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you’re the sun who makes me shine

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you’re the sun who makes me shine

“I’m not letting that woman drag me into anything!

Sometimes, he thinks he ought to stop saying things. Because how often do his own words have to come back to haunt him, before he learns his lesson? He just ought not say anything at all, he thinks, as he grins and runs, his feet pounding the ground below him and his chest aching from the burn of the oxygen.

It’s not like he meant to find her – he was bored. Amy and Rory were tired, they spent an awful lot of time in their room together. He’s never had companions who were so sleepy before. Really. So he’d thought – what harm would a little side adventure, all on his own, hurt? They’d sleep right through it!

Only the little side adventure had somehow turned into an impeding invasion in the Gamma forests, and there at the heart of it all – River Song.

Really, the woman was such trouble. Every time he saw her they nearly died – and that’s obviously why his hearts pound whenever he sees her. It’s just adrenaline. Really. His body simply is preparing himself for the inevitable fight or flight that follows her around like a shadow.

She’s trouble.

And he does not appreciate her breathless grin, or her aim with that plasma blaster, over her shoulder, while they are still running.

They save the forests. Of course they do – what else would they do? River is glowing with exertion, her eyes lit up and her breathing rapid long after the danger has passed. He escapes as soon as he can – Amy and Rory will wake up soon – and he offers her a lift, he does, but so grudgingly that she rolls her eyes and exhales sharply, her cheeks still pink as she tells him flatly that she can take care of herself. He frowns at her emphasis, it seems odd and she is still breathing so heavy – but she is gone in a flash, and the smoke stings his eyes as he frowns at the spot she’d just been.

She’s trouble.

And he definitely won’t let her drag him into any further adventures.

~*~*~*~*~

His pocket burns, and he makes a noise of surprise as he pulls out his psychic paper. Coordinates, and a tiny x in the corner. No name – but he recognises her handwriting. “So, off to bed then Pond?” He glances casually at Amy and Rory as he tucks the paper back in his tweed.

“What? I – are you tired? I mean I suppose…” Amy trails off, frowning at him and he lifts his brows, smiling and nodding as Rory tugs on Amy’s hand.

“Come on, who knows when we’ll next get a break with him,” Rory points out practically as he herds his girlfriend up over the stairs, and the Doctor grins, waving at them as he watches them go. He frowns, noticing the edge of his sleeve is a bit tattered, and he glances down at his tweed, well-worn and perfectly acceptable for adventuring – but River had had a rather lovely dress on in the forests, and she’d eyed him with something akin to disappointment. Best change then, just in case – if River could quell rebellions in dinner wear, then so could he.

He tugs his bowtie undone and heads toward the wardrobe.

Four hours later, he’s lost his new bowtie, and is trapped with River in a broom cupboard of all things, as she leans against the door, shushing him and pressing her ear to the panel.

“All I am saying is that if you hadn’t called their President a fish monger, River, we wouldn’t be here right now!”

“Well he was a fish, what was I supposed to call him, sweetie?!” she hisses back and he flails, staring at her, aghast.

“The Hath are a noble species, River Song-”

“They’re giant fish sweetie, come on,” she rolls her eyes and pushes back against the door and he stills, hearing a set of footsteps out in the hall. So he crowds closer to her, his chest pressing against her back as he hisses his response in her ear – or well, her hair – who could reach her ear under all of that?

“Doesn’t make them any less noble. We didn’t need to be running, we could have had a lovely evening at the ball and I could have kept that bowtie – it was a nice bowtie, River!”

She makes a noise of distress, a small, high-pitched whinge and he frowns at her, looking her over surreptitiously. Her breathing is shallow and laboured, and there is a fine layer of sweat on her skin. Her skin is flushed again, and her hand holding her gun against the door trembles slightly. “Are you not feeling well, River?” He asks, suddenly quite concerned and she huffs, blowing hair out of her face.

“I’m fine. I will be fine as soon as we get out of here and I can drop you back at the TARDIS, honey. And stop pestering me – I can take care of myself,” she snaps in irritation and he frowns. She keeps saying that – she can take care of herself. And of course she can, but he’s simply concerned. As a friend. Or acquaintance really. More like a genial bystander who happens to run into her. A lot. Right. Not a friend. Or anything near a friend. He’s just here. And she’s just looking a bit ill. Anyone would be concerned.

Strangers would be concerned.

“Well fine then, take care of yourself. See if I ask after you in a perfectly polite manner anymore -” Which is how the Hath guard end up finding them and they find themselves in the palace holding cells.

“Oh I hate you so much,” River mutters from the cell next to him and he huffs, his back against the wall as he sits on the small bed there. Given the dull thudding he hears against the wall, she’s in roughly the same location in her cell.

“You do not. Besides, you think you’d be accustomed to containment cells,” he snipes at her – they’d confiscated his sonic and he still has no bowtie, and there had been dancing at the party. All River had to do was not insult the planetary leader, and they could have spent the evening dancing – not dancing – but River looked the graceful sort, really – he bets she could keep a lovely rhythm.

“Are you serious-”

“River, do you like to dance?” He asks, his mind distracted by the image and she laughs, her voice low. The sound is unlike any laugh he’s heard from her before and he feels a shiver slide down his spine at the sound of it, echoing through the cells.

“Of course sweetie, I love to dance,” her voice is a bit breathless, and he thinks he can hear the faint rustle of fabric – is she laying down? “Just not tonight.” Her voice sounds faint and he frowns in concern – she’d not looked good in that cupboard- and his concern ratchets up again. He clenches his jaw, remembering how she’d snapped at him earlier – he’ll not ask again.

He hears a faint whimper, and he turns, pressing his ear to the wall. “River?”

“What?” her voice is low, and raspy, and he swallows – suddenly deeply concerned for her well-being.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m-” her voice catches and she laughs sharply, “I’m fine. Just – talk to me, Doctor.” He frowns, wondering if she has some sort of phobia about confined spaces – it would make sense given her imprisonment, and how often she clearly escapes.

She must just have a fear of enclosed spaces. It would explain her rapid breathing, and her changes in tone. “Alright, what do you want me to talk to you about?”

“What – what have you done lately?” her question is rushed and he feels his concern rise at her clearly panicked tone.

He begins to talk about repairs to the TARDIS he’s done, and mundane things like the swims he is forced to take in the pool because having Amy and Rory on board meant he often walked in on humany- things – at which point River is making alarmingly negative noises and he switches his train of thought.

“We had a mix-up with psychic pollen just the other day. We were trapped in two dream worlds – had to choose. Old people with aliens in their mouths – eugh. Amy was pregnant in one of the dreams – looked like she’d swallowed a planet,” he began to talk and she hummed in response, before making another negative noise.

“Before that,” she manages to spit out and he leans closer to the wall – she sounds terrible. She couldn’t be doing very well.

“Vampires in Venice. Only not vampires – oddly enough, giant fish, River,” he laughs at that and she giggles breathlessly.  “I tried to save them,” his voice trails off for a moment as he remembers the outcome. “I did save Venice though, weather machine – had to do a manual shut down.”

“Was it raining?” her voice sounds oddly low and he presses closer to the wall, wishing her could do more for her.

“It was. Pouring – I had to climb a tower, rain pummeling me, wind blowing,” he speaks slowly and she gasps, causing his hearts to plummet.

