The Winning and Losing Game
River Song loved the Doctor for as long as she remembered. When she was a child, he was a friend who could take her big places, but come puberty, she realized that he was a man and she was a woman (a girl really, but she was thirteen and at thirteen, all girls think themselves women) and developed a smoldering crush on him. By fifteen, he was well aware of this affection but whenever she tried to flirt or get anything more than a hug, he would pull away, smiling gently, almost paternally, and say to her,
"River, you're much too young."
Each year that passed made her want him more and more. He was her best friend, the man she loved, (even if it wasn't proper love yet, but she didn't know that) and she wanted him to love her the way she loved him. At sixteen, she tried to turn her birthday kiss on the cheek into a kiss on the mouth, but he caught on and pulled away. After her party, her mother gave her a talk about the Doctor.
"River, I know that you love him; he's a wonderful man and impossible not to love. But you're sixteen and he's over nine-hundred years old!"
"I'm not a little girl anymore, Mum!"
But you are, Amy thought. Every sixteen-year-old claimed they were an adult. She knew from experience that adulthood was not a number, it was not an age. She also knew that Rory and the Doctor had discussed when River would be allowed to begin a relationship with the Doctor, as they both knew that it was inevitable.
"I want her to date other boys," Rory explained. "I know that she's going to marry you one day, but she needs to learn about dating from humans."
The Doctor nodded in agreement, "She let it slip in the future that once we started dating, she never wanted to go back. And I want her to have those teenage dreams, being young and in love, even if you don't know what love is."
They set an age together, each writing it down as proof to the other, should timelines cross. The Doctor wrote his number in Gallifreyan, so he'd be able to know that it was from him.
Despite her burning wish that the Doctor would love her the way she loved him, River did date. She was quite popular with the boys, being confident and clever. She wasn't picky either—not to say that she didn't have standards—but she didn't discriminate. Over the years she dated various species, driving Rory to keep his Centurion sword in the umbrella stand. He took to sharpening it on the front steps when boys brought her home.
After each date, Amy would say,
"He seemed like a nice boy, River. Are you going to see him again?"
And though she would sometimes date them for a week, a month, one for half a year, inevitably Amy would ask the traditional post-date question and would be met with,
"He's nice Mum, but he's just not who I'm looking for."
She had fun though. She dated Judoon, an android (who was totally rubbish), a vespiform (whom Amy didn't like much), a handful of humans, a six-armed Cregion (who Rory literally stopped at the door and threatened at sword-point, reminding him to keep all of his hands to himself), and once, when she was being particularly rebellious and had just turned twenty, a Nestene duplicate with swappable heads (which drove Amy and Rory to spend a particularly long night waiting up for her, drinking gin and trading stories). There were others, but they were nothing compared to the Time Lord. She had her heart broken a few times, but underneath the pain was a burning love for her Doctor, and a hope that one day he could love her back.
Breaking up with the Nestene duplicate wasn't hard; the swappable head thing got old quickly and she had only really been dating him to prove to her father that she could date whomever she pleased. She came home to find her parents sitting on the couch waiting up (as usual) and she hung up her coat, clunking up the stairs in her heeled boots.
Rory turned to his wife,
"Well thank goodness that's the end of that, then."
River, despite her rebellious streak, really was a Daddy's girl at heart, and her father knew her better than she liked to admit. Both her parents knew her better than she would have liked to admit. This was aptly demonstrated as Amy kissed Rory's cheek, walking up the stairs without explanation. They both knew where she was going, so Rory turned off the telly, climbed the stairs, and went to bed.
Amy knocked on River's door, softly so as not to wake anyone.
"Come in," her daughter called softly. As Amy entered the room, River was cleaning off her make-up in front of the mirror. Streaks of black mascara on two make-up removal pads showed that she'd been at it for a bit already. Amy didn't bother to sigh or shake her head; River was beautiful, but she was also twenty years old and still trying to be pretty enough.
"How did it go?"
River sighed, wiping the last traces of make-up from her face.
"He wasn't anybody worthwhile, Mum. You were right about him."
"River, I didn't say a word about him."
"No, but I know you didn't like him."
"He wasn't good enough for you, honey. And you're father's relieved that you're not out with him anymore; you nearly gave the man a heart attack. I think he might have even liked the Nestene fellow—"
"His name was Jayke, Mum."
"Jayke then; he liked Jayke even less than the boy with the six arms."
"Orron? Yeah, he wasn't really as great as I thought."
"Live and learn," Amy shrugged. She kissed her daughter's forehead. "Your dad and I are going to bed. And don't worry so much, River. There's someone out there for you."
River sighed and nodded, sliding off her dress as she fished her pajamas from under her pillow.
She was twenty-one and on the phone with another young man. This one was human, three years in her senior, and a Time Agent. It was as they were making plans that she heard a very distinct, very familiar noise. The Tardis engines made that wheezing noise that she had once remarked sounded like he had left the parking brakes on. He hadn't of course, all Tardises made that noise, but she remembered thinking it.
"Tommy, I know it's last minute, but how about right now?"
"Now?" She could hear the grin in his voice.
