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i use the stars to find you

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For all of his searching and dreaming and hoping, for every sleepless night and every failed attempt, the Doctor never actually thought he would find home again. And he certainly never thought he would step out onto the red dust of his planet with his wife standing at his side, her hand small and steady in his. She squeezes his fingers when he trembles, smiling softly up at him as he stares.

 

It isn’t the same of course. He knows it isn’t. He has spent so long idealizing his home planet that everything he’d hated about it had long ago fallen away. It will take time to remember all the reasons he’d stolen a TARDIS and his granddaughter and fled in the first place. But it looks the same. It looks exactly the same as it had the first time he left.

 

They’ve arrived at just the right moment to catch the sunset and the Doctor wishes he could tear his gaze away from the silver trees set aflame to look at River. He wants to see the light reflected in her hair. He wants to see the same wonder on his face mirrored on hers. As much as he wants to witness River’s first glimpse of Gallifrey, it’s impossible to look away.

 

Beyond the trees and the long red grass on the hill where they stand, the Citadel gleams in the distance. The shining, bustling capitol. The Doctor swallows at the sight of it and looks away, his eyes scanning the horizon. The dense forest, lush and green and probably still bearing the scars of his childhood days spent among them with the Master. The very same forest where his children and grandchildren had played.

 

Lurking on the outer edges are the desolate red deserts, where all of his friends were always too frightened to go. They would dare each other to stand at the edge, where the red grass met hot sand. No one but the Doctor ever lasted long. He’d stand there, his feet firmly planted in the sand, facing the forest and his friends, his eyes closed and a wide, daring grin on his face. He can still feel the heat of the sun on his back.

 

The wind stirs the dust at their feet, making it kick up and whirl around their knees. It tickles at his nose and itches at his eyes. The Doctor blinks, telling himself the dust is why his eyes are watering and stinging, why his throat is closing up and suddenly he can’t quite manage to draw a proper breath.

 

River leans her head on his shoulder, her hand still clinging to his. “Is it how you remember?”

 

He clears his throat, blinking rapidly, and tears his gaze away from it all to look at his wife. She stares out over the city with tears in her eyes and he feels his hearts swell at the sight of her. He’d been right before – River in the light of Gallifrey’s setting suns was not something to be missed. “Better.”

 

She looks up then, smiling like she wants to call him an old sap. Instead, she lifts a hand to his cheek, her palm warm and familiar against his skin, and says, “Welcome home, sweetie.”

 

-

 

His first wife and their children had died long before he fled Gallifrey the first time with his granddaughter, never looking back. The Doctor has no hope of somehow finding them miraculously restored with the rest of his home planet – one miracle is more than he’d ever expected. Well, two if he counts River.

 

The rest of his grandchildren, however, remain. The first thing he does is try to find them. Everything else – Rassilon, facing his responsibility as true President of Gallifrey, showing River all of his favorite haunts, facing the consequences of his actions – can wait. Of course, they find him before he can find them.

 

Whispers of the rogue Time Lord’s return guide them and they follow the trail of gossip, letting it lead them from Arcadia right into the capitol. The Doctor is in the middle of berating someone into giving up the location of his family and silently glaring at River in hopes it will keep her from stealing anything when he hears a soft, disbelieving, “Grandfather?”

 

He freezes.

 

Even River stops what she’s doing, forgetting all about the shiny trinket that had initially caught her eye. She turns with him, her hand resting lightly on the small of his back as they find themselves gazing across the street at a tall, thin young man remarkably similar to his eleventh regeneration, aside from the scruff on his face. There’s a woman with him, petite and ginger, with his first wife’s eyes. They’re clutching hands, staring at him with fear in their eyes.

 

For a moment, he thinks they’re afraid of him.

 

When he nods, unable to speak past the lump in his throat, the smiles on their faces tells him they had been afraid it wasn’t him, that the rumors had been false. They take the first step toward him and he staggers away from River’s soothing hand on his back to meet them halfway. His granddaughter throws herself into his arms with a cry, warm and fragile against him. The Doctor cradles her to his chest and for once he doesn’t worry about hiding his face. “Gillian,” he murmurs, and she cries into the collar of his coat. “My wee precious girl.”

 

The Doctor peers over her shoulder at his grandson, relieved to find the man watching him with a lazy smile, hands shoved into the pockets of his trousers. There are tears in his eyes but he bravely ignores them, tossing the Doctor a teasing, “Took you long enough, old man.”

 

Still holding his granddaughter to him in the middle of the street, the Doctor swallows and manages a gruff, “Traffic was hell.”

 

John breaks into a wide grin and steps forward, wrapping wiry, strong arms around the Doctor and Gillian. The Doctor blinks rapidly, chin resting on top of John’s shoulder, and grits his teeth in a valiant effort not to weep. His grandchildren in his arms again, after years spent mourning his family, certain they were lost to him forever. Even this new, tetchy face cannot keep its composure. His face feels hot and itchy and his eyes burn with the effort of holding back tears. His throat aches, struggling against the persistent lump formed there.

 

He harrumphs, sniffing as John steps back. Gillian doesn’t go anywhere, wrapping an arm around his waist and tucking her head beneath his chin, clutching him like he might run off again if she lets him go. The Doctor forces a thin smile, raising his brows. “So. What did I miss?”

 

He finds out he has two great granddaughters before he tears his gaze away from John and Gillian, only to be met with the sight of River hovering on the other side of the street, watching them with a small, hesitant smile.

 

The Doctor waves her over. “What are you doing over there?”

 

“Letting you get reacquainted,” she calls back, staying stubbornly put.

 

“I can do that with you standing right here, you know.” He frowns. “Get your arse across this street, Professor.”

 

John and Gillian glance back and forth between them with puzzled frowns but the Doctor remains quiet, watching River cross the street. She looks terribly young all of a sudden, her gaze darting from John to Gillian and finally to him. Her every move is hesitant and unsure, rife with uncharacteristic shyness. He watches her, utterly flummoxed, until she reaches his side and does not take his hand. She keeps to herself, standing stiffly beside him, offering his grandchildren a timid smile. And suddenly he understands.

 

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, the Doctor pointedly takes her hand in his and says, “Grand offspring, this is my wife – River Song.”

 

Her eyes widen and she glances at him, startled.

 

“What?” He raises his brows. “Any objections?”

 

River shakes her head, positively glowing, her eyes lit up. “None, my love.”

 

“Good,” he says dryly. “Because it’s too late now.”

 

Gillian’s high-pitched squeak of delight interrupts any reply she might have made and the Doctor watches in amusement as his granddaughter abandons him entirely in favor of throwing her arms around River’s neck. She was always such an excitable tyke. It’s a relief that he still remembers.

 

For a moment, River stands frozen and wide-eyed in the girl’s embrace but Gillian only squeezes her tighter and exclaims, “My step-grandmother’s hair is brilliant.”

 

John snorts, eyeing River through the curtain of Gillian’s vibrant red hair, and looks at the Doctor with a grin entirely reminiscent of himself as a lad. “Are you quite certain she’s seen you? In the harsh light of day?”

 

The Doctor scowls.

 

Finally allowing herself to sink into Gillian’s embrace, River wraps her arms around the girl and he watches with satisfaction as the apprehension drains from her face. Ridiculous woman. As if his grandchildren wouldn’t adore her. If nothing else, the Doctor had spawned genius offspring.

 

“How long are you staying then?” John asks, and the Doctor turns away from Gillian’s gleeful study of River’s curls to look at him. He looks just like his father, like the Doctor’s eleventh self. He hadn’t let himself think until now of just why he so loved that particular face of his. It was startlingly similar to his son’s face. And now, apparently, his grandson.

 

“How long would you like me to stay?”

 

John grins at him, nudging his shoulder with his own. “Until we’re sick at the very sight of you.”

 

“A week then,” the Doctor says dryly.

 

His grandson snorts, turning back to watch Gillian and River beam at each other. “We’ll let you know, granddad.”

 

-

 

Gillian had offered them a room in her home – the home she had grown up in, the home where the Doctor had lived with his first wife and raised his children – but when he’d hesitated, River had stepped in for him, her hand gentle on his arm as she explained they simply must spend their nights on board the TARDIS. The Old Girl will get terribly jealous if they leave her, she’d said with a wink. The Doctor had nearly sagged against her with relief.

 

The TARDIS is as much of a safe haven and an escape now as it had been when they first stole each other away. Only this time it isn’t the oppressive culture that chases him away. It isn’t the sense that he doesn’t belong. It isn’t the looming danger he could smell coming. It’s the memories he seeks asylum from now and River is only too willing to hide away with him.

 

He peers at her over the pages of the book he’s pretending to read. She stands in a silk bathrobe at the console, a cup of tea in one hand as she tinkers with the controls. They’re in no hurry today. They have all the time in the world to explore and the Doctor wants more than anything to reacquaint himself with his home planet and to show River all the things he used to describe to her in whispers in the dark, certain he would never see home again.

 

But first, perhaps breakfast.

 

And someone should really do something about that incessant knocking. He sighs. “Get that, would you?”

 

River glances up from the controls, wrapping both hands around her steaming mug. “Why don’t you get it? It’s probably Gillian anyway. She’ll want to see you.”

 

“You’re closer.”

 

“It’s your ship.”

 

“Our ship.”

 

“We’re on your planet.”

 

“Exactly,” the Doctor says, lifting an eyebrow. “I’ve brought you to my home, River. The least you can do is answer the damn door.”

 

At another impatient knock, River sighs and pushes away from the console with a glare that tells him he’ll be paying for his cheek later. He’s rather looking forward to it. She stalks across the room, silk robe floating behind her, and he belatedly realizes his wife is quite underdressed. He draws in a breath, standing quickly. “River, wait -”

 

She throws open the TARDIS doors and he cringes, hoping Gillian is on the other side. If it’s any other stuffy Time Lord River is bound to give them a sodding hearts attack answering the door dressed like that. He waits tensely, staring at the back of her head as she talks with their visitor.

