"Katie, make sure that you have your inhaler!" River yelled over the hustle and bustle of the children scurrying here and there. The back pocket of her jeans had been tugged relentlessly throughout the chaos, though River had swatted at him twice warning him to wait.
"Gus!" she exclaimed in frustration and knelt quickly to his level. "Is someone bleeding from her eyes?"
"Lost an arm or a leg?"
"I don't think so."
"Is there a gun involved?"
"Then I don't really have time for it, right now. Let me get the girls on their ways, and you can have me all to yourself, ok?" River did not wait for an answer before hurrying up the stairs.
Gus maneuvered around the suitcases and bags littering the foyer and hallway. With everyone preoccupied with packing for their holiday visits, he would go unnoticed in the kitchen. Sneaking up to the refrigerator, he opened the door and searched the shelves for the chocolate pie that Mrs. O'Malley had left the night before. He moved container after container of leftovers around in circles but found no pie.
"Oh, man. I want some that pie," the child grumbled behind the door, hoping that he had overlooked it.
Gus stood and peered cautiously around the refrigerator. Waving to him from the back of the kitchen nook was the Doctor – with a fork and a pie plate in his hands. The Doctor motioned for him to get his own eating tool and join him. The boy smiled, grabbed a utensil from the dish drainer, and walked nonchalantly across the kitchen towards the end of the table. The Doctor scooted his chair back a bit and lifted Gus onto his lap.
"Shouldn't we get plates?" Gus asked before digging his fork into the mangled dessert.
"What for, tiny person? We plan on eating it all, don't we?"
"Oh. Well, okay." The child scooped up a large bite and emptied it into his mouth, whispering around it. "This saves us from having to wash a plate. You're having a smart day, Doctor."
"All my days are smart. Sometimes I'm just misunderstood," the Doctor answered, his own mouth full of the delightful yumminess.
"Are you hiding from the crazy girls or are you hiding to eat pie?"
"I'm taking advantage of the situation, my friend. It's all about this pie. Girls don't scare me. I'm the Doctor."
"What about Mimi?" Gus raised an eyebrow and stared at him skeptically.
The Doctor smiled at the child before realizing that Gus had a point. He was a bit afraid of River. She had a gun and a temper…and a secret. And he was terrified of her secret. "Mimi doesn't count. She's like a mum, and sometimes mums have to be scary."
"Mimi's like a flower?" Gus filled his mouth with another eager bite, one so large that his teeth could barely meet to chew.
"You said Mimi is like a mum. I guess her hair might be big like a mum, but she's probably more like a cactus."
The information rambled about in the Doctor's brain for a few seconds before stumbling upon the miscommunication. "No, not a mum. A mother."
"Oh. Well, you said mum."
"Well, yes. But I meant mother."
"Are you sure you're on top of it today?" Gus asked, scooping up half of the last little bit of pie with his fork.
The Doctor gently massaged his temples and took a deep breath. "Yeah, I thought I was, but I am occasionally mistaken."
Gus reached out and patted the man's shoulder. "It's okay, Doctor. Even tall people are wrong sometimes. It's a fact." The boy slid out of his chair and walked over to sink, hurriedly washing his fork and returning it to the drainer. He looked around him and snuck back over to the Doctor, whispering in his ear, "We were never here, and we don't know what happened to that pie."
"What pie?" The Doctor grinned approvingly at the boy's perfect mischief.
"Not that pie."
"We have no knowledge of this pie of which you speak…"
"And your TARDIS is back."
"Shhh. I know."
"I ran into it with my bike yesterday. How does it make itself invisible?"
"Special TARDIS hocus-pocus."
The boy leaned in closer. "Does Mimi know?"
"What TARDIS?" The Doctor answered with a wink.
Gus put a hand over his mouth to stifle a chuckle and turned to sneak out of the kitchen but was stopped by the Doctor mid-stride.
"Come here. You've got evidence on your face." The Doctor reached out for the child's face and dabbed the corners of his mouth with a napkin. After he was cleaned up, the Doctor squeezed his nose affectionately between the knuckles of two fingers and ushered him on his way.
Just as Gus turned the corner of the doorway into the hall, River stuck her head around the other doorway, catching the Doctor in the act. Luckily, she was so busy trying to ready the girls for their extended visits that she either didn't care that he was eating the pie as a meal or just didn't notice the scene of the crime.
"Have you seen Gus?"
"Ummm…nope. Not since breakfast," he lied.
River studied him for a moment. He was most certainly up to something, but she hadn't the time to suss it out. "Okay. Listen carefully. I need a favor."
"Will it hurt?"
"Does it require backup?"
