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lay your armor down

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The first time, she's dirty and tired and he's too full of the stars. Expanding, burning, body humming with adrenaline and energy. “No,” she says as he stumbles around the console, preparing to head off to their next distraction.

He glares at her, mouth hanging slightly open, but she grabs his arm and drags him to the bathroom with her. She's too dirty, too tired to care, too tired to question it or be surprised when he draws her bath—quickly, the TARDIS manages to fill a tub in moments—and then kneels by it, taking her limbs in his hands and studiously washing the day's muck from her skin. His excess energy diverted, put to better use.

Rolled up shirtsleeves and concentration, the universe contracted and focused on a single point. Her fingers wet and soapy, she traces a line of little suds down his cheek, as he hangs his hands over the edge of the tub and looks quietly at the tiny swirls he makes in the water.

*

It's three or four trips later, all dangerous, all exciting and fresh, and afterwards in the console room he's bustling about when she asks, “Can you stand still for five minutes? You're making me dizzy.”

“Not my fault your brain gets jumbled so easily,” he says. But she glares at him and points to the wall like he's one of her students, and he doesn't think, doesn't do anything but sigh and walk over.

“I didn't-” she begins; she stops herself short, and he hears her walking up behind him. “Five minutes.”

She reaches around him, takes his arms and guides them until he puts his hands on the wall above his head. Five minutes later, it's her hands again that pull him back down, and those five minutes have felt like an eternity on an event horizon, frozen and falling, a peaceful fear washing through him once it's over.

*

“Is this-?”

It's five minutes after those five minutes, seated on the stairs together; she can't quite form her thoughts into words. “Is this what?” he asks.

“Is this what you like about me?” she asks finally. A wry grin on her face, she rolls her eyes self-consciously and says, “The control freak bit, I mean.”

“No,” he says quickly. “Not a freak, just. In control.” He frowns. “Sometimes a freak, but not with this, I don't think.”

“You like the control,” she says, wide-eyed.

He tilts his head, agreeing wordlessly. “Do you like having it?” She nods, still wide-eyed.

Then, he thinks, this is.

*

She doesn't like being restrained. It's always particularly bad after they've had a run-in with people or creatures who try to restrain them, she's always prickly and short—“I don't mean it like that, Clara,” he protests—and broody. Something about the loss of control.

He doesn't think he's as badly off. In his opinion, anyway. His opinion isn't quite the same as hers, though, so when he offers her a chance, says, “Would you like to-” with his hands holding out a pile of rope he keeps for working around the TARDIS, she stares at him with wide, worried eyes. Her fingers touch his face and come away with sweat; it's only then that he feels it trickling down his forehead, down his neck, down the small of his back. He doesn't think he's as badly off, but he's wrong.

When she shakes her head no, he presumes the relief he feels is on her behalf.

*

They move the wingback chair slightly, so that when he sits in front of it he can lean back against the railing. It's the easiest position to be in when she's in the chair, her foot cradled in his hands and his fingers kneading and rubbing until she sighs and makes him switch feet. First, before, she'd made him undo the laces of her boots, and he'd gone in without thinking—mouth, then tongue, against leather, eyes flicked up to watch her reaction. Her own eyes had been soft, warm, breath hitching through parted lips. Something to remember, he'd thought. Something to repeat.

His mind goes as pliant as her body does, given a task to complete, a role to fill that doesn't require him taking the lead or making difficult decisions. There's no wrong here; there's no lesser evils to choose between, everything he does is right and good for once. When she's had her fill, she pulls away from him—he leans forward at the loss of her touch, but it's not for long. A kiss is pressed to the crown of his head, she gathers him forward until he's resting on his knees with his arms wrapped around her calves and his head in her lap.

A weight is lifted for a moment. “My Clara,” he murmurs. She curls forward and strokes her hand down his back.

*

It's months before he pulls the ropes out again.

