“Clara,” the secretary called her as she stood frozen and trancelike in the office. “Clara,” the secretary called again. Finally, her name came through the fog that clouded her mind these days. She turned her head, looking at the man as though she didn’t quite understand how he’d gotten there. He sighed, shaking his head in pity. “If you have a moment, the Chairman is here.”
Clara stared at him a minute more, the silence now becoming quite awkward.
“And?” she asked at last, not really sure what that had to do with her.
“And, he came to speak to you,” the secretary continued.
“Tell him to talk to Collins, most of the students are in both of our classes,” she said, waving him off as she took a hesitant step toward the door.
“He’s not here about the students, he’s here to talk to you,” the secretary emphasized, “he asked for you specifically.”
“Me? Why me?” She enquired, turning on the spot from which she’d still not moved.
He looked up at her sadly, not answering.
“I’m fine,” she argued, even though he’d kept his peace, simply staring at her in sympathy. “Really. Just need a break from all of this. But...I’ll be fine,” she repeated, even though she knew it was just a futile attempt to convince herself as well. Finally, she looked away, pensive, and sighed. “So, where is he, then?”
“In the Chairman’s Office,” the secretary answered, as though he wanted to be sarcastic but couldn’t quite find the heart to add to this girl’s burdens.
“Right,” she said, turning and walking down the corridor. “I’ll just go see him, then.” She huffed, angry at the audacity of the man to obviously try to interfere with her personal feelings.
“I was told you wanted to see me, Chairman,” she got out dully when she entered, after knocking.
“Ms. Oswald! Yes, yes, come in,” the man said, coming behind her to pull out her seat before turning toward his desk and setting two cups between them.
“Tea?” he asked brightly.
“Sure,” she responded, hands in her lap as she looked at up him.
“So...” he began, sitting and sipping at his own mug as he took her in. “It’s been a very...intense couple of months, eh?”
She sipped the herbal concoction, obviously tailored to calm her and put her at ease. It wasn’t working.
“You could say that,” she responded, wanting to leave but not having any ready excuse to do so.
“I suppose it would be a bit insensitive to ask how you’re doing.”
“Not at all,” she said, giving her head a small shake before managing a weak smile. Best get this over with and get out. “But, I’m-“
“Please don’t say you’re fine, dear girl, when you’re clearly not.”
She sat up at his tone, now looking at him defensively, the beginnings of anger welling in her.
“What makes you say that?” she asked, a bit sharply. He didn’t seem offended, merely gave her a small, sad smile as he raised his own cup to his lips.
“Because you don’t seem heartless, and only a truly heartless person would be fine after everything you’ve gone through these last few months.”
She settled back down in the chair, suddenly feeling a sort of... kindred spirit with the man.
“It’s just... going to take a little more time, I think,” she mumbled, staring at her hands before looking up at him to see complete understanding in his eyes. “Danny and I- well, if I hadn’t called him that day-“
“Don’t,” he interrupted her with a hand and a shake of his head, “don’t you dare blame yourself. What happened was tragic. And it was sad, and it was-“
“Ordinary,” she interrupted him this time, all those angry, hurt, frustrated feelings boiling up in her once more as she vented to this sympathetic stranger, “he- all the great things he did, the amazing man he was, just to die an ordinary death and be forgotten by the world the next day.”
He looked at her for a moment, contemplating her outburst. Then he put down his cup, sighing as he leant forward.
“Now, I wouldn’t go dismissing the value of ordinary so quickly, Clara Oswald,” he told her quietly but firmly, as though sharing a secret. “I’ve done things most people couldn’t possibly imagine, seen things they couldn’t comprehend, but every day I go home from my ordinary job to my ordinary home where I greet my, granted, quite extraordinary, wife. And someday, I hope to die a very ordinary death and allow the world to move on without me, as well. There is value in the ordinary, if that’s the life one chooses. Unfortunately, I only met Mr. Pink once, but I did get the impression that his untimely death was exactly the way he would have wanted to go. Not everyone can go out in a blaze of fire. That does not, however, make their life any less significant.”
“But, there is so much more out there-“ she argued, stopping herself as she stared down at her hands, taking a calming breath before looking up at him and hoping for his empathy once more. She licked her lips before continuing. “I know, this must sound crazy, but I’ve seen things you couldn’t imagine. Things... far beyond Cybermen and burning skies. Things that make me believe-,” she fidgets a bit more before meeting his gaze, “that make it impossible for me to accept that that was the end for him. Just like that,” she shook her head, tears prickling the edge of her eyes as she continued to deny what had happened, “just... gone. It can’t be over. Not like that.”
