Lake Silencio, April 22, 2011
Under the depths of the lake the woman in the astronaut suit wept. She had just murdered the best man she would ever know, before she'd really had much of a chance to know him better. He'd saved her in Berlin when he'd whispered the equivalent of last words in her ear, but then she'd never seen him again.
"When you find River Song tell her the Doctor loved her, always and completely."
Oh, the shock and the joy to discover that she was River Song, the woman who would inspire so much feeling in such a man. She'd wanted to be that woman so badly she'd given up her remaining regenerations to save him, enough that she'd completely turned her life around in an effort to find him again.
She'd found him all right, after she'd been trapped inside the suit she had no control of, moments before she took away his life, twice over. He was gone at her hand and the grief was crushing. He'd given her no hope – her older self would see him fall and know there was no way to change it. How she'd wished one of those bullets had found her. She didn't want to be the woman who killed the doctor, and she didn't want to be the woman who would witness it all again in the future. She'd happily stay under the lake until her air ran out and everything went black, but like everything about the day, it wasn't her pulling the strings. She was just a passenger – the suit walked her across the lake floor to a secluded spot where Madam Kovarian and her Silence minions waited for her to emerge from the depths.
"Well done," Kovarian congratulated her so smugly. River struggled in vain to take control of the suit so she could wipe the smirk off the woman's face. "The war against the Doctor is finally won."
"You're crazy if you think this ends here," River whispered, her voice thick with tears.
"You watched him fall and yet still you believe in your precious doctor," Kovarian sneered. "Do you know what your parents are doing right now? They're burning his cold, dead, body. Soon he'll be nothing but ashes sinking to the bottom of this very lake. A fitting end to the blight he smeared across all of space and time. You should be thanking us for removing him before his secrets destroyed us all."
River said nothing, but the tears trailing down her cheeks spoke their own story.
"Stop crying you foolish girl," Kovarian said impatiently. "Your purpose has been fulfilled. You're free to go." She threw back her head and laughed.
They took her back to the university from which they'd kidnapped her and she discovered the joke was well and truly on her.
"Doctor River Song," the man in a steel grey uniform greeted her with scorn in his voice and a laser pistol in his hand. Behind him stood a dozen others, all with the same weapons and the same expressions. She was less than dirt to them and they'd rather be anywhere else than in her presence. Since she felt the same herself she could hardly blame them. "You are under arrest for the murder of The Doctor. How do you plead?"
"Guilty," she whispered, the grief overwhelming her again. She'd have sagged to the floor if they hadn't taken her arms, one soldier on each side. She wished in vain that they had the death penalty – it was no less than she deserved for what she'd done.
"Then prepare for judgement," the leader intoned. "For so heinous a crime you are hereby sentenced to twelve thousand consecutive life terms representing the value and likely length of the life you have taken, to be carried out at the Stormcage Containment Facility."
River said nothing … she had nothing left and could do little but remain limp and lifeless as they dragged her away. Even the sound of Madam Kovarian laughing triumphantly in the background didn't stir her. The Doctor was dead … and so was she.
Stormcage Containment Facility, River - Night 1; 908 year old Doctor – pre Lake Silencio
She was drifting, hardly aware of anything around her, her mind still firmly back at that lakeside. She'd killed him … and she could hardly believe it of herself. The cruel twist of fate hurt more because she'd used up everything she had to save him once, leaving her nothing the second time around.
In her hands she held the TARDIS blue diary, its pages blank. Why had he given her the book if there would never be anything worthy for her to write inside it?
The sound was so faint that at first she thought she imagined it. When she realised it was real she shot to her feet, her heart racing. Before her the familiar blue box materialised until it was solid and real even though she didn't understand how it could be.
The door swung open by itself, urging her to enter.
Blue book clutched to her chest, River ventured forth uncertainly. "Hello?" she called, peering through the doorway.
"River!" the Doctor greeted her with a smile.
"Doctor?" she whispered, hardly daring to breath. He looked real, standing there in a white jacket and shirt, with a black bow tie standing out in stark relief. "How?" she got out before the lack of oxygen coupled with the rush of way too many conflicting emotions got the better of her.
