twitchbell: <user name=twitchbell> (Default)
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Title: The Art of Losing
Author: twitchbell
Fandom: Doctor Who
Rating: Mature
Characters: Eleventh Doctor; River Song
Pairing: Eleven/River
Summary: You look after him. You be a good girl and you look after him. Missing scene. Hurt/Comfort. Angst.
Word count: 1208
Spoilers: The Angels Take Manhattan
Author's Note: Set near the end of the episode, just prior to the scene between River and the Doctor in the TARDIS.

River had to coax the Doctor back to the TARDIS one painful step at a time.

His arm was rigid under her touch and for several minutes he seemed barely aware she existed. Only when the bright light enveloped them and the door closed on the graveyard did he look at her. And then she wished he hadn't. She was glad when he turned away and rested his forehead against the door.

Just stop it, he'd begged – ordered – her. And she hadn't. She'd enabled it. Because her mother and father belonged together, and neither their daughter nor their dearest friend had any right to deny them, however much it hurt. And it did hurt. Oh, it did.

For a long time he didn't speak and there was nothing she felt able to say to him. Every line of his body betrayed his tension and it would break soon, one way or another. So she waited. Like her father, she knew how to wait.

'This is wrong. This is all wrong!' The Doctor spun away from the door. His lips were drawn tight, his eyes dark with fury and grief. 'I should be able to make this right. I should be able to save them!'

'You still might be able to save them.' River challenged, testing his resolve. 'It would certainly cost a city. Or maybe an entire planet. But you're a Time Lord. The Last Time Lord. And you can do what you want.'

The Doctor went very still and she flinched from the raw memory in his eyes as he rounded on her. 'Been there. Tried that. Didn't like the tee shirt.'

'So don't wear it again.'

'Then what the hell's the use of me? I screw up the people I love. I mindwipe them. Drive them away. At best I get them stranded in time or space. At worst, I – ' He stopped and stared at her. Then he swallowed hard, looking immeasurably lost and alone. 'River, why can't someone ever just leave?'

'They can only leave if you let them go, my love.'

That was when he broke at last and wept openly, and that was when River finally came forward and wrapped herself around him. His hearts hammered an angry tattoo against her body, his grip on her arms tight enough to leave bruises as he held onto her like she was his anchor in a shifting world. And that hurt in a different way because River knew she was nothing of the sort.

She wanted to say something to him, to speak some word of comfort, but coherent speech was beyond her. As if he sensed this, the Doctor shifted their embrace until his face was pressed close to hers and their tears mingled, his grief and her own tangled together in one messy knot she couldn't begin to unravel. Never let him see the damage, she'd told Amy. Well, this time the damage was mutual.

River never knew which of them began the kiss, but it didn't matter. All she cared about was the familiar touch and taste of him as she raked her fingers into his hair and tugged him closer. He'd never kissed her before with such a degree of desperation, her brilliant, foolish, needy Doctor, and she craved the consolation he offered every bit as much as he did. At least in this she could be what he wanted. For a little while.

Neither of them paused to properly undress. Nor did they bother with words or much of anything that could be called lovemaking. This wouldn't be the first time their mutual need had found them rutting up against the console – and River prayed it wouldn't be the last – but she knew what drove them this time was different.

The Doctor's fingers, cold and hard, dug into her skin and she curved her hands around his hips, not certain whether she was guiding him or just demanding that he get on with it. Then she stopped thinking and lost herself in the bitter-sweet moments that followed until her vision blurred and she couldn't breathe, and her entire body shook in a release that left her light-headed and empty. She felt the Doctor's movements turn jagged and uncontrolled and heard him groan once, and then it was over.

When they drew apart, it was with a certain amount of awkwardness on his part because he was the Doctor and in some situations he didn't know how to be anything other than awkward. His fringe dangled in his eyes. He reached up to push it back, opening his mouth to speak, but River got in first.

'If you say sorry, I'm going to have to slap you.'

'I was going to say thank you.' The Doctor kissed her clumsily on the cheek.

She softened slightly. 'And just you did.'

'Are we all right, River?' His hair had fallen over his face again and this time he swept it back with both hands. His eyes were still haunted, but at least he was calm. For the moment. River didn't fool herself that this would necessarily last; the Doctor tended not to do things by halves, and that included grieving.

'Of course we're all right.' She lifted her chin. 'We're always all right.'

He gave a sad smile. 'Donna asked me once if "all right" was special Time Lord code for not really all right at all.'

'Smart lady.'

'Yes.' The Doctor didn't say anything about how it ended with Donna, but River gave his shoulder a small squeeze just the same and his eyes flickered in acknowledgement. 'We should – '

'Of course.' River dropped her arms to her sides and he stepped away.

Then she shivered.

It was such a simple thing – just words and a mutual moving apart. It was meaningless and yet suddenly it meant everything. Topsy-turvy and helter-skelter as their relationship was, wouldn't it also have a true beginning and end?

River's eyes welled with fresh tears – and damn it, she didn't want to do this right now, she really didn't – and she tried to wipe them away without the Doctor seeing. That wasn't difficult: he'd seated himself away from her and was staring blankly into the middle distance. As a Time Lord, most likely he'd felt the same momentary disconnection she had – probably more so.

It was wrong. It was all wrong. She loved him and he would leave her. Or she would leave him. Her lips twisted. But of course. They were the Doctor and River Song: it was never going to be straightforward. And it was never going to be fair. The truth of it was that the Doctor would learn to go on living without her parents, and one day he would learn to go on living without her. And she loved him too much to deny him the right to move on, however much it hurt. And it did hurt.

Oh, it did.

River closed her eyes for a long moment and took a deep breath. Then she stood up straight, squared her shoulders and shook back her hair. And if her smile was more tremulous than she wanted, well, that didn't matter. She would perfect it, and the Doctor need never know.

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January 2015


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