Feelings on Paper

by Shiplizard [Reviews - 1]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Character Study, Fluff, General

Author's Notes:
Inspired by a sketch by Johannes VIII on tumblr. Crossposted from AO3

She found C'rizz in the library, tucked up against a shelf and doing a very good impression of the woodgrain. Excellent Eutermesan hearing or not, he was so engrossed in what he was reading that he didn't catch her, so she perched on a rolling ladder to just watch him. When he realised that she was there, he would straighten up and stop looking like the wood-grain-- it seemed to be a cultural politeness, being visible for your conversational partners. Whether or not your conversational partners thought that it was absolutely splendid that you could change colours.

She watched his face-- so expressive, about the mouth and the heavy brow-- and wondered if he'd noticed that he'd started doing the Doctor's 'concentrating face'. He was frowning exactly the way the Doctor did when the TARDIS was having one of her obstreperous turns. Except instead of some direly blinking light or uncooperative display, his ire was directed at a hardcopy of -- ooh, Twenty-thousand leagues! Excellent choice, that. She'd recommended Verne to him straight off, of course.

Though-- as she watched him turn back a page and read it again, still frowning-- perhaps she should have started with Barrie. She hadn't asked how the TARDIS translated language, written or otherwise-- did it really keep the meanings clear? Verne was a bit dense for her when she was young, and she was a voracious reader-- she'd known all about the state of shipping in the 19th century, and C'rizz wouldn't do-- C'rizz had never seen a ship bigger than a paddleboat, she realized, and she and the Doctor must absolutely rectify that. Pirates, they should meet pirates! ...no, perhaps not, C'rizz had been in too many prisons and cages recently and a stay in the hold might put him off ships forever. Gently does it. Introduce him to large bodies of water slowly, perhaps. He'd only have seen the one ocean, and they were crashing into it at the time. Guidance hadn't seemed too put out by being on an island, of course, but Guidance was one of those zealous sorts who wouldn't pay any attention to a house afire if there wasn't something religiously significant about it. There was no telling how he'd take a real introduction to the ocean-- if only he'd come out to Blackpool.

C'rizz flipped the page back again, sighed, put the book down with the dust jacket tucked in to mark his place, and pressed his hand over his eyes.

"Headache?"

He yelped, and flattened back against the shelf for a moment--

"Foundation's sake, Charlotte! Where did you spring from?"

--and then collected himself. His skin washed out to a friendly, neutral sort of greyish purplish colour, and he made a show of smoothing down his shirt and looking prim.

"I 'sprung from' the next room," she said, smiling, because he was so delightfully fussy for such a large, imposing person. "I've been here ages. But I didn't want to interupt."

"Oh, please interupt." He looked down warily at the book; he'd made it less than a quarter of the way in, obviously with some effort. "I'm certainly not making any progress here."

"Is it the ships? I only realised, you won't have seen ships, really. And you won't know why some of the important bits are important once you meet Captain Nemo."

"It's not that." A pause. "I tell a lie. It is that. But not only that. I'm not really used to reading fiction. It's -- odd, your people write it very oddly."

"Oh?" she alighted from the ladder and came to drop down against the shelf by him, wedging up against his cool, solid shoulder companionably. He smiled at her, and nudged her fondly with his elbow before picking up the book again.

"I was all right for the first chapter or two-- it mostly read like a history. And then we meet the storyteller and... well. Here, look, here's one." He tapped a point on the page.

We gasped for breath. Stupefaction more than fear made us dumb and motionless.

"Seems clear enough to me," she observed, with her own frown now. "How would a Eutermesan writer have written it?"

"Well. They wouldn't have. That's the first problem."

"Never tell me Eutermesans haven't got fiction!"

"Of course we do. Don't be silly," he said loftily. "We just don't write it. Writing is for facts. Histories, church scripts, advice about farming, business letters-- you'd only write down a story or a poem if you had trouble remembering it, and you certainly wouldn't expect someone else to get much out of it."

An apalling notion, to a girl who'd spent every hour she could spare up a tree with a book. She must look aghast. "Whyever not?"

