AN ~ This was going to be Chapter Five and the Epilogue, but it seemed too drawn out to have them separate. Together it feels a little rushed, but I think this is the better of the two and especially considering the Season is rapidly escaping me, it's not half bad. I mean, it's cheesy, but what's a Christmas fic without cheese?

If you feel you need to crush the fluff, or need some feels to be healed by it, try torturing yourself with the new chapter/oneshot in my collection The Power of Goodbye, entitled 'Ashes' (Amy & Rory/Manhattan theme):

www . fanfiction s/7642929/2/The-Power-of-Goodbye (remove spaces)

and you know what's bad? In the 2011 Xmas special, the Doctor joins the Ponds for Xmas 2013! (Coz he left them in 2011 and according to Amy there was a 2 year gap)

and you know what's worse? In Manhattan he actually sobs. He SOBS. He didn't even do that in Doomsday! My poor Doctor!

Anyway, it's Christmas (still, apparently.) What am I doing bringing you down? Shutting up now.

Chapter Five

River's senses came back to her before she opened her eyes: the feel of the bed and the pillow beneath her, the smell of dust and tweed, velvet and custard that was her Doctor, the taste of the dry air and syrup-scented succulent plants...but no sound of bedsprings. River frowned as her eyes flickered open. The last Christmas they had shared, the Doctor had bounced on the bed like a four-year-old, or perhaps some kind of spaniel, until she had surrendered and agreed to follow him out to the console room. As Amy had later explained, this was because she and Rory had a rule about the bedroom – which the Doctor adhered to only ever in theory – which locked the Doctor out until 6am. Thanks to River's lack of a similar rule, she had stretched out their sleeping time from 4 am to nearly 5:30.

"Bless," River mumbled, smiling at the memory and pulling herself into a sitting position. The first thing her eyes located was the Doctor, sitting in a wooden kitchen chair which had apparently been dragged to the window from the desk in the corner, and staring into the backyard with a kind of...listlessness.

"Oh, River," he said a moment later, turning. As if she had knocked him out of a trance, his face lit up and he rushed over to the bed, throwing himself onto it in a kneeling position and bouncing with such force that River's body hovered above the mattress for a moment.

"It's Christmas!" the Doctor hissed, as if it was some great and thrilling secret. River jerked her head back to avoid a flailing hand, but once the coast was clear, grabbed both of his lapels in one hand and kissed him until, a moment later, he gave an excited giggle which felt strange against her lips.

"Up! Up!" he insisted, dragging the bedcovers away as he shimmied backwards off the bed. With an exaggerated heaviness, River followed her overstimulated husband into the hall, where he took her arm like a gentlemen, only to attempt to continue gesturing with both hands as he recounted Christmas facts and anecdotes to her in an excited whisper.

"Shh!" River insisted. "We're going to wake the children!"

The padding of footsteps sounded, and a little body pushed past them and scampered around the corner towards the master bedroom. The Doctor pulled a face, but stepped aside as another, slightly taller body followed the first.

"Oh, brilliant!" River scolded, slapping him gently upside the head. The Doctor winced, moreso because he could not make a sound. River ignored him and hurried after the children, hoping to call them back before they interrupted their parents. The Doctor followed, and River gestured to the end of the hall, where she waved towards where Nathan and Sam were standing outside their parents' room, squabbling over who was to open the door. "Now look what you've done!"

"Me?!" the Doctor retorted. "I could have just kept staring out the window but you-"

"Meeeerryy Christmaaaas!" boomed a deep voice. Pete, apparently, had prepared for this eventuality. In a baggy red suit edged with white fur, he hauled open the door and the two children stumbled back in awe. Ho-ho-hoing loudly – seeing that his guests were already awake – Pete led the two children next door into the lounge. Slightly chagrined, the Doctor and River followed, and clenched each other's hands with glee as the Christmas tree began playing tinny, automated Christmas carols in time with the flashing lights.

The Doctor and River perched themselves on the farthest seats from the tree as Michelle emerged at last and hauled Nathan by his waist onto her knee, feeling he was getting a little too close to the presents. 'Santa' knelt by the tree and picked up a huge red box, and shook it as if to hear what was inside. He checked the label, and with a few 'ho's for good measure, announced that it was for Sam. The girl eagerly tore at her wrapping, revealing a My Little Pony cafe complex, complete with its owner/manager, which as the Doctor whispered hurriedly to River under his breath, she had been singing the praises of just the day before.

