Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who and I'm not making any money off it, either.
Notes: This story is an AU. What if Rose could have stayed with the Doctor instead of being stranded with the Meta-crisis in Pete's world? What would have happened to River? That's how this story got started. Thank you to owlsie for the beta and thank you to all those who have commented or favourited previous stories or put me on their favourite author's list. I puffy heart you!
Mels was pissed off. She'd missed the last train to Leadworth and she was going to miss her parents wedding. She should be celebrating that they were finally tying the knot, no thanks to that alien and his bimbo sidekick, since her entire existence was balanced on her parents doing it on their wedding night. It was a tough thing, trying to manipulate events to make sure you existed in the first place. She deserved a chance to raise a glass and have a drink, maybe a bit of a dance, and then snog Mike the DJ senseless in the girls bathroom. Yeah, after all she'd been through, she at least deserved that.
But the train had left ahead of schedule. If anyone on this planet could keep time, it was Mels Zucker, and that train had been bloody well early. Not that complaining to the authorities would do any good - maybe if she used her gun - but, no, she was trying to be on her best behaviour. Couldn't be interrupting mumsy and dadsy with another telephone call from the clink, could she?
Her heels made an annoying clack against the concrete floor of the platform as Mels walked back the way she had come. She had two choices - wait for the next train in a few hours, or head back to London. London it was. To vent her frustration, she kicked over a mop and bucket that some washer person had left leaning against the wall. The grey water bled over the concrete in a dark stain. Not content, she kicked the bunch of rags that was piled up next to the bucket.
"Oof," the bunch of rags said.
Mels jumped into a fighting stance. "Oi, what do you think you're doing there?"
What she had taken for a pile of dirty wash rags raised it's head and looked at her with bleary eyes. "Oi? You're the one that kicked me. That hurt."
Mels rolled her eyes. "Oh for crissake. Another bleeding drunk. Just what I need."
"I'm not drunk."
She narrowed her eyes and gave the ragged pile another look. Dirty, sallow face, hollow cheeked and eyes sunk and bloodshot. Hair sticking out all over, peppered in with a little grey. He didn't smell to good, either. "You look like hell. If you're not drunk, then what are you?"
"Sick," he said and coughed for emphasis.
"Yeah, hungover is what that's called."
"All right. Maybe I did have a nip of something. Doesn't mean I'm not sick."
Mels laughed. "You smell like a brewery."
He shifted and attempted to get to his feet. "A little help - it's the least you could do after you kicked me."
"No thanks, mate. I ain't getting involved. Go find yourself a shelter or something."
With a snort, he said, "I meant help getting up. Then if you could just point me in the direction of the parking lot and I'll be fine."
Mels scoffed and said, "If you think you're driving anywhere in your condition then you're barmy..." Something clicked in her mind and she stared at the drunk. "Wait a minute. You have a car?"
"'Course I have a car. It's a nice car, I suppose. Gets me places. Not necessarily the places I want to go, but it does what it's supposed to do, in that it's a car and I can drive it -"
"I said, shut up. You have a car. That means there's still time." Mels grinned.
"What are you talking about?"
She eyed the drunk and wondered where he kept his keys on him. He didn't look as unkempt as she first thought, although his long trench coat was filthy and his shoes had seen better days, he wore a tailored but slightly worn suit and, and this was the key, an expensive looking tie that had been mangled but obviously was once neatly in place around his neck.
Mels stuck out her hand and hauled the drunk to his feet. He tottered a bit and for a moment she was afraid he'd fall on top of her, but she was stronger than she looked and was able to steady him, even though he towered over her small frame. Skinny and tall, she thought.
"What I'm talking about," she said, "is a partnership. You're obviously in no state to drive yourself anywhere, are you?"
He mumbled something about being perfectly fine, took a step forward and Mels had to quickly grab him to prevent him from pitching over onto his face.
"Yeah, you're fine, all right," she said.
"Okay, so I'm not going anywhere fast. At least I can sleep it off in my car."
"Look, we can help each other. You have a car, and I'm sober. Why don't I take you home?"
He looked at her with saucer-like eyes, one eye-brow raised almost into his hairline. "You'd really do that?"
"Of course," Mels said with as brilliant a smile as she could manage. This was too easy. She stuck out her hand. "You've got to let me drive, of course."
"Oh. Okay." The drunk patted down his coat and eventually fished out a set of car keys that he deposited into her waiting hand. "Wait," he said as she turned.
