Warning: character death
Summary: in a cabin far away a young man meets a strange couple.
Disclaimer: anything here that is mine was gained via artificial means.
Word Prompt: "The dead flowers, the thick dust, the darkness-an abandoned old cabin on a tiny lake where long ago two strangers came." Said by beachy_geek.
Picture Prompt: see accompanying image.
Some Time Next Year
A low wind blew through the cabin, lifting up the net curtaining as though it pleaded for redemption for this lonely spot. It had been a long time since anyone had set foot in there. Nothing was left except slow decay and neglect for the inhabitants of Maison de L'Espoir. Not that the inhabitants were aware of the slow passage of time as they ate their way through all the soft furnishings and the loadbearing walls.
Outside the breeze blew across the lake, causing gentle ripples that danced their way towards the deserted shore. Nothing above a whisper could be heard as a despairing summer sun beat down on the landscape.
Aiden thought it was all beautiful. When his uncle had suggested he make the most of his abandoned chalet in the woods, next to what could just about be laughingly called a lake, he had jumped at the chance. There was nothing in his life to stop him being there; and he was keen to experience this place. His aunt had often mentioned the special quality of the light that filtered down through the trees, giving the cabin an often eerie quality.
He missed her. He missed the way she would smile at him and make him the centre of the room, the way she never ever forgot what he was doing or when, how she would arrange special little surprises that only she knew about; her kindness; her love. Qualities he hadn't always felt were forthcoming from his own mother, who had sent him off to boarding school as soon as trouble had reared its head.
The gravel on the small driveway crunched under his feet and he swivelled to take in his new surroundings. Peace filled his soul as he looked upon the late afternoon scene. To think he had almost been reluctant to come here! What had he been thinking? The clincher had been when his uncle had said, "Your aunt kept telling me to give you the keys for our cabin; and I kept forgetting. Sorry, lad. I hope she'll be finally pleased with me."
A rueful smile played about his lips. Well, he was here now! Finally. She could stop haunting his uncle now. The strange thing was that he could totally imagine her haunting anyone that had possibly upset her; she'd been fierce like that. In a good way, mark you. There had been no malice in her soul, just defensiveness. Stubborn, brave, loving and loyal defensiveness. He truly wished that he had taken after her in some small way.
A wood pigeon hooted loudly nearby brought him out of his musings, and he continued walking up to the door of the… Was this technically a cabin, a chalet or a cottage? He was never sure; but his aunt had called it a cabin. She had said that made it sound like something from the Wild West, evoking happy childhood memories watching repeats of programmes like the High Chaparral and The Virginian. Not that he had ever seen them or understood the fascination, but then his aunt hadn't understood why he loved the Power Rangers.
The door felt solid and wooden beneath his touch as he placed the key in the lock and forced it to turn. There was some resistance that needed a gentle kick to help the door finally open; and Aiden stepped in. Stale air assaulted his senses, and he sneezed twice as he moved further into the open plan room. It was a simple affair with a lounge kitchen diner, a small corridor that led off to an antiquated bathroom and a bedroom. All in all it was quite a humble dwelling, and had at one time been tastefully decorated. Shame all that taste had withered away.
He gave the double bed an experimental push to test its comfort. Hmm, it wasn't too bad and once some sheets and pillowcases were added it would be fine to sleep on. The air was just as stale and slightly stuffy in the unexpected heat, so he walked over to the sash window and opened it after wrestling with the latch for some seconds. Everything in the place seemed to be fighting him until it realised who he was. What a stupid thought!
Lazily walking back to the lounge area his attention was caught by the one symbol of recent normality in the place; on the sideboard, by the dinner table suitable for just about four people, rested two crystal flower vases and a photo frame. The surprise had been that there were recently dead flowers in the smaller crystal vase, and the taller one held a flowering twig that was still holding onto life. Evidently someone had been there in the past few weeks. Aiden knew for a fact that his uncle hadn't; because he had been given the keys and they had lain in his pocket for two months now.
Behind the vases was a worn wooden photo frame containing a photo that had faded in the sunlight. It was hard to tell exactly how old it was, but at a guess he would have said five to ten years. It was then as he held the photo to consider this that he heard the footstep at the door.
