A/N—I know Darillium fanfics are nothing new to the Doctor Who fandom, but I had to write my own version of this fabled story, mostly because I hope it will finally show up in Matt Smith's final episode. In retrospect, this was quite a difficult piece to write, due in large part to the two very different sentiments in this story: River is in awe and wonder, and the Doctor is a man slowly breaking apart. To reconcile these two very strong (but completely opposite) emotions in a single piece was quite tricky. But in the end, I believe I probably wrote the most intimate story I've ever written. So please enjoy :)
The TARDIS's telltale sound filled the control room as the Doctor set the coordinates for a small planet of an all-but unknown binary star system. As he fiddled with the controls, River quietly walked up behind him and rested her chin on his shoulder. As she watched her husband flip this switch and pull that lever, she whispered in his ear, "Are you finally going to tell me what's so special about the Singing Towers?"
"What, and ruin the surprise?" he said, turning his head to her. "I'd be doing this lovely planet a disservice." Returning his attention to the controls he continued, "Darillium is a planet unique to the universe. There is absolutely no place like it. 'It can't be told; it has to be lived,'" he quoted, giving her a knowing smile.
Satisfied, River looked to the screens above them, Gallifreyan symbols revolving around each other in a subtle but beautiful dance. Furrowing her brow, River said, "You're taking us quite a ways out."
"More than just 'quite a ways,' I'm taking us almost all the way out: Darillium sits a mere 128 light-years from the edge of the ever-expanding bubble of the known universe. We're also going a fair amount of time into the distant past, before the two stars of this system have burned out."
River whispered into his ear again, "Did you bring me to the furthest reaches of space just for a history lesson?"
Forgetting the controls entirely, the Doctor returned her seductive stare and said enigmatically, "This won't be any old history lesson." Looking back to the console, he continued, "You didn't do any research on Darillium, did you?"
"You told me not to," she said moving to his side and placing her hands idly on the controls in front of her. "You didn't want me to spoil the 'surprise' that you so often teased me with; you made me promise to never research anything about this place, not that any being in the history of the universe seems to have heard anything about it, save for you," she said with a sly grin. "What was there to research?"
"Precautionary," he said simply with a flourish of a dial. "Really, I knew nothing about this star system either, even after hundreds of years of traveling; I discovered the Singing Towers only recently." She gave him a skeptical look. "Well, as recent as something could be when you're as old as I am. After much searching, I finally came across the planet of Darillium just over 137 years ago; a fairly recent addition to the ever-growing wonders of the cosmos," he exclaimed with a proud smile. "It lies in an area of space that has never been inhabited by any beings; I believe I am the only person to have ever set foot on the planet. And what I discovered there was...beyond description," he said wistfully as his eyes grew distant with memory.
"137 years in your timeline? And you never brought me here until now?" A mischievous glint creeped into her eye. "What's the occasion?"
"Spoilers," he said simply. She didn't notice his shaking hands as he smiled a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.
"So if no one has ever heard of it and no one has ever set foot there, except for you, how did you know it even existed?"
Focused more intently on the controls than necessary, he faltered a bit before saying cryptically, "A bird told me."
"That must have been one hell of a bird," she said coyly as she leaned over the controls. Momentarily forgetting his previous thoughts, he returned the same look and said, "You have never been more right, Professor Song." He continued to stare into her eyes as the TARDIS landed with a resounding thump.
"Right then!" he exclaimed rubbing his hands together. "I think I've timed this near-perfectly," he said, hurrying to the railing beside the front doors where a blanket sat carefully draped. Picking it up, he continued, "The two suns should be just about to set in the eastern sky." Turning back to her, he offered his arm. "Are you ready for something truly spectacular?"
"After all this build-up?" she said, walking over and linking him to her. "Absolutely," she smiled. The edges of the Doctor's lips twitched a bit as he pulled the doors wide.
They stepped out onto a fine, soft sand under a sky that was slowly growing to a deeper hue of purple. But what caught River's attention wasn't the sky. It was the spires that towered above them. And they looked nothing like anything she had ever seen.
