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The Birthday Present

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When the usual post-regeneration chaos was taken care of, and all her internal organs were accounted for and working properly, the Doctor found herself back in the Tardis. The ship itself was still unchanged, its interiors still reflecting her previous self, but she could already feel it shift around her, like a second-hand suit being tailored to fit its new owner.

However, even with all of time and space at her fingertips, she found that there was only one place where she wanted to visit. She wasn't the type to look back, never had been, but there were things back in Bristol that she'd left behind - that he'd left behind - which she wanted to keep. The photographs, of course. Some rare books. A signed copy of Bowie's Blackstar. Just miscellaneous odds and ends that she knew she'd miss if she didn't go back for them.

She entered the coordinates, feeling the slight resistance as the Tardis continued to adapt to her new self. When the Tardis landed, she walked to the door and stepped out.

And then stopped.

Instead of the familiar office where she'd spent the last 70 years of his life, she found herself in a crowded bar. Somewhere in the 35th century, she guessed, based on what the air tasted like.

She sighed and turned back to the Tardis. "This isn't Bristol. This isn't even space-Bristol!"

The doors of the Tardis slammed shut. The Doctor rolled her eyes, and tried to push them open, but the doors wouldn't budge.

She raised her hands in defeat. "Seriously? Today of all days you decide to lock me out on some random planet?"

She tried the doors a few more times before giving up. You couldn't argue with the Tardis when she was sulking, especially when the Doctor had no idea why the Tardis was sulking. She shrugged and headed to the direction of the bar. She didn't know yet if she wanted a drink or even liked a drink, but it would be interesting to find out.

She was halfway across the room when someone tapped her shoulder.

"Excuse me."

She didn't have time to react when that same someone already grabbed her by the shoulders, twisted her around, and pulled her into a kiss. There was something strangely familiar about the situation, but she didn't have time for a full analysis before the hands (and lips) released her. Still stunned, the Doctor took a step back and stared at the woman standing in front of her.

Her wife.

There was a brief moment of grief as the memories washed over her; of watching River die, falling in love with her, and then watching her leave. But it had been almost a century since they'd said their goodbyes on Darillium, and the past was another planet, another person, and so the foremost emotion she felt was just the unbridled joy of being allowed this unexpected reunion.

"River!"

River answered with a flirtatious smile. "Oh so you've heard of me? I do hope it's all good." River's grin widened, and she leaned forward to wipe off a lipstick stain from the Doctor's face. "Apologies for the kiss, but I needed to hide from my parole officer." She winked conspiratorially. "It's a long story."

Before the Doctor had a chance to say anything else, River wrapped her arm around her waist and lead her towards the bar. "Come, let me buy you a drink to make up for it, and you can tell me all about me."

While they waited for the bartender to notice them, River pulled out her diary, and quickly flipped through the pages. As she did so, the Doctor tried to lean closer to catch sight of the pages, hoping to figure out where in her timeline River was. There was no need to avoid spoilers anymore - she'd already seen how it all ends.

When the bartender finally came to serve them, River showed him a picture in the diary.

"You haven't seen this man around here, have you? I'm pretty sure he's either the one with the a bowtie and the chin, or the hair and the scarf."

The bartender shook his head, looking confused.

River waved her hand. "Nevermind, just making sure. Could you bring a shot of hypervodka for myself and my friend...?"

She gave the Doctor a questioning look.

"Basil," the Doctor replied, and then immediately realised her mistake. "...i ...ca."

River frowned. "Basilica?" That's an odd name."

"It runs in the family," the Doctor said, and then gestured at the diary that River was still holding.

"So who is he?"

"Oh, he's just someone I like to keep an eye on." The Doctor felt a pain in her hearts at the sadness in River's voice. "He has a tendency to get into trouble."

"A bit of a damsel in distress, then, is he?"

River tilted her head and gave her a curious look. "A damsel in distress, yes. Very well put. A damsel."

The bartender returned with the drinks, and River smiled again, the sadness dropping away like a mask being pulled on.

One drink became two and then three, and the Doctor let River do the talking and just enjoyed the company of her, and the feeling of a century of grief being lifted from her shoulders.

"-as the dust settled, I realised that we'd landed in the middle of the Court of Queen Cleopatra, but that is another story."

River finished her story with a raucous laugh, and then stood up, straightening her clothes.

"Well, I'd love to stay and chat, but there has been a sighting of a blue police box here around right about..." She conjured a datapad from somewhere about her person and tapped the screen. "...now, and I have a ride to catch. Lovely to meet you, I do hope we'll run into each other again."

The Doctor waited for a few minutes before following River. When she returned to the Tardis, she found her exactly where she had left her. It was only the slightest hint of red dust on the blue paint which betrayed that she had been away.

"You're not fooling anyone, you know," she said, and then gently touched the doors and smiled. "Thank you, old girl."