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Hovering somewhere in space, his hands cling to the console, desperate for something to hold onto.

He hangs adrift across time, alone. The old girl buzzes and hums around him; the soothing sounds cannot really reach him, keep him anchored. Amy's face is painted beneath his lids and floating before his eyes, hair like fire, lips slightly parted as if to call. A thousand times he turns away. She always follows.

Expectant.

He thought he could leave her behind.

The girl who waited should wait no more, but the guilt won't wait to hiss in his ear and slowly devour, from the inside, his strength and his hunger for discovery or joy. One more of them—one more face he will try not to remember in his dreams, beg the TARDIS voice interface not to take. Is there one face he still deserves to see? Ian, Barbara, Vicki perhaps—the old times, when he could still let go, let them fly away, if with poor grace. Susan most of all received that gift of her freedom, but Susan has been lost along with a whole world. He knows better than to add Sarah Jane and Martha to the list. There is a way to let people go, leave them respected and loved—not awkwardly tossed off to safety, not released too late from a bond tainted by misunderstanding and pain. He tried, with Amy, to get that right, nail the moment, keep her somehow surrounded by tokens of him. The house, the car. Still she didn't want to let go—that was all right—and still he'd wrecked her before he could relinquish his grasp, loss after loss revealing the truth of him. Her blue door was a last testament to his childishness. The spare room would not see their daughter grow.

Melody Pond. He hears a strangled laugh escape his throat as he thinks of her, a foreign laugh, twisted in desperation and—if that is glee, he doesn't want to recognize it. He sees her face again in her hospital bed, fresh, new, the making of something magnificent—and well, he still left. He walked away and let her build herself on her own, out of his grasp. So raw she was then, the whole book yet to be written, and his existence had influenced her more than enough for the moment. Perhaps he ought to have left the Ponds with her—perhaps she needed them, and they needed that. At the time the idea didn't even occur to him.

We have too much foreknowledge, he told Amy, and he knows he was right. Still. After Demon's Run, still we.

But he would see her again.

His hands curl around the controls and he can see her flipping them, twirling after him, around him, before him. She owned his TARDIS in a way he couldn't understand, then. Missing knowledge. He hissed and complained and criticized and jabbed his finger at her, and still saw the waving of her golden curls and the shape of her mouth when she laughed him off. Things he shouldn't have noticed, usually didn't. Carnal things, human things, that hinted of a tangible proximity, one he couldn't afford. For a long time he didn't need to draw the line. Even Rose—though aware of her with his whole hearts, he didn't randomly think of brushing his fingers against her hair, grabbing her arm as she passed, leaning closer, in, in, in. Being with Rose was effortless, natural, simply fulfilling. Being with River coils his stomach, stretches his nerves taut and leaves him a jerky, confused mess.

A puppet on a string, and she reels him in. If he lets her, mind. If he lets her.

He thinks that time sparkles in her blood, and he can sense it, smell it on her. Or else all of her consumed lives, her faces that never were, still sit under his skin.

One day he might regenerate and randomly be River, her essence combined to his, a gift thoughtlessly given and seared onto his lips. Stupid notion, his head going wild. Still. Infuriating woman, always there, never staying.

She comes and goes. Never stays. She wouldn't let him take her around from danger to danger. She chooses, calls, demands. She wouldn't let him be responsible for her.

Perhaps her faith in him wouldn't even harm her. Her attachment relies little on faith. Her lucid words cut him like blades and left him raw and clean.

He sets the coordinates.

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

He hasn't left the brakes on.

He hasn't turned around, either. He stands still by the console, knuckles white as he holds on, frozen, to whatever he can. He strains his ear for the click of the door, the sound of approaching footsteps.

In she waltzes.

"Hello, sweetie," comes her cheerful call. His lips part to reply, and remain mute. Part of him already regrets his thoughtless move as he senses her stepping closer. Another part wants to reach out, a craving of some odd sort, stretching from his chest where it sat nestled between his hearts, quiet.

A feather-light touch, at the centre of his back, and he instinctively flinches.

"Doctor?" Her voice is but a soft breath, a question and yet not. Once more he attempts to reply.

He turns around.

River Song's hands find his face, right away, and his eyes fall into hers and briefly sink there. Her eyes seem bluer today, he oddly thinks. Like his, the shade is shifting and subtle. He paid it no mind at first. Now, however, they might be dangerous to dwell on.

Her eyes, her whole face turn blurry. This is a rather rare occurrence for him, with such a close witness especially. He can feel himself tense up, with the instinctive urge to edge away.

"Oh, my love," she says, and then she leans in.

His lips instinctively part, and he feels that mix of terror and thrill he is starting to grow familiar with. No, he thinks, yet something in him cries yes. But River stretches up and her mouth brushes against his fluttering eyelids, gentle and light. Her hot breath hovers, ghostly, across his skin. Her tenderness reaches for the sensitive points, settles.

Something in him breaks, and everything crumbles.

His hands fly off the console, and he is clinging to her shoulders instead, sagging against her as conscious thought evades him and only raw feeling rages and tears within. River guides his head nearer, until he is somehow warmly nestled against her neck, and holds him there, holds him still as the tremors rock through him. He remembers, in the hotel, a haze and himself breaking things. It is the same feeling of a vicious claw, starving for destruction, only turned inwards. But he still is shielded by the wild mass of her hair pressed to his brow, and he registers the heat and softness of skin against his face. The smell of her fills his head. A pulse point dances, very close—a single beat, steady and strong.

His wail comes muffled by her flesh, and as his lips open he can almost taste her, the salt of her skin. Heat rushes. The tide flows and recedes.

He shakes.

After a long time, River leans away gradually. Her hands remain on him, grounding him somehow, but the air he breathes is no longer full of her and he attempts to clear his head. A sharp jab of shame at his own loss of control is the first thing he experiences. Quite the gift to her it is, to load her with the burden of his distress.

"Sweetie," she still whispers, her voice gentle and cautious as it brushes over him. He looks at her.

"Sorry," he manages in a croak. She shakes her head, curls bouncing, lips tightening.

"Tell me." He hesitates.

"There is nothing to say. I'm sorry, I just lost it a little."

"When are we?" she requests again.

"Past Berlin. A—while past that."

"And when are you?"

He wonders if it will tell her anything. "The Minotaur's hotel. But my last stop was Leadworth."

Her hands tighten around the sides of his neck. "You brought them home," she murmurs.

