Before she had met the Doctor, Clara Oswald had never felt her life was empty, or missing something – well, except her mother. She had been quite content with dreaming of traveling the world but never really doing so.
Now, though, she couldn't imagine a different life and the time between drop offs to teach at her school became less frequent. Sometimes this worried her, though only from a cosmetic perspective: if she continued like this there would be a chance that by the time she was chronologically thirty she would actually be – and look - fifty five. But it never worried her enough to do anything about it.
Life on the Tardis was was mattered. Or rather; life with the Doctor.
Her friend, her father, her tutor.
She couldn't recall why she had been so averse to this incarnation at first. Or, well she could: it was because she had never met him.
Inside the Doctor's time stream she had met all other versions, including the War Doctor. This one was new, and so different.
Both Eleven and Madame Vastra had been wrong; looks and lust had nothing to do with it, nor the need of a boyfriend. Yes 11 had been pretty and she might have needed him as a decoy during that emotional Christmas dinner, but as an actual boyfriend?! It would have been like dating her brother!
What she wanted from the Doctor was different, so big, so beyond the normal and boring she couldn't put it into words.
Clara had always been there, she had saved him. Every version of him over and over, even when he had been a frightened child. Oh, she might think he didn't remember, but he did. It was Clara, everything had always been Clara. And now, she was there just when he needed saving the most. She had supported him when he didn't know if he was even deserving of help, when he'd forgotten how to be the Doctor. She had been by his side no matter how frustrating he might have been.
His friend, his daughter, his tutor.
Recently, though the Doctor had sensed that their roles were reversing, that it was he who should save her this time. Not from any particular monster, but from herself. She was too intense, too focused on danger, risks and adventure. She was becoming … too much like him.
What worried him at this particular moment was that they had been traveling for a rather long time now and she had not rested once, and as for sleeping? Well forget it. There had been excitement, adventure, danger and fun and of course, he'd loved it, every minute. More than he'd ever admit as he didn't want to encourage her to be even more reckless.
When he brought it up Clara dismissed him in an almost panicky way and assured him he was fine. She was a control freak, he knew, but lately she had clearly been struggling to keep things together.
He needed a plan to get her to rest and soon. After all: he had a duty of care.
Clara pretended to look at a monitor to hide the fact she was lost in thought. She was feeling close to tears and hated herself for it. Every day she was out saving the universe, civilizations, or just people who mattered. She wore the facade of the confident and strong know-it-all and it was important to her that things remained that way. This was how it had always been; she was the woman who had it all; the job, a relationship and an amazing personal life.
But … she hadn't been to her job in weeks now – not that anyone would know, and she had no relationship, not anymore …
She still had her personal life, though, probably. She hadn't really felt anything in a long time. Even saving people she did by the numbers. All these amazing adventures and they barely registered. Not even the most frightening moments made her feel that exciting rush of adrenaline she so craved.
There was something off but who could she talk to? Not the Doctor, she was certain, because this Doctor didn't do emotions. Even if he did, he should not have her to worry about as they saved the universe. He had to see her as strong, his protector and his conscience.
It was embarrassing; she had been the one who'd saved the Doctor from his nightmares but now that the shoe was on the other foot, she wouldn't dream of asking him to do the same.
Looking at her reflection on the empty screen in front of her she noticed that her exhaustion was beginning to show. She feared it wouldn't be long before the Doctor might sense that something was wrong. Maybe … maybe if she could just rest her eyes for a second. She was safe right now in the Tardis, the Doctor near. Not alone and so terribly tire........
The Doctor shook his head as he saw Clara suddenly stare off into nothingness. Softly he switched on the Tardis scanner to see if she could make sense of it all.
The situation hurt him. Why did Clara not want to talk to him? Why was she always so secretive? Had he given her the impression that he wanted was a perfect companion? He'd said nothing of the sort! It was the last thing he'd ever want. Flaws made his companions human, he loved their flaws and he loved healing whatever hole there was in their lives. It was one of the reasons he was the Doctor. Sadly, this patient proved one of his most difficult yet.
