In the beginning, she's everywhere and any when. It seems like she's around every corner, behind every locked door, hiding in all his favorite places. And he always comes when she calls. It's the least he can do. She doesn't disappoint, leading him on wild adventures that have no right to end as happily as they do. New places and planets and people and there's always running. She always keeps up with him, never falling behind.

Their feet fall in unison, his trench coat flapping behind him and her stilettos long since abandoned. They're out of order but always in sync. She's too quick, too clever. There's something different about her that just doesn't fit. Or maybe she fits too well. He can't explain what or why. All he knows is that for once, he doesn't want to find out.

Each time they run, she reaches for his hand like a reflex. He really wishes she wouldn't. He can't help but remember the last time he reached for her: arms outstretched, sonic just beyond his grasp. Saving her is mere inches away, but it might as well be light years. In the here and now, her hand in his is solid and reassuring. A sharp contrast to how lonely and lost she must have felt watching that computer count down to zero.

Today, she's smiling brightly at him while they catch their breath. "Hello sweetie." She says it with her eyes as well as her mouth. There's so much life in those green orbs. They burn with passion and secrets and promises of adventure. She glows, radiant and blinding, and he can barely muster a stiff smile in return, looking anywhere but her as he answers, "Professor Song." The detached formality with which he says her name wipes the smile right off her face. But what right does he have to see such happiness when he knows how that light will fade? How can he look at her when all he sees is the path those tears will track down her face? How heartless must he become to end up like the man she described? How will he possibly tell her his name, give her his screwdriver, and look her in the eyes, all the while knowing he'll be the death of her? He can't. He won't.

Time can be rewritten.

Time must have other plans because they find each other even when they aren't looking. Wherever he finds trouble, he finds River Song. Or, perhaps, it's the other way around.
"You got me arrested. Again!" He tried to explain that he wasn't affiliated with her, that it was more of a wrong place wrong time scenario, but his explanations had fallen on deaf ears. She wasn't exactly any help, either, calling him 'sweetie' and mouthing off at the guards at every opportunity. They chose to leave her restraints on, and he didn't blame them after seeing the fight it took to get her in them in the first place. It was impressive actually, how stubborn she was, and it might have even been quite funny if it hadn't landed him in here.

"How is this my fault?" There's a twinge of accusation in her voice, and oh no, she's not putting this on him. Not this time. He doesn't try to stop the rising of his voice as he retorts, "You were trying to steal their ceremonial rubies!"

She shrugs like grand larceny is nothing. Aloof and unaffected by his annoyance as always as she quips, "And I would have succeeded if you hadn't set off all the alarms."

"Bonnie, Clyde!" The guard calls, silencing their bickering. "Keep the lover's quarrels to a minimum."

"I'm not with her." The Doctor shouts, hand gesticulating between himself and the curvaceous madwoman to his right. "We're not together." But his efforts are drown out by laughter and the slamming of a heavy metal door. Great. Just what he needed, stuck in a dungeon with her.

He paces within the confines of the bars like a caged tiger, muttering and growling to himself. Meanwhile, she remains a picture of serenity, not at all concerned or angry. It makes his blood boil. Something about her always makes him edgy, hyper aware, and endlessly frustrated. Maybe it's the trouble she gets him in, maybe it's the annoying way she taunts him, or maybe it's just plain guilt. Whatever it is, he can't keep his eyes from flickering over to her as he paces. She's smiling now, smiling, lips twitching upward unashamedly as she stares blankly down at her hands. "What's so funny?" He asks abruptly.

"Just thinking about the Doctor," she says, smirk widening. "Last time he and I were locked in a cell together-"

"Dont." He shakes his head, exasperated. "Don't do that."

She looks up at him, confused and bit surprised. "Do what?"

"Talk about me like I'm not in the room."

For a moment she looks like she wants to apologize; but in the next, her face hardens, that resolve she wears like a second skin slipping back over her features. "What's your plan?" She asks, amusement from a moment before washed away like it had never been there at all. How can she be so calm? A chameleon seamlessly shifting from one emotion to the next. How can she do that? And who is she? And, "Why would I even allow this?" He counters her question with his own. "Meeting out of time is incredibly dangerous."

She sighs at his diversion, like she finds him tedious, him, the Doctor. "As you can see, we don't always have control over it. But we make it work. Now. Have you got a plan?"

He scoffs. "Of course I have a plan."

Her eyes narrow, studying him. "You haven't got a plan."

"I have! It's a great plan."

"Out with it then."

Glancing around the room, he runs a nervous hand along the back of his neck. "Of course!" He exclaims, leaping on top of the bench and putting on his glasses to examine the pipes over their heads. "I'd be willing to wager these are pumping corrosive Modax acid. If we could somehow crack one and get it to interact with the rust on these bars maybe we coul-" He turns back, finding her already out of her handcuffs and fixing her hair. "You can't do that!" He admonishes her.

"Apparently I can." She says, corners of her lips curling.

"But those are Impervian locks."

"I know." She laughs lightly, twisting what he can only assume is a hair pin between her fingers. "Bless".

All he can do is stare at her in disbelief, and in the back of his mind he wonders what else she's potentially smuggling underneath that evening gown of hers. She doesn't notice though, her attention already turned to the locks on the doors. As if she can just Macgyver her way out of here with miscellaneous hair products. Arms folded stubbornly across his chest, he states, "I thought you were an archeologist." He means it to come across befuddled, but he has a feeling there's no small amount of awe laced within his words.

"I am." She grins.

"Have a lot of experience breaking out of jail, do you?"

There's something undeniably playful in way she answers. "It happens more often than you'd think." She winks, eyes sparkling with something he can't quite place. He should really be thinking about that plan he mentioned, the one to get them out of here, but all he can do is watch. Her fingers are quick, working with expert dexterity, but lazily too, the way you drive home after a long day or navigate your bedroom in the dark. Her eyes are focused in concentration, but not on the task at hand. No, her mind is far away, remembering some long ago day he hasn't lived yet. A soft but very unique click fills the air and rockets him back into focus. "What about the guard?" He asks.

She hums, withdrawing a tube from within her cleavage. "Leave him to me."

He's beginning to think a confused expressing is a permanent fixture for his wardrobe because now she's putting on lipstick, and does she really think she can flirt her way out of here? Well, he wouldn't put it past her. But still. "Maybe I should have a go first." He offers hesitantly. She just chuckles, a low, throaty sound. "This really isn't your color, sweetie. You're pretty." She winks. "But not that pretty."

Truth be told, he feels a bit useless when she's around. She's always one step ahead, always smirking and flirting and looking at him like she knows exactly what he looks like beneath his brown pin stripe suite, as if she sees through his skin and bones, past this fleshy avatar and into his soul. He hates it.

And yet, when she punches coordinates into her vortex manipulator and vanishes, he finds himself staring at the place she had been, that secret smile of hers burning brightly behind his eyes long after she's gone. He comes to think of her like star dust: elusive, majestic, and ever moving. She flutters in and out of his life as she always has and probably always will.

