The Shadow Of The River
2018, Leadworth village, Earth
Silence, a peaceful silence, had fallen over the world.
"It was the worst day of my life, but it had the best moment," Amy said to her seven-year-old daughter, her eyes far away. "They took you away from me. We fought and fought and thought we'd lost you. But you came back. And me and your father-"
"Mummy," said Melody seriously, "I just wanna hear about River."
"But me and your dad, sweety, we always agreed you'd hear everything. You might be River one day, but now you're..."
Amy smiled. God, this girl was so like her, all the best bits of her and Rory, it amazed her every day that she'd made this person. "River Song was- is- an amazing woman. She was always so cheerful, even in the face of danger. The first time I met her, she was so happy to just dance around through space. That's what me and your dad want for you. For you to be happy."
Melody Pond nodded and reached for a stuffed toy. Her favourite one was the dark blue teddy.
"Okay, Mummy, tell me 'bout when I was born."
"I told you stories," Amy said, curling up on the bed with her daughter. "I told you about the Doctor, and I told you about your father, and sometimes I thought about how weird it was that I'd run away with one thousand-year old legend only to realise I'd had one by my side all along." Melody stared intently at her mother, as Amy stroked her hair. "I told you that the Doctor would show you the universe, but you'd be the universe to your dad. And I dressed you and changed your nappies and told you you would grow up to be beautiful and brave. And you will."
"I'll have a new name, I'll be River," Melody said dreamily.
"But only if you want to be," Amy said firmly. That was the important part. The timelines were in flux. Her daughter could choose. "You can be whatever you want, but you'll always be our Melody."
"I want..." Melody thought about it, holding her teddy bear tight, "I wanna take us all to Disneyland. Me and you and Daddy and Alec and Johnny. And to 'Merica. And Mars."
"Then that's where we'll go," Amy said, and watched as Melody fell asleep. When she was dreaming, Amy kissed her head and walked to the other children's room, where Rory was reading the boys a bedtime story.
"You have brains in your head," he read in a slow voice Amy still associated with the Last Centurion."You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose-"
"You're on your own, and you know what you know, and you are the one who'll decide where to go," Amy said, standing in the doorway, for the benefit of the boys. Rory closed the book.
"There'll be more from Dr Seuss tomorrow," he told the children, "but for now I think it's bedtime."
"It is bedtime," said Amy. "Melody's got school tomorrow."
"I wanna go to school," said Alec.
"Good attitude to have," Rory said, and he high-fived them goodnight- even at the ages of five and three, they thought themselves too grown-up for kissing- and the parents left the room. Downstairs, they sat on the sofa with the Doctor.
"All present and accounted for?" he said brightly.
"Yes," said Amy, "and fast asleep, so please don't jump around or start yelling about hats or whatever."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
They hugged. Rory and the Doctor hugged too. And then they just sort of stood around, not really needing to say anything, it had all been said before. The Doctor idly ran his screwdriver over the plasma TV.
"Put your toy down," Amy told him. "What's happening?"
"Ran into River on the planet Clom," the Doctor said cheerfully. "Had drinks- asked her about her childhood- she mentioned her brothers."
"And?" Amy demanded, her heart beating just a little faster, as it always did when they had such conversations. "What about them?"
"In 2050, Alec is a history teacher involved with the local Roman re-enactment society." He gave Rory a proud glance. "Johnny is a chef, a mighty good one, would have been the next Jamie Oliver if the original hadn't gotten made immortal in 2045. Both married, happily married, Alec's wife has a baby on the way." He gave a grin. "Isn't it good? Isn't it all so good?"
"But it's not certain," Amy said. "The future's in flux. You might never meet River on the planet- what was it?"
"Clom. Dreadful place."
"You might never meet River on the planet Clom at all."
"Well, yeah, but as a possible future, I'd say it's looking pretty good. Apart from the having to go to Clom."
Rory nodded thoughtfully. "And how was Melody?" he asked. "I mean...River, how was River?"
"Perfectly happy, and surprisingly good with a big sword. I presume that's your influence." He patted Rory on the shoulder, and seemed disappointed to get no real reaction. "Come on! You're amazing parents with amazing kids. You know that."
