"I love a good laugh. Can it be shared with the rest of the class?" The Doctor asked with a plastered smile.
"No joke to tell, friend. I'm just a tad ticklish. You know, here and there," Amos replied smugly.
"Not helping…" River muttered from behind the large man. Amos blocked the doorway, and she was unable to find an opening through which to crawl in order to act as a buffer between the two men. She didn't want to touch him with the Doctor watching their every move, even if just to move him over. She didn't want to face the disapproving glare of the Doctor either…at least, not without having devised her story.
"Yes, well, it takes a big man to admit his weaknesses. I applaud you for your…bigness," the Doctor replied as he gave the man a once-over. Standing a few inches taller than the Doctor, Amos was not lacking for muscles. Though not a vein-popping, scary-monster strongman, Amos obviously knew his way around a gym. He was the kind of man that convinced other men to start a workout regimen. The Doctor had never been one to envy brawn over brains. However, knowing that River found it attractive, he suddenly felt lesser than. And there really was no way to fake bigger in a bowtie and braces.
In fact, he felt the need to make himself even smaller in order for his trousers to reach his ankles. Something about the man made even his wardrobe choices appear lazy.
"Oh, I have no problem 'fessing up to a weakness," Amos said proudly, leaning in to whisper uncomfortably close to the Doctor's head. "The ladies dig a sensitive man."
The ladies dig a sensitive man? River rolled her eyes. She had little choice but to run interference before the fumes of exuding testosterone made her sick. "Alright, boys. Now that we've establ…"
"So, what does a large man like you do, Andy? Rent yourself out as playground equipment?"
"Big guys do whatever we want. It's why we're big." Amos' voice was getting a bit louder with each ribbing, and he had taken his hands out of his jeans pockets and crossed his arms.
The Doctor was annoyed that the man had not corrected him about the name. Amos wasn't nearly as bothered by his presence as the Doctor preferred…not nearly as bothered as the Doctor. "Does it hurt your skin for the muscles to protrude grotesquely like that?" he asked, pointing to Amos' arms and smiling.
"Don't you know how it feels when skin is stretched over – Dammit, Hals!" One side of Amos' body collapsed as River kicked him behind a knee. He twisted around and met the dangerous stare of an angered woman. Amos pointed around himself to the pleased man in the hall as if to whine but he started it!
River didn't fault Amos for being dragged into the Doctor's games. They had all fallen victim to his trickery and boyish nonsense, even the Doctor had been known to upstage himself. However, now was definitely not the time, nor was a tiny bathroom the place. Amos understood this just from the look in her eyes as it softened from killer to friend. He inhaled a deep breath through clenched teeth and mouthed, You owe me…
"Yes ma'am, I'll just see myself out," he said before turning back to face the gangly man and holding out a hand to offer a truce. "Doctor, it was pleasure."
The Doctor returned his friendly gesture and kept a straight face as Amos gripped his hand a bit tighter than was socially acceptable. "Until we meet again, sir."
A nerve in Amos' top lip quivered as the Doctor smiled through the tortured handshake. He felt like a boy in the schoolyard fighting for the pretty girl in pigtails, and he was ashamed that he had stooped to such infantile behavior. As he walked down the steps of the back porch, the realization of the situation fell on him like a toppling structure.
He had lost her.
He rolled his shoulders to distribute the weight of the stress, and then looked around for witnesses before leaving.
River pushed past the Doctor and stormed down the hall. The satisfaction he felt quickly turned to anxiety as he braced for the onslaught. The silence that filled the house was terrifying. It was almost as if the children had been alerted and had taken cover.
He took small and quiet steps down the corridor, peeking into rooms as he passed them, stepping over the sweater that she had discarded somewhere along the way. A clicking noise followed him in his search as he nervously flicked a switch on the sonic back and forth. He knew that she must be downstairs since he had not felt the house shake with the stomping of her feet up the stairs. After searching the kitchen, a small den, and a pantry, he found her standing in front of a bay window in the sitting room.
