A/N: FINALLY. At 10,795 words, this is definitely my longest oneshot to date. For the Doctor and Clara this takes place at some point after s7, for River, it varies, but for the most part she's past Manhattan. Btw, in my head Mia is totally played by Lily James (Lady Rose from Downton Abbey; Poppy from Secret Diary of a Call Girl.)
An older River used to frighten him. He hated her knowing looks and her smug smiles and her "Spoilers!". She seemed to hold all the cards and he never quite felt like he had control over the situation when she was around. He felt he couldn't hide from her or lie, because she knew what he was thinking anyway.
Now, however, he feels a sense of relief when it's an older River who waltzes into his path. He likes not having to tiptoe around secrets and spoilers, because she already knows. He can relax a bit. Not that he doesn't like younger River as well; older, younger, it doesn't really matter. River is River and he's glad to see her no matter what. But young River is wild and curious and reckless and wears him out. And that's before they get to the bedroom.
Sometimes the familiarity and simple affection of his wife in her later years is all he really needs, and it is all he is expecting when he steps out of the TARDIS and into her back garden.
"Sweetie!" The Doctor can't help but smile at the joy on her face as she steps out of the little house to meet him. She stumbles as her heels sink into the soft ground and he rushes forward to steady her. She's dressed for work; simple fitted black dress under a red peplum jacket that hugs and accentuates her curves in all the right places. She looks so beautiful, with those sultry eyes and dark red lips, that he can't help but lean in and kiss her.
"Hello sweetie," she says, laughing, when he pulls away. "What are you doing here?"
He shrugs. "Do I need a reason to visit my lovely wife?"
"You know what I mean. I'm just trying to gauge where we are."
"Oh, ah," the Doctor pulls his diary out of his jacket and flips through it. "Jasara."
River looks relieved, and she grabs his hand and leads him inside.
"Making coffee, want some?" He nods, and she pours him a mug and dumps in a large spoonful of cinnamon, just the way he likes it.
Their fingers brush as she hands him the cup, and the Doctor decides he's not really in the mood for coffee. He sits down his mug as River turns away to stir sugar into her own. He approaches her from behind and runs his hands down her arms. She stills as he leans in and presses his lips to the shell of her ear and whispers, "I've missed you." She lets go of her coffee cup and leans back into his embrace, her hands covering his as he wraps his arms around her waist. The sunshine streaming in the window behind them seems to set her alight as she lays her head back onto his shoulder. The Doctor smiles and presses a kiss to her ear, her cheekbone, her jaw, before settling against her neck and breathing in the sweet smell of her perfume. She turns in the circle of his arms so she can kiss him properly, and he hums against her lips.
This is exactly the sort of thing he missed. In her youth River was all lust and passion and impatient desire, as if she thought he would slip through her fingers if she didn't grab him and hold on for all she was worth. It took a while before she felt secure enough in her own skin around him to let him be chaste and affectionate.
He deepens the kiss, hands stroking her back and pulling her close to him. He hooks an arm under her leg and has just started to lift her onto the counter when she stops him, laughing. "Doctor, not really the time," she chides, and he's about to ask why when he hears an angry shout from another room. He jumps into action, hand ready to pull out his sonic, when a young woman rounds the corner into the room.
"I give up!" she declares, throwing her hands into the air dramatically and crumpling the papers held in each. With a huff she drops her hands and regards them both with a resigned frown. "I just give up. I'm going to fail. I'm going to fail and that's just all there is too it."
The Doctor looks to River for explanation but she just rolls her eyes and shoots him a look he feels he's supposed to understand but doesn't. As River returns to her coffee he inspects the intruder. The girl couldn't have been much older than twenty, he thinks. She is tall and thin, with dark wavy hair that falls over her shoulders and hangs nearly to her waist. There is something familiar about her small brown eyes and wide nose, but he can't place what it is.
"You're not going to fail," River states, dumping a large spoonful of cinnamon into a mug of coffee and handing it to the girl. "You, of all people, can absolutely not fail History."
Rolling her eyes, the girl takes the mug and sips at it. "Yeah, you keep saying that, but I just don't see it happening."
"You keep saying you're going to hunker down and study, but I don't see that happening either."
The girl sits the mug down on the table behind her with a wordless whine. "It's finals week, I've been doing nothing but studying. It's just with this it's not sticking! It's all the dates and years. I can't keep them all straight in my head."
River sighs and fixes the girl with a look. "Mia. How do you expect to be a time traveler if you don't know anything about history?"
Mia. Alright, so he has a name to go on. And…time traveler? Well, 51st century. Aspiring Time Agent perhaps?
Mia glances at the Doctor. "Well he manages it."
This catches his attention. "Oi!"
"Barely," River chimes.
River just smirks at him before turning back to Mia. "Your brain is built for dates and years whether you think it is or not. All it takes is a little more focus than you are willing to give."
The Doctor has been watching River while she says this, and he is taken by surprise at the sudden pressure against his midriff. He looks down at the top of a head. Mia's arms are wrapped around his torso. "Look what she's trying to do to me." She whines into his shirt. She looks up at him, chin resting on his chest, frowning dramatically. "Save me," she asks, pouting. "You know history is so much easier to study if you're seeing it firsthand," she says, suddenly grinning. "And I bet a little trip would be perfect for relieving some stress."
Again, he looks to River, but all he gets is a stern look and a spoon pointed in his face. "Do not indulge her on this." He glances back down at the girl, who is rolling her eyes.
"Spoilsport." She sighs and smiles softly at him. "Hello, by the way." She then pecks his cheek and lets him go. The Doctor has been frozen in place since she hugged him. River meanwhile has been looking over the notes on the papers Mia had long since abandoned on the kitchen table.
"Mia, for goodness sakes, you've got Professor Respin for this class. He hasn't changed his curriculum since I had him at Luna. His exams are not that difficult."
Mia hums into her cup of coffee. "I forgot you had him in school too. Was he the one you slept with to get a good grade?"
The Doctor's eyebrows hit the ceiling as River's jaw hits the floor. "No!" she exclaims, laughing and swatting at the younger woman. "I most certainly did not sleep with Old Raspy Respin!"
"Who was it then?" Mia asks, swaying to the side to keep River from elbowing her in retaliation. "I could have sworn you told me you slept with someone to get a grade changed."
