Rating: More like K+, but T to be safe. Rating probably will go up in later chapters.
Summary: She enjoys the pleasant evenings they spend drinking wine with his friends or having a nice dinner, but her fingers tap restlessly at the table, and she finds herself constantly looking at the door, as though expecting someone to walk in.
Author's Note: With the confirmation of River's bisexuality coming from the Moff himself, I wanted to write something about it. Sort of. It's going to be multiple parts, detailing River's various romantic exploits and indiscretions, and probably discussion of the Doctor's as well. It's ultimately River/Eleven, but if reading either of them with another person is unappealing to you, you need not apply.
During her time at Luna University, River is never quite sure when or if the Doctor was going to show up. He pops in only very rarely, assuring her that they'll see each other far more in the future, but this time is her time, and he hates to intrude. She tries to get him to stay, but in the end, pinning down the Doctor is a little like trying to pin a still fluttering butterfly to cork board, and it can't be done.
There passes about a month when she doesn't see anybody—when she feels as though she would be being unfaithful to the Doctor every time she contemplates flirting with somebody, but in the end she realizes it doesn't matter. She loves that mad man and his box more than she can ever love anybody else, and he knows it and loves her back, but their lives are hardly conventional.
After many bottles of wine and a self-indulgent overabundance of introspection, she comes to the realization that such thoughts are totally ridiculous. Seeking the affection of another will in no way diminish what she feels for the Doctor. Their lives and relationship are so terribly complex and inconsistent that it will only, she realizes, diminish her to put her life on hold in breathless anticipation of her husband's next arrival. Indeed, she knows that he's taken lovers before and will again—sometimes she sees him and he's two hundred years older than he is the last time she saw him. Sometimes two hundred years younger. She doubts that the man goes centuries without any sort of romantic or sexual involvement. And so when Alton, a good-looking young man from the maths college, asks her to dinner, she accepts.
Alton isn't anything special. He is kind and pleasant with a good sense of humor. He listens to her when she speaks, and asks her questions about her studies. When River compliments him he turns bright red and picks at the threads of the table cloth. Her flirting clearly makes him uncomfortable, and her forwardness makes his hands flutter at his sides—he reminds her of the Doctor in that way, but Alton is here. He is clearly besotted with her, too—after their date, he sends her flowers and texts her hourly and there is a certain awe to his expression whenever he sees her, a disbelief that she recognizes all too well (me? You want me?). So she continues to date him. She showers him in praise when appropriate, she pores over his work and goes on about how brilliant he is—she builds him up, because he is lovely, and because he deserves it. And he in turn provides her, for a brief few months, with that which the Doctor cannot: with stability. He's there whenever she wants or needs him. He spends many nights at her apartment and she at his. When his friends invite them out, she doesn't end up running for her life, and when her friends invite them out, he attends and is pleasant and conversational. She doesn't have to spend the whole evening lying about the bizarre things the Doctor usually says.
But when he asks her about her parents, she doesn't know what to tell him. They're not dead, not for her, but in Alton's timeline, they are. She enjoys the pleasant evenings they spend drinking wine with his friends or having a nice dinner, but her fingers tap restlessly at the table, and she finds herself constantly looking at the door, as though expecting someone to walk in. He doesn't get some of the silly, dirty little jokes she whispers in his ear sometimes, and when she places a hand on his knee under the table he doesn't get flustered (or get even, as the Doctor is sometimes wont) but rather entwines his fingers with hers and smiles, sweet as can be. Sometimes, when he spends the night, her nightmares wake her, and he doesn't understand; he comforts and holds her, but he laughs good-naturedly at her, and she can't possibly tell him that her nightmares are real, are memories, are trauma, because there are so very many things she can't tell him. There are many things she can't explain to him.
She can't explain to him why she's so hesitant to meet his parents, why she doesn't ever call him her boyfriend, why any overt mention of them being a couple makes her squirm. She can't explain why his tender, affectionate lovemaking isn't quite enough, and she knows he's too nice (too vanilla she thinks uncharitably) to pin her down and pull her hair and leave marks from his teeth and his hands on her skin like she craves. She loves Alton, for what he is, for the kindness and goodness she sees in him, and for the kindness and goodness he sees and brings out in her. But she needs more, desperately—there's so much dark in her, and Alton just doesn't see it.
When River breaks up with him, he takes it gracefully. His eyes are terribly sad, but he thanks her for her time, for everything she's given him—he tells her that loving her helped him to love himself, and although he asks her to reconsider, he doesn't beg. He kisses her cheek and leaves her apartment, and River clutches her hand to her heart.
"One day," she says, too softly for him to hear her as he walks away, "you will make a far better woman than me very happy."
"Better than you?" she hears the Doctor scoff to her right, and she turns to look at him, startled. "He'd be hard-pressed to do better than you, River Song."
"Now, honey? Seriously?" River says, a little exasperated as he climbs out from the bushes and stands before her on her porch, swaying forward onto his toes and then back again, his hands folded behind his back as he smiles at her affectionately.
"Especially now, I'd think," he said quietly, disentangling his fingers behind his back and lifting a hand to stroke the side of her face. She leaned into it without thinking, and he reached his other hand up, cupping her face with both hands. "How about some tea?"
"Only if it's from my kitchen," River said, "I don't trust anything you bring."
"Just because the leaves exploded one time — and anyway I warned you, it's not my — that's not the point. Your tea, your apartment, your fireplace, and whatever you want to talk about." He steps nearer to her, pressing a brief kiss to her forehead. She reaches up to curl her fingers beneath the lapels of his coat, closing her eyes and sighing.
"You're not upset?" she asks, and when she opens her eyes he was shaking his head.
"One day, Alton Gates will do something very important."
She raises a brow. "Something very important? Oh, knock me over with a feather."
"Don't be cute."
"Can't help it."
"Didn't think you could." He leans in to her, and she licks her lips expectantly, but just before his mouth brushes hers he seems to refocus and continues, his thumbs brushing the sides of her face where they rest. "Anyway, I can't tell you exactly because spoilers, you know, but he will do something very great, very important, very noble, and in his memoir, he will thank you."
"Me? Why, for cutting him loose?"
"Because you care so much. Because your belief in him and your encouragement and your passion will make him a better person. Because you're brilliant, River, and you don't even see it—yeah, you dumped him, and he'll smart for a while, but he's better for having known you. For having loved you. You don't have to commit to somebody forever or—or—or marry them or something to change them, River."
She's silent for a moment, leaning in to embrace him, tucking her face beneath his neck and inhaling deeply as he moves his hands from her face to her back, moving in broad, comforting strokes. With a sigh and a smile, River withdrew from him, moving to open her door and waving her arm to welcome him inside. "So, tea?"
"I'll try to behave," he said, straightening his sleeves before strutting inside.
River hummed. "Don't you dare."