A/N: Prompted by mishka47 on tumblr: "The Doctor wants to surprise River with something. She already knows what it is."
Four Times River Isn't At All Surprised, and One Time She Is
The first time he tries to surprise her, he's foiled by their back-to-front-ish timelines and just the right amount of not paying attention. He hands her the box, certainly not fidgeting or chewing his lip or presenting any other nervous habits as she opens it. He expects confusion, that little delightful furrow in her brow and maybe initial disappointment; it is just a key, after all. But instead she smiles, wistful, and brushes her fingers lovingly over the small brass skeleton key.
The Doctor looks from her to the key and back again. "It's, uh. It's for the TARDIS. You know. So you can get in if I'm not here, or…emergencies."
He shifts from foot to foot.
"You can wear it on a chain or something if you want," he says, "So you don't lose it. Not that you would, of course. You're good at keeping things, ah, safe. Keys, diaries, spoilers." He scratches the back of his neck. "It's a handy key, you know. Opens lots of stuff, not just the TARDIS's front door."
"What, it opens the back door as well?" she returns with a smirk.
He half glares and continues rambling. "There's a wardrobe on the fifth floor that's always locked, you'll need that to open it - there's a dress in there that belonged to Marie Antoinette and you might, well, lose a head if you put it on." He wrinkles his nose. "I don't recommend it. Also the second floor baths, third floor hop-scotch arena, the swimming pool at the end of the third hallway with the waterfall and the tide simulator - but don't tell Rory, he thinks there's just the one, and it'salsoformybedroom."
River nods, unfazed, and closes the box. "Thank you, Doctor, but I can't take this."
Stunned, he stares at her blankly for a moment. Then he clears his throat and straightens his jacket, quickly taking the box from her and turning away. "I see. Of course, I understand, no need for that, I'll just pick you up as I have been—"
"-so there's really no reason for you to come and go, since I'm always here anyway to let you in; silly idea, really, it—"
Her tone makes him stop and, bracing himself with a false smile, he turns to face her. She's smiling softly, bemusedly, her finger caught in a chain from around her neck, extending it outwards. On it is a key, identical to the one in the box - same gold, same shape, but older, he can tell, and well-used. Loved.
"You best give that to my younger self, dear," she says, nodding toward his hand. She lets the key drop back against her sternum, leaving it outside her clothes this time.
He points a finger at her. "You—"
She shakes her head. "This is why diaries come first, sweetie," she scolds, but she steps closer and kisses his cheek. "Not surprises."
Chuckling, he slips the key back into his pocket and tugs her closer, holding the chain around her neck in one hand for closer inspection. "Did I give you this, too?"
"That would be telling."
Instead of pouting, he smiles. "You know, I think I did. So!" He twirls away from her. "There's an island in the space port of Gingi that makes the finest gold-yurut alloy in the all the universe, I bet they have chains, too, don't you think? In fact, I bet they have one just like that. How about a paradox, Doctor Song?"
She grabs his hand without hesitation.
Amy shushes Rory from her hiding place behind the sofa, something along the lines of, Oi! Shut up, stupid face! but he can't really tell; the Doctor's in his other ear, jabbering on about blueberry-sunflower cheesecake - cheesecake? - and then the door opens and the three of them jump out - well, Amy and the Doctor jump out, and Rory sits stunned for a moment before joining in - and River stands in the doorway like a frightened rabbit.
The stereo starts playing a 20th century version of Happy Birthday and the Doctor flicks a switch on the sonic, and River is instantly doused with multi-colour confetti.
It takes her a moment to get her bearings, suddenly accosted by a firm shoulder bump from her mother and, from the Doctor, a very loud horn blown directly in her ear.
"What's all this?" she asks finally, brushing what appears to be silly string off her shoulder. She pulls a chunk of it from her hair and glares briefly at the Doctor, a look that very clearly intones, You are so going to pay for this later in ways you will not enjoy. But he just grins and blows the horn again and then jumps, whirls into the kitchen and comes back seconds later with four hideous paper hats. He affixes them to Rory and Amy first, then himself, then plops the shiniest one on River's head and secures the elastic under her chin with a snap.
