Clara had broken a shoelace. Her favourite navy-blue tights had ripped in an uncomfortable private place. The holiday she'd had planned with the Doctor had been delayed due to maintenance that began as preventive and rapidly degenerated into emergency, with Clara and a book parked beside the Doctor to hand him microspanners and elastic bands while she prepared for her next lesson.
And then Missy had turned up.
That woman had murdered one man Clara loved, and given the other one the power to murder everyone else. Okay, technically that woman hadn't murdered Danny (unless she'd arranged for that car, cut its brakes, distracted Danny as he crossed the street), but what she'd done was as good as killing him again.
And the Doctor was that woman's friend. Had been since they were children together on Gallifrey, running and playing with tin TARDISes or whatever toys little Time Lords had. She'd kissed him. With tongue. And he'd kissed her back. Twice.
And he'd killed her, too, or so it had seemed, though somehow it hadn't taken. Missy had sauntered into the TARDIS this afternoon – "Hope you don't mind, but I let myself in. Spare key above the 'X,' bless" – and then the arguments began. Gallifrey and where is it and you just didn't look hard enough and you must let me have some fun until Clara was shouting at both of them that she wouldn't have that woman on board while she was here and longtime friendship or not, how could he stand to be around someone who'd done something so awful simply to get what she wanted out of him?
"Clara," the Doctor had said quietly, "you know the answer to that question."
So out she'd stomped, grabbed a cup of tea at the nearest café, flipped through the pages of the Mirror the last patron had abandoned at her table, and God, she could not bring herself to care about which housemate had just been tossed out, what an utterly pointless waste of tree leavings printing that nonsense, but she couldn't stop looking because it was something that wasn't the Doctor, and wasn't that woman, and maybe someday she'd be able to call her by her name instead of you manipulative bitch but not today.
She dumped the Mirror in the recycling and her empty cup in the bin, and scowled all the way home.
* * *
Clara glared at the armchair and its resident. Missy winked back.
"Clara, Clara, Clara, you're just in time!" the Doctor said. "We're off to the Gambulan Cluster. It's got the most magnificent solar system – six planets and twenty-five moons orbiting two orange giants, and the planetary rings! You've never seen anything like it. Also need to pick up a very rare mineral while we're there, power this little dimension analyser Missy and I have been building –"
"She's still here," Clara hissed. "What is she still doing here?"
"Reading Oxfordian conspiracy theories," said Missy. "Honestly, I thought they'd be dull as nearly everything else from your tiresome little world, but they're hilarious."
"I told you," said the Doctor, "we're building a dimension analyser. Gallifrey's right where Missy said it would be, but we have to locate and break down the dimensional barriers, which is harder than you'd think when someone, no need to go into details who, quantum-locked it away without logging its specific position."
"I am not going anywhere with that woman on board."
"Clara, she's not going to hurt you, I promise. She's here because she can't get back to Gallifrey on her own either. There's just her and me; we're the only ones on this side of the door. We have to work together if we're going to open it."
"And that's what you want, is it? To go home, even if you have to work with …" Clara shook her head, swallowed her words.
"Home, Clara." The Doctor grasped her shoulders, very gently, touch sending a message Clara knew was difficult for him to express. "And I want your help, too."
Clara glared up at the chair again, where Missy was ostentatiously turning a page and not even trying to pretend she was ignoring the conversation half a floor below. "You have to promise me – promise me! – that she is under control. Because if I see her try to hurt someone – me, you, or anyone else – I will not be responsible for what happens next. Understood?"
"Perfectly," said the Doctor, smiling at her as if she'd just told him she'd brought him his favourite cakes (yellow sponge with raspberry filling; Danny hated raspberries). "Next stop: Gambulan Cluster!"
Missy smiled at her, too, and Clara stopped thinking about the taste of raspberries and started thinking about how much they looked like blood when they burst.
* * *
After her own shower, she'd parked herself in the kitchen furthest from the laboratory (or at least furthest from the laboratory today), made herself the biggest mug of tea she could find, and started drafting her lesson plan for 1984.
She was debating with herself about whether a question about Orwell and CCTV was too obvious for her year sevens, or just obvious enough, when she heard naked feet slapping against the floor. Missy, her only towel busy rubbing her hair dry, wandered into the kitchen and pulled a mug from the cabinet.
Clara's pen hit the table with enough plasticky anger to be noticeable, she hoped. "Would you mind putting on some clothes?"
"You humans and your quaint little nudity taboos." Missy dropped a teabag in the Doctor's favourite cartoon frog mug and poured herself the last of the water in the kettle. "Lucy never minded. Of course, I looked a bit different back then."
"Why should I care whether your ex-girlfriend wanted to see you naked? I don't."
"Ex-wife, and what you want is irrelevant, pet." Missy dunked the teabag, seated herself in the chair nearest Clara. "And I do mean 'pet.' You're his pets, you know. All of you. Just like Lucy was mine. Even if she turned on me at the end, the faithless bitch."
"Right. Thank you for that valuable information."
"He'll turn on you at the end, too, my dear," Missy said. "He'll leave you behind, whether you want it or not, and you'll never see him again. Poor dear hates goodbyes. But he always – always – comes back to me."
"And you think that's love, do you?"
"What else could it be?"
"Pity," Clara said, and took her pen and her lesson plan and her half-finished tea, and left the room.
* * *
Missy, clad in corset, petticoats, goggles, and protective gloves, was melting the beads and extruding them in a long tube she expertly twisted, severed, and shaped into small bulbs.
"Good, isn't she?" the Doctor said to Clara.
"I suppose. If you like bulbs."
Missy dipped and twirled a metal rod in the furnace, blowing gently at one end until the molten glass swelled into an oblong balloon. She swung the rod towards Clara. "Here, girl. Catch."
"First warning," said the Doctor.
A sigh. "First warning, second warning, third warning; oh, the fun never stops." Missy grabbed a pair of metal tongs and shaped a neck on her sphere, then transferred it to a small oven. "Besides, even if I did everything I want to your little pet, what would you do? Send me to bed without my supper? Spank me?" She licked her lips. "It's not like you haven't done it before."
