River placed her palm on the security keypad outside her room and opened the door. The room was thick with the darkness that follows the end-of-day. She dropped her bag on the floor near the desk and collapsed onto her bed. Whoever had designed the room had apparently graduated near the bottom of the class: the light switch was on the far wall from the door. So, she laid there in the dark, contemplating her day…and waiting. And waiting.
"I've read about a species called the Vashta Nerada. They look like shadows, but looks are deceiving. They are actually schools of tiny flesh eaters."
"So, are you an evil flesh-eating shadow or are you an evil lecture-giving Time Lord? Either way, you deserve what you have coming to you," she informed the shadow that was sitting in a chair with its legs crossed and propped on the window ledge.
"Are those my only options?" a voice answered back. "Carnivorous shadow or obnoxious, yet brilliant, time traveler?"
"If you're something or someone else, I'll just shoot now and ask questions later."
"Tried that once or twice already, remember," the Doctor replied. She could hear the smirk in his voice.
"Well, this time it is personal. I'm unsure how the new me feels about second chances," River rolled over on her side facing the Doctor and propped herself up on one elbow. "But I'm a crack shot even in the dark. Just how good are you with that screwdriver, Doctor?"
"Speaking of the dark, I must say that I am very impressed with the university's daylight simulation program. Impressed enough to admit that I was fooled," he said as he stood to look out of the window at the glowing Earth.
"It serves its purpose, I suppose. Though I don't think the sun shone quite so bright on the Earth as I remember it. It's certainly better than the alternative," she reasoned.
He turned from the window and looked in her general direction, unable to see anything except the glowing light switch. "Which alternative would that be?"
"Perpetual darkness…" River answered, her voice filled with sadness.
The Doctor walked towards the light switch carefully. "Don't turn it on yet, please," he heard her say. He felt his way over to the bed and sat down, his need to be nearer to her felt heavy in his chest.
"I wasn't afraid of the dark, even as a kid. And as an adult, I couldn't imagine that there could be something in the dark any more menacing than myself," her voice was slightly more than a whisper.
The Doctor pushed himself backwards to sit up against the wall. "What changed?" He waited for several minutes before he heard her voice, suddenly soft and fearful-sounding – very unlike the new or old River.
"Doctor, what are the chances that the Silence are looking for me?"
"I'd say the chances are likely to most certainly," he answered quietly. When she didn't respond, he asked, "Is that why you chose Luna over an Earth-based school?
"Well, I didn't really have choice, did I? This is where you left me."
"No, this is when I left you. You may have not have had a choice of the time, but you are free to go where ever you please, Ms. Song," he countered.
"I don't like it when you call me 'Ms. Song.'"
He could hear the familiar tone of disgust in her voice, and it made him smile. "You will one day."
"Not today. It's patronizing." She sat up and leaned back against the wall beside him.
"Sorry….River….." She was close enough to reach out and touch, but he knew that it was too early. They had not touched since the day in the banquet hall in Berlin.
They sat silently in the dark, the faint sound of their breathing the only noise. The darkness between them was crowded with unspokens, and neither seemed to be willing to open the door of dialogue for the other.
"It looks like you've made some friends, yeah?" The Doctor had seen River on the lawn talking with Jack, and although he was still devastated and confused by the events in the alley, he felt that there was something more pressing that needed to be discussed. He just didn't know what it was, so he waited.
"Someone come by here?"
"Oh, no. I saw you talking with a girl outside before you came in," he answered, trying to keep the venom out of his voice. He wasn't exactly sure where he was in the timestream. The alley may not have happened yet, or it may have happened many times since.
"Yeah, I've made a few friends. Nothing to write home about, really," If I had a home….she thought to herself.
"Well, she looked nice," he probed, seemingly nonchalantly.
"She is," River said as she considered how much information to give away about her friend. She decided to use what she knew as a test, of sorts, for this man who was the supposed love of her life. "I think she has a thing for me, actually."
"Yeah?" he squeaked out, unable to hide his concern. "What makes you say that?"
"I guess my first clue was the kiss," she teased.
"She kissed you?" A higher pitched squeak. "Where?"
"Umm….on the lips?" She was beginning to enjoy his discomfort. Let him be the one without the control for once.
"I assume on the lips. I meant, where were you?" He sat a little straighter and crossed his arms over his chest nervously.
"At a pub her parent's own. In the ladies. I might have been a bit pissed," she explained with a small giggle.
"Yeah, well, that's nice I guess. To have made a friend…a kissing friend, even. How very….friendly…of you," he stammered, unsure of how to respond without giving away what was eating at his insides.
