They are in the very wrath of love, and they will together; clubs
cannot part them.
As You Like It
Miss Clara Oswin Oswald—she even sounds too perfectly put-together to be true.
Like a character out of Roald Dahl: the tips of her hair making perfect cartoon curls, her eyes overlarge and glossy, her thin mouth twisting delicately at each small revelation. The neat creases in her skin when she smiles. Someone must have drawn her in a picture book. Or perhaps she’s more Seuss than Dahl, for oh, the places you’ll go.
She’s so sure of herself, Miss Clara Oswin Oswald, so sure of everything, really, except him. Excepting the one person he’d like her to be sure of, but perhaps that’s a good change. Perhaps he’ll grow. For the time being, however, it flusters him. Maddens him.
He ought not to trust her, either, but there’s the worst of it—he does. Implicitly, irrationally. He trusts her.
It’s something in her voice, he thinks, which rings so cleanly in his ears. He knows her; he doesn’t; it’s very confusing and he should be puzzling it out but he keeps getting hung up on the fact that he’s been here before because he always, always does this.
Trusts them. When he shouldn’t. When he can’t. Bloody humans.
Clara in the TARDIS, saying what she thinks, what she feels. Clara in the TARDIS, smirking sweetly, not following after. Clara in the TARDIS, reading his books, prying him open with the wholeness of her mind—a mind that’s complete, with or without the Doctor. Not that he’s particularly devastated that she hasn’t got a chunk of her brain cordoned off for devotion to him. That was probably a bad thing, the last time it happened—wasn’t it bad?—anyway, his ego doesn’t quite need the baubles of human affection.
Which, naturally, fails to make him desire her adoration any less. And the desire is delicious; it washes over him with every moment of skepticism her glances betray. He wants to grasp the bauble of Clara’s petite heart, to erase those looks, but then he wants them never to end, because the feeling of the wanting fucks him over delightfully, like the hottest sun on the hottest day.
The Doctor begins hanging his jacket from the mitosis lever when flying the TARDIS, remembering that Amy had watched him differently without the tweed.
He trots through the corridors after a shower in nothing but his towel and never bumps into Clara.
On the asteroid called Love—yes, an asteroid called Love, though technically it’s spelled more like loo’vw in the indigenous language, which translates to “big rock”—they watch the most marvelous sunset in the universe, with every color he could imagine that Clara could imagine and then some, all sliding down the horizon.
“Amazing,” she breathes. He turns to her and she to him and the expression on her face is strange, still as inscrutable as the rest of her but with an echo of surprise, so he thinks he’s finally done it. He’s cracked her.
Then she says, “You’re getting all sunburnt, Doctor.”
She helps him slick his face and neck with aloe that evening, and he’s so entranced by the feeling of her fingers on his skin he forgets to mention he could heal himself in a second.
It’s worse after the ordeal with the TARDIS, it being everything.
He offers her his sincerest apology and his open arms and all the care and concern she could ever need, and she punches him. Twice.
The Doctor thinks he could ask her some truly probing questions, such as, will you ever, Clara? and how did you get here? and teach me to need so little and see so much, though the last of these is really a plea. How is it that she’s so much stronger than he, and if she isn’t, how does she will herself to appear that way? And how is it fair that she knows he isn’t?
He’s got a lot of bloody questions and zero bloody answers, and he hears himself saying to her, “You’re quite questionable, Clara.”
It’s a calm night after a long day of Martians, and not the ones from Mars, because as she’d quipped, that’d be far too simple. They sit in the console room, him tinkering and her in the jump seat with a book across her lap.
“Questionable?” She sounds insulted, but only about as insulted as she ever lets him make her feel, which is not very.
“Yes. We’re in space, Clara!” he says, meaning: look where I’ve brought you and where I’ve shown you and look at us together and remember when I held your hand – and give me a little of yourself, I’ll gladly return the favor.