They weren't made of rock. It was almost as if they were composed of glass with what looked like rivulets of metal coursing through their crystal-clear interiors. And then she understood why he wanted her to see this at sunset: The suns were slowly dipping below the horizon directly behind the them, back-lighting the spires with a glow that danced off the metals of their cores. She stared in wonder as the Doctor observed her reaction with a wide smile. "Welcome to the Singing Towers," he said quietly.
When she finally found the words to speak, River said, "They're...beautiful."
"As I said before, these structures are completely unique; no other planet in the universe, as far as one can tell, has formations like these." Gesturing to the Towers, he continued proudly, "I told you I'd show you something you've never seen before."
As she stared at the soft glinting light that bounced from the spires glossy surfaces, the Doctor unfurled the blanket and laid it on the ground in the pool of light that emanated from the TARDIS's open doors. When he was finished, he circled behind her, closed the doors, and placed his hands on her waist as they both stared at the sight in front of them. A few minutes later, River asked curiously, "Why did you name them the 'Singing' Towers?"
He replied softly, "They're composed of an extremely odd mix of metals and other elements that give them a highly unusual characteristic."
"Patience, Professor Song," he said in a hushed whisper, suddenly very quiet. He guided her slowly to the blanket in front of them, lying down in the soft sand below the Towers.
As the last slivers of light from the suns disappeared, River was surprised to find that the spires still held a soft glow, illuminating the two of them below. "Choosing sunset was more important than for the visual aesthetics," the Doctor said quietly, his eyes on the Towers. "The radiation of Darillium's parent suns masks what's truly special about these spires. But without that radiation, this next bit might not be possible."
Even before he had finished his sentence, River began to hear a very quiet hum. At first, she thought it was coming from the TARDIS behind them. Then she realized it was emanating from the Towers themselves. As the humming grew louder, she detected something else underneath the original sound. Though she couldn't quite place the new addition, she found that the sound resembled slow, deep clangs of bells or chimes. Soon, these percussive sounds took center stage above the hum as different spires took up the song, adding their own notes, some higher pitched, others even lower than the first. As each spire contributed to the musical splendor, a kind of pulsing began to emanate from the Towers themselves.
River slowly sat up, her attention fixed on the spectacle before her, taking in the concert that echoed around them. She closed her eyes and let the hums, the chimes, the pulses reverberate with a low thrum in her chest. It was a sensation that was incredibly novel, yet somehow familiar and intimate. Behind her eyelids, she saw waves of cascading color and sound as the music pulsed through her down to the deepest part of her core.
The Doctor followed her lead and slowly sat up. He explained quietly, "What you're hearing? That...beautiful ringing, those wonderful, glorious pulses? … That is the music of the Universe. The sound of galaxies tumbling through space, of the birth of solar systems and planets, and the...deaths of stars." He paused for a moment as a pained expression crossed his face as he looked at River beside him, her eyes closed contently, her body illuminated by the glow from the Towers. "That is the Universe in all of its stunning glory," he finished, his voice catching a bit at the end.
River opened her eyes and looked over at her husband, never seeing the look that he just held. "How is this possible?" she asked quietly.
The Doctor gave her a soft smile and elaborated, "The 'singing' of the Towers is the sound of space resonating. The structures of the spires, the metallic alloys that make up their interiors, the radiation from the suns. All of these aspects, brought together by gravity and physics and Chance, play a part in collecting and amplifying the usually-inaudible sounds of the Universe."
"I've never heard...anything like this before," she whispered, turning back to the Towers. They fell into silence as the music enveloped them once more.
After some time, River glanced over at her husband, his eyes closed with a mixture of sadness and happiness across his face. Carefully rising to her feet, she reached down and gently placed her hand on his forearm. His eyes met hers as a soft look crawled across his face. Returning the smile in kind, River asked, "Would you dance with me?"
In response, the Doctor rose to his feet, pulling his wife closer to him. They rested their heads on each others shoulders, slowly revolving on the spot as the Universe continued its symphony. They stood so close to one and other, it seemed more embrace than dance.
