The Doctor was rambling. Usual. He stood right behind Clara, explaining things, and moving his long limbs in frantic, chaotic ways that probably appeared perfectly illustrative in his point of view. Clara merrily tuned it all out. She was watching the machines, and the very varied shapes and shades of the aliens scurrying around.
Space, exploring, adventure. Maybe a hint of trouble in-between, just to spice up the mix. Hadn’t happened yet, though.
The Doctor’s hand closed upon her shoulder like a clamp, squeezing hard.
"Ow!" she hissed. "What was that for?" She whipped her head towards him with a glare, demanding an explanation for his randomly trying the resistance of her bones.
He was properly gaping, lips parted and eyes faraway, looking every bit like a lost child. Clara starting by prying his fingers, which he seemed to have forgotten there, off of her shoulder before she vigorously waved a hand in front of his eyes. "Earth to Doctor! Ah, wait, actually not Earth. Why do you always have to pick the worst planet names? Whatever-I-can’t-pronounce to Doctor! And you really better not have just made me offend the natives."
He blinked at her several times as though his eyes required adjusting after exposure to a bright light. Then his mouth, which he had only just managed to close, parted again in a little O. He pointed to Clara. She stared at him, then at his finger, then at him again. Tentatively, she poked his chest in response, wondering about alien fevers and the very little she knew of Time Lord anatomy, beside the two-hearts thing, and maybe more than one brain, she’d never really found out.
However many brains he’d turn out to own, they currently appeared to be frying and she just had no clue what to do.
He waved the finger that was still pointing at her chest for emphasis. "You!" he eventually managed. "I want you to meet someone."
"Ah." She gently guided his hand down. "Well, that’s new. Or not. Who is it this time? President Kennedy? Cleopatra? The alien king of Ra… Rakofallopatorius?"
He made a face at her. "Don’t be ridiculous. For one, it’s Raxacoricofallapatorius. And it doesn’t have a king. It has a Lord Predator, I’ll have you know."
"How very lovely."
He swallowed. "Quite. But yes. Cleopatra. You have a point. Sort of, and then not. Out-of-space Cleopatra. With much more attitude."
"You’re babbling nonsense," she told him sternly. "And I really mean way beyond average."
The Doctor opened his mouth, then closed it, for several times in a row. Again. He reached up and scratched his cheek with a vengeance. "Never mind," he croaked. "She’s seen us."
Clara turned in the direction he was facing. "Clue one, at least! Well, let’s see if it’s someone whose gender I can tell at the first glance, then. Always up for a challenge with those alien races."
As it turned out, she could. There was only one human woman in the room, one who was hovering around those big flashing machines that had turned the Doctor into squealing mush ten minutes earlier, and she was busy doing whatever-the-hell with something that looked like a scanner of some sort. She glanced up as Clara squinted at her, throwing back an impressive mass of golden curls, tinted red and glowing from the control lights like living fire. It looked like she had just winked. She gave a little wave and then went back to work, seemingly assuming they were coming to her.
"Did she just wink at me?"
"Not at you! Well, partly at you. Kind of, a little, yes. But not specifically. She does that. Winking. At people."
"I’m coming closer," Clara announced, and then went forward.
The woman did not look up again until she’d reached her. She was busy, from the look of it, leaning across the controls and stretching a silhouette that was long and lean and yet perfectly curvy. Clara felt some tingling she had rarely experienced since Nina. It made her bold. Well. Bolder.
"Hello," she said. "Sorry to bother you. Is it me you winked at?"
"I’m afraid it was," replied a low drawl of a voice.
After ten seconds, the woman looked up. Clara couldn’t tell whether her eyes were really blue or green, or a wicked mix of both, in the dancing lights especially. Her mouth, that was for sure, was curving into a little smile.
"Hello again, Clara."
She frowned. "How do you know my name?"
The woman looked shocked for a second. "Oh dear," she said. "First encounters. I’m sorry–ever so confusing."
She straightened up and put aside her scanner, then reached out a hand. "I’m River Song."
"That’s a lovely name," Clara answered, which was only half a lie. She did find River to be a lovely name. River. It rushed through one’s lips, raw and reckless like the low growl of the water. Pity River Song kind of sounded like some heroine from a video game. Lara Croft-like.
Her gaze flitted down, and then back up. Well. Quite fitting actually.
She met River’s eye and the woman gave her a knowing grin.
"So how do you know my name?" she asked in her most flippant, this-is-not-creepy tone of voice.
"I’ve met you before," River deadpanned. "You just haven’t met me."
"That makes perfect sense," Clara said. "Sorry, I’m a terrible liar. Are you aware that you just sounded a teeny-weeny bit stalkerish?"
She had a frank laugh. "Oh no, I’m not the stalker in the room," she shot back. "I’m a time-traveller. Like him. It makes everything alternatively lots of fun or a headache, or a subtle mix of both."
