A/N — Written for the spoiler_song Doctor/River ficathon for the following two prompts from callmelydia.
Prompt 1: 9 encounters young Melody in New York before her first regeneration
Prompt 2: 11 wakes up to find River has painted his finger and toenails. Color and situation causing this is up to you.
I combined the two into one fic. I've never written Nine or little Melody before so I was delighted with the prompt.
Patch up your Bleeding Hearts
He didn't know how much time had passed since the last act of the time war. Long enough to find the will to move again, to finally bathe and wash away the grit and dust and blood, to get dressed and to eat something. Long enough to make a passable imitation of living at least.
His thoughts, however, were still endlessly replaying the events that led to the Moment, hoping to find some solace in the knowledge that he had done the right thing. And he had. But still, the hollow ring of silence within, where once there had been a bustle of others—of family—served to remind him with every passing second of how desperately alone he was. The last of the bloody Time Lords.
Since the regeneration he'd been avoiding mirrors, unintentionally at first, but at some point he realised that he hadn't seen his new face. And now he was almost afraid to see what a regeneration born out of war and genocide looked like. What if he had a face that would remind him every time he saw it of what he had done?
Eventually, he returned to the Earth.
After all those years on the run and all of the time he was exiled there, he should really have been tired of the blue marble, but it was the most familiar place in the universe he had left.
He didn't care when, so he let the TARDIS decide. Nowhere too crowded though, Old Girl. She plonked them down in the middle of Times Square. Thanks Dear. December 21st 1969, the scanner read. Even better.
He stepped out into the street. The sidewalks teemed with festive shoppers, the usual retail panic tempered by yuletide good-cheer. Christmas lights and bell-ringing Santas clashed painfully with the blackness inside him. He didn't belong. It was obvious to him, if not to anyone else; they just carried on oblivious to the killer in their midst.
He walked amongst them watching them smile and frown and laugh and cry and feel in a way he couldn't anymore. He wandered aimlessly, an interloper masquerading as a member of the throng, until the throng became a trickle, and eventually he was alone again. This time, though, everyone had gone back to their homes and their families, not— Well, best not think about that.
Just me and you then, Old Girl, he thought, resigning himself to the failed experiment and turning back north to return to all he had left.
Something caught his eye in a dark doorway, something jarring. A pile of flattened boxes and out from between them peeped a shoe, a child's shoe. Another step closer and he realised what he was seeing—a little girl's leg, grey and still.
Something crept up from his stomach, through his chest and prickled down over his back.
He never thought he'd feel anything other than empty ever again, but here, the sight of just one dead child made his mouth dry and his stomach lurch.
He had to be sure.
His body railed against him, but he knew that to leave without knowing would be the straw to break his back. His arms shook as he moved the layers of cardboard aside and found her, shivering and sweating in a delirious fever, but alive. Just.
Give me this. Please, just this one.
He picked her up; her limbs were ragdoll limp. He brushed the lank hair out of her motionless face and put the backs of his fingers to her clammy forehead to feel her fever blazing out from within. Her shallow breaths rattled in her throat. He held her tight to his chest, as though he could imbue her with some of the life that was being wasted on him, and he ran.
His shoes echoed softly as he walked along the now familiar sterile white corridor. The guttural rasp of the little girl's cough invaded the hush and was followed by a breathless wheeze. His own chest ached in sympathy; the sound was far too great for the little vessel that had produced it.
Pneumonia, they had said when he brought her in, a severe case; she was lucky not to have died long before he had found her. The added complication of pleurisy meant that the prognosis was poor. She wasn't likely to survive, and even if she did, she'd spend her life with a disability.
Her room door was ajar; he knocked and entered. "Hullo Justmelody, me again."
She giggled as she always did at his intentional muddling of her name—No surname, just Melody—the joyous sound of a child's laughter tainted by the rattle of the disease in her lungs.
