Calderon Beta - 21 September 2360
There was something to be said about spending your wedding night — or what could pass for your wedding night when it happened quite some time after the wedding — sitting on a platform more than 400 feet in the air wearing standard-issue prison sweats and sharing an order of incredibly greasy chips with your husband while watching the most stars in history. The Doctor had been right about the light. You could read a book by it. You could do a lot of things by it really. Sharing chips really wasn’t at the top of River Song's current to-do list, even though it was the planet of the chip shops. But, she hadn’t had the heart to say no to that earnest face when he’d popped into a shop and returned with them.
He was quiet, and she was quiet, and there was the issue that she wasn’t sure how to broach. She’d be the one to broach it, because it had to be said. She had to know, and if her life had centered around anything since Berlin, it was the pursuit of knowledge.
She could see his not-so-subtle glanes at her out of the corner of his eye. Sadness, a bit of fear. Mostly the sadness. He’d been so full of joy when he’d picked her up from Stormcage, and something had happened with that other Doctor to they had run into. Well, then. She was enough of Amy Pond’s daughter to know not to let this brooding keep going. Still, the white elephant in the room needed to be addressed.
Eyes fixed on a falling star, River drew in a deep breath. “What happened at Area 52. I’m sorry.”
“Well, first of all, for embarrassing you.” For being horribly, infallibly human, and she wasn’t doing that again. Not when the consequences had nearly torn the universe apart. She could see that now, and she should have trusted him. Then again, she thought with a bit of annoyance, he-
“I should have trusted you.”
Surprised, River risked a glance at him. The Doctor, too, was gazing at the stars. His foot tapped nervously, and his hands danced along the railing, drumming out an absent beat.
“Well, everything is fine now, isn’t it?” she said with as much jovially as she could muster. She was very good at acting when she put her mind to it. “I’m just curious. Was it real? The wedding? Or are you visiting me out of a sense of obligation?”
His jaw dropped, and he stared at her like she’d grown a few extra appendages. River kept her gaze steady and her hands loosely fisted as she met the Doctor’s eyes. “I understand why you did what you did. I don’t hold you to it. It’s an alternate timeline in a place that no longer exists. The only people who know about it are you, me, and my parents, and to them you’re dead. I promise you, I’ll keep your secret until the day I die. But, I won’t hold you to whatever vows you think we took on that pyramid.”
His mouth opened and closed a few times, and he shoved away from the railing. He fisted his hands in his hair and muttered under his breath. River swallowed and promised not to cry until she was back in Stormcage. She would remain strong. She’d survived far worse.
She was just about to walk back to the TARDIS when he sudden spun on his heel. He marched to her, gently spanned her waist with his hands and boosted her onto the railing. He moved between her thighs, and her hearts began to race just a bit. She could smell his cologne now, whatever he’d most likely splashed on in a rush. It was woodsy and comforting. Her hands automatically went to trace his bow tie, then limply fell into her lap.
“Look at the stars,” he urged, and she peered over her shoulder at the brilliant galactic display, still as impressive as it’d been minutes earlier. “Somewhere in time, there is a sad, grieving man harnessing the power of a supernova to say good-bye to the woman that he loved. Somewhere else, there is a man waiting 2,000 years beside a box for the woman that he loves. Yet elsewhere, there’s a lonely old man who locked the door of his ship on his granddaughter, loving her so much that he is forcing her to make a life with the man she loves and knows that she’ll be happy. Well, and then there’s me. Common thing about that. All of them involved me.”
“I know,” River replied softly. His tenth incarnation and Rose Tyler. Her parents. His first incarnation and Susan. She’d read all those stories or had them related to her in some form or another during her thesis study.
“I’m an old man, River. I’ve been running for a very, very long time. I’ve been running away from a lot of things, including you.”
She swiveled her head back so she could look at him again. “Me now or in the future?”
“Spoilers.” He tapped her nose, prompting a smile.
“I understand.” She shifted, started to inch her way around him to climb down, but he held her still, leaning forward to whisper in her ear.
“I lie about a lot of things. Have to, really. But not about what happened at Area 52, wife.” He said it so softly that she had to strain to hear him. She pulled back, wondering why her eyes were suddenly so misty. Oh, tears. She blinked them away. He leaned in again, pressing a kiss to her lips, then her forehead.