She pointed over Clara’s shoulder as she said "him", and the girl spun, realizing she had completely forgotten about the Doctor. Quite worthy of notice, that was.
He stepped forward, looking rather unsure. "Okay," he said. "River, Clara, Clara, River. Lovely. Clara, don’t ask where she knows you from. That’s spoilers."
"You mean like with the movies and books and that kind of thing?" She scoffed. "I’ve always been a naughty girl with those. Couldn’t resist the call."
"Yes, but no. But this is actually, really serious." He waved his hands a little for emphasis. So much flailing today. She raised an eyebrow.
"What he means, Clara," River stated calmly, "is that I’ve met you in your personal future. And you can’t ask about what happened then. If you found that out, you could rip a hole in the universe. I’m only exaggerating very slightly to make you careful. You may look scared now so he won’t bug you for one hour."
Clara frowned. "Why all the fuss? Will I get a really terrible haircut or is there a big secret?"
"I’m afraid that’s the general rule, dear."
"Okay." Clara nodded. She pointed between River and the Doctor. "So. You two are friends."
River chuckled. "Sort of."
"Sort of," he echoed. River looked at him for a second as though waiting for him to add something. Then she turned swiftly back to the console.
"You know," she called over her shoulder, "I think we have business on our hands."
There was business indeed, more lights, technology and words that sounded Chinese to Clara, bickering and running and the unexpected appearance of a gun in River’s hand and some more flailing and singed hair and yes, running. Clara leaned against the console, attempting to catch her breath without sounding like a dying cow. Beside her, River Song tossed her jacket somewhere, stepped around the commands, pulled a few levers and had a big grin. There was a loud, annoyed snort from somewhere else in the TARDIS. But off they were.
Once they had landed, Clara gawked at River. "You can fly her."
"Apparently." A winning smile.
Clara scowled. "The Doctor tried to show me a few things once. You don’t want to know how that went. Thank heaven for big friendly buttons. I don’t think she likes me," she confided without thinking. "I don’t know. A–feeling."
River’s grin disappeared. "You’ll find out," she simply said.
Clara peered at her. She wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved that the other woman appeared to take her seriously, or infuriated by the cryptic answer. She opted for a quiet "Ah," and leaned more comfortably, thoughtful.
The Doctor had disappeared to sulk about something or other. Or maybe store and dissect some piece of alien tech he’d kept and she had briefly thought he was going to lick right there and then. Anyhow, they were quite alone in the console room, an occurrence previously unheard of. It was certainly odd to see someone else driving, adjusting and fussing and fidgeting. But River radiated a calmness, a quiet sense of control that was very different from the Doctor’s ways. It seemed natural to see her leaning there, to watch her hands slide and dance. The machine glowed and hummed as usual, and yet distinctively. Clara breathed deeply.
"Well," she said, "that was fun."
River smiled brightly at her again, eyes crinkling and teeth flashing sharply white. "Always."
Clara took the time to shamelessly stare at her, from the corner of her eye, as she endlessly moved this way and that. Yes, the Doctor’s exhilarated, slightly frantic vibe was certainly missing. Quickness indeed was there, but precision and grace–River moved with the TARDIS, over and around her, relentlessly. Her mad hair danced on her shoulders and her hands couldn’t stay still. Clara impulsively reached out and grasped a wrist, the slowly subsiding adrenaline making her bold.
"Mmm?" River glanced at her, face smooth–too untroubled to be genuine.
"Do you need to be all over her? Why? We’re no longer in flight."
"Oh, I’m just arranging things, this way and that. Don’t tell the Doctor. He’ll find out soon enough." She winked.
"And I’ll be the one who won’t hear the end of it. Unless, of course, you’re hanging around," Clara airily suggested.
A smile, slow and soft. "I rarely do that. I just come and go."
"That’s a shame."
"Well, that way he doesn’t get tired of me."
"Think he would? I wouldn’t."
Clara chose that moment to–apparently–remember that she still had a hold on River’s wrist. Which the other woman hadn’t claimed back. She slowly relinquished it, fingertips lingering. Purposeful.
River pulled a lever and smiled at her again, an ambiguous twist of the lips, gentle, with an extra glint in the pupils. Or she fancied there was.
"So you tweak with his time bits, and leave me with a grumpy man on my hands," the girl mused. "I see how it is."
River laughed frankly. "I never could resist an interesting piece of machinery when I see one."
"Apparently his isn’t always as reliable as he likes to claim."
"It only requires a skilled hand."
"I can’t believe I’m talking mechanics with you."
"Is that a hobby of yours, Clara?"
Oh, but she was good, Clara thought, cheeks warm.
"Not so used to alien tech. But I do like me a skilled hand."
