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To Learn To Be Brave

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April MacLean likes Clara Oswald from the moment she steps into the classroom on her first day.

While other students take pleasure in causing trouble and making the new teacher panic, April tries to tell them to shut up. Of course, no one ever listens to April, so the fourteen year old slumps back in her chair and just hopes for the best because it's all she can do.

"If you don't stop it, I'm going to have each and every one of you kicked out of this school!" The teacher says, almost in tears.

April winces, feeling sorry for her. Classic newbie wrong move. Sure enough, Courtney Woods challenges her, and the realisation of the mistake flashes across Miss Oswald's face.

When the debacle of a class finally finishes, there are worksheets all over the floor along with a good half a dozen paper planes. Miss Oswald has her lips pressed inward, like she's barely holding it together.

April stays behind as the other students leave.

"Try not to let them get to you," she says to Miss Oswald before bending down to start picking up all the worksheets, "They're always awful to new teachers but they'll get over it. You just have to show them who's boss."

Miss Oswald blinks at her. "Who's boss? Oh. Me. That would be...me."

April laughs. "You really are new to this, aren't you?"

"I'm used to just dealing with...two children," Miss Oswald admits sheepishly, "This is a bit of a step up. Recently I've been pretty good with getting out of my comfort zone, but this? Give me monsters over teenagers any day."

"Teach a lot of monsters English, do you?" April asks with a grin.

Miss Oswald blushes. "Nevermind." She moves to help April grab the last of the paper and then reaches out to take April's pile. "What was your name?"

"April, April Maclean," April says, smiling.

Miss Oswald's huge brown eyes are warm and grateful. "Well, thank you, April Maclean. It means a lot."

April smiles, feeling validated as well as glad that she could help. She makes to leave but ends up pausing in the doorway.

"You know, I've been thinking recently that nice doesn't mean soft," she says to Miss Oswald, "You can be firm without being mean. I don't know, it's not working out super great for me yet, but I'm trying."

Oswald looks at her like she's a revelation. "Actually, yeah. My - my best friend does that, all the time. Hell, I do that. I'd just never thought about it outside of...all that. Thank you, April."

April doesn't understand exactly what she was talking about in the middle, but her understanding isn't what's important. "You're welcome! Have a nice day, Miss."

The next day, Miss Oswald has a new determination in her eye, a confidence in herself that wasn't there before. It's like the class can sense it before she even speaks, and the small number that still attempt to act out find themselves shut down very quickly by polite but firm interventions on Oswald's part.

April can barely keep the grin off her face.

Oh yes, she likes Miss Oswald a lot.


 

It isn't long before April realises that Clara Oswald is, for lack of a better word, awesome. She pulls up to school on her motorbike and saunters into class with the kind of ease that makes April envious and it helps her realise that this was always the real Clara Oswald. She'd just been having a rough first day.

Which is why, when April doubles back after class one day to ask her a question about an assignment only to find Oswald blushing and giggling while flirting with a tall man in a waistcoat, she is bemused.

"I told you, I can't," Oswald is saying, "I have classes to teach!"

"But Clara," he says, practically whining, "I can have you back in time, it'll be like you aren't even gone-"

"I don't trust your driving, Doctor."

"But we could go to-" He cuts off, noticing April in the doorway. "Oh, er, hello! I was just popping in to say hello to my good friend Clara, but it seems like you wanted to ask her something?"

"Um yeah," April says uncertainly, "But I can...come back?"

"No, no, he was just leaving," Clara says, pushing her gangly friend in the direction of the doorway, "I'll see you later, Doctor, usual time and place. And do not try this again, or we're going to have problems."

"Fine," he sighs, like a petulant child. He walks off down the corridor and leaves April staring at Clara questioningly.

"Sorry about that," Clara says, making a face, "My best friend is an idiot who doesn't understand that I have a job."

April finds herself giggling. "It's okay. He seems nice."

Clara sighs. It's almost...wistful. "Yeah. But anyway, what did you want to ask me?"

It's not the last time that April spies the man in the bowtie hanging around Coal Hill, and she is fairly sure that he's more of a boyfriend then a best friend from the amount of flirting she witnesses between them. But to be fair she's never seen them kiss or even hold hands, so who knows?

She knows it isn't any of her business, but she has to live vicariously through other people since she doesn't actually - you know. Have any friends of her own.


 

After Christmas, something is different.

"How were your holidays, Miss Oswald?" April asks her after class.

