Title: Relative X
Rating: T overall
Characters/Pairing: student!River, future!Doctor, Eleven, (River/future!Doctor, River/Eleven)
Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who.
River is a terrible, but brilliant, student. University is a necessary nuisance to her.
He's there for a scant two months, collectively. They're about the same age (oh, that is so utterly utterly relative). He has to wear shades to hide his age.
He's supposed to be a wunderkind. She's as good as one.
He's an assistant, or something, River never catches the full lie. The blatant truth is that he knows more than all the professors put together. About everything. About anything.
River knows (nearly) all, she thinks. She's young, but deliciously old in so many ways.
Once he dares to wear a wedding ring, a terribly beaten-up old thing. It confuses River at first. She doesn't dare to think like that, only she gathers he wishes she would.
Well, nearly (nearly) all.
During a lecture about Cleopatra he places a hand on her knee and she places a hand on his hand and all the others say: they're having an affair. Since this is the 51st century, it's a statement followed by a collective shrug.
River has fallen in love with at least two of him already, unknowingly, and this one might just be the easiest one of all.
Rives decides at a tender age that she won't fall in love easily. It just seems like the sort of thing one should be able to control.
Years and years later, he shakes her hand once and walks away with her heart.
She spits in the general direction of his retreating back.
She just knows he's smirking. The bastard.
She's sorting ancient bones. It's the most creative correctional punishment they can think of. She has no idea what he'sdoing there, though. Naturally, she asks him.
"You dared me to come," he mumbles.
She hates that mumbling. She really, really hates it. "Oh? Did I send out signals, Smith?"
He laughs, softly. "You literally… Well, it's not important."
She bristles. "Because that is all kinds of rubbish. Has always been, will always be."
He looks up at her properly at that. "I love it when you speak time," he mumbles.
She spends years at University and when she graduates he's long gone. He's shown up intermittently, of course. Left, returned, left again, until her head spins with confusion and she worries because she likes it.
She writes five theses (officially), and four of them are acknowledged by the faculty. For her work on the earliest nanogenes, for her theories about the second generation pyramids, and for her analysis of an ancient civilisation worshipping a blue box, she gets an official pat on the back and a stiff dinner in her honour. For her pièce de résistance – the mapping of occurrences of the phrase 'hello sweetie' all through history – she gets her name written in real ink on real paper, framed in real glass. Andshe gets to hold a lecture.
He shows up for the three dinners, and at least that's something.
Her lecture is marred by a man in a bowtie and a betasselled fez clapping much too enthusiastically, but River is determined to enjoy every moment, weird strangers and all.
She's a little disappointed he doesn't show up for the after-lecture gathering either; he could have held the bulky frame containing her diploma.
"That was very enlightening," someone says in her ear. It's fez-man, and he gives her such a weird smile.
"Really? Could you hear anything at all over the noise you were making?"
"All I was supposed to." He plucks the fez from his head and places it on hers (she's never been more grateful for her curls).
During the fraction of a second it takes her to knock it off he disappears. She's cradling the frame awkwardly, and when she renews her one-handed grip on it she notices -
There is a piece of bright yellow paper stuck to the glass. It says, simply, Hello, sweetie.
Days pass and she can't stop thinking about that thing he said.
Finally she figures while she still has ancient dust grating under her fingernails, she can bring it up.
She sacrifices her lunch break and (finally) finds him sitting on a bench under rain-heavy skies. He's still wearing sunglasses (her blood pressure spikes with annoyance) and he's holding a sandwich, but appears to have no interest whatsoever in eating it.
"Hello," he says.
"What did you mean with 'speak time'?" She can see herself reflected in his shades.
"Spoilers," he mumbles, his tone entirely too smug. He rises and presses the sandwich into her hand (she glances down and it appears to be kippers and a celery stalk on rye bread).
Then he leaves.
And then it begins to rain.
It's not a date. And if it is, it's the worst date she's ever been on.
After no dinner and several unsuccessful attempts to get him to take her dancing, she manages to corner him between a cypress and a rubbish bin (offline, as usual).
She wonders if she should try to kiss him, but then decides her standards won't let her before she's at least looked into his eyes. "Take off the shades."
He looks pensive. "I wonder if that's what you meant when you said I'd scare you."
Her temper flares (in equal parts due to the mumbling and the entirely too-weird allusion to 'you'). She makes to snatch them off but he's lightning fast and stops her hand (with the gentlest grip on her wrist) two feet from his face.
She purses her lips sourly. "Let me guess - spoilers?"
It's way too early in the morning, and she's only had time for a precious few sips of coffee before class (and still she has to sneak in and sit in the back of the lecture hall).
No one is looking forward to studying Contemporary Palaeontology, and the introduction of a new teaching assistant is just another point against it. Who cares, really?
The man is young; seems harmless, not terribly confident, not entirely awake. He's wearing trousers of the most egregious shade of purple she's ever seen, though, which at least indicates some spirit.
He looks the class over, and River has the most curious feeling his gaze lingers on her for much longer than on any of the others, even though she's so far away. She sits up a bit straighter, just in case.
"This is John Smith," the Professor says, and the class winces in sympathy, River included. Anyone named that ought to be a static hologram.
The man cares not at all; he simply smiles (just maybe while looking at her).
That was it; he was there among them, already judged and doomed after thirty seconds. He sits down in the front row to listen to the lecture.
River accesses the right program on her padd and prepares to be bored.
When they (finally) break for lunch, River has long since decided to say hello to poor Mr Smith. Can't hurt, she thinks, and puts on her best manners.
Fez-man wanders across her path. Literally. He seems as surprised to see her as she is to see him.
She stops dead.
