Peri brushed archival glue onto the glass plate, then removed the next layer of blotter paper from her plant press and carefully lifted out the dried specimen. It was a pretty little plant, with red and blue flowers, from a planet with no name. That was going to make filling out the ID tag interesting, later, but she had the galactic coordinates in her field notebook, and that would have to do.
Carefully, she laid the specimen onto the glass plate, pressing it down to coat the backside of it evenly with glue, careful not to get glue on her fingers. Then she slid the fragile pressed plant horizontally across the glass, off the edge, and onto a sheet of heavy, acid-free card stock — the closest thing she’d been able to find to proper herbarium paper. She gently pressed the specimen onto the paper, to be sure of good adhesion, penciled a number in the bottom right-hand corner so she could cross-reference the sheet with her field notebook later, and laid the sheet carefully aside to join the others now drying on the TARDIS library’s main table.
As she picked up her glue brush to repeat the process, an annoyed sigh came from above and to one side of her.
“Really,” the Doctor said, with his typical edge of arrogance. “You humans and your mania for collecting.”
Peri stopped what she was doing, and made a show of scanning the cluttered library, full of books, papers, TARDIS parts, sculptures, and just plain junk. She ended the scan looking up at the Doctor and cocked her head at him meaningfully.
The Doctor was sitting next to her on the tabletop, legs over the side, and feet resting on the seat of a chair. Couldn’t just sit in the chair like a normal person, not him, nooooo . . .
He caught her meaning and grumphed. “Collecting useless things," he amended, as if he’d meant just that all along.
“Define ‘useless.’ This is my record of all the places I’ve been collecting — like my journal,” Peri told him, more out of reflex than because she expected it to make a difference in his attitude. “God knows who I’ll ever show it to, but at least I’ll know I did a proper job as a botanist. Only three more,” she promised.
The Doctor thrummed with impatience beside her, but she didn’t rush. He had his fishing gear sitting next to him on the tabletop — tackle box, rod, and creel - and he was eager to get going. Admittedly, Peri was eager to get collecting, so she could sympathize, but she needed to clear out her press first, and she was going to look after her specimens properly. Besides, if the Doctor had given her proper warning, instead of announcing his plans at breakfast, she could have done this earlier.
Peri paused and took a long pull of mate through the silver straw of the gourd sitting beside her. She’d gotten a taste for yerba mate when her family had visited Central America, and she’d been delighted to find the supplies for sale at an unlikely bazaar a few months ago. She’d picked it up partly because she liked mate, and partly because she got bored with the Doctor sniping at her barbaric preference for coffee over tea in the mornings.
He’d watched her brew her first cup with intense curiosity, practically hanging over her shoulder. Despite his curiosity, he seemed suspicious, and was of the opinion that the dried gourd looked decidedly un-hygienic.
“See?” she’d told him, taking a sip through the strainer-straw to test it. “It’s tea, more or less.” She offered the straw and had the gratification of sending the Doctor practically screaming from the galley. She wasn’t sure if it was girl cooties, human cooties, or gourd cooties that caused the reaction, but it was hilarious all the same.
“I don’t know how you can stand to drink that vile, barbaric brew,” he told her now.
“It’s not vile,” she said, putting the cap on the glue pot, and starting to clean up. Wow, mate gets two adjectives, she thought. I need to make it more often.
“Yes it is.”
“Have you tried it?”
“I don’t have to.”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, she thought with an internal grin, it’s the amazing 700-year-old toddler . . .
“So where are we going, again?” she asked out loud.
The planet was called Skipjack, of all things; apparently the Doctor liked its promisingly fishy name. Fortunately, there was some information on the local botany in the TARDIS’s enormous and eclectic data banks, and Peri had downloaded the lot onto a crystal. She fitted it to her reader and set it to recite information on audio as she changed clothes.
There was an interesting clade of rock ferns mentioned, so she decided to concentrate on those, though she’d collect whatever looked interesting.
She finished, and looked at herself in the mirror. She was wearing a hot-pink bikini top with blue rolled-cuff shorts, showing off wide expanses of smooth, supple skin. In addition, she wore hiking boots, out of deference to any rough terrain she’d encounter, a rolled-up pink bandanna tied around her forehead to keep sweat and hair from her eyes, and a broad-brimmed straw hat. The forecast was for a warm, sunny summer day.
She leaned forward and checked her makeup — light, but flattering - then straightened and grinned at the mirror. She looked good, and she couldn’t wait to get the Doctor’s response.
Shouldering her light daypack, which held her notebook, plant press, crystal reader, and water bottle, she headed outside.
They were perched on the bank of a river; on either side, there were tall, rocky cliffs. In spring, the river would run right along the base of those cliffs, but with the water at its summer low point, there was plenty of dry land between.
