WARNING: FULL SPOILERS FOR "THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN"
Summary: When he looked at her with such fascination and admiration and deep kinship - the way he never looked at anyone else - it was difficult to ask him to slow down because she was getting a blister.
A/N: Like everyone else, I have FEELINGS about “The Angels Take Manhattan.” These are a few of them.
She couldn't stay in the Control Room another moment. Couldn't see the look of anguish on his face without breaking down herself. Couldn't hear him beg her to stay with him - to really stay - again, knowing that it wasn't her he really wanted. It was her mother.
She couldn't process his grief any longer without releasing some of her own.
So after promising to drop a note to past-Amy (and what else would she write in that note?) along with her yet-to-be-started manuscript, she left him alone and retreated to her room.
They had a room together, of course, but this one was hers alone. She was pretty sure he didn't even know it existed. A secret between herself and the TARDIS - the place River Song went to when she needed to be Melody Williams again. When she needed to let herself be fallible and human.
The tears started the moment she opened the door, and with a deep, shuddering sigh she collapsed onto the bed and began to sob.
Almost an hour later, the tears had stopped. Now she lay staring at the ceiling, thinking not about her parents - that wound was still too raw - but about the Doctor. The Doctor and River Song.
There had been years - decades - when, like her parents, she hadn't been able to imagine a life without him. Years spent in Stormcage, breaking out at every opportunity, just for the chance to be near him, and to feel that rush of adrenaline as they ran into (and away from) some new adventure. Years when this body had been young and she'd felt as invincible as he clearly thought her to be.
She'd always known better, but when he looked at her with such fascination and admiration and deep kinship - the way he never looked at anyone else - it had been difficult to ask him to slow down because she was getting a blister.
River had two hearts. River had once been able to regenerate. River had lived for centuries beyond the normal human lifespan because on the most fundamental level she wasn't human. Except for the parts of her that were.
One of those parts had caused her to build a beacon at the top of a pyramid and declare that losing him would cause her more pain than the rest of the universe would feel as it died.
That part had embarrassed him.
Oh, how those words had cut her to the bone. She didn't mind making him angry or confused. She rather enjoyed both at times. But embarrassed?
That had been the day she'd sworn to herself that he would never again see this mistake-ridden, vulnerable, human side of her again.
So she didn't. She saved her aches and tears for her cell or her flat, and only let him see the sparkling brilliance and sometimes superhuman abilities that were a gift from the TARDIS and the time vortex. She let him believe, as he so clearly needed to, that he wasn't alone in the universe. That there was someone else like him out there, who could be brilliant and maddening without all of the pesky minutiae that involved living day-to-day life as a mortal being. If she traveled with him for very long he would figure it all out, which was why she would never stay.
It was hardly a healthy foundation for any relationship, particularly for a married couple, but it was the only way she knew how to maintain the illusion that she was what he needed her to be.
Today he had coyly smiled to see her in the clutches off a Weeping Angel, only to turn her into an object lesson for Amy. And then he'd left her in anger to fend for herself ("Change the future," indeed) because he would have been able to do it, and if he could, so could she.
Except she couldn't.
Time had been running out - she'd heard them talking as they had emerged from the basement - and so she'd done the only thing she could. She'd broken her own wrist, the Angel's claws slicing the soft skin on the back of her hand to shreds, and walked downstairs hoping that he didn't notice how awkwardly she was holding her handheld and the paperback.
He'd declared her brilliant, and marveled to her mother - almost too impressed for coherence - at how amazing she was. She'd have been lying not to acknowledge that his admiration had numbed her physical pain better than any drug she could have taken in that moment. But then, as he was bound to do, he grabbed her hand, and the illusion shattered.
All the pent-up resentment she hadn't even realized she was carrying had exploded in that moment, and she'd thrown his words back in his face. "You embarrass me." Then she'd fled to the street, knowing that it wasn't River speaking in that moment. It was Melody.
The memories of what came next touched too near the raw nerve that was Amy, and she stood again, shaking her head to clear it of painful thoughts.
They needed to talk.
He was sitting in the swing under the console, staring at a page clearly ripped out of a paperback book. She suspected she knew which one. She also suspected she knew what was written on that page, seeing as how she'd just promised to arrange for it to be printed.
"What does she say?" River asked softly.
"Goodbye," he replied, closing his eyes and running his hand over his face. He held out the page to her. "You can read it if you like."
She shook her head. "Later." No, she couldn't deal with that now - couldn't go near the place in her heart that was suddenly furiously angry that her mother's final words weren't to her, but to her husband.
