**Disclaimer: Doctor Who and its characters belong to the BBC. I'm just taking them out for a test drive**

A/N: This begins just before "The Crash of the Byzantium" and ends after "The Wedding of River Song."

In the beginning, it was the sheer inevitability of River Song that drove him absolutely mad. From the first time they had met (from his perspective, of course) she had known him. Had known things about him no one still alive knew. Things no one should know because he never said them. But apparently, at some point in his future and her past he had said them to her. The whys and wherefores escaped him-the woman was insane-but there it was. His future contained an intimacy with River Song he neither wanted nor sought, but could not avoid.

He was a Time Lord, for goodness sake! How could he have possibly lost control of his own future?

"Hello, Sweetie," he heard from outside the TARDIS.

Damn her.

"You could come with us..." he lets the offer hang in the air, unsure if he wants her to accept.

"I escape often enough, thank you. And I have a promise to live up to," she says with that irritating, knowing smile of hers. "You'll understand soon enough. Spoilers."

He will not rise to her bait. "Suit yourself then," and he turns to walk back to the TARDIS. "See you next time-call me." He considers this a rather large step forward in the progress of their working relationship. How many people in the universe even have his number? He could count them-maybe not on his hands, but certainly if he took off his socks.

"Is that it? What's wrong with you?"

"I'm sorry, did I forget something?" He's genuinely curious.

"Oh, shut up," and she gives him that smile and pulls him to her.

And...they're kissing. Rather, she's kissing him, and he's flailing around like a fish just thrown out of its nice, safe pond and into a frying pan. And River Song is hungry. And then, for a moment, he stops struggling and kisses her back. Really kisses her back. In that split second, he loses all of the control he's spent centuries perfecting and just gives in to the inevitability of River. River in his future. River and him...doing this...enjoying it. Because he is enjoying it.

And then reality hits, and he panics. What is he doing? He doesn't do this. Not ever. Not with anyone. He's the Doctor, she's human, and there are rules. His rules, of course, rules she has implied over and over again that he has broken or will break with her, but rules nonetheless.

He babbles incoherently as he backs away from her cell. His mouth is moving, but at least half of his brain has no idea what he's saying. From the look on her face, though, he needs to leave immediately. Five minutes ago immediately. Last year immediately. Because the look on River Song's face might just break his hearts if he stays there any longer.

From the first moment he'd suspected that something was amiss with Amy, he'd thought of her. He'd wanted to call, wanted to make some excuse to stop at Stormcage to pick her up. To talk to her. To tell her his theory. Hope that she could-would-dismiss it out of hand. But no. River could be an invaluable resource when she was needed, but he wasn't yet ready to admit that he needed help with this. After all, he could be wrong. But he wasn't.

As he finally aimed his sonic at Amy, swore he would tear apart the fabric of space and time if he had to in order to find her (My Amelia Pond, he thinks, what have I done to your life?), and watched her stand, shaking and afraid in the middle of the control room, the one thing he knew with any degree of certainty was that he needed River's help to bring her back from wherever she really was.

The true revelation of the moment, of course, was that he trusted River more than he'd possibly ever trusted a human before. Not only did she know things about his future, things she frequently implied in spite of her "spoiler" refrain, but she'd never once led him astray. Never let him down. When they were together, he never had to worry that she wouldn't be able to keep up with him. He'd never had to worry about her the way he worried about Amy and Rory, or the way he'd worried about his other companions in the past. He trusted his companions implicitly. He loved them. But River was different. She wasn't a companion, she was an ally. A partner? Perhaps. Someday.

Amy turned to goo in front of their eyes.

He knew what he needed to do. "Rory, I'm going to send you away, and I want you to be very, very clear about why." The last centurion spun on his heel, shell-shocked moments after seeing his wife collapse into a puddle of goo before his eyes. Those same eyes were now shooting looks at the doctor that alternated between bitterly accusing and pleading. "We need help to save Amy. You know we can't do it on our own. The Silence is simply too powerful, too pervasive. We don't even really know who we're fighting." He paused, trying to evaluate how much Rory was taking in. The man was in shock, after all, but there was no time to lose.

