No one knew much about him, really, but he figured if he owed an explanation to anyone it was to his wife.
So one evening when she asked, he told River about Gallifrey. He told her about his first wife and his children and the Time War. He spoke about him for the first time in longer than he could even remember. He laid his hearts bare to her, trusting her to understand and sympathize but not to pity, and when she did exactly that, he let himself cry as she held him against her, soothed by her voice as they slid to the ground near the console. His head rested in her lap, her fingers brushing his temples and hair, and she cried with him—for him—and he was overwhelmingly grateful to have her in his life. Her questions came only when his tears ran out, and she was tentative, probing gently about past companions until he relaxed and spoke at great length about his wonderful, wonderful friends. Of Sarah Jane and Susan and Romana and Donna and Mickey and Martha and Craig and Jack and, finally, Rose.
"You loved her," River said when he stammered and beat stupidly around the bush.
"In a way," the Doctor hedged, fiddling with the edges of his sleeves.
"It doesn't bother me, sweetie. You've been knocking around for nine hundred years. I'd be more concerned if you hadn't had someone before me."
"You're not jealous?"
River laughed. "Once I may have been. But after everything I've been through, I know who I am, Doctor. I don't always like it, but I'm sure of it — and even surer of my relationship with you. Jealousy is for the insecure; if you want a jealous wife, you'll have to find someone far less sensible than I."
"Sensible!" he scoffed, and she pinched his shoulder before returning her hands to his hair where his head rested in her lap, stroking her fingers gently through the tresses until he hummed appreciatively and closed his eyes.
"Do you think of her often?"
"I think of them all often," the Doctor murmured. "All these grand adventures — saving worlds and races and more, and they are all I ever truly remember."
"And what of me?"
He opened his eyes slowly, his smile small and warm and almost sad as he said, "oh, River. I doubt you'll ever let me forget you."
She laughed, trying not to read the answer as evasive. He'd been so open with her that she forgot that — in addition to a variety of bizarre degrees spanning everything from actual medicine to botany to cheese — he was an expert in talking constantly while saying nothing at all. She often wondered whether he'd developed that habit because he didn't want to talk about things, or because he wasn't sure if anybody would understand and listen. But that was one thing they'd always had, beginning to end and all the mismatched points between — understanding. Even when she'd been young and wild and possessed no comprehension of compassion or empathy or mercy; even when she'd pushed him to his limits and sought out trouble for them, drawing his anger at the violence and apathy the Silence had bred into her; even when he'd found her, more than once, with blood on her hands and nothing but the knowledge that she should care even though she didn't feel it, he'd understood. And she in turn understood him. She felt a shiver climb her spine as she descended further into her own memories, and decided to derail the conversation entirely.
"Anyway, I have it on the highest authority that I'm better in bed."
The Doctor spluttered, limbs flailing a bit as he stared at her. "The highest authority?" he repeated, then, eyes narrowing, "you never slept with Rose."
"Me, the highest authority? How very flattering," she said with a grin, and the Doctor reddened a bit, and then began to look a bit smug, so she cut him off with: "neither did you."
"I — what are you —the highest authority?" She chuckled a bit as he sat up, shifting rapidly so that his face was so very close to hers, as though he would find the answer on her face by looking closely enough.
"Jack?" he squeaked finally, and River let out a bark of laughter.
"Well, I —"
"You know Jack Harkness?"
She could practically see him begin to sweat. "Oh, sweetie. Intimately."
"You slept with Jack?" the Doctor barked, hands running wildly through his hair as he stood and began to pace a bit. River rolled her eyes and stood as well, hands on her hips.
Speaking of Rose to River had been strange enough, even though comparing the two was impossible — Rose had been appealing in her humanity, in her devotion, in how very ephemeral she was. She had been exactly what he needed at that point in his life, exactly what he needed to remind him why he did what he did — why he bothered to do anything at all. Her love had been a balm, and though their relationship had been largely innocent, she held a very special place in his heart. But ultimately things had ended in the best possible way for her—she had a version of him who would grow old with her, who was more her speed, who could outgrow the darkness he'd sown. River was more Time Lord than human, and even if he hadn't come to love her for all that she was and had been, he would have—could have—loved her for her two hearts alone.
"Spoilers," River said with a wink, breaking him of his introspection as she moved toward the console.
"Jack Harkness and my wife?"
"Jealous?" River asked with a grin. The Doctor began to flip switches and pull levers, whirling around the console as River leaned against it, her arms folded in front of her as the old girl lurched and hummed.
