River longed for her mother.
Amy would drive straight to the heart of the matter. She’d take one look at the Doctor, one look at River, and promptly tell the Doctor off. The Doctor because no matter whether Amy knew River was her daughter or not, she had always been on her side. Younger Amy would give him a slap on the shoulder and tell him to get his head on straight.
Older Amy, the Amy who quietly cried as she ordered Rory be served with divorce papers, would sit her down with a mug of tea and tell her that yes, repairing a marriage is worth it. Hugging and kissing and being willing to fix it was a start, she’d say, but it’s not going to magically repair everything. Then she would go and give the Doctor’s shoulder a smack for good measure.
But Amy wasn’t there now. So, River stared into her mug of tea and tried not to cry.
For all the dates and Nestene duplicates, the relationship with the Doctor was the only real one she’d ever had. The others had been a good time. OK, the others had been about sex. Which was fine and good and didn’t have anywhere near the social taboos in the 51st century that it had in the 21st. But River had grown up in the 21st century, even though she went to university in the 51st. She had a good time, had a lot of really great sex, and in the end wanted a relationship like her parents’. For years upon years, she thought she’d had it.
But a real marriage wasn’t all fairy-tale picnics and ice-skating on the River Thames. It had fights and periods of stony silence. It also had times when you watched your husband be smitten with his younger companion and wonder if despite his pleas to let him make things up to her that he would be really happy with someone else.
Through her many years of knowing him, the Doctor always had two habits that were both at times endearing and highly annoying. The first was his ability to go on with life with no concerns as to other’s feelings as long as his personal world was in order. In those first few hours after accept the Doctor’s invitation, River could almost see the mental checklist in his mind. Got his companions, got his ship, got his wife. All was good, now let’s go explore the universe. And as long as he perceived his world to be OK, then it was.
The second was that he loved a good mystery and would relentlessly pursue it to the end. There were some who said he inspired Sherlock Holmes, and there was a reason behind that. Once upon a time, River had been that mystery that drove and drove him. But now she was an old pair of slippers, and the new mystery in Clara Oswin Oswald had shown itself.
“Where do you want to go now?” Clara asked as Jack had gone to seek a bath and River climbed the stairs in search of tea.
“We keep looking for who you are, of course,” he replied and kissed her forehead. “You’re the only mystery worth solving.”
“Bless,” River murmured fondly, smiling at how paternal the Doctor looked with Clara. Then she ignored the odd fluttering in her stomach and had gone for her tea.
They had gone on an adventure, a proper one involving monsters and guns and endless opportunities for Jack to flirt and River to fling some witty barbs. And she noticed how the Doctor acted with Clara, always patient, always reassuring. He didn’t yell and often had a kind word for her. Oh, Clara was quick thinking, and River liked her. She liked her a lot, and that only made things worse.
“He’s rather smitten with her,” Jack remarked as he and River worked to free themselves from the yards of oiled rope that tied them to a stake above a firepit.
“He’s always smitten with them,” River replied breezily, keeping a watchful eye on the Kgart that wanted to eat them for lunch. She looked up in just enough time to see the Doctor reach out from his own trap and tap Clara’s nose.
And something died inside her.
It happened again when they went to the spun-sugar bridges of Nefani III. Then Jack insisted on going to Hyuan, renowned for its nightclubs, and they left him with a promise to go back. They had a Sontaran encounter, an Ice Warrior encounter, and a few historic tangles on Earth. And for each and every one, River made sure she looked and acted the part. She flirted, was a good shot, served as a guiding eye for Clara and watched as her husband became more and more wrapped up in the mystery surrounding the younger woman. Their downtime wasn’t spent making love – they hadn’t done that since well before Manhattan – but the Doctor exploring this theory and that behind the multiple Claras. And River was patient, and River was kind, and River encouraged him because she loved him and wanted to fix their marriage.
