Long stays on one planet were not common, according to Nyssa. Tegan could believe it; in the short time she’d been on board, they had gone to six different planets, two space stations, and three moons, and only when there was trouble there had they stayed for more than a day, or even a few hours. When they did have to stay in one place for a long time, the Doctor went about his business as usual, but Nyssa made an effort to learn a bit about the culture before dashing out and accidentally offending someone. When Tegan took Nyssa’s side on the occasion that they did have to stay on a planet for a while, the Doctor grumbled about the couple ganging up on him, until Tegan smacked him with a book and told him that Nyssa’s way was more sensible, anyway.
“According to this,” Nyssa said, reading from a large book as she sat curled in a chair and Tegan played with her hair, “the planet we’ll be staying on has a tradition of secrecy in courtship.”
“What’s that mean?” Tegan said, twirling a strand of Nyssa’s hair around her finger.
“It means that when you’re courting someone, you keep it a secret, even from them,” Nyssa said. “Send them anonymous love letters, that sort of thing. Eventually you are supposed to reveal yourself, but only after your object of affection has figured it out. They call it silent courting.”
“Secret admirers,” Tegan said. “How sweet.”
“There’s more,” Nyssa said, sitting up a little straighter, her eyes riveted on the book. Tegan let Nyssa’s hair fall and instead started running her fingers through it, peering over her shoulder at the book. “Apparently, it’s a fairly common practice between already established lovers, too. Once a year, they start leaving love letters to one another again, disguising their handwriting, not signing them, that sort of thing. Of course they know it’s each other all along, but they pretend not to for as long as a whole month. It’s so that their love always feels fresh.”
“What a nice idea.”
Nyssa tilted her head up to smile at Tegan. “Tegan, we’re going to be there for quite a while.”
“I thought the Doctor said it’d only be until he could find that amulet… thing.”
“Oh, yes. But that’s bound to take him a while, don’t you think?” Nyssa’s eyes sparkled. “And what better way to blend in with the locals than to adopt some of their customs?”
Tegan’s smile started slow, but grew wide. “Secret admirers, you mean?”
“I do mean,” Nyssa said.
“Just to blend in, of course,” Tegan said. Her grin was matched by Nyssa’s.
“Of course,” she said. “Goodness knows how long we’ll be there.”
Tegan reached for the book, and Nyssa held it up for her. “Of course,” Tegan said, “we’ll have to do a lot more research, first.”
She kissed Nyssa on the forehead, and Nyssa twisted in the chair to kiss her on the lips. The book wound up on a nearby table, and neither of them had the chance to do much research for the next hour or two.
The Doctor took care of arranging where they would be staying for the duration of the trip, as he was the only one who had managed (somehow) to acquire the proper currency. Unfortunately, this meant that Tegan and Nyssa would be staying in separate rooms.
“It’s all right,” Nyssa said, when Tegan learned of this and threatened to leave without the Doctor if he didn’t go rearrange it right now. “It’ll make our game more fun.”
“I suppose,” Tegan said, only slightly mollified. She shot a glare in the direction of the Doctor’s retreating back. Nyssa kissed her.
“Believe me,” she said. “It’ll be more fun when we don’t see each other every night. It’ll leave some mystery to it.”
“Not much mystery when we know who’s behind it from the start, is there?”
“Well, no. But we can pretend there is a mystery more easily if we’re not sharing a bed every night.” She smiled at Tegan and kissed the tip of her nose. “It’ll be all right. Promise.”
Tegan wasn’t entirely convinced that this would be the worth giving up the feeling of curling up around Nyssa every night, but seeing as they had already agreed to it, she could only nod. Besides, she could sneak into Nyssa’s room if she started feeling really lonely, anyway.
She found the first note that very night, resting on her pillow in a slightly-scented envelope. When she opened it, the reason for the scent became apparent: along with the note, several flower petals fell out, their fragrance pleasantly drifting around the room. She pulled out the note and read:
My dear Tegan,
I count the days until I can be with you.
Your secret admirer
P.S. The flowers, the Doctor tells me, are the equivalent of roses on your planet. I hope you like them.
Tegan took one of the flower petals and pressed it to her nose. It was pleasant to look at as well as pleasant to smell, a sort of pale green that flowers never were naturally on Earth, and soft to the touch. She gathered them all up and put them back in the envelope. The letter, she slid under her pillow, already considering ways she might play Nyssa’s secret admirer in return.
