Spoilers: up through TATM and all seasons of TW
Beta: With deepest thanks to tymewyse
AN: Written for EleventyFest, for LJgeoff
The first time he meets her, he's in a bar on a space station he doesn't care to know the name of. He's halfway through dissolving enough brain cells to forget his own various names and pseudonyms. Funny that, because forgetting his own name doesn't mean blotting out the names and faces of the people he's lost, and the ones he's let down. He's going to carry those forever, and he does have forever. The prospect makes him order another hyper-vodka.
He is four thousand years old, and he's so tired of falling in love, of having a family, of watching them be ripped away again and again. Each injury is a reminder of all that came before. He stares into his drink, remembering the latest loss, courtesy of an asteroid collision that he -- of course -- survived. It's been twenty-two years since he resurrected on a broken world, and he's not yet ready to be sober.
She sits down next to him, all elegant dress and perfectly-coiffed curls, and the man who's trying to forget his own name plasters on a flattering smile. "Hi."
Her own smile is a bit cold, and more than a bit sad. "Hello, Captain."
Captain. That name. He stops himself from grabbing the glass in front of him or else he'll drive her off for certain. "Have we met?"
"Your reputation precedes you." She holds out her hand. "Dr. River Song."
He takes the hand into his, pressing his lips against one knuckle. "Nice to meet you, Dr. River Song."
"Let's go somewhere," she suggests, and he can't believe his luck. Even with his usual charm, it takes him a minimum of a few minutes of flirting before someone suggests getting cosy elsewhere. Of course, she does know who he is, or who he was before he started this plan to leave that life and all attendant failures behind him.
He is intoxicated enough to disregard the voice in the back of his head pointing out to him yes, she does recognise him, but his reputation doesn't guarantee she wants a shag in his rented bunk. A louder voice inside him doesn't care, and is happy to consider the possibility that this woman with the obviously false name is an assassin who will kill him several times for sport. That's better than dying from another bout of self-inflicted alcohol poisoning.
River studies his face, as though she can read each thought flickering behind his eyes. Jack makes a quick cover with a glint in his eye. "I have a place close by," he oozes. "Nice view, clean sheets, and they do a great breakfast in the morning."
"Let's go to mine."
Assassin, he muses, disappointed that he probably won't get to sleep with her. As they walk, he slides an arm around her yielding waist, and gets a nice view of her generous cleavage. A man could lose himself for hours between those, Jack thinks, and laughs at himself.
River doesn't have a rented room or even a luxury suite on this floating station parked at the intersection of two heavily-travelled trade routes. Instead, she has her own ship, docked and poised to go at the outer ring. The hatch opens with a press of her hand. Jack pays attention, in case he has to remove her hand later in order to escape. Unlikely as the possibility may be, he's been there before.
"I love what you've done with the place," Jack says, taking in the lush curtains covering the bulkheads, and the tasteful reproductions of old artefacts from worlds he visited in their primes. "Is that Alasta Dynasty?" he asks, indicating an urn with a pattern he sort of recognises. Small talk. It's what's for starters.
"I worked on a dig there," she says, and she gestures to a chair, insisting he sit. "Can I get you a drink?"
"What have you got?"
"I'll surprise you," she said, and two minutes later, River plunks down a travel mug. Wine glasses are for those who don't worry about their artificial gravity going on the fritz again.
Jack takes a swig, expecting poison or whisky or poisoned whisky. Instead, it's black coffee, and he almost spits it out in surprise. He covers again with, "Imported from Earth?"
"The ASDA in Leadworth always had good prices. I drop back to pick up some every so often."
His groggy and somewhat pickled memory slots those words against his enormous vocabulary of places and names. "You're a time traveller."
"Aren't we all, Captain? Most people travel through time the easy way, one day at a time. I've heard you're doing that again."
