River comes to seek her husband after Asgard; hot chocolate and marshmallows ensue. (River once had a picnic at Asgard with the Tenth Doctor, for those of you who didn't know.) This is quite a short and sweet chapter, but I hope you enjoy it all the same.
The co-ordinates popped up on the psychic paper, as was now tradition. The Doctor flew around the console with an irrepressible smile on his face as he always did, and the engines had barely ground to a halt when the door clicked open.
He didn't notice the positively ferocious expression on her face until it was a little too late.
River slammed the door shut behind her with such force that the walls shivered. She whipped up a finger in warning, eyes blazing. "Never, ever greet me with that."
Instantaneously he realised his mistake, and loathed himself for it. "It's just a figure of speech-"
"Yes, and one day it won't be. One day you'll mean it." She ripped her coat off, flinging it over the banister. "I know. Spoilers."
She spat the word he'd heard her sing so many times, and it was odd how much his eyes had been opened to what her life really was. He sort of marvelled at her for all those times when he was younger; teasing him with the secrecy with that glimmer in her eyes even though the hatred of it, of their backwards lives, was slowly killing her.
He knew what this sort of behaviour indicated, and almost didn't want to ask. "When?"
He thought he saw relief flood into her, just for a moment, when her eyes met his. He supposed it must have been nice to see a version of him who just knew.
She drew in a breath as if speaking it alone pained her. "Asgard."
She left him with the name knowing it would be all he'd need, brushing past to fiddle angrily with the controls. He pinched the bridge of his nose wearily. "Oh, River."
"Don't "Oh River" me. I don't need your pity."
Her chin was tilted to the ceiling, ever stoic, and he adored her for it just as he always had. He still remembered Asgard; watching her with a wary sort of intrigue as she'd set out foods he didn't even know he liked until that afternoon, that perfect pearly smile on her face and the occasional flirty quip slipping from her lips that he already knew was typical of her. She had seemed so effortlessly joyful; not just on that date but on all of them. And then she came to seek solace with this him, the one who knew her well enough just to let her be, and still insisted on an enduring façade. He suspected that it was rather difficult to switch off when she spent half of her damn life wearing it perfectly, for him.
Feeling a need to reach out to her he wrapped an arm around her tentatively, fingers splaying out in the perfect curve of her hip to pull her to him. Her hands fell away from the controls, eyes fixed on a floating invisible point inches in front of her. While she didn't exactly fall into his arms, she didn't protest either, so he felt safe enough to press a small kiss to her temple. "You're here now."
That was all he could offer her. He could have said that she was not to worry, because at this point in her life there were incredibly few meetings with his younger self left. But even the inner thought was painful enough, so he was somewhat grateful that the laws of time forbade him from ever telling her such things.
River sighed; he felt it leave her, though apparently she possessed too little energy to make it audible. "I am."
He drew his hands away from her, flicking at a few controls pointedly. "So, my dear… where in the Universe would you like to go tonight?"
She was silent next to him for long enough that he grew antsy; reeling off names of faraway places and exotic lands that he thought may succeed in enticing that anxious expression from her face.
Her hand pressing gently on his chest made his suggestions shudder to a halt. "Can I ask a favour?" He nodded earnestly. "You can say no. It's probably far too much to ask anyway-"
"River," he stopped her softly. "Anything."
She'd kicked off her heels on the way in, so she was short enough that he could have rested his chin atop her curls. He preferred her like this; it was difficult to know how to comfort someone who if hair was included equalled him in height and constantly announced her presence with ominous clacks thanks to those damn stilettos. He remembered trying them on once; while they had complimented the bow tie, the difficulty of progressing even more than a step had led to new admiration for River as well as a narrowly missed broken ankle.
Her doubtful voice snapped him from his thoughts. "You aren't going to like it."
"I'll be the one to decide that, eh?"
She sucked in a deep breath through her teeth. "Can we have a night in?"
He actually giggled, before clamping his lips together and swiftly concluding that he had been spending too long with the women in his life. Not that that was a bad thing. "A night in?"
