Pour A Little Poison On My Good Name
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters I mention in this little story. Also the title is a lyric from the ever-talented David Ford which inspired this ditty. So, in summary, I just steal stuff from other people.
Author's Note: So this is based loosely on the Christmas prequel/trailer that was on Children In Need and my brain was coming up with many hideous objections to what was happening and basically going WELL HE WOULD HAVE JUST GONE TO RIVER WOULDN'T HE so I wrote this to try to pacify that angry voice in my head that gets annoyed every time River isn't in a scene. Enjoy…
The Doctor swayed slightly as he walked up the winding path. The wind and rain were attacking him from all directions and he felt so fragile that he feared one more strong gust would knock him clean off his feet. It would be nice, just once, he thought bitterly, for the weather not to replicate his feelings like some tedious cliché. Sure he was falling apart and there were tears streaming down his face but that blow could have been softened by a summer's breeze or the soft falling of autumn leaves but, as ever, the weather seemed to be tantruming in sympathy with him.
He paused as he finally reached the door and thought how strange it was to be at a house seeking the one woman he could rely on to comfort him when for so long he'd been used to the cold grey walls of her prison cell as the place she resided. But this was her home now. This new, mature, free River. She lived in a little detached house on the outskirts of a small town and being here, about to disrupt this new life she'd made for herself, felt completely wrong. When he'd visited her in prison, the prison he had placed her in, it had felt like he belonged there- like she needed him- but here, in this piece of normality she'd acquired for herself, he'd never felt more out of place or more unwanted. It was a feeling he was getting used to.
Shakily he raised his hand to knock on the door in front of him but, at the last second, he hesitated then withdrew it quickly back to his side. She was the only one who could help him, the only one who understood, but right now he didn't feel like he deserved that. He sighed as he turned to walk away- back to the TARDIS and the loneliness that had threatened to consume him for so long now.
"And where do you think you're going?" The Doctor jumped as the door opened suddenly and he spun around to see River standing in the doorway pulling her cardigan tighter around herself against the bitter cold.
"River!" He yelped involuntarily. "I was… well I was…"
"Running away?" River offered as she smiled slightly, leaning against the doorway and raising one eyebrow.
"Running away?" He scoffed with an attempt at humour. "Of course I wasn't running away I was…. Walking. I was walking away."
"Well stop it and come inside." River grabbed hold of his hand and pulled him roughly forwards into the warmth of her house, ignoring his spluttering protests.
"River, where are we?" The Doctor spluttered as he routed around in his jacket pocket to locate his tiny blue diary.
"Drying first. Diaries later." River instructed as she pushed him forward and shut the door behind them. "Go into the living room and stand by the fire, I'll get you some dry clothes." She announced as she pointed him to the closest door before quickly turning and disappearing upstairs.
The Doctor pushed the door open cautiously. Part of him was terrified about what he would see in this new, alien, domestic setting. Worried that his River would be different somehow, changed by her new environment. Right now the last thing he could deal with was more change but he let out a sigh of relief as he surveyed the living room quickly. A small table sat in the middle covered in scraps of paper, notes and pictures- clearly she was in the middle of some study. Littered around the room were various mugs, wine glasses and take-away menus. The walls were lined with shelves full of higgledy piggledy books and artefacts. There was a squishy sofa on which River's diary sat, a roaring fire and a small television. He closed his eyes and tried to remember to breathe. It was all okay. Same River, different setting.
"I thought I told you to stand by the fire!" River rolled her eyes as she walked into the room and placed a pile of dry clothes on top of the precarious pile of paperwork on the table. "And it would be nice if you could not drip all over my carpet!" She grinned as she looked him up and down.
"I- I'm sorry I-" The Doctor spluttered as he looked down at the small pool of water that was collecting by his feet.
"I'm joking, it's fine." River smiled as she pulled his jacket from his shoulders and began to gently undo the buttons on his shirt.
"River, it's fine. I can…" He began but she shook her head slightly and he fell silent, letting her undress him and replace his clothes with identical dry ones before finally passing him a small towel to dry his hair with.
"There, much better. Much less likely to die of pneumonia. That's a look I always enjoy on a man." River laughed lightly as she watched him watching her with curiosity. "Oh yes. Where are we? Well I've been pardoned, as I'm sure you know by the house, and I'm a professor now but I'm probably older than the last time you saw me. New York was a few years ago for me now." She smiled sadly as she stroked his face gently. "But I'm guessing it was much more recent for you. Months? Weeks?"
"Two weeks." The Doctor whispered gravely.
"Oh so you just dropped then-me off and came straight to now-me. I'm touched." River grinned.
"I'm sorry." The Doctor mumbled, ashamed of his inability to be alone even for a day. "I shouldn't have come. I'll just-"
"You'll sit down." River said firmly as she pushed him backwards onto the sofa and walked back out of the door with the bundle of wet clothes in her arms.
