He had never noticed how loudly the pendulum swung in the longcase clock in the hall. The sound ricocheted off the walls and pounded in his ears…so much so that it very nearly drowned out the sound of his own erratically pounding hearts. He didn't know how long he had been sitting on the floor. His psyche had blocked out all interference from the world around him, save for the monotonous swinging of the pendulum…back and forth, back and forth.
The Doctor was vaguely aware of the arguing in the background – the raised voices of a man and woman. He saw a flash of bright light and then felt the touch of a hand in his hair. A light splash drew his attention to his arm. It was wet. How was his arm wet? He felt it again. There were hands cupping the sides of his face and brushing more wetness across his cheeks. It was tears. Someone was crying. Was he crying? A hand in his lap reached up and swept across his eye. Rubbing the fingers together, he discovered that the tears were his. Why was he crying?
Her voice was very soothing, and her touch felt warm on his skin. It had been too long since someone had touched him with kindness. Just a simple touch for no reason. Not out of gratitude or relief or manipulation. She had been the last to touch him, and he had felt her hands on his skin for weeks afterward. Whenever the universe failed to call out to him for a moment and silence fell around him, he could still feel her – the tenderness and the urgency. Sometimes his breath would be stolen upon the memory of how softly her fingertips had glided over his skin. Other times a chill raced down his body when he thought about the desperation of the nails that had dug into his back.
He hadn't meant to go back to the stormcage. The TARDIS had gotten it all wonky again. He was chasing a different River, but he had been thrown – literally – into her cell by his ship and abandoned there. There were tears…but not his. She was crying, and she was exhausted. And weary.
He'd gotten it wrong again. She had kissed him, and he had fidgeted and flailed and looked horrified and confused.
And then he'd left. With a "very nice" and a "good."
As if kissing her had not shaken him to the core. As if it was just another day, just another kiss.
But it wasn't. Nothing with her was ever just another…
He had mucked about the universe for a bit…got into some nastiness with a pirate ship. The Ponds had been a bit distant after the Silence and announced that they needed some "time for marriage stuff" – which he found unusual and irritating. Companions didn't ordinarily decide to take a vacation from him. He was the vacation. Nevertheless, he'd been left alone in his sadness and solitude until the TARDIS had recruited help to ease his melancholy. Thus began the chase.
When he allowed his memory to revisit the night, he saw flashes of her skin…a torch song…pink lace…wild eyes that matched the wildness of her hair…a red tulip…legs around his waist…
And then he had left. Once again. While she slept, her body curved around the pleasure of her last night with him. He had watched her for a moment before retreating to the TARDIS. Throughout their adventures together, he had begun to see her as an equal, someone on whom he could rely and trust to help fight the battle and vanquish the horror. But lying on that bed was the most delicate creature he had ever seen. She was capable of unimaginable tenderness, passion and love…
And he had left without a word. But what words could he have said? There was nothing left to confess. He had reasoned that he was doing her a kindness, leaving no opportunity for awkward goodbyes…knowing that it would be the last goodbye spoken in bed. He truly thought that he had spared her the pain.
Though if he was truthful with himself, he would have admitted that he left as much – possibly more – to spare himself. He didn't know that he would be able to leave her if he woke up to the sound of her voice or the softness of her body molded against his.
But then again, truthfulness was not his calling card. Rule number one. The problem was that he often lied to himself. It made him feel more like the hero he portrayed if he believed he had left for her sake…and not to save himself from wrestling with his loneliness and his need for her. He was the Doctor, after all.
He was above needing her. Needing River made him commonplace with the rest of the universe. He wouldn't deny that he enjoyed companionship, but need? No, that was for the vulnerable, and there was no place in his life for vulnerability. Any weakness on his part put the worlds in danger. And he had made the protection of worlds, all of them, his sole responsibility. Being a savior and a lover were not possible. One would certainly be the fall of the other. He was the chooser of difficult choices. Others could rest peacefully, because he was the bearer of burdens. He couldn't shoulder the weight of the world and have love at the same time.
His head was spinning. Nothing made any sense. Could he unknow what he knew? Could he go back an hour? He would still know, but he couldn't be held responsible for knowing. He could walk out the door after passing the child to River and resume life as usual. She could pick up her family again and carry on as before. Could the paradox machine hold their world together long enough to keep it from falling apart?
Perhaps, he could go back three weeks. And if the TARDIS insisted on bringing him back time after time, he could live out his life in the ship. There were rooms he had never seen, doors he walked by day after day without a second thought. Some rooms had rooms of their own. He could fill his days exploring his truest friend and his most loyal betrayer. He would never have opened the door on a boy sitting in a road, waiting on his superhero.
But he would still see those brightly curious eyes when he closed his own for sleep. Would he be able to sleep pretending not to know what he knew? Of course, he could. He forgot to know more pain that most people hid in a lifetime.
There was Jenny, after all. He forgot to remember her more and more. How was Gus any different? He could pretend there was no Gus.
