River was sat on her bed, writing in her Tardis blue diary. The comfortable bed, her bed in the Tardis, not the little grey cot she had in the Stormcage. The velvet throw beneath her was a deep blue, like so many things in the room. The light in the room came not from things so conventional as light bulbs, but from replicas of the little white message cubes that the Time Lords had once used to communicate with each other across the galaxies. The furniture, the chest of drawers, the elaborate dressing table, the four poster bed over which more blue fabric was draped, were all made of dark woods. It would have made for an incredibly dark room were it not for the white lights shining everywhere. They hung at different levels from the ceiling, casting their light over every corner of the room, making it look like a sanctuary. And to River, it really was. This was the heart of home for her.
The Tardis would always be her home. And she would always love her like another family member. This whole room was the Tardis' own design. When the Doctor had first shown her to a door and told her that her room lay beyond, she was filled with wonder. He'd told her that she could reprogram it to be decorated however she liked, but when she stepped inside after the Doctor had left her alone, she knew she didn't want to change a thing. It was beautiful and sumptuous, and quite perfect to her eyes. The Tardis had always known her so well.
An unexpected knock at the door brought River out of her writings, and she looked up.
"Come in," she said, and the Doctor poked his head around the door, his hair flopping down into his eyes.
"Am I allowed in today?" the Doctor asked with a grin.
"Well I don't think you've done anything to annoy me today…so yes," River said, closing her book and sitting up as the Doctor stepped inside. "You've got that face on again."
"That 'I have a brilliant idea' face."
"Well yes I do have a brilliant idea. And this, Doctor Song, happens to be my normal face," he said, sitting down on the bed beside her and gently bopping her nose with his forefinger. "Because I am always full of brilliant ideas."
River gave an indulgent smile. "Well, you had to learn them from somewhere," she said pointedly, and the Doctor pulled a face, making her laugh. "All right, what is this brilliant idea?"
"We should have a date night."
"A date night," he said excitedly. "It's a thing – a rather marvellous thing – where a couple picks a night and does couple-y stuff, like cooking each other food and-"
River laughed again. "Have you been talking to Jack again?"
"No...well yes, but that's not the point. Also on date nights you can-"
"I know what a date night is, my love. I'm just surprised you want to have one."
"You're more one for breathlessly running down corridors than sitting eating popcorn."
"Does popcorn come in fish custard flavour?"
"Well that's silly. Everything should come in fish custard flavour."
"So when were you thinking about having this date night?"
"Tonight?" he asked hopefully.
River gave a moment of false consideration before smiling at him. "Tonight sounds perfect."
"Excellent!" the Doctor exclaimed, leaping to his feet. "I'll do the cooking. You just pamper yourself."
With that, he was gone, dancing out of the room and gently closing the door behind him. Not that River was going to disagree with his arrangement. On the contrary, it seemed like a very good idea. She finished up her writing, and then padded down the halls towards the Tardis wardrobe, that immense space which held so many clothes from just about every era of history. She didn't have to look far though, because hung on a stand was a rather gorgeous dress. Strapless, with a roomy floor-length skirt, which was overlaid with a delicate runched chiffon, giving it just the right amount of bustle. And of course, it was a deep midnight blue. Whether the Tardis or the Doctor had laid it out, she wasn't sure (though if she'd had to, she would have bet that it was the Tardis herself), but either way, she liked it.
She put it on, carrying the matching shoes back to her room, where she put her hair up and snapped on some delicate pearl earrings.
When she sat back and thought about it, the idea of her and the Doctor having a date night was incredibly strange, and she wondered whether they'd make it through without getting called away or receiving a distress signal from some far off and dangerous planet. But then it was a Sunday, and as the Doctor maintained, Sundays tended to be boringly quiet.
Satisfied that she was pampered enough, River left her room and went towards the dining room, running her fingers along the walls as she went, feeling the Tardis hum in reply. When she got to the dining room, she found the table had been laid out for two, with candles and roses in a vase and everything. River smiled to herself, touched that the Doctor was doing this for them, though she couldn't help but wonder what had sparked this very human gesture.
