A/N: Written because I wondered what it would be like if Amy's Choice and The Pandorica Opens/The Big Banghappened at the same time, and in a fairytale. As you do.
This was intended to accompany the finale of S5 (I wrote probably 90% of this the days after The Big Bang aired). It's obviously doesn't accompany much of anything anymore, what with it being a year and a half later (!). The idea came from this interview ( 2010/05/19/moffat-doctor-who-is-a-dark-fairy-tale/) and a bunch of meta written around when S5 aired.
Warning: Implied depression.
Apologies for the odd formatting!
In A Crooked Little House (or Aren't We All?)
(Once upon a time,) at the edge of a curious forest, stands a small, square Shed. Just after the idea of dawn, one of its inhabitants, a girl — theGirl — pushes open the door and lets herself out, spilling a bit of light onto the dewy grass. She's off to work.
She walks through the garden; treads on fallen leaves and spring flowers and something that used to be herbs. She regrets not having time for a go on the swing, slips between a pair of trees, jumps over the tiny fence, and then she turns to the right.
She passes through the dawn-darkness and the inky, slippery shadows, whistling shrilly. Her hands are in the coat pockets. Weak sunlight filters through foliage, illuminating the dark browns of the path, helping them leech colour from the flowers growing beside it. It is the path to infamy, someone once said. (It hardly matters to her; she only uses the one and it's what's at the end of it — either end — that's important.)
The path narrows with every step; and the narrower it becomes, the closer the trees grow, the thicker their stems are, the barer their branches, the coarser their bark, the denser their numbers. Finally, when the Girl has to duck under roots and press her elbows to her ribs and squeeze her boots into whatever space she can find to move forward at all, the mass of trunks win and light ceases to reach her.
That's where the path ends.
That's where her workday begins.
That's where she disappears.
Later, she (re-)emerges, stumbling, into the noon-darkness. She presses her hands to her chest and fights off the reaching shadows with twitches of her shoulders.
She's wearing a tiara, now, a bit crookedly.
She has an uneaten apple in a hand; it's smiling up at the treetops, at the suggestion of sky.
She hums a tune she's made up.
The path always seems shorter on the way back to the Shed than it does from it; already, she jumps over the tiny fence. She slips between the pair of trees, decides she's too hungry for the swing, runs through the garden, and claws the cottage door open with purple fingernails, letting light spill out onto the lawn.
Inside, as always, is the other inhabitant; a man in raggedy clothes. He sits in his rocking chair, as always, looking quite asleep. He's not comfortable; never has been. His limbs are stiff and his facial muscles taut.
"Rise and shine!" she calls. It's bright white-blue in there; light that comes from nowhere and is everywhere.
The cottage is cramped, but cramped is good; it's just right, in fact. There is the rocking chair, the focal point, right in the middle, facing the door. To one side of it are the cupboards and the cooker and the bucket that's always full of fresh water(-for-drinking); and on the other a table; and behind it a narrow bed. There are beams in the ceiling above it, and the floor below it is always clean. (Despite all this, it is a malevolent kind of rocking chair, and a fearful kind of place. The Girl is learning to ignore that.)
His eyes open. "You're here!" he says, and he does rise; a remarkably liquid motion; it always is, considering.
They each take two steps forward until their toes almost touch. She wraps one set of fingers around his tie and the other around a threadbare collar, and she rests her head on his shoulder; as much rest as she ever gets. He buries his fingers in her hair, lets them grow still there.
A moment; a while; the evening later, he gently disentangles her hands from his clothes. Then he pushes the coat down her shoulders, and she all but twirls it off. He yawns and stretches. "Why are you wearing jewellery?"
She hangs the coat up on the hook on the back of the door, yanks off the tiara and drops it onto the floor. Metal on metal. "For work."
He nods, and then he smiles.
Eventually, they construct some sort of meal out of whatever happens to be in the cupboards.
They leave the washing-up for later, like they always do, and she sits cross-legged on the floor and puts a brush she hasn't once dipped in paint to a crumbling piece of paper. (It's a work in progress; it'll be a picture of herself and the Man, the Girl thinks, but the man in her painting hasn't got a face yet and she never seems to have time to give him one.)
He talks about stars and other places and other times, and there is a hint of warmth in his voice, an ember of joy.
When there is a general feeling of night and the light has somehow dimmed, she kicks off her shoes and crawls into bed and he lowers himself into the rocking chair with a moan that has nothing of warmth to it.
The next morning, when she's put on her coat, she says (like she always does), "You behave now. Take a walk. Swing."
(As he always does), he smiles brilliantly in reply, leans forward, kisses her forehead.
