Characters: River Song, Anita, Proper Dave, Other Dave, Miss Evangelista, the Tenth Doctor
Edited by: the lightning fast dr_whuh
Summary: They were jokes, the names we gave the marks. River taught us to keep our secrets. Miss Evangelista gave us back our hearts.
Author's Notes: After watching "Silence in the Library" and "Forests of the Dead" again, I was reminded that some people couldn't fathom the joy with which River greeted her team at the very end. Surely they were just hired guns? And then I realized that a woman like River Song could never work with people who were just hired guns.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin. I do, however, love them all, and thank the BBC for letting me play in their sandbox.
It was our joke, the names; something to keep the customers off-balance. All the things we did, outside of our contracted jobs, were jokes actually. We did things like that, bits of street theater and guerrilla psych-war tactics that were part of a larger strategy — keep them out. Let the marks know our real names? Not likely. They didn't know what to think of us, couldn't figure out what made us tick. Thank god. They were all so ... ordinary; if any of them had ever figured us out, it would have been humiliating.
We'd been together five years, Agesis-Prime standard; maybe six years Earth standard. They'd been the best five — or six — years of my life. What else could it be, with me on River Song's team? Not one PhD in 500 could get past the interview process; not one MA in 1,000. Graduate students? Forget it. None of them made it. Except me. I did. She liked my eyes, she'd told me. And my abilities with xeno-sentient archaeo-forensics. And my abilities to hack into any binary- or trinary-based computer system she threw at me. My lock pick abilities were gravy. I never asked her how she'd scoped me. It always seemed rude, especially in bed.
I never asked the precise reasons she brought Dave or David on board, either. I was glad she did, mind you.
I'd studied under Dave at Oxford Reborn — he was the second most brilliant forensic archaeologist in the human sector, and a far steadier teacher than River ever was. He was also good with the pigeon drop, the badger game, short cons and thimblerigging. Once we'd dried him out, and were sure he'd beaten the booze, he was absolutely wizard at finding us money. If River hadn't already stolen it for us, that is. He was patient, and dogged in his research, and could sing so beautifully it could bring tears to your eyes. And he was kind, too. He told me once that all con men were kind. But he never conned us, so I just held him tighter and waited until he stopped shaking. It worked out all right.
David wasn't an academic, at least not at first. He'd been a merc from the Kalenix Confederation with a literary bent and an eye for the main chance when River and Dave put out the word that they needed, in River's recorded words, "intelligent muscle." She almost didn't hire him; the Confederation wasn't in good odor in the Empire, and neither were people who hired its citizens. River caused enough of her own trouble; she generally tried to avoid borrowing it. Plus, he pushed back at her when she interviewed him — not that she didn't expect all of us to do that once we were on the team, but she expected us to push back when we caught her in a mistake — not the way he did, in some sort of testosterone-fueled power play before he had the right to do it.
But he ended up on the team. I think it was his laugh, when she called him on it. It was gorgeous and full-throated. God, I loved that laugh.
Once she had us on her payroll, she started working on us. Bless her, she never hid it from us, which is what kept me from walking off into the sunset at times.
Some of it made all the sense in the world: training and studying in forensic archaeology for David, overseen by Dave and, occasionally, herself; computer hacking classes she delegated to me for the other two; self defense and targeted offense training for Dave and me, courtesy of David; language downloads — so many that we'd puke our way through migraines and disorienting brain rewiring reactions until she had mercy on us and let up for a bit; and long con training — her specialty. Oh, and the mundane safety insurance of navigation, marketing, accounting, handling quadratic drive mechanics and how to retrofit star drive regulators and field strip transmissions and P-10 pulse repeaters.
Some of it ... well, some of it is hard to explain. You probably won't understand when I say that she needed to get into our hearts and then break them. It eventually made perfect sense to all of us, after we stanched the bleeding and helped sew up each others' wounds. I was furious when I told her she was damned lucky she still had us; when she nodded and said she knew it, I stopped being angry.
I think the heartbreak was— I think it was him she took her cues from, the only thing she ever did because someone else did it to her. The self-satisfied wanker.
Oh, who am I kidding? We gave him a run for his money when it came to being self-satisfied. She probably learned it from him, and we sure as hell learned it from her.
Poor Dilla. How awfully we treated her. Of all the things we did wrong (I don't mind admitting the wrong things, not now) it was that last journey that weighed heaviest on my mind. I mean it's one thing to take the suits down a peg or four. I could laugh at them all day, and gut their credit as soon as look at them, especially if they paid for our digs and supplies and expeditions. But we got so used to doing that, so used to keeping everyone out, and being apart ... our hearts got too small. Even now, when everything is better, it shames me.
I remember watching that little green strip, back when we only knew her as Miss Evangelista, hearing her fade, and feeling that awful sinking feeling. And the red-head's look — oh, the way she looked at us. And we knew she was right.
I don't like to think of that night, not past that point. As bad as it was to see Dilla go, as bad as it was to see how awful her death was ... well, it was harder to watch Dave go, and David. It was harder to die. Or at least it was harder to wait to die.
I'll say this for him; he stayed with me 'til the end.
Have you ever been in a dark place, in pain, and alone? Have you ever seen the ones you love come to you and let in the light, and bind your wounds? It was like that.
The first person I saw when I wasn't dead any more was Miss Evangelista. But she told me not to call her that. She told me her name was Dilla Mana. She laughed a little when she said it, then held out her hands, and told me David and Dave were waiting for me.
I tried to apologize to Dilla, but she said there was time enough for that later. Then she laughed again, and said she'd spent enough time apologizing in her life that she never wanted to hear anyone else do it to her. Death cancels all debts, she said. That's when one of those old language downloads River had forced on us kicked in, and I realized what she'd named herself.
Like us, she'd named herself; unlike us, she gladly gave her name, and her heart, to us.
And to River, when she came.
Note: Dilla Mana is pidgin Hindi for Heart Mind. Mōkṣa is Salvation