Melody knew how to fight, and she knew how to kill. She knew the nuances of different guns, different blades, and different poisons. She knew subtler things too: how to lie, how to sneak around unnoticed, and how to break in or out of anywhere. She also knew pain and fear. She had learnt not to disobey.
Madame Kovarian was sitting next to her on her bed, reading her a story. It was a fairytale, almost as if she was a normal child, but the evil wizard was really just a man. A man who was difficult—but not impossible—to kill. The Doctor. Melody hated the Doctor.
As she was listening to the story, her eyes swept across all the photos in her room, finding the only one she ever paid attention to. Her mother. She longed for her parents. She longed to kill the Doctor. Then she would get them back.
At the end of the story, the little girl defeated the evil wizard and everyone lived happily ever after.
Melody spent a week with the Sisters of the Infinite Schism before they discharged her and informed her that the Doctor had organised travel for her to Luna—that was the colony on the moon, they told her. So she went. All by herself. Still tired and weak from Berlin.
Luna looked just like a city on Earth, if a bit more futuristic than she was used to. The only thing that really gave away that she was not on Earth was the fact that she could see it in the sky.
She followed the pavement in the direction of the University. She needed to study something that would allow her to learn more about the Doctor. To find him again. To find her parents again.
The campus was surrounded by a tall wall, smooth and white. She entered through the main gate and looked around. There were lots of different buildings, some old and some new, some big and some small. She could see the student accommodation to her right; it didn’t look very exciting, but it would do.
In the main reception, she located a prospectus and took a seat. She didn’t want to study something she wouldn’t find interesting—she knew from her time in Leadworth that boredom got her in trouble—but it had to be something that would lead her back to the Doctor. Her first thought was History, but she wanted to actually do something, so she flipped to Archaeology. Now, digging up old weapons and dead things, that was something she could see herself doing. And she could even get the Doctor’s attention the same way her parents did, but with graffitied artefacts rather than crop circles.
She thought back to the hospital. They had just left her there. Growing up, she thought killing the Doctor was the way to get her parents back, but after she’d killed him, she realised that would only drive them further away. So she saved him. She gave up her regenerations for him. And they left her.
She walked up to the desk. The receptionist looked at her expectantly. “How do I go about applying?” she asked.
She knew what she had to do. She knew what they wanted from her. They didn’t love Melody Pond. They loved River Song. The Doctor had told her as much.
“Can I take your name, please?”
They’d left her alone. She deserved it, probably, but at least this way she had hope they would come back for her. “River Song. My name is River Song.”
“I think Amy’s in trouble,” Canton said over the phone. He sounded like he was running. “I’m gonna need some backup over here.”
“Okay,” River said. “We’re on our way.”
Terror flooded Rory’s face as River ran past him and leaned out of the TARDIS. The Doctor was speaking to the President.
“Doctor, it’s Canton,” she said, and he immediately rushed to the TARDIS. “Quick, he needs us.”
“It’s Amy, Doctor,” Rory said. “She’s in trouble.”
River noticed the worry that flickered on the Doctor’s face before he got it under control. “Don’t worry, Rory. We’ll be there in no time.”
River had been so sure she didn’t remember where she was kept as a child, but as they ran up the stairs in the orphanage, memories began to force their way into her mind. This must be it.
They were running along the corridor towards Canton; she was being scolded for running around. The Doctor was using the sonic screwdriver to open the door; she was being locked in her bedroom. There was a spacesuit lying on the floor; she was being chased by a spacesuit.
She already knew the suit was empty. She pulled the visor up. “It’s empty,” she said.
Amy’s voice came from the floor. River had a vague memory of seeing her in there, when she was in the spacesuit. Her mother. Not that Amy knew that.
Rory picked up the implant. “They took this out of her.” Amy sounded scared and alone, exactly how the orphanage made River feel. “How did they do that, Doctor?” Amy’s crying was still coming from the implant. “Why can I still hear her?”
“Is it a recording?” River asked, and the Doctor scanned it with the screwdriver.
“Um, it defaults to live,” he said. “This is current. Wherever she is right now, this is what she’s saying.”
Rory began to talk to the implant, trying to speak to Amy, and River looked back at the spacesuit. She could remember having nightmares about this suit—this exact suit—as a child in Leadworth. She had even told Amy about them at the time.
She stood up and looked around the room while the others were distracted. Her bedroom. Her eyes landed on the photo of Amy and her as a baby; she was a child clinging to the dream of being with her parents again.
