“Where would you like to go today, Miss Oswald?” Ashildr asks, like she always does.
“Somewhere… new,” Clara says, like she always does.
“Okay, robot killer bugs it is,” Ashildr says with a smirk, sauntering over to the TARDIS console table and fiddling with the controls.
Clara sets down her coffee on a nearby counter and goes over to join her. She gets right up behind Ashildr, throwing an arm over her shoulder and nestling her chin into the crook of Ashildr’s neck, trying to get a good look at the display screen. “Really? Those exist, like in the Matrix?”
Ashildr takes in a stuttered breath, then breathes out real slow, seeming affected by Clara being so close. She parts her lips, and Clara expects her to said some deep, profound, thing, but instead all Ashildr says is, “I’ve never seen The Matrix.”
“Oh right, I forgot that you were the leader of some secret underground organization during the 2000s. We should watch it sometime. Set up a movie night in the TARDIS, or maybe go back down to Earth for a few hours, see it in American theaters the day it comes out. Explore the shops if we have time.”
Clara likes traveling with Ashildr among the stars, she really does.
But life is constant motion, constant scampering off and rushing around and running away, so her heartbeat stays frozen, and she stays alive. It would be nice to have a moment and just breathe.
Ashildr’s lips curve up in a smile. Clara idly muses that her red lipstick make her lips look full and plump and downright kissable, and that her lashes look pretty in the sunlight. “I would like that.” Then she seems to visibly shake herself, and her next words are more cold, said as if a weapon. “Do you remember the woman I told you about, the one I talked to at Exxilon? At the bar?”
How could Clara forget. Ashildr had gone out alone to some alien bar while Clara had stayed at their hotel and swam in its huge sparkling pool the size of Wembley Stadium. When Ashildr came back—only the slightest bit tipsy—she’d practically talked Clara’s ear off about this gorgeous, mysterious woman she’d met. “Yes, I do seem to recall such a woman.” It’s a struggle to keep her voice flat, but she manages.
“Well the woman—never got a name, which is a shame—was telling me about a planet she had recently visited. Apparently she’s a sort of space pirate, and journeys all over the galaxy, not unlike the two of us.”
“Good for her,” Clara can’t help but say, rolling her eyes, because fighting down jealousy has never been her strong suit.
“Don’t worry, Miss Oswald. As far as I know, Space Pirate hasn’t died before, so she could never be as cool as you. You’re not being replaced.” And though Clara knows Ashildr is just humoring her, it does make her feel a tiny bit better. She doesn't want to think about what that says about her ego.
“So, are you still up for it?” Ashildr asks. “Fighting a couple robot bugs before lunch?”
“Who said they’ll turn out evil,” Clara says.
“Don’t they always turn out evil.”
“True. Fine, I’ll go with you,” Clara says. “On one condition.”
“Oh? You get first dibs on whatever hot guy or girl or space creature we come across?”
“No. Well, that too, I guess, but that isn’t the main thing. I get to punch the bad guy in the face at the end.”
And when Clara finally moves her arm from off Ashildr’s shoulder and holds it out for her to shake, it feels like something more than friendship.
“And how was I supposed to know that the mouse I reached down to pet was going to end up being the emperor of this whole place!” Clara defends.
“Umm… intuition,” Ashildr mumbles back.
“Oh, because your intuition helped us so much.”
“Quiet in there,” a voice barks from behind the locked door.
Clara sighs and slides down her her knees, back pressed against the brick-tiled back wall. The mice-people or whatever they were had their tall, literally rhino-faced guards throw her and Ashildr in prison within moments of her misstep, and by now they’ve been here for hours. One time, the Doctor had taken her for a quick trip to see the Buckingham Palace Throne Room while it was being built. And there was the time Ashildr and her saw the Queen's coronation in 1953. How Ashildr got past the guards then, Clara doesn't know, and isn't sure she wants to. This was even larger than the throne room, and way emptier. The guards hasn’t bothered with chains or handcuffs of any sort, as they were shielded by a heavyset door. It was eight or nine feet tall, spanning five feet long, and an ashen grey color.
And utterly impossible to break out of.
Their arguing is interrupted by a loud bang from behind the closed door. Then shouting, followed by the sharp sizzle of a laser.
