The message on his psychic paper gave coordinates followed by the note, See the dress code, Sweetie! It was signed x.
The ‘Sweetie’ alone announced her and he had seen that x a few times now. Still, he breathed in the loss of Donna that filtrated through the Tardis. It hung heavy in his lungs like inhaling a thick, London fog. So he grumbled inside over River interrupting his brooding. He didn’t want it to be interrupted.
Then the other times with her cleared a bit of that fog with sunshine. He shrugged then with both his shoulders and a sideways nod of his head. Why not? River was -- River, and he didn’t inspect his looking forward to following her latest message. He didn’t inspect the reason behind his smile either. Better to leave that in the back of his mind unexplored.
He checked the spatial and temporal coordinates to see what she meant by dress code and then sent the Tardis to where she beckoned: Fallapadax in the 39th century. This might be fun after all. Even the Old Girl brightened her lights around him.
He strolled out of the Tardis with his hands in his pockets and admired what an amazing job the native insectoids had created. Everything had been done up with metal walls and all the right embellishments including exposed rivets around the windows. He caught sight of the Tardis through one of them with a backdrop of space from the even larger portal behind her: his beautiful lady framed by a celebration to one people’s breakout technical age. The Fallapadax welcomed their new human trade partners with a retro festival, revering what had been a Terran 20th century counterculture called dieselpunk. It itself a retro movement stylizing Earth’s early diesel era.
That was a lot of retro.
A group of Fallapadax went by with goggles over their spiked antennae and six hexagonal eyes. “Brilliant!” he told them.
They looked over his outfit that he had put together in a mix of the wardrobe and his workshop: classic 3D movie glasses with bronze frames sitting on his head and an attached magnifying lens swung down near his left eye. His sonic screwdriver with a special belt and loop on his brown suit vest, plus a pocket watch and chain paralleling it below. His regular overcoat switched out for a heavier black version complete with armband and lapel pin, and his tie fitting the period.
“Outstanding!” one of them said back and the others added, “Magnificent! Splendid!”
Of course he spoke Fallapadax, so he understood what they were saying. He was the Doctor.
He waved to them and walked around some more. A young woman dressed in a 1950’s private school uniform rode by on a styled hover motocycle of red metal and chrome. A few more outfits including pewter masks with a Harry Gordon Selfridge style business suit. Over to his right drifted a--
No, the Daleks were dead! It made him nearly shout, “Where did you come from!” like a curse. Its back was to him. He both took a step to run and reached for his sonic to fight back.
His worst enemy and it started to spin around to face him. Hate filled the Doctor’s eyes, hate laid over disbelief. He refused to run now and felt fury burning in his hands, turning them into fists. He stood ready for it, like a gunman from historic America’s Old West in a showdown on the dusty streets. It finished its turn and, and--
Wait, was that a teddy bear under its eye stalk?!
His enemy spoke. Gone was the mechanic, male voice; it was all woman now. Sultry, sizzling, and devoted. “Hello, Sweetie.”
Now he noticed its design had been gutted for the dieselpunk look with a brass and burnished metal body. An open compartment with -- seriously, a teddy bear with little hearts on its chest and paws.
River walked around the Dalek and casually leaned on it. Her lion’s mane of hair had been teased to be larger, which he never thought could be possible, and had been coloured a golden brown. Goggles sat on her forehead and she held a device that looked like a combination blowtorch and sonic screwdriver in her black gloved hand. The glove went from her shoulder to her fingertips, while her other arm was bare with just an armband. She wore a knight’s armor piece on her left leg over striped tights. And nobody would notice any of that first because --
-- she wore a tank top with the Tardis’ colours that even had the Police Box sign across her chest. It melted into a leather and brass buckled corset. The blouse showed... a lot of skin. Later he’d think of how different the outfit was from her usual clothes that covered most of her while still proclaiming that not only was she all woman, but she fully loved being one. But this outfit fit the event going on.
