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The Swan Queen

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When Amelia Pond was seven years old, she met a Doctor from space.

But before the Doctor, before and after and always, there was Rory Williams.

When they met, Amy wasn’t entirely sure what to make of him, beyond that he wasn’t anything like the friends she’d had back in Scotland and he made her laugh with his pointy noise, too big for his small head, his scrawny stature, and the way he stumbled about like he didn’t quite know what to make of himself, like his heart was too big for his tiny frame. He walked on tiptoes wherever he went, annoying and amusing Amelia in equal measure.

Rorarius noticed him first, peeking out at them from behind the hedges across the road while her parents unloaded the truck. “You should say hello,” he said.

“As if,” said Amelia. “If he wants to say hi, he can do it himself. We don’t have time for boys who don’t have the courage speak to us themselves. Come on.”

The boy hobbled over, in the end, led by his daemon (a beagle puppy, all ears and paws, no bigger than a loaf of bread) pulling at his shoelace. Ree transformed into fledging cygnet, just sprouting the first glossy feathers of flight, and rose to meet them.

“Rory,” he said. She looked down, where the beagle still held his shoelace so he couldn’t run off, and she laughed at him.

“I’m Amelia Pond.”

Rorarius nipped at Rory’s daemon, and that earned the boy another laugh from her.

“I’m seven,” he said, looking at the ground.

She laughed at him again. “Right. Come on, then, Rory. You can help me unpack.”

She liked Rory because he listened, he sat still when she launched into her story, and he didn’t call her mad. She was pleased to tell anyone who’d listen about her Raggedy Doctor, but only Rory ever sat still long enough to hear out the tale, however many times she told it. He sat beside her in the grass, Aemilia curled at his feet, and stared at her, wide-eyed and believing, and when Amelia was older, she’d look back and wonder if that was the moment she knew she’d always love him.

**

Amelia Pond and her daemon Rorarius moved down the road from Rory Williams and his daemon Aemilia. It wasn’t a big deal, Amelia thought, just a silly coincidence that might’ve even been fun, if only grown-ups would stop making such a fuss over it. They seemed to think it meant something, kept hounding her about fate, which she thought was stupid because she didn’t believe in fate and Rory was just a boy who happened to live down the road and just because their daemons’ names went hand-in-hand, didn’t mean their lives were entangled, didn’t mean she owed Rory anything. And anyway, the names didn’t even sound the same, and they were Latin.

(“His daemon’s called ‘Eye-milia’,” she enunciated slowly for Aunt Sharon. “Not Amelia.”)

"I like it," Rory said when they were ten and sitting together under the apple tree in the William's garden. "Us. Our names."

That was the day she changed her name to Amy and stopped calling Rorarius ‘Rory’, even in private. It was just a coincidence, it didn’t mean anything,—why’d he have to go and be like the rest of the neighbourhood and make such a fuss over it?

“And don’t you ever tell him,” she told Rorarius.

Rorarius, as a baby elephant, rolled his eyes, spat the water he’d been holding in his great grey trunk in her face, and laughed. “Thing is, if it’s really nothing, why’s it matter if they call you Amelia, or if they know that your nickname for me was always Rory before we came here? If it’s nothing, why’re you so bothered?”

“I’m not!” she shot back. “It’s everyone else who’s bothered about it.”

“If you say so.”

**
Neither Amy nor Rory quite remembered the moment Mels joined them. They knew it happened in the park, and Amy knew she hadn’t always been there, but later she could never put a finger on when their number grew from two to three. Mels and Nimue sat beside them without ceremony or introduction, and Amy could almost swear they’d always been there. Maybe that was as it should be.

Melody never sat still the way Rory did; she danced around them, blew spitballs in Rory’s face, which turned to smoke when they got older. But she believed Amy, and that mattered.

“And one day, he’s going to come back, and I’m going to go with him, and I’ll swim in his swimming pool that’s in the library because that’ll be a laugh! How many people can say they got to go swimming in a pool in a library, let alone a space library? Rory’s going to come, too, if he doesn’t chicken out.”

“Fancy,” Melody said. She’d climbed up on top of the monkey bars, Nimue a ferret on her shoulder, and sat regally looking down on them. Amy hadn’t been sure she was listening, but she’d launched into her story anyway. “Think I’ll stick with you two. I’d like to meet this Raggedy-Man of yours when he comes back.”

“Well,” Amy said. “I suppose you can come, too. But only you and Rory. Any more than the four of us and our daemons would be too crowded. The Doctor hasn’t got a daemon, you know—it’s because he’s an alien.”

It was the three of them. It had to be, Amy decided.

Melody called Amy and Rory her best mates and Amy reckoned it was true, even if she felt more like a chicken running after a runaway hen for all the time she spent cleaning up Melody’s messes, even if she and Melody were ever teasing Rory mercilessly and running away from him, leaving him and Aemilia to trail behind them forlornly with matching puppy dog eyes and Rory scuffing his shoes along the pavement. She reckoned it must be true, because it was always the three of them, and she never felt right without the two of them by her side—not that she’d ever admit it, and Rorarius always nipped at Nimue and Aemilia to keep the boundaries clear.

**

When they played house, Mels took charge only long enough to insist that she pretend to be the daughter, while Amy and Rory, she declared, should play her doting parents.

Amy always rolled her eyes at that. She thought the idea was stupid, but she went along with it because it meant she got to boss the other two around.

