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The Hybrid (Whouffaldi)

Chapter Text

She doesn't get it. That's all that runs through my head as I watch the very, very old young lady in front of me lecture me about my recent lack of propriety and how it will potentially destroy the universe and unravel time itself.

Ashildr--Me, whatever-- doesn't understand. She can't possibly. She doesn't get it, and the Council didn't get it either. Frankly, it would've taken too long to explain and I am always running out of time. But it wouldn't have mattered even if I did tell them because I'm not doing this for her or for them. I'm not doing this for the universe, or to save anybody--not this time, I don't care. I'm not even doing it for me. Which is a surprise because I'm usually I doing whatever I want without hesitation. This time, however, I'm doing things the right way. This time I'm doing what is right. Because this time doing what's right is best for her.

For Clara.

You never know you've made a mistake until you see what happens after you've made your decision. You never learn enough fast enough to stop screwing something up again, the exact same way. It never happens. It's why history books have so many wars and revolts and rebellions--it's always the same story, isn't it? Something that should have happened didn't happen, and now the pudding brains are throwing around guns and tanks, both nuclear and atomic weapons of mass destruction at each other. And I always have swoop in, be a mum, and put them in a time out.

It's the one great attribute that humans seem particularly bound to adhere to: a selfishness that is beyond all understanding and patience. I hate it.

But don't you always hate in others what you hate most in yourself? Of course the human race will never learn, so what? They've got lifespans that are only so long to explore their own existence. But, me? When will I learn? When will I understand that somethings should be left to themselves? That I'm not meant to toy with the past or the future every time I'm fearful or lonely or bored?

Today, is the answer. I decide right then as I walk with Me to the classic prototype TARDIS, steeling myself for the repercussions of my unfair actions.

Today will be the day I stop running.

•••

There are a lot of things I won't admit to, confess. There are a lot of things I will never say or do. After living as long and as hard as I have, of course, you start to accumulate regrets and secrets and people that all mean something. And are worth more than you're willing to say. And if you know, like I know, that every secret you have, every confession you breathe, every person you meet--if you know they all have a price, then you'll be careful. You'll try to keep from being so reckless, breaking rules, creating tidal waves. Maybe you'll start to become cold and jaded by everything you've seen and done, use that to push people away. Sometimes that works. Maybe you'll pretend you don't know you're hurting people to try and prove to them that you aren't so warm and cuddly after all--and maybe you never were. You'll stop being charming and understanding and lose your temper more, if just to prove a point.

Oh, and you'll stop falling in love. Or, you'll try.

Except that's not how it works because it's not always that easy.

But you would think that after centuries of reliving the same kinds of heartbreak and experiencing equally tragic new ones that I'd swear off companions for as long as I live. Because I don't always beat the baddie's and I don't always lose the battle, but I do always lose them-- the things, the people I would rather fight for. It's an occupational hazard; I can prolong the inevitable for as long as I want to, but it's always coming, that ever-present shadow.

So why even bother? Why keep trying?!

I was sure I was done after Amy and Rory. I was done, I had convinced myself. No more companions, no more adventures. If I couldn't have the Ponds in that blue box, then I didn't want anyone at all. Ever.

But then...

And I hadn't known then, of course not. Not in the Dalek Asylum when I'd not even seen her face. Not even when I met her again, and she followed me up the spiraling staircase and through the clouds and I showed her the TARDIS. Not even when I held her hand as she died in Victorian London and I gave her the TARDIS key. She was a friend then, just a new acquaintance that confused and excited me and made me forget, just for a moment, about how painful it was to lose someone. Until she died. Again. When I met her this past time, it was on purpose, orchestrated. I had been far more happy to see her than I ever should have been, and that should have been the first warning: my hearts beating a little too quickly at the sight of little Miss Clara Oswald. And even when I saved her from being uploaded that day, I never knew she'd end up being the one to save me.

Of course, she jumped into my timeline and forever saved me from the Great Intelligence, but it was more than that. It would always be more than that. And that was more than I would ever be able to admit, to confess about Clara Oswald.

Because the day I admitted to myself or anyone else that I was in love with Clara Oswald, and the day I came to terms with her reciprocated feelings--that, I'd convinced myself, would be the day I lost her. She was her safest when I held her at arms-length, and I had every intention of keeping her that way.

I'd seen glimpses, heard little whispers on streets of a creature called The Hybrid. An ancient prophecy that insinuated that there would come a day where a new breed of monster with a destructive tendency would tear apart the entirety of time and space, destroy Gallifrey and stand in its ruins: a creature that was half Time Lord, half Dalek.

The truth? It was all rubbish. And I'd known it from the start. A species with such a psychologically faulty superiority complex as the Dalek's would never voluntarily taint their own genetic structure with another life form, and Time Lords would never even conceive of it. It could never have been half Dalek, but there other species just as capable of mindless destruction.

I hadn't known then, or if I had, I'd pretended I didn't, which was often just as convincing. But looking back, the answer should have been obvious. The hybrid had never been me. Not just me. The hybrid was two people. The most reckless, the most stubborn and the most dangerous duo in all of history, in all of the universe.

Half Time Lord, half human.

Me and Clara Oswald.

Chapter Text

Wednesday, 7th of May, 2014 | 3:46 AM

When Clara Oswald is sleeping, there's not much that can wake her.

She's not a particularly light sleeper or easily bothered by exterior noise, so she usually sleeps quite soundly through the night, with little variation in her nightly slumber patterns. In addition to being a sound sleeper, Clara's had a very rough couple of days at Coal Hill and needed the medicinal assistance of a few sleeping pills to keep her down for the night, further aiding the process. This means, of course, that it'd take much more than a few sirens to rouse her from her dreamless sleep tonight.

So when she is awoken by what sounds like the TARDIS materializing in her living room, she believes she's still dreaming. The Doctor couldn't possibly be bothering her at this hour, she thinks drowsily, and closes her eyes once more. The silence in the flat only lasts for about two minutes, the sound of plates crashing and shattering against the floor causing one of Clara's eyes to fly open, squinting in the dark.

But he really could, the more sensible voice in her head reminds her gently.

"Mm." She mumbles quietly to herself, knowing the hallucinating option is quickly slipping away. She pulls the duvet over her head roughly only to rip it back off when she hears a string of foreign alien tongue come from the very familiar Scottish brogue.

Huffing angrily at the turn of events, Clara yawns and drags herself out of her warm, soft, pillow-covered bed and grabs a robe to cover her nightgown before hesitantly making to short journey into the kitchen.

"Doctor?" Clara asks brusquely when she sees him, her arms crossed over her torso in part of being chilly, in part of being cross herself.

The Time Lord is bustling around in her cabinets, making the disruptive noise that Clara realizes is the sound that woke her up. Her bloodshot eyes flit from the old man to the digital clock on her stove that does indeed read ten minutes til four in the morning. She turns back to the alien with a dangerously almost feral glint in her eye.

"This'd better be good, Doctor," she halfway growls, blinking sleepily. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I'm building a new neuro-scanner for Strax as a sort of present. His old one, the tech is embarrassingly ancient," he explains to a very exhausted Clara who is contemplating ringing the police to come and apprehend the 'stranger' who has just 'broken into' her flat.

She decides against it, however, knowing she wouldn't be able to be nearly as convincing with the lie this early without the proper amount of caffeine running through her veins.

The Doctor finishes his speech by justifying that he needs a special kind of porcelain that is only found on Earth for a critical piece of the scanner.

"Thought I'd save a bit of cash and take some of this stuff off your hands, since you pudding brains only use your china plates twice every year, at best."

He turns around to face his companion, who he suddenly realizes is still completely silent, setting a plate on the counter behind him. He frowns at Clara's attire, shaking his head. "Why are you dressed like that? I'm not taking you to nap, I'm taking you to see the fish people of Kysterillous!" He notices the way her eyes that are usually too big are now too small and he squints at her, taking a few steps towards her.

"Is this what you look like when your eyes have shrunk?" He asks curiously.

"No," Clara says, more than annoyed now. "This is what I look like at three in the morning!"

"Well, I don't like it." The Doctor decides, still staring down at his friend. "D'you know, I actually think I prefer them bigger, even if your face is too small and round for them."

"Doctor!"

"What?" He says, startled.

"You woke me up!" He frowns, pointing at himself.

"Well, Clara, it isn't my fault you've chosen to become nocturnal and sleep during the daytime, is it? Besides, it's Wednesday! I got it right this time."

Clara closed her eyes, trying to summon what patience she had left to explain.

"You really didn't. It's still nighttime, Doctor." She turned him around to face the clock on her stove, pointing at it. "I don't even go to work for another four hours almost!"

The Doctor frowned at the little neon green numbers on the stove for a while before he made a loud noise of enlightenment, making Clara flinch.

"Ohhhh!" He looked down at Clara. "Well, that explains why--"

But she cut him off, tired and ready to get rid of him. "Yes, I'm sure it does, now get out." She said, grabbing her china plate and shoving it into his hands before she started shoving him towards the TARDIS that sat in the corner of her living room.

"Well, you're not a very polite hostess are you?" He grumbled, moving to open the door.

"Pot calling the kettle black." Clara shot back, watching the alien climb inside the spaceship that still took her breath away. She smiled a little when the Doctor turned back around before closing the door.

His eyes were unreadable but that just meant that he had something to say that scared him. Clara knew that now.

"What is it?" She probed, tilting her head at him. "What's wrong?"

"You'd tell me wouldn't you?" He asked quietly, his baritone voice rumbling in his throat as he swallowed.

"Tell you what?"

"If you..." he scowled. "If you didn't want to travel anymore, for whatever reason, you wouldn't just--"

"Doctor--"

But he pushed through. "You would say something, wouldn't you?"

"I'm not going anywhere, Doctor. Why would I leave? I haven't really got a reason to, have I?" His eyes are sad when he shrugs, but Clara knows he's not saying something.

"I just thought after everything that happened with Danny..." He trails off and then sighs. "Sometimes things just don't work out, I guess. So people leave."

"Not me." I reminded him firmly, "I'm not them. The others you traveled with, I'm not them. Okay?"

He nods but doesn't look convinced.

"See you in a few hours," he says, closing the door behind him, leaving Clara alone in her flat and more awake than ever.

-

"You can't keep showing up in the middle of the school day, Doctor." Clara chides him as they walk to the caretaker's back closet. "People are gonna start to notice."

"Rubbish!"

"Plenty of people notice! There's kids going around asking the headmaster to petition for extra security cameras!"

The Doctor blows a raspberry, rolling his eyes. "Clara, nobody at this school cares about or pays any attention to me besides you!" He claims ardently, walking beside her through the crowded hallway. "And anyway, you've got too many miniature glowing screens in your faces to pay attention to anything worthy of note! Seriously, it's a wonder how over the last few years you lot haven't lost a significant amount of limbs from walking into traffic and each other because of your mobiles."

When they finally made it to the TARDIS, Clara ran up to the control panel, she sighed. "And you've got to stop following around Adrian."

The Doctor, fiddling with controls and buttons, frowns up at Clara in confusion when he doesn't immediately recognize the name. "Adrian?"

Clara's eyes droop wearily. "At Coal Hill, the teacher? Fellow in the bow tie, the one you thought was my boyfriend?"

And then his entire face lights up.

"Oh, him! Oh, he's just great, isn't he?" A smirk flies across the Doctor's face and Clara rolls her eyes. "Rather clever for a pudding brain, that one, not to mention impeccable sense of style. He likes you, you know. He could be your type."

"I don't think so." She dismisses the notion swiftly. "Doctor, he knows you've been following you around, and he thinks he'll need a restraining order!"

The Doctor scowls, but not at what she's just said. "Clara, of course he likes you! He's got your number in his phone!"

She opens her mouth to speak and then starts to rub her temples, shaking her head. "I don't even want to know why or how you know that." She moves to sit on the chair nearby. "We just teach at the same school, for godsakes!"

"Yeah, okay, whatever. Fine. But when he was a kid--"

"He's happy with and engaged to a wonderful woman named Elaine Wallace; she teaches yoga in a studio a few blocks from the school. I've met her twice now, he brings her to events for the school. She's nice. Beautiful." Clara interrupts which finally shuts him up. She's angry and frustrated with the Doctor for trying to push this imaginary relationship with Adrian and she knows exactly why he's so obsessed with the two of them being together.

Adrian reminds him of his previously younger self, the Doctor who looked young enough to pretend to be her boyfriend.

"I did full surveillance, Clara," the alien protests, looking a little more hurt than he should. "There's no indication--"

"Well, I think it's safe to say I know him better than you do." She gives him a dry smile and stands, but the Doctor knows he's went a bit far on this one, his hearts stilling for a moment as she glares at him.

"Clara, listen--" He starts to apologize.

"He did like me, once. We'd had a few drinks together one night after he'd asked me a few times and turned him away." She confesses, sighing when his eyes flash.

"It was when I first got to Coal Hill, before Danny. But when Danny got there, I shot Adrian down and never looked back. I already had two men fighting over me, couldn't have three, now could I?" She shrugs. "He moved on, Doctor, and I'm happy for him. He's a friend. Nothing more."

And with that she turned on her heel and stalked to her room, in need of a quick nap before she could even be in the same room with him again. The Doctor, however, just stared after her before he began mourning the loss of the possibility of Adrian and Clara together.

~ ~ ~

"What's with the outfit?" Clara asked when she regained consciousness after her nap. The TARDIS whirred excitedly and Clara smiled, leaving her bed to inspect the outfit that was placed on a hanger on the wardrobe. "It's a bit... Halloween, innit?"

The sentient spaceship sounded offended when it gave Clara a vicious electronic beeping in response.

"Well, you wear it." She quipped right back, rolling her eyes at the ridiculous clothing.

It was a kind of all white cat suit, latex and shiny and smooth to the touch. It was gorgeous, in a way, Clara would admit, the silver circuitry designs on it reminded her of a cyborg or artificial intelligence something. A pair of what looks like hard rubber disco-funky platform boots from the sixties sat next to them and Clara giggled incredulously.

She wasn't wearing this. It was ridiculous.

-

"What took you so long?" The Doctor said when he heard her approach the console.

Grumpily, Clara growled out, "Your stupid spaceship made the door disappear when I didn't put on the bloody outfit!"

He resisted a smirk but a ruthless smile ended up showing in its place. The Doctor turned so she wouldn't see it. "Cat fight?" He joked.

"This isn't funny, Doctor. Why am I dressed like I'm going to costume party?"

"It's a precaution, that's all." He coughed to cover a laugh. "And it doesn't look half bad, really. A bit, uh... tight, though." He didn't even move to advert in his eyes.

Clara tried not to blush. "Precaution?" She frowned curiously, pushing past the brief, but obvious moment. "I thought we were going to a partying planet, yeah? It's supposed to be pretty safe. Right?"

"Yes." He says, not really clarifying as to which of her questions her was answering. He moves to the lever that sends the TARDIS twirling in space and time and Clara jerks when they land. "One last stop and then we'll go, I promise."

"Where are we?" She asks immediately, walking stiffly towards a screen. It'll take some getting used to, this suit and these shoes that end up making her about four or five inches taller. She squints at the coordinates and sighs, disappointed. "Gallifreyan."

"Yup." He breathes, turning to look at her, eyebrows furrowed as always.

"Will you ever be translating it?"

"Don't count on it," he says right back, not missing a beat as he starts smiling a little.

"I'm not mad at you." She says finally without turning to look at him. She knows him well enough to feel his eyes on her when he's not looking--this piercing, burning look that he will never clarify for her because they are too smart to tell or ask; they both know what it means. He crosses his arms, still staring at her. "So you can stop sulking."

"I'm not sulking." He defends childishly, lowering his eyes. Clara turns her body to face him, trying to walk towards him as smoothly as she can. "And you were mad at me. Why?"

"I was, I'm not anymore, that's all. And it was more frustration than anything, really." She says, ignoring the last part of what he said. "We're fine now, it's okay."

Before Clara knows what's happening, the Doctor has his arms around her, squeezing her to him in the tightest embrace she's ever experienced and she yelps, arms clamped to her sides as he holds her to his chest.

"Ow."

"Sorry," he says, but she can tell he really isn't. "Bit out of practice, I'm afraid."

"This is a hug."

"Yes, it is."

"You aren't a hugger anymore. I thought you didn't like hugging." She manages to say, totally caught off guard.

"I still don't." He says, not letting her go. She can feel his breathing against her neck and it makes her shiver. "But I thought you needed one."

"Why?"

"So you could hide your face." He tells her, starting to pull away in enough time to see her eyes water. He gives her one of those rare smiles before he clears his throat and walks out the door of the TARDIS, telling her to catch up when she's ready.

When Clara has finally composed herself, she leaves the spaceship to find herself in what she can only describe as a salon. A space salon.

There are dozens of fairly chic, stylish aliens buzzing about the large room, with rows of chairs with mirrors behind them lining either side of the space. There were at least twelve chairs on each side from what Clara could see, but the further she walks down the middle aisle, she realizes the room is bigger than it appears, like an optical illusion in a painting. Clara notices that the aliens doing all the hair and makeup styling are tall and graceful beings that seem to float from place to place instead of walk, with slender noses, full lips and delicate looking hands. They wear fine white gossamer fabrics that show the feminine curves of their body but are long enough to cover the tops of their heads to the bottoms of their feet, like a fitted cloak or robe of some kind.

They also don't have eyes, instead a smooth skin where their eyes would be which makes them a little uncomfortable to look at. But the obvious lack of vision doesn't seem to impair them from doing their best work, Clara observes, watching as a blue-faced female alien exclaims her pleasure about her new updo. As Clara makes her way further into the shop, she spots the Doctor chatting with one of the styling creatures. He waves her over when he spots her, turning back to the female alien that has a small smile on her face as she turns to 'look' at Clara.

"Clara," the Doctor says, gesturing for her to come closer to him. She complies though the figure next to him is incredibly intimidating and makes her feel even shorter. "I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine, Kesh Tyeas. She's the owner of the salon and she'll be styling you today."

Clara moves to shake her long-fingered hand and is surprised when Kesh automatically reaches to shake it gently. "Hello." Clara says hesitantly, staring up at the woman that is at least two and a half feet taller than her.

Kesh smiles to reveal a perfect set of gleaming teeth. A melodious sound that Clara recognizes as laughter rings from the alien's lips as she bends a decidedly long neck to get closer to Clara, taking back her hand.

"Welcome, dear Miss Oswald, I've heard many stories about you." Clara recoils and then turns to glare at the Doctor who has a smirk on his face. She's about to throw an angry but polite comment his way before Kesh speaks again. "Oh, no, please do not blame the Doctor for his actions. It was I who begged him not to mention me to you."

"Why?" Clara asks, frowning.

Kesh gives her a sad smile. "I could not risk it."

"Kesh and the other ladies here are the last of their species, Clara, refugees from the Moon of Tur." The Doctor gives Kesh a sympathetic look when she makes a quiet whimpering noise that sounds like something a puppy would do. "She ran from her husband who then started a war that would last three hundred years."

"He was the king." Kesh clarified when Clara still didn't understand. "He has long since fled and the war has been over nearly eighty years, but we Moon Dwellers live very, very long lives," she smiles at the Doctor, "longer than the Time Lords. And we do not easily forget." She ushered Clara to a chair and Clara obliged and sat down, letting Kesh run her long, smooth fingers through Clara's hair. "The Doctor was trying to protect me. Gossip travels fast in the universe. "

"I'm sorry you had to run," Clara apologized, now knowing the meaning of a gentle giant. "Why did you run, if you don't mind my asking?"

Kesh just smiles again from behind Clara. It's the Doctor who points to another Moon Dweller further away from the who is painting a girl's face green and white as an explanation. "Kesh wanted to marry Ullah, and when the king found out he attempted to murder her."

Kesh made another very sad noise, perhaps at the memory, and the Doctor cleared his throat, the only apology he was able to give. "But anyway, Kesh has agreed to style you today. You're in good hands and she knows exactly the look we are going for."

Clara barely heard the words the Doctor was saying, her eyes beginning to drift shut with the way the woman was massaging her scalp. Vaguely startled by the effect the small, circular motions were having on her, Clara closed her eyes and slumped down into the seat. The last thing she saw was a knowing grin spread wide across the Doctor's face.

Chapter Text

One Hour Later...

When he hears Clara let out a blood-curdling scream from her bedroom, the Doctor practically runs to what he assumes is her rescue, thinking somehow something has infiltrated his TARDIS and is in the process of torturing and murdering his companion, his Clara Oswald-- and, damn it all, he's running out of time. They're killing her and he can't force his legs to run any faster than what they are going. That's what he thinks because it's what he always thinks--it's what he dreams, what he breathes, what he watches over and over and over like a broken record he can't fix, lyrics he can't unhear. Clara, his best friend, is forever dying and he is never able to rescue her.

But then he wakes or stops daydreaming and realizes that there she is, reading a novel in his favorite chair, right there. Perfectly fine and berating him for not listening to her. Again.

How long can that dream last? It can't last forever, it just won't. Because someday it won't be a bloody dream; it'll be reality. Someday it'll be old age or a laser beam or a bullet or a sword--something will get to her before I can and her breath will freeze and her heart will still and she will be gone. And then what? What will I be then?

Maybe today is the day I lose her.

Of course, he soon figures out, this is not the case. Today (at least not now) is not the day his world goes ice cold along with her heart. For now, she's still his and he is still hers.

When he reaches Clara's room he only crosses his arms and leans up against her doorway, scowling at her back that is facing him.

"You screamed." He pants unappreciatively, trying to catch his breath. "Why?"

"What the hell have you done to my hair?!" She exclaimed wildly, tugging at her brown strains that now fell just above her shoulders and a little past her ears in a sort of bobbed haircut. He'd asked her fringe be shortened as well.

The Doctor could see her sweating from where he stood in the doorway. "You cut it!"

"Oh, please. It's not even that bad! It's only for tonight anyways!"

"Exactly!" Clara turned from the mirror to glower at him, her eyes wider and sterner than he'd ever seen them. The Doctor still thought it was a rather impressive party trick. "You knocked me unconscious to cut my hair? What, so I'd match my outfit? For a bloody party?"

The Doctor sighed and rolled his eyes. "Language, Clara."

"Oh, shut up! Don't you tell me to mind my language!" She shouts, gazing wistfully at herself in the mirror, her brows furrowed and her face worried. "Can't believe you made her cut my hair. And without my permission."

Shuffling awkwardly on the threshold, the Doctor didn't know what exactly to say anymore. Of course, he could be defensive about the whole thing, but that didn't seem to get him anywhere usually. He personally thought Clara looked beautiful no matter how she styled herself-- or, in this case, how he styled her. He likes the way the new haircut showed off her fairly impressive bone structure, made her look more mature.

"Do you really not like it?" He says, letting a little of his apprehension spill into his voice. "If you don't like it, we can go back--"

"No." Clara firmly decided, sighing as she started to smile at her reflection little by little. "It's... nice. It is, I do like it. Just take some getting used to, is all."

But the Doctor still remained skeptical, doubting his decision now that she had actually started complaining. So Clara stopped her primping and left the mirrored image of her new physical reality, skipping over to where the Doctor stood tense and taciturn. "Why'd you cut it?"

"Kesh cut--"

"Yes," Clara acknowledged quickly. "Because you told her to."

The Doctor softened but kept his arms crossed. "It's all part of the disguise. I'm trying to disguise you as an android--it's the only thing you'll pass for without any extreme, erm... physical alternations. Believe me, going to this party is safer that way. They cannot know you're Clara Oswald."

"Why not?" Clara asked immediately, crossing her arms now. "What's wrong with being human, with being me?"

"Nothing!" He blurted, exasperated. "But you aren't just any human, are you, Clara? You're my human, my companion!" He tried not to blush at his wording, watching her amused eyes twinkle. "The Fish People are very deceptive creatures, full of a playful mischief that can easily get out of hand and fester into mayhem and chaos! And if they figure out how valuable you are to me, something very bad could happen to you!"

Clara seemed a little bored with his speech, wrinkling her nose at the drama in his voice. Fretting over her wasn't his job; she was the carer, not him.

"Well, don't 'very bad' things always happen when I'm with you anyway?" He just glares, thin lipped and sour-faced. "It's not the first time I've been put in danger by being with you. That's part of the deal."

"Yes, he tries to interjects, "but--"

"But," Clara interrupts,"this is the first time you've tried to extensively change my appearance."

"And it'll probably be the last!" The Doctor declares confidently, poking Clara in the shoulder which earns the Time Lord a bemused frown.

Clara wasn't exactly sold. He was being weird, weirder than normal, and she was worried. She knew he wasn't telling her something, either to protect her or because he just didn't want to say. But those grey-blue eyes of his could never hide anything from her. The Doctor was scared, but more than that. Something that made him so afraid he couldn't tell her what it was. Usually if he ever got that frightened about that, he'd steer her as far away from the problem as possible. But now he was dragging her towards the dangers of the universe at full speed. She could feel his worrying eyes skimming over her, a thunderous foreboding in his gaze.

"Stop that," Clara commanded, swatting his fingers away from his mouth like a mother would her five-year-old. He'd been chewing on his thumb again, but put his hand away as soon as she spoke. That he had listened to her at all made her even more nervous.

But the Doctor, she forgot, could still see right through her, too. With a huff, he whispered, "Stop worrying."

And with that, the Time Lord stomped out of her room, shouting things about how they still had to paint her silver before the party started so she should hurry up.

Undeterred by the yelling alien in the corridor, she lingered in her room a moment longer. Half of Clara felt extremely anxious about this big ball. Sure, it was sure to be a fantastic trip and a night she'd remember for years to come, but they'd been invited so last minute. Ans she couldn't help but remember all the other invitations to shiny, glittering places that had seemed harmless enough until there were mummies or Daleks or Cybermen running after them both.There was a knowing twinge somewhere in the back of her gut, something she'd developed during her time with the Doctor that warned her when something was horribly off. Something that whispered that this glamourous blowout in deep space was a little too good to be true and that she should just tell the Doctor to take her someplace else-- there were plenty of other alluring planets she'd been dying to see, many other mysterious creatures he'd promised to show her. They could just throw a different lever and go hurtling off in another direction in time and space--it'd be so easy. Clara could argue that with so many risks, the price didn't exactly add up to what they were willing to pay.

But the other half, the more reckless, selfish and human half of her that had made many of her more impulsive decisions--her heart--said to shut up and go with it because things like this (things like going to a mermaid-hosted ball that was only held every hundred years with a two thousand year old alien in another galaxy) don't just happen everyday. For a moment she couldn't believe she had almost talked herself out of going, berating herself in the mirror all over again. She'd been waiting months to see these Fish People, and was more than elated that she was finally getting the chance to go to one of their infamous parties that were widely recognized as some of the best across universe.

And she'd be damned if she missed out on it all just because she was a little antsy about why she had to wear a costume.

So it was that part of Clara Oswald that shoved any ominous thought to the back of her brain and forced her mouth shut. It was that part of her that allowed the Doctor to take her to yet another salon where any skin exposed-- mostly her face and hands-- was painted in shimmering metallic silver. Thankfully, she was kept fully conscious this time and was able to chat with the makeup artist. The affable pink lady had overheard the Doctor boasting about their plans for the evening, and with enough coaxing from Clara hesitantly confided that she'd been to these types of parties before and they did tend to be a little out of control. One thing, the woman told her, often led to another, and it wasn't uncommon for a handful of people to be drugged or killed by the end of the night. It was the price of going to such an upscale bash, the alien hairstylist reassured her with a shrug, trying to brush away Clara's returning fears.

Another alien who'd caught their conversation pulled Clara aside just as they were about to leave, the Doctor already in the TARDIS and ready to fly away.

"Why not travel somewhere else?" The older spiky man asked her. "I assure you that I am well-traveled. I have been to many magnificent attractions this universe has to offer. Surely I could persuade you to go elsewhere?"

The alien seemed nervous as he fidgeted next to a puzzled Clara. "I don't understand."

"You should not go." He said more plainly this time, his English halted and strange because of his accent. "It will not be safe, and he," the alien said, nodding gravely at the TARDIS, "will not be able to save you from your fate should you choose that path. Don't hold your trust in his past victories--he'll not always be there to rescue you."

Clara frowned, the queasy feeling she'd experienced in the TARDIS earlier creeping into her stomach once more.

"Who are you? How do you know about any of this, and why would you tell me?" The panicked questions flew out her mouth so quickly, Clara wondered if the man had understood her. But he'd caught every word, a saddened look on his face as he smiled kindly.

"A gift, or curse, whichever you prefer, was given to me when I was a youngling." Clara raised her eyebrows. "The future dangers of others would be revealed to me only if those dangers could lead to life-threatening consequences."

"You're psychic?" Clara questioned, the judgement and skepticism clear in her bright brown eyes as she surveyed him in light of the new information.

"I do not sell my gift, I can assure you," the odd alien reads her like an open book, a knowing but patient look in his eyes. 

Never really fond of superstitions or fortune tellers herself, Clara didn't believe people could control or know their own fate. But she couldn't help but falter, asking him, "Have you ever been accurate?" The man didn't answer but his orange eyes were downcast before they met hers once more, now laced with bitterness and regret.

"More than I'll ever admit," he confessed sincerely, but his voice had gone hollow. "You and your friend are in grave danger."

She winced, clearing her throat anxiously. "Do you know why? I mean, why they're coming after me? Maybe if you told me, I could--"

"I can only assume that their pursuit of you stems from your relationship to him," he nodded towards the TARDIS with a tired expression. "I can site no other reason." He shook his head, looking Clara up and down in bewilderment. "It's puzzling, indeed, but I do not know what need they would have for a human. They think your species to be tribal, barbaric, underdeveloped, which is not an uncommon sentiment."

The man laughed a little, sobering when he saw Clara's eyebrow lift delicately off her forehead. "My apologies. I did not mean to offend."

"Well, if they want me now, it sounds like they'll still look for me if I don't go, right?" The man's eyes widened.

"And you would give yourself to the Fish People so that you would fall into their hands now rather than later? You think it would be better to face them head on?"

"Yes." Clara said, managing to sound brave and stubbornly confident while she felt the direct opposite in her thudding heart. It was getting harder  and harder to pretend nothing was wrong, that she was safe and tonight would just be another night out with her friendly neighborhood Time Lord. But the more she tried to jam those thoughts into her mind, the more they felt like lies, the more sick she felt.

"Never cruel or cowardly. It's a rule," Clara explained as she began make her away to the TARDIS. " We don't run."

The spiky man's fiery eyes were loaded with wisdom and age and an indifference that came with repeatedly handing out disregarded truths.

"Then you are a fool."


 

If you watch Star Wars, there's a long-legged, amphibian-esque creature called Jar-Jar Binks who belongs to a race that lives underwater on the planet Naboo, and his entire city is enclosed inside a bubble shell that is breathable for humans and the aliens alike. That's precisely comes to mind when they arrive to Kysterillous. The planet, for the most part, is ocean with an underwater city. About eighty-six percent of the plant is ocean, while the rest is all molten volcanoes and worn mountains. The Doctor tells her that in about three hundred or so odd years, with the rate at which the volcanoes erupt now (every other week), the planet will be nearly thirty five percent land and eventually cover the entire planet, enclosing and entrapping the ocean and its inhabitants completely. He makese the split-second decision to land the TARDIS above ground instead of directly inside the shell where the party takes place.

He asks, "Can you swim?"

"You've seen me swim, Doctor," she tells him, picking her way through the sharp obsidian rocks that little the tiny island. 

Looking over his shoulder at the active volcano many miles away, he suddenly frowns at her. "Really, when?"

"We've gone swimming several times, actually." She doesn't look at him when he offers his hand at a tricky ledge, nor does she react when his arm is thrust securely around her waist after she nearly slips and breaks her neck trying to avoid a river of mud. "You shouldn't have any trouble remembering since I've saved your life twice now. You nearly drowned in the kiddie pool--"

"I did not!" He's all blushes as he refutes the embarrassing truth. which is that he's a terrible swimmer this time round. "It was an experiment to see how long I could store oxygen in my lungs until I had to resort to extraordinary measur--"

"Well, last time I checked flailing around in three feet of water doesn't constitute an experiment, Doctor," Clara teases him, poking is side so that he jerks away, still mildly upset. He mutters something about chlorine in public pools before going silent. 

He stops just at the edge of a small beach that has all black sand covering it, removing his coat to leave him in the holey jumper. Clara watches him disrobe the shoes he's wearing, leaving him in what appears to be custom made socks with red and blue bow ties dotting them. Clara smiles and looks away towards the dark blue water that looks frigid but the Doctor insists it will be fairly warm because the planet's paper thin oceanic crust doesn't do a good job of insulating the water from the mantle.

"Do I need to take off my shoes, too?"

He shakes his head to dismiss her suggestion and then sighs, stretching out his arms and back dramatically in unnecessary preparation. "They'll have a change of clothes for me down there, as they will all their guests." He throws her a quick side glance. "I had to send in my measurements with our RSVP."

"Why didn't you ask for mine?"

When the Doctor's face remained blank, Clara added slowly, "I'll need new clothes,"imagining herself dripping wet as she walks in.

But the Time Lord only frowns his disapproval. "Androids don't need to change clothes, Clara. There will be stations for you to dry off in. And don't worry about the makeup--it, erm, won't be coming off for a while anyway."

Refraining from acting on her rash thoughts of violence, Clara settled for a simple quip just as she always did. "You mean I'll be looking like the Tin Man for two weeks?"

"No!" He protests loudly with an incredulous laugh. "No, no, just one week."

"Doctor!" She shouts angrily.

"Precaution!" He shouts back, rolling his eyes. "You'll thank me later, trust me."

Clara shakes off her mounting frustration and nods, plastering on one of her best smiles. It feels tight and fake.

"Right," she pushes her brown hair out of her face and frowns down into the depths of the sea. "Any other parts of this robot story I need to know about?"

"You're an android I named Idris, purchased a few years back on a trade ship in the Lutar Nebula. You have a serial number--" he rummages around in his pockets and pulls out his psychic paper. "If they don't buy that, I've got a backup set of actual legal papers that I had a colleague manufacture--"

A disgusted Clara lets out a wild laugh, although what she's just heard is anything but humorous. "I'm supposed to be your property?"

But the Doctor isn't finished, and he isn't listening, either. "--all of which should be just as adequate."

He puts the psychic paper away and and tells Clara to close her mouth or she'll catch one of the radioactive flies that buzz in the air. "Al; the paper says is that I've tinkered with your settings and modified a lot of your original hardware and software to link you to the TARDIS--I've basically made you a physical extension of her." Digging through his pockets again, the Doctor reveals a two small silver chips before advancing towards Clara.

"What's that?" She asks hesitantly as he tilts her head gingerly, putting the larger chip inside her ear. The chip, once in her ear, enlarges itself to her outer ear and then initiates a rapid beeping noise and then she hears the cloister bells she associates with the TARDIS. "Woah."

"Good, it's working" the Doctor murmurs at her reaction, nodding as he releases her and then hands her the other chip. "Swallow this. Quickly." She does. The whooshing sounds, amazingly enough, cease, and words flow from the earpiece instead.

Oh, finally, Miss Oswald! It has taken us a long while to finally speak to one another, hasn't it? an excited voice probes at the back of her head. Clara jumps and then laughs, looking up at the Doctor who is looking awfully smug.

"It's a pill that enables you to translate the communication of various sentient machines. Can you hear her?"

"Yes! Oh, wow, this is the TARDIS? I'm talking to--The TARDIS is speaking to me?" She asks him giddily to which he only grins. But the excitement recedes as soon as Clara remembers the strife the ship has given her over the years, leaving her deflated and cross.

"You've put me through hell in that box, you know," she reminds the voice in her mind that she can feel laughing at her, a small vibration deep in her conscious. "I had to find another room because of you!"

All in good fun, of course. Except when it's not! More of the vibration-like laughter. Naughty as I've been, though, it's more of a rite of passage. I've always been this way with his strays, Clara Oswald; you were no different than the rest. Besides, I like you now. Well, most of the time, anyway. 

The Doctor, who apparently can't hear their conversation, begins scowling impatiently. "Listen, I'm sure the two of you have lots to catch up on, but the window for arrival at the ball is closing. We've got five minutes before the portal entry is shut for another hundred years." To prove the urgency of the situation, the Doctor starts to push a dazed Clara down the steady incline towards the water.

"Bit of last minute detail: the chip in your ear links you to her and her to my screwdriver, which is set to alert me if you have any problems while I'm not nearby."

Clara started at that, her head snapping up to look at him "Why wouldn't you be nearby?"

He waved a hand to dismiss her but Clara grabbed for his arm, her grip too firm for his liking. "Ow!"

"Something's going on, Doctor. Come off it, old man, and just say it already. What are you not telling me?" She pressed him, squaring her shoulders. His eyes locked on hers and his jaw twitched. "Don't lie. Just say it, tell me."

"Clara--"

"Don't!" She snapped, watching him lick his lips anxiously. "You've gone to great lengths to protect me from a faceless monster, but you won't say why. Now, if you're going to put the both of us in danger, the least you could do is--"

"No, Clara, the very least I could do, the bare minimum is save you," he interrupted roughly, his mouth in a hard line. "I can't always tell you everything, you know that--there are rules!"

The pressure at the back of her mind, like a light prodding--a sensation she now recognized as the TARDIS--made her ask him, finally.

"Have we been here before?" She observed the way his eyes darkened, how his already pale skin drained so quickly he looked ill. She swallowed, moderately frightened by the idea that she could not remember ever having stepped foot on this planet. Clara tried racking her brain for any recollection of the planet or its people, but she only kept drawing blank, like grasping at fingers that been holding hers but where no longer there.

"What is she telling you?" The Doctor's voice had lowered, his deep voice a sinister rumble in his throat as he searched Clara's brown eyes. "The TARDIS, what's she saying?"

"Nothing," Clara half-lied. The TARDIS hadn't actually said anything really. "Why won't you just answer the question? Doctor, what aren't you telling me?"

But he simply brushed Clara's hand away, his even gaze cool and practiced as his eyes swept over her. "I can't."

And with that, he stepped towards the water and dove straight in, leaving Clara alone on the shore with a distinctly sour taste her mouth: dread.

Chapter Text

After a long night out filled with drinks and laughter and dancing, the Doctor and Clara found themselves safely aboard the TARDIS, the both of them a little buzzed from very liberal recreational drinking, adrenaline as well as alcohol pumping through their veins. Clara stumbled over to the console, a disapproving Idris still whispering rebukes into her ear. Clara giggled at a comment the she made, something about consuming too many Tyrinian libations being unwise that sent the young woman gasping for air as she laughed. The Doctor, who seemed to be holding his liquor much better than Clara, raised a brow in amusement.

"Are you two girls up to something?" He questions, his words clear and crisp though his eyes were blown wide with inebriation. "Something I should know about?"

Tsk, tsk, tsk, the TARDIS scolded the two of them. My, my, the two of you have downed enough of the stuff to make you very silly indeed. Oh! Let's play a game! Yes, a game! Let's see how far you both get before doing something you'll regret!

Feeling uneasy about Idris' light hearted, but rude remark, Clara blurted out "shut up," to no one in particular, causing the Doctor to look up from the gears with a baffled frown.

With flushed cheeks, she and snorted, covering her mouth immediately with embarrassment. "Sorry."

"You snorted." The older man observed quietly, eyeing her suspiciously as he began to fidget in a shy manner. "That's a first."

"I'm very, very drunk; be grateful it was nothing more than snort." She cautions him simply, bending to remove her feet from inside the dangerously high platinum platforms that are threatening to send her tumbling to the floor with every wibbly-wobbley step she takes.

Clara looks up at the Doctor as she tosses them off carefully, "I can't remember the last time I was this drunk," she confesses cheekily with another giggle. 

The Doctor tilts his head up from the console to see she's returned to her less than average height so that he's towering over her once more. His head has the beginnings of a fuzziness that only comes with having one too many drinks, and he knows that's not very safe. No, indeed. Being sloshed with an even more sloshed Clara Oswald was never a good idea. 

Especially not with her looking like she does in those clothes, the ones he made her wear. Why, in the name of Rassilon, did he make her wear those clothes? Is he trying to get himself to regenerate, or is he just a sadist? Those clothes--it's like they've been painted onto her body. Just a bit too, erm... tight

Being this uninhibited is especially hazardous with the way his hearts are thrumming not-so-softly in his chest as Clara tiptoes toward him, a giggling, metallic silver mess of woman that still looks just as beautiful as the day he first met her.

And which day was that? Usually he could remember, but his mind was too foggy at the moment. Technically, there were so many 'first days' when it came to their story. He caught himself smiling, perhaps a bit too hard, He shook his head quickly, a scowl transforming his face once more, berating himself for behaving like a pudding brain and drowning his self-preservation in pink liquor. Idiot.

"Doctor?"

Clara's voice broke through the Doctor's fretful inner monologue, a light tease in her tone as she regarded him curiously. He peered down at her with raised brows.

"Hmm?"

A knowing smile on lightly painted lips form til the whites of her teeth glittered. "Are you listening to me, space man?"

"Ah, no," he answered immediately, shaking his head and gesturing wildly much like his previous self would have done. "Dozed off for a moment there. Start again, sorry."

"I asked where you disappeared to," she repeated, the giddiness in her grin starting to fade as she continued. "At the party you were next to me for only a minute, and then you were gone. I looked for you, asked around, but no one had seen the tall, grey-haired stick insect. I couldn't find you."

A strangled cough made it's way out of the Doctor's throat as his eyes darted away from hers.

"Mm. Yes, well. You know me--probably just got sidetracked, is all." 

He knew that was a lie--but Clara didn't need to know that. Not now. She'd cry 'wolf' if he didn't keep his cards close, and that was the very last thing he wanted. He was banking on her tipsy behavior to distract her from the potential significance of his absence.

But there was no such luck. "Probably?" His companion pressed, her brown eyes narrowing. "Doctor?"

"Most likely." He said firmly amended, trying to shut down this path of conversation.

Because he did know what Clara was talking about; he could remember losing track of her in the throng of elite party-goers. And he had searched for her after he had realized she was gone, alarmed and terrified that she'd be alone with those creatures, each one of them all ready to take advantage of her. And he could remember finding her and being relieved that the TARDIS had done her job, performed her task exactly as intended and kept Clara safe despite the old girl's pretenses about his current companion.

But the Doctor had been gone for nearly two hours in between that time. And he couldn't remember for the life of him what had happened between the time he lost Clara and the time they found each other again. His memories, it seemed, were missing. 

And that, of course, wasn't very good at all.

"Did you leave?" She was talking again. And he wasn't listening.

"Pardon?" The Doctor asked distractedly, obviously flustered as he flipped the switch that would send them back to Earth. 

He could worry about the memory thing later, right? It wasn't something that needed to be dealt with that very instant, the unlikely probability of coming out of this bizarre episode increasing as the Doctor continued to think. 

Clara glared at him, starting to get annoyed knowing he wasn't paying attention.

"Did you leave me there? At the party? I didn't see the TARDIS/-the actual box, that is. Not the earpiece with her voice. So, I thought you'd gone somewhere."

But the Doctor shook his head, backing away from his companion whose eyes seemed too warm and wide at the moment to be harmless. And he wasn't doing this tonight.

"Uh, no, I didn't. If I'd left, the TARDIS would have left with me, and you would have really been alone then."

Speaking of the the TARDIS, the Doctor gestured at his ear before pointing at Clara's, trying to switch topics. "Is she still there, or has she gone?"

Clara didn't even notice. She just shook head head in slight disappointment. "Nah. She left as soon as you flipped the switch, eager, too." Clara pouted as the ship perked up and wheezed appreciatively, happy to be back in her original place aboard the spaceship.

"And I thought we were just getting to know each other a little better."

The old girl had actually been a big help to Clara during the party, teaching her be the perfect little android; sitting and standing straight and speaking with a bit of a monotone drone that was common in most sentient robotic machines. By the end of the night, Clara had been properly educated in the way of an AI and could easily make her way about the room in an unnoticeable manner, which was obviously what was preferred. She hadn't spent the whole of the evening with the Doctor, as he disappeared somewhere within five minutes of their arrival, leaving Clara anxious and insecure in the large crowd of foreign alien creatures, most of them nowhere near humanoid-looking. But the TARDIS had been her guide as promised and kept her spirits up, forcing her to mingle with other androids (apparently it was improper for and AI to approach a 'superior' being, and only allowed to speak to a superior when asked).

When the Doctor found her again much later, he seemed disoriented and jumpy, like he had seen something that spooked him but couldn't remember it--or just didn't want to tell her. But she had coaxed him of out his shell as she always did and had gotten him to stay with her the rest of the evening. While his dancing had greatly improved from the ungraceful flailing of his last incarnation, this Doctor was still noticeably uncomfortable with big social gatherings and seemed content to watch Clara twirl and spin around him, her eyes closed as she swayed to the music. And she didn't push him to join her, glad that he had brought them in the first place.

As she looked at him now, however, she pushed past the queasy feeling that something was wrong and forced a smile instead, catching his eye. He made a face when he saw hers.

"What?" She queries, noting the twist of his mouth. "What is it?"

"You didn't like it," he says dejectedly, almost like he's expecting her to get angry with him. His eyes seem to age all the sudden and he looks so very worn. Old. "You didn't have fun, did you?"

Clara makes a surprised noise, a bewildered laugh flying from her lips as she walks over to him. "No, I did. I did have fun, the most fun I've had in a while."

"You're doing that thing," he protests, motioning at his own face quickly, "with your face. Your eyes are too big and they're shiny and sad, but you're still smiling." He rolls is eyes when she softens. "You're malfunctioning again--"

Clara grimaces. "Doctor--"

"--and it only ever happens when something's wrong." He finishes, looking like a cross horned owl. Clara just stares at him, which disarms him considerably. She's not yelling and it's more terrifying than the actual yelling.

After a moment she blinks and looks down and away from his gaze, clearing her throat. "I lied," she says mildly, shifting her stance. The Doctor doesn't respond but his eyebrows lower even further. "Earlier, when I said I couldn't remember the last time I was this drunk."

The chill that's been associated with thinking about what happened to them--to her-- all those months ago resurfaces and it sends a shiver down Clara's spine as she shuts her eyes tightly closed. Images of silver suited metal men filling the skies, sprouting out of graves and a maniacal woman cackling as she watched it all happen, as she delighted, reveled in the Earth's demise. The Doctor rushing over to her, screaming her name as she grips the metal confines that hold her love captive inside. Dead eyes in a mask, emotionless as he joins the network of lifeless minds bound to do Missy's bidding. Except him.

Except Danny.

Her eyes snap open when she senses the warm body in front of her, seeing that the Doctor is so close she can feel his breath on her face. He smells like the sea and sweet wine along with something else she can't place, and he's looking at her, watching her through hooded eyes. She crosses her arms subconsciously in defense, shrinking away from a bit but plastering small smile on her face to abate him.

"Look, it's fine, I'm fine. It was a few months after you'd gone, and I--"

The Doctor interrupted her with a low voice, "You don't have to do this, you know," he assures her gently, reaching a hand to touch her folded arm but stopping just short of the way there for some reason.

"Clara." The broken way he says her name halts the words in her mouth and forces her to close it, shielding them both from the harmful revisitations of that dark time.

"I had a bad night." She substitutes, ignoring the way his eyes widen briefly as he lets his imagination run free and wild with the incredibly tragic scenarios his mind conjures, filling him with guilt as he is reminded once more that he never should have left her alone in the first place. He's only brought back to himself when Clara grabs at his hand, jerking on it twice.

"Hey," there's no sternness in her voice, only a forgiveness he'll never fully be able to understand. "That's why I made that face a minute ago. I was thinking about Danny Pink." And Clara is astonished to know that saying his name out loud doesn't burn as much as it used to.

And, the Doctor is, too. "What about Danny Pink?" He whispers earnestly, no mirth in his tone as he continues watching her smile widen. The TARDIS cloisters resound through the large space, signalling that they've landed just outside Clara's flat, but they don't dare look away from each other.

"I had fun, more than I've had in a very long time, all thanks to you," she whispers back with a short shrug, her eyes flitting over his face. "He would have thanked you for that."

"He would have thought it was too dangerous," the Doctor disagrees, though he keeps his voice even and smooth. "He would have disapproved--"

But then there's a small hand slipped into his, feminine fingers interlacing with his own long knobby ones as he stutters and then goes completely still. Clara squeezes his hand and effectively shuts him up, a lazy but satisfied look in her brown eyes because she knows exactly how to get to him.

"He would have," she grants with a nod. "He would have been cross with you, he would have given me a lecture when we were alone, something about never understanding why I flew away with you." Then an abrupt smile broke out across Clara's face and the Doctor swallowed. "And later on, once he had cooled off, he would have thanked you, Doctor."

"For what?" He whispers, unknown emotions caught in his voice.

"For taking care of me, of course!" She laughs, tugging his hand towards the door and leading him outside. "For being here in his place."

The Doctor doesn't say anything in response, but he let's her hold his hand silently as they walk through the grassy field, wondering if Clara even remembers she's barefoot. He decides that even if she did, now might not be a good time to remind her, though he's very worried she'll step on something unpleasant like glass and it'll give him some version of cardiac arrest. He wants to bring it up, wants to ask her permission to scoop her up into his arms and her hold her against his chest--not because that's what he's always wanted, but because then she won't hurt herself.

But her hand is squeezing his gently, swinging a bit as they think and remember Danny Pink.

He didn't hate him. No, he didn't hate Mr. Pink, the PE (Maths?) teacher. He was jealous, maybe--envious of the normal life PE could give Clara that he never could. He could have resented him for that, he would love to attribute it to that. But he was also young and a soldier, and he was in love with Clara--and he didn't have to give anything up to get it. He was stable and there and readily available whenever she needed him. He wouldn't run away, never in a million years would he abandon her.

But he didn't hate him. And, when they reach Clara's flat and the Doctor helps her into her bedroom and tucks her in, he realizes that he never hated Mr. Pink. Not on purpose.

He'd always be averse to anyone that thought they loved Clara more than he did. Because, well... that just wasn't possible.

"I'll see you next week," he whispers, brushing away a hair that's sticking to her forehead. "Same time, okay?"

Clara, who is already half asleep and still fully dressed, smiles drowsily and kisses the tips on his fingers, making him blush.

"Thanks for finally taking me, Doctor."

"Anything for you, boss."