He nods.

Her fingers reach up, ghost over his brow, his hair. He leans into the touch and resents himself for that. Out of the blue, it strikes him that he's rarely let someone so physically close to him, for such a long time and at such a moment of vulnerability. His control slips in this incarnation.

He's supposed to be the one to catch her when she falls.

"I'm sorry," he repeats automatically. "I just—I wasn't sure where to go, so I came here. I didn't think."

"I'm glad you did," she replies, unfazed.

He wants to step away from her. He wants to flip a few controls and suggest, in a loud, booming voice, an outing in time and space. Anywhere. He wants to pull it together.

She leans in, a question and a challenge in her eyes.

He lets her.

The kiss is very soft—soft and slow and full of many things unspoken. Her mouth is a caress on his, and he parts his lips to let her in, uncertain. Then there is a rush of warmth, gradual and building, and her breath pours in his throat, his hands cling to her waist and he is kissing her back, almost desperately.

His double heartbeat thrums. Their bodies press together, the proximity foreign and bewildering. Hugging is hugging. This is not mere touch, it is need and a pull akin to gravity. And it's frightening.

He pants against her cheek, dazed and afraid to move away. He feels her hand roaming in his hair, gentle. Her body arches as she stretches on tiptoe to brush a kiss against his temple. The subtle scent from her curls, her exposed throat is making it hard to think.

He shuts his eyes.

"You need to rest," she whispers close to his ear. "Don't you?"

He shakes his head faintly. "I'm fine," he mumbles.

"How long since you've last slept?"

Before he left them, he thinks, then his mind wanders back across time. Appalapachia. Amy and Amy and Rory. And before that again, endless thoughts circling his head—silence and death and whispered words spoken as an offering, too needed and too huge to think twice—

"Well?" Gently stubborn, she draws him from his thoughts. He looks at her, properly, up close. The curve of her lips and the glint of her eyes and the quiet certainty.

"Who are you?"

Her pupils widen, her breathing shortens, her brow furrows. Alarm, disbelief, shock. A hint of pain, fluttering across her features. He reads it all.

"I thought you said past Berlin. That means Demon's Run."

"No, that's just time. I don't want your past, I don't want your future. You are scattered across my life, River. Who are you, now? To me?"

He takes another breath. "How am I supposed to let in so close something I don't even understand?"

He can see the panic shifting in her eyes, the tension in her frame that wasn't there a second ago. They've leaned away without realizing.

"But you know me," she says. "By that point, you know me. Don't you?" He can taste her desperation. It pleases him oddly, to see her as distraught as he is—not quite openly, but underneath. He found himself craving her strength, her quiet softness, her knowledge, to keep him anchored. Now he's got that aching need to leave her lost in the darkness. If stumble they must, they'll stumble together.

"Bits and pieces," he replies. And those bits and pieces he can glimpse in her eyes, if he peers close enough. How quickly he managed to unsettle her, that strong, strong woman—he really watched rather than made it happen, poked whenever he sensed a missing space and now the façade is crumbling on their heads. The flippant archaeologist, the dangerous femme fatale, the bad, bad girl, the lost child, the raw rebel. The woman in love. They all flicker without holding. She doesn't know what to make of herself, for him.

"It's all spoilers," she says, faintly.

"It has been since the beginning. Haven't we come so far?"

"You tell me."

She turns away. He watches her move, slightly bewildered—her hands ghosting across the console; her face leaned away, behind the mass of unruly hair, out of sight. She is keeping him out.

"Maybe that answers my question," he ponders aloud.

"Have you asked the correct one?" There is a spark, a tremble of anger in her voice now. "How can you ask me to trust you when you pointedly won't trust me?"

The answer flies, startled and automatic. "I thought you already trusted me."

Her laugh, too high—shrill—makes him flinch. "Oh, sweetie. That back-to-front thing does make you ever so spoiled."

She leans against the TARDIS with a weary sigh. He approaches her. A poke in her curls, a tapping of her nose until she turns to look at him.

"I do trust you," he says, lower, almost softer. "I just—don't know you."

"Don't you, or is that what you tell yourself when you don't want to let me in too close?" she retorts. "You're right. Demon's Run wasn't it. But I've seen younger versions of you. We've done things, seen things. Fought together. Doesn't it weigh at all? If I were just a mystery to decipher to you, you wouldn't have come here today."

He exhales in frustration. "River. You always know. And I don't think that's fair."

"Look at me properly and tell me if I know." That bitter laugh again. "I never know what I'm going to get."

He looks, and there are tears in her eyes—he'd never seen that before, he realizes with a jolt. The blue-green irises glitter defiantly, and now he wonders. He wished to see her vulnerable, as an offering of trust, perhaps, or to reassure him that he wasn't the only one going blind, gambling on a future already written as past, or feelings that frighten him more than anything. He's probably had what he wanted. Hurting her in the process was never part of the plan, but then again there never was a plan.

Stumbling through time.

His hand, seemingly of its own accord, reaches out. His fingers brush her cheek and she leans into the touch, never breaking eye contact. He swallows. Too close. Too big—his old hearts are maddened, and he was never supposed to feel like this, not after everything, not so strongly—

"Do you want me to leave?" she asks as his fingers fall from her face, his eyes from hers. That sends a lurch of shock through his head and bones, quickly shaking him. No, he hears the cry from within, but damned if he can tell where exactly it's coming from.

"No, I don't," he answers in a low voice, and she nods solemnly.

She turns away again, and he hears her sigh as she mechanically runs a hand across her hair, leaning into the TARDIS again. Her weariness moves him; her closeness to his ship, her instinctively seeking comfort there too, most of all. He consciously clings to the feeling, unravels it all the way back to Demon's Run, when he looked into her face, knowing her name, and so many implications were blowing through his mind in a fraction of a second. And not all about the Ponds, not even close. Human plus Time Lord, born in the cradle of the vortex. Another creature of time. Unique.

He remembers that sense of wonder, the claim it represented in a way, that recognition. And it was but a push, a jolt to send the pieces falling into place. Her DNA didn't make his gleeful enthusiasm. It was her, River Song, dazzling River with her mind and her wit and her curls and her smirks and that radiant warmth her eyes held whenever they looked at him, and suddenly they belonged.

A push, past the fear. Actual, deadly danger has never seen him so reluctant. He went to her with a smile when he could read the urge to kill in every hint of her poise, and now that she is quiet and gentle and much too exposed to throw him with a daring remark, she scares him half to death.

