To control a situation, you must project confidence. You must project competence. And if necessary, you must project a reality that does not yet exist, one in which every domino falls forward, every fence is easily leapt. You must convince others your vision of reality is the truth.
Convincing children she's fully in charge is simple enough, once Clara learns to keep her threats just this side of believable. Convincing her boyfriend is harder, but a sweet voice and a lilting I love you do the trick. Convincing the Doctor – well, he seems to believe the reality Clara projects in which a tirade is reduced to a wobble, because the best lies are the ones with enough truth that even Clara believes them.
I can't keep doing this. Lie. I can do it; of course I can do it. Lie. I can't do this any more, not the way you do it. Lie.
He's not my anything. Of course we're just friends.
* * *
They're hardly even lies anymore. She has seen the past and projected the future and woven the memories into stories that she's certain will come true if she just repeats them to herself often enough. He's fine with the idea of me and you knocking about. He's decided he doesn't mind.
Fairy tales, like Maisie said: the stories where the right people fall for the wrong ones. And these are Clara's fairy tales, where she defines who's right, and who's wrong; who falls for whom, and which couple gets the happy ending.
So many possible endings for this particular fairy tale. But there's only one she's seriously considering.
* * *
"Yes, yes, you know where the wardrobe room is. Have yourself a little dress-up party."
"Well, you've been to this planet, and I haven't." She extends a hand towards him, wiggles her fingers. "Come with me? Help me pick something out?"
"Clara," the Doctor says, "you're a grown woman, probably. Surely you don't need my help for such things." He's looking at the TARDIS readout, not her, barring a couple furtive glances at the swishing of Clara's dress.
"But what's it like there? Do I need a coat? A pair of wellies?"
"It's shrubbery, Clara. You'll need ... I don't know, shrubbery shoes or something."
She sighs. Men who can't take a hint, which is basically all of them, are the worst. "Shrubbery shoes, then. Right. Well, back in a jiff."
The dress' left strap droops off her shoulder as she sashays away. Let him enjoy the view and think about what he's missing.
* * *
How could she have ever given this up, even for a moment? I don't feel respected folds itself up into a square so small it nearly disappears, then tucks itself away in a locked drawer.
"The first time I wore that, I was mistaken for a Yeti," says a Scottish voice at the doorway.
"I can believe it." Still swishing the coat, the satin lining and fake fur tickling her legs. With her bob and Art Nouveau hairpins, she looks every inch the flapper keeping warm in her boyfriend's coat.
He's not my anything.
The Doctor moves behind Clara, his hands hovering at her shoulders. "I'm not sure this is suitable. Too warm for shrubbery. Give it here."
Clara stops swaying, focusses on the mirror's reflection instead. The Doctor, head tilted, hands now at the collar of the coat. He's almost cupping Clara's cheeks. Her breath catches when his index finger grazes her neck and the coat's satin lining continues the caress on the way across and down her shoulderblades, snagging briefly on the dress zipper before slipping free.
"Yes," Clara says as she watches her shoulders, her arms, her fingers slowly expose themselves. "It was getting a little too hot." Gooseflesh raises the fine hairs on her forearms. Just the sudden chill, has to be.
The coat mud-puddles on the floor when the Doctor drops it to reach for Clara's zipper instead. "Your dress –" he says.
She should let him fix it. He'd give a quick tug on that tiny zip, pat it into place, tell her they'll be landing soon and that she should change into something sensible.
Or she could share her own vision of the very near future, and see whether she can make it happen.
Clara spins slowly to face him. That loose left dress strap shrugs its way down her shoulder again, not quite exposing her breast, not yet, but even halfway along it's enough to capture the Doctor's attention. This older face of his, all bones and crags, is harder to read than the youthful one, but his eyes don't lie, and neither does the almost imperceptible parting of his lips.
"Here's what's going to happen," Clara says. She smooths the Doctor's lapels, but after the first flinch, he calms, still silent, still watching her. "I am going to ..." She shakes her head. "We are going to ..."
He's so quiet, but it doesn't matter, because Clara mentally runs through the monologue she expects from him – every babbling word about tight scrapes he survived on long-gone planets, every objection he should be raising about touching and humans and at least one human specifically – but the thoughts that drown all those out are:
I can do it. Of course I can do it.
"Shut up, don't talk, just shut up," she stammers all at once, and yanks him down for a kiss. Her mind lurches, a whirlwind of lies swirling in her head, then fading away. The Doctor's lips press harder against Clara's, his hands now touching her face, actually touching her, stroking her hair. For all his sharp edges, his lips and tongue are velvet-soft. Clara moans into his mouth.
