A/N: First fic in a year and a half! I've been taking my best friend through the best of Who, a few episodes at a time, and I was inspired by some stuff he said. I normally dislike River, but I realize most of the reasons I don't like her aren't actually to do with her character, but rather with my ex-girlfriend who was unfortunately obsessed. So, I thought I'd give it a shot. It's unbeta'd because I haven't been able to find a beta. If anyone wants to volunteer to beta my stuff, pm me. But enough of that; read on, my minions!
"Mister," said the little girl. "Sorry, mister, but I don't know your name."
The Doctor turned to look at her, a sad smile on his face. "Oh, Melody. Melody, Melody, Melody. You can call me the Doctor."
"The Doctor? Doctor who?"
"I'll tell you when you're older."
She frowned, but nodded. "Does that mean I'm gonna see you again? You promise?"
"See me again? Of course you'll see me again. I don't think you're ever going to stop, really."
"Good. I'm glad. I won't say goodbye, then. I'll say hello, for next time. You have to come back now, see. You can't waste a good hello."
River got up on her tiptoes, and gave the doctor a kiss on the cheek. "Hello, Doctor. Until next time!" Then she ducked out of the TARDIS.
The Doctor absently raised his hand, and touched his face where she had kissed it. In all his years with River Song, she had never told him how she had met him. He remembered the time she kissed him from her jail cell – his first time, her last. He remembered his last time kissing her. Or at least, he had thought it was his last. He apparently wasn't done being surprised by River Song.
Or... well, he guessed he was, now. She didn't recognize him this time. She didn't know his name. That was that, then. One more person gone. Amy, Rory, Clara, Spine, Warner and now River. Everyone leaves, in the end.
Oh, but he mustn't think like that. He wasn't fresh from the Time War anymore, all sharp edges and pain and reaction. He was an older man. He could go on until he found someone else, just like he always did.
He went over to the console, fiddling with some dials, trying to decide where to go next. He couldn't really see the point in going anywhere at the moment. He wanted to stay here. He wanted to see River again, even though he knew he couldn't. She would pick up the diary sometime between now and the next time he saw her, he knew. That little book. It held all the secrets of time and space, and she picked it up in a little shop in Leadsworth.
The Doctor paused. Surely it couldn't hurt – I mean, it couldn't matter now, could it? She'd always kept it from him. 'Spoilers', she'd said. But there weren't any spoilers anymore. He'd seen her grow up – or grow down, rather – he'd seen her die, there wasn't anything in those pages that he couldn't know.
He revved up the engines once more. He took the brake off, for old times sake. And because he's sure his last incarnation would be rather unsettled at seeing his own TARDIS landing in the library, apparently by someone else. He didn't remember noticing, so he couldn't let himself notice. Having your memories change isn't a pleasant experience, even for a Timelord.
The library was much as he remembered. He took the liberty of landing on the outside platform, just to be on the safe side. Down the stairs, and there was River's diary. His screwdriver too – he still had to give it to her, didn't he? - Just sitting, as if it had been lying there for years. It had really only been a few minutes, give or take. A lifetime for him. And it was a lifetime for her, too.
It was that man. The one who headed up the expedition. Lithe, was it? Limp? London? Luxor? Lux? Yes, Lux was the one.
"Lux, what would you like?"
Lux looked momentarily taken aback by the Doctor knowing his name, but he shook it off like a good CEO should. "Doctor Song told me that, in the event of her death, I should put this note into her diary. She said that there would be a man coming for it. Am I to assume that man is you?"
"Oh yes, you can certainly assume that Mr. Lux."
"Here you are, then."
The Doctor shook his head, examining the paper. Coordinates. Of course. And in his own hand.
"And I have her communicator. I was going to give it to the Doctor, but perhaps you ought to have it. If she wanted to give you this note."
He took it. It was still at three bars. He would have to stabilize it in the TARDIS so it could last for however long River had the screwdriver.
"I'm very sorry for your loss, mister -?"
"I'm not. We all have to go someday. We can't all construct planets to save our loved ones. It was River's time, Mr. Lux. So she went. You can't fight time." He wondered if he could ever actually believe that.
Mr. Lux shrank. "How do you know about Charlotte?"
"Don't worry, Mr. Lux. I won't tell anyone. Your secret," he exaggeratedly zipped his lips, "is safe with me."
"Do you promise? Will you sign these forms, to not tell anyone?"
The Doctor smiled. "Mr. Lux, even Miss Evangelista couldn't get me to sign those forms. Thank you for your coordinates, I think I'll be on my way."
Mr. Lux stared at the TARDIS as it faded out silently. He wasn't exactly an expert, but surely spaceships that looked like police boxes weren't exactly a dime a dozen. And that man had known about Charlotte. He would have to ask the Doctor about this.
"No, you can't."
He jumped. The blue box had rematerialized behind him, and the man was standing casually in the doorway.
"I can't what?"
"You can't ask him who I am."
"Spoilers. I'm going to leave now, but don't have any funny ideas about mentioning this to the Doctor. He doesn't need to know, you hear me? Good! Goodbye, Mr. Lux!"
