A/N: Spoilers for The Crimson Horror. Nothing major really but you know, just to be safe. This is the product of the Doctor and Clara being far too adorable in the last episode. And also of my love for Matt Smith's Yorkshire accent.
As he lays awake, staring at the ceiling, with Clara's soft, steady breathing keeping time, he thinks of River. He closes his eyes and convinces himself that she's still out there, living her life and enjoying it. Technically it's true. But technically she's already dead. And when he says 'technically' he of course means 'actually'. His own personal time line is the only one that means anything to him, and he has seen her die. He has spent that last night on the lawns in front of the Singing Towers of Darillium and he has sobbed his heart out without being able to tell her why.
And so, in the dead of night, with Clara's soft, steady breathing keeping time, he thinks of River.
She wakes to the sound of the cockerel, which is more annoying than the sound of an alarm clock in that she never sets her alarm for five o'clock in the morning. The first orange beams of sunlight are streaming through the gap in the thin linen curtains, and Clara looks down at the Doctor. There are dark circles under his eyes, and a thin trail thrown into relief by the sun, that travels from the corner of his left eye down the side of his face.
This is not the first time she has woken to see him like this. She hasn't asked what makes him sad, but knows that whatever it is, it makes her sad too.
She brushes his hair away from his eyes and sighs, before throwing the blankets off of herself and getting out of bed. She pads down the creaky staircase and peeps out of the window in the hallway to see if the TARDIS has come back for them yet. She tells herself she gave up hope long ago, but her heart still sinks at the barren patch of grass in front of their house.
She spends a long while heating the water over the fire and pouring it into the metal bath tub, and eventually, there is enough water for her to have a somewhat comfortable soak. She leaves the fire roaring and climbs into the bath, settling down in the scorching water. Her eyes close gently and she dangles her foot over the end of the tub, relishing in the warmth and the peace.
Before long she hears movement overhead, and soon he trundles down the stairs. When he gasps, and she hears the slap of his hands covering his eyes, she smiles. He can't see anything she doesn't mind him seeing, and yet he renders himself blind, bumping into the sideboard on his way to the kitchen.
"How's about some toast then, love?" he calls in his deep, round Yorkshire accent.
"That'd be grand!" she calls back, opening her eyes and resolving to get out of the bath.
"Ay up!" he says, poking his head around the doorway as Clara ties the cord of her robe around her waist. "I'm the fella, you're the lass, so surely you should be making the toast!"
"You'll be waiting a long time for it!" Clara says, and heads upstairs, giving her hair a rough towel dry.
She hates that corsets are a thing. She hates that she can't manoeuvre her arms so that she can properly lace or unlace them. She hates that she has to stand there like a child while the Doctor pulls at the strings for her.
"Have you got it yet?"
Clara sighs and looks towards the window. "D'you think she'll ever come back?"
"Oh yes," the Doctor says, his tone certain.
"Are you just saying that to make me feel better?"
He doesn't say anything, and at long last, the tightness around her torso gives a little, and she can breathe normally once more. She pulls the corset off and tosses it onto the chair in front of the dressing table and climbs into bed, folding her arms over her chest and staring grumpily at the ceiling. It's not long before the Doctor climbs into bed and she has fight to keep herself from smiling, for he looks absolutely ridiculous in his long johns. He snuffs out the candle and they lay there in silence, the darkness pressing in on them from all sides.
"Look," he says at last in a hushed voice, "She will come back because she has never let me down before. You don't understand her like I do, but believe me, she will come back for us."
"What if she doesn't work anymore?"
There is a long pause that Clara doesn't like.
"She does work."
"How d'you know?"
"Because I'd feel it in my hearts if she didn't."
Clara finds his hand under the blankets and laces their fingers together. She's not sure if it's for her benefit or for his, but it helps her fall asleep more easily.
As he lays awake, staring at the ceiling, with Clara's gentle, rhythmic pulse keeping time, he thinks of River. He thinks of how her hand feels in his. Clara's hand feels so much younger, so much more vulnerable. And yet, he knows what it is to lose both of them. He knows the slow realisation that he cannot take a single step without feeling the weight of their deaths upon his shoulders. Knows what it is to only understand far, far too late. He knows he must let go of Clara's hand, because he will lose her eventually and he will never forgive himself for it. But his heart ignores his brain and he keeps her hand in his, because not this time.
And so, in the dead of night, with Clara's gentle, rhythmic pulse keeping time, he thinks of River.
She's never been cruel to animals. Ever. She has never considered it. Until now, that is. The cockerel will not shut up, and it is like the most persistent and annoying snooze button in the universe. Just as she drifts off to sleep again, she is rudely awakened by that wretched beast.
