Doctor Who - The Education of River Song (4/7) (R)
"I probably won't be here much," River told Becky, sipping at her wine in their shared living room to celebrate their successful moving-in. "I'm going to be travelling a lot for my thesis."
Becky shrugged; leaning back into the battered sofa they had acquired third-hand. "Well, you know me. Not around too often myself."
"You're staying with your job, then?" River asked.
"Yep." She smiled briefly. "I've been promoted."
"Really? Congratulations." She tipped her glass in her friend's direction.
"Thanks." Becky took another sip of wine. "So where are you travelling to?"
"Oh, here and there," River said vaguely. "I'm not quite sure yet. I'll have to see where I can find the best information." No need to tell that she was thinking more in terms of time periods than physical locations.
"What are you studying, anyway?"
River grinned. "The Timelords."
Unsurprised, River put down her glass. "The legend goes that the Timelords once watched over the universe from their home on the planet Gallifrey," she began. “They were masters of time and space, with power beyond imagining. Power which made them a threat to any other species they chose to cast an unfavourable eye on. But one day, a species came along who had the strength to fight them, maybe even to beat them. Their war almost tore the universe apart. It would have, if one man hadn't had the courage to do a terrible thing to save us. He pushed the Timelords and their enemies out of the universe and held them under a time lock, erasing them from history." She paused briefly, wondering again just how he had managed that. If he would ever tell her. "But like anything, the lock wasn't perfect. Small traces of them still remain, if you know where to look."
"And you do, I take it?"
"Well." River smiled. "I have some ideas."
Ideas was perhaps not precisely the right word, River reflected, hauling her bag into her time ship – formally Jack's, but she couldn't exactly give it back. She hoped there was nobody watching; the ship was cloaked and it would look rather odd to a casual observer. It was the middle of the night, though; that should be enough to conceal a multitude of sins.
Including illegal time travel.
River thought it was stupid to try and police it, but that was the 52nd century for you. So many things were legal here that hadn't been in the 21st, she supposed they had to invent new crimes to make up for it.
But she had never been averse to a little criminal activity.
Climbing into the ship, River strapped herself in and began the launch sequence. She wasn't sure exactly where she was going, but she was fairly certain that she could feel her way once she was in the time vortex. She could always find the Doctor – something which had surprised him the second time she did it. The first for him, apparently. But his was just the strongest signature; she could always sense others, as well, and this time she intended to follow one.
She piloted the ship upwards a few metres to clear the building, then plunged into the vortex. The ship jumped and shuddered as always, but she was getting used to that by now. It was worth it to be able to travel independently.
The Doctor was that way, she could tell right away. Or that way, too – versions from two different times, both just as accessible. She could probably find a few more if she tried.
But that wasn't where she was going today.
She filtered him out of her mind and concentrated.
Strands of time whispered at her.
She picked one at random to examine more closely, one which felt familiar somehow – and felt so sick she immediately had to let go. She swallowed, breathing heavily.
That was me, she realised suddenly. A different version of myself.
There were more, she discovered, all with that distinctive aura of familiarity. She left the rest of them alone, and searched elsewhere.
One strand felt a little like the Doctor, but not him. More like… her. A relative? A female regeneration? She couldn't tell. But the Doctor was not what she wanted, anyway. She left it alone, filing it away to ask him about later.
So. What else?
She had felt this before – it was the whole reason for this trip, really. Something far away, at the end of time, almost magnetic in its pull. If she followed the strand far enough it intertwined with the Doctor's for the briefest of moments, brightening suddenly like an explosion and then disappearing just as abruptly. But for the longest time before that it was alone, plodding, solitary and muted, through the darkness at the end of the universe.
River grinned, and steered towards it.
She emerged from the vortex with a jolt and found herself facing a huge spaceship, a cobbled-together monstrosity that looked barely spaceworthy. There were lights on though – the only lights. No stars, here. The universe was too close to dying.
She couldn't see any sensory equipment on the ship, so hopefully her abrupt arrival hadn’t been detected. She flew carefully towards a smooth spot on the ship's hull and landed, activating the magnetic clamps to attach herself securely to the larger vessel. Then she grabbed her bag and teleported inside.
The ship stank.
Several people had looked up at the flash of the teleport, so she did her best not to wrinkle her nose. "Hello," she said brightly.
They continued to stare, slack-jawed.
The corridor was lined with dishevelled people, sitting or standing against the walls. Some were reading, squinting in the dim yellow light; a small group was playing cards, there were some children running around in the distance… but for the most part they were just sitting, staring at her or just into space.
This was not a happy place.
And, River realised abruptly, she actually had no idea what she was looking for.
But she had to start somewhere.
"Do you have a museum?" she enquired of her audience at large. "A library, maybe?"
They continued to stare.
Well. This was going to be more difficult than anticipated.
Then a young boy stood, clutching a book under his arm and stepping forward hesitantly. "John looks after the books," he told her.
"John," River repeated. "And where might I find him?"
The boy took her hand. "I'll show you. This way."
River was led in twists and turns through endless identical corridors, all filled with listless, lifeless people. People who had given up hope, she realised. Where was this ship taking them, after all? With no stars, there could be nowhere left to go.
John was alone in a room full of books, bent over an overflowing desk and scribbling frantically on a scrap of paper.
"John," called the boy, startling the man and causing him to drop his pen.
"What?" he said. "Oh. Stephen. Did you finish reading that already?"