"How old are you, anyway?"
"What's that got to do with anything?" She really should just let it drop, ditch him and figure out where his car was so that she could be on her way to Leadworth, but something in his stance made her stop.
"I mean, are you old enough to drive?"
Mels rolled her eyes again. "Of course I'm old enough to drive. How old do you think I look anyway?"
"I dunno," he said. "About seventeen?"
"Jeez. I'm supposed to be twenty-two. Although I'm older than I look," she said.
"You mean you look seventeen but you're really twenty-two?"
"No. I mean I look twenty-two." Mels shook her head. She didn't really know how old she was. She tended to lose track of that sort of thing, especially when she'd been ten for a number of years while trying to find her parents. "You're obviously rubbish at guessing ages."
"What about me?"
"What about you?"
"How old do you think I am?"
Mels groaned. She really didn't have time for this. But he seemed harmless, and she felt a stab of guilt at mugging a harmless drunk and stealing his car. Sighing, she said, "Look, just show me where your car is and I'll take you home, all right?" Although not right away... She had a wedding to get to first.
"First tell me how old you think I am?" The drunk said. He'd crossed his arms over his chest in that obstinate way that drunks had and she knew she wouldn't budge him until she obliged.
"Fine. I'm good at this game." She looked from the slight grey in his hair to the crows feet at his eyes. He lifted his chin while she scrutinised him. The stubble across it was peppered with a touch of grey, too, but his skin was firm and apart from the effects of the alcohol in him, he appeared otherwise healthy. "Give me your hands," she said, and she took them and examined them. They were well cared for under the little bit of grime she saw.
"It's my birthday, you know," he said.
"Well, not technically, no. My actual birthday was a few months ago. And birthday is a bit of an exaggeration. But I've always liked June."
"Forty-two," Mels said, dropping his hands.
The drunk appeared astounded. "That old?"
"Am I right?"
"Well... Not even close. But that's okay. I wasn't playing fair to begin with."
Now it was her turn to raise an eyebrow.
"Never mind," he said. "Let's get me home, shall we?" He giggled.
Mels shook her head.
It took them longer to find his car than she would have thought possible in the small parking lot of the station. He didn't have one of those fancy car starters on his keys, and he'd completely forgotten where he had parked it earlier. When they finally did, Mels stood with her hands on her hips and an absurd urge to giggle herself.
"That's it?" she said.
"That's it," he said, a note of pride in his voice. "She's beautiful, isn't she?"
"She's a beetle," Mels said, "an old and rusty one, at that. Does she even go?"
"Like the clappers out of hell." He coughed. "I've done a bit of work on her myself."
Mels shrugged. Beggars couldn't be choosers, she supposed. "Get in, then. Let's get going."
It was almost comical when the drunk folded himself into the passenger side of the blue bug. Even for her, with the driver's seat pushed back as far as it could go, the car was cramped. She looked at him as he gave her a manic grin, his knees practically at his ears.
"Go on," he said. "You can say it. Bigger on the inside."
"You're drunk and delusional." Mels started up the engine and found that it gave a pleasing rev. Maybe the drunk was handy with cars after all.
"I should tell you where I live, don't you think?"
"Not really. You might want to buckle up, though." With her foot on the clutch, she whipped the gears into reverse, then pushed down on the accelerator.
Within minutes they were on their way to the M1 and a couple of hours away from Leadworth. She was going to miss the ceremony, but she'd make it for the reception, and that's all she really cared about.
"Erm. Excuse me, miss," the drunk said.
"You're going the wrong way."
"No I'm not."
He pointed behind him. "But my flat is that way."
"That's nice." Mels squeezed the accelerator and they leaped past a car with a burst of speed. "This little car does have some power. I'm impressed."
"But you're going this way. That's completely opposite."
"Hold on." She swerved across traffic to get to the motorway on-ramp.
Her passenger yelped and held on where he could find purchase. "Could you slow down and are you insane?"
"No and yes. Just a little."
"Oh god. I think... I think..."
Mels weaved through the traffic like a pro. "What? Just spit it out."
"I'm going to be sick," he said, and threw up all over the front of the car, splattering the windshield.
Swearing, Mels pulled the car over and the drunk fumbled with the door before bursting it open to heave onto the side of the road. Mels pushed back into her seat and blinked at the roof of the car. She tried not to breath, but the smell of vomit pervaded everything.
