There is darkness in his eyes when he shows up that evening, darkness she has not seen in a very long while. It is the special sort of darkness whose only consort is pain, and her immediate desire is to rob him of it, her world weary traveler who doesn't want to fight anymore.
She reaches her hand through the space of her iron bars and watches as he backs away, taking both her hearts with him. In all her years he's never backed away from her, not even in Berlin (when he was aching for a her that didn't exist. No, in that time he stepped forward. Longed to take her hand when all she wanted to do was take his life.)
Her hand falls, empty, to her side.
"You're mad," It isn't a question. "With me, I gather. What have I done this time?" Her voice is forcefully light, like his breathing that's too calm and his expression that's too neutral. He's too far for her to reach now. The bars of the prison have never felt more constricting than they do at this moment, when they are a physical barrier between her and him. Despite their purpose, that's never what they've been. She's always stepped right through them when she needs to.
She can't do that right now.
"Where are we?" She continues, and all he does is stare, the set of is mouth still hard and unyielding. "Doctor? You're scaring me."
He is. She's never seen him like this, certainly not with her. He's not mad, he's furious. He looks nothing less than an angry god.
"Whatever I've done, I had my reasons." River's voice doesn't shake, but her hand trembles at her side. "And I most likely don't regret it, so if you're looking for an apology-"
The word is singular, difficult, like ice falling from his lips.
"How could you not regret it, River?"
She raises her chin, lips parting in question. "It'd be lovely if you'd tell me what I've done."
"I'm alive!" He shouts the words loud enough for her to jump back, and he steps closer, hand closing around the bar of her imprisonment. "And you're-" He swallows. She can see the working of his jaw and the tears suddenly sparkling in his eyes and she understands. "Berlin, River."
She falls silent for a moment before stepping forward, gripping the bar just below his hand. "I never did understand why you were so cross with me over that." The words she speaks are soft, an easy rhythm that washes over the both of them.
"You don't understand what you've given away."
She chuckles. "Oh, I think I do. Wasn't the best experience of my life. Painful, if I do remember correctly."
"You're still not getting it." His voice is dangerously low now, the cadence of his words like she's only heard once or twice. They are the words of a warrior who has seen far too much death.
"I do." River presses. "I know what I gave up, my love. And I'd do it again."
"I wouldn't let you."
The corner of her mouth turns up. "You weren't exactly in any condition to stop me."
Words unspoken bounce in her mind – and whose fault was that- but she'd made her peace with what she couldn't control a long time ago. Looking at his face, now – with all that rage and none of it directed where it should be – it brings it all back – that he should be mad at her for entirely different reasons.
She'd killed him. Nevermind the bringing him back, because she'd ended his life like it had been nothing and he'd never once hated her for it like he so clearly should have.
Instead, it was this he was cross with her for. Is cross with her for.
"You could have had years, River. Stars and planets and endless things I can't even begin to explain. You and me, in the TARDIS, the last two. The very last, River. And so old, too. You're old, aren't you? I can see it in your eyes."
She's not wearing the biodampers today. Of course he can see it.
"And you gave that up to save me. I'm not worth that."
The words are absolutely assured and they twist something inside of her, because he's never seen it, has he? He's never seen how he changes people. The Doctor has always had this amazing ability to show people what they were really worth but he's never been able to see it in himself, and no matter how hard she's tried she can't get him to see it.
Maybe there's nothing more she really wants than to have him see it.
"Amy seemed to have thought differently. And so, my love, do I."
"I don't understand." His words are just as angry and forcefully leveled as they'd been when he'd shown up, as very controlled as his breathing. Each word is a separate entity.
It was what she'd been hoping for.
"Then let me show you." The corner of her mouth turns up in the smile she sometimes fears will be taken from her one of these days. "Open the cell door. Come on, turn off the alarms. I've seen you do it plenty of times."
He doesn't question her this time, doesn't make a show of knowing he hasn't done it before even though she's seen him do the very thing he's doing now – opening the door, disabling the alarms, slipping inside without another word.
River reaches him, crossing the space in an instant and hushing him when he questions her. Her hands cup his cheeks, fingers brushing across his cheekbones.