"No," said the boy – Stephen, apparently. "I'm trying to make it last. But this lady here is looking for a library."
"Oh?" John looked up, noticing her for the first time. He was a young man – younger even than he looked, probably, prematurely aged by his living conditions. His attire was surprisingly clean and cared-for when compared to the people outside, and he wore a waistcoat with an antique pocket watch attached on a chain. "A new reader, eh? Did you come on that freighter we took on last week?"
"Yes," River lied. How convenient.
"Well." He smiled, standing, raising his arms. "Welcome. All our books are free for the lending, though we do ask that you take good care of them. We have a limited supply, obviously. Feel free to browse."
"Thank you," River said. Stephen looked from her to John and back again. Seeing that he was no longer needed, he took off back down the corridor.
"Were you looking for anything particular?" John asked. He held out a hand. "I'm John, by the way. John Yana."
"Pleased to meet you, John," River replied. "I'm River Song. Have you ever heard of the Timelords?"
John's jaw dropped. "You… you know about the Timelords?"
River was almost as surprised as he looked. "A little. What do you know?"
"I… well, see for yourself," John said, and gestured at his desk.
River stepped closer.
The desk was littered with pieces of paper, haphazard notes and drawings, the occasional book with a passage underlined. Mentions of Gallifrey, pictures of Timelords in all their glory, crude Gallifreyan symbols for war and time and fear. Certainly more information than River had ever seen outside the TARDIS.
But was this it? Was this what had pulled her through the vortex, leading her to this time and place? Somehow, she had been expecting…Well. She didn't really know what she had been expecting. Some lost piece of Timelord technology, perhaps. Or an old companion of the Doctor's – someone who had travelled with him before the Time War, someone who remembered other Timelords. Not… this. These scraps, these snippets of information so vague as to be almost worthless.
"How did you know about Gallifrey?" she asked. "I mean, what made you start collecting this stuff?"
"Oh, something I heard as a child, I expect," he said vaguely. "I don't really remember. But wouldn't it be fantastic, if we could find them? The Lords of Time – if anyone could help those lost at the end of time, it would be them, wouldn't you agree?"
"I don't know that they would," River said, furrowing her brow. "They had a non-interference policy, I think."
"Surely they could make an exception, though. For those in a situation as bleak as ours."
River doubted that very much. Old civilisations tended to be set in their ways, rigid – that was what led to their downfall, more often than not. And the Timelords had had the oldest civilisation of all. "Perhaps," she lied.
“Why are you interested in them?” John asked.
“I’m writing a paper on them.”
“A paper?” John stared. “Like a scientific one, you mean? I didn’t think anybody did that any more.”
River smiled wryly. “Well, I’m special.”
“I... yes. Clearly. I mean... can I help?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Talk me through what you’ve found so far, will you?”
John’s collection was, she had to admit, a bit more extensive than she had first thought. And there seemed to be more inside his head.
“I remember a lot of... vague details,” he said. “Things people must have told me at some time or another. It’s just a pity I didn’t write any of them down. I’m so very forgetful, you see, when it comes to these things. I’m sure I used to know more.”
He handed her a mug of something that was supposed to be coffee but that smelled more like mud, and sat down on a pile of books opposite. River had kindly been offered use of the single chair.
“Tell me,” she said, sipping cautiously. The beverage was practically tasteless, but that was an improvement over its smell.
“Well...” he said. “Where to begin? None of it is connected, you see – just snippets, flashes of information.”
“What’s the first one that comes to mind?”
“The Untempered Schism,” he said immediately. “I don’t know what it is – some kind of hole in space-time, I think – but it was immensely powerful. Profound. Looking into it could drive you mad.” He frowned. “The sky was orange. The trees were silver. There was... red grass, bright red. Thousands of extraordinary kinds of flora and fauna. And the Timelords... so powerful, so reticent to use that power to its full potential.”
“What do you mean?”
John blinked. “I’m not sure,” he said. “Just... a feeling that I get.” He cleared his throat. “More coffee?”
River hadn’t finished her first cup yet. Nor did she think that she would. “Maybe later,” she said. “So have you looked through all these books?”
He raised his eyebrows, looking around the room. “All these, yes. There are more, though. Some rooms on the lower decks are crammed with them – slowly being burned for heat, unfortunately. I try to save the ones I think are important, bring them back here... but as you can see, space is limited.”
“Would you like some help?”
His eyes lit up. “Yes. Yes, please.”
Crammed was a more than accurate description of the situation on the lower decks. Every room, every corridor was full to the brim with stuff. It was too cold for people to live down there, burned books notwithstanding, or it all would have been jettisoned to make space by now.
It was a treasure trove. A freezing cold treasure trove, but a treasure trove all the same. So much history, buried in these buried tomes.
Still, it took them weeks to find anything relating to the Timelords. Weeks during which River spent the days climbing amongst precarious stacks of books and the nights sleeping in one corner of John’s book-filled room while he snored in the other, wondering what it was about this rather old-fashioned young man that seemed so familiar.
It was strange, but she could almost convince herself that he reminded her of the Doctor.
These thoughts were pushed unceremoniously aside when she found the first example of what they were looking for.
“Look at this,” River said, climbing down a stack of books to hand John an old work on astronomy from a planet called Karn. “I think this is where Gallifrey used to be located. See, the physics don’t quite make sense if you look closely.”
