Title: Good Housekeeping
Fandom: Doctor Who
Summary: “I’m warming you up,” I told her, trying to sound practical and sensible and the way she always does when she’s doing something completely ridiculous and inappropriate.
Jenny explains how things started. With the use of medically necessary cuddling.
It started – the cuddling – because she gets cold.
Silurians are cold blooded, you see. They need to stay warm or they get a sort of chill and then start to go into this deep, deep sleep and they can even die of it if they aren’t careful. Vastra had a terrible problem at first, out and about in London in the wet winter evenings. Wouldn’t wear enough layers, if you can believe it – stubborn old lizard. I kept telling her to be more careful, but she said she needed to be able to move quicker than all those scarves and things I wanted to bundle her up with would let her.
I am her housekeeper. Properly speaking. I’m lots of other things too, of course, but first and foremost I look after her, like a housekeeper’s meant to. And it must seem awfully forward of me to call her just Vastra and not ‘ma’am’ or ‘miss’ first but – you’ll see. Out loud I’m careful, of course, to mind my place when we’ve got company. But in my head she was always Vastra, right from the start. I knew she wouldn’t exactly be the world’s most typical employer the moment I laid eyes on her and I understood fairly well that it wouldn’t much matter what I called her, as long as I could do what was needed of me.
She was just Vastra that night, too, when I had to warm her up. It was the strangest thing to see her all huddled and small – could barely get her eyes open, stumbling back through the front door, exhausted with cold. She’s so tall, normally, but she came in hunched up like a beggar woman, not shaking (she doesn’t shiver) but wound up tight into herself, like a spring.
I’d known something was wrong for hours before she got back. I knew it in my bones – though Vastra would have called me silly and superstitious for saying such a thing. Really though, it was just that she was late. Vastra never lingers about her business because the possibility of being seen by the light of dawn is too much to risk. An hour before sunrise I knew something must have happened when she wasn’t back, and by the time she finally arrived home I was half out of my mind with worry.
“A bath,” she managed, as she fell to the floor, her voice strange and strangled like I’d never heard before, “I must have – a hot bath – ”
There was no time to draw a bath, though. The state she was in, I was afraid she’d die before I had one ready.
There are only two other staff in the household, neither of whom have ever seen their employer. They are here only during the day – a cook, and a young maid who helps me with the cleaning. Vastra sleeps through most days anyway, and I have told them that she suffers from a rare condition which makes her quite unable to bare the touch of sunlight and that she must never be disturbed. We pay them both quite handsomely enough that they know better than to ask questions or to mention the rumours about the supposed ‘lizard woman’ who lives round here.
It works for running an efficient household, but the disadvantage of the arrangement is, of course, that I was alone when I absolutely needed another pair of hands to assist me in saving Vastra’s life. She’s big and well-muscled and I am slight though Vastra says I am growing stronger thanks to her training; I could not move her and run a bath at the same time, at any rate. I could hardly move her at all.
So I did what seemed the only option left to me, and got her into the drawing room where I’d had a fire stoked up already, and began getting her out of her clothes.
Down to only her under things, I got her as close to the fire as I could without actually laying her in it, and then I stripped off myself, as much as I could for decency’s sake, and wrapped myself around her until I felt some heat start to come up beneath her scales.
I had the idea from my father. He worked in the London Zoo caring for reptiles when I was a girl, and when his snakes grew too cold he would lay them inside his shirt against the bare skin of his chest, even the poisonous ones. A little unorthodox, I’ll admit, but my father’s snakes always lived, and so did Vastra.
I grew up amongst my father’s specimens, which is perhaps why I’ve never found Vastra’s appearance sort of charming. I obtained my position with her at least in part because I was the only applicant not to scream and run upon first seeing her.
I laid there on the hearth with her for about an hour, fervently praying that neither the cook nor the maid would take it into their heads to arrive for work early, and trying to feel for Vastra’s heartbeat without touching more of her than was strictly necessary (I was still trying to maintain some sense of propriety about our relationship, you see). She was so pretty, though – she’s quite beautiful, actually, though I wouldn’t tell her as much for fear of feeding that ego of hers – that in the end I was just watching her, while the dawn light from the window crept across her face.
Soppy of me, I suppose – she’d be the first to tell me I was being sentimental – but I’d been so worried about her. Made me think for the first time about what I’d do without her. I’d been in her employ for about six months at that point, and that was about the moment I realised I never wanted to be without her again.
She began to waken, and I felt her open her eyes against my shoulder (a curious feeling, because she doesn’t have eyelashes) and then she asked, quite clearly, what on earth I was doing.
“I’m warming you up,” I told her, trying to sound practical and sensible and the way she always does when she’s doing something completely ridiculous and inappropriate.
“Oh,” she remarked, stroking my arm, and then closing her eyes again. “Carry on.”
So I did.
And that’s how we got to cuddling a bit. Because she’s not the cuddliest person in the world – Vastra. Nor am I, when it comes down to it. But when she’s cold it’s like an instinct kicks in and she’ll latch on to the nearest heat source until she’s good and warm again. And more often than not these days that’s me, since she found out how nicely a human does as a living hot water bottle.
Not that I’m complaining, mind.
After that, I started accompanying her to bed after she’d been out, for purely practical purposes, of course, to warm her up a little. And more often than not, because I’d been up half the night waiting for her, eventually I’d fall asleep next to her and that’d be us for a few hours, all tucked up together like it was nothing unusual at all.
Although for all I know it might not be for her. Goodness knows how Silurian’s normally sleep.