and the walls of doubt crumble tossed and torn,

He left the brakes off, River on his mind as he eased the lever back with a faint smile. He couldn't be sure of course, but he was fairly certain there was no way she'd been able to keep him surviving his death from her parents.

He'd been tempted – so tempted - so many times to check. To just materialize and see if she'd told his secret. In his hearts, he knew she would have. He'd no doubt that she would keep certain secrets of his to her very grave. He paused at that thought, walking slowly around the console to flip the switches to put the outer shell on invisible. He shook the sadness off as he felt the change in the TARDIS' vibration indicating that he'd landed.

He pulled the monitor toward him, but he still had no clue how River had ever managed to get it working in America. He sighed before slipping out the door of the TARDIS and glancing around. The air was chilly and he'd landed in the backyard. The lights were blazing in almost all the windows and he clung to the shadows of the yard, captivated by the view before him.

The kitchen window looked out on to the yard, and all three of them were there. Amy was laughing, her head thrown back and her cheeks glowing warmly as she watched River and Rory. Rory was dancing with River, spinning her as she laughed and he could hear the faint strains of Christmas music, just underneath their laughter. River's hair was loose and longer than he'd seen it before and she had an apron on – bright red with white ruffles and a white bow in the center of the apron.

Rory was grinning, flour in his hair and a smile on his face as he danced River around the kitchen, their movements bouncy and terrible. Amy's laughter had morphed into a soft smile as she stood and watched them, pausing to pull out her phone for a second, before shoving it back into her pocket and turning toward the sink and picking up her glass of wine.

The Doctor jumped back, nearly landing in the shrubbery in his panic. Rory came up behind Amy at the sink, wrapping his arms around her and pressing a kiss to her cheek. He glanced out into the yard, and grabbed Amy's waist, tickling her as she laughed. They disappeared then, but the Doctor could still see River, standing in front of the oven, hips swaying as she mixed something in a bowl vigorously. Her cheeks were pink, and he smiled as he watched her. A family Christmas. They deserved it – they did.

He'd just saved a small family decades ago, two children who'd made his hearts ache with their combined innocence and world-weariness. He'd thought – the little boy had asked him, didn't he have a family to spend Christmas with? And his hearts had been transported. To this very spot. His Ponds. River. But watching them now – they were so happy. He could be happy just knowing that they were happy. He glanced at River one last time, her face a study in concentration as she scraped her teeth over her bottom lip, bent over the bowl in front of her.

He turned to move back over to the TARDIS, walking toward it cautiously. He'd landed three feet from the now winterized flower garden – or had it been four feet? A dull thud and a swimming sensation told him he'd walked right into his ship. Again.

"Seriously, every time?" Rory spoke from behind him and the Doctor spun around.

"Rory! I uh – just popped by to wish you all a Happy Christmas but you looked very busy and I didn't want to intrude. Glad to see you all looking so well, really. And I'll just find my – uh – my doors and be on my way." The Doctor nattered on nervously and Rory crossed his arms over his chest, raising his eyebrows in disbelief.

"Do you have a death wish?"

"I don't – what? Sorry?" The Doctor frowned in concern and Rory shook his head, stepping across the neat lawn toward him.

"I know you've not been married long, but rule one: don't show up and disappear without saying hello to your wife. Especially not when she happens to be my daughter. Have you seen her aim with that gun of hers?"

"Well yes, quite right, I suppose, but it's your first Christmas with her-"

Rory pulled him into a hug, clapping him on the back soundly. He stepped back and looked at the Doctor with a nod, running an awkward hand through his hair. "I'm glad you're not... you know. Dead."

"Yes, well. She told you both then?"

"Mels – sorry, River never could stand to watch Amy cry. But you knew she'd tell us." Rory pointed out and the Doctor nodded, crossing his own arms.

