Plum Pudding

by moonmama [Reviews - 13]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Fluff, Het, Romance

It had been a most unusual day.

Which was really saying something, considering the nature of most of Charley’s days with the Doctor. To be sure, most every day included a new marvel of some sort, but all the same, there were certain events - trends, one might say - that tended to thread through their adventures.

Imprisonment, for example, had become somewhat commonplace and almost tiresome.

Poison. Been there, done that.

She was almost certain that she’d seen every possible variety of laser weapon ever invented.

Today, however, had included none of these tedious goings-on. What had occurred had centred round an Edwardian mansion that had, quite literally, come to life, a group of servants who kept getting murdered every hour on the hour - and subsequently coming back to life, and a paradox involving a cook who’d committed suicide upon learning of Charley’s death in 1930, over twenty years in the future.

Charley was not, in fact, dead at all, nor was she to die in 1930. And, in the end, neither was Edith the cook.

It was rather a long story, and Charley was still grappling with it all, in particular the question of how she could possibly remember things that hadn’t occurred, namely her death. The Doctor had been no help whatsoever; indeed he seemed quite averse to discussing the subject at all. And whatever his usual faults, secrecy was not normally among them, a fact which served only to increase her unease with the situation.

Consequently, when they returned to the TARDIS, Charley retreated to her room, snuggled under the yellow patchwork quilt on her bed and did her best to distract herself with a copy of A Room With A View.

And, believe it or not, it worked. Roundabout the chapter where Lucy Honeychurch was encountering the Emersons at Santa Croce, Charley’s warm, comfortable position began to get the better of her, her eyelids drooped and she nodded off into a much-needed slumber.

Unfortunately, it was a mere five minutes later when a crash jolted her awake.

As crashes go, it was not terribly loud, nor particularly alarming, but Charley knew she would not be able to get back to sleep, so, muttering a few choice words under her breath regarding the sleeping patterns of a particular Time Lord, she climbed out of bed, donned a dressing gown, and padded down the hall in search of the source of the noise.

She found the Doctor in the TARDIS kitchen of all places, a room normally used solely for the making of tea. He was standing behind the counter surrounded by a variety of pots and pans that were scattered about on the floor, an array of cooking tools, and containers of what appeared to be dried fruit spread out on the counter in front of him.

He glanced up at her with a smile as she entered. “Ah, Charley, I thought you’d gone to bed,” he greeted her. His frock coat, cravat and waistcoat were removed and slung over a nearby chair, his shirt unbuttoned at the top and his sleeves rolled up. He looked at the mess surrounding him with a gleam in his eye as if it was a pack of wild animals to be tamed.

“Ah, but falling asleep is not such an easy task with you in here clattering about, trying to raise the dead, now is it?” she replied wryly. “Doctor, what in the world are you doing?” She moved to face him across the counter and raised an eyebrow at him questioningly.

He gestured at the mixing bowl in front of him. “Oh, it’s just all this talk of plum pudding today,” he explained. “It has me feeling rather peckish, so I thought…”

The realisation dawned on her. “You’re not,” she accused in disbelief.

“I am,” he confirmed jovially. “Bit of dried fruit, prunes, spices, sugar, steam it up a bit, how hard can it be?” He brandished the wooden spoon in his hand and accidentally knocked over a container of walnuts.

Charley shook her head in disbelief. “After what happened to Mrs. Baddeley, how can you even consider eating plum pudding?” she demanded. “She was smothered with it. You were pulling bits of it out of a dead woman’s throat.”

He shrugged as he opened a container of cinnamon and gave it a sniff. “Ah, but she was all right in the end, wasn’t she?” he replied, unfazed. “And after seeing how Edith used to make it just for you as a show of her love, well, I don’t see how you can not have some.”

Charley pulled her dressing gown tighter round her waist as she sighed. “You’re right, of course,” she conceded. “But Doctor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so much as boil an egg in this kitchen. We always end up dining with kings and emperors and revolutionary guerrillas; do you actually know how to do this?”

“Oh, it can’t be that difficult,” he brushed her off. “Here, give us a hand.” He slid a knife in her direction and indicated two unpeeled apples. “Besides Charley, I think it’ll do us some good to get our hands dirty at some real work. We spend so much time saving the universe, I think sometimes we lose sight of why we’re doing it to begin with, and what life is truly all about. You can’t get much more back-to-basics than preparing food. Providing sustenance, the building blocks of our bodies, our very existence.” He paused as he lifted up some sort of device, a U-shaped piece of metal, and examined it curiously. “I don’t suppose you know what this is, do you?” he asked her.

