The Doctor was missing.
Just this statement was something Clara was struggling with accepting, but that was what it was.
She tried to take a deep breath, letting her hands rest on the edge of the kitchen counter and trying to calm her rising anxiety, which was aggravating to the point of making it difficult to breathe.
Was he prone to disappearing without answering his phone? Yes, that was nothing new. He would always come back days or weeks later, confused as to why Clara was mad at him until he realized he got the date wrong. Again.
This time, however, it had been almost a month without a single peep from him. Her texts unread, her calls unanswered. Nobody, not even Kate Stewart at UNIT had heard from him, and Clara was running out of options.
She still held this flame inside her, the hope that he would come home soon, his TARDIS materializing in her living room with his usual awful parking skills and start rambling about this planet or that alien. He would start wandering around the console room, his arms flailing around with his explanations and his black and red jacket willowing with his movements, unbeknownst to him just how much Clara was mad and relieved at seeing him until he would stop in his tracks and realize the tears of relief in her eyes.
She’d told herself one and a half million reasons why the Doctor would not come or answer his phone, she’d tried to rationalize it in multiple ways. Perhaps a strange alien had delayed him, one that he couldn’t beat in the blink of an eye; or maybe he’d simply lost track of time… the possibilities were endless, but the longer the Doctor stayed silent the more concerned Clara became.
She berated herself for asking the Doctor to take her home when she should’ve been with him, in the TARDIS, as she always was. Leaving him on his own had been a mistake; she couldn’t even remember why he’d wanted to come back to her apartment.
Then, finally, she heard it.
The unmistakable whooshing sound of the TARDIS. She turned around on her feet just in time to see the blue time machine materialising in her living room, and she distantly noticed, as if her body belonged to somebody else, how she started to shake with anxiety, anger and relief. She walked decisively towards the blue doors, her feet stomping on the carpeted floor of her living room.
“Where the hell have you been?” she shouted as she came inside, momentarily thankful to be able to hear those hinges creak when she pushed the door open.
What she found made her stop dead in her tracks, though.
The Cloister bell of the TARDIS was ringing furiously, its deep ominous sound taking Clara out of her reverie and taking a defensive stance almost immediately. Instinct took over and she frowned, trying to locate the source of the danger. That was when she saw him, a sight that would surely bring her nightmares in the dark and solitude of the night.
The Doctor’s body was sprawled on the floor of the console room. His long curls, normally so wild and grey and white were now almost brown. His clothes were torn and ragged, covered in dirt and filth. He appeared to be unconscious.
It felt as though her heart stopped for a split second and then a rush of adrenaline surged from the depths of her body, making her leap at him.
“DOCTOR!” she screamed as she sprinted towards him and knelt on the floor next to him, her shaking hands already going towards his shoulders to turn him over.
No no no you idiot, you don’t regenerate on me! Not now! she kept thinking, blinking furiously to dispel the tears that were threatening to pool in her eyes.
She couldn’t lose him now, not when they had finally found a way to leave everything that hurt them in the past, not when they were both so happy, travelling the universe, saving the day... she couldn’t, wasn’t ready to face another regeneration. Not yet. Not when she… when she felt there were just so many things unsaid, so many paths not taken.
Clara gulped as she cradled the Doctor’s head on her lap, her eyes glistening as she checked him and registered his wrinkled face with a couple of angry red marks, his body unresponsive. His pulse was slow, too slow, but steady for now.
What the hell happened to him? she wondered. His deplorable state and wounds suggested he might’ve been held against his will, or perhaps on a rough battle. In any case, it was something she dreaded to know if her mighty Doctor had been reduced to this state.
She couldn’t let him in the console room, she needed to make sure he didn’t have any fatal injury. Plus, he needed bed rest and god knew how many hours of sleep to recover.
She tried shaking him awake but it was no use, he was completely unresponsive. It didn’t seem like he’d wake up any time soon, and so she made a decision. She took a deep breath before gathering all her strength, and wishing he didn’t wake up, she shifted his body so she could grab him by the armpits. Slowly, with small steps and stopping every few seconds to check on him, she dragged him out of the TARDIS and towards her living room.
