A/N: Twelfth Doctor fic? Why, yes, yes it is. If you haven't heard (and are presumably living underground or deathly afraid of spoilers), Twelve was announced yesterday. If you don't know who and want to know, head to Google. If not, carry on…
He'd redecorated and he didn't like it. Not much of a forehead on the new model and the nose was much slimmer, starting out thinner at the crown between his eyes and swooping down into a curve at the base like an upside down Christmas tree light from the 1950s. There were bags under this one's eyes. So much older. Even sunglasses couldn't conceal it. And the hair, gray. He hadn't had gray hair since his third incarnation. Well, if he was being honest—which he rarely was in any incarnation—he hadn't had it since he'd been the man who broke the promise, but he didn't like to think of that one, so he didn't.
The Doctor barred his teeth and something about the image in the mirror made him think of Rory. Oh, Rory, one of his Ponds. He crossed his hands over his new chest to quell the heartsache. He'd only ever known the Ponds in his eleventh incarnation; he'd known little Amelia since she was seven-years-old. He'd grown so fond of that young face; hers as well as his own. Centuries worth of memories with her and Rory and…
His hearts panged again, reverberating like the hum of a Chinese gong. He needed to find something else to wear. He hadn't worn his tweed in so long. That was what he'd lost them in and it felt like a bad omen. Naturally, the first time he'd dared put it on since, he'd been forced to regenerate. Now, at an inch taller than before, the pants were just too short and the sleeves not quite long enough and the shoes too tight. The bowtie didn't look right either. The whole nutty professor look, that worked on a young man; it just looked like a cliché on an old one.
The Doctor hung his head over the sink, balancing himself with a new hand on either side of the square porcelain. He stared into the drain, but could see nothing but darkness. Holding onto that body had been like holding onto a piece of them somehow. Now even that had fallen into the blackness; the void of the time vortex. His new face reflected the passage of their time; his laugh lines—though he'd never laughed in this body—and more, the wrinkles, were their memories, their endings.
"If only you could see me now, Sweetie. No longer the ageless god." He could see her; he could go to The Library. She was still there, sleeping, but he knew it wouldn't be fair to either of them if he came. He fingered his bowtie. It wasn't the one that had sealed their marriage, that one he kept locked away for safe keeping—for his wife's eyes only—but it nevertheless reminded him of her, despite that it no longer looked proper at the base of his throat.
His other hand slipped from the sink as the ship rocketed beneath his feet. Not being familiar with the reflexes in this body, he was too slow, and tumbled to the left and then to the right. He grasped for the shower curtain, tore it off its hooks, and fell into the bathtub. He landed on his coccyx and cursed the daleks as he untangled himself from the plastic. "A straight jacket would be easier to escape from," he grumbled, still trying to find the places where his new body stopped and started.
Once free, he stomped down to the main control room, pounding like a child mid-tantrum to let his ship know just how much he had not appreciated her tumbling him around the bathroom like an old towel in the dryer. "What's wrong with you!" he shouted, not so much a question as a demand for answer. Naturally, he received none, which only served to further infuriate him.
The TARDIS hummed, but The Doctor ignored her, choosing to round the control panel and check her vitals instead. "You know how I feel after regeneration!" he scolded. "I'm still trying to find myself. You could at least give me a day before shooting me off into the next round of madness!"
"Where's the fun in that?"
The Doctor caught his breath, daring not to look anywhere other than where his eyes were currently fixated: the time rotor. It was unmistakable: that was her voice. But how? Was he hallucinating? Post-regenerative hallucination? That had happened before. Maybe he was dreaming? Or – or was she back? Her data ghost, haunting him once more from The Library?
"Sweetie, are you going to open the door or am I going to have to blast my way through?"
The Doctor dared to look towards the doors. Sure enough a swathe of blonde curls was visible through one of the windows. He eyed the time rotor again, then the door. "But she's gone," he whispered, to which the TARDIS mechanically stirred. "I took her to the Towers, I…"
"Is he scrambling to put his clothes on? Did Marilyn get the best of him again?"
The Doctor inched around the console, trying to get a better look out the windows without her seeing him. Surely it would ruin the timeline if he—"Agh!" He shook off his hand, the console having zapped it with some kind of charge. The tip of one of his nails was still smoking. "What was that for?" he sneered, quiet enough so that his wife wouldn't hear him outside.
Suddenly a hologram appeared in front of him: his wife in a cleric's army uniform, her blonde hair pulled up, and she held her aging diary in her hands.
The Doctor recognized the outfit instantly: that was what she'd changed into when they'd investigated the crash of the Byzantium, his first adventure with her in his previous body. But he couldn't understand why the TARDIS was showing this to him now. He neared the hologram and walked around it, looking for another clue.
"It's so strange when you all Baby Face. How early is this for you?" The hologram flickered, faded, and reappeared, this time facing the opposite direction so that it faced The Doctor again. It was the TARDIS's way of letting him know he couldn't skirt around the situation, figuratively or literally. "I've got pictures of all your faces. You never show up in the right order though. I need the Spotter's Guide."
"Who are you talking to in there?" River's voice demanded from outside.