"I slept with him," River says, nodding towards the Doctor, who stands a little straighter at suddenly being pulled back into the conversation, "to get him to help me break into the records office so I could change a bad grade, which" she holds up a finger, "was unfairly awarded to me to begin with."
The Doctor finds Mia's attention turned to him. "You helped her break into the records office! Oh my god, I thought you were supposed to have been a good influence on her!"
And it is at that moment, with both women standing side by side, both holding their cups of coffee the same way, with the same grin plastered on their faces, that everything slides into place.
Suddenly it occurs to the Doctor what it is about Mia that seems so hauntingly familiar.
His knees nearly give out and he clutches the countertop behind him for support. The concern on River and Mia's faces is immediate and the younger woman takes a step towards him. "Are you alright?" He can't take his eyes off the girl's face, but in his peripheral he sees the realization dawning on River and the growing horror in her eyes.
The Doctor's head feels light and his hearts seem to be working overtime as the facts swirl around his brain, a hurricane of data with an impossible conclusion. Mia takes another step closer and the Doctor nearly jumps backwards. River lays a hand on the girl's arm but her eyes never leave the Doctor's face as she says quietly, "Mia, honey, go upstairs."
"Now." Mia looks worried, and a bit scared, but River's voice is firm and she doesn't argue. She only pauses once in the doorway to shoot a troubled look back at the Doctor.
He's seen that same expression before, but on a different face.
River sits down her coffee and approaches him. "Doctor, you said the last thing we'd done was Jasara, yes?"
He swallows with difficulty and answers, "Well, yes, I mean, technically we've done Jasara. I mean we landed there, we were gonna go see the Grand Sultan's coronation, but we never made it out of the TARDIS." He raises a shaking hand and points it in the direction of the doorway. "River, who-?"
River closes her eyes and groans. "Oh god, I'd forgotten about that." She takes a deep breath and looks at him. "Doctor, Jasara, last August, for Mia's birthday. Tell me we've done that."He can only shake his head. She swallows with difficulty and asks, "Before Jasara, for you, what was the last thing we did?"
The Doctor blinks and tries to focus. "Ah, ah, Monte Carlo, 1967."
River takes a shaky breath. "Okay. Okay. God. Okay. So you're not nearly as far along as I thought you were. Okay. We can deal with this."
"River," he asks again, hand still pointing feebly at the doorway, "Is she—is that…River is she who I think she is?"
For a moment she looks lost, and he can see the urge to tell him something she knows she can't. She then takes a deep breath and exhales quickly through her nose and fixes him with a resigned frown. "What do you think?"
He thinks he doesn't want to think about it.
He hears River yelling after him as he flees from the kitchen and sprints through her garden back to the TARDIS. He snaps his fingers and throws himself through the doors and slams them shut and locked behind him. He can hear River banging on the outside but can't bring himself to face her right now. He throws levers and switches to send his ship flying into the vortex. He doesn't put in a destination. He asks her, begs her, to take him anywhere that isn't there. Preferably somewhere distracting where he could forget what he'd just witnessed.
He wasn't ready for this.
His insistent suggestion doesn't just take her by surprise; it takes her mind completely off the matter at hand.
"You're joking, right?"
He fidgets uncomfortably. "I just think we ought to be more careful, that's all."
She gives him a dry stare. "Sweetie. I'm on 51st century contraceptives. I don't think I'm going to get pregnant."
"But with your biology-"
"With my biology who knows if you could even get me pregnant. We might not even be compatible. And to be honest, I don't even know if I can have children. Kovarian had my mother sterilized at Demons Run; for all I know they've done the same thing to me."
"The key phrase being 'for all we know'. Which isn't much. With our timelines and how complicated everything is…River I just think…well it couldn't hurt."
River just blinks at him, still looking confused and concerned. "Doctor. We've been over this before, more than once, from both our perspectives. I'm on Eunelev. You do know what that is, don't you?"
The Doctor sighs and rubs his eyes. They have been over this before.
"That's the one that went down in the history books. And you know why?"
"It went down in the history books because it was the first contraceptive in the history of the human race to have a confirmed 100 percent effectiveness. And for the 500 years that it was on the market, there was never a case of someone getting pregnant while the shot was still in their system. If you're really virile enough to get past that, then I seriously doubt a condom is going to do us much good."
He doesn't really know what to say to that. All he knows is that, quite possibly, at some point in their future he might have been that virile, and he's not quite sure if he wants that future to occur. So he sits on their bed in his pants and one sock and stares at his hands in his lap. After a silent few minutes he hears River sigh.
"What's even gotten into you about all this anyway? You've certainly never complained about not having to wear one before." He doesn't answer of course, because he can't. "Doctor…" There's something in her tone that makes him look up, and when he does she's scrutinizing him. "Have you seen something in the future that's made you think I'm going to get pregnant?"
His stomach drops and he shakes his head quickly. "No, no, no, why would you think that? And besides, if I had, wouldn't I be doing the opposite of this?" She's still wearing that suspicious frown so he thinks fast and adds, "I was talking to your parents the other day." Well, 'other day' being nearly 200 years ago now, but she didn't need to know that. "Your mum was asking if she was ever getting grandchildren and I just…got a little spooked. The thought occurred to me that it could happen and I just don't know that I could handle doing all that again." He congratulates himself on being able to look her in the eye when he says it. It's not a lie, after all. The event had occurred, and it had left him feeling panicked about the prospect of being a father again after all these years. It just wasn't the event currently making him panic about being a father again after all these years. And he just hopes that River doesn't catch on to that.
But to his relief River rolls her eyes and laughs. "I should have known. She's always asking me. I keep telling her that twenty-five is a bit young to be a grandmother." She smiles sweetly at him. "Still, my love, as it's not something very likely to happen, I don't think it's something we really need to worry about."
She climbs into his lap and starts kissing him again, but the Doctor can't help but suddenly remember the girl with the dark curls, and how he was determined to discover that she was just a student to whom River was especially attached, and so he (stupidly) mumbles, "And I still think maybe we should."
River groans. And for the first time of the night, not from pleasure. She gets off him and grabs his coat off the floor and wraps it around her. "Well if you're so damn worried about it," she huffs, gathering her clothes off the floor and heading for the door, "I know one method that is 100 percent effective at preventing pregnancy." He's up and after her, but she pauses in the open doorway, where she glares at him and shouts,
The door slams in his face.
