Characters/Pairings: Eleven/River, Ten/Rose, Nine, Martha, Amy
Word Count: 3,937
Written for: heavensalibrary
Summary: River had always meant to ask the Doctor about Rose Tyler, but somehow she always seemed to forget to ask. Maybe, she realized, she was afraid of what he had to say.
Original prompt: River learning about the Doctor's past companions however you'd like. DO want a good balance between acknowledging the Rose/Ten relationship without making it the most important thing ever in the universe.
Author's Note: The beginning has some allusions to You, me, and all that stuff we're so scared of. Many thanks to both gidget_zb and jadethe2nd for betaing these!
“Locked in my heart in a corner apart”
River had always known about the Doctor's revolving door of companions -- male, female and mostly human. It was part of the very basic education she’d been given by the Church. She had a few names, but none of the faces. Her mission was clear. Kill the Doctor, but do not harm the companions. They were the victims, emotional hostages of the Doctor. And she had seen that firsthand as Mels, watching Amy be swept into the Doctor’s gravitational pull. Then she’d taken Rory with her. While Rory managed to keep his head, Mels had known how enamored Amy was of her Raggedy Doctor at the same time she was preparing to marry Rory. Amy had always been a bit selfish when it came to the Doctor.
No wonder Amy hadn’t told Mels that the Doctor was hot.
In her next regeneration, seeking out the companions was a matter of scientific research. River had taken tea with Ian and Barbara Chesterton. She’d visited Liz Shaw in her lab and took a very risky trip to intercept Jamie McCrimmon before his mind was wiped by the Time Lords. She’d managed to save him from the Redcoats in those first few desperate moments after the mind wipe, interviewing him again to compare the memories. She spent long afternoons with an older Sarah Jane Smith, who wound up inferring more of River’s past that she’d ever thought possible. Tegan Jovanka had given River a sad smile and closed the door in her face. Martha Jones and Mickey Smith were more open but still guarded, and Wilfred Mott made River promise to come visit him regularly when he was out looking at the stars.
River kept that promise until the night he passed away from old age, with a smile as he gazed at the heavens.
Of course, there were Amy and Rory’s experiences, all filled with spoilers about the adventures her older self had had with the Doctor, because they hadn’t known better and spilled it all to Mels. Those memories were fragmented since her regeneration, and River knew it was the Time Lord defense mechanism to keep a paradox from happening. She only knew that she had traveled on the TARDIS with Amy three times before her birth, and those had happened in her future.
It was all there in her thesis. A list of every companion with dates as specific as River could get. She’d not been able to track all of them down, but enough of them overlapped to where she could fill in the gaps.
And then …
“So, what’s he told you about Rose?” Martha asked River during one of their interviews in her third year at university, held at a coffee shop in London while Mickey was doing a freelance patrol for UNIT.
“Rose Tyler?” River keyed up her official data on the young woman. “First companion the Doctor had since the Time War. His ninth regeneration. She traveled with him for approximately two years, was forced into an alternate universe during a battle with the Daleks and Cybermen, then came back briefly to assist with another battle with the Daleks. Your husband dated her for a few years and was a childhood friend.”
Martha took a sip of coffee and rolled her eyes. “Of course. Why I’m not surprised you knew all that? But what about the rest of it?” She set the mug down and leaned forward. “You care about him, don’t you? The Doctor, that is.”
Schooling her face very carefully, River mimicked Martha’s actions. “I find through my research that he isn’t the man I was led to believe a long time ago.”
“You don’t have to act. I know you see him often enough, and I know that look. The one you think you don’t have, but you do.” Martha gave her a sympathetic smile. “You’re going to want to ask him about Rose Tyler. If you’re thinking about acting on that look in any way, you have to talk to him about her, or I think you’ll wind up like I did.”
“And how’s that?”
Martha laughed a bit bitterly. “A fool.”
River didn’t ask the Doctor about Rose.
She worked it all out logically and decided there was no reason to do so. A couple hundred years had passed for him since those dark days post-Time War, and there was no sign that he was thinking about this particular companion any more than he thought about the others. The Doctor regularly blundered into her studies, took her on field trips, and she helped herself to the TARDIS to conduct her own research. The closest they had come to the Rose topic was on a night in her tent during a dig in her fourth year, when the Doctor confessed he’d been in love with Rose in his roundabout way of trying to admit his feelings for River herself.
Granted, River had been too busy panicking about her own feelings to really process what he’d been telling her. Because that had been the moment she realized she’d fallen in love with the man she’d been trained to kill since she was an infant, and it had scared the wits out of her. Their subsequent romantic tango pushed the subject of Rose to a corner of her mind labelled “thesis supplement” and out of her mind.
Then so many things happened: Easter Island, where they became lovers. Her graduation and kidnapping. Breaking time. Their wedding and his “death”. Her trial and Stormcage. A proper wedding night and a honeymoon.