 

“Honey,” she finally calls, ducking her head back inside. Behind her, he can see two guards heavily decorated in the seal of Rassilon. “Apparently Lord President of the pompous gits would like to meet with you.”

 

The Doctor coughs to hide a snort and holds up his book. “Later. I’m in the middle of a chapter.”

 

River forces a smile, glancing over her shoulder at the stone-faced guards. “I don’t think it’s a request, sweetie.”

 

He sighs.

 

She abandons the door and pads softly across the console floor, stopping at the foot of the stairs. “I could temporarily dispose of them for you but they’ll only pester you again once they regain consciousness. And I have a feeling your dear President has plenty more guards at his disposal. I’ll be run off and then where will you be?” She lifts an eyebrow, her lips twisting into a little smile when he scowls. “Unless you’re ready to scarper already, my love.”

 

Faced with either going with the guards willingly or forcing his wife into dispatching of them in a bizarre but entirely River-like show of protectiveness, the Doctor tosses his book aside and reaches for his coat.

 

The council chamber is empty when he arrives save for the place at the head of the long table where Rassilon sits waiting, staff clutched in one hand. The Doctor doesn’t sit right away, lingering near the door even after a guard shuts it behind him. Partly because he’s thinking about running away but mostly because he knows it will irritate Rassilon.

 

Hands behind his back, he leans in to inspect the high Gallifreyan carvings etched into the wide, elaborately gilded doorframe and says, “You rang?”

 

He can very nearly sense Rassilon’s eye twitching with annoyance. The Doctor purses his lips to hide a smirk. “I summoned for you, yes. I had hoped you might come to me without the need for a formal request but you made it perfectly clear you have no intention of gracing us with your presence.”

 

“How? By not running here to lick your boots the day I arrived?” The Doctor scowls, turning from the doorframe to look at him. “Forgive me but I didn’t think I’d be welcome.”

 

“Let us make no secret of the animosity between us, Doctor.”

 

“I don’t intend to.”

 

Rassilon tightens his grip around the staff in his hand. “Why have you come back?”

 

It’s obvious he’s terrified the Doctor has returned to take his rightful place as President and while he has no intention of letting Rassilon continue his reign of terror, he doesn’t want to take up the mantle himself either. For now, Rassilon has nothing to worry about. With a sigh, the Doctor strides across the room and pulls out a chair from the table, relishing the ugly scraping sound it makes as he drags it across the floor. He sinks into the chair heavily, enjoying Rassilon’s tightly contained flinch. “This is my home.”

 

Rassilon scoffs, sneering at him. “You abandoned us.”

 

“You, certainly. The war effort, I suppose if you want to look at it like that. My home? My family?” The Doctor narrows his eyes at him, wishing suddenly for River and her steady presence beside him. “Never.”

 

The hand not gripping his staff drums a steady beat against the table as Rassilon stares him down. The Doctor glares right back and it’s suddenly very easy to remember just how much he’d hated this man. How much he’d hated all of them. The tightly-buttoned, stern old men who looked down their noses at the one who had never quite managed to fit in. The one far too human to truly be one of them and yet far too alien to ever belong with the inferior race. He thinks fleetingly of River’s tartly supplied juvenile nickname Lord President of the Pompous Gits and feels a smile twitch briefly at his mouth.

 

“Are you planning to stay then?”

 

“For a while,” the Doctor answers evasively. “Why? Is there a form I should fill out? Should I have passed through customs first?”

 

Rassilon ignores him. “I noticed you did not bring your… companion along.”

 

He says companion like some might say pet, his voice full of snide condescension. The Doctor grits his teeth. “She isn’t a companion. She’s my wife.” He pauses just a moment to appreciate Rassilon’s startled deer expression before he says, “And for your own protection, I thought it best she remained on the TARDIS for the duration of our little tête-à-tête.”

 

“I hardly need protection from a simpering earth child.” Rassilon offers him a withering look and the Doctor maintains a tactful silence for once. The heavy doors across the room creak open and Rassilon sighs at the sight of a young woman carrying a tea tray, waving her in. As she settles her tray on the table and begins pouring their cups, Rassilon continues, “Marrying a human, Doctor? I would have thought even you would not stoop to such perversity.”

 

The Doctor smirks, nicking the supply of sugars from the girl’s tea tray and dropping six of them into his cup. “River isn’t human.”

 

Rassilon waits for the girl to finish pouring milk into his tea before ordering her away with an aggravated wave of his hand. The girl picks up her tray and scurries out, shutting the door behind her. Rassilon ignores his tea, leaning back in his seat, ornate staff scraping against the floor as he moves. “She looks human.”

 

“Nope,” the Doctor says, lingering on the word and making it pop in his mouth. “She looks Time Lord.”

 

Watching with no small amount of satisfaction as the Lord President of the pompous gits blinks rapidly and stares at him, eyes just a little too wide to conceal his surprise, the Doctor sips his tea and resists the urge to hum. “Explain yourself.”

 

So he does. He explains as briefly and succinctly as he can – while doing his best not to highlight the fact that it had been him who had allowed a married couple on his TARDIS and let them procreate in the bloody time vortex – who and what River Song is. Not that it is anyone’s damn business but the Doctor does so love to brag about his wee bespoke psychopath.

 

By the end of his story, however, Rassilon doesn’t look nearly as impressed as the Doctor always is by his wife. “A half breed,” he spits. “Even worse than a human – you’ve mated those strays you love so dearly with the pure, raw energy of our people.” His mouth curls into a sneer and his eyes glitter with malice the Doctor is only too familiar with. “You’ve made yourself a designer pet. Too alien to ever fit in among the humans and too low of species to ever truly belong with us. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, Doctor?”

 

The Doctor’s hand shakes as he sets aside his tea cup, the delicate china slamming against the table with such force it cracks the fragile handle and sloshes tea over the rim. He barely notices the scalding liquid seeping into his skin, his mouth a tight, hard line and his eyes narrowed into slits. The impulse to throw himself across the table and wrap his hands around Rassilon’s thick neck is a very real and dangerous threat at the moment.

 

His nostrils flare and he breathes unsteadily through his nose, suddenly very glad he’d insisted River stay away from this meeting. He curls his scalding hand into a fist and quietly seethes. “That woman is more the embodiment of a Time Lord than a posturing, pompous git like you will ever be.” Rassilon stiffens, eyes narrowing in outrage and his hand tightening around his staff. The Doctor keeps talking anyway. “I’m glad she’s part human – it makes her capable of love in a way you’ll never comprehend.”

 

“How dare you -”

 

“I’m not finished yet,” the Doctor snarls. “That isn’t the only difference between her and the sorry sodding lot of you. She may be part Time Lord – she may be clever and strong. She may be able to read and write Gallifreyan and fly my TARDIS but that is where the similarities end. She is far too good, too brave, and too kind to ever belong to this cold, selfish fucking race.”

 

Face flushed red and chest heaving, Rassilon grinds his teeth and glares across the table at the Doctor, fingers flexing around his staff. Just as incensed and with a sudden protective rage swelling in his chest, making his hearts feel too big to fit, the Doctor glowers right back. He wonders briefly if River will have to come fetch him out of some dungeon beneath the citadel but he cannot bring himself to regret letting his mouth run away with him.

 

The Time Lords have never liked him and that has always suited him just fine but this isn’t about him. This is about River. He’d rather be kicked off the planet he has just found than sit and passively listen to anyone, least of all Rassilon, insult her. His wife is a miracle, not something to be sneered at and looked down upon. She would be undoubtedly furious with him if she knew, insisting with a well-aimed slap that she hardly needed anyone to defend her honor.

 

The Doctor knows River can take care of herself. But it’s about time she didn’t have to.

 

The tense, angry silence in the council chamber is so thick it nearly chokes him but he holds steady, clinging to old anger and River until finally, Rassilon relents. “I can see calling you here was in poor taste. We will never manage to see eye to eye on any matter, and certainly not what is befitting of a Time Lord of your stature.”

 

The Doctor snorts, relaxing his tense shoulders.

 

“Let us address the real reason I brought you here.” Rassilon still looks like he wants to lock the Doctor up somewhere and throw away the key and the Doctor is silently resigned to exercising his political power to save himself when he says, “I need to… thank you.”

 

Ah.

 

“I don’t want your thanks. I didn’t save Gallifrey for you.”

 

Rassilon grits his teeth. “You have my thanks nonetheless. Ceremony calls for some sort of recognition of what you have done for us. Despite our differences, you saved this planet from destruction and that cannot be ignored.” He sighs, clearly doing his best to let go of the last traces of his fury, eyeing the Doctor wearily. “Preparations are underway. I trust you won’t cause any trouble in the meantime.”

 

The Doctor gives him an innocent, wide-eyed stare. “I’ll be on my best behavior. As always. I can’t promise the same for the Missus, of course.” At Rassilon’s pointed glare, he lifts a brow, mouth twitching. “Bit of a temper, that one.”

 

-

 

Gillian gapes at him from across the dinner table and the Doctor groans, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Did you have to mention your parents?”

 

River shrugs lightly, eyes gleaming with mischief. “They wanted to know how we met, sweetie. Where else was I to begin?”

 

Still guffawing, hunched over his glass of wine, John says, “You met her when she was a baby? Slim pickings outside of Gallifrey, old man?”

 

The Doctor scowls, struggling valiantly to keep up the expression with his wife looking so smug beside him and his grandchildren still giggling over their dinners. It’s nearly impossible to maintain a grumpy façade. And then he feels a tiny hand tug on his trouser leg and looks down just in time to witness his great granddaughter Susan – named after her aunt – climb onto his lap. She settles herself against his chest, clutching a stuffed bear that had once belonged to his son. The harassed expression fades from his face instantly and the Doctor sighs, melting a little as the dark-haired little girl peers up at him with a shy grin.