Next up was a thinner, but slightly taller gift wrapped in green, which Nathan soon revealed to be a racetrack set for toy cars, including a loop-the-loop. River shook her head, laughing, as the Doctor and Michelle set about helping the young boy set it up in the midst of the rapidly growing pile of paper.

The gifts got smaller from there on in, but each child received the same number and approximate same size to save arguments: each received a book, a DVD, and a toy to accompany their main gifts. Michelle received a small box wrapped in gold which contained a bracelet, and for which she blew a kiss at Santa. By the time there was a small mountain of paper being shoved into the middle of the room, there was only one present left under the tree. It was wrapped in silver, a short, fat cylinder about the size of a cake box, or perhaps...a hat box?

The Doctor glanced at River. River and Michelle grinned back at him, and Santa announced that the gift was indeed for him.

"I promise not to shoot it," River whispered straight into his ear, in the guise of a kiss. The Doctor grinned and tore open the wrapping with as much gusto as his six and eight-year-old counterparts. It was indeed a hat box, and it must have been the craziest River could find, because it was striped all sorts of colours like a circus big top. The Doctor pulled the lid off, and from the box lifted a hat that at first seemed to be a floppy version of his Stetson...but then he saw the corks.

Pete and Michelle burst into raucous laughter – at his face or at the tackiness of the souvenir, nobody was sure – but the Doctor's face lit up nevertheless.

"Cool," he breathed, slapping it onto his head and watching the corks bounce around.

"It's an akubra," River explained, her whole body seeming to laugh without her making more than a chuckle of sound. The Doctor nodded dumbly, already having taken the hat off again for further inspection.

"Do you really promise not to shoot it?" he asked, after a moment. River's smile took on a sly element.

"You have one week, Sweetie," she bargained. "After that, nothing binding."

"Cool," he said again. Then they were interrupted by a pink plastic horse appearing on River's knee.

"Mrs Song," Sam asked, "can you be Penelope?"

So River played horses – with surprising skill, it seemed, though Sam was mostly in charge of the action – and the Doctor raced cars, and every now and then they crossed paths or combined games. Then they read the stories and played some more, and before they knew it, Pete and Michelle were asking them to get ready for Granny's; the next stop, for Christmas lunch.

The Doctor and River retreated to the Tardis where they each let out a laden breath.

"Children are exhausting," River murmured good-naturedly.

"Nah," the Doctor scoffed. "Oh! I have a present for you, by the way."

He scampered over to the side of the room, and appeared to open a compartment in the wall. Contrary to his usual digging and throwing around of unidentifiable objects, the Doctor reached straight in as if he knew where he was going and pulled out a square, blue photo album: in the cover, a portrait shot of Amy and Rory's wedding kiss.

River's jaw slackened when she saw it.

"Doctor," she murmured, taking it reverently, "it's beautiful."

She turned the pages, skipping a few here and there in order to scan an extensive collection of her parents' adventures.

"I left spaces for the spoilers," the Doctor whispered. She could hear tears in his voice, and it seemed that one sentence had taken quite a bit out of him. But when she looked up, he slapped his knew hat onto her curls and nodded resolutely.

"Thanks for the hat, honey," he added. "Akubras are cool."

Securing the photo album on the console, River tossed it back at him, but when he tried to return the favour, ducked away as if he had just thrown a bucket of ice-cold water on her. The hat fell to the floor, and he scooped it up and chased her, but she did not get far before the scanner beeped an alert and lit up with a scrappy, jumpy video feed from none other than Clara Oswin Oswald.

"Doctor," she said, apparently almost out of breath, though some of that could have been the crackling audio. "Doctor, I need you! It was the Christmas tree, it just -"

"That's okay, Clara, that's just fine," the Doctor announced loudly and clearly. "I'm on my way, just keep away from it, okay? I'm hanging up. Give me one minute."

The video feed disappeared into itself, and the Doctor whipped up a few familiar commands.

"What is it?" River asked, watching him move so quickly.

"London, Christmas..."

"Enough said," River agreed, and brought her Alpha Meson Blaster out from under the console – just in case.