Four months of linear time after her wedding, River Song meandered through a trading bazaar on an asteroid looking for a spare vortex manipulator when she rounded a corner and nearly tripped over the tenth incarnation of the Doctor and Rose Tyler.
She knew the Doctor’s faces as well as her own and could spot him anywhere. Instinct kicked in, and she ducked into a nearby stall. She knew all of his faces, had causally interacted with a couple, but she knew better than to provide a younger Doctor with a memorable experience that could possibly create a paradox.
Not that they would have noticed her, she realized as the shock reverberated through her.
The Doctor was sitting on a bench with Rose, and they were so lost in each other that River mused she could meander by naked and neither would notice. They were sharing a local delicacy, a piece of leavened bread with a variety of sweet toppings. She laughed as the Doctor leaned forward to sniff the food, getting the topping all over his nose. Rose leaned forward, dragging her finger along his nose to wipe it off, then popped it in her mouth. He pointed at her, and she laughed. Beneath the overly large plate they were each holding with one hand, they slipped their free hand into each other’s.
“You’re going to want to ask him about Rose Tyler.”
Martha Jones’ words came back to her for the first time in years. River gave the two a fond, sad smile and turned away. She had a vortex manipulator to pick up.
“Has the Doctor ever mentioned Rose Tyler to you?”
Amy paused in washing dishes and studied her daughter. River sat at the table with a mug of tea and a faraway look, and she’d been distant for the entire visit. Leaving the last couple of glasses behind, Amy sat across from her.
“Not really. She was in the data files the TARDIS had. Kept showing up a few times. Thought it was a bit weird that she was more predominant than the others. Found her room once, but the Doctor waved me and Rory away from it. Asked him why, and he said it made him feel guilty.” Amy leaned forward. “What, is something the matter?”
“Nothing. Just curious.” River sipped at her tea.
Amy picked up her own mug. “I could get used to this mother-in-law thing. I’ve thought of all the hideous things I could do him. I even printed a list from the Internet. Then again, he doesn’t get that sort of human stuff, and it’s kind of rubbish in the end. I can’t even convince him that bow ties aren’t cool or to let out his cuffs a couple inches.” She eyed River over the rim. “Did the Doctor love this Rose Tyler?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Does that bother you?”
“Mother, it’s been several hundred years and a regeneration for him. He’s lived such a long life, had children and grandchildren. If I was to be jealous of all his past relationships and marriages, I’d live in a constant state of annoyance. We lead separate lives to begin with.”
“Still.” Amy set down her mug and toyed with it. “I guess I just can’t picture the Doctor with anyone except you. The closest was when the TARDIS took a human form, but that’s the TARDIS. Even when I first met you, from my end, you were all “Mrs. Doctor,” and he listened to you. You two’ve always bickered like an old married couple, even when you weren’t married, and I think your flirting’s been banned on at least six planets.”
“Thirty five.” River helped herself to a biscuit.
“Oh. Was I there for some of them?”
Amy grinned in response. “Good. In any case, even though I tried my best, he wasn’t interested in me. Probably for the best come to think of it.”
“Amy, you always belonged to Rory. I suppose I should be grateful for that.”
“I haven’t forgotten who clued me in on the fact that Rory wasn’t gay … and who led me to believe he was to begin with.”
River smirked and had another biscuit.
“Six paces to the left, up the fourteenth ladder painted orange, spin clockwise three times and … here we are.” River spun to face a door that hadn’t been in the corridor before. “You do like your games, don’t you?” she said, patting the wall and letting the TARDIS’ hum spread through her. “Well, while he’s off possibly tripping into an electric fence or the equivalent thereof, I intend to get some work done.” She pushed the door open. “Though I’m not sure why you relocated my library this far …” her voice trailed off as she made her way into the darkened room and realized one thing right away -- it wasn’t her library.
The room was dark, musty-smelling. The lights flashed on, revealing what appeared to be a bedroom with early 21st century decor. Automatically, River reached for a pair of gloves, sliding them on as she slowly took in the room. It resembled Amy’s growing up. Clothes and makeup were strewn about the floor, hung haphazardly over the bureau. It was pink, where Amy’s had been blue. Pictures and posters were tacked on the wall, reflecting a traditional to that time taste in bands. A well-loved copy of the seventh Harry Potter book was overturned on the bed, partly read. It looked like the reader had gotten as far as Harry and Hermione going to visit the grave of Harry’s parents.
“Female,” River murmured, because the room was so still that it needed some sort of sound. “Probably late teens, early 20s judging from the makeup and fashion. Well, that could describe anyone, he does like them young. Early 21st century.”
