Summary: Berlin now was ragtag and confused, torn between two poles and totally unaware of how to reconcile the before with the after. Of course she returned here.
Author's Note: Schoolwork is exhausting. I write fic in between to relax, but I've been working on this too long and now it's stressing me out so take it, please. Any errors are, then, mine and I apologize deeply but my brain is melting out of my ears. Also endings are the worst, yo.
"Figured I'd find you here," he said as he stepped out of the big, blue box, sliding his hands into his pockets and rocking forward on his toes, his expression smug enough to make her roll her eyes.
"No," she said after a calculating pause. "You didn't figure anything, did you?" The Doctor frowned, opening his mouth to protest, but she beat him to it, grinning broadly, "process of elimination."
His face went a little red. "Yes, fine," he said, approaching her slowly. "When I went to the Sisters of the Infinite Schism, they said you'd flown the coupe. Your note wasn't particularly helpful, you know."
"Maybe it wasn't meant to be."
He raised his brows at her words, and she held his gaze. She clearly and decisively threw her lot in with him, accepted him as a figure of future import when it came to her life. But she didn't know him quite so well yet. She knew everything he did, and years and years of training and conditioning made her skin crawl to think of it, but that day in Berlin—she saw his compassion, his love, his selflessness, and most importantly, she saw him through the Tardis who loved him so incredibly dearly. She knew that before her stood the best man she had ever seen. She knew it logically, but she didn't quite feel it yet; hatred was still bred into her bones, cold, but abiding.
His expression did not change, but she could read his every emotion playing across his eyes—sadness, trepidation, confusion, uncertainty. Her heart ached dully, strangely, in a way she wasn't yet accustomed to. She shifted her weight, bit her lip, and then threw him a bone. "It was an x, sweetie. Fairly self-explanatory."
He hummed inquisitively at her words, and she knew immediately that he was going to make her say it.
"Our first kiss," she supplied, her voice sardonic, her nose wrinkling in a play at levity, though she knew that he'd read the uncertainty in the expression just as keenly as she felt it. She sighed when his face softened—pity always made her skin crawl—and she leaned against the dark wood of the desk that sat in the head of the room. The vast hall was empty, their voices echoing in the open space. It was far more shabby than it had been the last time they were here.
Berlin on the eve of war, she remembered. A whole city ready to tear itself apart—festering and rotting from the inside out, so inundated with hatred and propaganda, ready to explode or implode, wrought to bring the whole world with it. Of course, after the eruption, the cracks in its play at mightiness were apparent. Berlin now was ragtag and confused, torn between two poles and totally unaware of how to reconcile the before with the after.
Of course she returned here.
She shook off the symbolism with a shrug of her too-tense shoulders.
"I remember killing you. Saving you. My whole life to that moment is patchwork. I remember regenerating. I remember the space suit and—other things. But the in between is fuzzy and I can't ever make sense of it. And I remember growing up with Amy and Rory but it's like I didn't exist when I wasn't around them. I know that it was the Silence, of course, but it feels like my whole life has been literally constructed by other people." River paused, running a finger through the grainy wood. "Did you know, when I was Mels, growing up with my parents, I used to think I was their imaginary friend? When I went back to the Silence at the end of the day, it was like I just stopped." She laughed a little, but the sound was brittle, and the Doctor's jaw clenched, his fingers working uselessly at his sides.
"I didn't know," the Doctor said quietly, feeling the overwhelming desire to fix something, to hop back in the Tardis and find her before everything went terribly wrong, and if not that, then to hold her and comfort her and tell her that he would tear the universe apart and invert every timeline and defy every fixed point if it meant keeping her safe. But she didn't know him yet, and he didn't know this her, so he couldn't do anything but listen as she clenched her hands against the desk, her knuckles whitening.
"But then you appeared," River said, and her smile wasn't a happy one, "and suddenly, from there on out, everything is clear. The months since I killed you are the only ones in my life I wholly remember. It's a lovely gift, Doctor."
"What's that?" he asked.
"Giving a girl her own life," River said, her chin jutting outward and up as though in defiance, though he couldn't quite find her point. The not knowing made him anxious. River was always unpredictable, but she was sultry and vibrant and independent and bloody-minded and contradictory, and he knew that. But this—he didn't know what to do with this. She was quiet and though she was calm, the tension in her shoulders did not escape him. She spent weeks at the best hospital in the universe, but she looked weary. He folded his hands into his armpits, crossing his arms and nodding in an attempt to keep himself still and quiet.
