"Are there any others, out there?"
Mary looked up from calibrating the Time controls just so, frowning a little to find Bert perched on the edge of the console, swinging his legs cheerily. She had told him not to do that: it played havoc with the controls. If they ended up on Hampstead Heath in the Triassic again, she knew exactly who to blame.
"Hmm?" she asked, raising an eyebrow pointedly at the gentle arc of his boots until he blinked and hopped down with a sheepish grin. She nodded approvingly. "What was that?"
"I said," he repeated patiently, "are there any others out here? Of your lot, I mean." He grinned crookedly. "The ones with the flying brollies and the bags and boxes that are bigger inside than out. You're not the only one, are you?"
Mary blinked. She opened her mouth and ... paused. Strange. It had never occurred to her before that he might ask. That anyone might ask. How odd. It wasn't like her not to anticipate a question.
"Yes," she said eventually. "And no. It's a little complicated."
Bert looked at her quizzically for a second, and then ... "Ah." He adopted a knowing expression. "One of them ones, is it? Right-o then."
She paused, narrowing her eyes. "One of what ones?" she asked, a little tartly. It was never wise to let Bert assume he knew things. Sometimes he did. Sometimes he did alarmingly well. Other times ... not quite so much.
"Well," he explained, rubbing the side of his nose. "You're always saying, never go around complicating things that are really quite simple, ain't ya? So if you say it's complicated ..."
"Ah." Yes, she did see. And yes, he was quite right. "Yes. I suppose it is one of those ones, then." She lifted one shoulder, an uneasy gesture for her. "They're a bit ... there and not at the moment. The main branch, I mean. There are a few others, more like me. Freelancers, if you follow me."
He grinned, his expression suggesting he'd follow her anywhere, and happily too. Mary found her lips twitching quite without her leave.
"Ahem," she managed, glaring severely at him. Bert remained thoroughly unrepentant. "As I was saying. There are one or two individuals that we might chance upon, in our travels. Admittedly, a few of them we may not wish to." She paused thoughtfully. "Most of them, really. The only decent one was Romana, and even she went a little strange when she started hanging around with disreputable company."
"Disreputable?" Bert asked, leaning his elbow gently on the console, smiling quietly and a little ruefully up at her. "Bit like me, you mean?"
"No, of course no--"
She paused. Thinking about it for a second, while he smiled steadily at her, calm and wry and with that ever-so-aggravating expression of knowing. Aggravating, of course, because there were moments when he did know, didn't he?
"... Not like you," she decided, after a moment. Tilting her head to meet his eyes, a thoughtful little quirk of her lips. "There's no-one in the universe quite like you, Bert. But I take your point." She smiled, shaking her head. "Reputation is as reputation does. Isn't that right?"
He straightened up, standing in front of her with a grin and eyes that were soft and warm as they looked at her. Her Bert. So warm and rumpled and cheerful, no matter what madness the universe could throw at him. No matter what madness she might throw at him. Her friend, her confidante. Her companion.
If she had to choose between her reputation and his companionship ... Well. She knew what the answer would be, didn't she?
"Right you are," he said quietly, reaching up to brush his hand against her arm. "Right you are, Mary Poppins."
Yes indeed. Right she was, and always would be. Practically perfect in every way. And if perfection required a little help sometimes, to bring it back onto the right path, well, what of it?
Partnership was perfect too, was it not?