He cleared his throat and tried to ignore her, her, uh, shirt. “Hello, River.”
She grinned. “My toy here already said Hello, Sweetie for me.” She pulled out her diary from somewhere around her back, but he had no idea how she could have hid it in that outfit. “Where was the last time you saw me, Doctor?”
Maybe he should get a diary too. Although where do you buy a Tardis looking diary? “Pavonass.”
“Haven’t been there yet. Does the Byzantium sound familiar?”
It did, but not because he had been there yet. So he said, “No. What’s a Byzantium?”
“A place that you’ll leave abruptly. So did I. Which is fine because it would have gotten very awkward if you had stayed.”
“What does that mean?”
“Oh, Sweetie, you know what it means. Spoilers.” She laughed a little at his exasperation and put away her diary against her back again. He still didn’t know how she was hiding it in those tights. “Honestly, Doctor, it’s your word and your rules.”
He had used the word with Donna before he met River and told her looking inside a book revealing the future was not allowed. Still, he definitely blamed his older self for the whole thing.
But back to what was in front of him. Now he knew she had found an old Dalek body, because where else could she get one when they were all dead? “Yeah, well, your toy.” He took a beat. “Why?”
“Because it’s Valentine’s Day on Earth right now. Couldn’t let that go by, could I?”
“You -- you turned a Dalek into a Valentine?!”
“Doesn’t everyone?” Although that smile said that of course no one else would.
His hands went back in his pockets and he sized up the absolutely brilliant ‘card’. “A Dalek into a Valentine.”
“I think we’ve covered that, Doctor.”
Yeah, they had. He turned his gaze from it to her. A voice in his head repeated in a loop, Keep your eyes up from the tank top. Actually, keep his eyes up from her -- everything inside the tank top. “I like the-- goggles, River. Now that I think about it, goggles would be good when I work on the Tardis.”
“It’s a thought.”
That smile. Was it a spoiler? “The teddy bear?”
“It’s called a Care Bear. My mum went through a period where she liked them, so my dad bought her one. But she won’t miss it from her closet.”
“Yes, I have a mum and dad. Where did you think I came from? The Tardis?”
He had no idea why she put a little emphasis on that last part. He had never really thought about her life outside of her popping into his, with either a really good adventure - the last one had them running handcuffed to each other and laughing all the way -- or sort of ambushing him with a picnic hamper and asking if he wanted to go to Asgard. Easily, the best picnic ever. No wonder she had talked about it with such fondness. He shoved back the thought of the Library, and reality finally sank in.
“It’s not for me, is it? You wanted to give it to a future me.”
“Sweetie, I meant it for the Doctor. You’re the Doctor.”
He couldn’t stop the face he made at that. She hadn’t thought that way when he first met her.
She plucked his feelings out of the air. “Did I say otherwise? I did, didn’t I? Did we have a row? It sounds like something I’d say then, but that doesn’t excuse it. I am sorry, Sweetie.”
He had been a prat if he was honest. It was only after putting up with that for awhile that she gave it back.
I've seen whole armies turn and run away, and he'd just swagger off back to his Tardis and open the doors with a snap of his fingers. The Doctor...in the Tardis - next stop: everywhere.
Oh! That’s the man he became after her last run with him, when he gave her the gift of a Time Lord’s afterlife in a whole universe unto itself. Probably a daughter too when he thought about Charlotte’s face smiling back at him as River’s soul crossed over. Charlotte, not CAL, because she had broken free from the fake, half life they had put upon her and phenomenally blossomed into what he knew was a parallel of Gallifrey’s heaven. He bet the girl even gave her new mother the blue diary she cherished.
He straightened his shoulders and stood taller, all in a feeling of truly chuffed. “I’m the Doctor.”
She looked at him fondly. “Yes, you are. Every face, whenever and wherever you are.”
It felt good to hear that.