She pushes the door open and steps out, and it shuts on its own behind her.
This Raggedy Man is a scientist; theScientist, though what sort of science he professes himself to no one knows.
He stares at the back of the door for a moment. Then he turns, shuffles back to the rocking chair, sits down, sighs, and closes his eyes.
She'll be back again, the Girl, he hopes. (He counts on it, really.)
She slips his mind soon after that. Or rather; he lets her remain safely in one place, while so many other placesrise up and vie for his attention.
As always, he clutches the armrests with no finesse, arches his back until an edge of wood is digging into the back of his head.
He needs her to come back.
A stone's throw from the Shed is a glade and a spot of water, and there, under the open sky, is the Woodsman.
Ever-vigilant, he's tending the forest. It is his responsibility.
Presently, he's crouching in a pool of shadow, peering between two dense bushes. He's spied an animal acting peculiarly. Perhaps there's somethingnearby; the Woodsman handles threats the best he can.
The animal in question is a white rabbit holding a clipboard; it has positioned itself next to the Path to Infamy.
The Woodsman's right hand freezes up; it's this thing it does, sometimes, when he's tense. He massages it absently and strains his hearing, expecting snarls and pants and commands; he gets, unexpectedly, the crack of small twigs (not large, not trunks) and the sound of sodden leaves compressed (not torn apart, not pressed two feet into the ground).
The rabbit straightens.
The Woodsman takes his eyes off it and glances toward the noises. He pushes a few branches aside, to see better, and then he goes still all over. No horror is coming down the path; it's the Girl. Though he has always known of her existence (and been aware of her and his duty to her), he hasn't laid eyes on her in a very long time. She's not supposed to be in this part of the forest, is she? Or isshe? He can't remember which, now, and but a moment ago that was the most important thing in the world.
She sees the rabbit and stops immediately, her coat flapping. She has her hood up and it shades her eyes, but he can see her lips thin. Her hands are in her voluminous pockets, but he knows she's digging her nails into her palms.
"He's not real!" the rabbit singsongs. "He's not real!"
She bares her teeth at it.
As if this is its cue, the animal mock-bows and disappears.
Quickly enough to make the Woodsman flinch, the Girl frees a hand of red fabric and tosses something toward the spot where the rabbit stood. Whatever she's thrown lands with a small, moist thud. She looks at it for a moment, the hood falling further down her face.
The Woodsman forces himself to move, to pull back from the branches and step out into a place less overgrown. He raises a hand.
She doesn't look up; the hood doesn't move. She spins around and moves on, stomping heavily and trailing words that make the Woodsman widen his eyes.
He lowers the hand and hurries out onto the Path, intending to shout something, anything — just in time to see the shadows fold her in, take her away.
An apple lies in the moss, smiling up at him; he stoops to retrieve it. Its peel is glossy and red, the meat golden; and still, he has no desire to taste it. (No desire to taste anything.) He eases it into his satchel, looks toward the shadows once more, and then he falls back on routine.
"Rise and shine," the Girl says, much later, bent over the Raggedy Man.
He opens his eyes; it takes but a moment before recognition sparks in them.
She stares at him. There is a thought at the front of her mind and words at the tip of her tongue. Words that have something to do with that rabbit, somehow. She doesn't know what they mean, but they come out anyway: "Where's your box?"
"We're in it," he says.
She shakes her head, frowning. "No, where's the proper one?"
He blinks, slowly, and a shudder travels through his body, from tip to toe and back again, coalescing into a deep depression between his brows. His gaze flickers between her, the door, the table, his own hands. When he finally replies, his voice is hoarse. "I've lost it."
Later still, the Scientist looks for the box, the proper one. Really, he thinks, it could just be hiding somewhere, the size of, say, a matchbox. In an ancient chest half-buried in dust, he finds a pair of slippers, a dried sunflower, and a golden ring. But no box.
The Woodsman, looking for something that glinted of silver and spoke of destruction and disappeared far too easily, catches a glimpse of the Girl.
Heading down the path, heedless and hoodless, she's three shades of red in the darkness. The coat is of a shade bright enough to reach the farthest point of the forest; the shoes are darker and glistening with dew; the hair looks like it does in his daydreams. The Woodsman's mind is unusually sluggish, uncooperative, but he thinks that the feeling he has is a new kind of feeling (or perhaps the most ancient one of all) and he suddenly wishes he could be near her, see her face.
And then he stands in front of her.
