for death begins with life's first breath and life begins at touch of death

It didn't feel like death.

It felt like life.

Singing through his body, pouring through him in a golden cascade. He could feel her, everywhere all at once. His mind, his hearts, his soul, the very blood that poured through his veins. She was everything, everywhere, infinite within him. His eyes opened.

"River, no. What are you doing?" He whispered the words and could see the smile in her eyes. It was a look of recognition, of acceptance. He could feel her hands on his face, the fingertips brushing gently against his skin as she smiled and leaned closer.

"Hello sweetie." She whispered before her mouth covered his and his hearts burst into motion in his chest, beating a rapid tattoo against his ribcage. Her energy poured through him and he could count lives going by, marking each one in his mind. His arms stretched out, the regeneration energy flowing up and around them and it was too much, he could feel it. Too much.

Finally he was able to lift his arms, they felt sluggish and slow, but he dragged them through the waves of energy and gripped her shoulders pushing her away and whispering. "Stop, stop, please, it's too much." He wasn't sure if she heard him or not, because she fell against his chest, a heavy weight and he could feel her hearts beating over his, so he relaxed his grip as the golden glow around them subsided.

Amy and Rory rushed over to him. "Doctor!" Amy skidded to a halt and dropped to her knees and he shifted, his arms wrapping around River and pulling her closer as he sat up.

"Don't touch her! Don't – just don't – don't touch her. We have to- to – we have to go. Go where? No no – not here. Some when." He shifted River in his arms as he spoke and Amy and Rory stared at him in confusion.

"Doctor is she alright?" Amy asked, and he ignored her, sliding his arm under River's legs and standing. He paused for a moment – the energy helped but he was still unsteady. Rory moved over by him, his hands reaching out and the Doctor flinched back.

"Doctor I can help. I'm a nurse." Rory stated and the Doctor shook his head.

"Much experience with Timelord physiology then Rory? She's not human." He shifted her weight in his arms, pulling her higher and closer to him and her hair brushed against his neck. Her skin still glowed faintly and he shook his head. "The transfer is still in progress. She's slowed it down but it's not finished and you cannot touch her. I'm sorry." He turned on his heel and moved up the steps to his TARDIS, with Amy and Rory close on his heels. The doors opened before he'd even reached them and he muttered a thanks to the old girl as he entered the console room. "Sisters of the Infinite Schism." He muttered the words as he collapsed to the floor, River still in his arms.

The doors snapped shut behind Amy and Rory and the TARDIS took off. "Wait – it can fly itself?" Amy asked with a frown. Since when?"

"Not normally. Special circumstances." He whispered, shifting River in his arms and pressing his face into her hair. "You stupid, stupid girl." He whispered in between pressing soft kisses to her hair. "It was too much."

"Too much what?" Rory asked, and the Doctor looked up to see them kneeling, arms wrapped around each other as they looked on worriedly. They were a few feet away though and he nodded.

"She used all of them. All of her regenerations." He glanced down at River's face as he spoke. He slid his arm from under her legs and brought it up to the side of her face. It trembled against her skin and he swallowed heavily. So stupid of her. To give him them all.

"Does that mean she's just... human now?" Amy whispered, looking down at her daughter and he pulled River closer, his hand brushing gently over her hair as he tried to imprint the features of her face – so new to her but so achingly familiar to him – on his memory. He'd never watched her sleep before. It seemed wrong somehow, like some inherent energy was missing from the room. She was so full of life – in everything she did. Even while killing him, it seemed. He smiled slightly and brushed her hair out of her face.

"No. No. She's – she's still timelord. Two hearts. I can feel them beating. She'll still age like a timelord." He responded to Amy and she looked up at him.

"But you don't age. You looked exactly the same." He nodded in response, and Amy looked down at River, "But she – Mels – she aged. So-"

"She controlled her aging process. But if this is all she has left, I can't see her willingly aging. She might even go backwards, who knows." He mused, thinking of River's younger face. In the Library. Was that just years from now? Was it – she was so stupid to give it all up. They could have had forever. All of time and space and forever. He looked down at her, his hearts twisting in his chest. But she didn't have forever. And she would die in that Library.

A smile broke across Amy's face. "So she could be old then. Really, really old. I mean our River – she, she could have ages."

He lifted his head to look at Amy, swallowing heavily. She was right. She was so right and he was so stupid. He had no idea how long was between this moment and the Library. "Ages," he whispered in wonder, looking down at River again. "Forever – I just have to keep her safe."

"We," Rory corrected. "We have to keep her safe."

"Well yeah, but if she could live ages and ages, we'll be gone eventually, stupid face." Amy looked at her husband with a small grin. "But that's okay because the Doctor loves her. He'll take care of her. Forever. Right, Doctor?" Amy looked back at him and Rory looked slightly uncomfortable.

The Doctor stared at Amy and saw her absolute faith in him, staring back. He felt like a fraud. Because he'd already failed before he'd even begun, but he could – he would take care of River for a long, long time in between. And as always, Amy's instincts were spot on. He did love her. He'd loved her before he even properly knew who she was. The knowledge just made him love her more. "Ah-"

"It's just – weird. I mean she was just a baby, and then she was our best mate growing up – and she was such an infuriating kid. Just – just ridiculous really. She never listened. To anything. Ever. And now she's – she's older than us." Rory spluttered, waving his free arm. "And now you're all 'Oh he'll take care of her' but she was a baby. Three months ago she was a baby. And I can't – you expect me to just – just be okay with all of this?"

Amy glared at her husband, leaning back and hitting him on the shoulder with a closed fist. "Oi. She's a time traveller. And she's our daughter. You'll get used to it. Really she was always older than us. She said – it took her years to find us. I bet she was older than us even growing up. And if she's never gonna age, always gonna look like this – and live a really, really long time – well, who else is there for her really? They're the last of their kind. And you know she loves the Doctor. She told you that Rory."

"May I say something-" The Doctor attempted to interject, but they ignored him. He stopped paying attention to their arguing and returned his attention to the woman in his arms. She looked peaceful, and he leaned down, pressing a soft kiss against her forehead. A golden hue still tingled, just under the surface of her skin and he could feel the energy buzzing against his lips.

"Yeah but they're backwards. Back to front. And that breaks her heart." Rory was arguing back. "Wait – hearts? Not the point."

"It was a metaphor, stupid. If they were back to front, why would they need diaries?" The TARDIS jolted suddenly and he looked up.

"We're here." He moved quickly, sliding his arm back under River's legs and standing with effort, his limbs still a little weak. "Come on." He gripped River tightly to his chest, secure in the knowledge that he would spend the rest of his life, making sure that she was safe. And with him. She would be loved. They were an unending circle, and he realized that now.

"Where's here exactly?" Rory asked as he opened the doors and stepped through, Amy following him and the Doctor carrying River behind them.

"Sisters of the Infinite Schism. Best hospital in the universe. Fifty-first century." He answered, before walking toward the women in robes awaiting him at the end of the corridor, his steps slow. He was reluctant to hand her over to anyone. But it wouldn't be for long. He'd make sure of it. He glanced down at her face, and smiled. And so, he knew, would she. "Come along, Ponds."