He tries to use the horn again, but River snatches it just in time, and before he can grab it back, stuffs it down the front of her blouse. (With a nervous glance at Rory, the Doctor decides not to risk its retrieval just then.)
"You did all this?" she asks, addressing the three of them. Amy and Rory's living room is covered in decorations, mostly strung haphazardly from the ceiling light and windowsills; there's a small pile of presents on the table, and the smell of apple cider wafting in from the kitchen.
Rory shrugs, "It was mostly him, to be honest," he says, pointing (mildly accusingly) at the Doctor, who is busy extricating himself from a weave of ribbon. "There's even a giant bowl of custard on the dining table with your name on it. Literally."
Amy leans in conspiratorially and winks. "Don't worry, we've got the good stuff in the back."
"Ah ha!" he cries, having freed himself - and his hat - from the mess. "So! What do you think?"
River smiles and kisses his cheek, causing him to blush. "I think it's wonderful. Thank you, all of you."
Amy and Rory nod and the Doctor grins and Rory says something about cake just before Amy drags him away. As soon as they're out of sight, the Doctor turns on her with a narrowed gaze.
"Okay. How did you know?"
River blinks at him innocently. "Know what?"
"About the party. Did Rory tell you? Is future you spying on me again, because really, River, that's only funny once and then it just gets confusing and-"
"I didn't know, sweetie."
Stepping into her personal space, he studies her face. "You're lying."
She sighs. "Fine."
"Ah!" He wags a finger at her. "I knew you weren't surprised! If you'd been surprised, you probably would have shot something." He gestures over his shoulder toward the kitchen. "Not that we should tell them that."
"I would not," she protests.
He ignores her. "How did you know? Who told you?"
She almost laughs. "No one told me, sweetie, I-"
"But we were so careful!" he moans, a pout firmly affixing itself to his face. "We didn't even tell Rory until today, and we didn't put up any balloons outside - even the nice lady at the supermarket thinks the custard was for bathing! Though why you'd bathe in custard I really don't-"
"Amy said you'd never had a surprise party as Mels. I wanted it to be a surprise."
River cups his face in her hands and kisses his forehead. "It's wonderful," she murmurs. "Just that you did all of this, for me..." She smiles warmly. "Thank you."
He kisses her swiftly, eliciting a small yelp. The Doctor grins, and without thinking grips her hand and doesn't let go. Amy calls from the kitchen that the food is ready and the Doctor tugs her down the hall. He stops abruptly just outside the door, however, and turns to face her.
"You still haven't told me how you knew," he says, in the voice that confirms to her he won't move until answered.
Shaking her head, River kisses him briefly. "Next time you plan a surprise party, best not leave the 'Happy Birthday!' sign on the front porch."
She steps around him nimbly, laughing when she hears him curse, then bang his head into the door as it swings shut.
He's got her this time. It's perfect. It's so simple, there's no way she'll ever guess, he's sure of it. Leading her blindfolded into the bedroom, he pushes her toward the chair in the corner, then skitters back down the hall. He returns moments later with a box, the box, and places it at her feet.
"You have to guess," he says.
River rolls her eyes. "Doctor, it could be anything."
"That's the point!" He rubs his hands together gleefully. "Come on," he goads, "One guess."
River sighs, but appears to be thinking about it. The Doctor glances from her to her present and back again anxiously.
"River," he presses.
"Think faster," he whines.
Somehow, he can tell she's glaring at him through the blindfold. She's quiet a moment longer, and he can tell she's about to issue a guess - almost certain to be wrong, he thinks giddily - when her present lets out a loud, distinctly identifiable meow.
There's a pause while River attempts to restrain herself. As innocently as possible: "Is it a cat?"
The Doctor makes a strangled noise of protest before ripping the scarf off her eyes in a huff. "Kitten," he corrects stiffly. "Says his name's Herman Melville, but I think he's lying." The little tabby meows again, front paws on the edge of the box, trying to get out. River bends down, lifting him into her lap. He instantly nudges her hand with his forehead, then arches his back and curls up against her stomach.