 

River watches him with a small, knowing smile.

 

He deflates, eyeing her sternly. “You know very well the first time I met you was not when you were an infant. That was merely the first time you met me.”

 

She blinks innocently, her sly smile twisting into a smirk as she swirls the wine in her glass. “Of course, sweetie. I was only telling things from my perspective.”

 

“To scandalize my grandchildren,” he grouses, but he can’t even properly scowl, not with Susan shoving her teddy bear in his face and making kissy noises with it. “Can’t you behave yourself for one night?”

 

“Could do,” River muses, sipping her wine. She studies him, watching the gentle way he guides Susan’s teddy bear back to her lap and pats her fondly on the head. “But I think you rather like me bad.”

 

John wrinkles his nose, looking like a child instead of a grown man, and glances at Gillian. “Why is it that hearing them flirt makes me want to cover my ears and hum? Step-grandmum or not, River is sexy.” The Doctor makes a choked noise his grandchildren ignore entirely. “It must be granddad. I just can’t stomach it.”

 

Grumbling under his breath, the Doctor reaches around Susan for his glass and sips with impunity. “I’m right here, you know.”

 

River pats his arm, looking pleased. “It isn’t your fault, my love. This face just isn’t a flirting face.”

 

He frowns. “I don’t flirt.” At her expression, he amends, “Except with you. None of that flitting about snogging young women by accident rubbish. I’m against being a flirt.”

 

“Too old for it?” John asks, wiggling his brows.

 

“Behave, John,” River chides, and the Doctor rather loves the way she scolds his grandchildren. She leans in briefly, pressing her lips to his shoulder. He twitches, warm and pleased and just a little self-conscious under the knowing gazes of John and Gillian. 

 

He clears his throat and offers John a smug glance. “Listen to your grandmother.”

 

Gillian shoves at John and pours them both more wine. “Stop interrupting, idiot. River, you said you were raised to kill grandfather. What happened?”

 

“Well,” River shrugs, looking pink-cheeked, like a young girl recounting the details of her first date. The Doctor stares at her, feeling his hearts skip a double beat in his chest. “I did kill him.”

 

Susan looks up from her teddy bear then, wide-eyed. “You killed great granddad?”

 

River nods sagely, a soft smile curling her mouth. “I’m afraid I did.”

 

“But,” the Doctor interrupts, tugging gently on Susan’s braid. “Then she saved me. So began a lifelong, rather irritating habit.”

 

His wife laughs at him and the Doctor almost doesn’t hear Susan’s question. “How did you save him?”

 

“I kissed him,” River says simply, eyes gleaming.

 

John whistles lowly. “Some kiss.”

 

“You’ve no idea,” the Doctor mutters, eyeing him crossly.

 

The front door opens and they all turn as Gillian’s husband walks into the room with their youngest daughter on his shoulders. He grins, waving at them all, and sets Patience gently on the floor. The girl scrambles across the room and the Doctor watches fondly as she clambers right into River’s lap and makes herself comfortable. They’ve all taken to River so easily and he’ll be forever grateful for the way they’ve ushered her into his little family and never thought twice about it.

 

He watches Patience try to steal Susan’s bear. “Teaching them to steal already?”

 

“And how to defend themselves.” River smirks, watching Susan kick Patience and scoot farther across the Doctor’s lap. “It’s never too early, my love.” Twisting a lock of Patience’s hair around a gentle finger, she picks up her glass with her free hand and looks pointedly across the table. “What about you, John? Any special Time Lady we should know about?”

 

John actually flushes, groaning when Gillian laughs and pokes him. “Not you too,” he grumbles. “I’m only on my third century, you know! I’ve got ages to think about having a family.” He grins suddenly, looking as mischievous as his father had once been. “Besides, how can I settle for anything less than what you have with granddad? I want to be pursued by a lethal, gun-toting psychopath. I want to be rescued with a kiss. I want to be wooed, damn it.”

 

Gillian rolls her eyes.

 

River hides a smile in a sip of wine and glances at the Doctor, her gaze softening when she finds him already looking back. “I’m afraid not everyone gets the fairy tale, dear.”

 

-

 

People are staring.

 

Not at him.

 

Well, perhaps some of them are staring at him. He is the black sheep finally returned to the fold, after all. He did save them. It merits a little staring. But more often than not the Doctor finds that people like to stare at the woman walking beside him through the streets. If River notices, she doesn’t say anything. He supposes she’s probably used to staring by now. Everyone stares at her. She’s River, for Christ’s sake. Even the Doctor has barely managed to stop staring at her.

 

Pausing at a market stall to inspect a hand woven scarf, River has that particular look in her eyes that he has long come to understand he’s going to have to run very soon. The Doctor leans in and presses his mouth against her ear, growling, “Don’t even think about it.”

 

River pouts, picking up the scarf and wrapping it around her curls. The golden, shimmering material sets her eyes alight as she flutters her lashes at him. His last regeneration would have squeaked and flushed and tugged at his coat to hide his too tight trousers but now he steels himself and glares. He can sense that they’re still the subject of much scrutiny – especially River.

 

“Behave,” he warns. “These people are just as clever as you. You’ll not get away with whatever you like here.”

 

“Afraid your criminal wife is going to embarrass you?” She ties the scarf and looks annoyingly prim, like Jacquelyn Kennedy. At least three men and two women stop to stare. The Doctor grits his teeth. “Have you told them yet you’re the reason I was in Stormcage in the first place?”

 

“They don’t know you were in prison at all,” he snaps as quietly as he can. “I would prefer to keep it that way.”

 

“Why? Don’t want to catch any more disapproval from Rassilon?” River smirks, looking strangely delighted as she unknots the scarf again and pulls it from her head. Her curls spring free and tumble around her shoulders. The Doctor hears an approving murmur from somewhere behind him. He clenches his teeth and when River’s eyes light up, he knows he’s fucked. “Or are you afraid the others will find it just as sexy as you did?”

 

“There’s nothing sexy about being a criminal,” he says haughtily, but his voice sounds weak even to his own ears. “And those conjugal visits weren’t nearly as thrilling as I led you to believe.”

 

River arches a brow at him, looking skeptical. “Oh? Well, perhaps someone here will find it attractive. Let’s take a poll.” She clears her throat, turning to face the street, and the Doctor wonders faintly if he might be having a stroke. “Attention -”

 

“Alright,” he shushes her, scowling. He grasps her elbow and turns her swiftly away from the stares, snatching the scarf from her hand and tossing it back in the general direction of where it belongs. “Fine. It was sexy, you bloody menace. Would you stop it?”

 

She hums, leaning into his touch and not looking deterred in the slightest. If anything, she looks terribly triumphant. “I will if you will.”

 

He blinks at her. “Will what?”

 

“Stop being such a grumpy sod just because people are staring.” River gently shifts out of his grip on her elbow and crosses her arms over her chest. “It’s hardly my fault, you know.”

 

“No, it isn’t,” he says, feeling an exasperated smile curl the edges of his mouth. It’s only then that he realizes he has spent their entire stroll today standing far too close to River and scowling. He hadn’t meant to. And he hardly wants River to remember him being such a wet blanket on her first trip to Gallifrey. He has no reason to be grumpy. He has his wife, he has his family, he has his home… The Doctor has come a long way from the broken man he used to be.

 

Softening, he dips his head and lifts his brows, meeting River’s gently scolding gaze. Her hand reaches for his, her fingers lacing through his fingers. “What’s wrong, sweetie?”

 

“Nothing,” he grumbles. “Do they have to stare?”

 

River frowns at him for a moment, brow furrowed, but then her expression clears and her eyes dance. He watches a smile light up her face. She lifts their joined hands to her lips and kisses his knuckles softly, one by one. It’s the sort of display the Doctor normally prefers to keep private but he has to admit there’s something rather thrilling about having his wife brush her lips over his skin beneath the heavy weight of all these eyes on them.

 

He relaxes, watching her meet his gaze and pointedly press his hand flat against her cheek. She blinks languidly up at him and he stares, caught in her spell. “You needn’t worry some other Time Lord is going to steal me away.”

 

The Doctor frowns. “Of course not.” He takes a step closer, feeling the heat of her against him, pleased to see her pupils dilate. “They’re none of them bad enough to suit you, River Song.”

 

They do, however, know what she is. Word has spread far and wide by now and all of Gallifrey seems to know what sort of woman the Doctor has married. She fascinates them. Half-breed or not, River is gorgeous and dangerous and clever and something new. He doesn’t like the thought of them gaping at her like some sort of sideshow attraction.

 

Even more than that, they understand River. All of her life, there has only been one other person like her. He could answer her questions about who and what she was, her biology, the knowledge in her head, the Gallifreyan customs long dead. Now there is an entire planet filled with people like her. People who will understand her in a way no one else but him ever has.

 

His miraculous wife. He doesn’t like the thought of having to share.

 

With a sigh, the Doctor silently decides he’s going to sodding well get over it and stop acting like a child guarding a favorite teddy bear. He’s far too old for this nonsense. With the hand River had pressed against her cheek, he slides his fingers along her skin and into her hair, drawing her close.

 

“Sorry, dear,” he murmurs, his nose nearly touching hers. “But you still can’t steal the scarf.”

 

She pouts but he can tell she’s enjoying herself, her hands resting on his chest, fingers inching under his coat as she sways toward him. “Going to buy it for me then?”

 

He deflates, eyeing her sheepishly. “I don’t have any currency.”

 

“Of course you don’t.” She sighs, turning to stare at the glimmering gold scarf mournfully. “Perhaps next time then.”

 

“Allow me.”

 

They part, turning to stare at the stranger who insinuates himself in front of them. He picks up the scarf and tosses a bit of money down in its place. Whirling to face them, he holds the scarf out to River with a kind smile and a wink.

