It was a truth universally acknowledged that River Song would never be a mother.
Really, it wasn’t even much of a passing thought. Motherhood was for people like Amy, who mainly wanted it because she was with Rory. There was very little innate nurturing in River’s system, despite being the daughter of Rory Williams. Her peers spent their childhoods playing with Barbies and dolls that “wet” their diapers when spoon-fed water. River spent her childhood either being brainwashed by the Silence, wandering starving through the streets of New York, or ensuring that her parents didn’t get killed by aliens before they had the chance to create her to begin with.
Not the seeds for successful motherhood there.
The desire didn’t magically sprout when she and the Doctor married. Those two becoming parents, she overheard Rory tell Amy one day, would be like waving a red flag to the universe to come descend on their doorstep with every powerful weapon ever invented and a few more created just for the occasion. River agreed. The child of the Doctor’s best friends was one thing. But an actual child of his? All bets were off and the universe was screwed. It was better for everyone involved if she never entertained the thought of starting her own family.
The Doctor remained silent on the subject throughout their centuries together. He took to small children like a duck to water, using any excuse to play with kids when he could. When they visited villages together, mothers automatically assumed that River had a natural maternal instinct and would plop their drooling offspring in her arms. She managed a smile, a pat on the child’s head, then gingerly deposit it back in the mother’s arms or a laundry basket. The garbage disposal that one time was a complete accident, and River got the child back just fine, thank you very much. She was quite sure the bruises would eventually heal.
River wasn’t even quite sure her reproductive organs actually worked. Amy had been sterilized by the Kovarian sect, and she naturally assumed she had been as well. A standard sterilization was performed in her teens when she was Mels and then there was that blank time after her kidnapping from her graduation when a second one could have been performed. Her doctor told her that everything checked out internally, but it would have been foolish of Kovarian to allow River the ability to breed. So when nothing happened, River didn’t give it another thought and did as she pleased.
Sixteen months into the 24 years at Darillium, River left the Doctor tuning his guitar to go for a walk around the base of the monoliths that made up the Singing Towers. She donned noise dampeners, sturdy clothes to buffer herself from the wind, and picked her way down the path from the restaurant to the base of the Towers. She loved to place her hand on the stone and feel it reverberate. It made her feel like she was part of the music. One with the melody. The lyric of a song. Oh, that was all quite cheesy. She blamed the Doctor.
She nearly missed the small basket tucked among the rocks. She certainly didn’t miss the mewing from inside. At first, she thought it was a kitten. But, with dawning horror, she realized it was humanoid. River made her way over to the base of one of the monoliths to find the basket, a pile of blankets heaped around something that was shifting beneath.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” River muttered as she pulled the basket loose and turned back the blankets. But yes, there it was. One of the oldest clichés in the book. The good old abandoned baby in the basket trick.
“Do you serious think I know what to do with this?” she shouted to the universe in general, gesturing to the baby. Without waiting for an answer, she hauled the basket into her arms and headed back to the restaurant, where she immediately deposited the basket with Ramone and Nardole.
“Here,” she informed them. “I found this outside. Scan the baby and see who the parents are. There’ll be a microchip behind the ear with parental information if it was born in a hospital in this system. Some people really don’t deserve to be parents, leaving their baby outside like that. Now, I need to change for the 47th course.”
River was nearly out of the room when Nardole, who had control of the cyborg suit, called her back. “Um … Professor?”
“Yes, Nardole, I’m busy,” she said as she kept walking.
“I really hate to say this …”
River rolled her eyes. “Just say it.”
“But this baby is yours.”
She froze. “What?” she said acidly.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Nardole gulped and quickly retracted his head into suit as River stalked back to the services counter. “You can read it for yourself,” his muffled voice came from somewhere near the center of the chest as Ramone started to complain about Nardole bumping into him.
River pulled the basket and the scanner to her. “It’s probably just picking up the fingerprints left on the basket.” Though you were wearing gloves, some part of her brain reminded her as she pressed the standard identification wand designed for the retrieval of lost children, pets, elderly, and prisoners to a spot at the base of the infant’s skull. The baby squealed a bit, waving tiny fists in protests as River waited for the reading. Pulling it away, she frowned at the stick.
Identification: Charlotte Song Williams
Mother: Melody Pond Williams, alias River Song
Father: Unidentified male, alias The Doctor
“No,” River said as Charlotte started to make a fuss. “Oh hell no.”
Fifteen minutes passed in a blur as the Doctor was summoned from the TARDIS and Charlotte decided now was the time to make her presence known. “How do we have a baby?” River yelled over Charlotte’s cries as the Doctor crooned to her as they walked back to their home. “How the bloody hell did we have a baby? You would I think I would remember this sort of thing!”
“There, there, Mummy’s cross,” the Doctor informed Charlotte. “You have to forgive her. She hasn’t had her nap today.”
River very nearly stomped her foot. “I am cross, because I have never been or never plan to get pregnant. Which means this is some sort of trap.” She considered this as the Doctor carried the baby through the console room to the med bay. “Or someone abandoned this for us, thinking it’s a good joke. What’s Missy been up to lately?”
“Met her, have you?” The Doctor said as he put Charlotte on the examination table.
“A few times in her various incarnations.” She hovered in the doorway, not sure she wanted to get closer. God, it could be catching, this baby thing. As the Doctor pricked Charlotte’s finger to get a blood sample, River considered this line of thought. Yes. Yes, it was a practical joke. They would find Charlotte’s proper parents, deliver her back home, then think of some sort of revenge. That brightened her spirits considerably. She really did enjoy a good bit of revenge.
The Doctor frowned at the blood sample, then took another.
