an: see part one
in your place there were a thousand other faces
The Doctor dies on the hot sand by a still lakeside, afraid and mostly alone. She strikes him down, solid and unflinching, then disappears into the breeze with a crackle and spark.
There isn't an astronaut this time around.
They never needed one.
"I want you to take her," he says, running a hand gently over the cloister bell. The TARDIS hums in protest, and Melody shakes her head.
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"It's a brilliant idea," he counters, "All my ideas are brilliant. Well. Except for that one with the lightening bug and the King's china cabinet." He scratches his cheek hastily. "That didn't go well. But otherwise-!"
He sends them into the Vortex effortlessly, then grabs her hand and tugs her in front of him, between his chest and the console, holding her wrists lightly as he whispers in her ear the way to move and where to stand and how to guide her.
"Close your eyes," he says, moving her with him around the console. "Let her tell you."
"She hates me."
"Nah," he murmurs, waving her off, "She doesn't. She never could. Just give her time to get to know you. This you."
"Close your eyes," he insists. His breath against her neck makes her shudder, and her eyes shut involuntarily. "You're her daughter," he murmurs, his fingers stroking lightly over her skin. "Let her see you."
She stops running from him and instead runs with him and the years blow by like papers in the wind. They run together and fall together and in between she learns the pattern of the stars, at any where and when.
"You and me," he always says, "Time and space."
If it feels unfinished, she never dares ask why.
It presses around her tightly, burning her skin and weighting the air. The TARDIS grieves and she feels every moment of it, the anger and the hatred and the guilt. I created you, she whispers harshly. I created you and you betrayed me. Will betray me. Are betraying me.
"I'm sorry," she gasps, legs giving out at the bottom of the stairs, clinging to the railing as the room seems to drain of oxygen and light. "I'm so sorry." A mantra she repeats, over and over; tears burn her eyes but never fall and the TARDIS is screaming inside her head, a lover's wail, a mother's cry, a sister's bitter silence. Everywhere and anywhere all at once, the TARDIS grieves and her child clings to the frozen rail, knees against her chest as she tries and tries to cry.
"I'm sorry," she whispers, her voice cracked and longing. "I'm so, so sorry."
The TARDIS refuses to answer.
She hates that he doesn't blame her. That he can stand to be in the same room with her and hold her and kiss her and make her believe even for a moment that everything will work out for the best. She hates that she lets him, hates herself for holding fast to his forgiveness instead of shaking him off like she's been trained, like she's been told. She hates that he understands. That she doesn't.
But most of all, she hates that there's enough of some other self in her for him to love, but not enough to save him; not enough to rewrite their ending.
She abandons the TARDIS in a back alley in the 1920s and returns to prison to pay her penance. She stares at the grey walls and the grey clothes and the grey sky out her little, grey window and lets the days roll by; days, and days, and days, and days that turn into months and years, and days that never came.
She's waiting, she knows; absently, she understands the unsettled feeling in her chest and recognises for what it is. But she knows, believes with all her might that there is no hope.
The Doctor is dead.
Time was rewritten.
She counts the cracks in her grey ceiling and doesn't sleep for fear of better dreams that she doesn't deserve.
"What I am supposed to do," she asks quietly, "after you're gone?"
The Doctor smiles and brushes his palm up and down her arm in firm, soothing strokes. "You can do anything you want," he says, tightening his other arm around her bare waist. "Travel the universe, settle down, become a supermodel, take up archaeology."
She snorts derisively. "Archaeology?"
He shrugs; the motion brings her shoulder blades closer to his chest, warmth seeping into her bones. "Apparently it's a profession."
He laughs at that, pressing his lips into her hair. "That's what I always say."
She's a murderer. A thief. The woman who killed the Doctor. She brings fear and fire and destruction, and everyone who knows the name Melody Pond either cowers or applauds in her presence, so she stops using it. It was a tool, once; now it feels like a heavy stone weighted to her breast. Dragging her down. Dragging her under.
She stops using a name - her given title too scarred, and his name for her to precious to be spoken by other tongues. She keeps it close, secret, guarding it like she would a child.
She becomes no one, drifting.
Every so often, she escapes just to breathe real air and feel the sun against her throat and eyelids. Sometimes she finds herself helping someone, a child or a village or a planet. She doesn't always win, and she isn't always fair, but her shoulders feel lighter at the end, and the universe, confused, begins to whisper of her deeds.
The Doctor dies, and the woman who isn't quite the one he loved the first time places a gentle kiss to his forehead and lets her tears smooth the roughness from his face.
In a fairytale, the love and salt against his skin would revive him; a simple act followed by a miracle, and a kiss to keep up appearances. In a fairytale, they would disappear together, forever, happily ever after.
In a fairytale, she never would have loved him at all.
She burns his body without being told, then disappears, the air off the water parting molecule by molecule to let her through, like a crowd making way for the bereaved.
