Just as easily as the times in the past, River slipped out of jail and found the Doctor.
"'Ello sweetie," she greeted her husband.
The Doctor hugged and kissed her before she had chance to stop him. She hadn't travelled to him by herself this time.
A loving, almost pained voice came from a blonde behind her. "Doctor?"
River watched as the Doctor's face lit up with joy, then shifted to wonder, and then to embarrassment upon seeing Rose Taylor.
River knew who the girl was. The Doctor spoke about her enough and the look in the Doctor's eyes confirmed the rumors she had heard about them.
River knew he loved her and the Doctor wouldn't show his love openly with her there. But his eyes betrayed a love that had none of the playfulness he had with her. This was serious, yet somehow he managed to still look younger in his eyes just by looking at her.
"Rose," he said flatly. The Doctor broke his hug with River but kept her unusually close in a side hug. "What's happened?"
"It's my Doctor," she said with tears running down her cheeks. "He's dying."
River felt the Doctor weaken his grip slightly. "You thought I could help him better than the doctors there? He is human."
River had heard of the meta-crisis that brought a second—and fully human—Doctor into being. Yet she didn't know the full story about how he came to be Rose's Doctor. And she wasn't going to ask the Doctor about it. She didn't like seeing him in the pain that subject of Rose gave him. She couldn't wait for Rose to go so she could make the Doctor smile again.
"He asked for you," Rose said. "He thinks you can help."
The Doctor pulled his sonic screwdriver out of a pocket and held it to his chin as he thought. "It wouldn't be right for me to go. Rose, would River be acceptable to your Doctor? She is almost a Time Lord herself and I've taught her everything I know."
The Doctor had to be lying about being unable to go. No less damage would be done be done with River going instead of him and being close to one's meta-crisis doesn't cause paradoxes. But it could be that he was just avoiding the pain.
Rule number one: the Doctor lies.
"I can go," River says hoping that is what the Doctor wanted; hoping it could make him happy.
"If the Doctor trusts you, so do I," Rose said handing this woman that she hardly knew the medallion to allow her to travel through the void to her universe. "It was good to see you, Doctor." Ignoring his arm around River, she embraced him for a long hug.
River was becoming uncomfortable with the Doctor and Rose showing this much affection. Especially since his hands were choosing, slowly, to wrap more around Rose. "We should go," River prodded. "He might be running out of time."
A man with the memories of a Time Lord was now painfully aware of time. The irony struck her. Then she knew that was her story too. The Doctor was given all her time. All her love. What does a gift like that mean to a Time Lord? Time means nothing to them.
"Right," Rose said, letting go of the Doctor. She wiped her eyes and took a large medallion on a chain and gave it to River. "It's already calibrated. All you need to do is press the button."
River held the medallion with so much power in her hand. It had the power to separate a Time Lord and his lover. She hoped that didn't happen again.
Rose's Doctor was on his bed in a sweat when Rose brought River in. "He couldn't come," Rose said sadly to the dying man. "But he sent someone that would know what to do. Her name is River."
This was a face she had never seen her Doctor with, but from his eyes could tell that he was not the Doctor but a man that had come from the same struggles. Yet something had made him lighter, as if he did not remember all his years and was living in the moment. He rested on a bed meant to his last and his face was dotted with sweat. The Doctor barely gave her a glance before resting and keeping his eyes on Rose. "Dear, your being back is enough. I doubt even a Time Lord could save me now."
The lack of love from his eyes hurt her inside and made her want to die. She knew a day was coming when her Doctor would look at her and not know who she was. She could not imagine how she would handle that. For now she just had to tell herself that this was not her Doctor. A quick go over with this Doctor's sonic screw driver told her what he already must have known. "Your human half is rejecting you Time Lord half."
"Have Donna checked for the same thing," he said through heaving breaths. "If she doesn't remember me that should hold it off. She can live a natural life."
Rule one: the Doctor lies.
"Rose could have delivered that message," River reasoned. "Why did you want the Doctor here?"
