Of course, River knew nothing about what would follow her own death, especially from where she stood on that last Father's Day centuries across time from Rory.
She looked down to the brightly lit lecture stage where her fellow professor spotted her at the top of the audience steps. Some of her students attending the history class started out of their seats to help carry the large trunk in her hands. She shook her head. The weight was nothing to her enhanced strength. Even if were, she wouldn't let anyone else handle it.
"I'm sorry for the interruption, Professor Lessig. I have something for you and your students."
She spoke as she walked down the steps, well aware of everyone turning to look. The students murmured back and forth, wondering what she carried. So did the balding man at the podium. He cleared off the large table where a clutter of books and items had rested. She sat the trunk down in the now empty spot.
"What is it?" he asked.
She hesitated for one infinitesimal second, remembering her father's hands opening this lid. No one noticed; she could feel the collective, held breath in the room. She pulled the sword from its fitted cushion and took a step away from the other professor before lifting it in line with her body.
His hand under her arm and at her back, correcting her stance slightly and then drawing her arm back so the sword was raised by her head in a classic attack strike. He made a sound and when she looked over her shoulder, his eyes were warm and shined. Pride. "Good. Of course, I expect my heir to be good." The teasing switched out with a father's warning as he stopped speaking in Latin for English. "Just because I'm showing you this, River, doesn't mean you have to actually use it. Be careful!"
"This is the weapon and armour of the Last Centurion."
The Professor looked like he'd faint. Quite a few students looked ready to join him while others immediately poised as if someone held out the last bit of water available to desert travelers. Lessig drew a hand across his shining pate into what was left of his light brown hair. His eyes went from the sword to her and then back.
She rolled the blade slightly in her palm so the lights shined on its mettle. "The sword is authentic." Because the Doctor stopped in Ancient Rome for Rory to pick one out to his liking during their hunt for her and her mother. "I authenticated it myself and had three other leading experts verify my conclusions. You'll find the certificates in the case. The body armour, however, isn't."
She picked up his chest piece with her free hand, letting the sword drop to her side. "He designed this modified version on the classic form. He made it for a mission where he went after his wife when she was taken." And his daughter stayed unsaid. "The leather is lighter, more quiet, but less protection than the standard metal."
She showed Professor Lessig where she stored the lecture she had planned to give when her parents would come see her teach. (Amy no longer able to contain herself, standing up and announcing "Oi! I'm her mum!" Telling her students how horrible a student she had been growing up, the scourge of teachers throughout Leadworth, while Rory buried his head in a hand mumbling, "We came to listen!" And the Doctor... River had been ready to set her husband straight on her chosen profession with historical points in his life where he used relics and ruins to tell him about people. She had taken those images, like those of the Sevateem, out of this lecture.) The legend of the Last Centurion awoke on the large screens around the lecture stage. Art, prose, historical accounts... Rory. Her father.
His face looked down on her.… when this lecture was supposed to surprise him in the audience...
She put the chest piece back in the trunk. "You'll find everything you need to know in this research. Enjoy." She started returning the sword to the trunk when the archeologist in her overrode the daughter. With a small smile, she said, "You'll notice I'm not wearing gloves while I'm handling these objects. I know some of my students are out there. What will you do when Professor Lessig lets you up here?"
River smiled to herself as she identified Fozh, one of her undergrad students and a native of the genderless Ogzha, speaking through the translation module on zher chest. She imagined Fozh's hexagonal eyes twisting and turning on zher eyestalk. "Because?"
"Do as you say, not what you do."
"Thank you, Mx Fozh."
Professor Lessig stopped her before she left the stage. "Professor Song... thank you for this. Are you certain you wouldn't rather present this yourself? You've done all this work."
It would be horrible to give this lecture now when her parents weren't here. "No, please. You do it. I insist."
"Then thank you, although that barely covers what you're giving me. It's an amazing opportunity."
"And?" She knew there was an 'and'.
They were such a contrast. Lessig looked exactly like the professor stereotype: brown sweater, nondescript brown trousers, a bit paunchy, staid presence. River was not any of that. "You know I'd be derelict if I didn't mention... this should be in a museum for everyone's benefit and study. It's The Last Centurion, Professor."
