Clara stood on the gantry that snaked around the console room and watched the Doctor searching through a large box of alien gadgetry. Supposedly he was trying to fix a problem with the hyper-spatial whatsits (“Technical term, you wouldn’t understand.”) but he was always fixing things and the TARDIS remained erratic regardless of his efforts.
She made her decision and moved towards the stairs, trailing her hand along the railing as she walked.
“I don’t want to go to that part of the galaxy without a good view of what’s outside,” said the Doctor, probably to Clara but possibly just to hear himself talk. “Have to be careful in that area,” he went on. “Someone burned up a star to make a phone call to another universe, created quite the navigation hazard.”
Clara reached the bottom of the stairs. “Doctor.”
“He probably shouldn’t have done that, but you know what young people are like – all grand romantic gestures and no common sense.”
“Doctor,” she repeated.
He looked up at her. “Clara?”
“We need to have a conversation,” she began.
She saw the flash of panic in his eyes. “Have you changed your mind about Space Florida?” he asked, tapping the sonic screwdriver against his leg as he spoke. On another day she might have relented at the sight of the nervous fidget, but she had been thinking and now she needed reassurance.
“This isn’t about Space Florida.”
“Is it about some subtle human thing I should have picked up on and now you’re upset that I didn’t? Because, you know, your species can be very -”
She held a finger up to shush him. “Stop trying to distract me,” she said. “I’m going to ask you a question,” she told him, “and you’re going to answer it.”
The Doctor’s eyebrows moved upwards. “Oh, am I?”
She nodded. “And you’re not going to lie to me. I’ll know if you’re lying.”
“Clara,” he said, with an edge in his voice that might have been tiredness, “you never know whether I’m lying to you or not.”
“I’ll know this time.” He moved around the console and she followed him. “Don’t run away.”
“I’m not running away.”
He stopped moving and Clara pounced. “Are you sleeping with Missy?”
He didn’t even blink. “That’s a very stupid question.”
“Maybe it is, but are you?”
“Time Lords don’t do that sort of thing.”
“That’s what Missy said.”
“Well, I hope you trust me more than you trust her.”
“What about Professor Song?” she asked, and instantly regretted it when the light in his eyes dimmed.
“What about her?” His gaze moved to the scanner but she knew he wasn’t looking at it.
“If you were married -”
He tapped something out on a keyboard as though he were busy flying the ship. “I’m not going to talk about that.”
Clara allowed herself a frustrated sigh. “Why are you like this? Why does everything have to be some big secret?”
His mouth twitched into a small smile and he pressed a hand to his chest as he turned to face her again. “I need to maintain my aura of mystery. If you knew who I really was you’d be tired of me by the end of the week.” He went on, obviously glad of an excuse to change the subject. “It’s like with a magician, you don’t really want to know how the trick is done, however much you might think -”
“You didn’t actually answer my question about Missy.”
“I did, you just didn’t accept it. Why would you even ask something like that?” He pointed at her accusingly. “Have you been watching soap operas again?”
“There was… a vibe,” said Clara, and now that she said it out loud she could hear how weak the statement actually was. She shook her head and pressed on. “She kissed you. And then you kissed her. And you knew she wasn’t dead, and you’ve got this…” She floundered. “There was a vibe,” she repeated, which was a rather weak finish but it would have to do for now.
“Do you realise how absurd that sounds?”
“Yes,” she said, crossing her arms defensively.
He pulled a lever on the console and the TARDIS shook. Clara grabbed at a railing to steady herself, wondering if he had done that just to get out of answering her question.
“Almost at Space Florida,” he announced from his spot at the controls. “If you don’t have an appointment with a soap opera first.”
Clara rolled her eyes. “Oh, shut up.”
Space Florida was quite different from how Clara had imagined it based entirely on her somewhat shaky knowledge of its namesake. She hadn’t expected all the rain, for instance. She was soaked to the skin by the time she spotted the TARDIS in the distance, and it took some effort not to just run towards it. That would lack dignity, and the evil-alien-clown-related events of the day hadn’t provided much of that so far.
When they finally reached the ship she stood shivering while the Doctor fumbled in his pockets for the key. It seemed to be taking him a bloody long time.
“If you’ve lost the key -” she began.
“Of course I haven’t lost it! I don’t lose things, Clara, I’m a Time Lord.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” she retorted. “Just hurry up.”
“Maybe it’s in the lining…” The Doctor twisted around, trying to reach further inside his coat.
“Oh for…” Clara snapped her fingers and the doors flew open.
“I knew you two would get along eventually,” said the Doctor, nodding his approval. He patted the side of the blue box. “Thanks, dear, I’ll make sure to clean out your stabilisers later.”
Clara pushed past him into the ship. “I really hope that’s not a euphemism.”
