River hated this. She hated when he pulled out the less-savoury things he'd done and flung them at her like weapons, as evidence he didn't deserve to be loved. She'd done horrible things herself - and the wonderful things he'd done far outweighed the bad (at least by her way of thinking) - but he never seemed to accept these facts as valid.
The Doctor hated doing this to her. But he wanted River to be safe as long as she could - until she went to the Library - and he couldn't think of a better way than to keep her away from his mad and dangerous life. Of course, this way didn't seem to be working very well either, because she just kept loving him anyway, no matter how little he deserved it.
So when she showed up on the TARDIS - again - he was furious with her. Why wouldn't she just stay away? Couldn't she see that he just wanted to protect her, to keep her safe, and that her insistence on coming to find him on the flimsiest pretexts was just risking herself? And why did she have to be so calm? Why couldn't she rant at him the way he did at her? He wanted to shout and rage at her, to ask her why, why wouldn't she just stay away? But she was just so calm, standing there looking at him, with unshed tears in her eyes and her wild hair making a halo around her head, just standing there watching him, and now he was shouting at her, "Why won't you just leave, River, just stay away from me, just get out!"
But she just stood there, the tears trickling down her cheeks now. "I can't. Please don't make me go. Please." It infuriated him. Why wouldn't she just go?
"River, don't be stupid. I don't want you. Just go away." The Doctor turned his back on her, as if in disgust at her stupidity. He had turned away deliberately, said those awful things, rejected her out of hand, intending to hurt her. I made his hearts ache to treat her this way, but maybe... maybe if he hurt her, she would leave. She had to get out, she wasn't safe with him. I only want you to be safe.
River stared at him, so aghast at what he had said that she was shocked out of her tears. She stood for a moment, her mouth open as though to plead with him, but then she snapped it shut and pivoted on her heel, striding toward the door. If he doesn't want me, then... she couldn't finish the thought, her mind shied away from it. She knew he didn't entirely trust her, and she knew he didn't love her... yet... but if he actually hates me... Again she flinched away from the thought, as though thinking it would make it true. She wrenched open the TARDIS door and stumbled out into the corridor of Stormcage.
And the Time Lord wept as he ventured into the universe alone.
"Please don't do this, Old Girl," the Doctor pleaded with the TARDIS' Voice Interface a quarter-hour later. "Please, I can't... I can't bear it."
The TARDIS was implacable. She was going to use this image for her voice interface until the Doctor went to retrieve River Song. She'd brought him here to Stormcage, moments after they'd left, brakes off and invisibility on, knowing that River would be here, and she refused to move until her Doctor and her daughter actually talked with each other. And she'd keep her voice interface looking like River until he gave in. No matter that it hurt him; it would force him to go get River. Eventually. But the TARDIS was patient. She had all the time in the universe.
"Why are you doing this to me?" the Doctor asked, "Why, Old Girl?"
"You are injuring the model for this Voice Interface," the image of River said, the wooden tone contrasting with the riot of curls, "You must make amends."
This was killing him. Why were they torturing him like this? "Oh, all right!" he snapped, "I'll bring her back here! If you're going to force the issue, maybe I can make you both see sense!" He knew he was behaving badly, but he was beyond caring who he hurt - even his TARDIS - in his obsession with keeping River safe. She was safe there in Stormcage; she might not like it but at least she was safe.
Maybe if he kept telling himself that, he might even believe it.
River was huddled in the corner of her cell by the cot, weeping. She hated this about herself, this tendency to sob like a baby without her favourite toy. She liked to think of herself as tough, and she was accustomed to being Mels, who actually was fairly tough, and so this newer - yet older - body's inclination to tears annoyed her. And being annoyed was better than the thoughts going in circles in her head, the ones she'd been trying - and failing - to avoid. She'd been so confident that it would merely take time for her to earn his love, his trust, but now... now he didn't want her; he'd said so, and he certainly didn't trust her, he couldn't even bear to have her around like any other companion. He just wanted her gone, he'd said so, and... and...
...and so she wept, curled up in a ball on the floor of her cell.
The Doctor opened the door of the TARDIS, hesitantly, peering out at her cell. He couldn't see her. Damn it, she's supposed to be safe here, he thought frantically, where has she gone?
And then he heard it, heard the sound of River weeping inconsolably, and he groaned with mingled relief and despair. He stepped out of the TARDIS, flicking his sonic at the security camera and then at the cell door. He crept toward the sound, and when he came to where he could see her through the gloom, huddled in a little ball on the floor, wedged between her bed and the wall, he nearly wept again himself at the thought of what have I done to her?. "River?" It was a whisper, and he cleared his throat. "River?" She didn't even seem to hear him, so he sat on the bed near her curled position on the floor and tried again. "River?" She flinched away from his voice and he reached out to her involuntarily, stopping himself just before he touched the wild halo of her hair. He'd lost - thrown away - the right to touch her, and he knew he would have to earn it back. He swallowed convulsively, trying to clear the lump from his throat, and tried again. "River? River, please. Don't do this... come back, and we'll talk." There were tears in his eyes too now. "Please, River, come with me. Please." He stood and held out a hand to her.
