One of the rare times when they weren't rushing to be somewhere, when there was no-one to save, no ancient artefact to find before it exploded several cities or a planet, no evil alien races to thwart. It was just the two of them having some quiet, peaceful downtime in the TARDIS before Clara went home.
During these times, Clara would usually read; either something new and alien from the TARDIS's vast library, or pinching something off the Doctor's personal shelves in the main console room. She'd curl up in one of the chairs on console room's balcony and read while the Doctor did whatever he did.
He was more of a mixed bag than Clara, who rarely did anything other than read, nap and drink tea. He'd spend the time making repairs or 'adjustments' to the TARDIS, fiddling with bits and bobs on the console or tinkering below the grating. Sometimes he'd read too, or scribble questions and theories onto his many blackboards. Sometimes he'd bounce around the console and tell her about all the magnificent places they could go, painting pictures of beautiful plates and elegant star systems in her mind, or stalked around as he lectured her on history - real history - and space politics.
Sometimes he put music on, pulling records and tapes and memory sticks from various places within the TARDIS and slotting them into their respective players. Most of the time though, if he wanted music, he made it himself.
This particular time, Clara had been sat in the Doctor's high backed chair on the console room balcony, reading a whodunnit from somewhere in the Dellria System. There was a freshly brewed mug of tea by her side, safe from any turbulence-related spillages, and half a pack of digestives next to that. (This was the first time she'd picked it up since she'd put it in a cupboard in the TARDIS kitchens. One guess who'd been at it first.)
While she read, the Doctor moved slowly around the floor below the balcony and played his guitar.
He'd picked it up the second they'd gotten through the TARDIS doors, already half-way through a song before Clara had even gotten her jacket off. She'd left him playing to go and make her brew and when she'd returned he was still waltzing around the console, playing slow songs. Some of them she'd recognised well enough that she'd've been able to sing along if she'd wanted, others were ones that she'd perhaps heard before but couldn't place - ones she'd heard on her travels or something that the Doctor had played before - but most others she hadn't; either alien or of the Doctor's own creation. She'd left him to it, sitting in his chair and flipping her book open to where her bookmark was, the music a nice, soothing background.
Every now and then she'd look up and watch him for a few seconds, admiring his skill. He looked happy like this. Playing seemed to relax him, make him peaceful, and Clara was glad for it. If there was ever someone who needed a bit of peace every now and then, it was him.
He'd round the console again and noticed her watching him. Caught, she'd refused to be embarrassed and had raised her mug to him, biting back a snort at the wink she'd received in response. When he'd looked away, the song had changed; raising in pitch to something plucky but beautifully melodic. It had seemed familiar, something she'd definitely heard before and she'd tried to place it, watching the Doctor carefully as he played, swaying in place at the foot of the stairs below her.
When he'd gotten to the chorus riff though, it'd hit her, and the realisation had made her smile.
"Bowie?" she'd asked, raising her eyebrow at him.
He hadn't answered, just grinned and preformed a slow turn to accompany the cascading notes of the chorus, cradling his guitar like a dance partner. She'd watched him, utterly enraptured, as he twirled leisurely around and strummed, fingers gliding over the strings without a single slip.
"I always wanted to learn an instrument," she'd said when the song had ended.
He'd looked up at her, lowering the guitar slightly. "Oh?"
"Mmm," she'd hummed, and taken a sip of her tea. "Never got round to it," she'd told him, "first it was the money, then it was the time. Never had enough of either." She'd nodded her head at the instrument in his hands. "Guitar would've been my first choice."
He'd snorted and given her a wry grin. "Well, it would go with the jacket. And the bike."
"Exactly." She'd grinned at him and returned her attention to her book, expecting the conversation to be over. Instead, she found him climbing up the short stairway up to her chair.
"Well… s'never too late to learn," he'd told her, holding out his guitar almost reverently. He'd kept his eyes on the floor, but when she'd put down her book and reached out to take it from him gently, he'd looked up and met her eyes.
"Will you teach me?"
"Well," he'd blustered, "do you see Brian May around here anywhere?"
She'd laughed. "No."
