part of the plan

"So is that what you do, then?"

The Doctor jumps and whirls around, banging his hip against the console in the process. He winces, rubbing at the bone, but keeps his eyes fixed on the figure in front of him. She's leaning against the door, a familiar face with a familiar voice and all the wrong details. The gun leveled at his chest the biggest error of them all.

"What?" he finally manages, his throat tight as he looks her up and down - tight dress, boots, rebellious hair. Everything he expects, except her smile is bitter and frail.

"Drop in, turn a life upside down and then vanish?"

"River…" he starts, but she wrinkles her nose in disgust - "Not hardly." - and he knows it isn't her yet, even though she looks the same and sounds the same and holds herself the same. Even though her eyes are bright like his River's, they're colder.

"How did you find me?" he asks, burying the guilt as best he can.

"I looked," she says simply, though he imagines it was anything but. Melody adopts a mock-hurt expression and pouts, "You didn't answer my question."

Straightening slowly, he fixes his bow-tie out of habit and takes a few steps away from the console. "Yes," he admits softly. "That's usually the way it works."

She doesn't seem phased. "Fitting."

"You're angry."

Her eyes spark dangerously and her fingers tighten around the handle of the gun, but she doesn't move any closer. "You left me. I woke up expecting a new life and got more of the same."

"Not exactly the same."

"And that helps, does it?" she demands, "Comforts you after you abandon us, knowing that we'll never go back to the way things were before?"

He looks away, unable to meet her gaze. "No," he murmurs. "Nothing helps with that."

"Good," she snaps. "It shouldn't."

He winces, but he knows she's right; even if she's only saying it to hurt him, even if she doesn't know it yet, she's still right.

"Why are you here?" he asks, trying to keep his voice neutral and impassive.

She lifts a shoulder carelessly. "I've still got orders."

He raises his eyebrows. "You're here to kill me?"

"Well," she says, a teasing lilt to her tone. "The gun is loaded this time. I checked." She flashes him a look, a wicked combination of sexuality and anger. "Alas, that would be redundant," she says smartly, pushing off the door and moving toward the stairs, still keeping her aim fixed. "No. I'm here to make a deal."

"What kind of deal?"

"I've got information. Information you want. About the Silence. Kovarian." Her lips curl up, but it isn't a smile. "Lake Silencio."

"And what do you want in return?"

"A favour."

"What kind of favour?"

She laughs - "So suspicious!" - but it isn't a fond laugh, isn't an amused laugh; isn't her laugh for him that he expects; that he craves.

"Well, in all fairness, the last time I saw you you tried to kill me," he reminds her, bristling. "Multiple times."

"The last time I saw you, I risked my life to save yours and then you left me in a hospital in the middle of the Rexon Galaxy with no transport," she returns, pausing for effect. "Twenty-five years ago."

He takes a quick step back around the console, away from the gun. "Okay, okay, also a fair point." He points a finger at her briefly. "But I did it for your own good."

"Oh, well in that case I'll be sure to go back and tell myself that while Kovarian hunts me down like an animal. That'll make it all better, won't it, Doctor?" she sneers, but there's a touch of pain and fear that she can't hide, not from him. He tries to move closer - a hand reaching for her shoulder - but she steps back swiftly and levels the gun at his head. The Doctor retreats, arms up for a moment, before turning to the side to fiddle with the TARDIS controls.

"You seem to be doing okay," he says stiffly, sneaking glances at her out of the corner of his eye.

"No thanks to you."

The Doctor inhales sharply, her words direct and brutal. He wants to ask - wants to know what's happened to her, where she's been, how close she is to becoming the woman he can't help but see every time he looks at her; but she isn't ready yet, he knows.

"So you still go by Melody, then," he remarks, almost conversationally.

She glares. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Just curious," he shrugs, then turns back to her with a slight whirl and a flat smile. "You said something about a favour."

"I want answers. Real answers," she emphasises, "not diversions or lies."

"What kind of answers?"

She hesitates suddenly, faltering, stumbling over her own thoughts and her own decisions; the repercussions she knows could come if they ever found out. She wasn't expecting him to concede so quickly, he realises; wasn't expecting him to help at all.

"Melody," the Doctor says gently, stepping toward her again, voice low and comforting, stance unthreatening. "What kind of answers?"

"About what I am," she says finally, tartly, daring him to rebuke her. There's a quiver in her voice, a tell, and he can only imagine what fury her questions used to provoke.

"They didn't tell you?"

"Pieces," she admits, but doesn't elaborate. "You said I was a child of the TARDIS. What does that mean?"

"Part of your DNA is made up of the Time Vortex," he says, punching in commands on the typewriter to pull up information on the screen. "The heart and soul of the TARDIS."

Melody watches him intently, peering at the DNA sequence and binary cardiovascular system on the scanner. "Yes, I gathered that, but what does it mean?"

"I don't know," he says honestly, "Not yet, anyway."

She pauses, scrutinizing him. "But you'll help me find out."

"Yes. Yes, I will."

"Good. So we have a deal."

"Not exactly."

" 'Not exactly?' " she repeats, bottled anger seeping into her tone.