After that, he's not at all surprised to find her on one of the Angustian moons, stilettos six inches deep in any trouble that came her way. Seeing her like this is reminiscent of watching some rare creature in its natural habitat. It's overwhelming and awe inspiring and just a little bit breathtaking. She's all wild hair and smoking guns. Embers still sparkle on the hem of her ruined ball gown, various rips and tears revealing golden skin, lovely and shimmering and- hang on, lovely? When did that happen?

She catches him staring and there's that smile again. He wonders if she greets everyone with that smile or if it's reserved only for him. "Hello sweetie." She purrs in a way that makes him want to loosen his necktie.

He clears his throat, and this time when he says her name. it comes out with far more boyish excitement than he intends. "Professor Song."

He has a new face, but she still finds him. Actually, he thinks she might like this one even better. Not that he cares about what River Song thinks of his face. He just might of noticed, that's all. He's the Doctor, he notices things. Things like how clever she is, and formidable, too, especially when she has a gun, and how fantastic she looks in jodhpurs and- no never mind that. She's still mad and infuriating and beguiling and always dragginghim into things. Though, he doesn't mind it so much anymore. Actually, he rather enjoys it. He's come to like the way that gleam in her eye makes his insides all tingly. He likes that there are things out there he doesn't understand. A century of traveling all of time and space and suddenly the most interesting puzzle he can find is a curly haired madwoman. She's an archaeologist and a time traveler and a criminal and who knows what else.

He really really wants to find out.

"You can't just teleport in here while I'm in the vortex." He says, but there she is, standing there smirking, all evidence to the contrary.

"You can't." She chuckles and he swaggers closer, fingers waggling as he says, "I'm starting to think she likes you better than me."

"That's because I don't tinker with things that don't need tinkering."

"I do not tinker." He scoffs. "And how did you get in here anyway?"

She turns to face him, scandalized. "Doctor! That would be telling."

"I'll figure out your secrets one day, River Song. If that is indeed your real name." He means it as a joke, but he doesn't miss the subtle slip in her features. It's not much, just a fraction of a second. But it's enough. "I never… I never even thought…"

She dismisses him with a shrug of her shoulders. "It's as much my name as The Doctor is yours."

Now that's curious, very curious actually. The Doctor was his promise. Never cruel or cowardly. What promise is she living up to? He can't help but incline his body towards hers as he asks, "And what does that mean?"

She flashes him a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes. "Wouldn't you like to know?" Before he knows it, he's crossing the room toward her, voice low and serious. "I really would, you know." His eyes are locked onto hers with an intensity that surprises even him. He can't really pin down the moment he stopped running, the moment frightening became exciting and irritation morphed into flirting. All he knows is he wants to see into her the way she sees into him. He wants to read her face like a map, learn her tells and what it means when her eyes flicker from green to hazel. He wants to understand her, take her apart and put her back together, align all her shapes and colors until he can solve her like his own personal Rubik's cube.

He tilts his body impossibly closer, as if the offending air between them is where she hides her secrets and if he closes enough distance, he'll discover them by sheet force of will. But he's made a mistake. He's close, too close. He's been this near to her before, sure, but it feels different somehow. There's a charge in the air making his senses hyper aware. There's heat from her body radiating onto his own and the scent of vanilla and time energy are assaulting his senses. "You might not like what you find out." Hot breath rolls out from between her lips to ghost across the swell of his cheeks. Without permission, his eyes drop to her mouth. He remembers the last time he saw her: cold steel bars and her mouth on his and the pitter patter of rain on the window. "I'll be the judge of that." He breathes like a secret, husky and low.

She swallows hard and he decides he likes the way her deep breathing makes her chest rise and fall. He likes her voice low and eyes lidded. He shouldn't, he knows, because she's only human. Humans are wonderful, fascinating, bigger on the inside creatures, but they are fleeting. They are shooting stars in the night sky, bright and beautiful and lasting only a moment. He shouldn't like the way her eyes have grown dark or how very red and dangerous her lips are. He shouldn't want to reach out and touch her, but he's always been weak.

"Where are we Doctor?" She all but whispers. "Have we...?" Her voice trails off at the sudden pressure of his thumb stroking across her bottom lip. It's soft and warm just like he remembers. "Kissed?" He finishes the thought. "Yes we've kissed."

"But nothing more?" Her voice wavers, question hanging in the air, ticking like a pendulum between them. He tears his eyes from her lips to meet her gaze. She must find the answer to her question hidden somewhere among the hazel because her shoulders deflate for briefest of moments.

More? He hadn't even let himself entertain the idea of more. Hadn't let himself hope for anything beyond a few stolen kisses. Deep down he's always known there was more to River. And yet, every time he finds a piece to the puzzle, it only makes it more difficult to solve.

He lets out a deep breath he wasn't aware he was holding. "Who are you?" To me.

She smiles slightly, causing her cheek to brush against his knuckles. "Do you really have no idea?"

He's starting to. Well, he's known from the first day he met her. But he's only just starting to embrace it. He feels like he should say something, but for once, words escape him. He's held captive by the way her eyes lock onto his, drunk on the spicy scent of her, and far far too aware of the electricity crackling between them.

He's barely touching her, knuckles ghosting over her cheekbone, but there's sparks where his skin meets hers- he swears there is, there must be. It's heady and intoxicating, and he slides his hand to cup her face, eager to feel that rush of electricity against his palm.

But it's not enough, he decides. The air around them freezes, the only sound he hears is the faint humming of the TARDIS and the pounding of his hearts as he closes the space between them. Lips brush tentatively against lips, and oh, there are sparks here too. It's feather light, chaste, but it makes his body hot and cold, and time is frozen and rushing by, and his mind is racing and impossibly blank all at the same time.

It's over too soon and when he pulls back, they both release a shaky breath. "I'm sorry." He stutters. "I didn't even ask."

A gentle hand on his chest quells his rising panic. "You never have to ask with me."

"Never?"

"Never ever." She tugs gently at his bowtie. "You never have to ask or explain. Not with me."

"How can you be so...?"

"Understanding?" She cuts in.

"Careless." The word drops from his mouth abruptly. She who claims to know him so well, she must know he is dangerous company at best. Why does she march so eagerly into the lion's den? "I will take everything from you River." It's a warning and a plea, hoping to somehow change a past and a future that are already set and that she will one day die to protect.

"You're not taking." She admonishes him like a child, like he's stubborn and foolish for thinking anyone could ever take anything from the formidable River Song. And maybe she's right. "I'm giving what's mine to give."

"River." He sighs her name. It's resignation and disbelief and endearment all rolled into one word. "What did I do to you?" What could I have possibly done to earn such devotion? She just smiles enigmatically up at him and says, "Spoilers."

Then there's the day he needs her most; the day she can't be there. It's the day he proves the Silence right. He is a weapon, a mighty warrior to be feared. He can teach a lesson to those who stand in his way. He is capable of defeating his enemies without spilling a drop of blood. He can turn armies around with the mention of his name. But it still isn't enough, because it's also the day he fails Amy and Rory.

