"So," Clara said, "this makes, oh, the fiftieth time we've been locked up by aliens?"
"Don't be ridiculous," the Doctor replied. "It's been exactly forty-seven times. Unless you count brief detentions, in which case it's been eighty-three times. Does no one care about accuracy anymore?"
Their cell was doorless and obsessively white, with a white double bed covered in white pillows and white linens and on which Clara was currently bouncing experimentally, probably because it was the only place to sit. The Doctor had been locked in such places before, always with at least one companion, and he knew what it meant. Usually the captors were thoughtful enough to provide protection and a post-event mint, either of which could be one of the small white rectangular packets on the pillows. Best not to mix those up.
"No windows, no obvious door," Clara noted. "Otherwise, it's a bit posh for jail, don't you think? I don't think we've ever had a cell with a full en-suite and hot tub."
"Very considerate jailors," the Doctor said, rubbing his fingers over the duvet cover. High thread count. Well, that was something, anyway.
"Welcome," said a cheerful voice booming from a white speaker in the ceiling, the tone much like that of a third-tier television host doing his utmost best to sound wigglingly excited about Virtually Unknown Starlet A dating Past-His-Prime Star B. "Please make yourselves comfortable. You are honoured guests of the Grelvakian Scientific Society. I am Researcher Plarvik of the Seventh Xenobiological Order. With me is my colleague, Sub-Researcher Klarvar. We are pleased that you have agreed to participate in our research study today."
"It's lovely to meet you," the Doctor said, "I'm the Doctor, by the way. This is my associate, Clara Oswald, and we're afraid you're mistaken. We've agreed to no such thing."
"You entered the Fourth Metropolitan Caffeination Establishment, did you not?"
"Well, yes, but –"
"There's a sign right by the door reminding all patrons that they agree to take part in relevant scientific research opportunities, if required. You can hardly miss it. It's in four-point Comic Sans with just a hint of a drop shadow for that extra touch of visual sophistication. It's hardly our fault if you didn't notice it."
"It was a tea shop," the Doctor said. "We were buying some of your local tea as a souvenir. And usually, when I buy the morning cuppa, I'm not expecting anyone to hand me a medical consent form for what I suspect is highly dubious experimentation."
Plarvik's voice sputtered indignantly. "Well, of course we wouldn't do that. That's why we have the sign. Saves all that paperwork. Much better for the environment."
"I refuse on principle to participate," said the Doctor. "As does my companion. Your ethical standards are questionable at best, and quite frankly, your décor could use a splash of colour. Maybe even a patterned throw pillow. In fact, if you let us go, I'll treat you to a shopping spree at the Tharvon Beta Three IKEA. We'll have Swedish meatballs, everyone loves those. I'll even spring for extra lingonberry jam. What d'ya say?"
"That's a very generous offer, Doctor – what's that, Klarvar? Yes, I know you've been looking for inexpensive but stylish lighting fixtures, who isn't? – but I'm afraid we cannot accept. Science waits for no man."
"Doctor," Clara said, "I know you've already turned this down on my behalf, and when we're done here there's going to be yet another discussion about free will and how mine is none of your bleeding business, but can't we at least find out what they want us to do?"
"Clara, that should be obvious." He gestured at the bed, tried to remember precisely which hand gestures got the point across without accidentally forming an unforgivable insult in Galactic Standard, and ended up with something vaguely point-and-inserty that might, come to think of it, have meant "your aubergine needs to fornicate." Close enough.
"Indeed," Plarvik replied. "We are curious how people of your kind who have never mated before learn to mate."
"I beg your pardon?" Clara said.
"I tried to tell you," hissed the Doctor.
"Shut up. Plarvik, you can't be serious. That's not something we do when other people are watching. Well, all right, some people do, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it's really not my style."
"This is vital scientific research. Think of the contribution your initial mating experience will make to our body of knowledge!"
"Not that it's any of your business, mate – oh, God, I did not mean it that way – but I have … uh … mated before." She glanced over at the Doctor, who'd cocked his head towards her, waiting to hear more. "So clearly I'm unsuitable for your perverted little experiment, and you should let us go."
"I'm unsuitable as well," the Doctor said. "In case you were wondering."
"I was, actually," Clara said. "I mean, you always seemed a bit oblivious, you know? Although I knew you'd been married and had children, so I assumed … and you're more than a thousand, yeah? So, blimey, the tricks you must know – I thought I knew a lot … and you know what, I'm going to stop talking now."