John looked at the book. “I’ll take your word for it,” he said. “I’m afraid I can’t solve partial differential equations in my head.”
“I can work them through on paper for you if you want.”
“I would like that.”
River grinned. “Later, though. Let’s see what else is here.”
Nothing, as it turned out, almost a month later. Which was not surprising, really, but River found that she was disappointed all the same.
“I just... somehow I thought there would be more,” she confessed, staring morosely into her coffee mug. She had grown quite accustomed to the smell by now.
“But why would there be?” John pointed out, equally glumly. “If they were erased from time like you say, it’s a wonder we’ve found anything at all.”
“Because I felt it,” she insisted. “This, none of this is enough to make such an impact on the vortex. There must be something else, there has to be!”
“What do you mean?” John asked nervously.
“I don’t know. To be honest, I thought it would be a person.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“Sorry.” She sighed. “Perhaps it’s time for me to leave.”
“What? No!” John scrambled to his feet. “You can’t!”
River stood as well, putting her empty mug down on a stack of books. “I have to. I’ve got more research to do.”
“More research where?”
She smiled wryly. “Elsewhere.”
“You can’t go,” he said again. “You can’t go! River, I... I love you.”
River blinked. “Oh, sweetie. I’m sorry. You really shouldn’t.”
“I do.” He grabbed her arms roughly and she had to consciously prevent herself from twisting free and snapping his neck. She dug her hands into the fabric of his waistcoat instead, hoping that the tight grip would keep her from doing anything she would regret. The chain of his fob watch was cold where it pressed against her palm.
“John,” she said. “That’s very sweet, but I’m taken.”
“Oh.” He seemed to deflate physically. “I see.”
He let go of her arms, and she judged it safe to release her grip on him as well. As she did so her fingers caught on the chain of his watch, pulling it from his pocket. “Sorry,” she said, reaching down to recapture it. She glanced at it as she lifted it up – and gasped.
It was engraved with Gallifreyan symbols.
“John,” she said. “Why didn’t you—“
She was interrupted by a huge jolt shaking through the ship, strong enough to make her lose her footing and her grip on the watch. When she had steadied herself John had tucked his watch back in his pocket, and he was laughing.
“We’ve docked with someone!” he said. “Perhaps they’ve got more books – you don’t have to go yet!” He grabbed her hand. “Come on!”
The ship they were docked with was a refugee ship much like their own. They were to stay attached for several days, while trades were negotiated and people searched for any lost friends and relatives who could be on the other ship.
There weren’t as many books as in the vast collection they had looked through already, but there were more than enough to keep them busy for the few days that they had access to them. The books on this ship were less organised, a few stacks here and there, so that they decided it was best to split up to conduct their search.
River started on the top deck, working her way downwards in a zigzag fashion. Sometimes she would spend hours in the same place, working through larger collections while she chatted with their owners; other times she would walk swiftly through the corridors, pausing every now and then to speak to somebody holding a book or to ask where she might find more.
She worked all the way to the middle of the ship, and found nothing. Disheartened but unsurprised, she made her way back to John’s room. He was there waiting for her, standing when she entered.
“Anything?” she asked.
He shook his head mutely.
River tried to hide her disappointment. She had been so sure. Although there was still John’s pocket wa—
Suddenly he was hugging her. And then he was letting go, surprise on his face.
"You… you have two hearts," he breathed, astonished.
Well. She supposed it didn’t take a genius to work that one out.
“And you have got Gallifreyan symbols on your watch,” River said, choosing to ignore the awkward physical contact and reaching for the watch chain to pull it out, cupping it in her hand. “Why didn’t you say something? This must be it, this must be what brought me here – Gallifreyan technology!” She ran her thumb along the outside of the watch, prising it open. “I wonder what it does?”
When she looked up, John was glowing.
A stream of glowing energy was flowing between him and the watch. River dropped it, surprised, and it fell to dangle from its chain as the last of the energy left it.
And John laughed.
“Thank you,” he said. “God, he was dull, wasn’t he? No wonder you didn’t want to shag him.”
He looked... different. No. Felt different.
Then it clicked.
“You’re a Timelord,” she gasped. Well. That explained things.
“Of course I am. I’m the Master – you’ve probably heard of me.”
“Sorry, no.” She found herself taking a step back.
“No? Really?” He sniffed then, a look of confusion crossing his features. “What are you?”
River shrugged. “That’s... complicated. Mostly though, I suppose I’m a Timel—“
“No, no you’re not – two hearts, yes, vortex energy sparking off of you, but I can’t feel you.” He paused. “Can’t feel anyone. Oh, but the time lock...” He looked at her more closely. “Who did that, though? Was it you? Who are you?”
She wondered how best to explain. “Well—“
“Actually, whatever, I don’t care. Where’s your TARDIS?”
“I haven’t got a—“
“Other time travel, then, you must have got here somehow. You’re clearly not from this time.”
She was about to answer, but something made her hesitate. Something about him was... off.
That was what was off. That grin was not exactly... sane. It almost reminded her of herself a few years ago.
The Master’s grin grew wider. “Gone shy, have we?”
“Who are you?” River said.
He rolled his eyes. “I told you that already – my, you’re slow! John was impressed with you, but he wasn’t very impressive himself, so that’s hardly surprising.” He stepped closer to her, grabbing her arms as John had done, only harder. River glared, which made him laugh delightedly. “You know what?” he said. “I sort of like you. Maybe I won’t kill you just now, what do you say?”
