Since dark is what brings out your light.
He shook off her unwittingly painful words as he turned to follow behind her. "Alright. So. Alderin Beta, no more interruptions. Stars, River."
"I have to at least change." She pouted, picking up a dress at random from where he'd placed the pile of them.
"Ten minutes!" He reminded her and she laughed brightly.
"Time machine, sweetie. Just give me one second – you can't expect me to go in this." She waved a hand at her tank top and pants and boots and he shrugged.
"You always look lovely." He pointed out and she rolled her eyes.
"More stars in one sky than at any other moment in the history of the universe, Doctor." She recited dutifully and he smiled to himself. She had the memory too – regeneration and respiratory bypass and she was so bright – he wondered how many other Timelord traits she had. "I'll only get to see it once. I'll be quick this time, I promise." She bounced down the stairs and he shook a finger at her.
"You better! I am setting coordinates now, River Song. The clock is ticking." He pulled the lever and watched the monitor as they landed on Alderin Beta, the TARDIS wheezing gently as she landed on the proper date this time. He leaned against the console, dragging a hand over his face as he waited for her.
"So is this how every time I meet you is going to be? Crossing timelines and fantastic voyages?" She walked back up the stairs, having selected a form fitting black dress that fluttered gently around her knees.
"Crossing timelines? Who said – what – what? No!" He spluttered, standing up straight and waving his hands as he denied.
"There... were two of you." She spoke in an obvious tone. "I'm pretty sure that counts, without telling me anything."
"Oh. Oh! Right." He breathed out in relief and she shook her head with a small smile.
"So, is it?"
"Is what what?" He frowned and she sighed, shifting her weight forward onto the balls of her feet but remaining where she stood. She swayed toward him, and he found himself comparing the three Rivers he'd seen that night in his mind. This River was... young. Flirty and incorrigible as ever, but there was a lack of sureness to her movements, as if she just didn't know where they stood. The second River had been more forward. More sure of herself and her place in his life, but still volatile. She really should have realized as soon as she walked into the TARDIS that she was the voice she'd heard all those years ago. And the last River – his hearts squeezed painfully at the thought. He couldn't-
"Doctor?" River said with irritation.
His head snapped up and he frowned. He couldn't afford to waste time with her – any time. And he'd been forcibly reminded of that fact tonight. He couldn't help but wonder if the old girl had done it all on purpose. "I'm sorry River, truly. Maybe not the crossing timelines part, but the fantastic part, definitely." He offered her his arm and she smiled up at him as she placed her own small hand hesitantly on his elbow. He felt an ache at her timidity, and he smiled extra wide to make up for it. "Shall we, dear?"
"We shall." Her smile brightened a bit and he led her down the stairs and out the doors with a flourish. The smell of chips assaulted them as soon as they stepped out into the busy street and River's grin widened.
"Now, we have to get a ferry over to the tree and we have-" He checked his watch and jumped slightly. "Oh! Twenty minutes to catch it in. Come on, River." He pulled her along behind him, diving through the street crowds with purpose as she tried to keep up with him. She pulled on his hand and forced him to stop, pausing to lean down and pull off her shoes. She clutched them in one hand and grinned up at him.
"Okay, sorry sweetie." She laughed. "Running in heels isn't the best idea."
She ran ahead of him them, her curls bouncing in the starlight, which was still rather bright down here, but not as amazing as what he was about to show her. He chased after her, and they were breathless when they made it to the dock just in time for the final ferry of the night. He waved his psychic paper in front of the attendant, who waved them on.
They leaned against the railing, the sea wind whipping through their hair, and River reached over, plucking the paper from his hands with her one free hand. "They told me about this you know. Psychic paper. Look for the fractals. It doesn't work on me, you know." She spoke matter of factly and he looked at her seriously.
"I'm so sorry, River."
"For what?" She laughed as she handed the paper back to him. "My past is what it is," she shrugged. "I can't wish for different because I kind of like who I am now. I'm not like everyone else, Doctor."
He felt his eyes sting as she smiled up at him, leaning a touch too far over the railing for most people's comfort, her shoes still dangling from her fingertips. "No, no you are not, River Song."
"My whole life everyone tried to make me into what they thought I should be. Even – bless them – but even Amy and Rory when we grew up together. For the first time I am who I choose to be. And who that is isn't perfect, but I like it." She spoke without regret, without any type of melancholy at all and he found himself envying her that. She was so young still, but that she had reached a place within herself like that was remarkable.
