The Doctor put the TARDIS into geostationary orbit above the gas giant’s major storm system and let his instruments run. Boring. The numbers were boring and so were the three-dimensional visualizations of plasma flows. No intelligent life anywhere, and fascinating as gas giants might have been to some people, they weren’t to him. He was was bored. Two days without Clara, and he was bored.
Time to ring her up. It was always time to ring her up; that’s what time machines were for. He threw the lever and shifted the TARDIS into the vortex, aiming it Earth-ward toward the right point in their shared timestream. Clara’s mobile was a mere button-press away. To his great pleasure, she answered immediately.
She sighed at him. “I know I told you to come tonight, and I do want to go out with you, but this time there’s a problem.”
“A problem?” The Doctor squinted at his view screen, which showed nothing problem-like in any distance that he might call reasonable. The entire Earth solar system was just as boring as the previous system had been, if he was to be blunt about it-- and why not be blunt?
Clara sighed again. “I can’t do any running. And with you it’s always running.”
“Always. But I can’t. I twisted my ankle running down the hallway. One of the students brought their new puppy in, and then there was a spill and I was sliding and the new caretaker was in the way and–” Clara huffed forcefully enough that he winced. “You can imagine.”
“I am imagining. Vividly.” The new caretaker was no doubt completely at fault. He knew he shouldn’t have given up the post. “What happened to your ankle?”
“It hurts and is all wrapped up and I’m not supposed to walk on it. And did I mention that it hurts?”
He scowled at the console, though it wasn’t the console’s fault Clara was hurting. “Do you want me to come back later?”
“I just want-- I want a night in. At home. With quiet company. While my ankle is all swollen like this. I want a pajama party.”
The Doctor heard “quiet company” and knew he could provide that. And possible he’d take the opportunity to do something sneaky and helpful with her ankle. He clapped his hands together. “Right! A pajama party you shall have.”
There was a pause, just long enough for him to start wondering what a pajama party might be when it was at home. Then Clara said, “That was unexpected.”
“I’ve always enjoyed a good pajama party. I’ll be by shortly.” And he rang off.
Shortly, of course, was a matter of relative measure when one was in the TARDIS. “Shortly” gave him the space to do what he needed, which was to arrange the most perfect pajama party possible. He locked onto that moment in her timeline, so that he might appear mere moments after their conversation, and set to work. He spun the second view screen around in front of his face, alongside the one with the gas giant data.
“Pajama party, pajama party! Show me… pajama parties.”
Both view screens changed: a rapid-fire succession of images of girls at sleep-overs, movies showing teenagers eating too much candy, staying up too late, watching movies, listening to music. Painting each other’s nails.
What hell had he promised to endure this time for the sake of his Clara?
The Doctor squared his shoulders. Nothing a man of his abilities could not cope with. Of this he was certain. “Nail polish, we’ve got that below stairs,” he said, to himself or to the TARDIS or perhaps to both. He’d got through gallons of it back in the days when Jack Harkness has been on board, back when he’d had the ears. Rose had liked it.
The screen flashed to new images. Party games it read. Spin the bottle. Truth or dare. Rules thereof. Example session.
“Truth or dare,” he said, and licked his lips out of sheer nerves. That one might cause problems. Would cause problems, if he knew his Clara, which he did. Best to avoid that. Best to lay in a supply of films of approximately the right Earth era, on whatever media it was she was using this year. And nail polish. And a supply of sugary drinks and candy. In fact, he’d better get a bag for all the things he’d need. Two.
When the TARDIS materialized inside Clara’s flat,it was about fifteen minutes later in her time, and only a couple of hours in his. He had been quite laudably efficient in his preparation. The TARDIS had been unusually helpful as well. He held a bag in each hand. The door swung open to reveal Clara. He marched out, triumphant.
Clara hopped away from the TARDIS door. She was, he saw, standing on one foot. The other had an elastic bandage wrapped around it and over that an ice bag.
“Sit down, sit down. Wouldn’t want your delicate human tissues to suffer permanent damage.”
Clara collapsed backwards onto her couch. He proudly set the bags in front of her.
“What is all this stuff?”
“Supplies. For the pajama party.” He waved his hands around to indicate the living room, site of the party that was about to be, the product of intricate Time Lord planning.
Clara did not look impressed. Instead she looked distinctly concerned, almost wary. She dug into the nearest bag and pulled things out. She held up a six-pack of colored glass bottles in blobby interlocking shapes, and peered at the animated labels.
“Cherry-flavored Sugar Bomb Pop?”
