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To Face Unafraid, The Plans That We've Made

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River slid onto the stool at the bar, tapping her hand against the wooden counter.

“Gin and tonic,” she ordered, watching to make sure the bartender nodded before tugging a hand through her hair. Her foot bounced against the chair and she drummed her fingers on the bar as she craned her neck to get a view of the door. She glanced out the windows and peered around the crowds of couples waiting for tables, searching for a man whose face she’d never seen.

Red tie, red tie, red tie…

Nothing. Where was he?

The bartender slid her glass down in front of her and River stared into it, watching the bubbles rise through the liquid. This wasn’t fair. Making a woman wait was just plain rude. She was only doing this because Julia had begged and River wouldn’t say no to a free dinner. But he was late. And she was about ready to give up because she really didn’t need a relationship right now. What she needed was to focus on her schoolwork.

A figure moving into the seat next to her snapped her attention back to the bar.

“Scotch on the rocks,” it muttered at the bartender, and River knocked back her own drink. Placing it back on the counter carefully, she fiddled with the cylindrical glass, twisting it this way and that, moving it around centimeter by centimeter.

“You okay?” asked a male voice next to her. River nodded and scanned the restaurant again. Still nothing.

“Waiting for someone, then?”

River glanced over, annoyed at the unabashed curiosity of this total stranger.

“I am,” she replied, her fingers tapping against her glass as she took him in.

The first thing she noticed was the bow tie. It was glaringly red, and it sat crooked under an unusually large chin. Her gaze moved respectfully up his face to floppy hair that fell into his eyes, a chocolate brown that glinted in the dim light of the bar. She thought at first that it was greasy, but realized after a second’s contemplation that it was just well kept - fluffed, yet glossy. She leaned back to take him in completely and noticed suspenders hidden under a tweed jacket. Suspenders, tweed, Scotch on the rocks. But his face was so young, the creases on his forehead betraying whatever semblance of age he retained. They were etched into his face in a way that made River assume he was constantly amused, constantly questioning.

And he was staring at her now, both amusement and curiosity playing across his face. He studied her as if he was matching her to an outside description, his eyes calculating and measuring.

Wait—

Red tie.

Red bow tie?

“Are you waiting for someone?” River asked in what she hoped was a nonchalant manner. Keeping her eyes on him, she took another sip of her drink.

“You could say that,” he replied, his eyes falling to her drink. “Gin and tonic?”

River nodded, swirling the glass lazily in her hand. You could say that? Oh, God, what if this was him? She watched the ice circle around in the clear liquid a few times before taking another sip. And another.

The man beside her chuckled. “Nervous?”

“No,” River replied, placing the glass back on the bar and sighing. “I just don’t want to be here. I’m only doing this as a favor for a friend.” She scanned the restaurant again before adding, “And he’s late.” River glanced at the stranger to her right to see if that would get any sort of reaction out of him, but he was checking his watch.

“Who are you meeting, then?” She tried, determined to coax something out of him.

“I don’t know,” he replied, taking another swig of his drink. “Blind date.” He gave River a weak smile and she quickly focused her attention on the glass in front of her.

Oh, if this was the man Julia had insisted was ‘so perfect for her’, River was going to kill someone. Probably the man first, and then Julia. This man, this boy, couldn’t have been over thirty, and even that was stretching it. He was definitely adorable in his own sort of way, the floppy hair giving him a childish whimsy, but much too young for her. It would explain why he was so late, though. Not that youth was an excuse to be late, but at his age one could only expect them to be immature and irresponsible. The fact that Julia thought he would be interested in her… River almost let herself feel flattered.

“I’m an hour early, though,” the man continued, checking his watch again.

Oh. Okay, so not red bow tie. River grabbed for her drink as an unwelcome sense of disappointment settled in her stomach.

“An hour?” she asked halfheartedly, looking through the swarm of heads towards the door again.

“Yeah, I wanted to allot some extra time in case I got lost,” he mumbled. River quirked an eyebrow at him. “It happens sometimes,” he replied, scratching at the back of his neck. “I’d rather be early than make a lady wait.”

River bit down on her lip as a smile pulled threateningly at the corners of her mouth.

