This fic is based off the hilarious snippet of the Doctor's nighttime adventures with River as seen in the mini-episode "Bad Night." If you haven't seen it yet (series 6 DVD extras) do so immediately. What follows will make very little sense without that context.
Also, this is my first foray into really plotty fic as opposed to character studies and vignettes. It was more of a challenge than I'd originally anticipated, and I'd greatly appreciate feedback about how well (or not) it works.
"Right then, we're off to bed," Rory called from the main level of the control room. The Doctor could hear his footsteps on the stairway, which, most days, unless the TARDIS was feeling cross, led to their bedroom. Two weeks ago she'd relocated it to the spot normally reserved for the least-convenient broom cupboard after Amy had complained that the new swimming pool wasn't nearly as impressive as the previous one.
"Goodnight, Doctor," Amy said, sticking her head over the ledge and doing her best to sound completely casual. As he had been for the last several hours, the Doctor was bent nearly double in the swing, head buried deep in the time rotor's innards. He hadn't said a word since he'd gone down there two hours ago, which would have been perfectly normal for a regular person, but this kind of quiet industry was so incredibly unusual for the Doctor that she'd swiped the portable scanner from the sickbay just to make sure he wasn't suffering from some kind of alien silence virus or something.
What she hadn't counted on, of course, was the sound the scanner made when she waved it in the Doctor's direction.
"Hmmm? Oh, yes, goodnight Amy. Wait – what are you doing with that?" The Doctor pulled his head out of the tangle of wires and cables.
"Me? Nothing." Amy tucked the scanner on the floor next to her torso, only belatedly remembering that the floor was glass and thus, everything on it was completely visible to the Doctor.
"Were you scanning me?" He sounded more amused than irritated, and at least she'd established that he could still talk. "Can you even read that thing?"
"Um, yes? And no, probably not. Rory can, though." The Doctor pushed his goggles up over his forehead and gave her a quizzical expression. "It's just you hadn't said anything in hours, even when we asked you if you'd like some biscuits."
"Really, I'm touched." He smiled fondly at her, though it didn't reach his eyes. Something was on his mind, something he wasn't sharing. She'd known that much for weeks. Even knowing that he hadn't fallen victim to a tongue-tying disease suddenly wasn't as reassuring as she'd thought it would be. The question she'd been wanting to ask him died on her lips. Now was clearly not the time for deep conversation.
"Well, guess I'll be on my way, then. To bed. With Rory." Amy waved her hand goodnight at him, feeling like a total idiot, and he halfheartedly waved back before pulling the goggles down over his eyes again and turning back to the bit of cabling in his hand.
Yes, something was definitely wrong with the Doctor. Her question could wait awhile longer, but she'd have whatever this was out of him soon even if she had to play keep away with his sonic screwdriver.
Lost in her thoughts, Amy didn't hear the Doctor gently set down the cable on the floor grating beneath him, or hear him rise from the swing as she passed over his head on the stairway.
Finally, he thought as he heard her clatter down the hallway.
Chapter One: A Most Unusual Goldfish
At first, he hadn't even done it consciously.
Months ago, Amy and Rory had, as usual, retired to their room in the evening (or what passed for evening on the TARDIS—establishing a time of day when one existed outside of time itself had always proved a bit tricky for his companions). and the TARDIS hadn't needed any repairs. He hadn't been in the middle of a good book, nor had he felt a pressing need for a swim.
He could hardly be blamed for showing up at Feldor VII just in time to run headlong into River Song, who was in the middle of stealing a rather important artifact from the archives of a wealthy collector. Several hours, two heated exchanges of innuendo-filled banter, and one glorious dash through a dark forest later, they had arrived back to the TARDIS. He had invited her in, she had declined on the grounds that she really didn't want to wake Amy and Rory (unlikely, he had assured her, as they were quite sound sleepers), and then he had found himself pinned against the TARDIS doors. The fact that he had returned her kiss rather than flailing about like a moth attempting to escape from the lure of a flame was hardly relevant.
As he'd said, running into River that night hadn't exactly been a conscious effort. But then it had happened again the next night he'd been at loose ends and in need of some activity. And the next. Before long, he'd realized that the old girl was purposely throwing them together, though to what end he still had no idea. Still, adventuring with River was unquestionably exciting, and if it involved more…physically stimulating…interludes than he typically shared with anyone, well, it was a price he was willing to pay, though not one whose implications he chose to spend much time thinking about.