He was more than that, but no one here knew it but her and she planned to keep it that way. She had removed her father's nursing bag and anything else that belonged to Rory Williams, the man outside of the Centurion. If anyone made the connection between them from the recorded history where he had traveled with the Doctor, then they were free to do so. His daughter would keep him private to the people who loved him best. The way he had wanted to live.
"After I'm gone," she promised and left with a word to pick up the trunk and her lecture at the end of the day.
People scrambled to their feet and whatever else they used for propulsion as they made a beeline to the stage. She swallowed against the tightness in her throat and pictured Rory in that little pub where a younger her had a record of his life delivered to his dad.
Happy Father's Day.
Love you, Dad.
She felt the Tardis calling her and she rushed up the remaining steps out the lecture room into the corridor. Now the engines' sound bounced off the walls and the wind picking up blew items up and down the hall as well as River's curls across her face. She yanked them out of the way and unconsciously held her breath, waiting for that blue door to open.
He bounced out in his eleventh form, all energy and big smiles. His grin grew when he saw her, as he spun around and swept his hands down his outfit. So, this was the first time for him that he wore this suit around her. The overall effect reminded her of of his third incarnation, even without the velvet, especially the bowtie and the purple of his coat; its length and cut, however, with a patternless waistcoat were much more his Fourth's and she swore he'd been wearing the same boots of that incarnation this whole time. Just like she swore the braces, especially the dark ones, were the same ones from his Second regeneration.
She had seen him like this before, hair all slicked back to keep the quiff more in line, and the fact he wore it and thought this was her first time pinpointed where he was in their timestreams. She didn't need to pull out her diary and ask. He was a bit further from Manhattan than she was, but not too much.
"Hi, honey. Did I surprise you?"
Yes, he had surprised her. She had been afraid of a much younger version. "Hello, Sweetie."
He glanced around the corridor, swept his eyes over her, and pinpointed her time as she had with his. "Ah! The professor's job, is it? Teaching new generations how to spread gossip about the past?"
"Something along those lines," she answered as he walked by. He slipped an arm around her waist and kissed her as he passed.
"And what's today's topic?" he asked at the lecture hall door. "Hmm? What are they getting wrong at the moment?"
Too late. He pushed open the door a bit and voices raised in excitement flowed out.
"Can you zoom in on that second screen, Professor? Where it says the Centurion-"
"These details spread out from his legend from the 21st Century to past ours! How-"
"The Last Centurion had a wife? She said he was rescuing his wife. Who-"
"Rory," the Doctor whispered and leaned back against the door jam. The door closed without a sound.
The fact that he didn't look back at her to share how this hurt both of them told her Manhattan was still only about him. His damaged hearts alone.
Was it wrong of her to wish for a husband further along in his timeline? She was grateful, of course, to see a Doctor who knew he was her husband; not that Asgard with the tenth Doctor hadn't been so lovely, because after all, he was still the Doctor. But right now, a husband who remembered he had given her his name – a husband who remembered when she stumbled upon his baby cot and shared how she had lain in it too – a husband who knew Manhattan was about the both of them.
She stopped herself right there. She never thought she'd see a Doctor again who knew who she was to him, especially after Manhattan when she had to go. Because she must meet his younger versions and he must go meet hers. If she had stayed as they both wanted her to do, it would have destroyed their timelines, and hadn't he been the one to say not to rewrite their times together? Hadn't he already risked doing just that when he hadn't gone to her for years after they were married on top of the pyramid?
But here he was now and he'd been there in Manhattan. It felt so good to touch him and have the feel of his warm hand.
"No, my love." She replied in as much a whisper as his while slipped her fingers in between his own. "The Last Centurion, not Rory. Rory Williams is a... private subject."
She slowly rubbed her thumb along the back of his hand in soft, small comfort for them both. They stood that way for a moment, just quiet.
"River. Your grandparents." He paused. "They said they forgive me, River. Let me ask them for whatever you want from the house. You shouldn't have to steal –"
She bared her teeth in outrage. "Steal! So now it's stealing if I have my parents –"
The brief show of spirit died out sharply. The truth was she did have to slip into the house when Brian and Anthony weren't there to get the Centurion trunk and the few other things she had wanted. She had been surprised when her things weren't in her room and finally found the dusty boxes in storage that had originally been marked Melody, then Mels, and finally River. All the pictures that Amy used to have in frames and taped to the walls in collages were there, plus the baby picture of her holding Melody that River had gone back to Greystark Hall to get, wrapped with the prayer leaf that Amy used to carry with her. The top of the box had all the photos of the two of them with River plus the gifts she had given them. They must have packed it all up after they had gotten the news Amy couldn't have children.