He followed her inside. “You have a filthy mind,” he told her, but he didn’t sound too upset about it. He walked to the controls. “Where next?”
He turned to face her. “Home? Already?”
She shrugged. “I’ve got marking to do. Lesson-planning. There’s a lot of work involved in teaching, you know.” She rubbed at her arms. “Can you put the heating on?”
“You’ll have to take your clothes off.”
Clara stared at him until he cleared his throat.
“You need dry clothes,” he clarified. “I didn’t mean… look, just go to your room and get changed.”
Suddenly bold, she stepped towards him. “You’re wet too.”
He didn’t move away, which she took as a positive sign. “Then I’ll change when we’re in flight. Are you sure you want to go home?”
She thought about just grabbing him and kissing him. Why not? What was the worst that could happen? She took another step forwards. “I could be persuaded to stay,” she said, trying to sound seductive. He was so close, she could easily reach out and touch him, and touching would just be the start, because then she could -
The Doctor turned away from her, and stepped out of reaching distance. “No, you’re right, teaching is a vocation, even if it’s only English literature.”
Frustrated, she breathed out slowly. “There’s nothing only about literature,” she said with a sigh, following his lead into the old argument.
“You know, I once fell asleep in a class about the great Gallifreyan novel and when I woke up someone had glued me to my desk.”
“You poor thing,” said Clara, realising that she really was quite uncomfortable in her wet clothes. “I’m going to change,” she said, turning and heading for the interior of the ship. “Do your best not to miss the twenty-first century.”
“It was only a hundred years last time,” he called after her, “and the slime came out in the wash.”
Sometimes she wondered what she saw in him.
Home was dull and lonely compared to the TARDIS, but it could also be a place where things made more sense. Engaged in the tedious task of washing up after dinner, Clara stared at the snapping soap suds in the sink and told herself that, no, of course the Doctor wouldn’t be sleeping with Missy. Clara’s list of reasons was short but compelling – Missy was evil; the Doctor was not evil; good people and evil people didn’t fall for each other outside of exciting-but-implausible fiction. (The sort of fiction where people might, for instance, be friends with aliens with time machines at their disposal, but that line of reasoning was probably best abandoned for now.) She felt a bit daft about having confronted him on the subject now that she could see it from the safe distance of her usual bit of time and space.
As if on cue, she heard the familiar sound of the TARDIS materialising in her flat. The bizarre wheezing-groaning sound was somewhat strained, as though the ship was reluctant to make an appearance. Clara dried her hands on a towel and followed the noise to her living-room.
And there it was, reassuringly solid and incongruously parked by her sofa. She grinned and half-skipped up to its door, pushing it open with the giddy eagerness the ship’s appearances usually inspired in her.
She stopped on the threshold, her fingernails scratching against the paint on the door as her hand curled into a fist. She stared at the woman at the controls.
Missy gestured for her to move closer. “Hop in, poppet, we need to go and rescue him again.” She moved around the console, pressing buttons and flipping switches. “Don’t just stand there,” she added when Clara didn’t move, “I can’t take off until you close that door, so make your mind up either way and let me get on with my daring rescue.”
Clara stepped into the TARDIS and closed the door behind her. “Daring rescue?”
The ship shuddered into flight with the sound of the engines louder and more dissonant than usual. Missy kicked the underside of the console. “Stop complaining, you old cow, I’m only borrowing you to get your careless owner back.”
“She doesn’t like being called a cow,” said Clara, who knew this from personal experience. As she reached the controls Missy grabbed her hand and shoved it into the telepathic interface. “Hey!” She tried to pull away, but Missy was remarkably strong for her size.
“Think of someone tall, grey, and Scottish,” instructed Missy. She looked at the screen above the console, still holding Clara in place. “He always tends to end up thinking like the latest one, it’s a curse but in this case possibly a blessing. We can go right to him this way.”
“Do you mind explaining yourself?” asked Clara, curtly. She stopped trying to pull away, because Missy’s stated plan did make seem to make sense.
Missy made an exasperated sound. “Someone,” she said, with an exaggerated raise of her eyebrows, “got arrested for attempting to bring down the government on a crappy little backwater planet, and I’m off to break him out of whichever horrible prison they’ve put him in. You’re here to speed up the process of finding the right one. Do you have any other boring questions or are you happy now?” She turned her attention to the screen again.
“You could have just asked me politely, you know. It doesn’t always have to be a big drama.”
“Yes, but this is more fun for me.” Missy let go of Clara. “You’ve done your bit now, you can have your hands back.”
Clara managed not to thank her.
Not long afterwards they headed through the corridors of a labyrinthine prison together, occasionally stopping to hide from a guard.
“Why were you with him anyway?” Clara asked quietly as they emerged from behind another handy pillar.
