Fandom/Characters: Doctor Who, Eleven/River
Word Count: 5,165
Spoilers: Set between "Let's Kill Hitler" and "Closing Time" for River and between "The God Complex" and "Closing Time" for the Doctor
Summary: "Archaeology? Really? Don't take that."
The first year
She was tucked into a corner of the library, surrounded by ancient texts and holding a tablet in her hands. The course catalog was displayed in the university’s branded app, and she paged through it with an eagerness she hadn’t felt in years. This was her decision. Her choice in universities, her decision about what to study. She could take an 8 a.m. maths class three days a week or an ancient Egyptian class twice a week at 2:15 p.m. Or she could learn astronomy from the tall, tall tower on the southwest corner of the quad each week at midnight on Thursdays. You would spend all night observing the stars and planets.
It was the first class she signed up for.
She hadn’t liked school as Mels. It was an escape of sorts, a temporary transfer from one prison to another. At least it had Amy and Rory. River Song, she was discovering, loved school. She craved books, knowledge and learning. This place, this university, was the closest thing to a home that she’d ever found. The sweeping quad, the stately 5-story main library. The Earth hanging in the sky like a painting. The only other place she’d ever felt like this was … well on the TARDIS, those brief moments when she had burst in the doors on the mission to save her parents from the Teselecta.
With a small hum of pleasure, she signed up for an archaeological method and theory class, a fundamentals course and two more classes on quantitative and evolutionary methods.
Then the screen was obscured by a shock of brown hair in front of her eyes.
“Archaeology? Really? Don’t take that.”
River pushed on the hair. It was soft, she thought as the head’s owner suddenly looked up at her and they were nose to nose. Her throat went a bit dry. You can drown in those eyes. The thought disturbed her to the point that she scowled. She did not like these thoughts. “What are you doing here?” she hissed.
The Doctor settled back into the chair opposite from her. “Public library. Fancied something to read.”
“There’s a whole planet that’s a library. Why don’t you go there?”
Something flashed in his eyes. Sadness, regret, she wasn’t sure. But it was there, and whatever memory he was thinking about was so painful that her heart throbbed with sympathy. That was also new to River Song, she realized. Mels didn’t feel sorry for the Doctor. Mels also wouldn’t have saved the Doctor either. She found herself staring at the tablet screen, her courses laid out before her.
“So, Melody Pond, why archaeology?”
“River Song,”she immediately corrected, and the Doctor’s face lit up.
“Yes! How silly of me. Of course you’re River.” The giddiness radiated from him. “You’re very much River Song. Where’s your gun, my bad girl?”
“No guns in the library.” Her toes curled at the endearment.
The Doctor merely cocked an eyebrow.
River leaned forward, eyes shining with mirth. “Care to make a physical inspection?”
“No physical inspections in the library, River Song,” he replied, his voice dropping a couple octaves and doing delicious things to her insides.
“I have a feeling that River Song doesn’t follow the rules.” She extended a leg until it rested in his lap, where she felt a stirring that pleased her immensely. “Don’t you agree … Benjamin?”
The Doctor flushed, flailed and toppled backwards out of the chair.
River fought back the laugh, not really wanting to be kicked out of the library. She quickly submitted the courses and turned off the tablet. She slipped it into the messenger bag she carried and hefted it over her shoulder. “Well, this was a fun interlude. I really should be off.” She started toward the door, then hesitated. She looked over her shoulder at the Doctor. Here he was, the subject of her thesis, in the flesh. Two hearts, floppy hair, and a smile that did things to her. She didn’t think she’d ever see him, not until she was done. But he was there, probably at the behest of Amy and Rory. She chewed on her lip.
He’s a bloke. Invite him for coffee, Amy’s voice in her head urged.
He’s the Doctor. Why aren’t you killing him? Mels’ voice taunted. Or at least give him a good fuck before you do so.
It’s the spaceman, Melody’s voice screamed in her mind. He’s coming for you! Run!
Melody had the best advice, so River turned away, shifted the strap higher and walked out of the library, ignoring the frantic beating of her own twin hearts.
