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Chapter 9: In Which a Tentative Definition is Extended
Tomorrow, he'd declared. Tomorrow would be another day, with -frighteningly- a new plan for a normal date… but it wasn't tomorrow yet; and River rather unexpectedly found herself revelling in the tonight. Tonight was all about banana daiquiris and chocolate-strawberry martinis… sitting, legs dangling out the open TARDIS doors with the Doctor's arms draped around her shoulders, his voice soft as he occasionally whispered silly anecdotes into her ear about the universe below to make her laugh.
"I like this," she admitted, stealing a sip of his daiquiri.
"Can't go wrong with bananas," he answered, a pleased smile on his face. "Best gift for a party, plus you can make wonderful drinks with them…"
She rolled her eyes discreetly. "I didn't mean the drink, Doctor. I meant…" she made a small gesture between them and the universe below; a tiny half-circle of her hand encompassing it all.
"In a hundred and forty-two nights in prison, we've never really done this. Nowhere to go, just being together, in the TARDIS…
"It's nice," she finished self-consciously, as he smiled at her.
"You count the days in Stormcage?" he asked softly.
"I count the nights, sweetie." There was enough innuendo in her tone to make him blush slightly and choke on a mouthful of daiquiri.
"I'm there with you, then? Every night… blimey. And it's been a hundred and forty-two already?"
She nodded. "You did promise, Doctor. Every night, as long as I was there."
"What have we done, then? What mischief have you dragged me into, you bad girl?"
"I," River said primly, "do not drag you into anything. It's always you, Doctor. A mad scheme, and off we go, into danger every time and on every planet-"
"Best not to tell me more," he said hastily. "Foreknowledge… tricky thing.
"Though…" he paused, thoughtfully swirling his drink. "I always thought somehow it'd be you. With all the danger and everything you get up to… I'd come to think that mortal peril follows you and I'm just around to share in your escapades."
River eyed him resentfully. With everything she knew about him, the tales of woe from Madame Kovarian she'd absorbed throughout her childhood, and the more factual data she'd learned in University… he really thought she could be the worse troublemaker of the two of them?
"Still," he continued, not noticing her glare. "Don't tell me." He leaned over, pressing a soft kiss against her temple.
"As ever with us, Doctor Song, I'm looking forward to the surprises…"
Bad mood receding, she laid her head against his shoulder, threading her fingers through his.
"I suppose some things are better lived," River teased. "I'll give you a spoiler, though. Expect lots of mad adventures and an excessive amount of running; but then there always is. Would you expect anything different of us?"
There was a long pause.
"No," he admitted softly. "I suppose not."
It might have been her imagination, but there was something in his last sentence that made her look at him, really look at his slight frown, hazel eyes suddenly turned darker and introspective; and her hearts began to beat faster, thud-thud-thud-thudding with a hint of trepidation.
"Can you tell me something, Doctor?" she asked curiously. "No lies?"
"I don't lie," he protested.
"You do." He twitched, obviously about to lie; which would only prove her point, and he knew it.
"Alright, maybe I do… but only if it's necessary."
"Well, its not right now. I want you to tell me something… I'm asking, rather, for you to tell me why? Why are you trying so hard for us to be normal, when you know we're not?"
No, she wasn't mistaking the look in his eyes. Carefully blank and just a little sad. "I just thought it'd be a nice change," he replied with a shrug. "Something special for both of us."
"I warned you," she retorted, "about trying to hide behind Rule One.
"Doctor, I've gone along with your great idea so far because I -" she paused, silently willing the words out of her mouth, the words they never actually said.
"Because I trust you." Not the words she'd meant to use, but true nonetheless. And for her, in the life she'd led, trust was a far more elusive and far more precious commodity than mere affection.
"I trust you," she repeated, her voice a little stronger this time. "Even if your plans seem crazy, you've always got one; and after-" she hated remembering that beach, never wanted to talk about it if she could help it "-going in Stormcage, I finally trust that together we can make things alright and then afterwards, eventually you're going to tell me what you were thinking of.
"But this… you've been very insistent, sweetie, about us doing something normal and not giving me a real reason for why. So I think that it should go both ways. Can't you just tell me the truth, if something concerns the two of us?"
