The Doctor is 1,984.
They are a study in imbalance.
Like two teetering towers, standing up only by the pressure of leaning against each other, they function but they do not meet completely. And, if they were to meet perfectly, then they would fall over. Because that is what imbalanced towers do.
He thinks about the singing towers at Berillium and their unique leaned pattern. He's seen them in tourist handbooks and on viewscreens and in the distance during a few of his adventures, though he never sets a course there. He knows he doesn't have to, he will one day (has long ago since) go there and the beauty the towers promise doesn't change the fact that he will (already does) dread that day.
Today, he is on Agathorn, in the common sector. He is six hours, twenty-eight minutes, and thirty-five seconds late for River Song's graduation from the Valential Academy of Archeology and Time Travel Sciences. She does not know him well yet, but she's grown to like him enough to invite him. He knows upon accepting her invitation that he'll miss it, because even as she stands before him, young and expectant, he can already count the number of times she's teased him for being missing it.
Which is not to say he doesn't try. He does. Under the idea that if he changes one thing, he might change everything, he thinks that he might make it to the graduation. And while River refused to change one line of her history in order to preserve it with him, he'd be willing to lose everything in order to undo the beginning of his side to their story.
But, of course, meteor storm. Unexpected time travel inspection. Aliens disguised as time travel inspection personnel. He isn't so surprised to find the huge stadium empty and a message on the psychic paper telling him she gave up waiting and went off to a graduation party in the common sector. He wonders how long she waited. Knowing her? Not all that long.
Then again, maybe she did. She is young, after all. She doesn't know how he can be, not yet. As he steps into the dark, hologram-heavy club where this party is taking place, he can only think that she must be very young to find this so much fun. Loud music blares around him as he walks through the crowd. Years ago, the first time River took him here (she was 38, he was 1,487), he had to weave around the crush of people. Now, he walks and people move aside for him without question or even conscious thought. They must think he has the air of someone that is much more important than they are.
Well, they are all archeologists. It's fairly obvious to him that he is.
Yet, he's still here, for her. Even when he barely knew her (and she knew him so well), he still rotated to her like a satellite to a planet. And while he's tried many, many times to pull away, her gravity always pulls him back in.
Gravity and relativity, that's a more logical field than archeological history. It's science. And who is he to argue with science?
Most of the graduates have taken to wearing old-fashioned Earth costumes to fit with their new history-loving lifestyle. There are people dressed in tuxedoes, as Marilyn Monroe, or with CDs strapped all over their body like reflectors. Archeologists. They never get it right.
He finally spots River, over on the dance floor dressed in Egyptian garb with a golden headpiece atop her short hair and heavy kohl eye makeup. She's so young. Even though he's seen her a dozen times at this age, he can't help but think that. He feels so old by comparison. Oddly enough, she was in her forties when he saw her last week, and she managed to make him feel like such a child, then.
They're never quite balanced.
River glances over her shoulder and gives him a little wave, but doesn't bother leaving the dance floor. He can make the whole room move aside if he wants to leave, but he can't make one woman come to him when he wants to talk to her. Her older self---the River he knows well---she'd be quite proud of her young graduate self for flustering him as much as she does.
But she probably doesn't realize. Not yet, anyway.
She's dancing close to her boyfriend, a silver intellectual android by the name of Rog. River goes through quite a few boyfriends in her youth (just as he went through many companions in his youth), and no matter how close she dances to Rog, the Doctor knows all the androids she's ever dated are rubbish.
She told him about Rog and the other androids on the beaches of Salee. They'd gone there to sightsee, if he remembered correctly, but ended up making love against the waves (entirely at River's insistence, as all sexual contact on the planet was forbidden and therefore was too much trouble to pass up). They laid on the beach long enough to get terrible sunburns and share stories about their past. That was the day he told her about Donna Noble. She asked him if she would ever meet Donna. He smiled and replied: "Spoilers."
River told him that day that sometimes when he visited he didn't love her as much as she loved him. It was true. She had known him better during those times and her affection for him was deeper. But now, as he's aged and visited her so often, he's come to feel the same way about her in her youth. He's come to need her and so often she doesn't need him.
And now, when she looks at him she looks right through him and it shouldn't kill him, but it does.
"Couldn't tell, Sweetie, but was that a look of jealousy?" River has shooed Rog off to get her a drink and finally approached the Doctor. "If you can't even manage to make my graduation on time, you'd better not expect me to ignore someone who could for you."
"I'm not jealous, River. You wouldn't want to see my jealous face." The quip comes back quickly, easily. He expects a biting comment back, but instead she laughs. She doesn't know him well enough to argue back yet.
"What was it this time? Meteors? Aliens?"
"You're rather concise today."
"It's been a long day."
River's hand slips into his. "Not long enough. I don't know what time you came from, but it's still early here. Let's dance! It's a celebration."
"I really can't stay." It's something that he finds he always says to her.
"You make it like I was asking. Come on." She gives him a tug towards the dance floor and wraps an arm around his shoulders. He sighs, loud and annoyed, then puts his free hand to her hip. He's very good at the waltz, but with most 51st century songs he ends up losing the beat too quickly.
She's thinner, now. He can feel it, even through the metal baubles and golden cuffs of her dress. She filled out a bit when she hit her early thirties. When she was in her thirties and he was in his 1700's, that was when they meshed the best. When they knew each other the most. Or at least, close enough. They were always a page before or behind on their diaries.
But the only day they'll really, truly be balanced is the day he takes her to Berillium. It'll be their last day together. Maybe then things will make sense.
"You're awfully quiet," she says. "Usually can't get you to shut up for five minutes."
"I told you, long day. Ended up missing your graduation because of it."
"You'll never convince me you didn't miss it on purpose."
No, he wouldn't. He's been trying to convince her of that for years, now.
She leans back a little to look at him, and the wide smile on her face falls a little. She reaches a hand up to touch his face in a way that feels familiar to him, but not to her. Not yet. Her long, black-painted fingernails run through the white in his sideburns.
"God, you're old," she says in a half-gasp.
"If you want to hurt me for missing your graduation, you really can just slap me, you know, you don't have to insult me."
"No, but you are," she insists. "Your eyes. You're older than I've ever seen you."
She fumbles a little with her handbag and produces the slim blue notebook with only a few pages scribbled in. "Where are you---"
"Further along than you."
He's only getting older, and River's always at a different place when he visits. He wonders how much of her diary she'd have filled up by now, if she traveled with him instead of only hopping through his life.
He takes her hand. If she stays here, he'll meet her again in a few weeks. If he tries to change one thing, he might change everything.
"Come with me?"
Time Lords see the universe differently than humans. For River, the time they had was flowing, moving, yet always collected in her book. For the Doctor, every moment that was and is and might be is now.
They will have been are dancing in a nightclub. She will has been is touching his face and remarking on his age. She will has been is thinking about his offer but he will know knew knows that she will not accept it.
And even now, in a different part of the vortex she is shouting at him for running away, chasing him down a beach at Salee, and they are running through the hallways of the Library, and eating lunch at Asguard, and he is giving her his sonic screwdriver, and traveling alone. It is all happening now and is will always be happening and the universe tilts with the effort of so much at once.
He leans against her. She leans back.
Time is imbalanced like that.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 1,707
Special thanks to everybody_lives for the voice beta and inspiration!