He took a breath, pulled the door open wider and reluctantly stepped outside the TARDIS.
And into blinding sunlight. He immediately threw up an arm to shield his eyes from the offensive brightness. He would never become accustomed to being thrown from the mood-lit TARDIS into the brilliant light of the Earth's sun. He rubbed his eyes a bit and tried not squint as he studied his surroundings.
Definitely not River's house.
The Doctor wiggled his toes as his feet gripped soft grass. It was a cheerful sensation out of place with his melancholy. Hands stuffed into his pockets, he swiveled his body left and right, looking up at several stately buildings. Obviously a university. Most likely River's. Perhaps the TARDIS had returned him a day or two earlier or later to either avoid the argument or give River some time to settle down. She was a wise old ship when the notion struck her. Although it would have been even more helpful if she had dropped him somewhere in a more specific vicinity of River. He wasn't quite in the mood to go on a treasure hunt. Not to mention he was dressed for the intimacy of her home, not the business of the school.
He turned to reenter the TARDIS to make some minor adjustments in his clothing situation when he heard a familiar voice speak up.
"You do know that a world exists below the skyline, right?"
The Doctor dropped his gaze to find a beautiful and preoccupied River Song sitting cross-legged on the ground, almost under his feet, with a book and writing tablet on her lap.
"River…." The word escaped from him quietly, almost like a prayer.
Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail that was more efficient than styled. Several curls blew about her face and head as the warm Florida air swirled around them, and a pen was tucked behind an ear. She wore a light pink halter top and a pair of jeans, more casually dressed than he had ever seen her. In one hand she held a pencil and in the other, she twirled a curl of that mesmerizing hair. She had yet to look up at him, and all he wanted to do was pull her up into his embrace and hold her. He was afraid the sound of her voice would cause him to break.
"So, you got monsters in your bedroom now, Doctor?"
"What?" Sarcasm was not very warming to the heart.
River continued concentrating on the text in her lap, but raised a hand and waved it about. "All that. You look like you were chased from the TARDIS before you could finish getting dressed." She lifted her head to look up at him and squinted one eye from the gleaming sun, eyebrows turned inward. "Or did she kick you out again, yeah? She did. You're homeless again. Figures…."
Her face looked tired and troubled, but luminescent at the same time. He had fallen in love with the future River and could never prefer one over the other, but he was always amazed that she seemed to get more and more beautiful as her timestream got shorter and shorter. It wasn't necessarily that she was a bit younger that accentuated her beauty, but her innocence in that body.
Innocence…he was abruptly drawn back to the purpose of his visit.
She had returned to the work in her writing tablet and was paying him very little attention.
"River, do you have any idea what you are doing?" His voice was almost a whisper. He was afraid that by asking the question, she would answer it. Maybe if she didn't hear it, he wouldn't feel obligated to repeat it.
River continued to look downward but had stopped writing. She exhaled a troubled breath and lifted her eyes to his. They looked worrisome and near tears. "Is it that obvious? I thought I could hide it." There was shame in her voice, an admission of guilt.
He knelt down in front of her and tried to keep the stirring emotions out of his voice. "You can't hide anything from me, River. I just want to understand why. Why did you do it?"
"You, Doctor. It's always you. I didn't feel like I had a choice," she explained, watching her pencil as she rolled it between her hands nervously. "And now it's this burden. I can't figure it out. I wake up thinking about it. I go to bed thinking about it. My pencils have no erasers…."
"River, you shouldn't chew on pencil erasers, really. It's a horrid habit."
She raised her eyes to him without moving her head. "Focus, Doctor. This is serious. I need help."
"Help? Like a support group?" This had taken an unexpected turn.
"What? No. Don't be rude," she replied, rather disgusted. "A tutor."
His mouth fell open and several seconds passed before he rose to his feet. He stood, arms akimbo, and stared down at the woman who mocked him unabashedly. "A tutor? For learning what? More? There's more you need to know?"
"Of course not. A tutor for learning less. I'm too damn smart for my own good. I need to be lessened a bit." She stood and tried to raise herself to meet his height, anger and frustration showing up and having a party in her eyes. "Do you know how hard it is to come to you, the Almighty Doctor, and admit that I have a problem? And then you ridicule me? This is all your fault to begin with!"
"Yes, your fault! I had it all worked out. I put a lot of work into this and knew exactly where I wanted it to go. But, oh no. It had to be perfect to count, right? You never can leave well enough alone, can you?" She bent down to gather up her belongings and began violently stuffing them into a bag.
Incredibly, she had turned this around on him. "Me? I'm to blame? Oh, I hardly think so, Ms. Song. All I did was show up. You did this…all of this!"
River rose and met him furious stare for furious stare. Spinning around hard enough for her bag to catch him in the side, she marched away from him, yelling behind her. "Well, then, guess what, Doctor? I'm undoing it right now. I don't need this from you. My life is hard enough."
The Doctor walked after her, angry and confused as to where it went wrong. How had this become his fault? Because he was trying to figure out how to make their first and last night together unforgettable and perfectly-timed? Being a gentleman was a crime now?
River suddenly stopped and turned around. She hurriedly rummaged in her bag, pulled out a book and hurled it at him. "And you can take this with you, you bastard. I hope you and it and the TARDIS have a fantastic time. Stay away from me!" Her voice was quaking with the threat of tears, and she ran across the lawn.
"River! Wait!" He hurried after her but she had disappeared into the crowd. He walked defeatedly back to the discarded book and picked it up. "Oh, no. It can't be," he said to no one but himself.
But that meant…
He sprinted in the direction in which River had fled. He knew exactly where to eventually find her.
Obviously the TARDIS was taking every opportunity to make an absolute fool of him. He had, in fact, found River before their fight in her apartment…six, maybe seven months before!
If memory served him correctly, they had not even begun...well, dating...yet. He may have just removed the need to even have a conversation about the alley, or any other relationship nonsense, for that matter.
The Doctor took the steps into her dorm building two at a time and ran down the hall to her room. He knocked politely and waited with forced patience. After no response, he knocked a little louder and called her name. Nothing.
"You know I can get in there, River. But I wish you would let me in," he pleaded. No answer. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
He drew his screwdriver from his pocket and opened the door. Stepping through cautiously, prepared for an attack, he found the room empty. Well, he would just wait.
He walked over to the window to watch for her when she crossed the university grounds. It wasn't until then that he saw it. Clear as day and high in the sky. This is what happens when you don't do an environment check, and your trusty spaceship is an evil and deceitful machine. River had always warned him to check before running out into who-knows-what…or where, for that matter.
This wasn't Florida. Not at all.