What Child Is This

Chapter 17

River followed Amos down the stairs and walked him to the back door. "You know you don't have to walk outside to leave."

"I know. Force of habit," he said, turning around and embracing her once more before going. "If you need me, I'll be here before you even finish sending the message, okay?"

She melted into the comfort and nodded, replying with a giggle, "I am River Fucking Song. There's nothing I can't handle with a gun and a kiss."

Amos laughed loudly and pulled away from her. "Hey, that's my pep talk! You can't be giving yourself my pep talk. Me and that liner go back to your unfortunate incarceration. It's too late in the game to come up with something different now."

"I just thought the mood necessitated a mention," she answered with a wink.

"Just don't shoot him. If it's absolutely needed, let me do it…please." Without forethought, Amos moved in for a goodbye kiss and stopped short of her lips, remembering the newly-enforced old rules. He was surprised when River closed the gap and brushed the faintest of kisses across his lips. Amos looked at her with confusion in his eyes.

"Gratitude, Amos. Don't read anything more into it," she whispered.

He nodded and smiled half-heartedly before closing the door behind him. River stared at it momentarily until a voice in the hall startled her.

"I saw that."

River spun around quickly, nearly losing her balance. "Samantha! I didn't realize you were home already."

"We've been back for ages. Didn't the Doctor find you?" she asked.

"No, but I…"

"So…uh…" Samantha waved her finger in the direction of the back door and spoke around a mouth full of banana. "…what was all that lovey dovey silliness all about, huh?"


"Mimi, really?"

"Sam, it's none of your concern," River said as she lowered her eyes and walked by the girl.

Samantha followed River into the kitchen. "Maybe not, but seems to me that you are digging yourself into quite a hole."

River peered over the refrigerator door and gave Samantha her best that's-enough stare.

The girl ignored the warning and continued with her observations. "Hey, I'm eighteen now, and I'll be here for a while longer. I feel like I should be able to point out some behaviors that may affect my development as a responsible adult." Though she had tried her best, Samantha couldn't keep a straight face through the bullshit.

"You might not be here for as long as you think if you don't quit while you're ahead."

"Well, I tried," Samantha giggled and hopped onto the kitchen counter, swinging her legs and banging the cabinets with her feet. "Seriously though, Mimi. I know I'm still just a kid, but you and Amos are pretty much the closest I've ever had to parents. It's obvious that the man is still in-love with you…and even a blind man could see that you are in love too…"

River was hidden behind the door of the refrigerator, and she moved its contents around randomly, creating a reason to hide from the girl's truths.

"…with the Doctor."

She stopped rearranging the food and stood. Closing the door empty-handed, River leaned against the appliance and crossed her arms over her chest. "When the hell did you grow up?"

"When you weren't looking, I guess. Am I wrong?"

River brought a hand to her face and began chewing on the nail of her pinkie finger.

"Ha! I am so right!" Samantha exclaimed before River had a chance to confirm or deny the girl's suspicions. "Classic Mimi tell…biting your nail."

"So, wise one, what do you suggest I do?" River asked as she reopened the fridge and grabbed the milk and jelly.

"Well, stop the affectionate kissy-facing with Amos, for one thing. He's probably at his house right now with a handful of she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not daisies," she answered, adding under her breath, "Might even be a good idea to stop the slumber parties too..."

"Samantha!" River jerked her head around to face the girl.

"What! My bedroom faces the backyard, Mimi. I've seen him leave in the mornings," Samantha confessed with wide eyes that dared River to negate the admission.

A red-faced River turned her attention back to her sandwich-making. "Well, sometimes adults don't always make the decision that is best in the overall scheme of things. Sometimes it comes down to the best choice for right now."

"Well, right now, you need to put down your sandwich and go talk to that gawky man upstairs. He is stupid crazy about you, too…but you know that already, don't you?" Samantha tossed the banana peel across the room and silently prayed that it cleared the wastebasket.

River heard a jostling in the trash beside her and cut her eyes to the girl. "I will take your concerns under advisement," she said with a grin. "Where are the rest of the girls?"

"Upstairs, drooling over that tiny little thing of a boy that Olivia is mad for. I got a little nauseated from the swooning. They are in for the night, I'm sure…"

River detected some undercurrent in the Samantha's statement. She smiled felt her cheeks flush as she followed the girl's thought process. "What about dinner?"

"The Doctor treated us to Chinese after we left the island." She jumped to the floor and walked over to the fridge, grabbing a soda from the haphazardly strew contents. "I'm calling it a night. You want me to check on Gus on my way up?"

