A/N: Thank you for the wonderful reception of my first fic! This is just something short that I wanted to explore. Hope you enjoy.

- BBE

Disclaimer: Still don't own.


Here and Now

She watches him. He's in the library, tucked carefully away in a secluded corner, flipping absentmindedly through a worn, well-read book. He does this often, she knows; when the adventure is over and hearts return to a steady quadruple beat, when his deceivingly young face is either contorted in agony or bright with boyish exhilaration, when the adrenaline stops pumping and exhaustion settles deep into his bones.

This day was neither a win nor a loss. This day had been one of the increasingly rare calm days; a day spent on a faraway planet in a faraway time zone with nothing to do but wander and wonder. There had been no running, no banter, no tears, and no fears; there had only been the Doctor and his beloved Ponds, Amy and Rory on either side of their grown-up daughter, four hands held tightly together in a strange, and yet completely normal, mixture of parental love and fierce friendship.

The Doctor had trailed behind them, eyes and smile radiating warmth for the miraculous family ahead of him. He seldom allowed his thoughts to turn toward his own lost family—the pain was still far too great despite being so far away—but it was in times like this that he could not help but let the ache infiltrate his mind and hearts. The hurt dulled his eyes and dimmed his smile, and his shoulders slumped ever so slightly as his nine hundred years threatened to show. In that moment, the Ponds had turned back to reprimand him for his dawdling, and as they grinned when he raced to catch them up, only River saw the age in his eyes.

And so she watches him, for his emotional weariness has led him to his safe library corner, surrounded by the scent of books and the calming echo of the stories that have lived as long as he. River knows this is still very early for him, so she does not approach; instead she waits reverently in the shadows with her shoulder against a shelf, hoping he'll take notice and invite her into the circle of his arms as he once did.

He sighs and places the tattered green volume on the table beside his chair, running a shaky hand through the mess of his hair. She knows his mind like none other. She knows that in the quiet moments between adventures, when it is only him and the depth of his loneliness and grief for company, he permits his mask to fall. He is not a god, as most people who meet him inevitably believe. He, beneath the brilliance and the tenacity and the rage and the pride, is a man without a home or people to whom he can return, broken and put back together so many times that, try as he might to hide them, the imperfections dance across his very skin. And it is in these moments, she thinks, when all of him is laid bare, that she loves him most.

He slowly shifts his gaze upward from the floor until he recognises her slender form in the darkness. Their eyes meet and all is still, nary a word necessary between them, and he does not attempt to raise his mask; he knows she would have seen right through it as she always does. She makes her way toward him, fingers tapping out an uncertain rhythm against her sides—she would never admit it, but when nervous and unoccupied, her hands become almost as unmanageable as his. She stands before him and he rises to meet her, his own fingers tangling together before she takes his hands softly in hers. She wills him to feel all that she cannot possibly express with words, and his eyes bore into hers, the pain and solitude giving way to awe and a hint of incredulity. He cannot quite understand why she loves him, with all his darkness, and yet here she is, holding him gently, her touch and her warm gaze melting the barrier he'd so carefully erected around his hearts.

He buries one hand in her curls, drawing her closer and her hands automatically wrap around his waist. She sighs contentedly as he leans forward, brushing his lips tenderly against hers. She responds in kind, one hand snaking up to his chest, gripping the lapel of his jacket tightly in her fist, as his free hand wanders to her hip. She deepens the kiss, opening her mouth to his, and he rejoices in the sheer intensity of the love he never thought he'd feel again. He breaks after several breathtaking moments, leaving his hands where they are, gazing back into her ever-changing eyes and hoping she can see his gratitude, his admiration, and his devotion. She smiles and he returns it genuinely, sitting back down in his chair and drawing her down with him so she sits in his lap, her legs dangling over the arm. She curls up against him, laying her head comfortably on his shoulder, and he wraps his arms securely around her, knowing full well that now he will never let her go.

They drift in and out of thought together, still not feeling the need to speak, both perfectly content to bask in the relief of their embrace. Once again, silence is in the library, but this time he is not afraid. This time it is welcome. This time he holds her close and places kisses on her brow.

This time she lives. And this time… so does he.