“And a last time...”
River Song wanted to weep. Oh bless, she had just wanted him to kiss her goodbye and it was... it was unthinkable, heartbreaking... how shocked he had been. The rational part of her mind was shouting at her, explaining over and over again that she knew this was going to happen eventually, now grow up and get over it! But the other part of her mind - no, her soul - it was weeping inconsolably at the loss. Her husband, her lover, he was... gone. And all that was left in his place was a man who looked like him, who had all those same mannerisms and those eyes and those flailing limbs. But who wasn’t really him. For an instant, just one moment, she hated him. And then she locked herself into her cell and gave in to the misery of losing him.
A young guard came by on his rounds, and was taken aback by the fact that his prisoner was curled up in a little ball, wedged tightly into the corner behind her bed, rocking slightly. Plenty of the prisoners were like that of course, but this one? She never had been before... she’d been friendly, usually flirtatious, and occasionally angry. But this... this was heartbreaking to watch, and he didn’t care what she had done, no-one deserved this kind of... anguish. “Doctor Song?” His voice was soft, and he took care not to come within reach of the cell; she’d fooled them before and if this was a ploy to get him to open the door... but there was no response. He tried again. “Doctor Song... can I do anything to help?” Still no response and he opened the cell door and approached her cautiously. “Doctor Song... do you need the medical cleric? I could go get him...”
For one brief moment River thought about using the poor boy’s obvious concern to make a break for it. But then... where would she go, now? Because she did have that promise to live up to, whether her love had forgotten her or not, and she intended to keep that promise. She steeled herself and looked up at him, lashes wet. “No,” she said in a rusty sort of voice, “I’m fine.” She attempted a smile, but it felt strange, false, on her face. She tried again. “I’ve just had a... a hard day.”
God, the young cleric thought, she looks dreadful. “Are you sure, Doctor Song?” he asked gently, because for the first time since he was assigned here two years ago she looked as though she wasn’t in control of herself. River Song was always in control. “Or can I help in any other way?” She shook her head, then lowered it to her up-drawn knees again. “If you’re sure...” he said doubtfully, because this was so unlike her. And he went away, locking the cell door behind him.
And finally, River wept.
“It was... unexpected.”
The Doctor wanted to weep. The look on River Song’s face. And he had put it there; she’d kissed him and it had been so unexpected, so thrilling and alarming at the same time that he had run away from her. And he had hurt her. That was clear in her face, in the frozen expression, the half-smile of agonizing pain. He was often confused about River Song, even resentful toward her, because the universe had showed him her end before their beginning. It had been different when Amy had kissed him; that had been... hero-worship on her part - her crush on an imaginary friend come to life - and he could handle that, though not gracefully. But putting that look on River Song’s face... that he couldn’t handle, and after he’d gotten Amy and Rory safely off to their bunk bed, the Doctor slumped into the jump seat and shoved one hand through his hair.
His hearts hurt and there was a lump in his throat. How could he possibly fix this? He wanted to fix it now, he couldn’t bear the memory of that look on her face, that look in her green eyes, as though everything she’d ever believed in had... crumbled away before her. She was only human; he couldn’t fix it by going back and loving her because he would never ever love a human being again. He couldn’t bear that either, to love a human and lose her. Not again. But there was nothing for it; he was a Time Lord, and he would remember that look in River’s eyes until the end of time.
River had treated him normally (for her) - teasingly flirtatious - in the adventures they had shared after (for her) this one, so she must have forgiven him. She loved him; at least she said she did, so maybe that was all it took - her loving him. But he hated the thought that he had hurt her, and it went around and around in his head, torturing him with the anguished expression in her eyes and the broken look on her face. He put his head in his hands.
And finally, the Doctor wept.
“How do I look?”
She wasn’t only human. She was human plus Time Lord. And that changed everything. Now he could go back, he could erase that dreadful expression from her face.
“I better be.”
“Yes, you’d better be.”
The Doctor knew where and when he'd better be. And he was going to be there and then right now.
“You don’t mind, do you, Old Girl?” he asked, caressing the console as he spoke. She turned on the boringers, turned off the brakes, got him exactly when and where he needed to be, where he was needed. She didn’t mind; in fact she wanted him to do this, to go to River Song and wipe that horrible aching sadness from her face. Because the Old Girl loved them both.
The Doctor left the TARDIS and walked silently to the cell, sonicking the security camera and the cell door as he went. Listening to the wracking sobs that probably drowned out the low whine of the sonic screwdriver. Aching with the need to tell her... to explain. He opened the door and stepped inside, looking for her in the intermittent gleam of flashing lightning. Oh, my sweet River, I am so very sorry, he thought despairingly as he spotted her, curled up with her head on her up-drawn knees in the tiny space between her bed and the wall. The lump in his throat was back again, months later for him, listening to the sound of absolute desolation, and he had to swallow several times before he could speak. “River.”
She didn’t move. She hadn’t heard him, or hadn’t believed it. He edged nearer, reached out to touch her hair. “River,” he said gently, “please don’t cry, my River.” He knelt by her, slid his fingers under her chin and lifted her head up from her knees. Her eyes were wet, her cheeks tear-stained, her lips trembling. But there was something in those eyes now, something shining out of them. Something that looked... hopeful. They stood, slowly, and faced each other. “River, I...” She started to speak and he put a finger to her lips. “No. Let me say this, my River Song.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve just come from Demon’s Run. And I want... I need to tell you how very ashamed I am that I ran away from you, from here... when you kissed me. Please, my lovely River, please forgive me.” This last was barely a whisper as he was overcome with emotion and longing and the need to be forgiven, and he couldn’t bear it anymore. He took River into his arms and held her, only held her, until the last of the hiccoughing sobs abated and she stood quietly in the protective circle of his embrace.
“I thought I’d lost you, my love,” River said against his neck, her voice small and soft. “And I couldn’t bear it.”
“I hurt you, my River,” he murmured into her hair, “and I ran away. Can you forgive me?”
She pulled away slightly to look at him. “Oh, shut up,” she said, and kissed him.
And this time when he ran, she ran with him.