Her head was pounding with memories she thought were long gone, little flashes of her time with the Silence. She wished she hadn’t clung on to the dream of parents, because look at her now: she was with them, but they weren’t with her.
“Hello? Is somebody there?” A man appeared in the doorway. She had a vague recollection of him, too. He had looked after her. “I think someone has been shot. I think we should help. We— I can’t rem— I can’t remember.”
The Doctor took off running and they all followed him. River watched his and Rory’s backs as she ran. Her husband and her father: two people she should be able to talk to about all this. But she couldn’t. They didn’t even know her.
River had been searching for weeping angels in Manhattan for a while, using her original first name again, before she ran into her family. She thought their appearance meant the start of a good day. She was wrong.
The Doctor hadn’t come to bed yet. She looked around the room at the assortment of photos on every surface, everyone who had ever travelled with him. It always came to an end.
She knew he was grieving in his own way, but they were her parents. She had been strong for him, and he had promised to be there for her. She needed him now, she would never fall asleep without him, but he wasn’t there.
She supposed they had considered the Doctor as family more than they considered her to be. She was never sure whether she should call them ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ or not—she didn’t want to feel like she had to remind them. And in the end, Amy had barely said goodbye to her, saving her final look for the Doctor. She told her to look after him. She would, of course. But would anyone look after her?
She hadn’t cried. She never cried. She was the master of not showing her emotions, or sometimes even not feeling emotions she knew she should be feeling. It was probably due to her conditioning, but she didn’t remember.
When she thought of her future, her parents had always been there. That was something she had always clung to, the foolish dream of a proper family. But now that couldn’t happen, and she had lost that lifeline.
Getting out of bed, River slipped on a dressing gown and went to find the Doctor. She looked in the console room first, as that was where he spent a disproportionate amount of his time, but he wasn’t there. She tried the library, where she had previously spent hours writing about her day in the form of a book—as if it was just fiction—but he wasn’t there either.
She eventually found him in her parents’ bedroom, which still had bunk beds. He was sitting on the floor, back to the wall, with his head resting on his knees. She made her way towards him, but her eyes were drawn to the two photos on the bedside table. One of them was of Amy, Rory, and the Doctor, smiling at the camera during one of their many adventures, and the other was of Amy and her baby. River felt so disconnected from that baby: she wasn’t Melody Pond anymore. She had thought they wanted her to be River Song, but she was wrong. River Song wasn’t their daughter, Melody Pond was.
She slid down the wall next to the Doctor and he lifted his head to look at her. “River,” he said. He’d been crying. “Sorry, I— I said I’d join you, didn’t I? I just—“ He waved a hand vaguely.
River rested her head on his shoulder. “It’s okay, sweetie. I understand.” She knew him, even if she wasn’t feeling what he was feeling.
He sighed and leant his head against hers. She should have felt comforted. Or she should have felt something at least. Why was she not feeling what he was feeling? Why was she not taking this harder than he was? She supposed it had always been them and him. They had always gone with him, chosen him.
Then she felt something. Anger, the desire to kill, and she pushed it down along with the thought that triggered it. She was nearly two hundred years old, she was used to dealing with her childhood conditioning by now. But she dealt with it alone.
Life inside the data core—if you could call it life—wasn’t something River particularly enjoyed. But she lived it. For the Doctor. And because she didn’t exactly have a choice.
She looked after the children, Charlotte and others. She didn’t really remember where the other two had come from, but they were there. She’d never wanted children, she’d always had better things to do, even on Darillium, and to be perfectly honest, she wasn’t sure she knew what a parent was supposed to be like, having never had a normal relationship with her own. But now she didn’t have anything better to do.
It was the perfect imitation of a “normal” life, but that wasn’t what she wanted. That was never what she wanted. She had enjoyed the chaos and unpredictability of her life, and she had never wanted anything else.
She tried not to hold it against the Doctor. He was young, he didn’t know her. She was almost certain that the Doctor she had left on Darillium would have known she wouldn’t like it, but he couldn’t change what he had already done.
She kept expected him to contact her, even if it was just to say goodbye, but that was yet to happen, so she went on tolerating her “normal” life without him. She didn’t need him.
Teaching at the university had its fair share of ups and downs, but that day had been a particular down. The topic of her lecture was one the rest of the archaeology staff loved to teach, because it was the first steps towards the colony they all lived in, but for River it unlocked a much greater trauma. Apollo 11.
