The Doctor stood at the top of the stairs and considered the odds of not knocking himself unconscious – even more importantly, of not getting caught. He hadn't seen River in quite some time, so he had no idea of where she might be in the house. His leg twitched as if to hurry him in making his decision and to sway him in the wisest choice, the choice that was less likely to cause it concern…although the argument could be made that simply putting one foot in front of the other was taking his life into his own hands. So, it only made sense that walking down the stairs was just as dangerous as the alternative.
Smiling, he swung a leg over the banister and balanced his lankiness as best he could. The Doctor looked down at the front door and grinned widely. With a thrust of his hips, he propelled himself forward. Nearly halfway down and picking up speed, he realized the flaw in his strategy. Facing forward, he was unable to slow himself, whereas if he had descended arse first he could have, at least, grabbed the banister.
He knew that he really should put more forethought into his wackier schemes.
Traveling faster than he had anticipated and at an angle he had not pondered, the fully grown adult-child flew off the banister - not towards the front door, which would have provided plenty of room in which to tuck and roll. Instead, he veered to the left and thwapped into the wall of the foyer with his shoulder and head. He lay there for a few seconds wondering where it all had gone wrong.
"And how did that work out for you?"
The Doctor craned his neck and looked up at the disapproving and amused smirk of the lady of the house. He smiled out of the side of his face that he could still feel. "Not quite as I had hoped, actually."
River pursed her lips and held out a hand to help him to his feet. "Yeah, it never does. That would usually be two weeks grounding, by the way."
He unfolded his legs from against the wall and sat up, accepting her offer and sliding his hand into hers. River pulled him forward, not realizing her strength or his lightness, and unintentionally threw him into the facing wall.
"Dammit!" He cried as he hit it with the other shoulder and slid to the floor once again.
"I heard that! Swearing's inappropriate!" came an admonition from nowhere and everywhere. Like Santa Clause.
River braced herself against the banister laughing at the jumbled mess of Doctor crumpled on the floor. "I…am…so…" Silent hysterics shook her body as tears streamed down her face. She fell to her knees and rocked back and forth at the defeated sight of him.
"So what? Heinous? Despicable? Sorry, maybe?" He closed his eyes and waited for the tiny pink elephants to stop dancing across his eyelids.
"Strong…" River said, finally capturing enough breath to speak. She crawled over towards him, collapsing midway through her journey in more laughter.
"You're not so strong, Mimi," the Doctor growled, extending his legs and resting on his back. "I'm just – "
"Skinny?" She answered him with a wink as she raised a leg over his body to hover atop him.
"I was going to say slight." His body betrayed his mind and began to tingle with want as her hair swung over his face. He giggled and nearly blacked out when River dipped her head and trailed feathered kisses on his neck, squirming between the cage of her limbs. "Holy hormones, Batgirl!"
He watched his hands reach up and slide up and down her arms, not remembering having told them to do so. What in the hell was happening to him? Not only did he flail at will, but now he stroked willy nilly, as well? Not that it was unpleasant or tedious…quite the opposite. But he would, at least, prefer to be in control of it. He grabbed a handful of her hair as he felt her breath whisper in his ear.
"Oh, I can stop right now, Doctor. It makes no difference to me."
River chuckled and slid a hand into his front pocket. "Always."
He was beginning to feel less awkward and more in control, which meant only one thing. "River, you've got to get up. Gus is somewhere close waiting for an apology, and the adult in me is fighting to be set loose."
"Oh, I know, Sweetie. This is just a reminder of what you're missing since you insist on sleeping upstairs," she said between quick kisses along his jawline. "And he's content in his musings for quite a while, I'd wager. Though I do suppose this is neither the time nor the place."
The Doctor twisted his neck and glanced behind him towards the front door. "You think?"
He could feel her smile against his skin before she nipped at his chin with her teeth. River opened her eyes and looked into his, the desire swimming and dancing like fire on fuel. Brushing his hair gently across his forehead, she brought her lips down to his and kissed him with a feral need that consumed any remnants of propriety that he had managed to maintain.
But before he could succumb to her wanton kisses and touches, she stopped as quickly as she had started. He peeked through one eye to assess the situation as she seemingly levitated into a standing position. He almost expected to look behind him into the traumatized face of his son.
Sensing his battling thoughts, River smiled and reassured him. "No, he's still gazing and musing, dear. But you're right…" she admitted, extended another hand of help to him. "…all good things…"
"You're bananas if you think I'm grabbing hold of you again," the Doctor said as he rolled to his side and struggled for steady footing. Finally standing to look her eye-to-eye, he smiled when he noticed the flush in her cheeks and the obvious battle she was fighting to regain control of herself. He walked behind her and swept the hair away from her neck, bending over and kissing her behind the ear. "At least, in the foyer in the broad of day," he whispered before biting playfully at her earlobe and walking off.
"You bastard," she growled through a smile and watched him saunter into the living room.
He peeked over a shoulder and winked at her before enjoying the sight of her walking down the hall towards the kitchen. The Doctor's smile danced from ear-to-ear as he all but skipped around the corner of the sofa, nearly tripping over the tiny feet pointing towards the ceiling.