At some point he had decided to start dressing a bit more formally for these overnight outings. Somehow, an inordinate number of them happened to take place at parties. Nothing too outlandish, mind, just swapping the tweed for a dinner jacket, then the boots for some wing tips, and finally testing the waters during an excursion to Victorian London with tails and (what he considered) a smashing top hat. To his surprise, River did not shoot the hat, which was why he kept the outfit on regular rotation, though only at night. Amy and Rory's night. Because, while he and River had never actually said a word about it, Amy and Rory were not invited. To be sure, River enjoyed the company of his companions, but he was fairly certain that she would have objected if he had to shown up one evening with them in tow. She might even have dropped the word "date" into the conversation, and that was a word he had tried very hard to avoid affixing to these whatever-they-weres.
Besides which, Amy would never have let him hear the end of it.
On this particular night he was planning a short jaunt to Aleph IV. The Treaty of Mandellum, which established formal diplomatic and trade ties between Starship UK and the Alephian Nation-State was due to be signed, and he had an inkling that it was exactly the right spot for some sightseeing. Otherwise unremarkable, the signing ceremony was notable for occurring just as the primary star for the Denais System was going supernova. While the Doctor had been present for the deaths of more stars than he could count (well, actually he could have counted them quite easily, but as a general rule he preferred not to reflect on all of those occasions) the view of this one from the ceremony site had reportedly been particularly striking. And he had an inkling that River might just show up too. Not that he was counting on her appearance, really. In fact, he wasn't even going to look for her. It was purely in an effort to blend in with the formality of the occasion that he had detoured to the Wardrobe from the Control Room, and that he was once again donning his top hat. River Song had nothing to do with anything he decided or did not decide to do. Really.
Straightening his bowtie and running a hand through his hair for the last time, the Doctor briefly glanced back at the stairs, reassuring himself that Amy and Rory were well and truly asleep. Amy, in particular, would never let him hear the end of it if she saw him going out in the middle of (her) night, much less dressed as he was. The stairs were empty, and a thrill (which had nothing at all to do with River Song, and everything to do with the impending sight of a truly spectacular supernova, naturally) ran through him as he checked his breast pocket one last time for the sonic before pushing through the TARDIS doors.
"Hello, Sweetie" greeted him as soon as he set foot outside his ship.
River Song, dressed as usual for the occasion (one of these days he was really going to have to investigate the storage capabilities of her tiny cell in Stormcage. The woman never wore the same thing twice, from what he could tell) was pointedly tapping her foot as she watched him exit. Clearly, he was either quite late or she just liked putting him off-balance. Personally, he had taken to assuming the latter ever since she had inadvertently revealed that she enjoyed seeing him flustered a few weeks back. Seeing as how that incident was still in her future, he knew that she didn't know that he knew what she was doing…and games of timey-wimey one-upsmanship really were his favorite.
"River," he began, hoping he sounded nonchalant in spite of the sensation of small frogs leaping about in the region of his stomach. "And to what do I owe the pleasure?"
She smiled her secretive wouldn't-you-love-to-know smile. "Sightseeing, naturally," before giving him a long head-to-toe look that simultaneously implied that the sights she had in mind were not limited to astronomical events, and that she knew exactly what he looked like under his layers of clothing. He hated that look.
"The supernova, I presume," he said, steadfastly ignoring her blatant ogling. Best thing, really.
"You know what they say about assumptions," she purred.
He knew, on some level, that there would likely come a day when River Song's flirting didn't unnerve him. Seeing as how that day hadn't yet come, while he no longer found himself rendered speechless at her comments, he had decided that confronting innuendo with innuendo was the best way to stay ahead of (or at least keep pace with) the game they played.
"No, care to fill me in?" he raised an eyebrow suggestively.
"I'm afraid we don't have time at the moment," she said, "but perhaps later…" and she took his arm in her own, turning them both away from the direction he'd planned to walk.
"Ah, River – I believe the signing ceremony is the other direction," he chided gently, turning them back in his original direction. He did so love to be the one who knew more than she did, even if his knowledge was limited to architectural plans.
"Yes, Sweetie, but the signing ceremony isn't where the fun is tonight," she countered, turning them back to face her intended half of the corridor. "It's over, by the by – that room is full of stuffy bureaucrats and hangers-on eating canapés at the moment. The real action is in the parcel room."
"The…parcel room?" he asked, completely flummoxed. "What could possibly be happening in the parcel room? Other than, of course, parcels being received and sorted. Rather dull things, parcels. Unless they're for me, of course, in which case I find them delightful. Wait, River!" with an annoyed huff she had disengaged her arm as soon as he'd started to digress, and was now several yards away, striding confidently in her chosen direction. He had no choice but to jog in order to catch up with her.