Clara Oswald has been awake for over a 120 hours the scan said, adding that the girl has just slipped into a micro sleep. The Doctor felt a hint of worry tremble through the Tardis. It made him smile remembering that things where once quite different: the Tardis had hated Clara at first as she made no sense. But once she had dived into his time-stream they were almost intertwined. Now Clara could open her doors by simply clicking her fingers. The Doctor quickly shook himself out of his reverie.
No time to reminisce, with his life he could be pondering for centuries. It was Clara who mattered.
Softly, he walked towards her and put his hand on her shoulder. It was clear she hadn't sensed him approaching at all, as his sudden touch made her jump.
“Doc … Doctor?” She stammered as she tried to compose herself.
“Clara, my Clara, isn't it time you went to bed? You have been awake for a very long time.”
“I'm fine Doctor, absolutely fine.”
“According to the Tardis you just fell asleep standing up.”
“The Tardis lied. I was just … thinking.”
The fact that she swooned and had to steady herself at the console when she said it didn't quite help her in her denial. The Doctor wisely chose to ignore it.
“The Tardis never lies. She is concerned, like I am Clara. Why don't you sleep anymore?”
Seeing the Doctor's worried eyes in front of her Clara bit her lip for a second. She couldn't.
She couldn't tell him: that she hadn't been able to sleep since Danny, how by some form of bizarre irony staying awake and chasing tangible monsters made her feel safe, secure, alive. She couldn't tell what he, the Doctor meant to her, what “being the Doctor” meant to her.
Clara knew she had probably lost her identity after losing her mother. When she had told herself that she could not cry as her father needed to see her smile. Later she had to be strong for the children she looked after. Never being able to grieve for her friend, like she had never been able to grieve for 11 or Danny later on. She'd always put herself last looking after others, even being a teacher or trying to heal Danny's PTSD and trying to please both him and the Doctor during their relationship was more of the same.
She didn't know who she was and that was why it had been so easy for her to jump into his time-stream and become one with the Doctor. Now they were merging into each other and she simply let it happen.
It had helped her repress her identity and when the questions came she had ran away and had been running ever since.
Through time and space. Away from responsibilities. Away from herself. Away from her mind. Loving the danger and risking more every day. Who cared about safety? He would always be there for her.
To be honest, sometimes she was certain she could be the Doctor more than even he ever could.
She could not tell him that.
So instead she brushed away his concern with a shrug and a headshake and a clipped, useless answer.
“Because sleep is normal, boring, average, it isn't time and space or adventure! It is just wasting time, it isn't the Doctor!”
The Doctor frowned at her and sighed. “Even I sleep when you're not looking, Clara Oswald.”
Taken by surprise, Clara frowned back in confusion: “I have never seen you sleep.”
“I never sleep when my companions are awake.”
For a brief second, Clara smiled at him with amused surprise. “What, you mean I'm keeping you up?” she laughed.
“Yes, indeed.” The Doctor interjected with urgency. “And besides; You staying awake all this time? It is not nice to look at. It's making you look old; those dark circles under your eyes, a constant frown, droopy eyelids. Stop it, I don't like it.”
Injustice stirring up inside her Clara glared at him balefully. “But ...” She wanted to start her grumble. However the Doctor wasn't prepared to listen to her complaints. He knew fully well what buttons to press to make her fall into his trap.
“No buts. And whatever you're planning on saying: you're wrong!”
Ah, look at that. He thought. She can't handle that. Clara Oswald can't ever be wrong, can she?
“Sleep, my Clara, is not boring and certainly not average. It is a miracle in fact; sleep is a super power!”
She shook her head in confusion: “I thought fear was a super power.”
“Fear is too. Why would there be only one super power? That's very narrow minded of you. Frankly I'm disappointed. Don't you see, Clara: Sleep, is time travel.”
Clara looked at the Doctor as if he was talking in Gallifreyan: “How, how can sleep be time travel? You stay in one place and nothing happens.”
Immediately, the Doctor was at his blackboard, even though his pupil could barely focus.
