The first time Clara visited Jane with the Doctor, it was by accident. They were aiming for London, but, as usual, they didn't quite manage it.
“When are we?” Clara asked, smoothing down the skirt of a dress that was far too fancy for the fields she saw when she opened the door to the TARDIS.
The Doctor pulled the screen towards him, squinting at it. “1796. Hampshire.”
Clara's eyes lit up, the English teacher in her kicking in. “Hampshire. Late 1700s. Jane Austen. Jane Austen is somewhere out there, and she's just finished the first draft of Pride and Prejudice! Well, it's First Impressions right now, if we’re going to be specific, but the point is, Jane Austen!” she said, her grin growing as she began to bounce slightly on the balls of her feet.
“I'm assuming you wish to meet her?” The Doctor asked.
“Well, obviously,” she said, still smiling widely, “or my name isn't Clara Oswald.”
“I suppose we could drop in…”
“Fantastic! How far away are we? When can we leave? Wait! Don't answer that,” she said, holding up a hand. “I need to change.”
She moved away, pulling at the back of her dress, making her way towards the other period-appropriate dresses that the Doctor had found. “So do you think this one,” she asked, holding up a pink dress against her body, before switching it with a blue one. “Or this one?”
“Blue,” he said, pointing. “But I’m sure you’ll look lovely whatever.”
They arrived at the door of the vicarage that Jane Austen lived in two hours later, more than a bit bedraggled - it had been raining, and the Doctor had insisted they walked, although Clara thought that was perhaps just a ploy to force the Austens’ hands, and wondered whether he had been reading one too many period novels. Before they knocked on the door, Clara stopped, throwing a hand out into the Doctor’s path.
“Are we really just going to barge in on Jane Austen?” she hissed, suddenly apprehensive, all of her previous bravado melted away at the sight of the house in front of her. “Shouldn’t we maybe… send a letter and then wait a little while until we’re invited?”
“Don’t be silly. This is a vicarage. They have to be inviting; Jane is very accommodating.”
“You say that like you’ve met her before.”
“I have,” he said, and then carried on, ignoring the look on Clara’s face. “It was a long time ago. Well, for me, at least. It’s in the future for her. She helped me with a Phoenix. It’s a long story, I don’t remember most of it. But I do remember that she was very helpful. Plus, she can never resist a good story, and what’s more interesting than two handsome strangers turning up on her doorstep in the rain?”
So Clara knocked on the door and when it was opened, it was by a young woman Clara just knew had to be Jane. She stood there, shivering, for a few seconds, intensely aware of a droplet of water making its way down her chest and into her bodice, before unfreezing. She introduced them - herself and her uncle, the Doctor - and Jane, true to what the Doctor said, invited them in, although she seemed rather alarmed by their appearance - mud coating the hem of Clara’s dress, and hair falling away from their faces in wet strands.
Jane invited them into her drawing room, then explained that he rest of her family was away - on holiday or business; Clara can’t quite remember - but that she had stayed. Clara later found out that she had wished to finish her first draft without interruptions.
Jane asked about their journey, seemingly eager to know why these two strangers had deposited themselves on her doorstep, and the Doctor span out some long tale about horses and carriages and lost luggage. Jane listened intently, and Clara watched Jane intently. She could tell that Jane was paying the utmost attention to what the Doctor was saying - but she could also see the hands that Jane has folded seemingly neatly in her lap fidgeting, as though she was eager to write it all down. Eventually the Doctor finished, and Jane turned her head slightly towards Clara.
“Miss Oswald; you have been awfully quiet? Are you sick?” she said, her mouth turning down slightly, and it felt to Clara as if she were truly worried for her.
As if on cue, Clara sneezed. She went to sleep early that night, in the bed of Jane’s sister, and they left early the next morning, Clara mourning the little time they were able to spend at the vicarage, pretences about an urgent need to be in London before the weekend on their lips.
On their way back to the TARDIS, Clara frowned. “Did we have to leave?”
