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The War and What Came After

Chapter Text

It was like waking up. Was it like waking up? It all happened in a blink. One moment there, the next here, lying in a cramped chamber so white it hurt her eyes. Where was here? Did it matter? It didn’t matter, not right now, because above her a hatch had opened, and she was staring into the face of the woman with the eyepatch, who smiled at her and spoke about the little one, and when Amy looked down and saw the massive expanse of her belly, the only thing she could do at first was scream.

Then she fought. She couldn’t sit up, there wasn’t enough room and she wasn’t even sure if she could, but she pounded the wall in front of her, pounded it and screamed at the top of her lungs. It slid away and suddenly she was surrounded by people, all of them talking, shouting over her, lifting her up and handling her like she was some passive sack. She struggled and struck out, trying to get away, never mind that she was pregnant (pregnant!) and going into labor and in the middle of God knew where in the whole wide universe. But then hands clamped down on her arm and she felt the sting of a needle and the burn of something entering her body, and she suddenly felt sluggish. They carried her to an actual bed, where she watched as they put an IV in her arm and a mask on her face and worked and talked and then she had to pay attention.

She did, but even as she did, thoughts broke through the pain and the drugs. Rory should be here. Why wasn’t he here? He was back on the TARDIS. The Doctor was back on the TARDIS, too. They were coming. He said they were coming. And even if he didn’t make it, Rory would. She didn’t know how, but he would. Where were they? Were they coming? They had to be here. Rory had to be here.

Hours passed, or maybe they didn’t, but she remembered, and knew she would always remember, the moment when she heard the baby’s first thin cry. And she looked, and she saw them holding her up, tiny and wrinkled and a weird red-yellow color, but alive, alive, alive, and so beautiful.

She watched as they took her and cleaned her up in another part of the room. “Can I see her?” she asked. “Can I—let me see her.” They wrapped her up in a clean white blanket while she cried and squirmed in their hands. “Let me see her!”

The door opened. The woman with the eyepatch walked in. “Well?”

“Healthy as far as we can tell,” one of the doctors said.

She smiled. “Good. Take her upstairs.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And they were bundling her up—

“No! No! Let me see her! Let me—NO!

—and two of them walked through the door with her, still screaming—

NO!” She was screaming now, too, trying to get up, trying to pull herself off the bed, trying to follow them, because they were taking her baby away from her, and the people standing around her tried to push her back down again, and they were shouting at her to calm down, but she didn’t care, she had to get her baby back, she had to

The woman with the eyepatch glanced at Amy before she left the room. “Sedate her,” she said.

And then one of the nurses managed to pin down the arm with the IV in it, and she felt the burning cold sensation of something rushing through her, and the world slowly went blurry and finally went dark.

*** *** ***

“Rory.”

He didn’t know how long he’d been standing by the door, staring at the puddle of lifeless Flesh that had been his wife. He looked up on reflex when he heard his name. The Doctor stood at the bottom of the steps up to the console, his arms folded and his expression perfectly serious.

“I’m sorry, Rory, I am. But I need you to focus now.”

Rory stared at him for a moment, then looked back down at the white puddle on the floor. “How long did you know?”

“Rory—“

“How long?” he snapped, looking back up at the Doctor. It was easy to feel angry now—it was better than all the other things he was feeling, better than the shock and pain and confusion.

The Doctor swallowed and glanced away from him for a moment. “Since America. They might have taken her earlier than that, I can’t be sure.”

Rory shook his head and looked away from him again. It had all happened so quickly—they’d made it out of the factory alive and whole and then it had turned into some kind of nightmare, a nightmare worse than anything he’d seen since meeting the Doctor. Amy was gone. She’d never been here, and all that was left of her was the puddle on the floor.

“I’ll get her back, Rory, her and the baby, I promise, but I need your help.”

His eyes darted back up to the Doctor. “The--?” The conversation they’d been having as the whole world had gone mad replayed itself in his mind. Amy was pregnant. She was going into labor. With a baby. “The baby?”

The corners of the Doctor’s mouth twitched up in a brief smile. “Congratulations.”

The world spun, or perhaps it spun harder. The baby. Amy’s baby. Their baby. He glanced between the puddle of Flesh and the Doctor, his stomach turning. He couldn’t even spare a moment to be happy, because he wasn’t there. They’d talked sometimes about having children, especially after America, when Amy thought she’d been pregnant (but she had been all along). He’d told her that he wanted to know, he wanted to be a part of it, he wanted to be there. And now that it was happening, he was on the other side of the universe.

He met the Doctor’s eyes, his anger boiling low again. “Doctor, where is she?”

“Rory—“

“You said you’d find her, where is she?” He stepped forward, avoiding the Flesh but closing the distance to the stairs. “And—and the baby? Where are they?”

The Doctor sighed, his shoulders dropping a little as he glanced down at the floor. “I don’t know. I’m tracking the signal back, but I don’t know, not yet.”

“How can you not know where they are? You—you’ve known she wasn’t here all this time, and you don’t know—“ He moved closer, his fists clenching as he glared at the Doctor.

“Rory, stop it,” the Doctor said sternly. “You can say whatever you like later, but now you need to trust me, and you need to think of them.”

“Right.” Rory spun around, pacing back towards the door. “Right.” He stopped at the dartboard. The holes were still fresh in the cork, and he could see the scores on the slate board where Amy’d written them, hours ago. Amy. Not Amy. Maybe Amy. His hand shook as he reached up to touch the board, running his finger over one of the numbers.

How was this happening? After all the mad things he’d seen and done and never did at all—and now this, the maddest thing of them all. It was awful and sickening and it felt like there was nothing he could do. Even ages ago, in Wales with the Silurians, there’d been something to do. But now, with Amy gone and her baby with her… he couldn’t protect her. He couldn’t do anything.

He turned back around. The Doctor still stood on the steps, his arms still folded, his expression unchanged.

“We will get them back, Rory, I promise. But I need you to trust me.”

Rory looked down at the puddle on the floor again. There was a lump amid the uniform whiteness. He knelt and gingerly plucked it out of the mess, shaking the Flesh off as best he could. As he stood back up, he turned the thing over in his hand.

It was Amy’s wedding ring.

He closed his hand around it tightly.

“You’ll help me,” he said to the Doctor. He could feel the door creaking open in the back of his head, two thousand years of determination rising fast and strong. “You’ll help me get them back.”

Chapter Text

For a moment, Amy didn’t know where she was. The room was big and white, and she could hear the low hum of the lights and other, more faraway sounds she didn’t recognize at all. This wasn’t home, and it wasn’t the TARDIS, but then where—

Then the baby cried, and she remembered.

She was—she didn’t know where she was. Somewhere. Not home. Not the TARDIS. She tried to sit up straighter, but her arms and legs were heavy, and she could feel the dull ache of pain running down her back and thighs, all concentrated tightly in her lower body. She looked down at her arm. The IV was still there, its tube running out of her arm and up to a small machine installed at her bedside. A drip, or whatever they were called. Rory had corrected her about it dozens of times, and as she thought of Rory she felt a fresh pain in her heart that had nothing to do with giving birth.

She glanced around the room, because the baby was still crying and she needed to know where she was. Her gaze fell on the cot almost at once, sitting just a few feet away from her bed. It was a good-sized thing, made of heavy glass or plastic, and she was there, tiny and pink, wrapped in white blankets, crying and flailing and kicking. Amy could barely sit up, but she tried to anyway, because someone had to do something, and she was her mother for God’s sake.

She heard a hiss and turned to see a door sliding open. A woman in a dark camouflage uniform and a long white coat stepped in. She glanced at Amy before walking over to the cot and bending over the baby. “Good to see you’re awake, Mrs. Williams,” she said as she picked the baby up.

“It’s Pond,” Amy replied icily. “Amy Pond.” Her words slurred a little, but she glared at the woman anyway. “And she’s mine.”

“Indeed she is, Mrs. Pond,” the woman said, hardly missing a beat. Amy scowled at the hint of condescension in her tone, but the woman ignored it. “She’s due to be fed, if you’d like to. You are allowed.”

Amy wanted to bristle at the “allowed,” but the woman stepped closer, the baby still in her arms, and she found herself nodding instead. She wanted to hold her baby.

It was awkward and strange, the whole business. The woman introduced herself as Dr. Hallis, and she helped Amy with everything in a crisp, professional manner: how to hold the baby and feed her and do the million things she’d never thought about doing because she’d always thought that motherhood was years away from her. But here it was—here she was, small and alive in her arms.

And Amy knew as she looked into her small, pink face that she wouldn’t trade her for the universe.

*** *** ***
She named her Melody, after Mels back home. Melody Pond. She wondered what Mels would say when she found out. She’d been dropping more hints about babies than Amy’s own mother, so Amy hoped she’d at least take it gracefully. If she ever found out. If Amy ever got out of here.

The Doctor had said they were coming for her, that they would find her. But three days had passed and even with a bloody time machine they hadn’t shown up. Where were they? The Doctor might make her wait, but Rory wouldn’t. Rory would never make her wait, and she knew Rory would make the Doctor come after her right away.

So why weren’t they here yet?

She didn’t dare ask her various caretakers what was going on. She knew they wouldn’t tell her anyway. They didn’t even seem to acknowledge her most of the time, as though she were merely an incidental part of whatever they were doing to Melody.

(She wondered sometimes, in the dark of what passed for nighttime here, what might have happened if the Doctor hadn’t figured it out. If they’d succeeded at whatever they were trying to do here. Would they have dropped her back into her life, unaware that she’d ever been pregnant, unaware that she had a child somewhere in the universe? Would she even have noticed that something had happened? Would Rory? Would anyone?)

But she wondered with every hour where the Doctor was. Where Rory was. They had to be coming for her and Melody. They had to be.

When they were alone together, Amy told Melody stories about Rory and about the Doctor. After Dr. Hallis or some other military doctor brought Melody back from the tests they kept saying she needed, Amy would sit down with her in her arms and talk about the Last Centurion and the Vampires in Venice, the Angels of Byzantium and the Cracks in the Universe, spinning the stories out into fairy tales. She knew in the back of her mind that Melody couldn’t understand, not yet anyway, but she kept telling them, because they were as much for as they were for her daughter.

“Your father’s coming for us,” she said one afternoon as Melody grew drowsy after a meal. “He’ll come right across the universe for us, just you wait. He’s coming.”

As the days went on, the promise became a mantra that she repeated not only to Melody but to herself. She had to believe they were coming, because otherwise she and Melody had nothing left.

*** *** ***
She woke up as usual that night when Melody began crying. The room was dark, darker than normal. The dim lights near the doors had turned off for some reason. Amy thought nothing of it as she climbed out of bed and crossed to Melody’s cot. She was probably hungry, Amy thought as she picked her up and rocked her gently, or maybe just a little fussy. “Hush, you,” she whispered. She kissed the top of her head and began to walk up and down the room. Melody’s cries softened to whimpers and Amy smiled and kissed her again.

Then the lights turned on all at once, all of them, and Amy looked up on reflex and screamed.

The Silent stood by the door, its breath low and rattling, its dark eyes staring right at her. It did not move, did not step towards her or even raise a hand, but it did not need to. Amy backed away, right up to the bed, clutching Melody to her chest, only faintly aware that she had begun crying again. But she didn’t dare look away to comfort her, because she knew, she remembered as she stared at the thing by the door, what would happen if she looked away.

You’ll forget if you look away, she thought. Don’t look away. Don’t. Don’t.

Her mind raced as she tried to remember: was there a pen in here, a marker, anything she could write with? She had to warn herself. She had to remember somehow that they were here. How could they be here? This whole base was crawling with human beings—shouldn’t the Doctor’s message have gotten to at least one of them, even this far into the future?

As Amy edged around the bed, determined to make it across the room to the cabinets and find something to write with, the Silent spoke.

You are Amelia Pond.

Melody cried harder, and Amy rocked her a little, trying to calm her. She looked the Silent in the eye, as much as its gaze—its whole presence—made her skin crawl and her stomach turn. “Yeah, what’s it to you?” She nearly tripped when she made it to the corner of the bed, but she kept her footing, continuing backwards, staring fiercely at the Silent.

Your part in this is over.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” As she stared at the Silent before her, she recalled bits and pieces of every other encounter she had had with them. She remembered vaguely—very vaguely—something from America. She remembered being bound in that dark room, that awful face very close to hers, and a voice telling her that her part would soon be over.

She is ours.

Amy froze. “What?”

She is ours.

She held Melody closer, trying to ignore her cries, because she couldn’t do anything right now. She couldn’t look away, not even for a second. “She’s mine!” she shouted, and Melody cried harder.

The Silent stepped forward. She is ours, it repeated. No matter where she goes, she will always be ours. And she will bring the Silence.

And then it raised a withered hand, and the lights flickered and flashed, and Amy screamed and turned away—

*** *** ***
Amy woke as usual that night when Melody began crying, and she thought nothing of it when she found herself pacing quickly up and down the room, clutching her closely. She was fussier than usual tonight, though Amy couldn’t figure out why. She got her to sleep again after a meal and some lullabies, then laid her down in her cot and returned to bed herself.

She slept fitfully, waking several times from dreams that frightened her, though she could never quite recall what they were about.

Chapter Text

The Lost Girl

Even as he promised that he would get them back, he knew it would be neither easy nor simple. It almost felt like lying, telling Rory that he could track the Flesh control signal to its origin point in time and space, telling him that they would save Amy and the baby, telling him that he would make sure they were safe once they had. No, it wasn’t like lying—it was lying. Simple lies for children, he thought bitterly, and Rory wasn’t exactly a child, even by his standards. Especially by his standards. He’d seen that hard look unfolding in his eyes when he picked Amy’s ring out of the Flesh, a look that had become an almost constant presence for the last few days. A look the Doctor was sure would remain until Amy and the baby were safe again.

He had a plan. It had been growing in the back of his mind for weeks now, as he scanned Amy again and again, trying to figure out what had been done to her and how he could stop it. Now that he had, it was time to roll up his sleeves and get to work.

Because it wasn’t only that they’d taken Amy and her baby with, as far as he could tell, plans to simply place Amy back into her life once her role had been fulfilled, the child taken away from her forever. They had taken her from practically under his nose, and they had taken her for a reason even he hadn’t quite put together yet. And the more he thought about it, the more it seemed that they had taken her because he was her friend. Because if they fooled the Doctor, they would be fooling one of the most powerful men in the universe. The last of the Time Lords, the Oncoming Storm, and dozens more names that made monsters across all of space and time fear him.

He had every intention of showing them just what they were dealing with.

He had visits to make, favors to call in. The list ran a hundred strong at least, though he knew he’d be lucky if he could muster half that—or even a quarter—to his cause. Some of them might not be around anymore, and others might be too difficult to track down. It was possible that a great many of them would refuse to even hear him out. But some of them would come. Some of them would hear his cause, and if they did not come for him, they might very well come for Amy and the baby, and it would be worth it.

They would get Amy and the baby back, but it would not be easy, as he himself was learning right now. The control signal was turning out to be more of a mess than he’d anticipated. It didn’t help that it wasn’t there anymore—it was just the residue of the signal, and he was grateful that Amy had been around the TARDIS long enough for it to linger. But the residue itself was a mess.

Which didn’t make sense. If they were trying to cover their tracks, they were doing a very bad job at it. He frowned at the scanner screen, then bent over the keyboard again to type a few more equations into the program he was running. The only thing he could definitively pick out at this point was the temporal variation signal, which was in all probability the most complicated portion of the control signal. It was what had allowed them to control Amy’s Ganger across not only space (something that had clearly been mastered in the early days of the technology, as the Morpeth-Jetsan factory had shown, though the scale here was considerably larger) but time as well, up to and including inside the TARDIS, which should have been next to impossible.

It wasn’t that the signal was more complicated than he’d been expecting—it was complex enough as it was, but the constant crossing between the temporal and spatial variations in the signal struck him as remarkably unsophisticated for what they were doing. Then again, he thought as he typed in another algorithm and spun a dial on the monitor, it might very well have been deliberate. The more of a mess he had to sort through, the more time they had to escape with the child.

He wouldn’t let that happen, though.

He focused his attention on the temporal variation signals. If he could pin Amy down to a specific year, it would be that much easier to find out where they were keeping her. The universe was a big place, it was true, but it wasn’t that big. He would find them no matter what it took, and he would let those who’d taken her know that they couldn’t do something like this to him and expect to go unpunished.

