River Song says things sometimes. Well, she says many things during the course of the day, but there are certain times when she says certain things, certain heart-wrenching things that make him remember that the awful day at the Library is still in her future. One of these days, he's going to have to take her to Darillium, and when she is home once again, he will kiss her goodbye and walk back into the TARDIS like there is absolutely nothing wrong, and then he will feel like dying.
He never knew there could be a pain worse than the torture of regeneration, but it seems the cosmos revels in proving him wrong.
"You still haven't taken me, you know."
"...if I'm an accurate judge of at which point in our respective timelines we both are, then yes, I have, but I hardly understand how that is appropriate dinner conversation when your parents are in the next room."
"Cheeky boy, you know that's not what I meant. But on that front-"
"What did you mean, then? I haven't taken you where?"
"To see the Singing Towers. You keep promising to take me there."
"Hello, sweetie." She smiles as if she knows something the rest of the universe doesn't, and he loves it when he can see that smile.
"Hello, River Song." He smiles as if he knows the same thing that she does and he's daring her to play chicken with speaking it aloud.
"….uh, Doctor?" He'd forgotten about Clara for a moment. He looks over at her with his mouth gaping open stupidly, and when his brain makes the connection that Clara doesn't know who River is and vice versa, he slaps himself on the forehead and jumps to make the introduction.
Afterwards, he leaves Clara and River to chat while he flies them to wherever the TARDIS is in the mood to take them. Or rather, he stands there and acts as if he's flying her, because she's in a mood and wants to fly herself. He's been fighting with her for the past few days now, honestly, and he's not about to waste what precious little time he may have with River by screaming at the TARDIS and trying to reason with her and finally disappearing below to try to work out the old girl's kinks.
"Look at him," Clara say, leaning close to River and pointing at him. "It's like he thinks we don't know he's fake-flying the TARDIS."
River chuckles, a soft, musical sort of sound that the Doctor has loved since the first time he heard it. He smiles, almost unconsciously, and he hears the TARDIS thrum quietly in response. The TARDIS likes it when her thief and his friends are happy. "I know; it's so cute when he thinks he can fool us, isn't it? Bless." She laughs again, and he rolls his eyes and pretends to be annoyed with her. "But you have to understand, Clara, the TARDIS is the only true companion that the Doctor has ever had. She's been with him from the very beginning, and she's the only one of us who's ever really known how he works. She's got him wrapped so tight around her little finger, but he will never, ever admit it."
Clara laughs, and he rolls his eyes again. He's glad to see that River and Clara are getting along so well. For a woman with her insatiably flirtatious nature, she has a gigantic jealous streak when she puts her mind to feel that way. He stays at the controls, even though he's not doing much of anything except trying to access the entertainment grid and play a game of backgammon. He's the king of backgammon, and he can never convince anyone else that it's not a silly game. Backgammon is cool!
He loses his four games against the TARDIS before she decides to land. He smiles, wondering what the old girl has in store for them this time, and motions to his wife and Clara. Clara jumps up, excited to see what new, exciting adventure lays outside of the TARDIS doors. She looks expectantly at the two of them, but River Song waves her on.
"Go on ahead, dear. It's only Venus. He's been here a thousand times before. You go on and explore for a bit; we'll catch you up."
Clara looks slightly confused for a moment, but her excitement soon overrules it. She grins and runs outside. He looks over at his wife as she walks towards him. With every step she takes, he feels his smile getting bigger and bigger, and by the time she reaches him, he's grinning ear to ear. She kisses him, deep and soft and passionate and everything he could ever ask for in a kiss. It's the type of kiss that promises more more more later on, and if he had to pick, it would be one of his favourite kinds of kisses.
When she pulls away from him, she's grinning as well. "Long time, no see, sweetie," she says. "I'm honestly surprised that you managed to stay away for so long. Very impressive."
"To be fair, though," he replies, "I was off saving the universe. Twice, in fact. Remind me to tell you about it all later."
"Saved the universe, did you? So, what, you decided to steal away your wife as a reward?"
"Well, when you put it like that..."
She chuckles at him and turns toward the door, casually throwing over her shoulder, "What would you do without me, Doctor?"
