Chapter One: Homecoming

"Well?"

The smile on Clara Oswald's lips became lax, and she turned to gaze thoughtfully at the central column of the TARDIS. Her first three glimpses of the universe were wonderful, but was she really to commit to travelling the stars with this madman in his box? There was her family to consider, and all the other people she cared about on Earth that she couldn't run out on. But then, the Doctor too had already become someone she cared about, and it was clear he cared a lot for her. And as a thousand-year old who apparently owned nothing of sentimental value but his flashy screwdriver, perhaps he needed her around more than the Maitland's did.

She turned back to meet the Doctor's anxious eyes, and allowed a wide grin to grow across her face. "You're on, chin. As long as you turn the heating up!"

The Doctor released the breath he didn't realise he'd been holding, and straightened his bow tie triumphantly. "Great!" he exclaimed. "Hunky dory!" He flashed Clara a smile, and bounded around the console with almost childlike happiness, until he remembered there was more to her sentence. "Oh… yes, I'll start looking for the heating doodad", he assured her, gesturing to the levers on the console. "In the meantime, wardrobe's through that door, to the left, just a little ways past the library. If you reach the ball pit, you've gone too far".

Clara, amused at the display of joy that had burst forth from her mysterious new friend, seized the opportunity to tease him. "Don't wag your tail too hard Doctor, I'm not so easy", she smirked; skipping off before she could be refuted.

Now alone with his thoughts, the Doctor considered the advantages of Clara joining him on the TARDIS full-time, or close enough. For one thing, if he so wished, he'd now never be without her company, something he had to admit he cared very much for. And from now on, she was truly under his protection. Travelling in the TARDIS was sure to be dangerous, but the Doctor understood the stakes - he knew what losing a third Clara would do to him, and he simply wasn't going to let it happen.

Most importantly, this now meant he could commit all his time to solving the mystery of the impossible woman. No more distractions, not another focus until he resolved the big unanswered question in his life, until he discovered how Clara could exist in three places at once. Having Clara on board with him should be an advantage to that end, he figured, even if it meant he now had to be more discreet. Good thing humans had to sleep a lot longer than he did.

The Doctor's train of thought was halted by Clara, who had returned clad in a red Punkyfish hoody, one that he quickly recognised. "This'll do", she stated approvingly as she made her way over to the console, next to the suddenly sullen Time Lord. "It's warm, and I quite like it! Don't you?" She nudged him intently when he took more than a moment to reply.

"Yes… I always did", the Doctor reminisced, barely able to look at it. "It belonged to a friend of mine from quite some time ago. Didn't know it was still around…"

Clara's cheerful expression barely changed, though she couldn't say she enjoyed the reference to one of the Doctor's previous companions. "Oh", she expressed summarily. "Was she nice?"

"Yes", the Doctor replied, managing a smile. "She really was".

"Was she around for long?" Clara asked, sliding herself closer to the Doctor.

"Yes… I suppose it was a while, yeah".

"Good snog?"

The last question was enough to snap the Doctor out of the half-daydream he was in as he took an uncomfortable step back from Clara. "Clara, please!" he responded sheepishly, a sad, light blush in his cheeks. "I don't really want to talk about it".

The cheeky grin on Clara's face faded into a rare serious expression, her insecure side taking over as she again closed the distance between herself and the Doctor. "Okay, but answer me this", she told him, delicately turning his head to make his eyes meet hers. "Am I just here to fill a void?"

The look on the Doctor's face changed from discomfort to sadness to caring. "No, you're not" he said truthfully, keeping her gaze while taking one of her hands in his own. "We talked about this; you're not here to replace anyone. You're unique".

Clara stared intently at the Doctor, not lacking in trust but still struggling to believe him. "But you're over a thousand years old, you've probably met billions of people", she mused. "How can I believe that?"

"Because I'm over a thousand years old, and I've met billions of people", he answered without a second thought, his eyes showing conviction. "And when I tell someone they're unique - when I tell you you're special, Clara Oswald – that means a hell of a lot".

Touched, and doubting neither the Doctor's reasoning, nor his honesty, Clara found once again her usual beaming smile. "Glad to hear it. You're not so bad yourself", she told him, playfully bopping his chin with her free hand. She couldn't imagine why he seemed so fond of her after only a short time together, but she certainly wasn't complaining. In fact, she quite enjoyed being in the company of a man so friendly, so affectionate. She had a feeling that maybe; just maybe, her time with him would be the happiest of her life so far.

Her heart went on smiling as her physical smiling turned into a yawn. "Wow, I'm actually tired. What if I want to crash here, do I get a room? How long do nights last 'round here? Never mind, take me to my room!" she finished, dragging the Doctor across the console room. "But don't get any ideas", she added with a wink.

The Doctor simply smiled in response to her flirting. "Yes, you're special, Clara Oswald", he thought to himself. And I'm going to find out why".

-Next Chapter: The Suggestion-