 

“You’ll look very fetching in it.” He lifts a brow at the Doctor and his grin turns into a wry smirk. “Far too fetching to associate with the likes of him.”

 

River frowns, still refusing to take the proffered scarf as she glances at the Doctor. “Someone you know, sweetie?”

 

“Yes.” The Doctor feels an impossible smile tugging at his mouth and his annoyance over all the staring is a distant dream. “He’s my brother.”

 

Braxiatel grins. “It’s good to see you, Theta.”

 

-

 

The robes are as atrocious as he remembers.

 

They’re blood red and ornate, made of heavy material that makes him feel like he’s swimming upstream whenever he walks. The swirling golden design etched into the sleeves and the hem of the robes he doesn’t mind so much. It reminds him a bit of River’s hair. But the rest of it… Staring balefully at himself in the mirror, the Doctor wonders if anyone would notice if he took a quick trip to throw the entire getup into a black hole. He’d be right back. Probably.

 

At least River had done away with the headdress. She’d shot his and her own the moment she’d caught sight of them. He still looks too much like one of them. Or rather like he’s trying to be one of them. Like a child dressing in his father’s clothes. The robes feel just as heavy and constricting as his entire life had felt growing up here. They’d nearly smothered him. He was and will always be the black sheep amongst his people, the rebel Time Lord who never quite fit in.

 

The robes only prove it.

 

The Doctor scowls, tugging at the heavy medallion resting at his chest. He looks ridiculous.

 

“I think you look distinguished.”

 

He glances over his shoulder in the mirror and stares at River as she strolls into the room. For a moment, his tongue is stuck to the roof of his mouth and he couldn’t speak if Omega himself demanded it of him. River walks up behind him, smirking, and when she wraps her arms around his waist, he finally snaps out of it. “What happened to your robes?”

 

She rests her chin on his shoulder, her eyes wandering the length of him in the mirror. “I’m wearing them.”

 

“Those are not Gallifreyan robes,” he says, frowning. “They’re too – too -”

 

Pulling away from him, River settles a hand on her hip and glares. “Too what?”

 

He turns to face her with an exasperated, “Too sexy!”

 

She beams. “I altered them. You like it?”

 

The question gives him an excuse to stare again and he grabs the opportunity with both hands. The robes are supposed to be shapeless, flowing things that make it impossible to make out the person beneath them but he should have known River would never be satisfied with such a garment.

 

She had taken in her robes at the waist and she must have removed a layer of the damn things somehow because the material looks lighter. It clings to her waist and her hips. He swallows, eyes drifting over the new neckline of her ensemble. The robes are high-necked and stiff-collared but River had done something to ensure the barest hint of cleavage. Just enough to make him stare and imagine the rest. Her sleeves are delicate, flowing from the wrist to rest primly at her fingertips. In place of the headdress she’d destroyed, she’d chosen a golden circlet currently nestled among her curls. She looks like she belongs right in the middle of the renaissance, not at the high honored table of a traditional Gallifreyan ceremony.

 

The Doctor feels a smile growing across his face, all of the irrational panic at being back inside these hideous robes fading away. The robes are meaningless. Things will never be the way they used to be again. He isn’t alone this time. He married a rebel and brought her back with him, someone who will shoot his headdress so he doesn’t have to wear it, someone who will stand beside him in defiance and hold his hand.

 

He clears his throat, finally letting his eyes drift back to her face. “Not bad, wife.”

 

She laughs softly, latching onto the front of his robes and smoothing them with her fingers. She traces the design on the medallion he wears and tips her face up, smirking at him. “And you haven’t even seen what I’m not wearing underneath them.”

 

-

 

They’re sitting at the high table as honored guests. They’re sitting right next to each other and the Doctor knows everyone has heard by now that the woman with him is his wife. It doesn’t stop one bloody man or woman from flirting with her outrageously. It certainly doesn’t help matters that River had altered her robes to scandalous proportions. Or that she’d as good as told him she isn’t wearing a damn thing beneath them. Bloody menace, his wife. They’ll be lucky if they make it through the opening speeches without having to make a run for it.

 

His brother finds the entire business endlessly amusing.

 

The Doctor, having forgotten what it was like to have a sibling, is struggling with the new but familiar urge to sock him one. “Will you stop coughing? You sound like a diseased Slitheen. And stop poking me, for Christ’s sake -”

 

Brax nudges him again, hissing, “I’m trying to get you to notice your wife is about to be stolen away by Tonda the Obscure.”

 

The Doctor sighs, casting a bored but slightly ruffled glance at River. “She isn’t about to be stolen, pillock.”

 

“Flirts like that with everyone, does she?”

 

“Yes, actually.” The Doctor keeps his eyes on his wife, waiting until she turns her head and sees him looking. She winks. “Loves a good flirt, that one.”

 

“It doesn’t bother you?”

 

“Course it does,” the Doctor grouses. “Why do you think she does it?”

 

Brax snorts into his wine, slapping the Doctor on the back. “I like her.”

 

“Bugger off.”

 

“Never.” His brother grins broadly at him and the Doctor rolls his eyes. “You’re stuck with me now, baby brother.”

 

“An unfortunate consequence of saving everyone,” the Doctor grumbles, glaring when Brax makes a motion to splash wine down his front. “Watch the robes, ninny. They’re borrowed.”

 

“And a step up from your usual.”

 

“What is that supposed to mean?”

 

“It means that just because you’re the rebel of the family, you don’t have to dress like a retired rock star, Thet. It’s embarrassing.”

 

“Why don’t you stick it up your -”

 

Ahem.”

 

They freeze instantly and the Doctor glances over his shoulder with an ominous feeling in his gut. Rassilon stands over them, resplendent in his robes and chest puffed out proudly as he gazes down at the Doctor and Brax.

 

“Doctor,” he greets, looking as though he’s eaten something sour. “I’m glad to see you here.”

 

“Well it is for me,” the Doctor says loftily. “Would have been rude not to show up.”

 

Brax coughs. “When have you ever cared about manners?”

 

The Doctor nudges him.

 

Ignoring their squabbling, Rassilon peers down his nose at the Doctor. “I thought I might take this opportunity to meet your wife, since you seem so determined to make sure our paths never cross.”

 

Drawing in a fortifying breath, the Doctor attempts to smooth the scowl on his face and reply but then there’s a soft, warm hand on his shoulder and he breathes out again. “Surely he told you it was only for your sake.” River is suddenly at his side, her flirting abandoned entirely as she lays a hand on his arm and smiles with deceptive sweetness up at Rassilon. “Tyranny makes me ever so tetchy.”

 

Rassilon blinks at her.

 

“With my troublesome trigger finger, I simply couldn’t be trusted.” River tilts her head, examining her fingernails. “Being born and bred to kill a Time Lord does have its advantages but a cool head when murderous isn’t one of them.”

 

Hiding at smile at Rassilon’s increasingly widening eyes, the Doctor murmurs, “She’s been hell on my relationship with Sontarans.”

 

“Pity,” Brax mutters in agreement, coughing.

River doesn’t even glance at them, her eyes deadly and glittering as she gives Rassilon a toothy grin, showing a rather dangerous amount of teeth. The Doctor is reminded briefly of a shark. “I’m sure you understand. We psychopaths have to stick together, don’t we, Rassy-kins?”

 

Brax promptly dissolves into another coughing fit.

 

The Doctor feels his jaw drop. Rassy-kins.

 

Gods above, it’s like she wants to be thrown off the planet. He’s never seen Rassilon quite that shade of purple before. The Doctor presses his fingers to his temple, wondering faintly if only humans can have aneurysms.

 

So long, Gallifrey. It was nice knowing you.

 

He grimaces, staring at his wine glass and contemplating how much time it will take to get to the TARDIS after he rescues River from whatever punishment Rassilon decides to bestow on her. Perhaps Brax could fetch the Old Girl for him and meet them –

 

“You’re very fortunate your husband is tonight’s honored guest.”

 

River smiles serenely, as if she doesn’t recognize the threat for what it is. “Yes, quite the catch, isn’t he? And rightful Lord President too. I believe that makes me your First Lady, doesn’t it?”

 

Rassilon’s gaze hardens at the warning in her voice, the angry flush fading from his cheeks as he turns his attention to the Doctor. “Interesting mate you’ve found for yourself. See that you keep a proper leash on her.”

 

Quickly reaching out a quelling hand to wrap around her wrist, the Doctor eyes Rassilon blandly. “I would but River prefers handcuffs.”

 

To her credit, his wife waits until Rassilon has stalked angrily away, his robes flaring behind him, before she dissolves into giggles. Her head falls to his shoulder and her curls obscure his vision entirely as she leans into him and laughs heartily. The sound is rare and musical and the Doctor feels warm all over the longer he listens to it. He can’t quite manage to hide his smile any longer.

 

Brax watches them with incredulity. “You both have a death wish.”

 

“Undoubtedly,” the Doctor says, watching River straighten in her seat and attempt to adjust her askew circlet. “It’s why I married her.”

 

“Really?” River looks pleased. “I thought it was because -”

 

“Don’t start,” he snaps, catching the look of mischief in her eyes again. “You’re in enough trouble.”

 

She purses her lips, apparently attempting to look solemn. “You know how I like it when you go all strict, my love, but what have I done now?”

 

“What have you -” He huffs, gesturing sharply in the direction Rassilon stormed off. “You’ve made a terrible first impression on a merciless tyrant, for one thing.”

 

She shrugs. “I’ll grow on him.”

 

The Doctor scowls. “You can never resist being the cleverest person in the room -”

 

“Like you’ve any right to scold me,” she scoffs, lifting an eyebrow. “And don’t think I didn’t notice the way that man sets your teeth on edge. What sort of wife would I be if I didn’t frighten him a little for you?”

