timeboundpythia: (Doctor Who River Wine)
[personal profile] timeboundpythia
Title: Never Saw Today Before
Author: [livejournal.com profile] timeboundpythia
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Blanket for Series 4, 5 & 6, particularly 'A Good Man Goes to War'.
Summary: Sometimes she wonders which of her lives are real; which one she’s playing at and which is the one she goes home to.
Notes: River, in her mid-twenties, doing her day job. This fic works on the assumption that the Doctor and River's timelines aren't entirely back to front.


The common room at the British School of Archaeology in Athens is one of the few places she feels she can relax (as much as she ever can). It’s one of the reasons she applied to teach classes over the summer (just as she was taught herself) and spends weeks travelling around Greece with students at her heels, asking her questions that she sometimes has to double check the answers to. It wouldn’t do to give them answers before this century knows them or to tell them that Delphi will be destroyed in two hundred years, mistaken by an alien race for the seat of a modern day prophetess. It’ll all look good for her PhD application, whenever she gets around to it (in more ways than one). There’s a course in the fifty-first century that looks more appealing than most of those she can find today and, well, the dates on documentation are easily altered.

It’s almost a library in itself, the common room. Heavy drapes, old desks, reading lamps and wall to wall books. Old, ancient books behind glass that everyone is trusted with, but nobody dares kidnap to read as a bedtime story. She knows she’ll never find the time to read all the texts she’s surrounded by, as much as she’d like to, even given everything she knows about time and her relationship with it. Or its relationship with her. She’s not sure she’ll ever figure out which of them is in control. Or if she wants to. She doesn’t like to remember that, in fifty years, this room will be full of computer terminals, light and posture-assisting furniture and one of her few sanctuaries will be ruined.

Close to midnight and River is sat sprawled barefoot in one of the numerous comfy leather chairs scattered across one half of the room, with her legs kicked up over one armrest and wineglass dangling from one hand. Her students are perched nearby on the remaining chairs in much similar states, a collection of wine bottles on the low table between them. That’s the thing about drinking with academics: nobody can ever decide which wine the group is going to embrace and everyone ends up with their own bottle more often than not.

They’re fun at this age, she thinks. Oh, she’s not all that much older, but they’re still learning their limits, grown-up and scared children all at once; children who have yet to leave the school environment at all. Seeing them down their first shots of ouzo will never not be hilarious, if only for the fact that they all always think they’re fine until it kicks them in the stomach and they turn decidedly green for a few moments. She can get away with talking to them as equals whilst keeping her professional distance; take them out drinking without ever making a real disgrace of herself, because these are the years in which they realise I am an adult and that their teachers are fallible, human beings just like them, who have done and will do what they have.

“Okay, I’ve got one,” one of her students declares. “Worst name from Ancient History that you could give your child.” It earns him dry laughter from many quarters and a few murmured suggestions that aren’t immediately shared.

“Rameses,” the fellow to his left declares over the rim of his glass.

“No, no,” another argues, “Agamemnon.”

“Clytemnestra!” the blonde girl in the corner pipes up. “There’s nothing you can do with that name. Imagine that on the register when you’re five! Your parents would have to be incredibly cruel to saddle you with that.”

The youngest of the group shakes her head. “Hatshepsut,” she proposes. “Cleopatra. First impressions of you would be that your parents are probably ill-informed Egyptology nuts.”

They look to her, a couple of them sporting silly grins that she knows means that they’re contemplating the origin of her name. “Heracles,” River deflects, starting to unfold from her chair, careful to keep her glass steady as she sets it down on the floor. “Achilles,” she adds, on second thought. “I imagine that the heel jokes would get tedious very fast.” She reclaims her boots from the foot of her chair, quickly ties the laces together and slings them over her left shoulder.

“Speaking from experience, River?” one of them finally asks, smirking. “How on earth can that be your real name?”

She fixes him with a fond, patient stare; smiles slowly. “Oh, honey,” she answers. “Who said anything about earth?”

That has the others in stitches, believing it to be the joke it only half is. River retrieves her glass and straightens again, telling them, “I’m turning in for the night. Remember, Bronze Age art class tomorrow morning. Anyone who brings their hangover with them will earn themselves no sympathy.” They groan and she laughs, before she hooks a finger around the neck of one of the half-empty bottles of wine on the table. “Saving you from yourselves,” she declares, sauntering on out of the common room, wine glass wave thrown back at the lot of them.

An out of sync chorus of, “Night, River,” meets her ears, which makes her grin and shake her head. They’re good kids, for the most part. Madder than a box of cats, some of them, but that tends to come with the territory. She’s pretty certain that they think she’s a bit strange too.

Just as well they don’t know that they’d be justified in thinking that and more.

She doesn’t stay in her room; instead leaves the wine and her glass on the windowsill, slips on a pair of sandals and heads out into the grounds, seeking the cool night air after eight hours on-site in high sun with no shade. For years, she’s been convinced that the gravel around the complex is to make sure nobody can quietly sneak off, coupled with the clang of the heavy metal gate that heralds arrivals and departures. Out in the street, River looks up and down the road before opting to climb the hill to the quieter spots, exactly what she tells her students not to do on their own at night in a foreign country, but she’s seen more than they ever will in their whole lifetime and it makes her bold. Too bold, she’s told. She doesn’t know how many times she’s received the ‘just because you know all the danger that’s out there, doesn’t mean you have to go putting yourself in its path’ lecture over the years, but she knows she’s in just as much danger inside that gated, high-walled complex as she is out on the streets of any city in the universe.

River isn’t surprised to see her madman and his box someway down the third street she wanders along, leaning against the door of the TARDIS and looking extraordinarily pleased with himself. Which isn’t really extraordinary at all.

