The After-Life of River Song

Author's Note: Wild speculation on my part. Spoilers up to the 2013 Christmas special and featuring several incarnations of the Doctor. Since we don't really know anything about Capaldi's Doctor yet, I'm sure his characterisation will be very different from what you find here.


"Say it as if you're going to come back", she'd said. All that time in the Library, she'd been yearning to see him once more, her Doctor, her husband, and he'd never come. Like she told Clara, she'd been left, "like a book on a shelf". Except she was River Song, and acceptance had never been her strong suit.

She couldn't leave the Library, not really, but she had every book ever written at her disposal and Cal was her willing helper, once she saw that River could never be happy stuck in that illusion, beautiful as it was. So River learned to trick the system, bend it to her purpose - she'd always been good at that. The limited freedom she gained this way helped her hang on, because she was still full of hope, full of love. River Song had also always been really bad at letting go, especially of the Doctor.

Still, it did come as something of a surprise when he finally actually showed up. One moment she was in the Library, the next she was in the TARDIS. It was the real one, she felt the connection at once, even if she herself wasn't - not quite. She looked down her body and shook her head in exasperation at the combat fatigues her projection was wearing. "You can't be serious... You're really hopeless at fashion, sweetie!" She changed it into a slinky black number, even as she prepared herself to finally meet her husband's eyes again. Except that it wasn't her Doctor who was leaning against the console.

She tried not to feel disappointed, but the older man mustering her intently saw it anyway - or he simply knew, the way he often did - because his first words were gentle, genuinely apologetic: "Sorry, darling. He always hated goodbyes. Bit of a coward that way."

An apology from the Doctor - she simply couldn't stay mad at him, at least this version. They'd met before, but until now she hadn't been sure when to place him, as per their rules. Actually, she'd kind of assumed he was an earlier Doctor than the one she considered hers, the one she'd married. "So you weren't out of regenerations after all," was what she finally ended up saying.

He shrugged: "Nope. Was a bit of a special deal, but at least it means I can do this…" And with that he closed the distance between them and kissed her. They'd never done this before, only flirted outrageously, she unaware they'd reached that part of their relationship and he following the rules. But now they took proper advantage, their physical chemistry apparently something that survived regeneration and death.

When she finally broke away, she couldn't help but smile at him radiantly, taking her hands out of his wiry grey hair to adjust the beautiful waistcoat he was wearing: "That was genuinely sweet of you, Doctor - creating a holographic version of yourself, just so we could do this. Goes a long way to making up for things..."

He caressed her face and winked, his grin slightly dirty but mostly pleased: "Well, it wasn't just for your benefit - I've been missing those lips of yours, beautiful…" That made her laugh and hug him impulsively. This Doctor was an excellent hugger and she relaxed into his embrace. She could feel him sniff her hair, which made her laugh even more. Some things never changed, and his fascination with her curls was definitely one of them.

After a nice long moment of sheer comfort and pleasure, River sighed, took a step back and looked up into his handsome lined face: "As lovely as all this is, sweetie, now tell me the reason you're here. I know better than to think it's just a courtesy visit or a late goodbye."

He switched from flirtatious to intently serious in an instant, not something she'd ever seen before, and his smile was wry: "No fooling you, River, is there? But then, there never has been."

"Yeah well, it's kind of in the job description, husband - a girl's gotta keep up, or she'll be, well, left on the shelf…" River wasn't quite able to keep the bitterness out of her voice, and he winced a bit, but remained focused. How she could ever have thought him to be younger than her Doctor - his eyes should have told her as she needed to know. He'd been to war, this Doctor, yet until now she'd attributed the fierce fire she'd sometimes noticed to the Time War. Instead it must have been… "Trenzalore." She hadn't meant to say this out loud, but he had followed her train of thought and simply nodded. She looked confused: "But… the stories say you die there."

Now he looked apologetic again: "I do, but… spoilers - you know how it is. However, you'll be needed soon - by him, and it won't be pleasant, because a time traveller really should never visit his grave." Then he brightened: "There's an upside, though. Although unsurprisingly you've really managed incredibly well for yourself, wife, I'm going to have to tinker with your programming a bit more to pull this off, and it'll give you… options, afterwards."

River wasn't quite sure how she felt about the prospect of seeing her Doctor after he'd abandoned her for so long, and the thought alone of Trenzalore sent unpleasant shivers down her spine. But helping the Doctor was what she did, apparently even after already dying to save him. "Well, at some point I assume I'll understand how exactly your grave can be in a place you've just admitted you survived. But I'll be sure not to let anything slip," she said resignedly. "I've had lots of practice after all - and what with me being dead and stored in a computer, I guess my role will be invisible anyway, so it's a moot point, really."