Photos were taped to the side of a mirror, and those drew her. She wandered to it and carefully took one down. It was of four people clowning for the camera. Well, three of the four. The Doctor looked both indulging and annoyed at the teasing faces being pulled at him by Mickey Smith, Jack Harkness … and Rose Tyler.
River slowly replaced the photo and took in the others. She wasn’t surprised it was Rose’s room. It was a fascinating glimpse into an era of the Doctor’s life that she knew a lot about in one sense, but nothing at all in the other. A few were older snapshots, of Rose with her mother and one when she was a newborn with both parents. The rest spanned the years that Rose had spent with the Doctor in both his ninth and tenth incarnations. She took down another one and smiled indulgently at Rose dressed in 1950s clothing and the Doctor in a motorcycle helmet. “You were quite besotted, weren’t you, honey?” she whispered and put it back.
“River?” Her Doctor’s voice echoed through the corridor as she resecured the tape. “I know you’re on this ship! You think you’re really clever, leaving that golf cap shredded on the console. I got that from Tiger Woods himself, so you are going to fix it right …” His voice trailed off as he walked into the room, and he looked quite like he’d been smacked with a couple of bludger replicas from the planet Gryhufravyn.
“Hello, sweetie.” River slowly peeled off her gloves.
He swallowed, and she could see it in his eyes. A myriad of emotions crossed his face, and he’d always been easy to read: immense grief, sadness, and something else that made her hearts squeeze just a bit too painfully, and she frowned.
“I’m done in here,” she said breezily and walked past him. “I’ll be in my library when I can find it.”
Her library had been relocated to the room across from Rose’s. River found herself sitting on the sofa and staring at the discarded gloves balled in her hands. She waited for him to join her, but he didn’t. Thirty minutes passed. Then an hour. Linear time had never felt so painfully slow. She checked the monitors the Doctor hadn’t known the TARDIS installed for her in the library and saw he was where she’d left him -- in a dusty room of memories.
The findings from a recent dig were neatly stacked on a table, so she made herself get up, put the gloves back on and cross the room. If her hands trembled a bit while picking up a shard of an ancient tablet, she didn’t acknowledge it. She tuned out her thoughts and focused on the work she loved as much as the Time Lord lost in his memories. She’d gotten a row of fragments pieced together when she sensed him in the room with her. Steeling herself, she turned to him.
“You’ve never asked,” he commented.
“Honey, there’s little of your life I didn’t already know about. Including her.” River gave him a sad smile and peeled off her gloves again. “You’ve read my thesis. I’ve seen you sneaking peeks at it. So vain.” Her smile widened, teasingly so, but he kept looking at her with those somber, sad eyes. “Doctor, I have it on very good authority that if I dwell on the past too much, I’ll become so lost in it that I wouldn’t find my way out. You and I both know that.”
She pushed his fringe back. “Are you OK?”
“It reminded me,” he said after a long, quiet moment, “that I never told her what I felt.”
Well, that was something she and Rose had in common. “She knew.”
“She wanted the words.”
“Those emotions are human, so very human. That’s something you understand, even though you claim not to.” She kissed his forehead and made herself ask, dread turning her stomach into knots. “All I want to know is, when you’re with me, are you wishing you were still with her?”
He looked at her like she’d grown an extra appendage. “Sometimes,” he murmured, “I forget you’re so young at this point, aren’t you?”
She scowled. She hated when he constantly brought up her age in relationship to his. She was planning to tease him mercilessly about it when their timelines flipped. “Every woman wants to be assured that she’s not sharing her bed with the ghost of another woman. I’m open to new experiences, but that isn’t one of them.”
“Hush, sweetie, I’m talking.” The words spilled from her before she realized what she was saying, and it surprised her. She met his gaze and held it. “I know you love her. You told me that. Or will. Or have. We haven’t checked diaries, and that’s dangerous to begin with. You’ve lived centuries, and you’ve been married approximately 117 times.”
“You counted?” he squeaked.
River’s lips curled into a smile. “I most definitely counted. And that’s not even including the number of times we’ve married so far. Sweetie, you have a wedding fetish.”
The Doctor coughed and tugged at his lapels. “I’ll have you know I was only there for the cake.”
“I’m sure you were,” she demurred, and he scowled at her. She laughed at his peevishness and kissed his cheek, the mood suddenly lightened. “Honey, the fact that you loved again after the Time War is nothing short of a miracle. You were broken, and Rose helped you find your way again. I can never begrudge you or her that. If anything, I would love to somehow thank her for it. You loved your family on Gallifrey. You’ve loved everyone that’s come through these doors. Almost, I should say. You’re not forgetting her or even dishonoring those feelings. You can feel more, which I’m quite sure drove the Time Lords mad in their day. You love with a passion you don’t want to acknowledge, and I’m sure when I’m gone, that you’ll …”
The words were cut off as he suddenly grabbed her, hauling her against him in a desperate hug so tight that she could barely breath. “Don’t talk about that,” he ordered. “Don’t talk about a time you won’t be here.”
