A/N: Just wanted to say another huge THANK YOU to all who have reviewed, favorited and followed. I never imagined this would get such a huge response, and I cannot tell you how much it means. For all who have followed to the end, here it is: wrapped up with a pretty, sexy bowtie. ;) Enjoy!
Clara couldn't bear it any longer.
"So…" she tried. Her voice sounded small in the now vast expanse of space.
"So." His reply came several seconds later, his tone revealing nothing.
Now she turned to look at him, needing some visual confirmation that what had just transpired hadn't been an oxygen-deprived hallucination of some sort.
He was staring at the night sky, his expression frustratingly blank. The only evidence that Clara hadn't dreamt it was his still unbuttoned shirt, the sides hanging loosely open.
"Are you…" She trailed off, trying to muster her courage. "Are we – okay?"
The Doctor frowned, as though she'd asked a silly question. "Yes. Yes, of course we're okay." He didn't look at her.
Clara faked a half smile. "Good."
He continued as though he hadn't finished his thought. "The effects are temporary, don't worry. Any hormones or pheromones the pod released wear off within a few minutes after prolonged exposure. The oxygen starvation should be corrected with continuous flow of oxygen." Now he turned to her, face earnest. "But let me know if you feel any dizziness or light-headedness. We can do a scan to make sure you haven't suffered any long-term effects when we get back to the TARDIS." He started moving, sitting up so he could button his shirt, snatching his waistcoat and jacket, his actions matching the non-stop flow of words. Clara moved to a seated position herself, suddenly too self-conscious to stay supine.
"In fact, we'd better start moving – even if the Antipoi have forgotten about us, they might still be in the midst of their skirmish, and we definitely don't want to be caught again with–"
"Doctor!" Clara laid a hand on his arm, stilling his movements.
He stopped, first staring at her arm like some unwelcome growth before looking at her reluctantly. "Yes?" His eyes begged her not to speak.
She almost shrank away, but she soldiered on. "Are we not going to talk about this?"
"Talk about what?"
Now there was a traitorous lump in her throat, but she pushed it down, determined not to show him how much this affected her. "So we're just gonna pretend like this never happened?"
The Doctor opened his mouth to reply before letting out a sigh of defeat. "No," he conceded. "No, we're not." He shook his head. "But…" He wrung his hands anxiously before splaying them wide. "What is there to talk about?"
Clara tucked her legs underneath her as she raced through the possibilities, discarding each of them. Was this just a life-saving shag to you? Did you even want it? Do you want me? Do you have feelings for me? Why do you look at me one minute like I'm the most wonderful creature in all of creation and the next like I'm a ticking time bomb? What did this mean to you? Anything? Are you really even affected by pheromones?
Instead, she gathered her hands in her lap, her thumb turning her mum's ring over and over her finger, drawing strength from it. Finally, she raised her head, having found the crux of the issue. "What am I to you?"
Such a simple question seemed to paralyze him, and he looked everywhere except at her. "You're my companion," he mumbled.
She very successfully did not smack him. "To travel with you?"
"Yes. And…adventures." He gestured vaguely.
"And that's it, is it?"
"No. I mean – yes!" He floundered. "I mean…" He scratched at his temple, stealing a glance at her before skittering away.
More confident after his slip of tongue, she was no longer afraid of probing further. "Doctor?"
"You're…" he began, still hunting for the answer in the ten square feet in front of him. Then, quite unexpectedly, he found it, and his features softened. "You're…my Clara." He said it with an air of someone who'd just stumbled upon a long-sought solution to a problem. Smiling at her, his face suddenly revealed only warmth and unrealised promise.
The lump returned to Clara's throat, but this time she let the Doctor see the resulting shine in her eyes as she smiled back at him. "Yours?"
The Doctor held her gaze a moment before climbing to his feet, extending his hands out to her. She took them and was pulled up and into an embrace that swept her off the ground. He spun her round, and she shrieked with surprised laughter as her legs dangled like a child's.
"Doctor! What are you doing?" Not that she minded in the least.
He held her fast. "I'm testing your lung capacity after the oxygen starvation! This is simply a method to get the air moving again."
When he finally put her down, she kept her arms around his neck and he seemed comfortable leaving his around her waist. They stood there a moment, beaming at each other, before Clara let her hands trail down over his lapels, fingering them.
"And what about your lung capacity? Any way to test that?" She looked at him from under her eyelashes, her lips coquettishly pursed.