“Right!” The Doctor bounded down the steps, clapping his hands. He wiggled his eyebrows at Clara before grabbing her hands and twirling her in a circle. “Calderon Beta, planet of the chip shops! I’ve had a yen for chips lately, and it’s a boring planet otherwise. I really think for this one that-“
The shout burst out of River before she realized it. Clara and the Doctor froze in their impromptu dance. “River?” he asked.
“No,” she repeated and wondered if that hysterical-sounding woman was really her. “You are not taking Clara to Calderon Beta. Ever. Do you understand me? I have stood here and let you do what you like for weeks, but I am not going to let you do this.”
And with that, River strode regally out of the console room. She patted the TARDIS’ wall and felt the hum beneath her fingertips. No, she wouldn’t do that to her child. She found herself in the kitchen with a mug of tea and longing for her mother.
She stared into her mug of tea. She stared and stared until it went cold and the cream congealed on top. She stared until a wrapped bar of dark chocolate was pushed under her nose. She looked up to see Clara giving her a sympathetic look.
“The thing I’ve found about men,” she said, “is that they’re all idiots.”
River laughed at that. Then she covered her face with her hands. With soothing hands, Clara wrapped her arms around her and comforted her like she would one of the children in her care, with soft words and gentle pats and a few choice words to describe the Doctor being an absolute idiot.
“It’s special to you, isn’t it? Calderon Beta?”
“We went there on our … well, supposedly our wedding night. Except it happened a long while after the wedding for both of us. Especially him, I suspect.”
Clara held up a finger. “So, essentially, he wanted to take me and parade me about a place that’s extremely intimate to the two of you? How thick is that?”
River managed a laugh.
“And stupid! I mean really, thick and dumb and stupid!” Clara dropped into the chair opposite River’s and helped herself to some of the chocolate. “I thought he was supposed to be making it up to you for whatever happened before. He was so sad at times when you weren’t around.”
“Oh, Clara. Dear, it’s the Doctor. It’s part of loving him, really. He gets wrapped up in a mystery, in showing the world to a young companion, and he forgets everything else. He was just like that with my mother.”
“But, that was your mum.”
“Others as well. Believe me, my entire thesis revolved around this universal truth.”
Clara shook her head and screwed up her nose in an expression that River found particularly adorable. She shook her head, opened her mouth, lifted that finger, then shook her head again and broke off another piece of chocolate. “Still doesn’t excuse the fact he’s an idiot. I’m not stupid. I know how he looks at me.” She stared at the chocolate. “And, yeah, I might have looked at him back like that. Before I knew about you. And, well … you’re much hotter than he is.”
“Thank you, dear.”
“I’ll go get Jack back from that nightclub and …”
“No.” River laid a hand on Clara’s. “Dear, I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not. I’m an au pair, River. I’ve seen enough broken marriages in my time to recognize them. You’re trying, and I don’t think he knows something’s wrong. When’s he going to realize it? When you’re dead?”
River raised her gaze to the Doctor’s. She had seen him approach the kitchen, had not had the words to stop Clara from her rant. He had heard that. His face went white as he stared at River, then he disappeared down the hall.
She stared at the manuscript of “Melody Malone,” still not quite seeing the words before her. She managed to finish a draft and was editing it before figuring out a way to send it to Amy. She knew she would see her again, Amy had written it herself. But she didn’t want to go to Amy like this.
She didn’t want to stay in the console room, where the Doctor was most likely sulking under the console. Pity. Working on the wires would give her something to do with her hands. River abandoned the marked-up manuscript, vowing to return to it at some point. She just wasn’t sure when.
She thought about strapping on her vortex manipulator, fleeing the TARDIS, and finding a younger Doctor. One who still saw her as a mystery. No, he wouldn’t trust her as far as he could throw her, but at least she could handle it. She could manage being with a younger Doctor, especially if Amy and Rory were there. No, a Doctor earlier in their marriage. One who still looked at her with starry eyes and ran his hands over her hearts while murmuring at the miracle they were. No, no, that would be even worse. Because then she would know his future and realize that he would eventually grow smittened with someone else while she watched.
