Author's Note: So, I got the idea for this fic a month or so ago, and I finally got around to writing it (and of course it turned out nothing like I'd initially thought it would). The River in this fic is post-Manhattan, and she comes in contact with a younger, pre-AGMGTW Doctor, and her parents along with him. This fic kind of examines the affect that has on her, and the Doctor, with a bit of a reflection at the end. Hope you enjoy it!
A bright flash of light flickered, enveloping the whole room for a brief second.
Moments later, the figure of a woman emerged from the smoke; her green eyes scanned the area, and she stumbled backwards, her breath hitching in her throat at the sight.
The orange-gold ambience and the repetitive circles of ship beckoned her; their familiar allure soothing. She stopped breathless, the quiet humming filling her ears and bathing her body in a sea of calm.
Sucking a breath, the curly haired archaeologist gripped a nearby railing, as if to steady herself.
How long—how long had it been since she'd last set foot in the TARDIS—her other mother, her home? The woman stared vacantly at the expanse around her, a tingling sensation of dread and sadness suddenly overpowering.
Her husband's grief-stricken face filled her mind; she remembered his wet eyes, the way they'd looked at her with such remorse and sorrow and brokenness. They'd both lost so much after Manhattan, and yet together, hand in hand, side by side, they'd buggered on, clinging to one another in desperation.
She could still feel his shaky arms around her, could still imagine the sensation of his soft lips pressing against her own, could still see the shimmering tears on his cheeks when they last parted.
'I'll be back soon.' Her soft-spoken words echoed even now.
Months passed. Days of teaching and remembering and mourning.
And oh, she'd tried to contact him, to send a cheeky message on the psychic paper—something she knew he'd be unable to resist. He'd come, of course. He always did. But it wasn't him. The Doctor, yes, but not her Doctor, not her husband. In his place, a spikey haired man with deep brown eyes—lonely and lost and haunted—eyes that looked right through her.
Ridding herself of these troubling thoughts, the woman rubbed her forehead.
Well, I'm here now in the TARDIS—his TARDIS. I might as well be grateful for that.
His painfully familiar voice startled River out of her thoughts.
"What happened to you Old Girl, what was that noise I just heard? Wha—River?"
River's heart leapt.
"Hello Sweetie." She smirked, but the smile didn't reach her eyes. Maybe he wouldn't notice.
Caught off guard, the man in the bowtie scratched his cheek nervously.
"Uh—hi, River…um…what exactly…are you…erm…doing here?"
"You want me to leave already?"
"Oh, no, no, no, no, no; no, of course not. I was just you know, wondering, because…" he blubbered, his hands flailing mid- air.
"When are we, Sweetie?" River asked, deducing from the way the man blushed that this was not her husband.
"Well, I; I mean, I um…I last saw you in Utah."
Utah. Oh, gosh. He's on the younger side then, and that means…
"Oi! Doctor, have you changed yet, because we're ready to go and we've been waiting for ages…oh." Halting immediately, the ginger locked her gaze on River.
For a second, River's chest heaved as she stared into Amy Pond's eyes. She couldn't help but feel the tear-streaked eyes of Amelia Williams glistening back at her. Biting her lip, River tasted the copper tang of blood, mentally cursing herself for overlooking this possibility. She'd (stupidly) assumed that she'd run into an older version of her husband—the one who had lost his best friends, the one who was lonely, the one who needed his wife, just as much as she needed him.
Mum doesn't even know who I am. Nor does dad. Or the Doctor, for that matter.
"Hello Amy." Pushing the memories away, River put on her most convincing façade, her best poker face.
Another voice called from upstairs.
"Hey, Doctor, sorry about the wife, she's been kind of impatient today, and I—" Rory Williams stopped at the sight of River Song. "Hi…River. Didn't know you'd be here." Her father stuttered a bit, giving the Doctor a confused look.
"Well, neither did I…don't look at me like that, Rory."
Neither of the men had noticed Amy slip by the console, but they did however turn their heads soon enough, watching as the young woman wrapped her arms around River, pulling her into a loose hug.
"Hey, River, it's good to see ya."
Amy's words cut River straight to the core, and after overcoming her initial shock, River relaxed in her unknowing mother's embrace.
"You looked like you needed a hug." It was spoken at a whisper, so only River could hear.
Her throat hitched—oh God, she wasn't going to cry, was she? No, no; she had to stay strong.