All his speeches and allies and clever deceptions are for naught. Everything is quiet, all happiness sucked from the room like an airlock had been opened. Amy flinches at the thought of his embrace because his efforts mean nothing in the wake of his shortcomings. Apologies are meaningless against the raw devastation of a mother's empty arms.

He remembers a frightened little girl: "I'm scared Mr. President. I'm scared of the spaceman." He sees now that the battle was lost before it ever began. All he can do is sit idly by, helpless to save the daughter of his best friends. They have lost their only child and it's all because of him. He has never felt so low. He has never fallen so far.

Its then that she swirls in like blue sky after a hurricane. She humbles him, helps him, teaches him. She gives him a glimmer of hope amongst the wreckage. This is the day everything changes. This is the day he finds out who she is.

And he knows exactly where to find her.

He bounds out of the TARDIS, grinning like the cat who ate the canary. At the sight of her, curled up on her cot and writing diligently in her diary, he pauses to stand a little taller and straiten his lapels. By the looks of things, she hasn't been in her cell long. Probably, Hopefully, off on some strange planet with him. She's not yet in her prison uniform and there's a smudge of dirt or ash or debris still lingering on her cheek. He wonders what trouble she got him into this time, the possibilities making him giddy. She must notice his mood because as she makes her way across her cell there's more sway in her hips than usual. He doesn't sonic open the doors; instead he marches right up to the bars, eagerly awaiting his standard greeting.

"Hello sweetie." She coos, looking up at him as she wraps her hands around the bars. His grin stretches impossibly wider. So many times he's heard those words, but this time might be his favorite. "Hello," he dips his head, voice dropping to a throaty whisper. "Melody."

She quirks a brow at the title, or maybe it's not what he said, but how. "Where are we, then?" It's a formality, he thinks, because the tone of her voice says she already knows. His hands coil around hers and he leans forward as if he's going to push right through the bars of her cell. "Demons Run." He whispers, eyes tracking over the contours of her face. It's terrain he knows so very well, but he feels like he's seeing it clearly for the first time. Her lips are full and shapely, and twitching up ever so slightly in amusement. Her eyes are more than just green; they're laced with ambers and yellows, and they say so much more than words ever could. He finds everything he's ever wanted to know in the apples of her cheeks and the way they swell when she smiles. He can see a lifetime of laughter and tears engraved in the soft creases around her eyes. Her secrets are written all over her face. She's been spilling them every time she looks at him. He just hasn't been listening.

"Doctor." She says, breaking her spell over him. How long had been staring at her? Minutes? Hours? Eons? "You might want to do something about those cameras." He furrows his brow. Cameras? What cameras? Why is she worried about filmography at a time like this? She smirks, eyebrows high on her forehead as she inclines her head toward the far wall. He follows her gaze and oh! Right! The security cameras. After minimal floundering he has his sonic out and is not only shutting down the cameras, but access to this entire wing. He doesn't want to be disturbed.

Next, he sonics the cell open and suddenly he has no idea what comes next. She's right there in front of him. River Song. Melody Pond. Amy and Rory's daughter. The closest thing he's seen to one of his own kind in what feels like millennia. No bars or riddles or alien invasions to keep them apart, just stale prison air filling the space between them. He hadn't thought quite this far ahead. He just wanted to get to her, gloat about finding out the answer to the question that's haunted him for longer than he's had this face. But now that he's here, he doesn't feel like gloating. He feels like he's teetering on some grand threshold, torn between running back to his TARDIS like he always does or leaping blindly into the unknown. It's thrilling and exciting and complicated and he doesn't know why he expected any less from River. There's so much he wants to ask her. How much Time Lord is in her? Can she regenerate? Has she regenerated? Is this why she can fly the TARDIS? She answered one question, only to leave him with a million more. He's buzzing, but when he opens his mouth to speak, the only thing he can manage is, "I'm sorry."

"For what, my love?" She asks softly, and he crumbles. "Everything." He breathes. "All of it." All joy he held a moment ago is pushed to the side, his mind now racing with all the terrible things that have happened to her and everything that's still to come. He wants to run back to the TARDIS, try and think of some way he can still fix all this. A gentle hand on his arm cements him in place. "I don't blame you for anything." She soothes him, but he can't bring himself to look at her.

"They took you because of me. You even said-"

She cuts him off with a finger to his lips. "You didn't kidnap me. They did. When will you learn that you aren't responsible for the actions of others? You're not a god you know, even if you have the ego of one."

"They still did it out of fear of me. I'm responsible."

"Then I forgive you." She says dismissively, a hand reaching up to cup his face. He lifts his head and she catches his eyes. "For everything that happened or will happen."

He fights the urge to sigh, knowing she's trying to comfort him. She always has done, but her words mean nothing when she doesn't even know what she's forgiving him for. "River, you can't possibly-"

"Always and completely, Doctor." She silences him again. "That's how it works." It sounds less like comforting and more like a scolding, like he's a sulking child she's about to send to the corner if he makes one more self-loathing comment. How does she always manage to make him feel like that? Even when he's right. He's pretty sure he's right anyway.

He decides to change the subject, just in case. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"Couldn't risk it." She says easily.

He nods, "Paradox effect. Too dangerous, of course."

"Well that and I couldn't have you trying to change things." She smiles up at him playfully and adds, "You're meddlesome like that."

All he can do is stare at her in disbelief. They stole her childhood. The things she must have seen... The things they must have done to her. They're sitting in her prison cell, where she's serving a life sentence for murder, probably his murder. He's ruined her life and she's telling him she wouldn't change a thing. "I don't deserve your forgiveness." He confesses, voice barely a whisper.

She smiles, small and sad, like she understands. "What a dark place the universe would be if we only ever got what we deserved." Her eyes find the window, gazing out at the grey world beyond, remembering some terrible day long in her past and looming ominously in his future.

"Octavian said you killed a man." "Yes, I did."

What a pair they make, both chasing after foot prints in the sand before the inevitable tide comes to wash the other away. "I promised them I'd find you." He offers, hoping it wont be yet another promise he'll fail to keep.

"And you will." She answers his unspoken question. "When it matters, you're always there for me."

It's a small relief, even if deep down he knows it isn't true. "You know, it's funny, I keep wishing the Doctor was here." He buries the memory, locking it tightly behind closed doors. He doesn't want to think about the past or the future; he wants to think about now. "So what happens next?"

Her shoulders shrug easily, like this isn't the pinnacle, the tipping point for their potential future. But it is. He can feel it, and he's sure she can too. "Whatever you want to happen."

He wants to close the space between them, press his lips against hers, run his tongue over hers, behind her teeth, and across the roof of her mouth until he discovers all of her. He wants to make her his. Not 'when he's older'. Not 'someday' in the future. Today. Right here, right now.

So he does.