"I suspected. Tell her to keep a secret and she-"

"She'd have kept it, but for us, Doctor. You know that. Some things she probably does keep from us regardless." He glanced over his shoulder into the warm glow of the kitchen. They stood in the silence, watching Amy and River, wine glasses in hand as they sang together – badly from the muffled sounds of it, but they laughed and Amy kept sneaking bits of dough while River glared at her. "She's been expecting you, you know. River. Wouldn't do to disappoint my little girl on her first Christmas with us, so you're coming in if I have to force you at sword point." The Doctor jumped at Rory's tone and glanced at the other man's sides, as if expecting to see his trusty gladiolas strapped there. The Doctor opened his mouth but Rory swung toward him with narrowed eyes. "And while we're clearing the air – you are married right? Because I know you wouldn't have put her through all that only to declare that it was a separate timeline or that it didn't count. I was there. I remember it – and we can discuss the fact that you wrangled my consent when you damn well knew if I'd had my full memories I would have refused. Not like she's just some thing for me to give away anyway – she's brilliant, and amazing. And she deserves everything, and so help me, Doctor if you don't give all that to her-"

"And more Rory!" The Doctor broke across the Roman's tirade, holding his hands up in submission. "Of course I didn't – I wouldn't have – I mean I'm rubbish at this stuff, really." He scratched his neck nervously and adjusted his bowtie. "I am. But I love her. I've always done, I suppose. Long before I ever even knew who she was. Rory." The Doctor swallowed heavily, the words stuck in his throat, sharp and painful. "I'll give her everything. I promise." He couldn't make himself lie to the man in front of him. Couldn't promise her safety, but he could give him this. This promise he could, and would, keep. "I'm sorry about it all – the pyramid and asking when you didn't know any better."

"I'd probably have said yes regardless, not that my say should matter." Rory shrugged and the Doctor whipped his head around to stare at him.

"Really?" He asked in shock and Rory shrugged.

"You can be dangerous Doctor. And I know you're going to hurt her, because I've already watched it happen. You didn't see her then – she never let you see it back then when you didn't know or trust her, but I did. But she's more like you than us. And she, God willing, will outlive Amy or I. She doesn't age. She's so clever. And most of all she loves no one more than you. I'd never deny her that happiness, even if it's not the life I'd chose for her. It's never my choice is it? No more for her than it was for Amy." Rory looked ahead of him, his hands in his pockets as he rocked back on his heels nervously. The Doctor looked at him thoughtfully, before he clapped a hand on the other man's shoulder.

"You're one of the best men I know Rory Pond."

"Thank you, Mr. Song." Rory bit back and the Doctor laughed out loud. "Now come on. Inside with you." The Doctor nodded and followed the other man in through the back door. Amy and River were completely covered in flour; their faces alight as Christmas music rang out from the speaker system on the kitchen table. They looked up at the noise of the back door opening, and upon spotting the Doctor, Amy put her wine down, running over to give him a fierce hug.

"Doctor! You made it." She pulled away, brushing the flour she'd just transferred to his jacket away with a smile. "Knew you would. Happy Christmas, Doctor."

"Happy Christmas, Pond." The Doctor smiled and Amy promptly punched him in the arm. Hard. "Ow! Pond!"

"That is for letting us think you'd died. And don't start – you deserve worse, Doctor." Amy shook a finger in his face and he flinched.

"Sorry." He apologized while still cringing away from her and she hugged him again, quickly.

"Don't you ever do that again."

"I won't." He promised and she let go of him, moving over to stand in the circle of Rory's arms. River had watched all of this from her spot by the counter, continuing to roll out dough, while glancing over her shoulder with a soft smile. He walked over to her, his hands twitching nervously as she grinned up at him.

"Hello, sweetie."

"Hello, dear." He grinned too and she put the rolling pin down gently before turning and walking into his open arms. He hugged her tightly and she pressed her face into his neck, pressing a soft kiss just left of his Adam's apple. He swallowed, his arms tightening around her as he felt the curve of her smile against his skin. He turned his own head, burying his face into her hair and inhaling deeply. They stood like that for a few moments before Rory cleared his throat.

"Alright, quite enough of that. You can carry on when I'm not in the room, yeah?" River laughed against his shoulder, pulling away and standing on tip toe to drop a kiss on his cheek before stepping back to the counter and her baking.