"As do I, Dr. Song." She grinned at that and looked forward to see the mountainous island looming on the horizon.
"Oh look! We're almost there!" She bounced a bit in excitement and just like that she seemed incredibly youthful again. She was an enigma, even this young, and he grinned. Her head tilted back as she stared up at the star drenched sky above them. "It's so lovely already."
It was her face he focussed on as he studied how the silver starlight gilded her features, her lipstick appearing darker and her skin seeming to glow. The light danced through her hair, glinting off stray curls and being overtaken by deep shadows, and he couldn't seem to stop himself from reaching up, stroking the fingers of one hand against the soft curls lightly. They felt thick and full, and so much softer than he'd expected. "It is." He whispered and she tilted her head back down and met his eyes. She blushed then and he almost giggled out loud at the image – River Song, blushing. Perhaps there were some unique attributes to this younger River he hadn't quite considered. He couldn't imagine his River blushing. But he knew damn well he'd try his damnedest to make it happen the next time he saw her.
"Doctor," she spoke softly and he leaned closer – strictly in order to hear her better of course, nothing at all to do with the fresh clean scent on her. Iron and electricity and just plain unscented soap, so all he could smell was her, no cloying perfumes at all. He inhaled sharply and she swayed toward him.
The boat docked then, startling them apart and he dropped his hands from her hair – when had the second one joined it? – and took her hand in his. They disembarked – this late, there were very few passengers on the boat, but then the locals had no way of knowing the small miracle that was about to occur above their heads.
Hand in hand, they headed through the ferry terminal, to the lift that rose all the way up – over four hundred feet to the top of the tallest tree. "Lifts in trees." River grinned as they entered the small car alone. Passengers were disembarking after them, but River grinned wickedly and hit the close doors button before pressing the button that would take them to the very top.
"River! Rude!" He laughed as he spoke though and she shrugged, affecting an innocent air.
"Oh I don't want a crowd of strangers around me, I hate that. Lord knows how long this lift will take." She rolled her eyes.
"Well, practically no time at all, actually, it's a hyper lift." He bounced on his toes and she smiled indulgently at him.
"And what's a hyper lift?" She asked patiently. "I can see you're bursting to tell me."
"Well it's an ordinary lift. With the word hyper in front of it." He teased and she laughed. "No, uses hyperized magnets instead of cables." The lift in question slid to a halt and he grabbed her hand once more at the doors slid open. They walked out onto an open air balcony, rich amber leaves the size of the TARDIS herself hanging above their heads and all around them. The tree's bark was lily white and River ran a hand over it as she walked over to the edge of the balcony.
She gasped. The sea rolled below them, reflecting the light of the stars above, it danced across the dark surface like quicksilver. "Oh my God." She breathed the words out, one hand clutching the railing and the other still holding her shoes. He prised them from her hand, and tucked them in his pocket as she looked over at him in shock. "What did you-"
"Bigger on the inside." He patted his pockets and she laughed, the sound echoing around them merrily.
"My oh my, Doctor. The surprises you have." She purred and his skin shivered all over at the sound, an odd sensation, but he didn't mind it. He took her hand in his, and he dragged her over to a set of gated stairs. The gate was locked, but a quick flick of the sonic took care of that and he locked it behind them as he pulled her up to the top level.
"I don't think we're supposed to be up here." She pointed out with a grin as they stepped up onto a small circular platform at the very top of the tree. No branches hung above them here; instead leaves were laid out below them like a canopy of gold.
"Oh most definitely not. What do you think of that River Song?" He grinned and she shrugged.
"I think all the best places are locked, Doctor." She confessed and he laughed.
"River." He spoke softly and she looked up at him, her smile warm and her eyes alight, "Look up."
She glanced up at his softly spoken command and her mouth dropped open. Above them the black sky was filled with stars. Stars upon stars upon stars upon stars. So many that is seemed difficult to pinpoint the fact that the sky was black at all. Bright silver light streamed down, illuminating the area around them. He moved behind her, his head tilted back too and his hands on her shoulders, his fingers mindlessly playing with the ends of her hair that they encountered. "This is the best part." He whispered near her ear. She shivered against him and he pulled her into his chest until she was leaning her weight into him. "Look out."