For the first time in their whole twisted timey-wimey relationship he feels like he's stumbled on an actual, big, genuine spoiler. Not just a teaser, not just some quip that she could be making up to annoy him or turn him on, but a real, proper, life-changing, future-revealing spoiler. And he can't handle it. It's too much, too big, too, too, tooish for him to even consider, so he dives so deep into denial that there's not enough light to see the surface, let alone the truth.
He tells himself that River is a Professor. A respected and loved professor. He knew her students cared about her, and that River cared about her students. And that girl was failing her history class. River was an expert at history. It was not unlike River to tutor students in need, especially those she took a liking to. This girl was just a special favorite. A good friend. And as he was a significant part of River's life, he'd undoubtedly run into some of her favorite students, which is why the girl knew him so well. And as he and River had never had any of their own, of course it made sense that River would feel the need to mother some of her favorites.
He tells himself that he's known other people with dark curly hair. Madame Kovarian had dark curly hair. He tells himself that the girl is a young Kovarian. That River had come across her and determined to change her future. It could certainly be done without undoing River's own timeline. The Melody Pond project would have been completed one way or another. If Kovarian hadn't done it then somebody else would. Perhaps someone just heartless enough to ensure the job got done, but not cruel enough to unnecessarily sterilize Amy. That's what this was. River was trying to save a young girl from turning into a horrible, bitter old woman, and give her parents the chance at having and raising their own child.
For all he knew, the girl could be a Pond descendent. If not a direct blood descendent, then one through Amy and Rory's adopted son, or even a blood relative through a Pond or Williams cousin. He could even have imagined the resemblance to himself and River. He'd jumped to conclusions and his mind had made up the rest. There were any number of people the girl could be other than his—
He can't even bring himself to consider the word.
De Nile is a river in Egypt.
(Denial is deeper than the Mariana Trench.
He should know. He's been to both.)
He's not used to Clara traveling with him 24/7. That's his excuse.
The Doctor supposes he's had worse awkward moments in his life, but this is definitely in the top ten, if not the top five.
Clara can't meet his eye. "That was River."
"Yes it was."
The Doctor runs a hand through his hair, and realizes for the first time what a mess it is. "I told you. It's complicated. River's dead, yes, but she's not dead yet. And that River is very very much alive."
"Yeah, she certainly seemed that way," Clara says, wide eyes staring straight ahead. "How?"
He shrugs. "Time travel. The thing is," he looks around to make sure River isn't eavesdropping, "River died the very first day I met her. We've been meeting out of order ever since." Clara's attention snaps to his face.
"Wait, you're telling me the way you met your wife is that she died?"
It's the Doctor's turn to look away. "For her we'd already been together for centuries, but for me it was the first time I'd ever seen her. I didn't know she was my wife yet, obviously. She was just this mad woman who seemed to know an aggravatingly lot about me. She died that day, but then we just kept meeting. And we keep meeting."
"So," Clara leans back against console, arms crossed and brows knitted. "Let me get this straight: You meet this woman who knows all about you, she dies, and then you meet younger versions of her, fall in love, and get married."
"Well that's the gist of it, yeah."
Clara nods. "Okay, so if you two got married how come she doesn't live here?"
The Doctor shrugs. "Likes her independence I suppose. And she's also in prison for my murder."
"Should clarify, she didn't actually kill me. Just helped me fake my death. It's not so bad, though. The prison thing. She breaks out all the time." Clara keeps staring. "I told you it was complicated."
Clara shakes herself out of her stupor and declares, "Right. You know what, forget it. I'm too sober for this. You can tell me the whole complicated tale later. Which way to the kitchen, or wherever else a girl can find some booze on this thing? I'd go looking myself but I think I've learned my lesson about exploring."
"What do you want alcohol for?"
Clara quirks an eyebrow.
"Doctor, not ten minutes ago I walked in on you handcuffed to a bedpost while your supposedly-dead wife was riding you like a pony. I need some brain bleach, or at the very least, some really strong wine."
"Next door on your right!"
The Doctor's grip on River's hand tightens as he flings them both through the door and slams it behind them.
"Okay, according to the schematics there should be a big red door, and that should lead to the main generators. Give me a minute and I should have it unlocked."
The Doctor holds the radio up to his mouth. "I'm more concerned about what's going to be on the other side of the door. Have you got the life sign scanner up and working yet?"
Clara's voice crackles over the radio. "Still working on it. This system hasn't been used in a while, everything's in disrepair. Hold on, it's scanning."
The Doctor sighs and leans against a wall. "Well, might as well rest a moment. Dry out a bit." River is way ahead of him, sitting on a crate and wringing water out of the hem of her dress.
"I feel like I'll never be dry again," River grumbles, shaking water out of her hair, "I'm pretty sure my boots are ruined."
The Doctor smiles. "That's what you get for wearing suede into a collapsing dam."
River glares at him and opens her mouth, but just then the structure around them shudders. The tremor passes quickly, and the Doctor grits into the radio, "Clara!"
"Look, I'm working on it! I'm just getting fuzzy readings but right now it looks like all the Hauroth have evacuated behind you, I don't think there's anything left in the generator room."
"You don't think?"
"Like I said, it's fuzzy. I'm only getting life readings for general areas. Right now it's 'yes life' where you were, 'yes life' where you are, and 'no life' where you're going. It's going to take a minute before I know if the 'yes life' in your area is just you or something else."
The Doctor rubs his eyes. "Clara I'm not sure if we've got a minute. The dam is getting weaker by the second. If we don't get to those generators and shut them down soon, then the turbines are going to keep churning water through the dam until it falls apart."
"And if that happens?"
"Three towns flood."
"I know that part. I meant to us."
The Doctor glances back at River. "Assuming River's vortex manipulator hasn't given out from water damage we zap out of here and hope the TARDIS washes up soon. You'll be fine; the control tower is built into the land, not the dam, and too far up to be flooded."
"Well from what I'm seeing the dam's actually holding up pretty well for the moment. Might even last until the Terochs get here to start reinforcements. And…door number 1 is unlocked and nothing behind it." The Doctor sprints to the door and has just laid a hand on the handle when Clara's voice rings out of the radio.
