Thank you so much to everyone who reads and reviews! Much love to all of you. (And esp to betawho, for giving me a definition of psychopath that I'm still drawing on... she's brilliant, and if you haven't read her stories; go read them!)
Disclaimer: sadly, I still own nothing from Doctor Who.
In the week that followed, it seemed as though one sentence kept reverberating around not only the TARDIS, but the entire universe. It was a sentence that normally he'd have been excited over, that would send adrenaline rushing through his veins and make his toes and fingertips twitch with anticipation… but these days, his temper was growing visibly shorter, and he was on the verge of suspecting some sort of conspiracy hidden within those five simple words.
"Doctor, can you fix this?!"
He heard them everywhere. Between Amy complaining that the TARDIS had created bunk beds in their bedroom -again- or the government of Xanes ringing to ask for help getting rid of some sort of many toothed and legged predators; or the TARDIS herself alerting him -with beeps and whistles instead of words- to a space station that had swung off its orbit and was threatening to wipe out Pluto and Neptune unless he could somehow manage to change its course…
Oh, everyone and everything seemed to want a piece of his attention; and while most of the time he was happy to help… right now, all he wanted was a cup of tea, a biscuit -or maybe twelve- and some quiet time to read uninterrupted. Because, each day he was still snatching odd moments between trying to help everyone so that he could manage a paragraph or two of Mels' diary; which wasn't nearly enough to satiate his desire to know what had happened to her next.
I've returned to my barmaid job, the Doctor read, hiding in the back of a cave from not only the Circian invading army, but his exhausted and napping Ponds out front. It's a pain to travel to Birmingham -an hour each way on the bus- but I wanted to make something extra beyond the pocket money I get from Janet and Jamie.
Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful for what they give me, because they're generous enough… but there is no escaping the fact that their idea of what a teenager ought to have for incidentals is not the same as what I want. In a few short months, Mels Zucker will be eighteen; and when she is, I plan to be independent and not beholden to the Zuckers' charity any longer.
I've never felt quite right in my relationship with them; as though I'm some sort of cuckoo they've bred in their nest. I suppose it would be different if I'd been a proper child in their care, who could have grown and thrived in their household under their affection. But I never have been. I've been an adult in a child's body, living through my third successive childhood and determined to wring all that I can from the experience of finally being around my real parents. Even if to do so, I've been wild and manipulative, sarcastic or scheming. Hardly the proper way to behave to the Zuckers, who are a bit vapid, but not cruel folk.
Hence returning to my job. It's not as though tending bar is difficult work, for all that you spend the time constantly on your feet, constantly in motion. It's a little like dancing: pull a pint of lager, whisk a heavy tray of steaming glasses from the washer before whirling around to top up a Guinness with a little shamrock, stretch up for a bottle of rum on the top shelf and then kneel to restock shelves.
No, it's not difficult, and sometimes I even loved it. Working my muscles into a state of exhaustion, my mind blessedly empty of anything other than customer's orders and the correct change to get from the till. Smiling at my regulars, engaging in easy conversation about music and football felt like the most normal thing in the world. Far from the confusing, complicated life that Mels Zucker leads.
The Doctor grumbled as he hastily shoved the diary back in his pocket when he heard the army approaching, woke the Ponds, and commenced doing what he always did. Save the day, swing in at the last moment and cleverly suggest solutions to the best of everyone involved… only to return to a ringing phone in the TARDIS, and another adventure that simply needed his attention.
I don't like making promises, he read a few days later. I feel like they bind you, force you into being beholden to someone else's idea of what they want or expect from you.
The Doctor grunted in agreement, attention half on the bold black circles and lines Mels had written, and half on holding the diary out of the waist-deep sludge of the underwater grotto. He'd volunteered to keep watch for fishermen, while the Ponds -wetsuit clad, oxygen masks to their faces- were down with the mermaid Royal Family, trying to dig the infant future Sea King from a trap curiosity had gotten him into, leaving the Doctor with a few precious moments to read.