The Doctor suddenly found a floor tile extremely interesting, a fact Clara found equally interesting. "You keep working," he eventually said. "I'm going to go over here. To do a thing."
"And I'm going to go to the library. And pretend I never heard any of this conversation," said Clara.
* * *
He's two thousand years old. He can do what he likes. She's his species, of course they're –
It's a pity fuck, it must be.
It's … an awfully long pity fuck.
Maybe that's normal for them. They can change every cell in their body, why can't they have completely different sexual response time than we do?
Oh, God, what if this goes on for hours? Days, even? Can they do that?
And finally, "What the hell is your problem, you stupid ship? Half the time I can't even find my room, and now you've dropped the soundproofing?"
Somewhere several walls beyond, yet not nearly far enough away, one of those gasping moans sounded an awful lot like Missy's laughter.
Clara took her pillow and blanket, and went to sleep in the library.
* * *
The morning route to her room now detoured through the console room, where the Doctor was alternately humming to himself and pounding on the console with a mallet. "Come on, you can do it," he said. "You were doing it yesterday, why not today?" Pound, pound, pound, just like Clara's head. "Oh, good morning, Clara. Wait! No! Stand right there!" Another mallet blow, and this time a resonant clang in response. "Excellent! Just had to create the right point of harmonic interference."
"Glad I could help." She continued stumbling towards her room.
"Clara?" he said. "Have your eyes grown? Can they do that? They're all big and dark, like a panda. Any sudden cravings for bamboo?"
"Those are black circles under my eyes from not sleeping. Do you know why I wasn't sleeping? Because for some reason I could hear every pant, every moan, every single shade of I-don't-want-to-know from you and Missy last night."
The mallet slipped to the floor. "Ah."
"I should go home. I should just go home. You don't need me around, and quite frankly, I don't want to be around this."
"Clara." He reached for her shoulder, but she tugged the blanket to herself more tightly, curling into her cocoon. "Please don't go. All of this with Missy – it's temporary. Once it's done, it'll be you and me in the TARDIS again, just like old times."
"So you don't love her. You're only using her. That's just as charming."
"I'm not … it's … I mean, I … see, Clara, this is why I never talk about these things. I'm rubbish at it. Do you want to hear about the new video screen I've installed? It gets sixty-four thousand channels. Well, sixty-three when the solar wind's up."
"What can you possibly see in her?"
"It's complicated, Clara."
"Try to make it uncomplicated, then, because all I see right now is that someone who means more to me than almost anything in the world cares more about this … this ghoul, this criminal, than doing what's right. And I thought I knew you better than that."
"Don't. Don't. This blew past 'jealousy' half a million light years ago. This is me trying to understand what kind of hold she has over you that she just gets away with taking millions upon millions of dead human beings and turning them into a Cyberman army. No consequences. None. And don't tell me it's that she knows where Gallifrey is, because I think she's still lying to you about that, and I think you know she is, and you're letting her."
"She's not lying. She's stalling. She doesn't want to leave. She's been like that as long as we've known each other. It's the only way she knows how to show affection."
"She's got no more affection for you than a cat toying with some pathetic sparrow with a broken wing. She'll keep torturing you until she kills you."
"Look, I appreciate the concern, but this isn't our first go-round. Far from it. I can handle her. So stick around, Clara," the Doctor said. "For me." He tapped her nose, and never had she been so angry and confused and distressingly pleased to have that happen. "Because I need you here now more than ever."
* * *
Clara took occasional time off to teach, swearing to the Doctor she'd return as soon as the week was out, swearing to herself she'd not get drawn back in, failing at her promise to herself every single time. Her time on Earth was students and family and the dreadful normalcy of whether to pack sweet chilli or salt and vinegar crisps for lunch; her time in the TARDIS was nebulas and narrow escapes and exhilaration, provided she could bring herself to ignore the homicidal, corseted shadow in the corner. Danny's voice in Clara's head: if he ever pushes you too far, I want you to tell me, but who could she turn to if the Doctor was doing it again? And was it asking too much, or merely asking her to break through her boundaries, be the better person they both knew she could be instead of the coldly extortionate one she'd been in her worst moment?
She started seeing Missy as that tattered leatherette sofa her parents had kept until the springs burst, because it had been the first piece of furniture they'd bought together, and they couldn't bring themselves to let it go. Admittedly, the sofa had never told Clara the story about that time it destroyed a small chunk of the universe, or sweetly suggested that if Clara were really that bored waiting for the dimension analyser to be complete, there were a number of creative and exciting positions it had once explored with its ex-wife, and would Clara like a joint demonstration?
And the ex-wife – well, that had been another interesting development, once Clara realised that the Doctor's old friend was the former prime minister of Britain, and also previously male, though in Clara's book, the latter was no sin whatsoever, while the former was enough to make her want to scrub herself repeatedly.
"You supported that dishrag Jones, didn't you?" Missy had said.
"At least she wasn't a right-wing arsehole."
"Your disaffected fascists." Missy sniffed. "Just like all the rest of your species; no imagination whatsoever. They took the posh idiot bait a bit quicker than Labour, or I'd have been the fox in Jones' henhouse instead. So don't go congratulating yourself for your superior political instincts, when you'd have been leafletting for me if your gang of morons had been ever so slightly dimmer."
"Funny – I don't remember anything about your term. Guess you didn't leave quite the mark you wanted."
"Ask our boyfriend. It's all his fault. Of course."
"'Our' boyfriend? Who, the Doctor?" Clara snorted. "He's not my boyfriend. He's yours. Isn't he?"
"Oh, Clara." Missy leaned over the table and took Clara's hands in hers. They were firm and cool and suddenly Clara was light-headed, tingling from the tips of her fingers down to her toes. "Have you really not noticed? Ah, of course you haven't, pet. I keep forgetting: no imagination." Clasping Clara's hands more tightly now. "Monogamy's another of your quaint human customs, isn't it? I should know, I suppose; I swore to it once, for all that was worth, which was exactly nothing. He loves me. He loves you. He loves everyone who comes on board this ship. He can't help himself. He's so adorably weak that way, like a cute little puppy who could use a good kicking."
