A/N: This story was written as a companion piece to another story I wrote, The First and Last Time, at the request of a wonderful writer, Valerie E. Mackin.
As is always true, I don't own anything recognizable.
The Singing Towers of Darillium
The Doctor sat numbly in the TARDIS, staring at nothing and everything. His surroundings in the console room had faded around him as he looked at his inner sight, tracing timelines. Something had been approaching, had been coming for a long time, a fixed point he had hoped could be avoided. Now it was here. Now it was time.
Time. Time should be able to be avoided by a Time Lord, he thought in despair. He had cheated fixed points in the past, sometimes successfully, sometimes to disastrous results. His death had been a fixed point he had worked around. Bowie Base One and Rose saving her father's life had been such huge disasters that Time itself had forced a repair. The loss of the Ponds, a fixed point he had not tried to alter, still haunted him to this day and would continue to do so on some level until his next regeneration.
And now the Singing Towers. River had wanted him to take her there for ages, and for ages he had promised her he would, all the while trying desperately to think of a way out of it. But the Singing Towers were a fixed point, a convergence point that was immediately in front of him, a fixed point that he could put off no longer.
The Doctor closed his eyes and tried to remember as many of the details as he could from their first meeting. That is, their first meeting for him. For her, it was the last time. The last time meeting him. More than that, for her it was the last time for everything.
He had first met her in the Library during his last regeneration. She had seemed to know him so well, seemed to know everything about him, yet he had not known her. Hadn't been certain that he liked her. She had been so irritating with her attitude and her hints about their future and her 'spoilers'. And he certainly hadn't trusted her. Particularly when she said she was the one who had sent him the message to come to the Library on his psychic paper.
He hadn't trusted her until she had whispered something in his ear that she definitely should not have known. Under any circumstances.
His name. His true name. Something he had never shared with anyone, before or since. In fact, he still hadn't shared it with her.
Yet she had known it in the Library.
As he thought about the implications of that, he tried to remember everything else from that day. Donna. The Vashta Nerada. So many deaths. Including hers.
So long ago for him, yet still coming for her.
Knowing what he had to do and unable to avoid it any longer, the Doctor arrived near her office at the University where she taught, TARDIS engines and brakes groaning and wheezing. To his surprise, he didn't immediately see her. Usually she came to greet him at the sound of the TARDIS. He eventually found her, alone in one of the classrooms she used.
When she heard him at the door, she looked up, a delighted smile on her face. Despite not being at an archaeological site, she was wearing her standard dig outfit, khaki trousers and utility vest over a buttoned down top. Her curls were tied back at the nape of her neck.
"Hello, Sweetie," she said with a smirk. "I almost didn't recognize you without the tweed. A top hat and tails? What's the occasion?"
"I'm taking you out," he said in false cheerfulness. "You'll need to change. Dress up. Dress to the nines, as they say. Perhaps you should wear the gold dress I gave you."
"Oooh," she said. "Where are we going? Should we check diaries?
"No need," he responded. "It's nowhere we've ever been together."
"Oh, let me guess," she grinned. She pulled out her diary anyway, which she always kept handy in a pocket. She flipped through it. "Felspoon?"
He shook his head.
He shook his head again.
"Well, we've already done the Winter Frost Fair in 1814." She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye to see if she was correct. "Haven't we?"
"Yes," he said.
"Have we done Paris in the 19th Century?"
"Yes," he said again.
"In the 21st century?"
"Then what?" River asked, giving up.
"The Singing Towers," he said. Her face lit up and she ran to hug him. His hearts squeezed painfully as he was seized with guilt.
She went back to her flat so she could change, telling him she would meet him in the TARDIS. Of course, the Doctor had always been convinced that nothing could go smoothly where he was concerned, and this time was no different. When she didn't show up, he began to search for her, finally managing to find her in the wrong TARDIS… with a younger version of his current incarnation. As they left, River let it slip where they were going, and he and his previous self exchanged troubled glances.
