Jenny understood it, in theory. When they had guests, it would do to maintain their façade. Respectability was vital in this culture: respectability they’d be denied if the truth would out.
And so Madame Vastra wore a veil and feigned deformity: and she, Jenny, performed the duties of a maid. It was an arrangement that was understood more fully by their visitors, and afforded them less criticism.
They had three bedrooms. One was officially a guest room. One was officially Jenny’s, and ended up used to house the time-traveling guests. The third was Madame Vastra’s, and saw some use, though often they slept in one of the many rooms filled with plants. Vastra said they reminded her of home.
Still, it wasn’t entirely perfect.
When morning came, and the first rays of sunlight began to peer through the curtains, Jenny’s eyes blinked blearily open. Madame Vastra was already awake, shockingly human eyes gazing keenly at her.
She didn’t seem to need quite as much sleep as humans. Still, Jenny reflected, she’d always been there upon waking.
“We’re alone,” Jenny said.
“Quite alone,” scales curled to a smile.
“In the house?” Jenny said.
“Barring Strax,” Madame Vastra said. “Certainly.”
A moment of silence. Vastra shifted: moved closer. Jenny tilted her head.
“Good,” a smile: Jenny shuffled, moving her head higher. “Then this time, you can make the tea.”
The playful smile vanished from Vastra’s face.
“So the leaves go in-”
“No, the water goes through the leaves, but you keep them- No, boiling water! You heat it before, then-”
“And the lactate…”
“No! Not through the leaves, milk goes in af-”
Madame Vastra hissed, and an eighteenth cup was shattered in her grip. She barely noticed the scalding water trickling over her scales.
“I simply don’t understand how you apes could have come up with such a needlessly complex drink in the first place,” Vastra said.
“It’s not that hard,” Jenny protested. “Once the tea’s in the teapot, you just pour it out, and add a little milk. And to make it, you boil water, and pour that through the strainer.”
A pause. Vastra looked from Jenny, to the shattered crockery and water splashed over the worktop. Idly, she flicked her tongue out: lapped at a small patch of the almost-tea she’d created.
Vastra hissed, tongue recoiling quickly; she made an expression of distaste.
“You make it seem so simple,” Vastra said.
Jenny sighed, not completely sure when Vastra had ended up admiring her, but finding that she enjoyed it.
“It is simple,” Jenny said, and stepped closer: “Watch carefully. First, use the boiled water. Put in the strainer…”
Ten minutes later, over a drink that was more milk than tea, Vastra and Jenny spoke. Jenny did her best to conceal her grimace at every sip.
“It’s a good start,” Jenny said, in an attempt at being encouraging.
If she didn’t know better, she’d have described Vastra’s expression as sullen.
“Making the tea is your job,” Vastra said.
She set her abysmal attempt to the side, cup still full. Jenny followed suite.
“I thought me being your maid was just a cover?” Jenny said.
“It is, my dear,” Vastra said. “There are simply things one of us can do, that the other may not.”
“Making tea?” Jenny said, flatly.
“When you are possessed of a prehensile tongue able to stun those it touches,” Vastra said, “Then I will consider retracting my words. Until such time, the creation of this… tea, is as beyond me, as that is beyond you.”
A moment: and a chuckle. Somehow, Jenny found herself amused.
“I’m still not being the maid all the time,” Jenny said.
A pause. Then Madame Vastra raised her voice:
One hour later, and the aftermath had almost been cleared up. Between Strax and Vastra, there was a shopping trip for crockery planned for their near future.
“So,” Jenny said, coughing slightly on the smoke. “Walk me through it again.”
They stood in the burnt remains of the kitchen, where Strax was standing, utterly unashamed, by teapot-dust.
“You boiled the water,” Jenny said.
“You poured the water into the teapot, through the strainer,” Jenny said.
“Your poured water from the teapot, into an empty teacup,” Jenny said.
“You added a little milk to the teacup,” Jenny said.
“And possibly a spoon of sugar?” Jenny said.
Strax nodded once more.
Silence. Innocent eyes met half-baffled, half-irate eyes.
“How, after all that, did you manage this?” Jenny waved her hand at the remains of the kitchen.
Strax shrugged, looking as blameless as a potato-headed, cloned alien born for war could. He surveyed the ash and blackened cupboards with a mixture of puzzlement and what could only be called pride.
“I am capable of following orders,” Strax said. “I can assure you, boy, the problem is not in my ability. I can only assume this is how tea is truly meant to be made.”
Jenny looked doubtfully at the liquid on the stone worktop. It was still aflame.
“There is one thing,” Strax said, eventually. “I took the liberty of enhancing the recipe you gave me somewhat. I have seen your species’ preoccupation with spices, I thought only to improve the experience.”
Another silence, albeit a far more comprehending one.
“This… spice,” a frustrated Jenny said. “Would it happen to be explosive?”
Strax looked up, the confident affirmative dying in his mouth at the look in Jenny’s eyes.
Jenny poured out far more palatable cups of tea, the next day. She sat beside Vastra in the leafy room, lowering the new teapot carefully.
“You’re not touching the tea again,” Jenny said. A moment later, she glanced toward Strax: “Neither are you.”
“I think that would be best,” Madame Vastra said.
And, concealing a smile, she sipped the hot drink.
Her smile faded when, the next morning, she woke up beside a feather duster, and a note reading ‘No excuses this time. –Jenny.’