He kisses her, and it's not timid or floundering like before. It's passionate and bruising and absolute. She lets him lead, only matching his intensity and never exceeding it. She wants him to be sure he wants this, and oh, he does. He wants to never waste another second running from her. He wants to love her, even knowing he will lose her, because she is everything he long since learned to live without. Except he wasn't really living. He was merely existing, aimlessly wandering the universe for centuries, searching for ways to fill the emptiness inside of him.

He fills that emptiness with her. His hands are strong and steady as they snake into her hair and tilt her head back so he can crush his mouth against hers. She melts into his touch, her warmth washing over him and through him until her essence seeps into the very marrow of his bones. She makes a home deep down inside him, mending the broken pieces of his hearts and breathing new life into his ancient soul. She welcomes the way his parched lips drink her in like it's the last thing he'll do. She tastes like hope and happiness and dare he say it, home.

This is the day everything changes. The day he promises to find her and to care for her, whatever it takes.

His search begins in the Gamma Forests. It makes for the perfect place to hide, really. It's a quiet planet, never causing any trouble. There's nothing of value to be found and no cause for trade. There aren't many visitors and the locals aren't exactly interested in going anywhere.

Nah, nothing ever happens here. Not until today.

He may have gotten off on a bad foot with the chief. His TARDIS sort of, maybe, possibly, a little bit crashed into their sacred temple. But the children take to him just fine; they always do. "And what's your name?" He asks a particularly curious girl with big brown eyes. "Lorna. Loran Bucket." She says. "Lovely name, Lorna, Lorna Bucket." He leans in conspiratorially and whispers, "Can you show me where the scary stuff happens?" She grins, takes his hand, and leads him into the forest.

The next thing he knows they're running, her hand in his and little legs working over time to keep up. His other hand is armed with his sonic and on it he sees little black tally marks. When it seems she can't keep up anymore, he slows his pace. There's nothing but trees as far as the eye can see, no buildings or animals, not a single sign of life. "Where are you River?" He asks the open air. Lorna shakes her head next to him, panting, "There's no river this deep into the forest. We're too close to the Gardens."

"What Gardens? How can there be gardens if there isn't any water?"

"Not a garden of plants." She says, still catching her breath. "A Garden of Nightmares."

Nightmares indeed. The base they're keeping her in has turned the forest around it into a barren wasteland. Ominous watch towers replace ancient trees and barbed wire fences cocoon a giant steel building. But it's not just a building; it's a cage, and at its heart is Melody Pond.

But he's too late to save her. By the time he gets inside, they've already moved her. She's gone. Again. Always just out of reach.

He promised he would find her, care for her whatever it took. But with every passing day, that promise grows more and more out of reach. The visions he had of turning up on Amy and Rory's door step, victorious and baby in hand, are becoming more and more transparent. River's fate hangs precariously in the balance, all hope flickering in the distance, fading fast as the sun sets on all his chances of finding her. But she'd said he would find her. Of course he would. He has to. He will.

When it seems his search for their baby is at a loss, he goes to the only other place he knows she has been. The orphanage in 1969, just moments after they left the first time. And again, he's just a little bit too late.

"Melody's gone." River says, her use of the third person catching him off guard. It's uncharacteristically matter of fact. She is cold, disconnected, and surrounded by the bodies of her former 'owners'. Her gun is still smoking and the smell of burning flesh is potent in the air. Her back is to him and he wonders if it's to hide shame or satisfaction.

"You know," he sighs, "when you said I'd find you… I thought you meant little you." He thought he would finally get to save the scared little girl in a children's home he's been trying to rescue for years

"She left a few hours ago." River says, tucking her gun away and turning to flash him a tight lipped smile over the labyrinth of bodies. "But they won't find her until she regenerates in a few months."

'Regenerates'…He almost flinches at the word, wondering how many faces she'll go through before she becomes his River. How many lives has he cost her? Looking at her now, gun in hand, eyes glazed over… it feels like he's killed her twice in the same night.

He runs a hand through messy brown hair and sighs, "River…" Her name is all her can manage. It's heavy on his tongue, baring the weight of all his desperation. He wants to help. He wants so badly to save her, just this once. He lost River the day he met her, and now even Melody is slipping through his fingers like sand in an hourglass. She is a ticking clock and his time with her is fading fast.

He's careful not to look her in the eyes when he asks the question he doesn't want answered but so desperately needs to know. "How many times have you regenerated?" How many times have I failed to save you?

She doesn't answer. She doesn't have to. He sighs again, eyes closing for the briefest moment. "That's what I was afraid of."

The Silence are thorough, so thorough in fact, he sees just how obvious a trap Demons Run had been. A sadistic mind game designed to give him hope, only to tear him down. He had been so stubborn, so foolish, so full of himself. The only thing he succeeded in proving was his own egomania. Now he's armed only with his failures and the knowledge that someday soon, he'll have to face Amy and Rory. He avoids them as long as he can, dodging desperate phone calls to the point of suspicion.
In retrospect, he would have mustered up the courage to face them a whole lot sooner if he knew it meant the key to finding her. Or rather, her finding him.
Mels is irksome and reckless and waving guns around like a- actually, he really should have seen this coming. Seeing her regenerate is a blessing and a curse. It steals the last of his hope of returning Amy's baby to her. It eases his conscious that he never really could. Growing up in Leadworth means their timelines are too tightly woven. Pull one string and it all unravels; there's no rewriting one bit without potentially rewriting it all. It's also a small consolation prize; if Amy and Rory were her best friends, she has known love at least this once in her life.

She looks like River and she sounds like River; she even flirts like River. "All yours Sweetie." It's his name and it's her mouth but it's all wrong. This isn't the River that loves him. The endearment is lacking, hollow, void of meaning. But he still kisses her. It's quick, reflexive, and over before he knows he's done it. It's his undoing. He let his guard down and now he's going to go and ruin everything by dying far too soon. He knew, or highly suspected, she would one day kill him. All the clues were there, but not this soon, not now when she needs him the most.

It's never been more important that he find her. Just a piece, a glimmer. He can't lose her now. He's only just discovering her.

He only has 32minutes to teach her everything she's spent years teaching him. He wants to tell her of the woman she will become and the amazing things she will do. He wants to describe how the mere sight of her will inspire fear in even the blackest of creatures. How Sontarans surrender and Daleks beg for mercy at the sound of her name. He wants to recount every monument built in honor of her smile and the hope it brings wherever she goes. He wants to explain everything she is to him. Not with words, but with the way she makes his hearts stutter. He wants to show her that she is his, not because of divine prophecy, but because he is hers. They belong to one another as surely as stars are born and galaxies will burn. They are bound by the nature of time and the turn of the universe. Brought together by forces greater than gravity and beyond their control.
But there's no time. So he rattles off rules and instructions and hopes it will be enough. He asks her to do what he can't, to find River Song, find herself. With his last breath he tells her that she is forgiven, always and completely.

