Not once had he mentioned the Doctor.
They had been in the truck for almost an hour and had talked about everything that had happened to him all week…down to the number of cookies he had sneaked from the closet that morning.
Yet not a single word in regards to the Doctor.
Amos could already see the influence of the Doctor in the boy – the way he spoke, the sometimes spastic movements of his hands while he talked…pointing, to be exact - there was so much more pointing.
However, the sum of those did not compare to the remarkable similarities of the physical likenesses. Amos found it truly amazing that the Doctor had not noticed it on his own. Though he supposed one might forget his childhood appearance as he turned over the 900 year mark. It was only a matter of time before someone made the connection. The eyes, the ears, the legs, the smile…pretty much all of it. He now understood why Gus had never been mistaken for River's child, although he could see River flowing through his veins, as well. They both had a peaceful soul with the emotional strength of a thousand angels, despite the horrors and desperations in their lives.
For years, River had started each day separated from the one thing she needed fiercely and couldn't have…only to be reminded, from the bedside of a slumbering boy, that she would outlive her child. There had always been an unspoken and undrawn barrier between the two of them. Never had she said, "I will only love you this much. I can only give you this much." Amos simply understood that, at the end of the day, his wasn't the name whispered across her subconscious mind as she slept. And he had no right to expect anything more than what she could give. She and the Doctor had been ripped away from each other to live in opposing timestreams. How could he fight that?
And did he even have claim to fight it? The answers were simple and heartbreaking and staring him in the face as a relentless reminder that he had gone wrong. Something about him had upset the universe, and his life was not meant to be cherished or enjoyed. This was a truth he had come to accept since the return of the Doctor. Perhaps it was his turn to be alone. Maybe the powers-that-be needed for him to give up his hopes for family in exchange for the Doctor's chance to have what he had been trying to manufacture for so many years…
A high pitched sneeze dragged Amos back to his more pleasant reality. He smiled and turned his attention to Gus. He sat with this legs crossed under him and his hands folded in his lap. He looked at Amos out of the corner of his eye and grinned.
"I think that the baby Jesus would be my friend."
Amos chuckled. "You think so?"
"Sure. Well, you know, after he growed up a little. He had to be tough, that baby Jesus."
Amos cast a sideways glance at the boy. "Why do you say that?"
"Being born outside in the cold and having to sleep there all night. Samantha says that being born is hard work. So, I guess you gotta work at being born and then somebody puts you in a manger? Mimi said a manger is like one of those things that pigs eat out of. Then they swaddle you up and stick you in some hay on a pigs plate. You being Jesus and all…doesn't seem fair, does it?" he reasoned.
"No, I suppose not. But it wouldn't make as a great a story if he'd been born in a Holiday Inn, right?" Amos smiled as they drove along the dark highway into the city.
Gus giggled. "Then we'd have to go to the Holiday Inn to see the play. That is kinda ridicalus, huh? What's swaddling mean?"
"Back in the day mamas wrapped their babies up really tight so that they could barely move their arms and legs…maybe they still do…"
"So, he's born outside in the cold…they wrap him up so he can't hardly move…and then they leave him in some hay?" Gus' eyes got wide with the clarification as his brain understood it.
"Well, I suppose that is the long and the short of it, yeah."
"I guess maybe I'm not supposed to make sense of that either. I'll have to remember to ask God about that crazy idea…wrapping up the baby Jesus like a mummy and stuffing him in a dirty old manger. Boy, those church people sure do make it look like sweet, though, don't they?" Gus said skeptically. "I bet He didn't think it was so much fun. Janie is egle…alen…what do you call it when you eat something and it makes you sick?"
"Umm…no, I don't think so…"
"No, Amos. Aren't you a doctor? Do it better."
Amos snapped his head to look at Gus. "Where did you hear that?"
"That I'm a doctor."
"Oh, I don't know. I'm a kid. People forget I'm around and say stuff. You know, my ears still work so much closer to the ground. I know lotsa stuff I really shouldn't…now, what is it called when you eat something or touch something that makes just you sick?"
"You must not have been a very good doctor. Did they make you quit and be a handyman instead? 'Cause I don't think that was right, either."
"Wait, what was the question again?" Amos exhaled heavily and gripped the steering wheel tight.
"I don't wanna talk about it anymore if you can't keep up, Amos," Gus whined.
The child's apparent irritation drew him from his bubbling panic and made him laugh. "Do you mean allergic?"
"Yeah, yeah! Allergit!"
"No, aller-gic," Amos clarified.
"Oh, okay. I forgot why I needed to know…" Gus scratched his head to try to stimulate his problem solvers. "Oh, yeah! So, Janie is allergic to hay. She's just sick all the time when it floats down the road after Mr. Walker cuts it down. Did anybody think about if baby Jesus was allergic to the hay before they dropped him in it?"