There was a funny expression on his face; one she couldn't remember ever seeing before. Twisted and repentant, the faintest trace of hope and wonder buried within his eyes before he looked deliberately away from her.
"It seems," the Doctor mumbled in a low voice, "that I'm always owing you something, River. But if you want it, alright. Here's the truth. We never just sit and do something. It's always adventure and running and trouble and monsters; and I had this idea because I wanted to give you-" He broke off, shaking his head.
"I mean, we should have something we could… " He paused, searching for the right word. "Share. Together. We have all the activities of time and space at our disposal, and we could do anything, River."
"Anything, just so long as it's something normal?"
"Normal is what we make of it!" He smiled, outwardly bright and exuberant; but River narrowed her eyes, brain working furiously as she thought over what he was and wasn't telling her. There was still something that didn't make sense… some little path his mind was on that she couldn't quite follow.
Plus, it still sounded somehow like a lie.
"That seems like a part of the truth, Doctor. Not all of it. And it's a nice idea... except that we're not normal. You're a thousand year old alien-"
"Nine hundred and thirty-two," he interrupted, looking a little wounded by her inflation of his age.
"Alright, a nine hundred and thirty-two year old alien, who wears a bowtie and has abysmal taste in hats. And for me; I'm not even fully human."
He was beginning to pout, mutinously. Lower lip stuck all the way out, forehead a mass of creases.
"And besides who we are," she continued, striving to seem calm, "we are incapable of doing normal. We're time travellers who exist opposite to each other. Time and space is our backyard, not flower gardens and picket fences! We're… adventure and running for our lives. Defeating world-altering threats and solving our way out of tricky situations. That's what we are, Doctor. That's what we do."
"But not all we're capable of! It sounds," the Doctor protested, "like you want to give up on the whole idea, just because of a few monsters?
"You," he said, tapping her on the nose, "are River Song. Monsters can never deter you."
"No," she agreed, "they don't. But it is just a bit worrying that you're inadvertently going to get us eaten by something on this crazy quest of yours for us to become something we can't be. Because, lets tally them up…
"One," River held up a finger, "an alien yeti. Two: tiny dragons."
"They were pre-dragons!"
"They eat protein-based life forms! They would have eaten the two of us for breakfast, and then gone on to the rest of the world! And for the record, we should really be counting our bowling adventure as monsters two and three. That attendant was notably not human.
"Alright," he protested. "We have had a few monsters. But they weren't my fault! They could've come up anywhere."
"They could have," River conceded. "Maybe they would have, even if we hadn't been there. But doesn't it tell you something that at every turn, disaster still seemed to find us? Plus," she added, "I hated skiing, and you hated bowling…" Her voice faded as she noticed the very depth of his frown beside her.
"Would it hurt you to try a little harder?" he asked with a plaintive whinge in his voice. "Come on, River, just a little more? I wanted to make this work. I thought it really, really could… and it was a brilliant idea. Us, having a normal date. How could that not be amazing?"
She sighed inwardly, more than half convinced already by the tiny smile on his lips and the hopeful pleading in his eyes. It would be so easy to give in to him on this. Promise him one more time to get it right, one more go for them play at being normal…
But she couldn't shake the feeling that was still something wrong with him and his entire request that he was refusing to share…
"No," River said abruptly, throwing the word out like a challenge. She was finished with playing, with trying to coax him into telling her what was wrong. She thought, with all there was between them, death and life and death and life and prison, even… the need for unnecessary subterfuge should be gone.
Sometimes, it seemed there was so much to hide from each other. Those awful words, foreknowledge and spoilers, lived alongside with them, like extra members of their relationship.
But this… this couldn't be a spoiler. And if it wasn't, River felt, then they should be capable of being honest.
He bit his lip, hope fading from his eyes as they searched her face. "No?"
"No. Your whole plan was ridiculous from the start. And," she warned, holding one finger to his lips, "I did try. I tried skiing, and you tried bowling; and this is not working. It will never work because that sort of normal is not who we are; and I don't see why this was ever so important to you!"
She could see him shut down, face stiff and eyes downcast. "It is - it is important!" he sputtered helplessly.
