they that walk in the shadows

River, no. What are you doing?

Hello, sweetie.

She is always with him from that moment on.

He wonders if she knows. Knows or even understands what she did. What they did in that moment. The glow of regeneration energy – his darker rust energy intertwining with hers, bright gold. Her hair had brushed his face, her breath against the skin of his cheek, the taste of her in his mouth.

He'd opened his eyes at the end. He'd wanted to see it – watch it swirl and arc around them, interlinking like fine filigree above their heads. He'd never seen anything so beautiful in his entire long life. He wasn't supposed to see it – it had long been forbidden to watch such an intimate ceremony, he'd been taught by tradition to never ever look. But it was a Gallifreyan tradition and he selfishly told himself that those traditions had burned with his planet, and he wasn't beholden to them anymore. So he'd opened his eyes at the very end. Watched the linked energy burning above them, felt her hands on his face, had buried his own hands in her hair as energy danced around them, ribbons and twirls, knotting together until rust bled into gold and it ran a deep orange.

He wonders if she feels it too. It is a constant ache, buried in some corner of his mind. A River-shaped space that longs to be filled, a physical sensation of something missing from within him. He can feel her energy trickling through him if he stands still enough and just holds his breath for a moment. He can feel her there, in his mind. Feel the bright amber brilliance that is intrinsically her. But then he has to breathe again and she slips away, like liquid gold running in metal rivulets across his mind.

He wonders if she feels this ache too. If she's always felt it. Every time they'd ever met – his hearts twist at the thought.

His ship hums in sympathy and he glances around the low lights of the console room. The Ponds are asleep - and he looks up at the time rotor with a crooked smile. "Maybe just a short visit. Stealth is key, right Sexy? You'll keep the kids safe here for me, yeah?" He whispers the words into the dark stillness around him, but he knows she is here, and she hears him. The time rotor rises and falls slowly and switches spin and flip themselves.

He doesn't bother pulling his jacket on, instead shoving his sonic in his pocket before he flies down the stairs, unlocking and opening the TARDIS doors. The lights of Stormcage are flickering unsteadily as he steps out. He pulls his sonic out, waving it at the security panel in the wall and disabling the cameras, locking their section down and unlocking her cell.

When he approaches her cell he sees that she is asleep, curled in to the wall, her arms tucked under her pillow and her hair a wild tangle around her face. He steps silently into the cell, and already he can sense her – feel her bright light dancing along the edges of his mind. He feels like he can breathe properly again, and he kneels by her bed, watching as she sleeps. He sighs softly, reaching a hand out to stroke her hair softly. She stirs, reaching up and brushing her hand against his.

"Sweetie?" Her voice is heavy with sleep and she isn't quite awake, he can tell. But her grip is strong and she tugs on his arm until he rises and sits on the bed next to her. "Lay down." She mumbles and he knows he shouldn't, but he can't bring himself to care. He needs her. Needs her weight in his arms and needs her hearts beating next to his. So he barely hesitates before he toes his boots off and lifts the blankets, stretching out behind her and laying the blankets back over them.

River lets his hand go, rolling over into him and tucking her head between his neck and shoulder. She presses one tiny, so soft he almost didn't notice it kiss against the side of his neck above his collar. He wraps his arm around her, pulling her into his embrace until her breasts are pressing into his ribs, and he can count the space between her heart beats and his. Their heartbeats are a gentle pattern and he slows his breathing to match hers. His heartbeats slow and eventually every second beat of his left heart matches the flutter of her right. He starts counting their combined heartbeats, filing everything about this moment away for himself, something to fill the dark spaces in between times spent with her.

Her breath is warm on his skin, and it makes the skin on his arms, chest and back shiver with delight. She is a comfortable weight in his arms and her hair tickles his shoulder, neck face and chin but he loves it – the whisper of it on his skin. He is counting heartbeats, high and higher, his fingers lacing through her hair until he can stroke her crown and she burrows in closer with a breathy moan.