"Yes, Sweetie, the parcel room. Trust me." she smiled another maddening I-know-things-you-don't-know-I-know smile.
He hated that smile.
Several minutes, two corridors, and one very brief lift ride later, they arrived in the building's basement. Basements, the Doctor reflected, essentially looked the same no matter where or when you were. Dim, at least slightly neglected, occasionally quite creepy, and much quieter than aboveground floors. This one appeared to be one of the least interesting he'd ever had the displeasure of visiting, and he was on the verge of suggesting that River had perhaps been mistaken in her assertion that anything interesting could possibly ever happen here, when he heard a terrified shriek coming from behind a door clearly marked "Parcel Room."
"Told you so," River smirked before pulling an impossibly tiny gun out of her cleavage and hurrying over to the door.
"River" he hissed. "You can't just rush in there!" Too late, because she'd already flung it open.
Inside, they were confronted with a young woman, apparently the clerk, who had just uncovered a rather alarming bomb-like apparatus from behind a pile of boxes clearly labeled "Diplomatic Conference." Her scream had apparently resulted from the fact that there was less than a minute remaining on the bomb's timer.
"Get rid of it!" the attendant shrieked at River and the Doctor, clearly under the impression that they were there to help her. Which, in fact, they were, but the Doctor had never really appreciated being yelled at by strangers.
"Yes, yes, all in good time," River muttered, bending over the device with remarkable aplomb.
She really does that so well, the Doctor thought, before mentally checking himself. Even he wasn't sure at the moment if he'd meant that River was superb at staying calm even in alarming situations, or that she looked particularly attractive from behind when she bent over. Focus, he chastised himself before pulling out his sonic and running it over the bomb.
"Well, it doesn't have any lethal explosives inside," he informed River, who was looking for the wire that would disable the bomb. There was always a wire.
"It doesn't?" she asked, still focusing on disabling the device. "What does it have inside, then?"
"I'm not quite sure," he said, scanning it again. "It's some kind of biological material, but it looks to be in a state of flux. The DNA sequence is unstable - it's reshuffling itself to mimic whichever life forms are in the vicinity-"
"Meaning it's not your typical biological weapon," River finished for him before she pulled a white wire. The device, which had been audibly powering up as they worked, immediately silenced as the timer stopped. "Well, whatever it is, it's neutralized now." River straightened up again while the Doctor continued to crouch over the bomb, inspecting it visually. The casing was fairly unremarkable for this century – any one of twenty dozen races could have easily located and assembled it, including both the humans of Starship UK and the Alephians.
"We can take it back to the TARDIS for more thorough tests later," he noted, glancing at his wristwatch. It wasn't that he minded the adventure, but he had been so looking forward to that brilliant first flare of the supernova.
"You there," River pointed at the attendant, who was still shaking and cowering in a corner behind some shelving units. "Who delivered these packages?"
"I…is that thing really turned off?" she asked, clearly terrified to come out of her (completely useless in the face of a powerful explosive) hiding place.
"It is," the Doctor said, straightening himself. He was so much better at soothing people than River, really. She tended to frighten them off what with her guns and her hair and her interrogate-first-act-like-a-reasonable-person-later manner. "Hello. I'm the Doctor and this is River. You are?"
"Lexa Lareso," she said, with a nervous smile. "You're really sure? It's not just playing dead or something?"
"Really sure," and he gave her his most reassuring smile. "Can you tell us who brought this pile in earlier?"
Lexa glanced nervously between him and River. "I should really call Security now. This place is swarming with guards, and I'll be in a lot of trouble if theythink I didn't let them know right away about a threat to the delegations."
"Of course," River said, taking a step towards Lexa. "We're actually with the security team, though, so you really needn't worry about that. Doctor, our credentials-" She elbowed him in the ribs when he didn't immediately produce his psychic paper. Taking the bruising hint, he whipped his billfold out of his jacket pocket, letting Lexa get a good look at the paper.
"Thank goodness!" she said, clearly feeling far more at ease now that she thought they were affiliated with the conference rather than just random passers-by who happened to know how to disarm bombs. "I don't really know who brought them here, though. I just came on shift an hour ago, and they were already here. Velux - he works the day shift - must have received them."
"Why didn't they go straight up to the conference rooms if they're for tonight's event?" River asked, which was really quite a good question in the Doctor's opinion. He rather wondered why he hadn't thought of it.
"I…I don't know. Velux would have called the staff as soon as they arrived to arrange for transportation to wherever they were needed. If they're still here, either he couldn't get ahold of anyone who could tell him where they were needed, or he could but they said that they didn't require them until later." Lexa wrung her hands together. "Who could do such a thing? I could have died!"