It wasn't the perfect faint by any means and she'd feel the bruises when she woke up. Her return to consciousness was as abrupt as her exit, her eyes snapping open to see the Doctor hovering over her. She whimpered, her breath quickening again.
"Hey now, none of that," he told her, gently lifting her head and running his fingers over the back of her skull. "You gave yourself a cracking good hit but I don't think anything's broken."
"This is cruel, even for you," she whispered, her mind finally catching up with her heart. She noticed the telling details she hadn't seen at first. Mostly it was his eyes, so much younger, so carefree. The Doctor she'd killed hadn't been like that – he'd been old and tired and resigned to what he knew had to happen.
"It may seem that way," he agreed, "but really it's a kindness. Instead of spending the rest of your existence rotting in that jail cell alone you can spend your nights going on adventures with me."
"But ...," she frowns. "This means you knew, all the time, that I would be the one to kill you."
"It wasn't hard to work out," the Doctor replied. "I can't tell you any of the details because they relate to events you're yet to experience."
"I shot you," River said starkly. Uncomfortable with his proximity she pushed herself up, wavering for a moment before she steeled herself to stand, stepping back a few paces as she looked at him. "I shot you and I killed you and then I shot you again before you could regeneration. How can you bear to even be in the same room with me?" She didn't care about spoilers – they didn't matter when clearly he knew the worst truth, that she was responsible for his death, 200 odd years in his future.
"I stole your regenerations away in Berlin. I don't see how this is any different," he reminded her. "Do you know what I learned that day River?"
"No," she shook her head, looking away.
"I learned," he stepped closer, his hand to her chin raising her eyes to his, "that if it were in your power, there is no way you would ever kill me. You were just as much a tool as the weapon you used."
"I can't do this," River cried. "I can't look at you and know how this all ends."
"You can, and you will," the Doctor said firmly. "I can't leave you to live out your days here because of me. I can't River. This is the only way."
"My days in prison and my nights with you?" she repeated, letting herself believe that it was truly possible. "For how long?"
"For as long as you remain here," the Doctor promised. "You'll be a good girl, do what they tell you, help out where you can so that eventually you'll earn yourself a pardon. You won't try to escape. If you can promise me all of that then in return you'll get me and the TARDIS, for all the nights you're held here. What do you say?"
"Yes," River said quickly. "Yes please."
"Your promise River," he insisted.
"Fine, I promise I won't try to escape, unless there's a very good reason and then I'll always come back," River proposed.
The Doctor shook his head, his lips twitching with a smile he held back. "I suppose that's the best I can expect. Very well," he agreed, holding out his hand.
River took it, shaking it firmly. The promise was made.
"I see you have the diary, that's good," the Doctor shifted topics abruptly. "From now on there are rules. You write down everything we do together. You and I, we're never in the right sequence. You put everything in the diary so we know where we are."
"So serious," River teased. "Who knew that could be so sexy."
"River!" the Doctor protested. "This isn't a game and there's more at stake than you can possibly imagine."
She looked at him for a moment and then nodded. "I'll write everything down," she agreed.
"Good," he looked relieved. "But remember, you mustn't ever reveal anything that I don't have in my diary as well. Even if I ask you – if I beg – you're not to let anyone else read that diary. Future events could be spoiled enough to create a time paradox – very dangerous things, those."
"Because we're not in the right sequence," River repeated. "Except we are this time?"
"For today, I suppose because setting the boundaries is important enough to circumvent whatever grand design has us travelling in opposites," the Doctor revealed. "After this any version of me will turn up and you'll have to be on your guard, and on your toes before you work out where I am in your time stream."
"I understand," she assured him.
"Good, then let's begin," he grinned suddenly, clapping his hands together. "Are you ready for your first adventure?"
"I've been ready for this for years."
Stormcage Containment Facility, River - Night 5097; 908 year old Doctor – pre Lake Silencio
"Let's see," the Doctor mused aloud. He'd taken to talking to himself since he'd dropped Amy and Rory back home for the last time. After what happened with the Minotaur he knew it was the right thing to do but he still missed them – especially the spaces they filled and the noise that accompanied their presence. "Taking into account good and bad behaviour and balancing out how difficult an inmate River will be against the likelihood they'll pardon her early, I'd estimate fourteen years. Fourteen years of nightly visits to cover. That's … five thousand two hundred and fourteen visits, give or take. Assuming I manage to get there once a fortnight on average, and converting into my timeline gives me … seventy three thousand days. I'll be … eleven hundred and three by the time River is pardoned."