She almost left them there because seeing everything they had of her put into storage was a terrible reminder of the time she had lost with them. But someone else would eventually find the boxes and it would raise questions no one could answer. So she stored them in the Tardis. One day she might be able to look at it all again.
The quiet was now awkward and he had dropped her hand. At last, he spoke to shatter the brittle silence.
"I have a new companion!" His voice was overly bright. "Clara. Wait until you meet her. She's amazing! Wait, have you met her?"
She smiled. "You know I can't answer that, Sweetie." She started towards the Tardis and he fell into place next to her.
"I swore Amy would never be replaced in my hearts. And then there was Clara! I gave her a Tardis key. It's best if she doesn't have to rely on me to let her in, what with all the running and all. Waiting for me could be dangerous."
She bit back from saying then why didn't he give her, his wife and Child of the Tardis, a key? "I can see that." She certainly had almost been killed more than once waiting for him to her in to the Tardis. But she had his name, she was his wife, and equally important, she was too tired to argue today.
Still, a key really would be helpful. Or he could tell the Tardis to let her in without one, as he could do.
"My Christmas adventures have really improved. No more Earth invasions - well, I suppose there's some of that, but Clara! And the time with Madge Arwell and her children during World War II. I told you about her. Shame you couldn't have met her."
He didn't pick up on how small and dim her smile was as she answered. "I did actually."
"You did? Brilliant, River!"
"Not so brilliant. I misunderstood you when you first told me about your time with her. I thought you were hinting I was supposed to be there, to give you the message to go see my parents and let them know you were alive."
"That's all right. You met Madge. I bet you got on splendid together. Did you talk about me?"
"Yes, we did talk about you." But not in the way he thought. Not at all. Madge Arwell had slammed the door in her face, but not before she was pointedly told she couldn't be the Caretaker's wife because, "He said he had no family, so that certainly means he doesn't have a wife. And you can't be a friend of his because he said none of them would know he was here! So whatever you want with him, it's no good and I won't be a part of it!"
The slam punctuated the meeting perfectly. He had said he bared his hearts to Madge and his hearts had said she, his wife, didn't count as family or a friend to him.
But River was so tired and in no mood to go into it. Not today, especially not today. She had told her mother to never let the Doctor see the damage, and all of this was most definitely damage. "Madge certainly cares about you. She's very protective of you too."
He rocked on his feet while smiling into her face. "Not as much as you."
That brought on her smile. "No one more than me, my love. Maybe as much, but never more. Except for the Tardis of course."
The Tardis called her, the warm bright melody a touch of comfort and promise. She nearly ran the steps between them, but her feet were too weighted down for that. Her hands touched the perfect blue of blue doors and she was home.
The Doctor thought he could watch his Tardis and his River forever. He really couldn't since he couldn't stop moving for that long, but the feeling was there.
Light reflected off the white of the St. John's Ambulance logo and illuminated River. So smart of his ship to bring back the logo from his first incarnation. He loved the nostalgia of it. Still the same old Doctor and Tardis from the day they left Gallifrey together and both of them brand new.
The cozy thought was interrupted when the reflected light called attention to the dark smudges under River's eyes. What caused those? The lecture going on about Rory? Why would River even-
He glanced at his watch and then wet a finger, sensing the air.
They needed to go on an adventure. That's what River needed. Some exciting new place with beauties to behold and mystery all around them to figure out. And with the new desktop and new Companion, River wouldn't be reminded of Amy and Rory.
He swallowed, his throat working against the pain in a long, slow downward travel.
Only two adventures together, all of them with him: his friends, his Tardis, and his wife.
His wife. Brilliant that, his having a wife – a real wife – again.
She had missed those last years with them. She could have been with Brian and met dinosaurs, seen her grandfather and father side by side saving the day. Put Nefertiti in her place. Stood by his side in Mercy and kept him company in the lonely darkness as she always did. Her parents' anniversary... sitting on the couch on the family watching the telly... playing Wii. He bet River was fantastic at Wii; they could have been a team against her parents...
