Responsibility

by nostalgia [Reviews - 2]

Printer
  • Teen
  • None
  • Standalone




She hasn't seen him for months. Six months, and she knows the exact date without having to consult her diary. So she can be forgiven for her excitement when she hears the TARDIS materialise at the end of the street. She runs over her greeting in her head as she walks to the front door. He is almost certainly about to be slapped.

She opens the door to the Doctor. The wrong Doctor. He's wearing the blue suit today, with a dark-coloured t-shirt underneath it.

“Hello,” he says, smiling. His gaze drifts downwards to the bump on her belly. He looks back up. There's a question in his eyes, but he can't seem to get words out. He is, for once in his life, speechless.

River nods.

He manages to speak. “Blimey.”




River eases herself onto the sofa and watches as the Doctor takes the armchair furthest from her. It's a little thing, and she is used to unintended slights from this one. Still, it hurts.

River breaks the silence. “So, what have you been up to?”

“The usual,” he says, staring openly at her abdomen.

“How very informative,” she says, lightly.

He tears his eyes away from her with an obvious effort of will. “Your house is very nice,” he says. “I like what you've done with it. Is that a Dalek gunstalk?” This last with a measure of disbelief.

“Yes.”

“How did you... those things don't just fall off, you know!” His gaze returns to River and the Dalek is forgotten. “Um,” he says.

“You can say it. I don't mind.”

“You look a bit pregnant,” he says, as though he hasn't been running over scenarios in his head for last few minutes.

“Six months,” she tells him.

He asks the obvious question, the one that's been hanging in the space between them since she opened the door. “Is it..?”

“Well, yes and no.”

He rearranges his hair with a hand. “Blimey,” he says again. “Which me?”

“Spoilers,” she says, tightly.

“There aren't that many mes left,” he says, as though she doesn't know this and as though it will part her lips.

“Also, spoilers,” she says, because she really can't resist toying with him occasionally. “Think of this as an advance warning,” she says kindly.

“I hope I'm looking after you properly.”

She really shouldn't tell him. “I haven't seen you since before I found out.” There, she's sealed it stone, made an earlier visit impossible.

The Doctor leans back in the armchair, looking rather distressed. “I'll make a special effort to remember to drop by soon,” he promises.

“Thank you.”

They share a cordial cup of tea, avoiding spoilers as much possible, and then he leaves. He pauses on the doorstep like he's thinking of something to say or do, but she waves him off before he has to make a decision.




The next morning she wakes to the sound of the TARDIS materialising in the back garden. She gets out of bed, pulls on a dressing-gown, taking care not to hurry. She pauses to fix her hair and then goes downstairs to let him in.

He remembered, and she's so very grateful. She's moved past the point of wanting to greet him with a slap, so she's smiling when she opens the door.

“Only me,” he says, from behind a pair of thick black NHS glasses.

She smiles anyway, because if nothing else it would be rude not to. She tries to hide her disappointment.

“I was thinking,” he says, bouncing on his heels. “I thought perhaps if I wasn't available, then I might stand in for myself. If you follow my pronouns. I am a Doctor, even if I'm still a bit young for your liking.”

But he isn't, really. There are a few more lines around his eyes, visible even behind the glasses. He wouldn't be here if had anywhere else to go, so she takes pity on him and nods. She moves aside to let him enter the house. She will not, under any circumstances, mention Donna Noble. She's fairly sure he knows that she knows. Why else would he have come back?

He walks through the kitchen to the sitting-room. “Was I here yesterday?” he asks. “I think I was but you know what I'm like with dates.”

“Yes,” she says, “you were.”

“And you haven't seen..?”

“No.”

He looks around the room, hands in his pockets. River has always been careful, has never displayed photographs of anyone he might not recognise yet. She leaves a few mementoes around the place, but nothing that too obviously spoilers.

He stops by the bookcase, tilting his head to read a few titles. He pulls a book from a shelf and holds it up to her. “Benny Summerfield? Have you ever met her?”

“Before my time,” she says, aware of the double-meaning. She takes the book from him, puts it back. “So,” she says, “how long as it been?”

He shrugs. “A while. Not really sure myself,” he says, and it's an obvious lie to both of them. He waits for her to sit and then takes the other armchair this time, the one nearest the sofa. A small gesture, but one that she appreciates.

“I'll write it down this time,” he says. “The date, the place, the fact of your... condition.”

“Thanks,” she smiles as she imagines him composing a stern note to himself about the responsibilities of fatherhood. She's glad he's showing such an interest.





“I travelled across space in a double-decker bus,” he says next time. “Through a wormhole, but it was still a bit odd.”

“Oh?” She already knows the story, knows that he saved the day and kissed the girl, again. She tries to look interested, tries to pretend that she doesn't mind him not being himself.

He's made it to the sofa now, sitting beside her with a cup of tea in his hand. “I'm sure I'll have told you all this,” he says. “You probably find me really boring. You know, like repeats on the telly.” He looks sideways at her, calculating. She wonders what he's thinking.

