like a kiss which falls from our invincible heights

Laughter spilled forth from his mouth precipitously. He giggled, sharp and high, unable to believe the information he had just obtained. He had to tell someone.

Not the Ponds, no not yet – it wouldn't do to ruin it, or get their hopes up if everything fell apart. But there was someone he could tell, someone he could share this with because for her – it had already happened. He spun and flicked switches and the TARDIS hummed happily, flying smoothly and he grinned in delight. Funny how the old girl never took him where he wanted to go unless River was at the end of those coordinates. Then he was always on time, in the right place, at the right moment.

Stormcage was remarkably empty – he'd never ever seen other prisoners in the cells near hers, and he never noticed any guards either. It was always just long stretch of corridor and eerie green lighting that must be hell on the eyes after a while. She was standing at the bars of her cell with a smile when he stepped out of the TARDIS, a grin on his face and his sonic in hand.

"Hello sweetie." She greeted him warmly, just like she always did, always had – hopefully always would. He opened the door to her cell, the bars sliding down with practised ease and she stepped out into the hall, her diary in one hand. "Business or pleasure?" She asked as they walked toward the TARDIS, her free hand slipping through his arm, and he grinned down at her. River Song. Melody Pond. It felt odd to think of her like that – for some reason the name didn't quite fit, but then she'd always been River to him. And the name she chose for herself was lovely – he'd always thought so, from the moment he met her.

She was a River, powerful and strong, unrelenting and never the same twice. She embodied the name of her own choosing – or perhaps not of her choosing, but she'd embodied it all the same. They entered the TARDIS and he sent the old girl spinning off into the Vortex before turning back to River, who was waiting patiently, one hip against the console. "Both." He declared with an excited jump and she rolled her eyes and shook her head, her curls brushing against her cheek. Her hair looked slightly longer than when he'd last seen her at Demons Run.

"I do love it when you multi-task, sweetie. Alright, when are we then?" She opened her diary and he shut it in her hands before tossing it onto the jump seat behind her.

"I did Demons Run – not three weeks ago." Her smile eased and loosed, and he stared at her for a moment, because he hadn't even realized every smile before this one had been strained, pale imitations of the real thing. This was her expressing pure happiness and his hearts lifted at the sight. It was lovely – so stunning, he could only grin back foolishly.

"Oh good. You still know who I am then. Excellent." A shadow crossed her eyes for a moment, it was fleeting and if he'd blinked he'd have missed it. He realized after a moment, what it was – back to front and he'd all but told her she would be facing the last of days very, very soon. She smiled again, even more brightly, as if determined to throw off the weight of that thought. He thought the best thing to do was to join her, so he grinned back, his giddiness dragged out to bolster her.

"Yes. Who you are. Who you are – I'd never have guessed."

"That would be the point my love, if you guess I might not be here at all." He frowned, but then thought back to all the times that she had been instrumental in ensuring her own birth.

"You are a living paradox, River Song. You mustn't tell me the truth, you know – no matter how many times I ask." She wrinkled her nose up at him, her eyes sparkling with delight.

"You asked a lot then did you? No worries, I'm sure I handled you remarkably well. I always do."

"That you do." He grinned again, suddenly remembering his news. "I have news!"

Her brows rose and she tilted her head, her hair brushing against her shoulder as she quirked a grin at him. "Alright, let me have it." He moved in closer, until he was leaning down into her line of sight.

"I found you!" His grin grew and he laughed, dancing on the spot. When he looked up at her, she was frowning at him in confusion.

"Found me?"

"Yes, found you. I contacted some people who knew some people who owned some people who had friends in the Forests – I know where she's keeping you. Isn't that fantastic?" He clapped in excitement. "I can bring you home to Amy and Rory!" The smile slid off her face immediately and she stepped away from him, her hands shaking. "River? What is it? What's wrong?"

"You located Kovarian?" She asked him, her voice low with strain. "Alive?"

"Yes. Why. Should she not be alive? I thought – I didn't want to tell Amy and Rory, just in case something went wrong. I thought I could tell you – I could – you'd know..." He finished off weakly and she stared at him, her expression stony and her eyes – oh her eyes were so dark and hearts-breakingly sad. "River?"

"You can't. You mustn't go there, Doctor." She spoke quickly and he looked at her askance.

"Why not?" She shook her head and looked at him and he threw his hands up in frustration. "There must be a reason. I know where Melody is – why on Earth wouldn't I go get her and give her back to her parents like I promised?" She didn't speak, choosing instead to look down at the floor, her hands twisted together in a tangle of strain and tension.

She seemed to steel herself, looking up at him with a strength in her eyes he'd never ever seen before, not even when she'd connected the cables that had killed her. His hearts twisted in his chest as she stared at him. "You can't, because you didn't."

"I didn't? Why – why wouldn't I?" He was bewildered by her reaction to what he had thought was brilliant news.

"Maybe because I asked you not to – right now." She looked at him with an eerie calm over her features and he stepped toward her, frustration burning through his chest.