Her lovesome smile faded. “Does my doing this bother you, Doctor? I’m not--” her voice softened as she must imagine that she hit a sore spot in his hearts, “--Rose. I’m not trying to be. I’ve given Valentines to plenty of people that meant nothing more than it’s just what you do for the holiday. Think of it like that.”
He didn’t want to say it, but his brain had other ideas. “Just how many people?”
She smirked and he heard the jealousy in his voice. Jealous over River; even now he didn’t want other people to be Sweetie. “It’s not what you’re thinking, Doctor.”
He shifted on his feet and wondered about that. “The Valentines were meaningless?”
The smirk drifted away for the affectionate smile again. “Oh, not all of them. Some of them were very meaningful. It depends on who I give them to.”
He heard the significance she placed on the word ‘who’. Doctor? Doctor who?
That was much better. Now he could smile at the transformed Dalek. “Well, it’s a good Valentine, River. I like it.”
“I’m glad, Doctor.”
An answering smile played around the corners of his mouth. “What should we do with it?” Did she want to keep it for future him?
But she still looked at him in a reminder that he was the Doctor. “Whatever you’d like, Sweetie. You could put it in the Tardis.”
He beamed at her in a flash of white teeth. “Good choice.”
She turned to the converted Dalek and gave an order. “Follow.”
He showed his trust in her by walking ahead of the thing, confident in her skills that it wouldn’t revert back to its nature and take advantage of his back exposed to it. He kept his eyes forward too because he was taller and if he looked down at her -- well, the really nice tank top would be right there. And that would be ungentlemanly.
“After we store this in the Tardis, Doctor, we can go to the café. They’re serving the ruuquanus you like.”
Ruuquanus sounded good. The light, puffy treat with hundreds of downy florets that tickled on the way down like a good throw-your-head-back laugh. The night ahead sounded like a woman popping in with the suggestion to go to Asgard just for the fun of it.
He leaned a little closer to her as they walked.
The Doctor, now with a quiff of brown hair and another skinny body clothed in tweed, braces, and a bowtie, leaned in the doorway and looked fondly at the dieselpunk Dalek. He walked over to it and flipped the power switch.
He rocked on his feet and bopped it on the eyestalk like it was River’s nose. He swung around and ordered it to power off as he went in search of her. She was putting things away in their bedroom and smiled when he walked in. He went right up to her and cupped her face. “My clever River Song, my brilliant Melody Pond. Do you know you asked me to be yours a long time ago? Here I am.”
“I’m not sure what time you mean, my love, but I like the thought.”
He put his forehead to hers and they both closed their eyes as they savoured each other’s mouths. His popped open as he remembered what else she had said back then. He let go except for her hand in one of his and bounced in place for a second before giving it a tug.
“C’mon! I got to find the Pond.”
She gave an annoyed noise at his ruining a good moment, but kept up at his side while letting him guide her. He found Amy in the kitchen closest to her room. Rory always had her (and River) eat something healthy after running from some monster: lots of fluids, plenty of protein and vegetables, until she told him to go away and made herself some chips. Repeat the whole cycle after the next adventure.
The Doctor jabbed a finger at her. “Ha! You liked Care Bears!”
She blushed deep red. “How do you know-- River!”
“Uh oh,” River said and took off with a laugh. Amy followed with longer legs and a mother’s temper that promised retribution on her daughter.
“Don’t think you can hide behind your father!” she shouted. “It won’t work!”
River still yelled, “Dad!” and the sound of it drifted back down to the kitchen.
“Rory!” Amy called out in response. “You had better not take her side!”
The Doctor watched them go, then flung his arms wide, and spun on the spot. “Best Valentine’s Day ever!” he proclaimed, and he meant every one of them with River.
Maybe he’d go play with the Dalek again. He rubbed his hands eagerly together and hurried down the hallway.
A Dalek. Turned into a Valentine’s Day card. Absolutely amazing.