What Child Is This

By alwaysgus

Mystery / Romance

Chapter 25

For the first time Amos' stance was nonthreatening. In fact, the man looked wearisome and defeated. He stood with a hand on his hip - more to hold himself together than to make himself appear larger and more aggressive, the Doctor thought – while he held the door open with the other. Amos looked down at the Doctor's feet and rocked back and forth from heel to toe on one of his own.

He was nervous. The man who could break other men in half was fidgeting and nervous. And if the Doctor had said that he didn't take some pride in that truth, he would have been lying. But that was what he did. Even silently and often to himself. Habits were nasty business, they were. And the unpleasant habits were always the hardest to break.

So, he pretended not to be slightly amused by Amos' uneasiness.

The more time that passed in silence between the two men, the more awkward it became to make the first sound. With the rocking of Amos and the head-scratching of the Doctor, even the surrounding furniture appeared uncomfortable to witness the blundering lack-of-confrontation.

Amos raised his eyes and accidentally made direct contact with the Doctor's, causing him to hastily look away again.

"Look, I don't know what River said to you, but –"

"I'm sorry."

Amos looked up at the slight and gangly man before him. "You're sorry?"

The Doctor swallowed the lump of hesitancy that was stuck in his throat and spoke the words again. "Yes. I shouldn't have said what I did to you about being a neglectful parent, whether or not it was truthful…which I don't believe it was…truthful, I mean…apparently you were a magnificent parent…are a magnificent parent…to Gus…and the girls as well, I suppose…" The Doctor fanned the collar of his shirt and looked around for the fire. "Is it a bit hot in here?"

"Nah, not really. Maybe apologies just make you sick," Amos offered. "I know that I had rather jump into a fire myself than have to apologize to anyone."

"Yes, perhaps that's it. I've never been one for admitting to being wrong. Although I'm not wrong all that often. So, I'm also not very good at them," he said as he crossed his arms over his chest and mimicked Amos' rocking motions.

"Well, it worked for me. So, are we good?" Amos held out a hand for shaking.

The Doctor looked down at the outstretched arm. "At what? I supposed we're good at many things, you and me. Me with the thinking of things and you with the crushing of things."

Amos breathed out a heavy chuckle, keeping his arm extended. "Doctor, I meant can we call it even? Can we do the man thing and shake on it? End the awkwardness with a good old fashioned handshake and move on?"

"Oh, certainly. Right then." The Doctor gripped the man's hand and turned in an eyebrow as he saw his hand seemingly disappear. He sensed an uneasy truce pass through the handshake but was it supposed to make him feel inferior, as well? At least he wouldn't lose all feeling in his muscles as he did after their first meeting so many weeks before.

Amos released the Doctor's hand and shoved his own into his pocket. "Well, if there's nothing else, I think I'll be heading out now. She seems to be resting okay. I'll be checking back in a few days."

"Yes, that…umm…would be great…anytime..."

"Doctor, I wasn't asking permission."

"No, of course not. This is your house, too. Not to mean 'too' as if it were mine in any way. No, not that…just that I'm sure River would appreciate you stopping by…no, appreciate is such a formal word...perhaps, delighted...what adult man says delighted..."

Amos took a step through the door and closed it gently behind him. "Doctor, why don't you have a seat there," he said, pointing to the stairs. Noticing the panicked look in the man's face, Amos gave him a little push to motivate his movement. "Don't worry. I'm not going to shove you down them. Just sit down...like that…there you go."

"What about River?" the Doctor asked.

"Oh, she's sleeping. Nothing short of a child's cry will wake up her until morning."

The Doctor walked down a couple of steps and sat cautiously. He hadn't intended to have an actual conversation with the man. Weren't men supposed to just make an apology and spit on it or something? Or maybe that was how one purchased livestock…

"How much of the story did you get from River?" Amos sat on the top step with his elbows resting on his knees and his large hands clasped closely to the Doctor's face.

"The basics, most likely. I never really get the full story from River…any story. It's what she does. Tells me what I need to know in order to live and lets the rest out a little at a time," he explained. "That's how she, umm…how do you say it…rolls…"

"That's not how I say it."

"Well, some do."

"Not men."

"Well, I'm not a man, exactly. I'm…well, I'm sort of …"

"Alien."

The Doctor shook his head. "Now, see, you just can't say alien anymore. Because you lot think of aliens as tiny green bulbous-headed creatures and that's just not the case. Some of us have magnificently proportioned head pieces - "

Amos sighed loudly to regain control of the conversation. "Okay, I got it. Nonetheless, I feel like I should explain some things."

"No…that's really not necessary. I think I have a superb understanding of the situation," the Doctor said as he stood and reached up to straighten an invisible bowtie.

"Sit. Please," Amos commanded graciously.

The Doctor reluctantly followed orders and took his place on the stairs, nervously folding and unfolding his fingers together. He had heard more than enough about Amos in River's telling of events. He was grateful to the man, but was still not willing to accept Amos' place as Gus' father, much less as River's husband.

