Author's Note: This is a sequel to Hold Onto Me, a story I wrote in the fall of 2013 about a possible introduction to Twelve and where I thought Moffat might have been going with his character (as well as a wishful thinking sort of ending for Clara and Eleven). Because this story continues that universe, it might be slightly confusing if you haven't read Hold Onto Me, as I reference events and objects from that story. As this story continues, it may become more influenced by how Twelve is depicted in the series, but the events and prior relationship dynamics I've created will remain the same.
Disclaimer: All rights to the BBC and the current showrunners. No infringement intended.
Of all the ways the regeneration had changed the Doctor, the most glaring was that he now abhorred touching Clara.
She remembered coming to this conclusion with a startling emptiness as she drank her tea one morning. Hunching over her mug, she blew on the steam, wondering if it would waft into her eyes and make them water. But her eyes stayed dry, and her sips were calm.
The trickle of awareness that had led her to this revelation had been almost painful in its familiarity. Though she would never have admitted it, she had kept a secret tally of those little additional touches his previous self had indulged in, those constant reminders that he loved being close to her. She silently ticked them off on her fingers, each new one a miniature victory, until they grew so numerous she gleefully lost track. Now instead of additions, it was subtractions. She marked the subtractions as she had the additions, each finger slowly folding in defeat at an absence: the lack of a guiding palm at the small of her back as they navigated their way through a maze of cornfields on Yemont; the absence of a hand at her cheek after she'd tripped over a sleeping Jakrafek and it responded by snapping at her head (she could still feel the warmth of its breath on the back of her neck when he'd pulled her free and asked her an earnest are you all right?, hands noticeably dropping to his sides); the way his fingers flew from hers after he'd helped her down a particularly steep incline in the rolling foothills of the village on Çatalhöyük.
And when she was left with a closed fist, wrist hanging limply, she started to gain an awareness of just how wide a berth this new Doctor provided her.
Because apparently… they weren't doing the hugging thing, either.
Gone were their pick-up and drop-off hugs. Gone were the "I'm-so-glad-you're-okay" hugs. As to the "this-is-so-brilliant," and "I-just-have-to-hug-you" hugs? Well…
She'd bravely brushed it off – or tried to – reasoning that he didn't really have to hug her if he'd just seen her last week or would see her the following week. And if she exhibited no broken bones, no bruises, and all limbs were visibly intact – he might still be relieved, even if he didn't show it with a hug. And – well, it was highly unlikely there would be an occasion when this Doctor just had to hug her.
Okay, so they weren't doing the hugging thing. She got that now.
But then came their trip to Oalogtu, home of the Gruhflane.
She'd insisted it felt too quiet when they landed in the capital city. Even ruthless creatures have to visit the shops, she'd reasoned, but there was no hustle and bustle of a thriving city. No proud Gruhflane strutting through the square, their amassed wealth of every conquered race in the galaxy on lavish display. She'd just jabbed an elbow in the Doctor's direction (never poking him in the ribs, of course, as that would require touching) joking that maybe he had exaggerated when he'd declared the Gruhflane the most dangerous, vile, bloodthirsty creatures in the Universe, and they were all hiding because they were going to surprise him with a welcome party.
Unfortunately, she hadn't been entirely wrong.
The net – if it could be called a net when it was made of such a sticky, prickly substance – landed on top of them, and then it was no longer quiet, and she no longer cared if he didn't want her to touch him because she was grabbing at him, clinging to his arm, then his sleeve, then his wrist as she was pulled away from him, away from the TARDIS, away from the capital city to a far-off location somewhere so far beneath the ground that even the light couldn't touch her.
There had been nothing to eat but a strange, grey mush that pulsated in a way which led her to believe it was still alive; nowhere to sleep except the cold, dingy floor of her cell; no conversation except the taunts of the guards who hinted at hearts being ripped out of chests and crushed before prisoners' eyes; no hope left but what remained of her dwindling faith in this new Doctor. Time had lost meaning: minutes stretched out into months and days would end before she was even aware they'd begun.
But then, one absolutely miraculous yet entirely mundane day – she was released.