He shrugs, and he wonders where she's been getting her information about him. "I've got an infinite number of days to kill. Skipping ahead doesn't do me any good." Going into the past will kill him, as he rewatches his mistakes without hope of changing their outcome. Jack forges on with his initial plan. "Now, if you're looking into spending a nice time over the next few hours, I've got plenty of ideas." His eyes are drawn back to her breasts though he doesn't linger. Eye contact is much sexier.
River sits in her control chair, swivelling away from the little magnetic serving table. "Do you have any possessions left in your room back on the station?"
The question pokes through his dwindling hopes of sex. Does he? He's got the coat on his back, the sometimes functional mended strap on his arm, and the junk he's brought with him from his last life locked in a box beside his bed. Nothing of value. "No."
"Good." She reaches over and flips two switches. He feels a sudden jolt as he moves sideways but only in his belly. They've just made a jump, and unless he's mistaken, that includes a jump in time.
"What the hell?" He goes to stand, trying to reassert his timelegs. It's been a while, and he has to clutch the table. "Bondage is okay, but I don't like kidnapping."
"I haven't kidnapped you, Jack. I've given you a ride."
He goes to make a comment but she raises her hand. "Don't. It isn't that I'm not interested, and it isn't that my husband isn't interested, it's that I know nothing happens between us here."
He grins. "Is that a promise for later?"
"More of a warning. Eat your vegetables, Captain, and build up your strength first." Her smile is coy and knowing. Not a guarantee of sex, he reminds himself, but definitely not a rejection.
She turns to her controls and shifts them into landing mode. With a thump, they touch down wherever and whenever she's parked them. "Go on," she says.
"Where are we?"
"Somewhere you'll want to be."
"Not helpful." Has she brought him to be tortured and interrogated? Thrown head-first into a war? He doesn't like surprises.
River says, "Space and time aren't linear, not always. Sometimes there are gaps, folds, even short cuts between two places. Fords across the stream, if you will. Things come through, sailing between worlds, or splashing up into some forgotten gully of time."
"Yeah?" He'd researched wormholes once upon a time, and lived next to a rift. This is elementary stuff.
"Over three thousand people vanished from the other end of the Cardiff rift. Most of them fell out here. One hundred and forty years of refugees, Captain, arriving one at a time into a foreign land and forever exiled from their homes."
She opens the hatch. The planet outside is unrecognisable. The vision of a settlement on the horizon tells him the place is inhabited. What will the locals make of lost humans arriving suddenly from the unstable rift nearby? "I don't know what you want me to do," he says, but he does know.
"Be their guide. Help them adjust to this new world. Stand between the natives of this planet and their new immigrants, just as you did back on Earth. Someone must build a new colony. Someone must lead them. You closed the rift on Earth. Stay until it closes here, and complete your work."
He doesn't want this task to be handed to him. Jack holds on to the table, unsteady and weak. He can see the gift she's offering at the end of his task; he didn't close the rift alone. He's dreamed this dream. But he is afraid, both of the enormity of the work ahead, and of the memories it's going to dislodge, memories he's been trying to ablate from his own steel.
"I can't. I'm nobody's guide."
River stands. She presses a kiss against his neck, her curls tickling his face. "You are however very good at being a hero. The rift will open here for the first time tomorrow. You'd better be ready." She watches him go, and she doesn't say goodbye before she closes the hatch and lifts off into the sky.
Jack turns his face to the nearby settlement, and he sets out.
The first time she meets him, she lifts his wallet on the subway. Nobody suspects the chubby-cheeked six year old, not with her winning smile and her bouncing curls. Melody always chooses the busiest cars. When people see her, they assume she's with someone else, and they ignore her. They definitely don't assume she's living on her own, or that she's twelve, or that she can sense time, or anything. The man is standing, ignoring her, and she can feel him from three cars away. He's all wrong, all gnarled up in time like a rotting knot inside a tree. Taking his wallet is practically a good deed, righting the universe a little.
She hops off at the next stop, and scampers up the smelly stairs to the street.