**

Of course, Mels’ daemon was the first in their year to settle, and of course she was the only one who ended up with a tiger—and not just any tiger: a white Bengal tiger, still young, but glorious, glistening and regal, and taller than any of them.

Melody arrived late, which wasn’t unusual, but Amy wondered if she’d done it on purpose that morning, just so she could show off. She stood in the doorway with her head high, her hand stroking the top of Nimue’s head. Nimue purred a soft rumble. “Nimue’s settled,” she announced proudly to the class at large.

As pandemonium broke out and their class leapt from their seats to get a closer look at Nimue and bombard them with questions, Melody looked over at Amy and grinned.

Amy viewed Nimue’s settling as a betrayal of the highest order. Her best mate’s daemon—it hit too close to home. While everyone gathered around Melody, she slunk outside to the bike racks—sod it being the beginning of class. It wasn’t like there’d be much teaching that morning, anyway.

She looked Rorarius in the eye. “You’re not going to settle ever, are you, Ree?” she said, not a question, but an order.

Ree whined, a small, sad sound, and took her into his great panda arms. She leaned against him and let tears fall down her cheeks.

When Rory and Aemilia found them, she wiped the tears away before they could see, and told them the same thing. "I don't ever want him to settle," she mumbled into the sleeves of her jumper.

Rory blinked. “I ... don't think you have a choice about that. I think it just happens.”

“Not to me,” she said, small and determined.

Toby and his frog settled next, a few days later, and they were happy for him, but a frog was a big step down from Mels’ gleaming white tiger. Their classmates gave him congratulatory pats on the back, and then went back to admiring Nimue lying royally in a sunny patch at the foot of Melody’s desk.

“The stripes on her cheek almost look like a star,” Rory said. Nimue growled at him, and he jumped. Aemilia, a grey mouse, scampered beneath his shirt and quivered.

“Don’t be stupid,” Amy said, but she looked at Nimue out of the corner of her eye and saw the star, too.

**
The Doctor abandoned her again and while she waited for him in the garden, Ree transformed himself into a great white swan.

She took in his form, and couldn’t explain how she knew—it’s not as if anything had changed, not really, but she looked him in the eye, and there it was. “You can’t,” she said.

“I’m sorry. Don’t you like it?”

“It’s not that—you know it’s not that.”

She reached for him and cradled him in her arms. “I don’t love you any less.”

It was too much for one night. She needed to know that some things never changed—that even when the rest of the world was out to hurt her and abandon her, some people would always be there. She needed Rory and Melody.

Rory came without her asking, before he even knew what happened, because he was always there when she needed him, because somehow, he always knew, and because his heart was full of so much love. He found in her the garden, long legs splayed out in front of her and Ree huddled between her knees. She glanced up at him, saw him take in the scene, eyes wandering between her and Rorarius—and she knew he understood.

“Not a word,” Ree rose up and hissed at Rory. “Not a single word, or so help me I will bite you.”

Rory looked a bit stunned at that, snapped his mouth shut, and kneeled cautiously down beside her. She dove into his shoulder, wrapped her arms around him with all her strength, poured her fears and her hurt into their linked bodies, and they sat for a long time under the mocking stars.  

In the morning, he brought breakfast and tea, while she called Melody’s mobile and asked her to come home. Her eyes were still swollen and red when Mels arrived nearing midnight. She let Melody in, and pulled her in for a hug.

Rory stood uncertainly on the stairs behind them. “I’ll go and make some tea, then, shall I?”

Rorarius waited stiff and prim at Amy’s side, his wings folded neatly, the picture of still, picturesque elegance somewhat thwarted by Nimue nuzzling at his cheek, purring in greeting. White fur brushed against white feathers.

“Ha, look at that,” Melody said. “They match. That’ll be my influence. You two hung around me too much.”

Amy snorted.

“Oh, come on, Aims. He’s bloody gorgeous. And I bet there’s a reason he’s chosen this form. Maybe you don’t see it now, but one day, you’ll understand.”

“It’s not the form he’s chosen—it’s that he’s settled at all.”

“I know, Aims, but you’ll understand someday. Tell you what, though, I don’t much like this Raggedy Doctor of yours, leaving you like that. So if I ever meet him, I’ll kill him for hurting you, yeah?”

If it were anyone else, Amy would have laughed, appreciated the gesture of love and protection, and left it at that. But this was Mels and the possibility that she was entirely serious was all too real.

“Please don’t,” Amy said. “I’d rather not have to bail you out on murder charges. Oh, god, what if they sent space police after you?”

“Space police?” Melody laughed. “Nice. I reckon I could break out of their space prison, though. Not a cell in the Universe can hold me and Nimue, you know that.”

**

The sky was grey with smoke. Wind whipped ash, white sand, and smoke in her face. Waves crashed along the periphery, fire from the debris of the Byzantium crackled before them, and when the great snow leopard greeted Rorarius by nuzzling her head against his wing, Rorarius didn’t hiss, or puff up his feathers angrily, or try to nip the leopard on the nose. He didn’t return the affection, but he allowed it.

Professor Song looked down at her leopard fondly. “This is Niniane. She doesn’t normally take so quickly to strangers.”

“Neither does Rorarius,” Amy said. “This is strangely familiar for him.”

Rorarius looked at the leopard. He squinted at her with one eye, a look Amy understood as skepticism. “Niniane? Are you sure?”

“Yes,” said Niniane.

“Ree,” Amy scolded. “What’s the matter with you? You can’t go around questioning other daemons’ names. I’m sorry about him, River. Niniane has a beautiful name.”