Her eyes sting and her lungs are tight and the Doctor grips her hand tight enough to bruise. "It wa-" she tries, "It wasn't my fault."
He nods solemnly. "I know."
She shakes her head and grabs at the collar of her shirt, tugging it away from her throat. "It wasn't our fault."
"We couldn't- we couldn't do any-we were too late, we were- we weren't-"
The Doctor moves closer on the stair and presses his leg to hers. "I know," he murmurs. His eyes are damp.
She stares at him desperately. "Then why-?"
He smiles at her sadly, brushing his thumb back and forth over her pulse point, as if to reassure himself she's still there; still breathing. "Regret," he says simply, but the guilt and heartache in his eyes belay his murmured tone.
She shakes her head, almost frantic. "I don't understand. I don't-" She laughs shortly, hysterical. "Why do I care?"
As if unable to stand the distance a moment longer, he pulls her into his arms, hands on her hips and elbows and in her hair, everywhere he can reach.
On a breathless whisper: "Why do I care?"
"Because if we didn't," he replies, voice quivering under the strain, "we'd be like them."
She saves an innocent man from the wrath of a guilty king, half-unintentionally and half because it makes no sense not to. The man is old and wise and the king is brutal and young, and she saves them both with sharp words and a sharp lesson and a screwdriver that fits perfectly in her hand.
Per his request, she informs a woman with red hair that the Doctor is dead past the age of 1103, and that she should not expect him. She does so flatly, without trace of emotion or remorse, standing on the porch of a familiar house in a tiny village.
There is ivy everywhere.
The woman barely reacts, as if she'd known before hand; as if it were foretold.
Melody turns to leave, and for the first time the woman speaks. "You were our daughter."
Looking over her shoulder, she nods briefly - "I know." - before surrendering herself to atoms.
"Don't do this," she says, her voice hard and high and sharp to keep from begging. "There has to be another way."
He shakes his head, sadness and regret hallowing out her hope. "It's a fixed point. This always happens."
She grabs his arm and holds fast and refuses to let go despite the gentlest of reassurances. "It didn't the first time," she insists. "Something changed. Something we haven't thought of. Something-" Her fingers tighten around his wrist. "I won't let you do this."
The Doctor rests a hand gently on her shoulder. "This is where it starts. In this version of reality, this is where it starts. My death is our beginning. You and me." He smiles wistfully. "Time and space."
She shakes her head. "It's not worth it. Not your life. I know that now."
"Doctor," she says firmly. "I know that." Her hand finds its way to his elbow, drawing him closer. "Time can be rewritten."
Crooking a finger under her chin, he forces her to meet his gaze. "Don't you dare."
Her voice breaks. "I can't-" She takes a deep breath. "I can't do this without you."
"You, Melody Pond - River Song, you, can do absolutely anything. You don't need me." He presses his lips to her forehead. "You will be amazing. You already are." And then, hushed: "My River."
Her arms wind around him like a vice. "Why do you have to be so brave?"
He chuckles and tangles his fingers in her hair. "I'm not brave."
She shakes her head against his chest. "You're the bravest man I know."
It's almost an accident when she saves the world.
She's in the right place at the right time, fighting the right enemy with the right weapons, or at least that's what she tells herself. She saves the world with a few stun grenades and a screwdriver and a plan that no one else understands entirely. But she's smart and she's confident so they follow her motions and the world is saved and someone else takes the credit when she disappears into the night.
It's almost an accident when she saves the world the first time; after the third go around, it's harder to convince herself she isn't doing it on purpose.
The TARDIS comes to her.
Unexpected and unasked, it appears as her savior, enfolding her frozen body in warmth and light. It takes her a long moment to understand as the snow beneath her turns to glass and the ice on her hands and lips begins to melt. She trails water to the console, dragging herself up the stairs by her arms. There's a blanket on the chair that she pulls around her frame with trembling hands, but she isn't afraid. The TARDIS is whispering, home and safe and child.
Forgiven, is what she thinks she hears, as her eyes slip shut. Always forgiven.
"It's okay," he whispers, "It's okay. You'll see me again. We never meet in the right order, River. There's plenty of me you haven't seen yet. And oh, how we'll run. We'll run so far, River. You and me."
"Time and space," she whispers.
He kisses her fiercely to smother the lie.
Every linear year, she returns to the silence of the lake and places a single, purple flower on the sand.
"What is your name?" the father asks, "So I may tell my children of your kindness."
She shakes her head, but the man insists, clinging to her hand.
"Me-" she starts, but she can't bring herself to speak the words.
Under her skin, she can feel the march of time. Forward and backward, up and down, in and out. Somewhere, she is standing among purple flowers. Somewhere, under golden rain and a crystal that broadcasts everywhere.
Somewhere, they run. His hand in hers and his breath against her neck and his words, soft like feathers.
"River," she says finally. "River Song."
Here, in this place, the TARDIS looms behind her, door slightly ajar, calling her home