Artifact

by nostalgia [Reviews - 11]

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  • Teen
  • None
  • Het



April 19th 5047, Williams University Library.
Found something you need to see.
xxx


--

"You've got something for me?" They sat at a table in a small room off the main foyer of the library. She was younger than last time, of course, nearing the end of her studies.

"I always have something for you," she said with a slightly wicked smile.

He tensed a little at the mismatch of intimacy. There was more of that to come and he was afraid of them finally matching.

River took pity on him and opened the small box in front of her, handed him a small stone decorated with lines and circles.

And he knew.

"Where did you find this?" He tried to calm the urgency as he formed the words.

"Telos. There's a dig there looking for early Cryon artifacts. I knew as soon as I saw it. I thought it might be yours. Or that it might not be."

"It's... a friend of mine, it's hers."

"A Time Lord?"

"Yeah, it's just... we never went to Telos. She never went to Telos. She must have..." He shook his head. "She's in another universe."

"The walls opened," said River, quietly.

"Twice," he said, sound slow and thoughts racing.

"Maybe-"

"I can't," he interrupted. "I can't jump to conclusions."

"What else do you ever do?" She placed a hand on his. "Is it really so hard to believe? That there might be someone out there? There is. This is proof."

He felt the weight of the stone in his hand, cold and solid and real. "She's been in another universe for centuries. I knew she was probably alive, but I thought I'd never see her again. I didn't think I'd ever see any of them again."

"You're not alone." Her hand covered his and he felt her heat would burn him.

"Maybe."

"At least you have hope?"

"Everything dies, even hope."

"That's a horrible thing to say."

"I can live, but I can't live with hope, not about this."

"Oh, Doctor."

He let her hug him, but he didn't let himself admit how much he needed it.

-

Telos had never been beautiful. He stepped out into the cold air and They sleep in my mind. Destiny? Isn't that just a fancy name for blind chance? made himself think in the present.

River appeared behind him, almost obscured by her coat. "I know how much you want it, but we really aren't going to find anything else."

"You might have missed something."

She put her hands on her hips. "I'm an archaeologist, I'm trained to find all the evidence."

"I've seen Bonekickers," he said, starting towards the excavation.

"Is that another reference to popular culture that I have no way of knowing about?"

"I've got it on DVD in the TARDIS, you can borrow it. It's terrible. It makes me feel a lot more plausible." He jumped down into a shallow trench.

"Mind the archaeology!"

The point of archaeology is to carefully recover the past, not disintegrate it. "Where was it?"

"A few metres along this section."

"How deep? If we knew when she was here we could pop back and wait for her."

"Do you know how many years are in one centimetre of a dig like this?"

He did. "My approach to the past is a bit more hands-on than you're used to."

"Well, it's a lot." She crouched down and cleared away some loose dirt. "It was here. I recognised the symbols and... liberated it."

"You stole it?" He felt for it in his pocket, let his fingers curl around the smooth stone.

River shrugged. "It wasn't any use to anyone else. It didn't belong here. Don't tell me you wouldn't have taken it yourself."

"It's practically mine!"

River stood up and dusted herself off. "There's nothing else. What now?"

"Let's go back to the TARDIS. I never did like this place."

-

"Romana, look at these."

"Ooh, rocks!"

"We could get you one with your name on, in case you forget all that 'dvoraktrevorwheelbarrow' stuff on the end."

Romana pushed her dark hair back behind her ear and didn't quite glare at him. "I thought you'd moved past making fun of my name."

"It's just an affectionate joke between two people who can deal with affectionate jokes."

She picked up one of the engraved stones on the market stall. "I suppose it's the thought that counts. Do you have any of the local currency?"

He rummaged in his capacious pockets and produced some glittering coins. "I won the local lottery last time I was here."

"Did you cheat?"

"Only slightly. I needed the money to get a friend out a jail."

"Your fault?"

