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Melting Snows

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At once, he feels the disturbance.

His time sense prickling in sudden alarm, a grim smile stretches his features as he wonders what tricky little thing made it under Tasha’s shield this time. In an old reflex, he very nearly spins on his heels, reacting to danger with nearly gleeful determination. His mind catches him, however, before his stiff legs can screech in protest; rather than to dash, he drags his old bones to the source, echoes of sarcastic laughter tickling his brain. Not dead yet, he tells himself, mockingly. Nope. Still got some fight in him, and some days ahead to see through. Still got something to give to this place, and those people he is now the guardian of.

When he sees that lone silhouette, that hair billowing in the cold wind, his blood turns cold and the breath rushes out of his lungs as though under a massive punch. Danger, indeed. The deadliest of all.

She doesn’t speak, and he doesn’t move, at first; they stare at each other, and he watches her take in the changes, the damage, quietly registering every detail. He expects anger. She shows none of that, just fixes him with wordless intensity, and his every cell aches at the sight of her. The silence spans over three more hundred years, or so it seems to him.

"How did you get here?" he asks.

She shrugs, and flashes the manipulator at her wrist. Even from this distance, he can see that the thing has been tampered with—with stolen church tech, no doubt. That much hardly surprises him.

He swallows, and looks away from her. Something is churning in his insides, something acidic and desperate. Something he had long left behind—had. Or so he thought, at least.

"You shouldn't have come," he tells her. And then he turns, gripping his cane hard in his clammy palm, and limps back towards the village.

He hears her quiet footsteps beneath the loud shuffling of his own feet as she follows, but does not turn. He just focuses on one step, then another, until he reaches his quiet abode. People stare at them as they pass. He pays them no mind.

He leaves the door open after him, and slumps over to an armchair, into which he sinks with a muted groan. For a second his eyes flutter shut, but her gaze is on him and rest is impossible. Not now, not yet.

Surely not in a while, he thinks with resigned bitterness.

He lifts his lids again, and then his head, searching until he meets her eyes. River Song's face is still and solemn, blue-green irises glittering as she observes him. He once knew this woman by heart, every feature, every curl of mad hair, every other inch of soft golden skin. He never did delude himself into thinking he had forgotten, yet after all these years—after this life that feels so much like another's, most of all, after he'd stopped—she was lying dormant in his hearts like so many things.

She made him say goodbye. For the two of them, this was to be painful release.

If you have to go, remember what you're leaving. Remember the best.

Remembrance is cruel. He grits his teeth, and releases a slow exhalation.

"What a warm welcome. A girl could get offended." She makes her tone soft and playful, but it lacks the usual teasing cheeriness, and he can read her better than that. At least he thinks so, he amends with another sick hint of bitterness.

"What did you expect, River?" He will not play around. He is tired, tired to the bone, and she shouldn't be here. Not again, not on Trenzalore; this is the place where he said his goodbyes to the life he once had, and vowed to devote his final years to faithful guarding. Clara is safe, the TARDIS… will one day return, surely. River is gone.

That woman was never, ever good at being gone.

"I didn't expect anything. I merely came to see you," she tells him. "Christmas' old soldier. Worth having a look, don't you think?"

He doesn't like that. "I am looking after these people," he rasps.

"I know. All those children."

"They are innocent."

"And here you are now, for them, fighting alongside the Silence. Funny how things end—or, should I say, how they begin."

He goes quiet at that, and very still—even stiller. It hurts to be so still, like it hurts to move, but everything hurts nowadays. "Do you resent me for that?"

"How could I? I know what you're fighting for. It deserves every sacrifice."

"They used you to keep me from here. Well. Tried to."

"Yes, I know. I remember."

There is something peculiar about the way that last word falls from her lips, and it is pointless now to wish or pretend he were not so aware of her. He tilts his head. "Remember?"

"Oh, yes. I remember a great deal. Bits and pieces from the holes they had left in my head, but a great deal nonetheless."

She moves closer to where he sits, and he lets her; he leaves his hand on the armrest and his neck tilted forward as she kneels on the ground by his feet, eyes intent on her face in the half-gloom. "This is what brought me here," she says. "Memories."

"Memories of what?"

