Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. They belong to the BBC and Steven Moffat.
Out of all the things Clara Oswald could worry about, her hair was never supposed to be at the top of her list.
There were always far more pressing worries to attend to like whether the kids would have enough shirts for the week, or whether she would have to make an additional grocery run if she all of a sudden came back from a trip and discovered they had nothing in. Whether Angie and Artie would fight over where they got takeaway from or how to get Angie to actually listen to her. What she would do when she had to look for another job once George found someone to replace her. Where she would live then. How she could find a flatshare with someone who wouldn't notice the occasional presence of a blue police box in her bedroom when the Doctor got lazy. And the list went on.
And yet, there she stood, brows knit together while she fussed and petted and flipped this way and that. One style produced too many fly-aways; another did little to hide the frizz. She heaved a fed-up sigh a few times and pulled it into a ponytail, but then changed her mind, yanking the elastic out so that she returned to a down style, one that framed her face better. Plus, if her hair was down, he'd be more likely to –
Honestly, it was all the Doctor's fault. He had just been so….different around her recently. Well – not different, exactly, more like – a slightly more intense version of what he'd always been. Before he would take her hand whenever they would embark upon their next adventure: to run somewhere or away from something; to pull her away from danger, whether it was real or imagined. But taking her hand to lead her into their private box for the world premiere of Le Nozze di Figaro she'd understood; keeping it, resting it lightly on his leg – she did not. She had not understood why he'd needed to draw concentric circles with his thumb along the joint of her knuckle, and she hadn't understood why he needed to squeeze it during the emotional pinnacle of the piece. Or why he had to grace her with a dazzling smile and a lingering kiss on the hand afterwards when he dropped her off.
And it wasn't just the hand holding. It was how he'd started finding other ways of being in her space. Like that trip to Loktor to see the meteor showers of Vernetelles. "No – they're not meteors, remember? Because technically, they're alive, whereas meteors are bits of rock and ice, and aren't alive." Apparently in order for her to more fully comprehend their not-meteor-ness, he had to stand behind her, hands on her shoulders so he could direct her attention accordingly. And then that, of course, required him to point over her shoulder at the way they fell, motioning with his finger how they zigged and zagged in a very deliberate pattern, and for him to lean his head next to hers to ensure she could see – hear – feel – the rhythm of their dance across the sky. And because his arm was already over her shoulder and his head already next to hers, it must have required entirely too much effort for him to move either, letting one arm fall so it rested along her collarbone, and then – well, this must have disrupted some Time Lord sense of symmetry, because the other joined the first, both arms wrapped around her, the point of his prominent chin resting on her shoulder. It couldn't have been very comfortable to stay hunched over like that, especially with how long the not-meteor shower lasted, but he must have needed to so he could continue to murmur his observations and exclamations in her ear. And she had missed most of it, of course, due to the loud thumping of her heart, and how she had to fight a shiver every time his breath ghosted over her ear, or maybe it was because of the low rumble of his voice so close. But mainly, it was probably because the entire time she had been on the verge of asking one question of him:
Yes, it was entirely his fault.
It didn't matter that she had sought him out for certain things herself. Well – he had been the one who'd offered to help with relearning Gallifreyan. She'd been much dismayed to wander into the library one evening and come upon a book whose symbols might as well have been Greek. She'd been even more dismayed when try as she might, those curlicues and graceful circles had stayed just that, until the Doctor had happened upon her and volunteered to assist. Well, of course she'd needed to sidle in closer – how could she learn what each swirl and circle meant if she couldn't see? And, okay, yes, so maybe it had turned into him simply reading the pages aloud, a beautiful, nonsensical language that she might have been able to listen to for hours and hours if his arm around her hadn't been so inviting, and the sound of his hearts hadn't been so soothing. And if he hadn't kept stroking her hair in that tender, nearly reverent way that made her feel like she was as precious and irreplaceable as the mother tongue of his long-lost planet.
So what if it had been more than one time or turned into an almost regular occurrence? And what if she'd taken advantage of his warmth when they were caught in the middle of that snowfall on Cedaraius? The view had been breathtaking as they gazed out over the winking and sparkling stalactites and stalagmites made entirely of crystals, but she'd started to tremble as the skies opened up overhead and so her body probably was just unconsciously seeking out more heat. And that heat just happened to be behind her - as he'd always been of late when they found views like this. Mostly because he'd bring his head near hers to explain everything she was seeing – but this time, well…this time he just must have known she needed more heat because as soon as she leaned back into him, his arms went around her middle, hugging her to him. And then he did something remarkable: he went quiet and completely still. Quiet, that is, except for the little happy sighs that escaped his lips now and then. And except for the one time he'd murmured her name, drawing it out slightly, his voice catching in the middle of it.
So she followed suit, clutching his arms tighter around her, leaning back and turning her head so he could hear her whisper his name in response. The final sound he made was soft, at the back of his throat, and may have been involuntary. Neither of them spoke after that. And never had she shared so intimate a silence with someone.
So again – clearly, it was all his fault.
Still, properly assigning blame wasn't going to help with the sad state of her hair at the moment, which she scowled at for possibly the eleventh time. Oh – of course, it had to be the eleventh time, didn't it? Rolling her eyes at herself, she was right back to assigning blame when the tell-tale sound of the TARDIS materialising outside made her stop.
A quick glance at her watch confirmed that he was early by a good ten minutes, which seemed to have the effect of lifting those downturned corners of her mouth up. He'd never been early. Was it possible that he might be fixing his hair, too?
