Characters: River Song, The Doctor
Word Count: 729 per Google Docs
Edited by: the very wise buckaroobob , aka dr_whuh
Summary: River Song understood nothing but weariness. It took a long time for her to learn anything else.
Author's Notes: I originally wrote this as the response to an LJ Whofic community contest prompt but, as isn’t too surprising for me, finished it too late to enter. As I get older, I understand too well that “being tired” can be the disarmingly banal disguise for a great many evils; it seemed as natural as breathing to me that River Song would be its victim. The title probably means little unless you have been engulfed by exhaustion.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin. I do, however, love them all, and thank the BBC for letting me play in their sandbox.
She could not remember any time when she was anything less than exhausted.
It was just life, she’d thought before now. She had been certain that everyone felt it, the drag and the grasp of fatigue. Even if they pretended not to, they surely must feel the weight; they lied when they laughed or rested or loved with ease. She knew it as surely as she knew how to lie herself.
Even after she was told differently, that love came without hurt, that life could be lived undamaged, she had never really understood.
And no wonder. Long before she knew she was living backward - not linearly, of course, but in the ways that mattered to her - she had lived in fear.
Fear drains you, she learned as a child. And fear was easily fed; on no sleep and scarce nutrition, on ruthless training, on hard shelter and harder teachers. It flourished on bruises and battles, and on hiding every thought and emotion from trainers and taskmasters, all those programmers and punishers who ruled her days.
You can survive operations and drugs and confusion and loss, she learned. You can survive beatings and insults, and even, barely, assaults on body and soul. But you pay for survival with weariness beyond weariness, bitter and bone deep and greedy; sucking the color and air and energy from your every thought and move, poisoning the universe with cynicism and ketones.
She escaped the suit, tearing her skin, breaking her bones and staining her path with blood in payment for her freedom. She wandered the back roads of America in 1969, alone and slowly dying.
She was reborn. But she still had to hide, and she still ran. The pressure of plans and lies, of dissembling and working out all those stories and strategies, still dragged her to earth and crushed her into the dirt.
She learned to make the painful crawl of her days look like a carefree dance to others, but she fell into sleep each night wondering if she would ever wake up - or if she wanted to, for any reason other than the brutal dictate of her own will.
She died again, and was reborn again, still in flames and still in battle.
He wound about her life like rope. Sometimes he pulled her down into darkness that threatened to crush her like fathoms of starless ocean. At other times he pulled her free from entanglements, out from behind bars and away from enemies. He would pull her farther and farther up into the sky until she soared higher with him than she could by herself. She didn’t mind, even if she always fell once she was out of his orbit because he eventually left her alone, too tired to fly.
He changed her.
She fell from hate into conscience, from time into Time Disrupted. She fell from telling the truth in order to kill, to telling lies in order to keep the truth alive. She fell from being alone and running away, to finding family and running toward them. And the weight only grew heavier by virtue of its transmutation from lead to gold. Love was an even more onerous burden than she had feared it would be.
He would whisper to her about freedom, after they made love and before she sank into her always troubled sleep. She would laugh, wiping tears from her eyes as her bones ached.
Then … one more death. This was to have been the final one, the one in which she finally, finally, repaid the debts and the deaths of others, all of her lies and cruelties, everything with which she’d cluttered and lessened her life.
She wondered fleetingly - her head bursting, tears boiling and steaming off her face in the heat and pain of one last starburst - if she would finally be free of gravity’s exhausting pull.
It hurt, more than she thought possible, but before she had a chance to scream for more than a few thousand years, she evaporated, seethed into nothingness …
… and was reborn into light. Splintered refractions, mirroring green sward and impossible sky, coalesced into a picture of her own soul, cleansed, clear as the finest crystal.
And for the first time in her poor widdershinn’d life, the weight of exhaustion was gone, just as he had promised.
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