The man is waiting there for her, his arms folded. He's smiling, but not the bright smile he gave to that pretty nurse on the subway. "Melody," he says casually.
She goes to run, but his hand clamps on her shoulder. She's not sure if he's gonna drag her to the cops, or drag her into an alley like some pervert. She screams, drawing the attention of the nearby pedestrians.
"You really want to quit that," he says quietly. "Come with me."
Melody is a street kid. She's seen a lot of things too terrible to consider even for her real age, much less for this little body she's growing now. Grown men are bad news for little girls, end of story. Grown men whose whole bodies are an abomination to time and space can go far, far away.
Sure enough, her shouts draw the interest of a cop walking his beat, or maybe one of the people walking by tipped him off. It doesn't matter. Melody runs through her alibis. She's avoided the system so far but one arrest will see her in a foster home, or maybe juvie.
"Let me go," she tells the man holding her. "Let me go or I'll tell him you touched me."
"Sorry, officer," the man says as the cop approaches. "My daughter is making a scene again. Ever since the divorce, she's been playing the game where she tells everyone I'm not her daddy any more."
It's a bold-faced lie, and Melody's jaw drops in shock and fear. "That's not true!"
The cop looks at them both. Melody doesn't want to be brought in but she's more worried about this guy. How did he follow her so quickly? He stayed on the subway car she left. She's positive. "Can you prove this little girl is yours, sir?"
"I stuck my wallet in her jacket in case she ran off again," says the man. He extends his free hand to the police officer. "Jack Harkness. You can find my ID in her pocket."
The cop opens Melody's jacket, and sure enough, in her inside pocket, the man's wallet shows the same smiling face.
The officer frowns at them both, but Melody looks mixed enough for it all to be plausible, and Jack Harkness has already undermined her protests. "Your driver's license says you're from England."
"Wales," he corrects. "I had to move for business. Melody and her mother stayed here. May I please take my daughter home now? I only have custody until six o'clock, and we were going for ice cream until she tried to run off again." He scowls at her. "Don't think you're getting ice cream now."
The cop waves them off, and Jack Harkness drags her away. When they are out of earshot, Melody asks, "Are you going to kill me? Because you should know, that doesn't work."
"Can't die like other people? Join the club, kid." They walk until they reach a hotel, where Jack Harkness leaves the wallet at the front desk. "I'll be wanting that later," he says.
"How did you move so fast?" She's sure, for reasons she doesn't understand, that he's not going to kill her. She's almost sure he isn't going to be a pervert, either. Curiosity has settled in.
"Easy. I'll show you." He leads her off down the street from the hotel, and they wait. Ten minutes later, the same guy walks up the other way.
She looks between them. They're not twins. This man looks older than the one going through the doors of the hotel. "What?"
"Let me buy you dinner. You look like you haven't eaten in a while."
They sit at a booth in some greasy restaurant not far from the hotel. Melody eats two cheeseburgers and so many fries she's almost sick. Jack Harkness watches her eat, almost proud of how much she puts in her mouth. He was right. She's hungry.
"You'll be sick. And I said no ice cream."
"What are you?" She drinks a thick milkshake made with strawberries. It's really good, and she's no longer afraid of anything.
He lounges back. "I'm a friend. You know about time travel. You stole my wallet from me back in 1974. It was returned later that day. You and I just returned it, without letting me know what happened. I did drop myself a note to pay attention, but I already received that note in 1974."
'Back in,' she noticed. "It's a loop."
"You're here from the future."
"Another gold star."
"Because I stole your wallet?"
"Because I didn't know that I recognised you then." He smiles at her, and it's sad, and genuine. "Are you finished?"
"Yeah. Okay." He leaves a huge tip for the waitress, and they do walk into an alley. Her heart starts pounding. Melody looks for an exit, but Jack opens the weird wristwatch he's wearing. "Come on." He holds out his hand. After a moment, she takes it.
Everything shifts. Melody cries out, but Jack is holding her up, keeping her strong.