As she gets closer, she realises that he’s holding a mug out towards her and beaming as if he’s done something worthy of an award.

“I brought you a cup of tea,” the Doctor announces, pressing the mug into her hands.

River gives him a befuddled little look and can’t help but smile. “Thank you, sweetie.”

“You always said the tea’s never quite right in foreign countries.”

“Did I?” she questions, lifting the mug to her lips. “Do I?”

Realising his mistake, he stares at her for a moment before deciding, “Suppose your views on tea aren’t exactly of a universe-shattering nature.”

“So, is this what you do now? Track me down and bring me tea?” she teases, voice dry.

“I know, I know. Of all the things to be bringing you, tea is pretty tame.”

“Sometimes tame is perfectly acceptable.”

“It’s really not so tame on-“

She presses a finger to his lips to silence him, knowing that he’s about to launch into an explanation of how tea is used to destroy the enemies of half a dozen different nations around the universe. “Hush,” River murmurs. “I suppose this means I tell you about my summers teaching here?”

His hand lifts to curl about her wrist and he presses a kiss to her palm. “Something like that,” he quietly admits. “That and the old girl was missing you,” he adds, tapping the door of the TARDIS. “She left your mug out on the kitchen counter. Thinks she’s subtle with her hints.”

“More subtle than you,” she fondly accuses.

“This from the queen of subtlety herself!”

She aims a nudge towards his ribcage. “Oh, shut up.”

“So…”

“I have a class to teach in the morning. Bronze Age Grecian Art. Which will interest the archaeologists and irritate the classicists,” she says with a cheeky smile.

“Archaeologists,” the Doctor mutters, not much effort made to hide his scorn, something quietly bitter there that she doesn’t understand.

He rarely actively disparages her profession of choice and never does once he learns why, of all the things she could have done, she chose archaeology for her day job. This once, it’s easy to tell that it must be pretty early in their relationship for him simply from his tone of voice when he utters that word, despite the fact that she thinks he feels physically more at ease with her than he might be. He doesn’t know yet.

“You could always… sleep here,” he goes on. “If you wanted. Not like we’re running short on space or anything.”

That confirms it. He hasn’t outright asked her into his bed; probably can’t bring himself to yet. She knows that he does, because he has and moments like this are always painful for one of them, as the one who knows struggles not to break the one who doesn’t.

River waits to see what her silence will bring. He has to start asking her properly at some point, with all the words in the right order – or not, as the case may be – without looking vaguely awkward or alluding to what he wants instead of telling her. Maybe now will be that time.

He blinks down at her and away; loses his nerve. In this, of all things. She’s not sure whether she does this to him or if it’s been his default setting for so long he has to fight especially well to be free from it. But he is, eventually. She must remember that, in times like this.

“Though I’m sure your bed is fine. I’m sure it’s a fine, nice, very lovely bed.”

So close.

She considers misinterpreting his words and trying to tug him down the road and all the way back to her bed, but knows that would make him feel worse. He never really, really lets go outside the TARDIS anyway and she feels too calm to want to ruin things by inadvertently winding him up and setting him on edge. She knows they’re not going anywhere tonight, even if they could be gone for months and back only moments from now if they chose. If he knew where to find her, then she must have told him how important these times when she can pretend to be normal are to her. She’ll never, ever begrudge his encroaching on them, if this is what he does, and, if she understands either of them half as well as she thinks she does, she knows he’ll never ask her to run off with him during these moments and deprive her of them.

Sometimes she wonders which of her lives are real; which one she’s playing at and which is the one she goes home to.

Maybe she’ll give him – them – a helping hand.

“I think I’d much rather sleep in ours,” River declares, watching him carefully over the rim of her mug.

He lights up, nervousness melting away.

She lets out the breath she’s been holding.

“Right. Yes. Right you are.” He edges aside, waiting for her steps to precede his.

The TARDIS greets her as she always does, with the brush of one mind against another, welcoming her – in the TARDIS’ opinion – home. At least one of them knows where she belongs. River turns and reaches a hand out as the Doctor closes the door behind them, twining tea-warmed fingers with his.

She thinks there’s a joke here somewhere about ancient artefacts, one that she’ll tell her students in the morning and they’ll take as fact, if she’s late and has need of an excuse.

For now, though, she’ll be the girl who was Melody Pond, who chose archaeology to ground River Song in the past before the future ran away with her.

Fin

Date: 2011-06-22 12:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gidget-zb.livejournal.com
Oh very sweet. Though her line about why she became an archaeologist has me burning with curiousity :)

Date: 2011-06-22 01:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] timeboundpythia.livejournal.com
Thank you. :) The why ties into the last line, but there's a whole proper story behind it that won't quite yet present itself beyond a couple of lines.

Date: 2011-06-22 07:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] claraon.livejournal.com

For now, though, she’ll be the girl who was Melody Pond, who chose archaeology to ground River Song in the past before the future ran away with her.


Lovely.

And I want to go to there. Athens I mean. Not their bed. Although...

Date: 2011-06-22 01:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] timeboundpythia.livejournal.com
Thank you. :)

Athens is wonderful and completely worth a visit. Can't speak for their bed...

Date: 2011-06-22 08:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] claraon.livejournal.com
Oh I know. It's one of my favourite places in the world. With the islands.

Not sure a visit right now would be the best though.

Date: 2011-06-22 05:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vickysg1.livejournal.com
Great one! I love River teaching to students, and I love the Doctor being all shy!

For now, though, she’ll be the girl who was Melody Pond, who chose archaeology to ground River Song in the past before the future ran away with her.
Love this line.

Date: 2011-06-23 02:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] timeboundpythia.livejournal.com
Thanks! There's another story in that line somewhere, but it won't co-operate yet!

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