This story came about when reading the Brilliant Book 2012 and noticing the routes that Amy, Rory, and River took when they were separated from the Doctor between "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon." Then I started chatting with Charina (areyoumarriedriver) and mused that Rory wouldn't let Amy go on her own unless she was forced to. So what if Amy and Rory went off alone? What if Canton hadn't captured the Doctor right away, and he went with River? Hence why the situation as it occurs at the beginning of this story. It developed into something else, but I do like the thought of it and might revisit it.
It also explores a theory that I have about River after "Closing Time." You're stuck for hours, possibly days, in a space suit under a huge body of water. Wouldn't that create just the tiniest bit of a phobia? This explores the fact that River has her own demons, and they might not be what we think they are.
There's one spoiler for series 7 if you can spot it.
"I'm gonna love you til the stars fall from the sky"
She lucked out.
The room smelled like it'd been cleaned a mere two days ago, a vast improvement in River's mind as she set the small clutch she carried on the wobbly dresser. No used condoms, no roaches, and the sheets were only somewhat threadbare. She toed her trainers off, shrugged out of her jacket, but kept her gun strapped. Tally marks decorated her arms like some sort of odd tribal tattoo. She turned her wrists, whispering under her breath as she added them up. Not like she hadn't done so when she first noticed them, but she always took a final count.
She sat on the edge of the bed, testing the mattress both for comfort and any hidden rat nests. She vastly preferred spacious penthouses and luxurious spas, but this trip required her to remain a bit more low-key. That left seedy motels, paid in cash. As soon as they were done, she was making the Doctor drag them all to a resort planet. They would need it. She would need it. Tucking the day's number - 46 - in the back of her mind, River flopped back on the mattress. She closed her eyes, breathed deep, and let the weariness overtake her.
She knew what the Doctor was doing, she had to let him do it. He was concocting something, and whatever it was would finally, finally eradicate the Silence. The older version of him had promised her this, a long, long time ago under a sky full of stars so bright and numerous that the vision would be forever seared in her mind. "Trust me," he told her, and she did. Implicitly. Completely. Always.
Still, it was a secret she had to bear alone. She hadn't seen her Doctor since the night before she'd gotten the blue envelope with the "2" embossed on it. It'd been six weeks of linear time since that day, when she was forced to watch her younger self shoot him in the Teselecta. It'd been surreal, like watching a movie. Her memories of the event as her younger self were so muddied that she hadn't even been aware that they were in Utah. The only thing she really remembered from the alternate timeline was the confrontation with the Doctor at Area 52. She remembered gunshots, being submerged in water, then being arrested and thrown in Stormcage.
Which reminded her …
River rolled off the bed and checked the bathroom. She sighed at the claw-footed bathtub. "I asked for a shower," she muttered. She hated baths. She tried, after the shooting, to take them. The feeling of being surrounded by water caused a panic attack. She swam only when absolutely necessary, using every ounce of her self control to push the screaming to the back of her mind.
There was nothing to be done. She'd secured the last room at this particular motel outside of Pennsylvania's capital city, and she would have to go into the city itself to find another. She was saving that for in the morning.
She walked out to find the Doctor trying to break in through the window.
"Oh, honey," she breathed and strode over to the small square of dirty, paint-splattered glass. This one opened via a crank, and she managed to get it open a crack. Cool night air swept the musty smell from the room, and she peered down at the Doctor through the screen. "Hello, sweetie. What are you doing out there?"
"Sneaking in. Open that up further."
"Honey, I can't. Go around to the door like a normal person."
"It defeats the point of sneaking in if I go through the door."
"I'm sure you can sneak in quietly." Which, River thought, was rather like saying that a horse could creep through a china shop without breaking anything. Before he could protest, River leaned on the crank and closed the window, then began unpacking her bag.
It took about five minutes and a couple of shrieks, and the Doctor burst through the door carrying a greasy paper bag. "Sorry!" he yelled out, slammed the door behind him and scowled. "He," he said, jerking his thumb at the wall to the room on their left, "thought I was there to um … service him."