"Thank you, Amy."
"No prob." The ginger drew back, grinning ear to ear. "The Doctor's takin' us to the beach today."
"Yes, I gathered." River nodded, noting Amy's bright red bikini.
"Oh, yeah, this? The Doctor thinks it's scandalous, but Rory doesn't seem to mind." She flashed her husband a flirty smile.
"Well, it is, Amelia!" the raggedy man huffed.
"Oh, Sweetie, you clearly don't know scandalous, then." Placing a hand on her hip, River quirked a brow and watched the Doctor go five shades of red.
"Yeah, Doctor. You wouldn't be complaining if it was River wearing this."
If the Doctor hadn't been flustered before, he certainly was then.
He shuffled about the console, looking down and mumbling to himself.
"Amy…" Rory's tone beckoned her to stop.
"Hey, I was just trying to make a point…"
"And you're making him uncomfortable. So give it a rest," the ever-sensitive Centurion implored.
"Thank you, Rory." Patting his friend lightly on the shoulder, the Doctor voiced his appreciation.
Amy, who was still standing beside River, took the cue and changed the subject.
"Anyway…River, you're coming with us, right?"
"Thanks for the offer, Amy, but I'm afraid I have to—"
The Doctor's jaw dropped.
"Wait, no, but you're already here, River, you have to come, it's been a while since we've seen you, since I've…I mean, and I hoped that…I…just come, will you? PLEASEEEEEE?" His bottom lip stuck out as he whined and pled—quite pitifully.
His puppy dog face had always been her undoing—but not this time. She resisted.
River pictured the rolling waves of the ocean. A tremor shook her, she could smell the sickening stench of salt, feel the slimy claws of the water, choking her, drowning her. Helplessness flickered in her mind and even through her once-bleary vision she could still see her dying husband's face.
No, no, I don't want to go to the beach, I don't want to remember it.
"River…you okay?" her father asked quietly, his ancient eyes compassionate, understanding. He knew—of course he did. Her parents had watched it happen. And not too long ago, either. "You've done Utah, I'm guessing?"
"Yeah. Ages ago." Both her parents nodded, and pain flashed in their expressions—if only for a moment. "I…I have a hair appointment I should be getting to, really. Can't miss it. Rory, Amy, it was nice to see you. Doctor…"
He looked wounded, out of the loop, like he wanted to understand but couldn't. His mouth curved upwards to reassure his friends that he was fine.
"River…I…I just thought…okay. Go where you need to. Fine. Um…maybe, maybe next time you could, you know…come with us."
Her heart thudded at his suggestion, and she tried to focus elsewhere.
"You know, River, we're going to Coney Island, and I'm sure they have other things to do besides swimming, so you know, it may not be too bad," Amy started, hating to watch the Doctor look so dejected, and unwilling to deal with him pouting for the rest of the day.
Coney Island, that's in New York, isn't it?
"We're going to the 1920s. The Doctor says that's the golden era. I don't know if I believe him. But you're an archaeologist, right? You might find the time period interesting…or something." It was Rory who spoke this time, and River found his heartfelt-ness almost unbearable.
"Yeah, River. Rory's right. Do you—do you think you could—" her husband (no, he wasn't her husband yet, she had to keep telling herself) muttered softly.
New York City and the beach entangled in one sounded like a nightmare, but this was a chance to spend with the Doctor and her parents, and she'd best not waste it. She hadn't even seen this incarnation of the Doctor in months, and there was always the possibility with their back-to-front relationship that this could be the last time—no, she couldn't think like that, she wouldn't.
"Yes, what?" the Doctor questioned.
"Yes, I'll come, you idiot." The way his face suddenly transformed, glowing from cheek to cheek—it sent unexpected warmth to her bones; she smiled genuinely. "But on one condition." If she had to endure this torture, she was going to be entertained.
Sliding one finger along his cheekbone, River pressed her lips to his ear, feeling the Doctor's skin warm as she whispered something indistinguishable.
He shivered at her closeness and drew away from her, positively scandalized.
"WHAT? No, no way."
"Then, I'd best be—"
"You drive a hard bargain, Song." His voice lowered, gruff and husky.
"Don't I know it, Honey." River winked devilishly, her hidden anxiety and sadness buried deep within. "Off you go then." Waving her hand, she shooed him up the stairs, leaving her alone in the console room with her parents.
Once the man in the bowtie disappeared, Amy Pond perked up.
