He finds it in the TARDIS when they’re borrowing some furniture from the Old Girl to fill up their new house. River insists on having her favorite reading chair from the library and the Doctor simply can’t contemplate twenty-four years without his guitar. So they both grab a few empty boxes and start packing.
The camera catches his eye in the middle of a search for his favorite jumper, the worn strap poking out from beneath a wayward cushion. He picks it up with a grumble about old companions never picking up after themselves, straightening to study his find. It’s an old polaroid - the kind from the sixties that offered instant gratification.
“Rubbish,” he mutters, and hangs it around his neck anyway. He turns to River, who appears to be in the middle of stowing every pair of heels she owns into a cardboard box she’d somehow rigged to be bigger on the inside. “About finished, dear, or are you planning to pack the whole TARDIS?”
“You’re the one who insisted on buying a house. You can’t expect a girl to spend all night in flats.” She points a red high heel – the pair that have featured heavily in nearly every dirty fantasy about his wife he’s ever had – teasingly at him. He swallows and busies himself with inspecting the old polaroid camera again so she doesn’t see him flustered. “Besides, having a few familiar things about will make it feel more like home, darling.”
He makes a grumpy noise in the back of his throat and eyes her unashamedly through the camera lens. “There’s only one familiar thing I need to feel at home, wife.”
River’s eyes light up at his grumpily offered sweetness – his tongue is still getting used to compliments even if they do come to mind so easily around her – and she wrinkles her nose at him in that particular way he loves. The one that scrunches up her whole face and makes her look like the exasperated wife he knows she is beneath the leather jacket and the skin deep bravado.
Quickly, before her expression changes, he snaps a picture and captures River Song’s nose scrunch for posterity. It’s the start of a twenty-four year habit.
He likes taking pictures of her sleeping, despite River’s laughter and her teasing protests. “Darling, that’s either incredibly sweet or incredibly creepy.” She’d been smiling too wide for him to believe she truly minded. And though she never asks him to stop, he sees the bewilderment beneath the amusement every time she wakes to a new photograph on their nightstand.
River is not an elegant sleeper by any means. She takes up just as much space in their bed as she has in his life, with unapologetic brazenness. She sleeps on her stomach, her arms tucked under her pillow and her legs tangled with his. She keeps her face pressed into her pillow in such a way that when she wakes in the morning, there will be an adorable crease imprinted on her flushed cheek. She also tends to sleep with her mouth open and sometimes she even drools a bit.
It takes her weeks before she finally snaps and slaps him with one of said pictures. “Most husbands want naked pictures of their wives. You photograph me drooling on a pillowcase.” She glares at him. “What possible reason could you have for wanting a picture of that, sweetie?”
The Doctor shrugs and fiddles with the strap of his camera. He wants to think of something suitably distracting or infuriating to say but River has the most frustrating effect on this body. All that tumbles out of his mouth is the truth. “Because I don’t want to forget.”
River frowns, her irritation fading in place of something softer. She puts aside the photograph and reaches for his hand. Her warm, small fingers slide over his roughened palm. “Forget what?”
He swallows. “Any of it.”
In the future, River continues to finds pictures lying about of her curled up on their bed with her limbs akimbo, her hair wild, and her mouth hanging open but she never complains again.
River never looks more at peace than when she’s tending to her garden. He supposes that’s because she’s doing what she loves best – sitting in the dirt with a trowel. She’d scoured the markets in town to find the best flowers and vegetable to plant – things that would flourish under moonlight in a dry, arid environment – and she tends to them all like children.
At first, the Doctor lurks nearby under the pretense of doing something else just so he can watch her work but eventually, he gives up the act because he isn’t fooling anyone and least of all River. He starts sitting right beside her in the dirt and the grass, staining his trousers and getting weeds in his hair just to watch River tend to her vegetables and get dirt under her nails.
One afternoon, with the moon beaming brightly down at them, River kneels beside some of the orange wildflowers she’d planted by the garden gate. She wears faded denim cutoffs that make it impossible for the Doctor to think like a rational Time Lord around her and she’s humming some old Billie Holiday tune. Flower petals are stuck in her curls and there’s dirt smeared across her cheek and just a bit on her nose. He’s never seen her so content.
When a little smile curls her lips and she peeks at him through her lashes, kneeling there by her pretty flowers, he lifts his camera. He keeps the picture on the desk in his study – his wildflower thriving in her garden.
On Darillium, everything feels both new and familiar at the same time. They’re the same people they’ve always been but they’re honest now, cut open and raw before each other. There is a closeness that had never been allowed to grow before. There had been too much between them then – spoilers and fears and too much bloody damage.
It’s impossible to hide when they live in the same house and instead of the constant contact building awful tension and angry words behind clenched teeth until they implode, they flourish like River’s garden. They laugh together constantly, little shared anecdotes and ridiculous jokes. Belly laughs until his stomach aches and his lungs burn. Sleepy giggles at two in the morning as they stumble their way to bed together.