Or maybe … and this thought jolted River to the core … it was Amy and Rory’s. They had found a way to have a child after all. After Anthony. It was their child and something happened to them, so they managed to get it off planet. Where else would her parents send their child but to her and the Doctor? OK, screw the timelines, she was going to head back to New York City and …
“River,” the Doctor said softly.
She was quite sure that with careful threading of the navigational winds and if she tweaked her vortex manipulator with those wires from Caltrox that she could …
“Hush, sweetie, I’m thinking.”
The Doctor turned the scanner toward River, and the data didn’t lie. Time Lord and human DNA. More Time Lord than human, but just enough to know that this baby was a quarter human. The split screen showed a family tree, with the Doctor and River’s DNA alongside Amy and Rory’s. The science didn’t lie. Charlotte Song Williams was her biological offspring.
And Charlotte had had enough. She gave an ear-piercing shriek that had the Doctor pressing the scanner into River’s hands and rushing back to the bed.
“She’s about six weeks old,” he guessed as he unwrapped the blankets. “Soaking wet, starving, and wondering why you’re so mad at her. Stop frowning, River.”
“I’m not frowning,” she shot back as the Doctor confidently undid the small garment Charlotte wore that, yes, was indeed soaking wet from a leaky diaper.
“You can hear it three planets over,” he said as he freed Charlotte from her clothes and popped open a drawer with his foot. The last time River had checked it, it was filled with various linens. Now it held diapers and burping clothes and tiny, tiny baby clothes.
“Doctor, I am relatively confident that six weeks ago, I didn’t give birth to a baby.”
“You didn’t six weeks ago. But you have. Or you will in the future.” The Doctor changed Charlotte’s diaper with an ease that astounded her. “There you are. No more wet nappy. Speak up next time, and don’t let your mother intimidate you into doing otherwise. Now, what do you want to eat?”
“… Milk?” River supplied unhelpfully.
“Formula,” the Doctor muttered, rolling his eyes. Hefting Charlotte to his shoulder, he stalked out of the med bay as River followed. Charlotte’s eyes popped open to reveal the same green as River’s own. They studied her mother as they made the trip across the console room to the kitchens, where the TARDIS had stepped in once again.
“Here,” the Doctor said, holding out Charlotte. “Hold her while I fix her a bottle.”
River took two reflexive steps back. “I can’t hold her!”
“The Scourge of Stormcage can’t hold an infant two minutes while I get her a bottle?”
It took every ounce of pride for River to get the next sentence out. “I don’t know how,” she muttered.
The Doctor’s eyes softened as she turned away from him. “200 years old, and you’ve never held a baby.”
“Never longer than a few seconds.” She whipped back around, gesturing to Charlotte. “Look, she’s squirming. What if I drop her?"
“What, in the garbage disposal again?”
“Shut up,” she hissed.
“Hush now and get over here.”
Because she wasn’t a coward, or so she told herself, River cautiously approached the Doctor’s side. He gestured her into a chair, then carefully lowered Charlotte into her arms. “Here,” he said. “Support her head like this. There you go. Now, wrap your arms like that. Support her bottom. OK, just like that. Now just rock her a bit while I make her bottle.”
River held Charlotte with the same care she would give a ticking bomb. She kept her focus on the Doctor as he moved around, opening cabinets and pulling down supplies. “How can she really be ours?”
“I imagine we’re meeting her out of order, just like everything else in our marriage.” The Doctor stared at the empty bottle he held.
“Why now? We’re not equipped to raise a child.” Why now, when her diary was so very full? When she was down to the final pages, when her time with the Doctor would end. Why would she have a child when … when there was the highest chance she would be an orphan? Or at least motherless. Oh God, and then there was the universe. Missy, the Daleks, the Cyberman. Every one of the Doctor’s enemies, and most of her own, would want the infant she was doing her best to studiously ignore.
The Doctor didn’t answer her, and panic rose in River’s throat. Oh God, she couldn’t be a mother. She didn’t know how. She had to be taught the very basics of holding a kid, and don’t even ask about nappies and teething and toilet training and …
“We can take her somewhere,” the Doctor finally said. “You’re right. There’s no way we can possibly raise a child together. We’ll find a nice orphanage and …”
“You are not putting my baby in an orphanage!” River yelled, the words spilling out without thought. Instinctively, her arms tightened around Charlotte. “I am not doing to my daughter what was done to me.”
Smirking, the Doctor turned around with the prepared bottle. “See? You’re equipped to be a mum after all.”
No, she wasn’t. She really, really wasn’t. And she hated that the Doctor played her like a fiddle. “Oh, shut up and teach me how to feed her.”
The Doctor leaned against the balcony, watching as the Towers sang. He barely spared a glance to the young woman with dark, curly hair and green eyes that stepped out of the shadows. “Crossing your own time stream is dangerous.”
“I know. I just wanted to make sure I was settled. You know, make sure Mum doesn’t drop me.” Charlotte leaned against the balcony. “She’s rather rubbish at this.”
“Your mother wasn’t exactly Happy Homemaker of the Year.”
Charlotte laughed. “It’s one of my first memories. Being so cross at the thought I existed. She hated me, didn’t she?”
“A little,” he admitted. “Not you. Just the idea of you. I hope you understand. She doesn’t think she’ll make a good mother.”
“She’s the best of mothers.” She leaned into her father’s side. “She’s already headed to the Library.”
The Doctor dragged in a deep breath. “So, it’s like I thought. River’s going to give birth about six weeks before our time in Darillium ends. You, the version that’s going to grow up with us now, and I will bring baby you back here to start the time loop again. Correct?”
Charlotte’s smile was wistful. “Spoilers.”
He pressed his lips to the top of her head.
“We’re going to save her, aren’t we, Dad?”
“Of course we are, my dear. I’ve got another 23 years to figure out how, don’t I?”
“Good,” Charlotte said, and together they watched the Towers sing.