Amos laughed aloud and veered the truck onto the off-ramp. "Now they are dropping the baby Jesus?"
"Well, they might have. We don't really know, do we? The Bible doesn't say they dropped him in the manger, but I don't think everything happens just exactly like it says it does. And if I were trying to write a story about how great it was when baby Jesus was born, I probably wouldn't tell it that he was rolled up like a worm and dropped in the manger, while those walking guys stood around holding their frankensteins and murts…what's so funny? I'm serious! That poor baby…I think I might run up to that nasty wood box and rescue that fake baby Jesus." Gus had worked himself up into a tiny-sized righteous anger.
Fighting the urge to continue laughing and fearing he'd lose the battle, Amos chose not to look at Gus. He knew that with one look at the child's face, he would loop his truck back onto the highway and keep driving. How was he supposed to give up moments like this?
"You mean, frankincense and myrrh?"
"Yeah! What is that?"
"Well, they were oils…a bit like perfumes," Amos explained.
"Perfumes? They brought smelly oils to Jesus on his very first birthday? What did he need with that old stuff, except that he probably stunk from laying in that hay on a pig's plate…" Gus crossed his arms over his chest and stared out the window, thinking and muttering quietly. The lights of the traffic signal shone across this face. "I think I liked this story better when I didn't know what was going on."
"Hey, if you're thinking about stealing the baby Jesus and running off, we'll have to come up with another game plan for the evening, little man…" Amos warned. Gus had always had a "free the people" streak in him…whether it was the infant Messiah or the neighbor's dog on a leash. Only months before, he had cornered said neighbor after church and asked him how he would feel on a leash and tied to an old tree. "Married" had been the response.
"I really really should, but Mimi always says not to make a spectacle of myself. I don't know what it means, but I probably shouldn't do it 'cause she sounds a little mean when she says it. You know, I bet Mimi would have made those innkeeping people give her a room. If she was having a baby, no way would she let it be born in the hay with the goats and pigs. Mary should have been a little bit more like Mimi," he said with a nod of his head.
Amos coughed as his saliva invaded his windpipe at the mention of Mother Mimi. There weren't enough hours in the day to formulate a kid-appropriate response to his comparison. "Look! There's the auditorium."
"Yep. Same place as last year," Gus answered with a sly grin as they pulled into the parking lot of the large structure.
Amos parked the truck and got out, leaving room for Gus to slide towards him and jump to the ground. "Alright, smart a…..aleck. Let's hurry it up."
"I wanna walk, okay?" After a nod from Amos, Gus took him by the hand, and the pair walked hastily to get out of the cold. "You almost said a swear word."
"Almost doesn't count."
"I'm very proud of you. You just shouldn't swear when you're walking towards the baby Jesus. It's the rule. Even if he is fake and wrapped up so tight he can't hear you or smell you for all that frankenpence and murms they make him wear." Gus explained matter-of-factly.
"Hey, how about we keep your version of the Christmas story just between us…like a secret. You like secrets." Amos did not want to have to endure a lecture from River after the littlest prophet set the Sunday School ablaze with the Gospel According to Gus.
Raising his knees high to climb the steep steps leading to the entryway, Gus began to breathe heavily and struggled to speak. "Well, little kids need to know the truth."
Amos stopped and let the boy catch his breath. They had learned that sometimes it was better for Gus to grow in his independence, even if it meant that life went a bit slower. "Even still, some parents aren't as nifty as me and Mimi. They might get upset with the new telling of it, okay?"
Gus shrugged and nodded. "I guess you and Mimi are kinda special. If I couldn't have my real mama, God found me the greatest one to put in her place. And you're not so bad either," he added with a smile before continuing his climb. "Yep. You and Mimi are real good parents."
Amos inhaled sharply to curb his emotions and gripped the boy's hand a bit tighter.
"…and the Doctor."
And there it was.
The Doctor watched her for quite some time as she cuddled against the couch cushions, drinking a glass of wine and humming along with the holiday tunes that played through the large antique console radio. The glow from the Christmas tree lit her face in a way that made him ache to reach out to her. How was it that in such a short amount of time he had begun to need her…a physical need to be near her…so much so that he spent his nights alone, waiting in dreams to wake up and seek her out.
He didn't know how he could return to his life as he had known it – or even if he could return.
"Let me know when it's a good time to disturb you, yeah?" she whispered to no one.
The Doctor lifted his head, expecting to find a child who had popped out from some corner or shadow. He knew that it was too good to be true that they should have an evening to themselves.
"I'm talking to you, Doctor."
"Oh. Yeah...I'm under the tree," he answered.
"So I noticed."
