"I'm sure we could find something for a brilliant Christmas lunch, he said," she grumbled to herself, one arm far enough inside a turkey that it felt obscene. River blew a wayward curl from her field of vision. "Come back tomorrow for yummy goodies and holiday morsels, he said."
She blew out again, the same curl bouncing out and falling back over her eyes. "Dammit, dammit, dammit!" River pulled her arm from the bird and slung open a kitchen drawer. Finding the solution to at least one of her problems, she bumped the drawer shut with her hip. In one hand she held a pair of scissors and in the other, slightly more slimy hand, the rebellious curl. With a maniacal smile, River snipped the hair and dropped it into the trash. "How's that for badassery?" she mumbled before returning her attention to the turkey.
After placing the last of the stuffing inside the turkey, River opened the oven door and shoved the bird inside. She sighed heavily and rested against the stove, scratching her nose with the back of her hand. Not one time in the many Christmases that she had spent in her domestic imprisonment had she prepared a proper holiday meal. Thankfully, there had always been an enthusiastic family to ask them along for grand lunches and dinners that had taken an army of women days to put together. River would show up with a pie of some sort, and the children would delight them with plates of cookies and candies that they had spent an afternoon making. It was a perfect arrangement of community fellowship and lazy parenting.
The Doctor had an uncanny ability of making perfect wish it had never been born.
When they had returned from their trip to wherever-the-hell-they-were, the Doctor had carried a sleeping Gus to his bedroom and tucked him in. After each of them had showered and readied themselves for bed, River and the Doctor spent most of the early morning hours readying the den for the moment when Gus would race down the stairs and confront the mountainous pile that Doctor Santa had left for him. Though what had actually happened was that River had arranged the gifts over and over as the Doctor kept playing with whatever he could get his hands on. It was almost as if she was being assisted by Gus himself. Just when she thought that her patience had been tested to its limit, the Doctor looked up at her like a puppy that had pooped in her shoe.
"What? What now?" Her arms hung at her side, her hands clenched and unclenched.
"I just realized that you don't have any gifts under the tree. It makes me sad," the Doctor said quietly.
River smiled and exhaled her frustrations with him in a single sigh. She knelt down in front of him and swiped his hair back from his eyes. "Just this once, I'm going to tell you a secret." He grinned and began fidgeting his hands anxiously. "Don't get excited. It's just this once."
He cleared his throat and sat on his hands. "No, of course. Limited time offer. I understand completely."
"The children give my gifts to Amos, and he keeps them until Christmas morning," she said reluctantly.
River stood up and repeated herself. "I have a bit of a problem with Christmas gifts."
The Doctor looked towards the lit tree as if to find the confusion could be cleared in the pattern of the twinkling. "Nothing about that sentence makes any sense. You'll need to start over."
Wishing she had never brought it up, River unplugged the tree and began turning out the lights to signal that it was time to leave…the room and hopefully the discussion. "Come on. He'll be up in a few hours." She reached out her hand and pulled the Doctor to his feet.
Following River up the stairs, he watched her rear sway, nearly losing sight of the matter at hand. "I haven't forgotten."
"Hmmm?" she asked, adding a little more wiggle to her walk. Despite her I-am-woman-hear-me-roar inclinations, she had no problem letting her sex appeal do the work for her when necessary.
It didn't go unnoticed.
"What?" he squeaked out, following her to Gus' room.
"Shhh…" she whispered as she opened the door. A sliver of light from the hall fell across the boy's face. There was still chocolate at the corners of his mouth and what looked to be cupcake frosting in his hair. One of his arms hung over the side, and a foot was awkwardly tangled in the sheet. A breath caught in River's throat like it so often did when she was reminded how much like his father he was.
The Doctor kissed River softly on the neck and slid past her into the bedroom. He gently unwound the fabric from around Gus' foot and tucked it underneath the sheet. Pulling the covers snug to his face, the Doctor brushed his son's hair across his forehead and walked back towards River, whispering, "That would have kicked his tiny butt in the morning. I know that move too well."