"Maybe tomorrow night," River purred, the smells wafting from the bag making her stomach twist into knots. It'd been hours since she'd eaten. "I'm not in the mood to share tonight," she said, glanced up, then sucked in a breath when she noticed the long brown coat and waistcoat he wore in lieu of the tweed.
This was a different Doctor.
When they left Canton to start his "manhunt," they'd initially split up into three groups. Rory refused to let Amy go off on her own, River agreed to take the mid-Atlantic states and New England, and the Doctor decided he would do well in the Deep South. But, instead of going where he said he would, River began seeing him pop up along her route from time to time. Then, it was more frequently. Then, River realized she'd gained more or less a permanent partner as the Doctor bobbed in and out and started bringing her dinner.
He was still checking out the South but seemed content to spend his downtime with her. It was both a comfort to River and slowly driving her up the proverbial wall. She had never spent this long without any sort of intimacy from him. She'd established that it was so early for him that sex was something he hadn't considered with her, and she dreaded that a last for her was quickly approaching.
"Are you suppose to be here?" she asked her Doctor.
"What? No, hello, sweetie? Thanks for dinner, which I got from that place you love on Deltamar 3." He tapped her nose lightly. "You're off today, Dr. Song."
She huffed a bit and grabbed the bag, popping a couple of chips in her mouth before purring a bit. The potatoes on Deltamar 3 were closer to an Earth sweet potato, and she adored them. This Doctor, the one being her on-and-off partner in 1969, didn't know her love of them. It, more than any question and the outfit, let her know which version of her husband was standing in front of her. Namely, the version of her husband that actually knew he was her husband. "You do realize that you could pop in at any moment now."
"Nah, not tonight." He hopped from foot to foot, looking very much like a child asking for permission to go outside and play. "I'm currently in a jail cell in Alabama. Stopped a lynching. Don't worry, they won't be lynching me or anyone else. I'll be out tomorrow, right as rain! Well, rain isn't right everywhere. Especially when it's acid rain. Then it's just wrong, except on Totmea, and can I have one of those?"
The bag was surprisingly full. "You didn't sneak any?"
"Would I steal food from you?"
River arched an eyebrow. "How many orders did you go through before you got one that actually made it to me?"
"Only three this time."
"Then, no." River sat on the bed and kept eating. "You won't fit in your clothes if you keep doing that."
"I will not!" But she smirked as he whirled to the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door, anxiously tugging at his coat and plucking his waistcoat, muttering under his breath. He really was vain. Bless.
She ate, and he poked about the motel room. He was quiet, which was both a bit refreshing and extremely unnerving all at the same time. He pulled out all the drawers out of the dresser and peered in the closet. He combed through the nightstand and flipped through the free Bible left there. Now he did speak, though muttering under his breath about inconsistencies and the like. Actually, she'd proven some of the things he'd insisted were wrong were really right, but she was so busy just drinking in the sight of him that she didn't bother. Not now.
There was something about him when he was older. A bit more settled, at ease with himself at this particular moment in his very long life. He moved, as always, with all the grace of a gangly giraffe. His gaze was so very wise, and while she could still make him blush, he was for the most part carefree and genuinely happy. That hadn't always been the case, especially in the early years of their marriage, and the circumstances by which her parents had been forced to leave the TARDIS. A part of her had been terrified that he would walk away from her, but he hadn't. They had managed to move on together, and everything had gotten better. Now she was looping around back to the beginning for him, and it was both intriguing and a little heartbreaking to see the younger version of himself being so carefree with her parents.
"You have that look on your face again." He plopped down on the bed.
"What look's that?" she replied, halfway knowing the answer.
He smiled a bit sadly at her, and she scooted a bit closer, her curls brushing against his shoulder. Instead of saying anything, he tapped her nose.
Then, in the habit of all wives, she shared her chips.
"I really try not to think about it, but it's harder when you're all so young." She swiped the last handful of chips from his questing fingers. She wasn't that magnanimous.
"Yes, as you kept reminding me." He nudged her ribs. "Made me feel like I was in leading strings and nappies."
"You still need leading strings, sweetie. Or a leash."
He scowled at her.
"Oh, you certainly weren't frowning that last time I used a leash on you." Pushing the darker thoughts about her parents to the back of her mind, River danced her fingers up the Doctor's arm. "Or that riding crop," she purred in his ear. "Especially not the-"
"River!" He cut her off, cheeks going scarlet, and she chuckled as she brushed her lips across his.