He doesn't even have time to wonder how that happened; all he knows is that he can identify every nuance of her irises, hear the air rush down into her lungs, smell the soap on her skin, hear the interest/confusion in her voice as she asks "And who are you?" and he knows exactly what those raised corners of her lips mean and —
His hand doesn't freeze up as much as it just hurts; a burst of pain is born in the middle of it, and it shoots up his arm and further; he doubles over.
She reaches out a hand and he scrambles back, stumbling on twigs and leaves and his own feet; there's a terrible guilt and a terrible fear rushing through him, originating in his chest and poisoning the rest of him. Tendrils of some sort of emotion snake up through his core and mean to crush his windpipe from the inside. He turns his back on her and runs, his left hand pressed to his breastbone.
"Oi!" she calls (and he knows that tone of voice and he should stop, reallyprobablyshould, but he mustn't be near her). "Stop, you… green man! Oi! Stop!"
In the evening, the Scientist opens his eyes. The Girl comes into focus, clutching a piece of soap. He straightens his spine and forces the numb muscles in his face to animate and then he draws a deep breath, regrets it immediately. She's brought a less than pleasant smell with her. "You smell like… sick."
Her nightie is stiff and so discoloured its yellow, her hair is twisted into sticky ringlets, the coat is hanging crookedly on her shoulders. "I know."
She doesn't come toward him, so he remains in the rocking chair, tracing the marks in the armrests.
She flings open a cupboard door and pulls out a towel.
"Why?" he asks, tentatively.
"Your guess," she grunts, "is as good as mine." With that, she presses the items to her chest and stalks out, and the door remains open behind her.
A moment later he can hear the water pump outside gurgle.
After tea, he retreats to the chair again, rocking it carelessly with both feet, fiddling with his most recent invention.
"What's that?" she asks, gesturing vaguely with her still-half-finished painting. (He notices that she's — finally — given the man in it a mouth; a very generic sort of mouth.)
"What did you use to make it?"
"And those are my socks? And my hair slides?"
"They are things. Perfect, pliant, poke-y things."
She narrows her eyes. "I'm having a go when it's done."
"As many," he says, "as you want."
The Woodsman doesn't sleep. He doesn't seem to need to. He remembers sleep, or the ideaof sleep, but he doesn't sleep.
He lies on his back on a soft spot of grass, his hands behind his head, looking up at the sky. At the deep dark blue of it, at the bright, yellow-golden stars; they're sluggish and thick, swirling infinitesimally.
He doesn't think he even blinks. He doesn't think he needs to.
There's a small gathering of water next to this, his proffered camp, and it houses a family of ducks. The water also houses a handful of trees with copper bark and curly, fluffy branches. He doesn't really like those trees.
He's gone with the Shed, from forest to forest. He's seen so much (too much).
His days begin and end with the Shed, always. And he always thinks he's spending too much time staring at it; and when he leaves he always thinks he hasn't looked at it long enough.
It's a dull, windowless building, but somehow it always holds his interest.
He is a woodsman, but sometimes... He thinks that's not what he's meant to do. He's not a huntsman, certainly, but he feels perhaps he's expected to be one. And somehow he thinks it is his fault the Girl lives in the Shed.
That terrible feeling in his chest has eased, though the memory of it is insistent. He supposes there should be other memories preceding it; memories explaining why, but he can't access them. He's grown used to it, not being able to remember, but it's never been more irksome, more terrible. His head is full of things, and he can't get to them.
He curls up on his side, and tries to keep his face from twisting into something ugly.
He spends the night staring at the smiling apple.
He has things to do. As always, he makes sure the Shed is still at the edge of the forest. He stares at it, his toes pressed to the bars of the iron fence closing in what constitutes a garden. His right hand hovers over his left hip. There's not a suggestion of life in the garden, save for the ever-moving swing. But then, there never is. (Not while the Girl is away. This, he's realised recently.) He allows himself to slump his shoulders momentarily, to let the tension out in a sigh; makes sure the relief is just enough to refresh, not drain, him.
He has to move on; there's a sense of urgency and a lick of fear shifting in the back of his mind, and he's learnt to trust himself.
He finishes the rest of his work early, having been very sloppy — but who would notice anyway — and heads into a part of the forest he usually avoids. There are mostly horrors there, scurrying about in the darkness; there's nothing he can do for them, and he has no business seeking them out. They find him anyway. Him and the Shed. This time, though, the end justifies the means.
How had he appeared in front of the Girl? What had he done to her? He can't find out on his own, apparently, unless his mind decides to oblige him. He needs help, or a few pointers, or… someone to talk to.
Among the horrors lives a Wicked Woman — though her Wickedness is disputed — and she has an answer to every question, or so the forest makes believe. He's glimpsed her a few times, never straying far from her place of dwelling; a woman shrouded in black, with a cloak that made the leaves whisper.