The sound makes every muscle in his frame tighten but he keeps count, trying to remain calm. Eventually, his counting drags and slows and his thoughts feel warm and sticky, like honey. He turns his face into River's hair and inhales deeply. Her hand curls around his neck and he falls into a heavy darkness, sleeping for the first time in weeks.

Hush now.

Spoilers.

He dreams of golden light and warm kisses, her smile the first time he saw her. He dreams of how thick and faded that blue diary is, he dreams of running. He dreams of running through the Library, through the forests of the Byzantium, running toward Stonehenge, running through time itself.

He runs through space, through the halls of his TARDIS, runs until blinding light whites out his vision. He feels her hand in his – and he knows from the warmth and weight of it that this part isn't a dream. It is River, standing next to him, her hand in his. "River..." He feels confusion as her hand tightens around his.

"Oh that early for you then?" She is smiling and he frowns, tilting his head left.

"I'm asleep." He states simply and she nods.

"About time too, my love. You get far too little rest. Just because you can survive on little to no sleep doesn't mean you should. Honestly, why do I let you out?" She smoothes the hair from his face and he leans into her touch, eagerly.

"Is this really you – in my mind? Are you in my dream, River?"

"Well, we can go to mine if you'd like," she points out with a warm smile. "Though it may be too much for you to handle. I know how you blush." She teases him gently and he flushes before clearing his throat.

"I can handle anything, just so we're clear. But no – I'm glad I can see you like this." She smiles up at him, and his breath catches because she is just so very beautiful. More and more every time he looks at her, every time he knows one more piece of their shared history.

"So," she steps in closer to him, her hand smoothing across his bowtie as she smiles warmly, "is this your first time sleeping with me then?"

He chokes on air, his hands automatically seeking her waist and he discovers for the first time that the curve of her hip fits his palm perfectly. He likes that – she fits into him in so many different ways. "I didn't – that is I just wanted to see you and-"

"Still relatively soon after Berlin for you then yeah? You're just feeling it more keenly now sweetie. It gets better." She pats his cheek gently, before her fingers stroke lightly along his jaw until she has his chin between her thumb and forefinger. She smiles, rising to press a quick kiss there and she releases him.

"I don't want it to get better." He insists stubbornly, and she rolls her eyes at his posturing. "Unless you mean it gets better because of this. Being nearer to you. Does this mean you understand what you did that night River?" He stares down at her seriously and even his breathing becomes shallower, more silent.

"You've explained, yes. How are you handling it? Feeling alright?" Her hands are back on his face again as she studies him intently, her eyes searching his as if she can find the answers to her questions with or without his cooperation. He actually doesn't doubt it. She probably could.

"I miss you. All the time now – it's like something I can taste or feel. But it's how it's supposed to be." He spoke softly. "How it's meant to be." His words stir the curls in her hair and he pulls her closer against him. "It gets better because I keep you right? With me?"

"Soon enough, sweetie." She responds quietly into his neck before she pulls back to look up at him. "Show me something."

"Like what?" He questions and she hugs him, her eyes closing as she presses into his frame. He welcomes the weight, even if it is all in his mind.

"Anything," she whispers and he closes his eyes too, his arms around her. After a moment he can feel a different kind of light – warm and bright on his face. When he opens his eyes his breath catches at what greets him. He waits – waits to feel remorse, bitter guilt, acrid longing – anything at all, but he can only feel an immense peace. Because he remembers. And because he remembers, he can share it with her – and only her.

The grass beneath their feet is lush and springy – the deepest ruby imaginable. He hears River's gasp beside him and he turns from the view to look down at her. "Gallifrey..." she whispers the word like it is sacred and he feels his hearts lighten as she speaks. She imbues it with a sense of honour and respect and he smiles down at her.

"Have I ever shown you this before?" She shakes her head mutely and he steps back, lacing his fingers through hers and pulling alongside him. "This is the forest of the Wild Endeavour, not too far from the Citadel, but we can't see it from here."