Clara moves closer to Ashildr, unconsciously putting herself in front of the other woman. It's silly, because a several-thousand-year-old immortal doesn't need anyone to protect her, but Clara can't stop herself. There’s also the fact that Clara is supposed to be angry at her, but she isn’t. Clara files that information away for later, right above the fact that she may have checked out Ashildr's ass in her blue slacks earlier.
Silence falls. If Clara had a heartbeat, right now it would be racing a mile a minute.
The door is kicked open. In steps a woman with large frizzy hair and bright red lipstick— wait a second. Is that—
“River Song?” Clara asks, at the same time Ashildr says, “space pirate.” They stare at each other for a long moment, before turning back to the woman. She’s smirking now, and yes, that definitely the River Song Clara knows and half hates slash half admires.
“Well hello there, sweeties. I'm just here for a little break-in. Nice to see you again, Me. Though I’m sorry to said that I don’t recognize the fine lady next to you.”
So this is River Song before she’s met Clara, before Clara became the impossible girl, before the Doctor died and was reborn anew. “I’m Arya Stark,” Clara lies, saying the first name that pops into her head. She can at least try to not screw up the timeline any more. “I know you from uh... we had… a night together, oh? Three years ago?”
“Was it a fantastic night?” River Song practically purrs.
“The best of my life,” Clara says, face blank. “The morning wasn’t too bad either.”
“At least I have something to look forward to, if we ever do eventually get out of here,” River Song says, her eyes raking down Clara’s body, making Clara—for all her flirtatious words—flush to her ears.
“Which we won’t, if we keep standing here,” Ashildr interrupts, glaring at both of them.
If River Song seems taken aback by Ashildr’s change in tone, she doesn’t show it. “Let’s get going, sweeties,” she stays, heading back out the door. Clara and Ashildr exchange a look before following her.
The hallway is empty. The rhino soldiers that had been guarding them, and who’d most likely been shot by River Song, are nowhere to be seen.
“Well that’s unexpected,” River Song says, not looking the least bit put off.
“Aren’t there supposed to be bodies?” Ashildr asks, not one to beat around the bush. “Maybe a head rolling around, some blood on the floor?”
“Indeed there is. Well, there's nowhere else to go but onwards." And with that River Song continues marching down the hallway, the two other woman trailing after her.
“What exactly happened during your first meeting?” Clara whispers to Ashildr out of the corner of her mouth.
Ashildr whispers back, “There may have been some stolen donuts involved. And Daleks. And some little green things I don’t remember the name of. It was a rather exciting night.”
“I can hear you, sweeties,” River Song calls out over her shoulder.
“We don’t care,” Ashildr yells back.
“So while I was getting my tan on, you were almost being attacked by Daleks?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes it does,” Clara insists. “You could have been hurt, and you didn’t even tell me.”
Ashildr lets out a huff of annoyance. “No it doesn’t.” Her voice drops as she says, “I’m immortal, Clara. I’ve been through crap upon crap, so one minor brush with death is nothing to me.”
“It matters to me,” Clara says quietly. She wants to say so much more, maybe a special three words, but instead all she says is, "Why did you tell River Song that your name is Me?
"Because... I'm not sure. I was tired of being someone."
"Is that why—"
"Yes, it's why I asked you to refer to me as Ashildr. It makes me feel more... human, I guess. Not sure if it's working. It would probably feel the same if I was called Jill or Jane or John."
Clara opens her mouth to reply, but just as they round the corner an alarm goes off, a loud droning noise that makes Clara want to cover her ears with her hands.
"Well that went to hell rather quickly," River Song remarks. She digs around in her inner coat pocket, then pulls out two guns. For a split second Clara fears that this was all a ruse, some trap to mess with their heads, and maybe River Song wasn’t even here, because how likely would that be? Or maybe this really is her, and she’s turned on them all by herself. Clara doesn’t know which option would be worse.
But then River Song is turning the gun and carefully handing it to Clara, trigger facing her. Clara feels a second of guilt for not trusting her.
“You can use a gun, I assume?” River Song asks.
“Yes. Just point and pull the trigger. Make sure the safety is off first,” Clara says, nodding.
“Well be careful, because these guns don’t have a safety. Wouldn’t want you blowing your pretty little head off.” She turns to Ashildr. “And you I know can handle a weapon.”
