The Doctor reeled into the TARDIS, shoved his fingers into the telepathic circuits, and pleaded for help. She was on his heels; she knew where he was running; she had let him go so that he could lead her to the TARDIS. His escape from torture was yet another of her plans. Please, old girl, he thought, send me to safety. Away. And do it now.
The door swung shut on Missy and the TARDIS moved. Into the vortex, spinning, and and he knew her destination as well as he knew anything in the universe. She was sending him to the place he loved best, because it was the home of the person he loved best. He tumbled out of the door onto the floor of Clara’s sitting room, where she was doing her marking.
She was at his side, helping him up, and then she saw him. Her first reaction was to laugh. “You look like you were in a fight. I’m afraid to ask what the other guy looks like.”
Then she met his eyes, and whatever she saw there made her laughter die. She wrapped her arms around him, solicitous, and he hissed in pain and flinched away, fell against the side of the TARDIS and flinched again.
He couldn’t speak. He tried, but something stopped him. Fear? Unsure. He clutched at her hand, because he didn’t want her going away thinking he was rejecting her.
“Are you okay?”
“Can you talk?” A shrug. “You can but you don’t want to?” Nod. “Something happened. Something bad.” He managed another nod.
“We need to get you to hospital.”
He shook his head violently and backed away from her. Two hearts. Never good. Two hearts, and a physiology that meant they’d kill him by accident. Again.
“The TARDIS,” Clara said. “And then we’ll patch you up.”
She took his hand and gently led him back into the TARDIS. Set the controls for the vortex, no destination in mind, and sent them into motion across the space-time continuum. The Doctor breathed out, then. For the first time since Missy had captured him, he felt he might be safe. He leaned against the TARDIS console and shivered. Everything hurt. He almost could not think it hurt so much. Not as badly as it had. Not as badly as during. He had survived this. He would find his way outside of his own mind soon enough.
He straightened up. Clara was looking at him. Her chin was set in a way that he knew better than to resist. And yet.
“Will you come to medbay with me?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“Your room?” Head shake. “My room?” A nod. “What happened?”
He smiled faintly, bitterly, and shook his head.
Clara said, “It was bad. I don’t know what it was, but it was bad.”
The barest of nods.
“Okay. I’m here. I’m here for you. Whatever you need, whatever happened, I’m here. I’m your friend. You know that, right?”
He stretched his hand out for hers again, and let her help him down the steps into the corridor. The door to her room was, mercifully, the first one along. The TARDIS had anticipated their arrival. By her bed was a table with a basin filled with warm water. Bandages. A tube of cream. Clara looked at all this, then at him.
She said, “Are you willing to show me your injuries?”
He stared down at his hands. Willing? Perhaps. Eager? No. If only he could speak. If only he dared. He wasn’t sure what would happen if he opened his mouth. He’d scream, probably. Not Clara’s fault. Clara was the only safe person in the entire universe. He moved, suddenly, and shoved his jacket off his shoulders. It hurt badly enough that he hissed in pain. He undid the buttons of his waistcoat. More pain, from his ravaged back.
“You’re bleeding,” she said. He shrugged and winced.
She reached out for his shirt. He flinched away despite himself, hands before his face. Weak, weak, so weak. But Missy had started that way. Flirtation, he’d thought. And then he’d realized he’d been drugged.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” she said to him. “It’s okay. At your pace. I won’t touch you without your invitation.”
He wanted her to touch him. She was the only person in the universe he could conceive of allowing to touch him. He reached out and took her hand, laced his fingers in hers. Nodded to her, squeezed. Then he reached up and unbuttoned his shirt. She helped him pull it away from his blood-wet back, his sticky, ravaged back.
“It looks-- it looks like somebody whipped you.”
He nodded. Bound to a post, whipped to unconsciousness, then she’d, then she’d-- Dammit. He was weeping. She’d burrowed under his skin, made him think he could save her, and then she’d done the worst things she could think of.
“Sweetie,” Clara said. “I’m here.” More endearments from her, a string of ridiculous pet names, which only made him clench his jaw around his misery, because it was so unlike her to talk like that. He must be in a worse state than he’d thought.
“I’m going to clean your wounds and put this cream on. It might hurt at first. Stop me if you need to. Okay?”
He nodded, and set himself to endure it. Surely it would not be as bad receiving it had been. It wasn’t as bad as he’d feared-- the TARDIS had made him something that eased the pain. Clara’s fingers rubbed cream into him, and it stopped hurting quite so badly. She crooned to him while she tended to him. The Doctor closed his eyes and let himself pretend that it would be okay. Though of course it would. Time cured all. He had time. So much time. Let another thousand years pass and he’d forget even this.
She came around and touched his bruised face, rubbed cream into his blackened eyes, his swollen lip. Found the places on his chest where the whip had curled around, and tended to them. Then Clara’s hand hovered above his belt buckle.