"Guess it's up to me then." He'd pulled the pouf out from around the side of the chair so he could sit in front of her. It'd brought him level with the guitar, so he could clearly see her hands and guide them to where they were meant to be. "We'll start with the chords, eh?" He'd taken ahold of her left hand and brought it up to the right fret. "Put your fingers here - these three, these ones - yeah, put 'em here…"
She'd strummed the fingers of her right hand experimentally over the strings.
"There, see? Got yourself an A chord."
"I'm gonna be the next Slash," she'd told him, and smiled when he laughed.
Bill had insisted on him coming with her to the shopping centre. He hadn't seen the point, of course, instead proposing that he just let her go and do whatever she needed to do and he could meet her later when she was done.
"No way," she'd scoffed, "are you jokin'? You'll nip off to the TARDIS an' come back like three weeks later or somethin' 'cause you got distracted."
In actual fact, he'd been planning on plonking himself down in a Costa Coffee for the duration of the trip, maybe pop into a tech shop and see if there was a radio or pair of headphones he could buy and cannibalise for his sonic shades, but he'd supposed she'd had a point. He could easily become distracted halfway through his first cuppa and pop off to Zircon-5 for a bit. That didn't mean he would though!
Still, he'd lost the arg- discussion and was relegated to loitering outside the changing rooms in Primark while Bill tried on what seemed like hundreds of dresses.
It was boring as Hell - a place he'd technically been, more than once too - so he really didn't think he could be blamed for taking a quick tea break. He got Bill a coffee too though, just in case she thought he could be, and a packet of those tiny, overly-expensive little biscuits, because he was nice.
On his way back to the clothes shop he became aware of someone playing guitar and he paused. Sure, street performers playing instruments weren’t particularly uncommon in shopping centres, and he'd heard thousands even in this body, playing guitars and flutes and saxophones. Electric guitars were a rarer though - especially played well - and he turned to seek whoever was playing out.
There was a small crowd gathered around one of the building's support pillars, though he couldn't see who they were crowded around. When he got closer though, he saw why; the guitarist was tiny, he was only able to see her from the back of the crown because of his own height.
Her biker boots managed to add a couple of inches, maybe, but even with those she was still practically microscopic by human standards.
She looked rather rock and roll; dressed in a blue and green tartan skirt, black leggings and shirt, and a black leather jacket. Her brown hair was short, just reaching her chin, and choppy, and it framed her face well. The Doctor thought her face was a bit funny, if he was honest. Not bad necessarily, just very… round. With her big, mascara'd eyes and miniscule nose she looked a bit doe-ish to be playing electric guitar in - admittedly quite tame - punk-rock gear and a guitar. And yet, it didn't look bad on her - in fact, he'd say it rather suited her.
When he'd joined the crowd she'd been strumming through a pretty good cover of Deep Purple's Mistreated, but during his appraisal she'd finished that and switched to play Queen's Don't Stop Me Now. He was quite impressed to be honest; she clearly had talent, quite a lot of it too; and it was accentuated by the positively beautiful instrument she was holding. Clearly a custom job, it had been painted to look like nebulae; thick purple and teal clouds winding around its black body and neck, with a few wisps of blue and pink snaking over the top, and the entirety of the guitar was covered in tiny specks of white. There was a portable amp sat near her booted feet, and a 'good morning gorgeous' travel-mug with various coins - and even a few notes - stuffed inside next to it.
The drinks, growing cooler in his hands, and Bill slipped his mind as he listened to her play, enraptured, and watched her fingers skilfully manipulate the strings of her guitar to Another Brick In The Wall and a particularly beautiful rendition of Wish You Were Here. It was technically impossible for him to lose track of time, but this, listening to her play, was the closest he had ever gotten.
A couple of people in front of him clearly had a better grasp on time than he did right then and moved away to continue their shopping, and he stepped forward to fill the space that they'd left. The movement caught the guitarist's attention and she glanced up, already wide eyes widening more than should be physically possible when she spotted him, almost missing a chord.
Looks like that didn’t faze him, he was used to them. It was the eyebrows.
She recovered quickly though, sliding seamlessly through the next notes as if she'd never faltered and smiling.
Smiling at him.
It was… weird. Odd. He wasn't sure if he liked it or not. It wasn't a bad smile of anything, just unexpected. People didn't just smile at him, not after he'd apparently just scared the bejeezus out of them with his eyebrows. It was a bit creepy to be honest.