“Yes - you may not have been listening, Clara, what with all of your staring at Jane, but I told her that we were only staying for the night on our way to London.” Clara’s face fell. “But I supposed that doesn’t mean we can’t visit on the way back.”
The second time they visit Jane, it has been two weeks for her, but only two days for Clara and the Doctor - enough time for Clara to recover from the cold she had developed, and more than enough time to make Clara incredibly eager to be back. This time, she was determined to make the most of it.
When they arrived on her doorstep, ostensibly on their way back from Town, Jane seemed more than delighted to see them. Her family were still away, and she had been in dire need of company - which is just what Clara was eager to provide. After a few hours together, Clara was sure they could talk forever, was sure that every dream she ever had as a child, devouring Pride and Prejudice, was coming true.
Jane even showed Clara her draft, and Clara had to restrain herself from commenting, sure that the most celebrated work of literature in the English language must be a fixed point of time, and slightly terrified that the world would explode if she suggested the addition of a comma.
The third time they visit, it had been a few months for both of them, and when they arrived, eager and beaming, it was not Jane that opened the door, but her sister - the rest of the family was back, and when they retired at the end of the day, Jane informed her that there were not enough rooms, that she would be sharing with her sister, and that Clara could take her room.
Clara tried not to stare, slowing her breathing, and lying as still as possible, when Jane came into her room, last thing at night, hair loose down her back, and picked up a book, before leaning down and blowing out the candle on the bedside table, her face dangerously close to Clara's ostensibly sleeping one.
The fourth time, it was midsummer, and they spent the whole day outside under the shade of a tree in the Austens’ garden. Jane wrote, the Doctor read, and Clara tried to read, when she wasn’t getting distracted by something Jane said: a comment she made about her writing, or the weather, or the dress Clara was wearing. A couple of times during the day, Cassandra joined them. Like the rest of the family, she seemed to be used to the visits of the strange couple now, accepting them, readily, when they turned up.
That night, Jane told Clara that Cassandra was ill, told her that she had said that Jane couldn’t possibly share with her - and asked if Clara wouldn’t mind sharing instead.
Clara didn’t say anything for a second, almost feeling as if this was a trick question, as if Jane would tell her off for lack of decorum if she agreed, her mouth opening and closing, leaning up against the wall in a way she hoped seemed casual, then said, “Sure. I mean, yes, of course. That’s perfectly fine.”
That time, it was Jane who went to sleep first, her back turned away from the centre of the bed, hair spreading out across her pillow. When Clara got into the bed, she did it as quietly and softly as possible, trying not to disturb her.
When she woke up in the morning, she opened her eyes Jane’s eyes on her. Neither of them spoke, not then, and not later, not until they were leaving again.
“Hurry back, Doctor, Miss Oswald. I rather think we’re beginning to miss you when you are gone.”
The fifth time, Jane kissed her. It was the middle of the night, and Jane was back sharing with Cassandra. Or she was, until Clara was awoken by the door to the room sliding open, and Jane moving into the room, a shawl draped loosely around her. Clara sat up, wiping sleep and hair out of her eyes, the expression on her face confused.
Jane sat down on the bed, apprehensive, nervous hands weaving and pulling apart a braid in her hair. For a few seconds, or maybe a few minutes, neither of them said anything. Then Clara’s shift slipped, and Jane’s eyes followed the fabric as it fell slightly. Clara moved to pull it back up, but Jane got there first, setting the fabric back in place, her hand lingering near Clara’s collarbone, thumb brushing against her skin.
Clara watched the hand out of the corner of her eye, not breathing.
“You know, Clara Oswald, the first time I ever met you, there was this raindrop, right,” she moved her finger, tracing a path across Clara’s clavicle with her fingertip. “Here. And it wasn't raining any more but your hair was wet and you looked utterly alien. You didn't fit. You were smiling even through your predicament, you were happier than you should have been.”
Clara swallowed, her eyes flicking from the hand on her shoulder to Jane's face. Jane's eyes were wide and earnest, and her lips were pursed.