Two hundred years. He'd need almost two hundred years to make it up to River before he could even think about keeping that appointment in Utah. He'd go to Stormcage as often as promised and in between he'd visit a few places, see some of the things he'd always promised himself he'd get around to, pay off any debts he felt he owed. He'd visit old friends too … maybe he'd save that for the end, when he'd be more ready than he was now to meet his fate. When it was done, when there were no more places to go, no more debts to be paid, when River was pardoned, only then would he make his last trip.
"So old girl, visit number two," he talked to the TARDIS with the pretence that it was a two sided conversation, as he always did. "Where should we take her, eh?" Manipulating the controls he took the blue box to River's cell, opening the door and peering out.
"Doctor," she smiled, already waiting outside her cell.
"River," he waved a hand, urging her to step inside. "What will it be tonight? Your choice."
"First things first," she said briskly. "Where are we at for you?"
"Early. Very, very early," the Doctor admitted. He held up his diary, the pages still pressed freshly together, like a book that had never been read. "Night two," he said, eying her uncertainly.
"Night two! Gosh! Look at you," she shifted closer, looking into his eyes. "You're so young," she touched a hand to his cheek. "I haven't seen you this young in a very long time."
"Does that count as a spoiler?" he joked.
"Since you know who I am and what I'm here for I think we're safe enough with vague references to how long it's been," she replied.
"I could say that you on the other hand look mature, no seasoned," he began, "but I suspect you'd beat me to a pulp before the sentence was complete."
"Only two nights and you already know me so well," River teased. "While I might be used to it – you getting younger as I get older – there's nothing in the rules that says I have to like it." The smile dropped away from her face at the thought.
"Are you doing okay?" the Doctor had to ask. "Is this," he gestured between them, "what we're doing, is it okay?"
"More than okay," River assured him.
"Good," the Doctor nodded awkwardly. "That's good. I'm glad."
"So am I," she said with a secretive smile. He got the impression that she was laughing at him and that it was something he'd have to get used to. That and the flirting, which if he was honest, he'd always enjoyed just a little too much.
"Right then, so where to?" he looked at her expectantly.
"How about the Leisure Hive of Argolis?" River suggested, "before the bankruptcy of course."
"The Leisure Hive of Argolis," the Doctor mused. "Built by the surviving Argolins after their unfortunate but thankfully short war with the Foamasi."
"Their planet was all but destroyed during those twenty minutes," River reminded him. "That's more than just unfortunate."
"Depends on how you look at it. Those places that survived are truly remarkable in comparison." He spun his dials, flipped his levers and moments later landed the TARDIS with a grin for River. "Argolis, as requested."
"You do live up to your reputation," River complimented. She nodded towards the corridor. "I'll just go and get changed."
He nodded, watching her go and wandering just how long it had been for her. He suspected that like everything else, the feeling of wanting to know more and being thwarted was going to become all too familiar.
Stormcage Containment Facility, River - Night 2607; 1003 year old Doctor – pre Lake Silencio
River Song glanced at the clock and smiled. It would be nightfall in a few hours. If she were going to make it to the ruins and back before the Doctor arrived she needed to act soon.
Reaching into the bodice of her tank top she removed her lipstick, applying a generous coating just in case she needed it. When her guard approached on his lunch time rounds she was ready.
Lying on her stomach, she stretched her right arm though the bars, towards the disk that lay flat on the floor just out of reach. "Oh for God's sake," she cried, appearing oblivious to the guard's advance.
"Is there a problem here?"
She looked at the black boots now positioned in front of her disk and gave a frustrated sigh. "Just a small one, unless you can make my arms grow an inch longer." She looked up at him, blowing a wayward curl out of her eyes.
The guard's eyes narrowed – he wasn't new which meant he knew about at least one of her previous escapes and was now wary. It didn't matter, he did bend down to retrieve the disk which was all she needed.
"Thank you," she smiled, waiting until he was a few steps closer before she grabbed his arm and yanked him swiftly towards the bars. His head hit with a satisfying thunk – that should be enough to keep him out for a few minutes.