“Do you know what you’re date’s supposed to be wearing?” he asked, turning towards River on his stool.

“A red tie,” she responded, glancing around the room again. Really, it wasn’t that hard to show up somewhere on time.

“Mine’s supposed to be wearing a black dress… Long-sleeved,” the man mumbled, gripping his drink tightly as he fidgeted with the fabric of his trousers.

River looked over at him, taken aback by his sudden introversion. She found him staring questioningly back at her and glanced down at her dress, suddenly self-conscious.

Oh.

“I suppose that’s why you sat next to me, then?” She asked, gesturing at her own long-sleeved black dress.

“No, actually,” he replied casually, picking at a loose thread on his jacket. “I was more fascinated by the hair.” The man grinned up at her and she found herself smiling back. She smothered the expression with another sip of her drink, licking her lips carefully as she set the glass down.

“So what’s her name, then?” River questioned, tugging her sleeves down around her wrists. Glancing up at the man, she found him staring intently back at her. She held his gaze, never one to back down, and waited.

“Melody,” he said, watching her carefully, and River’s heart sank. She hadn’t realized how much she’d wanted him to say her name until another woman’s had come out of his mouth. Which was ridiculous, obviously, because he was entirely too young for her.

River shook her head lightly, giving him an apologetic smile, and he sighed loudly.

“I don’t suppose you’re name is John? John Smith?” she asked, and when he shook his head it was her turn to sigh. They both turned back to their drinks, River fidgeting with her glass as the man beside her finished his off.

“I’m River,” she mumbled after a moment, and glanced over at the man sitting next to her. He was buried in his mobile, his thumb scrolling rapidly down the screen as the white light illuminated his face. Figures. He would be one of those types.

River cleared her throat roughly, raising her eyebrows. The man’s eyes flicked up at her.

“Sorry, what?” he asked, sitting up straighter on the stool and placing the phone on the bar.

“I said my name is River,” she repeated, rolling her eyes and swallowing down the last of her drink.

“River,” he echoed. “What an unusual name.”

River raised her eyebrows quickly and shoved her glass towards the bartender. He took it immediately, raising his eyebrows at her. “What were you drinking?”

River gave him a weak smile. “I’m finished, thank you.” She would probably leave soon. Her “mystery man” wasn’t coming. And she was going to kill Julia for this waste of time.

“You’re not having another drink?” the man to River’s right asked, and she shook her head “no”. She watched him pout out of the corner of her eye. “But who am I going to talk to?”

“How about your date?” River replied smoothly, staring into her lap.

The man glanced back down at his mobile. “She’s not coming,” he muttered, his fingers fidgeting with the edge of the bar.

“Oh?” River asked, looking over at the man’s phone and trying to seem uninterested.

“No, the friend who set us up just texted me. Apparently, Melody is ‘sick’.” The man placed the air quotes in his sentence and River quirked an eyebrow.

“‘Sick’?” She questioned, emphasizing the word with her own hands.

The man cleared his throat. “Yeah, I um… Have a bit of a reputation.”

“A reputation?” River turned to him on her stool, eyes widening with intrigue. “What kind of reputation?” She felt the sudden urge to put her hands on his tweed jacket and she clenched her fists in her lap to restrain herself.

“Of being mad.” The man’s eyes glittered as he spoke, and River knew that those words should be an immediate red flag, but she couldn’t help feeling like it made him more interesting. A bit mysterious, but definitely more interesting.

“Well that makes two of us,” River muttered, reaching for a drink that wasn’t there. When she frowned at the empty bar, the man beside her shoved a hand through his hair.

“Are you sure you don’t want another drink?” he asked, and River glanced up at him to reiterate that she should really be going. But stars, what had just happened?

That small gesture, just pushing his hair back, had made this stranger turn from a boy to a man. His fringe no longer hung in his face, but rather pulled back in a well cropped manner. The creases on his forehead were clearly visible, and they aged him an indescribable amount. He seemed darker, somehow, more serious with his hair pushed back. And River was shocked by how incredibly… sexy she found this new character. Oh, God.

“River?”

His low voice pulled her thoughts back to the bar, and she realized that she had been staring.

