"And a last time."
The first tears came as the TARDIS finally faded from sight with a mournful whine of brakes left on. She dashed them angrily from her eyes. This wasn't the end. She would see him again, because he still knew her. Even if he didn't know everything.
Even if he didn't know anything. She slammed her cell door closed and rested her head against the bars.
As expected, an alarm went off. Lights started flashing, klaxons started screaming, and footsteps thundered down the corridor to this most notorious of cells.
River didn't move.
"Doctor Song! You're back!"
She raised her head. This first member of staff to reach her was familiar, one of the younger guards. She'd got past him before and would probably do so again. Poor lad.
"Yes I am," she confirmed. "Nice to see you again."
"You're – you're crying," he said, confused.
She snorted. "Am I, now."
But his superior arrived at that moment, and the young man stepped back.
"Doctor Song!" the officer snarled.
"Yes, I'm back," she sighed. "You should be used to it by now."
"A prisoner who comes and goes as they please, and yet doesn't try to escape her sentence?" he sneered.
She quirked her lips into a smirk, finally stepping back to survey the belligerent man. "I'd suggest you just accept it, Officer. It's much easier."
He blanched. "You're crying."
She resisted the temptation to wipe her eyes again. "And your point is?"
A pause as he regained his composure. "You're not going to tell us anything, are you?"
"Have I ever?"
Naturally that didn't stop him trying to interrogate her through the bars of her cell. It didn't stop him searching through the CCTV records and the security archives to check for any evidence of her departure and subsequent return. It didn't stop them finally gathering courage to drag the dangerous criminal off to a proper interrogation room, frisking her, submitting her to various scans and combing her cell for anything suspicious. As if she or the Doctor would have been stupid enough to leave any evidence.
At some point, the tears dried up as she focused on these stupid men rather than her Doctor. But that young guard, Ollivers, she thought his name might be, kept staring at her as though she were a bomb waiting to go off.
Finally, she was returned to her cell and the contingent of gaolers dispersed, leaving only Ollivers to stare at her.
"You never cry," he blurted out.
By now she was sitting on her bed, feet up, head leaning against the cool concrete wall. "Evidently I do. I wouldn't worry about it, I'm hardly the first prisoner to go a little mad."
"Ollivers," she sighed. "Would you leave me in peace? I've just come back; I'm hardly likely to leave again tonight."
She saw the dilemma in his eyes. Trusting her was never a sensible idea, and he was likely curious—the poor lad had suffered much at her tongue and this vulnerability was new and confusing to him. On the other hand, what man really knows what to do with a crying woman?
Eventually, he nodded and turned on his heel, to wherever it was that he would rather spend his evening, leaving River finally, gloriously alone. She kicked off her shoes, flinging them carelessly across the small space to be picked up tomorrow. Keeping tidy was important in such a confined area, but she decided that she deserved a little laxity today of all days. How could she be expected to take an interest in neatness when on her lips lingered the taste of her very last kiss?
Another traitorous tear blurred her vision, and were she anyone else, she might have been distracted enough to miss the subdued whirlwind that spun up from nowhere.
Somewhere outside of time, the TARDIS drifted away from a 51st century hospital, leaving the newly regenerated River - or Mels, or even Melody, Rory supposed - to make her own way. Amy was not entirely pleased with this decision. Whether this woman was her best friend, her daughter or even just the woman who had sacrificed untold lives for the Doctor, she would rather have kept her with them. The Doctor, however, would not be moved.
Rory had settled on being confused. "I don't get it," he declared for the fifth time.
"Rory! Yes, she's your daughter, no, I don't know how she got to Leadworth, no, I don't know whether she was planted there or went of her own free will, no, I don't know how many times she's regenerated before, yes, Amy unwittingly named her after herself, yes, she's going to kill someone, no, I'm not entirely sure who. Does that cover it?" the Doctor asked, exasperated. Had Amy been in a better mood, she might have called him Mr. Grumpy Face again.
But Rory shook his head. "No, I get all that. That's... well, really confusing, but whatever. No, I mean, in Utah in 1969, River told me that your timelines were back to front. Your firsts were her lasts, she said. But that was obviously the first time she's met you, but you've still got loads to go, haven't you?"
Amy frowned from her seat on the other side of the console. "What?"
"Yes, what?" echoed the Doctor.
Rory sighed. "Look, for you, in Utah, that was near the beginning, right?"
"Well, River said that it was like the two of you were going back to front. So that was near the end for her. And..."
"Her lasts are my firsts," he finished, and there was an odd sort of weight to his voice that Rory didn't understand.
Amy stood, dragged into being curious. "But Mels never met you. She was so pissed off when she missed the Prisoner Zero thing—she was in jail again. And—Oh my God, Rory, we let her commit all those crimes!"