"But then, isn't that what the Silence did? Made me who they wanted me to be? You show me myself, tell me that one day I'll be this—River Song, you promise me that one day we'll be... something. These aren't my choices, Doctor. I've already betrayed the Silence. What makes you think I'm more likely to side with you?"
"Nothing," the Doctor answered with a shrug. "Optimism. Faith. Entirely irrational and hopefully-not-misplaced affection. At this point, you could go either way."
"So you're here, what? Recruiting?"
The Doctor laughed, his hands upturned in supplication. "I did what the situation called for. I did what felt right in the moment. So did you. I'm just here to make sure you're all right."
River nodded, lifting herself onto the desk and crossing her legs. She didn't look at the Doctor, but through him. Her emotions were tangled and tarnished, her new perspective marred by the burrs the Silence had planted there. Memories of her youth were, as she said, few and far between—everything was dodgy, because the Silence interfered so thoroughly, but no memory wipe was strong enough to hold completely for years and years and years. A human mind would have been ravaged, but River wasn't entirely human, and so instead of coming apart at the seams her memory was horrifying, chilling patchwork that woke her screaming in the middle of the night, that made her sick to her stomach to think about. It wasn't all about what had been done to her, either—she had done so much bad in her lifetime. But the blood on her hands didn't bother her nearly as much as the fact that she didn't always care.
The Silence trained a deadly assassin—smarter than anyone else, quicker than anyone else, she was nothing if not well-trained. And the only way to perfect anything was to practice. Sometimes she dreamed of faces, of the sweat beading on her forehead and the burn in her muscles and the smell of fear and blood and the familiar feeling of a pulled trigger; it was training, it was a way to survive, it was her every day and though Berlin put her on the path to reform, she couldn't help but feel that she didn't deserve it. Any creature who had been raised to inflict pain and death, any creature soaked in blood and nurtured in hate couldn't possibly find benediction. Couldn't possibly earn it. Her hand slid down to press against the gun that rested in the holster at her side, and the Doctor's eyes followed the motion, his brow furrowing with concern.
"You can talk to me," he said quietly, stepping nearer to her. "Anything you're feeling, anything you're thinking. If you don't want an answer, I don't have to give you one. I know you're confused, but I'm here for you."
"I killed you," she said with a tilt of her head.
"You are forgiven," he said immediately, reaching out to brush a curl behind her ear. "Always and completely."
"You don't know all the things I've done."
"And you know every awful thing I've ever done," the Doctor said calmly, a small, sad smile playing about his lips. "All you will get from me is understanding."
"Doesn't it hurt? To think of every life you've taken? Every horrible thing you've done for one cause or another?"
"Every day," he said. "Every moment it hurts."
"How do you—" River choked, tucking her chin into her neck and squeezing her eyes shut. The Doctor neared her immediately, instinctually, his hands rubbing her shoulders, his lips pressing to her forehead.
"I make a lot of jokes," the Doctor said in a rush, "I go on absurd adventures and I save every one I can and hope that somewhere there's a scale or—or—or a score chart, or somewhere I can even things out, somewhere I can apologize for every life I've taken with every life I've saved. I find people who shine with good and strength and bravery and hope that it overshadows my very many vices. I hope that every treaty of peace I facilitate will compensate somehow for every civilization I've razed." He pressed his forehead to hers, swallowing, and she opened her eyes to meet his and saw understanding, heard it in his words, and it stole the breath from her lungs. "River, River—I wonder every day how the Tardis doesn't simply sink with the guilt I bring into her. It's hard and it's constant and no one—not even you—hates me as much as I do.
But if I can find pick up a shopgirl and show her that she is important and loved, and that even she can save the world; if I can show Donna who never aspired to anything but a wedding that she is the most important woman in the whole of creation; if I can show someone brilliant as Martha the wonders of the universe and help her to be strong and independent and she can save even me; if I can help to sort out the mad, impossible tangle that was Amelia Pond; if I can do these things, if these humans can do these things with just a little push, with a little opportunity, with a little faith and optimism on my part—then I have to be worth something, don't I?"
