The Best-Laid Plans
"You did that on purpose."
"Did what?" The look of studied innocence was even more beguiling than he remembered. She must have been practising.
"You know what. The emperor. Your lipstick, his lips." He sighed. "Tell me, were you actually listening to the plan back in there?"
"Difficult to say. Did you actually cover the middle bit, the out-of-the-cell-but-not-the-palace bit, or did I drift off?"
"If you weren't going to follow it, you should have said. Could have done something else all yesterday."
"But you were drawing diagrams, and everything. It made you look so happy."
Silence, of the resounding kind that only wilderness can manage. The Doctor cleared his throat.
"Didn't even need to wear it. Hallucinogenic lipstick absorbs through the skin, you could always have - smeared it over him." He cut his stride short to face her, eyes narrowed against the sunlight. "You just wanted to kiss him."
"And why would I want that?"
"Oh, I don't know. Because- you were bored. Because you're waiting for the next me to come along. Because somehow, today, you fancied bringing down a whole government with one measly kiss."
"All perfectly good reasons, dear, but don't you think the fact that he would have shot you otherwise deserves a mention?"
"I. Was. Dealing with i-" The final consonant never arrived, because at that moment the layer of shifting sand beneath their feet evolved from a gentle slide into an avalanche, and the dune's face crumpled. Without a means to break his fall the Doctor attempted to go down knees first, River right behind him in a whirl of dust and boots, her cry of surprise obscured by the cascade's tidal roar. Then the din subsided as the slope evened out; the world stopped its pirouetting, and there was calm.
After a minute's winded pause the Doctor looked up. Coughed. Spat out several mouthfuls of desert.
"Okay. Now I really don't get what's so great about handcuffs."
River breathed a laugh against his shoulder, huffing the curls from her face. "Oh, you'll see."
With an effort he pitched himself onto one side, until their heads were just a fraction apart, the air between them burnished and fever-bright.
"You've...still got some lipstick on your mouth."
River drew back a little so that their gazes met, making the loose sand beneath them hiss.
"Mmm. S'for an emergency." Her eyes smiled; her mouth, with its thin coat of delusion, gave a half-shrug. "Well, you never know."