 

Watching her smile at him, the Doctor sighs and with it he releases all of his frustration and terror, leaving nothing but his usual fond exasperation in the face of his wife’s antics. Still, he can’t simply let her go unchallenged. She’ll be a right terror if she always gets her way. “Thanks very much, my wee protector,” he says dryly. “But I’m not a lad on the playground who needs you to scare away the big bad bully.”

 

River leans in and kisses his cheek. “You’re welcome, sweetie.”

 

He sighs.

 

Brax smirks into his wine.

 

River shushes them both, watching intently as Rassilon climbs the dais at the front of the vast room. She’s watching him like she can make him trip over his robes with the power of her mind alone. For a moment the Doctor almost believes she can.

 

She loses all interest when he reaches the top safely and begins to address them all. The flowery, pompous speech is undoubtedly full of both praise for the Doctor and his deeds and snide, subtle insults but the Doctor isn’t listening. Watching River is far more interesting. She uses her fork to move her entrée around, arranging the dish to make Rassilon’s face on her plate. When she stabs an eye with her knife, he feels his hearts give an odd little flutter.

 

“Marry me.”

 

The words are out before he can think on them but as River lifts her head and stares at him, he knows he has never meant anything more. She blinks, tilting her head as she looks at him, as though he’s finally lost the plot. “Already done, my love.”

 

“No,” he says impatiently. Distantly, he’s aware of Rassilon finishing his speech and stepping down amidst a round of applause. He’s aware of being the center of attention as well, but he pays it no mind other than a half-hearted wave, his eyes still glued to his wife. “Marry me again – a real, Gallifreyan ceremony on Gallifrey. We’ll have the kids there. And Brax if you want him.”

 

Brax kicks him under the table.

 

The Doctor curses, clutching his smarting knee, and glares at his brother. River doesn’t notice. She’s staring at him with tears welling in her eyes, her knife still clutched in one hand and Plate Rassilon’s eye dangling from the end of it. “Really?”

 

He nods, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. “Who else would I marry?”

 

River purses her lips, squinting. “Well…”

 

“Shut it.” He scowls. “You’re different. You know you’re different. So stop being difficult, say yes, and let me sodding well marry you properly.”

 

River drops her knife to her plate, Rassilon’s eyeball rolling across the table and to the floor. She tugs the Doctor close and smiles, her eyes bright and focused entirely on his mouth. “Yes.”

 

-

 

He doesn’t bother making an appointment or even waiting to be invited inside but no one bothers to stop him anyway. They only stand by and watch as he stalks past them and marches straight into Rassilon’s council chambers, crashing through the door and coming to an abrupt halt at the sight of red-robed Time Lords gathered around the long table, Rassilon sitting imperiously at the end.

 

He stares at the Doctor in stunned silence for a moment before his eyes narrow and his mouth snaps shut. “We are in the middle of a meeting, Doctor. Whatever your reason for charging in here with all the grace of a herd of Slitheen, it shall have to wait until we’ve conducted our affairs. Outside.”

 

“Can’t, no patience this go round.” The Doctor reconsiders, shrugging as he shuts the door behind him and ventures further into the room. “Well, no manners. Scottish, you see.”

 

Rassilon pinches the bridge of his nose. “Doctor -”

 

“I saved this planet from self-destruction,” he interrupts, making a slow circle around the table, hands behind his back. “I saved it from a time lock that would have ensured you and everyone else were never found.”

 

Scowling, Rassilon watches him circle the room and snaps, “We needed saving from the time lock because you put us in it in the first place.”

 

“Ah ah.” The Doctor pauses in front of him and waggles a finger in his face, emboldened by his absolute confidence he’ll be walking away with what he wants. “I put you in the time lock to save you from self-destruction. Either way you look at it, you owe me.”

 

“Which is why,” Rassilon says through gritted teeth, “We honored your return with a celebration last night. Surely you haven’t forgotten it already – I’m sure none of us are likely to after your little display.”

 

Knowing he’s referring to the moment River had agreed to another wedding, the moment she’d dragged him in and kissed him and he’d abruptly forgotten all about their audience and likely would have ravished her right there if not for Brax dousing him in a glass of wine, the Doctor steels himself against a flustered blush and merely offers a small, proud grin. “You’ve seen her. Can you blame me?”

 

Rassilon only glowers but the Doctor is pleased to note most everyone else around the table looks quietly amused or in total agreement, exchanging subtle nods. Good. They like her. Of course they do. Everyone always likes River more than him. For once, he doesn’t feel like pouting about it. It’s going to come in handy in a moment.

 

“Bit beside the point, though.” The Doctor perches on the edge of the table, furthering enraging Rassilon, which he’ll admit is a bit of a bonus. “Point is, you owe me.”

 

“I knew it,” Rassilon snarls, eyeing him grimly. “I knew you came back for a reason. You want something from us.”

 

The Doctor shakes his head. “I didn’t come back for this. And it isn’t for me… It’s for River.”

 

“We owe her nothing. She didn’t save us.”

 

“She saved me,” the Doctor snaps, struggling to hold onto his temper in the face of Rassilon’s blatant disregard for anyone who isn’t useful to him. “If she hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here, would you?”

 

Rassilon stiffens. “Very well. Go on.”

 

For a moment, he says nothing, gathering his thoughts and what he hopes are the right words. He glances around the table and sees that he has every single Time Lord’s attention. He makes sure to meet their eyes in turn before he speaks. “River gave her lives for me – all of them.” He swallows. “She doesn’t have any left. I’m asking for you to give them back to her. A full set.”

 

Cheeks flushing red and eyes livid, Rassilon hisses, “Are you out of your mind?”

 

“Possibly,” the Doctor admits, steepling his fingers beneath his chin. “I don’t see how that’s relevant here.”

 

“What you are asking is impossible. We can’t -”

 

“You can.” The Doctor narrows his eyes, dropping his hands to grip the edge of the table and vault himself off it. On his feet again, he turns to face them all. Some of them divide their attention between him and Rassilon, fascinated and willing to listen, but there are others who break his steady gaze to stare at the table and the Doctor feels his hearts sink at the sight. Desperately, he presses, “You did it for me.”

 

“It wasn’t out of the goodness of our hearts,” Rassilon growls. “It was out of necessity! We needed you -”

 

“And I need her.” The Doctor slams a palm against the heavy table and a few of them flinch. Rassilon does not, his gaze unwavering as he stares back at the Doctor. Sighing through his nose, the Doctor shuts his eyes and curls his hand into a fist, straightening. “You owe me. You know you do. And this is the price I’m asking.”

 

After an endless moment of ringing silence, Rassilon replies, “And if we refuse?”

 

He opens his eyes, staring sightlessly ahead and only distantly aware of the weight of every pair of eyes in the room on him, hanging on his every word. “Then one day I’ll lose her. For good.” The very thought is enough to make his chest tight with panic. His breath catches in his throat and he swallows thickly. “And not even Gallifrey will survive my grief.”

 

Rassilon stiffens. “Is that a threat, Doctor?”

 

The Doctor blinks, glancing at him, and feels a faint smile tug at his mouth. “Not to sound cliché, but no. It’s a promise. Just the same as this one – if you don’t do this for me, I’ll take my rightful place and have you tossed off this planet so fast not even your damned time sense will see it coming.”

 

Pale and staring, Rassilon avoids the curious eyes of the others around the table and stares wordlessly at the Doctor, gripping his staff in one white-knuckled hand.

 

The Doctor wings an eyebrow at him. “What’s it going to be, old man? My way or banishment?”

 

-

 

River is waiting for him when he returns to the TARDIS.

 

She’s curled up on his favorite chair beside his bookshelves, her diary open on her lap and her pen in hand. They don’t need the diaries any longer but a lifetime habit of writing down their adventures is difficult to break. She says she doesn’t want to forget a moment of their time together and the Doctor smiles to himself as he slips a hand into the pocket of his coat and strokes his fingertips over the treasure there. He’ll need to get her another diary. There are so many pages left to fill.

 

Glancing up absently from the page she’s writing on, River smiles. “Where did you sneak off to? I woke up this morning and you were gone.”

 

“Had very secret business to attend to,” he says, waggling his brows at her.

 

River rolls her eyes but she doesn’t swat him away when he leans in to press a kiss to the corner of her mouth. “You haven’t found a lonely Time Lady to have a fling with already, have you?”

 

“You know better than that,” he smirks, sinking into the seat across from her. “I’d invite you to join us, dear.”

 

She glares playfully. “I don’t share.”

 

He affects a pout that makes her eyes narrow. “What if I asked nicely?”

 

“Then I’d kill her.” River smiles, broad and sweet. “Nicely.”

 

The Doctor snorts and crosses his legs, tapping his fingers against the arm of his chair. “That wouldn’t do you any good. She’d just regenerate.”

 

“There are ways around that.” She purses her lips. “I’m sure you remember.”

 

“Fondly.”

 

River laughs, her cheeks flushed a happy pink, her smile wide, and the Doctor feels his own mouth stretching into a grin at the sight of her. “Idiot,” she murmurs warmly. “Where were you?”

 

He reaches into his pocket again without answering, pulling out the watch by its delicate golden chain. He can sense River’s curious gaze on him but he doesn’t look up right away, slowly winding the chain around his fingers, ever conscious of the humming energy trapped inside the watch. “I went to get this.”

 

River closes her diary gently and sets it aside, unfolding her legs to place her feet on the floor. When he glances at her, she’s staring at the watch. “Is that -”

 

He nods. “It is. But it isn’t holding memories.”

 

“What then?”

 

Drawing in a breath, the Doctor fixes his gaze on the circular Gallifreyan etched into the outside of the watch. “Regeneration energy. Your regeneration energy.” He looks up at River’s quiet gasp, pinning her in place with his pleading eyes. “If you’ll have it.”

 

She shakes her head, still staring wordlessly at the watch in his hand. “Where did you get that, Doctor?”

