("I can see what is, what was, what could be, what must not. That's the burden of a Time Lord." - River is part Time Lord. What happens when she can suddenly see all the possibilities of what might have happened, if she hadn't chosen the Doctor.)
River was drawing weird circular Gallifreyan writing in the water condensation from her glass, smearing the water around on the table mindlessly, accenting it with flicks and swirls.
Amy watched her for a minute, a bit surprised. It wasn’t often she came upon her daughter brooding.
“Anything wrong, River?” she asked, sliding into another stool on the opposite side of the breakfast bar.
River looked up, startled. That in itself was disturbing. How deep in thought was she that she would be unaware of her surroundings?
“Hello, Amy. No, just thinking,” with a distracted smile, River went back to her doodling.
Amy stared, nonplussed.
“What about?” she asked, unable not to pry.
“Husbands, and cages, and shackles, and keys...” River said, still distracted.
“So, kinky stuff then?” Amy asked cheerfully.
River’s eyes snapped to hers, wide. Then she threw back her head and peeled with laughter. “No!” she said, still laughing. Then she tipped her curly head coyly, thinking about it. “Not that I couldn't go for that interpretation.” The devilish look in her eye said she was already considering possibilities.
Amy grinned, happy to have snapped her daughter out of her funk. “So,” she leaned forward. She tapped a sharp fingernail beside one of the symbols that was slowly spreading out and blobbing together. “What does this mean?”
River looked down. “Marriage.”
Amy’s ginger eyebrows tipped up. “And this one?”
“Slavery,” River answered.
Amy scowled. “You equate marriage with slavery?” All her maternal instincts came roaring to the fore, wondering what the Doctor had done to her daughter.
River must have heard the tone in her voice. She looked up, her eyes were calm, deep, a sort of twilight depth that Amy had occasionally seen in the Doctor’s eyes, usually when he was being all Time Lordy and weird.
“No,” River reassured her. “Cultural traditions aside, as interesting as they can be, no. I was just thinking. There’s this...” Her words trailed off, she looked up at her mother, her childhood best friend, her ally. “Have you ever heard the Doctor talk about timelines?” she asked, a bit hesitantly, especially for her.
Amy nodded, uncomfortable, a bit worried by River’s mood. “He says everything’s possible somewhere and as a Time Lord he can see all the possible timelines. And that there are fixed points, and so on, and that’s usually where my eyes start to glaze over.”
River smiled wryly. “Yes, well, not to make your eyes glaze over, but...”
Amy’s eyes got wide. “You can do that too?”
River grinned wryly. “Timehead,” she reminded her mother in a singsong voice.
“But... I didn’t really think...” Amy reached forward and caught her daughter’s hands. “I was just nervous, I didn’t mean anything by it,”she reassured River.
River seemed to relax a bit, she squeezed her hands back. “You were righter than you knew.”
Amy bit her lip, eyes darting back to the squiggles on the countertop. “So what’s that got to do with ‘marriage’ and ‘slavery?’”
River drew in a deep breath, “I can’t control it like the Doctor can, but every once in a while, I can... see the timestreams.”
Amy tensed up inside. “And?”
“And I know you and Rory have always wondered why I stay in Stormcage.”
Amy scowled. “You didn’t do anything wrong! You saved him! I don’t see why that means you have to stay in prison!” She flounced slightly in her chair, unable to keep still in her ire.
River grinned. “There are plenty of practical reasons for it. To uphold the con that he’s dead. To provide me a safe place when I’m not with him, since the place is a fortress and there are plenty of people who’d like to get at me, either for good or ill because I 'killed' him, or even because they know I’m his wife. And, frankly, dear mother, I needed it at first.”
Amy glared daggers at her, annoyed that she would talk about her daughter like that.
River grinned and squeezed her fingers affectionately. “It’s all right, I needed a bit of 'punishment' to finally make me feel free.”
Amy growled. “That sounds decidedly kinky, or psychotic.”
River shrugged. “I was psychotic. What else could you call it? I did kill him after all, just not at that lake. And bringing him back, giving my lives for his, that just made it worse in some ways. Staying in Stormcage, at least until I figured out how to get out, helped me feel that I'd done my time, 'paid my dues'.
"I knew I wasn’t guilty of anything, but still, I’d been programmed all my life for it. Then I undid it. Then I married him. Which was completely not what I was ever raised for. Stormcage gave me stability, and routine, and plenty of time to think myself through. Weirdly enough. I needed it. And the Doctor was wise enough to see that.”
Amy glared daggers at her, then jumped up, came around the bar and hugged her fiercely.
River laughed and hugged her young mother back just as fiercely.
“It’s okay, Amy. I’m fine now. These days Stormcage is just a place to crash, get my mail, and have a shower. I haven’t needed to be there in a long time.”
Amy pulled back and stared at her. “So why the weird ‘marriage’ and ‘slavery’ symbols?”
River wet her lips and looked down at them. “Because I was finally able to see the timelines.” She looked back up at Amy, a terrifying haunted look in her eye.
“It’s not about marriage being slavery, or the Doctor keeping me in Stormcage. Not that he ever did.
“But if I hadn’t made that decision that day, at Berlin, at the Lake, I would never have been free of the Silence.” She shuddered. Completely un-River-like, she laid her forehead on Amy’s shoulder.
“I would have been a slave for the rest of my life.”
Amy’s heart broke. She saw again that image of Kovarian, reaching out to take her baby from her.
She clung tighter to River.
River laughed a little hiccuping laugh and patted her on the back.
“Look at us. We’re getting maudlin.” She backed up, snuffled a mighty snuffle and smiled watery at her mother.
“Stormcage isn’t a cage my marriage created. I’m not 'shackled' to the Doctor. God knows the man is difficult enough to track down at the best of times.” She grinned reminiscently.
“I’d just realized, out of all possible timelines, I’d picked the best one, the one that really set me free. All the cages, and shackles and keys, are actually signs of my freedom."
Amy stared down at her, tears smeared on her cheeks. Suddenly her eyes went quiet and thoughtful, then she started grinning.
“So that’s why you have that fixation,” she said in a whisper, and swallowed a giggle. "I always wondered why the Doctor didn't mind."
“What?” River asked.
“So,” Amy said, in mock innocence. Her eyebrows tipped up. “Handcuffs?”
River looked at her in surprise. Then gave her a sly, and thoroughly naughty grin.