Of Mothers and Daughters
A/N: Many thanks to the lovely GrumpyJenn for the beta!
Amy squinted her eyes, giving a last critical look to her Christmas tree. Rory had a bad habit of bunching up ornaments, and her annual fix-the-mess-while-he's-not-looking survey was nearly complete. Suppressing a yawn (it was nearly midnight, and she wasn't as young as she used to be), Amy reached out her hand to fix one last bauble when a bright light suddenly flashed in the kitchen.
"Hello, River," she called as the stench of ozone wafted into the lounge.
"Merry Christmas Eve to you too," River said, strolling to Amy's side and giving her an affectionate kiss on the cheek. "I see Dad's been decorating the tree all wrong again."
Amy smiled and reached out for another ornament, "I've actually started thinking that he does it on purpose. There's no other explanation for why anyone would put five ornaments on the same branch."
The two women worked in silence for several minutes until River took a step back, cocked her head, and then reached to still Amy's hand. "It's perfect."
Amy stepped back as well and decided that her daughter was right. It was perfect. "I think a successful re-decorating calls for a drink, don't you?"
River grinned. "Thought you'd never ask."
"Does he even realize what that thing does to your hair?" Amy giggled, gesturing at River's curls, which were even wilder than usual. Several glasses of spiked eggnog later it was two hours into Christmas morning and both women's tongues were decidedly loose.
A recent argument (well, less of an argument and more of him using her manipulator to send her back to Stormcage without so much as a by-your-leave when she'd asked if he had someone else on the TARDIS) flashed through River's memory. God, she hated him sometimes. "I tried to tell him, but he claims it's always like this," and the image of his face – the face of the Doctor who knew exactly who she was and loved her hair – replaced her annoyance with affection. "Bless," she added with a smile.
"So why aren't you with him? You two usually come for Christmas together." Amy topped off her glass and offered more to River, who waved her hand in refusal.
"Oh, he's off…somewhere…and I fancied a visit with you. That's…" River paused, the smile fading a bit from her expression, "that's all right, isn't it?"
"You're my daughter," Amy smiled, grasping River's hand in hers. "It's always more than all right for you come here. Really, anytime you like, pop by."
"I'll hold you to that, you know," River replied saucily, not quite meeting Amy's eye as she gave a breezy smile. Instead of laughing, however, Amy felt a stab of…fear? Uncertainty? Some combination of both with a side of sisterly love and parental concern? Whatever it was, it sliced painfully through her heart.
River was always a bit too quick to deflect Amy's expressions of concern for her well being. It was as if she didn't give much thought to the questions or her answers - almost as if she didn't want to allow Amy access to that part of her heart.
River sipped at what remained of her eggnog, and Amy suspected that her daughter was picking up on her sudden unease.
A long moment passed. "Was it true?" Amy asked, deciding that the question she'd been wanting to ask for a very long time needed to be brought out into the open. "When we were kids – when you were Mels and we were so close – was any of that true?"
River looked at her mother quizzically. "What do you mean?"
"Our friendship. All of it. Were you-" Amy broke off, unsure if she wanted to finish the thought.
"Was I just using you to get to the Doctor?" River asked quietly.
The question could hardly have been a surprise, in Amy's opinion - they'd been dancing around the subject since Berlin, which had been months ago for her - but the look on the other woman's face told her that it had hit her almost like a physical blow. For thirteen years they had been best friends. Mels had told Amy things that no one else knew, or likely ever would. Amy remembered their whispered conversations in her bedroom the first time Mels had kissed a boy, when she'd been suspended from school for smoking in the Ladies, and when she'd lost her virginity. Then there were the things Amy had confided in her… Had it all just been an elaborate ruse?
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked," Amy said quickly, standing to get another cup of tea.
"No, it's a fair question," River sighed. "The answer is no. It was never really about that. Well, almost never," she amended, remembering the times when she'd seen Amy just after a visit from the Doctor.
"Almost never?" Amy turned around and fixed River with a sharp look. "When 'almost'?"
"A few times – only a few – I needed to get information about him. All the other times it was true. Completely." River rose and rinsed out her glass. The 'celebration' portion of the evening was clearly over.