Clara pulled herself away from Missy. "You're trying to get inside my head again. It won't work."
"Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not. Maybe you've got it as bad as he does, and he has it bad. Pathetically so." She examined a nail, tapped it on the table. "Chipped. Hmph." She withdrew a file from a fold of her skirt and started buffing the nail. "But like I've told you before: he always comes back to me. Think about that late at night, when I've managed to thin the walls enough for you to hear us. Are you touching yourself, then, Clara Oswald, wondering what it would be like to have him do it instead? Or better yet: me?"
"You're horrible," Clara said. "I'm done with this."
"I'll see you in your dreams, Clara. If you're lucky."
* * *
"I don't know about the two of you," Missy said, arms stretched above her head as she faux-yawned, "but today's been altogether too much excitement for one girl. Two girls, on the other hand … Clara?"
Clara looked at her blankly, then returned to her doodles.
"Then I suppose it's good night. Doctor …?"
A brief smile on his part; a nod; nothing more.
Missy left in a swish of skirts, and Clara started shading in a circle. "Go on, then. I know you want to join her," she said.
"I don't like the way you look at me when you think of me with her."
He fumbled for a yellow ribbon attached to the book's spine, laid the ribbon over his page, and closed the book. "Clara … haven't you ever wanted that piece of chocolate cake you know you shouldn't have?"
"Yeah, of course. But usually my cake isn't actually evil."
"She's my oldest friend. And when you're as old as me, that really means something. Except for us, it mostly means that he'd dangle something in front of me and I'd take the bait, then he'd get in over his head and I'd save him from himself, when what we both really want is what we had before I left and he became a raging megalomaniac."
"You know this isn't healthy, right? Most people would have given up by now." Clara filled in another spiral, started the next curl, then stopped, pencil frozen mid-curve. "But you're not most people, are you? You never give up."
"Not when it comes to my friends, no."
"Just like you didn't give up on me when I held the TARDIS hostage." Pencil down. She suspected she wouldn't be needing it for a while. "Still sorry about that. I was in a bad place."
"It's okay." He wiped his face with his hand. "But this is why I need you here. I need you to be you, Clara. To be human."
"Even if I don't know what you need me to do."
"Especially if you don't know. You're my insurance policy, Clara. Here, budge over," he said, shifting from his chair to the sofa beside Clara, his arm on the back of the cushion behind her. "The best thing about you humans is your unpredictability; you come up with ideas I'd never think of in a million years. Not all of them good, but you let your emotions off the leash when other species might not. So that's what I need you to do. Keep an eye out, do what needs to be done, even if you don't know what that is yet. Because if you can't … let's just say I don't relish the thought of Missy with a dimension analyser and the TARDIS and me under her thumb."
"'All right'? That's it, just 'all right'? What, no lecture?"
"I thought it would be a nice change of pace."
"I am wondering, though – shagging a right-winger? Really?"
"Come on, Clara, that was ages ago."
"I'm just saying, I thought you had better taste than that."
The distance between Clara and the Doctor had been slightly longer a moment ago, Clara was certain of it. His arm hadn't moved, his body seemed in the same place – was it his face? Leaning a hair closer to her, tilted a fraction of an angle towards her lips? No, that had to be her overactive imagination again, thinking ahead to Missy and her deliberately thinned walls, Clara wondering what it would be like if she were in the Doctor's bed instead –
"You know she's been flirting with me," Clara finally said.
"Is that a problem? A minute ago you said she was evil."
"No, no …" Oh, where was that pencil? Wedged between the cushions? She suddenly and very desperately needed to draw and shade lines instead of responding.
"Are you wondering if I'm jealous?"
Ah, there was the pencil. Yes, many straight and curved lines, very much in need of being drawn right this instant. "No …?"
"You sound terribly certain of that." Now he really was closer, and not just his face; his knees an inch nearer hers, his fingers so near her shoulder that she could tell where they indented the cushion behind her. "For what it's worth, I'm not. In the unlikely event you decide to take her up on her offer, you're welcome to. You're a free woman, and so is she."
"So I am." Scribble, dot, scribble, deep breath, contemplate leap from the high dive, how hard she'd hit the water if she flopped, scribble some more. "She may have also implied that someone else was interested."
"Oh, sure, you couldn't have missed the signals from that carrot. He was all over you, he was. Maybe you're into vegetables, I don't know; not my place to judge."
"Not the carrot, Doctor."
"One of the goats, then? Well, like I said, not my place –"
Pencil back down, slipping into the cushions again as Clara flung it with some force. "You, you idiot. She said that you – that you loved me. Dammit, where is that …" She scrabbled in the cushions. "Look, I'm sure she was just trolling. She obviously loves to do that."
Thin fingers reached between them, extracted the pencil delicately. "She does," the Doctor said, handing the pencil back to Clara. "But she was telling the truth. Actually, it's her favourite way to have a laugh at someone else's expense."
"Why didn't you – you could have told me."
"I told you once that it wasn't your mistake, me playing your boyfriend."
"I thought that was just because you'd changed. Everything about you was different. Everything about me was different because you were different. How could I have guessed?" The pencil hit the far wall and broke apart. "Why can't you do the obvious thing, just once? Why do I have to hear it from your maniac girlfriend?"
He didn't move any closer, but Clara did.
He startled when she kissed him, a momentary jump, a shock of static electricity; but he kissed back soon enough, his lips and tongue cool on hers, that arm finally curling around Clara's shoulder. Clara tugged on his lapel, drawing him tight against her; tighter, tighter still, her chin and nose and arms jostling his, and how could she get him any closer than this? Even naked wouldn't be close enough, although it would be a good start.
But well before that: another kiss, then another, her mouth straying to his jawline, lips grazing a patch of grey stubble, pinprick-sharp but not enough to deter her. His eyes were closed and his fingers adrift in her hair; his breath whispered in her ear. This would make up for all the years of not kissing him, yes; kissing him as if it were the most necessary and vital skill for her survival.