They are alone. The darkness of the room is so consuming that he can barely see his hand in front of his face, but he doesn't need his eyes for his current endeavour. Her skin is soft and warm and delightful, and he knows every inch of it by memory now. Her curves and contours come second nature to him, and she knows his body equally well. As he lies beneath her, her body a pleasant weight precariously balanced on his hips, his thumb finds a particularly sensitive spot of flesh that makes her keen and curse at him half-heartedly. "Oh, I hate you."
"No, you don't."
Afterwards, lying together in a mess of tangled limbs, he runs his fingers over her skin, pink and damp with exertion, and he thinks to himself that River Song is, without a doubt, the most beautiful creature this or any other universe has ever produced. His hand eventually makes its way down her torso and over her hip, and her contented sigh gives him an idea. He slips his hand between her legs; if he is very careful and extremely attentive, he knows he can push her over the edge again. He quite likes watching her in those moments, seeing a side of her that no one else can. After a very long moment-he must be losing his edge, which is embarrassing-he feels all her muscles tense up at once, and as she comes again, he is suddenly very glad that the TARDIS always builds his companion's room far enough away from his.
"You," she says breathlessly, "are a terrible, terrible man."
"Apparently not," he counters easily. "At least, not according to the pitch, volume, and intensity of the noises you were making just a moment ago."
She's too tired to laugh properly (and he certainly understands, given the physical mechanics of human love-making and the spectacular orchestration of muscle and hormones during orgasm, and to think that she did all that twice), but he takes her soft sigh as an expression of amusement. "You're still terrible."
"If by terrible, you mean that I've spoilt you from anyone else, then yes, I am an incredibly terrible man, indeed."
She summons enough energy to pinch his arm, and he feels his eyelids getting very heavy. No escaping that stereotype tonight, it seems. Just before the steady beating of their hearts lulls him to sleep, he feels her fingers running through his hair.
"Sweetie, I swear there will never, ever be anyone but you until the day I die."
"You know what would be the perfect place for a romantic date, Doctor?"
"The Singing Towers of Darillium."
"Oh come on, Doctor! This will be the only free moment I'll have for some time. I have expeditions planned back to back for the next three summers, and who wants to go to Darillium during spring break week, anyway?"
"My my, don't you look all sort of...dapper in that suit. Like a proper grown-up. Is it a new suit, then? Where are you taking me, anyway?"
He doesn't need to say anything, because realization hits her and her eyes light up and she looks absolutely stunning, smiling like a child on Christmas, and he's never felt his hearts break quite that violently before.
"Oh my god, Doctor. Are you-are you alright? You're crying."
"I love you."
There are days when it's just the two of them, days in between companions or days when companions need a break. He likes it when it's just the two of them, because she knows him and he knows her. He doesn't have to explain everything to her, and there's no need to impress her at every turn. Not unless he wants to, of course, but there are times when her 'he's hot when he's clever' face is too tempting to resist. To be honest, she's also very hot when she's clever, and that's another reason why he likes it when they are alone on the TARDIS.
The TARDIS also likes it when it's just the two of them. He thinks that the old girl feels especially close to River for several reasons, and most of them are to do with the fact that the woman was conceived on his ship. Talk about timey-wimey, eh? The TARDIS liked Rose as well, but not like this. The TARDIS generally likes all his companions, but there have been some who are just more than others. He would say he's not sure he knows exactly how to describe it, but he does know. He knows exactly why Susan and Sarah Jane and Rose and River mean more to the TARDIS than Ian and Jamie and Jack and Rory. Susan, Sarah Jane, Rose and River are all women that he has loved intensely from every corner of both his hearts, and the TARDIS knows that.
But there's something about River that makes her super extra-special to the TARDIS, and he honestly has no idea what it is or why it should be that way. He does wonder if it's nothing more than a psychic feedback loop sort of thing, but no, if it were a psychic feedback loop sort of thing, then surely Susan-his granddaughter, his own flesh and blood-would be the super extra-special one. It's not based purely on the sum of all of his emotions, because if that were the case, then his wife would be the one the TARDIS was especially fond of. His first wife-it feels odd that he should have to distinguish her like that now- the woman whom he married at his own pace and not because the universe was ending, the woman who gave him children, and the woman whose (regrettably short) time stream ran very much in concert with his.
He's crying again, he realizes. He does that occasionally: there are times when the memories of a past regeneration resurface, and although the part of his brain dedicated entirely to his current life tries to stomp them back down, the rest of his brain demands a response of some kind. The result is often tears he doesn't know he's shedding. He tries to make himself forget about the other women in his hearts for the moment. River Song is not two feet from him.
