He comes to her when he wants. He has his TARDIS, so he can find her whenever and wherever he wants. He sometimes appears on some planet, in the middle of one of her adventures, because she calls him or just because he wants to. Sometimes it's just chance or coincidence (or so he says, and she hardly believes him). But most of the time he comes to Stormcage, where he is sure she is, or will be.
Once, she comes back to her cell and he is there, sitting on her coat, his head hidden between his hands. Where he hears her he stands up hastily and runs to her, hugs and holds her so strongly that she is out of breath and it almost hurts. He is afraid, he is lost, he doesn't cry but she can see he is fighting hard not to.
"I thought something happened to you."
"What? Why? I was just with you, you know, running and..."
"You did not leave any note."
"What? What note?"
"Leave me a note... When you are out there you always leave me a note, in case of... Oh..."
She looks at him and she can't but laugh. He is embarrassed and flushed as he suddenly understands that the reason why she did not leave any note what the fact that she never leaves any note to him... Not that River.
She finds him very cute when he is like that, when he is so embarrassed he does not know what to do or where to hide himself. She just laughs and taps his nose and, after that day, she always leaves him notes when she goes out of Stormcage. Even when she is out with him, because she never knows if an older or younger him won't come.
He has his TARDIS but she has nothing. When she wants to see him she has to wait, or to find a way to contact him. Sending him messages on psychic paper or leaving coordinates on planets or releasing an announcement during some historic events. When she wants to move out she has her vortex manipulator, but it's not as precise as a TARDIS, it has no scanner to check the environment, and it has no protection against unpredictable events. Unpredictable events like the one which happened today; she was trapped in an electromagnetic storm and her path was deflected and she landed on a planet she didn't know.
She looks around her and it is sunny and all she can see is sand all around her. She checks her vortex manipulator but it is done for, the storm has completely burnt it out. She takes her scanner but it has also been destroyed by the electromagnetism. In fact, all her electrical objects have totally broken down. What she needs now, in this very moment, what would be very useful, is a sonic screwdriver, but she does not have any sonic screwdriver, she's never had one and she thinks that she should now, she is also a Time Lady and there's no reason why she could not have her own. She would talk him about it, when she is out of there.
She violently takes the manipulator off of her wrist and throws it on the ground. She is cross and she swears, in English first, then in Scottish (Amy has told her some words of her native country) and then because it's not enough to express her feelings, she even swears in Gallifreyan. It must be a blasphemy but there is no one to hear her.
She closes her eyes and tries to calm down; she won't find any solution staying there swearing and mourning. She does not know where she is or when she is, but he will find her. She left him a note. He will come to her cell, read it, and when he realizes she has never reached her destination he will come look her. He will be able to follow the path of her manipulator and find her. She does not know when, but that's not really important, he has a time machine, he can spend thousands of years looking for her and come to the very moment she landed on that planet. If he uses his TARDIS properly.
She waits a few seconds for the blue box to appear next to her, but nothing happens. She sighs. Yes, of course, what was she expecting? She has to be on her own. Again.
She looks at the sun shining over her head and begins to think of another plan. She can't stay there, in the middle of nowhere. She has to find shade first, water if she is lucky, and the miracle will be a city, a village, even a little house, a tent, some nomads, civilization, someone who can help her. And she won't find anything if she stands still.
She throws all her broken materials on the ground; they will be useless and will only give her some extra weight, and she guesses that it not really what she needs. She looks in her "bigger in the inside" pocket and finds some things that will be more useful. A hat she uses during her archeological excavations, her sunglasses, and a bottle of water. Not even an entire liter and she is lost in the middle of the desert. Great... And she does not even have her sun cream. Blond and pale as she is, just imagine what she will look like after some hours under that bloody shining sun...
Her compass is also out of work so she begins to walk to an unknown direction on that unknown planet, the sun in her back so it won't dazzle her. She already feels warm and her back is slowly covering in sweat. She only hopes he won't be too long finding her, because she knows it, she can feel it, there is only a little hope for her to find her salvation alone in this desert.
The day goes on and she walks. Periodically she stops to look around her, but all she can see is the sand and the sun. There is no life in this desert. Not a single animal, not a single plant, there is just sand, not even wind to give her some fresh air. And the only sound she can hear is her breathing and her feet sinking into the sand.