She scraped her throat. “Yes?”

“I was thinking… Well, you’re clearly wanting to leave, I’m finding this bar incredibly intolerable, and I honestly don’t even like the food here. So, call me crazy, but what if we get out of here and go get dinner somewhere else?”

“You’re crazy,” she replied automatically, her mouth hanging open as she stared at him.

“What?” he murmured, his shoulders slouching just slightly.

River shook her head. “No, sorry. I didn’t mean— It’s just, I don’t even know your name. I’m not going out with a complete stranger.”

“And what exactly were you planning on doing at this restaurant?”

River snorted. “Getting superbly drunk and hopefully not remembering any of this tomorrow.”

“Blimey, you really didn’t want to come here, did you?”

“I have more important things to be doing with my life,” she replied cooly, thinking on the paper she still needed to write for her Shakespearian Literature class.

“Come on. I promise it’ll be a good time.” He winked and River bit down on a smirk, trying to ignore his suggestive tone.

“I’m going to need a name first, sweetie.”

The man smiled at her, a look of victory crowning his features as he straightened his bow tie. “My friends call me the Doctor.”

River snorted again. “The Doctor? What sort of name is that?”

“I didn’t say it was my name. I said it’s what people call me. Pay attention, River.”

She rolled her eyes at him. He nodded towards the door and River sighed, sliding off of her stool. “Fine. But I have to grab my coat from the front. I’ll meet you outside.” Without paying or looking back, River turned on her heel and walked to the hostess desk. Collecting her jacket and hat, she walked outside.

The cold air bit into her skin through the sheer sleeves of her dress and she tugged her beige trench coat on. She placed her rimmed hat atop her hair lightly, adjusting it in the reflection of the window.

Not bad.

She smirked as she peered through the glass doors and saw the Doctor placing cash on the bar. He grinned at the bartender and said something that warranted a laugh from the other man before walking toward the exit.

The Doctor. What a ridiculous name. No, nickname. She could deal with it if it was a nickname.

The doors opened and he walked out of the restaurant, tugging on his tweed. He smiled at her - a small smile with narrowed eyes, as if he was trying to peer into her soul without her noticing.

“Where are we off to, then?” River asked, shoving her hands into the pockets of her coat and swaying up onto the balls of her feet.

“I don’t know,” he replied cooly. “Let’s take a walk.” He extended his hand to her and she stared down at it. Lifting her eyes to his, she raised her eyebrows.

“No.”

The Doctor tilted his head to the side. “No?”

“No! I just met you.”

“Fine,” he huffed, “but you have to keep up.” The Doctor started walking quickly along the sidewalk and River jogged to catch up to him.

“So… the Doctor.” River glanced up at him as they walked down tree lined streets. “How’d you get a nickname like that?”

The Doctor looked over at her. “It’s a long story.”

“Are you studying to be a doctor?”

“No,” he scoffed, fiddling with his bow tie.

“So then why ‘the Doctor’?”

“I told you, it’s a long story…” River rolled her eyes and stared at the pavement as they walked.

“But,” he continued, bumping her with his shoulder. “It centers around a friend’s house, copious amounts of alcohol, and a book. My favorite book, actually.”

Books — Now this she could talk about.

“What book? Genre? Author? Is it a text book? Are you at university? Because I—“

River cut off as she looked over at him eagerly and was met with raised eyebrows.

She swallowed the rest of her sentence. “Sorry.”

The Doctor chuckled. “So you like books.”

“I enjoy gathering information, yes.”

They walked for a few blocks in silence, River watching the Doctor’s hands twitch at his sides. She was beginning to wonder if she had made the right decision by agreeing to go out with this man, when he suddenly grabbed her elbow and dragged her down a side street.

It was dark and grimy, rubbish and bins littering the ground and forcing a damp, moldy smell to hang in the air. River looked at the man gripping her arm. His eyes were dark and determined, and he walked briskly toward the other end of the alley. The air was getting thicker the deeper they went, and the darkness engulfed them, black at pitch. River tugged lightly against the Doctor’s grip, but his hand tightened around her elbow.

