The Doctor stepped back into the TARDIS with a renewed sense of hope swelling in his chest, almost as if it was something in the air that he had breathed into his lungs. Clara was standing on the other side of the control room, her lips curled into a small smile as she dragged her fingers along the edge of the console. She looked up when she saw him enter the TARDIS and her smile broadened, which made his chest swell with a completely different emotion.
"So?" she asked.
"So what?" he replied.
"So, what now?"
They gravitated towards each other, each leaning against the edge of the console as the air in the room grew thicker. The Doctor crossed his arms over his chest and bowed his head for a moment while he considered Clara's question.
"There's still Mesopotamia. Or we skip ahead to the moon."
The corners of her lips twitched. "I could go for a cocktail right about now."
He smiled brightly at her. She laughed. Unable to resist any longer, the Doctor dipped down and wrapped his arms tightly around her waist, earning a gleeful squeak of surprise from Clara in return as she circled her arms around his neck. They lingered in each other's embrace for a second longer than usual, and then that second continued into several more. The Doctor slid one hand up her back and dipped his chin against her shoulder, his grin slipping when he felt her fingers press into the back of his neck.
"I didn't burn the planet," he said, his voice a lot lower in his throat than he meant for it to be.
He could feel her grinning. "I know."
"Because of you," he added, pulling back to look at her. "You, Clara Oswald, are amazing."
She gave a little shrug and wrinkled her nose. "I know."
He laughed lightly and shook his head at her cheeky reply. Then, after another surge of emotion bubbled inside his chest, the Doctor cradled her face in his hands and kissed her on the lips. The look on Clara's face when he pulled away reminded him that he didn't normally do that, and the Doctor's hearts practically vibrated in his chest as he struggled to recover.
"Uh… right. I mean, um…"
A smile spread across her face as he continued babbling. The Doctor wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, because sometimes Clara smiled when she was angry. He carried on in a state of panic, uttering a series of sounds that didn't even resemble words until Clara stood on her tiptoes and pecked him on the lips, effectively silencing him. He looked at her in surprise, suddenly unsure of what it was that happening between them. He could feel the heat radiating through her clothes and was strongly aware of the places where their bodies touched; it awakened a longing in him that he normally had no difficulty pushing aside, but now as he looked into her eyes he found he didn't want to.
He could still see Clara standing in that barn on Gallifrey, looking up at him with tears in her eyes as she reminded him what he was, what he stood for, and more importantly, what it was he loved about her.
"Clara…" he began, but her name was the only thing he could give voice to.
She nodded in response, seemingly interpreting her name as a question. The Doctor released a hopeful breath and then dipped forward, kissing her once again. He sank into her embrace and an involuntary hum escaped his throat as her tongue brushed against his.
Suddenly she was stepping back, her gaze centred on his chest. "We shouldn't."
He covered his disappointment with a laugh and took a step back. "You're right."
"I mean—What are we doing?" she said with a nervous smile, forcing a laugh to dispel the tension.
He laughed with her but bowed his head, watching his foot scuffle against the floor. "I don't know! Being silly."
Their laughter died out quickly, leaving an awkward silence behind that neither of them knew how to fill. The Doctor glanced down at Clara's slender fingers curling against the fabric of his shirt. Her hand had landed on his chest when they'd been laughing, but now he met her eyes and felt that laughter was the furthest thing on his mind.
Without a second thought, the Doctor stepped forward planted an impassioned kiss on her lips that had Clara staggering backwards. For the briefest of moments he feared she would push him away again, but then her arms snaked tightly around his neck and she moaned softly against his lips. He released his own sound of satisfaction as Clara's body pressed firmly into his and his every nerve ending screamed out to her. Never before in his centuries of living had he ever felt so alive.
He lifted her off of the ground and started walking—quickly. Clara tightened her arms around his neck and squealed when he hopped down the steps leading away from the console room and started marching through the labyrinthine corridors that led to her bedroom door.
The Doctor hesitated before going in. This all felt too rushed, too spontaneous, and he worried they weren't giving this enough thought, but there was something hazy in Clara's eyes that reminded him of why his feet had led them to her door. He was breathing heavily, both from lust and the exertion of carrying her in his arms, and he watched Clara's gaze drop from his down to his lips.
He wanted her. He always had, but it always felt unfair. Every romantic relationship he'd ever enter into had been a train wreck; he ruined people's lives and even sometimes ended them, and if they didn't end up resenting him, he always resented himself. But today he didn't feel like the man who left destruction in his wake because he knew he could be better, he knew that all he had to do was try, and in his arms was the woman who'd reminded him that he was more than just a destroyer of worlds—and, God—he hoped he never destroyed hers.