The Doctor studied her body language before approaching her. River's arms were crossed and her shoulders back which meant she was trying not to lose her temper. One leg supported her weight while she dug the toes of the other foot into the carpet – a tell-tale sign of nervousness. Though she stood with her back to him, he was willing to bet that she was also chewing on the nail of a pinkie finger. Even from behind – especially from behind – River was the most gorgeous creature he had ever seen. He could almost forget that she was most likely planning his funeral.
"If you don't stop playing with that light switch, I am going to cut off your hand and slap you with it."
The Doctor looked around him. There was no one who fit the horrifying description - that he could tell. Surely that isn't something with which she would threaten one of the children.
He jumped slightly at the yell of his name. "Yes! It's me…standing here…by myself…just standing."
"I'm really not kidding," she warned as she turned quickly to face him, brandishing a pair of dangerously large scissors.
"Oh! Me? You mean me?" He was genuinely surprised. "You said light switch. I thought…"
"On the sonic, Doctor. Stop flicking it. You're making me insane."
He removed the screwdriver from his pocket and examined it. "It's a light switch?"
"Yes…for your bedroom…" she said, her voice dripping with annoyance.
"Really? How do you know that? I thought it was just for fun flicking." The Doctor looked at River with confusion and was met with eyes that questioned his apparent foolishness and naivete. "Ah…"
River turned her back to him once again and studied the world outside the window. Her shoulders had relaxed, and her stance wasn't as tense. The Doctor watched as she slid a hand into each back pocket of her jeans. "There's a storm coming. I can smell it."
The Doctor took a few steps until he was within inches of her. She was wearing just a tank, and he could see gooseflesh on her neck and arms. "Aren't you cold? You seem to have lost your jumper."
There was a quiet laugh. "I got hot rather suddenly. Though it is a bit chilly in front of the window, I suppose." Her voice was softer. It was a sound that he always found soothing, however rare she used it.
His gut reaction and the thing he wanted most in that moment was to touch her. He weighed his need against the risk of being thrown through the window. He felt that his body was up for the challenge. Chances were that he would explode otherwise, and it would be easier to heal from a dislocated hip than it would from the loss of limbs.
"River…" But maybe it was best to give notice. Those scissors were somewhere nearby.
River could see him fidget with his bowtie in the reflection on the mirror. His forehead was creased, and he rocked slightly in place. She bit on a lip to keep the smile at bay.
He had the words. In his mind, he could see them fighting from the back of his throat to be heard. He formed his tongue around them but couldn't seem to add the sound. His breathing was shallow and came only from the very top of his lungs. Whereas the inside of his mouth had the texture of a hot desert, his hands were cold and clammy. It occurred to him that he would most likely die from anticipation before combustion or trauma. The Doctor watched his hands reach out as if they didn't belong to him…as if someone else was in control of his motor functions.
In the glass, River saw him lift his hands and hover momentarily for days over her shoulders. She could feel rapid heartbeats in her neck, and there was a burning in the pit of her belly that sent sparks dancing under her ribcage. River stopped breathing to try and calm her racing heart.
It was so light that he wondered if he was actually touching her. Then he heard the slightest intake of breath, and he knew that the only impending harm would be emotional. The Doctor ran the backs of his fingers slowly from her bare shoulders down her arms to the hands still in her pockets. He gently pulled her hands free and intertwined their fingers, wrapping their arms around her.
River watched him watch his own movements as he traced down the length of her arms. Her breaths came short and fast while the chill of her skin kept the fire underneath from consuming her. When he embraced her with their arms, she fought against the weakness threatening to buckle them both. She leaned against him and rested her head along his jaw. Her mind still reeled with anger, frustration, anxiety and fear, but she spent her entire life waiting for these tenuous intimate moments with him. Nothing ever existed between them but fire when they touched.
