and repeat after me with your heart:
Sometimes he wishes he could go back to the then and pin her down with his hands and his voice and his eyes and his lips and ask her: does every him taste different to her?
But you can't step in the same river twice, and it seems to go double when the river is a River.
Sometimes he shows up and she never expects him.
Sometimes he stumbles upon her calling cards – cliff faces and ancient artifacts, home boxes and psychic paper, personal ads in newspapers that also happen to have history splashed across the front page in black ink. She used the Rosetta stone once, and there was that time she'd scrawled 'hello, sweetie' across the back of the shadow proclamation itself (he'd found it in the archives but he'd been there when they signed it and he'd spent days afterward trying to figure out how the hell she'd managed to be there then. I've got pictures of all your faces. He'd assumed she meant photos. Not memories.).
Those are the good ones. Those are the adventures, the running, the his hand in hers and danger all around them exciting memories. He loves those ones – and the words hello, sweetie can send a thrill sliding straight down his spine, no matter if they're spoken (okay especially when they're spoken) or scrawled on walls, or written in ancient ink on documents older than the both of them combined.
Then there are times when he doesn't call her, and she doesn't call him, but they meet anyway.
Lives as knotted and tangled together as theirs are – it can't be entirely surprising when the universe decides to make them trip over some of those knots.
This planet is burning. War is a word he wishes he'd never read or spoken or understood. It isn't loud, violent and exploding the way people who have never seen it imagine it to be. It is the heartsick feeling of watching young people die without any knowledge of what they were there for in the first place. This planet is burning and he was too late.
He walks through the devastation anyway. His hands itch and his skin crawls and it is too much ash, too many greys and whites and blacks, falling like snow around him in the eerie orange light. The ground is too slippery and people are dying too quietly all around him.
So of course the universe laughs, and he stumbles, nearly tripping over her, kneeling in the too soft ground, her head bowed and almost unrecognizable.
She is crying. Tears streaking tiny paths of clean skin across her dirty face. She doesn't make a sound though – her grief is silent. He brushes a hand over her head, stirring the ash there and she looks up, lifetimes of pain in her eyes that he wishes he could erase.
She stands under her own power though, and walks ahead of him into the TARDIS.
She doesn't speak for four hours, and even then she will only say 'some things I never wanted you to witness.'
He kisses her then and she tastes so, so bitter – dark and metallic – she crumbles under his tongue.
She is young.
And he just has to love her harder, then.
She is tricky. She is like holding water, his hands are not watertight and she always slips through eventually.
His first time with her is her first time with him, but he doesn't realize it until years later.
She doesn't say anything, and her hands grip him, pin him, push him, pull him until he assumes they've done this before and he welcomes the roughness of it. He likes the pleasure-pain of her teeth against his neck and her hands in a bruising grip over his hips. When his grip grows tighter she moans and he knows she likes it too.
(It almost hurts to think on it now.
Because he knows they were both punishing themselves by loving each other.)
If this a contest – he's not sure who's winning.
But he can taste triumph on her skin and she is like whiskey, straight – each shot startles him and steals his breath.
His last kiss doesn't taste sweet at all. It is salty with tears and it tastes vile and vaguely repulsive.
It tastes like The End.
There is no happily ever after right before it.
But for all of that he kisses and kisses and kisses her because he can't stop. Won't stop. He would let every kiss taste like this one if he could just trade the sweetness for more time.
Time has never laid a glove on him.
But in this one instance he wishes it would, because then he'd have a reason to hit back.
He can't stop crying.
And he can't stop kissing her, even when he knows she can taste it. The fear. The desperation.
There is nothing sweeter than that moment, in the beginning to middle. The moment she stops punishing herself for everything, the moment she lets go only to realize he'd held her the whole time. She hadn't needed to keep a grip on anything – he is always there to catch her.
She tells him to go slow, and he does. Slow kisses that map the whole of her existence. He tells her, whispers in her ear that he wishes he could have loved her in all her forms. Not the first, obviously, but the previous and all the ones he stole –was given, she corrects – he wishes he could have loved them all. She presses a soft kiss to his forehead and laughs gently. Then you would have had your favourites.
He disagrees, he knows he would have looked into her eyes – whatever eyes they happened to be at the time – and he would have seen her buried underneath, bursting forth to meet him. Smiles change, laughter changes, faces and tastes and sense of style. But love always looks the same. Just like she would look at a face that wasn't familiar in a Library in her future with so much love – he wonders (prays and wishes really really hard) if she'll look at his next face like that too.
Time after time and she always sees him.
She teases him, kisses him sweetly and asks if he's growing bored already. He devours her in return, sighing into her mouth and letting the soft sweet smoothness burst across his tongue as he refutes her words with his lips, tongue, hands and teeth.
I could look at you forever.
He cheats time.
Just once – once is all he ever allows himself, because her last kiss tasted like a surprise punch to the gut – unexpected and just a little bit like bile, and his had tasted like sorrow – dark and bitter and addictive.
And they both deserved better than that.
So he goes to the Stormcage, one last time. After the Towers. He stands in the shadows and just watches her for a moment – the fall of her face, the silent shaking of her shoulders. He slips in behind her, his arms around her so tight and she stiffens, because she knows. He shouldn't be here. I don't care.
He presses his face into her hair, and his hands map her – but he already knows every line and dip and curve better than he knows himself.
She kisses him and she tastes like ice, sharp and crisp and vitally sustaining. She murmurs into his skin, apologies and forgiveness, accusations and confessions. How can you love me after all that I've done?
He looks at her, flushed and bright and dark and wonders if she's ever once understood. How could I not? He tattoos the taste of her on his tongue – nips and kisses and licks and salves until he thinks maybe – he just might never forget. She isn't the dark to his light, and he isn't the passion to her violence. They are both all these things. You're everything.
She looks at him and she understands, he knows, because it is how she feels too. And for once they can love each other fully, and he can taste every flavour, secreted away within her. He tells her to be strong. Spoilers. He tells her this isn't the last time for her, and her eyes tear up because she is oh so clever and knows just how far out of his line he is stepping. She cradles his face and he makes love to her like they are both better than their cumulative transgressions.
He doesn't let the bitterness of their end wash over this good-bye. Because this time, she still has more to live – Utah (again) and another last kiss that he hopes she forgets in favour of these ones, Stonehenge, the Byzantium. It is better to say goodbye knowing that she will be out there in time somewhere, mocking him mercilessly and promising to kiss him 'when you're older'.
She smiles and kisses him one last time, and she makes it a good one because she has always been far too clever. She knows.
He goes to get her diary right after that.
And reads it. Cover to cover. No more spoilers – no more secrets, just the best story he'd ever lived.
Except she has a handful of entries in the back, catalogued year by year. By birthday.
None of them are about him, but they are all addressed to him. On the last page there is a photo. A beautiful girl who looks so much like River his breath catches, but her hair is brown and her eyes like his. Written on the back in River's handwriting are three sentences.
Go see Amy and Rory, 2047.
You will never be alone.