His stammering was entirely predictable. "Umm, well, there are – yes, of course, there are ways to – ooh!" His face lit up. "There's a lake near the festival with those flowering lily pads! Well, not lily pads, exactly – more like leftover plant detritus – but they *look* like lily pads, and they're also about ten times the size of regular lily pads so you can sit on them – though only if you ask nicely."
Clara studied him a moment before shaking her head and giggling. "Okay. So tell me – how does temperamental, overgrown leftover plant detritus you can sit on test your – oh!" She caught up to him. "We're going swimming?"
The Doctor grinned, nodding excitedly before grasping her hand, starting off in what Clara assumed was the direction of the lake. "We'll actually be able to see the lights from the lake – well, if the Antipoi weren't too occupied with their skirmish to prepare for the Sprungling hatching."
"The hatching! Oh. Did I not mention that's where the lights came from?"
Clara decided his excitement was too adorable to warrant a proper eye roll. "Think you left that part out, yeah."
"Well – the Sprungling are tree-dwelling insect-like creatures that lay their eggs in invisible webs above the trees." The Doctor freed his hand from Clara's, needing to paint it in as vivid detail as possible, apparently. "When the eggs hatch, the reaction with the atmosphere causes a mini-explosion that emits a multitude of colours. But it only happens once every hundred years because the mating cycle of the Sprungling follows a –"
"Ohh, I know what this is!" Clara stopped and swatted him playfully on the arm.
Now she faced him, folding her arms across her chest. "You just want to teach me about more alien reproductive history." The Doctor opened his mouth indignantly to reply, but Clara put up a hand. "Actually, now that we're stopped – don't we need to go back to the TARDIS first? My swim stuff's in there."
The shift in his features was subtle, so subtle she might've missed it but for the fact that this was something she'd never seen before. The contours of his face worked in a suggestive way, forming an expression that Clara could only describe as enticing. "No." His voice had resumed that spine-tingling gravelly quality. "You won't need it."
Clara almost shivered, but met the heat in his eyes with her own. "Okay." She dropped her own voice. "Guess you won't need yours then, either."
She didn't think it was possible, but his look intensified as he reached for her hand, pulling it up to his lips and laying a slow, soft kiss on her palm, never breaking their eye contact.
This time Clara couldn't suppress her shiver.
He smiled at her, then, the heat cooling to warmth as his thumb caressed the inside of her wrist. "As a matter of fact, I was thinking –"
All of a sudden they were startled by a ground-shaking explosion just ahead of them.
They looked at each other in alarm, tensed in a different way now.
"Did that come from -?"
"Yes, just up ahead."
"Where we were going to –?"
"Right near the lake, yes."
Another explosion sounded, throwing Clara off-balance enough that she grabbed the Doctor's arms.
"Okay. Do they do normally blow things up for the Festival of Lights?"
"Not usually, no."
They regarded each other ruefully, the Doctor squeezing her hand in apology.
"It's okay. I definitely feel like – not dying today," she squeezed back. "Though…" she let out a wistful sigh. "I was sort of looking forward to swimming."
"Ah!" The Doctor grinned at her conspiratorially. "There is a swimming pool in the TARDIS, you know."
"Hmm." Clara glanced in the direction of the TARDIS, a blue smudge against the dusty Antpoi landscape. It would be an easily traversable distance to safety. "Race you?" She flashed him one of her most devilish looks.
The Doctor chuckled, returning her look. "Okay. For what?"
She thought a moment, before reaching a hand up to his bowtie, brushing her fingers over the fabric. "If I win…you have to keep this on."
The Doctor's eyebrows shot up into his hair. "Only -?"
"Yep." She rested her hand against his chest, just underneath his bowtie, loving the feel of his hearts beating against her arm. Which had noticeably quickened in the last ten seconds.
"Okay." He smirked before pulling his lips together in thought. "And if I win…" He rubbed his palms together in anticipation of his prize. Then his face lit up, index fingers poised. "Ah! I get to teach you more about alien reproductive history."
Clara grimaced, letting out an exasperated groan. "Ohh, come on! Why are you so keen on this all of a sudden? I hated history, you know." She folded her arms reproachfully.
The Doctor clapped his hands together, chortling at her knowingly.
Clara scrunched her face at him. She would've stuck out her tongue if she'd been feeling especially childish. And if the thought hadn't recalled what it was like to feel his tongue against hers, which was an unwelcome distraction at that particular moment. "Fiiiiine."
She stuck out her hand instead. He shook it gleefully. They both turned in the direction of the TARDIS.
But she discovered the Doctor was only interested in teaching her about one species of alien. So it definitely didn't feel like losing.