"You were rather quiet on the ride home," River said as she lined mugs on a wicker serving tray. Hearing no response, she looked over her shoulder and saw him fidgeting with a refrigerator magnet that they had picked up on one of their excursions. "Much like you are now…Doctor?"
"When were you at Easter Island? And I must say that I am disturbed that there is a shop hocking these trinkets," he responded, still rolling the magnet in his hands.
River stirred the boiler filled with hot chocolate and smiled over the sweet-smelling fumes. He had made a similar statement before purchasing the magnet for her, giving in to the pressure to commemorate a holiday with cheap souvenirs. "Oh, I went on there on holiday ages ago. Could you hand me the marshmallows from the pantry, please?"
"Something about the Moai speaks to me. They look familiar."
River rolled her eyes and replied sarcastically, "I can't imagine why they would."
He continued to study the magnet and reached blindly into the pantry, feeling around for the bag of marshmallows and knocking over cans and boxes in his search. Finding the bag and disregarding the mess he had made, he passed it to River and returned the magnet to its home. "Something smells like it would make my tongue fantastically happy," he said, distractingly close and looking over her shoulder. "The hot chocolate smells good, too."
She laughed and elbowed him away from her. "I still hate you a bit."
"You keep saying that, but the proof escapes me, Dr. Song." He snaked an arm around her waist and nuzzled his face in the hair hiding her neck.
She leaned against the length of him and teased him with a wiggle. "And you keep trying to evade a scolding with a touch here and a squeeze there." She brought a heel down on the toe of one of his boots and stood, eliciting a yelp and a release. "You need to find a new song, Sweetie."
He playfully kneed her in the rear and backed away. "Perhaps I should find a new Song. The one I have treats me dreadfully poor. I don't think she knows how special I am."
"She knows how special you think you are," she replied with a grin and a wink over her shoulder. "Though I suppose I should forgive that earlier nonsense with Amos in light of how wonderful you are with the children. Boys will be boys, as they say."
"Yeah…well…I don't like him. Amos…what kind of name is Amos?" he grumbled, rifling through her cupboards.
"Hmpf. Well, I don't think he has biblical intentions – or maybe he does. I suppose it depends on the context of 'biblical' ," he rambled, both verbally and physically as he opened and closed drawer after drawer.
"Whatever clue you're looking for, you won't find it in the kitchen," River said amusingly.
The Doctor stuck his tongue out and did a little you-think-you're-so-smart-but-you're-wrong dance behind her back, adding, "I wasn't looking for anything. It's just general noseyness."
He sat at the table and watched her at the stove. This domesticated life worked for her, it seemed. Though he couldn't imagine what pleasure she got from it – very un-River like as it was. There was corn growing in the backyard, for God's sake.
"River, when did Mary leave?" he asked apprehensively.
"Mary? You mean, Marianne?"
"Possibly. When did she leave?"
"She didn't. Marianne's the one who buckled you back together when your brace snapped and nearly decapitated you."
He could hear the smile in her voice, and he struggled to match it. Maybe he'd had gotten the name wrong. He was five – how accurate could his memory be, really? "So, there's never been a Mary…"
"Nope," she turned around to face him. "What's this about?"
"Inventory," he mumbled as he rubbed his forehead and stared down at his feet.
"Inventory of what?"
"We have a tree to christen. I'll deal with your craziness tomorrow." She ladled the warm treat into the mugs and held the tray out to him. "Take these into the living room, sit them on the coffee table and move away quickly."
He rose and did as he was told, only to be grabbed from behind before he could get out of the door. "Couldn't stand to see me leave, yeah?"
"Hardly…listen. I'm going to try and convince Melody to come down and help. Don't stare at her or wave your sonic around her or ask her questions…"
"Can I look at her? Is eye contact allowed? Don't blink!"
"In fact, don't speak to her at all."
"What if she speaks to me? I may be a bit socially awkward, but I'm not rude," he informed her.
"She won't speak to you. She's scared of you. Amy shot at her, remember?" River reminded him.
"How can you talk about her in the third person? Don't you find that a bit disconcerting?"
River gently shoved him in the direction in the living room. "Just try not to be so…you."
He turned and walked slowly down the hall, concentrating on not tripping with the tray full of hot beverages. "Well, who should I try to be? Amos?" he mumbled snarkily.
"I heard that!"
The Doctor rounded the corner into the living room and felt like a zebra noticed by a pride of hungry lions as the children watched his every step. "Stay back! Or I'll run with the tray and you'll never see it again!" He teased in all seriousness. "I'm going to sit these down here and back away slowly…"
As River climbed the stairs, she heard the pounding of the herd and a single cry for help. She went calmly about her business.
River stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around her body and her hair. She had taken advantage of the available babysitter and stood under the hot cascade of water for longer than she was usually allowed. She felt a bit guilty about not warning him of a prolonged absence, but the feeling passed almost as soon as it presented.
Sitting down on her bed, she toweled the excess water from her hair. Staring back at her from her nightstand was a framed picture given to her by Amos of the three of them: Amos, Gus and herself. They had gone on a family vacation of sorts, and it had been a welcomed break from the solitary life she had grown accustomed to leading. She could almost feel the heartbreak of saying goodbye even now. Amos had been more than a friend to her over the years…more than a confidant….more than a lover. And as much as she did love Amos, he simply was not Him.
Amos was around as much as she and Gus needed him to be, and her life with him was never hard. But when River laid her head on a pillow at night, she didn't shed tears for Amos. She didn't drape her arm over another pillow and pretend it was Amos. And she didn't trace a finger over her lips wishing instead that it was Amos' lips on hers. River had had those things with Amos, and she appreciated and cherished them for what they were…but it had always been and would always be about Him. And no matter how many family pictures or vacations they took, Amos knew that as well.
River dropped the damp towels into a basket and dressed in her pajamas. She knew that by the time the tree was decorated, the show was over and the kids were corralled into their bedrooms, she would be the walking dead. It had been one of those days.
And then there was the Doctor.
Flipping off her bedroom light and paddling down the hall, she knocked lightly on Melody's door.
River opened the door slowly and walked inside, amazed to find the child still sitting in the rocker where River had left her hours earlier. "Are you feeling better?"
"Yes, ma'am. Thank you."
"Is it okay if I have a seat here?" River motioned towards the bed, and Melody nodded. "The kids are having hot chocolate and decorating the tree. We'd love it if you'd come down and help…"
"Okay." She stood and walked around the bed in the direction of the door.
"But I need to tell you that my friend is still here. He's very nice, and there's no reason at all to be afraid of him, okay? And you don't have to talk to him, if you don't want to," River reassured her as she rose from the bed and stood in the doorway, surprised that her skills in the art of convincing had not been called upon.
Melody nodded and joined her, taking her by the hand and following her down the hall. The little girl had never reached out to her in the five months she'd had her, and River could feel the nervous shaking in the child's body. River gave her hand a squeeze as they approached the stairs and let go as Melody descending ahead of her.
River inhaled and slowly exhaled a deep breath and sent a prayer to Gus' God that this was not a decision she would look back on in regret.