"What was that about?"
"Oh, you'll see. You won't want to miss it." River chuckled.
"Why do I get the feeling that this is only going to end in disaster?" sifting a hand through his hair, Rory Williams gabbled.
She recognized that motherly tone immediately.
Yes, Mum? Her heart pleaded.
"River, you seemed alright… until I mentioned the beach. But Rory and I, we understand. It's because of—of what happened in Utah, isn't it?"
Oh, no, it's much more than that.
"Sort of. Yes. But we mustn't talk about it. That man has the tendency to eavesdrop, and we can't have him learning about his future, can we? Do you two remember what I said?"
The couple nodded sadly.
Amy gave River's hand a tight squeeze, drawing her back to a graveyard, where an older woman clung to her daughter for the last time, her heartbreaking plea spoken through the tears.
'Melody…you look after him, and you be a good girl. And you look after him.'
"I'm always alright."
"Doctor, are you coming? It's been a while since ya left. You didn't trip over your rubber ducky again, did ya?"
"No, of course not, Pond. And I didn't do that…wh-what are you talking about?" the stuttering came from nearby.
"Don't be ridiculous. You know full well what happened. You're just saying that 'cause River's here!"
"Amy, you don't need to—" Rory offered.
"Doctor, get your bow-tie- wearing- self down here right now, or I'll—" she didn't finish, too shocked by the Doctor's appearance when he entered the room.
Shaking his head, Rory Williams covered his eyes. "No, please…"
River scanned the Doctor up and down, watching amusedly as he blushed a deep red.
"Wh-What d-do you think? R-River, wh-why are you looking me like that?"
Slapping a hand over her mouth, Amelia Pond held her breath.
"You're wearing a Speedo." And then she couldn't hold it in anymore, her entire body trembled and she erupted into a fit of laughter. "And…and…you said I…was…scandalous…"
"It-it's n-not funny, Amelia. I—I don't even want to wear this. It-it's all River's fault."
He glared at River, who had since joined the giggle fest.
"STOP LAUGHING! It's not funny!"
"Oh, it's hilarious." River lingered on that last word, holding the Doctor's gaze.
"I am not wearing this, River. NO WAY. I feel exposed, naked." His arms crossed over his chest.
"Really? I think you look quite dashing, my love."
Her poor not-husband looked ready to die of embarrassment.
"No, no, stop it. That's it. If I hear another peep out of you two, I am dropping you both at the nearest—"
"I'd like to see you try." His future wife shot back.
"I'm going to change…"
Fifteen minutes later, the Doctor, dressed in a full-body, 1920s era swimsuit—and bowtie (Amy and Rory exchanged looks at that, but River didn't seem surprised), stepped out of the blue box, ushering his friends to follow. If he still held a grudge about earlier, he did a fairly good job hiding it.
"Amy, Rory, River, I give you the famous Coney Island, 23rd of May, 1920." His hands flew amid the air proudly.
"1922, dear." River corrected quietly.
Licking his finger, the Doctor thrust it in front of himself.
"What are you doing?" Amy quipped.
"She's right." His eyes danced as he glanced at River. "Ah, well, 1922, then, just a couple years off. Nothing to worry about."
"Well, can we go now?" the ginger grasped her husband's hand.
"Of course. Amelia Pond, you have waited long enough today. Go, have fun! That's what we're here for."
The Doctor waved, watching as his companions dashed off towards the water.
"Doctor, about earlier…" River started.
"It's fine. I haven't seen Amy laugh like that in months. It's good to see her happy. Not that I would do it again. Unless, maybe…we were…never mind…" he fiddled with his bowtie.
A beat of silence.
"Why… are we really here?"
"What do you mean? Does there have to be a reason? It's the beach and it's fun and it's—"
"No, I know you, love, and you don't take your companions places like this. You like to show them the wonders of the universe—you like to run and get into trouble. Not spend a day at a boring old earth beach in the 1920s."
His eyes narrowed and his tone grew serious.
"You know me too well, Doctor Song."
"That's Professor Song, to you, Sweetie."
"Pr-Professor?!" he nearly choked.
"I just…I…didn't expect that…I'm sorry…I shouldn't have…if I'd known…"
"How long have you been pardoned?"
"A while. Years. I don't keep track."
"When was the last time you saw me?"
"You ambushed me with a hamper." He mustered a smile.