He drew her back to his mouth, his tongue sweeping across hers; more awkwardness as they bumped noses. Clara giggled through her kisses. When had she last felt this lightheadedly delighted? Too long, and a dead lover ago, and that was the thought that led to the Doctor's first collar button slipping loose from its buttonhole. The second one soon followed, as did a third, though anything further was going to require waistcoat removal. All in good time, then.
The Doctor, in an unnecessarily subtle seduction attempt, had let the hand formerly in Clara's hair drift down her neck, her shoulder, her forearm, until his thumb was only barely grazing her breast. Light, too light, even if she leaned into his touch. Her own buttons were more easily and completely unfastened than the Doctor's, and with her shirt sagging open, she guided his hand to her chest. Those long and flexible fingers sliding across the satin and lace of her bra to pinch and tease her nipple, palm her breast; his mouth finally moving from Clara's lips down her chin, her throat, pausing at the hollow where her pulse beat.
She missed kissing him already, but who was she to stop him from exploring further? Especially not when he ran the tip of his tongue in a slick circle round the satin covering her nipple and a jolt of current sparked from there straight between her legs.
Or when, quite unexpectedly, he unbuttoned and unzipped her trousers, and slid his hand inside.
Clara gasped and clutched his head to her chest. She'd never told a soul, barely even herself, about the thoughts she'd had about the Doctor, each of them (and sometimes, both at once) – and here she was, half-undressed on a tiny sofa with the man himself filling in the roles only Clara's hands had played before. And she could never have kissed her way back up her collarbone while her fingers pushed aside her knickers to rub herself, dipping inside her until her clit was slippery and each stroke of her fingers built upon the next; could not have gently bit her neck, and that would leave a mark she'd need this high-collared shirt for; could not have whispered her name so it resonated at the tender skin of her throat.
The Doctor's fingers were fast, and nimble, and Clara was desperate, and she came apart at his touch, the climax rolling through her in waves.
She hoped Missy had heard the cry she made when she came.
Slowly, the Doctor found Clara's lips again, then touched her forehead with his own. She shuddered when he pulled his hand away.
"Did I make it obvious enough this time?" he said.
Clara laughed through her breathlessness. "Yeah, I think I got the message loud and clear."
"Shut up." Another kiss while her head still spun and whirled. "I think …" There had to be a smooth way to say this, there had to be. "We should …" Still not it yet. "See, this message … oh, bugger this. This sofa's too small for a proper shag." She reached for his waistcoat, twisted the buttons free; one, two, three, snicking through velvet buttonholes. "Where's your bedroom today?"
His hand on hers, lifting her to her feet, clasping her fingers as he walked her to the doorway. "I don't know," he said. "Let's go find out."
* * *
Missy, naked, hair billowing across her shoulder, sat cross-legged on the bedspread while she thumbed through a dusty canvas-bound volume, probably one from the Jenga tower of books stacked beside the bed.
"There you are!" she said. "I thought you must have got lost." She closed her book, slotted it back into the tower, sniffed the air. "Oh, you started without me, you naughty creatures. You must fill me in on what I missed. Did you get to touch his precious bits, Clara? Did he misplace his tongue down your throat? Feel free to act things out if necessary; I've got hand puppets, but live-action demonstrations are also acceptable."
"Didn't you say you were going to bed?" the Doctor said.
"I never said it was my bed." She reached behind the Jenga tower and came back up with a pair of black leather gloves. "Besides," she continued, "I found something in the wardrobe room. Remember these? I must have lost them years ago." Her fingers rippled in the gloves, a wave like a piano arpeggio. "Oh, you used to love these. And so did I."
She crawled to the edge of the bed, swung her legs over smoothly. Never an awkward movement with her; always the exact correct amount of effort to appear effortless, the carefully calculated fluid motions of seduction. The back of her gloved hand sliding along the Doctor's jawline, down his throat; the Doctor's eyes half-shut, his breath catching, his neck arching as Missy's glove traced the curve.
"Come to bed, darling," she said. "I'll even let you bring your new girlfriend. We can break her in together."
"I don't need breaking in, thank you very much."
Missy slowly swiped a gloved finger over the tip of Clara's nose, and Clara recoiled. "Oh, but you do, my dear. Slut around with your fellow humans as much as you like; it can't begin to compare to making love with a Time Lord. Much less two of them."
The hand at the Doctor's throat moved to the back of his head, grabbed his hair, yanked him down for a kiss. He responded by pulling Missy closer, first at the waist, then with fingers splayed over her bottom.
Alone in her room, hearing the Doctor and Missy, Clara's anger had swelled and ebbed as the jealousy she barely acknowledged warred with sympathy for her friend's near-solitary existence. And here, with the two of them in front of her only minutes after her own encounter with the Doctor, she'd expected a stab wound, a pain that ate at her like acid.
Instead, it ate at her like water carves stone: far less pain, but inexorable and inexhaustible. He loved Missy – anyone with working eyes could see that, and probably the blind, too – every obviously familiar touch, every sigh as one bent to accommodate the other, spoke of how long they'd been together. Yet he'd told Clara he loved her as well, or as close as he came to such things, and practiced liar that she was, she'd know if he were lying to her … wouldn't she? Except he'd lied about those "sleep patches" and lied about visiting Gallifrey and done it all right to her face, and here he was swapping tongues with the woman who'd mutilated Clara's lover and every other dead person on the planet, but still Clara knew, as certain as she knew her name and her birthday and that the most important thing in the world to her had once been a single, brittle leaf, that the Doctor hadn't lied to her.
Missy let him go with a swift swipe of her tongue across his lips. "This is what he's really like, my dear. Utterly incapable of resisting my charms, and who can blame him?"
"Clara," the Doctor said, "don't …" Eyes on the floor, hiding from the end of his sentence.
"Shush," she said, and turned to Missy. "So, stay here with him, and you, and see what he's really like. See what you're really like too, I suppose."