"Now, what are you really here for, honey? You normally don't double back on your timeline unless it's something extremely important."
He rested his forehead against hers, and she felt the weight of whatever he had come there for clinging to him like a shroud. With a sudden buzz of panic, she wondered if this was it. Were they at the very end of their timeline? It would make such ironic sense, going out fighting the Silence. Just like they started. He caressed her back, tracing her bra straps through the thin cotton shirt, then buried one hand in her hair, pulling her to him. She returned the hug, really hoping the burning in her eyes was the spice used on the chips and not tears.
"I always ask too much of you," he murmured into her hair.
"You can never ask enough of me," she replied. "Sweetie, I'd do anything for you. What's wrong?"
He stiffened at that, and she slipped her hands under his coat, making quick work of the buttons on the waistcoat so she could run her fingers down his back. Her nails bit into skin as she scratched lightly, and he relaxed a bit. He angled his head so his lips brushed over the soft skin over her quickening pulse. The hand caressing her back slowed, his fingers dancing over her spine before lightly massaging the tight muscles in the small of her back with two fingers. The moan escaped before she realized it, and she was rewarded with a very self-satisfied smirk.
"Keep doing that," she ordered and felt his lips curve against her neck.
"So bossy," he murmured and nipped at her pulse. A shiver raced through her, and she was suddenly very aware of how long it had been since she'd had a chance to do anything beyond mostly innocent flirting. She rolled away from him and onto her stomach, eyebrow arched as she gave him an expectant look.
"I really didn't come all this way to act as your masseuse, River," the Doctor scolded, even as he stripped off his coat and waistcoat, and tossed them on the empty bed across from hers. He rolled up his sleeves, revealing the watch she'd given him for an anniversary on his wrist. It was another sign of his age, and it was as comforting as a hug.
"And since when, my love, could you resist a chance to put your hands on me?" she teased, stripping off her shirt and tossing onto the other bed.
"I've resisted you plenty of times. I have!" he insisted as she snorted. He ran his hand over her back with soft, fluid strokes, steadily increasing the pressure as her muscles warmed. When he reached her spine, he slid his hands toward her shoulders, only stopping to unhook her bra. Her toes curled in her socks as he paid extra attention to her shoulders and that troublesome area in the small of her back.
The strokes moved lower down her back, until he was massaging her tailbone. Then, he balled his hands into fists and pressed them into her bum, massaging there as well. A low, guttural groan escaped before she could stop it, and he chuckled, giving her bum a small smack. She turned beneath him, his fingers dragging across her thigh.
She reached for the button of her jeans, and he batted her hands away. "I can do it."
"You'll take for bloody ever."
"I have every reason to be impatient. I couldn't even take care of myself with younger you around." She toyed with his bow tie as his cheeks promptly turned a brilliant shade of crimson once more. "Oh, honey, it would have fried that very brilliant mind of yours. You're just not ready yet."
"I was ready!" The Doctor said with righteous indignation.
River sat up, the bra falling down her arms. She kissed him lightly and pulled off the bra. "No, my love, you weren't."
His gaze tracked lower, and he swallowed hard before picking up her arm and inspecting the marks. "You didn't wash them off?"
"No. I'll do it at the sink later."
He gave her an understanding look. "No shower?"
She smiled. "I'm afraid not."
"Are you sure you don't want to come back to the TARDIS and …"
"No." She got to her feet and shucked her jeans and knickers. If she went to the TARDIS now, she would be so very tempted just to use it to help them out, and there would be grave consequences. It was bad enough the Doctor had crossed his own timeline to see her. No, she was better off here. "I'll go have a sponge bath."
"Sponge baths are no fun!" He followed her to the bathroom, pulling off his bow tie as he walked. He sidled by her and twisted the taps on the tub.
"Sweetie, it won't take me long to …"
"Hush, River." The Doctor dug in his pants pocket until he unearthed a small test tube. He uncorked it, sniffed at the contents, then upended it into the tub. It immediately filled with large, frothy bubbles, spilling onto the tile. "There we are! A nice, safe bubble bath. This time."