He shoved his hands deep in his pockets. "I needed that time with them, River."
"I never said you didn't, Sweetie."
"Okay. Right." He shifted around from one foot to another, but this time as he thought back, a slow smile warmed by the memories. "It was good spending all that time with them. I mean, I had for years, you know, the three of us on the Tardis and that was just the best, and then to be in their home with them everyday. Just being together doing day to day things like a family. They even said I had become like their adopted son and gave me my own roo –"
Gave him what had been her room.
Her fingers picked and ran across the Tardis door. "I'm sure that was wonderful." She turned her head and smiled. "Maybe you're the reason they adopted a boy."
He blinked before giving in and closing his eyes as that thought rushed like regenerative energy through him. "They could have named him after me," he teased weakly.
She smiled softly. "Doctor Williams? That wouldn't have been confusing at all."
He scratched his one cheek and then shifted his feet again. "He seems like a good man."
"Of course, he's their son. And he gave them everything they wanted. I can't thank him enough for that."
He elevated his fidgeting by trying to spin the sonic screwdriver in his trouser pocket, but it got hopelessly stuck. "Do you – do you have any time left with them?"
She had turned back to the Tardis and didn't look up this time. "One. I'm saving it. I thought I might wait for my anniversary next year. Something special for the last time."
"Which one. Mels or hospital?"
The anniversary of her finding them after searching for them for years or her waking up in the Sisters of the Infinite Schism and finding them at her side as her parents.
It'd be special no matter when she went, because it'd be the last time. He hoped it would be give her everything she deserved.
The Tardis never told him about River changing her mind and waiting to use that final visit for the day she last saw him. Her Thief didn't need any more sad details.
He yanked the screwdriver out, tearing the trouser lining and shoved his hands back in his pockets. "When did you see them before... when was the last time you visited?"
"Byzantium." She gave a quiet, small laugh. "I knew it was the first time she met me, this me, and I half-convinced myself it meant they would survive me. That I would never have to say goodbye, that you never meant I was there." He watched her jaw tighten. "Stupid and naïve, but it's amazing what we can convince ourselves is true."
She didn't say the If we're desperate enough.
"You took such good care of Amy when we were on the Byzantium. Better than I did."
She gave a breathy little laugh. "Well, they say you end up in a role reversal where you take care of your parents."
"And you got to see them with me."
"I did." She reached out and touched his bowtie. "All you younger versions together."
She was seeing his tenth incarnation now. He didn't want to think about that. He couldn't change all those times when he should have been better to her. He wished she never had to see eyes that didn't recognize her and held anything other than love.
He started crossing the distance between them. "Maybe if you –"
The Tardis swung open her other door, the one between he and River. It knocked him in the nose and sent him backwards a step.
He rubbed his nose. "Ow!"
If that was her attitude, why did his ship bring him here at all? He wasn't helping. In fact, he felt he was making things worse. His wife was leaning her head against the blue wood, her lips moving quietly as she talked to the Tardis who hummed faintly. He wouldn't even know it if he didn't feel the barest vibration. So, great, they were having some heart to heart talk while he –
The Tardis didn't bring him. She came to where she was most needed.
He should leave. Go take a walk and let them alone, come back later after he found some trouble he could stir up.
He got a couple steps away when he stopped.
River was hurting. He had made himself a promise to be the husband that would be there when she was hurting. Let her be more important than himself, just as she did for him.
He turned around, walked back, and put his back against the box. The door that made a wall between he and his wife closed and he reached his hand back around the corner.
After a moment, River's fingers entwined with his.
"Oh. Forgive me." A rich warm voice suited for reading the most moving poetry interrupted them. Shakespeare would have loved him.
"No, it's fine," River said to a man who must be a colleague. The Doctor straightened when he saw Rory's trunk in the man's hands. "I would have come for it, Donald."
"My pleasure." He lifted up the trunk. "And truly my great honour."
She took it back from him and held it close to her body as she graciously answered the other professor. The Doctor waited for him to leave before he came to her side. She looked down at the trunk, lost in her own thoughts. He would ask what they were later, tell her she could open those walls she drew around her for protection because he would be her shield against the world.
He pressed against her and laid his head against hers. "They loved you, River."
"Yes, they did. For those couple of years, they were mine. They knew me and they were mine. ….It was... everything."