She doesn't know what this is.

It's golden and bright, brilliantly bright.

She's no child, but she feels like a child here. This is new. Oh, she knew she could do it, alright – it's easy enough, she figures, like holding a gun the way they've taught her. It's instinct.

But there's something missing.

She doesn't know how to do this right.

And she's afraid. It's worse than when the spaceman was coming for her, to eat her.

But in the end, she doesn't have to know. She doesn't have to be taught, or to have seen it before. It's simple, really. It's easy. She's dying and she can fix this.

And so she does.

It's easier than she thought, even though she'd never been taught. Golden light envelops every part of her and she can feel an extra heart pumping, suddenly, working with her first.

She imagines the face of a man.

A man with a stupid bowtie and even stupider grin, older than her but still such a child.

Melody imagines a man she's never met before as she changes to a woman who will learn all about him.

The way she screams makes him feel ill, but its worse when she stops, because he can see her then. He can see her and it hurts like nothing has hurt before.

It's River Song that stares back at him, but River Song doesn't exist.

(That changes nothing. It's still her that stares back at him, in this very moment. For this very second in time, it is River Song who stares at him and he can't convince himself otherwise. He can't convince himself that this is a woman who doesn't know him. He can't convince himself that she wouldn't know the meaning of spoilers, wouldn't know anything but what the Silence taught her. It changes nothing that she wouldn't know anything of them, of you watch us run.)

Because for a moment, he is watching her regenerate.

River Song is a miracle.

But she's not River Song yet.

And oh, he is so very sorry.

(It's more than that. He hates himself. He hates every day he pushed her to tell him who she was, every time he wouldn't trust her. He understands all too quickly what every second of that was like.)

If this were River, his River, he would let her know he knows what dying is like. If this were his River, he would make sure she understood – because she's done this alone once before, and one time is too many. She's time lord, and doesn't that make it his job to make sure she understands?

There are too many jobs he's failed.

He moans then, a tiny, strangled sort of thing that makes her feel absolutely sick. It doesn't matter that she knows what this is, knows that he'll be alright. What matters is that he's dying, and in pain, and sometimes she hates this.

Dying doesn't feel any better when you're a Time Lord. It's still dying, and it still hurts, and she knows that.

"Relax, sweetie." River says, crouching next to his hunched form. His eyes greet hers like those of a frightened, wounded animal. It's not always this hard, but he's scared. He's fighting it.

She still has time before she needs to back away.

River cups either side of his face, gently murmuring words that will be meaningless in the long run. Her thumbs work slow circles over his temples, trying helplessly to alleviate the pain she knows is building up like pressure in a can, ready to explode.

Burning heat ready to consume, and it's not always like that but he's got one of the bad ones, she can tell. There's pain in his eyes, and fear – all of it builds up until it's too much.

(And she's running out of time.)

It's worse alone, these ones – when she was young, her first time – alone- it was instinct, over in a flash. Her second was horrid.

(She had people then, but she was alone.)

He's not alone now. Not this time. He's got her.

But he can't have her forever.

She can only make it easier this time.

It's as though she can't help it. Her eyes flicker to the wound and it's like instinct to want to take that from him – to touch her mind against his and let him be numb, but he's too close now. She doesn't have time.

(He told her once that time was not the boss of you.

She finds that one hard to reconcile with rule number one.)

Slowly, she withdraws her hands from his face, brushing her knuckles against his cheek one more time. Oh, it doesn't matter that she might see him again, this him. It's not his face that matters. It's never been his face, it's always been him.

It doesn't matter to her, as long as he knows who she is, as long as he's hers.

Nothing has ever mattered more than that, and the thought of him not knowing tears through her like the jagged edge of a knife.

"River-"

His voice is choked, eyes darkening while staring at his hands, glowing golden with the regeneration energy.

"You'll be alright."

He shakes his head as she backs up. He's on his knees now, and it's too reminiscent of a beach. She can hear Amy screaming in her mind. She can hear the sound of her own gun firing again and again into emptiness.

But this time, no one dies.

Today, everybody lives.

He is resigned.

He has to give her that choice, like she's given him – every choice she's ever let him make for himself, he's giving that to her right now. She can choose to walk away from this now. It doesn't matter that she can save him.

He lies.

Maybe it's better this way. The Doctor and the TARDIS and the adventures that never were.

Maybe it's easier this way. Melody Pond, who learned how to be her own person without him.

He tells her to find River Song. She's there now, he can see it. She's slipping through the cracks of Melody Pond, war criminal.

He can see River Song.

(What a sight to die to.)

But oh, for heaven's sake.

She just can't do it, can she?

She just can't give in.

And so she never truly leaves him.

It's easier, when the regenerations are hers.

He likes to think that it's because of her.

He likes to think that somehow, he's never truly the last one, not ever again.

He likes to think that she might be gone, that her time might have come and past but that she is alive.

He'll never be alone again.