Pulling him closer, she grabbed the key device and unlocked her cell, taking the extra few moments to drag him inside and lock the door.
Rushing to the phone she tapped out a quick series of numbers, watching with satisfaction as a cloaking field dropped to reveal a small locker a few steps to the right. Pressing her thumb to the sensor and leaning down for retinal scanning, she grabbed the vortex manipulator as soon as the door swung open, being careful to reengage the cloak afterwards. No need to risk the prison discovering her hiding place. She'd find another one but that would be an inconvenience and would also put a dent in the reputation she was trying to cultivate – the prisoner who could not be contained, and who therefore voluntarily returned. In the future, the trust that hopefully engendered would be of great value to her.
Snapping the device into place on her wrist, River took a moment to glance around and then activated the controls.
Of course, her trip to the Ruins of Mandigor didn't go exactly to plan, mostly because it was forbidden for anyone living to see them. She'd violated that with her unsanctioned visit and then preceded to take pictures of the text carved on the stones, and obtain a sample of the rare metal they used to make their jewellery. She'd almost gotten away with it, but for one single guard looking left when she'd needed him to look right. Now, the only way to fix things to the Manigorian's satisfaction was for River to die, which wouldn't satisfy her at all.
"The Ruins of Mandigor. Come quickly."
She sent the message out there mentally, knowing the TARDIS would pick it up and transmit it to the Doctor through the psychic paper. He'd probably grumble for a bit and make a show of being reluctant to show up – thankfully he could take as long as he liked with all of that and still arrive just when she needed him.
River rounded a corner, a spray of bullets shattering the stone beside her head just after she ran past. Ahead, the air shimmered, settling into a special kind of blue. The door was already open and she dashed through.
"Nice timing," she congratulated the Doctor, catching her breath.
"Does it ever occur to you that someday I might not be available to answer one of these requests," the Doctor looked at her with a stern expression.
"Sometimes, but then I remember what absolute faith I have in you and it's full steam ahead," she approached, eyeing him carefully. It was always the beginning of their dance – trying to work out how old the other was; where they stood in their respective timelines.
"Does this constitute the day's visit?" he asked.
"So you know everything," she deduced.
"Everything important," he confirmed. "I expect after your exciting day you're ready for a quiet night at home."
She tried not to let it bother her, the times when his visits were too brief. He was a busy man. The fact that he turned up every day was practically a miracle. It shouldn't matter that sometimes his heart didn't seem to be in it.
"A girl needs her beauty sleep," she agreed, winking suggestively.
When they got back to Stormcage, she announced her return and the prisoner escape alarms switched off.
"I'll be off then," he said, hands in his pockets as he regarded her with a hard to read expression.
"Okay," she reached out and he took her hand, squeezing it fondly before trying to let go. River didn't like that … she'd never repeated that awkward scene where she kissed him goodbye and he reacted like he'd never seen her before. It always hurt, seeing him close but never quite close enough. Tonight though, she felt like they needed something, to remind them of what existed between them, what they each couldn't pretend away.
She tugged at his hand and he stumbled forward, just enough that she could wrap her arms around him and bring them together in a heated kiss.
He participated this time, more than he had the last, even though clearly he was still uncertain about what to do with his hands. She wanted it to go on and on forever but only moments later her guards approached, to make sure she was back in her cell where she belonged. River heard their footsteps first and tore herself from the Doctor's arms.
"You have to go," she told him urgently. It was her own rule, that he never be caught breaking her in or out of prison.
"So soon," he countered, staying where he was. "And it was just starting to get interesting."
"Now isn't the time," she hissed, exasperated that he'd choose so inappropriate a time to play games with her. "Just go!"
"Fine," his voice went huffy as he backed out of the cell.
"Don't forget to sonic me," she nodded to the still open cell door.
"I was quite willing to 'sonic' you," he complained, raising his screwdriver obediently and using it to reengage her lock.
"Don't be crude," she laughed suddenly, reaching through the bars and grabbing his lapels. He let out an oomph when she tugged him to her, kissing him as though the bars weren't there to keep them apart. "Although … I do enjoy a good sonic-ing."
