"Quit looking at the clock."
"I can't help it," Rive snapped.
"How long have they been gone?"
"I don't know, Amos! Two hours…two weeks…two years…" River dropped her head into her hands, her elbows propped on knees that bounced as a result of her nervous fidgeting.
Amos looked out the front window again, just in case they had appeared since the last time he had checked…three minutes before. "Did you send him a message on the psychic paper? He always responds to your calls."
"He doesn't have it. Nor does he have his sonic. They are in a drawer upstairs," River answered him, speaking into the void leading to the floor.
"What in the hell are they doing stuck in a drawer?" Amos' voice grew louder as his frustration and fear intensified.
River stood to her feet in one quick fluid motion and paced the floor of the living room impatiently. "Well, what does he need them for here? Turning on the blender from across the room?"
"Just seems a bit irresponsible to go off in that TARDIS of his and not have the essentials. That's all I'm saying, Hals." He peeked through the curtains once more. Nothing.
"The Doctor deserves to feel normal. Putting away those things freed him up to breathe a little. The TARDIS left him here for a reason. He needed to breathe."
"You're defending him now? River, he has our son in that fuckstorm of a box…flying around or to God only knows where! And just days after the boy had surgery!" Amos pointed out the window and looked at her as if she had delivered the fatal blow herself.
"My son, Amos! His son…" River reminded him, her tone a bit harsher than she intended.
"Are fucking kidding me, River? I am that boy's father. I raised him for seven years…alone, need I remind you?" Amos walked over to her and stood within inches of the calmly panicked woman. "I stood over his crib and watched him regenerate without having a fucking clue what was happening. I took him to the local doctors, only to be given a handful of information about a disease that is simply a symptom of his larger problem. I saw his first steps…I heard his first words…I saw him off to his first day of school. While you served your sentence, River, I raised your child. And I gave him back…" Amos' voice trailed off and caught in his throat at the remembrance of the heartache of losing his child, "…just like I promised. I kept him safe, and I gave him back to you. I love that boy, River. We were a family…"
Tears streaked down her cheeks as she saw the anguish and hurt play across the man's face. She reached out and took him by the hand. "I know, Amos. I'm sorry…I'm just worried."
Amos raised his eyes to hers. "He's my son too, and he doesn't even remember. Don't you forget it, River. Whatever happens, don't forget that he's my son too…"
The Doctor peered around the console when he heard the door open and slam. The boy stood in awe of his surroundings while he tried to catch his breath.
He walked over to the top of the steps and stared down at the boy with a disapproving look in his eyes. "Gus, what are you doing here?"
"It was an accident."
"You accidentally opened the door and ran inside?" The Doctor crossed his arms and looked at the child skeptically.
"Umm…yes. That's exactly what happened." Gus could see the flaw in his argument, but he held fast to his decision to fib a little.
"I was told you were upstairs."
"Oh…well, I was…but I, uh…"
The boy exhaled loudly. "I saw you walking towards the TARDIS and ran after you. I didn't know you were leaving, but I couldn't slow down. My little legs run pretty fast, don't they?" He smiled up at the Doctor proudly and pointed to his feet.
The Doctor grinned at Gus, in spite his brokenness. "They must, because I wasn't wasting any time to leave for a mo'."
"We might be in a bit of trouble when we get back. Well…I might be in trouble…" Gus admitted.
"Mimi may have been telling me not to come in here."
"She might have, huh?"
Gus looked around the control room with wide eyes. "But you aren't gonna take me back yet, are you?"
The Doctor turned and walked back to the console, making room for Gus to climb the stairs. "Of course not. Don't worry. I'll deal with that Mimi of yours, yeah? Besides, I was going to take you on a secret ride today, anyway."
"Not a secret now," Gus giggled and circled around the console. "I think I have to tell you I really want to touch something. I'm just five. It's what I do…touch stuff I'm not supposed to."
The words on the birth certificate scrolled continuously across his eyes, and he struggled to keep a light tone with the child. He had escaped to his TARDIS to yell and throw things. Like any self-respecting person did when life gave him lemons without the sugar and water. Now the Doctor had no choice but to breathe deeply and remind himself that life with a child was unpredictable.
"You know, Gus, it's my turn to tell you a secret."
Gus' attention jerked away from the controls on the console and towards the Doctor. "Really?"
"I promise I won't tell Mimi," he vowed.
"Well, it's a secret that she probably already knows. But I try to keep it hidden from everyone else," he explained in a whisper and leaned closer to the boy. "I don't really know what the controls do."
Gus looked at him with a troubled expression. "But you know how to fly her?"