Yet I'd still made a promise to Amelia; and how could I not have? My best friend and my mother, in one impossible little package. I'd promised her to always be there, if and when she called. I swore I'd be there for her, always and no matter what.
I never really thought she'd test that.
But she has, over the last few weeks. Almost constantly; as though she sought the boundaries of our friendship and my devotion to her. And I'm not sure what it says, that most days I didn't even stop to think. Each time my mobile buzzed and I saw who it was, I'd drop what I was doing. Talk to her for hours about nothing as we combed through fashion magazines. Run through Leadworth to arrive breathless at the shops, so I could give my opinion on the merits -or lack thereof- of sparkly blue eyeliner.
No matter what she wanted, how silly her requests were; I'd sworn to be there. And I was. It seemed worth the trouble if I could alleviate the guilt I still felt at thinking of her upset, the way she'd been that night when I'd promised I'd be back and didn't return for hours.
Still. Sometimes I did wish -just a little- that I could have her restrict her demands for my time to when it was convenient for me.
Oh, he understood what Mels had meant about making promises and living up to them. Hers was to Amy -and his to the races of the universe that needed his assistance- but they were the same, the two of them. Despite personal inconvenience they would always be there when they were needed.
And yet, for him the final straw came a few mornings later when the wry and usually stoic Mr Pond cautiously commented over breakfast one morning that squash court six seemed to have something in the corner… something small, purple and fuzzy that he swore was squeaking, and maybe someone should get rid of it…
"Maybe," the Doctor answered grumpily, feeling just a little too put upon to be polite, "you should get rid of it."
The Ponds stared at him. Amy's mouth gaped for a moment, her last bite of toast almost falling out before she convulsively swallowed.
"There's something purple and fuzzy, squeaking in the TARDIS, and you want us to get rid of it?"
In the back of his mind, he did know that wasn't the best of ideas. But the thought of just a little bit of time all to himself was too much to resist. Plus, he trusted his old girl… she wouldn't have let something really dangerous on board to make its residence on a squash court.
"Come on, Ponds! Purple fuzzy things never hurt anyone. Can you think of something fuzzy that's dangerous?"
"Tarantulas," Rory muttered under his breath.
"They don't squeak," the Doctor retorted. "They click; very different language, almost poetic. You should learn it sometime. And anyway, purple is such a nice, friendly sort of colour. Nothing dangerous about purple things."
He bustled them to the kitchen door with his arms slung around their shoulders, talking quickly over Amy's protests and Rory's pleas to be allowed to at least take his toast with him before embarking upon a monster-finding mission.
"There's butterfly nets and cages in the cupboard. Try not to kill it, whatever it is? I'll be out to check on you in an hour or so."
He gave them both smacking kisses on the cheek and a little shove, before quickly shutting the door and locking it behind them.
"Finally," he sighed, pulling River's diary out of his jacket pocket, and sitting down again at the table. "Finally some time to read."
I've tried in the last weeks to always be around when Amelia calls, but a few days ago, I couldn't. It's physically impossible to get from Birmingham to Leadworth in minutes unless you can teleport... and being cursed to be only human and not something out of science fiction makes me reliant on wheeled transport, none of which was available.
To be fair, I tried. I tried to call Rory, leaving him about five pleading messages to come pick me up. I even tried to flag down any passing cars, willing to offer them my entire paycheque if they'd just drive me toward Leadworth.
But Rory didn't answer, and no cars would stop. Even the bus I would normally have taken to get back home wasn't scheduled to leave for another hour...
Well. I defy any good daughter to tell me they wouldn't have done the same thing I did? Rushing home when Mummy calls. Doing whatever it took to make sure they didn't disappoint.
Perhaps the difference is that most good daughters might not have borrowed a bus to do so.
"You stole a bus," Rory said flatly after he and Amelia had bailed me out of holding. (I think he'd pretended I was an escaped mental patient, and he -clad in scrubs, flashing a hospital badge with a roll of his eyes- was my ever suffering nurse. As good a cover as any, I suppose.)
"It wasn't a car," I remarked idly. "You said no more cars; and I promised you, didn't I?"