What frightened Amy most about the Angels was what happened to the daemons of those they touched. The angels got their victim in the blink of an eye, and then—a screech like nothing she’d ever heard before pierced the cavern, echoing through its dark walls, and the daemon was gone.

Angel Bob was soulless and dead because his daemon no longer walked beside him, and Amy didn’t think there could possibly be anything more terrifying (not even a barely perceptible crack in her bedroom wall as a child that tore everything asunder).

Ree was glitching—twitching and fading as if he were being pulled from reality. Amy felt it, whenever it happened: a painful tug in her mind that sent her reeling. By the time they understood what was happening, he could barely walk. Weak and breathing heavy, he leaned against her leg.

“Eyes are the doors to the soul?” Amy asked. “How does that work?”

“Not a literal door,” said the Doctor. “The connection is real, but it’s not physical thing, or not physical in the way we’d typically think of as physical. He’s not connected to you the same way your arm is connected to your shoulder, but he’s as much you as you can get. Getting inside your eye is enough to weaken the link, most likely because the angel dust wiggles its way from your eye to your brain and your brain’s where the connection to your daemons is, I expect. So, something quite like a doorway.”

“Is angel dust like Dust?”

“An excellent question, Pond. I’ve absolutely no idea!”

“Fat lot of help you are.”

When it was just her and Ree, sitting on a rock in the angel-infested forest with angel dust in their eyes, Ree uncharacteristically pressed his head into her lap, quivering. She wrapped her arms loosely around his long, slender neck. They both needed the solidity of their connection.

“What was that all about, when we met River’s daemon?” she asked, because it was a distraction, because she might as well.

“I liked them,” he said.

“You don’t like anyone.”

Ree ruffled his feathers irritably; she felt the movement against her legs, and was grateful she could feel him shift at all. “They were familiar,” he said. “Couldn’t you sense it?”

“Now you sound like Rory. Do me a favour, Ree. We’re trapped in a forest with homicidal angels after us, and one of those angels is in our soul, trying to tear us a part. Don’t start acting like Rory. One near death experience at time, ok?”

“We know them, Amy,” Ree said. He quivered against her, and refused to discuss the matter further.

**
She chose Rory. She would always choose Rory, just as he would always choose her.
**  

They didn’t notice the change until several weeks later, after escaping the forest, after Venice and the Dream Lord, when they visited a beach of shimmering, prismatic beads of jelly. Even then, the discovery was mostly an accident. It’s not like anything had changed, really; she could still feel Ree, and he could still feel her.

"What do you think the Doctor's daemon would look like?" she asked, floating beside Rory in the water. “If he had a proper one, I mean, on the outside."

“A cockatiel?” he offered.

She splashed at him. “That's stupid!”

They imagined an increasingly absurd series of possible daemons (“spiny ant-eater” was her favourite—that was Rory’s idea; she laughed until her sides hurt at that one, and took a mouthful of the jelly-like water in her mouth and spat it at him in retribution), until they were ready to get out of the water.

Ree, however, was far from ready to part, so she stood on the bank with Milia and Rory, drying in the warm afternoon sun, waiting for Ree to decide he was willing to come out of the water. She took Rory’s hand in hers and by the time she realized how far Ree had swam out without the pull of their bond forcing him to stop, he was already out of sight.

When they meandered back to the control room, they found the Doctor on his stomach under the console, talking to the TARDIS. "Oh, there's a good girl, you're a lovely one, aren't you?" he cooed, not even doing anything with the tools strewn around him, just talking and stroking a rib of steel.

She nodded, eyes wide, when Rory glanced her. "Alien, remember?" she mouthed at him. "His daemon could be anything."

She leaned against the railing and gazed down at the console. “Uh, Doctor? Are we interrupting anything? Would you two like some more alone time?”

The Doctor slid out from the console and looked up at them. “Amy! Rory! Of course not! Don’t be silly. How was the beach? As wonderful as I told you?”

“Great, except something a bit odd happened.”

“It could’ve been the Angels on the Byzantium,” the Doctor suggested, once she’d explained about Ree swimming so far from her without pain striking either of them. “Or Venice. Or maybe the combination of both ordeals. It’s hard to say.”

“But that was weeks ago—shouldn’t we have felt the difference before now?”

“Not necessarily. The only change is the distance you can travel from one another. If Rorarius hasn’t had cause to be far away from you, and he hasn’t, he’s been sticking to you like glue these last weeks, you wouldn’t have felt it.”

**
She’d liked traveling with—well, no. It had only ever been her and Rorarius in the TARDIS with the Doctor.

They saved the world again. She should be pleased—she knew she should be pleased, but she wanted to go home, hole up and cry. There was a gaping hole in her stomach, twisting and tightening. Ree was testy and on edge; he barely spoke to her when they returned from the Silurian caverns.

“Something’s not right,” he quivered.

Had there been someone else? Was something missing? No. She forced a laugh. “Don’t be stupid, Ree. Everything’s fine. We saved the world.”

She clapped her hand over the Doctor’s shoulder. “Come on, then, Doctor. Rio. Show a girl how to have a good time.”
**
The Centurion’s face was stupid; his nose was too big and pointy, and that should’ve been a big turn off, except on him, it was oddly endearing and she smiled to look at it. All right, she admitted, so his face was handsome—it was still stupid. She didn’t want to look at him, wanted nothing to do with him, really, because when their eyes locked, her heart started pounding hard and fast in her chest, and she didn’t trust the elation welling inside her with no discernable cause.