In purely strangerly concern of course.                                                           

“River, are you alright?!” his voice is not panicked, it is simply laced with manly curiosity – and he waits what feels like ages for her response. When it does come, she is standing outside of his cell, pale and flushed and her brow looks damp with sweat but she is grinning.

“I’m fine sweetie. Just needed a bit of a lie down. I feel fine now,” she speaks in a breezy tone as she unlocks his cell, and he moves closer, observing her closely. Her pupils are blown wide, and her pulse rate looks alarmingly high as it pounds in her neck.  Her brow is damp with sweat, and he can smell something – not anything bad but it doesn’t smell normal either. Like an acrid smell that is stronger than simply sweat, but he can’t quite put his finger on –

His sonic smacks him in his face and he splutters, grabbing for it as he glares at River, who shrugs unrepentantly. “River, a little notice please!”

“I called your name twice, sweetie. Now come on – I’ll take you home, and you can go find a ball to take Amy and Rory dancing at.” She pats his arm gently and he frowns in response. He fiddles with his sonic, wondering if he could manage to scan her before she leaves- “Don’t even think about it, Doctor.”

“I wasn’t thinking about anything-”

“I told you I’m fine. I can take care of myself – if anything was wrong, I would tell you,” she speaks in an eerily calm tone and he narrows his eyes at her. She most certainly would not tell him if she wasn’t fine. He doesn’t know much about River Song, but he does know that. She lies. Almost as much as he does.

He doesn’t like that, he tells himself firmly.

~*~*~*~

Amy is sad and she can’t remember why, but he feels her grief wind its way through the TARDIS, so he sends her to bed, and looks for an escape. He dons his good suit – oddly sure that he will find River tonight, though she’s not sent him a message.

It seems to be the universe’s message to him – he cannot go anywhere without finding her. So he is almost glad – in a non-friendly sort of way, he lies to himself – when he spots her riot of curls across the room. She is wandering the stall of the markets of Na’tar and he rubs his hands together in glee. What has she got for him today?

“Hello, River,” she jumps, whirling around and staring at him and he grins, having taken her by surprise.

“Sweetie! I didn’t think I’d see you tonight,” she smiles brightly at him, her entire face lighting up in a way he’s never witnessed before.

“Well, I thought I’d leave Amy to – to – be on her own for a bit. She was tired.” Her expression dims a bit at that and she frowns.

“When are we for you?”

“We got arrested by the Hath last time I saw you – your fault, by the way,” he mutters and she frowns, shaking her head. “Um, Gamma forests?” She shakes her head again and he scratches at his own. “Byzantium?”

She simply stares at him, and sighs softly. “I don’t have any of those.” She looks incredibly forlorn and vulnerable for a moment and he feels his hearts pound in his chest – she doesn’t look any younger. But then he’s never really thought to hazard a guess as to River’s age before. She couldn’t be more than – well – possibly a bit over – his whole brain stutters to a halt as he tries to think. Lord, she would laugh at this. “Doctor?”

“Sorry – just – I just realised I don’t know how old you are, River.” Her eyes open wide at that and she stares at him, an unreadable expression on her face.

“You don’t know who I am yet,” she breathes the words out and he shakes his head.

“No.” Her expression is so filled with – he doesn’t know what to call it but his chest aches and he knows he most certainly does not like it – and he scrambles. “Well yes, I know you’re River Song. And we’ve had adventures. I know who you are, I just don’t know who you are.”

“Right.” She speaks in a small voice, and then nods, standing straighter and nodding again. “Right. It’s fine. We’ll just – spoilers. We’ll deal with it.” She nods once more for good measure and then steps in closer to him, her hand raised. He stumbles back, unsure about what she is doing, and she stills, staring at him warily. “Right.”

“Right, sorry – I was just – I wasn’t – I didn’t know – sorry,” he stumbles over himself to apologise, anything to get back to his usual footing with her, the flirting and teasing and general one-step-aheadedness that she usually exudes in massive amounts. “Sorry,” he apologises again and she smiles at him gently, shaking her head.

“It’s alright, sweetie. Why don’t you tell me why you were here,” she smiles more, and she is generally being so – so – uncharacteristically gentle and sweet – and did he really just call River Song sweet?!

“I was looking for you,” he answers and she frowns in concern.

“Did something happen? Did you need me?”

“What? I – no – not need – I don’t need anyone, River. I’m fine. I can take care of myself,” he snaps and she steps back, her face oddly calm.

“Doctor, I don’t think – I don’t think I’m the me you need.” She finally responds and he blinks in surprise. “I’m too young, you see.”

No, quite frankly he didn’t see at all – honestly she couldn’t be more than five or ten years younger than the River he was used to – if that. Was their time so short? His hearts squeezed at the thought – what was the point if she was only with him for a handful of human years?

“I’ll be right back okay? You wait – right here,” she herds him over to a small café and sits him down. She waves to a waiter, and orders something he can’t quite make out – but her accent is perfect and of course she speaks fluent Taren. She would. “I’ll be right back,” she promises him, and he frowns, but nods, watching her walk away and disappear into the large crowd. He fidgets and waits, and the waiter brings him ice cream. He frowns down at it, and picks up the spoon, licking at it cautiously.

It takes like custard, and he smiles a bit at that, scooping up a spoonful of the chilled dessert and swallowing it. He hums in appreciation, and when he opens his eyes, she is back.

But it isn’t the same her.

Gone is the innocence about her face, and the sundress she’d been shopping in. This River is smiling at him – but her smile is more of a smirk, curling the corner of her mouth. The dress has been exchanged for tan jodhpurs, tall boots and a fitted white blouse. “Hello, sweetie.”

“Fobbing me off on your older self – that’s rich River.”

“Oh nothing you won’t do to me a time or two, honey.  Now – I’ve waited an awfully long time to find this out, so indulge me. What’s the matter?” She settles in the seat across from him, stealing his ice cream spoon and licking at it with a smile. He does not like that.

“Your perception of a long time is vastly different than mine, River. What is that? Ten years for you in the future? Maybe?” he peers at her more closely, examining the fine lines around her eyes – but even those are few and far between. She doesn’t look any older physically. But he knows she is – her eyes. Her eyes are nowhere near as open, and he wonders what in the hell he does to her to take her from that soft woman who had just been here.

“Oh sweetie, not even close. I was very young when I saw you here. Too young to know what to even do with a Doctor who didn’t know me, what if I did something, said something, gave something away with my body language? I wasn’t ready then. And I’m not telling you how long ago it was – that’s spoilers.” She takes another bite of his ice cream, her tongue sliding along the silver of the spoon, all obscenely pink in the warm sun as he sighs.

“Unless you somehow magically don’t age, it’s a bit of an obvious spoiler,” he grumbles, snatching his spoon back from her as she lifts her brows mockingly.

“Is it now? Well, I guess I never could fool you, sweetie.” She stares at him, before ordering something from a passing waiter, and leaning back.  “Are you quite finished avoiding telling me what’s happening? You don’t look for me this young – you scurry away as fast as you can.”

He swallows and looks away from her all too knowing gaze. She is like a sphinx, blank and all-knowing, and he hates it all just a little bit. Because she probably knew – knew what would happen to Rory and never breathed a word in warning to him. “Rory died – erased from the universe – and he did it to save me. Me River – a man who he probably thought less than nothing of. But he did it – for Amy. And she doesn’t even remember him doing it – because he’s gone now – erased completely, and you don’t even – you’ve probably never met him now, or at all – but he was a good man. Fantastic man – better man than I could ever hope to be.”