River exhaled heavily and turned her eyebrows inward. "Here are the keys to the office. On the desk are Gus' afternoon meds. Please find him and make sure that he takes them. I need to finish getting the younger girls ready."
"I'm on it," he said with a silly salute before reaching out for the keys.
"Doctor…." River gave him that look that let him know she had very little confidence in his ability to complete a simple task without mucking it up…while also warning him that mucking it up was not an option. "Just pills on a desk. There's a desk…with pills on it. In a little cup labeled 'P.M.'"
"Really, River…easy peasy. Pills in a cup on a desk…by the way, I think the mini-person and I will take a walk through the corn today. Is that okay?"
"Just don't have him out long. It's cold, and he's only a few days well," she said as she pushed herself off the doorframe and headed back towards the chaos, calling behind her, "Now, Doctor! Cup of pills on the desk!"
The Doctor rolled his eyes and mocked her command, but he rose from the chair nonetheless and put his dishes in the sink. Spinning the keys around a finger, he left the kitchen and crossed the hall for the office. The Doctor fumbled with the key, unable to unlock the door. He cursed himself for becoming unaccustomed to whipping out his sonic, as well as for being completely inept without it. After threatening the lock with a few words that Gus would have found rather offensive and unholy, he heard a click and felt the clasp give way.
The room was a scattered mess of disorganized sense. Each time he had been sent into the room to retrieve something, it had, apparently, taken him an unacceptable amount of time to return. Because it never failed that River was shortly behind him to "do what I should have just done myself…how hard is it to find…"
In all fairness, she did usually give him only half of the information he needed to know. Once she sent him to get a calculator "…in the drawer closest to the wall." Well, there were four drawers equidistant from the wall. It wasn't actually his fault that he had chosen incorrectly the first three times.
He weaved through the obstacle course of miscellaneous items thrown about and hovered over the desk, searching for the medication. And of course, there was no little cup labeled P.M. that he could see. The Doctor walked behind the desk and rummaged under the random papers and nonsensical items that cluttered it. How was it that medication dispensed only a few hours before had become lost under a blanket of disorder?
Obviously he had interrupted an office party on the desk. If he hadn't been so clumsy with the key, he might have caught the stapler and the tape dispenser doing a wild jig. The image caused him to smile and play out the rest of the shenanigans in his mind as he continued to dig under the mess.
It occurred to him briefly that perhaps the domestic life had killed his edge. Well, as much of an edge as he was capable….though River still seemed to be all sorts of badass while making macaroni and cheese. He knew there was very little logic to be found in it.
The Doctor eventually picked up enough papers to reveal the pills. He had grabbed the cup and dropped the handful of craziness he was holding when one of the papers caught his attention.
Augustus Smythe Williams.
That was the name written at the top. It appeared to be admission paperwork from Gus' latest hospital stay. He said the name aloud, and something about it struck a chord in the Doctor's brain, though which chord he wasn't altogether sure.
Augustus Smythe Williams.
The Doctor shook the information around in his head, but it failed to collide with the right synapse to make sense of the familiarity. He studied the paper further. Just the basic demographic information…age, address, person-to-notify…
The Doctor summoned all of his infantile tendencies and stuck his tongue out in contempt of the information. Just because he accepted that the man was a great help to River and the kids, he didn't have to like it or feign an adult understanding of the hateful truth. Person to notify…
What about River? Seemed like she would be the person to notify. He skimmed the paper, and his eyes darted over Next of Kin. Well, that made more…
The Doctor's hearts skipped a beat and the breath he pushed from his lungs was weak. He sat heavily in the chair behind him as his despair traveled throughout his body.
Next of Kin.
Relationship to patient: Mother.
Mother? Why was "mother" circled when "guardian" was an option? River's own words echoed in his ears.
"…sign the kids in as their guardian. If you sign as a parent, it's hell to get the paperwork corrected with the State…"
The Doctor reluctantly returned his attention to person-to-notify.
Relationship to patient: Father.
"…sign the kids in as their guardian. If you sign as a parent, it's hell to get the paperwork corrected with the State…."
Maybe it was a mistake. Perhaps that had been the assumption by the admission staff. The Doctor pushed the chair back and rose to his feet, walking frantically across the room to the filing cabinets. He pulled open a drawer to search for the children's files. Finding only supplies in the first one, he opened the next…and the next…and the next. After searching through six drawers and two cabinets, he came across the files labeled with the children's names.
The files were organized in stark contrast to the chaotic state of the office. The names of the children, their birthdates and the dates they arrived were written neatly at the top of each one and were filed alphabetically. Inside were birth certificates, vaccination records, and school and State records. He carefully flipped through them twice without finding a file for Gus.
