The TARDIS seemed too quiet now. His footfalls echoed. There was a difference, the Doctor remembered now, between traveling alone whilst knowing that an eager companion was awaiting her next adventure, and traveling alone knowing that said companion was going to leave sooner or later.
They hadn't discussed it, but he was no fool. He could see the writing on that wall plain as day.
So he was giving Clara space. She and her maths teacher needed some time together, didn't they? Which, granted, he could have provided by inviting them both aboard, but he wasn't ready to do that. He wasn't certain he ever would be. He still thought no one could be good enough for Clara. So Danny had helped to save the world: so what? One time. Once.
And how many times had he, himself, saved the world? The Doctor had long since lost count, and he still didn't deserve Clara. She'd leapt into his time stream. She'd shattered herself into pieces, lived and died time and again, to save him.
No one could deserve that. Certainly not the man who'd pressed that button and destroyed Gallifrey.
Which he had un-done, now. But he hadn't lost the memory of having made that choice, or the memories of three regenerations who had lived in the shadow of that choice. No: he didn't deserve what Clara had done. It was un-earnable, like grace. But he wasn't ready to agree that Danny Pink deserved her, either.
He scowled at no one, tapped a few buttons on the center console, and yanked the lever down with more force than was perhaps strictly necessary. He took a grim comfort in the familiar oscillating sounds of his TARDIS. She was the companion who would never leave him.
When they landed, he glanced at the screen, which indicated Earth's moon, late 53rd century. He switched to exterior view; the TARDIS was parked in a walled garden, surrounded by flowering ivy and rosebushes. He hadn't had any intention of going to Luna, had he? Well: the TARDIS must have had some reason for stopping here. He took a deep breath, straightened his lapels, and opened the door.
Once he stepped outside he could see the great dome over Luna University a few klicks away, and the half-earth suspended over it like a hanging pendant. This garden was in one of the colony's smaller domes, and at one end there was a set of sliding glass doors on someone's smallish cottage. Maybe there was something to investigate there.
He whipped out his sonic and aimed it at the garden's walls, then at the rock formation in one corner. No interesting readings whatsoever. That was disappointing.
The sound of the glass doors sliding open caught his ear, and he turned, hands up in a placating gesture, ready to run or spout gibberish or whip out the psychic paper as needed. He froze.
Standing in the open door, wearing a deep gold dressing gown and holding a mug in her hand, was a sleepy-looking and tousled River Song. "Hello, sweetie," she said.
The Doctor gaped.
"Coffee?" she offered. The laugh lines around her eyes crinkled.
"Please," he said, faintly, and followed her inside.
The doors opened on a small parlor: a loveseat and an overstuffed chair with mismatched cushions and old wooden end-tables. He followed River into the kitchen, which contained the usual assortment of shiny metal appliances. She padded over to the coffee pot, reached for a second mug, and poured. "You still take it black?"
"I do," he confirmed, and took the mug from her hands. She was close enough to touch, and he wanted to -- he wanted --
-- but he held on to the mug with both hands instead, and took a long sip. "When are we?"
"You know the year," River pointed out.
"I do, yes, but we're neither of us bound by chronology." Without thinking he reached for the back pocket where his former self had kept his diary, and then winced. He wasn't carrying it anymore. He hadn't thought there was any need.
"It's all right," River said quietly. "Come, sit." She led him back to the sitting room and sat on the loveseat. When she crossed her legs the robe parted, revealing her calves and a hint of thigh. There was room for him on the loveseat, but he chose the other chair instead. He wasn't sure what the rules were, here and now, between them. It was simpler to opt for distance.
"I'll start by confirming the obvious: Trenzalore is behind you," River said.
The Doctor let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "It is."
"It's behind me too. I was a data ghost, but my memories synched with the Library's database and were stored there along with everything else."
"But you're not a data ghost now." He was staring, but he couldn't help himself. She was right in front of him, real and in the flesh, and that didn't make sense.
"No. I'm really here."
"How did you--"
The familiar Cheshire Cat smile played across her features. "Spoilers, sweetie."
"What a surprise." Did that suggest that he was going to have something to do with getting her out of the Library, or was he reading too much into her refusal to say more? He was going to have to research the Library's data storage and export configurations. He'd done that before, of course, but he'd been at the end of his lifespan. Now the sharp energy of a new set of regenerations sparked beneath his skin. Perhaps he could find answers now.
"The university had never terminated my position; it's a century since the last time they saw me, but they're accustomed to that. So I started teaching again."
