She got up on her toes and pressed her lips to a corner of his mouth. He smelled like tea and soap and oil.
Just when rain and darkness both begin to fall, he finally exits the Torchwood building. She makes sure that the sleeves of her jacket cover the bandage on her left wrist and the manipulator on the right; that her hastily-removed blouse covers the Cybertech in the Henrik’s bag. She’s been wandering, looking at a London that wasn’t alternate enough to be interesting.
He wears an oilskin coat and has an enormous multicoloured umbrella, takes the crowded streets on with long strides.
She follows him for twenty minutes before she gives in and closes the distance. “Why would he?” she asks, restarting the conversation.
John turns his head, but keeps walking; looks bored. “Oh, he. Praise him, the Time Lord.”
“Why would the Doctor trust you?”
“Why would he trust you?” He nods to the open space next to him, angles the umbrella.
For the benefit of her arm, she ducks under it, falls into step with him. The mark on his mouth is gone, and while his face is superimposed with blocks of colour, she can make out that his cheeks are flushed and his pupils dilated; she wonders what her kiss made him see.
He sniffs. “They’d put a tracker on the manipulator.”
“In the Thames.”
For a while, there are only the sounds of traffic and heels and rain against taut fabric.
He says, “I thought you would’ve left.”
“They’ve got zeppelins looking for you. Don’t draw attention to yourself.”
“Says the man with the rainbow umbrella.”
He very nearly smiles.
She moves the bag from her right hand to her left. The handles have chafed her fingers raw. “So, what’s the verdict?”
“You’ve lost your job? Will never get to be alone with anyone ever again? They took your teacup away?”
“Oh, but the lipstick was genius! I was out of commission. Besides, Rose arrived just in time to argue my case. They still suspect me, of course.”
“So there’s a zeppelin with your name on it?”
“They won’t make that mistake again.” Then he smiles; properly, if not quite as brilliantly as he had when he’d let her free herself. “How ‘bout a cuppa?”
They head for his flat. It’s dumb, and irresponsible, and dangerous; but he’d mentioned the Doctor.
Besides, River figures, she has a vortex manipulator that probably functions, and a gun that definitely does.
She knows all about Gangers, fobwatches, impostors. ‘John’ could be either of those; he could be neither, and she has some time to waste.
‘That’s all you need to do,’ the Doctor had said, before he’d even started dismantling the manipulator. ‘Nothing else, do you hear me?’
Still: always lying.
She dreads/doesn’t dread that the name on his door will be ‘John Smith’. It isn’t; it’s ‘John McCrimmon’.
He shrugs out of the coat and the green jacket and hang them side by side on the back of the door.
Her jacket; dark, nondescript, and expensive, gets the remaining hook. The rain has cleared the odour of bad coffee from her nose; now someone smells like wet hair and sweat, and she doesn’t think it’s him.
The flat is an open space, and furnished with what she expects; a table, chairs, a sofa, a large enough bed, a desk, bookcases. The walls and the ceiling are startlingly bright blue.
“Like the colour? I’m trying this shade out. Can’t find one I really like.” He grimaces. “The landlord hates me, the painters love me.”
“It’s too blue.”
He stares at her, quite openly. “There’s no such thing.”
To her annoyance, she can’t quite tell whether it’s the lumpy bandage, the blackened manipulator, or her sleeveless shirt he’s looking at.
He turns the wireless kettle on with a snap of his fingers, and then he turns his back to her, noisily rummaging around in a cupboard.
River shrugs, walks up to the desk, and looks through his things.
There are an admirable amount of dog-eared travel brochures and used long-distance zeppelin tickets (made out to John Taylor, Shaw, Noble, and, yes, Smith); there are veritable piles of obituaries; there are traffic tickets and several bottles of omeprazole; terse printed e-mails from a Tegan; very long hand-written letters signed ‘Barbara’.
Above the desk, photos are affixed to the wall; a calculated mess. Roughly half of them feature the same woman (blonde; except for in one picture, where her hair is dark and John’s hair is bright red), while the rest depict a little bit of everything; John, other men, other women, all sorts of places, small animals, dying stars, postboxes.
He hands her a cup of tea with one hand, and motions to the enormous lid-less tin sitting in the middle of the table with the other. “Sit down, have a biscuit. I’ve made a thousand.”
She takes his word for it, and a biscuit. She places the Henrik’s bag between her feet.
“You know,” he says, fighting a losing battle against the string attached to his teabag, “Some days I like it. Like it a lot. Some days it’s really an adventure. Other days it’s shopping and going to the bank and shouting at the Universe and cleaning your flat and some days are Sundays. I went to my lab on a Sunday, might have yawned once or twice, and Kate asked me why and I said ‘it’s a Sunday’, and then she gave me every weekend off for the rest of the year.”
“That’s terrible.” River unravels some bandage and peers at her wound; it’s healing nicely, quickly. It’s probably best not to show him exactly how quickly, so she covers it up again. The arm’s still pounding; she keeps it in her lap.
“Then, of course, I have to waste four to five hours on sleep, almost every night.” He finally gets the teabag into a mug, and sits down across from her. He puts his feet, wet trainers and all, up on the table. “How much do you sleep?”
“Too little. I’m curious — Torchwood won’t come looking for me here?”
“And what are the odds Rose is going to come here?”
He scratches his head, frowns. “One to thirty, I’d say. Today means two hours of paperwork, probably more, in addition to the inevitable office-wide bickering — believe me, that can take a while. Besides, she usually rings first.”
There’s a slightly awkward pause, during which River slips the biscuit into her trouser pocket. “Torchwood might not think I’m an alien, but what about you?
He slurps his tea. “Well, I’d rather you were an alien than a Cyberman, so I’ll go with yes.”
“Does it bother you?”
He bursts out laughing, chokes a bit. “Bother me? Bother me? It’s a bit brilliant, is what it is.”
“That’s certainly good to hear. I’d have thought it’d be the other way around, since Torchwood supposedly protects the Earth from aliens.”
He shrugs. “As long as you’re mostly human, that’s good enough for me.”
She pauses, stirs her tea. The mug is the same colour as the walls; she pretends to take a sip, makes sure her lipstick leaves a mark on the rim. “How do you know that I know the Doctor?”
“Educated guess. Do you want to talk about him?”
“Always. But I won’t.”
He laughs, wiggles his feet. “Oh, good answer! Bit annoying, as well. That’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Talk about him.”
“If I wanted to do that, I’d have stayed with your friends. You feel free to talk all you want.”
“Well, you must be wondering. It’s simple, really. He left me here.”
“He does that.”
“For my own good.”
“He’d say that.”
“Maybe he wasn’t sorry.”
John has more tea, grimaces. “I want eight sugars, but I’ve had to cut back. I only get two now.” He eyes the sugar bowl. “Did he send you?”
“Why the Cybertech?”
“Oh, you know I won’t answer that.” River offers him a smile, and gets up. “Thanks for the biscuit. It’s time for me to leave.”
“You didn’t have any — I mean, wait! Whatever it is, whatever you need, I’ll help you. Anything.”
She tells him where she needs to go.
“I’ll drive,” he states, eyes bright.
She snatches the keys, winks. “You can read the map.”