But even as he poured all of his energy into dissecting the signal, it still took him the better part of three days to first extract and then trace back the temporal variation. He’d even had to stop halfway through and take a nap, which was rather unlike him. He’d been getting cross-eyed just looking at the scanner screen at that point, though, which wasn’t doing him or Amy any good. The TARDIS managed to isolate a few potentially useful strings of code while he was out, and after the nap and a couple strong cups of tea he was back to work.

Rory had been avoiding him. It came as no surprise, of course, given his attitude after Amy had gone. After he’d forced Amy to go. After he’d forced Rory to watch as he turned his wife into a puddle of goo—

Stop it, he thought as he punched in the temporal coordinates and stalked around the console to release the hand brake. There wasn’t another way.

But even that was a lie. He could have taken a minute to explain to them what had happened and what he had to do. To reassure them that he would fix it, no matter what it took. But instead he’d fallen back on his usual dramatics, more intent on sending Amy’s kidnappers a message at the height of their triumph than making sure his friends would be all right. He sighed, shaking his head. Stupid Doctor. Stupid, selfish Doctor.

The TARDIS groaned around him as she took off, and he continued back around the console to start picking at the control signal again. The whole thing was in a shambles after what he’d done to extract the temporal coordinates, and as he typed in another algorithm he wondered if it was even worth it to keep tracing it back. He had quite a few contacts in the mid-fifty-second century, and someone somewhere was bound to know where she was being held. A hint of a rumor would be better than nothing, and with the right questions and the right amount of digging, it could be brushed away into fact.

 

One thing at a time, he thought. The control signal wasn’t completely useless yet. He might be able to narrow it down to a galactic cluster, or maybe even a single galaxy. So he went back to work, typing in equations, staring at the tangle of numbers, letters, and symbols, hoping that this time around his task would not be so difficult. We’re coming, Amelia, he thought. You waited fourteen years, just wait a little while longer. We’re coming. I promise.

*** *** ***
Rory felt like he hadn’t slept in days. In a way, he really hadn’t. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw her dissolving in front of him. Sometimes he held her hand, other times they had their arms around each other as he told her it would be all right, and then she was gone, and he opened his eyes, and she was still gone, and there was nothing he could do about it.

He started avoiding the Doctor after the first couple of days. He didn’t want to keep coming into the console room just to find out that they weren’t any closer to finding Amy. So he stayed away, pacing up and down the TARDIS’s endless corridors, sitting in their bedroom and staring at anything that wasn’t their empty bed or her wedding ring in his hand, retreating to the kitchen four times a day for another cup of tea to take his mind off things.

The tea didn’t help, of course, and the pacing and the staring merely stretched the hours out. He slept when he was too tired to do anything else, and in his dreams he lost Amy again and again.

He wanted to be doing something. He wanted to find Amy and the baby, and get them back, and keep them safe. The Doctor had told him they would do exactly that, but it was taking too long. He wanted to be out there, he wanted to find her, but they were just sitting here, doing nothing. And he hated it.

A few days had passed when he woke up to hear the faint grind of the TARDIS engines. He was still wearing the same wrinkled clothes from the day before, but that hardly mattered. He climbed out of bed and, for the first time in days, turned down the corridor to the right of their bedroom, towards the console room.

The Doctor was working at the scanner screen when Rory came down the stairs. He glanced over his shoulder as Rory entered the room, but said nothing, leaving Rory to ask the question that had been hanging in his mind for days.

“Have you found her?”

The Doctor, hunched over the keyboard below the scanner, paused for just a moment, but Rory saw it: the break in the rhythm of his typing, the brief clenching of his jaw. It told him everything he needed to know. Wherever they were going now, it wasn’t to where Amy was. He stared at the Doctor for a moment, then shook his head and turned back to the stairs.

“Rory, wait.”

He stopped, but didn’t turn around. He didn’t want to listen to whatever the Doctor had to say, but he would anyway.

“Rory, I will find them, I promise.”

You said that a week ago, Rory thought bitterly. A whole week, and you still haven’t found them.

“I never said it was going to be easy, Rory.”

And that was true, Rory realized with a pang. While things weren’t always simple with the Doctor around, they were still in some ways easy. Even at the end of the universe, the Doctor had been ten steps ahead of all of them, but now… He wondered if the Doctor had ever dealt with something like this before, or if he’d just gotten better at hiding his pain and confusion than Rory had.

He turned around. The Doctor leaned against the console, his arms folded, staring up at Rory with a calm, serious expression. He nodded briefly to acknowledge Rory, then continued, “I’ve managed to find what year she’s in. I’m trying to find her physical location, but even if I do that, Rory, we can’t just storm in and grab her.

“Whoever these people are, they took her for a reason. We need to make sure that once she and the baby are safe, no one will think twice about bothering any of you ever again.”

Rory closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was America all over again. “Doctor, have you got a plan or not?”

“Yes.” He turned abruptly, pumping a lever on the console twice before heading off around it, towards one of the other corridors. Rory barely had time to wonder where he was going before he popped his head back around the console. “Come on.”

The Doctor led him down a flight of stairs and through a complicated path among the TARDIS’s labyrinthine corridors, stopping at last by a heavy wooden door. He opened this with a shove and they entered a room that seemed almost endless to Rory. It was a maze of shelves almost as bad as the corridors, each shelf holding all manner of boxes and chests. The Doctor stopped around the first corner and pulled one of the chests down. Rory stood next to him, watching as he shuffled through a stack of Agatha Christie novels and a crystal ball he could have sworn was faintly screaming.

“Doctor, what are we doing?” he asked after a few minutes. “What’s your plan?”

As if in response, the Doctor pulled something long and thin out of the chest and straightened up, handing it over to Rory.

He recognized it as a gladius at once, and his hands automatically adjusted to hold it properly. He looked back up at the Doctor, who looked back at him without the slightest hint of pleasure or enthusiasm.

“We’re going to war.”

Chapter Text

Cwmtaff, Wales; 3026 CE

The village of Cwmtaff had grown considerably in the intervening thousand and six years, the Doctor thought as he stepped out of the TARDIS, though that probably had more to do with the emerging Silurians than the remnant portions of the human race. He got some strange and hostile looks as he headed down one of the roads, but he eventually managed to find someone polite enough to direct him towards the building where Eldane worked with the other leaders of this particular community.

He almost got into trouble with the guards at the Justice Building, who were nearly as bull-headed as Restac had been, when a familiar voice made him and both of the guards turn around.

“Doctor? Is that you?”

“Nasreen!” And it was Nasreen, looking a little older but not by much, hurrying down the street towards him with a smile on her face. The Doctor heard one of the guards mutter something rude, but he ignored it as she approached and gave him a rather unexpected hug.

“We were starting to think you’d never come!” she said, laughing. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” he said, managing a smile. “How about yourself? And Tony, how’s he?”

“A lot better, thanks. What about Amy, is she here with you?”

His half-hearted smile evaporated.

“Doctor? What’s wrong?”

“Amy is… why I’m here, actually. I need to speak with Eldane, if you know where to find him. And whoever’s in charge of the Siliurian military now.”

Nasreen stared at him a moment, then nodded and led him inside.

*** *** ***
He explained everything to Nasreen, Eldane, and Jesta, the new military leader. That Amy and her baby were being held hostage by a potentially hostile and still wholly unknown force. That he was going to get them back and keep them safe by assembling a force large enough to cow that unknown force into leaving Amy and her child alone forever. “I’m afraid I have to ask you a favor,” he said at the end. “I need your help.”

Eldane and Jesta had listened to his speech with an unsurprising passivity, but Nasreen looked as though she was close to tears. For several long seconds, no one spoke or even moved. The Doctor watched them, and waited.

“What do you require, Doctor?” Eldane asked.

“However many soldiers you can spare,” he replied. “I don’t care if it’s five or fifty or a ragtag band of volunteers. I can’t guarantee they’ll come back. I don’t think it’ll come to fighting, but it may. If you can’t spare anyone, I’ll understand.”

“You can’t seriously be considering this, Eldane,” Jesta said. She had some of the same look as Restac had, but she seemed to the Doctor a great deal less hot-blooded, something he counted in his favor. “The command of the military has been given to me, and I will release no soldiers to this… Doctor”—she gave him a rather unimpressed glance—“even if you command me! He said himself he doesn’t know what they would be marching into! I cannot—I will not spare anyone, not now that we’ve returned to the surface. I am sorry, Eldane, but that is where I stand.”

The Doctor said nothing. He had come, he had had his say, and whatever decision they made would be their own.

“I understand, Jesta,” Eldane said, “but we would not even be on the surface now if it was not for him. We might have died a thousand years ago, or we might now still sleep beneath the surface. He has done much for us, Jesta, and I think it is our duty to honor that.”

Jesta glanced between Eldane and the Doctor, then after several seconds let out a long, low hiss through her nostrils. She turned her gaze on the Doctor. “You say you will take volunteers?”

“However many you can spare.”

“Very well. I’ll speak to my lieutenants. Whoever we can spare will be assembled outside the Hall in half an hour. If I may be dismissed, Eldane?”

“Of course, Jesta.”

“Thank you,” the Doctor said as she stood to leave. She shot him a glare and went on her way. “I can’t thank you enough, Eldane,” he added once Jesta had left the room. “This means a great deal to me.”

“We wish you the best of luck, Doctor,” Eldane replied.

“Let us know when you get them back,” Nasreen said.

The Doctor smiled sadly. “I’ll do my best.”

He collected forty-six Silurian soldiers from a glaring Jesta half an hour later, then flew the TARDIS off to another time and place and another favor.

*** *** ***
Demon’s Run; 5132 CE

Dr. Hallis came in every morning to take Melody away for tests, and the morning at the end of her second week was no different. What was different, Amy saw as Dr. Hallis came in, was the pair of armed soldiers who stationed themselves on either side of the door. They were big fellows, wearing bulkier uniforms than Dr. Hallis’, complete with berets and enormous rifles that crossed their chests from shoulder to waist. Amy stared at them in surprise, and even as she handed Melody over, she kept glancing up at them.

Dr. Hallis left. They stayed behind, still stationed on either side of the door, both of them staring passively ahead.

Amy gaped at them for a full minute, then shook her head and went to sit on her bed, rather pointedly turning herself so she wouldn’t even see the guards out of the corner of her eye.

Her plan to ignore them didn’t work, though she hadn’t really been expecting it to. She was a prisoner here, and had been for months, though it wasn’t until recently that she had anything to say about it. Soldiers and nurses came at regular intervals each day to bring her food and make sure she was healthy after Melody’s birth, but other than that she was left completely and utterly alone during the hours when Melody was being “tested.”

(She’d tried asking what the tests were for, but Dr. Hallis never answered her. The first day she’d been able to get up and feed Melody on her own, she refused to hand her over. Dr. Hallis left, then returned twenty minutes later with a cadre of nurses, three of whom pinned Amy down while the fourth jabbed a needle into her arm. Amy had woken up several hours later tasting pennies, with tingles in the ends of her fingers and toes. Melody was back in her cot, but the implication was clear. She didn’t refuse again after that, as much as she wanted to.)

After half an hour she turned back to look at the guards again. Neither of them had moved. She wasn’t even sure if they’d blinked.

She walked up to the shorter one, a stout fellow who had maybe an inch on her. “What are you all here for, then?” she asked, folding her arms.

The guard blinked but said nothing.

Amy waited, her arms still folded. She had all the time in the world.

“You think I’m gonna make a run for it?” It was a path she’d certainly considered, but she’d already tried the door. It wouldn’t open for her, no matter what she did to it. “Or are you just here to make me afraid or something?”

“We’ve orders not to speak to you, ma’am,” the other guard said stiffly.

Amy turned to him. “You’re already talking to me,” she replied, grinning a little. “So why’re you two fellas here?”

The guards exchanged a nervous look.

“Oh, come on,” Amy said, “it’s not like I’m gonna tell anyone.”

The taller one sighed. “The base has been placed under Yellow Alert. We’ve been stationed here for your protection.”

“What’s Yellow Alert mean?”

“Yellow Alert means we’re to be constantly prepared for the possibility of an imminent attack,” the guard in front of her replied. “The command thinks it’s likely, so here we are to protect the asset.”

Amy frowned. “The asset”—that’s all Melody was to them, an asset, and she didn’t even know why. She said thank you to the guards anyway, then went back to sit on her bed.

There was one thing about what they’d told her that made her smile, though: the possibility of an imminent attack. That could only mean one thing.

“They’re coming for us,” she whispered to Melody when they brought her back that afternoon. “Your father and the Doctor, Melody. They’re coming for us right now.”

*** *** ***
London, England; 2011 CE

Martha thought she’d imagined it at first. She sat on the couch with Mickey, leaning into his shoulder as they watched telly, and she thought she heard, under the voices and the music, that low wheezing groan that had once been so familiar to her. She frowned a little and glanced at the front window, but then returned her attention to the show. It couldn’t be. They both had their theories about what the Doctor’s last visit had meant. It couldn’t be him. She was hearing things.

Then someone knocked on the door.

Martha sat up and stared.

“Who’s calling at this time of night?” Mickey asked, and he had a good point—it was well past ten o’clock.

“Don’t know,” Martha replied, and with that she stood up and walked over to the door.

“Wait, it could be a burglar or something—“

“Burglars don’t knock,” she said, shooting him a smile as she unlatched the door and opened it.

She wouldn’t have believed it was him if the TARDIS hadn’t been sitting on the sidewalk across the street, looking brighter and bluer than she remembered it. The Doctor looked different, too—very different. He was still tall, but his hair was darker and long enough to be floppily combed over to one side. He wore a tweed jacket and a red bow tie, and for all that he looked younger than before, he seemed older than ever to Martha.

She stared at him, struggling to find something to say.

He smiled. “Hello, Martha.”

Martha let out a gasp that was more of a dry sob. “Doctor?”

The smile turned awkward as he sketched an equally awkward bow. “The one and only, I’m afraid.” He spotted Mickey behind her and waved, his smile widening. “Hello, Mickey!”

“Hey, Doctor,” Mickey replied. “You regenerate again?”

“Yes, it keeps happening, I’m afraid,” the Doctor said. “I’m trying to be more careful, but you know me.”

Martha laughed. “What are you even doing here, Doctor?”

He sobered almost at once, and Martha felt herself tense. Something had happened. She didn’t know what, but something had happened, something that had made him come here.

“I’m afraid this isn’t a social call,” he said. “I need—“ He stopped, glancing over Martha’s shoulder, further into the house.

A few seconds later, Martha heard it, too—Matthew had begun to cry again.

Martha turned to Mickey, but he was already shaking his head. “I’ll take care of it,” he said, smiling a little. He kissed her cheek and hurried upstairs to the baby, leaving Martha alone with the Doctor.

“Sorry,” she said, laughing nervously. “He’s still a little fussy sometimes. Anyway, you were saying?”

The Doctor swallowed, folding his hands together in front of him again and again, as if he was unsure what to do with them. “I should go,” he said, his voice tight. “I’m sorry, Martha, I should never have—I should go.”

Martha stared at him. “But—“

“I’m sorry.” He stepped forward and gave her a quick hug, then turned to go.

Martha caught him by the arm. “Doctor. What’s the matter? What’d you need us for, why are you here?”

He didn’t pull away from her, just turned back towards her, the saddest smile on his face. “It’s not important, Martha.” He nodded up at the ceiling. “He’ll always need you more than I ever will, and… I’m not going to take you or Mickey away from him. I’m sorry I called so late. I’ll be going now.” He moved to go again, but Martha tightened her grip on his arm before he could turn away.

“Doctor, no. You can’t—you can’t just turn up here and then leave with no explanation! What’s the matter?”

“It’s not important—“

“Of course it is! If we can help you, we will, Doctor—“

“There’s nothing you can do,” he snapped, his smile disappearing abruptly, replaced by a hard, narrow expression of agitation.

“I can listen!” Martha snapped back.

He stared at her.

“Doctor, whatever it is, even if we can’t help you—you can still tell us what’s wrong.” She let go of his arm and let out a deep breath, shaking her head. “You don’t have to do everything alone. Just... stay for a cup of tea, tell us what’s the matter. You can leave after that, I don’t mind, just... tell us what’s wrong.” She could feel tears stinging at her eyes, but she blinked them away as she folded her arms, waiting for his reply.