"Sorry," he said as he sat back up and mopped at his mouth with a wrinkled handkerchief. He had a genuine look of remorse on his face. Mels wanted to shake him and tell him that she was the one who had basically kidnapped him and jacked his car.
Instead, she said, "It's okay. We've all been there. Why don't I go get you cleaned up, maybe a little sobered up, and then we can go to the wedding."
"Wedding? What wedding?"
"Never mind. Just point me in the right direction." She started up the car once more and followed as he meekly jabbed his finger back the way they had come.
The drunk's flat was a mess. Mels set the keys on the table in the entry while he ran around trying to shift piles of books from chairs and clear up empty curry takeaway containers.
"Just stop," she said. "You. Shower. Now. And don't come out until you squeak. I'll put the kettle on and go and, ugh, clean up the car."
She stepped over more piles of books and newspapers to find her way to the kitchen. "Don't get much company, do you," she said to herself.
The kitchen was modern, and apart from empty takeaways and a row of unwashed mugs, wasn't too bad. She filled the kettle and flipped it on and managed to find a small jar of instant coffee pushed way back in one of the cupboards.
By the time she had cleaned up the mess in the car and was able to find some clean mugs, he came back through to the living room, toweling his hair. She handed him one of two steaming mugs of tar.
"God, that's vile," he said as he sipped the concoction.
"Can't help it if you've not got any decent coffee."
"I prefer tea, usually," he said. He smiled at her and his eyes crinkled. They really were nice sort of eyes, she thought, deep brown and expressive. "Tea. The curer of all ills."
His smile turned sheepish. "Yeah. Except that. Hadn't really tested the limits on that yet. Now I know. Um. You're welcome to have a seat." He patted a spot on the sofa where a large physics text book had just been resting,
"Thanks. Do a lot of heavy reading, do you?"
"Oh. A little, I guess. Keeps the old brain from going to mush. It's all rubbish though."
"And no telly. What type of bachelor doesn't have a telly?"
He perched on the edge of a desk as he sipped at his coffee, making a little face each time he did so. "You're assuming I'm a bachelor." Mels looked around the flat with a raised eyebrow. "And you'd assume right. Of course."
He had changed into a fresh t-shirt, light grey in colour, and a faded pair of jeans. His feet were bare and Mels was drawn to the arch of his foot as he swung his leg back and forth. "Feeling better?"
"I'm a little more alert," he said. "But the stomach's still a bit delicate."
"How much did you drink, anyway?"
He tilted his head to the side as he considered the answer. "Ten pints of lager, five glasses of pinot noir, six shots of Jose, three banana daiquiris - my favourite I'll have you know - two single malt scotches, a bottle of Moet -"
"And a bloody partridge in a pear tree. Okay, so you drank a lot. Now there's a chemical factory in your stomach. What you really need is a good breakfast."
He blanched. "Not sure that's such a good idea. Also, it's nearly six-o-clock. Closer to supper time."
"Trust me, I know what I'm talking about," Mels said as she strode back to the kitchen. She opened the fridge door, then promptly shut it. "There's nothing in there."
"Yeah..." she heard him say from the other room. "I'm not a very good cook. I found that out the hard way."
Mels stepped back out of the kitchen and faced him with hands on her hips. "Okay, here's plan B. How much money have you got?"
The drunk - although he wasn't so much drunk now as severely hungover - dug out his wallet from under a pile of papers and rifled through it. "I've got about two-hundred pounds in cash, although there's more in my bank account. Not sure how much more."
Mels raised an eyebrow. She'd never been very good at accumulating money. Usually she just used other people's. As in now. "Well, just give me twenty quid. I'll be right back."
"Where are you going?" He said, as he handed over the money without balking.
"There's a Tescos a few blocks up, yeah? Don't worry about me, just finish your coffee." She patted him on the knee and gave him a smile she knew could disarm even a five-star general. His grin in return was goofy but cute. Like a puppy, she thought.
The puppy image remained with her as she took the car and found her way to the Tescos they had passed by earlier. She didn't want to think about what she was doing or why. For instance, why would she buy bacon and eggs, bread and milk and cheese, and decent coffee, for some drunk she'd kicked at the train station. She wasn't feeling guilty, god no - Mels Zucker didn't know the meaning of the word. But he was exactly like a lost little puppy, and perhaps she felt a touch of kinship. Just a touch, mind, because she always knew where she was and she wouldn't be caught dead being so trusting, so gullible. But she'd been little, once.