Before River, this body of his barely laughed at all and he’d mistakenly thought it just wasn’t something he did but now he realizes nothing had truly been funny until she’d dropped back into his life. River makes the old things fun again. He laughs at her filthy innuendo and her sly remarks to every Sontaran she meets. He laughs when she gets them into trouble and when she gets them out of it but what makes him laugh more than anything is simply hearing River laugh.
He loves it – that low, musical chuckle that causes her shoulders to shake and her curls to bounce. The one that makes her eyes sparkle and crease. The one that spills out of her mouth without her consent and wraps around his hearts until he can’t remember what it felt like to be without her. He captures that laugh as often as he can, snapping picture after picture in the hope that when she’s gone, he’ll still be able to hear it.
His wife is not a morning person. To be fair, since Bowtie buggered off and died, he hasn’t been either but River has changed a lot about this regeneration – as if his body had been waiting for her to come along and mold him into what he should be. The Doctor sits across from her at the breakfast table, his camera at his elbow, and contemplates her over the rim of his teacup.
To most, she might look a bit menacing right now. Her hair sticks out at every imaginable angle, like a living, breathing nest of static electricity. She curls up on her chair, an irritable wee bundle dressed in his hoodie. Hands curled around her coffee mug, she glares at her breakfast like it has done her some personal slight.
The Doctor hides a smile in a sip of tea. By the time she finishes her coffee, she’ll be her usual self – winking at him between bites of toast and attempting to play footsy with him beneath the table until he growls and kisses her. He’ll probably spill his tea in the process and River will laugh and tug him close and they might even shag against the counter but right now she is a bear he doesn’t want to risk poking.
So he drinks his tea and waits until she isn’t looking before he snaps a picture.
River has a soft spot for children – they are her weakness just as much as they are his. They tend to remind her of herself growing up, small and helpless and in need of someone to protect them from all the bad things in the world. River would give her life to save an innocent child. She also happens to be utterly terrified of them.
Unlike the Doctor, his wife hasn’t had much experience with wee ones. He remembers all too well that she always left him to look after any children they happened across, letting him distract them and play with them while she looked on with a little smile from afar. Even then he’d caught the longing in her eyes but he’d been at a loss when it came to helping her overcome her child-phobia.
Now, however, when the neighborhood urchins come calling – curious about the blue box in their back garden – the Doctor has no qualms about sending them straight to River. He watches with a smirk as River stares wide-eyed at the toddler climbing into her lap and tugging at her hair. A little girl of about six pulls at her trouser leg and tells her she’s pretty. An eight-year old boy clings to her hand and asks if he can see inside the blue box please Missus.
A bit pale and clearly out of her element, his wee bespoke psychopath turns to him with a pleading expression. Her green eyes are wide and terrified, begging him to rescue her from the likes of the little ones at her feet. Instead, the Doctor grins widely and leans against the doorway. “Well go on, dear. Take them on a tour.”
She grits her teeth. “Don’t you think you might be better equipped for that, sweetie?”
“Nope,” he says, lingering on the word smugly.
He can already hear River’s retort but she appears to swallow it down lest she scare the tots. She puts on a brave face and the Doctor feels his hearts trip over themselves in his chest when she settles the toddler on her hip. “Right then,” she breathes, and turns to the boy and girl. “Hold hands, please. Don’t want anyone getting lost, do we?”
The boy scoffs. “It’s only a box.”
River’s eyes sparkle and she taps her nose, her terror momentarily forgotten. “That’s just what she wants you to think.”
Both children grab at her hands and River smiles hesitantly when they cling to her, staring down at them with a softness that makes the Doctor ache with thoughts of a future that cannot be. Camera in hand, he snaps a picture of River and the little ones and for a moment, he pretends.
They’d decided very quickly that they would spend their twenty-four years as linearly as possible – he has a feeling River occasionally sneaks off without him and comes back but he’s never been able to prove it – but that doesn’t mean they just leave the Old Girl sitting by her lonesome in the garden.
River plants flowers around her. Bright reds and yellows because she insists the TARDIS told her it’s what she likes best. The Doctor goes out and tinkers with the console when he’s bored and the Old Girl lets him because she misses him – or at least that’s what he tells himself.
He’s on his way to do just that since he can’t find his wife and nothing is much fun without her but the sight that greets him when he reaches the garden stops him in his tracks. River sits in the grass beside the Old Girl, her back leaning against the blue box as she reads aloud from her diary.
Occasionally he hears the TARDIS hum and River will stop reading to reply quietly to whatever his ship had said. Sometimes she laughs out loud and presses her hand against the smooth blue wood, stroking fondly and murmuring something that makes the ship trill with mirth.
The TARDIS had missed River just as much as he had.
River leans her head against the blue doors and tucks her legs beneath her, smoothing out the diary page beneath her hand. “Now then, dear. I believe it’s your turn to tell a story.” When the TARDIS hums, River turns her head and smiles up at the ship. “Tell me about the time you met him.”
