A/N; This took longer than I thought it would at first to publish. I decided to rewrite the whole second chapter. I;m very sorry to anyone who might have been waiting, for making them wait. Anyway I'm all done fussing with it now and so up it goes!
River was laying on her bed, with her blue and green blanket pulled up somewhat carelessly over her body. Her eyes were open and she stared at the far wall of her bedroom just thinking her own complicated thoughts in silence. There were times she found, that she simply liked to take time to think of everything and nothing. Unfortunately now that she was forced to do only that, she found that she did not like it nearly as much.
Her bedroom was much cooler than she had ever noticed before, and she shivered slightly from the chill. Slowly and with some hesitation she moved to pull her blanket tighter around her. Her left hand and her lower arm though were held completely immobile in a rigid plastic brace, making it virtually useless to her at theat point, and a horribly sore and aching right side stopped her from lifting her right arm too high. For a moment she lay still, fighting to overcome a surprising amount of pain that her simple attempt at such a small motion had caused her. Slowly she took notice of her body, and realized for the first time in full consciousness just how bad of a state she was in. Her ribs ached on one side of her body, her back hurt badly, both legs were stinging and burning with pain.
She was struggling again to pull up her covers with only one good hand and limited range of motion, when the Doctor came into the room, with a plastic storage box in his hands. He promptly set it down on her nightstand. She laughed a little as he jumped lightly onto her bed and sat down carefully on the edge of it.
"Glad to see you're finally awake," he said softly, smiling at her. "I came to check on you many times in the past hours but I always found you still sleeping soundly. How you feeling?"
"A bit chilly," River answered. "Mostly I'm just a little bored."
"You should have called for me. Yeah, next time, do that. So boredom... what a sad idea that is. Who invented such a thing as boredom anyway." The Doctor's response made her laugh a little again. Clearly that's exactly what he had intended on and hoped for.
River smiled, happy just to have some company again. "So... what's in the box?"
The Doctor began to unpack the box's contents one by one and quickly, onto the nightstand within her reach. "Water bottle, reading material, Galifreyan fairy tales. I found this one in the library and thought you might be interested in it from a cultural standpoint. More reading material for you. Some silly Earth romance novels. The text communicator. You might need to call me. Paper, pen, pencil, your mp3 player. I found this on the kitchen table. Thought you might want it."
"Is there anything else you need?"
"No. At least I don't think so."
"How long was I asleep for?"
"Oh at least seven hours," the Doctor explained, as he rummaged through the packing create again and pulled out various supplies that were obviously brought with him from the medbay. "Well, you did wake up a bit once while we were on the way to your room here, but you were barely awake at all. Do you even remember that?"
"That's alright. I didn't think you would."
The Doctor, looking most apologetic all the while, took the covers off of her. She looked at him nervously but still so inclined to trust. He gently began to remove the bandages that were wrapped securely around her right lower leg. When she began to shiver slightly from the coolness of the room, he stopped immediately and wrapped her blanket around her trying to keep her as comfortable and warm as he could. She just lay still and quiet as he went back to his original task. She trusted him as much as she always had, and he found himself now, more glad and grateful than ever for that sense of trust.
"Well your leg isn't broken or anything like that fortunately," he said, explaining things as he worked. "Not even close to being broken, but it was cut pretty badly in several places. You did manage to sprain your ankle though, but it's only a sprain. Should get better quickly."
Using a clean cloth and a basin of water he had filled in her bathroom sink, the Doctor began to gently clean her deep cuts again. For only a minute or less River lay still and simply let him do so without reaction or complaint. Then she tried to sit up a bit and very unsuccessfully move again.
"No no, don't move," the Doctor said gently. "I know I'm hurting you again, and I'm sorry. I'm going to try to do this as quickly as I can. Maybe... try closing your eyes for a little while."
River didn't see any reason why her eyes being either open or closed should possibly make any difference at all, but more than anyone in the world she trusted him, so she simply followed his instruction without comment.
"I suppose we will need more travel plans in mind soon enough, hey," he said to her. "Can't always just wait around for this old ship to take us to wherever we need to be. Where would you like to go? Someplace we've never gone yet."