“We are in space.” Her smile is a creature of magnificent derision and mystery. It fills him with indignation when that smile only turns half her mouth upwards, which is always. The half of a smile—the other part kept close to her chest, where he can’t even guess at it. “You’re staring at me,” Clara says slowly, her expression unchanged.
“Shall we go for a walk?” he asks, fleeing to the controls for a distraction.
She hops up, setting aside her book. “Sounds lovely.”
“Where, do you think?”
She bites her lip. “Central Park.”
The speed of his answer surprises her, a fact that might give him pleasure if not for the reminder preceding it.
“Okay,” she replies. “Then, the Seine.”
He whirls to face her. “We can go any place and any time and you pick a city a hundred miles from London!” He is perhaps overly harsh here, and feels himself stepping into her with his fervor, so he shifts away, down the console.
“The Seine’s a river. It’s not just in Paris,” she points out, her little hands on her hips. “And besides, I’m human. It’s not as if I know any other planets.” She has a point and he’s wrong again. Is he ever, he wonders with melodramatic inflection, going to be right?
The Doctor and Clara stroll in the park at Windsor Castle, the moonlight informing their footfalls. They’ve compromised, since she’s close to home but also not so much, considering it’s 1888. The royal family is tucked away in feather beds, and the grounds hum with nightlife—the rustles of animals and the wind teasing the trees.
They walk quietly for a time, to his relief and discomfort and to the general increase of his immense confusion.
“Why aren’t you talking?” she asks finally, halting in her tracks.
“I am talking.” It’s the first thing that tumbles from his mouth. “Just, you know, in my head. I’m talking to myself in my head. I’m a very engaging conversationalist, I’ve found. Always with a joke or two to ease the tension.” Too many words. He can’t think.
She giggles. “It’s weird. Talk to me.”
“All right, if you insist.” He clears his throat and continues walking, but notices quickly that she hasn’t moved. “Are you coming?”
“I’d rather talk.” The Doctor can’t quite make out her expression in the dark, and she’s a tough read psychically. Closed off. Who’d have guessed. When she does start away, it’s toward a stone bench at the end of the lane, where she settles and pats the spot beside her.
He sighs, but that’s the last of his protesting.
“What would you like to talk about?” He’s entirely ill at ease, sitting on this bench with her, and it reads clear: his knees are pressed together, his hands clasped tightly in his lap. She couldn’t possibly understand the calamity she’s set in motion by asking him to be still.
“The moon,” she whispers, big eyes gazing up. “Look at that moon. I’ve seen so much now, and that’s still a really lovely moon.” Her head careens toward him. “Don’t you think?”
“Space is beautiful,” he replies. He doesn’t look at the planetary body in question. “Let’s go see another moon, come—”
She stops him from standing with a hand on his knee, her touch burning right through the fabric of his trousers and leaving a red lesion on his skin. Or that’s how it feels to him, anyway.
“Why don’t you want to sit with me, Doctor?”
“Well, it’s just—I just—” He gestures wildly and without purpose. “Sitting is not my cup of tea, I’m a runner, a mover and a shaker, and, and I don’t like to sit for too long, not for anybody, not even for you, Clara.”
She pulls her hand away.
He would take it all back, if he could.
“There’s no need to be cruel,” says Clara without a hint of a hitch in her voice.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. She’s turned away from him and so he reaches out to cup her cheek, a motion she must anticipate, because she leans into him at the same instant he takes her face in his hands. You couldn’t fit the sonic between their noses, long ways or short.
“What’s gotten into you lately?” Her breath is warm, her brow furrowed. “Or am I meant to understand that this is just you, sometimes you’re one thing and then you’re another, and you’re plagued by mystery and I’m not allowed to ask about it?” Plagued by mystery. A smart girl. He always did like them smart.
He starts to reply but can only repeat, “Mystery,” meaning: kiss me, kiss me, kissme kissme kissmekissmekissme.
“Doctor,” she says softly, off the look on his face. She’s lucky he doesn’t faint, but pulls her mouth against his instead.
