognition, love, motherly affection or anything. Now he understands that no amount of mental preparation would've helped him prepare for the way she looks at him but doesn't see. He wants nothing more than to tell her, to make her understand who he is- but he can't.

As the rest of the students file in and the class begins, he pushes those thoughts aside, deciding to be grateful that at least he gets to see her- it's better than nothing.

John finds he has a genuine love for archaeology and quickly becomes her best student, never hesitating to answer questions or challenge theories. She'll have the class accompany her on digs and he never misses the fond smile she watches him with as he throws himself into work, a smile that never fails to make his hearts constrict painfully because it's the same smile she used to always give him.

Over the course of the next eight years, she teaches him everything she knows, helps him in every way she can, even scolds him when he needs it, and John can't help but think that she did get to raise him after all- just in a different way.

After he graduates, he becomes her partner in almost every dig she attends, and with the student-teacher barrier lifted, he has the opportunity to become her friend, and he takes it, knowing that all too soon she'll leave his life once again.

XxX

Their boots kick up dirt as they all but fly across the ground, the sun high in the sky and beating mercilessly down on them. River glances over at John as she runs, his eyes focused on their goal, and she smiles mischievously before shoving him forcefully and sending him to the ground.

"River!" he sputters out, shock lining his voice and she laughs, not bothering to look back because she knows he's already back up and right behind her.

She shrieks as she feels his hand grab the back of her shirt, his fingers clenching tightly around the material, and the next thing she knows it's her turn to be on the ground. John laughs and she's back up in no time at all, grinning and sprinting after him. She shoves him from behind and he stumbles, giving her just the time she needs to fly past him and reach their destination first, placing her hand firmly on the rocky mountain that towers above them.

"I won," she gloats proudly as John touches the mountain right after she does. He glares good naturedly at her and catches his breath before, "Yes, well, that's because you cheated."

River puts a hand to her chest in mock hurt, "I did not. You never said anything about rules, dear."

John huffs, repressing a smile before looking up at the mountain, "Really think it's in there?"

"Ruins of a civilization that used to reside in the heart of the mountain? Only one way to find out," she replies, smiling at him with excitement dancing in her eyes.

By the time they skirt the entire base of the mountain, looking for the best place to start, the rest of the team has caught up to them and they can begin. Standing a safe distance away with the team, John watches River as she pulls out an explosive from her pack and heads back to the mountain.

"Be careful," he calls after her and he can practically hear her roll her eyes before she calls back, "Careful? You sound like my husband," and throws him a cheeky grin over her shoulder.

Once the dust settles, the teams enters the cave-like hole the explosion made in the side of the mountain. After deeming it safe to set off another, a different member of the team pulls out an explosive just as a low rumbling comes from the mountain, stopping him in his tracks. Before anyone has time to react, large bits of rock begin raining from the ceiling of the cave and everyone immediately drops to the ground, placing their hands over their heads as rock crashes down.

Once it stops, River stands and is about to make sure everyone is okay when she hears a high-pitched beeping. She scans the debris-covered ground until she finds the explosive, the countdown to detonation ticking away in bright green numbers and her eyes widening as she sees the button to stop the countdown has been broken by the falling rock.

"Everyone out! Now!" she yells, rushing them all out. Once outside, she's making sure everyone on the team is accounted for when a sudden realization washes over her- one person isn't there.

"John," she breathes, a cold bolt of fear striking through her as she turns back to the mountain.

"John!" she yells and begins running towards the cave until two strong arms are around her middle, holding her back.

"You can't go back, Professor," a member of the team, Dave she thinks his name is, tells her as she struggles against him and continues to scream John's name, her sudden fear apparent in her voice.

River knows the only reason John would still be in there is if something happened to him while the bits of mountain crumbled in on them, and she is not about to leave him in there to die. Her husband would tell her that her decision to go back is stupidly dangerous, but she doesn't care.

Something inside her has always made her fiercely protective of John, a second nature that kicks in whenever he's in trouble. When she looks back on it, it scares her because she doesn't know why, but now it powers her, drives her, to save him because there is no way in hell she is just going to let him go.

River slams her head back and she distinctly hears the crack of Dave's nose breaking. It has the desired affect and once his grip on her loosens, she's bolting toward the cave, ignoring the dull throbbing in the back of her head.

She finds John near the back of the cave, his leg trapped under a heavy piece of rock and him struggling to push it off. Glancing at the explosive, her hearts begin pounding faster as she reads thirty seconds left on the clock

"River," John says in surprise as she places both hands on the rock and begins to push.

"What are you doing? Get out of here!" John yells, his voice suddenly filled with panic.

"Shut up!" she shouts, "I can't let you die."

When she pushes harder, the rock finally, blessedly, moves and she thinks she could cry from relief. River helps John up and lets him lean on her as they exit the cave as quickly as possible. They're not out five seconds before the explosive goes off and the cave collapses in on itself.

