What Child Is This

Chapter 32

The Doctor and River looked at each and smiled in amused confusion. The door opened once again, and they heard slow footsteps approach. River sat back away from the Doctor and straightened her hair. "We're in the living room!" she called out.

Amos walked wearily into the room and plopped into a nearby chair. He looked exhausted and dumbfounded. Letting his head drop to the back of the chair and holding out two clenched fists, he said, "In the left, I have just-dammit bad news. In the right, I have what-the-fuck-are-we-going-to-do bad news. Any takers?" He shook his hands in an enticing dance.

"And Merry Stinkin' Christmas Eve to you, as well," the Doctor said with as much compassion as sarcasm. It was obvious that something had gone terribly awry.

Amos lifted his head just enough to cast a desperate glance towards the Doctor. "Yeah, well, hold the holiday cheer until you've heard my stories. Pick one." His left fist stood a little higher and waved a bit more enthusiastically than did the right, as if the news truly did threaten to burst from inside it.

River took a deep breath and pointed towards a fist. "We'll take the just-dammit news first. Be gentle."

"Somehow…and I swear this is not my fault because all I did was explain what was meant by swaddling and what frankincense and myrrh are… but now, to hear him to tell the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph should have been arrested for neglect and the baby Jesus placed into foster care. This will play out very well in Sunday School, let me tell you. And, of course, it will start with 'well, Amos said' and every little old gray-haired thumper will beat me senseless before I even get a chance to defend myself. He's five, for Christ's sake. How does a five year-old come about such righteous indignation and how do I get out of being held responsible? More importantly, how do I make it your fault?" Amos pointed at the Doctor without lifting his head from its resting place.

The Doctor rolled his eyes upward into their thinking position. "Well, technically, wasn't the baby Jesus already in foster care? With the immaculate this and the virgin that and the God-the-Father?"

River shook her head and looked from one man to the other, smiling at Amos. "I'm afraid it's probably already his fault. We've done the best with what genes we've been given, dear."

Rolling his head to the side to look at River, Amos sighed heavily. "So, we aren't really responsible for his weirdo tendencies? Neither one of us is to blame. I find this validating and comforting somehow."

"I think I find myself offended…"

Ignoring the Doctor, River closed one eye shut tightly and peeked at Amos cautiously with the other. "Is it even necessary to discuss the more critical of the two? It's Christmas, yeah? Can't it wait?"

Amos sat up and bent forward, resting his elbows on his knees in what River called his "getting down to business" pose. "Oh, it can wait, but I don't want to be the sole carrier of this cluster fuck. I want to spread the fuck around."

"That is truly disturbing to think upon…" the Doctor murmured.

There was a moment of silence, almost as if they expected Gus to call swear-warnings to them from upstairs. After studying Amos' face, River sat forward as well, realizing the seriousness of the problem. "Okay. We're listening. What's going on?"

Amos relayed to them the question that Gus had asked him the night before. Luckily, either Gus had forgotten to be concerned about the boy with no memories or he was more worried about the atrocities against the baby Jesus as he had not asked about it again. However, it was only a matter of time before his manger anger and his Christmas excitement would fade. His curiosity and unease would return sooner rather than later, and they had no choice but to consider telling him the truth.

"Well, we always knew that there was a likely possibility that he would have some vague memory of the alternate timeline," River said after Amos finished speaking.

Amos stared at the floor and shook his head. "But I think it goes deeper than simply being vague, Hals. He didn't say much, but something about the way he said it makes me very uneasy."

"Not that I am a supporter of lying to children, but could we not do just that? Explain to him déjà vu and let that be that? I know it's the coward's way out, but – "

"River, we can't lie to him," Amos replied sternly.

She cut her eyes at him and raised an eyebrow. "Well, what other choice have we, Amos? Telling him was never an option. I made that perfectly clear when I came back. You know how it…" River let her thought trail off into the space between them.

Amos knew where her thought was leading, and he picked it up. "I know, River, but –"

"No buts, Amos. We're not telling him. Find another solution."

The Doctor had risen from the couch and stood before the Christmas tree as River and Amos discussed their options. "Amos…"

The pair of feuding parents had nearly forgotten that they were not alone. Both Amos and River watched the back of the lanky man as he continued to concentrate on the blinking lights of the tree. "Yeah?" Amos answered.

"I don't suppose that Gus had a friend named Mary during his first go-round of living, did he?" The Doctor reached out and gently thumped an ornament, watching it swing back and forth.

"Actually, yes…a neighbor. She lived with her grandmother and spent a great deal of time here after the grandmother became ill. Why do you ask?" Amos and River exchanged confused glances.

"The lines are already blurred. Gus remembers the little girl, but his brain has woven together the details with threads from that timeline and this. The grandmother died, yes?"