Her first touch since she had been ripped away from the Doctor and thrown in a cell was a rough drag of her elbow by the guard she'd secretly named Spike. (For all his prominent, pointed chin hairs) He towed her forcefully down a long corridor, around a corner and the next touch was an abrupt shove across the threshold of an archway.
And there he was – the Doctor, overturning his chair as he stood at the sight of her.
Any relief he might have felt was eclipsed by the frigid, murderous rage he exhibited at her captors, as he ground out some kind of terms from between gnashing teeth. But she didn't hear the words because she was willing her feet to obey, to disregard the spinning room and her darkening vision as she stumbled towards him, determined to make it far enough to at least feel a comforting arm around her shoulder.
Yet her body was starved for far more than touch, and if the Doctor broke his rule with her that one time – she never found out.
When she awoke in her bedroom on the TARDIS– finally! – he was there. Relief was plainly written across the gentle slope of his harsh eyebrows, but he only laid his fingertips on her wrist to take her pulse, pronouncing her remarkably improved. Silent begging hadn't been enough, and her choked-out request got garbled as it tripped out of her mouth if his blank stare was any indication. Finally, she was able to muster her courage, find her voice, and her request turned into a plea for a hug. He'd shifted uncomfortably, then awkwardly patted both her arms, informing her again that she was okay. A further demand led to an even more awkward half-embrace, hands gingerly patting her back, the creases of his elbows still inches from her shoulders. If she'd had the strength, she might've asked him if he feared she'd contracted some deadly Time Lord plague.
Or she might've asked if he'd taken lessons in caring from the Gruhflane.
After that, she stopped missing the touches.
She stopped expecting a caress on her cheek for a proposed solution to a problem or a reassuring squeeze of her hand before they ventured into a particularly dangerous situation. She stopped smarting from his flinches when they would accidentally brush against each other or bump arms as they navigated the console of the TARDIS. She stopped wondering what had changed so much inside him that had made her physically repulsive to him.
She started things, too.
She started kissing Artie on the forehead after his occasional nightmares because she knew how comforting it could feel. She started giving Angie's shoulders a reassuring pat when she was frustrated with her homework. Then she switched jobs, moved out of the Maitlands', and somehow found herself with a touchy-feely flatmate. She started hugging her dad more. She started looping arms with her friends when they went out together. And gradually, that sharp, piercing pain left by her erstwhile bowtied alien slowly dulled. Yet there was still one final means of soothing that ache, one type of contact that she could not find from her flatmate or her friends – or anyone, for that matter.
So eventually, she grudgingly agreed to be set-up on a blind date.
Out of all of the changes he'd had to grapple with in his new body, if there was one thing that had stayed irrevocably, painfully, resolutely the same, it was that the Doctor always wanted to touch Clara.
At first, he'd thought it was nothing more than a lingering remnant from his previous body – his previous self. And perhaps it was, but he'd never recalled such constant awareness of her in relation to his physical space. It was more like she was always buzzing around his periphery, and he happened to be clumsy enough and exuberant enough (or eager enough?) to keep colliding with her. But there was a sharpness that hadn't previously existed. Whereas he might have noticed her proximity to him before when she leaned next to him at the console - now? Now he could feel every waft of her breath as it drifted over his hands. Before he might have noted there was a sweet smell to her hair when she stood in front of him, but now he intuitively categorized the multitude of odours: freesia, coconut and something akin to sandalwood. Touches had been welcome and pleasant before, but now – now they were simply electrifying. Even the briefest contact from the pads of her fingers registered as a burn, not the soft warmth of her skin.
And, unfortunately for him, this new body delivered another heightened sense with regards to touching Clara. Whereas he may have known that her hair was brown before, he now chastised himself for not taking the time to map out the feel of the different shades. Why had he wasted those moments on idle caresses when he could have spent literally hours testing whether the darker brown was slightly heavier, or if her auburn highlights had a silkier feel to them? Every time he'd taken her hand, fingers intertwining easily, he'd never noted whether there was a difference between the dimples in her knuckles – and all those quick kisses on her hands, yet he'd never tested whether his lips fit in between each knuckle. Did the skin at the nape of her neck feel as soft as that of her cheek or her forehead? All those times she'd worn her hair up and he'd never bothered to find out. And, most maddeningly of all, why had he never noticed that rare flash of pink when she sometimes bit her lip? The memory of the precious few times her tongue had brushed against his was still raw, as though it had happened yesterday and not what was arguably a lifetime ago.