And then Jane moved her other hand to cup the back of Clara’s neck, and leaned in, slowly, so slowly. And she kissed her. Just once, and for little more than a second, their lips hardly doing more than brushing.
Jane leaned back, clasping her hands together, eyes wild and searching.
Clara just blinked, not entirely sure what just happened.
“I'm sorry, I, I thought-” Jane stuttered, starting to push herself up and away from the bed, before Clara snapped out of her reverie, grabbing her wrist and pulling her back down. “You and the Doctor always seemed a little strange; a little wrong, like you weren't from here, and I thought, maybe, wherever you were from, this would be… allowed. I see I was wrong.” She looked down, her hands, finally subdued, were finally still, and the confidence she had been showing only thirty seconds ago gone,
Clara reached out, her hand tucking a strand of hair behind Jane’s ear, then moved her fingers to lift her chin up, their eyes meeting.
That time, Clara made the move, and the second time was almost as hesitant as the first. But then Jane sighed, relaxing, and Clara felt Jane's eyelashes brush against her face as her eyes fluttered shut. Jane brought her hands back up to Clara’s shoulders, pulling herself in, and Clara moved her hands down to Jane’s waist, fingertips among the hair that hung there.
Jane pressed in, further, her mouth becoming more urgent on Clara’s, and, as Clara’s teeth brush against Jane’s lower lip, a small sound escaped from the back of Jane’s throat. Jane felt Clara smiling against her lips, smirking, almost. So Jane bit back, the surprised sound that emerged from Clara’s mouth more than satisfying enough.
And then a sound from outside broke them apart, hands flying away from each other, and as a light passed the door, their eyes fell, guiltily.
But the light passed as quickly as it came, and Clara felt her face fall, the look on Jane’s face killing her.
“If you're having second thoughts, you don't have to… do this,” she said.
But Jane shook her head, waiting for a second, then kissed Clara lightly one more time, and left.
The next morning, Jane smiled at Clara over breakfast, something in her eyes new. They spent the day together, and then, when night fell, Jane made her way back to Clara’s room. This time, they just slept, and woke up when the sun rose so Jane could leave.
That visit lasted almost a week. In that time, the Doctor left and came back - when he did, Clara went with him, promising to return.
And she did - but the sixth time she was only there for a few days, and when she left it hurt.
The seventh time, she stayed. She stayed for months. Cassandra got tired of sharing, which worked perfectly, because in the daytime they acted perfectly decorously, and at night they were free to share.
In the mornings they woke early, relishing the quiet, their relaxation interspersed with kisses. Most of the time they just lay there, together. Clara would trace lazy circles on Jane’s back, while Jane murmured to herself, writing in her head, rewriting, always writing.
If they wanted to be together in the daylight, they walked, far away from everyone else. They walked in the hills, playing jokes on each other, laughing, running free. And when they were tired, when the wind blew too hard and their cheeks went pink and their hats struggled to stay on their heads, they collapsed in heaps, peppering kisses on each other’s mouths, rejoicing in the feeling of the sun on their faces and the privacy and the possibilities.
One night, almost a year after they met - for Jane, that is. For Clara it had been slightly longer. Or maybe shorter. She wasn’t entirely sure - Clara woke in the middle of the night to see Jane sitting up, her eyes apprehensive again.
“I love you,” she said, when she saw Clara’s eyes open.
Clara reached out a hand, pulling her back under the sheets. “I love you, too.” She paused, intertwining their fingers. “Why did you look so nervous?”
“It still doesn’t feel real. Or allowed. Or right.”
Clara kissed her, their bodies pressing together. “That doesn’t feel right?”
She doesn’t come back an eighth time. The Doctor did. The Doctor came back and told her what Clara did, and she hated her for a while, hated her for leaving and dying and being the hero. And then she hated herself for letting herself fall in love with the absolute worst person. And then she wrote, wrote and wrote and wrote, because Clara loved her writing, and Clara was from the future, Clara was from hundreds of years in the future, and if she wrote, then one day Clara could read her writing again, and sometimes, at night, she is sure she feels Clara smiling down at her in a way only she could.