The Doctor saw Clara safely to her door. His knees didn't start to wobble until he re-entered his TARDIS.
The TARDIS, which would someday become his tomb. Though everything in him -- and everything in her, if he didn't miss his guess -- rebelled against that knowledge. Still, he found a peculiar sort of comfort in knowing that they wouldn't be parted.
He made his way to his room without paying attention. He slumped on the bed, feeling older than the universe. Bracing his elbows on his knees, he buried his face in his hands.
"I don't know how she's going to bear it," he said aloud. "No one can look upon everything I've been, everything I've done, and still--" And still love me, but he couldn't speak aloud.
"I can," River said, and the bed dipped slightly beside him.
The Doctor unbent and turned toward her. She was sitting next to him, her thigh almost touching his.
"I am," River agreed.
"How are you here?" The question came out more plaintive than he'd intended.
"The Library is more powerful than even you know," she said, and quirked a grin. "And I may have given it a bit of an upgrade."
"You may have," he echoed, unable to resist returning her smile.
Her eyes sobered. "I'm a projection. But it's really me. My consciousness. I...ask the Library to broadcast me, and here I am."
"But I can touch you." The Doctor cupped one hand to the side of her face.
River placed her hand atop his, holding it in place. "For that, you can thank your first wife."
For an instant he was confused. "You sexy thing," he murmured to the TARDIS, and the lights in his room flickered once, almost too quickly to perceive.
River's eyes were crinkled with the laughter she was holding back.
"Not you," he said hastily. Then "I mean, yes, you, but I was talking to the TARDIS--"
She pressed her lips to his, swallowing his words and his breath. One long kiss and then she gathered him into her arms, and held him close, and they didn't speak at all.
"So you're his wife," Clara said.
The Doctor was striding into the control room when he heard Clara's voice and froze just outside the door. There was really only one person she could possibly be talking to. Cold sweat prickled his palms; this could be a very tense conversation indeed.
"Yes," River said simply.
He held perfectly still. When had Clara come aboard? Was she in the habit of talking with River? Clearly the mental link between them remained open, otherwise Clara wouldn't be able to see her.
"And you live in a computer," Clara continued.
"More or less. The Doctor backed me up there. I don't have a body any longer."
"But you used to."
"Indeed I did." River sounded wistful.
There was a pause. The Doctor wished he could see their faces. Neither woman sounded upset, at least; surely that was something?
"Does it bother you?" Clara asked. "That you're -- incorporeal, and he's traveling around space and time with other women?"
"With men, sometimes, too," River said lightly. He could hear the laughter behind her voice, and he smiled in response. Beautiful River. Beautiful, unflappable River.
"That's useful knowledge," Clara said, and there was an answering smile in the timbre of her voice, too. "But my question still stands."
"Let me ask you a question," River said, abruptly. "You know the Doctor. Rather better than most. Can you imagine asking those hearts to only love one person?"
This time the pause was longer.
"...no," Clara said quietly, at last. The Doctor let out a breath he hadn't consciously realized he was holding.
"The Doctor loves big," River said. "He loves more than anyone I've ever known. Sometimes I think he's half-in-love with all of humanity. I could no more ask him not to love than I could ask him not to be the Doctor."
Unbidden, an image arose of the self who had not been the Doctor, who had relinquished that mantle. He pushed it away with the ease of long practice. Though after seeing that shadow of himself, in his own timestream, he could no longer pretend even to himself that those memories -- those choices -- were not his own.
"You're really not jealous," Clara marveled.
"I'm really not," River confirmed. "I know the Doctor loves me. He's shown me so with word and deed." Her voice was rich with memory; in the hallway, the Doctor gave a little involuntary shiver, remembering too. "I don't begrudge him the fact that he loves others, too."
"Thank you for the clarification," Clara said, and the Doctor strained to hear more: was that a rustle of fabric? Were they embracing? He took a deep breath. He would walk nonchalantly in as though he hadn't been eavesdropping.
"Sweetie," River called. "You can stand out there as long as you like, but we've got a thermos of tea for you in here."
Caught in the act. He felt the blush traveling up his face. Well, there was nothing to be done; he straightened his bowtie and stepped through the door.
Eyes alight with amusement, River blew him a kiss. What could he do but catch it, elaborately, and make a show of tucking it into his vest pocket for safekeeping?
It was a long time since he'd dreamed of Gallifrey, but there was still something heartbreaking familiar about walking beneath its orange skies. It was twilight. The last rays of light glinted long and low off of the silver-leafed trees.
It really had been beautiful, here.
In this dream the streets of the Capital were empty and he strolled at his leisure. He had forgotten that he had forgotten the scent of ulanda blossoms. And there were birds whose names he had long since lost, singing songs which he hadn't heard in centuries. He hadn't known that he remembered their soaring liquid music, but clearly he did, somewhere in the recesses of his consciousness.
