Author's note: So this began as a cute and fluffy one-shot and turned into feels. I AM NOT SORRY. This does contain some mild spoilers for the Big Finish adventures River has been guest-starring in (you really should listen to the Doom Coalition series, it's fantastic) as well as spoilers for "The Legends of River Song" short story book. The title comes from "Hamilton." For reasons.
"If I could grant you peace of mind, would that be enough?"
The Doctor wasn't sure what prompted the locks on this particular part of his memories to crumble away.
He had been chatting with the Ponds, outlining plans for a deep space safari that required each participant to bring along a Wiffle ball and three cans of pink paint. Rory was hunting down the paint while Amy had taken it upon herself to construct a crude Wiffle ball gun using oddball parts she found beneath the TARDIS console and an old NERF water gun.
One moment, he was grinning at his Pond. The next, his memory had unlocked and missing parts of a trial his eighth self had gone through flooded his brain. Bright images of the Eleven and his Doom Coalition, Liv, and Helen flashed before him as if he was standing right there, and he was still living through the experience.
And with them stood River Song, his bloody wife, in a nun's habit.
Amy's sharp voice, followed by a snap of the fingers, shook him out of the memories. "Oh? Sorry, Pond."
"You weren't listening," Amy huffed. She stood back, hand on hip as she studied him. "What're you thinking about?"
"River," he replied before he could evade it. Which really there was no point in evading it since Amy was her mother.
"Oh! She'd love this." Amy smacked the Doctor's arm and skirted around him to the monitor. "Let's pick her up. Besides, when you get us in trouble with the natives, she can rescue us."
"You make that sound like this is an everyday occurrence."
Amy ignored him and yanked the keyboard to her.
"We are not constantly rescued by bloody River Song!"
"Yes, we are, and don't call my daughter bloody."
The Doctor harrumphed at her and threw himself on the captain's seat as Amy typed out a message to send her daughter at some point in time and space. He closed his eyes and went back through the memories. It was clear that River had been trying to hide her identity, and a nun's habit was about the only thing that could contain her hair. But did she not think that he wouldn't one day recall her eyes, the pitch of her voice, the scent of time that clung to her and mingled with her natural chemistry that rendered even the most expensive perfume in the universe ineffective? He shifted restlessly.
"Done!" Amy bounced to his side and lightly smacked his knee. "Stop that."
"Whatever lewd thoughts you're having about River."
"I am not having lewd thoughts about her." Or he hadn't been before Amy brought it up. He wondered if he could convince River to wear the nun's habit again?
"I said stop! Budge over." Amy squeezed in next to the Doctor, and that effectively quashed any lewd directions his thoughts had been taking. Not that they were to begin with, no thank you, Amelia Pond.
Amy winged an eyebrow at him, and the Doctor decided he really needed to stop muttering under his breath.
"How's Rory?" he piped up, desperate to change the subject.
"Rory? He's still off on that wild goose chase, I imagine. Where in the TARDIS do you keep a supply of Pooshian Pink paint?"
"Artist's studio." The Doctor put an arm around Amy, hugging her. "I mean, how's Rory?"
Amy frowned at him. "Are you asking about our marriage?"
"What, am I not allowed?"
"But you don't do that." Amy waved her hands absently as she talked. "You don't do stuff like ask about our families or about work or all that domestic stuff. You're rubbish at it." She tapped a finger on her knee and looked up at him. "Unless you're afraid that we're going to separate again, which will rock your world."
"I am not," the Doctor said firmly. After all, Amelia Pond and Rory Williams were meant to be together. That was a fact.
Amy laughed. "You're like a kid upset his parents are about to divorce. We're fine, Doctor, we really are. There's just some things we have to work through regarding everything, and it takes time to do that. I'm not sure you get that though."
The Doctor scowled. "Why wouldn't I get it?"
"Doctor, I know you. If you have a problem with someone, anyone, you just drop them off and come back at some later point in time. Real marriages have to live with the issues day after day until you work through them. They don't just magically go away after a snog and a skip in time." Amy slipped out of the chair and paced a few feet away before turning back to him. "Even you and River have problems. You just don't acknowledge them."
Before the Doctor could think of a response, Rory stumbled back into the console room covered in Jellostone Java paint and lugging three cans of a neon pink paint that had been outlawed on 16 planets.
He wouldn't think about it again for a lifetime.
The Doctor poked his head through a long rack of multicolored scarves. Really garish and such a tripping hazard. He wondered why he kept them around. He grunted and shoved them aside as he kept hunting down the particular device he sought. He was quickly learning that despite their willingness to spend at least the next 24 years together – after all, he hadn't told River how long a year on Darillium lasted – his wife had a number of side jobs and quests she engaged in and didn't plan to give up. Greedy for more time with her, he encouraged her off-planet excursions in time and space.
This particular mission she needed to finish for Milova 3 would be rather easy considering he had nicked the object she sought in his fourth incarnation and tossed it in the wardrobe. Apparently, it had been eaten by all the scarves.
"Oh, I haven't seen this in ages!"
