"Oh, sweetie, you are a mess."
This is the sound he wakes to, the gentle brush of cool fingers on his bruised jaw. His eyes are slow to open, heavy and weighted lids that feel glued closed.
She doesn't wait. He feels the weight of her thumb tugging one eyelid up, a bright light shining in.
"You'll be alright." When she lets go, his eyes slam shut again, but its purposeful this time and he squeezes them shut, trying to escape the light that feels as though it's searing into his retinas.
Every time he's opened his eyes, every time someone has touched him, it has brought pain. He wonders how much more his nerves can take, if they can hurt more than they already do.
But, no, her hands don't bring pain. They're cool, but they're warm in the right places, brushing over old and new bruises, coaxing pain back from the forefront of his mind.
She's just enough of a telepath to do it.
"Spoilers, sweetie." The way she says it, so close to his ear, it's almost a purr. "Imagine a door. Just for the things you don't want me to see." She coaxes his fingers through the waves of his hair. "I won't look."
The words are familiar, and he wonders if he's taught them to her before, a long time ago in his future, but he does what she asks. The Doctor makes a door for all the todays, yesterdays, and tomorrows that he's seen and she hasn't. Cool fingertips brush his temple and he feels her there, in his mind. She's bright and dark at the same time, all of time at once, a living contradiction. Her mind brushes the pain center of his, numbing it, pouring down and cooling it. The bright, aching pain dies down just a little.
"Better, love?" She curls her fingers into his hair and smoothes it back, working her fingers across his scalp. He leans back into her, needing it, the only kind touch he's felt in months. It feels like it's been years. The Doctor manages the smallest nod of his head, and despite the deadened pain, it still feels like fire.
He hadn't wanted her to come back, to this world of death and war and pain, so much pain. A world that needed him, needed his knowledge, and would stop at nothing to get it.
"Oh, honey." She says, and he suddenly knows she's heard him, her fingers still ghosting his temple. "Let's get you back to the TARDIS."
The Doctor opens his eyes, and it's a new world of pain, one he hasn't seen since he closed his eyes when the screams and yells began. Somewhere, in his head, they haven't stopped.
River is crouching before him, wearing blood on her face like it's war paint, on her clothes like fabric dye.
"Not mine," She hushes him before he's spoken with a stroke of his bruised cheek. "Mostly, anyway."
When she pulls out the sonic, it's the most glorious, gorgeous thing he's ever seen.
"Stole this off one of the guards. Really, love, you must take better care of your things." River presses her lips to his forehead, and he feels it – love, and worry, and need. It calms his hearts.
She releases the cuffs with a wave of the sonic, rubbing the blood back into his wrists, but he doesn't feel it. He's numb just looking at her.
She's wearing blood like armour. It twirls through the curls of her hair and runs in dried rivulets down her skin. Newer, fresher blood soaks her dress and the barrel of her laser gun, coats her face and her hands.
The Doctor swallows.
"Don't," She says to the look in his eyes.
His first words in two months are, "Oh, River."
"I didn't have a choice." Her voice is hard, like when she was young, but she's hooking her hands underneath his elbows before he even has a chance to protest everything that's running through his mind.
This planet is silent.
She's killed them all. Every last one.
They'd taken him two months ago, to the day. They'd tortured and starved him, but the worst (the absolute, most terrible worst) was not knowing if River had been taken, too. If they were really going to use her as leverage against him, as they'd promised.
Only after overhearing from one of his guards that the TARDIS was gone did he know the emergency system had worked. River was safe.
Except, she's in front of him now and she's covered in blood, and he hates himself for doing that to her again. He promises he'd never let her be a weapon again, never make an entire planet fall to its knees.
Her arm comes around him, encircling his waist, and she's half carrying him through the dungeon and prison; he's a shell of himself as they pass dead guards, climb the stairs (he cries out, she rubs a soothing thumb along his hipbone) and make their way into the first sunlight he's seen in sixty days.
He's not focused on the alien sun, illuminating an entire fallen species lying dead at their feet with their blood fading into the soil.
No, he's focused on River, his River, with just enough Time Lord DNA to drown the pain in his mind. River, who killed dozens to get to him.
River, who'd tear worlds apart at the seams if he asked.
He never would.
He hadn't needed to.