"No, Doctor, hang on! The readings are clearing up; I'm showing more life signs in your immediate area!"
The Doctor frowns. "What do you mean our immediate area? Up ahead or in this room?"
"In that room." He looks back at River and sees the same puzzled expression on her face he's sure he must be wearing on his.
"Clara, there's no one else in this room. It's just me and River and some big crates."
"Well maybe there's something hiding, because I'm picking up two extra heartbeats."
The Doctor relaxes. "Well that'd be River and I. Time Lords, Clara, two hearts each."
"Yeah, I know that. That's what I'm saying; there should be four heartbeats, I'm picking up six."
Again the Doctor glances around the room, and back to River. "Clara," she says, shaking her head, "There's no one else in here. Are you sure? You said the system was old."
"Yeah, it's crap, but the readings are clearing up. No information on what kind of life it is, but there's definitely life. Could be rats or something. You said there were crates? Any big enough to have something living in them?"
"Possibly, hold on." The Doctor takes out his sonic screwdriver and begins scanning the room while River tries opening a few of the crates.
"Stop moving!" Comes Clara's sudden command. "You're confusing the scanner. Just stay still a moment." They freeze in place while the sound of Clara's typing fills the silence. After a moment, "Oh."
"Oh? Oh what?" The Doctor asks, getting a bit tired of staring at a wall and wishing he'd frozen in place facing River. He wouldn't have minded staring at her.
"The readings are starting to give me a little more detail. It's still showing six heartbeats but only three life forms."
The Doctor's brow furrows. "What do you mean three life forms? As in it hasn't identified the fourth one?"
"No, as in there is no fourth one. In that room are three life forms with two hearts each."
Silence falls over the room. The Doctor frowns at the rusty wall on which he has decided to blame all of his problems. "Clara that doesn't make any sense. There aren't any two-hearted races in this entire system. Unless there's another Time Lord in the room, I don't see how that can be right."
"Well, what? Some of these crates are fairly large but I doubt one is carrying a living Time Lord. And anyway, River and I are the only ones left, and it's not like we could make a new one or something."
There's a heavy silence before Clara's hesitant voice fills the room. "Doctor," she says gently, "I think that may be exactly what you did."
A feeling like electric shock pulses through the Doctor's body, out from his center, jolting down to his fingertips. His stomach seems to drop a mile, and years seem to pass in the moment until Clara speaks again. "Doctor?" she asks, "Are you alright?"
The Doctor turns slowly to look at River, who is sitting on a crate, staring straight ahead with wide eyes and mouth agape. "River?" he asks weakly and she looks at him.
"I wasn't sure," she says, her voice quiet and trembling, "I mean, I thought, maybe, but I didn't want to say anything until I knew. It seemed so unlikely."
The Doctor thinks his knees might give in at any moment, and not just because the dam is shaking again. River shakes her head and jumps to her feet. "River-"
"We can talk about it later," she cuts him off, determinedly not looking at him. "Save the dam first." The Doctor's forgotten all about the dam.
"The hallway behind you is flooding, get out of there NOW!"
River pulls open the red door in the corner and drags him through it. "I'll take the control panel on the left wall; you take the one on the right."
The view from the top of the Galorath Dam really is spectacular. Nearly half a mile high, made of stone and valorium metal, it holds back the mighty Talorothene River and harnesses its power for the three towns of Garothena, Taloroth, and Vorauch. From its top one can see all three cities glittering in the valley below. Currently Teroch workers sail up and down the face of the dam on flying silver ships hosing liquid valorium into the cracks and fissures, while another group works to round up the escaping Hauroth who had weakened the dam during their period squatting in it. A truly magnificent view; and the Doctor isn't really seeing any of it.
River is saying something about how the repairs wouldn't hold forever, but won't have to. In a few months they'll finish the twin Vorauchi dams upriver, which, while not nearly as impressive, will nevertheless be much stronger and resilient than the massive Galorath. The Doctor already knows all of this; it was one of Terocha's greatest scandals that the Galorath Dam had been abandoned before the Vorauchi Dams had been completed, and that the Dorach Institute's Hauroth Nature Preserve had said nothing when some of its beasts had escaped and taken up residence in the empty structure. (Although just how close the dam came to collapsing and his role in keeping that from being rewritten is certainly news.) He might have chimed in and told her everything he knows about it that she doesn't, just to impress her or irritate her, whichever the result, but his mind is fixed on one singular problem, the Hauroth in the room, as it were, and he isn't hearing a word she says.
"River?" he finally breaks in, turning to look at her. She looks beautiful, he thinks; even with her curls a frizzy mess blowing in the wind, and his still-damp coat draped over her shoulders. The sunlight illuminates her and she seems to shine against the cloudless sky. She stops talking and looks at him, something in her eyes begging him not to bring up exactly the thing he is about to bring up. "We need to talk about this."
She sighs and leans against the railing. "Do we have to do this now?"
The Doctor echoes her sigh. He doesn't really want to do this now either, but he's been running from this truth for long enough. "Well, I suppose we could wait nine months and then talk."
River smiles in spite of herself. "Might be a bit late by then."
The Doctor wrings his hands. "River, are you really, actually, well, you know-" he waves his hands about a bit until River raises an eyebrow at him.
"Pregnant?" she asks, and the Doctor makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. "Admitting it is the first step, sweetie. And…apparently I am." The Doctor makes the noise again.
When he finds his voice he asks, "Then why didn't you tell me?"
River shrugs. "I told you, I didn't know."
The Doctor runs a hand through his hair. "River, how did this even happen?"
She gives him a cheeky smile. "Well, when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much-"
"I know how it works!" he gripes, face red, and then adds in a mumble, "Obviously. I meant…well how did this even happen? When did this happen?"
River takes a deep breath. "My best guess is Reketa. Have we done that yet?" He nods. "Remember that funny blue fruit we had while we were there?" He nods again. "Well I found out what it was. Tekelet fruit. Known for massively increasing fertility in men and women of humanoid races. Its extract is used for infertility treatments across five galaxies."
The Doctor nods and gulps. "Well. That would do it."
Silence falls over them as they look out at the sparkling cities below. Normally they would be feeling a sense of pride at looking down at those cities, knowing they were still standing because of their actions, but there was no room for anything but worry. Finally the Doctor speaks. "River, how the hell are we gonna raise a child?"