Ree stood between them, his wings wide, a barrier between her and the great ocean this Roranicus seemed to carry behind his back, like a tidal wave that threatened to wash over her and drown her—drown all of them.

She couldn’t take her eyes off him. She didn’t even realize she was crying until he pointed out. "Why am I crying?" she demanded.

"Because you remember me!" he shot back. His voice cracked with emotion, with the force of his truth, desperate and earnest. "I came back. You're crying because you remember me."

Ree was nose to nose (or beak to nose) with his daemon, a floppy-eared beagle, staring and rigidly still, barely breathing.

There was something about his stupid face and the way he looked at her, so full of hope and need—something like a dream, honest and beautiful; it blurred at the edges. She wanted to believe him, because nothing else could really explain the hitch in her throat, the tightening of her chest, the way he seemed to complete her and fill something she’d barely realized was missing—but then it all went sort of wrong. A mechanical whirring and clicking, and he bent over double, clutching his stomach, and his daemon rushed to his side, howling and pawing at his leg.

“Run!” he yelled, and she should’ve been frightened, should’ve heeded his warning, but all she wanted was to reach for him, take him in her arms, and never, ever see him in such pain again. He fell to the ground, shouting his name to the fading stars, and something important, something essential slotted into place. Ree must’ve felt it, too, because he took to the air with a whoosh of his great white wings, riding the current of her joy.

“You are Rory Williams and you aren't going anywhere ever again.”

**

Of course it got more complicated than that.

**

**
When Amelia Pond was seven years old, she met a Doctor from space.

But before the Doctor, before and after and always, there was Rory Williams—even if she’d lost him for a while.

(She supposed Mels was right all along: there was a reason Rorarius settled as a swan.)

**
If she were a different Amelia, an Amelia with parents who hadn’t died or abandoned her so much as they had simply never existed, and an aunt who didn’t love her. If she were a different, brave Amelia whose only fear was the crack in her wall from which she heard slithering voices and growls at night, a crack she swore would swallow her whole. If she were a girl who’d had so many promises broken by adults that when her Raggedy Doctor proved to be just like all the others, she wasn’t surprised, but it broke something in her just the same, because it was one too many times someone she trusted lied and left her behind. If she were a different Amelia, she might have never believed that Rory would stay.

As it was, she was Amelia with parents who loved her, with a stable, warm home and friends, and when the Doctor left her behind, he may not have been the first or the last, but it didn’t break her quite the way she thought it might that other Amelia.

Before and after and always, there was Rory, and she knew he’d never leave her.

She dreamed often of that world: that world without parents, and the gaping crack in her wall threatening to consume her. She woke with a start, her heart pounding, and she swore she could see the faint outline of a crack above her bed, just finished sealing itself back up. And if she crept to her parents’ room and stood in their open doorway, just to hear them breathing and know they were still there—well, no one except Rorarius need know.

When she was fifteen, she told Mels about the crack in her wall, about its slithering and hissing, and the lonely girl who grew up frightened and alone, with only that crack above her bed for company.

“It feels so real—like she’s me, but not me, me from… somewhere else.”

“An alternate universe?”

“Maybe.”

Melody tossed their newly painted papier-mâché police box toward Nimue (the original now destroyed after years of childhood play), who promptly began batting it around the room. Amy marvelled at how like a young housecat Nimue could be; she wondered what that said about Mels.

Melody grinned at Amy. “Sure, why not? If there is a Raggedy Doctor traversing the stars in a run-down police box, why shouldn’t there be alternate Universes? Anything’s possible, innit?”

“I’m serious, Mels.”

“So am I! Mind you, I don’t think your Doctor boy would be pleased if you went mucking about with alternate universes—Laws of Time and all that. The hypocrite.”

“What?”

Mels laughed. “Never mind, Aims, never mind.”

Mels did that sometimes—made snide comments about the Doctor or time, things that didn’t make sense, and she laughed to herself and waved them away when Amy or Rory asked what she meant. Amy was used to it.

**
Mels didn’t come to their wedding—but someone else did.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

“Did you really just bring the Doctor back into existence with your mind? I mean, that’s basically what just happened, right?” asked Rory. “God, I love you. You’re incredible.”

She feigned a bashful shrug and wiggled her eyebrows at him suggestively. “You’re not so bad yourself, Mr. Pond.”

He pointed his finger at her, his mouth agape—probably to protest the name, so she leaned in to kiss him. (Ree covered his face with his wing like he was embarrassed for them.)
**
The astronaut came toward them, raising his finger. The Doctor’s death flashed behind her eyes, and there was no time to think it through. She leapt for the gun, and fired. She couldn’t see the astronaut’s face or his daemon, and that made it easier to pull the trigger—maybe he didn’t have one.

The suit crumbled to the floor, and she saw the face—a child, just a child, a tiny white rabbit curled up on her shoulder, inside the suit with her.

“Oh god,” she said. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t—I thought, I—“

Only she couldn’t remember much of anything after that. Neither could Rorarius, beyond a great sense of fear, and something dark and sinister skulking behind them. “If you can’t remember it, how should I?”

**
The faces and the daemons of the trio who entered, weapons drawn, were the same as those strapped to the strange vertical, metal beds behind them. Amy turned around to look at each body in turn, and the daemons strapped in beside them. “Hold up, you’re all—what are you all, like identical twins?”

Except identical twins didn’t have identical daemons, she knew that. She remembered Jessica and Lana from school: genetically identical, but different, separate, autonomous individuals. Of course the representation of their souls was different—Jessica ended up with a bonobo, while Lana’s daemon had settled as an African grey parrot.

