The dire wolves had been beaten back, at some cost. The TARDIS was not reachable, not now, not with Clara bleeding from their teeth, not with the howling blizzard the Doctor could see coming in fast from the west. Nightfall was upon them, and the snow, and it would be death to carry her through this. He ran for the barn, with Clara slung over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. The barn was whole, and had been built to shelter animals through bitter storms like this. It would do for them.
The sonic made quick work of the door. The Doctor stepped inside. Such eerie light outside, the light of night with the snow falling. So dark in the barn, with the door kicked shut against the wind. He flicked the sonic into illumination mode and raised it high to see what he had run headlong into. Quiet. Nothing moved in the corners to disturb the darkness. His breath plumed out before him, eerie green from the sonic’s glow.
An open space; a hayloft, a line of stalls. They would have to do. He made his way to the nearest stall, with Clara still slung over his shoulder. Clean, thank his luck, with deep sand on the floor and hay piled in the corner. He lay Clara down on the hay.
Blood still flowed from the bites, though they had already begun to clot. He treated her injuries quickly, carefully, with the kit he always kept in one of the inner pockets of his coat. Bigger on the inside, those pockets were, and he had thoughtfully provided himself with tools. No need to give away all his tricks to her, though no doubt she’d figured this one out long ago. Too clever by half, his Clara was. A screaming genius, one of her echoes had called herself, and it was true of the original as well. Antiseptic on the wounds while she was still unconscious, a little gauze wrapped around. A screaming genius who’d flung herself in front of the largest wolf rather than let it bite him. What sort of genius was that?
He frowned at her while he bound up the last of the bite wounds. A last flick of the sonic, scanning for vitals: blood loss was survivable. Shock was still a risk. He wiped his hands off on a handkerchief while he considered the problem of shock. And the cold.
Clara came awake again, blinked up at him.
“Well, well, sleepyhead,” he said to her.
She smiled weakly at him; it was a running joke between them now. She said, “Wolves?”
“Scared of fire, as it turns out. We’re safe for now.”
“About a mile away. We’ll find it in the morning, when the storm has passed.”
“It’s snowing. Quite a lot. Can’t see but a few feet ahead through it.”
She blinked at him and tried to sit up. “Ow,” she said.
“Are you cold?”
She shook her head. Now that concerned him. She ought to be cold. He pulled off his jacket and helped her into it; it had many surprising qualities. It wouldn’t be enough, though. He dug out a nest in the hay and tucked her back into it. She hissed in pain when he tweaked her bandages by accident.
“Sorry, sorry.” He stroked her arm above the bandage, in a fruitless attempt to soothe away the pain. She’d be sore until they got to the TARDIS; he didn’t carry painkillers safe for humans in his pockets. Terrible omission.
“Not your fault.”
“Clara, Clara, I think ninety-nine out of a hundred people would disagree with you on that point. Now, let’s see.”
He stood and rubbed his hands together against the cold. It was sheltered in the barn, but not by any stretch of the imagination warm. Below freezing for certain. Could he light a fire? Not and have the barn survive it. He whirled into motion and made a methodical search along the line of stalls. Blanket. Horse blankets. Or some horse-like animal, anyway. They smelled horsey, not unpleasantly so, and were otherwise clean. Blankets, yes, and that was tack hanging neatly on hooks. The barn had been cleaned before the animals had been taken away. Perhaps it was not abandoned, but simply moved away from for the winter. Because this winter was indeed dark and deep and profound, and he wouldn’t have wanted to stay here for it. The dire wolves ruled these plains in the winter.
The Doctor returned to the hay pile where Clara waited for him. She was shivering. He burrowed down into the hay with her and pulled the horse blankets over them. If he didn’t do something drastic, something more than this, she would not make it through the night.
“Clara. I’m going to need skin on skin contact to warm you. Please forgive the intimacy.”
She laughed at him, weakly, but it was assent. He unbuttoned his shirt, pulled hers up, and pressed himself close to her. He wrapped himself around her as completely as he could. Eventually they would warm up the hay, would turn their little nest into something cozy, but not yet. He went inward and adjusted his own body temperature upwards. He would need to eat and sleep more than usual after they were done with this, but that would be a mere inconvenience.