The Doctor didn't see how reminding the girl that the bomb hadn't actually contained any lethal weapon he could identify as such would be terribly helpful at the moment. She clearly wasn't very bright.
"Is there a delivery log we could see?" River asked, ignoring Lexa's pending meltdown.
"Oh! Yes! Right there – next to the door." she pointed at an electronic clipboard. River took it off the wall and glanced through the most recent entries, quickly comparing them to the labels on the packages next to the bomb.
"Here," she said, pointing at an entry. "Looks like it was delivered four hours ago. Whoever sent it must have assumed that would be enough time for the lot to be delivered before the bomb would explode."
"Yes, but what was it supposed to do?" the Doctor asked, mostly rhetorically. "And more to the point, these are addressed to the Alephian delegation – who would be targeting them here?" The Doctor's eyes flew back to the log. "There are twenty boxes listed here, but I only see thirteen in that pile." His eyes fixed on Lexa, "Where are the other seven?"
Lexa stepped out from behind the cabinets and looked over the log. At least she had stopped shaking, though the Doctor had no doubt she was still on the verge of a panic attack. "Those were delivered. I remember, just as I came on shift, someone from the events staff came down to pick them up."
"Quickly," he said, "Where did they take them?"
Lexa tapped the log until a new screen popped up. "It looks like they were delivered to the Starship UK senior diplomatic holding room." Her eyes widened, and she choked out, "the queen would have been there!"
As it turned out, River's command that "Nobody move!" when she and the Doctor entered the diplomatic chamber was entirely unnecessary. This was mostly due to the fact that the room's lone occupant was presently physically incapable of not moving, as she appeared to have been turned into rather large goldfish and was flopping about on the floor, desperate for water.
The Doctor shrieked and scooped up the fish, dropping her into a decorative fish pond which happened to be conveniently located in the center of the room. As he scooped, he noted that the nearly deceased (and presumably originally human) fish was joining at least a dozen other identical fish in the pond. Sorting that out later, a voice in the back of his brain noted.
"I think we've figured out what that biological matter in the other bomb was supposed to do," River said drily as the Doctor threw the final fish into the pond. "Now what?"
"Now we try to determine who this fish actually was—is" he corrected himself, "and then who sent those bombs. Or vice-versa. I assume the former will be easier than the latter, but really at this point it could happen the other way 'round. Or we could learn both together" he trailed off, recognizing River's that's-nice-but-I'm-losing-interest look.
Before either of them had a chance to begin their next verbal sparring match, the door opened.
"What the devil are you doing here?" a thin, unpleasant looking man demanded.
"Well, how was I supposed to know that the Prince of Wales was going to just waltz into the room and demand to know what had happened to his mother?" River snapped, walking briskly ahead of the Doctor and gesturing wildly with the hand that also happened to be holding onto the second, unexploded bomb.
"Well frankly, your excuse that we were the cleaning crew's advance team was hardly convincing, dear," he retorted, hurrying to catch up with her.
"Yes, and your comment that we were there to ensure that the fish weren't suffering from any undue stress was hardly helpful, Sweetie," she said tartly before stopping in her tracks. "And just what do you plan to do about Her Aquatic Majesty, anyway?"
"As I've been trying to tell you, we're taking the other bomb back to the TARDIS for some scans, provided that you don't manage to detonate it en route," he snapped back, feeling particularly irritated. "Once we know what exactly caused the transformation we should have a better idea of how to reverse it." Honestly, couldn't she just listen for once? He swore he'd never met anyone who listened to him less than River Song.
"Oh, I need to pay more attention to you, do I?" she retorted, turning around to fully face him for the first time since they had been caught flat-footed by the future King of England. "Well why don't you just-"
Without thinking, the Doctor closed the distance between them with one stride, took River's shoulder in her hand, and pushed her against the corridor wall. Before he could even form a coherent thought, his lips were on hers.
This was no leisurely kiss, nor was it full of the bewilderment and wonder of the first time his lips had touched hers (from his perspective) just weeks ago after their journey to Florida in 1969. No, this kiss was a battle, and as his hands found purchase against her hips, he felt the stirrings of true physical desire for River Song fluttering deep in his gut. In the deepest, most secret part of his hearts – the part he spent an increasing amount of time trying to ignore these days – he acknowledged that he'd been wanting to do this since he'd first seen her standing outside the TARDIS doors an hour ago.
"You were saying?" he finally asked, ending the kiss (reluctantly) exactly three minutes after it had begin, and two minutes forty three seconds after she had relaxed into his embrace and begun kissing him back in earnest.