“Doctor, you can’t possibly think ...”
“Quiet,” he snapped, then let her go. He paced away from her, dragging his hands through his hair. He stalked to the door. “Right, dinner! There’s a lovely restaurant in 1716 Naples that serves the best …,” he pulled on the knob, but it wouldn’t budge. He pounded at the door in frustration and sighed, leaning his head against it. “Of course she’d do this.”
He pushed off the door, slowly turning back to River. She’d known him for years but had never seen him look so sad, so devastated as he did at that moment.
“When I regenerated this last time, it felt like I could breathe again,” the Doctor said quietly. “Everything about myself since the Time War was wrapped in Rose, and she was the last thing I saw before I died both times. Well, other than Ood Sigma. I didn’t want any of this, because I knew how it wasn’t going to last forever, and I had just gotten over Rose.”
“I didn’t exactly plan to fall for the man I’d been raised to kill either,” she said just as quietly. Then she asked, because she had to ask, and she was prepared to live with what he told her. “What were you thinking about in Rose’s room?”
“That I had loved her a very long time ago,” he admitted. “That I hoped she was happy with the other me. I thought about you and me and about something that I hope happens a very long time in the future for both of us. And that I love you.”
She was crying. When had she started crying? His eyes were watery as well as she threw her arms around him, pressing her face into his shoulder. “I love you, too,” she said in a thick voice. She had never realized that she needed to hear the words until he said them, and now they were laughing and crying all over each other and being properly ridiculous.
When they walked out of the library holding hands, the door leading to Rose’s room was gone.
River never saw it again.
“Oh, come on.” Rose pulled her best pout, hoping it would entice the Doctor to go along with her plan. “It’s the last Harry Potter. It’s not due out for another couple of years according to the TARDIS data files, and I just finished the sixth book. We can leap forward in time a bit, yeah? Besides, you’ve read them all.”
“The best things in life are worth waiting for, Rose Tyler,” the Doctor chided her. “You’re missing out on the grandest ball to ever be held in the Pocanos system because you want to read Harry Potter?”
“I’ll get Jack to help me.”
“I believe Jack went off with those five Silurians over there.” The Doctor nodded toward where Jack was surrounded by a group of aliens. “Sorry, Rose, you’ll just have to wait.”
“Knowing you, we’ll overshoot the landing and wind up being the last ones to know what happened.” Rose gave in. “Fine. I’ll just go and find some ridiculously handsome bloke to dance with.”
“Well, I’m not up for dancing at the moment, but I’m sure you can find someone out there.” The Doctor nodded toward the dance floor.
Rose laughed and nudged him in the side. “Fine, then. You sit here and be Mr. Moody.”
She strode away from the Doctor, humming under her breath, but the urge to dance was gone. Instead, she wandered to a balcony that offered a spectacular view of the purple oceans that the planet was known for. She sighed, leaning against the railing. Her life was so much better than it had been when she was working for Henricks. There was so much more in the universe than she’d even hoped to see in her life, and she had the Doctor to thank for that.
An object on the railing caught her eyes. Rose moved toward it, then realized it was a book. It was thick, and the characters on the cover seemed familiar and … with a cry, she snatched it up. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows! This is the final book!” She clutched it to her chest, scanning the shadows. “Doctor? Did you leave this here? Is this some sort of joke?”
“I left it.” A woman with blond curls artfully arranged in an updo stepped into view. Rose’s eyes widened. The woman was magnificent. Her silver dress was covered with diamonds, and Rose was quite sure they were the real thing. It made her look like an elegant flame of white fire, moving with ease on 4-inch heels that sparkled like her dress. “I overheard you talking with your friend. You said you wanted to read the book.”
“So, this is real? This is the real final Harry Potter book?” Rose managed.
“Well, I should hope so.” The woman smiled. “Otherwise, J.K. Rowling pulled one hell of a con in 2007.”
Rose drummed her fingers on the spine. “You’re a time traveller? Are you a Time Agent? Like Jack?”
“No. I’m just someone who owes you a great debt, Rose Tyler. This is my way of paying it.” The woman lifted her wrist, and Rose recognized the bulky vortex manipulator she wore. “Enjoy the book, and do ignore the jam stains on page 516. My husband was eating Jammie Dodgers while reading, even though I’ve told him repeatedly not to.” She smiled fondly. “Bless.”
“Wait! But …” Rose reached out, but the woman disappeared, leaving a few wisps of smoke and the smell of the vortex behind. She bit her lip, then frowned at her book. She glanced furtively to each side, then opened it at the very end. She read to herself as she walked back into the ballroom. “This has to be a fake,” she muttered. “Why on Earth would anyone name their kid Albus Severus?”