She flashed a grin. "Well, teaching and waiting for my husband to come home."
A familiar nervous anticipation sparked along his spine. Two thousand years old, and she could still make him feel like a schoolboy.
He swallowed hard. "Have you met this body before?"
She shook her head.
That doubled his anxious nerves. Maybe trebled them? He couldn't be certain. "So the last time you saw me --"
"The last time I saw you in the flesh was at the Library," she said quietly, and he knew they were both remembering. He hadn't recognized her. He had only barely managed to save her. "The last time I remember seeing you was at Trenzalore."
And there was a sobering thought. His first time on Trenzalore. The TARDIS his tomb. Not to mention the centuries he'd spent on Trenzalore protecting Christmas...
"Enough about that." River interrupted his reverie. "I like the new look."
"You don't miss the bow tie, eh?" The words came out more sharply than he intended. Clara had missed the old him, for a time. She probably still did. Which smarted more than he wanted to admit. And he was desperately, uncomfortably afraid that River would miss the old him, too. That this version wouldn't measure up to what she remembered.
There was a new awareness in River's eyes. She'd always been good at reading his moods. She put down her mug and stood up. "Come here," she said.
He followed suit and rose, but his feet didn't move. The space between them felt infinite, impossible to bridge. This was a new body with new quirks and truth be told he wasn't sure whether she would care for it.
Oh, she had obviously taken pleasure in his previous form, but -- damn regeneration; it was like being a teenager again, and again, and again. All of the appalling adolescent anxieties. It was ridiculous. He was disgusted with himself for even thinking those things, but the thoughts were there; he couldn't banish them. What had the TARDIS been thinking, bringing him here, now?
River's smile was both exasperated and fond as she moved toward him. Only two steps; it wasn't so far, after all. And then she flowed right into his space, her warm hands cradling his face as her mouth met his.
The kiss was gentle, at first. A getting-to-know-you sort of kiss. His arms went around her. The closeness of her body was thrilling. Eventually she broke the kiss to breathe, but she didn't pull away; they stayed that way, with his hand on the small of her back as though they were waltzing.
There was dust in his eyes. Or pollen. Something. He blinked furiously, willing the tears away.
"Hello, sweetie," River whispered. Her smile shone. As he kissed her again, a frozen shard he hadn't even realized he was carrying in his hearts melted entirely away.
This time wasn't so gentle. River's mouth was eager, demanding, and he smiled against her lips. He remembered this, and he knew how to push back. He remembered what she liked.
He hadn't thought he would ever be able to do this again. To hold River in his arms and feel her body and share her breath.
And then she shifted against him in a way that brought her hip into contact with his erection, and he gasped into her mouth, suddenly dizzied with desire. She swallowed his gasp and kissed him one more time before pulling away, her lips beautifully reddened. "Bed?" she asked, her voice husky, and he felt a shiver of want.
"Yes," he agreed. "Now."
She tangled her fingers in his and tugged him through the house, down a short hallway, around a corner, and into her room. The windows were covered with gauzy curtains which let in a kind of clouded half-light. The bed was large and she hadn't made it up; the silk coverlet was rumpled and pushed back on one side. Her side. There were pillows waiting, untouched, on the other side of the bed. As though she slept at one end of the bed every night, waiting for his return.
The Doctor shrugged off his coat and sat on the bed to unfasten his boots, kicking them off. When she pushed him onto his back, he went willingly. Her pillow smelled intoxicatingly of her shampoo; the scent-memory reminded him of every time they had done this, across centuries and galaxies. As she climbed over him her robe parted and he realized that she was bare underneath. The thought was unbearably exciting.
His hands came up to hold her hips and she reached down to unfasten his buttons, starting with his collar. "No tie, makes this easier," she observed, breathlessly, and he laughed.
"I suppose it does," he agreed. He'd been about to say something about needing to find something else with which to bind her hands (he still cherished every scorching memory of the first time they'd done that), but she bent and kissed his neck and he shuddered beneath her, his head tipping back to give her better access.
"You still like that," she murmured into the shell of his ear, and he shuddered again.
"I do," he managed. "I always have."
She knelt up and continued unfastening his shirt. He undid his waistcoat. Between the two of them they tugged his shirttails out of his trousers and she spread his shirt open. And then she bent to kiss his collarbone, to tease one nipple into an aching little point. She squirmed down his body and mouthed her way down his ribcage.
