Author's Notes:
All references to BF/audio stories are based on info from TARDIS wiki, because I can't do audio drama for some reason. It may not be in my own personal canon but I wanted to add a bit of texture and that seemed like the easiest way. Thank you, wiki editors, for making my life somewhat easier


There was only one bed.

There was only one, somewhat narrow, bed and the woman who seemed to expect to share it with him was possibly his future wife, and he had watched her die – quite horribly – four months ago in a planet-sized library. Except now she wasn’t dead yet, and he still couldn’t do anything to stop her dying, and if he so much as mentioned any of this to her he’d be risking a universe-shattering paradox.

So, all-in-all, not an ideal situation to be in.

River sat down on the edge of the bed and started rummaging around in her (expensive-looking, he noted) handbag.

The Doctor stood at the end of the bed, uncertain. He glanced at the door without meaning to, checking for emergency exits partly from force of habit and partly because he quite wanted to run away from all of this. Helping River save a planet from giant space-pandas was one thing, sharing a bed with her was quite another. He wished, again, that they hadn’t travelled so far away from the TARDIS.

“We didn’t get a chance to catch up properly earlier,” said River, reaching further into the bag. Out came that bloody diary, the one that he himself was – apparently – never to be allowed to read. River flipped through the pages, making sure to angle the book so that he couldn’t see its contents. “Have we done the thing with the ghosts yet?” she asked.

“No.”

“What about Venice?”

He shook his head.

River frowned, turned a few pages. “Have we done -”

“Are you just going to keep listing things I don’t remember until I say yes?”

“Well, it usually works, sweetie.” She closed the diary again, sealing it between covers of a colour that couldn’t be a coincidence. TARDIS blue, and what did that imply? The Doctor decided not to think about that little mystery just yet. River said, “Why don’t you tell me what we did last time you met me?”

You died. “What if you haven’t done that yet? What if I spoiler you?”

“Well,” she said, “we have to establish where we are somehow.”

The Doctor considered his options and settled for vague. “I think it was your future. You were… you looked a bit older than you do now.” She didn’t, though. She looked blonder, yes, but if anything she looked older this time, even though surely that was impossible. The dead don’t age.

River nodded, which he took to mean that she considered that good enough for now. She looked him up and down and then said, “And you’ve just lost someone.” Her voice was quiet and her expression was sad. “You’re travelling on your own,” she added, “You’re never alone for any good reason. So, someone’s just left.”

Just how much did she know about him? What was he going to tell her? Who exactly was she, to him?

“Well?” River prompted. Apparently he had been silent for too long.

“It’s been two months since Donna… left.” Two months, six days, fourteen hours, three minutes, and nineteen seconds, if anybody cared about the details. He hadn’t meant to keep track, but he had done it anyway. One of the several curses of being a Time Lord, that ability.

“I’m sorry,” said River, softly, “I’m really am so sorry. How are you doing?”

He shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“That’s what you said when… well, I can’t tell you about that yet, but I do know that it was a lie when you said it that time too.” She shook her head. “Rule one: the Doctor lies.” There was the slightest edge of bitterness in her voice when she said it.

“There seem to be a lot of rules in my future,” he said, lightly.

“A few. And are you going to stand there all night? Sit down, for goodness’ sake.” She patted the space next to her on the bed.

The Doctor hesitated, but he was going to have to get on the bed at some point. “Is this where you tell me that you don’t bite?” he joked. He regretted saying that as soon as he saw her wicked smile. But he sat down next to her, and tried not to look like he was intimidated by her and her quite frankly terrifying knowledge of his personal future.

But she did know about his future. And that meant she knew things that he rather desperately wanted to know. Where was the harm in asking a few questions? Aside from the risk of paradox, which, well, he could probably fix at least some of that when he got back to the TARDIS. He was good at fixing things, and it was only the very fabric of time itself.

“Can I ask you something?”

She nodded. “Yes, but I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer it truthfully.”

“Rule two: River lies?”

She smiled. “Something like that, yes.”

He took a deep breath and made himself ask, “Am I going to die soon? Am I going to regenerate again?”

River opened her mouth to answer and then closed it again almost immediately. She sighed. “If I told you any of that I’d have to make you forget it again, and I hate doing that.”

Now that was alarming. “You hate… have you been going around wiping my memory?”

“Of course not,” she said, but she pushed the words out just a tiny bit too quickly to convince.

“River, how many times have you made me forget something?”

“If I told you that I’d have to -”

“- make me forget.” He sighed. “This is ridiculous! How are we supposed to have a conversation if we can’t tell each other anything?”

“If you don’t want to talk, I have other suggestions.”

Something about the way she said ‘suggestions’ was very… well, suggestive. Suggestive of the sort of thing that the Doctor was absolutely determined that he wasn’t going to do with her. She could drop innuendoes about the future as much as she wanted, but the Doctor was determined to avoid that future for as long as he possibly could, thanks very much. In that future he might love her, and in that future she was going to die because of him.

Somehow he hadn’t noticed that she had moved closer, and only now did he became very, very aware of the heat that radiated off her. That she would move so confidently near implied a few things, and there one particular question from the library that he really, really wanted an answer to. “River, are you my -”

She silenced him with a finger on his lips. “Do you really think I can answer that question?”

He moved her hand away, irritated. “Yes, you can. And no, you wouldn’t have to make me forget the answer. It’s not going to break the universe if I know whether or not we’re going to get -”

She kissed him. It was an obvious attempt to shut him up, but damn her if it didn’t work. She held him in place with her hands in his hair and didn’t let go until she had rendered him speechless.

“…” said the Doctor.

“You’re welcome, sweetie,” said River, and she moved away from him again. She looked rather wistful. “Well,” she went on, “it’s getting late and you need your beauty sleep.” She stood up. “You can have this side of the bed.” She moved away from him and he took the opportunity to regather his wits. It took a bit longer than he’d have preferred. River kicked off her shoes and lay down on the bed, thankfully still fully-dressed.

The Doctor followed her lead and lay on the mattress at what he judged to be an appropriate distance from a woman he might one day share a marital bed with.

River turned onto her side and closed her eyes. “Goodnight, sweetie.”

He tried to respond in kind. “Goodnight... cupcake?”

River’s eyes opened, and she stared at him. “Did you just call me cupcake?”

“Do I not do that?”

“Of course you don’t!”

“Well, what do I call you?”

“You call me River.”

“Oh. Well. Goodnight, River.” He reached to switch off the lights, and then settled down with his eyes closed, his mind full of possibilities and potentials. He still didn’t know who River was, but he was starting to build up a picture of why she was so familiar with him and why she never seemed to doubt him. He hoped it didn’t mean what he was fairly sure it must mean. He hoped he didn’t have to marry the woman. He hoped she wasn’t going to take him home and introduce him to her parents.

There was a lot to think about, but then wasn’t there always? The thing about time travel was that sometimes, on occasion, you met someone else who was also travelling through time, and then things tended to get very complicated very quickly. So he thought, for too long, about too many things. But eventually, in the end, he managed to fall asleep.