His surprise was merely due to the fact that she'd just asked for something so wonderfully simple as if she was demanding the Eye of Harmony in a bottle (which he wouldn't necessarily have denied her). But his tone was misinterpreted before he had a chance to agree to her request.
"You know what- doesn't matter. Forget I asked, it was- silly of me." He realised that she had evidently been spending too much time with his restless and bouncy younger self who wouldn't have tolerated a cosy night in to save his life; she seemed to have forgotten this him, and that he'd happily give up days lost in the Universe to spend with her if that was what she asked of him.
She went on before he could drive a countering word in edgeways. "If you want to go somewhere that's fine, but I'm just going to stay in. I don't feel up to seeing the stars tonight." One of her hands tangled in her hair. "I don't really know why I came to you feeling like this, to be honest. Not that I have anyone else. My head's just all…"
"Oh, there's nothing worse than when your head's all." A corner of his mouth twitched upwards. "You know what fixes that? Hot chocolate and marshmallows."
She smiled up at him weakly. "How very domestic. I'll give it a try." She nodded to the controls, nudging his shoulder in a farewell gesture. "Go on, sweetie. I'll see you when you get back-"
"No, no, no. I don't think so." He caught her hand as she turned to the corridor leading off to the kitchen. "You're not authorised to make hot chocolate and marshmallows."
"I'm a professor of archaeology. I'm sure I'll be able to manage."
"Maybe you could manage a distinctly average hot chocolate. Not my variety. There's a whole different process that goes into my hot chocolates. Do you know the process?"
She rolled her eyes behind him, and he knew without even having to throw her a glance. "No," she drawled.
"Well then. Shut up."
He escorted her to the Tardis kitchen, before dropping her hand and retrieving two flowery mugs that he assumed Clara had brought aboard for one of her many failed cooking escapades. "These should do."
River still lurked hesitantly in the doorway as he bustled around, filing through the cupboards at alarming speed. "Doctor, you don't have to do this."
"Shush. Do you prefer the white, pink or blue marshmallows?"
"I don't- blue? What are the blue ones?"
"They're sort of a fizzy sherbet; they go well with the chocolate, but they're also spectacular in lemonade."
"Is there a reason they're blue?"
"I'm sure there is. And one day I'll discover it."
He heard her chuckle behind him. "I'll stick with the pink ones, I think."
They sat peacefully at the bench ten minutes later; River had been coaxed in by the sweet scent of what the Doctor insisted was the greatest hot chocolate in all the known Universe.
"So," he started, after leaving her a moment to watch her take a long sip and close her eyes with a blissful hum. "What's the verdict?"
"I did tell you." He popped a blue marshmallow into his drink, watching it bob and fizz.
"Mind you, amazing hot chocolate maker? You look like the sort who sits and whittles pencils into spears by candlelight."
"I only do that on weekends."
She chuckled warmly. "I believe you."
The kitchen was lit with no more than a dull orange glow, so he was left wondering what the shine in those eyes of hers was caused by. He'd considered various theories over the years, and had always come to the conclusion that simply she bore her own glimmer.
He remembered noticing that when he'd first met her. Noticing the deep flickers of sadness running like scars through the sparkle had come later.
"I'm sorry about Asgard," he said quietly.
Even the mention of the place made her visibly tense. She took a tentative sip from her mug. "I'm really ok not talking about it, sweetie."
"I know. Only… without all of those days, I wouldn't have come to know you as I do now. I know days like that are horrible for you, but they mean a lot to me."
"Well, that's a comfort." He was a little surprised to hear the sincerity in her voice, the same sentiment lining her smile as she reached across the table and twined her fingers through his.
If you want to see what the Doctor dreamed about during the events of Last Christmas, please feel free to visit my story "Don't Overthink It, Sweetie" - This can be classed as part of this series and would fit in around this time for the Doctor, but I've posted it separately due to its mature rating.
P.S.: (Added Boxing Day, 2015) I've decided not to post any more chapters on this fic, given that the events of the WONDERFUL Christmas Special have not only rendered it AU but given us all a hell of a lot of new writing material. Instead, I will hopefully be starting a new series soon which follows the Doctor and River's time on Darillium. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as you enjoyed this. Thank you all for your invaluable support :) xx