The Doctor was breathing heavily by the time he finished, his fingers too-tight against her arms, and River didn't have a response. He bowed his head, and she reached a hand up hesitantly to brush back the hair on his forehead, her fingers resting over the warm skin, as though in absolution, and his sigh sounded almost like a sob.
River grew up surrounded by authority and by discipline and by violence—her first stuffed animal was given to her second-hand by Rory, and even though she was friends with her parents, she was separate—she spent as much time with them as she possibly could manage, because leaving them meant returning to training, to dark cells and bare walls and assignments that landed her in jail and earned her Amy's disapproval and worry. She couldn't have told them anything, in large part because she couldn't remember anything, and so she never had a true peer. But here was the Doctor, breathless and teary-eyed, damaged and vulnerable and brilliant and honest; she saw in him a mirror, someone who understood the crushing emotions that swirled violently within her, and there was relief in that kinship. His hearts beat loudly against her own as she embraced him, burying her face in his neck and inhaling deeply of time and dust from the highest bookshelves of the Tardis's library and the sweetness of custard and something deeper and stranger she recognized as just him. The Doctor. The most terrible being in all of the cosmos, she'd been told, arrogant and violent—but then, so was she: terrible and violent and arrogant and all too aware of that.
River Song never had a friend, not one who knew her, and the thought brought the tears she'd been holding back for weeks, dampening the tweed of his jacket. Her fingers dug into his shoulders, and she felt his lips against her shoulder as he spoke again.
"Your life is yours," the Doctor said, "no one else's. Fixed points are fixed points, but how you get there is up to you—your future and my past are at your disposal."
"Thank you," she managed. Such a stupid offering—something everyone should have had, but for River, the option to choose, to change, was worth the world. He pulled away from her, his hands coming to rest on her arms once more, rubbing methodically up and down, as though he couldn't bring himself to let her go. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, sniffed, and straightened. She examined him closely for a moment, her eyes narrowing slightly. "You really don't care, if I change your entire timeline?"
"Ah, ah, ah," he scolded, shaking a finger at her, "I'm being selfless and diplomatic here. This isn't about me. It's about you."
"What you told me, before you died..."
"Did you mean it?"
"Of course I—"
"The Doctor lies," she parroted, and he sighed, running a knuckle along the edge of the wood, his body edging closer to hers.
"Not about that. Not about things that matter. Not about you."
"I matter, then?" she asked, batting her eyelashes, and flirting almost reflexively. His lips edged up at the ends, and his eyes twinkled fondly as he regarded her. He thought of all the things he could say, all of the words lodged in his throat. He thought about saying that yes he cared if she changed their timelines, because he needed her, desperately, beyond reason, beyond anything he had felt for a very long time. He thought about saying that she had saved him in more ways than one, and that he was merely returning the favor. But he didn't want to influence, or sway her in any way—he wanted her life to be her own, because it hadn't been for so long.
"Yes," he settled upon instead, the word heavy with emotion as he met her gaze, hoping that everything he felt could be read in his expression. River reached a hand up and traced a line from his brow to his chin. Her finger danced along his jawline, then down his throat—he swallowed—and ran over his bow tie. She swayed toward him, her hand coming to rest by his on the desk, and after a moment of brush her knuckle against his, he covered her hand with his and stroked it gently with his thumb, smiling at her.
"In my future, as it stands," River said, eyes fixed on their hands, mind tangled in the intimacy of that simple motion, "what am I to you?"
He answered without consideration, without second-guessing, without even consciously have decided upon the proper answer, he said, "everything."
Then she was kissing him, and he wasn't sure how or why or when exactly she had gotten so close, but she was kissing him, and elation surged through him, warm and bright, spreading from his limbs throughout his body. He clenched his hand tightly around hers on the desk, the other hand coming to rest at the small of her back as he drew her ever so slightly nearer. He wanted her to lead. She had been so patient with him, at the beginning. He wanted everything to go at her pace at her beginning.