Amos watched his own hands as he spoke, unable to watch the Doctor's facial expressions as the nervous man heard what he had to say. "I'm sure River told you how she came to be here and how I came to be with her, and there's probably no need to give you my side of the story. Which this isn't, mind you…but I do feel that you should know a couple of things."

The Doctor watched the man avoid eye contact and decided to stay silent until he had said what he needed to say.

"I, uh…sometimes when…even though I tried…" Amos gave it several attempts before realizing he just had to say it. He looked up at the Doctor and gave it to him as straight and as quietly as was possible. "I love her."

The Doctor looked away quickly so that Amos wouldn't see the anger in his eyes. He didn't know if he was justified in feeling angry, but it didn't seem to matter to the emotion – which simply intensified as Amos spoke further.

"I didn't mean to, and I swear to God, I fought against it. But I couldn't help it. I still can't. I love them both. And even though you don't want to hear this, they are my family. This didn't just happen to you, Doctor. For years I've had to live with the fear that you could waltz in and steal my family away…and now that's happened, and I don't know what to do about it. I mean, is it even right for me to fight for it?

"What you may not know is that I had a family before all this. I had a wife and two kids, a boy and a girl. And they were perfect. Even when my wife complained about me drinking from the milk carton…even when Isaiah and Sarah fought over the rules of a silly game…they were perfect. I, however, was a son-of-a-bitch, like most men are sometimes. I worked too much and then stayed gone too long when I wasn't working. I don't know if River told you, but I was a Time Agent. Well, actually I was the physician for the active Agents. But I loved my job, and I was good at it."

Amos paused and stared at nothing. The Doctor waited for him to finish, hating the possibility that whatever the man had to say might cause him to feel even more guilt for previously wanting Amos to spontaneously burst into flames.

" Perhaps too good at it, I guess. Word got out that I was a man who knew how to use my actual hands to heal the human body, and…well…let's just say that I refused the wrong person. And the cost for refusing was the life of my family." Amos' voice had become soft and saddened.

The Doctor understood without any further explanation how Amos could have brought about the death of his family. There would come a time in human history when doctors were simply agents of the advancements of medical technology. In the future, most injuries and ailments could be healed with a pill or a procedure that did not necessitate the use of an actual physician. Medical students were taught how to utilize equipment, not how to heal the sick. However, in some cases, such as those that arose in the line of duty, it was necessary to employ a doctor of the traditional sort. And the good guys weren't the only side to suffer casualties.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is…I've lost one family, Doctor. I don't want to lose another. I'm not asking that you give up your claim as his dad. I would never ask that. But I would like to be able to continue my relationship with him. I know that I have to give up River. She never loved me like I loved her. She has only ever loved you. But I know in my heart that Gus loves me like a father." Amos stood and walked down the stairs past the Doctor, stopping and speaking into the dark air. "Please don't keep him from me. That is all I ask."

Without waiting for an answer, Amos disappeared into the darkness of the downstairs and finally into the flashing electricity left by the vortex manipulator strapped to his wrist.

No sooner had the residual crackles faded into the dark did River open the door of her bedroom and join the Doctor on the stairs. They both sat without speaking for quite some time, each listening to the rhythmic breathing of the other.

He reached out and took her by the hand, tracing the outline of her fingers softly with his own. Her breathing quickened as he turned it over and began to sketch imaginary lines on her palm. Lifting it slowly to his lips, he placed there a kiss and closed her fingers around it for safe keeping. River stood and walked down the few steps to where he was seated. She sat in front of him and scooted back until she rested against him, her head on his chest. The Doctor propped an elbow atop his leg and twisted curls of her hair around a finger.

"I thought you were asleep."

"Who could sleep with all the commotion?" River teased quietly. More silence.

"He's a good man, River."

"A very good man."

Her words rang familiar in his head. "The very good man?"

She hummed a slight giggle. "Spoilers, Sweetie." Her eyelids were getting heavy from the comfort of his hands in her hair.

"Yeah, I didn't think it would be so easy."

"Of course not." She sighed as contentment settled within her, a feeling that she wouldn't have imagined possible again after her confession. However, his capacity to forgive never failed to amaze her.

"He loves you."

"Yes, he does."

Silence.

Sigh.

"Do you?"

"What? Love me? Oh sure. I'm rather fantastic, I think," she said playfully, trying to avoid answering the question in a way that she was sure would hurt him. "How could I not love me?"

"River…"

She sighed and turned to face him. "Yes, Doctor, I do. As a man who protected me and my…our…child. As a man who loved me when I felt alone and forgotten. I love him for what he means to me as those things."

The Doctor was not able to look at her as she admitted to loving a man who was not him. He refused to allow her to see his hearts break for the second time that evening. Raising a hand over his head, he nervously rubbed his fingers through his hair and blew out the breath he'd been holding. The Doctor had let go of many loves in his life, but never had the loss left him feeling as devastated as he felt in that moment.