Missy lifted a perfectly-groomed eyebrow. “Can’t two old friends spend a bit of time together without her indoors getting jealous?” She tutted. “No wonder he’s auditioning other humans behind your back.”
“He isn’t,” said Clara, not jumping for the obvious bait.
Missy wasn’t put out. “Well, he should be. You humans break so easily, he’ll need a new one sooner or later.”
Clara took offence at that, as Missy had obviously intended. “I’m not replaceable,” she retorted.
Missy smiled at that. “Oh my, you’re just adorable, aren’t you? No wonder he loves humans so much. Maybe I should get one of my own,” she pondered aloud. She dismissed the idea as soon as she had suggested it. “No, I’d just kill it when it made a mess in its little cage.” She chuckled. “Like the Doctor did to that boy-genius with the gold badge, and to the funny silver robot.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m sure that’s a familiar sensation for you,” said Missy. “If you must know, we were having an adventure.” She smiled. “He has romantic fantasies about being able to change me with love. It’s very sweet, and hilarious.”
Clara stopped in her tracks. “Love?”
Missy tugged on Clara’s arm until she started walking again. “This isn’t the time for envy, we have a job to do.”
“You said that Time Lords are above that sort of thing.”
Missy looked surprised. “Did I?”
“Yes, you did. Some crap about a friendship older than my civilisation.”
Missy shrugged. “I suppose the moral of the story is not to listen to evil people when they open up to you about their feelings.”
Clara felt her stomach turning over. “Are you two… is there something going on between you?”
“If there was then I certainly wouldn’t tell you about it, would I?” She smiled almost affectionately. “You’re so cute when you’re burning up with jealousy.”
“You’re a horrible person.”
“Aww, do you really think so? Thanks, that means a lot coming from you.” She stopped and knocked on the door of a cell that looked like all the others. “Room service!”
There was a muffled banging sound and some swearing.
“It’s me, and I’ve brought your wee pet with me.” She winked at Clara and stage-whispered “That’s you.”
Clara heard the Doctor’s voice from behind the door. “If you’ve hurt her I’m going to be very upset.”
Missy giggled. “Oh, promises, promises. No, she’s fine. Alive and all in one piece.” She pulled the sonic screwdriver from a pocket in her skirt and undid the lock.
“Why do you have that?” demanded Clara.
“Oh, shush.” She pulled the door open and greeted the Doctor with an elaborate bow. “Told you I’d have you out by teatime.”
“That was three days ago,” said the Doctor, pushing past her into the corridor and taking the screwdriver from her en route.
“I got sidetracked.”
The Doctor smiled at Clara and hugged her quickly. “She didn’t hurt you?” he asked, concerned.
Clara shook her head. “I’m fine.”
“Oh, are we hugging now?” asked Missy. “I thought you didn’t want to touch her in case you accidentally had sex?”
“Shut up,” said the Doctor, without looking at her.
Missy held up her hands to ward off any further complaints. “I was only asking. Maybe I misread the situation. Maybe you’re not desperate for each other after all.”
“Let’s get out of here,” said Clara, ignoring the new elephant in the room.
“Yes, let’s,” said Missy. She leaned towards Clara and whispered as though sharing a secret with a friend. “The way he looks at you disgusts me.” She smiled and poked Clara’s nose with a finger, then turned to the Doctor. “I’ll make my own way from here, I’ve got a few matters of my own to attend to.”
“I hope you’re not up to something I wouldn’t approve of,” he said, but he didn’t look especially concerned. Which was worrying in itself, really. What had they been up to? Were they travelling together every time Clara was at home, or was this a one-off? She wanted to know. She didn’t want to know. She wanted to ask if Missy was right about why the Doctor didn’t hug her very often.
She took the Doctor’s hand. “Come on, I think I can remember where she left the TARDIS.”
“I spy, with my superhuman eye -”
“I’m cold,” said Clara, interrupting.
“We’re in an ice cave,” said the Doctor.
“I noticed.” She shuffled a bit closer. “So we should huddle together for warmth.” The potential for awkwardness had occurred to her, but she really was bloody cold, so awkwardness be damned. She pressed against his side and felt him tense up.
“You’re sure I can’t just distract you with a fascinating game of I-Spy?”
“There’s nothing here but ice,” she pointed out, “so it’s unlikely to be fascinating.” She nudged him with her elbow. “Go on, huddle.”
He hesitated, sighed, and then put his arm around her.
“Thanks,” said Clara, leaning her head on his shoulder.
“Try not to die of hypothermia.”
“I’ll do my best,” she promised. Usually the Doctor felt slightly cool to the touch, but now he was warmer than her surroundings and the heat was welcome. Very welcome, actually, and she found herself wondering about other ways he might be able to keep her warm. And then, thinking of that sort of activity, her mind wandered back towards the thing that had been troubling her recently.
“You and Missy...” Clara began.
The Doctor sighed loudly. “Not this again.”
