It happened on a boring Saturday. She was just wandering around the city, trying to learn the streets when she felt it: a ping against the edge of her mind. She’d been feeling that sort of thing ever since she’d regenerated. After the Doctor regenerated, back when she was still Rose Tyler, they’d had a discussion once about the differences between his different bodies. It was more than just physical changes, he’d told her. Mental abilities, physical strength and senses...these things altered as well. In his new form, he’d had an enhanced sense of taste, which was why he was always licking things, he’d told her.
It seemed the same sort of thing was happening with her in this body. Her last body had an extremely good sense of smell, but this one...she could feel things with her mind. Sense things she’d never experienced before. She could almost tell, sometimes, what was going to happen to someone in the future. It was like there were...threads of time around them. And she could trace them forward, see where they were going, what they were going to do.
Now, she felt a...bump. A ripple in the timeline. A...she smirked. A disturbance in the force. She laughed to herself even as she followed it, weaving in and out of the foot traffic as she sought the source.
She stopped in front of a large house. Mansion was a more accurate description. And one that looked disturbingly familiar. She wracked her mind, trying to place it. But whatever it was, it was hidden in memories of the Before Time. Even now, she still had blank places, portions of her mind covered in fog. She shook her head, frustrated with her inability to pin down what was so familiar about the house. It didn’t really matter. What was important was the disturbance in the timestream she felt emanating from the house. She squared her shoulders and approached the gate with determination. She may not be the Doctor, but she still had a responsibility to right wrongs when she found them. And whatever was in this house was fundamentally wrong in a way that made her almost sick to her stomach.
She rang the doorbell and waited.
A beautiful young woman opened the door and nodded at her before stepping back. “Come in.”
“Really? You’re just going to let me in? I haven’t even introduced myself.”
The woman smiled. “The Face of Boe has been expecting you.”
“The face of...oh, you’ve got to be joking.” Mels shook her head. “The big floating head? The one who’s been alive for millennia and supposedly knows all the secrets of the universe? That face of Boe?”
The woman laughed gently and opened the door wider. “Why don’t you come in and find out for yourself?”
Mels stepped in, noting the understated elegance of the house as the woman led her down halls and through doorways. The woman talked about various items they passed, giving an impromptu tour as they wound their way deeper into the house. Finally, she stopped before a closed set of doors and gestured. “The Face of Boe awaits you inside,” then she turned and walked away.
Mels watched the woman leave, a bemused expression on her face. “Feeling a bit like Alice,” she mumbled before turning back to the door and knocking.
::Enter, my old friend.::
The voice spoke, not from beyond the door, but inside her own mind.
Mel just laughed, and opened the door. At least that part was familiar. The Face of Boe sat inside his glass cage, faint smoke swirling around him. “Hello,” she said, coming to stand before him. “Nice place you’ve got here.” The bump in the timestream was coming from him. It was subtle, but consistent. Like an uncomfortable knot in a muscle.
::It suits my needs adequately,:: he turned to look at one of the chairs. ::Would you care to sit? We have much to discuss.::
“Yes, thank you,” Mels pulled a chair closer and sat down, staring at the large head for a moment. She’d met him twice, back when she was Rose Tyler. But never with this face. She wondered how he knew her. Why he called her old friend. Was this more of the backwards timeline this body seemed to enjoy with all her friends?
::It is so good to see you again, old friend.:: Boe said, ::I have missed you greatly over the centuries. But, I can see that you do not know who I am.::
“No, sorry. Well, I mean, I know that you are the Face of Boe, but..”
::I understand.:: He paused. ::I was not always known as the Face of Boe. And I did not always look as I do now. The millennia have aged me beyond anything I ever imagined. You knew me when I had a younger face. We danced, upon an invisible warship, in the middle of a German air raid. I miss the days when I could hold a beautiful woman in my arms.::
She sat there, stunned at what he’d said. Dancing on a warship? German air raid? That...she had only once been in a situation like that. And the person she’d danced with had most certainly not been the Face of Boe. It had been... “Jack Harkness?”Boe laughed, ::The very same.::
The laugh that rolled off him then was deep, and full of both amusement and love. ::Oh, to see that look on your face. You are so rarely surprised by anything anymore.::
“Jack? Jack...how? That’s not...how I remember you. The Doctor said you were back on Earth, helping to rebuild it. That was, after the Daleks...” She trailed off, reliving memories from when the Doctor had regenerated the first time. “What happened? Tell me everything.”
::Bad Wolf.:: he answered simply, and she groaned.
“It’s always Bad Wolf, isn’t it? What, did I turn you into this? I’m so sorry. I never imagined - he said you were fine!”
::I am fine. I was fine. I will always be fine, though I am starting to have doubts as to that, now.:: He paused, and when his voice went on it was filled with such infinite sadness, ::The Daleks killed me, back on Satelite Five. I held them off, the last man standing.::
She stared at him, waiting for him to go on.
::The Doctor sent you away, and when you came back, you were a goddess of time. At that moment, you had the power of the universe at your command. And what did you do? You brought me back to life. You loved me enough to do that. It is why I cannot be mad at you - could never be mad at you.::
“Why,” she cleared her throat, her voice tiny. Afraid to ask the question. Because, she was afraid she already knew the answer. “Why would you be mad at me?”