"Mels." There was a world of disappointed meaning in his tone, and I shrugged nonchalantly, flinging myself down on Amelia's bed.
"I was late. I took a bus."
"Uh, you stole a bus," Rory repeated, emphasising the salient point of his argument; and Amelia grunted in agreement.
"Who does that?" she burst out, not even stopping as she paced back and forth, arms crossed. She turned to glare at me. "Who steals a bus?!"
"Borrow, please. Anyway, I returned it to the station. Safe and sound."
"And first you drove it through the Botanical Garden."
Rory blinked at me, owl-like, and I grinned back, outwardly unrepentant as I twirled Amelia's old toy, her Raggedy Doctor's ship between my hands. (Truthfully, I felt a little bad… not so much from the theft, but from getting caught and needing to be bailed out, then scolded like a child.)
"Why can't you," Amelia groaned, "act like a person, hmm? A normal, legal person?"
Her words stung, but I willed them not to. I can't be normal, because I'm not. If she had any idea who I really am… Her daughter and best friend, who is even older than she is…
For the first time in her life, Amelia might actually be struck speechless if I were to lay all that on her.
"Oh, like you've always been normal and legal," I scoffed, for lack of any better retort. "You've been in trouble a time or two yourself."
"At least I," she insisted hotly, "have never stolen a bus!"
"Borrow. And it sounds more like lack of opportunity, than the idea that you'd never do it."
She rolled her eyes, leaning close to me and I sighed.
"Amelia, you called and I came running. Like I promised I would! Forgive me," I snapped, my temper suddenly strained to a breaking point, "if we can't all time travel and hop about in space when we're running late!"
"Amy," she corrected absently, eyes still searching my face. "I've told you, I want to be called Amy now."
"Fine then, Amy. I don't know why I can't be normal enough for you. Maybe," I added slyly, "I need a doctor."
My distraction worked, as I knew it would. Amelia glared, yanking the toy from my hands and spinning around.
"Stop it," she snapped in a low voice. Her Raggedy Doctor will always be enough to distract her, even though she's rarely mentioned him these last few weeks. No talking about crazy dreams, no giddy laughter about how she knew he'd save the world, and return to take her along for the ride.
These days, it seems that she dreams of something else that she's not sharing even with me, and her Doctor has taken a backseat. I suppose everyone grows up eventually; but I had to admit, I almost missed her stories of him, not to mention her childhood discussions of what she thought her Mr Perfect would be like. Even when I knew she was describing him, the image of the Doctor she'd always idolised; and never who her Mr Perfect actually was…
I blinked, hard. An idea had struck up like a match in the back of my mind; and I almost giggled out-loud as I followed down the twists and turns as it grew to a fully-fledged fire.
The fact that of late, Amelia had rather suddenly refrained from discussing either Mr Perfect, or even her precious Doctor. How she kept trying to spend time with Rory after that night at the club; combined with her clinging to me every time he was too busy…as though she wanted to talk about something and didn't have the words…
Oh, but I was an idiot. All this time, I'd spent working on Rory, trying to get him to confess his feelings. I should have worked on Amelia instead.
"No, no; I get it. Now you're nice and legal, because it's alright for you," I said slyly, my eyes fixed on her face and wondering how I could have spent so much time around her and missed what was in her eyes. Hope and love and wonder and just a bit of nervousness that she was reading the situation wrong. "You've got Mr. Perfect keeping you right."
She frowned at me. "Get off it, Mels. That whole Mr Perfect idea… Anyway, he's not even real. Just a stupid dream from when I was a kid." She tossed me back the toy, and I grinned as I twirled it between my fingertips.
"No, I wasn't talking about him…" I let my eyes flicker over to Rory, not missing the shocked look in her eyes as she followed my gaze.
"What, Rory? Nice thought, ok? But completely impossible. I mean… I'd love to; he's gorgeous. He's my favourite guy, but he's, you know-" she strolled over, patting him uncomfortably on the shoulder, "-gay."
"A friend," Rory said at the same time, before he turned to stare at her. "I'm not gay."