Standing in front of her bedroom door with their arms and thoughts wrapped around each other, both contemplated their next move and knew what it would mean if they stepped inside. They also considered the alternative, however, and in an instant Clara pulled the Doctor's lips to hers in a deep kiss that answered his unspoken question. He fumbled with the door handle and they nearly fell into the room once it opened. She dropped to her feet and switched on her bedside lamp while the Doctor closed the door and removed his coat. Clara unbuckled the belt on her leather jacket and slid it off her shoulders, and the sight of so much red made his hearts beat that much faster. He realised he wasn't moving when she looked up at him apprehensively, so he stepped forward and placed his hands at her waist, matching her light smile as she slid her palms up to his shoulders.
The Doctor swallowed hard before leaning down and kissing her, this time with less blind confidence now that he knew this escalating into something more intimate. Kissing Clara was something he had thought about on countless occasions, especially whenever she was talking and he found his gaze fixated on her lips. It felt impossible that they were actually standing in her bedroom with their lips and hands on each other, but then again it felt impossible that he had saved Gallifrey after she had given him the simple reminder that he could.
But then Clara was his impossible girl; she made everything that shouldn't be possible into reality.
He sighed against her lips and she tugged him towards her bed, backing into it until her legs hit the edge and she was forced to sit on the mattress. The Doctor fell forward with her, his hands pressing into the mattress on either side of Clara's hips until she stretched back against her pillow with his long body settled heavily on top of hers.
He wanted to devour every sound she made, kiss every inch of her exposed skin, and inhale her scent until it consumed him. His fingers deftly moved down the front of her dress, unbuttoning it until her bare skin was exposed to the sultry air. He placed his hand on her stomach and caressed her smooth skin, kissing and nibbling his way up from her navel until she pulled his lips back to hers for a searing kiss.
The heat between them escalated and their movements became more frantic. Clara's fingernails scraped lightly against his skin as she tugged his shirt from his trousers, and somehow in trying to extricate himself from his sleeves, he got his shirt tangled around her neck. Clara threw the shirt to the floor and laughed, the sound putting a wide grin on his face as she placed her palms on his bare chest and gazed into his eyes. The Doctor wrapped his arms around her shoulders and kissed her cheek, her neck, the soft swell of her breast, all while fumbling at the fastening of her bra. Clara made a frustrated noise and then sat up, forcing him to do the same, so she could reach behind her and release the hooks.
Almost hesitantly, she peeled her bra away and then let it drop to the floor, her eyes rising to meet his. She kissed him tenderly, her lips softly moving against his as her fingers worked at the button and zipper of his trousers. He gasped when she took him in her hand and dug his fingernails into the backs of her arms, leaving tiny indentations in her flesh. He kissed her with a rising passion and felt her moan of pleasure vibrate through him as his hand slipped beneath the thin fabric of her knickers.
With a driving need, they both removed their last bits of clothing and then merged without hesitation. Clara released a stifled cry when he pushed into her clutched his arms tightly. Her gaze locked with his, unflinching until he pulled back and pushed into her again. She threw her head back against the pillow and slammed her eyes shut, releasing a deep moan that would haunt him every night for weeks, months years. He moaned against her neck and along the line of her jaw, planted kisses on her cheek and in her hair, and when his muscles stiffened and the room filled with stars, his lips fell slack against her throat where he expelled a heavy, satisfied breath against her skin.
The rapid beating of their hearts and heavy breathing composed a symphony to fill the silence as they lay together, their limbs tangled in a languid heap. Neither said a word or looked at the other, and the Doctor's throat constricted with panic as the haze cleared and reality settled in. He hesitated a moment before lifting his head and looking into Clara's eyes, but what he saw shining there was as far from dread or regret as it could be. He pressed his lips against hers for a kiss that was fuelled by something other than passion, and he once again counted his lucky stars for having Clara Oswald in his life.
"Hey," she breathed, dazzling him with a smile.
The Doctor bowed his head and chuckled softly before returning his eyes to hers. "Hey, you."
They kept running after that. It should have been impossible for them to carry on the way they had been before, for him to look at her without feeling guilty or like he'd taken advantage, or for him not to feel obligated to her in a way that didn't really suit a Time Lord, but once again, the impossible was always possible with Clara.
"Hello, the TARDIS."
"Emergency: you're my boyfriend."
"Ding, dong! OK, brilliant!"
