A Christmas Melody

"Dear Santa," the little girl began, kneeling by her small battered bed in a dingy room. "Thank you very much for the bear and the book. I know it's almost Easter, so I'm sorry for bothering you. But it's important, honest." She paused as she looked over her shoulder at a dresser covered with framed photos, most of herself but one of a ginger-haired woman holding a baby. "It's about my mum. I really want to see her. They always say if I'm good, if I do what they want, maybe I can see her. But they never let me. They say they're going to start training me in a suit tomorrow. I don't know what that is, but I'm scared. So please, please could you make it so they let me see my mum this time? Or just bring her yourself? I won't ask for anything ever again—"

"—I promise." The girl's words crackled over a speaker embedded in the TARDIS console. With his head hanging low, the Doctor reached toward it and ran his hand over around its silver edging. As soon as he figured out who River was – who Melody was—he set up ways to keep watch over her. The weight of the guilt was crushing; to know he caused this, to know he couldn't do anything to save her. So he tried to do things as he could without changing anything too much. He left gifts for her birthdays and Christmas, little things she wished for, anything to see her smile even if just for a moment. But he knew what this request meant. It was time. His lip trembling, he whispered, "You'll see her soon. I promise."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Lost Time

For Perpetually.

Rory and River entered the gate and were transported to a land of pure magic. What was usually an ordinary park had been transformed into a spectacular winter wonderland. A snow machine was off to one side of the path, adding giant drifts to the light blanket already on the ground while sculptors were on the other side, creating elaborate fantasies of ice. A line of candy-cane striped signs promising free cookies, sweets, and hot cocoa drew them into a life-sized gingerbread cottage where Santa waited to hear wishes. After the two stood on either side of the jolly old elf for a picture, River whispered her wish to Santa, causing his rosy cheeks to become even redder.

Outside, they sat on a bench with their treats watching the nearby carolers singing under the glow of Christmas lights. As the song ended, Rory handed River a small bag and said, "I—this is for you."

In the bag, she found an old stuffed bear that clearly had been very loved and repaired multiple times. The toy had numerous bald spots where the fur had been rubbed off, rough stitching along the seams, and mismatched button eyes.

"I don't even remember getting him I've had him so long," Rory said, "But every Christmas morning I'd find him under the tree, all fixed up. One year he lost an ear and I couldn't find it. Mum promised that Santa would fix him, and he did."

"Are you sure you want to give this to me?" she asked, her voice quiet and awed.

"'Course I am. You may not be so little, but you're still my little girl." He paused before he remarked, "In that strange sort of way that only happens when the Doctor is involved."

River laughed but Rory continued seriously, "You can think of Amy and me when you're in St—well, it'll remind you of us."

"I always think about you, Mum, and the Doctor," she replied, placing her hand on his. "You're my family. Always."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Paradox Bear

This story connects to Christmas Melody and Lost Time

River came out of the shop to examine the bear in the daylight. It looked like she had just purchased it though it had simply been repaired. She chose this planet and its people because they were renowned throughout the universe for their masterful tinkering abilities. With just a few scraps of an item, they could make it new again. Repairing the bear was easy for them. She had taken excellent care of it since Rory had given it to her all those years ago. But she no longer needed it; she had her pardon, she was just named the newest professor at Luna University, and it was time for the bear to both end and begin its journey.

With a crack and a flash, River appeared behind a tall man with spiky brown hair and a long coat. "Hello, sweetie."

He turned at her voice, "Ah! Professor River Song!"

River smiled at the sound of her name, ignoring the odd shadow that passed over his eyes briefly. She held the bear out toward him. "Doctor, I need you to give this to someone for me."

"'Course, but who?" he asked, accepting the toy.

"Spoilers, but you'll know when the time comes." She glanced down at her vortex manipulator but the Doctor stopped her, placing a hand on her wrist.

"River? May I ask you something?"

"Sure, sweetie," she replied, "but you know I probably can't answer."

"Time can be rewritten."

"Yes," she confirmed slowly.

"How do I know what will change things and what won't?"

"Is there something you'd like to change?"

"Well," he drew out the word as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Spoilers, as you would say. I suppose I may do something about it in my future, but then it wouldn't actually be changing anything because it's something I will have done anyway. So not sure, really."

"Follow your hearts, my love," she replied, patting his chest. "You'll know what to do." She fiddled with her vortex manipulator and with a flash, she was gone, leaving the Doctor standing there with a surprised look mouthing the words my love.

Centuries earlier in the universe's timeline, but later in the Doctor's, a blue box materialized on Christmas Eve in front of a seemingly abandoned orphanage in Florida. A man with floppy brown hair, a tweed coat, and a bow tie stepped out holding a stuffed bear and a book in his hands. Though he looked different from the man who received the bear, maybe felt a bit different too, he was still very much the same.

The Doctor tiptoed up the stairs, past the foreboding red words splashed across the wall while ignoring that all too familiar feeling that he was forgetting something important. He peeped cautiously into the only occupied room, or at least, the only one occupied by a child. It was close to midnight and the girl was fast asleep in the dingy bed. His hearts ached as he slipped the bear under her arm and placed the book on her nightstand. The girl was woken minutes later by the sound of an odd wind, and her eyes lit up at the sight of the gifts. She hurriedly looked out the window, first at the sky then at the empty yard. With a smile, she curled up under the blanket, hugging her bear as she fell back to sleep.

Decades later the girl found her way to Leadworth, looking much different but appearing to be few years younger. It was just before Christmas and the playground was covered with a muddy mush of snow and dirt. It was her first day so she mostly kept to herself until she came across a small mousy haired boy crying, his pants ripped revealing a badly skinned knee.

"Here," she said, holding her bear out to the boy. It was a demand, not an offer.

He looked at the bear then up at her tearfully. The sun was offset slightly behind her head and he couldn't quite make out her features.

"Take it, or I'll punch you."

With a shaking hand, he took the toy and hugged it close as he wiped his nose on his sleeve.

"If you ever tell anyone I gave that to you, I'll punch you." She glanced up to see a ginger-haired girl dragging a teacher their way and darted off behind the slide.

"Here he is! Here's Rory! See? He's hurt. Where'd you get the bear?"

"I don't know." He glanced at the reindeer knitted into the girl's sweater then mumbled, "Santa."

"You're weird."

He automatically nodded in agreement, staring off where his mysterious benefactor disappeared behind the slide.

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Christmas Pyjamas

This connects to the Paradox Bear stories.