Her arms were burning due to the effort and she considered briefly letting him sleep on the sofa, but she knew it wasn’t the most comfortable place to rest, so she pushed through the pain and the trembling in her muscles and kept dragging the Doctor through the carpeted floor. Once in her bedroom and with one final push, she placed the Doctor on top of the mattress.
She was exhausted by the time she’d placed the cushions as comfortably as she could under the Time Lord’s body, and now she took the time to observe him. Dragging him through the floor had been hard but even after the effort, she could notice how he’d lost weight since the last time he’d seen him. The ragged clothes were clinging to his body, making it appear even thinner. He was supposed to be unconscious but she had no idea why or how long it would take for him to wake up. She got up and turned around, walking decidedly.
She needed answers and some help getting them.
Inside the TARDIS, the Cloister Bell had stopped but the humming, normally comforting sound was nowhere to be heard either. Instead, the time machine was painfully silent, as if she was waiting for its thief to come back and stir her to life once again.
“I need help” she declared, knowing the TARDIS was listening “he’s in a bad shape but I need to know how bad, and how to best help him”
Ever the compliant and helpful time machine - Clara snorted at the thought - she procured the sonic glasses, a first aid kit, and a book. Clara frowned. What on earth would she need a book for, and how fast did the TARDIS think she read?
She was about to grab the other essentials and leave it behind when something in her mind told her it was important, otherwise, the TARDIS wouldn’t have given it to her. She took it in her hands and turned it over, and her breath was caught in her throat. The title read ‘Psychological Consequences of Social Isolation and Sensory Deprivation’.
Clara felt frozen. Cold sweat was breaking from the base of her spine and she grabbed the book with both hands so tight her knuckles turned white, a pitiful whimper involuntarily coming out of her throat as she let the tears spill. She shook her head, her mind picturing horrible images of the Doctor confined in a small and dark space, utterly alone and isolated. She tried to dispel them but it was impossible. What sort of monster could do this to the Doctor?
It took her a while to react and stop feeling numb, and probably the TARDIS nudging her towards the door. She took a couple of deep breaths, mentally reciting all of Jane Austen’s books and date of publication to get her racing mind under control again.
When her eyes opened she wiped away the moisture on her cheeks and grabbed the first aid kit and sonic glasses with resolve, her face creasing into a decisive frown. She couldn’t get herself be overwhelmed by this, it was the Doctor who would probably be overwhelmed and needed her to be his anchor. She shook her head and mentally prepared, taking a deep breath, before venturing out there towards her bedroom, where her personal battlefield was.
It wasn’t the best solution but a shower with an unconscious man was out of the question. So, once the Doctor had been placed on her bed, Clara had taken off his many layers of clothing, leaving him with an old t-shirt and his trousers on.
She used some warm water to clean most of the dirt on his skin and hair and the first aid kit to treat the small cuts and grazes on his face, one crossing the bridge of his nose and another one on his left cheek, right below his eye. Thankfully, the sonic glasses told her there was not much physical damage to be concerned about. There was a bit of malnutrition and dehydration that she needed to keep in mind, but it wasn’t life-threatening and could wait until the Doctor recovered his consciousness. Since she couldn’t do much else until he woke up, she left him to sleep and went to the sofa. She had the feeling it was going to be a long night.
Cold, so cold... barren, empty, no life... no warmth...
Clara... Clara, where are you?
So alone, so dark. So cold...
Clara’s eyes shot back open, almost falling off the sofa in her scare. She was almost sure the scream could be heard in the entire block. Something was very wrong.
She sprinted towards her bedroom with her heart leaping in her chest but stopped at the threshold, observing, assessing the situation.
The Doctor was thrashing on the bed; the sheets and comforter somehow had managed to entangle themselves around his weak body and he was trying to break free without success. He seemed to be still asleep, caught up in a nightmare or, Clara dreaded to think, a memory.
She walked towards the bed and grabbed the sheets with both hands, disentangling them from the Doctor’s long limbs.
“Doctor, wake up,” she said, her voice not too loud but audible in the dead of night “it’s just a dream. Wake up. Come on, wake up”
It took all of Clara’s strength and self-control not to flinch when the Doctor opened his eyes in panic, his breathing erratic, and he jumped back as he pushed her away.
“NO, DON’T TOUCH ME!”
He curled up against the headboard, one of his hands against his chest as he very visibly tried to calm his racing hearts and rapid breathing, while the other was extended in front of him in an attempt to keep her away and defend himself if he needed to.