Still. She was brave, as she faced his younger face and then gave her life. She didn't attempt to hurt him, just to test him or protect herself. Consciously, subconsciously, it doesn't matter. He knows exactly what he's doing, what he does to her. He can stop whenever he wants.

Now.

Now.

There are three steps separating them, three he crosses one by one. She raises her head, startled. That distance falls away—first the gap, then the personal space.

He bans all thought and goes to kiss her.

His lips brush against hers, light and awkward, slightly parted. She jumps and then instinctively leans in, her mouth catching his own, fingers grasping at his jacket. It only takes two seconds before she tenses and relinquishes her grip, but he catches her hand in his own.

His free hand goes into her curls. That is, he deems in his haze, his best shot at keeping the fear at bay, probably. The trick is to fall from anxious considerations into sensation, and there is some aplenty—the softness of mouths, moist and odd and intimate, her teeth nibbling his lip and then her tongue slipping in; the scent of her, heady and sweet and alluring; her body heat, so near now. But that hair. He has entertained, once or twice or really much more often than that, the notion of toying with it. Now his fingers are tangling into her curls, and a possessive thrill shoots through him, all the way from skull to toes, dancing down his spine and curling at the very pit of his gut. She gives a muffled groan against his mouth, and he shudders.

They part for breath. Rather, she for breath and he, respiratory bypass system be damned, by reason of dizziness. Her face is so close; he opens his eyes and he can trace every fluttering eyelash, the curves of her brows, her soft parted lips and the pinkness suffusing her flushed cheeks. He watches, entranced. It is just features shaping a face he knows, and it is just mouths joining and doing wet messy things, on a strictly physical basis. It is more. He finds his eyes glued to her as she stands so very near and her chest rises and falls.

She glances up at him.

That is, apparently, the signal for more kissing. Like an odd magnetic thing, their eyes meet and they move to each other as one. And it feels good, hot and soft and passionate and oddly natural for such a foreign thing. They did it before, twice; each time it was her taking the initiative, and he on the receiving end, dazzled and passive. Now, however, his lips move against hers and the hand that isn't buried in her curls fumbles for her waist, draws her to him without thinking. Then her body is fully pressed to his, warm and firm and real against his frame. There isn't space between their skins, just the itching rustle of fabric and blank panic seizes his mind for a second.

His lips freeze, and he wants to push her away, but the fear to lose this is also strong. This, no matter what this means. This is it. This is his, theirs.

River senses his hesitation and moves away. Unconsciously, he finds his fingers tightening, holding her head close to his. Her eyes grip his and there is a glow to them he cannot believe appeared in the last few minutes. Perhaps he is only now perceiving it. Something in her shines. Something opened.

He wants it, more of it, but he is afraid to ask, afraid to stand too close, unveil too much of himself.

He feels like his whole perception is shifting, being rewritten. He feels her, acutely—sees so much of her, in her, senses the warmth of her body, the hint of her perfume, the shift of her curls stirring the air. That hot, buzzing air between them. He just found out that her skin feels ever so soft.

Everything. Everything put together, taking him, pulling him, guiding him.

The need for more takes over the fear.

He lets go of her hair and stumbles back a step. Something shuts on her face; her lips part for a split second as though in a quiet gasp, before she forces her features into smooth submission, in control again. It twists something in him—refusal. He doesn't want to see her in control, not anymore. Even if it burns, the intensity of emotion, even terrifying, overwhelming. It is her, and belongs to him as well. He knows that now.

"I—" His voice sounds bewilderingly breathless. He has to pull himself together to draw rational sounds from his vocal chords and not look like too much of a fool. Any words sound stupid or embarrassing beyond measure and he wonders if he can just wave her after him, into the depths of his ship, anywhere at all. She is staring so intently, his cheeks burning under her gaze—surely she would understand.

He steps back messily, almost stumbles, catches himself. He stands very close to escape now. She remains frozen, then her hand flutters in half-defined motion. She makes to turn away, allow him more liberty to leave.

"River," he calls. That, her name he can manage. Her head shoots up. He motions her to him, and even from that distance he can see her shoulders relax, her ribcage fall in, perhaps, a brief sigh. How tightly bound they are, for one word, one glance, one wave of the hand can send them tripping forward or edging back, pushed and pulled. Shared power, shared danger.

It is a relief to turn his back and hurry further into the ship, knowing she follows.

He has no idea whatsoever where he's heading to. He does have a bedroom, the place hidden somewhere and abandoned most of the time. It is personal, kept secret, and therefore lonely. More often than not he sleeps a few stolen hours at a time, thrown into a chair in some distant room where he won't be disturbed, but that others have seen, touched. His bedroom is where he retreats to think. It houses ghosts, guilt, many a restless hour and sleep that isn't rest—bad dreams that make him shake, good dreams that make him weep. Any place really and only his, unshared, would have such haunted air.

This isn't a place he wants to see tonight, nor take her to. He walks past doors. A question occurs to him.

He whirls around. "River, do you have a room?"

She stops, startled, but nods. He is blushing now, he can feel the heat pooling in his cheeks, and gives a large, messy sweep of the arm to indicate that she might have to lead the way. Thankfully, River takes the hint and his hand as well, which he didn't quite expect. She leads him through a few corridors and turns, before eventually pushing a door.

The room is wide and pleasant-looking. It holds lots of books, lots of maps, lots of fun technology bits and artefacts. It has a nice little couch and a fireplace, of all things. And it has a bed—the bed draws his eyes at once like a magnet. It is big and soft-looking, with lots of pillows, white, beige or a soft, faded gold that reminds of honey. It looks like somewhere to burrow under the covers and forget about the outside world. To cuddle, or sleep, or—or do anything at all. Oh, there he goes, blushing again.

He turns to her.

River is still, brow slightly furrowed as she gazes around the room. She hasn't let go of his hand, but the grip of her fingers is loose on his, and he wants to poke her nose, so he does just that. She blinks at him as though she had forgotten about his presence at all, which is really not so nice of her given the circumstances. She manages a smile, looking thoroughly distracted. He frowns.

"What is it?" he asks. She shrugs.

"Something off. I can't quite place it."

"Oh."

He cannot think of anything else to say, and she releases his hand to pace around the room. He sees her stop, then stiffen. When she turns back to him, it is with a radiant smile. Slightly too radiant.

