A/N: This fic was inspired by an absolutely amazing story called 'a heap of broken images, where the sun beats.' It can be found on AO3, and I'd recommend it because this is a prequel of sorts to that.
Please leave a review; I thrive on feedback.
the clock,'s heart, it hangs inside its open chest
"Sweetie, you've got to get off this cloud sometime."
"No I don't. I've retired. Plus, you're with me. Why would I want to go anywhere now I have everything I need?"
"Is this Scrooge-does-charming, honey? Because it needs some serious work."
He woke up to an empty bed. His arm swept over her favourite golden sheets in the hope of finding her there, still sleeping, so he could say one final goodbye before she departed to that diabolic Library–
She'd left. Of course she had. He should've known the most tempestuous woman in the universe wouldn't wait for him to wake up. A rueful smile stretched across his face, even while his eyes remained closed. He loved that about her - she would wait for no man, not even the Last Lord of Time. Well, he loved most things about her and when he said most things he meant so far beyond everything it was almost ridiculous.
Almost, but not quite.
He tried not to think about the coldness of the sheets on his side. The lack of a warm body there. If he let those thoughts in at all, he knew he would never leave the bed ever again. He'd just wrap himself up in the gold Egyptian cotton until he drowned in the rustling of fibers and smell of her perfume.
Which, quite honestly, didn't seem like a bad way to go.
A part of him was glad she'd gone while he was asleep. There would've been another goodbye, another piece of him chipped off and given to her without any consent and with every once of love. He wasn't sure his hearts could stand that – if, indeed, there were still there.
He kept his eyes firmly shut, refusing to let time in.
"The Library – closed off 100 years ago, reason completely unknown. 4022 people just disappeared. I'm going to find out why. Are you excited for me?"
"I – yes. Very much."
"Chin up, lover boy, I'll be back before you know it."
As it turned out, he didn't open his eyes at all. He didn't want to see the emptiness of their room. It was nothing now, just a shell of what it had been – so full of endless love and finite life. If he looked upon it, gathering dust in the corners already, he would crumble into a million pieces. No, far better to preserve it in his mind, eternally and infinitely full of light and her.
So he felt his way around the corners of the room, touching the walls and rustling fabrics until he came across the smooth mahogany door. His fumbling fingers finally found the bronze doorknob and he tugged almost brutally, suddenly desperate to get out of the room that held nothing but symbols and trinkets and impossible memories. He doesn't want to see her vanity, lined with aging pictures of their adventures. He doesn't want to count her shoes, lined up neatly next to his, or see her notes spread across the desk and crowding her favourite typewriter. The room's air was suffocating him with all the things he'd never said.
He knew, even as he ran away, he wouldn't be able to hide from the room forever. He would be drawn back, a moth to flame, because it was the closest he would ever get to his wife again. He pushed all the thoughts into a little box in his mind, because if he thought about how she took her tea or her looping handwriting or the number of curls on her head, he wasn't sure his hearts would continue to beat.
And he had a job to do. Her beautiful blue diary couldn't be allowed to gather dust on an insignificant ledge in that eternally damned Library.
"Doctor, are we actually going to get off this cloud tonight?"
"… Yes, yes we are, River Song. Prepare yourself – I'm going to take you somewhere amazing. More amazing than ever before."
He didn't read the diary. He couldn't, because that would mean that their time – their impossible, wibbly-wobbly, erratic time – was finished.
It was cruel, that he'd lost all his Ponds so quickly. His cloud had become a place of refuge and while it wasn't home – about as far from it as possible when home was a woman with mad hair and an intoxicating smile – it was as close as he would ever get again. He spent most of his days in the TARDIS library, staring at books and wondering which ones she was running though today. All the while, he ignored the pull he felt towards their bedroom. It was like a fishhook had been pierced through his belly and he was helplessly trying to escape it. Every time he pulled away, it stabbed and twisted and ripped; yet, the alternative – following the line and finding their room, breathing in the air and finally letting her soul out – was so much worse.
He was a miser, and he would never voluntarily walk into something akin to death itself. Not when death was a near-constant companion already.
He kept the diary on his console, a reminder of the days been and in mournful hope of the days that might come, but he knew never would.
"Thank you, sweetie."
"For this, for everything. For making me wait until now to see the Towers sing. They're beautiful."
"Not as beautiful as you."
"You know you're getting shagged either way tonight, so pipe down."
Eventually, it got to be too much. The diary, sitting there like a pair of bright blue eyes, was constantly watching him. One day – one among the insignificant thousands that had already flown torturously by – he couldn't bear it any longer. He let his fingers trail lovingly over the cover. The bumps and gaps all covered with that impossible blue filled up his heart and mind with her memories. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath.
The diary didn't belong here, sitting on the console like a forlorn, mundane object. It belonged somewhere else, somewhere it would reverently rest for eternity.