"And then he just stripped down right in front of me!" Amy threw her head back as she laughed, and Mels couldn't tell if she was giddier from the story or the beers they had spent the last few hours drinking. Everyone in the bar was talking about the giant eyeball-snowflake, but she guessed that theirs was the only table discussing the man who had sent it on its way.
"He stole the clothes, Amy. Don't forget that part." Rory grumbled, clearly less than enthusiastic about the discovery that his girlfriend's childhood imaginary friend had suddenly turned out to be all too real. And all too naked. And, Mels was guessing, all too attractive to a grown up Amelia Pond.
"You haven't answered my question yet, though!" Mels protested, feeling rather giddy herself. It took quite a bit more alcohol than she'd just ingested to make her tipsy, but she didn't wonder at the feeling. The Doctor was here – she was so close, so close to her goal. Her reputation as Amy's man-crazy best friend was about to come in very useful. "Is he hot?"
Amy glanced at Rory once before bursting into laughter again. For his part, Rory was industriously shredding the labels he'd peeled off every empty bottle on the table. He had quite a nice pile going, actually.
"Cheer up, Rory!" Mels said, slinging an arm around his shoulders. "He said he'd be right back, so that means you and Amy'll be old and married with a dozen kids by the time he shows up again."
Rory glared at her nervously, but Amy plainly hadn't heard a word over the sound of her own inebriated laughter.
It was too easy to get caught up in the moment, and Mels tried to re-focus on her mission even as she teased her best friends. Best friends who, if the Doctor was coming back, were going to become her parents sooner rather than later. Then she could kill him. Then she could be free.
Shoving that thought aside, she laughed again and took another swig of beer. "But really, I have to meet him next time. Promise you'll call me, okay?"
"Promise!" Amy shouted. "Now, who's up for a dance? I need to dance!"
Rising to her feet as Rory glared at his pile of labels, Mels looped an arm around Amy's waist. "Lead the way!"
"I remember that," Amy mused, staring into her glass of eggnog as River stood across the kitchen near the sink and tried to hide how tightly she was gripping the countertop. This was the conversation she'd dreaded having with Amy for decades (well, decades for her), and the one she knew could shatter every bit of the trust she knew Amy had in her – in both versions of her Amy had known – forever.
"You were so interested in him that night, and for awhile after that, but then you dropped it. It was like… like you got distracted or something." A crease formed between Amy's brows as she concentrated on the memory. "Did you meet someone?"
River shook her head slowly. "No. Well, not exactly. More like I didn't meet someone."
Amy looked at her quizzically for a moment before catching on. "He didn't come back right away. You thought he'd come sooner than he did, and when he didn't-"
"I went back to who I was. Who I really was. Your friend, Amy." River let go of the counter, exhaling slowly as she flexed her cramping fingers. She wasn't sure any more what she'd been so anxious about.
Amy's eyes narrowed, but her mouth remained softly smiling. "You were my friend then. My best friend. I trusted you so much, and you know, I never really understood why. I mean, when we were little girls it was easy enough to understand – neither of us really fitted in, did we? But after… we were so different in so many ways."
River smiled. "I wouldn't let you two go. You were ready to move on – you and Rory both – you were headed in one direction and I was pointed straight the other way. He became a nurse, you were figuring out what to do with your life, and I –"
Amy grinned, "You were headed straight for prison. God, if I had a pound for every time my mum and dad sat me down for a Talk about you and why they thought you were a bad influence on me." Amy glanced at River nervously, "I'm sorry, I didn't think-"
"Oh, I know they didn't approve of me. I may have played up the bad girl act a bit around them, actually, just to see how they'd react." River's smile was genuine, and Amy visibly relaxed.
"You weren't, though," she continued. "A bad influence, I mean. You were just there, being my friend. You didn't judge me or try to force me to do anything I wasn't ready to do. You never seemed to make the right choices for yourself, but you never tried to make me do anything that wasn't in my best interest," Amy looked up at her sharply. "You… you knew. I saw you, right after you were born, and you knew. And then you just –"
River cut her off sharply. "Amy, you don't need to-"
"No, I do. I really do, River."