Mimi says that a baby comes from a lady and a man who really love each other. And when they make a baby, it's a whole new person that no one has ever seen before. And sometimes even a whole new kind of person…
Augustus Smythe Williams.
The Doctor squeezed his eyes shut tighter as gentle caresses continued on his face, followed by the quiet pleadings of his name.
Cause if a man and a lady really loved each other, wouldn't they both want to see their new baby grow up together? And I only ever had a mommy…
A sharp pain tore through his insides and wrapped around his lungs. His emotional anguish had manifested into an excruciating physical ache, and breathing was becoming torturous. He doubled over and was caught as his knees unfolded from under him.
He wanted to fight against her. He wanted to hate her for keeping the secret. He wanted to hate her for allowing it to be told. He wanted to hate her for making him beautiful and brilliant. Their child was the very best of her. He was smart and sassy and strong and loving. He was River.
He wanted to hate her.
But he couldn't.
He loved her.
He loved the child.
And he wanted to forget all of it. He wanted to run.
I think I was an accident…
He was an accident. And the Doctor was contemplating treated him as such.
He felt sick.
He wanted to sob…to cry out. But what good would it do? He was the Doctor. The Doctor cried out warnings or anger or jovial greetings. He didn't cry out sorrow or pain or loss. He frowned and tucked them away in his forgetting place - moving along a bit slower, but moving along, just the same.
I just have a sick heart…
A heart…one heart…
The child of both a Time Lord and a child of the TARDIS, as River had explained…
How could one tiny heart survive the magnificence created from a union of extraordinary circumstances?
If I didn't love God, when they put me in the ground, I'll just have to stay there. And that's the saddest part of all…I'm not really scared because my heart has been real sick since I was a baby, but I don't want to be by myself for always. Nobody likes being alone…
Not only was he going to run from having a son, he had to flee from knowing that he had been the cause of his son's death. By doing nothing more than creating him.
Some knowledge couldn't be unknown or forgotten. Some knowledge was meant to cripple and humble and devastate.
It was time to stop running.
The Doctor wrapped his arms tightly around the woman holding him and cried silent sobs of shame and guilt.
Gus had been stirred from sleep by loud voices. The yelling had frightened him, because Mimi and Amos never screamed at each other. Something bad had happened.
What if they were mad at him? Mimi had told him to stop, but he hadn't. He just wanted to see inside the TARDIS…just for a little minute. But they had been gone longer than just a minute, he supposed. And Mimi was probably scared. Mimi was always scared. She said that he was special, and if he got sick without her around, other people wouldn't know what to do.
But Gus knew he was special.
Mimi had said that sometimes a whole new kind of person could be born. He thought he was one of those people. He was pretty sure that other people didn't glow when they stopped breathing for a long time. He had lots of comic books, and the light didn't bring breaths back to regular people.
He was different. He had a secret superpower, and he was afraid that they would take it from him if he told. And he needed all the breaths God would give back to him.
So, he kept it a secret…along with all his other secrets. He wanted to tell the Doctor, because Mimi said he could explode with life. That's what she said – when the Doctor got hurt real bad, he would just explode with new life and get all better. But he was afraid that the Doctor would tell Mimi, because it was probably a big deal. He had decided to keep it to himself. It was safer that way.
The yelling had stopped almost as soon as it had begun. Gus wanted to go downstairs and apologize, but he was afraid of getting into trouble. Maybe if he pretended he hadn't heard them and went back to sleep, they might forget that he had misbehaved. Grownups forgot a lot of stuff. Sometimes even on purpose, he thought.
He fidgeted with his covers, trying to fight the urge to get out of bed. But there was something to be known that he didn't know. And he liked to know everything. Knowing stuff made him smart.
And Gus liked to be smart.
Pulling back the covers and swinging his legs over the side, he slid his feet into his slippers and quietly left his bedroom. Gus tiptoed down the hall and peeked through the spindles of the upstairs banister. On the floor near the stairs, Mimi sat and held the Doctor in her lap, rocking him like she sometimes did when Gus was really sick. They both looked really sad.
Gus felt weird about what he was watching, so he softly shuffled back to bed, reaching for the tiny magical music player before he slipped between the sheets.
Amos had said something he wasn't supposed to say. Mimi had asked him twice why he had told the Doctor. Told him what, Gus didn't know. Mimi had lots of secrets.
Well, Gus had his own secrets, but he had someone else's, too…floating around his brain, making friends with his own memories. Sometimes Gus couldn't figure out which ones were his and which ones were make believe.
But he knew, for certain, one thing wasn't his to remember.
The Doctor was a good man, and Gus knew, more than anything, that the Doctor would never leave his little baby.
That memory was definitely not his.
For those of you who can't function without the details of the conception :) I can finally attach A Companion in Solitude to this story. I just wanted to keep this one rated T in case I have readers who began reading it and prefer less smut.