"Well, you were all Mr. Grumpy Face." River nudged him playfully. Her happiness feigned when she recalled the intensity of those dark eyes, so filled with longing and misery; they'd reduced to her to nothing more than a ghost.
"Listen…River…I…I'm sorry. I—I didn't treat you properly back then. I was angry and alone and companionless…"
"Doesn't matter." There it was again. Hiding the damage.
'Of course it matters.' Her husband's hollow words reverberated in her head.
"It matters to you, and it matters to me now…"
"You still haven't answered my question." She didn't want to talk about this, not to him, not to this young Doctor who barely knew her as anything more than a friend. Save that discussion for her husband.
The man in the bowtie stilled for a second, breathing deeply.
"I'm worried about them." His gaze fell on Amy and Rory Williams, who now jumped about excitedly in the ocean.
"So, you took them someplace they'd enjoy. As a distraction. While you sorted things out more thoroughly. Because something's wrong with Amy."
She heard him gasp.
"How—how did you know?"
"Spoilers." His word, no, her word trickled out of her mouth, like a vile curse. How she hated this—having to conceal everything from him.
"So, y-you know about Amy's pr—"
"Yes. Now, be careful what you say, Sweetie. You never know who might be listening."
"Quite right. I haven't—I haven't told them anything."
"Wh-What happens, River?" his voice grew high-pitched, and River sensed the fear in his tone.
"You know I can't talk about that, Sweetie. But you'll find out, very, very soon."
"Not even a hint?"
"Everything changes. That's all I can say."
"You said that after their wedding—wh-when I asked you…if we were…if you were…m-married." His face flushed, and he rubbed the back of his neck.
"I remember it well…Now, let's stop worrying about the future, and enjoy the present, hmm? Isn't that what you're always saying? Go on, get after Amy and Rory; they'll start to get suspicious if you stay here gloating all day in that ridiculous bathing suit."
"It's not ridiculous! It's cool! And a lot better than a Speedo, thank you very much. You're one to talk; you're not even wearing anything—"
"Does this look like nothing to you?" swinging her hand the length of her light blue sundress, River proved him wrong.
He blushed for about the billionth time.
"No, no, it…uh…looks like a very lovely, and uh…tight… dress; I mean, never mind, forget that, sorry, I…what I meant was…you're not w-wearing a bathing suit."
"Are you disappointed, dear?" River arched a brow.
"Y-ye—no. NO. What—what were you saying?"
"Amy and Rory."
"Right. I'm supposed to go over there. To—to—ah—swim, right."
"So why are you still standing here?"
"I'm waiting for you!" that sentence came out quicker than he'd anticipated.
"Well, I'm not really a fan of the beach, Honey. Besides, I'm perfectly content staying right here. Sun feels nice. Might get myself a bit of a tan, you'd like that wouldn't you?" Stretching out on one of the beach chairs, River moaned happily, eliciting a squeak from the Doctor.
"Wh-what? No… A-Are you sure? Because I'm really good in the water."
"If by 'good', you mean prone to trip over your rubber ducky in the bathtub…"
"Hey, that was a one- time thing…and how do you know about what I'm like in the bathtub?"
"Spoilers." Grinning, River relished the word this time, amusing herself with the Doctor's reaction.
"Are you sure you don't want to come? I'll make sure you don't drown."
"I wouldn't count on that. Now, please just go and spend time with your friends, I'll be fine."
"Okay. But I'll be back soon…so, don't wander off or anything! River, I mean it!"
"Wouldn't dream of it, dear."
And with that, floppy-haired man scurried down to the edge of the sand, giraffe legs wobbling beneath him.
His fringe blew across his face as he stumbled into the water.
"Hey, Doctor, we're playing sharks and minnows, wanna join?" her mother yelled, eyes bright and happy.
"Sure!" the Doctor hollered back excitedly.
Part of River wanted to watch them—her husband, her parents, her family; but staring at those powerful waves sickened her, resurrecting the nightmares from years ago.
Her eyes fluttered shut, and she relaxed into a recumbent position, wishing that the sleep she so often lacked might consume her weary body.
But her senses heightened—the swish-swash of the saltwater overwhelmed her ears, and she remembered the horrid feeling—trapped inside that tank under that lake, the cold water, dark and terrifying bubbling around her. That familiar fear swept through River, and she recalled the moment she'd been forced onto the shores of Lake Silencio, her arm stretching out and shooting against her will—her husband's limp body when the deed was done. And her parents distraught faces—another painful factor that she hadn't even considered until she witnessed the event a second time. The Doctor may have faked his death—but it didn't change the fact that she'd murdered him. Not once but twice. Twice.