It hurt seeing him that way.
She tried to gulp down the tears and the hurt at his rebuff; even at the beginning of his regeneration, when he wasn’t too versed on the art of touching, he’d never pushed her away like that. At that moment, when the rug was pulled off her feet, she realized just how far the Doctor had come, how comfortable they both had become with each other in their closeness, both physical and otherwise. Would that be taken away too?
She repeated to herself that this wasn’t the Doctor she knew. She still had no details of his abduction, there was no way to know the extent of the psychological damage inflicted on him. And if they had to go back to square one, well... she knew she would do anything the Doctor needed if that meant keeping him in her life.
So, she ignored the pang in her heart and retreated her hand, taking a step back and trying to appear as non-threatening as possible.
“Alright, I won’t” she whispered, attempting at a soothing voice “I won’t touch you if you don’t want to. It’s okay. Just concentrate on your breathing... come on, deep breaths now Doctor...”
She started to take deep breaths, inhaling through her nose and breathing out through her open mouth, one of her hands on her belly as she pushed her hand out with each exhale. She focused her eyes on the Doctor and urged him to do the same. She briefly wondered if his Time Lord biology dictated he needed to take deep breaths to calm down as humans did, but in any case, it was an as good exercise as any to be able to focus and bring his mind back.
“You’re in my flat, far away from whatever hurt you. You’re safe” Clara whispered, infusing his voice with a soothing tone. She used that voice with frightened children and teens whenever there was an accident, which was prone to happen in a school. That soft, soothing voice seemed to be working for the Doctor too.
Gradually, painfully slowly, she noticed the Doctor’s rapid breathing become somewhat calmer and his shoulders stopped heaving as much, although he didn’t move from his position, as far away from her as he could.
She wanted to ask, she yearned to ask what had happened to leave the Doctor in this state. But she knew it would be hard for him to process, much harder to talk about, so she kept silent and let the questions die in her mouth.
“Okay Doctor, time to lay down” it was a command but she made sure not to word it as such “your body and mind need rest. Come on...”
She patted the place he’d been sleeping, and it didn’t escape her notice how his eyes were averted, focusing on the patterns of the comforter and avoiding both the spot she was signalling to and her eyes.
Then, suddenly, his eyes fell on her and she could feel his piercing gaze.
Gosh, his voice sounded so different. Confused, unsure.
She looked up to see him watching her as if he was seeing her for the first time. His eyebrows, longer and wilder than ever, were furrowed in confusion as if he was trying to put together a puzzle in his mind. His green blue-ish eyes were so big and glassy she now understood what he meant when he said hers looked as if they inflated.
“Is that you? Is it really you?”
Something in her heart broke at his question. She sniffled once and gulped, trying to get her feelings and emotions under control.
“Yes, Doctor. It’s me” she affirmed, her voice brittle “you’re in my flat, the TARDIS brought you here. You’re safe now”
“How... how can I know you’re real?”
The question took Clara by surprise, her eyes widening and her eyebrows raising.
Then, she held her hand, palm up.
The Doctor’s eyes went from her face to her hand a few times, trying to make a connection that he didn’t seem to catch.
“My pulse point” she explained.
The Doctor nodded and gulped, so visibly she could see his Adam’s apple wobbling. Slowly and cautiously, he reached with his hand until his index and middle finger were atop Clara’s wrist. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in, and Clara closed her eyes too.
She could feel the icy touch of the Doctor’s fingers on her skin, cold against the warmth of her own skin. She could almost feel the blood in her veins as it rushed to the surface of the spot they were connected. It felt as if her blood, her very skin was singing for him, blissful in their reunion at last.
It was such a small contact, and yet she knew in her heart it meant so much more.
She opened her eyes when she noticed the Doctor’s hand engulfing her own smaller one, his head bowed down as his breath hitched and held on her hand with so much strength he was crushing it.
“Doctor?” she asked, concern filling her voice. Could such a small contact send him over the edge?
Then she remembered the book the TARDIS had procured. ‘Social isolation and touch deprivation’ it said.
Seeing the state he was in it was safe to assume he’d been taken, god knew where or for how long, completely alone and with no one to turn to, physically or otherwise. No wonder he looked so lost.