The second year
River emerged from her societies class in a rage. Her peers steered far away from her. Even her best friend from the Boeshane Peninsula had invented a date and had gone off to shag the triplet cousins who’d transferred from Yronga. “Six penises each,” he’d yelled as he made his escape.
The object of her fury was lounging against the wall opposite the classroom.
River stalked up to him, grabbed him by the bowtie and hauled him down the corridor.
“Hello, dear,” the Doctor squeaked. “Good day in class?”
River dragged him outside, then spun him against the wall. Within seconds, the cool steel of a gun pressed against the underside of his chin. “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you right now,” she hissed.
“Even convicted men are reminded of their crimes,” he said calmly, and she pressed the barrel into that soft skin.
“You just keep waltzing through history. Do you find that fun? Do you get off on it?”
“Well, it is rather fun.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “Better with two.”
“Apparently so.” River used her free hand to pull out a book and shoved it in his face. “I keep finding these theories about you and me. Every civilization, every planet has a legend around the mysterious Doctor. Some say he’s a warrior. Others say he’s a healer. They all say he’s never alone, and the female warrior that accompanies him is always a dead ringer for me.”
He flicked a glance at the book. “Really, that picture isn’t very flattering. Doesn’t have the hair right.”
“None of them have the hair right.” River dropped it back into her bag and let the Doctor go. She slipped the gun back into her holster. “I don’t want this,” she whispered.
Something infinitely sad passed in his eyes again, like when she had mentioned the Library. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, River Song,” he said softly.
River walked to the steps and sat on the top one. She leaned against the column and stared at the Doctor. He was wearing a different outfit, she realized. When he had visited her in the library, he wore that tweed coat. Now he wore the longer greatcoat he’d worn in Berlin. He looked tired, she thought, and she wanted to push that fringe of hair out of his eyes.
“Do you ever feel like something is leading you about? You’re heading toward a future that’s probably inevitable, but as appealing as it looks, you don’t want any of it. You only want it because it’s your choice, not because it’s destined to happen.”
“Yes,” the Doctor replied immediately. “And it claws at your throat, and you want to run as fast and far as you can, even though you’re drawn toward it at the same time.” They shared a look of complete kinship, and for the first time, River realized that there was no one else in the universe that understood her the way the Doctor did.
He looked away for a moment and seemed to be struggling with a decision. He took a deep breath, then sat next to her. “River,” he said softly, “time can be rewritten.”
She found herself resting her hands on his knees. “Do you know why I chose to study archaeology?”
“All the time. Do you know there’s millions, billions of better majors out there? I point and laugh at archaeologists. It’s never too late to get a masters in scones. There always need to be more scone makers out there.”
River laughed. “Oh, you idiot. I’m trying to study you.”
The Doctor looked ridiculously pleased. “Well, River Song, here I am.” He threw his arms out wide. “Feel free to study me.”
“That can be interpreted in so many ways.”
He leaned toward her. “Maybe I intended it to be in many different ways.”
“Oh, stop it.” She pushed at his knees and swept an errant lock of hair out of her eyes. “I’ve heard so much about you. From Amy, who really worships you, you know. From the Church, who loathes you. They taught me to fear you and the best thing for the universe is to exterminate you. Such conflicting points of view.” River looked down at where her hands rested on his knees. “Our lives are entangled, Doctor. I don’t see timelines like a full Time Lord, but I do know that. I don’t want someone telling me how I should feel about you. I want to find out for myself.”
“Fair enough.” He slipped his hand into hers. “Come along, River.”
She let him tug her to her feet. “What are you doing?”
“Archaeologists like to get their hands dirty. Study the source, all of that, eh?” He lightly tapped her nose. “Why don’t you study the source? You and me. One trip. All of time and space, River Song.”
And for the first time, River understood what had captivated Amy. “How’s a girl suppose to resist?” Then she squeezed his hand and pulled away. “Maybe when I’m older.” She kissed the corner of his mouth and hurried off to her next class.
The third year
“Someone really wants sex with you,” John observed as he dropped a package on the coffee table.
“And, yet, your bedroom is the one that has a revolving door.”
“Except for you.” John threw himself on the sofa next to River. “Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider?”
