Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who.
"A Carnival?" River quirked an eyebrow at him.
"Uh-huh!" The Doctor nodded excitedly.
"Like, just a Carnival" Clara frowned. "A regular, Earth Carnival."
"Yes" The Doctor grinned.
"And why exactly are we going to a Carnival?" River asked.
"To have fun!"
River and Clara shared a look that said they didn't quite believe him.
"Really!" The Doctor threw his hands in the air. "Can't a man take his Wife and best friend out for a night of fun once in a while?"
"A regular man, yes.." Clara began.
"..You, no" River finished, smirking
"Oh.." His face fell. "Well, we can just go somewhere else, I suppose.."
River and Clara shared another look, this one of slight guilt. This Carnival idea obviously meant more to him than they'd realized.
"Sweetie, we were joking" said River quickly, giving her Husband's hand a squeeze. "Take us to the Carnival."
"You mean it?"
"Of course we mean it!" said River. "Clara and I would love to go to a Carnival, wouldn't we?"
"Sure! Carnivals are cool!" Clara winced at her unintended Doctor-ism, but to be fair, River had pulled her into the conversation with very little warning, and anyway, it seemed to have worked.
"Carnivals are cool" The Doctor grinned, leaping to his feet and running for the Console, punching in co-ordinates. "Carnivals are cool! This is going to be great, I promise. I'll win you both one of those giant stuffed animals.. One for Anthony, too!"
"Doctor" Clara frowned, "You know Carnival games are designed to make it really hard for anyone to win, right?"
"Aha! But I am not just anyone, am I, Clara Oswald?"
"Well, no, but.."
"Don't worry" River whispered as they watched The Doctor dance excitedly around the TARDIS Console. "I'm sure between the two of us, we can make sure he wins at least once."
As it turned out, The Doctor needed quite a lot of help. At present, he was trying to win a game which involved knocking down pyramids of bottles with a ball, but he just couldn't manage it. Partly because his mind seemed elsewhere. Mostly because the Carny running it was a crook. He was an unpleasant looking man, with a greasy black mullet hairstyle and a mouth full of rotten teeth.
This wasn't why River knew he was a crook, oh no, she knew much better than to judge on appearance alone. She'd lost count of the amount of times people had given her dirty looks when she was out with The Doctor, assuming she was a cougar and he her toyboy.
No, River knew he was a crook because she'd been watching The Doctor throwing money at the Carny for nearly an hour now, making endless attempts at the game, and the bottles had not budged once. Her Husband was clumsy, sure, but he didn't throw that bad.
"Look, he definitely clipped it that time, and they didn't move at all!" Clara hissed to her as they watched. "Those bottles are glued down!"
"My thoughts exactly, Clara dear" River smiled. She liked having a friend aside from her parents, especially one whom she actually saw on a regular basis. She didn't have very many people she could truly call friends. "What do you say we help our Doctor out, hmm?"
"How?" Clara frowned.
"Hmm.." River scoped out the game again. "If I put my blaster on the lowest setting, and fire at the exact moment The Doctor throws.. I just need someone to distract the Carny.."
"I'll do it" said Clara.
"How does any girl get a guy's attention?" said Clara, batting her eyelashes. "No, it probably won't be pleasant, but hey, you've got to take one for the team sometimes."
After The Doctor paid the money that earned him three more chances at the game, Clara pranced over to get the attention of the crooked Carny. For some reason, which made no sense to her given the amount of times she'd resorted to the use of feminine wiles in her own plans, River was deeply uncomfortable with this development. She didn't have time to dwell on it though, as The Doctor was about to have his first throw.
Concealing the blaster from view as best she could, River took aim, and fired at the exact moment the ball left her husband's hand. The bottles flew apart, smashing to pieces from the either the shot or the impact when they hit the ground.
"Yes!" The Doctor cried in victory. He threw another ball at a second pyramid, then a third, River managing to shoot down both.
Then, River and Clara grabbed three of the giant prizes The Doctor was entitled to, then grabbed The Doctor and fled, leaving the very confused Carny behind.
"Did you see it?" The Doctor bragged about his win. He clutched one of the prizes, a large blue dog which he planned to send to Anthony. River held a lion, while Clara carried their third prize, a giant Panda wearing a tutu. "I just went pow, pow, pow! All I needed was a bit of a warm up! I am the super carnival game winner!"
"Sure you are, Sweetie" River and Clara glanced at each other, smirking.
"I am! I am the.." He trailed off, suddenly distracted.
"Bouncing castle!" He pointed excitedly. "Let's go on the bouncing castle, River!" He grabbed her hand, pulling her towards it.
River turned and gave Clara an apologetic look.
Clara shrugged, taking the stuffed dog and lion while The Doctor paid the very confused Bouncing Castle attendant.
And, River had to admit, it was fun. The rest of the day continued much the same way, with The Doctor dragging them to attractions obviously intended for younger Carnival attendees, like the Carousel, a petting zoo, and a mini roller coaster. And, while all more fun than you'd expect them to be for three adults, mostly due to her husband's enthusiasm, River couldn't quite understand why they were doing all these things. The Doctor could be a child sometimes, but not that much of a child.
She got her answers as the day was drawing to a close, and Clara pushed them towards a slightly more grown up attraction.