She pulled the Beetle back into its designated parking spot and climbed the stairs up to his flat, hauling the groceries with her. She walked in to find him stretched out on the sofa, having deposited the rest of its contents on the floor, and fast asleep. Mels rolled her eyes as she walked by him on her way to the kitchen.
Storing the groceries, she kept out what she needed for breakfast. As she set to grilling the bacon, toasting the toast and cleaning up some of the dishes, she hummed a little song. There was some peace to be found in this type of domesticity. Amy used to cook for her like this, when she didn't know the meaning of three square meals a day. She sauteed the mushrooms and decided on scrambled eggs. When she was done, she had fresh coffee brewing in the now sparkling clean coffee maker, two cups of orange juice poured, and two places set out at the little table by the window.
"Oi," she said, and kicked his leg for good measure.
"Ow!" He woke and rubbed his eyes. Staring up at her, he said, "What's with you and kicking?"
"Get up. Breakfast is done."
"Oh. Is it morning already?" He rubbed his eyes as he looked around the flat.
Mels shook her head. "No. But you did sleep for over an hour. Let's get some food in you - we might still be able to get to the wedding."
He hummed a few bars of 'Get Me to the Church on Time' as he followed her obediently to the kitchen. Mels dished up a heaping pile of bacon, eggs, toast and mushrooms for both of them.
"This is really good," he said between mouthfuls. "The fat and salt is exactly what I needed."
"I told you so." Mels was famished and the meal began to take some of the edge off. "Just what the doctor ordered."
He shuddered. "Don't say that."
"Not scared of doctors are you?"
"No. Course not. I'm just not a big fan."
Mels laughed. It felt good. "Tell you the truth, me either. I avoid 'em like the plague."
"So, are you going to tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
"What's up with this wedding you're so desperate to get to?"
Mels eyed him with suspicion. He was framed by the light of the setting sun through the window behind him, all golds and oranges, a summer dusk. His eyes were large and serious.
"You first," she said.
He snorted. "I'm rubbish at weddings."
"Not talking about that, am I?"
He leaned back in his chair, a bit of egg stuck on his fork as he waved it in the air. "Yeah, well. You know how it goes."
Oh, this one was not going to open up that easy, was he? Mels knew how to have a grown man crying on her shoulder in a matter of minutes, all it took was a bit of flattery and the right mix of sultry innocence and they'd be putty in her hands. She didn't think this one would fall for that. For all like a lost puppy he was, she could see the cynicism written into the lines of his face.
She shrugged. "Makes no difference to me."
"You were going to steal my car. Why didn't you?"
For a moment, both her hearts ground to a halt. "Oh, I see." She put her knife and fork down and stood, making sure to push her chair up to the table. "I'll be going, then."
She was breathing just a little too fast as she made her way to the door.
"Wait, please." He followed her out into the passage. "I'm sorry."
Mels whirled around. "What the bloody hell are you apologising for?"
"Nothing. Sorry. I mean..." He ran his hand through his hair, sending it this way and that. "Oh, bloody hell. I'm terrible at this. Can we start over?"
Mels tried to regulate her breathing. She didn't know why she was all of a sudden so incensed.
He stuck his hand out in front of her. "Hi. I'm John."
Looking from his hand to his face and back, Mels let out a sigh. She met his hand with hers. "Melody. Actually Mels. Call me Mels."
John shook her hand and smiled. She really wasn't prepared for what that did to her erratic pulse. "I think I like Melody."
She rolled her eyes. "I don't."
"Well, let's finish breakfast before it gets cold, then we can find this wedding of yours."
Mels hesitated. "Look, you really don't have to. I mean, it's not really anything you'd be interested in. What I'm saying is -"
"I know what you're saying. But you helped me out. Now it's my turn to repay the favour. I think you need a friend."
"We're not friends." The words tripped off her tongue faster than she could think them.
"We could be."
John was giving her that look again. That serious, puppy-like, yet also cynical, yet also completely genuine look that ran roughshod through all her defenses. She'd never had a friend.
Oh, there was Amy and Rory, but they weren't really her friends. She was their friend, their best best friend, of course, but they weren't hers. You couldn't be friends like that with your own parents. Not when they didn't know the truth, and she couldn't tell them the truth, because that might mean she'd never exist. She could feel time like it was grains of sand falling through her fingers. It was an instinct. She knew not to mess with it.
But here was something different being offered. A friend she wouldn't have to lie to. Much.
Her lips twitched in a smile. "Our eggs are getting cold."