"Hmm..." River mumbled, somewhat miserably and uncertain at first. After only a second though an answer came to mind and she said with excitement. "The Mayan empire. I've been reading about their society and it sounds so fascinating. So different from many of the more advanced Earth civilizations throughout history. They did things in their own way with so little or no outside influence before the Europeans found them. Of course you have a time machine though. So why settle for just reading books, when we can meet the real people."
The Doctor considered silently for a minute, but quickly caught himself. If his trick of using distraction was to continue to work, he knew he needed to answer quickly. Responding as fast as he could he said seriously, "sounds a bit too dangerous."
River laughed a bit. "Yeah," she said calmly. "While they were certainly intelligent and high advanced scientifically for their time, I suppose they really might have been a bit too violent. Okay bad idea."
"Not a bad idea at all. Of course we will go someday, but not for a while yet."
"Okay, how about the last world's fair then?"
"Much better plan. Nice and safe. What could possibly go wrong there."
"Doctor, this is us. We can try for all it's worth to plan on a simple outing without all the running, but that so often never seems to happen."
"Hey, we've had a few of those kind of days. That hiking trip up in the mountains last year, or the marketplace on... hmmm I can't recall the name of that planet now right off hand. But we do seem to have about one in ten safe kind of days." The Doctor laughed a little as he continued on, this time in a far more doubtful voice. "Actually that is a pretty low number isn't it... okay, fair point you have."
As promised he was finished as quickly as possible. After a couple of minutes of neither saying anything at all, he came closer to her again and moved her gently so that he could sit behind her with her head resting on his knees. She opened her eyes again. There had been so many times that they had sat or lay on each others beds simply talking to one another, that by now such a thing was not at all odd or unforseen. He sat still, his arms resting over her shoulders lightly, hoping it would calm her as much as possible.
"In a little while, later tonight I think, I might try to get you to sit up in a chair for a short time," he said slowly and thoughtfully.
River only looked at him, obviously doubtful. She trusted him though enough to simply listen once again without comment. And she did see, once she thought about it for a moment, that he had a very valid and logical point. Horrible as it might seem to try to be up so soon, it would only really be after many hours and a good rest. Being out of bed was of course important.
"Why do I have a feeling I'm going to feel so useless in the next while," she half mused and half pouted.
"I'm sure we'll find something helpful and worthwhile for you to do," the Doctor answered with confidence. He knew her far too well to think that she could ever be happy enough just doing nothing at all instead of helping him in some way or other. "I have some studies to carry out on some plants I found on that planet we visited last week. If you like, tomorrow you can help me catalogue them all. It's easy enough to do. Just basically sitting and speaking into a recording device."
"Doctor, why did the bridge collapse? I know you said that sometimes things just happen, but I know that bridges don't just fall for no reason."
"You can remember me saying all that?"
"Yes of course I can. Why wouldn't I remember that?"
"You just seemed a bit out of it then. Nothing wrong with remembering of course, but I didn't think you really knew much of what was happening."
"What happened to the bridge?" River asked again, more determined than ever to understand a situation much bigger then she had so far been informed of.
"The bridge was blown up," the Doctor admitted slowly. He choose his words carefully and paused to gage her reaction, determined not to frighten her at all at a time when she needed more than ever to stay calm. She so far seemed fine though. she just looked up at him waiting for him to go on speaking. He went on, just as slowly. "Well not exactly the bridge itself. The supporting structures on either end and in the middle just sort of blow at the same time and with a couple of loud bangs, before the whole thing just fell into the water. The roof of course fell right on top of the bridge deck."
River looked at him silently for a moment trying to gather her thoughts toward this new understanding. Eventually she said calmly, more or less analyzing the situation than anything else, "But the Dreamland Crossing footbridge is one of Zaphera Four's famous landmarks. All fourteen of that world's great landmarks are so valued among it's people. And surely those who live on other worlds know to respect the traditions of a society that has never harmed anyone at all, and simply wants to take care of several brick and stone structures."
"Sadly this was the action of a group of people that would not have had any consideration toward such things," the Doctor admitted slowly. He looked down at the floor miserably. "I know the people responsible, or rather, I know of them. There are somewhat infamous in this region of space in this time zone. On Earth the word we may well use to describe a small group that does the things they do would be terrorists. Like everything we normally associate with acts of terrorism, this was also a very deliberate and carefully timed event."