She stared at him for long moment, as though pleading with him to change what even the Doctor could not. He simply gazed at her, eyes full of compassion and sympathy, but not an ounce of the pity she’d come to despise over the last few weeks.
“You know, I too have seen some amazing things in my time,” she raised an eyebrow, appraising the young man before her, “but nothing so surprises me to this day as the simple acts of human beings, whether they be kind or cruel or brave or weak or mundane. Danny’s life, as well as his death, was nothing less than remarkable, if only for the simple reason that you, impossible girl, can miss him so.”
She huffed out a disbelieving chuckle, about to argue with him about their definitions as to what defined amazing, when suddenly something registered.
“Hang on- why would you call me that? It’s not something people just say.” She knew she was coming off a bit paranoid, but there was too much of a coincidence to ignore.
“Oh, I know all about you, Ms. Oswald. Much more than any employment file would ever tell me.”
She turned her head, suddenly wary of the man sat before her.
“Clara,” he sighed, and his tone was so pacifying and sincere it immediately eased her distrust, “haven’t you ever wondered how you obtained this post? A nanny with no previous teaching experience and only one letter of recommendation? Surely, you must have wondered how you got the job, considering you never really applied.”
She looked down again, searching for an explanation she didn’t have.
“The letter, Clara,” he explained, pulling a letter from his desk and looking at it with a fond smile before he proceeded to read.
‘Please hire Clara Oswald, my Impossible Girl, as she’s a very suitable candidate for that teaching position. At your school. With all the children. Who need to be taught educational things. She’ll keep them in line and will teach them whatever it is that they teach these days. And they’ll learn stuff. Lots of stuff. Important loads of learn-y stuff from her. Plus, she’s loyal and understanding, and would do anything for her students.’
‘Signed, John Smith,’” he ended, smile wider on his face even as Clara held her head in her hands, stifling a groan at the ridiculousness that was meant to be her letter of recommendation.
“He’s not always good with people,” she tried to explain, pressing her lips together in embarrassment.
“Oh, I found it quite delightful,” the Chairman laughed, putting the creased letter down between them as he looked up at the still-horrified girl. “Utterly absurd, of course, but delightful.”
“Why would you ever hire...anyone with a letter of recommendation that sounded like that?” she asked, still staring at it as though it were a danger to any who were subjected to it, and now slightly concerned for the man who’d insist on employing a woman based on that letter alone.
“You know, I myself used to teach here,” he said abruptly, eyes shining brightly in amusement and memory, “me and my wife, both.”
“Really?” Clara asked, adjusting in her seat, happy for the change of subject.
“Hmm. A long time ago,” he continued, wistfully staring out the window.
“What happened?” Clara pressed, sensing a story there and quite curious about his experiences.
His face lit up into a grin once more, meeting her eyes as he answered, “We had a student once: a young girl who never quite fit in. She would always come to class and say the strangest things, things that made no sense to anyone. I taught science, and she’d treat my most complicated demonstrations as though they were child’s play. My wife taught history, and she would often argue over the verity of what she was being taught. Then one night, we decided to trail behind her when she went home and to get some answers. And we followed her... to a junkyard.”
“She lived in a junkyard?”
“Well, yes and no. When we tried to go after her, she had disappeared. But, there was nowhere for her to go, as far as we could tell. Imagine our surprise when instead we found this unfriendly, grumpy old man who denied any knowledge of our Susan. But, then we heard her call for him- her grandfather. He wouldn’t give us any answers so we pushed past him into their home. We could scarcely believe our eyes. It was… impossible. The man told us we’d seen too much, so he locked the doors and then took us far, far away.”
“He kidnapped you?” Clara asked, concern and incredulity in her tone. But, to her surprise, the Chairman’s mouth curved into a wide grin, and he began to chuckle.
“Yes, I suppose he did. Though I doubt it was his intention to keep us as long as he did. You see… I don’t think he ever really knew quite how to work that blue box of his.”
Clara’s eyes grew wide as her face lit up in understanding, her mug forcefully hitting its plate.
“You- you know-?” She couldn’t quite believe her ears, staring at the well-accomplished and refined young gentleman before her. It was hard to believe he could ever be suited to the kind of life to which the Doctor would’ve exposed him.
“I knew a very harsh, very alien man who ran from the rules and society of his people. He tried very hard to protect and to expose his granddaughter to the universe, but he had lived his whole life back wherever he came from amongst the stars. It was harder for him than for her to disobey the rules he’d always known, of a society that demanded strict non-interference with history, even at the cost of lives and people. Barbara, my beautiful wife, and I were able to show him a different way of things. A more human way. And we became better for it. And so did he.”