Pushing those thoughts aside for now she focused on the broken man in front of her, who seemed to be trying to quieten his silent sobs. He was still holding on to her hand for dear life, his long limbs and back all curled up as if he wanted to make himself a smaller target. It was heart-shattering, and Clara knew she had to take him out of that state.
“Doctor, listen” she called his attention “listen to my voice. Don’t go to that dark place, not without me”
“Y-you!” the Doctor exclaimed, looking up, his eyebrows wilder than ever, his eyes red and dangerous “I wouldn’t want you anywhere near that forsaken place! It’s... I don’t - ” words were failing him, but Clara understood.
“Then don’t go there alone” Clara answered “I’m right here. I’m right next to you. Feel my hand, can you feel it?”
She tried to wriggle her fingers, a bit of an impossible task since the Doctor was holding on tightly, but she managed to move them at least enough to make him look down at their joined hands.
“Feel my hand in yours. Can you feel my fingers wriggling?” she wriggled them again, managing to free them of the Doctor’s clutch. She didn’t let go, though, the tips of her fingers slowly caressing the Doctor’s palm.
“Can you feel the warmth of my fingers, how they tickle your skin?” she asked again moving towards the inside of his fingers, her touch light and her movements gentle “do you feel them?”
Her fingers moved now out of their own accord and interlaced with his, pressing their palms together. The Doctor’s hand responded and held on.
“Do you believe it now?” Clara asked, her lips drawing a small smile, the first one since the Doctor had been back.
He nodded. She allowed herself to breathe a sigh of relief for the first time, seeing recognition in his blue eyes. He was back, he’d come back to her, and for now, that would have to suffice.
“How long has it been?” his voice was hoarse and he spoke in low tones as if he was afraid to disturb the silence in the room.
“Almost a month. I had UNIT and practically all the UK looking for you” she answered, forcing her tone to be light and not show just how close to the brink of despair she had been.
“I’m so sorry. It all happened so fast, I didn’t -”
“Hey, don’t apologise” she interrupted him, gently tugging their still joined hands to call his attention “it wasn’t your fault, okay? You’re back now, it’s over.”
He sighed and his whole body sunk into the mattress, exhausted. He bowed his head and she ventured her other hand towards her hair, lightly touching the ends of his curls.
“It’s okay, Doctor” she whispered “you’re here and you won’t ever have to go back there”
She allowed him time to process her words, not rushing him in any way, just holding onto his hand with their fingers interlaced while the other kept a light touch on his hair.
His head was still bowed, he slowly brought their joined hands to his lips and placed a small kiss on the back of her hand. He held it there, his lips pressed to her hand as his breathing tickled her skin.
Clara let her instincts flow and dictate her movements and her hand went towards the little she could see of his face, always slowly and non-threatening, never sudden. Her fingers gingerly stroked his cheek, first just with her fingertips and later with the entire hand. She felt him lean towards her hand, seeking more contact, like a cat starved of affection.
“Clara... I need you”
“I’m right here” she answered, her hand cupping a bit more of his cheek, even though her hand looked so small. She wiped the moisture that had gathered with gentle motions “I’m here, Doctor. What do you need?”
Her fingers stilled, her whole body froze. The silence was deafening.
She looked at him in shock, her mouth opening and closing but no sound came out. She observed him, observed his stance, still holding onto her hand that had now fallen on his lap, his head slightly tilted to one side so he had more contact with her hand.
“Are you... sure you know what you’re asking me?” she managed to ask.
“I do” he answered.
He sniffled once and when he looked up he seemed to be more composed and more like himself than he’d been since he’d arrived at her flat, although he was still avoiding her eyes.
“I was so... isolated. Completely alone. I tried to do as I always do, talk out loud to fool myself into thinking I wasn’t alone, but after a while, even that didn’t work” his voice sounded deadpan, detached, as if he wasn’t talking about his own experience. Then he shook his head, as though trying to dispel those dark thoughts “I need to be here again, to be present. To feel.”
He took their joined hands and placed hers on top of his chest, palm against his beating hearts. She could feel in her fingers the steady heartbeats, always in sets of four.
She then realized that had things gone differently, she might have never heard that sound again. She shuddered at the thought and pressed her hand a bit more to his chest.
“If you don’t want to do this I understand. I’m not...” he began to say, but she scoffed.