It took them about an hour to finish breakfast, polish off the coffee and clean up the dishes, which Mels insisted upon. Then Mels had to freshen up a little in John's tiny bathroom, and use the loo, and wonder what the hell she was doing before they were once again back in his car. Mels took the wheel again, even though John swore he was feeling much better.
Darkness began to creep up on them as they hit the motorway. Mels rolled down the window so she could feel the cool night air on her neck as they drove. This was her time, when she felt the most alive. She loved the night and the stars. She would be born out there among the stars, one day.
John sat beside her, silent, yet it was a comfortable camaraderie she felt. She heard his indrawn breath before he turned to her and said, "There was a girl. A woman."
Mels bit her tongue to keep from saying the sarcastic comment, something that would make him clam up.
"Her name was Rose."
The way he said her name, like it was a benediction, told her almost everything she needed to know. But she let him take time to gather his thoughts. Lights from a nearby village flickered past them, then they were once more sunk into the dark with only the headlights of the odd car from across the median to break the monotony.
"She loved me," he said. His tone was light but there was a rawness hidden there. "She told me, even. And I couldn't tell her. The words just, I don't know, got stuck. Or lost."
"But she knew, yeah?"
"Chose someone else, of course. I mean, look at me. Who'd want me. I'm only half a man, me." He flashed her a self-deprecating grin.
"So she loved you, but she chose someone else."
"She loved him, too. And I knew I could never be him, so I didn't even try."
Mels threw him a sidelong glance. "You didn't even fight for her?"
"Nope," he said.
She didn't know what to think of that: a man who would just give up like that. She chewed it over for a bit before she said, "and what now?"
"She's happy. And I know they worry about me, from time to time, but they don't visit." He shrugged. "I guess I'm trying to move on. Harder to do that than I thought. Guess I'm more, I dunno, emotional than I used to be."
"How long has it been?" Mels said softly.
"A year. One year since I last saw them."
"Your birthday. Metaphorically speaking."
"Oh, poor baby," Mels said with a flash of sympathy. She slipped one hand off the wheel and rested it on his thigh. His leg was firm and she could feel his warmth through the fabric of his jeans. She gave it a squeeze before returning her hand to the wheel.
She could feel his eyes on her before he turned his head to look out his window into the dark.
"I think... I don't know, but I think it's time I figured out what I'm actually here for."
"I know exactly what I'm here for," Mels said. "I'd rather be oblivious."
"Oh? Does it have anything to do with taking care of helpless drunks?"
She barked out a laugh. "Actually, that was completely at odds with my nature. It's what I get for kicking you in the first place. Never kick a dog or a drunk."
"I was pitiful, wasn't I?"
"Were you trying to do yourself in?"
"Not really. I think I was more likely aiming for oblivion."
"Did it work?"
Now it was his turn to laugh. "Not in any way, shape or form."
"You know," Mels said with a sidelong glance, "I could probably offer a few suggestions."
John shook his head. "I think I'm done experimenting with my body chemistry. All that stuff you lot put into yourselves... Gives me a headache just thinking about it."
"You seemed to have recovered pretty well, I've noticed."
"Chalk it up to my healthful lifestyle."
Mels scoffed. "You live on takeaway curries and cheap tea."
The grin he offered her was sheepish. "You noticed that, huh?"
"Didn't take a detective."
Their conversation continued to be light-hearted for the rest of the drive, all the while Mels mulled over what he had said. The name of the woman he had loved was Rose.
Mels turned onto the street next to the village hall. There were only a couple of cars parked on the side of the road in front of the hall, the rest of the street was deserted. The hall lights shone brightly through the window, but Mels already knew she was too late.
She turned to John after she'd pulled the car off to the side. "I'm just going to pop inside for a moment, do you mind?"
John considered her for a moment. "Nah. You go right ahead. I'll just wait here."
She threw him a grateful look. Mels climbed from the bug and shut the door behind her. She hesitated, wondering if there really was any purpose in this now, but she had to know, had to find out.
Mels took the path around to the side door and stepped inside the hall. She quickly scanned the interior. Only a few of the wedding guests remained. Uncle Lorrie was passed out in a chair in the corner, his head lolling back and his mouth wide open while his wife, Aggie, was sweeping up party debris. The wedding DJ, Mike, was packing up his equipment and Jeff and his best mate Ed were embroiled in a sloppy game of darts.
Aggie raised her head from her sweeping. "Oh, hello Mels. I was wondering when you'd show up."