River stares at what used to be the entrance, all the "what-if's" running through her mind before turning to John and shoving him forcefully.

"You could have died!" she yells at him, even though she knows it's not his fault, before pulling him into a tight hug.

When she pulls back, John brushes his thumb lightly across her cheek, wiping away a tear- and when had she started crying?

"Hey," John starts softly, "Look- I'm fine." He grins lopsidedly, "Just wanted to add a little excitement."

River rolls her eyes and represses a smile, "Don't you ever scare me like that again," prodding him in the chest with her finger to punctuate each word.

"Yes, mother." His tone is playful, but his eyes show something else entirely, as if it pained him to say that. She disregards it because that just doesn't make any sense, and turns to the team, suggesting they all take the rest of the day off and start anew in the morning.

XxX

John frowns at the phone as it cuts to voicemail for the second time. Huffing, he clicks it off and re-punches in the number, deciding to try just once more.

It rings for the fifth time and he's getting ready to hang up right when she answers, "Hello John."

"River!" he exclaims, spinning around in excitement, the cord of his phone wrapping around him. "Finally. Didn't think you'd ever answer."

"Sorry, dear. I was just…busy," she finishes lamely.

John stills, frowning at the tone of her voice, "What's wrong? Are you okay? Do you want me to come over? Cause I-" he attempts to take a step here, but is hindered by the cord of his phone wrapped around his body and falls to the floor.

Mumbling curses under his breath, he scrambles out of the tangles of cord that are obviously out to get him and bounces back up, putting the phone back to his ear to hear River chuckling softly, "You really should look into get a phone without a cord, dear. No one uses phones with cords anymore."

John huffs, "Yes, well, I do. I like them. Cords are cool."

He smiles, knowing if he could see her, she'd be rolling her eyes as she answers, "You and my husband would get on well, you know," she pauses, "Though I think that would be too much clumsiness in one room for the universe to handle."

"Oi!" John protests, "I am not clumsy," knowing full and well that he is.

A beat.

"River…" he starts softly, "What's wrong? And don't you dare say 'nothing.' You're rubbish at lying to me, River Song."

There is a moment of silence before she speaks, "John I…" she stops and he can hear her take a deep breath before continuing, "It really is nothing. I'm fine."

John rolls his eyes, "See? Rubbish. I'm coming over."

Ignoring her protests, he hangs up the phone, grabs his keys, and rushes out the door.

The moment she swings open the door, hand on her hip, he's rushing past her and into the kitchen. Closing the door behind him, she walks after him and leans against the doorframe, watching him rummage through her cabinets.

"What are you doing?" she asks, arching her eyebrow as he pulls down two cups.

"Making tea. Sit down."

After the tea is made, he places her cup in her hand and sits opposite her.

"So," he starts, squinting his eyes slightly at her, "Tell me what's wrong."

River stares into her tea for a moment before looking up at him, and he's shocked to see tears in her eyes, "John, I don't know what to do…"

Her fingers grip tightly around her cup and she looks back down before whispering, "I'm pregnant."

John freezes and can't help but stare as she continues, "My husband…I…we can't have a baby. I just…I don't know what to do…"

After a moment, John reaches over and gently takes one of her hands in his. When she looks up, he smiles softly, "I think you should tell him."

River takes a deep breath before returning his smile and nodding in agreement.

XxX

The door squeaks in protest as it opens, jolting John from his thoughts and bringing him back to the present. The lecture hall still has the heavy feel of loss to it that only seems to magnify within him as he looks up to see his father standing in the doorway.

John stands and slowly makes his way up the sloped aisle, hands shoved in his pockets.

"You ready?" the Doctor asks quietly, the sadness that John is feeling reflected in his father's eyes.

John sighs heavily and looks over at the TARDIS, "I don't want to do this…"

The Doctor pauses, "I know. I don't want to, either. But this isn't for us. It's for her."

John nods and is greeted by a low, solemn hum of the TARDIS as he steps over the threshold. Closing his eyes, John attempts to mentally prepare himself for this trip to the Library, but knows that nothing is going to lessen the pain in his hearts when it comes time to give his mother a final goodbye.

XxX

Her fingers shake slightly as she pulls out her handcuffs and clasps the cold metal around the wrist of the man lying unconscious at her feet. A tear rolls down her cheek as she locks the other cuff around a pole and she huffs angrily before wiping it away. She should not be crying. She's had years to prepare herself for this day, but as she looks at the timer counting down, she can't say that she imagined it ending quite like this.

Looking down at the lanky man dressed in a blue suit, she knows she should be nothing but grateful. Time, as cruel as it is, seems to have sent her a blessing. When she heard the dreadful words 'Who are you,' she wasn't looking into the face of the floppy haired man who proclaims bow ties to be cool, hides all of his pain and suffering behind his seemingly childish ways and looks at her with eyes that hold so much love for her- her Doctor. She thinks that had she had to look into those eyes and see nothing but confusion and mistrust, her soul would have broken.