"What have you been getting up to today?" he asked as he sat down at the foot of her bed.
"I finished reading the book," she said as excitedly as she could.
"Already? That was quick! You must have been top of your class at school."
Her eyes dropped to her hands in her lap and she scraped at an imaginary speck on her nightdress. He picked up the book, "So what did you make of it?"
Brightening again, she said, "I knew he wasn't really dead, I knew he'd come back."
"Who, Aslan? How did you know?" he asked, amused.
"I heard a story like that before."
"In the bible?" She shrugged. "He's a good old lion, Aslan, don't you think?" She nodded furiously in agreement, making him chuckle. "I'll bring you a new book tomorrow, I'm sure I have something else that you might like."
She smiled widely, which meant more than a normal smile because Melody's were hard won. "What's that?" he asked, nodding at the pink-smeared cotton balls in the little bin next to her bed.
"Nail polish," she said, "Nurse gave it to me."
"You didn't like it?"
"I couldn't get it right."
"Practice and you'll get it, I promise."
"I don't want to do it by myself anyway, it's supposed to be something you do with your—" she stopped herself, dropping her chin to her chest and making a loose fist with her hand.
"With your…? You can tell me, I'm good with secrets."
"On the TV, the girls do their nails with their mothers." She glanced shyly up at him, an unspoken ache in her hazel eyes.
"And you don't have a mother," he said. She looked away again.
"How about I try? I'm sure I could give it a bash. I can't promise perfect results though," he said, leaning over to catch her eye and spying the vaguest twitch of a grin.
"Okay," she said and fetched the bottle from the table next to her bed. He unscrewed the lid and allowed the pink lacquer to drip off the slim brush back into the bottle. Melody tucked her IV tube under her arm, out of the way, as she put her two little hands, palms down, on the bed tray. He dropped blob of polish onto one nail and pushed it around a bit with the brush.
"You're supposed to paint it on," she said with a hint of playful castigation.
"Okay, fussy," he said and dipped the brush into the pot again. This time he painted her nail. "Better?" She nodded and watched as her nails were all turned pink. When he was done, she blew on them.
"Does that make them dry quicker?" he asked, genuinely curious.
"Dunno. It's what they do on the TV."
"So what happens next on the tee-vee?"
"Then it's the mother's turn to have her nails painted," she said.
"Oh no you don't!"
"Please-please-please?" she begged, and looked at him so innocently, so much like a child, that he couldn't refuse.
"Fine. But if I get any funny looks, I'm blaming you." She smiled brightly again — like a shard of sunlight in a darkened room. He put his hands on the table and she set to work.
"So is pink your favourite colour?"
"No, I prefer blue, but nurse says it's hard to get nail polish in blue."
"I like blue too," he said, watching her concentrate on painting his thumbnail.
"So, big night?"
"Christmas Eve, the big man in the red suit, Father Christmas?"
"There's no such thing."
"Don't be daft, of course there's such a thing. He's a good friend of mine actually." She looked at him as though he had lost it, and then giggled. "Don't believe me do you?" She shook her head. "You wait and see, Justmelody," he said with a wink.
It took him a while to track down the nail polish; he had to skip forward a bit but eventually found a fantastic shade of police-box blue in early 21st Century London.
Mercifully, it was still Christmas Eve when the TARDIS deposited him back in New York. He returned to the ward with her gift wrapped and tagged, 'From Santa' and his own copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, tied with a bow from him. He crept into her room, placed them down on the locker and took a moment to watch her sleep.
Her wheeze was quiet and she had a slight frown on her forehead, as though she were taking the task of sleep very seriously indeed. He smiled, thinking that she had the right idea and, for the first time in a long time, decided to do the same himself.
Christmas morning, he strolled purposefully through the ward, ready to find out what she thought about the existence of Father Christmas now.
"Mr Smith." It was the ward nurse.
Melody was gone.