"Of what I was taught. That war raged long and bloody, and silence was the only hope. They gave me that for bedtime stories, tales of the never-ending fight, of struggling to protect the universe from you and you from the universe." She smiles sadly. "Is it Stockholm syndrome if you're only starting to truly understand your captors long after being freed from their hold?"

"No, I don't think." His throat is tight. "I had no choice. I'm trying to protect these people."

"I know, sweetie. I know your truth, as I know theirs. It's all coming back."

This is as much as she is going to tell him of her own accord, but it's enough. "Isn't that painful?" he pushes, because she is his wife still and he has held her as she screamed out in dreams. "Or scary?"

She shrugs. "Mostly morally confusing," she lightly replies. "I was their very last hope, and I let them down. Thank god I like my freedom, or I could almost feel guilty for putting my own feelings first."

He touches her cheek then, never mind the centuries passed and the loss all too ready to engulf and choke him again, never mind anything he might feel. "You were never meant to be their object, River," he says. "You were a living girl, as innocent as every last one of the children I'm fighting for here. Every child deserves better than war."

"I was a weapon, or collateral damage. Sometimes you just can't help the casualties. You know that." She doesn't lean into his touch, and they both hover there, braced against the other's pain. "I don't regret it," she whispers. "I could never regret not killing you. But this is what you wanted me to do, wasn't it? Stop and look at the big picture. Look at the consequences of my own actions. I stopped time and compromised the universe so I wouldn't lose both the man I love and my own self. I made this war as much as you did, or let it happen."

"You never did embarrass me."

His palm still rests on her cheek, his fingertips just brushing her curls. He can feel the warmth of her skin, its once oh-so-familiar softness, and it makes his hearts rumble in his chest like some mad machine. Suddenly it is like the years are falling away and his ribcage, his every weary bone is vibrating with the love of her, painfully. River Song, long-lost and his.

The voice of reason in his head is a faraway echo, as he leans in and she leans up, and their breaths are mixing for one precious second, hovering just before the searing meeting of lips. Memories blaze awake like flames this time, and his fingers are tangling in her hair, pulling her near and nearer as he gasps and trembles at the taste of her. They kiss clumsily, shaken and needy, before familiarity kicks in and he can feel her hands upon his face, gentle and fierce. Then they drink each other in like oxygen, to the point of giddiness. Riverʼs curls are brushing his cheeks, her hands moving to his neck and gliding down along, a trail of fire marking the path of her errant fingertips.

He clings to her.

Then their mouths move apart, and he can hear his own wheeze of surprise as sensation rushes in and out like an overflow. River rises, long legs unfolding from her crouched position, hands slipping from his neck to rest on his shoulders without leaning her weight on him. His own hands fall from her, hovering confusedly as she moves back; one, then the other she grips them, holding on firm and tight. He squeezes her fingers in return, breathless with the renewed need for her.

This is going to hurt, he thinks. This is going to hurt like hell. Christmas had lulled so many parts of him to a rest, to an extent he would never have believed. He doesnʼt feel appeased now; he feels acutely aware, his every nerve sensitive and raw.

Itʼs worth it.

River tugs gently, imperiously on his hands. He looks up at her in quiet confusion, reading the determination on her features as she prompts him to move. Unsure of what exactly she might want, he withdraws one hand from her grasp to press against the chair’s arm for support. River shifts closer, allowing him to lean into her frame; his long, old legs unfold with a creak, feeling feeble and light as air, and he stumbles slightly into her side.

She guides him. His arm falls heavily across her shoulders and hers is tight around his waist; his other hand flutters for his cane, but she is there, anchoring him and pulling him along, away. It is a peculiar thing, the slippery grasp of gravity over his ancient bones, the wandering of aches and weariness, light-headedness. He is wearing thin, as he did before. His body still recognizes the woman who once infused him with life with a kiss, pouring into him the potential of many faces never formed.

In his last incarnation, he appreciates the sacrifice all the more.

River Song will be River Song and it appears that she had already located his cot. That is where they are headed, and he to memories in flashes, of staggering intensity. Those he had not thought of in so very long a while—inappropriate for the children, too private and running too deep anyhow. Certain urges do not come to him as imperiously as they make themselves known to humans, but once triggered they are certainly none the weaker. His body drags though, and he presses his wife’s shoulder anxiously. "River."

"Shhh."