“It’s not that. Doctor, in my mind bow-tie you and the rock-star you are one and the same” she insisted.
She knew, had realized how self-conscious he was about his new-old body and how he hid beneath many layers of clothes, but to her, he was as beautiful as he’d always been.
“I just... I don’t want to hurt you” she admitted more to herself than him “if it’s too much for you or if... I couldn’t forgive myself”
“I’ll stop you if it happens” he insisted.
Clara didn’t know what to do. He’d said he was sure but she still doubted the Doctor knew what he was asking, the magnitude of what he was proposing. Then she felt something tugging at her hand, and she looked up.
The Doctor held her gaze. She could feel her eyes looking at her, so intently that she felt suddenly naked, as if there was nothing the Doctor’s eyes couldn’t see. And yet, she felt safe. It felt warm, like the gentle caress of the sun on a spring morning, and she distantly noted how in those moments when his eyes looked at her as if they held the warmth of the sun, she didn’t need to see any more universes or planets.
“You’re the only one I trust, my Clara...” his voice was so tender, even with the Scottish gruff she’d come to associate with him, it was kinder. More loving, she’d even venture to say “if you want this, if you truly want it...” his voice trailed off but the words unsaid were clear in the air.
Was she brave enough to do this? Was she brave enough to dip the toes into the water they’d been avoiding for so long, to jump into the void without any safety net?
She held her breath and her eyes wandered to his hair, his wild curls still dusty but much more like their healthy tone of grey and white. His beautiful face with too much eyebrows and wrinkled skin; his tall, lanky and yet strong body despite its older appearance. She could feel his eyes on her too, how he was undressing her only with his gaze, and felt a sudden rush to undress literally too, to cross the bridge and burn it, to never look back.
Here, in her bed, was the man who meant so much for Clara, who had done, changed and become so much to her that the only possible answer from her was to abandon her previous life and jump into his TARDIS to travel with him to far-off universes. Her days had no meaning outside of her adventures with the Doctor, she didn’t have and didn’t want a ‘normal’ life anymore.
And here he was, the man of the land of her dreams and waking moments, asking her, begging her to take him. Was she strong enough to resist? Or perhaps giving in was, in fact, the strongest and bravest thing to do?
She didn’t need more words.
Very slowly, cautiously, not wanting to scare him or make him run away, she changed position and knelt in front of him, her knees brushing against his shins.
“If I do” she started, a tone of warning in her voice “I want you to tell me to stop if it becomes too much. This is non-negotiable. Agreed?”
As soon as he said the word her stern expression melt away into a loving one, her lips painting an affectionate smile and her eyes growing soft.
“I’ll make you forget, Doctor” she murmured as she moved closer. Her nose tenderly nuzzled his, her lips then moving to place a kiss on the tip of his nose. She placed her hands on his shoulders for support and observed him, with his eyes closed and his eyebrows knitted together in concentration. She could feel his trepidation as if it were her own. It probably was.
“Don’t think” she commanded, her voice just a whisper “just feel”
She could feel the Doctor holding back, something inside him prevented him from completely letting go. Her instincts kicked in and her lips slowly began to wander around his face, leaving a wet trail where she kissed the skin, always gentle and slow. She took a leap forward, however, when her lips found his earlobe and bit it, gaining a gasp from him.
Clara kept listening, half her mind always attuned to the Doctor’s responses, but when she eyed his face he was clearly enjoying her attentions. She smirked and her lips descended towards his neck, kissing and biting on equal measure, making the Doctor’s breathing more erratic and shaky with each passing second, until she found a spot that had him jerk involuntarily, his mouth emitting a delicious sound to Clara’s ears.
When she faced him again he had his eyes closed and he took a shaky breath in, their faces so close his exhale tickled the sensitive skin of her lips. Her eyes fell on those lips, and she couldn’t delay it any longer.
She moved closer, inch by inch, still cautious, until their lips were almost brushing. She stopped then and gently licked the tip of his lower lip with her tongue, her own throat letting out a moan she stifled, although she could hear his moan. He kept still though, his eyes closed and furrowed eyebrows until she finally, finally, broke the distance and pressed their lips together.