This isn't New York. There's too much grass, too few cars, and everything smells wrong. "Where are we?"
"You said you were from Wales." She knows the difference. The monsters in her dreams that she can't remember told her to stay away from Wales.
"I work in Wales, or I did. This is England. That," he points, "is Leadworth. There's a family waiting to take you in."
Melody pulls back sharply. "I'm not going into any foster home."
"You are, because you will. The streets of New York aren't safe for a little girl. You need a family who will take care of you, and you need friends."
"I don't have friends."
"You will. There's a girl your age named Amy who lives down the lane from here."
Her head turns at the name. Leadworth. Amy. Pond. "I can't meet her," she says in terror, and a tiny bit of hope. Is she being returned to her mother? A girl her age, though.
"No, you can meet her. You just can't tell her, if you ever intend to be born. It's 1995, and she's moving here tomorrow. She could use a friend."
Melody is twelve years old, or about. She doesn't know really, not with the time travel, and now with more time travel. Amy Pond will be a frightened little girl from Scotland, not the mother Melody has let herself dream of late at night in cold brick buildings where the druggies squat and ignore her in their dope-filled haze. "I don't want to be her friend."
"Then let her be yours."
He starts walking, headed toward the house where she will discover he's already arranged paperwork and answered questions. He leaves an hour later, leaves her with the two strangers she'll obediently call Mum and Dad and their three children she'll never consider her siblings.
Jack Harkness, she makes herself remember. She hopes she'll see him again, if only to punch him in the face.
The first time the Doctor experiences another Time Lord's regenerations running through his body, he discovers the side effects: dizziness, bloating, mild cramps, and reliving brief snatches of the life experienced before the extra lives were ripped away.
Her memories of the Silence fuzz at the edges, merge in the middle, and make him ill if he looks at them dead-on. Kovarian is more distinct, a sharp and brutal image shining through even to her days as Mels. She's been dreaming of the eye-patched face. She told the counsellor at the school, but just once. Her foster parents said it might be memories of abuse, and they were half-right.
She remembers every story Amy made up about him, how the Doctor was this magic man who should have been able to save everyone ever. She made up her own stories, where he did rescue the Titanic, and stop Vesuvius, and prevent the Great War. The one story she never, ever told Amy was the one she told herself at night, the story of how the Doctor rescued Amy Pond and her baby, and how they were reunited with Rory, and lived together as a proper family in a little house, and loved each other.
It's worse than the TARDIS showing him Rose, Martha, and Donna.
And there's Jack. Of course there's Jack. The Doctor should have known Melody Pond has already met Captain Jack Harkness. He steels himself for the memory, but instead of Mels and Jack in a steamy embrace, he sees cheeseburgers, and a smile, and a new start in life for a child who needed her mum and dad.
He sees the first car she stole, and the first boy she kissed, and the first night she and Amy stayed up all night on the roof just watching the stars and making wishes. He sees the woman she thought she was going to be, a little wild and reckless, there to keep Amy's life interesting when her space boyfriend was away. He sees her playing with Rory, making up games to keep him talking to her, and wading into fights on his side when the bigger boys tried to bully him for being such a gentle, thoughtful lad.
He sees her, the good and the bad, and the amazing.
He opens his eyes, alive again, and knowing the woman who will be River Song inside and out. The intimacy startles him as he fumbles to his feet and talks to Amy and Rory as though nothing has happened. But as they take her into the TARDIS, as they make plans to deliver her into a safe future where she can grow, he watches her sleeping face, and he loves her.
The first time the Doctor sees him with these new eyes whilst wearing these new features, Jack's hair is edged with silver, and wrinkles sprinkle over his face. He's got a young wife and an old husband, and five children of various ages in the rambling family home he's built on this planet on the outskirts of civilisation. The Doctor doesn't know much about the history of this world, or why there are so many humans in a sector that should have none. He makes a point of learning more when he's not desperate for help.