River stood rigidly, working through possible courses of action in her head.
“What do you say, River?” the Master prompted.
“You’re insane,” she told him. “Trust me, I should know.”
He crossed his arms. “Alright. That first part, I should kill you for. But that second part is mildly intriguing, so I’m going to give you one last chance. What do you say to me when I spare your life? I’ll give you a hint: it starts with ‘thank you’ and ends with ‘Master’.”
River gritted her teeth. “Thank you, Master,” she managed.
“That’s better! Now, shall we see if there are any clues as to how you got here in this bag of yours?” He grabbed her backpack from the niche in the corner which had become its customary resting place and pulled it open. “Ooh, lipstick. Another sign that you’re not from around here.” He tossed it aside. “Gun – I’ll keep that, if you don’t mind. Books.” He flipped through them. “Boring, wrong, boring, boring.” He chucked them at her, laughing when she ducked. She bent slowly to pick them up as he went through the rest of her things. “Chocolate! You know it’s illegal to hoard food here. I could have you arrested, if I couldn’t think of far more interesting things to do with you. Not to worry though, because I can – but of course some people would probably say that was more worrying. And they might have a point.” He threw the chocolate aside and River grabbed her lipstick from the floor and pocketed it. “Clothes, boring, underwear, less so...” River thumbed through the book in her hands as he held a dress up to his chest. There. A scrap of psychic paper she had pilfered from the TARDIS. She slipped it into her back pocket quickly, knowing what the Master was likely to find next. Sure enough, he pulled out the next item with an expression of delight. “Ah-ha!” he declared. “Key to a fifty-first century time ship. How retro.”
River rushed him.
He was expecting it, but she was expecting him to expect it and successfully predicted which way he would turn. She knocked him to the ground, the impact causing the key to fly from his fingers, and River dug her heel into it, smashing the electronics beyond repair. Then her legs were swept out from under her and she too fell to the floor, knocking her head on the edge of the desk on the way.
Disorientated, she found herself unable to fight back as her arms were seized and pulled painfully behind her back.
“That,” the Master whispered in her ear, “was not very friendly. I think I’m going to have to do something about that.”
River aimed a kick at his head and but he dodged it, laughing. He pulled the pocket watch from his waistcoat and wound the chain around her wrists, tight enough for her to worry about the blood supply to her hands. She pulled ineffectively at the restraints, wondering for the first time what the chain was made of – clearly something far stronger than the gold it appeared to be.
The Master pulled her to her feet and shoved her unceremoniously into a sitting position on a pile of books in the corner.
“Stay,” he commanded, stepping out into the corridor and pulling the door shut behind him. River heard the beeping of the electronic lock.
Immediately she stood, contorting her arms so that she could reach into her back pocket. It was there, she knew it had to be there, she had just put it there... Her fingers brushed against the psychic paper and she sighed in relief, tugging it out and clutching it tightly.
The message she sent with her coordinates was simple.
Doctor. Help. I need you.
He had promised he would always come when she called. He had also told her the Doctor lies on more than one occasion, but she was slowly getting a feel for when he was telling the truth.
Of course, truth was sometimes a fluid concept.
He came, eventually, but it was not when she called. It was a long, long time after, and when he did, she almost wished that he hadn't. Because he thought she was this magnificent woman, and she wasn't, she wasn't, she wasn't.
She was scum.
"Another twelve lost today, sir," Stephen said, and the Master tutted.
"Twelve," he said to River. "Twelve more people dead because of you, River Song. How many more will it take?"
River was silent.
She had done the maths. Eight thousand people on this ship – even if he killed every single one it was less than the millions who would suffer if he managed to travel back in time to somewhere more prosperous. He had told her his plans. Whole planets would be enslaved in service to him, whole solar systems. She had no doubt that he had the power to accomplish it.
But every day he sent people running across the hull in search of her ship, with next to no equipment. The refugee ship's size gave it its own gravity, just about, and a thin layer of trapped atmosphere with a pressure just about survivable for a minute or so. They were given a choice – run or die. Never mind that one wrong step would send them flying into the black with no hope of rescue; at least they had a chance that way. Of course they chose to run.
And every day Stephen would report back with news of more dead. Men, women and children.
And it was killing her.
She had tried to find another solution. She had tried to kill the Master, more than once, but it had just resulted in tighter restraints. She had considered telling him where her ship was only to sabotage it, but she couldn't work out how to ensure he would give her the chance. She had tried to work out how to use the pocket watch that was constantly tied to one part of her or another; how to stuff him back in his box and never let him out again, but to no avail.
But the most terrible thing of all was that he reminded her so much of the Doctor, the Doctor from her childhood, the Doctor she had been raised to assassinate. And while she had killed the real Doctor with ease, this incarnation of everything he was supposed to be but was not had eluded her every attempt and laughed.
So when the Doctor, her Doctor, walked around the corner one day, it was all she could do not to burst into tears.
"Doctor!" the Master declared delightedly, rising from his makeshift throne, and River looked up in surprise from where she was sat on the floor next to him.
"Master," said the Doctor coolly. He turned to River. "Are you alright?"
She opened her mouth, at a loss as to how to answer, but the Master barely gave her a chance anyway. "Do you two know each other?" he said, looking excitedly from her to the Doctor and back again. "Oh, that is brilliant. Doctor, Doctor, I've got your… who?" He walked up to the Doctor, scrutinising him more closely. "Daughter? No, no, that doesn’t sound right. Ohh!” he gasped, clapping his hands. “Wife! I’ve got your wife! Well, that’s something new.”