He looked up quickly and saw a man standing just inside the doorframe; it acted perfectly as a dramatic frame. "Who are you?" Aiden asked when the man didn't speak; more to fill the silence than anything else. This man's appearance was a surprise but it didn't feel threatening.
"The question, Aiden, is 'who are you?'" the man enigmatically answered.
"You what?" he immediately blurted out. "What are you on about? I know who I am so why don't you explain yourself."
The man stepped further inside the room. "Ah, but that would be telling and I am not sure I can do so quite yet," he said. And then he noticed the photo Aiden was holding so exquisitely and seemed to waver.
A thought struck Aiden; perhaps this man had been acquired by his aunt to look after the place. That would seem logical. "Did you know my aunt?"
"Very well," the man replied. "To the point that I once called her my best friend."
"Really?" Aiden asked in surprise. It made him question exactly how well he had known her himself. "When was that?"
"Before you were born," the man answered and then seemed to regret it when Aiden gazed in confusion at him.
How could this man have known her that long ago? He would have been a small boy, Aiden reasoned. Small boys don't have grown up women as their best friends. "Did she help out at your playschool or something?" he asked in order to confirm this suspicion.
"Something like that. She was called Donna Noble back then," the man said as he began to pace the room. He was clearly trying to sort out in his head what the best thing to say was in order to explain himself.
Aiden found himself growing in curiosity as the man wrestled with his thoughts. He had an air of familiarity about him, like a long lost cousin or friend from the past. Except in this instance he was a friend of his aunt's and not his own. Well, as far as he knew he wasn't from his own personal past. "Have we met before? Only I don't remember you," he offered as a conversation opener.
The man placed a finger thoughtfully to his lip. "The photo, the photo in your hand; do you know them?"
"This?" Aiden held up it up in demonstration in case there was any misconception. "They look very familiar. The woman looks a bit like she could have been my aunt, but the man… no, I have no idea who he is." He rocked the frame within his hands as he spoke; something long suspected drifting up through his thoughts.
"Are you sure?" the man asked.
"There are two possibilities," Aiden said as he thought about it. "Either these people are related to me or they are the people my aunt bought the cabin from and she liked them so much she kept their picture here all these years."
The man smiled; it was almost a proud smile. "Yes, that's true," he stated. "I have to go but I'll be back later to check in on you."
"Okay. It was nice to meet you… Sorry but I don't know your name," Aiden replied.
The man held out his hand and gave him a strong handshake. "I'm John Smith, and I'll see you later."
They said their goodbyes, and then Aiden was left on his own, full of questions about the encounter and possible theories.
Half an hour later all his worldly goods were sitting in either the small hallway or the bedroom and he began the slow process of making the cabin his home. Strange that this place could almost be called home after only two hours, but despite all the neglect and decay it seemed to welcome him in. He questioned this bizarre feeling right up until the point that he pulled open the chest of drawers and found a letter inside; a letter addressed personally to him.
Taking great care, he opened the sealed envelope, drew out the letter and read it.
If you are reading this then my time has finally come. I wanted you to have this place because it has given me so many happy memories as I have sat enjoying the peace and quiet.
I hope you learn to love this place as much as I do; and I have asked my good friend John Smith to watch over you as you settle in.
From your ever loving aunt,
This was a blast from the past.
He needed a drink! Of course there was no alcohol at all in the place, and a glance towards the photo frame made him think of tea. Ah yes; tea would be brilliant. Now where were the items he would need for that? A rummage through the kitchen cabinets proved fruitful in that there was a recently bought packet of tea in there and within date powdered milk. So far so good. The next problem was the kettle because the source of heating water was a magnificent Aga and he searched about for the means to turn it on. Damn! He would have to go out and find some wood by the look of things.
He'd just got to the shed outside to see if any chopped wood was in there when John appeared again. "Got a problem?" he asked, almost amused by the sight of Aiden looking so lost.
"I erm…" Aiden nervously scratched at his neck, since he didn't want to divulge how little he knew about this place to this friendly stranger. "I don't know where some wood is or how to work the Aga which is a bit daft to own up to, but I'm used to different creature comforts," he finally admitted; although why he did was a mystery to him.
A cheerful smile lit up John's face. "That's why I'm here, to help you out. Come with me." He then strode purposefully into the cabin and Aiden followed behind him.
"I've already tried all those switches," Aiden told him when John reached over to the controls on the Aga.