The Doctor pushed a scarf out of his eyes in time to see River holding a nun's habit, coif, and veil. A corner of her mouth had lifted in a wry smirk, and with deft movements, she pulled the habit over her head. Her curls bounced every which way as she tugged the long robe over her curves, then reached for the coif. A few moments and a couple of hairpins later, she had everything in place. And there before him, for the first time in at least five reincarnations, stood his wife disguised in a nun's habit.
"From the way you're looking at me," River said cheerfully, "you're remembering our encounters while looking for the Doomsday Chronometer. How long have you known?"
"For a while," the Doctor admitted and scowled. It wasn't so much the memory of that adventure coming to mind, but the chat he had had with Amy when it resurfaced. The rush of memories, Amy's teasing, the chat they'd had while squished together on the captain's chair. He deeply missed the casual camaraderie he'd had with his Pond.
But that last thing she'd said echoed in his mind, like a record needle stuck in a groove.
"Even you and River have problems. You just don't acknowledge them."
Amy had been right. His wife had apparently lived through the centuries of their marriage believing somewhere deep inside that he felt nothing for her, that he was incapable of returning the complex emotions that she felt for him. Which was complete and utter rubbish. Humans were obsessed with shouting whatever they were feeling to the heavens, with silly public proposals and dramatic Facebook statuses. It was required to make a fool of one's self over love, though the Doctor had been plenty of a fool around River in multiple incarnations.
The Doctor knew that any pairing - romantic, platonic, political, business, etc. – had to be worked at to be maintained. But he'd realized with a shock, standing in the dining room of the Harmony & Redemption, that his own relationship with River had fractured in the days after Manhattan and that he had refused to fix it. Which made perfect sense considering that his previous incarnation was far better at running than fixing.
He hoped he was making up for it now. He'd let his guard slip when he snapped at her that no living thing was worth her, and that was something Amy Pond wouldn't have understood when she had scolded the Doctor so long ago. If he actually acknowledged just what he felt for River and the depth of that feeling, he put the universe at risk. He'd nearly torn it apart looking for a kidnapped Amy and Melody. He knew what he would do. None of them got it. His precious Amelia, his Clara lost to time. Both of them had made romantic attachments that drove them to desperate actions to saved their chosen mates. Both had accused him of not getting what they felt.
Oh, he understood. He understood completely. Because if he allowed the part of him that felt those utterly deep, complex, human emotions for River to roam about unchecked, he would do something colossally dangerous and would put the lives of 4,022 people and Donna at stake.
No living thing was worth River Song being at his side. But in order for many to live, one day he would have to let her go.
"You know; you keep frowning at me like I've done something wrong." River walked toward him and he noticed that he could see her hips sway even wearing that stupidly large habit. "If I've been a bad girl, maybe you should punish me?"
Instead of the flirting she'd been expecting, he just kept frowning. "But I do punish you."
River's eyebrows furrowed, and she sighed. "Somehow, I get the feeling you and I are talking about different types of punishing."
He waved a hand in the air. "Amy said you and I had problems."
"Why are you talking about my mother?"
"Because." He indicated the outfit she wore. "Habit. Memories."
River didn't say anything at first, and he felt a rush of gratitude. She knew the complexities of unlocked memories, how one remembered item could trigger a host of other incidents. "I take it you remembered our prior adventure when you were with my parents."
"We're working on our problems, right?"
River blinked once, then he saw it. If you didn't know her, didn't know how to look at her, it would have been missed. Her face settled into a neutral expression, which she always did when she wanted to hide something. He frantically did calculations in his head and realized that in normal human standard, it'd been a week since they crash landed on Darillium, give or take a few leaps in time. They'd spoken around the issue, and there was an unspoken understanding between them.
"Sweetie, we don't have any issues," River said slowly.
"Bollocks. Yes, we do. They didn't just magically go away because we snogged on a balcony."
She smirked. "Sweetie, we did far more than snog on that balcony."
"You know what I mean."
"Doctor," River said quietly, "you heard my innermost fears when we were on that ship. I was under the impression we cleared all of that up a week ago."
"But you still believe it, don't you?" He narrowed his eyes. "We're still living with that, right?"
She narrowed her eyes right back. "It's my issue. I'll deal with it."
"No. It's my fault. We'll deal with it." He held out his arms. "Come here. Hide your face."
She hesitated, and he could see the pride war with the need to be with him. He helped her out by tugging her arms. She settled into his embrace, and he rested his chin against the top of her head. He grumbled, then yanked the veil away. "Get this thing off," he grumbled and tugged at the coif.
Laughing softly against his chest before pulling away, River pulled off the coif and let it drop on top of the veil. "Better?"
"This too." He grabbed handfuls of the habit and yanked it over her head. When she stood before him actually looking like River again, he didn't pull her back into his arms. "I was having lewd thoughts about you in that habit."
"You should have told me that before you tore it off me."
"But then Amy said people have to really work through their issues. We never have, have we?"