She tries to cut down her water but it's hard, it's very hard, she has never been so thirsty before. It is hot, it is very hot, and she does not like it. She is a Time Lady, she is made of fire, but too much fire only brings destruction and chaos. Without water to calm it down and turns its energy into the power of life, it will burn everything around and there will be nothing but death.
She walks all day long and when the night finally falls she stops and lays on the ground and tries to sleep. But the night is as cold as the day was hot. She finds a little blanket in her pocket but that's not enough and she can't stop shivering. Finally she stands up and walks in order to warm up herself. At dawn she stops, and succeeds in sleeping one or maybe two hours before the sun is too hot and she has to walk again.
And so goes another day, and another night, hot, cold, walk, rest, but she never stops hoping.
She drank her last drop of water hours ago and she knew that alone in the desert surrounded by sun and sand, hallucinations will come. So she is not surprised when she hears him and sees him by her side.
"How are you?"
"Well, let me think. I'm lost I don't know where I don't know when in a planet I've never seen before, I've been burning under the sun for two days long, there is no single life around, no shadow to hide, and I don't have any water anymore. Yes, I'm fine."
"Are you sarcastic?"
"Are you serious?"
He raises an eyebrow but doesn't respond. She knows he is not real, just a dream, however she can't but be cross against him. He is next to her, in his flannel shirt, his bow-tie tight around his neck, covered by his coat and he does not even seem to be disturbed by the heat (and in fact he can't be, he is just an illusion, a creation of her exhausted mind), whereas she is literally cooking in that blaze. And it helps, being cross against a fictional version of him, so she could go on and still believe that he will come soon.
She keeps walking and he stays at the same place, watching her going in her nonsense path. She believes he will just disappear but she is a few steps behind him when she hears his voice.
"Can I get that walk with you?"
She turns back and looks at him, looks at it, a perfect hallucination made of her memories and her wishes and the insanity that is going up under her head. He is close to the man she knows, he is him in a way, he is the part of him that lives in her and that she believes he is. But can she follow that path, take an illusion of him with her? Will he be a help, something she can hold on, something that will give her strength, or will he make her fall deeper?
She closes her eyes, tries to make her mind clear, but there are too many feelings, hot and pain and thirst and hope, and when she opens her eyes he has made a few steps to her. She sighs.
"Okay, come with me. But don't let me down."
At first, he doesn’t say anything, and she is glad he doesn’t. He is just walking next to her and that's enough for her to go on. But, a few hours after he appears he suddenly stops and shouts at her.
She is tired and does not even stop walking. If he wants to stay here in the middle of nowhere she does not care. He is nothing.
"Why do you keep walking?"
"Because I have to."
"You could just stop and sit and wait. It will be easier."
She stops and stares at him. Her thoughts run quickly into her mind as she realizes that a part of her, the one which is personified in that Doctor illusion front of her, is actually about to stop.
"Because if I stop... It will mean that I have no hope anymore, that I don't believe in you anymore. And that will never gonna happen. I will walk until I am so weak that I won't have anything else to do but lay down and die."
He looks at her and waits, he is testing is will power and she knows that. It's a challenge to herself. Fight against her worse thoughts.
"But... there is nothing here. You will find nothing. You are using your few strengths walking to anywhere, walking to nothing."
"No, no, you're wrong. I'm walking to you."
"And if you don't find me? If I don't find you?"
"That won't happen. You always find me."
She clenches her fists and she says that firmly, so he has nothing to answer her, nothing to contradict her. She is strong, she is stronger than that, she will go on until her last breathe, and she won't let an illusion bring her down. She seems to convince him, as he smiles and comes to her.
"So, what are we doing here?"
He passes front of her and she follows him, sighing of relief. She has perhaps won the most difficult battle; she has won against herself.
The sun is getting down now and he has said nothing since the moment he has tested her.
"You're wearing a hat."
"You hate hats."
"No, I don't."
"You always shoot at my hats. "
"Yes, I do..."
"...because I don't like your hats. Your hats are always ridiculous."
He looks sad but she does not care, he is not her real Doctor... But it's true, what she has said. His hats are ridiculous, she can't stand them. But she likes hats. Especially when it is the only thing that keeps her face out of the sun.
