A/N And here's the end. I don't intend to create a sequel, but thank you so much to anyone who reviewed, favorited, or alerted.
Thanks to azebra117, Mashlie Needs Some Benadryl, and Cutiepi97
Disclaimer I don't own Doctor Who/Torchwood/Sherlock/Supernatural or any associated characters, events, etc.
Sun bathes everything, illuminating even the darkest shadows with a tinge of buttered gold, breathing a soft cloud of almost childish unreality over the field. The sky is pure, undisrupted blue, and candy-colored flowers dot the pale green grass that rolls in mounds and hills, dappled here and there by a patch of clover or small, light-barked tree. Tittering birds add to the impression of a fairytale, as does the temperature—perfectly warm, not hot enough to draw sweat or cold enough to incite shivers. Sublimely peaceful.
Only three are here: Vastra, Jenny, and Jack. The Silurian and two humans whom he decided were most important—and still alive, but he doesn't think about that, because this is a special day, and he's allowed his mind to be lifted free of those bonds. The Doctor has never gone through this before. Of course there were all the accidental involvements, over the years—engagements that occasionally lead to their desired result, but they were different; during them he was only trying to think of a way to escape, to move onto his next adventure, back to his companions.
Now, this is the adventure, and this is his companion.
She walks herself down the makeshift aisle, a smooth parting in the grass. A veil obscures her face, glittering white and silver under the soft sun. This planet really does have spectacular lighting, he thinks, and climate, as well—she chose the perfect location. He'd never even heard of this place before now—him, the Doctor, and she upped him one, like she has so many, many times.
Maybe that's why he ended up with her, he thinks. Because she's shown that she doesn't just need him—he needs her, equally, perhaps even more. Many others pined after him, and yet he pines after her.
The others. They burn in his mind, even now—in a small, secluded corner, their wails hushed by the overwhelmingly content vibe that consumes him. And yet they're still audible, just barely. The screams—not theirs, but his own, burning from the inside.
A brown-eyed, blonde-haired woman, sobbing as a chilly beach faded into unreality…
A smirking brunette, her eyes intelligent and her chin high, speaking the words that cleanly cracked his heart…
An unimpressed-looking redhead, barely giving him a second glance as she stepped into the living room of her own home…
A slightly scruffy blonde man, his last breaths draining him, leaving him limp on the bottom bunk of a bed in an abandoned military base with a cracked floor and dampness on the walls…
The first one, back once more, and holding the hand of her lovely ginger-haired partner, smiling and laughing and waving without a tear in sight… a baby cradled between them… Melody… River.
She steps fully up to him, watching slyly from underneath the veil. Her golden curls are particularly fluffed up, longer than the last time he saw her, hanging nearly halfway to her elbows. Her eyes are the green of pond water, and her gauze-blurred features catlike… young. Younger, practically, than he's ever seen her before. This is early for her, meaning that so many the other times—his memories—are her future.
She has so much ahead of her. And so does he. So much still to be unveiled, to be explored together, experienced and laughed at and cried through together.
That's what he thought with Molly, but he doesn't allow himself the image of her right now, because he's too old for that, and it will only exhaust him, only leach the spirit out of him. Molly is gone now, but River isn't, River is here.
"Hello, sweetie," she greets under her breath, tilting her chin up towards him. "You've gotten tall."
"New regeneration does that," he replies lightly, still unfamiliar with the way his own voice scratches at his throat and moves through his lips, mouth. It's something that humans never get the chance to experience, that absurd shift to another being, but she does—she already has, and that's probably one of the reasons why he settled for her, after all. She knows him so well, not just through acquired familiarity, but also because she's like him, the closest to the same that he'll ever encounter.
"Which one are you on now? It was eleventh last time I saw you." She's still barely speaking above a whisper, which he supposes is proper, but then again, he's never been to any normal sort of wedding, anyways. Perhaps it's his own presence that's always prevented them from being such.