River sighs. "I don't know. TARDIS?"
He shakes his head. "No place for a child. Kids need stability, even Time Lord ones, at least for the formative years."
River turns to look at him and frowns. "Are you suggesting settling down?"
The Doctor shrugs. "Well you're out of prison now; you've got a house, a job. Why not? Or we could raise her in the 21st century maybe. She'd have family there, at least. I think it'd be good for Brian and the Ponds to know their great-grandchild. Make up for some of the pain of losing Amy and Rory."
"But could you really do that, though?" River asks, her face full of concern. "A life, a normal life? Settling down, in one place? A normal, domestic life?"
The Doctor smiles sadly and looks at his hands. "River, I've done it all before," he says quietly. "Granted it's been very, very, very long time…but I have done it. You've got to remember, I had all that once." If he closes his eyes he can still see it: the big but cozy house, the fields of red grass, and the children running through it… "Home, family, kids, grandkids... The whole domestic shebang. Once upon a time, that was my life." He opens his eyes and the images fade back into his memory. "It wasn't until after I lost it all that I started running." He looks at River to see hope and fear in her eyes. She wants this, he realizes. She really, really wants this.
"And you really think you could do it all again?" she asks, trying not to betray the hope in her voice.
His smile grows. "Use to be I never thought I could do all that again." River opens her mouth to say something but he cuts her off with a gentle kiss. Gathering her in his arms the Doctor presses his forehead to hers and looks into her eyes. "But for you, Professor River Song," he kisses her nose, "and for our child," he breaks away just long enough to duck his head and place a swift kiss to her belly, making her laugh, before pulling her close again, "I really think I could."
He gets a brief glance at the joy on her face before she hides it against his shoulder. "And what about travelling?" she asks. The Doctor laughs and for once notices the beauty of the valley below them.
"Who said anything about not travelling? We'll just have to take trips as a family when you and I get bored. I'll even let you drive so we get back on time." River laughs and looks up at him.
"Admitting I'm a better pilot? Well, well, this is a new side to you, sweetie." Her smile softens. "You really think we could do this?"
"Well, I think you could." They both start at the voice behind them and turn to see Clara watching them, arms crossed and grinning. "After all," she says with a smirk. "It's not as if you aren't best friends with a recently unemployed, highly qualified governess who's willing to work for a very reasonable rate. If you plan on raising it in the 21st century, of course. I'm willing to relocate but not 3000 years into the future."
The Doctor and River look back at each other and laugh. We could do this, the Doctor thinks giddily. We could really do this.
"One more thing, though," River says, frowning. "You keep saying 'her', and 'she'. Do you know something I don't?"
The Doctor merely grins and taps her nose affectionately. "Spoilers."
River hasn't even started back towards her house when the Tardis materializes right back where he had dematerialized it so long ago. Well, long ago for him, anyway. The Doctor straightens his bowtie and steps outside. River's waiting with arms crossed and he gives her a sheepish smile.
"So where are we now?" she asks, looking exasperated.
The Doctor scratches the back of his head. "We just found out you're pregnant."
River smiles and shakes her head. "So first you're running from a spoiler, and now you're intentionally cheating?"
"It's not cheating. It's…" he casts around for the right word or turn of phrase, and his eyes land on an upstairs window where Mia is watching anxiously. He catches her eye and she waves enthusiastically at him. There's that funny dropping feeling in his stomach again, but the Doctor manages a crooked smile and shaky wave. He watches her face fall and resolves to make it up to her later. "Tying up loose ends." He looks back at River, who is unconvinced. "Maybe we should talk in the TARDIS."
River nods and follows him inside, but not before signaling to Mia that she'd just be a minute. The Doctor leans against the central console while River rests against the auxiliary panels. "So," she purrs, giving him that knowing look he had once so hated. "What do you want to know and what makes you think you're going to wile it out of me?"
He can't help but smile at that. "So that's her."
River barely suppresses a grin. "Yep." The Doctor can feel his own smile growing at the thought.
River can't contain her grin any longer. She nods. "That she is."
"Mia," he says, looking at his shoes in thought, "Short for Amelia?" He looks up to see River nod.
"She's always gone by Mia, though. She's only Amelia when she's in trouble." River laughs suddenly. "So she goes by Amelia quite a lot, actually."
"Wouldn't be ours if she didn't, I imagine."
There's a comfortable silence for a moment after that. The Doctor's brow furrows and he asks, "You said she was failing History."
River rolls her eyes. "Yep."
"She's the daughter of two time travelers and her mum's an archeologist. How the hell's she failing History?"
His wife rolls her eyes again with an exaggerated sigh. "Lord knows." She shakes her head. "She's brilliant but give her a historical event and ask her when it happened and she'll be off by at least three centuries." River smirks at him. "Apple doesn't fall far from the tree in that respect."
The Doctor sniffs and straightens his bowtie. "Well, linear time is rubbish, anyway. No wonder she can't keep it all straight. Time isn't straight."
River gives him a bemused smirk, and he gets the feeling she's had a similar conversation with an older him on more than one occasion. "Is this really what you wanted to know?"
The Doctor frowns and looks away. "So we manage it, then?"
"You know what. This. Her. Semi-ordinary life," the Doctor tells a spot near River's left shoe. "She knows me; she likes me, so I'm guessing I wasn't a complete failure as a parent."
"Doctor you know I can't tell you anything. Spoilers, remember?" He looks at her at this, his jaw set but his eyes pleading.
"River I'm not asking for spoilers. I'm asking for reassurance."
She frowns, confused. "What do you mean?"
The Doctor huffs a sigh and paces away from her. He stops, facing away and puts his hands on his hips. "River, I am looking at taking on a life that I have not led in over a thousand years," he says quietly. "I'm almost completely sure I can do it, but I need more than that. I need to know I can do it." He looks back at her. "This isn't going to be easy, I know that. But if I know I can do this, if I know I already have…" he trails off and runs a hand through his hair. "I want," he starts, then stops, trying to find the right words. "When the going gets rough," he says finally, "I want to be able to look back on this, to think of that girl, and know that it's worth it. I want to have this to strive towards. I need to know I did this."