It would have been easy, so very easy to give in to at least some, if not all, of those urges. He might have disguised them, as he had so many times before: a reassuring squeeze of her hand before venturing into a particularly dangerous situation; a brief hug after a brush with death; a guiding palm on the small of her back . He might've decided to keep hold of her hand after he'd helped her down a steep incline.
But he didn't.
It wasn't just the age gap that stopped him. Yes, there were comments – they seemed to follow them no matter where or when they traveled to. From the bustling streets of 19th century Paris to the quaint little villages on Yemont to the soaring skylines of progressive 71st century Triktillfania. It made no difference: everyone assumed she was his daughter, his granddaughter or his niece. No one wondered what they were to each other anymore.
And that only made the contradictory nature of their relationship all the more maddening to him.
Clara was many things, but most importantly she was his compass for his kindness and compassion, buried so deeply within this new body. If he held onto her, he'd find it - as long as she was there.
But then they traveled to Oalogtu, and in a screaming instant, she wasn't there.
The Gruhflane had fled with Clara, and with her – his mercy.
The need to rain down terror and destruction on their planet bubbled dangerously close to the surface, the scalding desire to wipe those self-satisfied sneers off their faces. It took every ounce of control to rein the murderous impulses in.
His hands staid from the bloodshed he craved so that they might touch her again. He worked tirelessly, contacting every friend and even some erstwhile enemies to devise a plan that would release her. Release his hearts' compass to him; release his friend…his Impossible Girl.
Release his Clara.
And when the moment finally arrived, when she had stumbled towards him and fallen, he'd been there to catch her, feeble limbs wrapping protectively around her. He'd stood with her in his arms inside the medical bay back on the TARDIS, knowing that she needed immediate medical assistance for her starvation, her dehydration, and a myriad of other issues he knew he should be thinking of and yet was too distracted by those same feeble limbs' refusal to let go of her.
He'd met with the same resistance after he'd nursed her back to a stable condition, reasoning that perhaps it was because he needed to ensure she was alive, and here, and convalescent enough that he could put her in her own bed, and he was holding her over it as if to say, take that, Universe! I made a bargain with you that I'd go save worlds if you let her live. I'm holding you to your bargain. And I'm holding her, too.
But then she stirred, and still he didn't let go.
She stirred, and as he looked down at her, an easy two feet from her bed, the Universe narrowed to the sleeping girl in his arms. To these precious moments he absolutely had to touch her, when he could cradle her to him, ignoring his straining shoulder and arm muscles and press her against his hearts, feeling the faint but steady beating of her own. When he could curl his fingers into the crook of her leg and feel the difference in the skin on the underside of her knee.
But he had to let go eventually.
And when she was awake, when she addressed him with those dark-rimmed eyes, wide with desperation, begging him for a hug, he'd almost relented. He enclosed her in a tentative embrace, like a test - and then – then he felt it. Every nerve ending engaging to every spot of her he touched, orienting like a flower to the sun…
Except instead of blooming, he was bursting into flames.
He'd released her roughly, and he knew he was being cruel – could see the accusation, the pain, the shock and anger in her eyes – but he finally, finally understood just how dangerous giving in would be.
Because she was his compass, yes – guiding him and helping him stay connected to his reason for traveling, for helping. Without her, he was lost.
But with her…
He could surrender – he could give in to these feelings, these urges, these ever-present desires – and he knew that she would reciprocate and that they could have what they'd always wanted. Yet, even if she lived and traveled with him, even if she could spend the next 50, 60 years of her life with him, she would die.
They always died.
And then he'd really be in trouble.
Because he wouldn't care anymore. He wouldn't retreat to a cloud to sulk; he'd find worlds to conquer. He would unleash every dark impulse he'd ever harboured; he'd be ruthless and reckless and die a violent death embittered and angry, setting the Valeyard free. He'd be damning the Universe to its destruction.
And so the Doctor kept her at arms' length – quite literally.
Until one evening he showed up on her doorstep and found out she had a date.