"I was saying that you were impossible and arrogant," she replied crisply, though with a fond smile on her lips rather than a cross smirk.
Oh, how he adored that look.
"You love it when I'm impossible," he reminded her, and reached for the bomb she still held in her left hand. "May I?"
She passed him the device without argument and pressed her lips against his one last time before pushing back from the wall. "We aren't going to the TARDIS yet, by the way."
"What is the meaning of this?" demanded the Alephian ambassador.
"You heard me perfectly well the first time," River said calmly. Too calmly. The Doctor knew that tone of voice – had been on the receiving end of it more than once – and it was not good. Very not good. The calmer River sounded in a tense situation, the more likely she was to shoot someone in short order.
And here he'd thought tonight was going to be relaxing.
"You are accusing me and my delegation of…of…planting biological weapons at this conference?" The man had now puffed up to twice his original size (Alephians were known to do that. Bit intimidating, really, but one wouldn't know it to look at River's reaction to him) and was turning the most interesting shade of purple.
"I most certainly am," River responded crisply. "Doctor, the bomb, if you please."
Wordlessly, the Doctor handed the device over. He really had no idea where River was going with this, only that she was very certain that she was right. As a general rule she did tend to be right about these sorts of things, but it was still making him nervous that she hadn't yet shared her insights into the bomb's origins with him.
He very much hoped she'd actually had an insight and that this wasn't just a gigantic game of chicken with a likely suspect.
"You see, Ambassador, this device isn't remarkable in the slightest. It's generic almost to the point of absurdity, particularly when one considers how many far superior weapons there are out there which could achieve the same effect. Of course, most of those are also far more easily identifiable as well." River turned the bomb around in her hand, encouraging the Alephian to study it carefully.
"If it is so common," he began, filling every word with venom, "then how, pray tell, could you assume that it came from us?"
"Simple, really," said River lightly, tapping at the side of the timer with one red fingernail. "Biological weapons capable of turning one species into another are unique to four star systems: Risos, Calfaxtria, Helnor, and Asonos."
"None of those systems are anywhere near Aleph!" roared the warrior chief, who thus far had remained silent but fuming at the ambassador's side. "Do you require a map, Dr. Song?"
And suddenly, it clicked. Oh, she was good.
"No, but you might be interested to know that this particular substance hasn't been manufactured on Risos for, oh, around 80 years, which means nothing created there would still be viable after so long. It is still in production on Calfaxtria, but is heavily regulated against offworld export. You could easily procure some on Asonos, but given the fact that Asonos has a methane atmosphere which is highly toxic to most sentient forms of life in this galaxy, it's improbable that anyone would choose to procure this device there. Helnor, on the other hand, manufactures both the bio-matter and this particular casing and engages in arms trade with your planet." The Doctor gave what he considered to be his most charming smile to the warrior chief.
"Our trade agreements with Helnor are irrelevant," the chief spat out. "Besides, if this device came from Helnor, then why are you not accusing them of planting it here? Or have you forgotten that the bomb you carry was intended for the Alephian delegation?"
"Oh no, we've not forgotten that point," he said, catching River's eye as he plucked the device in question out of her hand. "Not at all. In fact, I was just about to congratulate you on your truly excellent plan to throw us off the track. Well, I say us, but really we weren't here to do anything more than see the truly spectacular supernova that is due to appear in, oh," he checked his wristwatch, "seventeen minutes. Pity. I imagine we'll miss the best part unless you decide to just confess and allow yourself to be taken into custody now."
If he was being perfectly honest (and really, Rule One) he would have conceded that it was a guess. A likely guess, a probable guess, an educated guess, but a guess nonetheless. For someone determined enough, no toxic atmosphere or trade restrictions would prevent the acquisition of a weapon. And it wasn't completely outside the realm of possibility that someone from Helnor could have planted the devices. But the warrior chief had started to deflate the moment the Doctor had begun to tick off all the reasons why Helnor was an obvious point of purchase if the Alephians were behind the plot. He had recovered quickly, but not before the Doctor (and River, he assumed) had noticed exactly what was happening. That's the thing about being able to increase your size through respiration, the Doctor mused somewhere in the back of his brain while his mouth kept talking, if you're not very careful about your breathing, lying is nearly impossible.
"Yes, about the bomb intended for your people that was mistakenly left in the parcel room," River picked up, taking it from the Doctor's hand again as she circled around the ambassador. "Someone from the Alephian delegation intentionally didn't retrieve it when it arrived earlier today. I can only assume," she continued, catching the Doctor's eye and giving him a knowing smirk, "that the plan was to make it look like both delegations were targeted without ever actually endangering your people."
