"I'm sorry we had to contact you this way, my dear," Vastra tells her. "But this could not be more urgent." They sit around a table in a well-appointed, if technically nonexistent room. (How many weird things have to happen before they're just called normal again? She should keep a tally.) Lovely tablecloths.
Clara nods. "What it is?"
Vastra looks at Jenny unhappily and grabs her hand. Not a good sign. "We discovered the Gallifreyan translation of the name Trenzalore."
"Trenzalore?" The word sounds familiar. She squints, remembering. "What's that?"
"He hasn't mentioned it?" Vastra frowns at this. "It's a planet, my dear. On which no question can remain unanswered, or be answered falsely. One which the Doctor must never, ever step foot on. For his sake, and so many others."
"What?" this isn't helping, and it's making her nervous. "I don't understand. Why is it so dangerous?"
"Always a way out," a voice whispers in her ear before Vastra can reply; Clara looks around but there's only empty air. Then suddenly there are dozens of them, overlapping all around, all the same woman's voice. "Run. A way out. Run." They're getting louder, and then Jenny slumps over. Vastra stands in alarm.
"We're under attack." She draws her weapon. Clara moves to guard her back. She can't see anything. Oh god, she can't see anything attacking them.
"Tell the Doctor, it's called the Garden of Tombs." Vastra whirls and grabs Clara's shoulders. "Tell him!"
"Always a way out," the voices whisper, buzzing in Clara's head, and suddenly that's all she can feel, and then she's waking up.
When she tells him, his face goes white with shock for a second. Then he laughs. Then he throws her mobile against the wall and gives a yell of rage, and at that Clara steps back in fear. He stands there for a moment, then collapses onto the seat behind him, head in hands.
"Doctor," Clara edged closer. "Why are you so afraid of Trenzalore?"
The Doctor sighed and looked down. "Because a very long time ago, I did something very bad. And on Trenzalore I'm going to pay for it."
And to this, Clara has no response.
The console makes a ringing alarm noise, stark against the miserable silence. She turns to him, startled at the sound.
"The phone," the Doctor says sadly. They share a look, Clara anxious and puzzled, the Doctor full of dread. He fiddles with switches and a hologram appears. It's Simeon. Or rather, not-Simeon.
"Am I speaking to the Doctor?" he asks when they pick up.
"You must know that," the Doctor replies.
"Fine. As you no doubt have realized, I am now in possession of your friends, the two women and the potato. What you may not be aware of is that I also hold by a thread the lives of several of your best-loved humans. This one is called, I believe, Martha Jones?" An image of a focused (and quite fit) young black woman packing herself lunch one morning appears onscreen.
The Doctor bristles. "Martha is quite capable of taking care of herself."
"Jack Harkness?" Now the picture shows a man in a long coat, ruffling the hair of a boyish looking man who laughs and swats at his hand.
This provokes a contemptuous laugh. "The man behind Torchwood? Good luck there."
"Yes indeed, Doctor; your friends are powerful. I did also find one other." Clara sees a red-haired woman working at a desk, handing out memos and polite, half-hearted smiles. "Donna Noble, correct?"
The Doctor startles back as if slapped. "What have you done?"
"Microexplosives in the food served well enough, tired though the technique may be. Don't worry, Doctor, they won't go off without this," he holds out what must be a detonator. "And of course, she has no idea." (Clara has the urge to smack the smile from his face.) "None of them do."
"What do you want?" the Doctor asks him quietly.
"You to stop asking questions you already know the answers to, for one," Simeon answers sharply. "Trenzalore, Doctor. Not soon. Now."
For a moment the Doctor seems full of rage -- no, Clara decides, grief -- and then he calms. "Just give me a chance to leave Clara somewhere safe," he says crisply. "Give me that."
Simeon scoffs. "What in all cosmos makes you think I would grant a request like that? Really."
"Please," the Doctor looks scared, and desperate, and it's making Clara a whole new level of worried. "It's in your best interest as well. You don't need her. You'll have your revenge."
"Please, take me in her place!" Simeon imitates. "My god, it's insufferable. Just for that, I'm starting with the Noble woman. I'm placing a time-barrier around the planet now. Best arrive before it closes."
The line goes silent.
Clara isn't sure what to do, but the Doctor is trembling, panicked and furious, and she's only just realized that she's never seen that before.
"Trenzalore," he murmurs, backhanding a tear threatening to fall. "I suppose it's time, then." He starts the machine.