She told herself to calm down, willed her mind to stop racing, but this was how it happened, wasn’t it? A naive girl goes out with a complete stranger and he takes advantage of her, leaves her good as dead in the back of an alley somewhere and the world never finds her.

Oh, God.

River tugged and pulled against the man’s grip, but he held firm. It was black and she couldn’t see, and she tripped and stumbled around the rubbish littering the ground as they walked.

“Let me go!” she forced, yanking her arm back as hard as she could. If that didn’t work, she would knee him in the groin, land a blow to his stomach, then kick him in his side as he fell and run as far and as fast as her body would take her.

But then he stopped. His fingers still gripped firmly around her elbow, but he stopped.

“River? Are you okay?”

“Let me go,” she repeated weakly, tugging against his hand. Immediately, his fingers loosened and she sprung free, rubbing at her elbow. But for some reason she couldn’t bring herself to run. Maybe because it was pitch black and she didn’t know which way to turn to head back the way they’d come.

“You really don’t like that physical contact stuff, do you?” the Doctor mused, and she heard the rustling of hands being shoved into pockets.

“Not from strange men in dark alleyways, no,” River snapped, smoothing her hands over her coat as she took a shaky breath.

“River, I didn’t mean to—“

“I’m sure you didn’t, but I think this was a mistake. I would like to go back to the restaurant so I can call myself a cab, please.”

“Alright,” the Doctor replied, and River was shocked at how easily he gave in. “You turn around and start walking and I’ll be right behind you so you don’t get lost. Just follow the wall to your… what will be your left.”

River put out her right hand and felt a solid, grimy stone wall. It was damp and cold, and she immediately wiped her hand on her jacket. But her feet didn’t move.

Something about the way this man had been willing to turn around at the drop of a hat made her more comfortable. He wouldn’t push her, wouldn’t take advantage of her. But at the same time… She had just met him.

“You’re not moving.” The Doctor’s low voice cut through the frozen air and River started.

“No, I suppose I’m not,” she replied, cursing her feet for their utter disobedience.

“You’re curious,” he continued, and River could practically see the grin creeping onto his face. A pause. Then, “Do you trust me?”

River thought hard on the question, settling on the only truthful response she could find. “I- I don’t know.”

“Fair enough. You just met me. But I promise I’m not going to try anything… funny.”

Suddenly there were hands interlocking with River’s at her sides and she gasped, stepping back.

“River, it’s just me. Trust me, River.”

She nodded against her own will, annoyed at how nice his hands felt intertwined with her own. He brought warmth, comfort, security. How could someone she’d just met feel so familiar?

“River?”

Oh, right. He couldn’t see her.

“Yes,” she whispered, swallowing hard. “Yes, okay I trust you.”

“Perfect!” he exclaimed, and River heard a clacking on the floor that could only mean he’d jumped a bit. “Follow me, then.”

The Doctor dropped one of her hands, his fingers still holding firm to the other as he dragged her through the endless alleyway. River felt a slight tug to her left and tripped as she turned to follow him down another passageway that branched off from the main alley. Suddenly, bright lights hit her eyes and she squinted against them, bringing a hand up to shield her face. Her feet tried to plant themselves, but then she was being dragged from the smaller alley they had ducked into and out onto a sidewalk.

River blinked hard at an unexpected white light that seared into her eyes, squinting until the burning sensation vanished. She looked over at the man to her left and found him gazing out on the scene before them with the excitement of a child. The Doctor’s fringe had fallen into his face again, and he bounced excitedly from one foot to the other. Glancing down at her with sparkling eyes, he squeezed her hand and gestured out in front of him. “Look, River.”

She blinked up at him before gazing out at the landscape before her. They seemed to have stumbled out into a park, and it was absolutely lousy with Christmas lights. The tiny bulbs were strung from tree to tree, wrapped up the branches, lining the paths on the ground, sprinkled through the grass. Oversized ornaments hung from the canopy of trees, and each of the benches had large gold bows wrapped around their steel arms. It was brilliantly bright, all white lights and rustic tree trunks. Bright, but an incredibly warm bright, the golden lights contrasting with the bare, grey-brown trees in a way that reminded River of snow gleaming against the stars, or a fire crackling softly in the night.

