Another encounter with the Doctor's nemesis, Missy. Another set of coordinates that revealed nothing when visited. Clara watched him close the TARDIS door on the emptiness and turn away. He did not seem to see her, but stood with clenched fists, back to the closed door. The set of his shoulders was stiff. His face alarmed her, it was so blank, so shuttered.
Clara went to him and touched his hand. "You can't believe her," she said. "No matter how she swears."
He nodded, once. Then she saw it. His eyes were reddened. He'd let himself believe her, no matter his words, and it had hurt him. Missy had hurt him. As she'd intended, no doubt. Left to himself he would hide somewhere in the TARDIS for a week, claiming that vital repairs needed to be made to a subsystem she'd never heard of before and would never hear of again. Clara thought for a moment, then made a decision. He would resist this, but he needed it.
She took his hand and tugged, gently. "Come on."
"Where?" His voice was reluctant, but he'd clutched at her hand and was holding tight.
"We're going to sit in my room. I think you need a hug."
"Whatever you say."
He followed her meekly, fingers still entwined with hers, out of the console room and into the corridors. The TARDIS had, thoughtfully, put her bedroom rather closer than usual. The ship looking out for her pilot, as always. Clara set the room lights to low and red, firelight mode. Comfort mode. Restful mode. It was, the TARDIS databanks had informed her once, the color of sunset on Gallifrey.
It wasn't the Doctor's first visit to her bedroom. He would lie with her sometimes, chastely, in this new life of mutual affection they'd embarked upon. He seemed to have no interest in taking the relationship further, at least physically, but he liked being near her. He would often sit in her room reading while she slept. Clara was reluctant to ask him about it; he seemed as happy as she'd ever seen him in this incarnation and she didn't wish to disturb the equilibrium of their new relationship. He cared for her deeply, in his way, and she trusted that and was comforted by it.
This closeness meant he would allow her to comfort him when he needed it, as now, when she drew him over to the bed and sat him down. He unlaced his boots without protest. Jacket off, hung over the back of her armchair. Cufflinks off, top button of his shirt undone. Now he was as exposed as she ever saw him. He was all wrapped up around himself, arms folded, biting at his thumb.
She took her own shoes off and got onto the bed fully dressed, on top of the covers. Anything more intimate seemed to make him nervous. He stretched himself out next to her and allowed her to pull him close. He slid down and burrowed his face into her neck. It was pretty bad, then. Clara wove her fingers into his hair and petted him. He made a little sound, a needy sound, but didn't speak. Clara held him for a while, until she felt him start to relax against her.
She said, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No, but you're going to wring it out of me no matter, so I might as well." There was the ghost of amusement in his voice, though it was hoarse.
He sighed and shifted on the bed beside her, adjusting himself so his arms were around her. "It's not what you think."
"Not about Gallifrey?"
"It is, but not the way you think. I knew she was lying. I had to check, just in case, but I knew. She'll always lie to me about this."
"What is it, then?"
A long silence this time. Clara rubbed her fingers in little circles at his temples. Such soft hair he had. She liked it like this, longer than he'd worn it before, long enough that it stood up in fluffy curls. It made him look softer, more like the man he was inside, under the frowns and the glares. More like the man who sighed and nestled into her arms, who allowed himself to feel things now and then, and even sometimes to tell her about those feelings.
At last he spoke. "I'm alone."
The hurt she felt at that surprised her. He was lying in bed with her, wrapped around her, face against her neck, clinging to her desperately, and he said he was alone. Was she not enough for him? Was she not doing the right things?
Clara pushed it down as best she could, and said, "I'm here."
"I'm still alone."
Clara thought she understood now. It was about Gallifrey, about it being hidden. The magnitude of his grief, the daily pain of it-- he was the last of his kind in this dimension, and that loss was with him keenly today.
"You miss your world," she said, carefully, tenderly.
"Yes and no. Not the way-- not the way you're thinking." A moment of silence, then he said, "You'll have it out of me, I know. I might as well just tell you."
"Quit doing my work for me."
He squeezed her for an instant. He liked being teased, this Doctor did, secretly.
"My people. We're telepaths. You knew that?"
"You told me you weren't much of one."
"This regeneration, it all came back. I couldn't control it, it was so much stronger than the last time I had it. Any touch hurt, from anybody, even you, because you'd overwhelm me. I've shut it all down now, so there's nothing. Put up barriers. I can hold your hand. I can let you touch me like this. Except--"
"Except Koschei. The barriers don't work. When she touches me I feel it. When we're near each other, when we touch, we feel each other. Like it used to be when I was on Gallifrey. It's why she gets to me. We used to be--"
"Lovers. A long time ago. When we were boys together. We used to be together in our minds. The point is-- the point is. It's that the feeling reminds me. Whenever I see her, it reminds me. There used to be people around me. My family. Friends. In my mind sometimes. There's no one in my mind now. I'm alone."
He burrowed his face into her neck again. His breathing was hitching.
"They're terrible people, the Time Lords. I don't miss them. I miss-- everybody else."
