Dr. River Song strides through the Luna University main library, the thud of her heavy boots muffled by the thick brocade rugs covering the marble floors. Normally she would pay more attention to her appearance, wear something more appropriate to the quiet and somber surroundings, but tonight she is in a hurry. They will be looking for her here and she has to move quickly.
The library has been one of her very favorite haunts during her time at the University, a place where she can sit alone and in peace, and trace the Doctor's journeys through time and space. Where she can follow him from afar, watching and learning. But now it holds nothing but poisonous memories, memories of Madame Kevorian and of those terrible moments just after her graduation when she had been suddenly and ruthlessly taken -
River would never have come back here at all, except that there is something that she needs to retrieve. His precious gift - the one item in all the universe that holds meaning for her.
She moves swiftly through the stacks towards the reading rooms tucked away at the back, off of the main hall. She used to love the fact that those rooms contained tables made of actual wood, that there were real woven rugs on the floor and genuine paper volumes on the bookcases just like there had been all the way back in the 21st century. They reminded her of her mother, and of the stories her mother told her of the Raggedy Doctor.
Now they just remind her of her capture by the Silence.
River's steps slow as she approaches the long wooden table where she had been sitting when Madame Kevorian surprised her.
It is empty.
She shakes her head mutely. It can't be. She'd chosen this room for her studies specifically because no one else ever used it.
Firmly reining in her alarm, she carefully searches the floor and the area around the chair where she had been sitting. There is nothing. It is gone, taken. River bites her lip hard to hold back a cry of frustration. Then something shifts in the room, and as she senses the presence of another the heavy silence is broken.
The sound brings her up short. It is his voice - a voice that she recognizes in the marrow of her bones, a voice that she will never mistake for any other, even among ten thousand other voices that are indistinguishable to anyone but her.
A slim figure steps out of the shadows from where he has been leaning against a bookcase. It is him, just as she remembers. The worn jacket and braces, the floppy hair. The ridiculous bow tie that makes him look at once both boyish and really, really hot.
She swallows hard. Of all places, she has never imagined she would see him here. But which him is it? The Tesselecta version that she had shot, or - surely not... "Is it you? The...real you?"
He gives her a casual nod. "Yep. The one and only."
"You idiot!" she hisses at him angrily. "What if you're seen?" The whole universe thinks he's dead now, but that could change in an instant if someone with a holographic recorder and a passing familiarity with time travelers recognizes him. Sometimes she despairs of him, she really does.
"I won't be," he replies with what seems to River to be entirely unwarranted optimism. He takes a few steps towards her until they are within touching distance. "Looking for this?"
He holds up a slender volume, its TARDIS-blue cover instantly recognizable even in the dim light, and her anger drains away like water flowing out to sea.
She reaches out with trembling hands and takes it from him gently, reverently. Cradles it in her palms, then draws it protectively against her chest. Her eyes slip closed for a moment as relief washes over her.
"Any time," he grins. "Can't let that fall into the wrong hands, might cause no end of trouble. You do know the Judoon are after you," he adds casually, as though mentioning an upcoming change in the weather. "They'll be here very soon."
A smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. "I know." They've been on her tail ever since she had been teleported away from Lake Silencio, given that she's now wanted for premeditated murder. The galactic police tend to take a dim view of that sort of thing. Oh, she evades them easily, but they're fun to toy with. So slow and methodical, so predictable. She'll let them get close and then slip away again, leaving them none the wiser. They might want her, but they'll never catch her.
He doesn't return her grin. Instead his face sets and he gazes at her seriously, intently, his mouth settling into a thin, uncompromising line. "River - I need you to do something for me."
There is no hesitation in her hearts, not even a nanosecond of thought required. "Anything," she breathes.
His eyes darken. "I need you to...to surrender to the Judoon. I'm sorry, River. I hate to -"
"Ask you to - what?" He stumbles to a halt, almost glaring at her in confusion. As though he's expecting her to argue with him, or even outright refuse.
River nearly laughs. It's the first time she's ever seen him not be completely certain about something, and the way his face puckers with surprise is almost ridiculously endearing. "I said, yes. I will."
If anything the glare grows stronger. "River, I need you to take this seriously. It will mean a trial, prison -"
Obediently she cocks her head to one side, carefully considering his words. Once she surrenders she will be found guilty by the Galactic Tribunal, that's a given. And of course there's no capital punishment in the 52nd century, so she'll be sentenced to life without parole in a maximum security prison. There aren't many of those that can hold a prisoner as dangerous as she. "Stormcage, most likely. Possibly Hades 5, but probably Stormcage."
His beloved voice turns almost plaintive, pulling her attention back to his somber face. It's almost amusing that he seems so concerned about her response to standing trial, to going to prison for the rest of her days. Those things are immaterial to her. The real punishment, the one that crushes the breath from her chest even as she contemplates it, is that after this she will never be able see him again.