"He's sleeping right now, so it's not necessary…but thanks, honey." River was grateful for the end of the inquisition; however, she was a bit disappointed for Samantha to leave. The girl talk had been refreshing. River had never had any contemporaries with whom to share the ups and downs of life, and although this was child whom she had raised, Samantha had become someone with whom River could befriend.

Samantha walked into the hall and then returned to the kitchen. She wrapped an arm around River's shoulders and gave her a kiss on the cheek before whispering in her ear. "He wouldn't make such a bad dad for Gus, you know…" Then she was gone as fast as she had returned.

"Well, right now, you need to put down your sandwich and go talk to that gawky man upstairs. He is stupid crazy about you, too…they are in for the night, I'm sure…

Her words bounced around River's brain and traveled to every nerve ending. She shook her body to distribute the tingling that traveled down her spine.

Could she go to him? Was it that simple? She had to tell him, but the need to feel him was greater. And when he finally knew the truth, he may never want to touch her again.

River suddenly felt sick. She dropped her newly made sandwich into the trash and left the kitchen. She locked both doors and turned on the table lamp in the foyer in case one of the kids needed to go downstairs in the night.

Climbing the stairs wearily, River decided that a warm bath would ease some of the tension building in her body. Perhaps then she could work on the tension that had started bubbling in her soul.

The Doctor opened his eyes to a white wall of porcelain. It took him a moment to realize that he was curled up in a tub…which was much better than beside a toilet, he had to admit. That had been known happen frequently in his early days.

Judging by the stiffness in his limbs, he figured that he had been asleep for at least an hour – most likely longer, considering he couldn't feel his toes. He stretched out his arms and slid into a sitting position. A chill ran through him as his naked skin touched the cold porcelain. The Doctor turned on the hot water and stood, letting the heat rain down on his skin for a moment. The soreness began to subside, and he felt like a person again.

He shut off the water and dried himself with the towel before tying it around his waist. Stepping over the side of the tall claw foot tub, he staggered to the sink and wiped the fog from the mirror. He ran a hand along his stubbly jawline and turned his nose up at how unkempt he appeared. Seemed silly to shave before bed, so he chose to simply brush his teeth and walked into the bedroom.

"Oh, blimey…"

He had been asleep in the tub for nearly two hours. It was close to nine o'clock, and no one had come upstairs to check on him? What if he had died whilst bathing? Water was dangerous. Of course, he wouldn't really be dead. He'd just become a newer version of himself. But they didn't know that! Well, River did.

Where the hell was River? What if she had died during her shower?

The thought caused his hearts to begin pounding rapidly. The sound drummed in his ears, and he could feel the beating in his neck. The Doctor stepped quickly into a pair of jeans and pulled a t-shirt over his head. His wet hair flopped across his face as his bare feet struck the stairs heavily. The hall of the third floor was silent as all of the younger children were gone, and the second floor was as eerily quiet.

The Doctor walked hurriedly down the hall, passing the darkened bedrooms of River and Gus. He knocked quietly on the twin's room without an answer and then moved swiftly to Samantha's room.

"Come in…"

The Doctor poked his head through a crack. "Have you seen the lady of the house? There's no light in her bedroom."

"I left her in the kitchen over an hour ago. You might want to check downstairs if she's not in her room," Samantha answered quietly. "But be quiet. I think the day must have kicked everybody's butts. Looks like we're the only two awake in the house if you can't find Mimi downstairs."

The Doctor smiled faintly and nodded. "I'll check. Thanks."

"No problem. Good night, Doctor," she said with a broad grin as the door closed behind him.

The Doctor quiet walked down the stairs. The only sign on life on the floor level was the dim light of the foyer table lamp. He had lived in the house long enough to know that if a person was in one room downstairs, every light in every room would shine in anticipation of need.

Walking back up the stairs, he became more concerned with each step he climbed. He was a man without a companion or a TARDIS, not to mention he'd put his sonic and the psychic paper in a drawer days before. There was really very little he could do about a drowning situation, but with the proper tools he could fight off a giant spider or a robot Santa easy peasy. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, he had convinced himself that River was being held hostage by a giant robot Christmas caroler in a secret room stashed in the chimney. There was no other rational explanation.

But to be on safe side, he decided to check the two bedrooms he had walked past earlier. The Doctor gently opened the door to Gus' room. A nightlight lit the room with a blue glow, and Gus was nestled under the covers with this back to the hall. The Doctor walked around the bed and sat near the child.