"Then tell me why!"
"Because - because it is!" His words flew out in an abrupt rage and his eyes, when he lifted them to hers, were blazing furiously. "It's important, River, because how else can I show you? Tell me, if you've a better idea? I know who you are to me -I think I know, anyway- and I know that we're going to be amazing; but it's important because if I care about you as much as I know I will, I should be able to give you what you want!"
Her face was filled with shock at his outburst; and at the sight, something within his hearts spasmed with pain. He hadn't meant to yell. He never did, especially not at her –not again– but somehow he kept doing it when he was distracted, or feeling trapped and didn't know how else to react. And then, he would shout. He never apologized for doing it either; and somehow, no matter how old she was, she never expected him to. It was proof, he supposed, that she knew him. Knew that he never really meant it.
But he always felt guilty afterwards when he had a moment to think about it. Words, once thrown out into the world where people can hear and react to them, can never be taken back. Not even if you are a nine hundred year old Time Lord. He walked away from her and the open TARDIS doors, dropping gracelessly onto the steps and keeping his gaze on his hands twisted in his lap. He heard her scramble after him, and he peeked at her as she sat beside him. Curls tumbling over her shoulders, a tiny crease of confusion between her eyebrows and a worried expression.
"I don't think you understand," he mumbled, voice a little quieter. "I don't know if you can."
"Maybe I can't. Or maybe, you should trust me enough to at least try to explain." She tentatively stroked her knuckles across his cheek, stubble catching against the soft skin of her fingers as she bent her head closer to catch his hesitant words, whispered softly out.
"River, I give everyone adventure and seeing the world-"
"And danger," she murmured.
"Yes," he scowled at her interruption, "and danger, too. It's what they want. Deep down they know, all of them. Travel with me, and that's what they get. A complete departure from their ordinary lives. But you, River. You were born into all that, brought up with it; and it's nothing new. Madness and adventure and monsters.
"So," he gulped, "I wanted to give you more than what I give to everyone else. I know who we'll be together, River; and I can't wait. But do you blame me for thinking that maybe the right way to…" he gulped again, his voice a little plaintive, "court you is to give you the normal life you've never had? I wanted you to have what you want."
Speech concluded, he didn't even dare to look at her; until she sighed, finally glimpsing the faint light of understanding her husband's thought process.
"You've been trying to court me."
"All this… was your attempt to court me? Like we're teenagers, and you're trying to impress me into going out with you again? A fancy blue mode of transport, and make-out spots across fifteen galaxies didn't seem like enough?"
He scowled. "You make it sound ridiculous, River."
"It is ridiculous. And you've done it already. Given me a hundred and forty-two nights of adventure-"
"And danger and running and monsters," he finished. "That's not the memories I want you to have of us. I want you to have… everything. You deserve everything, and I don't know if just taking you to see the stars is good enough. You do that on your own anyway."
"I can," she admitted. "And I do, I suppose." She shook her head, starting to smile despite herself at his pouty expression.
"You," River declared, "are ridiculous. Did you ever stop to consider that maybe when we have adventures together, our regular running-in-time-and-space adventures… I have what I want, already."
"How could you?" he asked, a touch bitterly. She reached up, traced over his jaw with the tip of one finger, and he angrily pulled his head away.
"Maybe I have what I want," she repeated, her eyes fixed on his face. "What I most desire? Remember?"
She looked down at her hands, a tiny smile on her face. "I told you: right here, right now. Just… us. Together.
"Doctor, that human-type normal you've been seeking for us isn't what we are. And I'm alright with that… but are you? Because personally, I think our version of it is pretty nice because it means I do get it all. Adventure and running and danger… even romance." She could feel her cheeks flushing a rosy pink at the memory of a silk bowtie looped around her hand, his lips on hers with time and space exploding back into place around them.
"It might not have been the normal way to go about it, but you can't get more romantic than that pyramid. And then you told me at Calderon Beta that you remembered, and I assured you that I did too… and you said that if we both remembered, it was real after all." She stretched her hand out toward him and took her fingers in hers, soft and warm.
"What more could I possibly want than what we have?"