"Yeah, why not? I'm not doing anything. We can play billiards in the basement."
He chuckled, low and amused.
"Play billiards? I'll be right over."
She knew very well that he thought that billiards was innuendo for something else. And though she had done it before, she had absolutely no problem letting him think that. After all, she was planning to break up with him anyhow, and she figured that since the Doctor was here, she would use this last meeting with Tommy to try once more to get the Doctor to look at her as a child.
The Doctor landed his Tardis in her back garden. He saw her in the wrong order all the time, so he always checked her age. The year on the console told him that she was twenty-one. He shuddered, remembering how difficult nineteen and twenty had been; she really was a woman, young though she was, and resisting her was very difficult at this stage. But he and Rory had agreed on an age and they were sticking to their guns (or rather their sword and sonic screwdriver, respectively.) He rolled his shoulders, reminding himself that she was still very young and he was not to be swayed by her attempts to flirt with him. The River he loved was older than her, but this River had the same way of making his bones hum pleasantly and the Time Lord part of his brain scream that this was the only suitable mate for him IN THE UNIVERSE. So naturally it was a bit difficult to resist her. Odd though, she hadn't come out of the house. Maybe she wasn't home? He scanned the area for life forms. No Ponds except for River and…there was someone else in the house with her, in the basement. Shrugging, he exited his Tardis and walked towards the house, letting himself in.
He arrived quickly and she set up the billiard balls into the pyramid, tossing him a stick. She carefully chalked the tip, allowing Tardis-blue chalk to dust her fingers. They strung and River won, smiling triumphantly as she began to set up her first shot, effectively splitting the balls, dropping one neatly into the corner pocket.
"You know," Tommy said, waiting for her to finish, "When you said you wanted to play billiards in your basement, this is not what I thought you were talking about."
She could hear the Doctor opening the back door, calling out her name. Tommy didn't appear to hear it, but then again, he wasn't part Time Lord.
"What did you think I meant?" she asked, giving him a slow, encouraging smile. He smiled back, certain that he knew exactly what was going on.
"Oh…just that I'd be doing more of the shooting in this game…"
"And what would I be doing?" she asked, missing on purpose to allow him his turn. He didn't notice that she had faked an error, and instead lined up for a middle-pocket shot. Chuckling, he lined up his shot, sliding the cue back and forth between his fingers, making sure the shot was good. It wasn't, he was off by about six degrees, but he couldn't see that the way she could. He shot and the ball clacked against the edge of the table, missing the pocket and bouncing to the upmost left corner of the table. He set down his pool cue and slowly sauntered up to River, giving her a confident 'I know you want me' smile that she had used before and would again.
"I don't know…what if I shot and you…made sure the cue was chalked properly."
She set down her pool cue, allowing Tommy to back her up against the wall. His body pressed against hers, muscular enough to be attractive without looking absurd, and he slipped his hands up her shirt casually. She didn't mind; she'd let him do it before.
"I don't know if I'm qualified for that sort of work," she whispered, making sure it was clear that she was undressing him with her eyes. He pressed against her harder and she shivered a little, imagining that it wasn't Tommy at all, that it was someone else…the idea made her blood sing and her heart race. She slipped her fingers into his front trouser pocket, just enough to get a hold of his trousers; she didn't want to start anything she wasn't prepared to finish.
They kissed and she liked it well enough, but she was mostly listening to the soft footsteps on the stairs…
He walked down the stairs leisurely; River had once gotten very angry at him for making too much noise while she was playing billiards. Apparently he had thrown off the most important shot of the game. So since then he'd made a note to be extra careful when coming down the cellar stairs. He looked around, seeing the half-played pool game and then…there was a boy, young and with light-brown hair. His hands were up River's blouse and she was making soft little pleasure noises in her throat. Their mouths were together…her eyes were closed and she seemed to be enjoying herself.
He could feel a burning inside of his belly; this was his wife! Well…his future-wife, but nobody deserves to see their significant other snogging someone against a wall. It's just not an image most spouses would choose to watch. And despite the fact that she was young, so young, still growing, this wasn't something he was prepared to tolerate. Putting on his 'Oncoming Storm' voice, he said in a soft, dangerous voice that carried well in the cool basement,
"I think that's quite enough."
Tommy paused, turned his head to look, leaving his hands inside of River's shirt. She opened her eyes and had the grace to blush. Even if this was what she wanted, the Doctor was still seeing her with some boy's hands up her top.
"Who're you then?" the Time Agent demanded.
"I think a better question is who are you?" the Doctor asked and his voice was a whisper. Tommy couldn't quite work out what it was about the whisper that scared him, but it did a bit.
"Tommy Yates, Time Agent. Now who the hell are you?"
"Family friend—best friend actually; now, Tommy Yates, Time Agent, I suggest that you remove your hands from Miss Song and go up these stairs and out the door."
"Who do you think you are, going around, telling me what to do?"
"I think you'd better go," River told him, "Really, Mum and Dad will be home soon anyhow. Let's not get you into trouble."
"I'll ring you later," Tommy told her, shooting the Doctor a defiant glance as he gave River a quick, deep kiss. After finishing that, he bolted up the stairs. And it was the two of them alone in the cellar.
