The whirring sound of the TARDIS echoes through the damp halls of Stormcage, followed by the tell-tale sound of landing before the containment facility is encompassed in almost-silence once more. Lightning cracks and illuminates the seemingly never ending corridors as the thunder rolls and the rain splatters none too gently across the tiny windows that are found in each cell. One might think that the windows are a small courtesy given to the prisoners, but he knows better. They are too small and too high to properly see out of, mocking the prisoners with a darkness that is only broken by the eerie yellow lightning that seems to light up everything and nothing at once- the windows serve purely as a reminder of the freedom that is so far out of reach and will never be obtained.
Unless of course, you’re River Song.
River Song can walk in and out of the most heavily guarded prison in the universe like the walls aren’t there, but tonight, as he walks up to the bars of her cell, she is there. For once it seems that she doesn’t even know he’s arrived, so he watches her as she twirls in front of the mirror that’s attached to her bigger-on-the-inside wardrobe, taking time to appreciate her clothing choice- a just above the knee, curve-hugging dress made of champagne colored fabric. His favorite bit? It’s backless.
“Hi honey, I’m home.”
River jumps and whirls around to face him and the surprise on her face is quickly replaced with a suggestive smirk. “And what sort of time do you call this?” she tosses out lightly as he sonics open her cell and steps in.
He answers by pulling her close and kissing her, one arm snaking around her waist while he buries his other hand in her curls. She moans softly into his mouth before placing her hands on his chest and gently pushing him away, smiling, “Happy Anniversary to you, too, sweetie.”
He smiles widely and is unable to contain a high-pitched giggle. Anniversary. With his wife. His fingers slip under the hem of her dress and along the skin of her thigh until they touch the cold metal of her gun. Before she knows it, he has it in his hand, his nose crinkled in distaste, “No gun tonight.” She huffs as he sets the gun aside and before she has the chance to protest he grabs her hand, “Come along, wife,” and pulls her into the TARDIS.
The doors close behind them, silencing the loud sirens that began blaring through the Stormcage corridors as soon as she stepped foot out of her cell. They bounce up the stairs and River leans against the console as his fingers fly over the keyboard, typing in their destination.
“Where are we going?”
The Doctor beams at her, “Thought we’d start with an ancient history museum.”
Her eyebrows rise in disbelief, but he catches the way her eyes light up and the way she’s trying so hard to contain her excitement. Archaeologist.
“A museum? That’s very low key for you, my love,” she teases.
“I said start, River. Never said what I have planned for the rest of the night.” She leans in closer, a smirk tugging on her lips as she trails her fingers down the buttons of his shirt, “I hope your other plans don’t involve clothing, sweetie.” She practically purrs out the words, sending shivers down his spine, and he loops his arms around her waist, pulling her flush against him, “You’ll have to wait and find out, Mrs. Doctor.”
“Mrs. Doctor?” she questions, her eyebrow winged high as he smiles approvingly.
“Yes, I quite like the sound of that.”
River rolls her eyes, smiling affectionately, “That is not how it works, Mr. Song.”
The Doctor hums thoughtfully, brushing his lips lightly over hers, “You’re right,” he says softly, “That sounds much better.”
Her smile widens before he captures her lips with his, kissing her deeply and with a deliberate slowness, as if he as all the time in the world to show her how much he loves her.
They pull back at the same time, as if on cue, and begin pushing buttons on the console, flipping levers seemingly at random and spinning about as if it were some elaborate dance. The Doctor swats River’s hands away when she reaches for the blue stabilizers, insisting that it’s a brilliant noise and earning yet another eye roll.
Once landed, they fly down the stairs, their fingers laced together as they exit the TARDIS. Stopping dead in their tracks, they inhale sharply at the same time, the smell of death invading their nostrils.
Oh most definitely not a museum.
The small village is in flame, smoke curling out of the windows of the small buildings and dead bodies lying in the middle of the dirt street. He gets the feeling that they should turn around, walk back into the TARDIS and just leave, but something pulls them forward through the street, the smell of burned flesh searing their nostrils and the seemingly never-ending smoke watering their eyes and roughening their voices.
For once neither of them has anything to say as they search for someone, anyone, who might be alive. When they round the corner, River gasps, her fingers tightening around his.
Two men clad in black uniforms are obviously the ones in charge, guns in their hands as they line up all of the survivors, all of them, against a fence in what seems to be an order of youngest to oldest.
The children are crying, huddled together as close as they can possibly get, as if seeking some form of comfort before it all ends. The Doctor stops, frozen just a few feet away, trying to make sense of the situation and wondering why.
Suddenly the why no longer matters as one of the men raises his gun to take aim. River moves from beside him and by the time he realizes what she’s doing, it’s too late. He reaches for her, his hands only grasping at air as he calls out her name, his voice scratchy from the smoke and filled with a fear that was not there only minutes ago.
As soon as the shot rings out, River is there, throwing herself in front of the crying child. What happens next is a blur to him, but somehow the two men in uniform end up on the ground by his doing, either unconscious or dead, but he doesn’t care.
