For the prompt "Ten or Eleven and River, Ten's reward, PG-13 to R." Title from Aeschylus's Agamemnon.

no wild bird fluttering in a bush

by lostlikealice/thinkatory

He met her the day she died and didn't even know her name, but she knew his, and that makes all the difference.

Her name is Professor River Song. That doesn't tell him who she is, what she is, or what she's done - not by a long shot - but it's enough to mark her in his life like a dog-eared page. Things changed when she swaggered into his life in that space suit, lowered the visor and said, "Hello, sweetie."

New new Doctor.

When he loses Donna, his grip on ... well, everything, becomes tenuous. Does he have a future? What's the point? They all go; they all cling to him, stupidly, stubbornly, and get irreparably hurt in the process.

But he does have a future. Her name is Professor River Song.

He hasn't been able to shake the way she looks at him, the way she searched his face for something that wasn't there yet. He wonders what she knows of him, the new him, the later him (the earlier him), what he'll become, if he's better, or worse, or even just the same (which, really, might be worst of all). He wonders why she's on her own when he first (last) meets her, why he's left her behind, if it's his fault or hers or someone else's entirely.

There's only one way to find out.

Because he can, and because it's the only way she'd have it, he makes a game of it.

There's codes and riddles and ciphers, everything he can think of, everything that would make him earn that affectionate scorn. She deserves the best the Doctor can offer. He throws as many into the wind as he can manage as the radiation slowly kills each cell in his body, then heads to sunny Asgard.

The Doctor only has time to lay out the blanket, pain running in neurological rivulets down his arms and legs, but River is there. Her eyes are bright, her TARDIS diary clasped in her hands, and it's worth it. She snaps the diary shut once she sees him. "It's you," she says, and though she's trying to restrain herself, she still beams. "Hello, sweetie."

Oh, it's good to see her. "It's me," he agrees.

She comes to him then, and it's not really a shock when she kisses him so much as it is just sudden; he's lucky to have laid out the blanket because she tumbles him into the grass with fervent kisses and her hands thrust into his torn-up suit and over his cut-up face. "River," he tries to say in warning but it comes out as pleading, and she laughs, sultry and low.

"Yes," she whispers, and kisses him again.

Why does he trust her? Why does this feel right - is this his reward? River Song as a mix of Cassandra and Scherezade, telling stories that aren't true - yet - and assuring him of his death and victory? Why does he know she isn't just another mad genius he'll find, he'll love, and he'll allow to kill him and laugh over his dead body?

Because he knows. He told her, and she told him, and no matter what story it is they're telling each other, it's the truth, for once.

"Hello, sweetie," she murmurs as her hand slides into his trousers, and snickers at his enthusiastic and shocked response to her touch. "Good boy. Heel. Stay," she whispers, and takes his lip between her teeth with a wicked sound of amusement.

They talk for an hour before the agony overwhelms him and he has to flee.

Onto the next.

Next on the tour is Barcelona (the planet), Rio (not the planet) and the colony Taurus VI. She doesn't reply, she doesn't show, and he slaves away at the sonic, finally retrofitting it and adding the extra settings on as it slowly becomes blatantly obvious that both his time and hers are bleeding away like they've been gutted.

Once he leaves Taurus VI - it's only been two hours since Asgard, relatively speaking - he gets her message (coordinates, on TARDIS blue), and realizes the only riddle left is Darillium.

He throws the switch and the grief sets in - again - worse, as the TARDIS dematerializes.

"Hello, River," he says to her, relishing the taste of her name in this mouth for what might be the last time, and smiles through the anguish of the moment. This is it.

They dance to a torch song as the TARDIS flies to Darillium and love shines through River's teasing jibes and wry smirk. She loves him, and he can't imagine why he wouldn't love her. He's known her for a handful of hours relatively speaking, but he trusts her, trusted her, will trust her. At the point he's reached, it doesn't really matter.

What's the worst that can happen? She can't kill him. He's already dead.

He's babbling on about nothing, unable to help himself, and she cuts him off with a look. "What's wrong?" She touches his face, tries to bring him back down to her, away from his thoughts. "I'm not thick, I can tell when you're stewing. Just tell me, love."

The Doctor looks at her, into her face, and knows this is it. He takes the screwdriver from his pocket. "Something for you," he says, very genially, and proffers it.

River is aghast, like he's offered her a limb or something. "Doctor, no - I couldn't - "

He doesn't take no for an answer, pushes it into her hands, and only relents when she grasps it, holds it to her heart. "You're going to need it," he says, in absolute certainty, and that's when the Towers start to sing.

Is this my reward, he'd cried, and that seems so unfair of him, because look at this - look at what he has to look forward to - but he doesn't want it to end. He's died so many times, and this is like falling apart from the inside, it's worse than losing Rose, than losing Donna, than hurting Martha, than watching everyone else die for him because of what and who he is.

He's losing himself.

When River draws him to his feet for a dance, they're silent and close and cozy, and he thinks of what might be, if this isn't it, but time can be rewritten (how his words turn on him).

It lacks dignity, but he's not cared much about that in this regeneration; the tears come and he welcomes them because finally his frustration and anger and utter grief burst out of him. River holds him close, astounded into silence, and only whispers a soft "Shh" after a moment.

They share a kiss, sweet, involved, and it's enough.

"I love you," River whispers, and he finds himself echoing it.

He leaves, then. He has to leave. He can't bear it any longer (the strain on his body or his soul), and Rose Tyler, the Bad Wolf, is there waiting for him.

River's taken over a fourteenth-century French castle. He's supposed to discourage her from doing this sort of thing, but it does make for a good romantic getaway.

"You're not supposed to do this," the Doctor mentions to her as he lounges back against the down pillows.

"Oh, but you love it," she says, and practically cackles as she shimmies into the lady of the castle's best gown.

"Don't do the evil laugh," he warns her, though he's grinning.

"Muahahaha," she declares at him, rebelliously, and practically giggles when he leans off of his perch on the bed to kiss her and nearly faceplants.

"Oh, stop," the Doctor requests, and indelicately plants a kiss on her cheek instead. "You're lovely."

"So are you," River returns, and kisses him on the mouth. "Tell me something, Doctor!"

"I'm brilliant at football," he says, "which isn't the one with the sticks in case you're wondering."

"You know what I mean. When did you..." She gestures at her face and frowns.

"'When'?" he returns dryly. Always a stupid question for a Time Lord.

"How," she retorts, "you wanker."

"Spoilers," he warns, with a finger to his lips that instant.

"I hate you and your rules!"

"Oh, you don't."

The Doctor glances at her as she preens in the mirror, and he cracks a smile.

"Does it matter when or how?" he asks simply. "I got you."