Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own this timeline or its characters - just a head full of fanfic.

Warnings: Major spoilers for the audio "He Jests At Scars". Also, well...if you reckon I'm about to give it a happy ending...it's all relative, O.K.?

Blimey. I think I wrote hurt/comfort fic. o_O In fact...yes, it's definitely hurt/comfort - couldn't possibly be anything else. And I don't think I've done anything like it before, so I'm not sure how I did... Oh well - enjoy, if applicable! :)

It could only ever have been Mel. Bubbly, optimistic Mel, sweet to a fault; Mel, who only ever saw the best in people – only she could have read the signs, seen what remained of her old friend in the half-mad despot calling himself the Mighty One, Ruler of Chronopolis.

Chronopolis… It didn't matter, in the end, whether it had been real or not – whether it was a deliberately crafted illusion, whether it had been built and erased, whether it might have or might never have existed – it had still grown from the mind of the Valeyard. He might call it a "great falsehood", but he had still, on some plane of potential reality, kept those creatures alive in the depths of the great crystal fortress – just one from each species. And when it had all become too much, when he had fled in terror into the deepest reaches of his own mind, he had found refuge and protection from himself in the one place that any being throughout the universe would return to for safety and comfort if they could: his childhood home.

Even through the armour plating that had grown over her heart during the ten years she had not spent pursuing the Valeyard across the universe, Mel saw this.

As his shaking voice fell silent, as the stricken stare of his wild, red-rimmed eyes slid away from her, she felt a stirring in the air. The stasis field which held her paralyzed against the wall of the TARDIS console room was relaxing its hold over her body, loosening its vice-like clutch bit by bit, until her arms fell to her sides and she took a reflexive step forwards to stop herself from falling. Huddled in the corner across the room, the Valeyard visibly flinched, and she froze, wondering guiltily how many solar systems that brief movement might have destroyed – but he remained silent, and Mel remained in full control of her own muscles.

Like so few of his former selves had ever been able to do, he was giving her a choice. No words of encouragement or dissuasion, no gentle nudge one way or another, no tantalizing promises of adventure and excitement and time travel, no warnings (or had they been promises too?) of danger – not even a look to sway her mind. Just a simple choice, and the freedom to make it her own way and in her own time.

Her eyes darted downwards and to one side, to the stasar pistol that had been handed to her by Vansell and the President so many years ago, lying where it had fallen when the Valeyard had wrenched the time ring from her wrist and flung her out into the time vortex – or when she had been frozen in stasis and plunged into an elaborate illusion, as she knew now. They rested there for the longest stretch, before lifting to the motionless, robed figure in the corner.

As long as the TARDIS and the Valeyard both lived, they sustained each other, inextricably intertwined in a symbiotic link. Both would keep Mel alive – so long as she kept perfectly still, she would remain here long past her natural lifespan – just herself, the TARDIS console room and the petrified Time Lord who could never move, who had told her millions of centuries, possibly forever… And all around, held in precarious balance by the TARDIS poised at the axis of the time vortex, the tattered remnants of the universe would continue to exist.

Again, her gaze slid down to the stasar, back to the Valeyard.

She made her choice.

The idea of galaxies and star systems collapsing with each step she took seemed almost ludicrous, unreal here in the heavy silence of the console room, and it wasn't hard for her to push the thought aside as she approached the Valeyard. Head turning just a fraction of a degree, his eyes shifted to her and widened as he saw her empty hands.

"Wh-what are you doing?"

She gave no reply, walking steadily towards him and kneeling down beside him. In the dim light, she could make out where the tears had streaked down his pale face, and she could read clearly the confusion in his eyes.

"No – get back, stay away from me!" Voice cracking, he recoiled, tried to press himself back further against the wall. "You don't understand – if you touch me, the whole of reality will collapse! I've done too much damage…the Web of Time – what's left of it – will fold in on itself…time itself will cease to exist! You were there at the start of it all – if you and I contact, the temporal fission would-"

"I know." Was the Doctor she knew that deeply buried? "And I would have thought you'd know that there are always more than two choices." Holding his gaze, she moved closer and wrapped both arms around him. He was quivering from head to toe, and pressed his eyes shut as though expecting some cataclysmic, shattering explosion. There was nothing; Mel tightened her grip, pulling close to him, resting her forehead against his shoulder.

"I forgive you," she whispered. She felt him tense – and then, at last, the Valeyard stopped fighting, and the trembling in her old friend's thin frame subsided. He slumped down in her embrace, leaning against her. With one hand in his dark hair, she gently moved his bowed head to her shoulder, rocking slowly back and forth on her heels.

"It's O.K. now," she murmured, raising her eyes to the ceiling, where the lights were flickering out one by one. "Everything's going to be all right now…"

All that had happened could have been worlds away – but Mel knew that those worlds had now never existed. All around them, the fabric of the universe was fraying, unravelling as the threads of the Web of Time disintegrated. Inside the spent time capsule which was all that remained to anchor the crumbling multiverse, the two anchored each other against the desolation and entropy that surged inwards, opened its void and swallowed them whole.

And then it was over, just as surely it had never begun.


By Aietradaea