He leaves Amy sleeping. He's never seen her look so pale, her naturally milk-fair skin with a pallor that looks almost grey against the streaked red-and-silver of her hair, more dark than bright with age, but still thick where it lies against her cheeks and trails down over her shoulders.
He sits down with Rory in the kitchen, perching on the edge of a metal chair so as to be prepared if River calls for him; he's left her leaning over her mother with tears in her eyes and is loath to abandon her at a time like this, but she asked for a few minutes alone with Amy. Nonetheless, he's ready if she calls.
Rory's face is lined with age, puffy and tired; he clearly hasn't had much sleep in the last couple of weeks, and who would, with the love of their life so close to death, and love of his life means more than most to Rory the Roman, the Last Centurion, the boy who waited two thousand years to protect the woman he loves, and now is losing to an illness even the Doctor can't fix. He opens his mouth to speak, and he clearly can't get the words out, shutting his lips against them. The Doctor wonders what he was about to say, and if it matters. It probably does at a time like this.
“Cup of tea?” the Doctor asks, hoping it'll help Rory to have something to do. He's not about to say it, but he hopes it might help him too, the lump in his throat is nearly choking him. Amelia Pond. He's missed her, and he'll miss her even more before long.
“Right, yeah,” Rory says, looking slightly dazed, and starts to get up and move stiffly towards the counter and the kettle. The Doctor changes his mind quickly and gets up, putting one hand on Rory's shoulder to stop him.
“I'll do it,” he says, and does.
“Doctor,” Rory begins again when they're both sitting down, the heat of a mug warming the Doctor's hands while Rory's is placed on the counter beside him where he can't drop it – his hands are visibly shaking now. This time he seems able to go on, a bit.
“Amy, when she was awake, she, she asked – Doctor, I know you know when River will die – has died,” he manages.
It must be hard to say when his daughter is just a couple of rooms away, healthy and youthful and clearly not about to die from anything at this end of time. The Doctor bites his lip.
“Rory Pond,” he says gently, scratching his cheek, “tell me. Anything – anything I can do to help, you know I will. I promise.”
“Well,” his father-in-law says quietly (and it's still never not weird to think, Rory and Amy for in-laws and still so much younger than himself even though they've looked their age for a while now, and that's not the point), “we were hoping that – well, when - if anything – happens – when it, you could – would you bury us with River? The two of us?” Rory's eyes are wet with tears and still startlingly blue, despite the rings of developing cataract, as he raises them to the Doctor's face.
He wasn't expecting that. He almost says “Of course,” but catches himself, knowing he can't. He knows where River died – has died, will die, physically – but he never did bury her; there was nothing left to bury, and he never did figure out why that was. Consumed by the power she'd channelled, he always assumed. How to explain this? He decides quickly on candour. Rory deserves nothing less about his daughter. He can faintly hear his beautiful wife singing an old lullaby to her slowly dying mother, over in the downstairs bedroom. Dying and he can do nothing about it but let it happen. Oh, Amy. Amelia Pond. The girl who got tired of waiting.
He takes a deep breath.
“Well, you see, the thing is... um, I, well, I never buried River,” he confesses, almost blurting out the last part, eyes everywhere but on the Roman's face. “She – we were – will be – in the Library when she died – dies, I mean. Well, on it – the planet.” He's speaking very softly now, knowing that he can't let her hear any of this.
“What do you mean?” Rory frowns, face all tensed up like he might start crying again, and he wouldn't blame him. He feels rather close to it himself. “You didn't bury her? Tell me you didn't just leave her!”
His own mouth is twisting in remembered pain, now; the pain of that right hook of River's and the worse pain of watching her knowingly sacrifice herself to save them all, so much worse now that he knows her. His fingers tighten on the mug in his hands.
“Not exactly,” he says. “She – well, her body died. And she couldn't regenerate, of course – not because of what she did for me in Berlin, nobody could have. She knocked me out, handcuffed me to make sure I wouldn't try to do it in her place. I didn't even know she was part Time Lord then, first day I ever met her.” He hasn't talked about this to anyone in years – decades, and never in so much detail.
Rory stifles a small sob and takes a gulp of his tea, probably thinking about how brave his beautiful daughter was – always is, always will be, even to the last. So brave.
“But why couldn't you bury her?”
“Well, she's dead and she isn't,” he finally admits, pushing his hair back with one hand and swigging his tea from the other, hoping it'll help with that lump in his throat that feels like it's rising higher just talking about this. “I saved her, her consciousness, into the computer mainframe there, with all the stories ever written to live through, to keep her company. Her body was – it's gone, though.” He takes another deep breath. “Of course, I know now that she'd hate it, but I didn't know her at all back then. I'd never met her before – I couldn't have guessed.”
He can feel the tears trickle down his nose, now; he'd managed to hold them back, to be strong for River while they were with Amy, but now, thinking about her, he breaks. He can feel Rory staring at him as he stares down at the mug in his hand.
“There's got to be a way to get her out of there.” Rory gets to his feet, and the Doctor realises he's said that aloud. He sighs. “I'll figure it out someday.” He gets up, and hugs Rory, who's crying again, with an arm wrapped tight around his back, and they soak each other's shoulders for a minute. They're allowed, dammit. Their girls are—
“Can you do that for Amy?” Rory asks, eventually lifting his head.
“I can try,” he says, doubtful. Is there enough left of Amelia Pond in that body to make it worth it? “There're still – the place was infested with Vashta Nerada when we were there. It's why we had to do... what she did. But they've probably starved to death by now. It might be safe to go back.” He's already built the neural relay into his sonic screwdriver, in preparation for River. And River –
“She'll be with River,” Rory says, as if he'd been able to read what the Doctor was thinking. “Even if it's not our River, not our River now, she'll be there – right?”
The Doctor sighs sadly, sitting back down in the chair and drinking what's left of his tea. “Yeah. Yeah, she'll be there.” Unless I can figure out a way of getting her out, he doesn't say.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Rory says, simply. He doesn't ask about being saved himself, or about the possibility of getting Amy out if he figures out how to get River out, or anything like that. He doesn't need to ask. But if he can do that for them, he will. The Pond girls – his girls – and Rory the Roman.
“Anytime,” he says, sincerely.
He has to wait for Amy to wake up, to agree to it, and eventually she does. She's frail and weak beneath her TARDIS-blue duvet, but she still has enough of her mind to consent. He hates that he's had to ask Rory to get River to leave the room while he talks to Amy – he's making River tea, now, his hands are a bit less wobbly than they were half an hour ago – while her mother is awake, because it's not going to be for all that long, but he doesn't dare tell her anything about this.
Amy is surprisingly calm about it.
“I'll be with River, right?” she asks as he brushes a tendril of her hair out of her eyes with a gentle hand. “Can you do it for Rory too?”
“Of course,” he says. Of course he would. Never one without the other, those two, and to have both her parents with her would be so much less boring for River – even if it's only for long enough for him to figure out a way to really save them all, to get them new bodies, and it may not work for Amy and Rory, being, after all, only human – but he can always leave a copy of River in there to keep with them, after. Or get himself uploaded, if he finds anyone he trusts enough to do that when he's supposed to be already dead.
Whatever happens, he doesn't want to be without her. He understands that about Amy and Rory now, more than he ever did when they first married. He knows what it's like to have a love you wouldn't give up for anything. He never thought he would.
“Thank you,” Amy whispers, her voice showing her age, creaking a bit like old hinges.
River knocks lightly on the bedroom door, steps back into the room with him, and he takes her hand in his. He never wants to let her go, and he knows someday he'll have to. But not today.