"I should've expected this," River said to the blindingly blue Caribbean sky. She tossed her head to try to jostle the wild hair out of her eyes. It was no use. The combination of the salt water, the humidity, and the sun caused her hair to puff up to twice its normal proportions, until it looked like a blazing halo around her face. When she wasn't blaming him for getting them into this situation, she was muttering very worrisome promises about scissors. The Doctor hoped she'd forget both lines of thought by the time she reclaimed use of her hands. He really thought this was hardly his fault and believed her hair made River look more than a little bit glorious.
Well, as glorious as a seemingly disembodied head on an abandoned shoreline could look. He decided not to mention that. It didn't seem nearly as romantic. Not that he was trying to be romantic. He was mostly just trying to move his fingers and toes.
"How could you have expected this?" the Doctor asked instead. "Even I didn't expect this. This is completely unexpected."
"I should've expected this, because I'm with you."
"This is hardly routine for me, River. In fact, I can honestly say that I have never been buried to my chin in sand." He paused. "On a shoreline." He paused again. "In Barbuda."
"See, sweetie, the fact that you had to keep qualifying that statement is exactly what I mean."
"By pirates," he qualified again with a wince. She gave him a Look. He pretended not to see it. That would have been more convincing if they weren't buried facing each other. To look anywhere but at River's aggravated and slightly sunburned face was difficult at best and physically impossible at worst. The only other option was the sight of the approaching surf and that wasn't exactly a comforting image.
He tried to look reassuring and in control of the situation. River's raised eyebrow said she wasn't buying it. He cleared his throat. "If it helps, I am almost completely certain that their captain isn't Human. I'm thinking Antalinian, though that should be impossible. Still, I'm pretty sure. Either that or colored contact lenses have somehow been invented almost three hundred years early . . . Nah, definitely Antalinian."
"So let me see if I have this straight," River said. He tried not to get distracted by the way her hair shook as she spoke. That was more difficult than one might expect. It was a mess of strawberry blonde curls that seemed to rebel against any concept of reason or restraint, much like River herself, and the wilder it got, the more adorable she appeared.
Adorable? Had he actually just used the word adorable? He was going to blame that on heatstroke. Even though Time Lords didn't get heatstroke. There was no one around to prove otherwise. Especially if that tide kept creeping in like that. At this rate, it would be less than an hour before he could blame it on drowning. Time Lords could do that, the drowning bit. Though he still hoped no one would make him prove it.
He tried to focus on what River was saying.
"- captured by 18th century Caribbean pirates who stole your TARDIS." If River had access to her hand, he imagined she would be counting on her fingers. "And your plan of action involved finding the man with the biggest hat and . . . asking for it back."
"I did say please," the Doctor reminded her.
"How many times do I need to tell you, sweetie: please is not a magic word." River's voice was as dry as a Hyper-Vodka.
"Actually, that's the first time you've told me that."
Genuine surprise made her eyes wide. She had beautiful eyes, when they weren't giving him a Look. "Really?"
"Well," she tossed her head in substitute for a shrug, "something for you to look forward to. If you survive."
"Spoilers?" he asked with a smile. She did not look amused.
"So! You decide to set the ship on fire using only your sonic and some string."
"Which you then proceeded to help them put out."
"Well, we were on the ship too," the Doctor explained, before thinking of another point she couldn't possibly argue with, "AND I didn't want you to drown."
She pointedly looked at the sand under her chin and the approaching tide. He winced.
"Naturally the pirates repay us by sentencing us to death."
He nodded. "Naturally." They were pirates after all.
"Like I said." River tossed her head again, but if anything more hair fell into her face. He tried not to smile. "I should've expected this."
When put like that, he couldn't reasonably argue. The Doctor was known for certain levels of mad chance and ridiculous impossibility. This situation seemed to involve both. Really, everyone should have expected this. In fact, he should have decided on a back-up plan for just this kind of thing. He made a mental note: next time, plan on pirates with shovels.
There was a moment of silence filled only with the hush of the sand moving in the breeze and the rhythmic crash of approaching waves. It was almost relaxing, if not for the threat of impending death. But they were both used to that.
"It was fun though," he said.
"Wouldn't have traded it for anything," River replied with a grin. Her pretense of indignation fell away like so much dust. Or perhaps, in this situation, he should say sand.
"I think," he wiggled and tried to ignore how his own hair fell into his face, "I think, I can move my right hand. If I am able to disturb the compressed sand around my body enough, I might be able to start digging my way out."
"No hurry." The sudden lack of concern in River's voice made him pause and squint his eyes. She read his face and smiled. "So, Antalinian. I dated one of them once."
He scoffed. "You did not."
"I did." River fluttered her eyelashes at him. He wondered if she did that on purpose to tease him or simply had sand in her eye. Either was a possibility. "His name was Tom. He had the most gorgeous purple eyes and lips like-."
"Oi!" the Doctor huffed. "There's imminent death approaching here and no matter how much I would love hearing about Tom - and what kind of Antalinian is named Tom?-, I have to figure out a way to save us both before the tide comes in, without full use of my body, without my sonic screwdriver, and without even a bit of string. I have to do all this within the next twenty minutes because at that point, the water will be above our noses. Though my respiratory bypass system will last me another twenty minutes at least, in the end, I don't think either of us wishes to die in what amounts to about seven centimeters of water." He took a breath. "It would be embarrassing."
