- doctor who
- for tenacious_err. ♥
- aka, five times river and the doctor cuddle, and one time they don't.
- i really wish this title weren't my fault. but it is. forgive me.
part one | part two | part three
When she opens the door, the TARDIS is silent. He's there, she knows he's there; she can feel his presence, his mind, low and trembling waves. It sets her on edge immediately, and she closes the door behind her and quickly sends them into the vortex.
She turns; he's at the bottom of the stairs, braces undone, shirt sleeves rolled up, frowning. "How did you get here?"
"You picked me up."
"No I didn't."
He looks confused. Almost disappointed. His usual grin and excitement are absent, and his apathy makes her cold. She tries not to flinch. "Then how--”
He waves her off. “TARDIS must have done it on her own. And since you’re here...”
Skipping up the steps, he slings his arms back into his braces and flicks a few switches on the console for show. It’s a familiar gesture, but there’s something missing - a spark, a light, whatever it is that makes his skin hum and his mouth twitch, like he’s always smiling. She watches him intently, but his demeanour doesn’t change, and even though it’s slight and even though he lies so well, she knows.
There’s something missing.
"Where to? Time Lady’s choice.”
She narrows her eyes. "You never let me choose. What's going on?"
"What? I can't take a ride in the passenger seat?”
"You can, but you never do."
He shrugs, forcing a too-wide smile. "Thought I'd give it a go. Pick a place, any place. Wardrobe’s down the hall if you need a change; you know the drill."
She opens her mouth to protest, but he's already disappearing back underneath the console. River waits a moment, and when he doesn't return, slips away.
His voice filters down the hall long before he appears in the doorway. "What's taking so long? I know the wardrobe is extensive, every period imaginable on every planet, it's all quite entertaining but usually she at least narrows down the selection so it shouldn't take this long to--" He halts in the doorway and frowns. She’s still in her her prison clothes, even her shoes. She’s holding a brown dress in her hands absently, like she’s forgotten it’s there. "You haven't changed. Why haven't you changed? Don't tell me you can't find anything, I know you're particular but--"
"I should go back."
He blinks. "Go back?"
She turns to face him. "To Stormcage. This isn't our usual time, and the guards--"
The Doctor waves his hand absently. "They'll get used to you coming and going at all hours."
He grins smugly. "Spoilers."
“Oh.” Instead of her usual annoyed, yet bemused reaction, River only nods. "Well. Regardless." She shakes her head, setting the dress aside. "You're busy."
There's a pause. The Doctor looks around pointedly, raising and dropping his arms to his sides. "Do I look busy?"
"If there's somewhere else you'd rather be or something you'd rather be doing--"
"--you don't need to feel obligated to chauffeur me around--"
He wrinkles his nose. " 'Chauffeur' ?"
"You know what I mean."
"I don't, actually," he says, a bit too harshly, and River folds her arms across her chest. She hasn't moved, and the space between them makes no sense. Even young, she's always close, unrepentant in her violation of his personal space. He's grown used to it, enjoys it, even, and it makes her distance now stark and unsettling.
"Look, I'm only saying I can go, it's fine. You didn't intend to come here anyway, so I understand if you--"
"Oh, stop it, you're being ridiculous; of course I want--"
"Don't patronise me, Doctor," she snaps, "You're obviously not in the mood to entertain so why don't you just say so?"
Direct, uncompromising. So very different from her mother's patient questioning. She stares at him like she's waiting for something, holding her breath, but for the life of him he doesn't know what. What she's missing. What she needs.
Finally he sighs and scratches the back of his head nervously. "Trust you to make it so simple."
"What's complicated about it?"
He doesn't reply. "Do you want to go back to--"
"Do you want me to go back?"
He hesitates, thrown by the question, its implications, the naked longing in her eyes that disappears faster than she blinks, replaced by a cold, placid expression he's never seen on her before and never wants to see again. Grabbing her bag from the couch, she pushes past him toward the door with barely a nod.
"No," he says, the vocal equivalent of his hand on her arm. He doesn't touch her, though. This young, he rarely does.
"I don't want you to go.”
Surprise. It's gone so fast he almost misses it, but it was there, painful in its simplicity and even worse for the feeling it festers in his stomach; failure. Shaking it off, he smiles self-deprecatingly. "The TARDIS has this wonderfully frustrating habit of taking me where I need to go, even if it isn't someplace I necessarily want to go."
River inhales sharply, visibly hurt, and squeezes her eyes shut. "For god's sake, Doctor, just tell me if you don't want me--" Her throat catches, she falters, and his eyes widen in sudden understanding. She clears her throat quickly and continues, "want me here. Don’t want me here."
He wonders if he’ll ever do anything besides hurt her.
