He’d been sure he’d been dead.
When the officers had emptied their pockets and he’d watched as the doll had been looked at incredulously by most of the room, all he’d been thinking about was the little blonde girl he’d be disappointing if he lost that doll. So, when they were out of peril and the doll was returned to him, he couldn’t resist the urge to press a kiss to the top of it, relief filling him from head to toe.
Once they were back in the TARDIS and dry, Clara looked at him with a half-tilted head and a curious look on her face.
“Doctor? Why was that doll so important to you?”
Taking a breath, he looked down at the console, where the now-dry Barbie doll was resting. He ran a hand through his hair, blowing out another breath before looking up.
“She belongs to someone very special,” he replied quietly, and though the answer was simple, his tone was enough for Clara to leave it alone.
He dropped her off and watched her shut the door, waiting for the light of her bedroom to flick on before stepping back inside, shutting the door and heading back to the console. The TARDIS knew just where he wanted to go; she took off easily, taking him to the two ladies he wanted to see most. Grabbing the doll off the console, he checked his hair once more, adjusting his bowtie before stepping out of the TARDIS, the familiar sight and scent of the cottage a balm to his soul.
His lips curled up into a grin at the shout, taking a few steps forward and bending down to scoop up the blonde missile that shot herself at him. Astra clung to his neck, face buried in her shoulder, and when he looked up he could see River heading towards them, her lips curved into a smile.
“And how are you, Astra Song?” he asked when she pulled back, hazel eyes brimming with excitement. Leaning forward he pressed a kiss to her nose, reveling in her tinkling giggle.
“I’ve missed you Daddy!” she exclaimed, and he pushed aside the part of his heart that throbbed at her words, instead focusing on the story she launched into about lunch on the beach. Then River reached their side, and he swung their daughter onto his hip as he tugged his wife closer and buried his face in her hair, inhaling deeply. River rested her hand in the center of his chest, fingers smoothing over the fabric of his shirt as she brushed her lips over his temple.
“Hello sweetie,” she murmured, and he clutched her tighter, nose nudging her ear to get her to turn her head; when she did he kissed her lightly, lips curling into a smile when Astra made a soft noise of disgust. River broke the kiss with a laugh, shaking her head and tickling the little girl’s sides.
“You know, I went to the beach today,” the Doctor said as they walked towards the house, Astra still in his arms and River pressed against his side, hair brushing his shoulder as she wiped at their daughter’s nose with a tissue. “In a sense.”
“In a sense?” River asked, raising an eyebrow at him as he let Astra down to her feet when they reached the door, letting the little girl tug him into the kitchen and pointing to the sippy cup that was just out of her reach.
“Well, it was a submarine. With an Ice Warrior. In the middle of the Cold War,” the Doctor said, and River snorted, shaking her head as Astra took the cup happily from her father before disappearing into the living room, the sound of the television flicking on coming moments later.
“Yes, that sounds just like a day at the beach,” River replied, bursting into laughter when the Doctor attacked her sides with tickles, trying desperately to get out of his reach as she gasped for breath. “Stop- Doctor- sweetie stop I can’t breathe!”
He relented, his body weight pinning her to the kitchen counter as her hands pressed into his chest; her fingers curled into his shirt, her head tilting back to look at him, his hands gripping her hips and holding her tightly against him. Their noses were mere inches apart, and River licked her lips, his eyes cataloguing all of her movements, breathing slightly uneven when she exhaled and he smelled like the scent of strawberries on her breath.
“You smell good,” he murmured, lips brushing hers as he spoke, and she hummed, eyes sliding shut as he leaned closer, almost every inch of their bodies touching.
“We had fruit salad,” she murmured, leaning into the kiss slightly, relishing the feel of him against her. “Astra ate all the blueberries, so I took the strawberries.”
“Naughty girl,” he whispered, nose brushing hers affectionately as his thumbs slid underneath her shirt, coming in contact with her bare skin. “She’ll have to go bed early for punishment.”
“I think that can be arranged,” River murmured in return, smiling against his mouth as he finally captured hers in a real kiss, her hands sliding up his chest to tangle in his hair as she parted her lips, letting him taste the strawberry residue in her mouth. His hand slid around to her lower back, tugging her more firmly against him.
Before they could get too involved, Astra’s voice called his name, and they broke apart reluctantly, panting as their foreheads pressed together. Pulling back and pressing his lips to her forehead gently, he brushed her nose with his again.
“Early bedtime tonight, remember?” he said, brushing some of her hair back, and she sighed, nodding before pushing at him gently.
“Go- she’s been looking forward to seeing you for days,” she said, smiling at him, and he nodded, bopping her nose before heading into the living to find Astra looking at him expectantly.
“Daddy, do you still have my doll?” she asked, crawling into his lap once he settled beside her, tucking her head up underneath his chin and promptly fiddling with his bowtie. “The one I gave you for good luck?”
Digging into his pocket and unearthing the unharmed doll, he presented it to her with a smile, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head and wrapping his arms around her as she cradled the Barbie.
“Of course I still have it, poppet- you gave it to me, I’d never lose it,” he said, rubbing her back gently. “Most important doll in the whole universe, right there.”
And as Astra settled against him, eyes returning to the program on the television, he let himself relax for the first time all day. River came in and settled beside him, one ankle hooked over his and her arm around his shoulders, fingers fiddling with the hair at the back of his neck, and he pressed a kiss to her palm, watching the way her eyes lit up.
It felt good to be with his girls again.