The dream was always hazy, and deep down she suspected it was even the truth. Among all of those drifting thoughts and half-remembered memories was this one slice of her childhood, before it had all gone wrong.
She was 4. She’d gone down for her nap in her bed, but she woke when she felt the sun on her face. She stirred and found herself wrapped in blankets, her head on a small pillow. She sat up and squinted. There were trees and pavement and people, and she was on a big rock. Tall buildings rose around her, and she was more fascinated than scared.
Across the blanket, she saw her mum and a man that wasn’t her dad. He had floppy brown hair, a strange-looking coat and a bow tie around his neck. He was making grand gestures with his hands, and her mum was laughing.
“Mummy?” She pushed the blankets off her legs.
“Melody! Come here, love, and see the surprise we have for you!”
Melody crawled to her mother’s side and took a better look at the stranger. His eyes were warm and kind, and he looked like he was going to cry. He sniffled a bit. “Melody Pond,” he said with a great deal of reverence.
Melody pressed herself against her mother and stuck a finger in her mouth. She sucked on it a moment, remembered that she wasn’t suppose to suck her finger and pulled it out. She chewed on her lip instead. “Your bow tie is ugly,” she said after a moment.
The man laughed and leaned into her, tapping her nose. “Bow ties,” he proclaimed, “are cool.”
“Oh, you’ve got the right of it, Melody.” Amy squeezed her. “Now, this is the Doctor. He’s a very old friend of Mummy and Dad’s. He’s going to watch over you a moment while I go look for your father. I don’t know what’s taken Rory so long, there’s a coffee cart just around the corner. I saw it when we walked in. Be good for him, Mels.” Amy kissed the top of her head and left Melody with the strange man.
And the man stayed with Melody like her mum asked. He stayed with her for hours and hours, sprinting across the park with her in his arms to the closest loo when she informed him she needed to go right this second. He bought her a hot dog and a soda, promising not to tell her mum he’d sneaked her the treats. He stayed with her until the sun set. He stayed with her as the police searched all over the park for her parents. As she fell asleep, she felt him carry her into some place warm with music flowing all around her.
When she woke, she was in her bedroom at home. Her grandfather was sitting at the foot of the bed, crying.
Melody Pond never saw her parents again.
Twenty years later
“Look at you. You’re a successful writer. When I was your age, I was just about to move back into my bedroom at my parents because … well, let’s say the man I was going to marry became a spider. Literally.”
The odd statement from Melody’s editor was perfectly timed. She’d just taken a sip of her latte, and it took every ounce of self-control not to spray it all over the table. She managed a swallow before laughing. “I can assure you that while I’ve date a few prats, none of them have ever turned into spiders.”
Her editor gave a little harrumph, and Melody shook her head. She loved Donna Noble. Donna had sought her out during her undergrad years after seeing a short story she’d submitted to a literary magazine in her free time. She’d convinced Melody to take her ideas and spin them into something original. For that, Melody would always be grateful. She had a trust fund from her parents, an extremely large one that would keep her very comfortable for the rest of her life. But she honestly enjoyed writing every bit as much as she loved archaeology.
Hence, Donna’s lunch appointment.
“You don’t need a Ph.D in archaeology,” Donna said as she scowled at her salad. “Oi!” she yelled to the waiter. “I asked for ranch dressing, not this stuff you drooled all over the plate. In any case,” she said, turning her attention back to Melody, “I’ve a friend once who said he pointed and laughed at archaeologists.”
“Well, I’m quite sure your friend really didn’t know what he was talking about,” Melody said. She set her mug down and stared at the dissolving milk foam. She’d known Donna for several years, and the woman had become her champion. Her support had gotten through the horrible months when her grandfather was dying from lung cancer. Still, she wasn’t quite sure she could tell Donna why she wanted to be an archaeologist.
“It’s the money, yeah? Look, I get it. Before I won the lottery, things were tight for me as well. I’ll go back to my boss, get them to increase the advance on the next Ri-”
“It’s not the money,” Melody said, cutting Donna off. “I’m trying to find out what happened to my parents.”
Donna settled back, and Melody took another sip of her latte to avoid the pity in the other woman’s eyes.
“They died in a motor vehicle accident 20 years ago,” Donna murmured. “Why would going into archaeology help you with that?”
Because the MVA wasn’t the truth, Melody thought as Donna paid for their meal, and she bid farewell and headed to her next class. No one would believe the truth, not even her beloved Grandad and her still-living grandparents in Leadworth. No one would ever believe that Melody Pond’s parents were lost in time.
Except, perhaps, for the man about 18 feet away in an anachronistic waistcoat and trousers, top hat on his head, who happened to not look where he was going and promptly plow over the bicycle racks. He was too busy staring at Melody.
But Melody was too caught up in her own thoughts to notice.
She looked just like her.
The Doctor managed to scramble to his feet and snatch up his discarded top hat just in time to watch the halo of curls move further and further away. Despite the crowd, it was easy to spot her. All that hair. Even though he knew damn sure she was still in her first regeneration, Melody Pond had grown up to be the spitting image of her third regeneration. The little girl with the wavy blonde hair and the too-big eyes now had a massive mane of curls and curves that he’d longed to map with his hands.
He hadn’t thought … he hadn’t intended … His hearts ached with the love that he’d realized too late. River.
“Oi! And just where have you been?”
Startled, he whirled around to see Donna Noble pinning him with a steely-eyed glare. “Donna!” With the first true smile in a very long time, the Doctor held his arms open.
“You’re coming around here after all this time looking like a reject from a Dickens novel and not even saying a word to me, you skinny piece of nothing.” Donna snatched his hat and deposited it in the rubbish bin. “Now, would you stop gawking after my top client?”
“Not a chance,” the Doctor managed to choke out as she hugged him a little too tightly.
“Oh, get in here, you look like you haven’t eaten in a year.” Donna grabbed his arm and hauled him into the café, promptly yelling at the waiter to bring tea and scones with the heaviest cream they had.
He wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Donna, if it hadn’t been for one of his oldest still-living friends gushing about her work as an editor for a major publisher and the line of science fiction novels she oversaw that had grown massively popular. It was one of the few things about this mess of a life that had actually gone right. The cracks in time that he had repaired so long ago thanks to the help of Amelia Pond – and her brilliant daughter – had actually held. And one of the things the cracks had repaired was the brilliant mind of Donna Noble. It had reversed the meta-crisis, leaving her with her memories.