River giggled quietly and closed the door, following the Doctor down the hall. When he walked past her bedroom door, she grabbed his hand and pulled him towards her. "Sweetie…"
He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in his hair. "Am I staying?"
"Are you not?"
"That's your decision, River."
River held him tighter. "Are we talking about tonight?"
"Tonight is where we are," he answered softly. "What about Gus?"
"Oh, finding us together again will be the last concern on his mind in the morning." River yawned, stepped out of his embrace and led him into her bedroom, closing the door behind him. Sitting down on the side of the bed, she slid the flannel bottoms over her legs and onto the floor before crawling wearily underneath the linens. "You have no idea what is in store," she said around another yawn. "Prepare to be amazed."
The Doctor pulled his shirt over his head and snuggled up to a nearly sleeping River. "Amazed? Me? Can't happen."
River molded herself further into him and smiled into her pillow. "I have a nasty habit of opening and rewrapping my gifts. That's why the children and Amos hide them. I'm a sneak."
He lifted his head and peered over her hair. "What? That's so childish, River. So unlike you. I'm disappointed."
She laughed and nodded. "Goodnight, sweetie."
That was several hours, eight piles of discarded wrapping paper, three side dishes and one poultry assault ago. He was cute then. Adorable even. Now she wanted to stuff and slide him in beside the turkey.
River checked the various simmering pots and pans on the stove, turned off the heat and left the kitchen. She needed some time to herself to recover from the Christmas morning chaos and prepare for a dinner starring the Doctor, Amos and his plus one. Peeking her head into the den, she got Gus' attention. "Make sure the Doctor helps with the cleanup, yeah? I'm going upstairs for a bit. Stay out of the kitchen." She winked at her son and headed up the stairs. "Gus?"
"What if the turkey explodes from the oven?" the Doctor called after her. She heard them both giggle and couldn't suppress her own laugh.
"Especially if the turkey explodes from the oven!" she answered back before disappearing into her bedroom. She yelped a little dog yelp as her bare feet hit the cold tile floor of the bathroom. Steam rose from the hot water as it quickly filled the tub and the aroma of the honey-scented bath oil wrapped around her with a fog of woman-ness. River peeled off her clothing and released her hair from its ponytail. Just as she'd yelped from the cold floor, she yelped from the sensation of the heat as she slid slowly into the tub. Exhaling all the chaos of the morning, River closed her eyes and rested her head against the back of the tub. Her mouth had almost reached a full smile when a realization finally set in.
Amos had and was bringing a plus one.
She released the tension in her knees and let herself sink under.
On hands and knees, the Doctor crept across the den and peeked around the corner, listening to River climb the stairs and close her bedroom door.
Just as quietly, Gus followed suit and snuck up behind the Doctor. "Whatcha doin?"
Startled, the Doctor hit his head on the corner of the wall. "Shhhh…we're listening," he whispered.
They both held still for several seconds before Gus could keep quiet no longer. "I don't hear it."
"What we're listening for."
"I haven't told you what it is."
"But there's nothing to listen to. So we haven't heard it."
The Doctor turned his head to peer at Gus, who simply raised his eyebrows as if to challenge him to dispute his reasoning. Before the Doctor could answer him with an eyebrow of his own, he heard it. Water running in the bath guaranteed that River would be upstairs for a least half an hour.
Smiling he crawled quickly to the couch and swept a hand underneath it. A small gift shot out and moved across the floor towards Gus. The boy picked it up and turned it over a few times. "This is from you, isn't it?"
The Doctor scurried back to him on all fours and smiled. He spun around and sat with his legs folded under him. "Yeah, nifty hiding place, huh?"
Gus crinkled up his nose. "A lot neater than the wrapping."
"Well, yeah. I'm not so good at the wrapping thing," he answered, eyeing the tapey mess the child was holding. "But I'm an excellent giver. Open it, open it, open it…but quietly."