Mr. Lux watched the TARDIS dematerialize silently. That was a good trick. What on earth could the man have meant by spoilers? Why, that was what River kept saying to the Doctor. Pity he couldn't have asked her. Pity about her, really. He had liked her, even if he hadn't ever been able to get a handle on her.
Spoilers, spoilers. How could that man have been so sure that he wouldn't go talk to the Doctor? How could that man have a box just like the Doctors? How could he...
Mr. Lux paused, and then shook his head. Time travel was just a dream of the future. And who would undergo that much plastic surgery?
Still. He'd better not risk mentioning it. Just in case.
Earth. The year ten thousand. Earth had gone back to the bustling metropolis that she had always been meant to be. Robots were the flavour of the millennium, and the humans that lived here spent most of their time on high fashion, team sports, and absolutely unmatchable parties.
The Doctor did up the buttons of the outfit he had once worn to Amy and Rory's wedding, eight thousand years ago. Vintage. Cool.
River was at a table nursing a flute of something-or-another. The Doctor sat down beside her.
"I'll have some," he whistled three ascending notes, "please. Hold the salt. I'm trying to cut back." he added, to River. A small flute was lowered from the ceiling on a small platform, full of electric green liquid.
"Where are you?" River asked. "Have we done Barcelona yet?"
"I still think the dog thing was your fault."
"You were the one who locked the man in a closet."
"Because you were flirting with him!"
"You can flirt your way through an entire Andaluvian village, but as soon as I look the wrong way at a Barcelonan dog walker, you lock him in the closet?"
"I wasn't flirting with the Andaluvians! I was just observing local customs."
"I think you're a jealous man."
"Yeah... well... you don't mind."
"Of course not, sweetie." River said. "But really, where are you? Do you know who I am to you?"
The Doctor paused. "Well, I mean I'm not sure if our marriage even counts. I mean, I did only do it to save the universe, does that count as under duress?"
River's eyes widened. "You're that old?"
"River..." the Doctor began. "I dropped you off in jail, and you kissed me, and I told you we had never done that before. Has that happened yet?"
He kissed her.
"Hello, River Song." he said. "I couldn't waste a good hello."
"Couldn't waste a good hell – oh. That's what I said – does that mean...?"
"Yes." he leaned back. "This is the last time I'll ever see you, I think. I mean, I'm probably not supposed to be here right now, and I'm probably breaking some law of the universe by being here right now... but just this once, I think I'll be a little bit selfish."
"How are you here? We meet up backwards. You told me there was nothing to be done about that. How are you here?"
The Doctor folded his hands on the table. "Every now and then, the universe does something mad and wonderful that can't be explained, and we call it a miracle. Or at least, that's what I told your father ten thousand years ago when he was a plastic Roman."
River smiled. "Doctor, as much as I appreciate Rory and his abilities, I daresay you ought to give me more than that."
It had only been a little while since she had seen Rory. And Amy too. It had been such a very long time since he had seen either of them.
"I don't know. You left me a note in your diary with these coordinates in my handwriting, so here I came. Bit like the time at Gomorrah, isn't it?"
"That was so long ago. I was young and silly then." River said.
"I was old and silly. I've always been old and silly."
"You've been getting so young lately. You know me less and less every time I see you. I keep waiting for the day you're going to look at me and have no idea who I am."
"I know the feeling, Doctor Song. It is Doctor now?"
She took a drink from her flute. "Graduated yesterday. This party was a bust until you showed up, they haven't smashed a single window and nobody's died."
"Those archaeologists, they really know how to get down. No, I'm not kidding. I went to this party once with Jack."
"I suppose I've mellowed in my old age, I only shagged three of them. I'm leaving early tomorrow, anyway, I've signed on to an expedition. Something about a giant library – mean anything to you?"
The Doctor's throat tightened. This was almost the end, then. He knew it was silly, but he had somehow wished there was a way to give her more time. He couldn't help feeling like as soon as he left, it would be like starting a countdown.
"No, nothing to me." he lied. "Still, leaving next morning. That's not very much time."
"Says the man with a TARDIS!"
The Doctor shook his head. "I don't think I'm allowed to take you away anywhere. I don't think that's how this works."
River looked like she wanted to argue, but didn't. Something about the Doctor's face stopped her.
"Let's go to the balcony." she said instead. He nodded.
The noise from the party was completely blocked out by the proscenium-glass doors on her private balcony. They both took rebreathers from the discrete tray and put them in their nostrils. When the humans of the second kilodecade said skyscrapers, they meant skyscrapers. They had external heaters providing warmth, and legally mandated decompression aids put in any drinks served above the two hundredth floor. The rebreathers kept the balcony-goers conscious.
The absurd height of the building gave them a view of the stars that was almost, but not quite like looking out of the door of the TARDIS in space.
"River-" the Doctor said, but she was too busy kissing him to answer. Not that he minded. It had been too long. And it had never been like this before – one of them had always needed it more than the other, one of them losing time with each kiss and one of them gaining. One of them had always been more hungry than the other, counting their kisses as if they were going to run out soon.