“Almost people,” the Doctor said. “Keep up, Pond. Well, you’ll see soon enough.” He turned to the woman in charge with a smile that could only mean trouble. “I’d like to see your critical systems.”

The Doctor kept going on about how they’d been putting their minds, theirs hearts, their very souls into their gangers—and maybe she could have come to believe that, if his own ganger hadn’t taken her by the collar and pushed her hard against the wall, her back digging painfully into the brick.

She kept her distance from the Flesh Doctor after that.

“They have daemons,” said the Doctor—her Doctor. He put his hands gently on her shoulders and bent to look her in the eyes, pleading.

Her arms still hurt where the Doctor’s ganger had grabbed her, fury in his eyes, and she wondered briefly how she could be sure her Doctor didn’t have the same capacity to hurt her. But, no, that was silly—he’d never, would never.

“Come on, Pond, look at them! Daemons. Aren’t you humans always going on about how daemons are the essence of humanity? Your souls incarnate?”

Amy thought about the daemons attached to the gangers, and reckoned they weren’t quite right; there was something dark about their eyes. Daemons weren’t invented or made; they were born, attached to human life at birth. Even if the gangers had somehow gained sentience independent from their controllers, even if they had copies of their humans’ daemons, that didn’t mean they had a soul the same way real people did. Angel Bob had retained a semblance of sentience and he’d lost his soul. So had the girls in Venice.

“Yeah, but, it’s just copies, right? They remember their daemons, so the daemons get copied, too. Like you said about Venice. We expected to see daemons, so they were there. The gangers expect their daemons to be there; they remember them, so the Flesh makes them. But they aren’t a real soul.”

“You saw what happened to Caelus when Buzzer died. You really think that pain was just mimicry, just an echo? It’s the same as you and Ree if you’re parted, and I expect better from you, Amy. Caelus was Buzzer’s soul, as real as yours or Rory’s or mine, and he died, Amelia, he disintegrated before your eyes into ash, scattered to Dust, and I need you to understand that their suffering was real. They’re human.”

**

“Amy, we swapped shoes,” said the Doctor, the one she’d been so certain was the ganger.

If he hadn’t been who she thought all along, had it been the Doctor, her Doctor, who pinned her against the wall and hissed at her, rage etched in the lines of his face? Had she told the real Doctor that she saw the moment of his death?

She wrapped her arms around the Flesh Doctor’s shoulders. He gave her a sad smile and leaned toward her. “Push, Amy, but only when she tells you to,” he whispered.

She furrowed her brow and opened her mouth to ask him what he was on about, but there wasn’t time. A burst of energy rocked the floor, Rory called her name, and Ree took the hem of her trousers in his beak and tried to pull her toward the TARDIS.

**

The very worst thing wasn’t the pain that racked her stomach. No, the very worst thing was they didn’t hold her for the fall. The Doctor told Rory to step away. She shook her head at him, pleading him not to leave her side—but he obeyed. Rory, solid, constant, reliable Rory, stood back, and wrenched his hand from hers. The Doctor pushed her away. They let her and Ree stand there quivering, frightened, and alone, and they didn’t hold her while the world collapsed around her. Ree hissed at them both.

She collapsed in a puddle of flesh to the floor, Ree shattering with her.

When she woke, she screamed, and Ree’s snapping beak reached for the woman in the eye-patch in the opening above her head.

**
They hardly let her see her baby. They permitted her to feed Melody under close-armed guard, and then whisked her away. They wouldn’t tell her where they took Melody, what they were doing with her.

“A mother’s milk is always best,” Madame Kovarian said, handing Melody over. “We want her to be nice and strong, don’t we?”

“You can’t keep us here,” Amy said. “They’ll come for us.”

“Yes, yes, so you keep telling us. I’m counting on it.”

When they came to take the baby away from them, Ree flew in front of Amy, just above Melody, snapping at the soldiers’ hands, determined to keep her out of their reach. His teeth sunk into their grubby, reaching hands, and they howled in pain—except Amy could feel him touching them, too. It ran through her like an electric shock. She gasped in pain and fell to her knees with Melody huddled in her arms.

Unable to attack the soldiers without hurting Amy, Ree settled for snapping and hissing at the soldiers’ daemons whenever they entered. Even if he couldn’t defend Melody directly, couldn’t keep them from wrenching Melody out of Amy’s arms, he could still harm them through their daemons—and by god, he’d hurt them as much as he could. He’d kill them, if he could, and with them take away their humans’ lives.

**

“Amelia Pond, get your coat!”

The base below her glass prison went dark. She leapt with glee, and pulled Rorarius in for a hug.

“I told you, didn’t I, Ree? You were starting to wonder, but I told you they’d come.”

“Endlessly,” said Ree. “Be fair, I never doubted Rory. I only ever doubted the Doctor, who’s never been exactly reliable. One of us has got to doubt him, in order to protect us.”

Amy laughed and swatted at him playfully, too giddy and relieved that her boys were finally here to rescue them to pay much mind to Rorarius’ skepticism. “Oh, shut up.”

**

Ree fretted over Melody as much as she did. He flew up to meet them before Rory could even bring her down the stairs. He brushed his wings and his beak against her cheek, inspected her face and her hands and her toes to know that she was safe and she was with them. Amy felt every second of his touch as a soft vibration in her heart (not an electric shock, not a violation, not this time; not with Melody’s own daemon still just a faint golden glow above her head; Melody was Ree’s daughter, too, because he was Amy) and through their bond, Amy knew Melody was fine.