"No! Well. Some people might think it was my fault, but they wouldn't be aware of all the circumstances."

"I suppose one piece of rock isn't going to ruin the economy."

He produced a piece of paper and wrote her name on it in Gallifreyan, clumsily forming the curves and with her correcting the equivalent of a spelling mistake.

"You're barely literate!"

"It's not like I have to write home every week, is it?" he said, defensive. "I used to have beautiful penmanship," he sniffed. He passed the paper to the woman with the engraving equipment and handed over some coins.

"Well, it's very thoughtful of you. Thank you."

"It's what ill-gotten gains are for," he said, breezily.

"And it's a perfectly good name."

"Perfectly."


-

The Doctor tapped in a few line of commands and glared at the console accusingly. "She's supposed to be able to detect Time Lords. She missed the Master for months, I thought it was just a string of off-days."

"Can you fix it?"

He sighed. "Maybe. She's getting old, she forgets things sometimes. Bits stop working and other bits don't quite take over."

"If she's missed Romana, who else has she missed?"

"I can't think like that. I'm not going to cling to false hope, not on this."

"Alright, just Romana. Can you find her some other way?"

"Do you know the odds of running into one person in a universe of this size when you don't even know when to look?"

"Do you?"

"I know it's a very big number next to a very small number."

"There must be something we can do." She stepped closer. For a second he thought she was going to touch him, then her hands moved to her sides. "You always seem to find people."

"People who stay still."

"Does she have a TARDIS?"

"She'll have cobbled something together. She's clever, my Romana. And anyone can build a basic time machine once they know the basics." He kicked the console before he even realised he was going to do it.

"You'll find each other."

"Assuming she even wants to be found." He ran a hand through his hair. "It's hopeless."

"There's that word again."

He pulled a few levers and turned a dial. "I'll drop you off at the university and then I'll... see where I end up."

"You'll come back to see me again?"

He looked at her, his possible future. Would he go back again and again until eventually he couldn't stay away? Finally he shrugged. "Yeah, of course."

-

"Do I ever find her?"

River put her sandwich back onto her plate. "You know I can't tell you, even if I knew."

"River-"

"No. The rules are there for a reason."

He sat up a bit for the height advantage. "Given the circumstances I think we can forget the rules on this occasion."

"The first time I ever met you, you said I could never let you know your own future. You told me again the second time, and the third."

"It's not fixed. Anything can happen. I'm supposed to be Merlin at some point, doesn't mean I'm desperately learning medieval Welsh."

"You told me that as well. Not the Merlin part. I thought he was fictional?"

"Don't change the subject. I just want to know if I find her."

"Then you'd want to know where, and when. What if I never saw you again and you can't tell me in the first place?"

"Time doesn't work like that. It's a-"

"Swirly-whirly ball of wobbling stringy... something." She waved a hand. "I know all this." She sighed. "I used to ask you if I'd pass my exams. If I'd get a good job, if I'd have children. There are things we don't tell each other. If you knew I would die tomorrow, would you tell me?"

"I... no."

"We're having a picnic. We're going to have a wonderful time, and neither of us is going to give out spoilers. About anything."

He picked up a cheese sandwich and pretended to examine the crusts of the bread. "Loose lips sink ships," he agreed grudgingly.

"Just... hope."

He didn't say anything to that.

-

"Well, I thought it was romantic," he said as they entered the TARDIS.

"I suppose it was until the soprano ate half the orchestra."

"A true diva!"

"You would have thought she'd at least wait until the audience left."

"Not a species with good self-control." He unwound his scarf and tossed it onto the hatstand. "K-9? What's more romantic than deporting a homicidal diva?"

"Unable to process subjective emotional concept of 'romantic.' I am a machine."

"And a very good one you are," said Romana, bending down to pat the dog on his metal back. K-9 rotated his antennae and wagged his tail.