He molded himself into her when she leaned back. It had been months since the stormcage, and he didn't realize how desperately his body had missed and would respond to hers. The sweet smell of her hair clouded his senses and made him doubt that he would be able back away…ever. He released one of her hands and swept the hair back from her neck. His hand came to rest atop hers as it slid down the side of his leg. Before his better judgment could stop him, he placed a modest kiss on her shoulder. When she sighed heavily instead of snatching away as he feared, he kissed her again, closer to her neck and with more urgency. A barely audible moan escaped her, and he held her tighter, their hands now splayed between her ribs. The fingers under her hand scratched lightly across her shirt. River raised her arm slowly, her fingernails scraping through his hair. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on deeper breaths, hoping that the faint feeling would pass.
River's eyes were closed, so she hadn't seen him lean in for the kiss. And when she felt the feathered sensation on her skin, her already shallowed breathing became nearly non-existent, exhaling what little air she had as a sigh. She instinctively rolled her head to the side, and he took advantage of the access to her neck. The kiss sent shock waves throughout her body as his tongue licked briefly at the skin. River fought fiercely against the visceral need to turn into him and press everything she had into everything he was. She felt him scratch at the fabric under her breasts and snaked her arm up to bury her fingers in his hair, needing to feel some part of him in her hand. Having been released from her grasp, he reached under her shirt and teased at the skin above her jeans, drawing small circles from side to side.
"Doctor…you've got to…we have to…damn…"
He scraped his teeth along her neck and left a moist trail up to her ear. She tugged at a handful of hair, and he smiled to know that she was as tortured as was he. His hand left her side and slid into the front pocket of her jeans. Her grip tightened, and the pain to his scalp was delicious.
"Mimi!" A tiny voice filled with need erupted from upstairs, followed by footsteps. "Mimi!"
River spun quickly away from the Doctor and walked towards the stairs, running her hands through her hair and checking her clothes. She had no doubt that her face was flushed, but surely no more than so than it would be cooking over the hot stove. She blew out a heavy breath and rounded the corner, almost running over the small boy.
"Mimi! I – "
"Gus, honey, stop shouting. I'm right here," she said, sounding a bit breathless.
"Sorry…when are we going to get the tree where's the doctor can he come with us?" The questions all ran together as Gus hopped on one foot. "Where's your sweater?"
"What about now? How's now work for you?" She needed to leave the house as quickly as she could.
Gus stood still and feigned a deep thought, checking his invisible appointment book. "Umm…I think I could do it now."
River wiped a trickle of sweat that tickled at her hairline and smiled at the boy with all of her teeth. "Well, go round up everybody and tell them to dress warmly, ok. The sun's going down in a bit."
He pounded his little legs up a few stairs and ran back down. "Mimi, can the Doctor come too?"
"Of course. The more, the merrier," she replied, same grin pasted on her face. She felt like a clown.
"This is the best thing that has ever happened to me," he exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around her.
"You mean since last year when we went to get the tree?" She hugged him back quickly and motioned for him to go upstairs.
He hurried up the stairs, shouting as he went, "Since ever!"
River listened for returning footsteps and, hearing none, turned and walked slowly back into the sitting room.
"You almost broke my hand when you ran off," he said with a nervous chuckle.
She approached him timidly and smiled. "Serves you proper for having it in my pocket."
She reached up and gingerly straightened his bowtie. "Look, Doctor. There's so much that we need to talk about, and now's just not the time, yeah? " She looked up at him with wide eyes.
He nodded and tucked her hair behind her ear.
"Please tell me that you have something other than…that…in your suitcase," she said, waving her arms to indicate his clothing.
"Why? This…" He mimicked her waving. "…is magnificent."
She laughed and turned to leave the room. "You're going on your first Christmas tree hunt. You need something…else."
The Doctor watched her hips sway as she crossed the room and felt the thoughts jostle in his mind as he shook his head. She twirled around and strolled back towards him with an outstretched finger.
"And I'm still furious with you. Don't let the touchy-feely lead you to think that I'm not going to tear your head off later."
He waited for the wink. There was no wink. "But –"
"But nothing. Now, go change your damn clothes and get in the truck," she demanded, leaving the room.
"Really, River? Must you swear?" he said, picking up his suitcase and walking towards the bathroom.