She could feel his hearts thumping in his chest, resonating with her own in a melody that complimented the song that was already reverberating around them. She closed her eyes and leaned against him, soothed by the reassuring beats that they alone could hear. In that moment, she lost herself in the feel of his skin, his smell, his warmth.
It was a slight shuddering from him that broke River from her pensive thoughts. Then she heard him begin to silently cry. Alarmed, she pulled back, looking at his tear-streaked face. "Sweetie, what's wrong?" she asked, concerned.
"Nothing. It's nothing," he said, quickly wiping the tears from his cheeks. "I just...you're just...so beautiful tonight," he said through red-tinged eyes and a smile that shook.
She knew this reason wasn't true; she'd known him for far too long. She knew when something was wrong, when something was truly bothering him. But she also knew that when he genuinely didn't want to speak about something, there was nothing she could do to overturn his secrecy.
So despite the sense of unease that she felt, she rested a compassionate palm on his cheek and gave him a tender smile. Leaning in, she kissed him slow and deep. If it was at all possible, the Doctor pulled her even tighter against him, their bodies seemingly one as he returned the kiss in earnest.
Letting go of the worry that had begun to creep upon her, River gave herself up to that perfect moment as she let him draw her in, the apprehension subsiding as he plucked at her dress, carefully lowering her to the blanket once more.
Dancing in slow revolutions, the Doctor held his wife in his arms, his hearts and mind splitting with conflicting emotions. Happiness and Desolation battled within him as he nestled his nose into the nape of her neck, breathing her in, feeling her pulse just under the skin. Such a strong, resilient, comforting thing. But as he thought of what was to come, Desolation began to tip the scale in its favor against Happiness.
Still, the Doctor fought it off, thinking instead of River's closeness, her happiness for this night. He closed his eyes, thoughts overtaking him as the Universe's symphony vibrated in his chest. He reflected on his relationship with River and the incredible and unlikely path that had brought her to him on this particular night, listening to what he could only think was the epitome of their journey together. And he thought, This is the greatest gift I could ever give you: Our travels in song.
But...this Song is ending, he reminded himself with an aching stab. This will be the last night you see me as the man who cherished you... You will die with a man who doesn't love you, a man who couldn't comprehend how important you will be to him.
This admission, the realization that he had refused to allow himself to think about for many years, gripped his hearts in an excruciating vice that would not let go. You will die alone with the mere shell of the man you remember.
And with that thought, Devastation won. The Doctor could no longer hold back the flood of guilt that he had been trying in vain to restrain.
You will die alone.
And he cried. Because this was a looming tragedy that could not be reversed or altered. Time could not be rewritten. He couldn't save her. In the end, he could only offer her an imitation of life. But mostly, he cried because he had finally admitted to himself what he never wanted to: In the end, it wasn't an impending death that had caused her so much pain. It was that for a number of years of her life, and in her final hour, the man she fell in love with, the man she married, had no idea who she was.
You will die alone.
He shook with remorse and self-reproach. In those earliest years, I could have been so much better to you. I could have left you with so much more.
As the tears clouded his vision, River shifted in his arms, her face coming into his blurred field of view.
"Sweetie, what's wrong?"
Hastily brushing away the tears, he responded thickly, "Nothing. It's nothing." You can't tell her.
"I just..." Just let her be happy this one night. "...you're just..." Let her have this one night. "...so beautiful tonight." Let her have at least this one night to look back on, he thought with a forced smile. Because she deserved to have at least that much. Because she had become a bright spot in a life that had grown increasingly heavy and dark. You have saved me in so many ways. If nothing else, I can give you this.
When she brought a hand to his face, the most amorous look playing across her features, the Happiness flooded back, mingling with the Devastation in a lamenting yet graceful dance. As her lips met his, he ardently returned her kiss with a renewed resoluteness. This is our night. This will be one that you'll carry with you forever. Hold onto these memories. Please.
As he steadfastly held River to him, he resolved, I will always be with you.
You will not die alone.
A/N—Thank you very much for taking the time to read this story. Feel free to review, comment, or criticize. And until next time, happy reading!