"Where are we going?"
"Don't ask questions unless they're pertinent, Melody," Madame Kovarian snapped, and Melody shrank into the oversized nightgown she wore. She honestly thought it was a pertinent question.
"Are we here?" Kovarian asked an armed cleric as they approached a door.
He nodded briskly and stepped aside. "We just arrived, ma’am. The captain said to better make it quick. I hear he monitors this area closely."
"It won't take long." Kovarian glanced down at the little girl. "Melody," she cooed in a way that sent shivers up the child's spine, "we need you to do something, please."
Great. She used please. That always meant it was something quite dreadful. Melody swallowed hard. "If I don't want to?"
"You don't have a choice." Kovarian snapped her fingers. "Open the door." The cleric moved quickly to obey. He twisted the dial, jerked, and the door popped open to reveal an empty nothingness. No stars. No planets. No asteroids. Not a single thing but black, black, black, leading to forever and nothing at the same time.
Everything in Melody screamed to run. Run, run as fast as she could, as far as she could, until she reached someone who would actually listen. Who could actually help her. She fisted her nightgown. "I won't look," she said, drawing herself up to her full height.
"Look," Kovarian hissed, "or we'll toss you out the door, and the spaceman will get you."
"The spaceman won't get me! He doesn't exist!"
"I've put too much work into you for you to pull this sort of thing now." Kovarian grabbed Melody's thin shoulder, her nails digging so painfully that she cried out. She shoved Melody around and pushed her toward the door.
Melody grabbed at the guard rail, one foot slipping out into the infinite blackness of space. It would be so easy just to let go, but there was a voice deep inside her that urged her to remain strong. "Be very, very brave," Melody whispered, wrapped her arms around the rail and looked.
Then, she began to scream.
River really was quite grateful that she’d thought to pull on a top before she fell asleep, because the bedroom door burst open and the Doctor and Rory shot in at the same time. Her husband had his sonic out, and her father was wielding a butterknife dripping with jam. Later, much later, River would laugh as she wrote the scene down in her diary. But at that moment, she stared at them in a dull shock as the nightmare lingered.
“There’s nothing here?” Rory asked, sweeping the knife from side to side as if expecting a Dalek to leap out of a corner at them.
“Of course not, it’s the TARDIS,” River replied, sitting up and letting the covers pool at her waist. She was careful not to let them drop lower. “I highly doubt anything would attack me in here, Dad.”
“You’d be surprised,” Rory muttered.
“I really haven’t checked the second drawer of the nightstand lately. There’s a reason it’s padlocked,” the Doctor added, not-so-much studying the room as he was eying River closely.
“You two idiots,” Amy said, nudging them aside so she could enter the room. “She’s had a nightmare.”
“Oh.” The Doctor and Rory exchanged a confused look.
“Well, um … you probably should see if she’s OK,” Rory began.
The Doctor quickly shook his head and gestured to Rory. “No, no, you’re still her …”
“But you’re her …”
“Oh, get out, you two.” Amy shoved the Doctor and Rory out of the bedroom. “Go poke at some wires or burn some toast. Or, better yet, make us all a cuppa. We’ll join you in a bit.” She locked the door after them for good measure, then turned to the bed. She arched an eyebrow at the strewn clothing and the rumpled sheets. “This room reeks of sex.”
The last dredges of the nightmare fled, and River drew her knees up. She laughed, burying her head in her knees. “You never change,” she managed. “You spent years ignorant of the fact Rory was completely gone over you, but you always notice when I’ve been up to something.”
“Well, this time at least it’s not boosting a bus or swiping all the aspirin from the chemist’s or swapping out barbecue sauce for the chocolate sauce at the coffee shop.”
“Made for some interesting mochas.”
“So I heard.” Amy perched on the edge of the bed. “But, you know, you look the same after a nightmare that Mels did. So haunted.”
Because it was Amy, because it was her mother , River found herself talking about the nightmare and little Melody. “And that’s not the only one I’ve had,” she admitted. “I keep seeing it in my mind. The night I was taken. I know you saw it differently, that much the Doctor’s told me. It’s apparently in my future, so he can’t tell me all that much.”
“I remember,” Amy said softly. “You told me in the alternate timeline. The Doctor says it’s because of the crack in the wall. Rory didn’t remember you two being married at first, but I did. I remember you telling me about how you were taken, placed in the spacesuit.”
“Do you remember? Any of it?” Her throat was dry, her hearts pounded in her chest, but she had to ask. “About Demon’s Run, when you were pregnant with me?”