Of course, there was the unanswered question about Rose and his duplicate. He fervently hoped that no matter what his actions had done, being in an alternate universe had saved his half of the meta-crisis. He couldn’t bear it if he had brought anymore harm to Rose.
But there was Donna, who had tracked him down in the years since that day, the horrible day when everything had gone wrong and he had lost more than he’d ever imagined. Donna, who had yelled at him and hugged him and traveled with him until he healed. She barely spoke of the divorce that had happened not long after her memory was restored, and he never spoke of the marriage in another time that only he could remember.
Things had gone well until Donna had phoned him and informed him about a short story she had just read called “Time and the Raggedy Man” by Melody Pond.
“So, who is Melody? Really?”
The Doctor pushed at his tea cup. It was the same question she had asked a couple years earlier for her. “Donna, I told you …”
“And I’m not listening. It’s been two years since I told you about Melody and all I’ve heard from you since is phone calls. How long has it been for you?”
He swallowed. “Three … days.” Three days and about 25 phone conversations with Donna at different points in her timeline.
Donna’s eyes narrowed. “Three days? I’ve been losing sleep over this for years, and for you it’s been days?”
“Now look, Donna …”
“Oh, don’t you ‘now look, Donna’ me. Doctor, I know you. I can see you in all her books.”
“Books?” the Doctor squeaked.
“If you had bothered showing up when I told you, you’d known from the start.” Donna reached into the oversized handbag she carried and brought out two novels and a large stack of bound paper. She tossed them on the table in front of him. “And now, I’ve gotten to know her as well. She just left here, wanting to be an archaeologist so she can find her parents. Now, who is Melody Pond?”
“Melody Pond is … Melody Pond,” he managed as he picked up the first book. His throat swelled. The Crash of the Byzantium. With trembling fingers, he flipped through the pages. He recognized certain passages, almost as if they’d been lifted from his memories. He coughed and blushed when he reached a certain page. He knew full well that he and River Song hadn’t had sex by that point in his timeline, but apparently Melody had no issue with taking certain liberties with her work.
He set it aside and picked up the second book. The Pandorica Opens. He flipped through it quickly as well, again recognizing most of the scenes. Some of the scenes also seemed true, and he realized it was what River experienced after he had sent her to fetch the TARDIS and wound up trapped instead. OK, the sex on the console when he rescued her was new. So was the one at the end when he asked her if she was married. He shifted nervously and was grateful for the table.
The ream of paper was just a manuscript, but it made his hearts seize. The Impossible Astronaut. It would be the story of Melody herself, a long time ago in a time that no longer existed.
“I don’t think that.” Donna jabbed a finger at the manuscript. “Her heroine. River Song. I know that’s a play on her name, but that seems familiar to me.”
“What?” The Doctor’s head snapped up from where he was reading the latest manuscript.
“Did you not even notice, you ninny?”
She was right, the Doctor realized, reading through The Impossible Astronaut in his hands. Amy had a different name. So did Rory. So did himself, just known as the Professor. But River Song was River Song down to the looks and mannerisms. Hands trembling, he quickly closed the manuscript.
“Who,” Donna repeated very slowly as if addressing a small child, “is Melody Pond? To you.”
“Someone whose life I keep ruining no matter how much I try to fix things.” The Doctor’s haunted eyes met Donna’s. “She’s familiar to you because you’ve met her before, in a time that no longer exists. Melody Pond is River Song.”
It really was no use. With a sigh, Melody paced the large, flat rock in Central Park as tourists milled about her. It was one of the best places to get photos of the city, but she wasn’t interested in that. She hugged herself, closed her eyes, and tried to remember the dream. She knew there was something about Central Park, something that had happened to her parents here that caused them to disappear.
It’d been luck really. Not long after submitting her latest manuscript to Donna, Melody had seen a classmate’s photos of New York City. The image of the very spot where she now stood had jarred her to the core, and she knew she had been there. It wasn’t a recurring dream. It was a memory. It was one of those memories that had propelled her to write her books, to go into archaeology and dive into history. Her gut told her that Amelia Pond and Rory Williams had not been killed in a MVA like her grandparents believed. It was silly, but she believed with every fiber of her being that the answer to her parents’ disappearance lay somewhere in the annals of history. So, she’d traveled to New York to check it out for herself.
“So much for hunches,” Melody muttered and tucked an errant curl behind her ear. She took a moment to appreciate the view for what it was and wished she had brought her DSLR. She did have her mobile, and that was decent enough. She activated the panorama view and slowly turned in a circle, tongue caught between her teeth as she tried not to wobble the phone too much. Satisfied with the end result, she zoomed in to check the detail before she emailed it to Donna.
She sucked in her breath when she got a good look at the portion of the pavement she’d caught and the man standing just on the edge of the picture’s frame.
“I’ve seen you before.” With shaking fingers, she zoomed in closer. Floppy hair. A tweed jacket. A hideous bow tie. “Doctor!” The name spilled out unconsciously, and she remembered how he smelled, how safe she had felt when he carried her away from where her parents had disappeared. She spun around to look at where he stood … and there was nothing but ordinary tourists gawking at the sight and ignoring the fact that a woman was calling out for a doctor at random.
Cosplay, Melody decided. Someone was cosplaying the Professor from her books and happened to be in the park. She attended conventions with Donna, had seen the elaborate cosplay that her fans came up with to recreate River, the Professor, and the Professor’s companions, Delia and Peter. Everyone equally commented on how Melody looked like River, and she’d had participated in some online discussions on whether River Song was a Mary Sue of Melody Pond.
More settled, she emailed the photo to Donna and her grandparents and tucked the phone away. It was a nice day, and she was up for a walk. She wasn’t going to waste this trip to New York. Melody made sure her purse was hanging across her chest with the flap turned in to deter pickpockets and started down the path closest to her.