Chapter Text

She isn't really a flower type of girl, the Doctor realizes as he reaches the farmers market on one of Clara's favorite planets, Weyun. They have the most lovely flower hybrids and he wanted to get her some, knowing how pretty she thought they were the last time the two traveled to the planet's capital city for a flower parade that lasted three days straight. There were entire floats and balloons made of plants, and everyone wore floral patterns on the clothes, their faces brightly painted with rosy pinks and rich purples. Clara loved the tulip-daffodil hybrid especially, and was utterly fascinated by the way in which the two smells had been successfully combined and amplified to create an entirely new aroma that she swore she would make into an air freshener on Earth some day. Of course, unbeknownst to him at the time, she tried to smuggle a few of the seeds in her purse on their way through customs, but was then arrested by the city's militia for the kidnapping of sentient plant beings. Only after a bit of groveling on the Doctor's part to the Queen of Weyun was Clara Oswald pardoned but politely asked to never again return.

But she had told him recently--or had it been recently? He couldn't remember--anyway. She had mentioned something in passing about hating the visual of physical flowers in physical vases around her home. They didn't remind her of life, or of spring or of a fresh start. But of death and the crushing sympathy from others that did not know her or the deceased; of dark mourning clothes worn by somber, dazed individuals-- of a solider named Pink. So she, like many who had lost a person they loved, hated the sight of freshly cut flowers in a beautifully crafted vase.

Besides, Clara had gone on to say. I've never liked flowers as presents to begin with.

Why?  He'd asked her.

They're so boring, so pointless. I mean, they don't really do anything, do they? They just sort of sit there, these once-upon-a-time living plants that are now slowly rotting away because people want to display them like exhibits in a kitchen's windowsill. They're depressing without even being linked to funerals, if you ask me. 

That was an incredibly melancholy speech, Clara, he had narrowed his eyes in her direction. Do you really think all that?

I do.

Sounds a bit--cynical for you, the Doctor remembers telling her with a critical frown. And, you shouldn't say all flowers are boring. I know a few sentient plant beings from the planet Weyun that would be quite offended if they knew a pudding brain from Earth thought all flowers were boring based on the relatively basic choice of bouquets you have on this blue planet! 

But his companion had only laughed. Well, space man, if you ever want to bring me some flying flowers, or talking roses as a present--or whatever--then I'm game.

The Doctor, standing in front of the kiosk, ran a hair through his messy gray hair with a soft groan. As usual, when it came to Clara, he didn't have any idea what he was doing.

It was meant to be an apology, the flowers. He was supposed to be making up for leaving her alone on one of the most exciting nights of her life. Well, that, and he wanted to apologize for cutting her hair, keeping secrets from her, his general grumpiness--there was a pretty long of things to be sorry for, actually. He wanted to say a lot of things about how horrible it had all been, however unintentional it was. He took no joy in hurting her. But, of course, he couldn't actually say any of that. Because he was the Doctor, and as soon as he needed to tell someone he did actually care about them--that he'd never leave them (intentionally) and he'd be there for as long as they'd have him around-- weird things started to happen, like buying them houses and cars and moving in with them to keep them safe. As soon as he needed to say those special words to special people, his superior Time Lord communication abilities and processes flew right out into the Vortex, and he was left with the sentence structure capabilities of your average human toddler.

So since the words were hardly ever there, or when they were there they were jumbled and inarticulate, the Doctor had decided to get Clara something instead. presents weren't weren't exactly her style, but he was too clueless to care. He'd thought of flowers immediately--Weyun, specifically. It was a cliché he hated himself for falling victim to, but he honestly didn't know what to get the woman that held his hearts.He wanted her to have everything, not a few scientifically engineered blossoms.

Rubbing a hand down his fairly new, lined face, the Doctor sighed heavily and continued to peruse the flowers available at the kiosk.

"Can I help you with anything, sir?" A woman a thick Northern accent that looked little older than Clara came tumbling out from behind the back of the kiosk, the friendly grin on her mouth revealing a serpentine tongue inside an otherwise human face.

"Uh," the Doctor started hesitantly, still eyeing the flowers dubiously. "I don't know. I mean, I don't know if you could help. I also don't know, erm, what I'm doing."

The woman, Hanna, her name tag read, had a sincere expression of sympathy in her eyes as she looked over the odd older man in front of her in his clunky black boots and thick black coat. He was wearing several layers, actually, now that she had gotten close enough to see, a bright jeweled ring on his hand sparkling as he gestures. He wasn't human, that was clear--merely humanoid in form, his eccentricities to colorful to pass as 'homo sapien'.

She had been grateful he hadn't mentioned her tongue, though, how it flickered out when she spoke sometimes, or how she had a few bright pink scales on the backs of her hands. For most people, it was the first thing they noticed and gawked at, and it had frightened away more than one customer before. Hanna was insecure for the longest time about her parents inter-species union that resulted in her intimidating physical features. But this man hadn't said a thing about her Silurian-Human origins. Just treated her like any other person.

Hanna smiled to herself for a brief moment before engaging the curious man again. "Well, we could start with something simple to help with that, eh. What are you here for?"

"An apology," the man says plainly. "For someone I care about," he finishes roughly, decidedly obtuse about the sensitive subject.

Hanna nods her understanding. "Well," she ushers the man over to a highlighted section of the large kiosk that has flowers that share specific meanings and he follows warily. "These flowers have symbolic meanings tied to them and are usually more popular for--"

"No, too boring." The man declares lowly, scowling at the bouquets like they've personally offended him by existing. But then he's immediately backtracking, blinking profusely and shaking his head.

"That was wrong, sorry. Not what I meant to say, at least, not out loud." There's a deep sigh and then a quick eye roll, and the Doctor can almost hear Clara chiding him about his manners. "It's-it's not that they aren't lovely flowers." He explains to Hanna, turning to look at her. His stormy eyes are shrouded by the biggest, most silver eyebrows she's ever seen.

"It's just that she's different, not your everyday lass that thinks a 'night out on the town' means heading down to the nearest intergalactic pub with a few friends." He says, with a small smirk. "She's a bit unorthodox. She deserves something a little more... dazzling. Something exciting, you know."

And it's right then that Hanna decides that he's in love with the woman he's talking about. It's as plain as day, the look on his face, the way his eyes twinkle with amusement and care. He remains completely unconvinced as Hanna tries to persuade him that the symbolic flowers will make a fine present. She eventually gives up on them, however, when it becomes clear that the gentleman just isn't having it. They move to a more limited collection of her sentient flowers, and Hanna boasts that she's got some new crossbreeds that have just come in fresh that have been very difficult to get her hands on. The most popular of the sentient plants is a rose-peony crossbreed that has petals that glow various colors when they sense the presence of the intended receiver--they're more expensive, of course, but it appears to be the sort the older gentleman is most interested in.

He ends up purchasing exactly twelve of them.

"She'll be so pleased with these that she'll have to forgive you, won't she?"

The Doctor raises an eyebrow, but elects to smile hopefully at the young woman. "Maybe."

"Sounds like a tough cookie."

"She can be difficult when she wants to be, yes."

Hanna grins at his shy smile. "It's obvious how much you like her."

The Doctor tries not to pale at the harmless comment but swallows roughly, clearing his throat noisily after a moment.

"Is it?"

A nod from Hanna as she rings him up. "How long have you two been together, you and your missus?"

It's an innocent inquiry. It's a small question from a small lady in a small shop in a small corner of the universe that doesn't know him or his Clara. But she can tell there's more to than apologetic glowing flowers. And it shouldn't bother him because it's just a question. So, since it's just a question, the Doctor frowns softly in the way he only does when he's thinking about or looking at her.

"The timing of it all is a bit... complicated." He says truthfully, remembering Clara's echoes, "but I believe it will be three years very soon."

"Wow," Hanna gasped quietly, handing the man his bouquet wrapped in silver tissue paper. He thanks her for her help and she shakes his hand.

"Well, sounds like you'll be in it for the long haul, then, yeah? My mum always told me even a lifetime with my dad wouldn't be long enough."

"No," the Time Lord breathes as he walks away with a hard frown, his lips pressed into a thin line. "It's not nearly enough."

 


 

Wednesday, 7th of October, 2015 | 6:00 PM

"Gran?" Clara calls from her horizontal position on her couch in her living room. She blinks a few times and tilts her head back carefully so she won't irk her growing headache any further. She coughs wetly, and when she moves to wipe her mouth there's red there on her jumper sleeve. It's the third time that's happened in two days.

Her bloodshot eyes widen for a moment before she swiftly tucks her arm underneath the blankets just in time for her Gran to come sweeping into the room, a panicked look on her face.

"Oh, love!" She cries softly, moving to the kitchen to grab the next box of tissue. "Another nose bleed? That's the third one today."

Clara closes her eyes again, already halfway asleep. It's so easy for her to sleep these days, easier to forget. "One less than yesterday, Gran."

Then there's the soft pressure against her nose as her grandmother tries to stop the bleeding. "Maybe I'm getting better," Clara jokes, but there's a bitterness in her tone that overrides the humor.

"You'll be back to your old self as soon as this flu passes," her optimistic Gran chirps easily, though she's been worrying over Clara like this for nearly two weeks and the girl had only gotten worse. Clara knows her sweet old Gran is lying when she says she thinks it's the flu. They both know it's not the flu. Not even close. It's something much worse that's merely a side effect of making that critical, life-altering decision a few months back.

But they both say "the flu" because they're unwilling to admit the alternative.

Clara's already started to snore softly, but is quickly awakened by her grandmother's persistent tapping on her shoulder. 

"I've put a stool in your shower, dear. It'll be easier to wash that way, and it should help you keep your strength up. And don't worry about calling the school
-- I've already called Coal Hill to tell them you'll be out this entire week also so you can a full recovery."

Gran starts gathering her things to leave as she always does about this time in the afternoon. Clara leans back into the couch and watches the older woman gracefully move about her flat, a jealously in her wistful eyes. She can hardly leave her bed without help anymore.

"Oh," Gran comes back into the den to grab her coat, "and I had a chance to get some groceries while you were napping earlier. That dry shampoo you wanted, more tissue boxes, more broth, and I also managed to get the plain yogurt instead of the applesauce."

At the mere thought of applesauce, Clara's stomach threatens to empty itself. Yogurt isn't much of an improvement, but its one of the few things her digestive system can tolerate these days.

"What ever would I do without you, Gran?" Clara says with a dramatic flair that reminds the elder woman of the old Clara Oswald. Clara's grateful eyes shine with tears. "You've been simply amazing, so thank you."

The determined look on her grandmothers face reminds her of hers whenever she's set her mind to something. "If you'd let me move in, I could be here full-time until you got better."

Clara's glare isn't as lethal as she wants it to be, but she reaches out to grip her Gran's hand in hers, squeezing tightly. "Out of the question alright?"

"Clara, I'm worried about you. What if you slip and fall again--"

But the young woman is stubborn as ever. "I haven't gotten sick enough to need live-in care, and I'm not going to get that sick," Clara states firmly, moving to sit up to prove her point. Her anxious grandmother immediately moves to assist her, but is gently swatted away as Clara struggles to get herself into a comfortable sitting position.

She would stand, but she's sure with so much extra weight concentrated in one area, she'd topple over, rendering her grandmother's argument valid. Clara eventually ends up with her back ramrod straight against her couch, her feet placed on the floor and a defiant, triumphant grin on her face as she looks up to her admittedly impressed caretaker.

"See? I'll probably be able to move around some more after a nap. Or two." She says with obvious relief in her voice, glad to have proven that she has some shred of her (dignity) health left.

"You should tell your father, love," Gran presses with a frown as she shakes her head in disapproval. "Nothing wrong with more support."

"He wouldn't support me, Gran," Clara mutters through gritted teeth, slowly rolling her eyes at the thought of telling dear old dad the truth. "He'd blame me," Clara sighs, whatever energy she had quickly draining as she imagined her Dad's face when he realized that all the phone calls he'd gotten the past few months had omitted one very important detail.

"And he'd blame him," Clara added softly, allowing herself think about the man in the blue box. About her man in their blue box.

About infamously cross grey eyebrows that framed the fiercest, sternest face in all the universe--the same face that used to set her insides ablaze whenever she saw or thought about it, the face that would only soften when he looked at her. About adventures through time and space that had sharpened her keen love of life after the maths teacher she believed she'd spend the rest of her life with had gone.

Clara allowed herself to be sad, to grieve, to miss the Doctor for five seconds. Not five minutes like she did for Danny, but seconds. Because she's done minutes before, and she found that with the Doctor minutes could turn into hours that would warp into days and then morph into months. Months of screaming and hot tears, yelling and seething anger and anguish that would finally give away to a false sense of indifference. It had been endless hatred and destructive bouts of depression for her when she even thought the man that had left her--forgotten her, really--when she'd most needed his help and reassurance that everything would be fine.

She allowed herself wonder where he was for all of five beats of her waning heart before she cleared her throat and resumed what had become her life: hating him.

"It's not his, though," Clara's Gran stated, snapping Clara back to her painful reality. "Right?"

"No," Clara breathed, wrapping her arms around herself protectively. "Of course it isn't, Gran, it can't be. But Dad won't believe me if I tell him that. He won't know what to believe once he realizes I've been lying to 'im all this time."

The frown etched into the older woman's visage deepens. "He could be understanding, Clara, love. You shouldn't push him away just because you're afraid of what he'll think." Clara shifts again in her spot, closing her tired eyes.

"You are his daughter, and he loves you," Gran bends over to press a light kiss to Clara's forehead. "Promise you'll think about it, hmm?"

Clara bites at her chapped lips, blinks away a few tears that have managed to squeeze their way out of her wet eyes and then gives a sharp nod. Her grandmother mirrors her jerky actions which elicits a surprising laugh from the younger woman, a rare and earnest grin spreading across her pale face.

Gran honesty can't remember the last time her granddaughter had a good laugh.

She understands Clara's resistant to confessing her current predicament to her father because she's really just fighting for her independence. The girl's pride has taken a serious blow to the head as she grapples at the chance to remain somewhat self-reliant, which is nearly impossible at this point. Standing and walking have become such a burden that a titanium cane has now wedged itself into her everyday routine, a constant reminder of her grave situation. Her clothes are constantly having to be mended and as she shrinks further into them, the fastidiously peculiar diet she consumes hardly enough to keep her well fed and healthy. The bright spark of mischief and mirth that once occupied those brown irises has been dethroned and replaced with an intensifying hopelessness and bitter anger that startle Gran and rival her belief that Clara will come out of this nightmare better off than she was before. 

So, after aiding Clara in getting ready for bed and insuring that the flat is back in order after a long day of rehabilitation, Gran collects her belongings and says goodnight to her only grandchild, granting Clara's wish to be left alone. She dutifully reminds Clara to take her prescriptions and to call if she needs anything since she lives just up the road and will be over as soon as she can. Clara has to fight the lopsided grin as she stands just outside her home, leaning against her loathed cane to watch her grandmother walk to her friend Louise's car, waving when her Gran turns to blow up a kiss.

When the car pulls away, Clara's eyes betray her by wandering over to the grassy field where the Doctor used to land to drop her off when the TARDIS refused to land in her bedroom. If she looks hard enough and listens hard enough, she can still see herself stumbling out the doors of the ship in a drunken stupor after that fateful night, her hand finding his as they walking through the field in silence up to her flat. That somber smile on his face as he bid her goodnight and told her he'd see her again soon.

"You never came," she tells the breeze, her eyes burning defiantly. An ironic smile crosses her lips when she realizes what day it is.

Wednesday.

 


 

 

It's close to nine in the evening when there's a loud rapping against her door that tears Clara's eyes away from her newest read and arches a confused eyebrow against her forehead.

She runs through the brief and logical list of people she knows that would be waiting outside her door at this time of night. Gran wouldn't have come round without calling first, and her Dad just isn't the kind of man to make surprise visits. Her predictable and overly polite stepmother, Linda, would never show up to her flat with her father. Adrian is a friend, but not a very close one, more of a colleague, which makes it less likely to be him. Rigsy is a better friend than Adrian and more likely to pop round for an unexpected visit, except Clara knows he's out of town with family in Greece for the week.

Curiosity gets the best of her at the end, as always, and Clara sets her novel aside with a low groan as she pushes up off the couch, braving the short journey to the door without the bloody cane for assistance. At this point, she's convinced it's the clueless teenage pizza boy that likes to knock on her door and pretend he doesn't know that the flat next door is the one he's supposed to be delivering to. She doesn't bother with the peephole and unlocks the door without verifying her alleged belief that on the other side of the door is indeed a lovesick, pubescent arsehole.

"Listen, you pimply twat--" she starts, throwing the door open with a grunt. "You've got a lot of nerve--"

"I know," the Doctor cuts her off, his face even and calm as he waves her accusations away. "I've been unbearable lately, I'm sure. I'm not very good with picking up on feelings this time round, and you deserve better than that-- and maybe an explanation, but I haven't decided. But, I am sorry that I was just... and I just... I did thing, and I think I should apologize for last week, Clara." He finishes, his breath rushing out like he's been holding it, which he has.

He suddenly remembers the bouquet of flowers in his hands and thrusts them out for Clara to take, watching as they begin to glow and the petals flutter as they typically do when they sense the closeness of the intended receiver.

"I got these for you," he says, looking down at the flowers that are naturally an iridescent blue and are now turning bright red. "They're sentient; not as boring and bleak as you've stated all flowers are."

"Y-you?" Clara stutters out harshly, feeling her throat close as her eyes travel over him once, twice, three times. She doesn't believe, can't believe it's him that's standing there. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Wait a minute. Pimply?" The Doctor gawks at her as her earlier insult seems to register and he's suddenly offended. His eyebrows twist into a frown and he hurries to defend himself. "Perhaps before this regeneration I was a bit... physically immature, and I'll admit there was the occasional spot of acne here and there, but I think we can both agree I'm well past that!"

Clara's eyes are about to pop out of her head with how far wide they've been blown, and she can't help but stumble back in shock when she realizes, yes, it's him and he's standing right there in front of her in his holey jumper and black coat with its red lining in the inside, that minimalist simplicity he's grown to love as opposed to the stark eccentric style of his former self.

She's not hallucinating or dreaming. It's the Doctor, and he's here, right now, in the flesh, arguing with her like nothing's happened and he didn't leave her life shattered into tiny pieces when he never came back for her all those months ago.

But something has happened, and if he thinks she'll let him back into her life, her heart, that easily--if he's got the nerve to be that arrogant and obtuse--

"You should leave," she blurts, the severity of her feelings towards the Time Lord are going to burn her alive if she doesn't close her door on him now. Her words are ice down his back, and he ceases his talk about the flowers he's brought her. Blue eyes appear to refocus on her like he's seeing her for the first time.

"Sorry?"

"Clear off," she repeats, gesturing towards where the TARDIS lurks in the field. "Get in your box, and don't come back here again, Doctor. I mean it."

And while his hearts shudder to a stop at her command, he can't tear his eyes away from hers. 

"Clara?" His voice is low and urgent, the undertones of concern and bewildered confusion matching her Gran's when she'd first seen how ill Clara'd become. "What's happened to you? Who did this?"

The laugh she hears in her ears is unforgiving and it's tastes stale in her mouth. He flinches at the sound of it and his eyes flicker over her hollowed out cheeks the shawl wrapped around her small body. He nearly misses the way its shielding her midsection.

"Silly old Doctor," she whispers, ignoring the tears that are starting to gather in her eyes. "Silly, silly--"

"Stop this!" He growls fiercely, his jaw working and teeth clenched as he steps towards her. She protests by trying to side step away from him, but his hand shoots out to grab at her arm, which stops her in her tracks and sends her shawl cascading off her shoulders, revealing the rest of her malformed body to him.

He nearly loses his grip at the sight of her gaunt, angular figure that has lost half of its curves, leaving unflattering layer of thin sinew to cover bone in their wake. She's lost so much weight and with such little muscle density, the Doctor begins to wonder how in Rassilon's name she standing on her own. Her skin has lost its supple glow and is actually showing telltale signs of undernourishment that has been in effect for quite sometime to be this critical. The strain on her heart and lungs is surely taking it's toll, her breathing heavy and audible as she strains to keep herself up.

But what really takes his breath away is her stomach, large and round, bulging underneath her t-shirt in a way that suggests that he can't been away for days. He's been gone for months. Nearly six, from the looks of it.

Clara catches the Doctor's frightened gaze as his eyes meet hers reluctantly, a probing question in his eyes as she nods once, affirming his suspicions and sending his mind at warp speed with a single movement

It's then that her brain tells her feeble legs she's been standing too long and her legs give underneath her, her vision going dark and the world slants as she begins to fall. The Doctor is in a mad scramble to catch her, his baritone voice desperate and full of fear as he calls out her name.

Chapter Text

  1. The strobing lights in the dark, but very much alive room pulsed overheard with a vengeance as all kinds of species danced and swayed to the electronica music that was practically shaking the walls with its bass. Clara, having finally gotten used to the Doctor's abrupt absence, followed a few other service cyborgs from a kind of bar area on the left side of the room to the very middle of the dark gold dance floor where they began to twirl and swing to the beat of the syncopated rhythm that was blasting from the speakers. She was feeling a bit buzzed and carefree now that she'd downed a few drinks, her mouth tasting of the sweet fruit in some alcoholic beverage or other. Her newest acquaintance, Yael 5, had suggested it to help her let loose, and she'd been grateful for the help. She had almost completely forgotten that the old Time Lord had left her behind to go on an adventure of his own.

In the thick of the crowd, there were hands and arms all over her--people and things she didn't know of and had never seen before, all gyrating and whooping and laughing as the music made them all one massive, living unit. Clara had danced with and grinded up against almost anything with a pulse, her body slick with perspiration as her arms pumped and legs twisted, her body moving expertly. And she was drunk.

Very, very drunk.

And so she hadn't been able to fight them off when they'd come for her, those huge beings with their faces hidden in shadows . There was barely a struggle. She'd managed a distressed cry, to solidly land the heel of her tall shoe in one of her attackers gut, but it had been largely ignored with barely a grunt in response. She was carried and dragged away, her tongue too loose and lazy and her brain too foggy to cause a proper scene and alert those around her of the danger.

It was a group of maybe four or five of them . Hooded figures, she remembers. Dark green robes hid the limbs of their brawny bodies and completely shrouded their faces. The assailants had parted the crowd and snatched her away without so much as an explanation, as onlookers seemed to purposely ignore the harsh sound of a screaming woman being lifted away from the dance floor. The music had been so loud... Clara remembers thinking that maybe no one could hear her over it.

The hooded men (she assumed they were male) were so strong and tall , unreasonably so, and they glided underneath the material of their robes . Like they possessed no feet at all. They did not react when she struggled or bit or yanked herself away, holding her firmly in their crushing grips, ensuring that she would wake to severe bruising the next morning.

"The human is ready to see the Master, " one spoke, a deep rumbling with the texture of gravelly rocks. It was a voice that sent chills down the young woman's spine.

"Where are we going?" She slurred stupidly when they had stopped moving, forming the tight formation of a circle around her. "You can't just kidnap me, you know! He'll kill you for this! The Doctor will kill you for this!"

And then there it was-- the most terrifying creature she'd ever seen in her life had materialized before her in the circle. Another alien, one of the Fish People. She hadn't seen a single one of them all evening, but now she recognized the distinct  golden, mermaid-like tail that began with large overlapping scales at the top of this hipbone. At least a foot and a half taller than she was, this beast balanced on his fin with ease, menacing as well as enchanting.  He had matching auric scales on the sides and planes his smooth abdomen, but no belly button, and on his either side of his powerful neck were long slits that Clara assumed to be gills.

But the most terrifying aspect of the otherwise beautiful creature was the all-black eyes--there was no pupil or iris. His eyes resembled that of a sharks and were completely devoid of emotion, though there was a frightening, manic smile on his face as he regarded Clara.

You are the human? Very impressive specimen." He whispers curiously, if not a little condescending as he bends at the waist to further inspect the small but fiery woman in front of him.

His voice is mesmerizing and Clara feels forcibly drawn to him. In the back of her mind, she can hear the Doctor saying that this legendary race was what people used to create the myth of sirens. Something about their sensual voices one of their many ways of luring their prey to its death.

"Indeed, you're very lovely. For a barbaric savage, I suppose."  He straightens a little and looks like he wants to poke and weigh Clara like one would a steak they were about to purchase from a store.

His hair is damp with water, but Clara is sure that despite its dark color, when it's dry, it probably is looks a bit like some glorious honey-hued halo around his head.

"Who are you?" She tries her best to sneer. It's very difficult to seem just as fierce when her alcohol high is draining from her and she can barely keep her eyes open.

There's a sinister chuckle in the half lit hall and Clara flinches. "I've been informed you will be different than the others, more spirited and resistant."

A smile full of razor sharp teeth appears on his mouth and Clara gasps a little, trying to swallow her horror. There's a piece of ripped pink flesh caught in between two of his serrated dentition, and she wonders what--or who, rather-- he's had for dinner.

"If this is true," he adds delightfully, drawing Clara's attention to his black eyes once more, "then we will get along splendidly."

"Who are you?" she mutters again, confused as to how and why the TARDIS has suddenly abandoned her, the presence in the back of her mind completely gone now.

His smile widens proudly. "I am Caelius, High Duke of this realm. And you, Miss Clara Oswald, human occupant of the Planet Earth and current associate of the Gallifreyan Time Lord known as 'The Doctor'--you're going to help me with a little science experiment of mine."


 

Clara wakes with a gasping scream, her eyes shoot open as she struggles for breath. It's as if all the air has been generously sucked from her body the entire time she's been asleep and this is the first bit of oxygen she's getting in a while. She tries to sit up to simplify the process of getting air to her lungs, but is already being gently pressed back down into her mattress by large hands on her shoulders, a soft tutting emanating from somewhere beside her. She startles again, squinting into the darkness of her room.

"Easy, Clara, easy," the Doctor murmurs, keeping a hand on her shoulder while he twists to turn on the soft light of her lamp, illuminating his familiar face to the terrified woman who is covered in sweat. "Breathe, just breathe."

Clara's eyes frown at the sight of him, at the concern in his voice because her brain doesn't trust him and hasn't for a while now. But that paradox means nothing to her heart, which inevitably begins to slow with the reassurance that she is safe. He wouldn't let anything get to her while he's here. 

"Good news," the Doctor pipes up, raising his eyebrows at a thermometer that's appeared in his hands. "Your fever's down, nearly all gone. It'll take some time for your body to get used to its normal temp again after it's been up for so long. You'll feel like you're freezing and probably be a little achy. But you'll be fine in a few days."

His presence is so bloody disconcerting. It's seeing him with those same mannerisms, with that Scottish baritone chatting her ear off just like the old days. She doesn't know how to react. Should she be angry or relieved or skeptical? Or thrilled? Maybe all of those at once? 

She's missed him, that's abundantly clear. Although, whether or not she cares to admit that is a different story entirely. But it's him. It's the Doctor, right there beside her with those owl eyes and his large, careful hands. So familiar and welcoming, like an old photographed memory.

"You-you lowered it?" Clara asks, bewildered by the news. And she is freezing. God, she's cold. She grabs for the blanket beside her and pulls it up to her neck before her teeth commence to chattering.

"How? We tried everything, and it wouldn't ever budge."

"We?" He's hung up on the 'plus one', but Clara isn't ready to give him the depressing story of the last few months just yet.

"How did you do it?"

"But, you said--"

"No. I asked first," she presses. She's got just as many questions as he does. "Tell me now."

The Doctor, uneasy with Clara's tone and not looking for a fight with someone in her condition, obliges quickly before she can work up the strength to threaten him.

"I'm not very sure, honestly," he mumbles, looking down at his hands for a moment. He gestures to the makeshift IV he's constructed out of miscellaneous household items. Clara hadn't noticed it before.

"I made it while you were snoozing, trying to re-hydrate you. But you seemed to get better after you'd been sleeping for a while. I didn't do much at all."

"I thought you were a dream," Clara pants out, diverging from the topic for a minute.  Her chest heaves with the strain of trying to sit up again, and the Doctor's hands are soon reaching out to aid her, stuffing pillows behind her back for her to lie against. He doesn't appear too supportive of her decision of making abrupt movements, but she's so stubborn and he'd waste his breath arguing with her.

"You showing up with your freaky flowers, rambling on outside my flat like it's just another Wednesday," her laugh is bitter as she shakes her head. "I've had plenty hallucinations about something like that happening, about the Doctor waltzing back into my life and saving the day."

Clara's eyes are misty when she looks at him. "But it's never been real."

"And what about now?" He asks after a considering beat, trying to keep her talking. If he's being honest, he's very worried she'll faint or something if she doesn't keeps steady that finicky pulse of hers. 

"Still think you're dreaming?"

"I can never be sure with you, can I?" She jokes quietly, remembering those awful Dream Crabs with a shudder. "Could maybe explain why you've been gone this long, though."

"Not nearly as exciting as Dream Crabs with Santa in the North Pole, I'm afraid. It was a temporal loop," the Doctor says with worry. "Happens sometimes when I don't recharge certain batteries on schedule. She starts to loose her touch with time relativity, and I can end up months behind or ahead of where I wanted to go."

"That's the only thing you can come up with?" Clara breathes, disappointment and a bout of repressed sadness surging up in her heart, causing her to relive her grief all over again. "Your ride needed a mechanic, and that's why you're late? That's your excuse? I'm sorry, but that just isn't good enough for me!"

The Doctor is inspecting his hands again, that telltale behavior indicative of his having nothing (important or valuable) to say.

"We don't have time for this, Clara," he says lowly after a long silence, albeit a bit apologetic and guilty. 

"Look, I'm sorry I'm late. I never meant to be. But we've got very real problems now. Arguing about what happened isn't going to solve anything. You're dying, and we need to know why. We don't have--"

"Well, we can make time," Clara pushes, glaring at him now, her eyes filling with a fierce emotion he's not very familiar with. But it still makes him cringe all the same.

He lifts a placating hand to stop her talking, "Clara, just listen--"

"No! No! You--" she has to push away the few rebellious tears that end up sliding down her cheeks before she can continue. "You-you have ruined me. There was a time I couldn't imagine myself without you, but now I wish you'd never found me that day!"

"Clara--" 

"You said you would come back. You said you would be there when I needed you to. You taught me to trust you, to depend on you for the smallest of things-- and then I'm just... forgotten. Like everyone else you've ever travelled with."

"I don't ever forget anyone, and I didn't forget you!" He reminds her, rolling his eyes. "It was a mistake, Clara, a one and a million--"

"Everything is a mistake with you." She cut him off. "It was a mistake that we met, a mistake that we met again and again after that. It was a mistake falling in love with you, and an even worse mistake believing you could love me back. You don't just leave the people you love, Doctor. But you do leave the people you don't."

It's a low blow, far below the belt. But she's hurt, The Doctor reminds himself quickly. He's been gone for too long and he was careless, hadn't even bothered to make sure the TARDIS had had herself a proper checkup

His chest heaves and mind races, grapples for control as he tries to collect the sudden fears he finds himself trying to overcome. And he begins in his head the mantra that he believes will keep his hearts beating: She will forgive you she will forgive you she will forgive you she will forgive you. We'll get through this we'll get through this we'll get through this we'll get through this.

She won't die. She can't die--ever. At least, not now. Not today or tomorrow, or even ten years from now. Not on your watch.

"I'm sorry," he says, brow furrowed, his round old eyes piercing hers just as boldly now. "That I wasn't here for you, that I was... careless. I'm sorry you're sick. I'm sorry I wasn't here to-to prevent all this like I'm supposed to."

But it's not good enough for Clara. It has been months of warping and shrinking and coughing and feeling like her entire world was crashing down and she didn't have a Doctor to save her.

"Well, you're too late, Doctor. You can't put a bandage on it and go home. It's too late now."

"No, it isn't," he argues with a lowered voice.

"This has been happening to me for while now. You were supposed to fix it before it came to this," she tells the older man who continues to stare stonily at her, his eyes shifting between her and the wall behind her. The anger has left her feeling hollow and exhausted, and all she wants is to sleep and forget. Forget him because it's too hard to remember him. 

"We always--" she clears her throat and corrects herself, because there is no 'we' anymore, "--you always fixed it."

And just like that the Doctor realizes how dangerous her predicament is. She's been without that hope for so long, resigned to a doomed fate that he admits he still hasn't found the solution for--which makes it that much harder for him to save her. 

His eyes widen minutely as she sinks back into her mountain of pillows. He reaches for her hand, which she immediately jerks away from him with a distracted mumble of disapproval. He swallows and blinks a few times and settles for placing his hand a few centimeters from her leg on the duvet.

"I've gotten it wrong this time, Clara," he begins. "I've gotten it wrong before, and I've done it again. I've hurt you again, and I'm sorry. Truly, I am, but this isn't over." 

The forced strength and confidence in his voice faltering with he catches her eye roll and sarcastic smirk. "Don't," he scolds her swiftly. "Just trust me, one more time. Please, Clara."

Clara shifts to look at him, the light he's used to seeing in her big brown eyes dimmed and almost completely gone. 

"I can't anymore, and, you know what, I don't want to. I can't just be your Clara Oswald again, following you blindly over a cliff, believing that there's some invisible safety net at the bottom. Because I don't know if that's true anymore." She shakes her head, eyes drooping drowsily once more. "What you're asking me, Doctor, it's impossible."

But despite her discouraging words, he only smiles. "And you, Miss Oswald-- you're my impossible girl, remember?" Her eyebrows rise and for the first time in what has apparently been a long while, Clara's lips turn upwards in a smile void of anything negative.

And it gives the Doctor hope. It's tiny and fragile, but it could be enough to sustain the both of them.

"Don't give up on me just yet, Clara," he begs her, pleads with her. "I plan on seeing you have a long healthy life," and with hesitation and a burning in his hearts he adds, "with or without me. So let me help you. You need me. You need a Doctor."

Clara is a little too sleepy to answer coherently, however, so instead she mumbles out something like, "They're coming for me."

The Doctor perks up at the slip of information that his drowsy companion gives and it sends his hearts to a halt.

"Who is? Clara?" He shakes her a little, hearts at a standstill as he awaits more information. Hey, no, Clara, wait. Stay with me, Clara. Wait. Who's coming for you?"

"The Fish People," she whispers, dozing off. "Coming for us in the dreams. The nightmares are real. My nightmares are real."

And then she's gone, her eyes closing out the world around her while the Doctor shoots up out of his chair, charging into the TARDIS.

Chapter Text

"What is this?"

The question was met with a confused glance towards the full plate.

"Food." A nervous cough. "It's breakfast."

A dubious stare is thrown down at the plate and then, ultimately, a frown followed by a pushing away of said plate.

"No." A deep sigh. "Thanks, though."

Grey eyebrows on a wrinkled face also twist. "No?"

"Yes, no," she clarifies, nudging the plate further away for emphasis. "I don't want any. Not hungry."

"Really?" The grey furrowed brows lift, mocking her almost. "Doesn't your particular... situation lend itself to eating for two now?"

Clara, whose just about had it with this man--this alien who claims to be a hero, who says he'll do more good than harm as he sets fire to everything within three feet of him--crosses her arms over her chest with a scoff.

"I'm not sure what it is you're implying, Doctor, but--"

"I've cooked your breakfast," he nearly pouts. "The least you could do is take a bite."

"You can't cook," Clara challenges, staring him down. "How'd you make this?"

"I learned." The Doctor mumbles, fidgeting with the TARDIS blue apron he wears, picking at invisible lint.

"Really?"

"I've always known how."

"No," Clara presses, tapping her small petulant finger against her thinning arm. "Wrong. This regeneration of yours is rubbish at cooking, and you know it. So try again. Don't lie."

The older man's eyes shift from her glowering gaze to the floor for a bit before he finally heaves out a disgruntled noise.

"Fine! Fine," he surrenders speedily, if not grudgingly. "I... borrowed it. A sample of some infamous brunch or other from the late 1950s in France."

"You brought me breakfast from 1950s France?" Clara can't help the small smile on her face when she remembers his promise to take her someday for breakfast in Paris. But the memory seems to be hurriedly rushed out of her mind when the rich aromas rising from the decadent food makes her mouth to water dangerously in a warning.

"I can't-I can't eat this," she whispers, shutting her eyes to try in hopes to placate her rolling stomach. "I can't even... smell it. How the bloody hell am I supposed to eat it?"

"Lang--"

But the hand she throws up silences him effectively. "Don't."

She's frustrated--but that's an understatement. She's livid and hungry and angry and-and she wants to sleep, but the Doctor has her on a bloody regimen now. He's made her a schedule of sorts, and her next nap isn't due for another hour or so.

"It's been a week," she bites out after her most of her pent up anger has left her feeling drained and empty. "It's been a solid week of tasting nearly everything known to man, and we still haven't--"

"Stop whining," the Doctor snaps, tossing the plate of food out the window carelessly. He doesn't flinch at the sound it makes on the pavement below, nor at the adamant swearing from a neighbor that follows.

"Nothing was ever solved by whining or a wobbly chin." The Doctor's words are more so for him than her, but Clara still harrumphs in annoyanceall the same. He crosses his arms across his chest and turns to look out at the sunny morning.

"You're not an optimist," she pipes up after a moment of silence, a thoughtful cadence to her alto voice.

"No, I'm not," he agrees with her, hearts thudding fast and quick in his chest while his mind works overtime.

She hasn't got much time left, the voice in his head panics. She won't last much longer on such a imbalanced diet, and we've tried nearly every food group known to mankind. Vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains, meats--dear, god, that one was a nightmare.

"But I told you I'd fix this," the Doctor reminds his jaded companion, turning around to face her again. The determination in eyes his reminds Clara more of desperation.

"And I am."

"How?"

"I don't know yet," he admits, pulling out a chair so he can collapse into it. He folds his hands down on the table, staring down at his knobby fingers as if they are single-handedly responsible for the course of events unfolding.

"I hate not knowing, Clara."

If she still liked him, still trusted him, she'd reach out and take his hand reassuringly, squeeze it, maybe. But instead she tightens her fists in her lap and just smiles a little.

"I know."

 


 

Later on, after Clara's had her nap and is a much better mood, she and the Doctor find themselves in the den, watching television. Well, more like Clara's doing her marking and the Doctor his scanning something with his screwdriver and the telly has just been left on. The Doctor sits on one side of the couch, while Clara is curled on the other side, muttering incredulously at the grades she's giving her students. Giving up after a few more disappointing grades, Clara tosses the papers aside and snuggles underneath her blanket with a sigh.

The Doctor, noticing the abandoned pile, says, "Put it off again, eh?"

She gives him a noncommittal murmur from under the blanket, leaning back into the couch.

"You're going to have to do them eventually, you know. You'll go back to Coal Hill eventually, and your little pudding brains will want their papers back then."

Clara laughs, turning away from the television a little to look at him. He's set up shop on her coffee table, little bits and pieces of metal and scientific equipment strewn all over it. She wanted him to go work on the sonic in his lab in the TARDIS, but the Doctor had been insistent about staying by her side. Just in case, he'd said, you need me to run to the store. Or something.

He was like that now, a lot more aware and caring. It made her nervous, hesitant to trust him after everything. He was a man that lied and made promises he didn't always keep, and know he was back in her life and she couldn't get rid of him no matter how hard she tried.

But as she watched him now, with his head bent over the sonic in a bewildered frown, she couldn't help but grin.

"By the time I'm well enough to stand on my own for eight hours and teach a bunch of bickering teenagers, Doctor, I'll be on maternity leave."

"You'll be better faster than that, Clara," his monotone response was automatic she noticed. That optimism about her condition improving day by day was now shoved into everything he said, a reinforcement and a means of combat against any negative comment she made suggesting otherwise.

And she hates him for it. For the hope she was starting to feel--how she had started thinking about names and planning the layout of the nursery. For the way she laughed and smiled more since he'd been around, how her strength and endurance had greatly improved in only the week he'd been around. Clara was furious that the Time Lord had managed to wedge himself back into her life, making him even more essential to her being than before.

Clara frowned at his back for a moment, crossing her arms defiantly as she searched for a way to change the subject. But she needn't have worried.

Right then, Clara Oswald felt what could only be described as a fluttering in her belly. She would have passed it off as gas, however much of a lie that would have been, if the flutter hadn't been followed by a distinctive kick. Clara's eyes blew wide as she hesitantly danced her small fingers over the spot where not a moment before her baby had kicked her for the first time.

"Doctor," her voice was a strained whisper that immediately caught his attention.

He turned from his work and upon seeing how white she'd gone. He knelt away from the table and went to her side at once. "Are you in pain? Clara, you're white as a sheet. Where does it hurt?"

She wasn't able to speak just yet, her eyes dazed as she searched for the movement again, but it had stopped almost as soon as it started. "Doctor, it was moving. Inside me."

The Time Lord seemed a bit slow on he uptake, the concern eventually lifting away before his brows furrowed and his eyes flew from her face down to where her hands were gripping at her stomach. He swallowed audibly.

"And that's... never happened before?" He questioned, somewhat disbelieving. He knew how bouncy human children were, unable to keep still even before they were born. It was impossible for a nearly six-month-old fetus to have been completely dormant until now. In fact, he was sure a lack of movement up til this point meant something was wrong.

His companion only shook her head before tilting it to the side, her fingers probing silently at her stomach. "I would have noticed," Clara promised him, her tone taking on a defensive stance when she heard the doubt in his voice.

"I would have--"

And suddenly she was grabbing his hand from his lap and placing it just to the left of her navel. The Doctor, shocked by the quick movement and the feeling of her skin against his, tensed but allowed Clara to take his hand and press it into the thin material of her shirt. Ignoring the intimacy of the gesture, the Doctor gradually loosened up and his fingers slowly spread across her distended abdomen. Her hand remained on top of his, guiding him towards the last place she'd felt the sensation.

And then there it was. Beneath his fingertips was a series of kicks that seemed so violent he stole a worried glance towards Clara. But her face was largely blank, her eyes wet as she stared off somewhere ahead of her.

"Clara," he began in an albeit worrisome tone, turning his eyes back to where his hand rested on her stomach. "I have to get you in for a scan in the med bay."

Clara blinked, a few tears leaking from her eyes. She gripped the Doctor's hand underneath hers, her heart thudding hard and fast in her chest as the reality of the situation finally hit her.

I'm going to be a mum. In three months, maybe more, I'll be a mum.

Clara was jerked out of her revelation when the Doctor made a strange gasping noise from beside her, his own wrinkled face going a ghostly color. The shocked expression on his mouth was quickly shaping out to be one of fear instead.

The small smile that had been on her face slowing disappeared as saw his closed eyes fly open, his mouth nearly brushing the floor.

"Doctor?" She pressed, but he was now moving to kneel in front of her, his other free hand joining the one that already sat atop her belly. "Doctor, what are you doing? What's going on?"

"Quiet!" The harsh whisper was paired with those fierce grey eyes frowning up at her as he clenched his jaw furiously, the both of his large hands nearly covering every inch of her stomach. "I need to be sure--"

"Be sure of what?" She whispered, knowing that if she spoke any louder he'd probably yell at her. "Doctor, you're not making any--"

And then he went completely still, to her surprise, his tensed form going slack a little. The only sound in the room coming from the television that they'd both completely forgotten about. Clara was definitely anxious by now, her pulse picking up as she silently watched the Doctor's eyes close once more. His mouth was set in concentration and his eyebrows were so low she thought they would touch the bridge of his nose.

But the Doctor couldn't even see or hear Clara anymore, his mind only tuned to the rather muddled signals he was receiving from his companion's womb. It had been brief and fleeting at first, weak and primitive in form, and he nearly hadn't caught it. He had to put in a great deal of energy focus to even hone in on it, but it was certainly there--a telepathic link. A link that was being broadcasted, most likely involuntarily, by the fetus.

It was simple in form, and too underdeveloped to form coherent thoughts or words, but the Doctor didn't need much.

He opened his eyes, slowly removing his hands to sever the connection. His throat had gone dry and his brain was already going at a hundred miles an hour, searching for a reasonable explanation to the impossible. But he knew one thing for certain now.

Clara's baby was not human.

Chapter Text

It's impossible, of course. The Doctor knows it is. The route of thinking he's going down, allowing himself to willingly traverse, is indeed a very, very dangerous one. He's giving life to his banished thoughts and feelings, those carnivorous fantasies that blossom into full on demons when they reach maturity. The Doctor knows he's exiled them for a reason. There's a reason he keeps them under lock and key. Those demons bring with them that dreaded and hated hope to sentiments he thought he'd given up long ago. And that hope erodes whatever resolve he's aimed for, and it shatters the delicate facade he's insisted on maintaining to keep himself at arms length.

He's tried before to travel alone, but he knows what it does. He knows the universe will always be at a weighty disadvantage when the only person in the big blue box is the broken, bitter old man who's lived far too long. He knows the companions are what make him the Doctor, and without them he knows he would be taking lives instead of saving them. But he also knows why he still tries to go it alone: because it is impossible to love them without losing them. The inevitable can only be avoided for so long before they're gone--before they leave him, or grow old, or are killed on another suicidal mission. And he would like to think that after all this time, after all the people he's lost and all the lives he couldn't save, that he'd disown those demons and slay them once and for all.

Love should become a sin, his traitorous foe whose weapon of choice, hope, promises joy but only gives him never-ending grief and pain. Because it is impossible to love them--to love her. It is impossible to love Clara. She's only human, and there will come a day when he's unable to save her from what has claimed them all in the end: time. A single star in his universe, she will flare and fade away, and he'll be powerless to stop it.

And yet he knows he'd burn whole worlds if she asked.

He's brought her into the TARDIS, ignoring the way those large brown orbs of hers watch him apprehensively. After several unsuccessful attempts of climbing up in her own, the Doctor's impatience finally reaches it's climax and he secures his hands at her waist before easily lifting her onto the examination chair. She gives a surprised squeak in protest, but he's moved away from her already.

"Doctor," comes her low voice in an endeavor to soothe his nerves. It's useless, her efforts, but he silently thanks her for trying.

Clara watches him flit all over the room, grabbing things from cabinets and turning on a large computer-like device beside the table. "Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on, or am I gonna have to guess?"

He looks up from where he stands several feet away, his eyes unreadable as he puts together some shiny object that looks like it belongs in an OB's office.

"Lie back," he instructs, his Scottish brogue harsh and cold. "Please," he adds, his voice a bit softer.

Clara just stares at him, wondering how worried she should be. She knows he's got a tendency to be dramatic, but all the theatrics of his she's memorized for her own convenience don't seem to apply. She was smart enough to guess it was serious, remembering the bizarre way he'd towed her into the TARDIS after the baby had moved. But this was chilling, how he could barely look at her and when he did something like dismay would flash in his eyes.

His spasmodic movement around the room put her on edge, and she found herself sort of cradling her middle protectively. "Doctor, you're scaring me."

"I'll explain it all in a minute," he says with a terse edge to his voice. He doesn't look up from where he works to put more pieces of equipment together. "Just need to run a few tests first."

Downplay. Clara finally finds the word for what it is he's doing. Pretending that something that is a big deal isn't anything to fret over. And that's bad. Very bad. This Time Lord's got a terrible habit of never knowing when it's the right time to make a fuss. It's a habit that's nearly gotten them killed before.

"You're hiding something."

He scoffs, agitated. "We're all hiding something, Clara."

"Not from me," she returns with a raised brow. "You don't hide things from me. Not things that are important, not ever. Not this."

The Doctor comes over to her after a few more moments of silence, having retrieved a set of syringes from a random drawer. But Clara's eyes aren't even focused on the needles, chocolate brown orbs trained on the man that holds him instead. The Doctor moves to stand beside her, a gloved hand gently easing her to lie back in the chair.

"You're not making this any easier for yourself," he scolds her with a disapproving glare.

"You're scared, too, aren't you?" She asks him while he uses a tiny wipe to sanitize the skin inside her elbow. A muscle in his jaw jumps and she squints at him. "Why?"

Grey eyes meet brown for a brief moment. "This might hurt a bit," he apologizes quietly before the needle pinches her skin. "Sorry," he says when she winces. "I need this for a workup."

"What workup?"

When the syringe is filled, the Doctor leaves Clara to squirt some of the blood into a petri dish. He combines it with a few other substances before sliding the mix into a refrigerator.

"I have a theory," the Doctor finally confesses to the big eyed young woman, feeling his hearts tug helplessly at the way she swallows. "But it's..." He doesn't allow himself to finish.

"It's what?" Clara immediately picks up on his hesitation.

He ignores her, bandaging her arm. "I won't know if I'm right or not until I've run some tests."

Those eyes of his are so guarded, Clara thinks, that he almost doesn't look like the Doctor anymore. And if he scared, then she dreads to think of what could have shaken him so thoroughly. Whatever it is, it has to do with her baby. And the way he's acting doesn't exactly lend him to trustworthiness.

"What are you going to do?" She asks, pushing away the instrument he's started to move towards her belly. "Will it hurt it? The baby?"

"Clara--"

But she isn't having it. "Will it?"

"No, it won't." The Time Lord shakes his head, grabbing a jar of a clear gelatin-like substance and handing it to Clara with a sigh. "This machine, it's something like a sonogram; the probe let's me see inside the womb, projects the image onto this screen up here. I need you to lift your shirt and spread that on your abdomen for me."

Clara dubiously eyes the strange goo in its bowl before dipping one of her fingers into it. It's cool to the touch and doesn't seem to burn or scar her when she touches it. After deeming it safe to handle, she cautiously lifts her pajama shirt and does as she's told, catching the way the Doctor averts his eyes a little. She smiles despite herself.

"You're absolutely rubbish at this, you know," she tells him, trying to lighten the mood. He lifts his head from the keyboard he's typing on. "For a man who calls himself 'Doctor', you really do need to work on your beside manner a bit."

"I don't get many patients," he jokes, cracking a small smile when she laughs. "Bit out of practice, I'm afraid."

Clara's giggling harder than expected, and she's all at once relieved he came back for her. She'd never be able to get through this with anyone else, and if there was anyone who could figure out what was happening to her, it was him. She finishes applying the gel to her belly, taking the towel the Doctor offers her to wipe her hands.

"You don't think it's human, do you?"

He tenses at her words, lifting the instrument in his hands to her rounded stomach. A black and white three-dimensional image jumps to the screen, and Clara cranes her head to catch a glimpse. Two legs, two arms and one head connected to a small torso--Clara's relief is palpable as she wistfully gazes at the picture. She'd never given much thought to being a mum before she was pregnant, and even then the joys of being with child had been overshadowed by both the trials of the pregnancy and the unrelenting grief she'd felt at being abandoned (or so she thought) by the Doctor. But now the violent, aggressive need to protect and love this life inside her nearly drowned her, the maternal instinct she never knew she had blooming in her heart. She made a silent vow to do everything she could to make sure this kid was given every chance to live, that she'd be less resistant to the Doctor's efforts to cure her.