She sighs and looks at the Doctor's pocket watch, sitting on the bedside table. Seven minutes to five and the sun is just starting to peep over the horizon. She places the pocket watch back on table and rolls over to look at the Doctor. She doesn't know how he can sleep through the racket that the cockerel's making, but maybe his body's completely given in. Sometimes she wakes in the night and can tell he's been awake for hours. He's far too still, too rigid, and she can't hear him breathing. Sometimes it scares her, but she's grown used to him now.
The lower hollows of his eye sockets shimmer with dried tears and Clara lays back down, wrapping her arms around his middle and resting her head against his chest. She can hear the regular thud-thud thud-thud of his hearts, and it's not until the bedroom is fully lit by the morning sun that she gets up and heads downstairs to make some breakfast.
He soon joins her, dressed in his tweed (which for once is actually in fashion) and his best smile. He's scrubbed all remnants of sadness from his face and slides into the kitchen with his usual boundless energy.
"Bacon sandwiches?" he bellows.
"Yeah," Clara says cheerfully, putting his plate down on the kitchen table. "And there's tea in the pot!"
"Smashing!" The Doctor takes the pot and places it in the middle of the table before taking his seat and waiting for Clara to join him. He pours them both tea while she takes her seat and then digs in, chomping his way through the thickly sliced bread.
"Good?" Clara asks, as she takes rather smaller bites of her own sandwich.
"Marvellous!" he replies in that booming voice. "You know, my mother-in-law -" He stops, and for a moment, his expression cracks, just for a fraction of a second. The change is so minute that Clara's not sure if it was just the way the light catches his features, or even if she's imagined it, but his newfound impassiveness assures her that she hasn't.
"Your mother-in-law..." she presses, her voice delicate.
"Doesn't matter." The boisterous Yorkshire accent has gone, the façade vanished, and he's suddenly very fragile.
"Didn't know you were married," Clara says, picking up her mug and taking a sip of her tea. "Let alone that you've got a mother-in-law."
"I'm a thousand years old," he says. "Picked up a few mother-in-laws in my time."
Clara raises one eyebrow and takes another sip of her tea. "Been married a few times then?"
He takes his pocket watch out and flips it open. "Best get going," he says. "Mrs Fenshaw's coming about her foot at half past..."
"Okay," Clara says with a sigh. "What d'you want for your tea?"
"Anything," he replies. "Thanks for breakfast."
Before Clara can say another word, he's buttoning up his coat, popping his bowler on his head and leaving through the back door.
She stares at the half drunk tea and the breadcrumbs on his plate, and realises that her entire view of him has altered. He has always intrigued her, often scared her, sometimes amazed her, but now...
Now she realises why he doesn't stand still. Now she knows that if he stops, even for a moment, he'll have to look back.
He's quiet. He undoes the strings of corset with just one hand, and Clara almost tells him she's impressed. But then she catches sight of his face in the mirror, and she knows that he's not in the mood for anything remotely jovial.
"Weekend tomorrow," she says. "Thought we could go to the market."
"If you like."
"She'll be back soon."
Clara frowns. "The TARDIS."
"Oh, right, yeah."
Clara climbs into bed and lifts the covers up for him to join her. He settles next to her, and when she cuddles into his side, he doesn't respond, but nor does he push her away. She finds the bare triangle of chest where he's not bother with the buttons on his long johns and traces circles on his skin, hoping that the soothing motion will ease him into sleep.
His hearts slow, the irregular rhythm becoming more steady, and, at long last, his hand comes to rest on the curve of her waist, fingers playing with the folds of her nightdress.
As he lays awake, staring at the ceiling, with Clara's skin moving against his own, keeping time, he thinks of River. He thinks of how she used to lay with him, after some near death experience, and he remembers that last night when she'd been wearing that beautiful dress. He remembers her stripping him of his bow tie when they returned to the TARDIS, remembers the feeling of her lips on his.
Before he knows what he's doing, his lips are on Clara's, and initially she is stunned. He persists, however, and it's not long before she responds, her enthusiasm growing, small gasps escaping her whenever he lets her catch her breath.
And so, in the dead of night, with Clara's skin moving against his own, keeping time, he thinks of River.
She wakes before the cockerel. She pulls on her robe and goes downstairs, wanting to be anywhere other than their cramped little bedroom. She doesn't know what to think, doesn't know how to react. She knows the feeling of being used, recognises it only too well.
She lights the fire and heats some water. Right now, the thing she misses most about her own life, apart from the comfortable clothes and the ease of everything and not having to stay indoors all day to prepare an evening meal that would take half an hour in her own time, is an electric kettle. Making tea is far too lengthy a process, and she really needs the comfort of it right this instant.
By the time she is settled in the armchair with a huge mug of tea, she has already decided that she won't blame him for this, nor will she hold it against him. She could have stopped it the second he kissed her, but she didn't, so if there's anyone to blame for this mess, it's herself. Well, sort of.