Oswald just gives her a sad smile. "They were...tricky. But I also have a lot to be grateful for, I think. It could have been so much - no. I don't - I don't know." A shudder goes through her body and to April's alarm, tears spring to her eyes. "Oh god. I'm sorry."

"Oh no, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"

"It's not your fault," Oswald insists, shaking her head and wiping at her eyes, "I'll...I'll be okay. Sometimes things just happen, you know?"

April does. She nods and reaches out to put her hand on Oswald's shoulder. "Well, I hope you feel better soon."

"Me too. I hope your Christmas was nice, though?"

"Yeah, it was. Thanks."

A few weeks later, the old Clara Oswald is back and better than ever. A new maths teacher, the utterly gorgeous Mr Danny Pink, starts and almost immediately it seems that he and Miss Oswald have a Thing. Which is strange to April at first, since she was sure that Oswald has a boyfriend, but then it hits her.

Her boyfriend broke up with her over Christmas. That's why she's been so sad.

Well, Mr Pink is much better looking that the weird bloke with no eyebrows anyway - even if he had pulled off a waistcoat and bowtie much better than was remotely logical. Plus, Mr Pink is so incredibly sweet. She can't think of anyone who could be more deserving of Miss Oswald.

April likes them both immensely as two separate people but even more as it becomes more and more obvious that they're dating - they seem to think the students don't know, which is hilarious. Of course, Courtney Woods is intent on writing a bunch of Oswink related graffiti around the school, but April tries to clean off any that she sees.

Except, on Oswald's end, things start getting a bit...weird. She'll turn up to class with a tan that doesn't look fake but wasn't there the day before. Or be wearing a different outfit in the afternoon to whatever she was wearing in the morning. Or have weird bruises on her that seem to have appeared and starting fading within the span of a day. 

She always seems to be in a rush, like she's always coming or going and English class is just a pit stop.

April is so curious that it's driving her mad, but she has no right to know about Oswald's personal life. So she has to stay content with not knowing and focusing on the adorable little moments she observes between Oswald and Pink.

She wonders if students would be allowed to attend the wedding if they got married. Would that be weird?

One day she hears from a student in another class that the new caretaker had turned up at Oswald's classroom window and Oswald had, in Ashley Grayson's words, 'completely lost it, started talking crazy about Jane Austen and aliens, she's a weirdo, honestly'.

April never sees this caretaker, but it's not the first bizarre incident involving him that reaches her ears. Plus Courtney Woods starts acting even more erratically than usual and April decides she just has to come to the conclusion that her school is utterly mad.

Which is fine. Anything else would probably be boring.


 

Danny Pink dies on a Thursday.

"By now, I'm sure you've heard the rumours, and it is with great sadness that I must confirm them to be true," Mr Armitage tells the students at a special assembly on Monday, "I have gathered you all here today to say that Mister Pink - that Danny Pink has sadly passed away."

April finds herself in tears in moments. When the rumours started she hadn't wanted to believe them, but then Miss Oswald hadn't been at school on Friday -

"I'm sure you'll all join me in wishing his family and friends our sincerest condolences," Armitage continues, "Mister Pink was an inspiration to all of those who knew him. A soldier, a teacher, a friend. It was no secret that he had a close relationship with Miss Oswald, and our thoughts and prayers are with her too."

April thinks about Miss Oswald, probably sitting at home, trying to process it all. She's glad she isn't the only one in the auditorium crying because it doesn't feel like it's going to stop any time soon.

A lot of weird stuff happens over the next few days, metal men in the sky and in the graveyards, and April has to come to the conclusion that she doesn't know what to think about anything any more.


 

The new maths teacher, Miss Jacobs, is prone to dropping things and seems a little uncertain about how to act given what happened to the old maths teacher. But she's rather sweet and she's good at teaching, so that's the main thing.

When Miss Oswald comes back, the students for once are on their best behaviour, at least for a while.

April buys her a box of chocolates but can't think of what to write in a note. In the end she just hands the box over and says "I'm really sorry" as genuinely as she can. Clara smiles at her, tightly, and April can see that her intention has come across the way she wanted, which is the best she can hope for.

Things slowly get better in the months after that. Well, sort of. Miss Oswald seems less sad, which is nice, but the happier she seems to get, the more erratic she seems as well.

The day that the planes stop, apparently Miss Oswald got a call at the school office and just...left in the middle of class?