They finally made it to the right TARDIS, and the Doctor set the coordinates and flipped the switches to take his timeship into the vortex. River went to a back room, ostensibly to freshen her makeup, leaving him alone in the console room.
After she left, a dissonant hum filled the room and he looked up at the ceiling in irritation.
"You know I have to do it," he hissed. "I don't have any choice. If I had another choice, don't you think I'd take it?"
The lights on the console dimmed, and the TARDIS hummed again. He sighed.
"I'm as upset about this as you are," he said softly, caressing the console. "I'm sorry. I know how close you two are." He paused for a moment. "You know what I need, don't you?"
The console hummed one last time and then a sonic screwdriver popped out of a small hole and shot into the air. The Doctor caught it in one hand. He noticed that it was a close match to the one his former self had used.
"Thank you, Sexy," he said quietly, and shoved the sonic into an interior pocket of his tuxedo.
As River reentered the console room, the TARDIS began to wheeze and groan as it began to materialize.
"Now, how many times have I told you to release the parking breaks," she teased him.
"I like the sound," he responded lightly, and smiled at her before continuing. "We're here. Care to do the honors?" he asked, gesturing grandly at the door.
Grinning and letting out a small squeal, she ran to the doors and flung them open as he followed close behind. He offered his arm to her and they walked out of the TARDIS together. After they had taken a few steps, he stopped, snapped his fingers and the TARDIS doors closed.
"Very impressive," she said in a low voice. "You're getting good at that. What else can you do with those talented fingers of yours?"
"River," he said in a scolding tone.
"You love it," she said with a smirk.
He didn't answer, but his mouth twitched in amusement.
The Singing Towers were known as one of the wonders of the Andromeda Galaxy. Twin towers, each over four hundred meters high and twenty-five hundred square meters at the base, they were made of a finely polished stone that on the surface resembled pink marble yet was actually an unrelated polysilicate only located on Darillium.
It had been late afternoon when the TARDIS had landed in a flower bed along a path in one of the formal gardens that surrounded the Towers. The Doctor and River had followed the path to a low building some distance away. When they reached it, the Doctor opened the door for River, who walked through it with a smile. Taking off his top hat to put it under one arm, he took her arm and led her into the building.
River's eyes widened as they entered a restaurant that was the epitome of fine dining and refined, understated elegance, more elegant than anyplace he had ever taken her before. The room was rapidly filling with people, but to River's surprise the maître de led them to one of the best tables in the house. It was a small table by the window with a clear view of the Towers. He moved to seat River, but the Doctor stopped him, pulling River's chair out for her himself.
"So gentlemanly tonight. What is the occasion?" she asked again.
"Spoilers," he responded.
She put on a fake pout, and then smiled at him.
When the waiter came, the Doctor ordered all her favorite foods: giant prawns, filet mignon, crème brulee. River's eyebrows shot up when he also ordered champagne, something he disliked but knew she loved.
As they ate their dinner, the Doctor began to recite the history of the Towers from their construction through the present day to their ultimate destruction more than a dozen millennia in the future. River smiled and let him talk. As an archaeologist, she already knew the history, but she knew he loved to teach almost as much as he loved to talk, and as he was attempting to do both, she listened patiently. Mostly to humor him.
"And at sunset," he continued, "the energy of the sun heats up the molecules to a specific resonance frequency and the Towers produce a series of sounds so clear, so musical, it sounds like singing. Hence the name. Obviously it's not really singing, but the name poetically captures the beauty and majesty of the sounds. However, it is so loud that it could permanently damage the hearing of most life forms, so they have placed restaurants and observation posts periodically at a radius of two miles from the Towers, which is the optimal distance for hearing. And of all the locations available, this restaurant is at the optimum place to hear the sounds. Also, at this time of year, the photons from the sun excite the molecules of the towers as well so that the energy is given off at a wavelength that makes them appear to glow a brilliant gold. It's really quite beautiful."