"I promise you'll enjoy it." Missy drew one gloved hand across Clara's cheek. "So will he."
The Doctor found his voice. "You don't have to do anything you're uncomfortable with, Clara. We can go to your room if you like. Leave her here."
"No," Clara said. "I want to stay." She snatched Missy's hand from her cheek and pushed her away, hard enough to send her flopping to the bed. "I want to know."
Missy licked her lips. "I like the brave ones. They're the most fun to break."
Clara's eyes narrowed. "We'll see who breaks first, then."
* * *
But she had never, not until now, known how it felt to have a lover's mind exploring hers, much less two lovers' minds.
"It won't be nearly the same for you as it is for us," the Doctor said. "Human brains are capable of telepathy, but without practice, the channels atrophy. Missy and I have a full 3-D virtual Wimbledon with cocktails and celebrity fashion in the stands. You'll get a couple of white lines bouncing a pixel across a screen."
"Yeah, whatever, let's see this tennis match in my head."
Then he touched her temples, and Missy sealed her lips over one of her breasts, and Clara's stomach plummeted straight to the engine room five floors below. She'd understood that the link would bind them together, but hadn't understood how much she'd be absorbed into collective thought. Three minds whirling between three bodies and two cunts and one cock and she was flailing suddenly, drowning and gulping air and clawing for edges, anything to define herself.
"Ssh," the Doctor said, stroking her hair, and his words echoed in her head, or maybe they'd never been outside her head to begin with. "Hold my hand. It'll remind you what's me and what's you."
Ten fingers and two palms and one set longer and rougher than the other; focus on how the hand that wasn't hers had prominent ridges and valleys and unvarnished nails; extend focus along her own wrist, her forearm, her bicep, her shoulder … ah, there she was, there was the air she needed, like someone had slipped swim armbands onto her so she could at least keep her head above water.
You took your time about that, said Missy, the chill in her voice even frostier inside Clara's head. Well, now that you're here, do try and keep up.
Far easier said than done, with senses tangled like seaweed about her. Clara could see Missy's gloved hands caressing the Doctor's face, saw him kissing her in return, saw one glove snake along his stomach to cup his balls and stroke his cock, saw the Doctor's pale chest as she herself sank down to plant kisses across it. But she felt Missy's mouth against hers and remembered how his beard used to scratch her chin; felt the firm grasp of a leather fist over her cock and the stuttering breaths as she stiffened in Missy's hand; felt the Doctor's skin bend and warm beneath her touch. Was the warmth between her own legs really hers, or Missy's, or the Doctor's, or all three? When she slipped a finger into her folds, already wet and slick, was it her buildup, or Missy rubbing her legs together?
And if this was the 2-D, 8-bit version of events, what were the Doctor and Missy experiencing? No wonder it had seemed like they'd been at it forever that first time Clara overheard them.
The Doctor's hand released hers, slipped to Clara's thigh, found her finger already at play. "Don't stop," he murmured, "but come here." Helping her settle in place on top of him, Missy's gloved hands shifting to his chest. "There's a good girl," and Clara didn't know which of them that was for, and found she didn't care.
Now there was the pressure on her clit from rubbing against the Doctor and her own finger; the lingering kisses as Doctor and Missy; the tightening in her balls and cock as she rocked back and forth. A hand at her thigh and a hand on her clit and two hands on the Doctor's chest and a hand clasping hers and she was fairly sure she hadn't lost count this time, that the tripled sensations were growing easier to parse, the seaweed untangling itself. Rapid thrusts from the Doctor, tenseness between her legs, and now Missy nipping at the Doctor's neck, pinpricks of pain that amplified his pleasure, and Clara's by extension. She was swimming in a whirlpool now, spinning in narrower, swifter circles, and she hadn't yet –
– the Doctor's hand squeezed hers as he arched upwards, and Clara disappeared down the whirlpool funnel, stomach dropping again, her head whirling and dizzy and faint. Distantly, she could hear the Doctor calling her name, and Missy's laughter, and her head throbbed as if someone had rattled her brain in her skull.
"Clara," the Doctor said, leaning over her now. Had she lost consciousness for a moment? She was on her back, the Doctor on one side of her, Missy on the other.
"I told you we'd break her," Missy said. "Lucy nearly passed out our first time together. If you'd been there too, she'd have gone mad years before she did. Maybe even without you having gone to bed with her."
"Ha. Ha. Ha."
"Look, if we're going to link with one of your pathetically underprepared little humans, this sort of thing is going to happen."
"Clara? Clara, are you okay?"
Clara blinked, and felt only her own eyelashes. The link had gone dead.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just – ow – the most unbelievable headache."
The Doctor fumbled in a drawer in his side table, ripped open a packet, and gently applied a patch to Clara's neck. "This'll help."
"Are you two going to play doctor and nurse for a while? Should I just finish myself off?"
"I wish you would," Clara said. "For real."
"And yet, here you are in bed with my sugar-sweet self, enjoying my brain-powers, and my leather gloves, and what they do to our mutual boyfriend." Missy propped herself up on an elbow, one gloved hand circling Clara's navel, gliding lower until Clara gasped. "Shall we try the link again? I'd love to see how long you black out when I make you come this time."
"As if you could … oh." A gloved finger slowly circling Clara's clit. "You keep trying. We'll see … ah … who wins."
"You know, it's been ages since I had my way with a human female. They last so long and squirm so deliciously." Leather pushing and curving inside Clara now. "Doctor, have you ever watched two humans make love on their own? It's literally the most boring thing I've ever seen. Just a load of thrusting and grunting and nothing psychic about it at all; completely animalistic. Which I suppose has its appeal, if you're an animal. Would you like another finger, my dear? Let's find out."
The leather was thick enough that it was difficult to slip another finger inside Clara, but Missy managed, and Clara moaned and arched her back. The Doctor threaded his hand through her hair, wiping sweat from her forehead.