The nurse explained how she had disappeared at some point in the night and that the police were notified but hadn't found her yet. She had taken her shoes and her cardigan, but they had no idea why she had run.
The fluorescent lights agitated his eyes and their buzz grew louder as he tried to focus his mind. The nurse held his book out to him, its ribbon removed. "Was your grandfather a Doctor, Mr Smith?" she asked.
"Sorry, what?" He was distracted, trying to figure out why Melody might have bolted.
"Your book, it's inscribed, For the Doctor, from the Author. Genuine if I'm not mistaken." She opened the page with the inscription.
"Yes, something like that." He turned and walked back down the corridor, the Christmas songs being spouted by the tinny in the PA system barely registering with his preoccupied mind.
He spent a long time trying to track her down but every route he took turned up nothing. Having no idea why she had run, he didn't have very much to work with.
He knew that he was going to have to give up, but he needed to decide how. One option was too much to bear, so he chose to believe that she had survived, against all the odds, and that she lived a long and mostly happy life.
He couldn't have known at the time, but that decision, the one that he made to save himself from the darkness, was the truth.
A regeneration later, a woman named River whispered his name to him, letting him know that she would some day be his wife. Later again, with another new face, he encountered a little girl in a spacesuit in Florida and recognised her instantly, Melody.
Not until he had loved River for a very long time, and one day she took his hand and placed it on his old cot, did he finally realise the truth that had been hidden in plain sight. The little girl whose life he saved was the woman who had saved his.
Over the years, River had told him what she could recall from the remnants of her shredded early memories. There was very little about New York beyond her being terrified and knowing that she was going to die, but somehow knowing she could fix it too. She ended up a toddler—the personification of her feelings of vulnerability at the time of her regeneration.
He never tried to remind her of being in hospital that Christmas, the more of that part of her life that stayed forgotten the better, but he'd find her sometimes taking The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from the shelf in the library and flicking through it, smiling fondly. It was her favourite, she'd always said.
He stirred from his sleep to find River kneeling next to his armchair, concentrating on painting the thumbnail of his right hand blue. He watched her work until she noticed he was awake. "Damn, you caught me!" she said with a cheeky grin.
"Yup," he said, stretching out a little to shake off the sleep. She took his hand and blew his nails dry.
"Aren't you going to give me a ticking off?"
He shook his head and smiled. "I like to keep you guessing."
"You fell asleep in the chair again. You know, you don't have to throw your neck out just to avoid sharing a bed with me."
"I'm not avoiding you, River," he said, threading his fingers into her hair and stroking her face with his thumb and its painted nail. She leaned into his palm and looked at him curiously.
"I was joking," she said softly.
"I know. Come here." He invited her to join him in the armchair.
She climbed up beside him, and he scooched over to make room. He put his arms around her as she nestled in, slinging her legs across his lap. He kissed the top of her head and she pulled him closer.
"I'm glad you're awake, I was starting to get lonely."
"We can't have that." He stroked her arm with his fingertips, and her lips found his throat, lingering on his pulse point as she contentedly breathed him in, making him tingle in that singular way of hers. His toes curled and could feel floor. He lifted both legs up to look at his feet, before letting them drop down again with a thud.
"Did you paint my toenails?"
"Might have," she replied, pausing for a reaction.
"Well, Doctor Song, that's one step too far, I'm afraid." He took hold of her and extracted them both from the embrace of the chair. He spun her around until she kicked her legs and laughed. When he looked down at her face, all he could see was joy.
She placed her palm over his right heart and pressed her fingertips lightly into his chest through his shirt. Dropping his face to hers, he brushed her nose with his before tenderly kissing her and drawing her as close as he could.
He carried her off down the hallway to her bedroom, holding her in his arms and kissing her with everything that was in his hearts. He stepped inside the room and kicked the door closed behind them. There was nothing he could do to change her past, but in the here and now, he could make her happy. Maybe even as happy as she made him.