“When one is in love with an ageless god … one learns to hide the damage.”
River took a deep breath, mentally pulled up her big girl britches, and pushed into the first room she came across.
Skies of brilliant blue soared overhead, and a soft breeze brushed her curls away from her face. Gardens in full bloom stretched before her, benches dotting the pavement and lining the walls. Ivy plants with long, trailing vines and leaves curled their way down pillars. In the center of it all stood the elegant Cloister Bell, waiting to be rung in an emergency. The Cloister Room. It was her favorite room in the TARDIS.
And sitting on a bench staring at the bell was the Doctor.
Oh no. She was not prepared to deal with this. As quietly as she arrived, River strode out the door. She walked two corridors over, up a flight of stairs and nimbly crossed a tightrope before reaching what she thought was the kitchen. She opened the door.
There before her lay the Cloister Room.
River slammed the door shut and tried the door next to it.
Hello, Cloister Room.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding,” River groaned and pulled it shut. “I’m not ready for this!” she called out to her other mother, the one now dimming the hallway and actually blowing snow down the corridor. “Please, I don’t want to have this conversation with him. I need more time.”
All the doors along the corridor sprang open. All revealed the Cloister Room.
Defeated, River walked back in.
“You know, I tried to go to the console room, our bedroom, the library, the kitchen, Squash Court 4, and the swimming pool,” the Doctor said as River walked up the path toward him. “Kept coming back in here.”
“Well, seems like she’s trying to tell us something.” River sank onto the bench next to him. “First Jack and Clara. Now, the TARDIS. Apparently, they all believe themselves to be amateur marriage counselors.”
He didn’t look at her, and she noticed his hands were balled into fists. Much like hers when he had come across her in Vancouver weeks earlier. “Why can’t you ever tell me when you’re hurting?” he asked in a small voice. “Why do you keep lying and saying you’re not?”
“I told you before,” she said patiently, “when one is-“
“Sod that,” he spat. “We’re married. Why do you get the exclusive privilege of hiding things?”
“Spoilers,” she breathed. “I mean, not spoilers for real, but …”
“But there’s not any now, are there?”
“Yes, there is! And don’t tell me there’s not. Doctor, I figured it out years ago. You’re going to be there at my end. Someway, somehow.” The look on his face when Clara had mentioned her being dead one day confirmed it. “And I’m fine with it. As long as you’re with me, I’m OK with-“
“I’m not OK with it,” he shouted. “And I’m not OK with this! What is wrong with you, River? I thought we were supposed to be fixing things after Vancouver.”
“Well we would be if you weren’t so infatuated with Clara!”
“I am not-“ The Doctor cut off, his jaw working silently for a moment as that brilliant brain of his figured things out. He leaped to his feet. “You’re jealous of her!”
River bit her lip and said nothing.
“That is one of the most ridiculous-“
“And tell me what’s so ridiculous about it?” She got to her feet as well, toe to toe with him, her nose pressing into his. “Your entire mind is wrapped around Clara. Her mystery, the way she looks at the universe. You’re absolutely smitten with her. She’s young and pretty and-“
“She saved me, River!”
“Which is why I don’t hate her! I adore Clara, and it makes it a hundred times worse!” Her eyes burned, and she refused to give in. “She saved you in a way I couldn’t after my parents were taken away, and I hate that I wasn’t enough for you. I’m grateful that Clara saved you. The same way Rose saved you all those years ago. I love you, and I know I will never be enough. I will live with that, and it’s my choice. Not yours, not anyone else’s.”
“You are such an infuriating woman!” He tugged at his hair, and when his eyes met hers, the pain in them made her take a step back. “Don’t you ever think that I don’t have a choice either? You know the validity of what happened in Area 52. It didn’t count.”