Quietly, the Doctor reaches for the camera in his coat pocket and snaps a picture just in time to capture the delighted expression on River’s face as she asks with relish, “Biting? Oh you bad girl.”
He doesn’t notice right away, too engrossed with the guitar on his lap and the song he’s struggling to write for his wife. Her birthday is fast approaching and if he doesn’t finish this song in time to play it for her party, he’s going to lose what’s left of his sodding mind.
Gripping the neck of his guitar in one hand and leaning over his notepad to cross out a verse and scribble something else, he grumbles to himself and drops the pen again. He returns his attention to his guitar, his fingers sliding over the strings and frets as he plays the sweet but cheeky melody he hopes captures his endlessly sassy wife perfectly.
It’s only the second time playing through what he thinks might be the final draft of the song that he finally notices movement out of the corner of his eye. He turns his head carefully, still playing, and catches a glimpse of River in the kitchen. She stands with her back to him, in a nightie and fuzzy socks, cradling a cup of tea in her palms.
To his endless amusement, she’s dancing. Not the elegant, sexy sort of dancing they like to do together when they go out – waltzes and tangoes and anything else that keeps them pressed close together. This is something else entirely. Her shoulders shimmy and her hips sway. Her fingers tap against her cup in time to the rhythm he plays. She looks absolutely ridiculous and he loves it.
Smile spreading across his face so widely he thinks it might be in danger of sticking, the Doctor reaches blindly for the camera that never strays far from his side. It’s a struggle to play with one hand but he manages, lifting the camera and spying River through the lens – wriggling those delectable hips and sliding in her fuzzy socks. Still grinning, he snaps a picture.
He’s not sure what they’re arguing about or even if they’re arguing – sometimes they like to bicker just for the fun of making up – but there is no denying River looks positively radiant when she’s angry. She reminds him of a lioness, ferocious and powerful and entirely capable of ripping him to pieces. Thankfully, his lioness has a bit of a soft spot for him. If she ever uses her teeth on him, he tends to enjoy it quite a lot.
He can’t resist lifting his camera, not when she’s all flushed and bright-eyed with fury. As he sneaks a picture, River pauses mid-tirade to gape at him incredulously. “Did you just photograph me in the middle of a row?”
The Doctor blinks at her. “To be fair, I wasn’t entirely sure if we were having a row.”
His lioness shows her teeth in a dangerous smile. “Well,” she says, eyes narrowing. “If we weren’t before, darling, we certainly are now.”
The making up is spectacular but the Doctor never does find the time to stop and take another picture.
They renew their vows on the balcony of the restaurant where he’d promised her their very own happily ever after. At River’s insistence, he uses the old bowtie and this time there is nothing to stop him from grasping her fingers in his when they bind their hands.
“I wish I’d known,” he whispers as they gaze at each other in the starlight. “I would have taken you here for every single anniversary. Every birthday. Every honeymoon. Every moment I could spare. I thought the only thing I couldn’t give you was more time.”
River smiles, radiant in her tight blue dress. Her silk-bound hand remains snug in his and her eyes are luminous through the unshed tears shining there. “And now you’ve given me everything.”
“Not quite.” He smiles hesitantly, pushing the ring into her hand. “But I thought this might be a start.”
The band is old and Gallifreyan and he’s been carrying it around in his pocket with thoughts of her longer than he’d care to admit. River swallows thickly. “Sweetie…”
He shrugs, watching her study it. “No more spoilers. Thought you might like a souvenir of your favorite husband.”
Her eyes dart up to his, wet and bright green. “The only one that matters, you know.”
He nods and replies roughly, “I know.” He waggles his brows. “So what do you say?”
“Well.” She licks her lips, her gaze dropping back to the ring still sitting in her open palm. “I do like shiny things.”
He snorts and River laughs and when he slides the band onto her finger where it’s always belonged, it’s Nardole hiding round the corner who captures the moment forever.
The way River applies her makeup is damn near ritualistic. First is the fancy moisturizer in the glass jar that she doesn’t need because she can age backward whenever the mood strikes her. When he points this out, she tends to offer him that withering lioness glare so the Doctor keeps such observations to himself.
Next come the creams and the powders and the mascara and all the other things that are entirely beyond him. He thinks she looks the same whether she puts any of that rubbish on or not so he has no idea why she wastes her time but River always gives him that look again when he says so.
The Doctor sits on the edge of their bed and keeps his opinions to himself, waiting for River to finish primping so he can take her out dancing. He fiddles with his camera in silent protest – they’re going to be late and River looks exactly the same as when she sat down a damn half hour ago. At her vanity, she fluffs her hair and finally stands up.
She slips into her heels and grabs her purse and turns to him with a flourish. “Well?”