::Because, you brought me back forever, Rose. My dear Rosie. I cannot die. Or rather, I cannot stay dead. I’ve died, oh, so many times since that day. In so many, many ways.::
“And I did that to you. God. Jack, I’m so sorry! I never meant -” she choked, slid down from her chair to kneel in front of him, reaching out with one shaking hand to lay it on the glass between them. “I’m so sorry,” she continued softly.
::I understand why you did it. It was an act of love. I was upset for a long time. But never at you, even after I found out why. I was mad at the Doctor. For leaving me, for never explaining.::
She stared at him with a stricken expression, beyond words.
::Do not feel sorry for me, dearheart. I have been able to see so much, experience so much. I’m older than the Doctor, can you believe? By, oh, so many years. I’ve had great loves, and little loves. And through it all, the two of you have been there for me. Different faces, different times. We’ll never be linear again. But that doesn’t matter. Because I love you both in a way that transcends time and appearance.::
“And...and we love you. Jack. Boe.” she curled forward, her voice thick with tears, and pressed herself to his glass. “I’m sorry I did this to you. I’m sorry you’ve suffered. But I am so glad that I haven’t lost you.”
She visited him often. They shared stories - the ones that were safe. He told her about working on Earth, about watching over her while she grew up. About taking over Torchwood after Canary Wharf; about turning it into something good. She told him about how and why she regenerated. About the Doctor building the bridge to Pete’s World. Neither of them talked about the elephant in the room: why she wasn’t with the Doctor now. The closest they got was when she asked him to call her Melody.
He taught her so many things. How to focus her telepathy; how to block out other telepaths, as well as how to let them in. He shared with her his knowledge of time, explained things he’d learned back when he was a Time Agent. It didn’t quite match up with what she’d learned from her own observations, but that wasn’t a surprise. She saw the world as only a Time Lord could.
He taught her how to hide her emotions, how to play along when she met people in different times; people with different morals and codes of conduct. How to pretend that she knew someone when she didn’t, or how to pretend she didn’t when she did. She became better at acting, so much better than she’d ever been. She learned how to observe everything around her, to pick up on the slight nuances of those around her to better hide her foreknowledge of events. And then, her training complete, he gave her his old vortex manipulator.
“You still have it?” She gasped in shock.
::One of the few things I’ve carried with me. It is rather portable.:: He directed her to a cabinet across the room, holding various knick knacks and mementos from his long life. ::In the back, under the perception filter.::
She focused her mind. She’d known the filter was there, of course. One of the first things he’d taught her was how to see through psychic paper, perception filters. But she’d always respected his privacy too much to pry. “I don’t see - oh, there it is. Wow. It looks so worn out. Does it still work?” She retrieved it and brought it over to the table set in front of his tank.
::No. The Doctor disabled it ages ago. But. You should be able to repair it. Or, at least, use it as a blueprint to build your own.::
She stared down at the device, with so many intricate parts, and sighed. “Well, I guess we better find out.”
It took her a couple of months. Between classes and tests, she could only devote so much time to it. But it got easier once she’d graduated, and she eventually managed to make herself a vortex manipulator. She was overjoyed the first time she managed a small hop in time. She missed traveling with the Doctor so much, seeing all the places through all of space and time. Even if she could never be with him again, she could now at least wander the universe the way he did.
It wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the TARDIS, of course. She understood why the Doctor had called it ‘quick and dirty’ all those years ago. It required an enormous amount of concentration for her to land where she wanted. And it took her years to get it right. She wouldn’t ever tease him about getting landings wrong ever again. If she ever got a chance to see him, that was.
One of the first places she landed was the Gamma Forests, a small colony world without any adventure to be had. Melody didn’t care. Just traveling again was worth so much. Of course, there was one other thing she’d forgotten about the advantages of traveling via the TARDIS: translation circuits. She had a hell of a time simply introducing herself. Because, of course, the software the people used was grossly outdated. Instead of Melody Pond, they were calling her River Song. After two weeks of it, she rather got used to the name.
And it’s not a bad idea to change my name again, actually, she thought as she made her way to Boe’s house once she’d made it back to the fifty-first century. I bet Madam is still looking for me. And I know they’ve got time travel technology. No reason to make it easier for them to find me.
Changing her name turned out to be no more difficult than refusing to answer to anything else. They could call her Mels, Melody, Pond, or whatever else they fancied. But so long as she only answered to some variation of River Song, well. River Song she became.She’d once asked the Doctor why he was called Doctor instead of a proper name. He’d given her a long look and then asked her what her name was.
“Rose, of course,” she’d answered in some confusion.
“And if, the next time you were to introduce yourself to someone, you claimed to be Delilah, well. They would know you as Delilah, wouldn’t they? And if you stopped answering to Rose, and only answered to Delilah...”
“I’d be Delilah, I guess.”
It had seemed such a novel concept at the time. She had been Rose because she had chosen to be Rose. And now, she was River Song for the same reason. Some things really were that simple.
Of course, it ended up not mattering one whit. Because they found her anyway. She was in the library, flipping through a book about hypnosis. She’d never quite managed to lose her hope that one day she’d be free of Madam’s training.
“You didn’t really think a name change could keep us away, did you?” Madam smiled, “Rose Tyler.”