Mels gave her a sour look. "Yeah. Well now you can stop wondering."
"You've missed them."
"I can see that."
The DJ Mike, a cousin of Amy's, looked over at her with a friendly smile. "Hi Mels."
Mels turned her back on Aggie who muttered something rude under breath and continued to sweep. She walked over to Mike. "Good party?"
"Not bad." He shrugged. "You know how it is."
"When did the new Mr and Mrs Williams leave?"
"About an hour ago. Those friends of hers showed up."
Mels froze. A shiver ran down her spine.
"You know," Mike continued, "the ones we all thought were imaginary."
"I never did," Mels said. She felt like a stone had settled in her stomach.
"Well, I guess we were all wrong. Amy really did meet the Raggedy Doctor and his girl, Rose. They're such a riot. Really put some life into the party. Would have been a right snooze without them."
"Oi, Ed, look who finally showed up. It's manic Mels. Melody the mad. Hello mad, manic Melly," Jeff said as he slouched towards her.
Mels shrugged Jeff off when he flopped an arm around her. "Piss off, Jeff."
"Hey Ed, come look and see who it is. Where've you been at babe?" Jeff gave her a leer.
"Knock it off," Mike said.
"Mels is an old friend of mine, ain't you Mels? We're really close."
This time when Jeff tried to wrap her into a hug, Mels shoved him to the floor. "I said piss off."
"Careful Mels," Ed said as he came up behind his friend. He wasn't nearly as unfocused as Jeff was although the flush on his cheeks clashed with his orange hair. "I've just made police constable. I can arrest you for stuff like that."
"You can arrest my arse," Mels said. "And you can tell your friend if he ever tries to paw me again, he'll lose a hand."
"I was only being friendly, like," Jeff said, having regained his feet. "You used to love it when I got real friendly."
"I was young and desperate. I've grown a little more discerning in my tastes in the last few years."
"Um. Excuse me?" They all snapped their heads towards the door. John was standing there. He was looking from one to the next with a frown on his face. "I really just needed to use the loo. If someone could point me in the right direction."
Mels wanted to shrivel up and die. She hoped John had not heard much of the exchange. Somehow she didn't want him to see her like the others did. Manic Mels who'd punch you in the jaw just as soon as she'd fuck you.
"Oh, hi again," Mike said. "You lot back already?"
"I beg your pardon?" John said.
Mels shot a glance to Mike the DJ who was grinning at John like a long lost friend.
Jeff waved at John. "Look Ed, it's Amy's imaginary friend again. That Raggedy Doctor. Hello Raggedy Doctor. Where's Amy and Rory and good ol' Rose?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," John said, but all the blood had drained from his face.
Mels' hearts began to beat double-time, all the while her limbs filled with ice. "I'd like to know what's going on? Are you all having me on?"
Mike shook his head. "That's him. That's the Doctor. He was here just a few hours ago with his friend Rose. We all met them."
"Yeah, he's that Doctor, all right," Ed said.
Mels looked at John. He was shaking his head. Something broke inside her and her head began to burn. A blinding light made her squeeze her eyes shut for just a moment, and then it was gone. She knew exactly what she had to do.
"You're the Doctor," she said. It wasn't a question.
"No," he said. "I don't know what's going on here, but I think some explanations are due. You first, Melody. How do you know them? The Doctor and Rose?"
"You're the Doctor."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, he is," Jeff said from behind her. "We all saw him."
"How do you know about the Doctor?" John said.
No. The Doctor. He's the Doctor. Mels reached behind her and pulled out the hand gun she had concealed under her jacket. It was a sleek and beautiful revolver, her pride and joy. And now she was going to use it to kill the Doctor.
"What are you doing?" he said.
Mike, Ed and even Jeff sprang back from her as she aimed the weapon at the Doctor.
Somewhere in the back, Aggie screamed.
"Get out, all of you," she said with a curl to her lips. "Everyone except him."
"Mels..." DJ Mike said, reaching out a hand to her.
"I said, get out!" Her voice rose to a shriek. "Or I'll shoot the fucking lot of you, too."
Mike's hand ricocheted back as if he'd been bitten.
"She's finally snapped," Jeff said as Ed hauled him towards the door. Mike grabbed a wide-eyed Aggie and dragged her outside, too. The only one left was snoring Uncle Lorrie in the corner.
Mels cocked her weapon, readying herself for the first shot. She'd have him, even if he ran, but he wasn't running.