What surprised River the most, though, was the silence. There was a hush fallen over this place that made her feel like even breathing was an intrusion. Upon further examination, she found that the park - the entire park - was empty.

“Doctor,” she whispered, her eyes scanning the benches as the unusual title passed through her lips. “Where is everyone?”

“Beautiful, isn't it?” he asked, fracturing the silence and not answering her question.

River nodded, and suddenly she was being tugged off of the sidewalk and onto a small path cutting through the park. The Doctor let go of her hand, offering her his arm instead. She took it, praying that the flush in her cheeks would be obscured by the strange lighting. She could always pass it off to the cold.

River and the Doctor walked for what felt like hours, talking about everything and nothing at the same time. He elaborated more on his life and she told him about hers - family, friends, being in university - and laughed as he asked why she would want to go back to school in the first place.

“I like gathering information. I already said that.”

“Well so do I, but I don’t want to go back to university! That’s why I travel.” The Doctor attempted to straighten his bow tie, but he pulled it just slightly off center by mistake. River’s hand came up automatically to fix it, and when she touched the fabric he stiffened and looked down at her with wide eyes.

“Sorry,” she whispered, her hand dropping to her side. “It was c-crooked.”

River shifted slightly on her feet as she glanced behind her, past him, at the ground, anywhere but his face. They had walked to what appeared to be the middle of the park, an ancient looking tree engulfing them in its low hanging, light-strung branches. It was by far the brightest part of the park, and yet, it seemed the most secluded. It was the most beautiful place she had seen in her entire life, a frozen wonderland dripping in white lights.

“River,” the Doctor whispered, his voice suddenly low. Her eyes met his and she found that he had pushed his hair back away from his face again. River was drawn to him, something warm blooming out through her stomach that she had never experienced before. Something seemed different with this man, an unfamiliar natural attraction making her nerves spark and her fingers itch. She shouldn’t like him. She had just met him. But he was so… different. She couldn’t find another word for him, but she didn’t care because it was the best kind of different. She felt like she could be with him forever, float past the stars and into different universes and she would still have more to learn, that he would still surprise her. She wanted to root around in his soul, to dig through his mind and imprint all of his knowledge on herself. He was the most complicated riddle and yet the simplest sentence. And even though he was young, his hair and bow tie and jacket and suspenders made him seem like such an old soul and again, the only word that came to River’s mind was ‘different'. A sexy different. A very sexy different.

River stared into his eyes, and just as she was thinking that she would happily drown in those green irises, her own eyelids were fluttering closed and her hand wrapped around his neck, pulling his mouth against hers.

The Doctor stiffened the instant her lips touched his and River almost pulled away, but then his hand ghosted over her shoulder. Her fingers slid down behind his ear, scratching lightly against his skin. She felt him jerk back, his knee hitting against her leg as he flailed, and then his mouth was pushing firmly back against hers. His hand smoothed over River’s back, pressing her closer as it slid down her arm and squeezed her elbow. Taking that as permission, she moved her hand from his face and wrapped an arm around his waist, tugging him closer. Her other hand came to rest on his chest before gripping into his tweed jacket. She hummed against his mouth as his fingers moved into her hair and pushed herself against him. When her chest pressed into his, though, the Doctor pulled his fingers from her hair, clenching his hands into fists and waving them at his sides. River pulled away as she felt him fold his hands behind his back, a frown etched onto her face as she tried to catch her breath.

She looked at him, puzzled, her hand falling from his chest.

“Right, okay… Interesting,” the Doctor breathed, scratching sloppily at his cheek.

“What’s wrong?” River asked, determined not to apologize. Her eyes scanned his face, tracking down his jaw and landing on his bow tie before snapping back up to meet his dark gaze. The Doctor reached up, his fingers hovering over her cheek before he pulled his hand away. River swallowed.

“It’s crooked again,” she whispered when he didn’t answer, her hand reaching up to fix the Doctor’s bow tie as she stared at him. The corner of his mouth twitched, almost imperceptibly, and suddenly his hand whipped up and snatched at her wrist.

River froze, her hand gripped tightly by the Doctor’s as she stared up at him with wide eyes.