"River—" They reach the bed and she guides him downwards, then once he is sitting, half-pushes, half-scoops his legs over the edge, so that he finds himself in a supine position before he can even think. There is just enough room for her to kneel by his side upon the cot, leaning towards him. Her hand lies against his face again, drifting in a slow caress. His eyes flutter shut.

"River," he murmurs without breath, and finds himself longing for the softness of her touch, the warmth of her body against his and what it was like to feel so, so alive.

Her hand descends, light, to his collar. "Oh, my love," she whispers.

Then she is kissing him again, and he feels like the heat of the universe, of blazing stars and grinding engines and running has somehow left its imprint upon her lips, passing from her to him. The snow was in him, he realizes. In his hair, on his hands, all over. Christmas’ snows laid their feather-touch upon his skin and kept him in their wintry cradle, a layer of ice to be valued, treasured even. Fire had become an enemy, adrenaline a pleasure of the guilty kind only. The children went first. He wasn’t going anywhere.

He melts. He melts as his mouth responds to hers, as her fingers curl possessively around his bowtie and his arms are reaching for her waist, pulling her near; his hearts pump faster and his blood runs hotter and he gasps out her name when she bites his lower lip. River tugs the bowtie free, before her hands slip beneath his thick jacket, smoothly brushing along his sides and causing a shudder to rock through his frame. When the jacket goes, he shrugs it off eagerly. She attacks his shirt buttons next; one by one they pop open, but she slows in the process, taking her precious time to wander-ghost across his chest, over inch after inch of newly exposed skin. He squirms as she teases in a caress barely felt, maddening—the faintest brush of nails gliding downwards, tracing idle patterns, toying. He growls and she laughs a husky chuckle that sets his loins afire, sparks fizzling along his spine, spreading beneath his eyelids and all the way down to his toes. Goodness, but he missed that laugh. He missed its low pitch of intimacy; he missed being known, treasured and beloved.

He missed being touched, touched like she touches him always, like he is a beautiful thing, and hers—light and sure in the roaming of her fingertips over his stomach, hot and fierce as her mouth against his own gives and demands. "Please," he murmurs hoarsely as they part for breath, and then her palms are gliding up his sides again, before she obliges and removes the shirt altogether. Before he can think, her mouth has found the double pulse point fluttering madly on the soft skin of his neck, and her nails are teasingly grazing a nipple, drawing a low moan from somewhere deep within his throat. Pleased with the response, she gives a pinch that is only just gentle, until he hisses and arches.

He wants to touch her—he aches to, but the long-forgotten sensations are currently too much to process, and he can only lie passively, overwhelmed. It might appear amazing that his impressive Time Lord brain would be so dazzled by mere foreplay—and indeed his species had perfected the art of controlling their urges, taking "mind over matter" to whole new levels as they could as well tune out an inconveniently arisen desire as switch back to the relevant mood with ease any human would have found quite bewildering. Yet the repressed carnal wants always did prove enhanced in intensity when set on the loose; finely channelling them so as to glide over the rush of ecstasy without being swept under is an ability that requires practise, and he is, admittedly, quite rusty. Shuddering and helpless as he is, he feels like a child scarcely ripe for the Academy, eighty-some and floundering; old age does him little favours in regard to self-control. Thankfully, River has always demonstrated patience and a willingness to take charge that makes her apparently delighted to take care of him.

She does so now, nearly curled against his side as her lips, teeth and tongue work at his throat and her dancing, far from demure fingers explore the length of his torso. Gathering himself, he reaches out again and wraps his arms around her waist, edging her nearer and dipping his head slightly so that his mouth might brush against her hair. His hands start tugging at her coat impatiently, drawing a low chuckle that resonates against his bare skin like an intimate rumble.

"Nothing to be laughing about," he mumbles.

She doesn’t argue, straightening instead and taking her hands off of him, so he might proceed with the removal of those damned layers that keep her body separate from his.

Disgruntled as he may feel with the loss of contact, he is quick to catch the hint and hasty as well about the undressing. Not that he would not be capable of drawing the pleasure of the moment on and on and leaving her just as flushed and flustered as she makes him, thank you very much. He hasn’t forgotten everything, or indeed anything at all, and he is quite gifted in the art of teasing the wits out of his wife. However, he cannot seem to muster the necessary patience—he is burning to touch her, aching with loss and memories and the yearning to make her his all over again. Now is not the time for blissful shenanigans.