Amy looked at her husband, and then at her best friend. Best friend, imaginary friend, son-in-law, whatever. The Doctor. "Would you tell us, if you saw her die in the future?"
"Of course I would," the Doctor said, but he looked at the ground while saying it. Rory gave a sigh. It was the kind of sigh Amy sometimes heard him give, once the kids were out of earshot, on days when patients of his died.
"I believe you," she told the Doctor, and he seemed to perk up.
"Me too," Rory said, slightly more uncertainly.
"I promise," the Doctor said, "if I see her die, I'll tell you."
"Good," said Amy, although it wasn't. She turned her attention to the baby monitor: Johnny still sometimes woke up in the night. "So. Want a drink? Some baked beans, some bread, some fish fingers and custard?"
The Doctor smiled. "Nah. Thanks, though. I'd better be off. Things to do. You know, you save the Earth and five minutes later..."
"Have you got a girl in the TARDIS?" Rory demanded hotly. "Another girl?"
"A friend," the Doctor said hastily, "Just a friend! She's only, what, eighteen? Nineteen? Lovely girl, every bit as lovely as both of you, but definately just a friend!"
Amy couldn't help but smile a little. "Make sure she stays that way."
"And before you say that the timelines are in flux and Melody chooses her own future," Rory cut in, "just remember that to me, it'll still feel like you cheated on my daughter. And I have a sword. And two centuries of learning to use it."
"Point taken," the Doctor said cheerfully, and whirled around towards the front door. Before he got stepped outside he whirled around again. "Just remember, no matter what happens, no matter if River-"
"Melody," said Amy, more out of habit than anything.
"-no matter if Melody becomes a superhero or a geography teacher, she'll still be amazing. You raised her amazing. Okay? Okay." And he gave them a little wave and walked down the garden path. Amy and Rory saw him disappear into the TARDIS.
"I wonder what the new girl is like," Amy said, once he'd gone.
"I hope her parents know where she is," Rory said thoughtfully. And then they went back inside.
2021, Leadworth village, Earth
"I'm afraid that sometimes you'll play lonely games too," Dad read to Johnny as Melody lingered, in her pyjamas, outside the door. "Games you can't win cos you'll play against you-" Alec was asleep, but Johnny sat awake, gleeful at the rhymes. "All alone, whether you like it or not, alone is something you'll be quite a lot- except you won't be," he added hastily. "And when you're alone there's a very good chance you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants-"
"Er, Dad," said Melody.
"Something happened in Japan- something involving living plastic or something- the Doctor was on TV just now."
"He was?" Dad frowned. "Is everyone okay?"
"The TV didn't say, I dunno, probably."
Dad stayed where he was, his arm around Johnny. "Melody, are you okay?"
"I saw River," Melody said. "I saw me."
Dad looked at her. Melody knew what he was thinking: she hadn't seen her potential future self- heard her described, heard she was beautiful, but never seen her.
"Are you okay?" he asked. Melody nodded, and Johnny, with the typical attitude of a five-year-old, spoke up. "How come Melody gets to travel with the Doctor?"
"You might do too," Dad said. "Maybe she won't and you will. Maybe none of you will. Nothing's written."
Johnny mouthed the words nothing's written. "Kay."
"Johnny, I gotta talk to your sister, okay? Sleep tight." He kissed Johnny on the forehead, which made him squeal in annoyance, and joined Melody outside and closed the door.
"Mels, really, are you okay?"
"She wasn't actually pretty," Melody said, taking to the stairs. Dad followed her.
"I never said she was pretty. I said she was beautiful. Like you."
Melody slumped on the sofa. The TV was muted, but it was still on, and firefighters were running round Tokyo.
"Why does Mum have to be in India?" she said.
"She's got an important job, Mels. With Dorothy McShane's death she basically runs A.C.E. But it doesn't mean she doesn't-"
"Love me," Melody said crossly. "I know." She pulled up a cushion and hugged it.
"Your mother will never, ever abandon you, Mels, and she'll be back tomorrow. And you know, you can call her right now and she'll answer."
"I know," Melody said, "I'm just cross..." She stared at the television. Like most modern TVs, it took up most of the wall. The figures running around were almost life-size. "I hope no-one died."