His eyes, dark and sober, searched her face intently and she could see his mind working. Struggling with what she'd said, wanting and not wanting to believe her at the same time… and then he smiled, a slightly goofy and bemused smile that told her everything. That he understood what she was saying; that he might even believe her. Because if she'd been an ordinary human, what they had wouldn't be enough. She'd crave -even just a little- the domestic normalcy he'd been trying to offer her, or else she'd want routine and stability to define themselves and their relationship.
(And maybe she did want that sometimes, just a little. Maybe, one day this would get tiring, and she'd think of how it'd be if they were like everyone else. To have simple, attainable dreams. Dinner dates and passionate goodnight kisses, flowers and cards with bad poetry on her birthday…)
But she wasn't an ordinary human, and neither was he. They were The Doctor and River Song… and being them meant that sometimes, the sheer abnormal nature of their relationship was what created their own version of normal.
And that, River thought as the Doctor pulled her into him, his lips on hers already starting to rob her of breath and conscious thought, was pretty special. Being them was something she wouldn't have wanted to give up, not for all the normal dates in the world.
"I always knew I liked you," the Doctor whispered moments later as he pulled away from her slightly, resting his forehead against hers. "From when we first met. You might have been confusing and frustrating to deal with… but deep down, I always knew how much I liked you. Promise you won't ever forget that, River, please."
"A confusing and frustrating first meeting for you too? Sums us up, doesn't it?" He laughed softly, and she smiled, combing her fingers through his fringe.
"But I'll remember, sweetie. And I don't think I'd blame you even if you thought differently for awhile. I tried to kill you the first time we met for me."
"But you didn't succeed." He grinned, pulling her even closer to him. "It was your choice, and you saved me in Berlin. With a kiss."
It took a moment for his words to sink in; but by that time he was already kissing her again, and she leaned into him with her mind blissfully empty of anything but the feel and the smell and the taste of him assaulting all her senses. Except; one word resounded through her brain, beating in time with her hearts.
She was the one to pull back then, and the Doctor trailed his lips down her neck before murmuring huskily into her ear.
"What do pyramids have to do with anything, though? You said a pyramid…?"
Her soft moan became a surprised gasp midway through, but he didn't notice. And River pulled completely away from him so she could look into his eyes. There was warmth and affection, threaded through with a rather healthy amount of lust… but there was something missing. The knowledge of exactly who she was, that she'd always seen the last hundred nights whenever he arrived at Stormcage for her. She felt like groaning and laughing all at the same time as she stared at him, because she should have guessed. Should have listened to his words -all that future tense- and known immediately. And it was funny, but she'd even thought when he'd first picked her up how young he seemed this time… and it was true. He might have done Berlin, might have known what she was; but he was even younger than she on this trip, and didn't know who…
"How do you feel about pyramids?" River asked tentatively.
"Love them," the Doctor answered with a decisive nod. "Met Albert Einstein on one."
"Any other memories?" River asked, still watching him carefully. "Any at all… of being on top a pyramid?"
He squinted, scratching his chin, running a hand through his hair. "No. Or rather, not yet? Is that… spoilers?"
He said the word hesitantly, as though it was as foreign for him to say as it customarily was to her. River clamped down on a chuckle, puzzle pieces settled into place at last. Her own fault: she'd asked him how he felt about pyramids; and he'd said he loved them. Not that he remembered what had happened, or that he'd been there…
"Something like that," she admitted. "Spoilers." The word tasted unfamiliar on her lips, because it had always been his, her older Doctor's word rather than her own.
"You've always told me to be very careful about what I say," she mused, "when we compare diaries; and now I think I know why. Never mind. You'll understand eventually.
"What did you tell me, Doctor, when you had this idea?" River asked, idly letting her fingertips trace the weave of his tweed. "Normal is what we make of it?"
He nodded eagerly, and she curled her hands into his lapels to draw him closer.
"We're time travellers who exist backwards, and we'll never be like everyone else. Sometimes," she added ruefully, "we're not even on the same page.
"But," and she leaned forward, pressing her lips softly to his cheek, "I think that being us, being together and doing what we do…
"Don't you think that has it's own awards?"
He didn't say anything; just kissed her again. And maybe that was answer enough.