Neither spoke for a long moment. Then he reached for her hand - the same one he had healed only hours earlier - and pulled her roughly to him. His arms wrapped around her waist and he pressed his face against her chest. She could feel his tears soak through the thin fabric of her dress.
"Doctor," she began.
"I need you," he said roughly, standing and pressing his forehead against hers. "Please, River, I -" and without finishing the thought, he kissed her with all the desperation of a man who was terrified beyond words and reason by the loss he'd just experienced and the ones he knew were coming.
This isn't right said the Melody voice in the back of River's mind. There are things I need to say before we do this.
Shut up, River retorted. He needs this. I need this.
River's hands fisted in the Doctor’s hair as she returned the kiss with equal desperation. His hands began to wander over the familiar curves of her body, and her last coherent thought for some time was of just how much she wished the Melody voice would stop.
Some time later, they lay tangled together in their bed. He idly played with one of her curls, and she realized that now was the time. If they were going to have this talk, it needed to be now before she lost her nerve.
"I didn't realize," he started before she could open her mouth.
"Realize what?" she asked, her mouth suddenly dry.
"Realize that what I said to you back then - back at Area 52 - had hurt you so badly." He spoke into her hair, and she kept her eyes fixed on his chest. This wasn't a conversation they could have eye-to-eye.
"It..." she stopped herself. She'd almost said that it hadn't. The lies were too easy, and too deeply ingrained a habit to break. "I realized something that day. Something important about you and me, and that was that if I was going to be with you I needed to be like you. Not just mentally, but I needed to be -" she stopped.
"You needed to be something more than human," he finished for her. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak again yet as long-repressed tears welled in her eyes.
"I've wished a thousand times that I hadn't said those words," he said, so softly she almost didn't hear him. "Not because I didn't mean them at the time, but because I said them in anger. It wasn't just you I was angry at either - it was me. I was angry that everything I was had caused so much harm to the universe, to Amy, to you."
River hugged herself to him a bit more tightly. She'd wondered at times if that hadn't been the case. But his words had been at least partly directed at her, and he had meant them. Frankly, looking back on those days, she was a little embarrassed by herself. She'd been so headstrong, so feckless, and so very sure of herself. So very wrong and right at the same time.
"You don't need to pretend," he whispered.
"Yes I do," she replied.
He didn't answer. They both knew she was right.
They had dressed in silence, still avoiding one another’s gaze. She had discarded the evening dress - it was stained and tattered beyond repair at this point - and had exchanged it for far more comfortable, though less flattering clothes than she usually donned on the TARDIS. He pretended not to notice, and headed back to the Control Room, probably to set course for a new destination. She knew it wouldn't be Earth.
She sat heavily back on the bed and ran a hand over her hair. It was a disaster, she knew, but she didn't have the energy at the moment to put it back to rights. No reasonable person would, after the day she'd had, but wasn't that just the point? She hadn't been a reasonable person, not where the Doctor was concerned, for a long time.
He'd given her an out just now. Had told her she could be herself, the woman who was both River Song and Melody Williams. In a way, those had been the only words she'd wanted him to say since they were both young and newly in love. But in the same breath, she'd rejected the idea. He needed the illusion - the infallible River persona. His stated desire to let her be a real person was an impulse of a moment. It wouldn't last.
River knew what she needed to do.
“So where to next?” she asked, standing at the top of the stairs looking down at him as he laconically twisted dials and pushed buttons.
He shrugged, clearly not in the mood to talk. That was fine. She had words enough for both of them.
“Stop,” she said authoritatively as she came down the stairs. “Look at me.”
He did, and the pain in his eyes took her breath away: pain for himself, for Amy and Rory. But mostly, in this moment, pain for her. Pain for what he thought he’d done to her. What he had done, if only by subconsciously encouraging her to make specific choices.
“I lie,” she said, “all the time. You’ve always known that. This lie…it just happens to be a bit bigger than the others. The truth doesn’t make things easier this time.” He opened his mouth to reply, but she stopped him with a finger on his lips. “Let me finish. You need me to be the person you think I am because if I’m not then so many other things that you also need to believe start to crack and crumble. Why else would I have worked so hard for so long to keep you believing? Right now, for today, I’m going to be me – the real me. I’m not always wearing high heels, my hair isn’t always perfectly styled, and I don’t always have all of the answers. Today you get to see that. Tomorrow we aren’t going to speak of this, and things will go back to the way they’ve always been. You decide from there where we go next.”
She removed her hand from his mouth and held her breath as she waited for his reply.
“Okay,” he whispered, and took her hand.
There were no further talks of promises kept or broken. No further talk of what was and wasn’t real. There was just the two of them, loving each other as best they could as the universe changed around them.