The Doctor was bored. He didn’t feel like swimming, he had read all the books in his extensive library at least three times and quite frankly the TARDIS was so fed up with him rewiring her that she had lurched so violently that he’d almost head-butted the console when he tried and failed to find his balance. What he really needed was an adventure of some kind, something that didn’t take place on his ship.
And that was where the trouble began. Because it was absolutely no fun at all to go and have an adventure on his own, and the Ponds were too busy enjoying their honeymoon on a planet with lots of sunshine, a deep blue sea and a very nice beach. And the Doctor was not invited. Not that he wanted to, honestly, but it was only when they were gone that he realised that it was awfully quiet around him. That is why he took companions in the first place; to have someone to talk to, to have company. Travelling on his own was… bad, for multiple reasons.
He’d told the Ponds that he would come collect them in fourteen days. By now only four of them had passed, but he was already seriously considering jumping the remaining ten ahead to pick them up. He was a Time Lord with a time machine; he could do that. Except he was very likely to get a lot of strange looks from Amy and Rory when they asked him what he’d done with his “break from them,” as Amy had jokingly called it and he said that he just jumped ahead to go get them. No, definitely not a good idea.
‘So, where do we go then, old girl?’ he asked the TARDIS. Where were the mauve alerts when he needed them? Of course he could always set the destination to random and see where he ended up. He did love a good surprise from time to time.
His fingers were already hovering over the keys when the scanner made a noise. She never was the most subtle of ships, preferring to drop him off wherever she liked or wherever she felt he needed to be. That was the reason why he had almost ended up with a concussion just now.
The face looking back at him from the screen was River’s.
‘You want me to go and see her?’ He told himself that it hadn’t sounded quite so incredulous as he thought it did.
The picture didn’t change. The TARDIS merely hummed in what he thought was annoyance. I’ve handed you a suggestion and still you keep complaining was the underlying message he heard.
Fact was, although the Doctor would never really admit it to anyone, that he still didn’t know what to make of Dr River Song. She popped in and out of his life, lording spoilers over him – and enjoying it, definitely enjoying it – shooting things and flirting with him as if she had done nothing else all her life. She’s Mrs Doctor from the future, Amy had said the first time she’d met her. The Doctor had been quick to steer the conversation away from that tricky subject, but it was true that there was quite a bit of evidence supporting that theory, not in the very least because she had known his name when he met her in the Library. And he sort of liked her. But she had also admitted to killing a man and ending up in prison for it. She clearly wasn’t the safest person to be around.
But then, neither was he.
The TARDIS’s humming sounded more like Get a move on now.
‘You are conspiring against me,’ he accused his ship. ‘You and River. You even fly better with her in charge.’ Not that he would be heard to say that whenever that woman was around. ‘You like her better than me, don’t you?’
His ship’s silence spoke volumes.
Well, he supposed it couldn’t hurt to spend some time getting to know her. And he really was growing tired of his own company; talking to himself was bearable only for so long. Besides, River was one of the universe’s biggest unsolved mysteries and he did love a bit of a mystery. He might as well spend some time trying to figure her out.
it would have to be something that didn’t involve lots and lots of running. A
picnic would be nice. He’d done that once, well, his former self had done that
when he ran into her at Asgard and it had been surprisingly nice, if a little
awkward because he had done the Library not too long before that and he found
it rather difficult to look at her knowing where she was headed next. Yes, a
picnic would be nice. And he knew just the place. He just happened to know that
there were some very lovely meadows on Delnos Beta.
Stormcage could get very boring very quickly, especially since none of the guards dared to talk to her since her latest break-out when she had gone to deal with the Pandorica problem. River had pointed out that it had been a crisis and that, from their point of view, she had been gone for less than a day. By her standards that was actually quite reasonable, and she had a lingering suspicion that the new guard had not minded the kissing as much as he claimed.
Still, she was entitled to books, so she wasn’t entirely bored out of her mind, and there had been vague promises lately of letting her out for a mission so that she could earn her pardon. After all the escaping that she did, the Stormcage staff was rather eager to see the back of her. The feeling was entirely mutual; she’d love to have a place of her own without bars, where the sun would shine occasionally.
It was well past midnight and she was lying in her bed, trying to find some sleep, but she wasn’t exactly tired. Doing nothing all day tended to have that effect, and she didn’t need as much as sleep as ordinary humans anyway.
It was a relief to hear the tell-tale sound of the TARDIS materialising just outside her cell and River smiled, even though the sound of the brakes made her cringe inside. That man! Would he never learn? But it had been so long since she heard that at night that she couldn’t really bring herself to care. Lately she had been seeing quite a bit of a younger Doctor, one who didn’t know yet who she was and who certainly didn’t come to pick her up from Stormcage. She had to search him out herself. That wasn’t to say that it wasn’t fun to leave him messages all across space and time and let him come to her, but she missed the older him, the one who knew about their marriage and her identity, not one who narrowed his eyes at her, more than implied that he didn’t trust her and kept asking who she was. Oh, she loved him too, but he sure was hard work young.
