River opened her eyes and stared around, unsure as to where she was or how she’d ended up there. She was in a white room that seemed to go on without end, and she was wearing an unusual, flowing white dress. It took her a while, but then the pieces slowly came together. “Oh, that man. He just doesn’t ever give up.”
She whirled in place to find him lounging in the doorway to the zero room, his stupid, smug smile firmly in place. “Oh, you! You think you’re so impressive.”
“I am so impressive!”
She grinned and he strode into the room to sweep her into his arms and kiss her breathless.
When he set her down an eternity later, she was no longer certain which direction was up. “You brilliant man! How did you do it? Was it the screwdriver?”
“That is the most logical assumption, and also what my younger self thinks. Inaccurate, though. It was a red herring. Which reminds me: these are for you.” From inside his pockets, he produced her journal and her screwdriver, placing both back into her hands. She looked up at him and he winked. “Still haven’t peeked.”
She hugged them to her chest. “How?”
“How did I avoid your death? The same way I avoided my own.”
“...you used a tesseract? Shouldn’t I remember being a tiny person in a robot?”
“What? No. River, what are you talking about? I used a remote-controlled avatar. Kept you safe here on the TARDIS while I translated the signal through the Vortex to your double. Mind you, it took me almost ten years to build your doppelganger. Had to get everything perfect so that neither younger me, nor you, knew there’d been a switch. Very difficult, fooling Time Lord senses. Had to account for fluctuations in body temperature due to emotion, the release of various hormones into the air, the texture and sensitivity of flesh, as well as the minute changes that occur to the face as it flexes with each expression. And then I had to be sure that it didn’t weigh any more than you would, that it could process food and water properly... And when I was done with all that, I had to set up the proper channels in the head to direct the flow of energy so that the transfer of people from CAL back into corporeal form worked. That’s how I figured it out in the first place. Younger me is running - I’m good at that - because he doesn’t know how to handle the whammy of a secret you threw at him. But later, once I knew exactly who River Song was, I started thinking. A full Time Lord brain would have been able to handle the influx of energy and would have had enough storage to accommodate the load for a short while before it shorted out. But a human mind, even augmented by the Vortex, would not have been able to. You,” he kissed her briefly but thoroughly, “would not have been successful at it. Thus, it wasn’t you.” He grinned, smug-proud. “So I built you a double that would be able to bear the load. Hideously difficult. Might have used Time Lord science to cheat.”
“Bigger on the inside?”
“I see.” She paused, “and when did this switch occur?”
He had the grace to look abashed. “On our wedding night. After you fell asleep.”
“You married me, switched me with a robot, and left me alone for two years?” she stepped towards him and he backed up, his hands up defensively.
“N-now, River. Just hold on a minute!” his eyes were wide.
She rather enjoyed being able to elicit this reaction out of the most powerful man she’d ever met.
“I had to,” he almost pleaded. “I know it was two years, and I really am sorry about that. But it was literally the only time where the timelines were weak enough - or strong enough, depending on how you think of it - to support the substitution. And!” he continued hastily when that obviously wasn’t enough to mollify her, “I had to stay in the Vortex the whole time! I couldn’t have you jumping to other times and risk losing the signal to your double. So I kept you safe in the Zero Room here, and kept the TARDIS in the Vortex, where she could send the signal wherever you decided to travel. I’ve spent the last two years that you were getting your doctorate and then teaching watching you from the Vortex. I’ve been just as lonely for you as you were for me, I assure you.”
She came even closer, wrapped her arms around him, and lay her head on his chest. “You better have been.”
He made a happy sound and draped his arms around her, kissing her head. “I was. I promise. Having your unconscious body here is not the same as having you in it.”
They stood there a long moment before she reached up and adjusted his bowtie.
“Oh, but you are a clever man.” She kissed him delicately and he looked distinctly relieved. “Is this it, then? Is the circle complete?”
“It’s complete. We’re linear again.”
“Well then, Doctor. I’d like to visit the Tylers, if you please.”
He stepped back and gestured for her to proceed him out the room. “River Song, your wish is my command.”
A little over six months after the Doctor’s last visit, his blue box once more materialized on the front lawn of the Tyler mansion. As the Doctor and River approached the door hand in hand, they could hear voices from inside the building.
“Was that the TARDIS?” Jackie said. “What’s himself doing here so early? Tony, be a dear and get the door, would you? I hate it when he sonics my lock.”
They heard footsteps approach and the two of them shared a quick fierce grin.
The door opened to reveal a young twenty-something man with unruly brown hair and a mischievous grin. Hey eyes widened as he took in the Doctor standing there with River. “Mum! It’s the Doctor!” he yelled in the manner of college students everywhere, still staring at River. “And he brought a woman!”
“Did he now? It’s about time!”
“Hi.” The young man stuck his hand out to River, “my name is Tony Tyler.”
River let go of the Doctor’s hand to shake Tony’s, hiding her amusement. “Nice to meet you. I’m River Song.”
“C’mon in. Mum’ll have tea on.” Tony closed the door behind them and then led the way down the hallway.
River took in the festive garland and lights strewn about the house. “What day is it?” she asked with a suspicious glance at the Doctor, who was maintaining a determinedly innocent air.
“Christmas eve. Mum’s surprised because he,” Tony jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the Doctor, “usually shows up for dinner day-of. You’re a day early.”
“Here they are, Mum.” Tony said, stepping into a spacious kitchen full of fantastic smells. “This is River Song.”
