|Doctor Who Missing Internet Adventure #18 - "Festivals of Light and Darkness"
by Mister Andersen
It's like riding a beast that has been too long contained, a beast belching smoke and brimstone as it races into the coming morning. His fair hair being whipped about furiously by the wind, the Doctor loves every moment of it.
On either side of the tracks, the plains stretch out further than even his eyes can see. The vast panoply of autumnal colours revealed by the pale light of the false-dawn mix together in a blur every time he looks to either side but always in perfect clarity when he looks ahead or behind.
Much, he muses while shovelling another load of coal into the train's furnace, like life in general.
Wiping the coal dust off his hands with a grimy rag, he stuffs it in his overall pocket and yanks on one of the overhead cables. Five metres ahead of him the train's whistle sounds with a blast of steam, shrill and loud even above the ruckus of the train's movement.
"There's nothing quite like mucking around in a steam train," he grins to himself while casting a watchful eye over the forest of brass gauges on the front of the cabin. It's perhaps the hundredth time he's said so, but there's no one with him to complain. No companions, no monsters, no cosmic beings, and above all, not another thing to distract him.
Just him and his steam train.
Cleaning his hands a bit more, he pivots on his chair and opens the red tin box containing the provisions packed for him yesterday morning by Mrs Gormenghast, in the expectation that he'd be back in time for supper. If he had told her he'd be gone until today, she doubtlessly wouldn't have let him out of the boarding house without an entire hamper.
A smile crosses his open, dirt-streaked features as the wonderful aroma contained within wafts upwards to greet his senses. "Ooh, a real ploughman's lunch. Haven't had one of these since I was in Darrowby. And some of her homebrew cider to wash it down with. She must be spoiling the girls rotten by now."
Cheerfully, he sets to.
* * *
Heathrow had started it, for both of them. A fitting place for journeys of the inner kind to begin and end.
The brutal quickness of their parting had been the defining act, the thing that had put everything — all those glances, all those little pauses, all those 'accidental' touches, that one moment of pure, clarit contact that had then been hidden behind awkwardness and obscured by events — into a giant blender and turned on the switch. It churned out the gnawing realisation of what they'd let slip.
The adage about wishing and getting had proven painfully true.
Both of them had found others, trying to fill the void of the other's absence from their lives. But that was before. Before Amsterdam and Omega and the ending of a bitter, painful loneliness. That too had been oddly appropriate, or perhaps it's just her English Lit course insisting on everything having meaning in relation to everything else even if it didn't.
None of those intellectual conceits, none of the pain or the loss, matters though. Not when Tegan holds Nyssa in her arms, feels the rhythm of her heart and the gentle susurration of her breathing as she sleeps. It's usually the other way, Nyssa lying beside Tegan and watching as she falls into slumber. It's what makes moments like this so special, the rare chance to be the one to guard her lover's dreams against the world, and the dark places outside it.
The pale honey-gold light of this world's rising sun begins to crawl across the foot of their bed through the open window above their heads. Even this early, it has enough warmth to it that she can feel it through the thin linen of their sheets. Nuzzling her face into Nyssa's hair, Tegan closes her eyes and just enjoys the sensation of the sunlight moving slowly up their legs. Somewhere between the top of her calves and the top of her knees, she dozes off without realising it.
When she next becomes aware of the world, that delicious pool of warmth has reached the bareness of her thigh and Nyssa is gone. It takes a few moments for the latter realisation to sink through the fog of returning awareness, her hand stretching out to confirm the evidence of her eyes. The delicate aroma of Nyssa's perfume remains on the bedding, mingled with that earthier scent that always reminds Tegan of pine needles.
Then the door clicks shut and she hears footsteps moving away, down the hall towards the bathroom at the end of it.
Kicking free of the sheets, Tegan gets to her feet and stretches. As always, a little part of her worries about being only twenty four and having a body that seems to pop and creak so much in the morning. You're getting old, she teases herself, looking about for her clothes. Laying as they are in a rough trail between bed and door, it's not a long search. Memories of last night play languidly in her mind's eye as, anticipating her lover's fastidiousness, she deposits them in the hamper next to the big old mahogany wardrobe.
A present from the Doctor last time he was here, Mrs Gormenghast had said when showing her and Nyssa to the room the day they'd arrived. The landlady had seemed quite proud of that fact, that she had something of the Doctor besides his custom. Perhaps she fancied him, which given what he looked like these days wasn't the hardest thing to picture. Perhaps, somewhere in the dim recesses of his past, the Doctor had fancied Mrs Gormenghast back.
That whole sex and relationship thing is something that he never seems willing to be drawn on, or at least she's never been able to. Does that reticence hide a hurt, a secret, a shyness, a disinterest, or an incomprehension? Sometimes, when she and Nyssa have ceased moving and found themselves ensnared in that afterglow, Tegan thinks she hears him outside their room. Like Mole and Rat on that cold winter night, looking in through the window at something one took for granted and the other had forgotten he'd lost.
Pulling on a pair of light flannel pyjamas, she looks in the mirror and runs her fingers through her short razor-cut hair until it resembles something tidy. With Nyssa bound to be at least half an hour completing her morning ablutions, breakfast is the most appealing option open to her. And being in a guest house means she can't get away with the disheveledness she affects in the TARDIS. After splashing some water in her face from the bowl on the dresser, she wanders down stairs.