“I prefer you as a friend. Bless.” River patted John’s leg. He’d dropped out of university when he’d gotten the opportunity to become a Time Agent and had offered to let her stay at his flat. He hopped all over the universe, but returned to the moon and to their home. They’d considered adding benefits to their friendship, then discarded it. That didn’t mean John didn’t steer River toward some rather interesting dates that always ended with her snogging the being within an inch of their lives, then leaving them hanging.b“Why do you say that?”
“Well, I figure that’s either a box of chocolates or the jumbo-sized box of condoms.”
River picked up a scanner, ran it over the package and was satisfied it wasn’t mean to cause harm to either of them. She quickly undid the twine. The paper fell away, and her hearts skipped a beat.
John peered over her shoulder and whistled at the clay tablet fragments. “Those look ancient.”
“They are ancient.” River gingerly picked up the piece of paper that lay atop them, filled with loops and swirls she knew as intimately as she knew English. “The Code of Urukagina. One of the oldest-known books on Earth. It’s thought to be the first political document ever written. Urukagina was far more enlightened than later centuries when it came to things such as polyamory.” She trailed a fingertip over the clay. “That man. He just won’t stop.”
John suddenly grinned. “Look at you, River Song,” he said softly. “You have stars in your eyes.”
“I do not.”
“Yes, you do.” He kissed her forehead. “You want to know my advice?”
“Seduce and shag him.”
“Well, that too. Whoever he is, he’s been leaving you these gifts for the past year. He really gets you, you know? Maybe you should give him a chance.”
River added the tablets to her growing collection of historic artifacts and thought about John’s words. She waved him off on his next mission, met with her thesis adviser and took a turn as a teaching assistant. A couple months later, she walked out of the flat to see a familiar-looking blue box across the street. She didn’t think twice. She hitched her bag over her shoulder and crossed the road. Reverently, she ran her hand over the ancient wood, then laid it on the handle. It warmed beneath her touch. Welcoming me home, she thought, then pushed it open.
The Doctor was under the console, wearing a pair of goggles and swinging away as he fiddled with wires. He saw her through the slats in the floor and hastily pushed the goggles up. The warm smile he gave her did things to her insides again, but they didn’t quite so foreign this time. “You came!”
“That’s almost the perfect situation to say that in,” she teased, and he promptly tumbled out of the seat, all gangly arms and legs. She laughed with a giddy joy, dumped her bag and immediately sprang to the console.
“What’re you doing?” The Doctor scrambled up the stairs.
“All of time and space, you promised me that.” River pulled levers, flipped switches and responded to a silent plea to remove the brakes. She tossed a flirtatious grin over her shoulder. “I’m driving.”
“You can’t drive! It’s my TARDIS.” The Doctor immediately tried to fix things, but she batted his hands away.
“And I’m her child, so hush.” She kissed his cheek and he just stood there, shocked. He touched a hand to the spot she kissed. She tossed another cheeky smile at him, then stilled. There was that something in his eyes again, the thing that made her want to drown herself in them. It was a combination of lust, desire, need and something else she didn’t want to name because she was already shaken to the bone.
Don’t tell me you don’t want to tap that, Mels taunted.
Maybe try scones with that coffee, Amy suggested.
Give him a chance, John urged.
Run! Melody screamed.
Once again, Melody did have the best advice. So as soon as the TARDIS landed, River grabbed the Doctor’s hand and sprinted out the door with him and ran as far and as fast as she could.
He kept up with her every step of the way.
The fourth year
River had taken the last of her mandatory courses and was focusing on her thesis. Her life became a whirlwind of off-planet trips through time and space, both on her own and in the TARDIS. She was spending more and more time with the Doctor, and soon he was around the flat as much as John was. Except he always went out of his way not to meet John, and River having none of that.
“There’s no reason for you to be jealous,” she scolded him over coffee and scones in 32nd century London. Milk for the Doctor. Amy’s advice had been spot on there.
“All the women in time and space, and he keeps his hands off you?”
For the first time, River thought it through. “You know him, don’t you? It makes sense.”
The Doctor took a bite of scone. “Spoilers,” he said with his mouth full.