"Why would you get me a cat?" she asks, though he doesn't fail to notice she's already petting him.
"Kitten," he corrects again, and he shrugs. "Thought you could use the company?"
River arches an eyebrow at him. "In Stormcage?"
He scratches his cheek. "Well, no, but he can stay here, for when you visit."
"And who's going to feed him?"
Indignantly: "I will!"
River merely blinks.
"I can take care of a cat."
"Sweetie, I love you, but you couldn't take care of a goldfish. Remember?"
He glares for a moment before conceding. "Right," he mutters, "Good point." Then he smirks. "His Majesty really wasn't too happy with us, was he?"
"No, he wasn't. You should be very grateful I managed to keep him distracted."
He straightens his shoulders. "Yes, well, not that I approve of your methods of distraction..."
"You weren't complaining at the time."
"I was handcuffed!"
"You're always handcuffed, sweetie."
"Only around you."
"As it should be," she returns, the hint of possessiveness making him grin.
In her lap, Herman Melville continues to purr under her touch. Huh. He's never been jealous of a cat before. (Kitten, his brain corrects.) "Oh, shut up," he mutters to himself, before plopping down on the floor next to her and stealing the kitten. "Guess we'll have to find you a new home," he says, not the least bit concerned that Herman is glaring at him and struggling to get back into River's lap; Herman only succeeds when he pulls out the claws, scratching the Doctor's hand and using his knee to propel himself back into River's arms.
"Ow! Bad kitty!" The Doctor sucks a finger into his mouth. Herman hisses loudly, forestalling the Doctor's motion to retrieve him, then warily lays back down.
Guilty, the Doctor looks up at River and shrugs. "...or not."
The TARDIS door slams behind him as he thunders up the stairs. "It's our anniversary," he says, waving an arm around as he pilots the TARDIS into the Vortex. "How did you get spoiled for our anniversary? Our linear anniversary!"
River at least has the grace to look sheepish as she follows behind him, holding the hem of her dress up off the floor.
"I checked time-streams, diaries, temporal interferences, eye-witness accounts of the event, and nearby supernovas!" He appears from behind the cloister bell and points a finger at her sharply. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to check a supernova?"
"Not that difficult, actually, but that's not the point!"
River stifles a laugh. "What is the point, dear?"
"It's one of the finest archeological discoveries in the proceeding and following tera-milleniums, and it was supposed to be a surprise!"
"Sweetie, I'm an archeologist. Our first field trip my freshman year was to the Nova Mountains."
"But not in the right time period! Not actually there when they were- were discovering and digging and stuff!" He swings his arms around wildly.
"Let me rephrase: Sweetie, I'm a time-travelling archeologist. It didn't occur to you I'd already gone back myself?"
"Finest discovery in the recorded universe, my love," she says, somewhat apologetically, "How's a girl supposed to resist?"
The Doctor pales at that. "Oh, River, tell me you didn't steal anything from the grave site."
She makes a tsk'ing noise at him and joins him by the console. "Steal? No. Give a few suggestions..."
"Nothing major," she says, "I just helped them along a bit, you know. Pointed a few things out, dug a few holes, got my name in the resulting textbooks, nothing serious."
"River!" He grabs for her and she darts out of his way, laughing. "River, that's 13 billion years out of your time! You can't do that!"
"Oh, please, you do it all the time."
"Not intentionally!" he sputters.
"There's a difference?"
He's trying to be serious, she can tell, but his tone is light and his lips are curled up in amusement. He shakes his head. "You bad, bad girl."
Finally stepping into his arms, she fixes his bow-tie and brushes imaginary dust from his shoulder. "You love it."
"Always," he agrees, but his eyes aren't as bright as they should be, and she frowns.
"What is it?" He tries to evade, but she holds his arm, keeping him close. "Doctor."
He sighs. "I wanted you to be amazed. Everyone who travels with me, they're always surprised by everything the universe has to offer, by what I..." he trails off and looks away.
"Sweetie," she admonishes kindly, tilting his chin up. "You really think that's what impresses me? 'Digging and stuff?'" She smiles at his confusion. "You impress me. Everything you do. Everything you are. And I am always amazed when I'm with you."