He pauses, blinking back tears and he sees her hand in his, squeezing gently.  She doesn’t say anything, and he feels both relieved and angry about it. When he looks up at her she is simply watching him, her face calm and he growls in frustration. “Why did you leave?” he finally asks, pulling his hand from hers and ignoring the way she leaves her hand on the table. Her hands are so small, and yet he’s seen them so capable, tapping at controls, flying his ship, shooting monsters, wiring herself into a throne of death. Such tiny things shouldn’t be capable of all that.

“Because I wasn’t ready. You are not ready – you are in no way capable of handling me that young. It’s funny you know, it’s not back to front in a strict sense, but it seems our older selves always deal with the younger counterparts. We tangle in the middle, and well – I’m not sure about the ends,” her voice is oddly soothing. Not soft, per se, but she speaks calmly, evenly, and it soothes his jangled nerves. “Us young together is just a recipe for disaster.”

“It shouldn’t be,” he mutters, frowning at his bowl of melting ice cream and going silent as the waiter slides a pot of what smells like tea onto the table, along with two cups, sugar and milk. He laughs at that, looking up at her. “Tea, River? Really?”

“Well I am still British sweetie. Now, hush,” she scolds him lightly as she pours, stirring an obscene amount of sugar and a touch of milk into a cup and sliding it across to him. “Drink your tea.”

“It doesn’t solve anything,” he grumbles as he drinks anyway, the hot liquid burning down his throat, but he kept sipping. It was oddly comforting, yet a touch self-flagellating.

“It does. Just like you finding me does – because you’re going to feel guilty. And Amy can’t remember, so you don’t even get her to exacerbate your guilt the way you’d like to.  So you’ll come to me, and expect me to do it,” she sips at her tea thoughtfully as he watches her.

“So many people die – in my name River,” his voice is dark and she nods at him.

“They do. But not because you kill them Doctor. Because they choose their own end – you just don’t ever agree with their choice. But it’s not yours to make.”

“If I didn’t – didn’t steal them away – if I just left everyone alone,” he starts and she shakes her head sharply.

“You would be a dark, lonely god with no mercy or hope. And the world – the universe, Doctor, would be a far worse place for it.” Her tone brokers no argument and he stares at her, his eyes wide and his hearts racing.

“Do you know everything I’ve done River?”

“I know things you’ve not even done yet, sweetie. You’re just a man – you’re not a god, so stop presuming you hold so much weight in the universe, Doctor. You will sit here, and finish your tea. And then we will go check the market, and distract you for a bit,” she smiles at that and he splutters at her authoritative tone. “And then you will go take Amy to all the places she’s wanted to go – no detours, no accidental landings – and you’ll make it up to her.”

“How can I ever make that up to her? Rory was – she didn’t want to live in a world without him once, River. And now she has to anyway.”

“The universe is a vast place that values balance above all else, Doctor, and you know that. It’s not good or evil, or any sort of definable morale outside of always in balance. Balance will be restored, it always is.” Her voice is smooth and dark, but cryptic and he frowns across the table at her.

“But what does that even mean?”

She smiles at him, her lips curling up and he watches in fascination as her cheek curves and lifts. The lines around her eyes are more pronounced then, and his hearts squeeze at the sight of them. “It means finish your tea, sweetie, and restore a little balance.”

“And then what?” he looks at her, wondering if she knows something he doesn’t. Well of course she does, she knows a lot of things that he doesn’t – it drives him mad, honestly. He wants to just – just – pin her down sometimes and search every inch of her until he ferrets all of the knowledge out of her, bit by bit. His whole body tightens at the mental image of it all – and he flushes, shaking his head.

“And then, you’ll see.”

~*~*~*~*~

He doesn’t see her again until she destroys historical sites to pass him a bloody note, and he is suddenly scolding a queen in her tent as she stares up at him, all supplication and wide eyes. It thrills him more than it should.

Everything about this adventure thrills him more than it should. It is vast. Catastophic. The TARDIS exploding everywhere at once, his hearts racing, every race he’s ever fought, waiting to take him down,  Rory – Rory is a Roman – and nothing makes any sense, but his hearts race and it thrills him.

And then there is River.

River in that dress, and then those trousers, skipping ahead of him, her mind is so sharp and he knew that but this time it is – it is glorious. She is clearly as thrilled as he is – end of the universe and everything in it and she grins at him like a child on Christmas morning. He shouldn’t like that, but it is so him it almost gives him pause. Surely she couldn’t be – he wouldn’t cross his own timeline like that. No. Of course he wouldn’t.

But he is a little bit infatuated with the idea of her, the way she dances ahead of him, yet does everything he asks, that when he arrives in a TARDIS about to explode, always, always about to explode, he can’t stop the words from falling from his lips. “Hi honey, I’m home.” And oh that had been flirting hadn’t it? He can’t say as he cares, but her response is well timed, like this is a game they’ve played before, and the thought thrills him.

He saunters up to her, and she eyes the fez with disbelief, but he simply smiles down at her. “Sweetie, are we going to leave? I mean, I love a good explosion as much as the next girl, but-”

“I just bet you do, Doctor Song,” his voice is low and he watches her eyes widen, and then darken. Time feels wrong here, on a loop – and the rush of it is heady, intoxicating. And then the ship explodes, and he blinks as River glares at him from where she’s been reset to the console.

“I really hate you sometimes,” she glares, but her chest is heaving and her skin looks flushed once more, and he shakes his head as if to clear it.

“You don’t. Now, as enjoyable as that was, come on – time’s a wasting.” He holds out his arm to her and she loops her own through it with ease, her breathing shallow as she stares up at him and he shifts, tapping keys rapidly.

“Can you fly Doctor?” she asks, pressing against him to look at his wrist and he startles, glaring at her.

“What? No!” he growls the words and she makes a soft noise of distress and he studies her more carefully.  Had she been injured during the explosion? Before the TARDIS was able to put her on a time loop?

She looks up, about to open her mouth, when time contracts and implodes around them again, and the space at his side is empty once more. “You keyed in the wrong coordinates,” she huffs as she strides back down to him, pulling his wrist closer and correcting his mistake.  “We are not birds, sweetie, lets land on the roof, yes?” she lifts her brows and he slides his arm through hers this time, noticing how flushed she looks. Maybe being caught in a time loop for nearly two thousand years has been too much for her. But she wouldn’t remember anything outside of those two minutes. Would she?

Something niggles at his brain, but River is pressing the button on the Vortex manipulator and then it is nothing but time energy and a flash and she is killing his fez with a look of such perverse delight on her face.

And then he is far too busy saving the universe, again, and dancing at weddings, and it isn’t until he is standing with her in Amy’s garden that it occurs to him. How had she remembered from one time loop to the next? A human couldn’t – but she was human, right? Except she looks the same now as she does young and she remembered time in a timeloop, and he can’t stop himself from asking her then – is she married?

To him?

She is cryptic as always, but he watches her go, knowing full well that he will see her again, and soon, and his hearts thrill at the thought of it.