"Ah, but did you try this one?" John asked brightly as he pressed a panel on the wall that Aiden hadn't noticed before. "This one works the solar energy panels on the roof."
"There are solar panels here?" Aiden asked in wonder and disbelief.
"Oh yes! You'll be amazed with what is here," John said. There was a blue buzzy sound and then power appeared everywhere. Even the light above them came on.
Aiden laughed with delight. "I hadn't expected that," he admitted.
"This place is full of surprises," John replied. "And more is to come."
"What do you mean?"
John mischievously smiled back at him. "That would be telling and spoil it all."
After that they talked about vague things like the local area, the history of the lake and how the cabin had come into being. The most surprising piece of information shared as they sipped their tea was the fact that John's family had once owned and built the cabin but had sold it to his aunt when she came into money after her marriage.
"Why did you sell it?" Aiden asked incredulously. "This place was worth hanging onto."
John merely shrugged his shoulders. "She loved this place so much it seemed right to let her have it permanently to pass onto family."
He couldn't help querying this. "Even though I've been given it? You must feel gutted."
"No, not that," John answered. "Donna was worth it, just to see how much joy it brought her."
"Then I feel duty bound to offer it to you," Aiden decided.
That strangely proud smile was back.
There was giggling. Female giggling. Aiden jumped awake and got up to investigate, creeping slowly as he did so, and peered out of the window.
Outside in the moonlight were two figures dancing to their own tune down by the water's edge. The man twirled the woman away from his body and then crushed her closely into his embrace, all the time laughing together. It was like watching two ghosts, Aiden felt. There was an eerie other world feeling about them. Something was emanating from them, and that was a sense of love.
Aiden moved to the front door, leaving it wide open behind him as he watched them pirouette in their joy. They clearly loved the sheer fact of being together, and it was fascinating to watch.
Eventually they stopped giggling and broke apart enough to merely hold hands, and then they turned to walk towards the cabin and spotted him standing there. Strangely there was no embarrassment about seeing him there, no awkwardness; but there was curiosity.
"Hello," the man said instantly. "We're the Doctor and Donna. Pleased to meet you. Who are you?"
"I'm Aiden," he stuttered out, feeling as though this must be the weirdest dream he had ever had because standing in front of him were the two people from the photo. In the back of his mind he fought to take in every detail of this encounter, from the smell of the evening air, the feel of the breeze coming from the water, the familiar scents of the two people and the soft touch of their hands as they shook his. It was then that he realised that he was probably staring at them like some sort of demented goldfish.
But it was the shock of taking Donna's hand that affected him the most. This wasn't any Donna talking to him; this was his Aunt Donna! His ex-Aunt Donna. Before this night he would have sworn ghosts didn't exist, but the only way to describe this was to accept the existence of the supernatural.
"You're Aiden?" she asked in equal surprise, and she shared a look with the Doctor. "My you've grown!"
"I'm… er… I'm twenty three," he offered as some sort of explanation. "I got here yesterday."
Her eyes instantly filled with tears. "That's good," she said softly. "This place needs constant love and looking after. Isn't that right, Spaceman?" Her question was aimed at the man by her side, watching them with open fascination and holding her hand in tight comfort.
"Definitely," the Doctor answered, giving her cheek a tender touch. "You don't have to worry about that aspect anymore."
"Would you like some tea?" Aiden offered, not knowing what else to say. What do you say to ghosts who suddenly appear in the middle of the night?
He had turned to indicate towards the kettle but when he turned back they had gone. For several minutes he searched the shore and the area in between that and the cabin, but they had gone. He felt a strange sense of loss at their disappearance.
It was only when he laid down in bed that he thought about his aunt's reaction. She had acted as though she knew who he was. Did that imply that she had been having an affair when he was young? Had his uncle known? And why wasn't she guilty about it? The lack of guilt was the weirdest aspect of all. She hadn't made any attempt to hide who she was with.
He went to sleep deciding he really hadn't known her at all, although it didn't change one jot how she had acted towards him as he grew up or how he felt about her. He missed her even more than ever.
That was the first time he saw their ghosts. The second time turned out to be a much more dramatic event.