"You need to come over." Rory's voice was flat from exhaustion, and Mels sighed as she rolled over, winced at the light streaming through her shades, and switched the phone from one ear to the other so she could check her clock.
"It's eleven bloody thirty in the morning, Rory!" she exclaimed, wincing and turning back over to bury her head back in her pillow. She didn't hang up, though.
"Amy needs you, okay? I'm sorry to interrupt your nonstop schedule of sleeping late, working when you feel like it, and going to parties all night, Mels, but your best friend is in crisis and I have to go to work. She needs you."
Mels swallowed and rolled over, blinking sleep out of her eyes as she processed Rory's last comment. Was this it, then? Had it finally happened? The last time she'd seen Amy her friend had complained about feeling nauseated and Mels had wondered… but it still felt too soon, too early. She'd never been told how old her mother was when she was born, and Amy would have needed to get pregnant immediately after the wedding for her to have been getting morning sickness that quickly. Then two weeks ago they'd abruptly announced that they were off to America for a backpacking trip. They'd obviously been with him, which meant that they'd likely been gone much longer than a fortnight from their perspective. Nine months? It was possible.
"I'll be over soon as I can, all right?" she tried to sound more annoyed than she truly felt, and Rory's answering huff of frustration indicated that he had no idea that she was actually a bundle of nerves.
In less time than Rory had expected, Mels's car (or what he hoped was Mels's car - she did have a nasty habit of borrowing other peoples' without asking) pulled up outside the house.
"Welcome back," she said saucily, giving him a hug. "How was America?"
Rory blinked at her for a moment before remembering their cover story. The memories of Utah and after started to pour back, and it took a far more forceful effort than usual to slam that particular door shut in his mind so he could focus on acting as if his whole world hadn't come crashing down since the last time he'd seen Mels.
"Brilliant. It was really brilliant." He knew he didn't sound even a little bit convincing, but at this point he couldn't be bothered to particularly care. "Look, some things happened, and now Amy's having a bit of a rough time. I'm not sure she'll want to talk about it, but I'd just feel better if someone was here with her while I'm at work. You don't mind, do you?"
Mels rolled her eyes and pushed inside past him. "Oi, Amy!" she shouted, giving no indication that she'd heard a word Rory said. He sighed. Well, at the very least, Mels might be able to distract Amy for a few hours. He'd thought about calling Tabetha, but she'd ask too many questions about why Amy was so bizarrely depressed after what had supposedly been a happy vacation. Mels, bless her, was too self-centered to demand answers.
Grabbing his coat from the peg, Rory went back to the kitchen where he found Amy staring blankly at the paper and Mels fussing with the kettle. "I'll be off, then. Will you be okay?" No response from either of them. "Amy? Are you going to be all right with Mels here?"
Amy looked up as if she hadn't even realized anyone else was in the room. "Yeah, fine. See you."
With one last worried look at Mels (who made "get out" motions with her hands) Rory grabbed his keys from the counter and left.
At least she wouldn't be alone.
"So are you going to tell me what's wrong or do you just want me to guess?" Mels finally asked, sitting down across the kitchen table from Amy and pushing a mug of tea towards her friend. "Because I'm wizard at guessing."
Amy shook her head. It was clear that she'd really rather be alone, but with every passing minute Mels became more and more convinced that her friend had just become her mother. She couldn't leave. If it was true, not only did it mean that she was now free to kill the Doctor (which meant sticking close to Amy – he'd be back for her, no question), but she felt oddly protective toward the other woman as well. She loved Amy, trusted her above all others, but had never once felt as if she needed to shield her from the world. That was new.
"If Rory did something I'll happily kick his skinny arse," she said casually, hoping to get some kind of response. Nothing. Time to get to the point. "Did you meet someone else there? Always did think you weren't ready to settle down and have babies."
Amy stumbled to her feet, knocking over the chair in the process, and ran from the room, sobbing.
Oh. Well then.
For a moment Mels didn't move. She could almost feel gears turning in her head, activating programming she could sometimes forget she'd received so long ago. The human, Melody, part of her wanted nothing more than to go to Amy and give her whatever comfort she could. She even felt the urge to confess everything – to give herself away in spite of years of training to do the exact opposite – just to erase that look from her mother's face.
