“Ooh, autumn!” the Doctor said, stepping out of the TARDIS into a pile of leaves that made a satisfying crunch under his boots, “We haven’t been to a planet with seasons in a while, you know.”
“Yes, we have,” River said, joining him outside after a moment. She was wrapping a mauve scarf around her neck, and wearing a black fitted wool coat and matching knee-high boots. “You’re forgetting all about Morria Major. It was spring, there.”
“But we didn’t properly enjoy it. We spent the whole time spring cleaning. Now, this is what I call a season,” the Doctor said, kicking the leaves almost joyfully with his feet. He walked through them with a sort of quiet bliss until he came to a tree that was bigger around than he was tall. “Now, isn’t this a beauty,” he said thoughtfully.
“It is that,” River agreed from somewhere behind him.
“Did you know, this tree is older than I am.”
“Yes. Why, I haven’t stopped by since it was just a sapling. Now look at it.”
“You planted it, didn’t you?”
Instead of answering, the Doctor only started to walk around it, circumnavigating the base and trailing his fingers along the bark.
“Doctor,” River called, walking after him quickly, the near-silence of the woods interrupted by the sound of crisp leaves crackling underfoot.
Around the tree, the Doctor was leaning casually on it, elbows back against the trunk, hands resting folded on his chest.
“I’m not going to apologize for not being a tree,” River said, walking up in front of him and taking his hands in hers.
The Doctor blinked at her, then gave her a half-smile and said, “What makes you say that?”
“Because I know you. You’re getting all moody, as if I could help the fact that I’m not going to be around as long.”
The Doctor looked down at their joined hands and sighed, “I’m not supposed to be this transparent, you know.”
“Well, you weren’t always so easy for me to read, if that’s any consolation,” River said, her voice soothing and kind.
“Ah,“ the Doctor said, shifting on his feet a little, “It’s for you, by the way.”
“The tree. Well, it was meant to be a rose bush, but I planted the wrong seed. They look basically the same, you know, well, when they‘re seeds.”
“Oh,” River said, looking up and straining her neck to see the top of the tree for the first time. It must have been over a hundred feet tall, with twisty, majestic branches that spiraled up into the sky. “It’s a bit large for a bouquet. But then again, I’ve never been much for flowers, myself. It’s lovely.”
The Doctor gave her a proper smile, just before looking over her shoulder with wide eyes.
“Um, also, there is something else I didn’t mention.”
“This species of tree also attracts giant-sized insects. Run!”
One thing that occurred to River about traveling with the Doctor was that their running was now very much in sync. They half-collapsed inside the TARDIS, safe and sound, with only the faint noise of wings buzzing outside the door. As she caught her breath, River could only think that, however bad the Doctor‘s luck was with gifts, it had been very well-intentioned and thoughtful indeed.