"What is it?" he repeats.

"Oh, nothing, my love. I was just thinking." She moves forward as if to kiss him, but he lays a finger across her lips, automatically. He can feel the heat of her startled breath.

"Tell me," he requests softly. River hesitates, swallows a little. He withdraws his hand when her mouth opens to speak.

"Just first times," she says, light-heartedly from the sound of it. He frowns again and she elaborates:

"This is my room, but not quite. The TARDIS can see my days here, my path crossing and wrapping around yours and hers. The moment we passed the door, she created my room the way I have always known it, from the first time I have stepped here. But in her timestream, I have never been here before. See? The bed hasn't been slept in. The books are untouched, although I am sure my favourites are all there. The exact design is the same, entirely personal, but she couldn't recreate my tangible imprint on it all, my notes and my marked pages and my scent on the pillows, my most personal items. The room looks eerily like mine, it is and will be mine, but it hasn't been lived in yet. Brand new."

Her smile is a little shaky, and he can tell the newness echoes another. His throat feels tight as he clears it. "Well, you can live in it yet," he says, wincing at his own stupid words.

She has a short laugh, and this time when she leans in for a kiss, he doesn't stop her. He is definitely getting the hang of kissing—the feel and taste of it, of her; breathing the same hot air. He's holding her hair again, and gripping her shoulder, and he feels her arms slipping beneath his jacket to encircle his waist. He leans into her embrace, feeling his own hearts rumble against her chest. The closeness makes him gasp into her mouth, but by now it is all a powerful, delicious rush—emotion joining the heat and instinct, all mixing into a yearning to hold her close, hold her tight and not let go.

He tugs in the general direction of the bed. She breaks the embrace just long enough to grasp his hand and pull him along with her.

Just a few steps and they tumble together onto the welcoming mattress.

Being so very horizontal, all of a sudden, proves a rather startling change. He landed on top of River, pressed into her with their legs still off the bed and their faces so very near. He looks down at her and she smirks up at him before proceeding to crawl back. The movement creating a gap between them, he is bewildered at first, though he eventually realizes that she is settling properly on the bed, fully stretched out and parallel to its frame, instead of diagonal and half-dangling from the edge. Recognizing the initiative as a remarkably sensible one, he straightens to allow her more leeway, then follows on his hands and knees, not quite on top of her anymore, but certainly close enough that their bodies are brushing with every breath or shift. Losing track of the notion of priorities, he leans in to kiss her before either of them is actually settled. Teeth clash and his nose bumps hers, and she lets out a startled little gasp.

Nine hundred years old and trying to manage, at once, a decent kiss and a bed, and that is apparently one factor too many for his big messy brain and his nose just bumped hers, for the Citadel’s sake.

Her giggle makes him jump as he draws back, and he glares. "That was not funny."

She grins up at him. "Oh, my love, but it was."

Her mouth on his muffles any indisputable argument he might have voiced. Because he would have found arguments, no doubt about that. Eventually. Naturally. He would totally have. Still—kissing now.

Noses don't bump. Without even noticing he's doing it, he is pressing his whole body nearer and nearer to hers, drawn by the warmth, the feel of her against him. His leg has slid between hers and her arm is locked around his neck and he is a prisoner in her embrace—willing prisoner though. He has no urge to escape now. He wants more—to be lost in her.

River shifts beneath him, leans her head aside, and when he draws back, props herself up on her elbows. Her cheeks are flushed red, her eyes glowing. "Too many clothes," she says, just a fraction of a second before the same words could tumble from his tongue.

They stare, and then burst out laughing.

As soon as they've sobered, she is pulling his thick jacket from his shoulders. He shrugs it off and they toss it to the side, where it slides and lands on the floor with a muffled thud betraying full pockets. He turns back and River's fingers are slipping under his faithful bowtie with a slight tug. He swallows and she deftly pulls it off, wrapping it, for a second, around her hand before she flings it over her shoulder. It falls—somewhere.

He glares. "Bowtie."

Her smile is almost angelic—almost. River Song could only ever almost pull an angelic face. "I know."

"You find it again later," he warns sternly. She chuckles.

Later. The notion distracts him. It feels unreal, the idea of later. After—after this. Him and her. And that bed.

Suddenly he feels afraid again, but River is leaning up towards him, and his gaze is drawn to the curve of her smile on pink, soft lips.

He kisses it off. Simply has to.

Whilst his mind is busy with nothing but processing sensations in a rush of kissing feels very nice why did I not do this earlier, her hand slips into his hair, then down his neck, caressing his nape and making him shiver a bit, sparks like electricity flying down his spine. Then, stealthily, she brings the hand to his front and one shirt button goes off. They keep kissing. A second one follows.

Her fingers slip into the gap allowed by the parted fabric, ghosting over his bared chest. He shivers again and off goes the third button. Then the fourth.

Her nails scrape over his skin gently, but only just. He arches against her and can feel her smile.

All buttons removed, she makes quick work of his braces before sneaking both hands underneath his shirt. He clutches her waist as her palms stroke and her nails tease and her fingers explore. She lingers on each part, soft and intimate as she caresses his stomach, feather-light as she traces his ribs, almost cruelly coy when she reaches his nipples and does all sorts of little tricky things that draw tiny, almost pleading noises from him.

Hands trembling, it is he who all but tears the shirt off. He can tell she wanted that.

As he leans to her again, half-naked now, he bats her hands away and grips her wrists tightly. For a moment, he holds her still as he kisses her hard, drinking in every feeling, every part of her—her lips, her curls tickling his face, the fragile bones under his fingers. Then he lets go and fumbles for her clothing instead.

The shirt flies across the room. Her gunbelt is proving to be an inconvenience too, and he swiftly undoes it—as swiftly as he can, anyway. She helps a little with some really uncooperative straps and eventually, the weapon also reaches the ground with a dull sound and stays there.

The Doctor is left, all of a sudden, with a rather large amount of uncovered skin and no distractions. His fingers itch and his head swims as he wonders wildly where to go from there. River goes for more kissing. Their lips brush briefly, and then her mouth is at his throat and she draws a little gasp from him as his hand flies up to her head, curling around the nape of her neck. She seems rather interested in the sensitive skin where the double pulsepoint is thrumming fast, and he wouldn't want to distract her.