When she pulled Rory in for a kiss, his tears falling wet on her cheeks and their daughter safe between them, even Rorarius wrapped a wing about Aemilia’s shoulders and scratched her behind the ears with his beak.

Aemilia butted her head against Rory’s leg. “Bring her here,” she said.

Amy clung to the sleeves at Rory’s elbow and they knelt, as one, to their daemons. Rorarius and Aemilia reached wing and paw, respectively, toward the orb by Melody’s head. The four of them huddled close on the floor, and waited for Melody’s daemon to emerge from her protected bauble, that Rorarius and Aemilia might name her.

“Isn’t supposed to glow, or something?” asked Rory, after a moment. “They haven’t done something to her daemon, have they?”

“No,” Aemilia said. “I can feel her daemon. She’s fine; she’s just… far away. Like she’s sleeping.”

“Maybe she’s not ready to come out,” put in Rorarius. “Her human had a traumatic beginning.”

“Maybe,” said Aemilia, but she looked skeptical.

“She?” asked Amy.

“Yes. Your daughter’s daemon feels like a she. That’s a rare and special gift.”

“I’d expect no less from the daughter of Amelia Pond,” said Rorarius proudly.

**

The nightmare wasn’t over. It could never be that easy. An ominous chanting. Gunshots. Melody crying in her arms. Ree flying above them, flapping his wings fiercely like he could ward of any threats, and—and. And Melody burst like a popped bubble in her arms. Flesh pooled across her shoulder and down the front of her white hospital gown, sticky and wet.

She screamed for Rory.

And after all that, after ten months of her freedom and autonomy stolen from her, ten months thinking she was with her boys on the TARDIS, after losing her daughter—the Doctor had the gall to just leave.

She had no qualms in picking up the gun and pointing it at River. Ree ruffled his feathers, reared up and hissed. Niniane, despite the gun trained on her human, sat calm at River’s side.

Rory stepped behind her and lifted the gun from her fingers, and she found her hand in River’s, her fingers being gently folded over the silken green patch.

“It’s me. I’m Melody. I’m your daughter.”

“How? How can you be our daughter? How can we trust you? If you’re really her, if you’re really Melody, why didn’t you tell us sooner?”

“I couldn’t. I couldn’t risk influencing the flow of events. You didn’t even know you had a daughter. Time can be rewritten, but one wrong step and I might never be born. There’s still so much more I wish I could tell you, but I can’t. So much of this has already been written, and you need to see it out for yourselves. But I promise, I am Melody Pond, and I’ll be fine.”

Aemilia, who’d been watching the tension between the humans with quiet, watchful eyes, darted out and bopped her nose against Niniane’s. She tilted her head curiously, and then gave the leopard a big, wet kiss across her face.

Ree left Amy’s side, and hobbled toward Aemilia and Niniane on his stubbly legs. He put one wing around each of them. Amy watched him, and all the anger and doubt washed away—she couldn’t hang on to her rage when Ree put such trust in Niniane, when Rory’s arms were tight and comforting and warm around her shoulder, and River was standing there, looking uncharacteristically shy and vulnerable with her open, tear-filled eyes.

She reached her hand slowly toward River’s cheek. “You’re Melody. I’ve seen how amazing you are—really, properly amazing,—and you’re my daughter.”

“I’m your daughter,” River echoed. Amy’d seen River smile before, but never like that—a smile of soft, pure joy, like she’d been waiting all her life for this moment (in fact, she must have done exactly that, Amy thought) and now it was here, she couldn’t quite believe it, but it was better than she could ever have dreamed.

Amy pulled River into her hug with Rory and lost track of how long the three of them stood in each other’s arms.

**

“You named your daughter… after your daughter.”

Her best mate regenerated. Nimue changed with her, from the white tiger they’d known since childhood to a cream-coloured Kermode bear. The golden light that surrounded them looked an awful lot like Dust.

“Guess I’m the one who gets the daemon who never settles, after all,” Mels said. She blew her mother a kiss. “Sorry, Aims. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find a mirror. ”

Mels was Melody was River was their daughter. Amy felt the world spin around her, and clutched the desk behind her for support.

“Is anyone else finding today just a bit difficult?” asked Rory. “I’m getting this sort of banging in my head.”

Aemilia licked his hand and whined.

“When I met River, she told me her daemon’s name was Niniane, but Mels’ daemon is Nimue,” said Amy.

“Ha, clever,” said the Doctor. “You know, I always meant to take you to the court of King Arthur. Never quite got around to it. Niniane, Nimue—Lady of the Lake. There’s many variation to the name, or names, and there’s a great deal of debate as to whether they’re the same person, or if there were two of them, or even three, representing the Celtic Triple Goddess. Very interesting stuff, would love to visit and find out the truth. Anyway, of course River couldn’t tell you her daemon’s true name. Too many coincidences, you’d have cottoned on straight away.”

“I suppose we never did get a chance for our daemons to do the naming ceremony,” Rory pointed out. “Once River told us who she was, we just sort of assumed Melody’s daemon was called Niniane.”

He reached down to pick up Aemilia. He looked at her quivering in his arms. “But, Doctor, you don’t know which of them lied about their daemon’s name—it’s equally likely to have been Mels. Okay, technically, the same person lied either way, and it’s more a question of when she lied and what name she was using at the time. Still, just to be sure—Milia, what’s our daughter's daemon’s name?”