Running a final hand through her hair, she couldn't help noticing that she all of a sudden looked much better.
What was that song? "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile"?
After taking the stairs at what could be called a very moderate pace, she almost ran into Angie as she stepped onto the second floor landing.
"Your boyfriend's early, Clara," she informed her. "Someone's eager to see you."
Clara did her best to shoot her a look that neither confirmed nor denied the term she and Artie used to refer to him. "Or he just got the time wrong."
Angie scoffed. "He's got a time machine – how could he get the time wrong?"
"You'd be surprised…"
Clara took the final set of stairs, grabbing her jacket and her satchel. Angie followed her.
"You should make him take you to a posh restaurant." It seemed Angie wasn't done with offering her opinions yet. She leaned against the wall as Clara strapped on her boots. "Nina's mum said that that's the only way to know whether a bloke's serious or not. If he takes you someplace nice."
Clara did an inventory of the contents of her bag, making sure she wasn't missing anything. "Since when did Nina's mum start giving you advice on dating?"
Angie let her head fall back against the wall with the perfected amount of adolescent scorn. "'Cause she talks to us like we're grownups unlike some people." Clearly done with the conversation, she headed for the kitchen, calling over her shoulder. "Oh – and Artie said he needed to see you before you left."
A nonchalant shrug was her only reply.
Clara checked her watch again. Still seven minutes to seven, and he hadn't banged down her door or rung the bell eighteen times yet. Which was potentially odd, since he usually assumed that she hadn't heard the unmistakable grinding-gear sound of his ship and thus appeared on her doorstep to announce his presence. But again – he was early.
Clara called to Artie, who appeared at the top of the stairs.
"Clara! Are you going now? I was trying to find it before you left, but I can't! I've looked everywhere!"
She climbed a few steps to better ascertain the size of this problem. "Find what?"
Shooting her a distressed look, he turned and ran back to his room, still talking to her whilst he opened drawers and scurried around his room, muffling his words. "…left it here last time, and I said I would ….but then he was here to help me with….and thought maybe he'd…."
Sighing, Clara climbed a few more stairs so she could at least have a conversation with him. "Sorry, I didn't catch any of that, Artie. What's the problem?"
Artie's head popped out again. "I don't know where I put it. But can you tell him I promise I'll give it back to him? I'm sure he's missing it."
Clara nodded, intent on smoothing some of the worried creases between his eyebrows. "It's okay, Artie – you can stop looking for it – whatever it is. I'll just tell him you'll give it to him next time, okay? I'm sure the Doctor will understand."
Relief flooded Artie's face, and he flashed her a grin, thanking her earnestly before disappearing again.
Another crisis averted then. And still two minutes to go.
Well – maybe she couldn't wait, either.
So after she called goodbye, she gave herself a final glance in the mirror and headed for the TARDIS.
Pushing her way inside, Clara couldn't help the smile that curled her lips as she stepped over the threshold of her home away from home. Nor could she help how she practically skipped down the ramp, pausing only to note the absence of the Doctor. But it didn't take long to locate him, of course – there was a familiar sound of tinkering from below, with the requisite snap, crackle and pop as he fiddled with bits of his beloved ship. Ah – it all made sense now, then. He could stay down there for hours – days, probably. Perhaps he'd landed and discovered he was early. Perhaps he was afraid of appearing too eager himself and had sheepishly sought a distraction instead. Her smile widened into a grin.
Leaning on the console, she relished having the time to appreciate the buildup, the anticipation even more. It also afforded her the opportunity to address things she might not address with him face-to-face.
"So Angie thinks you should take me to a posh restaurant," she called down to him. "Which…I don't know – maybe that could be nice, but…I was actually thinking – you know how they have those restaurants at the tops of really tall buildings so you can see everything? Like really amazing views?" She paused for a moment, to see if he would reply. When none came, she continued. "Well – I don't know – we've seen all those beautiful views, so, I was thinking that maybe we could, you know – combine them or something. Like we find one of those places or find a planet that has some big, visual event and see if we can watch it while we…eat." She cleared her throat nervously as she realised how very much like a date that suggestion had just sounded. "I mean," she hurried to explain when there was still no reply. "It wouldn't have to be a restaurant,or even posh – it could be like when we went to Loktor and we just – bring a picnic or something." Right – which was still very date-like. "Which - then I could learn more alien foods. I mean – you could teach me about them." By feeding them to me. Clearly that sounded date-y as well. "Or, you know – I'd just be interested to go to the location of the best chips in Universe sometime…" She trailed off, beginning to squirm in the silence that followed.
"You haven't even seen me, and you're already asking me on a date?" A voice finally sounded from below.
Clara bolted upright. Wrong voice – unfamiliar voice. Scottish accent. "H-hello?"
"No, no, you can't move it there!" The voice continued, making Clara relax slightly. The Doctor had picked up another passenger, apparently – trouble with the TARDIS? No wonder he hadn't shown up on her doorstep straightaway.
"Oh, and so now you want us to be part of a hole the size of Finland? What's the matter with you?"
Clara bit down on a smile as the voice took on an air of authority that was probably making the Doctor fidget. Perhaps he was holding the sonic in his mouth, waving his arms in protest or was on his back underneath if the problem was really buried deep.
The sound of footsteps and Clara righted herself fully, prepared to meet the man who could talk that way to the Doctor. And about his ship.
The man who came into view was tall, slender and older, probably somewhere in his 50's or 60's. Human-looking, but she couldn't be certain, of course. Silver hair and a thin face. He stopped, just looking at her. "Hello, Clara."