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They say there is a doorway from heart to heart

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The superstitious and the romantic of planet Earth talk about their moon as a mistress of illusion and enchantment. As a lamp in the sky that carries good fortune in her sharp crescent, a bringer of madness and delirium. They call her The One With The Dark Face, part brightness, part shadow held always away from the light.
 
These associations are not lost on River Song as she selects Luna University for her place of study. In a dusty room, lit with streaming sun and littered with sharp shadows, she breezes through an interview and enrols on an Archaeology degree. The professor is enchanted with her, bobbing his head eagerly as she outlines her interest. She lies about having previous experience and hands him faked references, all with her sweetest smile. It’s too easy.
 

*
 

So she makes this moon her home for the time being. She tries to put down at least shallow roots into its grey dusty face. At first it’s hard to get a proper hold on the small rock spinning underneath her, and she has to fight the strong urge to move. She tries to impress the domed University with its faux-ancient college buildings onto herself, structuring her life around it. The bright gardens and paved cloisters seem unreal at first, the rainbow boxed flowers and sandstone arches seem to watch her as she walks past, as if she’s a ghost. She tries to make herself real.  
 
And she’s nothing if not adaptable, so she shifts and shapes herself into that moon, and slowly she learns to live there.
 
 
Initially in the first months it feels like something has gone from her. That she left something more than Melody Pond and all her future lives behind in Berlin. She can breathe too easily, like her lungs are remembering how to swallow the air properly again. There’s emptiness between the fibres of her muscles when she moves, and her bones stretch into the gaps. Sometimes there’s too much space inside her and she feels as if she will collapse inwards into it like a dying star and be swallowed by her own weight.
 
Sometimes it feels like she can move more freely than she’s ever done before.
 

*
 

This place is miles away from her parents; miles away from him. She has no clue how far, but she cannot stop the slow drift of her mind towards them. In her head she imagines the blue box tumbling through the skies, free falling into star clusters and out again to become a blazing blue against the dense black. She tries to map herself to it, imagines her body as the Universe, the Tardis travelling through her, along her, inside her.
 
Somewhere out there her parents are standing on the cusp of a distant galaxy, wide eyed, pointing at stars and naming them after her.
 
Somewhere out there he is flinging levers, pushing buttons, sinking down into the folds of time; he is bending like light around it, strange and beautiful.
 
She doesn’t know where, but she knows she will find them. But not yet. Not just yet.

 
*
 

Beyond the University buildings there is a long curved viewing platform looking out onto the dark basaltic plain of the Mare Ibrum – the Sea of Rain. She’s often drawn there by the simple desolation of the view, stark and cold with no atmosphere to cushion it from the universe around it. Pressing herself against the glass she watches the mountains cup around the basin, slicing their grey peaks into the sky like a child’s cut outs. The dark plain pools downwards into a circle, an impression left by a thudding impact that must have made the whole moon tremble.
 
She’s pulled there, too, by the vision of Earth hanging full and heavy in the sky like a jewel. The home of her parents and the first home she remembers, the thought of it is dark and bittersweet. It is never more than a glance away and she likes its presence there, it reminds her of who she was, who she is.
 
 
*
 

She enjoys archaeology. It feels solid. Real. They go on field trips and she pushes fingers into the ground, strips away layers methodically, teasing back present from past to reveal secrets underneath. She descends into tombs and temples where the relentlessness of time has thrown columns and altars to lean together crazily. Pressing her palms to the cold stone of sarcophagi, tombstones, vaults, she reads the symbols on them with her fingers. She walks the paths of the dead, the ancient ritual highways of long extinct species and her shoes leave impressions in soft earth, in ash, in sand.
 
With her hands in the dust and the soil, fumbling for splinters of the past, she feels properly grounded for the first time in her life.
 
Her tutors adore her. Her intellect slices through every problem; she turns in essays filled with mad and groundbreaking ideas, perfectly crafted; she aces every single exam, and she always knows the answers. Blazing through her course, she leaves archaeological theory and accepted wisdom overturned in her wake.
 
She comes to adore the ancient myths and memories left in the ground. Not for their market value, not even necessarily for what they contribute towards the field of archaeological research, but for their own sake. They make her feel anchored deep into time, and it’s an unfamiliar feeling but a steadying one.
 

*
 
 
People are drawn to her as iron to a magnet. They are attracted to the otherness
, she thinks, pulled into an orbit around her. She has theories why. That extra little piece of DNA, the spiralling helixes kissed by the vortex maybe. Or perhaps it’s the preternatural strength that she does her best to hide, but that they pick up on nonetheless. They know she is different. They sense shadows in her past and are fascinated.
 
There are short encounters. Men and women she shares a night with, for the sake of warm skin sliding onto hers and to quell the rising fire in her belly. But she never lets them get close, never reveals herself properly to them, and it never really feels like the release that she needs. She cloaks herself in teasing words, skilful hands and hot kisses; talks a lot but gives little away.
 
There is a rule that she has about never spending more than two nights with any one person. She breaks a lot of hearts.
 