River's expression is unreadable; a practiced mask empty of emotion when she replies, "And what if you didn't?" The Doctor's hearts sink at her words. The possibility existed, of course. He'd known that. But could that really be what happened? Is she really telling him that's what happened? The Doctor squares his shoulders and approaches her, his hands balled into fists. She doesn't flinch as he looks down at her with his mouth a thin hard line and steel in his eyes.
"Then all the more reason for me to strive to get it right. Time can be rewritten. I won't have her growing up without me."
River's face changes. Her stoic mask falls away and there is so much pride and love radiating from her smile and soft eyes that the Doctor is momentarily taken aback. "Well then, my love," she says, pausing to swallow the lump in her throat, "I'd say you don't really need spoilers then, do you?"
The Doctor dashes down the hall and skids the last few feet to the desk. The nurse behind it raises her eyebrows at the oil smears and scratches on his face and the singed holes in his coat. "Um, the ER registration and clinic areas are downstairs, dear."
He shakes his head as Mia catches up with him, only slightly less disheveled. "No. Need. Here. Wife. River Song. Room?" He asks between pants. The nurse blinks at him for a moment before checking the computer in front of her.
The Doctor takes the moment to rest his head on the counter and try to catch his breath, but a commotion down the hall catches his attention. A pan of tools and syringes comes flying out of a door, followed by a couple of doctors in their blue habits, and a shriek of, "GET ME THE DAMN EPIDURAL!"
He looks back at the nurse. "Never mind." He takes off down the hall and reaches the door just as Clara steps out of it, apologizing profusely to the doctors. She sees him and breathes a sigh of relief.
"Cutting it a bit close, don't you think?"
"The Sisters of the Infinite Schism is the best hospital in the universe. How was I supposed to know its planet was nearly invaded the very day I chose to land us here for River to give birth?"
"Do you ever crack open a history book for the planets you visit?" He's spared further berating when Clara notices Mia, who has been staring at her with an amused grin on her face. "Hello?"
Mia giggles, positively giddy. "Oh my god, Clara, look at you, you're so young!"
Clara looks to the Doctor for explanation. "Who is this?"
He runs a hand through his hair. "Oh. Right. This is Mia." Clara raises her eyebrows as if to say, Is that all? And he clarifies, "My daughter."
Mia waves and Clara gapes. "Oh my god." She looks between them. "I totally see it. Hold on, you have another daughter?"
"No," The Doctor replies, "Same one."
Clara blinks at him. "Wait, so this the daughter that River is right now in there about to give birth to."
Clara opens her mouth, stops, closes her eyes and then her mouth, and takes a deep breath. When her eyes open again she sighs and declares, "One day I'm gonna get the hang of this whole time travel thing." There's a cry of pain from inside the room, and Clara rushes back in.
The Doctor swallows his fear and turns to Mia. "Alright, you need to go. You've crossed your own timeline enough as is."
Mia frowns. "I'm not crossing my own timeline. I'm ensuring my own existence. If it weren't for me you wouldn't even have known about the Klescon invasion. And you're welcome for helping you stop them, by the way."
She looks so much like Amy just then, with her arms crossed and her hip jutting out that the Doctor can't help smiling and kissing her forehead. "Yes, thank you, of course, but it still counts. And the fact remains that you need to get out of here before you get here."
Mia's expression softens and she smiles at him. "Feeling nervous yet?"
The Doctor laughs shakily and gives her an exaggerated frown. "A bit."
Mia grins and stands on her tiptoes to wrap her arms around his neck in a tight hug. He returns the embrace, burying his face in her dark curls. He preserves the moment and files it away; a reminder of things to come to give him encouragement on dark days. "Don't worry," she tells him, and presses a kiss to his cheek. "You'll be great." The Doctor sighs into her hair and lets her go.
"Promise?" he asks, and she grins; that great big smile that lights up her whole face and may just be the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.
"Promise." There's another cry of pain from River's room and the Doctor frowns.
"I should probably get in there. We passed by an empty hallway right next to the elevators. You should be able to leave from there without anyone noticing. I'd take you in the Tardis but I don't know that there's time."
Mia glances at the vortex manipulator strapped to her wrist. "It's okay. I'll risk the bad hair day." She looks back up at him, her expression soft but happy. "See you in twenty years, yeah?"
Her father returns the smile. "Looking forward to it." There's one last smile and then she's off down the hallway, and he steels himself and enters River's room.
"Where the hell have you been?!" River shouts the second he's through the door. She's propped up on a mountain of pillows with Clara standing beside the bed, clutching her hand. She's in an altogether-too-cheery floral hospital gown with her wild curls corralled into a bun. He rushes to her and takes her other hand, kissing it gently.
"Sorry, darling, really, but the planet did need saving, and-" She cries out in pain and he and Clara both nearly double over as her grip on their hands becomes vice-like.
River glares at the Doctor as she tries to breathe evenly through her mouth. "Oh I hate you," she tells him, "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!"
"No you don't."
The look River gives him is nothing short of murderous. "Oh, right now, sweetie, I REALLY DO!" She rests her head on the pile of pillows and focuses on her breathing while the Doctor looks to Clara.
"Have they not given her anything for the pain yet?"
Clara gives him a helpless look. "Well they tried a few things but with her biology nothing's done much good. Then they were saying it was too soon for the spinal block, but they were going to get something for the meantime. And just now they said that they didn't want to try giving her another epidural because it was almost time for the spinal block, which is when she started throwing things."
"Not an unreasonable response, I thought," River chimes in. "I don't care what they give me as long as I get some damn drugs already. Slice me open and take her out for all I care, just do something!"
"They are doing something," Clara says, giving River's hand a reassuring squeeze. "They said they're getting the spinal block ready right now."
"I told you to tell them to use Destoromene. With her biology that should have worked."
"That's what they're using for the spinal block," Clara says, "They said they couldn't for the epidural. They're going to try something called..Neuro…Neuroduopo….Neuro-"
"Neuroduopathine." The Doctor nodded. "Apalapuchian make. That'll do it. Should have told you to tell them to give her that."
"Just as long as they give me something," River pants.
A few moments later the nurses arrive and strike gold with the medical cocktail they hook to River's IV. She's already acting as if she's had a hypervodka or two before the spinal block, but once it kicks in she's loopier than the Doctor has ever seen her, but she doesn't seem to be in pain and she's stopped screaming at everyone, so he's not complaining.
