"What in the hell are you doing here?" Her voice was laden with nails and fire.
"I sincerely hope it isn't your intention to intimidate me with silver tinsel in your hair," the Doctor replied smugly, trying to hide his surprise to see her and his fear that she might be armed.
"Mimi, you swore," came a little voice from the porch. "Hey, you got down the decorations!"
"Gus, go play," River instructed a bit harshly.
"But you just called me to come in a few minutes ago."
River spoke around the Doctor to the little boy. "Well, you didn't, did you? And now I've changed my mind. Go run out some of that curiosity." Turning back to the Doctor, she repeated her question again.
"I could ask you the same thing, Dr. Song. However, first…" He leaned in and asked in a low voice, so as not to appear an imbecile to the tiny people, "…where and when is here, exactly?"
"A man and his marbles have been sadly parted." The words were not spoken nearly as under the young girl's breath as needed to go unheard.
"It really is a valid question in context," he said in defense of himself…to a child.
"Janie, go play with your brother," River held eye contact with the Doctor.
"He's not my brother."
The Doctor turned his head to look at the girl. "I thought you said your name isn't Janie."
"It's not." The child returned to her book. "And I was here first. Carry on."
The Doctor studied her for a moment before looking back towards River. "She makes me nervous, that one."
"Like you done something naughty at school?"
"Gus, I thought I told you…"
"Well, that's what he said it meant," the child whined quietly from underneath the porch steps.
"Sometimes it can mean something a bit more frightening…" He voice trailed off as the nameless girl cut her eyes at him.
"She is pretty scary," Gus said from his hiding place.
"Gus!" the girl yelled, dropping her book to the floor.
"Doctor!" The Doctor exclaimed joyfully. "I quite like this game...No? I thought we were having a roll call." He smiled at the glaring River Song.
"I knew you were the doctor," Gus replied, poking his head around a step to wink clumsily at his new friend.
River inhaled a deep breath and blew the air out slowly, mouthing Thank you in a way that was anything but gracious. The Doctor returned her sarcasm with eyebrows raised in confusion. What? he mouthed back.
"Hey, what's all the noise about?" Another young voice from inside the house called out. A ginger girl appeared behind River from seemingly nowhere.
"Hello!" The Doctor peeked over River's shoulder and smiled at the girl. "Are you Janie?"
"No, I'm Samantha. That's Janie," she answered, pointing to the snarly blonde girl in the rocking chair.
"STOP CALLING ME THAT!" She screamed, jumping from the chair and bounding down the steps, adding as she ran across the yard, "I hate you all!"
The Doctor looked River directly in the eye and grinned wickedly. "No doubt about it…that one definitely belongs to you."
"Jani…Jane!" River yelled over his shoulder, but the little girl ran around the house and into the backyard. "…and no, she doesn't."
"I'll go find her. You know she's in the corn." Samantha pushed her way through the front door and past the Doctor and River, turning her attention back to the Doctor as she rounded the porch. "Are you the plumber? 'Cause you're dressed a bit lame to be the plumber."
Gus crawled out of his hole to join in the commotion. "No, he's the doctor."
Samantha stopped and looked him over carefully. "Which doctor? Doctor who?"
"Nobody knows!" Gus proclaimed, throwing his arms in the air and then counted out his points on his little fingers. "He doesn't know who is, where he is or what day it is. And he lost his box!"
The girl gave him a last once-over and added as she walked out of sight, "I'll never be sick enough to need him, Mimi…"
The Doctor held his hand out to Gus, who quickly high-fived him. "You are very clever, Gus."
"I'm real smart. Mimi says I get it honest," he replied, smiling proudly.
The Doctor slowly turned his gaze to River and searched out her averted eyes. "Is that so…?"
River could feel his eyes on her. Chills ran along her spine and the tiny hairs on her neck stood on end. She avoided his stare by looking around him at Gus. "How about you go round everyone up for lunch, yeah?"
"Can he stay? Please, Mimi, please?" The small boy grabbed the Doctor's hand and hopped from one foot to the other, pleading with his most precious whine. "I promise I'll be good for the rest of the day…please?"