At last she pulls away. "Before we keep going – and we are going to keep going – I need to tell you that Danny is totally okay with this. He told me –"
"Come on, Clara. Are you really going to lie to me?" His voice rough, his lips buzzing against hers.
"I'm not ly–"
Words tumble out of her in a whisper. "He won't know. He can't know. It'll just be this, right now, you and me, that's all this is."
"In my experience with you humans, it's never all this is, Clara."
"Is that so?" Another kiss, her tongue darting between his lips, and he's close enough that she can feel a twitch where his lower body meets hers. "Then why are you kissing me back?" She draws away, watches how his eyes follow her lips, kisses him again.
She sinks in front of him, kneels on the shockingly soft patchwork fur; looks up, blinks slowly. She drags the back of her hand across the tenting in his trousers and hears his breath hiss. "Then why aren't you telling me to go?"
"You seem awfully comfortable down there. I'd hate to inconvenience you."
Clara drags a thumb up and down the length of the tent, firming beneath her touch. "Well, now that you mention it, I suppose I could stop."
His lips are slightly parted, his eyes half-closed, his chest rising and falling that bit more quickly than normal. "I thought I told you not to lie," the Doctor says.
Clara takes her time with his belt and zipper, folding back the placket in two triangles, letting his trousers sag at the waist while she mouths his cock through his underwear, black cotton to match his tux. He feels long and lean, just like the rest of him, and for a moment she wonders what she'd have done had he proven far more alien in this category. Probably shagged him anyway, really.
Underwear next, then, and Clara tugs it down slowly, revealing him inch by inch. She pulls it down just below his buttocks and waits while he quivers in front of her. If she'd stuck to her principles, never returned his calls, never agreed to their last hurrah, she'd have missed her last chance at this.
Last floats loose, uncertain about whether it belongs in the discard bin in Clara's head no matter how firmly she'd promised the Doctor and herself just this once.
Some projections don't finalise themselves until later. Last will do for now, but tomorrow? Or the next planet? Or the planet after that? Any planet other than Earth. She has to draw the line somewhere, and that line is the bed she shares with –
Surely if she tells herself he doesn't mind enough, it will eventually come true.
She takes the tip of the Doctor's cock in her mouth, and he groans with relief and steadies his hands on her shoulders. She slides him in deeper, her tongue rippling along his base, his balls snugly cupped in one hand while she works. It is exactly like fucking a human man.
It is completely different from fucking a human man, because she is fucking the Doctor. He lives in a magical blue box wilful enough to have hated Clara and changed its mind later. He has other bodies, and fragments of Clara have met them all. He is her best friend and yet no friend at all, and he pushes her to be extraordinary, because pushing her past her boundaries is just another form of reshaping her reality, and there's perhaps nothing she's better at right this moment.
He is firm on her tongue, and his breath comes in short puffs, and when she peeks above her, his face is flushed and his head hangs low, eyes closed, jaw slack. Clara lets him slip from her mouth, watches his eyelids flutter open, slides her fingers to his chest to feel one heart hammering beneath each hand.
The Doctor reaches for her right hand, kissing her palm, gliding his lips across her fingers and taking in her thumb. Slowly, he shrugs off his suit jacket, letting it pool to the floor beside the fake fur. He unbuttons his waistcoat, then his crisp, white shirt, carefully untwisting the onyx cufflinks and placing them in a pocket before discarding the rest of his clothing atop the jacket. He's more muscular than Clara had expected; wiry and well-defined, with a spattering of grey hair at his chest and groin, but the angles of his body are even more pronounced now that she can see every part of him.
He still looks startlingly human. Another lie, but for once, not hers.
The Doctor tilts his head at Clara, still half-clothed in a dress that's falling off of her. "You can leave that on if you like, but if we're going to play naked party games, it seems only fair I'm not the only one observing the dress code."
"Oh." Clara blinks at him. "Of course. Right." She sits up straight, pulls a cloud of bronze bugle beads over her head, then tilts back to slip off her underwear. A momentary terror when she can't recall whether this was a decent pair or one with a hole in it, but it turns out she's worn perfectly acceptable seduction knickers, semi-sheer and gold to match the dress, and in flawless condition, not that the Doctor will have seen them long enough for full appreciation.