River's eyed widened in shock as she comprehended his words. "So... someone might have actually wanted to kill me?"
"No," the Doctor answered quickly, trying to dismiss such panic ridden fears from her mind at once. He wanted to drop the matter right then and there, perhaps distract her with something else to think about, and forget that the subject had ever come up at all. But he knew her too well to think that that might work. He regretted having started the whole discussion at all, but then really he had to accept that it had not really been him that had started it. He mentally shouted at himself that he should have just lied when she asked again how the bridge collapsed, maybe told her that wear and tear and high winds had made it fall. But then he reminded himself that she was not nearly narrow minded enough to think that a stable stone bridge could fall that way, when there was not even any wind that night at all. Anyway, he knew he couldn't lie to her. He'd never been able to do that, without her somehow knowing he was lying.
"They did the best they could," he explained his voice sounding a lot calmer than he really was. He carefully wrapped both of his arms around her and held her as tightly as he safely could without hurting her. He felt so suddenly, and of course quite unrealistically, that if only he could hold onto her tightly enough he might just stop her from even leaving one day, that that perhaps that would in turn stop whatever coming event it was that obviously had yet to send them spinning through time in very opposite directions, so that they could never truly know each other again. He imagined that just maybe he could hold her tightly enough that she would never lose that innocence of young adulthood that she still held something of right then. He knew though that of course that could never happen, and she was only looking at him for that moment like he had gone mad. She wiggled a bit to loosen his hold and he knew that all he could never change the course of time that way. He was simply making her give him questioning and confused looks.
He released his hold a little and went on speaking. "They did their best to do some real damage, but for all their bad reputation, they are still thankfully pretty amature at such things. there were too many variables and some they didn't seem to count on or account for at all. They had no way of knowing I'd get distracted by anything on path leading to the bridge. They didn't you you'd be ahead of me and keep on running forward. I don't think they even knew there was anyone with me out there at all. I'm just thankful that they made the mistake of miscalculating the difficultly in completely blowing up so much of such heavy materials as stone and steel. It could have been much worse. Had they known how to cause such an explosion effectively, you wouldn't still be here."
Her eyes had been slowly closing again as she grew tired and let her trust in him keep her safe. Now they flew open again suddenly. She blinked silently several times in shocked disbelief, and without any warning at all, she burst into uncontrolled tears again. "Someone meant to kill you then? How could they... You've only ever helped so many people, so many entire societies. Don't they know of all the good you've ever done?"
"More then enough good to make enemies of anyone that's ever wished harm upon anyone that's ever been helped in the first place," the Doctor reasoned, quite logically.
If River had understood his words and his logic, which surely she did, for she was a smart and logical one herself, she made no clear indication of understanding at all. She just went on crying, her head turned a bit to one side and her tears forming a wet spot on his pant-leg. Her body trembled with her sobs of heartbreak over the thought of him nearly hurt or dead. He knew there was no way he could make her stop. She'd stop on her own, likely only after she'd exhausted herself and fallen asleep.
"There will always be someone in the universe that wants me dead, " the Doctor said with understanding, trying so hard to calm her again. He laughed a little as he said "Hey, it's a big universe and I know a lot of people."
His companion however only continued to stare at him with tear filled eyes. She sniffed and tried to stop crying. She said quietly, "just, please don't let anything bad happen to you. I know you would never stop running through all of time and space even if I asked you too, but please be careful and don't end up dead."
He could only promise to be careful. He had so often thought that he already was, but on the other hand one quick mental review of years of running head first into danger with no plan in sight, told him that perhaps she had a point. He admitted that maybe she was right after all, which actually made her laugh a bit. She mumbled something about how he so rarely admitted to having been wrong, and finally her tears stopped entirely.
"How are you feeling now?" the Doctor asked after a silent minute or two. He was concerned, quite logically, that her latest crying spell had to do with more than just the thought of possible disaster, and loss.
"I'm okay I think. Quite a bit of pain but I suppose that's not surprising."
"Is it very horrible?"