He stands back to look at the console. "I shouldn't go," he says to the air. "I should let them die."
Suddenly Clara can't remember ever being this afraid.
The silence last nearly the whole way. Clara hasn't yet come up with anything to say, and the Doctor obviously isn't feeling very loquacious. She's watching him fly when the ship begins to shake.
"Should've known," he mutters angrily. "She doesn't want to go." It's now rocking, and Clara has to grab a rail for support.
"Are we going to land soon?" she asks, trying to sound calm.
"I'll take care of it," he tells her grimly, yanking harder and flipping toggles faster. She wraps both arms around the rail and holds on. She doesn't open her eyes until they land, quite unpleasantly, with a lurch. The TARDIS begins making an odd noise, like a bell tolling. She looks, and the Doctor is touching the console sadly.
"I know, my dear," he murmurs. "It hurts. But we were always going to say goodbye." He spins to face Clara, and gives her the nod. She stands, still hesitant, and the Doctor walks to the doorway like a waiting gallows.
He turns to her just as they reach the door, spinning to face her and block the exit.
"Clara," he stares into her eyes, "this has never been more important, do you hear? You have to listen to me out there. You have to do what I ask. Do you understand?"
She frowns and nods. "Yes, all right."
"No," he tells her. "Clara. It's more important than it's ever been. Please. You must do as I say."
She clenches her jaw and looks down stubbornly. "Fine. Got it." They open the left door.
The Doctor goes first, emerging cautiously, then beckons her out. It's a dreary place, seemingly one gigantic burial ground.
"They're not here," she feels the need to observe.
"No," he answers. "The Intelligence is probably waiting with them at my tomb. Look for an entrance, or a path. We need to be moving five minutes ago." They've already passed the barrier, so she's not sure what he means by that. He speaks quietly, scanning his surroundings as if expecting some huge predator to come stalking by without warning. Trying to be quiet too (even if she's not sure why), Clara looks over his shoulder and thinks for a moment she can see a woman, all gold, but when she blinks the mirage is gone. She turns back to her companion.
"I can ask you questions now, can't I? And you have to answer honestly."
He sighs at her. "Yes. Clara."
"If I'm going to die I think I should get some explanation. What's waiting for us here, Doctor? Why are you so afraid of Trenzalore?"
His face shows a moment of haunted terror before he blinks it away. "I think you know about that. Didn't you hear what Vastra said?"
"Yes I did, but it only confused me," Clara says automatically. "Oooh, that's not good. Don't like that."
"Exactly," he tells her. "It's not polite."
"Then I'm sorry. But stop evading, Doctor. What's going to happen? What's here?"
He exhales. "Something I can't fight." His terror is making Clara very, very nervous.
"Doctor," she reproaches. "How is that helpf--" she stops because he's rushing off, looking at one of the tombstones. "What?"
"River," he says breathlessly, crouching to look at the inscription more closely. "But... I don't understand..."
The name is familiar. "You mentioned her before. Were you in love?"
"Irrelevant," he answers. He furtively scans the sky again for a moment, then looks back down at it. "No, this can't be her. It's a signal. It's an entrance!" He finds the mechanism and a stairway opens into the earth. "Come on," he ushers her down first, even though she doesn't want to go.
"You're going to find out very soon now," someone says behind her, but when she turns there is no-one. It was that same woman's voice, she suspects. The Doctor reaches the bottom of the stairs and joins her.
"Doctor, I think--" she begins, but he's already off at a trot. She frowns, and follows suit.
"No matter where we're going, we always have to go underground," Clara observes. "Seems like that, anyway."
"I saw a planet where everyone lived in the ground -- not deep underground, just partway under, inside hills. Very well-appointed, considering."
Clara snorts. "I think you're confusing real life with Lord of the Rings again."
The Doctor only smiles smugly to himself. "Of course. How silly of me." Clara gives him a suspicious glance, but since it's directed at the back of his head, the Doctor misses it.
"Do you know what Simeon is going to do?" she asks, forgetting again to rephrase it.
"Yes. Maybe. He isn't Simeon, he's the 'Great Intelligence'," she can actually hear the Doctor rolling his eyes at the title. "If he's taking me here, most likely it means he wants to undo me."
Her mouth drops open. "Wants to what?"
"Undo me," the Doctor repeats. "Erase me and all I've ever done. Every victory, every person I've saved. Lives will flare out. Planets will burn. And I will never have been."