"Well, hello there," the Doctor said, finding Gus under the Christmas tree.
"It appears that you may be stuck under the tree."
"Nope. Just thinking."
"Under the Christmas tree?"
The Doctor scratched his head and looked around as if the explanation were sitting in a chair waiting to be acknowledged. It wasn't. "But under the tree?"
"Just lying there?"
"Under the tree." His little feet clapped together, and his clapsed hands rested on his belly. "The Christmas tree," he added with a hushed giggle.
The Doctor smiled as he realized that not only had Gus inherited brilliance, strength and courage from his parents, he had also been blessed with a double dose of smart ass. Which he actually found appealing and lovable in this child…perhaps not so much in others.
Gus peeked out from under his hiding place and looked up at the Doctor. "Why don't you come down here with me? Mimi can help you up if you are too old to do it by yourself."
"Absolutely not! She'll throw me through that window. Your Mimi is a monster in disguise, I fear," he moaned as he gently reorganized the gifts to accommodate his body.
"Oh, she definitely is if you eat the last oatmeal cookie or walk on her mopped floor. Like, big teeth and claws. It's scary," Gus answered with as much seriousness as he could muster, then whispered, "You don't have to be so careful. It's just trash in the boxes."
The Doctor shook a couple of them and looked at the fidgeting hands of the little boy. "Really? How can you be certain?"
"I'm a good kid, but I'm still a kid."
"Ahh…is that why you're under the tree?"
"Nope. Are you having another one of those days?"
Rolling onto his back and sliding under the tree, the Doctor understood immediately why the child's imagination could be entertained for so long under a simple Christmas tree. "You are a very smart little boy," he said, his voice full of wonder.
"Just wait until they blink."
Almost as if the tree was under his command, the tiny lights started to blink like thousands of little stars. Gus tapped the Doctor on his leg excitedly. "Pretty nifty, isn't it?"
"It most definitely is nifty."
They were both quiet for a while, content to watch the lights twinkle inside the darkened tree. The sun's light had completely disappeared, leaving the room dark except for the glow of Gus' mighty tree.
"They look like stars, don't they?" Gus pondered, his voice soft, as if the sound of it would disturb the magic above them.
"They really do."
"For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream…"
The Doctor turned his head and looked at his son curiously. "Those are big words for such a little brain."
"Well, Amos says it a lot. It's how he ends nighttime prayers. He says that a painter said it a long time ago," Gus explained.
"Amos says it, huh?" The Doctor sighed and fought the twinges of jealousy that were creeping up his spine. Knowing what he knew and learning new things all along, he felt justified and mortified at how easily he gave into the raw emotion.
"Yeah…well, Amos only repeats it. Somebody named Vincent the Goat said it first."
"Vincent van Gogh?"
The Doctor grinned at the thought of Vincent the Goat. "I met him once, you know." Who's the cool one now?
There was a small intake of breath. "Really?"
"I bet he's really smart and nice. And probably very happy to be saying such sweet things about the stars. I bet he was in love," the child said with all the surety in his world.
The Doctor kept the truth to himself. "What do you know about being in love, tiny person?"
"I know it makes teenagers do some really dumb stuff. And look at each other weird. Grownups too, I think."
Turning his head to look at Gus, his hearts swelled at the sight of the small boy staring up at the twinkling lights of his Christmas tree. "You think so, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. I know so," he said. "Not only that, I think Mimi might have it."
The Doctor chuckled to hear it described like an illness. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, I can smell her cherry lip gloss on your face, and unless she let you borrow it, I think she probably kissed you. And that's what lovey people do…kiss each other." The simple wisdom of a child could not be argued.
"She might have. Is that okay with you?" The Doctor licked his lips and his belly flopped as the taste of River wrapped around his tongue.
"Oh, sure. I knew it already, though. You guys looked awfully cuddly sleeping together the other night. I don't cuddle with people I don't love. That's just inappropriate. Like swearing…I haven't forgot that you swore earlier," he said, tagging on the last bit to let the Doctor know he was still in trouble. "But we'll talk about that later."
The Doctor was unsure how to respond. He had carried Gus back to his bed long before either River or the child had woken, hoping to avoid any awkwardness. He hadn't expected the boy to remember. "Yes…about that…"
"It's okay. Mimi gets lonely. And I bet you do too, sometimes…in that big ole TARDIS. Do you love Mimi?"
"Well, I uh…"
"You should. She sure does love you an awful lot. If you don't, you should probably tell her before she gets her hopes up. That's just the right thing to do," Gus pointed out.
Being at a total loss for words, the Doctor searched frantically for the right thing to say before realizing there was only one thing to say: the truth.
"Yes, I do, Gus. Very much."
"Well, then, I guess you should tell her, so she'll quit smacking you around so much. I'm afraid you might get hurt."
They both giggled, and the Doctor wondered if his laughter had sounded as sweet to his own parents.
Neither of them saw River walk into the living room and watch the fidgeting feet of the loves of her life as they stuck out from under a sparkling tree. Nor did they see her blink back tears of happiness and love as she sent up a prayer of thanks to a god that she wasn't convinced - yet hoped with all her might - even existed.