Things like that keep happening as the year goes on. She starts turning up late to class, or getting a call or a text and leaving before the lesson is done. A few people swear that they've seen her running around with the old caretaker, but that doesn't make any sense so April disregards it entirely. Besides, someone else said that they were sure they had seen her with a bunch of soldiers at one point, and that's equally ridiculous. These students will come up with anything.


 

One day, April is on her way to biology when she hears heated voices coming from Miss Oswald's classroom and feels her curiosity drawing her closer to listen. She knows she shouldn't but she stands by the door, out of sight but perfectly within earshot. 

"It's not your place to tell me how to do my job, Kalei," Oswald is saying, sounding defensive, "I care about these kids just as much as you do-"

"I'll believe that when I see it," comes the voice of Miss Jacobs, and April finds herself concerned about her two favourite teachers arguing. It makes sense that Oswald might have an issue with Jacobs on principle, since she replaced her dead boyfriend, but she's never seen any animosity between them before, and surely she would have noticed by now?

"My reasons for having to sometimes leave here in a hurry are good ones, Armitage understands that, I've explained it to him," Oswald says.

"I'm sure they probably are. But you shouldn't have to explain it. You're a teacher. And you can't teach if you're not here, or if your mind is off god knows where instead of being focused on your students, who very clearly aren't your priority any more."

The click of heels on the floor warns April to make herself scarce just in time, and she watches Miss Jacobs stride out of the classroom from a hiding place around the corner.

April doesn't know what to think. She has always thought that she'd defend Miss Oswald until her last breath, but Miss Jacobs had some good points. Slowly, April creeps back to the classroom door and finds Oswald sitting on the edge of her desk, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular, her jaw tense.

"Miss? Are you alright? I'm sorry, I know it's not any of my business, but I-"

"You heard." It's not a question.

"Yeah. Sorry."

"She's right," Oswald says, her shoulders slumping, "I'm barely...here." When she looks up again, her eyes are earnest. "But the other things I do, April, they're important. They really are, I wouldn't keep doing this if it wasn't."

"I believe you," April says, "You don't have to justify yourself to me because of what Miss Jacobs was saying."

Oswald doesn't say anything straight away. "Do you ever...get a feeling? Like, something's coming? Something's going to happen and there's nothing you can do?"

"I...don't know. Sorry."

Oswald shrugs, her frown melting away. "Ah well. It'll be fine. It always is." She laughs. "It'd take something pretty spectacular to faze me at this point, and I've seen a lot of spectacular things."

"I think you can probably handle anything," April says, and Oswald smiles at her.

"You and me both, I think. Nice isn't soft, right? Hell, even Jacobs is a decent example of that, there's more of us than people tend to think." April nods and Oswald stares at her for a moment. "Can you promise me something, April?"

April shifts uncertainly. "I don't know. Promise you what?"

Miss Oswald is more serious than April can remember seeing her since - well, since Mr Pink died. "Promise me that you won't let anyone change you. The world doesn't have enough people like you - people that are genuinely good and kind. Others - this world - will try to tear you down, or change you, but you have to be brave enough to fight back."

April bites her lip. "I'm - I'm not - Miss Oswald, I'm not sure that I am brave. I'm scared of so many things-"

"Good, you can't be brave if you aren't scared," Oswald retorts, making April blink, "My friend, he says that fear is a superpower. It's what makes you stronger and faster, what makes you fight harder than you ever would have otherwise. Bravery is being scared and doing it anyway."

"Oh," April breathes, and wonders if her entire life view hasn't just shifted at least a few inches in the space of ten seconds.

Oswald's phone beeps, and she checks it and sighs before locking the screen again. "Not today," she mutters, "Today I am doing my job." She stands up straight and steels herself. "I'll catch you in last period, yeah?"

"Yeah," April says, and goes to leave but lingers in the doorway the same way she had when they had first met about two years before, "Miss Oswald?"

"Mm?"

"Thank you. For everything," April tells her earnestly, "I can see where Miss Jacobs is coming from, but you've taught me so much. Not just English, but about so many other things. I think I've gotten more out of this conversation than I have from entire lessons before. She's wrong, you do care about us."

"She never said I didn't care, April," Oswald says, giving her a sad smile, "She said my priorities were out of order. And unfortunately, I think she's right. I have...some things to work out."

"Well, no matter what, you're still the best teacher I've ever had," April says fiercely.

Oswald's eyes are big and brown and ever so slightly damp. "Thank you."

Three weeks later, Clara Oswald is pronounced dead.