"Rory!" Amy elbowed her husband and he shrugged unapologetically.

"No, it's alright. So," the Doctor clapped happily, "what are we up to? Tree trimming? Present wrapping? Baking? What does a Pond family do for Christmas?"

"Well, River is baking gingerbread-" Amy started and the Doctor whirled.

"Gingerbread?" The Doctor bounced next to her with a grin. "I love gingerbread."

"I know," River laughed as she shook her head, continuing to roll the dough out into flat sheets for baking.

"I didn't know you could bake or cook or... any of that stuff." He stole a piece of dough and she glared at him with an arched brow.

"That will make you sick."

"Will not," he pouted, stealing another scrap. She rolled her eyes. "So what are you two doing then?"

"We're doing the tree." Amy said, lacing her hand through Rory's. "And you're not helping – you drop everything. I'm not letting you near my ornaments."

"Well fine then. I'll stay here and help River then." Rory laughed out loud at that, bending over as River glared at him.

"Good luck with that one mate."

"Dad!"

"Wait – what? Why?" The Doctor frowned in confusion and Amy laughed.

"When we were kids – Mels was insane about her gingerbread house. She hated Christmas," Amy explained and the Doctor whirled on River.

"How can you hate Christmas?" He asked aghast and River shot him a look. "Right, go on Amy."

"But she'd come over every year and help me do ours. She's a perfectionist, and she almost killed Rory one year when he cut her roof piece too short."

"I probably still have the bruises." Rory insisted as River rolled her eyes and laughed.

"Oh you do not." She exclaimed and Rory rubbed his shoulder.

"Still get an ache on rainy days and-" Amy laughed and nudged him gently.

"Oh shush you. You knew going in how she was! Now come on, we'll be up all night at this rate." She dragged Rory by the wrist out of the kitchen. The Doctor turned around to ask River if she'd beat him up for helping when he found himself with an armful of River. She kissed him fiercely and he smiled against her mouth, one hand moving up into her hair and the other sliding down to her backside as she hummed against his mouth, her arms wrapping around his neck, one in his hair and the other tracing his shoulders. When she pulled back, her smile was wide and she reached up to rub a thumb over his mouth.

"That's better." She laughed and he nodded in agreement. "For the record, I know you'll be almost as difficult as me when it comes to this, so you can help. I'm going to roll out the dough; you can sketch out the design and figure out proportions." She smiled, before surging upward and pressing one more kiss to his mouth. When she pulled back he licked his lips and he could taste her there. He grinned brightly, letting her go and sitting himself at the table where she had paper, a ruler and a pencil already set out.

"Right, so a house?"

"I thought this year we might try something different." She mused from where she was sprinkling more flour on the dough.

"Such as?" He glanced up and she grinned over her shoulder.

"A TARDIS?" Her eyes sparkled and he grinned in response.

"That is amazing. I love it – so cool. A sexy gingerbread TARDIS." He began sketching and measuring carefully, the carols still playing in the background as River hummed under her breath. A short while later found him standing next to her with detailed plans as he helped her cut all the various pieces. Once they finished, and she'd cleared up, she slid the baking sheets into the oven and dusted her hands off, before untying her apron and smiling up at him. "What next?"

"Well it has to bake for 15 minutes. And then it has to cool – but we'll be making the icing then." A soft carol started playing then and he turned to her, slipping a hand around her waist as he took her other hand in his and pulled her into his frame. He swayed and she moved with him easily, a soft smile on her face. "So what did you do today hmmm? Who'd you save?"

He glanced down at her guiltily. "Widow and her two kids. Magical forest in a box, I wish you could have been there." He whispered the last bit into her hair and she wrapped her arm around his shoulders more securely.

"Sounds like fun. Were there monsters in the forest?"

"Aren't there always?" He grinned as he spun her out and then back into him again and she laughed.

"Usually. I'm glad you came here though. Is it your second Christmas today then?" He flinched, a bit guilty and she shook her head. "Oh don't do that. Time machine. You're here now, that's what counts, sweetie." She pressed a soft kiss to his cheek and he beamed down at her.