"I like it down here. It's all blinky, winky and shiny. I most especially like the shiny. Shiny has me written all over it," he said around a smile.
"And so does Christmas tree fire." She had yet to look at him as she nursed the glass of red wine. "And carbon monoxide poisoning from a clogged chimney flue when you get stuck inside in an attempt to be charming and irresistible as a skinny Santa."
"I'm slight, not skinny, and there's a chance I won't muck up Christmas, actually. I'm almost positive it can be done," the Doctor said, as much to convince himself as it was to counter her claim of inevitable disaster. "And that chimney lore is total rubbish. It's obvious that Santa had a TARDIS."
River chuckled around a swallow of wine. "Santa is a Time Lord? Says the self-proclaimed 'last of his kind'."
The Doctor wasn't entirely pleased with the incredulity in her voice. She might as well have sung liar-liar-pants-on-fire. "Well, of course he's not a Time Lord. Don't be daft, River. Apparently, he must have stolen a TARDIS at some point in his jolly life. How else do you explain all that giving out of gifts to every child in just one night?"
"Oh, I see…Santa stole his TARDIS. He's a thief…" She could not keep from smiling at the parallels. "Wait…I think I may be having an epiphany…"
The Doctor rolled his eyes and drummed his fingers on his chest. "Well, does it require some time alone?"
River brought her hand to her chest and inhaled sharply. "Does this mean…have I been shagging…Santa Clause?"
"There is so much that is horribly wrong with what you just suggested. In fact, I may never recover."
"Am I Mrs. Clause?" she asked in an exaggerated high-pitched voice.
The Doctor lifted an eyebrow and turned his head to face her. "That does seem to be the question now, does it not?"
River glanced in his direction and winked. "Spoilers..."
"I don't want to talk about Santa any longer. You made Santa naughty. It's just not proper…"
Unfolding her legs from underneath her and rising from the couch, River walked over and knelt beside the tree. "Are you going to crawl out from under there and enjoy our night alone? Or must I make other arrangements?"
He peeked out from under his hiding place. "What sort of arrangements?"
"Wrong answer, Sweetie," she said before attempting to stand and walk away.
The Doctor grabbed her hand and pulled her towards him. His voice was tender and pleading. "Come here, River."
Unable to ever resist a sincere Doctor, River placed her glass on the side table and slid alongside him beneath the twinkling of the lights. She snuggled up to him, resting her head on his chest and laying a bent leg over his.
"Why do you smell so delicious? Is that even possible…to smell delicious? Should I want to bite you?"
She grinned and moved against him, needing to feel more of him. "I'm not sure you're ready for the biting just yet, love."
He craned his neck to look down at her. "Biting? There's biting? That doesn't sound safe…or enjoyable."
"No?" River rolled over and pulled herself forward with her elbow. She kissed him softly at the base of his neck and scraped her teeth across his skin. His groan escaped with a heavy breath, and his hand slid underneath her top, scratching lightly at her lower back. River tugged on his earlobe and released it quickly to glide her tongue along his ear.
The Doctor rolled his hips in a slow hula to force River's leg to fall across his lap. He wanted to pull her atop him, but the room under tree was limited. His discomfort was compounded when she began to unbutton his shirt and trail her nails along the bare skin of his chest.
"River…I think we need to take this somewhere that is…" He inhaled sharply as he felt her teeth grip at the skin below his ribcage.
She laughed a laugh that reminded him he had no control over anything in his world. "But I just got down here, Sweetie. I haven't had time to see what all the fuss is about." Her tongue was warm against his exposed and chilled skin.
"This. This…this is the fuss. So much fuss it happening. Do have any idea of the fuss?" He babbled, his mind split between the innocence of a Christmas tree and the carnality that burned underneath his skin. He could feel her smile against him, and he buried a hand in her damp hair, tugging at it lightly as she continued her nibbles. "It's maddening, this fuss…"
"You don't say?" River had slinked her way down and was tugging at the button of his jeans with her teeth. His laugh was desperate and a bit uncomfortable – and music to her ears.
Regaining a bit of his sanity, the Doctor quickly slid from under the tree, bringing River along for the ride. Before she had a chance to react, he had her on her back and hovered over her hungrily. "You've been a very naughty girl, Dr. Song. Santa may have to skip your tree altogether…"
River lifted her hips to meet him and winked. "I don't think it's the tree skirt that he wants to get under, anyway…"
Watching the desire play across her face, he bit at his lower lip. "I may never look at Santa the same way again."
She giggled and kissed his chin softly. "I really don't know if I can go back to my life without you…"
He lowered his body and lips to hers, consumed with the need to possess every bit of her. So much so that his mind ignored what she had quietly confessed to him in a moment of pure truth.