'And you are forgiven- always and completely forgiven.'
Her husband's promise flooded her thoughts, like a beacon of light, the only hope left to cling to.
"River, how are you feeling?" the deep voice bounced around the surface of her mind until it became clearer, more prominent.
"Wha—" she mumbled sleepily, vision focusing on the man who sat at the edge of the beach chair.
"Was—was I asleep?" Groaning, River touched her forehead.
"Um…yes. I believe so."
It was then that she noticed two other figures merge into view—her parents. Amy raised a brow at the Doctor.
"Have you three been having fun, then?"
"Yeah, sure, loads. We played some games, and swam around…even though Amy can't swim."
"I can too!" Amelia Williams protested, fire blazing.
"He doesn't mean that, Amy." Rory patted her back, giving the Doctor an irritated look.
"So…Doctor, are ya just gonna sit here all day?"
"No…I…I was just going to talk to River for a bit." He glanced down at the lounging woman beside him.
"Have you told her yet?" twirling a finger through her ginger hair, Amy questioned her friend.
"T-told her, what, Amelia?"
"Well…she kissed you last time you saw her, yeah?"
River chuckled at the way the Doctor flustered almost immediately.
That night at Stormcage. He'd never kissed me before…and I'd thought it was the last time, but I was wrong, so wrong.
"Um…that is my personal business, Amy!"
"Don't give me that. I saw how you acted afterwards before Rory and I went to bed. It was obvious what happened. Plus, you told Rory that you wanted to kiss her again."
The red-cheeked man looked like a school boy who'd been caught in the act. He shuffled nervously, eyes anywhere but River's.
"Rory. You promised." Growling, the man in the bowtie glared at his friend, his confidant.
"Amy, that was a private conversation between me and the Doctor! Doctor, I swear I had no idea she was listening in." Rory thrust his hands up as if to reiterate.
"He's tellin' the truth, Doctor, so don't go getting cross with him. He kept his word."
"Then why were you eavesdropping on us?" the Doctor's tone was accusatory.
River stayed silent, not terribly surprised about what was transpiring. She'd been the topic of her parents' and husband's arguments many a time. And if she was honest, she quite enjoyed this.
"It was late at night and Rory wasn't in bed, so I just went to look for him, and where did I find him, talking to you in the console room about women! It sounded pretty interesting, and you never talk to me about that stuff, and I didn't want to intrude, so I just waited 'til he came back to bed…and heard some of your conversation along the way. But the real question is: why did you go to Rory for dating advice? Do you have any idea how long it took him to ask me out? And if hadn't been for this friend of ours, we might have never gotten together in the first place."
It was strange hearing Amy talk about Mels in that sense, knowing that for her, Mels was still her best friend, who she visited whenever the Doctor wasn't around.
"Look, Doctor, I'm just tryin' to help ya out here! I know how much you fancy River and I know how awkward you are about expressing your feelings, so I'm just making things easier. I mean, she's gonna be your wife one day, so…"
"You don't know that! She's not—I mean, she's…I…I don't…"
"Come on, Amy. You're embarrassing him. Just give the Doctor some space. He does that for us all the time, why do you think he brought us here?" Rory looped his hand in hers, nudging her very gently. "I'm really sorry about this, Doctor."
Once the Ponds had drifted several meters away, the Doctor stood up, hands rummaging through his hair.
"Let's take a walk, shall we?"
River and the Doctor wandered down the coastline, their bodies mere inches apart. Soft, tiny grains of sand drifted between River's toes, and she savored the warmth.
"You're barefoot?" her eventual husband noted, gaze drawn to the ground.
"This might sound silly, but the truth is, I love the feel of the sand between my toes." River's green- tinged eyes locked onto his.
"N-no. That's not silly at all. That's…interesting. Very cool."
A comfortable silence passed between them.
"She didn't mean to hurt your feelings, you know."
His head perked up at River's admission.
"Amy has as much trouble expressing her feelings as you do. You hide, and she lashes out—not always but sometimes. She really does want to help you, Sweetie."
"I know. I just…I wish she didn't…in front of you…" the Doctor furrowed his brow.
"You might also want to consider what's going on with her right now. She won't act like herself. She's probably hormonal, too, even if she doesn't realize it. And you really have Rory to thank, you know."
