My 'Lost Days' story is on a brief hiatus as I work out the final chapters, so in the meantime I present this... the first DW story I ever started and only now gotten around to polishing and posting.
Much love and thanks -as ever- to Sarah Blackwood for the beta, the encouragement and for allowing me to drag her into my Doctor Who obsession in the first place.
Disclaimer: Doctor Who belongs to the BBC. (Obviously.)
Chapter One: In Which the Doctor has a Great Idea
It had been quiet for exactly 7.2 seconds inside the TARDIS. Long enough for River to draw a deep breath after their frantic rush away from invading Huns, and certainly long enough to entertain the possibility of adjourning to the kitchen for a cup of tea; when suddenly the Doctor stood up a little straighter. Looked over the console at her with a bright, innocent smile; and she closed her eyes briefly, feeling her hearts speed up and begin thundering in her ears again in anticipation.
"I," he exclaimed portentously, clasping his hands together, "have had an idea!"
River raised an eyebrow, fighting down a smile. Of course you have. She managed, just barely to keep the words inside her head. Hardly surprising, really. Her Doctor always had an idea, a notion, a plan… And honestly, it wasn't that she minded the inevitable adventure that resulted from said schemes. (In fact, she loved adventures and running and madness; and especially when he was at her side.)
But there was something to the gleam in his eyes that warned her as clearly as a 21st century neon sign: whatever he was thinking about now that put that gleeful smile on his face and the bounce in his step, was not going to be the their usual sort escapade. And that, she mused,was slightly terrifying, in and of itself.
"Just the one?" she finally asked mildly, as she pushed the accelerator into place and tried to focus on the monitor. "That seems unlike you."
"No," the Doctor scoffed. "Of course not! I never just have one. How boring would it be if you only had one idea at a time?
"But this? It's good. Really good. I think…" he paused for maximum effect, and now she did permit herself a fond smile as she glanced over at him. The Doctor was so excited, he fairly radiated anticipation. Eyes bright, hair flopping across his forehead, fingers twitching slightly. Even his bowtie seemed to quiver.
"I think," he repeated, "that we should do something normal." Silence followed his words and River's brow furrowed in confusion.
She liked to think that she knew him fairly well by now, being just past the first hundred days into her prison sentence. One hundred and forty-two, to be exact; one hundred and forty-two nights of running hand in hand, roaming the Universe. For anyone else, that amount of time might seem like forever… but tonight she was reminded that as far as things went between her and the Doctor, one hundred and forty-two nights was nothing.
He was often so old when he showed up at Stormcage. Informed and almost suave; though rather easily flustered. (And she had to admit she liked that; no matter how old he was, he always melted into stammering mush for just a moment whenever she kissed him. That sort of reaction did tend to make a girl feel special.)
Her Doctor, for the most part, was a man who knew her far better than she even knew herself; and she did adore that. But tonight… from almost the very first moment, he seemed so different. So nervous. The fumbling as he unlocked her cell, the slightly giddy way he tossed her an overnight bag and told her to pack; he'd not be bringing her back for a few days. And then the self-conscious giggle when -shivering in Mongolia, right before they ended up running for their lives from the Huns- she'd finally been able to get him to stand still long enough to check diaries.
"Oh," he'd said, fiddling for a moment at his neck. "I know who you are, River." Her eyes narrowed at the bowtie he was wearing tonight -dark grey, patterned and utterly familiar- and she smiled.
"I see," she drawled, reaching out a finger to stroke the crisp silk. "So… how do you feel about pyramids, sweetie?"
"Pyramids?" He nodded, not meeting her eyes. "Ah. Umm. Love a pyramid…"
"Me too." She couldn't help her smile; and he grinned back, exuberant and nervous.
Which told her that even if he was acting a bit strange, at least he did know her. She wasn't sure how much past Area 52 he was; but as the night wore on, she became more certain that this was very, very early in their relative time streams… which meant that he was rather young indeed. The youngest she had probably ever seen him, to date.
Which also meant that of all the things in the world she had come to expect from him (crashing a royal wedding on Mahon, swimming with the four-headed goldfish on Ferrence, searching the mountain ranges of Raysteres for a rare pack of beautiful, jewel toned -but vicious- goats), this current idea was probably the most unexpected. And the strangest.
"Normal?" she asked finally when the silence had gone on for too long. "Really?"
"Yes, normal!" He beamed at her, clearly mistaking her confusion for something more enthusiastic. "It's a great idea, right?"
"It's certainly an interesting one," she said, rather guardedly. "But… what is normal? For us."
By the look on his face, she could tell that she'd scored a point; and by the expression in his eyes, she could tell that he would never, ever concede it. She sighed, inwardly.
"Normal can be anything," the Doctor said, rather flippantly. He glanced at her, a careful sidelong glance to judge her reactions. "But I was thinking of… a movie?"
River stared at him.
"Dinner in Paris?"
Rounded green eyes blinked rapidly at him from across the console. It was rare to see River Song with no words; but there she was, doing her best imitation of a goldfish.
"Tea and scones, then. I know a very nice little tea shop…"
"So do I," she murmured, finding her words again. "It's called 'The Kitchen of the TARDIS'."
"Drinks! We could have a drink at a pub!" The Doctor grinned, delighted to have hit upon a solution he was sure she wouldn't refuse.
"A nice drink at a pub! Lager and scotch and rum…though," he added reflectively, "maybe not altogether. Or some of those shots that come in florescent colours!"
"We can do that here, too," River said flatly, crossing her arms and giving her husband a narrow-eyed stare. "I've been told that you never did jettison that pub behind the lacrosse field."
The Doctor pouted, visibly deflating. "Why are you being so difficult?" he asked in a sulky voice, scuffing his toe across the floor. "I just wanted us to do something normal. We always do danger, and adventures and running." He looked up as River crossed her arms a little tighter, and caught the look on her face. Oh, he knew that look. That little crease between her eyes indicated an oncoming flare of anger...
"Which is great!" he burst out, trying to ease her to a better state of mind. He hadn't suggested this to make her angry. "I love that; the running and the adventure… and it's always better when I'm with you. But I wanted something we could do together. Like a normal couple on a… date." His face screwed up as he pronounced the last word, as though it didn't come naturally to his lips.
River's face relaxed, but her eyes were still unreadable. Taking a deep breath, she tucked her hair behind her ears.
"Sweetie, you don't do normal."
"I can," the Doctor insisted, rather quickly. Too quickly, River thought. Her eyes narrowed, taking him in.
"Maybe I can't do normal. Do I seem that type to you?"
"You are River Song," he said, waving his arms around and beaming at her. "You could do anything! And normal is what we make of it."
She stared at him, mind racing as she tried to figure out what he was thinking. Because she just knew… he was up to something. This was simply too odd a request. The Doctor was clever, oh, he was very clever, but she knew him. Most of the time. There was something going on, some path his mind was going down, but she couldn't see it. Not yet, anyway.
"These are early days for me," she said, trying to be tactful. "And I think, for you too. But I've still learned this about you so far. You don't do normal, sweetie. You do… amazing."
"I'll have you know," the Doctor said, looking unbearably smug (and yet oddly hopeful), "that normal can be amazing too, River Song."
Their eyes met over the console. He is definitely up to something, she thought. She was sure of it. But in the end she nodded, silently agreeing to humour him.
"A normal date it is, then." She held out her hand, and was almost surprised by the intensity with which he squeezed it, before pulling her in for a hug.