Most importantly, he gives her a choice. He doesn't try to manipulate or control her. He shows her who she could be, and she decides her own future. She chosen him, over and over and over again. She saves him the first time she meets him as well as her last. She gives him life, at great cost to herself. Even this early, she chooses to love him, fiercely and without regard for her own safety. Maybe one day her selflessness will stop surprising him, but he doubts it. Maybe one day he'll earn her devotion. Today he begins to try. Today he surrenders. He gives in to fighting the past. He gives in to not changing a single line. He gives in to the future with her he so desperately wants.

He gives her a blue book.

He lets her make her own way, but he still drops in on her from time to time. She's a student of archaeology now, like he always knew she would be. It's fascinating to watch her like this, drinking in words from textbooks as hungrily as he drinks in the sight of her: young eyes entranced by the pages of history, brow slightly furrowed as she concentrates, hair messily framing her face. She's so beautiful. Not that she isn't always beautiful, but this young she's so much brighter, so open, so optimistic. The River before him stands a little taller, shoulders not yet heavy with the burden of so many secrets. She is yet to grow weary from dancing around his younger self, armed only with practiced smiles and flirty deceptions. She doesn't know that the worst dangers still lie ahead or that the time he spends with her now is more important than ever.

She doesn't know that she terrifies him in all the best ways. Then again, he thinks as he takes in the sight of her, maybe she does.

He approaches her from behind, getting as close to her as he dares but not nearly as close as he'd like. "Hello miss Melody." He practically sings her name because he just doesn't get tired of calling her that. Melody. Melody Pond. Child of the tardis. His psychopath.

She doesn't flinch or even look up from her book when she replies, "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to sneak up on people? Especially trained assassins."

"Well, you're my assassin." He says easily, causing her to smirk at his shameless flirting. "So I thought I'd make an exception." He really should be more careful around her when she's so young and impressionable, but flirting with her has always been a necessary impulse, like breathing.

"That would deter most people." She hasn't even turned to look at him, ignoring him like he's just another bothersome admirer. "I'm not people." He offers, moving to lean against the bookcase and placing himself directly in her line of vision. "And I'm not familiar with these proceedings. You'll have to get me a manual."

She snorts, lips twitching up ever so slightly. "As if you'd follow a manual." She's so young. But he can see peaks of his River just beginning to blossom. He can see her in the subtle sway of her hips, the flirty way the corners of her lips curl, the elegant and somehow filthy way she arches her brow. Oh she's in there alright, just waiting to be coaxed out. He shouldn't let his eyes linger as long as they do on her lips or her hips or any of her other dangerously distracting bits, but he just can't help himself. "What do you want, exactly?" She asks, pretending not to notice his staring.

He's not really sure what he wants, only that he can't keep away. He's constantly drawn to her like waves to the shoreline. He knows her secrets but he's somehow even more transfixed. He's eager to know everything about her, even the mundane features of her life: what food she likes, places she's been, people she met in the street. But rather than confess his need to breathe the same air she does, he casually says, "Oh, you know, just popping in for a visit."

"A visit?" She arches a brow, eyes finally breaking from her book to look at him. "No exploding planets or man eating couches to deal with?"

"Nah. Well, probably. But they'll keep. I just dropped your parents off, actually." He catches a coy smile play across her face and gives her a curious look.

"It's just.." She begins, "Calling them that. It all feels a bit stolen. I was their best mate, but it always felt a bit like being on the outside looking in. I didn't want to get too close. I never thought they'd forgive me after..." She clears her throat. "I just never thought I'd see them again." She covers up her brief lapse of emotion with a stiff smile. But he knows her well enough now to read between the lines. She thought it was her one chance to know her parents and even then she held back, not wanting to cling too tightly to something she thought she would lose.

He intends to fix that, to teach her that things we will lose are the things we need to cling to the tightest. He spent too long always keeping people at arm's length, never admitting how he felt. He won't do that with her, not anymore. He's diving in head first, losing himself in her while he still has the chance. Loving another person with such wild abandon is dangerous and terrifying and addicting. But it's also thrilling and intoxicating and the greatest adventure he's ever known. Nothing compares to seeing that same wild abandon reflected in the eyes of another.

But on days like today, he tries to hide how helplessly in love with her he is. He has to be patient; he learned that from her. Or maybe she learned it from him. But it's difficult to not shower her with affection when she looks so dejected. Somehow he manages to fight back the urge to cup her face and kiss the corners of her mouth until that smile becomes genuine, but he can't keep the sincerity out of his voice when he asks, "Who would want to keep away from you?"

"You, for starters." She quips, evading his open adoration. Flirting she can do, but affection is still foreign to her. Deep down she's still afraid of the psychopath inside, still scared she might hurt him. He probably should be too, honestly, but the perks far outweigh the risks. Funny really, how he suddenly found himself desperate to be near someone he ran from for so long. How she's the one running from him after all her years of waiting and planning. They really never were in the right order.

"How could I possibly do that?" He teases. "I seem to remember promising to marry you."

She chuckles, low and throaty. "Oh Doctor, you keep all your promises, do you?" He's made so many now: promise not to change the glorious, destructive path they're on, promise to keep her safe. Each a contradiction of the other. "Not all the time." He admits, eyes falling to his shoes. "But to you. When it matters." He doesn't need to look at her to know she's watching him, though studying might be a more appropriate term. He can feel her eyes on him, trying her best to decipher truth from lies. There's something almost predatory in her gaze when she's this young, still unsure if she wants to devour him, or, well... He clears his throat and her eyes track his Adam's apple as it bobs in his throat. Green eyes darken and he can't tell if it's her lips or her hands she's imagining pressed against the delicate flesh. He shouldn't like the idea of either, but he does.

A pink tongue snakes out to moisten her parted lips, and his mouth goes dry. Such a simple act shouldn't affect him so. He's looked into the untempered schism, gazed upon a gap in the fabric of reality, seen the raw power of the time itself, but none of that is quite as intimidating as River Song. Give him Cybermen, give him Slitheen, give him the bloody Daleks and he'd have then running for cover. But present him with a young River, all fluttering lashes and pouty lips, and he's mush. Against those green eyes, he's reduced to a stuttering fool, a school boy barely capable of tying his own laces. He's over a thousand years old. Why is it when she's around he always feels reduced to a nervous teenage boy? He's the one with the experience, the spoilers, he should be flustering her. Not the other way around. "So fluster me." She purrs, and he blinks, unaware as to how much he'd actually spoken out loud. "What?" He asks a bit breathless.

"Fluster me." She repeats airily. "If you can." It's absolutely a challenge, one he wants to very much accept. He wants to kiss that smug little look right off her face, prove to her that he actually does know how to play her body like a fiddle, his fiddle. She's his, but not yet. That look on her face: lips parted, eyes slightly lidded, pupils blown. God she would let him, wouldn't she. Even this young, she would let him. But he can't. He shouldn't. He won't.

But she wants him to.

And that just makes it even harder. But it's too soon for her and Rory has a sword and he needs to be patient. "I've got something for you." He says abruptly, bopping her on the nose and skipping back a few steps to put some much needed space between them.

She closes her book. "A present?" Now he's got her attention.