“England’s most popular fizzy drink in 2060.”
Clara set it down on the floor and reached into the bag again.
“Wouldn’t advise drinking that.”
“The complete John Hughes filmography on a single datacube.”
“Who doesn’t like jelly babies?” The Doctor snagged the bag from her before she could toss it back into the bag and stuck it in his pocket.
“An empty Coke bottle.” Clara gazed into the mouth. “There’s dust in it.”
“I had to go a long way to find that. Found it sitting on a rock in the middle of a veldt.”
“What’s it for?”
“You spin it and when the open end points to you, you have to ask a question. Clara, it’s perfectly obvious what the bottle is for. I don’t know why you’re asking me. It’s required for a pajama party.”
Clara was staring at him. “We don’t have enough people for spin the bottle. We’d end up getting each other every time and that would be just weird.”
The Doctor stopped with his mouth open. He hadn’t thought of that. He ought to have rounded up a lot of her friends for this. But he didn’t really want to do that. He wanted a pajama party with Clara, not a pajama party with a lot of tedious humans.
She was still talking. “Look, this is all incredibly sweet of you. But this isn’t what I had in mind.”
“When adults do pajama parties, they drink wine and watch romcoms. Preferably ones with Hugh Grant in them.”
“I don’t like Hugh Grant.”
“Well I do, and it’s my pajama party. This is how it’s going to go. You are going to change into pajamas, I am going to open a bottle of wine, and we are going to watch Hugh Grant. With a big comfy blanket over us.”
He smiled with one corner of his mouth. “Yes, ma’am.” This idea was much better, except for the Hugh Grant part, though possibly he could work on his wormhole plotting problem instead of watching the film. Just with the back of his mind and not his chalkboard, because the blanket part was definitely the best aspect of her plan.
“Where are your pajamas?” she said.
The Doctor riffled his hair, which was probably not completely behaving because it never did. He knew he’d forgotten something. “My pajamas,” he said. “I’ve got some on the TARDIS, I think. I’ll just–” Flee in terror. That would do.
“I’ve got some for you. You left them, ages and ages ago.” And she hopped off into her bedroom.
He was not the blushing sort but he blushed then, because he remembered that now, and remembered the circumstances, and it was not precisely what he wanted to remind her of tonight, when he wanted her thinking of him not of that fellow her boyfriend. Who’d been him.
Clara returned, hopping, with a bundle that she thrust into his arms. He unfolded them. Oh yes, he remembered these. Flannel, cuddly-- if he was the sort to use that word-- and covered in little rocket ships. Clara pointed to the washroom. “Put 'em on. I’ll pour the wine.”
They were too big. His previous self had had broader shoulders and a larger waist, though he’d been shorter. The Doctor softly cursed the big chinny lug and tugged the ties around the waist as tight as he could. He risked a look at himself in the mirror that turned into a wince; hands run through his hair in an attempt to sort it out, then sod all, couldn’t delay any more. Out he went, glancing only once through the opened door to her bedroom, then out to her sitting room and the television. Which he had taken the opportunity to make some improvements upon the last time he’d been left alone in the room, not that she’d noticed.
He tiptoed out and waited for her to cast judgement on how he looked in pajamas, but she merely smiled at him. She was already on the couch with a tartan wool blanket at the ready. He insisted she stay put on the couch while he cued up the film, which was on spinning shiny disks this year, quite primitive. Simple to manage, though. He set himself up next to Clara, six carefully-judged inches between them: close enough to make it clear he was not afraid of her, not so close he touched her and upset her.
She’d opened the wine bottle and poured for them. Red, mid-price, French. She held out a glass to him.
“I’m more the whiskey sort,” he said to her, hopefully, but she merely thrust the glass toward him again. He’d drink wine and like it, then. His previous self hadn’t; yet another advantage he had over the gangling chin-man.
He tasted the wine. Acceptable. He fished the jelly babies out of his pocket and tipped the bag toward her. “Jelly baby?”
She screwed up her face at him. “Those don’t go with wine.”
“Nonsense.” He bit the top half off a jelly baby and filled his mouth with wine. Stopped. Chewed and swallowed as quickly as possible. There was no chance he was going to give his reaction away to her. He tucked the jelly babies away for the future and concentrated on the wine. Not nearly strong enough to affect him, of course, but it was pleasant-tasting and Clara was happier when he shared with her. She liked cooking for him too. All those souffles, which she’d become adept with.
Clara dug back into the bags he’d brought and pulled out the collection of nail polish. It was from a ways in her future, if he remembered aright, but the basic principle was the same. Bottle, brush, apply, let dry.