"That's not what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?" He would have thought she was cross, if not for the audible tremor in her voice, and he struggles for an answer, an explanation, a way to tell her everything while revealing nothing.
He goes with the first thing that comes into his head:
At her confusion, he seizes on the idea. "It's like a kid being forced to eat his vegetables."
River arches an eyebrow. "Vegetables," she repeats. "Are you calling me a--"
"No, no, not like that, it's like…" He paces away from her, scratching the back of his head. "Every kid at the dinner table with a plate of-of-of broccoli or-or-or… carrots or brussels sprouts--" He cringes in disgust. "No matter how good they are for him or how strong they make him, he doesn't want to eat them 'cause they're, you know, vegetables, and they're all green and leafy and tall and frustratingly beautiful and no matter how hard you run away from them they're always there and you always want to go to them but they could get hurt, and they have been hurt, but they're so…new and-and-and wonderful and…scary…" He exhales sharply. "...scary vegetables."
He chances a look at her face, smiling briefly at the intense, confounded expression. The way her nose crinkles, her eyes narrow; the way he can almost see the time energy hovering above her skin. She's beautiful and graceful and young and he is so, so much none of those things. He's not sure he ever was.
Moving to the long sofa against the far wall, he sits down heavily and folds his hands together over his knees, staring at the floor. There's silence, then he feels the couch dip next to him. The distance is still there, but it’s smaller now, lighter, and he can tell by the way her hands flutter that she wants to touch him. He knows now why she doesn't. "I am so old, River,” he murmurs, “I'm so old, and I've done so many things…"
"Did something happen?" she asks, her voice an almost-substitute for a caress.
"I don't-- I just, assumed, since you were upset before I got here that something…" She shakes her head and sits up straighter. "I mean, you don't have to tell me."
"I'm fine," he assures her.
She nods. "You're always fine."
Time lord code, he thinks bitterly. Instead he asks, "Where are we, for you?" She allows the change in subject.
"Got back from Tyros yesterday. Before that was the Hanging Gardens, and before that was prison. Not mine.” He raises an eyebrow in question, but she only smirks. “You?"
"I...I haven't done the last one," he admits. "And Tyros was a while ago."
She studies him quietly for a moment. "You ran."
He glances over at her. "I always run."
"Whatever happened to Rule Seven?"
"You remember that?"
"I wrote them down."
He smiles. "'Course you did."
She says nothing after that, studying a scuff mark on the floor with disproportionate intensity. He takes the opportunity to study her, the way her hair falls across her cheek, the slope of her shoulder, the veins of her hands. Physically she’s the same as he remembers, same as the woman who whispered his name and dove from a ship and stole his hearts though she knew she already had them. She looks the same, and he has to remind himself again and again that she isn’t there, not yet. She can’t read him the same way yet; doesn’t know that one day she’ll be able to simply look at him and know; that she’ll have an answer for every question and a salve for every wound. And it terrifies him that maybe he won’t teach her; that the young woman before him will remain guarded and he’ll remain scared and they’ll never learn about each other the way they need to. The way he needs right now.
But then she turns, fixing him with a steady look. "You can tell me if you want, you know," she says eventually. "If something's happened.” She’s guessing, he knows, but it’s a good guess. A perfect guess. “Not like I have any place to judge, at least, and I…" She abandons the sentence and shrugs.
"What?" he coaxes, curious but also wary, careful of her mind and hearts. Young, he thinks, watching the way her fingers wring together nervously, the way she chews on the inside of her lower lip. But she’s calm, steady; bitter still, he knows, and broken, but no longer volatile. Not quite as afraid. Young and old, he thinks to himself. Just like you.
"I didn't really have anyone to talk to, growing up,” she says, deceptively casual. “Amy and Rory, of course, but they weren't…” She lifts one shoulder. “I didn't want to scare them. I imagine it's the same for you sometimes. Keeping things quiet to protect them from yourself.” A knowing glance: “And, to protect yourself, too."
He shuts his eyes - "There's a lot you don't know, River." - and when he reopens them she’s staring at him, warm and assuredly.
"You can't scare me," she declares, with a conviction that makes his bones ache. "I know what you've done. I know quite well what you're capable of, I've lived through it. And I'm still here.”
"Yes, you are. River…" He doesn't want to know, but he can't stop himself from asking. "Why?"
The simplest thing: "Because I killed you and you still cared. You tried to protect me."
"You tried. You never gave up. The universe can believe what it'd like about you, but you try to be good. You try so hard."
"It's not always the thought that counts, River," he reminds her, unable to keep the bitter memories from scarring his tone. But River only shakes her head and leans back into the cushions, staring straight ahead.