"I bet you do," he laughed too, the humour of the situation finally striking him. "I hope this doesn't happen too often," he added.
"I hope so too," she replied, wondering when they'd find themselves once again at a place in time where a kiss between them was a possibility rather than something in her past and his future.
Stormcage Containment Facility, River - Night 2; 1103 year old Doctor – pre Lake Silencio
This was it, as far as he'd been able to work out. The when of every interaction he had with River was always a surprise to him. He'd tried in the early days to control it but always arrived outside his plans. Since he'd give anything to be able to line up their timelines he'd quickly worked out that the opposites in their relationship were not his doing. The only job he had was to set the TARDIS in motion and then go along with whatever River had planned.
Now, after so long and yet what felt like too suddenly here he was, arriving on the second night of River's incarceration. His diary was full – more than five thousand visits, some encompassing full scale adventures, others nothing more than a quiet meal and a chat. All the nights until her pardon, all used. There'd be one more encounter, he knew that much from what happened at The Library, but this would be the last time he picked her up from Stormcage.
"Doctor," she was so young, still taken with the novelty of a nightly visit from a Time Lord who spirited her away in his magic box.
"River," he took her hands, squeezing them. "You look well."
"And you look tired," she replied. "Aren't you getting enough rest?"
"I'm a Time Lord. We don't need as much sleep as you humans."
"So, what is it to be tonight?" she touched his forearm, looking expectant.
"Haven't you forgotten something?" he asked.
"Oh!" She laughed. "Of course." Dashing over to her bed, she picked up her diary and brought it back to him. It was woefully neat and tidy … the page edges all crisp, the paper still clean and white. It depressed him to look at it. "I assume we've done Calderan Beta – the planet of the Chip Chops?"
"A 400 foot tree growing out of the cliff top on the north side of a mountain in the middle of the sea," the Doctor offered. "We were there at twelve minutes past midnight on the 21st of September, twenty three sixteen."
"We rode the lift to the top and looked up," River sighed dreamily. "There were more stars in that one sky than at any other time in the history of the universe. You said it was brighter than daylight, a special, magic kind of daylight."
"The planet might be boring in all other respects but they do know how to put on a good show," the Doctor said.
"I'm not sure there's anything that could top that," River challenged.
"All of time and space and you think a few billions stars is the best thing on offer?" the Doctor's brow rose. "River Song, how much there is for you to learn."
"Lucky for us I love to learn," River gave him a cheeky smile, "especially with you as my teacher. I don't suppose you've got any private tutoring planned."
"You hardly know me," the Doctor pointed out.
"And I'm more than eager to correct that oversight," River sidled closer, running a teasing finger down the centre of his shirt.
"Now isn't the time," he grabbed her hands and held them firmly until she looked at him. He didn't need to say anything – she understood the unspoken communication. With a sigh she capitulated.
"One day you're going to deliver on the promise in all this flirting," she warned. Breaking away she almost skipped to the TARDIS door, glancing at him over her shoulder. "Sooner rather than later I hope," she added with a wink, before disappearing inside.
"Or never," he murmured sadly. That was the other thing about reverse time lines … the more he knew her and consequently the more he wanted her, the less she was ready for everything being with him would entail. At some point the tables had turned and she'd been the one to want more than he was ready to offer. Sometimes he wished he'd ignored his misgivings back then and taken what she'd offered when he'd had the chance.
Now they were at the last of his nightly visits – she'd been used as a weapon to defeat him and he'd done what he'd promised himself. He'd made it up to her. Once she was free, he would be too. The thought saddened him … he'd grown too accustomed to her being in his life.
All that was left was Darilium. The timeline for their first date had been in sync and it seemed that the timeline for their final date would be as well. Then his time would be almost up – it was the only thing that made what he knew would happen to River bearable. He'd shared as many days with her as were possible, and in the end he'd given her the closest thing to eternity. She'd go on, inside Charlotte Lux's world. In time she'd forget him, just as Charlotte had forgotten her origins. It was for the best.
There were a few loose ends he wanted to tie up, some questions he needed to answer. Perhaps they were just another way to delay the inevitable but he intended to see them through, just the same.
He had Darillium and then one last date with River – a date with death – and there was no way for him to be late.