His calloused fingers skimmed her face, the tenderness in his eyes going a long way to making her feel warm again: "You'll be brilliant, River Song, as always." After that, she simply had to kiss him again, and all serious talking ceased for quite a while. Feeling his hands explore, his body entwining with hers, his desire washing hotly over her - it went a long way to making her feel almost alive again, after all that time of simply hanging on to existence. So, when they were done and both dressed again, she believed him when he told her that he'd see her again: "Because you're not done with the universe, not by a long shot, although it took me long enough to put all the pieces together. Now go and save my ass once more, Professor Song!"

She smiled and lifted her hand in farewell as she felt him begin to sever the connection: "Don't I always - after all, it's a very nice ass, no matter which body you're in... And maybe you're getting slow in your old age, sweetie." The last thing she heard was delighted laughter, and she decided, she really, really liked this mercurial version of her husband.

So although she'd been sort of prepared, when the time came and she piggy-backed the Doctor's new companion to Trenzalore, River still was almost overwhelmed by the rush of emotions when she saw him again. It took all of her considerable experience to stay calm and do what she was here to do - help her husband out of this most dreadful of messes even as the horror of it surrounded them. Her tombstone was a nice touch, she thought, as she used her still-active connection with the dying TARDIS as well as some of her new abilities the other Doctor had talked about in order to create that backdoor. If it made the Doctor flinch for a second, well, that was just a bonus - having him look right through her brought back a lot of bitter pain for River, so it seemed only fair.

She was not in the least bit surprised when the Doctor refused to say his name out loud, even in the face of the Great Intelligence threatening his friends' lives. For a supposed rebel, sometimes he really was too stubbornly attached to the rules... Well, at least now she had another occasion to use his proper name. Then of course things went to hell in a handbasket, which was only to be expected. Still, she hadn't known Clara for long, but the telepathic link as well as the girl's determination and willingness to sacrifice herself for the Doctor made her truly wish she could think of a way to save her. She was definitely worth it - and apparently, the Doctor thought so, too, because once again he was about to do something stupid. Some things never changed.

Like his ability to surprise her - and if there was something River Song had not expected it was to be able to actually say goodbye. She was pretty certain she really wouldn't see him again this time, at least not her Doctor. She was still relatively confident about the promise his future self had made, so hopefully he'd survive this really incredibly stupid stunt he was planning and save Clara, and she'd go on to whatever lay in store for her. But oh, she would miss that particular brand of stupid courage, those particular kisses, and the look in those particular eyes when they looked at her… Her Doctor, in the TARDIS.

However, it was time to move on. She hated it when he was right, but when she left, it wasn't to go back to the Library. She'd felt the possibility ever since her last time on the TARDIS, so that's what she did now - she opened her mind and followed the thread through space and time. He was waiting for her, with that roguish grin she found impossible to resist. There were few constants in the universe, but River Song loved the Doctor, no matter his face. So, her eyes still wet with tears wept on Trenzalore, she walked up to him and slapped him. Hard.

"That's for not telling me you weren't a hologram last time, that I was actually being touched by a living person," she hissed, and immediately followed it up by kissing the cheek wearing the mark of her hand. "And that's for giving me a proper goodbye instead of running away again."

The Doctor smiled broadly: "See, I knew you could do it! Brilliant as ever…" He kissed her then, so different from the last time, just moments ago, but she responded in kind anyway. All too soon he broke away, however, and there was a slightly manic expression on his face as he asked: "So, what next, Professor River Song? Any ideas? No? Well, I might have, as I mentioned before. How attached are you to this body? And what are your feelings about the Church?"

Really, sometimes she just wanted to shake him until he made sense… But what was the use, so instead she just answered the questions she figured he really wanted an answer to: "I don't think I could go back to the Library now, even if I wanted to. So, while I have many, many fond memories of this body - incidentally quite a few involving you, sweetie - I don't think I'd mind changing it, if it means a new life, a proper life. And which Church? The one that kidnapped my mother, abducted me at Demon's Run and then tried Her best to get me to kill you? Or the one that dangled a pardon in front of me whenever She needed my services but at least let me out to play and seemed generally to be trying to do good, or at least no harm?" She cocked her head in thought. "I never really understood what happened to make them so different - Madame Kovarian and her bunch thought you were evil personified, while Father Octavian and all the other Clerics I met seemed to have a high opinion of you. After all, the Church was responsible for imprisoning me for your murder." She could see from his shifty face that he knew the answer but wouldn't tell her - at least not yet. Really, that man was impossible! "So, Doctor, I guess my answer is the same as always - what's your brilliant plan this time? And what can I do to make sure it actually works?"