~*~*~*~*~

After he drops the Ponds off, post-honeymoon as it were, he finds himself at loose ends, with Kazran’s words echoing through his head, uncomfortably. So when he finds River in the kitchen one morning, making tea as if this is something that occurs regularly, he is more than happy to see her.

He’s overjoyed.

She is a distraction, and she is adventure and racing hearts and always, always on the same page as him. And sometimes, as much as he loves his companion's wonder at the awe of the universe and everything in it, sometimes he simply adores the fact that he never ever has to worry about River.

She can take care of herself.

She tells him often enough that he absolutely believes her.

Somehow – and even he isn’t sure how, it involved a lot of arm waving and babbling on his part, and a lot of indulgent smirks on hers – he convinces her to stay, just for a bit. He’s told Amy and Rory he’ll give them a few months to settle in to married life.  He’d planned on just popping ahead, but then there had been repairs, and now there was River – and he can’t say as he minds having her around. He likes the adventures, the trouble, the running.

She seems to like it too, though she’d had a vague veneer of forced cheerfulness about her the first night he’d asked her to stay. He’d even made a room for her, or the TARDIS had – all soothing blues and greys and greens – everything lush and opulent. She’d smiled and thanked him sweetly, but she’d looked tense, or tired, or both. Honestly, she didn’t seem to sleep much anyway.

However, she always napped after they got back from adventures – like clockwork, she would slide a hand over his back, smile at him tightly, and disappear down the corridor and not re-appear until an hour or so later. Honestly, he finds himself worrying about her. He doesn’t ask, because he knows she would resent his concern – but she always looks so wrung out at the end of their adventures. Her skin is always pale, but flushed, clammy – sometimes her breathing is rapid or shallow, and other times he can feel a trembling in the hand that she strokes along his back or arm. It always seems to take so much out of her – but when she returns, after a nap – she always looks better. Looser. More relaxed.

He gets so worried that he even slows down on the trips. Cajoles her into spending a few days just in the TARDIS, but if anything, she seems worse here. He reads aloud to her one night in the library, and she has to leave the room in a hurry, muttering apologies. He shows her how to properly make fish fingers and custard in the kitchen one night, wrapping TARDIS blue aprons around them both and rolling up his shirt sleeves as he demonstrates proper stirring technique for fresh custard, and she doesn’t even stay for dinner – she naps and he eats alone. 

He’s swimming one morning, trying to figure it out – is she ill? Is she simply not telling him because she doesn’t want to worry him? He doesn’t like the thought – either of them, frankly, and he increases the speed of his strokes as his mind worries over the issue that is River Song. When he finally stills, clinging to the side of the pool and breathing heavily from the exercise, he is startled to see River kneeling on the tiled floor, staring at him, her hands twisted in the hem of her skirt.

“Sweetie, I can’t take it – either take us someplace, so I can – can work off some energy – or I have to go back.” He frowns up at her, still breathing heavy as he vaults out of the pool, settling on the edge and running a hand through his hair. She makes a small noise – it sounds like she’s in pain and he frowns, staring at her. Upon closer inspection, he can see she is shaking, trembling all over, and his hearts race as his worries increase.

“River, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing!” Her denial is high-pitched and she blushes, shaking her head. “I just – I need to get out of here,” she mutters and he feels a bit hurt by her obvious desire to be away from his company.

“Oh. Is it – is it me? Did I do something wrong?” he can’t seem to keep the hurt out of his voice and her hands relax as she stares at him, reaching out to touch his arm.

“Oh god, honey, no. I just –” she blows out a frustrated breath and her fingers are trailing along his arm absent-mindedly, stroking softly and he actually rather likes it – it causes his own hearts to race and his insides feel strange as he watches her bite her lip, searching for the right words. “I just – I can’t stay in here all the time, cooped up,” she hedges, and he smiles brightly, thinking he finally understands.

“Oh! Because of Stormcage, I suppose.”

“Sure,” she agrees, nodding and glancing down at where her fingers are skating across his shoulder, trailing along his collarbone in a manner that is making that strange feeling morph into some sort of wibbly tickle in his stomach and chest.  She pulls her hand back, flushing and apologising.

“It’s okay,” he shrugs, and reaches for his towel at the side of the pool. “We can go somewhere, if you’d like.”

“I really would, Doctor,” she agrees in a rush, and he tells her he is just going to change, and she agrees.

Only he is fully dressed and dry, and waiting in the console room to discuss options (one thing he quite adores about travelling with River is that she always has an idea where to go. He loves that – no, no, likes it. He doesn’t love anything about her. At all.) but she is taking longer than he imagined. He frowns, checks his watch, paces, checks his watch again, thinks of fourteen different planets they could go to, and checks his watch one last time before he can’t take it anymore.

He walks down the corridor toward her room, and as he approaches, he can hear her – strange moans of pain floating down the hall. “Doctor,” her voice is a groan and he panics – oh god, had she been calling for him and he’d not heard? She could be sick, or injured, or- he bursts through her door and she lets out a startled scream, he sees the flash of blue duvet pulled up over her head. “Oh god, sweetie– what – what are you doing?” He hears an odd buzzing that ceases and he frowns at her in concern.

“I was worried – and I heard you call my name.” He moves over to the bed – her face is damp with sweat when she peeks out, tiny curls stuck to her forehead. Her pupils are nearly all black and when he scans her with his sonic, he is concerned at her high heart rate and respiration – her blood pressure is so low – it’s amazing she wasn’t unconscious. “River, you’re sick!”

She blinks up at him for a moment, and then pulls the cover over her head again, hysterical giggles emitting from under there. He thinks she must have a fever – River is really not the giggling sort – more the low, sexy, mocking laughter sort. He settles at the side of the bed, tugging the covers down and pressing a cool hand to her forehead. Her body curls around his under the covers as she rolls to her side, moaning slightly. “Oh River, you should have told me,” he scolds her, smoothing her hair back from her face. There are tears in her eyes and she refuses to look at him, her cheeks red with embarrassment.

“I’m not-”

“I’ll make you tea!” He declares, leaning over to press a noisy kiss to her forehead – he’s never done that before, but she seems oddly vulnerable at the moment, and he wants to take care of her. “Just give me a tick,” he whispers to her and she closes her eyes, nodding. He all but runs out of the room, and is halfway through making tea when he stops, grinning. She hadn’t told him she could take care of herself – for once. It gives him an odd sort of proud glow, and he hums as he makes her toast to go with the tea.

Okay, maybe she’s not like a stranger really.

She’s almost sort of a friend – he cares that she’s ill. He wants her to feel better. He worries about her. He reassures himself that friends is a long way away from – from – well not friends. Just because he is friends with River Song doesn’t mean anything else is going to happen, really.

He just wants to take care of her.

He’d do the same for Amy.

~*~*~*~*~

“I’m worried about River,” he plops down next to Amy on the stairs, scratching at his cheek nervously as she frowns at him, shaking her head.

“Worried how, Doctor?” She asks with a frown and the Doctor sighs, ignoring Rory’s elbow in his side as he stares at Amy.

“We were in the middle of something, Doctor,” Rory speaks drily from behind him and the Doctor waves him off.

“I think she’s sick. Or ill. Or – something is wrong with her and she’s not telling me,” he  stares at Amy and Rory sighs, moving down a few steps and giving the Doctor more room to move back as he waits for Amy to respond.