He moves about on the same spot, staring at her. The gravel crunches under his boots. There's no other sound in the garden; but then, it's dead.
"I didn't think you'd be outside," he says. He's wearing a bigger fez, now.
"You thought that was clever?" she says.
"That note. You thought it was clever."
"I know it was."
"Sorry, didn't laugh."
"It wasn't a joke."
"No? I think you read my abstract in the database and thought it would be fun."
"Haven't actually read it. I can't, you see." He grins. "Big fan, though."
River dresses up for industriousness. She pulls back her hair in a tight ponytail and puts on her most severe clothes. She gives herself five hours to finish this task and she intends to do it.
Unfortunately, she's not alone in the lab.
"You're grouping this under Mesopotamia?" He snatches the pot she's just painstakingly cleaned and scanned and compared to ten similar ones. "That's wrong. It's so wrong I can't even look at this." He places it behind the surface analyser.
She snatches it back, gingerly. The end of her ponytail tickles her neck. "According to the equipment it's right."
"Your precious equipment…"
"Leave me alone."
"I can't. I've tried, but I can't."
They eyes meet over the dust aggregator (well, her gaze meets his shades, but she knows he's looking). "I wouldn't be above violence," she says sweetly.
"Oh, I know."
"And you still find it hard to leave?"
River snorts, quite ungracefully. "Why?" she asks, just like she knows he wants her to, and she tries to convey as much in that one word.
He shrugs, not even a little bit casually. "You're River Song."
He finally takes off his sunglasses, and –
That's not even age she's staring at; that's ancientness. That's terrifying knowledge spilling out of irises with an inefficient containment field. That's the profound feeling she should close her eyes as quickly as possible to save herself, and the fact that she can't tear her gaze away.
He puts on the shades again, with a chilling resignation.
"I'm not", she says, and as long as she doesn't think, she isn't. She's intrigued, though. Mercilessly intrigued. "Can you take them off again?"
He startles, looks wary, doesn't believe her. "Once a week. That's rule 28. Rule 29, incidentally, details what can be construed as a week."
She drops her hands to her hips (when had she pressed them to her chest?), and demands: "What rules?"
"There's an amendment in rule 103, of course. A technicality." He smirks, and then he winks; over the severe frames there's a tug at his right eyebrow.
River works late, in the corner of the University museum dedicated to literature of the bound variety.
She gets up for another lexicon (such hard work, books) and when she returns to her table he's sitting in her chair.
He beams. "Hello!"
There's no fez this time. It's a great improvement.
She holds the very heavy volume at arm's length and doesn't know what to say. The man is an expert at appearing and disappearing without a trace, apparently. (Not unlike a certain someone else.)
"Need to see a sabre-toothed tiger," he continues. "For… reference. Won't take two minutes. Walk me there."
And River does; she puts the book down, peels off her white gloves, and leads the way. Because she's intrigued. Because she wants to talk to him. Because he seems to enjoy her work. And because there's a knockout spray that she hasn't had a chance to try yet strapped to her belt.
"So…" she says, "You crashed my lecture and gave me that note without having read my abstract?"
"I didn't crash your party – I mean, lecture! I was invited. Sort of. In retrospect." He doesn't let her lead with more than a step. "And I'm familiarwith your work. Very familiar."
"Really? Then what do you think it means?
"Means? Does it have to mean anything?"
"Well, someone's put it there for a reason."
He coughs. "Do you know who?"
River purses her lips; she thought she'd get to ask the questions. She answers anyway. "No, but the main theories basically boil down to: advertising, art, conspiracy, aliens, or – my favourite – star-crossed lovers. Anyone of those you find believable?"
"Let's not go there."
As he manages to look both incredibly self-satisfied and dearly sour at the same time, River decides to change the subject. "Do you want your fez back?"
"Keep it! The note, too. You'll need that." He smiles again, just as easily as before.
It's a short walk, and all too soon they're enveloped by ancient skeletons propped up in every conceivable fashion, forced to seem alive, moving. "Here it is," she says, and points to a tiger forever ready to spring, its trademark teeth bared in a roar.
"Perfect!" He reaches into a pocket and hauls out a contraption so ancient River doesn't even realise what it is until it's given off a sharp flash and spit out a square paper onto her shoe.
The man picks the picture up and waves it about furiously. "Thank you, Doctor, must hurry now, really." He backs away, trying to force the camera back into the pocket with his free hand.
"I'm not a doctor!" she cries.
"I am!" he shouts back, and then he's lost among the dead things.
Bonus (or That Part I Couldn't Work In Anywhere)
The Doctor really must get back with a photo of a sabre-toothed tiger, but River has sort of - stopped.
Half-visible through the doorway to another chamber, there's a giant skeleton of a legless greatlizard, laid out on the bare floor. It takes up most of the space, and the bones gleam horribly white in the sharp light – and River stares at it with a small smile on her face.
"Is there something special about that monstrosity?" he asks (he has no fond memories of the live ones).
River's decidedly smirking now. "I had one of the best snogs ever in the chest cavity of that."
The Doctor grimaces. "I didn't need to know that."
Two months earlier (well, for River).
He's really much too nervous for someone who's been snogged a lot as of late.
"Come on!" she shouts, and jumps from one giant rib to another.
It's oddly dark and decidedly wrong to be in here, and he's so peeved the Laws of Time forced him to suggest they enter when the thought never seemed to occur to her. (Though best ever did sound quite nice.)
"Something wrong? Just think of it as a broken cave."
"Performance anxiety," he mumbles, not loudly enough for her to hear, and wipes his hands on raspberry-red trousers. "Guess it's better than jealousy."
"Just come here!"