“Doctor, I haven’t the faintest idea,” Charley replied as she slid the knife into the first apple with a satisfying crunch. “I’m really quite useless in the kitchen, the servants always took care of it for us. Well, I say ‘servants’ but it was Edith, now, wasn’t it?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” he said, looking lost for a moment. Then, apparently giving up with the tool, whatever it was, he leaned over to read a recipe that was hastily scrawled on a scrap of paper. He squinted at the writing closely, looking like he was working sums in his head.

His silence had the effect of bringing the day’s events and her many unanswered questions flooding back to her mind. She decided to start with the least pressing on the list. “Doctor?” she interrupted him. “Do you think she’ll be all right now?”

“Edith, you mean?” He looked up at her from across the counter, still leaning over, his palms pressed on the countertop.

He looked so very human, she thought, so like a man, with the folds of his shirt hanging down about him loosely, and she was forced to remind herself, as she did several times a day, that he was both alien and impossibly old. “Yes,” she replied. “Do you really think the few kind words we said to her will be enough to keep her going? Will she be…well, happy?”

“You gave her more than just a few kind words, Charley,” he reminded her as he started pouring out a quantity of molasses into a measuring cup. “You made her a promise, don’t forget.”

“To think of her, you mean? In our travels?” she asked.

“Yes,” he confirmed.

“That’s easy,” she replied as she popped a dried apricot in her mouth and bit down, filling her mouth with the sour sweetness. “I’m not likely to forget her now, am I? Not knowing how she felt; what she did for me.” She paused, struggling to make her thoughts coherent. “Doctor, I feel horrible — I mean, she was willing to die for me — she did die for me, and I hardly even remembered who she was.”

She looked at him questioningly and saw that he had traces of flour through his hair. He fixed her gaze intently. “Charley,” he said reassuringly, “Edith was ready to die for a lot of reasons that had nothing at all to do with you. In fact, you’re the one who saved her.”

“But that’s just it,” Charley objected. “She died for me, she lived for me, but it was still for me, either way. I hardly knew her, yet she said I was her best friend. I was…responsible for her and I never even knew it.”

He nodded knowingly as he resumed measuring out the molasses that had begun to drip down the side of the jar and pool on the counter. “Charley,” he said, licking the stickiness off his fingertips, “if there’s one thing I’ve learned about life it’s that we can never really understand how our fates are linked to others. And even if we do understand in a few select circumstances, it doesn’t necessarily matter. Parenthood, leadership, travelling companions; even if we know we’re responsible for someone we can’t always protect them. Even if you’d known how Edith was feeling it may not have made any difference.”

He was far away, his brow furrowed and for a moment he actually looked old. “Then how do you do it?” she asked.

He gave a gentle shrug as the lines in his face smoothed out and the colour returned. “Well,” he began, “you can spend your life hiding from the world, from life itself, or you can try to go on and make things better. Really, all we can do is try to treat people well, and hope for the best. You were kind to Edith, whatever your intentions were in doing so, you still showed her kindness, and knowing you I wouldn’t have expected any less. In my experience, it’s really quite rare that a show of kindness ever goes awry.”

“But she…” Charley started to object.

He cut her off. “Edith killed herself for you, she lived for you. Either way, she had nobody else in her life to love her. Her love for you kept her going, probably far longer than she would’ve otherwise.” He tossed a raisin into the air, caught it in his mouth and grinned at her playfully. “Besides, in the end I think we turned things round nicely in her favour, didn’t we?”

“I hope so,” she smiled in return. She sidled round the counter till she came up next to him, and used the knife to slide the apples off the cutting board, into the massive — and somewhat frightening-looking concoction that he was currently admiring with a silly, proud, slightly drunken grin. She added, “when you made Shaughnessy pay her a compliment, I didn’t think he was going to be able to form the words.” She chuckled lightly at the memory of the butler’s awkwardness and Edith’s obvious joy and unfamiliarity at being treated with respect.

“Yes, that was rather a stretch for him, wasn’t it?” he agreed. He crouched down, retrieved a large device from one of the lower cabinets, set it on the countertop, and then turned to her and slid a bowl of cherries in her direction. “Here, see if you can remove the stones from these,” he instructed.