"If you've hurt her in any way—" the Doctor began.
"I haven't yet, but now I think I might! Oh, think of the games we can play!" He snapped his fingers at the henchmen he had standing guard. "Grab him."
River hoped for a moment that they would disobey, that they would see that this was the one man who could help them, but the Master had chosen them too well for that. She rather suspected that he had experience in such things.
The Doctor was grabbed unceremoniously by the arms. He struggled instinctively, but the guards were strong and his exertions were ineffective.
The Master laughed. "Don't worry, Doctor, I won't torture your beloved just yet." His tone grew more serious. "First I want to know exactly what you did to Gallifrey. Because it was you, wasn't it? At first I thought it was her, but now I think she must have been more of an accomplice, if she was involved at all. So please. The time lock. Tell me how you did it."
The Doctor looked at him. "Oh, please. You're supposed to be an evil mastermind. If you can't work it out for yourself I'm afraid my opinion of you will suffer considerably."
"Oh, I'm the evil mastermind?" The Master scoffed. "I've never committed genocide against my own people."
"Then perhaps you should let me go, before I out-evil you again," the Doctor said softly.
"Hmm," said the Master, stroking his chin. "Tempting, but… well, no, not really. Unfortunately for you, Doctor, I think I've got the upper hand in this situation. Her name is River Song."
The Doctor smiled. "And I think you'll soon discover quite the opposite."
"So confident, Doctor. I like that about you. You know—"
"Sir!" a voice interrupted, followed moments later by its owner, running up to them out of breath. "Excuse me sir, but—"
"Excuse me sir," the Master mocked, clearly irritated, "but I'm a bit busy right now! Wait your turn."
"But we've found it, sir!"
"You—" The Master's expression changed. "Oh. Ohh! That is fantastic timing, don't you think?" He turned to the guards, who were still keeping a firm grip on the Doctor. "Tie him up next to her, to await my pleasure. I'll be back. Lead the way!" he told the newcomer, bounding after him with a spring in his step.
The Doctor's wrists were tied with a length of twine and he was shoved into a sitting position next to River. She leaned into him, something between a sigh and a sob escaping her lips.
"Are you alright?" he said to her again, turning his head to see her better.
River laughed bitterly. "Hardly. This is all my fault."
"Never mind that," he said dismissively. "What's he doing? What are his plans?"
"He wants to find my time ship so he can go somewhere more interesting," she explained. "And it looks like he just has."
"Right." The Doctor nodded. "Well. We'd better think of a plan."
"Believe me, sweetie, I've tried."
"Then we need to try again. What have we got?"
River closed her eyes. A part of her had given up already; she took a deep breath and gave it a mental kick up the backside. "Psychic paper. Hallucinogenic lipstick. And this," she said, holding up her wrists, currently bound in front of her by the pocket watch and its chain. "Any ideas?"
"Several. How do you feel about kissing him?"
"I've tried. I wouldn't be fast enough to take him by surprise, and he's not interested." She arched an eyebrow. "I think he's gay."
"Ah, but things have changed now. I'm here."
"He knows you," River stated. "You almost seem to like each other."
"Yes, well." The Doctor sighed. "Maybe once."
"You think he would kiss you?"
He smiled. "Not if I was wearing lipstick. Not my thing, really, and I think he knows that."
River paused. "You think he would kiss me to get to you," she said slowly.
"Yes, I think he probably would. I also think he would do a lot worse to you to get to me," the Doctor said, not quite looking her in the eye. “Let’s not let it come to that.”
River digested this. "Right." She narrowed her eyes. "Then we have a plan."
“River, are you sure? You don’t—“
“Yes,” she cut him off. “Trust me. I’m sure.”
The Master teleported them onto the time ship half an hour later with no warning. He clapped his hands when they appeared, still tied up and leaning against each other. There was nobody else onboard.
"Up you get!" he commanded, reaching for their wrists and pulling them to their feet. "Things to do, havoc to wreak!"
"What sort of things, exactly?" the Doctor asked.
"Oh, the usual," the Master said, heading for the ship's controls. "You know me – some pretty explosions, then probably something more intimate, and then I'll find a planet or two to take over. You can watch, if you like." He turned to look at them. "Actually, that's not quite accurate." He grinned. "You have to watch."
He was completely focussed on the Doctor, River realised. Fixated. He wasn't looking at her at all. She found herself wondering what exactly their history involved.
“I’m sorry, Master,” said the Doctor, “but I’ve seen and done things since we last met, and I can guarantee you that nothing you could make me watch would be even half as bad.”
“Really?” the Master said gleefully. “Would you bet on that?”
“You’ll lose, you know.”
The Doctor laughed – a nasty, mocking laugh that River had not heard before and did not want to hear again. “I won’t.”
The Master narrowed his eyes. “Is that a challenge, Doctor?”
“No. Just a fact.”
“Oh, now you’re just asking for it.”
He grabbed the Doctor abruptly by the arm and dragged him into a corner, where a length of rope was tied to a wall fitting. Specially prepared, River realised, watching them as he looped the rope through the Doctor's restraints, tying him securely to the wall. The Doctor caught her eye as the Master busied himself with the knots, and she nodded at him.
You're goading him.