She catches him before he can turn away fast enough, bringing her hand to his face and wiping away his tears. She brings his face close to hers and kisses him softly. "I'm sorry."
He frowns at her. "What for?"
"I don't know," she says, stroking his cheek gently with her thumb. "I don't know why you're sad, but whatever it is, I am sorry that it plagues you so."
He tries to smile at her, tries to reassure her that he'll be okay, but he can't hold back the memories tonight. He thinks of his past companions-thinks of all of the pain and suffering he has caused them-and he wonders if any of them regret the time they spent with him. He wishes he could find them all again and apologize, but even if it were possibly, he wouldn't even know where to begin. The tears keep coming, and his brain gives up on trying to make sense of his feelings. He slumps over onto her shoulder like a child does his mother and cries and cries and cries until he feels that familiar numbness inside his hearts. When he speaks, his voice is weak and shaky, and he sounds utterly helpless. "Will you stay with me tonight?"
"I have a class to teach in the morning, sweetie. I have papers to grade and lesson plans to go over and-"
"Says the woman who's standing in a time machine."
She lets out a soft chuckle and kisses his temple. "Point taken, dear."
He should probably sit back up like an adult now, but he doesn't want to. River is running her hand over his hair slowly, and the gesture is far more comforting than he remembers it being. He feels a little pinging in the corner of his mind-a blip of emotion running through his mind, as if the TARDIS were saying, thief, my thief, yes, hello, you seem to be incredibly sad, and I would like it very much indeed for you to be happy as soon as possible, if you please. He'll have to spend some time with his old girl later, let her beat him at backgammon again or something, to let her know he'll be alright. Not that he has to, because in a perverse way, she already knows that he'll be alright, but because he wants to.
"I wish you could be with us all the time," he mutters before he can stop himself.
She brings his head up to look at her, and oh, the pain of regeneration is nothing compared to the pain of holding back his tears and trying to stop himself from working out a way to stop her going to the Library.
She says, "I'll be right beside you for the rest of my life, sweetie, you know that."
"Off I go, then. I know how you worry, my love, but I really shouldn't be away too long this time. I mean, how bad could things really be? It's just a library, after all."
He's not sure why Clara wanted to make planetfall here, but seeing as how she's his companion, a certain amount of whim-humouring is always in order. He lands in the middle of a luscious park, filled with sunflowers and forget-me-nots and roses, arranged in beautiful, swirling patterns that must have taken ages to design. Clara loves them. He can't stomach the sight of them. Like a child let loose in a toy factory, Clara tugs him hither and thither around the small town square. She investigates the local shops (she seems intent to buy clothing on every planet they visit), and after nearly an hour, she announces that she's hungry. They duck into the nearest cafe, and as Clara eyes the menu warily, he gratefully orders "Sol III blend" tea and takes a seat by the window.
Clara ends up buying a pastry of some sort. She seems to like it, though organic, starlight-grown woppelberries from Jesrika aren't typically his first choice. She asks him questions about this planet, and he provides the answers in between teasing her. A lull develops in the conversation as Clara eats, and he more or less loathes breaking it. He's tired today, a dreadful state of being that has been plaguing him more and more often since the last time he saw his wife. He hopes it leaves him the hell alone soon, because he hates feeling like this. It makes him feel his age, and that's never a good sign.
"What's a 'vashta nevada'?"
He feels like the moment calls for him to snap his head up and stare at her, but he simply hasn't got the energy. "Vashta nerada; they are microscopic carnivores that live in the shadows on certain planets."
"Sounds kind of bad."
He nods. "Individually, they don't pose a threat to most forms of life, but in swarms, they could devour your entire body in the blink of an eye, so yeah, they're pretty bad." He squints at her. "Why do you ask?"
She points to a newspaper lying on the next table over. "Headline says 'Vashta Nerada Linked to Library Disaster.' Why would little bitty meat-eaters want to muck about in a library?"
The Doctor sighs, running his hand over his face, and he can't summon the will to look at Clara. The reaches for the newspaper, crushes it into a ball, and calmly heaves it towards the rubbish bin in the corner.
"Voice interface enabled."
"I am not River Song. I am a voice interface."