Jackie Tyler turned away from the stove, towel in hand. Her hair had mostly gone to silver, and there were more lines on her face. But the silver made her look dignified and the lines were born of laughter. River’s face remained pleasant even as her heart clenched. This was her mother, healthy and happy with her new husband and child. Over all the years she’d been gone, the Doctor had looked after them. She poured all her love and gratitude into the connection she had with him then squeezed his hand, let go, and offer Jackie a handshake.
“Hello, Mrs. Tyler,” she said, proud of how steady her voice was. “It’s nice to meet you. Is your husband around?”
Jackie reached out and took her daughter’s hand. “Jackie, please, if I can call you River. And Pete’s just upstairs. He’ll be along in a minute.” She stepped past River to give the Doctor a hug and kiss on the cheek. “Been telling tales, have we?”
“Hello, Jackie,” the Doctor returned.
“Jacks? Is that the Doctor?”
Footsteps down the stairs and a male voice, it had to be Pete.
“In the kitchen!” Jackie called. “Have a seat,” she said talking to the Doctor and River. “I’ll bring you some tea.”
Jackie poured the tea, Pete came into the kitchen, and introductions were made again. River ended up offering to help Jackie cook and the two of them moved in and around each other, talking and laughing like old friends. The Doctor leaned back and sipped his tea, his eyes tracking River with lazy contentment.
“You love her,” Pete observed after a while.
“What?” the Doctor started. “Oh, yes. I do.”
Pete and Tony stared.
“You tell her that?” Tony asked. He’d grown up hearing about Bad Wolf Bay and ‘Quite right, too.’
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’ve told my wife that I love her.”
This last was Jackie, having caught only her husband and son’s incredulous exclamations.
“Oh, Sweetie, really?” River sighed. “Did you have to?”
“What?” The Doctor said with blank incomprehension while they Tylers mouthed ‘Sweetie?’ to each other. “You said you wanted them to know.”
River shook her head, kissed him lightly to the shock of everyone, and turned to Jackie. “Let’s set the table. Then I’ll explain.”
They must have talked for hours, trying to explain the intricate back and forth that had been their lives since he’d found his way to Pete’s World and she’d been stolen. The Tylers were incredulous at first, but River had no shortage of memories with which to prove her identity. Once it sank in that River was indeed Rose, the tears started. Jackie clung to the Doctor and River in equal measure, sobbing her gratitude to him and babbling about how much ‘her baby’ had grown.
It was just bad luck that Jackie remembered his last visit with them while she was stuck to his chest.
“You!” she yelled, her head snapping up to glare at him. Watching the fear race over the Doctor’s face was one of the funniest things River had ever seen, and she was hard pressed to stifle her laughter.
“Now, wait - Jackie. Wait a moment!” The Doctor brought up his hands and tried to back away.
But she clenched her fists in his shirt, unwilling to allow him to escape.
“You’ve known River for years! You’ve talked about her! How long have you known she was my Rose?” she demanded.
“Jackie - “
“How long? She was alive, you knew she was alive, and you never said!”
The Doctor stared over Jackie’s head at River in panic, begging her to save him.
River shook her head, muttered something about, “Oncoming Storm,” under her breath, and approached, putting her hands on Jackie’s shoulders. “Mum, stop. You’re scaring my husband. He couldn’t tell you. What if something about it changed? Time is in flux, we’ve told you that before. It would have gotten your hopes up for nothing, and - why are you looking at me like that?”
“You called me Mum!”
The Doctor and River laid on their backs on the red grass of Gallifrey, the orange sky slowly sliding into red as the suns sank below the horizon.
“Doctor?” River asked into the quiet, as the world around them began to settle in for the night.
“I’ve been thinking. About what you said about Time Lord names.”
“Mmm.” She smiled and shifted position until her head was pillowed on his shoulder, his small grunts as she elbowed him ignored. “Well. I think you’re right. Changing names isn’t the best idea.”
“Of course. I’m always right.”
She elbowed him in the ribs. “I never expected it, but I really like being called Rose by Mum. Having Pete and Tony there again...he’s grown so much.”
The Doctor turned his head and kissed her on her temple.
“What if I went back to being Rose again? Would you mind?” she asked in a small voice.
“I don’t care what you want to call yourself. I already know who you are.” The Doctor rolled over and took her into his arms, their faces close together. «Bad Wolf,» he breathed.
She shivered in recognition and they shared a lingering kiss.
He stared at her, eyes gleaming. “Rose?”
She smiled, that tongue-touched smile from lifetimes ago. “Rose.”
He kissed her again before rolling over onto his back again, holding her close. “What if we settled here a while?” he asked, voice filled with drowsy contentment.
“Well, I’m getting tired of running, and -”
“And Gallifrey is a beautiful planet.”
“And - yes. Gallifrey is beautiful,” he agreed. “It’s just...I never really appreciated it while it was here. And I collected all these recipes for food and designs for clothing and architecture, and...” he was fidgeting about nervously the longer he talked.
Rose put a calming hand over his and his rambling slowed to a stop. “I think it’s a wonderful idea. I could do with some peace as well. We’ll stay here, build you a slice of home. And when we get antsy, we can alway start running again. Because it will still be here when we get back.”
He stared at her, overwhelmed with love. “How long are you going to stay with me?” he asked, voice tremulous.
Bad Wolf smiled, her eyes flashing gold. “Forever.”
And she did.
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