It was just before midnight Christmas Eve somewhere on Earth, and River was lying on her bunk waiting for her annual big blue gift to arrive. A slow smile crept across her face as that familiar wind echoed through the curved corridor of the prison and she rose to meet her holiday guest. The TARDIS had barely materialized completely when the Doctor bounced out the door wearing bright red pyjamas with footies, a blue bow tie, and a broad grin.

"What is that ridiculous outfit?" River asked, staring at him as he used his sonic to open her cell door.

"Merry Christmas to you, too! It's Christmas morning and there are gifts to be opened! PJs are required! And these happen to be extra comfy," he remarked as he wiggled his toes in the footies. "But something seems to be missing here."

The Doctor retrieved a green paper cone from the hand warmer pocket stitched into the red flannel of his pyjamas. Pointing it toward the floor, he pulled the string on the pointy end and with a loud POP a two foot Christmas tree decorated with bow ties and a top hat appeared in the middle of the cell. "Perfect!" he exclaimed with a clap as he flopped down on the bunk.

"We aren't honestly going to spend Christmas here, are we?" River asked, settling herself next to him.

"No! Of course not," he replied, tapping her nose. "But first, I want to give you your present!" The Doctor produced a small gift from his pocket wrapped in such a way that made it painfully obvious that it was a gun. With a happy little giggle, he placed it in her hands.

She turned the package over a couple times before she asked with some disbelief, "You got me a gun?"

His face fell. "But…you haven't even opened it!"

"Lucky guess," she shrugged. She stripped the paper, revealing a small silver pistol with a smooth black grip, just the right size to tuck in a small handbag. "How thoughtful, sweetie. Surprising, but thoughtful."

"Try it, River! Shoot it!"

River glanced at the weapon in her hands. "It's not that I necessarily mind doing things that add time to my sentence, but usually they're more fun than shooting a wall."

"Do it! Go on, I promise you won't get any time added. If you won't do it, I will."

"All right, I'll try it. You don't need to be in here too, although that does open up some interesting possibilities." She raised the weapon and took careful aim at the wall directly in front of her. Bracing herself for the inevitable alarms and swarm of guards, she pulled the trigger. Instead of a blast, bubbles burst out of the barrel in every color of the rainbow, and shapes ranging from stars to hearts.

The Doctor giggled again. "See? Told you! Try again!"

River pulled the trigger again, this time releasing a flurry of miniscule clusters of bubbles that drifted gently to the ground like snowflakes. "Oh, I like that one."

"It's also got a flame setting to it, with that switch," the Doctor explained, pointing to the side of the gun. "But I like the bubbles better. So, now that you have that, we can go! But first, we need to get you out of those clothes!"

"So it's going to be that kind of Christmas, is it?" River asked silkily, tracing a finger around his bow tie.

"I didn't mean like that! Not as though I'm saying I wouldn't like that, but I didn't mean it like that! I meant we need to get you into something more comfortable." Her grin broadened, and he babbled on. "No, but what I really mean is, you need to change into your favorite Christmassy Morningy pjs, so we can go to Amy and Rory's for Christmassy Morningy stuff."

"Oh, all right. Turn around while I change," she winked at him. "Or not, if you like."

The Doctor looked away as she went to her wardrobe. Something inside him stirred, warmth spreading through him. It grew stronger until he almost had to look. But something equally as strong was preventing him. She invited him to, he tried to reason with himself. But should he? Just as he had decided to turn, River said, "Okay, I'm ready."

He turned to see her in a slinky little black slip with pink flowery edging. "River! You can't wear that to your parents' house for Christmas! You have to at least put on a robe or—or something!"

"I will not," she replied stubbornly. "You said my favorite. This is my favorite."

After pressing the point but ultimately losing the robe battle, they returned to the TARDIS where the Doctor also lost the right to fly it to the Ponds' home. "I really don't know where you get the idea that you're better than me at flying her," the Doctor grumbled sulkily.

"Because I just am." She grinned at him, not looking as she pushed the final button that landed them silently in her parents' backyard.

A gentle dusting of snow flurries were drifting to the ground as they exited the TARDIS. The Doctor's entire face lit up like a small child having their every wish granted. He spun around the yard with abandon, his head back toward the sky and his mouth open, catching the crystalline treats on his tongue. River simply leaned against the TARDIS and watched him. This man, this impossible man, so filled with pain and guilt, witness to so much suffering, could still positively burst with the giddiness of a child. And she loved him for it.

When the Doctor was nearly ready to fall over from dizziness, he started to stumble toward the porch. He made sure to quietly open the lock with his sonic and pushed the door open, being as noiseless as possible. Once inside, however, all attempts at being silent were pushed aside by his complete excitement. He bounded up the stairs, taking them two at a time before River hushed him.

"Shh, sweetie, they're probably still asleep."

"I know, that's why we need to wake them by jumping on their bed."

"Jump—what? Doctor, really. Small children wake their parents that way. We're adults, we should act like it."

The Doctor stopped suddenly at the top of the stairs and turned to look down at River. "Oh, you really don't want to do that."


"Act like an adult," he winked. "No fun at all."

The Doctor burst into Amy and Rory's room without even knocking. "Happy Christmas!" he exclaimed as he bounced up on the foot of the bed and began jumping. River stood near the door, her arms crossed, torn between embarrassment and amusement.

Rory was first to sit up, rubbing his eyes. "It's 4 in the morning, it's not Christmas yet."

"Sure it is! Get up! Get up! There are presents! Put your robes on, let's go!"

Amy reached for her silk robe but Rory glanced at River then turned back to the Doctor. "You let her come in that? Why isn't she wearing a robe?"

The Doctor glanced at River and turned back to Rory. "I tried," he mouthed, shaking his head. "Did not go well."

"I'm not—" Rory began before Amy interrupted him.

"Stop arguing you two and come on, I want to open presents. And Rory, you better have gotten me something like what the Doctor gave River."

"What?" the Doctor and Rory asked in unison.

"The nightie, of course," Amy replied.

Both Rory and the Doctor babbled over each other, objecting emphatically. It was impossible to make out what they were saying over each other. Rory was going on about how could she possibly even think about wanting that when River's their daughter and the Doctor babbling on that he didn't actually get it for her.

When they finally stopped carrying on, River winked at the Doctor and asked, "Are you sure you don't get it for me?"

