Author's Note: If you haven't seen "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe," then this won't make any sense. This story is assuming that "First Night/Last Night" took place after this year's Christmas special. Also, there's been several published variations on the fate of Susan Foreman. I'm choosing the route the Big Finish radio series took, so there's spoilers for that too.
Amy really was a godsend. They meandered back to the house, but neither one of them brought up River. Instead, she enthusiastically talked about the previous two years, going into great detail about how Rory had passed out during Grace's birth.
"You know, he's a nurse, right? Not squeamish at all about seeing blood, but seeing something the size of a football coming out of my …"
"Amy," the Doctor pleaded and she laughed, grabbing his arm.
"Did I just ruin your appetite for the next week?"
"Next year is more like, and it'll be ages before I can play football again. Shame that. I have a place in the 1453th intergalactic football championship waiting for me, and I was really looking forward to that. You and Rory should come along, I'm sure we can find a spot …" His voice died away as he remembered. "Or perhaps not." He scratched at his cheek. "Small child and all."
"Oh, come on." Amy tugged on his arm. "The grandparents are looking for any excuse to monopolize Grace for a bit. We can drop her off for a night, go on a trip or two, be back by morning. Just let River drive." Then she fell silent, and the weight of everything settled on them like a mantle. They stood in front of TARDIS, just across the street from the house.
"When you 'died,' after River told us, we weren't sure what to do," Amy admitted. "So much had happened in the past year, and we really hadn't dealt with it. No offense, Raggedy Man, but ice cream allegories weren't working. You tried." She kissed his cheek. "It was causing issues with me and Rory. We knew we needed to see someone to deal with it, but who'd ever believe us? River helped, you know. This was an older one, and she … well, I imagine she was in league with a future you because she used the TARDIS to take us forward in time to where she went to university. And if not, River's planning to steal the TARDIS to do that at some point."
"She might already have," he mused, remembering a very nasty three-week period on Aldraxia when he couldn't find the TARDIS. He swore he'd left it parked by the pasty-seller in the marketplace, but then he'd been imprisoned and that hadn't been pleasant at all. He'd wandered about lost for four days after his release until he found the TARDIS right where he had left it.
"Turns out her academic adviser knew of a discreet marriage counselor who dealt with these sorts of issues. We couldn't tell him everything, of course, but enough to know that none of this was all fault."
"No, it wasn't," the Doctor said sadly and braced himself.
Amy straightened his lapels. "It wasn't your fault either."
"Shut up and listen," she snapped, and he had to grin. It was obvious where River had gotten a good bit of her mannerisms. "You're not a bad person, and you've never been. Full of yourself, sure. But you try helping people, and there's always those that will disagree with what you're doing, even though you're doing it for the right reasons. That's why the Church is after you. Was. I hope. In any case, the counselor pointed out that someone could have kidnapped Melody out of her pram or taken her from the hospital nursery. There's so many things that are out of our control, but it doesn't mean we should stop taking chances and living."
Amy looked at the house with its warm, glowing lights. "Rory will always be happiest here, and now we have Grace. As much as I miss the stars, I have a life here now too. It's turning out to be a pretty great adventure."
"Biggest you'll ever have," the Doctor agreed.
"But, you're not alone. You have us and …" Amy's voice trailed off and her mouth twisted a bit as she worked through what she wanted to say. "We don't know everything, but I have it on pretty good authority that the two of you work everything out." She kissed his cheek. "Need a moment?"
"Ah … Yes." He edged toward the TARDIS. "I just need to check the thingamagig. Left it in the on position, does terrible things to the whazzitdo, and really we want the year 1778 to stay where it is, don't we? Particularly good year for scones.
"Right," Amy said with a raised eyebrow. "Well, don't go running too far. I think Rory mentioned something about polishing his sword tonight."
The Doctor coughed, glanced about and hoped Rory wasn't lurking in the bushes waiting for him. "Did he now?"
"Maybe." Amy winked, and with a swish of her hair, spun around and headed into the house.
He really should have followed Amy in there, but his gut was telling him to spend a few minutes alone to think it through before facing the plethora of Ponds again. Plethora of Ponds. Oh, he liked that.
The Doctor slipped into the TARDIS, softly closing the door behind him. He paced to the console and braced against it. His fingers absently stroked the smooth metal, and he allowed himself to unlock the parts of his past that he had shoved away. Time Lords were really spectacular at shoving the past away when it was convenient. It was forgetting a lot of it that caused the Time War.
He caught the glimpse of curls through the floor and wasn't surprised to see River under the console. She was in the swing, swaying back and forth with her eyes closed. Her feet barely brushed the floor. Before he realized what he was doing, the Doctor was wandering down the stairs. River's head rested against one of the swing's supports, and she stroked it much like he'd been stroking the TARDIS. Her gaze suddenly met his. He was nervous, shaky, and he nearly fled because it really was time to make his sonic screwdriver deal with wood.
Instead, he used every ounce of willpower to sit on the stairs. He laced his fingers together and fidgeted a bit. "I had three children and a granddaughter. I even had a great-grandson. I saw my granddaughter last in my eighth incarnation, when Alex ..." He scratched his nose. "He was killed by the Daleks. After that, the Time War started. You studied it, so …"
River's eyes were filled with tears. "I'm sorry."
"So am I." The Doctor slipped down one of the stairs. "I was really never close to my children. Didn't help I sort of stole Susan. Or, rather, she stole me."
River smiled. "I think you stole each other."
He pointed at her and grinned back. He loved it when she was clever. "That's a good way to look at it. We stole each other, and then we stole the TARDIS. Or she stole us as she said once. She took a human form, you know."
