The Doctor had never been good with loss. As Amy faced the Angel, River prepared herself for the real possibility that she might have to keep the Doctor from interfering. This was Amy’s choice. She was the only one who had the right to decide whether to take the risk, but it was a risk that the Doctor didn’t want to allow her.
River wished she could remind the Doctor that they met in the wrong order. If only she could tell him that she had seen his future and knew what it held. He would move past this point, as he always did, and find that the future wasn’t nearly as dark as it seemed now. But … spoilers. And even if River hadn’t known the way it would all work out, she would have fought for Amy’s right to choose.
And choose Amy did. She chose Rory, just as she had when the Dream Lord had forced the choice.
Suddenly it didn’t matter to the Doctor that they had defeated the Angels’ scheme. It didn’t matter that the gravestone revealed that Rory and Amy had obviously ended up together, just as they had wanted. In the Doctor’s eyes, he had lost, and the Angels had won.
River did what she could to help the Doctor, but it wasn’t enough. He was obviously depressed. In the first few days, he made several attempts to ascertain how River was doing. Perhaps if they’d been able to share their grief and mourn together, his plunge down into the depths of despair might have been avoided. But River couldn’t do that, not with a Doctor who knew her so well. The Doctor followed her example.
At first, he would try to manically cover his grief with activity and endless talk about nothing that mattered. But over the next week, he spent more and more time lost in a deep funk. River’s attempts to draw him out failed. More often than not, he snapped at her or muttered about hypocrites under his breath. It felt like the more she did to try to help the Doctor the unhappier he became. River suspected that the Doctor wasn’t just grieving, but wallowing in feelings of guilt.
As the week drew to a close, River was ready to leave. She couldn’t do any more for the Doctor, but he certainly wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be going on adventures. He accepted her suggestion that he might like to visit the Paternoster gang. As she prepared to leave, River hugged him, but the Doctor stood stiffly in her arms, making no effort to reciprocate.
River started to walk to the TARDIS doors, but then remembered the issue of Rory’s and Amy’s parents. She was afraid to bring the subject up, but she was far more afraid that the Doctor might feel duty-bound to go and tell at least Brian Williams about his loss. She couldn’t let him do that, and so she told him not to worry, that she would take care of it.
The Doctor looked at her silently for a moment. “You do that. Goodbye, River.” There was a note of finality to what he said, and it hurt, even if she did know that his feelings wouldn’t last. River turned to go, because she had learned early in life that you never let them see you cry.
During one of their previous visits in which the Doctor was well past the Ponds’ loss, they had been syncing their diaries, and the Doctor had asked if she had already done Chokaphler. She hadn’t, but after they had parted, she had looked at the planet’s historical records and found one event that would have warranted the Doctor’s involvement. She had made careful note of it in the back of her diary as a place that she might be able to track the Doctor down if she needed him.
River made the jump with her vortex manipulator. After a moment, she turned around to orient herself and spotted the Doctor sprawled out on the grass several meters away with his head now turned toward her. He seemed to be on the outskirts of some sort of impromptu celebration that involved food and dancing.
“Hello, River!” the Doctor exclaimed as he scrambled to his feet. He was wearing the clothing that he had changed to during his prolonged stay in Victorian England. That meant he had already lost Amy and Rory, but it didn’t tell her how long ago that was.
“I just spent a very difficult week with you on the TARDIS post-Manhattan,” River began.
“All past that now,” the Doctor said as he came up to her.
“I didn’t know what to say to you,” River said quietly. It was an admission of failure.
The Doctor reassured her, “You did the best you could without endangering the future. I wouldn’t have had you risk this future for a few moments’ comfort.” River relaxed into her husband’s embrace. It was just what she needed after the stress of the previous week. Living a marriage out of order was never easy. Of course, she had never wanted easy, but this past week had been dreadful.
The events of the miserable post-Manhattan week were well known to both of them, and not a time either cared to dwell in. As they sat down on the grass, River asked him about his adventure. At first, the Doctor spoke quietly with his arm around her, but after a few minutes, he had become more animated and had just begun to gesticulate with his other arm in a way that had River considering ducking under his arm and scooting to safety. They were interrupted before it became necessary.
“Oi! Weren’t you even going to say hello?” River turned her head toward Amy who was striding across the open space, with Rory at her side. They were both visibly just a little bit older than when River had seen them at Manhattan.
“You look awful,” Amy said as she gave her a hug. “When did you see us last?”
“I’m one week post-Manhattan,” River replied.
“All spent with him?” Amy asked with her eyebrow raised. When River nodded, Amy turned and whacked the Doctor on the arm.
“Ow!” the Doctor exclaimed indignantly. “What was that for?”
“You take a look at my daughter who just came back from a week with you, you big lump!”
“But, Amy,” the Doctor complained, “you already heard me apologize when River brought you back. Didn’t she, Rory?” River’s eyebrows rose at that; she hadn’t been aware that she had been the one to rescue her parents.
“Yes, but I hadn’t seen what you were apologizing for! Tell him that, Rory!”
As the Doctor and Amy bickered and Rory tried not to get involved, River couldn’t help but laugh. As the “argument” quickly ended after that, she had the feeling that both parties had been staging it for that exact purpose.
River smiled to see them together again. She couldn’t imagine having to deal with the Angels sending her parents back if she hadn’t known that there’d be a way out. She’d had that comfort at least, but the Doctor had had nothing but his grief.
If only she could have told him that he would see his precious Ponds again. That the fact they had to die in Manhattan didn’t mean they had to live there. That he had lost only a battle to the Angels, but won the war.