She kissed him like she was running out of air, out of time, like she was saying hello and goodbye all at once. She flipped her hand beneath his and entangled his fingers with hers, the other lifting to rest at the nape of his neck. Her fingers ran through the short hairs their, her body swaying into his as he applied gentle pressure to the small of her back. She pressed her body into his, moaning her approval into his mouth as he held her tightly to him. Her tongue explored his mouth thoroughly, her fingers sliding from his nape to his shoulders, digging into the tweed as though he were her lifeline. She released her grasp on his other hand and it joined her other hand at his back, pulling him closer, closer until he was so tightly against her that it ached—but it was a good ache, that closeness, the press of his lean, hard body against hers.
He was tentative, but she wanted more—she wanted everything. She railed at the idea of her future being predestined, but she still wanted to know, to see her future and his future and how they intertwined—he had said that he loved her on that staircase before she died, and the promise of love was a powerful thing to the child soldier who'd known nothing but hate and anger and war her entire life. Oh, the feeling of his smile against the spot beneath her ear as he kissed her skin was bliss. She lifted herself to sit on the desk, and he settled between her legs. She immediately pulled him flush against her once more, wrapping her legs around his hips and writhing desperately, her hands shifting to the front of his body and sliding beneath the waistband of his trousers to untuck his shirt so that she could slide her hands beneath the thin fabric over his chest and feel him, warm, chest heaving, hearts pounding. Two hearts—just like her. She rolled her hips against him with a renewed vigor, her nails biting into his skin in a way that she knew would leave bruises, but she wanted him desperately, vitally, wanted to mark him as her own as surely as he had made her his. She felt the tender press of his lips and then the sharp, surprising bite of his teeth against the base of her neck, and gasped. Her hands slid from his navel to the front of his trousers, and she unbuttoned him quickly, wrapping her hand around him.
"Please," she said, biting his earlobe and sliding her hand up and down the length of him. His forehead rested against her temple and he nodded, his breath short as her fingers continued to stroke his cock, his own fingers busy insinuating themselves beneath the hem of her dress, pulling her stockings down as she slid back on the desk. He kissed her throat, extricating himself from her a little as he moved down her figure, pulling her tights down slowly. He kissed her sternum through her dress, her stomach, each knee—he slid her boots off and her stockings followed. The Doctor trailed his hands up her calves, ghosted his fingers over her outer thighs as he stood back up, nose-to-nose with her and smiling.
"Are you sure that—I don't want to—"
"I knew on the stairs," she murmured against his lips. His hands slid further up beneath her dress, resting at the crease of her thighs and tracing shapes and letters against her warm skin. "I gave you my regenerations because I knew it. I wanted it."
"Knew what, River Song?" The Doctor asked, his hands sliding down to rest against her inner thighs, his fingertips barely brushing her knickers.
"Knew that you were mine," she said, "or would be. Knew that I'd be yours."
"Rubbish," he said as he kissed her, "you couldn't possibly belong to anybody."
"That's not the point, silly man," River said, distracting him momentarily by fisting a hand in his hair and kissing him long and hard, her teeth scraping over his bottom lip as she pulled away and drawing a moan of protest from the Doctor as he followed her, pecking her lips, his mouth trailing down her jaw and to her neck, his lips and tongue and teeth molding around the skin where her neck met her shoulders. She threw her head back with a breathy moan, feeling his lips curve in a grin against her as he slid his fingers beneath the hem of her dress, fingers climbing upward until he was met with bare, warm skin, and they moaned simultaneously.
"No knickers?" he asked, pressing his hand between her legs as she arched into him with a grin and a wink.
"Not the point either," River said, biting her lip as he circled a finger slowly around her clit, his other hand stroking the small of her back gently as she groaned and shifted on the desk. He watched her face as he increased the speed of his movements, her eyes dark, lips parted, cheeks flushed. He grinned, pressing his fingers against her a little more firmly and burying his face in her neck as she gasped and groaned, little sexy noises deep down in her throat that reverberated against his lips and drove him absolutely mad. He slid a finger into her, slick and warm, and then another until she began to move with his hand, her fingers digging into his shoulders. "Doctor," she gasped, and he moved faster—she pressed a leg against the growing bulge in his trousers, and he moved against her knee and she against him as he trailed feather-light kisses down her neck. Her moans grew and grew until she was panting and keening beautifully and he abruptly wanted her to be naked against him, warm and vital and free and his, but then there was symbolism there, wasn't there? Here she was at her start, willing to give him part of herself, willing to trust him, but only to a point—to be naked was to be vulnerable and she didn't know him all that well yet, no, but his mind snapped back like a rubber-band, back to the literal, physical moment, to the warm, spiraling sensations spreading through his body, to the quiver of her muscles around his fingers, to the bite of her teeth against his earlobe and none of it mattered, after all. Wherever she was in her timeline, in her personal arc, in time in space in in in—it didn't matter.