"Why did you come back?" River's voice was hoarse with tears, and she wouldn't look at him. "If you don't w-want me, and you can't even b-bear to have me near you, why did you come back? Just to hurt me some more?" Her voice was rising now and she began to wring her hands desperately. "Well? Why did you come back? Why?" She stood to meet his eyes and now she was shouting at him. "Is that how you get your jollies, Time Lord? Just dazzling people and then dropping them? Is it?" She screamed this last into his face and slapped him, hard, as hard as she one day would in that diner in America, the day she would watch him die. And then she turned away, ashamed at her loss of self control, afraid he would hurt her again, and he just stood there looking at her. How can he just stand there, she thought, just stand there as though I hadn't touched him? Is he really so cold that he can just stand there watching me?
She started when he spoke, his voice quiet and sad. "It's not how I 'get my jollies.'" At least I hope it's not. "Please come back to the TARDIS with me, River; the guards will come to see what all the shouting's about." And he turned and walked back to the spot where the TARDIS, invisible, was parked. He opened the door and turned back to her, held out his hand. "Please?"
River stood against the wall of the TARDIS, across the console room from the Doctor, regarding him cautiously. She was not sure what to expect from him; she'd screamed at him and... and hit him... and she didn't know how he would react. She had thought he'd do something, shout at her again, maybe even slap her back, something... but he just stood at the TARDIS controls, doing... nothing much. Not that it mattered much what he did to her to retaliate, but oh, the thought that he didn't care at all... not even enough to be angry with her... it hurt... it hurt so much that the pain was physical, so she slid down the wall and drew her knees up, watching him warily over the tops of them.
The Doctor stood at the console, with one eye on it and one on River. He cursed himself internally again. If he had realized how... fragile... she was this early in her regeneration as River Song, he would never - he hoped he would never - have treated her like that. She looked so frightened sitting curled up there, and frightened was not a word he had ever associated with River Song. He had thought of her as his River, the brash and confident woman he'd known... but she wasn't. Not yet. He had assumed she would get angry and leave and be safe... at least for a while. But while she was this young, this scared - terrified of him - he had very nearly broken her entirely, and his hearts ached for her as he tried desperately to figure out how to fix this. He'd level with her, but he'd have to be very very careful not to frighten her any more.
The Doctor sighed, without looking at River, and crossed to the chair he kept to one side of the console. Closer to her than he had been, but not so close as to make her flinch away again. He slumped into the chair and tiredly crossed one leg over the other, shoving his hair back with one hand and then dragging the hand over his face, looking exhausted. What to do... how can I help her...? He took a deep breath, and said, quietly, without looking at her, "I'm sorry, River." She started a bit, but stayed where she was, watching him over her drawn-up knees. "I was trying to protect you, trying to push you away from me, so you would be safe." He risked a glance at her. Her chin had come up off her knees and she was listening. Good. "The universe is a dangerous place, River, and it seems to be more so around me. I was just trying to keep you safe, and hurting you seemed like the surest way." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I'm sorry."
He has tears in his eyes, River thought, it's like he does care how I feel. Maybe... maybe he's telling the truth, and he really was trying to protect me. She stood up, a little shakily, but stayed near the wall, away from him. She hoped he could see the truth in her eyes as she spoke. "You say the universe is a dangerous place," she said, her voice just above a whisper, "but the universe can only kill me. You have the power to crush my soul." She closed her eyes, not sure whether he would lash out again, but bracing herself in case he did.
So she was startled when all he did was touch her shoulder gently. So gently, as though he was afraid she would break in his hands. She opened her eyes and looked at him, standing so close that she could see the track on his face where a tear had fallen. The hand on her shoulder crept slowly under her chin, one finger tipping it up so he could see her face more clearly. What he saw there distressed him; she still looked so pale and a bit scared and ready to fight or flee... he wasn't sure which. So, very slowly - almost tentatively - he put his arms around her, and just stood, breathing in the spicy-sweet scent of her hair.
They stood there, his arms around her shoulders, hers tensely at her sides. "River... I... I was wrong," he said lamely, "I said those things in the hopes that I could make you angry; keep you safe, away from me. But I was wrong."
She relaxed minutely. "Yes, you were. You were very wrong." Her voice was rising again as she regained some of her customary bravado, "My safety is not your decision to make! If you think I'm in danger, tell me. We can work on it together. But don't manipulate me that way again. Please." The please was not as, well, pleading as it had been earlier - it seemed more exasperated than terrified - and he smiled inwardly, relieved that she was recovering from her shock and grief and fear.
His arms tightened around her and he pressed his lips gently against her forehead. "River, I know you can't stay..." She shook her head. "And I never wanted you to go... I just thought-" She put one hand over his lips.
"Shh... I'll stay when I can, if you will let me go when I must." He nodded and she slid the hand from his mouth and wrapped her arms around his waist, nestling against his shoulder and closing her eyes, feeling safe for the first time in hours.
"River," he murmured into her hair, "You have become so precious to me... so very pre-"
And then she was kissing him, almost shyly at first, and oh, she was so sweet and warm... and here safe with him after all... and his knees went weak as they deepened the kiss.
And the TARDIS hummed on through the night, with her Time Lord and his Lady safe in her embrace.