“Nimue.”

Ree peered after Nimue, out in the hall with River (or Melody; Amy wasn’t quite sure what to call her at that point. It was all rather jumbled). He swatted Amy with his wing. “When we met River, I told you we knew them.”

Mels bounced back into the room gleefully. She twirled and Nimue ambled in along behind her.

“I was born to kill the Doctor,” said Mels. “I told you I would, remember, mum? When he left you and Rorarius settled?”

But in the end, she saved him—saved all of them—and Amy couldn’t have been more proud.

When the Dust cleared, River lay with her head on the Doctor’s chest. Nimue, having transformed into a snowy leopard Amy recognized during the commotion, lay across River’s legs. River looked at Nimue through half-lidded eyes and reached out to stroke her fur. “Really? That’s what you’ve chosen? What is it with you and big, white felines, dear?”

Nimue didn’t deign respond in words; she closed her eyes and purred until they both fell asleep.

Getting them to the hospital was no easy feat—they couldn’t move River without bringing Nimue, but they couldn’t risk touching Nimue in order to bring her inside the TARDIS, especially in their weakened state.

The only thing for it was to have the TARDIS materialize around them.

“Twice in one day,” the Doctor said, once they were onboard. He adjusted his bowtie and smirked at them proudly. “Did you see that? That’s a new record! Getting the TARDIS to materialize around someone takes skill, you know. Only cool pilots can manage it.”

Fortunately, the hospital had a plastic board they slid under Nimue, and used that to lift her up onto the stretcher beside River without touching her.

In River’s hospital room, Amy fretted over her daughter’s unconscious form—she stroked River’s wild hair away from her face, placed a warm cloth over her forehead. Nimue lay curled up across River’s chest. Amy sat beside the pair and watched the synched rise and fall of their chests.

“Doctor,” she said. “When Melody regenerated, her daemon changed, but Nimue settled when we were kids.”

“Yes, I know! Fascinating, isn’t it? Never been a human Time Lord before. Well, there was the one, but that was different; he was born from a human-Time Lord Metacrisis. He took on human form (only one heart, poor fellow! Don’t envy him that) and some of Donna’s personality. No daemon, though. I always wondered why that was. Does that say something about human daemons, or something about Time Lords, I wonder?”

“Perhaps his soul was elsewhere,” said Rory.

“Interesting possibility, Rory! Perhaps. Anyway, there’s never been a human Time Lord born to human parents the way River was. Never been a Time Lord with a daemon! I told you—fascinating!”

Amy turned her gaze from her daughter to look out the window, where they’d parked the TARDIS. “Are sure you she’s the first Time Lord with a daemon? You met the TARDIS. She told you her name. You say the chameleon circuit is broken, but maybe she’s just settled on the form of an old police box. How is she any different from our daemons?”

“Oh, humans; I love you, but you’re all so single-minded. It’s always all about daemons with you. All of time and space I show you, and still you think every humanoid being must have a daemon. If it helps you to think of the TARDIS as my daemon, very well, but I assure you, she’s not.”

“Why do you think Melody’s daemon changed? Did her regeneration abilities bleed over to Nimue?”

“Not exactly,” said the Doctor. “She’s still Melody, she’s still your daughter, but she’s a new person now—Nimue’s presentation as a tiger was for her last regeneration. River needed to learn who she is now before Nimue could resettle. I think. Who can say? This is new!”

He grinned and rocked on his heels, watching River and Nimue fondly, and Amy thought he looked just a little bit too gleeful, considering the circumstances—considering he and River had almost died.

**
She expected his death. She’d known it was coming for months, had seen it happen that first time on the shore of Lake Silencio.

Knowing didn’t make it hurt any less. Some part of her always believed he’d find a way around it—if anyone could cheat death, it’d be her Raggedy Man.

“But the worst thing,” she told Rory. “Is all the times he’s saved the Earth, and no one knows it. No one even mourns him, besides us.

“But this is nothing. Nothing compared to losing you. Rory, the Universe keeps trying to tear us apart. You died and you didn’t exist, and then you waited two thousand years, and in that alternate timeline where River saved the Doctor, we didn’t know each other. We always find a way. Thank god you’re still here.”

“Always,” said Rory.

Before the Doctor, before and after and always, there was Rory Williams.

**

Two glasses and a bottle of wine set on the table at midnight in the throes of summer heat, wrapped in a blanket, looking at the sky and waiting for the meteor shower, or River—whichever came first. It wasn’t how she expected to spend evenings with her daughter a year after giving birth, but when was their life ever ordinary? At least they had this; at least they could still be part of each other’s lives.  

As it turned out, River came before the meteor shower, in a burst of light.

River was older than she should be. She settled into the chair beside Amy, and Nimue sat in front of her, resting her head on River’s thigh. Nimue's eyes were soft and loving as they looked at River, but her ears remained alert, twisting at every sound. Nimue would do whatever it took to ensure they were safe, that nothing would hurt River as the Silence had, ever again.

Amy looked at her daughter: the lines around her eyes, the small smirk as she winked and refilled their glasses. There was something of Mels in that face, in those eyes—mischievous and carefree,—but there was pain and wisdom and kindness, too. Amy looked at River, and tears welled in her eyes for the daughter she lost and found, for the time they never had, for the time they had in all the wrong order, for the pain River endured that Amy could never take away.

(She pointedly ignored the look of disdain Rorarius shot at her.)