He had no idea that this body could feel so intensely. His memories of physical intimacy are from another world, dimmed by the weight of years and passing incarnations, never remembered for fear of the pain. He has theoretical knowledge of hormones and the meeting of intimate parts to find climax, and thought it was of no matter to him—that shared adventures, shared gazes, words, connections held so much more than that. And they were enough—they were everything, still are. But he didn't know that the touch of her hands, of her lips would reach so much deeper than skin. He didn't know that her breath on him would be enough to make him tremble, that her caresses would map and trace and define him. Every inch of his flesh feels like it had never been naked before. He is exposed, offered to her.

Bewildering. Terrifying.

He only forgets about the terror because River is now equally uncovered, and he would be a fool to take no advantage of that. His hands find her waist, hugging the curve of her, fingers fluttering and stroking. Her skin is warm and smooth and he revels in the texture and commits it to memory as he progresses up her back, tracing her ribs and spine as he goes—the moving shape of bones beneath the surface. A strap comes to interfere and he unclasps it and pulls it off without a second thought, in his impatience. He feels her shift, then there is more warm, round flesh pressed to his own chest.

…oh. Well, that much is done, then.

Refusing to be side-tracked, he resumes his exploration of her back, feeling her slight moves in reaction to his touch, the odd shiver when his fingers trail along her spine. His hands close around her shoulders, fingers nestled against the curve of her collarbones, and for a moment he just holds her quietly. He feels her head still at his neck as she just presses her face into his skin—inhaling his smell, it seems.

The low pulse of her single heart somehow falls in sync with his double beat. In and out he breathes.

A curl tickles his cheek. The Doctor bends his head to press his face further against her hair, breathing into the scent of it. The similarity of their position draws him a smile. But his lips brush against her temple through the mass of her mane, and he raises a hand to push the blonde impediment out of the way and gain access to her face. His neck twists in the most uncomfortable way and River lies back to accommodate him with a smirk. Then, before he knows it, he is kissing her brow and her eyes and her cheeks and her nose and her lips, and his hands are also all over her and she isn't smirking anymore, but arching into him.

His palms follow the curve of her flat stomach before cupping her ribcage. He stills there for a moment, clutching the tangible frame of her through the soft, soft skin. Her chest rises and falls between his hands and his lips steal the air that flows from her lungs. Then he reaches further up and suddenly he feels a breast pressing into his palm. He isn't quite sure what to do with it at first, but he traces the round shape, perfectly fitting into his hand, and the delicate skin under tentative, exploring fingers. River has a small groan when he focuses on the nipple, so he starts toying with it, drawing his mouth from hers to track her reactions all the more carefully. She shifts, and the other breast brushes against his free hand. Well, if this isn't prompting him. Still—neither of them would want this one to feel lonely, he supposes.

He won't complain. He finds an ever-growing excitement in playing her body in such a way. It's easy to touch, to explore and find out what she likes. But his mouth is idle and he bends to place it at her throat, remembering all at once the softness there, the delicious scent that clouded his whole head, and also how very good it felt when she did the same thing to him earlier. One part of his mind still tuned to the activity of his hands, he starts pressing kisses to her neck, small, chaste ones at first. Then his lips part of their own accord, and he's nibbling and teasing and tasting her. She tilts her head back to allow him better access, one hand falling to his nape, half-stroking, half-holding him there.

He breathes her in. It occurs to him that he is mapping her, part after part, tracing the shapes and the landscapes—secret paths to travel her body, sensitive areas and special things that make her breathing change and her eyelids flutter. Every sigh is a living spoiler, a startlingly intimate thing, freely given. Or else there are no spoilers there, else skin speaks its own truth, a langage unlearned and instinctive he can soak in from the pads of fingers, the tip of his tongue, the air that flows into his lungs, heady with the smell of her.

His lips travel down, wander along a shoulder. He licks the edge of her collarbone and presses a kiss to the gentle curve before his head lowers again. His mouth just ghosts over her breast, breath fanning and teasing with its moist warmth. She arches a little and he tsks with a low chuckle. He starts a little at his own daringness, bewilderingly new—but thus far the fear has subsided. He wanted to know more of her, and now he does, more than he could ever have imagined; it seems simple, natural, like a door opened that one cannot but cross. Something inside him speaks the obvious: that this feels right and she smells lovely and that pink, erect nipple is just the right shape to put lips around, so he does just that. He licks and sucks and nibbles carefully until she is actually moaning, the sound drawn out from somewhere low in her throat, breathy and trailing into a sigh—a sound that travels along his spine, makes things coil and flutter deep in his gut, and sends rushes of heat, to his head and hearts and somewhere else too.

He switches to the other breast. He is suddenly trembling and her hand wandering across his back doesn't help. His mind is full of her and now his body overwhelmed. The growing, aching need frightens him. His trousers are too tight and he feels too hot and he wants to strip them both bare, delve fully into her, but his senses seem to be close to overload already. He craves and dreads to lose himself in her.

River whispers his name, the sound quiet and hoarse. He wraps an arm around her waist and presses his face between her breasts, just stays there. Her fingers play with his hair as her breathing settles a little.

Although the ache is getting more painful by the minute, his shaking hand reaches to her trousers first.

Her thighs are round yet lean and firm to the touch, the skin smooth. He pushes the fabric down and down and down, she kicks off her boots. He pauses to pull the socks off too, grateful for the small distraction. River curls her legs underneath her body and sits up, scooting closer to the head of the bed as if to give him space. They lock gazes, for the first time in a while, he realizes. Her blue-green eyes are wide and very clear, irises sparkling, pupils dilated—but there is nothing predatory there, not even teasing.

Want, need, love. Solemn and open.

He reaches towards her. He grabs her head for a kiss, a bit rough and clumsy, and she throws her arms around his neck. But he pulls at a wrist, slightly at a loss as to how to express his needs. He wants her to finish undressing him—the idea is so intimate and frightening it nearly makes his whole brain shut down, but he knows in his gut that she has to do it, that though he won't backtrack, he still needs her help. Sooner rather than later she is going to end up touching him, and he craves that with a sort of horror, wondering what's happening to him.

This got so real, and so fast, but really it had been there forever. She marked him for this moment with every husky laugh and blush-worthy comment, as well as every quieter, graver instant, when he would meet her eye and catch a glimpse of feelings infinite. He's been preparing himself every time he leaned in too close, letting their bodies gravitate around one another for a second, a whispered word, a bop of the nose.

