the golden pavements laid in requiems,
Some days nobody lives.
Some days are as far from miraculous as it is possible to get and those are the days she knows he wishes he had no one there, no witnesses, no comforting words, no tears tracking down the faces of friends who can't understand that he doesn't always win.
She can still smell the sulphur and ash, the burning smell of hissing flesh and crackling bone. She can still hear the screams, because violent deaths are never quiet. They entered the TARDIS exhausted, a sooty, filthy, sweaty mess of barely restrained emotions. There had been no last minute rescue, no miraculous save, only a sacrifice and an impossible choice they'd been required to make – loud implosions and raging fires and people screaming, crying and falling and falling in slow motion until they made impact with the ground.
She'd gone first – first to push herself off the ground, first to walk back inside because this had been a peaceful planet until twenty minutes ago, and the locals could only stare in shock and horror. He'd shouted her name once, before plunging into the ash and soot after her. She can still feel the heat from the fire on her face, the eerie yellow-orange lighting flickering across their faces as they started the search for survivors.
Rory had organized triage. Amy had pushed people into fire fighting duties until the local fire department had finally shown. But only she and the Doctor had sifted through ash and rubble, searching for survivors and finding corpse after corpse. There had been a handful saved. She found herself hoping that they made it – that someone fought their way to a happy ending, but she wouldn't be around to see it.
He didn't speak the entire walk back to the TARDIS. Didn't look at them, didn't acknowledge their existence, and didn't even send them off to their next destination. Instead he disappeared into the bowels of his ship, and Amy and Rory look to her, tears and sweat and soot smeared all over their exhausted faces.
"Will he-" Amy's the first to whisper into the silence around them and River shakes her head shortly.
"I'll get us out of here. He..." she shrugs because what can she say? It is clear that this is the first for them – the first devastating, large-scale loss. "You should get some rest." She says instead, flicking switches and sending them into the vortex silently.
"But what about you?" Rory questions, before glancing over at her with concern. "What about him?"
"All those people." Amy whispers and her face is blank, even when Rory wraps and arm around her.
"I'll take care of him, don't worry. We've done this before. You need to take care of her – she's in shock." River's voice is low as she speaks to her father and he nods, his arm tightening around his wife. He doesn't move right away though.
"How many times before?" His voice is low and strained and she feels tears sting her eyes as she glances over at him.
"He can't always win. No one can. He's not a miracle or a god – he's just a man." She feels fiercely protective of the man who has left them alone, and even though she loves her father, her hackles rise and she bristles with indignation.
"Okay," Rory backs off at her tone, holding a hand up in placation. "Okay. I just – are you okay?"
She avoids his gaze and looks up at the monitor. "I will be." She hedges, and he seems to accept that this is all the answer he'll get. Amy still doesn't speak as he leads her up the stairs and down the corridor to their room. She lets out a breath when she is alone, a sob choked in the back of her throat and she presses a shaking hand to her mouth. She only allows herself a moment, because she needs to find the Doctor. She lands them silently, and moves down the corridor herself, following the path he took earlier.
It should be difficult to find him – this ship is limitless but she is also sentient and understands River's quest, so she actually finds him rather quickly. He isn't even in a room, just slumped against a wall in the corridor as if he had run as far and as fast into the ship as he could, and just stopped. She walks up behind him, sliding her hands over his shoulders lightly.
They rise and fall under her palms, and she knows how hopeless he is feeling just by the measure of how low they sink. He doesn't look at her, so she slips her hand into his and pulls him along behind her. When she glances over her shoulder she can read the reluctance on his face clearly, but he isn't objecting or refusing to follow her so she leads him through the console room and to the doors of the TARDIS where he finally slides to a halt, pulling her back.
"River." His voice is tired, worn down and she looks at him, releasing his hand and stepping into his personal space. She cradles his face in her hands and waits for him to meet her gaze. The pain present in his eyes when he does makes her breath catch in her throat, because seeing him hurt makes her own pain that much worse.
"Trust me." It's two simple words but he pauses, searching her face for a moment before he nods slightly. She leads him out of the doors and they close with a snap behind them. They are in the middle of a forest, and it is lit with silver light from the three moons above them, situated in a sky that is drenched with stars. Neither of them look up. He is silent as she walks him along the familiar path until they round the bed and come upon a pool of silver water, with a sheer rock face stretching above it. She stops then, and turns to him with a look. "You know where we are." It isn't a question and he swallows.
"Of course I do-"
"But we haven't been here before?" She asks gently even as she is reaching for him, pushing his tweed coat off of his shoulders and looking up at him for permission to continue. He is frowning in confusion and she knows that that is a no. "Do you trust me Doctor?"
"Of course I do, River." His voice sound small in the quiet stillness around them and her hearts ache with the sound of it, but she starts to untie his bowtie and drops that on top of his coat before sliding his braces gently over his arms. When she reaches for his buttons, his hands grasp her wrists, stilling her movements. "This isn't going to help." He releases his hold on her and she looks up at him solemnly.
"It won't hurt either, just... this isn't the first time I've been here, sweetie. Just go with it." She unbuttons as she speaks, and peels his shirt from his shoulders as he stands there with his arms hanging by his sides, not moving. She pauses then, pulling her own dress over her head and shedding her own clothes brusquely, because this isn't about anything sexual. Not this – not now. Her hands move to unbutton his trousers and she can feel his gaze on her even as she pushes the rest of his clothing down around his knees, waiting for him to toe off his boots before he kicks away his trousers and pants. She takes his hand again and leads him to the edge of the pool, and they step in together.
