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About a Burnt Mess

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“Och – no -” Jamie waved the plumes of steam wafting out of the oven away from his face, blinking and spluttering as the heat of it stung at his hands. “No, no -” He grabbed at the baking tray inside, but quickly whisked his hand back when he touched it, nursing his fingertips ruefully.

“I don’t suppose I could help with that?”

Half-blinded by the greasy orange light of the oven, Jamie cast around helplessly for the source of the voice until his eyes settled on the Doctor. He was leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe, watching Jamie’s struggles with an air of fond amusement, and Jamie was sure his own heat-reddened cheeks were flushing darker.

“Nice of ye tae stand there watchin’ an’ not helping,’ he mumbled around the burnt finger he had stuck in his mouth.

“You seemed to be getting on quite well without me.” Ambling further into the kitchen, the Doctor fished a tea-towel out of a drawer, holding it out like a peace offering. Jamie took it gratefully, bending to pull the tray out of the oven and deposit it on the counter with a clunk. He stood back, crossing his arms and tilting his head to examine the contents.

“It’s not too bad,” he said hopefully.

A blackened flake cracked away from its surface, tumbling down to tuck itself against the edge of the tray.

“Of course it’s not,” the Doctor said. “A little crisp around the edges, perhaps.” He poked at its surface experimentally. “Ah – what is it?”

Jamie tapped at the edge of the tray, turning it a little. The change of angle did nothing to make its contents seem more appetising. “Black pudding. Or it’s meant tae be.”

“Ah.” The Doctor cast a pointed look around the kitchen, and Jamie followed his gaze, wondering what the room looked like to him. Something dark red and dripping was plastered over the cabinets, coating most of the bowls and cutlery that lay scattered over the counters and spilling onto the floor in places. A smudge of it marred Jamie’s cheek, halfway between red and rusty brown, and he reached up to scrub at it when he realised the Doctor’s scrutiny had come full circle back to him. “That would explain the… the blood.”

“Aye, it would.”

The dark, lumpy mass coiled in the tray sat there between them awkwardly, its presence almost as stifling as the cloying metallic smell that filled the kitchen. “Not Victoria’s choice of dish, I assume,” the Doctor said.

“It was, actually.” Jamie grinned. “She had it for breakfast one time – ye remember that big hotel we stayed in? The one with the mantises that acted like they were English.”

“Oh, yes. The Thicyans.” The Doctor chuckled. “I do wonder if they’ll ever find out that England isn’t a tropical country.”

“Aye, them. Well, she ordered some English breakfast, an’ it had – well, it had a wee bit of black puddin’ in it. Then she found out I knew how tae make it, an’ -” He gestured towards the tray. “It’s no’ exactly my best.”

Bending over, the Doctor scrunched up his face to peer at the knobs on the oven. “I still think you set it too hot, you know.”

“If it’s hotter it’ll cook faster.” Jamie swiped the back of his hand over his forehead, leaving another streak of red. “Anyway, when was the last time ye cooked without burnin’ something?” When the Doctor opened his mouth to argue, Jamie held up his hand to silence him. “An’ fiddling around with the wee dials on the food machine doesnae count.”

“Oh, hush. I’ll have you know that I’ve been considered quite talented at working fabricated food technology.”

“It’s still no’ as good as a proper meal.”

“Oh, I see.” Tapping his finger against his chin, the Doctor frowned down at the pudding. “Proper meals like this one, eh?”

“Normally,” Jamie protested. “Normally no’ as good as a proper meal.” He threw a despairing look at the charred pudding before him. “It looks like it’s starin’ at us.”

The Doctor twisted his head back and forth. “Mm. There is something of a face in the middle, isn’t there?”

They stared down at the pudding in silent contemplation for a moment before bursting into laughter. “What am I gonnae do?” Jamie raised his hands to pull at his hair, but caught sight of the blood stuck to his palms and thought better of it. “It took us ages to make that, an’ Victoria was lookin’ forward to it. I dinnae want tae tell her I’ve ruined it.”

“I don’t suppose...” The Doctor frowned at the explosion of bowls and baking tins around them. “I don’t suppose she’d notice if you made a new one.” He was watching Jamie out of the corner of his eye, his smile half-concealed behind his hand. “Even if you had to set the oven to the highest heat we could, to cook it fast enough.”

Jamie shook his head. “No’ enough time. But I ‘spose we can make a start on a new one.”

“Mm.” The Doctor tapped his fingers together, opened his mouth, then closed it again abruptly. “Ah – what do you mean, we?”

“It’ll be easier with two.”

“Oh.” The Doctor glanced around himself, then sighed, shoulders slumping. “I suppose Victoria really did want a black pudding.”

‘Aye, she did.”

“And it would cheer her up immensely to get one sooner rather than later.”

‘Aye, it would.”

“Oh, very well.” Skipping over to the food machine, the Doctor spread his hands over the controls, bracing himself to punch in a code. “Ah – what do you need first?”

“I’ll do it.” Jamie ushered him aside, tapping a few keys and bending down to pull out a fresh bowl of blood. He shoved it towards the Doctor, wincing as it almost slopped over the rim. “Stir those oats in with that. I’ll get everythin’ else.” He busied himself with typing in the next code, his fingers clumsy with haste. The low, constant hum of the TARDIS rose into a whine as he stumbled over it, and he scowled down at the machine until it let out the tell-tale ding of a new ingredient. “Here ye go -” Only when he turned did he realise that the Doctor had somehow managed to spatter more blood than ever onto the bench, speckling the front of his shirt and Jamie’s own sleeve with red. “I’m gonnae have tae clean the kitchen, but I’m no’ gonnae be the one to clean you.”

The sound of someone pointedly clearing their throat drew their attention away from the mess the Doctor had made and towards the doorway. Victoria stood there, her mouth tugged into a slightly resigned smile. “Am I interrupting something?” she asked.

“No!” The word emerged strangled and too-loud, and Jamie swallowed nervously, as if he could drag it back inside himself. “No,” he repeated, his voice full of awkward laughter. “Everything’s fine.” Beside him, the Doctor shoved aside the tray with the burnt pudding. It scraped against the countertop, letting out a soft screech as it went. “We’re just – er -”

“I could smell it from my room,” Victoria said. “I supposed you must’ve burnt it.”

“Oh.” Jamie hung his head, but found himself face-to-face with the failed pudding, and quickly turned away from it. “We were just starting on another one.”

When it came, Victoria’s laughter did not fill him with nearly as much embarrassment as he had feared. “You should have waited for me,” she said. “I would have helped you.”

“We wanted to give you a head-start,” the Doctor said, clapping his hands together. “But seeing as you’re here now – why don’t you come and stir this, Victoria, dear, I’m sure you two are quite capable on your own -”

“I couldn’t possibly,” Victoria interrupted him, exchanging a grin with Jamie. “After all, I made such a mess last time.”

The Doctor cast a desperate look towards Jamie. “I don’t suppose -”

“Och, go on, then.” Ushering him out of the way, Jamie edged over to pick up the spoon. “Ye can get the rest of the things we need from the food machine. Seein’ as you’re so good with it, an’ all.”

“But what’s left for me to do?” Victoria asked.

Jamie grinned. “Ye can mind the oven this time.”