"You did tell her off," he offered. "And I got sort of disapproving."
"Not important!" the Doctor burst in. "River thought that we were back to front?"
"That's what I've been trying to-"
"Then let's go and tell her she's wrong, shall we?" He grinned.
Amy started to smile. "You mean we can go and get her?"
"No, no, no, no, no, Pond. I mean we can go and visit her back in Stormcage just after we dropped her off after 1969, and-" He flicked a lever with an elaborate flourish of the wrist. "Let's cheer her up a bit."
And although Rory felt obligated as her father to wonder exactly what 'cheering her up' was going to entail, he couldn't deny that if it meant seeing his daughter again, he would follow the Doctor pretty much anywhere.
The brakes were off, the shields were up, and the outer shell was cloaked as the TARDIS landed directly inside the cell of one Dr. River Song. As the Doctor poked his head out the doors, the one thing he didn't expect was to find River leaning casually against the side of the TARDIS, looking for all the world as if she had been expecting him.
"Hello sweetie," she purred.
"River Song! You are never going to guess who we just met!" he said.
She quirked an eyebrow. "Gandhi."
"No, met him last body, lovely guy—" he reminisced.
"No, but that was a funny story, did you know I was the inspiration for—"
"Elizabeth the Tenth."
"Ooh, haven't you met her yet?" he teased. "But no, no, we met—"
"The Face of Boe?"
"He's everywhere, that's not noteworthy. Actually, better keep you away from him, that could be a scary combination…" He shuddered to think of Jack and River in the same galaxy.
Suddenly, Amy pushed her way past the Doctor and enveloped River in a hug. "What this idiot is trying to say is that he just met Mels in a cornfield just outside Leadworth."
"You've done Berlin?" River asked, now looking at the Doctor even as she hugged Amy back.
He saw that little bit of fear in her eyes and nodded. "Thank you—"
"I am so sorry!" Amy burst in. "We just left you there in that hospital, and you'd just saved him and you didn't have anywhere to go, and—"
"But you had to!" River argued, pulling back to look her in the eye. "You had to leave me so I could think it over, so I could re-evaluate everything I'd ever known, and work out for myself just how good he is."
The Doctor felt like he should say something, possibly to protest modestly, but Amy got in there first.
"Oh, stop making it all logical," she grumbled. "You're my little girl, and I'm never going to be happy about leaving you behind."
River smiled sadly. "So long as you know that I am your little girl."
"That's not fair," Rory said quietly, and everyone stopped to look at him, standing by the bars of her cell. The Doctor saw River glancing down to his thighs where he had wiped off the blood from her last body.
"No. I'm sorry," she said.
He moved forward, less openly comfortable with her than Amy. "That's alright. Just… we do love you," he said with a frankness that the Doctor really quite envied. "And even when we don't know who you are, remember that. You're still our daughter, whether you're Melody Pond or River Song."
"Or Mels, Leadworth's resident psychopath," Amy finished. "Seriously, I still cannot believe you stole a bus."
Just like that, the gravity was lost and River laughed. "True, the Chevrolet was prettier."
"Actually, that sort of raises a question…" Rory mused.
"Oh, not again," the Doctor complained, flinging himself onto River's bed. Fairly comfy, for a prison bed, he noted.
"Do we have to?" Amy asked. "Do we really have to do all the questions and spoilers and all that right now?"
"No, it's just, um, well, I was wondering about…" Rory stumbled. "When you were Mels, growing up with us, and hanging about with Amy with all her stories about the Doctor…"
River sighed. "I pitied you," she admitted. "I saw that you thought he was good, and I thought that he'd manipulated you. That he'd lied."
Her eyes were fixed on the Doctor as she said this.
"But you still liked us," Amy said.
"Of course I did!" River insisted. "I loved you so much. I know I abandoned you in Berlin, but—"
"You reverted," the Doctor finished quietly, now sitting up to look up at her. "All those years building up to this moment, all that training, it kicked in with a vengeance. The only type of warfare I didn't understand, the cruellest type of warfare, and all levelled at me."
She turned tormented eyes on him. "Doctor…"
He stood to face her. "You know I forgive you," he said with gentle certainty.
She smiled at her Doctor. He smiled at his River.
Rory cleared his throat.
"Ah, yes, that reminds me—I am very disappointed in you, River Song," the Doctor declared. "A converse linear time stream? That's rubbish, why on earth did you believe that?"
River laughed in disbelief. "You mean it's not?"
"Of course it's not!"
"Well, that's the way it's been going, particularly recently—"
"Yes, well, I've just done Utah, Demon's Run and Berlin in quick succession. Now, I may not know exactly where the first two come in for you, but surely that's enough to tell you that we are most certainly not back to front."
