River stood on the bottom stair and yelled. "Gus! He's here! Get a move on!"
She took a deep breath and opened the front door. "Hey."
"You look nice," River said rather timidly.
Even the smallest of exchanges were awkward and difficult since the truth had been spilled. She kicked at the door frame nervously as she took in the sight of him. River had always been a sucker for Amos in a suit and tie. Throughout most of their time together, he had been in fatigues or piddle-around-the-house clothing. But there were those times when he would emerge from the bedroom clad in a suit cut just so, and she would momentarily forget to be heartbroken. Those were the memories that made her smile.
"Um, thanks. Do you think I could come inside? It's cold as hell out here, Hals," he said through chattering teeth.
"Oh, yeah..sure…I don't know what I'm doing these days," she said apologetically, stepping aside and watching him walk by her. She smiled to herself in admittance that she would never not want to see him walk in front of her. River was still grinning when Amos turned around and spoke.
"Nope not a thing."
"Stop looking at my ass."
"I was doing no such thing, Amos Humphreys." River feigned shock and winked at him playfully.
"You forget that I know you, River Song. Your imagination would make a madam blush," he teased in return.
River laughed and nodded. "You're probably right about that…Hey, thanks for taking him tonight. He's been looking forward to it all week. I hope it didn't cause any problems with the Order."
"Oh, of course. No problem at all. I actually enjoy it as much as he does. So, thanks for asking me," Amos said, his voice softer than usual.
"Amos, you've been taking him every year since he was born. You're still his father too. That's not going to change," River reassured him as she took him the hand. "Okay?"
Amos looked somberly down at their clasped hands and nodded. "Speaking of which, where is the Doctor tonight?" He reclaimed possession of his hand and buried deep inside his trouser pocket.
"Oh, he's somewhere…into something, I'm sure. Though I haven't seen or heard him in while…which is unusual…" River's voice faded to a whisper as her mind wondered into what kinds of trouble he had fallen. "I hope he's in the TARDIS. Blimey, I hate it when I lose track of that man! I'll probably spend all night - "
"Do you want me to keep Gus overnight? It will be late when we finish up," he interrupted quietly. "I finally got my own place in town."
A lump rose in River's throat as she considered how difficult those words must have been for Amos. Truthfully, they were almost as painful to hear. Her life as she had planned it was over. And though the past few weeks with the Doctor had been the happiest she had known in years, Amos meant a great deal to her. The finality of it all was incredibly sad.
"Oh, really? Well, that's good, Amos. I'm glad you'll be close by…you know, for Gus' sake."
"Yeah. For Gus…"
The lightheartedness had passed, and both knew that their lives had become a my-weekend-your-weekend situation…unintentionally and completely unexpected. There had been no time to prepare. The knowledge wrapped around River's heart and squeezed it tight. Nothing was working out as they had planned.
And it was only going to get harder for all of them.
"Have you talked to him yet?"
River sighed heavily and shook her head. "No…you wanna do it? I'll give you a thousand dollars if you do it," she joked before yelling once again for Gus.
"Oh, no. I'd get shot. That's your beast to tackle, I'm happy to say. Well…maybe not happy…but I'm sure as hell glad it's not my job. So, I take it that part of the plan hasn't changed?" Amos was a bit surprised that River had not second-guessed herself into a disastrous change of heart, although he knew that she would always put Gus' well-being before her own happiness.
River dug her toes into the carpet and turned his question over in her mind a few times. It was on her conscious every morning when she woke and every evening as she drifted off to sleep. She just wanted to make it through the holiday. She shook her head and raised her eyes to him, tears welling despite her best efforts to hold them at bay. "Ugh! I am so tired of crying. Dammit."
Amos reached up to wipe dry her cheeks when he heard the stomping of feet down the stairs. He paused midway and smiled, the only comfort he was now allowed to give. Turning towards the stairs, he grabbed Gus under his arms and swung him upwards, catching him against his chest. "You look like quite the gentleman, Mr. Williams. "
Gus smiled and straightened his bow tie. "So do you, Mr. Humphwies."
River quickly brushed the tears from her eyes."You two will be fighting off the little old ladies with sticks. You better not let my little guy be taken off by some sweet-talking girl, Amos," she jested as she ran her fingers through Gus' hair. "We need to have something done about that mess on your head."
Gus wiggled out of Amos' arms and looked around the foyer and down the hall. "Where's the Doctor? I wanted him to see me all dressed up. I think I'm kinda cute in these spenders, don't you think?" He spun around and held open his jacket to model his mini-Doctor look.
River giggled with a warm heart at the sight of the littlest Doctor and gave him a thumbs up. "I'm not sure where he is, honey. But he'd only try to put a hat on you, I promise."
"He's really not here?" The disappointed look on Gus' face made River want to kick the Doctor's legs out from under him.
"I think he had some important pre-Christmas business to wrap up," she lied.
Gus smiled from ear-to-ear. "Oh yeah…I forgot about that." He looked ready to burst.