There are stretches of time, too, where she avoids people. Making herself an enigma to the rest of them is necessary sometimes. These are the times when she feels as alone as this strange little moon, lost in a grey orbit, locked in a spiral around the green-blue glow of the Earth.
 
She sees them watching her, hears them whispering behind their hands about this strange woman who walks the halls with such poise, yet trails a sense of yearning after her like smoke.
 
 
 
*
 

The library is her favourite haunt. She likes the warm wood, the sun through the windows in the daytime and glowing lamps at night. The smell of the dust sheeted over the books becomes familiar to her, as does the way the pages wrinkle like skin as they age She plagues the librarian with requests for ancient texts and sits up late studying, feet tucked underneath her on the chair.
 
Scouring history for signs of him, she learns to deconstruct fairytales, to separate myth from legend. She seeks the small gems of fact, peeling away folklore down to its bare bones.
 
He is everywhere. He hasn’t lived quietly. Instead he has spilled himself out across history. In some accounts he’s there in a way that only a scholar would notice, but still, he is there. Some stories are ridiculous and make her laugh out loud, earning a look of reproach from the Librarian. Some of them are strange but beautiful, some horrific and achingly dark. Usually he’s the hero, but occasionally he’s the monster, and she flicks the pages past those entries because she knows them all by rote already.
 
He goes by other faces and frequently by other identities. Trickster, Shapeshifter, Wizard, God. But she can always see  him.
 

*
 
She receives a birthday card for every year she is studying. They arrive dead on time via the University office, sealed in envelopes which are a little curled and dog eared at the edges, but always the bright blue of the Tardis.

It’s unexpected and she’s stunned and delighted the first time. On her second year there, it happens again. From then on, as soon as dawn breaks onto her birthday each year, she runs to the office. She goes shoeless from her small room, through the cold slabs of stone cloisters and onto tightly clipped grass. The dawn sun slants over her and pushes her shadow behind her as she runs.
 
The cards themselves are random, not really birthday cards as such, no pictures of cakes, candles or balloons. There is one with photos of giraffes on it, styled as if their heads are poking through clouds. There is one with, bizarrely, a photograph of a lurid red fez.
 
Scrawled inside will be a short message in a hand that spiders drunkenly across the page. Happy Birthday River

 

it will say, then next to it always the Gallifreyan symbol for Binary.
 
One year there is a card with a photo of a river on, glancing silver like worked metal. When she opens it a large flower, dried, pressed inside the card drops into her lap.  It is the dusky blue of a bruise, and when she holds it up to the light she can see veins of ochre red running through it like blood. It is both the twin and the mirror of her diary kept in her pocket, and of the twisting red ribbon saved in a box and kept in her drawer.
 
A scent rises from the flower like mist, a dry smell that is like nothing she has ever experienced before. It makes her mouth water, brings a lump to her throat, it smells delicious and bitter all at the same time. The next day she snags a passing biologist and shows it to him. He tells her that it’s a flower found only on one planet - by the banks of the rivers of the Gamma Forests. It symbolises love but also death in the Forest people’s beliefs, he says, the colours showing the linked nature of them both. It is traditionally given for courtship, but also for mourning.
 
She puts it safely inside the box with the red ribbon.
 

*
 

The day she gains her Doctorate is the day she discovers the tale of the Doctor’s death.
 
Extricating herself from the celebrations, she finds herself walking aimlessly through corridors, trying not to trip on her gown, the taste of wine bitter on her lips. Eventually her path brings her to the thick wooden door of the library, and she decides to burrow herself into one of its corners with her diary and some research.
 
The light is a mist, slanting down onto the large wood tables, dust catching and refracting the sunlight as it streams through it. Lamps try and fail to light the darkest corners; computer screens wink and flicker, green, blue, red. There is a small pile of books and folders stacked neatly on the table near the door, a note with River’s name on top of them. The Librarian knows River’s areas of research and anything he thinks will interest her he puts aside. Obscure ancient texts, clippings and photos, files from agencies, anything he has managed to get hold of to catalogue for the University archives which could contain a whisper of the Doctor.
 
She settles herself deep into the library, in one of the most secluded and distant reading rooms. Her heart thuds furiously as she reads the story of the blue lake, the astronaut, the death. She flicks the pages at the end, expecting to see an account of his miraculous escape, but the slightly yellowed pages stare at her blankly, offering her nothing. She scrutinises the supposed last sightings. By all accounts this is the face of him that’s as familiar and strange to her as her own dreams.
 

It's just a story


Something stirs in the corner of the room, dust shifting subtly in the light. But it’s only her imagination so she returns her attention to her diary.
 
She remembers the strong line of his jaw against her palm as she cupped it. The sweet golden light pouring around her lips, the taste of it from her mouth to his, the taste of him, all electricity and smoke and stars. With all her life rushing through him, nestling under his skin, buzzing through his nerves, it is just not possible that he could die.  
 

It's just a story


There’s that movement again, dark against dark, the air moving slightly against her...
 

It's just a story