This baby had to live--there was no other option.

The Doctor, stunned to silence by the image himself, lets loose a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. He steadily gliding the device across the surface of Clara's tummy.

"It can't be human, Clara," he says, stealing a look her way. She's already looking it him, though. "Not fully human, anyway."

"It looks human," she defends, irritated by his brooding mood. "It looks fine! I don't see anything wrong."

"A lot of things look human," the Doctor countered, his eyes examining the data on the screen.

"Are you so determined to wreck this?" Clara's suspicions shot sky high when he rolled his eyes at her. "Sometimes you're wrong! Sometimes you don't get it right, Doctor. Maybe there's nothing wrong with this baby!"

"I'm not wrong, and however much you want me to be doesn't change the facts." The frustration in those grey-blue irises faded away, leaving only a world-weary remorse before he turned to the screen again. "These readings, Clara, they'd be completely different if this were a normal human pregnancy. For instance, one thing the probe picks up on is the temperature of the amniotic fluid inside the uterus that the fetus swims in."

Clara had started to chew her bottom lip, her poor pulse jumping up and down at his ominous words. "And?"

"The stats are below average. Several degrees below normal, which is next to impossible for a human fetus to survive in. Not to mention, logically, your body shouldn't even be able to dip into temperatures that low. You uterus should be constantly regulating itself, trying to reach some kind of equilibrium for the optimum level of comfort, but it's not.

"And," the Doctor added, "it's probably why you're so cold all the time. Your body temp is skewed."

"Sounds like you've been thinking about for longer than you let on. You never said anything," Clara accused, a bit of the trust she'd allowed him quickly slipping away.

But the Doctor was fast to recover, sensing her wariness. "Well, it was a theory, and I didn't want to worry you about something that might not have been true. But I knew there was no logical explanation for how you could have been so malnourished and sick from a normal pregnancy--very rarely does morning sickness ever last past the first trimester, and even if it does, it's never as trying as yours has been. No human gestation period is ever this dangerous for the mother in general, and you were in perfectly good health before you became pregnant."

"So carrying the baby is what's made me sick," Clara said with a twist in her gut, looking up again at the small being inside her, "it's what's killing me."

He didn't like the wording of her sentences, didn't like the implication, but the Doctor knew Clara wasn't one to sugarcoat. "Yes," he breathed.

"The fetus--baby," he forced out when she glared at him, "is unsafe for you to carry. Your body, your human body, isn't fit to house it. It's a wonder you haven't rejected it, yet."

"Rejected?" Clara's heart skipped a beat. "Like, miscarry?"

The Doctor's sympathy was decidedly overridden by the vigilance that ignited inside him at the prospect of the creature inside his Clara leeching all life out of her to sustain its own. She was dying, weakened by it, her body unable to handle the trauma it had been undergoing for months and months.

He ignored her, suddenly understanding. "This explains why you haven't been able to retain any of the nutrients from your food, why you can't ever keep anything down--you haven't been catering to the diet it needs. And why you want to sleep at hours of the day. It's because your energy levels are constantly being converted into an alternate means of sustenance for what's growing inside you."

"That would also explain why I always feel like I've been run over by a train," Clara adds with an uneasy laugh, her brow furrowing as she turns to look at the Doctor whose started to fiddle with the sound nodules on the screen. "But that all means I should have died a while ago, doesn't it? I mean, how can I still be alive if my body clearly can't handle the stress?"

The room was then filled with the sound of a heartbeat, resounding loud and clear. But something about it, Clara noticed, was off. The stormy expression the Doctor wore as his eyes narrowed at the screen was nearly feral.

"You're still alive, Clara," he breathed through gritted teeth, "because it's keeping you alive, like some kind of symbiotic parasite." The anger in his voice was not directed at her, she knew but, somehow, at the image on the screen.

"It's been transferring a significant amount of energy to you--you're its own incubator, and it needs you to live so it can fully develop."

"An energy transfer?" Clara asked, confused by more than the Doctor's odd behavior.

"Regeneration energy, to be precise," he sneered, lifting a finger to the swirling white ribbon that was emanating from the body of the baby. "And there," he pointed, "see?"

And she did. "Two hearts," came her strangled gasp as the realization hit her full force, the color draining from her face has she shook her head. "Wait. But that's-that's impossible, right? That means--"

"You've been carrying Time Lord," the Doctor's shaky words were said barely above a whisper, barely believing the words himself. "Congratulations."

Chapter Text

Clara's just human. She's not a Time Lord or Lady. She's not an alien from another planet with twenty stomachs, five eyes and seventeen toes that glow if you tickle her. She's not from a planet with twelve moons that each have civilizations of their own. Clara Oswald is just one human being, one spec in the few billions of people living on the blue planet Earth. She's five feet two inches tall of nothing special-at-all-- she's a dime a dozen, just ask anyone else. There's no shortage of sassy schoolteachers, and she knows she wouldn't be very widely missed if anything were to happen to her.

The world wouldn't stop rotating round the sun, and there wouldn't be too many people to mourn her. Her death wouldn't be like Shakespeare's, Picasso's or Micheal Jackson's--her name would not be etched into the history books for anything she did while she was alive. No one would pay tribute or homage to her when she was gone. She'd just be a blip in time, another grave in one of the hundreds of thousands of cemeteries all over the globe. And soon enough the few people who had remembered her would be gone, too. But that didn't scare her. No, she wasn't so daft as to be afraid of something inescapable like oblivion. She wasn't scared to be forgotten by men.

Human beings, she'd learned, had a very small memories; its why they made so many stupid decisions so often. They forgot about important people and things all the time, they always did. They had to, really, to keep themselves going. If people remembered how things felt, the Doctor told her after the overnight forest disappeared, you'd have stopped having wars. And stopped having babies.

But why should she care if she was forgotten by men? Or by time? The Doctor was no man, and he had all of time trapped inside a little blue box. She had absolutely nothing to be afraid of--least of all, death.

"We have to remove it."

The Doctor repeated his words for the second time in the past three minutes as if Clara hadn't heard him the first time. But she most definitely had.

She stood on one side of the console room while the Doctor stood on the other, the both of them having been silent until the Time Lord's suggestion a few minutes ago. The room was charged with the cynical energy they'd both brought with them from the med bay, and Clara was practically shaking with it. As if it could feel the tension brewing, the tiny being inside her kicked, and Clara laid a protective hand over her belly. You're safe, little one, she promised wordlessly.

"We are not doing that." Was all she said aloud.

He sighed. "Clara--"

"No."

"You'll die if you don't," his tone was measured, but she could hear the dam cracking, a torrent of wild emotion behind it. "All I'm asking is that you will at least think about it. Please."

"You want me to have an abortion," came her response, her voice laden with bitter derision and a barely concealed fury. "You want me to kill it after I've just felt it move for the first time? After I've just heard his heartbeat?"

"Her heartbeat," he corrects instinctively, and Clara spins around, blinking at him incredulously when she sees that his face is completely empty. "It's not a boy, it's a girl. For now, anyway. Could regenerate in the womb, that's happened before."

The lack of emotion in his eyes, how he says the words like they're just facts and nothing more or less sends a chill down Clara's spine.

"And that doesn't mean anything, anything you?" She questions, narrowing her eyes at him.

The Doctor purses his lips in a frown. "Why are we even discussing this? This isn't up for debate, Clara. It's suicide." He squares his shoulders and straightens his posture to tower over her even more. "If anything goes wrong and she regenerates while she's still inside you, you would be incinerated, Clara. She'd burn you from the inside out."

"There's always going to be a few risks in every pregnancy. I'll be careful, I'll get my strength back. We'll take preemptive measures," Clara defends eagerly.

"Besides," she continues while the Doctor watches her with fire in his eyes, "it's not like she's doing anything on purpose. She doesn't know what's happening."

"So many things could go wrong that we could never expect, Clara," he says ominously, shaking his head. "This has never happened before. A Time Lord-Human hybrid pregnancy is unheard of, and I don't--"

Clara's voice rises. "You still want to kill her?"

"She's killing you," he nearly growls at her, taking a step away from the console he's been leaning on to walk towards her. "The moment she became more than an embryo, she began to tear you apart, break you from the inside out. Your body was never meant to house anything more than a human being inside of it, Clara. Time Lords are not human beings, and this pregnancy is not safe. It's too dangerous! You can't do this!"

"When have I ever been worried about if something was too dangerous?" Clara's defiance shone bright in her chestnut eyes. "When have I ever backed down from a bit of a challenge? When did I ever run away or quit when it got too hard?"

"We aren't talking about another one of our adventures Clara," he contests, pointing a gnarled finger her way. "Your stubbornness will get you killed this time around. This is you arguing with me about the impossible!"

"I'm the impossible girl, Doctor! That word doesn't apply here. When has the impossible ever mattered to me?"

"It matters to me!" He boomed, and she flinched, taking a step back from those vengeful eyes that were on a warpath. "You matter to me! I'm not willing to gamble your life away, I would never take that chance! And I will not let you sacrifice yourself for a malignancy that threatens your life!"

And if Clara wasn't already cross with him, then those words were definitely enough to nearly send her for his throat.

"A malignancy? This isn't a 'touch of cancer' I've got that can just be removed with a bit of surgery, Doctor," she seethed. "It's a life! It's her bloody life--my daughter's life! Your daughter!" He blinked at the word 'daughter', but whatever sentiment had been in his eyes quickly disappeared to Clara's dismay.

"It's an unborn fetus," the Doctor's voice had lowered a fraction, almost apologetically, but the hostile expression he wore still made him menacing. "She's not even cognizant of the world around her!"

"And you think that makes me care for her any less?" Clara snapped at him, still broken by the fact that she was defending the very existence their kid all by herself. "You still think I'd even consider terminating this pregnancy just because you think its inconsequential?"

"You've been tortured for months, Clara," he deadpanned, his voice a low rumbling. There were unmistakable tears in his eyes on the brink of spilling.

"You're a ghost of the woman you once were. Clara, you don't even look like yourself anymore. Just skin and bones held together by some invisible string," his Adam's apple bobbed painfully, "and I was unable to stop it then. But I am here now, and I am giving you an out, the only out."

Hurt tears steamed down Clara's face as she let his words soak in. "You cannot blame a baby for kicking, Doctor," she said, remembering the words she'd said to him what felt like a million years ago. "You can't blame her, and you can't blame me."

He balked a little, "I'm not blaming you."

"You are," she retorted. "You're trying to manipulate me into doing something I've already told you I don't want to do! Why can't you just accept that this is what I want? That this is my choice?"

"Because I think if you understood how quickly you're deteriorating, you'd see reason. You'd end this on your own," he implored, a bit of his carefully concealed desperation finally streaming through that mask of his. "Clara, listen to me. It doesn't need to be this way. At the rate you're going, you won't even be able carry her to term!"

But all she could do was stare at him, his hollow words washing right over her head. "Do you not want this at all, Doctor?" She asked again, still unwilling to believe how monstrous he was being. "I know you, and you are not this calloused old man you're pretending to be. You can scream at me all you like, but this is your baby, too, Doctor. This is our choice, and we should be making it together. We should be choosing her."

The way he looks at her--it's like she's stabbed him, the torment in his eyes bleeding into the most heinous of betrayals.

"Do you honestly think I could ever willingly forfeit your life, even if it was to my daughter," he queried with his watery eyes, drinking her in. "Could you really think so little of me to believe that I would ever give you up without a fight? That I would ever stop fighting for you, even if it meant I had to fight with you? Do you think fighting you on this would even matter to me if it meant I could save you? If it meant you'd live?"

And just like that Clara realized for the Doctor this wasn't about ending the baby's life out of cold logic. It was about saving his best friend at all costs. He'd never be able to see how vicious he was being because he didn't see it that way at all. He wasn't thinking about their daughter and the life she could live--not if it meant he'd have to go on without his impossible girl. Her heart broke in about million pieces for him then, seeing him truly for the first time.

When she was close enough to where the tips of her shoes knocked against his, her stomach bumped into his. It was then that he broke, and she watched as a river of tears fell from his eyes. She smiled sadly, her thumb reaching up to brush them away. Her hand cupped his cheek and for the first time in a while, he didn't flinch away, but leaned into her touch like he had when he'd worn a purple coat and bow tie.

"It's okay to be scared, Doctor," Clara whispered, her eyes roaming over his face, memorizing every wrinkle and edge. "You were the one who said 'scared' was a superpower, remember?"

He laughed shortly through his tears, "I said it because someone once said it to me--you once said it to me. A very long time ago on Gallifrey."

Her eyes widened at the confession that he did remember that night, and he cracked a smile at her, a tentative arm snaking around her waist to hold her to his chest.

"You once told me that a name is a promise, that when you became the Doctor it was a promise you made to yourself." She tilted her head, "So remind me, Doctor. What was the promise?"

The Doctor's jaw jumped, but then he conceded. "Never cruel, or cowardly. Never give up, never give in," he recited as he regarded her, a reluctant hand tangling its way into her hair as he sighed heavily. "That was the day we saved Gaillifrey."

"No," Clara shook her head. "That was the day you realized that you weren't a warrior, or a hero. It was the day you remembered that you were a Doctor," she smiled, "and you needed to remember it again today."

Finally understanding what his companion was getting at, he suddenly went still. "Clara, I don't know the first thing about any of this, and neither does anyone else--it's never happened before. There's no history of--"

"That sounds like an excuse."

"It's an excuse that will save your life," he insisted.

Clara rolls her eyes, her patience waning a bit. "Stop worrying about me! This isn't about just my safety anymore!"

"I have a duty of--"

"Duties of care aren't your job, Doctor. They're mine. Your job," Clara calmly states when she interrupts what she knows is about to be one of his rants, "is to heal. When you came back, you said you'd fix this, that you'd help me get better. And if I get better, then maybe I'll be strong enough to wait out the rest of the pregnancy."

"Clara." He begins, but the glint of tears in her eyes silences him completely.

"All I'm asking, Doctor, is for you to keep your word. For you to uphold your promise. Be a Doctor."

His hearts tore at themselves, his mind spinning and his stomach rolling at the idea of choosing to help her. Because he couldn't fathom an end that was anything less than agonizing for the both of them. She was asking him to believe in fairytales, to play a lethal game of pretend with her. But he had stopped believing that Neverland existed such a long time ago. He didn't think happily-ever-afters were anything but sickly sweet lies a parent told their children to help them sleep. The Doctor had lived too long and seen too much. He was over two thousand years old, and he knew better.

The universe was hell bent on reminding him that letting the good times roll only meant they'd soon come to an abrupt halt, sending him to his knees with grief and pain when they did finally end. Every happiness he'd ever had was stolen, and everything he'd ever loved or had tried to love had been taken from him. He'd find love somewhere else, in someone else, and they, too, would eventually leave him. It was a cyclical thing, the life he lead, where love and family and sorrow and despair all lived together in a little blue box. The Doctor didn't want to love anymore, and he should have known when he first saw Clara Oswald that she'd be carved into his hearts like no other. He should have known she'd be his curse just as much as she was his joy. His undoing just as much as his salvation. His torture just as much as his muse.

He loved her. Oh, how the Doctor loved his Clara Oswald, his impossible girl. She was brave and funny and clever and filled with passion--and she was beautiful, no doubt one of the the most beautiful women he'd ever seen. Even now as he held her he thought she was breathtaking. He was so scared she'd snap into two of he didn't handle her just right. Barely even a whisper of who she'd been before, Clara was still the most gorgeous thing he'd ever beheld, and he had a feeling she always would be. They were perfect--she was perfect. Except she wasn't.

The pudding brains, the human race, their lives were comparable to fruit flies. Her body, damn its fragility, had been decaying ever since she was brought into the world, and now the deterioration process had been exponentially increased. The Doctor knew he didn't have much time to find a cure or antidote, that whatever strength she'd recently acquired since he'd been back would soon plateau and then plummet if he didn't find her a suitable diet to sustain her. Clara stubbornly believed she could hold out til then, but the Doctor wasn't so confident.

His daughter... he hadn't had one in centuries. His children. He hadn't seen them since before the Time War. That place in his hearts, the place for paternal love, had been void for so long. And now, seeing the woman he adored round with his child--well, it was dangerous. He could become so dangerous.

But here she was, Clara Oswald, the only person that could ever make him think twice about anything. And she was asking him to burn the stars for her, for them--for what could be their family. She didn't know it, but that was exactly what her request for help entailed. Because he'd do anything and everything to keep her heart beating in her chest--including burning a billion stars.

"Okay," he said, with his mind made up. Clara's eyes brightened while his darkened further, a weariness in them. He pressed his lips to her hairline in a light kiss.

"Okay," he whispered, telling himself more than her this time. "We'll fix it."

 

Chapter Text

It's been a week since the discovery, a week since their argument, and a week since the Doctor decided to keep his promise. Seven whole days since their mutual commitment to 'try', and the countdown to save Clara Oswald's life has officially begun. It's as if a life size hourglass has just been flipped while the Doctor stares, paralyzed, at the rate at which the sand trickles down, stealing Clara's precious seconds with it.

Time--time is a finicky thing. It's a construct, not a reality, a means of measuring the immeasurable. A tick or a tally to indicate the seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries. But that unit of measurement for time follows the misleading assumption that time is linear--that is, that time can only go in one direction: forwards. And only idiots think that. In fact, that misconception couldn't be further from the truth.

The Doctor has seen it all from end to beginning, front to back; sideways, longways and slant ways, and any other ways you can think of. He's watched entire empires fall to powerful and merciless regimes, whole galaxies and races be forgotten and erased from history, and he's witnessed worlds be consumed by flames while stars grew cold after millenniums pasted.

There are very few who know this truth, that the past, present and future are always happening, all at once, each moment reliving itself in a loop for eternity. It's why going back into the past and changing the smallest of details could result in an endless range of disasters that could rip a hole in the fabric of the universe.

But for the Doctor, time is the one thing worth fighting for and the only thing worth fighting against.

He's put together a theory, an explanation for Clara's unexpected pregnancy that he thinks will clarify what exactly happened that night they were invited to the ball the Fish People of Kysterillous gave. It hadn't taken him very long to deduce that the party had been the date of Clara's conception. Though he himself hadn't seen her in a week, the Doctor had actually been away for months Clara's time, and they hadn't seen each other since then. So whatever happened had to have taken place on Kysterillous.

"I don't like this plan, Doctor," Clara's floating voice indicated she wasn't very far from those funny little snoring noises she made when she slept. The Doctor absently pulled the duvet further onto her body, only half-listening to his fretful companion.

"Tell me about our memories again," Clara frowns, her forehead wrinkling at him as she tries to fight off her impending doom. "Tell me what you think they did."

"You can sleep, Clara," he softens his voice and leans towards her, his wise, old eyes seeing straight through into her fearful ones. "You've had a long day, you need to rest now. We can talk in the morning."

"I'm not tired." And that's all she says, her tight lipped response enough to silence his efforts to reassure her that nothing and no one will ever lay a hand her as long as he's here. But, of course, he can't rescue her from the horrors in her dreams.

So he obeys.

"Could be a lot of things," the Doctor muses, "but I've narrowed it down a bit based on the circumstances and the tiny bit of contextual information we do have.

"There's a drug," the Doctor starts to explain once more, "that they use at Torchwood when things get... delicate and civilians are involved--sometimes U.N.I.T. used it, too, but mostly Torchwood. They'd douse your brain in a jelly-like fluid that makes short term memory retention nearly impossible. Unless the memories you've lost are somehow subconsciously triggered by your immediate surroundings. Retconned was what they called it."

Fiddling with his screwdriver in his lap, the older man, leans back into his chair for a moment, watching wearily as Clara's eyelids flutter closed before they pop wide open again. The exhaustion from the day is catching up with her at last, but does not relent. There's an undeniable beauty to her stubbornness, he thinks, marveling at how unbendable her resolve is even now.

"And the nightmares I have about the party are being triggered by something that happened after I was retconned?" The brown eyed young woman asks him, not seeming to remember that they've had this conversation once already earlier.

"Seems like a good enough explanation," the Time Lord shrugs. "Except I can't figure out what is triggering your nightmares--it'd have to be something in this flat, something you look at everyday that holds more meaning than you think it does."

"Plus," he adds with a scowl at the screwdriver, which appears to be misbehaving, "my memories are missing, too, and it would take more than a bit of high-tech jelly to do that. The only other device I know for certain to be stronger than the Retcon drug is a neural block. We used them back on Gallifrey, but they're very difficult to come by otherwise."

"Why are the neural blocks stronger?"

The Doctor stops his tinkering to hum distractedly, thinking of a proper answer. "Erm, well, you'd never have them back--the memories, that is. They wouldn't be triggered by anything, and you wouldn't have the sense that something was off kilter, like if you'd been Retconned. The memories would be completely wiped, and you'd never even know something was missing in the first place because technically that part of your life never existed--not to you, anyway."

The Doctor, when he saw Clara's face blanch, quickly said, "But it's unlikely any of that has happened to us. They'd need two different types of neural blocks for the two of us--human-compatible, and Time Lord-compatible--and it's incredibly rare to find the latter. Retconned is more plausible."

"Sounds dangerous," Clara admitted with what had to be her twentieth yawn in the past two minutes.

And he agreed. Going back in time to spy on the past versions of Clara and himself was potentially catastrophic, and he'd have to be very diligent and cautious when he did it. But that was the only way to know what had happened to the both of them that night. It was the only way to find out who had tampered with their memories. Going back to that night would answer many of the questions they needed answers to, answers to their endless number of problems.

"Well," the Doctor rumbled, adjusting his position in the chair beside her bed with a yawn of his own, "I can't go anywhere until we get some food into that system of yours. I'm won't make the trip until I'm sure you've made a significant improvement."

"You could be back two minutes later, Doctor," Clara scoffed quietly, but she sobered when he paled. "You don't have wait til--"

"No. I'm not taking any chances this time round." His eyes evaded hers as he cleared his throat. "I've learned my lesson," was his soft response.

Clara's closed eyes blinked open, a lighthearted, teasing smile to the brown orbs that mesmerized him. "Do I really look that bad?"

The older man swallowed, his eyes finding their fingers had interlaced sometime in the past minute or so. Her hand was so small and frail in his, and it brought back the unpleasant memory of a dream last Christmas when Clara, wrinkled and wraith thin, had grown old in his careless absence.
Her skin now was void of those aging brown spots and sagging lines, but it looked just as papery thin. A particularly harrowing sight was blue of her veins, violently vibrant in color against her nearly white pallor. But he was grateful for the color. No matter how alarming it's appearance, those veins pumped a vital elixir to the sacred organ in her chest that kept her here with him.

Clara's grip on his fingers was weaker than it had been earlier this week, but that just meant that he had to hold on all the more tight for the both of them. Braving a smile, the Doctor met her awaiting gaze without hesitation.

"You're still Clara Oswald--that's all that will ever matter to me."

The grin she gave him was wild with mirth. "Oh, what does it matter, Doctor?" She rolled her eyes. "You never really see me anyway, do you?"

He was the one smiling this time, but his was full of remorse, not amusement. "If only that were the case, eh?"

Clara began to laugh but it turned into a racking cough, her entire body shaking as she struggled to sit up straight to make the process easier. The Doctor's free hand was immediately on her back, aiding her into a manageable sitting position.

"Bin," she managed to gasp, her face going bright scarlet, "need--the bin."

Pushing past the unrelenting need to keep hold of her hand, the Time Lord reluctantly let go of her slender fingers to retrieve the lined waste bin from the side of her bed. He helped her adjust enough to lean over it, the hand that had held hers now on her back. The Doctor's hearts wrenched at the sound of Clara dry heaving, the force of it making her eyes water as she tried to empty her already vacant stomach. He rubbed his palm up and down her spine until the urge subsided, leaving her out of breath, whatever energy had had left spent.

"It's alright," his hushed voice repeated over and over. "Just breathe, Clara. In... out. Good. In... and out. In and out. Good girl. Very good. You're alright."

But that couldn't have been a bigger lie. Her lungs felt like fire while she tried to catch her breath, her ears ringing and head light with fatigue. It was all she should do to not to collapse into her bed right then and there. She was completely worn out, the energy she'd been cultivating all throughout the day entirely wasted. She couldn't help the frustrated tears that started to sting her tired eyes as the Doctor helped her to settle back against the pillows.

The week had proven very difficult for the two of them. While they had both agreed that a breakthrough in Clara's diet was all they needed for her to get well, the process of finding 'suitable foods' was easier said than done. She hadn't eaten in two days, and hunger was something she no longer felt, but rather an ever present fact. Like saying her hair was brown. The Doctor had panicked at first when he could no longer get her to eat anything at all, and threatened to force feed her. But it wouldn't have helped--she was no longer getting any nutrition from the few foods her body did tolerate.

She'd been confined to her bed, now even too tired to wander out into the den to watch telly. Her mind was beginning to slip, and she found herself frequently hallucinated bizarre scenarios that worried the Doctor because of their vividness. Even now, as her breath returned to normal, she had to resist the urge to shout to the Time Lord that she could barely hear him over the freight train that she believed was passing nearby.

"Are you cold?" Clara heard him ask, meeting those stricken blue eyes of his with confusion. "You haven't noticed you're shivering?"

She hadn't noticed, actually, but she was indeed shaking, her teeth clacking together quietly unbeknownst to her. A wry laugh that she was sure sounded partially delirious made the Doctor's fretful greying brows furrow even further, his grip on her hand tightening once more.

"Sorry. I know it isn't funny, nothing is about any of this," she apologized swiftly, sensing his distress. "You're a good sport, Doctor."

"But, I'm not a good sport at all, am I?" His baritone was dangerously low and a trace of anger had begun to creep into those saddened eyes. "I've made it abundantly clear what I wanted for you, Clara, and this isn't it."

She ignored the stinging venom in his words, choosing to focus on the hidden distraught behind them. "I know," she squeezed his hand as tight as she could. "I know you're cross with me," she sighed, watching him shift in his seat. "It's okay to be cross."

"Good," he retorted tersely. "Because I am."

Frowning, Clara cleared her throat. "Come here."

Startled by her command and the palpable redirection of her tone, the Doctor tensed and went still. "What?"

"Come up here," Clara patted the space on the bed next to her insistently.

"There?"

"Yep. Here, right here."

He didn't dare move an inch, though. "Why?"

Irritation and exhaustion weren't a very pleasant combination for Clara Oswald, who said, "Get your bloody arse on this bed right now, Doctor, before I die just to spite you!"

Knowing she wasn't one to back down on her words, the man began hastily clambering up onto her bed, his blue eyes stormy at her unforgiving and very unfunny joke. He removed his clunky boots with an angry huff, chucking them onto the floor before he settled back into her pillows with her beside him. His hands remained folded tightly in his lap, however, his lips in a thin line across his face.

Clara just grinned, unable to stop herself. "Do you feel better now?"

With his nose turning up in displeasure, the Doctor flexed his socked feet a few times before answering her. "Am I supposed to feel better? Climbing up here was supposed to make me feel better?"

Clara tried sitting up as much as she could to look at his face, but it wasn't very helpful. "When I was little, after I would have an argument with my mum, she'd make me climb into her bed and sit with her until I wasn't upset anymore." Clara's eyes glisten at the memory of her mother. "Worked every time. Could never stay mad for long, especially not at her."

The Doctor didn't say anything for a beat, pondering the meaning of her words. "But you aren't my mum, Clara. You're my--"

"Your what?" Clara prompted him impatiently, watching his jaw clench as his torn eyes met hers. "Am I really 'just a friend' now? After everything that's happened, that's all?"

She didn't know exactly what she wanted from him, but she definitely wanted some kind of reassurance that she wouldn't be in this alone after their daughter arrived. He didn't have to be there every step of the way, and they didn't need to take turns changing nappies in the dead of night. She could do all that on her own. But would he swing round for birthdays and holidays? Christmas? Maybe take her to her first day of school? When she was old enough, would he take their girl in that fantastic blue box and show her wonders like had shown Clara? Would he love her?

Thing is, the Doctor was afflicted with a fear of endings, Clara knew. He had a habit of running away, and he didn't always keep his promises to her, not when they counted.  Clara knew he wasn't human, and she understood that meant he'd never really be capable of loving her like she did him-- she knew that. She wasn't expecting a domestic life in the countryside somewhere with a ring on her left hand and a houseful of children; she wasn't stupid.

But she did want more than what she currently had, which was very close to nothing. Sure, she was grateful for his help, and if he did save her life, she'd be all the more indebted to him. But he had made so very clear for her: he didn't want to keep a child that would serve as a reminder that she was gone. And even though Clara told herself she appreciated how honest he'd been, his words still tore through her heart like dull, rusted knives.

The Doctor seemed just as clueless as to what he was willing to offer, his eyes anywhere but hers again as they sat in a charged silence, both of them now fully awake.

"What are we doing?" He finally asked, and she could hear how loaded the question was. All the uncertainty and uncomfortable undertones of his timbre making Clara's face warm. "I don't understand what it is you're--"

"Shut up. Here," Clara's willful determination made her bold enough to reach for his hands, taking one of his arms and wrapping it around her shoulder while she placed the other arm across her waist. "This is how you do it."

The Time Lord was bewildered by her actions, his loose grip on Clara awkward and unfamiliar. "Do what? What are you doing?"

Clara lifted her face just enough so he could catch a glimpse of her eyes, and then suddenly, with those great brown irises staring up at him, he was at quite lost for words.

The face that sunk a thousand ships, he thought, using Helen of Troy to describe his own tiny ball of charisma. The face that stole away both my hearts and holds them captive, her prisoner. But by Rassilon, she was the most enchanting thief he would ever behold.

"I'm showing you, you giant grumpy stick insect, how to hold me properly." Clara shuffled into his chest more, laying her ear just over the strange double thump of his two hearts and fisting her hand into the fabric of his sleeved arm. "You weren't doing it right earlier."

"Earlier?" He repeated, dumbfounded.

"Earlier when you were holding my hand, old man." The Doctor felt the fluttering vibration of a giggle against his chest, making his hearts skip nervously. "You were only holding my hand. There are better ways to hold someone, you know."

He didn't know, not really. Hadn't ever crossed his mind, honestly.

"Just do it, Doctor," Clara's voice was dreamy and far away as she her hand glided away from his arm to his sternum, sending shivers down his body. She was falling asleep, only half aware of him now while his entire body had sprung to life.

"Hold me the way you want to," she commanded, but it wasn't as harsh as the ones she made earlier. It was more of an invitation, an option. "We don't have to be the people that say thing to he ones they care about, you know. We can just be all those unsaid things we are to each other."

And they were all the things they never said to each other. They were the physical embodiment of what it meant to love. Of what it meant to give everything, including your own life, to save someone else's. The Doctor knew that; he wasn't stupid.

But as his arms found their way around Clara's snoring body, he could practically see their destruction. Her limp form lying on cool cobblestone, somewhere in a back alleyway on a hidden street. And he could see her again, turned away from him with thick, blocked numbers on her nape. The images didn't make any sense to him now, but they didn't need to; he knew exactly what they were. He'd had similar daydreams of Amy and Rory before they--

The Doctor shut his eyes tight with a silent whimper, letting himself be ignorant and selfish for just a little while longer.

As he set his cheek to rest atop Clara's head, one of his hands found her belly, sending him a wave of signals from the growing fetus inside her. Stronger and stronger everyday, he could clearly make out the child's newest method of communication, which seemed to center around the transferral of emotions it felt. Even now, the baby shifted under his palm, letting him know she was aware of his presence.

Stay still for her, little one, came his telepathic response to the movement. Clara needs her rest.

A strange elation filled the Doctor as he experienced firsthand what the child felt at the mention of Clara's name, the sheer intensity of her adoration for her mother so overwhelming the Doctor's eyes flew open with a start. Clara roused a little from her sleep against his chest, murmuring something before she slipped back into unconsciousness, reattaching herself to his side.

Astounded by her intelligence at this early stage, the Doctor let out a quick laugh. The baby was now sending him snippets of Clara's voice that she'd heard from inside the womb, Clara's laughter--which seems to be her favorite sound thus far--was projected most often. He was slightly surprised when he heard his own laugh echoed back in the montage of Clara's voice as well, their heated debate in the TARDIS about the fate of the child making an appearance a few times, though the baby seemed too young to understand the context of the conversation.

I'll do my best, the Doctor promised her, sensing that she, too, was on the verge of sleep. The signals in his mind dimmed and then flickered like a candle that been blown out. He removed his hand from Clara's stomach, severing the connection altogether. I'll do my best to keep you both safe.

Chapter Text

Clara has fallen asleep again when the Doctor begins shaking her shoulder gently. She opens her eyes slowly, raising a groggy eyebrow. "Hmm?"

"Just finished drawing your bath. It's ready," the Doctor says, leaving the statement somewhat open ended. A silent request dangles at the end of it, like a white flag of surrender.

In preparation for her bath, he's removed his hoodie and his jumper, which leaves him in his trousers and a thin white t-shirt that lets Clara catch glimpses of the pale skin beneath it. His socks and boots have disappeared as well, and human-looking feet and toes replace them.

Clara can only stare at him, unwilling to move.

Each time it gets a little easier to swallow her pride, to shove down the embarrassment that always surfaces when he comes for her. She's nearly used to this little routine of theirs, so she doesn't understand why she still gets so nervous. Besides, he's probably seen worse.

A simple "oh" is all Clara manages to say to the Doctor. She nearly opens her mouth again to argue. Maybe something about how she can wait another day, or how she feels well enough to do it herself. But both of those are lies.

"Come on, Clara," he almost smiles at her, trying to ease her hesitation away. All he does is offer her his hands, waiting.

Tossing away her apprehension and reservations, Clara takes the Doctor's hands that are still damp from testing the water and allows him lift her to her feet. Then, as per the usual, he hooks one arm securely around her back before bending to lock another arm under her knees. He then scoops her up, letting her adjust herself in his hold, and when she nods, he starts forward to her bathroom.

Several minutes later, Clara finds herself nearly finished with her bath as the Doctor rinses the soap from her body carefully. His touch is dutiful and soft, but almost never apologetic or shy. The pads of his fingers brush up against the sides of her breasts occasionally, but he never blushes or looks away in shame. Calculated and sure movements while he rubs the rag gently over and under the swell of her stomach, as heavily weighed and considered as battle strategy. And he never stares at her; there's no lust lingering in his blue eyes when she disrobes. Her nakedness doesn't seem to affect him, and part of Clara resents that.

There was a time before this living nightmare when desire would flicker mischievously in those bright eyes of his when they fell on her body. It would happen when he thought she wasn't looking, but she could always feel his heavy gaze raking across her feminine curves with a vengeance. And she'd spin around to catch his mouth slightly agape with surprise at being caught. Clara would always take her own pleasure in the deep coloring of his cheeks, the tell-tell tent forming in his trousers.

And on the rare occasion that he did touch her, he'd leave fire in his wake, scorching her skin and leaving gooseflesh behind as he set her aflame. Clara would always have hope that his fleeting caresses would blossom into more, that the two of them would someday give into each other's unsaid wishes. But then his eyes would darken with consternation, and his fire would be cooled to ash. It was then Clara would be reminded that she hadn't fallen in love with an ordinary man.

But now, she lies before him in a tub completely exposed-- a scenario which could only have existed in the heated imagination reserved only for her dreams--and it is so painfully obvious that he doesn't want her.

Skin and bones on a string, he once described her, and she hadn't believed he meant it at first. Thought it was just something cruel to say to her in the heat of an argument. Some hyperbolic exaggeration to make her change her mind about keeping her baby. But as she looks into his eyes now, her heart breaks to know he truly meant it.

"Right, then," the Doctor heaves out a sigh as he finishes, adjusting himself on the edge of the tub. "Where's that lavender shampoo you like me to use?"

And when he goes to look for it, Clara leans back against the tub and closes her eyes, praying he won't notice her cry.


 

A few hours later, Clara's nose has found itself in yet another book. She doesn't usually have enough stamina to get through the first few chapters, but this particular find has been a little too captivating. Turning page after page, Clara's fingers rip through the novel with a renewed sense of purpose, her own twisted reality blurring until she and the adventurous protagonist are one and the same individual. Soon, it's her running down winding paths, her brow brimming with sweat as her chest heaves with exertion. She outruns the insidious goons, dodging bullets, ducking behind the ruins of a fallen city as she works to expose a treacherous, corrupted government to its abused and exploited people.

Her heart pumps vigorously underneath her ribs, her own pulse accelerating as she lives vicariously through the young man written down on the pages. She is no longer Clara Oswald, a time traveling has-been, but Xave Grey, dashing anarchist and ingenious criminal mastermind.

Clara smiles briefly, glad that for once the TARDIS has managed to actually cheer her up instead of bring her down. The newfound sentiment is, of course, taken with a grain of salt. If the time-spaceship's uncharacteristically friendly disposition towards her isn't an indication that her time on this earth is coming to an end, Clara doesn't know what is.

The Doctor told her once that the ship, being able to travel all throughout time, was partially omniscient. It was how she knew where and who to bring the Doctor to. As her days waned, Clara couldn't help but wonder if the TARDIS' recent change in opinion towards her was because she had foreseen Clara's end and pitied her.

"But that can't be it, can it?" Clara began to muse aloud, her thoughts too noisy to keep inside her head. "That can't be it. The TARDIS went dark on Kysterillous. She had no idea what'd happened because it was like she hadn't been there to begin with."

The Doctor, who had been in the kitchen, drifted quietly into Clara's doorway at the sound of her voice. His first inference was that she was actually talking to him, and he hadn't noticed until just now. That happened quite a lot, unfortunately. His ineptitude of awareness on her behalf was troubling for the both of them, and he wondered briefly if he was once again about to be lectured for being inattentive.

But as he continued watching her, the Doctor realized that Clara hadn't been talking to him at all. In fact, she had been having an intense argument with herself, too engrossed in her own thoughts to notice him.

"Unless," Clara stared down at the pages of her novel as though they'd just bit her. "Unless she played dead. Unless she lied and pretended to be..."

"Unless who lied and pretended to be what?"

Clara looked up with a start to see the lanky alien entering her room, and from the puzzled look on his face, he'd heard everything.

"Sorry," he immediately says when Clara's arms cross defensively. "I was in the kitchen and I thought you were calling for me. What are you in here going on about?"

But as soon as Clara opens her mouth to blurt out her new theory, she hesitates, the words dying on her lips. Because it's bizarre to believe the TARDIS could keep such a thing to herself, not when the ship knew how important it was that they know what happened. Not when it meant there could be a cure...

No, Clara told herself. Not possible, and you know it isn't. The TARDIS might have hated me once, but she'd never intentionally hurt me like that.

"Nothing," Clara told both herself and the Doctor, trying her hardest to erase both their doubts. "I'm probably just reading too many of these spy stories, honestly."

The Doctor's eyes narrow until he looks like he's squinting, but eventually he gives up trying to read her. "Whatever you say, boss."

"What have you got, there?" Clara's eager to change the subject, and has just noticed that the Doctor is holding something behind his back. He walks into the room with a knowing smile and a tilt of his head.

"New gadget, maybe?" She asks hopefully. "I could use a decent distraction right about now."

Expecting some technological innovation to be revealed to her, Clara is a bit disappointed to find a bowl of fish fingers and custard being thrust into her lap. Frowning down at the rectangular bits of processed fish coated in canned gelatin, Clara looks up at the Doctor, confused.

"Sorry, I don't... I don't think I understand."

"I had an idea," the Doctor grins like mad when he says the words, like he's cured cancer. "A good, plausible, feasible hypothesis, and now I just need it to be tested."

"And you want me to be your lab rat, is that it?" Clara sneers inappreciatively at the chunky goop in the bowl.

"Um," he shrugs, "basically yes."

And she'll never admit it, but, bizarrely, her mouth has already started to salivate with anticipation. Her body is reacting positively to the visual stimulus of solid food for the first time in months. The only downside? It's Bow Tie's disgusting snack of choice.

"No," she shakes her head again, despite the obvious rumbling in her stomach. She pushes the bowl aside. "I'm not eating this!"

The Doctor, who only stares at her with those keen eyes laughs. "You do know I can hear your stomach growling, right?"

Clara's arms pull at the duvet in hopes of muffling the sound but to no avail.

Stubborn and thoroughly embarrassed, Clara insists once more, "I'm not eating that, Doctor."

The Doctor marches out of Clara's room before she's even finished talking, and Clara stares after him with bewilderment. Before she can call out for him, he returns, this time with a thick packet of papers, which he holds out to her.

"What is this?" She asks him, carefully taking the papers into her hands. From the way he won't look at her, Clara knows whatever is on these pages have got the Doctor more than a little frightened.

Leading through the pages, Clara comes across several dozen charts, tables and graphs, some of it in Gallifreyan and some of it in English for her to read. She comes to understand that the packet has to do with her health, the charts and graphs are a way of mathematically measuring her deterioration over time.

There are pictures of the sonogram the Doctor used to get images of the baby growing inside her, and her heart flutters when she sees a few photos he hasn't shown her before.

"These are new?" Clara asks, her voice barely above a whisper as she runs her hands over the pictured image of their baby. "She's gotten so big."

The Doctor stands over her with a blank expression on his face, his arms crossed over his chest as he watches her quietly croon over the three dimensional images.

"Go to the last few pages, Clara," he presses after a minute or so, the impatience in his tone not due to an insensitivity, but rather an urgency he feels she doesn't possess.

And when she does reach the last pages of the thick volume, Clara winces at the pictured images. "X-rays."

A slender finger reaches over her shoulder to point at a specific place just below her breast bone. Clara's eyes find the fractured rib bones on her left side, swallowing hard as the Doctor proceeds to point out the splintering of two separate ribs on her right side.

"This piece of splintered bone here is about a three centimeters from piercing your lung and filling it with fluid, Clara. One wrong move," he says, finally bringing his eyes to meet her brimming ones. "One wrong move, and it's over."

"I don't remember you giving me an x-ray. How the hell did you print these? And how long have you had this information?" Clara asked, her worry morphing quickly into anger. "When were you going to tell me that she's started breaking my bones?"

The Doctor's gaze became tired as he gave her a shrug. "Honestly, Clara, would it even have mattered if I had told you?" He asked, already knowing the answer. "Would you have listened?"

"I don't know!" She confessed, ignoring the way his face fell. "I probably would've thought you were making this up since I've never felt anything out of the ordinary."

"Clara--"

"How can I not feel any of this?" Clara blurted out, the panic finally making itself known in her voice. "I mean, fractured and broken rib bones? Those are major injuries, aren't they?"

Sitting on her bed, the Doctor nodded once. "The regeneration energy coursing through your body is has been enough to heal the injuries thus far. Almost as soon as the bones broke, they'd be mended again. Combined with your pain medication, it's perfectly understandable that you never experienced any real discomfort."

And Clara finally understands what he is getting at, a single tear falling from her eye as she looked down at the x-ray scan again. "No food, no regeneration energy. Meaning she can't help keep me going anymore. So... she's dying now, isn't she?"

"We are running out of time," the Doctor utters his words slowly and with such force that Clara shudders. "And we don't have many options left. If you are going to keep this child, Clara, there cannot be anymore resistance on your part. You have to do exactly what I say."

Clara's hands found their way to her belly, her arms circling protectively around her stomach as she imagined her daughter struggling to keep the both of their hearts beating. Clara had never known she could love someone as much as she loved the growing miracle inside of her. And she'd be damned if her own hardheadedness was going end the both of them.

So with her mind made up, she reached for the bowl of fish fingers and custard.

"Okay," she promised. "I'll do it."

Chapter Text

Wednesday, 5th of November, 2015

A few hours after Clara had eaten, she awoke from a nap looking more healthy than she probably had in months. She claimed to feel more revitalized, and she finally began to develop an appetite worthy of a human being in her condition.  After a couple of days on the new diet, she began to gain weight. The harshness of her cheekbones lessened in prominence as their fullness and rosy pigment reappeared. The aches, fatigue and nausea completely subsided, their frequency now consistent with that of your average female human approaching her third trimester.

Within the course of two weeks, she had gained a healthy ten pounds and the Doctor had cleared her for using the cane to get around the flat again.

Every morning after her breakfast of fish fingers and custard, Clara was ushered into the TARDIS for her biweekly checkups. The Doctor had become her physician for all intents and purposes, very thorough and meticulous with no stone left unturned.

Three meals of fish fingers and custard a day (oddly enough, her palate never tired of the strange combination) with bananas for snacks when she got peckish. She was also required to down a liter of water every day with urine samples taken during the checkups. Clara was poked with needles, the blood collected sent for labs and tests the Doctor would show and explain to her when he was finished with them. She was weighed and measured using a specially made scale that could calculate her weight and the baby's separately before adding the two together for a total sum. And though it was still pretty clear the Doctor was more interested in Clara's individual health, he appeased his companion by checking up on the baby weekly, first with a physical exam and then with the sonogram.

"So?" Clara probed as she readjusted her shirt over her belly and sat up. The shirt was new, something the Doctor had gotten from a wardrobe in the TARDIS since all her old clothes were now too small for her to wear with a growing belly. This was the first time in her life she was actually happy to see she'd gained a few pounds in a week, proud even.

Jotting down some things on a clipboard, the Doctor didn't look up at her when he responded. "So what?"

Still a bit giddy about being able to do things like sit up on her own, she pressed, "Everything looks okay, yeah? No more broken bones? No organ failure or anything like that? No regressions?"

The older man removed the stethoscope from around his neck with a deflated sigh, pursing his lips at the animation in her voice a little.

"You're pretty much healthy, yes. I expect in a week or two, you'll be fully recovered."

And though Clara personally felt like they should be celebrating their breakthrough, the Doctor was withdrawn and distant. He'd been a bit more morose than normal the past day or so, sulking about the TARDIS and disappearing so deep into the belly of the ship Clara had gotten lost a few times when trying to find him.

Two weeks ago, she was literally three centimeters away from death. If she'd sneezed too hard, a jagged piece of her splintered rib would've ripped through her lungs and killed her. She'd been a ghoul with sunken cheeks, tallow skin and cracked lips that bled when she smile. She had haunted the living even while she was still alive.

But it was over with and done now. The nightmare had dissipated like a thick fog above the Thames just before dawn. The experience left them both thoroughly shaken, but not beaten. They'd exonerated her from an impending death sentence. They might as well have found the cure to AIDS or cancer, but the Doctor didn't look like a man that had cured anything at all. He looked a lot more like a puppy that'd just been kicked. And for the life of her, Clara Oswald couldn't understand why.

"I'm getting better," the young woman repeated his words in her own way, the taste of them foreign and strange in her mouth. "Actually getting better."

"You've greatly improved. Exponentially, actually," the Time Lord announced enigmatically. 

Clara frowned up at him, offering him her arm to take her blood pressure. "Then what's with that face?"

"What face?" He asked, wrinkling those caterpillar-esque eyebrows at her. "I'm not making a face. This is what my face looks like."

"What's wrong, Doctor?" Clara's voice was soft as the hand that found his, her fingers stilling his actions completely as they interlaced with his own digits. He stared down at the small hand in his, his jaw clenching silently.

Touching Clara still sent shivers through his body, and he'd had to work on being unresponsive to the feel of her soft flesh under the pads of his fingers. One of the main reasons he had discouraged physical affection after this past regeneration was that he was no longer physically indifferent to her as he had been before. His eleventh regenerate might as well been a pubescent teen from how unaware of women he's been. But this body was completely different. Now he could smell Clara's shampoo from several feet away, and he could hear the newfound strength in her heart when it reverberated through her chest from where he stood. He could detect every single ridge, dip, twist and turn on the tip of her finger that comprised her unique fingerprint. He could see every speck of color in her irises, his every emotion determined by those eyes of hers.

And he could feel her absenceHe could never leave her alone for longer than a half hour before he was hovering in her bedroom door again, if just to ensure she was still there, breathing.

And, damn it, he had almost lost her. He'd nearly lost the both of them--permanently. The only thing he had left to love in this universe was almost taken, nearly stolen from him, and it had been his fault.

And, yes, he could see it in her eyes when he looked at her. The confusion and eventually the impatience at his lack of a reaction. She wanted to share the joy, the happiness and relief she felt with him, and he just couldn't do it. The triumph in the discovery they'd made was so greatly soured by the grief he still felt at the idea of his Clara going cold and stiff along with the child she carried. The only he family he had now, and it had nearly slipped from his fingers.

And someone had done this. Someone had orchestrated the entire thing--start to finish, they were the grand architect to this insidious nightmare as well as its missing puzzle piece. The traps had been laid and he and Clara had been left to chow down on poisoned bait.

The faceless menace lurked his dreams and harassed his thoughts every waking hour, leaving him restless and paranoid. He'd confined both he and Clara to the flat until he'd finished installing a top-notch security system of his own creation, insisting it wasn't safe to leave just yet.

But not for long, he vowed silently, brushing a thumb over Clara's knuckles. Not for long.

He had promised he'd fix it. And he was keeping his word.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, 7th of November, 2015 - 5:50 AM

"What are you doing?"

The Doctor was just waking from one of his rare naps when he caught Clara pulling a purse onto her shoulder and grabbing a jumper from the hamper in the corner. His voice startled her and she froze like a teenager caught sneaking out past curfew. She swore under her breath, closing her eyes briefly before she yanked the jumper on the rest of the way.

"You're supposed to be sleeping," Clara says quietly, her back still turned as she tries to rethink her plan to fit the quickly evolving circumstances.

"You're supposed to be sleeping," the disgruntled Time Lord shoots back. "It's six AM, Clara, you never leave your bed for anything. Not for at least another two hours."

Undeterred, Clara further explains her reasoning. "It's the first Tuesday of the month, which means you're supposed to be asleep for the next--" Clara checks her wristwatch-- "for another half hour."

He hates that she's so smug, but he has to admit how impressed he is that she's memorized his inane idiosyncrasies. His eyes scan her swiftly and suddenly he's fully alert and scrambling into an upright position, whatever banter he was prepared to dish out dying on his tongue.

"You're dressed to go out."

"I am," she affirms steadily, adjusting the knit cap on her head and pulling on a pair of gloves she's just found in purse. It's only fifty-five degrees now, and Clara knows she won't really need them. But she figures she ought to stall for a bit anyway.

"Why?" The Doctor presses, wanting to hear her actually say the words.

"Because I'm going out," she said with a tired sigh, turning to face him at last. Clara wasn't interested in a row so early this morning, but she could feel it brewing like an oncoming storm. "This is the first time it's been sunny out in ages, Doctor, and I'm finally well enough to go and enjoy it. And that's what I plan to do."