"Hardly! I just remembered that I need to have a word with Jack—more than one, as it were, a few or a dozen or a lot, but it hasn't anything to do with you—it's not even about—it's about produce or pets or possibly planets, something with a p or maybe not at all…" he continued to witter on and on, and River merely smiled and nodded, turning a knob when he wasn't looking. The TARDIS landed, and River waited by the console as the Doctor stomped toward the door and threw it open.
He returned about fifteen minutes later, very red in the face.
"Did you speak to him?"
"No, dear. He was—that is—he was otherwise occupied."
River raised a brow, watching him bemusedly as he shed his tweed and began to roll up his shirtsleeves. "Oh?"
"Did you mess with my coordinates?"
"Perhaps," she said.
The Doctor fidgeted, tugging at his collar before pivoting around the console and looking at the scanner before he tried to turn it off, missing the button a few times in his effort to both continue to watch and press the button. His face was even redder than it had been previously when he finally managed and faced her again.
"Is that even legal?" he asked.
"With the—" he flailed about a bit, gesturing vaguely and drawing a laugh from her as she moved to stand nearer to him. "You must know."
She stared at him blankly, and he gulped, looking at her as he tugged on his collar once more, the bow tie slackening and hanging low on his neck. He puttered about for a few moments before finally turning back to her, face still flushed, eyes dark. "You're very… flexible."
River laughed, reaching a hand up to tweak his cheek. "You have no idea. Feel better now?"
"Jack has been trying to seduce me for decades," the Doctor murmured, "I suppose it's only right that he succeed eventually, although I'm nearly certain that—" he gestured to the door "—is entirely your fault."
"One hundred percent," River agreed with a nod as the Doctor wrapped his arms around her waist and pulling her nearer to him. "Jack was trying to seduce you for ages, but I got you to kiss me on our first date."
"Yes, and it killed me."
The Doctor let out a bright note of laughter that quickly shifted into a whimper as River leaned forward to kiss the side of his neck, her lips lingering and giving way to the sharp scrape of her teeth. When he had gone to confront Jack about shagging his wife—regardless of how very free she was to do what or whomever she pleased—he had been more than a little shocked and embarrassed to find himself already with Jack.
With Jack. And River. And apparently enjoying himself very much—twice over—and though it was a bit of an alarming discovery, he'd been a bit entranced by River as she'd winked at him over his own shoulder before there had been a flurry of movement and bare skin and she had thrown her head back with a long moan and—well—he had been rooted to the spot, to say the least. He was susceptible to River's advances at the worst of times, but half-hard as he already was from seeing her very pleased face—not to mention naked Jack Bloody Harkness who, while the Doctor refused him repeatedly, was so outrageously attractive that it certainly hadn't escaped his notice—he practically melted at her touch, pressing his hips into hers immediately. He shivered, his hands traveling up and down her back as she continued to lavish his neck with kisses and sharp, startling nips. She hummed, and the vibration of the sound rolled through him deliciously.
"Oh, Rose," he sighed, unable to keep the grin off of his face as she gasped and peered up at him.
"You," she growled, "I just hate you."
He approached her again, placing his hands on her shoulders and kissing her until she smiled against his mouth, yielding to his touch and molding her body to his with a breathy moan. She groaned as he slipped his hands beneath her shirt, splaying his hands against her soft, warm skin.
"Oh," she moaned, the sound shooting straight through him. He shifted his hands to her front, stroking her stomach, his fingers climbing upward as his lips worked at the spot where her neck and jaw met that he knew made her toes curl. "Oh, oh," she repeated, and he had the fleeting thought that her voice alone could do him in when she added, "oh, Jack."
"I hate you," he said with a laugh, and she grinned.
"You don't," she said, leaning toward him, but before she reached his lips, his hands clenched at her sides and he began to tickle her, earning him shrieks and giggles and cries, the likes of which he never thought he'd hear coming from the mouth of the ferocious, deadly, gorgeous River Song. He held her up as she went limp in his arms, pressed against his chest and laughing so hard that her cheeks were red and her eyes were shut.
"Stop, oh god, stop!"
"Say you're sorry, River."
She tried to shove him away but he laughed, holding her fast as her temporary struggle brought them to the ground, and he pinned her down, tickling her stomach and the undersides of her arms as she flailed and her neck as she threw her head back.