“She seemed fine when we saw her in Utah, Doctor,” Amy assures him and Rory huffs in irritation.

“And shouldn’t you be asking me this? Hello – I am a nurse,” he grumbles but the Doctor glares at him.

“I thought it might be – you know – female things. Wait – you don’t nurse for those sorts of issues too do you?” He pulls a face at the thought, and Rory rolls his eyes, waving at Amy who tugs on the Doctor’s sleeve.

“Okay, she seems sick how, Doctor. Explain.”

“Well sometimes when I see her – she always seems just off after adventures. A bit… out of breath. Sometimes her heart rate is all elevated, or she gets chills. Or sweats. Almost every time-”

“What do you mean almost every time Doctor? We’ve seen her three times in the last year, and-”

“No, you’ve seen her three times in the last year, Pond. I’ve seen her lots more – sometimes – you know – you and Rory sleep a lot. I get bored – I’ve run into her,” he waves airily and Amy gapes at him.

“You’ve been dating River Song and not telling me?” She exclaims, punching him in the arm, hard.

Ow, Pond! And they’re not dates! They are not dates – they are adventures. Honestly – who said anything about dating?” he splutters and Amy rolls her eyes. Twice.

“Fine. You didn’t tell me you were taking River out alone for adventures which are most certainly not dates,” she amends and he sniffs, tugging on his lapels. “Tell me about how she seems sick.”

“Well one time, we were supposed to go on a trip – I was in the pool and she came and told me we had to get out – because she didn’t feel well, so I waited, and waited – and she didn’t come. So I went into her room-”

“Wait, wait, wait, stop. Pardon me? Her room?”

“Yes, her room Pond. You have a room – what River doesn’t get a room?” He glares at her as she stares, her jaw dropped. She glances at Rory, who shrugs and shakes his head silently.

“So not only are you not dating her, but she’s been staying over?” Amy all but screeches and the Doctor frowns.

“She travelled with me for a bit – you were both having your married time – after the honeymoon. What did you think I did? Moped around waiting for you?” He feels a bit insulted by that and Amy lifts her brows in shock.

“I assumed you just skipped ahead,” she points out and he tugs at his bowtie.

“Yes. Well. I didn’t. River kept me company. Only she kept needing naps – and not looking well at all, ad that’s why I think she might be seriously ill. If she is – we have to find out what. I can’t – she can’t – she just can’t,” he stumbles over his words as he looks pleadingly at Amy who manages to calm down long enough to nod with concern.

“Okay, okay Raggedy man, I know. I like River too. So you went to her room and what?”

“Well she was sweaty, and her pulse was high – she had dilated pupils and she was in bed, her breathing was off, and when I walked into her room – I would have knocked see, but she was moaning in pain and calling my name-” Amy’s face goes blank, before she bites her lip so hard the Doctor is worried that she might cause herself harm. Even Rory’s face is turned away, his shoulders shaking as he presses his hands to his mouth. “What?” The Doctor snaps in exasperation and Amy shakes her head, taking a moment to calm herself before she responds.

“No – no. It is very worrying Doctor. In fact – there is something wrong with poor River – oh poor River,” her tone at that seems genuine, and she smirks at Rory before she looks back at the Doctor. “You’re right to be worried – I don’t think it’s serious, Doctor. But you should absolutely keep a very close  eye on her during your next date- adventure,” she corrects at the Doctor’s glare. “And you know, when I’m ill – I often find just – Rory’s physical presence very soothing. You know – he hugs me, or rubs my arms or back – it makes me feel better. Really.”

“So I should pay close attention to her, and touch her more? For comfort,” the Doctor scrambles to clarify, definitely not thinking about touching River. Especially not after dropping her off at Stormcage that last time. When she’d – and he’d – and her mouth – friends kissed right? Just friends kissed all the time. Definitely.

He should be thinking about touching her comfortingly. Not – not – mouths weren’t comforting.

Hands – hands were comforting. He could do that.

“Right. And you know – I’m feeling a bit sleepy myself, how about you, Mr. Pond?” Amy glances over at Rory, a small smile on her face as Rory scrambles to his feet, nodding and yawning in an exaggerated fashion.

“Yup. Knackered really. Pirates – really take it out of you. Plus I almost died. Again. That’s exhausting.”

“That was two days ago,” the Doctor protests. “I thought we could all go to-”

“Nope, far too tired, Doctor. We’ll just go nap and be right as rain afterward. You go look for River,” Amy pats his shoulder and takes Rory’s hand, and the Doctor huffs, standing behind them.

“Well now I have to change,” he mutters as he pushes past Amy and Rory, and climbs the stairs.

“Wait – you – you dress up for these not dates?!” Amy asks and he feels himself flush as he glares at her over his shoulder.

“Go to bed Pond,” he grumbles and Amy laughs in delight behind him.

“Oh I most certainly will, Doctor. Perhaps you should try a nap too – might do you wonders.”

~*~*~*~*~

Starship UK is bustling with people, and they stroll arm in arm through the market place with ease. The Doctor still stops occasionally, snatching glasses of water and placing them on the floor- he knows they’re there after he and Amy were so long ago, but it never hurts to check. The water is still and the star whale must be sailing on, and every time the restaurant patrons glance at him in horror, River starts discussing how their fish Jim had escaped.

He giggles a bit harder each time, and she tugs him aside, rolling her eyes. “Stop checking sweetie. The pilot is fine.” She pats his arm soothingly, running her palm over his sleeve as she smiles up at him. “So, this is rather dull. Shall we pop over to Essex Tower and see if there’s anything more interesting happening there? Theft? Assault? Some sort of something – I just want to shoot something, sweetie,” her voice is breathless and he looks at her with concern, torn between Amy’s advice and the overwhelming urge to clutch his top hat to his chest.

“Shooting something isn’t always the solution River,” he looks at her intently, trying to time her breathing as his fingers stroke along the top of her arm, down to her wrist. See? Hands – just like Amy had said and no mouths involved. He could handle this.

She takes a deeper breath, her chest rising and since he’s rather carefully watching her breathing, he can’t help but notice that her top is very – that is she’s very – well, it’s not like he’s not noticed she has breasts. All female mammalian species do – and a few who aren’t even – though what were the point of them then? He frowns, contemplating Silurian genealogy for a moment and he fails to notice that suddenly there is an awful lot of River all pressed against his side. Her breasts are pushed up even further by the action, and he is torn between covering her up in case her miserable excuse for a dress doesn’t, and being unable to look away, because in the fifty seconds since he’s started contemplating the fact that River has breasts (and really  twenty of those were wasted on thoughts about Silurians) he has managed to come up with an image of just what they would look like, given the measurements of her waist and hips, and her general height and overall weight accounted for. The math is his head is brilliant – she clearly has a waist to hip ratio of approximately 0.73212382 – well, it’s very attractive, really – and extrapolating from that there is the circumference of her ribs, comparatively contrasting with her bust – all in all he thinks she must have a mathematically eloquent equivalent of a- “Doctor.”

“Sorry, what?” he startles, noticing her glaring at him as he tears his eyes from her chest and looks up at her face, which is equal parts amused and annoyed, he can tell.

“It’s flattering, sweetie, honestly, but there’s no need to act as if you’ve not seen them before,” she lowers her voice to whisper in his ear and he can feel his whole body flush as her hand presses into his back, before sliding lower and squeezing. He jumps, yelping, and turns to glare at her face, which is more than a little smug.