"Good 'ol Rory the Roman." Clasping his hands together, the man pretended to brandish a sword.
River laughed, brushing her arm against his softly.
"It is pretty hilarious that you went to him for dating advice, though."
"Wh-What? N-no, no it isn't. And I didn't…I mean…he's older than me, River, he waited for Amy 2,000 years, and I…don't tell him this, but I really respect him…and who better to ask, you know? I wasn't about to go to Amy."
To hear the Doctor talk about her father with such reverence sent a pang of sadness through River.
"Well, I can see why. But—"
"Look at us. Why am I even talking to you about this?" He flung his hands in the air. "This is what I don't understand. What have you got against beaches?" the question sounded light-hearted.
Glancing at her feet, River remained silent.
"You'll understand one day." Her voice filled with regret.
"But I want to understand now! And you always tell me that. 'You'll understand one day.' 'Spoilers.' It's all the same, isn't it? I don't even know who you are, River. Why are you in Stormcage? Who did you kill? I don't understand any of it! Who are you?" he groaned, exasperated.
"You're going to find that out, very, very soon, Honey. You have to live it for yourself. I can't just tell you. We have rules about this, you know. Rules you set in place."
"Well, I hate rules. Rules are stupid. Meant to be broken."
"Oh, now you're just being ridiculous. I don't like them any more than you do, believe me. But if we didn't have these rules, you and I wouldn't have any kind of relationship. Or is that what you want?" frustrated and impassioned, River increased her pace, stepping ahead of him.
"River—that isn't what I meant! I—"
But he stopped, transfixed on her poised stance. River stilled; she gazed out at the hazy skyline of grey-tipped buildings, curls blowing gently in the wind, dress twirling around her body. Her hand reached out, as if to touch the distant skyscrapers.
"Beautiful…" the Doctor thought aloud without realizing. And he wasn't talking about the buildings.
"It is, isn't it? The Manhattan skyline." The pain etched in her voice when she spoke those words hurt the Doctor deeply.
River turned, and the man in the bowtie glimpsed a hidden tear at the corner of her eye.
"I'm sorry, Doctor. I forgot how young you were for a second." Her whisper shot straight to his hearts.
"What's wrong, River? Really?" an impulsive part of him almost reached out to grab her hand, but he decided against it, letting his fingers drift mere inches from hers.
"Nothing. I'm fine." Staring straight at the Doctor, River smiled. Her light-green, gold-flecked eyes poured into his soul, and he shuddered. Reflected back in those irises, he saw himself—that aching sadness, that biting guilt, that awful regret, that uncanny ancientness—old eyes, like him. And her face (he wondered why he hadn't noticed it before), those soft, beautiful lines, running around her mouth and eyes.
You're beautiful, River.
Her peachy skin changed subtly; a soft crimson blush appeared in her cheeks.
"H-hang on, did I just say that out loud?" his hearts hammered.
"What do you think?"
Gulping, the Doctor felt his bowtie tighten as River fastened it.
Why is she doing that? Last time she did that she was about to kiss me…
"Uh…I…I'm kinda hungry…fancy some chips? Or-or d-do you not like chips, because if you don't th-that's okay, we could-"
"Chips sound lovely. Looks like there's a little stand right over there." she pointed to the left.
Looping his fingers around a greasy potato wedge, the man in the bowtie dipped it in the yellow cream-like substance.
He half-expected the woman to cringe, but instead she beamed at him, a look of fondness on her face.
"Chips and custard? Why am I not surprised. So where does it rank on your taste meter? Better than fish fingers and custard or Jammie Dodgers?"
After he finished chewing, the Doctor smiled.
"Oh, no, not nearly as good. But it sure beats apples. Or bacon. Or yogurt." His thoughts drifted back to his post-Regeneration cravings. "Do you want to try some?" he stuck a French fry (as the Americans called them) out to River.
"Sure." Sliding it between her fingers, River Song swept the chip up to her mouth, eating with great delicacy. A soft moan escaped her lips, and the Doctor nearly jumped.
"Y-You like it? Y-you're not even surprised or anything?"
"Honey, it isn't as if I haven't eaten this before." She hummed, head whirring, a very different scene coming to mind.
Sprawled out on a blanket, River tilted her head, leaning against her husband's shoulder.
The man in the suit grinned, twirling a finger in his wife's hair, and softly stroking the side of her face.
