All you need to know if you skipped the last chapter is that River had pretty amazing wrong-sided business with another woman. And she knows that the Doctor stalked it.
The Doctor leaned against the alley wall. One arm supported the other as he rested his head in his hand. He was uncomfortable in his trousers, but he dreaded the walk back to the TARDIS. If the ship was even still there. She was so temperamental of late.
He shook his head and sighed. River had known. Perhaps not from the beginning, but at some point it had become a show. Did she know before she heard the TARDIS, or did the whirling tip her off? She was awfully keen to get under that light, but that was before the Tardis returned…If she did know from the start, was the pause simply a way to let him know that she knew he knew…
The Doctor had seen enough galaxies to recognize an endless circle when one slapped him about knackers, and this was not a riddle he could solve with Time Lordy super-logic. He would not find the answers in a fob watch or a museum. He would have to wrestle with the creator of the riddle.
But not here. Definitely not here.
He reluctantly began the walk back to the TARDIS with an awkward gait as he became more and more uncomfortable in his clothes. He blamed this whole nonsense on that little blue box of his. Did she really think that he would leave the scene of this crime because she determined it was time to pitch off? Such a thing went against his very nature. The closer he got to the TARDIS, the more his anger rose and his embarrassment faded. He had found somewhere to place the blame other than himself. Of course none of this was of any fault of his own!
The angrier he became with the TARDIS, the more determined he was to get to the bottom of what had happened in that alley. Before he could sort out his feelings about it properly, he needed to know whether it was a game of betrayal or an act of betrayal. Was it about him or had it been only about the mysterious blonde? And he didn't know which was worse, nor was he sure that knowing would solve anything.
All he knew is that it was a thing he didn't know. Which made it his business. It was his business to know everything. It's how he kept the universe ebbing and flowing in and around itself. He was always skating across delicate flaky ice; he needed to know where the holes were. And right now, the blank space in his knowing had a name. Actually, two names. And one of the two was going to fill in the gaps. He was going straight to the source…again.
He wasn't sure how, but the TARDIS actually looked disgusted with him. This police box had a loathsome look about it, and he really couldn't care less. There would be no snapping of his fingers to open his ship. He wanted to have the primal satisfaction of forcing the door open and slamming it shut. Possibly the most infantile method of expressing anger, but the cockles of his hearts would be warmed by nothing less.
The Doctor pushed open the door and stepped inside, staring down the console, one hand on his hip while the other held open the door. His breaths were forced heavily through clenched teeth while one of his feet rocked back and forth from toe to heel. He could always feel a battle looming, and the smell of war stunk up the air in the TARDIS. He gripped the door tighter as his breathing deepened and rolled his shoulders to balance out the pressure of the power surging through his muscles. An almost smile began to form at one corner of his mouth.
Just when he had reveled in his anger enough that it sat heavy and comfortable in his soul, the sound of a distant car horn broke his concentration and his grip on the door loosened. Before he could regain control, the door flew from his hand as the TARDIS slammed herself. Almost instantaneously, he sprinted towards the console. He put out both arms and braced himself against the control panel, his hands splayed across the controls. He rocked in and out of his stance, staring directly into the scanner.
"You are going to take me to River, and you are going to take me to the appropriate place in our timestream. To where I intended to go before you dumped me out here and left me to chase down jealousy and debauchery," he said, with an eerily controlled anger as he maneuvered and set the controls.
He pushed back violently when he had finished and walked towards a corridor. It wasn't until he had shed himself of his costume and stepped into the shower that he exhaled a breath he hadn't even realized he had been holding. Under the heat and the pressure of the water, he allowed himself to relax his aching body. Anger may begin in the darkness of the mind, but it wreaked havoc throughout the entire body, playing across every neuron.
After several minutes, his anger subsided and evolved into frustration, dancing on the edge of desperation. He had no idea what he was doing. And this wasn't something he could simply toss about in his brain until it hit the right spot. The sciences and mysteries of the universe weren't so inexplicable when there was over 900 years of experience from which to draw. The complexities of the psyche….well, that was an entirely different beast altogether. He knew how to battle with his wit and his intellect, but he was completely inept to handle this raging storm of hopelessness in his soul. He could fight a battle with his hands and his mind and then see the results of his victory; his satisfactions did not depend on the actions of another. He was the master of his own fate.
Until there was River.
He rarely made a strategical error, and his instincts told him that he was doing it spectacularly wrong at nearly every turn. But he was running out of time, and panic had begun to set in. He couldn't forget the look in her eyes as she begged him to remember her as they were surrounded by the shadows. It was a look of unbearable loss and pain, and he had managed to bury it in the dark corners of his mind while he learned how to love her, what it meant to love her and how it felt to be loved by her. He was desperate to hold onto it, and sometimes when he caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror, the despair he had seen in her eyes in the library stared back at him from the glass. And he was powerless to stop time from moving forward.
The Doctor had all of time in the palm of his hands. He could travel to the very beginning and watch planets form around the tiniest of particle, and he could travel throughout the rest of time to preserve and protect those planets he had watched grow. He had witnessed the destruction of whole races and species and had been the cause of the extinction of too many. There were people, beings, creatures clustered in families and clans, creating their own stories, weaving their lives around the stories of others, and stopping rarely to acknowledge that stories eventually end, even when they are unprepared.
Over the course of his life, he had been a character in the stories of many. The Doctor had loved those who had chosen to give up authoring their own lives and follow him in and out of the lines of his own tale. He had been saddened to watch them leave, one after another, to pick up their pens and continue without him, but he was able to move forward knowing that little pieces of himself found their way into the chronicles of others. Time was woven around the Doctor. He was past, present and future…narratives of fiction, history, and poetry. He was an ode and an epic…this solo traveler in a nondescript blue box gave away tiny measures of himself across time and space. And if one were to collect all of those bits of him into one complete work, it would be true magnificence.
But the Doctor knew that his greatest and truest story would be written in a small blue leatherbound journal…by the only person who had ever been allowed to author his life. And it was a story that would never be told to wide-eyed children, nor would it rebound off the walls of war rooms.
The most important story of the Doctor was coming to an end, and his life only moved in one direction - towards a future without her. He had no choice but to see it through – not unlike many other chapters in his life. However, the difference now was…..did he care what came after? Was there a future when she was his past?
The gentle swaying of the TARDIS stopped and pulled the Doctor from his thoughts. He had spent more time than he had intended under the warm steady streams of the shower. Rubbing his wet face erratically and shaking the water from his hair, the Doctor toweled himself off and stepped into clean trousers. He buttoned up his shirt and rolled up the sleeves to his elbows. Fastening his braces to his trousers, he let the straps fall by his hips, and he emerged from the corridor into the control room, stripped down to the bare essentials - physically and emotionally.
Without saying a word to his longest companion, he walked over to the door and stood quietly. He was no longer angry with his friend. He knew that the TARDIS took him where he was supposed to be and to where he was needed. And as he continued to stare at the door, the powerlessness he sometimes felt at having little control over his whereabouts was insignificant to the overwhelming anxiety he had about seeing River, knowing what he knew about the alley and fearful of whatever had happened since the alley to lead her to explain to him that she had options.
He didn't know if he was prepared to hear her speak of a happiness or a future that didn't include him. There was great and unnerving potential for him to rewrite the entire future of this remarkable woman simply by not knowing what to do. And although he had already lived most of her life with her, the thought that she might live the rest of her life without him was almost too much for him to bear. He needed more time to think it through.
As one of his bare feet made an almost unnoticeable step away from the exit, the door opened quietly, urging him forward to face his greatest test yet.