This was written for a LiveJournal prompt over at Eleventy-Kink about the Doctor losing his sight. I took it and ran with it, and then this happened.
I don't own Doctor Who.
She had gotten used to the sounds of Stormcage, the soundtrack by which she lived her life behind these familiar bars. Rain poured down outside, thunder rolled and echoed through the stark halls, the distant footsteps of the guards rap-tapped on the hard floor. But there was one sound that she loved above all others, one sound that could rouse her from her sleep, no matter how deeply she dozed or how vibrantly she dreamed. She heard it now: that lovable wheezing engine and the dull thud upon landing. The TARDIS appeared before her, and she flew to the bars.
With a creak, the wooden doors opened, and he stepped out. He was older, by the looks of it, by the way he strode confidently toward her cell, letting his fingers skim over the exterior of his ship. The TARDIS continued to hum softly as he approached, and it was a sound she had not heard from the ship before. She wondered if the Doctor had gone and left her in the wrong gear...again.
He was wearing sunglasses, she noticed. She couldn't for the life of her think of why.
He reached out and touched the metal bars, as if studying them with his fingers, trying to work out how they felt. "Hello, Sweetie," she said customarily, and he turned toward the sound of her voice and smiled.
"River..." he said fondly. "How would you care for a break from these bars, hm?"
"Oh, you always know my answer to that," she replied with a grin. His hand slipped inside his jacket pocket for a moment and he pulled out his screwdriver, fiddling with it for a few seconds before unlocking her cell door and stepping aside to let her out. He held out his hand for her and she took it, the two of them sauntering to the TARDIS in a way that was far too uplifting to be appropriate in a maximum security prison.
He seemed to be lagging behind a bit, she noticed, and he looked oddly unsure of himself as he opened the doors to his ship, like he had momentarily forgotten how they were meant to open. However, it was fleeting, and when they did step inside, he leaped over to the control panel with ease and ran his hands over the console, feeling every lever and ever button until he found the right position for his hands and achieved liftoff.
She watched the way his hands moved over the controls; he'd always been one to lovingly stroke bits of his ship, but this was different. It was like he was doing it with his eyes closed, navigating by feel alone. And the way he moved...it was not the bounding, reckless leaps and twirls that she was used to, but more calculated, careful steps. And those glasses...
She felt a heavy weight drop in the pit of her stomach.
No, it couldn't be.
Pushing that notion aside, she approached him, a smile on her face because she couldn't bear the thought of what might happen if she let the anxiety that was building within her really take hold for more than a moment.
"How long has it been, River?" he asked lightheartedly, still leaning against the console, not turning toward her.
"Three weeks," she said, "Two days, four hours and seventeen minutes. In other words, far too long, my love." She reached for him, extending her hand delicately for him to take in his own.
"Far too long, indeed! I promise I'll make it up to you, but first I suppose it's diary time, yes? Let's see...have we done...Oh, the diamond mines of Soryan IX! Have we done that yet?"
She couldn't bear it any longer.
"Doctor, why are you wearing those?" she asked, her voice unsteady.
"These..." Slowly, she reached up, her fingertips brushing against the earpieces and rims of the glasses, but she made no attempt to remove them. She couldn't bear to. "Doctor, why are you..."
"Oh..." he said, his face falling. "Oh, I suppose we haven't gotten that far yet." He took her hands in his, facing directly toward her, his body square on with hers. "River, I'm sorry. I thought you already...I didn't know it was early for you...I thought you knew."
"Knew what?" He let go of her hands. She felt a deep ache in her chest that was threatening to overcome her. Her legs felt weak and her eyes burned. "Doctor, knew what?" Slowly, he reached up and removed the glasses.
No...Oh, no, no, no, no...
His eyes were glazed over and unfocused, his once vibrant, lively irises dull and devoid of all life. He stared right over her head.
Her Doctor was blind.
She leaned against the console, overcome by the horror of what she had learned. It couldn't be real. Not him. All the beings in all of existence, and it had to be him. The man who could stand at the peak of the universe, who could perceive all its beauty and grandeur and wonder more than anyone else in the whole of creation, and he was blind to its miracles.
Why not her? She spent her life in a prison cell. Her regular living space drew from a pallet of dull gray and black. She'd seen her share of wonders; she could accept living the rest of her days in darkness and the universe would spin on, but him...why him?
"It was a Chitauran eclipse," he said, coming closer to her. "Three suns in perfect alignment...One of the most dangerous phenomena in the universe. I was reckless. Shouldn't have gone. We got out okay, the Ponds and me...but I was slow. Didn't get to the bunker in quite enough time." He chuckled sadly. "See, I am getting too old for this, me."
River choked back a sob. She had to be strong, she knew. But god...she couldn't bring herself to look at him like this. She felt ashamed by her own weakness, and he seemed to sense it, putting the glasses on again.
"There must be something..." she said. "Something I can-"
"River, there's nothing you can do," he told her firmly, putting a hand on her shoulder. "It's been a while now, you know. Amy and Rory and the TARDIS...and you...you've all helped me through this. You'd be surprised how much I can still do." He smiled crookedly, his pride obvious even despite the pain that he was feeling seeing her so distraught over this.
"But it's not as much as before."
"Well...no...But that doesn't make it meaningless."
River couldn't believe the situation...He was the one who had lost his sight, and now here he was comforting her.
"River, will you look at me?"
She took a breath, wiped away the tears that had escaped and did. He was facing her straight on, and despite the fact that she knew he was without sight, she couldn't shake the feeling that he was looking at her. He reached for her.
"May I?" he asked. She nodded, and he placed his hands lightly on her temples, pressing his forehead to hers. And suddenly a burst of light exploded in her mind, dancing and twirling in beautiful streams as he slowly, gently, lovingly caressed her mind with his. She could feel his hearts beating in his chest, her own skin warm against his fingertips. The sound of the TARDIS rose up around them, a song so beautiful and so soothing that it quelled the pain roiling in her chest. After a few moments, as his presence receded from her mind, it softened to a low, constant hum: the same one she'd heard in Stormcage.
"She sings to me," the Doctor explained fondly, his hands still resting on the sides of her head. "You could hear it too, I know. The TARDIS sings to me, leads me to her. Wherever I am, she can sing me back to her."
He smiled again, wiping River's tears from her cheeks with the pad of his thumb.
"You see?" he said. "I might be blind, but it doesn't mean I'm in darkness."
It was Christmas at last, and the Doctor and River arrived in Leadworth just as it began to snow. The Valtesian moons would wait for them, and the seas of Drexel III would be there another day, but for the holiday season, they decided to indulge in a bit of the domestic.
Hugs were exchanged and laughter was shared when they arrived at the home of the Ponds. In a move that was rare for him, the Doctor had abandoned his dark glasses, leaving them in the TARDIS. It wasn't often that he did that; even now, when it had been so long, he nearly always hid his glazed-over eyes behind those dusky lenses.
River wasn't sure which reason for this was more difficult to bear: that he did this because he was ashamed, or because he knew how much the sight of his unfocused, faraway gaze pained her.
But tonight, if he was turned from her or if the light was just right, hiding his colorless irises from her view, she could almost believe that the horrendous accident had never happened at all. In those moments, when she caught glimpses of what it was like before, her chest ached just a little less. And when he smiled, she could almost swear she could see a flash of that spark that had danced in his eyes when he was exuberantly passionate, but behind it, there was always something else, a lingering sadness that hung over his gaze like a ghost.
She hoped someday she could see through that haze, that she could see that spark just one more time, and really see him smile.
The Doctor reached out and grasped the pepper shaker from the center of the table, tossing it up in the air and catching it with a grin. It was almost as if he really could see, his reflexes and senses had sharpened so much, and Amy let out an excited peal of laughter as he took the salt shaker as well and began to juggle.
"That's amazing!" she exclaimed. "How do you do that?"
"Oh, you'd be surprised what you can do when you have enough free time on your hands," the Doctor replied. "And I certainly-" He tossed the salt shaker high up in the air. "have-" Up went the pepper shaker to join its mate. "plenty!" With a flourish, he caught them both and slammed them down on the table in front of him, bowing his head while Amy, River and Rory clapped and laughed.
"Well now I'll be vacuuming up salt and pepper off this rug for weeks," Rory said, though he was still smiling. "Thanks for that."
"Aw, Mister Pond, always worrying about keeping this house clean," teased Amy as she playfully nudged her husband's shoulder. "I thought that was supposed to be my job." Rory chuckled and wrapped an affectionate arm around his wife's shoulders.
"Why don't we go to the living room?" Rory suggested. "Drink some champagne and open some presents?"
River glanced over at the Doctor, who was smiling fondly, fiddling with the salt shaker by his hand. She reached out and took that hand, running her thumb tenderly over his.
She could see it now. That ghost behind his smile.
He squeezed her hand right back.
The TARDIS appeared in the middle of the night, waking her from her sleep. She sat up in bed, throwing off the covers and going to the bars.
There was something off about how she sounded. There was no soothing hum to accompany her arrival this time; she sounded...well if River had to guess, the TARDIS sounded frantic.
The ship landed with a familiar thud, and the doors opened with a creak. Out stepped Rory, his face pale, sweat and dirt covering his brow. His eyes were wide and terrified as he clambered toward her cell.
"River..." he said, grabbing onto the bars and clumsily pointing the sonic screwdriver in his hands at the lock. "River, we um...oh god how do I, um..." She reached out covered his hands with hers, steadying them and helping him open the lock.
"What's happened?" she asked as he led her to the TARDIS. "What's wrong?"
"It's uh...it's the Doctor, he...he uh..." He was frantic, at a loss for words, and by the time they reached the ship, River couldn't take it anymore. She pushed past him and burst through the doors. The sight that greeted her made her feel as if someone had filled her stomach with ice water.
The Doctor was lying by the console in Amy's arms as she rocked him back and forth, her face stained with tears. Amy was terrified, but staying strong, staying as calm as she could for the Doctor's sake.
"I'm here," she kept repeating, over and over, a horrified, teary mantra. "I'm here...it's okay. I'm right here..." She looked up and spotted River, her eyes wide with fear, and she finally broke down, choking back a sob. "River...River, help...please...he...he..."
River needed no more incentive.
She ran over to them, kneeling down by Amy's side. And when she did, she could hear the Doctor mumbling, "Amy...Amy...Amy..." as he gripped at Amy's sleeve. He sounded so frantic, so weak, so scared. Amy just kept rocking him.
"Help me, Amy, Rory," River said. Though she felt she couldn't breathe, she mustered the strength to get her arms under the Doctor's frame, and Amy and Rory both, through their own panic, helped her as she got the Doctor to stand.
His eyes were shut tight, and he cried out in pain as they lifted him. She could see a few droplets of dried blood in the corners of his eyes, but she couldn't focus on that now. She just had to help him to the medical ward. That was her priority.
The Doctor gripped at her, clenching her collar in his hand and refusing to let go, like she was a lifeline.
"Doctor, it's me," she said soothingly as they guided him toward the medical ward. "It's River."
"River..." he forced out. "River, I...I can't...I can't..." He shattered, letting out a strangled sob.
Never in her life had she ever seen him so scared.
Amy and Rory balked, going even paler, but they held firm, never losing their resolve as they helped him along.
River was not so surprised.
She already knew what the outcome would be.
"But he's not really...I mean, he can't be..."
River caught Amy's eye and held her gaze through her mother's tears.
"Amy you need to listen to me," River said. "The Doctor needs you now more than ever. You have to be strong now, do you understand?"
"But I mean he can't be...be...blind...He's...He's the Doctor. How can he? He has to get better...he has to..."
"Amy, tell me you understand."
Amy stared at her, wide-eyed and teary.
"I...I understand..." she said, though she still sounded unsure. River sighed, and she pulled Amy close to her, embracing her tightly. Amy wrapped her arms around her.
"I know he seems invincible," River said softly. "Like he's always in control, even when he's not. But he's going to need you, Amy, more than you know." She pulled away from her mother and held her at arms' length, looking her dead in the eye. "You have to be there for him, Amy."
"But how?" Amy asked.
"I can't tell you that..."
"Oh, don't say spoilers, River. Please...just this once...please tell me what to do."
"I can't tell you because I don't know. You have to find out for yourself. I know it's scary, Amy. Believe me, I know. But he's going to need you..." Amy was about to speak again, but Rory interrupted them when he came through the doors of the medical ward.
"He's...calmed down...a bit," he said. "But he's still...River, he's..."
"What?" River prompted. "What is it?"
"He's...asking for you..." River nodded in understanding, and as she went to go inside, she turned back toward the Ponds.
"You two...should get some rest. Sleep while you can."
"We can't just leave him," Amy protested.
"I'll take care of him for now," River said. "Really, you should go to bed, mum. Dad." Gently, Rory took Amy's arm, leading her away down the hall.
The lights were dim, but she could make out his figure lying on the bed in the middle of the room on his back, his head facing away from her. His fingers blindly clutched at the edges of the bed, just looking for something to hang on to.
"Was this in your diary, River?" he asked, a stinging edge of bitterness to his voice. She approached him silently, walking over to his bedside without a word.
He spoke again: "Well...was it?"
"You know I can't tell you that," she said.
"You knew this would happen, didn't you? When I spoke to you, you knew what was going to happen to me and you didn't stop it."
Had it been any other time, she would have chastised him for threatening to reveal spoilers about future events, but now was not the time for her customary warning.
"I couldn't stop it," she said. "You should know that."
"You could have!" he snapped, jerking his head toward her. He grimaced and reached up to touch the bandages covering his eyes. "Why didn't you...why didn't you..." As he spoke his voice changed from bitter anger to complete hopelessness. It was agonizing to her, seeing him so broken. She reached for him, taking his hand. He pulled it away.
"Doctor..." she pleaded.
"What am I supposed to do now?" he asked. "Over a millennium of travelling the universe and now I'm reduced to this so easily...my entire future gone..."
"But it's not gone," she insisted. She grabbed his hand again, not letting him pull away even though he tried. "It's not over for you. You've got so much more than this. So much more to do. And you will. Doctor, you will."
"How can I?" he asked in a voice so small that it made River's chest tighten with emotion. "How..."
"Because I know."
She took out her diary, placing his hand on it and covering it with hers, letting him feel the contours of its aged cover beneath his fingertips.
"It's all here. All in these pages. And I'll be damned if I'm going to let you erase them. You won't. Not one single line."
"That's it...come along now...almost there..."
The progress was slow, but before long, they made it: the Doctor, with Amy Pond and River Song under his arms, helping him along. It had been about two days relative time since the accident that had taken his sight, and the Doctor was starting to recover. The first thing he'd asked to do when he was up and about was to go to console room, and naturally he would not be swayed.
"You know, I think I know my own ship well enough to know where I'm go-" He lurched forward, tripping over his own feet, it seemed. It was Rory who caught him, holding him steady. "Alright..." he acquiesced. "Okay, onward..."
Finally, they reached the console room, and the Doctor's expression changed for the first time in a long time to one of fondness. Perhaps even happiness. He could sense the presence of the TARDIS' heart nearby, River knew, and that was more comforting than anything else could have been.
They guided him up onto the platform, and the Doctor pulled away from them, stepping forward to rest his hands on the console, finally smiling.
"I wonder..." he mused, seemingly to himself. "Can I learn her again?"
"You can..." River said. The Doctor moved his hands over the console, over levers and buttons.
"Flux altimeter..." he mused. "Trans-warp barrier generator...Stabilizers..." He smiled and even chuckled slightly. "Blue stabilizers."
As his hands moved across her controls, he paused, letting out a surprised breath. A low hum filled the console room, soft and soothing, like a mother singing to her child.
"What's that?" Amy asked quietly.
"It's the TARDIS," said River.
"Do you hear that?" asked the Doctor, seeming entranced by the sound. "I can hear her...in my head...it's like she's...singing to me." He turned back toward the console, leaning up against it. "Oh, my beautiful Old Girl..."
The Doctor stayed in the console room for hours, going over and over the controls, learning them all over again, the TARDIS humming and soothing him all the while. The Ponds had gone to bed, and the Doctor was due for some rest, too, but naturally he wouldn't do so without a bit of a nudge. He was stubborn to the end, he was.
The moment River entered the console room, she knew he could sense her. Even now, his other senses were beginning to sharpen.
"She's been singing to me this whole time," he said when she was within earshot. "Such beautiful songs...Can you hear them, River?"
"No," she said. "They're just for you, I think." He smiled wanly.
"I think I could fly her," he said. "I've gone over the controls again and again...I thought it would be difficult, but...it was like I knew it already."
She went to him, wanting nothing more than to hold him but knowing that he needed space for his own thoughts now.
"I'm never going to see again...am I, River?"
Her heart ached for him. The sadness in his voice was unbearable.
"Oh, I don't know about that," she said, trying to sound hopeful despite her own sorrow. "There's always regeneration, you know."
"But in this body, I mean...this body is blind."
"And I know...spoilers. But I already know it's true..." He hung his head, and though he sounded forlorn, it was not the same hopeless voice she'd heard a few days prior in the medical ward. That fact alone was enough to give her hope. Hope that she prayed he could feel as well.
"It doesn't mean this is the end."
"Maybe not," he said. "But I just can't help...I can't help but think of more and more things that I'm going to miss seeing...Amy's smile, the TARDIS, the stars...you..." She stepped toward him, taking his hands.
"But you can see me," she said. "You can learn me like you learned the TARDIS."
His eyebrows arched beneath the bandages. Gently, she moved his hands to her hips before letting go of his wrists and resting her hands on his shoulders. He slowly ran his palms up over her waist, over the hump of her shoulder and down her arms. He ran his fingers over her wrists and across every individual finger. Then he touched her neck, her chin, her cheeks, his fingertips flitting over her eyelashes.
He wiped a stray tear from her skin with the pad of his thumb.
"Why are you crying, River?" he asked as he tangled his hands in her hair.
"Because you are."
"Am I?" He sounded genuinely surprised, but sure enough, one tear spilled out from beneath the bandages, trailing down over his chin.
"It's alright," she assured him, and finally, she did what she'd longed to do this whole time: she pulled him close, embracing him tightly, never wanting to let go.
Stormcage was waiting for her when she returned, and of course the guards were on triple duty in the days following her latest escape. It was on a night three days after she'd left the Doctor in the care of her parents that she heard the familiar sound of the TARDIS engines again. She sat on the edge of her bed, watching the ship materialize before her, wondering how well adjusted he would be now, if his disability would be noticeable at all at first glance or if he would have become so in tune with his other senses that he could function just as well as he had with his vision in tact.
The doors opened, and he stepped out. He looked over at her and smiled. His eyes, lively and vivid as they ever were, glinted in the security lights.
"How about a little vacation, River?" he asked, bounding toward her. "Take a break from these prison bars. How long as it been? No, let me guess. Two weeks? Am I close?"
She could do nothing but stare into those eyes. They were so alive, so excited. She couldn't fathom her thoughts into words.
"Not close?" he asked, his confidence beginning to wane. "Three weeks? Oh, it hasn't been more than a month, has it? I do apologize, I don't like to leave you in here for so long. I know you get bored." He cracked a wide smile. "But I can fix that."
He opened her prison cell door, and she took a tentative step toward him. Could it really be true? But it was unmistakable...his eyes...
"River, are you alright?"
She had to snap out of it.
"Fine, Sweetie," she said. "It's just...when are we for you?" He grinned again and led her to the TARDIS, and when they were inside, he twirled around the console.
"Not long after the Boravian salt mines, for me. And before that, the frost moon of Rikor VII. I was thinking we could go to the tropical cliffs of Yzuma. A sandy beach on a giant cliff face! One of the most private private beaches you'll ever see...You know, so long as you stay away from the edge. How does that sound, hm? Oh, but we can't stay too long, you know. I am planning on taking the Ponds on a bit of an adventure not too long after this."
"Where's that then?" she asked off-handedly, flipping through her journal.
"Oh, Chitaura." Her stomach dropped to her shoes. "There's a tri-solar eclipse happening there soon. Literally three suns all lined up one after the other and all visible from the planet's surface. The light of the actual event is enough to burn your eyes right out of your skull, but we'll be perfectly safe in the bunkers, and in the aftermath, there's the most glorious burst of burning gas in the atmosphere. Like the Aurora Borealis, except visible across the entire planet! Did you want to come?"
She realized suddenly that she was staring at him with horror in her eyes.
"No...I...I'm afraid I can't." The Doctor smirked.
"What, have you got plans in that prison cell of yours?"
"I just...can't," she said, a bit too harshly, she realized after she'd spoken. The Doctor studied her intently.
"Is there something wrong?" he asked.
She couldn't bring herself to say it. And she couldn't tell him anyway.
"I...I just...do you think we could go somewhere else?"
"Not in the mood for the beach?"
"No, it's just...how about Auran? We could see the rainbow cliffs. Or...or the Eye of Orion?"
"Why do you want to go there? We've done all that already. I mean...you have, haven't you?"
"Yes...yes, but I...I just want to see them again." She fought not to let her emotions show.
"What's gotten into you?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said. "Just...please." After regarding her curiously for a few moments, he nodded and turned to the console again.
"Alright...Auran it is. Good timing, I'll admit. The rainbow cliffs should be at their most beautiful this time of year. Though it might be a bit chilly out. You might want a coat."
They sat on the cliffs, staring out at the shimmering mountains before them. The stone faces sparkled beautifully in the low light. Every color imaginable shone around them, seeming to leech into the sky above, turning it every shade of green and blue and red.
"It's beautiful," River said.
"Yes, it is," the Doctor agreed.
"No, I mean it...it's incredible. I could stare at it for hours."
"I suppose you could, yes." He sounded bored.
"Don't you think it's wonderful, Doctor?" she asked.
"Of course I do. I just...well I hate visiting the same place twice, you know." River glanced up. Night had washed over the planet, and she took the Doctor's arm, pulling him back so that they were lying down, side by side, staring up at the stars and the ribbons of color that ran between and around them like a shimmering aurora.
A tear slipped down River's cheek.
"River, why are you crying?" the Doctor asked. She pursed her lips and shook her head.
"I can't tell you," she said honestly.
"Is there anything I can do?"
She was about to tell him no, but then she had a thought.
"Actually," she said. "Yes...You can remember this."
"The stars," she said, gesturing up at the night sky. "Remember this for me."
"Okay," he said.
"You promise?" she asked.
"I promise," he replied. "Why do you..." He trailed off. "You really can't tell me, can you?" She merely shook her head. He leaned back and the two of the slipped into silence, watching the stars shimmer above them.
"It is pretty amazing," he said after a moment.
"The stars. I mean, there are very few places you can go where you can't see them. Only a handful of places don't have a single star in sight. But even if you can't see them, even if you're in complete darkness, you know they're there. Burning, living, being born and dying. All the time."
At that moment, River made a decision. She decided that when it was dark, and when the sky was even just barely clear enough, she would look out through her prison bars from Stormcage, and she would look at the stars. She would look at the stars for him.
She would look for both of them.