And then he was crushing his mouth to hers, his free hand smoothing over her shoulder, down her arm, over the curve of her waist until he was gripping her hip tightly. He moved towards her quickly, walking her backward and shoving her roughly against the trunk of the ancient tree behind them. River gasped as she hit the tree, mouth opening in shock. The Doctor’s teeth grazed her bottom lip and she made a sound in the back of her throat that was definitely not human, and then he was pressing his mouth to hers again, pushing his tongue between her parted lips and scraping it against her teeth. River’s captured fingers twitched restlessly as he forced her hand against the tree, eager to bury themselves in his hair, to shove under his suspenders, to rake along his tweed. Her other hand pushed beneath his jacket and wrapped around his back, hauling him against her. He released her wrist and his fingers dove greedily into her hair, knocking the hat off of her head.

“Doctor,” she breathed, pushing him away to reach for her hat.

“Not important,” he growled, his eyebrows shoving together as he pressed her against the tree once more. They fought against each other, River forcing herself closer to him as he pressed her farther into the tree. His hand moved around her hip to the small of her back, twisting into the fabric of her coat. He growled against her mouth as she nipped at his bottom lip, and River hooked her leg around his, pressing herself impossibly closer. The Doctor shoved his hands between them and tugged in annoyance at the belt that held her jacket in place, and River gasped as he broke away from her and placed burning kisses down her jaw, down her throat. She swallowed hard on icy air as she stared up at the lights above her, glowing in the winter night with a promise of warmth and peace that mirrored each of the Doctor’s kisses. Her skin tingled from the cold as the Doctor pulled and tugged her coat down and away from her chest, and River made a small whimpering sound in the back of her throat as the Doctor nipped lightly at her collarbone. Her hand twisted into his hair as he groaned, and then the world went black.

The first thing she felt was the Doctor pull away from her, frozen air rushing into the space he had occupied and knocking the breath out of her. “Doctor?” River gasped, her hands grasping in the dark until they hit his abdomen. She clutched at his jacket, pulling him back to her.

“River, we have to go,” he murmured, his fingers sliding across her arm until they linked with her hand. He started pulling her, but she planted her feet, reaching down to grab for her hat.

“Hey! You there!”

The male voice cut through the park, and River heard footsteps crunching quickly through the grass.

“Run!” the Doctor yelled, yanking her after him just as her fingers found the tip of her hat. She pulled it after her as the Doctor tugged her behind him. She thought she heard him laugh, and then suddenly an earsplitting “GERONIMO!” cut through the night air. The Doctor was definitely laughing now, the sound hanging in the air as River sprinted through it. Soon she found herself giggling, giddy with the cold and the thrill of running through the dark. The wind whipped through her hair and rushed past her ears. A second later, though, the air changed, suddenly dank and heavy.

The alley.

No sooner had she gulped in a breath of moldy air then they were bursting out onto the dimly-lit road they had originally walked down.

The Doctor came to an abrupt stop, River crashing into his back as her feet skidded along the pavement. He spun around, his hands landing on her waist. When he laughed a pure, joyous, free laugh, River couldn’t help but smile through her heavy breathing.

“You’re ridiculous,” she gasped, her hand pressing to her rapidly beating heart.

You’re ridiculous,” the Doctor snapped back immediately, shoving at her stomach playfully.

River shook her head, swallowing down the frozen dryness sticking in her throat. “Geronimo?” she panted. “What kind of word is that?”

The Doctor fiddled with his bow tie before folding his hands defiantly across his chest. “A cool one.”

“And what was all of that?” River continued, gesturing behind her exasperatedly.

The Doctor’s eyes glittered dangerously as he leaned back on his heels. “An adventure.”

“A what?” River gaped up at him, shocked at his answer. “It was a park…”

“It wasn’t a park,” the Doctor replied smoothly, smirking at her. When she didn’t respond, the smug expression melted off his face and he scraped his toe against the ground. “It wasn’t exactly, necessarily 100% public property, per se…”

“It what?!” River snapped, her hand flying to her forehead. “Oh, we did not just trespass on someone’s yard!”

“I do it all the time,” the Doctor explained, his hands fidgeting with his jacket. “It’s so peaceful back there, I thought you would like it… I didn’t know they turned the lights off. I’ve never been there this late.”