"She did, yes. How do you know this? Did Gus tell you?"

River suddenly recalled a conversation she and the Doctor had had only weeks earlier. "Is that why you asked me about a girl named Mary?"

The Doctor nodded. "Gus confided in me a story about the grandmother's death. I didn't go any further in order to keep his secret, but now it makes considerably more sense…"

"What secret?" Amos asked.

"Actually, that's neither here nor there. What is important is that his worlds are already bleeding together. He will start to remember with more clarity, I'm afraid. Perhaps, if he were as simple as human, there would not have been more than a vague memory or two – no offense - but he's not. All of time is accessible to him. Mentally, he's a tiny Time Lord."

River stood and paced behind the couch, panic beginning to build at the Doctor's suggestion. "So, he will remember exactly what he knew before?"

"I don't rightly know. But it stands to reason that he will work it all out as his thought processes mature. I think that we are all just biding our time until the proverbial shit hits the fan, as it were," the Doctor hesitantly explained, using his newly discovered love of colorful language.

Staring at the floor, River waved her hand towards the Doctor while biting the nails on the other. "No, Sweetie. Leave the grown-up language to the adults."

The information bounced around his Amos' head causing a deafening racket, a noise that screamed disaster. "Well…then…he knows already, right? First Gus knew that you guys are his parents. I made very sure of that. How does he not already know?"

River laughed softly and nervously at the mention of "first Gus", as if he were an experiment. "But he thinks that what he remembers is not his to know. Can we not just let him think he has someone else's memories?"

Amos walked over to the doorway and back to the couch, resting a hip against it and crossing his arms over his chest. "Absolutely not. You didn't hear the sadness in his voice for this child he thinks has no memories. Letting him continue to believe that is not even on the table. No way, River."

The Doctor slowly turned around to face them. "Can someone explain to me why he can't be told the truth? Why he can't know who his parents are?"

Neither River nor Amos could meet the Doctor's eyes. They both knew that Christmas was not the time to lower the truth upon the Doctor. River exhaled heavily and shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans. "Look, it's Christmas Eve. We've a mess of chaos ahead of us already. Let's just get through the holidays. Chances are that Gus will be too preoccupied with gifts and Methodist wrong-doings to bring it up again soon. Okay? Can we just put it on the shelf for a few more days?"

"That shelf is sure to buckle under the weight of all the unthinkables we continue to stack on it," Amos answered.

"No, River's right," the Doctor agreed with a sigh. "Besides, I'm always fighting on Christmas. Granted, we're not exactly an alien invasion – "

"Well, you are...kinda," Amos said with a laugh.

The Doctor stared at him briefly before continuing, "but there is no fighting on Christmas. New rule!" He clapped his hands together and pointed at Amos. "As for you, Mr. Killer of Miraculous Christmas Births…would you like to pick him up tomorrow? Better yet, would you like to eat here as a family before you take him for your own Christmasy-mismasy shenanigans?"

River interrupted quickly before Amos had a chance to answer. "Wait…what eat here? There is no here to eat."

"Oh, I'm sure we could find something for a brilliant Christmas lunch. I'm the Doct…"

"Yes?" River smiled as he cut himself off.

"Oh, shut up."

"Am I missing something?" Amos looked at them both with a tired confusion.

The Doctor ignored River's laughter and draped an arm over Amos' shoulder, leading him to the front door. "Go home, friend. Wrap a gift…no, that's horrible advice…drink a beer - or whatever you drinking men drink - and come back tomorrow for yummy goodies and holiday morsels."

Amos reached for the door knob and nodded. "Actually, I have a date tonight," he admitted quietly.

"With a woman?"

Amos smiled at the incredulity in the Doctor's voice. "That is usually how we do it here in dull ole Delaware, Doctor."

River walked into the foyer. "Did I hear you say you have a date?"

The Doctor nodded and slapped Amos on the back approvingly. "With a woman, even."

"I hate my life," Amos mumbled as he opened the door and walked onto the porch. "I will see you both around lunchtime tomorrow?"

"Absolutely! You should bring your woman person for eating on Christmas," the Doctor suggested.

Amos heard River giggle from behind the Doctor. "Umm…no…but I appreciate the offer. See you tomorrow." Bouncing down the porch steps, he left before the awkwardness became unbearable.

The Doctor closed the door and smiled at River. "He has a date."

"You should bring your woman person for eating? You made her sound like she's the meal," River said between giggles.

He skipped by her towards the stairs. "Oh, he's a big boy. He knew what I meant. I'm going to get Gus. We have a trip to take," he announced with a turn and a wink.

"What trip?"

The Doctor was already near the top of the stairs when he yelled down. "Never mind the details, River Song. Just get your coat!"

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.