two by two in the ark and the ache of it.
She is approaching one year. Well, not linearly, but one year of her sentence down and only a lifetime to go. She lies in her cot, ignoring her oh so blue book as she stares at the ceiling and pretends she can see shapes in the shadows that dance across it in between lightning flashes.
Measuring time in Earth years seems a bit ridiculous really. Stormcage is an asteroid, and its orbit is irregular and immeasurable. But she doesn’t want to mention to any of the guards that though irregular, it’s orbited this system three times already and technically that means she’s served three years.
In a prison run by clerics, you just don’t mention going against the calendar.
She starts the day off imagining his face in those shadows. Then she sees lightning and pyramids, bowties and wedding rings and all sorts of fanciful images. Breakfast comes and goes.
She imagines holidays with family – sees the shape of a tree, or a forest. Lightning flashes again and it morphs into twin moons and she remembers the first planet he’d ever spirited her off to. Lunch comes and goes.
She is restless now, and she sees vaguely threatening shapes in those shadows suddenly. A Dalek’s eyestalk, a tall spindly figure, hand outstretched that makes her shiver. Judoon and Sontaran squashed into one messy shadow shape. She closes her eyes for a while. Dinner comes and goes.
She doesn’t look for shapes in the shadows anymore, because disappointment doesn’t have any discernable shape. But this is what it feels like: a sharp object lodged in her throat and chest, a bitter coating of regret along her tongue and her mind berating her for expecting anything at all.
The one thing he never, ever is, is on time.
She swallows and it hurts, and she feels tears sting her eyes as midnight comes and goes. She feels every second of the day pressing against her skin, heavy with unfulfilled promise.
(The next time she sees him is three weeks later and she is alternately viciously mean and totally silent – he is young – so young, and confused. She refuses to explain other than to tell him that he left her alone on her first April 22nd. He doesn’t understand what it means until years later, for him.)
She doesn’t even hold out hope this year. Does not even expect him.
So of course he shows up at 4:30 in the morning, the harsh scraping sound of his engines causing her to look up from her book to see his TARDIS materialize right outside of her cell. He pops out, bouncing eagerly, a smile on his face and with a clap of his hands.
“Right then, which shall we do this year? Now I know you’ve said no a thousand times, but I just really, really think you’d love-”
“What are you doing here?” She hates to ask and he glances up as her cell door slides aside, his expression one of surprise.
“Which anniversary is this, for you I mean?” She draws in a breath at his words and she stares up at him with wonder.
“Second.” She finally responds and he looks at her with raised brows and a maniacal gleam in his eyes.
“Ah, second. Excellent. Well in that case, it’s a surprise.” He grins and holds out a hand that she takes willingly enough. “Oh I bet you just knew this all along and that’s why you said no.”
“No to what?”
(They land in Las Vegas in 1989. He buys a fedora and they gamble and she wins big, despite his declaration that counting cards is cheating. They stroll hand in hand until he spots a tiny chapel and drags her toward it, his face animated in the neon pink glow. They get married all over again, and he begs rather prettily to let them have Elvis officiate. She rolls her eyes, but secretly adores his absolute delight when they are declared ‘husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride. Uh-huh!’)
“Which one?” He bounces into her cell with manic delight and she wonders for a moment if he’s just doing these all in a row. It would be solike him.
“Fifth.” She answers, and she holds up her face for a kiss that he happily bestows, all flailing elbows and smacking lips as he grins against her mouth.
“Happy anniversary.” He giggles, grabbing her hand and dragging her to the TARDIS.
(This one is far more private. Secret words exchanged in Gallifreyan as he wraps red ribbon around their bodies, tracing symbols into her skin and oh she feels the power of those words. Love. Honour. Cherish. Belong. She is his and he is hers and his name is written into her skin as the TARDIS glows bright gold around them. She feels so bonded to him that night. She can no longer tell where he begins and she ends.)
“Ninth.” She answers before he even asks, leaning against the bars of her own cell as she waits for him. His hands are in her hair and their kisses are desperate, but he pulls back and she whispers to him, “Happy Anniversary, my love.”
He presses a smile into the soft skin by her throat, and follows it with kisses upon kisses.
(Alfava Metraxis this time, and he grins and taunts her with ‘spoilers!’ as they get married on a beach in the moonlight. Their feet are bare and the water laps at their toes as they hold hands and recite 50th century vows declaring their intent to respect their partner and love above all else. She actually wears white this time ‘may as well once’ and he laughs and says he likes her best in blue. It doesn’t seem to matter afterward, when they celebrate their eighth wedding night.)
“Eleventh. And I am choosing the place this time.” She is through the doors before he can even step outside, pushing him against the wall and kissing him fiercely. He moans into her mouth and they actually don’t make it to the console until after a ‘wedding night preview’. She giggles and his hands keep dragging her back, but she persists on eventually going somewhere.
“I’ve been planning this one. Eleven. It’s special.” She pleads and he finally lets her get dressed. She remembers what he said and chooses a deep blue dress. She pilots them away into the Vortex.
(He nearly falls down in his excitement, grinning and clapping and dragging her to the chapel. ‘Planet of the hats. River! We get to get married in hats – it’s their form of wedding bands!’ He doesn’t even mind that the bride picks the hats, and she worries that he is a little too overly fond of the bonnets she chooses. ‘It’s a bonnet! I wear bonnets now. Oh! Blue bonnets. I like it.’ He refuses to take them off, even much much later when they are pressed skin to skin and he is whispering anniversary wishes into her body, everywhere he can reach.)