She’s warm. Tastes of—bliss. She melts into him, a little, and his hands slide down to grip her shoulders as she relaxes against his body.
The nighttime renders the world in black and white and blue except for the red that rushes across his vision, which must be the blood surging to his cheeks. He sees even more crimson when she stiffens and pushes him away, both of them panting.
Clara punches him in the nose.
Her fist is small, but so are bullets, and she must pack at least that much force; he thinks he hears a bone cracking. By the time he’s properly recovered, she’s already ten feet away, storming in the direction of the TARDIS.
She seems poised to ignore him as he chases after, but he suddenly finds her swung around to meet him, a finger in his face.
“Listen, mate,” she begins, and the Doctor thinks she doesn’t sound nearly as cross with him as she should. Her face is shrouded in shadow, the moon hanging over her shoulder. “I know you’re very lonely and that’s very sad and I’m not going to say I don’t sympathize. But I came with you for me, not for you. This—” She points back and forth between the two of them. “—wasn’t part of the deal.”
“I would never, Clara.” He tugs urgently on his forelock, trying to compose himself. It’s imperative that this sounds as true as it is. “I would never even think of such a thing, and this is no way a requirement—it’s not even an option, really.” His hand reaches out for hers of its own accord, so he pins his wrist to his side. “It was a mistake on my part, and in all confidence—since I will likely never admit this again—I’ll tell you that I’m the sort of bloke who makes many, many mistakes, all of which you’ll have to endure and some of which may even harm you, and that’s the only thing that’s part of the deal. I promise you, Clara.”
He wishes he could see her face better, but he does make out the glint of her eyes in the dark.
“What you’re saying is, I’ve just got to… endure you kissing me occasionally because you, what, just like kissing people?”
“Actually, people rather seem to like kissing me.” The Doctor straightens, having been instinctually hunched over in order to meet Clara’s eye. “You—” He remembers that she doesn’t (can’t) recollect, and recovers quickly: “—wouldn’t believe the snog-able vibes I seem to put out. Last time I actually kissed anybody was under major duress. Or maybe it wasn’t. I’m not sure. See, I don’t even recall, it was that long ago.” Wait. “And no, I will not be kissing you again, cross my hearts,” he avers, a hand to his chest. “I shall find a kissing surrogate if needed. Perhaps I’ll kiss the TARDIS, you know how she gets.”
Clara laughs, her shoulders shaking, and when her head tilts back the moonlight catches her features so he can see her again. He realizes that with the way they’re standing, the light shines straight on him, so she’s been able to make him out perfectly for as long as he’s struggled to find her face through the blackness.
She squints at him. “You know your nose is gushing blood, don’t you?”
“It took me three hours to get the blood stains out of my shirt,” he whines the next morning.
“I won’t apologize for my effective punching,” Clara tells him. She pours milk over her cereal and then digs into it greedily, while the Doctor sits by, stirring his tea. They’re at the counter in the day kitchen (one of three TARDIS kitchens, if you’re wondering).
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says, and with another half-smile she trots off, munching away.
She doesn’t apologize, it’s true, and good, because she was in the right, despite the stains. Over the course of the next few adventures, they return to their general rapport, friendly with one another and plenty of aliens and all their alien mothers. There’s joy and rapture, and he doesn’t think about who she is for extended periods. He doesn’t need to think about it when she’s Clara, just Clara, and they haven’t made any progress on the whole wanting-and-skepticism front. Except.
She’s started looking at him when he’s not looking at her.
He knows the symptoms well because he’s had the disease for a while: he’ll make a movement and see her turning away from him in the corner of his eye, and she’ll find some busywork to avoid meeting his eyes. She’s looking, and she’s thinking—about him. He’s done it.