River’s breath caught, and she vowed she would be somewhere private before she could cry.
“It didn’t count except when I made it count. When you did.” His voice softening, he took her hands. “I once told your mother that nothing is ever forgotten. Not completely. If something can be remembered, it can come back.” He raised her hands and softly kissed them. “And, if you want something badly enough, it can be real.”
Tears tracked silently down her cheeks, and she noticed the suspicious shine in his.
“My bespoke psychopath. The child of my two best friends and the TARDIS. Made just for me.” He brushed a thumb over her cheek. “I ran away from you for a long time. Then, I married you, and I ran some more. Because, River Song, you tend to bring well …” At a loss for words, he waved a hand about. “You make me look at myself and be more honest than I’ve been in a long time. What I can do to people. The good and the bad. You literally wouldn’t be here because of me, and every time I get comfortable with that, you leave me.”
“Your rules,” River said softly.
“My rules,” the Doctor agreed. “And we’re going to break them. I meant it when I want you to stay. If you leave now, we’ll never fix this. Time will be rewritten.”
“Are you so sure about that?”
“Yes,” he said confidently. “And while I am trying to fix some things, I want one thing to be intact. I suppose, it’s what every spouse wants. I don’t want you to die having regretted our life together.”
“I don’t,” she whispered. “Not one line.”
“Not even now?”
She shook her head. “But, it’s the same thing for you. I don’t want you to regret it either.”
“The only thing I regret is that I didn’t stop running from you soon enough.” He pressed his forehead to hers. “Clara isn’t you. She’ll never be you. I want you to stay, because I want us to solve the mystery behind her together. Please. I’ll try to be better.”
“And, I’ll try to be better,” she agreed. “We have to be the ones to try, because I doubt there’s a marriage counselor that would be willing to take us on.”
“Please tell me you’ve patched things up,” Clara said as she absently flipped through her book.
“Everything is all right, Clara Oswald,” the Doctor informed her as he breezed through the console room and threw open the door. He drew in a breath and grinned. “Take a look out there! Planet of the chip shops!”
Clara glanced up, an eyebrow quirked. “Thought River said not to come here?”
“Oh, you were never going anywhere. Well, other than to a chippie of your choice. You can keep yourself busy while I take my wife on a date. Which,” he said pointedly to River, “I was trying to say before I got so rudely interrupted.”
River had the good grace to blush.
Clara waved them off. “Not much of a chip fan myself. Go get yourselves laid! I’ll ring Jack and see if he’s done with his orgy.” She blew them a kiss and left the Doctor blushing.
They carried a blanket with them and bought a container of chips to share and wandered to a lovely little green not far from the chippie shop where they left the TARDIS. It was secluded and provided a good view of the 400-ft. tree where they spend their wedding night. “Same night,” he murmured, as he ignored the chips and set about kissing her properly for the first time since Vancouver.
“Sentimental idiot,” she said fondly as she worked his bow tie loose. “How many versions of us are here on this night?”
“Not enough.” His hands slipped under the light jumper she wore and skimmed up her ribcage. Her breath hitched as he cupped her breasts through her bra, lightly stroking her nipples until they hardened into tiny buds beneath those clever, clever fingers. He tugged the jumper off and kissed the tops of her breasts above the lace cup of her bra.
She squirmed with impatience, and he quirked an eyebrow. “It’s been awhile,” she admitted. In the haze of grief after her parents’ death, and the subsequent confusion over Clara, her libido had been nonexistent. Until now.
He chuckled and unbuttoned her trousers. He drew them off, pulling off her sandals along the way. Then he kissed his way up her leg, nuzzling and nibbling softly until he reached her inner thigh. Longer tastes here, with his hands stroking the other thigh as her legs splayed open. Her hips rolled with anticipation, and he smirked as he saw the dark patch in her knickers, the bump of her aroused clit pressing against the fabric. Hooking the material with two fingers, he pulled them aside to expose her to the air briefly before drawing her into his mouth.