The Doctor blushed and looked quickly around the room for a distraction. He grabbed the Roman helmet from the night table and jammed it on Rory's head. "Okay, we're all fine. Presents now, let's go!"

Downstairs they all exchanged gifts. Amy got her usual overabundance of clothes and Rory received accessories for his beloved car. The Doctor was overenthusiastic as he ripped the paper from River's gift; a grey felt fedora with a deep blue band. The hat was shorter lived than usual, being consumed by sparks like a sparkler as soon as he placed it on his head and leaving his hair slightly singed. River leaned over with a loving pat on his cheek, whispering assurances to him that she'd have something better for him later.

After all the gifts had been opened and paper was strewn across the floor, Rory moved over to sit next to River. "I think there's one more, way in the back under the tree."

With a quizzical glance at Rory, River went to the tree and kneeled by its base. Peeking out from behind the trunk as if it were trying to hide was a stuffed bear. She retrieved the toy, examining it with an expression of surprise and awe. "But how? I left this in—"

"Just a little Christmas magic," Rory replied.

"No, no. It's more than that. I just…thank you. Again." River gave Rory a hug and kissed his cheek.

The Doctor just shrugged at Amy, "Father daughter thing, I suppose."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Rory and the Mistletoe

Rory tried to slip the package in the trolley without his mother noticing. But mothers have a special talent for noticing everything, especially the things their children don't want them to.

"Rory, what's that?"

"Er, it's just a Christmas decoration. For Christmas," he replied, shifting from one foot to the other nervously.

She reached in and retrieved the small package. "Mistletoe? You're getting this for Amy, aren't you? Oh, just look at my sweet baby boy," she beamed at him. "All grown up and wanting a little peck from his girlfriend under the mistletoe."

"Muuu-uum! It isn't like that, really! She's not my girlfriend! We're just friends, how many times do I have to tell you?"

"Whatever you say, sweetie," she replied, tossing the package back into the trolley.

Rory stood back to admire his handiwork in the entryway. The sprig was hanging at just the right height; not so low to be obvious but not too high to be unnoticeable. He jumped at the loud knock on the door and hastily positioned himself beneath the mistletoe before shouting, "Come in!"

Amy burst through the door and immediately began rambling. "We've got loads to do! Test tomorrow! I don't know a thing about it, but I know you do so it'll be fine. And the paper! We've got to work on that. I did some research. I doubt Mels did any even with all that time in detention. Ooh, I smell hot chocolate, is your Mum making hot chocolate?" She shoved her book bag in Rory's hand and walked right past him into the kitchen.

Mels strolled in and immediately noticed the mistletoe. She gave Rory a quick peck on the cheek and said, "You're gonna have to be less subtle with her than that." With a wink, she handed her bag to him and followed Amy into the kitchen.

Rory glanced up at the mistletoe and sighed, "Someday."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Advent Calendar

For DQBunny.

"I have something for you, sweetie," River purred into the Doctor's ear as she leaned over the back of the library sofa and placed a flat box in his lap.

The Doctor was momentarily excited until he examined the box more closely and saw 24 numbered rectangles. "A calendar? River, you know I hate calendars! Or do you? Spoilers? But anyway, I do because they're just so—so linear!"

"This is a special calendar. It's an advent calendar," River replied. "I thought it would be fun for us to count down to Christmas."

"Oh, Christmas!" he exclaimed, jumping to his feet enthusiastically. "You want Christmas? I'll take us to Christmas! Which one—"

"I want the one that's coming up in 24 days," she interrupted. "It's fun to look forward to things."

"Is not. Waiting is never fun. How could you say waiting is fun?" The Doctor stared at her sulkily, but the combination of hopefulness and stubbornness in her eyes forced him to give in. "Okay, we'll try it your way."

River smiled brightly at him, taking the calendar and placing it on the mantle. "We'll start tomorrow."

The next morning, River woke alone. She padded softly through the corridors poking her head in rooms until she turned a corner and spotted light flooding the hall from the open library door. She entered just in time to see the Doctor pop the last piece of chocolate into his mouth. "Doctor! You're supposed to open one a day, not all in one day!"

"But the doors all had chocolates behind them! Good chocolate! What's the point of chocolate if not for eating?" He ignored her eye roll as he pressed on. "Well, we'll just get another for tomorrow! I like this one. We'll get another one just like it!"

"No, I have one in mind for you," she said with an unreadable twinkle in her eye. "I'll get it."

The Doctor was waiting in the library when River returned the next day. "What did you get? Custards of the Universe? Or a cookie calendar? Cookies would be good! Mmmm, chewy cookies, and oh, Jammie Dodgers!"

"I got you something different, and remember you only get one a day. But since we're a couple days in, you can open two doors today," she said handing him a bag with a mysterious smile.

Inside was another advent calendar with writing all over it that the Doctor recognized to be from the Planet of the Hats. "River! Really?" he squeaked in delight. Without waiting for a response, he opened the first door to reveal a small tan capsule with red tabs on each end. He yanked on the tabs harder than necessary and with a loud POP it became a full-sized floppy sombrero. With an obscenely over-excited giggle, he immediately put it on. But as he opened the second door, a flurry of ash drifted down around his head.

"River!" he yelped, frantically patting the top of his head. "My hat! What happened to it?"

"One a day, sweetie," she replied with one of her infuriatingly innocent smiles. "When you open the next door, the hat you got the previous day disintegrates. Can't really open all the doors at once, now, can you?"

"You tricked me."

River took the calendar from him and placed it on the mantle of the fireplace. "I did not. I just want to teach you a bit of patience."

Although the Doctor was sad to lose his hat each day, every morning he seemed eager to see what the calendar had in store. It produced a magnificent variety of hats including a shako, a puffy chef's hat, and even a flowery lace-edged bonnet. His pith helmet disintegrated as he opened the final door on Christmas Eve and found a small red capsule inside. He yanked the tabs and with the now familiar POP, it burst into a fez.

"A fez! I have a fez! River, look, it's a fez!"

"I can see that."

"Hah! It's Christmas Eve! No more doors!" he exclaimed, waggling his fingers at River. "I get to keep my fez! I win! The calendar can't destroy my fez!"

"No," River said, sauntering over to him, raising her arms to drape them around his neck. "But I can." With those words, she knocked the fez off his head into the fireplace behind him.

"River! How could you! I—I loved that fez!"

"I had to, sweetie, you commit enough crimes against fashion as it is," River said, tickling his chin until a smile threatened to break through. "Besides, there's always next year. You can be patient, right?"