"Right." River smiled. "Sorry, dear."
Her quick apology soothed him for a moment before he remembered that this was River and knew well-enough to be suspicious. However that played out across his face, it must've been amusing because she laughed at him. He tried to ignore what felt disturbingly like an oncoming pout.
"And what about you?" he finally said.
"What about me?" She only seemed mildly interested. A less observant listener might even say she sounded bored, though the way her eyes kept flicking to the ocean gave away it was mostly an act.
"This is as much your fault as mine," the Doctor said.
"Oh, it is, is it?"
"Who's the one who thought it was a good idea to tell the pirates about the magic, blue box?"
She suddenly became fascinated by the ocean.
"It's not my fault! I-," and the rest of that sentence ended in a mumble. It was difficult to tell because of the sunburn but he suspected she might be blushing. River Song. Blushing. He couldn't believe it.
This was delightful.
"It's not your fault because," and he imitated her mumbling.
She held her breath for nearly a minute before explaining in a rush, "I always get confused by Pre-Flight Earth History." She had to raise her voice to be heard over his laughter. "I thought at this point, Humans were afraid of witchcraft! I fully expected them to run the other way screaming. I did not expect them to create a pulley system on the spot and abduct her."
"Pirates," he replied like it should be obvious.
"Says the man who thought pirates worked by the honor system."
"One day, I'm going to say, 'please,' and it'll work. Just you wait."
"Of course, sweetie." Her smirk was classic-River, but after half a minute of silence, it began to fade. She opened her mouth, took a breath to speak, and then closed it. He was so surprised by her sudden indecision that he forgot for ten seconds that he was supposed to be slowly trying to work his arm to the surface. She looked him straight in the eye. "You know, I would never purposefully endanger the TARDIS?"
Most the time, when he met River, she acted like they had known each other forever. The way she spoke with him, the way she moved her body around him, even the way she looked at him was with the prerogative of an established companion, friend, or lover. Sometimes, that disturbed or annoyed him because it made him feel out of control. Other times, it comforted or thrilled him because it had been a long time since he had someone that didn't need him to take care of them. But there were still those moments, where River looked at him and he felt unfinished. She remembered that he didn't know her and couldn't trust him to know what she meant without saying. She would suddenly be uncertain and desperate to be believed. It was there when she promised she didn't take his screwdriver from his cold, dead hands. It was there when she swore there was only one angel. It was there when she showed him Vincent's painting and her voice begged him to tell her she had done the right thing bringing it to him.
Those moments frightened him because it was easiest to see why he might fall in love with her.
"River," he said, "there's no one I'd trust more with the TARDIS than you."
She smiled with a sunburned face underneath a mountain of hair, chin-deep in sand, and he decided she was just . . . beautiful.
He had barely shook himself out of it and returned to trying to wiggle his hand to the surface when he saw the mirage of movement in the distance behind River's head. He went still, before realizing this was an even worse very bad thing and doubling his efforts to escape.
"What is it?" River asked.
"The pirates?" She did not sound nearly as concerned as she should.
"Yes, the pirates. For some reason, they're returning. I don't know about you but I think I'd like use of my hands before they get here."
"Good," River said. "I was wondering when they'd arrive."
The Doctor knew better than to pause in his escape just because River was confusing him again. "You were wondering when - what?"
"Though I didn't expect us to be buried in sand and left to drown in the tide, I did fully expect that we would need rescuing at some point in your plan."
He opened his mouth to complain. She raised an eyebrow. He shut his mouth with a reluctant nod.
"So, I sent Amy and Rory off to find a ship and crew able to follow us and willing to rescue us when the time was right in return for the promise of buried treasure. I admit," River attempted a little shrug that was more hair and eyebrows than shoulders, "if I had put my money on it, I would've bet that they'd be fishing us from the ocean. I thought pirates were all about walking the plank."
"A common misconception," he agreed. Now that the pirates were getting closer, he could see that they seemed to have a man and woman toward the front in 21st century clothing. The woman raised her arms and waved. "Hellooooooo, Doctor!" Amy yelled. He was relieved to see that the pirates had shovels. He hoped that was also for digging them out and not just for their promised reward.
"You know where some buried treasure is, do you?" the Doctor asked.
River grinned. "Well, I thought we could put it over there." She gestured with her chin toward a nearby dune. "Once we get the TARDIS back, of course. Then all we have to do is pop back a couple days and bury it ourselves. If I'm right, it should already be there waiting for us." She grinned. "Wibbly-wobbly."
He pressed his lips into a tight line and told himself, he was not going to finish that sentence for her. But it was a rather ingenious little plot. And as the pirates got closer with his companions and their gleaming shovels, he had to admit it was a nice little piece of open paradox planning. He missed having someone he could talk to about these kinds of things without ludicrous amounts of explaining. The Doctor not only didn't have to explain how this worked, River understood it enough to set it up herself.
He decided again, River Song was more than a little bit glorious.
"Timey-wimey," the Doctor muttered and River laughed as the miracle of time travel saved them again. She was brilliant and beautiful and everything he'd given up as lost. In that moment, he couldn't deny it: he did love her.
He should've expected this. It had always been a matter of time.