A long sigh from the ceiling. "Lesser beings are always so … what's the word, Klarvar? Ah, yes, thank you: 'thick.' We will speak more clearly and slowly so there is less confusion. We are studying … how people … like you two … who have never … you know … done the bouncy-bouncy … with each other … figure it out."
"And what if we refuse?" asked the Doctor.
"Refuse? You can't – well, I suppose you can, but we will ask that you reconsider your decision for the next thirty-six days. If after that you choose not to contribute to this vitally important scientific research study, we will release you. You can even keep the pillow mint."
"This is science, not torture, Doctor. It's a chocolate mint, you know. We're not animals. Now, if you don't mind – Klarvar, is the recording device set up? And the snack table? With the spicy cheese sticks? Oh, good – Doctor, we're ready on our end whenever you and Clara would like to begin."
"So reassuring," Clara said. "I know I'm in the mood now."
"You don't have to do anything you don't want to do," the Doctor said. "Think of it as an extended holiday."
"Thirty-six days in the same hotel room with no view, no pool, not even a telly. The perfect holiday. If I hated myself."
"You know what to do if you want to leave sooner," crooned a voice from the ceiling.
"Plarvik, if you or your invisible little friend says one more word to remind me you're here, I'm reaching into the ceiling and strangling you with your tannoy wiring. Is that clear?"
"There's no need to be snippy, Cl–"
Clara scrambled to her feet on the bed, reached for the loudspeaker, failed, and began to bounce and grab at it.
"Fine! Fine! Klarvar, set up the remote monitoring system. We'll be alerted when the experiment is complete."
* * *
"Tried that already. It's deadlocked. These Grelvakians are very thorough deviants."
"All right, maybe they don't know what sex looks like. We could make something up."
"If they know enough about us to know we've never – and I'm still wondering how they knew that, must be some sort of low-level temporal-historical molecular scan, I should really ask Plarvik about that –"
"Whose side are you on, exactly?"
"– and they've given us …" – he carefully ripped open one of the packets, which contained a sunshine-yellow capsule and a list of contraindications in fifteen intergalactic languages – "disease- and pregnancy-prevention pills. So they probably know enough about how humanoids reproduce to guess whether we're bluffing." He scooped up the remaining packets and dropped them in a pocket for later. "Though if you'd fancy some yo-yo lessons to pass the time, we might be able to convince them it's an external focussing tool for purely psychic … activities."
"You really think that will work?"
"Oh, goodness, no."
"So," Clara said, "it's either this or thirty-six days of nothing." Was she batting her eyelashes at him? Probably she'd got some dust in them. Room as pristine as this, yet you still couldn't keep dust from congregating where it wasn't supposed to. "Well, I've had worse. Kit off, then, let's make this happen."
"Clara – wait … I … um …"
"Yes?" Oh, not just the eyelashes now; she'd dragged out that smile, that confounding quirk at the side of her lips that could mean she was having him on, could mean she was genuinely amused, always meant he was in about a mile and a half deeper than he expected to be.
"It's just that my people had very strict rules about this sort of thing," he said. "No bedroom shenanigans between the forty-ninth of Fleeblevert and the eighth of Azlit."
"You're making that up."
"All right, fine, you caught me, Fleeblevert only has thirty-eight days."
"Doctor." No tremble when she spoke, no fear, no apprehension – the we can't do this and I don't do this, well, not usually, and not with the people I travel with and most critically, this doesn't mean I fancy you, that could never happen, obviously, because that would mean I'm … mutterings – he heard them, but not in her voice.
"If you really don't want to do this," Clara said softly, "we don't have to. Thirty-six days … I'll plan my lessons for the next three terms. Or learn to stand on my head. And I can finally study that eyebrow language you keep threatening to teach me! We'll make it through."
"Thirty-six days," he muttered. Endless, mostly sleepless days without the TARDIS, without reading material beyond the sweets wrappers in his pockets, and how many yo-yo tricks could he teach Clara, anyway?
And then, of course, was that voice he wasn't hearing from Clara: his yammering internal monologue. What's your excuse this time? Fleeblevert, really? Might as well have told her you've forgotten which tab slides into which slot, which a) she might actually believe, coming from you, and b) doesn't solve the problem, what with humanoids and the multiplicity of tabs and slots and tab and/or slot combinations. How many combinatorials are there for that, anyway? Now, there's a distraction: count –
That was not a distraction.
"Look," he finally said, shifting slightly on the bed to adjust himself, "you're my friend, Clara, and I wouldn't –"
"If you're worried about taking advantage, don't." She reached for his hand. "Didn't you notice the hints I dropped on the Orient Express? The really, truly enormous hints? I thought I was very hinty."