He shuffled back over to the desk to retrieve the medication before she came in hot pursuit of him. There was no other option other than to ask her. Perhaps she had tried to tell him the morning she woke in his bed, but he had put her off. He had asked that they simply enjoy the holiday without the pressure of confessions or explanations, and he knew that he needed to abide by that plan.
Picking up the medication in one hand, he reached for the keys with the other, swinging them around a finger once again, and walked towards the door. And, as frequently happened with his awkward clumsiness, he flung the keys across the floor as he lost control of his fidget. He bent down to pick them up and noticed a tiny key. Too small to fit a door.
But the perfect size for a drawer.
He went back to the desk and saw a keyhole on the largest bottom drawer. Ignoring his gut feeling to walk away and indulging his instinct to know all things, he inserted the key and turned. Without any hesitation, the lock clicked and released, allowing him to pull the drawer open easily.
There were folders labeled for various things: taxes, insurance, inspections…a collection of paperwork that one might expect to find in an actual adult's desk. He continued to dig until he found one labeled Gus: Medical and another labeled Gus: School. The file for his medical history contained a handwritten list of hospitalizations and procedures performed. There was also a list of numbers and dates without any written context. However, there was nothing that was relevant to his search.
Not really expecting to find anything in his educational record, he skimmed through the scant information. He did find the answer to a question that he could never remember to ask in regards to why Gus was attending school at such a young age. Because of his advanced skills in reading and language and his ability to grasp mathematical concepts, he had begun school a year ahead of schedule, and it appeared that he was doing rather well. As the Doctor closed the file and lowered it to its place in the drawer, a smaller piece of paper slipped to the floor. He picked it up and studied it.
A certificate of live birth for Augustus Smythe Williams, born April 28, 1964.
Mother's Maiden Name: Williams.
Melody Pond Williams.
The sound of his rapidly beating hearts pounded in his ears. His breathing was fast and shallow. Disbelief made him dizzy, and a rising anger was making him hot.
The hospital admission form was an unintentional admission of guilt. Not only were they involved, but they were married…and with this remarkable child.
Who believed his mother had died and his father didn't want him. Because he was an accident.
The Doctor kicked the drawer shut, and the sides of it splintered on impact. He crossed the room to leave in fewer steps than he took to enter and forged down the hall in the direction of her voice.
The Doctor had been lied to more times than he had been told the truth. He had even lied to himself as much as he had lied to others.
But this was personal. He knew in his soul that he and River had been written in the stars. She looked at him as if he put those same stars in the heavens. Even when she hated him, she loved him. This he knew as truth. He was woven throughout her life – having been there for her birth and at her death. The woman who knew him in way that frightened and exhilarated him was a stranger to him, he realized.
This amazingly strong and resourceful woman had given birth to an even more astoundingly brilliant little human being.
And made his life a lie.
"I think I was an accident...It makes me feel better about when I leave…that if my mama loved Jesus like I do, then I'll get to meet her... I don't want to be by myself for always..." Gus' words from only a few weeks earlier repeated in his mind on a loop.
He saw her ahead in the foyer, kneeling and buttoning up the coats of two younger girls, and he clenched his teeth to assuage the boiling anger coursing through his body.
River saw the cup of pills in his hand and met him with a smile of relief. "Oh good. Thanks. He's upstairs in his room drawing. He'll need a glass of water, too." She turned her attention back to the children who waited anxiously for their holiday visits to begin.
The Doctor towered over her for a moment, unable to calm himself or find any words. River looked up at him when he had failed to take the medication up the stairs to Gus. "Did you need something else? I'm really too busy…"
Bending over to meet her height, he grabbed her hand and shoved the cup of pills into it. He spoke slowly into her ear, and his voice dripped with a controlled rage. "You take them upstairs, Mrs. Humphreys. He's not my responsibility. He's your son, after all. You do it."
Without giving her the opportunity to respond or react, the Doctor swung open the front door and marched through it, letting the screen door slam loudly behind him.
Gus had been sitting near the window and waiting for the cars to start arriving when he saw the TARDIS gradually materialize. He also saw the Doctor hurrying across the yard towards the ship. Throwing his colored pencils on the bed, he barreled down the stairs, past River and out the front door.
River rose quickly to her feet and ran after him, calling his name from the porch.
"I'm just going to see the Doctor for a minute. I'll be right back!"
"Gus! Get back in the house right now! Do not go into that TARDIS!"
However, River's demands fell on deaf ears as the child ran towards the fading ship with all his might and disappeared through its door just as it vanished into somewhere, everywhere and nowhere in particular…with the love of her life and the man in her heart on board.
River slid down the porch column and sat on the floorboards, staring at the empty space left by the TARDIS…and waited.