It was funny, but before today she'd never really used the word mother, even in her head, to describe Amy. Now it was coming as naturally as her own name.
An even stronger part of her (a part she knew on some level wasn't really her, but had been created long ago by faceless, nameless people who moved through her every thought like shadows) was overwhelming her impulses toward comfort and truth. She did need to go to Amy, but for information about the Doctor, nothing more.
Slowly, Mels rose to her feet. If anyone had been watching, they would have seen alternating pained and blank looks flashing across her features as she fought a war inside herself. As she turned and went up the stairs to Amy and Rory's bedroom, Mels gave in to the inevitable. Fighting against the programming would only mean destroying the part of her that was her, that was her mother's daughter, and Amy had lost enough today. Besides, she didn't have to fight, she just needed to be very clever.
So when she found Amy collapsed on the bed and sobbing, she didn't say anything. If she opened her mouth she'd have to ask about the Doctor, and that wasn't what Amy needed. Instead, Mels just stroked her hair and waited, telling herself that nothing would be gained by trying to coax information out of her mother now. Time enough for the Doctor later, she assured the shadowy voices in her head. She had all the time in the world. All the time in the universe, in fact.
But she couldn't spend that time with Amy. Not anymore.
"You left after that. You just up and left, and we didn't see you again until that day in the cornfield. You knew – you knew what had happened and you…you left." Amy shook her head and River felt the tightness in her stomach return.
She was a grown woman, she was River Song, and the Silence couldn't silence her anymore.
"I wanted to tell you, Amy. That day in your house I almost did, but I couldn't. You have no idea how powerful my programming was back then. I knew if I stayed close to you I wouldn't be able to stop myself from asking you about the Doctor, and because I knew what had just happened to you and Rory I also knew how much those questions would hurt you. So I did the only thing I could - I left." River reached out and touched Amy's hair, stroking it softly the way she had on that awful day so long ago.
Amy stood and wrapped her arms around her daughter – her friend. "Thank you. For doing what you could do at the time. It was brave, River. You've always been so brave."
They stood together for a minute, just holding one another and trying very hard not to apologize for past wrongs that might actually have been rights.
Amy was the first to pull away, sniffling loudly as she wiped her nose on her sleeve. "I've never been very good with this emotional girl talk stuff, have I?"
River grinned through her own misty eyes, remembering a long-ago declaration that both she and Amy were honorary boys, and as such shouldn't be expected to talk about their feelings after a row. "About as good as it as I am, if memory serves." She took Amy's hand in her own, though, and didn't let go as they sat again.
River began to feel the late hour pressing down on her. It had been a long day, and now that the emotional charge of the last thirty minutes began to wear off the only thing she wanted was the comfort of the small bed with soft pillows she knew awaited her upstairs.
"Do you want us to call you Melody?" Amy asked quietly just as River was about to suggest that they head to bed. "It would take a bit of getting used to, but it is your name…" she trailed off as River looked up at her again. It wasn't time for rest yet after all.
"Oh Amy, I'll always be your daughter, but becoming River Song was the first choice I ever really made for myself. Choosing that name was like choosing to leave all the things they had done to me behind."
Amy smiled, and considered the comment for a moment before adding one of her own. "You always have liked picking names, haven't you?"
"Look at her hair!"
"I'm going blind – it's so bright my eyes are melting!"
"And that voice!"
"Call that a language, ginger? More like grunting than English!"
From across the schoolyard, a head full of black braids popped up from where it had previously been hidden behind a bit of shrubbery. Normally, if hair-related taunting were happening, it was directed at her. Not today, apparently, as the object of the older boys' scorn became readily apparent, even from a dozen yards away.
Red hair and an angry Scottish voice shouting above the boys' voices now, telling them to shut their stupid mouths.
Mels darted out from behind the bush, brushed the dirt from her skirt, and dashed across the playground. This was it, she was sure.
"Hey!" she shouted, bursting into the circle that had formed around the new girl. "Back off!" The boys were startled for a moment, clearly not expecting anyone to stick up for a student who had just arrived that morning and who was so strange even the teachers seemed a bit bewildered by her.
