In Memory of the incredible Ray Harryhausen. He made me scared of monsters, so this is a tribute, by way of the one man/alien I always trusted to save me from them.
Between thumb and forefinger, River peels up a severed wire from one of the tangles strewn across the console. "Why do I get the feeling this used to do an important job?"
"Important?" the Doctor breezes. "No, no, not important. Certainly not unimportant, for all things that do a job have a purpose and every purpose has an importance of its own. I would look at nothing here around and about us and tell it is was not important, certainly not to its face, or facets, or outside edge, whatever it happened to have. But in the way that you mean? No, no, no. Not important. Not so important that we're about to explode because it's not in its proper place. That red one under your hand, though, if you could pass that over to me we'd be in much less imminent danger of swift and fiery deaths with potentially universe-collapsing consequences."
She throws it to him almost before he's finished talking. All this time, all that talking, he has been head and shoulders inside the base of the controls. The wire lands on his chest and is swiftly put to use. Mere moments later, a high-pitched humming from the upper reaches stops. River hadn't noticed it, or what a terrifying, screaming-kettle of a noise it was, until its gone. Until she feels her heartbeat slowing down, and sees the skinny pigeon chest on the floor sink in a long, relieved sigh.
Instinctively, she leans towards that delightfully defenceless form. Then, for just a moment, she thinks better of it. Holds off, still with one hand poised to grab, but first she has to ask, "Straight question, dear, and a straight answer, please; are we now in any immediate danger at all?"
"Well…" he begins, "…Theoretically… No."
And that is all that River needs to know; that coiled and waiting hand darts out and grabs him by the shirt front, grabbing him up from inside. It is by mere millimetres that he avoids a nasty bump on the edge of the service hatch. His eternally loving wife is not entirely happy about that; she is firmly of the opinion that a solid knock on the head would do him a world of good.
Hanging round about the level of her shins, knees bent down like a limbo champion (which he is, and will be defending his title next week at the world finals in Skegness), he looks upon the barely-restrained storm of her frustration, chokes down the lump in his throat and manages, "Yes, dear?"
She hauls him up so that he can look over the edge of the console. He is so close it looks like an alien landscape all of its own; silvery hills slope to the edge of a precipice he cannot see beyond, a dark and terrifying unknown. Ropes of wire tangle like veins or vines, that might carry the life or lifeblood of this incredible world. He knows it so well, but so close… A dial he might turn on a daily basis becomes the ruin of a civilization long gone from this place, a collapsing temple crumbling towards the cliffs, and then, oh, yes, there's River, bringing him still closer to her. The Doctor makes up his mind to concentrate on her for just a second.
Well, no; the aforementioned barely-restrained storm of her frustration (darkening now, on its horizons, towards the murderous) makes up his mind. The upshot is the same; he meets her eyes and awaits her question will all eagerness to give her the straight and appreciative answer she deserves.
Maybe then she won't drop him flat on his back again. She has him at a height now where that might hurt, oh, just a bit.
River, for her part, sees all this fear and effort and tries to let it appease her. She breathes deeply, forces on as much of a smile as she can muster and says, "Either you've had the gremlins in-"
The Doctor nods, the expression on his big moon of a face plainly stating, Gremlins are an excuse I could have thought of...
"-Or I am owed some sort of explanation as to why there's smoke coming out of the rotor."
"Smoke?!" he cries, and straightens in one fluid, limbo-championship-triumphant movement to see. Oh, he thinks, without saying anything out loud to her, that's what that mist was rolling down over the cliffs.
"An explanation, my love," River warns, in tense singsong.
"After the smoking rotor, dear, I promise, a smoking rotor is never a good thing. It shouldn't smoke-" Climbing to the source of the gas, he kicks at the monitor in chastisement, "You shouldn't smoke, it's bad for you."
"Yes, all of which begs the question, what left us with torn out wiring and a smoking rotor?"
He might be ignoring her question entirely. Then again, there's a chance he just didn't hear; he's scaling the console's central column with all the grace and dexterity of a bear pawing at a beehive. All River gets is some technical chatter about how it's just a gas leak and he can shut that off quite safely, except that now he can't get down. She rolls her eyes, goes round, and takes hold of his legs at the knee. It does no good; there's too much of him, and it's all too bendy to balance. The moment he lets go he veers off to one side and they both end up sitting flat on the floor.
He starts to get up. By the collar of his jacket, River brings him back down next to her. "Sit."