I trust you.
"Right then." The Master stood back to survey his work. "That should do nicely." He turned to River. "And so should you."
He reached into his waistcoat and produced a knife – valuable, antique, a relic of the 4th Empire of Clom, said the archaeologist in her – and stepped towards her.
River saw the Doctor move out of the corner of her eye, pulling at his restraints. She locked eyes with him for a moment and shook her head.
This is nothing.
She stepped back, drawing the Master away from the Doctor.
"Now now, don't think you can escape," the Master said with a grin. He took hold of her arm. "This won't hurt a bit." He shot a glance at the Doctor. "It'll hurt a lot."
The Master ran the flat of the knife down the side of her face and across her throat, but she doubted very much that he intended to slit it at this moment. That would rob him of too much fun. He traced the knife back over her other cheek, then dug the point in about a millimetre.
It stung a bit – a ridiculously little amount.
River almost laughed.
The Master seemed to sense that he wasn't having the desired effect, because when he reached the corner of her jaw he pushed the blade in deeper, down to the bone.
"You're going to get blood on my shirt," River told him, looking straight ahead. "I like this shirt, I'll have you know."
And perhaps she shouldn't have said that, she realised belatedly.
Because he wasn't the Church, and he had not been instructed to ignore her bravado, and he was clearly not going to be remotely averse to killing her. And River had a feeling that the Doctor wouldn't take that too well.
The Master pulled the knife back and stabbed her in the side.
"Oh dear," he said. "I seem to have made a hole in your shirt."
River gritted her teeth, doing her best to assess the damage with her bound hands. He hadn't cut anything vital, she determined – and that was almost certainly deliberate. But blood seeped from the wound where he had pulled the blade back out, and losing too much of that would leave her just as dead as a knife to the hearts.
Biting her lip, River pulled her shirt up above the wound, leaving a trail of blood across her abdomen and up to her ribs.
"River," said the Doctor, straining against his restraints.
"Shut up, sweetie," she told him. "It's just a laundry problem."
The Master latched onto that. "Yes, sweetie," he said to the Doctor. "I'll just put it in the wash for you, shall I?"
He took his knife and slit the shirt from wrist to collar on each side, pulling it away to leave River bare except for her bra. Which was also blood-stained, but he didn't seem to notice that. He threw her shirt into a corner and tapped the knife against the cut in her side. She couldn't help but wince, this time.
"That's better," he declared. "So. What's next, sweetie?" He shot a grin at the Doctor. "Oh, I like that word."
"River," said the Doctor again through clenched teeth.
"Is this turning you on, Doctor?" said the Master, wrapping an arm around River's waist. She tried not to cringe.
"Don't be ridiculous," the Doctor said. "Let her go, Master. I'm the one you want."
"You always were a kinky one, weren't you?" the Master said, and a thousand questions suddenly cried for attention in River's mind. She pushed them aside. The Master grabbed her breast, and she reminded herself why she was encouraging this. "Would you like to watch me fuck your wife?" he said.
"No!" the Doctor cried, struggling more than ever. River wondered how much of his desperation was real and how much was carefully calculated provocation. Somehow she thought it was mostly the former.
The Master wrapped his hands around the small of her back and pulled her against him with a jolt. "Come here, sweetie," he said, grinning, tracing up and down her spine with the knife he still held. He leaned in and bit her lower lip.
River pressed her mouth against his.
The Master blinked.
"Oh," he said dazedly. The knife clattered to the floor behind her. "Oh. Doctor?"
River pushed him away carefully and stepped back. She looked at the Doctor, raising an eyebrow. "Is there anything you want to tell me, sweetie?"
"River, cut me free, cut me free now,” he demanded.
She rolled her eyes, reaching down to retrieve the knife and using it awkwardly to saw through the rope tethering him to the wall. He stumbled when the rope snapped, but she caught him. Then she carefully unwound the twine from his wrists.
The Master was watching them bemusedly, his lips twitching upwards every now and then into a small smile. He barely reacted when the Doctor used the twine to bind his wrists instead.
“So pretty,” the Master said, gazing into the Doctor’s eyes.
River stifled a snort.
“Yes, yes, alright,” the Doctor said irritably. “Come here,” said, striding towards her.
River did as she was told, meeting him halfway. He untangled the watch chain from her wrists and she closed her eyes momentarily in relief, rubbing them vigorously. The Doctor got down on his knees to examine her knife wound. “It’s fine, sweetie,” she told him, batting his hands away.
“It needs bandaging,” he insisted. “Is there a med kit on this ship?”
River sighed. “That ceiling panel over there.”
The Doctor found the kit easily and applied some spray-on bandage to the wound. He shrugged out of his jacket and put it over her shoulders.
“Right,” he said, gripping the Master firmly by the arm. “Let’s get back to the TARDIS.”
River was ushered away to care for her wound and find a new shirt, and when she returned to the console room the Master was lying unconscious on the floor. The Doctor was sitting in the jump seat a few feet away, resting his chin on his fist and contemplating the other Timelord.
She approached cautiously. “What are you going to do?”
He looked up, startled from his reverie. "Time can be rewritten,” he said after a moment, returning his pensive gaze to the Master. “I could stop him… stop everything…"
"You mean by killing him?"
A pause. "Yes."
Another, longer pause. Finally he looked up. "No."
"Because I'm not prepared to kill a man for something he hasn't done yet. Especially when he's lying defenceless on the floor." The Doctor swallowed. "Especially when it's him."