Central Park was far bigger than Melody expected, but she enjoyed every bit that she saw. She paused on a big bridge that her map called the Bow Bridge and had the oddest urge to play Poohsticks. She scooped up a nearby twig and dropped it in the water, then dashed to the other side to see it float beneath the bridge. Melody laughed and leaned on the ledge as she watched the twig float away. She had played Poohsticks with her mother, and she wasn’t sure who enjoyed it more: her or her mum.
She eventually wound up near a fountain and took the chance to rest on a nearby stone bench. She idly snapped a few images with her mobile and sent another email off to Donna. “Bethesda Fountain,” she wrote as a caption for the picture, and then she frowned. “I get the oddest feeling that it’s watching me,” she added and sent the email.
A bit unsettled and a bit hungry, Melody consulted her map. There was a loo not far away, just under the bridge to her right and on the stairs. She could freshen up a bit, then go see about getting some food that wasn’t from one of the overpriced carts in the park. She gained her feet and started for the bridge.
The skin on the back of her neck crawled, and she found herself pausing just beneath the arch of the underpass to look at the fountain. “It’s not watching you. That’s silly,” Melody told herself. “Clearly you believe in your own creations.” The Angels. That had been the villain in her first book. Stone angels that robbed energy from you. Her imagination was just playing tricks on her. Though, maybe there was more she could with the Angels. They were quite popular.
But she couldn’t look away from the statue. Despite the pretty day, there was a lull of traffic at the fountain. It seemed like no one was looking at it but her.
She trembled, nearly blinked in reflex at the sound of the low voice at her ear, but she did as she was told.
“Don’t blink,” the man repeated. “Not even for a second. Don’t look away and don’t be scared.”
“It’s kind of hard not to be a little scared when you’re ordered not to blink,” Melody replied.
“Oh, Melody Pond. You’re very, very brave. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. I promise.”
At that moment, a tourist group approached the fountain to take pictures. As they laughed and began to arrange themselves in groups, she heard the whisper again. “It’s safe. Leave here, quickly.”
Melody whipped her head around to find herself staring into the eyes of the floppy-haired man.
“You better run. They won’t be here forever, dear.” With a wink, he pressed a button on a large device he wore on his wrist and was gone.
In her hotel room, Melody quickly logged onto the free Wi-Fi. Her phone had automatically uploaded a copy of her photos to the Internet, and she took advantage of it to study a full version of the panorama photo and the Bethesda Fountain. She dismissed the man for a moment and focused on the fountain. She’d taken several snaps, and they all looked similar except … no, there. Melody dragged the files into Photoshop so she could look at them side-by-side. She dragged guides onto the screen to measure, but she already knew the answer. The angel that made up the bulk of the fountain had moved.
Because she blinked.
“OK,” Melody said aloud, because the sound of her voice was far more comforting than the eerie silence. “You are not making this up, Melody Pond. You saw a statue move. You saw a man disappear.” She laughed. “Donna’s going to think I’m mad.”
She decided to focus on the man. His voice had been warm and soothing, and it did things to her insides. Her bare toes curled into the carpet as she thought of the way he had called her ‘dear.’ Normally, a move like that would have been extremely creepy, but something about his voice tugged at her.
She opened the panorama in Photoshop and cropped a copy of the photo to focus just on him. She’d caught him at an unguarded moment, with naked emotion displayed on that angular face: Love. Longing.
And it was directed at her.
Melody rested her chin in her hand. Fan? Quite possibly, but he’d made no move to seek her autograph. And he had helped her with the statue.
“I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. I promise.”
The voice stirred a memory, and Melody reached for her bag. She drew out the battered blue journal she’d carried for years. She wasn’t sure where it had come from. It appeared on her nightstand the night before she started university. A red ribbon had been tied around it, and a matching fountain pen was left with it. Grandad claimed he didn’t know where it had come from, but she always assumed he’d left it as a gift.
She ran a finger over the tooled leather that formed window shapes. Then she opened the cover to re-read her first entry, the dream that had plagued her since she was a child. There it was in her own words: a man with floppy hair, a strange-looking jacket and a bow tie who had known her parents. It was the basis of the stories that eventually led to her novels. In the dream, she had stayed with the man who was called the Doctor. He finally carried her into some place warm. She had drifted to sleep with music singing all around her.
But there was something else, Melody remembered. He had spoken to her. He had kissed her forehead and spoken to her.
“I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. I promise. And for me, Melody Pond, you will be very, very brave.”
The journal fell open in Melody’s lap as she stared at her open laptop. “It’s you,” she whispered and lunged for the computer. She traced a finger down his cheek on the screen. “It’s you.”
Melody camped by the fountain for five days, and the man never appeared again. There were enough tourists that she didn’t wind up in a position where no one took their eyes off the fountain. She spent those days using copious amounts of cellular data and a solar battery for her laptop to research everything she could about living statues and a strange man called the Doctor.
But she couldn’t find anything, not even when she did a Google image search using the cropped image from the panorama as a match. No amount of searching on “floppy haired man with tweed and bow tie” yielded a result. The closest she found was running the query, “Doctor who?” It had directed her to call a man named Clive in London. But that led to a dead-end as she was informed that Clive had died because of unusual circumstances in 2005 – nearly 30 years earlier.
In the end, she’d about decided the entire incident was just a figment of her very fertile imagine when she had dinner with Dr. Martha Jones.
Martha was good friends with Donna, and she lived in New York with her husband, Mickey. Mickey was away on assignment, but Martha offered to meet her at this tiny Turkish restaurant on 2nd Avenue that turned out to be some of the most amazing food that Melody had ever eaten. During their leisurely meal, Martha chatted with Melody about her work with UNIT. The women had corresponded by email as Melody wrote her novels, and she was grateful to finally put a face with the name.
“You spent your entire time at the Bethesda Fountain?”
“I find architecture to be as fascinating as archaeology,” Melody lied and dredged a pita through olive oil. “The angel statue is very fascinating.”
Martha shuddered and shook her head. “I don’t really care for angel statues. Had a bad experience with them once.”
“Really? What happened?”
“Nothing worth repeating. Actually, it probably is something worthy of your novels. The one about the Weeping Angels brought back a lot of memories.” Martha sampled her salad and studiously avoided Melody’s gaze.
“Has UNIT ever encountered anything like them?”