"Yes, I know." River gazed up at the console. "When she spoke to me in Berlin, she had the form of a human woman in her mind. She was quite fond of it. Keeps wanting me to call her 'Sexy.' Why am I not surprised?"
"Hush," the Doctor muttered, and River laughed. He moved down another step.
"I met their mother. My wife. Well, I'm not sure what to call her that you'd understand, but she was my wife …"
"I speak High Gallifreyan, Doctor."
"I'm quite aware of that. Spoilers," the Doctor added and wondered if the graffiti had ever been cleared. He really should ferret out an older River and make her clean it herself. He had a feeling it wouldn't have gotten done anyhow. He sighed. "I really haven't told anyone this. I never even told Rose."
River slipped out of the swing and knelt beside him. "You don't have to tell me any of this."
"I want to," he replied a bit stubbornly. He slipped down that last step so they were next to each other on the floor. "I've been married about 14 times. Well, most of those were accidental. One was well … my tenth self. Was on a bit on a self-destructive mode then toward the end. You'll understand one day. None of them counted except …"
"Except the one on Gallifrey, I know."
"And the one on a pyramid in a broken timeline at every moment in history, but only four people can remember." His eyes met hers and he wondered why she looked so watery. Oh.He brushed at his eyes, and his vision cleared. He took a deep breath and said the hardest thing he'd ever thought he would say. "So many feelings. I'm not sure ... I don't know how ... I want to make this work, River."
She ducked her head and dashed the back of her hand over her own eyes. She rested her other hand on his knee and squeezed it hard. "We'll make it work, my love."
My love.The endearment that had once made him fidget and embarassed was now a huge sigh of relief. So much so that he pulled her into his arms. His arms slipped around her waist, and she tucked her head in the crook of his shoulder. He wasn't sure how long they embraced. It had to have been at least a few minutes. Maybe a few hours. Perhaps it was a year or two. There might have been tears. Neither one of them admitted to it.
When they emerged from the TARDIS hand in hand, Amy, Rory and Grace were camped out in front of it, all bundled into cold weather gear. "Midnight picnic," Amy said, holding up a mug of cocoa and grinning at them. "Rory's idea."
"More like making sure you weren't going anywhere." Rory pinned the Doctor with a steely-eyed glare. "Are you, Doctor?"
"Who? Me? No! Well, not without you Ponds." He swept Grace into his arms. "How about taking you on your first trip, poppet?"
"Are you sure we should …," Rory started to ask.
"I'm driving," River quickly cut in.
"Well, then we shouldn't have any issues." Rory got to his feet and helped Amy up.
Grace squealed, clapped her hands and pecked the Doctor on the cheek. "Kwis!"
"Is there any member of my family who hasn't snogged him?" Rory muttered and headed into the TARDIS.
"You haven't," Amy said, walking in after him. "I can always go get the mistletoe and …"
"No!" Rory shouted and took Grace from the Doctor.
"Where are we going?" River asked as they took up their positions around the console.
"One moment." The Doctor tapped data into the computer, then pulled the monitor down to verify. "Right! Far enough. Really don't want to take Grace into the middle of World War II. Here we go!"
Arwell Family Home, 1945
She still got the papers regularly and had gotten in the habit of figuring out where the caretaker spaceman had appeared in history. Madge had seen mentions of him a few more times during the war, usually in different forms, but his mannerisms were all the same. He was still helping people, she knew. She just hoped he wasn't quite mucking it up for everyone else along the way. Madge turned the page and trailed a finger over the stories celebrating the end of the war. The buzzer rang, and she pulled away from her papers.
"Is this it?" A strange voice said outside the front door.
"I double-checked. I would have gotten it sooner if someone nearly hadn't gotten us arrested," a second voice replied.
"I did not!" a very familiar voice protested, and Madge straightened.
"Caretaker? Is that you?" she called through the door.
The door open, and the Doctor stood on the stoop waving. "Yes, it is! Hello!"
She couldn't stop smiling. "Look at you, you haven't aged a day. The children are at school, they're doing quite well. Did you do what I told you?"
"Yes! That's why I'm here! Come on!" The Doctor gestured behind him and three people filed into the foyer: a redhead woman, a blonde-haired woman with a riot of natural curls and a blond-haired man. The woman with curly hair held a small child.
The Doctor beamed. "These are the Ponds!"
"Williams," the man corrected.
"No, Ponds," the redhead said.
"Pwnds!" the child echoed.
"Sorry, Dad, in this case, we're most definitely Ponds," the other woman said, and the man sighed.
"Anyhow, this is Amy and Rory." The Doctor gestured to the redhead and the man. "And their daughters, River and Grace."
"That's new," River said.
The Doctor sidled up to River. "Well, you are their daughter," he whispered in her ear. It wasn't a very soft whisper as Madge could hear the conversation quite clearly.
"Still new, my love. At least you're not lining up all of us like the Von Trapps."
"The Von Trapps are a very nice family, I'll have you know. I single-handedly saved the production of 'The Sound of Music,' with a pipe and a pair of lederhosen!"
River made a noncommittal hum and the Doctor scowled at her. "Well, I did!"
"I'm sure you look amazing in lederhosen, sweetie," she purred and her gaze slowly raked him from head to foot in a manner that made the Doctor blush. "All that leg. You can model them for me later."
The Doctor covered Grace's ears. "Not in front of your sister!"
"Not in front of your father," Rory said with a sigh.
"Aren't you a little young to be her mother?" Madge asked Amy.
Amy sighed. "It's really a long story."
"If it's involving the Caretaker, I'm likely to believe it. So, these are your friends! See, I told you to go tell them you were alive. Aren't you glad you did?"
"Well, they're not just my friends." He wrapped an arm each around Amy and River, with Amy tugging Rory into the embrace. "They're my family."