River noticed how he didn’t apologize, just as she wouldn’t have apologized.

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” she muttered, annoyed at how perfect she found him. Because if she was honest with herself, that was the most exciting thing she’d done in years. Living a quiet life, she’d tried to convince herself that books were adventure enough, and she’d bought it. Until now. This was living. This was amazing. And now that she’d experienced it, she never wanted it to stop, never wanted to let him go.

“And it was beautiful?” the Doctor pushed, his eyebrows raised. River smacked his chest lightly.

“You’re ridiculous,” she repeated, and then the Doctor was pulling her to him, wrapping his arms around her waist as he pressed his mouth to hers. River clutched her hat in one hand as the other pushed into the hair at the base of his neck, twisting into it and urging his mouth closer to hers.

“I think you mean crazy,” the Doctor murmured against her mouth and she giggled as he kissed her lightly on the nose. “Or mad?”

River bit her lip as she nodded, his grin making her own eyes crinkle at the edges. “Definitely mad,” she breathed as the Doctor nudged his nose against her ear, kissing the skin just behind her earlobe. “Wonderfully mad,” she gasped, her hands splaying out on his chest.

The Doctor chuckled in her ear and pulled back, his fingers twirling mindlessly into one of her curls.

“Perfect,” he said, interlocking his fingers with hers and pressing a kiss to her forehead. River leaned into him, rolling up onto the balls of her feet. And then he was wrapping an arm around her waist and they were walking back up the street, past the restaurant and back to her flat. Before she knew what was happening he was dropping her at her front door with another kiss, and River clung to his jacket, not ready to say goodbye. He pushed a lingering kiss to her forehead, and when they broke apart River fumbled to get her keys quickly out of her pocket and into the door, afraid that if she waited she would do something she might regret, wouldn’t be able to let him go.

“Another time, then?” he questioned, his hair falling into his face. River nodded, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his mobile. She plugged her number into it as the Doctor tried to pull her against him, tickling her sides. River giggled as he kissed her again, pushing weakly at his chest as she whispered a soft “Goodnight”. She turned into her flat and closed the door quickly behind her. Taking a deep breath, she watched through her window as the Doctor skipped down the steps, walking briskly along the sidewalk with a giant grin on his face.

A growling noise caught River’s attention and she moved her hand over her stomach, realizing with a start that they had never actually gotten anything to eat. She walked lazily into her dark kitchen, opening the refrigerator and scanning its contents as her mind wandered.

The Doctor. Mysterious, kind, clever, dark, different. One day she would get his real name out of him. And she was sure it would be just as fantastic as he was.

* * *

“I’m sorry, Julia, I can’t. I have an appointment with the Doctor.” River smirked as she shoved her phone further between her ear and her shoulder. She stared at herself in the mirror, smoothing out her dress. The silky fabric glistened green in her flat, but she knew it would shine gold under the lights. It would be perfect.

“Another one?” Julia gawked on the other end of the line. “This is you’re sixth doctor’s appointment this week! And on Christmas? River, so help me, if you’re sick and you’re not telling me, I will kill you!”

River chuckled into the phone as she smoothed red gloss over her lips. Twisting the color closed and popping the cover back on, she smiled and fluffed her hair the best she could.

“I’m fine, Julia.”

“Then skip your appointment and come to my Christmas party! Please?”

“I can’t skip this one,” she laughed, slipping into her Louboutins. River grabbed her keys and her clutch, wrapping a shawl around her shoulders as she walked out the door. “Plus,” she added, locking the door to her flat behind her, “I’m already on my way over there, so I’m not going to drive all the way back across town to your place. I’m sorry.”

“But you have to come!” Julia whined, and River could almost see her eyebrows push up in frustration. “John’s going to be there and it’ll be so awkward. Please, River, you have to save me!”

“Oh, so it’ll be awkward because John’s there, but somehow if I’m there it’ll make everything better?”

“Yes!” Julia exclaimed. “Because then you can distract him so he won’t bother me!”

“I don’t think I would be much of a distraction for him,” River sighed, walking quickly down the street to fight the biting frost curling through the air. “He stood me up, remember? I don’t think he’s very interested in anything having to do with me.”

