It's only been days since Demon's Run, for him. Days since the battle was won but the child was lost, but he has no idea how long it's been for her – little Melody Pond, a girl being turned into a weapon against him. And he doesn't know how long before everything starts to change, before worlds fall apart and he knows that he's failed.
Time is something he can never outrun, no matter how much he tries. He can wade through it, try to bend and shape it, but he can't escape it. It's all around him, constantly.
And there's certainly no escaping her.
Because she, well, she's the daughter of the very vortex he's trying to run through, isn't she? She's partly Pond and partly Time Lord, and oh, that does explain a lot, doesn't it? He could never run from either of those things.
But he wouldn't try to outrun her if he could, not now that he knows (and not before, either, not really. He was just scared, scared of this thing that he didn't understand – attraction and time, and the static in his head disappearing.)
He's used to running from his future, but now he's running towards her past.
This planet has nothing for him but dead ends and false starts, broken beginnings and less than half-truths, plus a lonely dog that followed him through four streets before disappearing through a back alley. Melody Pond (is she River yet? The girl who's become a weapon?) is nowhere to be found, and he's back to square one.
The walk back is lonely, solemn, and desperate. Something inside of him is breaking down and darkening. He's lost too much. By losing Melody, he's losing Amy and Rory, too.
He doesn't notice that the door to his TARDIS is slightly ajar at first, not until he's inches from it. A breath catches in his throat and both his hearts skip a beat. There was no alarm, and the TARDIS – she doesn't open for just anybody. So few people in this universe and others have a key, and he doesn't make a habit of leaving his doors unlocked.
He invited nobody, but there's somebody inside his TARDIS.
Long fingers curl around the open door, leading into the darkened room. The TARDIS is never dark, she's automatic.
"Don't worry, sweetie," The Doctor hears, and can barely contain the sigh of relief. Of course. "It's only me. Don't get your bowtie in a twist, love."
"River," He says on another sigh, closing the TARDIS door behind him and stepping into the darkness. She's not the version of herself he's looking for across universes, and he wasn't expecting her, but it's a relief just to hear her voice, any version of it. "How'd you find me? And aren't you crossing your own timeline?"
"I have my ways. You leave a trail, Doctor."
He hears a quiet chuckle and steps towards her voice, somewhere near the console. She hadn't answered his first question, because, of course not – she knows where she is and where she's not, and she was never here. For the first time since hearing her in the TARDIS, he notices that her voice is weaker than usual. And as though she's sensing what he needs, the TARDIS brings the lighting up, ever so slightly, and he can see her resting against the console.
For the second time in ten minutes, his breath catches in his throat. Her body is sagged against the console, resting with her legs curled to her body. Small curls of hair have escaped the pony tail she's wearing and are clinging to her face, which is ashen gray and drained of colour. River is resting her head back, eyes half closed and bottom lip caught between her teeth.
He's never seen her so in pain (not since the day he met her, and god, that hurts) and it twists something inside of him.
"Where are we?" She asks, her voice lagging two or three seconds. Her eyes don't open, but her breath leaves in a sigh. "Please tell me you know who I am."
There's no mistaking what she's asking him – he's already said her name. But the anguish, the desperation in her voice runs so deep he can't help but feel sick. Every time he meets her she has to wonder, because he can't make a habit of meeting her in the right order. What kind of an existence has he condemned her to?
But he ignores that, for now, because she's right there in front of him and first things first. He crouches before her, stroking a gentle thumb down the bridge of her nose, tapping when he reaches the end.
(When he does that, her eyes flutter open and god, she's in pain. He can see it as clearly as though she's shouting at him, and it's a pain he recognizes. It's the pain of an entire world.)
He tucks some of those lose curls behind her ear. "River Song, daughter of the vortex. Time Lord DNA. How didn't I know?"
"I couldn't let you." She catches his eyes, and oh, of course – she could never be anything but part Time Lord and part Pond, he's utterly blind and deaf.
"It's only been a few days," he tells her. "Since Demon's Run."
"Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry." She catches him off guard by saying, and her hand is shaking when it raises to touch his cheek, tracing a line down his jaw. "I'm sorry."
"Shh," he catches her hand in his own. "None of this is your fault, don't ever think that." He wonders if he's told her this before, in his future. "You were just a baby. And I shouldn't have yelled at you like I did when you showed up."
She nods, softly, and while it's not a war won, it's a battle among many he's sure they'll have. Guilt, blame, it all just seems to come so naturally around him.
"Not that I'm not pleased to see you, River, because trust me, I am – "
"Why am I here?"
He offers a smile.
"It's just been – well, awhile - for me, since Demon's Run. Rory and Amy – well, they're as fine as can be expected."
She can't tell him, of course she can't. Something like lead drops into his stomach at the mention of Rory and Amy. They're waiting for him, again. They're always waiting.
He doesn't mention any of this, because she doesn't need to hear it – not now, when she looks drained of anything that can be called life. "You look like you've got the weight of a world on your shoulders." He tells her instead, and he's not playing with words. She does, and it's a feeling he knows. (One he wishes he didn't.)
When he pulls back and looks at her for a second, really looks, her hands are still shaking and he notices the blood on the collar of her shirt. More than anything else, he can feel the exhaustion radiating from every inch of her body.
"Part time lord, honey." She nearly slurs. "It comes as a burden, doesn't it?"
He wouldn't ask her what she'd done, what world had been at her mercy, because it doesn't matter. He knew the very feeling coursing through her. Pain and guilt, success and failure, whoever she tried to save on this world didn't make it.
"Well, River Song," He says, "You aren't alone. Not anymore, no, not ever. Not for a very long time, I'd guess."
There's a hint of life in her again when she says, "Never ask a woman her age."
"Right." His lips twitch, and his hands brush at her collar. "Let me see, Ri- oh, god, not like that, no, let me see, if you're still bleeding."
She is, but it's small. He wipes away the blood and she watches as he presses a cloth there. "Sorry," he murmurs, even though she doesn't flinch. "Hold that there."
They're still crouched by the console, but she's shaking so badly there's nothing he can do, and oh, he knows too, too well the burden of a lonely soul with a secret, trying for redemption. They really are the same, aren't they? Lost and searching for redemption that's too hard to find. He brushes the tips of his fingers against her temple.
"Doctor, you can't-"
"Yes, yes, I can. Relax. Trust me, I'm the Doctor."
She moans an aggravated, tiny moan. "There are things you can't see, even now. I can't-"
"Shh, shh, shh. Block them, that's all. It's easy enough. I won't prod. I know that static, River. I know it well. And it hurts when you're not dead on your feet. I can block that. I can take away some of that, for you. We can do that, did you know?"
"Oh, yes." Her eyes are squeezed shut again. "Yes, I do."
He leans in, closer, whispering. "So let me, River Song."
He doesn't wait – he can feel the brick wall going up around all those spoilers, running like poison through her mind, and he avoids them. (He wishes he could take them from her, lift the burden from her shoulders, but he knows that he can't. He knows it well.)
Together, they share in the cries of the dead and the dying, and when she's done – when all those cries are spent, the screams of a planet that reverberate throughout the entirety of his body – she's somehow curled on him, not shaking but half asleep, and he doesn't have the heart to move her.
He's not alone.
He's not alone. He's not the last, because she – the magnificent, impossible River Song – had parents even bunk beds couldn't deter.
And really, it doesn't matter.
He'd love her anyway.
But she's part Time Lord. And now, loving her – it means he's not alone.
Not for a very, very long time.