"You seemed very close to that rogue Cyberman, pet. Was he your lover? Did he do this for you?" Missy leaned in, whispered in her ear. "Didn't he make a magnificent Cyberman? They don't come with everything standard, but I'm sure we could have arranged for an attachment if you'd wanted one. Oh, what a sweet thought – you, your dead Cyberlover, his robot cock –"
It wasn't until Clara was straddling Missy, her hands over Missy's throat, that she realised how much it had hurt to flip over, wrenching Missy's fingers from her, and how little the pain mattered. What mattered was choking the life out of this ghastly woman, never mind how much the Doctor cared for her, never mind that Clara herself had been willingly submitting to Missy's explorations moments before. Dead. Dead. She had to die. It was very, very simple, and if the Doctor had done his job correctly the first time, Clara wouldn't have to do it now.
And the worst of it was that Missy was smiling and laughing as Clara tightened her hands. "Respiratory bypass, dear," she said, voice only slightly raspy. "Here, let's do this right." And she grasped Clara's hands, moved the pressure points to the neck arteries, and closed her eyes in pleasure.
Harder. Harder. The windpipe so close, so tempting. Could she still do it? Slip her hands back in place, choke the life out of that woman, even if Clara hadn't the faintest clue how long it might take given the respiratory thingamabob the Doctor had never seen fit to discuss with her? Revenge was only a couple of thumb-breadths away, though surely the Doctor wouldn't let her get away with it.
It might be worth it. There was satisfaction in watching Missy turn red and gasp for air, but not quite enough.
Who's pushing you too far now, Clara Oswald?
"Finally," Missy whispered, "something you're good at." She sucked in a breath and moaned.
"Clara," the Doctor said quietly. "Are you okay?"
Digging her knuckles into Missy's neck. "Leave me be, Doctor."
She turned, saw the Doctor shift lower down Missy's body, set his hands to work between her legs. Bastard.
She pressed harder. It wouldn't be enough to kill Missy, but even a blackout would feel like victory.
Instead, Missy let loose the last of her breath, shuddered beneath Clara. When Clara looked at the Doctor, he was lying still beside the two of them.
Her hands were still frozen around Missy's neck, and the woman was still alive, face at full-blush red, and she was still smiling.
Clara's hands flew off Missy. She rolled off the bed to stalk away. And as she left the room, she heard Missy's voice:
"See? I told you'd we'd break her."
* * *
The kitchen the TARDIS led her to reminded her of her gran's: 1950s yellow florals and Formica; metal-limbed chairs upholstered in lime-green vinyl that squeaked when she sat down. Most critically, the kitchen was silent and empty, and remained so until Clara sopped up the last drops of yolk with her wheat toast. She took her time washing and drying her dishes, digging out a bottle-brush for her empty glass of orange juice and buffing the glass with a soft cloth.
She held the glass to the light. It was perfectly smooth, perfectly shiny, casting perfect slivers of light across her hands.
It hit the wall with a satisfying amount of force.
She spent the next two and a half minutes on her knees, sobbing, her face to the floor.
When had she become a murderer? Or rather, when had she become willing and ready to kill, no matter whether she followed through? Twice now she'd tried to kill Missy. Twice now she'd failed: once because the Doctor had offered to do it himself, and once because killing a Time Lord was harder than it seemed even before she factored in whether she'd really have been able to do it while looking them straight in the eye.
And she could have. She was pretty sure about that, anyway, and she couldn't have said that about herself when she'd met that bizarre young man she'd phoned about the wifi.
I know men like him, Danny had said. I've served under them. They push you and make you stronger, till you're doing things you never thought you could.
She found a broom and dustpan, and gathered all the glass shards in a paper bag she carefully dropped in the bin. Somewhere on the ship, the dimension analyser was ready to perform, and the Doctor and Missy would be there fussing over it. Maybe there was some way Clara could keep watch on the Doctor from the library, a book in her hand and hundreds of metres from Missy. Didn't the Little Women essay topics need more work? Surely that was a better use of her time, helping her students instead of a Time Lord fully capable of helping himself. Usually. Occasionally. Dammit.
She threaded the dishtowel through a cabinet handle, tugging it in place, and stomped off to the console room.
The dimension analyser was precariously mounted on a repurposed drinks trolley parked beside the console, Missy twisting those bulbs of hers into place, the Doctor sonicking wires together from below.
"Are the headpieces set?" Missy said.
"I'll check them as soon as I'm done fixing this transducer coil clearly soldered by a complete idiot – wait, sorry, that was me." The Doctor, still upside-down, held out an arm and wiggled his fingers. "Give them here."
"Never mind, I'll do it. You want something done right, do it yourself."
"I said I'd do it!"
"Which one of us got full marks on that telepathic nanocircuitry lab? Oh, yes: not you."
"Fine." A long pause, a set of sparks, an untranslated curse. The Doctor emerged from below the device. He was sucking on his index finger. "Ready on my end."
"One more … there we go." Missy spun a hemisphere of crystalline netting in her hands. "Oh, and look, your pet showed up to watch. I love when they do that. No hope at all of understanding things, but those big, soulful eyes are just so cute."
Clara leaned against the console, faced away from Missy, crossed her arms over her chest. "So, Doctor, what next?"
"Helmet for Missy, helmet for me." He grabbed another hemisphere and carefully placed it on his head, then reversed it so the cord linking it to the analyser hung from the right instead of the left. "Switch on the analyser, engage in quiet contemplation while it maps our brain waves against dimensional resonance patterns on a subatomic scale, which should narrow down the possible dimensional search matrix to fifty some-odd options – and I do mean 'odd,' Clara, you really don't want to see the dimension made entirely out of pineapple cottage cheese – and then Missy and I narrow it further, break the dimensional barriers, and pop over to Gallifrey. Easy-peasy."
"Pineapple cottage cheese."
"I might be mistaken. Could have been chive."
"Doctor," Missy said, "if you're done with your remedial lesson in dimension analysis, perhaps we could consider finding Gallifrey?"
"Of course. Right." He gently laid one hand on Clara's wrist, still folded beneath her arm. "Wish us luck."
"I'll wish you luck," she whispered.