Clara’s tongue got stuck in her throat, her mind processing the face of the man in front of her before she was able to breathe out, “You were the first. But- why- how can you-?”
“Apparently travelling with the Doctor had some lasting effects on Barbara and me. I’m over 70 years old,” he said, grinning as she looked at him in astonishment. Then her eyes roamed his face and torso and she nodded her approval.
“Thank you,” he chuckled. Then Clara leant forward, curious.
“So, how did you leave him? I mean, you’re here; you’ve made a life for yourselves. I just... I don’t know how I can do it, even if I wanted to. Especially now,” her eyes clouded over, but no tears came this time.
“Oh, we wanted to belong somewhere. Be settled and still. Even out there, all the great things we saw- things we did...” he reminisced, face changing as memories took him. He sniggered a little, “Did he ever tell you about the time he inspired the Great Fire of Rome?”
Clara laughed, truly laughed, for the first time in such a long time as she imagined her Doctor stumbling into Nero’s court the way he stumbled into everything else.
The Chairman looked up at her, his smile still present, even as his mind was pulled back as well.
“We did make it back eventually. Obviously. Began our lives again. But no matter what we do, how we move on, we can’t simply forget what it was like to be out amongst the stars. Or the man who took us there.” He looked at her pointedly.
“So... what?” Clara asked dumbly, realizing he had a reason for telling her all of this.
“So, you need to choose how you want to spend your life. How you can live in such a way that honours the people you’ve met and will meet. If that’s taking care of the Doctor, good on you. And if that’s staying here, making an ordinary life for yourself, then remember the past fondly. Respect it, and love those who made you who you are. Then move forward. For me and Barbara, travelling with the Doctor acted as our propulsion- the thing that drove us forward, made us open and accepting to change and the unusual. It even drove us to each other, for which I’m extraordinarily grateful.
“Mr. Pink made a decision,” he continued, his tone losing some of his passion as he returned to a more sombre topic, “after the war. He decided to come back, to mould the minds of our youth, and to live the best life he could possibly live, with the joy and the excitement and the routine and the...love that was his, and his alone. And now it’s your turn, Ms. Oswald. Now you get to decide how you’re going to proceed with your life, whether you’re going to live with the pain or in spite of it. And that, dear child, is the present- that’s the gift we all get to choose every day.”
Her eyes wandered as she processed his words, before she looked up, determination set on her face. She nodded, swallowing, before she sat up straight, intending to leave and contemplate her next move. Then she paused.
“Why did you hire me? I mean, even with the Doctor’s letter, how did you know I’d be able to take care of these kids?”
Chairman Ian Chesterton simply smiled at her sheepishly, handing the half- opened letter to her.
“I may have... skimmed over some of this earlier.”
She took it from his hand and read rest of the words from the Doctor to his very first human friend.
She can do anything she puts her mind to. She understands the significance of even the smallest, ordinary acts on others, and she’s one of the most capable people I’ve ever met. Someday she’ll see how truly magnificent she is, and I assure you, it won’t have anything to do with me, but all to do with her. Because she really is so, so amazing. And being her friend, getting to be with Clara- it’s extraordinary. She makes everyone around her feel so special. Even a silly old man who’s still trying to run away from home. And I know, when it’s her time to move on with her life and stop living in fairy tales... she’ll make me just as proud as you have.
So I’m asking you- give her a chance, my dear Chesterstein. Trust me on this: you won’t be disappointed.
Ooh, that’s fun! Love a good “P.S.” Look in on her from time to time, will you, old chap?
My dear boy, because I never really said...
She gave the obviously well-worn piece of paper back to him, eyes moist as she stood up, taking a deep breath and pasting a smile on her face that wasn’t completely forced this time.
“Do you ever miss it? I mean- surely, all this time, do you ever wish you could take it back?”
He gave her a wry smile, standing with her and opening the door. Then he sighed, eyes bright as he gave his explanation.
“A very long time ago I watched a man willingly give up the one person he loved most in the universe. I thought it was probably the bravest, most difficult thing he ever did, letting her go.” He gazed at her, waving his letter in indication. “When those doors closed on her for the very first and very last time, he didn’t break down and cry, he didn’t doubt his decision, painful as it was, he didn’t freeze or hesitate. He simply stood straight and proud, and told her there mustn’t be any regrets or tears or anxieties, and to go forward with her life. And I think, Clara Oswald,” he said, fondly folding the letter and putting it securely in the inside pocket of his coat, “that it’s time you did the same thing.”
When she left the school, she looked both ways, unsure of where she was going next. But wherever it was, she realized as she took a confident step forward, at least she was still moving. And that seemed like the most important thing of all.