Clara stroked the back of his head and thought about this. It was a surprise and yet no surprise. It explained a lot. Why he seemed so grieved when he encountered Missy. Why he was so reluctant to hurt her, despite her insanity and her willingness to hurt him. Clara knew how deeply the man in her arms could love, how stalwart and true he could be, how many of the rules he would bend to breaking for the sake of the people he held dear. Missy-- Koschei, whatever she called herself now-- was one of those people. Despite everything.
The revelation about his sexuality was the same: not truly a surprise. If the bodies changed, what mattered most would be the mind. And the mind-- he'd just been reminded of how it had once felt. What he couldn't have.
"I wish I could help. If I could be with you, I would, but--"
"Clara. You can. If you can put up with me."
"I put up with you all the time, you silly man."
"Could you possibly let me touch your mind?" His voice was so rough, so hoarse, and so full of hope.
Did she want to do this? Of course she wanted to do this. Telepathy? With the alien who was for all intents and purposes her life companion? Yes. It was as if someone had asked her if she wanted to watch a solar flare happen from the safety of the TARDIS. Of course she wanted to do it. And if it made him feel better, made him feel less alone, it wasn't even in question. Except--
"Won't it hurt like it did before?"
"Not if it's intentional. If we do it together."
"Clara. No. I shouldn't. I'll get over this weakness."
Clara was having none of that. He wanted it. She was willing to give it. She pulled away from him and made him look at her. "You'll feel better if we do this, right?"
"Yes, oh yes, but I'll be-- I'll need you even more than I do now. And I need you absurdly as it is." His voice was warning, but his eyes were pleading with her. She knew that expression on his face. He was as close to begging her as he ever came. He was begging her.
"We're doing it. Do as you're told." That last affectionately, for it was a shared joke with them now, when one ordered the other to do something pleasant.
He yielded and smiled at her, with a grin that lit up his face. He hugged her close.
"How does this work?" She was imagining something like a mind meld, his fingers splayed against her temples, a weird chant, maybe strange music playing.
"It requires touch. Skin to skin. The closer we are the easier it is."
"Skin?" Uneasily, because she had never seen him even with as much as his shirt off.
"Holding hands is enough."
That she could do.
He shifted himself away from her and held out his hands to her. She let him take her hands and tug her close again. They lay together for a moment, motionless, fingers laced together, foreheads touching. Clara breathed in with the Doctor, out, and then he was there with her. A presence, asking for her permission to be closer. She granted it. He flowed around her, his mind, his feelings, a sense of him. One part of her was there, in the bed, pressed against him, and another part was with him. The Doctor, with her, around her, accepting her into himself, easing himself into her mind. Allowing her to feel him, to know him at last.
There was an intellect there, yes, the great intelligence that worried over the problems of the universe even as they lay together, the mind that held so much of the universe's knowledge, but strongest were his feelings for her. Neediness, guilt about that neediness, and then a wash of pure adoration that made her shudder it was so strong. And then he breathed, in and out, deeply, and it receded and was gone. He'd pulled away from her.
"Sorry," he murmured. "Lost control. Let me try again."
He touched his forehead to hers again and was there again, less overwhelming than before but still present. Inviting her, hand outstretched, to be with him in all ways. She took that hand in their minds, and they were together. He was smiling at her. His face shifted to the first one she'd known, and he showed her when he'd first met her in the Dalek asylum, when he'd met her again in London in the winter, and then rapid-fire, his many faces and the many times she'd appeared to him. Her echoes, some touching him only briefly, the others with him longer, but all of them cherished. His gratitude was profound.
It was his current face that told her that, standing before her diffidently, in the console room of the TARDIS, his hands in his pockets, coat flared to show off the red lining. She was with him wearing what she'd been when he'd first regenerated, the little plaid skirt. He saw her that way always in his mind, at some level. The Clara-ness of Clara, as he'd seen her when regenerating. So dear to him.
He loved her.
She let him know-- somehow, she wasn't sure how, but forming the intent seemed to be enough-- how much she loved him in return. It had been an honor to do that for him. Her leaf, falling through his lives, had been gladly given.
Then they were back in her bedroom, lying together, hands clasped. He kissed her forehead, to her shock, and then the end of her nose, and then his lips were brushing against hers, and again, lingering this time, until her eyes fluttered closed. It was sweet, tender, as affectionate as his words to her had been.
"Was that okay?" he said.
"Yeah," she said, a little dreamily. "Nice. You are a sweetheart."
"Don't tell anyone."
"It'll be our little secret."
They were still touching each other, still linked, but it was a quieter background connection now, not so overwhelming. He was happy like this. For the first time in so long he was touching and touched, forever joined. That phrase, she realized, had come from him.
"Flowery language from you."
"That's a ritual phrase," he said. "From a ceremony. Antiquated, not practiced any more. Or it wasn't. When I was there."