Skin to skin. He felt her mind near his, brushing against him, like little sparks against his skin, bright little reminders of her Claraness. At one point, when he had been raw from regeneration, it had felt like electric shocks. He’d pretended to hate touch rather than endure the pain of bursts of emotion from her, much as he craved touch. Eventually he’d learned control, and he’d begun to be able to hug Clara the way she wanted him to. To hold her hand, to stroke her thumb with his, to let her know his affection. But this level of contact, skin to skin, bodies pressed together from head to toe-- He couldn’t control it. Not shocks, at least, but sparks. Tingles. Little flashes of her mind, no matter what he did to try to turn it off.
“Ah,” he said. “You remember once I told you about telepathy and Gallifreyans.”
“Yeah, I remember.” She sounded a little better already, he fancied.
“It’s difficult for me to, um, control it, when we’re this close. So you might want to avoid thinking about, um, anything you don’t want me to know.”
“You realize that is the worst possible thing to say to a human, yeah?”
“It’s like telling me not to think about elephants. Suddenly all I can think about is elephants.”
He grumbled, because indeed she was thinking about elephants now and perforce so was he. “Pink?” he said, with some outrage. Pink elephants, in tutus.
“You get what you deserve.”
“Clara,” he said, and then stopped. There was no point trying to explain. And she wasn’t angry with him, he could feel that. The damnable touch telepathy was telling him that she was the opposite of angry with him. She was teasing him with affection. More than that. With love, even. Oh, Clara. Screaming geniuses did not fall in love with him. He tended to get people killed rather too often.
Don’t think about that. Think about … elephants. He’d met a lovely fellow once who’d kept a white elephant in perfect happiness. Pretty thing, that elephant had been. A little small for its species. It had liked .
“Now I’ve got you on elephants too,” she said, with some amount of satisfaction. “I can see them. You saw an actual white elephant once.”
“Ah.” It was going both ways. That was unusual for a human. Ordinarily their brains couldn’t handle it. Of course Clara was an exception. Of course. So much time in the TARDIS, so much time close to him, her self-sacrificing plunge into the heart of the TARDIS-- all of these things would have changed her.
“Now I’m reading a lot of guilt. Big fluffy mounds of guilt.”
“It’s an invasion of privacy. I try to keep the door shut but it’s difficult right now.”
“Better this than me dying of hypothermia, yeah?”
“Anything you read is something I probably don’t mind you knowing anyway.”
“You say that now, but–”
“But what? Are you surprised to learn I care about you? You hadn’t figured it out.”
“Well. I had been, um.” Refraining from speculating, lest he be forced into doing something about it. Which he now would be. Would it be the worst thing that happened to him? Possibly not. The pain would come later, and he’d already signed himself up for that misery, hadn’t he. Might as well taste the pleasure as well as the pain.
And that was Clara, agreeing with him.
“What have I done,” he murmured.
“You let me into your head, you silly man.”
“And now I’m stuck with you here.”
“I’m afraid I’m exactly what you deserve.”
He hugged her tight for an instant. Throwing his own words back at him, she was, but he knew what she meant by it, and he was in no doubt. Whatever he had let himself in for, at least it had paid off. She was much warmer to his touch now, and had stopped shivering.
“Anyway. Now you know. What I want.”
What she wanted-- he had a vivid image of it suddenly. He blushed. The kissing part, he was certain he could manage that with a minimum of fuss. As for the rest-- “I know you’re tired and cold and injured.”
“And that is all that matters right now.”
Clara sighed. “Why do you have to develop a conscience all of a sudden.”
He laughed into her hair. “Because I know what you’ll do to me later if I don’t.”
“If you pretend this didn’t happen, so help me, I’ll–”
“Clara, Clara, Clara, I know better. I shan’t.”
“I’m holding you to it.”
“Bossy,” he murmured.
He eased himself further down into the hay, let his hand rest against her hip inside his coat. Dire wolves and snow outside, temperatures plummeting, the TARDIS a mile of whiteout conditions away-- it was fine. They were warm now, in their nest of hay and horse blankets. They’d sleep and wake in the morning to a transformed world.