Which was how River Song ended up hacking the Papal Mainframe.

It might have been the Doctor's idea, but becoming Tasha Lem and taking over the Church was River's choice. How could she resist? It was a whole new game to play - her whole life she'd been lying to people in order, mostly to keep the timelines intact, so why stop now? She'd get to fool even herself after Lake Silencio - and younger incarnations of the Doctor, too. That much he told her, having parked the TARDIS right in the server room of the Papal Mainframe, and she wasn't able to suppress a dirty, dirty grin: "Well, I guess that means I can finally make a move on you before you meet me in the Library… Sweetie, we're going to have so much fun!"

His answering grin was possibly even dirtier than hers: "Oh, you have no idea how much fun - none of my younger selves ever stood a chance against you. Just make sure not to scare the kids too much - and to leave room in your schedule for the occasional visit from me..." Then, as she'd discovered was typical for him, he turned serious and added, almost hesitatingly: "Not that you have to. After all, you married him as River Song, so both of us will be different people. But still, it'd be nice to catch up sometimes… wife."

At this she had to laugh and kiss him fondly, just before finishing her transformation. Writing herself into the Mainframe as Mother Superious was a lot like regeneration, really, and when she opened her brand new eyes, still laughing, he was watching her with a mix of apprehension, appreciation and awe. The power of the Church's resources ran through her veins, and it felt incredible to have a physical body again. Also, she could stretch her mind through the network and touch the minds of all her faithful. Oh the possibilities... This would indeed be fun! But there was one thing she had to do first.

"Hello, husband…" Testing her new vocal chords as well as the way her body moved now, Tasha Lem walked close enough to see herself reflected in his eyes - until they closed when she covered his relieved smile with her lips. Yep, the chemistry was definitely still there… Always would be, and Tasha found she enjoyed this one constant in the midst of all the changes she experienced guiding the Church through the next centuries. It did take her a while not to flinch whenever she saw one of the Confessors, but the fact that the Mainframe always remembered them helped, and in time she learned to see their usefulness.

She figured she did manage to scare a few of the Doctor's incarnations just a little, or at least embarrass the hell out of them, even while doing her best to help out in whatever crazy adventure they were on right then. But really, that was almost as much fun as when the Doctor finally did accept her blatant invitation and they enjoyed themselves immensely. She always found the Doctor attractive - well, except maybe the crotchety old face he'd worn at his youngest - and this one was handsome like the hero in a romance, and she loved burying her hands in his wavy dark hair.

The Time War changed things, unavoidably, and Tasha Lem fought tooth and nail to keep her people safe and alive while the universe burned around them. She remembered that it would be the Doctor who ended it all, and she remembered the price he paid for it, but nothing could have prepared her for the warrior she met. Demon's Run made a lot more sense after he'd looked her in the face and told her grimly: "Don't call me Doctor, Mother Superious. That's not who I am, that's not who they, who you need me to be right now."

It almost broke her heart to see him like this, but she simply nodded and said: "You're probably right. Just remember one thing - whatever you're going to do, I know it'll be what's necessary. You've always been our champion, and we've never needed you more." When he simply turned around, his mind far away from her already, she called after him: "Thank you… and go with my love." He hesitated for a moment, then straightened his back and the gun he was carrying and opened the door of the TARDIS. Tasha sighed - River Song had called Demon's Run the Doctor's darkest hour, but what had she known…

A visit from her husband was a welcome relief after that and she clung to him tighter than she had in a long, long time. Lying in his arms afterwards, she traced the lines in his face. At his questioning look she simply said: "I saw you last week - I think it was just before you ended the Time War. Oh, my love, I don't think I ever understood before what you went through. I probably don't really even now."

His grip on her tightened, but uncharacteristically he remained silent for quite a while longer, lost in thought, before saying: "Yes, those were dark times. It hasn't been long that I realised you were right and he, I, did what was necessary." He gave her a strange half-smile then. "And so will you… but that's spoilers for you, my dear." It wasn't often these days that he was ahead of her, but this Doctor was the oldest she'd met - as far as Tasha knew at least.

Since her life now ran along chronological lines, she might never catch up with him. Therefore she would keep following the rules they'd set, lifetimes ago for both of them. At least she didn't need a diary anymore. There were advantages to being at the center of one of the greatest databases in the universe, and she'd gotten used to knowing almost everything. So maybe it wasn't bad that the Doctor could still keep her on her toes, it kept her from becoming complacent - and it reminded her of what was truly important when otherwise it might have been easy for her inner psychopath to enjoy the power she wielded just a bit too much.