She is gazing all around them, and she lets go of his hand so she can drop to her knees on the ground, running her fingers through the grass with a delighted grin. She looks up and stares at the towering silver leaved trees all around them, sparkling with the bright gold light of the two suns in the sky. "It's beautiful," she whispers and he drops down next to her, leaning back in the grass and staring up at the sky he so missed.

"Do you see that there – dark red and bright?" He pointed above his head in the deep orange sky and she lays her own head next to his so she could follow his line of sight. "Pazithi Gallifreya, moon so bright it can been seen in the day. Just a constant in the sky." His voice was soft and she sits up next to him, tracing a finger down the bridge of his nose and coaxing a small smile from him.

"Show me." She whispers down to him, leaning in close like it's a secret they are sharing, even though there are alone in the dream of a memory of a planet.

"Show you what?" He reaches up, tangling his fingers in her hair as he studies her. Her hair seems to have taken on a reddish tinge underneath the blazing orange sky above them. She is just as beautiful in this light as she is in any other, and he thinks he can see the bright gold of her shimmering just underneath her skin.

"Everything." She grins and jumps up, reaching down and pulling him up with her. "Show me everything." Her face is alight, her eyes bright with curiosity and he feels his hearts race in his chest at the sight of her. It is all he can do to not wrap her in his arms, trace the soft curves of her face until he knows every bit of it by heart. He wants to know the curvature of her face, where her nose bumps in the middle, the line of her brow, the thin skin around her eyes, the fullness of her mouth. He wants to be able to recognize her without sight. Her touch, her taste, her smell, her sound. "Show me your favourite place."

He grins and his hands tighten around hers as he shakes his head. "No not first. First I'll show you my least favourite place."

"Why would we see your least favourite my love? That seems odd." She is laughing and he pulls her into him until her shoulder is tucked under his arm and he can feel the warmth of her seeping into him.

"Because I know you'll love it. Close your eyes." She acquiesces immediately and he stretches his mind, rummaging through his memories until he landed on that Academy trip to the red desert. The dreams swirls around them and he feels the hot suns beating down on them even as he watches the dry wind stir the curls of her hair. "Alright."

She opens her eyes and gasps. "Where are we?" She brings a hand up to shield her eyes as she takes in the dunes and valleys around them.

"Red desert. Not that the desert is the issue, mind you – I've always liked a good dry heat and it is my favourite red, but not much to it is there? Just sand, and more... sand." He kicks at the sand in question, sending a fine red dust cloud into the air around them. "And of course, the Death Zone."

"The Death Zone?" She perks up at that and looks at him with a grin. She reaches out, taking his arm in her hands. "Oh please tell me it's a tomb. You know how I love a good tomb!"

"It's a tomb. Dreadfully boring. Dead people. I fail to see the fascination – but it's Rassilon's tomb, so trudged off to it I was." He sighs and stares down into the blackened valley below them. "I don't suppose you want to skip it and go see the Golden fields? Visit the mountains of Solace and Solitude? There's an excellent museum in the Citadel..."

"We can do those next, right? We've got all night sweetie." She is already letting go of him, scrambling down over the bright red sand toward the shadowed tomb in the valley. He follows her because he can't help it, he is drawn to her, must be near her. But also because he is seeing his world through her eyes, and it is making everything bright and crisp and clear in a way he'd never experienced before. He can see the beauty she sees, the bright suns glittering against the sand, the reds and reds and a thousand different shades of red, the age and timelessness to his home planet that it takes an archaeologist to appreciate.

She spends a long time inspecting runes carved on tower walls, reading ancient words of power and glory. She touches nothing, and she is very sombre there – but he can see that she loves every second of it underneath her studious facade. She is vibrating with excitement as he follows her around answering endless whispered questions while he teases her because this isn't really a tomb, just a dream of one- they can be as loud as they want.

A wicked look flits across her face for a half a second and he feels the thrill of that look shoot through him, ricocheting through his body and leaving a white-hot trail of hyper-aware nerve endings in its trail. It is gone a moment later and she smiles up at him. "Let's see the museum next," she takes his hand and he can see even in the shade of the tomb, the desert heat is getting to her.