He feels satisfied, but not. Surprisingly, it’s not because her—he thinks coldness is the word, but that’s not right—her impenetrability was the turn-on—not turn-on, no, how about—her impenetrability wasn’t the only enticement. It makes his mouth go dry to think that she wants him grudgingly, against all her better judgment. It’s the most gratifying thing he’s experienced in a while, being wanted this way. Especially since the last person who wanted him so unwisely left him, at the end. What does it matter, being wanted, if nothing ever comes of it?
Not that anything will come of it with Clara. He promised.
“It’s not about sex.”
“You say that, but here we are,” she replies. Her shirt is rumpled and half unbuttoned, his much the same; she looks up at him, quizzical and amused, from the bed, and he stands over her with his vest hanging open and his bowtie gone, retired somewhere on the floor.
“Yes, we are—“ He whacks himself in the forehead. “How did we get here?”
“We came in. Through the door.” Clara smiles her crooked smile, leaning back on her elbows.
(It had been something that wasn’t quite alcohol on Groot. Wasn’t quite alcohol because, you know, molecularly—in effect, it was about as hard as absinthe and as sweet as cider.
He’d nearly been hit by a sort of taxi thing in the street when they left the cantina, and she’d pulled him out of the way. Then they’d been in one another’s arms with all that liquid euphoria sloshing in their bellies and their blood and, well, what else were they supposed to do? So the Doctor and Clara had snogged in the street, and they had snogged into the TARDIS, and they had snogged in the corridor while stumbling to her bedroom.
He said, “We shouldn’t.” But only after she’d tried to shove his hand up her skirt.
“What?” Clara fell back on the bed, sprawled in a way that made him sweat.
“We shouldn’t, I don’t do this, I don’t need it in the way that you—humans, the way that humans need it.”
“Well, do you want to?”
“I want—I want you to stay.”
“I’m not going to leave if we—”
“It’s not about sex,” he said. )
“I remember now,” he continues. “We did come in through the door.” He’s still sweating. Possibly sweating more, now.
She observes, “You look warm. Perhaps you ought to remove the rest of your clothes.”
“Clara,” he whines. Apparently at a breaking point, she sits up with a little groan (he nearly chokes) and gestures for him to sit beside her on the bed, an order he obeys while pouting mercilessly.
“I am a very big girl,” she began. “I may not look it, compared to you, but I am. Stop worrying.” She’s doing it again, he realizes—being stronger than him. “A few weeks ago you were so keen on this that I didn’t even know what to do with you.”
“But that’s the issue, isn’t it!” His hand found hers, as if he could impart his concern at the touch of their fingers. “What’s—how are you feeling so differently?”
Clara frowns at him. Some bit of her exterior melts away, as she scans the floor nearby like she’s going to find the answer scrawled on a note there. He was right to think he’d cracked her, he supposes; she’s floundering in front of him, for what he feels like is the first time. If it isn’t, if she’s struggled this way before, her poker face must be even more impeccable than he’d previously considered.
“I’m on an adventure,” she says, and grins at him with every corner of her mouth. He grins right back.
Then she kisses him, and they’re pretty much done from that point out. They are exceptionally gentle with one another, at least to begin, like they fear that any rough scrape of the skin might send one or both of them running. He has the passing thought that he may have been right: it’s not about sex. Not that the fact of it not being about sex would deter them from having sex; indeed, the it’s-not-about-ness of the sex makes him love her body specially. He wriggles her out of her clothes and vice versa and he tries to pretend that the heat rushing to his groin isn’t also rushing to his face. “You’re blushing,” she giggles, an eerie echo of their real first kiss, but he slips a finger inside of her and the teasing stops.
She comes first, looking like a vision out of some sublime erotic spectacle beneath him, and when it’s his turn he could swear he hears bells ringing.
They lie together after, tangled in sheets, and being the cynical, romantic, selfish and impossible old man that he is, he can’t help it: “I’ve said it before and I will say again that you are beautiful, Clara.”
She raises her lips from the home they’ve found against his collarbone, and gazes at him curiously. “You’ve never told me that.”