River’s grin, all sharp edges, more tempting by the minute. "Don’t we all?"
Clara took one entirely innocent, ever so random step closer.
She ended up standing in River’s back, bare arms and sun-kissed skin exposed quite near, quite. Her fingers itched and her nostrils flared. Amber in the air, heady yet light.
River turned and then they were too crowded, stood like that for a split second. Another one of her smiles, and the woman was shifting away.
If time and space had taught Clara Oswald something, it was to be daring.
She leaned in.
"Clara, no," River gasped before Clara cut her off in the best way of the universe, brown hair mixing with golden curls as the girl stretched on her tiptoes, and stole a kiss that was thorough, velvet-soft and uncannily sparkling.
So she was dead and off to heaven, or very confused, or perhaps gone mad, or something else entirely.
Clara felt herself two bodies separate, gloriously so, as one was so very heavy and rocked over the swells of sleep, and the other had slipped closer still to River Song’s skin. Closer than close: she felt like the superficial layers had been shed, and it was electricity from their very blood that moved them as they brushed. Deeper: she could have nestled between her bones and mapped her body from the inside out, tasted her on her tongue, sensed her lurking at the pit of her belly and beneath her eyelids. Sweet mysteries, uncovered. They would keep warm in each other’s flesh, shudder and vibrate together.
"Oh, stop flailing. She’s coming around."
Clara opened her eyes, and River leaned over her, bathed in a halo of light.
Her eyes seemed to move too much, all over her face, for it to be natural, and her lips were bleeding cherries, worried by a pristine edge of teeth. The girl reached out a hand. "Lie still, Clara," River said, with a voice like a siren’s.
"I thought I’d drowned in you."
"Hush. I know. This will teach you to kiss strangers. Mind you, I’ve done my share of that. Some are more perilous than the others."
"I’m sorry?" the Doctor said indignantly.
"Not so loud, sweetie, mind her head."
The shape of the world–more precisely, the TARDIS–was coming more clearly into focus, but River was still the centre of all things, swirls and buzzing abstract shapes flourishing around her amorously, with the odd likeness to a star or an orchid or an… alien fruit? Clara squinted. No way, girl.
"What’s happening to me? And would you quit the shape-shifting, it’s distracting."
"I’m not doing a thing, dear. Hallucinogetic lipstick. Washed out enough that the effect was minor, it just messed with your perception of reality… All right, apparently did quite a bit of that."
"She was babbling about you having layers. You call that minor?"
"Doctor. Shut up."
Clara blinked a few times. "Come again?"
River smiled, a benevolent gesture, and a lot calmer than before. "My lipstick. Hallucinogetic. I’ll lend some if that can make it up to you. When you kissed me, it probably made you see all sorts of queer things."
"What did you do that for?" Clara asked indignantly.
"I hadn’t planned it!" River protested. "How was I supposed to know that my husband’s companion would suddenly fancy kissing me?"
"I didn’t… I just… your what?"
Clara squeezed her eyes shut, ears ringing. "Please tell me auditive hallucinations as well."
When she dared to peek again, River had the good grace to look sheepish.
"No, I’m afraid. More like… belated information."
"Much belated," the Doctor grunted, with his best sulky face.
The glare Clara directed at him could have seared an android, and even River shoved him. "It was your place to tell her."
"Well, you could have overruled that very thoughtful consideration when she made for your mouth."
"And what would you have had me do, flail into her face?"
"Shut it, you two."
It was probably a tribute to her confused, poor-Clara-is-lying-on-the-floor state that they each obediently quietened. Clara rubbed her temples. "Let me get this straight. I just kissed your wife?" She pointed at the Doctor.
He sniffed. "Yep."
She pointed at River next. "And your lipstick poisoned me?"
"'Poison' is a bit strong a term."
"Two seconds ago I was under the impression your dress was peeling and turning into petals. I call it poison."
River did not argue. Clara inhaled sharply. "So. I just made a huge spectacle of myself. You turn out to be very much not available, I look like the seductress on the loose, and this. Screwed. My. Kiss."
"Actually, I’d say the experience was probably heightened," River suggested. Clara glared. "No, really. It didn’t feel nice at all?"
Clara sniffed, then chewed on her lip. "Your husband is standing in the room. I’ll keep that information to myself, thank you."
"Well, it was very nice for me, as far as accidents go," River told her cheerfully.
The Doctor stiffened. "Oi!"
"So I could do that again?" Clara blurted before her brain could catch up with her traumatized lips.
Curse the lipstick. Curse, curse, curse.
The Doctor apparently choked on air, and River had a slow, gentle smile. "Maybe not, in the present situation. In any other circumstances it would have been a pleasure, but really, no."
Clara sighed. "I’m drugged and shell-shocked. I want someone to carry me to bed. Now. I’d say that’s the very least you two can do."