“We’re going to run out of planets eventually.” She points out as he pulls her into the TARDIS with a grin.
“No! And come on – 25th anniversary. That one’s silver right?” She shakes her head and he gives her silver shoes to wear with her blue (always blue, every time now) dress, letting her pilot because he can’t seem to keep his hands off her long enough to wibble the wobbly levers.
(It is a forest glade this time, silver trees that jingle when the wind blows. The sky is a hazy purple and he whispers to her how it sort of reminds him of home. Only not enough moons. And far too purple-y. The trees sing, and they declare themselves only for each other before signing a psychic register and then dancing under the canopy of silver leaves. They dance. And then they dance.)
She picks him up this time, in a manner of speaking. But he’s oh so young, and oh so new to the tradition (they almost never match up on actual years married, but they have agreed that allowing the other to know how long it’s been is not a spoiler, more like an anniversary gift.)
She appears in a crackle of smoke and electricity with a smile and he jumps in shock. “You can’t do that!”
“I just did. So clearly I can.”
“But I’m in the Vortex. You can’t track me in the Vorte-” She cuts his protests off with a kiss and from the way his hands hover and fumble, she knows this is by far the earliest she’s seen him, post marriage.
“Happy anniversary.” She breathes the words out as they part and his cheeks flush as he stares at her.
“You know technically time and dates can’t be applied in here.”
“You know technically, I don’t care, sweetie. It’s today for me.” She winks at him and asks the inevitable question. “Which anniversary is it for you?”
“Well, uh – technically it would be... zero. As in today. As in-”
“Oh excellent. Thirty-fifth for me, you know.” He splutters in surprise and she grins, moving over to the console. “Guess I’ll have to choose the destination this time.”
“Thirty-fifth?!” He scrambles behind her. “But spoilers!” His hands flap and she shots a grin over her shoulder.
“Your rules. Anniversary days it is acceptable to know which one we’re each celebrating. Not a spoiler. It’s a gift.” He stares at her in wonder and mouths the words ‘thirty-five years’ over and over again. Finally he grins, and fiddles with his lapels before touching his bowtie (the very same one) gently.
(She has picked the planet this time – Netria VII, a human colony of nudists. She discovers that this young, he can blush all over. They find a justice and stand on top of white cliffs that sparkle in the warm rose sunlight. She likes the lighting – thinks it makes her look younger and later he tells her that she is gorgeous in any lighting. Well, except absolute darkness, but then he sees by touch and she is still just as beautiful. They opt for a hand-fasting again, because she just can’t resist that bowtie, and he forgets to blush about forty minutes in and starts to explore. They keep their hands tied throughout the entire night. She thinks he may never look at that bowtie the same.)
She fears she is nearing her end, sometimes. Eventually he will not know her and she will move past the him that stood atop a pyramid across all space and time and declared her his wife. It doesn’t matter, she reassures herself. She will still remember. They’ll still be married in her hearts, and she will count the years regardless.
He shows up at his usual time, with a smile and a kiss that distracts them for quite a while. “Which-”
“Fifty-seventh.” She breathes out and he smiles indulgently at her.
“Two hundred and tenth.” He confesses and she feels a burst of sunshine-bright happiness spill through her veins. Her hearts sing, and his accompany them.
(They go to Scotland. Gretna Green. They stand in a small blacksmith’s shop, their tied hands hovering over a dull anvil. Afterward, they run back to the TARDIS, breathless. But no one has chased them here, and no one chases them away.)
They actually almost miss each other this time. He goes to Stormcage and she goes to De’naar IV and just misses him. There is comical miscommunication via psychic paper until they meet up finally, and can compare times.
“Forty-third.” He exclaims proudly, rocking back on his heels.
“One-hundred and seventy second.” She laughs at his look of delighted shock and they pilot the TARDIS together this time.
(They go back to the pyramids. Cleopatra’s time – they do it all over again, and Cleo always was a pushover. He greatly enjoys River’s persuasive technique. This time, she leaves out the gun. She thinks he’s a bit disappointed at that. Afterward he lies beside her, his hand tracing the curve of her spine and whispers how he thinks she’d make a much better Cleopatra anyway. She laughs and tells him she’ll give a try sometime.)
This time he shows up in her garden, and she smiles at the fact that she has a garden to show up in. He materializes right in the middle of her patch of blue bonnets and she rolls her eyes at him when he shows up at her door with a sheepish grin.
“Two-hundred and seventy first.” They speak at the same time and she almost falls over in shock. They’ve never – never ever been on the same one. His smile is wistful and he looks at her with such love it nearly takes her breath away.
“Better make it a good one then, eh?”
(They stand underneath velvet skies, and listen to towers sing. He pulls out an old red ribbon and tells her some things are worth doing twice. She couldn’t agree more, and they wrap themselves up once again, hands shaping familiar curves and he kisses her all over, like he is trying to burn her into his very soul. They make love, and he cries as he holds her against him, their heart beats in perfect symmetry. She tells him over and over just how much she loves him, as if she’ll run out of words – and he knows, he knows, he knows justhow she feels.)