 

“I didn’t steal it if that’s what you’re thinking.” He forces a smirk. “I went through all the proper channels. Got it legally and everything. Sorry to disappoint, dear.”

Closing her eyes, River presses her lips into a tight line and sighs through her nose. “Please tell me you didn’t go to that absolute bastard and beg him for that. Tell me you didn’t create more trouble for yourself over me, Doctor.”

 

“What if I did? You love trouble.” He huffs, watching her shake her head. “And I didn’t beg him for anything. I sodding well demanded it.”

 

River snaps her eyes open in just enough time for him to see them flare with fury as she leaps to her feet. “You idiot! Why would you do that?”

 

He stands quickly, growling. “Why would I -” He stops at River’s wide eyes, the anger draining from him instantly. He sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. In his other hand, the watch pulses. He clenches his fist around it and lifts his head. “I married you knowing we would never have enough time. When I marry you again, I want us to have all the time in the universe.”

 

She softens at that, the fight in her stance fading as she steps closer. She’s close enough to touch him but she doesn’t reach out, her damp eyes searching his face and the heat of her body a persistent temptation. “Doctor -”

 

He swallows, shaking his head. “I don’t want to fear the future any longer. The Library was a constant in our marriage, this knot of dread in the pit of my stomach every sodding minute we were together -”

 

She touches him now, her hand resting lightly against his chest as she tips her head up and smiles gently. “And that fear is gone now, my love.”

 

He nods tersely, licking his lips. “But now I fear something else. Every time you need to defend yourself from some threat. Every time you’re reckless, every time you take some unnecessary risk or leap from some bloody spaceship – my hearts nearly sodding give out!”

 

“I can’t change,” she whispers. “I won’t.”

 

“And I would never ask you to.” He takes the hand she still has on his chest and brings it to his lips, kissing her knuckles. “I like my wee psychopath reckless and stubborn as the day I fell in love with her. But I’m tired, River. I’m tired of being afraid.”

 

She sighs, her hand slipping from his to cup his face. He leans into the warmth of her palm and allows himself a brief moment to shut his eyes. “Sweetie, that’s a part of being alive. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. We all live with that fear that our loved ones will be snatched away too soon.”

 

He snaps his eyes open, gritting his teeth. “Except you. You never have to worry because I’m always going to get back up, good as new. And I’m fucking sick of being the only one in this marriage terrified of losing someone.”

 

River breathes in sharply, snatching her hand away from his face and clenching it at her side. “No one is forcing you to stay here and watch me die.”

 

“That isn’t what I mean and you damn well know it,” he snaps, grabbing her hand back. She struggles but he ignores her, taking the watch and pressing it into her palm. He curls her fingers over it despite her protests. “Take it. Open it – the energy will take care of the rest.”

 

Jaw tense and eyes flashing, River shoves the watch back at him. “No.”

 

The Doctor growls. “I lost you once, damn it! Don’t make me do it again.” He refuses to take the watch she offers, catching her teary-eyed gaze and holding it. “I won’t survive it. And neither will anyone else.”

 

She slaps him – hard. “Don’t you dare say that,” she hisses. “Don’t you dare punish anyone in my memory. Do you think I would thank you for it?”

 

“I don’t need you to thank me, I need you sodding well alive to slap some sense into me.” He rubs his red cheek – Christ, that fucking hurt – and works his jaw. “You’re good at that.”

 

River blinks quickly, glancing down at the watch still clutched in her hand. “I didn’t ask for this. I would never ask you for this, Doctor.”

 

“And I didn’t ask for yours when you gave it to me, wife, but that’s what we do.” He drops his hand from his sore cheek and gestures warily between them. “We do really stupid shite to protect each other. I’m a bit late catching up but it’s better than never, isn’t it?”

 

She huffs, glaring at him. “This isn’t a competition. I’m not keeping score, sweetie. You don’t owe me anything and certainly not this.”

 

“Oh River.” He sighs, closing the distance between them to tangle his hands in her hair. She tips her face up to meet his but she won’t look at him, her wet eyes fastened resolutely on the collar of his shirt. He smiles faintly. “That’s where you’re wrong. I owe you everything.”

 

“Doctor -”

 

“Open it.” He presses his forehead against hers and begs quietly, “Please.”

 

She bites her lip.

 

He kisses her forehead and trails his mouth down the bridge of her nose, along her cheekbone. He presses his lips firmly against her temple and whispers, “I want to grow old with you.”

 

River ducks her head at that, pressing herself against the length of his body and burying her face in his neck. He feels her hot tears against his skin and gathers her close, wrapping his arms tightly around her. “Me too, my love.”

 

He holds her when she opens the watch but he never takes his eyes off the golden energy seeping into her skin and nestling into her bones, into the very fabric of her DNA. His eyes sting but he blinks hurriedly, determined not to miss a moment. River gasps, her hand tightening around his as her body accepts the weight of all those extra lives, as her timeline swells and stretches with the possibilities more time has gifted her with.

 

“Oh,” she breathes, and the Doctor smiles into her hair.

 

They’ve been together three hundred years – with a brief thousand-year interlude – and somehow, impossibly, their time is only just beginning.

 

-

 

Elbows on his knees as he studies the chessboard in front of him and apparently contemplating his next move, John barely glances up as he says, “Of course, things are a bit off-kilter now that we’ve been restored to our rightful place in the sky.”

 

“Things have always been off-kilter,” the Doctor mutters, preoccupied with using his time senses to predict John’s next move. He’s rather missed being able to do so and not be considered a cheat. “It’s the nature of government. And pudding brain politicians.”

 

John makes the exact move the Doctor had seen in his head and the Doctor smirks, already planning his counterattack. His plotting is interrupted when John leans in and says quietly, “There are stirrings.”

 

The Doctor pauses, fingers curled around his chess piece. “Stirrings?”

 

Leaning back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest smugly, John nods. “Stirrings. Talk of a revolution. Government overthrow. Y’know, all the good things in life.”

 

Frowning, the Doctor absently makes his next move and then ignores the chessboard for a moment. “Why do I have a funny feeling you’ve got something to do with these stirrings?”

 

John blinks at him innocently, looking more like his father than ever. The Doctor stifles a proud grin, setting his jaw sternly. “Me? Grandfather, I’m not nearly so ambitious. You flatter me.”

 

“And you insult me,” he snaps. “I know exactly what you’re capable of, you ninny. You’ve got my blood in those veins.”

 

He shrugs, returning his attention to the game in front of them.

 

The Doctor sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Tell me what you’re planning.”

 

“I’m not planning anything.” John takes his King and the Doctor curses under his breath. “I’m… discussing.”

 

Clinging to his patience, the Doctor prompts, “Discussing what?”

 

“Oh, you know,” John waves a hand, avoiding his gaze. “The possibility of overthrowing our current acting Lord President, instating a new one, and bringing back the Celestial Intervention Agency.”

 

The Doctor snorts. “How do you plan to overthrow Rassilon? Take away his stick?”

 

“And then beat him over the head with it.” John grins. “I hadn’t gotten that far yet. Don’t really have a head for that sort of planning but now that you’re here…”

 

“No,” the Doctor says, frowning. “My head isn’t for plans. My head is for running and avoiding and occasionally talking long enough that something happens I can take credit for. You want battle plans, talk to my wife.”

 

John purses his lips, nodding slowly. “Maybe I will.”

 

The Doctor goes back to the game, studying the board as he mutters, “And bringing back the CIA is a rubbish idea.”

 

Gaping at him, John leans in and nearly knocks over the chessboard as he hisses, “How can you say that? You were a part of it!”

 

Raising an unimpressed eyebrow, the Doctor rights the unsettled chess pieces and says, “I can say that because I was a part of it. Besides, I’ve been a part of a great many things I regret. The disco age, for one thing.”

 

John huffs, eyeing him unhappily. “The Celestial Intervention Agency is exactly what we need right now, especially when we’ve gone back to that rubbish non-interference policy. What’s the good in having our abilities if we’re not going to use them to do some good?”

 

“That’s exactly why the CIA is a bad idea,” the Doctor says, frowning at the chessboard and absolutely certain John has cheated somehow. “We spied for our gain, never anyone else’s.”

 

“Then we’ll change things. No more forcible recruits. Ban the Oubliette of Infinity.” John looks excited now, his cheeks flushed and his eyes boyishly bright. Thinking again of his son, the Doctor glances away. “Monitor the events of earth -”

 

“And treat the humans like children who need the entirety of their civilization babysat by beings who know better than them what’s best?” The Doctor shakes his head, smirking. “I’ve been around them long enough to know they won’t take kindly to that.”

 

“See, this is why we need you – you know them. You know and understand them because you’ve spent time among them. And they trust you – their Doctor.” He gives the Doctor a pleading look and suddenly resembles a little boy again, asking for just one more bedtime story, Grandfather. “You could take your place as Lord President. It’s yours, people are just waiting for you to take it -”

 

“No.” The Doctor eyes him sternly. “I don’t want it.”

 

“How can you not want it? It’s an honor, Grandfather -”

 

“It’s a burden,” the Doctor snaps. He deflates at the sight of John’s stubbornly set jaw, knowing there’ll be no changing his mind. He’s young and idealistic and his veins are humming with the revolution song of a war he never had to fight in. Pinching the bridge of his nose, the Doctor sighs and lifts his head. “Now, tell me how you’re going to get the humans on your side.”

 

John huffs his fringe out of his eyes and frowns, tapping his fingers against the table. After a moment, he says, “What if we made some sort of treaty with them? Something mutually beneficial that appeals to their sense of honor?” He waggles his brows, a slow smirk stealing over his face. “You’re always going on about their innate goodness. Surely they’ll be interested in a race of beings who can only better their quality of life.”

 

“And what do you get out of that?”

 

John shrugs again, looking strangely hesitant. “I like helping.”