It was innocent and it was deep, so deep. He's been letting her slip into him and settle there comfortably to be carried forevermore under his skin—all the while thinking he could keep her at arm's length. All the while defiant, callous, derisive.

He sighs against her mouth and tugs her wrists down more insistingly. Docile, she lets her arms fall to his waist, allows him to guide her. Her fingers brush against his stomach, tracing idle signs. Is this what you want?, he guesses the intent beneath the wandering of her nail.

Yes.

He tilts his hips closer to her. Her hands stroke along his sides lazily, tease his navel. Then she deftly opens his belt, makes quick work of the fabric.

Down it shimmies. He is still on his knees, and in an awkward moment he has to twist away from her to stretch out his legs and kick the trousers off. Boots prove to be an inconvenience. He curses once in Gallifreyan, very randomly, like he does sometimes when he's alone with the Old Girl—and then twice more because it feels good and makes her laugh that husky chuckle that does things to him. His elbow bumps her head when she leans across him to help, and his distressed exclamation mixes up with her startled ow. Whilst he is busy babbling apologies, she swiftly wrenches off the rest of fabric and shoes, pushes him down onto his back, straddles his waist.

He has honestly not a damn clue what he is stuttering anymore, so he makes a nearly physical effort to shut himself up. Swallowing convulsively, he strokes her arms for distraction, all the way to the tops, then back down until he reaches her wrists, her own hands still firm on his shoulders. He tears his gaze from an undefined point near the edge of her curly mane so he can look into her eyes. Bad bad idea—his hearts hiccup like some kind of malfunctioning machine. Still, he has a feeling breasts-staring wouldn't nudge him any closer to coherence either.

A corner of River's mouth pulls down ever so slightly, and he sees the small crease between her eyebrows as she moves a hand to stroke his neck, toy idly with his hair. The look in her eyes shifts. Her knuckles brush his cheek and he parts his lips to speak, but no words can express what he feels, the disjointed cries of desire and fear and self-preservation and tenderness and guilt, with so many sensations flooding in to hinder his thinking. He tilts his head instead and kisses her fingertips.

"You're not ready," she says, in a voice that shows none of her own emotions.

He meets her eye again. "I'm not sure I'll ever be," he replies. He catches the tiny, tiny shadows and crispations on her features, and wraps his hands around her wrists to hold her there against him, as she was making to pull away. That is the closest to security he can give her as he struggles to carry on. "Or not any more than this. It's—" He trails off, breathes deep, reminds himself he owes her this. He cannot stand the idea that she might believe he didn't really want her, or felt pressured by his future, her feelings, or circumstances. "I really don't think… I could possibly want it more than right now. But I'm just—scared." He tightens his grasp. "I'm going to need your help. River."

She nods, and her eyes are so intense, just looking at her makes his stomach ache and his lungs feel too narrow, like he's being thrown from some great height. She leans to kiss him and he drinks her in like oxygen, fingers reaching up to tangle into her hair. He shuts his eyes tight, and opens himself to the heat and weight of her body against his, the feather-light tickling touch of her curls, the gentle roaming of her hands over his face. Her lips leave his all too quickly and he cannot help but gasp, trying to cling to her—but they only move along his jaw, nibbling his ear a little before slipping to his neck. Her mouth on his throat feels just as heavenly as before; however, she apparently doesn't intend to stop there. Her teeth graze his shoulder playfully and the tip of her tongue slips out to trace teasing, moist shapes across his skin. He shivers and trembles, heat shooting down his spine and spreading through his every limb by waves at her maddening touch. Her fingers ghost against his ribs as she catches a nipple into her mouth and sucks, then licks and bites gently. He hears the ragged moan as it drags out of his own throat, and it almost startles him, but there is so much to feel and think he has little room left for self-consciousness. For now she has found somewhere she likes to play, and it seems nearly impossible to hold on to any coherent ideas besides Don't stop please.

Yet her hands are gliding yet further down, caressing his belly in that soft, intimate way that makes his toes curl, tracing the sensitive skin of his hips. It seems entirely illogical that although his whole body has become hypersensitive, his nerve endings aflame and every feeling heightened, it all somehow centres to that one aching point; but he knows, every last inch of him knows where this is headed. Part of him yearns for it, recognizes it as what he craves mostoh and more and please and River—and part of him cries out in fear, grasping at straws as he loses control, feeling he could explode at the overwhelming sensations.

Coiled tight and about to snap. He convulses more than he shakes as her hot mouth kisses its way down his stomach slowly, softly. Her hands are on his legs and those spread of his body's own accord, helpless to resist. Fingers slip into his waistband, pulling the last of the fabric right off, tugging it down and tossing it away, freeing him; then they are dancing on the inside of his thighs and he hears another moan escape him, pleading as he's trembling—so close, so very close, too, too close and he can feel her moist breath and please

The warmth englufs him. He almost wails, back arching and hands fisting on the sheets, his head lost in a flow of sensations. Her lips glide along the length of him, tongue sweeping, hands reaching, teeth grazing very slightly. He can see the bouncing of her hair from the corner of his eye, thrown across the bed as he is, offered to her touch. A golden curl tickles his stomach, and she's sucking on him and his spine is on fire, everything is dancing lights, blinding. It crashes over him, wave after wave after wave, and he gasps her name on repeat, a hoarse stream through his parted lips, the R rumbling from his ribcage, the last syllable trailing in a sigh or caught in a gasp.

He cries for her to stop and begs her not to. He doesn't know what he's saying. He burns and he keens and she holds him in her hands and takes him in her mouth, his most sensitive point entrusted to her care. She lies half-curled between his legs and teaches him the long-forgotten art of losing control.

He manages to grasp at her shoulder, white fingers against her skin, with a raw need to cling to her. She would give him her hand to hold on to, but it happens to be rather busy at the moment and a sense of priorities is in order. Soon, she promises in her mind, as she proceeds to make him come undone.

More and more and higher and too much until his body reaches the limit. Here it comes, the snap—but he doesn't break, not quite. He breaks open and writhes and cries as he's pouring out, the bliss and trust and fear and heat all draining from his system. His whole body tenses and then falls back exhaustedly.

His fingers fall loose, his eyes shut.

A warm body crawls over his. He reaches out blindly until his arms are tight around her waist, her weight nestled on top of him. River leans away for a moment and he whines in protest, but she only tugs him aside and wrests out the sheets so they can actually slip into the bed. He had quite forgotten about that.