"Is this gonna get me in trouble?" Gus looked at the Doctor suspiciously.
"No, of course not. It's a Christmas present," he answered.
Still not convinced, Gus continued his stare. "Just because it's a gift doesn't mean it couldn't put my eye out."
"Well, it might get me in trouble. But I'm always in trouble with Mimi. So it's fine, really. You won't put an eye out. Well, I'll teach you how not to put your eye out. You're more likely to burn the house down. I'm just kidding. Open it."
Gus hesitated momentarily before slowly unwrapping the rectangular package. After he managed to remove the paper, he set about tearing the tape off of the plain white box. It didn't look like anything special, he thought. He shook it, and it made a dull thunking sound. Gus wasn't very impressed.
The Doctor watched his little hands working frantically to remove the tape. Perhaps he had been a bit overzealous with the wrapping, though a gift such as this certainly needed to be properly secured and concealed. He had agonized for days, trying to imagine the perfect gift to give his son for their first Christmas together. Truth be told, he wasn't always the most astute when it came to recognizing the desires of others, but he knew that he had gotten it right this time. Well, the TARDIS had helped a bit.
When the last bit of shiny tape broke free, Gus looked up at the Doctor. His worried gaze was met with a nod, and the boy slowly lifted the top. He studied the box before taking it into his hand. Gus flipped it over, top to bottom, unsure which was which. He lightly ran his fingers over the buttons, careful not to push them as he had no idea what he was holding. It was heavy, and the metal was cold in his hand. Whatever it was, it felt like it belonged to him. It felt like a friend. Gus smiled up at the Doctor.
"Come here and have a seat," the Doctor said, motioning towards his lap.
Gus hurried over and sat down. "What is it? I think you should know that I really want to shake it."
Laughing, the Doctor took it from him and gripped it. "It's a screwdriver."
Gus giggled. "No, it's not. A screwdriver is that thing you asked Mimi how to work last week."
The Doctor rolled the tool from one hand to the next, enjoying the feel of the metal as his fingers flexed around it. "Well, it's not exactly a screwdriver but it sounds better than saying it's a weapon. It's a multipurpose tool. How's that?"
"Nah, I like screwdriver," the boy said, antsy to get it back but anxious about the trouble that surely awaited him. "How does it work? What does it do? Do you have one? Can it really burn down the house? Does it fight evil? Will it make Janie disappear?"
The Doctor laughed and held it out to him. "Here, hold it like this." The Doctor placed it in the boy's hand and curled his fingers around it. He peeked over Gus' shoulder and moved his thumb to a button. "Now, don't press it yet. I think this is the right one."
"What if it's not?" Gus asked with obvious uncertainty.
"Well, I don't know, exactly," he answered honestly.
"I don't think we should push it."
"Oh, it'll be fine." The Doctor guided his arm so that he was pointing the screwdriver towards the Christmas tree. "Now, when I say so, push the button."
"I don't want to kill the tree."
"You won't kill the tree. Besides, it already been sacrificed to the cause."
"What if it explodes?"
"How do you know that? I don't think you know what this button does," Gus explained. "Mimi's gonna be real mad if she comes back and has to clean exploded Christmas tree from the ceiling. She's gonna send you to your TARDIS without dinner. Can you run faster than Mimi?"
"Probably not, but I can trip her and hope for the best," the Doctor mumbled, becoming worried himself that he and his trusty box had gotten it wrong. Again.
"Are you sure it won't explode the tree?" Gus' curiosity was getting the better of his intuition.
The Doctor inhaled deeply and blew out his breath. "Actually, I'm never truly sure about anything. But I fake it really well. See, the thing is that the TARDIS made this just for you, and she's loads smarter than I am. I'm absolutely sure that she wouldn't put an exploder button on here. Maybe an asparagus hider, but not a Christmas tree vaporizer."
"I hate asparagus. It's too green."