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

O Christmas Tree

"Lighting of the universe's tallest Christmas Tree! Think of the very tallest Christmas tree you've ever seen, and then stack at least a thousand of them on top of each other," the Doctor exclaimed, spinning around the console.

River arched an eyebrow. "You're exaggerating."

"We'll see," he said with a wink and fiddled with a few more controls. With a jolt, the Doctor announced, "We're here!"

"Here?" River checked the scanner. "Doctor, we're at least 100 kilometers above the planet's surface. How are we going to see anything from here?"

He just grinned in response and practically skipped to the door. "Come take a look."

The tree was of such scale that even the most infinite of imaginations could barely begin to describe it. It appeared to stretch all the way from the planet's surface to well above where they were floating. The way the stars glittered through the gaps branches made the tree look like it was already lit. Ornaments the size of small asteroids both hung from the boughs and orbited around the massive tree.

The Doctor plopped down on the floor, letting his legs swing in open space. He patted the spot next to him and motioned for River to sit. "Wait 'till you see what's next."

River settled herself next to the Doctor and looked at him questioningly when she heard the barest hint of a tune from far below. The gentle sparkling melody curled up the Christmas tree, wrapping around like garland. Once the music was emanating from the entire tree, it swelled in a great crescendo and one of the nearby floating spheres exploded in a great shower of fireworks. One by one, each of the orbiting ornaments exploded in turn, firing out sparks in all colors that covered the entire thing with tiny glowing orbs.

River leaned into the Doctor and tugged his arm around her waist as they watched. "Best Christmas ever."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Tree Trimming

For gidget89.

The Doctor was positively bouncing with excitement. He had dragged River across space and time looking for the perfect tree before finally finding one he liked on a small snowy planet. It was similar in appearance to an Earth Fir, but its needles were much softer like giant green pipe cleaners.

"What do you think? Perfect, eh?" he asked.

"I think it's fantastic, sweetie," River replied.

"Just you wait until we've got it decorated!"

Christmas melodies played in the background as they sorted through the boxes of decorations and started adding them to the tree. River teased that the amount of lights he wanted was a fire hazard. The Doctor joked that with how little she wanted, they may as well have just left it bare. Stories were told as each ornament was hung and laughter rang out through the library. All went well until it was time to add the final touch.

River found a beautiful angel tree topper at the bottom of one of the boxes. Its porcelain face and curly hair all were exactly like a doll she'd seen in a toy store window when she was young. That doll meant more to her than anything, but she never had any chance of getting it. She turned to the Doctor who was already placing a star on the top of the tree and asked, "Can we use this instead?"

"What? But River, we have to use the star. I always use the star. It's tradition!"

"Maybe for you," River retorted. "But some people haven't had the luxury of building holiday traditions."

The Doctor's face fell at her words and he looked like he had been punched in the chest. "River… I—I'm sorry."

"No, it's fine. I—"

"Wait!" The Doctor interrupted. "I have an idea." He grabbed a handful of foil-wrapped chocolates from a bowl nearby and shoved some in River's hand. "Here, eat these. Give me the wrappers. Don't tear them!" After he had a small stack of silver sheets, he dashed from the room.

River settled herself in the comfy chair by the fire and gazed at the tree as she waited for him to return. A star wouldn't be so bad, really, she decided. It would likely be better than whatever crazy idea he had come up with. Knowing him, he probably went to get a hat.

"Close your eyes!" the Doctor shouted from the hall. She did as she was told, listening intently to the quiet footfalls that made their way to the tree. After some rustling and the tinkle of a breaking ornament, the shuffling steps moved over by her chair. He placed his hand on her arm and whispered, "All right, open your eyes."

River's eyes fluttered open and moved upwards along the branches until she saw it. Affixed to the top of the tree was the mobile from his cot, except tiny foil origami angels had been added to flutter among the dangling stars. She turned to him, but found herself suddenly unable to come up with any words at all.

"It's you and I," he said quietly, running a hand over her curls. "Our beginning and the beginning of new traditions. And I hope we make many more."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Adipose Christmas Vacation

The Doctor and River were sitting together in the TARDIS library, basking in the warmth of the fireplace and the glow from the Christmas tree. Just as he was reaching in his pocket to retrieve a small box, a rustling came from the evergreen's branches. A tiny white blob tumbled from the tree and took off running. In a blink, River produced a gun and was taking aim.

"River, no! Don't shoot!" he exclaimed, grabbing her arm. "It's just a baby! It's an Adipose!"

"What on Earth is an Adipose?" she asked, dropping her arm just as the Adipose dove head first into the pool and began doing the backstroke.

"Well, they aren't on Earth anymore," the Doctor replied, pacing along the edge of the pool, trying to head the creature off. "They have nursery planets. Earth was one, only it shouldn't have been."

"And you just had to get our tree from one of them?"

"I didn't know it was a nursery planet!" the Doctor protested. "And it is a fantastic tree, you even said so!"

Without warning, the Adipose leapt from the pool and dodged between the Doctor and River then started climbing the shelves. When it was halfway up to the very high ceiling, it lost its grip and fell with a terrified squeak. River dove and caught it just before it hit the floor. "I think," she said as she cradled the shaking creature, "we should get this little guy home."

When they opened the doors, they saw a small group of Adipose huddled around the tree stump. As soon as he saw his friends, the creature jumped from River's arms and bounded through the snow. Happy sounds of greeting filled the air as they piled on top of their newly returned friend in a group hug that resembled a living snowdrift. As they waddled toward the tree line, one stopped and gave a wave of thanks back toward the TARDIS before continuing on with the others.

"You've saved Christmas, Doctor," she observed, leaning against him.

"What? No, I haven't."

"Of course you did—for them. You reunited that Adipose with its family. Isn't that what we all want? To be with loved ones for the holidays?"

The Doctor wrapped an arm around her and hugged her tightly, "Yeah, I suppose you're right."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

The Endless Gift

The Doctor led River into the library, careful to keep her eyes covered with his hands. Once he had her in the perfect spot, he yanked his hands away and exclaimed, "Surprise!"

River's eyes fell on a giant package about the size of a fridge, standing next to the Christmas tree. It was wrapped in brilliant blue foil and covered in dozens of bows of every shape, size, and color. "Sweetie, whatever is in there, I really don't think I'll have room for it in my cell."

"Oh, I think you will. Hurry! Open it!"