He left his hand in place for a moment. She could uncross her arms, take his hand in reassurance. Let him know she had his back on this, whatever this was going to be, and they both knew it wasn't going to go as planned.
But he turned away and switched on the machine, and he and Missy went silent, eyes closed, the only sound quiet breathing and the hums and fizzing pops of the machine's jerry-built wiring.
Minutes passed. After spending most of them examining her manicure – Glossy Goldenrod, now several millimetres above her cuticles and chipping at the ends – Clara wandered to the landing and returned with Harry Potter and the Den of Illustrious Serpents, which she'd already read twice and which would therefore require exactly the level of minimal attention she needed to entertain herself while making sure the Doctor was still alive. Harry's kids were less interesting than the original gang, but it was better than nothing.
She had just got to the point where Harry discovered young Albus was a Parseltongue when she heard the Doctor gasp, then again, as if he couldn't catch his breath.
Missy, eyes still closed, was smiling.
Clara grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. "Whatever you're doing to him, stop it! Stop it right now!"
Silence, except for the Doctor's laboured breathing, and a single word Clara almost couldn't make out through the wheezing: "No. No. No."
"Doctor!" She undid his collar, hoping it might ease his breathing. His pulse hammered under her fingertips. "Doctor!" Helmet flung to the floor, smashing into a hundred jagged crystal bits, and still the Doctor gasped for air.
Clara reached for the machine. If separating the Doctor from the telepathic interface wasn't enough, it was time for a blunter approach. She grabbed her book and brought it down as hard as she could on the tangle of electronics – which crackled and sparked and sent her flying backwards three feet with a charred book and burnt fingertips.
The analyser was unharmed. The Doctor's face grew redder, and Missy stood there serenely, her hands clasped before her.
No more machine interface; no way to destroy the machine itself. Just one possibility left for Clara to get her message across.
Clara took the Doctor's hand, threaded her fingers through it tightly. She kissed the back of it. They weren't linked yet, and his mind was somewhere else, but maybe he could still feel it. "Doctor. Please. If you can hear me at all, you have to let me in – it's all I can think of –"
Sweat on her palm against his cool skin. His bony fingers slack in her grip. His body starting to sway, not quite buckling yet, but near enough. And no response to her plea, none at all.
Missy, still smiling. Eyes open now, trained on Clara.
"Doctor," Clara cried. "Please."
The Cloister Bell tolled, low and mournful. And Clara remembered.
The Bell echoing its warning, and a man who wasn't Danny, who might never exist now that his ancestor was gone, and a world Clara should never have been able to see.
Telepathic circuits. I left a trace in them before. So apparently, I can do a thing.
Oh, clever Doctor. The dimension analyser placed near enough the telepathic circuitry for Clara to reach.
She plunged her other hand into the pale indentations, gelatine honeycombs sucking in her fingers, the pinch at the end a hard bite on her burnt fingertips. She swallowed a yelp of pain and concentrated on one message: Help me help him.
Clara, in the console room; her stomach, several floors below; her mind spiralling in circles. Her throat tightened and she gulped for air, breath in time with the Doctor's.
Silly girl, said a voice in her head. I am the Mistress, and you will obey me. Or you can resist just like our precious Doctor. He's got a bypass; he'll probably survive. You, on the other hand … well, perhaps you'll make someone a very short Cyberman.
Dizzy, so dizzy, her gasps still synchronised with the Doctor's. She would not pass out. She wouldn't. But oh, the console felt so nice and flat and supportive, and all she'd need to do was close her eyes.
A memory wafted past. Hold my hand. It'll remind you what's me and what's you.
Her hand in his, half a day after he'd said that to her. It was all she needed.
Sweat on a palm: hers. Thinned, chilly skin: his. Sharp finger ridges clasped tight: his hand in hers. The tug on her wrist and forearm from leaning across the console, her bicep shaking a little at the bad angle, her shoulder sore, her neck tight.
In the link, the air still felt thick and humid, like swallowing molasses. But Clara could breathe. Deep and long, she breathed.
"Let him go, Missy," she said. "I don't know what you've done to him, but let him go."
Clara had to twist her head to see Missy's reaction, but it was worth it. Raised eyebrow, the smile diminished. "The pet can talk now," she said. "How very interesting."
"The pet will rip your throat out if she has to. Let. Him. Go."
Distantly through the link, she could sense the Doctor's breathing starting to ease. His fingers twitched in hers.
"He still hasn't agreed to sit by my side when I rule Gallifrey," Missy said. "It's not that much to ask, is it? Everyone deserves companionship, and he and I have been so close for so very long."
"I can't believe you think he'd really do that."
"He's not so keen on the takeover part, either. Men. Sometimes it's like they don't even know you, am I right, sister?"
Molasses seeped closer to her, nearly back to her mouth and nose again. Clara pushed at it with her mind, but it simply rippled back into place. Maybe if she grabbed tighter to the Doctor …
"Give it up, little girl. Unless you want to die. Mind you, I'm going to kill you anyway; it's just a question of whether I take the time to really savour it first."
The Doctor was gasping for air again. Clara kept pushing, but virtual liquid filtered through her hands. The Doctor had let it go too far, probably in a fruitless attempt to reason with Missy, and now Clara was stuck. She'd warned him and warned him, and he'd sworn he was in control and that Clara was merely insurance, and then they'd … God, that had better not have been the pity fuck she'd thought he'd been having with Missy, not that it mattered if it was, because it would certainly never happen again if Clara couldn't save the Doctor's miserable and overconfident hindquarters.
She pushed, and pushed, and the molasses crawled inexorably towards them, and she collapsed on the console again, her fingers still jammed into chilly gelatine – and she realised she was a complete and utter idiot.
You can do more than set up the link, she thought to the ship. You love him more than any of us.
When the TARDIS reinforced the link, Clara's stomach swooped from the engine room below all the way up to the ceiling, carrying Clara with it, bursting her free of the molasses. Now when she breathed, it was like taking in all the air at once, letting it flow through her fingertips and toes and twirl round her in ribbons and helices. Up here, she could see Missy serene by the railing; the molasses in a shiny brown bubble surrounding the Doctor; her own body sprawled across the console, holding hands with the TARDIS and the man they loved.