It was then that he thrust a custard-drenched chip into her mouth, eliciting a rather loud squeak from River.
"What do you think, wife?"
"Mmmm. Not bad, husband. Better than your taste in hats for sure." She smacked his arm.
"Well, that's an earth wedding tradition, isn't it? The groom stuffs the first piece of cake in the bride's mouth, and vice versa. Only we don't have cake…"
For a moment they lay there silently, hand in hand, in awe of the millions and millions of bright flecks illuminating the sky. More stars in one sky than any other moment in the history of the universe. A simply gorgeous sight.
"Beautiful…" the Doctor mumbled to himself. He sucked in a breath, enthralled by the way River's golden curls shone in the light.
"Yes, it's incredible, Sweetie—"
"I was talking about you."
She blushed at that, looking away. Dressed in a blue tank top and dark sweatpants, her prison uniform, River didn't feel very beautiful.
Placing one hand around his wife's cheek, the Doctor pulled her closer, pressing his lips to hers and lingering there for a moment.
He put her hand to his hearts and kissed it sweetly.
"You are beautiful, my River."
River could still remember her wedding night very clearly; Calderon Beta. One of the best days of her life.
"River—" the Doctor's confused voice brought her out of the memory. "Y-you're blushing."
"Am I? That makes two of us, then. Tell me, Doctor, what do you know of Calderon Beta?"
"The boring planet of chips shops? Well, I suppose chips can be interesting, especially with an infinite selection of flavors…but…wait, have you been there?"
"I'll take that as a yes, then." The Doctor paused, before asking another question. "You looked a bit out of it for a minute there. Remembering something?"
"Oh yes." She spoke almost dreamingly.
"Did I happen to be involved?"
"Maybe." River flashed him a cheeky grin.
"Well, that would explain this, then." His head bobbed slightly, turning her attention to the middle of the table, where she realized their hands lay clasped.
"You know, Sweetie, if you wanted to hold my hand so badly, you could've just gone for it. You never hesitate with your companions." Her thumb smoothed circles around his palm.
"Well, I—I didn't…I mean, that's different!"
"Because you're not looking to snog your companions?" River raised a brow.
Flustered, the Doctor avoided her gaze.
Tugging him by the hand, River took the remaining chip container.
"Come on, dear, we better go now, or else Amy and Rory's chips will get cold."
The doors of the police box slipped open, allowing the four wet- and not-so-wet travelers to slide inside.
Grabbing a towel off the coat rack, Amelia Pond started drying her hair.
She tapped the Doctor on the shoulder.
"Hey, thanks for today. We had a lot of fun. And…sorry 'bout earlier…I…I probably shouldn't have been eavesdropping…and I shouldn't have embarrassed you, even though…I…"
Wrapping his arms around his friend, the Doctor hugged her tightly. "I forgive you, Amy."
"Now, off you go…your poor husband looks like he would really like to change sometime soon."
Rory mouthed a silent 'thank you,' and slipped his fingers through his wife's.
"Lead the way, Mr. Pond."
Leaning against the console, River watched her young parents disappear, a nagging sense of loss rippling to her heart.
They're alive and happy now, that's all that matters. They have so much life yet to live. And they're still living it back in New York. Together, as they should be.
"Okay?" the Doctor poked his head around the scanner.
"River…I was wondering, since you're not in prison anymore…and…well, do you think maybe, you might want to—I don't know, travel…with me—us, I mean…" the often-talkative man looked suddenly bashful.
"You still have all those younger versions of me to go adventuring with. I can't get in the way of that. And I have younger versions of you to be visiting."
"And by 'visiting' you mean terrorizing?" he bopped her nose.
"Well…I'm not sure I'd put it that way." Smirking, River typed coordinates into the scanner, before pressing a few buttons and levers.
"River—" his hands shuffled in varying positions and he stood awkwardly beside her, full-body swim suit and bowtie and all.
"Yes, dear?" as she spoke, the ship shook slightly, as if to signal the landing.
"Here…" the Doctor withdrew a tiny object from his pocket (why did his bathing suit even have pockets?) and closed River's hand over it. "I…I just picked this up earlier on the beach…I…I thought you might like it…or something."
Peering down at the item, River scanned its soft spirals, blue speckles, and tiny holes.
"What a lovely shell. Thank you, Sweetie." Her now-wet eyes looked up at his.
