A/N: As for now, this is the last part.
Another room: a sweltering one, this time. River's only job is to lie back, which gives her some time to think. The Doctor was a field of study she'd never complete, yes, but this came at a bad time. He – 'John' – said the Doctor had left him… but if he was the Doctor…? Then again, Rule One would apply to him as well.
The conductive gel on her arm cools slowly, while sweat gathers next to the globs.
Then there's the manipulator and what they might be doing to it; ruining her calibrations, letting the coordinates slip… If she came (comes) back later than say, three minutes, her Doctor would grow impatient and stupid and run straight into the Cybermen, where he'd get his head chopped off…
So Torchwood runs a series of unimpressive and primitive, and, to be fair, entirely non-invasive tests. Lie detectors (two of them), brain scans, X-rays, IQ tests, emotion tests, bright lights, sniffing dogs... (Whenever John turns his back, several pairs of compassionate eyes threaten her with rather more invasive tests, as if that would get them their results.)
When said tests are finally done, the analyses are a waiting game in two acts – and Torchwood are positively generous with the freedom. Uncuffed, she gains a pair of too-large trousers and a drab cardigan. She feels quite at home in them.
She gets invitations, next – Rose asks her to come to 'the office'; John beckons with a finger and hums a medley of La traviata and Fiddler on the Roof.
River stretches her aching muscles and decides she'll have a better chance with Rose.
'The office' is just that; a desk and chairs and a dozen paper cups from a chain River has never come across in any time or any place.
A can of dry shampoo sits on top of a pile of papers; a travel iron sits on the windowsill; a clunky typewriter sits in a corner of the desk. The blinds admit only the suggestion of city lights, and something smells like a strain of violet extinct on her parents' Earth for twenty thousand years. (She wonders what her parents are doing, in this world, in this moment – because of course they're alive.)
She takes a seat, unbidden. The chair is metal and fabric, looks padded but feels like it isn't. "I'm curious as to what you've found out. If you don't mind me asking?"
Rose, on the other side of the desk, in another chair, wraps her hands around a mug with a big smile on it. She gets the same terrible brew as everyone else, by the smell of it. "You're not all human, apparently. You've got damage at the cellular level, and your brain's all weird. Plus, they think you've had a kid."
That was even less than River had expected, if it was true; and it probably was. "They? I thought this was your office?"
"I'm just here." A grin blooms onto Rose's face. "I'm just borrowing it, that's all. You need to tell me, though… Do you know him? The Doctor?"
"No," says River, and the truth tastes stale.
"See, I know him. He recognised you. He needs people, just… the ones he finds are almost always dead. Died fighting the Cybermen."
"Talking about Cybermen and fighting… should we really sit here and talk about a man?"
"You're not from UNIT or a rebel or anything else. You've crossed the Void. Where did you come from?"
River focuses on her scratchy shirt, on the strain under her bandage. "Crossing the Void doesn't mean I know the Doctor."
Rose raises her chin. "Yeah. I have a brother who shouldn't exist."
The lights burst on, drenching the room with brightness.
She's in John's workshop, looking at shelf after shelf and table after table of Cybertech: EarPods, bundles of wire, piles of hands, pieces of armour, anything and everything.
He's rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. "No one comes here but me," he says, and there's no mistaking the pride in his voice. The energy in him seems more at home here, less… overwhelming. "Only place they'll leave me alone. Which is, of course, inherently ironic. Smell that oil!"
River approaches the closest table and looks closer at something that's probably a mouthpiece. "Thinking about building that scanner?"
"So you can find out exactly how I'm not quite human."
"Would I need it?"
"Probably not." She'd seen him roll up the folder and stuff it into an inner pocket; the bulge under his particularly-egregiously-green-in-this-light jacket is right above his heart. "Where's the bag?"
"The bag. My bag, with the Cyberstuff."
"Oh." He scratches his chin. "Don't know. Haven't seen it."
"Then why did you bring me here?"
"To look at my workshop. Like I said, I said, 'come look at my… workshop'."
"Yup! It's where I go when I'm bored or without company or, y'know, scared. And when I can't sleep. Did I mention I can't sleep? I can't sleep. No sleep for me. You can have this!" He snags a knee joint from a shelf and tosses it to her. "Oh, I can shut off the higher functions of this old brain, but this body won't accept that. It's not so bad now… I'm making tea, you see. Special tea adapted to the chemistry of – Never mind."
"I thought you said you had to waste four hours on sleep almost every night?"
"Did I? I meant I lay down for four hours and… lie. Well, sit. I sit with a book and the tea and a cup of milk, maybe. Warm milk. Milkety milkety milk. Something like that. Dash of vanilla syrup." He tugs roughly at his ear. "But enough about me!"
That is, sadly, the best opportunity she'll get. "Why did you call me River?"
"Oh, why is everyone so particular about names? And, well… I think we both know the Doctor."
"You think so? Blue box? Changes his face? Runs a lot? Forgets to eat and drink and sleep? Doesn't really have to clean or shop or paint? Likes handcuffs?" She tosses the joint back to him; he catches it clumsily between palm and thigh. "Yeah. I know him."
He fumbles the joint onto a bench, goes a bit pink.
"I need to get back! Are you going to help me or not?"
"I'm sure he'll be fine on his – No, maybe you should get back, come to think of it. Just… tell me why you need the tech." He takes a step toward her, and then another. Reaches out –
She moves away, shakes her head; she'd just be salt in his wounds.
He shoves the hand into a pocket and stares. Those big brown eyes fail at hiding much of anything, unlike the ones she's used to. She knows he'll say it before he does, so sincere and clueless: "Who are you?"
She takes a step and then another, reaches up and touches his face; the hair and the stubble and the skin. She's barely in control. As long as she's the one reaching out, she tells herself, it's okay.
He leans into her touch, swallows. "You're a Time Lord."
"I'm really not."
His eyes are dark; terrible greed and terrible grief and a pinprick of desire. A long while passes, must have passed, and then he clears his throat: "What if I could give you something better than a plastic bag?"
River withdraws her hand, slowly. "I'd take it, of course. What've you got?"
"New universe, okay, what're you gonna do?" He spreads his arms too wide and raises his voice too much, grins at the ceiling. "Full disclosure, first month was mostly about getting used to, well, rapid cellular degradation and a few other things because this isn't 1913 and then someone said I should run for president but that's just not a good idea, and then it took me another few months to realise I can't save everyone –" He takes a breath and lets it out, finally looks at her. "But then, after that, you might find some nice paramilitary organisations and offer them your help because that worked quite well the last time, and then you might, just might, is all I'm saying, study the Cybermen more thoroughly than ever before and you'll be a little bit surprised at first because you thought you were thorough the first nine hundred times. You might do that. In your spare time, when you can't sleep."
"You've invented something, is what you're saying?"
"Oh, you bet I have."
A very long while later, when the night air is cool on her naked arms and she's shaky from hunger, Rose presses the manipulator into her right hand and tells her to "Go".
John presses something else into her left, grins, and cries: "Tuck your elbows in, you're gonna need 'em!"