"Not really," the Doctor admitted playfully. "She pretty much flies herself. I just run around and turn some dials."
"That makes me feel not so safe," Gus said timidly. "What if she takes us somewhere weird…like a planet made out of blackeyed peas or drops us off under the feet of a dinosaur. I really hate peas, Doctor. Please don't make me walk in peas."
The Doctor couldn't suppress the laugh, and he shook his head at Gus' innocent fears. "She would never put you in danger, and she always knows where I need to go. Even if I don't."
Gus scratched his head and reached out to touch one of the glowing knobs. "So, you don't even know where we are going now?"
"Oh, I have a good idea. I told her what I needed to do and off we flew." The Doctor checked his scanner to make sure that he and the TARDIS were, in fact, on the same page.
"So, where are we going? And I really want to turn that," he said pointing to a large red dial.
"Go ahead…and you'll just have to wait until we get there."
Gus turned the knob slowly, and the lights around the console periphery glowed brighter. Looking up at the Doctor with sparkling eyes and a wide smile, he returned them to their dim setting. "What else can I play with?"
For the next several minutes, the Doctor walked with Gus around the TARDIS console and pointed out what this knob and that dial did, letting him maneuver the more benign of the controls. And as children tend to do, he soon lost interest and talked the Doctor into giving him a tour.
Gus took hold of the Doctor's hand as they walked up and down the many halls, his eyes growing wider with each door that he opened. He was eerily quiet as he took in the magnitude of the ship.
"..and this is my bedroom," the Doctor announced as he opened the door slightly.
"Your mirror is broken."
"You should clean that up. It's very dangerous, Doctor."
"Rightly so, wise tiny one."
"How did it break?"
"It was an accident."
Not believing him, Gus looked up at him and asked, "Like me running into the TARDIS."
"Um, yes. Like that, I suppose," the Doctor reasoned reluctantly.
"But I didn't run in here by accident," Gus confessed.
"Oh, okay…you must have been awful mad."
"Are you still?"
The Doctor looked down at the little boy's hand in his own and the peculiar way his ears stuck out under his hair. "No, actually. I feel much better now."
Gus smiled and winked, much like his mother had been known to do from time to time. "It's the Christmas spirit, Doctor. You just can't be cross at Christmas. It's a fact."
Closing the door and walking back towards the control room, the Doctor swung their arms between them. "A fact, huh? You have quite a few facts for such a new and tiny brain."
The little boy walked over and sat in a chair near the railing while the Doctor checked their position and prepared for the landing. "I don't think my brain is so new."
The Doctor looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean, not new?"
"Sometimes, I think I remember stuff that isn't mine to remember. And when I tell Mimi about it, she just looks at me like I'm a silly kid making up stories. But I'm really not, Doctor."
The man studied Gus' face and knew that the child absolutely believed what he was saying. "Such as?"
"Well, I can remember going to a park with rides and games with Mimi and Amos," he replied as something in the cushion of the chair caught his attention. "But I've never been to that place, Doctor. I know, because I asked Samantha and she said we've never been to any place like that before…hey, what's this?"
Gus held up Amy's iPod, and the Doctor stumbled over a kid-friendly explanation. "Oh, it's a little music player that you can carry around with you? Neato. Can I listen to it?"
"Sure…if you can figure it out…"
Music blared through the speaker before the Doctor had time to finish his sentence. Something about the randomness of the conversation sat awkwardly in the Doctor's brain. Why would Gus have memories that others had confirmed weren't his? Was it as simple as dream remnants or the inability of the child's brain to distinguish between fact and fiction?
It's a fact…
The Doctor was almost positive that Gus knew the difference between a fact and an inkling.
"I like this song. What's a coldplay? Eww, what's that noise?"
The Doctor was snatched from his thoughts by the sound of the TARDIS' screeching brakes. "It's a fantastic noise, yeah?"
"It makes my ears want to cry," he complained, placing his hands over the little speakers in his ears. "I think it might be the brake. That is not the sound of a happy TARDIS, Doctor person."
The Doctor returned his attention to console, muttering under his breath, "Oh yeah. Just like his mother."
When the squealing faded and the gentle rocking of the ship stopped, Gus jumped from the chair and shoved the music player in his pocket. "Where are we? Where are we?"
"Are you sure you want to go outside? Maybe we should just go back home…" the Doctor teased.
"That is the worst idea I have ever heard. And I live with a bunch of stupid girls. I know what a bad idea sounds like," he said with an upturned nose. "Come on!"
