‘They won’t be tracking technology this advanced,’ the Doctor had said, sonicing the vortex manipulator one last time.
Bless him, he was so wrong.
As far as River is concerned, Torchwood headquarters has a dozen winding corridors, some very bright lights, terrible coffee, and a tiny room with a tiny table. The room smells like terrible coffee and blueberry tea and whatever they washed her arm with.
She’s waiting to be ‘properly’ questioned: they suspect time travel, which apparently is enough to warrant ‘Rose stopping by’.
When it had been realised Rose was further away than the corner shop, they’d dug up someone to sit with River while they waited. John, they called him. John, to go with Rose and Pete and Kate and Tom. (River had grinned and called herself Melody.)
John had wandered into the tiny room a few hours after they’d rung him, a Pringles tube in one hand and a teacup in the other, and he’d looked at her as if he knew everything about her. For a second or two, River hadn’t been able to draw breath, and then she’d remembered — Time Lords didn’t have alternate selves.
He’s hardly looked at her since.
Her mind was playing tricks on her; those of her senses that were human plus were running alternately hot and cold, confused by this universe. He reminds her of someone; that happens.
He’s had the Cybertech she’d been caught with brought into the room. It’s been hurriedly stuffed into a carrier bag from Henrik’s, and that’s sitting on the table next to his pristine white cup. He hasn’t looked at any of the tech, either.
River hasn’t particularly planned on letting him. The hallucinogens tingle on her lips and all she has to do is decide whether to kiss him or punch him on the chin.
He’s turned his back to her, has shoved his hands into his pockets. He’s wearing a grass green jacket and matching trainers, and his dark trousers are speckled with mud and what’s probably ketchup.
He doesn’t belong in this room, and yet he’s resigned himself to it; it’s obvious, and nearly makes her decide on hitting him.
‘It’s not quite a walk in the park, jumping sideways,’ the Doctor had said, and then he’d had to tear his hand from hers. River had materialised with the vortex manipulator burning on her wrist.
“All this,” she says, “Because I happened upon an old factory.”
He turns, faces her; looks at her, if not particularly intensely. “Because you broke into a Cybus factory and then shot at Torchwood. They don’t like that, for some reason.”
“They shot at me first.”
His wide eyes are sad, and he quirks his lip in a way that makes her want to apologise. “So… They say you’re not quite human.”
She brushes some imaginary dust off the bandage covering her forearm. (It’s a clumsy bandage. It does nothing for the pain, and it’s kept her out of handcuffs.) “What am I, then?”
“I don’t know. That’s Torchwood tech for you. ‘Not quite human’. That doesn’t mean anything, does it? Give me fifteen minutes, I’ll build the most accurate scanner you’ve ever seen. They’d let me, you know. I don’t think I will.”
“They think I’m an alien?”
His eyes darken, but he blinks it away. “No, that’s not what they think. They think you’re a Cybus experiment. A Cybus-eriment. A—”
“I’m not confiding in you.” She can’t deny that he reminds her of the Doctor; logically, that should probably worry her. What actually worries her, is that he doesn’t remind her of the Doctor enough.
“Why would you?”
She makes her voice light, tightens her ponytail. “Isn’t that the point of this?”
“I’ve seen the vortex manipulator.” He cocks his head; the fluorescent lamps pick up a lot of grey in his hair. “Three floors down, second door on the right. A bit charred, but okay. That, and a gun. That’s all, by the way? Really? You don’t need a bag, or a lunchbox or a notebook or a spotter’s guide or… something?”
“I travel lightly.”
“How’s the arm?”
“I saw the report. You’ve got old wounds. Looks like you’ve been fighting a long time.” Now he looks at her like he knows nothing about her. His voice is ragged. “Who are you? Could you please tell me why you came here?”
She shrugs. “I had to.”
It’s the sort of answer that doesn’t say anything at all, but he straightens his spine like it means something. He strokes the right side of his chest, once. “You really are here for the Cybertech, aren’t you? Not for me? For us?”
“Should I be?”
“No, I suppose not. Torchwood… they won’t understand. They can’t smell it — her — everything, but even with this subpar olfactory bulb, I can. And you — you’re so young, you’re not done yet. And that manipulator… Quality work. How are you feeling?”
“Well enough.” She decides it’s time to kiss or punch, or maybe both.
He ambles over to the table, grabs the bag without even looking at its contents. “Today, for the first time since, well, that time I staged a bit of a revolution, they let me be alone with someone. Don’t hit me in the face, I’ve only got the one.” He offers her the bag.
She relaxes her fingers and accepts it; everything she chose is there; the plastic digs into her fingers. “Let me guess… You’re going to shoot me dead?”
He shakes his head, and his jaw is tense. He types a code into the little box next to the door. “Two guards. I’ve… fixed their weapons.”
She doesn’t take her eyes off him. “Why should I trust you?”
“Because the Doctor would.” He gives her one of the most brilliant smiles she’s ever seen. “Now, run!”