Hints? Did that explain the otherwise inexplicable conversation she'd tried to have with him when he'd had very important nebula-related information to discuss? Or perhaps the head on his shoulder, the weight of her pressing against his upper arm, warm and welcome and for goodness' sake, he wasn't completely ignorant, no matter how poor he was at reading an emotion or a face or occasionally a half-naked body.
"I find that it's best never to guess about such things."
"Fine. Okay. Then let me make this absolutely clear." She grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him full on the mouth: a good, solid kiss that lingered well past "friendly" and deep into very friendly, if you know what I mean and if he gasped a little when her tongue slipped into his mouth, well, he wouldn't deny that, probably, but neither was he willing to swear that it wasn't an involuntary reaction.
So he kissed her back, for purely scientific and logical reasons, because of course he had to know: was it an automatic response, or was it legitimate enjoyment he couldn't excuse away regardless of whether part of his brain rather stubbornly felt that was necessary? And the deeper the kiss, the softer her lips – bizarrely, since it wasn't as though her enthusiasm had let up – and his own hands slid into her hair, drawing her as close as he could.
Actual enjoyment, then. Stupid Grelvakians and their questionable scientific experiments. If there were a post-event interview, he'd have to make sure they fully understood his thought process, up to and including full-colour flowcharts, if necessary. Decision tree: do I let Clara kiss me? yes/no/do I want her to?/will I enjoy it?/how much tongue will she use? and another twenty-odd questions, but perhaps most remarkably, now that said kissing had actually begun, the tree was narrowing. Do I let her push me back onto the bed? Or unzip my hoodie? Will she let me undo the buttons on her jumper? All yes, all leading to Clara settled atop him, her jumper fully unbuttoned, him raised up on his elbows long enough to slip out of hoodie and coat, and always, her lips on his or his at the curve of her neck and his hands fluttering across her body, never certain where to land, always finding a soft and eager spot to touch.
"Do you have any idea how long I've wanted to do this?" Clara murmured at his cheek, one hand scraping the skin below a tattered Clash t-shirt. "Even when you were a floppy-haired idiot. Though I guess you're still a floppy-haired idiot now; we have got to take you in for a trim." She drove fingers through that thick grey tangle he'd been deliberately cultivating, thank you very much; a distinguished lion's mane not unlike ones he'd worn in past incarnations, and who was this mere human girl to criticise it?
Well, all right, if she kept on with her tongue sliding across his, he would perhaps allow her to offer a critique or two. He wouldn't promise to pay heed to it, mind you, but she'd earned a little acknowledgement, and was that her other hand tugging at his belt buckle and temporarily giving up and simply gliding across the front of his trousers and yes, fine, if she was going to insist on doing that he might even allow her to suggest a stylist, just to shape things a bit, tend to the split ends.
Clara chuckled deep in her throat and trailed kisses across his Clash t-shirt and her mouth replaced her hand and all right, fine, haircut it was if she wanted, as long as she opened his trousers and slid down his pants and slipped him between her lips. The heat of her breath and the whisper of those lips across him was maddening, worse because though his hips rose to meet her, she was quite deliberately ignoring all hints, instead tracing him with mouth and fingers and, he was certain, her usual sense of self-satisfaction.
Until, that is, she stopped. "Don't go anywhere," she said, disentangling herself and settling beside him.
"First of all, of course I'm not going anywhere, and second, where do you think you're going? I thought we were having … well, if not the best time – yet – at least a bit of a good moment."
"And we'll return to that moment in … a moment." Clara unbuckled and unzipped the pair of chunky black ankle boots that were, as far as the Doctor could tell, identical to every other pair of chunky black ankle boots she owned, and dropped them over the side of the bed, followed by navy tights in a clumpy roll and something small and pale blue that fluttered silkily to the floor. "Now that's dealt with, it's your turn," she said, untying his boots. "I'm not shagging a bloke with his boots on, but keep the rest. These Grelvakians may want to see us in action, but they don't get to see everything."
He wiggled his toes once free of the boots. Lovely for some part of him to feel less confined, and imagine how good it would feel to free other parts as well, though fortunately, Clara was on the case. Belt now fully unbuckled, trousers unzipped and pushed below his waistline, and Clara, hovering above him with a blue plaid miniskirt gently ruffling over the aforementioned necessary bits, pushed down his pants and after a few thrillingly frustrating strokes, settled him inside her.