He barely stifles a smile. This is his favorite part – the approval River doesn’t need but secretly craves from him all the same. The approval she’ll always have whether she’s dripping in diamonds or wearing a damn sack. Sliding his eyes over her curves – the slinky black dress that hugs her hips and her tiny waist and dips just low enough to make his eyes catch and hold on her cleavage – the Doctor hums low in his throat.
“Not bad,” he rumbles teasingly, letting his gaze slide up to her face to find her rolling her eyes fondly. “In fact, I think you’ll do nicely -” He stops, frowning. “Something’s missing.”
River grins and reaches out to pat his cheek. “Good boy. You are paying attention.”
He scowls, watching her turn back to her vanity and snatch up a tube of lipstick. “You were testing me?”
“Just keeping things fresh, darling,” River murmurs, bending over her vanity. Bum in the air and licks puckered, she gazes into the mirror and paints her lips a seductive red.
The Doctor stares, unable to take his eyes away from her even as he lifts the camera and snaps a photograph of the surprisingly lurid picture she makes. River caps her lipstick and turns to face him again, eyebrow raised questioningly. He swallows thickly and rasps, “Perfect.”
River likes to steal his clothes almost as much as the Doctor likes to photograph her in them. There’s just something about seeing her wandering around the house in one of his hoodies or t-shirts and a pair of knickers that brings out his inner human – possessive and prideful and full of the word mine.
He likes watching her traipse out to the garden in the rain wearing his boots, three sizes too big for her. He likes seeing her stretched out on their bed reading a book in a pair of his boxers. He really likes when she wears one of his button downs and he gets to spread her out beneath him and undo each button with his teeth.
It’s not until she slips out of bed one morning to make tea while he’s sleeping that he realizes what item of his clothing he likes to see her in best. He wakes slowly, listening with his eyes shut to the sound of clinking teacups and River’s quiet humming. He feels her slip back into bed and hears her moving the blankets to settle the tray on the mattress between them.
Her fingers settle in his hair, soft and teasing as she presses her lips to his ear. “I know you’re awake. You’re rubbish at faking.”
He opens on eye to peer at her smugly. “And what would you know about faking?”
River bites her lip, her eyes bright with amusement. “Not a thing, darling.”
“Good answer.” He stifles a yawn and sits up, rubbing at his face in an effort to wake up. River pushes his teacup into his hands and he murmurs his thanks, taking a long, slow sip and letting it do its job. When he finally opens his eyes and gets a good look at her, he blinks. “You’re wearing my coat.”
River stretches out amongst their pillows, cradling her mug of tea in the sleeves of his velvet coat. It’s the only thing she’s wearing and it’s too big for her, reaching the middle of her thighs and the sleeves falling over her hands. The neck of it gapes open and teases him with a peek at her bare breasts. River smirks. “Problem?”
“Not for twelve years,” he says, and reaches for his camera.
Once upon a time, he had believed River Song could do anything. She’d been the goddess he worshipped, the heroine he looked up to, the savior capable of rescuing even him. Since the beginning of their happily ever after, the Doctor has been abruptly dissuaded of such a notion.
There are many things River Song can’t do. She can’t sleep with her mouth closed. She can’t get ready for a night out in under two hours. She can’t remember to clean her hair out of the shower drain. She can’t pass by something shiny without wanting to stick it in her pocket. She can’t tolerate human interaction before she has coffee. She can’t start a fight without also finishing it. And most importantly – at least for the moment anyway – River can’t cook to save her life.
The Doctor stands in what he assumes is their kitchen, though he can’t tell with all the mess, and stares at his wife. She bites her lip and watches him through her lashes like a guilty child, the ladle in her hand dripping unidentified goop onto the floor. There’s some sort of batter on the ceiling and flour in River’s hair. Whatever she’d been attempting to cook sits burnt to a crisp on the counter and the air smells like smoke and charcoal.
He watches River brush her hair out of her eyes and smear some sort of sauce over her cheek in the process, biting his lip to keep from outright grinning at her. “Need some help, dear?”
River flushes, her fingers tightening around the ladle. “You’re back early.”
“Just stepped out to get your anniversary present.” He taps his pocket, where he’d stashed the new laser pistol she’s been secretly admiring when she thinks he isn’t looking. He lets his gaze wander toward the mysterious, charred lump on the counter. “Is that dinner?”
She glares at it like it had burnt itself. “Not anymore.”
“Ah. Doesn’t matter.” He saunters right up to her, ignoring the suspicious way River watches him approach. He swipes his thumb over her cheek and licks at the sauce he’d cleaned away. “Rather have you anyway.”
“Oh shut up.” Covered in flour and smelling like smoke, River yanks him toward her by the lapels of his coat. The Doctor sways into her, his hands on her hips and his mouth covering hers eagerly. She tastes like smoke and cooking sherry and he smiles into their kiss, breaking away briefly.
“Fuck, hang on.” He fishes through his pockets and pulls out his camera.
River smacks him.
He’s still shaking and out of breath when he grabs the camera off the bedside table. His hearts pound in his ears and his fingers tremble as he settles onto his side and leans up on his elbow, leering at his wife through the lens.