"You want to go outside?" He asked with a small yawn, and Clara impatiently watched him rub the sleep from his eyes like a little boy.

"I'm not asking your permission, Doctor."

And, well, that brings a smile to his face, an awfully dopey one at that. He can feel it stretch across the bottom of his jaw as he lightly chuckles. "Oh, you're not, are you?"

"You won't let me go back to Coal Hill, you won't let me travel anymore in the TARDIS--"

He scoffs. "I really do hope you're getting to the point soon."

"I've been cooped up in this flat for a solid month and some change, and the only person I've had for company through it all is an agoraphobic time-traveling alien."

He balks at her, running a hand through silver hair that sticks out in hundred different directions, mussing it further. "I'm not agoraphobic, Clara. I just happen to think we are much safer inside than we are outside."

A small but exhausted smile graces Clara's lips as she rolls her eyes. "That's more or less the definition of an agoraphobic, Doctor. You want to keep us locked up in this flat because you've got an irrational fear that there are monsters lurking outside of it."

"AN you and I are both intelligent enough to know that is a definite possibility," the Doctor protests, his fingers dragging down his anxious face. "It took a lot of work to get your health back to where it is now, and I'm not risking it just because you've got a bit of cabin fever."

"I'm gonna go mad sitting in here watching you scream at the telly everyday." Clara ignores him, now looking for her keys after discovering they weren't in her purse. "I'm going to go absolutely insane if I stay here for one more second staring at the same bloody walls. I'm going out for a walk."

Crossing his arms over his chest, his eyes lower into his lap while she stalks into the kitchen in search of the keys. "You know I can't let you do that, Clara."

"Like I said," Clara shouts from the kitchen, "not asking permission, Doctor. Besides, it's probably about time I got active again! I could use the exercise."

"Well," the Doctor began, scratching the stubble that was beginning to form along his jaw, "if it's exercise you want, the TARDIS does have a gym with some of the best equipment in universe. Some of it even simulates the outdoors. You can pick and choose the planet or solar system or--"

"I don't want a bloody simulation, Doctor," Clara insisted as she moved out of the kitchen and into her laundry room, without her cane, the Doctor noticed distractedly. "I want to feel the sun--this sun in this particular solar system. I want to feel the actual sun on my face and the actual wind in my hair. Not some ridiculous sentient machine from the year 3056 blasting me with a hot air from a rotating fan."

Clara searched every possible spot in the flat for her key chain. Sure, there was pregnancy brain to account for, but this wasn't normal at all. She never misplaced her keys, not once. She just wasn't the type.

And then she heard them, along with a rustle of movement from the couch as the Doctor stood and walked towards her. She caught the glint of metal in his fist and laughed before shaking her head in disbelief.

"Of course. You stole my keys."

The Doctor gazes down at her with a soft twinkle in his cool blue eyes, though he seems almost as perturbed as she is. "I'm not stealing them. I'm holding them."

"Holding? Holding them for what?"

"Safekeeping," he explains calmly, not liking how pink her face has become in the past few seconds. "Clara--"

"You stole them! You had no intention of giving them back to me!"

"Because I didn't want you getting any ideas about running off at night. You were starting to unravel, I could see it in your eyes. I knew the keys were going to become a temptation, and, therefore, a liability."

The Doctor tries to ease the fury behind Clara's eyes with a hand to her shoulder but she shrugs it off with a groan. "I was taking precautions!"

Rubbing her temples with closed eyes, Clara sighs before opening them again. Plucking the gloves off  of her hands, she tows the Doctor by his wrist back to the sofa. He sits after a moment's hesitation, frowning up at her in surprise when she takes his hands in hers.

"Before you say anything else, I get it. Alright? I get it."

"Sorry, what? You get what?"

"I nearly died, and that was scary for the both of us," Clara starts, biting at her lower lip. "The bad guys are still out there, and I know we'll catch them eventually, Doctor, we always do. But I'm not going to let you hold me hostage in my own home. So either you're coming with me, or you're staying here. But I am going to get out of this flat one way or another."

The Doctor gulps as he takes her in. Eyes that are the perfect shade of brown with high rosy cheekbones and the cutest button nose he's ever laid his eyes on. Hair to match the rich color of her eyes, perfectly framing her heart-shaped face. He doesn't let his eyes linger too long on her lips, though. It's the single feature he'll never spend to long on because he knows it's a trap. No, he only dares to look long enough to nearly satisfy his curiosity of what those lips would taste like when feverishly pressed against his own.

Her speech is-is fine--a little heavy on the logos and lacking in ethos, if you ask him, but it's not what persuades the Doctor in the end. If they were both honest, they'd admit that Clara never needed to open her mouth in the first place--he'd always fold like a deck of cards. And she didn't even have to say a word. All it took was a single look from that face, her face, whose every dimple and quirk he'd memorized with precision and devotion. One look, and she'd always get her way.

But she already knew that, of course.

With a low growl of anger at his defeat, the Doctor let go of her hands and sulked off to the TARDIS, grumbling about needing a decent coat before they went out.

Chapter Text

It had been a dream that roused Clara later that evening. Another nightmare that left her drenched in her own sweat, panting like she'd just finished a marathon. Eyes the color of tar that stared straight through her as they taunted and toyed with her, hooded figures looming in the shadows. Too paralyzed to even move in the dark of her room, she sit's up in her bed and puts her face in her hands.

She would always wake then, the rest of that dreadful night lost to an inaccessible spot in her memory. And tonight she was glad for it, glad her mind could erase the terrors her body seemed to still remember. Her arms and legs felt sore and heavy, a tell-tell sign she'd been struggling again in her sleep. Whatever they'd done to her, she'd gone out kicking and punching til the end.

Leaving her bed, Clara took a deep breath to calm herself before slipping into the shower. The cool water was a welcomed sensation on her back, washing away the fear that had seeped into her body overnight. Stretching the tension from her arms and neck, Clara dutifully worked the soap into her skin, massaging her muscles as she went.

When she finished and dried off, she felt around in the dark for underwear and a clean shirt in her drawers, her hands finally landing on one of the Doctor's crisp white dress shirts. Clara hesitated, never having worn one before. But in the end, her boldness outshone her meekness. She would put it back in the morning, and he'd be none the wiser. Besides, the Doctor was probably asleep by now anyway. The only person that would know about the shirt was her.

The first thing she noticed was how even after a toss in the washing machine the damned thing still smelled like him. Her nose ran along the inside of his collar as she pulled it on, marveling at the rebellious but unique musk that the Doctor had-- paperback books and peppermint. The sleeves had to be rolled up a few times before her hands were visible again, and she could almost hear him complaining about the wrinkles she'd leave. Her belly was still small enough to fit underneath the shirt which took her by surprise. She'd expected the buttons to put up more of a fight, but they were bound easily enough and she left the top three undone with the collar openned generously at her neck. Feeling comfortable and somewhat sexy in a man's shirt, Clara wondered why she hadn't stolen her friends clothes before. She'd have to make it a new habit of hers.

A cuppa to soothe her nerves was the next order of business, so she tiptoed into the kitchen. The Doctor, as expected, was continuing his unorthodox sleeping schedule, snoozing quite peacefully on the couch.  An limp arm was thrown carelessly over his eyes while his hand clutched at a piece of equipment used for the security system. Easily awoken with the hearing akin to an owls, Clara was careful enough to tread softly whilst near him for fear of a rendition of this mornings lecture on cabin fever. She smiled, wandering over to look at him while she waited for her brew.

While Clara had originally planned to admire the taciturn Time Lord as he slept, her intentions veered left as she found herself pitying him. He barely fit on the sofa, the poor man, his ankles spilling awkwardly over the edge, his bare feet pale in the moonlight. The Doctor wasn't very large in size, but he was sturdy enough and long limbed with an even longer torso. How he dozed so comfortably crammed into such a small spot she'd never know. Time and time again she's made suggestions about getting a new sofa, a bigger one. Maybe even a pullout if he planned on making this routine. But he would always insist he liked his sleeping arrangements just as they were, tiny sofa and all.

Kneeling beside him, Clara allowed herself to watch for a minute. A minute of his chest rising and falling, the movements of his fingers and toes twitching as he dreamed. For a minute the Doctor was the little boy she'd whispered to in a barn as she told a story of a superpower called fear. The innocence of his expression as he slept revealed to the world what he really was, the lines seeming to fade from his face, easing those forever scowling eyebrows of his. He was not a president, nor a god or even a hero, and neither was he meant to be any of those things.

People got it wrong often enough thinking he was a soldier, a general. They'd slap titles and status' on him so fast they'd forget about the man who bore them. 'A commanding officer with a mind for strategy' they'd say, or a madman with a knack for biochemistry and physics--but the Doctor wasn't any of those things.

He was just a man. A man who'd murdered and saved billions, constantly searching for redemption that no one could ever grant him. Clara certainly couldn't, not that she hadn't already tried. He might have given her a new reason to live after Danny had gone, but Clara just didn't have the same power over the Doctor. She couldn't save him, but she could accept him, and sometimes that was a hundred times more effective than the salvation he craved.

Clara left him to snore softly, walking back to the kitchen to retrieve her steaming mug before going towards the blue time-space ship in the corner of the room. Pulling open the door, she stepped inside the console room, watching the ship begin to glow and hum in a surprised welcome.

"Evening! Couldn't sleep. A thing happened," she told the TARDIS, which seemed to trill excitedly in response.

Clara rolled her eyes in annoyance at the sound of the TARDIS meddling in her affairs. "Bugger off, will you? It's just a shirt, doesn't mean anything. He doesn't even know I have it."

But Clara's dissuasive words didn't stop the spaceship from concocting her own presumptions, a sound closely resembling laughter filling the space as the TARDIS amused herself with Clara's nonexistent love life.

When the majority of the mockery had died down, a wary Clara explained her presence. "I needed a fitting distraction. Figured you've have something up your sleeve that'd do the trick. Was I right?"

Clara took the rapid beeping overhead as an adamant 'yes'. She grinned, partly relieved and partly terrified. The ship had a history of playing very unfunny tricks on her and she wasn't in the mood to be sent on a wild goose chase.

"Well, go on, then," Clara said, hoping she sounded a lot braver than she felt. "Lead the way."

The corridor to her right began to glow and pulsate as it filled with light--an indication of where she should go. Clara smirked before obeying, following the winding path into the belly of the spaceship.

Chapter Text

No matter how many times she boarded the space ship, Clara was always confounded and thoroughly amazed by how infinite it was. She liked to believe she's become used to the far fetched, alien aspects of her life, but there were still some things her brain refused to believe. Like the endless wonders that could lie inside a blue police box.

Wherever the TARDIS was taking her was deep within the ship, past many of the rooms Clara knew about until she no longer recognized where she was. She passed by the library she loved to visit so much and the swimming pool with its built in waterfall the Doctor loved to brag about. But several of the rooms Clara had beer been to, though the Doctor had mentioned them one time or another. There was the one with a large ball pit, the anti-gravity room. The miniature amusement park that she would definitely have to come back to someday. She even would have been perfectly fine with dropped her off at the petting zoo she saw. Clara had always wanted to pet a giraffe.

But the path didn't end there or anywhere close. As the TARDIS took her further into the ship, Clara noticed many of the doors were not only closed shut, but also bore heavy brass locks the size of her fist that appeared to require a large key to open them.

Fidgeting with the lock only made the TARDIS anxious, and she trilled in agitation. Clara looked up at the ceiling with a frown, dropping the lock.

"What's he hiding down here anyway?" She whispered incredulously, peeking at the familiar characters on the locks that she knew had to be Gallifreyan.

"What could possibly warrant a lock this big? The universe's largest comic book collection? A museum full of fezzes?"

But the TARDIS only gave a low whistle, clearly not allowed to say.

Just as Clara's feet and back began to ache from all the walking, the lit path finally ended. She found herself standing in front of a door at the end of a corridor, but this one didn't have a lock. In fact, this door was nothing like the ones before it. This one had been recently installed and smelled of freshly cut and polished wood where the others were metal, some of them rusted with age. More Gallifrayan had been carved into the wood as well, but it didn't seem as unwelcoming and shouty as the words written on the locks. Clara didn't need the TARDIS translation matrix to see the words on this door were softer somehow, gentler.

More than a little hesitant to open a secret door aboard the strange ship, Clara stepped away from it in apprehension. "What's in there?"

The TARDIS remained silent, however, whatever assistance she'd been willing to give up until this point clearly exhausted.

But the young woman didn't dare move an inch, a protective hand over her belly as she pressed her ear to the door. She'd learned long ago that the Doctor had beasts and monsters hidden deep inside the ship. She'd run through a wrecked TARDIS before, lost and afraid, and found out just exactly what the Doctor meant when he told her not to go wandering off on her own. She didn't always do what she was told, but she'd seen enough horror movies. She knew better now than to open a strange door without a certain Time Lord gripping her hand in his.

But the TARDIS was the next best thing to the Doctor, wasn't she? As close as Clara could get at this hour, anyway. They'd had their disagreements, sure, but Clara didn't think the ship would actually lead her into a trap. The TARDIS was far too impish to be properly threatening.

So, deducing the ship would have given some kind of alarm warning her that something dangerous was lurked inside, Clara relaxed a little and tested the knob. It was definitely unlocked.

"If it's this far from the console room without a lock on it, he probably thought no one would ever find it, yeah?"

Clara swallowed, an unsettled feeling in her gut. She might be new to this 'mum' thing, but she was pretty sure marching into rooms of unknown origin whilst housing a tiny being inside you was reckless and stupid. But she realized after a second or two that her nightmares were far scarier and a lot uglier than anything she'd ever find behind this door. She had no plans of going back to sleep tonight, not when all that awaited her in the dark were those terrifying eyes.

So, she pushed at the knob again and opened the door, an audible gasp leaving her mouth when she stepped inside.

"Well, this definitely beats scary ossified versions of yourself," she laughed in relief.

After being in so many "bigger on the inside" rooms on the TARDIS, Clara was a little shocked to see how cozy the space looked, almost normal sized with its low ceiling and tangible four walls. There was carpeting, which was also a first. Besides her own room on the ship, the vast majority of rooms she'd visited had wood or tiled floors with the occasional rug. And even then, the carpeting in her room didn't swish luxuriously between her toes the way this did.

The design and layout of the decor was simply breathtaking. The walls were painted a soft lilac with white trim, which was clearly the main color scheme of the room with most of the furniture matching it. The main wall in particular was decorated with large white roses that towered over Clara's head. Each flower had been intricately hand painted to simulate them growing out of the floor. The stems, leaves and thorns were painted black and then dusted with silver glitter, while the rose petals themselves were each adorned with tiny pearls that glistened in the light.

Mystified, Clara walked dazed towards the rocking chair in the corner, picking up the grey plush elephant that sat there and hugging it to her chest. She nearly screamed when it wrapped it's trunk around her neck to return the hug. Jerking the thing away from her body, Clara watched as it's arms started reaching for her again, a gentle smile on its face.

"Sentient toy from the year 2304."

Clara gave a little startled squeak and spun on her heel to see the Doctor staring at her as he leans against the doorway. "Seriously, Doctor! God, you scared me!"

The way his eyes hold hers nearly sets her on fire. He crosses his arms over his chest defensively.

"So did you."

The weight behind his words replaces her agitation with guilt. In a split second she's forgotten all about the gravity of the room in which she stands. All she can see is the terror in his gaze as he watches her, trying to swallow whatever fears he'd conjured to life while she'd been missing.

Releasing the elephant onto the floor, Clara then pads over and reaches to touch his arm, careful not to spook the Doctor further.

"You're so cold," she tells him, running her hand along his bare forearm. He doesn't go rigid under her touch, but actually seems to welcome it.

"No, you lot are just walking furnaces," he counters, watching her fingers still on his arm. "Gallifrey is a part of a binary star system. Two suns hovering makes it necessary for cooler body temperatures than humans. And with two hearts pumping blood there's slower circulation throughout the body, and the infrequent heartbeats keep us less warm."

"That explains the scarf that one time, then," Clara laughs quietly. "Why you're always wearing three layers of clothing."

He doesn't respond to that one, but he doesn't need to. Clara already knows she's right.

"I had another nightmare," she tells him, watching the way his face softens slightly. "I should have left a note or something." She smiles. "'Wasn't kidnapped, just went for a walk.'"

The frightened look on his face passes quickly when he hears her joke. He's forcing away a smile of his own and settling for a smirk instead.

"How generous of you."

Clara's glad they're back to teasing each other, but she does make a mental note to jot something down next time she ventures from the flat at night. It seems this particular episode put a strain on the Doctor, and depending how vengeful he gets next time round, U.N.I.T. could be breaking down her front door if she didn't take the proper precautions.

The Doctor breaks Clara's daydream of a team of soldiers storming into her home by pulling gently at her shirt collar. Or rather his shirt collar. She blinked and found his brows tightly furrowed as his blue eyes scanned her quickly.

"What are you wearing?" He asks the question like she's committed a terrible crime. There's a telling hitch in his voice when his index finger grazes her collarbone.

The intimacy of his touch isn't lost on her either, her mouth gaping a little as her brain and tongue work together to answer his question.

"It's-it's a shirt," she stutters, shrugging causally, although she is anything but. His thumb has got a mind of its own, leaving a fiery trail along the skin at the base of her neck wherever it traces. "Found it in my d-drawer."

"But you're wearing my shirt," he said a little breathlessly, a muscle in his jaw jumping as his gaze rakes her body. "Not yours. Mine."

It's not impolite, Clara notices, the way his eyes greedily take her in. It's the opposite actually, like he's beholding a new marvel of some kind, a lost treasure he's been searching for. The way he looks at her now, it's like he's making up for lost time.

Not knowing what else to say, Clara frowns sheepishly and says, "I'm sorry."

"Why?" He asks immediately, though he isn't really expecting her to answer.

The Doctor has dreamed of seeing her like this, beautiful and vulnerable before him with those wide brown eyes of hers reflecting his desire like a mirror. He's dreamed of touching her like he's daring to now, his languid motions over her skin eliciting the softest gasps. Silence descends as he takes the time to first explore her with his eyes before he does the same with his hands. Lowering his gaze to her half closed eyelids, the Doctor tilts his head curiously at Clara's reaction as the hand at her neck slides down her shoulder and her arm.

There's another small sound she makes as he tugs her closer to him, those brown orbs flitting up to meet his clouded gaze. Clara remains still, letting herself be pulled towards him until they are flush against the other. He can feel her trembling, her entire body quivering against him.

"You're leaking," he says when he notices she's crying. Intuitively swiping away her tears with his thumbs, the Doctor finds he's afraid that she's going to pull away from him, tell him to stop.

"No, no," Clara senses his hesitation and grabs onto his shoulders, forcing him to stay in place against her body. "Stay, please. I'm fine, really. Just--"

"Just, what?" His fingers have knotted into her hair while his other hand presses into the small of her back, his cool touch through the thin material of the shirt sending her shivering again.

"Just don't let go," she finishes immediately, eyes blown wide with lust and want. "Don't let me go, Doctor."

"I don't ever want to," his conflicted promise leaves his lips in a rush, a confession he hadn't meant to say aloud. 

Clara's trying her best to ease him out of his divergent thoughts, witnessing the clash as his emotions whirl across his face, fear nearly outweighing desire. Her palm is placed on his chest, her other hand pulling softly at the tuffs of white hair at his nape as she pulls his head down.

"Kiss me, old man," she whispers.

And despite everything in him being against it, the Doctor does as he's told.

Chapter Text

"Stop."

It's him that says the word, the Doctor realizes with a jolt. His voice utters the single syllable that halts Clara in her tracks as she moves to relieve him of his shirt. Her hands have frozen in midair at the command, hovering near his waist where she was about to pull the article of clothing up and over his head.

The enchantment they've been under of suddenly releases them both, and Clara's using hair that's spilling from her mussed bun to shield her blushing face. The Doctor's hands retreat from the small of her back to the safety of his deep pockets where they can tremble in private.

He hadn't meant to say it aloud, and certain not to her. But the adamantly disapproving chaotic chorus in his head had roared the word until his tongue was accidentally loosed and said it for him. But he repeats it anyway, consciously this time, and he takes two sizable steps away from his companion who watches him retreat in startled confusion.

"What is it? What's wrong?" Clara's tirade of questions on her swollen lips pain the Doctor even further. The light of hope in her eyes starts to dim along with the lust he saw there earlier, all of it being replaced by concern.

"It won't work," he whispers to himself, his jaw clenching as he tries to keep a lid on tsunami-like emotions. "It just won't, I know it won't."

"Did I do something wrong? If I was moving too quickly or--"

"I can't," is all the Doctor can say to her, running a hand through his hair as he goes to collapse into the rocking chair nearby. He closes his eyes. "Nothing's wrong. I just can't, I'm sorry."

The Doctor keeps his eyes closed to prevent himself from seeing his own failure reflected in her eyes.

"How long are we going to do this for?"

"Do what for?" His irritation is coming across clearly now, concealing his regret and disappointment with himself perfectly.

"Pretending we don't matter to each other. Pretending I don't matter to you like I know I do. The both of us pretending to be emotionally stunted because we're so bloody terrified of the outcome."

The Doctor opens his eyes to see that she's much closer now, standing over him with narrowed eyes laden with skepticism.

"How long will it take for me to believe you, Doctor? When you say you aren't my boyfriend, how long do you expect it will take for us to actually believe that?"

He blinks wearily. "Clara."

"Because," she continues to his dismay, "I think we both know you want to be. We both know I want more than a topsy-turvy, mostly benign friendship. And I can't understand why you won't at least try."

He's always marveled at how quickly this woman can convert her own fear into manipulative tactics. It's a trait many humans possess, the ability to deflect those tedious sentiments they're commonly afflicted by onto others. But usually, it takes too much time to process a worthy, properly hurtful comeback. But with Clara it happens almost as quickly as his own conversions do.

But he's had centuries to play the role of 'emotionally stunted' man in a blue box. He's perfected the role, and for the Doctor, the persona fits like a glove, the twisted cruelty a sort of imitation of his own wary personality.

The Doctor starts to chew at his thumb as his eyes languidly move to catch the harrowed gaze of his companion. Clara has her arms folded across her chest resting on her stomach. The Doctor notices then that the damned shirt she's stolen from him is completely transparent in this light, and his companion has neglected to wear a bra.

And he does want her. Gods, the Doctor wants Clara so badly he nearly springs up out of the rocking chair to take her right there, on the floor of the nursery that will belong to their daughter. He wants to see her fantastically wide, brown eyes blinking up at him through lidded lashes as she begs him for her release. He wants to watch her topple over the edge of ecstasy, tumbling into an abyss of pleasure as she climaxes beneath him.

He's wants to do all those things. And he's so scared he never will, the thought that she'll never hear the three words he's wanted to say to her since he found her again almost two years ago, standing in the Jones' doorway repeating "Doctor Who" with the that smirk of sass etched onto her face.

But there is a balance to be maintained, a scale that carefully weighs the safety of the universe on one side and his affection for Clara on the other. The two are constantly at odds, vying for more competitive positions in his life, but the Doctor has managed this far to keep his feelings for his best friend at bay. Of course, it had been much easier to convince himself Clara wasn't as important when he only saw her once, sometimes twice per week. But now that they shared the same living space, the domesticity of their lifestyle had begun to wear away his resolve. He's barely traveled at all, and the thought of leaving her for the smallest amount of time makes him sick to his stomach.

Clara Oswald, his best friend, is carrying his child inside her and its began to warp the Doctor in every way he's every feared. And those fears are broadcasted throughout his mind every time he looks at her, the phantom image of Clara lying with her eyes closed in a back alley of cobblestone flashing in the synapses of his brain. He hasn't been able to understand how far into the future it is, or what exactly happens to her, but he doesn't need to know any of that to know that's how it's all going to end.

His entire world will come to a halt that day, and he doesn't even want to think about who he'll be without Clara Oswald.

Because he knows he's right--it won't work. Clara isn't the first woman he's fallen in love with, though sometimes it does feel that way. His hearts are hers now, but they've belonged to others before. Though it's only been a handful of people that have caught his eye the way she has, the Doctor can still remember the face of every person he's ever loved, be it platonic or romantic. Every relationship he's ever taken part of has left yet another calloused scar on his hearts, and he doesn't think he'll be able to endure another.

The Doctor stands from the chair, his resolve flickering faintly in his eyes before he hardens his gaze on her. "Like I said. It won't work."

"Why not?"

"Do you think you're the first person I've had this debate with, Clara?" He scoffs, resisting when he feels the urge to stop himself. "You think you're the first girl to stumble into my TARDIS and develop a crush? It's happened so many times, it's almost a nonevent!"

The Doctor's spiteful words throw Clara for a loop as she struggles to hear them. The witty comeback silences itself on her lips, unprepared for his mockery.

But he doesn't stop there, the knife digging further into her back with every breath he takes. "It's a fool proof formula, apparently: invite a young lass into your bigger-on-the-inside box and show her how invalid her human-centric way of thinking is by pointing out a few flashy spots in the universe. By the time I've dropped them off back on their little blue planet, they're practically proposing marriage!"

The Doctor's derisive bitterness had it's intended effect as Clara's lustful passion fades fast from her face, replaced with red hot fury instead.

"You think I'm like those other girls?" She scoffs, rolling her eyes. "Flipping and fawning all over the big bad Time Lord because he's got a pimped out ride? Because he wears quirky outfits and thinks he's so bloody charming?"

She can't quite manage to swallow the lump in her throat fast enough because it's then that her eyes start to burn, and she's furious that she's wasting more tears on him. God, she doesn't even know why she's so surprised that the evening has turned into something of a nightmare.

The Doctor had wrecked her life repeatedly and she's let him. He's different, she's told others before, excusing him over and over. He's not half as scary as you think. He's not a bad man, really, I promise. Had she been lying to those people? Had they risked their lives for a monster? Had she?

From the moment she first saw him, the floppy haired monk at her door, Clara knew her life would change in imaginable ways. She may have faltered a bit when the Doctor regenerated, but she soon discovered all she really ever wanted was him, regardless of the face and body he wore. And maybe it had all been one-sided, looks and glances she caught from him nothing more than her reading into a man that evidently wasn't capable of seeing her the same way.

But she's endured him. She's endured it all because like a daft idiot, she's figured it'll be worth it all in the end when she's finally able to hold him in her arms the way she's always wanted to. Through the good, bad and the worst of circumstances, Clara has stood by him. She's believed he is compassionate when he seems heartless, and she's had faith in him when he's been lost.

But above all, Clara has let him treat her this way, and maybe she's more to blame than he is because of it. But she'll be damned if she lets him assume that she's just another ditzy human girl in his TARDIS making heart eyes at a man who would never give her the time of day.

Stalking over to him, Clara asks, "And how many of those other girls were six and a half months pregnant with your child?"

The Doctor nearly flinches at the coolness of her voice, unnerved by how fast it's all unraveling for them. The profound expression of sorrow in her eyes nearly causes the hateful act to fall away so he can beg her forgiveness. But he's too far gone now to stop.

"None, actually," he answers truthfully. "But, I'm sure if River had lived, she'd have come pretty close."

It's the most unexpected blow of all, the reminder of his golden girl, his gloriously endowed wife who Clara has always known she'd be second fiddle to. He's voiced a terrifying belief she's refused to acknowledge. And she doesn't think she'll ever be able to forgive him for it.

But she has to know for sure, unwillingly to let him go unless he says the words and breaks the spell. "So I've been wrong this whole time, yeah? You-you've never had feelings for me? Ever?"

The Doctor places his hand over Clara's stomach, his mind opening to the telepathic feelings and thoughts of their child. He almost jumps away from the love that's present there, the overwhelmingly fierce sense of admiration making him feel even worse.

"Clara, however this came to be, this child is a gift more than a curse," he lowers his eyes to her belly and smiles. "I was wrong for even suggesting what I did. I know that now, and I'm sorry for thinking otherwise."

Clara's tears finally slide down her face, her mind reeling as his actions once again begin to conflict with his words. His touch on her belly moves to her hand and it takes all her strength not to jerk away from him.

"It's true that you've given me more than any other person I've traveled with, that you're different," the Doctor says, hoping his words convey that truth justly. "But I'll never be able to be what you want me to be. I won't ever be that man. And I don't think it's right for you to wait around holding your breath for me to change."

Clara doesn't know what happened, doesn't know what demon has petrified the Doctor so badly he thought the only way to shield her was to destroy her. Destroy them. Clara will never know why he does it, and she no longer desires to have an explanation. But she does know she's done. Done with the Doctor's pattern of self sabotage and done with acting as if it doesn't take its toll.

For now, she's done. With him.

Chapter Text

 

Wednesday, 7th of May, Kysterillous| 6 1/2 Months Ago...

Caelius watches with fascination as the feisty female known as Clara Oswald goes limp before his eyes, a syringe emptying its contents into her bloodstream to still her. Her eyes remain open and wide with terror as she stares up at him, a stubborn refusal of hers to break the eye contact. She's bloodied her wrists with how hard she's wrestled against the steel restraints, so much so that a third restraint was added across her ribs to keep her held down on the table.

Reaching forward, Caelius uses his index finger to touch the odd beads of liquid that have started to drench the human's hairline before licking at the moisture carefully. Unsure of what to make of the salty taste, he tilts his head and moves closer to her reddened face, breathing in the musk of fear that's begun to radiate from her body.

"I have often heard of human bravery, but thought it was a myth," he tells her with a shrug, lifting his broad bare shoulders easily in a confession. "Because you live in a constant state of cowardice, I did not believe your species was capable of being brave--your life spans are too short for anything other than fear. So it's understandable, you see."

Scaled hands run over the taunt silver fabric that comprises the strange attire Clara Oswald wears, fingers splayed out just above her heart. He can feel the desperate way the organ flings itself about the minuscule cavity underneath her ribs in sheer panic, and he imagines how lovely it would be to free the still-beating organ from her chest with a simple tug of his wrist. He imagines how he would use his bare hands to pull her apart just to see what exactly was inside, all the pink and red life lying just beneath the surface.

"I did not believe you possessed it--bravery, that is--here," his finger presses painfully into her breastbone and Clara whimpers, knowing Caelius could never understand his own strength. If he pressed any harder, the bone would snap in half.

She can recall the Doctor telling her that the Fish People were primarily instinctive beings and, while incredibly articulate, they were basically functioning sociopaths. So Clara knew Caelius' touch was not sexual in nature, but something far worse--it was carnal and positively animalistic. Like a predator pawing at its prey before it sank its fangs into the victims throat.

Clara swallows dryly around the cloth they've shoved into her mouth has a gag, a bit of drool sliding down her cheek to mingle with her tears.

Caelius' razor sharp teeth gleam in the dimly lit room as he grins down, pleased. "You have proved me wrong, Miss Oswald, and I am not often wrong."

Caelius looks up from her face to the waiting hooded figures who linger patiently in the shadows a few feet away before he brings his attention back to a silently stunned Clara. The satisfied look on his face has melted away, leaving him suddenly conflicted.

"She did not wish for them to be performed, but the Priests have been rather... insistent, I'm afraid. If she desires that the insemination and gestation process be successful, the Priests remain adamant that the Ritual and Prayers must be properly executed."

Caelius watched as Clara's dumbfounded expression her clouded over her entire face, her brows knitting together. But the High Duke did not explain any further, knowing he'd already overstepped by providing the little information he did possess.

Leaning away from Clara's body, Caelius gives nearly imperceptible nod and then the hooded Priests are swarming towards her, unzipping her suit and tearing it away from her body with alarming speed until she is completely exposed before them.

Clara's muffled shouts of outrage and protest are covered even more by the sound of low chanting as the hooded creatures paint her naked torso with a glowing blue liquid that sears and burns at her flesh when it touches her. She tries to wrench away, but the medication they've given her acts as a type of paralyzing agent, only allowing her the control of her eyes.

With no concept of time, Clara has no idea how long she endures it, but the agony of her pain proves too much eventually. The intensity of the trauma gradually lessens until it is reduced to a dull residual sting, and then, soon, nothing at all. Clara fights like hell against it, but she succumbs to unconsciousness, her eyes shutting out Caelius' intrigued gaze as her head lolls onto her shoulder.


 

Clara doesn't know how long she's slept when she awakes with a start, but her head spins wildly as she recoils at the brightness of the room that before was only barely lit with wax candles. She reopens her eyes after a moment, squinting while she waits for them to adjust, casting her gaze around the room to survey her new surroundings.

She's been left alone with no signs of chanting hooded men or the High Duke. The paralysis has worn off considerably, and though her restraints still hold her in place, she can stretch a little to relieve some of the tension that's developed in her back and shoulders. The movements causes a shock of pain in her abdomen, and she suddenly remembers what Caelius called the Ritual. Clara's terrified eyes flit down to her body to see the damage that's been done, but she's no longer naked. While she was sleeping, they put her in some kind of a robe, its soft fabric rubbing against the tender flesh of her belly every time she shifts even a little bit. Lying back again, Clara turns her head to further inspect the space.

What becomes obvious is she's been moved to a clinic of sorts. It's bare and mostly empty save for a few cabinets, machines and the bed she lies on. No windows or high ceilings--no indication of how deep into the Fish People's facility she is, and the room has probably been deliberately stripped of anything that might hint as to her exact location. She spots several different instruments resembling tools you'd find in a hospital on Earth. Her hazy mind seems to have a type of film covering her senses, and everything feels too distant and faraway to understand properly.

Drugs, Clara's slow brain tells her. You've been drugged. And sure enough, Clara twists her head to see an IV drip filled with a deep purple gunk attached to a needle that was plugged into her wrist while she slept. She'll have to figure out how to remove it later if she wants to find a way out of here.

Clara's only suggestion that she's been locked away for hours instead of days is the distant music that indicates the party she and the Doctor arrived for is still happening somewhere. Belated relief makes her relax a little, vaguely comforted by the idea that her clever boy is probably doing everything in his power to find her.

The gag has been taken out of her mouth since she's been out as well. Clara tries to test out her voice to cry for help, but all that's left is a grating, pained whisper. She opens and closes her mouth several times, the dryness in her throat begging for water.

"Thirsty?" A familiar voice coos from somewhere behind her. "I thought you would be when you woke up."

Clara immediately moves to crane her head towards the source of the voice, thrashing clumsily as she shouts in frustration and then pain, her body reminding her of its wounds.

"Oh, careful now," the lilting female voice carries a daunting familiarity that Clara's fuzzy head can't quite put a finger on.

"The Fish People are some of the best plastic surgeons in the universe, but even their skillful work can be undone. Took ages to stitch you up just right so there wouldn't be any scars, and I'd hate for that flimsy skin of yours to tear apart and ruin all the Priests good work."

The sound of liquid being poured into a cup makes Clara's mouth salivate in anticipation, her head craning a bit further to catch the hem of a purple dress and old fashioned heeled boots. She frowns and momentarily forget her thirst, the edge of her subconscious memory snagging at the visual image.

"Cybermen," she whispers hoarsely, staring at the boots as they come further into her line of sight, her eyes slowly traveling up the rest of the woman's body as she stands upon the precipice of her epiphany.

"There-there were Cyberman in a cemetery. And the sky exploded. And Danny Pink. Danny... was dead. He died... and became a Cyberman."

A low chuckle reaches Clara's ears and she is met with the woman's back as she pulls up a chair to Clara's left.

"Now, now. Let's not dwell on the past, dearie," the Scotswoman tuts in disapproval, turning around with a wicked grin of mischief on her face. Her light blue eyes sparkle dangerously. "Not when what's happening now is so much more... yummy."

Clara's eyes go wide as she finally recognizes the Mary Poppins getup the Time Lady so enjoys.

"Missy."

The rogue female reincarnation of the Master curtsies with an impish grin before she leans over and plants her painted red lips on Clara's cheek, humming with pleasure. Clara attempts to jerk away, but Missy's hands have clapped down hard on her shoulders, forcing her to be still.

"Hello, there, poppet," she whispers with a flourish of a Cockney accent, her breath against Clara's ear raising the hairs at the back of her neck. "Miss me terribly?" 

 

Chapter Text

"You'll want an explanation pretty soon, I expect," Missy whispers, plopping down in a chair beside the bed. "But from the looks of it, you'll need some time to process first. So, go on. I'll just be here. For whenever you're ready, dear."

She could only stare, paralyzed as Missy combed her fingers lazily through Clara's tangled brown hair. It felt like she'd been plunged into a river of ice and then tossed into the hottest of embers. A myriad of emotions ran across her face as Missy ceased playing with her hair and finally met her gaze.

"You're a rather alarming shade of bright red right about now," she commented, gesturing to Clara's pinched up face. "Are you choking on something? 'Cause that just won't do."

Clara could barely remind herself to breathe, let alone respond, the air having to be forced in and out of her nose because her jaw was clenched too tight for her mouth to be opened.

Missy might be the person--if you could even call her that-- who was sitting beside Clara now, but all she could see when she looked at her was Danny. Dan the Soldier Man, Maths teacher, who'd saved the entirety of the human race just by wanting to save her, Clara Oswald.

The day he'd died had been the day she was going to tell him everything--about the mummy on the Orient Express and the Boneless monsters that were from another dimension. She was going stop lying that day, and if he had asked to to stay away this time, she would. But then he'd been gone, just like that. Warm brown skin pale and ashen, his cooling body warped underneath a suit of silver.

And this, this had been the lunatic responsible for it.

Missy glances at the machine that contains Clara's vitals, a brief, perplexing worry in her eyes. "Goodness me, you're going through a bit of a shock, aren't you? I'd advise against that. You've only got the one heart, and it's not a very easy thing to restart."

Missy suddenly presses a little button on the remote control in her hand. The button activates the bed's movement, and immediately begins to rise as it adjusts. Clara nearly cries out as her battered torso is lifted until she's in an upright sitting position. The pain nauseates her and, for the time being, it replaces her anger.

"You needed a distraction," Missy smiles curtly. "Pain is always a good one. One of my personal favorites."

Missy, to Clara's surprise, lifts the aforementioned cup of liquid to her lips, helping her by placing the straw in it delicately between her lips.

"Drink it," Missy commands when Clara hesitates. "You need to be rehydrated. And it should help with the pain. Either that, or you'll grow a sixth finger--I'm not sure which. I can't remember."

Clara doesn't need to be told twice, eagerly slurping all of the cups contents until it's completely drained. The effects are almost immediate, and Clara is shocked to find out that she feels fine, albeit a little sore. The drink seems to drain her of her anger as well, leaving her empty but thoroughly puzzled.

And Missy, who watches her with a mischievous smile on her composed face, seems to know exactly what she's thinking before Clara can even voice it.

"I'm not dead," Missy smiles sweetly, unbothered as she gestures the unasked question away with purple fingernails.

"Obviously. So let's move on to some questions that are less irritating, yes? I've been around this pompous group of self important fish for so long, and I've been missing all the latest Earthly gossip. So tell me: have Brad and Angelina finally called it quits?"

"I thought it killed you. That Cyberman, I saw it with my own eyes. You were dead. I thought you..." Clara blinks furiously when she finds her voice. "But you've been here all this time, haven't you? Hiding out, planning this?"

"Look at you, so quick!" Missy grins again, spreading her arms wide as she appraises the space. "Pretty nice digs, right? Sure, the locals all look a bit like the cartoons in The Little Mermaid on steroids, but you get used it!"

"Where's the Doctor?" Clara puts as much force in her voice as she can muster, but Missy only looks bored with her inquiry. "Missy, what have you done to him?"

"You really are sickeningly predictable, do you know that?"

Clara raises an eyebrow before she pulls it back down in a frown. "Predictable? You've been trying and failing to send the universe into total chaos for centuries, and I'm the predictable one?"

"He's not here," Missy tells a the bewildered young woman with an annoyed snort. "That's what you're wondering, isn't it? Where Superman is and why he hasn't flown in in a blaze of glory to rescue his favorite schoolteacher?"

Leaning back into her seat with a huff, the Time Lady rolls her eyes delicately. "Doesn't that sound even a little pathetic to you?"

Clara won't ever admit that yes, it does sound incredibly pathetic and egotistical that a man who is known widely across the universe as the 'Oncoming Storm' should be at her beck and call, waiting around the clock to save her from an ill-fated venture. But he's all she's got--any chance of her leaving this place is riding on how quickly the Doctor can find her. And the very least she can do to buy him some time is stall her captor.

"Why am I here, Missy?" She asks quietly. "Why me?"

There's a flicker of something much more vicious and unrelenting that flashes in Missy's eyes, and Clara almost wants to call it 'jealousy'. But the profound emotion is gone before she can properly name it, and the shadows in the woman's eyes disappear to make room for crazed frenzy.

"Oh, well that's a complicated question, innit? But I suppose we'll get to it soon enough." Missy crosses her arms across her chest and pouts. "Can't you think of something a bit more original to ask me?"

"Did you kill him? Did you kill the Doctor?"

Missy scoffs and rolls her eyes as she blows a raspberry at Clara. "Don't be daft. To kill the Doctor would be so last regeneration of me," Missy crossed her arms and leaned back into her chair. "Oh goodness, I was so insecure back then, all that testosterone coursing through me like a lethal poison."

"Then where is he?" Clara asks, ignoring Missy's minute trip down memory lane. "What have you done with him?"

Another wry, knowing smile. "Resting, I believe. Somewhere in the facility. But he's fine. Promise."

At Clara's dubious gaze, Missy reluctantly explains. "He's had quite an ordeal--marched in here in the middle of the Ritual and attacked some of the Priests. Caelius was quite upset about that one," Missy cracks another hapless smirk. "But I fixed it. I always do."

"What happened to him?" Clara's voice nearly cracks on the last word, imagining the Priests restraining the Doctor before constructing their brutalizing attacks.

"Well, he should be perfectly fine, more or less. I convinced the Priests and Caelius that a simple neural block was a lot less messy than killing him."

Clara ignored the flippant remark. "But I'm--I don't understand. Why's the Doctor resting if you saved his life?"

Missy was suddenly digging through her pockets, and Clara was ashamed that she couldn't help but flinch away, thinking the worst. But when she was finished, the Time Lady only pulled a black umbrella from her right pocket.

"Bigger on the inside, of course," Missy's wink was cheeky as she patted her pockets. She pointed the end of the umbrella at a nearby screen, a hushed buzzing emanating from it before a picture flashed up into the screen.

"Doctor!" Clara shouted before she could stop herself, the wobbly black and white video feed streaming him laid out on a hospital bed similar to hers. He was unconscious, completely still save for the light movement of his chest that indicated that he was breathing. There were a handful of Priests hovering over him, but Clara couldn't see what they were doing.

"He's fine," Missy giggled behind her. "This is probably more sleep than he's gotten in ages."

"Missy," Clara growled, her eyes glued to the screen, "what the hell is a neural block?"

"It's kinda like when you hit your head a bit too hard and can't remember anything that happened before that. Neural blocks are usually voluntary, though, not accidental. They put a key set of memories behind a steel door, and the owner of those memories is no longer able to access them."

Clara frowned, turning back to look at Missy who was now staring the screen smugly. A defiance and pride emanated from her, and it gave Clara chills to know the maniac had had so much time to construct a plan that was now playing out so well.

"Why would you lock the memories away instead of just wiping his mind?"

The Time Lady gave a patronizing chuckle. "You can't wipe a Time Lord's mind, silly. Our brains are too complex. It's like deleting files that have been already stored in the cloud. They can be uploaded again."

Missy smiles softly, shaking her head. "No, with a neural block, there's no way to know your memories have been misplaced. You might not even know anything is amiss. But mind wipes--oh, they're like that nagging feeling you get when you've gone off somewhere and think you've left the stove on. You know something is wrong, your brain keeps reminding you that it's missing something, even if you don't know what it is. With a neural block, the Doctor will never know what happened. He'll think you two were together at this party the whole time.

"But,"she continued, a tad mournfully, "neural blocks feel similar to a whack on the head after they've started working, all those memories leaving your brain that quickly isn't very good for you. He's resting now because he wouldn't be able to stay conscious anyway. He'll have a hell of headache when he wakes up." Missy sighs quietly, inspecting her fingernails.

Clara's eyes stung with tears as she endeavored to keep her voice steady. "He won't remember I'm here, will he?"

Missy seemed alarmed by the question, quickly shook her head. "No, no, pet. I suspect when he wakes, he'll have taken you home already."

Clara's head spun with the information she was receiving, trying in vain to keep up. "How can he have taken me anywhere? I'm sitting right here, talking to you."

Her inquiry is interrupted by a long line of laughter as Missy throws her head black, wiping the corners of her eyes that have teared up.

"It really is funny, watching your face while that wee brain of yours tries to comprehend all this. But I can't have your head exploding on me just yet. Not anymore." The humor fades from her lips as her hand comes to rest gently, if not lovingly, on Clara's belly.

"Not anymore," she repeats, though this time Clara doesn't think the insane Time Lady is really talking to her. "You've got too important a part to play in what's to come, I'm afraid."

"What are you talking about?" Clara was finally starting to lose her patience with all of Missy's inane riddles. "What role?"

Reluctantly removing her hand from Clara's abdomen, Missy turns to Clara with an chillingly empty stare that makes Clara's blood run cold.

"Did you know I'm barren?" Missy asked her, tilting her head as her eyes narrowed, scrutinizing Clara as a scientist would bacteria in a petri dish. "Did he ever tell you that I couldn't have children? That I could regenerate a million and one times and it wouldn't change that?"

Clara's heart buckled at the betraying twinge of sympathy she felt. "No. He never mentioned it."

A genuine smile found Missy's thin lips as she stood from her chair.

"No, he wouldn't have, would he?" She sighs heavily, and there's a tenderness to her voice. "He always did know how to keep a secret."

Something Missy said earlier snags again at Clara's mind, and she chokes out, "Wait a minute, did you say voluntary?"

"Sorry?" Missy spins around so quickly the fast movement makes Clara, whose is still tied down, dizzy.

"The neural block," Clara can feel her eyes watering all over again, the tears burning like acid down her cheeks. "You said it was voluntary--meaning he chose it. The Doctor chose to forget what you were doing, what you were going to do to me?"

Missy only watches her as a series of expressions from a heavy dose of confusion to angst to vengeful fury that could probably rival her own, utterly fascinated by the turn of events. She'd never calculated the reactions of the Doctor's new pet into her ploy, but it was certainly a bonus. To watch the girl--the child, really--he'd recently set his sights on writhe at the idea of her blessed savior's willingness to abandon her... it's an unprecedented joy fills her hearts. Even if it is a lie.

But then Missy forcibly reminds herself that emotional torture is still a form of unwarranted stress, and with Miss Clara Oswald in such a fragile state right now, that stress wouldn't be very conducive. Not in the stages of early development, anyway. 

Missy rolls her eyes, succumbing. "Well," she drags out the 'L' sound. "I may have told a tiny fib. I did give him a choice, you know. I asked him to say something nice, but all he did was scowl at me with those great big eyebrows of his. So, I told him--everything, I do mean everything. Start to finish what my latest scheme was, no stone left unturned."

"And what was the choice?" Clara asked mockingly, bitter derision coating her tone. "Take the neural block or you'd kill me?"

Missy turned up her nose in offense, blowing a raspberry. "Kill you? Idiot girl, I can't kill you now anymore than I can kill the Doctor!" She crosses her arms over her chest defiantly. "The choice was this: either take the neural block and forget everything that's happened in past few hours, or get in the TARDIS and fly away with the promise to never come back for you."

Clara was speechless once more, her mouth dry as it hung open, turning to look again at the screen. This was probably to most overt sign of him returning her feelings for him she'd ever received. Sure, he'd nearly died several times trying to save her life, but Clara was almost always sure that was just his survivor's guilt egging him on. He'd lost so many already, and Clara didn't know that this particular twelfth Doctor had it in him to lose much more.

But this time, it hadn't been death that threatened his life. Neither of the options Missy had given him had to do with him being forced into anything. He'd volunteered to given up the memories for the past several hours of his life--for her?

And suddenly it no longer seemed believable. Because Missy had been absolutely right. It was pathetic of her to try and manipulate the Time Lord's reasoning into something as fallible and simplistic as human sentiment.

"Why'd he do it?" Clara asked her, nodding towards the screen. "He could've gone free--moved on and met someone new to fly around time and space with. But he stayed. And you know why, don't you?"

Missy shrugged. "Well, I mean, he couldn't leave you if he wanted to, now, could he? After all, you're chemically bonded now. It's a tad cheesy to say, I know, but leaving you behind would kill him. Physically, I mean--he'd deteriorate in a way that's morbidly similar to that dreadful cancer you lot are constantly being infected with. He'd become something of a husk within a matter of months."

"C-Chemically bonded?" Clara stuttered, feeling sick to her stomach. "What the hell do you mean? Chemically bonded how?"

Missy was genuinely being to get annoyed now. All the questions and all the draining emotional shite that Clara was pumping out-- she'd never understand how her friend could willingly travel with one of these-these creatures and not at least dream about slitting their throats in the night. They were so mind-numbingly dull.

Returning to her chair, Missy clasped her hands tightly in her lap in an endeavor not to strangle the human next to her.

"My race is nearly extinct, Clara," Missy began to explain somewhat curtly, each word from her mouth brazen and unapologetic. "To my knowledge, the only Time Lords left in the universe are the ones in the room, and the one on that screen."

Clara blinked questioningly at the plural "ones" Missy mentioned, but somehow thought it was best not to interrupt. Not when she was so close to finally getting some answers.

"The Doctor, bless him, thinks rather naively that they're still with us, trapped and forever frozen in time in a pocket universe that his eleventh regeneration saved with the help of some of his former selves--and you." Missy arched an eyebrow delicately. "And now, Miss Oswald, I think it's time I return the favor, yes?"

Leaning forward, Missy laughs a little, but it's a painful sounding one, ironic in every sense of the word. "I gave you to him, you know. The second time he met you--or rather a version, an echo, of you-- but not the first. You were a sort of present, tiny little bow-wrapped box I'd delievered carefully to the TARDIS' front door. I'm sure it must feel like eons ago for you, but I remember it so vividly." She places her fist under chin as she gazes wistfully at nothing at all, and Clara watches with a sinking stomach. "I had only wanted to help him. He'd become so very dark after that episode in New York, and I'd been more than a little worried--he was holed up in that blue machine in the clouds like a teenager. And I knew if I didn't do something to revive him..."

Missy clears her throat, looking irritated at letting her veil slip and unmask her vulnerabilities. "Anyway, it worked. A little too well, I'm slowly beginning to find out. He never could resist a puzzle, and you were the perfect riddle--a girl that died and died and died again to save his life when all he'd ever done was to stop it happening. It was you who gave him purpose again, ignited that fire to solve the impossible task. The 'impossible girl'."

