It’s not intentional. At least not at first. She just gets tired of hanging out in the void while her friends sleep so she starts to explore by herself. Nowhere too treacherous. Just something to distract her from how lonely the tardis feels when her fam sleeps.
It’s only when Yaz catches her opening the doors in front of the singing towers that she realises just whos steps she’s been retracing.
“Where are we?”
She wants to shut the doors and flee but Yaz is looking at her which such wonder that she has to smother the impulse to run and show her friend the towers.
“The singing towers of Darilium. Just close your eyes and listen.”
She closes her eyes and listens too. The sound is just as breathtaking as the first time she heard it. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” she sighs. With her eyes closed like this she can nearly pretend it’s her wife standing beside her.
“Yeah it is,” but when she opens her eyes she sees Yaz is looking at her instead of the towers. Which ah. That may be turn into a problem later.
“Doctor? Are you crying,”
She raises a hand to her cheek to find it damp.
“Oh,” she frowns looking for something to say that will get Yaz to stop looking at her like that. “They’re happy tears. Promise.”
“But,” she hesitate “you don’t look happy is all.”
She fixes Yaz with her best grin. “Of course I’m happy. A day out with my Yaz why wouldn’t I be happy?” she says as she throws her arm around her young friends shoulders.
“I guess,” she says suddenly looking very pink.
Really the Doctor should feel guilty about that but she just doesn’t feel like getting into feelings right now. And she will talk to her. Later.
She promises herself that now that she knows she’s doing it she’ll stop but of course she doesn’t. The next time the humans are aleep she already knows where she’s going. As they land she realises Graham is in the console room with her.
“Have we landed somewhere? I thought everyone went to bed,”
“Oh sweepings boring. I thought I’d have a little solo adventure while you lot snooze.”
“Is that the best idea Doc. You have a tendency to get into trouble when you’re by yourself.”
“Of course it’s a good idea. All my ideas are good ideas”
She opens the tardis door and just stands there. It’s quieter than the last time she was there but still unmistakably the library. She breathes in the smell of books and stands and stands and stands. She can’t quite bring herself to take the first step into the library itself.
“Everything okay Doc?” Graham asks coming up behind her. He laughs when he sees what’s on the other side of the door. “Well I guess even you can’t get into much trouble here.”
“Cheek,” she mutters propelled into motion by Graham's comment.
She’s not far into the library when she comes face to face with a statue wearing an oh so familiar face. Before the statue even has a chance to speak she’s already halfway back to the tardis tears spilling hot and silent down her face.
“In trouble already?” Graham looks startled at her sudden return.
She pulls up her hood and angles herself away from him as she begins the take off sequence. “Just realised that libraries are even more boring than sleep” she hopes he doesn’t notice the way her voice cracks. “I’d much rather have an adventure then read about one. You should go to bed. I could do with a nap myself.”
He gives her a long look that she can’t quite decipher before nodding and leaving her be.
When he’s gone her knees buckle and she curls up where she stood pressing herself into her ships console. The answering flood of concern and protective comfort she gets in return is enough to set her off. Sobs of grief wrack her body in earnest.
She doesn’t remember closing her eyes but she wakes to a concerned Ryan tapping at her cheek.
“You alright Doctor?”
“Oh hi Ryan. sorry about that. Just had a little kip to recharge my batteries.”
“And you thought the floor was the best place for that?”
“Of course. I’ll sleep anywhere me. I can’t help that you humans need such specialised sleeping areas.”
He still looks doubtful but they’re thankfully interrupted by Yaz.
“Look what was just lying on the floor.”
When she sees what Yaz has found all she can do is stare. There’s a pounding in her head that won’t stop subside and her vision begins to blur. It’s only when her respiratory bypass kicks in that she realises she’s not breathing.
She takes a long shuddering breath in before levelling Yaz with her best I’m being serious so you need to listen to me stare.
“Yaz it’s very important that you hand that over right now.”
“Why? Is it dangerous?”
She pauses for a moment considering “Not sure. You better give it to me just in case.”
Yaz hesitates before handing it over.
“Hmm” the Doctor pretends to examine the ring as if it isn’t already achingly familiar to her. “I’d better run some tests just to before sure,” she says before slipping it into her pocket safe beside her trusty screwdriver.
She manages to keep herself distracted for two whole days after that. She decides to let the humans take turns picking their next destinations. The joy on their faces lightens her spirit and only the ring burning a whole in her pocket reminds her of why they’d been dampened in the first place.
It’s going well until Graham wants to visit the library he’d glimpsed the other night. She considers refusing or taking them to a different library but she can’t bring herself to let him down like that. She trys to hang back in the tardis but it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“You coming Doc?”
“Not a big fan of libraries me. I’d much rather be having adventures then reading about them in stuffy old books. Not that there’s anything wrong with you lot doing it. Takes all kinds and all that. I just think I’m more suited to the running around kind of adventures. I’ll just pop into the tardis and hop ahead a couple of hours to when you lot are done.”
“I can’t really imagine you sitting still long enough to get invested in a good book,” Ryan chuckles in agreement.