To his satisfaction, she looks as recently shagged as she doubtlessly feels. Her fingers are still clenched in their bedsheets and her head is tipped back as she pants up at the ceiling. A sheen of sweat still glistens on her golden skin, shining in the moonlight spilling through their bedroom window.
River uncurls her fingers and toes from the sheets, stretching languidly. She purrs out her satisfaction, a lazy smile curling her lips as she turns her head and looks at him. She pays no mind to the camera, hardly ever does anymore. Instead she lets him photograph her flushed cheeks and glittering eyes.
The Doctor wants to remember everything – her hair mussed to unmanageable heights, the teeth marks on her thighs, the swell of her hip bearing the imprint of his fingertips. In all his long lives, he’s never seen anything as sexy as River Song thoroughly debauched. Studying her through his camera lens, the Doctor can’t help but feel a bit of human pride. He did that.
A grin blooms across River’s glowing face and she reaches out a hand to swat at him gently. “I can hear your smugness,” she murmurs, her voice still hoarse. He bites back a smile. “Idiot.”
He smirks. “You’re welcome.”
“So are you.” River laughs, fingers sneaking across the sheets. “Now come here so we can do it again.”
The Doctor tosses his camera aside and reaches for his wife. There are better things to have in his hands right now anyway.
They take a walk after their date, exploring more of the forest behind their home. The Doctor holds River’s high heels and they walk arm in arm through the tall grass and underbrush, looking for something interesting. River is the one who finds the trickling stream of freshwater behind a grove of trees.
Maybe it’s because they’ve grown to cherish the little everyday surprises – the Doctor cooking dinner and bringing home flowers, River buying him new sheet music and wearing sexy lingerie – but they glance at each other like giddy children and grin.
Racing toward the embankment, River calls, “Last one in is a smelly Slitheen!”
The Doctor stares after her, exasperated. “Is there any other kind?”
He leaves his shoes and coat on the bank, along with River’s abandoned heels. He turns with the intention of wading into the water and splashing his wife but the sight of her stops him in his tracks. She stands barefoot in the middle of the stream, her extravagant evening gown bunched and gathered over her knees. Curls falling from her updo, River peers into the water at the little fish swimming around her ankles and laughs.
Hearts soft and expression equally so, the Doctor silently picks up his coat and reaches inside for his camera. Too busy splashing in her dress like the carefree girl she’s never been, River doesn’t even hear it click.
No one has ever looked at him the way River Song does – the way she has looked at him since the day he met her. Like she knows all of his faults and foibles, every dark story and bad day, and still manages to see the best in him despite it all. People talk all the time of unconditional love and he’s certainly felt it before – for his family and his friends – but he’d never known what it was like to have it in return until River. He feels it every time she looks at him.
It’s in her eyes – the way they soften and shine around him. It’s in her smile – the tender lift of her lips when he kisses her. River Song looks at him like he’d hung the bloody moon, even when he doesn’t deserve it. Even when she’s yelling at him, when she’s furious and swears she hates him, she still looks at him like she’s never known anyone better.
He used to bask in it when she looked at him like that, like a boy warming himself in the sun. In her long absence, he’d forgotten what it felt like to be loved so ferociously. He’d forgotten what it felt like to love so ferociously. The way a husband and wife should. But now his sun has returned and he’s warm again, the cold chased away from his old bones as though it had never been. He can’t even remember what it feels like to shiver.
It isn’t until one night by the fire, River curled up on the opposite end of the sofa with her feet in his lap, that the Doctor lets himself contemplate what it will be like to be cold again. It’s difficult to imagine with his sun sitting so close, throwing heated glances at him, but however much he doesn’t want to think of it there is an eclipse coming.
River blinks soft eyes at him, that tender smile curling her mouth, and he feels his chest tighten with the anxiety of forgetting the warmth of her. He fumbles blindly for his camera on the coffee table, never taking his eyes from her. She watches him in quiet bemusement, still wearing that expression of enduring love that never really leaves her – not even when she’s itching to slap him.
“More pictures?” She asks, shaking her head. “What’s so special about now?”
The Doctor smiles and lifts his camera. “Just you, dear.”
“You’re staring again.”
Chin resting in his open palm, the Doctor doesn’t take his eyes from his wife. “Can you blame me?”
River sighs, glaring at him over the rim of her reading glasses. He loves everything about those glasses, from the professorial look they give her to the way they slide down the bridge of her nose when she reads. His wife, however, feels differently. “I suppose not. You are rather old this go round.” She raises an eyebrow when he glares. “Your eyesight can’t be what it used to be.”
“My eyesight is perfect,” he says, aware that his accent has gotten thicker in his annoyance. “And so are you.”
River catches his hand reaching for his camera and snaps, “Don’t you dare.”
He scowls. “Why not?”