He bowed his head and sighed quietly, but when he looked up he was smiling again. It was a small, sad smile, but it was enough. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I, uh, I’ve got time for a cup of tea, I think.”

Martha smiled back at him. “Thank you.”

*** *** ***
Mickey had come back downstairs by the time the tea was ready, so he told them the whole story: about Amy and Rory Pond, and Amy’s abduction, and the child that someone wanted so desperately that they’d risked crossing him. Mickey got quiet; Martha dabbed her eyes.

“Are you sure there’s nothing we can do to help?” she asked when he’d finished.

He shook his head. “No. I’m sorry. But thank you for listening.” He smiled briefly, then checked his watch. “I should probably get going.”

“I’ll see you out,” Martha said.

He shook hands with Mickey and followed Martha out the front door and all the way across the street to the TARDIS’s doors. She stared up at it, then laid one hand on the door, right above the lock. “It looks different,” she said quietly.

“She’s had a bit of makeover,” he remarked, grinning. “You should see the inside.”

She gave him a look. “I thought you said I wasn’t allowed to come along.”

“I know.” He shook his head. “I’m a silly old fool sometimes, I suppose. Thank you for the tea, Miss Jones.”

Martha smiled. “The pleasure was all mine, Mr. Smith.”

They embraced, and he held her tight. He’d needed the tea and the company, the opportunity to talk. He hadn’t mentioned everything—not his guilt, not his anger, none of that—but it was enough. He was glad he’d stayed instead of walking back to the TARDIS flush with fresh guilt. It had been worth it to spend time among friends, if only briefly.

He kissed her forehead as they drew apart, and she stared up at him in shock, half a smile still on her face. “You were wrong, you know,” he said as he dug the TARDIS key out of his pocket.

She blinked. “About what?”

“You weren’t just good,” he said, smiling at her as the door sprang open. “You were amazing. And you still are. Thank you.”

She didn’t say anything, just smiled back at him, her eyes glassy with tears. He gave her a nod and stepped into the TARDIS, shutting the door behind him. He watched from the scanner as the TARDIS took off again, watched her smiling and wiping her eyes as the wind blew and the engines groaned.

Chapter Text

The Centurion went where the Doctor told him. He went to planets, ships, and cities, marching past the endless guns of the Doctor’s enemies. He delivered the Doctor’s messages with a single question of his own. He never flinched, never turned away. He watched them all, and he waited for the answers that he wanted.

He’d almost been shot on Tarys, the rumors said. Almost. He’d just looked at the man with his finger on the trigger, and the man had put down his gun and stepped away. He was just a man with a sword, they said over and over again. Yes, the Doctor was on his side, but that didn’t explain how he just walked into some places with nothing but a sword and a flimsy breastplate and left with every bit of information he needed, the Doctor’s carnage in his wake. That breastplate probably couldn’t even turn back an ordinary bullet, yet he walked like it could protect him from the galaxy’s highest grade blaster.

He was fearless, and that fearlessness made everyone fear him in turn.

They’d been foolish enough to try and capture him on Bellisaen. Hearing the stories afterward, everyone agreed that was an enormous mistake. It wasn’t even that the Doctor had intervened. The Centurion had done it all himself, fighting off the heavies Janus Kolvec had sent to collect him, even killing a few with that artifact sword of his. It wasn’t laser- or energy-anything, those who’d been there said in awe. It was just metal, but he handled it better than Kolvec’s men did their guns, and he cut half of them down before Kolvec relented. And before the Doctor had sent his little message.

No one knew who the Centurion was. He was a friend—if “friend” was even the right word—of the Doctor’s, which certainly counted for something. He was determined. He was relentless. And God help you if he ever looked you in the eye. He had eyes that looked like they’d seen centuries, and maybe they had. No one knew for sure. No one knew anything about him at all, not where he’d come from, not his name, not anything.

Well, except for one thing.

He was looking for his wife.

*** *** ***
The Doctor told Rory that the rest of the control signal was unsalvageable. If they were going to find Amy and the baby, they would have to ask around to find out where they were being held. It turned out that “asking around” involved breaking into some of the most dangerous places in the universe and blowing things up when the people and creatures in those places refused to help. Rory went in. Rory got the information they needed. Rory left. Sometimes he went to sleep afterwards. Other times he went to the bedroom he’d once shared with Amy and sat on the bed and stared at the walls.

The Doctor was using him, but he wasn’t sure he cared. He wanted to find Amy. He wanted to find their baby. He wanted to get them back and keep them safe. The Doctor wanted the same thing. So he listened to the Doctor, went where the Doctor said, said what the Doctor told him to say. He did as he was told.

He just wanted her back. He wanted them both back. He wanted to hold his wife, and meet their child. He wanted to be a father. He wanted for them all to be together.

So he watched as the world exploded around him, and he told himself not to care. He had seen empires rise and fall. He had seen countless people die. For just a little while, he could stop caring about everything but her. He had done it before, watching decades turn into centuries as the world shifted around him, always changing but for one thing: Amy.

He could do it again, if he had to.

The third or fifth or tenth time he came back, he went to their room, making his way through the crowd of people that had recently joined them on the TARDIS. He’d already given the information they needed to the Doctor. He wanted to be alone.

He took off the cloak, the sword. The leather breastplate and gauntlets. He laid them all on his side of the bed and sat down on the end, staring at the wall. He had her wedding ring on a length of string around his neck. He closed one hand around it and closed his eyes, thinking of her. The metal was warm from hanging against his chest, but he didn’t care. He could feel the shape of it cutting into his palm, and that was enough.

He wanted her back. Then he could put it all away again. He could stop being the Centurion, and just be Rory. He’d only ever wanted to be Rory. He remembered it, sometimes, when he was being just Rory. He would see something, or hear something, and he remembered with such ringing clarity that he had to stop and stare ahead and see the world in front of him, so he could remember what was real and what was not.

But he remembered it all right now. The centuries alone with the Pandorica, waiting for the day when Amy would wake up again, the day when the Doctor would return and they’d finally sort out the end of the universe. He wished he didn’t have to remember, but he needed it. He needed it to make it through each day, to make it through each place the Doctor dropped him. He needed it so he could stop himself from caring.

He fell asleep sitting up. A knock at the door woke him up, and he told whoever it was that he was coming. He tucked the ring back into his undershirt and donned his armor again. He checked the blade on his sword, though he had only used it twice since the Doctor had started sending him out. Then he sheathed it and headed down to the console room, his cloak swinging behind him as he walked.

The Doctor worked at the console silently, though he gave Rory a nod when he appeared at the top of the stairs. “I think we’re getting close,” he said as Rory joined him by the console. “The information from our last stop narrowed it down to a single galactic quadrant, which is a help.”

“Where are we headed next?”

“Somewhere dangerous, but I’m sure you’ll be up to it.” He hurried around the console to release the brake.

“Where?”

The Doctor glanced at Rory as he threw the lever. “The Twelfth Cybelegion.”

Chapter Text

They were taking Melody away tomorrow. Not for tests—for good. Dr. Hallis told her the situation at the base had grown too dangerous. Madame Kovarian wanted Melody safe, before the Doctor arrived and the fighting began. Amy might have argued if she thought it would do any good. She’d gotten the feeling all along that she was only a small part of whatever their plan was. Her part had ended, and now they were going to leave her here, probably as bait in a trap for the Doctor.

And there was nothing she could do. If she could have stopped them from taking Melody away, she would have, but she had nothing to fight with, and one woman (even one Scottish woman) against an entire base of armed soldiers didn’t sound like appealing odds.

She would have to watch as they took her away tomorrow. If she fought, they’d just knock her out again, and then she wouldn’t even be able to say goodbye. So she would hand Melody over to them, and hope against hope that the Doctor would finally, finally arrive before they could get away with her.

She dozed off occasionally that night before, but always woke up again with a jerk, looking over at Melody’s cot to make sure she was still there. She wouldn’t be, after tomorrow. Amy wondered if they’d take the cot away, or if they’d leave it there to torment her.

She held Melody when she woke up crying, and fed her when she was hungry. She told her the stories about Rory and the Doctor again. She told her to remember them, even though she knew she couldn’t. Maybe she would, though. Maybe she’d dream about them, even if she never knew why.

Madame Kovarian herself came the next morning, accompanied by a large contingent of soldiers and even a pair of the weird cowled and cloaked men Amy had sometimes briefly seen in the corridor. The Headless Monks, her guards had told her.

Amy glared at Kovarian. It was the only thing she could do.

Kovarian stared back at her, her face impassive. “We can give you three minutes,” she said coldly.

Amy said nothing. She walked over to Melody’s cot. She was awake, shaking her arms a little as Amy stood over her. Watching her, it seemed like. Amy let her grab one of her index fingers, and ran her thumb over her daughter’s tiny fingers. Then she started her final story. “I wish I could tell you that you’ll be loved,” she said. “That you’ll safe and cared for and protected. But this isn’t a time for lies.” Her voice hardened, and she glanced up from her daughter, glaring at Kovarian and the soldiers and the monks.

“What you are going to be, Melody,” she continued, picking her up and cradling her in her arms, “is very, very brave.”

*** *** ***
Lorna Bucket had seen a great many things since joining the Army of the Church. She had seen the stars, not through the treetops of her Forest home but all around her, through the window of a proper starship. She had seen men taken away for heresy against the Church, and men wounded from their missions off-base. And now she had seen a young mother have her only child taken from her, and it seemed to her that it was the worst thing she had ever seen.

She’d been on rotation when Madame Kovarian called six guards to accompany her to the medical wing, where Amy Pond and her daughter were being held. Lorna didn’t know why Amy Pond and her daughter were being held—hardly anyone on the base did. But it was for the good of the war, Colonel Manton had told them. That was all they needed to know. So she had followed orders. She grabbed her gun and went with the others, and then watched as Amy Pond cried and pleaded and finally gave in. They took the child—Melody, her cot had said—away. Lorna had been the last to file out. She glanced back at the door, and just before it closed she saw Amy Pond sitting on her bed, crying quietly.

Even when she was rotated off guard duty and sent to do her usual work down in the docking bay, she kept thinking about it. Kept thinking about Amy Pond, a mother without her child, and Melody Pond, taken for the good of the war. She was just a cleric. She hadn’t even gotten promoted yet. There was nothing she could really do.

But she thought about it, and she thought of home, and by the next morning she was digging through her bunk, looking for anything she might be able to use to make a prayer leaf.

It didn’t feel right to cut the leaf from her military-issued clothes, so she cut it from Gamma Forest cloth instead. Her mother had given her a small bag before she’d left the Forest, so she’d have a bit of home to keep with her. She hated to cut it up, but it was all she had. She could repair it when she got leave to go home. Her mother would understand.

She used thread from her issued sewing kit and beads painstakingly cut from her mother’s bag. She’d made a few prayer leaves before, for friends and cousins back home who had children of their own. This one was hardly different, though the name gave her some trouble at first. She’d spoken Gammanen and Basic English most of her life, and while Melody Pond sounded lovely enough in English, it translated poorly.

Gammanen didn’t have a word for “pond,” of course; the only body of water in the Forest was the River, and the sea was simply called Riversend. They spoke about water in terms of the River, and Lorna could still remember being surprised in school to learn about ponds and lakes and places that had water that simply stood still, a concept that her own language couldn’t accurately articulate.

“Melody” was very nearly as difficult, for while the Gammanen sang songs like every other civilization in the galaxy, they had very few words for the parts of songs like English did. In the end, Lorna settled for “Song River,” which sounded so simplistic when translated back to English, but Amy Pond didn’t need to know that.

She worked on the prayer leaf during her breaks and before lights out in the barracks. When anyone asked her what she was doing, she told the truth, but said that the leaf was for a friend back home. She wasn’t sure the higher-ups would approve of her making something for one of their prisoners.

Lorna finished the leaf the morning of the rally. It was about to begin, people were saying. The Doctor was coming.

She was set to head down to the rally with the others in her squad: gun strapped across her chest, beret on her head, every part of her uniform exactly to regulation. Some people were wondering out loud if the Doctor was going to show up during the rally, which seemed likely given everything they now knew about it. It might be her only chance, Lorna though. Her one chance to see the Doctor again, after meeting him just the once all those years ago.

But the prayer leaf was tucked away under her pillow, and if the war was beginning, she might never have another chance to give it to Amy Pond.

She hesitated, hanging back at the barracks door.

If the war was beginning, she might yet see the Doctor, but she would never see Amy Pond again. She’d made the prayer leaf because she thought Amy Pond needed it. She’d wondered how Amy Pond had spent the last few days, days without her child, days alone. The prayer leaf would give her hope, though. Maybe one day Melody Pond would be returned to her. The Doctor would always be out there somewhere, fighting wars as only a doctor could. But Amy Pond wouldn’t, and that was what made her decide.

She caught the cleric in front of her and lied about forgetting something, then hurried back to her bunk to get the leaf. If they noticed her missing, she’d take the punishment. As everyone else made their way to the hangar bay, she dashed down corridors, heading for the hospital wing, the prayer leaf clutched tightly in her hand.

Chapter Text

River asked him to drop her off at the West Entrance when they finally left the Frost Fair; it had been such a long time since she’d broken in to Stormcage, she said, and besides, it wouldn’t be much of a birthday if she couldn’t have some fun at the warden’s expense. The Doctor grinned at her. “Anything for the birthday girl,” he said as he dashed around the console to reset the coordinates. He was doing it wrong, but she smiled and let him fly anyway.

They kissed goodbye just inside the TARDIS doors, as the storms that gave Stormcage its name raged behind them. He cupped her cheek in one hand as she rested her free hand against his chest. His nose was still cold from the London chill, but it felt lovely against her cheek, and she leaned into him a little, smiling around the kiss.

She pulled away from him gently, kissing the corner of his mouth, then his cheek. She rested her head on his shoulder and slid her arms around to embrace him lightly. “Thank you, Doctor,” she whispered.

“Not at all,” he replied quietly, his arms around her waist. “Happy birthday, River.”

They kissed one more time, and then she dashed through the rain to the West Entrance door. She picked the lock with a couple of her hairpins, setting off a few alarms in the process. Let them ring, she thought as she waltzed through the door. They’ll figure it out sooner or later.

She didn’t even try to hurry back to her cell. It was bound to be another sleepless night in Stormcage, but she hardly minded. It would give her time to think about what a day this had been. Oh, what a day. He’d shown up before her breakfast had, wearing an old fashioned suit and a ridiculous hat that she snatched off his head before they even took off. He had the whole day planned out, from Stevie’s performance under London Bridge to the ice skating on the Thames, though she got the impression he hadn’t planned to fall down quite so many times. But it was a perfect day from start to finish, even if she had to end it in Stormcage. She’d see the Doctor again soon enough.

She hadn’t expected to see her father waiting in the corridor outside her cell, but it was, for a few short seconds, a pleasant surprise.

Until he told her why he had come.

Until he asked her to come back with him and help, to join the fight at Demon’s Run.

She told him no. And when he asked her why, she told him what she could. “Because this is it,” she said, stepping back into her cell. “This is the day he finds out who I am.” This is the day you find out who I am, she thought, but she didn’t dare say it out loud.

Rory stared at her and said nothing, his silence and the hard look in his eyes more damning than any words might have been. She stared back at him, not trusting herself to say anything more. She wanted more than anything to change her mind, to tell him yes, to change into some proper clothes and go with him, because what could be more important than her parents’ happiness? But there was nothing she could do. Time could be rewritten, but not all of it. Not this time, not ever. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t, and she couldn’t explain why, not without giving it all away.

After a few more minutes, Rory shook his head and turned away. Her heart broke as he walked off down the corridor. There’s nothing you can do, she thought, closing the bars across her cell. You did as much as you could when you got there. There’s nothing else you can do right now. She sobbed quietly, once. There were tears running down her cheeks, but she didn’t bother to wipe them away.

How had this happened? She leaned against the bars to her cell, still crying softly. Had the Doctor known? Had he known when he picked her up this morning? He had to have known. He’d already done Demon’s Run, he’d known who she was when they’d done diaries this morning. He’d already done this, dropped Rory off here to ask for her help.

He’d known. He had to have.