"Yes, you are!" Amelia insisted. "Don't be stupid. In all the time I've known you, when have you shown the slightest interest in a girl?"
Inside my head, it felt like I could heard a palpable click, like a lock snapping into place. As if this was just what the universe had in mind to happen, at just this time; and I began to grin helplessly as Rory fled down the stairs in mortification and Amelia gaped first at me then empty doorway before flinging herself after him, screeching his name.
That had been nearly four days ago. Four days, with no messages from either of them until they called -giggling down the phone and speaking almost in tandem- for me to come meet them at the ice cream parlour for milkshakes.
"It's March," I said dryly as I strolled in, tossing my coat on the chair across from them. "Isn't it too cold for ice cream?"
"Amy wanted some," Rory answered, his arm slung around Amelia's shoulders. He shrugged, a slight grin on his face. "And we haven't seen you in ages, so thought we'd invite you along."
"Things getting too hot for you, Amelia?" I raised an eyebrow with a little leer, grinning when she flushed. "Need ice cream to cool them down?"
"Oi, shut up!" she exclaimed. "We've been… busy."
"Yeah, I can guess…"
Their answering blushes spoke volumes; and I gave them one more wink before sitting down, surveying them over my menu. Rory, beaming a constant, slightly foolish grin; and Amelia, cheeks rosy and eyes bright as she snuggled under his arm.
"You two look happy," I said finally, not knowing what else to say.
"We are," Amelia supplied promptly. "We're-" she blushed a bit more fiercely, "- good.
"But Mels, I wanted to ask you something-"
"No," I interjected, "I will not be your bridesmaid. I don't like weddings, and I bet you'd make me wear pink or something else insipid. But… I wouldn't object if you still plan to name your daughter after me. After all, I practically got you two together."
"Shut up!" Amelia screeched, giggling. "We only just started dating, no one is talking about marriage, or children or anything."
No, she might not have been talking about it. But that didn't mean it wasn't going to happen. Look at me: living proof.
"I wanted to ask," Amelia continued, trying to keep her face sober, "how long you knew? About us; how we felt about each other?"
All my life, I wanted to say. I wanted to hold their hands across the table, and tell them seriously that I've always known of Amelia Pond and the Last Centurion.
"Awhile," I answered aloud. "Had to be patient and let you two figure it out for yourselves. Took you long enough."
Rory shook his head, grumbling a little. "Is that why you've been doing all these crazy things lately, and not being around when Amy called? Trying to force us together?
"I mean," he continued, "I just thought it was you being… uh, you. On the fact track to jail."
Not a new statement from him; but I still frowned, even though he was partially right. I suppose that to someone who can't understand my motives, what exists inside my head; the life that Mels Zucker has led seems like it would always have ended in a jail cell… though personally, I think that I am smart enough, after forty-five years, to avoid an unnecessary incarceration.
But I knew, from the wry twist of an eyebrow and a foolish smile as he wove his fingers through Amelia's that he was half joking… so I grinned, teasing him back.
"Hey, that was the one and only time you've ever had to spring me from the nick! And, I think it worked in your favour. Who do you think you are," I giggled, making a mocking face at him over my menu. "My Dad or something, to keep worrying about me?"
"I'm not your Dad," Rory protested, but Amelia snickered.
"Well, she calls me Mum when I annoy her," Amelia retorted, snuggling further under Rory's arm. "So it fits. But can you believe the cheek of her?"
"I can actually," he commented thoughtfully. "I think she must get that from your side."
Amelia's glare was a palpable force. "And I think," she said menacingly, "someone doesn't plan on getting any more kisses from his girlfriend if he keeps talking like that."
"Then maybe I'll steal them instead." He pinned her to his side, tickling her as he buried his face into her neck; and I snorted, caught somewhere between laughter at seeing my friends finally together as they belonged, and the hint of disgust children feel when they see their parents kiss.
"Maybe we know where the theft side of my personality comes from," I mocked. "If my dad steals kisses…"
They were far too busy to notice when I slipped away from the table, grabbing my purse and heading back out the restaurant to leave them alone.
