"How are you doing, Rory?" the Doctor asked. He'd found the young father sitting in a stairwell in a remote part of the Tardis.
Amy was busy fixing sandwiches for lunch. It had been three days since they'd left River with the Sisters of the Infinite Schism, and gradually things were getting back to normal.
Except things weren't normal.
Rory was hunched up on the stairs, sitting crossways, he was smoothing something over and over and over on his knee. He didn't look up. The Doctor sat down beside him. He saw what the boy was holding was the prayer leaf from River's cradle.
Rory looked up, his face was wet and red, his eyes puffy. He glared at the Doctor with very old eyes. "I'm never going to see her again."
"Oh, she'll come looking for us," the Doctor waved airily, knowing full well that's not what he meant.
"Not River," Rory said with that mile-deep calm. "My baby." A single tear tracked down his face. The Doctor felt it like a brand on his own soul. "I only got to hold her once," Rory whispered, the anguish in his words reminding the Doctor that it had never been Amy who had wanted children. It had always been Rory.
"You had children," Rory said, forcefully. It wasn't a question.
The Doctor nodded.
"Then you know what I'm talking about."
The Doctor nodded, his lips working, but no sound coming out.
"She was so tiny and perfect." The air in the stairwell grew thick and close. Rory stared down at the embroidered leaf in his hand, remembering. He suddenly barked a laugh, half laugh, half sob. "The first thing she did when I took her from Mme. Kovarian, was hit me in the nose."
The Doctor laughed. He couldn't help it. The thought of a baby River, and Rory's nose...
Rory grinned and looked at him through his ravaged face. "She was furious when I took her out of that carrier they had her in. I was trying to check her over to see if she was okay and she just kept kicking and squirming until all the blankets fell off and she hit me square in the nose. She's strong!"
The Doctor half laughed and half cried, nodding.
"And, oh, she had a pair of lungs on her!" He puffed up with pride. "Have you ever heard River yell?"
The Doctor shook his head.
"I bet she could blast the shingles off a roof," Rory said. He crushed the prayer leaf tightly in one hand. "She was so beautiful..." He broke down sobbing, collapsed forward, leaning his forehead into the Doctor's shoulder. The Doctor wrapped both arms around him, rocking him. The Doctor leaned his forehead on the back of Rory's head, his own hearts breaking. He knew what it was to lose a child. He'd lost all his, but at least he'd had the opportunity to see them grow. To hold their little hands and watch pudgy legs learn to walk.
He'd give anything, the blood in his veins, the last atom of time itself to have them back.
"I'm sorry, Rory." He rocked the younger man, holding him so tightly. "I'd give her back to you if I could. I swear I would." He felt the salt caking on his own cheeks, hid his face in Rory's hair.
Rory shook his head and sat back. "No, Doctor." The person looking back at him wasn't Rory the young father, it was Rory the Roman. Two thousand years old. Twice his age.
Rory shook his head again. Resolute in a way Rory the nurse rarely was. "I'm not blaming you. I know we can't get Melody back, not now. It would mean undoing Mels, undoing River, and I would kill anyone who tried to do that." His jaw clenched, showing an iron forged in the hottest and coldest of forges. A man who'd seen empires rise and fall, wars, famine, death and destruction. 2,000 years worth of friends and acquaintances, all dead before he was even born.
He shook his head, and shook the Roman back into hiding. His shoulders slumped and he looked down at the prayer leaf again. All he had left of his infant daughter. "I just needed to mourn her," he said softly.
He looked up and looked the Doctor in the eyes, searching for understanding. "After all the weeks worrying and preparing to rescue them, then the months of waiting, hoping you'd find her..." The Doctor started to say something but Rory held up a hand. The Doctor bit his lips shut.
"I just needed to mourn her. Without being strong for Amy, without knowing that she's really River and still here. I just needed to mourn my baby. Can you understand that?"
The Doctor nodded. He gave a little squeak that wasn't really words, there were no words. He knew that. There were never ever enough tears. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. He handed it to Rory.
Rory grinned at him grimly, but took it. He wiped his face, and blew his nose. Suddenly he stopped and grinned and chucked the end of his nose.
"She's got a hell of a right hook," he said, proudly.
The Doctor laughed. "Yes, she does."
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