River sobbed again, wiping her eyes ineffectually as she crossed her cell to her bed. She tried to blink the tears away as she began to change, slowly unlacing and unbuttoning the layers of her dress, but it didn’t work. The world blurred. She wiped her eyes and kept moving. She needed to think about something other than Demon’s Run, about something other than the look in her parents’ eyes when she told them the truth. When they realized that while their daughter would be safe and happy eventually, they would never get to raise her properly.

She was standing in her corset and petticoat, her hair a curly tangle across her shoulders, when she heard the groan of the TARDIS engines. She froze, her fingers looped in the corset’s laces. No. He couldn’t be coming here.

But wouldn’t he, though? He hadn’t done Demon’s Run yet. He still thought he needed her, and she knew he wasn’t going to take no for an answer, even from Rory.

She dropped the laces and hastily wiped her eyes again, then gathered up the dress. The TARDIS doors creaked open; she balled the fabric in her hands, but didn’t turn around. She wasn’t sure she could look him in the eye just now. “I don’t care what you have to say.” Her voice shook, and she balled the dress more tightly in her hands. “I’m not coming.”

“I—“

“I don’t want to hear it!” She dropped the dress back on her bed and bit back a sob. Anything he might say to her now had gone through her mind a dozen times already, since before Demon’s Run and after.

Don’t you care about them? About Amy? Yes, more than anything.
This is their child. Why don’t you want to help? I know, I know. I wish I could. I’d tear the universe apart to put it right for them, if only I could. But I can’t. You said time was not the boss of me, but you lied.
Do it for me. I’ve done so much for you. Help me, just this once. I can’t, my love, I can’t. You’ll understand soon enough, and I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry, but I can’t help you. Not this time.

“Please,” she whispered, closing her eyes. “Just go.”

“River, I—”

“Doctor, please. I can’t—”

“River, what’s the matter?”

There was something about his voice that made River pause. Something gentler than she’d been expecting from a Doctor right on the cusp of Demon’s Run. “I—when are we?” she asked.

“Um, right after the Frost Fair?” He sounded rather surprised that she was asking at all. “You forgot your cake, which... now that I think about it, probably isn’t on your list of priorities right now. What’s happened?”

She turned around at once, and there he was, standing in front of the TARDIS in the same old-fashioned suit, holding a plate with an oversized slice of cake on it and staring at her. Her Doctor. She smiled a little, but the tears were still coming. “I—Rory was here,” she said.

“Rory?” the Doctor said. “And Amy? Did I stop by as well, or is that a spoiler?”

She shook her head. “It was just Rory. He—he asked me to come to Demon’s Run.”

Understanding crossed his face almost immediately. “Oh, River…”

“I told him no,” she said quietly, though he already knew. “I had to. And I had to watch him leave and—I didn’t think it would hurt this much.” She sobbed again, and buried her face in one hand.

“But it always does,” he replied, his voice almost inaudible through a thunderclap. “I’m—I’m sorry, River.”

“It’s all right,” she said, even though it wasn’t.

“I know,” he said.

She closed the space between them, reaching through the bars to hold him, to bury her hands in his jacket and pull him close enough to kiss. He yielded to her, letting her push past his lips into a slow and gentle kiss. He cupped her cheek with his free hand, wiping away the tears that lingered there as he opened his mind to hers, filling her mind with assurance and comfort.

She didn’t know how long the kiss lasted, but it ended with her forehead resting against his, their faces pressed between the bars of her cell. His mind was still linked with hers, and she preferred it that way, at least for now.

The Doctor kept the link up even when he pulled away from her to sonic the cell open. She smiled at him sadly as the bars slid away, and leaned into him as they walked back to the TARDIS.

He left the slice of cake sitting on one of the chairs in the console room, and they retreated, arm in arm, to their bedroom, to find what comfort they could in one another.

Hours later, she lay awake next him, her head resting on his bare chest, listening to his hearts beat and the gentle sound of the TARDIS around them. Her tears were long gone now, but she still could not fully banish the image of Rory from her mind. She had known for the longest time that this day was coming, that she would have to say no when the time came. But she had always thought that the Doctor would come, that the Doctor would ask her for her help at Demon’s Run. Not Rory. Not her own father.

She wondered if the Doctor—her Doctor—had even remembered that it was today. That today was the day she would be forced to say no, and in so doing send her parents into the greatest pain of their young lives. Maybe he didn’t remember, which would be rather like him. Maybe he did. Maybe that’s what all of today—the Frost Fair, Stevie Wonder, all of it—had been for. An apology for what he’d done all those years ago.

She thought about her parents as she drifted off to sleep in his arms. She’d have to visit them in the morning, see how they were. Help them get through this, if she had to. And she would. They were her parents, after all.

Chapter Text

Captain Avery and his men restrained Madame Kovarian and led her away. Rory stood there next to the airlock, staring down at the white bassinet on the floor in front of him. The baby was in there. His baby. His child.

The baby cried. Rory almost dropped his sword, but caught himself at the last moment. He sheathed it instead and dropped to his knees in front of the bassinet. His fingers probed the sides and the top of it until he finally found the catch that opened it. The two halves of the lid cracked neatly, and there she was.

She was small, smaller than he’d expected. Her eyes were dark, but she stared at him as though she knew exactly who he was. He stared back at her, his hands resting on the edges of the bassinet. He almost didn’t want to touch her. The dreams he’d had the last few weeks—losing Amy, losing their baby, losing everything the moment he touched it—was this another dream? Was it? Or was it real?

The baby flailed a little, working her arms free of her swaddling and waving them at him. Her tiny hand brushed his fingers, and then Rory fell over the edge. This had to be real, he thought. He could never have imagined this, not even in his brightest dream. He smiled and laughed a little, though the laugh was more of a gasping sob. He wiped the tears from his eyes—be cool, he thought, just be cool, it’s fine, it’s fine—then reached down into the bassinet and touched her. He cupped her tiny head in his left hand and cradled her body in his right arm and he slowly picked her up and held, for the very first time, his child.

She looked up at him and gurgled a little, and it was everything he could do not to cry. He bent down and kissed her forehead, and she flailed again, her hand brushing along his chin this time. He laughed. She was beautiful. She was perfect.

This was real. This had to be real. He could never imagine something as wonderful as this.

He held her close to him as he started back down the corridor to find someone who knew where Amy was. The battle was nearly over. They’d be going home soon, and they deserved to be together.

*** *** ***
Amy knew everything was still in chaos when someone pounded on her door. She didn’t know who it could be—the clerics or the Doctor—so she grabbed the closest thing to a weapon she could find and talked big, and then Rory had talked back at her. Rory was finally, finally here. And Melody wasn’t. He didn’t know.

She had to tell him, and she did, and then he’d opened the door and none it mattered anymore, because he had her. They were together. They were together. They were finally, finally, finally a family. She was fine. Madame Kovarian hadn’t gotten away after all, and Melody was here and she was fine and Rory was fine and Amy was fine and they were together.

And the Doctor had come, and maybe he could speak Baby, she didn’t care. He was here. He hadn’t left her. They were all here, and that was all that mattered.

Once the Doctor and the Silurian woman (Madame Vastra, Rory told her) had left, Amy returned her attentions to Rory and Melody. Her family. He was still holding Melody and Amy held him, cupping his face in her hands as she kissed him again and again, tasting his lips and pushing past into his mouth, telling him without words how much she’d missed him and his company and his everything. She pulled away when Melody began to fuss between them, kissing his lips and then his cheek before looking down at her.

“I think she’s getting embarrassed,” she said, grinning as rubbed Rory’s cheek with her thumb. “Mum and Dad kissing right in front of her. You’re embarrassed, aren’t you?” she said to Melody, rubbing the top of her head gently before kissing her. “Aren’t you, Melody?”

Melody cooed and gurgled, which Amy could only take as a yes.

“Too bad the Doctor’s not here to translate,” Rory said, and Amy laughed.

“Yeah. Give her here, she probably needs a change.”

Rory passed her over, and their arms and hands tangled together around the blankets. How she’d missed his hands, the steady gentle touch of his nurse’s hands, the strength of the Centurion’s grip. But they were together now, and they’d never be apart, not ever. Not again. She smiled at him as she cradled Melody to her chest, and he smiled back, and she could see the tears in his eyes as surely as they were rising in her own.

Melody didn’t need a change. She was probably just fussy from all the commotion of today, Amy thought as she sat down in the room’s tiny chair. Rory hovered near her anxiously, one hand fidgeting on his sword. Amy just smiled at him. “She’s fine, stupidhead,” she said.

“I know,” he said, his voice tight. “It’s just...” He sniffed and wiped his eyes with his other hand, but didn’t go on.

“I know,” Amy said. She balanced Melody in one arm and reached out to put her hand over his, so they were holding the handle of his sword together. She rubbed the backs of his knuckles, her fingers lingering over his wedding band. She didn’t have hers for some reason. She’d woken up without it, and Dr. Hallis had told her that they didn’t have it every time she asked after it.

Rory seemed to know what she was thinking, because he pulled his hand out from under hers suddenly, reaching up to fiddle with something at his neck. “I—I’ve got your ring,” he stammered, pulling a piece of string out from his collar and tugging at it. Amy stared up at him, laughing as he struggled with the ring at the edge of his armor. “I’ve been holding it for you. You—it got left behind when you—I’ve got it.”

“Thank you.”

He pulled the ring out at last and lifted the string necklace clumsily over his head. Amy giggled again as he tried to untie the knot, and Melody burbled in her arms. She kissed the top of her head, then looked back up in time to see Rory cutting the string apart on the edge of his sword. He tossed the string aside, then knelt in front of her and carefully slid the ring back on her finger as she held Melody. It was clumsy work, but Amy didn’t care. She gazed into his eyes and smiled at him, and he smiled back at her.

“Love you,” she whispered, leaning forward to rest her forehead on his.

“You too,” he replied. He kissed her, then bent down and kissed Melody’s forehead. “Both of you.”

Amy just laughed and kissed him again. She could live in this moment forever, she thought as they watched their daughter together. She had the two people she loved the most in the universe with her right now, and nothing, nothing could be better than this.

*** *** ***
He caught himself watching them sometimes. They stayed to the side of things as the base emptied out, Amy always waiting by doors and walls even when Rory had to leave to briefly organize things with Strax or the Silurians. He always went back to them, though, always embracing her and kissing her cheek, and always, always smiling down at the baby, sometimes stroking her forehead gently with a couple of fingers, or playing with her tiny hands. Amy laughed at him sometimes and joined in at others, but the smile was never gone from her face.

They were anxious and unsure at other turns, though, hovering over Melody like only new parents could. He caught himself smiling a few times. They’d get the hang of it, he thought. He’d managed, long, long, long ago. So long ago. He found himself remembering as he watched them, and the memories hurt, but it was an old familiar ache. He’d gotten used to losing them a long time ago. He could ignore it as easily as recall it, and as he watched Amy and Rory, it was easy to put them aside. This wasn’t the time for the reminiscences of an old man. This was a day for the young, and he rather liked it that way.

He watched them when he could spare the moments. They were still young, but they’d figure it out. They had this ahead of them now, from parenthood to everything beyond it, and he knew they’d make it through—Amy and Rory and Melody Pond.

*** *** ***
Her thief danced around her console with the mad dexterity that she so loved, but she turned her attentions from him the moment the orangey girl came through her doors, the child in her arms.

She knew her well already, Melody Pond. Melody would meet her properly in good time, but this was, as far as she was concerned, her first time. She reached out, touching her mind with her own consciousness, ruffling her thoughts as a breeze might a feather. Such a tiny mind, but so full of potential. She had seen her forming from the very first, growing slowly in the chaos of the Time Vortex, just a handful of cells in the darkness. She had seen her from beginning to end in those moments, from the Library to Berlin to America. And she knew at once who she was: the child of the TARDIS. Her child as much as the others’.

She brushed her tiny mind again, sending her happiness and tranquility and hope, for she would need them all in the days to come. She whispered a hello into her mind, though she could no longer speak and never would again.

Melody began to cry in her mother’s arms as she approached the console. It wasn’t because of her, of course; she would know. She wrapped herself around Melody’s little mind. All will be well, little one. Remember that.

The orangey girl frowned up at the time rotor, then turned to her Doctor. “Doctor, could you turn that noise off, please? I don’t think she likes it.”

Her thief turned, looking nearly as affronted as she felt in that moment. “That’s the thermo-coupling router!” he said. “I can’t just ‘turn it off.’”

“You mean you can’t or you won’t?”

He sighed, giving her a look. “I could, Pond, but it would sadly involve punching a hole in the space-time continuum, so no.”

Melody cried harder, and her mother rocked her, but she shook her head at the Doctor. “Fine. I’ll be outside. Just lemme know when we’re gonna leave, yeah?”

“Yes, yes, all right,” he replied, distracted with another measure of the dance around the console.

She bid little Melody goodbye with the impression of a kiss in her mind, an impression she hoped would last for the years to come. Then she turned her attention to other matters. Melody wasn’t fussy, of course, just tired, and she knew the perfect solution to that.

It took only a moment to find it within her rooms, the old and dusty cot that her thief had saved from Gallifrey so many centuries ago, a treasure from the time before he’d stolen her. The cot was tucked away in one of her older rooms, but she moved it closer to the console room, switching it with the third bathroom down the fourth corridor. Then she sent a simple map to the room (simply labeled “Things From Long Ago”) to the typewriter, which began printing with a loud ding.

Her thief looked up, his brow furrowed, but his face cleared into a smile almost at once. He grinned up at the time rotor. “Of course, old girl.” He tore the map from the typewriter and started down the fourth corridor.

She had no face to smile back with, but she knew he could see her smiling all the same.

Chapter Text

The Doctor ran out of the control room before Madame Kovarian’s message even switched off. He knew what was coming, and he had to get there in time, he had to get downstairs and tell Amy before—

He didn’t want to think about it. It was happening all over again, and he had to make sure it would be different this time. He ran, he ran faster that he’d ever run, determined to make it in time no matter what, because even after this was over, it was still just beginning.

They would have to find Melody all over again, and even that was just the start of it. What was she? What could she possibly be that the Church and Madame Kovarian and goodness knew whoever else thought she could be a weapon? He still couldn’t quite believe what Vastra had proposed earlier, that she might be a Time Lord. It wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be possible, her parents were human.

But even he knew that the TARDIS’s background radiation affected humans to some degree, even if the effect was harmless and ultimately unnoticeable. How much would that affect the genetic makeup of the child of two people exposed to that radiation, and how much more so if the child’s conception—

He kept running. He’d already failed Amy once today, letting them get away with the child right under his nose. He had to warn her in time, break her heart gently instead of suddenly. It would be a shock all the same, he knew it would be, but he had to hope against hope that he could soften it somehow. If he just ran—if he was fast enough—if he just had enough time—

The door to the hangar bay was locked. He shouted a warning, pounding on the door even as he sonicked it, but the moment he rushed in it was all over.

*** *** ***
The blankets collapsed in her arms so suddenly that Amy almost thought she imagined it. But then she felt the strange pressure of something sliding through her arms. She looked down. Melody was gone, and she was crouching in a puddle of what could only be Flesh.

She screamed for Rory. She scrambled to her feet, dropping the blankets. The rest of the Flesh hit the floor with a splat, and Amy stared at it.

Her face was already covered with tears when Rory got there, sword in hand. “Amy! What—” He stopped when he saw the mess on the floor. “Where’s—”

“She’s gone,” Amy sobbed. “She’s—they—” She gestured at the blankets at the floor. The words wouldn’t come. She sobbed again, the tears flowing hot and fast down her cheeks. Rory was crying now, too, she could see, his sword hanging useless at his side.

This couldn’t be happening, but it was. It was worse than waking up here, worse than watching them take her away. She had been expecting it then. She had said goodbye, and held her tiny hand, and told her to be strong and brave no matter what. This was worse. She’d thought—she’d believed that they’d already won, that this was the last battle, if they just made it through this they could get on the TARDIS and fly away for home, leaving Madame Kovarian and all the rest of them behind forever.

But she was gone. And no matter how hard she sobbed into Rory’s shoulder, Amy couldn’t make it hurt any less. What were they going to do now? Could they do anything? Could the Doctor find her again, or had Madame Kovarian won?

She leaned into Rory as they walked back to what remained of the others. Vastra was tending to someone across from the TARDIS, and Jenny was walking towards them, sheathing her sword. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “Where’s Melody?”