He'd gone down to the lake to enjoy the quiet waters. It had looked so inviting in the hot afternoon sun, so he had stripped down to his underwear and waded in. As far as he knew the water was completely safe, and John hadn't said he had any reason to be worried. He had stood trailing his fingertips through the surface of the water when something had caught his attention under the clear waters. Something shiny was on the lake bed, so he dove down to have a look. It wasn't very far, only a few feet; but something suddenly trapped his foot. A fallen tree branch or something. Normally he would not have worried, but Aiden couldn't release his foot; it seemed to be stuck fast. As he struggled there was movement above the surface and then a woman was swimming down to help him. With ease she released his foot, and then she swam behind him and guided his body back up to the surface. A man grabbed him once he broke through, and he was dragged out of the water.
Aiden spluttered as his body threw out any unwelcome water, and forced air into his lungs. He lifted his dripping head to say his thanks and wasn't shocked to see Donna and the Doctor looking equally wet.
"Don't worry about it," the Doctor said, waving off the gratitude. "Anyone would have helped you. We just happened to be here."
Using a wet hand to push back his fringe, Aiden considered them carefully. "Are you ghosts or some sort of Guardian Angels?"
Both of them laughed with delight. "First time I've ever been called an angel," Donna said with a happy smirk.
"But you're my Guardian Angel," the Doctor told her as he took hold of her hand and kissed it. "You keep me safe."
She blushed with embarrassment. "Daft Martian," she muttered. "As if I do anything."
"You just saved Aiden's life. I think we can class that as doing something important," he pointed out; and gained a beaming smile back.
Finding their attention back on him, Aiden tried asking them again, "Are you ghosts, or could you be… oh I don't know… aliens or something?" He didn't know why he had plucked the idea of aliens from out of the air, except that Donna had called the Doctor a Martian.
The Doctor suddenly looked very cagey. "We're not ghosts. I think the correct term is 'traveller'."
What the heck did that mean? Aiden was still puzzled; but he was brought out of his musings by the Doctor's voice.
"Any chance of that offered cup of tea?" the Doctor suddenly requested.
"Oh! Of course!" Aiden answered. He picked himself up and stumbled into the cabin. At least this time they got as far as drinking their tea.
The next time he saw them he was sitting peacefully on the sofa when they burst in through the door laughing and giggling together, swopping kisses as they did so.
"Did you want something?" Aiden asked them, and got back a perfect picture of confusion.
"Oh! Sorry! We didn't know anyone would be in here," the Doctor stammered. As an afterthought he released his tight hold on Donna. "We were… we um… Yes it was lovely to see you again. Goodbye!"
And the pair of them walked out, leaving Aiden still sitting there feeling very bemused.
After that he decided to make a note of any future sightings, and what he found was a very interesting pattern. For a start they usually appeared on a Sunday or Wednesday, and they always had a furtive quality about them. Had his aunt had a long and glorious affair with this man? Aiden was starting to wonder.
The other thing that puzzled him was that the little things they said seemed to suggest that they were not visiting him in a chronological way. Was that even possible? The evidence seemed to suggest it.
There was another thing that puzzled him. John Smith kept turning up, idly chatting with him, and after every single visit the flowers by the photo frame would be changed; fresh blooms would appear. How did he do that? Was it a magic trick? And why that picture?
One visit had him fleeing with embarrassment, when he overheard moans and groans coming from his bathroom one Sunday afternoon. He didn't bother investigating that time for obvious reasons.
That was the first time such a thing happened. The visit two weeks later he knew for certain they had come to the cabin but they didn't see him. Well, he hoped they don't see him as that would have been immensely embarrassing!
He had been out walking, trying to whip up an appetite before lunch, and had returned to the cabin to find the door left wide open. Panic had immediately gripped him because he didn't remember leaving it like that. In fact he could have sworn that he had firmly shut it.
Stepping cautiously in through the door he had heard them. The sound came from the direction of the bedroom, and he couldn't believe what he was hearing. They wouldn't, would they? To prove it to himself, he tip toed down the small hallway and saw them through the open doorway. They obviously thought no one would see them; so he quickly averted his eyes. Not quickly enough to wipe away the vision of them undulating together on the bed as they shared their love. And it clearly was love that they shared, judging by what they were saying and he was accidentally overhearing. The polite thing was to pretend he hadn't seen anything, so he returned to the front door and called out, "Is anybody there?"