Ashildr takes the gun with loose fingers. “Several thousand years of practice.”
River Song giggles, then pulls out another gun from somewhere around her boobs—and no, Clara wasn’t looking—and the makeshift party race down the long hallway.
"Over here!" A loud gruff voice shouts, and Clara sees a rhino-faced guard round the corner, wielding a large grenade-shaped weapon.
Clara risks a second to shoot at him, and an orange light flashes out hits him square on his back. He falls to the floor with a grunt, then is still and silent. She doesn't know if he's dead. She doesn't know whether she would care if he was. The Doctor used to have rules he followed, and 'don't kill' was at the very stop of that list. Clara used to follow the same rules, but something has changed between then and now. It doesn't scare Clara like it should.
The sound of heavy footsteps echo down the hall, indicating that more are coming. They only have a few minutes at most.
"Bloody hell," Clara mutters, and turns to Ashildr and River Song. "Any plans that don't involve us being locked up for eternity?"
"Well you guys can't get killed, right?" River Song says. "So we just need to outlast them. Keep shooting until the last one goes down."
"We can still get hurt," Clara says. "Being shot... wouldn't feel nice, to say the least."
"Oswald, what's that movie you forced me to watch a few weeks ago, set in space, with that woman with the weird hair?" Ashildr butts in.
"Oh, Star Wars? And Leia's hair is cool as fuck," Clara says. She would ask Ashildr why she's bringing this up now of all times, when they're literally running for their lives, but she trusts Ashildr and instead lets her speak.
"Rubbish bin" is all Ashildr says, but Clara might as well be able to read her mind for how quickly she understands what Ashildr is getting at.
With a nod, they turn around and speed the way they came, away from the guards on their tails. Now River Song is the one stumbling to keep up.
"Did you see any nearby?" Clara asks.
"Yes, while they were bringing us in. Around this corner, right wall."
They find the rubbish bin—or trash compactor, as Luke called it—easily enough. It has a square steel frame, and an entrance that looks like they could just barely squeeze in. Clara looks through the hole, and wrinkles her nose when she sees the piles and piles of rubbish. She hopes there aren't any dead bodies in there.
"Ashildr, you can go first," Clara says.
"Miss Oswald, I think I'll let you go first. I need to make sure you don't sacrifice yourself for us or anything stupid," Ashildr responds.
"Oh no, no. This isn't me being nice," Clara explains. "This is me wanting to be knee-deep in trash for as little as possible."
Ashildr snorts a laugh, then she's lowering herself down into the rubbish bin, feet first. She gets down there without incident, no walls closing in on her or tentacles wrapping around her feet.
"Do you want to go next?" Clara asks River Song.
River Song shakes her head, giving her a sad look. It's doesn't seem to fit her face made for smiling. "I'll stay her, fend them off for you."
Clara parts her lips, giving River Song an incredulous look. "Did you— did you not hear Ashildr call sacrificing yourself stupid not even a minute ago?"
"Something tells me I'll survive." River Song is confident once more, giving her a flirty look. "And if I do, I look forward to our fantastic night in my future."
The guards footsteps echoing down the hall are even louder than ever, and Ashildr is staring up at her, urging her to jump. But this may be the last time Clara sees River Song, and she's wearing a nice red lipstick that Clara wants to smudge at the corners of her mouth. Ashildr's look now means something along the lines of 'don't do anything stupid', and Clara thinks to how Ashildr hadn't responded to her flirting in the way that matters, and yet Ashildr been grumpy since Clara lied that she and River Song once had a thing. Jealousy is a stupid, stupid thing.
Yet that don't stop her from thinking screw it, leaning forward and kissing River Song. It’s nice for a second—relieving, even, like her heart has jump started—but then River Song is wrenching out of her grip, taking a large step back, eyes wide.
“Oh Clara,” she says, and Clara would wonder how River Song knew her real name if her vision wasn’t starting to grow fuzzy at the edges. “I wish you hadn’t done that.”
“You- you seemed interested before,” Clara says, voice small.
“Oh believe me, I was. Still am. But you should have let me wipe off my hallucinogenic lipstick first.”
