1103 year old Doctor, post Lake Silencio
Time was a harsh master. Not that anything was the master of the Doctor. No, he had the whole of time and space running through his head in a jumble. He always saw the implications … whether he liked them or not.
Take River Song for example. The woman he'd met the day she died, before he knew what he would be to her. What she would be to him.
The woman who killed the Doctor, twice as it happened.
The woman who married the Doctor.
Of course, that was the source of his current dilemma. He'd expected their time on Darilium to happen before he'd gone off to Utah but it never did. He hadn't arrived to find it a few days before her trip to The Library. He hadn't married her, then or ever. The events simply hadn't happened, no matter how he'd tried to engineer them. He'd gone to Utah to die so at some point she'd go off to The Library none the wiser, apparently not in possession of the one thing she'd need to win his trust. A paradox should have been created. Time should already be unravelling around him, only it wasn't. Everything was apparently fine, which made no sense at all.
Of course, they'd had a wedding of sorts, but in an aborted timeline that no longer existed. That event hadn't taken place in reality and even if it had, he'd never revealed his name so it didn't count. He'd used some of the traditions a true Gallifreyan wedding would have but it had all been a ruse, a clever trick so that he could reveal himself inside the Teselecta – the Doctor in a Doctor suit. And all because the stubborn woman wouldn't kill him like she was supposed to. Because she loved him.
While he had his doubts about that side of his situation, there was no doubt that River understood him. She had the power to hurt him, more power than he'd ever given anyone. When she'd come to Demon's Run, before she'd revealed exactly who she was, her words had wounded him, deeply. "Now they've taken a child... the child of your best friends... and they're going to turn her into a weapon, just to bring you down. And all this, my love...in fear of you." He hadn't wanted to agree but how could he not? She was right and she was the only one with the guts to talk to him like that. He admired her for it.
Although it should be impossible, it seemed he'd been wrong when he'd assumed his nights taking her away from Stormcage were the sum total of their interactions. At a time still in his future he would marry River Song, for real. Because he hadn't lied about that, back at The Library. The only way he could have revealed his name to River without the entire universe coming to an end was if she'd shared a true Gallifreyan wedding with him. She was his wife, and yet she wasn't. Getting his head around that was almost doing him in, Time Lord or not.
"Of course," he muttered suddenly, the proverbial light bulb going off in his head. "Stupid, stupid, arrogant Doctor."
There was only one explanation. He hadn't cheated a fixed point in time after all because the fixed point hadn't been his death on a lakeside in Utah. The fixed point had been his presence! He'd always been meant to survive. He'd believed he'd used up all his days with River but there were still days left to him. And on one of those days, before the fateful one in The Library, he would marry Melody Pond – Professor River Song. He'd marry her, knowing he's already sent her to her death. Only now it wouldn't be a comfort to know she'd go on in some format because he'd have to live with the knowledge – with her absence - in all likelihood for a very long time.
"What are you muttering about?" Amy demanded, finally growing tired of his pacing self-absorption. The Doctor was surprised it had taken her that long to lose patience. Since Christmas, when he'd caved and revealed his continuing alive-ness and the Ponds insisted on returning to their roles as his companions for a time, Amy questioned him even more than usual. Another thing River had spoiled - he'd realised as soon as Amy opened the door Christmas night that she'd known he was alive.
"Doctor," Amy drew his attention.
"Muttering," Amy reminded him pointedly.
"Oh, right, of course, the muttering," the Doctor replied. "It's nothing for you to concern yourself with Amelia Pond. Just a timey wimey problem to solve. Do it in my spare time. Probably take care of it on a Tuesday. Nothing ever happens on Tuesdays."
"What problem?" Amy persisted.
"Something that doesn't concern you," he tapped a finger to her nose before spinning away to flip a lever. It did concern her because River was her daughter but he refused to feel guilty for another lie. Lucky for him Amy didn't know what happened at The Library. Only Donna Noble knew and the memory was supressed so deep inside Donna's mind there was no chance it would get out.He flipped another lever, resolutely pushing the whole mess to the back of his mind. It was time for the TARDIS to take them on their next adventure - one that didn't involve River Song and the eventual breaking of both his hearts.