"Stop it!" he seethed. "Stop torturing all of us like this!"
The hologram seemed to rewind itself. "I need the Spotter's Guide," it said again.
"The Spotter's Guide." The Doctor gaped. "Oh. Oh!" He pounded his bony palms against his temples. "How could I be so daft?" he asked, staring at the hologram. "Spotter's Guide!" He caressed one of the control levers. "From the first day she met that body, she told me that it wasn't over and she didn't even know it!"
The TARDIS hummed delightfully as the hologram snapped out of existence.
The Doctor caught his reflection in one of the metal grids on the console and preened his fingers through his tight gray curls, then strutted down the walk and pried back the door. "Hello…Sweetie." He swallowed back the image of her using that word to tell him goodbye.
For once, River didn't seem to have a reply. She looked him up and down. Eventually, she crossed her arms. "Well," she said. "Are you going to let me in? Someone else wouldn't. Maybe I need to get myself a key after all."
The Doctor stepped aside and swept out his arm for her to pass through. He watched her movements as if he were a camera, capturing each one on mental film so he would never again forget the way each curl bounced against her back or the way her fingers brushed against her thighs with each step. "River." He was surprised that it didn't sound like Rivah anymore.
River herself seemed startled by that and turned to take in his new voice. And face. "What happened this time?" she asked. "Slip on your rubber ducky?"
The Doctor almost laughed, given the irony of having fallen into the tub less than ten minutes earlier. But then he realized that maybe it wasn't irony after all: his TARDIS did exist in the past, present, and future simultaneously. He cleared his throat. "What do you think?" he asked, surprised at how self conscious he felt.
River neared him, studying him. "The clothes are a bit tight."
The Doctor nodded.
River unbuttoned one of his cuffs and lifted his hand. She traced her fingernails along the lines in his skin like a fortune teller. In a way, she was. Then she took his other hand and did the same, before tilting her head back and staring up at him. "A whole inch taller. Guess I'll have to get all new pumps now, won't I, Sweetie?"
The Doctor inclined his head. "That better?"
River stroked his cheek and leaned on her tip toes to kiss one of his silver brows. "So…mature."
"I don't like the nose."
"Better than my father's."
The comment stung, but The Doctor didn't know what point in her timeline River was at, so he did his best to avoid letting it show. "Wouldn't talk if I were you, Dear. Three incarnations later and you still have his nose."
River grinned and slid her arms up his new chest, attached them to his collar, and began to tug the tweed down his back. "I think I know a better suit for you."
"Let me guess: spoilers?"
River deftly unbuckled his black pants and tugged them down, then roughly ripped his shirt open, sending buttons clattering across the console. "Your birthday suit." She began to run her hands up and down the new skin.
"River–" He reached for her wrists to hold her wandering hands still.
She waited silently for him to continue.
"I'm not an ageless god."
River allowed him to hold her hands momentarily. "Let me see the damage." Her fingers rolled through his hair. "You don't have to be self conscious, Sweetie. We can explore this new body. Together."
"I'm not self conscious," he replied stubbornly, but the turn of his head belied his words.
"Prove it." River wiggled her hands free and turned her back to him. She knelt down to the tweed jacket on the floor and slipped one hand inside it and the other hand into her pocket. When she stood and turned back, she was holding the sonic in one hand and handcuffs in the other.
The Doctor glided his tongue across the edge of his new lips, noting how much drier they were than his old ones. He imagined pressing them against River's moist lips. Eventually, he took the sonic screwdriver and tossed it over his shoulder, then offered up both hands as if to a police officer.
River clapped the cuffs around his wrists, made sure they were secure, and then draped his arms around her neck. She leaned as high as she could and when she could reach no more, The Doctor bowed his head to meet her awaiting lips.
"I guess Baby Face is old hat now," he said when they could breathe again.
"Finally got that obsession out of your system, did you?"
The Doctor grinned. "So what's the nickname this time?"
"Why don't we go down to the wardrobe and find out?"
"As long as you don't put me in jodhpurs."
"Maybe I'll just put you in an old ball and chain."
"So she says."
River tweaked the bowtie. "Are bowties still cool?"
The Doctor lifted his hands to his wife's chin and wrapped them—uncomfortably gripped in the cold metal—around her cheeks. "You don't have to be self conscious. The way I feel about you isn't a fad, Wife. You'll be with me after Trenzalore, you'll always be with me; tied to my hearts."
River hooked her finger around the chain of the cuffs. "On second thought, we don't need the wardrobe. The console will do just fine."
"We might end up with a new desktop."
River pushed her husband into a sitting position on the edge of the console and swung her leg onto his lap. "It comes free with change," she whispered, punctuating her words with kisses. "Tell you what, we can even try out a few styles and see what we like best."
"What if all the parts don't work?"
"I'm sure the TARDIS has all her faculties in order."
The Doctor grunted as River pushed his head against the time rotor.
"But if you're worried about your parts, I can tell you one's already in gear…"
The TARDIS hummed and the lights summarily went out, leaving only the neon warning lights along the wall and various console lighting intact.
From the darkness, handcuffs clanged.