"I promised Amy, River. I promised them both – on my life." Her cheek twitched at that and she looked at him, otherwise unaffected.

"And have you never promised me anything?" Her voice was so soft it was almost a whisper, and her words threw him for a loop. He spun away to face the time rotor, his eyes closed tightly against the memory she was unwittingly evoking. Not one line. Don't you dare. He felt the pressure of her words wrap around him, each syllable forging a link in a chain that was wrapping around his chest – tighter and tighter.

"You can't ask me this, River. You can't. Amy is my best friend." His voice was taut and he could feel her gaze, steady on his back. The TARDIS quivered beneath his palms and he turned to glare at the woman behind him. "I can't. I can't not do anything."

Her face remained placid for one moment longer, before she seemed to crumple before his very eyes. Her brows drew together and her whole face contorted as tears welled in her eyes. "Please. Please – please don't do this." His breath caught in his throat because this – this was River. Breaking right in front of him and he didn't know what to do with that. He didn't – his hearts felt like they were being crushed from the immense pressure all around him. Her hands shook and he stood still for a moment, not sure what to do. But the pain on her face was enough to nearly tear him in two, so he stepped in closer to her, wrapping his arms around her and pressing his face into her impossibly curly hair.

"Hey, hey – what? Why is this a bad thing? Why are you asking me not to?" Her arms wrapped around his waist tightly, adding to the pressure squeezing around him. He could feel the dampness of her tears against his shirt, but her shoulders never shook, and she never made a sound. She simply cried and somehow the lack of any hysterics surrounding it whatsoever only made it more heart-breaking. Because he knew – this was how she'd learned to cry. In quiet ways, silently – unnoticeably. His arms tightened around her and she pressed her face harder into his neck. "River."

She shook her head, pulling back from him abruptly and turning toward the railing, her arms wrapped around herself in a self-comforting embrace. The rejection stung him, an aching loss spreading throughout his chest and limbs as he watched her. "You don't understand. You won't." She ran a hand through her hair in agitation, turning to stare at him, disappointment stamped over every single feature. "It's too soon."

"Too soon for what?" He asked, his arms held out pleadingly.

"Too soon for everything." She shouted, her arms spread out as she looked at him. "Too soon for you to feel enough for me to listen – too soon to rescue her. Me. Back then." She threw her hands up. "You're going to change everything. Everything if you do this." Her hands shook and she rubbed them over her face, wiping tear tracks away before she dragged them through her hair again.

He stared at her for a beat, his face slack with surprise. "You were never raised by Amy and Rory were you?"

"Does it matter? What happened for me? Because she's your best friend and what does my past matter?" She threw her arm out in a sweeping gesture as she looked at him, intensity burning in the depths of her eyes. "Time can be re-written. You have always told me that. Nothing is certain, nothing is written in stone."

"Not all time." He insisted, his anger rising. "Fixed points, paradoxes – you know all of this River. You know. You've seen it, handled it, created it. Time runs through you just like it runs through me and I know you can see it all. Like you could reach out and touch it – everywhere – all at once. Sometimes nothing can be done. But sometimes –" He pointed at her, his hands trembling with intensity as he strode closer to her, grabbing her by the shoulders and peering down at her. "Sometimes things can be corrected. You. Raised by the parents who are torn apart by your loss. How is that a bad thing?"

She shook her head and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. He watched a tear slide out of the corner of her eye and down her cheek and his hearts ached at the sight of it. "How River? How? How could that be bad?"

She dropped her head, looking at him with dismay. "Because of you, you idiot. I'm not supposed to tell you – you told me not to tell you. Anything." She ran her hands over her face again, but couldn't stop the tears that were still falling or wipe away the pain so evident there. He took her face in his hands, hands that shook as he brushed her tears away.

"Tell me."

"I promised." She whispered.

"You promised me. I'm asking you to tell me." He looked into her eyes intently, and she looked up at him wide-eyed.

"You never rescued me, Doctor." She looked down at the ground and he tilted her face back up until she was looking at him. Her hands came up between them and gripped his forearms tightly. "You never saved me."

"They used you as a weapon?" She shook her head, a defiant light entering her eyes as his hands slid into her hair.

"No," she whispered. "I rescued myself. I escaped. I got myself out."

"But I could save you now, wouldn't that be better?" She licked her lips and shook her head, causing his fingers to tangle in her hair further.

"And what? I get raised by Rory and Amy? And that makes you what to me Doctor? The kindly uncle who pops in on holidays and birthdays? The man who abandons his best friends for years until I'm older? I get raised in a human existence with human expectations and learning?" She spat the words out and he stared down at her, realization dawning over him with horror. He dropped his forehead to hers and shut his eyes. He could give her this – free her from this entire life, this entire painful paradox of an existence. At a cost.

"You could be happy. River, you could be loved." She inhaled sharply, pulling back and shoving him away with all her might. Which as it turned out, was quite a lot. He hit the console in shock and she towered before him, alight with rage.