"Most women wouldn't be so understanding." He pointed out and she laughed once more.

"And I won't be once you get me a bit younger. I just know better now Doctor." She shrugged and he grinned.

"I cannot imagine you jealous, River." He danced her around the tiny kitchen and she winked up at him.

"You won't have to imagine it soon enough, sweetie." His movements slowed and she swayed with her in one spot as he studied her face. "I was young and unsure once you know. And you... are not the best about expressing how you feel. In fact you are the absolute worst."

He stilled, staring down at her apprehensively. "You know though, surely. You know that I-"

"Oh I know now, Doctor, of course I know." She moved up and pressed a soft kiss against his mouth as his hands tightened on her waist. "But back then – I wasn't... I stood on a pyramid and told you I loved you most in all the universe, and you told me you were disappointed." A shadow entered her eyes and he swallowed heavily, hauling her against him.

"No! No River that wasn't – that wasn't what I meant – I'd not have married you if I didn't feel the same way." She licked her lips and traced a finger along his cheek with a sad smile.

"I know, sweetie."

"But you – you didn't back then, did you? I'll convince you. I don't ever want you to doubt it – not even for a second." He looked down at her, all of his history with this complicated, amazing woman weighing on his mind. He'd change so much if he could. But then he thought of her smile in Amy's garden, her teasing at the Byzantium, the first time she'd ever kissed him – he wouldn't want to lose any of it. "I love you, River. Before I even knew who you were, before I ever even wanted to."

She kissed him properly then, and they stilled as his hands gripped her waist and she played with the ends of his hair. Her mouth opened under his just as the oven's timer went off and she broke away from him with a rueful smile. She stepped out of his arms and pulled the baking sheets out of the oven carefully, setting them on top of the range. "Okay, now we do the icing." She smiled brightly and he bounced, stepping closer to her.

"Excellent, how do we do that exactly?" She laughed and proceeded to direct him, assembling the ingredients and employing him to mix one bowl while she did the other. "Why two?"

"Well the icing we need to make the pieces stick is different than the type we'll decorate with. So yours needs to be coloured once you finish it." She pointed out as he stood next to her at the counter, stirring so excitedly that a cloud of icing sugar rose in the air around him. "Sweetie!" She laughed and he grinned, mixing his icing until it was smooth. He dipped a finger in the bowl, licking it experimentally. It tasted excessively sweet and bland.

"This is great!" He moved to get another taste and she stopped stirring long enough to slap his hand. "Ow!"

"You just licked that finger!" She pointed out with a glare and he made a show of tucking that hand behind his back as he lifted the other one. He coated his finger in icing and looked at her with a grin. He reached over, dragging his finger along her cheek and leaving a smear of icing in its wake as he giggled. She stared at him, her mouth open in shock. "You-"

"What? This way, I don't lick my finger." He pointed out, leaning over and kissing her cheek, his tongue darting out to lick the sticky mess from her cheek and she leaned into him with a short, breathless laugh. "Tastes better too." He murmured against her skin and she smiled, her cheek rounding under his lips.

She dropped her own spoon and dipped a finger in her own bowl. Her icing was less thick than his and she smeared it in a straight line, down over his nose as she laughed and he glowered. "Oops?"

"River!" He stuck his own finger back in his bowl and did the same to her, his finger dropping and smearing more icing on her mouth as she laughed.

"Oh you don't want to start this fight, Doctor." She warned, her hand hovering over her bowl, but he grasped her wrist with his own sticky fingers, pulling it behind her back as he pulled her in closer, rubbing his nose against her cheek and spreading the thinner icing across her face in the process.

"Don't I?" He grinned.

"Oh, I hate you." She was smiling too hard for him to do anything but lick the tip of her nose in retaliation. She giggled, and he delighted in the sound. He kissed her then, her mouth sugary sweet. She moaned, pressing her body into his as her mouth opened and her tongue slid against his wickedly. A cough startled them apart, and they turned to see Amy standing there with an empty wine glass and a huge grin.