Missy's mouth quirks at the sides when Clara pales. "Who do you think came up with that line? Did you really think it was him?"

"It was you," Clara whispers as she finally begins to understand. "On the hotline, and again in the papers in Victorian London when he changed. Not fate, or destiny or anything else--not the universe. Just you."

Clicking her tongue, Missy winks. "Just me, indeed. Though, I can't quite take the credit for him catching whatever ilol-fated disease that made him fall in love with you. That was never supposed to happen, and I didn't think I could. But the Doctor has always wanted what he can't have, and he's always had a bit of a soft spot for you silly Earthlings. Though, I suppose now, I'm evening out the score."

The protective edge her voice had taken made Clara laugh, or at least it did until a searing pain ripped through her abdomen.

Looking down at her gown, Clara noticed the tiny dot of blood where her stitches had just torn. "What've you done, Missy? Why were those Priests chanting over me, and what the bloody hell did you mean by 'chemically bonded'?"

"I suppose I could tell you, but I'm afraid it wouldn't matter," Missy responds after a moment of thought. "Just before he succumbed to the neural block, the Doctor made me swear to give you one, too. Said this would all be hard enough on you as it is. It's probably why he chose to stick around in the first place, the idiot."

"What would be hard on me?" Clara's voice rose as she began to lose patience. "What are you going on about?"

Missy's hand comes to rest upon Clara's stomach again, this time eliciting the tiniest  whimper of pain from her. "The pregnancy, for course. The ritual and the surgery were meant to alter your human anatomy enough for you to survive most, but preferably all of the pregnancy. Neither you nor the little tyke would've lasted a fortnight without either, and even now, it's still a little messy and unpredictable. This is unprecented territory, after all. A human carrying a Time Lord-Human hybrid offspring."

"P-pregnancy?" Clara exhaled sharply, her chest constricting as Missy nodded excitedly, throwing a fistful of celebratory confetti into the air.  

"Yes! You'll swell up all over, and the slightest whiff of food will make your stomach turn. Not to mention the morning sickness that'll plague you but that's not even the best part!" Missy beams, her hands clapping together in elation.

"In about a year, give or take, there'll be a new little Time Lord wailing it's way into the universe! And that tiny being is going to be the precursor to restarting the entirety of the Gallifreyan race--and you get to be a part of that!"

Clara only stares at Missy, the new and frankly frightening information sending her brain into overload as she struggles to come to terms with her newfound reality.

When she finds her voice, it shakes and trembles so violently that it sounds like her teeth are chattering. "You're using me as a surrogate. To create more Time Lords?"

"Well, I certainly can't carry it, not with my hostile uterus and all. So, it was either you, or one of those pesky incubator tanks." Missy pats Clara's tummy softly. "I flipped a coin." 

Clara opens her mouth to say something--maybe yell or scream or sob--but sounds get lost in her mouth as her eyes widen in surprise. She can't remember what she was going to say, her mind seeming to reset.

"Oh, yep," Missy smiles grimly down at her, those icy eyes somewhat remorseful. "Might've forgotten to add that the neural block was in your drink--oopsies. It's probably kicking in now. Best not to fight it, it'll only make it worse."

And it does, Clara finds, like swimming against the current of a river, and her already drained body tires swiftly. Her recollection of what's transpired is quickly being erased, and Clara is beginning to forget--everything. The very edges of her memory blur to the point of being unrecognizable before they are just gone.

But as her vision clouds over, pulling her into the darkness, she feels Missy grasp her hand affectionately.

"Who's the father?" Clara grunts as she tries to will herself to remain conscious. She has to hear the answer. "Missy?"

Above her, Missy stands to place a kiss to her temple, the gesture painfully similar to the Doctor Who wore a bow tie.

"Sleep well, Clara Oswald."

Chapter Text

He was whistling when it first started ringing. A hymn belonging to the particularly devout Order of the Ninth Sentient from the planet R-5, a gloomy tune he thought fit well with his rather melodramatic mood. Loudly and with perfect pitch, the Doctor whistled solemnly as he worked below the decks of the main console. But he went silent as soon as he noticed the ringing, the flourish of his low cadence cut off in the middle of a grand crescendo.

The TARDIS phone rang clearly now that it was no longer competing with his baritone. Removing his goggles with a frown, the Doctor left his swing underneath the console to trudge up the stairs, his curiosity eliminating some of his Clara-related angst.

There really were only so many people that could be calling--in the vastness of the universe, only a handful of individuals had been deemed worthy enough to deserve the Doctor's personal number. An honor and privilege that was misused almost all the time, no doubt, but he could hardly blame them. He couldn't say he minded much, seeing a few old faces every now and then. Reminiscing wasn't his strong suit this time around, and he'd grown to be a lot less cuddly than before, but it'd be a wedding invitation or a last visit to one of his favorite planets, and the Doctor could never turn down an adventure with an old mate.

The anxious excitement builds as he approaches the telephone, but is reigned in he remembers that he's basically grounded himself until he and Clara have gotten themselves out of their latest pickle. So he hesitates, and watches somewhat disappointed as the ringing ceases.

But just as soon as it ends, it's ringing once more, if a little bit more insistently. Swallowing, the Doctor removes his thick rubber gloves and cautiously picks up the phone to place it to his ear.

He doesn't know exactly what he expects to hear--probably something about Elvis needing his cape back, or a teenage Einstein needing a bit of assistance with another proof-- but he is thoroughly shocked all together to hear a certain young lady on the other line.

"Hello? I'm sorry, but is this the Doctor?"

"Maebh?" He snorts in confusion, removing the phone from his ear to stare at it a moment. "Last time I heard from you we were stomping through a forest in the middle of Trafalgar's square!"

All he could hear on the other end was her quick panting as if she was recovering from a long run. "And you were right about the trees, about the voices. You were right about everything, Doctor. So I thought you'd want to know. Thought maybe you could help us again, like you did the last time."

"Thought I'd want to know what? Has something happened? Maebh, how did you get this number?" Rapid fire questions flew out of his mouth so fast the Doctor worried for a moment that the little girl hadn't understood a word and he'd have to repeat himself.

"Well, I found the number in her was phone, Doctor. I'm using her phone," Maebh's squeaky voice explained, but the Doctor could barely hear her with all the commotion in the background. "It's Miss--"

But he was starting to get bored, the duration his attention span having reached its peak. "Sorry, Maebh, but I really can't hear you with all the noise. And since I've been told you lot were at a museum today, I'll wager there's plenty more to do than prank call people with your 'i-whatevers'. Maybe just give the phone back to Miss Oswald, yes?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell you, sir," the little girl's wobbly voice was stronger as it began to rise with what the Doctor was beginning to believe was panic.

"Miss Oswald collapsed a few minutes ago, and she's still on the floor. And, Doctor, she won't wake up."


 

Two Weeks Earlier...

After their row in the nursery, the Doctor watched Clara retreat so far into herself he wondered if there was a fathomable way to reach her. The hole he'd dug for himself was far deeper than he'd ever anticipated, and he wasn't sure she'd be throwing him a ladder any time soon. He'd made the ridiculously hopeful assumption that his companion would just brush him off and pretend the conversation had never taken place--she'd done that sort of thing before. A way of preserving both of their dignities, the Doctor had been keen enough to play along when she did decide to put on a game of pretend. But he should have known it would be much different this time.

And it was. Very, very different.

While things remained mostly cordial between the two of them, it was obvious something had broken. They walked on eggshells around the other, tiptoeing over the jagged pieces of their relationship while simultaneously ignoring the elephant in the room. There was no longer any trust, all of it washed down the drain after Clara had made herself vulnerable and been rejected by him. Her invisible walls might as well have been miles thick because he couldn't penetrate them for anything. Emotionally, Clara was completely cut off from the Doctor and seemed to have mastered an Academy Award-winning poker face overnight. Those faces and expressions of hers he had so carefully memorized were of no use to him now. Every emotion she felt was now kept a safe distance away behind a bullet-proof casing.

But that was only the first week after their fight. The second was nothing compared to that.

"What are you in the mood for?" He'd asked her one night after throwing a bunch of useless takeout menus over his shoulder.

Since they'd found out Clara was finally able to eat regular foods in her seventh month of pregnancy, they'd started ordering out again. Pizza had become a new favorite of hers, but the Doctor was weary of overcooked vegetables stuck in greasy cheese and half baked dough.

"I know you like Chinese," she commented, turning a page in her novel as she continues to read. "There's a new place on the corner we haven't tried."

Gladly dialing up the restaurant, the Doctor ordered for them both before joining Clara on the sofa to passively watch television. He ignored the way she minutely slid away from him. Probably taking precautions to ensure there would be no accidental physical encounters, no doubt. With Clara's nose buried in her book, the Time Lord resisted the urge to flee into the emotionally neutral confines of his ship.

They didn't speak to each other again until their food arrived, which forced Clara to replace her clever distraction of a book with a carton of lo mein.

"Oh, bit of a heads up," Clara piped whilst chewing a bright red bell pepper, looking up from her food to turn and meet his gaze.

"I'll be returning to Coal Hill next week. I stopped by today on my way back from Tesco and spoke to the headmaster who said he'd be happy to fill out the paperwork."

Nearly choking on a dumpling, the Doctor coughed roughly until his eyes stopped watering. Clara watched, baffled as he downed half his glass of water before he could speak again.

"How the"--he hacks again-- "how the bloody hell do you just 'stop by' and ask for your job back? Sounds like you planned it."

Swallowing what was almost a satisfied smirk at his balking, Clara gave him the explanation she'd been rehearsing in her mind for the past five hours.

"Well, I'm stable, aren't I? I mean, I have been for weeks now, with nothing productive to do."

He scoffs loudly. "Harboring another life form in your body sounds pretty 'productive' to me!"

"Doctor. I think it's time for me to go back."

"Go back to Coal Hill? To teaching your miniature pudding brains their ABCs and 123's?" He tried not to sound so surprised, his tone going for causal when his hearts were actually battering up against his rib cage in shock.

"It's a bit soon, isn't it? You haven't been in recovery long enough, and you've still got another four months of this."

Clara winced at the reminder of how long her pregnancy would be. A few checkups ago after finding out she was rapidly approaching her seventh month, the Doctor let slip that Gallifreyan pregnancies lasted eleven months instead of the typical human duration of just over nine months. She'd have to lie to just about everyone in the school about how far along she was.

"It'll be fine." Clara refused to let the Doctor dissuade her. Teaching all day was better than being suffocated in her flat with the man who basically told her he'd never love her and wasn't capable of doing so. Being in a classroom was the only feasible way she could avoid seeing the Doctor all day without rousing his suspicions. She'd rather deal with a bunch of precocious teens five days out of the week than spend another moment licking her invisible and very superficial wounds.

"I'll work it out," Clara added, tightening her grip on her chop sticks. "I can handle myself, mind you. Being pregnant with an alien baby doesn't exactly make me an invalid."

It took him a moment to pick up on the signs. But the Doctor could eventually tell she wanted him to change the subject, or perhaps cease conversation all together, but he wasn't going to let her off so easily. Not when she was endangering both her own health and their daughter's.

"Look. Even if we completely ignored the fact that mermaid sadists are out to get you, I still don't think I'd feel comfortable with you on your feet eight hours a day dealing with those corrosive 'young minds'," he said with dubious air quotes. "It just wouldn't be good for you. I think you should stay on leave."

"Well, I'm duly grateful for your opinion. But thankfully, this isn't up for debate," Clara snapped, slurping noisily on a noodle. "Of course I think as the baby's father you're entitled to know where I am and some of what I'm doing, but I told you more as a precaution than anything. The very last thing I need right now is you sending Kate after me with a mob of U.N.I.T. soldiers as a search party."

The Time Lord rolls his eyes at the mere idea of U.N.I.T.'s trained muscle rampaging the flat for clues to Clara's whereabouts. But he knows she's right.

So shifting tactics, the Doctor explained, "The quality of your health determines the success of this pregnancy, Clara. It's all directly correlated, balancing on a very delicate scale. I'm worried the about amount of stress you'll experience those first weeks back. It's not a good ide--"

"Rest assured that I'm experiencing the same level of stress here as I would there, Doctor," Clara bristled, her cool eyes betraying the hurt in her voice as she stood to leave. "See you in the morning."

The quiet sound of the lock clicking on her bedroom door was twice as bad as hearing it slam shut.


 

One Week Ago...

There really hadn't been much he could do to stop her without furthering the schism between them. So when Clara did eventually leave to start teaching again, the Doctor would stare at the front door for hours waiting for her return. He'd had cameras and alarms set up all over the school to alert him in case the Fish People made an appearance, with at least five of the aforementioned devices in Clara's classroom. She'd known and hesitantly agreed to surveillance in certain places as a safety precaution, but the Doctor made certain she didn't know the exact extent of it. Although technology was nothing compared to seeing her walk through the door with an exhausted, but pleased smile on her face.

Clara was happier than he'd seen her in weeks, and that joy poured into some aspects of her personal life as well. There were days when it seemed as though nothing had really changed between the two of them, days where they could laugh together and tease the other amicably with no bad blood. For a moment, they'd almost been normal.

One night after she'd finished for the day, Clara showed him how to cook spaghetti, citing it as the easiest meal to make even for cooking novices like himself. But the Doctor had stressed that he'd invented pasta in the first place, and didn't need any advice. Clara had been kind enough to laugh when he burnt the marinara sauce the first time round.

"So. Are you ever going to go?"

"Sorry?" The Doctor starts at her question and almost drops the plate she'd just handed him to dry. His hearts thudded painfully in his chest at the idea of being asked to go after what's happened.

"What?"

"I'm not rushing you out the door or anything, but you did say when I was better, you'd go back and see what happened to me that night--to us." Clara stares down at the fork in her fingers, running her thumb over the prongs. "A chunk of our lives is missing and you're still loitering around here fixing the cabinets."

"Well, I mean, it's not like I'm taking a holiday or something," he defended, upset that she'd insinuate that he no longer cared. "There's a lot of prep involved, you know, for a trip of that magnitude. I'd be crossing my own timeline, Clara, and it would be ridiculous and suicidal to be unprepared."

Their hands brush as he hands her another plate to dry, and the skin-to-skin contact initiates a tsunami of telepathic waves from their unborn child that steals the breath from the Doctor's lungs. Strong and healthy, their little girl has matured a great deal in these past few weeks, and communicates her elation at the Doctor's presence which she hadn't mentally felt for some time now. Love and light and her own curiosity penetrate the deepest reaches of his mind, and he endeavors to return to sentiments, but is too overwhelmed to even meet her halfway.

But the intimate albeit short moment between father and daughter is severed when Clara moves away to put the dish in the cabinet, the connection abruptly snipped.

"Are you alright?" She asks him after witnessing the color leave his face. Clara thinks he looks sick, and watches him cease washing all together to stand rigidly as he looks out the window.

He is silent, trained gaze flickering over the windows view of the outside world. Catching the muscle that jumps in his jaw, Clara steps toward him insistently as she pinches the fabric of his jumper.

"Doctor?"

"I'm fine," he forces his smile onto his lined face with less grace than he thinks. "Might turn in early, though. Do you mind?"

Clara's eyebrow shoots up at the resignation in his voice. She has to physically bite her tongue to keep from further prodding. She doesn't want to fight tonight, not when this evening has been the first time she's been able to stand so close to him without flinching.

"Yeah, don't worry. I'll finish up here," she reassures with a small but genuine smile. Clara watches him wander off to the TARDIS, stepping inside before shutting the door behind him.

That night, he slept onboard the ship.


 

This Morning...

The Doctor wakes to find the flat predictably empty, his eyes blinking open to a cleaned kitchen and a cup of coffee still steaming as it awaits the fifteen sugars he's bound to dump into it. Pursing his lips, he pushes himself up from the sofa and walks into the small kitchen, picking up the note that's been placed beside his favorite mug.

Not dead. Even though I've told you eight times in the past two weeks, you've probably forgotten anyway. I won't be at Coal Hill. The field trip is today, which is why I'm leaving earlier than normal.  Please remember what exactly constitutes an 'emergency' before you call, Doctor. I'll be back around five after I've taken the year seven and tens to the museum.

The Doctor tilts his head at Clara's script and squints at the bizarre note with contempt. He growls briefly before crumbling the paper in his hand and tossing it into the bin on the floor. Ignoring the patronizing cup of caffeine, he stomps off towards the TARDIS.

You have work to do anyway, he reminds himself. The very last thing you need are distractions. Swallowing the bitter hurt that tugs at him, the Doctor throws himself into his work full speed, each whir of the sonic and flip of a page in a book taking his mind further away from his troubles with a certain schoolteacher.

Now that Clara's gone back to work, the Doctor usually spends about eight to nine hours in the TARDIS planning out his next mission. He hasn't yet explained to Clara how futile returning to Kysterillous would be, not while she still believes that's where he's going in the first place.

For now, they had the answers they needed, and the Doctor had started to believe that his companion was right--they would bring justice to whomever did this, but until they did, there were more pressing matters. The Doctor had a little over four months to find a suitable place to wait out the final trimester of Clara's pregnancy, locate (if possible) a decent midwife who knew more than he did about the complexities of a Hybrid pregnancy, and plan for the inevitable havoc that would be unleashed in the universe once his enemies discovered he now had not one, but two vulnerabilities.

The Time Lord sits in his swing below the main console, whistling a rather melancholy hymn with a pair of goggles over his eyes and thick gloves on his hands to shield him from the flying sparks of the blow torch. The TARDIS has been mostly cooperative and appreciative of the TLC the Doctor has been giving her, but as he nears the completion of his exhausting attempts to fortify her, the ship begins to become agitated.

"All good things come to an end," he tells a wheezing TARDIS. "Besides, it's about time we figure out who can help us out of this mess, don't you think?"

A silence fills the ship as they both process. But the Doctor is the first to react, pausing his work. "I didn't mean it that way. It's not a mess, and you know what I meant, anyway," he begins quickly, chewing on his bottom lip as he listens for her response of disapproval. But her silence irritates him even more than the reproach he was expecting.

"And d'you know what?" He starts, his irritation deflecting easily into anger. "It's really none of your business in the first place, mucking about in my personal life. I mean, did you really think showing her the nursery was going to turn out to be a good thing?"

The TARDIS lets loose a string of repetitive beeps that the Doctor merely huffs at before continuing his welding.

"We both know what happens when I get a little too co-dependent, don't we? Chaos and death and much, much more chaos. So, if you can, please just stay out of it! If you want to help me, you can start by actually obeying my wishes. Think you can manage that?"

The ship doesn't respond, but the Doctor can feel her hesitant agreement not to mettle any further in he and Clara's relationship. But the small victory is overshadowed by something much darker.

Because it's then that he notices the phone is ringing.

Chapter Text

"Clara?"

The slightly anxious voice floats into her conscience, and her brain has the cheek to pair the voice to its grizzly owner. An image of a crazy-haired extraterrestrial springs to mind, brows knotted together as blue eyes rage and storm. The Doctor.

Even the figment of him is exhausting to look at, the odd skip of her heart annoying and unfair as it reminds her she still loves him.

Clara doesn't move, though she probably couldn't even move if she wanted to. After trying to wriggle out of what she felt was a horizontal position to no avail, she resigns herself to to being still. She notices that just listening to the Doctor call for her is robbing her of too much energy, something to valuable to waste at present. She can feel the headache that's started behind her eyes and promises to intensify if she wakes.

Wakey wakey, Clara, the smug little voice in the back of her mind has an American accent strangely enough when it tells her this. Time to face the music, kid.

What music? Clara wants to ask it, but her lips won't cooperate.

Actually, she's got plenty of questions to ask. But God, she hurts. Its the sort of pain that envelopes her entire body, thinking it's keeping her safe in its vise-like grip when it's really squeezing the air from her lungs as it suffocates her. Speaking of lungs, though, is it supposed to be this difficult to breathe? Was it always this much of a chore? Christ, it almost feels like someone's been sitting on her chest for god-knows how many hours. Her dark brown brows furrow as she makes an effort to stir. Incomprehensible gibberish spurts out of her lips when Clara tries to speak, her dry throat closing up around the words that she's lost.

"Clara, hey. Can you hear me? Clara, can you hear me?" The Doctor's voice has lowered if only a fraction. And somewhere in the back of her random stream of conscious thinking, she knows this isn't good. Not when he's talking like that, touching her with tentative fingers that shaking her so gently like she's going to break.

Or indeed has already broken.

"Please, Clara, come on. Hey, I need to know if you hear me. Can you move at all? You'd better not be laughing at me either. I swear, if you're just being clever..." she listens to the Doctor's failed attempt to be stern with her. Oftentimes, he will mistakingly believe that his brute, Scottish exterior alone will frighten people off, and sometimes it is very effective. But he gives himself away this time with the 'please'. Well, that, and the way his voice sort of breaks at the end.

Clara's not trying to be clever, and she's definitely not having a go at him. In fact, she'd probably be just as frazzled as the Doctor if she didn't feel so safe in the dark. It's awfully warm and cosy; hell of a lot more reassuring than anywhere else.

Clara wiggles her toes underneath the heavy down bedding. She's delighted to find the movement doesn't send a wave of pain through her body the way everything else seems to. Unfortunately, the Doctor doesn't notice her tiny accomplishment.

"Just give her a moment to come back to us," a new and very posh feminine voice counsels without sounding overly patronizing. "She's had quite an ordeal. We just need to give her some more time to recuperate, Doctor."

"Time? She hasn't been fully conscious in three days," comes his predictably pessimistic response. "She's already seized once today," the Doctor's monotone might've purged itself of emotion, but his actions speak louder than words when he deftly interlaces his fingers with Clara's, startling her.

"Vastra, every minute she stays asleep in this bed just reinforces the likelihood of brain damage.  If Clara doesn't wake up within the next few hours, there's no way the baby she's carrying is going to survive. And that means," the Doctor pauses as he clears his throat. "That will mean that all this--everything I've done to keep them both safe will have been for nothing. And I... I can't accept that. I won't." 

Vastra. Clara knows that name--it's got some other names attached to it, too, names that she can't quite remember now. But for some reason, the name 'Vastra' makes Clara automatically think of the color green and Queen Victoria. Odd.

"I keep waiting to hear your explanation as to why you agreed to this in the first place. You knew this could've been a possibility, and yet you pursued it anyway," Vastra muses, careful not to let judgement creep into her voice as she speaks. "In all my years, I've never heard of such a thing. Time Lords and human beings mating--"

The Doctor sounds annoyed when he cuts her off. "We didn't mate. I've told you already that it wasn't that simple--or crude."

"Trifles," Vastra waves away his insistent correction. "It all sounds just as impossible as it is ridiculous."

"You're a lizard from the dawn of time that's married to your housemaid and has a talking potato for a butler, and--and!--you all live under the same roof in Victorian London," the Doctor says testily, and Clara can almost see the way his eyes roll. "You are hardly one to talk."

Wherever she is in the dark, Clara smiles to herself. Jenny and Strax, she remembers. The Paternoster Gang! Goodness, it's been quite awhile since we've visited them.

"Well, even you have your limits on what can and cannot happen. Did you really think she'd be able to make it through the fire you threw her in unscathed?"

He scoffs as he stutters, getting more and more flustered with every question Vastra poses. "She's-she's different. Clara's not like the rest I've traveled with, she's different."

"How? She's human; that's all she'll ever need to have in common with the rest."

"Haven't you ever heard me call her 'the Impossible Girl'?" He asks, a softness to his voice that makes Clara's heart flip wildly in her chest. "There's a reason I say it."

"You need to rest," Vastra quickly changes the subject when it becomes evident that she can't win this argument. "Everyone in this house is dedicated to the cause of improving Miss Oswald's health, Doctor. You've been hovering there since you brought her to us."

"If I need to tap out for a nap, you'll be the first to know," he spits furiously, the sarcasm dripping from his words. He sounds exhausted, but his blind determination and stubbornness seems efficient enough to sustain him for now.

"I'm not leaving her, and if that's why you came up to see me, then you should go."

The clicking of heeled boots receding from the room indicate Vastra's departure.

"I am not giving up on you--I know you can hear me. It's taking you a little longer than expected, but you're in there somewhere, I know you are. So, find your way back, Clara. Come back to me, please," he pleads, his other hand cupping her cheek. "Come back to me."

The Doctor's smooth fingers tighten around Clara's, his breathing strange and inconsistent as he partially leans over her. His breath tickles her face as he looks down at her. And suddenly she does wish she were awake--at least she'd be able to see the way he was looking at her.

She's drifting again, the deep and lovely dark beckoning her to safety, away from a world that promises chaos and into one that offers peace. Clara's small hand wraps around the Doctor's index finger, squeezing as hard as she can bear before she loses consciousness.


 

Something's wrong.

"Clara?"

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong very very wrong.

Giddiness and barely contained relief flood his voice, and he shifts on the bed next to her, his fingers locating hers as he squeezes them. "Hey, shhh, it's alright, it's alright. No, no, don't move. Don't move. Clara, you're fine, it's okay."

It's not okay. It really, really is not okay. She can't breathe.

Her lungs. Lungs are--lungs are on fucking fire and she can't fucking breathe because someone has been dancing on her fucking chest.

A large gulp of air that refuses to go down is what thrusts Clara into semi-consciousness, her eyes fluttering open briefly as she starts a hacking cough. Her entire body is tingling as her senses come back to life with her, drowning her in sensory information overload. How the way the room they're in smells like mothballs, peeling paint and freshly brewed tea. Or how scratchy the sheets feel against her skin, old and hardly ever used. The way her closed eyes water, how the stinging tears cascade downwards towards her ears.

"Alright, alright," the Doctor's voice is the only thing that keeps her panic abated, her fingers going to her belly to confirm that her baby is still safe. Relief courses through her at feeling the solid proof of the swell under her shirt as she clutches at the fabric.

And then there's a gentle tugging as the plastic is removed from down her throat, air rushing into her opened mouth without resistance. She takes a few large, grateful gulps of it all before her breathing evens out.

"Doctor?" Clara's scratchy voice carries with it all her pain and fear, her fingers clumsily reaching out for him before she finds and grips onto the shirt he's wearing, holding on to the man that her heart and mind still recognize as her personal safety raft.

"I'm here," the Doctor's cool hand comes to rest on her forehead, smoothing back her hair until he bends down to kiss her temple. "I'm right here, boss."

"Please--please don't go anywhere," she blinks open watery eyes and the Doctor hushes her again, still bent over her as his thumb caresses her cheek.

"Never," he quietly vows, his words for her and her alone. "I'm not going anywhere without you, Clara Oswald."

Chapter Text

Four Days Later

"You've been reading the same page of that book for the past hour."

The Doctor looks up from Great Expectations to find Clara staring unabashedly at him, a small smirk on her face as she puts him on the spot for her own amusement. He swallows the desire to lick it off her face, reminding himself that he's furious with her at the moment and not even her perfectly dimpled cheeks can change that.

Looking around the room in confusion, the Doctor asks, "And is there a law somewhere that limits the amount of times a person can read a page of literature?"

"You're the scary handsome genius from space," Clara sings, and if the Doctor didn't know any better, he'd say she was flirting with him. "You'd have to tell me."

"I wanted to know why Mr. Dickens wasn't keeping your attention," Clara adds when he doesn't say anything to her, but his frown grows to be even more menacing. Undeterred, she smiles even harder.

"Boring you, is he?"

"Well, the man himself was much more of a hoot than any novel he ever published, to be quite honest," the Doctor says with a grouse, eyeing the pleased expression on Clara's face suspiciously. "And why do you like the cat who caught the canary?"

"This is the first time you've said something to me that wasn't 'how are you feeling' or 'can I get you something'," Clara points out, turning onto her side and she rubs her face against a pillow. "Besides all that doctor-patient talk, this is the longest conversation we've had in the last ninety-six hours."

The Doctor bristles before he can stop himself. "Glad to see your coma hasn't robbed you of your left-brain critical thinking skills," the Doctor bites, ignoring the way Clara flinches. "You'll need those when you're older."

"Oh, that debilitating Scots humor," Clara deadpans with just as much caustic wit, "how I've missed it."

"In case you haven't noticed, Clara, I'm not a very talkative person in the first place," he reminds her as he consciously flips the page of the book, making Clara roll her eyes. "Never really found myself dying to discuss the latest gossip or how much recently elected politicians are making fools of themselves. And anyway, what you needed, and still need, is rest. Not me chatting your ear off."

The woman that watches him carefully now looks nothing like she did when he found her nearly a week ago on the floor of a museum bathroom. Warm chocolate eyes that don't at all match the dull, opaque ones that held a chillingly bare expression in them as he tried to revive her after she'd suffered a heat stroke. Cheeks now pink with life had been pale and cool to the touch, her lips blue as he blew air into lungs that would no longer fill on their own. Clara looked vibrant and stunning with her messy brown hair piled on top of her head, but all the Doctor could see was her still body on the cold tile floor has he did compression after compression, set after set, until, after what felt like an eternity, she bucked sputtered back to life.

She'd died twice. The organ meant to keep her alive, it had betrayed her twice in ten minutes, and in doing so, took the love of his life some place he couldn't follow. For six hundred seconds, his veil had torn, his sky had blackened and cracked, and he'd been left to stand in the deafening silence of it all trying to make sense of a universe without Clara Oswald.

 And right now, the Doctor could not forgive her for that.

"If you're angry with me, I wish you'd just say that instead of keeping me quarantined in this room while you brood and mope about something I don't even know about," Clara says with some degree of exasperation. "Misery truly does love company."

"If you think provoking me into an argument will make yourself feel better, you're wasting your time." The Doctor's warning tone doesn't stop Clara from taking the challenge.

She sits up, throwing the duvet back so she can get out of bed.

"I'm going downstairs."

The Doctor nearly has a heartache when she stands to get out of the bed, standing so abruptly to help her himself that he knocks over his rocking chair. His body completely detaches itself from his mind's one-sided anger when he finds himself reaching for her right hand which Clara hastily grabs onto, and his left hand glides down to her lower back which proves to be enough to steady her shaky legs. With their hips touching, the Doctor moves his left hand to grip her waist for more support, and he can feel her tense muscles relax under his touch after a moment.

"I don't need--"

"Oh, shut up," he growls at her attempt to shake him off. He slowly assists Clara to the door, his blood pressure through the roof as he tries to remove the emotion from his voice. "No need saying it when we both know that's as big a lie as they come."

"I just meant that I didn't need your help if you didn't want to offer it," Clara frowns down at betraying legs that still feel so heavy even though she's started to recover. "I would understand."

They take their time crossing the room, the Doctor helping her along dutifully, and soon they're in the small corridor leading to the stairs.

"What, and let my bestfriend and the mother of my child fall like a arse?" The Doctor laughs despite himself. "You should know by now it's my job to catch you. Even when I don't feel like it--especially when I don't feel like it." He gives her time to digest his halfhearted words, keeping the peace by keeping the silence that's fallen between them. He's running out of ammunition already, the feeling of her warm body against his enough to drain him of his self-justifying resentment and assorted projected fears.

"You make me sound like a chore, Doctor," Clara frowns up at him before fixing her concentration on her legs moving forward one step at a time.

"You are a chore," he argues fervently, allowing himself a glance down at her face that's twisted with effort, biting back the urge to hold her closer. "A wide-eyed, reckless, endlessly stubborn control freak that's ridiculously fragile. It's a wonder I haven't just bubble wrapped you as a safety precaution just to save time."

It's Clara that laughs this time, and she has to stop him walking while she catches her breath. "Well, if I'm such a pain in your intergalactic arse, why are you still here?"

"Why am I--sorry, what?" The Doctor swallows when he watches Clara shrug, a wary look on her face as he balks at a question he'd been least expecting. "Uh, just gimme a moment. Having a hard time computing that one."

Clara grimaces uncomfortably, shifting in place while she gathers the courage she knows she needs to do this. She ultimately decides it would be best to apart from him, and gently pushes away the Doctor's steadying hands to go to lean against the opposite wall of the corridor. She needs to be granted a moment to breathe in air that doesn't smell like him. 

"Look, there's no way to bring this up without making it all unbearably awkward for the both of us," she begins with an apology on her face. "But I've been planning to talk to you about this for a while now anyway, so I guess a corridor in Victorian London is as good a place as any."

"I don't understand. Talk to me about what?" The conversation is moving a little too fast and the Doctor is struggling to keep up as his ears and brain work double time to figure out the context of the conversation. "Clara, what are you going on about?"

"Listen, that night," she pauses, the memories of that terrible night flickering through her eyes, "that night in the nursery, it changed things for me. For us. It cemented some things and gave me closure for things I didn't know I even needed closure for."

The Doctor wonders if this is a bad time to politely interrupt and mention that not only did he not mean a line of what he said to her that night, but that he's also still very much in love with her and wouldn't mind picking up where they left off in the nursery. Maybe he could even hug her (unlikely), just to solidify her trust in his affection for her. But his somehow his tongue has been glued to the roof of his mouth, rendering him utterly useless. So he helplessly just continues to listen, his ears bleeding in the process.

"I mean, we're not together, are we?" Clara's eyes don't reflect the hope they once did when she asks the question, and the Doctor realizes belatedly and with a start that the question was mostly rhetorical. "We're not an item, and we're not dating."

The Doctor deflates a little. "Well, no, but--"

Clara's smile is weak, but doesn't wobble. "Then it's not very complicated, is it? We're both two independent people, and we don't have to be around each other all the time when she's born out of the obligation a relationship might bring. We're having a kid together, but that's all, and people do the split-custody thing all the time, anyway."

"'The split custody thing'," he repeats, dazed as his mouth goes dry. His mind goes blank for a second and he almost forgets how to breathe.

The urge to spew a guilty confession to his jaded companion threatens to empty the Doctor's stomach. But, gods, she'd never believe him if he told her now, would she? And she'd almost certainly remove him from her and the baby's life for good. He'd done so much to push her away, and now she was doing the same thing with him.

"Yeah, we probably should come up with a block schedule to keep it civilized, though" Clara continues, oblivious to the Doctor's current volley balling of his own ethics. " Shared events like birthdays and holidays, if you're interested, of course--"

"If I'm interested?" The Doctor has to make a conscious effort to control his volume before he starts shouting at her and stirs the already unbearable amount of gossip that takes place under this roof. "Clara, she's mine, too. Of course I want to be part of her life!"

"You said I was a chore," Clara scoffs lightly, and his stomach falls. "Five minutes ago, you were so angry with me, you'd ignored me for the past four days even though I've apologized just about every way I know how. And when this all started, I hadn't seen you in months on account of your spaceship needing a battery charged."

"A lot has happened since then," the Doctor tries to explain, stepping towards Clara who narrows her eyes defensively. "I know I wasn't completely on board at first, Clara, but the last thing I want you to think is that I regret any of this." He reaches out to lay his hand on her belly. "I don't regret her, and I don't regret you being her mother, either."

"I don't want us to become your latest chore, Doctor," Clara's voice softens and lowers but doesn't lose it's honest contrition. "Changing nappies, the endless crying, the sheer magnitude to sleep we won't be getting with nightly feedings--it's going to be a lot to deal with, and I'm trying to let you off the hook--"

"Well, that's not your job, to bail me out. I don't want to be let off any hooks, figurative or otherwise," the Doctor complains as he takes another insistent step forward with those wild curls bouncing on his head, and Clara can't help but straighten her back in a useless effort to match his towering height. "I understand that you two come as a package deal, and I'm more than willing to accept the responsibility that comes with knowing that."

"You hate responsibility," Clara reminds him without blinking. "You made me your carer so I could do that for you, be your conscience when you needed one. And now, what? You're just gonna develop one on your own in less than four months?"

The Doctor opens his mouth, but can't find the words to support his case. Probably because there are none, seeing as Clara is absolutely correct and he'd rather not tell her anymore lies than he already has.

"What happens when you get bored and want to fly away somewhere?" Clara's voice falters as does her resolve when his socked feet knock gently against hers. "What happens when someone out there needs you to save them? What happens to us then?"

"When that happens," the Doctor clears his throat before finishing, "I'll bring you both with me," the Doctor says like the answer is obvious. "There's no reason why we'd have to limit ourselves to your tiny flat when we have the TARDIS."

Rolling her eyes, Clara tells him with a frown, "My life has to have some consistency to it, Doctor, and so will hers. I'll go to work, and she'll have to go to school. We'll have lives, roots, here, on Earth. We can't just go travelling to some resort planet whenever life here loses its charm."

"Why not?" The Doctor's question sounds wistful and dreamy.

Clara doesn't know where her anger comes from, but it's been boiling in the pit of her stomach ever since he started looking at her with those stupid blue eyes, adamantly stating his case as if he could just suck her back by batting his lashes.

"Because life's not a fairytale, Doctor!" She exclaims, thoroughly aggravated as she shoves at his chest, earning her a raised brow as he takes the hint and backs off. "And you can't manipulate it like you do with everyone else that doesn't agree with you!"

His face falls when she slaps his hand away. "Clara, I wasn't trying--"

"Why are you here, Doctor?" The question sends shivers down his spine, and he fights the desire to run from it. "Just answer the question: why?"

"Because I don't want to be anywhere else! So, if you're trying to freeze me out and push me away, it's not going to work. Get used to this gray old face you'll be seeing a lot of it. I'm staying right here because I want to be here," he tells her stubbornly, watching her mouth set as her jaw clenches.

"Why?" Clara is honestly baffled,  the disbelief plain in her body language as she crosses her arms. "All of time and space in a little blue box; all of it for the taking, and you're standing here in bloody London, with me. Why? It doesn't make any sense."

He's practically cringing on the spot, trembling as he matches her heavy, unforgiving gaze with his own. The Doctor is more terrified of this small woman right now than he has ever been of anything else.

"Are you really going to make me say it?" 

Clara's confused expression immediately shifts to curiosity as she considers him. "Say what?"

"Clara--"

"Say... what?"

Chapter Text

 

There are about ten very good, and even incredibly sensible reasons the Doctor hasn't told Clara he's in love with her. A few of those reasons are tossed out because they're largely superficial in weight. His personal insecurities about this regeneration's physical appearance, for example, and how people might judge them when they're in public; a silver old man hanging off the arm of a young lady won't exactly matter in the long run. Frowning upon such cliched stereotypes are only prevalent in this particular solar system, and the Doctor doesn't think Clara has ever really cared what people--let alone pudding brains--think about her.

He even rids himself of his doubts about how he'll underperform in the bedroom--he's a little rusty in that department, but Clara's been wrong about him being the two thousand-year-old virgin. The Doctor's had his fair share of sensual experience in two millennia, and there was quite a bit that River, in particular, taught him that makes him think it might actually be his companion that should be worried about lacking any 'skills' in that department. All he needs to do is glance at a manual, maybe scan a few pamphlets, and he'll be good as new.

When there are only seven reasons left, the Doctor begins to chisel them away as well. He already knows Clara loves him. He's not as observant as he wishes, but after all the time he's spent with her, it's not very hard to miss. It's in her caress, in her peeling laughter that crinkles her eyes; it's in the way her breath hitches when she looks at him, or the way she says his name. She's convinced him that her love endures longer than any grudge she holds, reaches past his failures and inadequacies, and rearranges his fear and turns it to hope. To question her affection would be to render it insubstantial, and that's the very last thing he wants to do to her or himself.

She's a handful. Stern at times and bold to a fault others, but that's not a deal breaker, nor does the Doctor suspect it ever will be. Her flaws are what make her even more gorgeous, even more mystifying, even more entrancing to behold. She's independent and sassy and has earned the right to be so; she's the boss, his boss, and in truth, he doesn't mind it in the slightest. The lighthouse in the unforgiving dark, Clara guides him, taking him further than he'd ever expect to go on his own.

The excuses fall away til the Doctor realizes he's standing in front of his impossible girl, robbed of any and all energy to refuse her. They've driven each other away countless times, had horrible rows that resulted in residual scars that they still dealt with today; they've vowed to leave and actually left the other in search of grass that seemed greener, but yet somehow they're thrown together time and time again, magnets drawn to each other though placed at opposite poles. And valid as may be, The Doctor is tired of resisting Clara on account of a universe that has never once given a damn about him or anyone else he loved. It's exhausting trying to mirco-manage a cold, cruel void that sucks and snatches without having ever showing a bit of remorse for the suffering of zillions. So why should he?

He's the Oncoming Storm, but he's not a savior. Not a messiah or Buddha or prophet incarnate, not the missing link to any religion--he's no god. And while the Doctor may do it from time to time, it's not his job to save the day. He's let his guilt mesh with kindness, and it's become a corrupted cycle that gives but never receives.

Many things are myths to the Doctor, concepts that lower life forms have formulated over time to make their lives more thrilling, more relevant in the vast indifference they are victims of. Happiness is one of those myths. But he's had momentary glimpses of that figment, that fairytale of a brick house with an emerald lawn and a white picket fence that's given him pause and made him wonder if the dream could ever become something more. He's never imagined what it would be like to be happy, but with Clara, the Doctor believes he at least has chance at something close. And maybe, just maybe, if it sticks, it'll actually last this go round.

"Clara," the Doctor starts, but stops himself, his eyes quickly surveying the narrow hallway before he starts shoving her towards an open door. "Not out here. In there."

"Wait, what? What are you doing?" Clara protests by putting all her weight against the hands that are pushing her forward into what looks like a broom closet.

"Just go, quickly, please."

"Doctor!" She exclaims when he gives her another more aggressive nudge. She complies so he won't give her another push, moving her own feet to step inside. "If you shove me again--"

"I wouldn't have to if you'd just cooperate--"

"Why are we in here?" Clara interrupts with a snort. She enters the dusty space and sneezes twice, watching the Doctor shut the door behind them and sonic it. "And why are you locking us in?"

"Bit of a safety measure." The Doctor runs a hand through his soft silver curls as he turns to look down at her, his eyes blown wide with fear and adrenaline. "There are other servants and errand boys in this house besides Jenny and Strax. I locked the door, and made it sound proof, too. I don't wanna risk it."

"Risk what?" Clara looks behind her for something to sit on before her back starts up again. She's relieved to find a decent sized bucket that's sturdy enough and serves her just fine.

"Uh, well," the Doctor tries pacing the length of the closet, but taking two steps either way is all he's allowed. "Everything, really."

"What's going on?" Clara steels herself for some catastrophic answer explaining his frantic and m frightening behavior. The only thing that she can think of would be some kind of development with the Fish People. It's been playing in her mind since she woke up--if the Fish People had discovered Clara's whereabouts in the 21st century, that would explain why they're seeking asylum with Vastra in the first place. It would also explain why the Doctor was furious with her earlier--it would mean he'd been right about Coal Hill being a bad idea for her security, and Clara isn't sure her pride could take that at the moment.

"Doctor?"

"Right, okay." He makes a strangled noise, something between a wheeze and a whimper. "I need to tell you something, but I've got to tell you something else first before I say the first thing I was going to tell you."

The dizzying dialogue makes Clara's head spin. "Right, okay. Well, I'm definitely listening, regardless of the sequence."

"I did something stupid," the Doctor grumbles finally, rubbing at his cheek before he starts biting--gnawing, really--at his thumb. "Well, it wasn't stupid, but it was--" he makes a random gesture by flapping his hands about to encompass his feelings without the burden of communicating actual words.

Clara shakes her head once before she raises her eyebrows in confusion. "Do you think I'm suddenly fluent in sign language or something? What was that all about?"

"Look, the point is I knew I probably shouldn't have done what I did, and I did it anyway. And things are a little--"

"Screwed?" Clara smiles when the Doctor blushes.

"Uh, sort of, yeah. Well. To put it mildly, yes."

"Sounds like you all right," Clara laughs lightly, trying to abate his anxiety. "But it doesn't sound so bad."

"That's not the worst part," He forces a grateful smile, his eyes losing their deer-in-headlights look for a moment.

"Are you going to tell me what you did, Doctor?" She asks delicately, taking on the tone of voice she uses with her students when she wants them to voluntarily confess something before she has to call the Headmaster.

"I gave someone something." The Doctor is intentionally vague when he tells her this, avoiding Clara's eyes once more as he faces some shelves and begins rearranging their contents.

"'Kay. Well, what was it? An STD or something?"

Another sheepish blush hits his cheeks and Clara knows something is definitely up. Usually such a cheeky remark would result in an eye roll or a snarky comeback. But she's never seen the Doctor blush so often in front of her before, not even when she suggested strip poker that night she they were both locked in the same cell on Aldoron and nearly died of boredom.

"It was something very valuable. Priceless, actually. Which is why I probably shouldn't have given it to them."

"Did they need it?" Clara stands to reach out to stop the Doctor from moving. She's convinced if he doesn't stop marching around in the cluttered space, he'll knock something over and bury them both alive underneath a pile of towels, mops and cleaning bottles.

He halts and goes completely still when she wraps her entire fist around his index finger, squeezing once for the reassurance he desperately needs. "Doctor. What you gave the person, did they need it? Did you think it'd help them?"

The Doctor nods vehemently and looks sick all the sudden, his typically pale skin draining itself further.

"It saved their life--I know they would've died without it."

Clara swallows, but keeps playing with his fingers to distract the both of them, noticing the way his pupils have dilated. "You're talking about me. Aren't you?"

The Doctor's jaw works as he shifts in place, eyes lowered in guilt. When he meets her gaze again, they're glistening in the dim light. "The second time your heart stopped, Clara, I couldn't-I couldn't get it to start back up again."

He looks pained as he recounts the memories that Clara knows will haunt him for the rest of his days, his nostrils flaring as he tells her. "And I knew that if I didn't do something--"

"What did you do?" Clara whispers with a renewed sense of urgency, suddenly needing to know the answer. The hair on the back of her neck has risen in anticipation, her heart pounding so loudly in her own ears that she fears she won't hear his answer.

"Clara, just--"

"Stop stalling; tell me what you did. Go on. Just say it."

"I gave you enough regeneration energy to bring you back," he slowly admits, searching her face for a tangible reaction. When she doesn't immediately respond, or give him any indication that she will, he nervously adds, "I didn't exactly know what it would do, but I was mindful of the dosage. It-it wasn't a lot. Just enough to bring you back. Just enough to restart your heart."

"Well, that would explain why I've been feeling so knackered," she breathes, and understanding washes over her like ice cold water that the Time Lord has unceremoniously dumped down the back of her frilly nightgown. "That's why I feel like my chest collapsed on itself, and it's probably why I was in a bloody coma in the first place!"

Wincing at the fierceness in her tone, the Doctor says, "Right. Well, in case you're wondering, this is why I didn't tell you. I knew you wouldn't have approved, and that you'd probably yell."

"Damn right, I'm yelling!" She shouts at him, shoving a cross pointed finger deep into his chest. "Doctor, you could've killed me."

He seems to shrink a couple of inches, shoulders caving into his body. "Duly noted, believe me."

"Killed us! Killed her-- our daughter--what-what the hell were you thinking? Using your regeneration energy like that? It's too powerful--"

"I had to do something," the Doctor repeats, and he sounds so helpless that for a moment Clara nearly forgets her fury. Nearly. But then she remembers that if she could barely have survived the Doctor's precarious stunt, she can imagine how endangered the tiny life inside her was.

"You knew good and well what could've happened to us, and you did it anyway! Why would you risk that?"

"Well, you didn't really leave me a choice, did you?" He snaps, his own frustration bleeding through enough to match her temper. "I'd been trying to revive you for what felt like hours, and you weren't coming back--don't you understand that? It didn't matter what I did. Nothing was working, so I just did the first thing that came to mind! And it worked! So what does it even matter, if you're safe?"

"This isn't about just me anymore, remember?" Clara steps back so he can see her fully, and the Doctor frowns. "There's much bigger picture now. I mean, how the hell am I supposed to trust you to do the right thing after this?"

He scoffs. "The right thing? Saving your life is always the right thing!"

"Not this time," she whispers, the disappointment evident in her voice. "Maybe before. Before there was a baby to consider, before she got here and there was just me to consider. But definitely not now."

He's silent for a beat, his blank gaze running over her before his eyes settle on her face again. "What exactly are you suggesting I have done?"

"You could've delivered her--and don't lie to me and say you don't know how. I know you do, and even if you didn't, I know that wouldn't have stopped you from trying if you'd wanted to. She would've still had time left to live, even if mine was running out." Clara lets the words fly before she can take them back, and she watches him flinch away as if she's burned him.

And maybe she has.

"I know it must sound... very odd to you, that I'd rather have lost you both than only been able to save one of you. And perhaps it's something I'll never be able to properly explain in a way that's comprehensible to you, but I told you when this all started I wouldn't sacrifice you, under any circumstances." He responds in a strangely small voice. "I'm sorry if you didn't believe me--or worse, you thought I'd change my mind."

Clara doesn't know what to say to him. How to get across that what he's just said is possibly the most egregious thing she's ever heard. She doesn't know how to do it without losing it, without smacking him and screaming at him to leave and never come back. But she knows him; this isn't the first time they've had this kind of row over the baby before.

Clara knows the complicated, delusional, damaged mess of a creature the Doctor's time alone in a spinning blue box has made him, how cold and hard he's become after the years he spent on Trenzalore without her. He's no longer the goofy faced charmer in the purple tweed and bow tie, and she's made the decision to accept him. She's also inclined to believe after the serial chaos that's transpired over the past few days, it would be in neither's best interest to be separated. For better or worse, they needed each other right now, and she can't get rid of him, no matter how much of an ass he is.

"Don't ever do it again," Clara warns him, relaxing her balled fists in an effort to release some of the tension in her body. "Promise me, Doctor, right here and now: if I die--"

"You won't," he argues swiftly, the words having a selfish root origin as he pleads out of desire for his own sanity than for the sake of argument. "This was an anomaly, Clara, and it is not going to ever happen again, do you understand me?"

But Clara's soft hands clasp around his calloused ones once more, and her hushed voice stealthily robs him of his scorn. "But if it does, you need to promise me you will accept it. No heroics, no guns a-blazing, and no last-minute ditch escape routes. I need you to let me go and get the hell on with it because she'll need you. If it's too late for me, I want you to save her instead."

Chapter Text

The Doctor has been leaning up against the closed door for what he can only describe as 'support', the debilitating conversation having taken its toll as he listens and digests her serrated words with heavy hearts. Stepping literally out of his comfort zone, he walks towards her until she's forced to crane her neck to look at him, her fringe sweeping back to reveal bright brown eyes.

"Will you promise me?" She asks him, her eyes glistening as she rubs her thumbs across the backs of his hands, and he swallows, looking down at his shoes.

