What Child Is This

By alwaysgus

Mystery / Romance

Chapter 24

Amos carefully peeked around the corners of the rooms downstairs, finding no one. The house was usually quiet late at night but not with the eerie kind of silence with which he met. The walls always hummed with the vibes of female energy; however, with all the girls gone for the holidays, the life seemed to have been drained from the house. When River had stumbled across Samantha five years before, Amos had encouraged her to take in the girl. But then came Becky and Janie and Katie and Alice. Before long, their cozy little home had become Grand Central Station for girls with no home to call their own…a place to which they were not afraid to speak their their minds or turn a corner. River had fashioned for them a family of sorts. And Amos supposed a family for herself, as well. Sometimes he wondered who benefited more from the comfort of the home, the children or River.

Or even himself.

There had been an embarrassing and undignified amount of pleading when he had been given the assignment. Amos had not joined the Order only to be given a job as a glorified babysitter, and he had definitely not spent so many years studying medicine in order to be an obstetrician. Most importantly, he had not taken up the service to protect a woman whose hands were bloodied by the murder of a great man.

"There will be times, Brother Amos, when you will be assigned duties that seem to negate the very beliefs on which we stand. You must trust that we have thought upon this situation very carefully, and you are the most qualified to carry out the mission," Father Octavian explained, in a tone that left no room for negotiation. "Whatever we may think of Dr. Song, she is carrying a remarkable child, and this child must be protected at all costs. Very few assignments in your career will stand up to the importance of the one you are now being handed."

"Yes, Father."

"And Brother Amos, even if this was as simple as a routine exercise, you must always remember that our work is for the preservation and well-being of humanity and should be regarded with sanctity and respect," the Bishop added before putting an end to the conversation.

"Yes, Father."

Amos often wondered if Father Octavian had ever regretted his decision to send him with River. The Order had other physicians, many with more experience in both medicine and faith…and humility. Amos had never lacked for pride in his abilities as a doctor or a soldier, and such a trait was not desirable amongst the clerics in the Order. Though it wasn't only his pride that Father Octavian sought to remedy. He often isolated and distanced himself from the bonds of his brothers, and this emotional ineptitude was feared to be a weakness in the battle of evil versus lesser evil. Because, over the millennia, mankind had discovered that there was no good.

Good had been sacrificed in vain.

And he had been assigned to protect its murderer.

Amos had certainly not intended to like her.

And he had fought desperately against loving her.

It had happened so quietly. He couldn't pinpoint the moment he lost his heart to her…not a look, a sigh, a word…nothing. For the first several weeks, only the necessary conversations had passed between them. Words bare of any real meaning, just enough to get across an idea or thought. Sometimes they would greet each other in the morning, other times not. Many times one would leave a room soon after the other entered. It was an unspoken blind distaste for each other.

Neither knowing that the other had been irrevocably wounded by love and loss. Neither realizing that there was solace to be found in each other.

That was until she felt the baby kick. One simple hello from the feisty infant caused them both to smile at the same time and at each other. Amos began to look at River as a mother above all other labels. Dinners became less lonely, and evenings were spent together watching television or playing cards. They took early morning walks and rocked in the porch swing at night, watching the lightening bugs and talking about the senses and nonsenses of their lives and life in general.

One evening as they were eating ice cream outside the neighborhood malt shop, Amos asked the question the universe had begged for years.

He was staring down his empty ice cream glass. "River…"

"Hmm?" She happily stabbed the chocolate blob in her second float of the evening.

"Why…Was it…" Amos was not a man who made it habit of having to search for the right words. For the most part, he said what needed saying in any way the words came out, giving very little thought to tact or appropriateness – which was probably why he found himself struggling.

"You've got to do better than that, Dr. Humphreys," she said with a wink.

River could easily guess the nature of his question. It was the same question that shone in the eyes of everyone who dared to speak to her. She had become someone to fear…someone of whom others steered clear. Life was lonely in the cell after the journal pages were closed, and ss much as her life was centered around the Doctor, her times with him were but moments in an existence that were exactly that – existing.