Off goes the coat, off with the scarf and the blouse, the belt and the bra and the boots and the pants, all discarded in random order. She shivers when his fingers find her exposed skin, and he wonders if his hands are cold. Hers felt fine to him. Her flesh is soft and smooth and pleasantly warm, goosebumps raising in the trail of his touch. If he leans in, just so, he can smell her perfume and breathe her in until her sheer presence is filling his lungs.

She squirms. He laughs; it’s his turn.

"You never change," she growls, and catches his mouth with hers. He doesn’t bother to ask what she means. He does, he changes. He changed, and she kisses the lines all over his face, the furrows from standing still—she mumbles about grey hairs and not looking so mismatched by now, until he tells her to shut up.

"Make me," she says, like he knew she would. Two words, all breathy and soft. Incredible, what rituals will do to you.

He fumbles to comply, cursing creatively against the ridiculous cot. He complained quite enough about her own at Stormcage for it to seem ironical, really—but he thought she was gone. All along his time here, the mere idea of a bed for two would have made his legs shake with pain.

Still, she came, the madwoman and they knock limbs as they struggle to adjust. As he pushes her down against the mattress, he unthinkingly leans on his bad leg and hisses. River’s eyes narrow.

"Hush," he says.

"Don’t you hush me."

"I’m busy here. Well. Trying to get busy."

"Whenever you like." She stretches and glares as he crawls cautiously, supporting himself on his arms and trying to be stealthy about dragging his partly useless leg out of the way. "Careful," she snarls.

"Hush, you. I know. Twice."

"I could just bowl you over and tie you up so you’ll behave," she threatens. "You wouldn’t be much of a challenge."

"Don’t you dare." The memories of handcuffs might count amongst the most striking and blush-worthy of all, but right now he would bite if anything was to come between him and the impending elation of touching her.

"Careful," she repeats, lower and more somber. He kisses away the frown, on her forehead, her lids, her nose, her cheekbone.

"I will." He lingers against her lips, long and warm and fierce, delighting in the feather-light brush of her curls against his face, the smooth warmth of her side as his hand glides down to her hip. He nips along her jaw and down her neck, nuzzling against her skin and inhaling her scent blissfully, sensing her happy hum vibrating through her throat. He kisses along a bare shoulder; he always loved her shoulders for some reason, like her hips and her ankles, places of unexpected grace as she twisted and spun, narrow yet round. He leaves marks, shamelessly, taking his time and branding his territory before he does move down, to catch a nipple in his mouth.

He bites, gently, and she arches and gasps. Her nails graze his own shoulder, fingers clutching tight.

Still sucking at her sensitive breast, he slowly shifts again so that the hand that was resting upon her hip may start to wander. His left leg is still being a hindrance and River is not too far gone to notice. He mutters a reassurance against her skin as she tenses and cranes her neck towards him, careful to make sure that his body is properly supported before his hand can fully apply itself to a much more pleasant purpose.

"No pillows here," she rasps. "I should have known and brought some."

"Along with handcuffs, eh?" he mumbles. "How didnʼt you think of that? Oh, and fish fingers. I miss those like you wouldnʼt believe. If you were going to trek all the way here, it really would have been nice to treat your old husband."

"I guess Iʼll have to make it up to you," she says, trailing her fingers along the nape of his neck. He shivers and she moves a leg to brush against his own.

"Later." He resumes sucking and tormenting her breast, so that any protest from her turns into a muffled moan. For all of her concern, her legs are spread quite wantonly, ensuring him comfortable access, and his fingers wander over the curve of her hip, the inside of her thigh, enjoying her soft skin and the way she squirms ever so slightly in encouragement. A digit follows the junction line in a slow caress, tracing the edge of the ridiculously alluring lacy thing she’s wearing, and he is quite sure he would see the dampness of arousal on the fabric, if only his neck was in the proper position to allow that.

"Tease," she growls. He responds with a playful nip at her nipple.