The syllables darken her eyes, and she draws in a quick breath, looking down at the ground for a long moment before raising her stare again. It's concerned now, wide, plaintive. No one else sees her like this—no one else can make her like this, not even her parents, on the rare occasion that she did get to encounter them.
"It's late for you… it's too late."
"It's never too late," he promises gently, raising a hand and placing his fingers on her forearm. They depress the white silk of her sleeve, which glitters under the sunlight just like everything else, along with the dazzling pearls lining her cuff. "Besides, this is pretty early on in it. I've got a ways to go, don't you worry."
"You sound different," she sighs, but it's not unhappy. She sidles up against him, their sides brushing against one another, and he can't help but smile. She really is young. Young and innocent. He likes her this way, he decides—of course, he almost always likes her, but this particularly stands out to him. It's a shame that he won't be able to see her quite this way again, if she hasn't experienced the thirteenth version of him before.
"I feel different," he responds idly, "but… good, still."
Jack clears his throat and lifts the book held in one of his hands—an old book, Gallifreyan, taken and dusted off from the deepest storage compartments of the TARDIS. It contains the spousal rituals of the Time Lords, simply because he could never have it done any other way. That'll make it special, too, he decides; no one's gotten married this way in thousands of years, and, after he and River are gone, chances are that they never will again.
He starts to read, his American human tongue contorting the words slightly, but he's practiced, and the Doctor doesn't mind. It's beautiful just to hear his own language, even by a foreign speaker—beautiful, in a way, to know that he and River are the only ones who understand what's being said. It makes the moment more personal, more private… more special.
Jack stumbles a few times, stopping to cough or squint closer at the words. He's getting older, too. He still won't admit it, but the Doctor can't help but believe that it might be intentional—he's staying out of the way of death, not letting himself be renewed, so that he can better suit Ianto, probably. His hair is streaked through with silver, and he wears reading glasses, shoved on casually as if in the hope that people won't notice them that way. Torchwood is still going strong, apparently—they've lost a few of their old members and gained some new ones, including his and Ianto's daughter, now a lovely young woman with an amazing knack for rifle shooting. The angel is still there, quieter now that Dean's gone, but Jack always says that he seems content enough—satisfied with the long years that the two did manage to share.
Sometimes, he—the Doctor—will remember everything that happened. Surely the most trying events of his three-thousand-year life, the most mind-blowing, the most devastating. But also, in a way, the most beautiful. Starting on the dinosaur planet, and leading all the way to taking off to Torchwood, Molly in tow. Or maybe it went even beyond that—to her end.
Molly Hooper died the worst of deaths.
He will not think about that right now. He cannot think about that right now. It still stings too freshly, and so he presses his lips more firmly together, sealing his fingers around River's wrist. Jack's on the last few phrases now, and he finishes them with a flourish, a gallant air to his voice despite its aging creakiness. The Doctor feels a smile coming to his face, an irresistible tickle at his cheeks, and he lets it materialize as the final syllable melts away into the murmur of breeze and birds coasting over the hillside.
He reaches up, and—delicately, as though handling the frailest of creatures—pinches the corner of her veil between his fingers, lifting it, exposing her face. For a moment, he's breathless from her beauty, from her proximity, from the smoldering fire in her eyes and the wide dazzle of her feline grin. But she doesn't give him the time to be dumbfounded, not before she wraps her arms around him, joining them at the back of his neck, and pulls him down.
They kiss warmly, eagerly, and not for any prolonged time—only a few seconds of condensed perfection, of her stevia-sweet taste on his lips, the butterfly-wing flutter of her eyelashes against his cheek, the shaking tremble of the delighted laugh in her throat. Then he pulls back and turns to face the rest of them—the two women are clapping politely, Jenny bearing an excited beam while Vastra smiles more serenely, and Jack releases a shameless whoop and throws a fist into the air.