“They took her,” Rory said, rubbing Amy’s back as he guided her towards one of the toppled weapons crates. Amy sank down onto it, her hand trailing down Rory’s back, clutching at his cloak. He kept his hand on her shoulder, and she loved him for it, loved him for just being there.

Jenny’s eyes widened. “But I thought we got her away. Captain Avery—”

“It was a trick.” Amy felt his hand tense a little, and she reached up with her other hand to take his. “Just like they did with Amy.”

“Oh Lord,” Jenny whispered. “Are you all right?” she asked Amy.

“I’m—I’m f—” The words wouldn’t come. She sobbed again, leaning into Rory, and a moment later she felt Jenny sitting down beside her, rubbing her back gently. Amy didn’t even bother to try shaking her off. She needed it, she thought. She needed it so much right now. She held on to Rory and cried, and she heard him sniff and hold back sobs. He’d done so much to protect Melody, probably more than Amy would ever know, and now she was gone. And there was nothing either of them could do.

She let go of Rory eventually. The tears stopped coming and her sobbing ceased, but she still felt broken inside. When Rory collected himself and left to assess their damages with Vastra, Jenny stayed beside her, telling her over and over that it would be all right. Part of Amy wanted to snap back that it wouldn’t be all right, how could it ever be all right again without Melody, but she stopped herself. She’s only trying to help.

And then, out of nowhere, the Doctor rushed into the hangar, shouting that it was a trap, that Melody was Flesh, but Amy could only stare at him. Where had he been all this time? How had he not realized that Melody was Flesh until now?

Rory said what they all were thinking: “Yeah. We know.”

Chapter Text

“It’s me. I’m Melody. I’m your daughter.”

“You’re—?” Amy looked between River and the cloth in her hand, trying to make it fit together in her head. River Song was Melody Pond was her daughter all grown up, and it didn’t make sense but it did somehow, and yet part of her desperately wanted not to believe it. Her eyes stung with fresh tears, and her hands shook, and the prayer leaf might have fallen to the floor if River hadn’t caught it as she placed her hands over Amy’s, holding them lightly.

“It’s going to be all right,” she said, looking into Amy’s eyes. “Trust me. It’s going to be all right. Just hold on.”

“River—” She choked on a sob. Burning tears ran down her cheeks, and it seemed to her that the only things anchoring her to the world now were River’s hands around her own and Rory’s firm and steady grip on her shoulder. She couldn’t believe this. She didn’t want to believe this. The Doctor had said he was going to find her, but for a moment Amy doubted that he ever would. If Melody was River—then how did River end up in the future, in prison? Would they get to raise her? Would they get to be her parents at all? Or was this all that was left?

“River,” Rory said. “I—you’re not lying to us?” He sounded uncertain, off-balance. “This isn’t some kind of—I don’t know, a trick or something?”

River shifted her gaze to Rory. “I would never do that you,” she said. “Never.”

And Amy believed her. She sobbed again, and suddenly River was hugging her tightly, letting Amy cry into her shoulder as she stroked her hair and whispered over and over again, “It’s all right.”

It wasn’t all right, of course. Everything about this was wrong, Amy thought. It felt as though their roles had been reversed, as though River was the mother and Amy the daughter. It should have been the other way around. But Amy couldn’t make herself be strong now, as much as she wanted to. And maybe it was all right, though it didn’t feel that way.

Her tears subsided, and she pulled away from River, wiping her eyes with shaking hands, trying to collect herself. She clutched the prayer leaf in her hand tightly. “Sorry,” she said. “Sorry, I just...”

“It’s all right,” River said again.

Amy smiled sadly, then hugged River quickly, kissing her on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said.

“Not at all.”

Amy watched and Rory and River embraced, Rory looking awkward and uncertain still while River just closed her eyes and smiled. She kissed him on the cheek as they parted. “It’s okay,” she told him.

“Yeah. Just... trying to get used to it.”

“You will. Now then, I need to get them home first,” she said, nodding at Vastra and Jenny, who had been watching the whole proceedings from a distance. “I’ll be right back.”

Vastra bid them both goodbye with a rather formal handshake. “You’ve been very strong, both of you,” she said. “I wish you the very best.”

Jenny shook Rory’s hand as well, but gave Amy a quick hug. “It’ll be all right, Amy, just like she says.”

“Thank you,” Amy whispered.

River took a moment to explain the vortex manipulator to both of them, and then they were gone in a flash, and Amy and Rory were alone with the dead and the Doctor’s cot. Amy leaned into Rory, clutching the prayer leaf in her hands like a lifeline.

Rory put his arm around her waist. “You all right?”

“No. I—I almost don’t want—”

“You don’t want her?”

“No, no.” Amy shook her head and turned so she could look into his eyes. “I wish it wasn’t true. I wish—I don’t know. I don’t know. I just want Melody back. I just—” Tears rose in her eyes again, and her hand tangled with Rory’s as she reached up to wipe them away. She let him do it, her hand dropping to his shoulder.

“The Doctor’ll find her,” he said. “He promised he would.”

“But what if he doesn’t?”

Rory was about to answer, but then there was a snap of static and a flash of light, and River was standing a few feet away from them. “All right,” she said, flipping a panel up on the vortex manipulator and hitting a few buttons. “Are you ready to go?”

*** *** ***

They arrived with a flash and a sickening lurch. Amy stumbled into Rory’s side and Rory caught her; only River managed to remain completely upright. They were standing in the middle of their sitting room back in Leadworth. Sunshine streamed through the windows, and for a moment Rory felt completely and utterly out of place.

“Sorry about that,” River said, putting an arm around Amy, who was clutching at her stomach. “Vortex travel is a bit unpleasant if you’re not used to it. You all right?”

“‘m fine,” Amy managed, making her way over to the couch and sitting down. “Fine.” Rory kept a hand on her shoulder, but River stepped away.

“I’ll go and make some tea, shall I?” she asked, glancing between them. She didn’t wait for an answer, but stepped around the corner into the kitchen. Rory didn’t even bother to ask how she knew where the tea and kettle were. She’d probably been here before.

“I’m gonna go get out of these clothes,” he said. “I—are you going to be all right?”

Amy nodded, but she didn’t look at him. She was staring straight ahead at the television, almost not blinking. Rory didn’t know what to say. He squeezed her shoulder, then left, turning down the corridor to their bedroom.

He shoved the sword and armor into a corner of their closet, changing into a plain shirt and trousers instead. He caught sight of himself in the mirror above their dresser. He looked almost normal again, he thought, but he didn’t feel that way. He felt... he wasn’t sure.

It was almost as though it had all been for nothing. The search and everything that had come of it, the long fight to get Amy and the baby back—and for nothing. They had saved Amy, it was true, and Rory knew he wouldn’t trade that for anything, even baby Melody. But they had done so much, done so many things to get them both back, that now even half a victory seemed hollow.

He shook his head and started back down the corridor. All he could do was make the best of what was happening now. They hadn’t lost Melody forever. She was here now, and she was River, but she was still their daughter, as mad and impossible as it was. And he had to be there for Amy now if nothing else.

Amy hadn’t moved from the couch when he got back to the sitting room. He sat down next to her and put a hand on her knee. She blinked then, and looked down at his hand before putting hers over it.

“Are you all right?” he asked, taking her hand in his.

Amy blinked again, then nodded. “Yeah,” she said quietly. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Amy...”

“I’m fine,” she said again. “It’s fine.”

She was lying. And he knew he’d be lying if he said he felt fine. But he didn’t know what else to say, either, and so he held her hand. It was the only thing he could do for her now, but hopefully it was enough.

River returned a few minutes later with three mugs of tea. She settled into the armchair near the sofa, her hands clasped around her mug, one of the heavy, slightly chipped ones that Amy had brought from home. “Is there anything I can do?” she asked quietly.

“No,” Rory replied, taking a sip of his tea. She’d made it the way he always took it, no sugar with just a little bit of milk. “I think—I don’t know. Thank you, I guess.”

“It’s no trouble.” River sipped her tea and leaned forward to place it on the coffee table. “Not for you.”

“How is this okay?” Amy snapped. She pulled her hand out of Rory’s and turned to River. “How is this supposed to be okay? I—you’re our daughter, but—how does that work? How—I had her! I was holding her and—how can you be her? How can you—” She sobbed, burying her face in her hands for a moment, and Rory had an arm around her at once. “How is this okay?” she said, crying. “How?

River said nothing for several minutes, and Rory found himself glancing between her and Amy, trying and failing to find something to say. The same thoughts had been running through his mind since River had told them the truth.

“I can’t tell you everything,” River said sadly. “Not yet. But it will be all right. It will.”

“How, though?” Amy asked again. Tears flowed freely down her face now, and Rory took her hand again and squeezed it. “How are we supposed to—“ Her voice broke again, and she leaned into Rory’s chest, sobbing, and he held her and he could feel the tears rising in his eyes and he glanced at River and she was crying, too.

“It’ll be all right,” she said. “Not—not at first, but it will be. And I’ll be here. If you ever need me, I’ll come, I promise.”

Amy looked up from Rory’s chest, her face streaked with tears. “Will you?” she said darkly.

Rory knew why she asked. The Doctor had promised her he would be right back, and then twelve years had passed, followed by two more before he returned for good. And so many people had promised Amy when they were kids, promised they would be back soon, promised that they would remember. Every promise had been broken and Amy would never forget it.

But River set her mug down on the table and crossed the space between them, kneeling in front of Amy. Tears ran slowly from her eyes, and she placed her hand over Amy and Rory’s and looked into Amy’s eyes.

“I would never forget about you,” she said, her voice shaking. She smiled. “You’re my mum.”

And then Amy sobbed again, and she leaned forward and hugged River, and River hugged her and hugged Rory, and they all were crying together, and they were a family.

Chapter Text

Nurse and warrior. Warrior and nurse. Two sides of a coin that kept spinning instead of falling to its side. He returned to work just a few days after Demon’s Run. He wanted to be himself again, to just be Rory Williams the Nurse. But the Centurion kept rearing his head. When he left one patient to attend the next, he remembered. When he heard the wail of babies in the maternity ward, or the anguished cries of family members reeling with loss, he remembered.

He remembered the swords and the gunfire. He remembered the explosions that followed him across a distant galaxy in a distant future. He remembered enemies and allies alike dying all around as he did nothing.

He remembered boldest of all Melody’s cries woven into the sounds of the battle, and Amy screaming his name over and over until he came to her.

Sometimes it made him stop in the corridors, staring ahead and seeing nothing around him but what he remembered.

And then one of the older nurses or one of the doctors clucked at him to get back to work, and he blinked, and it was gone again, lurking in the back of his mind, ready to roll over him once more. He could be just Rory for the patients, asking the same questions again and again in a routine, talking amiably with those who knew him from the village. It was light stuff, really. He didn’t have to remember when he was taking down weights and measuring blood pressure.

He hated that he left Amy alone during his long and awkward hours working. She was just as heartbroken as he was, probably even more so. She’d spent so much time with Melody, held her and loved her and hoped more than he ever had that they would all be together again. And then they had been torn apart, and he wondered not for the first time if it would ever be all right again.

Yes, they had River, but was it the same? He’d put on a brave face that whole afternoon back home again, trying to keep it together so Amy could have the space to fall apart, but in many ways he felt the same as she did. How could this be okay? Why couldn’t it be simple? And would the Doctor ever find their Melody again?

He blamed the Doctor for most of it. Even though it felt childish to say that he ruined everything, it seemed to Rory that he had. The adventures were grand enough, but how many times had they come close to dying? How many times had they been forced to run for their lives? And how many times had it seemed like he and Amy would never see each other again? Yes, the Doctor always managed to put it to rights by the end, but how many times were they supposed to just carry on afterwards?

He might have been content to stay at home, away from the TARDIS and the Doctor, if it weren’t for Amy. Amy who loved him, Amy who could have married anyone she wanted with her looks and her wit. Amy who could have run away to the stars and never come back. Amy who wanted to share it all with him, and who was he to say no to her? He loved her, and if the Doctor couldn’t keep her safe, at least he could. And if the Doctor ever left her for good, her Raggedy Doctor disappeared at last, he’d still be there for her.

Doing a bang up job of that right now, he thought bitterly. He sat in a corner of the tiny break room the more junior nurses used, staring into the bottom of a plastic cup of water. Leaving her alone when you know she’s upset. She was more than upset, if he was being honest with himself. The last few days, the days since Demon’s Run, she’d been nothing like Amy at all. Quiet, reserved, teary-eyed. She clung to him sometimes, just holding his hand or putting her arms around his waist.

She’d cried herself to sleep every night since they’d been home.

He hadn’t let himself cry as much. He wanted to be strong for her, but what good was it running away to the hospital? That they needed the money seemed a poor excuse. Either of their families would be willing to lend a hand if they asked for it; it was how they’d managed to get the flat in the first place.

But he’d phoned the hospital just a couple of days after they’d come home, asking nervously if he still had a job. His supervisor gave him a hard time about disappearing again, but told him to come in the next morning regardless. And he did, leaving Amy alone that morning only to return and find her curled up on the sofa, her face damp and her eyes red. And he held her and told her it was all right, but the next day he did it again. And the day after that, and the day after that, and every night she had cried herself to sleep.

He sighed. He wasn’t really acting better than the Doctor, was he? He got up and flung the cup into the bin still half full, then stalked off to finish his shift.

Amy seemed better when he got home three and a half hours later, but only by the broadest definition of “better.” She wasn’t crying, but it looked like she had been. She still was quiet, only speaking a little as he tried to cheer her up with anecdotes from work. He hated himself more with every passing minute. It’s not just the Doctor’s fault, stupid, he thought as he cleared away the dishes from dinner. You’re not helping much, either.

They watched a film together in silence, and it wasn’t until they were going to bed that he figured out what he wanted to say to her. “Amy.”

“Yeah?” She stood at the dresser, her back to him as she took off her necklace.

He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left you here alone. I know you’re upset and you need someone, but I just—” His voice broke; tears rose sudden and hot in his eyes. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

Amy had turned around. “Rory, what—Rory.” She crawled across the bed towards him, her eyes glittering with tears as she wiped his tears away. “Rory, don’t,” she said, her voice shaking, “Rory—”

“I went across half the universe to find you two,” he said with a sob. “To get you back. I did so much, I did everything to find you, and they just—” He reached up to wipe his eyes, but his hand tangled with hers, and he clung to her wrist as she clung to his shoulders, and they cried together, their tears mingling as they drew ever closer, both of them crying for what they had lost.

“I just want her back,” Amy whispered into his shoulder.

“I’d tear apart the universe to get her back, but I can’t.” Another sob shook him, and he hugged her tighter and she hugged him back. “I can’t do anything. I can’t even be here for you when I should be. I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry, Amy...”

“It’s okay,” she said over and over, “it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay.”

It wasn’t okay. He knew that and she knew that. It was a lie they told themselves, a lie the Doctor had told them again and again. It was okay. It would be okay. Everything would be okay.

But it wouldn’t. It never would.

They said the words together anyway, “it’s okay” over and over and over again until it lost all meaning and they lay down on the bed, still holding each other, still weeping.

“I want her back, too,” he told her. “She was so beautiful and...”

“She’s always been,” Amy said. She smiled a little. “Gets her good looks from her dad, she does.”

For a moment, they smiled and laughed together, for the first time in what felt like years. But it was only a moment, and the tears came back soon enough.

“She was just starting to smile,” Amy added. “She had a smile like you, too, when she smiled she just—everything was better. You didn’t even get to know her.” And she was crying again and Rory held her and wiped her tears away and kissed her.

“You won’t leave me?” she asked.

“Never,” he said, and it was a promise, a promise he’d kept for two thousand years, and would begin to keep again. “I—I’ll talk to Dr. Carver, see about getting my hours reduced or something. Or taking leave again.”

“You don’t have to do that,” she said suddenly. “You don’t—we need the money.”

“We can ask—”

“I don’t want to tell them,” she said. “How can we—how are we supposed to tell anyone?”

He couldn’t answer. How were they supposed to explain it? Tell their families they’d had a child, only to have her snatched away by forces four thousand years in the future? It sounded mad enough when he thought about it, how would it sound to their parents?