He gave them ten minutes before he made his way to the bedroom and inevitably there was no sign of them. Not a thing was out of place, and the bed was immaculate. Perhaps he had imagined it? Except he hadn't.
In the end Aiden started to predict when his phantom aunt would turn up; and something always told him when they actually did arrive. So he would hide and see what they did, leaving out little treats as if he was a character in The Shoemaker And The Elves. Sometimes he remembered to put on fresh sheets on the bed, flowers in a vase, and a jug of cold water nearby.
The overall result was that he gradually cleaned up the cabin, giving it all a fresh coat of paint, repairing doors, latches, handles and gaping holes. Those paltry curtains that had once hung at the window were replaced with new fancier ones. And the surfaces shone from where he had taken the time to polish them. All of it carried out as some sort of tribute to his aunt.
And each time John turned up he seemed to glow as he took in the transformation. One time he was heard to muttered, "This is it. This is it exactly."
Aiden had no idea what he was on about or why, but he had humoured him and smiled politely. To be honest he had been glad to have the company as they sat drinking tea in the sunshine. Sometimes John asked him about the visitations, since Aiden had obviously brought it up when he first lived there. John had described them as apparitions to be savoured. Well, yes they were certainly savoured by Aiden; he had managed to see his aunt young and careful and that definitely was a gift.
He often wondered if he should be encouraging these ghostly trysts. Was he cheating on his uncle by welcoming his aunt and her lover? He argued that he wasn't. The couple seemed so in love that it would be abhorrent to discourage them. There was also something about them that made him feel he was part of their story in a completely different way; but there was a barrier within his head that stopped him from reasoning it out, as if he wasn't allowed to know yet. He definitely felt that he would be told at some point why.
At the end of the summer, and very near the end of his stay, John appeared looking very worried, and reverently picked up the photo and touched the glass with a caressing touch. Aiden could stand it no longer, and had to ask the question, "Where you in love with my aunt, John?"
John had regarded him wistfully. "She meant so much to everyone. And you must soon prepare yourself for a shock."
"What sort of shock?" Aiden inevitably asked.
"I can only tell you to make sure you have plenty of tea," John had answered. He had wandered off soon after that, leaving Aiden in a puzzled state.
The following Sunday, Aiden had sat waiting for his aunt and the Doctor's usual appearance; expecting them to fall through the door as they hugged and kissed; but nothing like that happened. Instead the Doctor slowly walked in as though the world was weighing down his shoulders and soul. The only word that Aiden could use to describe him was 'broken' and his heart went out to him in that instant.
"What's happened?" he asked with concern, and ushered the Doctor to sit down.
The Doctor looked up at him with forlorn eyes. "She's left me, Aiden. She's left me for the last time and soon I will follow her."
"What do you mean?"
"I went to her death bed to see her before I die too. I let her see me properly and…" The Doctor's voice caught as tears threatened to overwhelm him. "We talked, we laughed, we cried, and she told me about you. She gave me this to give to you," the Doctor said wistfully as he drew out an envelope from his bedraggled jacket. He handed it over to Aiden. "My last ever gesture of our love."
Aiden could feel his own tears streaming down his face but he made no effort to stem them. "Did she die peacefully?"
The Doctor nodded. "I made it as easy as I could. She went out on a blaze of glory" he said softly. "And now I must go too."
Aiden took the opportunity to hug him then, knowing he had been given a precious gift as part of his mind opened and the truth began to seep through. "Goodbye Dad," he whispered for the one and only time.
The envelope left in his hand had very familiar writing on it. With trembling fingers that refused to behave properly he finally managed to open it and draw out the contents. As expected it contained a letter from Donna, but it also had a lock of hair; baby blonde hair.
My dearest darling Aiden,
You might have worked out part of my story by now, how I came to love your father and have you. But you don't know the whole story and I want you to realise what a miracle you have been in my life.
We weren't supposed to happen, it was all a fluke. I knew that as soon as I was allowed to see the time lines. It wasn't some mad affair, I wasn't cheating on your uncle; I loved your father long before all that. He rescued me from a horrific wedding, and I should have been smitten then and there; but I wasn't, not quite. I resisted him and his request to go travelling. The thing is I just knew I had to find him and help with his struggles. He was so lost and lonely on his own, so I battled for a whole year to get to him.