"Clara, it's hard to explain why, but some things just aren't possible."

His companion merely blinks, still unconvinced. "Like choosing whether you should save the life of your defenseless unborn child or not?"

But he's not discouraged by her at all. "Put it another way. If you had to decide which love of your life was the greatest, wouldn't you end up choosing to save the person you love more than you've ever loved anything else?" He asks easily, his honest voice steady and smooth as he finally lifts his eyes to hold her surprised gaze.

"Wouldn't you want to save the person that's been with you the longest, the one that you couldn't live without?"

The Doctor looks on as his rattled companion falters, her mouth hanging open as his words register a little later than expected. "Clara--"

"Stop." She hiccups shrilly, jumping away from him with wide, furious eyes. But all the Time Lord has to do is take a simple step towards her, and he's closed the space between them once again. "S-stop moving! Just--just stand right there. Please, for now."

"Right, sorry." He raises a pair of placating hands, "Okay. Sorry, I'm not," he shifts and she jumps again, and the movements appear almost involuntary. "I'm not trying to scare you," he finishes in a lowered timbre.

The Doctor straightens a little upon seeing her panicky motions, coming to the understanding that he's probably alarmed her with an unprecedented amount of information and hasn't given her the necessary time to recover.

"I'm-I'm out of practice with how to do this bit, but I swear to you, Clara, I'm serious."

"You can't be." She spits, a trembling hand covering her mouth. "You can't be."

"I am. They're words I haven't said in hundreds of years, and I never thought I'd say them aloud ever again, but you make me want to say them--to you particularly, even if it has to be in this disgustingly crude language that hardly does the sentiment justice. Words I never believed would hold a place in my hearts, but they do because I do love you, Clara Oswald," he slowly repeats, wanting her to catch the emphasis behind every syllable. "And I don't expect that'll change any time soon."

"But you--wait. No. No. No, that night, in the nursery, you said--"

"Look, whatever I said, or did, or didn't say or didn't do--Clara, everything I've ever done to make you think otherwise was a ruse. There are a countless number of people that would gladly prey upon and exploit any weakness of mine they might find. If they were to find out you meant more to me than I let on, it'd be as sweet as Christmas bonus. That's why I said those hateful things. That's all--every unkind word or action against you was a lie to dissuade you for your own wellbeing. And I never meant any of it. Not ever."

Clara's world, which has been shattered, salvaged and haplessly glued together an infinite number of times at the hands of this imbecile, comes crumbling down once more as she hears the earnestly said words that give her pause. But her mind, for fear of an illogical heart prone to fancy, swoops in to automatically reject the Doctor's unforeseen confession before she can make sense of it.

Observing her hesitation, the Doctor confirms what he already knows to be true, a partly amused, partly delirious smile spreading across his face.

"You don't believe me, do you? Mm, that's-that's interesting. I've waited too long to say anything, and now its coming round to bite me in my arse."

All Clara can do is stare at him, eyelids unblinking. "If this is an April Fool's joke, I hope you realize it's incredibly unfunny, and that you're a few months late."

"Are you going to ask me to prove it? I will, if you like." And he forgets that he's been commanded to stay still as he starts towards her, ready to erase any further doubts of hers with something he's been wanting to do since he first laid eyes on her.

In a hurried attempt to further the physical distance between them, Clara takes another step back only to crash into another row of the stupid shelves, her head hitting the wood hard enough to leave her partially stunned as her vision spots and she sways. The Doctor's adrenaline allows for a heightening in his reflexes that lets him grab her just above her elbows before she falls over, pulling her towards him in the process.

"I'm fine! I'm fine," she tries to fight off the hands that are now fretfully probing the base of her skull and nape. "You can let me go."

But he simply shakes his head, tightening his grip on her. "I don't think so."

"What? You think you can just... just.." she shakes her head, frustrated when she's unable to find the right word because her brains too busy doing overtime trying to reestablish her reality to trifle with things as insubstantial as vocabulary.

"Where the hell is this coming from? Some third heart you've grown since you shot me down the night you put me in my place? You told me you weren't interested, that you never would be. That I was a fool if I thought that'd change."

The Doctor closes his eyes at the horrible image of his words tearing into her mercilessly. When he opens them, Clara is glaring at him. "I know."

"Do as you're told, Doctor, and let me go," Clara's grated, watery response comes. Her hands push hard at his chest, her eyes misting over as she tries her hardest to fight the urge to surrender.

"Now, that's one promise I know I can't keep," he chuckles, a glint of mischief beneath their shared melancholy. "I know you don't fully trust me, not after everything I've done. But I'll work to earn it. If you'd give me the chance to get it right this time."

"Well, that's the thing, isn't it?" Clara says, finally pushing past him when he lets her go with a grunt.

"I don't know if I want to give you another chance," she says truthfully, hoisting her hands on her hips as she faces the door with a long sigh. "Even if I did believe you, which I very clearly do not, it wouldn't matter. Every time I think there's hope for us, for something more, it's taken from me. It doesn't matter why--it all hurts the exact same, regardless of how noble your intentions were. And I think it's happened too many times for me to be able to expect anything different."

When Clara turns to face him, the Doctor sees the coldness in her eyes, but he knows it well and is familiar with its origin. It's a cynicism driven by fear and loss, and he's worn the same expression many times before. He'd hoped he'd never see it on her.

With a cautious optimism, the Doctor acts on an idea he's been toying with for a few months now as a plan B.

"Clara," he breathes her name like a sacred prayer, with a lopsided grin that's so bright it makes her knees shake, and the child inside her does a series of punctuated kicks in response.

Realizing that this is the first contact she's had with the baby since she's woken up, Clara's hands leap to her stomach to feel the movement inside. "Doctor, the baby's moving."

There's a barely concealed smirk on his face when he knowingly answers, "Do you mind?"

Clara stops her puzzled looks down at her stomach to see that he's nodding towards her, indicating he'd like to feel as well. She considers telling him off for being cheeky so soon after what he just said, but concedes, finding it difficult to locate contempt she no longer has .

"Come on, then," she holds out her hand for him and dutifully guides his wrist to where the little feet are kicking around. His large hand covers the space just below her left rib, his mind reaching out to greet his daughter's presence telepathically. Thankfully, she picks up fairly quickly on what it is the Doctor intends to do, and easily complies.

"What is it?" She asks him when she sees him smiling at her belly. "Is she saying something?"

"See for yourself..." he trails off when Clara's pupils dilate to twice their size, a little gasp forcing its way out of her mouth as both the Doctor and her daughter swing open the doors of her human mind telepathically. "Can you see it?"

Enveloped in the most pure love, innocence and joy she's ever known, Clara experiences her daughter's knowledge of their small nuclear unit for the first time with tears bubbling up in her eyes. Together, the three of them relive several of her most fun adventures with the Doctor: the time they went skiing in on a mountain that moved; when he took her snorkeling in Fiji; the month they toured and performed in an off-world circus. Some of her fondest memories, but all retold from the Doctor's perspective.

The link is quietly cut off after a minute or two, and Clara senses that their daughter has exhausted herself with the effort of creating the link between all three of them.

"Did you get her to show me that?" Clara says when she finds her voice. "Was that... three-way telepathy?"

"Sort of, in a way. We did it together." The Doctor laughs. "I wanted you to finally meet your daughter, see how amazing she is. She's been waiting to show you that, you know?"

"She's beautiful. Absolutely perfect. Doctor, thank you," Clara sniffs, trying to keep her composure after such an emotional experience. "But how can she--I mean, how does she know all that? Some of the stuff she showed me, it happened long before she even got here."

The Doctor smiles at feeling the little body rearrange its position in Clara's belly until their daughter's back rests against his palm, cradled by the curve of his hand.

"While you were in your, um, coma, she was very discouraged and worried for you. The regeneration energy wasn't nearly as harsh for her as it was for you. I reassured her by giving her photocopies of some of my favorite memories from our adventures together."

"Oh." Clara's transfixed by how liberated, how happy he looks, his eyes practically glowing.

"I have a very bad habit of making promises I know I can't, or simply do not want to keep, and I know that doesn't help the issue of a lack of trust between us," the Time Lord says after a moment of passes between them, removing his hand from her abdomen to push the hair in her face behind her ear. "But I think it's incumbent of me that I tell you the truth since I don't possess the will or patience to lie to you anymore."

"Okay," Clara blinks quickly, unsure of what to make of anything he's saying. She knows, however, that it's best to be confused and not interrupt.

"I'm tired of losing people. Ferrying human beings across the broad entirety of existence gets to be a hassle when you start to care about them, but it's just as inevitable as losing them."

And the Doctor pauses as he remembers them all, every last one of his companions. From Susan, to Ace, to Martha Jone and Donna Noble. The Brigadier, Sarah Jane-- his beloved Ponds, Amy and Rory. Rose Tyler. The lump in his throat forms, but the pain of it isn't as burdensome with Clara in his arms.

"I will cherish this child till my last breath, but the mechanics of Gailifreyan biology and individual chemical emotions, like love, are sort of intertwined at this point."

Clara swallows noisily. "I'm not following..."

"The significant other becomes as vital to Time Lord or Lady as something like the need to breathe. Basically, loving you means needing you and you alone more than I'm supposed to need anything? Or anyone, else--and human beings being afflicted with such fragility doesn't help. It's a bit dangerous for that reason, but somehow, you being my saving grace makes up for it."

"Careful," Clara's nervous laughter echoes loudly in her own ears. "All this flirting and one might actually start to take you seriously," she jokes.

"It is to be hoped," he returns with just as much wit. "A man is only as good as his word, hmm?"

Clara places a hand to his chest, fingers splaying across the material of his shirt to feel the odd rhythm of his two hearts. She notices that his chest his probably the warmest part of his body, closely resembling her own temperature.

Bending his neck carefully, he brushes soft lips against the shell of her ear whilst whispering, "You're incandescently beautiful, you know. I've been meaning to mention it, actually. That rubbish about being too round--"

"Well, I am now, though," she laughs a little and he joins her.

"Still, it doesn't matter. You're an absolute marvel."

"You're in love with me?" She asks him as she continues to stare at her hand that rests just over his hearts, wishing she could fully trust him enough to believe the words are true. "That's-that's an actual thing? This isn't a game you're playing? Some sick, twisted amusement of yours?"

"No," he lets his right hand roam away from her arm to wipe her tears when she begins to cry. "No, I'm afraid it's worse than that, and you're actually stuck with me--if you'll have me, that is."

Clara's so tempted to blurt out an overly eager 'yes', and almost does. "Give me some time, yeah? To think about... everything. It's just a lot to consider, and I want to be fair to us both, you know?"

"Yeah, yeah, of course," he fishes the sonic out of his pocket with shaking fingers and unlocks the door for them. "Take your time deciding, please."

Disappointment courses through him at what is not quite a rejection nor an acceptance of any of today's many confessions. The Doctor only nods, not fully trusting himself to speak without spooking Clara further. Unable to fathom precisely what he was expecting her to say other than the diplomatic answer she gave, he prays Clara's missed the way his smile wobbles.

Trembling silently against the sudden chill that's been trapped beneath her skin, Clara swallows the tiny whimper in her throat as the Doctor leans forward to kiss her cheek, his soft lips slightly parted as they leave their mark. She spins away from him as soon as he leans back, darting forward towards the door as she half walks, half limps out into the corridor. The last thing she wants him to see is the tear tracks on her cheeks hurrying to erase any sensation of a lingering kiss that still burns her skin.

Chapter Text

"Go!" The Doctor bellowed, his forceful tone tapering off as he began a racking cough that made his three friends flinch in unison. "Just get out, all of you."

"Doctor, you sound terrible," Jenny began, her concerned eyes signaling that she was far past the skepticism he'd seen written all over her face a few days before.

Knowing what was coming, the Doctor thought it'd only be fair to warn the Paternoster Gang ahead of time so they would all be prepared what was sure to be a confusing turn of events. He hadn't been surprised when they didn't believe him, and understood that his involuntary cravings for drama is what led them to believe he was just in need of a bit of attention after what had happened with Clara.

But now here they all were, eating their words as they crowded his bedside commenced to fussing over him.

"I'm fine!" He cleared his throat, the taste of coppery metal filling his mouth. He discreetly coughed into his handkerchief, careful to conceal the splatter of red deep in his fist. "You can all go now. You're disrupting the peace."

"There has to be something we can do to ease the pain at least. Can't we help in any way?" Jenny asked quietly, nodding at his pillows hopefully. "More pillows, maybe? Are you comfortable?"

"'Comfortable'." He sneered with a lofty eye roll. "Not exactly the best question to ask at the moment, Jenny."

The younger woman frowned. "I was just--"

"But yes, in fact, you can help. You can all stop hovering over me like a bunch of mother hens," the old man groused, sitting up in his bed with a grimace. "I don't need the pity or the stares, and I've told you fretful lot before that this is basically the Gallifreyan equivalent to a minor cold."

Madame Vastra stiffened beside him, and the Doctor made a point to ignore her pointed gaze, starting to take in interest in Strax who was now rummaging in the waste bin beside his bed.

"Sir," the Sontaran the Doctor affectionately referred to as 'the potato one' from time to time said, "this may be a medical oversight on my part, but I do not believe the common chest cold involves blood in the patient's phlegm."

And stuffed between Strax's chubby fingers was another bloodied tissue. Jenny could scarcely hold in her gasp as she gaped at the evidence in horror.

"Is that--" She began, but the Doctor didn't want to hear it.

"First off, I'm not your patient, Strax--I haven't consented to any medical advice or attention from you. So, unless you're rifling through my bin for fun--which I wouldn't exactly put past someone like you--you're actually invading my privacy, an incriminating offense."

"That is duly noted, sir," Strax frowned with a nod towards Vastra, "however, I'm afraid my reptilian associate has threatened to reduce me to a pile of ash if I do not aid you back to health."

"Has she now?" The Doctor scowled down at him, contempt plain in his expression before he turned to Vastra who was largely unreadable. In fact, she'd remained mostly silent since the three of them decided to stage an intervention of sorts five minutes ago, her only vocal contributions having been various sounds of frustrated discontent.

"Do you want to explain yourself?" He asked the Silurian with a sigh, the agitation he felt with all of them dissipating into resignation. "Why did you bring the two of them here as if that'd change my mind?"

"Perhaps they'll do a better job of convincing you than I did," she replied stubbornly, crossing her arms over her chest. "I'm still hoping you'll see reason and abandon this-this... sadistic madness."

"Well, quite frankly you were rubbish at trying to convince me, so anything would be an improvement," he joked halfheartedly.

"You don't have to do this. There's still time," Vastra whispered intently, and for the first time since the Great Intelligence and Trenzalore, the Doctor could see the glimmer of fear in her wise blue orbs. "It's not too late for you."

"Why do you have to say it like that?" The Doctor pouted up at her wearily. "Condescending and so morose. It's not like I'm on my deathbed!"

"Not yet." She muttered, her eyes lowering to the floor.

"I don't understand. Too late for what?" Jenny interrupted the Doctor before he could reply, her gaze flickering between the two of them in confusion. "Vastra, what's going on? Do you know what's wrong with him?"

Honestly, the Doctor barely understood what was happening himself and loathed to tell the other two what little he did know after the hell he'd experienced when he'd made the decision to alert Vastra. Suffice it to say there been more swearing and screeching than he'd anticipated.

"Tell them," Vastra's impatient command came through gritted teeth and the Doctor jumped at the severity of her reproach. "Tell them the truth."

"Right, okay! Fine--just--well, it's... complicated. I've only ever seen it once; we-we all thought it was just a myth, a spooky little bedtime story parents told their children," the Doctor started to explain, his eyelids lowering in relief when Jenny placed a cool towel on his forehead. "But, then a woman in a v-village back on Gallifrey started exhibiting signs of a serious illness when her husband left her for another woman. Apparently, there's an internal chemical reaction that filters throughout veins of--"

"Because Clara is too far away from him physically, the Doctor's body is poisoning itself," Vastra states bluntly, ignoring the way the Doctor winces when she pulls at his sleeve to reveal bright purple bruises that have begun to sprout up all over his body.

"Last night, these bruises weren't even here! He's resorted to an incomprehensible state of masochism. All he has to do to be well again is go and see Clara. And he refuses."

"Like I said," the Doctor rolls his eyes at Vastra's flair for theatrics, jerking his arm out of her grasp to cover himself, "it's more complex than that, but basically, yeah. A minor hormonal imbalance." 

"Sir," Strax intoned gravely in a low voice. "Miss Clara only left us three days ago. If the illness has progressed this quickly in response to her absence, you may not have much time left."

"Why?" Jenny asked, just as indignant as her spouse after learning of the Doctor's predicament. "Why are you doing this? It's torture! It's absurd!"

"Look, not that it's of any of you lot's business what I choose to do with my own life, but I'm honoring Clara's request that I give her some space while she's staying in the TARDIS until she has made her decision. I told her I would wait for her, and I will. You'd think I'd get credit for trying to considerate, at the least."

"At the expense of your own life?" Vastra's unconvinced reply came. "No one knows how much worse your condition can become, Doctor. Not even you."

"I know great deal more than you do," he defended halfheartedly, his head starting to pound with stress. "Vastra, I don't need you to agree with me; I'm not looking for your stamp of approval, either. After everything I've done to her, Clara has more than every right to ask this of me. If I waltz in before she's ready to even look at me, I destroy what little chance there is for us anyway. I'm not going to sabotage her trust in me just because I've got the flu."

"By the Goddess, Doctor!" Vastra shouts angrily, her teeth bared as she hisses lowly, pushing away Jenny's forceful attempt at restraining her.

"Unhand me!" Vastra's composure had already started to slip, but she was still trying to keep her voice low and even when it was directed at her wife. "Now, Jenny."

The housemaid gave the Doctor a wide eyed look, hesitating before easing her grip on Vastra's bicep which allowed the reptile to stand over the Doctor the way an animal might before it lunged at its prey.

"I have stood by you at your worst, Doctor," she growled, seething as she practically foamed at the mouth. "I've taken you into my care, been a friend when you didn't think you needed one, and I have turned a blind eye to your every ludicrous antic-- but this... I cannot allow this."

"To hell with your allowance. I'm in love with her," the Doctor shrugged and was immediately reminded of how sore he felt. "She's all I want, all I'll ever want."

"You're the Doctor; a being that has stood in the ashes of whole civilizations and has restored just as many as you've destroyed," Vastra sneered, and the Doctor's eyes clouded over. "You don't get to have a normal life in the country away from it all! Not when you're the Doctor! You swore an oath! You swore!"

"I can do anything," the Doctor smiled again, but this one was far more lethal and just as ferocious. "You've seen me do the unthinkable before. For you," he nods at Jenny and Strax. "For all of you. The only reason you're here to lecture me now is because I am the only person in this universe that can do the impossible and will continue to do it."

"Exactly," Vastra sat on the bed heavily, taking the Doctor's hand with a convicted expression, her anger morphing into concern once more. "I've lived longer than most, Doctor, and I'm old enough to know what the universe will look like if you're not in it anymore."

"Vastra--"

"I've seen enough... I've seen enough to know you're the only thing that will keep us all from burning, and I will be damned if let you waste away in this bed like a lovesick child!"

"'Lovesick' is a eerily accurate way to put things." The Doctor has been holding Vastra's fierce gaze the entire time, and now has to hide his smile by looking away from her fiery eyes. "And since you are a great deal older than me, I guess, compared to you, I am a child."

The three friends look on in befuddlement as the Time Lord dissolves into a fit of giggles.

"You don't have to do this, Doctor," Jenny begged, sitting on the bed to place a hand over his leg. "I'm sure Clara would understand--"

"No, absolutely not." The lingering smile left his face immediately. "None of you is to breathe a word of this to her, understand? Don't say anything. Not a word. It wouldn't be fair to her."

Strax cleared his throat. "Sir, your health declines with the hour. If it does not improve--"

"Not a word," he growled. "And that's an order," his eyes found Vastra's furious ones. "To all of you."

 

Chapter Text

It was going on the third night that Clara had been living--more like hiding, really--in the TARDIS, and she was starting to become frustrated. Aimlessly wandering about the TARDIS and eating her feelings weren't doing anything but getting her hopelessly lost and much heavier on the scale than she already was. Her anger had left her ages ago, but her reluctance hadn't. She still didn't have a decision made, not one that she liked anyway, and she was beginning to think she'd never be able to accept the Doctor or reject him.

"I've had my heart broken one too many times, thanks very much," she brooded to no one in particular as she sat alone in the kitchen and stuffed herself with fish fingers and custard.

"Don't think I'm all that interested this time round."

The TARDIS warbled sympathetically, producing another small bowl for her to snack on. They'd become used to the other over the past several hours, acclimating to the other's eccentricities. The old girl had been mostly harmless, oddly enough, and was more than willing to indulge the many rants Clara went on. And while it was nice to have someone she could sort of talk to, honestly Clara was just glad the ship was no longer moving the location of her bathroom every other hour.

"But... I do want to be with him. I mean, I like him," she mumbled around a mouth full of food, "but it's more complicated than that, isn't it?"

It was more than 'complicated'--they'd left complicated behind the minute she'd stepped into his TARDIS. It was more than complicated because she did still love him. God knows she wishes she didn't, but no matter how much she insisted to herself that she'd grow out of it, Clara knew she never would. Her feelings for the Time Lord weren't exactly some fleeting schoolgirl crush that could be solved with the harsh reality check of seeing him with another woman. Clara had known he'd loved other women. She knew about River, knew the strange nature of her existence, how the Doctor could still run into her from time to time even though she'd died in a library a long time ago. She knew he loved his wife in his own backward way, but that didn't bother her. She knew if she was going to travel with the Doctor that she'd have to travel with some of his ghosts, too.

"He said I was all he'd ever wanted," she murmured, closing her eyes softly as she recalled the way he'd fervently made his commitment to her. "Told me he would wait for me--I mean, seriously! Have you ever known that man to wait for anything a day in his life!"

"Not really," a woman's voice from behind her responded. "But, then again, he's full of surprises."

Clara whipped around in her chair to see a long-legged red-haired young woman staring back at her with a small smirk.

"Who the hell are you?" Clara hiccuped, self consciously wiping at the crumbs that decorated her pajamas.

The impossibly tall young woman had alabaster skin and a fiery look in her eye that made Clara think she just might have 
met her match in sassiness.

"Ooh, yeah. That's a question, isn't it?" The lady muses, another smile on her red lips. "The answer's a bit long-winded. Guess I'll start with the basics."

Clara watches stupefied and half scared to death as the woman flickers a moment and then disappears only to reappear in the chair across from her. She made a show of poking the bowl of custard, but her finger just went right through the ceramic.

"Well, this is new," Clara leans back into her chair and relaxes with the realization that the woman is a hologram of some kind. "Since when does the Doctor do holograms?"

The woman smirks. "He was being sentimental when he made me." She starts to extend her hand, holding it out like a handshake, but then seems to remember it wouldn't exactly work. "Sorry, I'm... it's a habit. I'm Amy, Amy Pond--well, Williams, technically."

The name doesn't click for Clara immediately, so she only smiles kindly. "Clara Oswald--it's nice to meet you, Amy. When'd the Doctor create you?"

"Complicated, again. But it was before your time. Had to be at least forty years ago. Before he regenerated and went all grey and Scottish."

Clara smiled, suddenly understanding the slight prickly tone in Amy's voice. "You must've traveled with him before me; your husband was Rory Williams. And you're River's parents, aren't you?"

Amy's eyebrows rose a fraction. "He's mentioned us before, then? Have to say I'm a little surprised."

Clara flushed with embarrassment. "No, no. It's a... sensitive subject for him, so I had to do some research of my own. He rarely talks about you and Rory."

"He wouldn't," Amy laughs, but her eyes look wet. "He made me to ease what happened to us in New York--I'm sort of a walking-talking memorial."

Clara frowned. "Must've been hell for you, living in the shadow of someone else. Even if you were made exactly for that purpose."

But hologram Amy didn't seem very bothered by it and only shrugged. "The Doctor doesn't like endings. But I'm sure you've figured that out already."

Amy leans away from her chair to pointedly nod at Clara's distended abdomen. "Congratulations are in order, I hear."

"Thanks," but the gratitude doesn't quite reach Clara's voice. She suddenly feels nauseous as her stomach turns ominously. "You don't look surprised."

Amy laughs, a sound that gets staticky around the edges. "I live here. I'm partially programmed by the TARDIS interface--in fact, the console room being nearby is why I appear so realistic. The Doctor keeps me in closed quarters, but news travels fast around here."

Clara wanted to ask what she meant by 'closed quarters', but suspected now wasn't the time to do so.

"So," Clara began, changing course a bit, "do you know how this happened to me?"

Amy flickered briefly before her image solidified once more. Her face gave nothing and everything away. "I have access to the TARDIS' memory banks and security feed from that night on Kysterillous, if that's what you mean."

Clara's gasp was audible as she tried to control herself. Information that they'd been waiting to know was sitting--well, sort of--right in front of her, and should could barely curb her enthusiasm. Or her fear.

A tiny foot inside her kicked in what Clara assumed was excitement, and she smiled, somehow revitalized.

"Can you tell me anything about that night, Amy?" She asked, trying to breathe away the anxiousness that was filling her chest. "Anything about what happened to the Doctor and I about an hour or so after we got to the ball? Why our memories are missing in the first place?"

Amy's knowing look made Clara's stomach drop. "I can't access them, Clara."

Clara flinched, confused. "You just said--"

"I can't access them because they aren't there. Hours of that night have been manually erased from the TARDIS' stored memory banks."

Clara's heart thudded painfully in her chest as her fists clenched in her lap.

"So, the TARDIS can remember things like a person can?"

The Doctor smiled at Clara over his shoulder before he returned to his tinkering. "She's a sentient machine. She has to learn and store information just like any other advanced AI programming."

Clara had gone completely silent as she recalled the time the Doctor had explained the intricacies of the TARDIS' neural network. All the while, Amy's expression grew more and more concerned.

"Clara?" Amy asked, wishing her hand were physically there so she could touch the shaken woman, comfort her maybe. She might have been programmed to have these thoughts, but they felt real enough to her.

"Can you tell me who erased it?" Clara asked in a hollow voice. She needed to hear it said out loud for some reason. She couldn't believe it until it was said aloud.

"Only a Time Lord can erase a TARDIS' memory bank; it's like one of those specially made lock screens on your cell phone. It can read the DNA in the person's touch."

Clara could remember how astounded she'd been, how her eyes sparkled at the concept of the TARDIS being so feeling connected to its creator race. Now, all she felt was horrified.

"So, I could never do it. Could another Time Lord? Missy, if she were still alive?"

The Doctor's face clouded over, and he turned away from her briefly. Missy's Cyberman takeover had only been two weeks ago, and the Doctor still seemed to be in an odd stage of mourning for his childhood friend.

"No, not Missy," the Doctor sighed heavily, installing the new memory bank slot into the TARDIS' database. "Only my unique fingerprint could do it."

Clara shuddered as she met Amy's apologetic gaze. "Just say it," she breathed. "Please."

Amy swallowed, but hesitantly nodded. "Only the Time Lord that primarily operates the TARDIS can erase it's memory banks. In this case, unfortunately, that would be the Doctor."

"Thank you," Clara said. Then she jumped up, ran to the sink and vomited.

Chapter Text

"Watch your step, now. Footing's a bit tricky here." Missy's voice came from somewhere nearby, her voice surprisingly clear to the Doctor although everything seemed to be so far away.

Something was wrong, off in a way that made the hair at the back of his neck rise apprehensively. He nearly said so, but his gut was churning with a wave of nausea so strong it made his head spin.

He felt weak and dizzy, his mind struggling to keep up with his body, the two utterly detached in some horrible way that wasn't making much sense. Missy shoved past him when he began to lag, nearly sending him to his knees. He wasn't exhausted, per se, but unreasonably drowsy. The Doctor thought they'd been walking for what felt like miles, but in actuality only a few minutes had passed since they'd captured him at the party and went to the TARDIS.

Half awake and barely cognizant of his surroundings, the Doctor's head throbbed and pulsed as Missy's gigantic goons half-carried him through the bowels of his own ship. He was vaguely aware of the handcuffs around his wrists but didn't think that was nearly as important as the blank space that seemed to be forming in his mind. Like spilled black ink on white paper, it was spreading quickly, rendering whatever stored short term memory he'd had completely obsolete. 

The Doctor had come to Kysterillous; he remembered that, but couldn't really remember why. The trip had a purpose--knew that--and he'd been doing... uh, something, something important for someone of equal importance to him. His carer. A woman with a round face that featured ill-proportioned brown eyes. He couldn't quite remember her name...

Gods, it was on the tip of his tongue, though! She was a schoolteacher that had been with a bloke he could very clearly remember despising... man called White or Green... or something like that. By Rassilon, what was she called?

An image of those eyes of hers creased in a smile as she throws her head back with laughter flashes in his subconscious.

But just as the Doctor was about to ask about her, he was suddenly thrust into a space deep inside the TARDIS, the distraction of the whereabouts of his mystery woman leaving him at once. 

His vision was tricky, blurry and dim in spots and clear as crystal in others, and the result was thoroughly discombobulating, but he knew with some certainty from the bizzare flickers of light in the room combined with its domed ceiling that they'd entered the room housing the TARDIS' memory banks.

"What are we doing in here?" He immediately asked, startled when he heard how far away his voice sounded aloud. He blinked wildly as the room spun again for a moment before he regained his footing. The Fish Person to his right stiffened their grip on his bicep, steadying him.

"Mistress," an static-infused voice crackled impatiently from what sounded like a walkie-talkie radio. "Have you located the room aboard his ship? I've received no notifications--"

"Yes, Dad, we've made it safely," Missy droned in annoyance, her eyes rolling to the back of her head. "Do you have what asked for? The girl-- tell me. Was the procedure successful?"

The Doctor blinked at her, a flicker of  what he knew would be comically short-lived remembrance igniting in his eye and relieving him of his doped state a fraction. The woman--the small one with the eyes... he remembered her name.

"Clara," He forced the name from his dry mouth, his tongue rolling around uselessly as it tried to retain the muscle memory of saying it. "I came here for Clara."

Missy hardly noticed the Doctor's revelation as she grinned from ear to ear. Obviously, the 'procedure' she'd been talking about had gone exactly as planned. The Doctor's hearts sank, but he didn't understand why. He might've understood the meaning of all this an hour or two ago, but now... It was almost like he'd sat down to watch a play that was already in its second act. And that unsettled him all the more.

"Have-have you given me something?" He was starting to slur his speech, his mind foggy and unclear as he tried to focus on staying upright. His eyelids dropped dangerously low. Gods, what he wouldn't give for a pillow and just fifteen minutes of silence...

Missy came into view again, a small frown on her face as she gently smacked his cheek, grabbing at his chin to give it a quick shake. She smiled when he jumped back to attention.

"Ooh, looks like I may have underestimated that neural block, boys," she said to her gilled companions who exchanged uncertain glances. "But, I was never much of a chemist--Gramps here was always so much better with the Bunsen burners."

"Neural block," The Doctor repeated, realizing why he felt so poorly. He could feel it taking hold, the black ink spreading to the furthest reaches of his short term memory, making it seem as if the last several hours and their many discoveries had never happened.

The ball, of course, had been a trap, a diversion. Missy, after having failed her attempt to conquer the earth with Cybermen a few months before, had somehow survived what the Doctor thought was her death and been the one to lure both himself and Clara to Kysterillous.

"I've been here before," the Doctor glowered at Missy who merely lifted a brow. "Haven't I? Something must've gone wrong with the first neural block you gave me."

"The first neural block was perfect, actually," Missy corrected, though the petulant look on her face remained. "Everything went well. Until you went aboard your TARDIS and she spilled the beans."

She gave the room a disdainful glare, like she was truly surprised the TARDIS had the gall to betray her. "'Course, after she blabbed a bit, she recreated the memories I'd taken from you, and you came charging back here--only this time, you were smart enough to leave the schoolteacher at home."

"Taking my memories a second time is dangerous, Missy," the Doctor tried to explain. "Going bank into my own time-stream was suicidal enough, but this-- the ramifications could produce a paradox strong enough to rip a hole in the universe!"

But Missy only smiled. "That's why we're here, Doctor." She did a little twirl, causing the skirts of her dress to billow. "I'm getting it right this time 'round, don't you worry."

A pile of rocks seemed to settle in the Doctor's stomach as he realized there was no way he'd stop her this time. They'd taken his screwdriver--not that he had the dexterity to whip it out now, anyway. In this state, with the neural block rewriting his memories by the second, he was nothing more than a useless pile of limbs.

"Oh, you silly goose," Missy drawled when she witnessed the Doctor's palpable mood change. "You didn't think you'd really get away this time, did you?"

The Doctor frowned down at his friend as the Fish People guards escorted him further into the room. "D'you know, I have never wished you were dead. I know you, and I have for a long time now. I know that everything you touch turns to to ash, and ruin and chaos, and that you'll never change that, but I've never wished ill on you. Until now."

If Missy was shaken by his words, it didn't show as she maintained her steely composure while producing from her pocket a key to free him.

"I don't know about that, Doctor," she shook her head dubiously. "See, you and I, we're the same. Yin to the other's yang, and that won't ever change. I may be the one that starts the fires, but you'll always be the one to put them out. Always have been, always will be."

"If our relationship is so peachy to you, why are we here, in the neural network of the TARDIS?" The Doctor's voice is steady and calm, but his adrenaline is pumping so quickly through his veins that he can barely feel any of his symptoms. "Why are you trying to steal our memories?"

Missy snorted with laughter. "Oh, Doctor, would it really even matter if I told you? It's not like you'd remember a line of this once we've finished here."

"So tell me anyway," he challenged, relieved to see that fiery spark in her eye. She'd never been able to resist a challenge.

"I'll make you a deal, then," her eyes twinkled with mirth and mischief as she smiled. "Erase the memory banks--erase the last seven hours from the TARDIS' memory banks, including that little earpiece we found in the munchkin's possession, and I'll tell you, again, why you're here."

"And if I don't," He asked defiantly, unwillingly to give up his only bargaining chip and expose his belly just yet. "What happens if I don't?"

"I would say I'd kill her, your precious pet," Missy's eyes narrowed before another sadistic grin found her lips. "Bit predictable, though."

"Profoundly," he agreed through clenched teeth. "You could threaten to kill me instead," he offered, the thought of Clara dying, even hypothetically, at the hands of his life-long enemy making him anxious. "You haven't done that in a while."

Missy placed her hands on her hips, mouth puckered in thought as she stared up at the low ceiling. "D'you know, it has been a while since I've made that particular threat." She shrugs when she meets his gaze, somewhat deflated. "But it wouldn't work."

"Why not?"

"Because I wouldn't be able to properly threaten to kill you."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't actually want to kill you, you idiot." Missy looks a little miffed, like she expected him to already know the answer.

The Doctor laughs, a hollow sound that turns into a cough towards the end. "You've never had that particular problem before."

"I did want to kill you, before, when I was him and not me. Maybe. Once. But that was only because I was... I don't know. I won't even presume to know what that lunatic was thinking."

"You are 'that lunatic'," the Doctor pointed out, thinking Missy's flinch was merely a hallucination.

"People can change," she whispered as she walked towards him, and in his drugged state, the Doctor nearly mistook the inflection in her voice for something sincere.

"People never change," the Doctor countered warily, wondering why her eyes looked so wet all the sudden. "Not where it counts You and I know that from experience."

"Well, not most people, admittedly. Certainly not the apes on that little blue planet you love so much," Missy snarled out the last bit with something like jealously clinging to the words. "Even your companion, Clara--if she were half as clever as you think she is, she would've stopped traveling with you the moment she realized being your friend could cost her her life."

"So you're punishing her for that?" The Doctor queried, still trying to understand what was happening. "Punishing the both of us?"

"I would prefer to think of it more as a reward, Doctor," she winked, grabbing his lapel to drag him towards the panel that held the last few hours of data. "Now do it, quickly. I've left Clara with Caelius for now, and I don't imagine he'll keep his hands, or teeth, to himself if I'm gone for much longer."

Chapter Text

 

The Doctor woke from a restless sleep covered in a fine layer of sweat. At first he believed it to be the result of all the tossing and turning he did the previous night, and was just about to call for Strax, concede to being given some hateful pill to help his weakened body rest. But then he realized that he hadn't woken to the usually throbbing ache in his temple, nor were his limbs half as sore as they has been the past few days. A quick tug of his pajama sleeve revealed that his previously violet colored bruises had drastically healed overnight, and the yellow pallor against his pale skin was a welcomed sight.

He was sweating because his fever had broken.

"Good morning!" Vastra's chipper voice came from the far corner of the room where she was reading the newspaper from behind a small work desk, her smiling eyes flickering briefly to his confused gaze before she continued reading.

"Feeling better?" She asked as soon as he sat up in the bed. His head swam with the vertigo, but otherwise, he felt fine. He felt good.

"Yes, actually," the Doctor's voice was hesitant as his eyes searched the room, his hearts sinking when he realized she'd probably already gone. "Clara was here."

There's silence before Vastra nods solemnly.

"She was," Vastra clears her throat, and the uncharacteristic action makes the Doctor frown in suspicion.

"When? How long ago?"

"Jenny's bringing breakfast," Vastra tried to change the subject, which only made the Doctor all the more anxious. "Ham, toast and eggs--bit extravagant, but we wanted to celebrate the miraculously return of your health."

"It wasn't miraculous. Where is she?" He spat, his upper lip curling in animosity. "Did you tell her I was sick?"

Vastra didn't answer his second question outright either, her head tilting thoughtfully as she turned the page of the paper. "I stayed here overnight to make sure you were alright. You didn't get much rest, but it seems your fever's finally broken."

"Did you tell her?" The Doctor's thunderous tone does nothing to disarm Vastra's defensive body language. "Or was it Jenny?"

"Clara came to see you without knowing anything about your illness, Doctor," Vastra's eyes held his in earnest. "Of course once she was here, she was able to put two and two together. But she hadn't known before."

"Why didn't you wake me when she got here?" The Doctor asked impatiently, removing the bunched blankets from around his waist to step out of bed. His legs creaked and ached when he put his full weight on them, but with each step he took, the discomfort eased and he was left with a slight limp.

"It was against her wishes. She wanted you to sleep," Vastra explains half-heartedly, but the Doctor can hear a lie in her voice; he just doesn't know which part isn't the truth.

However, the statement coupled with Clara's blatant absence makes it painfully clear that the love of his life is still avoiding him.

The Silurian throws a worried look his way when she sees him already up and moving. "Strax should be up in a few minutes to examine you."

"I don't want to see Strax." Gods, he can almost feel Clara's presence in the room. He knows exactly where she sat on his bed while he slept, and the telling depression in the duvet paired with the scent of her shampoo and perfume still lingering in the fibers of the fabric is ample enough information for him to discern that she'd only been gone a couple of hours.

"Doctor," Vastra's warning tone reminds him of a mother's rebuke, and he bristles all the more as he moves to stand in front of the small wooden desk Vastra is seated behind.

"I don't want to see anyone else!" The Doctor shouts, letting his anger get the best of him as he slams a hand down on the top of the desk with a solid thud.

Panting with the exertion, his cheeks go bright red with embarrassment at his rather childish outburst. He can feel Vastra's unappreciative gaze on him as he sits heavily on the desk table in front of her.

When he regains his composure, he repeats, "I don't want to see anyone else, unless it's her."

"And I am sorry," Vastra croons lowly, her blue eyes somber and resolved with whatever it is she's hiding from him. "But, Miss Oswald has made her intentions perfectly clear--she does not wish to see or speak to you any time soon."

And while the Doctor shuddered at the thought of Clara still being unable to face him, a single look into Vastra's eyes was all it took to know there was something she wasn't telling him.

"Just go on and say it," he began slowly, sensing his friend's guard beginning to rise as her vulnerable look clouded over her scaled face to reveal an unreadable mask, "because not telling me isn't going to protect her. It'll just drive the current wedge further between us, making us all the more vulnerable for whatever danger it is we're facing."

Vastra didn't move, a glower fixed on her face as she clenched her jaw. "Who ever said I was protecting her?"

The Doctor recoiled sharply at her words, his eyes blinking rapidly. "I don't--"

"While I do appreciate all Miss Oswald has done to bring you back out of that horrible darkness we found you in, Doctor, she is not my primary concern at the moment," Vastra declared confidently, her unforgiving tone causing the Doctor to flinch as she stood from her seat. "Have you ever once considered that this woman--this human girl--will be your downfall?"

The Doctor's shoulders slumped as he let stared down at the wooden floor, an odd smile lighting his worn face. "I have. A countless number of times by now. But, I could ask you the very same about Jenny," the Doctor returned just as harshly, and Vastra visibly faltered at his severity.

The Doctor's eyes went cold and dark as he stared her down, rising from the chair so they were nearly eye level with one another.

"Does the fear of knowing she won't last but a few more measly decades before her body begins to rot and decay--before her vibrancy and youthfulness fades into the vengeful, inexorable sting of age and death, before the universe rips her from your grasp and leaves you with an empty chasm where you heart once used to beat for her and her alone--does any of that knowledge, that certainty ever stop you from loving her?"

And when Vastra's horrified expression takes hold, the Doctor huffs an unamused chuckle, watching her eyes well uncomfortably.

"You forget, Vastra, that I've had more than just one 'Jenny'. I've loved and lost more than you or anyone else ever will. So, don't ever presume to lecture me about the futility of caring for human beings. Don't ever think I haven't tried to stop myself, because I have. And it never, ever works."

The Doctor gives her a long look of disapproval before he moves to turn away towards the door, but she catches his arm before he does.

Vastra's hardened eyes close for a moment in thought before she opens them once more, a resigned look in her eye as she breathes her confession. "She's in the TARDIS."

 

Chapter Text

 

"Open wide," Strax commands with fervor as he moves to inspect Clara's glands at the back of her mouth. "Very good."

"It's just a bit of a cough," Clara insists once more when Strax let's go of her chin and peers into her ear with a piece of alien medical equipment that looks like a tiny whisk and whirs lowly. "I take walks at night sometimes, and it's getting colder. I should've just worn a coat."

"Walks, ma'am?" Strax frowned, concerned.

"When I need to think, yeah," Clara sighed. She'd done a lot of thinking the past several days, and everyday she'd been careless enough not to dress for the weather.

"This area, while primarily safe during the daytime, ma'am, can become exceedingly more treacherous at night," Strax warns when he retracts the device from Clara's left ear and moves it to her right, tilting her head with his sausage-like finger. "A young lad in your condition--"

"Woman, Strax," Clara forces away her smile when she corrects him. "I'm a woman, remember?"

"Of course, of course," he says dismissively before he continues, probing her ear delicately, "But, perhaps one should bear in mind that it is not uncommon for one to find themselves falling prey to the violent rabble that frequent the streets in the late evening."

"So, basically watch out for rapists and thieves," Clara smiled affectionately at Strax when he blanched, releasing her to retrieve another device from his black doctor's bag. "It's not my first rodeo, Strax, but I'll keep it in mind, thanks."

"Of course, Miss Clara," he automatically replied, but the robotic tone in which he'd said it was softened by the tiny wink he gave her. "I'll now take your pulse."

It was actually her fault she'd caught cold in the first place. After an especially impulsive decision was made to go out into the frigid weather in her pajamas--which were relatively thick flannel, in her defense--to march to the main house in search of the Doctor the evening before, Clara had found Vastra and Jenny alone in the drawing room instead. Needless to say, the reunion in its entirety had been punctuated by an awkwardness only beget by terse small talk. She'd known from the start that they were hiding him from her, but she politely sipped at the evening cuppa that was offered all the same.

And of course, when she hadn't been able to stand their tense pleasantries any longer, she'd stalked up the stairs of the old house in a flurry, the barely contained need to confront the Doctor about what Amy said hours before suddenly silenced when she reached his room and was immediately forced to cover her nose because of how foul the air smelled. It was a stench that made her eyes water, but she took a deep breath through her mouth and took a step into the room that reeked of vomit and blood. Of death.

He was as pale as the sheets he was tucked beneath, Clara had noticed, horrified as she edged closer to the bed until she realized the dark spots that were blossoming purples and blues fiercely across his neck and collarbone were bruises of some kind, and her stomach twisted violently prompting her to gag. Her anger had left her in one fell swoop, the sudden tears in her eyes falling softly against her cheek as she stood over the Doctor's sickly body. The child inside her that had been flipping and kicking only minutes before in anticipation with being head her father again had seemed to be rendered just shocked and silent as her mother was, and went completely still in her belly.

"Clara--" Jenny's timid, but apologetic voice had been cut off by Vastra's decidedly less gentle cadence.

"You can't be in here," she had said, but her voice cracked with emotion, something that seemed just as alien as the Silurian herself. "He didn't want you to see him this way."

Yet neither one of them made a move to make her leave.

As carefully as she could without disturbing him, Clara lowered herself into the bed with a muffled sob. The Doctor groaned in his sleep and Clara bit her lower lip to silence herself before tenderly reaching over to brush her hand against his heated cheek. He moaned again, but instead of the anguished, miserable sound she'd just heard, he sounded relieved by the coolness of her touch, and his cheek pressed softly into her palm.

"Who did this?" She'd asked, her voice spiltering around the edges as she tried not to quake from the anger building inside her. "Who did this to him?"

"You," Vastra had been the one to accuse after a beat with a growl, and Clara remembered the way her head a snapped around to look at the reptilian woman with confusion.

"What?"

"You did this to him," Vastra repeated as she hissed the words with a such an acute viciousness that Clara shrank away in fear.

And now, after having learned that it was their lack of physical proximity to each other that was making the Doctor ill, Clara felt doubly wretched. Whatever floundering rage she'd had after Amy's relayed information had paled in comparison to the guilt and remorse that now ate away at her heart. Vastra had been right to be so furious with her. How could she dare to show her face in that house when she'd nearly brought the Doctor to ruin--and because of something as small as her own pride?

"Thanks, again, for doing this, by the way," Clara spoke up again when she felt herself beginning to spiral into an unforgiving bout of self-hatred, deliberately changing the subject.

She was decidedly grateful that Strax had agreed to give her the check-up she'd asked for, and chose to let her thoughts gravitate towards the fact that her baby was finally getting a long-overdue exam. And although the Sontaran was hardly a bloke she'd go out to the local pub for a drink with, after all her time alone in the ship, she relished the opportunity to talk to a living, physical person all the same.

"It is only logical that a young mother-to-be would want to be inspected for the sake of her child," Strax beamed proudly, practically glowing from Clara's gratitude. She realized belatedly and with a twinge of sympathy that he probably didn't receive thanks very often from Jenny or Vastra.

After a few more tests, Clara was allowed to stand from the console chair that'd been serving as a makeshift exam table. "So? Prognosis, Nurse Strax; give it to me straight."

"A bit of a chest cold seems to be your only affliction," Strax declared definitively as he began packing up his supplies. "The child is strong and healthy, and with plenty of fluids and rest, soon you will be as well."

Clara grinned, one hand coming to rest atop her belly while the other clasped Strax's shoulder with a squeeze. "Thank you, seriously."

He bowed his head courteously, a small smile on his lips. "Do you have anyone that can watch over you for the next thirty-two to forty-eight hours and ensure you get the proper amount of rest? Perhaps I can send for Miss Jenny?"

Clara opened her mouth to give him a gentle 'no' when she was cut off by a gust of wind flying into the console room as the TARDIS doors flew open, bringing in a handful of snowflakes with it.

In stepped the Time Lord wearing the softest-looking navy blue robe Clara had ever seen in her life. His silver hair blew dramatically around his face whilst he stood power-posing in the doorway.

Clara nearly rolled her eyes at the soapbox that her life was becoming.

"That won't be necessary, Strax," the Doctor refuted, his conflicted gaze falling on Clara for a brief moment before he turned and closed the door behind him to prevent more snow from coming in. He smiled at the both of them sheepishly. 

"Don't you worry. I've, uh, got this handled."

 

Chapter Text

An incomprehensible ball of emotions ranging from the anxiety of wanting to know if the Time Lord was alright, to the debilitating frustration of him speaking for her yet again like she was child, to the endless regret she felt at having abandoned him to suffer alone in that house-- all of it landed in the back of Clara's throat, threatening to choke her.

"Do you, now?" She called across the room as she crossed her arms, the physical distance between them an obvious and rather cheesy metaphor of their current emotional distance from the other. "I don't recall asking you to 'handle' any of this."

The Doctor winced at his choice of words, and had the grace to look chagrined at how patronizing realized they sounded.

"Okay, right. So maybe not 'handled', that's-that's not what I meant. 'Covered' is more along the lines of, eh, what I meant to say."

Distracted and a little more than annoyed, Clara turned to the bewildered Sontaran who was still awaiting orders as the couple bickered. "It's alright, Strax, you're free to go. I'll be perfectly fine here alone. You don't need to bother Jenny."

"Please, don't bother Jenny," the Doctor agreed with a worn look. He couldn't bear the possibility of being interrupted by another one of the Paternoster Gang; not now. "We can take it from here."

"You," Clara emphasized with a sharp look towards the gray-haired fool, "can also leave. Same instructions apply to you."

The Doctor stood perfectly still, however, ignoring the way Clara was staring holes into his face as Strax eagerly bumbled past him towards the doors.

"Thank you, Strax," he whispered sincerely as the small warrior reached the door handle. "For looking after her."

Strax's surprised reaction at the Time Lord's un-Scottish sincerity only lasted a moment before his usually stern countenance returned.

"You're very welcome, sir," he nodded once before opening the door and leaving the two of them alone.

"Right, okay, look--" The Doctor started with fidgeting hands, but Clara beat him to it.

"Didn't you hear me?" Clara's posture straightened though she looked positively drained. "I don't need you to look after me."

"What, you don't think I know that?" The Doctor's gentle albeit slightly miffed tone came as his eyes softened. "You are perfectly capable of looking after yourself, and I know you don't need me."

"Do you?" She said doubtfully with a quirked brow. "This isn't you trying to be the hero? Trying to rescue another damsel from her-her chest cold?"

"You're not a damsel, Clara," the Doctor almost rolled his eyes. Not at her, but at the description she'd used for herself--she knew better than that.

"In fact, you're probably the furthest thing from Rapunzel in a tower. And, no, this time I'm not here to rescue you."

Clara caught the dejection riddled in his words, but pushed down the urge to comfort him, her own remorse overpowering the sentiment. "Then why are you here?"