“Fine, then I won’t mention it again. He’s taken a new name, you know. Jack Harkness. It fits him better than John did.”
“He is very much Jack Harkness.” And they didn’t discuss John again.
River had discovered she genuinely loved archaeology. She loved digging her hands into the remnants of time and deducing what had happened, how people had lived, what could modern races still learn from them. She attended more digs now rather than experience the events firsthand. Her faithful shadow kept following her, always urging her to travel back to the past.
“That’s cheating,” River pointed out in the middle of a desert on Io, as the Doctor helped her lift a heavy frame she used to sift dirt from objects.
“It’s not cheating. It’s exploring multiple points of view.”
“Well, let me make my observations before we go change history. I want to do these papers as honestly as I can.” Which was the only reason why she traveled with the Doctor, River told herself firmly as she stared at her tent’s ceiling at night. She had a standing invitation to sleep on the TARDIS, but she wanted to stay with her team. She was second-in-command on this dig, and it was a position she relished. She was already planning her own digs in her mind.
It wasn’t just that, she acknowledged. She turned on the electric lantern and dug into her battered messenger bag. She pulled out her diary and the book of legends she’d shoved in the Doctor’s face during her second year. She opened it to the photograph of the ancient Egyptian wall depicting herself and the Doctor and lightly traced her finger over it.
“They really didn’t get the hair right.”
“They never do.” River peered over the edge of her book at the Doctor sitting on the end of her cot. “Get bored?”
“No. Well, yes. A bit. Why don’t you come back to the TARDIS?”
“Sweetie, I’ve told you five times tonight …”
“I’m bored,” he whined.
“There’s nothing keeping you here. Go off, have an adventure or six. I don’t need you.” It was harsh, but she needed harsh at that moment. River turned to another spot in the book and groaned. Legends from the Gamma Forest. Of course. She swallowed past the huge lump that had formed in her throat and waited for the rustling that indicated he’d listened to her.
The Doctor never did listen.
“Budge over,” he told her, and she sighed, scooting so he could cram onto the narrow cot with her.
He peered over her shoulder, and she felt herself melt into his side. It felt right there, tucked next to him as they read together. Well, read, then debated certain points in the book as they went over the various stories.
“They worshipped you there,” River said as they perused a tale of Easter Island. “We haven’t done that yet, have we?”
“No. Why don’t we go now?”
“Because I’m trying to sleep.”
The Doctor snorted, and River pinched him. “I’m only part Time Lord. I need a few hours of sleep every night. Go do some tatting then.” She turned the page and sighed. “All these stories. They’re so besotted with you. Does everyone you ever travel with fall in love with you?”
“Of course not. Plenty of people who want to kill me.” He tapped her nose. “Present company included.”
The witty comeback on the tip of her lips never made it. Instead, she found herself brushing his cheek. “I no longer want to kill you. Permanently. I can cheerfully throttle you on a regular basis.”
“It was hard,” he acknowledged.
“Very hard.” And River was suddenly aware of the gun strapped to her thigh and the knife tucked away at the small of her back. She swallowed, and that damn lump just wouldn’t go away. Melody was screaming in her mind, but Amy, John … Jack and Mels were all waiting, tapping their feet and urging her just to get on with it.
She bit her lip, patted the Doctor’s cheek and pushed at him. “Go on. I think I can sleep now.”
Liar, Amy, Mels and Jack informed her.
The Doctor didn’t move, but he did return the caress. “A lot of people do fall in love with me,” he quietly acknowledged. “And, I’m a vain, vain man, River. I want to be adored and to be loved.” He pressed his forehead to hers and something pulsed there. Telepathy, of course, she realized. “But all I am is just a mad man with a box, traveling through the universe. And really, I’m just running. I’m running faster and farther than I ever have before, and I’m scared.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Oh, lots of things. Death. Clowns. Jack-in-the-boxes. Putting salt in tea instead of sugar.”
She curled into him, and the intimacy of it all wasn’t lost on her. “Well, that last is a real travesty.”
“Isn’t it now?”
River found herself admitting the one thing she would never tell anyone else. “I’m scared, too.”