“River!”

“Yes, honey?”

“We were – you were – I can’t – we’re in public, River,” he hisses and she laughs up at him, grabbing his hand and pulling him around the corner until she spots the TARDIS, shoving him inside and closing the doors.  She’s breathing harder, all pressed against him – and her hair obscures his view of the console room. He can feel her heart racing though, and he runs his hands over her back nervously, but in what he hopes is a soothing manner.

Only he seems to have forgotten that her dress is backless, and that’s an awful lot of warm, River-y skin under his palms, and he is so startled by how soft she is, that he quite forgets to be nervous about it. The line of her spine is gorgeous underneath his fingertips, really – the curvature is flawless and the dip of her muscles into the vertebrae of her spine is positively perfect.  Her skin is so smooth, he almost never wants to stop touching it – and she laughs, the sound low and reverberating through him as her small hand slips into his suit pocket deftly. “River, what-” His hands drop as he gasps and she fishes his sonic out, pointing it at the hallway blindly. “What’re you doing?”

She smiles up at him as the TARDIS closes doors and the lights dim in the console room, but he can see – her pupils are wide and dark again, and her pulse is hammering away in her throat. He pulls his hands up, pressing one to her forehead as he frowns in concern, feeling how hot her skin is. “Doctor, stop it,” she is giggling again – River Song does not giggle, and he grips her shoulders, pushing her back and staring at her in concern.

“You have to tell me the truth River,” he starts seriously and her brow furrows in confusion.

“The truth about what sweetie?” She seems genuinely perplexed by his question and he sighs, dragging a hand over his face before he looks at her.

“You!”

“You know I can’t tell you who I am yet, honey. It’s soon though – and I promise-” her hands reach up for his neck, running down his chest soothingly, her fingers splayed as they slip under his jacket.

“No, River, no,” he pulls her hands down and stares at her. “What’s wrong with you – you’re ill, I know you are, and you’ve not been telling me-”

Her laugh cuts him off as she looks at him in surprise. “I’m not ill. Sweetie, what on earth is the matter with you?”

“Your heart is racing – and you have a fever – and your breathing is irregular, and your – your pupils-” Her face sobers suddenly and she stares up at him, wide-eyed. He can see sadness there, and he’s confused – what has he said? “You always say you can take care of yourself, but I think you’re just – just telling me that to hide it from me. Tell me, please, River.” His thumbs stroke along the backs of her hands and when she draws a breath, it hitches halfway through. He looks at her, and he thinks he can see a film of tears in her eyes. The sight tears at his hearts and he tugs her closer, hugging her tightly, his hands stroking along her back and shoulders, up her neck and into her hair as she buries her face into his jacket, clutching him tightly – as if she is afraid to let go.

It must be worse than he thought.

“Honey,” River pulls away slowly, biting her lip nervously and glancing around as if she can find the answers for him written on the walls. She sighs, and stares up at him, her expression uncharacteristically gentle. “I always look like that around you.”

“I know, and you won’t tell me why,” he presses her and she exhales slowly.

“It’s you, sweetie. You make my – my heart race, and my body go hot. It steals my breath, and makes me – it’s my body’s reaction to the nearness of you.” She explains carefully and he frowns. The nearness of him – oh.

Oh.

“Oh!” he gasps, his hands dropping from her as he scrambles back until his back hits the doors. “But that doesn’t explain the napping!” He points a finger at her accusingly, and his hand trembles, but she doesn’t point it out, she simply looks at him with the saddest expression he’s ever seen. His chest aches and he wants to just – just wipe it from her face. He wants the giggling, flirty, smiling, happy River he’d had in his arms just moments ago.

“Well no, but assuming since you didn’t realise… it would get rather… frustrating for me. So I guess I wouldn’t be napping so much as,” she waves her hands awkwardly between them and rolls her eyes at his blank expression, “taking care of myself.”

He frowns at her before the niggling thought in the back of his brain bursts forth with sudden clarity. And – his imagination has always been so vivid, he can’t help the images that spring forth with them. Her in her bed – the duvet – her hair, damp with sweat- and he’d made her tea. Oh he is thick.

“It’s alright honey,” she is somehow, despite her own innate sadness, she is somehow comforting him, and his hearts clench at the weight of her tiny hand, resting on his forearm, careful not to stroke or move or squeeze – it just lays there. 

They’re not friends.

Friends don’t kiss the way she’d kissed him outside of her cell, all lips and tongue and hands that pulled him to her.  And he doesn’t know who she is yet, but god he knows who he wants her to be. Not his friend. Not his future companion. Not his future self, or any of the other million, million possibilities that have swam through his mind since the day he’d met her. He just wants her to be his. Someone in this vast universe, clever and mad and quick and spirited – someone for him. Someone whose innocence he doesn’t have to protect, someone who loves him, someone who makes his hearts race, someone to share everything with.

They are not friends. And she is not his companion. But his hearts know – have known, have always known since that wretched Library – she is his. “It’s not alright River. I’m – I’m a bloody idiot. I’ve just not – this body you know. Sometimes I don’t realise – not until…” he trails off uncomfortably, unsure how to politely phrase the fact that he honestly just doesn’t think about sex until he has it. And then once that drive is tapped into – well, he’s sure she must know.

“I know. And that’s fine, sweetie. That’s – it’s fine.” She pats his arm – pats it – like he’s a dog of some sort, and oh he hates her a little bit for that, because she’s just all but put highly stimulating visual images of hertouching herself­ – in his head and then she simply pats his arm like he isn’t suddenly wondering just what his proclivities are in this body – and what does she look like under those clothes? Magnificent, he’d wager.

His hand hovers over hers, almost hesitant, and she smiles up at him. “We can just go – see a play, or find a mystery – there’s bound to be one or two hanging around out there. We could go see the Queen, or have tea and scones-” She is being perfectly understanding. Perfectly prepared to go with him, accepting that they are not where she thought they were. But she’d kissed him – that last time she’d kissed him.

And even the memory of her mouth under his makes his hearts flutter, and he feels an odd shift and pull toward her. So he listens to it – his hands tangling in her hair as he moves forward, until her back presses against the wooden doors and she gasps in surprise. Her breathing gets shallow, but instead of concerning him, he feels excitement stir within him. Her eyes are wide, and there is a flush stealing over her skin and he wants to peel her clothes off and find out where the blush stops. “Doctor,” her voice is breathless and whatever she is about to say, he isn’t interested in hearing it – so he leans down and kisses her, his body leaning into hers. She is soft where he is lean and sharp, and god she feels amazing, and tastes amazing. She hums into his mouth, her hands curling around his shoulders, fingernails digging into the fabric of his jacket as her hips press against his. He kisses her until he is dizzy, until his head swims with River, and his hands can feel nothing but the softness of her skin beneath them. He kisses her until even he runs out of air, and they are both gasping when he pulls back.

“Show me,” his voice is soft and commanding and she stares up at him, her eyes wide.

“Doctor…”

Teach me, River.” Nothing surprises him as much as when she shakes her head back and forth in refusal.

“You’re not ready,” she finally speaks, and he frowns, staring at her. He is ready – he is, he is noticing all of her bits and how they fit into all of his, and he wants – he wants- “Do you love me, Doctor?”