"But as the man who fills me with love? No. My heart has only room for two people, Doctor." River stood and took the Doctor's hand, bringing him to his feet and leading him down the hallway. She stopped outside of Gus' bedroom and nodded towards the sleeping child. "Look at him."

Standing behind her, a smile eased across his face at seeing the small boy's body spread haphazardly on the bed. The Doctor himself often woke with his head in the exact opposite direction from where he had fallen asleep.

River leaned back against him, and he wrapped his arms around her middle. "Sometimes he'll say something in that same smart-arse tone you use, and I just want to kick him in the rear. Or when he's concentrating deeply and his forehead crinkles like yours. He's you even down to the way he scratches his head when the world fails to make any sense. How could there possibly be room left for someone else? It's you, Doctor. It's always been you. And now him. You and him. The two of you are my life. Yes, I am badass, and I am stronger than any other woman you'll ever meet. But I do love, Doctor."

She spun around and kissed his lips chastely. "Even when you are not here, I love you. When you're with Amy and Rory in God-only-knows-where-and-when, I love you. When you make me so mad I could hit you, I love you."

"So, why do you still hit me?" he asked teasingly.

"For emphasis."

"That you love me?"

"Uh…sure."

They both chuckled softly before he brought his lips down to hers. River snaked her arms around his back and gripped him tightly as the intensity of their kiss deepened. He walked her awkwardly down the hallway in the direction her bedroom while their tongues battled for control over the other. A moan escaped from her as she realized how badly she needed and wanted him. Pulling away from his kiss, she lifted his shirt over his head as the bedroom door closed behind them and sealed them off from the tumultuous world outside.

River drug her nails lightly down his chest and followed them with kisses, occasionally licking at his skin with her tongue. The Doctor hissed an intake of breath, and his body went rigid from the chills that raced up and down his arms and legs. When he felt her tongue glide along the skin at the waistband of his jeans, he thought that his legs would surely collapse. He pulled her up to him and captured her mouth greedily with his own while unbuttoning and sliding her blouse down her arms.

The bare skin of her chest melted into the bare skin of his as he reached around her and pulled her tightly against him. He slid his hands underneath the fabric of her jeans and tickled the sensitive skin of her lower back. Her guttural laugh sent waves of pleasure rolling through him, and he timidly unbuttoned her jeans. He pulled away from her and searched out her face for permission to take her when he needed for them to go. River answered him by sliding her fingers between the catch on his trousers and releasing them, sliding them slowly down his legs. After repeating the same motion, he lifted River, and she wrapped her legs around his waist, gripping him tightly to feel the friction as her body grinded against his.

The Doctor sat them down on the bed, and River pushed him backwards, straddling his lap as she hovered over him. "Doctor, I need to know…"

"Don't you know already, River?"

"Do I?"

He sat up and encircled her, softly tracing his fingertips down the skin of her back and gently unhooking the last piece of fabric that separated her skin from his. "With everything that I have and all that I am, River. It's and completely, you." He slid the straps down her arms and dropped the lacy garment to the floor.

Before the tears had time to fall down her cheeks, the Doctor lifted River and laid her down, covering her mouth and her body with his own.

After what seemed like hours of glistening skin and muffled moans, they both cuddled against each other and caught their breaths. The Doctor nuzzled into the crook of her neck and kissed along her ear, causing her to giggle and swat at him.

"Quit it, now. I'm sleepy."

"After all that, you want to sleep?" His voice rose in pitch as he squeaked out his surprise.

River sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, leaving him protesting and whining from the loneliness without her.

"Come back. I'm cold. There's coldness where you were and aren't anymore. It's unpleasant and must be corrected immediately." He was silenced by the landing of garments across his face.

"Put these back on if you plan to stay the night," she instructed as she stepped into her knickers and pulled a long shirt over her head. "Nobody sleeps nude in a house full of kids…or kid."

He reluctantly pulled on his boxers and tee before sliding back under the covers and holding them out for River. She held up a hand and disappeared into the hallway, returning moments later. With a shiver and a smile, she eased back into bed and into his waiting arms. "Maternal OCD…"

"Ahh…everything okay?" he asked as he molded his body alongside hers and pulled her tightly against him.

"Umm hmm," she answered sleepily and slipped quietly into slumber only moments before the satisfied man behind her succumbed as well.

The door creaked as it was slowly opened. The light of the moon shone in through the window and revealed that Mimi was not alone in bed…again. Gus rubbed his eyes and considered returning to his own room. But it was cold and lonely in there, knowing that he was the only kid in the house.

Mimi was nestled against the Doctor's back, so Gus walked over to the other side of the bed and crawled underneath the sheets. He laid his head on the pillow just under the Doctor's chin and settled himself before quickly drifting off.

The sudden movement of an arm around his neck had woken the Doctor, and he begrudgingly opened his eyes to see the moonlight shining on the boy's dark hair. He wiggled out from under Gus and wrapped his own arm protectively around his son while River snuggled closer behind him. Almost as soon as he had opened his eyes, he closed them and, for the first time in years too numerous to count, the Doctor felt warm inside. He had a family, and they were his home.

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