The Doctor has told River that he loves her time and time again. Not the words. Not the romantic sentiment. The words 'I love you' are laden with romantic sentiment that would be a lie too far, for all that he lies about so many things. He would not tell that lie to her. But still he tries to convey the depth of his platonic feelings for her in hopes that those will suffice.
She doesn’t listen. Or if she does, she listens for the wrong things.
So the Doctor tries again.
She asks for romance, so he tries to give it to her. All she can see is how uncomfortable he is, that his hearts aren't in it the way she wants. He can give her every romantic cliche, and he does, but what she sees are the smiles that don't quite reach his eyes when the romantic trappings make him feel exactly that: trapped. Not that he gives her what she wants despite his discomfort. Not that he’d walk through fire if it made her happy.
He gives her his name. He teaches her to fly his TARDIS. He takes her dancing and to see fireworks and topple tyrants and rewrite time…
The Doctor knows he isn’t fair. He lies and plays favorites and pretends that if he tries hard enough he won’t lose anyone ever again.
He’s lost so many that every time he meets someone anew, someone he clicks with, he grasps that little bit more tightly to them.
But he’s always known when he’d lose River. Darillium. Their last night together would be on Darillium. So even though he loves her as fiercely as he does Amy and Rory, he doesn’t think to hold as tightly. Because they have time. A whole journal full of memories and she’s not even halfway there yet. But then River’s arm is broken and Amy and Rory are beyond the Doctor’s reach and he’s a mess.
He can’t apologize either. Whether its because he’s forgotten how to apologize properly or River won’t let him, the Doctor can never be sure.
River goes from being everywhere to nowhere and the Doctor wonders if he’s lost her already.
Clara is the Impossible Girl. Because if he treats her like a mystery, not a person, then maybe he won’t get attached this time. Maybe he can hold his distance and not dread the day when his love will prove to be not enough all over again.
But it turns out Clara is too much like him. And she doesn’t treat him like he isn’t enough. Instead, sometimes, he’s too much. But Clara never gives up on him, never stops loving him with the same strength with which he loves her. She doesn’t mistake his love for something it isn’t, either, or ask for things he can’t give.
Show me adventure and danger. Make me forget my heartbreak and loss.
He did too well, she forgot her own mortality. He didn’t do well enough, he forgot his own limitations.
The Doctor was so happy to see River again. But she didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t even trying to be subtle anymore and she still… River looked right through him like he wasn’t even there.
“When you love the Doctor, it's like loving the stars themselves. You don't expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!”
“When I love someone, its passionate and fierce… and platonic. Always intensely platonic. I don’t experience romantic attraction. Humans call that aromanticism. Time Lords have our own terminology for it too. So no, River. I’m not in love with you. But I would stand with you through every danger you face if I could. I am exactly that stupid and sentimental.”
“Do you know what its like to love someone with every fiber of your being, but know that because it isn’t the right sort of love – the sort of love that person values – it will never be enough. That they’ll see you as some… unemotional, distant star.” He sighed, quietly. “I am tired of not being enough.”
“I have been ignoring you, haven’t I? I’ve been listening for the wrong things. Can’t… can’t I try again?” Her voice shakes.
The Doctor reaches out (he’s always reaching out) and takes her hand. “We can try as many times as it takes.”
There’s never enough time, not really. But there’s time enough for them.
There’s always time enough for them.
“You can't expect a monolith to love you back.”
“No, you can't. They've been there for millions of years, through storms and floods and wars and… time. Nobody really understands where the music comes from. It's probably something to do with the precise positions, the distance between both towers. Even the locals aren't sure. All anyone will ever tell you is that when the wind stands fair and the night is perfect… when you least expect it… but always… when you need it the most… there is a song.”