Amy shook her head. “No. Thankfully, no. Not sure how I would have dealt with it otherwise. All my memories are pretty much what the ganger experienced on the TARDIS. I don’t even really remember giving birth to you. Have to say, the Church had some pretty advance tech for handling that sort of thing. It was all sort of surreal. A bit of pain, then they handed you to me, and I knew you were mine.” Her gaze met River’s. “You still are. Always will be. Remember that when you’re older.”
River wasn’t sure why she asked, but the observation was out of her mouth before she realized she said it. “When we left, the Doctor and I, you took awhile getting to the top of the pyramid,” River commented. “You saved Rory.”
“Yes, I did.”
“What else did you do?”
“Did what any mum would do. Killed the boogeyman.” Amy patted River’s leg and pushed off the bed. “Well, our boys are probably listening with their ears pressed to the door, so I’ll go head them off and let you have a moment to yourself.” Amy dropped a kiss on River’s forehead and slipped from the room.
Killed the boogeyman. Grateful to Amy in so many ways, River climbed out of bed and hunted down clothes. She bypassed the sweats she’d worn when she first boarded the TARDIS the previous night and the silk dress she’d been stripped out of hours later and found clothes waiting for her in the bureau. Thanking the TARDIS, she slipped into sturdy jeans and a jumper, better suited for wherever the Doctor was taking them.
“Are you alright?”
River opened the top drawer as the Doctor spoke behind her and found herself staring at a small plasma blaster. She picked it up, the solid weight more comforting than a hug. “Yes, I’m fine,” she lied. Tucking the blaster at her hip, she turned with the brightest smile she could muster. He leaned against the door, and she could see he was trying to decide whether or not to hug her and wondered for a moment if he came here on his own or if Amy and Rory had made him check on her. “Just bad dreams. Everyone gets them.”
But the dreams continued.
Every night, she woke up screaming.
The dream, or rather her memories of being Melody, had happened on her wedding night. Since then, she had yet to spend a full night in Stormcage or actually sleep there, and for that she was eternally grateful. She could handle the nightmares better on the TARDIS. Some times, she was in bed alone when the terror crept up on her, seizing her by the throat and making her remember. Other times, the Doctor was with her and was usually the one dragging her out of the living hell. She attacked him at times. She saw the welts on his face, on his arms where she tried fighting him off. He never said a word about them. His eyes, wise and understanding, told her everything she needed to know. He knew , and she wondered if this was what had happened to him right after the Time War. Most likely.
She never cried. She wouldn’t do that to herself, she wouldn’t allow Kovarian to win that battle. River merely scraped her hands over her face, picked up the healing wand she now kept in the nightstand and tended the Doctor’s wounds. Then, she’d tug him away to have an adventure or pushed him to the mattress and used sex to purge the demons from her mind. The nightmares were this unspoken thing between them, a battle silently acknowledged that they refused to talk about.
But then, about six months after she entered Stormcage, there was a night that the Doctor didn’t arrive at his normal time. And River had spent the past two weeks - or six minutes of linear time depending on how you looked at such things - helping bust a child-slavery ring in the Kxoe galaxy. She was exhausted , and before she realized it, she was curled up on the hard cot in her cell and dreaming.
She was standing in front of that door again. It was open, and Kovarian had her arm in her grasp. Her nails dug in, and she was so, so scared that the thin bone would snap. She closed her eyes, but the slap was sharp and forced her to look outside and into the eyes of the monster. The spaceman. Dark, shaggy hair framed a face lined with wrinkles. He wore a hideous jacket, an odd bowtie and loomed toward her. She shrank away.
“River? River! Wake up! I’m sorry, I didn’t get here sooner! River!”
He scooped her up, and whatever relief she had from escaping Kovarian was short-lived. The spaceman was going to eat her.
With everything she had, she punched the spaceman. He reared back in shock, dropping her. The breath whooshed out of her, but she followed it with a kick to his groin. He barely evaded it, but she caught his thigh instead. She crawled away from him as fast as she could and pressed herself into the corner, cowering as she prepared for him to come for her again.
“River!” The spaceman called out.
“No, no, no, no, no.” She shook her head violently, her hands slammed over her ears.
“Melody.” Someone different was in front of her now. It wasn’t the spaceman, but it was another person. He had kind, kind eyes and a warm smile. Something about him felt solid and safe. Melody sniffed.