"Come and find out." He smirks, spinning around and heading back to the supply cupboard where he'd parked the TARDIS.

"Is this how you lure everyone into your little blue box?" She asks, following him like he knew she would. "Nope," he grins, opening the door for her. "Just you." She smirks, pointedly brushing against him as she enters. He isn't far behind, skipping past her to retrieve a small tube from the console. Her brow arches, voice edging on disappointment as she asks, "Lipstick?"

"Hallucinogenic." He clarifies, twisting off the lid. It's simple enough, until one looks closer. The only give away is the slight blur of the surrounding air, like pixels in a hologram if zoomed too close. He passes it to her, watching with satisfaction as she instantly paints her lips a gorgeous shade of red.

"Shall we try it out?" She asks, eyes sparking with mischief in a way he's seen many times before. He hums down at her playfully. "Maybe when you're older."

"Kill a man with lipstick once and suddenly he's gun shy." She sighs dramatically, then adds, "What do you suggest we do?"

"I'm glad you asked." He taps her on the nose again before spinning around to the console. "I've just received a distress signal from the planet Relictus."

"Relictus?" She frowns. "I thought that was unpopulated."

He grins at her from across the console. "It is."

"The why would there be a distress signal?"

"No idea." He answers, toying with various levers.

"I suppose you're going to find out."

"You could come with me." He shrugs lightly. "But forsaken planet, untouched by civilization, mysterious cry for help… could be dangerous."

She grins, "Then what are we waiting for?"

He promises the Roman he won't visit too often, which he doesn't. He limits it to every other week, and weekends, and holidays, or if something really really interesting happens. And of course, special occasions.

"Get dressed, Song." He announces as she steps into the TARDIS. "We're going out." It's her birthday, and birthdays are actually a specialty of his when he gets the day right.

"It's gorgeous!" She beams, instantly flocking to the sapphire blue dress waiting for her. It's figure hugging and elegant, just like she likes. Not that she needs fancy dresses or elaborate costumes. She could turn every head in a room exactly as she is. Even in jeans and a baggy University sweatshirt, she's stunning. "It's from the TARDIS." He offers, drinking in the way her eyes sparkle with delight and hands smooth over the silky fabric. Her eyes flick up to him. He's dressed to the nines in what she told him once when she was older was her favorite suit.

"I was hoping unwrapping you would be my present." She purrs, eyes unashamedly tracking over his body. Somehow he manages not to fidget, saying as sternly as he can, "Go get dressed, you, or we'll be late." She rolls her eyes, but complies, heading off down the corridor. He can't help but watch her go. It's not an act he does on purpose, more of a subconscious need to absorb her every second he can. He could find her in a sea of thousands, drawn to her like a moth to a flame. He could lose himself for days in the cadence of her footfalls, the bouncing of her hair, and the swaying of her hips.

"I've just read about the most wonderful place." She calls from around the corner, where she's getting dressed. The sound revives him from his stupor, turning quickly to input coordinates. River's never needed lipstick or drugs to hypnotize him, only subtle movements and the sound of her voice. "It's called The Singing Towers, and I read tha-" If she continues to speak, the words are lost on him. Just the mention of that place fills his ears with a soft ringing and sends his hearts into palpitations.

"The towers don't actually sing." He cuts her off, not wanting to think about it. "Durilliam's just…" and he's sure she can hear the way his lips curl around the word like it tastes of something bitter, "a bunch of ancient mountains that translate vibrations from the core of the planet into sounds that happen to resonate across the surface of the entire planet. Run of the mill stuff, really." One day he'll go there, he knows. But not today. "Tonight," He exclaims with renewed vigor. "We need something spectacular! For instance, did you know that there's a planet whose atmosphere emits a chemical that stabilizes the telomeres of your DNA? You literally don't age." He pauses for air. "Took a group of school boys there on a field trip once."

"Are you telling me that Peter Pan is a true story?" She calls.

"No. Not... all of it. There weren't any crocodiles." He doesn't need to see her to know she's raising an accusatory eyebrow, so he admits, "Large iguana maybe."

A fond chuckle floats over the airwaves and settles deep in his chest. "Oh Doctor," she sighs. "Next you'll be telling me Alice in Wonderland was you, as well."

He snorts. "No. Lewis Carroll was just a nutter." The TARDIS lands in unison with the clicking of her heels rounding the corner. "Funny story actually," he spins around, anecdote fresh on his lips, but the sight of her robs him of sense. There are no sounds or smells, even the ground beneath his feet feels a bit unstable. All that exists is her. He's blind to all but the way golden ringlets frame her face, the soft glow of her skin, and radiance of her smile.

"What's a funny story?" She asks.

"Hm? Oh, sorry. Nothing." He clears his throat. "Are you ready?"

She smirks softly back at him. "It's my birthday. Shouldn't I get to pick where we go?"

"You can pick where we have dessert."

A knowing grin spreads across her face. "Well, I do hope you brought enough whip cream."

"Oh, just," he stutters, flushing under her hungry stare. "Open the door already, will you."

She chuckles, planting a quick kiss to his cheek and lacing her arm through his. He opens the door of the TARDIS to a world of rolling amber hills and a dusty pink sunset. To their left is a cliff face, and beyond its jagged edge is a sea of deep purple, that somewhere off in the infinite distance meets a sky streaked with blue and green. All around them are brightly colored swarms, buzzing and dancing across the sky like Christmas lights.

But he isn't looking at any of that, he has a far better view. He sees the way her eyes dilate to take in the beauty of her surroundings. He sees the moment her breath catches in her chest and the way her cheeks flush with excitement. He hears the wonder in her voice when she asks, "Where are we?"

"Cicindela. Planet of the Lightning bugs. Or as they're more commonly known, fireflies. The whole planets full of nothing but them. It's protected by the Lampyridae Protection Act of 5439, after their near extinction. Every night at twilight they use a special bioluminescence light display to attract a mate." The Doctor gestures upward, where tiny whirls of colors dance across a darkening sky. "See, fireflies produce a 'cold light,' with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. And as you can see, this chemically produced light can be yellow, green, or red."

She takes a step toward the edge, eyes peering over to watch as deep violet waves crash and cling to the rocks below. "So, what you're telling me is this is a giant firefly mating farm?"

"Well it was a lot more romantic when I said it."

"No, sweetie, it really wasn't," she coos, smiling softly, "but I love it all the same."

He beams, returning her smile and pulling out a blanket from his bigger on the inside pocket. They curl up together, feet dangling over the edge and eyes fixed on the sparkling lights above. She snuggles impossibly closer, the smell of vanilla filling his nose and warming his bones, and he thinks for a moment that she wasn't made for him at all; perhaps he was made for her. Maybe when he regenerated all those years ago, he was preparing for this. Perhaps he shaped this body to match hers exactly, designed his hands so their fingers would entwine perfectly, and carved his torso precisely so she could rest her head with ease. He must have molded himself around her because only when he holds her does he feel complete. When she's near, he doesn't feel the need to wander endlessly or go looking for trouble. He thinks he could sit like this for decades, sustained only by the sound of the waves, the smell of her hair, and the warmth of her body.