"You have to be told a story: told by someone who knows how it feels, who cares about it. You can't put feelings on paper." C'rizz paused. "Except that your people certainly can. Or try to. It's-- odd. Very jarring. You read this sort of thing all the time?"

"Well, yes. And I wouldn't have thought Verne was a sentimental author, either. That's just-- it's a way to show they were nervous. It's an analogy, obviously, their hearts aren't literally stopping-"

"Yes, we had discovered metaphor on Eutermese, too," her friend said, disgruntled. "I just-- I can't really explain."

"Won't you try?"

"I'm not a linguist. You need a philosopher, not a monk. I was supposed to steer clear of all this probably-heretical stuff anyway, which meant anything interesting was out."

"Please?" She widened her eyes in what she hoped was a disarming way. It only sometimes worked on the Doctor, but was still mostly effective on C'rizz.

He wrinkled his nose petulantly at her, scales bunching up into V shapes that fanned up to the ridges of bone on his forehead. She batted her lashes.

He folded.

"Oh, all right."

She made a little 'ee' and looked up at him expectantly, hands in lap, poised to be told a story.

"Here. I'll show you how I would do it if I was telling it. And I'm not a storyteller, so don't blame me when I get it wrong, all right?"

"Perish the thought."

He took in a deep breath through his nose, as if he might be going to meditate, focused his eyes on the book, and said:

"'Right the helm, go ahead,' said the captain." And there was a flicker of a determined gold colour as he said it, around his mouth and eyes. "These orders were executed, and the frigate moved rapidly away from the light."

Her eyes were darting between him and the page-- 'burning light', she almost wanted to correct, but-- he'd taken on this fire-lit glow, from skull to hands, as if he was there, in front of that light. Which was really a dozen times better.

"I was mistaken," C'rizz read, urgently: "She tried to sheer off, but the supernatural animal approached with a velocity double her own. We were afraid."

'Afraid', he said, but his face, and the way his scales were a bit on end and gone white-- she could feel the paralysis, she could really feel the fear getting her up in goosebumps.

"The animal gained on us. It made the round of the frigate, which was then making fourteen knots-" his recitation sort of stuttered there, a bit of trouble with the 'knots', he tried reading it slow, then fast: "-and surrounded it with light." 'Enveloped it with its electric rings like luminous dust', said the actual text, but he wasn't reading that part, he was showing it again, the way the light must have fallen, diffuse shadows and ripples and dapples of light.

"It moved away two or three miles, leaving a phosphorescent track-" she was barely paying attention to the words, now. She'd read them a dozen times before, and it was so much more interesting to watch C'rizz fade, brighten again, suddenly go dark. She realized he had that characteristic gold flicker whenever he was doing the captain, and a hesitant bluish tinge around the cheeks meant he was doing one of Aronnax's lines. There was that tingling feeling of suspense, too, all running through it even though he was skipping all but the barest descriptions of what anyone felt about anything.

He stopped abruptly. "--Don't stare at me like that. I told you I wasn't good at this."

"Not good?" Her voice came out nearly a squawk. "Don't be ridiculous. That was amazing."

"Oh, I'm being ridiculous? That was awful. Charlotte, don't tease me, it's not nice."

"It was amazing to me."

"Well, you're easily amused."

"You-!" She sought around for an insult, and settled on a withering "Lizard!" and an elbow in his side.

"Mammal," he said haughtily.

"Ridiculous lizard," she shot back, and stuck out her tongue.

"Nonsensical fluffy mammal," he said, and made a grab for her.

"Don't you dare-- ah! No! Stop that!" she squealed, as he wrestled her against him, running his knuckles over her scalp until it burned. "I'll tell the Doctor."

"He'll say you deserved it!" he said, plunking his chin over her head, so that she was half-surrounded by ridiculous lizard man. "And I won't let you go tell him. I'll just keep you here."

"I'll tickle you."

"You're bluffing."

"Am I? Or have I noticed that you're ever so sensitive around the joints?" She wiggled until she had an arm free, fluttering her fingers in the crook of his elbow. He yelped again-- went wood-grainy, too, she noticed-- and tried to pin her. Every time he got hold of her, she went after another soft spot, though, and he couldn't keep his grip. "Am I bluffing now? Am I bluffing now?"