Her moan echoed through the clearing, and he used his free hand to hold her down as his tongue flicked over her. He knew what she loved: long, slow sweeps of his tongue followed by quick flicks. It didn’t take long for her reach orgasm, to shudder and cry out as he sent her over the edge. She tugged on his hair to pull him away, but stubborn, stubborn man, he remained between her legs. He slid two long fingers into her and curved just right. Patiently, he kissed and licked and thrust until she was on the edge of orgasm again.
Then he took all those away and began fumbling with his trousers. Desperate, she helped him. As soon as he was free, she reared and sent him toppling to the ground. She straddled his hips, angling so he could watch as she guided him into her. With a wicked grin, she batted away his hands so she could touch herself. Her hands glided over her breasts, cupping and rolling the nipples as she rolled her hips atop his. With one hand, she skimmed down her stomach to her clit. Two fingers, just how she loved touching herself. She closed her eyes and arched back as far as she could, lost in everything but this one moment.
And when she came for a second time, he came with her.
The music was romantic, haunting, and sad, all wrapped into a single melody that surrounded River’s senses and sank into her mind as she roused from sleep. She didn’t open her eyes, but she could sense where she was. The cool air of Calderon Beta, the plush blanket beneath her legs, the scratchy warmth of the Doctor’s coat that was draped over her. She was in his lap, and being surrounded so completely made her feel … safe. She was safe, and in a life such as hers, being safe was a miracle. She made a contented little sound and snuggled closer to him.
His arm tightened, and she felt something wet splash against her hair.
“I love you.” The words were muffled and certainly not in English. For a moment, she thought she had let the words slip out, then realized that wasn’t her voice.
The realization caused the last of pleasant lethargy to shake loose. She tilted her head to meet those brilliant hazel eyes. No pain in them now. Just love and an overwhelming sadness. “That’s the first time you’ve ever said it,” she murmured.
For the first time, she noticed where the music was coming from. One arm was wrapped around her, but the other held his sonic. “It plays music now,” he whispered proudly.
“Now, that is cool.” She rested her ear on one of his hearts and listened to the double pulse pound beneath her. “I love you, too.”
“I know. I never doubted that you did. Not even at Demon’s Run, before I knew the truth.” He tilted her chin up. “Please, please remember that, River. I love you very much.”
“Did you have to get us arrested, River?” the Doctor groused as they stumbled back onto the TARDIS, half-dressed.
“Nearly arrested, sweetie, not quite the same thing.” River shot a cheerful grin at Clara, who was reading with her feet propped up on the console.
She arched an eyebrow at their state of undress. River only wore the Doctor’s long coat, haphazardly buttoned to cover most of the naughty bits, as the Doctor would say. She held what remained of her bra and her other clothes in her free hand. The Doctor was shirtless, and a big chunk of the right leg of his trousers was gone. “OK, well, that’s something about your sex life I never wanted to know.”
“Eyes front, Oswald,” the Doctor muttered.
“Nope,” Clara said as she ogled River.
“Bless.” River considered, then strode to the younger woman and laid her lips on hers. She deepened the kiss, just a bit, enough for Clara to hum and open her mouth beneath hers in response as the sound of a vortex manipulator echoed through the room.
“I leave for three days, and I come back to find this?” Jack pouted. “I am never leaving the TARDIS again!”
“River, stop snogging my companion!” The Doctor squeaked.
“Oh, tell me you don’t find it hot,” Jack said.
“Your trousers say otherwise.”
The Doctor snarled at him.
Clara stared at River glassy-eyed as she broke the kiss. She swallowed, licked her lips, and swallowed again. “You know,” she said slowly, “if chin boy ever does anything stupid again, I’ve got first dibs on you, right?”
River laughed and headed for the stairs.