Clara took in another great breath of air. And when she let it out, it rippled across the bubble, bursting it in violent shreds that spat backwards towards their source.
All the way backwards; all over Missy. Missy screamed, a long cry from deep in her throat, and then a gob of liquid exploded in her face. She crumpled to the floor, silent.
Clara drifted above her, slow and languid, until the TARDIS cut the link.
Now who's broken, she thought. The floor closed in on her way too suddenly, and she passed out.
* * *
"She's gone now," said the Doctor. "In case you were wondering." He was seated in one of the library armchairs she'd admired and which the TARDIS had made appear in her room not long afterwards.
"Good." Clara yawned, then flexed and extended her calves. Getting up could wait a little longer. "Hang on – do you mean 'gone' as in no longer on the ship, or 'gone' as in …"
"One of the smaller and less hospitable dimensions we found with the analyser was very much in need of a new resident."
"And she went willingly, did she?"
"Let's just say that she's going to have a bit of a surprise when she wakes up. But I left her some food and a blanket, and I'm sure the bears won't bother her much."
Stretch her calves again, stretch her arms, rotate her shoulders. Turn head slowly from side to side: the Doctor in view, watching her from the left; the wall and doorway on her right. "And you?" Clara said.
"What about me?"
"Are you okay? All I remember is the TARDIS and me freeing you, and then … splat."
"I'm fine. Missy probably wouldn't have killed me, you know; she just wanted to force me into the stupid, selfish choice." He crossed his legs, tapped his finger on his knee, turned away from Clara. "It's her biggest weakness. Well, that and Belgian milk chocolate. She always overestimates herself, or underestimates the people around her."
"She's not the only one with that weakness. Not the chocolate; the other one." Clara pushed herself upright, wincing as she did so. It didn't feel right to continue the conversation while she couldn't easily look the Doctor in the eye. "Did you know she'd try to kill you? I mean, you told me I was your insurance policy, but I don't think I knew just how bad things were going to get. If you hadn't left the machine by the TARDIS' telepathic interface, you might be dead. I certainly would be."
He was still avoiding her gaze. Any minute now, sore or not, she was going to jump off this bed, grab his chin, and make him look at her.
"I knew she'd been practicing her mental powers in the link – she was always better at that than I was, but she'd lost her touch over the years. And I practiced, too, but I didn't realise she'd altered the analyser's glass components to resonate on her personal psychic frequency."
"So you overestimated how strong you were."
"Yeah, I suppose. Look, Clara, it all sorted itself out. She's gone, you're fine, and I have data that will get me much closer to Gallifrey."
"Fine? Fine?" Clara swung her legs to the edge of the bed, leaned in towards the Doctor. "I nearly died. Which isn't the first time, but I don't like when it happens because you don't bother telling me everything you know. And I slept with you, and that woman, and I wanted to, and I keep wondering why because it's obvious that no matter how much you care about me, you care about her more, because she's just like you. And I don't just mean that she's a Time Lord: she's an idiot. And she's self-absorbed. And she can't help needling people and proving she's oh-so-much smarter than they are, and on a good day, it was easy to tell the difference between you, but you forget we were all linked together, and I saw. I know. You're so, so alike, the two of you. More than brothers; more than lovers, if that's at all possible."
"I thought you said you weren't jealous."
"I told you before: this isn't about jealousy. It's about human decency."
"Clara, I'm not –"
"Yeah, I know. That's bloody obvious, thank you very much." She got up, paced beside the bed, glaring at him as she spoke. "I tried to kill her. I tried to kill her and she enjoyed it and the worst of it was, I enjoyed it, too. I wanted to kill her. I would have done it, for … for Danny and for all the others she desecrated. And I wouldn't have been sorry."
Her leather satchel was propped against her dresser, schoolbooks and papers spilling from it to the floor. She stopped, scooped them back in, crumpling them at the bottom. Grabbed some underwear and a crimson cardigan from the dresser; shoved them in, too. What else needed to go? The closet's skirt and dress collection was primarily TARDIS-generated, but there was a polka-dot dress and a flared houndstooth mini she'd brought herself. Into the satchel they went. It wouldn't close, but as long as she could carry it, she'd be fine.
"Clara, what are you doing? Don't go."
"Don't go?" She swallowed, blinked, tried to hold her voice in check. "We tried to have that conversation ages ago, remember? You said I should be patient, that you had it all under control. But you overestimated yourself. And so did I." She swung the satchel over her shoulder and held it shut with one hand, stuffing a stray pair of underwear back in as deep as it would go. "You keep us humans around because we make you a better person, yeah? And because we make ourselves better around you. Only I got worse. And until I can fix that, and you can fix whatever's wrong with your priorities, I need to go."
"Clara –" He stood and reached for her hand, but she pulled herself away.
"Take me home, Doctor. Now."
He started to speak, tamped it down before it emerged. He paused at the door, turning briefly over his shoulder to look at her. And then he walked away.
* * *
"We're here," the Doctor said when they arrived. "If you don't believe me, go look for yourself."
Clara peeked out the door. Her pink walls, her triple mirror, her empty bed.
"Yeah. You got it right."
"And you expect I'll be back here next Wednesday, as usual?"
"Maybe. I don't know." The leather strap on Clara's bag bit into her shoulder. She hugged it from the bottom to relieve the pressure. It would be off soon enough anyway. "I'll ring you. Or text. Something."
"I don't normally come back for people, Clara."
"You did at Christmas."
"Yeah, well, that was an exception."
"Because I'm exceptional. Or I was."
"You still can be." He reached for her again. "Stay with me, Clara."
"I can't. Not right now. Not until … not until we're both better than we were." Halfway out the door now, wondering whether she had any mint tea left. "She didn't break just me, you know."
Down the stairs, into the kitchen, water in the kettle, steam puffing and faintly whistling through a leaky seal. It sounded just like the TARDIS from far away. And maybe it was.