There was nothing special about her thirteenth birthday. She knew that. And yet, Amy had let herself think that maybe it would be the day that he'd come back and her life would properly begin. She'd tried not to sulk through her own party, and fallen asleep curled around Merias with hot tears in her eyes. A part of her was frightened that this had been her last chance, that now she was officially a teenager she was too old to believe in the Doctor and she would never see him again. Another part was angry that another year had gone by and he hadn't rescued her. The feelings tangled together in her mind, and all her dreams were of running after someone she couldn't see, let alone catch up with.
When Amy wakes up the next morning, she's still wrapped around Meri, but he's a lot bigger that he was the night before. The bed creaks under their combined weight as she sits up. And sees that for some daft reason, he's got fangs on.
"What do you want to look like that for?" she says. His long coat is a sandy colour, more like a lion than what she imagined a saber-toothed tiger would look like.
"I didn't want to. You made me." The bed makes an alarming noise as he rolls off of it and onto the floor.
"This is my shape now."
He's been changing less lately, and more often than not into big cats of one sort or another, as if he were trying to work out which one he should settle as. She'd secretly been hoping for a snow leopard. "You can't be stuck like that. Daemons don't turn into extinct animals!"
"They do if they've seen another daemon do it. Apparently."
A chill goes down her spine. "The Doctor."
"The Doctor," Merias agrees.
She closes her eyes and thinks back. Everything about that night is burned into her mind, including all of the things that his daemon shifted into on the way to being an otter. The feline shape she took in between being a green bird Amy didn't recognize and a mongoose is there in perfect detail, like everything else. It must be, or this couldn't have happened.
Amy has often thought that it was her story about the raggedy man's daemon, as much as anything else, that made people think she was making it up. Who ever heard of a grown man with a daemon that changed shape? But then, whoever heard of a girl with a saber-toothed cat?
She puts her head in her hands. "This can't be happening."
"You know he's real. This is just more evidence."
This is going to make everything worse. Her aunt will send her back to the doctors. Everyone will stare.
Meri rests his great head in her lap, sensing her anxiety.
She lifts her chin, and puts a hand on his head. "No. Don't ever be sorry. If this is who we are, then it's who we'll be. Besides, you're beautiful."
He stands up and stretches from nose to tail so she can appreciate him. Nobody in Leadworth, nobody in the world, has a daemon like Merias now.
Amy Pond is going to go downstairs and walk into the kitchen with her head up, and then to school, and then into the psychiatrist's office if she has to. People can say what they like. This is just proof that everything she said is true. Proof that she's got teeth. That she's a girl in waiting for a world that will some day come back to her.
"I don't know why you're blaming me."
"All I'm saying is, your timing could have been better."
He'd been in the middle of the dance floor, doing the stupid Macarena with Amy when it happened. She'd leaned forward and kissed him. Just a brush of her lips against his, but he felt Breelin shifting, growing and changing and sticking. Then he was backing away from Amy, stammering out an apology while everybody stared at Bree, and finding the nearest exit from the school hall.
It doesn't matter how often they've heard the talk about how your daemon doesn't necessarily settle because of sex or falling in love or any of that, he knows what everyone thinks. It will be just like the time Alec Hayes' daemon settled in the middle of science class while he was partnered up with Mels. Everyone will know exactly what had happened and why. It's not even as if they're wrong.
He should probably save himself the embarrassment of everyone at school knowing he loves Amy Pond and just move to Timbuktu now.
"I didn't decide on the timing any more than you did."
"And did you have to be so big?"
Rory has known for ages that Bree was going to be a dog. His mother's daemon had been one, and Bree has barely turned into anything else the last few years. He's fine with that, happy even. He's just been expecting something ... tidier.
"Yes," Breelin says. "I do. I think I'm an Irish Wolfhound." She turns in a circle on the spot, trying to get a look at herself. "Do I look like an Irish Wolfhound?"
Rory sits down on the nearest bench with a groan. "You look like a bloody giant. Can you imagine what dad's going to say when he sees you? How on Earth are you going to fit in the car?"
He's always fantasied about having a really cool car when he's older. One of the sporty ones that don't even have a back seat. Now he'll probably have to get a land rover just to fit her inside.
Briefly, he wonders if he can hide. Given that he's shot up about two inches in the last month and is now being accompanied by a Wolfhound, it's not as easy as it used to be.
"Fine," he says, with a sigh.