Slowly, as though his limbs were made from stone, he picked up the book. Cradling it close to his chest and letting his body heat warm the pages, he began to make his way down the twisting halls.
What felt like moments later, he was standing outside the heavy mahogany door, diary clutched in his hands and staring at the door handle.
He nearly ran away again, but the TARDIS nudged him gently in his mind. She hummed comfortingly and he sighed, closing his eyes once more before he found the handle and swung the door open.
Everything was just as he remembered it had been on that last night. Her dress was laid out along their chaise, green catching in the golden light that constantly filled this most sacred of rooms. Her desk was covered with papers. The closet was slightly ajar; tweed coats and jodhpurs, all mixed in together, peeked out from behind the dark wood. The bed's sheets were still unmade, varying shades of gold and cream askew as the day he flew out of them. There was something written across the vanity, but he couldn't see clearly anymore.
He wasn't sure when the tears had started falling.
Slowly, painstakingly, he walked into the room, the carpet soft and warm beneath him. He breathed in deeply, catching the faint scent of her on the slightly stale air, and suddenly everything caught in his throat. The diary was still clutched in his hand like a lifeline, even though he was utterly beyond hope.
He saw her in front of him as though it were yesterday. Watch her doing all manner of things so wonderfully unique to her; dancing across the floor, teasingly putting clothes on – or off, really – sitting at her desk with that small frown creasing her brow, laughing as she added another picture to the vanity's mirror. Every sound, curve, curl, colour, taste and texture burst across his brain. It was torturous, this perfect recollection, but he clung to every pyrrhic second.
He could see her doing all of these things, just as she'd done all the days he was with her, and the finality finally crashed over him.
She was never coming back.
He didn't know how long he stood there, sight obscured by silent epiphanic tears. When eventually they cleared, he moved over to the bed, the air thickly pressing down on his shoulders. Slowly, methodically, he straightened the sheets and repositioned the cushions.
Then, reverently, he pressed a kiss to the front of her diary and placed it on her pillow. He carefully caressed the cover one more time before turning to leave, suddenly unable to bear the room's weight.
As he turned to run out of the door, his eyes caught something. The vanity, dark wood glinting in the room's golden light, drew his eyes like a starved man to a banquet. It had always been her favourite furniture item (besides the bed, she would tell him suggestively, that little smirk curling the corners of her mouth. He'd forgotten to tell her he loved that smirk. He should've done that.)
It was still covered in her trinkets. Her lipstick, her vortex manipulator, her half-empty bottle of perfume, all sitting innocently on her table, waiting for her warm hand to need them again. Her beloved paperweight sat off to the left; he'd given that to her after their first visit to Venice – the golden swirls inside the glass had reminded them both of an event, so long ago now, that started with Nazis and poison and ended with a beautiful sacrifice.
But it was the mirror that drew his eye most strongly. Lined in aged photographs, it echoed the revolting emptiness of a room without her. She'd written across it in lipstick, her handwriting curving over his reflection.
See you soon, sweetie.
There was a lipstick kiss in the corner, curving upwards slightly, as though she'd been smiling.
His hands shaking, he strode over to the mirror, staring at her letters. Her wonderfully warm hand had swept over this mirror, leaving a promise he could never have fulfilled. A promise of all the days that could never come.
Suddenly, everything in his vision filled with a violent, untempered rage. Furious at the infinite cruelty of time itself, he ran a shaking hand over the words before his hands balled up into fists.
Before he even knew what he was doing, he picked up the paperweight and, staring at the infinite golden swirls inside, stepped backwards. He caught his reflection in the mirror – a broken man who had lost beyond everything, caught between the vowels and consonants his wife had lovingly written – and he cracked.
He hurled the paperweight at the vanity, the satisfying smash blasting through his ears and sending shards through his hearts. A yell followed the spinning glass ball, full of so much anger and heartache it took him a moment to realise it came from his lungs.
The words fractured and split from the epicenter – he'd hit the second 'o' in soon, and it had shattered into thousands of pieces. Not a single shard had fallen to the table; instead they danced out across her writing and his face, a web of broken beauty. The photos that lined the vanity fluttered to the ground like dying butterflies, faded colour speaking a million, million words.
He stood, breathing heavily in the middle of the room, the carpet still warm underneath his feet. Tears began to blur his vision again, but he fought them away, knowing only one person in the universe could possibly fix them.
Turning, he stiffly walked out, Atlas with the weight of a love story on his shoulders. Snapping the door shut behind him, he kept walking, into the console room and out of the TARDIS, following the spiral staircase down, down, down to Victorian London and letting the pounding of his footsteps distract him from his eternally throbbing hearts.
"Why are you crying, my love?"
"I just …"
"I understand. Spoilers."
"I love you, River. I haven't said it enough."
"Oh, honey, I love you too. Always and completely. And don't worry – I knew. I've always known. I'll always know."