River stared at him in amazement. This, the restaurant, the Towers, the dinner, the tuxedo, all added up to the most romantic night they had ever shared and she recognized the effort he was making for her. She placed her hand over his.
"Thank you," she said genuinely. "This is wonderful. It was very thoughtful of you to bring me here."
He looked uncomfortable for a moment.
"You're welcome," he said finally.
The sunset came and the towers were everything he had said they were and more. The sounds the Towers made sounded like a symphony, and at the same time they seemed to glow with an inner light. At twilight, the sounds died away and the light from the towers began to fade.
"That was truly quite beautiful," she said quietly to him. "Extraordinary."
They left the restaurant, River holding onto his arm, and strolled through the formal gardens that surrounded the towers. The paths were illuminated by the soft glow of streetlamps and fairy lights, and benches were set periodically along the path. The Doctor picked one and sat down, motioning for River to sit next to him. He took off his top hat and set it next to him on the bench.
"I brought you here for more than one reason, River," he began, and then stopped, overcome with emotion.
"What is it?" she asked quietly. "What's wrong?"
Placing his elbows on his knees, he dropped his head into his hands for a moment. When he raised his head again, he turned and looked deeply into her eyes.
"River, you know that I care about you," he said. "It's not something I typically talk about, but it's true." He took her hands in his, something he only rarely did. He took a deep breath. "River, I want you to marry me."
"I don't understand…" she began. "We already are married."
"Yes," he answered, "and no. At the time I told you I didn't want to marry you, and when we married, it was only as a last resort in an aborted timeline and with my Teselecta. This time, I want to truly marry you. As a Time Lord."
Her eyes widened and her breath caught. "What's the difference?" she asked quietly, knowing that whatever the difference was, for him this must be tremendously significant.
"The difference is that when Time Lords marry, they share every part of themselves. There are no secrets kept. All our pasts are shared. Those points that were most significant in our lives. And," he said slowly and carefully, "our most precious gift is shared as well. That of our true selves. In marrying you, I will give you my true name. Something no one else in the universe will know."
River's hands flew to her mouth and tears sprang to her eyes, overcome by the gift he was offering her.
And of course the Doctor had lied. He couldn't tell her everything. Typically with Time Lords there would be a telepathic element to any true marriage, but he couldn't share with her what was in his mind. If they were linked telepathically, she might see what her future held and the real reason he was marrying her. By her knowing his name she could convince his previous incarnation to trust her. Not to mention that more than a thousand years of memories couldn't be shared in an evening anyway. But he cared for her enough to go through with the marriage and he cared for her enough to share with her a large portion of his past. Everything that had changed him. Everything that had made him the man he was.
River already knew some of the stories. Over the years he had shared some of his past with her. But the amount she knew was only the tiniest fraction of what he had experienced, who he truly was.
So as the light dwindled and the lamps grew brighter, he told her stories of Gallifrey, of growing up, of his family, of stealing the TARDIS. He told her about Susan, and his first companions, Ian and Barbara. He shared with her stories of his adventures and his companions from all his lives. The pain of losing Jamie and Zoe and Adric. The time he spent trapped on Earth. UNIT and the Brigadier. The friendships he had formed with so many people, from Jo to Sarah Jane, from Tegan and Nyssa to Ace, Mel and Grace. He told her about the Time War. About fighting alongside Romana and Leela and Andred. And how and why he had ended it.
Last he told her about his most recent years. Jack and Martha. The Master. The Year that Never Was. And Donna and the metacrisis.
And finally, Rose.
"You truly loved her, and then you sent her away?" River asked.
"Yes," he said. "For her sake, and the sake of my metacrisis self, I had to."
"I'm sorry," she said. "That must have hurt."
He took a deep breath and nodded.
She took that in. "And do you still love her?" she asked.
The silence between them was deafening. He looked down at his hands in his lap.
"Oh, I see," she said quietly.
"River, that is my past. She is my past. And I never shared with her what I would be sharing with you," he said. He looked up and took her hands in his. "What I will share with you. If this is what you want."