He does take his time, to some extent, but his impatience is hardly lesser than her own and all too soon he is fumbling with the undergarment, and she arching her hips off of the bed to invite him to remove the unwelcome obstacle. The lace is pushed down her thighs and past her knees in a less than graceful way—it is all he can do not to tear it off altogether—until River is free to kick it aside to get lost Rassilon knows where, and then he’s all business. As he trails a digit along her wet slit, gliding down instead of up, she can feel her tremble under his touch—and he is trembling inside, too, at the ceaseless wonder of finding her so warm and willing for him, at the rush of renewed intimacy. But his hand is steady as he explores her, still light and tantalizing. His thumb finds her clit, rubbing in slow circles that make her groan, while his other fingers are teasing her soft folds. He sucks at the skin of her breasts, leaving a trail of open-mouthed kisses that slowly travel back up to her throat, and then he settles there with his face pressed to her neck and his hand buried between her legs.

There is something slightly surreal in the way his entire mind is focused on her at such a time, his every flickering thought tuned to her—to the way her breathing deepens and turns ragged, a chaotic melody of air sucked in with a gasp and released in trembling sighs—to the way her muscles tense and her hips rock and her back arches and her toes curl and her fingers grip the sheets, white-knuckled, in a thousand oh-so-minuscule movements. He sees it all. He sees her and hears her and tastes her and breathes her, and responds with his every heartsbeat, and more relevantly with the rhythm of his fingers against her—in her, when she’s keening with need and they both can’t anymore.

River whispers to him in broken pants, a random mix of all the things she’s ever called him—sweetiehoneymyloveohDoctorohmygod (well, that last one being the exception)—which he would actually find quite funny if both of them were not worlds past caring about such things. Her gasps grow more desperate and his rhythm more urgent, his lips at her throat and his hand at her core equally frantic as he longs for more more MORE—more of her, of closeness, of this, of everything. He forces himself to slow, to draw out this moment, thinking fast as she whimpers and arches beneath him. He wants to hold her as she falls apart, to clutch and cradle her, to press her against his chest, hard enough to bruise—but there is something else he might just want more.

He slows again, pulling his fingers from the depths of her body as he straightens on his free arm, maintaining just enough touch and pressure so he doesn’t downright drop her from her height. River’s eyes fly open in desperate shock, her mouth popping in a small O. She looks so cute he could laugh there, but he kisses the muffled protest from her lips instead. "Just wait," he breathes against her mouth. "Wait."

She growls at that, but he pulls away all the same and has an interesting moment of trying to scoot to the side, poking at her thigh so she will make some room. River’s face makes it obvious that she has no idea what he is trying to achieve and is neither happy nor much interested in finding out, but she does move to help when his leg and the limited space really do become an inconvenience. Now lying comfortably enough on his back, he reaches out and firmly grasps her hips, drawing her towards him. He sees the exact moment when her eyes light up in dawning understanding, and grants himself the luxury of snorting at her. "What else did you expect?" he asks.

River’s lips are halfway towards a smirk, but some gut-deep emotion makes them tremble as well, and he feels the same swelling in his chest as he pulls her where he wants her. And then her legs are straddling his shoulders and his head is buried between her thighs, and he hears her cry out as he presses his tongue to her small, hard, desperately sensitive little nub. His fingers find their way back where she is soaked and aching to be touched, clenching around him as he seeks and finds the right spot. There—she is shaking and sobbing and burying her hands in his hair, so, so close already and it takes less time than he would like to bring her over the edge after working her for so long.

When her convulsive tremors settle and her voice and smell and taste are no longer flooding his whole being, he eases her off him and breathes deeply, light-headed. Riverʼs limbs unfold shakily, automatically curling into his body, and as her warm skin touches his and his mind is no longer fully occupied with her pleasure, his own aching desire makes itself known again with nearly painful intensity. He lets the air flow into his lungs and concentrates on calming the roaring drum of his own hearts as he mechanically rubs her back, letting her rest for a minute from the crashing wave of her high. River arches into his touch like a cat, nuzzling his shoulder, and while he buries his fingers into her curls, hers drift downwards—brushing his stomach, circling his navel.

He shudders. "Donʼt tease," he hears his own hoarse voice utter.

"Because you didnʼt?" she asks innocently. Her fingertips dance over to his hip, glide across the top of his thigh, the edge of her nails gentle but perceptible. His trousers are causing him nearly unbearable discomfort by now, and he wheezes in relief when she indulges and frees him.

He arches off of the bed as best he can while River pushes the fabric down his legs, carelessly tugging off his boots. His pants follow the same way in the blink of an eye, and he gasps and reaches for her as her hand closes around him, smoothly sliding up and down.