At first, it was more like a caress, a test of the waters, a statement of intentions. It felt electrifying and Clara had to fight hard to hold back a moan that was desperate to get out. How long had she been dreaming about this? How long had she been imagining what those lips would taste like, what those hands with long fingers could do to her if they were willing? Had he been having the same dreams, of her small hands touching him in places unknown until now?
She pushed back an inch, her tongue coming out to wet her lips when suddenly she felt her mouth being desperately kissed by a pair of needy lips. She responded avidly, feeling herself get wet when their tongues brushed against each other, and the moan she’d been trying to hold back suddenly erupted from her, moan that the Doctor caught in his mouth.
His kiss was fierce, there was not a second of truce, and Clara was trying to keep up. His hand, previously motionless, was grabbing her by the arms and keeping her in place, not allowing her to move or pull back. The other had moved towards the back of her head, cradling and pressing her to him. By the time her mind caught up with the feelings and sensations she felt like an explosion was happening in every fibre of her being, vibrating and coming, for the first time in a long time, alive.
Suddenly, abruptly, the Doctor broke the kiss and moved under her. He pushed her legs out of the way making her lose her balance and fall almost on top of him with a gasp.
“I need you” he repeated “all of you”
She did as he asked and let her body fall against his, wondering if maybe he wanted to feel her weight on top of him to feel safer. She moved her legs, being hyper-aware of where her groin was, and placed them on top of his, effectively covering his body with hers.
He felt him exhale with relief and smirked, she was right. Her hand went back to his soft curls, having forever wanted to touch them and ran her fingers through them and now that she was allowed, she was sure she would never get tired of it.
But she could wait no longer. Her entire body was screaming for him, much as his by the looks of it. Time was relative and even more inside a time machine, but if there was something Clara didn’t want to waste tonight was time.
With a precise tug she moved the Doctor’s head up and attacked his lips again, she didn’t seem to have enough of those. The taste was maddening, the sensations filling her body awakening senses and nerve endings she had thought forgotten. It was both exactly as she’d imagined and so utterly different from anything she’d done before. It was magical.
She finally pulled away, needing to breathe and give her swollen lips a rest, and smirked when she saw the Doctor discreetly passing his tongue along his lips. She playfully kissed him again, just a quick peck, but moaned when the Doctor’s teeth grabbed her lower lip and bit, sending a jolt to her groin.
Right then Clara noticed the tables were turned, that the Doctor had allowed her to get the upper hand but now was not about to. She felt him moving under her and had only time to briefly wonder what he was up to when he felt his neck being kissed and bitten savagely, a rush of pleasure running through her body when his teeth sunk into her already sensitive skin. His expert hands had managed to get her inside her pijama pants without her even being aware of it, she only realized it when she gasped and her back arched involuntarily when his hand brushed against her wetness, rewarding her with another bite.
The kisses and bites continued, growing bolder and covering more skin. The clothes soon were a bother and flew away, both the Doctor and Clara needed to see more, to touch more, to feel more. The fingers caressed and stroked and gripped, the mouths breathed and gasped and moaned.
Clara was aware, distantly, that they were on the cusp of something unspeakably special, something so otherwordly nothing else could compare. Their bodies spoke a different language and yet they understood each other perfectly, much like they had learnt to do with each other. They were both anxious to give and to receive, to make the other feel what they had been harbouring inside for too long, to show what their mouths were incapable of speaking out loud.
When it happened, both stark naked and so close to each other that nobody could distinguish where one ended and the other began, it made them put their souls bare at each other’s feet.
At that moment there were no barriers, no secrets between them.
Inch by inch the pressure grew, making toes uncurl and hands grab sheets, filling the room with a delicious smell and the sounds of two souls finally reuniting after so long.
In the aftermath of their love-making, the Doctor’s body was pressed firmly against Clara’s, his head resting against her collarbone as she kissed his forehead. She contemplated their life from now on, and she realized that all they had done was opening the door to something beautiful and new, but ultimately, bound to happen. She saw with a pleasant surprise that they had just been two idiots who refused to stand in front of the other and just blurt out what they were feeling until they had had to face the facts. And the fact was that they were disastrous when it came to words, but their bodies could perfectly understand each other with no need to say anything. She smirked slightly and closed her eyes, breathing deeply as she felt distantly the steady beating of his hearts.
After all, when souls are capable of speaking, words are futile devices.