"I'll tell you everything you want to know," he says quickly, "about the Time Lords, about your past. Everything I can safely tell you without, you know…ripping a hole in the universe." He scratches his cheek nervously. "Did that once, not so pleasant. Besides, I already have the information you're offering."

"Then what do you want?"

"I want you to stay. Travel with me."

She laughs harshly. "You're joking."

The Doctor stares at her calmly, waiting. He can almost see the proposal, caught in a net in her mind, something she can't quite reach, can't quite understand.

"You're not joking," she says slowly, moving to circle him. He follows her every step. "Why?"

He shrugs. "Why not? You want to know about being a Time Lord, I'm the last one. Except for you, of course, but you're only half - well, part - well, maybe more than that, don't really know yet, do we? Anyway, you won't find the answers you're looking for in books or fairy tales and frankly it's too much information to discuss over chips - though, we could get chips if you want-" Melody glares at him heatedly, and he trips backwards over his feet to keep distance between them. "You…probably don't eat chips, no time for chips, lots of Doctor hunting and-" She cocks the hammer on the gun and he swallows. "Right. Well then! Straight to the point, I guess: who better to learn from than the last living Time Lord, eh?"

He tries to look suave and confident, held captive in his TARDIS by a woman who looks like his lover but isn't, who should know him like a friend but doesn't. But there must be something, in his gestures or his words or his face because she doesn't move, hardly even looks like she's breathing as she studies him.

"And what do you get out of this arrangement? Travelling with your killer, not exactly a solid plan."

His eyes soften. "You're not a killer, River-"

"Melody," she snaps.

He nods, relenting. "Melody."

She arches an eyebrow. "Well?"

"I get to help you," he says, a sad smile tugging at this eyes. "Like I couldn't when you were young."

Melody blinks at him in surprise. "Redemption?"

"Of a sort."

"That hardly seems like an equal trade," she muses.

He shakes his head; murmurs, "Only because you don't know me yet."

Melody frowns, but doesn't ask what he means, what he's thinking of, and the Doctor doesn't tell her, doesn't admit how hard this will be for him now; how hard it was for her then.

"So!" He claps his hands and twirls around, showing off the console. "What'd you say? All of time and space?" He grins broadly and the TARDIS hums and Melody looks around jerkily, trying to ascertain the source of the noise. The TARDIS falters, an almost imperceptible sadness in her sounds. It's okay, dear, he wants to say, She just doesn't know you yet.

"I… this isn't part of the plan," Melody says flatly, trying to mask her insecurity.

The Doctor waves a hand around in the air. "Plans are rubbish, never go right, always missing something. Spontaneity! Now, that's the key." He catches her eye knowingly. "Taking the opportunities that present themselves."

He watches her deliberate, glancing quickly between him and the door; her escape. "What about Amy and Rory?"

"They're back in Leadworth."

"Convenient," she murmurs, more to herself than to him. The Doctor smirks, and she frowns. "Or not so convenient." He smiles broadly, and Melody huffs in annoyance. "You knew I was coming. How?"

"I'm 958 years old," he says, paying far too much attention to the scanner. "I outlive everyone. I leave everyone. But I don't forget them, Melody, I never, ever forget them."

She nods slowly, realisation dawning. "You've been following me."

He looks over his shoulder at her. "Does that upset you?"

"I…I don't know," she admits, and he tilts his head in understanding, then reminds her:

"You still haven't answered my question."

"How do I know this isn't a trap?"

"Think about it. You know more about me than anyone else in the universe. You're also incredibly conditioned and well trained for military situations." He watches her closely. "Does it feel like a trap?"

She considers his words for a long, long moment. "If you're lying…" she warns, dark and terrifying to anyone else, but he merely shrugs and returns,

"I'm always lying."

"Hmm. Rule one," she concedes, then asks: "How do I know I can trust you?"

"You don't. You'll have to learn it."

She nods, seeming to accept that answer. He tries not to hold his breath, tries to look calm and confident, but so much is riding on her answer, on his answers, his actions, that be can barely find the strength to move. He waits, expecting more suspicion, but she surprises him.

"How do you know you can trust me?"

Her voice is soft, almost shaking, and he smiles softly and looks her straight in the eye.

"I don't," he murmurs. "But it's worth the risk."

Melody inhales sharply, his words almost too perfect, too much what she needed to hear. Too much sudden faith. The Doctor waves his arm grandly around the room. "So. Where to first?"

She scoffs, but it lacks the hostility she arrived with. "You're so convinced I'm staying."

He nods to her hand, dangling loosely at her side. "You lowered your gun three minutes ago."

"I-" she starts to protest, then purses her lips and smirks. "Cheeky."

Unable to help himself, he reaches out and taps her nose lightly. "That's just the beginning," he says, and it feels like a promise.

"I don't know anything about the Silence," she says abruptly, then winces at the slip. She waits for his anger, for some sort of repulsion or resentment; but the Doctor only leans into her, lips near her ear.

"I know," he whispers. "Neither do I."

When he pulls back he's smiling, just a light tug at the corners of his mouth. His eyes are bright, almost joyous, and she rolls her eyes in exasperation.

"I hate you," she mutters, finally tucking her weapon into its holster.

"Oh, Melody," he grins, pulling a lever and shocking the TARDIS into motion. "You really, really don't."