"It reminded me of you. Um…because…because it's pretty, and unique, and complex, and a bit complicated—just, just like you, River."
She could tell by his stance he felt uncomfortable; while her husband could've spoken those words without so much as blushing, it took this Doctor a lot of courage to do so.
"You're such a Sweetie." Running the tips of her fingers along his cheek, the curly haired woman smiled.
The Doctor's mouth fumbled, as if he was trying to say something he couldn't express.
"So you told Rory you wanted to kiss me again? Is that true?" her breath laced his ear.
"I…" He swallowed hard. "M-maybe—"
Stroking the back of his head, River slid her lips over his, kissing him slowly, softly, longingly. And he melted into the kiss, reacting less awkwardly than the first one, flailing for only a second.
When River withdrew, she gave his hand a quick squeeze.
"See you around, Professor River Song."
"Till the next time, Doctor."
"I'll look forward to it."
"Won't you, just?"
With a flourish of the hand, she departed, the whirring-chirring sound of the TARDIS echoing behind her.
Flicking the lights on, River Song entered her home.
Her fingers still clutched the shell, savoring the memory of this special day.
She'd just nearly reached her room when a pair of strong arms wrapped around her torso, rocking her back and forth. Soft lips caressed her skin, warm breath blowing against her neck.
"Hi, Honey, I'm home." Her husband murmured into her hair.
Her breath caught—for a moment she wondered if it could really be him—her Doctor, her husband.
One glance at his older, grief-lined face set her worries to rest. His eyes sparkled—warm and full of love, yet tinged with an unspoken sorrow. She didn't have to ask. This Doctor was definitely post-Manhattan.
"I've missed you." The sincerity in his voice unnerved her.
His thumbs brushed the sides of her cheeks and in moments his mouth was on hers, his lips weaving a blissful melody between them; a kiss of passion and apology and desperation and love—one reserved only for husband and wife.
Breathless, River pressed his hand over her heart, slipping the tiny shell inside.
"What's this?" he seemed confused.
"Take a look."
His expression faltered for a second.
"Oh…Coney Island, right? I remember." He laughed. "So that's where you've just come from, eh?"
"Well…I'd hoped that maybe I'd run into you…but I ended up with a younger Doctor. And my parents…"
"Oh, River…" the Doctor watched as her body shook, and he pulled her flesh- against him. "Coney Island. A beach in New York City…no wonder you didn't want to come!"
"I think it turned out alright, though." She whispered into his chest.
"Yeah, you convinced me to wear a Speedo. Wouldn't take much convincing now, would it?"
"I suppose not."
"And you had to deal with me back when I could hardly express or even identify my feelings for you."
"Mum helped with that."
The mention of his Amelia Pond rattled the Doctor to the core.
"She sure did. Had me blushing like a bloody idiot." His voice was a mix of sadness and remembrance.
"You were very sweet, though, Honey. Remember the chips?"
"Oh, and the chips, can't forget the chips! I was so shocked that you actually didn't mind the custard combination. And then you grabbed my hand…I'd been working up the courage to hold your hand all day, so I'm glad you settled that." Tangling his fingers through hers, he pressed his lips to her palm.
"Well, I can't say it was intentional. I was caught up remembering something. Chips and custard…"
"Calderon Beta; of course. What a night." Hearing him speak of their honeymoon with such fondness warmed River's heart.
Patting his hand, she brought his attention back to the shell.
"And the shell…I remember being so nervous I almost didn't give it to you."
"Well, I'm glad you did." She kissed his cheek, recalling the younger Doctor's initial awkwardness.
"What did I say? It reminded me of you or something?" the gears of his ancient brain spun, round and round.
"It still does, you know."
He fingered the textured shell, smoothing over the blue-stained swirls, an echo of a time long ago—a time when he and his best friends swam at a beach, a time when an enigmatic woman landed on his TARDIS and got him flustered, a time when he drowned deeper and deeper into her—his River.
And now, centuries later, he remembered that moment, staring out at the New York skyline as those equally ancient eyes stared back into his hearts.
Here she stood, River Song, his friend, his lover, his wife, her face just as stunning; the lines of age and experience and maturity framing her mouth and her eyes just as they did then.
The Doctor understood that pain in her irises, and that ancientness he couldn't comprehend before. But all in all, his thoughts hadn't changed since that day. He could still describe his wife in one simple word—the very word he had mumbled all those year ago.
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