"Yes," River admitted slowly. She very quickly opened her eyes wider though and continued on speaking, trying to make her behavior completely understood. "But that's not what I'm so shaken up over. I just can't imagine you ever dying. To think that there might really be someone out there who would ever want to destroy such a perfect and wonderful person is something I could never face."
"I'm hardly perfect and I'm so often far from wonderful... I've done so many horrible things ... So much of that is unforgivable and almost unspeakable."
"I know that," River insisted boldly. "I mean, I know you've done bad before. Haven't we all. And nothing is ever unforgivable. I don't know all that you've ever done and I know you many never tell me most of it, but still I forgive you anyway."
The Doctor held out a small white pill, and made it obvious by that action that he intended for her to take it. He would listen to her of course and hear whatever it might possibly be that she had to say, but all the same he forced himself to remain on top of things and keep on top of her pain medication. He knew that she would not be truly comfortable for at least a few days, but he was determined to do the best he could. She compliantly swallowed the pill with some water from the bottle that he handed to her, but she very soon settled back into her laying position, with her head on his knees.
So many times during the years that she'd traveled with him, she had sat or lay leaning against him in some way, but typically when she was upset of afraid. He observed at that moment though for the first time that she was doing so now for a much different reason. She had nothing to be directly frightened by at that exact moment, and she was well over her recent upset. She was simply doing that because she wanted to for no real reason at all. Slowly but with a far greater boldness then she'd ever really shown before she went on speaking. "To have to understand that you are no longer a part of my life, and never will be again would be an upset so great I'm not sure I'd ever really be okay again. You say so often that you've done so many terrible things, and I believe it of course. But there are so many wonderful things too. Far more wonderful things than there could ever be terrible deeds. Doctor, it's all those countless wonderful things I've come to love..."
"River, you can't possibly mean to say..." the Doctor stumbled over his words, nearly at a loss for a reaction. "Love is a very powerful and strong word. Surely you don't mean to say you actually love me."
Although she was so obviously in pain, she smiled brightly at him and even managed to laugh a little at his shocked verbal stumbling. "Yes."
"But you can't," the Doctor protested somewhat helplessly. "You are so young. Still barely more than a child. You can't possibly understand what love is."
"Of course I can. And I'm far more than a child."
"You've been through so much in just a few hours. Pain and medication and of course a good fright, can do funny things to the mind..."
River laughed a little and smiled at him again. Slowly and seriously she said, "It's not like that at all. Doctor I know exactly what I'm saying." The Doctor knew, without further pushing his argument, that once again she really did mean exactly what she said.
"Oh, this is very much not a good idea," he muttered far more to himself than to her. He doubted very much that she even heard him. She was already carefully thinking over the words she might say next. Instead of speaking though, she closed her eyes and looked like she might simply fall asleep. She was of course in a very weakened state due to her very recent injuries, and the pain medication didn't do that situation any favors in the least.
The Doctor sat for a long moment, lacking any heart to move her and get up, though he knew that he should do so. He tried to think over the latest little situation he'd clearly found himself in and found much to his dismay that he could barely think straight at all. He'd had so many companions over the years who thought they loved him. He'd simply direct their affections back to the places they rightfully belonged, and overall things always worked out as they were supposed to. But he knew full well that with River it was different. She truly meant it. He could tell that much from her actions and words alone.
He remembered her future self all too well when he allowed himself to think of her from time to time. It was so perfectly obvious that she must have first come to love him at some point in her life. Still though even armed with the knowledge of what might inevitably happen one day, he had never expected such a thing so soon. And River was currently still so young and inexperienced at living a life of her own at all.
For a moment he thought that perhaps he should send her away for a while. She would be furious with him at first of course, but slowly he reasoned, she might make new connections and find the one she was meant to love... someone that was certainly not him. He couldn't do that though and with only a quick thought he know that. She really had nowhere to go, and for all intents and purposes at that time, no family to take her in. He would not have even had a clue what point in time to leave her in. Anyway, he didn't really want to leave her behind anywhere at all. He knew that would nearly destroy both of them.
It was clear, when he finally forced himself to stop his frantic thoughts and admit to something so simple, that he was only trying without hope of success, to run form the future he'd already caught glimpses off years before. He may have had a few objections in the current moment of course, but how could he run from things he had already seen so clearly spelled out for him in a time of his past and her future. The Doctor knew that of all people, he should and did know that it just wasn't meant to work like that. He couldn't change that future and he wasn't sure he really and truly wanted to.
