The Doctor ran a finger along the spines of the books, pretending to be looking for something in particular. He pinched his chin and cocked his head to the side, faking an interest, before glancing sidelong to see if she was buying it. River was hunched over the table, books piled on one side of her as she was taking notes on what she was reading. Her hair was gathered up loosely in a twist and she was tapping her lip with the base of the pen. He returned to his performance.
He climbed up on the little ladder to peruse some higher books. Higher learning, he thought and chuckled at his internal wit. She still didn't react. He reached across to a shelf further away, pulling his body into a pose she would surely find distracting. He stretched a little further until his shirt slipped out from under his waistband revealing a hint of stomach. He looked down, still nothing. How could she resist that? Was she made of stone? He harrumphed quietly and pushed a foot against the shelf sending the ladder rolling along to a spot further down.
He was about to climb down and admit defeat when something caught his eye – his old chess set. He took it down and descended the ladder, opening the box and counting the pieces.
He looked up to find River in much the same position as she had been sitting last time he looked at her, head still buried in her work. "No, what?"
"No chess, I told you last time."
"No you didn't," he protested.
"I will," she said, still not looking at him.
"Oh come on, it could be fun, or you know, sexy, like that film."
"The Thomas Crown Affair. Yes I know, but no, it wouldn't."
"I don't see why not. I'm sexy, you're sexy, why not sexy chess?"
She put her pen down and looked at him with a pained expression, "No chess, sexy or otherwise."
"Well then, maybe you're not as sexy as I thought you were."
"Maybe not," she replied unperturbed, returning to her work and looking ridiculously sexy.
"Fine," he said, feigning indifference. He slipped the lid back on the box and carried it out of the library with him.
River entered the TARDIS and stopped dead in her tracks. "What's that? Have you lost your mind?"
"It's a chess set, I thought we could have a nice friendly game," he said taking her coat and hanging it on the stand.
"After last time? Are you insane?"
"So I will get to play you then? Excellent, I look forward to it."
River shook her head. "You'll see. Just don't say I didn't warn you."
"Maybe if we had a game now, just a little one…"
"No. I am never, ever going to play chess with you again," she said holding him by the lapels and fixing him with a stare.
"I'll bet it was sexy. So sexy you couldn't handle a second round," he said smugly and tapped her on the nose.
"Keep dreaming," she said with a laugh and walked off past the chess set and down the corridor.
He looked at the board and imagined capturing her pawns one-by-one before taking her queen. He shuddered and thought, Next time.
River gravitated directly to the chessboard and looked up at the Doctor expectantly. "Can we play?"
He didn't reply, he just threw his jacket off and cracked his knuckles before rubbing his palms together. Sexy, sexy chess.
Fifteen minutes later he had taken three of her pawns and a rook, River was staring intently at the board weighing up her next move and probably realising her folly in playing chess with a Time Lord. He sat back in his seat and observed her wiggle her queen's bishop with her index finger. "Is this going to take all day?" he said. She glared up at him and he grinned back.
"How do you expect me to make my move if you won't let me think?"
"I'm not stopping you. Maybe I could go and make tea to give you time, or rewrite the Oxford dictionary, in reverse order, by hand. Maybe that would help?"
"Just shut up and stop staring at me, Sweetie."
He smiled again and she returned to the board. She grabbed the bishop purposefully and went to make a move only to be interrupted by the Doctor sucking air in through his teeth and saying, "I don't think you want to do that." She snapped her eyes up again and made a passable attempt at boring a hole in him. "Why not?"
"Because if you do that I'll have you in checkmate in…24 moves, 26 if you're lucky."
"Do you have to be such an insufferable cock?"
"River, that's really rude!"
"That was the polite version of what I wanted to say. You don't want to know what the rude version was." He thought for a moment and decided that she was right. "This was a bad idea," she said, "why did we want to play this anyway?"
"Sexy?" he replied.
"OK, well do you want to just put it away? Concede defeat?"
"I wouldn't give you the satisfaction, Sweetie."
"Oh," he said noting the determination in her eyes, and realising now that this was going to lead nowhere good. Twenty minutes later she took his king's knight. "Well done, that was an excellent move," he said.
"You're letting me win, aren't you?"
"What? No, never! You're just very good at chess." She glowered at him. "Okay, well maybe yes."
"How is it worse? You feel better, and I choose to lose the game, even though I know I could destroy you in…8 moves. Everybody wins." He looked at her again and was sure he can see bared teeth.
"You really are a self-satisfied prick, aren't you?"
"River! Look, I can't help it if my Time Lord brain is superior to your simpler human…" before he finished the sentence he realised how it sounded. Shit. She stood up sharply and grabbed the edges of the table. Her knuckles were white and her jaw clenched as she held him in a stare, daring him to say something. "Calm down!"
Apparently, telling someone who was angry to calm down had the exact inverse effect to its original intention. This was news to him, which was why he was so surprised when River toppled the chessboard sending pieces scattering over the console room in all directions. He sat slack-jawed and watched her as her hands formed fists and she stood breathing heavily.
You've ruined the game, he thought better of saying. He gazed at her in her fury and decided that she was pretty hot when she was angry, but he didn't say that either. He said nothing because saying things seemed to have entirely unpredictable results at the moment.
The tension was broken by an unhappy sound coming from the TARDIS and the ship jerking, causing her to fall into his lap. She extracted herself quickly and went to the console to see what was wrong. He joined her and the ship jerked again. He pulled the scanner screen around but it was unresponsive. He whacked it on the side causing it to go completely dead. Great. "You must have got one of the chess pieces lodged somewhere," he said, irritated.
"I know where I'd like to lodge one of the pieces," she replied throwing him a look that could stop a clock.
They didn't speak another word for eighteen hours until finally River broke the silence. "I want to go back home, now."
The Doctor reeled at the request, "But… this is home."
"Yours maybe, but it doesn't feel much like mine at the moment," she shrugged.
"River, no please, not like this." He approached her and stroked her cheek, but her eyes evaded his. "I'm sorry, I am an insufferable cock and a self-satisfied prick. Please don't leave like this."
She looked at the floor and rubbed her arm, softened by his admission, but more so by his use of words he found generally repellent. "I'm sorry too, I'm a sore loser."
"A smug winner and a sore loser do not make good bedfellows."
"Not good chess opponents perhaps, but I wouldn't dismiss the bedfellows outright," she said with a wry smile.
He grabbed her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. "We're never, ever, playing chess again. Agreed?" he said shaking her lightly.
"Agreed!" she replied.
"Thank goodness for that!" he sighed, folding her into a hug and kissing her desperately on the cheek. "Do you still want to leave? Because you can, whenever you want."
"Thank you, but no. I'd really like a bath," he nodded at her. "And a fuck."
"River! Do you have to be so vulgar?"
"Shut up. You love it."
He didn't deny it – he just kissed her.
He was in the kitchen tinkering with her coffee machine, trying to get it to make the milk even frothier when she padded in barefoot behind him. "Look what I found," she said. He turned around to see her holding the chess set.
"What? I haven't even said anything?"
"You don't need to. No, I will not play chess with you."
"But it could be sexy, like The Thomas Crown Affair?"
"Trust me, no it wouldn't. Whatever you're thinking, it would be the opposite."
"Spoilsport," she said and padded back out.
Two hours later he found the box and jettisoned it into a black hole.