The TARDIS was rarely as silent as she was after they left behind the New York graveyard where Amy and Rory were buried. Her hum was subdued, as though she, too, was in mourning.
In mourning. They weren’t dead, the Doctor tried to tell himself as he leaned against the console. They would get to live full and happy lives, together. That was what mattered, that was what had always mattered to them. But they were beyond his reach. There were not many places in space and time that he couldn’t go, but that was one of them.
And so he mourned, just as deeply as though they had died. So did River, and the Doctor knew it, even if she thought she could fool him by doing it in private. Hide the damage, River had told Amy, not realizing that the Doctor could hear her. It had been several hundred years since anyone had known him as well as River Song knew him. But even so, there were times when she missed the mark, and this was one of them.
Losing the Ponds hurt more than any non-fatal wound should. The Doctor had learned enough in his last life to know that he was a danger to himself and others in this state, and so he took the TARDIS into the vortex and there they stayed for several days, doing very little of anything at all. The Doctor did unnecessary repairs under the console and considered asking the TARDIS to change the desktop theme. He didn’t want all the little reminders, didn’t want Amy’s voice in his ear every time he looked at the zig-zag plotter. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
He and River barely spoke for the first three days. Barely spoke and barely touched. On the third day, the Doctor surfaced from some repairs and realized that he hadn’t seen his wife in well over twelve hours. His head felt clearer than it had since New York, and all he could think was that Amy and Rory would be bloody furious with both of them if they knew what they were doing to each other.
Finding River wasn’t difficult; not even she could hide from the Doctor in the TARDIS. She was in the library, which was, would be, and had always been her favorite room in the TARDIS. She was sitting at the desk, writing. The Doctor thought she might be writing the novel Amy had been reading, but when he came closer, he realized she was writing in her diary instead.
Writing . . . and crying.
The Doctor froze. This, he had not expected. He really hadn’t thought he’d find River, his River, strong River, weeping over her diary. For a moment, he considered walking away. Witnessing her grief on top of his own was too much, it threatened to undo him. But then he thought of what Amy would have to say about it, and he swallowed his discomfort.
“River,” he said, in a very low voice.
She startled and immediately swiped at her face with her hand. “Doctor,” she said, and pulled in a deep breath. She turned her face, but didn’t quite look over her shoulder him. “I didn’t notice you standing there.”
“Clearly not,” the Doctor said. “River -”
“I’m fine,” she said, sharply.
The Doctor frowned. “You’re not fine. I’m not fine, either. Why are you telling me you are?”
She shook her head. “I’ve been thinking, making some plans. I have things I need to take care of. I need to write the book, and I’ll need to set up some sort of trust they can access. They’ll need money, a place to live until they land on their feet -”
“River,” the Doctor said, a little sharply. “We will make sure they have what they need. You know I would never just abandon them there.”
She did look at him then, finally. Her eyes were red and a little swollen, and her face was tear-stained. “Doctor, I love you, but I don’t know that. You have no idea what it means to be stranded outside your own time. They have nothing.” River’s voice cracked on the last word, but somehow her facade of efficiency and competence did not crack with it. She stood, back ramrod straight. “I need to make sure they have what they need.”
“No,” the Doctor said, putting himself in front of her and gripping her by the hands. “You don’t need to. Not right this second. We have time -”
“There was never any time!” River burst out, furiously. “We never had any time, Doctor, never.”
Her voice broke, and she shoved at him, trying to get by. But the Doctor held firm, and after a few seconds of struggle River sagged against him with a gasp. The Doctor pulled her into his arms and held her tight. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry, River. I know you never had the time you should have had with them, and I’m so sorry.”
She stiffened, and the Doctor felt her shake her head against his shoulder. “I’m all right.”
“Hush,” the Doctor said, arms tightening around her. “That’s my line.”
She made a noise that might have been a laugh or might have been a sob. She buried her face in his neck and clung to him. “It’s so unfair,” she said, voice muffled.
“It is,” the Doctor said. “It’s terribly, terribly unfair. If I could change it, I would, River.”
She turned her head to the side, and when she spoke again her voice was much less muffled. “I know you would,” she whispered.
He pulled away just far enough to kiss her, tasting the salt of her tears on her lips. “I’ve missed you these last few days,” he said softly. “I don’t want to do this without you.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to see -”
“- the damage,” the Doctor finished. She nodded, avoiding his eyes. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and then to each of her eyelids. Then he pulled her close and for a long time they simply held each other. He closed his eyes and listened to the hum of the TARDIS, quieter than usual still, but ever present, ever comforting.
At last, River pulled away. She swallowed, wiped her eyes with her hand, and drew a deep breath. “We still need to do everything I said.”
“And we will,” the Doctor said. “But I think we need a break - somewhere peaceful, somewhere quiet.” Somewhere not the TARDIS, he didn’t say. There were too many memories here, for both of them.
River managed a smile. “Do you think either of us can manage something like that?”
The Doctor smiled back. It felt a little foreign after three days. “I’ve been known to, occasionally. Very occasionally.”
“I think I’ll have to see it to believe it,” River said. She leaned against him briefly, and then kissed him. “Thank you,” she murmured. “I’m sorry for -”
“Don’t,” the Doctor said. “Never apologize to me, River Song.” He pulled away. “Console room, five minutes,” he told her, spun on his heel, and left.
This is what Amy and Rory would want, he thought, mind already skipping through the possibilities. They wouldn’t want the two of them to hide away in the TARDIS, grieving, for days on end, and they certainly wouldn’t want them to hide their grief from each other. It was time to re-enter the world. It was time to hold hands and run again.