"You two are so lucky I didn't send Rory for more wine." The Doctor flushed, jumping back from River and running a hand through his hair, mindless of the icing still on his hand. "You might want to wash your face Doctor. Given how red it is though, I'm sort of shocked that icing isn't just sliding right off." Amy grinned as she poured herself more wine, before moving over to stand beside them and top off River's glass. "You too, River." Amy nudged River's shoulder with her own, and they both moved over to the sink, dutifully washing their hands and faces as River grinned and he glared at her.

"What?" She whispered? "You started it."

"Well you – you're – it's still your fault!" He whispered back and Amy laughed from behind them. She was stood by the range now, studying the pieces, her eyes lit up.

"Oh are we making a TARDIS?" Amy's grin widened as she looked up and River nodded, patting her hands dry on the hand towel, before flinging it at the Doctor's head. He caught it with a glare and Amy chuckled. "Very symmetrical pieces. Puts Rory to shame."

The Doctor preened and puffed his chest out. "Well I am a genius, Pond. A few measurements are nothing."

"Only you would liken measuring pieces of biscuit to genius."

"Oh, Amy. I'm brilliant, everything I do is genius." He pointed out and River elbowed him pointedly. "What? It's true!"

"Oh, sweetie." River laughed and shook her head, pointing him over to the icing. "Since you're such a genius, go make that TARDIS blue then." She pushed him in that direction, lifting her glass and taking a sip of wine as she and Amy laughed softly. "Thanks for the wine." River spoke to her mother, and Amy pressed a kiss to River's cheek.

"You're very welcome. Now I am going to go back to helping Rory. And you two behave. Next time it might be Rory and he's too young to have a heart-attack." She warned them in a laughing tone and River giggled.

"Oh he wouldn't."

"Well no, but go easy on him, yeah? It's his first Christmas as a Dad and that's stressful enough without even beginning to account for all of our... spacey-waceyness."

"Timey-wimeyness." The Doctor corrected, glancing over at them to be met with twin glares. "But yes, I'll keep that in mind. Promise." He crossed his hearts quickly and Amy rolled her eyes, picking up her glass and heading back into the sitting room. He frowned down at the food colour before him before picking up the blue bottle and unscrewing the cap. He squeezed an excessive amount in and started mixing again. He could behave. He could. River was humming to the music again, her hums low and throaty and making him think very not Christmassy thoughts, unless unwrapping her counted as a sort of present. Oh. He hoped it did. "Gifts!" He shouted suddenly, startling River who jumped in surprise. "I didn't have time to-"

"Oh my love, you bought some and sent them with me. So remember to do that when the time comes, yeah?" She smiled and he grinned.

"Cool. Well that makes buying them easier, I'll already know what I've gotten. I should do that every year!"

"That's cheating, Doctor." River scolded as she assembled the now cool pieces of gingerbread and iced them together carefully.

"Exactly!" He laughed as he frowned down at his bowl. "This blue is all wrong, River. It's all bright and not blue-y enough."

"Blue-y enough? Is that a technical term, sweetie? I'm not sure I understand that genius level jargon." She smirked at him and he scowled.

"Oh shut up."

"Make me."

"Maybe I will." He shot off the familiar dialogue, with a small warm glow in his chest as she sat the last piece on the gingerbread TARDIS and dusted her hands off. She turned and stalked toward him with a predatory glint in her eyes.

"Well?"

"I promised your Mum I'd behave, River!" River simply slid in next to him, all wandering hands and bright eyes.

"Did you? Pity. Lucky I didn't promise any such thing, hmm?" Her hands groped dangerously low and he let out a high pitch squeak in response.

"River!" He whispered insistently and she laughed, rising on tip toe to press a kiss to the corner of his jaw.

"You're no fun, Doctor." She pouted up at him and he glared down at her.

"Help me fix this." He pointed at the icing and she laughed.

"Add a touch of red." She took a sip of her wine and he gaped at her.

"Red isn't a TARDIS colour at all! Red won't help anything-" But she was already uncapping the red and adding a few precise drops."River!"