Not that she had been much better.
The door opened and the Doctor swaggered out, manic grin on his face as he adjusted his bowtie. ‘Hi honey, I’m home.’
He really made it too easy on her. ‘And what sort of time do you call this?’ she wondered, making a show of checking her watch for the time. Nearly two o’clock in the morning.
Judging by the shock on his face the lateness of the hour only now started to dawn on him. It was probably a good thing that she didn’t sleep naked; his eyes were already close to popping out of their sockets. His young eyes.
He was looking at her as if he had never even seen her like this before. Young. He was young. This was not a version of her husband who knew that they were married. This version of him likely didn’t even know who she was. River tried and rather failed to ignore the by now far too familiar stab of pain when he didn’t know her as well as he had, as well as he would, in his future and her past.
‘Well, a bit later than I thought,’ he admitted. ‘You were… ehm… sleeping?’
‘Counting sheep, my love,’ she reassured him. Not that it had worked. ‘So, where are we off to?’
The Doctor wagged his finger at her. ‘No, no, no! That’s not how it works, River Song. We’ve got to diaries first!’ He sounded – and looked – like a young boy who had just learned how to tie his own shoelaces and was extremely proud of the fact. ‘Look, I’ve got a brand-new diary.’ By now he had arrived at the bars and was waving a well-known diary in front of her nose. Except that it was not the way she recalled it. The one she knew looked exactly like this one, but it was old and battered. This one was new.
So yes, of course she’d known that at one point the Doctor must have acquired a diary of his own, but River had never even seen him without one. True, she usually had to remind him to get it out and figure out where they were, but he’d had it for as long as she had known him. There was only one time she hadn’t seen it, but that was during the Pandorica adventure and neither of them had found the time what with the total event collapse, the rebooting of the universe and her parents’ marriage. They could be forgiven for that.
‘Diaries,’ she agreed. ‘Although I’d very much like to do that in the TARDIS, sweetie. Not to rush you, but there’ll be a guard passing by in about three minutes and I don’t think they’ll give me permission to leave.’ That’d be the day.
The Doctor flapped his hands about. ‘Right. Getting you out.’ He stared at the lock as if he could open it by mere wishing.
Realisation hit again. ‘You’ve never done this before, have you?’
The Doctor’s smile widened. ‘I’m going to do this again? Good, I’m liking it.’
Realising that she may have dropped a spoiler on him without meaning to – good grief, she was getting worse than him – she turned her attention back to the matter at hand. ‘Aren’t you going to get me out?’ When this didn’t seem to prompt a stroke of genius, she added: ‘Sonic, Doctor.’ She could easily get herself out, but winding the Doctor up was certainly entertaining.
‘I’ve got to park it in the cell next time,’ he muttered as he dug up the sonic from his pocket and tossed it in the air before catching it and pointing it at the lock.
River only had to grab her diary before she left the cell; all the other things she needed were already in the TARDIS, and she would have taken care to hide them from the Doctor. ‘You don’t want to do that,’ she told him, remembering all too well the last and only time he had attempted it. It had taken a lot of imagination to come up with an explanation for the mess that would satisfy the guards and even then they had been rather sceptic. People of her stature usually didn’t manage to break the prison cots all by themselves. A TARDIS landing on one of them did however. ‘You never know where you’ll land, not with your driving.’
He favoured her with an indignant look. ‘I’ll show you driving, Dr Song!’
‘If you say so, sweetie.’ She grinned as she made her way to the TARDIS, the Doctor following behind, muttering under his breath about how there was nothing wrong with the way he flew the TARDIS and how he maintained that it was a brilliant noise. In her future she must already have teased him about the brakes, River noted.
The TARDIS hummed when she entered.
‘I’ve missed you too, old girl,’ she said. The Doctor didn’t hear her, still being too flustered about her critique considering his driving. There were longer gaps between his visits these days. Once there had been a time she had seen him every night and oh, what adventures they’d had. These days sometimes weeks went by that she didn’t see him. It had been almost three weeks this time.
By the time she had reached the console, the Doctor had closed the door behind him and River sent the ship into the time vortex before the guards came and found a big blue box in the corridor that had no reason to be there.
‘I can do that!’ the Doctor protested.
River smiled. ‘I know. You can enter our destination.’ She parked them in the vortex and then turned back to face him. ‘Well then, diaries?’
Of course by now he had almost completely forgotten about that. Bless. ‘Right. Diaries.’ He made a show out of opening his and sending her an inquisitive look over it. ‘Dr Song, have you done the crash of Byzantium yet?’