"This time." River leaned around him and tapped at the bubbles. They wobbled, but they didn't burn.
He quickly shed the remainder of his clothes and leaped over the side of the tub. River took a step back as he promptly slid in the slick tub and landed on his bum, his upper body disappearing among the still-growing mounds of bubbles and his skinny legs going every which-way. Water cascaded over the side of the tub, and River thought it was a very good thing they were on the ground level. She didn't want to deal with water dripping into someone else's room.
"See?" The Doctor popped up, bubbles piled atop his head. He patted them into a round shape. "It's like a hat!"
River turned the taps off, gave a playful swat at the bubbles to destroy the "hat" and turned back to the sink. "Enjoy your bath, sweetie."
"No, our bath," he coaxed. "Come on."
She plucked a threadbare washrag off a small shelf. "No, it's not big enough for two of us." Her voice went a bit high-pitched, and she bit her lip. She took several deep breaths to regain control and turned the sink taps on.
"Yes, it is," the Doctor said patiently.
"This is perfectly fine. You enjoy your bath, and I'll …"
"River." He held out a hand, bubbles sliding down his arm to land with a soft plop on the floor. "You'll be safe. I promise."
"The bubbles have yet to stop growing."
"Oh, that'll stop in about three minutes. Maybe."
"Maybe." She shook her head and took his hand.
He carefully guided her into the tub. Warm water lapped around her calves as she stepped in, as she gingerly turned so her back was to his front. Taking a deep breath, she sank to her knees, then back into his lap.
Bubbles quickly foamed up around them and the water came up to just above her breasts. She looked down and couldn't see anything - not the water, not her body or his. Just a thick coating of bubbles. But she could feel the water surrounding her, enveloping her in its warmth. It's warm, she told herself. It's not cool. Not like the lake. That water had been bone-chilling cold, even through the spacesuit she'd worn. She could remember the feel it, trapped beneath all that water. Death wasn't an option, because she had given all her regenerations to the Doctor. She had to fight. She wasn't going to kill him.
"River. River." She heard his voice behind her, calming her as she tried to escape. But, no, no, she had to get away. She had to get out of the water, out of the spacesuit. Or she would be standing there with the gun. And he would be there, and he would die, and he couldn't die. She wouldn't let him. The universe needed him, and she needed him more than anyone, because she didn't think she could carry the mantle of being the last Time Lord alone - not even as a hybrid. Ohgodohgodohgod. She had to get out.
"Easy!" The Doctor grabbed hold of River as she was leaping up to flee the tub and hauled her against him. She flailed this time, more water splashing everywhere. Bubbles dripped into her eyes and stung, and the world snapped back with sudden clarity. Everything was a bit too bright, a bit too loud. She focused on the dripping faucet, the chipped paint on the wall.
"I hate this," she said with a shudder. "It's been years. Centuries. I should be able to handle a bloody bath by now. I should be able to use a space suit without wanting to claw my way out of it."
"Yet, it was only yesterday," he soothed. "Six weeks ago. You just had to watch all that again, River, and I'm so sorry."
She let out a short laugh. "No, I suspect you're really not. I apparently have a role to play in all this, and you made sure I got to play it."
He ran his hands up and down her arms in a soothing motion. "Some times, when I least expect it, I remember it all. The Moment. Using it. And it paralyzes me to the point that I can't move," he admitted. "It's been centuries."
She linked her fingers with his and finally relaxed, her body going soft and pliant against his. "We all have our demons, my love."
He made a noncommittal sound as his fingers drifted across her stomach, then up to cup a breast. He nuzzled her curls as one hand kneaded her breast, the other drifting lower between her legs.
"Are you trying to make me feel better with bathtub sex, sweetie?"
"Well, it worked the last time, dear." He kissed her ear and slid two fingers into her.
"The last 37 times, but not that I was counting." She raised her legs, draping them over the side of the tub to give him better access.
He lightly bit her earlobe and shifted to press himself against the small of her back. "I think it was significantly more than that."
"Well, I should hope so." She grabbed hold of the edge of the tub as the second hand slid down as well. The fear was gone now, replaced by a desire that was quickly growing beyond her control, and she whimpered. She knew what he was trying to do, but she wanted none of it. She wasn't going to waste this chance to actually be with her husband.