"Right, the Silence. Okay then. Where do I need to go?" Good on Rory. Good man. Tended to get himself killed sometimes, but in the whole universe you couldn't find a more unflappable person in the face of a crisis.

"We need to find the allies of the Silence. Everyone who wants me dead, effectively. I'm going to have to send you in alone, but-" he paused as Rory's eyes grew wide. He'd met only a handful of the Doctor's enemies, but that was enough. "but, you'll have support on the outside as well. And-" he paused, wondering if this next idea was going to work. "I need you to look the part."

Rory nodded again, but stopped himself and looked up at the Doctor, confused. "The part of what?"

"A conquering hero."

Sending Rory to find information about Amy had been a calculated decision. Rory needed to feel useful, needed to feel as if he was in a position of action as they searched for his wife. The costume, well, that merely set the tone. The Last Centurion and the Doctor were not to be crossed. So when the time came and they were headed to Demon's Run, the Doctor sent Rory on one last mission: find River. He'd hesitated before giving Rory that particular instruction—he had always planned (wanted) to get her himself. Possibly share a moment of...not talking...before they had to leave. But no. This wasn't a job for him.

Rory needed the distraction now. Amy would hardly thank him for getting her husband killed when he arrived at Demon's Run, and he shuddered to think of the close call Rory'd had on the Cyber ship. Sending him to fetch River kept him occupied, kept him feeling useful, and kept him safe. And when he arrived back on the TARDIS with her…well, this was surely an occasion for what Amy would call "really important flirting" if he'd ever seen one.

"She said no," was the first thing out of Rory's mouth, even before the Doctor had registered that he'd returned alone. "She said she couldn't come. Not that she wouldn't, that she couldn't. Not until the end, she said. What did she mean, Doctor?"

The Doctor was a man of action, but he was also a man of words. Many words. Too many sometimes, in fact. It was his way of filling awkward silences, of processing new information, of just existing. At that moment, however, he was struck speechless. It never once occurred to him that Rory would come back without her. He froze for a moment, half convinced that this was some kind of obscene game River was playing, and that any second now she would pull open the doors of the TARDIS, gun in hand, "Hello, Sweetie" on her lips.

She didn't.

Something inside him broke in that moment.

Rory kept talking, but the Doctor was only half listening. River wouldn't be coming. Claimed she couldn't-claimed he'd understand soon why-but no. There would be no understanding. Not when Amy and her child's lives were at risk. He wouldn't let Rory see his rage, but he most certainly would make sure she knew just how monumental her betrayal was the next time they met.

There would be nothing inevitable about his future with River Song except anger.

Oh. OH.

As he looked at River Song-Melody Pond-it was almost as if it was the first time he was really seeing her. All of the rage, the hurt, the frustration and incomprehensible sadness he had felt when she had refused to help them suddenly melted away. He wasn't sure he could name the new melange of feelings he was experiencing, but there was no anger left at all.

"But that means..." he could barely keep the grin off his face.

"I'm afraid it does," she wasn't even trying to conceal her delight.

"But we-" He glanced at Rory, realizing just how inappropriate the kissing motions he was making actually were.

"Yes, we did," her voice was breathily suggestive-oh, there was more where that had come from, he was certain. A thrill went through him.

His hearts leapt. River was Melody. Melody was River. She was the daughter of his best friends. She was...she was like him. She was like him. He wanted so much in that moment to embrace her. But no, that would hardly do with Amy and Rory standing right there. He giggled, pointing at them and back at River as he stepped into the TARDIS. She would explain everything, he knew. The marvelous absurdity of leaving her there to go look for her was too much, and he couldn't wipe the grin off his face.

"How do I look?" He straightened his bowtie and pulled himself up to his full height. He didn't really want to think too closely about why it mattered so much for him to look his best in that moment, but there was no question that it did.

"Amazing," she grinned.

His hearts beat faster. This changed everything.

He'd kissed her back.

As he lay writhing on the floor of Hitler's office (why did he have to be dying in Hitler's office, of all places?) he couldn't help but think that even though she'd had a gun trained on him at the time, even though he'd known she was trying to kill him, even though she wasn't really River, he'd kissed her back. She hadn't done more than brush her lips against his, but he'd responded. Before Demon's Run he wouldn't have done that. Everything was different now.