Their riverbank was shaded from the midmorning sunlight by the cliffs, pleasantly cool. The Doctor had set up on the bank with his gear, and his umbrella (for shade later in the day). He was fussing with a lure as she walked up, and she waited for a few minutes before he bothered to glance in her direction.
His disgusted expression was priceless. She’d started wearing revealing outfits every chance she got just to annoy him, and it looked like she’d scored today.
Once, she'd seriously considered trying to maneuver him to a nude beach, like the ones she'd been to in Europe, to really torque him off. But then she'd thought it through, and realized it could backfire. Just once, he might be contrary and strip to the buff with her. The Doctor naked, what a thought. Ew. There were sights no mortal was meant to see, and she was pretty sure that was one of them.
“What is your fetish for exposing every possible square inch of skin to the elements?” he asked, disapprovingly, as she did a fashion-show twirl for him. “You’ll burn to a crisp.”
“Nope.” Peri fished in her daypack and pulled out a tube. “Sunscreen. Want any?”
“Unlike some, I have the sense to stay in the shade,” he told her huffily.
Yeah, unless you fall asleep, Peri thought, remembering the epic lobster-burn he’d taken once from dozing off. It had just been his face and hands, but it had been bad enough. She was glad she’d thought to get more aloe lotion a while back, just in case.
She dug in her pocket, and pulled out a small, flat box. “Here you go — Happy Unbirthday.”
“What?” he asked, genuinely surprised, taking the box.
“Unbirthday, like in Alice in Wonderland,” she told him. “I found this a couple stops ago, and thought you’d like it. It’s almost exactly like my Grandpa’s favorite lure. He used to swear by it. I thought I’d give it to you the next time you went fishing.”
He opened the box and inspected the flatfish-style lure. He was frowning, but not, for once, with an edge of arrogance. “I didn’t think you liked fishing.”
“I don’t — but Grandpa did, and you do," she said with a shrug. “I guess I can’t help picking some of it up by osmosis.”
She could tell he was pleased, but being himself, he wasn’t good at expressing it, though he did manage a harrumphing, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Well, good luck, I’m off,” she turned to go.
“Be careful!” he called after her.
“There’s no civilization here, no dangerous wildlife, and no poisonous plants,” she called over her shoulder, “at least, not according to the TARDIS. And I’ve got a walkie-talkie.” She held it up over her head to prove it as she walked.
“It’s a ‘communicator’!” he yelled back; he hated the term “walkie-talkie.”
She grinned and pretended to be out of earshot.
Peri spent a pleasant afternoon hiking along the riverbank, occasionally exploring the small, branching side gulleys cut by streams that flowed into to the main river. The damp rocks were covered with decorative (and intriguing) mossy plants and ferns, and the river kept the air cool and fresh.
She got most of the ferns she was after, saw three kinds of little bird-lizard-things that were scaly but cute, and only slipped and fell in the water once. Fortunately, without the Doctor there to give her a hard time about it, she didn’t mind — it was warm enough for her to dry quickly, and the cool water actually felt nice.
But the time the sun had shifted, leaving her side of the river in sunlight, and the opposite cliffside began to cast a shadow, Peri decided to turn back. She pulled her feet out of the lovely cool water she’d been resting them in, put on her socks and boots, and headed for the TARDIS. The gurgle of the river was friendly and soothing as she walked, almost like having like company on the hike. It was all very restful.
Evidently the Doctor thought so, too, since he was out cold, fast asleep, when she arrived at the TARDIS. He’d propped up his umbrella for shade, but the light had shifted while he slept, and he was working on another sunburn, judging from the color of his cheeks and forehead. Peri tiptoed up to him, adjusted the umbrella, and then peeked in his creel. Completely empty, as she’d expected. She didn't see any sign of a stringer, either.
She grinned. As her Grandpa had once said, there were men who liked fishin’, and there were men who liked catchin’ — and the Doctor was clearly in the former category. Otherwise he’d have taken them to a cold, rainy pre-dawn destination, when the fish would actually have been biting . . .
Peri tiptoed back to the TARDIS. She was thirsty, so she made lemonade. They had a big bag of lemons — the Doctor had gotten them to garnish his prodigious projected fish catch (he said), and Peri saw no point in letting them go to waste. Then she cooked some dinner, making enough for two. The TARDIS had a food replicator she dearly would have loved to use, but shortly after his regeneration, the Doctor’d started insisting he was the world’s most brilliant cook (among other things) and had disabled it, preferring to prepare food the old fashioned way.
After two days, Peri had gotten a cookbook from the library, and begun studying it in self-defense. If she timed it right, she could often manage to avoid the Doctor’s cooking altogether — and while he might tell her (at length) that he could have done a better job, he did seem willing to inhale whatever leftovers she had. In fact, she’d discovered a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that was a particular hit. They positively vanished into thin air the minute she turned her back on them, and she was pretty sure the TARDIS didn’t have a sweet tooth.