As the students filed out of the lecture theatre, she picked up the helmet she had been showing them to put it back in its case. She tried to take a deep breath. She couldn’t. She had sat it at the front of the table and avoided touching it for the whole lecture, merely gesturing toward it when she referred to it. And she pretended her chest didn’t tighten up when she showed pictures of the spacesuit, or when she explained that astronauts would train for moonwalking underwater.
She felt she shouldn’t still be having that kind of reaction to the suit, not when all of that happened centuries ago for her. She had talked to the Doctor about it before, and while it was nice to be able to confide in someone who understood her, it hadn’t made her feelings go away.
She was still staring at the helmet when a voice that was guaranteed to improve her day cut through the noise in her head. “Professor Song!”
She tore her eyes away from the helmet and looked up to see the Doctor walking past the last few students. She put the helmet back down on the table, but kept her hands on it. “Hello, sweetie,” she said, pleasantly surprised to see her. The Doctor didn’t often visit her at work. “And to what do I owe this pleasure?”
The Doctor reached the table and grinned at her, obviously excited about something. “I have something to show you.”
River narrowed her eyes. “Will I need my blaster?”
The Doctor looked offended. “No.”
“Are you sure, sweetie? Because you usually end up getting us into some sort of life threatening situation.”
“Hey!” she protested. “That was one time.”
“No,” River said. “That was every time.”
The Doctor pouted and glanced over the artefacts on the table, her expression changing when her eyes landed on the helmet still in River’s hands.
“Apollo 11,” she said under her breath.
She put her hands over River’s and gently removed them from the helmet, taking it into her own hands and putting it away.
All attempts at banter lost, River was just happy the Doctor was there. Right when she needed her the most. She helped the Doctor pack away the rest of the artefacts on the table, and they left the lecture theatre and headed for the TARDIS.
The Doctor held her hand as they walked and told her about her recent adventures with her friends, talking until River couldn’t help but be distracted.
The TARDIS was parked outside, on the grounds of the university.
“So, what is it you want to show me?” River asked as it came into view.
“Well, I was looking for a haptic generator. I wanted to try installing one in the console. Still haven’t found it, actually. I swear I had one somewhere…” She trailed off into mumbling about haptic generators.
“Oh. Yes. Sorry. So I didn’t find what I was looking for but I did find something much more exciting. And now that I think about it, I do remember Clara mentioning it, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. She went to this English teachers’ conference and someone gave her the manuscript of an unfinished book by one of her favourite authors. That’s what I found.”
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor stopped talking momentarily while she rummaged for something under the console. River leant against it while she waited.
“Got it!” The Doctor emerged with a pile of paper in her hands. “The story is unfinished, but there’s an afterword.”
River frowned. She’d admit it was odd to write the afterword before finishing the book but she didn’t understand why the Doctor would want her to see it.
The Doctor handed her the paper. “Look at who the author is.”
She looked. Amelia Williams. She gasped softly and turned to the afterword.
Hello, River, my beautiful daughter. I don’t know how long it will be before you find this, and I don’t know if I will even be able to finish this book before my time comes, but I need you to know that I love you. I have always loved you. And so did your father. We stupidly assumed you didn’t want or need our love as parents, as you turned out brilliantly without us, but we were wrong to assume that. We should’ve shown you that love regardless. You are so so brave and I really am proud of you for everything you’ve done, even the things the Doctor wouldn’t approve of, and the things I didn’t approve of at the time. And I wish you every happiness. Melody, River, remember, you are loved.
When she finished reading, River found her eyes welling up. She quickly wiped the tears away—she never cried. The Doctor was fiddling with something on the console, and when she noticed River had finished she turned and smiled at her.
“Okay?” she said.
“Yes,” River said, choking up.
The Doctor took the manuscript from River’s hands and placed it on the console, before pulling her into a hug. River sunk into her arms. She wasn’t yet used to being taller than the Doctor, but still, she was home.
“Now,” the Doctor said, pulling back and grinning, looking every bit like an excited puppy, “how about we go somewhere far away from any Apollo spacesuits?”
“Only if you let me drive.” The Doctor pouted but put her hands up in defeat and stepped away from the console. “Thank you, sweetie.” She gave the Doctor a quick kiss before getting to work at the console.
So maybe she hadn’t had the perfect relationship with her parents, or the best childhood, but none of that mattered now. She felt loved.