And indeed, everything was different because with that kiss she had poisoned him. Poisoned him well, too, if his body wasn't automatically responding with suggestions for an antidote. This was hardly his first poisoning, after all.

No matter what else happened from this point forward, no matter if he died from this act of betrayal, one thing was certain: he had kissed her back.

This is a very young River Song. Even while he's talking, telling her that she was being ridiculous-that she is embarrassing him (and in the heat of the moment he means every word) in the back of his mind he is coming to the realization that this River is quite possibly the youngest he's met, well, since Hitler.

My River would know better than to do something this monumentally stupid!

And there it is. His River. The River Song who is near the end of her journey with him and always knows the right thing to do in a crisis. Oh, she hadn't mentioned before the bits where they met out of order, where they were both at the start of their respective journeys, and where misunderstandings were far more likely to have dire consequences because neither of them could predict the other's behavior. He wants the older, wiser, less irrational River because she wouldn't be doing this. She wouldn't be letting her feelings interfere with something as serious as a fixed point in time. She would trust him to know what to do. This River doesn't. She doesn't understand.

What can he possibly do? How can he convince her that she needs to let him die? That fixed points can't be rewritten like this? Oh, he has a pretty good idea where she'd gotten the original idea, but this is wrong. All wrong.

"All right then. Amy, uncuff me." There is only one answer he can think of. It is...well, it's not something he's ever planned to do again. And yet, in a way, he's known since the beginning that this is where they would end up. That this was the decision he was going to make.

Amy, unsurprisingly, obliges. Clever girl. He is suddenly very, very glad that she'd brought Rory here with her. It isn't that the ceremony couldn't be done without them, but it would be wrong. So many things about this are going to be wrong, but at least they're both here. With any luck, they'll also remember it.

"I'll be needing a strip of cloth, about a foot long," he starts looking around for something suitable to use. Perhaps the hem of River's dress. Then, he realizes. "Never mind," and he pulls off his bow tie. Well, that would explain River's fondness for the things.

"All right then," he holds out one end of the fabric to her. From the look she is giving him, he can tell that she has no idea what he is about to do. What he is about to make her do. "Wrap this around your hand."

"What am I doing?"

"As you're told." He can't meet her eye. What she is doing...well, he's fairly certain that she won't have any objections in the long run, but for goodness sake he hasn't even asked her the most necessary of questions. She follows his instructions without further question. Why do the Pond women always trust me? he wonders in the back of his mind. They really shouldn't.

"All right now, Captain Williams, repeat after me-'I consent and gladly give."

To his credit, even in an alternate reality where he doesn't have any idea what was happening, Rory Pond can roll with a punch in the face of a completely ridiculous situation better than anyone the Doctor has ever met. "I consent and gladly give."

"Now you," he nods at Amy. Probably should give her some idea of what exactly she's agreeing to, "Mother of the bride." He averts his eyes before he can see her reaction.

"I consent and gladly give," Amy speaks so fast the words are a blur. Oh, Pond. I have ruined your life. I am ruining your daughter's life. Why don't you see that?

"Right then," he turns back to River, meeting her gaze for the first time since this whole thing started. "Wife, I have a request," he takes a deep breath. He's doing this because he does know. He does understand how much she loves him. He hasn't always-it has taken up until that very moment for him to really understand it-but he does now. This is the only way he knows to show her that he does know, and that he returns those feelings. Even if this doesn't work, at least she'll always have this moment to remember. "This world is dying, and it's my fault. Please help me set things right again."

River inhales sharply. Her eyes brim with tears, and she nods. It isn't just a yes to his most recent question-it's an answer to the question he hasn't even asked. The one question he's going need to properly ask when this is all over.

"I'd better make this one count," he murmurs, so low only she can hear him.

"You'd better," she says shakily, whether from nerves or repressed laughter he can't tell.

Their lips meet, and the universe explodes.

"Her days will be in Stormcage, but her nights...well, that's between her and me."