Huddled under the covers, he reaches for her again and this time she curls against his chest, her body wrapping around his, all smug and possessive. Instinctively, his hands roam all over the bare skin of her back, fingers curling into her hair as he pulls her as close as he possibly can. The soft bed and the release and her warm body snuggling close to him all combine to leave him sleepy and more at peace than he remembers being in a very long time. He feels cradled, him against her and the two of them in this bed in this room at the core of the TARDIS, the ship humming all around them contentedly, lulling them to rest. His thoughts are a muffled haze, of the room and bed and the many more intimate moments they will probably share here, paving his future; of how good this specific one feels, lying entirely bared to one another, entirely trusting; of words he told her once, whispered in her ear as she was just beginning, a wistful promise, and the song they sing in his head now, quiet, secret, heady; of wondering what she is thinking right now, and feeling—

His musing halts there. "River," he mumbles against her hair.

"Mmm?" Her voice is a low purr as she shifts against him.

"You didn't…" He resorts to a vague but hopefully expressive hand gesture to evoke what just happened to him due to her attentions.

She peers at his hand with dauntingly calm eyes, glittering green in the half-light of the ship. "Well, I didn't indeed."

"That's not quite right." Having very nearly forgotten about this specific detail, in the aftermath of his bliss and the blazing novelty of it all, makes him feel guiltier by the minute.

She shrugs a little, as best she can with their currently lying entwined. "Time Lord anatomy is all well and good, honey, but I assumed you couldn't quite yet…" She trails off eloquently.

He frowns. "Well, surely I could—help—another way." He is starting to wonder anxiously if he is really that rubbish in bed, for he would not expect River Song to be a woman of such low expectations.

She nibbles thoughtfully at her lip, eyes scanning his expression. "This is all very new to you," she says, but she sounds less guarded somehow. The notion enters his mind that even in bed, even after offering him so much of herself, taking care of him and giving him pleasure of the likes he couldn't have fathomed, the concerns of his relative youth and the early stages of their relationship are following her still—never pressuring him, never taking anything for granted. The extent of that respect, that caution, bewilders him a little. There is fear weighing strongly there as well—fear of not doing things right, of drawing him away by acting too demanding, or even being herself. This feels so very wrong now.

"There's a first time for everything," he says, then pauses immediately. No cloud passes over her features. She hasn't lived that yet—that blow of the first kiss that was the last, apparently. He isn't sure yet if their lives really are as absurdly linear and headed opposite as she seemed to think then; if so, Melody should have been the last of her he saw. Not this, never this—his stomach aches at the idea, his skin revolts in the nearness of hers.

So many fears he wishes to free her of. It'll be his turn now, he thinks firmly. His turn to give back a little, for all that she gave and has ever given him.

His hand settles on her thigh, tentative at first. But he feels, as he climbs up, the smooth skin and the lean shape of muscle underneath, the reality of her, tangible and warm and naked, for him to explore. Up, up, up.

Well, when he says naked—his fingers catch a remnant of fabric.

Unfazed, he pulls it off. River kicks away the offending garment, which probably gets lost somewhere in the depths of the bed—he doesn't care to know. Instead he shifts them to the side, their bodies settling into a new balance until he is the one leaning over her. He follows a sudden urge to kiss her, fierce at first and soon softer, his lips and hers a choreographied caress. His hands brush over her hips again.

She parts her legs to offer him access. He advances steadily.

The sheer heat of her skin is what catches him off guard at first, and the startling wetness. He feels lost for a moment, without a clue as to what exactly he is supposed to do with her. Anatomy can only take him so far, when his memories of any such intimacy are so very dim and distant. But he can feel her breathing catch in expectation against his mouth at the mere touch of him, and that encourages him as well as soothes his uncertainty a little. He moves slowly, digits tracing her offered flesh. Lips shifting to her jaw, he listens for the little intakes of breath that indicate sensitive points. His fingers glide against her, growing to love the delicate skin, secretive and fragile, moist silk to be handled reverently.

While he grows more confident, finding his bearings and testing variations of pace and pressure as he caresses her, he can hear her sighs deepen in response, echoing from lower in her throat and escaping her lips with more abandon. Don't worry, I'm quite the screamer, he remembers and feels a maddening desire to experience the truth of that statement for himself. Her body shifts slightly, unconsciously under his touch; her legs spread further and her chest rises and falls, her hips tilt and her head falls back. Carefully, he crawls closer still, and she reaches an arm for him, welcoming his weight as it rests more fully against her.

He kisses her cheek and feels the heat of the flushed skin; he kisses her hair and the sweat at her temple and her fluttering eyelids. His fingers slip and curl inside of her, and she arches with a small cry. The hammering of her heart echoes against his chest, in an out-of-sync symphony with the double beat of his.

She whimpers his name, Doctor. He breathes against her, into her, desperate for more of her broken winded pleading voice, more of her smell, more of her warmth, more of the pleasure he is building in her, for her until it crashes. He drinks her in, and the essence of this moment slips under his skin, sinks into his bones, runs through his blood. He is going to remember this, and yearn for her, and he is actually touching the risk, the pain to come even as he tastes the rapture. He was so, so right to be afraid.

He can't quite feel the fear now, a faded echo when she keens beneath him. No matter the cost, it was or will be worth it.

He whispers her name and finds moisture as his lips ghost over her closed eyelids again, and it breaks him open just a little more.

He learns fast, acutely aware of her every reaction. He isn't quite sure how he can soak everything in, every detail and facet of this moment, and still remain so focused, but somehow he manages. He tries to slow down too, tame his eagerness and her need, drawing it all out, more and more and more. She trembles and whimpers and begs in a low, raw voice and he leans as close to her as he possibly can, wanting to hold and rock and cradle her as the pleasure mounts and hits its peak, to keep her wrapped up in him.

A screamer indeed. She writhes and sobs before her body goes limp, trapped and warm between the mattress and him.

Instinctively, he tastes the essence of her ecstasy on his fingers. The tangy flavour brings a blush to his cheeks. He wraps his arms fully around her, and she curls into him, pleasure-washed bodies finding a perfect fit in their embrace.

So this is it. Done, lived, written, anchored in him forever. He presses nervous butterfly kisses against her face as an anxious restlessness comes to disturb his sleepy peace. So complete a connection reaches far beyond the present. The need for her will be dormant, nestled between his hearts.

