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Title: Bridal Fears
Series: Riverlets Through Time
Rating: T (angst, grief, mild violence, character deaths)
Author: tkel_paris
Summary: River Song has always wondered about a name: Donna Noble. Two incidents lead to a third, which makes a lot frighteningly clear to River about each woman's relationship with the Doctor.
Dedication: nini_cuddles, as her fic “The Bride” sparked this within my Muse.
Disclaimer: That River Song even exists is proof that I own nothing. Okay?
Author's Note: My muse is a minx. She gets sparked by all sorts of things. This was originally supposed to end here, very angsty all the way around. But then Muse suddenly needed to take it in a different direction, and thus a series was born.

Oh, and thanks to bas_math_girl for the title and series title. This story wouldn't be any good without her, tardis_mole, and cassikat's input. Love y'all! :D

River Song had endured a lot over her odd life. Been the product of a quantum pregnancy, kidnapped as a baby, brainwashed into wanting to kill the Doctor, died and regenerated because of her in-utero exposure to a Time Field, killed the Doctor, given up her Time Lord energy to revive him, become his wife, and traveled through space and time in the opposite direction he was traveling in.

The last should have been the hardest to deal with, but it wasn't. The second-to-last was. All because she always... always... wondered if she wasn't a wife he would have chosen, if he'd had complete freedom of choice. Always worried that he never truly loved her...

She told herself these were silly fears. After all, she knew full well that a being over 900 years old – oh, she knew enough to know that he was lying through his teeth about his age – had had more than one wife, but she was never worried about that. Why make yourself sick over the past? Especially when the other two wives had plainly never loved him?

But whenever she had that thought inside the TARDIS, or close enough to sense the Old Girl's moods, the Doctor's ship always murmured a sort of rebuke at her. Just as the Old Girl always scoffed disapprovingly whenever she called the Doctor on a lie about his past – even when she did it with cause! The only thing that made sense was that there was another wife before her. She was more than a bit surprised to realize that; he'd despised his first wife, been relieved by her death even though it led to his first exile, and had been sort of a reluctant friend to his second wife, imposed on him by his family and by the other Time Lords.

So who was this third wife? And why did he never speak of her?!

That was enough to set her nerves on edge, but one more thing really got to her. She'd been able to find out about all of his companions before her: from Susan to Sarah Jane Smith to Rose Tyler to Jack Harkness. (Now there was one she was sorry she never got to meet; he would've been a fun week!) But one was just a name to her: Donna Noble. The last of the Tenth Doctor's companions. He never took another after her, and River wanted to know why. What was so special about this one human companion that he was too emotional to talk of?

She'd thought about it a lot. Two women he never spoke of? Was it possible... that they were one and the same?

Her suspicions, which began even as she married the Doctor, were heightened after her wedding. She'd left his side, gone to an alien world, and ran into a young woman. She was blonde, had a sweet face, blue eyes that seemed very old (in deep contrast to her young face), and a militaristic precision to some of her movements, matched by the green outfit that looked like it was once a soldier's uniform. Never mind how those eyes had turned into ice when she laid eyes on her. At first, River thought Rose Tyler had somehow crossed over again, but she quickly dismissed it because there was a decided lack of pouting and nothing looking like dark roots.

River hadn't had a chance to defend herself; the blonde was too quick. She'd suddenly found herself in a death grip, pinned to the floor and her Vortex Manipulator removed. When she loudly protested, the girl growled that it was the least she'd deserved for killing the Doctor and getting him into all that trouble. When River protested that she hated leaving the Doctor on his own, the girl laughed and retorted that she was a fool for thinking that she had enough of the Doctor's respect to make him consistently stop when she told him to, that she wasn't sensible enough for him to listen in those moments.

She'd been offended. Who was that girl, and what gave her the right to do that?! But she was silenced when the girl added that her mum was the only one who her dad listened to. And the girl gave her one more shove before swiftly moving away, telling her that she had better have the flipping decency to not tell the Doctor about it, to not cause him pain even if he had disappointed her regarding her mother, and then vanishing with the Manipulator.