Of course Amy knew where to find him. She always does, when she bothers to look.
"You didn't have to run off like that," she says.
"I really sort of did," he says. He's carefully not looking at Meri, not sure he wants any hints about what she's feeling.
"So," she says, after a moment of awkward silence. "Bree, uh, settled like that?"
"Yep." What else is there to say? He's just grateful that she's not mentioning the kiss out loud.
Merias is sniffing Breelin curiously. He settled more than a year ago, and ever since, Rory has been waiting to catch up. Just not like this.
He doesn't know how Amy manages, having such an eye-catching daemon. She's even mentioned in a psychiatric journal somewhere, a paper about delusional patients and having daemons that can't normally exist. Not that Rory thinks that Amy is delusional. Not really. But he doesn't understand how she endures that much attention without going crazy.
Amy smiles at both daemons. "Cats and dogs," she says. "They're almost the same colour!"
Now that he looks properly, he sees what she means. It's almost as if they match. All this time he's been trying to live up to her. Maybe this is a sign.
"How do you manage?" he says, "with having him take up so much space?"
"I just have to take up even more space than he does," Amy says with a smile. That isn't quite what he meant, but he'll take the answer anyway.
"I have no idea what dad's going to think."
"Rory, she's perfect." She punches him in the arm, hard enough to hurt a little. "You'll just have to get a really big car."
He knows that they make custom jobs for rich people who have larger daemons, and his fantasy shifts. A sporty car, but with a huge back seat where Bree and Meri can both stretch out in comfort.
"You should come back to the hall," she says. "They're probably finished playing the Chicken Dance by now."
He exchanges a glance with Bree, who's wagging her ridiculous tail, while Meri sits next to her looking smug. Fine. If they're all going to gang up on him ... He lets Amy drag him back anyway, Breelin trotting behind Merias like it's exactly where she belongs.
When she comes to, her daemon is sitting at the end of the bed. There are a variety of machines going 'ping' all around her, but she doesn't seem to be connected to any of them. Perhaps they're purely decorative. She stretches, tentatively, still getting used to the new body.
"I told you so," he says.
"You did," she agrees. "You were right." They don't need to say about what. The Doctor was saved, and that's the important thing.
She regards his new form with interest - she didn't have a lot of time to pay attention to it while she was saving the Doctor's life. He stands up and turns in a little circle before sitting down on the bed again.
"What do you think?"
"I love it," she says, reaching out to touch his soft red fur. Luxuriously thick, and softer than she thought it would be. She can see why people would want to wear it to the opera.
All the time the Doctor was talking to her, he kept looking at her daemon as if he expected him to be something else, something specific. And here he is, one fox ear pointed towards the door to listen for trouble.
"I think it's time we got out of here," she says, getting up. There's probably all sorts of boring paperwork to fill in; maybe she should leave by the window to avoid awkward questions.
"So. Are you going to be River Song now?"
She hasn't really had time to think about it, but somehow Mels no longer seems to fit her. Already everything before Berlin feels like a dream. All those years of waiting in Leadworth with Amy and Rory seem to recede into the distant past, as if they happened to a different person. Which, in a sense, they did. She's another woman now, even her daemon proves that.
"I think so. River Song. I like it. Do you want a new name, too?" It's going to be a bit obvious who she is if he goes around using the old one.
"Styx," he says. Probably he thought about it while she was sleeping.
"The river that separates the living from the dead? Isn't that little on the nose?"
"I can always change it later if it's too much."
"No, you're probably right. You usually are." Not that she would normally admit that aloud twice in a minute, but he saved her from making the worst mistake of her life today.
Her shoes are under the bed. They don't fit very well any more, but she can always find some new ones when she gets out. She investigates the window speculatively, but it's sealed shut and they're on the twentieth floor. A challenge, then.
"What do you feel like doing?"
Finding the man everyone calls Doctor. Not to kill him, but to - what? Marry him? Really? - well, maybe she can work that part out later. How is she even going to find a man that could be anywhere in time and space? Sitting around waiting for him to come back is no longer an option, clearly. It was bad enough when she looked like a child and had her parents for company.
"Causing trouble. Always do what you're good at," she says.
"You know, I'm never going to be able to change again." There's a note of apology in his voice, for all the lives he convinced her to give up.
She smiles. "Then it's just as well you're perfect as you are."
Woman and fox, they walk out of the hospital and into the last new life they'll ever have.