A few heads turned to stare at the odd couple that entered in the museum. Bernice was holding the Doctor’s arm and she chuckled when she saw some of the guests’ surprised expression.
“Give it a few seconds and they will start gossiping about us,” she said jokingly.
The Time Lord smiled:
“I wish you had told me where your conference was being held. I would have put on something more fitting for the occasion.”
“I like you best the way you are,” replied Bernice, briefly resting her head on the Doctor’s shoulder in an affectionate way.
While everyone else was wearing evening dresses and tuxedos, her companion was his usual self, from the hat to the question mark umbrella.
The Corbuse Museum had invited Bernice to present her latest archaeological findings and the professor had begged to Time Lord to accompany her.
“It would mean the world to me!” She had claimed.
He had agreed to join her and was already regretting it. He didn’t like the way everyone stared at him. It made him feel like taking his spoons out of his pocket and play just to add to the general disapproving atmosphere that was surrounding him. Appearances seemed to be a common factor in every end of the galaxy. Because he wasn’t looking like them, he had to be an eccentric (or worse).
Bernice was probably suspecting some kind of outburst from his part and she directed him towards the conference room, pretending that a) she needed some quiet to review her notes and b) she wanted to show him where he would be seated.
“I don’t want you out of my sight,” she explained when she pointed the seat in the first row right in front of her.
The Doctor made a face but obeyed and sat while the professor prepared her notes just as she had said she would do. Soon, the Time Lord was bored and he started looking around him. Every seat on the front row had obviously been saved for someone in particular; there were tags with names on each one, except his. He looked at the tag on the seat next to his and read the name « River Song ». He paused for a moment, frowning. The name sounded strangely familiar and yet the Time Lord couldn’t remember why.
“Is everything alright?”
Bernice sounded a little worried and he turned his attention to her.
“Oh yes. How are things over here?”
She sighed: “I’m starting to experience stage fright.”
“You will be great,” he promised her.
He wasn’t just trying to be supportive, she could hear it was a sincere statement and she felt her self confidence restored.
People had started to fill the conference room and she recognised a few faces. Her attention was however attracted by a gorgeous woman with blond curly hair who sat next to the Doctor. He had noticed her too from the way he was staring at her and Bernice smiled. It was good to see him look at a woman in an appreciative way. She had been worried for him since the events of Farringham*. It was good to see him take an interest in people again. He had been keeping for himself for quite some time and Bernice had only agreed to be a key speaker at the annual Co-Co-A (short for Corbuse’s Convention of Archaelogy) so the Time Lord would have to leave his TARDIS and breath some fresh air. That and he would have to mingle with people. She was quite happy to see that he seemed to get along with the lady sitting next to him and the success of her little trick actually contributed to help her vanquish her stage fright. She delivered a stunning speech and was rewarded by long applauses. Immersed in a feeling of self satisfaction and joy, she failed to keep an eye on the Doctor and missed what happened in the front row as the audience started to applause…
The Doctor spent the entire speech trying to remember why his neighbour’s name was so familiar and why he had a feeling that he knew her already. He found himself staring at her a few times during the conference and whenever their eyes met, he could sense that she too seemed to recognise him. It was only when the speech was over that he leaned towards River Song and asked:
“Do I know you from somewhere?”
She turned and replied smiling:
There was something odd about the way she had said those words. It wasn’t as innocent as it seemed. There was meaning behind those words, he knew it.
“How come do you look so familiar then?”
“Well,” she started, but he interrupted her before she could continue.
“I do realise how cliché this sounds. For everyone else here, we might be engaged in some sort of seduction game, but you and I know better. I know that I know you. We have met before, haven’t we?”
“Well,” she repeated. “It’s my fault, really. I should have known better than to come here hoping to see you again. You were the most… difficult to deal with.”
The Doctor didn’t like the sound of it. It had triggered a blurred memory. Only he couldn’t put his finger on it.
“Don’t tell me that you erased my memories!” He shouted just as the applauses stopped.
Everyone looked at the little man who had jumped up from his seat and who just shouted at a gorgeous woman with curly blond hair sitting to him.
She winked at him: “Spoilers!”
Before he could react, Bernice had taken hold of his arm:
“That’s it!” She grumbled. “It’s the last time I try to be nice and helpful. I can’t keep you out of my sight, can I? As soon as I turn my back, you have to misbehave!”
“But…” He started.
He felt silent when he realised that the seat next to his was empty. Even the tag was gone. What was the woman’s name again?