"I wanted to tell him that there will always be pain," he said. "And being a coward of it is pointless. But love is worthless without love. I had an opportunity to love Rose that he never had. The pain will be too much for him to keep going like that."
"I think he loves," River said compassionately, placing her left hand on his chest.
Rose knelt down as if to try to hold him again. "But I understand why you wanted to avoid this pain." Her love was being ripped away from her and every inch of her showed it. "Knowing that your love is suffering and dying and you will be left to go on alone—" She let her words be consumed by tears.
When River had given her regenerations to her Doctor, she never thought they would be apart. She knew he had already had enough emotional damage from having to say goodbye to people. Would she one day just be another source of pain for him?
"Aw, dear you won't be completely alone," another older blonde said. "You have me and your dad here."
Her parents surrounded Rose in a hug and she sniffled, making River feel left out. She felt like she should join in comforting the soon to be widow. After all, the loss of any Doctor was sad for any universe.
She soon had to leave the mourning family and go back to finding her own Doctor in her world. Knowing him, he'd would be in some sort of trouble or running. Those two options would have been favourable to how she did find him. Queen Nefertiti was flirting with him and obviously trying to woo him, and he was standing there taking it all in. Was this something he would do if she was loved by him?
"Doctor, please listen to me. At least hear me." River was wishing her Doctor could hear her. It was quite some time later and the Doctor was thinking of entering his time stream to save Clara.
"Now, if I don't come back, and I might not –"
He continued giving Vastra, Jenny and Strax instructions as if he did not hear. "Go to the TARDIS. The Fast Return Protocol should be on. She'll take you home and shut herself down."
Even though she was an echo, she was not about to see him sacrifice himself for no reason. "There has to be another way. Use the TARDIS. Use something! Save her, yes, but for God's sake, be sensible!"
River tried to slap the Doctor, as part of a fruitless attempt to get him to heed her warning. Much be her surprise, he caught her wrist. "How are you even doing that? I'm not really here."
He spoke in a tone void of his normal playfulness. "You're always here to me. And I always listen. And I can always see you."
River thought she was just being ignored on a bookshelf by the man she loved and want to spend so much time with. She hated goodbyes too but this was no alternative for her. "Then why didn't you speak to me?"
"Because I thought it would hurt too much."
"But not talking hurt more!" Knowing now was not the time to chide her love, she just said, "I believe I could have coped."
"No, I thought it would hurt me. And I was right." After all this time, he was still a coward when it came to the pain of the end. He kissed her passionately, letting River know how much she was missed, not as a play thing or a source of entertainment; but as a person: down to her very soul. "Since no one in this room can see you, who knows how that looked."
River did not even spare Vastra, Jenny and Strax a spare thought even though she was likely causing this moment to be very awkward for them.
"There is a time to live and a time to sleep." Even now the Doctor could not say die. "You are an echo, River, like Clara, like all of us in the end. My fault, I know. But you should have faded by now."
"It's hard to leave when you haven't said goodbye." There was no closer for the Doctor and she knew it would help.
Even though losing and leaving people was common for the Doctor he had never learned how to say it. "Then tell me, because I don't know – how do I say it?"
She thought back to when she told the Doctor goodbye in the library, the only time she ever saw him with that younger face that Rose's Doctor had. She knew he was going to see her again. It soothed her; it just might sooth him. "There's only one way I'd accept. If you ever loved me, say it like you're going to come back."
There was a small smile. "Well then. See you around, Professor River Song."
"Till the next time, Doctor." She returned the favour.
"Don't wait up."
"Oh, and there's one more thing."
"Isn't there always?" He seemed to be trying to tempt her to stay, but she was above that.
"I was mentally linked with Clara. If she's really dead, then how can I still be here?" She flashed a smile knowing this data would drive him crazy.
"Spoilers! Goodbye, sweetie." She had no intention of telling him but even now she wanted to say goodbye as if they were to meet again, because even as a shadow, she was also a coward of the pain in the end.