“This is going to hurt like hell, isn’t it?” she guessed.
She could see the answer in his eyes, as he wiped the tears away with his thumb. Yes. Yes, it would. It would be twisty and turny and there would be times they would be fully in sync and others when they were trying to hide their hurt because of their mismatched timelines. Two lost souls making their way through the universe together. It was marriage, and it was theirs. Like her parents, they would choose each other. Every time. They would make it work.
Manhattan — 2012
He thought she was gone.
It was the way his life normally worked. His companions would leave him, and he’d be alone to wallow in his grief until a bride suddenly found herself on the TARDIS. Or the Titanic took out a wall. The Doctor knew River said she would go with him anywhere, anywhen. But not all the time. Of course. He’d been such a fool to ask. He’d really been a fool in a lot of ways, especially considering their future, and today was a painful reminder that their marriage was on a collision course with The Library. Clutching Amy’s last letter, the Doctor softly closed the door behind him and prepared to do what needed to be done next. Tell Brian. Figure out a way to close out the Ponds’ lives in the 21st century, just like he’d done for Rose and Jackie Tyler.
He stepped up to the console, pulled the monitor down and saw the map showing the interior of the TARDIS with one life form moving around.
He went weak-kneed, and a grin spread from ear to ear. She stayed. She stayed. Well, of course she would stay! His bespoke wife, his psychopath. Well, they both were using the term incorrectly, but he knew what she was getting at. She wouldn’t leave him alone, and he was quite the idiot to even think it. Feeling lighter than he had in an hour, the Doctor tacked Amy’s letter on the console. He’d show it to River. They’d carry out Amy’s request together.
“All right, old girl, where is she?” he murmured to the TARDIS. Directions lit up on the monitor, and his brow furrowed. “Since when do we have a dojo?”
Curiosity banishing the rest of the sadness for the moment, the Doctor sprinted down the hall, up two flights of stairs, pirouetted three times, crawled upside down through an escape hatch and moonwalked to a door he hadn’t seen before. It was a shoji, a sliding door made of bamboo and paper that was favored by the Japanese. He slid the door open and immediately ducked to prevent himself from being accidentally decapitated with a large chunk of stone.
The room was filled with statues, and for a moment both his hearts stopped. Warily, he rested his hand on one and slowly blew out the breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. They weren’t Weeping Angels. Just generic statues. He started to look up, then immediately dove to the floor as the stone began flying again. Throwing his arm up to shield his eyes, the Doctor could barely make out the figure in the center of the room.
River still had her hair tied up, though tendrils had escaped and curled around her face. Sweat ran down her forehead and cheeks, and she ran the back of one arm over her eyes to clear them. She wore a traditional kendogi and hakama, forgoing the armor. She also wore tabi, which fell into the category of really cool socks. She gripped a katana in both hands, and with a battle cry, attacked. She moved through the forms of ancient battojutsu, the sword flashing as it cut through the statues.
Knowing that normal swords couldn’t cut through stone, the Doctor snagged a fragment and licked it. Rock from Parsa X, far softer than normal Earth rock. That made sense. He pushed his hair out of his eyes and focused on River. Her face was calm, a serene expression that caused a chill to run down his spine. Then there was the eyes. Oh, there was the anger, the sadness, the white-hot fury she’d been suppressing for hours. Her chest heaved with each perfectly executed form, and at any other time it would be delightfully sexy. But she kept going and going, and the room generated more statues, and why wouldn’t she stop?
“River!” he yelled through the madness and ducked more stone. He crawled among the statues, getting close, then launched at her legs. He took her down, and she rolled to her feet, instinctively defending herself. Just as he was getting comfortable with the idea of being accidentally decapitated into his next regeneration, her sword stopped just above his neck, and she gaped at him with growing horror.
“Doctor!” She threw aside the sword and dropped to her knees as he gasped for air. “Are you OK? I’m sorry! Oh, God, I’m sorry!”
“Fine, fine. Hadn’t been that close to a 15th century katana for quite a few years.” He rubbed his neck and reached for her hand. “River …”
“Don’t!” She screamed it and jerked away. She covered her face with her hands, rocking back and forth on her heels as she fought for control. “I just need a moment.”