 

The Doctor sighs, eyeing him fondly. Somehow, even without him, his grandchildren have become such hippies. He’s rather proud of them. Clearing his throat, he turns back to the game again and mutters, “Do you like losing too?”

 

Snorting, John leans in eagerly, eyes once more on the chessboard. “You wish, old man.”

 

-

 

He follows the sound of a soft, lilting voice down the upstairs corridor of Gillian’s home and does his best not to remember long-ago days when these halls were filled with the laughter of his children, the way he’d always tripped over their toys and shoes scattered over the floor. This isn’t the time for getting lost in painful reminiscences. He’s up here to find River.

 

She’d disappeared with the girls after dinner and he had been so engrossed in his conversation and chess game with John that he hadn’t noticed she’d yet to reappear until he’d beaten John and finished gloating. Gillian had smirked at his terribly unsubtle peering as he searched the room for his wife, indicating with amusement sparkling in her eyes that he might find their step-grandmother upstairs.

 

The Doctor had scowled at her, ruffled her ginger hair as he’d passed, and climbed the staircase in search of his missing wife. The voice he follows now is soothing and melodic and unmistakably River. He pauses when her voice leads him to an ajar door at the end of the hall, the soft blue light of a nightlight spilling out into the corridor. The words are recognizable now and for a moment, he leans against the wall outside the door and listens with a lump in his throat.

 

River is singing a lullaby. And not just any lullaby, but a Gallifreyan one he’d taught her long ago. It was a song he used to hum to his children and the same one he’d used to soothe River when she was young and her nightmares were still a frequent occurrence. He allows himself to be overcome with memories for only a moment – stroking the cherub-soft cheeks of his little ones as he tucked them in and murmured softly of silver trees set aflame and Time hovering over their beds like a guardian angel to watch over their sleep. He shakes away the memories when his eyes begin to burn, shaking his head and swallowing roughly, pushing away from the wall.

 

He peers through the crack in the door and sees River settled on one of two beds in the dimly lit room, both of his granddaughters cuddled against her on either side. Patience is already fast asleep, thumb caught in her mouth and her cheek resting trustingly against River’s arm. Susan seems to be putting up a valiant fight but she’s losing, helpless against the quiet lull of River’s voice and River’s fingers stroking her hair. Her eyelashes flutter and with one final yawn, she drops her head to River’s shoulder and does not lift it again.

 

River lowers her voice to a hum and but she doesn’t try to get up and put the girls to bed. Apparently content to stay where she is, she gazes down at his great granddaughters with such affection the Doctor feels his eyes burn all over again. He lurks there in the doorway, unable to tear his gaze away from her until River lifts her head and stares at him, as if she’d known he was there all along. Of course she had.

 

He clears his throat and offers faintly, “You’re good with them.”

 

River smiles and it softens her whole face, makes her eyes luminous in the faint glow of the girls’ nightlight. “Thank you, sweetie,” she whispers. “Help me put them to bed?”

 

With a nod, he pushes away from the doorframe and ventures into the room, careful not to trip over Patience’s limp dolly lying in the middle of the floor. He takes the wee one from River’s arms, smirking when the girl pouts in her sleep and reaches out for the curls she’d been clutching only a moment ago. She settles against his chest as a warm little weight and the Doctor pauses beside her bed to stare down at her, that lump reappearing in his throat. Patience sleeps on, blissfully unaware of her grandfather’s scrutiny, and snuffles a bit against his chest.

 

With a trembling sigh, the Doctor finally relinquishes his hold on the girl and tucks her into her bed, turning briefly to pick up her doll from the floor to find River bending over Susan and pressing a hesitant kiss to the girl’s forehead, as if she’s afraid someone might catch the universe’s baddest girl turned to mush over a child. The Doctor hides a smile, scooping up the doll and turning back to Patience, tucking the raggedy thing beneath the blankets with her. Brushing a hand over her soft cheek, he whispers, “Sleep tight, little one.”

 

River meets him in the doorway and as he turns back with her for one last glimpse of his slumbering great-grandchildren, she takes his hand and leans into him. He turns his head, kissing her temple as she asks, “Do you think your parents would have liked me?”

 

It’s not an unusual question the night before one’s wedding ceremony but it is entirely unlike his River to care about anyone’s approval. Chalking it up to sentimentality brought on by being around his family, the Doctor kisses her temple again and murmurs, “Probably more than they liked me.”

 

River laughs softly, turning from the girls’ darkened room to look at him, and he rather loves what the cool blue light of the stars does to her eyes and the curls of her hair. “I doubt it, honey.” She reaches up a hand and presses it to his cheek, still smiling. “I tried to kill you. More than once, I might add. And for most of my life, I called Stormcage home. I’m hardly the type of girl you bring home to mum and dad.”

 

“Well, no matter.” He takes her hand in his and studies her palm so he doesn’t have to meet her questioning gaze. “I would have sneaked out to see you anyway.”

 

“Really?” He risks a glance at her and finds her absolutely delighted by the notion, her eyes lit up and her smile breathless. “Clandestine meetings under the trees. I like it.”

 

“You would.”

 

Simply because he cannot help himself another moment longer, the Doctor pulls his wife by the hand until she presses herself against his chest and he can lean down to kiss her. River meets him halfway, still smiling, and when their mouths meet, the curl of her lips under his makes his hearts feel too big to be contained in the cavity of his chest. He gathers her close and curls his hand around the back of her neck, fingers slipping into her hair, and breathes against her cheek. He wishes he were the sort of man who could tell her how it makes him feel to watch her with his family, with his great-grandchildren, how it feels to listen to her hum a lullaby in the native language he’d taught her, that being home again with her by his side is far more than he ever dreamed he’d deserve. But he isn’t that sort of man so he keeps kissing her and hopes she understands. And because she’s River, she probably does.

 

By the time they make it back downstairs, John has already gone home for the night so the Doctor and River bid Gillian and her husband goodnight before making their excuses and slipping from the house. They walk back to the TARDIS in contented silence, taking in the night around them, their hands entwined and shoulders brushing.

 

“So this ceremony tomorrow,” River finally ventures when the TARDIS is just within their sights. “What should I expect?”

 

They’ve already agreed on nothing extravagant, just a simple ceremony with family, but the Doctor has yet to explain exactly what a Gallifreyan wedding ceremony involves. He’s been avoiding the conversation with good reason, but if he doesn’t tell her now, she’ll find out at the ceremony tomorrow. And he doesn’t fancy being slapped on his wedding day. Well, at least not in front of the children.

 

“The ceremony begins with the giving of consent. The children will give us away, I’d imagine. I haven’t asked them yet but I’m sure Gillian will insist. Then the handfasting, obviously,” he says, stalling for time. River’s hand is warm and steady in his, her eyes open wide as she looks at him, drinking in every detail. The Doctor sighs and steels himself. “And normally we would exchange regeneration energy but we’ve already done that.”

 

River stops walking and not wanting to let go of her hand lest she use it to hit him, the Doctor stops walking too. She stares at him, her eyes wide and her lips parted in shock. “We’ve -” She blinks, shaking her head. Her mouth settles into a firm, scolding line. “You never said.”

 

“To be fair,” he reasons, “You were fresh off the urge to kill me and I was a wee bit concerned for my safety.”

 

“Sweetie,” she snaps, glaring. “We’ve been married since Berlin!”

 

He winces. “Not quite. It wasn’t complete until Manhattan, when I gave you mine in return.”

 

Her eyes narrow and he thinks if he hadn’t been clinging to her hand all this time, she’d have definitely slapped him by now. “Manhattan. You didn’t complete the ceremony until Manhattan.”

 

The slow, measured way she says it, pain in every single word, is like a fist reaching into his chest and squeezing both of his hearts at once. This is why he didn’t want to tell her. He knew she would see it in exactly the wrong way. His River, always willing to believe the best in him but never herself. “Don’t,” he says, and perhaps a bit more harshly than he’d intended judging by River’s flinch. He squeezes her hand. “Don’t you dare see this as some sort of sign that I never wanted to marry you in the first place.”

 

“Is there another way to look at it?” She asks, her expression pinched. “Because I’m having a difficult time seeing it, my love.”

 

“River,” he begins plaintively, clasping her hand to his chest. “You must know I considered us married long before Manhattan. You’ve always been my wife. The regeneration energy was nothing but a symbol. One I didn’t realize we even needed until -”

 

“Until I told you how much it hurt to be in love with you,” she finishes, looking away.

 

The Doctor brings her hand to his lips and presses a reverent kiss to her palm. “And I chose to complete the ceremony. Not out of guilt, not because I thought I had to, but because I wanted us on equal footing. No more of that you care about me more than I care about you rubbish. No more hiding. You deserved all of me, River, and I gave it to you.”

 

River swallows. “You didn’t tell me what it meant.”

 

“I wanted to.” His lips twitch in remembrance. “You slapped me before I could.”

 

River’s eyes fill with tears and the Doctor stares in alarm before she steps into him with a whispered, “Oh my love. I didn’t know.”

 

“I should have told you after the whole mess was over.” He wraps his arm around her waist and holds her to his chest, pressing his forehead against hers. He breathes out and licks his lips, meeting her wet eyes with his own. “But before I knew it I was losing you too. I was too much of a coward to open myself up only to be alone again. I just couldn’t, my River.”

 

Mouth trembling, she asks, “And now?”

 

His hold on her tightens. “I’m not alone.”

 

River buries her face against his neck and with the TARDIS before them and the Gallifreyan night hanging over them, she promises, “You never will be again.”

 

-

 

He marries her under the silver trees at sunrise and the whole forest is set alight in the warm red glow of dawn. The morning light casts shades of rosy red across their faces and stains River’s white dress pink. The Doctor has never seen anything quite as radiant as his wife standing beneath the trees he used to climb as a boy, looking at him with such devotion in her eyes.

