By the time Melody Pond was ten, she’d been born, kidnapped, imprisoned, hijacked, conditioned to kill the last living member of a species known to have mastered Time, talked repeatedly to a sitting President, and shot at. (This last by her own mother, although no one had been very clear on that at the time it actually happened.)
By the time Melody Pond was something like thirty-five, though her personal timeline made the actual calculations rather fuzzy, she’d regenerated, defeated Krampus, saved the Raggedy Doctor (in doll form, belonging, as she’d known by then, to her mother), actually instigated her parents relationship, stolen several cars, bought her own damn (quite nice, thank you) Mini Cooper, and come to the recognition, of her own accord, that being raised to be a psychopath certainly led to interesting times.
By the time River Song was approximately thirty-nine, she’d been shot at (though it was unclear if being shot at by Hitler was an upgrade over her mother), regenerated, changed her name (which would have wreaked havoc on her credit cards, if she’d done anything so mundane as stayed on Earth), killed the aforementioned Time Lord, discovered remorse, passed out during her first acquaintance with the idea of atonement, started a diary, and gotten past year three of her archaeology study.
At the age of something like thirty-nine-not-forty, she was relatively certain she was irrevocably in love with the Doctor, would always be in love with the Doctor, and basically planned to spend her life finding the Doctor and appropriating lovely, shiny, archaeologically significant objects, because at least she’d never be bored. Based on all of the above, she was also fairly certain she was still a psychopath, even if she’d learned to channel it to more socially acceptable ends. She was also mostly sure that wasn’t ever going to change completely. Not really. Not given the shape and frequency of her nightmares.
And at the age of thirty-nine-ish, River Song knew damn well sure that it took one to know one, where psychopaths were concerned.
To be fair, the woman sitting two tables down from her wasn’t exactly trying.
No one with eyes that blue, lips that red, hair that black -- hell, clothes that black, in the middle of a Lunar cafe in midwinter, the week before exams, when all the student body dressed in crimson, and clothing that distinctly three-plus millennia out of style -- was trying. Not when that same person had been eyeing River for the last hour. And not when River’s own personal telepathic interrupter had been buzzing in her pocket for the last forty-five minutes, which was, not coincidentally, the same amount of time the woman had been idly tapping out a series of beats that, to the untrained ear, would have sounded random. To the trained ear, they sounded like the rhythm of the Sigmalian suggestibility ritual. Being raised as a psychopath with any eye to eventual assassination did, on occasion, come in useful.
None of the above, even the upbringing and especially not the tapping, was useful in helping her retain information about the forty-three different techniques for manipulation of Cantarelian relic matrices, an exam set for approximately twenty-six hours from now. River’s sense of respectable psychopathic behavior did include a healthy dose of paranoiac precautions, but it did not extend to threatening, harassing, or maiming her lecturers to achieve the requisite marks. Which made the present circumstances, all told, an annoyance she could not afford.
Her watcher’s eyes narrowed, just a bit, when River sighed, stretched, and dropped her reader and stylus into her rucksack. When River stood, took said bag, and stalked over to the watcher’s table, her watcher moved not at all. When River said nothing, but simply smiled (well, showed her teeth, anyway, in what a bystander would call a cheery manner if said bystander could not see her eyes), pulled out the opposing stool, and dropped down into it nonchalantly, folding her hands on the table in front of her, her watcher… well.
Her watcher did nothing, at first. But River had seen her eyes widen, just a fraction, when she’d parked herself. She’d caught the woman by surprise. Point to River.
Her watcher smiled, slow and with genuine delight in her eyes. “My dear,” she said. “Taking a break from your studies already? And with an exam tomorrow? How reckless. What on earth would your parents think?”
River knew she didn’t have tells. Or at least not ones most people could read. That made it easy to keep her answer light. “I expect they’ll blame university for loosening my morals and rotting my brain.”
“River Song,” the woman smiled, “how very, very nineteen-fifties of you. I’m rather certain your mother would say nothing of the sort.” River very calmly said nothing, and kept her breathing even. “She might,” the woman purred, and tapped a long fingernail against her chin, “she might, in fact, wonder if you’d simply given yourself over to chasing boys.”