“Are you him?” she asked in a wavering voice. “Are you the Last Centurion? The lady told me to be brave until he came.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m him.” He slowly wrapped his arms around her, and she felt tears hitting her hair. “I promise you, I’ll protect you, Melody.”
“OK.” Curling into his chest, Melody drifted to sleep as he rocked her back and forth, stroking her back and he crooned a wordless lullaby.
In Rory Williams’ arms, his adult daughter went limp as she moved from her nightmare into a deep sleep.
A few feet away, Amy crouched next to the Doctor, holding a wet handkerchief to his bleeding lip. “I don’t get it,” she said, not quite managing to hide the tremors in her voice. “Why did River attack you?”
“She had another nightmare, but she wasn’t on the TARDIS to dampen the effects.” The Doctor gave Amy a sad smile. “I’m her boogeyman, don’t you remember?”
Amy shook his shoulder. “No, you’re not! She loves you!”
“ She does, yes. The scared little girl tortured by Madame Kovarian was terrified of me. Those memories are resurfacing, most likely because of her kidnapping as an adult. She’s reliving her childhood as Melody.” The Doctor let Amy help him to his feet. “It’s probably not wise to move her. You go grab a pillow and blanket and stay here. She’ll need you when she wakes up.”
Amy caught his sleeve. “She needs you, too. You’re her husband.”
The Doctor didn’t say anything. He gently pulled his arm away from Amy and disappeared into the depths of the TARDIS.
She was going to kill Madame Kovarian.
It was the only way, River decided as she used her vortex manipulator to seek out her oldest friend other than Amy and Rory. She landed in the 24th century on the doorstep of Jack Harkness and swept inside to find him literally entangled among a mess of tentacles.
“I really hope you’re using contraceptives,” River commented. “Hxua semen is highly toxic on human flesh. I’ll make myself a cuppa.” She breezed into the kitchen and had the tea ready when Jack, dressed in nothing but boxers, stumbled into the room.
“Yes, yes, I used that stuff from the 45th century. The internal contraceptive. Worked completely fine. Would have been better if you joined us.” He waggled his eyebrows and River shoved a cup into his hands.
“How many centuries have I told you no now?”
“I would wait eons for you, River Song.” Jack laughed when River elbowed his ribs. “If only for the look on the Doc’s face. When is it for your right now?”
“Been in Stormcage six months.” River leaned against the counter as Jack dug his battered diary out of a drawer and consulted it.
“Oh, post-marriage! Care to kiss and tell?”
“It’s amazing , and I’ll leave the rest to your fertile imagination.”
Jack took a swig of his tea and raised his eyebrow. “Very interesting. You spiked it with the good stuff. What’s wrong?”
River stared down into her own cup, the alcohol creating colorful swirls on the surface. “What do you know about the Church? And Madame Kovarian?”
Jack slowly lowered his cup. “What are you planning to do, River?”
River dragged in a deep breath and downed the tea. “Kill a boogeyman.”
She avoided the TARDIS after that. She knew if she was around the Doctor that she wouldn’t be able to go through with it. She had to go through with it. It wasn’t the only way to gain closure, but it was the one that she wanted.
River moved in with Jack temporarily, and they began tracking down every scrap of information they could on Kovarian and the church. Jack pinpointed Kovarian’s date of birth in the 51st century, and they leaped forward in time to chronicle her childhood in the Church.
“Really, not all that different from yours,” Jack commented as River perused a file. He gave her a sideways look. “She was raised to be a weapon, just like you were.”
“She had a choice,” River pointed out. “I had none.”
“Yeah, but …”
“Do you honestly think the night of my graduation that instead of seeking out the Doctor and shagging him senseless or finding you and getting pissed that I chose to let her drug me, trap me in a spacesuit and kill my husband?”
“Of course not, but …”
“She’s nothing like me, Jack. Nothing. ” River turned away from him and keyed in information on her portable.
“She doesn’t know I’m contacting you.”
“No, she’s liable to have both our heads if she found out.”
“She thinks I’ve gone out for a threesome with these twins from the flat above ours.”
“You chose me over sex. I’m flattered, Jack.”
“Doc, you’re always better than sex. But, you know, you can always tell me about you and River …”
“You two are perfect for each other.”
“How close is she?”
“She’s pretty close. Doctor, I don’t think I can stop her.”
“I don’t think anyone can. Has she been having the nightmares?”
“Yeah. Every night.”
“Then, she won’t stop. Not until Kovarian’s gone.”