None of this was real; Gallifrey was long gone, and it wasn't coming back. He could wallow safely in nostalgia, and he did.
Halfway down the block, a bright blue door caught his eye. It was the very blue of the TARDIS, and it drew him with an almost gravitational pull.
As he approached, the blue door opened, and River stood in the doorway, some five steps up from the street. She was barefoot, her hair wild and loose, and she wore a strapless dress in metallic bronze which hugged her curves and left little to the imagination. He swallowed hard.
"Hello, sweetie," she said warmly.
"Fancy meeting you here," he said, and sketched a bow.
"Won't you come in?" River stepped back and held the door open.
"I believe I shall," he agreed, and ascended to join her in the house.
She closed the door behind him and then led the way down a short hall, turning to open a door on the right. Inside was a bed, coverlet rumpled as though she had only recently gotten up (or had failed to make the bed that morning.) The room smelled of her shampoo and her perfume, a sense-memory which set his hearts racing.
Her smile was knowing, anticipatory. It sparked a sudden dizzying spike of arousal. River turned so that her back was toward him, then glanced a come-hither at him over one shoulder. "Unzip me?"
His mouth dry, he reached for the zipper and slowly pulled it down. The dress was softer to the touch than he had expected it would be; it looked stiff, but it felt silky. As her back became exposed he gave in to the temptation to bend forward and press kisses to the curve of her spine. She made a small sound of satisfaction.
When the dress was all the way unfastened, she gave a little shimmy and it slid to the floor, pooling around her feet. Beneath the dress she was bare. His trousers were entirely too confining for comfort.
The Doctor cleared his throat. "Are you really here, or am I dreaming?"
She moved closer and kissed him, long and slow and open-mouthed. He held her close, reveling in being able to skate his hands over her arse, the small of her back, her fine shoulder blades like wings. When they broke, she simply said "Yes."
"All right then," he said, and tipped his head back so that her deft fingers could make short work of his tie.
He staggered into his room after three long days without sleep. Earth was safe once again; his work was done; it was time for as long a nap as his body could muster.
But he paused in front of the mirror, his hands slowing in their barely-conscious process of unfastening his clothing, to smile indulgently at the red lip-print on his mirror. He moved slightly to the left, lowered his chin a bit, and there: River's kiss was obscuring the reflection of his own mouth.
Then he shrugged off his braces and headed toward bed, curiously warmed by the fact that River had come and gone in his absence, and had left a mark behind.
"Good morning, sunshine." River's voice was low and sweet.
"Best way to wake up," the Doctor muttered, rolling onto his back, and flung one arm over his eyes.
"I think I could posit a better one."
"Better than waking to you in my bed? Hardly plausible." He smiled, eyes still closed.
"How about waking to this?" He felt the bed shift as she squirmed closer to him. Her moving the coverlet exposed one of his feet to the cool air, and he made a plaintive sound.
"Hush," she chided him, her voice amused.
She clambered between his legs, and in a rush of heat her intention became clear. "I take it back," he gasped as she licked a hot stripe along his inner thigh. Sensation pooled in his groin along with every cool rush of blood his hearts pumped south. "This is the best way to wake up."
"Told you so," River agreed huskily, angling his rapidly-hardening cock up for a thoroughly enthusiastic kiss.
"Remind me never to doubt you," he managed, biting back a thoroughly undignified sound.
"Hmm," she agreed, and the vocal vibrations buzzed up his spine and bloomed as pleasure in his brain.
Later that day -- much later -- taking tea with Madame Vastra and Jenny and Clara at the most charming Narinian teahouse on a small purple planet orbiting a class-M sun in the galaxy the locals had named Lily Pad -- he heard a woman behind him humming in that very same smug, satisfied sort of way. His body's reaction was instantaneous and profound, and he choked on his tea and coughed for a long minute, eyes watering.
When he had cleaned himself up with his napkin, and had stopped feeling as though tea was in danger of traveling up the back of this throat to his nose, he noted that all three of his companions were exchanging barely-veiled mirthful glances.
"What," he said, annoyed. "I choked. It's a thing that happens. There's nothing funny about it"
"Not at all," Madame Vastra agreed, and lifted the teapot. "More tea, Doctor?"
Her nostrils flared, surely without her volition. She could almost certainly scent pheromones. His arousal might be hidden by the mercy of the tablecloth, but Vastra recognized it perfectly well, and from the expression on Jenny's face, she did too. He darted a glance at Clara, who smiled back at him sunnily over her teacup.
For all he knew, Clara still had a mental link with River. There was no telling what secrets she might be privy to.
"Please," he said, proud that his voice came out sounding only slightly strangled, and lifted his refilled cup in a silent toast. To his wife who lived in a computer but became corporeal in his TARDIS from time to time; his companion who had shattered herself into an infinite number of pieces to rescue him across space and time; his beloved friends; his TARDIS which ferried all of them for floral, smoky tea.