The Doctor must have heard her come in, because he suddenly poked his head around the kitchen door with a grin.
"Make yourself comfortable. Nearly done in here!"
"What's for dinner?" River asked, just as the Doctor disappeared. He reappeared a moment later, with an even bigger grin.
"It's a surprise!"
And he was gone again. River smiled to herself, taking a glass bottle out of the ice bucket and pouring out the sparkling red liquid. It wouldn't be wine – the Doctor hated wine – so was probably just sparkling fruit juice. She poured a glass for the Doctor, setting it in his place across the table just moments before he came in bearing two covered silver trays.
He set them down in the centre of the table, before proudly whipping the cover off the first. Fish fingers. Okay, not what she was expecting, but since when did they really do anything normally? It wasn't until he took the cover from the second, revealing a large tureen filled with custard that she finally twigged.
"Fish custard?" she asked.
"Fish custard!" he proclaimed proudly, before his face fell a little as he caught sight of her expression. "Fish custard is marvellous, River. You just have to try it. You're part Time Lord; you'll love it."
River looked wholly unconvinced. "How about I eat the fish fingers first, and then the custard for afters?"
"Oh River, that doesn't count," the Doctor said scoldingly as he served three fish fingers onto the little plate in front of her, before putting some custard into the little bowl. She'd presumed that this set up was for a starter course of soup or something, not a main course of fish custard. The Doctor sat down and started scooping the custard onto a fish finger. "It's really not as bad a combination as it sounds."
She looked at it doubtfully, before picking up her knife and fork, cutting off a slice of fish finger…and bypassing the custard entirely. The Doctor made a sour face, just as there was the sound of someone else entering the room.
Jack stopped in his tracks as he saw the way the dining table was laid out, and River in her dress and the Doctor in his tux.
"Ooooh, am I interrupting something?" he asked.
"River won't eat the fish custard I made for her," the Doctor said sulkily, and River rolled her eyes.
"Well that's just rude," Jack said.
"She won't even try!"
"Well that's a little cowardly," Jack said, struggling to hide his grin as River's eyes flashed. He was going to enjoy this opportunity far too much. He strode over to the table, picked up one of the spare fish fingers and gave it a good dunking in the custard bowl before eating it whole.
"I'm not cowardly," River shot back. "I just happen to have functioning taste buds."
"Have you ever even tried it?" Jack said round his mouthful of food.
"Then you don't know what you're missing," Jack said with a grin. He glanced to the Doctor, and the mischievous glint in the American's eyes half filled the Doctor with dread and half made him want to cheer him on.
"I think I can quite happily miss this one," River said.
"Well then," Jack mused, swirling another fish finger around in the custard. "Let it be known that Jack Harkness is more adventurous than River Song."
The Doctor looked horrified, and hoped hat his wife hadn't decided to conceal some kind of weapon under that dress. The remark was like a direct challenge to River, and she narrowed her eyes at the arrogant Captain, before picking up her fork, and with all delicacy and grace, dipped it in the custard before eating it. In spite of himself, the Doctor looked delighted, and a thin smile settled on Jack's lips.
"A competition, then," Jack proposed. "Who can eat the most?"
"I love the sound of that!" the Doctor proclaimed like a happy schoolboy.
"Fine," River said evenly, leaving no doubt as to how seriously this was going to be taken.
For a while, it progressed much like a drinking competition, as though each piece of fish finger was a shot glass filled with custard. They went round in a circle, and a gleeful grin settled on the Doctor's face. Jack's was settled firmly in a smirk, while River's remained absolutely serious. They still didn't get along very well, despite the fact that Jack had been with them for several weeks now. He'd just run into them on one of their adventures, and had never really left. River had been with the Doctor for just a little longer, taking her annual extended leave of the Stormcage. Every year, she spent several weeks with him, at the end of which she would be returned to the same night she left. It did her good, the Doctor thought, to get out and see the sun and the universe for a longer period of time than one frantic adventure.