“UNIT hasn’t,” Martha replied, but she hesitated long enough for Melody to realize there was something she wasn’t saying. UNIT hadn’t … but had Martha? No, no, that was quite impossible. As impossible as a moving statue and a man who came and disappeared into thin air.
Melody placed her pita on the plate and hedged her bets. “I’m looking for a man.”
“A lot of people your age are,” Martha laughed.
“Not just any man.” Melody pulled her phone out of her purse and navigated through her photos. She brought up the panorama and zoomed in on the man, then showed it to her. “Does he look familiar?”
Martha glanced at the phone. Her pupils dilated slightly before she handed it back to Melody. “Sorry, I’ve never seen him.”
“For someone you’ve never seen, you look quite surprised.”
“Yes, well. He is dress quite oddly.” Martha fiddled with her silverware. “Melody, I’m sorry. Information about him is classified.”
“By the highest authorities.”
“You’ve seen these before,” Melody pushed. “This man, those statues. Did I make the Weeping Angels up, or are they real?”
Martha’s phone chimed, and she quickly pulled it out. “I’ll be right there,” she spoke to the person on the other end and hung up. “I’m sorry, Melody, I need to go. It was nice meeting you.” She pulled out a $20 to cover her part of the tab and patted her shoulder. “Be careful,” she warned and left the restaurant.
Undaunted, Melody pulled cash out, flung it on the table and sprinted after Martha. But by the time she got out onto 2nd Avenue, she had disappeared into the ever-present New York crowd. With a sigh, she trudged back to her table, picked up the money and signaled for a bottle of wine.
Her mobile rang, and without glancing at the screen, she answered. “Hello?” she said wearily.
“OK, Donna, I think I’ve got a-” The male voice on the other end suddenly cut off. “Hello?”
Melody straightened. “Hello?”
“Hello,” the man breathed.
“Hello,” Melody repeated slowly.
“Hello.” This time it was warm and vibrant and sounded very familiar.
She sucked in a breath. “Is that you?”
“Well, I suppose it’s me. It depends on what you’re looking for, Melody Pond. Are you wanting it to be me, or are you wanting someone else to be me?”
“I want you to be you! The man in Central Park. That’s you, right? The one who held my hand. The one who was there when I was a child. Where are you?” Melody tossed the cash back on the table, adding more for the wine. She grabbed her purse and raced out to the street. “I want to talk with you.”
“You know who I am!.” Melody began to thread her way through the crowd, mentally gauging how long it would take to get back to Central Park, to the fountain. “Look, are you at the park? I’ll meet you there. I’ll get a cab, but I still need to walk to the fountain.”
“Melody, don’t go there! Stay out of the park! Look, I’ll explain, just-”
“You know my parents,” Melody said, and the man fell silent. “You know them, don’t lie to me.”
“I want to know. I have to know. It’s been 20 years, and you were there when they disappeared. Did you take them?” Tears ran down her cheeks as she ran down the blocks to the park, cab forgotten.
“I’m trying to find them.” The man sounded perilously close to tears himself. “Please believe me, I’m doing everything I can to bring them home to you.”
“That’s not good enough.” Stopped by traffic, Melody wiped a tear away. “It’s been 20 years. They’re dead, aren’t they? Meet me by Bethesda Fountain. 15 minutes. I want answers.” She hung up on him and dug a handkerchief out of her purse. She mopped away tears and mascara as she hurried down the paths of Central Park. Her legs burned from the exertion, and by the time she rushed up to the fountain, she was carrying her heels. Her hose was beyond tattered and sweat ran down her cheeks.
Her eyes were steady on the statue, but the sweat was also running into her eyes. Furiously, she swiped the back of her hand across her eyes and blinked.
“No!” She felt a sharp tug on her wrist, then an even sharper pull as the world suddenly changed. Time and space whirled around her in a maddening scream of color and sound before snapping back into place. The force of whatever happened was enough to cause Melody to lose her balance. As reality snapped into place, she landed in a heap on the floor, on top of someone. She pushed herself up to stare into the shocked eyes of the man at the park. The man in her photos.
“Me … Melody?” he croaked.
She didn’t bother to think about what she was going to do next and led with pure instinct. “Oh, sod it,” she muttered and kissed him.
He jerked beneath her like a marionette that had busted all its strings, but he returned the kiss. She heard something clatter in the distance as he flung it away, then he buried his hands in her hair. She took the chance to deepen the kiss, slipping her tongue into his mouth and was rewarded with a throaty moan from him. She felt his arousal press into her lower stomach, and her nipples tighten in response. She wanted to feel those long, slim fingers everywhere.
She broke the kiss, gasping in air while the man wheezed beneath her. “What are you doing?” he managed after a minute.
“Making damn sure you’re real. You’re not disappearing on me again.”
“No,” he acknowledged with what sounded like resignation. “I’m not.”
Satisfied, yet a bit unnerved at the same time, Melody slowly got to her feet and took in her new surroundings. Music surrounded her, a constant hum as soothing as her namesake as she took in the brown, green organic walls, the circular console, the odd scattering of chairs. Hand trembling, she traced along the edge of the console. “This is familiar,” she murmured. “Why is this familiar?” She turned back to the man, who had gotten to his feet and was removing the device from around his wrist. “I remember now. My mother said you were the Doctor. Doctor who?”
“Oldest question in the universe,” he quipped and set the device on the console. “Just the Doctor.”
Melody shook her head. “Not the Doctor,” she said and rummaged through her handbag. She pulled out a rough manuscript. A Good Man Goes to War. It was a working title, but it fit. “You’re like the professor in my books.”
“A bit melodramatic, and really, a bit explicit in some places.” He coughed and straightened his bow tie. He reached for a lever on the console, and she reached for him, staying his hand by covering it with her own. He froze and stared at their joined hands.
“You tell me. Tell me who you are,” Melody demanded.
“Funny,” the Doctor murmured, “how the shoe fits when it’s on the other foot.” He turned his palm up and laced his fingers with hers. He flicked a glance at the manuscript. “In many ways, Melody Pond, you already know.” He lifted his eyes to hers.