"I hope so, too."
They sat in silence as the muted TV continued playing. The Doctor didn't seem about to show up again. "Dad," Melody said, "seriously, what would you prefer, me to travel with the Doctor or me to stay here?"
"I'm not answering that, Mels, everything that happens to you is going to be your choice. Not mine, not your mum's, not the Doctor's. Yours."
Melody scowled, just a bit, and switched the television to the Playstation channel. "I'm gonna stay up and play games."
"Alright, but only cos it's Saturday."
Both of them waited for the other things to be said.
"Dad," Melody said, "did you like it? Travelling with the Doctor? Getting-" Her eyes hit the floor for a second. "-killed and brought back and stuff?"
"It showed me lots of things about myself I'd never have known about otherwise," Dad said carefully. "The thing is-" He waggled his arms around as he tried to explain it. "It's power, being a time traveller and the Doctor's friend, it gives you all this power. And you know, power can corrupt, it can change you-"
"With great power comes great responsibilty," said Melody. "That's from Spider-Man."
"Yes! Exactly. So if you become a time traveller, if you become River- you'll have a lot of power and responsibility. And I know you can handle it, but I want you to be happy."
"That's what Mum always says."
"Well, it's true. We want that for all of you."
Melody idly bopped tiny zombies on her game. "What else is there?"
"What else were you gonna say?"
"Well...when you have all this power..." He twisted his hands around. "Basically, it's hard to let go of, and so if it's takenfrom you-"
"You're worried I'll become like Bizzaro Superman or something."
"It's okay. I won't go mental. I'll be careful. You know, if anything ever happens." On screen her character ducked and dodged zombies. And she smiled. "I promise. I'll be Spider-Man."
2026, Leadworth town, Earth
The Leadworth Heights shopping centre- something her mother, father, grandad and grandma had vigourously campaigned against- told pride of place in Leadworth where the golf course used to be. All the kids went to hang out there after school, and Melody, despite the objections of her mother, did too. Every afternoon the place was packed, and she'd sit with her friends outside HMV and listen to music, or talk about boys, or whatever. But today her friends had gone off with their boyfriends, or gone home to study, and she was alone.
Except for the blue box.
She'd been looking at it for half an hour, the TARDIS parked up outside Burger King. She'd been anticipating and dreading the moment when its owner turned up, mentally going over what she would say, if she'd say anything at all, if it would even be her Doctor. And she went into New Look and pretended to look at dresses, but with one eye on the outside, and finally he arrived. Two people did. A man in a leather jacket and a smiley blonde girl. The girl she didn't know. The man she did.
"Alright, Rose?" the Doctor asked the girl, his voice echoing right to Melody across the crowded mall. "Wanna wait around for yer mum, or can she find her own way back?"
Rose's response was lost in the noise of the people. Melody left the shop, got closer to them, and watched them stand outside the TARDIS, eyes only for each other. And holding hands. And then there was a hug, and then a kiss on the forehead.
It was the kiss that did it. Melody turned around and ran. She stalked out of the mall, through the gangs of bored teens, jealous, annoyed, thinking of someone else having something that was hers- it was like having a sibling claim a favourite toy-
When she crashed into the house Mum was sitting at her computer desk, hooked up by wires on an internet call, and she gave Melody a little wave as she came in. Then she saw her face, hit all the buttons, and spun round on her chair.
"Mels! What's the matter?"
"Yeah, totally nothing." Mum walked right up to her, concern on her face. "Was someone at school being a prick?"
"Did you see the Doctor?"
"Yeah," Melody muttered, not meeting her mother's eyes. "An old one."
"One who didn't know you?"
"The ninth one. The one who wore the leather jacket. He had this girl with him...they were all over each other."
"Some little blonde bimbo!"
"Don't call other women bimbos, Melody, she was just another-" Mum stared out of the window, and didn't finish the sentence. "Mels, you don't know him, not really."
"But I know him enough! And it didn't feel right."
The two of them sat in silence.
"He's not yours, Mels," Mum finally said, softly. "Everyone makes that mistake. He belongs to everyone."
"I don't even want him to be mine!"