“You’ve been asking that for years, Doctor, and the answer is still the same.” She pushes her glasses back up the bridge of her nose and buries her face in her book. “You know I don’t like how I look in them.”
“River,” he begins, but catches the whinge in his voice and realizes he sounds alarmingly like Bowtie. Quickly burying the petulance beneath a very Grown Up and Concerned furrowed brow, the Doctor clears his throat and tries again. “Why not?”
River doesn’t look up from her book. “Because.”
The Doctor bites his tongue. “River -”
“Doctor,” she says, mimicking his accent – terribly, if he says so himself. Far too dramatic and honestly, there’s no need to roll her r’s like that. It’s just rude. “Drop it.”
“I’ve been dropping it for seventeen years. Time to switch things up.” He stares at her pointedly, crossing his arms over his chest. “You first.”
River drops her book to her lap with a sigh and her glasses slide back down her nose. She looks adorably irritated, her hair piled high on her head and slipping out of its elastic. At the moment, she resembles less of a terrifying assassin and more of a harassed librarian. The Doctor stifles his amusement lest she misinterpret it.
“Because,” she snaps, “They make me look older.”
He blinks, tilting his head. “They do not.”
She huffs. “You can’t tell me you don’t see them.”
The Doctor stares at her, bewildered. “See what? Your glasses?”
“These, Doctor.” River gestures irritably to her eyes and when he continues staring at her blankly, she growls – actually, properly growls at him – and explains, “The lines around my eyes. The glasses make them more… pronounced. Surely you’ve noticed. You notice everything.”
She hugs her book to her chest and refuses to meet his gaze, glaring at his boots instead. The Doctor snorts. “It’s finally happened, hasn’t it? You’ve spent so much time with me you’ve gone mad by association. It actually is contagious.”
Startled into looking up, River meets his gaze with a glare. “Very reassuring, my love.”
He sighs and ruffles his hair. “Damn it, River. You know I find you unbearably sexy in sodding well anything.”
River’s lips curl into a reluctant smirk. “Or nothing.”
“Exactly.” He grins. “So why the hell wouldn’t I find you sexy in glasses that make you look like every professor fantasy I never even knew I had until you?”
She sighs and he senses all of her resistance in the sound. He holds up his camera, dangling it between them like a question while River bites the inside of her cheek against a smile. “Oh go on then,” she finally huffs, green eyes dancing. “Infuriating old man.”
He keeps this one in his wallet, right next to his physic paper.
He likes taking pictures of River shopping at the outdoor market, trying on scarves and the drastically discounted sunglasses that no one will need for another six years. He likes the smile on her face and the way she grabs his hand to lead him to another display, towing him dutifully behind her as she browses and bargains to fill their home with art and pottery and fresh flowers.
What he doesn’t particularly enjoy photographing is the flirting she usually engages in to get a good deal. Call him old-fashioned or just plain jealous but the Doctor doesn’t like watching his wife flirt shamelessly with merchants to get ten percent off a bloody vase. Usually he tries to look away and distract himself until she’s through but for some reason, he can’t bring himself to do that today.
There’s just something about her standing there haggling with a coquettish grin, the strap of her sundress slipping down her shoulder. Her hair is pulled up, stray pieces curling around her neck in the humid night air. She bats her eyes at the merchant and lays her hand on his arm but when he isn’t looking, she sneaks adoring glances at the Doctor behind his back.
It’s how he’ll always think of their time together – River Song with a daring grin, seducing anyone who gets in her way but always keeping those tender, heated glances for him alone. Keeping his distance, he snaps a picture and tucks it into his coat pocket. If River notices, she says nothing when she returns carrying her prize.
“Must you?” He mutters, letting her slip her arm through his. “You know we can pay full price.”
“But where’s the fun in that, darling?” River beams down at her winnings – two handmade, intricately carved vases from a local potter along with a set of flowers for each. “I want a bargain.”
“You want a challenge,” he replies, nudging her fondly.
“Lucky for you.” She leans up on her toes and kisses his cheek. “Since you happen to be my biggest challenge yet, my love.”
The sight of River Song eating an ice cream cone should be listed among the seven deadly sins. It damn well borders on pornographic. The Doctor has long since abandoned his own frozen treat in favor of staring at his wife through his camera lens and doing his best not to look too aroused in the middle of an ice cream parlor.
Tongue snaking around the circumference of her ice cream cone, River watches him through her lashes and tries to act innocent. The Doctor isn’t fooled for a second but knowing she’s trying to seduce him certainly doesn’t stop her from having her intended effect. That’s the trouble with a bespoke psychopath – she’d been designed to bring him to his knees and she’s very, very good at it.
He licks his lips, watching River perform what amounts to fellatio on her ice cream cone and doing his best not to feel envious of a dessert. “Good?”
River moans. Damn her.
His hand shakes a little as he takes another picture.
When he looks up, River has a spot of vanilla ice cream on the tip of her nose. The Doctor stares at her, his hearts giving an embarrassing little flip in his chest, and feels quite certain his abandoned dessert isn’t the only thing melting.