He remains silent for a few seconds, then his sad face disappears and he looks at her seriously.
"You should buy me a hat. Some you like. So you won't shoot it."
She slowly raised her head to face him. He is proud of himself, and she can't hide her surprise.
"Well... I... I never thought about that."
"In fact you did, because you know I'm a part of you. But that thought was never a conscious one... before now."
"And what does it mean ?"
"I don't know... You don't know... Does everything have sense? Does everything has to have sense?"
"No, right, it does not matter. But I promise you. Once I'm off of this bloody sandy planet, I'll buy you a hat. A one I like. And I won't shoot it. Never."
When the sunset falls she stops walking and tries to take advantage of the few hours when the weather is not too hot and not too cold and she will be able to take a rest, and perhaps she will succeed in sleeping. She takes her blanket out and lies on the ground, watching at the sky. It's not blue and sunny anymore but the stars are not out yet for her to find comfort in them.
"Close your eyes and try to sleep. I'll take care of you. I'll protect you."
He has lain next to her, leaning on his elbow, and he is the only star she needs now but she knows he is not really next to her.
"You're just an illusion. You'll disappear as soon as I close my eyes and fall asleep."
"Do you believe that ?"
"And what if I not? What if I'm the part of your mind that never sleeps, that always takes care of you, that is always aware of everything around you, and always warns you when there is something wrong?"
She looks at him and tries to know if he is serious. Of course he is. He is her. And she is okay with it. The only thing that is really weird is the fact that she is talking to herself and that she even does not understand what that means... She is tired, she is thirsty, she is full of pain and she is slowly losing her mind.
She has nothing to answer, so she turns back, closes her eyes and instantly falls in a dark sleep without any dream.
When she wakes up he is still next to her, he is looking at her and she believes he has really been looking after her from the moment she fell asleep. Her look slides from him to the sky, which is filled up with stars now and there is no light around to hide their grace, not even a moon. She stares at them and tries to read in them, try to find where she is and when she is but she can't be precise. She recognizes some of them but she can't find the link between them, she can't tell where she is – but even if she does, even if she finally knows, that information will never help her, and will never help him finding her.
She wants to cry as she realizes that she is lost and she can't do anything against that. The only thing she still holds in her hand is the fact that she walks and fights and does not break down. That the only thing she can decide, and she wants to be strong, she wants him to be proud of her, even if the only thing he will find will be her dead body.
"Come on River, stop dreaming. You've got a long road to walk. And if you don't move right now, you're gonna be frozen like an ice-cube."
His voice definitely wakes her up and that's the moment she realizes she is shivering from all her muscles and the night is really cold now. She stands up but she sees the world around her turning and moving and she feels nauseous and thinks that she is about to faint. She closes her eyes and after a few seconds she feels better.
All her body is painful. Her legs, her back, her head, her arms covered by sunburns, her feet, her eyes, even her fingers. She is thirstier than ever, she needs to drink something, she has to drink, but she has nothing. Not a single drop of water. She is surrounded by desert, there is sand everywhere, and not a cloud in the sky to bring her rain. She knows that if she does not find something to drink in the next hours, there will be no hope for her.
"Are you okay?"
He stares at her, and she can see he worries about her. And she can't answer anything to him, she has to keep all her strength and her throat is too dry to make any sound. So she just nods and grins and begins another walk.
It's like he can't stop talking now. He does not ask her question, he is just telling her stories and jokes and old fairy tales. She listens to them and she lets them guide her, she let her mind dream of other worlds, other times, where she would be a queen and he would be a king and always save her from monsters. In a way he is, always coming and saving her. Well, he was.
She is glad that he is with her, even if he is just a hallucination – like he is her companion. And she is glad he is speaking all day long, because thanks to him she does not think about her situation, about her pain, about her despair.
She is not really alone.
The first time she falls it's midday and she feels like she has never felt so wrong in her whole life. She is shaking now, and she can feel fever in her body under the heat of the sun. Even breathing is difficult, her throat is so dry and the air is so hot that when it comes in her it is burning her, it is burning her tongue, burning her teeth, burning her chest, burning her lungs, burning her heart.
He stops speaking and knees next to her.
She is too tired and too wrong, she can't answer him, she can't even look at him.