"Of course, River, my intentions exactly."
"Ruff-ruff." But he catches, for the third time, the look in her eyes, and knows that he is on his very final warning. Whole towns would have been evacuated ahead of that storm, whole flocks of birds flown far, far from the area. Arks would have been built. The Doctor breathes very deeply, fills his lungs to absolute capacity. The story he has to tell her is wild, and unbelievable, and will sound like an excuse. But it's not, and that should count for something. Hopefully. With a bit of luck. If he can get her into a better mood along the way.
He's about to tell her the truth, he really is. Prepared for the consequences and everything. River watches him and can see all of this, clear as if he'd said it aloud. People can say what they want about him, about his mysteries and his secrets, but he's an open book to her. River knows when he's lying; he's done it to her enough times. This isn't one of those.
But just as he opens his mouth to begin, all the preparation, all the childish attempts at guile and cunning, they vanish. His expression drops into one of perfect seriousness and honesty. "What?" she says, instinctively. "What is it?"
"River, don't move. Especially don't move your left leg."
Her eyes slide in that direction, but it's turned out to her side and she can't see. Now that she's paying attention, though, she can feel something. Nothing at all, really, too little to make a difference. Something small, like an beetly, crawling up the curve of her calf. Unlike an beetle, however, she can feel quite distinctly four flat, round feet.
The Doctor leans very quietly, very carefully forward. Both his hands go ahead of him, moving deftly through the air, and gently close to cup the creature up and away from River's skin. "There you are," he mumbles to it. "I've been looking for you all day." He sits back again. River cranes. Whatever it is, it has a very long neck, and stands only two inches high on his palm. With the crooked forefinger of the other hand, he strokes the top of its rounded head. "River, this is Jasper. Jasper is a diplodocus."
"A diplodocus," she states, blunt as a child, "is a kind of dinosaur. That could not possibly be a dinosaur."
"He is a diplodocus," the Doctor repeats, this time correcting himself, "In miniature. He's one of a small collection of similar miniatures. He's quite a peaceful one. Some of his friends aren't so serene. They got loose last night and did the damage you've been so concerned over. Jasper, I think, got scared of all that, and hid. That's why we're only catching him now."
She stares, now, with unabashed curiosity, until he lays his palm next to hers and gently coaxes Jasper from one field of flesh to another. She brings him up to study and he bends his long neck to nuzzle the side of her nose, then starts from the sound of her tickled giggling.
"This miniature menagerie of yours," she murmurs, giving Jasper the backs of her knuckles for a mountain range, "Where did it come from?"
"Someone very talented made them. Quite a while ago, now. All sorts of creatures, oh, you wouldn't believe. Jasper there used to get movie work. Stand him up next to the camera, he doesn't look quite so fun-sized anymore."
"I thought that was all just effects."
"So did everybody else. That's why, when effects moved on, there wasn't much use for Jasper and his friends. The maker of miniatures didn't want them revealed for what they were. They'd be exhibited, like freaks. He wanted somebody to take care of them."
Their hands laid together again, Jasper makes the hop back to more familiar territory, negotiating the treacherous ridge of the Doctor's cuff before starting up his sleeve. He is caught out, in the nick of time, by the tip of his tail and held again inside a warm and very temporary cage. River watches the side of her husband's face as he looks smiling down at it, so perfect a recreation, every detail accounted for. They were made with such devotion, and kept in so many hearts with that same love.
"Glorious," he murmurs, "Glorious little monsters."
Leaning her head on his shoulder, "Can I meet the rest?"
The Doctor, as suddenly as tiny model might once have done, is given life, and springs to action and his feet. He reaches down for her hand and drags her with him, cradling Jasper against his chest. "Thought you'd never ask! But I have to warn you, don't try and handle the skeleton warriors; their swords are as real as the rest of them. And if that bloody Roc gets out again, you can catch it, because I've nearly lost twelve separate fingers already today."
Scattering, almost falling, on the console steps, River only just manages to laugh, "Twelve? But you only have eight, plus thumbs. Twelve is impossible."
He spins back to her, grinning, holding a two-inch diplodocus up for her scrutiny. "Impossible, River? Surely you know better by now." He changes Jasper for the briefest and most breathless of kisses, just on the end of her nose. Leans his forehead to hers and she doesn't just hear the words but feels them bloom in the heat of his voice, his electric excitement, "Nothing's impossible. Nothing at all."