She's not around when he does it. He'd taken her home, left her to lick her wounds and recover on her own, bruises from their captors' restraints still on her wrists. (His wrists are, predictably, already healed.) The rope passes between his fingers, soft and slippery, thick and not as weighty as it looks but heavy enough. He can do this.

When he goes back to her, he asks again, and this time she says yes. Not right away, hesitantly, with some concern in her eyes and a promise from him that he'll tell her if he wants to stop, but yes. It takes a few more days for her to call him back, and in that span he finds years, ages waiting and anticipating. Then she takes his hand, leads him down a hallway, to the bedroom he rarely uses and the bed he's barely touched. On the bed, ankles tied but spread, with Clara slowly, sure-handedly wrapping the rope around itself until it's a small, solid bar between his feet. “Down,” she says. He's on his stomach, cheek pressed into a pillow, arms at his side, until she makes him lift up slightly to put the first two loops on.

She takes her time with him, the first knot pressing in between his shoulder blades as she tightens the loops around him. He can't see it from the back, but she tells him it looks like a butterfly, a cross that cuts over his shoulders and under his arms, as she does the next knot. It's slow, methodical, and he has nothing to look at, nothing to do but feel every little vibration in the rope as she works; she's done this before, he realizes, just not with him. She's too efficient in her movements in spite of how much time she's taking, too confident even through her nerves. Each knot takes an eternity to create, forming pairs of loops that pull his arms even tighter behind him until finally she's nearly done. One set of loop just above the roll of his cuffs, one set at his wrists just below.

“Comfy?” she asks when she's finished. Her voice is shaky; he can't see her face from where he is. And where she is changes when she's finished. Instead of being slightly beside him, she shifts until she's straddling him, kneeling just above him with her hands pressing the mattress on either side of his head.

He doesn't struggle so much as test. It's not tight enough to hurt, but—he can't move, not really. He can squirm. “I think so,” he says. “Clara?”

“Yes?”

“Does this help?”

She doesn't speak, but he feels the brush of her hair against his skin. Then, a kiss, first to the nape of his neck, then to his jaw, right under his ear. “Yes,” she says. “Thank you. But I need you to do something for me.”

“I can't do very much right now.”

She chuckles, sits up, and sinks a little lower around his body. No pressure on him, simply the feel of her against him. “Right, I know. But I need you to relax.” Her hands are on his shoulders, stroking up and down his arms, idly plucking at rope here and there. “Not like you've got any other choice, Doctor.”

“I'm already-”

“Slow down your breathing,” she says, and it's only then that he realizes what he's been doing. Panting, breathing hard, like he'd just run a mile, sweat beading on his forehead and slicking the palms of his hands. “Deep breath. I know you've got a whole different system in that body of yours, but just take a deep breath for me anyway. Do you need me to untie you?”

"No." In and out, slowly. “Clara,” he says, exhaling and squeezing his eyes shut.

"That's right," she whispers softly. Her hair tickles his skin again, and her breath is warm against him. "It's just me. It's only me. Deep breath for your Clara, okay?"

No other choice, he thinks. Just whatever Clara chooses for him. Something breaks open inside of him, forced out like she's reached into him and dug her fingers into his hearts, violently tearing down every wall he's built in one swoop, and replacing them with herself. Her own soul and mind, wrapping around him and holding him in her. He doesn't feel her cutting away at the rope, not until she's lying next to him and tugging him towards her and he finds that he can wrap his arms around her. No other choice but that, for which he is grateful.

*

"Are you all right?"

He grins, nods an honest yes, and buries his face against her neck. It's just his Clara, just her choices. He can do this. He wants this. Controlled, safe, and hers, he feels like he's soaring.

*

He asks for it again, later. After he's pulled boots from aching feet, cleaned the dirt from her skin, after his hands have pressed against sore muscle and rubbed fragrant oil onto her, she shows him, slowly, with dark rope against pale wrists, soft lips against his cheek, what he means to her.