The TARDIS was quiet. The lights were low and the throb of her engines muted to the resonant drone often heard when her inhabitants had been bruised and battered. Her corridors whispered soothing, peaceful words as the timeship comforted her friends.
Fresh from the shower, River Song strolled into the control room. The Doctor was bound to be there, she reasoned. Probably on the verge of ripping out a panel that didn't need to be repaired, or welding something on the lower level. He most certainly would not be in the library, the garden, or the kitchen -- those were all places he associated with a job well done. No, today he would be brittle and restive. If River knew the Doctor well enough -- and she certainly did -- he'd either be conducting needless repairs or finding something to punish himself with.
As for herself, she wasn't much better. She was drained and sore. Amy and Rory were off seeking mutual comfort. Which left her with... well, either the Doctor or no one.
She kept telling herself that she was looking for the Doctor for his sake, not for hers. That wouldn't be strictly true. She wanted to reach out to him, find a connection, a faint echo of the intimacy she craved. The stage of their relationship was not clear; he was distant but not hostile, and he was still flirting with her, albeit obliquely. She had seen more of this younger Doctor as time had gone on, and being with him was always a balancing act. She monitored the timelines -- ever so careful to not give too much away, to shepherd him through these critical points of his life, yet never show him the ache of the growing distance between them. And all that time, maybe, just maybe, entice him to fall in love with her.
It was a dance she led -- just like his older self had led the dance at the beginning (or was it the ending) of their relationship. Every time she saw him, she appreciated more and more what he must have been going through back then. And she appreciated every moment she shared with the Doctor who knew her as his wife.
No matter where they were in their relationship, she could never entirely hide her sense of ownership over him. Her Doctor or not, she could never stand to see him in pain, and by the time she'd towelled off and dressed, she decided that it was a gamble she'd have to take.
River Song was always the betting kind.
The console room was eerily quiet -- not at all what she expected. She wondered if she had wildly misjudged the situation, misdiagnosed him.
Her footsteps were muffled against the steel-and-glass floor; she ran a soothing hand over the TARDIS controls. The TARDIS spoke, but not in words, a brief brush of mental contact: affection, welcome, thanks.
Ah, then. The Doctor was here. She returned the mental contact: thanks for looking out for him.
She glanced down and saw him, not on the swing as she had expected, but sitting on the bottom step of the stairs, legs stretched out in front of him, shoulder against the handrail. Still.
She could read the slump of his shoulders, the angle of his neck. He was in pain; probably had a raging headache. But as usual he was too proud to take an analgesic.
He was hurting, and she could help. Her fingers itched to touch him, ease his hurt. Would he allow her?
River did what she always did when faced with uncertainty: take a chance.
She knelt on the step above him, reached out, and slid her hands onto his shoulders. His muscles were like marble beneath her hands, tense and taut. He stiffened instinctively, and she held her breath -- caught between heartache and hope. After a moment, he relaxed into her touch, and she relaxed into touching him. She knew just what to do.
First, she relearned his topography, fingers probing the muscles and bone of his shoulder. Damn, but he was tight. She wondered if she'd have to use her elbow, and doubted very much that he'd let her. She began a gentle massage, and when he seemed comfortable, she began to knead. With one hand she dug into his trapezius, while the other gently rolled his shoulder. She moved to the other side to mirror her actions, and he let out a barely audible sigh.
She needed better access, to dig in deeper. Would he allow her? The answer to that question was apparent as he stretched and arched his neck beneath her hands.
She grasped his lapels to remove his jacket, and he shrugged it off for her. She folded it and laid it neatly on the rail. Her fingers found his bow tie and when she untied it, he slipped it off himself. She eased his braces off his shoulders, and finally he unbuttoned the top of his shirt.
Her hands slid under his collar, caressing his shoulders. Fingers searched for tightness, for knots in his muscles. She gently pulled his head from one side to another, stretching out the tightened sinew.
Muscle, nerve and sinew: Something the Doctor did not often allow himself to be.
For River, it was a sensory avalanche: his broad shoulders, muscled like an athlete, the light rasp of his cheek (it'd been several days since he shaved), his double pulses beneath her hands, the soft sweep of his hair. His breathing slowed and evened.
When she was done, she slipped her arms under his, laying palms across his chest and easing him backwards. He sighed and leaned back, allowing his head fall against her shoulder.
In this perfect balance of a moment, she felt the weight he carried on his shoulders shift to her. In all their long years together, these moments were rare.
She wanted to kiss him, to weep with gratitude, to stroke his hair or tighten her arms around his.
But the moment was fragile, and she was unwilling to break it. So she remained still, daring only to press her lips ever so lightly against his temple.
After several minutes, he stirred, arching his back. At first she thought the moment was broken, got ready to separate from him. But instead, she heard a satisfying crack of his spine, and the slightest sigh escaping his lips. He relaxed again, settling in more comfort, and -- miracle! -- placed his hands on top of hers over his chest.
The Doctor seldom shares his burdens, he thinks them too great to thrust upon anyone else, and in some ways he's absolutely right. But it's these moments River treasures the most; when just for a moment, the Doctor becomes simply a man in her arms. It's rare that he allows himself this stillness; this physical pleasure. She knows him well enough to know that she is one of the few people in the universe, past or present, with whom he allows himself physical release. Even if it is as simple as resting in her arms after a bad, bloody day.