"Went a bit crazy with the bows, did you?" River asked as she circled the box and plucked them off one by one.

"Well, I couldn't decide which one I liked," he replied casually with a shrug. "So I used them all."

Once the paper was bare of its adornments, she tore it off revealing a plain brown box. She pulled it over so it was resting on one of its long sides and found that it was surprisingly light for its size. After opening the flaps on one end, she discovered another wrapped gift, just barely smaller than the outer box.

"Open it!" the Doctor exclaimed, with even more enthusiasm than before.

With every layer River removed, the package shrunk while the Doctor's delight grew. Each subsequent box was wrapped with different paper in everything from classic imagery like snowflakes and Christmas trees to designs with various cartoon characters. She swore that some of the medium to small boxes were actually bigger on the inside because the package she removed from them seemed to be the same size or larger than its original container.

An hour and several paper cuts later, River finally came to a tiny box about the size a ring would come in from a jeweler. She glanced up at the Doctor who was clapping and bouncing on the spot with a giant grin on his face. It was hard to be grumpy when he was so over-the-top excited.

River opened the lid of the box to find a dull metal key attached to a bright twisted silver chain. "It's a key."

"Yes! Exactly! A key," he practically giggled. "A TARDIS key! To my TARDIS. To our TARDIS."

Her eyes dropped to the key. What just moments before was an old piece of metal now was one of the most precious items she ever held. "Doctor, I can't take this," she said, shoving the key into his hand.

"'Course you can. I want you to. Besides, I've got more than one. The old girl will make me as many as I need, and she wants you to have it too. Plus, you need a home. Stormcage is no home. So this can be your home," the Doctor said as he moved behind her, draping the chain around her neck and fastening it. He leaned forward, brushed her hair behind her ear and whispered, "Well, if you'd like it to be your home, anyway."

River turned, slipping her hands underneath his coat and around his waist. She rested her head against his shoulder and replied, "Of course I would, my love. It's the greatest gift you could ever give me."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Chestnut Roast

"An old fashioned Christmas, just for you, dear," the Doctor said, scooting closer to River and slipping an arm around her waist. "What's better for that than chestnuts roasting over an open fire? And these are extra special. I got them from a planet that is known for producing the highest quality nuts in the universe. "

"You must've felt right at home there," River teased with a smirk.

Before the Doctor could respond, a high-pitched whine like a poorly tuned violin pierced the air, its source the covered roasting pan over the flames.

"Just steam escaping," the Doctor said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

The sound happened again, but with a bit of a growl mixed in this time. The Doctor pulled the pan from the fire with a heavy towel and carefully lifted the lid. About dozen blurs about the size of small bats zipped out and dispersed themselves around the cavernous library.

The Doctor grabbed the empty package and studied it. "OH! Ooh. This isn't good. No, very not good at all. See, the package is smudged and ah, their word for 'nut' is very close to 'egg' but it really did look very much like the word for 'nut' when I was at the market, though they did seem to be a bit overpriced for chestnuts, also I thought it odd that they added a 'le' to the end of 'chest' but just a mistake, I fig-"

"Chestle?" River interrupted. "Doctor, what is a chestle?"

"Well," he paused to consider the question. "I want you to think of a cute fuzzy baby duckling about the size of a mouse. Have you got that?"

River nodded skeptically.

"Now add bigger wings, a longer tail, and cute tiny needle sharp teeth. Oh, also the occasional adorable little puff of smoke when they sneeze."

"Are you saying they're dragons?"

"Well, no, they're chestles. But yes, when they grow up and lose their baby fuzz, they do quite resemble dragons."

River rolled her eyes. "Only you would mistake the eggs of a dangerous creature for chestnuts."

The Doctor mouthed the word 'sorry' with a slightly sheepish apologetic smile. "But really, to be fair, they aren't dangerous just yet. They won't start breathing fire for aah, I'd say another two or three—" he ran his hand over his mouth, obscuring the last word.

"Two or three what?" River asked, a note of impatience creeping into her voice. "Years? Months?"

"Hours," he squeaked.

"Doctor! We're in a library, with books!" River exclaimed, gesturing around. "We need to get those things out of here!"

"Don't worry," he assured her, holding up his hands. "I have a plan."

"Is this one of your 'try not to die' sort of plans or one of your 'I actually know what I'm doing' sort of plans?"

"Does anyone ever really know what they're doing?"

"Yes," River affirmed.

"Well, that's boring. Play The Christmas Song!" Instantly, Nat King Cole's voice rang out through the library. "No, no! An instrumental version, one with lots of strings! Low strings, cellos!" Obediently, the music changed.

"See," he explained as he arranged a towel into a rounded nest shape, "the adults' calls sound very much like stringed instruments; violins when they're younger and cellos or bass when they're older. Chestles are born independent, but their mothers still care for them to a certain degree over the first part of their lives. She'll sing to call them back to the nest for feeding or when it's time to sleep. Look! It's working!"

The creatures began peeping out from crevices and peering over the edge of the chandelier above, lured out of hiding by the fluidly clear music filling the room. One by one, they glided down to the nest and settled in with only a few minor scuffles over the most comfortable spots. Once quiet, they were actually quite beautiful creatures. Their wings folded smoothly against their gracefully curved backs and their tails, tipped with a feather-like tuft, curled around their lithe bodies. The fuzz that covered them was dark, but had a slight pearlescent quality to it, subtly shifting between deep blues, greens, and purples as the chestles moved.

"Twelve," River counted. "That's all of them."

The Doctor retrieved a small antique birdcage from a shelf and together they gently moved the nest inside. "That should hold them until we get them home."

They returned the baby chestles to their planet. Only the Doctor got slightly singed when he made a mistake in the coordinates and landed right in the middle of chestle territory rather than on the edge.

Back in the library, the Doctor was smiling but there was a shade of disappointment to his eyes. He tried so hard—too hard sometimes—just to make her happy and to make up for her past. Even little things like this that he perceived as failures seemed only to add to his guilt.

River placed her hand on his arm and spoke gently, "It's okay, we could always just sit together by—"

"No, wait! I nearly forgot!" He clapped and raced over to the shopping bag left by the fireplace and rummaged through. "Marshmallows! And look, River, I even got you a gun that shoots marshmallows! Much better than a real gun because marshmallows!"

"Sweetie, did you get those from the same market where you got the chestle eggs?"

"The gun?" he asked, glancing at the toy. "No, it's from Earth. The marshmallows, yes. Same aisle, in fact. Why?"