"Well, there you go," Mum said. She stroked her daughter's hair. "Just remember..."
"...that nothing's written, yeah, I know." Melody took her diary, which was TARDIS-blue and mostly handmade, from her bag.
"I didn't know you kept a diary, Mels," Mum said. Melody tried to work out her expression, before she realised.
"This isn't the diary, it's just my diary."
"Fair enough," Mum said, in a slightly...offvoice.
Melody doodled 'Melody' on the front cover. And held it up for her to see. Mum smiled. Later on, though, she scribbled '2/3/26- saw ninth Doctor, and girl called Rose, in Leadworth Heights. Didn't see me.' And then she stashed it under her bed.
2027, Leadworth town, Earth
Fifteen-year-old Alec Pond stood in Leadworth town centre, far away from the noise of the shopping mall, near the duck pond. He had a cheeseburger from the McDonalds down the road, and he was throwing the more burgery parts to the ducks-
Alec knew the voice. "Doctor!" And his expression changed twice as he turned around: first he was delighted to see him, and then he remembered how he always brought news of Melody's future, and how one day he might well be bringing bad news... "What's going on?"
"Nothing," the Doctor said. "Just taking a stroll. I let your sister TARDIS-nap the TARDIS for a while. I mean," he took in Alec's confused face, "your sister when she's fifty, and going by River, instead of the sister you probably just came from. She wanted to nip back and see bits of her past. So I wandered round here for a bit." He grinned. "And ran into you!"
Alec thought about this. "Um."
"You look like your dad," the Doctor said cheerfully, taking a seat on a nearby bench. "Did I ever tell you, you look like your dad?"
"Um. Maybe. So you're not here for any bad reason?"
Alec watched as he petted the ducks. They seemed to like him for some reason. "Do Mum and Dad know you're here?"
The Doctor thought about it. "Don't think so."
Alec thought about going home and doing schoolwork, or going to the library, or any of the normal things he could be doing. "Hey," he said. "My mum and dad told me everything, yeah? About Mel, and her...being meant to be a weapon and her killing you and you messing with time and stuff."
"Yes," the Doctor said. "We agreed, me and your mum and your dad, that any kids of theirs would alwaysknow the truth. Always."
"And you tell them everything, right?"
There was a very tiny pause, which might have meant nothing. "Of course I do," the Doctor said. "Although I don't know how much it matters at this point. Your sister gets to choose what she does when she grows up. Just because there's a fifty-year-old River travelling with me now doesn't mean that there won't eventually be a fifty-year-old Melody who's an actress, or a policewoman, or a teacher, or a mad old cat lady..."
"All that stuff makes my head hurt."
"Think what it does to mine!" The Doctor ruffled Alec's hair. Alec, being a fifteen-year-old boy, quickly smoothed it back down again. "Don't worry. No! Do worry. But worry about exams and girls and acne and stuff. Not about your family. They'll be fine."
"I wasn't going to point it out," the Doctor said cheerfully, and walked away with a wave.
2028, Leadworth town, Earth
It had been a bad day. Bad week. The Doctor had promised to take them all out to the far-flung beaches of Woman Wept for toast, but hadn't shown up. Alec had broken up with his girlfriend of two months. Johnny had sprained his ankle playing football. And Grandad Augustus had died, at the age of eighty-one, of a heart attack. Which was definately the worst thing of all.
It was the first funeral Melody had ever attended, and she sat between her parents and wished the Doctor could at least have managed to show up this time. Toast and planets was one thing, but a funeral was another. And her mother was crying, which she hardly ever did...
Afterwards, once they'd returned home and changed out of their black clothes, Melody looked at her mother's sad face and demanded, "Where is he?"
"You mean the Doctor?" Dad asked, his arm around Mum's shoulders. "I don't know."
"He should've been here, this was important! How come he can just randomly drop in on Alec but he can't be arsed to come to Grandad's funeral?"
"I didn't ask him to come talk to me," Alec said crossly.
"Shut up, Alec, not about you. Mum, why didn't he come?"
"I don't know," Mum said firmly. "But I learned long ago, he can't always be there-"
"And you expect me to marry this guy!"
"No, we don't," Dad snapped. "Melody, haven't you been listening to anything we've told you ever? Your future's your own."