"Why have you never admitted or denied guilt for his murder?"

River smiled a half-smile around the spoon in her mouth. "Is that your way of asking if I am guilty?

Amos looked up at her and grinned. "The prisons are full of innocent people, Dr. Song. Just ask them."

"Aren't they all?" she replied with a chuckle.

"But are you?"

River watched the cherry dangle between her fingers and delayed the pleasure in eating it. She raised her eyes to his. "I shot him."

"Intentionally?"

"I had no choice, but it was not accidental. I raised my arm to fire, and he turned his head and waited." She liked the way the juices from cherries exploded in her mouth with no rhyme or reason of direction.

"Am I allowed to ask why?" He didn't know how far she was prepared to confess, nor did he know why it was suddenly so important to him to have an explanation.

"Oh, you can ask…" Why had the maraschino cherry faded into history? One day they were floating in drinks that made people giddy and then…no more maraschino. The wibbliness of time had not been kind to the cherry.

"River…"

She stuck out her tongue and dropped the tiny fruit into her mouth, savoring its artificially sweetened yumminess. Standing slowly, she wobbled away from the table and turned to face him. "Come on, dear. Let's get moving before the night beats us home."

The moon had risen before the sun had disappeared behind the horizon, reminding River of the day in question. She cast a sideways glance in Amos' direction and saw him shuffling beside her with his hands buried in the pockets of his trousers, staring down at the dirt as it scattered from underneath his feet as he walked.

River had never lived a significant amount of time with any one person in her entire life. Oh, she had been with Kovarian for years, but it could hardly be counted as quality time. And she had been woven in and out of the Doctor's life for as long as she could remember, but those moments were always fleeting. She trusted the Doctor, because she knew no other way. Trusting him was instinctual.

Trusting Amos had taken her by surprise.

"Amos, are you familiar with the Teselecta?" The words seemed to escape from her without any forethought whatsoever.

"Isn't that a project of the Justice Department? Some sort of compressed vehicle? Or am I just pulling this information from my ass?"

River broke out into a laugh and stopped to steady her unbalanced body from the pleasant disturbance. Amos placed a supportive hand on her lower back and laughed along with her.

"Well, you never really know, do you? Our days are no longer malt shops and dime stores. Since we've been here, I sometimes wonder if I really know what I know," he tried to explain. "Is this really a tiny time machine or am I just a man wearing a bracelet in 1956?"

She smiled and began walking once more. "Yes, the Teselecta is just that. A nearly indestructible vehicle capable of transporting miniaturized people."

"Okay…"

"Life-sized robotic replica of an actual person that can transport that person as a passenger?"

"Uh huh."

River stopped and turned to look at him. "Really? The Order sent me with the very best they had? Did you lose a bet?"

"What?" Amos' brain was misfiring on all cylinders.

"Should I be concerned about the well-being of this child during birth? Are you going to catch it in a fishing net?"

"What in the hell are you talking about? My damn head hurts now," he complained, getting as close to whining as a man his size and demeanor was capable.

River leaned in and confessed in a hushed tone. "Amos, I shot a Teselecta. I could never...would never... have killed him."

Amos knew that look in her eyes. It had been many years, but he remembered it well. "You loved him."

"I still do," she whispered into the night air. The moon lit up the road just enough to reveal their driveway, and she began walking towards it with Amos following behind her.

Later that night, Amos stood nervously outside River's bedroom. He looked down at the photograph in his hand and swallowed the lump that insisted on rising in his throat. It had been weeks since he looked at it last…possibly the longest he had ever gone without a quiet reflection. He knocked hesitantly on the door, light enough to go unnoticed. But River wasn't one to miss much.

"Come in…"

Amos poked his head in through the door. "Just saying goodnight."

"Oh. Well then, goodnight," she answered as she struggled to remake the bed with fresh linens.

