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03 January 2013 @ 12:04 am
fic: Unfair Exchange  
Rating: PG
Characters: Eleventh Doctor/River Song

Summary — Avoiding Christmas is like avoiding River. Impossible.

AN — I may have been watching Troll Hunter. I also wanted to write something a little bit soppy as the other things I’m writing are a touch scary at the moment.

Unfair Exchange

She asked for Christmas.

But at that very moment, he just couldn’t stomach it. The forced good cheer, the falsity of light in the darkness—it was too much pretence to even contemplate. So his compromise was winter in rural Norway. Winter was fine. Winter was cold and stark and honest.

And Norway was practically overrun with trolls from the second half of the twenty-first century onward. ‘Goodwill to all men’ was neither a phrase nor a sentiment known to trolls. They’d be picking you out of their teeth with one of your own ribs without a concern as to what species you might have been before they even started to digest you.

Winter with a side-order of screaming terror—it was the perfect compromise. Well, it was supposed to be.

“Have you brought any marshmallows, Sweetie?” River smirked back at him from where she was crouched at the fireplace of the tiny cabin. She was stacking fragments of what had very recently been a wooden chair into the grate one-handed.

The Doctor looked across the room at her from his position at the small snow-blocked window. “Sorry, what?”

Fire lit, she smiled gently and got to her feet to go to him. “I don’t know what you expect to see through that window.”

Keeping the hand at her injured side firmly in his trouser pocket, he used the other to twist one of her curls around his forefinger. “I’m not looking, I’m listening.”

“Don’t worry, it’s gone. Trolls are as thick as two short planks. If they can’t see or smell you they forget you were ever there to begin with.”

The troll in question had blindsided them as they were observing one of its brethren beneath a bridge. The Doctor, having underestimated the coolness of the night-vision horn-rims he’d given River for her birthday, was busy trying to convince her that he deserved a turn using them when the troll appeared out of seemingly nowhere and tugged River up by the arm.

She slew it in ten seconds flat, as only River was capable, but it had already wrenched her arm out of its socket. The troll they had been watching—startled by the death rattle of its species-mate—came to investigate, and they ended up running for their lives. Which, of course, was all in a day’s fun. But River being injured was not fun.

Nor was getting trapped in a cabin under a troll-induced avalanche of snow with your distraction of a wife when less comforting distractions were what you really needed. He had thought about using his sonic to get them out, but that would almost certainly have lead them back into the path of the troll. He was already feeling guilty that her shoulder was hurt; he didn’t want to add any further injuries to the never-ending tally of hardships she had suffered because of him. Waiting it out until daylight was the only option remaining.

River made a pained expression as she slipped off her long coat. “Could you help me with my shoulder?”

The Doctor cleared his throat. “How?” He knew how he wanted to help—by giving her back something of what she had given him a long long time ago. But when he thought about the last time he tried that trick, and her reaction to it, he could still feel the sting in his cheek. And his hearts.

She held her arm out, grimacing in discomfort. “Could you pull it?”

He took off his coat and rolled up his shirtsleeves before delicately taking her arm above the elbow. River pushed her good hand against the hollow of her shoulder and nodded at him. He pulled gently at first until through gritted teeth River said, “Give it some welly.” He gave it a touch extra force and was rewarded by a soft pop and a sigh of relief from River. “Thank you,” she said and reached her arm up to touch her other shoulder over her head.

“Is it better?”

“Still a bit tender, but it will be right as rain in no time.” She laid her long fur-lined coat out on front of the fire. “Come on, we shouldn’t let this fire go to waste. I’m fairly sure that was an antique chair.”

He followed her to the hearth and knelt at the edge of her coat as she made herself comfortable. Flames licked up over the intricately carved wood, blackening and charring it.

“Doctor?” River said, moving his attention from the fire’s bewitching qualities to her own. “There was a reason I asked for Christmas.” She unzipped the top of her form fitting thermal layer part way and slipped her hand inside to her breast.

The Doctor’s hand leapt out to stop her, stopping short of touching her. “River! You’re injured,” he said, sputtering a little.

River paused, blinking at him. “Well someone’s mind is in the gutter! No. Not that, Sweetie. But thank you for being so appalled by the idea.” She wasn’t upset but he apologised all the same. Withdrawing her hand from her top, she brought out a small navy velvet bag with a vivid pink drawstring tied in a bow. She held on to it, weighing it in her palm, and gazed at it.

“I asked for Christmas because I have a gift for you. I was going to leave it for another time when you’re more yourself—”

“I am myself. Who else would I—” She stopped his protest by taking his hand, pressing the bag into his palm and curling is fingers around it. Instead of meeting his gaze she turned to face the fire.

He opened his fist. The velvet was soft and he could feel the outline of something round inside. Untying the string and upturning it, he emptied the contents into his palm. A gold hunter case pocket watch from 19th century earth on a long chain. He pressed the button and the front sprang open. Still ticking.

“It was Dad’s,” River said. “Nurses can’t wear wrist watches on the job. I gave it to him for his twenty-fifth birthday.”

“It must have been his prized possession,” the Doctor said, examining the intricate decoration on the case as best he could in the low light.

River laughed. “So prized that he never once wore it. He was saving it for a special occasion that never seemed to arrive. I thought you’d like to have something of his. I’d have given you Mum’s,” she showed him Amy’s gold watch on her own wrist, “but I didn’t think it would fit.” Her smile, although playful, didn’t reach her eyes.

The Doctor’s chest ached, and he reached forward to cup her cheek. “Thank you.”