He cupped Amy’s face with a hand and kissed her. “All right. I... will you be all right? I don’t—I want to be here for you, I do—”

She put her hand over his. “I’ll be all right,” she said. She kissed his palm. “Just—come home.”

*** *** ***
Every day was the same again.

She woke up, sometimes before Rory, sometimes after. She made tea while he showered and got ready for his shifts at the hospital. (She was still surprised he even had a job, but the hospital made no complaints and took him back as though he’d never been gone. She wondered if the Doctor had anything to do with it.) Sometimes she made eggs for breakfast, but most mornings they both ate bagels with cream cheese or jam.

Before Rory left, they hugged. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder. He placed his hands on her waist, or sometimes the small of her back. “I’ll call you on my break,” he said, like he said every day now. “Call me if you need anything. And if... if you need to talk to me. Or call River.”

(River had given them the phone number to her cell in Stormcage. It was thirty-six digits long and included half a dozen stars and pounds, which River assured them was to account for the temporal variance. Amy hadn’t tried phoning it yet. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to.)

Amy nodded and said, “I will.”

Then they kissed, sometimes briefly, sometimes for a minute or two, and Rory left. And Amy was alone.

Being alone in their flat in Leadworth seemed so different from being alone in that single room at Demon’s Run. She had done nothing at Demon’s Run because there was nothing to do save look after Melody, and now she didn’t even have Melody anymore. Here in Leadworth, there were so many things to do that Amy almost preferred to do nothing.

Some days she sat on the sofa and watched all those old movies of Rory’s that she hated. (She spotted the Doctor in one of them, and spent the afternoon crying again, because he still hadn’t come back, which meant he still hadn’t found her.) Some days she sat on their bed and stared at the walls and wondered over and over again how long it would take the Doctor to find Melody and bring her back.

Some days she went outside, thinking she might go to the market and buy milk or eggs or bread, only to change her mind the moment she got there. She didn’t want to run into someone she knew, which in Leadworth was inevitable. She didn’t want to explain why her eyes were red, or why she looked forlorn when she was known throughout the village for being fierce and straightforward.

Some days she didn’t eat again until Rory came home and they made dinner together. They sat on the sofa together afterwards every night, watching telly or movies or both, and Amy leaned into him and clung to him.

She’d already lost two of the people most important to her, it felt like. She didn’t want to lose the only one she had left.

*** *** ***
River visited her parents often during the first few weeks after Demon’s Run, after the Doctor dropped her off again at Stormcage. Sometimes she only stayed for tea, but occasionally she spent the night, bunking down on the couch with a pillow and a blanket and leaving the next morning after breakfast. She talked with them and she listened, no matter what they said, and they often had quite a lot to say.

The first time, she arrived in their tiny back garden with the typical zap that accompanied vortex travel. They hadn’t yet moved into the house the Doctor would give them, she recalled as she opened the door and entered their flat. There was so much that still had not happened to them, so much she would have to avoid mentioning. But the least she could do was be here.

The flat was quiet, so quiet River wondered if she’d undershot the date and shown up before they were even home again. She poked around the living room quietly, searching for signs that Rory and Amy had been about recently. DVDs lay scattered across the coffee table with empty, tea-stained mugs, but that meant nothing. The dirty dishes in the kitchen sink were a hopeful sign, but before River could investigate further she heard a shuffling, sobbing sound that confirmed she was not alone.

“Amy?” she called softly, following the sound down the hallway towards the bathroom.

The sobbing stopped, but there was no reply. River walked more quickly and stopped at the bathroom door to find Amy sitting on the toilet lid, wiping her eyes with both hands. A battered blue and pink box sat on her lap. A pregnancy test, River realized after a moment.

“When’d you get here?” Amy asked, her voice still thick with tears.

“A few minutes ago,” River replied, stepping into the bathroom to lean against the washbasin. “Are you all right?”

“I don’t know.” Amy shook her head and picked up the box, turning it over in her hands. “I forgot I hid this in here. I didn’t want Rory to know I’d...” She sobbed again and reached up to cover her mouth with one hand. “I thought there might be something wrong with her because of the TARDIS, and I didn’t want Rory to worry...”

She’s talking about me, River thought. “Oh, Amy...” She knelt down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. Amy leaned into her, wrapping one arm around her until they were sharing half a hug, River’s heart breaking as Amy cried and cried and cried.

Amy stopped crying after a while, stopped clutching at the box so tightly that her knuckles went white. River took the box from her and dropped it gently in the little bin beside the toilet, then helped Amy to her feet and led her into the kitchen.

“How long has it been?” she asked as she pulled mugs out of the cabinet for tea.

“About a week,” Amy replied as she dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Rory’s back at work.”

River nodded. She filled the kettle up at the sink and set it out to boil, then joined Amy at the little dining room table, sitting down across from her. “I’m so sorry, Amy,” she said.

Amy shook her head. “It’s not your fault.”

No, River thought, but I’d rather you blame me than him. “I know. Even so.”

They sat in silence as the kettle boiled, and it wasn’t until River stepped away to brew the tea that Amy spoke again.

“River, does he ever find you?”

She paused only for a moment, then went back to pouring the water. She said nothing.

“River.”

She couldn’t face Amy as she replied. She should have known these questions would be coming, that Amy most especially would want to know if they would ever get to see their child again. “You know I can’t tell you that.”

“River...” Her voice pleading now, almost broken again by tears.

“Amy, I can’t,” she said again, turning around. “I can’t.”

“Why not?” Amy asked, her expression hardening suddenly.

A very small part of her wanted to simply say “spoilers” and be done with it, but this wasn’t the Doctor. This was her mother. She took a deep breath. “Has the Doctor ever mentioned to you how time can be rewritten?”

Amy blinked a moment. “Yeah, loads of times. Why?”

River picked up the mugs and carried them over to the table. “My timeline is very complicated, to put it lightly,” she said as she set the mugs down and took her seat. “It’s... I suppose it’s like a spider web in many ways. A thread dividing and intersecting in dozens of different ways and places. Do you follow me?”

Amy nodded slowly.

“Time can be rewritten,” River said again, “or even erased completely. And while most of the time it’s little things, missed connections and moments that never were, sometimes those rewrites can have enormous implications, not just in one place and time but across the whole of the universe.”

Amy smiled a little, the first time that afternoon. “You’re starting to sound like him,” she remarked, almost playfully.

River smiled back. “Well, I try not to, but he rubs off on you after a while. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is... if a part of my timeline were rewritten, even the tiniest thing, like you knowing something before you knew it originally, it might change everything. My entire existence could be rewritten, or unwritten, or it could rip a hole in all of time and space. That’s why we have spoilers, the Doctor and I, and his timeline’s five times madder than mine is.”

Amy said nothing for a little while, sipping at her tea in silence. “But how do you know you can’t tell?” she asked. “Even one little thing, how do you know?”

River shrugged. “Sometimes I don’t,” she said. “Other times I just know.”

“But how?”

“It’s like another sense for me. Like... like how you know your feet are on the ground. I know when it’s dangerous to mess with time.” She shrugged again and took a large sip of tea.

For a moment, Amy looked as though she wanted to say something more, but then she shook her head. “All right. I just... she’s our daughter—you’re our daughter,” she amended, shaking her head again. “I just... I want to know that she—that you were all right.”

She reached across the table and took Amy’s hand, squeezing it gently. “I know.”

She stayed for dinner that night, more because she wanted to see Rory again than anything. The conversation was awkward at best, but River feared there might have been none at all if she hadn’t been there. She left afterwards to give them their privacy, but told them she’d be dropping by occasionally to see how they were. They both thanked her, but as she returned to Stormcage, she wondered if they meant it.

She knew it would all be all right eventually, but that didn’t change how strange and unsettling it all was for them right now.

*** *** ***
Amy woke up on a Saturday about two weeks after Demon’s Run to the sound of the kettle boiling and the smell of frying bacon. “Rory?” she asked, not even calling out loudly, but when she looked, he was still asleep in the bed beside her. Blinking, she sat up, shaking out her hair and groping in the semi-dark for her dressing gown. Some sleepy part worried about housebreakers and burglars as she walked down the hall to the kitchen, but what kind of burglar made tea and bacon?

It was Mels. Of course it was Mels. She was turning the bacon over with a fork as Amy walked into the kitchen, but she turned and waved regardless. “Morning,” she said, as though it was perfectly normal for her to be here.

“Mels, what are you doing here?” Amy asked, rubbing her eyes. “And how’d you get in? I locked the doors last night.”

Without a word, Mels reached into her back pocket and tossed something at her. Amy just managed to catch it—a little leather pouch that, when she opened it, held a number of small metal rods. She had to stare at them a moment before she understood.

“Lockpicks. You—Mels, you picked our locks?”

Mels only laughed as she moved the pan with the bacon to another burner and pulled another frying pan out of the cabinet. “I was only practicing,” she said. “And I locked it right back once I came in, don’t worry.”

“Right.” Amy shook her head and put the lockpicks down on the counter. “Just—don’t do it again, all right?”

Mels shrugged. “All right. You have any eggs?” she asked as she opened the refrigerator.

“Yeah, on the top shelf near the back.” Rory had gone with her to the market the other night, leaving their fridge and pantry largely full again, something Mels had evidently taken advantage of. “Why are you making us breakfast anyway?”

“Welcome back party,” she replied at once.

“Mels, we’ve been back for two weeks now.”

“And I’ve been back for eight hours.”

“Back from—no, don’t tell me.” Amy crossed to the dining room table and sat down, burying her face in her hands. “I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know how you got into trouble this time.”

“Don’t want to know what?” Rory said with a yawn. Amy looked up to see him entering the kitchen as well, his dressing gown half open and his hair thoroughly mussed up. “Mels? When’d you get here?”

“About an hour ago,” Mels replied as she broke eggs one handed over the skillet.

“She picked the locks,” Amy said, putting her face back in her hands.

“She picked—?” He paused a moment, then sighed. “Never mind. Where’ve you been, anyway, Mels?”

“Got into a bit of trouble in Gloucester a few weeks back,” she said breezily as she cast around in the drawers for a spatula. “Only just now got out of it, which is why I’m back in old Leadworth to see you two. Do you want these fried or scrambled?”

“What kind of trouble?” Rory asked slowly as he took the chair across from Amy.

“Amy doesn’t want to know,” Mels said.

“No, she does not,” Amy said.

“So I probably wouldn’t like it either?”

Mels laughed again. “Probably not.”

They continued chatting as Mels finished making breakfast, and for a little while, Amy almost felt normal again. Really, actually normal. Pre-Melody normal, if she could call it that. Mels was as tiresome as she’d always been (particularly with her cryptic references to whatever had happened in Gloucester), but she wouldn’t really be Mels unless she was a bit tiresome.

It wasn’t until after breakfast that it all came crashing back again. Rory had gone to shower while Mels and Amy cleared off the table and began the washing up. Mels was scrubbing at one of the skillets when she said quietly, in a voice quite unlike her own, “Are you all right?”

Amy paused in the middle of drying off the silverware to stare at her. “I’m fine,” she said, and for once she actually sounded fine when she said it, but Mels only shook her head.

“No, you’re not.” She flipped the pan over and scrubbed at the other side. “I’ve known you almost my whole life, Amy, I can tell when you’re fine. And you’re not, not right now.”

For a moment, Amy didn’t know what to say, and she finally gave up and went back to drying things. “It doesn’t matter,” she said stiffly. And it didn’t. She couldn’t explain what had happened. She didn’t want to explain what had happened.

“It’s not Rory,” Mels went on as though Amy hadn’t said anything at all. “I mean, why would it be? Is it the Doctor?” She glanced at Amy. “Has he done something again?”

Yes, Amy thought. He has.

“Will you leave it, Mels?” she said, taking the skillet out of her hands so she could rinse it and dry it off. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“So it is the Doctor.” She grinned in a sly, flirty way that just made Amy feel angrier. “I could beat him up for you,” she said, and Amy knew she’d try. She’d beaten up plenty of boys in Amy’s defense over the years, especially in primary school (Amy had sometimes joined in). “Next time he shows up, just ring me, and I’ll—”

“Will you stop it?” Amy said, slamming the pan down on the counter. “I don’t want to talk about it, Mels, so will you just—” Her voice cracked and tears came all at once, threatening to spill down her cheeks if she didn’t keep it together. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Mels stared at her, and for once she looked unsure of what to say. “All right,” she said, and she didn’t sound defensive or annoyed. “I understand.” And she went right back to scrubbing dishes.

No you don’t, Amy thought. You really don’t. And how am I supposed to explain it to you? To anyone? I don’t even understand it, and she’s my daughter, and I don’t have her anymore.

Mels stuck around for a couple hours after breakfast, chatting with them about everything except what they’d been up to with the Doctor, sharing stories about what mayhem they’d missed in Leadworth (most of it caused by her, she admitted proudly). It was only after she got a brief call on her mobile that she decided to leave. She waved to Rory as usual but she gave Amy a hug.

“It’ll be all right,” she whispered. “Whatever it is.”

Amy only nodded. It wasn’t going to be all right, of course. Unless the Doctor showed up tomorrow with Melody in his arms, it was never going to be all right.

And then Mels left, and they were alone together, and nothing had changed at all.

Chapter Text

It started out as another adventure. He took off in a haze of giddiness, so overcome by the revelation of River’s identity and what it meant for him, for them, that it wasn’t until he slowed down later that he realized what he was getting into. I’m going to find your daughter, he’d told Amy and Rory. She will be safe.

They weren’t actually lies. He would find her—someday, somewhere, when it all began for her like it’d begun for him. And he would keep her safe, up until the day he saved her instead, that last-first day in the Library that he thought of every time he saw her. He hadn’t been lying to them, he hadn’t, but all the same he knew what they believed his words meant. As he searched and searched, each lead turning into a dead end, he knew what Amy and Rory both would be waiting for.

They wanted their baby back, their little Melody. The knowledge that she would be safe and well in her future would be a small comfort to them. No parent would want to live with that. He wouldn’t have, and even though Amy and Rory had become parents unexpectedly and all at once, he’d been able to see so clearly how they loved their daughter. They would want her back, and he’d told them that he’d find her.

He looked. He followed every signal sent to Demon’s Run that last day to its destination. Every station, every system, every ship was empty or abandoned, or in the hands of entities outside the Church, most of whom claimed to have bought the ships and stations from perfectly innocent third parties.

He would have traced by Madame Kovarian’s last message, but the woman had scrambled the signal so badly that he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It was an even worse mess than the control signal they’d used on Amy’s Ganger. He’d even tried to pick up the trace from Melody’s Ganger, but it was too faint, barely used enough to even leave an imprint.

He kept looking. He had to keep looking, to keep hoping that there was some place, some moment when she was unprotected. Even a few months or years with her would be better than nothing at all, he thought, because he had already realized what Amy and Rory had likely not: Melody was the child the Silence had stolen, eaten by the Spaceman and disappeared at the end of it all. They would not get to raise their own daughter, not really. The Church, the Silence, Kovarian—they had ruined the happiness of two of the best people he had ever known, and for what? Some play for power, a chance to rid the universe of a menace that didn’t really exist?

Stop that, he thought. Remember what River said. And how could he forget it? It had been the truth, every word of it. He had ruined Amy and Rory’s happiness as much as the others had, even if he had done it in increments. Amy had lost her childhood to him, growing up waiting for her Raggedy Doctor while the world thought her mad. And how many times had she almost lost Rory to his own foolish desire for adventure? Rory had already died once; what if he died again, and there wasn’t a crack in the universe he could fix it with?

 

It was because of him they’d lost Melody, and it might well be because of him that they never saw their child again. He had to put something about this mess to rights. There had to be something he could do, some part of River’s tangled timeline that would give her a few years to be loved by her parents.

He thought of the orphanage in Florida and shivered.

He searched. He followed signal after signal, tried to track down Colonel Manton for more on Kovarian, tried to find more about Kovarian, but it seemed as though every commander and soldier of Demon’s Run had evaporated. He thought of Melody and the Silence, and wondered not for the first time if they’d truly vanquished them in 1969. His message hadn’t been a death sentence, not really; it had been insurance, a guarantee that the Silence would leave Earth to itself for good, but that meant little for the rest of the wide universe.