"Jack," he says, ignoring the tea and biscuits in front of him. "I need you."
Jack kisses the child on his lap, some mop-haired tot who bears a resemblance to him, and shoos the little one away with a fond ruffle of hair. "Words I have always wanted to hear."
He doesn't tell Jack to be serious. "My friend Amy was taken by a group known as the Silence. I've tracked down her location, and I am gathering my friends to help me save her and her child."
"Save her from what?"
"Captivity. I have no idea what's been done to her, to them." Fury and cold calculation have been ascendant in his mind, in Rory's actions, but terror is never far away. "The TARDIS analysed the pregnancy, but there was a Ganger involved." Jack nods in understanding and does not interrupt. "We think she's having a little girl. We don't know why they want her or the baby. We have to rescue them."
"Amy," Jack says thoughtfully. "Amy Pond?"
"And her daughter."
Clearly he knows something. The Doctor chose a later period in Jack's life than he normally did, hoping his old friend would be past much of the loss and grief that he associated with the twenty-first century. This does not mean Jack hasn't found brand new griefs to blame on the Doctor's bad sense of timing.
The Doctor frowns. "Say that again."
"I can't help you."
Anger flames up, and harsh words come to his lips, dying before he speaks. He wants to demand the truth from Jack, wants to know how he dares say no when the Doctor needs him more than ever. But that's not his to say, not his to demand. He cannot claim to have come when Jack needed him in the past. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"Will she live?" he asks instead. If Jack knows of the situation, of the woman and the baby, perhaps he can give some hope to their fate. Amy isn't the best friend he's ever had, but she is his best friend right now. He aches in fear for her.
Jack looks away. He watches his two youngest children play a game with cards and checkers. He watches his wife writing at her desk, covering the sheet with words they can't read, and watches his husband fiddle with an appliance in the kitchen, pretending not to eavesdrop on the conversation. The Doctor can't tell if he's pleased or sad when he says, "Everyone dies in the end, Doctor. Except for me."
Then he blinks the sadness away, and there is only love on his face for the people around him. "But sometimes you get a second chance to get it right. Go rescue your friend."
The last time the TARDIS sets down on a planet known to the natives as Halisteti, and to the thriving human colonists as Jack's World, the news travels fast. The youngest person who remembers when the Doctor came to visit before is now a great-grandmother. Her hair is still a mop, and she's still annoyed when her father ruffles it.
"Go see your friend," she tuts at him.
Jack walks out alone to the field where the blue box waits. He always makes a point of approaching her slowly, lest he scare her into the future like before. She doesn't run from him now. When the door opens, River's there.
"Dr. Song," Jack says amiably. He's had over two hundred years to collect information on her, even going so far as dropping back into his own timeline to sort out some rumours and start new ones.
"It's Professor Song these days, Captain."
"He's inside. He's sulking." Her face is drawn in grief, and he knows the off-hand cut is to ease her own pain, not minimise her husband's.
"Amy?" he guesses.
"Everyone dies in the end," says River. "I can't stay with him long, not and stay sane. Neither of us can be around you for much time. I think we could all work together for one good trip. You and I should take the opportunity to find someone to watch after him when he drops us off."
Jack doesn't know what she's talking about, until he parses her words more. She's having a conversation slightly out of order with him, that's all. "Are you inviting me along?"
She twitches. She's the hurt little girl he rescued from the life she didn't know she needed rescuing from, and she's the woman who dropped him on this world to work out his issues with work instead of booze. She's married. He's been widowed fifteen times, four since she left him here. They're finally in synch with their timelines. And the Doctor is in pain.
A friend is someone who helps you when you need them, even when you don't know you need help.
"Are you coming?" she asks.
He doesn't reply. He looks back at the colony he helped build here, constructing a new home for the lost souls who came through the rift, and their children, and their grandchildren. His grandchildren. It's been a good life, and a long one, and it's past time to let them live theirs.
Jack follows River into the TARDIS and shuts the door.
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