Just as she says that, Clara starts to sway on her feet, and suddenly up is down and down is sideways, and Clara feels like she wants to throw up or pass gas or something of that sort. The world is muddled, like it's a lake someone just skipped a stone across. Everything is more vibrant, more full, bring reds and greens and yellows the only colors she can discern. Ashildr is yelling something, maybe her name, but it sounds like she's hearing it underwater.
"Oopsy daisy," Clara giggles, and then her vision is overwhelmed by a bright white light, like there's a giant dove in front of her eyes, and she's falling, falling, falling.
When Clara comes to, her eyes don’t immediately adjust, so all she sees is a bright white light, and feels the sensation of someone holding her hand. Then she sees that she’s in a hospital bed, the sheets a clean white. Ashildr is sitting on a cushioned chair next to her, eyes half-closed, her hair in a messy bun and her cheeks wet.
“Hi,” Clara says, almost shyly. She’s surprised by how dry her throat is.
Ashildr jolts as if she’s been shocked, her eyes flying open. The corners of her eyes are red and swollen, and Clara would’ve almost thought she’d been crying, if it wasn’t for the fact that she doesn't cry.
“You’re- you’re awake,” Ashildr stutters out. “Clara Oswald, you’re awake.”
“That is my name, yes,” Clara says, giving Ashildr a puzzled look. “Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not.” Ashildr eyes are sad and honest. “I was, and still am, afraid of you dying.”
Clara’s eyebrows crease in confusion. “But I… can’t die.”
“I know. It was an unreasonable fear, but I had it all the same.”
Clara searches Ashildr’s face, but finds no evidence that she’s lying, only openness and honesty. “I’m going to die one day, Ashildr. It’s inevitable. What will you do then?”
“Probably waste away,” Ashildr replies. Her tone is humorous, but her eyes tell a different story. “I’m- I’m just glad it isn’t today, Clara. Can we please just leave it at that?”
“Okay, sure,” Clara says, because as much as she wants to question Ashildr further, she can see how much it would break her. “Where’s River Song, by the way?”
“Do you remember anything from yesterday?” Ashildr says carefully.
“Well you and I had breakfast here, and you made coffee and that delicious ham and cheese souffle that I swear you sold you soul to get the recipe of, and then we went down to visit a planet together. Then, umm, there were a bunch of mice?” Now that seems to strange to be true.
“Yes, the mice actually happened. Now go on.”
“Oh really? Wow. Well then we were thrown in a prison, and rescued by- rescued by River Song, the Doctor’s wife.”
“Wait a second, his wife?” Ashildr asks. “The one with gray hair and a hero complex?”
“Well, sort of,” Clara confirms. “She officially married the Doctor before him, but I suppose that even if you change into a different person you’re still married. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t get divorced. Though, the River Song we met may have been before she’d married the Doctor. A bunch of timey wimey crap.”
“Just something the Doctor used to say. Anyway, River Song blasted the door open, then we ran away with the guards chasing our tails, you came up with a brilliant plan to get us out of there, and wait a second, did we, did I—”
“Yes,” Ashildr says. “You kissed River Song. On the mouth. And it turned out she’d been wearing hallogentic lipstick, so you were temporarily poisoned.”
“How rude of her,” Clara mutters.
“You fainted, then River Song gave me the antidote to give you, and she was on her merry way.”
“Hmm. Why did I kiss her, again?” Clara wonders out loud.
Ashildr is quiet a few seconds before she speaks. “Probably one of the usual reasons someone kisses another person. You thought she was attractive.”
“And how did you feel about me kissing her?”
Ashildr drops her gaze. “A way I haven’t felt in a long, long time. Not good. Sickening. Umm-”
“Jealous,” Clara supplies, smirking.
“I guess so.”
“Well that’s good, because that’s the reason I kissed River Song, to make you jealous.”
Ashildr looks hopeful for a few seconds, then she sets her jaw and her expression hardens. “Clara, I’m sorry, I know you hope for more out of this arrangement than friendship, but this, it just won’t work out.”
“Why?” Clara asks, struggling to keep her tone from sounding demanding. “Do you not like me back? Because I’ve caught you check my ass out at several, inappropriate, moments.”
“Pfft. Like when?” Ashildr challenges.
“At the funeral of ones of the prime ministers of Nova Scotia.”