"No, STOP," he begged through a giggle, pushing her away and curling protectively in on himself as she assaulted the soft corner where his thick banded neck-scales met the line of his jaw. Funny how he could be so hard but in the places he needed to be able to move it was almost as soft as her skin. He was going carpet-coloured now as he balled up on the floor, swatting at her ineffectively, shaking with breathless laughter that was making him click and rattle as his scales fluttered. "Mercy, mercy, mercy-"

"Say I win," she said, perching on him.

"You win! Awful warlike human. Terrible species." Or that's what it sounded like, through the giggles.

"Very good." She stopped tickling, but didn't give up her seat on his back.

When he'd collected himself, again, he unfolded under her-- an unbunching of muscle that threw her backward. She might have fetched up against the shelf, but he flung an arm out to catch her before she could tumble back.

He really was extraordinarily strong. She knew that, of course. If he had really wanted to immobilize her, and he didn't mind hurting her, he could have done it. But he minded hurting her so much-- he'd stopped treating her and the Doctor like porcelain, but he was still very careful with them, worried about their bruises and little cuts completely out of proportion.

It was terribly sweet.

"Look, you've changed colours too," he said, grinning at her, showing so many flat teeth. "You're red."

"I am glowing. And that is not red; it is a a deeper shade of English rose, thank you!"

"It's an excellent colour," he said, mock seriously. Or perhaps not so mock-- it was difficult to tell at times. But fondly, no matter if he meant it or not.

He bumped his nose lightly against her forehead and pulled back so that she could cool off. He was eyeing the beads of sweat on her with interest-- well, all right, for once her skin did something that his didn't, even if it was a bit awkward. She tried to look dignified-- difficult when one was flushed with exertion-- and gave it up, flopping back on the cool carpet in the way that had always driven her tutors absolutely mad.

He settled back against the shelf, and reached for the discarded book-- but didn't open it again, looking at it as if it might bite him.

She felt like beaming at absolutely nothing-- it felt so, so homey, squabbling with C'rizz, and it wasn't that the TARDIS wasn't absolutely wonderful but she did get homesick sometimes. And he did, too, she knew he did. He was so much further from home than she was. Did he still feel as safe and happy as she did, just spending time with him? Did he have the sensation that she felt, as if she was with Peggy and Cissy again, out on the lawn on a summer's day, doing nothing in particular but feeling that all was right with the world?

Could she explain that to him, without colour changing skin?

A thought struck her.

"You know," she said, turning over on her stomach, and reaching out to take the book. "I can't do it nearly as well as you can, but I certainly know how the book makes me feel. Back to front, every bit. I could try to read it for you. Perhaps that would help?"

He looked over at her, surprised and hopeful all at once. "It's so long-- I couldn't ask you to-"

"Of course you can! Oh, it's one of my favourites, I don't mind." She patted the carpet beside her. "We won't do it all in one go, but today, oh, at least we could get all the way to where they see the inside of the Nautilus--"

He was brightening-- literally-- with interest, and a colour around the ridges she was strongly beginning to suspect meant he was feeling affectionate. One more pleading look and another pat on the carpet was all it took to have him flopping onto his chest next to her, boney chin propped on his hands.

"Now," she said. "You started having trouble once you got to Professor Arronax, you said? Should we start again in Chapter Two? I don't need to read about the shipping disruptions again if you don't." She flipped back, scanning the pages until she found the start of the chapter in question.

"If you really don't mind."

She cleared her throat, and began-- doing her best to sound as she had always pictured Aronnax, a bit pompous and rather French: "At the period when these events took place, I had just returned from a scientific research in the disagreeable territory of Nebraska-" and she tried to really feel that 'disagreeable', to get across her impressions of a sort of flat wildernessy place full of rude Americans that a distinguished French scientist would simply loathe. She risked a glance at C'rizz. He was watching her intently, soaking up every word as if it were fascinating.

"...it really does sound better when you read it," he said.

"I've read one sentence, you ridiculous lizard," she scoffed. "Now hush."

"Nonsensical mammal," he said, and there was a red-sunlight colour around his smile, and a feeling of perfect contentment that made her feel as if she was on the lawn, with her sisters, on a summer's day.