"Yes…please?" The Doctor echoed Gus' fervent pleas. "I traveled quite far to get here, you know."
River's head snapped in his direction. "Oh, shut up."
"Mimi, that's not very nice," Gus scolded as she hurried him through the door and into the house. "He probably has some feelings."
"Oh, he'll have some feelings, alright…" River mumbled to herself before addressing the boy again. "Mr…Smith…and I will be just a moment."
Gus skulked off as instructed, murmuring "You never called him Mr. Smith before…I know he's the doctor...Mimi, you lied…that's not very nice…"
The Doctor was grinning when she turned around to face him. "Rule number one…Mimi lies…"
"Thank you very much, by the way. You just made my life so much more difficult," she complained.
"How, exactly? Appears to me that difficult is around nearly every corner, River," he answered.
"You can't just go up to random children and introduce yourself as the Doctor! First, kids hate doctors, it's a terrible oversight on your part..."
"…and second, you just put a face to that little boy's superhero." The winds of rage deflated from River's body, and her face saddened. "And I'll have to clean it up when you leave."
He reached up and pulled the tinsel from her hair. "I'm a superhero, yeah? Are my powers found in my bowtie of coolness?" He grinned an impossibly boyish smile. The kind of smile that made it almost painful to remain cross with him…almost.
"Doctor, why have you followed me here?" River sighed and looked down at his feet, suppressing a chuckle when she noticed his ridiculously short trousers.
"I didn't, River…well, not exactly. I was looking for-"
Gus ran at them, interrupting the Doctor's explanation. "Mimi! I tried to tell her that lunch was ready and to come down and eat, but Mel-"
"That's okay, Gus!" River's voice went up an octave or two as she cut him off mid-sentence. "We will make her a plate. Go ahead to the table."
"But yesterday you said…"
"Nevermind what I said yesterday. Just for today, everything I said yesterday is rubbish! Now, go wash your hands and have a seat."
"-Melody…" The Doctor finished his sentence under his breath as River saw to the young boy. The Doctor suddenly knew, generally speaking, both when and where he was. Maybe not exactly, but the math was adding up quickly.
"You were saying?"
River snapped him out of his disturbing realization. "I, uh, don't actually remember…" He watched her face, losing his train of thought when he saw the worry and exhaustion in her eyes. "But I would…umm…love some lunch. If it's no trouble, of course…"
River spun on her heels and held the door open with obvious reluctance. "What's one more…"
"Splendid!" He brushed past her, grabbing her hand and stopping. Still facing away from her, he softly admitted, "I've missed you, River."
She gently squeezed his hand. "You better hurry, Doctor. Before the seats fill up. I'll be there in a minute."
He dropped her hand and headed in the direction of the noise of dishes and children.
River took a deep breath and headed up the stairs to the children's bedrooms. She walked to the end of the hall and knocked timidly on the last door. There was no answer, but she knew that there was a child on the other side.
"Knock, knock?" she said as she slowly opened the door and poked in her head. "Can I come in?"
She had earned the girl's trust, but River still felt as if everything was a test between herself and the child. "It's lunchtime. Aren't you hungry?" River stood inside the doorway, leaning against the frame.
"No, ma'am. I had a big breakfast. I know I'm supposed to come down anyway, but can you excuse me just for today? I'm not feeling all that well," the girl replied, her voice almost a whisper.
River nodded, knowing that the girl's ailment was not one of a physical nature. "Sure…of course." She turned to leave and was stopped by the child's small voice.
"Ma'am? Who was that man in the yard?"
"Just an old friend of mine," she answered truthfully, though the in-between was fraught with untruths. "No one to be concerned with, really. He'll be gone soon enough."
"Why don't you take a little nap, Melody? Maybe you'll feel better, yeah?" River suggested before she gently closed the door behind her and walked down the hall.
Within a matter of moments, her quaint little life had been turned topsy-turvy, and she suspected that the arrival of the Doctor marked the beginning of the unraveling.