Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who.
Warning: major spoilers for the first part of series 6.
And Come Home So Muddy
Amy cries routinely, every night as they are falling asleep. During the days she drifts on like a ghost, but after the sun sets, without fail, she comes alive to weep passionately with her head on Rory's chest.
But Rory cries randomly, once while washing his hair, once while getting the mail, once while choosing a carton of eggs. After that first night home, when he just couldn't help it, he doesn't cry in front of Amy, but at unexpected moments when his tired defenses thin and snag wide open.
He's told the hospital, and any friends who asked, that Amy has suffered a miscarriage. It's a good enough explanation for why he requests to be taken out of rotation for shifts in pediatric, a good enough explanation for why he's never up for a pub crawl. But it will only last so long. These things happen, he understands. Someday they will expect him to smile again.
He knows, logically, that she will be found—that she will grow up and be healthy and brilliant and maybe even happy, but he doesn't know how much of a part he and Amy will play in this, so it's not much of a comfort.
So Rory cries when he hears any song slower than a waltz. He cries when he watches any television show more emotional than Total Wipeout. They don't have the radio on much, or the tele.
He's losing weight. The mere thought of the blandest foods turns his stomach. When he does eat, the stuff sits in his gut like an anchor, and he stands at the toilet, waiting to be sick. Nothing happens. The food sits unmoving, as ineffectual as Rory himself.
The note comes on a Sunday, just when he thought that nothing would ever surprise him again. He's coming off an afternoon shift when the receptionist calls after him that a message was dropped off for him earlier. Confused, he returns for it, and reads on a scrap of paper midnight on the first park bench –R.
He's gone for walks in the middle of the night before. Amy won't think any differently of this one.
He slips from the bed at a quarter to twelve, clad in running pants and an old football shirt; he closes the door quietly behind him and pads down the street in worn trainers. He sits on the bench at 11:57, and three minutes later she settles quietly beside him.
Her frenetic hair is pulled back tightly and her grey clothes fade into the surrounding darkness.
"Hello… um… I'm not quite sure what to call you," Rory admits, staring out into the nighttime.
"'River' has always worked before. Why don't you call me that?"
Rory blinks. "Because it's not your real name." And yet that is the name that comes to mind.
She doesn't reply. Instead they sit in silence for a moment. "How are you?" River asks quietly, breaking the still air like ice shattering. "And Amy?"
"We're doing all right. No," he corrects. "We're doing terrible. When is he going to bring her back to us?" he pleads, looking over at her for the first time. River's smile is a gentle reprimand.
"Spoilers," she whispers.
"You do come back to us, right? For a while, at least?"
River nods slowly. "For a while."
"For how long?"
Her eyes are hazy now, unfocused. "Not for as long as any of us would have liked. But long enough. Long enough that I know you as my parents and I love you."
"So we are there? For parts of your life, at least?"
"Yes. You are." He's looking at the ground, but he can hear the smile in her voice. "You're the reason I became an archaeologist."
"Me? What do I do?" This is the first question that has genuinely puzzled him in months, and he feels the old curiosity sparking, a fire almost forgotten. The answer dawns on him as though he already knew. "I take you to that riverbank, don't I? I dug up all kinds of stuff there when I was a kid. I take you when you're old enough." Rory looks over for confirmation, and River says nothing, but he knows from her smirk that he's right. He sits there for a moment with that picture in his head, holding tight to the knowledge that however bad things are now, one day he and his daughter will be sifting through mud together, maybe looking forward to a picnic lunch afterwards.
"Am I… a good father?" he murmurs, after a few minutes.
"Yes," River answers immediately, almost before he's done asking the question; Rory doesn't think he's ever heard her speak so emotionally, so impatiently before. "You're brilliant, and… wise… and so, so kind." Her voice is even a little choked up, to be honest, and Rory feels like if he's such a great father, he should probably put his arm around her or something. But he can't.
"I'm sorry," he mutters. "This has got to be weird for you too. But… when I look at you… River, I just don't see her yet. I miss… Melody. My daughter—my baby girl. I'm sorry."
"It's all right," she soothes, and it genuinely sounds it. "Meeting people out of order, I'm used to that. If it makes you feel better, you're not my dad yet to me either. Not just quite." She smiles. "God, you're so young."
Rory's laugh feels hollow to himself, and he knows that River hears it as well. "Sorry," she amends. "Not young. I know you're not young. You're just… not as old as you will be."
