"You have to talk to her, Doctor." Rory sighed with exasperation. They were sitting in the kitchen in the TARDIS, across the table from one another. The Doctor was dipping fish fingers into custard, and that strange comfort food combination meant he was still troubled.
"But I can't," replied the Doctor, his tone implying it was the most reasonable thing in the world. The tone said that Rory was just being silly, insisting like this. But inside, that gibbering part of him was, well... gibbering again. What if she hates me? She must know, how I almost killed her, and what if she hates me? Stupid gibbering part, shut up!
Rory sighed again, and decided to pull out the big guns. "No, Doctor. You will talk to River, if I have to drag you in there by your hair. Or worse, have Amy do it for me." He watched with a certain amount of amusement as the Doctor flinched at the thought, but the amusement quickly turned to professional concern at the expression on the Time Lord's face. Whatever it is that happened in that cave, he thought wryly, the Doctor's not completely over it either. Why didn't I become a psychiatric nurse? Oh, wait, right. I didn't want to do this. "All right," he said shortly, "Tell me."
The fish finger dropped unnoticed into the custard bowl as the Doctor scrubbed at his face with his hands. He looked old and tired, even with his young face, and Rory waited a little more patiently than before.
"I could have killed her, Rory," he said, in a voice scarcely above a whisper. "If she had died, it would have been my fault." Rory waited, silently. He knew there would be more; the Doctor didn't go all... all shocky like that for no reason. "She stopped breathing... she stopped breathing down there in that pit while you and Amy were setting up the lift, and..." His voice was getting louder now, faster, "...and I... it was the morphine,I gave her too much, she was hurting and I couldn't bear to watch her hurting, and I gave her too much and it's because of me she has no regenerations left-"
"That's enough," Rory interrupted, halting the desperate flow of words. He shook his head. "You know, even brilliant as you are, when it comes to River, every logical thought just... stops." And, he thought, that sure makes you more... human. "Look, let's take those things one at a time, all right?" A nod. "She used up her regenerations for you. But that was her choice. Morphine... you gave her one pill, right?" Another nod, very cautious. "That's certainly an acceptable dosage. If she stopped breathing, I think it was a combination of things - the pain, shock, the gravity, and maybe the morphine. Not your fault." His voice softened. "And you started her breathing again, didn't you? Even if you had accidentally overdosed her - which you hadn't - you got her breathing again. Now go talk with her."
River sighed with impatience. "This is getting ridiculous," she complained resentfully. It wasn't clear whether she resented Amy's solicitude or her own weakness. Or both. "I'm fine! It's just a few burns and a sore ankle, I've been through worse!"
Amy shook her head from the chair by the table where she had laid the breakfast tray. "You're really not, you know," she scolded, "Burns and broken bones take a long time to heal, even for you. It's only been two days, River!"
River was in bed. Now, she didn't really mind being in bed most of the time. Bed had the capacity to be a fun place. But she was bored, and she hated the feeling of weakness and fatigue, so she tried to ignore it, to convince Amy that she was fine. Even though, deep down, she knew she was not. "I am not a child, Amy, and I've been injured before. I think I know when I'm well enough to get out of bed! And I'm getting out of bed now!" She suited action to word, flipping the covers off and sitting up on the edge of the bed, gritting her teeth and holding onto the bedpost through the wave of dizziness that hit her.
"River!" Amy started toward the bed, concerned, just as the door opened. Rory and the Doctor entered the room, and Rory went to speak quietly in his wife's ear. Amy nodded at Rory, blushing slightly, and they left the room, holding hands, and shut the door quietly behind them. The Doctor crossed to where River was perched on the edge of the bed and sat carefully next to her. He didn't touch her, and that made her want to cry. She hated that feeling, she'd been resisting the need to cry for two days, and she did need it, between the pain and the general feeling of weakness and the loneliness. She loved her mother, but Amy wasn't who she wanted with her and she was so lonely. So she was fighting tears (again) when he spoke, without looking at her.
"How are you feeling?"
Bizarrely, the oh-so-casual and conversational tone of his question made River want to laugh, and she knew it was more than half hysteria but at this point she just didn't care. She allowed herself to fall back onto the bed, heedless of the half-healed burns, and just howled with mingled laughter and tears. "Do you really w-want to know?" she half-sobbed, half-shouted, "I f-feel wretched. I'm weak and and my ankle aches and I hate it! And you p-promised me you would s-stay and I never thought you'd use R-rule One when I really n-needed you but I did and you weren't here!" And she covered her face with her hands and began to cry in earnest.
"He thought he'd killed her," said Rory. He was lying on the (not bunk) bed the TARDIS provided for them these days, holding Amy in his arms. "When we were putting the stretcher together. She stopped breathing for a minute or so and he figured it was his fault." He sighed.
Amy shook her head. "So now he's beatin' himself up for the wrong things? Forgot he found her, patched her up, held her together until you got there?"
"And restarted her breathing." Rory paused, groping for the right words. "He forgets the good things he's done. I think we all forget the good things he's done. I know I do." He took a deep breath. "He puts on a good front, the goofy-alien bit, and we forget... we forget that under that mask, he's just a man. He's stronger, and smarter, but he's just a man. And sometimes - like after..." he trailed off and tried again. "After things like what happened on Apalapucia... I've hated him for it. I love him like a brother, but sometimes I hate him." He closed his eyes, hoping that she'd be able to forgive him.