They returned to Trenzalore, a planet the Doctor had hoped to avoid for at least another two hundred years or so. When he saw the crack whose return he had dreaded since the second big bang, the Doctor knew immediately that he had to send Clara away. He sent her back to the TARDIS without as much as blinking because he knew that he had to stay and fight a long, perhaps endless battle to save the universe from another Time War, and she couldn't live out the rest of her life trapped by his side.
He did it for her, but on a deeper, more selfish level, he did it so he wouldn't have to watch time render her into dust.
He bowed his head as the familiar sound of the TARDIS dematerializing filled the air and felt something hollow in his chest when it was followed by silence. Days later when it reappeared on the surface of Trenzalore, he would walk around inside looking for her with the absurd hope that Clara had hidden away in some room and was waiting to jump out and shout at him for sending her away. There were nights when he would spend hours roaming the endless corridors of the TARDIS, his feet eventually leading him to her bedroom door, where he would stand with his hand hovering over the handle until he expelled a heavy sigh and walked away.
Those nights were usually followed by years when he wouldn't even step foot inside the TARDIS, years when he could only look at the old girl from the safety of his bedroom window, from where it was harder to think about Clara and everyone else he had left behind.
Then one day—he didn't know why, he didn't know how—the crack shut. He had been pacing restlessly across the floor when the entire room quaked beneath him and then, in the blink of an eye, the crack was gone. The Doctor ran outside and looked to the sky, where the familiar lights of the hovering ships disappeared as if someone had flicked an off switch.
He confirmed his enemies' retreat with Tasha Lem, who was just as baffled by the sudden end of the standoff as he was.
"What will you do now, Doctor?" she asked as he prepared to leave her ship in favour of his own. "Fly off in your TARDIS, never look back?"
"I've grown quite fond of Christmas," he said, turning back to Tasha with a grin. "In fact, there's one on Earth that I'd rather like to return to."
It had been so long since he'd flown the TARDIS that he feared he had forgotten, but as soon as he stepped up to the console, the Doctor started pulling levers and flicking switches without sparing a second thought. When he landed back on Earth, he ran his fingers nervously through his hair and then stepped outside onto the twilit lawn on that chilly Christmas day, the same day he had sent Clara back to two hundred and thirty-nine years ago. He quickly ascended the steps to the seventh floor and tried to think of what he'd say to her when he she opened her door, finding himself at a loss for anything past "hello".
It had only been a few hours for her since he'd sent her away, so she was likely to be angry. Probably really angry. He should probably prepare for a good slap, something he anticipated with dread even though he knew he really deserved it.
He should have said goodbye and he shouldn't have tricked her, but it was too late to change that now.
Taking a deep breath, the Doctor rang the doorbell to Clara's flat and waited, his hearts beating rapidly as he anticipated seeing her face again.
"No, Sam—Wait!" she called impatiently from inside.
The door opened and a little boy of about four or five years old looked up at him.
"Hello," said the Doctor, kneeling down to greet the boy with a surprised smile. "Where did you come from?"
A ceramic dish crashed to the floor. The Doctor's eyes followed the splatter of chestnut dressing to the corner of the hallway, where Clara stood with two red oven mitts in her hands and a ghastly look of shock on her face. Her hair was shorter and wavier than he remembered it being, and looking closely, he noticed that the lines around her eyes were more defined.
He hadn't missed the mark by a few hours, but a few years.
"You…" she said, her voice no louder than a breath as her round eyes bore into his.
He meant to apologise, to say something to explain why he'd sent her away and why he'd returned so late, but the sound of his voice must have shocked her out of her stunned silence. The little boy jumped out of the way when Clara leapt over the food littering the carpet and started slapping the Doctor hard in the chest.
"You—tricked—me!" she cried breathlessly between surprisingly painful blows. "You stupid—bloody—!"
"Mummy!" the boy cried in alarm, his eyes filling with tears of panic. "Mummy, no! We mustn't hit!"
With a gasp, Clara backed away from the Doctor, whose eyes shot to the little boy watching them both with fearful eyes. And he felt it—all of those years in Christmas, all of those battles and all of those restless nights, those fleeting days—all of them dissolved into nothing when he realized the years Clara had spent without him here on Earth.
"Mummy?" said the Doctor breathlessly, his eyes shifting back and forth between her and the boy.
She pressed her lips into a firm line and nodded, holding back tears as she looked at him with the same longing he felt in his hearts.
"You—" He licked his lips. "You have a son?"
Her chest rose and fell with several heavy breaths before she responded once again with the impossible.
"So do you."