“The Church. I’m free of them, I keep telling myself that, but I feel like they’re there all the time. I keep looking over my shoulder, but there’s nothing there. I tell myself I’m just feeling silly, and Jack really is complaining about the number of holes I’ve put in the walls shooting at something that isn’t there. I have nightmares about them, about you, about everything really. They’re happening less often, but …” The sting of tears at the corner of her eyes made her stop, and she blinked them away. Right, time to listen to Melody. She quickly set the book aside and extinguished the light, but didn’t bother sending the Doctor away. Like he would listen.
She was almost asleep when he spoke. “River?”
“You know, what we were talking about?”
She shifted to face him, her eyes having adjusted to the dark. “Yes?”
“I don’t tend to fall in love with them. The people I travel with.”
“Of course not.” She patted his cheek. “Get some sleep.”
“The last one I really loved like that … her name was Rose Tyler.”
“I know who Rose is.” She’d accessed the TARDIS data on Rose and found herself fascinated by the blonde who was now with a cloned version of the Doctor in an alternate universe.
“I never thought it would stop hurting.”
“Of course it stops hurting. Everything eventually does. You just go on. You don’t ever forget her, but one day you do wake up and find you have feelings for someone else. It doesn’t mean you’re being unfaithful. It means you can feel more.”
He gave her a sad smile. “Speaking from experience?”
“I give Jack that talk at least once a week.” She tapped his nose.
“Have you ever been in love, future Dr. Song?” That was his new favorite nickname for her.
She didn’t answer. Had someone asked her that even an hour earlier, she would have laughed and waved him off. But now … that’s when she realized that’d she tumbled over that precipice. She wasn’t sure how it had happened or when. She hated herself for it really, because she wasn’t sure if it was a choice or destiny. Perhaps both. But she loved him. She loved him so much, and it scared the hell out of her.
Oh, hell, she realized. I should have listened to Melody.
“Everyone eventually does,” she whispered. “Even me.”
Then she rolled up, jammed her feet in flats and sprinted out of the tent. She ran, in yoga pants, an old T-shirt and no bra, which really made it uncomfortable. But she didn’t care. She ran and ran until the camp was a distant speck on the horizon. The approaching dawn and growing thirst drove her back to camp.
And the TARDIS was gone.
The fifth year
River would cheerfully murder anyone who teased and said she was nervous about her viva. Of course she was nervous about her viva. She was brilliant, she knew her material cold, but half of the department’s faculty still thought Time Lords were a myth and she was crazy to pursue them. She didn’t bother pointing out that the last of the Time Lords had spent the vast majority of the past two years parked across the street from her flat.
She thought the Doctor wouldn’t come back, but he had. He was waiting for her with fresh groceries and tales of misadventures when she’d gotten back from the dig. Then he grabbed her hand, tugged her into the TARDIS and had taken her to meet Jim the Fish.
Things changed on that trip. There was an undercurrent between them that hadn’t been there before, and it kept getting stronger and stronger the more time they spent together. When they had sprinted back to the TARDIS together, barefoot and laughing, he kissed her. Or she kissed him. Maybe it was at the same time. She would never forget how it felt, her toes curling into the wet sand as he figured out where to put his hands, then decided they were best in her hair. The tide was halfway to their knees before they remembered that kissing until they drowned probably wasn’t the best thing, and they stumbled inside to keep exploring each other.
It kept escalating from there. Suddenly, their adventures weren’t just to explore the universe, but test the limits of their endurance and how long they could drive each other insane from suppressed desire.
Jack wasn’t amused.
“Unless you have some sort of thing about waiting until marriage you’ve never told me about, just shag him. You two’ve been dancing around each other for years now. You’ll both feel better.”
“It’s not like that,” she muttered, and it really wasn’t. But something out there was still chasing her. The Melody in her mind had quietened down, but she felt there was still someone watching her over her shoulder. The closer she got to finishing her doctorate, the more she had nightmares about her childhood. And the closer she got physically and emotionally to the Doctor, the stronger the nightmares were.
She pushed all of that to the back of her mind as she gave her viva. River saw when the Doctor slipped into the audience, but her voice never wavered as she showed pictures, explained myths, showed concrete evidence of where Gallifrey had been. She spoke of the Time War, the Daleks, the Cybermen. She read firsthand accounts from Sarah Jane Smith, Dr. Martha Jones and a number of his his other companions and data from people all over the universe.