Not this time, thought the Doctor, as she pushed him up against the railing. Not for this one last bittersweet hurrah, where they both had exactly as much to lose.
"You're my wife again." he breathed into her neck. "I have a wife again! Brilliant!"
She laughed. "I took your name, finally. Don't get a swelled head about it."
"Doctor Song. Do you like it when I call you Doctor... Song?"
"More than anything, sweetie."
He closed his eyes. "You haven't called me sweetie in a very long time."
"Is that so, dear?"
The Doctor took his hand off the railing, and put it under her chin. "Honey," he said, "I'm home."
They hugged tightly. They were almost the same height. He put his chin on her shoulder, nose buried in her hair. He sniffed. It tickled a bit. He wasn't crying. The Doctor didn't cry, not even a little bit.
River, however, took no such stance on crying.
"I shot you." she said quietly, a tear running down her face. "I shot you, Doctor. You died. I could never tell you I was sorry. Either you didn't remember, so you couldn't forgive me, or I didn't know I'd done it. I'm so, so sorry, Doctor."
"River." he said. "Oh, River. I don't need to forgive you, hear me? There's nothing for me to forgive."
"It was a long time ago to you, but it's just a few years to me. How old are you?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't know. But we had a good long time, you and me, hey?"
"My whole life long. I've known you my whole life, Doctor. You are my whole life."
"Don't say that."
"No, but you are! I want you so much, all the time. It's so lonely when you aren't there. You always know me, in ways no one else does. In ways I can't even understand."
"I love you, River Song." he said, because it seemed to be the thing to say.
"River, I'm not going to forget about you. You must remember that. Even if I – if I go to all the planets in the universe, and see all the stars begin and see all the stars go out."
"Am I about to die?"
"You can tell me, Doctor. I want to know."
He shook his head. "Spoilers." he said, and she laughed a little bit. "No, but really, it's you who should be considering my feelings. You're going to see me again. I'm about to enter a universe that doesn't have a Doctor River Song in it."
It was a sobering thought. They both paused to reflect on it.
"River?" he asked finally. "Could you... would you... please... say my name?"
"Doctor?" she said questioningly.
"Not that name. The other one."
She said it.
For once, he kissed her first.
The Doctor didn't often give himself over to passion. That wasn't the sort of man he was. He felt things far too deeply anyway, he shouldn't be allowed to muddy his emotions further by bringing base desires into the mix. Besides, he preferred intellectual stimulation to physical. But sometimes he needed his mind to stop running and running and running.
River was pretty good at that, he'd found.
They lay there afterwards, pressed tightly together under some sort of a sheet that had been in a discreet alcove in the corner (archaeologists were very good at planning, he found), watching the stars. He didn't have to explain to her which ones they'd been to. She already knew.
"What will I call this one when I put it in my diary?" she asked him. There were two copies of it in this hotel, he realized. One in his jacket pocket, hanging on the TARDIS console, and one in hers, folded in the rucksack in her room.
"Asgard." he said, as he already knew he would.
"He had gone to the old Asgarth, and would live there forever." River said.
"Yes, the Ynglinga Saga. Snorri was a bit of an odd fellow. Brilliant writer, but I think he liked his skyr a bit too much."
"Are you Odin too?"
"Well... bit of a mix up there. He wasn't the brightest, old Snorri. You can be Frigg, if you like."
"I wonder if you'll ever run out of stories." She paused. "I'm going to become one of your stories, aren't I?"
"Well, I won't be telling them about tonight, if you don't mind."
"I just feel so helpless. There's nothing I can shoot, no one I can outrun. I wasn't expecting to say goodbye so soon."
"Would you rather have no goodbye at all?" he asked, honestly curious.
"No. Of course not. But it's so soon. The sun is already starting to rise."
And so it was. The crack of dawn came a bit earlier when you were almost a kilometer in the sky.
"We leave at dawn. I have to go now. I don't want to."
"You have to. I'm sorry, River."
"But Doctor. There's so much I didn't say."
"I know. I heard it anyway."
"Will you be okay? On your own?"
"Maybe not at first. But I'll learn."
"Here." he said. He handed her his screwdriver. "I want you to have this."
"I can't, it's yours."
"I can make myself a new one. I want you to have it."
She nodded. "I'll take it. Thank you."
"Now, you had better go. You don't want to miss your trip." he said, and if she seemed to get a bit more information from that than he had intended to give away... he had never been that good at keeping secrets from her.
"Goodbye Doctor." she said. "I love you, and I will love you for the rest of my life."
"Hello, sweetie." he said in return. She smiled at him, a big small happy sad River smile, and then she was gone.
Gone from his life, for the rest of time.
He sat down on the balcony, and wrapped himself in the blanket to watch the sun rise.
(And if someday that very blanket would end up in the L box, categorised under 'Love, my', well, it couldn't be helped. And if that selfsame blanket just happened to match his favourite coat perfectly, and somehow a corner of it wound up in his pocket as a stylish handkerchief, well, that couldn't be helped either.)