The Silence had had Melody in their grasp, and it seemed that no one remembered anything of the Church’s battle station on Demon’s Run. He wondered what the implications of that were, and what they might lead to if he could find the right thread to pull. He kept looking, kept following leads to dead ends and dead ends long past when he should have stopped. He hoped. Even if it was just an hour, two hours, a day—some moment when little Melody would not be in the hands of her enemies (your enemies, he thought) but the arms of her parents.

Sometimes he wondered if that wouldn’t be crueler. What would they say, how would they look at him after he brought them their daughter only to take her away again to be hurt by her kidnappers? Would they ask him to leave and never come back? Would they hate him?

He deserved it. After all he’d done to them without even meaning to, and all he’d done knowing full well what it meant, he deserved their hatred more than he would ever deserve their love. But he loved them, and because he loved them he looked and looked and looked for little Melody.

*** *** ***
He’d lost track of how much time had passed since Demon’s Run when he landed the TARDIS that day in the hopes of following up another sliver of a lead. He had barely turned away from the console when the doors burst open with a hail of laser fire, and River was there, shooting over her shoulder and shouting at him to go, what on earth was he waiting for?

It took him a moment to collect himself, but he dashed around the console as she slammed the doors shut, and in a moment and a half they were off again. River slumped against the doors, her blaster hanging limply from her hand as she closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The Doctor paused at the bottom of the steps. “Um. Hello there.”

She smiled, her eyes still closed. “Hello, sweetie.” She looked as though she’d been through an ordeal, he realized; her face and arms were streaked with dirt or soot, and her hair had grown lank from sweat.

“Are you—”

“If you cut it that close again, dear, I might have to come back from the grave and kill you,” she said, still smiling as she opened her eyes.

“Sorry, I—what? River—”

She blinked at him. “Didn’t you get my message?”

“No, I was, er, following up a lead on... something.” He clasped his hands together, unsure of how much to say. “Should I have gotten a message?”

River stared at him a moment, then shook her head. “No, it’s all right. Just ignore it when you find it, I suppose.” She shrugged and smiled again. “Shall we do diaries, then?” She dropped her blaster back into its holster and reached into a pouch at her side to pull out the TARDIS blue diary, its cover cracked and faded. “Where are you up to?”

He swallowed. “...Demon’s Run.”

She paused, closing the diary again. “Oh.” She looked away from him for a moment, then up again. “How are Mum and Dad? And—you, how are you?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I—I haven’t seen them since, I’ve been looking. For you.”

“And how are you?” she asked again.

He smiled sadly. “It’s not important.”

“It’s important to me.” Before he could protest again, she continued, “I’m going to go clean up and get changed. Why don’t you make us some tea and we’ll talk, all right?” She stepped forward and kissed him, her lips salty with sweat, then left him stammering by the stairs as she walked past and vanished up into the TARDIS.

*** *** ***
He made tea, because what else was he supposed to do? He even managed to find a package of Jammie Dodgers in the pantry, and he was arranging them on a plate when River walked in, her hair still dripping and a towel around her shoulders. She took a seat across from him and picked up one of the still steaming mugs. “Thank you, dear,” she said, taking a sip.

“Yes,” he said vaguely, sitting down as well.

“So how are you doing?” she asked. “And don’t you dare try to avoid the question again,” she added when he opened his mouth.

He sighed. “I’m looking. I’ve—I swear I’ve looked in every corner of the universe twice, and turned up nothing for it. And I keep wondering if it’s worth it. To give them another moment with you, if I’m only going to end it the way they did.”

River sipped her tea and said nothing. She stared at him, her face almost expressionless.

“River.” He paused a moment, casting around for the right words, if there were any right words. “Do I—do they ever get to see you again, do you know? Does this amount to anything or not?”

“You know I can’t answer that, sweetie,” she replied simply. “Spoilers.”

“Spoilers.” He nodded. “Right. I suppose it was worth a try, wasn’t it?”

“You’re nothing if not thorough,” she said, smiling at him. “Most of the time, anyway.”

“Yes, well.” He shrugged and took a large gulp of his tea. “If we’re done.” He put the mug down still mostly full and stood up. “I take it you’ll be needing a lift back to Stormcage, so.” He gave her a curt nod and stalked out of the kitchen.

She followed him, of course, hot on his heels all the way back to the console room. She sat down in one of the jump seats as he moved around the console, watching him but saying nothing. She didn’t even try to correct his flying, though he wasn’t sure if that made him happy or just angrier.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t glad to see her. Was it? Her drop-ins and notes were always unexpected pleasures, but this time he felt like he was being pulled two ways at once. On the one hand it was River, but on the other, it was Melody, too. He was supposed to be looking for Melody, for her, and every time he glanced up at her, the inevitability of his failure seemed all the more potent.

He’d made a mess of it all. Again. Melody was another promise he couldn’t keep. Another five minutes turned to years, another reason he should leave well enough alone and fly away for good.

Not one line, you said. He glanced at River again. She hadn’t moved from the jump seat, and she gazed back at him calmly as he shook his head and returned his attentions to the console. Not one line rewritten or erased. But how many times these last weeks had he considered doing just that? He knew more now, but it seemed the more he knew, the greater the temptation was. She could be happy. She could grow up with her parents, never be used by the Silence, never end up in Stormcage for killing a man.

But then she wouldn’t be River, would she?

He slumped against the console, fiddling with one of the stabilizers absently. “I’m not all right,” he said quietly, “though I imagine you’ve figured that out already.”

“Yeah.” He heard her getting up, and a few moments later she stood beside him, putting one arm around his waist and leaning into him. “You’re never really all right. It’s why I like you so much.” She kissed him on the cheek, and he blushed, his hands clenching.

“I don’t know how I’m going to go back to them.” He thumbed at the stabilizer button again, but didn’t press it. “I told them I’d find you, and I suppose I will, but... Amy won’t see it that way.”

“I know,” River said. “But I know you, sweetie. You’ll keep looking anyway.”

“Will I?” He smiled, shaking his head. “I’m half-tempted to give it all up right now, run away again. Doesn’t seem like there’s much left I can do.”

“We both know that’s not true,” River replied. “You can do so much, even if you never do what you say you will. You’re remarkably good at it, actually.”

“I don’t think that’s going to do the trick this time around.” He shook his head again. “How do you tell someone they’ll never see their child again? That the baby they held and loved and wanted will never be theirs again, that there’s nothing you can do, that they have to live with the knowledge that their firstborn child will probably be—be tortured and used and—and hurt—and you’re the most frightening thing the universe, apparently, and you can’t do anything about it?” He pulled away from her so he could face her; he wanted to be facing her for this. “I can’t do anything about it, River! I’ve looked—I’m still looking, and I can’t find her, and the more I think about it the more I think I never will!

“I can’t do anything,” he said again. “I’ve already ruined their lives enough, you know that. I should probably stop while I’m ahead.”

She stared at him, but she didn’t even look angry. He almost couldn’t believe it, the patience she must have with him, especially way back when, when he still wanted answers where she’d never give them.

“You know,” she said finally, stepping closer to him and placing her hand over his on the console, “there are quite a few people who say that you’ve ruined my life. But to be perfectly honest with you, Doctor,” she whispered, moving even closer, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

And then she kissed him.

He remembered what he was supposed to do this time, thankfully, and he kissed her gently in return, placing his hands gingerly on her waist as she cupped his face. She moved closer to him, pressing her body to his, and he had to remind himself not to pull away. It was just kissing, and yes, he hadn’t done it properly in a very, very long while, but it was still kissing, and he’d kissed people before. And it was River. He liked River. A lot. He didn’t mind kissing her, though he was starting to wish she’d give him a little warning when she wanted to do it. Either that or he was so far gone that he’d forgotten how to pick up on those little signs, but he didn’t think he was really that thick, and oh dear why is her hand around my bowtie help—

He pulled away a bit too quickly, and ended up wiping a dribble of spit from the corner of his mouth. River just smiled up at him and smoothed the lapels of his jacket with her hands.

“You haven’t ruined my life, sweetie,” she said.

“Yes, I, uh, gathered that.” He ran a hand through his hair for something to do and shuffled half a step away from her. “Um.”

“I don’t think Mum and Dad would say you’d ruined their lives, either,” she went on. “We all have to take the good things with the bad, you know that.”

He sighed. “I know. I know, only it’s—different.”

“Of course it’s different. They’re your friends. You want everything that’s best for them. You want them happy and whole.” Her eyes glistened, and on an impulse he reached out and took her hand and held it, and she smiled wider as she continued, “You’d tear the universe apart at the seams to put it right for them, I know you would. But you can’t fix everything. Much as you want to, you can’t put everything to rights again.”

She was crying now, and as he reached up with his other hand to awkwardly brush her tears away, he realized how much this must be hurting her, too. They were her parents; why wouldn’t she want them to be happy? And she could rewrite time just as much as he, but every day, every hour she resisted. They both knew what must be, what could be, and what they wanted to be, but they changed not one line.

He kissed her that time, his fingers catching in her still-wet hair as he cupped her head and pulled her closer. She moved into him again, her other hand closing into a fist around his jacket.

It was nice, he thought. It was what they needed. He had always liked how she understood him, even when he was being particularly obtuse or ridiculous. And he knew now how much about him she could understand. She understood the choices he had to make every day, because she had to make them, too. Time could be rewritten, but not all of it. Some things could change, but often not the things you wished to change the most. He’d been alone with that burden for so long, but now he could share it. And how great it was, that he could share it with someone like her.

They held each other even after the kiss ended, their foreheads resting against each other. His hands were clasped around the small of her back, and she had placed her hands on his chest, right over his hearts. She was smiling at him, and he smiled back at her.

“Thank you, River,” he whispered.

“Not at all, sweetie,” she replied. “Thank you, too.”

“For what?”

“Oh, everything.” She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “You’ll understand some of it soon enough, I think. But thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

They drifted apart eventually, and he changed the TARDIS coordinates so they wouldn’t land at Stormcage just yet. He didn’t mind having her around. He felt like he needed her around about now, and she certainly didn’t protest when he suggested she stick around for a few days (or weeks, or however long).

They looked together. He still held onto the hope that he might be able to spirit Melody away for an hour, a day, but it seemed an unlikely hope. He searched for the Silence instead, for information on what they were, what Madame Kovarian and the Church had to do with them, and why, why they were fighting a war against him. River searched with him, getting him out of the scrapes he fell into, and one evening she dragged him back to their bedroom for an evening that was not entirely unexpected but nonetheless extremely surprising.

They searched together until River departed for Stormcage again. He searched alone, sometimes running into her again, sometimes not. He didn’t want to return to Amy and Rory empty-handed. He kept looking.

Chapter Text

June

It began to hurt less as the days turned into weeks. She remembered how to be Amy Pond again, how to be the outspoken young woman that most of Leadworth remembered her as. Having Mels around helped a bit; she often turned up and hung around the flat all day, or else dragged Amy out to wander around the village for a few hours. Amy still hadn’t told her about what had happened while they were gone, and while Mels occasionally pressed her for details (usually when Amy was feeling particularly depressed), for the most part she left it alone.

It still hurt, though, sometimes in awful and unexpected ways. She tried not to let it show, but it was so hard. Sometimes she cracked.

They were at her parents’ house for dinner one evening, an early anniversary present of sorts, and for a little while it was all right. But then, somehow or another, her mum started talking about a friend of hers whose daughter had just had a baby. That might have been all right (despite the anxious looks Rory kept shooting her) if her father hadn’t dropped one hint too many, and it was suddenly too much, and she left the table without a word, tears already rising in her eyes.

She ran down the corridor and up the stairs, aware that someone was following her, aware that her parents were shocked and surprised in the dining room, but she didn’t care. She just wanted to get away, and in that moment she ran for her old bedroom. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, crying quietly, her breath ragged in her throat, tears flowing hot from her eyes.

She didn’t want this, this feeling of broken emptiness that she couldn’t seem to fill. She had River now, they both had River now, but how was that supposed to make it better? Her baby was still out there somewhere with Madame Kovarian, being used for God only knew what, and she was stuck here in Leadworth, thousands of years and billions of miles away from her. And she couldn’t stand it.

There was a knock at the door. “Amy?”

“Rory?” She turned around to face the door, but didn’t open it.

“Are... are you all right?”

“No.”

“Can I come in?”

“Yeah.” She stepped away from the door and wiped her eyes as it swung open and Rory entered.

He didn’t say anything, didn’t ask what was wrong, just pulled her into a hug and held her close, stroking her hair as she sobbed into his shoulder. “I know,” he said over and over again. “I know, Amy.” And she believed him.

“Why hasn’t he found her yet?” she asked. “It’s been so long. Why don’t we have her back yet?”

“I don’t know.”

“I just want her back.”

“I know. I do too.”

*** *** ***
They had decided to stay in the night of their anniversary, mostly because they didn’t have a clue what to do otherwise. Rory’s shift that day ran too late to make driving to Gloucester for dinner feasible, and there was hardly anything in Leadworth that either of them wanted to do. Between Amy’s outburst at the reception and the Doctor’s dramatic reappearance, their wedding had been the talk of the village last year, and neither of them wanted to find out how much everyone remembered about it. So they stayed in, making a late dinner together and opening a bottle of wine one of Rory’s relatives had given them as a wedding gift.

They were about halfway through the bottle and a DVD when a thunderous clap in the back garden made them both start. “What the hell—?” Rory began, but then the door to the back garden opened and a familiar, curly-haired head poked into the living room. “River?”

“Oh—I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” she asked, hesitating at the threshold.

“No,” Amy said quickly, “no, it’s fine.” She set her wineglass down and reached for the remote as River slid the door open all the way and entered the flat.

She was dressed rather finely, Rory realized as she closed the door behind her, wearing a sweeping, low-cut gown in a deep blue that made him immediately think of the TARDIS. The effect of the dress was slightly spoiled by the fact that she was wearing her gun holster as well, but Rory shrugged it off. That was just River. His daughter.

“Happy anniversary,” she said warmly, giving Amy a quick hug before sitting down in the armchair next to the couch. “I’ve got the date right, haven’t I? The manipulator’s been on the fritz, I was worried I might have overshot it.”

“You got it right,” Amy said. Rory glanced at her. She was smiling a little, which made him smile, too; the last few days had been difficult for the both of them, between the dinner at her parents’ and the unanswered messages they’d both been leaving for the Doctor. “Thank you, River. You—you didn’t have to come.”

“You look like you’ve been somewhere nice,” Rory added, nodding at her dress.

“What, this old thing?” River asked, winking at him. He felt his cheeks grow warm. “I’ll get to that in a moment, but I’ve got you both a gift.” She snapped open her beaded clutch and reached into it, her arm going much further into than seemed possible.

“Bigger on the inside?” Amy guessed.

River laughed. “Oh, only a little. Here we are!” She pulled her arm back out of the clutch, carrying a box that looked to be bigger than the clutch itself. She placed the box on the coffee table and pushed it towards them.

It was a plain box, unwrapped except for a bit of white ribbon tied around it to keep the lid on and hold the card, a small piece of paper with “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY” written on it neatly. Amy reached for the card first, turning it over to read the back. She was still smiling, but Rory saw her eyes grow glassy with tears. He put his hand on her shoulder, but she was still smiling as she pulled off the card and handed it to him.

Happy 1st Anniversary Mum and Dad
from Your Loving Daughter
Melody

His throat tightened. He looked over at River, who just smiled at him.

“The traditional gift for first anniversaries is paper,” she explained as Amy untied the ribbon and opened the box. “I didn’t think you’d find much use for stationery, though, so I thought I’d get you something a little different.”

Even as Amy pulled it out of the box, Rory wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It looked like some kind of origami mobile, a spiky paper ball about half the size of a football hanging from a thick wire and sprouting what seemed like a dozen more wires from almost all of its spikes. The smaller wires held miniature origami figures—birds and butterflies and flowers in different colors and sizes.

“It’s beautiful,” Amy whispered. “Um... what is it?”

Rory was glad she asked, because he’d been about to.

“It’s a suncatcher,” River said, “handmade by the monks of Roshina III in 3257. The paper’s photosensitive, so it absorbs light and glows when it’s dark or cloudy outside. A bit showy, but...”

“Better than stationery?” Rory said.

“Yes. Now then,” she continued, brushing a bit of lint off her skirt, “about the other thing. I was getting ready to go to a ball before I came here, and... he thought it might be a splendid idea to invite you two along, so we could all celebrate together.”