It was funny, actually: Perpugillium Brown, cooking. Her Mom would have fainted in surprise, since Peri had been famous for avoiding kitchens altogether most of her life. It had finally taken traveling with a centuries-old, bombastic, stuck-up alien who couldn’t cook - in a time machine - to break down her resolve. Talk about drastic measures . . .
Now that she was doing it, she found she actually liked cooking, but she wasn’t telling anyone that. As she spooned homemade mac and cheese out of the pan, she wondered which would surprise her Mom more — the time travel, or the cooking? Cooking, she decided, and took her plate and two glasses of lemonade outside again.
She sat down on a rock next to the Doctor, not particularly tiptoeing this time, and set the second glass of lemonade down beside him. He awoke with a snort, and blinked blearily at Peri.
“Hi,” she said. “I didn’t want to disturb you, so I made myself some dinner. There’s mac and cheese left on the stove, if you want it. To go with your fish.” She managed to keep the slightest trace of irony from her voice, and though the Doctor glared, he didn’t say anything — then his face brightened when he saw the lemonade and he drained the glass practically in one shot. He never was good about staying hydrated.
Peri expected an outburst about the unauthorized use of his lemons, but he either failed to make the connection, or was happy to see the lemonade.
He fiddled a bit with his fishing rod, and Peri watched while she ate, feeling lazy. And achy. She hadn’t hiked so far in a long time, and it was telling on her.
Leaving her plate and glass on a rock for a moment, she stretched, then walked aimlessly along the cliff in the opposite direction from the one she’d taken earlier. After a few steps, she laughed, and put her hands on her hips, gazing upwards.
“Wouldn’t you just know it?” she said to the air.
“What?” asked the Doctor, curious, as always.
“There.” She pointed, about halfway up the cliff. “I was looking for that fern all day, the one with the golden edges on the leaflets. It’s the only one of the clade I didn’t collect.”
She shook her head. The climb was a daunting one, with lots of rocks and scrub between her and the ferns. “It’s not worth it to go scrambling up there, but it’s disappointing. Still, that’s the way it goes, isn’t it?” If she was feeling ay fresher, she might have given it a shot, but for now she just felt like a shower, and a quiet evening putting ID tags on the morning’s herbarium sheets.
Telling the Doctor as much, she went back to the TARDIS and took a long, lovely hot shower. As she padded down the hallway to her room afterwards, she remembered the aloe lotion. She should make sure it was at the front in the medicine cabinet. The Doctor would never ask her where it was, and he’d tear the place apart looking for it if it wasn’t obvious.
At her room, she changed out of her robe into comfortable around-the-house (or —TARDIS) clothes, and went back to the bathroom.
She was startled to find the Doctor there, bent over the sink and glaring in the mirror as he dabbed at a small cut on his cheek. He’d taken off his usual patchwork coat and rolled up his shirtsleeves, and he looked like someone had dragged him through a hedge, backwards. He had twigs in his curly hair (which was even wilder than usual), and smudges of dirt all over.
That must’ve been some fish, was Peri’s first surprised thought, but she didn’t say it aloud when the Doctor turned to glare at her questioningly. Yep, he was developing quite the burn on his face.
“I, ah, need the aloe lotion,” she said. “I got a little burnt today. Second shelf, to the right, behind the shampoo.” She didn’t need it, of course, but it was the best way she could think of to get it out where he could see it — make herself look negligent, rather than him.
With ill grace, he rummaged around and handed the bottle to her. She squeezed a dollop into her hand and gave it back.
“Are you okay?” she couldn’t help asking. “What happened?”
“A Time Lord needn’t explain his affairs to anyone,” he said dismissively, glaring back into the mirror and working on the cut again.
“Fine, be that way,” she told him, rolling her eyes, and continued on along to the library, rubbing the aloe lotion into her forearms along the way. No need to waste it.
As she approached the library table, she frowned, surprised. She thought she’d put the glue pot away . . . When she got close enough, she saw it wasn’t the glue pot in her work area.
It was an Erlenmeyer flask from the Doctor’s laboratory, standing in as a makeshift vase. In it, were three perfect fern fronds, with golden edges. Around the neck of the flask was a blue ribbon, tied in a neat bow, and tucked into the bow was a little slip of paper.
Happy Unbirthday it said, in tidy copperplate handwriting, nothing more.
Peri brought her hand to her mouth, and grinned for a full minute before she gently set the vase aside. She’d need to get her plant press later, so she could add the ferns to it, but for the moment she liked having them where she could see them.
The Doctor wouldn’t want any showy thanks; if he had, he’d have made a production out of presenting the ferns to her, rather than sneaking them in as a surprise. If she made a big deal over it to his face, she knew he’d be all flustered and embarrassed. But there were other ways to say thank you.
Chocolate chip cookies were definitely on the “to do” list for tomorrow.
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