"Oh shut up and stir you great idiot. It makes it more... purpley."

"Purpley?" He mocked her earlier tone. "Is that technical jargon?"

"You're going to find yourself sleeping alone tonight if you don't stop it." She pointed out in a calm tone and he snapped his jaw shut, the tips of his ears turning a bright red. "Oh bless, sweetie. Look at you, blushing." She paused, considering him carefully. "Well it's not like we've not done it before, honey."

He cleared his throat and mumbled something incoherent to the bowl in front of him and she stared at him.

"We have, haven't we?" There was a panicked edge to her voice and he looked up at her, reaching one hand up to scratch his neck nervously.

"Well, I mean – no. I mean yes! No, yes, we have." He stumbled over the words and she let out a soft sigh, her breath whooshing out of her lungs before she took another drink of wine. "You shouldn't worry about those things. You know as well as I do that whole your firsts are my lasts thing is complete and total rubbish." She met his gaze; her cheeks flushed red and her face serious.

"You keep getting younger." She spoke softly, and he dropped his spoon, stepping in to her.

"Even if it seems that way, River. I promise – I'll cheat. My firsts won't be your lasts, I swear."

"You can't cross your own timeline like that." She reminded him and he pushed a hand into her hair, pulling her closer.

"I don't care about the rules, or what I should or shouldn't do River. I would tear time itself apart if I needed to." She laughed softly at that, pressing her hand against his cheek.

"No, you wouldn't. That's why I love you so much, you're a good man." She smiled up at him and he dropped his forehead down to hers with a sigh. She was right, of course.

"I will go back." He promised again, his hand tightening in her hair. "I have to go back."

"I knew, my love. And this – all of this and every time before it, all you have to look forward to, sweetie – it's worth it."

"I wish you didn't have to sacrifice anything for any of it River." He'd lifted his head and stared down at her sadly. She smiled and pressed a soft, sweet kiss against his mouth

"Hush now, it's Christmas. And look!" She pointed down at the bowl in front of them. "TARDIS blue."

"It did need some red." He smiled and looked back up at her. "You were right."

"Hm. That may be the best thing you've ever said to me." She laughed and he grinned.

"Better than what I said to you that first night?" She flushed and he grinned as she slapped his shoulder.

"You promised to behave."

"I lied." He pulled her closer, his hands trailing up the sides of her ribcage and brushing against the sides of her breasts. He leaned down, pressing a soft kiss on her neck, just below her ear and she tilted her head back with a hum. He smiled against the soft skin of her throat, and she laughed in delight when he licked her clavicle, running his teeth along it gently. Her hand gripped his shoulder tightly and he chuckled.

"You are bad." She murmured and he looked up with a smile. "We have to decorate her." She pointed out and he let her go with a pout.

"Spoilsport." He spoke petulantly and she took the bowl of icing with a grin.

"Oh stop." She chastised him with a grin and he followed behind her to help her decorate. Thirty minutes later their hands were stained blue, but there was a gorgeous, proportional (1:16 to scale, he boasted) TARDIS situated on the platform, surrounded by more icing with coconut sprinkled on it (for snow, River said) and several jelly babies standing about idly outside. The population was quite sparse, due to the fact that he'd eaten more than a few during the process. "Shall we take it out to the sitting room?"

His hands on her waist stilled her and he pressed his face into her hair, nuzzling down until his nose brushed against the nape of her neck and he could feel her shiver. "And what do we do then?"

"Oh it's late – Amy and Rory will be in bed soon enough." She grinned over her shoulder flirtatiously. "And then we do what we always do, my love."

"What's that?"

"Run." She turned in his arms and pressed a soft kiss to his mouth. "We have to be back on time for tomorrow morning though."

"I wouldn't miss Christmas with the Ponds for all the world."

"Excellent, so I'll be flying?" She grinned and he rolled his eyes with a sigh.

"Fine. But only because it's Christmas, River." He stressed and she laughed, rising to kiss him once more, her hands snaking up into his hair.

"Happy Christmas, sweetie."