She did make sure to be especially nice to the first post-War Doctor when she met him. She'd gotten quite good at spotting the signs, but with this one it really was obvious. He was in so much pain, and Tasha wanted nothing more than to make it all go away. However, it was clear he wasn't ready yet, still shell-shocked behind his facade, so all she did was flirt with him and tease him gently: "Only you could make those ears look good, Doctor... A sight for sore eyes, as always." He did kiss her before leaving, so she took it as a victory.

And then came the day the whole universe heard the signal from Trenzalore, and Tasha Lem shivered, suddenly cold and afraid. There was no choice, she had to get in touch with the Doctor - not Tasha's Doctor, because if she'd figured it all out correctly he would have to cross his own timeline, but River's. And wasn't that a reunion… It was lovely to see that Clara had indeed survived, although naturally Tasha couldn't let on she knew her, and almost breathtaking to look into the cheerful eyes of the Doctor she once knew so well - and while he was naked, even. How unfortunate they didn't have time to get properly reacquainted.

However, all nostalgia left her when the message was translated and the Doctor, just as stubborn and stupidly courageous as she remembered, decided to take a stand. On Trenzalore of all places, although he possibly didn't know the planet's name. Tasha was coldly furious, not just at this Doctor but also at his future self who had left her trying to stop a second Time War. Keeping up the edict of Silence as well as the shield around the planet occupied so much of her resources that she only learned of the schism in her Church when it had already happened. Not that she could have stopped it, even had she known in advance that some of her people would decide the only way to ensure the Doctor's silence was to kill him. After all, she already knew that Melody Pond had been born, grown up and in the end helped to defeat the erstwhile Cardinal Kovarian.

However, she did clean up what was left of the renegades with great satisfaction, one of her few diversions in those endless centuries of guarding the Silence, while more and more enemies amassed around Trenzalore every day. She held on for longer than she should have expected, really, probably because the Doctor had deleted himself from every database - except for hers, of course - so no one knew quite what to make of the message and of the madman on the planet. It was Tasha's greatest shame that she didn't delete him from her memory banks before the Daleks broke her.

It was probably a mix of pride and nostalgia that made her hold on to these memories, until the Daleks had emptied her out and accessed all the knowledge the Papal Mainframe possessed. At least, just moments before she felt herself die for a final time, she managed to erase the fact that somehow the Doctor would regenerate again. It was Tasha Lem's final victory and all she could do now for her husband.

Except she came back to herself to the familiar sight of the Doctor holding his cheek. She did not hesitate to ruthlessly take back control over her Church. She would hold on and help the Doctor, for as long as she had breath, same as she always had. And maybe he was beginning to realise this, too - she recognised the look in his eyes as he told her that she'd be able to keep out the Daleks. River Song would have her Doctor's back, for one final battle.

She did not meet him again face-to-face, and he probably would not have recognised her in the end anyway. But when she finally went to get Clara, the TARDIS still welcomed her. Tasha smiled and caressed the console. She did not know what would happen after the Doctor died - she remembered the battlefield graveyard River had seen, but maybe the Doctor's last words would be his name, after which the universe would burn. Well, this time she would not make the decision for him and she did not plan on outliving him for long, no matter what.

Walking away from the tower where the Doctor had made his final stand was one of the hardest things she'd ever done and she did not look back. Which is why it took her a moment to realise the fire was neither the Daleks destroying the returning Time Lords nor celebrating their ultimate victory over the Doctor's dead body, but the light of regeneration, stronger than she'd ever seen it. She turned around and stared in amazement - he'd done it again, beaten the rules once more against all odds. When he incinerated the Dalek mothership she could feel the Dalek inside her dying. As her legs buckled and her vision darkened, she realised her emptied-out body probably wouldn't survive for long without it, but Tasha Lem laughed in triumph. Her Doctor would live. She'd won.

She woke to meet light-grey eyes and a roguish grin, her body tingling with what felt like… regeneration energy and the familiar warmth of the TARDIS. "Shh, you're not done yet, Tasha love… We're not done yet," her Doctor said, gently, and she realised she remembered everything. He must have picked her up and healed not just her body but also the memory banks she'd managed to erase when the Daleks were killing her.

"Oh, I should slap you for this. But I think you get a pass, just this once." Tasha smiled and pulled her husband down for a proper kiss.

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