"How much did you give up?"
The Doctor looked up from where he was sitting on the stairway in his TARDIS, his body slow, and weighed down with grief. He didn't understand. "Of what?" He asked brokenly, his voice barely a whisper. River was staring at him coldly, any grief she was harboring locked deep.
"Your life. Lives. How much of yourself did you give for this?" She said, her tone hard and unflinching, holding up her once broken wrist and hand.
"Does it matter?" He asked, paling. He couldn't comprehend why River wasn't broken about what had just happened. He couldn't fathom how the rest of the universe was moving on when it felt like his had stopped.
"Yes. It matters quite a bit. Because you cannot afford to be throwing away bits of your life energy just because I get into tight spots." River scolded, advancing on him until she stood over him, her hand held up like a physical condemnation.
"I can't afford?" The Doctor repeated, looking up at River, his eyes filled with the pain his body was barely enduring. "Why does it matter? How does any of it matter? You were hurt. I could fix it, why am I being punished for that?" He asked, his anger stirring weakly. He hardly had the energy to fight her on it.
"You can't afford because that was years of your life that you will NEVER get back!" River said, still visibly angry. "You are not allowed to just stop like that. You have so much more to do, and wasting who knows how many years of your life on my stupid wrist is the last thing you deserve to be doing! The universe needs you, Doctor. Not some stupid, sentimental version of the man you used to be."
The Doctor's brow creased and he felt a white hot anger surge through his pain, mixing the emotions into an explosive force he couldn't contain. He stood abruptly, now face to face with his accuser. "DESERVE? What EXACTLY do I DESERVE, RIVER? CAN YOU TELL ME THAT? Do I deserve to keep on living after everyoneI love has died?!" He demanded, tears standing in his eyes. "Why is it my job to keep the universe spinning? I didn't create it. I didn't ask to look after it. So why am I expected to keep on for the sake of this BLOODY cosmos when every beat of my hearts is physically painful?! Why am I being punished for healing your hand, for giving you something that wasn't even mine to begin with. Thanks to you, Melody, I have quite a few more years to live than I ever did before. That many more years to go on alone."
River clenched her jaw, staring at him. "People die, Doctor. It is the natural order of life." She said harshly. "But there will be many more for you to meet. Many more for you to love and to live with."
"How many times do you think I can take this River?" The Doctor asked, quiet, spent. He looked at her earnestly, his raw agony exposed. "How many times do I have to watch the people get torn away from me without the option of going there myself? Yes River. People die. So why am I exempt from that rule? Why do I have to keep on? Romana, Sarah Jane, Jo, Rose, Donna, Rory- Amy." His voice broke as he said her name and a tear streaked down his cheek. "How many, River? How many am I expected to outlive? Is this my punishment for what I did back in the time war? Are you my jury and judge without giving me the peace to be my executioner?"
"Doctor-" she tried, reaching out to touch his face.
"No, River." He said, turning away. "Don't."
"Doctor." She swallowed. "I do it because I care. I can't bear the thought of the universe without you in it. And I wish I could do more, sweetie. I really wish I could- but the only way for us to keep on living is through you. We all gave our lives to you, Doctor. Amy, Rory, everyone who's ever loved and protected you has given their lives so you can keep on and live better. And you do not have the right to throw that away."
"I didn't ask you to." The Doctor said quietly. "I destroyed you all, sucked you dry like a parasite to keep myself from pain and in the end I get what I deserve. I once gave up ten years of my life, to keep the TARDIS alive." He said quietly, placing a hand on the console and looking at it fondly, devoid of the joy it usually gave him. "I would have given a hundred, or a thousand. I would have given the rest. Because she is all I have. She and you." The Doctor said, turning to look at River. "You and Amy and Rory and all of the people I've sapped of life, you are all I have. And I do not deserve to do any less than lay down my life for every last one of you." His body shuddered in an exhausted sigh. "And that is the only reason I am still living." He said, looking at the floor, too tired, to broken to look up again.
River felt her hearts stall and her throat close. This was more broken than she'd ever seen him before. She wanted to go to him, but she also wanted to hide. Hide the pain from him. Because he didn't like endings.
But he was at an ending. There was no use in hiding pain from someone already so devoured by it. River started to wonder if the moments in which he was happy truly made up for moments like this, when he looked so broken she marveled he was still breathing. Every tiny movement of his chest looked labored, as though if it were his choice he would just stop all together. Just stop living.
She went to him.
"Doctor. I'm sorry." She said, laying a gentle hand on his chest and placing her other under his chin, lifting it for him so he was staring at her with his tear-burdened eyes. He looked so tired. "Oh sweetie. You will heal again. There is so much more joy to be found, and know this. What we have each done, we have done voluntarily. You showed us the best and most beautiful things in the universe, and that has to come with a price. But you have to live, Doctor." She said, putting pressure on his chest for emphasis. "We love you. And there is so many more who will love you. They will heal your hearts, and probably break them again. But it means you are living and helping us live in a way no one else can. The pain you feel doesn't mean you were wrong to let us in, Doctor. It means you were right." She gazed at him with a sadness that almost matched his own, her wisdom far beyond her years. "I know pain, Doctor. Each time I meet you you know me less, and it feels like dying. But I'd rather know you now than not ever, and I will meet you again someday when your work is done."
"I can't, River. It hurts too much." He whispered, his body quivering almost imperceptibly with exhaustion. "It has been too much too many times-"
River stopped him with a gentle finger on his lips before sliding her hand from his chest up to cup his cheek. "Oh Doctor, I know." She said, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips, stroking his jaw and throat with her thumbs. He kissed her back, his eyes squeezing shut and his arms encircling her. She was all he had.
When she pulled back she still held on to him, allowing him to hold her like she was the last thing keeping him sane. He buried his face in her shoulder and sobbed in earnest, his body wracked with them. She stroked his hair, tears standing in her eyes. "I know."