“Do you think,” one professor asked, “based off your studies, is the Doctor a good man?”
River’s eyes found the Doctor’s. “He is a lot of things to a lot of people. He’s a warrior to the people of the Gamma Forests and a healer to the people of Earth and its subsidiaries. He’s the devil, and he’s an angel. He’s destroyed so many worlds, yet he’s saved so many more. You can ask six million people how they feel about the Doctor, and you’ll get six million answers.”.
“But, what do you think, Ms. Song?”
Her gaze never left his. “I think he’s the best man I’ve ever known,” she said honestly.
It was another hour before she was released, but when she did, she sprinted down the hall, caught the Doctor in a hug and laughed with a giddy joy.
“I did it! They passed me!”
“Of course they passed you, you’re a Time Lord,” he said with an air of superiority.
“Oh, shut up.” She kissed him, then tugged him toward the TARDIS. “I want to go on an adventure. And you can call me Dr. Song.” Well, the official graduation ceremony wasn’t for another two months, but she didn’t care. There were some minor corrections she needed to do, but her thesis had been flawless and even convinced the department skeptics. She was going to celebrate.
The TARDIS took them to Easter Island, and everything changed.
They’d mistaken the Doctor for their legendary birdman and insisted he had to go through the annual trials to bring prosperity to the islands. It had involved a dangerous swim and the discovery of a nest of hibernating Gyfinians they had to deal with. There was a celebration after that, and they’d waved off the offer of a hut for the night and stumbled back to the TARDIS. They’d saved Easter Island, she’d passed her viva and life was magnificent.
So when they stumbled in the door tearing at each other’s clothes, they didn’t stop. The rooms were rearranged so his bedroom was the first one they reached. His hands were everywhere, and she tore his shirt in the process of getting it off. She pushed him onto the mattress, straddling him, then he was finally, finally in her, and she had waited for so long, and the feeling was so exquisite that she suddenly came with a scream.
“Sorry,” she said with a blush.
“It just means I’m that good,” he said with arrogance.
She pinched his bum. “Oh, stop it.”
He rolled until he was on top, pinning her into the mattress. He slid out, then back in, and she gasped as delicious aftershocks rolled through her. “Not a chance,” he whispered, pressed his forehead to hers, and the world suddenly spun away.
“Tick, tock, goes the clock …”
There was water. So much water. She was trapped, and she couldn’t get out.
“He cradled and he rocked her …”
Then it shifted.
The desert was hot, and the spacesuit was stifling. She was trying so hard not to shoot him. She didn’t want to kill him. She loved him so much. He needed to run. Why wasn’t he running?
“Tick, tock, goes the clock ...”
The shots echoed across the desert, and he collapsed at her feet, dead.
“Even for the Doctor …”
Suddenly, he collapsed against her, trembling from his own orgasm.
“Oh god … Oh god …” The vision spun through River’s head as tears poured down her cheeks.
Alarmed, the Doctor levered himself onto his elbows. “What did you see?” he demanded, and she realized he had seen something as well.
The images of herself shooting the Doctor refused to go away. “Spoilers,” she managed, buried her head in his chest and cried.
He tucked her against his side, and they didn’t talk for a long time. She wasn’t sure how she managed to sleep, but she did, only waking up to find him kissing and nudging his hips against her. They made love slowly, mapping each other’s bodies, committing the sensory touches to memory. Somehow, she knew it would have to sustain them both for a long time.
He dropped her off at the morning of her graduation, but didn’t linger. She didn’t argue that he had skipped ahead two months. She’d just use her vortex manipulator to go drop off her corrections at an earlier point in time.
He trailed a finger down her cheek, and she knew that everything was about to change even more than it already had, and the vision taunted her.
Tick, tock, goes the clock ...
River started to tell him, then hesitated. “You know, right?” she managed.
“I know,” he confirmed and kissed her forehead. “No matter what happens, River, remember that I do as well.”
River smiled through her tears, kissed him and headed into the graduation ceremonies. The future waited.