River sat there in shock. Had that girl called the Doctor her father?! Then... who was her mother?!

So when she stumbled back into the Doctor's path, which turned out to be after the wedding for him, she told him about the attack. He blinked, muttering about something being impossible as she had died in his arms, but then went so completely pale when she described the young woman that River thought he was going to pass out. He was numbly mumbling about how he should've listened to Martha and Donna when they told him to stay for the funeral.

River knew enough about his past to connect the dots. There was only one person he could be speaking of: the Generated Anomaly, Jenny. She was the only other person the TARDIS barely let her know anything about. River gasped as she realized that she had just told the Doctor that his daughter had lived and didn't want to see him. She had visions of her parents, all the pain they went through because of her kidnapping and suddenly being so much older than them. She had just inflicted that pain on him.

She tried to hug him, but he pulled away, outright crying. She'd never seen him cry before. Stunned, she tried to even offer a little comfort of some sort, but after several rebuffs, the Doctor suddenly all but unleashed the Oncoming Storm on her. He pushed her out of the TARDIS and slammed the doors in her face. River could only stare speechless as the Old Girl vanished.

It left her with a bigger mystery. Now she knew that Jenny had somehow imprinted on Donna Noble, and the Doctor valued that companion far more than she'd realized. It made the suspicions that Donna might have been that third wife stronger, which meant that Donna hadn't left his side willingly... nor had the Doctor wanted her to go... Worse still, the pain was as raw as it had been the day they parted – all thanks to River herself...

She went on, going off on adventures and summoning the Doctor as needed. And yet she couldn't get the horrible memories of that day out of her head, nor could she stop wondering about what had happened in the Doctor's past. Otherwise, her life was going well... until shortly after she'd visited the Doctor post her parents' wedding...

She'd been grinning over the confusion she'd caused him – it was so much fun to be able to call Spoilers whenever he asked about something, although his reactions to her confusing answers to his questions about whether she was married were a delight – when someone suddenly pushed her to the ground, stealing her Vortex Manipulator in the process. When she turned to confront them, she'd frozen stiff.

River's remaining Time Lord senses told her the man was using a Perception Filter, hiding who he really was. She saw the glaring image of the Doctor's First incarnation and heard what was probably his voice – but she knew it wasn't what he truly sounded like, so it was an advanced filter – saying that she should be glad he no longer had the strength to act on his anger. Anger at her for trapping his father, anger at his father for what he did to him and his mother... He said taking her device was the only punishment he could hand to her for having a hand in making all of time and space nearly die. Never mind that Dad did it to Jack Harkness more than once, just because not anyone could be allowed to time travel anymore.

The intensity of his words left her unable to protest. Trapping his father! Who was he?! She opened her mouth to try to speak, and found her voice had absented itself. He walked away a little and was met by Jenny, who put the Manipulator into a pocket. She looked at River with absolute disdain, adjusted a Manipulator on her own wrist, and the man gently grasped her arm before she made them both vanish.

This encounter left her far more disturbed than the previous one did. Both of them thought she was a danger to the universe, and to the Doctor. It also seemed like they considered her partly at fault for the Doctor's decisions regarding Donna Noble. And if Donna was emotionally Jenny's mother, then... who was she to the man?!

She would have asked the Doctor, but after his reaction to learning Jenny lived and seemed to hate him? She didn't dare. Especially since the next time she saw him where he would have experienced all of their adventures thus far was when he took her to Darillium. She could avoid causing him more pain regarding Jenny or Donna.

As wonderful as the sights and sounds were of that night, she sensed how distant he was. More so than ever. He'd looked pale when he arrived with that new suit and haircut, and something in his tears told her that his thoughts were light-years and centuries away. Her remaining heart constricted when she thought that he might be wishing Donna and Jenny were there instead. Or maybe that mysterious man, too...