River turned down a dark alleyway and skimmed her hand along the dank wall to her left, trying not to lose her balance in heels.

“He’s completely interested in you! I told you, he came down with some sort of food poisoning that night, he—“

River turned to the left as the wall her hand was on disappeared, and paused as she passed through open gates.

“I’m sorry, Julia, but I have to go. I’m here.”

Julia started to protest, but River cut her off. “You’re party’s going to be a smash, darling. Don’t worry about a thing. Happy Christmas.” She pressed her finger against the screen and ended the conversation, shoving her mobile into her clutch.

River stepped off of the sidewalk onto the small path that cut through this mystical place, ducking under low hanging tree branches and touching her fingers against the colorful, oversized ornaments. She soon found herself standing before a wall of lights hanging from an ancient tree, and she moved skillfully through a small break and into the cozy hideaway.

The Doctor stood inside, head bowed as his fingers fidgeting over the stem of a white rose.

“Hello, sweetie,” she chimed, a smirk playing across her lips as he looked up and his mouth fell open.

“River… you look…” He shook his head lightly, glancing down at the rose after a long moment and holding it out to her.

“You look quite nice yourself,” she chuckled, stepping toward him and accepting the flower. She took in his black suit, completed by a deep purple bowtie flecked with white polka dots.

The Doctor checked his watch. “You’re early,” he said, his eyebrows pulling together as he looked up at her.

“So are you, darling,” she threw back, stepping closer still.

“I’d rather be early than make a lady wait,” he replied smugly, a hand pushing through his hair and shoving the fringe out of his face.

River’s fingers twitched as she fought the urge to shove them into that perfect hair. She stared at him, taking a deep breath to clear her head, but then he was fiddling with his bow tie in that way that he knew she just couldn’t resist.

“Oh, shut up,” River muttered as he smirked at her. She wrapped a hand behind his neck and pulled his mouth to hers roughly. He met her halfway, his arms winding around her waist and tugging her against him. She sighed into him, smiling as he deepened the kiss. It was incredible how this one man, this one clever, brilliant, mad man, could feel so much like home.

“Happy Christmas,” the Doctor whispered when they broke apart, booping her on the nose.

“Happy Christmas, sweetie,” River breathed, pressing her forehead against his.

They stayed in their illuminated world for ages, walking aimlessly and talking between themselves. A few hours or maybe just minutes later, River found herself being pressed into a bench, the Doctor grinning against her mouth as the fingers of one of his hands snuck under the hem of her dress, fiddling with the fabric.

“God, I’ve missed you, River,” he mumbled, a bit breathless. “You’ve been gone way too long. I haven’t seen you in, what, ten years?”

River giggled against him as she shoved playfully at his shoulders.

“Two days, darling.”

His hand crept up her thigh and River’s breath caught in her throat. She made a small choking noise and nipped at his lower lip, her head spinning. Something hot and animalistic expanded out through her and made her fingertips tingle, and she almost lost what little sense of logic and morality she had left. But then the Doctor pinched her thigh and laughed loudly. It was enough to snap River’s wandering mind back to what he was actually doing and she batted his hand away, grabbing for it and placing it on her stomach instead. He chuckled against her mouth, his other hand wrapping behind her waist and pulling her to him as he moved over her.

He pushed her further into the bench, his fingers tracing circles on her abdomen as he growled out a deep “Never leave me that long again”. She nodded slowly, breathing a soft “never” as the ghost of his fingers tracked up her thigh. River dropped her head against the bench and sighed as the Doctor kissed down the plunging neckline of her dress. Her eyes fluttered open and she stopped breathing, the Doctor’s parted lips dropping lower and lower.

“Doctor,” she exhaled, grabbing for his chin to pull his mouth back to hers.

And then the lights went out around them.

River inhaled sharply, fingers digging into his shoulders as she toed off her heels. “Run?” she whispered, panting as her wide eyes met the Doctor’s frantic gaze.

They heard footsteps plodding toward them on the pavement, and a deep cough.

“Run!” the Doctor agreed, springing off of her and yanking on her arm as River snatched her heels from the bench.

And they did.