"Back off? And who's going to make us?" one of them taunted, albeit a bit less confident than he had sounded a minute earlier.
"Please, as if I couldn't wipe the floor with any of you." Mels paused a moment, but the boys stayed where they were. She stared the ringleader straight in the eye. "Care to try me?"
He started back at her for a moment before laughing and turning away as if he'd meant to leave then all along. "Come on, let's leave the freaks to themselves." His pack followed quickly, clearly unwilling to mess with Mels any further. They'd seen what she could do.
There was an awkward pause, and the new girl scuffed her trainer against the pavement, refusing to meet Mels's eye. "Thanks, I guess," she mumbled.
"I'm Mels Zucker. Well, Melody, but everyone calls me Mels," she amended, feeling it was quite important for this girl to know her full name in spite of the fact that no one else ever used it.
"Amelia Pond," returned the redhead gruffly, keeping her eyes firmly on the ground. Had she looked up, she would have seen an inexplicably broad smile stretch across Mels's face for a moment.
Mels was suddenly overwhelmed by the memory of the last time she'd heard the name 'Amelia Pond.' It was a name that had always been spoken with such hatred, such disdain, by the woman whose face and voice always seemed just beyond the reach of Mels's memory even though her words always stuck firmly in her mind. That nightmare woman was real, Mels was certain of it, and she'd spoken often of Amelia Pond and her precious Doctor. She'd also ordered Mels to become friends with the girl when the time came.
In that minute, for no reason Mels could pin down other than that she really hated that woman, she decided that she wasn't going to befriend Amelia Pond after all. She was going to change things. Change them because she could and because she wanted to.
"I don't like it," she said abruptly. "Amelia. Sounds like a gran's name, or something from a story."
The other girl's head snapped up and her eyes took on a defensive shine again. She'd been handling those boys just fine before this girl came along, and now she'd handle her as well.
"I think I'll call you Amy instead," Mels declared as she stuck out her hand. "Amy Pond."
Amelia cocked her head for a moment before a broad smile stretched across her face. "I like it. Amy. Yeah, call me Amy."
Christmas morning arrived, as it inevitably did, far too early for Rory's liking. The Doctor had a bad habit of turning up at ridiculous hours of the morning as eager to open gifts and make noise as any small child. Thus, it was hardly surprising that he woke to the jarring sounds of the TARDIS as it disturbed the pre-dawn stillness of their street.
"We really need to tell River not to let him get here until at least eight next year," Rory groaned, turning over to face Amy's side of the bed.
Amy's empty side of the bed.
"Amy? Amy!" Rory called, stumbling out of bed as he realized that not only was Amy not there, but her pillow showed no signs of having been slept on the previous night. She'd told him she was just going to wrap some final gifts, and then he must have fallen asleep… Where could she have gotten to on Christmas Eve?
Quickly pulling a dressing gown around his shoulders, Rory started down the stairs just as the Doctor was letting himself in the front door.
"Rory! Merry Christ-" the Doctor stopped abruptly as he got a good look at the expression on Rory's face. "What's the matter?"
"It's Amy. She didn't come to bed last night, and-" before Rory could complete the thought, the Doctor put a reassuring hand on his arm.
"I think you might want to-" the Doctor pointed into the lounge, and Rory turned on his heel to see what had caught the other man's attention.
There lay his wife and daughter, fast asleep and slumped against one another on the sofa.
The Doctor and Rory tiptoed over to the couch. "What's this, then," the Doctor murmured, trying not to wake the women as he reached over to lift up a photo album that had been lying across River's lap. A pen slid off the book as he raised the book, clattering to the floor and causing Amy to mumble something incoherent before she settled back into sleep.
"It's them," Rory said softly as he ran his fingers over a faded snap of Amy and Mels, arms around one another's shoulders. Underneath it read "Best Friends—1997" in Tabetha's faded script. A caption in much fresher ink and River's handwriting had just been added—"Mother and Daughter—timey wimey."
Rory bent down and kissed each of them softly on the head. "C'mon, son-in-law. Let's get some coffee while these girls catch up on some sleep. Looks as if they had a long night."