It wasn't until after the Doctor brought her back home from Darillium, leaving her with his Sonic Screwdriver (a big mystery in and of itself!), that she got some answers. She was stunned when a blue box rather like the TARDIS suddenly appeared after the TARDIS left. But the box seemed... young, underdeveloped somehow. The outer layers seemed barely there... like they were still forming...

When the door opened, she was shocked to see Jenny and the Man. She still couldn't see him properly, as he was still hiding behind the appearance of the First Doctor, but Jenny was holding a Perception Filter that wasn't active. River demanded to know how they knew her connection to the Doctor, what their exact grievance with her was, and who he was to the Doctor.

Only then did she see the sad looks in their eyes, mixed with the anger that had been there all along, and River suddenly could tell that he was very sick – perhaps older than he looked. She still couldn't see his face yet, just the projection into her mind. They promised to give her answers, if she came with them to see something. Something that none of them could interfere with, but merely observe. Although she could still sense anger from both of them, she also could tell that they meant the offer. So she accepted, with some hesitation, and followed them inside...

The insides were even more incomplete. The rotor and controls were all there, but... so much was empty or unadorned... Even the Control Panels looked like they still had considerable growing left to do...

When they landed, River found herself on Earth. She wasn't sure why they were in a cupboard in the middle of a hospital, but she knew that the Filters were keeping everyone around them from sensing their presence. Jenny and the Man, still using a cane, suddenly clutched each other's hands and closed their eyes. Before River could ask any questions, she heard a woman let out a bone-chilling scream of agony and loss. Moments later, the TARDIS she knew materialized in an adjacent hallway – also unseen – and the Doctor that River knew rushed out, face more ashen than she'd ever seen.

They followed him into a room. Therein stood a dark-skinned man, a older blonde woman, an older gray-haired man, and two completely baffled medical personnel: a physician and a nurse. A small rolling bed held an unmoving, unnaturally pale baby boy. On the bed lay an unmoving woman, who – judging by the pale and numb looks on the faces around her – was dead. River couldn't see either the woman or the baby clearly, either. The Filter was extending to them?!

The Doctor was frozen stiff at the sight. The blonde woman was the only person in the room who could speak, and she – clearly fighting to not shout – demanded to know how her daughter could possibly have been pregnant with a full-term baby that looked like his former self. River gasped as it quickly became clear to her as well as the increasingly trembling Doctor. Donna Noble, the woman on the bed, had the other heart of the Meta-Crisis – a story she had barely gotten out of the TARDIS on an adventure following the events at Lake Silencio, and although Donna was never named as a part of it, River has begun to suspect it was why Donna ceased to be a companion – inside her, becoming a baby. But that baby had needed an active mental connection to his mother, and his development slowed because the mind-wipe denied him that.

But then the Master came, and the defense mechanism the Doctor left Donna had... burned the child's mind. She'd been carrying what would have become a calcified baby ever since, unknowingly... until something triggered her to not let her new husband come too close to her. They'd gone to the family physician, and found out about the pregnancy. The doctors had wanted to operate, but Donna insisted on inducing – unwilling to let anyone cut into her. Her mind had started filling in the blanks slowly, and once she saw the baby, she'd remembered – and the guilt made her unleash the full regenerative energy on herself... burning her mind, too.

River listened as the Doctor cried as he realized that the baby had also needed its twin, that the twin could've helped him save Donna. She watched him give a heart-rending sob of self-anger over why he'd thought it was okay to dump the Duplicate with Rose, when he realized that if he hadn't, the two of them could've locked the Time Lord energy away without wiping her memories. A cry over why he didn't stop to ask if Donna herself, who as the Doctor-Donna had ideas that he never would've thought of, had something in mind. The Chameleon Arch, maybe? Something, anything!

She listened as the Doctor, having ordered the horribly confused medical staff out of the room with strict instructions to never speak of what really happened, explained to Shaun Temple, Sylvia Noble, and Wilfred Mott about the Meta-Crisis properly, and a bit about the things Donna did as his companion. The information would've stunned River any other day, but this day... all she could truly hear were the things he wasn't saying. Not with words, anyway.