She thought for a moment, and checked her own diary to make sure, but it didn’t sound familiar.
‘Obviously ringing no bells,’ the Doctor commented. River had a lingering suspicion that he was quoting someone, probably her, her from the future. He always did enjoy these timey-wimey games of his. ‘Hm, have you done the Pandorica?’
She didn’t even need to think about that one. ‘Yes, I have.’ And it was a relief to find that at this point in both their time streams they had at least one adventure in common. She used to take their shared experiences for granted until they weren’t there anymore. Then they had become infinitely precious to her. Strange how you never seemed to fully appreciate something until it wasn’t there anymore. ‘How long ago for you?’
‘Two, no, three weeks ago. I’ve been taking the Ponds on their honeymoon since.’
River stifled another smile. Only the Doctor would invite himself to somebody else’s honeymoon. Not that she was complaining; if her parents would have had a normal honeymoon, she might not be who she was today. ‘You haven’t seen me since,’ she concluded. ‘Are they sleeping?’
‘I dropped them off on a planet to… to do human-y stuff.’ He flushed a bright red and this time River didn’t suppress the smile. ‘But that doesn’t matter now.’ He took the stairs up to the console two at a time and began his habitual dance around it, flipping levers and pushing buttons, sending them through the vortex in such a way that River had to grab the railing in order to remain on her own two feet. ‘Well then, how do you feel about a picnic, River Song?’
She arched an eyebrow. ‘A picnic?’
The ship lurched when the Doctor pushed another lever. River casually leaned against the console and quickly switched the blue stabilisers before he could notice.
But of course he did. ‘Did you touch something?’ he asked suspiciously, head poking around the time rotor.
River donned her most innocent expression. ‘Wouldn’t dream of it.’
The Doctor didn’t buy it. ‘Stabilisers are boring, River,’ he chided. ‘And that’s just rude, flying someone else’s ship!’
‘Who says she’s only yours, Doctor?’ she questioned. This wasn’t strictly speaking a spoiler, and she had a feeling that the Doctor suspected about them anyway after that stunt she had pulled with his question whether or not she was married after her parents’ wedding.
True to expectations he blushed. Not that he was ever out of sorts for very long. He had perfected avoiding and running to a form of art after all. ‘Delnos Beta,’ he announced, parking them with the brakes on. She suspected he did it on purpose. ‘Great planet. It’s got blue people, River, blue people. I love blue.’
‘I would never have guessed,’ she commented dryly.
The Doctor ignored that. ‘They’re great people, River. They’re nothing like humans. Well, they look like humans, a bit, but they’re blue!’
‘You mentioned that, dear,’ she remarked, trying to hide her amusement at his rambling. He wasn’t quite her Doctor yet, but the mannerisms and the enthusiasm were all too familiar and she loved it. ‘So, when are we?’
‘River Song, you are about to enter the year 6723 and we are on the northern continent of the planet. And it’s…’ He checked his watch. ‘Yes, it’s summer and outside those doors are the famous meadows with a hundred different kinds of grass. There’s even purple grass. How cool is that?’ He offered her his arm. ‘Dr Song, will you accompany me to a picnic?’
Meadows. The word rang a bell somewhere. Older him might have asked her about them, if they had done them yet. Something told her that if this was what her Doctor had been referring to, this Doctor’s plans for a picnic might not go all that smoothly. But then, when did his plans go the way he wanted them to? And there was no reason to tell him already. That would be a spoiler.
She took the proffered arm. ‘Well, Doctor, I think I’d like that.’
In the end it took a good long while before they eventually made it out of the doors. They were almost out when the Doctor suddenly realised that if they were going to have a picnic, then maybe they should bring food and drink. That generally was required when going on a picnic. The TARDIS was feeling kind and let him find the bigger-on-the-inside picnic basket almost right away. Well, given the fact that she had been the one to insist that he went to fetch River, she’d better.
As for River Song herself, she definitely seemed to be enjoying herself as she packed the basket. And she obviously knew him well. She packed all of his favourites without even thinking about it, even though she didn’t take either fish fingers or custard, but he did see her slipping quite a few Jammie Dodgers in. So, in his future he must know her really well, that much was obvious, and clearly at some point he would like her enough to marry her. He still wasn’t sure how that would happen. At the moment he tried to do his best to match her flirting, but every once in a while she would do or say something and then he would be flailing about like a fish on dry land, lost for words. And she definitely liked that. He’d seen that wicked grin of hers.
There were lots of other items disappearing in the basket as well, things he assumed River liked, but he didn’t know that for certain yet. He made a mental note to pay attention to that, because even though he wasn’t sure where this – whatever this was – was going to end up, he actually liked River. She was clever, resourceful, witty, undoubtedly had amazing hair, and clearly was going to be around in his future. It was the inevitability of her really that he found hardest to deal with. He wanted to be in control of his own future and if he was going to have a wife, he’d rather like a say in the matter.