"Relax," She speaks, before closing her eyes.
Her hands, fluttering across his lips before pressing to his temples, show him worlds. They show him glittering twilight galaxies and worlds being born, places he hasn't seen but places he's shown her. Her hands show him what it means for her, to travel inside a box bigger on the inside. They show him how she sees his TARDIS, colors and warmth and light and the only place that has ever been home. River's hands give him what he's given her over the years – every fluttering of her hearts, every time she's caught her breath, every feeling of being worth more than she'd ever thought. She shows him worlds he's given her, the feel of days he's yet to see.
Most of all, she shows him how she sees her – so much love it chokes her.
"It was my choice, my love." She whispers against his forehead. "And I do believe it was a fair trade."
He cups the back of her head, fingers tangling in her hair. "It shouldn't have been your choice."
Her forehead is pressed against his for the first time in a long time. She lets her mind tip over and spill until it is with his and this, too, is so very familiar and she's longed for it for so long.
"It's always been my choice." Her fingers caress his temple. "Every second of it from the moment I met you."
"You died." The Doctor's hand tightens ever so slightly in her hair. "You died for me."
"I'm alive," She breathes out, forehead still pressed against his. She can feel him swallow heavily.
"We could have had so much time."
"We do. We did." And she shows him one more time, lets the scope of the years wash over both of them – years past and years to come. "Don't mourn what we have."
The sound he makes is choked. "River."
"Oh, honey. You just don't understand yet, do you? It doesn't matter." She breathes out those last words in a frenzied whisper. "It doesn't. I'd give up those regenerations again and again for the time I've spent with you." She closes her eyes, still leaning her forehead against him. "Do you think you're being selfish? You're not. This time, with you - I am not alone. And I think you know exactly what that means."
He doesn't answer. The quiet sound of his breathing, no longer forcefully steady, fills the empty space of the cell.
"It means you can breathe again." She tells him, words she knows he'd have spoken if he wasn't being stubborn. "It means a weight being lifted from your chest, and it is life. You're not the last, and neither am I, and that's all that's ever mattered. Just for a little while."
She chuckles, a quiet sound that breaks from her throat. "Is that all you're capable of saying?"
She strokes her hand across his jaw line.
"You have me, right here. Breathe, honey. Easy." River presses her mouth to the spot she'd touched. "I'm not leaving. Hush, now."
The sob he releases is unexpected and gut-wrenching, and she knows immediately she's said something she shouldn't. Releasing a sigh between her teeth, she presses her mouth to his cheekbone, his nose, his mouth.
He reacts, deepening it, molding his hand to the back of her neck. The warmth spreads through her back like a network of sparks, a firework exploding. He moans against her mouth and she presses against him, pushing them back into the cell that's contained her for more years that she'd like to count.
She chuckles against him. "I know my name, sweetie."
She's never heard him whimper before (well, not in this context) but he does now and draws back with such pain in his eyes that she can't help but realize her mistake.
Her fingertips sweep over his temple again. "Don't." River breathes. "I'm her, Doctor. I'm her, I'm yours. It's me." For the third time that day she shows him what words alone can't prove. Images of her fingertips interlaced with his, hallucinogenic lipstick, psychic paper, breaking out of prison just to find him.
The corner of her mouth turns up. "Then stop fighting me."
It leaks through her mind now and she lets it. She's cheating, and he knows it, and neither of them quite care. She shows him her own fumbling first steps even though they're far from first for either of them.
"That you'll have to find on your own, love." She laughs at the question unspoken, pressing herself against him, gasping when he does just that and nips at her collarbone.
Another memory escapes as gooseflesh erupts. The Doctor is here, in the very flesh before her (yes, in the flesh, without that ridiculous bowtie and the shirt and the pants) but he's also in her mind and it leaks across from her skin to his, the memory of them running in a very different type of breathless. It's adrenaline and ecstasy in memory and in flesh.
It's not always like this for them, but it's so much better when it is. It means so much more when they're in a thousand places at once, running in fields and traveling in the TARDIS and sharing a thousand different moments but here, very much here, in her cell or in the TARDIS and pressed skin to skin as though nothing could ever truly separate them in the first place.
Yes. It means so much more like that.