He stares at her for a long moment, drinking her in - her smile, the line of her jaw, the way she smells. Then he moves, grabbing her around the waist and spinning her once all the way around, dropping her back to the floor and kissing her, his own grin lost between her lips.
"Come on," she says, tugging him toward the stairs breathlessly, "I can think of much more interesting things we can discover right here."
He's a bit concerned when she enters the TARDIS looking rather pale, and it escalates when - after the TARDIS jolts and whirls - she starts to look green. She assures him she's fine, just a cold or a stomach bug, and disappears down the hall in search of the kitchen.
"I'll be fine after a nice cup of tea," she says.
Fine turns out to be hanging around the toilet while her stomach revolts all additions, regardless of necessity. He brings her water and a strange fizzing tea and somehow manages to convince her to stay in bed, rather than, say, gallivant around a moon and steal a few kingships.
"Boring," she mutters, but curls up without much protest.
Boring, as it happens, isn't boring at all, at least for him. While she sleeps, he runs a few scans and a few scans of the scans to be sure, and then double checks everything and then sits on the edge of the bed by her feet and stares. Then he paces. Then he scans her again, scans the scans, and paces some more.
Eventually he leaves, afraid of waking her, and paces around the console room instead, stopping every so often to study the scanner readings.
She sleeps for over an hour, nearly two, and by then he's nearly worn holes in his shoes and his skin is tingling and, well, if he closes the door a little too loudly when he sneaks back in, he can't really be blamed - jitters, of course. Happy, happy jitters.
Opening her eyes blearily, River shifts on the bed to make room for him at her side. "Doctor?" She sits up slowly, still wary but feeling better. To her confusion, he's grinning. A wide, cheek-numbing grin that almost hurts her face just looking at it. His feet are tapping excitedly on the floor and his hands won't sit still. "I take it I'm not dying, then?" she asks, running a hand through her hair as she scoots back toward the headboard.
The Doctor's expression falters for a moment - "What? No! Don't be ridiculous!" - before returning to its giddy state. "River," he says. "River, guess what?"
She rolls her eyes. "What?"
"No, you have to guess."
He nods. "Seriously."
She sighs. "You've discovered an astroid made entirely of Jammie Dodgers."
"You've got a new hat."
If possible, his lips stretch even more. "Wrong!"
Deadpan: "You've discovered the hidden wonders of archeology."
He scoffs. "Never."
He starts to take a deep breath, but can't contain himself. "You're pregnant," he blurts out.
River stares at him. "What?"
"You," he says, "are pregnant." He pokes her stomach. "There's a baby in there!"
She doesn't move. "A baby."
His grin softens to a warm smile. "My baby." Pause. "I mean, I didn't check or anything, I just assumed - I mean, it is -" And then that smug look as he straightens his bow-tie, "Yeah, 'course it is. Our baby."
Her face doesn't change.
She opens her mouth, then closes it without saying a word.
Frowning, the Doctor scoots closer and touches her shoulder. "River, are you alright?"
She's silent a long moment. "You're sure?"
He kisses her nose in reassurance. "One hundred and ten percent."
She nods, then lets out a shaky laugh. "I don't...I don't know what to say."
He squeezes her arm, and at the same time nervously scratches his knee. "But, ah, it's a good 'don't know' right? I mean, you're not, you know...disappointed, or-"
She silences him with a kiss.
"Of course it is, you impossible man."
He grins again, then tackles her to the mattress, pulling her down from her sitting position so he can lay his head on her stomach.
River runs her fingers through his hair. "You know you can't hear anything yet."
"I'll have you know a Time Lord's hearing is far more adept than your average human - or even human plus."
"It probably hasn't been more than six weeks, sweetie."
"Four," he corrects. "Time Lord pregnancies are shorter. Now shush, I'm listening."
She snorts, but indulges him nonetheless. He stays still for a remarkably long time, for him anyway, tracing spirals up and down her side. She can feel his breathing change before he speaks, even though he doesn't move.