He stared at the woman in front of him, not quite able to believe his ears. Or his eyes. Or...
It was all moving a bit too fast. Actually, way, way too fast.
He couldn't abandon the infant of a few minutes ago. The warm weight of her still lay in his arms, her skin, soft and new beneath his lips as he kissed her downy head, the sweet milky smell of her surrounding him.
His Melody. His baby. His daughter.
Not this woman, fully grown.
And definitely not... absolutely positively not... Because it simply couldn't be made to make sense...
Fortunately, River moved first or they probably would have stood there for eternity. Smiling a strange sort of half-smile which seemed to offer understanding and a forgiveness he was certain he didn't deserve, she glanced from him to Amy and back again. "Right, then," she said after a moment, though it came out more whisper than words. "Let's get you home. Hold onto each other," she warned. He wrapped his arms around Amy. River laid her hand on his arm, fingers curling around his forearm, and even that touch felt vaguely wrong somehow, almost an invasion, as though contact proved the truth of her existence.
It was over in a moment, though. A flash of light, the universe shifted around them, and they were standing outside their small flat in Leadworth. River dropped her hand as soon as the world had stabilized, and the loss of touch was almost physically painful. She nodded to Amy. "You need to get her inside," she observed.
He glanced at his wife. Amy was in far worse shock than he was. He nodded. "Yes." River stepped back, and he had gripped her forearm before realizing he had planned to do so. "River... Will we... When... Will you be back?"
"Soon." She glanced at Amy and smiled that same, sad smile. "And try not to worry... Father. Please. She really will be okay. I promise."
Then, in a moment so brief he might almost have imagined it, her glance shifted over his shoulder, her smile growing almost imperceptibly wider beneath eyes sparkling with amusement. And that's when he saw it. Because for that second, she was River again... and something more. Because he'd seen that expression nearly every day for the past thirteen years.
And how could he possibly have missed it before?
Amy's smile. On River's face.
"River... I..." Only he couldn't quite say it. It was still too far a leap.
"It's okay," she said, her smile unwavering. "I know. Believe me. I know." And then, extricating herself from his grasp and pressing the buttons on her wrist, with a flash of white lightening, she was gone.
So intent were they on River's departure that they failed to hear the sound of footsteps behind them until her voice announced her presence. "Rory?" He and Amy spun around. "Where on earth have you guys been? Everyone's been looking all over for you. You've been gone nearly a week."
"Oh. Uh... Hi, Mels," he said, waving to their friend as she approached up the front walk. "We've been... Busy?" he managed to finish. Lamely.
It was that sort of day.
She arched an eyebrow. "Busy? Doing what?" But then she seemed to notice Amy standing next to him. "Hey, you okay?" she asked her.
Amy nodded. "Yeah. I'm... fine."
Mels' eyes narrowed. "No. You're not. If you were, you wouldn't be caught dead wearing that," she said, indicating Amy's clothes. Then, pulling out her spare key and unlocking their door, she continued, "Now, let's get you two inside and you can tell me all about it."
Sometime later, after he and Amy had showered and changed, sitting on the sofa halfway through their second cups of tea, Amy finally finished catching Mels up on the events of the last few months.
"So... what you're saying is... I missed him. Again," Mels concluded.
"Yes. But he'll be back," Amy assured her. Then, glancing at him for confirmation, she continued, "He's promised to find our baby."
Mels paused, looking carefully at Amy for a minute before speaking. "But... what if he doesn't?" she asked.
"He will," Amy answered with far more confidence than Rory himself felt.
"Yes. But what if he doesn't?" Mels repeated. "I mean... don't get me wrong... But does it really matter?" He could see Amy getting visibly upset. Obviously Mels could too, because she quickly continued, "What I mean is, from what you've said, it's not like you even knew you were pregnant. Not really. And you only had her, even counting her Flesh whats-it-called, for a couple of days. So can't you just... I dunno..." Mels paused and dropped her gaze. She kicked the leg of the sofa table with one leather booted toe a few times before looking back up at Amy. Her voice, when she continued, was more quietly serious than Rory could ever remember hearing it. "Get over it? Have another baby or something? You know... Go on?"
Amy choked back a sob, and for a moment, Rory thought maybe she really was finally going to cry.
In obvious dismay at what she'd done, Mels grabbed for Amy's hands. "Oh... Amy... I'm so sorry. I didn't mean... I was just trying to help."
Despite the tears filling her eyes, Amy managed a weak smile and squeezed her friend's hands. "No. It's okay, Mels. You're not a mother. You've never... " Her voice trailed off and she took a deep breath before continuing. "It just doesn't work like that. Even if I had ten more children... Even if I'd never even met her... She'd still be mine." She looked up at Rory before looking back at Mels. "Ours. And I'd want to change every dirty nappie, and wash every bottle. And the thought of missing her first step... or her first word... Or even her first day of school or first date or..." Her voice broke off on a sob and, this time, as Mels threw her arms around her and held her close, Amy really did, finally, cry.
After a few minutes, the friends separated. "Thanks, Mels," Amy said as Mels offered her a tissue from off the sofa table.
"No big deal," Mels said, giving Amy a sad little smile that, for just an instant, Rory almost – but not quite – thought he recognized from somewhere. "Feel better?"
Amy chuckled without amusement as she dried her eyes. "Honestly? No. And I don't think I will until he brings her home."
"You mean the Doctor, right?" Mels asked, her old familiar and oddly curious expression suddenly back in place.
"Yes," Amy nodded.
"You'll let me know if... when... he does, though? This time?"
Amy nodded again. "Yeah. Sure. If he sticks around long enough, of course. You know him..."
Mels smiled. "Good. Cause, you know, I'm dying to meet him."