"I was loved. I was loved and you- you don't get to do this to me, Doctor! I was - you don't understand. You cannot take that from me. Chain me to some useless human existence. I'm not human. How will I be happy there? Out-living everyone and you- you leaving me there to play happy families with Amy and Rory. Yes they are my parents and yes I love them very much – but they're not like me. I wouldn't be like anyone there. And I would know. Because I'm not human, because I can feel time run through me – I would remember everything that never happened and I would hate you for it." She stopped suddenly, all the strength seemed to leave her at once, and she slid to the floor, on her knees before him. "I would hate you for it." She whispered in a broken tone. "And you would do the one thing Kovarian never ever could – teach me to hate you."

He slid to the ground before her, his back dragging along the edge of the console as he sat on the glass floor with her, looking at her painfully. The weight of the choice before him was almost too much to bear. Because she was right. For a mind like hers, being raised on Earth would be terrible. A half-life, half-lived. And he couldn't have her here, with him. Not when she was so young. Not without the price being the love he saw in her eyes every single time she looked at him. It wrapped around him, heavy with promise and laden with anticipation every time his eyes met hers. She was his and he'd always known that. Ran from it. Relished it. Embraced it. His head tilted back until it landed against the edge of the console with a dull thud.

Kovarian knew what she was. Taught her accordingly. And yet she'd still escaped, still forced her way out and had chosen to love him after being raised to do the exact opposite. He met her gaze, and she'd finally stopped crying, but she looked like a shell of the woman he was used to seeing. Her eyes were empty and lifeless and the sight of it gutted him. Two realities and she would remember both and this was how she would always look at him. Forever and ever from now on. "The first time I met you, you saved my life." He whispered the words and she shot a glare at him, a clear, wordless reprimand. "Spoilers, I know – but if you hadn't done that, I'd never have met your mother. Never have dropped into her life, she'd never have bonded with Rory, and they'd never have... maybe? Maybe they would have. She loved him in the rebooted universe, even though I wasn't there."

"She loved him because you told her to." She whispered the words and he looked over at her with shock. "Live well. Love Rory."

"I told you that?" She nodded and he moved across the floor, crawling until he was right beside her. The room felt unnaturally still, as if the TARDIS herself were holding her breath – well if she had any breath to hold – she was being very quiet though, as if she were waiting on the outcome of this moment too. "Course I did." His hand was steady as he reached out, tangling it in her hair and pulling into his lap. She curled around him, her arms around his waist and her legs over his as she tucked her head into his shoulder. It was nice, the weight of her in his arms. She didn't feel heavy, more like his arms felt just right now – they were too light when they were empty. "I can't save you, can I?" He spoke with wonder and her arms tightened around him. "It could change everything. Could erase your whole existence. Even if it didn't-" She pulled back, looking up at him with red-rimmed eyes, but they were no longer empty and he felt the weight of the emotion in her gaze wrap around him. He smiled and she smiled weakly too.

"Even if it didn't?" She pressed him, and he brought a hand to the side of her face, his fingers sliding against her skin with wonder.

"It's too high a price. I – River you're-" He hesitated and she looked at him steadily, her eyes silently encouraging him to go on. "Mine." He finished the thought and she smiled, a smile filled with stunning joy.

"Yes." She answered him, and he felt the air between them hiss and spit – ions charging and exciting in the space between them. "I am."

"And I'm yours." He responded, the words shocking him but even as he spoke them he felt the truth of them, down to the very bottom of his hearts. It felt right to say it. It felt like he'd just found something within himself that's he'd never noticed before. Her smile softened and she brought her hands to his face, stroking the skin there gently before she ran a hand through his hair, and smoothed his bowtie, straightening it affectionately.

"Always." She whispered the word and it twirled and danced through the air around them. He pulled her closer, his face so close to hers that breath was passing from her to him until he covered her mouth with his and kissed her. Her cheeks were damp against his still, but her arms wrapped around his neck and she scooted her body in even closer until she was pressed against him. Her lips moulded to his, soft and cool as she opened her mouth under his. This kiss wasn't hurried, it was slow and filled with everything he felt but couldn't name, and everything she felt and knew by heart. Or would it be hearts? He wondered idly as her tongue slipped into his mouth and she pressed her hands into his hair as she tasted him. He could taste her – vanilla and sweet, the electric tang of time and space and age. He pulled back for a moment, surprised, before moving in to kiss her again, with intent this time. He licked at her, slid his tongue against hers and gasped in her mouth. She pulled back with a glare. "That's cheating." She scolded him, but she was smiling and he grinned back at her.

"You look fantastic." She laughed out loud, her head tilted back and exposing her throat, and he licked along it, delighted by the vibration of her laughter as it hit his tongue. The TARDIS seemed to sigh around them, her constant hum returning again. River dropped her chin, looking at him once more. She pressed a soft kiss to his chin, and another just under his jaw.

"As do you, my love. Amazing."