"No-one expects you to marry him, not us and sure as heck not the Doctor," Mum said.
Melody knew that really, she was just angry and lashing out, and unfortunately her next target was her mother. "You just stand up for him cos you cheated on Dad with him that one time!"
Mum's face turned red with anger, and Melody knew straight away she'd said something stupid, but she was a seventeen-year-old girl and a part of her didn't care. "Right, Mum?"
"That is enough," Dad said fiercely, standing up. At his full height he was a lot taller than Melody and she suddenly felt very small indeed. "We've told you everything, Melody, every mistake either of us ever made, because it was the right thing to do. We don't expect you to fling them back in our faces, ever, understand?"
Melody said nothing.
"Yeah," Melody whispered.
"Good," Dad said. "Go to your room."
Without a word, Melody did. She flung herself down on the bed and buried herself in pillows. Downstairs, Johnny turned to his mother.
"Whoa! You shagged the Doctor?"
"No," Mum said crossly. "I just kissed him and...tried to...take his clothes off. Before I married your dad. I'm not proud of it!"
"I would be," Johnny said, "nearly getting the most powerful thing in the universe laid-"
"Johnny, do you want to join your sister upstairs?" Dad cut in.
"Then be quiet."
Johnny was, which just left Alec. He turned the TV on and said, "You never mentioned to me any of these, uh, nocturnal activities."
"There's a time and a place!" Dad said. "Your mum told you her stories every night when you were little, how she kissed the Doctor the night before the wedding-"
"Yeah. Kissed. Not undressed."
"Oh my God," Mum said, "this may actually be the worst day of my life."
"It's not," said Alec. "We know it's not."
"Yeah, you're right," Mum said. And somehow those words got into everyone, even Melody upstairs listening. And suddenly everyone was okay again. Alec turned off the TV and went outside to play football with Johnny, Dad kissed Mum on the forehead and she kissed him back, and Melody tore a whole page out of her diary and wrote a letter of apology.
2029, Blackpool, Earth
"Want another ice cream?" the Doctor asked Amy. "I'm paying."
"Like you have any money."
The two of them watched Rory on the beach below, playing football with the kids. Amy put down the shopping bags the Doctor hadn't offered to carry. "So. Anything to report?"
"Even seenRiver at all recently?"
"Did you actually look for her?"
"Amy, you know how it works, I can't really do that."
"At least you found her when it mattered," Amy said. "Why didn't you turn up to my dad's funeral?"
Guilt crossed the Doctor's face. "Ah. Yeah. I wanted to. I really did. I mean, you know, in the sense anyone wants to go to a funeral. But...things happened. I tried."
"But our timelines are all over the place," Amy said, a little too accusingly. "You could have just gone back somehow and showed up."
"I think you could."
Amy gave up arguing. "Mels was upset."
"Tell her I'm sorry."
They both sat back, and Amy looked hard at her old friend. After all these years, he still looked the same, while she knew full well she didn't. "How come you never notice I'm getting old? And kinda wrinkly?"
The Doctor glanced at her. "You're not!"
"I'm not twenty-one anymore, though, am I?"
The Doctor fished out his screwdriver and ran it down her. "Thirty...seven?"
"Not so much The Legs now, am I?"
"You're always The Legs. No-one was ever leggier."
"Not the girl you're travelling with now?"
"More than one girl, and no."
Amy smiled. She waved down at Rory and he waved back. Melody was digging in the ground with a child's pink spade, looking for interesting things in the sand.
"Hey," Amy said, "when was the last time you saw River's diary?"
"I'm not allowed to look in River's diary, for obvious reasons."
"Yeah, but have you ever looked closely at the front cover? Did it have 'Melody' written on it in biro?"
The Doctor thought about it. "Don't know."
"Well, pay closer attention next time, yeah?"
She patted his hand and stood up, gathering up her bags and heading for the beach. The Doctor trailed behind her, and eventually he took one of the bags.
"Thank you," Amy said.
2031, Woman Wept
"This is a treat," the Doctor told Melody. "For your birthday." He flung open the TARDIS doors and glittering ice fields greeted her, a landscape beautiful and unearthly and, for the time being, hers. But she turned around and looked at her family.