Thankful to have a reason to intrude, Amos hurried over to the bed and finished tucking the sheets around corners and spreading the duvet across the mattress. River had noticed the man place the photograph on the nightstand before helping her, and she inquired about it when they had finished.

"May I?" she asked before picking it up. After receiving a shy nod, River studied the picture of a rather happy-looking family, perhaps on a holiday. Amos was kneeling beside a beautiful young woman, and each of them was embracing a smiling child. River glanced up at Amos with a look of surprise. "You have a gorgeous family, Brother Amos."

He smiled weakly and gazed down at the photo she held gingerly. "Thanks."

"So, how does Mrs. Brother Amos feel about you playing husband to a prisoner for so many months?" she asked him with a wink.

"I don't know," he answered quietly. "She died."

The teasing grin faded quickly from her face, and she raised shocked and shameful eyes to meet his. "Oh my god, Amos. I am so sorry…." River didn't know what else to say. Months and months of playing house must have been more burdensome than she could ever have imagined.

"Yeah…me too…"

River reached out and took the man's hand in hers and squeezed it gently. "She's amazingly beautiful. I like her smile…warm with an inkling of playfulness. What was her name?"

"Meredith, but we called her Mere. Like Mary…just not spelled the same," he said in an almost childlike whisper and then chuckled. "She was so angry with me when we took that picture."

"Really? Well, she hid it well. Your children are also beautiful. The little boy has your dimples."

"Isaiah… always getting into something. And Sarah looks just like her mother there, doesn't she?"

River nodded and marveled at the secretive man beside her. How does a father not go crazy, being unable to see his children for such a long period of time? "Who is taking care of them while you are here?"

When he failed to answer after several seconds, River was afraid that his silence was all the answer she needed. After a heavy sigh, Amos spoke the heartbreaking truth. "Their mother."

The two of them sat together on the bed, leaning back against the headboard with their shoulders touching and without saying a word for quite some time. River gently rested her head on his shoulder, his thumb tracing small circles on the hand still clasped in his.

Amos spoke first, and River could hear the acceptance and sadness in his voice. "I was a Time Agent before they died…well, before they were killed."

"Wait…killed?" River lifted her head and watched his face and eyes as he continued.

His nod was barely noticeable, and his voice hushed and defeated. "Some missions are not without their dangers. And some dangers are too horrible to imagine even possible."

Amos had revealed this devastating part of his life without any prompting, and River did not prod for more answers. Those would eventually follow. She had learned that life happened in the waiting, and she had a respect for this man that she did not easily afford to many.

For Amos to have shared his burden with her meant that he trusted her in a way that few ever had. Knowing this made River want to confide in him the other pieces to her puzzle. "Amos, what have you been told about the child I'm carrying?"

"I believe Father Octavian's word was 'remarkable.' And I know that the Order went to great lengths to hide the pregnancy. Other than that, I have no details to speak of, really," he answered as he tucked the photograph into his shirt pocket. "Why?"

River inhaled deeply and let the breath out as slowly as possible as the baby kicked her bladder. "I have never admitted as much to them or to the administration of the facility, but they have their suspicions as to the father of this baby…which would explain why we are stuck in the middle of nowhere and no time."

Amos turned his head to look at her. "The Doctor."

"Yes," she replied quietly.

"So, what does that mean? Does he know?"

A heavy sigh spoke volumes of guilt and uncertainty. "No, he doesn't."

Amos let the information wrap around his brain and melt in with what he knew already. "Will you tell him? I mean, it's obvious that you love him."

"Apparently not obvious enough. He certainly has no idea. Then again, for all his saving and giving, he has somewhat of a selfish streak, that man. I like to try to convince myself that he's simply oblivious…which he is as well…but his world revolves around his world," River said with a touch of snark.

"So, you're not telling him?" One thing Amos didn't miss about female companionship was the trickery and methodology necessary to arrive at an answer.