River wraps her tongue around her cone again. “All right, sweetie?”
Smitten all over again, the Doctor nods. “Never better.”
In the last twenty years, the Doctor has gotten used to waiting for River to get ready. It’s an entirely different experience without a time machine to skip ahead and pick her up but he’s learned to enjoy waiting. Especially when it involves lounging on their bed – ignoring River’s warnings not to wrinkle his suit – with a camera in hand and snapping photographs of his wife wandering about in her lingerie.
“Honestly, sweetie,” she says, glancing at him over her shoulder. “Don’t you have enough pictures of me in my knickers?”
He peers at her incredulously over the top of his camera and waggles his brows. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t ask that. You’re supposed to be clever, for fuck’s sake.”
She snorts, turning back to her wardrobe and contemplating her dress choices for her night. “It’s a pity Darillium isn’t a nudist colony. Think of all the pictures for your smutty collection.”
“It’s not smut,” he insists, focusing his camera on her lace-covered bum. “It’s art.”
“It’s wank material,” she teases. “I had no idea I married such a dirty old man.”
The Doctor pauses, eyeing her suspiciously. “Yes you did.”
She glances over her shoulder again, her smile growing when their eyes meet. “I did. Though you used to be better at hiding it.” Her wardrobe doors snap shut and River moves toward him, the gleam in her eyes positively predatory. “Forget going out. I’ve got something else in mind.”
He watches with heat growing in his belly as River climbs onto their bed and crawls toward him, breasts threatening to spill out of her lacy black bra. The Doctor snaps one last picture before he tosses the camera aside and reaches for her hips, hauling her close and wrinkling his suit beyond hope. “I thought you wanted dinner?”
River’s lips find his and pause, hovering tantalizing close. “Who said that’s not what I’m having?”
The Doctor has seen many things in his long lives but nothing in the universe could have prepared him for the sight of River Song climbing a tree like a mischievous wee girl. They’d been exploring more of the forest behind their home and carving their initials into trees like teenagers when suddenly River had broken from his side and climbed one of the damn things.
He’d been too busy watching her to reach for his camera, which he clutches in his hand now as he stares up at her. River peers down at him from the highest branch she could find, her legs swinging and childish delight plain on her face. She grins at him, apparently feeling rather pleased with herself.
The Doctor scowls up at her. “River, get down from there.”
“What’s the matter, old man?” She calls down, laughing softly. “Can’t keep up?”
“Come down here and I’ll bloody show you keep up,” he grumbles to himself. Louder, he shouts, “You could fall and I don’t have a swimming pool to catch you this time.”
Without warning and much to the consternation of the Doctor’s old, frightened hearts, River lets go of her branch and jumps. She sails through the air and he rushes forward, his breath caught in his throat as he holds out his arms and prays he catches her.
River lands in his arms, tackling him to the ground and knocking the breath from his lungs. She laughs brightly, leaves caught in her hair and her elbows on his chest as she grins down at him. “I don’t need a swimming pool, darling.” She kisses his cheek, ignoring the glower that accompanies his wheezing breath. “I have you.”
River has been gardening all morning, planting more flowers by their garden gate and tending to the ones she’s been nurturing for years. He loses track of her whereabouts sometime in the early afternoon, holed up in his study with a terrible book and an ink pen. By the time he goes to look for her, there’s nothing in the garden but her abandoned trowel and some empty seed packets.
“River?” He calls out, wandering through the house until he spots the trail of clothing. His hearts pick up speed and he stifles a smile, following the work boots and the dirt-stained trousers, the old t-shirt and the cotton knickers like a trail of breadcrumbs.
The steam billowing out of the bathroom is his second clue and then he hears the sound of the water shutting off. Ah, just in time then. The Doctor leans against the doorway and folds his arms over his chest, getting the distinct pleasure of watching his wife step out of the shower.
River is a vision no matter what but emerging from the shower, her dripping hair already beginning to curl and her golden skin freshly scrubbed and glowing pink? She’s a damned goddess. The Doctor lets his eyes linger over the water droplets sliding from her hair and down her chest, curving a delectable path over her belly and into the patch of dark curls between her thighs.
He swallows tightly and wishes he could capture on film the way the scent of her soap and her shampoo linger in the air – the intermingling smells of coconut and honeysuckle. River hears the click of his camera and turns her head, her eyes narrowing as she wraps her body in a fluffy towel.
“Resorting to voyeurism now, Doctor?” She clucks her tongue at him and he stares with embarrassing adoration at the flush in her cheeks and those damp curls clinging to her forehead. “Not terribly surprising. A dirty habit for a dirty old man.”
The fond exasperation in her voice betrays the tart words and the Doctor shrugs, setting aside his camera and stepping toward her. His hands reach for her hips, his fingertips stroking over the irritating towel in his way. River sways into him, her lips curling when he brushes his nose briefly against hers. He meets her gaze and licks his lips. “Maybe you should clean me up then.”