"It feels like I'm on top of the world." She sighs happily.

"Well technically you are." He informs. "This is the highest point on the planet, so, in a manner of speaking, this is the top."

"You're cuter when you don't speak." She teases, peaking over at him to find his brow furrowed and lips pursed. "Or maybe not." She continues, causing his pout to grow more severe.

"Well if that's-" He begins to pull away, but she pulls him back by the collar, silencing him with a kiss. His brain wants to complain, but his body can't help but melt into hers, hands settling on her hips and lips brushing against hers.

"Thank you," she amends, smiling up at him. "It's beautiful."

He hums in agreement, brushing a stray curl behind her ear. "Which leads me to wonder," she pauses, glancing over her shoulder like she half expects something terrible to leap out and try to kill them. Which is ridiculous, and only a slight possibility. "Why is there no one else here?"

"I told you, it's protected. No one's allowed to be here."

"So our being here is illegal?"

"Punishable by death, in fact."

"Aww, you do know me."

"More than you know, River Song." He smiles, arms tightening around her. "More than you know."

She insists on not traveling with him. He can hardly blame her for wanting to make her own way, to live her own life for once. He knows what it's like to feel emotions you don't understand and to think you have no choice in your future.

This young, she's like unstable chemicals, too much of this... Too little of that and she could blow. So many things running through her head for so long, she needs this time to discover who she is, to make mistakes. It's for the best that she doesn't spend too much time with him, and he's glad one of them is strong enough to enforce it. Young River is all teeth and predatory and so very much the young feme fatal delighting in her power over him. He thinks for a moment she really is a perfect assassin. She'll be the death of him like this. He gets caught up in her. Their love is passion. Their love is poison. It burns as fierce and bright as fire, and left unchecked would burn everything in its path. Together they could destroy galaxies. He might burn worlds if she asked him to. Too much time with her is dangerous, he knows. But he also knows how strong and capable and outright stubborn she is. No force, come hell or high water, could force River to do something she didn't want to do. Trouble is, she isn't quite River yet.

"So then I said, 'of course you keep losing socks. It's not a dryer, it's a worm hole!' But that's what you get for buying offbrands." He pauses for her to laugh, but she doesn't, which is odd because he's being incredibly clever and witty, and she always laughs at his jokes. Or at the very least, at him. "River, are you even listening to me?" He peaks his head around the console, and no, she's not listening to him. She's not doing a whole lot of anything, actually. She's just standing there like a statue, staring off into space. Literally, she's opened the door and is staring out into the vast emptiness of space. He rolls his eyes. "Point taken, it was a bad joke. No need to jump out of the TARDIS."

She doesn't tilt her head back and laugh, she doesn't curl her lips to smirk, she doesn't even roll her eyes. "River?" He asks again, stepping around the console and making his way towards her.

Nothing. She's still, too still. "Are you alright?" He asks, the slightest bit of worry edging into his tone. He's almost to her when she shifts slightly and he sees something shimmer in her hand. He stops short, hairs on the back of his neck prickling. "Doctor?" It sounds like her, but it's not quite right.

"Yeah, that's me." He says warmly. "Bowtie, big chin. Always a giveaway."

She looks over her shoulder at him and blinks, eyes glazed over and confused, like she doesn't know where she is or how she got there. She remains a perfect portrait of herself, but with something so so important missing. Behind that blank expression, he can see the demons that have haunted her her entire life. "Of course." He says to himself. The Silence would never give up on her so easily. They've been letting her get close to him. A trained assassin, traveling with their target on a regular basis, that's a perfect recipe for a sleeper agent. He may as well have giftwrapped himself. "Stupid, stupid Doctor." He curses himself.

She turns around to look at him and it's then he sees the knife in her hand, knuckles white from an impossibly tight grip. He wasn't even aware she had it on her. He doubts she was either. Her eyes narrow in on him. It's a predatory look he's seen many times, just never been on the receiving end. Something he'll be glad to never be again.

"I know you're in there, River." He says cautiously, her knife hand twitching at the sound of his voice. The sight of her like this makes his hearts clench. Her eyes are focused, but empty. Her movements are mechanic, lacking their usual refined grace. She looks like River, but she is without.

He pushes those thoughts aside. He can be strong for her. She needs him. "You can fight this." He's speaking to his River now, not this empty shell. "Just focus." There's some recognition there. But he can't be sure if that's good or bad. She is at war, her mind against her heart, stories she's been told and what she knows to be true, who she is verses what they've tried to make her.

She takes a step towards him and he takes two steps back. He may be stronger but she's faster, not to mention conditioned for this exact purpose. He doesn't retreat out of fear for his own life, but because she'd never forgive herself if she hurt him. And he'd never forgive himself if he caused her another ounce of pain.

But she's still walking towards him and he's running out of places to step. So he does what he always does when he's backed into a corner. He talks.

"Are you really going to make it so easy on them? You're not even putting up a fight, Melody Pond. Daughter of Amelia Pond. Hah! She saved a Star Whale. She inspired one of the greatest painters that ever lived. She is a fighter. And Rory, your father, waited outside a box for two thousand years. He knows a thing or two about self-control. Their daughter would never let herself be used as a puppet." Her footfalls slow, eyes blinking hard, and there she is. There's his River, fighting back. Come on my brave girl, come back to me. "You can't be her." He draws the word out. "Because she is vivacity and passion and that feeling you get on Christmas morning. She is bold and brilliant and brave. She is made from love and trust and the raw beauty of time itself. And she! She is stronger than any amount of conditioning the silly little Silence could throw at her."

Something inside her snaps, the tension in her shoulders visibly draining as his River finds her way back to the surface. Her eyes unglaze, confusion hitting her for the briefest of moments before her gaze drops to the knife in her hand. She releases it like it's made of hot coals, gasping and staring at her now empty hand as if the steel had branded her.

He's to her in an instant, arms encompassing her body like a blanket. She pulls away, determined not to meet his eyes. Hot tears are spilling over her cheeks as she pushes` against him, turning away so he won't see. It just makes him hold tighter, bringing his body that much closer to hers. Her knees buckle, but he catches her. He always catches her. Together they sink to the floor, hands that had pushed against him now fisting in his lapels as she buries her face in his chest. In turn, he buries his face in her hair, her name and praise and comfort falling from his lips like mantra. He smothers her grief with unconditional forgiveness like she's done for him so many times before. This is a burden she should never have had to bear. And yet she does and always has, like it was she who was to blame. He doesn't deserve her devotion. But in moments like this, he can start to earn it.

The TARDIS door is still open and he stares out into nothingness, one arm remaining secured around her while the other strokes through her hair. All he can do is hold her, soothe her, love her, while she cries hot, angry tears. She's young. She hasn't yet learned to hide her pain from him. He silently hates himself for whatever it is he does that makes her feel like she has to.