* * *
Tegan's fluffy cotton dressing gown wrapped about her and clinging to her skin where it's still wet, Nyssa carefully opens the door to their room lest she wake her lover. Watching her sleep, watching her dream, listening to the rhythms of her body, basking in the greater temperature of the human body as her own ardour cools. They have become a casual addiction she has no desire to abandon.
A part of her is disappointed to discover Tegan already up and out. Poking her head out the door, she can just discern sounds of movement and desultory conversation emanating from the floor below. The accent is impossible to miss, and she finds it without much effort, laughing at something Mrs Gormenghast has said. Both she and Tegan have felt a genuine affection for their land lady since the Doctor had introduced them to her, as though she has become the normal sort of family they have lost. She certainly fusses over her charges like a mother.
At least the mess from last night has been cleaned up.
Carefully hanging the gown in the wardrobe, she dresses. The under things — a reunion present Tegan had bought her in Amsterdam — are followed by a multicoloured tunic the TARDIS wardrobe had labelled as coming from the royal court at Jaffa, which she matches with a suitable pair of leggings. The thought of shoes is toyed with, but there's something about them that wars against the last vestiges of idyll still enveloping her so much that she decides to leave the room barefoot. The stairs creak as she descends them into the homely surrounds of the kitchen.
The floor is made from well-worn red brick, the currently empty hearth wide brimmed and flanked by two high-backed settees for the use of the more sociably minded. In the middle of the room stands a long table of plain oak boards covered by a table cloth embroidered with a design of great geometric complexity, and several simple well-padded wooden chairs arranged down either side. The mid-morning sunlight filtering in through the ivy-framed bay window reflects in little glimmers from the rows of spotless plates and pans — some currently in use — lined up on their shelves. From the rafters and walls hang cured meats, bundles of dried herbs, and nets and baskets of fresh produce.
"Here she is at last," Mrs Gormenghast announces, focusing the room's attention. The land lady brushes one of her greying dreadlocks behind her ear before turning back to the butter churn and the young draconian man using it.
"Good morning," Nyssa calls back, flashing the room a smile but all the while looking at Tegan, who's munching a large piece of buttery toast.
"Salutations, Lady Nyssa," the draconian, Jeriba Shigan, nods. When they'd first been introduced to him, the Doctor had explained that the young man came from the warrior class of his people, a concept Nyssa understands but none the less still finds alien despite her time in the TARDIS. Tegan had been familiar with the concept though, and even though remaining ostensibly polite had been immediately sceptical of him.
She'd explained why their first night here, about what a similar warrior class from one of Earth's cultures had done in one of her people's many wars. Explained what had been done to her family by them and the people those warriors had allied with. The two of them had almost quarrelled when Nyssa pointed out that the two cases didn't necessarily correspond, but a week together under Mrs Gormenghast's roof had given Tegan the chance to get to know Shigan as a person instead of the spectre of her family's past.
That attempt to move beyond the simmering anger Tegan's carried inside her for so long is one of the things she loves about her, one of the things about her lover that her murdered father would have approved of.
Tegan, mouth full, blows her a kiss as the Trakenite crosses the floor and sits in the chair next to her. "Morning sweetie."
"Did I wake you?" Nyssa asks, helping herself to a piece of Tegan's toast and eating it daintily.
"Not really," the Australian answers breezily, stretching her legs out underneath the table. "Up for a wander round before the Doc gets back?"
A loud knock echoes down the hallway leading to the front door. Wiping her hands on the white linen of her apron, Mrs Gormenghast gets to her feet and trots off to answer the door, leaving her guests to wonder who might be on the other side.
"Oh, hello Herbert," the land lady's voice floats back to them.
"Got a package here for you, Mrs Gormenghast," a reedy voice quite at odds with the heaviness of the knock replies.
"Came on the Shelbyville coach this morning."
Shigan gets up and starts towards the hallway. It's not a great deductive leap to assume the young warrior disciple intends to offer his services as porter.
A few moments later, he does indeed return to the kitchen in the wake of an intrigued looking Mrs Gormenghast, carrying a large cardboard-wrapped package tied up with string and festooned with bright, colourful stamps.
"Watcha got there, Mrs G?" Tegan asks as Shigan sets the parcel down on the table.
"I don't know," the older woman shrugs. "Don't know anyone living in Shelbyville, and it doesn't seem to have a return address on it. Most curious. It's not even addressed to me, just 'Gormenghast House'."
"Is it heavy?" Nyssa asks.
"Not really, Lady Nyssa," Shigan answers. "Just bulky. And it has a noticeably aromatic scent I cannot place.
"I can't smell anything," Tegan notes, licking butter off her fingers while coming closer for a better look.
Shigan taps his high forehead. "We Draconians have a greater sinus cavity than humans, Lady Tegan, thus a superior olfactory ability." He sniffs again. "I think it may be wood of some kind."
"Only one way to find out," Mrs Gormenghast shrugs. Picking up a pair of scissors, she cuts the string, then meticulously opens the cardboard. "Well, I'll be."
"It doesn't look like wood to me," Tegan says a little smugly.
Sitting squatly in the middle of its wrapping is something that resembles a dome-lidded chest, but with no discernable means of opening. And indeed, the tawny coloured substance within the ornate metallic bracketing is like nothing Nyssa has ever seen before. But as a Trakenite, there's something she can tell about it that the others are oblivious to.
To be continued...
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