The Doctor stepped towards her, hands out and palms up. "Put that down, Mels. Please."
"I know how to kill a Timelord. One shot in each heart before you have a chance to regenerate. There are other ways, but this will have to do."
"I'm not the Doctor," he said. "I may look like him, but I'm not. I only have one heart."
"I also know that you're arrogant enough to try and talk me out of it. That won't work on me."
"What did he do to you that you hate him so much?"
"Oh, it's nothing personal, Doctor." That was enough talking. Mels squeezed the trigger. The force of the recoil only made her twitch. She'd had plenty of practise. Blood blossomed out over the fabric of his shirt. He clutched at his right side and fell to his knees.
"You missed," he said between wheezes. His breath was shallow and ragged and his face white as a stone. "My heart's on the other side. I'm human."
Mels cocked her gun again, ready for the next shot - the fatal shot. She held her breath, waiting for that first sign of regeneration.
But the Doctor was looking past her. "No," he croaked.
Something slammed into her back and she went sprawling, her gun skittered across the floor. Mels tried to stand but a searing, burning pain knifed through her, between her shoulders. It was all she could do to raise her head to see Ed step into her field of vision, his own gun clutched between his shaking hands.
"Don't move an inch, Mels," he said with a tremble in his voice.
"Look at you, since when did they let you carry a gun," Mels said. It was a bitch to breathe, each movement sent hot knives through her already inflamed chest. For anyone ordinary, the shot would have been fatal. But she wasn't ordinary.
"The paramedics are on their way." Ed glanced over at the Doctor. Mels could see that he had rolled over onto his back and Mike was kneeling beside him, trying to stop the blood. "Attempted murder. You'll be locked up for a long, long time."
"I doubt it," Mels said. She coughed and then the pain began to recede. It was starting. She didn't fight it. Soon, her whole body was tingling with the imminent change.
Slowly, she got to her feet. The regeneration energy sparked off her fingers. Inside her, it began to build to a whirling crescendo.
Ed was staring at her, his gun raised and visibly shaking. "What the hell?"
"I'm about to show you a trick. Better move out the way."
"Do as she says," the Doctor said from where he was lying, his voice a whisper. His eyes met hers, filled with pain, but also awe.
Mels threw her hands back and cried out with the force of the change as it ripped through her. It was agony and ecstasy all rolled into a burning, blazing fountain of energy. Every particle and cell was undone, right down to the neural pathways in her brain. And then it was knit together, rewired in different paths and formations. The first time she had been through this change, she had been able to throw off the subliminal control her captors had over her. This time, she flushed out the compulsions they had buried inside her. When it was done, she was a new woman.
Mels Zucker, Melody Pond, shivered in her new skin. Ignoring the white-faced Ed and Mike who were both squeezed against the wall, she picked her gun off the floor and stepped over to the Doctor.
He was lying in a pool of blood, ashen and starting to shake.
"I was wrong," she said. "It is personal, sweetie."
"River," he said, so softly she had to strain to hear it.
"You're River Song." He coughed and blood came up. "But I'm not who you think I am."
"You're the man who destroyed my life," she said. "They didn't have to train me to hate you. You did that all by yourself. They took me, you see, and you didn't lift a finger to stop it."
"It wasn't me. But, I know who you are, and you're not this."
"What am I, then?"
"River. You're River. I don't know how... But you saved my life, once, and four-thousand others." He coughed again. "I'm dying."
"Don't worry, sweetie, you'll start to regenerate in a minute, just like I did. And then I'll kill you properly."
"Only one..." His eyes flickered and rolled up and his body went limp.
Mels watched him closely, waiting for the sign of golden energy. After a moment, when nothing happened, she wondered if he was faking it. She knelt down and felt for his pulses. When there should have been at least one beat, there was nothing but a faint flutter. Putting her ear to his mouth, she realised he wasn't breathing, either.
She looked up to where Ed and Mike were watching her. "He's dying," she said. The words came out flat. "But he shouldn't be."
When she looked back down at him, truly looked at him, her chest heaved. "Oh god. Only one. One heart. He's human. He's not the Doctor."
She tried to find his pulse again, but there was nothing. She whirled around. "He needs to be resuscitated. Surely one of you knows CPR."
Mike just stared at her, eyes like saucers, but Ed shook his head. "He's lost too much blood."
Mels could hear the sirens of the ambulance from a distance. They were too late.