"Oh captain, my captain," she managed to get out between laughs and pants, and the Doctor pinched her side a bit, finally relenting. She lay beneath him, breathing heavily for a moment before grinning wickedly and reaching a hand up to cup the side of his face. Despite knowing that expression all too well, the Doctor leaned into it. "Such a handsome man."
The Doctor opened his mouth to respond, but she cut him off.
"I meant Jack."
He gaped a bit, but before he could say anything she'd grabbed his shoulders and rolled them over so that she was sitting over him, straddling his lap with her hands resting on his chest.
"Admit it," the Doctor said, his voice low and warm as she extended forward to press her lips briefly to his nose, "you fancy me most."
She laughed, and he felt the sound, soft and loving and wonderful against his lips as she kissed him chastely. "It isn't a competition, my love. But if you must know, I am quite fond of you."
He grinned, reaching a hand up and hooking it behind her neck as he brought her lips to his. The kiss was slow and tender, lips and richness and the feeling of her hands bunching in his shirt, the squeeze of her legs around his hips as though she couldn't quite get close enough. His thumb stroked at the side of her neck where he held her, but his grip immediately went lax and he gasped into her mouth as she rolled her hips against his. Her eyes met his, bright, familiar, mischievous green, as she sat up, rotating her hips over and over as his hands flew to them, holding her tightly, though he wasn't sure if he was trying to stop her or speed her up. He closed his eyes as she undid his bowtie and began to unbutton his shirt, his breath short and interspersed with mindless, needy sounds. When she reached the final button he opened his eyes, and as she helped him out of it she shifted to her knees, removing any and all friction, laughing breathily at his bereft expression.
She leaned forward to kiss him as he sat up, her hands spanning the newly bared skin of his back as he worked to pull her shirt, breaking contact only to lift it over her head.
"It's not, you know," the Doctor said as she leaned back into him, settling in his lap again.
She exhaled as though she'd been holding her breath. He shifted so that she was resting on the ground once again; her back pressed to the glass floor of the TARDIS, one hand tangling in his hair as he slid down her body and peered up at her.
"I did love Rose," he said, and her brow furrowed, not entirely sure of his intent. "But you should know that Rose is in the past. A little door in my head that I look through every so often when something reminds me of her, something that makes me laugh or cry, but I love you as well. I do. Possibly since the day I met you. You are my now, and my recent past, and my happy future, and I am devoted wholly to you. I don't let Rose haunt me. I don't want her to haunt you."
"I know, my love," she said with a smile, brushing her fingers over his temple as he placed a kiss to her abdomen. "But thank you for saying so."
River shifted against the ground as he placed a lingering kiss to her navel, pulling her pants down her hips and over her feet. He stroked the newly bared flesh of her legs with nimble fingers, making her writhe a bit beneath him.
"I do wonder, though," River breathed.
The Doctor hummed against the inside of her knee as he began to kiss his way up her inner thigh.
"How long have you known me?"
The word spoilers occurred to him, but for a moment he held his silence, busying his mouth with tasting every inch of her, leaving a very unambiguous red mark just beyond the line of her panties.
"Not long," he said instead, sitting up slightly to pull the silky slip of fabric down her legs. "At the same time, always. We are together for just a moment, but our moment can straddle across space and time, neverending—when I say goodbye to you, you're only saying hello—the last time you see me will be the first time I see you, so we go on eternally. Forever and ever, and still not nearly long enough. I've been yours since the first moment you spoke to me as though you knew me, and I loved you even as you killed me. We go—have gone—will go to the ends of the universe and back. Oh, River," he said, his voice low and deep. He peppered his speech with kisses and licks and a slow, steady, undulating movement of his fingers, "River, River, River… I will know you forever and all the spaces in between, and it will never be enough."
It wasn't the answer she wanted—it was another evasion, another non-answer—but warmth and love for the stupid, wonderful man grew and swelled within her chest until she felt she would burst, overwhelming even the effect of his tongue and fingers against her, and she cried out, her fingers tugging at his hair, her back arching, toes curling against his shoulders.
When she returned to herself, he was hovering over her, kissing her nose with a smile, and she didn't know if his words or his actions brought her over the edge.
"My Doctor," she said, running her fingers through his hair, tracing the lines of his face. He rolled off of her, and she turned on her side to face him, her finger trailing down his bare chest until he grabbed her hand, entwining their fingers and lifting it to his lips to kiss the back lingeringly.
"Yours," he agreed, and that was that.