She brought the flower petals to the Doctor the next day, when she had made sure Nyssa wasn’t looking.
“Doctor,” she said, “where do these come from? What flower?”
He glanced at them. “Oh, they’re oqu flowers. Very popular here. If you crush the petals, it’s supposed to be a powerful aphrodisiac.”
“Really?” Tegan lifted the petals to her nose again. Had Nyssa known that?
“Yes.” He gave her a suspicious look. “Now that I think of it, Nyssa was asking me about these yesterday.”
“Was she?” Tegan said innocently. “Where do these things grow?”
“Usually in gardens,” he said. “You’d have to buy them from a shop. Where are you going?”
Tegan had started in the direction she had come from. She shot a brief smile over her shoulder. “I’ve got someplace to be. See you later, Doctor.”
There was a row of shops nearby, three of which were flower shops, or at least had flowers in them. Tegan sorted out her money and bought three bouquets of three, which she gathered was a rather significant romantic number here. She also, as an afterthought, bought a nice packet of stationery and a silver pen. All was going perfectly to plan (well, what little plan she had, anyway) until she ran into Nyssa, almost literally, on the way to her room, the flowers, stationery, and pen still in plain sight.
“Oh,” Nyssa said. “Hello.” She smiled. Her eyes flickered to the flowers, then back to Tegan’s face, the smile still in place, though now slightly more knowing. “I see I’ve interrupted your shopping. I was just on my way to do some, myself.”
“Oh, I shan’t keep you, then,” Tegan said. Then, figuring she ought to at least make a show of it, she added, “Unless you’d like me to come with you?”
“Oh, that’s all right,” Nyssa said. “I’m only buying some necessities. Boring things. Besides, you look busy.”
“A little,” Tegan said. She glanced at the flowers and bit back a sly smile. “I’ll see you later, then. Oh, by the way, I was thinking of going to the park later this afternoon, if you’d like to join me there.” She had been thinking of no such thing, but it was a good idea, she thought, to give Nyssa a time during which she would be out of the room, in case she had something to leave for her after this shopping trip.
“That sounds lovely, thank you,” Nyssa said with a smile. She leaned up to kiss Tegan, which lasted a little bit longer than it needed to and brought the delicious smell of the flowers right into Tegan’s nose, and left. Tegan stared after her, smiling like an idiot, for a few more seconds before turning back to go arrange the bouquets in Nyssa’s room.
Things escalated quickly after that. The next time Tegan entered her room, she found a lavender negligee, completely transparent, along with a pair of boxer shorts made from lace and silk. They smelled of oqu flowers, and for a moment Tegan wondered if Nyssa had crushed some up to get the scent or if it was just the idea of Nyssa picking this out, and more importantly the idea of Nyssa seeing her wear this, that was making her blush. But in the end it didn’t matter, because it smelled nice and looked even better and made her want to go to Nyssa’s room right away. Surely it couldn’t hurt this whole secret admirer thing if they spent one night snogging?
But it was late, and Nyssa’s room was right next to the Doctor’s, and it had only been a few days. She could keep it up a little while longer, surely. It would be all the more satisfying, she told herself, the longer they waited to break the charade.
Still, her dreams were full of Nyssa that night, floating on a cloud of lavender and green, and she woke feeling rather too hot for the fact that she had kicked all the covers off.
Nyssa smelled intoxicating when they met for breakfast, and it was all Tegan could do not to bury her nose in her hair for the entire meal. She was about to invite her to her room for a quick snog and possibly a lot more than that when the Doctor rushed in, looking panicked.
“There you are,” he said. “Why aren’t you in your rooms? Never mind. We’ve got a situation.”
“Did you find the amulet?” Nyssa asked.
“Yes,” he said, now sound irritated, “but it’s in rather an inconvenient place, and I—well, I—”
“What’s the place?” Tegan said.
“Around the Emperor’s neck,” the Doctor said. “That is, not the real Emperor. They haven’t had one of those in decades. It’s around the neck of the big gold statue you pass every time you go into the court.”
“I’ve never seen it,” Tegan said.