She could plainly tell that he had lost his hearts completely to Donna Noble, possibly starting from the day they met. She knew he'd claimed the “just mates” thing because he'd sensed that she wasn't looking at him that way, even though he'd wished she would. How she'd made him rescue one family from Pompeii, and that her willingness to say “never mind us” had cemented her place as a companion. How she'd had compassion for the Ood, and awed him with her willingness to hear their Song of Captivity. How she saved Earth with her temping skills and his over-the-phone guidance. How she'd made him see the Generated Anomaly was his daughter, and what a good mother she would've been had Jenny lived. How she comforted Agatha Christie, unknowingly giving her fantastic ideas.

Of course, the unspoken sense of how devastated he'd been when he thought that his own attempt to protect her had killed her, how much he'd needed her comfort on Midnight, and then the whole mess leading up to the Planets... That broke River's remaining heart. It was the hard proof that there had been one wife – for that was what the Meta-Crisis had made her, as she knew his name – who she could never measure up to. The one he'd wanted more than all the others, the one he would've given up his remaining regenerations for. The only one he could have gone domestic for...

When River looked back at the two people, the Man removed the Filter that was hiding him from her. Now he was still an old man, who had once been handsome but who had been ravaged by time and pain. He whispered that he was the Meta-Crisis Doctor. He managed, barely speaking because of the pain and now needing Jenny's support, to say that he'd used one of the cracks in time to escape Pete's World – and how Rose had to help him since they had been each other's mutual punishment, over and above whatever they had earned. His life, she knew without him needing to speak it, had been a prison sentence, not the exile the Doctor had intended. He'd come home too late to save his mother and brother... and he was dying because his mother and the Doctor who created him were both dead. And his twin was also gone.

Now they explained to the crying River why they did what they did. They were preparing her for this moment, making her see just what kind of a life the Doctor had had because of her. That their first meeting – from his perspective – had left him with a fatalistic sense that blinded him to the possibilities that could have saved his wife, allowed him to share her human lifespan and given him a blood family again. A true family, built on love and trust and respect. This moment was River's punishment for killing him, for unknowingly luring him to the Pandorica, and for evidently getting him into trouble where Donna Noble had actually stopped him. For making him blind to what could be, and condemning his beloved wife to a hollow existence, their anomaly daughter to a lonely life of traveling, their born son to a miserable and ailing life stuck to a whining brat who still loved his father, and their unborn son to death.

How Jenny and her brother had managed to meet, slip into their father's TARDIS to learn what happened, and gone about making her see it all... River didn't want to know. Her heart was broken, her fears shown as instinctive knowledge of part of the truth. It was all far worse than she'd thought possible.

Weeping uncontrollably for the Doctor and for all he'd lost, she begged them to take her home. They did, but they left her with a warning. The time that gave the Doctor the fatalistic viewpoint was coming up in her time-line. She would need him to trust her in order to save the day, to keep the Doctor's time line flowing correctly toward his ultimate destiny, but what would that path be? What would she say to him?

Their eyes had bored into her soul, daring her to think of his sake, not her own. To think beyond her own desires and quest for thrills. To want to help him become a better person...

It haunted her, that day. Donna's scream and the Doctor's sobs filled her dreams, making it hard to sleep. She was unspeakably grateful when Mr. Lux approached her to lead his expedition back into the Library. The journey sounded like a priceless gift...

But she didn't remember the Doctor's words from that day in the hospital until the Doctor, in a form she didn't recognize, plainly didn't know who she was. Suddenly River knew that the day had come. She saw that she was looking at the Meta-Crisis Doctor's father – in his prime – and he was the Tenth self. It was a dagger to her heart, made worse by how he put so much attention and care toward the ginger with him... Whatever happened, she would never see him again...

But it grew worse when she was speaking with the ginger, and the Doctor called her Donna. Then everything became clear, and the Filters' remaining influence over her went away. Of course... the woman who held the Doctor in her unknowing sway was a ginger! (That man and his ginger fixation!) And he listened to her, even if it didn't look like he was. He was protecting her, wanting her to be safe, as evidenced by his teleporting her to the TARDIS... and River's heart broke anew when she saw him frozen in shock as the Node revealed Donna's face and voice.