River looked at her son curiously as he took her lie and mysteriously spun it into truth. And since she had already acknowledged it as truth, she couldn't pry him for details. She had lied herself into a corner. "He can see you next time, okay? Give me a hug. You have a good time."
She knelt down and held him tightly, breathing in the clean little-boy scent of him.
"So, tonight?" Amos reminded her.
"Um…sure. If you have time, though, you might want to take him by there beforehand, so he'll know where he is when he wakes up in the morning," River answered and turned to Gus. "Hey, kid. You are going to have a sleepover at Amos' new house. How's that for nifty?"
"I'd say right up there with macaroni and cheese," Gus said excitedly. "Time to go. There's a donkey."
Amos held out a hand towards Gus, and the little boy took hold happily. "Well, it's a plan. Don't worry about clothes. I have it covered. I'll drop him back by around lunchtime tomorrow. That work?"
"Sounds great. Thanks again for taking him," River said with a smile.
"Wouldn't be anywhere else," he said in a hushed voice as he was pulled towards the door by the anxious boy.
"Come on! The baby Jesus isn't getting any younger. He's gonna be born any minute, and we're gonna miss it. Then that manger and goat will look really silly up there."
Amos stumbled behind him, trying not to run him over with his large feet. "Oh, no. That would ruin everything," he said playfully, shutting the door behind them.
River chuckled and stared at the closed door for a moment before heading up the stairs to begin her search for the Doctor.
Although a night alone with him was suddenly making her rather nervous.
River towel-dried her hair and stepped into a pair of flannel pajama bottoms. After not finding the Doctor in his room, she gave in to the temptation of a hot bubble bath. With an army of children in and out of here and there, a relaxing bath was as elusive as the Holy Grail. She had even taken the opportunity to light a few candles and be calmed by the flickering of candlelight through her closed eyelids. She had felt less like Mimi and more like River. And although she couldn't now imagine a life without Gus and the girls, she still missed the click of a trigger and the violent discarding of clothes afterward.
But that was another Doctor altogether, as well.
An oversized sweatshirt was tugged over her face to reveal a smile.
She was now at the other end of his tenderness. Her first time with him had been tender and slow – he had mistakenly assumed that he had been the first, and she had not corrected him. Though he was her first love, Mels had taken her own liberties with men. Yet his was the only love that mattered…then and now.
And she wanted to cherish it for the dwindling amount of time that she had it within reach.
Before the impending stand-off.
River held back her hair and blew out the candles in the bathroom. Grabbing a blanket from the chair, she left the bedroom and skipped down the stairs to wait for the Doctor amidst the quiet glow of the Christmas tree.
The Doctor wondered if he was as nifty as macaroni and cheese, because, as he had recently learned, the cheesy pasta was quite spectacular. He and Gus often high-fived at the aroma of it wafting down the hall from the kitchen. Apparently, an overnight with Amos was macaroni-and-cheesy. It was obvious that the boy missed Amos, regardless of how cool he and his TARDIS were.
The Doctor feared that he was like the cool uncle that visited and brought gifts and fun times…The fantastically cool friend who gave rides in his magical flying box to wonderlands of merriment and wackiness. Yet, when the shite hit the fan, the child would run to the only father he had ever known. And he didn't even know who his father was.
You're still his father too…that's not going to change…
Those had been River's words. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop. He had fallen asleep under the tree. He slept more now than before. Almost as if his body were slowing down and acclimating to this new life.
The thought both pleased and terrified him. He was the Doctor – which wasn't just who he was but also what he did. He Doctored. And though most of his doctoring, more or less, fell into his lap, he was still the one to make the universe better. He put bandages on wounds and stitches in the cuts of the worlds. In order to do that, he would have to leave Forty Five Minutes from Somewhere in 1969. He supposed that he could do it in chronological order, but really….how very human…
And he missed the Ponds.
The Ponds…who were expecting a baby daughter…
"The Ponds! How very wonderful for you to see me! Did you miss me? Pardon? Melody? Did I find your baby? Well, no…not exactly. But here's your twelve year-old five year-old grandson! Don't you see the resemblance? Look at the bow ties…and oh, yeah...I might have shagged your daughter…at least once. No harm, no foul, yeah?"
No way the next him could be as cool as the now him. He could play that card to keep from being shot, cut, stomped or strangled. And that was just Amy.
He definitely needed to concoct a plan. No, concoct was a sinister word. What would work…
"I'm going to die…an actual death because she is going to keep killing me until she is done."
The lights began their blinking cycle and pulled him from his thoughts of certain death.
They really did look like stars.
He missed the stars.
The question was…did River miss them enough to join him when the time came…
He smiled and shook away the doubt. Of course, she did. And she loved him. They were a family…a collection of Doctors.
Of course, they would pack their bags and say their goodbyes to hippies and war and amateur space travel.
He was the Doctor. With a temperamental time machine, a beautiful woman and their son jumping from time to time and space to space.
What was more important than that?