Being a Time Lord was damned inconvenient at times, especially the part about being able to understand all of time and space simultaneous with solving the most complex of mathematical problems while running for his life and saving the known universe from disaster. Even with all that going on there was still room for him to think on his problem - what to do about River Song.
If he'd died in Utah like he was supposed to he wouldn't have to work anything out, but since he hadn't, the entire playing field had changed, in ways that had him feeling nervous and on edge.
Could he just ignore her? Would that work? If you looked at it in a certain way, she already had his name so as far as The Library went, she was set. Could he assume a minor sort of paradox was at play, and therefore he wasn't obligated to do anything? Of course he couldn't, even more with River, because they were travelling through time out of sync. Technically he could marry her any time – he just didn't want to, and certainly not to satisfy the requirements of a past event he'd had no say in.
Except it wasn't just that. He was a coward, clearly that was the case, something he should have found out about himself well before the age of eleven hundred and three. He was a coward who wanted nothing more than to avoid the heart ache he knew was in his future.
Despite the long history he now shared with River they were still nothing more than friends … friends who flirted and called each other 'sweetie'. It was all just light hearted fun – he'd committed nothing more of himself to the undertaking and he was fairly sure he didn't want to, mostly because he already knew how it ended. "Haven't I suffered enough of that already?" he asked the TARDIS. "When is it going to be enough, eh?"
His sexy lady didn't answer. She never really did, beyond taking him where she thought he needed to go whenever he got sick of himself. The TARDIS knew when he'd married River but she wouldn't tell him. She was the keeper of every spoiler in creation and she was very, very good at guarding every single one of them. He was sure that sometime in the past the TARDIS taught River everything she knew about secret keeping. That would explain why she was so bloody good at it.
"See, the thing is," he continued on as though they were in the middle of a conversation and it had simply been his turn to speak. "River dies in every way that counts, before I knew her enough to know that's just unacceptable. If there's nothing I can do to change it what's the point in getting more deeply involved? A bit of fun is one thing, but more than that? Surely it's better if I keep my distance, don't you think?"
The TARDIS didn't applaud his logic. Instead she gave that pulsing sound he always interpreted to mean she was disappointed in him. She expected better of him.
"You expect too much," he spat out, suddenly annoyed – with himself, with her, and most especially with River. "And this time, I'm not playing. There has to be another way to reveal what's needed without having to marry her. I know. I could hide the information in an obscure archaeological artefact. I can plant a clue somewhere only River will find it – in Gallifreyan. She's like a bloodhound, once she's got the scent she won't stop until she has her answer. It's always been about her anyway – I was just along for the ride."
The TARDIS made it quite clear she'd not be helping him with that one. He sounded bitter and he hated bitter. Worse still the TARDIS was right – again. He couldn't risk exposing his name to the universe – the consequences would be catastrophic and he'd have no true control over who acquired the information.
"Okay, so not something anonymous," he persisted. "I'll have to tell her in person. Since I've already used up all the Stormcage days and I don't want to marry her now she's free, it'll have to be when she was a child. I'll just pop into Leadworth while Mels is busy growing up with Amy and Rory. A little telepathic link with a time delay so the knowledge doesn't pop until she needs it, and Bob's your uncle."
The TARDIS made an even more insistent pulsing sound. She was getting impatient with him now.
"I know, I know," he muttered irritably. He couldn't go back to River's childhood because she hadn't met him until the Hitler incident. Amy filled her head with stories of the Doctor but Melody Pond's first personal experience with him happened then. He was almost completely sure on that point.
As the River he knew she'd lived a large portion of her life in the 52nd century where he'd taken her - to the Sisters of the Infinite Schism. That had become her base timeline – she'd studied from there and was imprisoned there too. How much did she remember of what Madam Kovarian did to her between events? Enough to feel worried but not enough to stop herself from being manipulated? He thought so - no, he was sure of that because if she remembered it all she'd have found a way to not be in that suit on April 22, 2011. She'd broken time itself in an effort not to be the woman who killed the Doctor. The programming was strong and insidious which suggested he'd be right to assume Berlin was their first meeting.