“I have,” Nyssa said. “Or at least, I’ve seen pictures. It’s a very big statue. Larger than life-size, if I recall correctly. It cost quite a lot to build. I didn’t know they’d put anything around its neck, though. I thought everything on it was just part of the statue.”
“Why so agitated?” Tegan said as the Doctor shifted from foot to foot.
“Did you nick it?”
He looked embarrassed. Nyssa gasped. “You did!”
“Well, no one was looking, and we do rather need it,” he said. “I thought I could get back to the TARDIS without anyone noticing, but of course they’ve already noticed, and as we’re among the only off-planet visitors at the moment—”
“We’re under high suspicion,” Nyssa finished for him. “I understand.” She shared a look with Tegan, who rolled her eyes. “So we have to go, so soon?”
“I’m afraid so,” the Doctor said. “That, or get thrown in jail.”
“But they seem like such nice people,” Tegan said.
“They are,” he said distractedly, looking over his shoulder, “but their justice system, I’ve been told, isn’t terribly kind to outsiders.”
Tegan stood. “I’ll pack my things, then.”
“We don’t have time.”
“I’ll pack my things,” she repeated firmly, glaring at him. Hurried as they were, she wasn’t about to leave behind the negligee before Nyssa had even seen it on her.
“All right, all right,” he said. “But hurry. I’ll be waiting in the TARDIS.”
Nyssa followed her to the hall, but then disappeared into her own room, leaving Tegan to pack up the few things she had in the room on her own, silently fuming at the Doctor for his terrible timing and even worse judgment. She was about to head back to the TARDIS when Nyssa appeared in her doorway.
“I’m sorry this has to be so abrupt,” she said, hands behind her back, “but I’d rather thought we would have more time. I had one last gift to give you.”
Tegan smiled. “It’s all right, secret admirer. I understand. It’s not your fault, anyway.”
“Well, I thought I’d give it a sense of finality, anyway,” Nyssa said. She brought her hands out from behind her back, revealing that she was holding a peculiarly-shaped box with a card on top. “You can read the card when we get back to the TARDIS, but the box contains candies from specialty shops.”
Tegan’s eyebrows went up as she took the box. “What kind of specialty shops?”
Nyssa smiled, and this time there were a few too many teeth in it for it to be called entirely innocent. “You’ll see.”
She turned to go down the corridor toward the TARDIS, pausing only long enough to look over her shoulder and say, “Come on. The Doctor’s waiting for us.”
Tegan stuffed the box in her small bag and ran after.
The TARDIS took off barely in the nick of time, with Tegan and Nyssa dashing inside barely yards ahead of the two officials chasing them. It wasn’t particularly funny, but both were breathless with laughter, and Nyssa clung to Tegan for support. The Doctor apparently failed to see what could possibly be funny.
“Yes, next time we barely escape with our lives and freedom I’ll write a comedy sketch about it,” he said.
Nyssa wiped tears of laughter from her eyes. “Sorry, Doctor,” she managed. “Come on, Tegan. Let’s go unpack.”
The first thing to come out of Tegan’s bag was the box of candies. The second thing was the negligee, which Nyssa immediately demanded that she put on, and which Tegan agreed to do if Nyssa would read aloud the note on the box of candies.
“Dearest Tegan,” Nyssa read, “These chocolates are from an out-of-the-way shop down a rather shady-looking alley, though the shop itself seems quite reputable. The shopkeeper says these candies are made with crushed oqu flower petals and jace extract, both of which are meant to provide an atmosphere of romance, among other things. I’ll eat one if you will. Signed, your secret admirer.”
Tegan found her face burning, though not with embarrassment, and she was pleased to see Nyssa in a similar state.
“Do you want to—” Tegan said.
“Yes,” Nyssa said.
“I don’t know how sex works, for Trakenites.”
“Nor I, for humans.” Nyssa opened the box and took out two candies. “But I’m more than willing to find out.”
Tegan crossed over to her and took one of the candies. Before she put it in her mouth, she kissed Nyssa, long and soft.
“Me, too,” she said, and put the candy in her mouth in one bite. Nyssa followed suit soon after.
The bed was soft, and Nyssa was warm. The scent of her mixed with the oqu flowers, and the taste of the candy fresh on her tongue, was most overwhelming. But Tegan wouldn’t have had it any other way.