A/N: So I was driven to write this preview after listening to "Landscape" by Florence and the Machine for several days on repeat and writing a meta on River Song over on livejournal/tumblr. Nothing that you recognize belongs to me, but this does take place in my 'All Roads Lead Home' universe, and as such is compliant with THAT canon not Doctor Who canon in general. Enjoy!
Time Lords had a multitude of senses far beyond those a human possessed and while Melody Pond might not have been a full Time Lord, all of her senses were telling her the same thing: someone was sitting next to her. She opened her eyes and the seamless white ceiling of the hospital stretched as far as she could see. A vague disappointment settled in her chest; when she'd closed her eyes her parents had been present, and the Doctor, and her (and she wasn't going to think about Rose Tyler or wolves or lies that you tell children or what happens after 'happily ever after' in fairy tales). Melody told herself that she didn't expect them to stay, that the Doctor never stayed, but tears still pricked behind her eyes.
"I know you're awake, so it's no good pretending," an amused, female voice commented from the vicinity of her right elbow. "If you really want to lie there with your eyes closed be my guest, but doesn't it get boring?"
Melody's lips stretched into a frown as she turned to glare at the woman. "I wasn't pretending," she sniffed. "I had my eyes open. I just wasn't sure if you'd be worth my time."
"Glad to know I merit your interest," the woman replied dryly. She was sitting in one of the god-awful hospital chairs. Why, Melody wondered, were they always uncomfortable? It was the fifty-first century, for crying out loud, shouldn't someone, somewhen, have figured out how to make comfortable chairs?
God, her thoughts were scattered. Where was she? The woman? Yes, the woman. She would be tall when she stood up. Serviceable black denim trousers hugged her legs and hips. She was built for running, long legs, small breasts, narrow hips. Sensible black leather boots covered her feet and her legs almost to her knees. A black leather jacket that reminded Melody of the bikers in her father's favorite television show (some American thing called 'Sons of Anarchy' that she found boring) rested over a deep blue jumper. The color was nice; it set off the ice-blue of her eyes and the paleness of her skin. She had short, black hair cut in a rough bob just below her ears and cheekbones that could have cut glass. If Melody was perfectly honest with herself the woman was a looker, and if she wasn't lying in a hospital bed she would have been all over that.
The woman didn't so much sit in the chair as lounge in it, but Melody knew from experience that she would be up and ready for action at the slightest sign of trouble. Like, after all, recognized like.
"Who're you, then?" Melody asked. "Make a habit of visiting strangers in hospitals? Don't tell me, you're a candy-striper!"
"You really are always that surly when you wake up," the woman said, apropos of nothing. If the insinuation that the woman had a great deal of experience with her first thing in the morning hadn't stopped Melody cold, the affection that colored her voice would have. "I don't visit strangers," the woman continued. "But then, a stranger's just a friend you've never met before, my dad likes to say." She cocked an eyebrow at Melody. "I think you know him—complete madman, likes to travel in a blue box that's bigger on the inside, calls himself 'the Doctor?'"
Oh. Oh. That hurt. "You don't look like him," she said, after the silence had stretched out too long.
"Not the him you know, anyway," the woman corrected. "I've been told I favor his Ninth self this go-round." She sighed. "Regeneration is such a crapshoot. I rather liked being ginger, and then I get stuck with these ears and that nose." She gestured at her face. "Could be worse, I suppose. I've seen pictures of his bodies and let me tell you, it takes a special woman to love a man who wears a circus tent as a coat."
She knows the Doctor, a voice whispered inside her head. Take her. Use her. Find him. Complete the mission. Melody's fingers twitched. The voice rose in a crescendo until it was a shout, until it was all that she could hear over the pounding of her heart. COMPLETE THE MISSION. COMPLETE THE MISSION. COMPLETE THE MISSION.
Cool fingers gripped her wrist hard enough to bruise. The pain cut through the fog in her mind and when Melody raised her eyes from the blanket she found hard blue ones watching her carefully. There was knowledge hidden beneath the surface—and sympathy.
"It never goes away," the woman remarked as she released Melody's arm. "Not completely. You'll hear it there until the day you die, feel the tickle and push of orders—but it gets easier to ignore. It gets quieter, with time, until it's a whisper and not a roar, until finally you hardly notice it." Melody said nothing. The woman remained close, leaning over the bed. She stroked the blanket over Melody's leg absently, as if she had a right to touch the other woman so casually. "I was born a soldier," she continued. "Fully formed. The first thing I held was a gun, and I killed three people within the first hour of my life." She snorted. "Dad loved that. But then, he's always been a bit of a hypocrite. For someone who hates weapons he knows how to use an awful lot of them."
"You know, I love listening to people ramble," Melody retorted. "But I have to wonder, is there a point to this anecdote?" She knew too much, this woman. She knew things that Melody had never, would never tell anyone else. That made her dangerous.
The woman favored her with a long, level look. It was the eyes, Melody decided. They saw entirely too much. "The point," the woman said just before Melody gave in to the urge to fidget. "Is that you have a choice. You always have a choice. You could have left him to die, could have gone on with your life. The Silence probably would have rewarded you—but you didn't." Her hand stilled, and then slid up the blankets to cover Melody's. "They made you who you were, but you decide who you are."
"I don't know who I am," Melody said eventually. "They tell me I'm supposed to be this 'River Song,' but I don't even know who that is. I just—I just know I'd like to be the hero, and not the villain."
"River Song," the woman repeated. "Sounds a bit fairy tale."
Melody sniffed. "And Melody Pond doesn't?" she shot back.
The woman laughed. "Fair enough." She unwound herself from the chair and stood. She was tall, like Melody had known she would be, and she loomed over the bed like the angel of death come to call. Really, she needed to get some more color in her wardrobe. "Oh," she added. "You should have this." She held out a small package wrapped in brown paper. "It'll help keep the Time Lines straight." A wry smile flashed across her face. "Time travel's a bit tricky."
Melody glanced down at the package. It was solid, and sort of heavy for its size. When she looked up the woman was almost out the door. "Wait!" she called. The woman stopped and looked back over her shoulder, exasperation writ large on her face.
"What?" she demanded. "I've got appointments to keep and you've got entries to write."
"I don't know your name," Melody replied. "I told you mine, it's only fair if you tell me yours."
"I'm a time traveler," the woman shot back. "I collect names like some people collect decorative spoons." She pursued her lips for a moment and mulled it over. Her eyes softened and the corner of her lips tugged upwards. It was a strange expression—nostalgic and melancholy and content all at once. Emotions, Melody was learning, were complicated things. Hers had been shut down for so long, considered secondary to fulfilling the mission, that she was afraid to let them go lest they explode out of her and leave her with nothing left. "Call me Athena," the woman said. "It's strangely appropriate, and out of all the names I've been given, I like that one the best." She nodded once, sharply. "Be seeing you." And then she was gone.
Melody, no, River, turned her attention to the package in her hands. It took her less than a second to tear off the paper, and she was left staring at a book. It was thick and heavy, with real paper, and a pen slipped into the binding. It was leather-bound in a shade of blue that matched the color of the TARDIS exactly, and someone had taken great care to recreate the look of panels on the leather. She flipped through it casually, but stopped as a business card fell onto her lap from its place between the pages.
"Luna University," River read out loud, more to hear her own voice than anything. It was strange and new, sort of sultry, and she thought she liked it. "Professor J. Farnsworth, Archeology." A smile broke over her face. What better way to find a time traveler than to study time?