Hours pass, or minutes, or years. He's never really sure with River. The pressure of her body on his has a way of warping time, the warmth of her clouds out all other thoughts, and the smell of her a hallucinogen that makes colors a little brighter and sounds a little sharper. When he finally speaks, her sobs have slowed to a gentle rise and fall of her chest and hands that had fisted in his lapels now rest gently over each of his hearts.

"In some places," he says, chin resting atop her wild hair. "The universe may look black and empty, but it isn't, you know. It's full of wonderful, amazing, impossible things. It's funny to think that a long time ago, all of it was crammed into a space smaller than the eye of a needle."

She shifts a little against him, resting her cheek against his collarbone. "Why are you telling me about the Big Bang, Doctor?" She asks, breath tickling the sensitive skin of his throat. "Because," he answers, pressing a cheek to her forehead. "There's a theory about why all those amazing things keep coming together. When the universe exploded it sent atoms careening off in a million million directions. Atoms that had spent who knows how long next to each other. Now, the theory says that those atoms are drawn to one another, and that they spend eons crossing the vast emptiness of space just to find each other again."

She smiles against his throat, relaxing like a child who's just been told a bedtime story. "Is that what you believe?"

He shrugs lightly, nuzzling into her hair to kiss her temple. "I believe what I see. And I've seen that no matter how lost you may feel, you always find yourself. And you always come back to me, my River."

In the end, he supposes he found her in places he didn't expect and in ways he never could have predicted.

He finds her on top of a pyramid, a reality that should never have existed crumbling around them. The universe is decaying, time itself is falling apart, and all he can do is implore her to do the impossible, to be the thing she was made for, do the one thing she could never bring herself to do. He reasons and he begs and he bullies. They have to think he's dead. It's the only way to end it. But once again he's foolish and slow, and he never stopped to think what this will mean for her. She hasn't just undone reality for love, no she's done so much more than that. This is her rebellion, her last line of defense against being the monster they trained her to be. This is her breaking their hold on her once and for all. This is River Song finding herself.

And here he is, asking her to give it all up.

"I can't let you die without knowing you are loved by so many and so much, and by no one more than me."

His brilliant, beautiful River, for her this was never about changing a fixed point. She already knows how this has to end. And she will go willingly into her fate; she's willing to give in and be a weapon. She'll let them win; for him she would do even that. But before she does, she wants him to know that he is loved. Again, she's choosing him at great cost to herself.

What he does next he doesn't do out of obligation or to ease his conscious, he does it as a promise. Marrying her is a vow. A promise he won't abandon her to a life serving time for a murder she doesn't want to commit. He is asking her, as his wife, to keep his final secret.

Afterward he finds her in her cell, face lighting up at the sight of him. It's his smile on her face. The one she'll give him every time she sees him in her future. The one that says nothing can touch her, not monsters or nightmares or cold steel bars. It's the first night of many. But tonight is special because the vision before him is flawless. He doesn't mean the surpluses of stars or ancient trees or endless oceans. He means her, his wife. She's standing there in grey prison sweats, hair a mess, and he can't look away. She's perfect and he wouldn't change a thing, not ever.

When she kisses him, he has to remind himself they're no longer standing on top of the world or at the eye of a storm threatening to engulf all of reality. Even when she's not wearing poison lipstick or trying to undo the universe, kissing River Song feels a bit like dying. But it's also a bit like waking up. Everything's a bit fuzzy, like you're trapped somewhere between knowing you've been dreaming and having no idea what about. That's what her lips are. They are uncertainty and the past and the future and all the things that make your breath catch. Kissing her is thrilling and terrifying, and it's his most favorite thing in all the universe. He doesn't know how he survived without it for so long or what he'll do when his luck finally runs out.

He finds her every night in Stormcage after. It's hardly ever linear, but that doesn't matter anymore. These are the golden times, when he finally understands who and what she is to him. And in turn, she has found herself and comfortable in her own skin. Some nights he bounds out of the TARDIS, eager to usher her off on a grand adventure, while others he steps out slowly, dressed to the nines and greets her with the lines they both know oh so well. "Hi honey I'm home." He'll grin from beneath his top hat, and she'll suppress a smile and say, "And what sort of time do you call this?"

They paint their story across time and space. Laughter and sorrow reflected in every dying star; hope and love written in myths and fairytales. She seeks him out in the pages of history, hieroglyphs on walls, and legends of wizards. He finds her in rumors of goddesses, vixens, and warrior queens. And of course, formidable professors.

"Oh, come on. Live a little." He coaxes. They're almost linear and it's such a rare occurrence she's mad if she thinks he's going to waste it. She sighs, brushing a reddish blond curl behind her ear. "Sweetie, it's a school night."

"Since when has that stopped you?"

"Since I have papers to grade."

He scoffs at the thought: River Song grounded by the mediocrity of grading papers. All of which were probably hideously incorrect anyway. She was his wife. Wasn't this her duty? In sickness and in health, in tedium and in excitement, and all that? "Well what do you propose I do?" He whines, picking up a trinket from her desk and twirling it lazily in his fingers.

"We're at a university." She sighs, yanking the trinket away and placing it carefully back on her desk. "Go find someone else to awe. Take someone to the Rings of Akhaten. You love it there."

He harrumphs. "I don't want to swan off with some twenty year old to entertain me."

She arches a brow. "I certainly hope not."

"I mean," he amends quickly, flashing her his saddest puppy dog eyes. "I want you. Come one Professor. Anywhere you want."

"Anywhere?"

"Anywhere!" He repeats, excitement bristling because he knows he's won, and against her it's such a rare occasion. "The sky's the limit! Actually, that's rubbish. The sky's not the limit. But you get the point." She's still staring at him so he adds, "I'll let your drive."

She smirks at that. "Alright. But I'll need to change first."

He's practically giddy as he hops over the desk. "Never!" He exclaims, pulling her to him by her hips so her back is pressed into his front, fingers spreading across her stomach and face nuzzling into her hair. "I like you just the way you are."

She hums as he presses kisses down her neck. "You keep that up and we'll never make it out of my office." With her pressed so close it's hard to say he's against the idea, which is something she must sense because now she's swatting at him and pulling away. "Your insatiability will have to wait. You've promised me a date."

He skips behind her, enjoying the view of her swaying hips as she walks away. "And where in all of space and time am I taking you, wife?" There are so many options, like the home of the Salmon People, where waterfalls flow backwards or moons that are made of actual cheese. But she'll probably want somewhere boring like the Sandy Planet of Digging Stuff up or a Curly Haired Gun Wielder's convention. He's giddy with excitement and so lost in thought he almost doesn't hear her when she answers, "Darillium." It stops in his tracks, excitement gone and heart dropping somewhere down by his knees.

"Oh don't give me that look." She chastises him without even turning around, which is probably for the best because no amount of 'spoilers' could explain away the look of sheer anguish on his face. "You said anywhere I wanted. You promised."

"Not one line don't you dare."

He swallows hard. "Yes, I supposed I did."