His dark brown hair had fallen over his eyes, and his tiny hands clutched the covers tightly under his chin. There were red and swollen puncture marks on one of his hands where the intravenous lines had been inserted. The Doctor sighed to keep from tearing up, and he brushed his thumb over the marks. Gus moved to lie on his back and the quilt shifted to reveal a rather comical and tender sight. Around the little boy's neck was the blue plaid bowtie given to him by his newest oddball friend.

The Doctor stood and smiled down at the boy. For hundreds of years, the Doctor had traveled with companions and assistants. He had fallen into like with innumerable people and beings and had even loved a few. But he had no name for what he felt in his hearts as he watched the little boy sleep. This small child who lived so brightly and so fully, all the while knowing that he had less days than was acceptable and never complaining or feeling cheated. And still believing whole-heartedly in a God that would cut such a brilliant life short.

If only the will of God could be fought with a sonic…though if the prayers of a little boy could not sway this God, what chance did a lowly Time Lord stand? For certainly the whispers of a child were mightier than the pleadings of a man.

The Doctor walked around the bed and through the door, watching Gus until the gap closed. He shuffled down the hall and approached River's bedroom with caution. The anxiety he felt before checking Gus' room bubbled in his gut again. He knew that his fears were ridiculous, but he had learned that the ridiculous oftentimes snuck up and bit him on his going-away end.

No light shone from underneath the door. His rational mind told him the she was probably asleep, while experience led him to panic that the robot carolers had already sang her to death. He knocked softly and opened the door slowly when he heard no answer from the other side. He immediately saw the glow of the bathroom light through the crack left by the nearly closed door.

Having decided that she was no longer in danger of the hypothetical murderous singers, he knew that she had most definitely drowned. No way did she leave him alone for two hours. River believed that more than half an hour was enough time to get himself and all around him into trouble. Even in the middle of nowhere.

The bathroom was frighteningly quiet as he snuck up to the door. Just like he'd spent his evening doing thus far, he knocked on the door…without an answer. He tapped his knuckle against the heavy wood a bit harder…still no answer. Careful not to peek in too far, he called out to her. His hearts sank when he again was met with silence.

He didn't know if he was prepared to see a dead naked River. Suddenly naked River was appalling to him. He wanted her to be fully clothed, maybe even a parka and snow boots. Wearing just anything if it meant she would be standing in front of him.

"River?" He raised his voice a bit, then wondered why he was being so quiet. There was merit behind the phrase "loud enough to wake the dead." He repeated himself, even louder with more panic, "River? Please answer me. Don't be dead. I shall find it most unpleasing…River!"

"Sweetie, calm down. I'm not dead."

The Doctor yelped and closed his head between the door and the doorjamb when he turned too quickly. "Oh, dammit!"

River giggled from behind him. "Are you okay?"

"Of course, I am," he lied, rubbing the fast-forming knot on his forehead. "Where the hell were you? And who stole your clothes?"

"I was behind the bedroom door in the closet. I answered you when you knocked the first time," she said, trying to suppress a fit of laughter that was rising to the surface. "Then I just decided to watch it play out."

"Well, I thought you were dead."

"Dead how? Danger is not at every turn, Sweetie. Let me see your head." She reached up but was stopped when he slapped at her hand.

"No. Don't touch me."

"Stop pouting. It's not cute."

"Not even a little?" He smiled a little wicked grin before reaching out for her hand. Wet curls hung over her shoulders and her skin was still pink from the heat of the water. Though the towel wrapped around her covered up her naughty bits, he had never seen a more gorgeous or sexier sight in all of his 900-plus years. "River, you're going to have to put on some clothes. My wholesomeness is offended by what my me-ness is imagining."

She took a step closer to him. "Is that so?"

"Yes, uh…that is so…so" he stammered as she closed the gap between their bodies.

River reached around him and put her hands in his back pockets, pulling him into her. She leaned in and left a biting kiss on his neck before stepping away and withdrawing her hands from his jeans. "As you wish…"

He watched her walk across the bedroom and search through her closet. Finding what she needed, she looked over her shoulder. "Do you mind turning around so I can change?"

The Doctor took in the sight of her greedily. Wet hair, sweet smelling and still dampened skin, playful grin and twinkling eyes…and all this he saw in just the dim light shining from the bathroom.

He took the length of the room in fewer strides than seemed possible and had her backed up against the closet door before she even had a chance to play her role in the flirt they so eloquently danced.

Oh, this was an entirely new Doctor altogether…

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