Disclaimer: None of them belong to me. I'm just borrowing them.
He's quite determined not to think about her tonight.
For the most part, he succeeds. He fetches a folding chair from the TARDIS, wedges himself between Amy and Rory, and occupies himself for the next hour by stealing from both their plates and making animated small talk with their relatives. When they cut the cake, he smiles and claps—resolutely ignoring the confectionery roses placed on the edges of the icing. When the DJ gets going, he alternates between dancing with Amy—but only during fast numbers—and rescuing the horde of young nieces and nephews from boredom. (Mostly by dancing.)
In other words, he spends the evening doing what he's best at: pushing away his feelings, making a fool of himself, and instilling small children with the belief that he's the most remarkable person they've ever met.
Inevitably, though, he ends up at the edges of the dance floor for the last song of the night, and it feels so very familiar that he forgets himself. Flashes back to another body, another wedding; allows a phantom to replace every blond in the crowd. 6/26/10, he remembers, and it's almost funny. Temporally speaking, he's about as far from Christmas as he could possibly be in the Earth's rotation. But then again, he's never been one to adhere to something so banal as chronological progression.
On the outside looking in as a loudmouthed ginger in a white gown dances with her new groom, his thoughts stray towards Rose Tyler—and he lets them.
In an effort to distract himself, he seeks out his companions. They sway gently together, lost in their own private universe, and he smiles. "Two thousand years," he murmurs, realizing all over again that he's no longer the oldest person in the room. "The Boy Who Waited. Good on you, mate."
Amy kisses Rory once, then again, clinging to him—remembering what it's like, the Doctor assumes, to be without him. (He knows how she feels.) And as for Rory… well. He's only ever taken the best, really. So human, even in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
And oh, he really is rubbish at distracting himself.
As he slips out of the reception hall and starts his long walk back to the TARDIS, he gives into reminiscence completely. He wonders where she went, in those few hours he'd been erased. Whether she'd even existed at all. Was she still in Henrik's folding shirts, wasting all of her magnificent potential? Or had she grown tired of waiting, and struck out on her own to have a fantastic life? She could have married Mickey, or gotten killed by the Auton version of him at that pizza parlor. She could have been killed by the Autons in the basement, for that matter. (The Nestene Consciousness, he recalls, has gotten worryingly better at replicating the people he loves, of late. He makes a note to put a vial of antiplastic in his jacket pocket next chance he gets.) Maybe she lived to be a hundred, or maybe she never made it to twenty. The thing is, he doesn't know, and the not-knowing is the worst part of all.
He'd gone to such lengths to know she'd always be safe.
(Maybe she'd watched as the other him—the metacrisis—flickered out of existence, and two seconds later couldn't understand why she felt so sad.)
The squeak of Amy's back garden gate rouses him out of his downward spiral, and he frowns. "Shush," he grumbles at the rusted metal hinges, "I'm thinking."
It occurs to him that not terribly long ago, he'd have been a lot more concerned about the fate of Gallifrey in a world without him than the fate of one human girl. He finds it difficult to miss the guilt.
Once I get inside, he decides as the TARDIS looms into view, I'll stop this. But for a few more seconds—just a moment, really—he'll let himself remember. Like closing your eyes and putting your head back on the pillow after your alarm's gone off in order to finish a good dream.
And she's so vivid still, in his mind's eye. All black eyeliner and peroxide, chips and chipped nails. A hand that fit his like it was made to go there, those lips and that smile—
"Did you dance?" asks a voice, and he swallows a laugh. There's something wonderful in the way River reads his mind without meaning to; something eerie in her accuracy that he can't help but enjoy. "Well, you always dance at weddings, don't you?"
Something comforting in how very wrong she can be, too. "You tell me," he mutters, perhaps a bit more coldly than intended.
"Spoilers," she teases in retaliation. He wonders what she wants, because she always wants something, and is startled to realize he's already holding it.
"The writing's all back, but I didn't peek," he says, handing her back the journal. Funny—for once, he hadn't even been tempted.
She looks uncharacteristically serious. "Thank you," she whispers, and of course then temptation hits him like a freight train. (Perhaps he's better at distracting himself than he thought.)
He digs out the Vortex Manipulator and returns that as well; he doesn't like owing her things. "Are you married, River?" he asks, because he has to.
"Are you asking?"
Of course he's asking. "Yes."
Oh. Oh. "No, hang on. Did you think I was asking you to marry me, or—or-or-or asking if you were married?"
She smirks. "Yes."
"No, but was that yes, or yes?"
"Yes," she whispers, just because she knows it infuriates him.
His mouth twitches, torn between a smile and a frown. "River… who are you?"
"You're going to find out very soon, now. And I'm sorry, but… that's when everything changes."
And then she's gone.
He tries to imagine hugging River, or holding her hand. Tries to imagine laying with her in a field of applegrass, or giving himself a pompadour because she'd insisted on period dress. Tries to imagine taking her to a concert, or—well, taking her anywhere, really, instead of being summoned or running into her by accident.
"Nah," he chuckles, grinning, and turns around to go inside.
River Song is absolutely nothing like Rose Tyler, and that's probably the thing he loves most about her.
He takes off his top hat and dances up to the console, tracing the footwork of a body long gone. If there's one thing River's good for, it's reminding him that time can be rewritten, unwritten, twisted and changed—and for reminding him of why even though it can be, it shouldn't. It takes care of itself just fine without his meddling.
Amy proved that tonight. She brought him back with a thought—and with him, so many people—because his life isn't something that happened. It's something that's happening. Constantly. Nothing ever lingers, and no one is ever forgotten, because nothing's truly gone. Big Bang Two rebooted the universe because every single atom has the memory and potential of every other atom, in all of space and time. A wibbly-wobbly ocean of every fixed-unfixed, known-unknown point in the entirety of creation.
Which means nothing to most people, but means absolutely everything to people like River. Or him.
Or the girl who became the wolf, crossed universes and swallowed Time.
Somewhere somewhen he is leaning against a wall, saying hellogoodbye to her as he dies. Somewhere somewhen he's taking her hand and telling her to run, only at that moment starting to feel alive again.
He is always just now meeting her again for the first time.
He thinks there might be a kind of grace in that.
"Oi!" Amy shouts as she enters, startling him out of his reverie, "Where're you going? We haven't even had a snog in the shrubbery yet."
"Amy!" Rory protests, stumbling in after her, and in the time it takes the Doctor to notice that he's removed his red-rose corsage, his mind's back where it ought to be. He puts the past where it belongs but never seems to stay—safely tucked away in a corner of his mind, cherished and never forgotten—and returns to his surprisingly wonderful present. He'd hoped they'd come find him, but he hadn't wanted to anticipate…
Better with three.
But Rose, he thinks with a tiny pout before giving Amy and Rory his complete attention, would never have made fun of the fez.