"Because I want to rescue me!" He shouted passionately before he could calm himself down. "I know you can fend for yourself, Clara; that's never been the question. But, I want to save my own life this time--I'm here because however angry or disappointed are with me at this moment, however insistent you are that I leave and never come back, the simple fact is my hearts will never beat for another living soul the way they do for you!"

His stormy eyes and thin lipped expression combined with the words he'd said struck a chord so deep in Clara that it left her speechless as she watched him turn away from her to lean against the railing. He was panting slightly, and he winced as his weight shifted from one leg to the other. There was another stab of guilt at her chest when she remembered he was still healing.

"They won't beat for anyone else, ever. A-and I know everything is..." he sighed as he closed his eyes and shook his head, "it's a bit messy between the both of us at the moment, and the complexity of our situation doesn't exactly make it any of this any easier." He opened his eyes and swung his head her way, relieved to find her still standing there. "But beneath all chaos, at the very root of it all are still two old friends that used to travel together."

"I'm still your friend," Clara heard herself say, her voice small but deliberate as her eyes found the floor. "Always will be."

"You shouldn't be," he chuckles darkly, all the scenarios in which he's nearly gotten her fatally injured playing like a sadistic reel in his mind. "It'd be for the best, we both know it."

Clara scoffed. "I might talk a big game about leaving, Doctor, but I'm not going anywhere," she stubbornly said, matching his candor with her own. "I could never leave all this," she spread her arms out wide to indicate the TARDIS, "behind, especially not now, like this. You should know that by now."

"Well, I don't," the Doctor swallowed thickly, still unable to look at her. "Nearly let you slip through the cracks too many times before. And now... I mean, I'm honestly trying not to, but god knows I could still get this very wrong."

Turning back towards the console, the Time Lord found Clara's steady gaze trained on him from across the room, her rich brown irises watching him evenly. He took her silence and relatively docile energy as encouragement to quietly move down the couple of steps that placed him only a few feet from the console and only a few feet from her.

"Clara, I know there's a lot we need to say to each other, and there's no way for either of us to eradicate what we've said to hurt the other," he started apprehensively, trying to gauge her response, "but is it possible, just for the next day or so, for us to just push it aside and be how we were before?"

Clara didn't know what she had been expecting him to say, but it was clear from the way her jaw was brushing the floor that it hadn't been that.

But, in all fairness, the next few words she would say in reply were just as shocking: "I'd like that."

The Doctor's hearts rammed against his chest as he hesitantly moved to close the distance between the two of them, his each step growing in confidence when he noticed she was still there waiting for him.

"Hi," he whispered when he was only an arm's length away from her, finding that he was little breathless all the sudden. Somehow he'd forgotten how intoxicating Clara was to be around, how dopey and odd she made him feel when they were close to one another. Another reason he'd never really encouraged physical encounters between the two of them--all she had to do was fix him with those eyes and he was practically vibrating with nervousness equivalent to that of a pubescent human male.

Reaching to take his awaiting hand, Clara ran her fingers across his palm, exploring him in a way she thought would never be possible. Her fingers found their way down his wrist and skittered across his palm until they met the Doctor's slightly calloused fingertips. 

She smiled then.

And the sensation was a like a healing balm; it lit her face and eased the heaviness of her guilt from her shoulders as she felt her heart open toward the man that had, in his own way, once more professed his love to her. In his eyes, underneath the tenderness he so rarely bestowed, was their path towards redemption, towards each other; Clara knew with all certainty that the only way for them to move on toward, would be through forgiveness. In fact, looking at him now, with her heart in her throat and her mind crystal clear, she believed she was finally ready to do just that.

Sure, she might've had questions--of course, she did. Clara might even still have some reservations, but since she was planning on being with a time traveling spaceman for the rest of her life, she figured that a certain number of caveats was only normal.

"Hi," she eventually breathed, her own heart racing as her daughter kicked her twice in an excited gesture of encouragement. "Where will you fly us to this time, old man?"

The achingly familiar grin of knowing mischief streaked across the Time Lord's face as he looked down at her. "Wherever you want, of course."

But as soon as Clara opened her mouth, the Doctor took another step forwards and nodded towards her belly in reminder, his eyes having taken on a protective edge s he squeezed her hand. "Within reason, Clara Oswald."

The laugh bubbled up in her chest before she could stop it, and ere she could rethink it, Clara flew up to wrap her arms tightly around his neck. She felt him give grunt of surprise as he stumbled backward a bit to adjust their weight on his aching leg. But his reluctance was short-lived as he quickly bent down and returned the hug, his arms encircling her torso just as snugly.

"Needed to hide your face?" He whispered against her ear when she sniffed a few times, the wetness of her tears dampening the collar of his robe.

"Shut up," she rebuked hoarsely, her eyes still blurring with tears as she threaded her fingers through the iron gray curls at his nape. "It's just the hormones, that's all."

"'Course," the Doctor grinned into her neck, nose gently brushing against her collarbone as he gratefully held her in his arms. "Just the hormones."

"You know I've basically no control over my emotions at this point," Clara steadily defended, still clinging to him as she shifted down off her tip toes and hugged his waist instead.

Happy to oblige her, the Doctor straightened to place his chin atop her head, his hand rubbing soothing circles into the small of her back as she cried. "I know, boss."

"And you being unreasonably tall does nothing for my ridiculously swollen ankles," she declares with a little huff, and the Doctor muffles his laughter by placing his lips against her hair.

"Maybe we should get you a little box," he jokes, but after moment realizes it's not a terrible idea.

"A box?" Clara squeaks from where her face is smushed up against his chest.

"Small, but sturdy," he promises, "sort of like those empty fruit boxes you see at the market. Oh, and you'll finally be able to reach all those cupboards--ouch!"

Clara retracts her pinching fingers with a tiny smile as her tears finally begin to dry. "Don't push it, Doctor."

-

 

Chapter Text

"Will you stay with me tonight?" Clara asked when the Doctor stopped in front of her TARDIS bedroom door, her voice carrying an infliction he couldn't quite decipher.

Somehow she'd misplaced the robe and pajamas she'd been wearing before, and stood before him now in the same white dress shirt she'd been wearing when he found her in the nursery. His throat went dry at the sight of her ample cleavage, the hardened bud of her nipple piercing through the material.

Oh dear God, he thought, blinking.

" Of course," the Doctor said somewhat robotically as he swallowed noisily at how her eyes had darkened with want.  For him, apparently.

Christ, he was practically salivating at the sight of her.

"If that's what you want."

He nearly jumped out of his skin when Clara's gaze flickered suggestively to his lips, her hand settling on his chest before she raked her fingernails  painfully  down to his sternum, inciting a delicious moan from her mouth.

"It is," she smiled. "I want you ."

-

"Doctor?"

The Doctor's eyes sprang open at the gentle shaking of his "Hmm? Clara, what's wrong? Are you alright?"

"I could ask you the same thing!"Clara laughed as she walked towards the console, setting the controls in place before she sent them into the vortex, turning to glance at him over her shoulder. "You were making noises in your sleep."

"No, I wasn't," he immediately refuted, blinking a few times to rid his eyes of drowsiness. "Well, actually, I do tend to snore on occasion."

"If by 'on occasion' you mean every time you close your eyes, then, yeah, sure," Clara teased. "But it wasn't a snore this time. Bit more like a moan, actually."

"A what?" The Doctor asked, half-listening, groaning when he stretched out of the pretzel-like contortion he'd found himself in upon waking.

"Yeah, and it was getting a little... rude, towards the end there," Clara smirked, turning to face him. She caught his cheeks go fiercely pink just in time. "Thought I'd be preserving your last shred of dignity if I woke you."

"Ha-ha. Very funny," he groused, lifting himself from what he discovered was Clara's tiny couch, the one he thought was actually more of a love seat. She'd moved it into the console room a few weeks after they found each other again, and he's made the mistake of falling asleep in it a few times before.

A little cranky, the Doctor walked over to the console with a yawn, intentionally giving Clara a wide berth as he did so.

"I thought it was very funny, yeah," Clara's smile seemed to be relatively permanent as she continued to watch him knowingly, her hands on her hips as she regarded him. "Care to share with the class what, or who, was so... inspiring?"

"Absolutely not," the Doctor nearly blushed again, grateful for the console which was hiding his overexcited and still softening member. He tried to shift the conversation elsewhere. "Where are you sending us?"

But Clara wasn't having it, unfortunately. She enjoyed seeing him squirm.

"Hmm," she purred as if he hadn't spoken at all, smirking too smugly for his liking. "Maybe I can guess instead, then?"

"Clara," the Doctor looked tortured as his eyes went wide with terror. "Please."

"Oh, don't be such a prude, Doctor," Clara began sashaying her way around the console, her eyes beginning to look the exact way they had in his dream, explicitly ravenous with a very particular kind of hunger.

Again, he swallowed noisily, blinking profusely. "What-what are you doing?"

He suddenly noticed that, similarly, just like in the dream, Clara's pajamas had been swapped for an alternative choice of clothing. And while he would've given anything to see her in his shirt again, the maxi dress she wore was just as breathtaking on her--and he imagined it'd be even simpler to take off.

"Clara--"

She was taking her time getting to him, her agonizingly slow pace terrifying him and arousing him all at once. "Hey, you know how there's that telepathic connection between you and the baby now? How she can send you images and vise versa?"

The Doctor's mind did a one-eighty, completely thrown off by the mention of their daughter. He could've been wrong, but he didn't think now was an appropriate time to bring up their fetal child.

"Yeah...?" He winced when Clara's tongue dipped out of her mouth to wet her lips, his Adam's apple bobbing painfully. "What about it?"

"Well," she laughed lowly, mere steps away grim him now. "I've recently discovered that when she's sleeping, she sort of diverts whatever signals you're sending her to me. Intentionally, or unintentionally; doesn't seem to matter, apparently."

The Doctor didn't know whether to be horrifically embarrassed or incredibly amazed that such a small mind was capable of something so extraordinary. "I... you saw what I was dreaming about?"

"An accident, probably," Clara nodded with another wry chuckle as she reached the Doctor, pulling him away from where he was cowering at the console and towards her. He grunted at the feeling of her body as it rubbed up against his. "But I can't help but think the dream was just the beginning, and, you know, maybe we should finish where we left off."

Her hand reached up to gently twirl the curls at his nape around her index finger as she openly gazed up at him. "What do you think, hm?"

The Doctor pushed the hair that was falling into her face behind her ear, wanting to see her fully. He'd always felt Clara was a bit like a hurricane--all-consuming and unrelenting until the brunt of the storm passed, leaving an uneasy peace that only ever seemed to be beget by incredible violence. And, if he was going to be honest, he was scared of her, this human who had somehow managed to have him wrapped around her finger while in reality he was really clinging onto it for dear life.

The Doctor's gaze faltered as he frowned. "This is dangerous, Clara."

"I know." She nodded earnestly, but her fingers tightened in his hair, a reassuring smile on her face. "I also know we're inevitable, and there won't ever be a time that we won't want the other. We're in this together, Doctor. It's about time we started acting like it."

"Be careful what you wish for," the Doctor warned with a sly, keen smile creeping onto his face. But Clara was already pulling his neck down, going up on her tip toes to catch his mouth with hers.

"I need to tell you something," the Doctor's words were slightly muffled as his lips continually met Clara's in what he was quickly discovering was a power struggle for dominance. He smiled when she bit hid lip. "Ouch."

"What is it?" Clara was grabbing at the ties of his robe, casting the thing aside as they made a rather desperate attempt to undress each other without breaking physical contact. They probably looked odd, tripping and flailing, refusing to let go of the other. 

"There's a bit of, uh," the Doctor laughed, and Clara was so close to him, she could feel the vibration as it rumbled in his chest. "There's a bit of debriefing that needs to happen now."

Clara barely heard him over the cacophony of sounds they were both making. Gasps and whimpers and little moans whenever either of them found a sweet spot on the other's body. She was currently in the middle of discovering just how ticklish the Doctor was, her fingers met with an unintentional recoiling every time her fingers danced across his abdomen too lightly.

"Debriefing?" Clara arched her neck as they stumbled down the corridor towards her bedroom, the both of them slamming into a wall while the TARDIS trilled furiously at the both of them. He was practically crushing her as he leaned into her, but her belly was still preventing the friction her body craved. 

The Doctor, still laying butterflies along Clara's collarbone, chose to demonstrate what he meant by giving her maxi dress a quick and easy yank, which resulted in a loud ripping sound as the dress was effectively destroyed. Clara gave a little shriek of surprise as she felt him tearing away at the fabric with his bare hands, and the Doctor chuckled again. 

"Yes--debriefing."

"So, superhuman strength becomes a thing that you do," Clara said, an undeniable anxiety in her voice now as she busied herself with unbuttoning his pajama shirt. "Anything else I should know? Does your skin glitter in the sunlight, too?"

The Doctor leaned away from her for a moment so she could see his flushed face, his bright blue eyes gentle and open as he gave her a shy smile. "I might become a little... possessive."

"More than you are already?" Clara asked, enjoying the low growl that emanated deep within his chest as she finally placed a hand against his bare skin. She shuddered as she watched his eyes visibly darken a shade or two while his pupils dilated considerably. "That would be a 'yes', wouldn't it?"

"My eyes--they did a thing, didn't they?" The Doctor winced apologetically. "It's Time Lord biology."

"I guessed that, yeah." Clara gulped as his kisses grew fiercer and more sloppy. 

"It isn't usually this bad, I promise," he tries to explain himself before he gets too carried away. He can already feel his inhibitions slipping away as his system floods with hormones that signal the beginning of a typical Gallifreyan mating ritual. "This is only supposed to happen the first time."

"Right. Okay," Clara nodded, comforted by the feeling of his arms around her and the look of reassurance he gave her, like he'd never dream of hurting her. Although, honestly, she couldn't deny her own arousal at the sight of him getting literally hot and bothered for her. 

The Doctor bent to kiss her forehead tenderly before planting an assortment of kisses on her eyelids, cheeks and chin. "Also, there might be some, uh, marking," the Doctor causally admitted, his grip involuntarily tightening on Clara's hips as his fingers dug greedily into her flesh. "Males usually mark their mates. It's tedious and archaic, but it happens."

"So this is how Time Lords really are?" Clara asks curiously, thankful that he's resumed touching her, distracting her. He paws at her bra with a bit of a whimper, his entire hand moving to cup and caress her over the material. She was minutely proud of herself for choosing to wear matching underwear that day. "Territorial and secretly sex-crazed?"

"It's not a secret. What, did you think River was just a flirt? And why do you think Bow Tie was so flustered the fist time you kissed him as a governess?" He asked huskily, shivering when Clara's hand wandered down lazily towards his greying happy trail. "Clara," he warned. "Gently."

Damn his warning. She'd heard rumors from friends about how a woman's libido was a little unpredictable towards the end of the pregnancy, but Clara had never believed them until now. She needed him, all of him, and was convinced that if they didn't make it to her room in a few minutes, he'd take her against this wall. 

Tugging at his drawstrings, she opened her mouth against his, and he went rigid as her tongue brushed against his while her hand slid blithely over his hard erection. 

"Gently," he reminded again, his Scottish accent more dominant than she'd ever heard it. "I'm trying to keep control of it, but we won't stand a chance with you teasing like that."

Clara inhaled harshly when the Doctor's hips bucked sharply into hers, his hardness pressing urgently into her thigh as another fierce animalistic noise tore from his throat. Her eyes widened as he ground his hips into hers, a moan slipping from her lips.

 "Think we'll make it in time?"   

And as if to answer her question, the TARDIS suddenly produced Clara's bedroom just to their left, the door opened wide in a deliberate suggestion. 

Get a room.

Chapter Text

He's following her, Clara knows now. She saw him first in the market, a giant of a man who wore Victorian sunglasses over his eyes as he surveyed her with a concentrated gaze. Clara would never have noticed him if he hadn't been blatantly towering over the rest of the crowd; a little under seven feet tall wasn't exactly average height, and he stuck out like a sore thumb for a man in Victorian London.

He'd been leaning up against a lamppost when they'd first locked eyes. He'd straightened when she finally caught sight of him, his unreadable gaze following her form as she turned and hastily made her way through the market and back onto the bustling street to seek cover. She'd hoped to lose him in the throng, but his height played to his advantage in this case, and he could easily single her out from the rest of the pedestrians walking by.

Clara swallowed as she decided to change course, dipping into an alleyway that would lead her back to the TARDIS instead of Vastra's house. Throwing a cursory glance over her shoulder, Clara relaxed a little when she noticed the man was nowhere to be seen.

"Miss Oswald."

Clara's head swiveled around at the sound of her name, her steps coming to a halt as she came short of running to directly into the chest of the man that had been following her. Staggering backwards at his imposing build, Clara began to regret refusing Vastra's offer to accompany her on this errand. She knew she'd be of little to no use against him alone.

Looking around the barren street, she resisted the urge to panic when she saw there was nothing she'd be able to weaponize. Gripping her basket of groceries in preparation to fling the contents of it at the man, Clara regained her composure and took a deep, steadying breath.

"Tell me why you're following me. Now."

There was an admittedly charming smile from the man as he laughed quietly. Clara blinked, confused and alarmed, when she thought she saw a flash of shark-like teeth.

Impossible, she told herself, though she'd known ever since she'd stepped into the TARDIS that she now lived in a world where nothing was impossible.

"You shouldn't be able to dream about me, and yet you can. Down to the particular details of my face, everything is perfect replicated from a memory that should no longer be intact," the well-dressed man spoke with a beautiful foreign accent, but Clara couldn't place where exactly he was from. His voice began to send shivers down her spine, however, when she remembered she'd heard it before several months ago.

"She thinks your neural block is failing somehow," he explained, pulling his glasses carefully from his face to reveal a pair of gleaming eyes the color of tar.

"I told her it wasn't possible, but nevertheless, she has sent me to solve the problem--you."

"Caelius," Clara breathed in horror. This man--this thing had been the object of torment in her nightmares for months now, the face she saw every time she closed her eyes. "Duke of Kysterillous."

Caelius smiled again, showcasing a row of  sparkling white teeth that she knew were sharp as a blade. He nodded once in a courteous bow. "It's been far too long, Miss Oswald."

"Could've been longer, if you ask me," Clara's biting remark came as her pulse sky-rocketed. She placed a protective hand over her belly, heart in her throat as she slowly accepted she had no real way to defend herself or her daughter.

She'd been stupid enough to go out alone, and the Doctor was blocks away. Even though it was half past noon, the alleyway offered the perfect amount of shadowy cover for a murder. Screaming was a plausible option, but she doubted anyone brave enough to come to her aid would get to her in time to do any damage. They'd just be killed along with her, anyway, and she didn't want to lead an innocent to their death. 

Clara winces as she considers all her options, the viability of all of them slipping away, leaving her relatively defenseless. Caelius could tear her in half if he wanted, and she'd be powerless to stop him.

"What do you want?" Clara's voice was guarded as she assumed an anticipatory pose, expecting him to pounce any minute now.

Caelius watched her defensive stance with intrigue, his golden eyebrows lifting theatrically. "You think I'm here to hurt you."

"All you've ever done was hurt, threaten and mutilate me," Clara said bitterly as the events that led to her pregnancy came back with alarming speed and clarity. "Don't look so surprised when I say I find it difficult to believe you're capable of anything else."

"Ah, yes. The apes and their fascination with 'first impressions'." Caelius chuckled sardonically. "A very judgmental lot, Homo sapiens. Could it be, perhaps, that your species is not yet evolved enough to conceptualize the ambiguity most, if not all, this universe operates in?"

"You haven't really come all this way to lecture me about ethics, have you? Not when you kidnapped, assaulted and tortured me for something as superficial as a throne?"

Caelius said nothing for a beat, his strange eyes frowning down at her silently. When he spoke again, his tone was much less self-righteous than before.

"Mmm. Redemption is a quality I assume you are familiar with, yes?" He asked quietly, taking a step towards her when she nodded once. "Well, I, unfortunately, am not, nor do I expect I will ever be--many human sentiments are foreign and tedious to me."

Clara scowled at the unintended insult. "Are you going to make a point any time soon?"

 "I have grown tired of the Mistress' games, and even my ambitions aren't capable of withstanding the company of a jealous sadist," Caelius confessed begrudgingly. "I have made the recent decision to drop my claim to the throne of Kysterillous, which means I'll no longer need her assistance regarding my cousin's assassination."

"You're dropping Missy?" Clara scoffed, shaking her head in disbelief. "What, to help me and the Doctor?"

"No," He grinned again like when she'd suggested was outlandishly funny. "I simply desire to see Missy will fail. She could never accomplish what she set out to do alone, which was why she called on the Fish People. But surely now the best way to sabotage her scheme against is to aid you both in outsmarting her."

Clara considered his words silently, and Caelius smirked as he watched her decide. "I don't wish to rush you, but I cannot maintain this form in the dream for much longer. Soon, she will discover I have gone and taken my allegiances with me."

"And how do I know you won't betray us the same way you're betraying her now?" Clara's expression was hard and cynical as she tilted her head. "Convince me, right now, that you're not lying, that you won't kill me as soon as I agree to this."

Caelius looked like his patience was beginning to wear thin, his jaw tightening as his lips pursed in annoyance.

Taking a step forward so they were mere inches apart, Caelius, sighed and said, "When you awake into the real world, I will be waiting for you at the church three streets down from the Silurian's home. Bring your Time Lord--perhaps he will hear what I have to say, even if you will not."

With a wave of his webbed fingers, the High Duke smiled once more at Clara's weary expression before snapping his fingers twice. Then suddenly she felt like she was falling through the cobblestone street as the world whipped around and past her, Caelius' smiling face peering down at her as he repeated his words.

"...I will be waiting for you at the church three streets down... perhaps he will hear what I have to say, even if you will not..."

-

To be continued...

Chapter Text

 

As soon as she awoke, Clara found the bed empty, her searching hands finding nothing but wrinkled, cooling sheets. She needed him--to hold her, to tell her she was fine, and that they were both fine and everything would be okay. And she needed to tell him; she needed to do it now.

"Doctor?" She whispered, hoping to God he hadn't slunk off, regretful after they'd finally slept together. "Doc--"

"Over here," he called to her somewhere in the dark. And when she saw him, she nearly cried with relief; he was standing in front of her false window, staring out at what looked like a view of Paris this time instead of her usual Dubai setting.

"Sorry. I couldn't sleep, and I didn't want to wake you," he sounded like he was apologizing, but Clara almost wished he had woken her. Maybe then she wouldn't feel so burdened by what she now knew.

Clara could already feel the effects of her neural block as it tried to take its hold on her mind once more, the vise grip around her memories almost stronger than her impervious will to keep them. It was making her head ache, looping the events to ensure they weren't counterfeit, and her dreams of Caelius beginning to feel less and less real by the second. A panic welled up inside her at the thought of forgetting again before she had the chance to tell the Doctor.

When he saw her getting out of the bed, the Doctor's smiled faded. "It's still dark out, so just, uh, ignore me. You can go back to sleep, if you'd like."

"N-no, I need to tell you something, actually," Clara intoned as soon as she'd fastened the ties on her robe with shaking hands. The Doctor readily opened his arms for her when she came to him and frowned when he felt her trembling fiercely against him.

"Hey, you alright?" He lowered his voice a fraction when he saw her eyes watering as she shook her head 'no'. She looked positively spooked. "Clara, what is it?"

"Look, there isn't much time, but I'll do my best to explain it."

A shock of fear went through the Time Lord and he tightened his grip on her. "Explain what? What are you talking about?"

"You've got to promise you won't ask any questions until I'm finished," she insisted, her fingers digging into his flesh where she was gripping his shoulders. "Promisenow. You won't interrupt me."

"Right, okay. Fine." He blinked, confused, but nodded all the same. "I won't interrupt you until you've finished. I promise."

A deep breath filled Clara's lungs and she expelled it with a shiver. "Doctor, I know what happened to us that night on Kysterillous. I can remember."

-

The Doctor sat in the console room on Clara's love seat, a ponderous look in his eye as he glared at nothing in particular. He'd been fuming like that for the past fifteen minutes ever since Clara told him what happened in her dream and who had been there. She'd understood his reaction well enough, but kept a soothing hand on his neck anyway, her fingers playing absently with the curls at his nape as she tried to distract herself from the Doctor's frankly frightening silence.

She'd given him the news while he was seated, figuring that would be best, but she herself had paced when reciting her dream. Clara now sat beside him, utterly still and silent as he quietly stewed over the information, his hand resting on her thigh in what she decided was a protective measure.

"We need to discuss this," Clara whispered, trying to extract him from thoughts that would soon engulf him. "There's a clock on it, and the longer we wait--"

"Clara." Was all he said, both a warning and a plea for her silence as he came to terms with it all. "Please. I just... I need a moment."

She acquiesced--for exactly five more minutes. 

"Tell me how to help you," she begged him when she moved to sit in his lap, hoping her closeness would rouse him. She could literally feel the waves of tempestuous emotion radiating off of him, and it was scaring her. "I'm here now, Doctor. I'm here with you, and we're alright. I'm okay. We're safe."

Her words activated his movements. His arms were suddenly around her waist, his jaw working as he held her, needing concrete proof that what she said was true. 

"Clara, I'm sorry," he breathed, his blue eyes raw and his voice a whisper as his hand came to cup her cheek. "For all of it; I was an idiot not to think..." He trailed off as he painfully shut his eyes. "If we'd never gone--"

"Don't wish it away," Clara rebuked him immediately, grabbing his chin as he opened his eyes again. "Don't ever wish it away. You'll be wishing her away, too."

The Doctor didn't respond, lost in his own head.

"We have to go see him," Clara spoke softly when another five minutes had passed and he still hadn't said anything about meeting with Caelius. "You know it as well as I do, Doctor."

"No." The vein protruding from his forehead was starting to worry Clara, his remorse visibly transitioning back into anger. "We're not going."

"Doctor--"

"No. Listen to me. Even if it wasn't a trap--which it almost certainly is, for the record--what makes you think I'd want to go anywhere near the man that worked in tandem with the woman that tortured and raped you?" His voice shook with rage, and his grip on her tightened further, like he needed another reminder that she was safe now.

"We aren't going; not just because it's a trap. We aren't going because father's-to-be aren't typically supposed to commit murder."

The finality in his voice felt like several steel doors closing all at once, and Clara couldn't allow that--not when they'd been through hell and they were so close to ending this. Trap or not, the High Duke had answers to questions they'd been asking since the very beginning, and Clara wasn't going to let this opportunity to stop Missy once and for all pass them by.

"Caelius knows Missy's plans, alright? He knows everything, and he's willing to share that knowledge with us."

"And you actually believe him?" The Doctor's skeptical brow gave Clara pause. "Why do you believe him?"

She sucked her teeth, rolling eyes. "I... I don't trust him. Honestly, I don't know if he's telling us the truth or not, but something about him was different when he spoke to me, I can't explain it. But Caelius is different now, changed maybe. He even admitted that he'd only help us so Missy wouldn't win! I know it's all a little cloak and dagger, but if we're given the chance, don't you want to know what she's planning next?"

"Of course I do," the Doctor's gaze softened when he felt her tense against his touch. "But at what cost?" The hand he had on her thigh came to rest over her stomach, his eyes stern and just as immovable as his decision. "You are both so much more important to me than vengeance against Missy. I'm not risking your lives anymore, not for anything. Not even for this."

"We're just going to let her get away with it all, then?" Clara's exasperated tone made the Doctor sigh as he turned away from her, lifting her from his lap. He stood as she tried to grab for him, walking towards the console and leaving her on the love seat. "We're just going to let her go?"

"If you choose to see it that way, as some kind of defeat, then yes," the Doctor said with another heavy sigh.

Clara crossed her arms. "What other way is there to see it?"

"See it the way it is, Clara," he pleaded. "This is the way I want you to see it: I love you enough to cast aside my own desire for revenge because your protection and safety is more important to me than my pride, than my indignation. You're a priority, and taking care of you takes precedent over all of it every time."

Clara's heart never failed to skip a beat whenever he said he loved her. She found herself just as bewildered by it now as she had been when her first told her, but she knew he was only trying to sate her and end the argument. And that wasn't going to work.

"There's always gonna be a risk, there's always a catch--if anyone's taught me you can't have you cake and eat it, too, it's you, Doctor. But, we have not come this far just to tuck our tails between our legs and run away again like bloody cowards!"

"We aren't cowards," he laughs darkly, his voice weary and suddenly he sounds as old as his age. "We're survivors."

"If you won't come with me, Doctor, you'll force me to go see him alone, and I don't particularly want that." Clara's words were laced with a poison and had its intended effect. She observed the way his shoulders caved in and his head lowered as he made a guttural noise, and she knew she had him.

"Then don't go," he shot back with a snort. "Stay here with me, and drop this! "

"I am going to meet with Caelius, regardless of whether you're there with me when I do, or not."

The Doctor threw her a look over his shoulder, but Clara could already sense him caving. She could see it in the wildness of eyes that he'd never let her face the High Duke by herself, not everything everything that creature done to her.

"That sounds a hell of a lot like a threat," the Time Lord comments with a clenched jaw. "Like you made your mind up to do it the minute you told me what happened."

Clara shrugged and stood from where she was sitting to walk up behind him, her arms wrapping as snugly as they could around his waist. He didn't hesitate to cover her arms with his own, large hands overlapping her smaller ones as he held her in place against him. Clara kissed his shoulder blade, smiling when he shuddered at the ghosting of her lips against his pale skin.

"I love you," she whispered into his back. "Really, I do. And I'm sorry, but I need to do this."

"There's just no convincing you, is there?" He asked with an air of awed revelation when he realized he wasn't going to win this one either. He swallowed when he felt her shake her head firmly, her cheek pressing into his back. "Why, in God's name, did I have to fall in love with the most stubborn woman on Earth?"

Clara laughed at his lamentations, her fingers tracing up and down his sternum lazily. "Do you regret it? Loving a fragile little human?"

"'Course not, pudding brain," the Doctor refuted, lifting her hand to his mouth in a quick kiss. "I just wish I could understand why you always insist on charging head first into the fire without an extinguisher."

"Because we're going to be a family very soon--a real one. We're going to have a little one to look after, and I realize there won't ever be a minute we can lower our guard against a universe that only wants to swallow us whole. But Doctor, I need this. As a mother, I need to know that when our daughter comes into this world, Missy will be out of it."

-

 

Chapter Text

Caelius didn't like humans and believed for a long time that would never change. Excessively indulgent, passionate and destructive little things with short fuses and even short life spans were all they had proven to be in his limited experience. And they were tiresome and predictable in their egocentrism, the lot of them little more than irresponsible children just beginning to make a rather toxic imprint on the same universe that spat them out.

Clara Oswald, however, fascinated Caelius the way festering bacteria under a microscope would a scientist. He watched her now with a musical hum as she entered the church he'd named in the dream, a broad smile lighting up his face at seeing her charge down the aisle in a whirlwind of ridiculous skirts and ribbons. Such a petite woman, and yet she carried herself the way many a man had before marching into battle. He could see the fire in her eyes from across the room, and she refused to blink away from his heavy gaze.

Because deciphering the feelings of others had proved difficult for Caelius in the course of his long life, he'd taken to memorizing them for the sake of time, and right now the even expression on Clara's face was only a bluff. Her confidence was a lie easily given away by the stiff line of her mouth, the perspiration beading just below her hairline, the way her jaw and shoulders were set hinting at overly tensed muscles. She'd been very hesitant to grant his request for a meeting, and as she came to stand before him now, it was rather obvious her strong disapproval of their reunion hadn't diminished with time. If anything, she was now even more suspicious of him.

Caelius stood from the altar he'd been sacrilegiously desecrating with a long, but happy sigh. This woman never failed to produce results that amazed him. She was one of the few people and the only human he'd ever met that could continually surprise him.

"Caelius," Clara spoke steadily though she was trembling a little. She appraised their chosen place of meeting with a wrinkled nose. "Didn't think this would be your scene, all the crucifixes and pulpits. But you fit right in, actually. Maybe it's your golden hair--make you look like a fallen angel."

Caelius grinned.

"Miss Oswald," he greeted with a polite nod of his head before he cast his glance in the direction of the wary old Time Lord trailing her, a fierce scowl decorating the Gallifreyan's impressive brows. "Ah, so you were able to convince him to join us after all."

"She was able to convince 'him', but only just," came the Doctor's sharp response, reaching for Clara to pull her to his side protectively before tucking her behind him. The Doctor narrowed his gaze at the Fish Person as Caelius' eyebrow arched considerably.

"There will be no need to defend yourself," Caelius promised, but neither the Doctor nor Clara looked very convinced. "Do you... require proof?"

"I require your rotting head as a souvenir bauble." The Doctor's entire face had gone red, and from behind him Miss Oswald gently laced her fingers through his.

After a beat or two, the comforting action reaped its intended results, and the Doctor relaxed ever so slightly, the violent color draining his face as he cleared his throat.

"I've been told to mind my manners, play nice," the Doctor explained with his eyes downcast, a small smile playing at his lips now. "However, I am an old man, and you know how that goes: things do occasionally slip the mind." His tone was kept casual and light despite the clear threat coating his words.

Caelius smirked at the Time Lord's unnecessary speech, barely registering the vow of violence made against his person. 

"As I've informed Miss Oswald before, I do not intend to cause her any further harm." He locked eyes with Clara who suddenly seemed to be visibly shaken, somehow triggered by his direct address of her. "I swear to you."

"Swear to me," the Doctor hissed, a dangerous glint in his eye as Caelius blinked at him. "Now! Before we go any further with any of this, swear to me you won't lay another hand on her. Swear it, or we walk, and you can kiss any retribution against Missy goodbye."

Caelius tilted his head at the grey-haired man with detached interest. The High Duke always wondered what other emotions he might have felt if he didn't already have a such a strong predisposition for apathy. In truth, he had never understood commonplace emotions like fear, anger or jealousy or love, but surely such wild sentiments tore at a person. Surely they eventually corrupted and murdered their victims.

But now, as Caelius witnessed these two creatures huddling together, the Doctor trying to protect Clara from her assailant and Clara trying to protect the Oncoming Storm from himself, the High Duke wondered what it would be like to love someone as recklessly as the Doctor appeared to love this Clara Oswald.

"I swear to all gods and goddesses, living and dead, old and new, and to you, Doctor, that I will never lay a hand on Miss Oswald from this day until my last day."

The Doctor says nothing, although he does seem to be minutely satisfied with their exchange. He throws a cautious glance down at Clara who steps forward quickly, ignoring his attempt to read her.

"Tell us what you know," she starts, and Caelius is immediately fixated on her. "Everything, all of it. You said you'd help us, so help us. Don't lie because I'll know if you are."

"How?" He asks, curious.

"I'm an excellent liar myself." Clara looks back to the Doctor, who nods sullenly in agreement.

"I have no reason to--" But Clara interrupts the High Duke impatiently, waving away his predictable rebuttal.

"You might think you have no reason to lie to us. And maybe you are telling us the truth. But, I don't know if I quite believe that, Caelius, because you don't have anything to lose by playing us; we have everything to lose." Clara swallows, winded as she speaks with urgency.

"Tell me what you wish to know," Caelius flashes his peculiar set of teeth in another smile. "Or shall I just start at the beginning?"

-

 

Chapter Text

"Clara."

"The ritual performed on Miss Oswald's body on Kysterillous was, in truth, to ensure that your seed would take root inside the womb of a Human female," Caelius asserted gravely, turning from the Doctor's stormy face to fix Clara with a frown. "It guaranteed your body would not reject the fetus, that you would carry the child to term. But, the ritual... it was bound with a spell, powerful magic that is as ancient and terrible as the universe itself."

What had she... what did she think he was going to say? That Missy was brimming with apologies and had seen the error of her ways?

Caelius hesitated before he continued, suddenly very interested in the carvings decorating the altar. "This spell will only allow you to live until your child is born, Miss Oswald. But after you have given birth, it will kill you."

Kill, Clara thought detachedly, the word tumbling around her brain like a pair of shoes someone had thrown haplessly into their dryer. Missy wants to kill me.

But that wasn't exactly news, was it? Missy had never particularly enjoyed Clara. But then again, Missy never really enjoyed anybody, so her distaste wasn't exactly personal... was it?

Of course it was. Hadn't it always been?

Because truly, what-what kind of an idiot had she been to think Missy hadn't loathed her existence from the start? Of course, she wanted Clara dead! The woman was only ever happy as long as things around her were positively volcanic and explosive, the acute suffering of others being the only thing that could ever bring the madwoman joy.

And, sure, Missy had been the one to introduce Clara to the Doctor in the first place, and she was the one who made sure they continued to find each other time and time again, but that had never been for Clara's sake. It was because Missy had always known the truth about the Doctor, a man she has clearly loved and admired all her life. The Time Lady knew he could never travel alone, not ever, not as long as he lived. He needed people, he needed humans, much as they annoyed him. So Clara had been a temporary solution to his problem--a very temporary solution by the look of things, but a solution still.

And now it seemed that Clara was, once again, the only thing standing in Missy's way. Missy's way of what, though? The Doctor?

"Clara."

Missy's wild goose chase--luring them both to Kysterillous, kidnapping them, wiping their memories and having their relationship nearly crumble underneath the sheer weight of it all--was never going to amount to anything other than the dead end they'd just arrived at. She must have been planning all of it since her last attempt to woo the Doctor into the baddie's limelight with her had gone sour, and it had been more than a year since then. So how arrogant could they have been to think a little information from Missy's ex-sponsor would've brought them any closer to taking Missy down?

This entire concept about wanting to rebirth the race of Time Lords had never been more than Missy's pregame, a bit of icing on a more sinister cake. Clara now understood it'd all been a cover up, nothing more than Missy's desire to drive Clara and the Doctor apart while she cackled in the shadows and watched them destroy each other.

And Missy had nearly succeeded. Just nearly.

"Clara." The Doctor must've repeated her name for the fifth time as he knelt in front of the dazed young woman, following her eye line to see if was staring at anything in particular.

"She appears to be in a state of shock," Caelius deduced perceptively, ignoring the Doctor's obnoxious eye-rolling. "But she is taking this all surprisingly well, considering."

The Doctor's mouth thinned as his caterpillar-esque brows knit together, turning around to look at the High Duke. "Go away. Now. Over there somewhere," he motioned vaguely to a space on the other side of the sanctuary near a window. "Stay away, and do not come back until I say so."

Caelius grunted in protest. "If I can be of any assistance--"

"But you can't," the Doctor's impatience began to spill into his voice. "I hate to be redundant, but you are half the reason we're in this mess in the first place."

"So are you," came Clara's quiet words, her voice steady but small. The Doctor's gaze left Caelius' obstinate eyes to find Clara staring openly at him, the accusation on her lips startling. It was the first time she'd spoken in several minutes.

"Sorry?"

"Dead," she immediately said, and the Doctor's eyes narrowed even further until they were only slits. "When Missy came back with the Cybermen and killed Danny Pink," Clara paused when she caught the way the Doctor's jaw jumped at the mention of her ex, "the day Danny burned the sky to save me, to save everyone, we saw Missy die. A Cyberman shot her, and she died; we saw it with our own eyes."

The Doctor only looked at her with pleading eyes, bracing himself for what he already knew as coming.

"Except Missy didn't die," Clara wasn't stating the obvious so much as she was thinking aloud. "She's alive right now, torturing and attacking us all over again."

"So, go on. Ask me," The Doctor spoke softly, his hand coming to hover just above where she had her clenched fists in her lap.

Clara's head was throbbing, the rush of her own blood an unbearable raucous in her ears as she willed herself to finally ask the terrible question, one that had been eating away at her to the point she thought it'd eventually leave her hollow.

"Did you know?" Clara whispered, and Caelius lowered his head, finally walking to the other side of the room to give them privacy. "Did you know Missy wasn't dead?"

The Doctor's mouth went dry. He heard the betrayal there in her voice as surely as he felt it in his own hearts, and he watched helplessly as this woman who was his entire world began to withdraw from him once more.

"Clara, you know it's not that simple--"

"Don't you dare try to rationalize this! Did you know she was still alive, or didn't you?"

"It would have been extremely difficult," he began, peering at her through tentative eyes. "But, I knew Missy escape was probable," he slowly admitted, and Clara's entire face fell. "However, I had hoped--"

"But, you weren't certain," Clara's hands slid out of his as she stood from the pew. "You knew there was a possibility she was still alive, and you never said a word--"

"It was a possibility! That's all it was at the time." The Doctor quickly stood from where he'd been kneeling and caught Clara's wrist, his jaw working as he saw that unbridled fury of hers simmering in her eyes. "Clara, the rate of her survival after a blast like that was so slim that I hadn't given it a second thought--"

"She was the last of your kind, Doctor!" Clara exclaimed, but she didn't jerk out of his grasp. "Of course you gave it a second thought!"

"I am sorry I never said anything. I should have, and I realize that now. But I need you to understand I never thought she'd do this," the Doctor swore, but Clara only shut her eyes, shaking her head. "How could I have ever known she would do any of this?"

Clara's eyes opened. "You knew Missy," she growled. "You've known her the longest, which means you knew her better than anyone. You knew who she was, what she'd done before--you knew what she was capable of, and you decided to let her live anyway."

"You know what I'm capable of," the Doctor said evenly, trying to get hid companion to see reason. "Clara, I've killed just as many people as she has, if not more. There was a day I thought I'd end millions and millions of lives just to stop a bloody war--but I didn't. Do you know why?"

Clara's eyes, brimming with hot, angry tears, finally spilled over, and he saw the fire go from her.

"Because," the Doctor said, "someone convinced me there was another way, a better way. A way I could save the lives of millions, not end them."

"You wanted a way out," Clara reminded him as she let him pull her towards his chest, his arms encircling her in a physical apology from keeping this secret from her. "You wanted redemption, and that's a concept Missy won't ever understand, Doctor."

The Doctor swallowed as he breathed in the scent of Clara's hair, his stomach sinking at the thought of Missy's mercuric behavior being irreversible. He'd lived long enough to know everything wasn't black or white, that concepts like 'good' an 'evil' were abstract because most people lived and breathed somewhere in the middle of it all. 

"When are we going after her?" Clara asked, pulling away from the Doctor's embrace to see Caelius approaching them both with a strange look in his eyes. "Where is she?"

The High Duke only shook his head. "It is not that simple. Missy will be anticipating your arrival now that I have dissolved my partnership with her. If you were to go after her now, she would only capture you both again, perhaps even risk inducing labor just to finally be rid of you. Seeking her out now is unwise, and I would strongly caution against it."

"Clara," the Doctor said, his index finger and thumb tenderly grasping her chin to direct her attention back towards him. "I hate to agree with him, but he's right and you know he is. You're on borrowed time again--there's a ticking clock somewhere that will go silent forever in a little over three months time if we don't find a way to undo the Priests' work."

Clara's throat began to close as she felt her grasp on vengeance beginning to slip once more. "But, Doctor, if we find Missy, the Priest--"

"Even if you found the Mistress or the Priests, the ritual's spell cannot be undone," Caelius interrupted, and the Doctor bristled. He'd never liked being told what he could and could not do.

"Anything can be undone!" The Doctor shouted as he opened his eyes, his back still turned to the High Duke. "Anything. All we need is time--and as it just so happens, I have all of Time trapped in a tiny blue police box."

"Once an incantation is recited and a spell cast, nothing in the universe can reverse the effects," Caelius reiterated, moving to sit on the altar they'd found him on when they'd first walked into the church. "Not even your precious space-time machine."

"There has to be someone who knows something about an antidote of some kind," the Doctor was talking to Clara now, cupping her dubious face in his hands as he tried to keep her waning spirits up. "We'll look for it; we can leave Vastra's and go as soon as we're done here. We will find it, Clara, I promise you."

"I don't want you to promise me." She gave him a small smile that she knew probably looked as false as it felt. "I'm so tired of running from her, Doctor." Clara's voice broke as a tear splashed onto her cheek. "Missy stole our lives--she stole my life. And now she's this close--"

"You're not the only one who's angry," the Doctor gently reminds her as his thumb wipes her wet cheek. "We're talking about the same person I grew up with and loved as a sibling all my life."

"You still love her, don't you?" Clara's unforgiving question came as she gave him a knowing look. "After everything she's done to us?"

The Doctor's eyes never left hers as he quietly said, "Don't think I'll go easy on her because she's like a sister to me, Clara. You two," he says with a firm hand against her belly, "are my family, and I can never forgive her for this."

Clara watched the Doctor's eyes blaze like a man crazed, her heart still weary of temporary antidotes when she was so close to the actual cure.

Chapter Text

The Doctor knows he could watch Clara the same way people watch the sun rise or set; or the way some mothers watch their newborns for hours and hours at a time, enraptured by the miracle of new life. Or maybe even the way some couch potatoes watch television, mindlessly mesmerized by meaningless images that flit across a screen.

He's never really allowed himself the courtesy of admiring her quietly, of just beholding her beauty, how her smile seems to immensely brighten the space around her. She'd always been his forbidden fruit on the tree, the untouchable that would be his undoing. But now that he has accepted what she means to him, now that he's acknowledged his feelings for Clara will never change and that it's pointless to pretend they'll fade, the Doctor takes advantage of every opportunity he gets to truly look at her. He's studiously devoted to the craft of learning Clara, and does so almost reverentially, memorizing her every expression and inflection, angle and curve she possesses with painstaking detail.

And, for whatever reason, she can't stand it, even if she is an absolute tease.

"You're staring again," Clara says when she catches his eye in the mirror she's facing, a small smile on her lips as she drags a brush through her wet hair.

"Only a little," the Doctor admits from where he's sitting on the bed. "I'll stop in a moment."

"Liar," she rolls her eyes, but grins widely, a red hue coloring her cheeks.

"Just making up for lost time," the Doctor defends, adjusting his position to prop himself up against several pillows. "Have I told you how incandescently beautiful you are, Clara Oswald?"

"Once or twice," Clara blushes even worse than before. "You're incorrigible, old man. Charming and sweet when you want to be, but incorrigible."

The Doctor smiles, resisting the need to tease her further. "How was your bath?"

"Perfect, actually," Clara releases a long sigh that seems to deflate her a bit. She stands from the vanity mirror to walk towards the bed. "You'll have to remind me in the morning to thank Jenny for running it; it was exactly what I needed after a day like today."

The Doctor sobers as Clara climbs into the bed, observing the way she winces and rubs her stomach absently.

"That's the first time you've even remotely mentioned the meeting since we left the church," the Doctor says with keen eyes.

"I haven't had much to say about it," Clara explains after a beat, her eyes lowered to her belly. "Honestly, I've just wanted to relax a bit. All this excitement can't be good for her, you know."

"You need to let me know when things are getting to be a little too much for you, Clara," he tells her gently. "Try as I may, I can't read your mind."

"I know, and I'm sorry," Clara's weak plastered-on smile makes the Doctor even more anxious. She turns to him and leans forward to kiss his cheek. "A lot happened today, and I'll admit that I'm still getting my bearings. But I'm alright, Doctor, really."

He doesn't believe her at all, but she's not doing her best to convince him either. It's an indication that they both need to slow down. As the pregnancy progresses, things will become more high-risk, and Clara will be more susceptible.

"You should stay here while I look for the cure," the Doctor suggests, knowing he'll probably be opposed vehemently for brining it up again. "Vastra will be able to protect you, and Jenny and Strax are more than capable--"

"I thought we'd discussed this already," Clara says impatiently, fixing him with a stern look. "We've been over this--we're both twice as vulnerable apart from the other. You will literally die if you're too far away from me, remember?"

The Doctor knew his smirk was probably inappropriate considering the macabre context, but the 'love sick' biological response he had was beyond ridiculous.

"Mmm," was all he said, swallowing a laugh. "Yes, we've already established that I'm quite helpless without you."

"Ditto," Clara said as she moved to situate herself against his side, her thoughts drifting back to those first few months of her pregnancy without him. "We need each other. That's always been the case; it's just not as metaphorical anymore, is all."

The Doctor grinned, pressing a kiss to his companion's temple as he held her. Breathing in the fresh lilac scent of her hair, he suddenly realized this might be their last relatively peaceful night together for a while to come.

-

Clara awoke early the next morning to find the Doctor already awake. He was propped up on his elbow as he quietly gazed down at the intricate patterns his fingers traced over her belly.

"You were asleep for ages," he says without looking at her, and Clara notices from the dark circles under his eyes that he probably never went to sleep. "I thought about waking you a few times, but she convinced me not to."

In her drowsiness, it takes Clara a moment to know he's talking about their daughter. "Oh? Well, you'll have to thank her for me."

"I don't need to," he says, his voice weirdly grumpy. "You two are one, you know--she can feel your gratitude."

Clara blinks, a little thrown. "Is something wrong?"

"It's nothing," the Doctor looks at her for the first time since she's opened her eyes. He attempts a smile, but it goes funny around the edges. Before Clara can work up the courage to ask him about it, he's changing the subject.

"We've been discussing a few things in your absence," the Doctor's quick grin is such a stark juxtaposition to his vaguely moody tone. "She's absolutely brilliant, Clara. She's amazing."

Clara's frown softens when she hears the doting father in him begin to drown out his usual callousness.

"She's so intelligent already," he says, shaking his head in disbelief. "Sometimes I wonder what I'll be able to teach her when she can grasp the most difficult concepts already."

"You'll find something," Clara promises, allowing herself to smile finally. "What were you two discussing earlier?"

"Names, among other things," the Doctor informs her, his eyes going dark for a moment before he forces the emotion away. "But mostly names. We can't seem to agree on a final decision--so we decided we'd wait to run them by you."

"Of course you two are arguing about names," Clara laughs, her own hand coming to rest over the Doctor's. "Well, what are the final contenders?"

The answer isn't said aloud, but projected rather as their daughter sends her chosen names directly into Clara's mind, twirling around inside her with excitement.

"Maribeth and... Wilhelmina?" Clara can't quite contain her surprise at the baby's latter choice, eyeing the Doctor curiously.

"I explained to her that it's not a very popular name for young girls nowadays," the Doctor explains with a smile. "So she's agreed to 'Bill' for short."

"'Bill' is pretty, actually," Clara reluctantly agreed, although she was not at all surprised to see the Doctor wrinkle his nose. "Oh, come on! You know it's adorable! Besides, I've always been a sucker for girls with untraditional names. I once dated an American woman once named Charlie."

"You haven't even heard mine, yet!" The Doctor protested as Clara sat up in the bed. "You're just going to side with her automatically?"

"Alright, alright," she giggles, watching the Time Lord's mini tantrum fizzle out. "What names did you like?"

Clara laughs when the baby hiccups inside her, mimicking Clara's giggle.

