Summary: The Doctor has a nightmare about this one visit... to a Library. The Ponds do their best to help him through it.
Disclaimer: All quotes belong to the BBC and Davies and Moffat.
"River! Please! Don't go there. Don't ever go there. Stay with me. Don't!
I can't tell you why.
I'm not crying!
They sing for you, Professor River Song.
You can let me do this!
This is not a joke this is going to kill you!
River you know my name. You whispered my name in my ear. There's only one reason I would ever tell anyone my name. There's only one time I could.
I told you to go!
WHO ARE YOU?!
Time can be rewritten.
Let's keep running, River Song.
Please. I have a chance- you don't have any!
Why am I handcuffed- why do you even have handcuffs?
Stay with me! You can do it come on!
You and me, one last run!
River, please! River. RIVER! Please…"
Amy and Rory both worked to wake the screaming Time Lord from his restless slumber.
"Doctor. Doctor, you're dreaming. Doctor, wake up."
Their best friend sat bolt upright, tears still streaming down his face, his voice hoarse and his hair matted to his head from sweat. It took him a few moments to register his surroundings. When his eyes focused on Amy, he grabbed her tightly and buried his face in her neck.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Pond. I tried. I'm so sorry. Not one line. Not those times. I'm sorry."
"Shh, Raggedy Man. Shh. It was just a dream. You're okay now. Shh." She tried to calm him, stroking his back and combings his hair with her fingers.
When he had regained enough of his composure, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and pulled away.
"You two should go to bed. No need to worry about a silly old Time Lord and a bad dream."
"Busy day tomorrow. Got to work out the cube problem. If it is a problem. Of course it's a problem. Why wouldn't it be? Otherwise, there wouldn't be cubes covering the entire planet. Although, as far as invasions go, this one's pretty anticlimactic," he tried, his mask flailing as memories of the past continued to haunt him.
"Doctor, stop!" He looked up at his father- in- law, worry etched on his face.
"Doctor, you kept shouting for River. Do you want us to get her? Has something happened to her? Will something happen?" He searched his friend's eyes, so old and so sad, and watched the mask raise up steadily as the Doctor tried to put on his everything- will- be- fine- and- dandy,- don't- know- why- you- were- so- worried- face.
"No! Not this time, Raggedy Man. We have a right to know what happened to our daughter to make you so terrified. Just this once, Doctor. Just this once. Please!"
He looked into her eyes. The eyes of a mother who had lost so much but still had so much hope. He knew he didn't want to do it. It would burden them even more, knowing their child's fate. The future was a dangerous place to dwell. But a part of him yearned to share the load, to explain why every meeting with his now- wife cut deep into him even as she healed another part of him he thought was long- dead. The Doctor was nothing if not a selfish man. But he was also a coward. He couldn't look into their eyes as he asked-
"Have I ever told you about the first time I met River?" He knew he hadn't.
"No. What happened? What was she like?" He smirked at that.
"Oh… She was River Song. A professor. And I was a different man altogether."
He told them about the message he'd received but didn't understand. About the expedition from a bunch of nosy archaeologists worried about one man's patent. About a woman who seemed so familiar around him and refused to leave when he told her to. She called him Sweetie and Pretty Boy and bossed him around as if he weren't the cleverest man in the universe.
Then he told them about her journal. Her questions. The way she stroked his face as if she had a right. She had called him young. Then she looked so devastatingly heartbroken when she realized- he had no idea who she was.
Rory's breath caught at this, remembering their conversation in Florida. He remembered how heartbroken River had looked then, and it wasn't hard to imagine her face in the Doctor's memories. He wished more than anything he could have been there with her so she wouldn't have to face him alone. That he would be there with her, someday.
The Doctor continued, telling them about Donna, his fiery, loyal, loud companion- how he lost her, how she found him. His voice caught as he spoke about her.
He told them of the silence, the darkness that consumed. Of the haunting last moments of those who ghosted. Of the trust that never left River's eyes. Of the helplessness he felt when he realized there was no hope of stopping the shadows.