She looked at him seriously. "It's all I've ever wanted," she whispered.
"One last thing," he said. "You know about regeneration, of course. Don't be surprised if someday you see me and I don't look like this."
"Are you going to be regenerating soon?" She stared at him. "Is there something wrong that I should know about?"
"No," he said, almost too quickly, shaking his head. "No. I just want you to be prepared. In the past I have been absolutely rubbish about preparing people for my regenerating."
"Sweetie, I know all about regeneration," she told him. "And I'm not people; I'm your wife. Or I guess I will be shortly." She smiled wryly.
She paused, and then said in a matter-of-fact tone, "So what is it that we have to do?"
"The handfasting is the first part in a Gallifreyan marriage. We have already done that. I have shared with you my past, and I already know your past, so all that is left is to share with you my name." There was more, so much more, to a Time Lord marriage but he couldn't share it with her even if he wanted to, if for no other reason their time was nearing its end. He swallowed thickly, and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, they were suspiciously moist. He leaned to her ear and whispered something, something so beautiful and magical and musical River felt it put to shame the music of the Singing Towers.
River was overcome with emotion, filled with love for him and awe at what he had shared with her. When he pulled away, she pulled him back and kissed him.
"I love you," she whispered.
He bit his lip, and then took a deep breath. He reached up, cupping her face with his hand. "River," he said slowly, "I love you, too."
She reached up and wiped tears from his face. "You're crying," she said in surprise.
He smiled at her. "So are you."
"It's just because I'm so happy," she told him, and he leaned forward and kissed her.
By unspoken agreement, they stood and he offered her his arm. Slowly they walked back to the TARDIS.
"I'm sorry, River," he said when they were back in the console room.
"About what?" she asked.
About a good many things, he thought. About so, so many things. Instead, he said, "I'm sorry, but I have to take you back right away. I have somewhere I need to be."
"Where?" she asked, astonished he would leave her so suddenly.
"Spoilers," he said, throwing them into the vortex.
The TARDIS landed on a street corner near her flat and he walked her to her door.
"Until next time?" she asked. She stood on tiptoe, gave him a kiss, and then turned to go inside.
"River, wait," he said quickly, pulling something out of the inside pocket of his tux and handing it to her. "I have something for you. Consider it… a wedding present."
Her eyes widened as she looked at the object in her hands. "A sonic screwdriver? You're giving me a sonic screwdriver?" Her mouth quirked in amusement. "Well, it's not diamonds…" she teased.
He smiled wryly. "No, it's not diamonds," he said, and then turned serious again. "Now I want you to promise me something. Will you promise, no matter what it is, no matter how crazy it seems, will you promise to do what I ask?"
"What is it?" she asked, concerned about his tone.
"Promise me," he insisted.
"Alright, I promise," she said. "What is it?"
"Promise me that you will take that wherever you go. You won't forget it. No matter where you go, you take it with you."
"Okay," she said slowly.
"Now don't forget."
"I won't forget," she said seriously. "I promise I'll take it with me. Wherever I go." She smiled indulgently.
"Good," he said.
She cupped his face and then kissed him. "Goodbye, my love."
The Doctor didn't answer immediately. Instead he stared at her, as if he were trying to memorize every aspect of her face, every curl in her hair. The color of her eyes and the curve of her lips.
"Goodbye, River," he said finally, knowing he would never see her again. He turned and walked quickly back to the TARDIS, not wanting her to see the tears that streamed down his face.
Three weeks and two days later, linear time, the Doctor felt his psychic paper grow warm in his pocket. Heartsick, he pulled it out and looked at it, already knowing what it would say.
Hello, Sweetie, it read, with a date and coordinates. Coordinates for the Library.
He sank to a seat near the console and put his head in his hands. "Oh, River," he whispered. Holding onto the psychic paper, he closed his eyes and sent the message on. Back into his past. Back to himself. So that with her death, their story would begin again.