She fiddled with it all. He smiled secretly. It was lovely to see somebody using all those silly cosmetics again. Amy had been more restrained and less likely to go for the fun things.
Then she said, “Let me do your nails.”
He gawped and then glared. “No.”
“Yes.” She was glaring right back, that round face all set and determined. A moment of contest of wills, then she smiled at him. “Come on. Trust me.”
He scowled for an instant. “Yeah, all right.” The smile had bested him. As usual.
Clara took his left hand in hers and set it onto her knee. She stroked his fingers once. He was almost immediately profoundly aroused. He snapped his gaze away from her and toward the television. He breathed carefully, evenly. He had command of himself. If she looked she would see it, but she seemed absorbed in whatever she was doing to his hand. The film-- he’d have to distract himself with the film. Or the smell of the nail polish, which took him back a very long time indeed.
The film was already in motion. Two people in a carriage, one of them a cad and the other a shrew, were discussing a will and whittling down the amount of money that was supposed to go to the cad’s sisters. None at all, was the conclusion. The Doctor found himself miffed. It was quite unfair. He turned to complain about this to Clara, but she wasn’t paying the least attention.
“You’re missing the start,” he said.
“Oh, I’ve seen this loads of times. And I’ll be teaching the book to my fifth formers.”
“Why do you put it on, then?”
“Comfort. Same reason as the pajamas.”
She had a bottle out and was dipping a little brush into it. It came out gleaming with some dark color. Black? The Doctor leaned over to look. She touched the brush to his littlest finger. He twitched.
“Hey! Hold still!”
“Hold still or I’ll get this all over your fingers.”
The Doctor muttered to himself and turned back to the screen. Unshorn sheep on an English hillside, costumes from a time he’d visited a handful of times, and on cue, there was the stammering Hugh Grant. He rolled his eyes but found himself charmed by the way the fellow was kind to the tomboy child. He’d have done the same if he’d been in that position. And soon enough he found himself absorbed in the film, despite all his resistance.
Right about the time Colonel Brandon was telling Elinor all about what a cad Willoughby was, Clara spoke up. “Take a look.”
The Doctor pulled his attention away from the screen reluctantly and looked at his hand, still laid flat on her thigh. His nails were, as he expected, black. He scowled because that was what he did, but black was a color he could accept. He was the black nail polish sort, yes.
“Do you like it?”
“Look at it properly.”
He held his hand up before his face and squinted. She’d painted his nails black, yes, but she’d done more than that. On each one was a spatter of little silver stars. Glittering stars, all over the black of space. And on his thumb was a blue police box: the TARDIS, with a tiny white square where the sign was.
“Oh!” he said. “That’s-- that’s–”
“Have I rendered you speechless?”
Clara merely smirked at him. “Takes a lot to shut you up.”
“Nonsense. I can shut up any time.”
Now she was laughing at him. There, he’d got out of telling her what her stars on his fingers meant to him, the idea of which terrified him in a way that truly robbed him of speech. He carefully laid his hand on his knee, where he could see the stars any time he liked, without giving himself away.
“Hey, not done yet. Got to put a finish coat on them. Give them some chance of lasting a few days with what you get up to with your hands.”
She took his hand again, which was a feeling that made the whole thing worthwhile. He watched her put the final coat on his fingernails. Eyebrows together in concentration, completely absorbed in her work, a little smile on her lips. Oh, how he wished he were allowed to touch them. But he wasn’t. Too old-looking, too much not her boyfriend, the floppy-haired one with the chin. But-- his long fingers in hers, her face screwed up in concentration as she paid attention to him-- to him, not to anybody else. She still cared for him, even though he didn’t look like the floppy-haired fellow any more. She would spend an evening painting the stars on his fingernails.
She finished quickly, too quickly, because his excuse for watching her was gone when she was done. An idea came to him.
He said, “Do you want me to do yours? I can, you know. I know how.”
Clara smiled at him. “I’m good. Let’s just watch the end part. Where’d that blanket go?”
She nudged his arm. He stared for a moment then understood. He was to raise it and she would tuck herself underneath, legs curled under herself, head against his chest. Did this count as hugging? She wasn’t hugging him. She’d lured him into hugging her. Clever girl, his Clara. Devious. He had an arm around her. Both of them under a blanket, in pajamas, lights low, the bottle of wine nearly empty.
He had no bloody idea what was going on with the film. He didn’t care. His arm was around her; her head was resting on his chest. This was anything but boring. It was, for the moment, perfect.