He looked at his nearly sleeping young companion, laying still and as comfortable as was possible in her current state of health. Very slowly and careful he moved to get up from her bed. For a second her hand tried to grab a hold of his jacket sleeve again and she mumbled a bit without saying anything coherent. Quickly she settled again into stillness and lightly slept. The Doctor watched her for a moment before turning away to tidy up her room a bit. He knew he had managed to save her this time and for that he was more grateful than ever. It would take a while, but she would be perfectly fine.
The Doctor shook his head slightly to shake off the memories of freezing water, and his companion screaming for help as an increasing amount of blood became visible and obvious nearby. It had been only by a stroke of luck that he had managed to pull her quickly but gently from the water, as wreckage continued to fall overhead. Quick thinking as always, had likely been the only thing that really allowed him to act quickly enough. Of course a crowd of terrified natives had began to gather at the edge of what had once been the famous walking bridge over the small lake. Some had screamed at him, angry, and in their confusion blaming him for the whole disaster. Many though had simply taken notice of the battered, bloody, soaking wet and shaking companion he carefully carried in his arms, and looked at them both with compassion.
A few had tried to take her from him, clearly only intending to help, but he had held her tighter and stood feeling more helpless than he could recall feeling in such a long time. He was far more protective of her than he had even been of any other companion he had taken along with him, and of course he so often thought he had been protective of all of them. Needless to say he had refused, quite beyond logical reason to hand her off to anyone. As he looked down at his sleeping young friend now, he only vaguely remembered trying to calmly explain to the group of well intentioned natives that he knew he could help her best himself because he understood best how to.
It wasn't entirely a case of mistrusting the people of the somewhat less advanced world, or of doubting their knowledge of health and healing practices. He recalled in fact, that he had so seriously considered the benefits of allowing for help. But at the same time, he knew that if she woke up, she would be completely terrified even under the best of circumstances. He had only held onto her much tighter as he kept walking quickly, unable to even try to face the thought of entrusting her care to anyone else at all. Her protected so much still, he reflected somewhat in a state of wonder. But he knew it could not possibly be long now before it would seem it was her that was so often trying so hard to protect him.
He didn't leave her room all too quickly this time. Instead he sat in the blue armchair that his companion so often liked to curl up in to read, and waited patiently for her to wake up again. She was only sleeping, not gone from his life at all, and yet already he knew he missed her company. He sat for a while, before getting up again and getting to work reorganizing her book shelves. He wondered for a moment why he should want to do that when they were already tidy, she could obviously do a good job of arranging her own room, and he was going to reprogram the room soon anyway and that would mean moving out all the things that would be put back inside. After considering those things though, he simply shook his head in slight confusion and went back to rearranging her books anyway.
River woke up after a couple of hours, and sleepily questioned him on his motives for cleaning her room. He was now in the middle of rearranging the closet. He turned back to look at her with a cheerful laugh, and stood up quickly.
"Just thought I might do a little straightening up." The Doctor hurried over to her. "Feeling better after a bit more rest?"
"Yeah I do."
He helped her to sit herself up a bit in her bed, leaning on a few extra pillows he had dragged out of a storage closet earlier. For a little while the two of them just chatted about little things of no real importance at all. Her offered her some toast and a glass of juice, which he had quickly fetched from the kitchen not long before either, and she gratefully accepted it, surprised that she was actually hungry.
"Doctor," she said a short time after, "Do you think I could get up for a little while?"
"I think you could," he answered slowly. He was of course both pleased and surprised that she was willingly asking to do that without him having to convince her to try. "How do you feel though sitting up like that? Not dizzy or anything?"
The Doctor very slowly and carefully helped his companion sit on the edge of her bed with her feet resting lightly on the floor. Sitting up completely with nothing behind her to lean against tired her out a lot and made her feel lightheaded, but she was nevertheless determined to keep trying. When he gently held her by the arms she very slowly stood up on her feet. She could barely put any weight on one leg at all, her good hand held one of his arms tightly for balance, and standing up of course caused her pain level to increase a fair amount. It was for worse than she might have imagined, and she was still in a weaker state than she had thought, but considering the many dangers she had faced in years of traveling with the Doctor, the slight possibility of falling into a carpeted floor seemed small and insignificant. Anyway, she knew he would never let her fall.