He told them how safe is different to saved. That River scolded him for being difficult. That the selfish, narrow- minded man seemed to think they acted like an old married couple- more perceptive than the Doctor had thought. How River kept him on task to save those who were still in his care.
When he got near the end of the story, he couldn't breathe right. He kept worrying the duvet still covering him, until Amy reached out and grabbed his hand, holding onto it firmly. He paused, then grabbed Rory's hand with his other, and finally found the courage to look up into their eyes.
"I was going to download the computer into my head- let CAL use my brain for the storage she would need. As I was wiring up the mainframe, River came back into the room. Of course, the first thing she would notice was Anita. She constantly worries about everyone around her more than her own safety, you know." His eyes glossed over, lost in the painful past, as he continued with his story.
"I yelled at her; told her to go. She told me Lux would manage without her, but I wouldn't. She always did know me so well."
"So, what? She talked you out of that idiotic plan to fry your brain?"
He laughed then. A heartbroken, desperate laugh.
"She punched me. Knocked me out cold."
"That's my girl." said Amy, chuckling sadly.
"Yeah, with her father's right hook," he replied, briefly rubbing his cheek as he half smiled, before returning his hand to Amy's and squeezing tightly.
"When I- when I woke up, she was strapping herself into the chair. I tried to talk her back, to let me do it. She had me handcuffed to a pole. I asked her why she even had handcuffs. You can guess what she said."
"Spoilers." Now it was the Centurion with the sad smile, realizing quicker than his denial- prone wife where the story was going.
He played out their last conversation, their first conversation, noting every look in her eye, the determination on her face. The last time she would scold him not to change one line of their time together. He recounted proudly, sadly, how her last act was to comfort him, when she was the one about to die. He had begged her. He knew she would be important to him. There was only one reason anyone in the universe would know his name. And he was helpless to save her. That one last, heartbroken look would haunt him for the rest of his lives.
A stunned silence followed his account. Amy had had tears for a while. Rory looked away from the Doctor, but his eyes glistened when he finally brought them forward.
"4,024 people saved. That's our Melody."
"Yeah. That's River Song."
"So. That's it. There was nothing you could do?"
"After I tried to peek into her journal, Donna wouldn't let me of course, I realized I gave her my screwdriver."
"So, what- you could get her body back from wherever it had gone?"
"No. But I did leave a piece of her mind. A ghosting, yet more complete. I downloaded that into the computer's core. I saved her. River Song. Forever alive in the biggest mainframe in the universe. Nothing more than a memory."
They all thought on that for a while, a lonely silence permeating the room. Finally, Rory spoke.
"Doctor- you do realize she's still a prisoner there, don't you?" His heart ached for his daughter's fate.
The Time Lord looked up- shame and guilt lining his face.
"I didn't- I thought I was saving her..." he whispered. "I didn't know. You have to believe me, Ponds- I had no idea."
Amy cleared her throat, working through the lump in it, the faith she always maintained struggling to find its way through his revelation.
"Can you get her out?" They both looked up at her. "River, if her mind is still in the Library, can you get her out again? Even if it's not in the same body?"
The Doctor looked down at the covers, squeezing Rory's hand in a mutual recognition of the truth they both suspected, and the lie they would both choose to believe.
"Someday. There must be a way. Because Rory's right. She is a prisoner. But what prison has ever been able to hold River Song?"
They all looked up in realization, tears and hope shared amongst them as they laughed bittersweet, knowing laughs. They would spend the rest of this night grieving and comforting each other, letting their friend unburden himself of his deep, unceasing anguish and reminding him that he still had the here and now- that he still had his River. Finally, they all managed to dry the tears from their faces- their shared pain pushed aside as they thought of Doctor River Song, still off on a distant planet, flirting and scheming and probably wreaking havoc on the universe, before she came home to them again, and they felt safe and reassured once more.
One day, he would have to face the hurt alone again. One day, they would have to come to terms with knowing how their daughter died. But right now, at this particular moment in their lives, she was alive, and they all had each other. And for this one night, one day didn't really matter.