His breathing stutters and he swallows heavily. She is – she is River and she is exciting and brilliant and clever and – and – human, his mind whispers. Except he’s fairly sure she’s not human – but he doesn’t know what she is. And it’s taken him this long to allow himself to think of her fondly, to allow himself to care – but it’s not love.

Not yet.

He sighs, and his forehead drops to hers as she smiles up at him sadly, tears in her eyes. Her hands reach for his face, stroking along his cheeks as she breaths out carefully. “See? Not ready.”

His hearts are still racing though, and his blood is still singing and he leans in, kissing her thoroughly. It’s not a requirement, he thinks. Not for this – not for finding out about every inch of her body and learning it like-

She pushes him away, carefully but surely. “No, Doctor.”

“But River-”

“It’s unequal,” she snaps, and he sees the tightening of her skin around her mouth and eyes. “Why should you get made love to while I get fu-”

“River!” His hearts are in his throat, but he understands what she is saying.  “I’m – I’m sorry,” he apologises, for pressing her, or for not being quite there yet, and she nods, sliding her hands up to stroke at his bowtie.

“I think I should go home now, sweetie,” she whispers instead, and he feels awful – about everything.  His body is humming with unspent energy – they’d not even found a good monster this trip, and he feels guilty and inadequate – like he is not enough and she is rejecting him. It stings, and yet he knows it must be tearing her apart to do it.  And he can’t say anything, so he simply nods.

He steps back, and flies her back to Stormcage, but he reaches for her hand, just before she leaves. “I do care, River, you know that right? I was so – so terrified that there was something physically wrong with you – something – that I could lose you,” he confesses in a low voice as she stares at him silently. Twice, is his unspoken thought. “The very thought hurt. And I don’t know – I don’t know what I’d do,” his voice shakes as he fudges the truth a bit. He does know what he’d do – he is doing it right now, frittering away moments with her, even knowing that their time was finite. Limited.  But the thought that their time could be altered, re-written or stolen from him had shaken him, and he hopes she knows what he means, without him explaining things he cannot.

“You can’t lose me, Doctor,” her voice is soft and she steps in, hugging him tightly. “I’m right here.”

“You don’t stay,” he points out, and he hates that his tone is a bit hurt, and a lot resentful, but he can’t seem to stop it from happening. “You never stay.”

“I will, one day,” she whispers in his ear as she presses a kiss to his cheek, her hands on his shoulders. “But only when we’re both ready, Doctor. Any sooner and it would just hurt too much.”

“I’m sorry,” he apologises again, and she shakes her head, taking his face in her hands as she kisses him one more time, her mouth warm and willing under his, and he struggles to pretend he can’t feel the moisture of her tears on his face. It is a goodbye for her – a goodbye to a life in which he loves her more than anything. He hates that – he does. It shouldn’t be so back to front – that was ridiculous. And even though he knows – she’d told him – he goes back to her one last time, she doesn’t know that.

And once doesn’t seem like quite enough.

She is gone before he can even say goodbye, tell her once more that he’s sorry he drags her through this mockery of a life, or promise her things he can’t ever provide. He wants to though – and his hands press against the doors for a long time after she’s gone, just standing there, unwilling to plot a course toward his future, and make her live through more nights where she knows she is losing him – bit by bit. He will become oblivious to her, and he wonders if it will be as painful when it is his own turn.

“I deserve that much,” he berates himself softly. “Ceteris paribus.”

~*~*~*~*~

He avoids her for a while after that. It’s not like he isn’t busy, he tells himself. The TARDIS and figuring out Amy – it’s not like he isn’t busy.  It’s not that he’s afraid to hurt her again.

Except he is a little bit.

But how can he get where he needs to be if he doesn’t see her?

So he sends Rory to get her, to help rescue Amy – and he can’t explain how much her refusal cuts him.  How angry he is about it – because she’s supposed to love him, unconditionally and suddenly now there are conditions and he hates it. He seethes about it – even as he takes the base (without her, thank you very much) and rescues Amy, and Rory holds their daughter. He is happy for them. And he is not thinking at all about River Song – even when Kovarian taunts him about little Melody’s DNA and fooling him twice, shame on him.

And then there is Amy – so broken and lost, and innocents dying in his name, and he is heartily sick of all of it. So when she does finally show up – god, everything spills out. His anger, his blame, his bitterness all overflow out of him.

And she – she cuts his legs out from under him, and it almost hurts to breathe, and never once – not even for a single second does she stop looking at him with all of that love on her face. And he hates her a bit for that too – unwavering, even now.

But he’s an idiot, and one word, stitched across a tiny prayer leaf flips his entire world upside down. Pond. River. And oh god Melody must be – he stares at her, pole axed by the discovery – and oh god she is glorious and she is Amy and Rory and human plus.

Could she regenerate?  Vastra’s question echoes through his head and he stares at her. Could she? The transfer in the Library might not have killed him – it was why’d he’d been willing to risk it himself. Might it not have killed her? His hearts thunder even as he looks at her – his best friend’s daughter – and oh god, he’d nearly had sex with his best friend’s daughter.

Only of course he had – she loved him. She loves him, right now standing here, all magnificently and Pond-y.  And he -  he –

His hearts swell as he grins, tugging on his jacket. He can think of only one place to go.

He feels a bit bad, leaving Amy there – but River will take care of them. Make sure they get home safe – she deserves the time to tell her parents without him interfering. Her parents. He giggles a bit at that as he inputs coordinates, giddy with delight.  When he lands finally, he practically bursts out of the TARDIS doors – and oh he’s cut it fine – he can see the other TARDIS dematerializing, for goodness sake! “Doctor!” River is still in her dress, and he can see tear tracks on her face and he beams at her, striding over to where she is standing in the hallway outside of her cell.

“River Song – ha – Melody Pond – you are absolutely marvellous,” he is still giggling even as he leans down and kisses her, his mouth over hers as she gasps in surprise. And oh god, she tastes amazing – and now that he knows, he can brush his tongue along hers and wonder how he’d never known before. God she is saturated – the taste of time hangs off of her, how had he never noticed that?

He is pulling her closer, his hands on the smooth skin of her back as she moans into his mouth. Her arms wrap around his neck as he stumbles backwards, pulling her into his TARDIS, until he can shut the door behind her and push her against it. “Doctor!” she gasps as his mouth lifts from hers, but not for air – there’s just so much of her he wants to taste, and his lips trail over her jaw, her cheek, her nose, her ear, down her throat – god she is so soft everywhere and he wants to kiss every square inch of her.  “When – when are you?”

“Demon’s Run,” he mutters and she makes a sound of surprise. “Spoilers – it doesn’t matter River,” his tongue dips into the hollow of her throat as she gasps, her hands reaching up and diving into his hair.

“No how long for you?” she persists, and his mouth is pressed against her sternum when he answers – he can feel the reverberation of her hearts – her hearts – and he is fighting to not tear up. His hands slide the straps of her gown down over her arms, his fingers brushing against her skin reverently.

“A few weeks,” he mutters and suddenly her hands push at him as she wrenches the straps back up, staring at him in exasperation.

“Still too soon,” she glares, her cheeks flushed and he laughs, shaking his head as he reaches for her again.