Perhaps the best course of action will be to forget about it. She doesn't know how much longer they're going to be here, but they've got no choice other than to share a bed, and that needs to be as un-awkward as possible. Apart from all that, he's suffering, and he's clearly not dealing with it well, so there's no reason to make him feel worse.
Really, she just wants her Doctor back, and fast. He's not used to small towns with nothing going on and only his past to keep his mind occupied.
She hears footsteps, and looks up to see him standing in the doorway, his own robe pulled tight around him.
"I made tea," she says softly.
"Clara, I don't know what to -"
"Are you still up for going to town today?"
She clears her throat, and then puts on her best, most exaggerated Yorkshire accent ever. "Are you," she says slowly, "Still up," she continues, "For going to t'town Doctor Smith?"
He looks at her for a long moment, lets out a breath and then looks down at his feet. "Aye love," he says. "Whatever you want, love."
"Well sit yer bum down and have a cuppa," she says, bustling into the kitchen to fetch him a mug. He complies, and soon they are sitting in a comfortable silence, drinking tea and watching the fire flicker.
It's a long walk to town, but it's nice to get out of the house and stroll along the dusty track, smiling and exchanging pleasantries with other folk. Clara hams up her Yorkshireness to the point of ridiculous, while the Doctor, not willing to be outdone, greets everyone with a loud and enthusiastic 'ay up!'. It's stupid really, Clara thinks, but when you're stuck in 1893 you really must find your own form of entertainment.
"I was just saying to t'missus, I heard old Bob Rowntree's been up to no good again!" the Doctor booms at Mr and Mrs Sheldrake from down the way.
"Oh aye," says Mr Sheldrake, "Heard he had the constables round again the other night. I mean gramophone, loud as you please, nine o'clock at night! Some of us like to get a good night's sleep!"
"Myself included!" replies the Doctor. "And t'missus needs her beauty sleep too, naturally."
Clara smiles, digging her nails into the Doctor's arm. His fist clenches, his knuckles white under the skin, and then she releases him, and his hand loosens.
"Well I didn't get to sleep until gone ten o'clock," Mrs Sheldrake adds. "He's been a right old pain in the bum if you'll pardon my French."
"Oh you French away my love, you French away," the Doctor says jovially. Clara's brow crinkles and she just about manages to stop herself from asking him what the hell he's talking about.
"We'd best be getting on," she says. "Don't want to miss out on the best meat at t'market, do we my love?"
"Well, orders have been given, we'll see you when we see you!"
The Sheldrakes bid them goodbye and Clara and the Doctor continue towards towards town.
"You French away my love..." Clara says in a mock deep voice.
"Oh, shut up," the Doctor replies, normal voice in tact.
"What does that even mean though?" Clara asks. "It doesn't make any -" she stops, mid-sentence, her eyes fixed on the crest of the hill. "What's that?"
"What's what?" the Doctor whirls around, turning his head this way and that. His hands fly to his bow tie and he adjusts it, his brow creased into a frown.
"That?" Clara points over the hill, where she can see a small cylindrical object, glinting in the distance.
"That...well, that looks like a bulb."
Clara glances sideways at the Doctor, and then turns her head just enough to see him doing the same. Her face breaks into a smile and he grabs her by the hand, hauling her along, over the hill. She stumbles as the dirt becomes cobbles and her heels get caught in the gaps. The bulb is visible over a large wooden fence, and they run around the outside of it, hoping against hope that at last, they've got their ticket out of here.
Clara nearly cries when she sees the familiar blue box, and the Doctor throws himself at it, kissing the panels and talking to her in that slightly creepy way that Clara has never understood.
The reunion is cut short though, for there is a scream, not too far away, and the Doctor turns his head in the direction of the commotion.
"Braveheart Clara," he says, coming to stand at her side.
They take one look at each other before speeding off into the distance. Clara vaguely thinks it's rather funny how the TARDIS turns up whenever there's trouble, but the sight of a body in a canal puts an end to all musings.
As he lays awake, staring at the ceiling, with the rumble of the factory below keeping time, he thinks of Clara.
He thinks of his mistakes, and his failings when it comes to her. He thinks that she's doomed, because it looks like he's never getting out of here, and again, her demise is going to be all his fault. As per usual. He tries to communicate with the blind girl, but all he can manage are frustrated screams. He can't move fast enough to get out, he can't do anything to save his Clara.
Sometimes, he thinks of that last night. The night that he took her. Sometimes he tries to push it from his mind because it makes him feel sick. Sometimes it's the only memory of her he can cling to.
And so, in the dead of night, with the rumble of the factory below keeping time, he thinks of Clara.