He keeps walking, but she has to pause for a moment, stunned. "Doctor, but, you can stop him, right? We --"
Then there's a flash of gold in the corner of her eye again.
She looks down the hall extending off to her right. It's a woman, wearing a gold dress.
"The battle is won," she tells Clara. "But the child is lost."
Clara backs away and looks ahead to her guide. "Doctor, I..." but she turns back and the woman is gone. She catches up to him again.
"Doctor, I think I saw--"
"Shhh!" he holds out his arm to stop her and looks around. After a tense moment, his arm goes down.
"I don't think he sees into this place," the Doctor scans the tunnels warily, with eyes and sonic. "But that doesn't make it safe." He seems satisfied after a moment, and begins moving again.
"I don't want to ask you questions," Clara begins, after they've resumed walking. "But I would very much like to know what else is going on here, Doctor. I think you were here before. Maybe you could tell me about that."
He feels a surge of gratitude. "Thank you, Clara. Yes, I suppose I should."
He exhales, and pauses for a second to turn and look at her. "When I was very young, I thought all rules were for breaking. I stole a ship, and my first stop was the planet where timelords bury their dead. The Garden of Tombs. I went there because we weren't allowed, so no timelord had ever visited it before. I found the idea very exciting." His stride quickens, and she has to catch up to keep talking.
"What did you find?" she asks from behind him. "Oh, sorry."
"I found that rules sometimes exist for a good reason." His jaw clenches and he speeds up even more.
"Doctor..." Clara admonishes.
"You want to know what reason. What I found here." He slows down suddenly and she almost walks right into him. "I, um. This planet has a keeper, a guardian of sorts. The Elder Child."
"Sounds... threatening?" Clara is a bit unsure about this one.
"The Elder Child has always been alone, and it was meant to always remain alone. I didn't understand how important that was."
"That seems unfair," she frowns.
"It is," he acknowledges. They reach a juncture, and he waves the sonic around again before choosing the tunnel on the left. "The Child was never supposed to understand the nature of two souls meeting. It knows only the dead, and it is eternally dying itself, this world fed by the pain of that living death. To the Child, there was no such thing as love, or understanding, or even so much as speech."
Her mouth opens. "But that's awful."
"Some things are awful, Clara. It knows this world, and it found me quickly. But it didn't understand. How could it? I spoke to it, and it began to comprehend, that I was alive, that we were communicating; but there was something missing. It didn't believe that I wasn't alone, too. It didn't believe there was such a thing as love, or caring. And seeing it, all the pain it bore without even questioning, without even knowing -- well, you know me. I let my feelings get the better of me, as usual. I told it what it was to have a family, to be cared for." Clara swipes a cobweb out of the way as they pass it.
"So you told the Elder Child love exists," she responds, frowning. "And that's bad?"
The Doctor's jaw works. "What's bad is that I told the Elder Child I could prove it."
Her eyebrows shoot up. "What?"
"I told you, it didn't believe me; it couldn't, not all alone like it is. I told it --" he looks back at Clara with reluctance, "I told it I had a family, kin, a species. And it was dying, and needed it so much, so I -- I promised I would show it. That I'd come back and prove to the Child that we people, we're born together, and love each other, and we're so similar, understand each other so well... I promised I'd come back with my family." He swallows. "And then I left. And then Gallifrey burned."
"But now you're back," Clara finishes in terrible understanding.
"Back, and the last of my species. This is the day I've been running from, because I had to avoid it. At all costs. Never even used my real name again, because it hears, wherever you are it hears." He exhales. "They say the blind have superior hearing. I suppose this is the ultimate example."
"What will it do?" Clara asks. "When it finds out who you are?"
"Die," he says softly. "Just die, and take everything good with it. No language. No communication. We'll be trapped in our own minds, unable to even remember that other people exist. We'll just all keep on living, alone, always and completely." His mouth twists. "Personally, I'd rather the universe just ended." For a moment neither of them can say anything in response to that. Clara swallows.
"So that's your solution then?" she demands. "Kill yourself, and billions of people, because you're afraid of a child?"
"Clara," he says warningly.
"But there's always another way," she insists. "You showed me that. There's always a way out."
He looks at her, so, so old. She can see every day of it now.
"Not this time," he responds. Then he turns and begins walking again. "Come along."
She watches him for a moment, shattered. Then she obeys.