Fireworks bloomed beneath his skin every place her lips traveled. His hands clenched in the coverlet as she unfastened his trousers.
"You're overdressed," she proclaimed, and slipped off the bed to tug at his clothing.
"Am I," he said, raising his hips so that she could pull trousers and pants free.
"I like your new voice, by the way." River's smile was archly satisfied as she pushed his legs apart again and settled between them. He felt exposed, extra-naked between his socks and his opened shirt and waistcoat.
"I suppose that's good, since I've no control over it," he pointed out.
"I look forward to hearing more of it." Her eyes danced. And then she reached for his cock, angled him up, and slid her mouth down.
He couldn't hold back his groan. Her mouth on him felt impossibly good, a pleasure so deep it was almost pain. She hummed in response and kept doing what she was doing.
Sex had never felt this good before. Had it? This body was more keenly-attuned than his last one had been. Or maybe it was just that no one had touched him in this body until River. Was that why he was so close already to flying apart?
And then she brought her other hand to bear on him and he fought against orgasm, not ready for this to end yet. It really was like being a teenager again. "I'm not going to last," he gritted out, aroused and embarrassed, and she pulled back.
"How do you want to come?" she asked, and he tensed against the possibility of succumbing just from the sound of her voice.
"Anything," he said, his voice low. "Whatever you want." Your mouth again, he thought wildly, or your hands, I don't care --
She shrugged out of her robe (glorious breasts, thatch of curls) and climbed over him.
"I'm too close," he said, desperately, and then groaned as she enveloped him.
"Oh," she gasped. Every time she moved, it sparked pleasure through his body.
He had to hold on. He had to. He drove up into her and her gasp (was it surprise, was it pleasure?) ratcheted him higher. And then she shifted position, grinding down against him and letting herself fall so that her hands pinned his shoulders, and the change in angle wrung his orgasm out of him.
She convulsed around him for an endless moment and then collapsed on top of him. She made a small sound as he slipped out of her, and then shifted off of him, curling onto her side and tugging on his arm so that he spooned up behind her, holding her close. Her hair tickled his nose.
Only minutes had passed since they'd tumbled onto her bed, but everything had changed.
And then the voice of self-doubt piped up in his mind, completely destroying the afterglow. Minutes, he thought; surely she expected more than that. She can't have been satisfied.
That thought hurt, and he poked at the hurt like a child worrying at a wound.
And then her throaty murmur derailed the slow burn of his fury with himself. "Have you any idea," she murmured, "how unbelievably hot it is to be wanted that much?"
And just like that, the self-loathing was gone. He felt weak with relief. "Is it now," he managed.
"Fuel for my fantasies for the next month."
And there was a mental image he wouldn't soon forget: River lying on her back in this bed, two fingers driven deep inside herself, remembering him. His spent cock stirred against her arse and she squirmed back against him with a pleased hum.
"If I'm to be gone for a month, I'd best make sure you have plenty to remember me by."
"Yes, do, please," River said, and the hitch in her voice on the word 'please' turned him on fiercely.
"I like the sound of that," he murmured into her hair, and he felt her chuckle.
"Then I'll say it again," she said, and this time her "please" sounded needy.
He rolled her onto her stomach and climbed over her. She rose up on forearms and knees to meet him and as his heavy cock nudged against her quim she murmured it again.
And this was the upside of a Time Lord vascular system, wasn't it? Two hearts; renewed blood flow; ready again in no time at all. He fucked into her, hard, and she gasped and clenched around him.
"Yes," she gasped, and "please," and when he pulled back almost all the way and then drove back into her the word turned into a cry. His loose shirt fluttered around them. He felt giddy, triumphant.
"Is this what you wanted?" It was a rhetorical question, of course, but she'd said she liked his new voice, and he wanted to test that. Purely for the sake of science, of course.
She moaned, wordless, and pushed back against him. It was as fervent a yes as anyone could have offered.
"I wonder how many times I can make you succumb," he mused aloud, and she convulsed, gasping. Well, there was once, wasn't it? He grinned. His body was getting the hang of this again, remembering how to defer pleasure for the greater goal of making her come apart. He braced himself on one hand and reached around her with the other, and when his fingers met her slick wet curls she cried out again, shuddering, pinned between his fingers and his cock. "Was that twice?"
She batted his hand away, gasping. "I can't," she bit out, but she was squirming back against him with renewed vigor.
"I think you can," he told her.