“I’ve yet to honor a keep out sign,” he said and managed to wrap his arms around her before she could scramble away. She held herself stiffly for a couple seconds, then relaxed into his embrace, pressing her face into his shoulder. He waited for the tears, and his hearts ached when they didn’t come. No, he thought sadly, remembering her words to him earlier. Wouldn’t come. She would hide the damage. He wondered how many times she’d had to lie to him to keep him strong. To keep them all strong. For the first time in years, he remembered their trip to 1969. When he’d hurtled accusations at River, trying to get her to break. How she’d given him the same stoic look, those steady eyes as he lied and said he wouldn’t trust her. His hold on her tightened.
He wondered how much she could handle before she broke. Then he remembered the last time she’d been pushed too far, a charged queen on the chess board. The universe had barely survived.
“I nearly hurt you,” she whispered.
“You didn’t. I’m fine. What you said earlier. It matters,” he murmured into her hair, rocking her back and forth. “They’re your parents. Of course it matters. You need to grieve for them.”
She shuddered once. A vicious shudder that ran through both of them. Then she pulled away, slowly getting to her feet. “I need a shower,” she said, her voice as dead as her eyes.
“River,” he said helplessly, also getting to his feet.
“Sweetie.” The endearment was reassuring, and she turned to him. “I can’t.”
“I won’t think any less of you if you do,” he said quietly. When she didn’t say anything, he tried a different tactic. “Remember how you got us out of that mess with Genghis Khan?”
Now a small smile tugged at her lips. “I literally pulled you by the back of your jacket for a quarter mile through the snow to the TARDIS.”
“Taking down soldiers with a sword your free hand,” he finished. She’d made a glorious soldier, decked out in Mongol armor.
“All while you told me not to injure vital parts,” she strode to him, a bit of the flirt back in her voice. “I think you were a bit turned on by it.”
“Well.” He coughed, blushing a bit. “I did have that arrow in my leg. You made an excellent nurse.”
“So I did.” She toyed with the ends of his bow tie. “Care to join me in the shower?”
It was a distraction. An avoidance really. But suddenly a shower with his wife was the best idea to ever happen. He grabbed her hand and tugged her out of the room.
The shower helped. So did the sex that it led to — once in the shower and again in bed. They lost themselves in each other, and it turned out to be a bit easier to face the universe once they had taken a second shower and dressed. River suggested incinerating their clothes, and the Doctor was for that. With that chore done, River made tea and the Doctor found a relatively fresh sandwich that they shared. They sat together on the stairs, unwilling to be apart. Not right now. They couldn’t stay like though, River knew that. There were things that needed to be done, and if she didn’t do something, she was quite sure she would venture back to that dark place she’d been in the dojo before the Doctor had stopped her.
A mental checklist was already running through her mind. Deal with closing out her parents’ lives in 2020. Plant seed money and identities so they wouldn’t be struggling wherever they went. Find out where they went. Logic would have it be 1938 since that’s where they’d been, but it wasn’t that simple. The Rory grave had been there all along, which meant the older Rory that died at age 82 in 1938 would still happen. The Angel survivor had negated that part of the paradox. Her hunch was somewhere in the 1880s, and she needed to run a few tests to make sure.
She glanced at the Doctor out the corner of her eye. He was steadier than he’d been earlier, before he’d gone to retrieve her mother’s last message. She was grateful for it. The bulk of Amy Pond’s final words had been to her daughter, clutching her hand like a lifeline. She didn’t have the chance to tell the Doctor, her Raggedy Man, a proper good-bye. The Doctor had pointed out where the page was tacked to the console, and they left it for the time being.
“We need to get this done,” River decided. Her head was clearer now, and she needed to be doing something. She would be the one to do it, because she knew the Doctor would fall apart in the middle of it. Even now, she could see the shadows in his eyes again. Oh, he’d do it. He’d done it before, on his own, so many times. Not now. She would take care of him. She strode to the console and blinked. “She’s landed. She must have done so when we were in the shower.” She flipped switches to check the environment, then drew in a deep breath to steady herself. “Amy and Rory’s. I suppose we need to start here first.”
Their eyes met. Held. Then with a sigh, moving slowly, the Doctor joined her. She could see every line of age in his face, cleverly disguised to be so young. His hand found hers, and they walked into the Ponds home together … to find Brian Williams, Martha Jones and Mickey Smith having tea.