As an automated voice informs her, "Autodestruct in seven minutes," she places her diary and sonic screwdriver on the floor, pulls the plastic piece of her suit over her head and sets it on the chair she'll soon be sitting in, grateful for the temporary relief of not having to wear it- not like her neural relay would do her much good now anyway.

The necklace that holds her wedding band rests under her suit against her bare skin, and she can't stop the hot tears that roll slowly down her face as she pulls it out. Pressing a kiss to the ring, she wishes for nothing more than to see her husband's ridiculous face just one more time.

And John.

John. Her hearts suddenly feel like concrete in her chest. She had promised that she would be back soon, and now she isn't coming back at all. A fresh wave of sadness washes over her as she realizes she won't be able to raise him- she won't see his third birthday, or take him to school for the first time, or watch with pride as he crosses a stage to graduate.

River's snapped from her thoughts by the whirring sound of the TARDIS suddenly echoing around the room, followed by the thud of landing, and she whirls around, her hearts suddenly beating twice as fast.

The Doctor steps out of the TARDIS, and when he sees her, a sad smile crosses his face, "Hi honey, I'm home."

She chokes out a disbelieving noise that sounds like a cross between a laugh and a sob before retorting with her usual reply, "And what sort of time do you call this?"

The next thing she knows, she's in his embrace, her arms locked tightly around him, and she can feel his cold tears on her neck. He tightens his hold on her before whispering, "You save them, River. All 4,022 of them."

She nods and pulls back, taking the necklace from around her neck, and when she places it in his palm, he looks at her with a pained expression.

"Until death do us part, my love," she says quietly.

"River," he starts in protest, but she cuts him off, "Sweetie, you can't-"

"No, you listen to me, River Song," the Doctor says fiercely, his voice low as he puts the necklace around his own neck.

"You are my wife," he places his finger under her chin and tilts her face up, forcing her to look at him, "And I love you. Until the end of time."

He kisses her then, a soft kiss that leaves her lips tingling before he continues, "And the next time I see you, because I will see you again, River, this you, I am going to put this ring on your finger and it will never have to come off again."

The determination in his eyes makes her want to believe him, but Rule One washes away all her hopes, so she only nods, forcing a smile before asking, "Where's John?"

The Doctor stands to the side and when River looks over at the TARDIS, John is leaning against the doorframe. Not her son John, but her former student, her partner, her confidant, her friend, John. For one second she's confused as she glances at the Doctor before looking back at him.

Realization hits her like a freight train and she doesn't know how she's able to remain on her feet as she breathes out, "Oh," a fresh wave of tears obscuring her vision.

River places her hand over her mouth as she moves to stand in front of him and looks him up and down, as if looking at him for the first time.

"How did I not see it before?" she asks no one in particular, suddenly realizing where the ever-present protective nature towards him came from- her soul knew.

"Hello, John," she says quietly, lightly brushing the fringe of his hair, that is so much like his father's, out of his eyes.

"Hello, mum," he replies, smiling slightly and then adding, "Finally learned to leave my shoes tied."

River laughs through her tears before commenting quietly, "You look just like him, you know."

"No," he says, pulling her into a hug, "I have your eyes…"

After a moment he speaks again, "You know…in a way, you did get to raise me," as if he's able to tell what she's thinking.

"And I love you," he adds as her fingers curl into the fabric of his shirt and she squeezes her eyes shut, as if she can block out all the pain as she tightens the hug.

"I love you, too. Always and forever," quoting herself from the day she left.

The automated voice calls out, "Autodestruct in three minutes," and River is forced to pull away.

She can't help but smile as the Doctor comes to stand at John's side. She smoothes the wrinkles in John's shirt and presses a soft kiss to the Doctor's cheek before standing back, "My boys…" she says fondly as another tear rolls down her cheek.

'I love you's,' are exchanged for the very last time and before she knows it, the TARDIS is disappearing and they are gone forever.

River pulls the plastic bit of her suit back over her head and is settled in the chair, twisting wires together, as the countdown reaches two minutes and the Doctor handcuffed to the pole begins to stir.

XxX

It turns out that John is right about how just how quickly things at the University change after her death is confirmed, but he can't help but think his mother would be proud at the change to the plate just outside the lecture hall:

Lecture Hall 36

Professor Johnathan Song

Archaeology

The passion for teaching runs through his bones and settles in his very soul, and soon the stage at the front of the lecture hall becomes his second home. He puts every inch of his being into how he teaches, and is rewarded with the same enthusiasm to learn from the students that his mother received.

Today, he takes a break from lecture and tells the legend of the professor before him and of the sacrifice she made to save 4,022 people. As he begins, a hush falls over the room and he can't help but feel that she is there with him- just like she said she would be.

Always.


Epilogue? Yes or no?