“How can it not be time travel? One moment you close your eyes and when you open them again time has passed and you've reached your destination without waiting, without leaving your house, without machines. Best time travel there is, not to mention the journeys your light body makes during dreaming. Jumping to parallel dimensions, visiting the past, present and future. Meetings with other worlds, learning important lessons or answers to questions. This all happens while you're laying down comfortable and in the Tardis this is amplified. And you Clara Oswald are missing out on all of this. Why?”
Suddenly Clara's eyes where full and moist as she looked up at the Doctor. “Nightmares.” She said softly.
“What?” The Doctor asked in confusion.
Her voice shaking she stressed her point; “You haven't mentioned the nightmares. What good can sleep do for me when the monsters I face in my dream are more terrifying than the ones I face with you during the day?”
The Doctors eyes grew soft as he stepped closer. “You're having nightmares?” His Scottish burr asked gently.
She nodded and this tiny gesture finally shook something loose.
“Doctor ...” She sighed then tried to continue making sentences that made sense, her breath hitched as she spoke. “I … I've been afraid to bring this up … I haven't been well in my mind for some time and thought that if I'd mentioned it ...”
“You thought that I cared so little about you that if you mentioned it I would just leave you behind?” The Doctor asked, trying to hide the hurt in his voice. “Clara, you know my mind, you have fought hundreds of battles with me, stood by me and you think that the moment it is you who needs me I'd let you down?”
“I don't know anymore Doctor… I just felt ashamed, as if I shouldn't be weak. There hasn't been a moment in my life where I didn't have to be the strong one. I always hid all my feelings, from anyone and everyone, so I told them I was fine but … Doctor! Please … I don't know who I am!”
The Doctor looked at her, and for the first time truly saw it: the fear behind the confidence, the fragility behind her bravery. She needed him as much as he needed her. But what she needed most was rest.
“No-one has to be strong all the time.” He said gently. “We all have a universe of our own terrors to face. Feeling bad is not weakness, needing help is not a crime. What is it they say in your century? You have to face yourself Clara. Learn what it is that scares you. These are the monsters inside you, fears that stop you from moving on. Staying awake and ignoring them will not help. What if one day we meet something that thrives on bringing nightmares alive? Your exhausted state will make it impossible to fight. Clara, even impossible girls need rest.”
Seeing Clara shiver the Doctor took her hand. “What if I stayed with you as you sleep?”
Taken aback the girl shook her head and moved away, almost isolating herself from him again.
“You mean sit next to my bed and ... hold my hand …? You're not my dad.”
“No, no, I mean what if we both took a dream patch and I'd guide your dreams? Look at the monsters and help chase them away.”
For a second Clara just stood there, feeling as if her breath had been taken away. How could he have known? How could the Doctor have known that this was what she had been so desperate to ask him, but had felt too proud to do? She'd always thought he was too emotionally ignorant to sense what she needed. It knocked all her defenses down and she was too exhausted and emotional to stop what happened next.
“Doctor ...” she said, as her voice wobbled. “I'm so tired!!”
To her annoyance she was unable to hold back a sob too fragile to repress her relief, she had been awake for so very long.
She was broken.
Sobbing uncontrollably, Clara let herself collapse in his arms. The Doctor, despite not being a hugging person, let her and gently rocked her as he whispered something he remembered from long ago: “Listen, I know you're afraid, but being afraid is all right. You're always going to be afraid, even if you learn to hide it. Fear is like a companion. A constant companion, always there. But that's okay, because fear can bring us together.”
While he held her, he managed to secure a dream patch on her arm, worried as he was she would try to wriggle out of their deal the moment she regained some control. Far beyond exhausted Clara Oswald fell asleep in his arms before the patch had even reached her skin.
The Doctor lifted his impossible girl into his arms and carried her to one of the Tardis' many bedrooms. There, he carefully lowered Clara onto the bed and covered her with a blanket. Afterward he lay himself down next to her; “Whether awake or in dreams, I will always protect you, my Clara.” He whispered as he stroked her hair. Then he put on the patch and took her hand, ready to slay the inner demons that tortured his best friend.