A/N: For Unconventional Courtship at Dreamwidth.
The Doctor whistled – quietly, mind you – as he moved through settling dusk, weaving the sonic from side to side in a way that was not at all overenthusiastic. Old, old concrete framed him on three sides and on the fourth, the night sky urged him on.
No Ponds. No Clara Oswin. Just the Doctor and his billions and billions of thoughts and memories and fields of Trenzalore tumbling and interbreeding and stacking themselves like bricks of zero balanced dwarf star alloy. And he'd overshot the succulent dark grass of New Earth v 2 and ended up in the urbanised version, which was still quite acceptable since he'd found both a quiet place and been able to drown his sorrows in guavorange juice served in a melon carved into the shape of a happy swan and he'd brought his straw.
It wasn't his fault the people in the café had been so eager to tell him about the evil spirit, the brigand, the monster under the bridge (one of those faces), and it was interesting and he could have his think later.
The corner of .12 and apple/Burberry. The alley you could see your best friend across but not walk through. Helping people. What drink could compete with that?
He was almost there. It was simply a matter of slipping between those, jumping across that, turning here
and, apparently, walking straight into someone. Someone who was small and most definitely made of flesh and blood and who, apparently, was a pincher. He staggered back, set the sonic to 'torch, fairly bright', aimed it and probably-almost exclaimed, "Ow! That hurt!"
Surely he was asleep, his tiresome subconscious fighting dirty. Bump into, really? It was her – Clara's face pouty with annoyance and her body leaning against the stained concrete and her voice, "Wasn't exactly great for me, either. You really should look where you're trampling."
He all but begged his old joints to absorb the physical impact so that he could focus. He imagined her not-there and she didn't... go. Still there. "I don't trample. And it's dark."
She pushed off the wall and moved towards him, all confident grace. Came closer and closer, till they were boot to boot, nose to – well, chest. "Not that dark. Could have used your shiny lighty thingy from the start, yeah?"
"Oh, you're not exactly winning any popularity contests." Of course it was her. Clara Oswin Oswald, the highwaywoman. The highwaywoman in leggings and a flower-patterned dress.
"You're frightening people. They don't dare coming this way."
She pulled back, her braid jerking back and forth. She skimmed her hands across the folds of his shirt; joint by joint; tips of fingers; the edges of nails... and then she withdrew them and pressed them to her hips. "Coming uninvited is rude."
"What do you mean uninvited? Unin-vi-ted?"
"It's mine." She spun away, round the corner he'd been trying to navigate.
"Pardon?" The Doctor stalked after her, across the cracks in the concrete and the damp spots, yet more frustration settling in his shoulders and weightening his steps.
She finally stopped, folding her arms, next to the only lamp he'd seen in a long while. "I lived here, still do," she said. "Why would I leave? Good location, decent take-away around the next corner, great pickup spot."
"What's yours? The alley?"
"My rooms were riiiight – here." She spun and sketched in the air with open arms and stretched fingers and a skirt-lifting skip. "Bought this space. Upstairs, downstairs, all of it. Now it's... well, it's space."
"You lost your rooms." He couldn't even muster a question mark. "What happened?"
She turned back again with the sort of noncommittal eyebrow lift the Doctor really disliked himself for recreating. If he was asleep, that was. Of course.
"You still live here? Oh! Camouflage, right?"
But Clara's attention was on tucking a loose strand of hair in among the bumps of the braid. "That one always gets loose. Bad judgement... fringe edition."
He peered at her, decided to test the waters, as they said. "I'm the Doctor."
"Okay." She ran her hands over thin air as near-to-touch as she had skimmed them across his shirt. "Localiiiised camouflage field," she sang. "Pod inside. Nice, huh?" She giggled, and it echoed in a not-very-pleasant way.
The Doctor could see the end of this particular alley on the other side, just as the café people had said. He gave in and soniced the surroundings, thoroughly, making the field crackle and gleam. "Yes, that is nice." Too nice, in fact. Probably, as he'd told a little girl, incredible. "Am I being invited in?"
"Hmm." She looked him up, down; dimpled. "Getting there. Need another moment or two. Can you do a little dance or something, might help me decide."
"Force field explains a lot." He pocketed the sonic, folded his arms. Just a sometimes glow-y, invisible square with a box inside. Barely interesting at all. "You can see why the locals – the other locals, I mean – were confused as to the availability of the alley."
She hardened; every little piece of her. "Then they shouldn't have tried to get rid of me in the first place. And you're right – I'm not a local. As if you're one."
Oh, of course. Clara was back alleys and dead ends and the only light. He arched his back toward the distant twinkles of the constellations he'd wanted to study lying in the succulent dark grass of eight hundred years ago and heaved a sigh. Shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Known that the Doctor requires Companions, was it?
"Really enjoying that dance, by the way, Doctor."
"Are we going to stand here all night? It's cold."
"You look like you're having a bad day."
"Eh, hoping I'm not sleeping, that's all."
She clapped her hands; a shimmer to the air and - there was the pod, open hatch and all. Blocking the view of the other side. "Go on, into my parlor. That's an invitation."
The mob he'd spoken to wouldn't have her, not while he was here. Titles needed context, as much as she was stealing at least one of his hearts. He could picture his bowtie in her hair holding her one wayward strand in place.
He blinked his suspicions away and nodded. "I'll repay you."
Clara shrugged, but she said, "I'll remember that."