"Go on," Mum said, and Melody walked out. She knew that she had been born on a far-flung asteroid, and that a future version of herself was even now running around distant worlds. She and Alec and Johnny had been to Mars when she was five, and to Space Florida when she was ten. But this particular holiday seemed more like an adventure, waiting to start...
She stepped out onto the ice.
"Who lives here?" she asked the Doctor.
"No-one does anymore. It's totally deserted. Couldn't take the conditions." Melody wasn't cold, but she knew that the TARDIS force-field was the reason for that. She stared out. "Why would people abandon such a beautiful place?"
"It happens all the time," the Doctor said gently.
Mum, Dad, Alec and Johnny came out. Johnny bounced around like a five-year-old, Alec was more stoic, and Mum and Dad looked...almost sad. Melody looked at them for a while before turning her attention back to the horizon.
"Have you taken River here?"
"You are River. I mean," Even he seemed to have difficulty working it out. "You know, next time I see River, she'll talk about this. Just as she sometimes tells me off for not attending her grandad's funeral."
Melody nodded. "God. I can't even imagine what it's like being you."
The Doctor laughed. Melody carefully made her way out beyond the force-field, into the cold. It was quiet. Even Alec and Johnny were quiet.
"Did you ever take any other girl here?" Melody asked.
"No," said the Doctor. "Fraid not."
Melody nodded and was distracted by a noise: behind her, Alec was strapping on some roller skates.
"Where did you get those?" the Doctor asked.
"I found them in your wardrobe-" Johnny was strapping some on over his holey socks. "Wanna skate?"
"Yes," said the Doctor. "Yes, that sounds quite fun." So for hours they skated round Woman Wept, Dad holding Mum, Mum sometimes holding Dad, and no-one offering to hold up Melody, because they knew she'd be cross if they did.
2037, Oxford, Earth
Melody Pond lay on a bed- her own bed, in her own flat- and read through her diary. It followed no pattern and the writing was scrawled, but she understood and remembered everything:
D. sorry for not attending Grandad's funeral, or Grandma's funeral, or Great Aunt Sharon's. Was saving Earth instead. Think I get it, he'll let me down, but he won't let the world down. And I think he doesn't like funerals. Especially his own, he mentioned once.
D. sat with me all night, explaining how I killed him and how he rewrote time itself so I wouldn't have to. Did he actually love River? I sometimes think he nearly did but didn't get a chance to before the world changed. Will he love me? I don't want to love someone just because I did once, some far off place and time, it's not right-
D. knows EVERYTHING about me. I mean, what I could be. And I like the idea of being River, of being something awesome and practically immortal, but at the same time...I have parents. And brothers. And friends. And he'll sure as heck be disappointed if he expects me to still be a virgin. What am I even on about...
D. doesn't know how I/River die/died? I thought that would be the sort of thing he would know. I'm too young to think about death...
And she was. Which was why she got off the bed and called her parents, asking how they were doing and how her brothers were doing and what was going on in Leadworth. Then when she put the phone down, she turned to her books on archeology, read them and made notes-
Then she heard the noise, and went to look out of the window.
The noise had followed her all her life, the noise like a world expanding- and now she didn't run down, she just watched. She watched the Doctor, and River, and a gang of people, mostly girls, exit the TARDIS. They hugged like old friends, all of them, and gradually the girls went on their way and River turned to the Doctor, and Melody heard it-
"I studied archeology here!"
"I know," the Doctor said cheerfully.
"Round this time! I could be here right now!"
"You may very well be!"
River looked around the sunny courtyard, not seeing the face in the window, and back to the Doctor. "Thank you for taking me here."
"You're very welcome."
"May we drop in back at London and see Alec and the baby, before the others get back? Johnny and my parents might be around too. I wanna enjoy being a aunt-"
"Certainly, Auntie River."
"To them, I'm Auntie Melody," Melody said with a wide smile, and flung open the doors of the time machine. The Doctor followed her. He glanced backwards before he did. The young Melody remained where she was, thought about time travel and life and death and happiness, and took her diary from a shelf.
EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY, she wrote on the first page.
And it was.