He grips her shoulder, desperate to touch her, but she gently shrugs his grasp off and he accepts to breathlessly lie back, his wife’s slow yet firm strokes both easing and enhancing the tension in his frame. He is soon gasping for breath and his eyelids threatening to drift shut as the pleasure rushes over him, but River’s eyes catch his before they can close, and keep him alert and entranced. The glint of her blue-green irises, the intensity of her gaze as she watches the effects of her ministrations on his features—watches him watch her—is an alluring, maddening thing, and the love beneath the desire, the fierce possessiveness there makes his hearts stutter and tangle in his chest. He whispers her name, his voice hoarse but intent, and sees the flash of emotion across her face although she remains focused on the motions of her hand. It is powerful, almost frighteningly intense, long forgotten and always yearned for and he is craving yet more, impossibly—craving her. He trembles under her touch.

"Please," he breathes.

"Please what?" she asks, knowing full well what he needs—what she is desperate to do also, he suspects. Worlds and lifetimes beyond physical ecstasy, there is the almost-frightening possibility of being one with her again. Not the possibility, even—for all the capricious flexibility of timelines, this stopped being a mere possibility the moment his skin brushed hers. It would be—couldn’t not.

"I need you," he says, eyes boring into hers, telling more than the words themselves. "I need you, River Song. Donʼt make me come all the way here, now."

She smiles, slow and falsely teasing. "Oh, well. I suppose I ought to indulge an old man."

"That would be ever so agreeable of you." He abruptly drops the appearance of banter. "Now. Please. Iʼll beg if I have to."

"I wonʼt make you. Not tonight." Then she is draping herself over him, his arms coiling tightly at once around her waist, and he drags her nearer still.

She halts him with a hand against his chest. "Careful!" she chides in a hiss, arranging herself as his leg threatens to make itself known once more.

He growls in frustration, but already River is easing him back and straddling his hips, carefully adjusting her weight on her own legs on either side of him. Experimentally, she stretches over him, also bracing herself with one hand near his left shoulder, and he groans again as her breasts push against his chest, drawing a smirk from her. The position leaves him all but helpless, near-entirely relying on her movements to bring them both satisfaction—yet it also comes with the luxury of having his hands free.

His fingers find her cheek as she is still leaning over him, brushing errant curls back behind her ear and leaving his palm pressed to the flushed skin of her face. Their eyes lock, and for one moment they hold very still.

Then River lowers herself onto him, and guides him inside. He sees the gasp as it rises in her throat and floats from her parted lips, sees her pupils widen and her body tremble at the feel of him inside her—at the very same second as the smooth warmth of her takes him, still deliciously tight and drenched from her orgasm, with a rush so exquisite that he could come undone right there and then.

She draws back with languid slowness before sinking in again, and his fingers curl into her hair, desperate to cling, to pull her desperately near, tuck her against his hearts and never let go. But he has to relinquish control to her, allow her to move them both, if he wants this.

And besides… free hands.

He lets go of her hair, palm drifting over the curve of a collarbone, his other hand rising to pinch her nipples just so—the way he once thought must be too hard, before he realized how it would always make her jerk in pleasure, turning his alarm into wonder. He squeezes and torments her breasts as her hips find their rhythm against his, as she moans and clenches around him, hands clinging to his shoulders. He drinks in the sight of her—pleasure etched all over her features, her lithe body writhing atop his in an entrancing dance of sorts. There is a faint glimmer of sweat over her golden skin, and his also; when he scrambles up on his elbows to kiss his way along her throat, he can taste the salty tang.

They move together now, equally frantic, if to the best of his ability. Her warm flesh wrapped all over his old, weary form seems to bring back warmth and life; he feels soaked and saturated with the love of her, like a deep, rumbling hum of bliss, vibrating bone-deep and throughout his every cell. The whole world is whirling around him, reality narrowed down to the immediate perceptions of their bodies entangled. He hears his gasps and her cries, touches and smells and tastes and sees nothing but River, River, River—bouncing curls and widened pupils and parted lips swollen with kisses, smooth skin sliding, wet heat squeezing. The pleasure bursts and washes over him like a great wave of light, blinding, almost terrifying in its intensity. His wife shakes and screams and breaks apart, falling against him, limp and trembling.