The normally simple act of getting up from her bed and moving to sit in her nearby armchair suddenly seemed like a great accomplishment. She knew immediately though that the Doctor was right in his thinking once again. Somehow, sitting in the chair she so often used for reading or contemplating, made her feel a bit better than just laying in her bed. The realization as early as the next day she may well be able to sit for longer and actually do something useful, made her happy.
"Doctor," she said suddenly, thinking more and more coherently all the time, thinking of a bigger picture than ether had paid much attention too since her accident. "What will happen to the people of Zaphera Four now?"
The Doctor looked at her from where he sat on her bed. "What do you mean?"
"Well they were the other innocent victims in all this. Is there anyone who will help them rebuild the bridge at Dreamland crossing?"
"Oh they will do that themselves. That's what the do. They maintain landmarks. Oh course this does go beyond simple maintainese..."
"Can we go and help them one day soon? I imagine in a couple of months at most I'll be completely better. And your ship can travel through time."
"Of course we can go and help if you want to, but are you sure you really want to go back there after all that's happened?"
"Why not? Doctor, the least we could do is help some innocent people in need of some assistance. Anyway, knowing them as I do, I'm sure they must have been concerned for us."
The Doctor only nodded his head slowly. River was showing her true strength of character in that moment, and just to hear her do so at such a time made him proud of her once again. She could have wanted to run away so fast, and he have so willingly let her. He knew that in the years to come there would be so many times she would beg him to please run away from certain situations himself.
"River?" he said quietly, looking at her and half dreading any response she might give from that point on. She only looked at him, and waited for him to go on speaking. With a certain amount of forced nerve, he asked her, "did you really mean what you said before? Not about helping those natives. Before you went back to sleep you said..."
"Of course I meant it. Doctor, you've always accepted me no matter what I did or thought or felt. I'm weak and I know that..."
"River you aren't weak at all." the Doctor protested, but his companion only silenced him with a quick motion of her hand.
"I am though. I know that so many others have travels with you over the years. You've told me stories or so many of them, remember? I know I'm nothing like they all were, Those brave and mouthy people could do so much. They were as much a force of power as you are yourself at times. But me... I never could do anything they did. Too shaky... too nervous and unsure. You might have been right when you said I;m still little more than a child. I'm so far behind in learning self control."
"Whatever it was that you faced in childhood, your mind is still recovering from," the Doctor explained calmly. "The recurring flashbacks tell us that. It's only to be expected that in some ways you might still be a little bit behind."
"I know, I know... but..."
"You won't always be this way." The Doctor looked at his friend for a moment saying nothing more. River, the one he knew first, the older version, had always been far better at keeping his so far unlived life secret from him, far better than he ever was at keeping hers secret from her. In the current moment, looking at her and seeing her so clearly distressed and openly frustrated, he wanted so much to tell her all about her future self. He wanted to explain that it was for a fact that he knew she would be so much strong than she could ever imagine, and so much braver and smarter and adventurous than anyone else he knew. He wished he could tell her that she would one day make a Dalek beg for mercy with only an energy weapon and the mention of her own name, or that she jump out of an open airlock right into space, wait for him to catch her, and in the end find the whole thing simply amusing. But he knew he could never tell her any of that. She would have to live it for herself when the time came. There was a reason that her future self had always kept life's biggest 'spoilers' unexplained.
"The point is that you've always just accepted the way I am. It's never been questioned or put down or made me less that what you always called a wonderful person. How could I not love someone for such unconditional acceptance among so many other things?" River yawned as soon as she finished speaking. For a second she closed her eyes, before she caught herself and opened them again, to look at the Doctor sleepily.
She was exhausted from the effort of simply sitting up for roughly twenty minutes. He could see that much just by looking at her. Very slowly and carefully he helped her back into her bed. She didn't offer any protest at all. She simply walked the few steps, let herself fall somewhat gratefully into her bed, and lay still and quiet while he covered her up in her blue and green blanket.