He almost shouts and forces her to raise her head and sinks into his eyes. They look so real...
"Stand up. Go on."
She is tired. She is so tired. She is too tired.
"Look at me. River. Look at me."
Once again, she was almost out, and his voice awakes her.
She succeeds in answering him, because what he says is so weird, it brings her hope but she does not want to believe in it.
"No. You're not real."
"Please, River, believe me. I'm coming. Not me, him, no, me, the real me. I'm coming. I'm next to you."
"You can't know."
"Yes I can. You can. You know it. You can feel it. It's true. When you forget your pain and focus on what you are, what you understand, what is around you, you feel it. You know it."
She closes her eyes and she knows he is right. Yes, he is coming. He is not far away. He is burning around her, his energy fills up the air. But he is not there, not yet. When will he be? Will she be strong enough to wait for him? To stand her pain until he comes?
She opens her eyes and he is smiling at her. So she stands up, and keeps on walking.
She falls, all day long, and it is almost sunset when her body definitively lets her down. She falls a last time, her face on the ground, and it takes a few seconds to her to roll on her back. She knows she won't be able to stand up anymore, she has done her best, and that's where her path ends. In the middle of nowhere. Finally, she is not strong enough...
She closes her eyes and suddenly begins to laugh. It hurts, laughing, her throat is too painful, and she coughs, and she moans, but she can't stop laughing.
"Is there something funny?"
It takes her a few minutes to calm down and when finally she stops laughing it is because the pain is too strong. She knows how wrong she is, not only physically, but also mentally. She is traveling -no, she was traveling- with an illusion and now she is dying, she can't but laugh. She wants to cry but she can't, she does not have tears anymore, she is too dry.
"I left you a note."
"And that is funny?"
"Do you know where I was going? Before landed here?"
"Acquareggia. A planet full of water."
She laughs again and she sobs and she does both at the same time, she is sad and she is hurt by the irony of the situation.
"You are looking for me in a planet full of water, whereas I'm here, cooking in that desert."
"And you find it funny?"
She turns her head and looks at him, lying next to her. He is sad, and she can feel his mercy. But he is right.
"No. It's not. But I can't cry."
She turns her head back and closes her eyes. She has nothing to laugh about anymore now. She is just sad, because she can't wait, and he will never know...
"I'm so close" he whispers. "A few hours and I'll be here."
"I'm sorry my love. It's too much for me."
He does not answer anything. She thinks that he has disappeared, that finally she will be alone in the end. And suddenly she is afraid. She opens her eyes and looks after him and he is there, still watching her. She stares at him and now she would like him to be the real him... She would like it so much...
His name sounds weird. Her throat is too dry and she can't say it properly.
"Can I... Can you take my hand?"
He does not answer anything but reaches his hand out and she is about to take it when she realizes that the only thing she will take is the emptiness of her illusion.
"It's... you don't... You can't. I can't. You're not real... You..."
"You just have to believe."
She knows it is completely insane, she knows that it's all in her mind and that nothing she sees or does or feels is real, but she is alone, she is lost, she is dying, and he is her only comfort. So she lets him take her hand and her heart almost stops when he touches her.
His fingers are fresh and soft in hers, and they are so concrete. She recognizes every inch of his hand, every line, every curve, his veins, his bones, his skin. She has never thought an illusion could be so real, so precise, and she has never believed that she has known him so well that her mind could create him so perfectly. She tightens her hand closer in his and she is glad he does not vanish into the air.
She turns her head to face the sky a last time, and then closes her eyes. Before she loses consciousness, a single tear rolls down her face.
When he finally finds her it's the middle of the night.
She is lying on the ground, and he has never seen her so wrong. He is afraid he has come too late but when he reaches her he feels her skin burning in spite of the cold air and her heart is still beating – slowly, but it's still beating. Air comes out of her mouth with a strange whistle but she is still breathing.
She is alive.
He can't be really sure because she is dirty and her features are distorted by the lack of water but it's like her lips are drawing a smile.
He does not want to lose time thinking of the strange things that may have happened to her during those days (how many days has she been here, he can't be really sure), so he just put his arms under her and picks her off the ground.
It's when he places her safely on the TARDIS that he realizes that her fingers are still curved, as she was holding something. And when he puts his hand in hers it fits it perfectly.