The Doctor sat down heavily as she left him alone again and he tried to listen intently to the crackle of the fire in the hope it would drown out the thoughts that crept quickly back in to his brain the second he was alone. When River was there, even just for a moment, it was like she had pressed a mute button on all the pain that coursed through him. River understood, River helped. But when he was alone it was like being pulled apart all over again.
"Here we go." The Doctor jumped as he looked up to see River emerging from the doorway with a tray piled high with a pot of tea, cakes and biscuits of every variety. Had she only been gone for a few moments to make tea? It had felt like an eternity. "Drink. Eat. It'll help a bit."
So he did. She poured him tea and passed him jammy dodgers and sat back on the sofa. She put old black and white movies on and he curled up next to her, enjoying the stillness in his mind. They spoke infrequently and mostly just about the need for more tea or sustenance (of which River seemed to have an endless supply). It didn't fix it, the pain that he was going through or the loss that he had sustained, but it helped. It numbed the wound. It made breathing easier.
Days passed. River sat with him and read him books, listened to his memories, held him when he cried. It would have been a wonderful, intimate time if it had not been for his grief which lay between them like a blot of lightening on the perfect horizon. She never told him to get a grip or grew tired of his need for comforting. She knew what it felt like to lose everything, to be totally alone but unlike him she was never able to show it. It must have been so hard for her to see him so broken and to simultaneously be plunged back into the world of pain that she had somehow survived when she lost her parents but he knew she didn't resent him, that she could cope. Because that's who she was. It was who she'd always been. She was the strong one, the brave one. He'd known that from the moment he met her. Always hiding her pain so that she could heal those around her, or just so they wouldn't know how much she really hurt. She saved him, in so many ways, over and over again, and when she was gone… He couldn't even think about that yet.
"I have to go back to work tomorrow." River announced one day and the Doctor felt his hearts contract. He'd been there for more days than he'd kept count of and he'd thought that maybe, somehow, it could have stayed like this forever. "I've run out of excuses now. You'll be okay." She spoke firmly but stroked his hair from his face gently.
"Okay." He nodded quietly in agreement.
And so a new routine began. Each morning River would wake, make tea and toast and leave for work. The Doctor spent the day trying to occupy himself either gardening, writing or drawing and trying not to count down the hours until she returned. And when she did return each day he'd have a cup of tea waiting for her and she'd flop onto the sofa and wrap her arms around him and talk about all the things she'd done, the people that had annoyed her and the world that apparently carried on turning while he was locked away and he breathed in her sent and held her close and let the tension flow out of his shoulders. He laughed at her jokes not because he felt he should but because when he was with her he felt like laughing again. Each night he'd snuggle next to her while she slept and count the freckles on her face or watch as her eyelids flickered and she smiled or run his fingers down her arms and just enjoy the fact that she was there, really truly there, breathing and beating and not going anywhere for hours. He felt most content at those times. At those times he almost felt like himself again.
"People are asking about you." River sighed as she sat down on the sofa one day. A day like any other. Like the day before it and, the Doctor had thought, like the day after it. He felt his chest contract and his breathing become more difficult. She couldn't be asking him to… She couldn't want him to go back out there. Not yet.
"Tell them you don't know, that you haven't seen me." He sat down heavily beside her. An unusual distance sat between them as he looked into her eyes and begged her to lie, to give him more time, not to ask him to be strong yet.
"Well no one who knows me will believe that." River laughed gently and leaned forward to squeeze his hand reassuringly.
"Well tell them I've gone bad. That I can't be trusted to help, that they'll have to find someone else. Tell them I'm dangerous, a madman who needs to be kept away from humans at all cost. Please, River."
"You want me to sully your good name, to ruin everything that ever meant anything to you?" River questioned.
"I can't do it any more." He sighed deeply.
"I know, I know." She bit her lip hard as she fought back the tears that threatened to fall as she saw her husband so destitute. Instinctively she put her arms around him and pulled him close, his head resting on her chest. "I'll think of something."
"You could tell them I've retired." The Doctor said in a small voice.
"I could." River answered but she didn't sound convinced.
"I could really retire."
"No, you couldn't." River answered firmly. "You wouldn't want to, not really. And, more importantly, I won't let you. You can't stay here forever. This isn't you."
The Doctor looked around at his safety, his wife and her house and he wished he could belong here. Could just slot himself into this life and live out his days in the quietness of her arms. He was angry at his very being because he knew that something within him would never allow him this level of happiness- this normality.
"But, please…" He begged her, his arms winding tighter around her and tears falling down his face for the first time in a long time. "Not today."
"No, not today." She buried her hand in his hair and rocked him softly. "Not tomorrow. But one day. One day you'll want to go back out there into the big bad world and travel and have adventures again. I know you will."
He nodded silently even though he could never imagine a time when he would want to leave his safe haven, never imagine a time when he could survive a day without River holding together the fragile pieces he'd been broken in to.
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