River spoke first, straightening her top and picking up her pool cue. She leaned over the table and made a decent shot. She was aware that her top was showing him a good amount of her chest and she didn't care.
"So, what brings you here?" she asked in an attempt to appear cavalier about what he had just witnessed.
"You, actually. I'm here for a visit." His voice was cooler than usual and her heart sank; she hadn't made him jealous, only made him see her as an immature girl. Again.
"Do you do that often? Snog young men against your basement wall?"
River didn't smile, but she wanted to. Shrugging, she avoided eye contact and made another shot, missing it.
"It's my basement, Doctor. I'm an adult; I can do anything I like and my father can't say a thing about it. As it happens, I rather like Tommy and I like snogging so the combination is often enjoyable." She missed another shot; she was too nervous to shoot straight.
"I suppose he can't," the Doctor replied, sounding strained. She risked a glance at his face and it was stony, but cracking, trying to conceal an emotion. Jealousy? She hoped so. Missing another shot, she set the cue on the table and perched herself on the edge, facing the Doctor.
"Do you have a problem with me snogging men against my basement wall, Doctor?"
How did he answer a question like that? No meant that he didn't care, which he did. However, saying yes that he did bloody mind her snogging men ANYWHERE wasn't exactly where he wanted to go with this conversation. She was young yes…but not so young anymore. She was a woman. And he loved her, had loved her for years now. And he wanted to be the one snogging her against a wall, the one running his fingers though her wild golden hair, the one recreating those soft little pleasure noises in the back of her throat.
He couldn't say either answer, so he made the absolutely moronic decision of trying to talk his way out of the question. Which never worked. But he tried it anyway. Because he's the Doctor.
"Well River, you're a beautiful woman and you're free to snog whoever you like, but I've known you your whole life and it's not really very pleasant to walk in on that. Not that walking in on snogging is ever pleasant, but this was particularly unpleasant because it was you, understand? I've known you since you were a baby. I know you in the future. Watching that wasn't exactly the high point of my day, River."
He had somehow managed to botch what he wanted to say—big shocker there. But River was smiling, her eyes twinkling with affection and amusement.
"What if it wasn't just any old guy?" she asked, listening to him ramble. He was attracted to her.
"I beg your pardon?" He replied, looking surprised.
"What if I wasn't snogging just any old guy? What if it was someone special? Would you be all right with it then?"
No he would bloody not 'be all right with it then.'
The Doctor swallowed and River watched his discomfort with great amusement. He genuinely had no idea what to say. She slid off the table and walked up to him, standing toe-to-toe with her mentor, her friend, the absurd man she had loved as long as she could remember.
"Cat got your tongue, Doctor?"
She was doing that flirting thing again…that wasn't good, she needed to stop doing the flirting thing. She wasn't so young anymore and she had that same look in her eye as his River, as his wife. He knew this expression, knew exactly what she wanted. But the number on the paper in his pocket clearly read twenty-two. She had another six months to go. He couldn't allow this to happen right now…but his arms weren't responding. His legs weren't responding. Nothing was working. She was beautiful and young and passionate. She was his River, just not done yet. He loved her. In the name of Rassilon himself, he loved her. Always had. Always would.
She was standing on her tip-toes now, looking into his eyes with hers, so clear and affectionate, a hint of worry in them. She was afraid that he wouldn't respond and she hovered there, millimeters from his mouth, for a moment, searching his eyes.
His eyes, dark and affectionate, held something that River; didn't understand yet, an expression she had not learned. For a moment that felt like an eternity, she stood there, her mouth so close to his that she could almost feel his lips on hers. Something in his gaze changed and ever-so-gently, he placed his hands on her waist, feather-light but in exactly the right place, and he brushed his lips against hers.
Everything that she had dreamed about kisses came true then and there. In the Doctor's simple kiss, without a slip of tongue or a hungry undertone that the men she kissed seem to have, she found what she was looking for. He wasn't asking for anything, only giving. They kissed carefully, and the Doctor broke it, gently tucking a golden curl behind her ear.
"Your parents are home," he said softly. It wasn't exactly what she'd been hoping he'd say. "We'd better go upstairs."
"But—" River began, and the Doctor smiled gently at her, full of love—not brotherly or paternal but actual romantic love—and chuckled softly.
"Give it time, River Song. You might be surprised what comes of it."
He went upstairs, calling the names of the Ponds, greeting them in that enthusiastically friendly way that he had.
River sat on the basement stairs for a while, feeling holding her hand over her mouth to keep the taste of him on her lips, to remember the way it felt when he kissed her. She sat there for a long while, feeling something inside her burn brightly, whispering,
This is right.
The title of this fic actually refers to an old name for billiards. And I thought it apt, given that there was some winning and some losing going on in this fic, wouldn't you agree? I don't know if this fits in with my story at all, it might it might not. I'm still working out the plot for the next chapter of Time Tots, so bear with me. I wrote this because I needed to write and because I haven't worked out what brilliant thing is going to happen in my other story. I hope you enjoyed it!