And she was also, it was said, a woman repenting.
In the very, very middle of the curious forest, stands a curious Cottage. It is quite decrepit, but the most vibrant blue.
It is this cottage, and its mistress, that the Woodsman is looking for.
Though he's learnt a lot, the Woodsman has next to no knowledge about this place; he knows that most beings go to great lengths to avoid the Cottage, and that even the trees gossip about the Woman; that it's held for truth, that instead of a heart, she has a lump of ice.
He approaches the door, shakes his head to get the phrase 'Pull to open' out of it, and knocks; not too loudly.
The door swings open. The Woman stands on the threshold, keeping out of the sunlight. Her lips are red and her nails are red, and there's something red about her eyes, too. "Come in, Woodsman," she says, and makes a gesture that is tired at best.
The Woodsman pushes any thoughts of fear away, squares his shoulders, inclines his head, and steps over the threshold
— and a board comes loose and only narrowly misses his nose, and his right hand, and his right foot. It lands with a flat kind of sound, the impact stirring up golden clouds of dust.
He looks up at the ceiling; the board-shaped hole is full of an ominous red light; it pounds. He points. "You probably want to fix that."
"Of course," she says, and the tone of her voice is either sharp or disinterested.
The Cottage is bigger on the inside. It's also full of things. There are flickering candles that almost achieve a steady rhythm between them, and glass orbs reflecting something completely different than what they should, and crystalline shadows, and metal sheets nailed to the walls, and corners that seem less and less like angles the longer he looks at them.
It smells nothing of wax, though, nor smoke; but like the stale air he'd find in caves, and fresh herbs, and something completely different. An indoors smell, he decides. He doesn't know anything about those.
She straightens her gown and sinks into an enormous easy chair. "What can I do for you?" She gestures to the (rather plainer) seat opposite the table.
A handful of scrolls rolled out to varying degrees and a dozen books are spread across the tabletop. An inkpot and a quill teeter on top of a volume as thick as the length of his forearm. Next to it are a cup and a plate of actual porcelain.
"Are you going to sit down or not?"
The Woodsman hastens to nod, and slips into the offered chair. It's been such a long time since he's seen an actual book… he reaches for the nearest one; a thin, leather-bound thing.
"What brings you here?" she asks.
He pulls his hand back; thinks he should blush, but he never seems to be able to. "Sorry."
She narrows her eyes and studies him. "What can I do for you?"
He shifts. "Well, I'm… There's the Girl…"
"Ah," she says, and her voice is warm. "The Girl."
"Who is she? If you know… Do you know?"
The Woman performs a miniscule shrug. "I know a lot." She reaches into her robe and withdraws something wrapped in cloth. "Not everything, but a lot."
Inside the cloth is yet another book; battered, stained, and the colour of the Cottage. "The Girl, you say." She opens this book, tilting it so that it is obvious he shouldn't even bother trying to sneak a peek. She flips a few pages forward. Then a few more. Then a couple back.
"Where did you get that?" His throat is a little dry.
"Shhh," she says. "Ah! Found something." She reads; a bit stiltedly, a bit hesitantly. "The Girl will sleep for 1894 years."
"That's very… specific," he says.
"Isn't it, now?"
"How do you…"
She smiles, but it's not a pleased smile. "Simple. I remember the future."
"Yeah, simple. Does it say more?"
"Not at the moment. Was there anything in particular you wanted to know?"
"I saw her in the forest and I… I thought I'd like to meet her and then I was in front of her. I didn't move, I was just there! I want to know how."
"I can't tell you anything about that."
"Listen to me."
He leans forward. "Tell me what you know."
She turns the book around, shows him a pair of perfectly blank pages. "There's nothing to tell."
"I need to know. You can help me."
"I'm sorry," she says, and any warmth left in her voice tapers out into the suggestion of a shudder. "That's all I can do for you."
The Woodsman takes his leave, his heart heavier than ever.
Sometimes, when she's been away, the Girl finds the Raggedy Man scratching-scratching-gripping the handles; shouting, or growling, or bargaining, or simply enduring. This time, it's a combination of the first two. "It's stifling in here! Open all the windows, all the doors, all the cracks… No, not those..."
"There are no windows," hisses the Girl. "Can't you remember that?" But she opens the door an inch.
He rocks the chair, a small movement of a toe, his arms folded, tucked close. "Thank you," he murmurs, and his head lolls to the side. He's still, and stiff.
When he's made no noise at all for a long time, the Girl braves the bulk and the motion of the chair and hugs him the best she can.