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Title: and holding fast
Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters: Eleven/River
Word Count: 847
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: I own no Who, as usual.
Warnings: none
Summary: It’s always a bloody forest with her—why is it always a forest?
A/N: Written as a cheering-up/early birthday ficlet for [livejournal.com profile] eve11, who asked for "Eleven and River escaping back to the TARDIS by the skin of their teeth." For the [community profile] cottoncandy_bingo  prompt "Finally." Title from Vienna Teng's "The Atheist Christmas Carol."  


He stumbles over another root, scraping the side of his leg against the tree. River’s hand closes over his wrist, and he scrambles after her as quickly as he can. The ground is uneven, springy with moss and jagged with half-buried rocks, all of which make the going difficult. It’s always a bloody forest with her—why is it always a forest?

Dusk is falling fast. In the dark, there will be little to hang onto—the path won’t lead him home, and the ground already refuses to hold him up. At this altitude, even the air leaves him lightheaded, blinking spots from his eyes. River’s grip tightens, a sharp press over his bones. He hisses, but the pain is strangely grounding. She knows her way and will not let go.

A shadow that has nothing to do with sunset passes over the forest. Waves of cold and heat move in the air, and massive wings beat somewhere overhead.

“They’re coming,” she whispers, and very suddenly a deep murk descends. High whines that hurt his ears come from every direction. He can feel the wind from the beating wings, so very different from the forest breezes. Any creature as large as these sound must be old indeed. They must be magnificent, in their own way, and he doesn’t hold their anger against them—it is he who ought to be going, after all. Still, he can’t see a thing, and he’s bloody terrified. River has taken off running, hauling him behind her. In the blackness, it’s all he can do to keep his feet beneath him and his arm in his socket.

Gusts of hot air follow them through the forest. River runs faster, her nails biting into his skin and her boots kicking up clouds of fine dust. He has no way of judging the strength of the gusts, and he thinks River would probably kill him if he slowed down to try a scan. Well, if something else didn’t get him first. His lungs burn.

It’s nearly impossible to tell how close they’re getting, how much danger they’re in. Whatever these creatures are, they seem to be equally ominous from any distance. After a while, he can’t tell if the darkness is coming from their wings or the night itself. Or worse, if the altitude’s starting to get to him. He’s not sure of much, anymore—he thinks he might forget that he’s running if his legs weren’t really starting to ache.

Finally, finally, he hears River pull up short. He slows, too, resting a hand on the smooth wood of the TARDIS for support. River releases his hand, and he fishes up the key, hand trembling a little. They’re still in danger, but she sighs indulgently before taking it from him and unlocking the door herself.

“Oh god,” she says, when they’re safely inside. “I really thought that was going to be it for us. Well, I thought it was going to be it for you, and then it was going to be it for me while I waited for you to regenerate.”

He tries to give her a withering look, but he can’t manage working the console and being stern all at once. “No more forests for a while, dear.”

“You picked this planet, sweetie. I’ve been here before.” She gives him a little smirk and sinks down against the doors. “You’re bleeding.”

“So’re you,” he says absently, ignoring the way his trousers are clinging to his scraped leg. “We’ll patch it all in a bit. What was that chasing us, anyway?”

“I don’t think they have a name on-planet. Unspeakable legends, you know? I’m sure some intrepid xenobiologist’s come up with something if you care to do the research.”

“I’m sure.” He reaches for a far lever and knocks his wrist on the zig-zag-plotter, wincing. Angry purple bruises are already starting to rise, and there are darker ones, nearly black, where his watch was crushed against the skin.

“Sorry,” says River. She is much closer than he expects, having come to stand beside him. He jumps a little, which seems to please her.

He scowls. “Now, that wasn’t even fair. You’re wearing these huge heavy boots and all of a sudden you’re silent as the grave.”

“Took them off.” She continues smiling, and holds out her hand for his watch, which he gives her.

“Well, obviously, yes,” he says, rubbing at his wrist.

River pockets the watch. “I don’t know what sort of time you call this,” she teases. “But I’ve got to teach class in the morning, and yes, you really do have to have me back for it, time machine or no.” She leans up to kiss his cheek. “It’s past my bedtime. You can join me if you like.”

“Now I’ve heard it all,” he says, but not even he would protest some sleep. His legs are wavering under him, and he’s started to feel very heavy. When he flicks the last lever, River takes his hand and leads him down the hall. He follows without a second thought.
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