grace in your heart and flowers in your hair;

Once she was safely back on board – after only a slight argument about the sanity of throwing oneself off of buildings in the hopes that he would be there to catch her – he followed her back down the hallway to the room she was occupying.

"It was completely reckless, River!"

"Well it would have been, if I didn't know you wouldn't let me fall." She was maddeningly calm about the whole thing, and he ran a hand through his hair in frustration.

"How can you be so certain of everything, River? How can you-" She turned to face him, stepping in closer until she was inches away from him.

"Experience. I know you'll be there. Call it faith, if you'd like sweetie. I just... knew. I'm sorry if it frightened you." Her hands rose between them and hovered uncertainly in the small space. It was something he'd noticed. He felt compelled to touch her more, more and more each time he saw her. But she always let him take the lead in that arena, and he wondered if he would be as patient when his time came. His hearts whispered to him, of course not.

His hands rose and he traced a fingertip down over her bare arm, watching as she repressed a shiver. As much as she tried not to, she always gave away how she felt whenever his skin came in contact with hers. Not through telepathy – her mind was closed tight, and it drove him mad. It looked like a blinding light behind steel shields – bleeding through here and there but nothing that he could read. No, she gave it away in the way she closed her eyes, or leaned into him, or the way she would smile. "I wasn't frightened." He whispered finally. "Not really. Of course I'd catch you. But the amount of trust – that frightens me a bit."

"I know, dear." She breathed the words out and his other hand traced the tally marks that were creeping up her neck.

"There's so many more..." He sighed and she nodded.

"I'll have to start marking my face soon enough." She spoke seriously. "I'm going to run out of skin, unless I start wearing less." She winked a bit at that and he smiled weakly.

"We have to figure this out." Out of all of them, he had the fewest marks across his skin – Amy and Rory both had long since started inking tally marks across their faces, like small scars. It was disturbing to see, and he didn't want to see the same images on River's skin.

"I know. We'll get there, sweetie, we always do." She stepped in a fraction of an inch closer and he leaned forward, pressing his forehead against hers.

"Isn't that a spoiler?" He joked half-heartedly and she shook her head.

"No. A promise." He breathed softly for a moment, one hand still cupping her elbow and the other resting on the back of her neck.

"Well let's start counting. Compare the numbers." He pulled back slightly and started concentrating on the task at hand, pulling her arms out and counting by fives. He circled around her, checking the back of her neck and shoulder blades, she lifted the hem of her dress somewhat so he could continue counting the marks that ran up her legs. It was a testament to his focus that he didn't lose count on the delicate skin of her calves.

"Thirty-five more." She mused aloud as he finally stopped counting and stood in front of her again. His hands reached up into her hair automatically, pulling pins out as he moved in so close he could feel her body heat seeping through the distance between them. "What are you doing?" She asked in amusement and his fingers continued to move through the soft curls, pulling pin after pin out.

"Taking your hair down. You know, I think this is the first time I've ever touched your hair. It's far softer than I'd imagined." He brushed against her as he circled behind her, his hands making quick work even as his eyes drifted lower down her back, exposed in the lovely dress she was currently wearing. Her shoulders shook with laughter as she leaned her head back into his hands.

"You imagined it?" Her question was flirtatious and he smiled softly, pulling the last pin out and pocketing it before burying his fingers back into her hair. The curls twisted themselves around his fingers, and he found the feel of them enthralling, silken strands of gold that were pulling his hands in deeper.

"I might have." He leaned forward a bit to whisper in her ear, and her back pressed against his chest and her hips pressed against him in other, even more delicious ways. His eyes drifted shut, and he stilled, pressed into her with his hands in her hair, drinking the moment in. He'd seen enough of time to know that enjoyable moments should be savoured. She didn't seem to mind the pause, humming contentedly as she leaned her weight back into him.

"And what sorts of things did you imagine, Doctor?" Despite her teasing words, the tone was heavy with tension and he felt a sigh shudder through her as she spoke. He wondered if she could feel the cadence of his rapid heartbeats against her back.

He combed his fingers through her hair, disentangling them only to delve back in as she made a small whimpering sound at the back of her throat. He found it incredibly enticing, causing his hands to repeat their actions in hopes of hearing the sound again. "Mmmm?" He found himself distracted as he craned his neck forward to peek around the wild mass of hair at her expression. She had her eyes closed, her hands folded tightly in front of her with an expression of pure bliss on her face. He didn't think she'd ever looked more beautiful, despite the rows and rows of indelible marks marching along her pale skin. "Oh I don't know really. It always looks soft – like this you know. All wild around your face and untamed. I quite like it, you know River. Have I told you that before?"

A smile crossed her face and he knows what she will say before she even takes a breath to speak. "Spoilers."

"Spoilers- I know. I think I must have though. Maybe a very large amount of times. I feel like I would. Or will. Or have." He laughed slightly and she hummed in agreement.