When he looks up, River is still standing, her hand just below the middle of her chest and red seeping between her fingers. Her eyes look slightly unfocused as she pulls her hand away, looking down at the blood covering her fingers. The Doctor catches her just as she falls, his hands slicking across her back and through her warm blood.
Setting his jaw, he picks her up bridal style, now ignoring the people of the village and heading for the TARDIS as quickly as his can. River’s breath is ragged and shallow in his ear, and he can feel her shaking as her fingers clench around the fabric of his shirt. He forces himself not to think of the worst because she cannot die here. She does not die here. He knows and she doesn’t.
The TARDIS opens on her own accord and the Doctor silently thanks her as he rushes over the threshold and door clicks shut behind him. He lays River gently on the glass floor, trying to pretend he doesn’t see the large red stain that sharply contrasts against the color of her dress and is growing larger by the second.
As soon as he types in co-ordinates for the Sisters of the Infinite Schism and flicks a few levers, pressing the blue stabilizers as an afterthought, he is back by her side, dropping to his knees and into the small pool of blood that has began to form underneath her.
River’s eyes are closed, her skin turning a sickly yellow and her breathing becoming more labored. The Doctor feels the sting of tears behind his eyes as he presses his palms over her wound so hard he knows he has to be hurting her, but he has to try to stop the blood. Why, why, is there so much of it?
Leaning down, he rests his forehead against hers before whispering, “What were you thinking, River?”
Her eyes flutter open as she reaches up to cup the side of his face with her hand, lightly brushing her thumb over his cheekbone, “Well it’s not like I had my gun, sweetie.”
He can’t help but smile slightly, because despite how very weak she sounds, there is still that tone that is so very River.
She wraps her fingers around his, “Tell me about the first time you met me,” she whispers and he looks at her, his expression pained.
“River…” he brushes a few of her curls back, “I can’t…” The TARDIS lands and he moves to get up, but her grip on his hand tightens and when he looks back at her he can tell she’s accepted something he just can’t.
It’s something in her voice that makes something inside him break and he sits back down. Hooking his arms under her knees and around her back, he pulls her into his lap, apologizing softly when she gasps from pain.
The Doctor presses a soft kiss to her temple and takes a steadying breath before beginning, “The first time I met you, we were in the Library. A planet full of nothing but books. You’d love it. Definitely your kind of place.”
He feels her smile against his neck and he again has to force back the tears that he can feel welling up, “You came in with your smile and your spoilers that just drove me up the wall. But you were clever and beautiful and just so brilliant.”
With her chest pressed so close against his he can feel the twin beating of her hearts begin to slow so he talks faster, holding her as close as physically possible, “You saved 4,022 people that day and by the end I knew that one day I would…that you would be someone so very important to me,” he finishes, leaving out the bit about how she saved them.
“You hate libraries…” River says quietly, understanding what he never said as if he had, and he looks at her, unable to hide the sadness in his eyes when he answers, “Yes. I do.”
A tear falls down her cheek and he wipes it away with his thumb, pretending not to notice how icy cold her skin feels. The entire time he spoke he could tell that she was struggling with some sort of an internal battle, as if willing herself not to let go- but there’s only so long one person can hold on, and when he looks at her now he can clearly see that she’s given in and it’s enough to break the wall he’s been trying so hard to use to hold back his tears.
“Doctor, I,” she starts but he cuts her off, “No. No goodbyes. Don’t you dare leave me. Don’t you dare,” he says, his voice low and forceful.
“I love you,” she whispers, and he can see the light dim in her eyes as her hands drop from his chest and she slips away.
The Doctor stares at her, brushing a few of her curls back before kissing her forcefully, sobbing against her lips as it all suddenly becomes real to him. “No. River, no. You can’t do this, you can’t. Please,” he pleads, even though he knows she’s long gone.
“I love you,” he chokes out, “I love you so much.” His hearts feel knotted together because why had he never told her before? Her smile, oh her smile, would have been beautiful.
“I’m sorry, River,” he whispers, “I’m so sorry…”
The Doctor lays her gently on the floor before standing, his eyes set with determination as he sets the TARDIS to a new destination.
He steps out of the TARDIS and into the corridor of Stormcage just as his earlier self appears. When he bounds out of the TARDIS he stops, frozen as the sight of his older self covered in blood. Frowning, his earlier self begins to ask what’s happened but he cuts him off, “You can’t be here tonight. Come back later and don’t…don’t take her to a museum.”
The earlier Doctor glances into the TARDIS and pales slightly before looking back at him and nodding. He turns back to his TARDIS before adding, “And tell her. Tell her every chance you get that you love her. Because one day, she’s not going to be there to hear it.” And with that he re-enters the TARDIS and trudges back up the stairs, his hearts heavy in his chest.
The Doctor sits and pulls River into his lap once again, pressing soft kisses to her forehead and wondering if being erased will hurt or if he will simply disappear as time bends and the past few hours are completely rewritten.