"I'm right there with you, kiddo. And skinny and long. I hate long, skinny food."
"What about candy canes? You ate seven candy canes yesterday," Gus reminded him with a knowing smile. "They're long and skinny."
"But they aren't really food, are they? They are treats. There's a difference."
"You speak the truth, sir. High five and amen."
The Doctor smacked Gus' outstretched hand and continued with his lesson. "So, just point this end towards the tree…no, don't close your eyes. Now, when I say go…"
Gus' excitement got the better of him, and he pushed the button. Suddenly the lights started blinking in a pattern that was new. He giggled and pushed the button again, and the strands of lights moved in a wave pattern in rhythm to the flashing. Another push and the whole dance stopped. He jumped to his feet and began screwdrivering everything in the room. The television and radio came alive, and the ceiling fan began whirling the winter chill around the room. He waved his new gadget at every appliance and piece of furniture, testing it out. Sometimes he got favorable results, sometimes the objects refused to play along. The Doctor watched in proud amusement while at the same time keeping watch on the stairs.
After a few minutes of letting Gus experiment, he reeled him back in and took the screwdriver into his possession once more. "That was just fantastic. You have great technique, kid. Just amazing, really. However, having one of these is a great responsibility. Do you know what it means to be responsible?"
"Sure. Mimi says that Amos is very responsible. He's very grown-up, you know," Gus answered as he tried to pry the screwdriver from the Doctor's hand.
"Well, yes. I suppose he is…in that large neck sort of way. But you have to be a very different kind of responsible and follow a couple of really important rules, okay?" The Doctor held tightly to the sonic until Gus agreed.
Nodding eagerly, the boy began to hop from foot to foot. "I can follow the rules, I promise. I'm really good at it. Are there a lot of rules? What if I can't remember them all?"
"You are going to cause me to have a seizure." The Doctor reached out and held his feet. Gus stopped bouncing and began paying close attention, hoping to get his hands on his gift sooner rather than later. "You ready?"
"Right then. Okay, there are only three rules. Number one: never use it with the intent to hurt someone else. Your screwdriver was made for little superheroes, but you can never be too careful. Number two: never leave it where someone else can get it. And most importantly, number three: never let anyone see what it can do. It's very important that you keep it to yourself. Do you understand?" The Doctor held the screwdriver out so that Gus could take it.
His little hand closed around the small sonic. "Because people wouldn't understand? Cause it's from the future?"
"Exactly, and those people who don't understand would take it away from you and maybe hurt other people. And that is never okay. As you get older, the screwdriver might change and do more things, and even things that are good could be used for bad by the not-so-nice," the Doctor explained, again questioning whether giving him the sonic was, in itself, a responsible choice.
"I understand," Gus said quietly, staring down at the powerful tool he held. "Can Mimi know?"
The Doctor knew that he would have to tell River. He had hoped to be able to keep it a secret, but Gus had shamed him into being that responsible person that he was expected to be as a father. It was just a matter of whether or not he could, in fact, run faster than Mimi.
"I'll tell her soon enough. But right now let's just keep this between us, and I'll hold onto it until you learn how to use it. How does that sound?"
Gus let out a breath of disappointment and held out the screwdriver for the Doctor to take. "It sounds just awful, but I guess it's okay."
The Doctor stood up and walked with the boy towards his piles of gifts. "Now, what I really, really want to know is how to use this."
With an authoritative voice, Gus began to explain the purpose of the toy, adding quickly, "…but you have to be careful, Doctor, because you are awfully clumsy. Your hands don't always work like your brain says to."
"Yeah, how do I fix that?"
"I don't know. I'm just a little kid. Mine don't work so great either, sometimes."
The two of them sat on the floor and dabbled in toys for as long as River sat on the top stair and listened to them. Not even the revelation of the Doctor's special gift could cool the warmth she felt rush through her at the sounds of father-son instruction and togetherness.
And for several minutes, she even let herself believe that it would last.