But as the competition progressed, he wished River and Jack weren't in the same room. They seemed intent only on each other, as though the Doctor wasn't a part of the competition at all. And he wasn't going to admit it, but he didn't enjoy being left out like this.
"How long are we going to be at this?" he asked, if only to break the silence.
"Until he gives up," River said, taking another bite of fish custard.
"Not giving up," Jack said, painfully swallowing his next one.
"What if I give up?" the Doctor asked.
"Oh Sweetie, we all know that you're going to come in first place."
"You do?" the Doctor asked, surprised, happily taking another bite.
"Yup," Jack replied.
"This is about seeing who the looser will be," River said, defiantly downing her next mouthful as the Doctor's face fell.
"So essentially, I'm not even part of the competition?" he asked sorely. Jack gave no reply, instead forcing down his next piece. The Doctor frowned, then pushed away his plate before standing. "Well then it's no fun! No fun at all. You've stripped all the fun from it. You've taken something fun and made it…not fun. You're fun strippers!"
Jack gave a sudden bright grin and wiggled his eyebrows, while River collapsed in laughter. The Doctor looked indignant at first, and then just lost.
"What?" he asked innocently. "What is it?"
River managed to recover herself just enough to speak. "Rewind what you just said, Sweetie."
The Doctor paused, playing back his entire speech in his head, but it wasn't until Jack took off his jacket and swung it around his head, flinging it into the corner of the room that the Doctor finally caught on.
"Oh!" he shouted, his eyes going wide as a furious blush appearing on his cheeks. "Oh! No! Not what I meant at all! I mean, you might well be, but - Jack please stop!" The Doctor shouted, throwing his hand over his eyes as Jack began to shrug out of his newly unbuttoned shirt.
"Fine," Jack pouted, putting the shirt back on. "But I notice you're not telling her to stop."
At this, the Doctor peeked through his fingers at River, but she was just sat at the table still.
"You looked!" Jack said in mock-accusation, making the Doctor cover his eyes again as if in denial. He paused a moment, then lowered his hand, slowly and cautiously. Jack was sat there with a smirk playing on his features, and River's shoulders were shaking with barely concealed laughter.
"But that doesn't change what I was saying!" the Doctor huffed. "This was supposed to be a fun night. A date night."
Jack feigned surprise. "Doctor, you didn't tell me we were on a date!"
"Oh shut up," River said, rolling her eyes. "I'm the date, idiot."
Jack just laughed.
"Oh you two are hopeless!" the Doctor fumed, and he turned and began walking away.
"Oh Doctor, don't be like that!" Jack called after him, but it was River's hand he felt on his arm. He turned and looked at her, and saw the words she could rarely say written in her eyes. 'I'm sorry.'
"I didn't realise fish custard was so important to you," River said softly.
"Yes, well, it is," the Doctor said, a little petulantly.
"I'll make it up to you," River said with a little smile.
In reply, she leaned in close and whispered something in his ear. He blushed and giggled, his hands fluttering around as though he suddenly didn't know what to do with them. Just as River backed away again, he managed to straighten his expression.
"Yes, well…that would work," he said, then grinned again, and River gave a satisfied smile. She took his hand and led him back to the table.
"What would work?" Jack asked nosily, and the Doctor giggled again.
"Sorry Sugar, that's not for your ears to hear," River said calmly, making Jack pout.
They went back to eating like civilised people, and Jack did his best all evening to get himself invited to whatever it was that River had promised the Doctor. It didn't work, and eventually, River and the Doctor stood to leave. Jack finally got the point, standing and stretching lazily.
"See you crazy kids in the morning," he said, heading towards his room.
"Probably more like afternoon," River said nonchalantly, and it got her the reaction she'd wanted – a jealous glare. But Jack left without a word, just saluting the Doctor before he left. The Doctor gave it a few moments, and then headed towards the door too. "One moment, my love," River said, turning back and taking one more piece of fish custard, popping it in her mouth. "I really do like this."
The Doctor grinned and offered her his hand, which she took and let him lead her out of the room.
That last piece of fish custard also put her total above Jack's by one. She'd been keeping track all evening; Jack had just lost.