“I just want to know.”
“Do we have to have this conversation now? Here?”
“Yes.” She lifted her head to fix him with her best stare. “Have you slept with her?” When he didn’t answer she poked at his ribs. “Should I take that guilty look of terror as a yes?”
“It’s complicated,” he muttered, avoiding eye-contact.
“How is it complicated?” she demanded. “You’ve either done it or you haven’t.”
“I mean,” he said, “emotionally. We’re not human. I don’t really know how to explain it in terms you’d understand.”
Clara pinched the bridge of her nose. “Are you in love with her?”
“I just told you that I can’t explain it.” He sounded irritated. She wanted to slap him. She glared at him and pulled away from what she had previously been content to think of as an embrace. She crossed her arms partly to protect herself from the cold and partly to protect herself from her own feelings.
The Doctor broke the uncomfortable silence between them. “You’re disappointed.”
“I thought you were better than that.”
“Well, I’m not.”
Clara stared at the wall of ice in front of her. Maybe she had expected too much of him. Maybe people letting each other down was inevitable. They sat in frozen silence for a long time, no longer touching but not moving further away from each other. This wasn’t one of their more successful days out, all things considered.
Later, back in the welcome warmth of the TARDIS, Clara considered her options. The Doctor stood at the console awaiting instructions – on to another adventure or dropping her at home to sulk? The latter seemed like a good way to punish him, but she’d only end up bored and wallowing.
She realised she had been silent for long enough to worry him. She looked at him carefully, weighing up the possibilities. Finally she moved, placing herself directly in front of him, as close as she dared. She said, “Kiss me.”
He looked surprised, but he didn’t back away from her. “Clara, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”
“Why not? I think you want to, and I know I want to. And you do, in fact, do that sort of thing with Missy so you can do it with me as well.”
“Maybe I’m only attracted to evil people.”
“Ah,” she said, “but I know about River Song.”
That made him move away, and Clara only just managed to stop herself grabbing at him to bring him back.
“River died,” he said, quietly. “The first time I met her, she died. And every time I looked at her, I saw it happening. I tried so hard not to fall for her but I still… I found that I…” He cleared his throat. “Well, the point is that people die. Humans die,” he emphasised, “you all just stand there, constantly dying in front of me, and I hate that.”
He blinked at her. “What do you mean ‘so’? Haven’t I just explained to you, quite clearly, that -”
“Everyone dies, you idiot. Even Time Lords, eventually. But some of us want to live a bit before we die.” She stepped closer to him, and he bumped into the console when he tried to back away again. He was trapped. Good.
“I’m going to kiss you,” she told him, “because I want to and I’m nowhere near dead so don’t try to use that as an excuse.”
He didn’t protest this time, so she took the chance. She steadied herself with her hands on his shoulders and she could feel the tension there as her mouth brushed against his. She wondered if he was going to push her away, but then his lips parted for her and he moved a hand to her waist.
Clara liked to think that she was good at kissing, and when she was done she looked at him standing there with his eyes dark and his lips slightly swollen and she felt that she had done good work. She waited for him to say something.
He touched his mouth with a hand. “That was nice,” he said, as though he wasn’t entirely sure what had just happened.
“I’m a great kisser,” said Clara, confidently.
He nodded. “Top ten, easily.”
“How many people have you kissed?”
“I don’t keep count,” he told her, “but it’s more than ten.”
“A lot more than ten, or -”
“Clara, I’m two thousand years old, what do you think the answer’s going to be?”
“Just wondered, that’s all.” She knew she sounded defensive when she said it. “I’m not jealous,” she added, “I don’t care what you’ve done with other people.”
“Even Missy?” She thought she could see a faint smile on his lips, and she wondered if he was trying to provoke her.
“I hate Missy,” she said, honestly. “She tried to kill me, she tried to kill you, she turned the dead into Cybermen, and she’s a complete -”
He raised a hand. “I get it.”
“I’m not sure you do.” Clara shook her head and sighed. “I don’t want to talk about this right now. Can we go back to the part where we were kissing?”
“If you insist,” he said, and this time he responded more to her attention. Clara ran her hands through his hair, tugged it a bit too hard by accident and apparently he liked that so she did it again. She pulled away breathless.
“I was just getting into that,” he protested.
Clara reached for his hand and tugged him with her as she moved away from the console. “I’ve had an idea about what we should do next, and it would help if there was a bed available for that bit.” She glanced at the central column and lowered her voice. “And it feels a bit like the TARDIS is watching us here.”
“She’d be watching us anywhere,” he said as he followed her into the corridor.
“I’ll pretend you didn’t say that.” Clara found the door to her bedroom and paused with her hand on the lever. It wasn’t that she was hesitating, it was just…. Oh, what the hell. She opened the door and pulled the Doctor into the room with her.