I would, River thought. Especially him. "Why not?" she said. "He may not have done whatever it is you’re talking about yet, but I think what he has done is worth a death sentence.”
“And you think you’re the one who should pass judgement?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“No,” the Doctor said. He stood. “I know.”
“What are you doing?” River asked, following him to the console. There was some kind of headset hanging over it.
“Putting things back the way they were,” he replied, pulling John Yana’s watch from his pocket. “Help me get him into this thing.”
John Yana was shoved unceremoniously through the TARDIS doors and onto another refugee ship; one that was far, far away from the ship where the Master had wreaked his havoc. River saw no recognition in his face when he looked back at her.
"What will happen to him now?" she asked.
The Doctor was frowning, watching him walk away. "Oh, he'll potter around for a while, and then he'll find the Utopia Project. That will keep him busy until he's old and grey. And then one day, when the project's close to completion, he'll come across me again." He turned abruptly, pulling the TARDIS doors shut and heading back to the console. "And then all hell will break loose."
"All hell did break loose," River pointed out, stalking after him. "Why would you let him do that again?"
He didn't answer.
River really hated it when he didn't answer.
She stood on the other side of the console, watching him play with levers and fiddle with the scanner.
"I thought you weren't coming," she said finally.
That made him look up. "River, I'm sorry. The timing, this close to the end of the universe—"
"I thought I'd finally messed up so badly that you'd given up on me," she confessed. "I thought I had failed you." She shrugged bitterly. "And I did. All those people, dead because of me—"
"River, don't you dare," the Doctor said fiercely, bounding round the console to grip her by the shoulders. "He killed those people. You were just as much a victim as they were."
"But I was the one who opened the bloody watch!" she yelled, breaking away from him. "If it hadn't been for my stupid obsession with the Timelords and my stupid thesis, none of this would have happened. I could have chosen an ordinary topic, you know – but no, I had to show off." She swallowed. “How can you love me when I get things so horribly wrong?”
The Doctor stepped closer again. “You know, I once asked you the same thing.”
River stared. “Really?" She blinked, trying to process this. "What did I say?”
He was closer still now, a small smile playing on his features. “You said, ‘You know, I once asked you the same thing.’”
A laugh escaped her lips at that, and suddenly he was hugging her, pulling her close, and she buried her face in his shoulder. "Oh, Doctor," she sighed.
"River, River, River." He brought a hand up to the back of her head, wrapping tendrils of her hair around his fingers. "Stop trying to be perfect. Because you already are."
"I think your perception is severely warped," she mumbled into his shirt.
"Yeah, but in a good way," he whispered, his breath hot against her ear, making her shudder.
She lifted her head and ran her hands over his cheeks, cupping his face. "Perhaps," she admitted and leaned in to kiss him.
Her lip was still tender from where the Master had bitten her, but she had wiped the lipstick off, so the Doctor was not likely to suffer from any hallucinations other than her perfection. He kissed her back gently, clearly aware of her injury.
Well. Of course he was.
"You are going to be fine," he whispered when he broke away, pressing kisses to her temple and cheek to seal the promise.
"I thought you weren't supposed to tell me my future," she breathed.
"Well, sometimes I like to break the rules," he said, moving to kiss down her neck. "Keeps things interesting."
"Oh, you bad boy."
"River Song, you have no idea."
She could have said something about the Master then, but she found herself too distracted by the Doctor's lips, moving across her clavicle and down to her chest, punctuated intermittently by clever little flicks of his tongue. She moaned instead, and felt him smile against her skin.
"Perhaps you shouldn't have bothered with the new shirt," he murmured, straightening and gripping her neckline on either side of the row of buttons. He pulled, and they all came bouncing off.
"Perhaps not," she agreed, shrugging out of the shirt and letting it fall to the floor. She pushed him up against the console and began to unfasten the buttons of his shirt, pressing a kiss on each new patch of exposed skin as she went. His hands were in her hair again, pulling and twisting – an obsession of his, her hair was. She didn't know why she liked that so much.
Buttons taken care of, she moved on to his trousers, unsnapping his braces and unzipping his fly. There was a growing bulge underneath, and she pushed her hand against it playfully, laughing when it made him shudder.
"Ooh, Doctor," she purred, bending down to untie his shoelaces. She nudged him with her hip as she worked, then felt him grab her around the waist, pulling at her own trousers. River pulled off his shoes and stood, divesting herself of her own as she did so. The Doctor's hands were inside her underwear now, pinching and pressing and stroking, and she leaned against him appreciatively.
River ground against his hand, walking her fingers down his back and under his waistband, where she pinched his buttock, digging in with her fingernails. He moaned and his eyes fluttered shut, so she slid her other hand down his front and into his underpants, grasping him firmly.
"Too many clothes," he gasped suddenly, pushing her trousers and underwear down in one almost-smooth motion, then grasping her wrists and guiding her to do the same for him. Clothes kicked aside, his hand was behind her head again and he pulled her in roughly for a kiss. She wrapped a leg around his waist, rubbing herself against him, and felt his knees almost buckle beneath them before he caught himself.
"River Song, the things you do to me…" His other hand found its way between her legs, slipping lightly between her folds and stroking up to her clit, pressing suddenly, making her gasp. "Revenge," he whispered in her ear, grinning, repeating the motion, slower then faster then slower still, unpredictable and infuriating.