It is warm, and as they wade in she knows he's studying the composition of the liquid, because he's just realizing it's not water. "Oh." He breathes the word out and watches the silver liquid rise up and around their bodies, higher and higher until it is just above her breasts. She turns to him then, moving in close to him and watching the way the moonlight sketches his face in sharp relief, deeply shadowed. "Do we normally do this?" His question is a mixture of curiosity and embarrassment and she shushes him as she cups her hands and lifts the liquid and lets it course over his shoulders. She smoothes her hands along his cool skin, moving as if she is washing him, despite the lack of soap or water.
"Not always." She finally speaks, moving behind him to spread liquid across his neck and back, her hands making smooth, calming sweeps across his shoulder blades and down his spine. "But sometimes." She steps in front of him again, dipping her hands in the liquid and running her fingers through his hair, her nails lightly scratching his scalp. Other than her hands, she is not touching him in any other way and he bows his head toward her, making it easier for her to reach. She sighs and she feels his breath tremble across the bare skin on her shoulders.
"These days," he starts but she stops him with a finger tracing silver across his lips and another shushing sound.
"I know, my love." His head lifts at her words, and he sees the tears in her eyes. "Not just today. All the days. And they catch up to you – and it hurts, and I know that. All those lives. All those losses." Tears are in his eyes now and she traces patterns in gleaming silver across his forehead and cheeks, swirling circles down his neck as she traces gallifreyan words for love and comfort, passion and sorrow, apology and forgiveness over and over across every inch of skin she can reach. "But you mustn't forget the wins, sweetie. You mustn't forget the lives saved. And I know that's difficult sometimes. Days like today – it's difficult to remember, and harder to forget."
She takes his hands in hers then, cupping them with her own and lifting liquid to her own shoulders. He swallows sharply, but continues on without her assistance, repeating her earlier actions. He trickles silver liquid over her shoulders and arms, smoothes his large palms down along her arms, his fingers smoothing the smudges of dirt and ash from her skin. He circles behind her, his hands dragging along her shoulder blades and spine, and he stays behind her as he pulls his fingers through her hair. She steps ahead of him and bends back, wetting her own hair – because it would take far too long otherwise, and when she straightens, his hands delve straight back into the now wet curls. For the first time that day, she lets herself cry, her eyes closed and her head tilted back as his fingers tangle through her hair.
She turns in his arms, facing him once more and he looks down at her, his thumbs brushing across her cheeks, wiping the tears away and leaving rivulets of silver in their wake. He opens his mouth to say something, but stares at her perplexedly instead. He simply pulls her closer, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her neck and shoulder instead. When she slides her own arms around his back, wrapping him up just as tightly as he's wrapping her up, she feels his shoulders shaking with finally released grief and she strokes his back, making soft noises in the back of her throat. The pool laps at their skin and she presses her frame into his, as if by slotting her bones beneath his, she can share the weight of this burden – sorrows halved between them.
She cries with him, but silently, pressing her lips to his wet hair and uttering words in his language – all the words she'd traced into his skin earlier. His arms tighten around her with each utterance, and her ribs ache, but she doesn't care. These moments are born of shared grief but they sooth her hearts more than any other moments they ever share. These are the moments she knows she loves him with every inch of her being – down to the bottom of her very soul, because offering him this comfort is what eases the ache within her own hearts.
Time stops, and she can hear his muffled, strangled breaths against her skin – a staccato rhythm underneath her softly whispered words. Eventually his shoulders shake less, and his breathing calms, but he doesn't move from his position, he simply turns his face into her neck more fully and listens to her voice. She continues to talk to him in his own language, her hands still moving across his back, her fingers writing two words over and over again.
His arms loosen and she can breathe more fully, feeling a bit light headed from the effort, but she doesn't complain. He pulls back to stand up, and stares down at her quietly. His hand reaches up and he traces the bridge of her nose, before sliding his finger across the crest of her cheekbone, over her ear and down her jaw. He traces the line of her mouth gently before leaning down and brushing his mouth against her cheeks, rapid, light kisses that are removing any residual tears. Her hands have stilled, landing on his shoulders and staying there, steadying her in his arms. He swallows as he pulls back, looking at her with a quiet reverence. "Thank you." His voice is a rough whisper and she nods in acceptance.
"It's better to share it. Makes it easier. You told me that right here, a long long time ago." Her voice is soft and his brow wrinkles as his hand slides over her shoulders and down her back. He pulls her closer once more until his skin is pressed against hers and she presses a kiss to his chest, over his right heart.
"Joys doubled and sorrows halved." He whispers the words into her hair, and she nods, turning her face into his chest until her cheek is laid flat there, and she can hear the beating of his hearts. She closes her eyes in contentment and listens to the rhythm. It feels like there is no one in the entire universe but them, and she revels in it. "I don't know what to say."
"Don't say anything then." She points out simply and he laughs suddenly, his chest shaking and she lifts her head to smile up at him. "Is that funny? I know it's not likely, but it is an option, you know."
He shakes his head, leaning down and kissing her softly. Their mouths meet and mingle slowly, without any sense of urgency but there is a sweetness that can only come from moments like this one. The aftermath. "I love you." The words are whispered millimetres from her mouth, and her lips tilt and curve deeply as she feels her hearts lift.
"I know." She acknowledges simply and he laughs again, because she does know, just like he'll already know the first time she ever says those words to him too. Also, coincidentally, standing just as they are now. She likes that – likes the eternity of it, their own little ritual. "I love you too." She adds as an afterthought and wraps her arms around his waist.
"I know." His arms tighten around her, and they both tilt their head up to look at the sky above them, saturated in starlight, the moons hung heavy over their heads. They're able to appreciate the beauty of it all a little better now. "I've always known."
"Good." She whispers, hugging him tightly. "I'm glad."
"Me too." He presses a kiss to her upturned face, his lips cold against her cheek. "Me too."