"I'm going to go prep the assisting Sisters," the doctor tells them some time later, "She's very nearly ready to deliver."
The Doctor feels a surge of terror mixed with excitement. "Did you hear that, dear?" he asks River. "It's almost time." He looks at his wife to find her staring at him, her eyes wide.
"Your chin is enormous," she says slowly, her eyes fixed on it. "I really hope our daughter doesn't get it. Although," she raises her eyebrows and frowns in thought, "maybe she'll be able to pull it off. Like that girl in Game of Thrones." Her head lolls over to look at Clara. "What's her name again? The one with the chin who was in Downton Abbey. The wild one. You know, the, the—'You know nothin' Jon Snow' one. Who's that?"
"Um," Clara looks from River to the Doctor and back to River, "Ygritte?"
River shakes a finger at her. "Yes. Eeeegritte." She looks back at the Doctor. "Her. She's got a big chin and she's lovely. Very lovely. And she's ginger too." River's eyes suddenly get wide and her mouth falls open. She grabs the Doctor by his bowtie and yanks him closer. "Doctor," she breathes, "Is Ygritte our daughter?"
The Doctor stares at her, deciding that out of all the versions of River he's ever met, this one definitely unnerves him the most. He carefully pries her hand off him and squeezes it gently before telling her, "No."
River nods, her eyes still wide. "No. I didn't think so."
They're spared the rest of River's drugged musings when the doctor—Sister Something-or-other; she's told the Doctor her name at least three times but he keeps forgetting—returns with the nurses to prep River for delivery. River seems to have lost all motor control as well as feeling, and it takes the combined efforts of himself, Clara, and the nurses to get her into position. She's laughing about something known only to herself as he and Clara haul her back into a semi-upright position against her mountain of pillows.
The room is a flurry of motion. Sister Something-or-other is doing something between River's legs while the nurses flit about with towels and masks and scrubs for him and Clara, and to him it all seems a bit unnecessarily chaotic. Or at least that's what he tells himself rather than admit that he's starting to panic.
It may not be his first rodeo but it's been at least a millennium and he was a nervous wreck at all his other children's deliveries as well. It doesn't help that the other times the mother of his child was coherent and surrounded by doctors of the same species who knew what they were doing, at least.
His hearts are already pounding and his head spinning when who else but Mia stumbles into the room. She nearly spins a circle trying to get out of the way of the nurses, and the Doctor reaches her just as she gets an unfortunate front-row seat to her own birth.
"Amelia!" he hisses, just as his daughter's eyes grow wide and her face turns white.
"Oh my god!" she says, horrified, but unable to tear her eyes away.
"What the hell are you still doing here?"
Mia seems to have forgotten he's there. "That's me in there! Oh my god, I can see my head!"
"Right." The Doctor glances at River, who for her part hasn't noticed that a fully-grown version of the child she's currently delivering has waltzed into the room, far too busy as she is rattling on to Clara about Game of Thrones, and grabs his daughter by the arm and drags her outside. "Why are you still here?"
"Oh, um." Mia closes her eyes and tries shaking herself out of her shock. "Sorry. I just thought I'd get some lunch from the café downstairs before I left, and then when I tried to leave the vortex manipulator shorted out."
The Doctor reaches for her wrist and pulls out his screwdriver. He glances at Mia's still-blood-drained face. "You alright?"
She looks anything but. "I am never having children," she says weakly. "That was the most horrifying thing I've ever seen in my life. I'm never having sex again."
"Well that's something," the Doctor mumbles as he finishes fixing the vortex manipulator. "Wait, 'again'?"
Mia's eyes go wide and some color returns to her cheeks. "I should go. Bye." And she disappears in a puff of smoke. Before the Doctor can contemplate the implications of her admission he hears one of the nurses telling River it's time to push, and he nearly trips over his own feet running back into the room.
The Doctor has lived a long, long life. He's done a lot, he's seen a lot, he's experienced a lot. He's got a memory spanning centuries; he has to have some way to keep it all organized in his head. By regeneration should be easiest, but it's not hard to forget which face he was wearing when something happened, so he's got to have more than one way of dividing up his life. Things that are less about him.
So he uses events. Turning points. Things that have such a profound effect on his life that it is impossible to look at the before and after in the same light.
Before he started running, after he started running. Before the Time War, after the Time War. Before River, after River. And today he thinks he may have to add another.
Before Mia, after Mia.
He lost the ability to be restful centuries ago. He's been many things over the years, but never still. Linear, sequential time drags on him, flowing heavily against him like molasses. He must always be doing something, going somewhere. He's never been content to simply be.
But the moment that tiny hand closes around his bowtie he knows he would be happy to never move again.
She's perfect. Totally, completely, utterly perfect. And she's all theirs. She's small and pink and adorably weird-looking. ("Nothing beats squishy squashy newborns," as Clara puts it.) She's already got a full head of hair, and it's auburn of all things ("She's ginger! River, can you believe!") and he laments that the red seems to have faded out by adulthood. She looks up at him with big blue eyes, and asserts that she still does not like this new world at all as it is much too big and much too cold, and his tie is so far the only thing she likes about it. The Doctor bounces her a bit to quiet her cries as River looks on from the bed.
"Oh, hush now, it's not as bad as all that. You like Mummy and me, don't you?"
Well, she admits, big milk blob and big purple blob are alright too.
The Doctor reclines in his chair and shifts Amelia to rest her head on his shoulder. She coos that she likes his warm cheek against her head before she falls asleep. The Doctor breathes in that wonderful baby smell, and as much as his hearts swell with joy it's hard not to feel the old familiar ache of loss as well. He can still see them all; his children, his grandchildren, his nieces and nephews, even Jenny; killed just as he began to love her. There's a hole in his heart where they used to be, but he's learning that it's not as empty as he once thought. He fills the void with memories of them, and finds that there's as much joy in remembering them as there is sorrow. He was a born father, he realizes. That part of him hadn't died, only gone to sleep, and holding his newborn daughter he feels it waking up.