Oh my poor Rory, she thought, even after all this time? She took his face into her hands and he opened his eyes. "Rory, d'you remember up on that pyramid, when River told him that all those millions of people from all across the universe and all across Time were there willing to help?" Rory nodded. "And he didn't - he couldn't - believe her, 'cause he thought why would anyone care what happened to him? And the Dream Lord?" He nodded again, thoughtfully. "He hates himself that much, it's understandable that we hate him sometimes too." She kissed him and drew him closer, showing him very emphatically that she understood too.
The Doctor sat on the edge of the bed, staring aghast at his sobbing wife. It never even occurred to me that not staying - breaking that promise - was lying to her. I thought she'd hate me, wouldn't want to see me... he thought, Oh, my River, I am so sorry... He cleared his throat, where a lump had suddenly appeared, and whispered, "River?" He just wanted to hold her, to tell her it would be all right, but he was afraid to touch her, the burns had been all over her and what should he do now? He closed his eyes against the pain of needing to comfort her but being unable to, and tried again. "River... I never meant, I thought I'd killed you, the morphine, too much morphine..." He was babbling now, the words tripping over each other in his haste to make her understand how devastated he was that if she had died it would have been his fault. His hands were doing that flailing thing that they did when he was just undone by circumstance, he didn't know where to put them, and oh, he'd give anything right now to comfort her, to make it better, if only he could without hurting her. "I thought I gave you too much, and when you stopped breathing, I... River, I thought I'd killed you! I'm so sorry, I can't even tell you how sorry, I..."
The Doctor had opened his eyes, but the tears in them were so thick that he didn't notice when River sat up and started listening, her face tear-streaked but the sobs subsiding. He didn't notice until she caught his hands in mid-flail and gripped them tightly so her own hands would stop trembling. "I need to understand, I need you to be clear for me. If you can't tell me," she said gently, her voice still shaking slightly, "Then show me." And she shifted on the bed so their foreheads touched, ignoring the twinge in her ankle as she did so. She closed her eyes, the better to concentrate on the connection between them, and began to receive the impressions and emotions and thoughts from his mind.
Annoyance... worry... anger... pain, oh River, my River, I'm so sorry, no other way... River screaming with pain, River hurting, giving her pills, holding her head while she swallowed them... a flash of Rory's face, naked hatred seen there before he controlled it... brotherly love for Rory and agony of Rory hating him (deserve every ounce of it, done horrible things)... River? River! River, oh no, (terror guilt love) River, please, breathe, breathe for her, in, breathe for her out, again, again, my fault, my fault, my FAULT... I'm sorry, my love, (no River, MY fault, shame longing fear)... Rory slapping him hard across the face... carrying River into the loving embrace of the blue box... killing rage toward the - whatever - had hurt his beautiful River so... so sorry, my River, didn't mean to lie, thought I'd killed you, thought you'd hate me too... so, so sorry...
They broke apart, gasping, and he was babbling again, "You see, d'you see, River, I could've killed you, if I hadn't been there, you'd never have stopped breathing-" and he broke off as she kissed him, hard on the lips.
"My love," she said against his mouth, tears thickening her voice, "If you hadn't been there, I would have died, alone and afraid in that cave... and no one would ever have known I was gone."
"I would have known," he said in a choked whisper, "Somehow I would have known." They both felt a wash of love and agreement from the TARDIS, and River laughed softly, kissing the Doctor again, feeling safe and loved.
They were together in the room, the two of them, alone except for the ever-present warmth of the TARDIS' love for them. River had fallen asleep, and it was a natural and healing sleep for the first time in days. The Doctor sat next to her bed, gently stroking her hair, running his fingers through the crinkly strands. She was exhausted from the pain and the trauma, and her face was all swollen and tear-streaked. She had never been more beautiful to him. My lovely River Song, he thought, you are so very precious to me. He heard the soft, almost tentative, knock on the door, but ignored it; he was focused on River.
"Doctor?" It was Rory, speaking softly, as nurses do when they enter sleeping patients' rooms. "How is she?" He walked silently to stand next to the Doctor and took River's pulse. "Physically much better," he said in a dry, clinical tone as he counted the heartbeats in her wrist, and then his voice changed to that of a concerned parent as he looked at her face, "but she's been crying." The Doctor nodded, not taking his eyes off River's face, and continued his absent-minded caressing of River's curls. "Looks like you've helped her with that, though," Rory said, taking a close look at the Doctor's face. "I think you're more... at peace with yourself too," he said, sounding less like the medical professional, or like the parent, and more like Rory this time, "Though you look like you could use some sleep."
The Doctor shook his head, looking up at Rory. "I promised I wouldn't leave her, and I intend to keep that promise this time," he said quietly, though not with that deadly tone that forewarned of the Oncoming Storm, "I'm staying here. I'll rest some though." He turned back to River, "And Rory?"
"Thank you. And for more than just this," He gestured at River and the medical gear around the bed, "Thank you for being my friend - my brother - even when you hated me." He looked up at Rory again and smiled slightly at the other man's expression. "It's alright, I hated me too. Still do sometimes." He stood, carefully disentangling his hand from River's hair and held it out for Rory to shake. "Friends?" Rory stared at the hand for a moment, tears in his eyes now too as he realized that it didn't matter that sometimes he hated the Doctor, because... he shook his head and pulled the Doctor into a hug.
"Not friends," he said in a choked voice. "Family."