River leaned over and touched her shoulder to his, reassuring him quietly, "It was just a kiss, Doctor. Nothing more."
"Really makes no difference to me, River," he lied, unconvincingly. "You are an adult, making your adult choices, doing your adult things….We want you to be able to live your own life outside of our watchful eyes. Yep, you can be sure that there are no eyes…watching you, I mean…nope, none at all…." The Doctor gazed around the dark room, avoiding any impossible eye contact.
"Well, then in that case, she has invited me for drinks next week. I was hesitant about going, but if I have the full support of Team TARDIS…."
"River, I would prefer that you not go," he interrupted her, murmuring the request so faint that he was afraid he'd have to repeat himself. He rolled his head against the wall in her direction. "Please."
River immediately regretted teasing him when she heard the hurt in his voice. Although she couldn't understand why he would be so upset about a few drinks. "Okay," she whispered.
She reached out slowly and found one his hands. He entertwined their fingers, kissed the back of her hand lightly and placed their joined hands on the bed between them. River scooted closer to him and rested her head on his shoulder. "When does it get easier, Doctor?"
"It never gets easier, River. You and I can only hope for bearable," he answered.
"Doctor…." River ran her next question through her mind several different ways, trying to figure out which would be more likely to get answered.
"Here and accounted for," he joked, trying to lighten the mood.
"What will I be?"
"Usually a pain in the ass, with a smirk and an occasional roll of the eyes."
River laughed softly, then added, "Well, who will I be? All joking aside."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm in this new body that everyone calls 'River.' But I don't feel like River, exactly. I don't feel like I have earned 'River' yet," she let out a deep sigh, and then an admission. "I still feel like Melody, and…."
Her voice was breaking, and she stopped to quell her tears. The Doctor was terrified to interrupt, and even more terrified that he didn't have the answers to make it better.
"…and what if I never find her. What if, in my mind, I'm always Melody - no matter what my heart tries to convince me of…"
The Doctor had been drawing small circles on her palm with his thumb as she spoke. He was so overwhelmed with emotion that all he could concentrate on were those little movements and her soft skin as it rolled under his thumb.
She lifted her head from his shoulder and continued so softly he could swear he actually heard the tears fall from her eyes onto her cheeks. "I'll never regret saving you. I think it may be most important thing I'll ever do in my life. But the Silence is still in my head, and though I don't want to hurt you, just knowing that I have it in me still…it's still there, Doctor." She confessed, the words hanging between them in the dark, thick with shame and remorse. He felt tears drop from her face onto their hands below.
"River…." He knew that what he said in that very moment could be the most significant words she might ever hear, and he was clueless. How could he explain River to River? How could he explain River to anyone? So, he followed his instincts, regardless of the warnings his brain threw at him.
He placed a finger under her chin and raised her head slowly. He stroked her tear-streaked jaw with his thumb and leaned in, placing a feathered kiss on her lips. The Doctor rested his forehead to hers and listened to the sound of their breathing.
"My River," he whispered before leaving a faint kiss on her forehead. "You will be...fearless. You will be...courageous. You will be gentle and loving. You will be brilliant. You will always give me a run for my money and never let the opportunity pass to put me in my place." She felt him smile against her skin. "In short, River Song, you will be the most astonishing woman I have ever met. And the fact that you are scared that you might always be Melody is proof that you are already River."
He gave her hand a squeeze and kissed her forehead again. She raised her head and found his lips with hers. It was a gentle kiss and was over almost as soon as it began. "Doctor?"
"Will you stay with me long enough to for me to fall asleep? I sleep so much better in the dark, but I don't like to be in it alone." She asked while yawning.
"Of course I will," he said as River withdrew from him and crawled under the linens. He sat at the end of her bed and placed a hand on her snuggled feet.
"Would it be too much to ask for you to lie beside me? Only until I fall asleep." The vulnerability in her voice was painful to hear. She wasn't alone in the anticipation for her to "become" River. This River was breaking his hearts.
He molded his body to hers, running his fingers gently through her hair, as they lay in the quiet darkness. It wasn't long before he heard the slow labored sounds he recognized as River's sleep. He would have drifted off along with her had he not heard the sound of the TARDIS outside her window.
With delicate movements, he left her bed and eased over to the door, careful not to bump into the physics book he had placed on her desk. "Believe me or not, you will need this in your journey to being River," he whispered as he opened and closed the door behind him and walked quietly down the hall - barefooted.