"Before I regenerated into "Mels", I was living on the streets in New York. Alone, barely a child." An imperceptible shudder crawls over her skin, and she turns to face him. "Do you have any idea how many people passed me by? How many people saw me on the streets and kept walking, or looked away, or pretended they hadn't seen anything? Up until Berlin, I thought you were one of them. Just another soldier."
Guilt presses his shoulders into his frame, but she moves, catching his gaze, forcing her sincerity upon him whether he wants it or not. Whether or not he deserves it. "But you aren't,” she murmurs, a promise. “You would have seen me. You would have helped. You'd have tried. I know that now.” Not just a thought, or an understanding, he knows, but a belief, stronger than faith, and so much more than hope. He doesn’t think there’s a thing he could do in this life or his next to convince her otherwise. “What more can any of us ask for? Than to have one person in our lives who won't give up, no matter what?"
Despite himself, he smiles. "Like your parents."
"You inspired them more than you know."
"I can't take all the credit."
He moves, capturing her lips with his, his hand curled around her jaw, gentle but firm as he holds her to him, coaxing, grateful. Her words echo, somehow louder, clearer, more alive than the words in his own head; the guilt and hate and grief bowing out, just for a moment, to make room for her love.
She waits for him to end the kiss, then pulls back slightly, just enough to see his face. "What was that for?"
"Have I ever told you you're amazing?"
She smiles, a real, almost shy smile, and places a hand on his knee.
"You're amazing," he murmurs.
"So are you, Doctor."
He thinks, maybe, coming from her, he might someday believe it.
He kisses her again, a quick press of lips, then sits back, gripping her hand. "So. What do you think? New Himalayan Mountains? Old Dorchester? The Isle of Proo is lovely this time of year -- well, actually it smells like sewer and half the people are cannibals, but if you can get past that part it’s really an enjoyable isle-planet."
River chuckles, leaning back into the sofa and he follows instinctively, resting his head just under her shoulder. With her free hand, she runs her fingers through his hair. It’s so familiar to him that it takes a moment to register that it can’t be for her; her fingers stutter lightly, unsure, and he loves her all the more for her bravado. "We could stay here if you like."
"And do what?"
"I don't know. Talk?" He stares up at her quizzically for a long moment, then laughs. She joins him, brightened by the sound, and slaps his shoulder. "Oh, shut up."
She rolls her eyes. "Don't tempt me,” she mutters. “I just mean, we don't always have to go adventuring if you're not feeling up to it."
Wiggling down to get more comfortable, the Doctor lets out an indignant huff. "Oi! I am always up for adventuring. Adventuring's my middle name."
She pats her thumb against the side of his hand. "Yes, you look positively overwhelmed with anticipation."
"I will be," he insists. "Your shoulder is just…really, really comfortable."
She suppresses a laugh. "That's not my shoulder, sweetie."
Muffled: "Shut up."
Without warning he turns, grips her by the waist and drags her under him, half off the couch, stayed by his body pressing firmly against hers. "Doctor!" She laughs, squirming, and the sound is prettier than any song, any melody. He kisses her again, letting the sound melt into his skin. Her hands find purchase at his back, holding him close, kissing him back with a tenderness that leaves him breathless.
Just as suddenly he jumps up, grabbing her hand and tugging her to her feet toward the door. "Asro! That's where we're going. You'll love it; they've got caves and shops and shops in caves and-- Wait." He stops halfway down the hall and takes in her appearance. "You can't wear that, we'll get exiled."
"Quick, quick go change, the TARDIS will show you what you need." He gives her a shove in the direction of the wardrobe, grinning as she stumbles before righting herself. She grumbles under her breath, but follows his direction, halfway back before he calls her name. She turns, surprised to see him still standing there, staring at his shoes. His giddy, childlike enthusiasm has been abruptly replaced by quiet conviction, and a hint of desperation. Soft but firm, he meets her gaze: "You are the furthest thing in the universe from an obligation."
She stares, speechless. He nods once, then fidgets, then clears his throat and turns around the corner back to the control room.
It's where she finds him ten minutes later, leaning against the console, unfocused. She approaches quietly, cautiously, and places a hand on his arm.
"It was a family on Truss," he offers finally. "The father died. I couldn't save him."
She nods, squeezing his arm. "What was his name?"
He looks at her, shocked for a moment. But she knows. Of course, she knows. "Randin. His name was Randin."
"I'm sorry," she murmurs, giving him another minute of silence. Then she bumps her hip against his and tugs at his arm. "Come on. I've heard there's a row of shops on this planet that sell nothing but braces and scarves in a variety of materials and colours."
"Ooh, do you think they'll have a fish one? I've always wanted one with fish." He opens the door for her. "Good memories, that."
He grins hugely. "Spoilers."