Her eyes started drifting across the rest of her audience, but she continued smiling. She smiled all the way through the rest of the song, and even though she wasn't always looking at him, he somehow got the feeling that she was still smiling at him.
When the song ended she turned her attention back to him, sliding her hand up the neck of the guitar to the higher notes. When she started to pluck he raised his eyebrows at her, only to watch her smile grow to a grin.
'Probably playing something from 'My Generation',' was his first thought, but as her fingers sped through the first riff it sunk in what song she was actually playing.
A love song? 'Maybe she's flirting at you.' He couldn't quite hold back his scoff at that but managed to turn it into a little cough at the last second. She cocked one of her less terrifying eyebrows at him, swaying gently on the spot. It was almost like she was dancing with her guitar, he mused, and the corner of his mouth turned up a bit.
Her grin widened.
She kept her gaze primarily on him throughout the song, only flicking away every now and then, usually when someone put money in her cup. It should've unnerved him, but the music washing over him made it hard to be anything but utterly relaxed, and the eye-contact actually ended up being almost soothing. By the time the song started winding down to its close, he'd even started swaying slightly.
A few notes from the end, a hand came down on his shoulder. He jumped, startled, and coffee splashed out of the little holes in the cups plastic lids and onto his hands, but he'd apparently been standing there so long it had gone stone-cold. He turned, concentration shattered, and found Bill standing next to him. She was frowning.
"There you are!" she huffed, "I've been lookin' everywhere for you! Knew you'd wander off-" She noticed the cups in his hands - and the drops of coffee on them. "Oh." She took the cup with Bill scrawled across the side from him, looking a little guilty. "Thanks, you could've told me you were going for drinks." She took a sip, and the slight guilt on her face vanished.
"This is cold," she told him, lips pursed in disgust.
The Doctor winced. "I ah, got distracted."
"Clearly," Bill remarked dryly. She turned her head towards the lady with the guitar, who had moved onto a different song. "Can’t say I blame you," she admitted, "she's good."
"Mhm," the Doctor grunted, eyes drifting back towards her.
He snapped his attention back to Bill. "No."
Bill blinked back at him. "What? You don't think-"
"No, nope, none of that," he shook his head, waving his free hand at her. "No getting distracted by pr- by girls," he said sternly, putting those eyebrows of his to good use.
"Fine, fine," Bill sighed, holding her hands up in surrender. "I get it. Don't think it's fair that you can get distracted for a whole hour and I can't even get five minutes, but I have things to buy and probably really shouldn't get distracted, so I'm not gonna argue with you." She took both their cups and dropped them into the nearby bin. "And we're gonna get some new coffee on the way - hot coffee," she told him. "Come on."
He looked over to the woman again, playing through the last few notes of Pretty Woman.
"One sec," he promised, and broke away from Bill to slalom through the little crowd. He caught the guitarists eye when he got to the front and she smiled, watching as he bent down to stuff the biggest note he had from this planet - and this time period - into her cup, along with an inconspicuous-looking coin that would turn out to fetch quite a lot if she looked it up.
She nodded at him when he stood, still smiling. Somehow it was even wider than before. 'Probably just the money,' he thought, 'not many people give performers notes.' For some reason though, he didn’t think that was it.
He nodded at her in return, his face probably a lot less smiley. She didn't seem to mind though, and her smile followed him back to Bill. He wondered if all that smiling made her face hurt.
"Come on," Bill said, tugging his arm in the direction of the shop he'd left her in. "I know what I want to get."
"Okay," he said absently, As The World Falls Down swirling around in his head. He remembered playing that for Clara, once, in the TARDIS. He'd taught her a few chords and things, too. He wondered if she still remembered them, wherever - whenever - she was. Maybe she'd picked it up properly, now that she had neither money nor time to stop her. He hoped she had. Even though she'd been a teacher she'd never really grown out of being a fantastic student; she could be really good at it - as good as this lady here.
As Bill pulled him toward the shop, he wondered where Clara was right now. He might not be able to remember her face, but he was sure she'd have enjoyed listening to this girl.
The crowd had filled the space they left immediately, but as he glanced back he could still see the woman and her guitar over their heads. She winked at him as he walked away, the notes to ABBA's The Winner Takes It All following him.
Yes, Clara would've liked her very much.