We had so much fun together as we travelled to various places and situations, building our relationship as we went. I won't pretend anything because you saw how we were together when our love took the next step. I just want you to know it was never sordid. It was also supposed to be a relationship without issue, to use an old fashioned term; but we were always classed as impossible because of who and what your father is. Basically we were 'incompatible' because your father has two hearts, and I accepted that… and then there was an accident (in more ways than one). I almost burnt to death when I became trapped. I was saved by something called a metacrisis which is a strange quirk of nature. From that grew a son, readymade, and he was magnificent! I can't think of any other way to describe him. He saved me that day, and I lost him; not in the way we lost your sister... Oh! You didn't know you had a sister, did you? Her name was Jenny, she grew readymade too, and she died saving your father's life. I'm not sure he ever got over losing her.
Anyway, back to your brother. He grew with only one heart, making him human, and we didn't think to question anything at the time; probably because of all the other horrible stuff that was happening. Stuff that forced me to be parted from your father and left me unable to remember any of the years we spent together because I was sort of brain damaged.
And now here's the part you may not like. Soon after I was returned home I discovered I was pregnant; almost three months pregnant with you. I clean forgot that I had known I was having you or that I'd seen you several times. The thing is, I didn't have a clue who the father was, I couldn't remember being with anybody, and my mother tried to get me to abort you. I fought that tooth and nail, but she constantly battered me with the shame and hardship of bringing up a child on my own when I had no money or financial support; and there was my cousin Louise who wanted a child so desperately but couldn't… She begged me to let her have you. Her husband was about to be relocated to Southampton so no one would be any the wiser about your origins. How could I refuse when she absolutely promised frequent trips to see each other? So I caved, and Louise and Gary Thomas ended up having a son with blonde hair that gradually turned a dark auburn. (See lock of hair enclosed. It's a lock of your baby hair)
I was extremely proud of you as you grew up; always so kind, generous, and clever. Your Uncle Shaun merely thought I doted on you because I was so close to Louise, but obviously it was more than that. In fact I think he suspected but he never ever said anything to me.
You remained the light of my life despite the loads of miles that often separated us. On an early visit I found the cabin you are sitting in now. It called out to me to be mine; I can't describe how or why it did. After a little investigation I bought it from John Smith, a lovely and charming man if a little odd. But I liked him, I liked him an awful lot, and he became my friend whenever I was there. I hope he has become your friend too.
I am writing this as I lie in bed with your father gazing at me. Don't tell him but he looks absolutely dreadful! All I know is that I love him and I love you, my darling. He promised me once he would come to me at the end of my life, and the romantic fool has kept his promise. I love you now and I will love you always, wherever I may be.
Your eternally adoring,
P.S. I can't believe I've finally been able to call myself that!
Aiden wiped his eyes; it had been as he had suspected. He had no need to think of her as Aunt Donna anymore, and so many things throughout his life made sense now.
He suddenly realised that someone was standing behind him, and he spotted John hovering hesitantly there. "You got the letter I see," he said.
Aiden blinked at him. "You described her as your friend, as your best friend. She mentions you as though you were an adult back then, not a boy. What are you? You certainly aren't human. It's as if you can travel in time and…" He noticed John was looking at him expectantly, as though he was supposed to work out this massive secret.
He could feel lots of thoughts whirling around his head, racing at an enormous speed. And there was a voice calling out to him; a voice that sounded suspiciously like John's! He gasped.
That's it. You've almost worked it out, John spoke to him.
He almost staggered as images appeared in his head. Images that initially were of his mother, and then they expanded to show him fire like a phoenix, with rebirth. And within all of that was a name, a proud, distinguished name. "Time Lord," Aiden uttered to his surprise. "You're a Time Lord, the last of your kind, but there are two of us who can connect to you." Then the full wallop of information hit him, knocking the breath from his body. "You're my father. Oh my God! You changed, and you're the Doctor! I can hardly believe it," he cried.
The man he now knew as the Doctor beamed back at him in relieved satisfaction. "How about a little trip, Aiden? I think you may have earned it."
Aiden grinned broadly back with a huge sunny smile that was totally familiar to the Doctor. "Yes please!" he answered. "But first of all I need to pack."
"Just don't bring a hat box," the Doctor joked, and happily sat down to wait for this long yearned for moment.