River leaned against a wardrobe overstuffed with garishly colored coats that had belonged to his sixth self. "Doctor, how would your previous self have dealt with my feelings regarding us? You were wonderful when it came to any issues stemming from my years with the Silence. You weren't completely useless, so stop thinking that."
He hated when she knew what he was thinking.
"But any time we talked about what was between us, you avoided it. Not only avoided it, but you acted like they weren't even there. Then you were shocked every time that you realized they existed, like when you didn't understand why I was upset with you in Manhattan. They never went away. Acknowledging an issue requires all participants of the relationship. I didn't fully accept that when we were first married, but I grew to understand. It's a part of you. I either accept all of it or none of it. I'm not built any other way." She shrugged. "Blame my parents."
He thought of the data ghost of her, the ghost that had haunted him until Trenzalore. The one who had thought he had never seen her. He'd never stopped seeing her.
"I'm a rubbish husband," he sighed.
"I'm a rubbish wife," she replied.
The Doctor scowled at River, but she shrugged again. "I ran away after Manhattan, just like you. It takes both people being willing to sort out the issues in a marriage. The burden isn't all on you Doctor, no matter how many convinced you it was. I didn't talk, so there was nothing for you to listen to."
"What's something you kept from me?"
River picked up one of the coat sleeves and fidgeted with it. She didn't say anything for a long time, but he waited. The silence wrapped around them, oppressive and laden with emotion.
"I wanted a baby," she finally confessed. "Or I thought I wanted a baby. I nearly asked you, when we picnicked on Asgard. I wasn't even sure I wanted it, and logically there is a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn't procreate. Part of me wanted to at least discuss it, to see if you were open to having children. But I never did."
"Do you still want a baby?"
She met his gaze. "No," she said with simple honesty. "Do you want a baby? You were once a father."
"If it happens," he said after a moment, "I won't run away."
"That's not the same thing as saying if you actually want a baby or not."
"It means that I don't mind one way or another. Procreation is a miracle, but having kids doesn't or shouldn't be the ultimate definition of our relationship." He snorted. "I blame Facebook. Humans and their social media. Besides, it's up to you. It's your body."
"Feminists all over the universe rejoice." River smiled at him finally, and the fist the Doctor didn't realize had closed around his hearts loosened. "But there's your example."
He had his own issues with her, with their marriage. He thought about The Library and was perilously close to telling all. So he closed his eyes and said, "Yes, that's a good example. I didn't run away."
"No, you didn't. That's progress." River reached for his hand and squeezed. "Now, let's keep looking for that device. I'll check these coats before I burn them."
She stuck her upper body into the wardrobe, and the Doctor watched, half admiring her bum as it wiggled about with her movements. He turned his rings around and around on his finger. "Humans," he said, "have this driving need to say how in love they are."
"That's something that makes them human," River's muffled voice replied. "God, Doctor, did you ever clean out these pockets? Where's my blaster, I think this one's still alive."
"You can stop being in love though. Love's like a casual thing that people tend to change as often as their pants. Which should be every day."
"Good hygiene is important. Oh, never mind, there was a hammer in another pocket." A thump and an alien shriek came from the depths of the wardrobe. "OK, it's dead. Good thing too, that would have gone straight to the heart of the TARDIS."
"It's a pretty shitty word, love."
"Sweetie, there's poets who would eviscerate you just for even proposing the idea. Oh, I haven't seen one of these in ages! You don't mind if I nick this, right?"
"Humans don't have a term for when you feel something so deep and complex for a person because they insist on vocalizing everything. They call it love, but they use it so casually that it's lost all that meaning. They say it's love when a man beats his wife or abuses his children. They also claim it's love when talking about someone who knows you better than you know yourself. When your whole universe was off its axis before that person waltzed into your life, and no matter how much chaos they bring with them, that person also puts the universe to rights."
"There's no expression for how proud you are of her, all the time, even at the same time you want to throttle her constantly. Or what you will do, what you will give up, just to be by her side. What you will avoid because you don't want that time with her to end. Because you're not sure how you will go on if that person wasn't somewhere in the universe. You don't think you could survive it. There's things you can't even vocalize. You justknow."
Slowly, River pulled her head out of the wardrobe, and her eyes were shining. "Are you trying to tell me that you love me?"
"I told you," the Doctor said, surprised at how choked up he sounded. "Love is a shitty word."
"Yet, they haven't come up with anything better for the past few millennia."
His eyes were on hers, steady and hopefully showing her what pithy, inadequate human words couldn't. "Then that's the closest approximation of it. I love you."
She looked away, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I didn't say it just so you can bawl."
"Well, you're just going to have to deal with it," River snapped.
The Doctor sighed and fished out a handkerchief, handing it over before hauling her back into his arms. He absently stroked her back as she pressed her face into his chest.
See, Pond, he thought. We're working through our issues. Or starting to at least.
"I love you too," his wife whispered against his chest. "For all the same, complex, human reasons."
The Doctor pressed a kiss to River's curls and decided at that very moment he would tell her about it. All of it. About the Library and to hell with the consequences. Maybe not at that very second. But he would, soon.