"You have no proof of any of this!" the ambassador roared. "And for that matter, how do we know you didn't plant these things yourselves? You don't seem to be associated with anyone here, and showed up just as the bombs did!"
"Not a bad bit of deductive reasoning there," the Doctor nodded, accepting the bomb back from River. "Problem is, we know we didn't plant these, and there's one last piece of evidence proving that someone from your side did."
"Which is?" the warrior chief demanded.
"This timer," River explained, tapping it once again. "It's designed to fall completely to pieces – to be incinerated, actually – when the bomb explodes. It only comes from one world. Yours. Oh, and there's also the matter of your public statements prior to this conference that an armed conflict between Starship UK and Helnor would be far more beneficial to Aleph IV than any trade agreement. Of course, you don't have the support of your government to actually act on those sentiments, so instead you're trying to provoke the English into starting a war for you."
The Doctor felt just as surprised as the Alephians looked at this particular revelation. He'd been planning to keep bluffing until someone confessed. In fairness, it did usually work.
With a roar, the warrior chief grabbed for the bomb. River, usually quite quick on her feet, attempted to leap sideways to avoid his grasp, but tripped on the hem of her dress instead. She managed to toss the bomb in the Doctor's direction, but the shot went wild and the device flew several inches higher than he could reach. It flew, oddly enough, in a perfect arc right into the arms of the warrior chief, who gave the Doctor a wild grin before he turned and ran out of the room with the bomb.
"Wait!" River shouted to him as he began to follow the Alephian, whose delegation had remained, stunned, behind. "Don't follow him!"
"River, without the bio-matter inside that bomb we can't use the TARDIS medbay to formulate an antidote!"
"We don't need the bomb for that," she waved her hand dismissively as she brushed nonexistent dirt from the skirt of her long dress. Suddenly, the Doctor became very suspicious.
"River, what did you do to it?"
Meeting his eye for the first time since her supposedly accidental fall, River smiled sweetly. The sound of an explosion from the corridor outside negated the need for a response.
"Really, Sweetie, I think we should count this as a positive development," River said, one hand carefully cupped over the edge of the rolled newspaper her target had chosen to land on. "After all, at least there was a fly in that portion of the corridor. Think how difficult it would have been to find him if the largest form of life within four meters had been bacterial."
The Doctor was not amused.
"Positive? Postive, River? What exactly is positive about the fact that we still have no idea how to turn either Her Majesty or Scourge-of-Millions there back into themselves, and thanks to your tinkering we have nothing left to test in order to find a solution to that problem?" He was furious, and probably could have gone on much longer if they hadn't been running.
"What's positive is that we have a very valuable bargaining chip," she answered, rounding the corner ahead of him. She paused to fish her TARDIS key from her cleavage using the hand that wasn't presently occupied with keeping one very valuable insect safe. He really didn't want to know what else she might have hidden there. "We have their warrior chief, and we have evidence to prove that he, and possibly their ambassador as well, attempted to sabotage this conference in a decidedly underhanded and dishonorable fashion. If nothing else, Sweetie," she continued, pushing through the doors, "we have leverage."
"You're assuming that the ambassador knows what was in those things and that he knows how to reverse the effects. And you do know what they say about assumptions," he countered.
"Yes, but we really don't have time at the moment, Sweetie," she countered, pressing herself against him briefly as she set the rolled-up paper on top of his answering machine.
He was fairly sure she'd done it just to see if he would squirm.
"Now, first things first. We need to retrieve Her Majesty from that pond." River stepped away from the console, all business again. "Wait, where are Amy and Rory?"
"Sleeping. Hopefully until this is over," he said grimly, imagining exactly how much worse the situation would become if Amy were to stumble into it. "We don't need their help."
"That does give me an idea, though," he said. "Hang on a tick," and secretly loving the very confused look on River's face at his cryptic remark, he dashed out of the Control Room.
"You look ridiculous," River told him, but the fond smirk on her face told him that she loved it.
"Rule number 105 – walk softly and carry a big stick," he answered, enjoying the weight of the cricket bat in his hand.
"So you're plagiarizing rules from Teddy Roosevelt now, are you?" she asked, a broad grin replacing the smirk. "Really, Sweetie, this," pointing at the gun she was once again wielding, "is much less…obtrusive."
"And much more likely to inflict permanent damage," he insisted. "No, if we're going to be assaulted by any one of the several dozen security personnel who are likely searching for us at this very moment, I'd rather not cause serious injury."
"Sweetie? I do hate to break it to you, but that thing," she pointed at the bat, "could very easily do just that."