Rory smiles crookedly. "Well that's something to look forward to."
River glances over at him, and for the first time their eyes really meet. Rory stares at his daughter, at how she will look fortysome years from now but also as she looks now, because there's no baby Melody to see.
"You have my mother's eyes," he says quietly. "That's so strange. You really do."
"And your nose, I'm afraid," she teases back gently. But Rory isn't listening.
"I wish you could have met her," he continues. "She always wanted grandchildren."
What River says next shocks him so deeply that he feels, really feels, the core of himself for the first time since coming home.
"I met her, once," River tells him. Her eyes are dreamy again. "I couldn't resist. She didn't know who I was, naturally. But I took a train all the way to Bristol once just to sit next to her. We talked the whole time."
Rory's chest is clenching but he won't—he can't—cry in front of his daughter. He remembers his father in tears only twice, and he remembers both times with fear and confusion. Even if he isn't her father just yet, he won't do that to her. Rory bites his lip.
River doesn't notice the emotion flashing across his face, lost in her own little world of an old train car. "You must have been about sixteen, because she was telling me how well you did on your exams. Best biology student your professors had ever seen, apparently. She loved you so much. And she was so proud of you. She could have talked about you all day. You, and her book club. She had just read Tuesdays with Morrie."
Rory's breath comes like a hiss through his teeth, and River turns to him, the spell on her broken. "It's okay," she promises. "Everything's going to be all right. It's a funny old life. Come here." And then she cups a hand behind his head and pulls him close, pressing a kiss on his forehead as tears finally slip down his cheeks.
"I miss you," Rory breathes, because it's the only thing he can think to say, the only thing that feels true. River's forehead is pressed against his hair, and Rory closes his eyes and doesn't know if he's missing his daughter or his mother or if he's just plain missing.
"Hush," she tells him, and he does, stays quiet. But slowly it dawns on him that for the first time since Melody, it is actually helping to cry. Deep inside him the ache is lessening, however slightly.
"I'm usually cooler than this," he insists, choking on his laughter, and River laughs as well.
"Of course you are. Just remember this one hint I can give you: Mum and I will both hate the ponytail. Don't keep it for too long."
Rory sputters with laughter once more. "I'll try," he promises. Every mention of his future instills a little more hope in him until all at once, like a fire finally catching, Rory feels like he's come back to life. His breathing evens out, and River lets him go.
"Um… thanks," he mutters, wiping his cheeks, because now he is animate enough to be embarrassed again. River's nose crinkles up, like his discomfort is terribly amusing. "Are you… going to visit Amy?"
River shakes her head. "Trust me. This won't help her the same way it would help you. Trust me," she says again. And he supposes that he'll have to, because he can't exactly put River on his back and carry her home. It will be their secret.
"I guess that means you don't want to come back for tea."
River smiles patiently. "If it makes you feel better, I'll go visit you right now and have some."
Rory is confused only for a heartbeat. Then he smiles back; it's melancholy but unforced. "Tell me that you're coming from… here. I'll want to know. So, I live to see you grow up, yeah? Does… does Amy?"
But River is done answering questions. He can see it in her eyes. "All right, okay," he concedes, raising his hands gently. "But can I… would you mind if…" Rory sucks in a deep breath and finishes his sentence calmly. "When I say goodbye to you, can I call you Melody?"
"Of course," River says quietly, but doesn't ask to call him dad.
"Okay, well… say hi to myself for me. Em… I suppose I'll be seeing you around. In more ways than one."
River stands, laughing. "You're a time traveller, with time travellers for a wife, a daughter, and a son-in-law. You'd better bid adieu to anything normal you'd been holding on to. But trust me. It's going to be worth it."
"Okay. I trust you." Rory is craning his neck up to see her now, his beautiful girl, his tall, powerful daughter. He supposes that some fathers have to spend their daughters' lives worrying they'll turn out wrong. He does have at least the advantage of knowing that his will be amazing. Is amazing.
"Good night, Melody," he whispers, then he blinks, and she's gone.
Rory walks back home slowly, slips off his trainers and climbs back into bed. Amy stirs but her eyes stay closed. Rory leans over and presses a kiss on her forehead, trying to share with her their daughter's wise, compassionate love.
"I'm gonna take her down to that river," he whispers in Amy's ear. "And we're gonna find fossils and seashells and old coins, and come home so muddy…."