Do you feel safe?
Give me a number out of ten. Ten being, “Woohoo!”; one being, “Ahhhhhh!”
You’re being weird.
I need to know if you feel safe; I need to know you’re not afraid.
It’s a conversation she doesn’t think twice of after it happened; she’d gone back to her room and finished drying her hair. It’s an odd question for him to ask--of course, running away with a spaceman in a box is not going to be the safest thing. Doesn’t he know that? She wouldn’t have agreed to travel with him if she thought she couldn’t handle it. As she blow dries her hair, she watches her reflection, a crease between her brow as she focuses on getting her hair to curl under just right, rather than flipping out on one side and curling in on the other.
In the back of her mind, though, the mangled, dismembered bodies of the crew from the Soviet submarine lurk, always there when she drifts off to sleep, always causing her to wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat. The face of a spectre haunts her dreams, too--and though it had merely been a woman, she couldn’t shake the very real fear that she’d experienced at Caliburn house.
But safe? She had never really felt as though she were in true danger; somehow, having the Doctor at her side had curbed that concern. He always knew what to do at the right time--or he would wing it, and somehow, mind-bogglingly to her, it always seemed to work out.
She places the blow dryer and hair brush within the vanity's drawers and crosses to her bed, climbing in; it isn’t long until her exhaustion takes over, and she is asleep within minutes.
The sound of screaming alerts the Doctor as he wipes down the console. He takes off down the stairs and through the corridor, memories that are fuzzy flashing through his mind. Clara punching him; Clara yelling at him in the room where the Eye of Harmony resides--he doesn’t quite remember them, but he knows it is from an aborted timeline. And he never wants to hear her scream like that because of him again.
He bursts into Clara’s bedroom, nearly tripping over her discarded towel before he is kneeling by her bed, his hands on her shoulders as he tries to make her aware. “Clara,” he says, looking into her face. Her eyes are wild, her cheeks are flushed, and her lips are slightly parted, her breath moving in and out rapidly. “Clara, it’s okay, you’re awake, it was a bad dream.”
Her eyes focus on him and her face screws up. He can tell that she’s trying in vain not to cry; it takes him less than a second to take up residence on her bed beside her and pull her to him. He can feel her tears soaking through the fabric at his shoulder, and he runs a hand over her hair, trying to ignore how soft it feels because admiring her while she is crying on his shoulder won’t do him any good.
“Three,” she chokes out in a muffled voice a few minutes later, her head still close to his shoulder. “Sometimes it’s a seven. Sometimes it’s a nine. But right now it’s a three.”
He is confused for a moment until he remembers the question he’d asked her earlier, and he feels his stomach drop. “Wh-hat?” he stutters, and cringes internally that he couldn’t stop the stutter before it happened. “No, no.” He pushes her gently away from his shoulders, his hands dropping down her upper arm before coming up to cradle her face, thumbs brushing strands of hair mixed with tears away from her eyes. “Tell me what I can do, Clara,” he murmurs, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “How can I make your nightmares go away?”
“I’m glad that you’re here, now,” she says in return. “It’s already back up to a five and a half.” Her laugh that accompanies her words is watery, and he laughs with her, though his mind is troubled.
“Well, then! It’s settled. I’ll stay until it’s at least an eight-point-forty-seven.” He shifts on the mattress until he is sitting side-by-side with her, and puts an arm around her shoulders, pulling her to him. She is so small in his arms that his hand reaches down to her waist, and he doesn’t realize that his fingertips are tracing circles into her nightgown, and if he had been paying closer attention, perhaps he would’ve realized that he was tracing the intricate patterns, sworls and lines, of the Gallifreyan word for safe. He doesn’t realize that the repetitions of the pattern are soothing Clara to sleep in the crook of his arm until he feels the steady rise and fall of her breathing against his chest.
He is nearly asleep himself when he feels her begin to twitch; when he opens his eyes, he sees the lines between her eyebrows and the rough set of her lips. He is about to shake her gently when she murmurs, “I don’t want to burn.” A half-memory, blurred around the edges, surfaces; he is standing on the bridge in the Eye of Harmony room, holding Clara’s shoulders as a burned Clara bangs on the door behind her. White-hot heat floods his body as he shakes her awake--he doesn’t want her to remember that. He wishes she dreamt of his name instead of the pain of a future that never happened.
“Doctor, were you sleeping with me?” is the first query from her lips once she rouses from sleep.
“Clara!” he exclaims, a violated tone in his voice, though he maybe likes the idea of sleeping with Clara, to feel the rise and fall of her breath against him and feel her cheek against his shoulder, to untangle his long legs from her short ones, or maybe to tangle them purposefully. “I was not asleep.”
“So you were watching me sleep, then? That’s a bit more creepy.” He looks down at her and she gives him a cheeky, sleepy grin.
“Well, I told you I’d stay.” He moves to tweak her nose, but she catches his hand with hers, her fingers lacing with his. “Time Lords don’t need as much sleep as humans. You know, biology and all that.” His ramble becomes nervous as she shifts, sitting up on her knees and removing her hand from his. She places both of her palms flat against his chest. “What are you doing, Clara?”
“Relax, Chin Boy, I just wanted to feel your heartbeats,” she says. “Do your hearts normally beat this fast? It doesn’t seem healthy.”
“Yes!” His reply is a bit too quick, and he knows it, but she--thankfully--doesn’t comment on it. Carefully, he takes her hands in his own and removes them from his chest, standing up in one swift movement. “I’ll let you sleep. I think it’s a few more hours until the birth of Aldebaran; I’ll wake you in time.”
She tugs him back down onto the bed (which he takes none too gracefully). “We’re in a time machine. Stay with me.”
Once he settles, Clara nestles back into the crook of his arm, her cheek resting against his chest with her fingers tracing circles around the buttons of his shirt. “I’d say I feel about as close to a ten as I ever could, right now,” she murmurs into his vest, half asleep, and he presses his lips against her hair.
Neither of them mention it when they wake, nor do they mention how it seems to happen every night she spends in the TARDIS from then on. He knows he wants to protect her from the nightmares; she knows she likes the feel of his heartbeats against her skin.