“That was, that was-” Ashildr struggles with her words for a few seconds before sighing in defeat. “Okay, I’m attracted to you, I’ll admit. That was a very fitting black dress.”
“Then what… what are you afraid of?” Clara asks, remembering Ashildr’s earlier words.
Ashildr slumps back in her chair, looking so very tired. “It used to be so easy, you know? Love ‘em and leave ‘em, because I had no other choice. So yeah, the people I settled down with I enjoyed the company of, and the sex of course, but I didn’t really grow attached to them. They would die eventually. Every last one of them. I’m not sure what I felt was even… love, the way humans talked about it at least. My romantic partners were like… a pet dog or cat, and all I could think about when I looked into their eyes was how I would one day be shoveling dirt onto their graves.”
Clara nods. “I wish I couldn’t relate, but I do. Did I ever tell you about Danny Pink?”
“The maths teacher who worked with you. Eventually turned into a cyberman and sacrificed himself.”
“Yeah, well I loved him. Or at least I wanted to. I said the special three words to him one, over the phone though because if anything I’m a coward. He died right then. On a crowded street. Hit by a car. How very ordinary it all was. And I was sad, because I missed him. And I also felt guilt, because-because I wasn't sad in the way I should have been. He deserved someone better, someone who could love him without guilt. I’m not that person, was never going to be.”
“He was ordinary. Breakable. Fragile. And I’m not, Me. I’m not.”
Ashildr seems to stubbornly ignore that sentence. “Was there anyone else?”
“Well I did get a crush on any girl that was the least bit nice to me, though only a couple of those led to more. And there was one other man, but that would never have worked out.”
Ashildr seems to understand. Her eyes are kind.
“You don’t have to be afraid with me,” Clara insists. “I’m just as immortal as you are.”
Ashildr looks away. “You’re not, as much as I wish you were. I thought you were dead, Clara, just now. Your body was cold, just like it always is, and you weren’t breathing and your heart stayed frozen. And I’m sitting next to your hospital bed, hoping—no praying, even though I stopped believing in a higher power centuries ago—that you would wake up. Because it hit me, then, that I would never know if you were dead. If you slept for a few days longer I probably would have buried you alive.”
Clara’s breath catches in her throat, because what do you said to that? “Then what’s the other option here? We just silently walk past each other in the hallway, even though the urge to kiss you is so strong, and never get the chance to feel love again? And say I do eventually die. And you’re left heartbroken and alone, again. No, I won’t let you, because you being alone is to me how me dying it so you.”
Ashildr lets out a strangled sound that is anything but a laugh. “You were a literature teacher, I sometimes forget. I don’t deserve your poetry, Miss Oswald.”
“You’re a frustrating person.”
“Don’t I know it.”
They stare at each other for a long quiet moment.
“This may be the most intense… marriage or dating or whatever-the-fuck-this-is proposal I’ve ever gotten,” Ashildr says, to lighten the mood, because this is probably the longest conversation about feelings she’s had in the last century. “And there was that one time in the 1800s that a guy got me a chicken as an engagement gift.”
“Don’t tell me you ended up marrying him.”
“He was rich, don’t judge me.”
“I’m not. Well, maybe a little.”
They give each other matching small smiles, as it’s almost back to the way it was before. Almost. Next Clara says, “No, this is a serious matter, stop distracting me. I have a habit of letting my mouth run away from me, as you may have noticed—”
“Oh, I’ve noticed,” Ashildr mutters under her breath.
“But my point is, please let yourself be loved, Me. Because you may not get another chance.”
“Really bringing it with the sappiness today, aren’t we,” Ashildr says, just to be an ass. Clara gives her a hopeful look, and Ashildr can’t bring herself to say no to that. “Okay, I guess I’ll give us a chance.”
“Really? You aren’t pulling my leg?”
“Yes, truly,” Ashildr confirms with a smile.
They grow quiet and just smile softly at each other, and if this is going to become a staple of their relationship Clara doesn’t mind in the least.
Clara's the one that leans forward first. Ashildr lets out a cute little gasp, then they're kissing. It's cold, too cold, but it still feels amazing. Like the beginning of something spectacular. Something endless, with limitless possibilities. Her eyes slip closed. She can sees stars.