“That’s me alright,” she says with a grin doing her best not to retaliate.
She thinks she’s gotten away with it but Yaz is frowning at her. “Hang on that’s not right. I saw you with a big stack of books last week. Your room is practically a library.
Damn. They’re all frowning at her now.
“Come with us?” Yaz asks “please.” And yeah. She’s always had a hard time resisting pretty girls. So she goes with them but to her shock the library's not empty this time. There are swarms of people and yet she’s sure this is post vashta nerada.
“Sorry new to the area. What’s going on?” she asks the nearest person.
He frowns at her in confusion before answering. “Apparently there were some people still in the computer. A bunch of scientists just got them out. She doesn’t respond to him or hear her fams reactions she’s to focused on one thing. They got them out.
She takes off searching for a familiar head of curls. She’s almost sure it’s a false hope but she has to look. Has to be sure.
And then she sees her. She can’t help herself. She launches herself at her wife and when she reaches her she wraps her legs around her wifes hips and her arms around her shoulders.
“Well hello to you too.”
She hadn’t realised quite how much she’d missed that voice until she heard it again. It soothes an ache deep in the core of her being and instead of answering she opts to bury her face in the familiar mass of curls.
“Uh hi,” she hears Yaz say from behind her. “I’m Yaz and these are Ryan and Graham.”
“And who’s your friend.” Right. New face she realises as she feels River gesture in her direction.
“Uh,” she can hear Ryan shuffle awkwardly. “We kind of figured you already knew her considering,” he trails of.
“Hmm,” she makes a curious noise before tilting the Doctors chin up to get a better look at the Doctors face.
“I missed you sweetie.”
“Oh,” realisation sparks across Rivers face and then they’re kissing.
She thought hearing her wife's voice was good but this. This is sublime. This is miraculous. This is. This is perfect. Absolutely perfect.
She’s so focused on the feeling of her wife's lips on hers and oh do they feel good, different than when she was old and Scottish but no less fantastic, that she forgets about the presence of her fam. She begins to release River of her top when Graham gives a loud cough. Right.
She turns her head to look at her friends without releasing her hold on her wife. Yaz is bright red her gaze fully focused on her feet in contrast to Ryan who can’t seem to stop looking at her in open mouthed bewilderment while Graham shuffles beside them awkwardly.
“Maybe you should introduce us to your friend Doc,” this earns a laugh from Ryan. she can practically hear the air quotes around the word friend.
“Actually I have some business here I should probably attend to so you guys should probably run on without me,” she says in her best I’m very serious voice although the effect is probably reduced by the fact that she can’t stop looking at River.
“Seriously” Ryan protests although he’s still looking at her like she’s got two heads.
“Come on. I think I left my sarnie in the tardis” Graham says as he herds the teenagers back to the tardis.
She can here still here Ryan protesting as they vanish down the corridor. Yaz doesn’t say anything. Too focused on pretending she doesn’t exist. Right. They never did have that talk.
“Your friends seem interesting.”
“Yeah they’re brilliant. I call them my fam. Actually” she continues ignoring Rivers eye roll at the word fam which rude. Fam was a brilliant word. Who wouldn’t want to be called fam. “We better follow them. I never actually gave out Tardis keys and she’s been a bit touchy about letting humans in without them recently. Think it’s because of the time Ryan tried to” but her wife interests her before she can finish.
“As much as I love having you up here sweetie are you planning on walking back to your ship yourself.”
She feels a flash of hurt before she realises what River means. “You know what,” she says considering before manoeuvring herself so she’s wrapped securely around her wife's back. “I think I’m comfortable right where I am.”
“I suppose it’s hard work walking on those little legs.”
“Shut up I am not small. I’ve always been taller than you.”
“I hate to break it to you sweetie but that’s definitely not true anymore.”
When they reach the tardis her fam are already in the console room although they make a quick getaway at the sight of the Doctor and her wife.
River lets the Doctor down then and she feels her face crumple before she can stop it but River keeps a tight hold of her hand. They pilot the Tardis together linked by more than just their hands able to anticipate each other's moves and guide the Tardis into the vortex with none of the usual turbulence. Oh this dance is so much better with two.
“I had such plans for you but I think they might have to wait a bit. You look like you’re about to collapse.”
She had been full of just as many grand plans about what she was going to do when she finally got her wife alone but River is right. She is exhausted. She doesn’t think she’s slept properly since Darilium and it’s hard to resist when River guides her towards the sofa and eases her head into her lap. She begins to rub soothing patterns through her hair and the Doctor has to fight to keep her eyes open.
“Mmm, that feels nice.”
“I bet it does. Rest my love. There’ll be plenty of time for the fun kind of sleeping together in the morning.”
“Promise me you’ll still be here when I wake up,” she hates the vulnerability in her voice but she needs to be sure. She’s had this dream too many times already and it always ends the same way. Lonely and miserable.
“Always,” River whispers as she plants a kiss on the Doctors temple.
And it’ll have to be reassurance enough because unconsciousness is already claiming her.