Then, not long after, as the Doctor was challenging her and Mr. Lux snapped at them over their argument, River knew that the moment Jenny and her brother spoke about had come. There was one thing she could say that would make the Doctor trust her... but could she do that to him? Could she condemn him to a life of misery and regret? Make this beautiful man the Doctor currently was regenerate alone and in so much pain? Force the Duplicate to be tossed away like trash, slowly die and endure being dumped on Rose Tyler – a girl who never deserved either him or his father? Deny that baby, the Duplicate's twin, a chance to live? Condemn Donna Noble to a fate worse than death – for a few years before she did die from the Meta-Crisis?

If she said something else, would the paradox destroy everything? Would it mean she was never born? Would it mean the destruction of the universe somehow? Or... would it actually prevent some of those disasters from happening? Would it mean the universe to the Doctor, the man she loved? What should she do? What could she do?

Her decision was made, and she spoke a bit before she whispered what would be the first of the most important things he would ever hear in his lives. The remaining things she would tell him later, after he had Donna back.

Instead, she had to tell him as she prepared to die. Giving him three final messages, and hoping that she had done the right thing by the universe... and by him... But her conscience was clear, at last...



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 12th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
I love this more and more every time I read it. :D
Feb. 12th, 2012 11:57 pm (UTC)
Then you'll probably love the sequels more... when I finally write them. :)
Feb. 15th, 2012 11:25 pm (UTC)
OH.MY.GOD. I can't even begin to explain what I felt with this fic.
I love everything that reminds us that if Donna had the Doctor's mind in her head, she knew his name.
I can't believe your muse created this after my very poorly written fic, because this is BRILLIANT.
seriously, *sits and waits for sequel*
Feb. 16th, 2012 01:39 am (UTC)
Don't put yourself down! You made me feel sorry for River in your story. Something canonical River can't evoke from me.

The sequels are coming... Just in the beta/editing phase for the first one, the second is heading for that phase, and third is being written. And more will follow those. :)
Feb. 16th, 2012 05:24 am (UTC)
Woah. Mind. Blown. This was such an amazing story. I was absolutely captivated by River, Jenny and Handy!!! Beautifully crafted!! I really hope u'll write more about this universe!
Feb. 16th, 2012 11:49 am (UTC)
Thanks! :D

There is more coming. Just trying to polish the next bit. I'm two stories ahead of that in the writing stage. Who knows just when this series will be over? At least I know I have intrigued readers. :)
Feb. 16th, 2012 06:17 am (UTC)
Wow, that's one heck of a punishment River faced, but I love the way you shaped this fic, directing the characters to the places they needed to go. The uses of the filters here are brilliant so that River is hidden from information until she has to know about it. All in all, a great, strong story (as I'd expect from you, really).
Feb. 16th, 2012 11:50 am (UTC)
Thank you... *bows, blushes*
Feb. 16th, 2012 08:04 am (UTC)
You make beautiful use of canon, here, and everything you do is strictly in character, and yet you take the series where canon should have gone. It's beautiful, that's what it is. Well done.
Feb. 16th, 2012 11:51 am (UTC)
Thank you. I hope you enjoy the subsequent stories, too. :)
Mar. 10th, 2012 12:12 pm (UTC)
"The one he'd wanted more than all the others" - yep, that describes who Donna was to Ten alright....very nicely written, wish the series could've gone this way!
Mar. 10th, 2012 12:17 pm (UTC)
Once the idea started spilling out, there was no stopping that line from coming in there. Thanks. :)
Mar. 14th, 2012 10:11 am (UTC)
Wow, wow, WOW!!! So beautifully written and fantastic imagery of Rivers life and punishment.
Mar. 14th, 2012 11:32 am (UTC)
Then I hope you like the rest of the series just as much. :)
Apr. 7th, 2015 12:45 pm (UTC)
Just wow
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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