"I can't do the marking right now," the Doctor said, after sending a look of loathing at the current stack of papers half-buried by sketches and notes. "I'm not prepared."
"Why d'you need to prepare?" Bill said reasonably, from her side of his desk. "You sit down, you read, you mark."
The Doctor made… a sound. Bill hadn't been able to properly define the many sounds he made, in addition to talking brilliance and rubbish all the hours of the day. This one was the closest she had ever heard to what the old books called a 'harrumph', all impatience and borderline disgust and something else she couldn't define. Then, "I need my pen."
She pointed to the pen lying on a notepad filled with equations.
"Not that pen," he said crossly, "my real pen."
"You're a bit mad, aren't you," she said on a laugh.
"A bit," said Nardole on a mysterious pass through these posh donnish rooms, on his way to somewhere. He was the most peculiar scout (or butler or valet or whatever) there ever was, Bill thought.
The Doctor harrumphed again. "Did you see my real pen, Nardole?"
"By the picture, of course," said Nardole. "Her picture."
The look that washed over the Doctor's face – sadness, memory, a bit of a twinkle in the depths of big eyebrow-shaded eyes – made Bill's throat close up a bit, she didn't know why. His long fingers picked up the "real" pen, there by the photograph of a pretty white woman, and twirled it around before it settled in his hand like it was part of him.
For a moment he closed his eyes. For a moment he went right away, even though he was still sitting in his chair, boots on the desk.
"I can't do the marking right now," River said. "I'm not prepared."
"Why do you need to prepare? You sit down, you read, you mark. Even stupid archeology essays," the Doctor said, engrossed in fixing an armillary sphere of the Glasos system. (On an afternoon break from Darillium he and River had just found a new planet there with some rather nasty tentacle monster-types. Had to record it properly.)
"It's not that easy," River said. She was lounging on the study sofa, bare feet on one arm, space hair on the other, riverine curves in the middle. He knew this without looking, for if he looked, he'd be over there mapping her body again, and well, they needed to finish their work.
Even in twenty-four years of bliss they needed to work, he believed.
She sighed, stretched in a long elegant wave, sighed again. "I need my pen."
"On the floor, by the essays," he said.
"Not that pen," she said.
He put down the sphere – carefully, so as not to disturb the triple-planets near its outermost ring – and then crossed his arms. "What pen do you need, then?"
She turned on her side, propped her head on her hand, and smiled at him. "You going to fetch me what I need?"
"What do you need, River?" The question came out more serious than he intended.
She knew what he was really asking, of course. "Time, sweetie," she said, as serious as he. "More time."
He swallowed down the protests and spoilers rising in his throat. He let the love rise to his face. Fondly, "Bloody woman. Why waste such a valuable thing asking for a pen? We'll make this one work."
"Ooh, a game," she said, on a smile he knew was forced. Still brighter than all the suns he'd ever encountered, though.
He crossed the room to her, sank down cross-legged beside the sofa, and picked up the pen. "Your arm, please."
She extended it to him in a queenly fashion which was irritating and arousing in the same breath. "Do what you will, you madman."
He grinned. "You probably shouldn't allow me such licence."
"I probably shouldn't," she said. "Nevertheless."
Smiling, he cradled her forearm in one hand, and with the other hand pressed the nib of the pen to her skin. She shivered voluptuously – he'd picked one of her most sensitive nerve-clusters – and then stilled. He began to write.
The Gallifreyan script flowed across her inner wrist, around the wrist-bone, and up her arm as he went, in curls and circles and returns. He and she had returned to each other so often, drawn together by forces beyond physics, and he had to record it properly. No more forgetting.
Even after the ink washed off -- for no ink was truly indelible, no data forever saved -- there would be no more forgetting.
When he lifted the pen and his head, her eyes were soft. "Thank you, sweetie. And I love you too."
"Good," he said, and kissed her unmarked palm over her heartline. Then he unceremoniously dropped her hand. "Now do your fucking work. I've fixed your pen. It's the real one now."
He opened his eyes, and Bill was surprised to see him laughing to himself.
"Good memory?" she said.
"Yeah." He ran his free hand through those wild silver curls of his, ruffled them, let his hand fall. "Not bad."
Then he picked up the stack of essays, then pointed with them at her open book. "Read your assignment, Bill. Time's too precious to waste."
He was a funny old duck, the Doctor, Bill thought as she bent her head to her physics. But he was all right.