"Is there anything there with a name similar to 'marshmallow' that may object to being poked with a stick and held over a fire? Or shot from a marshmallow gun?"

The Doctor stared long and hard at the smudged bag before he chucked it over his shoulder. "You know what, you're right. Cuddles are better. Christmas Cuddles! Oh, I like that. Cuddles are cool."

The lights dimmed and The Christmas Song started playing again as they snuggled in each other's arms in front of the fireplace. River nestled her head against the Doctor's shoulder and he turned his head, brushing his lips lightly over her wild curls. She leaned into the contact and sighed happily, "This is the perfect old fashioned Christmas."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Cookies for Santa

"Oh, no. No, no, no!" The Doctor froze halfway up the stairs then spun around and stampeded back down, pushing past Amy, Rory, and River, almost knocking them down in the process. "I nearly forgot! How could I forget? Silly old…" After just about falling down the last few steps, he disappeared down the hall.

The three exchanged looks and River mused, "What could possibly be so important this late on Christmas Eve?"

As they entered the kitchen, they found the Doctor carefully examining cookies before selecting the perfect treats to place on one of Amy's best serving platters.

"Er, Doctor," Amy said, looking with concern at her dish. "What are you doing?"

"Cookies for Santa!" he replied enthusiastically. "I can't believe I nearly forgot! That would've been very not good."

Amy and Rory exchanged amused glances but River gently asked, "Sweetie, does Santa ever actually eat the cookies you leave for him?"

"What?" He paused only for a moment in his meticulous arranging. "Well no, not usually. But see, he's got to save his appetite for the kids' cookies. They'd be disappointed if he didn't eat theirs, but he knows I understand. I have to leave them anyway just in case, you know, he's extra hungry this year. But if he isn't, that's okay. I'll just eat them for breakfast like usual."

"Cookies for breakfast?" Rory asked flatly.

"Of course," he called over his shoulder as he carried the platter to place it beside the tree. "What else would you eat for breakfast Christmas morning?"

The next morning Amy and Rory were woken by a loud pounding on their door and the Doctor's muffled voice shouting, "Wake up! It's Christmas! Hurry up, Ponds!"

They stumbled blearily into the hall where they found River waiting for them. "He wanted to wake you hours ago, bless. I made him wait until sunrise."

"I'm surprised he didn't just skip forward in the TARDIS," Rory mumbled groggily.

"Oh, he wanted to, but I wouldn't let him. I'm trying to teach him some patience."

"Yeah? How's that going?" Amy asked.

"About as well as you'd expect," River replied with a smirk.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, the Doctor held up the empty platter with a big grin, scattering crumbs all over the floor. "Hah! See? Don't worry, though! I'll get more for breakfast!"

"Rory, did you—" Amy began but he just shook his head.

They both looked at River who just smiled. "Sometimes you have to create a little magic for those you love."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Christmas Crackers

"Christmas crackers," the Doctor announced, holding up a hand with one cracker on each of his fingers and wiggling them about.

"Sweetie, we just did crackers," River reminded him gently, "and you're still wearing all four of the crowns."

"Yes, but these are special crackers," he explained, passing out one each to Amy, Rory and River.

"Special how?" Rory asked, holding the tube up to his ear and shaking it cautiously. "Do they have something crazy in them like eight-legged alien badgers or something?"

"Don't be silly! Those are way more expensive, plus they're illegal on 33 planets. Not Earth, though. Hmm. Should've gotten those," the Doctor mused. "Ah, well! Always next year! No, these crackers know exactly what hat suits you best, and it produces it. Brilliant, eh?"

Amy and Rory smiled indulgently at the Doctor while River openly rolled her eyes. "Mine will be empty, then."

"Oh no! It'll figure out something for you! It always does! It's guaranteed! Here, pull mine with me," he held one end of the cracker out to River who gripped it obligingly. They each pulled causing it to pop open and a crazy quilt mishmash of a number of different hats landed in the Doctor's lap. "See? Perfect! It's like every hat I could ever want in one!" He picked it up and examined it from every angle. "Look! There's a bit of a fez, and over here there's a part of a bowler hat, and here a fedora!"

He pulled a small slip of paper out from a crevice between the bit of Stetson and the beret before he placed the hat on his head. "Listen to the joke! 'Why in the park, wheat of the world? Straw, potatoes, and beans!'" He laughed so hard he tipped over on the couch, tears streaming from his eyes. Rory and Amy just turned to River with confused looks.

"Well, I suppose it is mildly amusing in its original language. Not that funny though," she gestured at the Doctor, who was still giggling madly. "But something is definitely lost in translation."

Rory shrugged at Amy, "Shall we?" He offered her one end of the cracker. She took it and handed hers to him in return. They yanked hard, toppling backwards away from each other as the crackers opened with a pop. The contents of one, a police hat, landed near Rory while the felt Roman helmet contained within the other came to rest by Amy. The two exchanged small smiles as swapped the hats then donned them. The slips of paper that fluttered out were completely ignored.

After finally catching his breath, the Doctor turned to River who was struggling with her cracker. "See? It won't open. It knows I hate all hats."

"Don't be silly, you need two people to open it. Here, I'll help." Without waiting for her to offer it, the Doctor reached over and grabbed one end of River's cracker. With the loudest pop of them all, the foil cylinder finally ripped in two. A white and silver hat flew through the air and came to rest on the coffee table. Once stilled, it became obvious that it was a cloth representation of an astronaut helmet. The room fell silent as everyone stared at the hat.

Amy and Rory shot accusing glares at the Doctor. "What?" he hissed back at them. "I didn't put it in there!" An icy tightness was spreading through the Doctor's chest as he turned back toward the hat. Of all the hats in the universe why did it have to be that one? He quickly snatched it and chucked it over his shoulder, nearly knocking over one of Amy and Rory's vases. "Who needs that hat? Rubbish. Cracker obviously malfunctioned. It was glitchy! I should get a refund. All wrong. Didn't know what hat it was producing. It hasn't got anything to do with anything. Not important at all."

"No… no, but it is," River began quietly, still staring at the coffee table. "It may have been the hardest thing to do in my life, even when I knew." She turned toward the Doctor and cupped his cheek in her hand, running her thumb along his cheekbone just beneath his eye. "But there was good that came out of it. It is part of me now—part of us. It's fixed. Nothing can change that."

"Well, still," the Doctor insisted, shifting his gaze away. "Bad batch, obviously. Look at what it did to mine!"

"To be fair, sweetie," River replied with some of her usual spark returned. "If I had to pick just one hat I thought you'd like the most, I don't think I could do it either."

"She has a point," Rory agreed.

The Doctor reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a fifth cracker. "I have one more. I was saving it so I could get another hat, but I want you to try again. Try not to think about how much you hate hats this time."

River hesitated only a moment before she grasped the end the Doctor offered her and pulled. With a loud pop, a dark blur tumbled out and rolled under the coffee table.

Amy leaned down and retrieved the hat. "The Doctor's top hat? Maybe it thought the cracker was his."

"Oh, no," River smiled as she accepted it from Amy. "This is definitely mine."

"It's the only hat you haven't killed!" The Doctor slapped his hand over his mouth and mumbled between his fingers, "Spoilers?"

"Perhaps a bit, but not too bad. There's a reason I wouldn't destroy it." River said, placing the top hat on her head and adjusting it to a slight angle. "Definitely spoilers for you, though." She leaned closer to the Doctor and whispered, "Plus, it isn't something I'd describe in front of my parents."

"I look forward to it," the Doctor murmured as a light flush crossed his cheeks.

"You'd better."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Love Letters from Stormcage

Late Christmas night, crinkled paper littered the floor around the base of the tree and the empty stockings had been rehung from the mantle. The Doctor lounged on the couch, playing with a puzzle that could twist and turn into at least a dozen different hats. River quietly rose from her spot next to him and retrieved a brilliant blue leather bound book from a nearby shelf.

"One more gift, my love," she whispered, pressing a kiss to his forehead as she placed the book in his lap.

The Doctor stopped fiddling with the puzzle long enough to glance at the object in his lap. "River!" he gasped, dropping his puzzle and frantically trying to stuff the tome back into her hands. "I—I—I can't take that! It's—it's spoilers! Very much lots of spoilers! Full of spoilery spoilers of spoilerness!"

"Don't be silly, I wouldn't give you my diary. It's a portfolio with letters I've written to you. Post from Stormcage is awful even to places that don't hop around in time and space. So I saved them to give you all at once. Don't worry," she added, noting the lingering concern in his eyes. "I didn't include any that specifically mentioned any spoilers."

Without the fog of panic, he could tell the book was larger and thinner than her diary, though it was adorned with the same embossed pattern. He turned back the cover and began reading. The emotions contained within the series of letters rose and fell like a wave, from the highest expressions of love to the lowest tear-stained pages filled with anger. Many of the letters described things she'd like to do to him in such detail that the blush spread all the way to his ears and down his neck. None of the letters contained any specific information about the wheres or whens, of course, though one near the end seemed to stop just short of mentioning a child. He shot a sideways glance at her but didn't say anything.

As he finished the final letter and closed the book, he turned to River and said, "Thank you, I love it. I really do."

"I knew you would. Next to my diary, the letters you've written me are my most prized possessions."

"What?" The Doctor frowned. "I haven't written you any letters."


/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Jingle Cube

The Doctor was stalking around the console, trying and failing to ignore the incessant music emanating from the cube circling his head. From the moment the psychic container showed up, all it would do is play the chorus of Jingle Bells on an endless loop.

After the fifth botched attempt to hit the right coordinates for Stormcage, the Doctor pounded his fist on the console. "Can't you play anything else?" For the briefest moment there was glorious silence. Then the cube began playing Jingle Bells again, this time in a classical style.

"You know," the Doctor grumbled, waggling a finger at the floating object. "If I didn't already know who sent you, I'd know who sent you now."

River was curled on her bunk reading her diary as the Doctor exited the TARDIS followed by his own personal musical accompaniment. She greeted him with a casual tone as if he had just dropped in for tea. "Hello, sweetie."

"Doctor River Song! I said only use this for emergencies!"

"It was an emergency," she replied, rising to her feet to meet her guest. "It's Christmas and you wouldn't answer your phone."

The Doctor aimed his sonic at the lock of her cell, all the while continually batting at the cube. "That is absolutely no ex—wait, what? Christmas? When? Now? River…I'm sorry."

"Oh, don't worry. I'm used to it. Why do you think I sent the container? Quite clever, I thought. But just wait until you see what I do to grab your attention next year." River hummed a few notes of Silent Night and the cube fell quietly into her hand. "Now, I think I'd like to unwrap my gift."

"But River, I didn't bring you anything."

"You didn't?" she asked, her words filled with mock surprise. "What a shame. I guess we'll just have to improvise." River grabbed his braces and hauled him dangerously close to her with surprising strength. Her lips barely brushed his as she whispered, "Merry Christmas, my love."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Precious Gifts

Dusk was just settling over the quiet village of Leadworth when Amy and Rory were wandering down their street, hand in hand, enjoying their neighbors' Christmas decorations and each other's company. A bright star appeared just above the tree line, twinkled for a moment then shot through the sky.

"Wish upon a star?" Rory asked.

"Already did," Amy smiled. "I think that may be a sign it's come true."

Upon returning home, they found the lights on and River in the kitchen stirring a pot on the stove. She turned to them briefly and gave them a bright smile. "Hello! I hope you don't mind that I let myself in."

"Not at all," Rory replied. "Our home is your home."

"I'm making hot chocolate instead of getting out the wine. I figured you two would be cold after being out."

"That's fine," Amy said, a smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. "I probably shouldn't have wine anyway."

"Why not?" She turned to see Amy and Rory with broad grins and their hands resting together on Amy's barely noticeable baby bump.

"Really? Congratulations!" River exclaimed, rushing around and embraced both her parents together. "Do you know what it is yet?"

"Them, actually," Rory corrected. "A boy and a girl."

"Twins!" River clapped her hands together and beamed at them both. "Do you have names?"

"Piper and Reed," the two said in unison.

"Oh, those are darling names. I can't wait to meet them! Just think, a baby brother and sister!"

"Well, I suppose it may be a bit difficult explaining you as the older sister," Rory pointed out. "Maybe you could be Aunt River?"

"Hmmm…River, the crazy travelling aunt," River mused. "I think I could have fun with that."

"They'll love your stories," Amy grinned.

"And the Doctor's stories," River added then paused. "Speaking of, you weren't on the TARDIS when…"

"Oh no, completely normal, right here on Earth," Amy replied, patting her belly. "No time heads for these two."

Amy and River laughed, but Rory frowned thoughtfully. "River," he began, "do you and the Doctor…"

"Spoilers," River cut him off.

"Well, if you do," Amy said, glancing at Rory and slipping her hand into his. "Promise you'll bring them here so we can see them. We don't want to miss anything el—well, we just don't want to miss anything."

"Of course I will," River nodded. "Every Christmas, every birthday, as often as possible. I promise."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\


The Doctor tiptoed down the stairs giggling silently to himself. It was precisely one minute past midnight Christmas morning and he was certain that he would find the stockings stuffed, the cookies gone, and shiny foil-wrapped presents under the tree. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw none of these things. Instead, he noticed the top of a ginger head just over the top of the sofa.

"What are you doing up?" the Doctor asked as he sat on the couch next Amy.

"I couldn't sleep," she replied. "You?"

"I wanted to see if Santa had been here yet."

"You're how many hundreds of years old and you still believe in Santa?"

"Of course. He's real. Not believing in Santa is like—like not believing in air! Why, don't you?" the Doctor asked. Amy only gave him an incredulous look, but he got the message. "Oh, Amelia. When did you stop believing?"

Amy shifted her gaze to the floor and explained, "There was this doll in the window of a shop that we passed every day on the way to school. It was a beautiful porcelain doll with long ginger hair. Mels wanted it so badly. I wasn't sure why. She never seemed to like dolls much, except for the ones I made of you. But I told her—I promised her—that if she was good the rest of the year, Santa would bring it for her. She said that Santa never brought her anything. I told her that's because she was never good. So the rest of the year she was good, for Mels anyway. But Santa didn't bring her anything at all, again. That's when I knew."

"Is there anything you ever wanted that you didn't get?" he asked.

Amy's head snapped towards him. She stared at him, her eyes narrowed in an surprisingly intimidating glare. If looks could kill, hers was so lethal that the Doctor would certainly be forced to at least his fourteenth or fifteenth regeneration.

The Doctor furrowed his brow in confusion at this sudden change. Then his eyes grew wide as it dawned on him. "Oh! Oh…Amy, I am so, so sorry. I—"

"No, no," Amy sighed, her features relaxing. "I'm sorry, I—it's just—Doctor, if you knew it wouldn't have changed anything, if you knew she would've still grown up to be River—your River—would you have brought her back?"

"Of course."

"Would it have really changed that much if you had?"

The Doctor didn't say anything for a long while to the point Amy wasn't sure if he heard her at all. She was just about to ask again when the Doctor said, "I—we should get back to bed. Santa won't come if we're sitting here." He got up quickly and was already halfway up the stairs before Amy could say anything else.

The next morning after Amy and Rory were rudely awoken by the Doctor singing Christmas carols at the top of his lungs, they stumbled downstairs to find an unfamiliar package sitting in front of all the other presents under the tree. Amy leaned down and inspected the tag. "It says, To Melody and River, from Santa."

River picked up the package and removed its wrappings to reveal a beautiful porcelain doll with long ginger hair. She wore a soft black velvet coat with a white silky dress underneath. River gasped, a sound almost halfway between a wistful sigh and a laugh.

"It looks just like Amy," Rory remarked.

"Why do you think I wanted it?" River asked quietly, running her hand over the doll's hair.

"Doctor, you went and got that, didn't you?" Amy asked skeptically. "After we talked."

He opened his mouth but River cut in. "Oh, I can guarantee you he didn't leave the room once he got back. Didn't sleep much either."

The three of them discussed possibilities for the doll's appearance. Maybe a future Doctor brought it? That would be crossing his own timeline, though. But when has that stopped him before? River went so far as to go persuade the TARDIS to produce records that proved the Doctor had never been and never would be near the coordinates at the point the store had the doll. All the while, the Doctor merely sat quietly on the sofa with a smile slowly spreading across his face, waiting for them to come to the inevitable conclusion.

"You don't think…" River started.

"He actually is real?" Amy and Rory asked in unison.

All three turned to look at the Doctor, and his grin broadened. "Now I've gotten what I wanted. You lot believe again."

/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\

Silent Night

It may have been several seconds or a few minutes before River finally decided to break out of her cell herself, but it seemed like ages. The familiar blue box materialized just outside, but the Doctor had not bounded immediately out like usual. Something was wrong and she intended to find out what it was. She opened the lock of her cell with practiced ease. They had replaced it with locks of ever increasing complexity until they had given up and just put the original one back. She really wasn't sure why they even insisted on keeping it locked at all anymore.

River entered the TARDIS to see the Doctor leaning heavily against the console, his head bowed. "Doctor?" Concern filled her voice as she climbed the platform stairs. "What's wrong?"

He opened his mouth and shook his head mutely.

"Oh, sweetie." River pressed the back of her hand to his forehead, letting her fingers play in his wave of hair before she moved it down to cup his cheek. "You didn't go to Illaisan did you? You know you always lose your voice for days after you go there."

The Doctor shrugged and grinned sheepishly. But the longer he looked at her, the more his smile faded. He picked up a small notepad from the console and wrote, "I'm sorry."

"Why for?"

"Christmas," he scratched on the paper. "Should laugh at jokes in crackers and sing carols together."

"The most important thing you wrote is right there," River said, tracing a finger beneath the final word. "Being together is all that matters today. Not carols, gifts, or even cookies. Being with you is all I want. If you'd like, I won't talk either. We can always communicate in other ways."

The Doctor tapped the notepad but she silently shook her head and took it from his hands, returning it to the console. She brushed her hands over the light stubble along his jaw before curling her fingers around the back of his ears and tilting his head toward her. Their foreheads touched only briefly, but in that instant, the Doctor was overcome with her and everything that she was. He jerked back and mouthed the word, "Spoilers" But River only smiled and shook her head, making a motion as if turning a key in a lock.

After only a brief hesitation, the Doctor leaned down and brushed his forehead against hers again. A warm glowing web spread out from the single point of contact, or at least a glow is how his brain interpreted it. Sensations that seemed both new and old at the same time raced through his nerves, his flesh, and pumped through his hearts out to his extremities. He felt her voice inside him, vibrating softly in the way one without hearing feels music. The words were not distinct, but their meaning was clear. Messages of love and desire along with whispered promises of forever, all worked their way through every fiber of his being. His hand found its way easily up into her curls without even thinking about it. He wanted to hold her there, his skin against hers, making sure the contact would never stop. In this moment, they were one through all of time and space, with neither a beginning nor an end and that's how it was meant to be.