She quickly pulled away, getting to her feet on shaky legs while trying to catch her breath. Carefully, she turned so she could see the blazing desire in those gorgeous eyes of his. Everything that he was, all that raw magnetic force that could bring planets to their knees was focused on her, and she reveled in it.
And he had made another damn hat out of the bubbles.
She slid onto his lap again as he pressed his legs together, knees pushing painfully into the tub as she sank onto him. It didn't matter. None of it mattered. Not the water - of which there was more out of the tub than in at this point - not the younger him sitting in a jail cell in Alabama, not the Silence, not her parents, not any of it. It was her and him, and they could create and destroy galaxies together. Such vast creatures of time in the most elegant, basic dance that every species across the universe engaged in.
He pressed his face to her shoulder as she rode him, and she swiped that silly hat of bubbles off his head again. It wouldn't take long for either of them, she suspected, and she could already feel her stomach draw in and everything center in the core of her body, winding tighter and tighter and tight until … she came with a scream that surprised her, sobbing against his hair as he grabbed her hips and kept going and going and going until he gave a shuddering cry and went still.
There was a good inch of water on the floor, and she was quite sure her knees were bruised. But they held onto each other until the water went cold and the bubbles faded away.
"I need you to do something for me." The Doctor brushed his hand through River's tangled curls as they lay together in one of the beds, the sheets tangled around their legs. Round two, after they had fetched towels from the TARDIS to mop up the bathroom floor, had been just as satisfying as round one. As for round three … well, she had a lot of pent-up aggression to get out of her system.
She traced the faint smattering of hair on his chest as the motel logo light blinked through the window. A baby was screaming a few rooms away. The first glimmers of dawn were on the horizon. There were no marks on her arms. They had disappeared at some point during the bath. "You have to do it. It has to be you, and you'll understand why when it happens. It can't be any other way, and I'm so, so sorry."
River lifted her head, errant curls falling into her eyes. "What is it?"
"You remember the stories of Demon's Run?" He ran his thumb over her cheek.
"Of course. They were among the very first ever told to me." As a child by Madame Kovarian. In the hospital by Amy and Rory. By the Doctor when she was in university. Demon's Run was in River's blood.
"It's time," he said. "You have a role to play in it. You, you that is. Not baby you. Which really wasn't so much a baby but a ganger, yet you still managed to mock my bow ties, which are still cool no matter how cute you were, and I'm so, so, sorry, River. When you're done here in 1969, you need to go to Demon's Run and tell me who you are."
"All of it?" She blinked at him with surprise. "But, when I was in university, you didn't know we were married."
"Just that you're Melody Pond." The corners of his mouth lifted a bit. "I don't think I could have made it out of there if you also told me then you were my wife. Though, I guessed. You really are quite brilliant, have I ever told you that?"
"A girl loves to hear complements."
"And fish for them."
"Speak for yourself." River sat up, the sheets pooling at her waist. "This is it, isn't it?" she asked softly. "You didn't know who I was this time, and now I have to tell you who I am. This is the other end of the timeline, isn't it?"
She saw it in his eyes, how he nearly dismissed it. Like if Amy, Rory or any of the other companions before or since had asked such a question. But because it was her, he checked himself. Instead, he closed his eyes and nodded.
"I don't know," he said after a moment, "that it's literally back to front."
"But you said …"
"Generally speaking, yes. But, River, we've already broken that rule numerous times. It's rubbish, forget I ever said that. It's why we need the diaries to begin with. We were breaking the rules from the very start. You're going to see younger and younger versions of me as you get older. That part is true, because it's in my past. It doesn't mean we won't see each other."
"Rule 1, sweetie," she said softly.
"No. Not rule 1. Not this time," he said with such resolve that she had to believe him. She wondered what he knew about her future to make him so sure of that, then realized she couldn't dwell on it. She had to lock it away, deep, deep in her heart and keep going. Because she had to stop the Silence and ensure that her mother would give birth to her to begin with. Everything else would happen when it happened and hope that the day when she would look into the eyes of her Doctor and he wouldn't know her at all would be far, far away.