The colours swirl and bleed again and then they are standing in the Long Gallery of the National Museum. Glass ceilings stretch above them, washing everything in the room in a warm glow. She inspects displays and reads everything she can see – though not all of it is legible. He cannot be expected to remember every detail. She skips ahead and when he catches up to her she is standing in front of a painting, large and daunting on the wall – bold strokes of blacks and red and ambers and yellows and golds. "You like it?"

"What is it?" She whispers and his hand slips into hers.

"It's simply called the Bonding. It's the most ancient ceremony we have as Gallifreyans. Long time ago, it was pomp and circumstance – nothing more than a bonding ritual, a wedding – if you'd like." She is looking up at him with rapt attention, nodding as he speaks in a soft voice. "Once Omega and Rassilon discovered how to harness huon energy – and we became Timelords, the Bonding changed. It became a interlinking of lives – energy... the very lives you had. And it became the most private ritual – only completed on your own, with your partner. If you happened across a Bonding, it was forbidden to look upon it – even for the people performing the Bonding." He is staring thoughtfully at the painting, and she frowns and pulls on his hand lightly.

"How did they know what to paint then?" She asks softly and he smiles down at her.

"How do earth artists paint Heaven? Or anything they haven't seen? It's an interpretation, a representation." He nods and her hand squeezes his as she turns toward him.

"It's forbidden to look?" She looks at him intently and he avoids her gaze slightly.

"Supposed to be."

"But you looked – during our Bonding. You opened your eyes, you've told me. Described it to me." She breathes the words out and he nods in agreement.

"I wanted to see."

"But – what if-"

"It's a silly superstition. " He soothes, pulling her into his arms and bending his neck until his face is buried in her hair, her mouth brushing against the shell of her ear. "It was worth it anyway. Most beautiful thing I'd even seen."

"Liar," she turns her head as she teases him warmly. "I know that's the TARDIS."

"It's a very close tie," he amends and she giggles, straightening his bowtie as she looks up at him.

"Tell me about it again." She asks him quickly and he smiles indulgently.

"No." He speaks softly and she pouts, but colours swirl around her and suddenly they are standing in a dining hall in Berlin – the TARDIS presiding over them and two figures laid out on a marble staircase. "I'll show you."

She turns her face out, and he can feel her breath catch as she watches with him – the energy shoots up and around them, twining and knitting together until there are no longer two separate strands of energy but one combined one. "Oh..." she breathes the word out and he slides his hands under her jaw and up into her hair, turning her to face him. There are tears in her eyes and he knows she is thinking of this moment without regret, possibly for the first time ever. "It's..."

"Wonderful. Amazing. Perfect." He finishes for her and she nods, her smile brighter than sunshine. "I wish we could have done it differently, River – but I don't regret for a moment that we did it." He presses a soft kiss to her forehead and she sniffles and nods against his chin.

"Me too, sweetie." She whispers, and he pulls back, drinking in her face. This time he moves in to her – slowly, deliberately, with intent. He wants her to see, to know, to understand – this is him kissing her for no other reason than the simple fact that he can't seem to not touch her now. Her mouth is soft under his, and when he runs his tongue along her lips she opens them with ease, with a familiar eagerness that makes him ache all over, everywhere at once.

She tastes brand-new and ancient, sweet and sour, warm and cold, bright and dark. She is everything. But mostly he can taste himself secreted away within her, and he knows that she can taste her within his own mouth too. His fingers brush through her curls as he deepens the kiss, and behind his closed eyes he can see bright streaks of acid light, arcing and soaring around them. Her fingers knot in his hair at the nape of his neck and she pulls back with a gasp.

"Wake up." She whispers hotly, and he shivers in reaction to her voice, rippling over him like a wave.

"What?"

"Wake up."

"Wake up?"

She leans in and kisses him softly, her eyes bright with a heady promise.

"Wake up."

So he does.

Hello.

Hello.