He shifts on the sofa, turns towards her. “Do you mind if I...?” He gestures.

“Oh.” She hadn't expected this, not from him. “If you like.”

He puts his tea on the coffee-table and carefully rests a hand on her stomach. It's not quite tender, but it's something. She wishes her Doctor was here in his place, and feels guilty for not appreciating what he's trying to do.

“Do you want spoilers?” he asks, a mischievous sparkle in his eyes.

“I know it's a girl,” she says, “and I've already chosen a name.”

“Can I ask what it is?”

She shakes her head. “Not yet, but I think you'll like it.”

He moves his hand away and sits back. “This is a bit awkward, all this lets-not-spoil-each-other. How do I put up with it?”

“The sex is fantastic,” says River, watching him pale.





River answers to door to a large cardboard box. There are also hands, legs, and a pair of Converse trainers.

“Surprise!” says the Doctor.

“What on Earth..?”

“Baby equipment,” he says, somewhat muffled by the box. “I thought you might need some.”

She ushers him in and he sits the box down on the coffee-table. She opens it almost warily, pulls out a large blue teddy-bear.

“I know it's pink for a girl, but I don't want her feeling that she has to conform to stereotypes.”

River sits the bear down on the sofa. The next item is mobile hung with colourful stars and planets.

“That's for space,” he says. “I hope she likes space.”

River laughs, and then the laughter dies in her throat when she sees what else is in the box. It's a large brown pebble, like millions of others, and she recognises it at once. “Doctor, I can't-”

His expression is unreadable. “Yes you can.”

River stands holding the last piece of Gallifrey and stares at the man who is not yet her husband. She can't accept this and she can't refuse. He wouldn't be handing it over if he hadn't spent a few sleepless nights thinking about it. “Thank you.”

He shrugs like it's nothing, moves on. “How long now?”

“Two months. And no, I still haven't seen the other you.”

“I wrote it down,” he complains. “I wrote it down and I put a note in my diary. You'd think I'd listen to myself of all people.”

“I'm sure you're just very busy.”

“Not too busy for this,” he insists. He takes her hand in his. “I really am sorry about all this. I know I say sorry a lot, but I do always mean it.”

“It's not exactly your fault.”

“It is,” he says, “it is.”

Impulsively she leans towards him, presses a quick kiss to his lips. He stares at her when she moves away, and she smiles to cover her own confusion. He's not her Doctor, he is not the man she loves. She is merely grateful that he's covering for someone else, and he won't love again for quite some time.

“Okay,” he says, touching a hand to his lips. “That was unexpected.”

“Yes,” she says, and steps away from him in case she betrays herself again.





He helps her paint the nursery. He brings a selection of paints and River vetoes TARDIS blue. “I want something light,” she says, and they agree to compromise on yellow.

He's up the ladder painting the ceiling when he states the obvious. “You'd think I'd remember something like this.”

It's been worrying for a while. The Doctor is a good liar, but surely he isn't that good. She doesn't think he could have hidden this amount of foreknowledge. Then again, he must already have attended their last meeting, and there are only so many things that could tear her from him.

He sits on the stepladder and talks about his latest adventure, about marrying Elizabeth the First.

“I thought she was the Virgin Queen,” she admonishes lightly.

The Doctor smiles and changes the subject.




He returns two weeks later, kisses her cheek on the doorstep.

River keeps the door almost-closed behind her. “You can't come in,” she says, apologetic.

He looks surprised. “Why not?”

“Because you're already here.”

“Oh.” The Doctor scratches the back of his neck, nods a few times, shoves his hands into his pockets. “I'd best be off then.”

River nods because that's easier than thinking of a reply. He smiles sadly, turns on his heel and heads back to the TARDIS.

River watches him leave and then heads back into the house, back to her husband.





She sees him one more time after that, three months after Amelia is born.

“Just a flying visit,” he says. There are red marks on his skin and his hair looks thin.

“You're sick,” she says, and she knows what he's going to have to say next.

“I'm sort of... dying.”

She covers her mouth.

He manages to smile. “I thought I'd waste time visiting everyone I've ever met. Always waste time when you don't have any.”

“There must be something you can do,” she says, knowing that there isn't.

“I'm fine, I-” he stops, coughing. Radiation sickness is not a pleasant way to go. “I'll see you around.”

“Yes,” she says, “you will.”

He doesn't have time to stop and chat, there are other people to see before this body fails him. River touches his cheek, taking care to avoid the blisters on his skin. She's always hated having to hurt him.

He nods goodbye and half-staggers back to the TARDIS. River stays on the doorstep until the wind dies down and the noise of the brakes has faded away.

Amelia lies in her cot beneath her mobile of stars. Her eyes are like her father's, green rather than brown. River watches her silently for a while, not really knowing what do. When the girl starts crying she lifts her gently and tries one the lullabies the Doctor taught her. Amelia settles quickly and River tells herself that the girl can't possibly know.

He wasn't her Doctor, she should not be so upset. The man she loves is being born and the birth-pains will be over soon.

But while they last, it hurts.