It wasn't that he forgot to breathe when that happened, because no one forgets to breathe except for Krempali owl newts, miraculous creatures, really, and even in the incredibly unlikely instance of him forgetting to breathe, his respiratory bypass would save him. It wasn't that it had been so long since he'd been with someone else that finally doing so again jolted through him like a live wire to the tongue, because even though he hadn't, in fact, been with someone else for … oh, he couldn't remember, and it wasn't as though it mattered; he'd done it enough to recall how every nerve cluster buzzed in a slightly different way; how his inexorably busy brain would, at last, still and focus on whoever he was with. And it wasn't that this was his first time with a companion, because goodness knew that had happened … well, more times than it probably should have, and fewer times than he'd occasionally wanted, and unquestionably fewer times than they'd wanted.
No, it was that until Clara had hinted about her willingness today – more than hinted, to be fair, because he did recall how she'd acted on the Orient Express, no matter how much he denied it, and she had indeed been a bit hinty – he'd been just as unwilling to admit where his own desires lay. And that if it continued like this – her steady rocking above him, her whimpers into his mouth as he slipped a thumb between her legs, the steady pressure in his groin when he thrust up to meet her – this would not be the only time with her, though ideally it would be the only time with witnesses.
His hands roamed beneath her jumper, and he reached for those hooks and eyes at the back of her bra until he remembered what she'd said: the Grelvakians didn't get to see everything. Neither did he, then, unfortunately, but that was still more incentive for another go at a later date: her breasts rubbed plushly against his chest, and how much more pleasant would it be when he could cup them for real, slip a bare nipple into his mouth and slide his tongue round it while Clara begged for more? Just thinking about it spurred him on, and he pushed his hands down to her waist, holding her in place so he could thrust against her more effectively.
She ground against him. So close. So close. That twirling of her hips, the squeeze she gave as he pushed harder inside her, the scraping of her nails across his chest. Later, perhaps, he could stretch this out, but now all he wanted was a few more strokes, faster and deeper, and he held on while Clara shifted above him and gripped him with thighs he fully expected to explore in the very near future.
A sudden, stuttering cry, and Clara gasped for breath. Her hair skewed across her cheeks; her face and chest were flushed. She smiled down at him as she blew hair out of the corner of her mouth.
"Let's go, old man," she said. "Don't you want your turn?" She leaned into his neck, licked and nipped at him as she worked her way to his mouth. "Let's see what we can do about that."
She hadn't stopped rocking in place, but now she speeded up, and what few higher functions remained in the Doctor's brain spiralled away. "Do you have any idea what I'd have done to you on that train if we'd had time?" she whispered at his throat. "Do you have any idea what I'm going to do to you when we finally get off the Planet of the Deviants?"
"Does it involve" – just a couple more thrusts, nearly there, and what did she mean by "any idea," of course he had ideas, loads of them, some of them possibly even as filthy as what she had in mind, and oh my stars, what if she was even filthier than he'd considered – "a … a …"
Enough. Finally enough. A shudder all the way through him, Clara still gripping his thighs and grinding over him while he shook. Her hands pressing into his chest as it rose and fell with deep breaths that gradually slowed even as a stunning array of pleasure hormones he could list in reverse alphabetical order if needed cheerfully sauntered through his body.
"I can't wait to hear how that sentence was going to end," Clara said.
"I can't wait to find out if you actually have a –"
"Klarvar?" a voice broke in from the ceiling. "Klarvar, you imbecile, press the 'off' button. For pity's sake, it's not complicated. It's a button. You press it. Honestly, man," Plarvik continued, "it's a wonder you made it through the Sub-Researcher Intellectual Trials and Swimsuit Competition."
"Oh, thank goodness," the Doctor said, "I was worried we might have a post-intimacy moment to collect ourselves, but fortunately, ethically dubious science marches on."
"Rest assured, Doctor, we've collected all the data we need, and you're free to go at any time. You've each earned a gift card for the Fourth Metropolitan Caffeination Establishment, although if you're willing to stay for a brief, four-hour interview, we'll be happy to increase the amount on the card."
"Free tea from Ye Olde House of Uninformed Consent," said Clara. "No, thanks." She lifted herself up just enough to tuck the Doctor back into his clothing, then tumbled off him to reach for her tights and boots. "Doctor, are you ready? Could do with a stop at home, quick shower and a rummage through the special drawer by the bed."
"Oh," he said, "so you have …"
"First, let's get out of here," she said, "and then you can find out for yourself."