 

Without taking his eyes off her, the Doctor inclines his head and Brax pushes the cloth into his hands. He’d wanted to use a real Gallifreyan wedding cloth but River wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted the bowtie.

 

Smoothing the material beneath his fingers, the Doctor holds one end and offers the other to River. She takes it with a smile and though the light might be playing tricks on him, he’s almost positive she’s blushing. He smirks and she glares playfully, wrapping the bowtie around her hand. They meet in the middle, their hands tantalizingly close but not quite touching.

 

It seems almost sacrilege to break the silence of the forest so the Doctor keeps his voice low as he speaks. “John? Do the honors?”

 

His grandson looks at River. “Are you sure you want to marry him? Dawn is a very flattering light and -”

 

The Doctor scowls and River laughs. She meets his gaze, eyes crinkling beautifully at the corners. “I’m sure.”

 

“Alright then.” John gives a sigh and then grins. “I consent and gladly give.”

 

“Gillian?”

 

Hands clasped in front of her and beaming at them, Gillian says eagerly, “I consent and very gladly give, Grandfather.”

 

Brax nods once, satisfied. “And now for the exchanging of energies -”

 

“Already done,” the Doctor says, stealing a guilty glance at his wife. He’s relieved to find her smiling at him. “Long time ago.”

 

“Hate you,” she murmurs, like a sweet-nothing.

 

“You don’t.”

 

John ventures a hesitant step forward, looking amused. “Are these your vows?”

 

“Shut it, lad.”

 

“Right. Sorry.” He steps back again. “Carry on.”

 

“Perhaps we should move on to the next portion of the ceremony,” Brax suggests gently, glancing at the Doctor. “Tell her your name.”

 

River softens, her lips twisting into a faint smile. “I already know it.”

 

John huffs, his gaze drifting up toward the canopy of silver leaves overhead. “What is the point of this bloody ceremony?”

 

“To share with family,” the Doctor snaps. “I’ve no idea what I was thinking.”

 

“Oi, don’t blame us because you’ve done it all out of order!”

 

Once again, Brax interjects, looking nervous. “What about a mind link?”

 

Looking abashed, the Doctor sighs. “Been there.”

 

“Done that,” River finishes, watching the Doctor with a fond, exasperated smile. Her eyes look wet and her mouth trembles the way it always does when she’s trying not to cry. For a moment, the Doctor thinks he’s utterly buggered up the whole thing but then she says, “You already gave me a traditional Gallifreyan ceremony.”

 

“In pieces.” He frowns. “Scattered over our timeline.”

 

River steps closer and their fingers brush as she says, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

 

Feeling his cheeks grow inexplicably warm, the Doctor holds her steady gaze. “What now then?”

 

She smiles, looking hopeful. “How about a kiss?”

 

Normally, he prefers their kisses remain private. This body is still getting used to touching others and though River has always been an exception, snogging in front of his grandchildren makes him want to blush. It is his wedding day, though. Perhaps he can make an exception. Eyes gleaming, he purses his lips and shrugs. “A human tradition. Gallifreyan ceremonies are far more respectable.” He stifles a smirk, watching River deflate. “They believe snogging in public is barbaric.”

 

Her eyes narrow, spotting the amusement lurking in his eyes, and he sees the exact moment his wife decides to take what she likes, as always. “Well, then I suppose it’s a very good job I married the rebel Time Lord.” She pulls on the bowtie binding their hands and guides him forward and into her with it. Tilting her head to smile up at him, she murmurs, “Pucker up, sweetie.”

 

As their lips meet eagerly, the Doctor listens as his family cheers and the sound of their merriment echoes through the silver trees around them. It’s good to be home.

 

-

 

The forest becomes a special hideaway for the Doctor and his wife, just as it had been for him as a child. They spend whole afternoons lost among the trees and the Doctor finally tells River stories of his childhood, of his parents and his children. Here, enclosed in the sacred forests and breathing in the very air they had once breathed, it doesn’t hurt quite so much to speak of them. And River is a good listener.

 

“And what did you do then?”

 

“Well, I ran obviously.”

 

“Obviously.” River laughs softly, her head pillowed on his lap as they sit beneath their favorite tree. It’s the one he’d fallen out of as a lad. He’d nearly had his first regeneration at the tender age of twenty-five. Still just a tot. “Did Rassilon ever discover who had taken it?”

 

“I’m still alive aren’t I?”

 

River turns her head, kissing his knee. “Thank the gods.”

 

The touch of her lips burns even through the material of his trousers and the Doctor struggles not to show it outwardly, watching her look up at him. Her eyes are sleepy and half-lidded, her mouth an utter temptation, and her golden curls spill across his lap. He’s been struggling since she draped herself over him not to reach out and touch. The last thing he needs is Susan and Patience to wander into the forest looking for them and discover their grandfather half-dressed and snogging their step-grandmother. Again.

 

He clears his throat. “And that was back when Rassilon was a mellow chap. Well, mellow for him at any rate. Still might’ve chopped off one of my hands if he ever found out what I’d done.”

 

River watches him thoughtfully and her voice is cautious when she says, “He can’t be allowed to continue his reign unchallenged, you know. He’s still as power mad as ever, sweetie. I could see it in his eyes when we met.”

 

He does know but to hear it from River makes it a reality he cannot ignore instead of the nagging thought in his head he’s been doing his best to shove aside. He looks away, glaring into the distance. “And I suppose I’m the one who needs to do the challenging?”

 

“Who else? It’s your right – Rassilon is merely acting in your stead.” Her voice is gentle and coaxing, a balm to his nerves. “And you saved them, my love. People will rally behind you. You won’t have to do this alone.”

 

He sighs, plucking angrily at the grass. “I just want peace.”

 

“You’ll never have it until he’s gone,” she says softly. “You know that.”

 

“I don’t want to be Lord President, River,” he confesses quietly. He won’t do that again. He hasn’t the mind nor the hearts for such ruthless politics. “I can’t.”

 

“Good,” she says simply, patting his thigh. “I was only trying to rile Rassilon, sweetie. I’ve no wish to actually be First Lady. The campaign trail is beastly on one’s reputation.”

 

He snorts. “We’ll appoint someone then.”

 

“John seems very sensible,” she ventures, blinking open one eye to peer at him.

 

Unable to resist a moment longer, the Doctor abandons the grass to sift his fingers through her curls. “John,” he agrees, remembering their conversation over chess. His grandson is a little new to politics but he’s knowledgeable and he’s full of ideas, and most importantly, he’s as innately good as any human. “What else has he got to do?”

 

“Quite right.” River’s soft smile turns oddly timid. “It’ll have to be sooner rather than later, of course.”

 

The Doctor eyes her warily. “Why the rush?”

 

River closes her eyes again, nudging her chin gently against his knee. “The children have very common names. I’ve been meaning to ask you why.”

 

He frowns at the abrupt change in topic but allows it for the moment, winding a curl of her hair around his finger. “I hated the Time Lord names. So ruddy self-important. Brax’s real name is Braxiatel. Romana’s was Romanadvoratrelundar – bloody mouthful.” He grimaces. “I chose a human name, my wife chose a human name, and we gave our children human names. I suppose our children carried on the tradition and our grandchildren have done the same.”

 

River hums in understanding. “What name did your first wife choose?”

 

“The name Gillian gave her daughter. Patience.”

 

“Do you think she chose it because she needed so much of it to be married to you?”

 

The Doctor scowls down at his wife’s smug face and mutters fondly, “Fuck off.”

 

She laughs, opening her eyes to grin up at him. Her gaze is strangely hesitant and he’s just about to demand an explanation when she asks, “What would we name our child?”

 

He stares at her, everything in him seizing and shuddering – with what, he doesn’t know. His throat closes up and when he opens his mouth to reply, nothing comes out.

 

“Well don’t look so horrified.” River forces a laugh, lifting herself from her repose across his lap to sit up. “It was just a silly thought.” Her gaze skitters away from his face, focusing on the grass beneath them. “It wouldn’t be so bad though, would it? It’s not as though our child would have to worry about being the only one of its kind. He’d never be alone and he’d never be in any danger, not with a whole planet of his people to protect him.”

 

The Doctor, whose mind had jolted and screamed at the words our child, blinks at her. River still isn’t looking at him, her shoulders stiff and her jaw locked tightly. He breathes out, forcing himself to truly think on the matter. She’s right, of course. Having a child had never been an option before, not with the universe out to get them. Now everything has changed. He thinks about having another little tyke, about getting the chance to raise this one properly. He thinks about River, his wee fierce protector, becoming a mother, and feels a smile twitch at his mouth.

 

“Maybe,” he admits gruffly, forcing the word out quickly. “One day.”

 

River bites her lip, glancing at him through the curtain of hair over her shoulder. “What about now?”

 

“What?”

 

She smiles.

 

The Doctor chokes. “You’re -” His eyes drop to her stomach. “Now?”

 

“Quite.” She rests a tentative hand against her flat belly, looking suddenly terrified. “Happy?”

 

Stunned, the Doctor stares at her for a moment too long. River looks like she wants to run and he knows the feeling intimately. He gazes at her with his mouth open, trying desperately to make his brain work again. A leaf from the tree they’re under drifts from above and catches in River’s hair, silver against her golden curls. Her hand still rests on her stomach and though her eyes are suspiciously wet, her mouth doesn’t tremble and he realizes this is just another adventure. Their first Gallifreyan adventure. One they’ll have to navigate together – in the midst of overthrowing a tyrannical ruler. Just another day at the office really.

 

He started his first family on Gallifrey. It’s only fitting the second one begin here too.

 

And he loves babies. Babies are brilliant.

 

A baby with River? Even better.

 

He laughs and reaches out to pluck the leaf from her hair, clutching it in his trembling fist as he draws her in and kisses her soundly. He feels River smile in relief against his mouth.

 

Happy?

 

“Quite.”