“Do you honestly think I’d do that to you again River? No – no – you are… everything to me,” his hand traces her face lightly as he speaks, staring down into her eyes. “It’s – it’s not unequal River. I look at you – and I-” his voice breaks and he presses his forehead to hers. He can’t think of the right words – everything sounds so horribly inadequate in his head and he isn’t sure what to do. Her hands brush against his temples and he feels her mind brush against his. “I’m so rubbish at this River – no. I know I could show you but you deserve the words. I fought – so hard not to love you. I was afraid – that you were human, that you were dangerous, that if I – if I loved you, losing you would kill me. Kill any bit of me I had left. Have I ever – ever told you about the Valeyard?”

She pulls back, nodding, her fingers trailing down over his cheeks as she stares up at him. “Between the twelfth and thirteenth – I couldn’t imagine it then you know. Nothing would induce me to become that man. But losing you River – it might. It scared me. You scared me, so I ran. But I ran to you, despite all my best efforts. And I think – I think I’ve loved you all along-”

She cuts him off, muffling his words with her mouth as she kisses him hard, her hands shoving under his tweed and shoving it to the floor. He makes a noise of surprise as her tongue curls around his, and his bowtie is yanked undone. Her hands scramble at his throat, fingers shaking as she unbuttons his shirt. Despite the racing of his hearts, he can’t help but marvel at her speed. Her hands stroke along his skin and he remembers that he also has two of those – and he jumps, sliding his hands up over her hips and waist – god the curve of her body there is very nearly divine – sliding them around to the back of her dress so he can drag the zip there down slowly. He hums against her mouth, and she giggles – the sound tickles at his lips as he grins. “I love you so much,” she murmurs between kisses and he nods, his hands busily stripping her of her dress until it pools at their feet.

“Oh god, River, you’re perfect,” he pulls back to stare at her and she smiles up at him.

“Hardly that sweetie,” everything about how she looks at him feels new and different. It’s not, he realises, it’s just that she’s no longer wearing the mask that she normally wears, but it makes his breath catch as he hauls her closer, until her skin brushes against his and his hearts race at the feel of her silky knickers under his hand. He pulls back, breathless, taking her hand and all but dragging over to his bedroom door – shoving her inside and he sees the TARDIS has replaced his racecar bed with something more appropriate, and the otter's pool is gone as well – he hopes she’s just moved them – but then River’s small hands are shoving down into his pants and he stops thinking about anything at all, really.

Skin. Hands. Soft. Oh sweet-

When his brain strings together enough cells to perform some cognitive function, he is sprawled on the bed, very much not clothed – when had that happened – with a lapful of equally naked River Song. She is pressed against his- oh dear – and her hair brushes his chest as she presses kisses to his skin. His hands hover over her back because he wants to touch everything – so many places he’s never seen on her before – where her lowest rib curves, her sternum, the taut skin of her belly, and oh such glorious breasts. All his mathematics and ratios hadn’t even begun to do them justice. His mouth goes dry, and he has to explore, learn every inch of her right now.

Which is why his hands push her back, roll them over so that he can run his hands over every bit of her – marvelling at how soft the skin of her breasts are, yet the pebble of her nipple drags along his palms as she gasps, arching up into him. “Doctor,” she drags his name out like an epitaph and he grins, leaning over to inspect her skin, his breath hot on her breast.

“Hush now,” he chastises her. “I’m learning.” His tongue reaches out slowly – licking tentatively at her, and her nipple hardens even further as he delights in the biochemical reactions resulting in her skin tightening. Pleasure, his mind reminds him dimly – and it is pleasurable, but for right now, his own passion is taking a back seat to his desire to discover everything about her – how does she work?

He runs his hands over her, his fingers bumping over her ribs as he keeps count in his head, even while his tongue rolls around the peak of her breast, as he experiments with teeth and sucking, nipping versus biting and filing all of her reactions away. He grips her hips – they’re so full and lush – everything about her is really, and she strokes at his shoulders and back softly, as if she knows.

Of course she knows, and he pauses, his tongue pressed against her sternum as he feels the faint reverberation of her hearts against his tastebuds and tears sting his eyes for a moment.  Her hands grip his shoulders, and he moves on, touching her, observing her reaction to every brush of his fingers, every kiss of his lips, every lap of his tongue.  Every taste, every texture of her from the soft skin on the indent of her hip to the rough of her elbows thrills and delights him. He’s not sure how long he takes, but by the time he reaches the wiry curls between her thighs, she is almost sobbing in relief.

Her skin is slick here, all secret folds and crevices that he wants to explore, with his fingers, mouth and tongue. Her thighs tighten around him as he delights in cataloguing the taste of her – he spends so much time lapping and sucking at her that he is fairly certain he’s got the chemical composition down in his head, but it keeps changing – spiking with hormones as she undulates around him.  “God sweetie, no more,” she sobs above him and he looks up in surprise. How long had he – he’d lost sense of time.

He’d lost sense of time.

The very notion is absurd, sublime and ridiculous and somehow not knowing precisely how long its been – is erotically thrilling to him in a way he can’t explain. He suddenly feels every bit of his repressed passion surge forward as he moves up her body, kissing her fiercely. She whimpers in his mouth, wrapping her legs around his waist and aligning their bodies so swiftly that he thinks she is frightened he may get distracted again.

But she’s just so distracting.

Even as his hips slide against hers and her warmth and wetness welcomes his aching erection, he is fascinated by how her hair curls more when it’s damp, and sweat makes it cling to her skin, unwilling to part with her.

He knows the feeling.

But she seems to understand, because she rolls them again, until she is above him, moving for him so he can focus on how she feels inside – all silken muscle wrapping around his body – and how she looks now, above him. Her skin flush, and her body sticky with sweat, her mouth open and her eyes dark and intense as she watches him, watching her. It is all so heady, and his fingers curl around her hips as he watches the bounce of her hair and her breasts and – “River,” he groans her name and she nods, her head bobbing frantically as her hips slide frantically against his. She leans forward, deepening the angle and he thrusts to meet her as she cries out breathlessly.

His entire being narrows down to focus on one point – her – and he can feel his blood rushing as his grip on her tightens and tightens until she cries out, her face buried by his shoulder. Her hair tickles his chin and nose and he smiles as the world darkens just a bit – and everything tightens, and then releases as he clutches her to him.

Afterward she is nestled against him, and now that he’s started deciphering the secrets of her body – he can’t seem to stop touching her. He presses kisses into her hair as she hums in contentment, her hands cradled on his chest, over his hearts.  “Well, that was certainly new,” she giggles softly into his skin and his hands smooth along her back. “You’ve never been quite so – I mean you are – it’s always-”

“River,” he laughs softly, nudging her shoulder. “I’m learning.”

“Well I hope you’re a slow learner, Doctor.” She props herself up until she can look down at him, her hair hanging down and brushing at the sides of his face as he kisses her once, twice more.

“I’m a genius,” he teases and she kisses him again, pressing her fingers to his cheek as she stares at him pleadingly. “But I can go slow.”

“I love you,” she whispers the words against his mouth and he curls his fingers into her skin. “So much.”

“I love you too – my miraculous Melody Pond,” his smile is bright and she beams down at him. “And maybe – in the interests of fully accurate experimentation…” he trails off and she arches a brow at him in question.  “You could show me how you… take care of yourself.”

Her eyes light up at that as she drags him closer, kissing him fiercely. “Oh sweetie, that is definitely lesson two.”