There it was. That connection she had felt when she saw his photo, when he held her hand in the park. Her grip on the manuscript went slack, and it fell to the ground at their feet. She licked her lips nervously and felt her entire universe shift by at least two degrees. There was something between them, a history, a life, an eternity. He had fallen out of the sky and into her heart, and something bound them far more than knowing Amelia Pond and Rory Williams. Unconsciously, Melody touched his bow tie with her free hand, tracing a finger along the loops before patting it.
“You and I,” Melody whispered. “We …”
He smiled sadly at her.
“But, when I was a child … What happened?”
“Time, Melody Pond, was rewritten. And it was all my fault.”
The library was the most magnificent place Melody had ever been in. And it was in the bowls of a ship. His ship, the Doctor’s. She wandered through the shelves in a daze as more stretched above her, soaring into the air until she could no longer see them. There were books on every subject she could imagine and quite a few that were beyond imagination. There were books made of paper, wood, stone, parchment and papyrus. An encyclopedia set held liquid books, wasn’t that marvelous? There were side rooms and side rooms of side rooms. Tiny alcoves, elaborate balconies and at least three tea trolleys on the second floor alone. Melody could live here for the rest of her life easily, but she had a purpose. Fourth room on the left, up the spiral case, duck through five doors of decreasing size. The result was a small room of memories, packed with everything from a cot to a natty umbrella.
In a place of honor was a paper-maché blue box, a replica of the ship she was in. Melody reverently picked it up and inspected the bottom. Amelia Pond, age 9, it read in one handwriting. With some help by Mels Zucker, age 9, it read in another hand. Melody smiled and tossed it in the air a bit before setting it back on the shelf. She dusted off her hands, turned and nearly ran over the Doctor, who had watched her the entire time.
“Do you make that a habit?” she asked breezily.
The Doctor ignored her and pointed to the cot. “Do you remember that?”
Melody brushed a hand along the mobile. “Yes,” she admitted. “Very faintly. I put it in my new manuscript. I don’t understand.”
The Doctor picked up an object from the cot and pressed it into Melody’s hand. “What I have to tell you will probably make you slap me. Kind of miss it. A lot. I deserve it.”
“It was an accident, really. I was already trying to lie low. But a woman, an impossible woman, she did something so incredible that it rewrote history. You’re the result of that. Those books were the result.” He traced his fingers over the object. “I thought if I left it alone, you could grow up to be a normal child, in a normal family. You would be happy. My Ponds. All my Ponds.”
“So, what’s this? And don’t change the subject.”
“So Scottish,” he chuckled. “This is what you were given when you were born. Really born, in your original time, before it all went wrong. It’s your name, in the language of the Gamma Forests, written family name first. Like the Japanese on Earth. Except there, the only water in the forest is the river. There’s no direct translation of Melody Pond.”
Intrigued, Melody stared at the object in her hand and saw the word River neatly embroidered. Her heart pounding, she carefully turned it over to see the word Song on the other side.
“That’s the heroine of my books.” Melody shoved the object at the Doctor. “This is a sick joke. You’re some obsessive nut trying to get into my knickers. Well, I won’t have it. I’m calling the police, this is a nightmare!” She started for her mobile, then cursed. No, she left it in the console room.
“Just stay away from me!” She backpedalled, grabbed the closest object to her – a black umbrella. She brandished it like a sword. “I’ve taken defense classes. I know where to use this, and believe me, you won’t be thinking about getting in anyone’s knickers for quite some time.”
“Melody, give me the umbrella.” He reached for it, and Melody evaded and slammed the point into his stomach. She followed it with a swift knee to his groin and he doubled over, gasping her name as she ran out the door.
She raced through the corridors, back through the library, through even more corridors. Just when she thought she was thoroughly lost, she found the console room. With a sob of relief, she sprinted to the door, yanked it open, and nearly ran into the blackness of space. She gasped, leaping backward as stars and planets spread before her in an elaborate tableau. “Oh, my God, we’re in space!”
She slammed the door shut, her heart hammering wildly. They were in space. Like in her books. She pressed a hand to her mouth and didn’t know if she wanted to cry or scream. No, she needed to think. Shaking, she stumbled to the console and braced herself on it.
Warmth crept through Melody’s fingers, spreading into her hands, up her arms, and throughout her body. The trembling ceased as instinctively Melody peered at the glowing center of the console. No, the time rotor, she corrected. Wait, how did she …?
Melody reached for the rotor and laid a hand on it.
Memories burst through her mind, one right after the other, with such clarity that it felt like she was watching a film. A strange film, with her and the Doctor. And, oh, there were her parents. Laughing, crying, some rather impressive rounds of sex on the very console she touched. Knowledge flowed through her, and she knew what everything in the room could do. Time spread before her in intricate webs, and her own timeline burned brighter than anyone else’s. She could see it going all the way back, back to her birth, back to where it suddenly branched and went an entirely different direction, blazing just as brightly. Another life, another her.
Time can be rewritten. The words floated through Melody’s mind. But you are and always will be a child of the TARDIS.
Melody let her hand drop and waited for the Doctor. He stumbled into the console room a few minutes later to find her sitting in the captain’s chair, hugging her diary to her chest. Their gaze met, his hopeful, hers a bit overwhelmed.
“You were my husband, in that other time,” Melody said.
“Well, there’s always been those who questioned the legality of our marriage, and technically it didn’t count, but …”
“Did you consider yourself my husband,” Melody cut in.
“Yes,” the Doctor acknowledged. “I did.”
“I loved you very much.”
“Did you love me?”
He didn’t say anything, but the infinite sadness in his eyes spoke volumes. Melody set the book aside and slid off the seat and to his side. She glanced between them and took his hand.
“I’m not River Song. I’m not your wife. I’m Melody Pond. I’m her, but I’m not her. I’m me. And I want to know what happened to my parents. Please, let me help you find the truth.”
“Do you forgive me for what I did to them?” he asked hoarsely.
“There’s nothing to forgive.”
“I took your parents from you.”
“The Weeping Angels took my parents from me. They could have come after us in Leadworth, in London, any place, any time. You saved me, and now I’ll help you save them.” She kissed his cheek and tried her very best to ignore the fluttering in her heart.
He gave her a long, considering look, and for a moment she wondered if he would kiss her. Then she wondered if she would kiss him back or do even more damage to the family jewels. Then he tapped her nose and spun away from her, clapping his hands. “Right, Melody Pond! Tell me everything you know about the Weeping Angels!”