"I want to feel you come again." Her voice was ragged. "Please. That's what I need, I need to feel you --"
And that was what did it. Her quim clenching around him, and her agonized plea.
This time when he pulled out they both gasped. His cock felt exposed and tender. She couldn't be feeling any less so, could she? He fell onto the bed beside her and they lay together, hands clasped. His body thrummed, afire and satisfied.
"Now that's the way to start the morning," River said, a bit dreamily. He turned his head in her direction. She was smiling at the ceiling. There were high spots of colour in her cheeks. She looked languid, her body meltingly relaxed. In a word, well-fucked.
"If you're expecting me to disagree, you'll be sorely disappointed," he said.
She turned her head to gaze at him and her eyes were knowing. "Never that."
Never disappointed. Not in him, not ever.
He cleared his throat which had grown strangely tight for a moment, and blinked hard to clear his eyes. "If there's anywhere you want to go," he said, "I happen to be free today."
"Oh, you do?" River beamed. "There is a bit of prehistoric excavation I've been putting off until I had another pair of willing hands..."
"So long as there aren't any dinosaurs. I ran into one who thought the TARDIS was some kind of exotic fruit."
"When was this?" River disentangled their hands so she could turn onto her side and prop her head on one arm.
"Right after I regenerated," he said. "Ohh, you should have seen her; she was a beauty."
"And you're a flirt," River told him, though she looked delighted rather than distressed. Good; that much hadn't changed.
"I am not," feigning indignance.
"Oh, I think you are," River retorted. "You could charm the pants off of a snake."
"Charming, now, that I'll accept. But one can be charming without being a flirt."
"One can," River agreed. "You can't."
They were both grinning now. "So this is how it's going to be," he said.
"I expect so."
"You're going to malign my honour all the way back to the Neolithic."
River's eyes danced. "Malign your honour? That, I'd rather do right here."
There was no way to answer that but with a kiss. This time it was sweet and unhurried. A promise of things to come.
"I'll make breakfast," River said when they parted, "and you might want to check your closet for something a bit more appropriate." She rolled to her edge of the bed and bent to retrieve her robe from the floor. He admired the view.
"You're saying I'm not dressed for archaeology."
"I'd hate to rumple that fine suit."
The Doctor laughed as he moved to get up. "This suit is a lost cause. I do have others just like it, but I can opt for work trousers if you insist." Once he stood, his unfastened shirt and waistcoast seemed silly; he shrugged them off and bundled them together with the trousers he'd been wearing before. An armload of laundry, which the TARDIS would take care of in her unknowable way.
River was watching him with a sly Cleopatra sort of smile. "Granted, you could always work naked."
Emboldened by the obvious appraisal in her eyes, he stood up straighter and raised an eyebrow. "I fear I would only distract you from your work, Professor Song."
"That you would," she agreed. "Go, get dressed. I can't manage a full Scottish breakfast, but I've got oatmeal."
"Have you ever known me to want black pudding and baked beans?"
"No, but you weren't Scottish the last time."
He didn't dignify that with a response. "And make more coffee, would you?" he called as he walked out the sliding glass door.
He walked out to the TARDIS naked but for black socks, only barely resisting the urge to whistle as he went. "Hello, old girl," he said as he stepped inside. "Well, if you thought a good shag would cheer me up, you were absolutely right."
The TARDIS didn't answer, but he fancied she was smiling.
"And see, that's what happens when I'm in a good mood; you get an eyefull," he told her as he made his way to the closet wing. "Be a love and help me find some work clothes." He never knew what would be hanging nearest the door, but he had the strong feeling the TARDIS moved things around between visits.
When he opened the door he was faced with his caretaker uniform from Coal Hill. "Oh, very funny," he groused, though his voice lacked bite. To his surprise, even the reminder of where he'd just been -- of the companion he was beginning to admit was going to choose someday to leave him behind -- didn't break his good humour. "I'd prefer something a bit more flattering, thank you." He paged swiftly through the hangers until his hands alighted on a pair of black cargo trousers and a soft grey henley. "These will do nicely."
A day of digging in the dirt lay ahead. Well, that and watching River's delightful arse. And perhaps tonight after a hot shower he'd take her somewhere interesting for dinner. Granted, it was hard to impress a woman as well-traveled as Doctor River Song, but he had a few tricks up his sleeve yet.
As he strode back into his wife's cottage, the Doctor enjoyed the sensation -- always temporary, but no less delightful for all that -- of being, for a time, entirely on top of the world.