They've finally found each other. What I've wanted for the last few years has finally come to fruition… and while I'm so happy about that, I feel a little… strange. For the first time in ten years, I think we're not Amelia-and- Mels-and Rory anymore. We've become Amelia-and-Rory.
And Mels. I think I have become an afterthought.
Funny how something I've wanted so badly leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth, now. Which is just stupid, if you think about it. They haven't forgotten me; they've just finding each other right now, and we'll be friends again like we've always been. And, I have a place in their life. I am -will be?- their daughter…
But as I walked back toward the Zuckers' house, there was an echo in my mind. The memory of a dark room and face with an eye patch hissing at me that I have nothing, I am nothing, I will never worthy of being loved the way that other children, other people could be. That even my parents chose -or is that, one day will choose?- Amelia's Doctor and what he can offer them instead of their own daughter; and that Melody Pond, no matter what name she is known by, is destined to be alone, alone, alone, alone…
There was a package lying on my doorstep when I got home, and I scooped it up as I walked in, turning to toss it onto the table with the rest of the mail before I caught the name scribbled on it.
Mels Zucker. Bold, slanted writing in blue ink that tickled something in my memory although I couldn't place it. I pressed my fingers against the padding of the envelope, feeling the sharp irregular edges of something small in the centre of the package.
I've read that curiosity was Pandora's fatal flaw… or was it stupidity? Either way, it's evidently a trait I share. I ripped the package open, finding a note wrapped around a wadded-up piece of cotton; and I frowned, sitting heavily on my bed as I skimmed over the words.
You don't know me -not yet anyway, not really- but I know who you are. I've seen you, a few times already; and I wish I could come up and talk to you, but I can't. And I can't explain why. But one day, you'll understand, when we meet finally.
If there's one thing about me you should know, it's that I'm never at a loss for words. Really; I can talk like you wouldn't believe. In fact, someone I know -you'd like her, you're very similar- tells me to shut up, quite frequently.
But some words are hard for me to say, because they just are. And then there's something about you, too. It's not a bad something -actually, it's a very nice something- but it means that even if I think I could do something to show you how I feel, things get all wibbly and impossible because sometimes things are wibbly and impossible. Or it's just the wrong timing for us both.
What I'm really trying to tell you is that one day, I'll be able to tell you exactly how much I care about you. That I admire you, and you're the most amazing person I've ever met. I'll be able to tell you everything.
But it can't be today.
So I hope that you'll take this little token of my affection for you, instead. And that one day you'll understand that with this, I'm willing to give you the key to everything that I am. I'm willing to give you my heart and soul.
Your Secret Admirer
There was a key inside the cotton, an ordinary key hanging like a charm from a long silver chain; and bemused, I held it between my fingers, watched it sparkling dully in the late afternoon sunlight.
I'm… I'm not sure what to say about this, even here in this diary and to myself. Except this.
I have a secret admirer?
I, have a secret admirer? Who gave me the key to his heart and soul?
Looks more like the key to his front door.
Still. A kind gesture, if a bit… Well. A kind of weird gesture, actually. But I stuck the necklace into my pocket anyway, reaching in occasionally to run my fingers over it, like it was some sort of magic talisman to protect against loneliness.
The Doctor sighed, placing the worn black book back in his pocket. He'd gotten what he wanted. Time to himself, time to read and immerse himself within Mels' life.
And now it was back to the real world. Time to rescue the civilizations of the universe that needed his assistance, time to help the Ponds (because even now he could hear the frantic racing of feet, high pitched yipes from Rory, shrieks of incoherent Scottish irritation from Amy, and dull thumps as nets hit the floor just outside the kitchen), and perhaps even time to help something purple, fuzzy and squeaking that had taken refuge in his squash court.
Yes, it was back to the real world.
He was sure there'd be time later to write a little note (and it wasn't really cheating, was it? To already have the wording right there, that he'd obviously already written?) and take a little detour to Leadworth to leave the TARDIS key on Mels' doorstep.