She leaned over to have a look at the device that he was now examining closely, and brushed against the silky smoothness of his sleeve as she peered over his shoulder, his long curls gently tickling her ear. “Kitchen Aid,” she read the lettering on the device aloud. “What does it do?”

He bent down further to examine the underside of the mixer as he replied. “Most 21st century cooks swear there’s nothing it doesn’t do. But that’s the 21st century for you; instead of spending money on servants, they spend it on a simply astonishing array of labour-saving devices and useless odds and sods. Trouble is, they have to work longer and longer hours just to afford it all. Rather defeats the purpose as far as I can see. But this one was a gift from a chap by the name of Jamie Oliver, who I met in 2004 during a bit of an entanglement involving an army of alien cockroaches the size of footballs and a quantity of organic carrots. He was so grateful for my assistance that he gave me this; said it could mix, slice, dice or grate anything I could dish up. Now if I could just figure out how to…”

Charley was only half paying attention to his prattling, still mulling over the many questions that the day’s events had brought about. “Doctor?” she interrupted him finally with the next question up on the list. “Did you mean what you said earlier?” She picked up a cherry, examined it closely and picked off a bit of dirt that was clinging to it, not looking in his direction, her heart thumping faster with each word.

The Doctor finished unscrewing a piece on the top part of the mixer and it fell onto the countertop with a clang. “I always mean what I say, Charley,” he replied. “Was there any bit in particular you’re referring to?” He retrieved a much larger piece from the jumble of mixer parts and inserted it into the front.

She was grateful she had only the back of his head to look at as she elaborated, already half regretting bringing up the subject. “When you said I’d made a difference. To the universe.” She took a deep breath and forged on, knowing there was no turning back now. “To you. When you said — you said without me your life would have no meaning?”

He looked up in surprise and stood up to face her. As he was not terribly altitudinous, she found herself looking directly into his blue eyes that were currently filled with warmth, slightly crinkled round the edges with the hint of a grin. “I believe I also said that I needed you. Of course I meant it Charley. You’re a lovely person with an incredibly kind heart. And, I daresay you have rather a knack for reining me in on the odd occasion when I can be a bit stupid.”

The pounding of her heart changed tempo and she found herself noticing every detail of his face that suddenly seemed quite close to hers — the jut of his chin, the curve of his eyes, a stray whisker that he’d missed with the razor. “The odd occasion,” she agreed sardonically. She reached up to brush away a smudge of flour on his temple and slowly let her fingers trail down through his hair, carefully taking note of the twists and turns of each curl as she went.

She felt a gentle brush on the back of her hand down at her side, his fingertips against the smooth skin, and then he was twining his fingers with hers and squeezing her hand affectionately.

She released the last lock of hair, cupped his jaw, leaned in and brushed her lips on the corner of his mouth. His skin was rough with stubble and his breath smelled of raisins. He turned ever so slightly towards her, his eyes fell closed, his lips expectant and Charley realised that her simple, impulsive act of fondness was about to become more…

His breath was warm on her mouth, their lips made contact, and the kiss was simultaneously soft and overpowering as their tongues touched for the briefest of moments. And then, overwhelmed, or perhaps just testing the waters, they both released their hold at the same time.

Charley wrapped her arms round his shoulders and pulled him into a hug. He responded, his arms low round her waist, holding her with a strength that somehow seemed greater than the force of his embrace alone. She spotted a brownish smear on his shirt round his shoulder blade and wondered how he could possibly have spilled molasses on himself there. Her face was in his hair; his curls quivered slightly with each breath she took, tickling her nose. She squeezed him tighter to keep herself from bursting with the intensity of it all.

And then she remembered that there was still one question pressing, nagging at her, refusing to leave her in peace.

“Doctor?” she asked.

“Yes, Charley?” he replied as they both eased their hold on each other and came face to face.

“Doctor, you still haven’t explained about today. About why I can remember things that haven’t happened. Why I can remember dying.”

A shadow crossed his face for the briefest of moments, but he gave a toss of his head as if shaking it off before replying with eyes half closed, in a smooth, throaty voice. “Shh, Charley, not just now, can’t you see I’m rather busy?” he said and leaned in for another kiss.

She decided that the conversation could wait for another day.