River didn’t imagine the twist on that last word. She didn’t have time to think about it for long, because the woman had reached out to run her nail over the back of River’s hand, hard enough to leave a mark, light enough that River’s nerves tingled. “What a pity you have to limit yourself so.”
And River did move then, because River did not like someone playing silly buggers with her nerve endings unless River had been very clear about permission to touch her. River was big on things like personal autonomy. These days. Now that she had it. She had the other woman’s wrist pinned to the cold metal of the table in the space of a breath. Possibly less. “Sadly, I’m not really my mother’s daughter most of the time. My limits are rather… broader. But not when we haven’t been introduced.” Which wasn’t true, that last bit, but this wasn’t really a game of truth they were playing. And River’s feelings on truth were flexible anyway.
The other woman only smiled wider, enough that River could see the heat in it. And the malice. “You sweet duckling. I’ve seen your highlight reel.” River tightened her grip. She could feel bone. The woman didn’t react. “I’ve read your diary, you might say. Lovely color. I do so like blue.”
River did not look at her bag. She knew she didn’t. The woman laughed anyway. “Your story’s written, pet. I’m just not sure what chapter you’re on.” Like a snake, she wrenched her hand away, and it had to have hurt, it shouldn’t have been possible. River blinked at the speed, and then blinked again as the woman’s own hand came down on her shoulder and tugged her close.
To anyone else, they would’ve looked like two friends -- two admittedly odd, temporally asynchronous friends -- gossiping after a bit of tea. Anyone else probably would’ve missed that the woman’s thumb was digging firmly into a pressure point that left River blinking in pain, number through the fingers, and, critically, confused enough that suddenly, personal telepathic interrupters be damned, unable to look away from the blue eyes that held her, pinned her, and raked across her brain. “I just need to know if you’ve found that good man yet,” the woman said.
River fought against the “no” on her lips. “Several. More good women. And a lovely pair of earrings the Aktenikan dig doesn’t know are missing yet.”
The thumb in River’s shoulder pressed harder, and she bit her lip.
“Such a clever bird. You might actually be entertaining, eventually. But you know what I mean.”
And this time, River couldn’t fight, not, at least, against the direct denial. “No. I haven’t seen him in years.”
The woman’s mouth twisted hard, and then, suddenly, the pressure and the compulsion were gone. Black skirts rustled as she sat back and patted River’s nerveless hand. She sighed, sounding annoyed. “It’s not hard to see where he’s been. It’s where he is that’s been harder to track. And you’re just useless.”
Being a psychopath with autonomy issues was occasionally not as useful as River would like. She wanted to leap across the table and throttle the white throat under that black dress. She settled for channelling her fury into keeping the quivering terror at bay. “I am learning,” she said, “to find things. Old things, buried things, lost things. Unless you plan to kill me here, I will find you. And I will find you before you find him and hurt him. And I don’t think, honestly, that you will much enjoy it.”
The woman stands, smiling down at River, who chooses to blame her now-pins and needles hand for the reason she does not also rise and claw out those blue eyes. “My dear. You’ll kill him before I do. You’ll kill us all. Or at least you might. You’ll get your chance. I don’t think it sticks, but you never know.” And then she says the thing that turns River ice cold, freezing her to the spot, roaring wind in her ears. “The Silence hasn’t forgotten you.”
River can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t function, for the terror. She’s blindly aware of a long-nailed hand on her cheek, of hot lips on hers, of the flicker of a tongue against hers. She registers the absence of heat when hand and lips withdraw, of the rustle of skirts, of the fading click of heels on paving stones.
When she comes back to herself, when she can move, she can feel her arm, her wrist, her fingers. She can feel the ache in her shoulder. She can feel a streak of moisture down her cheek. She can feel it. The benefit of being a psychopath is that she doesn’t have to. She packs it up, tidily, neatly, and folds it away.
River Song reaches for her rucksack and takes out her reader. She snags a passing waiter and orders tea. She bends her head to the complexities of Cantarelian relic matrices. And in another, smaller corner of her mind, undistracted by exams, she considers bolts and weapons and security measures. She will not go back.
The promise rings hollow. Being a psychopath has its occasional benefits, however. She’s never had a problem with lying. Even to herself.