"Tell that to Amy," he muttered darkly, wincing at the memory of the truly spectacular headache he'd suffered from for hours after his first encounter with the adult version of his current companion.
River gave him a quizzical look, but before she could ask the obvious question they were rudely seized from behind by several large men wearing security uniforms.
"Gentlemen," said the Doctor, assuming his best trust-me-I'm-the-Doctor face. "We're in rather desperate need of a conversation with the Prince of Wales."
"My mother has been…kidnapped?" the prince asked for the third time.
"Not so much kidnapped as abducted for her personal protection," said the Doctor, glancing anxiously behind the prince to try to make out how many fish were still in the koi pond. When they'd entered, the prince had mentioned that the lot were on loan from a nearby animal supplier and would be returned there within the hour.
"We assume you heard about the bomb that was planted in this suite, and that the Alephians may have been behind both it and another device," River said.
"My security detail did fill me in about it, yes," said the prince. "I trust you understand how delicate our situation is given the fact that we just signed the trade agreement with them two hours ago."
"Of course," said the Doctor. "Which is why your mother is best kept in our custody for the time being."
"You understand that it's difficult for me to simply accept this without speaking with her," the prince said flatly. "I cannot understand why she isn't able to at least tell me about this herself over the comm system."
"Forgive me, your Highness," River interjected, "but the comm system can be traced. If your mother is being targeted, we can't take the chance that the Alephians aren't monitoring it. I know this is difficult, but you need to trust that we are keeping her safe."
The Doctor had to hand it to her, River could be sincerely convincing when she wanted to be. Pity she was lying through her teeth.
"If it makes you feel better," the Doctor cut in, deciding that it was only way the prince was going to leave the room so they could retrieve his mother from the pond, "here's my number." Pulling a pen from his jacket pocket, the Doctor scribbled the TARDIS's number onto the back of the prince's hand. "Call me if there's an emergency."
The prince, startled by the Doctor's familiarity and his unexpectedly dirty hand, simply nodded in agreement. "I will," he choked out.
"Right then," the Doctor capped his pen and turned his attention to the fish pond. "We need to…investigate the room. If you wouldn't mind, your Highness, I must insist that you wait elsewhere so as to reduce the chance of contaminating the crime scene."
"The – yes, of course," the prince agreed. "And I will be calling you, Doctor, if my mother isn't back extremely soon. You can be sure of that."
"Yes, yes, of course," the Doctor agreed as the prince stepped out of the room. "We'll be in touch."
River closed the doors as the prince and his entourage departed. "I thought he'd never leave. Now, which one is the Queen?"
They both peered into the pond. Fourteen fish were lazily swimming inside, all roughly the same color and size. "I don't suppose you noticed any specific markings on Her Royal Highness before you threw her in there earlier, Doctor?" River asked, crouching down to observe the fish more closely.
"Naturally," the Doctor said, pulling a small glass bowl out of his jacket pocket.
"Showoff," River teased, gesturing to his clearly bigger-on-the-inside pockets.
"You love it," he returned with a grin. "Now, there was a white spot around two centimeters wide below her left fin, and a jigsaw puzzle shaped tan spot on her tail."
Scanning the fish, the Doctor took a moment to appreciate River's hair out of the corner of his eye. Running, he decided, made it even more attractive than usual. Later he was going to avail himself of the first opportunity to lose his hands in it. After they dealt with the fish situation.
"There!" River pointed to a fish at the far end of the pond. "Is that her?"
The Doctor squinted, "Yes, I think it is."
Without further discussion, River took the bowl from his hand, slid out of her heels, and waded into the water. "Got her!"
"Now to take her back to the TARDIS," the Doctor agreed, giving River a hand out of the pond. "We just need to contact the Alephian ambassador, arrange to receive the antidote for the queen in exchange for his warrior chief, and get Her Majesty back here before the prince decides he's had enough of the silent treatment. What could possibly go wrong?"
"The phrase 'famous last words' really doesn't quite cut it, does it, Sweetie?" River asked breathlessly as she and the Doctor dashed down the corridor. Again.
"If Amy had simply seen fit to stay asleep like a normal human being we wouldn't be in this predicament," he retorted angrily.
"If you hadn't picked the wrong fish, we might not be in it either," she replied sharply, clearly offended on Amy's behalf.
"Fine, take her side," he answered, choosing to take the high road. "Right now I'm more concerned with retrieving the actual queen and figuring out what to do about the fact that Amy took it upon herself to kill the Alephian warrior chief with the newspaper you left sitting around on the console than assigning blame." He stopped at the door to the royal suite, and considered the fact that he held the door open for River to be both gentlemanly and diplomatic. The withering glare she shot him as she walked through suggested that she felt otherwise.