Below them the silver light had illuminated all the leaves of the tree, and they shone a translucent gold with veins of dark amber shot through them. The white bark of the branches peeked through here and there and the view in front of them was a million million stars in the sky, reflected back by the inky dark surface of the sea. "If the sea were less calm, or less dark, it wouldn't reflect it back quite so brilliantly. Sometimes we need the dark to appreciate the light." He turned his face into hers as he spoke, so close that he could feel his lips brush against her ear. She wrapped her arms around herself and when he looked down at her, he saw that she was crying, silently. "River..."
"No, no." She laughed in a sodden voice, turning in his arms to look up at him. "It's just all so beautiful. Is it all like this Doctor? The whole universe?" She was still looking around them even as she placed her hands on his shoulders and his own dropped to her waist.
"There is beauty everywhere if you only have eyes to see it. Sometimes it can be found in the most desolate of places River. But it's always there – for someone. Vast and full or lifeless and empty. Light or dark, horror or delight – everything holds its own kind of beauty." He spoke solemnly and she stared at him for a moment.
"A philosopher then, Doctor?" She smiled and he shrugged.
"No. Just a traveller who's seen lots, both sides of the coin." He reached a hand between them and stroked a fingertip along her nose. She smiled up at him and his hand dropped to her shoulder before sliding along her arm until he could pull her hand into his. He pulled their joined hands down over her left heart and she smiled.
"Are we dancing, Doctor?"
"I suppose we always are, River." He spoke softly, his lips by her temple as she stepped into his frame. Her body pressed into his and she fit into him as if she were tailored for just such a purpose. He stepped carefully, aware of her bare toes below him and she smiled dreamily.
"There's no music." She pointed out and he grinned.
"A million million stars swirling around us and you're worried about music? Listen." He breathed the words out and she stopped speaking, her eyes fluttering shut to listen. He could feel the pounding of his hearts, and just in counter-point to it, the fluttering beat of her own. He moved in time to the beats, and her hand gripped his tighter. "Do you hear it?"
"Mmmhmmm." She turned her head until it rested on his shoulder, her hair tickling his neck and he smiled down at her. "This is the most beautiful place I've been."
"So far." He stressed, pulling her a little closer. "I'm going to show you things River – so many nights. Twelve thousand consecutive life sentences did you say?"
She nodded slightly and he frowned, thinking quickly. "That's one hundred and nine point five million nights. This is just the beginning." She lifted her head and stared up at him in shock.
"Surely you don't mean to be there for every night." She spoke with awe and he looked down, meeting her eyes.
"Every single one." He promised solemnly. "You've given up so much for me River. Far more than you ever should have. Far more than I ever wanted you to."
"I don't regret it at all Doctor. The universe needs you." She slid her hand off his shoulder and brushed her fingertips against his bowtie, straightening it.
"And I need you." He whispered down to her fiercely, and she blinked up at him in surprise. "I need you, River. With me. Every single one of those nights."
"Not in the same order. Maybe – maybe not even the same face-"
"That doesn't matter." She insisted. "I know. It's... it's just like changing a suit. Same man, different clothes." He smiled in response. "That's why I need to write it all down?"
"Yes. That and so we have something to remember it by. I've always kept a diary you know. Did for eight hundred years in fact – fell a bit out of practice these last few years." He glanced around them, suddenly surprised by the amount of bright light that surrounded them. He skin glowed and her black dress was a stark contrast to her pale skin. "You've not asked about it, River. I'm surprised. The aborted timeline."
"It didn't happen." She dropped her eyes to his neck and he pulled her closer.
"Except it did. For you and I. Eye of the storm, River. It happened for us. Everything."
"Everything?" She swallowed and looked up and he nodded, his hand tightening over hers.
"I'd do it again." He admitted softly, and she smiled in response.
"I would too."
"Hundred and nine million nights, we could work it in again a time or two." He teased her and she tilted her head back with a laugh.
"Point five, Doctor. No cheating me out of that extra five hundred thousand." She grinned up at him and he leaned in closer.
"I wouldn't dream of it Dr. Song." He kissed her then, bathed in too-bright silver light and surrounded by every cosmos that ever was, ever had been and ever would be. The universe shone down upon them as her hand slipped out of his, burying itself in his hair, and he pulled her even closer, until her bones seemed to slot neatly under his own.
The rhythm of their hearts continued.
And they never stopped dancing.