"He wouldn't believe it if I did. Would he?"

"Are you asking me? 'Cause hell if I know!"

"Can I really expect him to suddenly become a family man and give up his random travelling? Him and me and baby makes three? I hardly doubt it…"

Amos realized that River wasn't actually seeking his answers. He was simply a sounding board…without sound, which was perfectly okay with him. She continued to talk herself into or out of something – he wasn't sure what the something was or in which direction she was leaning. She was very good at proposing and answering the hypothetical.

"What do you think?"

"Huh?"

"Amos! I can't repeat that again!"

"I didn't think you really wanted an answer. Sorry," he said sheepishly. "But…"

River waited for him to finish, fidgeting with the sleeve of his denim shirt. "Yes?"

"I may not have been paying the closest of attention, but I know this, River. A man deserves to know that a little person exists who has his eyes or his ears or his tendency to get into trouble. And a child deserves to look into the eyes of the man who helped give him life. At the end of the day, all that is important is family," he answered with a hushed tone. "I may not be the most sensitive or the kindest of men, but I know what it is important in life."

Tears fell and slipped down her cheeks as she stared into her lap. River knew he was right, but she did not have a reputation for always making the soundest of decisions. She didn't know if she would be capable of doing what was best for all of them, because the Doctor wasn't the only one with a touch of selfishness in the pair of them. How would she know if she was making the choice that was best for her, for him, or for the baby? Because no one decision existed that would be best for them all.

Without a careful thought, Amos reached up and brushed away the tears from her face. His touch was gentle and warm, and a peacefulness radiated through River as she realized that this man cared for her – and she for him – without any of the complications she was accustomed to battling. It was a necessary comfort for them both, each having lost the greatest love either would ever know.

When River looked up at him and brought her lips softly to his, they both understood that the kiss was not a promise of anything more than comfort in turmoil. And though over the years, they would progress from friends to lovers and back to a more complicated friendship, there was always the unspoken understanding that her life and her love belonged to only two.

The Doctor and the son she had reluctantly chosen to deny.

Finding the downstairs dark and empty, Amos crept up the steps to the second floor. Nearer to the top he caught a glimpse of River through the banister. She had tucked herself into an awkward position and fallen asleep against the wall outside of Gus' bedroom. Amos walked quietly towards her and knelt down, stroking her hair and face in an attempt to rouse her from sleep. His only success was a few moans of the usual protest, and he chuckled softly.

"Even in your sleep, you are driven by stubbornness, honey," he said as he scooped her up and cradled her against his chest, grunting, "Damn, I'm getting too old for this shit."

"You said that last time," came the voice of the woman nestled against him.

Amos kissed the top of her head and carried her towards her. "Yeah... well, I meant it then, too."

The Doctor regretted walking by River as he entered Gus' room. The little boy had fallen asleep with the tiny earphones in his ears, and the Doctor could hear the music as it continued to play. He wished he had woken River so that they could both sit with their son and watch him as he slept. But he had selfishly stepped around the sleeping mother and sat down on the bed near the faintly snoring child.

His son.

As he concentrated on those words and what they meant, Gus flopped over and draped an arm across the Doctor's lap. He felt a wave of something roll through him from head to toe. Though the Doctor was no expert on the relationship between a parent and a child, he would have to acknowledge the feeling as love. The growing love he had for his child.

He would have most certainly stayed with the boy if he hadn't heard a voice outside the bedroom door. The Doctor had seen love and heard love enough in his life to recognize it in the voice of Amos as he tenderly tried to convince River to go to bed. He also heard and was pained by the playful familiarity with which she responded to Amos as their voices faded down the hall.

Thoughts too numerous to count or carefully consider coursed through his mind, and before he had time to decide whether he planned to apologize or stake a claim, the Doctor was knocking on the door of River's bedroom.

The barrier separating the two men slowly opened and brought them eye-to-eye while they both waited for their moment of truth.

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