"The Tunnel of Love?" River frowned.
"But Clara, what about.."
"I'll be fine" Clara cut The Doctor off. "You two go have fun. I might look around a bit. It's only a small Carnival, you can find me afterwards." Clara toted off their three prizes, leaving River and The Doctor to pay the attendant and choose a boat.
The Doctor climbed into a Swan-shaped one.
"My lady?" He gave a little bow, offering River a hand to help her into the boat.
"Why thank you, Sir" River laughed, taking his hand. They carefully sat down, and in, the spirit of the ride, River laid her head on The Doctor's shoulder as the boat floated off on it's way. "This is rather nice I suppose."
"Mmm.." The Doctor mumbled in agreement. Then, when they were in the tunnel and out of earshot of the ride attendant, he said: "I know you shot the bottles down, River."
"It's okay. I know the guy was a cheat. I should have noticed the bottles were stuck together myself, but I was a little distracted.."
"I noticed" River replied, lifting her head a little to look at him.
"I thought you might" He chuckled. Then, after a few moments of silence, he offered his explanation. "Amy and Rory took Anthony to a Carnival today.."
And just like that, everything clicked.
"You were talking to him, when you were playing the game!" River's eyes widened. "That's why you were distracted!"
"And all the kiddie attractions.. We were doing everything he was doing, weren't we? You wanted to pretend we were there with him.."
"Yes" The Doctor seemed embarrassed. "I know it's stupid.."
"Oh Sweetie, no!" River moved to hug him so fast that the boat rocked dangerously for a few seconds.
"It's not stupid at all" She continued, ignoring his panic. "It was a wonderful idea."
"I suppose.." The Doctor smiled, putting an arm around River's waist. "He called me Daddy the other day.."
"Completely by accident" He added quickly. "You know, like when a schoolkid accidentally calls their Teacher Mum. 'Daddy, I mean Doctor..' He slipped for a second, that's all.. It didn't mean anything. Was kind of nice to hear it, though.." He fell silent for a few minutes. "This ride's a little boring, isn't it? I mean, what's the point?"
"The point, Sweetie" River smirked, dancing her fingers up his arm, is that it is dark, and quiet, and nobody can see us.."
"Oh" The Doctor grinned, lowering his lips to hers. "Now I get it.."
Needless to say, The Doctor had entered kissy-lovey-goo goo eyes mode by the time the ride was over.
"I'll go get us some fairy floss to share" He smiled lovingly at River, running a hand through her hair. "You find Clara, I think it's about time we headed back to the TARDIS."
Oh yes, River grinned to herself. She knew exactly why he wanted to go back to the TARDIS..
It didn't take her long to find Clara. But when she did, her blood ran cold.
The cheating Carny from earlier had a tight grip on Clara's wrist, an unpleasant sneer on his face.
In her mind's eye, River saw a little girl smiling up at her during story time, and suddenly knew why Clara's method of distraction had bothered her earlier. No time for that now, though.
The lioness roared.
"Let go of me!" Clara cried.
"No you're a little cheat!"
"Ah!" Clara yelped as the Carny's grip tightened, struggling helplessly against it. As strong as she was in spirit, she was all too aware that this guy could snap her arm like a twig if he so chose.
"You and your friends cheated my game, didn't you, you little bitch?"
"No.. Ah!" Clara could almost feel her skin begin to bruise as his grip tightened further.
"Oh well" His rotten teeth curved into a wicked smile. "You're a pretty thing, maybe.."
There was River Song, all wild curls and white-hot rage.
Her first punch startled the Carny into relinquishing his hold on Clara as blood began to gush like a waterfall from his nose. The second downed him, knocking out some of his rotten teeth and causing more blood to pour from his mouth.
Then the rage was gone, and River was holding Clara like her Mother had when she'd had a nightmare or scraped her knee as a child.
"Are you alright, dear? He didn't hurt you did he?"
"My arm, a little" Clara was shaken, but River's presence was comforting and seemed strangely familiar. "But I'm fine..
"Oh my God, what happened?" The Doctor ran over to them, clutching two sticks of fairy floss.
"The cheater wanted revenge for us cheating" River frowned. "Don't worry Sweetie, I dealt with it."
"Okay.." The Doctor doubted he wanted to know the full details. "And Clara, you're.."
"Good.." He gathered the dropped prizes. "Let's head back to the TARDIS, then.."
Later, back in the TARDIS, Clara approached River, clutching the giant Panda. The Doctor was dozing beneath the console, saying he was 'making repairs'.
"Thanks for that, back there.."
"No need to thank me, Dear" River frowned. "I just hate to think what would have happened if I'd arrived any later.."
"Yeah.." Clara shivered a little at the thought. "Hey, Anthony's got a new little friend, doesn't he?"
"Yes.." said River, trying to hide her surprise.
"Maybe she'd like this?" Clara held out the Panda. "Angie's outgrown stuff like this, and I don't really have room.."
"She'd love it.." River took the toy, hoping her grin wasn't too awkward.
"Great!" Clara smiled, heading up the TARDIS hall. "Well, I'm going to bed, long day.."
"Yes, it was.. Goodnight, Clara."
River sighed. Keeping Clara the Adult and Clara the Child separate in her head could be a whole new problem..