Her head shifts to let her lips brush against his. "If you remember," she whispers, breathy and soft, "before we got… carried away…"

He chuckles. "Carried away indeed."

"Mmm." She nuzzles against his neck, her voice coming muffled by his skin. "I was suggesting you should sleep."

"Ah." In a way, this is yet more intimacy. The fear of dreams comes combined with the fear of needing her to repel them. For so many years, his sleep has been scarse, broken, secret. No eyes to bear witness of the darkest in him. This entails a new shade of vulnerability, another layer stripped bare.

His mind tosses the idea around, yet his body instinctively craves the warm comfort of hers. The touch of her soft skin lulls him to oblivion. Attempting to blink off the emotional exhaustion, he feels her lips against his cheek.

"Just rest, my love," she coaxes in a whisper.

He shifts against her as though it were possible to inch nearer still. If he could he would just lose shape and imprint himself to her frame. Her single heart rumbles close to his.

He will need to face sleep anyhow. He fears to admit to himself how much her presence reassures him.

Gradually, he drifts into darkness, breathing falling into sync with the soft rise and fall of her chest.

 

She wears a crown of silver and light, the blinding brightness leaving her faceless.

He screams. She burns and becomes the sun. A stranger in white, she dazzles him.

She is a wearing a suit and she cannot die, not now, please—

Fire whipping the air. He turns and here stands Amy, her face a grim mask, clutching a gun.

No, he says without voice.

No, you know who she is, I know who she is, we can't let it happen PLEASE—

But the gunshot slaps his ears, bewildering, and as he reels Amelia dissolves in Flesh. He was never, ever there for her, and River screams as the Teselecta torture her—

No, you're wrong, she hasn't done it and even if she does, even when she does—you don't know what she means to me—

Oh? And do you? says the Dream Lord with a smirk, and this is the dream, die to wake up.

But he cannot die. Others do, everyone. He carries on, different and the same, wearing the phantom memory of eleven deaths and no scars, not ever. The eternal madman, always with weak, weary old hearts.

And River burns for him—

 

He wakes up gasping, wheezing for breath.

At once, he feels trapped. Something holds him locked in a firm grasp, tight around his waist, and he writhes. Immediately the restraint loosens, freeing him. He bolts upright, blinded and panicked.

A silhouette, close to him in the gloom—he feels hands on his shoulders, gripping securely as though to both steady him and keep him in place. And past the terror and the mad roaring of his hearts in his ears, he can place her.

River, with no deadly crown but her unruly mane of curls, soft and warm and tangibly there, reachable. No hard, white suit but bare skin he now has intimate knowledge of—

He grabs her waist, drawing a startled yelp from her as he all but wrenches her to him. He presses his face into her hair, breathing into her scent until he feels dizzy. The taste of loss and death fades a little. She shifts and wraps her arms around him, not complaining although he must be crushing her ribcage.

He remembers the firm embrace he woke up in, and realized she was holding him as he dreamed. Although her comfort couldn't reach him then, the idea that she didn't leave him prey to the darkness is somewhat comforting.

She hushes him with whispered nothings, her hand drawing slow circles across his back. She doodles something in Gallifreyan. He makes a small effort to focus.

Closeness. Support. Strength. Balance.

She doesn't trace the sign for "love".

He shifts a hand and sketches it against her thigh. Then he finds enough breath to kiss her.

He holds onto her. He crawls on top of her, pinning her body with the weight of his, hands roving more freely. Hunger sparks and flames within him, chasing away any other thought—chasing away the terror and darkness. Yearning imperious, infinite. He nibbles and sucks at the skin of her throat as if he wished to devour her.

His hands seek and find her lower, where the heat of her flesh is like heaven and hell combined. A whimper escapes her. "What are you doing?" she gasps.

He thinks "I need you" but cannot quite voice the words, so he just resumes kissing her, hard. She doesn't ask again.

As his fingers work her, he delves fully into every sensation, until his whole world is made of her—a river of smell and sighs and salty skin, filling his mind to the brim. He feels her. He knows her. He almost lives in her.

It is one moment in a thousand facets, eternal and separate and she is guiding his hips, closer closer here and everything explodes in contradictory sparks: he is floating, drifting, yet held so closely and the pleasure is so strong it borders on pain—

His grip on her is almost bruising as he pushes deeper and nearer always, her legs around his waist and her body so tight and hot and wet and squeezing him in convulsive tremors. River cries out at his thrusts and he pants and whispers her name, lost to everything but the feel of her and their merged bodies. He clutches her like life and death, sin and salvation, the beginning and the end. His eyes burn and his hearts constrict as they writhe in unison, closer and closer to the one point—

River clenches around him, arching and keening, her nails digging into his shoulders. He reaches one arm to cradle her head, holds her tight as it washes over her, kisses her face breathlessly, messily. His own body is bursting in blazes of starlight and the crashing wave is light and darkness all at once, breaking from the pit of his stomach and rising in a roar, engulfing him whole.

He is under. They fall into each other, sightless and oxygen-deprived. Soothing blackness.

Time glides gently over them in the while it takes for their breathing to settle back into a normal pace.

Gradually, he regains awareness of a world surrounding them—velvet obscurity all around, the buzz of the TARDIS like a low hum, the covers they lie nestled beneath—entwined and curled together into the depths of his ship, home. He doesn't want to ever let go of her, or even entertain the notion; he feels raw, as though his body in its most profound intimacy were left open and vulnerable, and it only is good because she is everywhere against and around him, equally offered and dazed by the shock of physical bliss. He wants to crawl beneath her skin and find out every secret, every sensitive part, every scar and pulse point, every emotion or memory. He wants to read her like a book, in order or backwards or a few stolen pages at a time in the flights of his fancy.

He wonders how fear ever kept him from this for so long. By now, he doesn't care if he dies for it later.

He wonders also what this makes her. She used to stand behind the armour of a smirk and the word Spoilers, his maybe-wife and surely-killer; nothing secure to hold onto, nothing of his—surely this has shifted by now. Well—

A lover. No, not a, not any—his lover.

The one woman in centuries to have felt his hearts so fast and so close against her chest. The one who heard his cries and whispers of her name.

River shifts against him, her embrace unconsciously tightening. He feels the flutter of her eyelids against his cheek. He finds himself smiling against her curls.

"Hello," he says, voice breathy and warm.