“Look at you,” Amy said. “You’ve grown up. You’re beautiful. I wish things had been different, that we could have raised you properly, when we weren’t just kids ourselves, but I am so proud of the woman you’ve become. You’re a fighter and a survivor, and after all you’ve been through, all they did to you, you have so much love left in you—for us, for the Doctor, for life and learning and adventure. I love you.”

“Oh, hush, mom,” River said. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“And me,” Rorarius piped in. Amy dipped her finger into her glass and flicked drops of wine into the side of his face, which earned her an indignant glare. She laughed.

“Right, since I’m embarrassing you both so much… Where are we?”

“I just climbed out of the Byzantium,” said River. “You were there. So young. Didn’t have a clue who I was. You’re funny like that.”

“Rorarius knew. He tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t hear a word of it.”

River smiled. “Like I said, so young. And you—where are you?”

“The Doctor’s dead.”

She drank the rest of her glass in a gulp, like if she swallowed hard enough, she could drown her grief.

“Rule one,” River said. She hid her growing smile behind her glass.

Amy’s eyes widened hopefully. “The Doctor lies,” she said.

“The Doctor lies,” River agreed.


**
When Amelia Pond was seven years old, she met a Doctor from space. He had funny, sticky-up hair, a run-down police box with engines and a pool and a library in the pool, and no daemon in sight. Only Rory and Mels believed her when she insisted he was real.

She waited a long time for him to come back for her, but at night, she heard his voice, telling her to be patient. “Oh, Amelia Pond, the adventures we’ll have.”

He lied (outright or by omission) more often than he told the truth, he was always late, and sometimes he frightened her more than all the Silence, Weeping Angels, and Daleks in the Universe put together. But mostly, Amy thought he was pretty wonderful. He cared too much (“Never interfere,” he said—except where crying children were involved); he showed her the stars, taught her she was worthy of love, taught her when to be brave and when to run away, how to unabashedly share her own love with the world (a love that had always been there, but needed some coaxing to come out).

There was pain, and heartbreak; a husband dead (and dead again) and a daughter stolen, but both always found again—both always safe and loved in her arms.

There was wonder, too: a star whale in outer space, fighting pirates at sea and vampires in Venice, giving hope to the greatest painter who ever lived, meeting United States President Nixon and chasing an entire species off their world. All of time and space at her fingertips.

She learned to stop waiting—realized, at some point, that she deserved better (Rory had said as much all along), but always to expect the unexpected all the same (they always set a place for the Doctor at dinner on holidays).

They settled into domesticity, her and Rory, Rorarius and Aemilia: jobs and a house and a car, dinner parties and barbeques. The Doctor popped in and out of their lives, as was his wont, but something had changed, even if she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was. The distance between his visits grew—weeks became months became the occasional year or two. She feared, maybe, he was weening them from him—that maybe he really would leave them once and for all.

“No, come on, Pond,” he said. “You'll be there 'till the end of me.”

“Or vice versa,” she put in—and she was only joking, but he looked at her, horror stricken, like the end of the Universe was falling around them again.

“It’s us,” Rory pointed out once they were home, as he chopped onions with Aemilia lying across his feet. “We’ve changed. Do you know, I think it’s been ten years for us. More or less. It’s hard to gauge. Two lives—how much longer can we keep this up?”

You're seared onto my hearts, Amelia Pond. I am running to you, and Rory, before you fade from me.

The Doctor sensed the change, same as she. He was afraid of losing them—afraid that their jobs and their lives would take them away. A thousand years he’d lived, and he was as insecure as a schoolboy.

What he failed to understand was that even if they chose to stop traveling, he’d always be a part of their lives, always be welcome; he was family. She’d have told him as much, if he hadn’t run off so quickly—her brilliant Raggedy Man, always thinking, always running, always off to save the world. She could never give him up.

**

Before the Doctor, before and after and always, there was Rory Williams, a man who waited two thousand years to keep her safe, the greatest love of her life, as much a part of her soul as Rorarius.

Together, or not at all.

So when they came to a graveyard in New York, and Rory’s name was etched in stone and he was snatched from her, there was hardly a question to her choice.

“What was it you said, Doctor? About mass?”

“Oh, I explained all this to Rory ages ago. Law of conservation of mass. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed.”

“So Rorarius will still be with me, yeah? Just inside?”

“Well, yes, that’s the theory—but it’s just that, a theory, I don't know, Pond, I can't. It worked before with you, in the Pandorica, but that was different. Stop it, Amelia, don’t do this. Amy, please, just come back into the TARDIS. Come along, Pond, please.”

She reached out for Melody and the Doctor. She held both their hands and took a second leap of faith.

Raggedy Man, good-bye.

**

Eons stretched between the tick and tock. Ree screamed and writhed; her mind twisted violently. She reached for him. He leapt toward her—through her.

They tumbled through time, and when she landed on the other side, Ree was nowhere to be seen.

**

When Amelia Pond was seven years old, she met Rory Williams, and he was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. They died in New York in 2012, and lived the rest of their days together.

People didn’t trust them—there was always furtive, fleeting looks and fearful gossip in hushed tones about the Ponds and their missing daemons. Amy walked down the street and saw the stares, heard the whispered, “Are they even human?”

What people said about them would have bothered her once, but she knew better now. It didn’t matter. She knew their daemons were still there; she still felt Rorarius every moment and talked to him like nothing had changed—because nothing had, except that he was inside her now, closer than ever.

Whenever she pulled Rory in for a kiss, she felt Rorarius reach up and encircle them protectively with his great white wings.