"Oh, thank goodness," he breathed as he saw that the fish, though no longer in the pond, had been left in a large tank on top of a rather convenient pushcart.
"We're taking the lot of them this time," River informed him, seizing the cart. "Run!"
This, thought the Doctor as he charged ahead of River, cricket bat at the ready to defend a tank full of goldfish against all and sundry who might stand between them and the TARDIS, is unquestionably one of the most absurd nights of my life.
"So you see, Ambassador," the Doctor concluded, "unless you hand over the antidote to me immediately, I am fully prepared to release the recording I just showed you to the Starship UK representatives. As much as you and your tragically deceased warrior chief wanted to start a war, I feel fairly confident that your methodology would not be received well back home. And let me assure you, the Prince would have no qualms about making this situation very, very public."
The ambassador said nothing for a moment. He gave the Doctor a long, hard stare, and then glanced up and down at River, his eyes finally coming to rest on the data chip she held delicately between her left forefinger and thumb. Her right hand was otherwise occupied by her ever-present pistol.
"We have backup copies, of course," River assured him. "This is more for show than anything else."
The Doctor held his breath as the ambassador began to inflate himself again – there would be more running straight back to the TARDIS if he decided to fight. Then, just as suddenly as it started, the air went out of the Alephian as if he were a balloon that had suddenly sprung a leak. Wordlessly, he pulled a vial of bio-matter from his pocket.
"The antidote?" the Doctor asked, taking the sample.
The ambassador nodded. "I trust that all copies of that recording will be destroyed," he said, sounding far less impressive than he doubtless intended.
"All but one," the Doctor agreed. "I will retain the original just in case anything…untoward…were to occur to spark conflict between your people and the Starship UK." River nodded approvingly at this comment.
The ambassador opened his mouth again, reconsidered, and closed it. "Then I shall bid you farewell, Doctor."
"Ah, Ambassador," River said, holding out the rolled-up paper she had retrieved from the TARDIS console. "Your warrior chief?"
The ambassador accepted the paper with a disdainful sneer on his face. "His body will be…disposed of," he said before turning again and leaving the room with as much dignity as he could muster.
River and the Doctor exchanged a look of relief and amusement at the somewhat anticlimactic resolution to this truly unusual situation. "We should probably get Her Majesty sorted before her son starts calling for our heads," River noted, taking the Doctor's hand in her own.
"Indeed," he said, turning to face her as his hand acted on his earlier impulse and rose almost of its own accord to thread itself through her hair. "I'm sure Security will be here at any moment demanding to know where we're keeping her."
"Mmmm," River agreed, her hand tightening around his waist. "They'll probably want to confiscate that cricket bat of yours."
The Doctor smiled as he lowered his mouth to hers. "And here I thought you'd insist on doing the honors yourself."
They didn't make it back to the TARDIS for a disgracefully long time.
"See, this is a much better way to view a supernova," River informed the Doctor smugly, leaning against him as they dangled their legs out the open doors of the TARDIS. "What possessed you to go down to the planet to watch it?"
There were a number of ways the Doctor could have responded to this question, I wanted to see you was on the tip of his tongue. "I have always had a deep and abiding interest in trade agreements," came out instead, as primly as if he had been talking to a minor acquaintance rather than…whatever River was. Her glare plainly showed that she didn't believe him, but she didn't press the point.
"Speaking of which, what exactly were you doing there, Dr. Song? You certainly seemed to have more than an inkling about what was going on before I arrived." He shifted slightly to look her in the eye. Not that he really expected her to fabricate a story about such a trivial detail, but it was River, after all.
"Got a tip from another inmate at Stormcage and was feeling restless, that's all," she smiled sincerely, and the Doctor knew she was lying.
"In other words," he said, "spoilers."
Her smile broadened into a genuine grin. "Spoilers indeed."
An easy silence settled between them as they watched the star begin the process of flaring out of existence. The Doctor listened to the steady rise and fall of her breath, enjoying the weight of her against his side, and found that his own breathing had suddenly become a bit less regular.
For all of their increasingly easy and familiar banter, and for all of the kisses (even the ones he initiated himself) they had shared, this, just sitting next to her enjoying the twin sights of a dying star and the way her eyes caught its reflected light was enough to leave him breathless. This moment, or one like it, was what he had been hoping for when he'd first stepped out of the TARDIS hours ago, and he knew it was the scene he would play over and over again in his head after she was gone.
And then it hit him – for all he had been telling himself that he most certainly wasn't spending his time thinking about this thing between himself and River, he was doing just that, and doing quite a bit of it.