"I've always hated it you know. The hair – oh it was impossible when I was a young girl. Nothing I did would make it less..." She waved an expressive hand and he nodded in agreement, fascinated by the fact that she was telling him any of this. "I tried to cut it very short one year – I couldn't have been more than eight or nine. Oh, it looked atrocious. Finally I just kind of came to terms with it."

"It's lovely." He protested mildly, pulling his hands out and stroking it gently. "I can't imagine not loving it." She pulled forward at that, turning in front of him until she faced him, her eyes smiling.

"I'm sure you could love it more, maybe if it were ginger." She was teasing again and he placed his hands on her shoulders, sliding his palms up to the base of her neck. He paused for a moment – wondering if it had been ginger in her past – knowing it would be at one point in her future. A lovely dark shade he'd not had the intelligence or experience to appreciate.

"Oh I don't know, River. I like it like this – reminds me of a lioness. It suits you." She swayed toward him slightly as his fingers traced the column of her neck and the shape of her jawbone.

"Thank you." She spoke sincerely, and he blinked at the softness in her face. He realized just how often she must have to wear a mask around him, through rules that he knew well enough to suspect were probably of his own making. Travelling linearly with her like this for the past few weeks had somehow altered his perception of her. She was still a mystery, of course, and a challenge. But she seemed to fit so seamlessly into his routine, into his ship, into his life that the prospect of a future with her seemed less constricting and more like a welcome embrace.

He pulled her closer still, sighing when the soft lines of her body pressed into his, and he closed his eyes, remembering the sight of her plummeting from the top of a skyscraper. Americans. Must they build everything so very tall? His hands moved to the back of her neck, his traitorous fingers wrapping in golden curls again, and her arms – her arms were wrapping around him. He held his breath, because it was the first time she'd responded to his liberal contact with her, and his hearts beat in a harsh rhythm at the feel of her wrapped around him.

He liked hugs, he always had. They could comfort and show caring and were suitable for all types of people. Some were burning with feelings just held back, and others were tinged with the cold sadness of goodbyes. Sometimes they calmed you and other times they were an expression of overjoyed excitement. But this one – this one felt like it was as close to her as he could possibly get, and it was still nowhere near close enough. He wanted to crawl into her, under her skin, under her muscle so that he could curl up under her bones. He could feel her heart beat, reverberating through him in counter-point to his own. It felt far more intimate than any kiss could, this slow wrapping of her limbs around his back, her hands curled under his shoulder blades. One of his hands slid down the exposed skin of her back, settling by her hip and pulling her in closer, even though it was a futile gesture, because closer was just impossible to achieve.

It was his chin on her shoulder, and his face turned and buried into the freed mass of her hair – she smelled like wind and lightening, electricity and smoke. It was intoxicating, like breathing air after being underwater for too long – burning and vital. It was all far more intimate than anything he'd ever felt in a long time. Her could feel her breath on his neck, the skin of her cheek was soft and warm there.

They stood still like that for what felt like hours – time seemed to finally be accommodating him by dragging slowly when he wanted it to, even though he hadn't ever really wanted it to in a while. Her breathing pattern matched his, her chest rising as his fell and vice verse. Her hair tickled the skin of his face, but he didn't feel smothered by it, rather it was comforting in ways he couldn't quite name or define.

Even the ship herself seemed to be humming in contentment, and the vibrations passed through the floor and into them, a gentle buzzing. River's hands stroked up and down his back gently, and he knew that she wouldn't ask where this came from, or what it was for – instead she would just enjoy the moment, no explanations necessary.

Finally, the sounds of voices floating down the hall filtered through to him and he lifted his head and pulled back slightly, looking down at her face, their arms still wrapped around each other. She was the first to speak out loud, and break the silence with soft words. "We should get back out there. I need to tell you all what happened." He nodded in response, noticing the sheen of tears in her eyes and he froze momentarily. He leaned forward, pressing a soft kiss to her forehead and he could hear her hitching sigh as her hands tightened in the fabric of his shirt, one wrapping round his braces.

"Alright, let's go then. Thirty-five more."

"Thirty-five more. Next time one of us should really think to draw their faces – don't know if I have any spare skin left though." She smiled and released him, stepping out of his arms, and he felt instantly bereft.

"Well I've got loads, but I'm a bit rubbish at drawing. It'd probably look like some kind of distorted stick figure." He smiled slightly, and she turned toward her door, preparing to walk through it and move back to where the Ponds were waiting. He couldn't explain why, but he felt compelled to lengthen his stride, catching up with her and taking her hand in his. At the small contact, he felt better, and she smiled over her shoulder at him. Without any discussion at all really, they seemed to have come to some sort of agreement.

Which wasn't surprising actually, because they tended to do most things with hardly any discussion at all. A fractured half-complete sentence and a significant look to ensure they were on the same page -and they always, always were – was all they ever seemed to need. Her hand squeezed his lightly and pulled him out of his thoughts.

"Come on, Doctor. No wool-gathering – we've got a planet to save. Again."