The TARDIS materialised on River's doorstep at 1am local time, due to what one party - could she speak - would claim as navigational error and the other - who could - would put down to faulty equipment. The Doctor stepped out into the garden and locked the door, then patted his hair to check it was flat and straightened his bowtie before ringing the bell. He was not in any way nervous.
River opened the door in a rather clingy dressing-gown. She looked at the Doctor, at the flowers, and then grinned happily. "You remembered!" She pulled him into a hug. "Oh, Doctor, I knew you'd remember one of these days," she said against his shoulder.
"Course I remembered," he muttered into her hair. "What do you take me for? Memory like one of those grey Earth mammals with the big noses."
River detached herself somewhat reluctantly and ushered him into her house and out of the cold night air.
"Flowers," he said, handing her the slightly squished bouquet. "I didn't know what colour you liked, so I just got one of each."
"Mmm, I guessed as much."
His face fell. "You did?"
She nodded. "Purple means 'Will you impregnate my daughter and bring prosperity to our village?' and I doubt that's what you intended to say to me."
The Doctor made a brief whining sound. "He didn't tell me they had meanings. I hate it when things have meanings. Did I ever tell you about the cocoa and the accidental engagement? That was a bit awkward."
"No, but I do remember when... never mind, you'll get to that eventually." River smiled again. "But really, all these years and you've always forgotten or missed it. This really does mean a lot to me."
"Means a lot to me as well," said the Doctor, stopping at the doorway to her bedroom while she picked out a vase that looked suspiciously priceless.
"Yes, well..." She stopped and turned to him, eyes narrowed. "What means a lot to you?"
He shrugged. "Today. You. The whole... thing."
"Because today is..?" she prompted.
"The anniversary... of... the day we... met."
"Try again," she said, dangerously.
"Sorry, I meant the anniversary of..." he tailed off.
River dropped the flowers onto her dressing-table. "I should have known better," she said, quietly. "You're not the most reliable person in the universe, are you?"
The Doctor hesitated then stepped into the room. "Your birthday. It's your birthday."
"Now you're just guessing. I'm not an idiot, Doctor."
He dropped his head with an acceptable amount shame. "Sorry. I was just visiting. I didn't know today was special."
"So why the flowers?"
"Women like flowers. At least they do in romantic comedies. Amy's a big fan of those, so I've seen a lot of them lately." He shrugged. "She always makes emotional little noises when there are flowers involved. So does Rory."
"Where are they? You didn't just run off in the night and lock them in the TARDIS, did you?"
"Still at the sneaking out stage, are you? They're not your parents, Doctor." She frowned. "Are they?"
He silenced her with a finger on her lips. "Number one hundred and seventeen in the Things We Don't Talk About."
"Sor- No, I'm not sorry. You've fucked up again and you've upset me and..." She sank down on the edge of her bed. "Oh, it doesn't matter."
He sat down next to her. "It obviously matters if you're upset."
River surprised him with a miserable sniff. "Are you really being sensitive or are you trying to win me over?"
"Bit of both," he admitted.
"I thought you'd remembered. I know these things don't mean much to you, but they do to we mortals."
"Your birthday," he said, with some certainty now.
"Thirty-seven. My lucky number." Her voice was worryingly quiet and very unlike the River he'd met on previous occasions.
"Mine's seventy-four million, three hundred and eighty-four thousand, three hundred and thirty-eight. It's never let me down. Did you know that on some planets -"
"Stop trying to change the subject from your own failure to care enough."
"Did you come here to sleep with me?" she asked.
"Be honest for once."
"It did cross my mind," he admitted. "But I really did think you'd like some flowers. I just wanted to see you, really."
"Sometimes you make things so difficult. But that's just you being you and I can't blame you for that, can I?"
"I don't see why not, everyone else does."
"I'm not everyone else," she said.
"No. No, you're not. You're River Astonishing Song, woman of my occasionally quite graphic dreams."
"I don't know your middle name yet."
"Is it Rupert?"
"Mary-Sue." She slapped his arm when he failed to entirely supress a snort of laughter. "It was my maternal grandmother's name."
"I'm not really one to talk about silly names anyway."
"I think yours is beautiful."
"Which suggests I've never told you what it means." He nudged her arm. "I had a friend whose middle name was Surprise."
River's mouth dropped open. "Oh, you don't know her, do you? I wanted to be her when I was growing up. I've read all her books, edited and original editions."
"Benny wrote books?" he asked, as though the idea had never occurred to him.
"Doctor, we do have lives when you're not around, you know. Lives, careers, families, bills to pay."
"I know that."
"Knowing and remembering are two different things."
"I wrote a book once," he said, changing the subject.
"What was it about?"
"Mmmnce mmmvl," he mumbled.
He sighed and looked her right in the eye. "It was a romance novel. I wrote it because I lost a bet. It didn't sell very well."
"Liar. I've checked in every library I've ever visited, you've never written anything that got published."
"I wrote it under an assumed name. A friend's name, as it happens. But she changed hers when she got married, so she wasn't using it anymore anyway. Waste not, want not. It got terrible reviews," he added, rather sadly.
"It's not funny!"
"Sorry, it's just the thought of you slaving over a typewriter, clacking out second-rate pornography."
"It was very tasteful!"
"I'm sure it was."
"Has my literary failure cheered you up?"
"A bit." She sighed suddenly and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Sometimes I hate you, did you know that?"
He twirled a strand of her hair. Dark this year, changing with the fashions. "I thought you loved me."
"I'm quite capable of doing both. You forget my birthday and then you won't even let me feel miserable about it."
"Oh, I hate misery. I promised myself I'd make sure no one would ever feel miserable again. Of course, I was only nine at the time, possibly I didn't understand what a task I was setting for myself."
"You told me about that."
"Oh." He felt suddenly exposed.
"I've never told anyone. I never will."
"Thank you." He kissed her forehead. "And I'll keep quiet about the Mary-Sue issue."
"You'd bloody better had." River tilted her head up and suddenly her lips had replaced her skin against his mouth.
"It's one of those round-number birthdays. The sort where a woman worries about how attractive she is," she added.
"Age is nothing but a number, River."
"And how long have you been nine hundred years old? Must be half a century by this point."
"That's entirely different, I mmmph..." Her tongue against his lips saved him having to think of a reason it was different.
"Are you sure this is a good idea? You're upset, I don't want to take advantage."
"I'm a big girl, I can make my own decisions."
"Okay. But it goes no further than kissing." He ran his hands down her back. "And touching," he added. "Touching's allowed as well."
He watched River arrange her flowers as he did redid his bow-tie. "Happy birthday," he said, belatedly.
"Thank you. And no."
"No, I will not impregnate your daughter and bring prosperity to your village."
"Oh. Well, didn't really expect you to. It's a bit much to ask at this stage in a relationship."
"And what stage is that?" asked River, stepping up to him and turning down the collar of his shirt.
"The good stage. Definitely the good stage."
"Red," she called as he stood on her doorstep.
"My favourite colour. It's red. For future reference."
He smiled. "And what does red mean?"
"It means I won't mind if you don't remember."