Melody did her very best to ignore the tingling awareness that was doing an excellent job at distracting her. “Sends people back in time, lives off their potential energy,” she recited from her book.
“Right! So, wherever your parents are, they’re in the past. Kill them with kindness, that’s what the Angels do.” The Doctor strode to a wall and leaped. He grabbed hold of a handle Melody could barely see hanging from the ceiling and pulled the map down. It revealed New York City as Melody knew it, in 2035. “OK, I need my sonic. Where is- Ah!” He dashed over to the wall to scoop up a long, thin object, and Melody realized it was the item he’d thrown away earlier when she snogged him.
He waved the sonic at her and pointed to the map. “Now, it’ll send you directly back in time, but where? And when? I’ve been narrowing down different stages of New York, trying to pinpoint this and that, but I have a couple guesses as to where they wound up.” He activated the sonic, and New York shifted before them. “New York, 1880s. Lovely era, the Gilded Age. Founding of the Met, opera and museum, several more renowned museums. Tammany Hall! I often wonder how involved you were in that. I mean, River! River was in that.”
“Boss Tweed sends you his regards and three death threats,” Melody automatically responded, then held her hand to her mouth. “The hell?”
“Timelines are bleeding through,” the Doctor murmured. This time, he used the sonic to scan Melody herself. “You remember what River remembered to a point.”
“I’m not River,” Melody insisted.
“Your books, my dear, disagree with you.” The Doctor turned back to his map and left Melody to chew on that little bombshell. “Almost, but not right. Here we go.” He passed the sonic over the map again, and it shifted. More buildings, several landmarks Melody recognized sprang to life. “New York, 1938. Unusual amount of artron energy here. Now, the angels can send people back through time and space. That’s been the big part of the problem here. Not just locating where, but when. In this case, I’ve located the where to New York. Makes it easy, they apparently weren’t transported that far. Now the when, that was the mystery I was solving when they decided to close the loop.”
“Come after you.” The Doctor sprinted back to the console and began working all sorts of bits and bobs. He twisted knobs, keyed a few phrases on the typewriter and pulled two levers.
Automatically, Melody reset one of the levers. “She doesn’t like it when you do that.”
“I have always done that.” Petulantly, the Doctor reset the lever.
Melody moved it back. “Well, it’s never too late to change a habit.”
“I’m an old man with habits. Lots of habits.” The Doctor pulled the lever back.
Melody pushed it forward. “No.”
The Doctor pulled it. “Yes.”
She pushed it. “No!”
He pulled it back. “Absolutely!”
She pushed it again. “Absolutely not!”
The Doctor pulled it once more, and it snapped off in his hand. “Now look, you broke it!”
“I wasn’t touching it,” Melody groused as the Doctor dumped the broken lever into her hands and scooted around the console. She patted the time rotor. “You never liked that lever in the first place, did you?” She set the lever on the console carefully.
“Hang on, Melody Pond! We’re going to 1938!” The Doctor pushed one final lever, and the TARDIS lurched into flight.
Shrieking a bit, Melody grabbed hold of the railing and gazed up at the working time rotor. “She’s beautiful!”
“She’s amazing!” The Doctor’s eyes twinkled at Melody as he leaned across the console and twisted a toothbrush.
“Now you’re showing off. Is this your version of a mating dance?”
“You tell me.” His voice dropped, and Melody felt her heart do a tap dance across her chest. She thought about kissing him again, and at first the TARDIS seemed to be on her side as the ship violently lurched and Melody lost her grip on the console. She went flying into the Doctor, and he shielded her head as he slammed back into the wall.
“Are you hurt?” he asked, smoothing back her curls.
“You’re the one who just slammed his head against the wall.” Melody scooted up to inspect the wound, pressing her chest into the Doctor’s face by accident. She realized her faux pas when she felt movement against her thigh and immediately jerked back to see him blushing furiously. “Sorry. Sorry, I didn’t think.” She scrambled off him.
“No harm done,” the Doctor managed and crawled across the room. He grabbed onto the console and pulled himself up. “Well, this isn’t good.”
“What’s not good?” Melody joined him as he pulled the monitor down.
“We can’t get into New York. Literally, the TARDIS isn’t letting us land. We just bounced off 1938.”
“And where exactly did we bounce off to?” Melody peered at the monitor. “1916 New Jersey?”
“Really, New Jersey,” the Doctor scoffed. “Next, they’ll be having us take a train in there or something equally preposterous.”
“Most people take the train.”
“I’m not most people, do you not pay attention, Melody Pond?”
“I pay perfect attention.” And therein lay the problem, she thought. Ever since the Doctor had taken her on board his ship, she was not being Melody Pond. That snog when they first arrived. That wasn’t her. She spread her fingers and looked at the fine veins snaking along the back of her hands. That kiss was River, apparently, recognizing the Doctor for who he was to her. “So, why did we bounce off 1938?”
“Time distortions. Thousands and thousands of time distortions, cloaking 1938 New York like a spider’s web. We can’t even get close, and I am not taking the train.”
“Snob,” Melody muttered.
The Doctor ignored her. “Landing lights! If I just had something to latch onto, I could force my way through.”
“Force? Would it cause any damage?”
“Oh, I could possibly burn New York.”
He reached across the console and snagged the device he’d been wearing earlier. “But, if I had landing lights, I could navigate through. This is a vortex manipulator. You’ve written about them, except you had them as vortex striped socks. Those are actually really cool.” He strapped it around her wrist. “You can pop back to 1938, press that button, and I’ll come to you. Easy as pie. Or cake. River loved cake, said it kept her hair curly. Do you like cake?”
“I love cake,” Melody said faintly.
“Good. Everyone should love cake.” He kissed her forehead. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Are you sure my parents are there? Really, properly sure?”
The Doctor ran his hands up and down her arms. “Mostly. Almost positively. But, mostly. There’s a chance they’re not there.”
“But, you believe they are?”
“I believe they are.”
“Then, I’ll trust you.” Melody took a deep breath and traced a finger over the controls of the manipulator. “Do you see me as Melody Pond? Or as River Song?”