“You’ll find her here.” Jack placed a file in front of River one morning at breakfast. “Replica of a Catholic cathedral, 5130, Rome Deux, Earth 3 Beta. Natives aren’t too happy about the Church, and she’s involved. They’re raising a rebellion to get the Church off their planet. Betcha they could use a leader. There’s a younger version of me running around, so I better not get involved.”
“Thank you, Jack,” River said gratefully and gave him the kiss he always wanted - with teeth and tongue and a pinch of his bum.
He swallowed hard, and she smirked at his dilated pupils. “Wow. I should have done something like this earlier,” he rasped.
“Don’t bet on it,” River said with a laugh and headed into her bedroom.
She dressed carefully. She donned military fatigues in the style the rebels wore and her favored utility belt. She had a gun strapped at her waist, one tucked beneath the fatigues at the small of her back, a knife in her left boot. She tamed her curls back into a ponytail and secured it with an elastic. She considered makeup, then chose the bare minimum. She strapped a vortex manipulator on her wrist and keyed in the coordinates Jack had given her.
“See you later!” River called into the other room and disappeared before Jack could respond. She didn’t want a long good-bye this time.
It took River five days to emerge as leader of the rebellion. Her knowledge and hatred of the Church were seized upon, and she relished giving these people a fighting chance. She even managed to uncover a significant archaeological find, which enabled her to give those who weren’t soldiers a chance to contribute. “Save your history, it’s the most valuable possession you’ll ever have,” she told them and her heart hurt just a little bit. Statements like that reminded her of the Doctor, and she missed him so much.
I’ll see you soon, honey, she thought as she checked her guns.
They had found Kovarian holed up in a small office in the bombed-out cathedral. River’s orders were clear, and as their commander, she was obeyed without question. Leave Kovarian to her.
She strode up to the doors and nodded at the crisp salute she received. “Is she alone?” she asked one of the soldiers.
“Yes, as you requested.”
“Have her wounds been tended to?”
“Yes. And she’s restrained as you asked.”
“Good. Let no one in.” River strode into the main hall of the cathedral.
They had brought stained glass from Earth, precious relics left over from a time even before her parents were born. She knew how valuable it was. The fact that there was a hole where Moses’ head used to be in an elaborate recreation of the Ten Commandments made her chest ache. She had no love of religion, but the history. Thousands and thousands of years of careful preservation, and one woman had reduced it to nothing.
Madame Kovarian was strapped to the bishop’s ornate chair, hands behind her back and feet cuffed to the legs. River slowly approached, drawing her gun and holding it steady, her aim dead center at Kovarian’s forehead.
“Melody Pond,” Kovarian cooed, the corner of her mouth twisting into a smile that caused nausea to churn through River’s gut. She took a deep breath and thought of all the things she wanted to say to the monster who’d haunted her dreams, her nightmares, her every waking thought since she’d been drugged and forced to kill the man she loved. Kovarian had stolen her childhood, her parents, her freedom.
River cocked the trigger. Antique 38-caliber pistol. Jack had assured her the bullet would cause immense pain.
“Nothing to say, Melody?” Her birth name jabbed like a knife into a festering sore. “I figured you’d be all too happy to brag about your crimes. Your failure to save your Doctor. Oh, I remember that timeline as well, Melody. Couldn’t pull the trigger then either. Mummy had to do it for you.”
River squeezed the trigger lightly, but not enough to release the bullet.
Kovarian’s eyes glittered. “I hear though, the rumors of his death are greatly exaggerated. So tell me, Mrs. Doctor. How’s married life?”
“Shut up!” River snapped. She strode to the chair and pressed the gun against Kovarian’s temple.
She turned cool eyes to River. “Surely, you have some sort of final words to say to me.” Kovarian taunted.
And, suddenly, they were there. She had the words, and they spilled out like blood from a fresh wound. “I hope you go where the drums never end, the voices never stop, the monsters are always chasing you, and the spaceman eats you alive.”
She froze. There was only one person in the entire universe she knew could stop her. To her dread, he was there. She didn’t bother to look. She couldn’t look, because if she did, her resolve would shatter. Tears burned in her eyes, and it took every ounce of willpower not to show any emotion. “She has to pay,” she managed in a shuddering voice and hated herself for it.
She heard his footsteps. They were soft, calm, and doing things to her racing hearts. “River. If you kill her, you become her,” the Doctor said softly, coming to a stop a few feet away from River and Kovarian. “This isn’t you.”