“I think you’ve got more injuries,” she said. “But I’m not going to push. I’m going to offer. If you want my help, I’m here. If you want to take care of this yourself, I’ll leave the room.”
The Doctor breathed in. Out. Assessed exactly how desperate he was, how much he needed her, how difficult it would be to treat himself, how humiliated he was willing to feel. How much he trusted her. Then he took her hand and set it on his belt buckle.
She said absolutely nothing to him, no words of mockery, no comments at all, as she worked on the rest of his body, his ravaged buttocks, the backs of his thighs. Other places. He burrowed his face into her pillows and curled his hands into fists and let himself fall into her capable hands. Into her love.
She dressed him again in soft clothing, pajamas that felt like clouds against his skin. The TARDIS’s doing, of course, the two women in his life conspiring to help him. He lay on his face in her bed, and for the first time in days his body felt as if he could live within it.
Clara got up and went somewhere. He cleared his throat and found that he could call her name. Hoarsely, but his voice worked. She was at his side again in an instant, fingers brushed over his arm, carefully missing the weals.
“Hey, sorry. Was going to clean up. Do you need me to stay?”
“Yeah. No. Talk to me?”
She understood what he meant, and kept up a stream of chatter at him while she went into the bath and washed. She came back into the room with a glass of water for him. Not water; something viscous and sweet, something that soothed his throat. The TARDIS had insisted, she said. She helped him sit up and drink, then eased him down onto his face again. She had not made one comment the entire time about his injuries.
He cleared his throat again and pushed himself up onto his elbows. “Thank you,” he said. It didn’t come out quite so hoarsely. Certainly it no longer hurt to speak.
“You should rest.”
“Will you stay with me?”
“If you want me.”
“I need you.” Oh, how easy it had been to say that after all. How unburdened his heart felt now. He’d thought he’d feel more shame, but all he felt was relief, some kind of peace, deep gratitude that her reaction was to press her lips to his forehead.
Clara lay next to him on her bed, above the covers while he was underneath them. She stroked his hair. It was absurd that this simple gesture should help so much, but it did. Every breath he took in this place, with her warmth beside him, made him feel that much closer to sanity and survival.
“I should be almost healed after a night’s sleep,” he said, meaning to apologize for occupying her room.
“Your body, anyway.” There was a warning in her voice, a promise.
He smiled at her wanly. “I suppose you want me to talk.”
“I want to know you’re safe now. I want to know-- as much as you’re willing to tell me.” He heard the anger, and knew how much she was leaving unsaid, how much she was controlling herself for his sake. Which she did not need to do. Her anger was a balm. Someone was on his side.
“It was Koschei,” he said. “Missy. She’s alive somehow. I don’t know how.”
Clara stirred beside him, but said nothing, for which he was grateful. He couldn’t explain any of it. He had never been able to understand how Koschei escaped any of the things she escaped. He had thought her dead so many times.
After a while, he went on. “I met her. To talk, at her request. About Gallifrey. Its location. How she knew. I wanted to, to find out if there was any reason in her. Any sanity.”
“At first, I thought maybe. We talked. In a public place. She seemed contrite. Reasonable. Then I realized she’d drugged me. I didn’t get out in time. When I woke, I was, she had–”
Clara took his hand and squeezed gently. “How long?”
“I forgive her every time.”
“It’s happened before?”
He smiled at her bitterly. “Not quite like this. In a previous regeneration, he had me captive for a year. Tortured me daily.”
“Well. It was a long time ago. Hundreds of years.”
“Not sure that makes it any better,” Clara said, but her voice was utterly tender.
The Doctor tightened his fingers around hers. “This time there was something bitter in it. A deep grievance.”
And it had something to do with Clara, that much he’d understood by the end. Clara had been a scheme of hers and something about it had backfired. Clara was supposed to have betrayed him by now and hadn’t. Something like that. Her jealousy had been thick. Vicious.
“A sexual grievance,” he said to Clara. “It always turns that way. Between us. Because we were once lovers.”
“That kiss she gave you.”
“Tip of the iceberg.” And he forced out a laugh, to try to undercut it, but Clara had seen his body. No damage done that could not be repaired with a little time. No physical damage, that was. And even the mental damage would be repaired. Was already being repaired, by Clara’s mere presence. That, ah that was it. Why he’d been able to fend off her mind. Why he’d been able to hold himself aloof from the violence being done to him. Clara was always with him, in some way. And that had enraged her worse.
He squeezed his eyes shut. This was going to be difficult. He loved her. He had loved her all along. She was just a girl, the psychic woman had said, just a girl, and she’d saved him, and he loved her. That had to carry him through this next trial, as it had carried him through the last one.
“Clara,” he said.
“We need to know why she chose you. Why you. She told me she had. She said you were perfect. Why? And what went wrong with her plan for you?”
“Stop. Stop. Start at the beginning. She said what?”
And the Doctor opened his eyes, and told her everything.