It may always be bittersweet. He may never be able to look at Mia without wishing she could have known her brothers and sisters, her aunts and uncle, her cousins, her grandparents. But Mia is not her siblings. She is a brand new Time Lord proper, born centuries after her people's home planet turned to ash; a miracle in itself. She is part him and part River and part Amy and Rory and part Brian and Augustus and Tabetha and even Aunt Sharon. She is something impossible, improbable. Something he never thought he could have or would have again. She is him and River and his and she will be here to comfort him long after her mother is gone. She is hope, and the longer he holds her, the less everything seems to hurt.
"Falling asleep?" The Doctor opens his eyes to see River smiling at him. The drugs have worn off by now, leaving her lucid enough to enjoy her new daughter. River as a mother is a new and wonderful thing for him to behold. He's never seen her more scared or more happy. For a child who never had a normal family life or a normal relationship with her parents, motherhood must be a rather frightening notion. "I was thinking," she says, reaching out a hand to stroke the small arm resting on his shoulder, "About nicknames."
"Hm?" The Doctor gives a noncommittal hum and hides a smile against his daughter's head. He'd managed to keep his foreknowledge a secret thus far. River had been the one to suggest naming her Amelia, and he had decided to wait and see if Mia was her idea as well.
"Amy is obviously out, as is Melly, since that was one of Amy's nicknames for me, so for a while I thought about Lia." She pauses, awaiting his reaction.
The Doctor nods, trying not to laugh as he answers, "Pretty name."
"But then I thought, what about Mia?" The Doctor can't help his grin anymore, and he sees River's eyes light up at his apparent approval. "It means 'mine', you know. And I thought…" she trails off, breaking eye contact and focusing on their daughter (their daughter! The Doctor feels a surge of delight every time he thinks of it.) "There aren't many things in my life that have been my own. And I never had a normal relationship with my own parents, and I know that I won't always have you around forever." She smiles softly. "But I'll have her. No matter what, that's what she'll always be: mine."
The Doctor feels tears prickling the corners of his eyes. He's always known they'd call her Mia, always liked it, always thought it was a pretty name, always thought it fit. But now, knowing why she'd been given that name, knowing what it meant to River and to himself…he can't think of anything he'd rather she be called.
He swallows the lump in his throat and gives his wife a watery smile. "Mia. I think it's perfect."
Mia's pacing her room nervously when she hears the familiar sound of the TARDIS dematerializing. She runs to her window and looks out to see the blue box flickering out of sight while her mother watches it, hands on her hips and feet shifting back and forth, obviously distressed. She feels her hearts sink. She knew something was up. Her dad was always happy to see her, but this time he was so distant. She should have known immediately that he didn't know her.
It was an odd experience. Her life with her parents hadn't always been perfectly linear, but they'd always known her. Meeting a version of her father who didn't know her, who looked at her like she was a stranger, like he was scared of her…she didn't like it one bit. How her parents could ever bear meeting each other before they knew who they were to each other, she'd never understand. The wheezing sound has just faded away before it resumes, growing in volume until the ship reappears exactly where it been before. She holds her breath until the door opens and the Doctor steps out. He and her mother start talking about something, and then he glances up to her window and catches her eye.
Mia smiles and waves at him, but this seems to catch him off-guard. His smile is all wrong and he only manages a half-hearted wave in reply. Mia's hearts sink. Still too young. This man is the Doctor but he's not her father yet. He looks back at her mother and tells her something before stepping into the TARDIS. Mum turns to give her a reassuring smile and a thumbs up, mouthing 'Five minutes', before following the Doctor inside.
Mia sighs and rests her head against the glass. This is why Mum and Dad keep diaries. She wonders if she's going to have to start keeping one too.
"Shouldn't you be studying?" Mia's head whips around and she can't help a smile when she sees him leaning against her bedroom door. The differences are subtle but she can't believe she could have missed them. The grey at his temples, the lines around his eyes; now this man, this man is definitely her Dad.
She practically vaults off the window seat and throws herself into his arms with a shriek of delight. He catches her, laughing, and lifts her off her feet and spins her around. He kisses her cheek and sets her down. "Well hello! Can't be that long since you've seen me!"
Mia smiles up at him. "I'm just happy it's you." He doesn't have to ask what she means.
His brow furrows in concern. "Are you alright?"
She nods. "Yeah. It's just…weird."
He hums in reply. "If it makes you feel any better I can promise that it was much weirder for me."
Mia frowns and looks away, trying to think of how to word her next statement. She hates to bring it up, but if there is one thing she is happy she hasn't inherited from her parents, it's their tendency to completely ignore their own emotional concerns in order to keep the other person happy. "You seemed…you seemed scared of me." She ends up saying. She hears her father sigh and looks up.
"I was," he tells her with a wry smile.
Her stomach squirms but she presses on. "Did you not want me? I know I was a surprise and-"
"No, no, no." He takes her face in his hands and looks into her eyes. "Mia, darling, you have to understand, this had everything to do with who you were, but nothing to do with you." He strokes her cheek with his thumb. "I stumbled upon something I was nowhere near ready for and it was a huge shock. I was scared, and I wasn't sure I could do it. At that time in my life, this seemed…unfathomable. I couldn't handle it. I just wasn't ready, and it took a while before I could think about this with a clear head. But you, 'Melia, you, you I wanted. By the time you were born I was past all that."
"So you don't regret it, or anything? You were just scared?"
The Doctor smiles down at his daughter, at Amy's eyes and his nose and River's smile. "Oh Mia Amelia, Amelia mine," and she giggles at the old nickname, "Of course I was scared. The best spoilers are always the scariest."
A/N: Couple notes. 1. Excuse any mistakes by blaming it on 51st century medicine. 2. Baby Mia has blue eyes and Adult Mia has brown eyes. This is not a mistake. Most babies are born with blue eyes and then they change as they get older. 3. I never really mentioned it in-fic, but Mia's upbringing was split between the 21st and 51st centuries. This may be part of why she sucks at history classes. 4. On that note, you can assume she's talking about a more specific history class, like "Ancient World History", or "Medieval European History", or whatever, but using 'History' as just the generic name for it. 5. She's about 19-20 at the beginning and end of the story. She's a year or so older when she gate-crashes her own birth. 6. Ygritte reference because Rose Leslie is the other actress I could conceivable see playing an adult Timebaby. 7. Finally, this was a pain to edit. I think I got everything, though. I'm sick of looking at it.