Nevertheless, she still looked disappointed. "You're still that early?"
He rounded on her. "Who are you calling early? Because I promise you this: you've got a long way to go yet."
And now she was glaring at him. "Spoilers?" she reminded him.
He sauntered towards her. "But that's not a spoiler. That's just a fact that you should have known."
They were inches away from each other. He could feel the heat of her body, not quite as warm as an average human.
"Oh, should I?" she asked archly.
"Most definitely," he murmured.
"Er, are you two finished? Or shall we leave you to it?" Amy asked dryly.
The Doctor coughed slightly, but he saw River meet her mother's eyes and wink. Wink!
Amy shook her head disbelievingly. "I was actually joking, but fine! We'll be in the TARDIS. And I fully expect to spend some time with my daughter before we leave. Or better yet, you can come with us."
River shook her head sadly, now stepping back a little. "I can't."
"It is a time machine," Rory pointed out.
But River only smiled. "You'll understand one day. Dad."
Rory raised an eyebrow. "Somehow, I find it difficult to believe you call me Dad on a regular basis." The Doctor had to agree.
"True," she smirked. "But it's great for getting my way."
She raised her arms to him and, after a half-second, he stepped into her embrace and held her tightly. It was rather lovely, or so thought the Doctor, until he remembered that Rory was potentially his father-in-law and in possession of a sword and the knowledge of how to use it. This feeling was not helped by River saying, "We'll be in soon. Or soonish."
Indeed, Rory did seem to be controlling the urge to glare at the Doctor. "Permission?" the latter asked weakly.
River giggled and Amy grabbed Rory. "We're out of here," she said. "Just don't get caught, yeah?" she advised the Doctor.
"Do I ever?" he asked indignantly, even as River said, "I'll take care of him."
Somehow, he wasn't offended by that.
Once Amy and Rory were safely ensconced in the TARDIS, he turned to River once again. "Thank you," he told her, now that Amy wasn't there to interrupt.
She smiled. "I'd do it again."
"Don't," he said, and tried not to remember that she would, anyway.
And lo and behold, she only said, "We'll see."
In the time that passed before River and the Doctor came back, Amy managed to make herself and Rory some pasta, despite mistaking the alien potato gravy stuff for tomato puree once or twice, eat it and a bowl of mint ice cream, watch the twenty second century remake of the sixth Harry Potter film on holovid and get Rory to help give her a mani-pedi.
"What do you think they're up to?" she mused as she shook her crimson-tipped fingers.
"I really don't want to know," Rory said, screwing the top on to the third bottle that Amy had left open.
"No, I mean it's a prison. A high-security prison. Don't you think someone would've noticed him by now? On CCTV or something? How do they get round that?"
"Personally, I reckon River shot the cameras," Rory muttered. "You know, where did she get those guns in Leadworth? Or did she just keep them from wherever she was before?"
Amy frowned. "Probably. Look, can we not talk about that sort of thing right now? I prefer thinking about her like she was just our dysfunctional best friend, not some trained ninja."
"But she is a trained ninja," Rory pointed out. "A trained, not-quite-human ninja who's probably married to your imaginary friend."
"We are so messed up," Amy sighed.
"Yeah," agreed Rory. "Want to watch the next one?"
"Yeah, alright then," she said and settled down as he found the relevant file on the hard disc equivalent thingy that she didn't understand properly.
As it happened, Rory was asleep by the time that Harry and Hermione had got to Godric's Hollow, and Amy hit the mute button on the remote – that one, she could recognise. Her husband shifted slightly as she got up to leave, but she knew that he was exhausted and would probably sleep for ten straight hours unless they crashed, leaving her free to wander the TARDIS.
Amy quite enjoyed wandering round the TARDIS. It was like some mad game of guessing what each room was for; bedrooms and kitchens were easy, but there were science-y labs and observatories and really odd unidentifiable rooms too. She also got the feeling that the TARDIS played along, leading her down corridors that she was quite sure hadn't been there before. Tonight, though, she found herself entering the console room from one of the higher levels when she was fairly certain she should have been somewhere near the tennis courts.
She was about to turn around and leave again when she saw the scanner, the big one built into the wall, flicker to life. The picture that appeared would probably have caused Rory to faint, or else run and get his sword, but Amy just grinned at the sight of her daughter and her best mate curled up together in River's bed. She was asleep, but the Doctor was awake and had his head propped up on his hand, looking down at her for all the world as if he'd never seen anything so precious. His arm was bare, she noticed, holding her protectively to him, but of River she could only see from the neck up, and anyway, it didn't really matter. Hadn't she always thought that River was the Doctor's wife?
"Good on you, girl," she murmured, just as she saw the Doctor lean down to kiss River's hair. "Welcome to the Pond family," she whispered to him.