He ran over and grabbed the belt loop of the Doctor's jeans, pulling him towards the door. Stumbling down the steps from the platform, the Doctor followed Gus and took a hold of the doorknob. "Are you ready?"
"Yes! Don't be so slow!"
The Doctor chuckled and opened the door, motioning for Gus to take the first steps across the threshold.
"Oh my gosh!" The child's voice was hushed and rippled with wonder and excitement. He took a few more steps, and the Doctor heard him ask before closing the TARDIS door behind them, "Is this heaven?"
There was but a single light glowing inside. The Doctor carried a sleeping Gus in his arms as he climbed the porch steps and quietly opened the front door. He crept across the floor of the foyer and peeked into the living room. On the couch, River and Amos slept cuddled against each other. The warm feelings that had filled his hearts during his day with Gus were replaced with the chill of the realities of his situation.
Just as he turned to walk up the stairs, he heard River whisper his name. Twisting around to face her, he saw that she tried to untangle herself quickly from the other man's embrace, causing him to wake up as well.
Seeing the Doctor there holding Gus, Amos stood to his feet, his body rigid with anger. River rose from the couch and placed a hand on Amos' arm. The small gesture of comfort caused the Doctor's stomach to turn flips.
River walked over and tenderly took the child from the Doctor. "I'll only be a moment." She turned around and gave Amos a warning glare before heading up the stairs.
The Doctor shoved his hands in his front pockets and waited for River to return. His breathing had become shallow, and his hidden hands were balled into fists. "That's quite some nerve you have, Andy. Playing house with Hals. Surely by now, you know who I am."
Amos crossed his large arms over his chest and held tight his unrelenting posture. "And you have no fucking clue who I am, Doctor."
"Really, Andy. Watch the language. It's not particularly gentlemanly."
"Well, I'm not feeling exactly genteel," Amos growled, trying unsuccessfully to keep his voice nonthreatening.
"Yeah, I can see that you draw all of your emotions from the same pool of unpleasantness. How refreshingly manlike," the Doctor goaded. While he and Gus had worked on his Christmas plan, in the back of his mind the Doctor had practiced his returning conversation with River. However, the presence of Amos had thrown those plans awry.
Amos took a step closer to the Doctor and tightened the grip he had on his own arms. "You know, I had hoped that if this day ever came, we would be able to work through it like three reasonable adults and find a workable solution. But I can see that we are missing one important element."
The Doctor looked at him with amusement and waited for him to finish.
"A third reasonable adult."
"I can understand how you would fail to recognize a responsible adult when such a person is standing before you. Having turned your back on your responsibilities, you see." The Doctor spoke with a light tone, and the raging amusement in his tone was causing indignation to bubble in Amos' gut.
"What exactly is that supposed to mean?" Amos' had given up trying to keep the anger from his voice. At that point, he knew there was no turning back from the confrontation.
The Doctor raised his volume to match Amos'. "You must agree that your son is pretty spectacular, considering your complete failure to parent him."
"I've been here over three weeks, and I've seen you three times. Is that how parenting works, Andy? Come and go as you please, popping in to drop off a toy and get a snog?"
The Doctor moved towards the man, anger coursing with a dangerous heat through his body and words. "All the while, that little boy thinks his father abandoned his mother and disappeared, leaving him an orphan. However, that's not the case, is it…Andy? Gus has a mother, alive and well. And a father, pretty much the same."
Amos clenched his teeth tightly enough to cause them to shatter and listened to the Doctor unfairly berate him. In hindsight, Amos would regret letting his fury get the better of him. He would remember the look on River's face as she staggered down the few remaining stairs, his words ringing through her ears. He would think back on that moment as the weakness that brought their worlds crashing down upon them.
"Yes, Doctor. He certainly does have a father who is alive and well. Except I'm not that man. I delivered him, and I raised him. Hell, I've raised him twice. But he's not my child."
Bitterness and hate dripped off his words and puddled at the Doctor's feet. Suddenly, the secrets of the last few weeks descended upon him at once. Bits and pieces of the scattered puzzle began to make devastating sense. The timeline and the context were a jumbled mess of cruel insanity, but the raw center of the truth ripped through him.
Amos saw the realization pillage the man before him. The small twinge of guilt he felt did not stop him from ripping the lid off of Pandora's box and releasing the truth in all its ugliness and despair.
"He's not my child, Doctor. You are no longer the last Time Lord. That little boy upstairs is your legacy…your son."
A sharp intake of breath interrupted the men, and Amos looked up to see River standing on the bottom stair with her hand over her mouth while the Doctor's legs gave way and brought him to his knees before the man who had managed to kill him in a way that no regeneration could renew.