He finds his arms wrapping tightly around her, pressing her painfully close. River nestles against him as their exhausted bodies gradually relax. He closes his eyes and keeps her there; he feels surrounded by her warm weight on him, the low whisper of her breathing, the fast-paced drumming of his own hearts. A sense of detached peace is settling over him like a lull, and the darkness seems restful; for a moment, he feels whole.

Or perhaps not whole—there is the faintest hint of a duality, nagging at the corner of his mind, whispering of truth and loss and a future she has no place in. He is home in Christmas and he is home buried into River, or as they lie cradled in each other’s embrace; he cannot have both for more than a few stolen instants. He is accustomed to stealing though, or borrowing, rather—to running with what isn’t fully his by any right, what cannot be kept. His intellect assesses the situation with unfailing lucidity, but his mind keeps the burning knowledge at arm’s length, for now. Tiredness and the haze of physical bliss make it unreal, an idea, a concept that cannot yet touch him. In his old days, it is so much easier to let himself slip into the blackness, to quieten the churning of thoughts, to rest. It is easier to forget about the bittersweet promise of dreams.

His hold tightens before it slackens. River whispers something against his neck, muffled and secretive, sealed in the softness of a kiss. He doesn’t hear.

 

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When he wakes, it is still dark and she breathes evenly with her face pressed into his shoulder, sleepless.

Reality is the dull ache in his limbs, the icy caress of a breeze where neither sheet nor her body are shielding his skin from the cold. Numbly, he raises a hand to brush against her cheek, tucking back curls and tracing her features with idle fingertips. She kisses his palm as it hovers near and he allows himself a sigh; he shifts, too, slowly, bracing himself.

"Hello," she says under her breath before he can speak. The husky tone of intimate murmurs is one he could never forget—if he ever did anything—and he could curse her for talking first, making it all more difficult. She wouldn’t deserve it. She loves him.

It always was her greatest crime, perhaps.

"Hello." He can only rasp it out. His hand doesn’t want to leave her face; his body cringes at the idea of cool air, forced movement, disconnection. She brought everything back to the surface, the love, the need, the comfort of another’s warmth in the night. She breaks the stream of his fate to assert her claim, always.

He accepts it. He recognizes her. He knows the end of it, for them both.

In the end, she will listen, and let go, if he gives her reason enough—if he trusts her, and opens up.

He is, currently, dangerously open. "I missed you," he tells her, his voice a low rumble in the dark. "I’ll keep missing you. But fighting here, perhaps it is payment for everything. Everything I did, right and wrong. It’s cold, and quiet but it’s a good place to die."

She shudders. He feels it. "You want me to go."

"Yes. Anyway, you would. Better do it quickly. Better right now."

She raises her head to look at him. He wants to close his eyes, but denies himself such cowardice. "I knew I would come and see you here, then leave. I thought it might be difficult. I needed to, though. This place marked my life, in a manner. It wasn’t about you, at first…"

"And now?"

She smiles, a small, solemn curve of her lips. "It always is about you, in fact."

He would apologize, not truly knowing what for. She halts him with a finger pressed to his mouth. "I’ll go," she agrees, in a whisper. "And it will hurt. It always does, doesn’t it?"

"Always."

"And it’s worth it. It was. It will be."

She kisses him then, fiercely, and cannot quieten the thought that flashes at once through his mind. Will be—for her, indeed. Not for him.

For them, for him—the end of the path.

She traces the lines mapping his face with gentle fingertips, one last time. One light, lingering touch before she rises naked from his cot, her curls draping her shoulders. She seeks her clothes slowly, and he makes himself watch, not once glancing away.

He sits up and also moves to rise, but River returns to him dressed and resolved, stopping him with her hands on his shoulders. He lets her kiss another aching imprint on his lips, yearning to reach out and grasp her, knowing better. Her fingers tangle briefly in his greying hair, as if she also wants to hold and keep him, fuse the two of them together.

She lets go. Three feet from him, their eyes locked, she wraps the vortex manipulator around her wrist.

He doesn’t speak. For one moment, he is about to watch his wife vanish from him again, and then she steps backwards and turns away. Her footsteps echo over the floorboards, sharp and quick.

He closes his eyes, and the door clicks with finality.