She was River Song, he was the Doctor, and he loved every inch of skin and every stretch of her mind in any time stream that was, would be, or had been.
He pressed his thumb to the sensitive bundle of nerves and she came apart with a shout, her lips pressing lazily to the side of his neck as her hands found his trousers, unbuttoning and unzipping him. He met her half-lidded eyes as she pulled back, grinning stupidly at her and helping her to divest him of his clothes.
"I haven't known you that long, but I know that look already," she murmured, pressing a chaste kiss to his lips before he stepped back to maneuver out of his trousers. "You're about to witter, and while it is charming, I can think of a dozen better uses for your mouth."
The Doctor was too distracted by the feeling of her hand around him as he stepped back toward her that he forgot to be insulted. "A dozen, really?"
"A baker's dozen, easy."
She didn't need to tell him twice. He fisted a hand in her hair, pulling her head roughly back and covering her mouth with his, the kiss deepened by his elevated angle as he hands explored the newly bared skin of his back, sliding down his spine and around to grip his ass and draw him into her. His hands slid down to rub up her outer thighs, lifting them around his waist. She moaned to feel him against her.
"But River," the Doctor whined, kissing her nose. She groaned as he pressed himself more tightly against her, teasing them both by barely pressing into her. "What is the point?"
She grinned at him, but refused to respond, instead squeezing her thighs around his waist and maneuvering herself up enough that she could slide down onto him, and then he seemed to forget what he was saying, swallowing hard and closing his eyes. She kissed his lips, sweetly at first, and then he groaned, pulling her tightly to him and thrusting into her, plying her mouth open with his tongue. He snaked a hand between them, pressing against her already sensitive clit—her hands clawed at his back, slipping forward as he moved and gripping his biceps. He swallowed her moans as he begins to move faster and faster, the world receding to one point and one moment—he was a Time Lord, after all, the very last, capable of viewing all of time like on large tapestry, but mindful of every glistening thread of every person's every decision if he wanted to, but here like this, wrapped up and buried in River he could forget all of that—forget time and its weight and heft and intricacies and focus on him because for all of his conceits he wasn't particularly selfish—and when he was with River he wasn't the only one and that alone made him euphoric—made his skin buzz and his hearts soar and on top of that she was stunning and the noises she made as he pressed against the desk with increasing vigor, his hands digging into her hips until he was sure there would be bruises, but she retaliated with a bite to his neck and he shouted, panting as she soothed the wound with her tongue and then gasping sharply as he pressed his thumb to her clit and heard her scream, but dimly, as though from far away because his vision swam away and everything was perfect and she felt so good and he wanted to hold onto the moment forever, to file away the smell and taste and feel of her, to memorize the sound of her sated sighs in his ear, but it spun away from him, and next thing he knew he was slumped against her, his forehead resting on her shoulder, her fingers trailing through his hair.
"River?" he asked quietly, surprised to find his voice a little hoarse.
"What was the point?"
"Why, love, darling. I thought that was obvious."
The Doctor raised a brow, disentangling himself from her and peering closely at her face, his nose nearly touching hers. He searched her eyes for a moment before nodding slightly, his eyes crinkling in the corners. "The church raised you—trained you for hatred of me."
"Clever boy," she said fondly, trailing one finger down the side of his face.
"But you acted for love of me," River interjected quietly. "Yes, yes, sappy, I know it—but it means a lot, Doctor. It means the world."
"River Song—hard, scary, wild exterior. Soft, nougaty center. Who knew."
"River, I'm trying to be genuine, here, and you're not helping."
"I do have a reputation to maintain," River said with a grin and a sigh, and he kissed her briefly, just because he could.
Ten minutes later, the Doctor and River were running for their lives, and though the Doctor was blissfully happy to be running alongside his hectic, wonderful, half-baked, brilliant, retrograde wife, he did wish he'd had time to get dressed again.