“Because, Doctor, I want to kiss you before I go. And that’s not a Melody Pond thing, that’s a River Song thing. I barely even know you, but she knew you completely. And I look like her, don’t I? You look at me, and you see your wife, but I’m a stranger. And I see a stranger, but somehow you’re so very familiar. How do I know what I really want?”
He slipped a finger beneath her chin and tilted her head up. “When Time Lords regenerate, they take on a new face, sometimes a new gender. But their hearts, their memories are the same. The core that is you, that is River Song, that’s the same. You just took a different path in life. Most people wouldn’t be aware of the two timelines, but you know because you’re the child of the TARDIS. Your mother had all of time pouring into her mind for years. I see it all the time, the time that is and the time that could have been. Travel safe, Melody.” He pressed the button on the vortex manipulator for her, and she spun away into time and space.
Vortex manipulators were hell on the hair, Melody realized as she gained her feet and pushed her hands through her frizzy curls. She slowly turned in a circle, taking in the city. There were lights, but it wasn’t the blazing neon lights, the constant go-go-go of the-21st century. She hugged herself briefly, wishing she had a coat and something to use as a weapon. She could feel that other timeline pulsing in the back of her brain, and part of her wanted to access the knowledge that was trapped there. River Song was smart and resourceful and knew how to use a gun. She would know what to do.
She fisted her hands. Well, sod that. She was Melody Pond. She was smart and resourceful as well. Picking up a branch, she slowly crept down the sidewalk as she kept an eye on the shadows. OK, landing lights. The Doctor needed landing lights, then she wouldn’t be alone. He could be an effective weapon, right? He was skinny enough. She bet with one good boot to the arse, she could kick him into the enemy and throw them off as she came up with a better idea. Comforted, Melody pressed the button on the vortex manipulator and waited.
“Is it broken?” Melody jabbed the button several times. “Oh, just my luck.” She rolled her eyes. “You had to give me a broken one, didn’t you?” she called out to the heavens.
She heard a crack behind her, and she tightened her grip on the branch. “I’ll have you know that I’m armed and very, very cross,” she warned as she swung around, then gasped.
The couple before her looked worn and in shock, clinging to each other with everything they had. It was like the pictures on Melody’s mantle in Leadworth had come to life, and all her memories came back to her. Her mother’s scent, her father’s smile. Her mother’s hair, her father’s strength. The branch clattered to Melody’s feet. “Oh, my God.”
“Who are you?” Amy Pond demanded as she pulled away from her husband. She pointed to Melody’s wrist. “I recognize that. It’s a vortex manipulator. Where did you get that? Where did you come from?”
“Amy,” Rory soothed.
“No, I want answers. We’ve been running for seven months, trying to escape them. We’ve got to get home, back to Melody.”
“Seven months?” Melody gasped.
Amy came to a stop before Melody and frowned. “Why do you seem so familiar? Are you a friend of the Doctor’s?”
“Yes,” Melody immediately replied and wondered just how much to tell her. “Yes, he sent me here because he couldn’t get the TARDIS here without landing lights. Or so he said. Seven months?”
“How much did he tell you?” Rory asked.
“I know everything,” Melody admitted. “You were on a picnic with your daughter. You went for coffee, and Amy followed. Neither of you came back.”
“Melody,” Amy asked. “Do you know where Melody is?”
“Is she safe?”
“It depends on how well you define safe. At the time, the Doctor kept her safe. He made sure she was safe. He took her back to Leadworth, to your father, Rory.”
Rory closed his eyes and let out a long, slow breath as Amy clapped her hands. “That’s brilliant! As soon as the Doctor gets here, we can go to her!”
Rory opened his eyes and studied Melody intensely. “You said at the time. How much time has passed for us?”
Melody’s breath caught. What would happen if she lied? If she told her parents that Melody was all safe and tucked in her bed, that they would be holding their little girl soon enough. It would rewrite her time again, but surely it wouldn’t be bad. Right? She thought of the Doctor’s sad eyes and wanted to cry. He’d be giving her up again, but it’s not like she was really his wife to begin with. Why did the thought hurt so much? She didn’t even know him.
No, that was wrong. She knew bits and bobs about him. She knew he kept her safe, kept her from feeling scared when she was alone. He kept little pieces of those he loved in an alcove. He loved his ship, and he was clumsy. She knew there was something between them, something that seemed to transcend time and space. There was the Asian legend of the red string of fate. Was it something that simple?
If she told the truth, she would have a chance to figure out the tangled mess between them. If she lied, she would be sparing her parents the pain of knowing their child had grown up without them. Again. “You’ve been gone-”
“Ponds!” The Doctor sprinted out of a nearby building and cut off Melody’s words.
Amy shrieked and raced up the stairs to him. “You numpty!” she yelped and smacked his arm before throwing her arms around him.
“Permission?” Rory asked, throwing his arms out.
“Oh, stop it,” Amy sniffed and pressed her face into the Doctor’s shoulder. “I thought we were stuck here.”
“No, no, never. I was going to find you. I’m always going to find you.” The Doctor rocked Amy back and forth in his arms and sniffed at the top of her head a bit. “Amelia Pond, the girl who waited. I’m sorry you had to do so again.”
“Had a Roman with me this time. It wasn’t so bad, Raggedy Man.” Her voice thick with tears, Amy held out an arm so Rory could join them in a three-way hug. “The Weeping Angels are everywhere, but they seem to be done with us. We can just go back now, right?”
“Where’s Melody? Your friend said she was with Brian. Was she being good for you? You didn’t sneak her a soda, did you?”
The Doctor raised an eyebrow at Melody. She shrugged.
Amy socked his arm again. “You did get her a soda! I told you I didn’t want her having those, she’s too little!”
“It didn’t seem to hurt anything,” the Doctor muttered.
“I’m her mum, I know what’s best. Now, let’s get home before she drives Brian daft from the sugar rush. Are you coming?” Amy asked Melody.
“Yes,” Melody replied. “I need a ride as well.”
As soon as they were on-board the TARDIS, Amy and Rory immediately headed for their room and the first proper shower they’d had in weeks. “I don’t want to scare Melody with my BO,” Amy said she disappeared down the hall with Rory, leaving Melody alone with the Doctor.
“You didn’t tell them,” he said.