Rory turned to Amy before he even thought of something to say. She was still holding the paper mobile in one hand, but it had half-dropped back into its box, and the smile had vanished from her face. “You mean the Doctor.”

“You don’t have to come,” River said at once. “And he knows why you might not want to. He isn’t... your Doctor, if that makes sense. All of this happened years ago for him. He just wants to wish you well, that’s all.”

“We don’t have to go,” Rory said, moving his arm to hold Amy around the shoulders. “Amy. We don’t have to go, we can stay here.”

Amy just nodded, not speaking for a moment. She placed the mobile back in the box gently, then turned to Rory.

“It’s all right,” he said.

“Yeah, it is,” she replied quietly, nodding. “We’ll come,” she announced. She gave Rory a quick kiss on the lips, then picked up her wineglass and drained it. “I need a night out on the town, even if it’s an alien town. What do you think, Rory?”

“I—uh, it’s fine with me,” he replied, a bit flustered. She almost sounded like her old self again, a stark contrast to the tears of the last several weeks.

“Great.” She kissed him again and stood up, dragging him along with her. “I hope the Doctor’s got some ball gowns in that blue box of his,” she said to River, “because I sure don’t.”

River laughed and stood up, shaking out her skirts before flipping open the vortex manipulator. “I’m sure he does.” She fiddled with the manipulator a moment, then held it out to them.

Amy shot Rory a bright, flirty smile, one he returned nervously. It was almost like they were dating again, he thought as he reached out to put his hand over hers on the manipulator. And maybe that’s what she wanted right now.

*** *** ***
The ball was a magnificent affair, though Rory missed his cue in the dancing five times and the Doctor managed to insult a pompous and well-armed guest completely by accident at the end of the evening, bringing it all to a close with a group sprint for the TARDIS. Nothing ever changed as far as the Doctor was concerned, it seemed.

It still was a lovely evening, though. Amy laughed and smiled and flirted with Rory as though nothing was wrong (and several other guests besides, but that was nothing new). She looked radiant in the black and gold gown River had found for her in the TARDIS’s wardrobe, though she joked with Rory that it made her look like a ridiculous fairytale princess. “That’s not a bad thing,” he pointed out, and she laughed and kissed him.

The Doctor was almost the same as ever, particularly as the evening wore on, but even Rory noticed that he was a great deal more reserved than normal. He hugged them both at the start of the evening and the end, holding them tightly and even giving Amy a kiss on the forehead.

“Keep your chin up, Amelia,” he said, smiling sadly. “It’ll be all right.”

They drifted to sleep in their bed in Leadworth, the paper suncatcher hanging near the room’s only window and glowing softly in the darkness. Amy rested her head on Rory’s shoulder. Her hand dug under the covers to find his. “That was good, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, it was.” He squeezed her hand; she squeezed it back.

“We should do it again sometime.” Her words vibrated into his shoulder.

He turned his head to look at her. “Do what again?”

“Just... go somewhere new. Pretend it’s all right.”

“Amy...”

“He seemed so guilty.” Even in the dark he could tell her eyes were elsewhere, staring at the ceiling or maybe imagining the stars beyond that.

“I know.”

“I hope she’s all right.”

“Me too.”

She rolled onto her side and kissed him for a few moments, her tongue gently moving past his lips and brushing against his teeth. But she did nothing more than that, and she settled back into the mattress with a small, sad smile on her face. “Love you.”

“Love you.”

And they fell asleep holding hands.

July

It was hard to stay sad as more time passed. The loss of Melody still ached like a wound, but Amy found herself growing more distant to the loss. She missed Melody. She wanted her back desperately. But her sorrow seemed softened. She didn’t cry as much. It was easier to do things around the house and around town.

She just wanted her back, and as she realized there was nothing she could do, she became angry.

She called the Doctor so many times she lost count. Every time it rang, and every time it cut to that ridiculous answerphone message. She asked him to call back. She yelled at him for not finding Melody sooner. Once, on a bad day, she cried, and she told him that he’d lied to her, because he still hadn’t found her, and he’d promised.

She wondered sometimes if he had even heard the messages. He probably didn’t even know how to play them back.

Rory told her to be patient, though Amy was pretty sure he’d left a few messages of his own. She knew he wanted her back as badly as she did, though he didn’t show it as much. She caught him staring blankly into the distance sometimes, and she wondered if he was still the Centurion in some small way.

Amy’s anger outweighed her sorrow as July turned into August. She wanted answers. If she had to yell across the universe to get the Doctor to answer her—well, fine then. She would.

August

“I’m not gonna call him again and listen to that stupid message,” Amy said. “And I don’t think you want to, either.”

Rory sighed. “No. I mean—Amy. Are you really sure this is the right way to do this?”

“Probably not, but what else are we supposed to do? Wait the rest of our lives for him to get Melody back? It’s been all summer, and there hasn’t been a call, a visit, even a—a stupid card in the postbox letting us know what’s going on. We have to do something.”

Amy could almost see him thinking about it. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then dropped his hands to the table and met her eyes. “All right. Fine. But we’ll need to plan it. You know we won’t hear the end of it if Mels has to bail us out of jail.”

“That’s fine,” Amy replied, grinning. “I’ve been doing a bit of research on my own the last few days, while you’ve been gone.”

“So... what are we doing exactly?”

“Well, I was thinking about how... you know, how River gets his attention. Leaves him these great big messages all over the universe, right where he can’t miss it.”

“Right. But we can’t travel all over the universe.”

“Yeah, that was a problem, but I think if we just manage to get something in the papers, something big that people won’t think is a prank.”

“Like?”

“A crop circle.”

“A crop circle,” he repeated, looking dubious.

“Yeah!” She was still grinning, part of her glad she’d gotten this far into the idea without him dismissing it. At least not yet, anyway. “So I’ve been looking at satellite pictures of the village, since you know we’ve got all that farmland around here, and I’ve found a few places where we might be able to leave something for him.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, like a word or something. Like ‘Doctor,’ in big letters. He won’t be able to miss it.”

“All right.” Rory tapped the table with one finger, still thinking. “But how do we even know he’ll see it?”

“He’ll see it, all right?” Amy said. “River left him a message once that he didn’t get until ten thousand years later, and he still showed up on time. It’s time travel.”

“…So what else do we need to do?”

It ended up taking a great deal longer than Amy had initially suspected. They spent several weekends going for long drives in Rory’s car, scouting out the cornfields Amy had found online, looking for access roads and trying to get a general grasp of size and space. They took turns drawing the route they’d have to take to write the single word in the corn, adjusting each one to make it easier to drive. (Rory had dismissed the idea of pushing the corn down by hand almost immediately. Amy hadn’t even been serious when she brought it up.)

She left a few more messages for the Doctor, each one asking again and again for news of Melody.

Each one went unanswered.

It was almost September when everything was ready. Rory had the day off, Amy had put the final touches on the map. All that was left to do was the message itself.

“I really hope this works,” Rory said as they pulled away from the flat and got on the road out of the village.

“Me too,” Amy said. “Otherwise we’re probably gonna get in a lot of trouble.”

“Yeah. And Melody.”

“And Melody,” she agreed, glancing out the window at the passing trees. All those phone calls, she thought, and he never picked up once. Why? What’s taken him so long? Has he found her? Will he ever find her? And not just River, actually her. Our baby daughter.

Rory turned down the dusty access road and pulled into the cornfield. Amy sat up a little and opened the map, hoping that by the time they were done, they’d have at least some of the answers they wanted.

*** *** ***
Mels knew what her parents were up to, of course. Neither of them had mentioned anything about it, but she’d poked around Amy’s computer a few times in the last couple of weeks, and that told her nearly everything she needed to know. She also knew that it meant her chance was coming quite soon. They’d been getting quite insistent about it, telling her over and over that where she was, when she was, should have given her ample opportunity already to kill him. She’d told them to piss off, and excuse her for trying to make sure she got born.

That shut them up, but not for long.

Of course, they were about to be shut up for bloody good, if Amy and Rory’s message worked and he did show up here. All it would take was a few tricks of her trade, and it would all be done, and she’d be free to do whatever the hell she liked for the rest of her life. Or lives, she supposed, but that only made the idea sweeter.

That late August afternoon, she started strolling up towards Amy and Rory’s flat when she saw Rory’s Mini pulling away down the street. They must be doing it, she thought. And here I am without a ride.

She glanced around. Her eyes fell on a cherry-red Corvette parked fifteen feet away. She smiled. “Sucks to be you, mister Corvette,” she said quietly. The driver’s side door was unlocked, and hot wiring the ignition was the work of minutes. She gunned the engine and sped off down the road. She didn’t know which field they’d finally settled on, which meant she’d have to check all the options Amy had listed on her computer. That would give them time, though, and if she was very lucky, Mels would find them by the time the Doctor arrived.

Chapter Text

He’d set the TARDIS coordinates to random, trusting that she’d take him somewhere he needed to be, even if that somewhere was back to Amy and Rory. Every possible lead and follow-up and mad, impossible theory had been exhausted. He didn’t know where to look anymore. He would have to return to them eventually, tell them that he had failed to find their daughter, or was still failing. He still had all of time before him. He might still find her eventually, but it seemed now that eventually would be too late for Amy and Rory.

He checked the console screen as the TARDIS engines ground to a halt: a library in the late twenty-first century. He frowned at the screen a moment, then shrugged and swept down the stairs and out the doors, his coat flying out behind him a little.

(He’d found the green coat in the wardrobe a few weeks ago. It wasn’t tweed, true, but he thought it had a certain bit of flair, and it went wonderfully with his bow ties.)

He stepped out the TARDIS doors and into the middle of an aisle of shelving. This particular row was abandoned, but he could hear papers shuffling and patrons speaking quietly in the distance. No Vashta Nerada here, thank goodness. The last thing he wanted was a repeat of that adventure.

He glanced around the shelves as he walked down the aisle. This was a periodical collection, he realized. He glanced back at the TARDIS. “Now why would you bring me here?” he asked quietly.

“I needed a research assistant,” a familiar voice replied.

He spun around. Standing at the end of the aisle, her arms full of books and a smug smile on her face, was River. “Oh. Hello, dear,” he said, heading down to meet her.

She immediately shoved all her books into his arms. “Hello, sweetie,” she replied, leaning over the books to kiss him lightly. “Did you get my message on the psychic, then?”

“Um, no—“ he replied, hastily trying to balance the books in his arms as he recovered from the kiss. Don’t be ridiculous, he thought, it’s only been four and a half weeks since—

“Oh, the TARDIS must have intercepted it, then,” River said, her gaze shifting behind him and her smile growing fond. “She’s good like that, you know.”

“I know,” he said with some difficulty as he clamped his chin down on the top couple of books. “River—“

“Right, sorry. My things are back this way,” she said, and with that she led him through a few more rows of shelving before they emerged on a cozy study alcove, where quite a few books were already piled amid a mess of papers and notebooks. The Doctor slid the enormous stack of books onto a corner of the table as carefully as he could.

River meanwhile cast through a few stacks of papers before she extracted the beaten blue diary and began thumbing through it. “So, where are we up to, then? Have we done the Fellowes Fair on Aruada?”

“Yes, we have,” he replied as he pulled out the small notebook he’d been using to keep track of their adventures. He shuffled through the pages quickly. “Yes, got it right here.” He thumbed ahead a couple more pages. “The Jeonossi ruins?”

River blinked at him, then shook her head. “Doesn’t ring a bell.” She smiled. “Sounds like a good time, though.”

He smiled back. “It was.”

She flipped back several pages and glanced up at him, squinting. “Have we done Berlin yet?”

Now it was his turn to blink at her. “What’s in Berlin?”

Her face was inscrutable. “You’ll see, sweetie. Anyway,” she continued, snapping her diary shut and putting it down, “thank you for coming along. I know libraries aren’t really your cup of tea, but I could use your help with this little project.”

“And what is this little project?” he asked, glancing across her notes and the books scattered across the table. The subject seemed overwhelming to be something about aliens and UFOs, which might not have been so unusual if this wasn’t the twenty-first century.

“Researching undocumented and poorly documented alien encounters around the turn of the twenty-first century,” she replied. “I enrolled in a twenty-third century university for a bit of fun, but I thought it might be easier to find contemporary sources back here.”

“Isn’t that cheating?” he asked, smiling at her slyly.

She leaned across the table until their faces were inches apart, her smile just as sly as his. “Only if I get caught, sweetie,” she said in a low voice. She winked at him, and then the moment was over, and she was shuffling through notes again as though nothing had happened.

“An—Any particular reason why you picked this subject?” he asked, picking up one of the books at random and leafing through it.

“Oh, extraterrestrial studies are getting to be quite popular,” she replied. “I thought I might be able to bring a unique perspective to it.”

“Right. So what do you need me for?”

“I really don’t,” she said, smiling at him briefly, “I just like having you around.”

And that was good enough for him.

He spent the next couple of hours going through her books and pointing out mistakes. The hour after that he bugged her about taking the TARDIS to get dinner or lunch or whatever meal she was supposed to eat next, he was fairly certain he had an outstanding reservation at the biggest restaurant in the galaxy and wouldn’t it be better than hanging around in this library for the rest of the evening?

At which point she shoved a list of newspaper articles about crop circles at him and told him to go find copies or scans of the originals for her. He almost protested, but the look she gave him when he opened his mouth made him decide it was probably better to just listen.

He stalked down the labyrinthine rows of shelves, the list half-crumpled in one hand. He paused when he reached a wall, and finally glanced down at the list to see where he might start looking.

The headlines came from a variety of papers, but one line of text immediately drew his eye: “Leadworth’s crop circle.” From The Leadworth Chronicle. Printed 29 August 2011. Amy’s time.

He almost ran straight into the wall in his haste to find the paper, and it still ended up taking him a good ten minutes to find the right part of the library. They had a rather large collection of the original papers archived here, and once he’d sonicked the door and the appropriate cabinet open he found the paper at once. The print was a little faded, and the paper browned with age, but it was still quite readable.

He smoothed the paper out on the table and opened it to page four, where the story was printed underneath an aerial spread of the crop circle itself.

He stared at the photograph a moment, then closed his eyes and sighed.

*** *** ***
“I don’t suppose you have anything to say about this?” the Doctor asked, dropping the newspaper on the table in front of River.

She glanced up at him, then picked up the paper and leafed through it quietly. For a moment he thought he saw her smiling, but when he blinked the expression was gone, and her face was unreadable.

“It’s not my handiwork,” she said evenly, folding up the paper and sliding it back across the table towards him. “It is rather nicely done, though, isn’t it?”

“River—“

This time she smiled and let him see it. “Sweetie, I have better ways of getting your attention than writing in a cornfield in Leadworth, believe me.”

His stared at her, his brow furrowing. “But then who—“

River laughed at him, loud enough that the sound of it echoed around the library’s high ceilings. “Oh, sweetie.” She sobered almost at once. “I know where you are. If you’ve done the Fellowes Fair that means you’ve done Demon’s Run.”

He swallowed. He’d been trying not to think about that. It had been nice to forget for a few hours what an utter failure he’d been at finding her—the proper her, the Melody Amy and Rory would want to see again—but the moment she said the words it all rushed back.

And suddenly the crop circle made sense. He glanced at the date on the paper again, doing calculations against all the messages Amy and Rory had been leaving for him, all the phone calls he’d never picked up. They’d been waiting all summer. All summer for word from him, for word of Melody. And he’d given them nothing.

River seemed to be reading his thoughts. “You should probably go,” she said quietly.

“Yes, yes, I—“ He swallowed again and picked up the newspaper.

They walked through the shelves again, back to where the TARDIS waited for him. He opened the doors, but River stopped at the threshold. “Do you want to come?” he asked.

She shook her head, smiling sadly. “I shouldn’t. You need to talk to them on your own.”

“All right.” He stepped back towards her a little awkwardly, and the next moment they were kissing. It wasn’t as involved as some of their other kisses, just their lips against each other, her hands on his shoulders and his hands at her waist, even after they pulled apart.

“Good luck, sweetie,” she whispered. “And… I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, River,” he replied.

She didn’t say anything, just smiled at him again, her eyes seeing something beyond him, remembering.

He kissed her again, just briefly, then stepped into the TARDIS to leave. To find Amy and Rory, and explain it all to them if he could.

THE END