She wriggles on the shaggy faux fur, arranging her limbs just so, one arm stretched above her head to show off her breasts, her legs slightly parted, one knee bent. "This any better?" she says.
"Well, it's certainly 'naked,' I'll give you that."
"Doctor, you made sad puppy eyes at me all night when you thought I was leaving, you obviously" – she gestures at his cock – "want to shag me, and the best you can do the first time you see me with my kit off is 'it's certainly naked'? That's romance for you."
"Clara." He nudges her knees apart with a foot and kneels between them. "If you want romance, you have your soldier boy. I bet he brings you flowers and heart-shaped boxes of cheap chocolates."
"Don't you mention Danny right now. Don't you –" Clara's sentence cuts off with a gasp when the Doctor's lips graze her collarbone, and his fingers dip between her legs.
His mouth traces the ridge of the bone all the way across, then slides towards her breasts with an agonisingly light touch. He isn't even really kissing her, damn him; just skating the surface of her skin, his breath warming and tickling her all at once, while lower down his fingers tease her just as slowly. Her body crackles and tingles where he touches her, and she weaves her fingers in his salt-and-pepper hair, hoping to encourage a little more pressure from him.
Her hint goes unnoticed, or deliberately ignored. Instead a pair of fingers slips up and down across her clit, methodical and deliriously frustrating, while the Doctor continues to map Clara's chest with his mouth, lips rounding the curve of her breasts so faintly that gooseflesh rises in their wake. Clara shivers, sweat pooling on her thighs and breastbone, toes flexing as her tension increases.
The Doctor circles Clara's breast, drawing closer to the peak. She arches her back; surely he can't miss that sign. And he doesn't; his lips seal over her nipple, his tongue flicking across it, and Clara cries out sharply, even more so when his fingers suddenly plunge inside her.
She grabs his head tightly and forces him to face her.
"I thought you were enjoying that," he says.
She narrows her eyes, shakes her head. "You." Then kisses him hard, much harder than their first encounter, tongue driving between his lips immediately while her hand scrabbles along his side, reaching for his cock.
This time, he takes the hint.
He pushes inside her, and Clara nearly comes just from that first thrust of his pelvis. Instead, she wraps her legs round his, pulls him in deeper. She could fall back, make every moment of this last that much longer, but everywhere her skin meets his shimmers and hums.
The Doctor closes his eyes and shifts his pace higher. His normally pale face glows with perspiration. Clara licks sweat away from his temple, his cheekbone, the jut of his jawline. This is hers, she made this happen: that moan of his when she nips at his neck, the moth-flutter of his eyelids, the taut muscles in his buttocks as he rises and falls within her; all hers, all whirling in her head like the pinprick bubbles in a glass of good Champagne.
She is dizzy and drunk, and when the Doctor grabs her hipbone, pulls her higher and thrusts to meet her, every word circling her head, every needle-sharp nerve shatters. The Doctor's shoulder muffles her cries, and only after she opens her eyes a few moments later does she notice she's left a bite mark.
The Doctor's rhythm speeds again, then stutters, but Clara holds tight until she hears a deep groan, feels him pulse inside her. His forehead drops to her neck, his hearts drumming against her chest while his breath slows.
Red-faced and slick with sweat, he flops beside her on his back, leaving several inches of space between them. Clara shifts closer, drapes an arm over his chest, and finds it back at her side within a moment.
"Not much of a cuddler, then," she says.
"I'm still not a hugging person, Clara."
"And yet you're a shagging person. Curious."
"I'm a Time Lord, Clara. I walk in eternity. I am a man of a thousand, thousand mysteries." He pivots to face her. "And if I'd rather shag than hug you, I think somehow you'll find a way to live with the contradiction."
"No, no, fine, no problem here." Here lingers in her head, a literally truthful statement; any problems she might or might not have will be elsewhere. Language-parsing: the English teacher's speciality.
"Good. Ready for some shrubbery, then?"
She touches his cheek, kisses him lightly. "I couldn't be more ready."
There is a future here, if she can will it to happen. A future where she balances the man at home, the one whose future with her she may have already seen, with the man who showed her that future without even knowing it. A future where she teaches and marries and has adorable children who only misbehave in the most adorable ways, and never grow up to run off with a dangerous man in a blue box. A future where she fills her spare hours with weeks and months with that same man, sees every star and planet there is to see, tames him on an old fur coat or the Victorian four-poster she imagines he must have.
I can do it; of course I can do it.
He's not my anything. He's my –