Amy wasn't surprised to find her daughter in the living room at 3 a.m. in the morning. When she had a mind to visit, River rarely bothered to ring the doorbell or check arrival times. It generally meant she would curl up on the sofa with a book, make herself comfortable in the kitchen with tea and biscuits, or prowl the halls until someone came home, woke up or walked out of the shower naked and realized she was there. (Rory made it a habit these days to keep a robe on the bathroom door.)
What did puzzle her this particular morning were the pile of photo albums at River's feet.
"Hello, you," she said.
"Hello you, too." River looked up from an album she held in her hands. An unreadable expression flashed across her face as she did so, just for a split second before she broke into her usual glorious smile. "I wondered which of you would wake up first."
"When Rory pulls double shifts he comes home and sleeps like the dead. I, on the other hand, was having trouble sleeping. When are you here from?" Amy had learned to make that her first question when River visited.
"Well past the Byzantium."
Amy smiled. She liked these visits the best, because she and River had the most shared history and memories by then. "Shall I get your Dad up?" It still felt a little unreal in her mouth, but she loved the way the older woman smiled when she called Rory that.
River brightened, but shook her head. "Not yet. If he's that tired, let's let him get a few more winks." She patted the sofa beside her. "I like to spend time with Mum, too."
Amy stepped over the albums. "Scoot over, then." She peered over at the album River still held. "That's ... huh. Our last year at school. God, once Rory got that camera, he was inescapable."
River rolled her eyes, and Amy amended, "Well, yeah, he was inescapable anyway. Which was fine by me ... but the camera! Four solid months of dodging it, until he got over being Rory Williams, Boy Photojournalist, and got serious about nursing." She frowned. "What on earth are you looking at all these for?"
"I'm an archaeologist. I'm always interested in the past." Now the smile had that sharp brightness Amy had come to think of as The River Mask.
"Back in Leadworth, you hated photographs. Rory knew it after he had to duck a couple of times; I'm pretty sure you're not in that album. Or any of the ones on the floor. So ... what changed?" Amy's head was tilted like a bird, and she targeted the older woman with her unblinking gaze. Do not try to fool your mother.
River's face clouded. "That was a different life. Back then, I avoided anything that could provide a visual record of me. Bad enough that the schools and social services had information."
Amy nodded. Mels' distaste for being photographed made all the sense in the world when you understood she'd been trying to keep Kovarian from finding her, not realizing that Kovarian had always known where she'd run. Not to mention that the only pictures she'd ever had of herself had been at that nightmare of an orphanage.
In fact, Amy knew now nearly all the reasons why Mad Mels had been Mad Mels. All Mels' chaotic and manipulative behavior, her strange kindnesses and anger, her teasing and her loneliness, all her cracked brilliance and her paranoia, they all made heart-breaking sense once the curtain parted on her past.
Amy couldn't forget that, no matter how much it hurt her heart. The Doctor had half-jestingly suggested doing so, in the weeks of emotional whiplash generated first by learning River's identity, and then by seeing Mels regenerate into River. She suspected it was how he dealt with his unimaginable life.
But then they'd all tumbled from linear life into the morass of Time Stopped, courtesy of River's refusal to murder the man she loved. Memories dissolved and reformed, the world convulsed repeatedly and still Amy somehow found River, had teamed up with her. Together they'd found a way to save both the universe and the Doctor, with a little robotic help from the cheater in question.
Now, with Time safely sorted, her memories of the organization she and River had built bled together into dreamlike montages of eye patches, hot-air balloons, trains speeding across deserts and ... and ... something connected with Kovarian, something they'd kept trapped in the Pyramid ....
She remembered the explosion in her head when she — again — realized that River was her daughter; the equally explosive relief and joy when she realized Captain Williams was her Rory. She remembered the top of the Pyramid, and the Doctor trying to hurt River into killing him, and her daughter's tears when she told him she intended to. She remembered a length of cloth and a kiss that jolted Time back into working condition.
How could she not? She was the girl who remembered a welter of timelines, courtesy of the universe pouring through a crack in the wall into her head. Even when the memories were splintered, fractured and unreliable, they were there. She certainly could never forget the many faces, or the many contradictions, of her first born child.
And here was that impossible child — never held to suckle, never comforted, or spanked, or boosted up a tree, or tucked in, or helped with homework, or yelled at for taking the last slice of cake, or laughed with, or (oh god I couldn't how could I when I didn't even know) protected — looking at pictures of her parents' past.
Looking for herself, Amy knew.
My child is beside me and I want to comfort her.
"Melody Pond," she said softly.
River looked stricken. "You never call me that."
"But it's who you are," Amy said. She tried to pick her words carefully. "It's who you started as. And it was a good start. You were —" her voice cracked. "You were a beautiful baby."
"But baby, take a look at me now."
The River Mask wasn't enough to hide what was in her eyes, nor the remark flip enough to hide her own voice's answering break.
Amy half-turned on the sofa and grabbed River's shoulders. Her eyes were fierce. "I do look at you. And you're still beautiful. You're brilliant, and brave — the last thing I told you before Kovarian took you the first time was that you'd be brave, and you are — and you're—" She swallowed. "You're Melody and Mels and River. And you're our daughter. Mine and Rory's. We're your parents, and we say you're beautiful, inside and out.
"And don't you ever — ever! — forget it."
River stared at her, mouth slightly open. Then she shut it and blinked rapidly.
"And I'm going to start taking pictures of you," Amy continued. "Because I want to put pictures of my daughter in my next album. What do you have to say about that?"
River cleared her throat. "I think Dad should take the pictures."
"You think Dad should take the pictures? How about telling Dad when you arrive," Rory grumbled from behind them, still half asleep. "What pictures?"
"Missing pictures," River said. Her eyes were shining.