Her eyes gleam and he feels her take his hand. “Maybe I should.”
The last thing he expects is for River to turn on the shower and shove him fully clothed under the spray but as the Doctor glares at her from beneath his dripping gray hair and listens to the sound of River’s bright laughter, he knows he really should have.
He used to hate Sundays. Sundays were boring and dull and why would he ever land on a Sunday when he could just as easily find a really exciting Saturday? That had been before Darillium, before their little happily ever after in the form of twenty-four years. Now, the Doctor cannot imagine anything better than a lazy Sunday spent in bed with his wife.
Shapely legs tangled with his longer, skinnier ones, River rests her head on his shoulder. Her hair tickles his chin and her hand rubs slow circles over his chest. His entire body hums with his content and he feels his eyes slipping shut. He’d never been one for naps before either. River Song has made him as domesticated as a sodding house cat.
Only the rustle of sheets beside him and a faint mechanical noise is enough to make him stir. Even then, he only cracks open one eye to investigate. At the sight of River lying beside him fiddling with his camera, he asks blearily, “What are you doing with that?”
River’s lips quirk into a smile and he imagines she’s grinning about his sleep-thickened accent, the wench. “I just wanted to see what’s so brilliant about this thing that it’s managed to hold your attention for twenty years.”
“It isn’t the camera that’s holding my attention, my dear,” he explains, watching her slyly. “It’s the subject of the photographs.”
She hums a pleased noise and the Doctor is delighted that she doesn’t even blush, far too used to his romantic overtures by now. Instead, she leans in to press a quick, fond kiss to his cheek and he distantly registers the whir of the camera when she snaps a picture. He blinks, watching her retreat to her side of the bed with her prize.
“Did you just…”
“I certainly did.” River looks far too pleased with herself, scooping up the polaroid that had slipped out of the camera and fallen to her lap. When her eyes light up and she makes a faint noise of admiration, the Doctor sits up and lets the sheet fall away from his bare chest to peer over her shoulder.
In River’s hands is a slightly blurry picture of her pressing her smiling lips to his cheek while he does his best to look exasperated but mostly just looks besotted and sleepy. The Doctor grumbles under his breath, feeling his cheeks flush at the terribly obvious adoration in his eyes and the quirk of his lips as his wife plants a smacking kiss to his cheek.
Tracing her fingertip over his face in the photograph, River smiles. “You’re right, my love.” She leans back into his chest, still studying their immortalized faces. “It’s definitely the subject.”
The moonlight had always captured River beautifully – casting her in pale white light to make her look unearthly and ethereal – but the Doctor can see wholeheartedly now that she has always been meant for the sun. The glow of the approaching dawn casts her in shades of pink and orange, seeming to light her up from within. The light is a part of her, shooting out of her eyes and the ends of her hair like sunbeams. River has always been a creature of the light and now it’s time to give her back to it.
Tears sting the Doctor’s eyes and there’s a lump in his throat that won’t go away no matter how many times he tries to swallow it. He grips his camera in his shaking hands and does his best to steady it, watching through the lens as River gazes out over the balcony at the sun peeking over the horizon. The Towers play a sweet, melancholy tune and the wind picks up, sending River’s curls tumbling over her eyes.
She puts on a brave face for him but he sees how her lips tremble, how she blinks rapidly to will away the tears. He can barely see when he snaps the picture but he needs to capture this – he needs to remember always the moment just before he loses her.
River catches the picture when the camera spits it out, watching her image appear as it develops. She smiles sadly, meeting his gaze as she lifts the photograph to her lips and presses a red lipstick kiss to the corner of the picture. With familiar tenderness, she tucks it into his coat pocket and whispers, “One more for the road.”
When she’s gone, the pictures he’d taken are the only tangible evidence he has that once upon a time he’d gotten his happily ever after. No one else can see the foreign softness in his hearts or the memories he replays every morning when he wakes alone but he keeps River’s picture on his desk and in his wallet and littered across his study on the TARDIS. He sees her when he looks up from grading student essays, when he reaches into his pocket for his psychic paper, when he retreats deep into his ship to find peace in a universe sorely lacking it.
And then he meets Bill who stares at him over his desk, her red paper hat on her head and her brown eyes wide. “If someone’s gone, do pictures really help?”
The Doctor gazes back at her, thinking of the prized pictures of his wife and granddaughter on his desk between them. He thinks of the more intimate pictures scattered lovingly across his TARDIS – River sleeping, River holding a toddler on her hip, River climbing trees and putting on makeup and slipping out of her clothes and looking at him like he put the stars in the sky. River alive and happy and right there in front of him every time he fears it was all some wonderful, intangible dream. Those photographs have saved him on many a dark and lonely night, keeping his sanity threaded together with fading polaroids.
Do pictures really help?
Yes, he answers Bill in the form of a tattered old box. It helps.