Melody sank onto the captain’s chair. “What will happen if I don’t tell them anything?”
“Time will be rewritten again,” the Doctor said. “You’ll just fade away, like your first life. You won’t even remember. You’ll just be little Melody Pond, with her mum and dad, growing up in Leadworth.”
“But, you’ll remember.”
“I’ll always remember.”
Melody slid off the seat and walked around the console to where the Doctor was fiddling with a knob and doing his best not to look at her. “Will I find you again?”
He leaned into her briefly, then tapped her nose. “No. I was a selfish old man before, and it caused your parents to be trapped in the past. If I involve myself in your life again, if I keep rewriting your past, it could cause the same time distortions around you as there are around New York. I can’t ever come back here, not once we leave. And, Melody Pond, I should never see you again.”
“Will you at least tell me the truth? You owe me that much.”
The Doctor didn’t say anything for a couple minutes, and Melody wondered if she pushed him too far. Instead, he went through the sequence to take them into the vortex. The ship shuddered and pitched as it pushed through the distortions, but then it evened out. When they were safe, he gestured to the captain’s chair. She boosted herself onto the seat and waited.
“In the other timeline, your parents and I were sent to a Dalek asylum. There was a woman there, Oswin Oswald. She had been assimilated into a Dalek but retained enough of her humanity to help us escape. As part of it, she wiped any record of me from the history books. Which was all well and good, but when I got back to the teleport, your parents were gone. I went back to the TARDIS, and they weren’t there either. I went to Leadworth and found them with you as a little girl.”
“I wasn’t supposed to be there, was I?”
“In your original timeline, you were kidnapped as a baby. You didn’t return to them until you were an adult.”
“How long were we together before this happened?”
“Close to 200 years, give or take.” He smiled sadly at her. “But, we hadn’t been married that long in the grand scheme of things. You’ve been writing it in your books, that original timeline. You were nearly to our wedding.”
“So, you just left me?”
“I gave you up, so Amy and Rory could have the child they never got to raise. They were going to divorce because of the kidnapping, because what happened in the process left your mother infertile. You were tortured and experimented on as a little girl. You died of starvation and was turned into a weapon, and it was all my fault.” His voice was thick now, and he squeezed his eyes shut. “I’m a selfish, selfish old man, my dear. I wanted our marriage badly enough that you didn’t realize what you were doing until it was practically done. But I saw the chance to give you the life that was stolen from you. But then it happened again.”
“And I grew up fine.” Melody took his hands. “I had my parents for four years as a child, and I was loved by so many. My grandparents, Donna. I was never lacking for any love, any comfort. Doctor, if my timeline is rewritten, we can’t guarantee that anything will change. You could leave, and rampaging clowns could stab my parents. I’d be alone again with no chance of getting them back.”
“Now, stop this nonsense,” Melody snapped. “The first time was an accident, I’ll grant you that. But this time it’s my decision. If I want to go waltzing naked through space, who are you to stop me?”
“I can’t, but the lack of oxygen might.”
“Oh, the TARDIS will just build me an air corridor.” Melody felt the push from the other timeline, knowledge bleeding through as it always had in her dreams, in the imagination that she cultivated for years. She ran her hands up the Doctor’s chest and to his bow tie, tapping the knot. Then she tugged it loose and pulled it from around his collar.
“Melody, what are you doing?”
“Wrap this around your hand,” Melody said.
“Do as you’re told,” she ordered and wrapped her own hand. The bow tie lay limply across the Doctor’s hand, so she sighed and wrapped it for him. She held up their joined hands. “I consent and gladly give of my timeline to keep things the way they are now. I know things can’t go back to the way you knew them to be, and I will never be River Song. But, I can be Melody Pond, and I know there’s something between us. How can I go back to my life knowing that I would be walking away from what could possibly be the best thing that ever happened to me?”
“I bring death to everything I touch,” he murmured. “I’ve caused you so much pain, and your parents as well. There’s many, many people that have crossed my path. Some of them are fine, but others are died. One … one in particular is in an alternate universe she never wanted to be in. And another like her died for me. I can spare you that. Live a normal life.”
“What is normal? Do you feel something between us? Honestly?” When he avoided her gaze, she cupped his cheek. “We owe it to ourselves to try, sweetie.”
Tears filled his eyes at the endearment, and she blinked away her own.
“All right, Melody Pond. Can never say no to one of you Ponds.” He tightened his grip on the bow tie. “But, I want to ask you something. Will you travel with me?”
Melody’s smile lit up her face. “Whenever and wherever you want.”
The Doctor waited for the "but," then raised an eyebrow when it didn't come. “Really?”
“All the time?”
“Well, I think my parents might want to spend some time with me.”
“But River …”
Melody bopped the Doctor’s forehead. “I swear, I am going to do that to you every time you say that. I’m not River. Our story isn’t backwards now, is it? I don’t know anything about my life that you don’t already know, do you?”
“No … No!” His eyes lit up. “We’re linear. You and I, we’re actually linear.”
Melody beamed. “See? I’ll travel with you, just make sure I’m able to complete my Ph.D, yeah?”
“You really could better than archaeology.”
“Try that one again.”
“Not a chance.” He leaned in and brushed his lips across hers. He started to pull away, but she tugged him back to her and properly deepened the kiss. He made a contented sound in the back of his throat as he returned the kiss, their hands reaching for each other despite the bow tie.
“Sorry, am I missing something?” Amy asked from the stairs.
Melody broke the kiss to see her parents on the balcony above them, Amy smirking while Rory looked serious. She blushed. Blushing was something Melody Ponds did when caught snogging potential … whatever he was, she decided as the Doctor unwrapped the bow tie and handed it to Melody. He tapped her nose and climbed the stairs to Amy.
“Amelia Pond,” the Doctor said soothingly, pulling her into his arms. He closed his eyes and patted her back. “You wanted to know how long you were away from your daughter, right?”
“Yeah, of course. Just a few days, right?”
“Not just days,” Rory murmured, his focus on Melody, and she realized he knew.
“Months?” Amy asked.
“Try years,” Melody supplied and managed a smile as her mother’s shocked gaze turned to her. “20 years, to be exact. Hello, Mum. It’s me, Melody. I’m your daughter.”