“You don’t have to wear it.”

“No. I will. I promise. I only wish I had something to give to you.”

“I’ll settle for a kiss,” she said, the glint returning to her eye.

Closing the watch again and slipping it into the bag, the Doctor said, “It would have to be quite the kiss to match up to this.”

“Don’t worry, it’s the thought that counts.”

“That sounds like a challenge, Doctor Song.” River was grinning with delight and the Doctor felt a rush of relief and warmth in his chest. “Lie down,” he said, and River silently complied, arranging herself lengthwise on the soft fur of her coat in front of the fire. The Doctor took up position alongside her and adjusted one of the coat sleeves to prop her tender shoulder up slightly higher to reduce the strain.

He pushed the hair back off her brow as he hovered over her, the sweetness of her breath making an intoxicating mix with the aromatic scent from the fire. Her eyes were soft and her smile gentle and trusting. Every cell in his body ached for her, and yet he felt so desperately unworthy. She’d chosen him over her parents, over her own childhood, when she refused to help rescue Amy from Demon’s Run. How simple it would have been for her to tear time apart one last time. But she didn’t.

River’s brow knitted into a small frown. “What is it?”

He stroked her cheek with a thumb. “It’s like you’re a black hole and I’m caught in your gravitational pull. There’s no escaping you.”

Her fingers toyed with a lock of hair behind his ear and she took a long shallow breath before speaking. “Do you want to?”

He brought his free hand down to rest at her hip as he watched the usually well-hidden traces of uncertainty flash across her eyes. “Never,” he said, and allowed himself a moment to watch the warmth creep into her expression as anxiety gave way to relief. Then he kissed her.

Her breath hitched in her chest as her lips parted under his, inviting him to deepen the kiss. But instead he broke it. “River?”

Her fingers laced with his at her hip. “Yes?”

“I think I might actually have some marshmallows in my coat pocket.”

“Oh, shut up,” she said, the affection in her voice revealing the smirk he’d been struggling to keep at bay. Casting all thoughts of non-existent marshmallows aside, he sank back into the softness of her lips and the heat of her mouth, knowing that he couldn’t dream to come close to matching her gift to him. But he’d try.

Current Location: Ireland, Galway
Current Mood: lovedloved
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Two Pounds of English Toffee: Christmasfadingembers on January 3rd, 2013 04:57 am (UTC)
It's like Christmas for us, too! Hooray!
EasyThereTygereasytheretyger on January 4th, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
Bit late with the delivery of Christmas, but I got there in the end! :)

Happy 2013!
Katherine Joy Summers: Kissstars_inthe_sky on January 3rd, 2013 04:21 pm (UTC)
Guh. Perfection.
EasyThereTygereasytheretyger on January 4th, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
Aaaaaawwww! <3 xxx
Meneleth: default-Christmas-Dr Whomeneleth on January 3rd, 2013 07:22 pm (UTC)
Very nice little scene! Thanks for sharing it.
EasyThereTygereasytheretyger on January 4th, 2013 08:46 pm (UTC)
snubnosedsilsnubnosedsil on January 6th, 2013 04:38 am (UTC)
Oh, I love this so much! The bit about Rory's watch is absolutely perfect, particularly since he's so prominently wearing one now. It's sweet and tragic and funny and LOVE!

*snuggles fic*
EasyThereTygereasytheretyger on January 6th, 2013 12:40 pm (UTC)
<3 Thank you!
honeynoir: not without knowinghoneynoir on January 13th, 2013 09:35 pm (UTC)
♥♥♥ This makes such perfect sense in a Doctor Who way. The reason for the cabin, the chair, asking for Christmas... And the gift! Aww!
EasyThereTygereasytheretyger on January 14th, 2013 07:28 pm (UTC)
Hee! Somehow I don't really see these two meeting up for cosy dates. They seem like the type to always want to outdo the other with every increasing degrees of danger and spectacle. Idiots. <3

If you offer all of time and space, you're bound to get asked for Christmas once in a while. :)

This is about as fluffy as I get these days. My poor original characters are really being put through the ringer. And I still not done with them. Poor sods.
honeynoirhoneynoir on January 14th, 2013 10:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, definitely! They could try to do cosy, but then someone would bring hallucinogenic lipstick.

Yay for original characters, though! Poor or not... Is it the NaNoWriMo project?
EasyThereTygereasytheretyger on January 14th, 2013 10:12 pm (UTC)
The very one. The pace is much slower now, hence me still being married. :P

They (the characters) invaded my brain again today on my drive home. They want me to make them hurt. Masochists. I also managed to get a short story submitted to a magazine by an actual deadline at the weekend. We'll have to see if that goes anywhere, but I'm still in shock that I didn't procrastinate my way out of it.

How are you? Hope you're well.
honeynoirhoneynoir on January 14th, 2013 10:27 pm (UTC)

Yay, so excited about all the writing! Magazine, oooh, that's brilliant! But will you oblige your characters or not?

Like so very many others I have the flu, but eh. Tried to use the downtime to finish holiday fic... not v. successful. *g*

I hope you're well, too, in all the ways!
EasyThereTygereasytheretyger on January 14th, 2013 10:39 pm (UTC)
Of course I'll oblige them. They're boring when they're too happy. :P

I got all the flu stuff out of the way in November. Lots of sleep over Christmas seems to have mended my immune system. So I'm generally very well in all the ways. :D
honeynoirhoneynoir on January 14th, 2013 10:47 pm (UTC)
Pls inform us of your progress!

Ah, how clever of you! And great! :D
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )