A/N: For a ficathon, where the prompt was: River/Eleven or River + Eleven, The Doctor is hurt on an adventure early in their time together, and River has to take care of him.
Contains a not very graphic description of a puncture wound. Also, I borrowed the general idea from Philip Pullman.
"You know, this world inspired Sleeping Beauty. Through a series of unexpected events and a tiny bit of time travel, of course. Which reminds me; never meet the Brothers Grimm while sitting on a unicorn. Of course, the princess wasn't so much a princess, and not so much a beautiful woman as a snarling — Are you listening to me?"
River grinned wider. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Makes excellent background noise, though. There's a distinct lack of birdsong here." She glanced at the nearest thicket. They were everywhere, the plants; dense, twice her height, and full of sharp thorns at least as long as her forearm. The Doctor had been adamant she not even go near the thorns.
There was only one path through this part of the thorn forest, but it was very wide, and they kept to the middle of it. Here, she could see patches of sky; luminous and startlingly blue. "Does it have anything to do with the castle you sent Amy and Rory to?"
He frowned. "The lack of birdsong?"
"No. No! It does have everything to do with Snow White, though."
River bent down to examine an interesting pebble.
"Half an hour or so, and we'll be in the Glade. Oh, it will be spectacular!" The Doctor laughed, peered up at the sky as best he could. Twirled —
She frowned at the pebble; it wasn't so interesting, after all. "Yes?"
"I believe one of these thorns just has lodged itself in my lower back."
She straightened and spun, and the pebble fell from her fingers at some point. "What happened? It was you who said 'keep to the middle'!"
The Doctor stumbled towards her, looking over his shoulder. "I don't know! It just came out of nowhere. I didn't even…"
"Let me see." She met him (in the very middle of the path), grabbed him by an elbow and turned him around. The thorn had pierced right through the tweed of the jacket, to the left and quite far down. It had narrowly missed the braces. There was no blood, which was always something. "I'm amazed the thorn snapped. You could have been stuck in the thicket."
"I twisted! Pull it out! Now. You can touch it, it's just the tip that's dangerous, and I have a pretty clear idea of where that is right now."
"Should we really-"
"Pull. it. out."
River pursed her lips, wrapped one hand around the thorn (she could just reach around it), braced the other against the Doctor's shoulder, and pulled.
The thorn was surprisingly light, and looked very much like a needle. It even had a metallic sheen. An inch or so of the very, very sharp tip was coated in blood. "Is it poisonous?"
The Doctor faced her, rubbing his back. "No."
"Covered in bacteria?"
"No. Neither. No bacteria, fungus, virus, poison, pollen… It's — oh, it's alien!"
"You're not allergic to it?"
"Everyone's allergic to it, and no."
"You said it was dangerous." She gingerly placed it on the ground. Then, she took off her satchel and rummaged around in it until she came up with a thick piece of cloth.
"It is, but not like that. The very potent irritant previously found on the tip of the thorn will course through my bloodstream." The Doctor shrugged out of his jacket, folded it, and placed it on a rock. "Oh, just toss that thing away!"
"I'd like to grind it up into little pieces, but I can't, because there's blood on it." She wrapped the thorn up and eased it into the satchel.
"Oh. Yes. Right. And that's a bit violent, isn't it?"
"Well, you're a bit hurt."
He frowned, slipped the braces off his shoulders.
She wiped her hands on her trousers. "So, what happens now?"
"Well, basically, this thing will cause me pain."
"Let's get back to the TARDIS."
"Yes, all right, let's. Let's head back the way we came, back into the thorny forest, where I'll — no doubt conveniently when we've just reached the thorniest part — lose motor control. Sounds like a plan, Song."
River took a steadying breath. "What do we do, then?"
"Call Amy. Tell her-"
"To bring Rory."
"No! Tell her to take Mr Pond with her back to the TARDIS. Tell her to drag him there by his ridiculous shirt if she has to." He rubbed his back in a more frantic manner, scowling. "If those two have to be blundering about while I'm lying here, I'd rather they'd be doing it hand in hand. You know how Amy tends to enrage things, and how Rory tends to, well… die."
"Tell them to let the TARDIS know what's happened, and she'll bring them here."
(When Amy's shouting had condensed into: Doctor, you're a stupid idiot! and Rory had stopped spouting diagnoses, they promised to do as they were told, and presumably set off to do it.)
"How long do we have?" asked River. "Before it starts to hurt?"
The Doctor waved a hand. "Starts? Until the excruciating part… Oh, I don't know. A few minutes."
"Give me the sonic."
"Why? I'm going to cleanse the wound."
"The sonic doesn't have a wound cleansing setting."
"Why would it?"
"Why wouldn't it! What about the jacket? Anything in there?"
"Hmm. Last time I checked there was a comb, a ball or two of string, a torch, my least favourite yo-yo, the odd jelly baby, a cup of tea…"
"In other words, nothing useful."
"Who decides what's useful?"
"From now on it will be me."
"This will do." The Doctor retrieved an orange handkerchief with great silver dots from a trouser pocket and tugged the back of his shirt loose. He held the handkerchief out toward her. "If you insist on taking care of me."
River snatched it. "And what exactly will this do?"
The Doctor turned around, slumping more than usual. "It's… soft."
"Oh, you are some doctor." She lifted the shirt with her free hand; there was a tiny spot of blood on it, but it was hardly visible, thanks to the pink fabric and the weird pattern. "Now, stand still."
"How does it look?"
"The thorn only pierced muscle, as far as I can tell."
"I know that, I can feel that. I also know that it's uncomfortably close to the spine, and that there's some localised swelling. I was lucky, et cetera, et cetera."
River resisted the urge to pinch the uninjured side. "The wound seems pretty clean, and it's not very deep. I've seen worse."
"That's your conclusion? You've seen worse?"
She pressed the folded handkerchief against the wound. "Put the braces on again."
The handkerchief was a surprisingly good dressing when the braces kept it in place, but River figured it was unnecessary to say it out loud. She tugged the shirt back down. "How's that?"
"Oh, fine. Thank you."
"Good." She kneeled, brushed some pebbles away, and smoothed out the dirt. "Lie down."
"Do you want to lose motor control standing up?"
The Doctor sighed, glared at his watch. "I don't have time for this."
"Put you head in my lap."
"I have to admit it's not really losing motor control, as much as it is debilitating pain making it feel like you are. I exaggerated."
She pointed to her lap.
"That's a bit of a cliché, isn't it? The head-in-the-lap."
"It's a cliché for a reason."
The Doctor straightened, swallowed, and, after much bending of limbs and some firm assistance, managed to put his head across her knees (as far down as he could possibly get).
"How's the wound? Anything pressing against it?"
"No, no, fine, the wound is fine. Everywhere else…" He moved his feet back and forth, stirring up some dust. "You know how pepper is hot?"
"This is slightly similar. Except for the thorn part. And the pepper part. And the… Yes."
"Can I touch you?"
"Oh, why not? I don't see how it could hurt." He grinned. "That was a joke."
"You know, I could just slip into a healing coma, but it might not be worth it. What would waste more energy; fighting this off with my eyes open, or restarting my metabolism after prolonged suspension? That, and I wouldn't want to give you frostbite."
"Do whatever you have to."
He breathed in through the nose, lifted an arm, and pushed some hair away from his face. Then he laid the arm back down again, breathing out through the mouth. "I could fall asleep."
She stroked back the strands of hair he'd missed. "You could, but…"
"My answers to any questions you might have would be less charming."
"Time Lords don't really-"
"Oh, I know. You'd relive, then. Remember. Re-"
"You know, this pain isn't so bad. It was decidedly worse last time. Of course, then I got one thorn in the chest and the other one nearly… It was worse. That was when this path hadn't been discontinued, so I couldn't really lie down. See, I was shepherding a bunch of-"
"Well, it's technically not supposed to be used anymore, because the thorns have grown too close. They're lethal to the people here, these thorns. But I'm a Time Lord." He gritted his teeth.
She stroked his shoulders. "The TARDIS will be here soon. Do you want that cup of tea?"
She raised a brow. "You have a fever."
"I don't have a fever. What I have are some dilated blood vessels and some old-fashioned cold sweat." He grimaced, squeezed his eyes shut.
River straightened her spine. "Where does it hurt?"
"Neck, neck, neck!"
"Anything I can do?"
"Yes! Remove your lap from my head."
River hurriedly shuffled backwards and got to her feet.
"That's better. I — Where are you? No touching the thorns! No touching!"
"I'm at least four feet away from any of them."
"Yes, well, you might fall."
River massaged some blood back into her thighs. "I'm not you."
"You can get to the Glade on your own, you know. I'll wait." He smiled. "I'm sure you'll be fine. Otherwise, just call Amy."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not leaving you here."
"I don't mind."
"Oh, shut up."
"I left my jacket on a very nice rock, if you want to sit."
"I'm going to lie down."
"You don't actually have to…" He wiggled his fingers, indicating himself and the ground, in turn. Then he hissed, made fists; pressed them to his sides. "I'm fine."
She stretched out next to him, propped herself up on an elbow. "I've learnt to seize any opportunity."
He laughed, and every 'ha' was very clear.
She frowned at his profile, outlined by the dark mass of thorns. His eyes never stopped moving. "I'm sorry, that didn't come out right."
"It's okay, I know what you mean."
She listened to his breathing, pretended not to notice when it caught. Instead, she focused on keeping her own steady. The sky really was beautiful. "Do you want me to get up?"
"This is nice and all, except for the pain," he said. "It's not that it's not nice, I'm just a bit… I mean, I want you to stay. Definitely stay."
She frowned. "What's wrong, then?"
"I really don't have time for this. We could have been done here and in Space Florida right now."
She reached out, stroked one of his cheeks with a finger. The skin just below the eyes was very pink; the rest was very pale. "This is the only chance you'll get to whine like this, you know."
He turned the corners of his mouth downward.
She resisted rolling her eyes, leaned over, and touched her lips to the closest corner.
When she pulled back, he made a small heeeee-like noise, which quickly turned into a cough and more pink skin. He moved the arm closest to her. "River."
She brushed the dirt off her free hand and took his. His grip was definitely decent, and the skin was dry and not too warm.
He said, "Everything's going to be fine."