"Doctor," she managed through clenched teeth. "I hate you."
He slid a finger inside her. "No you don't."
River could not formulate a reply so she moaned instead, letting her head fall forward onto his shoulder. His other hand pulled her leg up higher and he added a second finger, moving faster until her other leg threatened to give way. She tried to speak but found herself unable, so she reached down to wrap his hand in hers and pulled it up to her face, slowly licking his fingers as she tried to catch her breath. He liked that, she could tell.
She let go of him and pulled him around so that she was pressed between him and the console, then braced herself with her hands and wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him closer still. He grasped the tops of her thighs and lifted her to sit on the console, deftly manoeuvring her around its various protrusions, and yet again lifted a hand to curl in her hair, pulling her forward for a kiss. River grinned against his lips and reached between them to guide him inside her.
“Hello, sweetie,” she breathed, shifting forward, and somehow when she had imagined this moment it had never been quite like this, but he was always surprising her so she shouldn’t have been surprised...
“River,” he whispered, cupping her face with his hand and pushing his forehead against hers – and suddenly he was inside her head, inside her everywhere, and what an incredible new sensation and better than anything she could have imagined and he was reading her thoughts and– trying to pull away.
River reached out with her mind and with her hands and pulled him back. No, she thought vehemently. I need this. I need you. Don't you dare.
He squeezed his eyes shut, and she could hear him thinking, I didn’t know, I should have known, it shouldn’t be like this, but, and when he opened them again she knew what he was going to say before he said it. “Let’s do this properly, then.”
He pulled away and she gasped with the loss of contact, the sudden emptiness left in her mind. The Doctor wrapped his arms around her back and pulled her off of the console, steadying her as her bare feet touched the floor. He intertwined his fingers with hers and pressed a kiss against her forehead. “This way,” he said, pulling her across the room and up the stairs.
They passed several rooms, including both his and her bedrooms, but somehow she already knew where they were going. The Doctor was gripping her hand tightly as he pulled her along, and when they reached their destination his smile made her tremble.
“Here we are,” he said, leading her through the door.
It was a bedroom, but not one she had seen before. The pillows and sheets on the large bed were dark blue, illuminated softly by the golden light fittings mounted on the wall. There was a large wardrobe with a mirror on one door; bookshelves lined one wall, with another door opposite leading to a gleaming bathroom.
River found herself grinning wickedly. “Is this our love nest, Doctor?”
He grasped her other hand too. “So it would seem,” he replied, backing slowly towards the bed.
River pushed him into a sitting position and climbed onto his lap, not feeling remotely like taking things slowly. She wrapped her hand around his length, still slick from being inside her the first time, and pushed herself down onto him. He closed his eyes and she kissed him, beginning to move, hesitating only briefly before pressing her forehead against his once more.
He was waiting for her. His thoughts wrapped around hers, tangling together so she wasn’t quite sure any more which belonged to her and which to him, thoughts like I feel terrible Please don’t, and she could feel every movement twice, every thrust and every caress and when he unhooked her bra and squeezed her breasts she thought she might die from the excess of sensation.
Then he pulled her bra off over her arms and took a nipple in his mouth, and when he gently bit down – a precisely calculated amount of pressure, she knew, and wasn’t it incredible that he could do that, and was that her thought or his? – when she felt that little nip of added stimulation she was overcome.
River cried out, bucking against him, feeling her fingertips prickle and feeling him grin and feeling the satisfaction inside his head, and she was suddenly utterly spent but she kept moving because she could feel how close he was, how if she moved just so, if she dug her nails into his back, if she came down hard a couple of times then... There.
He was quieter than she, but he cried out her name, and she had never been so happy to be River Song.
She kissed him, slowly, interrupting herself more than once to gasp for breath, and with a sigh the Doctor lay back on the bed. River lay down beside him, one leg up across his hips, the other hanging over the end of the bed entangled with his. She closed her eyes and pulled away from him, breaking the connection, her mind swimming.
The Doctor reached for her hand, smiling at her, shuffling closer.
“River Song,” he said, “you are amazing. In every possible way.”
And to him, she knew now, that was the absolute truth.
“You look awful,” Becky said when River got back to their flat, having parked the time ship on the roof once again.
“I’ll live,” she said, throwing her backpack into a corner and collapsing onto the sofa.
“Dissertation not going too well?” Becky queried, passing the biscuit tin.
“To put it mildly.” River dug around the tin for a biscuit with chocolate in it.
“There’s some stuff in your room that might help.”
River looked up. “What?”
“Some guy came by with it.” Becky shrugged, waving a hand in the direction of River’s room. “Take a look.”
Furrowing her brow, River stood and went to push open the door to her bedroom.
It was full of... Gallifrey.
There were books, dozens of them, large and small, old and new. There were sculptures, paintings, jewellery and other trinkets – even a Gallifreyan headdress. Attached to this last item was a note.
No, I am not going to model the headdress for you. Ever.
Some of these can’t be returned to where they came from, but for those that can I’ve attached the coordinates. Please put them back to make sure the universe doesn’t explode.
Your thesis will be excellent. Trust me. I’ve read it.
River meant to thank the Doctor the next time she saw him, but she ran into a bit of a problem which required all her attention. It was incredibly irritating and just a little worrying.
Well. Maybe more than a little.
She didn’t know why, but she kept trying to kill him.
Part 3 Part 5