"I can fix this." She looked at her own hands, still tingling from her change. Her whole body was suffused with the remnants of the energy from her regeneration. She didn't know if this would work. He wasn't a Timelord, or even half a Timelord - he was only John, and she had killed him.
Leaning down over his body, Mels brought her hands up to his face and cupped his jaw. She bent her face to his and with a desperate prayer to whatever gods might be listening, she kissed him.
Energy flowed through her and into him, filling them both. She meant only to give him enough to revive him, if she could. Too much and he wouldn't be able to handle it. He was only human. She continued to feed him through her kiss, eyes squeezed shut.
Then, the miracle she was praying for, happened. He stirred beneath her. She felt his lips move a fraction. He drew a shallow breath against her, and then another and another. And then she felt hands on her arms, sliding up her shoulders and through her hair as he pulled her into the kiss. He held her tightly, and for a moment she sank into him, but then she began to panic. It was too much. It would fry the neural pathways of his brain, all this time energy. Mels tried to pull away, but he only held her more tightly.
When she finally broke free from him, his eyes were wide open and his face was split in a grin.
"You seem to be making a habit of saving my life," he said. He arched backwards as his face contorted in agony. "Okay, I know what this is. I didn't think it was possible, but maybe it just needed a kick start."
"John, I'm so sorry. I tried to save you, but you took too much."
"Oh Mels. Melody. River. I don't think you understand quite yet. I didn't, not until you turned into, well, you." He waved his hand at her, then doubled over as another spasm wracked through him. "Don't you see? I'm about as human as you are."
"I'm not completely human, in case you hadn't guessed. Human plus, I suppose."
"Well neither am I. Still part human. Part Timelord, too. I was born a little over a year ago, a fully formed meta-crisis. Part Doctor, part Donna. All me." His eyes grew wide. "Oh, I think you're going to love this. After all, you made it possible."
John staggered to his feet, then threw his head back and flung his arms wide as a fountain of light and energy ripped through him.
Mels watched, frozen, as he went through the same metamorphosis she had just completed. Looking at it from this perspective made her realise just how violent a change it was. John grimaced and laughed as he was rewritten and her whole body tingled in response. Her hearts beat faster and her breath came in short. Oh god, she was getting turned on by the whole thing.
The man who emerged was as different from John as she was from Mels. His grin was, if anything, even wider. Not quite as tall, but still skinny, and younger, too - almost a baby.
He peered at her. "How do I look?"
Mels laughed. "Incredible. Absolutely incredible."
He examined his hair and gave a pout. "Still not ginger. But, ooh, fingers. And hands! I have hands."
"Of course you have hands, you idiot, you didn't change species."
"Am I a girl? Oh, wait..." He looked at Mels. His cheeks flushed. "Definitely not a girl. But you are."
"I know that."
"I like your hair."
Mels lifted her hands to feel the soft curls she now had. It was certainly different. She hadn't had a chance to catalogue all the changes, yet - time for that later. She turned to the newly-minted John. "We need to get out of here."
"I know," he said and his eyes lit up. Then he pointed behind him. "But what about those two?"
Ed and Mike were slumped by the opposite wall, the sight of two regenerations in one night too much for them to cope with. She heard the ambulance as it pulled up to the hall, its lights strobing the interior and bathing them in blue. Mels shrugged. "They can deal with the paramedics. We'll have to sneak out the back."
She held out her hand to John.
He hesitated. "Where are we going?"
"Back to your place, first. Then we'd better clear out. Our regenerations would have spiked the readings on somebody's meter and I don't know about you, but I don't want to become a science project."
"And after that? Are you going to try and track down a certain Timelord? Because you should know that I might not be him, but I was him." John tapped his head. "He's all in here, all nine hundred and something years of him."
"He abandoned you, too," she said. The pain was still raw.
John shook his head and took his hand in hers. "No, he didn't. I left him. Them. They stayed away because I didn't want to see them. But Melody Pond, I think I know the reason why he never looked for you, either. I told you I met you, and I did - when I was him. You were the one who told us not to change a thing. Not one line should be rewritten, you said." He pulled her towards him and into his embrace. "Because you and I... We're going to be fantastic."
They left through the back door, hand in hand, just as the emergency workers came in through the front. The scene had all the markings of a brutal, violent crime: puddles of blood on the floor, bullets lodged in walls from two different weapons and dazed and confused witnesses. But, nobody could figure out what had happened to the perpetrator and the victim. Mels Zucker and John Smith, alias the Doctor, had vanished without a trace.