"Oh, I am a stupid, stupid man," he exclaimed suddenly.
"I've been trying to tell you that for years," Amy ran down the steps to the console room with Rory trailing behind her. "What are you being stupid about today?"
"Your daughter. Melody Pond. River Song," the Doctor intoned. "She said we were travelling through time in the opposite direction – her past is my future – but she was wrong. Well, not wrong exactly, just too linear. Time isn't a piece of string stretching out from beginning to end. It's more like a big ball of twine all twisted and turning in on itself. It's a mess really – it's a wonder anyone ever makes any sense of it."
"How is this relevant to you being a stupid man?" Amy asked.
"We know where it began for her," the Doctor began.
"With Hitler, in the closet," Rory supplied.
"Exactly!" The Doctor pointed to Rory with a pleased grin. "With Hitler in the closet."
"The first time she met you," Amy commented.
"The first time she killed you," Rory added.
"Precisely," it didn't trouble the Doctor to talk about his death. It was hardly the first time and it wouldn't be the last. Just in this regeneration alone he'd been almost wiped from existence on top of two River induced almost deaths. Lately it seemed everything was about the various ways to end him.
"What about you?" Amy queried, her eyes narrowed as that practical Scottish brain of hers kicked into gear. "When did you first meet River, because I know it wasn't at the Byzantium."
"No, no it wasn't," the Doctor looked away. He knew he wore that blank expression any companion he'd ever had knew to steer clear of.
"Doctor?" Amy persisted.
Every companion except Amelia Pond, obviously.
"Spoilers," he said quietly, the pain he'd felt as he'd watched River sacrifice herself as fresh as it had been that day. He'd been confused then – an inexplicable grief chaining him to that place more surely than the handcuff around his wrist. So strange to lose something and have no understanding of what precisely it was you'd lost; to save it in a manner of speaking and be content with that until you began to realise that you hadn't really saved it at all.
Clapping his hands together he forced a smile. "Needless to say, the details of my first meeting with River are set. They've already happened and as we all know I can't cross my own time line. Therefore, it's the time in between where my stupidity comes into play."
"Because?" Amy was getting impatient with his roundabout explanation.
"Are we agreed that River and I never met before that day in Berlin?"
"I think so," Amy glanced at Rory for his opinion.
"She and Amy were inseparable growing up," Rory said thoughtfully. "I mean, they rarely spent an hour apart. I think it's unlikely Mels could have hidden meeting Amy's imaginary friend from her."
"She hid the significance of the spacesuit and she knew what she was in prison for and never let on," Amy countered.
"Yes, but if she had met him before wouldn't she have killed him then?" Rory asked. "Besides, that's definitely when she learned to fly the TARDIS. I don't think she could have faked that."
"Unless it served some kind of purpose," Amy agreed.
"So, maybe not 100% sure then," the Doctor commented.
"Hang on though," Rory held up a hand, his brow creasing. "Aren't you in control of whether she meets you before Berlin?"
"Ah," the Doctor pointed at Rory again, grinning. "My best student! It's complicated but let's assume that for all intents and purposes it is my decision. That being the case, I'm deciding that Berlin was in fact our first meeting. Any objections?"
Okay, so most of their meetings hadn't been his choice, but since he was contemplating further meetings with her, going backwards before Berlin was at least on the table for consideration.
Amy and Rory looked at each other again and then shook their heads.
"Right, so … I think I'm going to have to pay the old ball and chain a visit."
"Don't let her hear you calling her that," Rory advised.
"Wouldn't dream of it," the Doctor replied, putting on the insulted face that his friend would think otherwise.
"I still don't get it," Rory complained.
"It's the Doctor," Amy laughed. "You're not supposed to get it."
"We know her first and my first," the Doctor was suddenly very serious. He knew her last too and until recently had believed she knew his as well. Breaking that, any way he could, was suddenly his primary objective. "Everything in between is fair game."
"So – not going backwards for River and forwards for him?" Rory queried his wife under his breath.
"Doesn't look like it," Amy replied, watching the Doctor skip away.