Still, even that terrible knowledge won't change her course, now that he has set her on it.
"You'll give yourself up - just like that?" His narrowed eyes study her warily.
"Of course, my love." She summons a bright, hopefully genuine-seeming smile to mask the rush of disappointment flowing through her. This impossible man. This man who flirted with her even as she tried to kill him. Who stopped the Tesselecta from punishing her with its red fire. Who, as he lay prostrate with deadly poison coursing through his veins, begged her to save - not himself, but his friends. Who showed her that she could be more than a weapon, and gave her someone to believe in. Doesn't he understand that she will do as he wishes without hesitation, regardless of the personal cost?
"Because you asked me to."
They stand for a long moment in silence, just gazing at one another. River knows that from the time the Judoon take her into custody she will never be left unguarded, not even for an instant. So she can never see him again, even if he would want her to - it would defeat the purpose of his having faked his death in the first place. This time will be all she has. These few moments. Just being with him, breathing the air he breathes. Feeling as though every atom in her body is tuned to his.
Knowing that, even if every other decision in her life has been shaped and twisted by the malevolence of the Silence, she has freely chosen to love him.
Finally he speaks again, breaking the spell. His voice carries low and gentle. "Don't you even want to know why?"
"I know why." He is being sweet, but she isn't a child. She can face facts, even horrific ones that she has nearly destroyed the universe attempting to undo. And the fact is that she is guilty as charged. "Because I killed you."
He had said she was forgiven. Always and completely forgiven. There have been days when those four words are all that have kept her going.
But there is also Rule 1.
And so he had lied to her, out of kindness. Perhaps in that moment he somehow knew that believing the lie would be the only way she would be able to live with herself. Yet how could anyone, even the Doctor, forgive the cold blooded murder that she had committed? As far as the universe is concerned, she has killed him. It is right that he demand she turn herself in. It is justice.
But to her great surprise he shakes his head. "No. You're forgiven, River, always. I told you that."
"Then why?" she whispers, coursing with relief yet suddenly desperately uncertain, not taking her eyes from his face. Wanting to brand his visage onto her soul in these last few minutes that they will share. Soon she will be left with only her memories of him. Her memories, and her diary - his treasured gift - to sustain her through the endless years of incarceration that lay ahead.
The corners of his lips curve upwards as he stares off into the distance, his eyes momentarily losing focus. "Because you - an older, future you, a long, long way in the future - asked me not to change anything. Not a single line."
The meaning of her future self's words elude her, but that fleeting mystification is swamped by the sudden surge of hope that floods her hearts so violently it's actually physically painful. "Then I'll see you again?" Her voice cracks a little despite her best efforts to control it.
His smile is wide now, beautiful. "Oh, River, this is just the beginning for us."
He leans in close and she closes her eyes, reveling in his nearness, her hearts soaring, beating in a rhythm composed just for him.
His breath tickles her hair, bouncing the unruly curls around her ear. "I promise."
River swallows thickly as something that feels warm and dizzying and surprisingly like joy winds through her veins and coils itself tight around her hearts. She feels his arms go around her and eagerly presses herself against his wiry frame, sliding her hands up his back along the slightly rough fabric of his tweed jacket. She holds him fiercely, fighting back tears, her hearts throbbing painfully with gratitude that somehow it wasn't a lie, that he really does forgive her after all.
Then off in the distance she hears heavy boots on the flooring, the faint sound of guttural vowels disturbing the silence. The Judoon have arrived.
With a deep sigh she loosens her arms, reluctantly breaking their embrace. It is one of the hardest things she's ever done - this time with him is unutterably dear, and her body hums with need. But let him go she must. "They can't find you here," she whispers. "You have to go."
"For now," he tells her with a solemn look. "But not forever."
She nods, now suddenly determined. He has just given her another infinitely precious gift - hope for the future, hope for a future that includes him. And so she will dedicate herself to giving him something in return. No matter where she serves out her sentence, she will spend her days striving to become the River Song that he knows, that her parents know. The River that he asked her to find, that he whispered a sweet, halting message to as he lay dying on a ballroom floor in wartime Berlin. She will become that River, and she will love him with all her hearts and soul.
"And remember one thing, River," he continues quietly. "The nights - those will be ours."
"Always and forever, my love," she breathes, imbuing the words with all the fervor of a vow.
At that the Doctor's ancient eyes shine bright and keen. He blows her a kiss from his fingertips and then a few strides of his giraffe-long legs carry him into the TARDIS. She watches as a moment later the blue box shimmers and silently fades away.
River Song takes a deep breath, grips her diary firmly in one hand, and turns to face her future.