Fandom: Doctor Who
Rating: PG (rating will increase)
Word Count: ~1800
Characters and pairings: River/Doctor, River/Octavian, Amy/Rory, various canon characters and originals
Series Warnings: timey-wimeyness, paradoxes, adult themes, young children
Spoilers: alternate universe after season six
Disclaimer: Doctor Who is the intellectual property of the BBC. No infringement on that right is meant by this fan work.
Summary: River can no more escape her future than the Doctor can escape his past. And everyone has spoilers.
"I don't suppose you'll take coffee, Dr Song?" said the woman behind the desk, indicating to a silver service, which was tarnished at the handle and spout. It was really a statement more than a question, and there was not an ounce of kindness behind the perfunctory social gesture.
"No thank you," River declined, jingling the handcuffs which bound her wrists. It was the first time she had met the new Warden, or any governor of the Stormcage for that matter; they were not generally in the business of making house calls, even for their longest serving celebrity inmate. She'd once gotten a holocall from the moonbase mansion requesting that she stop handing out business cards with the moon's coordinates on them and a lurid description in binary, which she agreed to by placing the whole box in the nearest spaceport under a Take One sign.
In the eighteen months since this particular woman had been placed in authority, River hadn't had a moment outside of the complex. Her vortex manipulator had been confiscated in the first-ever "routine inspection", and the Doctor has been curiously absent, though somehow Amy had still managed to send a birthday card forward thirty-one centuries. In a battered red envelope, it had been signed Mum, Dad, and JiLL; she could speculate by the lengthy message inside that her sister was about four now and their version of the Doctor had his hands full with an older version of herself and a new companion.
Usually she was impatient, but for the moment, River was content to wait. Stormcage was as much her home now as the TARDIS, and probably more so. Governors, guards, psychotherapists came and went; Doctor River Song ran the place. Everyone knew that, from the general population of political prisoners to the newblood clerics on their first shifts. She'd taken to circulating memos, though no one ever admitted to giving her the passcode to the bulletin transmitter.
She folded her hands in her lap. The governor was staring at her with a strange expression, as though expecting something. River gave her the onceover, while formulating the appropriate small talk. Bad vibes; today was not the day to request that new cereal. The latest warden of Stormcage was not an ugly woman, per se, with black hair cropped around her ears and a long, thin neck. For someone of perhaps human middle age, the lines around her eyes were pronounced; her body was boyish under a pristine cream jacket, cut in the fashion of the week on Keligal XII. But it was the hunger in her eyes which gave her a mean look, a dangerous look. There was something she wanted. River sensed it must concern the Doctor, and pre-emptively redirected conversation.
"You have a beautiful desk," she commented, leaning forward to touch the sharp edge of the polished wood. "It looks Earth, nineteenth century. It's amazing what they can do with reproductions."
"It's genuine," replied the Warden, glancing down as she opened a thin folder and begins paging through papers. "Surely you can tell the difference, as an archaeologist?"
The archaeologist in River Song was slightly nauseated, picturing a pair of Time Agents pillaging the past for quick credits. The desk was old, but it wasn't old enough to suggest a natural progression through time. She sat back. No one had ever used this office before; the janitors had been using it to store chemicals and it had the distinct smell of lemon and bleach.
"Most of your records have been classified, Dr Song, including your arrest sheet. My predecessors have been, shall we say, lacking in thoroughness. I was hoping you could help me fill in a few blanks. Exactly how long have you been at this facility?"
Best to be vague. River bit down on the word "spoilers", an impulse that the Doctor had been drilling into her. "I'm not precisely sure. Since before the turn of the century. What's today's date?"
"Parents listed as Roranicus and Amelia." The Warden frowned, flipping the page forward, and then back. "Surname redacted. Third Holy Roman Empire, perhaps? But no, your accent is from the Milky Way galaxy. So... I'd say Earth or Venus, judging by the way you identified my furniture. And yes, here, Luna University. Am I right so far?"
"Mmm," said River noncommittally, examining a hangnail.
The woman made a checkmark with what appeared to be a Yanthiiam golf pencil. The lead automatically colour collated. "I believe we both know your crime. What was the initial sentence?"
"About eighty-six thousand years, give or take."
"What is your species? You look as human as I do."
"Gallifreyan," she suggested, grinning in that slightly smug way. Biologically speaking, if Time Lords were Gallifreyans changed by the Vortex and the Untempered Schism, then she was more a Time Lady than a human or a Gallifreyan, two hearts and all. But nobody ever cared to hear that either.
"Don't lie, Dr Song, it's not flattering to either of us."
"I'm sorry, Warden... I didn't catch your name."