He blushed and refused to answer. Clara laughed at him, because he'd been unable to avoid thinking about it, and so she knew. One of the possible wedding ceremonies, between lovers joining for the first time. There was a thread of arousal in him now, which she felt and responded to. His rose further in response, until he pulled back a little bit to ease down the connection. If he hadn't, Clara might have gone over from thinking about it with him, bouncing it back and forth until it was too much. That must be what sex was for Gallifreyans, minds touching, nothing more needed.
"Sometimes," he said, though she hadn't spoken aloud. "But we can also make love the usual way."
Images in her mind then, flashes of sensation, of bodies pressed together, his body inside hers. Partly from her, partly from him. She imagined what it would feel like to have sex with him, to feel the weight of his body over her, to wrap her legs around his waist, to feel him inside her while their minds were joined. His breath was coming fast. So was hers.
"Would you like to?" he said, aloud.
"If you want to."
Oh, how he wanted to. He wanted for this connection never to end. She knew that, because it was the only thing he felt in that moment. But he pulled back from her and looked her in the face. "Am I overwhelming you? Am I making you want this?"
Clara laughed at him and kissed the end of his nose. "I've wanted it for a long time, you silly man. I'd have asked, but it didn't seem like it was something you wanted."
He licked his lips. "I'm sorry. I can't without all this mind stuff." He flapped his hand around. "It'll happen if we start making love. I couldn't-- wasn't ready. To let anyone in. Until today."
Clara sat up next to him on the bed, and then immediately regretted it because his mind faded away from hers. She touched his hand again and his presence returned, faintly.
"That's better," she said. "Missed you."
"I'm completely open to you," he said. "But I'm not good at this even in this body."
"We'll just have to keep touching."
He smiled and reached for the hem of her jumper. "Let's make it easier."
They undressed each other slowly, keeping that skin on skin contact as they went, with foreheads touching or lips pressed against a shoulder. Shirts off, her bra unhooked, his trousers unbuttoned and peeled away from his long legs. There he was, looking completely human, at least on the outside, however different he was inside. Spare, pale, gray hair dusted over him, a trail of still dark hair down his belly, and then his sex. He was excited, the way any human man would be excited. He felt in her hand the way any man might feel, soft skin over hardness, the tip emerging from its sheath of skin. She felt his pleasure from her touch, and it spiked when he slipped his hand between her thighs to explore her in turn.
The pleasure bounced back and forth from one to the other, rising with only the gentlest touches. It was not going to take much. Clara was going to go over before he was even inside her, and something about that made her sad.
Then it damped down. The Doctor was shaking his head. "I'm going to lose control of it," he said. "I'll try, but--"
"Don't. Just let yourself feel it."
"Oh, Clara, you have no idea what this is going to do to me. None. I'm yours now, but after this--"
"Stop fretting and come here."
She lay back on the pillows and tugged him down to lie over her. Clara took him in hand and guided him inside. He rocked his hips until he was as deeply inside her as he could be, and then he stilled. His face was pressed against her neck. She could feel him inside, feel his satisfaction at being so entangled with her, how he had missed it.
The connection was deep now, so deep that it wasn't in her conscious awareness. They were one being, one body, one mind, moving together, communing. Exchanging words of devotion, promises and pleas, one caressing the other and receiving the pleasure redoubled. They were moving together gently.
Her orgasm was slow but inexorable, utterly intense, in her mind as much as in her body. He came inside her as she came. She felt his joy, his guilty joy at spending himself inside her, the longing that he would never give voice to that she might perhaps carry his child someday. It couldn't be hidden from her when they were like this, and neither could she hide from him her spark of delight at the thought.
"Clara," he said.
She said his name to him.
He almost crushed her in his arms in response. "You know it, you know it, you heard it," he said.
"You were saying it to me, over and over. See me, you said, and then your name."
"God," he said, or some oath that was translated that way, and he wiped at his face.
Clara extricated herself from him and sat up. That was strange: she wasn't touching him right now, but she still had a sense of him. Faint, but present. She touched his shoulder with a single fingertip, and it grew to a steady pulse between them. His mind, her mind, next to each other now. It wasn't invasive or overwhelming now. He'd regained control, perhaps.
She looked the question at him. He fluttered a hand in the air, sketching a line from his heart to hers. "We're together now," he said.
"I warned you."
"I'm not complaining. It's nice."
Relief on his face. "It is."
"It is always that way? Anybody you let inside?"
He shook his head. "No. I let you all the way in. Rarely done, because it's so-- the consequences-- it's a bonding. We'll always be together in some sense from now on. At least for me."
This was, she knew, what he had done with Koschei so long ago, and why she still had a hold on him. "Forever joined?" That phrase, from the ritual that had embarrassed him.
He nodded. The expression on his face was difficult to read. His hair was rumpled and his temples were sweaty; he looked like a man who'd just had sex. She touched him, and yes, there he was, warm against her mind. He was at peace now, contented in a way he hadn't been before. It wasn't only that he'd had sex; he had found something he needed. In her. Clara felt smug at that. The great Time Lord, hers in all ways now. Her companion as they explored all of space and time. Never alone, not any more.