River's laugh finally takes full shape, and she nuzzles up against him, not kissing again, only touching—touching his jaw and his neck and his shoulder, exploring the texture of his skin. "There," she whispers into his ear, her voice tickling; "aren't you glad you agreed to marry me, you stupid madman?"
"I suppose I'll have to wait and see if it's worthwhile," he returns, but he's smiling, too, and they both already know that this was the right choice—him from the future, her from the present. That's the beautiful thing about River: he'll never have to let her go. They've already shattered a million paradoxes together, surely, so one more here and there can't hurt, and he'll never have to see her end—never again, in any case. Twice was far more than enough, but now those are both over, now he can relax and let the remainder of his years flow by in a honeyed daze.
He does not plan to take on any more companions, excluding her, of course. Molly was the last.
Oh, poor Molly…
And then it hits him full-force, shattering the flawless bronzy pleasure for a handful of barbed heartbeats.
The blood, everywhere, causing her shirt to stick to her skin, plastering her hair against her cheek, flowing freely from her mouth and out of a scratch under one eye.
The paleness of her visage, waxy, like a haunted moon, absolutely stark in contrast to the vivid crimson pumping over it.
Her eyes, wide and light and brown, brimming with tears that slide into the blood and poison it, sting at it, dilute it, her stare wild and imploring, desperate for something that he can't possibly offer.
And, above all else, her screams, absolutely earsplitting, heartbreaking, ripping his own lungs out of his chest as he returns them, sobs, begs that she deserves better, that this isn't right, that he loves her and he can't watch it and please, please take him instead.
"Doctor," River says, "Doctor."
He exhales, and lets the memories fade with the breath, twisting and floating away into the air, escaping. They haven't left him, not truly, but he can at least ignore them for now, because it's all over, all of it, and there's not a thing he can do to change the past. It's taken him a long, long time to learn that, but it's rooted solidly in his mind now. He's positive. He understands—he finally does.
This is his life. And it's not perfect, of course it's not, but that's what makes it beautiful. It really is, he supposes, a pile of good things and bad things—or perhaps more like a well, thick with swirling, molten colors, dark navy for his regret, blazing red for his anger, mellow green for his calmness, dazzling gold for his pride, blushed cream for his love. And though the colors may flow on top of and below and beside ad between one another, they don't merge, and that is what matters, in the end, because every single one of the colors is gloriously distinct, standing out to him in stunning individuality. In truth, he treasures them all. Every memory is part of what makes up who he is now.
And one of the thickest strands of recollection must be those times, those two times when they all came together—his companions, Sherlock and John, the Winchesters, Torchwood. So many shades of emotion are woven tightly together there that he can barely separate them, and they come to him instead in a surge of passion, of strength.
It all burns inside of him, fierce and bright and determined, and it powers him into what he is today.
"Doctor," River says again, her voice stirring him, reminding him to be here, now. He's done dwelling in the past, now—entirely done, because the past is the past, and regardless of how many years it took him to come to terms with that, he knows it. That was all the past, and this is the present, and everything else will be the future.
"Yes," he decides.
She raises one sandy blonde eyebrow. "Yes what?"
"Yes… yes, it will be worthwhile. It already is." He tucks two of his fingers tenderly under her chin and smiles down at her puzzled expression, reveling in her innocence, her naïveté that he knows won't stay forever, or for very long at all. "Just to do this… just to be with someone, to have something like this to myself. It's everything I could have asked for."
"And here I was worried about getting sappy, myself," she chuckles. "I never would have expected it from you, Doctor."
"There are a lot of things I do that are unexpected. Usually to myself, as well as everyone else."
She giggles, and he wraps an arm around her, hugging her close and looking up into the endless blue sky, almost seeing past it, to the millions and billions and trillions of galaxies beyond.
Yes, he thinks again, feeling River's form against him, the steadiness of his feet planted on the ground. There is so much more to come.