“This is me, Doctor.” River pressed the barrel harder into Kovarian’s temple and was so pleased to see the first flash of pain, of true panic on the woman’s face. “You knew this was a part of me. I killed you, remember?”
“Well, yes. I got better. Had a little help there.” She risked a look over her shoulder and saw everything reflected in those wise, ancient eyes. There were so many emotions. Fear, love, sadness … A lump formed in her throat. “You were born Melody Pond. You were trained to be an assassin as Mels Zucker. You didn’t have a choice either time. You have a choice now.”
River stared down into Kovarian’s eyes. There was nothing there. No emotion. Just a cold hate that made her shudder to the depths of her soul.
“Well, Melody. What’s your choice?”
River scowled. “It’s River Song.” She flipped the gun and used the butt to knock Kovarian out cold. Then, she strode past the Doctor, out of the cathedral, into the TARDIS and proceeded to lose herself in the depths of the ship for three weeks.
She was Melody Pond. The daughter of Amy Pond and Rory Williams. Child of the TARDIS. Conceived in the vortex, stolen at birth, experimented on. She was made to look into the Untempered Schism at age 7. Then she ran.
She was Mels Zucker. The orphaned ward of the church that was training her to be an assassin to kill the Doctor. The best friend of Amy Pond and Rory Williams. The scourge of Leadworth.
She was River Song. A doctor of ancient Earth archaeology and three other degrees in progress. THe daughter of Amy Pond and Rory Williams. Child of the TARDIS. The woman who murdered the Doctor. The woman who married the Doctor.
She was made of stars and time and an epic love between a man and a woman. Her blood ran with curiosity and the ancient knowledge of the Time Lords. In the bowels of the ship where she’d been created, she began to heal.
She blinked her eyes open and found herself staring into her husband’s.
“It’s about time,” the Doctor huffed as he loomed over where River lay on a plush sofa. “Three weeks! I kept asking the TARDIS where you were, and she kept shocking my fingers as if I was a schoolboy. I was worried , you know! I thought you’d left, but Sexy at least told me you were here all this time. Did you know we have a room for zumba? It’s that magenta one in the sixth floor, south by southwest wing. Oh, and we really should hit up the kitchen under the wardrobe. Not the main one, but the submain one. Best chicken wings ever. Regardless of that, where have you been all this time? Did I mentioned I was worried? Then this door suddenly appeared off the console room, and I haven’t been in here before. And here you were.”
“Hello, sweetie,” River breathed, and wrapping a hand behind his neck, drew him to her for a kiss. He squeaked a bit in surprise, then returned it, his hands diving into her hair as he teased her mouth open. She tugged him on top of her and time spun away from them as she ran her hands up and down his back beneath his tweed and he nuzzled her neck.
“You have a library,” the Doctor observed when he pulled away and studied the room a bit closer. He strode over to one of the shelves and plucked a book off. “Archaeology,” he spat.
“Yes, imagine that. An archaeologist with books on archaeology.” River took the book back from him. She ran a thumb over his cheek. “I haven’t been here the entire time. I just … I wandered. I’ve seen quite a bit of the TARDIS, and I just lost myself in her. I think I needed it.” She replaced the book and headed for the console room. “I had a lot of time to think.”
He followed but didn’t press her. Bless, she thought gratefully. She walked up to the console and ran her hand over the controls, the warm pulse beneath her fingers chasing away the last of shadows. She keyed in coordinates, spun dials and moved around the console in an elegant dance. After a few moments, she swung the monitor down to check her coordinates, then headed for the door.
The Doctor wandered over to the monitor, pulled it down to see where she’d taken them, then shoved it away violently. “River! What are you doing?” he asked in a high-pitched, panicked voice as he raced to intercept her.
She ignored him and opened the door.
The infinite blackness swirled before her. If she tumbled out the door, nothing could save her from the twisting, spiraling bowels of space. The Untempered Schism. She had stared into it at age 7 and had screamed as it twisted atoms, DNA and bone into the woman she was now. Then she’d run. Gripping the side of the door, River forced her gaze into the swirling vortex and looked.
She didn’t scream. She didn’t cry. She couldn’t tear her eyes away.
Then she felt a hand take hers, and she was drawn away from the darkness. The door was closed and she was enfolded in a pair of thin, strong arms. He ran his hands through her hair and rocked her back and forth, murmuring his devotion to her in the ancient, lost language that only they could understand.
And, finally, she was able to weep.