"Smythe. Doctor Smythe, if you please."
"Dr Smythe." River smiled, uncrossing her legs and putting both feet square on the floor. Tit for tat.
"Widowed." Or at least, that was what it would say on the sheet. There had been some debate during her first appeal as to whether the witness testimony of the ceremony constituted a binding marital contract, but Dr Song's own thesis was considered the primary authoritative modern documentation of Time Lord culture, and after much dissent they deferred to the book. Since Time Lord marriages were arranged to be politically advantageous to their Houses, the consent of parents, the handfasting, and the exchanging of names loosely fulfilled the basic requirements. The motion carried that she was both the Woman Who Killed Him and the Woman Who Married Him, and an extra eighty years were tacked on for mariticide.
"None that I know of." She had a brief, bizarre flash of the colour blue, as though she had accidentally tuned herself to the other woman's private thoughts. She severed the connection immediately, uncomfortable. She had a much lower level psychic range than the Doctor, and tried to use it exclusively as he had trained her. She could use it to speak to the TARDIS, but she was Her child and the bond was unique. Still, sometimes she got zapped with projected emotional impressions.
A muffled cough. "Any political or religious affiliations?"
"I’ve toppled a few dictatorships." The joke fell weak.
Smythe rotated her chair towards the file cabinet, dislodging a teardrop-shaped pendant from where it was tucked into her jacket. It swung loose, the patina blue-green on a copper medallion. By the time she turned back around, the chain had been returned to its place, and she was holding a large envelope, fixed with an official seal. Paper records were maintained to protect secrecy, as they were generally more difficult to forge or hack.
"Let me get to the heart of the issue, then. I've been contacted by a Cardinal of the Church."
River swallowed. "Oh?"
"I cannot speak for my predecessors, but during my term, your behaviour has been exemplary. No breakouts and only one nervous breakdown in the staff."
"I don't know what you've heard, ma'am--"
"I've probably heard more than you'd like. But no matter. Upon my recommendation, they are willing to offer you a shortened sentence. Perhaps even a full pardon."
"Contingent on how useful you prove to them. They have need of someone with your... particular skills."
"Well then..." There were so many reasons to say no, phone the Doctor, and never come back. The Doctor had made the offer himself more than once, with his head pillowed on her breasts. To say yes meant willingly handing herself over to the very people who had manipulated her whole life. "I accept."
"It won't be easy, Dr Song. Likely quite dangerous." It sounded like a genuine warning.
"I can handle myself."
The Warden paused, fixing her with a curious expression. "Yes, I suppose you can." She pulled a folded letter from the envelope, scrawled an illegible signature with a pen, and shook it in the air to dry it. "Done. You'll be leaving tomorrow. Pack a bag for an arid planet, and bring your plasma blaster."
"I don't have--"
"Dr Song, we're done here."
River left Smythe's office with the stupid sensation that she has just been reprimanded by her mother. Snorting, she let Jimmy uncuff her and lead her back to her cell block. "So how was she?" asked her current favourite guard in a hushed voice, steering her with his hand in the small of her back. It wasn't that she didn't know the way; he wanted to touch her. "What does she look like?"
She thought over the conversation quickly. Clever enough not to mention the Doctor by name, even if it was written all across her face. Arrogant while pretending to be kind. "Untrustworthy."
"What does that even mean? Old, fat, young, hot, what?"
River spun around, setting her hands on his chest. "You don't love me anymore, James?"
"You first forever, River," he swore fervently, blushing to his ears. He tried to kiss her; she ducked away, slipping behind bars. Straight to her suitcase.
"Oh, God, you're packing."
"I'm leaving tomorrow."
"Got a time I should set off the alarm?"
"I've got a mission."
"It's time for me to start earning my pardon."
"Take me with you?" His earnest smile looked like it hurt, splitting his face from ear to ear.
"You'd have to ask Warden Smythe, first."
"Smythe," he repeated, tasting the name. "Well, it's no Warden Xui."
"There never was a Warden Xui. That was a rumour I made up fifteen years ago."
He put away the handcuffs. "You'll break my heart, Song."
"Put in for a position out of the Cage, Jimmy darling. You're young, you're a Nestene duplicate, you've turned up to every shift with a different head. Find a girl you can show a good time, and then see how long you can date her sister."
"It is incredibly dull in here," he complained good-naturedly. "I had a bet down that you would call me on it when I wore your face."
"It was a good likeness in the mouth, but the hair was all wrong." She started balling socks. "Were you the one who caused a nervous breakdown? I know it wasn't me."
He shrugged. "Marsha, in canteen. I was doing impressions for the lads; who knew she had a pathological fear of Mickey Mouse?"
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