"Paris," the Doctor decided. "The Eiffel Tower, a nice walk along a riverbank. No aliens whatsoever."

"Apart from us."

"Naturally."

"And all the Humans."

"And the broccoli."

"So really rather a lot of aliens," said Romana, moving a stray strand of blonde hair from her face.

"The Louvre!"

She frowned. "I've never heard of them."

"It's French for museum."

"Oh. No deadly opera this time?"

"I think we'll give that a miss. Just in case."


-

"It hasn't been that long. I can't expect to just run into her the minute I start looking." He put his glasses on and picked up a menu. "This place is a bit expensive."

"Are you asking me to pay again?"

"I'll pay next time. This just isn't a good century for my bank accounts."

A waiter arrived with the wine and took their orders. The Doctor pocketed his specs and tried not to look too out of his element. "Usually I get thrown out of places like this. It's not even always my own fault." He picked up the wine bottle and poured a glass for River.

"This was the least dangerous restaurant I could think of."

"Very considerate of you."

"Just... try not to blow anything up."

"I'll do my best." He picked up a breadstick and bit off an end.

"You look a lot happier than you were last time. Your last time, I mean. At least I think it was your last time."

"I think it's having someone to look for. Just knowing that she's out there, that I might find her someday, I don't feel so alone."

River took a drink and smiled at him. "You're not."

-

He picked up a framed photo of River leaning against a young man with dark hair. "Who's this?"

"A friend."

"Archaeologist?"

"Something like that." She took the photograph from him and replaced it on the sideboard. "Jealousy doesn't suit you."

"Should I be jealous?"

"Not in this case." She brushed sand from her hair with a hand. "I'm covered in desert planet."

"I'm not the one who was navigating."

"Is missing an ocean by a million years really that bad for a first go?"

He flopped onto her sofa and grinned at her. "Nah, could have been worse. You got the right planet, at least."

River sat down next to him. "I think you should kiss me."

Somehow that didn't seem like a bad idea.

-

He liked the feel of River's skin. He'd told her that and she'd said it was just skin, but he did, he really did. She shifted against him, her head resting between his hearts, and he ran his fingertips across her arm.

"I'm going to go looking around Andromeda tomorrow," he said. "You can come with me if you want."

"I've got work."

"I've got a time machine."

"You can search faster on your own." Her breath tickled his chest.

"It's not really looking as such. I thought we could visit a few museums."

"Alright." She moved a hand down his body and he let out a sigh.

"I don't... I don't need it as much now. Just the possibility's enough. Even if I never find her, I'll always know that I might." He leaned against River's touch. "It might not even just be her. The Daleks found ways to survive, maybe one or two Time Lords did."

"I'm sure there's someone," she said, quietly. She shifted and lifted herself to cover him. "Again?"

"Again."

-

It had been a long time before he'd got used to the absence of her room. Eventually he'd collected her things together and stored them away. He hadn't looked at them since before the war, certainly not since.

He wanted everything to be neater, in case she needed them when he found her. He folded her white scarf and hung it over a clothes-rail.

He lifted a red jacket and something slipped from the folds. A pendant on a black string, Gallifreyan carved neatly into stone. He stared at it, confused, taking far too long to realise what it meant.

She didn't have it with her when she left.

She never went to Telos.

She never came back.

-

He placed the pendant in her hand. "Lie to me."

"I can't."

"You have to." You wouldn't tell me why, but I suppose you knew it was time. My time. Time to come to the Library. "I'll understand. I do understand."

"I'll slip up. I'll say the wrong thing and you'll work it out."

"You won't." He kissed her. "I'm sorry. I know it's a lot to ask."

"She might have come back."

"She might. In a way, it doesn't matter if I'm the only one. I just need to believe that I might not be. That's all I needed, a bit of hope. That's all any of us need."

She slid her fingers between his. "You might not be alone. There could still be someone else."

He smiled, and meant it. "There is someone else. There's always someone else."