His thoughts returned to the here and now when he realised that he had been staring at River and had therefore completely failed to notice that the last things River had put in the basket were decidedly non-edible. The blanket he could justify – they needed something to sit on – the rope was more dubious – but it was always handy to have – but he had to draw the line at the gun.
‘River!’ he exclaimed.
She really looked far too innocent when she glanced over her shoulder back at him. ‘Yes, Doctor?’
‘No guns,’ he decreed.
‘We might need it,’ she replied.
‘We’re going on a picnic,’ the Doctor pointed out. ‘No running today. Apparently running is bad for human digestion.’
‘I’m merely preparing,’ she said, wholly unconcerned. ‘I’m on an outing with you, dear. Who knows what we’ll run into.’
She had a point about trouble finding him. Trouble seemed to follow him wherever he went, or maybe that was just the TARDIS dropping him off in the middle of it for reasons only known to herself. But that didn’t mean he condoned the use of guns. Thus far he hadn’t been in a situation that couldn’t be solved by using the local resources, his brain and his screwdriver. And he wasn’t in any hurry to declare River’s gun part of the local resources. Come to think of it, he wasn’t even sure how good a shot she was. True, she had shot his fez, but it could have been a lucky shot.
‘River, you could hurt someone!’ he protested, already sensing that his objections would fall on deaf ears.
‘That was rather the point of having a gun,’ she returned.
‘Do you even know how to use it? Other than to shoot my fez?’ he asked as a last resort. He’d seen her use Jack’s squareness gun in the Library – and heaven knew where and when she had gotten hold of that – but that was on walls. This was not the kind of gun to use on walls. This was a fifty-second century meant-to-injure-and-kill-gun.
River grinned a grin that wouldn’t have been out of place on a starving wolf that had its prey cornered. ‘Doctor, don’t you ever wonder what happened to the Dalek in the National Museum?’
This time he actually gulped. No, he hadn’t wondered. He’d just assumed that it had been delayed. Honestly, he’d had more urgent things on his mind at the time. At the same time there was something strangely thrilling about River killing a Dalek. She was good, he’d have to give her that.
‘Right. Dalek. Right.’ Realising he was becoming slightly incoherent, he decided to yield. ‘Picnic. Come along, Song.’ He contemplated the sound of that. ‘Doesn’t sound quite like Pond. Pond definitely sounds better. I should make you an honorary Pond. Not that Song doesn’t sound good,’ he hastened to say, realising that may have been a tad bit offensive and he fully expected to be met with that stare she directed at him when she thought he was being absurd. Not that he’d seen her all that often already, but he already was rather well acquainted with that look.
To his surprise, she was biting back laughter, unsuccessfully, as if she was privy to some piece of information only known to her. Given how they worked, she just might. ‘Let’s go, Doctor. Wouldn’t want the Jammie Dodgers to go stale before you’ve figured out what to call me.’
He faked shock, but in an attempt at being a gentleman took the basket from her and took her hand, all but dragging her with him back to the console room. ‘The meadows, Dr Song. They take up most of the northern continent and we’re quite a bit to the south and the east, so this is mainly red and purple grass.’
‘And you like red,’ River stated.
The Doctor looked at her in surprise. ‘Did I tell you that? In my future?’ Along with his name and several other things he at this point in time really didn’t want to tell her.
She laughed. ‘Doctor, you’ve been moaning about wanting to be a ginger for centuries.’
‘Ah.’ That was rather a good point. To distract himself from thinking about his future, about which she was never going to answer his questions, he opened the doors and allowed her to first. ‘Dr Song, I give you the famous meadows of Delnos Beta.’ Whatever he was going to do with her in future, he’d like to think that this at least was equally spectacular. These meadows were famous all over the galaxy, and quite popular with the intergalactic tourist, but he’d chosen an area without the tourists. Why go where everybody else was going already? What fun was there in that?
‘Doctor, you said there were purple and red grasses here,’ River said. That tone of voice was familiar too, but River didn’t have the monopoly on it. The Doctor instantly recognised it as the tone his companions often used when something didn’t go quite according to plan. ‘This grass isn’t red.’
It wasn’t. This grass was more in shades of blue, green and bluish purple. ‘We must have gone a bit farther north than I thought,’ he observed. He gave River a stern look. ‘And that has nothing to do with my driving. It’s all the TARDIS’s doing. But it’s nice, the north. The north is great, River. This grass is really soft, we won’t even need that blanket. And they’ve got woods too, although not as great as the meadows. They have little villages and…’ He stopped talking when he stepped outside and something crunched underneath his shoes. He peeked down cautiously. ‘Bones,’ he finished.