"Amelia-Rose," the Doctor said with a timid glance towards Clara whose heart ached at mention of Amy's name. "I like both names individually as well, but they also compliment each other well together."

Clara could only look at him, knowing how strong the name was had something to do with how strong the women behind it were. And she now understood why he'd been so upset earlier--he'd loved Rose and Amy, and Clara knew the way he wanted to honor their memories was to name his daughter after them.

"It's a beautiful name, Doctor," Clara said, caressing her hand over his cheek. "But, what about a compromise?"

The Doctor raised an eyebrow, and Clara rolled her eyes. "You haven't thought about 'Wilhelmina Amille-Rose'?"

The Doctor's eyes softened as he leaned in to kiss her lips, a broad smile on his face.

"It's perfect."

~

Chapter Text

Their departure from the Paternoster House took place later that morning, with brief but heartfelt goodbyes exchanged as the group of five broke off into a single group of three and a single pair of two once more. It had been difficult adjusting to life in the Victorian home, especially when the Doctor and Clara had come at such a tense time for them both. Like it or not, they'd all become a bit of a mismatched family under this roof, and Clara felt that truth in every embrace and every watery gaze--especially Vastra's.

"Clara, I need to apologize to you," Vastra whispered as she pulled Clara aside while Jenny hugged a stiff and awkward Doctor. "I've found myself deeply regretful for the things I said and did that night you came when the Doctor was ill."

Clara was already shaking her head. "No, Vastra, please. I understand why you said what you did, and you don't owe me an apology."

"Oh, but I do." The Silurian's typically steady composure slipped into a small, sheepish smile. "You have proved me wrong so many times now, Clara, that one would think I'd be used to it. But, instead I continued to judge you as nothing more than the Doctor's latest pretty companion."

Clara swallowed at the admission, a little thrown by Vastra's humility. The woman was a powerhouse, ferocious as she was intimidating, and yet, her she was, finally confessing to something Clara had always known she'd been doing, but had only mentioned once.

"I thought you'd weaken him, distract him from his purpose, his reason for living as long and hard as he has: to save lives. But, I realize now that you and the child you carry are the only ones capable of making him stronger. Better." Vastra's blue eyes stared openly at Clara as she took the gobsmacked young woman's hands carefully in hers.

"Take care of him, Clara," she whispers sincerely. "He loves sand needs you, and I imagine that can be the heaviest of burdens at times. But, please, take good care of him."

"I will," she swore with a nod, swallowing thickly. "Always. After all, who else is going to be the one to make sure the old man doesn't always leave the TARDIS oven on, eh?"

Vastra laughs at the joke, squeezing Clara's hands.

"Of course! But, be sure to give him hell when he needs it," the reptilian woman winked then, smirking.

Clara grinned as the fond memory of when Vastra had first said that to her resurfaced. "Because he'll always need it."

Clara hugged her then--before she could second guess herself and before Vastra could pull away, Clara made a point to embrace the woman who'd just made the small but notable shift from guarded ally to accepting friend. And, for some reason, Clara had the vague but nagging feeling that this first time she hugged Vastra could very well be the last.

-

"They all think we're insane," Clara declared with breathless laugh when she and Doctor stepped into the TARDIS, the time-spaceship beginning to glow warmly at their return.

"They think you're insane for being with little-old human me, and they think I'm insane for following you."

"People thinking I'm insane is nothing new," the Doctor pointed out with a sly chuckle.

"Well, it is new for me."

The Doctor looked up from where he was punching buttons on a keyboard, considering for a moment his companion's lost expression.

"Well, have you considered that they're right? Maybe we are insane," the Doctor said with his back turned to her again, flipping an array of switches before pulling off his coat. "But, really, that's okay. I've been told all the best people are."

Clara smiled at his back, taking pleasure in watching the Doctor return to a more familiar element. His shoulders seemed more relaxed than they had in the weeks they'd been stationary on the ground with Vastra, and Clara knew he was probably itching to fly away into the stars.

"She missed you," Clara says, listening to the way the TARDIS hums and trills with life now that her thief has returned to her.

"Not just me, apparently," the Doctor moves around the console to pull at the screen that's attached until its facing Clara. The screen reads 'Welcome back, Stray'.

Clara's unable to fight the grin pushing its way onto her face, and after a moment she gently pats the railing of the TARDIS with an alarming amount of affection.

"I missed you, too, you old cow," she laughs, walking over to the Doctor to give his shoulder a quick peck. "I'm going to go lie down for awhile, alright?"

He's a little caught off guard by the wording of her sentence and his mind quickly rattles down the list of things that could be wrong with his beloved. Is she ill? How couldn't he have noticed if she was ill?! Gods, he's so negligent. Irresponsible isn't even the word. It's an actual crime, to be so--

"Doctor!" Clara snaps her fingers near his ears a few times, and he comes to, his eyes wide and crazy.

"Right, sorry."

Clara's eyes glitter knowingly. "You were falling down another one of your rabbit holes, weren't you?"

Doctor grabs her wrist, holding her close as he leans in to kiss her. He pulls back with a odd look on his face.

"No. Yes, actually. Just--humor me. You okay?" He asks, lighthearted and playful, but readying himself to worry.

But Clara's still just smiling at him. "I'm fine. Victorian mattresses weren't made for women who are seven months pregnant."

"Right," he says, nodding, tilting as he continues to stare down at her.

"I just miss my old bed, is all. Thought I'd get a nap in before lunch."

"Hmm," he hums, causally taking note of her slightly elevated pulse thrumming under her skin in the veins at her wrist.

When the Doctor continues to stare at her apprehensively, Clara adds for good measure, "You can come and wake me in an hour, okay?"

"'Kay," he acquiesces and slowly releases her, his curious gaze following her until she disappears around the corner towards her bedroom.

-

As she predicted, Clara finds upon entering her room that a holographic Amy is sitting on her bed with a smirk on her face. Clara's chipper mood wanes slightly at the sight of the Doctor's former companion.

"Amy," Clara greets with a bit of a bite to her voice.

"Oswald! Lovely room you've got here," Amy lifts outstretched arms to gesture at the large space around her, bouncing on the bed a little. "I know I can't exactly feel it, but this bed sure looks a hell of a lot more comfy than the disastrous bunk bed situation the Doctor put Rory and I up in."

Clara's forced smile is wearing away by the second, as is her desire to keep wearing these pinching shoes and restraining corset. And while she isn't usually shy or modest about her body, Clara doesn't think it's all that appropriate to strip down in front of a hologram that used to be of the Doctor's ex-bessie mates.

"You knew I was waiting for you," Amy suddenly realizes with a smile lighting her face.

Clara's unease is rolling off of her in waves as she takes a seat next to the woman who she knows is quickly becoming her confidant. Seeing Amy drudges up some painful memories of things she'd buried at the back of her mind upon reconciliation with the Doctor, and Clara's suddenly reminded how deep the cracks in her relationship with him really go.

"Yeah, well, the message on the screen wasn't all that subtle," Clara let's out a quick laugh. "It had to be you. The TARDIS would never be so... sentimental."

"Honestly, I wouldn't've been the least bit shocked if you didn't catch it; I know you're clever and all, but pregnancy brain is a thing. Believe me, I know."

Clara laughs and Amy grins, silently wishing she'd lived long enough to meet the phenomenal woman that's sitting next to her now. But she quickly retracts the wish, knowing that if she had lived, the Doctor probably would never have stopped traveling with her and Rory, which meant he might never have met Clara in the first place. And after seeing how happy the tiny brunette has made him, Amy would never wish Clara away in a thousand years.

"I missed you both. It was awfully quiet around here without you three bumbling around," Amy nods at Clara's belly inclusively. "And look at you! You're getting bigger all the time."

Clara wrinkles her nose, a tad self-conscious about the weight gain now that she's so close to the eighth-month mark. "But it's not too bad, is it? I'm meant to get a little bigger still, you know."

Amy makes a sympathetic pout. "Eleven months, yeah. You've still got it, though! You've got nothing to worry about; I'm sure the Doctor has a list of illegal potions and creams you can use for stretch marks."

Clara shrugs hopelessly. "You know, I've asked the Doctor about the weight, too, but he insists he can hardly tell the difference."

Amy's loud laughter makes Clara crack a smile. "I'm not so sure that's a good thing, Oswald."

"Fair enough," Clara giggles, sighing when she gets up from the bed to change into clothes befitting a woman born in the twenty-first century. "I missed you, too, by the way."

"I know we didn't exactly leave things on good terms," Amy says, and Clara's stomach sinks at the reminder of what Amy told her the last time they saw each other: the Doctor had been the one to erase the TARDIS memory banks; not Missy.

"Well, I haven't mentioned it to him yet," Clara said to Amy before long-legged hologram could ask. "He doesn't know that I know, or that you told me."

Amy sounds confused. "Well... I mean, he wouldn't know to mention it. His memory was wiped around the same time as yours."

"Actually, I have my memory back now," Clara revealed to Amy, disappearing behind a partition as she changed. "Well, bits and pieces of it, anyway. More and more of it comes back everyday."

She didn't need to see Amy to know she was a little more than shocked. "When'd this happen? While you two were away?"

In the several minutes it took Clara to dress (having something the size of a small melon wrapped around your torso will do that), she managed to summarize everything that had happened after she left Vastra's. And while Amy knew about everything the Doctor and Clara did on the TARDIS--she even admitted to being the one to open the door to Clara's bedroom the night the Doctor and her slept together--Amy mostly needed to be filled in on the meeting at the church with Caelius.

"So, you don't think the Doctor's memories have come back yet?" Amy asked when Clara emerged from behind the partition, fully dressed in a pair of sweats and an oversized jumper.

Clara moved to sit on her bed near her headboard where Amy had moved. "I don't think so. Caelius said Missy sent him to see why I could remember. He never said anything about the Doctor's memory."

Amy frowned, crossing her arms thoughtfully. "Could it maybe have something to do with the baby?" She posed, and Clara shrugged. "It would explain a few things. Like why you can remember and the Doctor can't, or why your memories only seem to be coming back as you get further along."

"Maybe," Clara said, playing with the drawstring of her trousers. The baby nudged her, somewhere aware that it was her they were talking about. "She's telepathic, sort of."

Minutely distracted by the mention of Clara's daughter, Amy gushed. "Bless! Oh, I always wanted another baby. Rory and I never really got to raise River, not in the traditional sense. We were thinking about adoption when the Doctor took us to New York."

Clara smiles sympathetically, reaching for Amy's hand before she remembers she wouldn't actually be able to hold it. "I'm sorry. For you and Rory both." After a beat she added quietly, "River, too."

"Melody was always a handful; Rory and I knew it'd only get worse," Amy's eyes are bright with memories that she's been programmed to remember. But, the emotion in her voice, the happiness, is very real. "I can't imagine what it'll be like to have a kid that's half space genius, though."

Clara's nervous excitement begin to swell in her chest at the mere thought of terrible two's being exponentially more gruesome just because of who the child's father was.

"We came up with a name," Clara begins, watching Amy's unassuming eyes sparkle with interest. "It was a compromise between two other names, but I think you'll like it. Her name is Wilhelmina Amille-Rose."

Amy's eyes softened and filled to the point that Clara was convinced they'd spill over. "It's brilliant, really," she half laughed, half cried. "But Wilhelmina?"

"I know, but it's her favorite." Clara could feel the baby's unspoken offense, so she quickly defended, "Besides, she's agreed to letting us nickname her 'Bill' for short."

Chapter Text

"Um," the Doctor started to say, lithe fingers carefully slipping between Clara's as they stepped out of the TARDIS. "Clara, be careful."

"Doctor, do you have a thing for supply closets?" Clara laughed when she almost stepped into a broom, brushing off his concern with a joke she thought was more interesting and relevant.

"A thing?"

"Yes, and is it anything I should know about?"

The poor man looked insanely puzzled, his brow so deeply furrowed it looked like might become a rather permanent expression if he wasn't careful. Clara remembered just exactly how painfully obtuse the Time Lord could be when it came to these things.

"Like, are you... dropping hints? Is it a kink of yours, this?"

The Doctor glanced down at Clara, his face twisted into a mask of confusion."Supply closets a kink?"

"Of course, not the closet itself, daft old man!" Clara laughed as they navigated themselves around a cardboard box of toilet paper. "No, I meant being a bit... biblical inside the supply closet."

The Doctor blushed bright red at the idea of taking Clara in a public place like this, their bodies tangled together, his hand cupped over Clara's mouth in a futile attempt to muffle her cries of pleasure. The daydream was so vivid it had him considering taking a quick detour before they began their little quest, but he was quickly brought back down from his own sensual desires when Clara winced loudly beside him, clutching at her stomach.

"I'm fine," she responded wearily when he asked if she was alright. "She's just stretching, is all. Nap time must be over."

"Are you sore at all? Is the skin tender?" He asks, scanning her belly briefly with the sonic screwdriver. He frowns at the data displayed, his hearts quickening. The problem wasn't the baby's size as much as it was the exponential rate at which the fetus was producing regeneration energy--after the trauma of the first few months, their daughter seemed to think storing regeneration energy was in both her and her mother's best interest in the event of another life-threatening circumstance.

But these weren't harmless little surges anymore; now, they were just like ticking bombs that could go off at any second.

"Look, I understand carrying this baby is getting more dangerous the further along I get, Doctor," Clara declares knowingly as they slip out of the closet and into the busy corridor of what looks like a hospital of sorts. "The Braxton-Hicks started a few days back--my body thinks this is just a regular pregnancy, but it doesn't realize Bill's not due for another three months."

"I know, I know," he squeezed his companion's hand when he noted the panicked edge to her voice. "That's precisely why we're here."

Finally spotting what he was looking for, the Doctor led Clara over to large holographic image that seemed to have the layout of the hospital displayed on it much like one would expect to find in a shopping mall. His eyes expertly scanned the map before his index finger came to point directly at a cluster of offices located near the top of the building.

"This is where we need to go," he told Clara. "The security clearance has been ratcheted up considerably since I last paid a visit, so the TARDIS will stay here just in case. The last thing we want is to get her impounded."

A look of alarm flashed over Clara's face as he tugged her towards an elevator. "Right, okay. So, the top floors are..."

The Doctor gave Clara a cursory glance, her passive disapproval hovering in the air between them. "Yes, they're off limits to civilians. That being said, however, you and I are not civilians."

"We sure look like them," Clara couldn't resist smiling as they boarded the spacious elevator along with what had to be at least forty other people. 'People' was a generous term in this context, Clara observed, careful not to bump into the creature that tentacles extending from its torso.

The Doctor and Clara ended up tightly squeezed into the back corner, and the Doctor let go of Clara's hand to snake his arm around her waist instead.

"If you're worried, don't be," he said with a lowered voice when Clara refused to relax against him.

"Well, don't treat me like a bloody beginner, then," Clara's sass-filled retort came, and the Doctor fought a smile. "We're rule-breakers, and that's perfectly alright--that's how we roll. But, I would like to know the plan."

The Doctor chewed his lip nervously, not quite ready to admit that this endeavor was totally off the cuff and that there really was no elaborate scheme concocted just in case it all went south.

"Um, right, well," he stalled while Clara rolled her eyes. "Yes, there is a plan. Definitely. And it's a good one, too."

"You obviously don't have one," Clara sighed as they reached the top floor and slowly filed out the elevator. "Either that, or the plan you do have is ridiculous and probably ends with us both being thrown in to a very small, very damp jail cell."

"That only happened once! And you said you'd forgiven me for it! Anyway, it should greatly comfort you that the person who runs this place is a good friend of mine, actually," the Doctor said defensively, "and she wouldn't have us 'thrown in jail'. She's a very kind person, actually, if a little street savvy."

"'Street savvy'?"

"Novice Hame spent a good deal of time in one of the most dangerous, crime-infested places in the universe, which would explain the level of security on the upper levels. Years may pass, but grudges don't, and she's got more than a few people out to get her. All the administrative staff are vital to this hospital's day-to-day operations. The whole thing would collapse if anyone with a rather unsavory agenda managed their way through clearance."

"Oh!" Clara exclaimed softly. "That's the woman we're meeting? The nun that took care of the guy that was just a face, yeah?"

The Doctor frowned at Clara's crude synopsis of the rather peculiar but touching story he'd told her about the Face of Boe. "Yes, in fact."

"Oh, but it's been years since you and Hame were last in contact, right?" Clara pointed out, eyeing the pairs of armed guards that appeared to be stationed at the entrance of every corridor. "Does she know you've regenerated a few times since then?"

"I suspect she will shortly," The Doctor removed his psychic paper from his pocket to show to the guards who'd taken notice of them. "Uh, we're looking for your boss. We're running a bit late for our appointment and would very much appreciate it if you'd point us in the right direction."

The guard mumbled a shocked of course, Your Highness before personally directing them to the door of Novice Hame's office. After a few knocks on the heavy wooden door, it swung open to reveal a greying, but sparkly-eyed Novice Hame. The Doctor heard Clara's barely controlled gasp of fright at the unorthodox sight of a Catkind woman, and would've mentioned how rude her reaction was. However, when he realized he'd failed to prepare her about Novice Hame's pronounced feline appearance, he let his companion be.

"We were informed by His Royal Imperial Highness that he and his concubine had an appointment with you, Madame Hame," one of the guards announced, chest puffed out a bit.

Novice--now Madame--Hame surveyed the strangely embarrassed looks of the older man and his younger female friend with keen interest before smiling softly.

"Of course, yes. Thank you, gentleman. You may return to your posts," she opened the door wider. "Please, come in.... Your... Imperial Highness."

Clara and the Doctor both scurried inside, their cheeks colored a bright pink, Clara's especially.

Once the door was closed, Novice Hame was overcome by a fit of laughter that made her eyes water. The Doctor and Clara stood awkwardly in the middle of the modest office space while the older woman moved to lean against her desk, waiting for her to compose herself.

"Oh, please do forgive me, but I haven't laughed that long or hard in a very long time," she explained, wiping a stray tear from her cheek. "Not since I last saw you. You used your silly psychic paper then, too, though, it didn't end so well that last time."

A little taken aback by the woman's sharp memory and ability to spot the newly regenerated Time Lord by his quirks alone, the Doctor softened and laughed. "No, it did not."

Novice Hame sighed as she took him in, waving her hand dismissively at his surprise. "It's been so long that I expected you'd have a new face and body if I ever saw you again. I knew I'd only know if it was truly you by the smell, anyway. Time Lords have a very particular smell about them that most other humanoids don't."

"I'm sorry I've waited so long to come visit again," the Doctor sheepishly apologized, straightening his posture as he stepped forward. "I've been--well, I'm always a bit busy, but that statement never been more true than it is now."

"Yes, I see," Novice Hame said, her kind, old eyes moving to address Clara, who had been patiently waiting to be introduced. She smiled when the Catkind woman extended a paw for her to shake. "Forgive me for being so rude, my dear. You must be his companion."

"Clara Oswald," Clara affirmed, nodding. "The Doctor's told me all about you. And, really, we're so sorry to barge in on you like this, Madame Hame. With an entire hospital to run, you must be preoccupied."

"Not too preoccupied for this," Novice Hame insisted with a sincere chuckle. Turning back to face the Doctor she said, "There's a rather bad joke on Earth, your Earth, that cats have nine lives. I suspect I'm in my last one, Doctor," she confessed.

"So, whatever it is that brought you to me, I'm grateful for it. Now, how can I help?"

-

 

Chapter Text

The Doctor paced the length of the corridor outside the examination room, his hands locked behind his back as he scowled at the floor and turned around to repeat the motion over again.

Gods, they'd been in that ridiculous, exclusive room for ages, and he, the father of the child, had been thrown out. Apparently, Hame thought speaking to Clara alone would yield the best results from the examination, and so, not wanting to taint the data or risk anything going wrong, the Doctor stubbornly conceded to wait outside. But his hearts had been drumming painfully in his chest ever since the door had been closed and to him. He'd truly never known the fierce attachment he'd developed for their daughter apart from her mother until now when his natural instinct to protect and defend his own flared brightly inside him.

Bill hadn't arrived in this universe just yet, but now it was impossible for the Doctor to imagine it without her. Already so bright and full of wonder--and sass to boot. She was certainly going to be like her mother in more ways than one.

At the thought of Clara, the Doctor had to sit down. His hands shook so badly, he had to thrust them into the pockets of his trousers.

He never really allowed himself to sit with his guilt for long because of the dangerously reckless things that tended to follow after he's been left alone with his thoughts for too long. And perhaps it was because he was so hopelessly exhausted that his mind began to drift to every moment he and Clara had ever shared together. Every smile, and--recently--every kiss came blossoming to the forefront of his mind accompanied with such a fierce blow of guilt and regret that the Doctor actually gasped aloud.

How many times had he lied to her, told her one thing and then did another? How many times had he manipulated her, left her behind thinking she'd been betrayed, that he'd never return for her? How many promises had he had made to her before ultimately breaking them, fraying her trust a little more each time? How many times had he told her he'd always keep her safe only to throw them both headfirst into the lions den? A thousand? More?

But the Doctor supposed one of the more magical things about his beloved companion was that no matter how far gone he appeared to be, no matter how incapable of redemption he himself thought he was, Clara never saw him as a god or a monster. She's always known he was just a man, that every man made mistakes.

But leaving Clara on Earth after Danny passed had to be one of his worst mistakes. It'd been his own injured pride and ego at Clara choosing another over him that made the Doctor tell a coward's lie and run. He should've known something was wrong, that Clara had been lying when she said P.E. had come back to her. He should've stayed with her anyway, told her how much she meant to him, regardless of her relationship status with another man. Because the truth was and still is this: it would've been inconsequential if Danny had returned and wanted Clara back because what was want compare to need?The Doctor needed Clara; he needed her like he needed air to breathe.

And now their journey had led them here, and it destroyed the Time Lord to think he'd wasted all those years pining over Clara when he could've truly been with her the way he so desired from the start. He sighed, running a hand over his face as the regret of their lost time enveloped and ate at him.

I should never have left.

-

Clara couldn't help but stare curiously at the whiskers that adorned Madame Hame's face, taking keen interest every time they twitched even the slightest. She knew was probably being insanely rude. She even knew Madame Hame was more than likely aware of her heavy gaze and was graciously entertaining it as she had everything else about Clara since they'd met a few hours ago. They hadn't spoken once about the nature of Clara's pregnancy, or the nature of her relationship to the Doctor aside from being his traveling companion. And at this point, Clara wasn't sure whether to appreciate Madame Hame's discretion, or be highly suspicious of it.

They'd been quiet as Hame began a series of tests with peculiar looking instruments, but now, as the older woman came to Clara with a rather large needle in hand, Clara flinched.

"Oh, no need to fear, dear girl," Madame Hame smiled warmly before showing Clara a little tub of ointment. "The pain will be entirely eradicated when I place this serum on the site where the needle with go."

"Lovely," Clara swallowed, still a little nervous. It was a huge needle point. "What's it for, again?"

Madame Hame didn't wait for Clara's nerves to ebb as she started expertly cleaning and prepping the site. "Well, it seems the Doctor is concerned that the levels of stress the fetus under is causing it to dump dangerous amounts of regeneration energy into your blood stream."

Carefully applying a thin layer of blue cream to the space inside Clara's elbow, Hame said, "And I'd like to begin there. We'll decide how to proceed with treatment, or if there's any existing treatment available for you at all after we determine exactly how much regeneration energy is in your system and how detrimental it is or isn't."

Clara relaxes when she doesn't even feel the needle enter her skin. Hame is done after a few moments, and quickly bandages Clara before taking the syringe to a waiting colleague who then disappears into the next room.

"Now," Madame Hame smiles softly as she walks to Clara's bedside, patting the girl's trembling hand in her paw. "Now, we wait."

"Never been very good at that," Clara laughed sardonically, but there's worry bubbling in her chest. "If there's too much regeneration energy in my blood, what happens then? Are you going to induce?"

"I'm not entirely sure," Hame's kind eyes were are tinged with sadness. "The Doctor... he's cautioned me against it. But, as your physician, I am inclined to take your lead because it is your body, my dear."

"I want Bill to live," Clara stressed, her hand tightening around Madame Hame's paw in an effort to convey how serious she was. "Alright? I-I don't know exactly what that means, but I'm on borrowed time at this point, anyway. But, Bill lives, understand? She's your priority, not me."

Hame searched Clara's eyes for any indication that the woman was bluffing and only said what she said for fear of appearing selfish. But when the Catkind woman only found the loving heart of a mother for her child, Hame slowly nodded.

"Understood, Miss Clara," she breathed in a whisper. "Understood."

-

 

Chapter Text

When the door swung open for the Doctor, he charged in without hesitation.

"So?" He asked, jittery fingers slipping into and out of his pockets. "What's the, uh, prognosis?"

"The emission levels are low, which is excellent news. They've helped more than hurt at this point. Baby's keeping her mother strong and resilient as the pregnancy progresses," Hame starts, but her smile dithers.

The Doctor narrows his gaze at his friend before he swings his gaze over to Clara who is already watching him with an oddly calm look in her eye. 

"Oh, I see. There's a 'but,' isn't there? I'm waiting for it."

"There's no way Madame Hame can access the spell Missy had cast," Clara explained. Her voice sounded too distant, almost robotic.  

"It can be done." The Doctor raised an eyebrow when Clara shook her head. "It can. We haven't yet discovered how exactly, but it can be done." 

"If the emissions stay this low until I reach nine months, then Madame Hame has assured me we can induce and have Bill placed in an incubator until she's fully developed. In the meantime, she'll grow here at this facility and be carefully monitored by Hame herself and a select few of her most trusted colleagues. And at the end of two months, you can come back here and get her."

He nearly missed it--the way the 'we' had suddenly been replaced with a painfully singular 'you' at the end of the sentence. But it was harder to ignore the weirdly tranquil resolve present in Clara's tone as she spoke. It mimicked something close to betrayal.

He blinked a few times before asking Madame Hame if she'd excuse them for a moment. The woman politely nodded, locking eyes with Clara once before she exited into the corridor.

"Before you say anything," Clara started, "I need you to understand that none of what I'm doing is because I personally want to do it--I'm doing it for you. For her, for our daughter. For your lives together after all this is over."

The Doctor physically flinched, snorting. "'All this' meaning your life? Clara, can you hear yourself right now?"

"Yes." Clara didn't even blink when she responded. "Missy may have won this one, but she's not getting Wilhelmina, Doctor."

"She's not getting you, either!" He bellows, his eyes ablaze at her nonchalance. "Missy hasn't 'won' a damn thing. This ordeal is very far from over, and if you ever speak so blasé to me about your death to me again, so help me, Clara--"

"Don't yell at me," Clara had to calm herself down as she spoke, her heart pumping fast with adrenaline that could send whole thing south very quickly. "If you have something to say to me, lower your voice and say it like a normal person."

"No, because the things which you are suggesting aren't normal!" The Doctor seethed, throwing his hands up. "Hear what you're asking of me! You're asking me to help you plan your own funeral, and it's cruel!"

"I'm not doing it to hurt you, and you need to know that," Clara dismisses, trying to keep her voice level. "We're out of time and options, and you sticking your head in the sand while Missy looms over us isn't going to do us any good."

The Doctor stares at her, his nostrils flaring as he tried to process what exactly it is she's saying. He sways for a moment, his knees locking in place before he brokenly asks, "H-How can you you ask this of me? I don't understand how you could possibly think I'd ever agree to any of this!"

"This is something that is happening," Clara insists as she struggles to dismount the bed. Unable to stop himself from going to her aid, the Doctor crosses the space between them quickly to help her down. 

And as her feet touch the cold floor, he can see her rough grimace, lines in her face that look so new but age her just as much as the circles under her eyes. He watches the way she stretches her torso, the way the movements seem jerky and uncomfortable as tightly stretched skin shifts over a rounded belly. All are things he hasn't noticed, but senses have been present for a while now.

Clara's arms sit atop the Doctor's, his hands still lingering where he grabbed her at her waist. His trance is broken a second later, however, and he let's her go, ignoring the way she tries to hold onto him longer. He can't stand near her for too long with his mind even more troubled than before after seeing that the immense pressure he's under has unwittingly been passed on to Clara.

"I'm not denying that things haven't been difficult," the Doctor says as he turns to face a bit of wall, effectively shielding Clara from the maelstrom of emotions passing over his face. "Because they've been very difficult. But, I can promise you this is no where near the right solution."

"We have tried our hardest, and you've taken us to every clinic, hospital and research facility in this galaxy in search of a cure--and I'm grateful for the effort. But, at some point the search needs to be called off. At point will you be ready to walk away from this and move on?"

"Move on? Without you?" The Doctor asks himself, chewing at his thumb. "I-I don't even... I understand the question."

Clara opens her mouth to speak, but suddenly he's turned around and is stepping towards her. "I don't think you realize what you're asking of me, so I'm going to put it another way for you. Because you're not just asking me to roll over and expose my belly, Clara. No, you're asking me to stand aside, let my hands be bound behind my back and grab a front row seat as I watch the light leave your eyes. That is something I will never do."

Clara's warm fingers have found where his hands are clenched tightly at his sides, moving to place them just over the thrumming life inside her stomach. The Doctor shut his eyes quickly against the telepathic torrent of concerned whispers emanating from inside Clara's belly.

"Don't!" The Doctor fights Clara's comforting touch, pulling away sharply. "That's wildly unfair."

He could feel the despair starting to overtake him, feel the way it was starting to rip away his peace and his happiness, leaving nothing behind but withering death and the Doctor's own bitterness at having yet again been the only one left behind.

"Don't ask me to do it. Clara, I'm not... I am not strong enough. And I'm not ready," his watery laugh sounded more like a sob in his ears. "God, I will never be ready to let you go. So, don't choose this--don't choose to force me to do it now. Please. Not now."

Clara edged cautiously towards the Doctor until her arms could slowly encircle his wiry frame and he bent to cradle her against his cool body. She clung to him so tightly she thought her grip might tear the fabric of his shirt.

"Being the Doctor means you've got to be strong even when you're bloody terrified. So fake it; fake it until it feels real. And even if it never does, don't stop pretending, not ever. Somehow you'll learn to be even stronger for her. You'll have to be. You've got a duty of care."

"I need you," became the quietly repeated mantra on the Doctor's lips and it was silently echoed back in Clara's heart as they both held fast to the other, either one afraid of letting go first.

"Forgive me," Clara whispered into the wet spot that was forming on his chest where her tears had soaked through the fabric. "If you ever learn how, Doctor, forgive me."

Even if he had been able to respond without his voice cracking into a sob, the Doctor didn't think he knew how. They'd done this before, threatened each other and made scary vows to cow the other into submission for the time being. Oh, but this was different--worse, somehow. There was a horrible twinge in the pit of the Doctor's stomach, something dark and brooding and unforgivable that hinted to him that they had failed and wouldn't be making it out of this one. Not this time round. 

-

 

Chapter Text

One Month Later

 

"Does she suspect you?"

"Which 'she'?"

He rolls his eyes, bored already; but then he smiles, if only just so. "You know which one."

A sigh, long and heavy and full of spent effort. "No, she doesn't. I don't think so."

"Don't 'think'," the man quickly cautions, crossing his arms just as the other man stiffens beside him on the park bench. A young couple walking their Labrador puppy nods at the two of them politely, all smiles and human niceties, wholly unaware that the two men they're greeting are anything but terrestrial. 

When the couple is out of earshot, the man continues with a lowered voice, "You must be certain. This will not work otherwise."

"She doesn't know." The second man's voice is firmer but exasperated at this point. He chances a side glance at his partner, cringing a bit. He uses the word 'partner' very loosely. "How much longer will it take you? To be ready, I mean."

A low, knowing chuckle reverberates from deep inside the broad, muscly chest of the first man. "You an I know better than anyone that these things take time, Doctor," Caelius answers as a few children run past their chosen bench, their gleeful screams fading as they get further and further away. "We don't want to rouse suspicion. What we are doing is illegal in many galaxies--I could be imprisoned for my efforts, we both could. Any miscalculation could lead us down many an unsavory path. With things like this... well, its just best not to rush them."

"You know, this may just be my unsolicited opinion, but you seem to be cutting this awfully close," the Time Lord growls, his blue eyes full of barely restrained annoyance at Caelius' preachy tone. "This plan has been in the works for over two weeks now, and you didn't have any issue going through with it then. Mind telling me why you're so hesitant to keep your word?"

"You should be grateful for my tarrying," Caelius laughs quietly, and the Doctor catches an alarming glimpse of the Fish Person's serrated incisors. "Perhaps my doing so will result in a re-evaluation on your part."

"And the truth comes out!" The Doctor's gaze narrows at the condescending tone being used against him. "You think I don't know what I'm getting myself into."

Caelius suddenly fell silent as he reached to remove a pair of dark sunglasses from his narrow nose. His usually tar-colored irises were now a cool green to aid in his camouflage, and the Doctor did find them much easier to look at than his off-putting shark-like eyes. 

"Do you truly wish to know what I think?"

The Doctor scoffed quietly. "I'm sure you'll tell me anyway." 

But Caelius continued as if the Time Lord hadn't spoken. "I think your desperation and selfishness is very similar to that of these Homo sapien creatures you're so fond of, Doctor," the High Duke says without judgment in his voice, gesturing to the space around them that is filled with human beings going about their day in the middle of New York City. 

"When you came to me for aid some weeks ago, I often questioned why our meeting were never away from this blue planet. But now, I believe I understand they are a sort of kin to you. Being around them for so long has made you sympathetic to their behaviors, and now you seem to be suffering from the same wretched affliction of internal moral conflict as they do. And, in this case, perhaps those more human emotions have made you act a little too rashly."

"We are in the end game now, Caelius, which means we no longer can enjoy the luxury of reconsidering any of this," the Doctor returned angrily after the short speech. "Clara could truly give birth any day now. This plan--however bizarre-- is the only way I can save her! And this is the only way you can set right the many wrongs you did to us, to her."

"The solution I've supplied is not as easy a path as you would imagine," Caelius said somberly while the older man's eyes flashed. "I fear you may come to regret your decision, blaming me for its unsound nature despite the knowledge we both possess that points to you, Doctor, as being the one to have pulled the proverbial trigger."

The Doctor's jaw jumped, but he knew Caelius, demented as he is, was attempting to be as sensitive as his psychopathic tendencies allowed him to be. Regardless of what he'd done to her, Caelius had proven the value of his professed loyalty to Clara--his link to her was the only reason he'd even agreed to assisting the Doctor this one last time. The High Duke may have had his reservations about their newly forged plan to save Clara's life, but at his core, Caelius was himself conflicted about whether or not what they were doing was, in fact, what was right.

"I haven't the slightly idea of what Clara, although I doubt your interest in her survival is more than a part-time hobby. But she means more to me than I'll ever understand," the Doctor breathed, running a hand trough his hair restlessly. "If this is my last chance to ensure we have a long future together, then this is chance--no matter how scary or difficult or unfair--is the one I'm willing to bet on."

Caelius sighed, nodding as the heavy words washed over them both. "Then, if you can tell me that you are absolutely certain that what you want is to erase Clara's memory a second time, then I will retrieve the requested neural block for you and ensure that is human compatible."

Lowering his head, the Doctor heard his breath hitch slightly, his throat closing suddenly as he realized that this pivotal moment could change the course of he and Clara's journey forever.

Eventually, he said, "Please tell Missy that I've agreed to her terms: in exchange for sparing Clara's life and her vow to never pursue Bill again, I will erase all of Clara's memories of the past nine months and place Bill into the care of adoptive human parents on Earth."

Caelius blinked in shock at finally hearing the words said aloud before he straightened purposefully. He extended his hand to the Doctor, the the Time Lord shook it firmly, feeling a little dejected and lost, but hoping he looked braver than he felt. 

"Well, then. I believe, Doctor, that this is farewell. But I would like you to know that I think you are the most courageous fool I've ever had the privilege of meeting."

The Doctor huffed out a quick laugh, thinking it would cover the sound of his breaking hearts. "I'll take that as a compliment."

"I should hope so! It is the closest I shall ever come to complimenting you, Time Lord," Caelius' trademark smirk twisted into a frown then. It suddenly dawned on him that this would be the last time he saw the Doctor for quite some time. 

"I swear I will watch over your daughter as she grows on Earth. I vow to you that no harm will ever come to her so long as I live."

"Thank you," the Doctor said, tightening his grip on the other man's hand. He'd never imagined he'd be grateful to Caelius for anything, but he prayed the true depth of his gratitude was effectively communicated. Releasing Caelius' hand, the Doctor slowly stood from from the Central Park bench and began to make his way towards his waiting TARDIS that was parked a few yards away. 

When he turned around to give the High Duke a final parting glance, he found that Caelius had disappeared and was no where to be seen.

-

"Did you have a nice walk?"

The Doctor smiled as he lingered in the doorway of the TARDIS after it had safely landed. Clara's voice was floating out of the kitchen of their newly rented Spanish apartment along with the cheerful voice of a Spanish woman singing on the radio. What ever Clara was cooking smelled incredibly delicious, but the Doctor knew he simply wouldn't have the appetite to eat anything with the way his stomach was churning.

"I did," he replied easily enough, forcing his eyes to brighten just as Clara's head popped out from behind the wall that separated the dining area from the kitchen. She grinned when she saw him, and her unwitting happiness made the Doctor all the more morose.

"That's good! We missed you while you were gone, so I decided to try out the new recipe book Marisol lent me.  I hope chicken empanadas sound alright to you."

The Doctor laughed at the mention of their devoutly Catholic neighbor, Marisol, the small, older Spanish landlord who liked to dote on Clara and kept her company in their apartment whenever the Doctor wasn't around.

"It does smell amazing. But, I'm sorry to say I ate while I was out," he smoothly lied, hating the way Clara's face dropped a fraction. He quickly amended, "Save me some leftovers for later, though?"

"Sure, of course." She didn't seem to notice the wobbly nature of his voice, and shrugged before disappearing back into the small kitchen. "Honestly, I'm not too sure I used the right amount of cumin for the seasoning, so this first batch probably won't be as tasty as the next, anyway."

He laughed as he walked out the TARDIS and into the warm kitchen to kiss her, one of her hands coming up to cup the side of her face as he did so. She moaned into his mouth just before he pulled away and kissed her temple. Clara looked a little taken aback by the abrupt lip-locking, touching her tingling lips absently as the Doctor wandered quietly into their bedroom without a word.

"Is everything alright?" Clara asked when she'd placed another round of empanadas into the fryer. She had apparently spilled flour down the front of her apron and the evidence was also dusted over her cheeks while her dark brown hair was attempting to escape the ponytail on top of her head, wisps of it coated in the white stuff. Still, the Doctor couldn't say he'd ever seen a more perfect woman in his life.

The Doctor sat down on their bed, his eyelids growing heavier by the minute. He moved to lay down on top of the sheets, his head hitting the pillow triggering a small yawn.

"Not yet, love," he said as he started to drift off. "But it will be."

Chapter Text

"Back already, are you?" Missy chirped when she felt a pair of black eyes boring into the back of her skull.

She turned around to see Caelius' sulking form lingering in front of her cell, his indifferent gaze regarding her passively.

"I expected it to take a bit longer."

"On the contrary," Caelius said with a blink. "Everything has been expedited due to his decision. He agreed," The High Duke said, getting down to it immediately. Now that their alliance had fizzled out, Caelius made no attempt to spend anymore time than necessary in the presence of the deranged woman before him. He had obliged the Doctor in serving as an intermediary between the two Time Lords, but Caelius' inability to understand Missy caused him to be wary around her; he would be glad when this final meeting of theirs had concluded and he could release her (and her unpredictable nature) back into the universe.

"Well, well. That doesn't sound like the Doctor at all, does it?" Missy tried for a smile, but it felt oddly elastic on her face. "He didn't amend any of the terms? Didn't want to think it over? Maybe discuss it with his little pet before he came to a decision for himself?"

"The Doctor agreed to all of your terms and made no amendments to any of them," Caelius reiterated, pulling a small scroll from the pocket of the tailored suit he always wore while disguised as a human.

"The documented evidence, as requested. It's all there, for your viewing pleasure. He also has a copy for his own personal records, though I daresay he will not need them. He will not quickly forget this day."

Missy only blinked at the good news, surprised, before she all but snatched the scroll handed to her through the bars of the cell, her greedy fingers breaking the seal that bound the papers before she could unravel them and witness the Doctor's defeat for herself.

"He agreed to all of them?" Her eyes narrowed into slits when she saw the Doctor's signature at the bottom of the scroll.

"Yes."

"He's going to... he's going to send the mixed bred brat to Earth? Seriously?" She tried swallowing the bitter, metallic taste of her mouth, wondering if it was what victory tasted like.

"You're unsatisfied with the results of your labors," Caelius declared as he took a curious step towards the cell. "This is an intriguing development."

Missy crossed her arms deftly over her chest, feeling a little sick. "Well, I always knew he was a sentimental old fool, but this is a new low! I hadn't actually expected him to go through with any of this!"

"Perhaps I am misunderstanding you," Caelius said as he looked on with interest. "Destroying the Doctor's emotional stability was not what you wanted?"

"Of course it isn't," Missy's fiery response came as she reluctantly tore her gaze from the sheet of paper to look up at Caelius. "I get bored! I cause a big spill, he comes to mop it up, and we make plans to do it all over again in a decade or two! But this... Don't you understand what this means?"

When Caelius didn't respond, Missy shouted, "It means he's chosen her! Again!" The paper is suddenly crumbling into a ball as Missy closes her fist around it and then sends it hurtling across the cell. Her fury leaves her as soon as the paper hits the wall and falls to the floor, and she's left feeling incredibly hollow.

When she'd found her voice again, Missy whispered, "It isn't even real—the spell. Just a tiny bit of bottled witchcraft I bought off of Rasputin years ago and never bother to use."

Caelius straightened at the confession, his eyes widening a fraction. "Clara isn't going to die when she gives birth?"

Missy's eyes has been closed as she leaned into the cool stone wall. They opened now, incredibly tired and drained looking as she smirked.

"Do you think I'm stupid?" She asked, incredulous. "I'd never actually kill Clara—doesn't mean I'll ever tire of terrorizing her, but I'll never kill her. She's his anchor."

Caelius' brow furrowed in confusion. "Anchor?"

But Missy only waved away his question. "The 'spell' is timed to activate when Clara goes into labor. I'm sure the symptoms will give them both a fright and make them think she's dying, when, in reality, all she'll need to do is sleep it off and she'll be fine."

Silence descended between the two ex-conspirators as Caelius processed the confession and Missy processed the truth behind the depths of the Doctor's loyalty to Clara, how it had extended beyond the confines of their own complicated friendship that dated back centuries.

"What did you think he would do?" Caelius says, not at all surprised by Missy's somber attitude, but still curious enough to ask. "He loves Clara Oswald."

Love, Missy thought with an embittered laugh. "How do you know? You don't even know what that word means."

"Perhaps not," a small, but dark smile found the High Duke's lips as he went to unlock the cell, though Missy made no move to leave once the steel door swung open. "But, neither do you."

-

The contractions started early the next morning for Clara. She awoke her from her restless slumber when a sharp, twisting pain in her abdomen suddenly shot down to her already sore lower back. Her eyes opened as she sat straight up, forcing labored but practiced breaths from her lips in quick little puffs before she exhaled long and hard. Bill kicked at her twice, and Clara almost smiled.

"Alright, little one," she panted, checking the time to see that it was nearly five in the morning. "Let's get on with it, then."

The abrupt realization that she didn't have much time left on the Earth now that she was in labor took Clara's focus as she was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. She seemed to remember all at once that this short holiday was nothing more than an attempt to divert her attention from the ominous shadow of Missy's powerful spell.

Clara had been resentful of the Doctor's decision not to go on one final tour of the universe at first, saw his attempt to ground her in Europe as patronizing and controlling. And while they may have been those things, too, Clara now understood that this little flat had been the Doctor's last attempt at providing a somewhat domestic life for the two of them, allowing the both of them a glimpse at the happiness they could have had if the universe had been kinder.

Swallowing tears comprised of muddled emotions and over-shot hormones, Clara steeled herself, unwilling to let herself spiral into an ill-timed existential crisis when her daughter was on the cusp of coming into this world.

When she had finally cleared her mind of any selfish preoccupation with her imminent fate, Clara was able to leave the bed without any assistance once the first contraction passed, but she was hit with another wave of discomfort when she got into the tiny bathroom and had to brace herself against the sink, her fingers gripping onto the porcelain edge for dear life.

"Doctor!" Clara half-wheezed, half shouted when she could finally breathe again.

She heard him stir on the bed, mumble something unintelligible before he turned over and went still with sleep again. She rolled her eyes and called for him once more, but this time he didn't even so much as move. Knowing she wouldn't be able to do this alone much longer, Clara removed the tulips occupying the heavy glass vase on the sink before she wound her arm back and threw the vase into the tub, the quick, heavy impact causing a loud shatter.

At last, the Doctor shot up in the bed with a shout, scrambling across the sheets. "What was that?"

"Doctor!"

"Clara?" He yawned, eyes still half closed as he tried to reach for her in the bed. "Clara, why's the bed wet?"

"Because my fucking water broke!" She called as she bent over to lean on the sink with her elbows braced against its cool surface. She trembled at the mounting pressure forming in her womb, and with the way her legs were quivering underneath her, Clara wondered if she'd need to lie down soon before they gave out.

The Doctor's eyes nearly popped out of his head as his jaw hit the floor. "You're in labor?"

"Obviously." Clara groaned as another contraction hit her. When she could form coherent thoughts again, she said, "I had to wreck the vase to wake you."

The Doctor leapt from the bed to throw on his robe, rustling around in the dark as he looked for his screwdriver. "No, no, no. You can't be in labor! Not for another two weeks at least, by my last calculations anywa--"

"Damn your bloody calculations, Doctor! Get in here!" Clara growled just before the words in her mouth ripped into a painful scream.

The Doctor pocketed his screwdriver and practically ran into the bathroom, his hands a little lost as they hovered near Clara's back and shoulder while she beared down and waited out the discomfort. He'd read somewhere that it wasn't wise to touch a woman when she was in this particular condition.

"Can I—"

But Clara had seen is hand edging into her peripheral vision and shook her head violently. "Don't... touch!"

When he saw that she had visibly recovered, the Doctor grabbed a face towel and started to dab at the sweat beading across her forehead.

"How long have you been like this?"

Clara blinked open her eyes and nodded at the analog clock by the bedside. "About five minutes. It feels like longer, though."

The Doctor's pallor went white as he determined what that meant for the delivery. "Clara, if it's only been five minutes and the contractions are already this intense--"

"I know," she panted, nodding her understanding as her eyes flickered with concern. "She's coming quicker than expected. We have to hurry."

The Doctor nods, his eyes holding Clara's intensely as his lips quirk briefly. "Are you ready to meet our daughter?"

Clara's tears finally spill over as she nods eagerly, a tiny laugh making its way to her lips as she says a breathy, "Yes."

Chapter Text

"Perhaps, Doctor, it would be best if you stepped away for a moment," Madame Hame suggested over Clara's animalistic sounds, eyeing the paling father-to-be knowingly.

"I'm not leaving her here alone, not like this," he argued, though he was starting to look a little unsure standing at Clara's bedside. "She needs me; even if that means I've got to be target practice."

The Doctor forced a smile to his face as he rubbed at what he knew would turn out to be a developing bruise on his shoulder, a consequence from the blow delivered by the clockwork squirrel he'd just built. A few minutes ago, it seemed like a worthy enough distraction. But now, as he groaned painfully, he was sure the idea to introduce a foreign objects as a distraction for a heavily pregnant woman who also happened to be in labor was almost always a bad idea.

"I'm serious, Doctor." Hame spoke up, returning the Doctor's attention to her solemn expression. 

"What? Do you think I'm not?" The Doctor's brows lifted as he stared at the Cat Kind woman. "I love her—"

"Exactly, which is precisely why I suggested taking a break. It's not easy, watching the ones we care for experience this level of discomfort. And, in Clara's case, this is only going to get worse."

Hame's gentle words of caution seemed to be perfectly timed as the two friends both watched Clara's mouth open in silent scream of agony, her entire face twisting as she rode out the contraction. Suddenly furious with the helpless position he currently occupied as an anxious father, the Doctor gripped the railing of the hospital bed so tightly his knuckles went white.

After a moment, Hame continued. "This labor will be difficult to say the very least—the situation is unique. Her body believes that the end of the pregnancy has arrived, but, in fact, the child is not yet ready to be born."

"I'm not going anywhere," the Time Lord repeated, and he seemed to plant his feet further, resolved that his place, no matter how useless and uncomfortable he felt, would always be by Clara's side.

Hame bit back her small smile at his decision to stick it out with his companion. She then turned to busy herself with preparing the equivalent of an epidural before she disappeared into the next room where the rest of her colleagues were preparing the incubator Bill would occupy for the next two months. The Doctor had already carefully inspected and and inquired over the incubator in question, and after being thoroughly reassured by Hame's colleagues and the research he had acquired for his own peace of mind, the Doctor approved the particular model that had been chosen as well as the synthetic fetal fluid that would be used to help further simulate a mother's womb.

The Doctor leaned over Clara's bed as she went in and out of consciousness, taking advantage of the calm before the storm that would be her next contraction. He went in to kiss her temple, which caused her to stir slightly as she drifted off to sleep. His hand came up to rest against her cheek, and the Doctor realized that there, cradled in the palm of his hand, was everything he'd ever found a reason to live for and everything he'd found a reason to die for. His hope, his joy, his anguish, his desire, his despair, his fury. His salvation.

Salvation that didn't even have the power to save herself.

"You're doing so well, my darling girl," he whispered, knowing Clara was too far gone to acknowledge his words at this point, though she did lean into his hand a little more at the sound of his voice.

"Fight it, Clara," the Doctor heard himself begin to implore his companion, his other hand slipping down to hold her warm hands. "I-I don't know how real the spell is—if it's just Missy toying with us or if... or if it's real. But, darling, if it's not too much to ask, don't leave me. Don't leave me here alone without you."

-

When Clara came back to her senses again, her vision was unfocused and she felt hot and cold all at the same time. Her head turned on a swivel, and, sensing her intentions, the Doctor grabbed her hand in his and she readily took it, turning to look up at him. He looked odd, and Clara had to squint to see his bedraggled form.

"Hi," she breathed.

"Hi," the Doctor bent down to press a quick kiss to her lips. "Hame thought it would be best if you slept, so I was told to refrain from waking you."

"Well, thanks. I needed the rest." Clara smiled. "Sorry I threw things and yelled earlier, by the way," her apology came out in little punctuated pants as she swiped at the cooling sweat on her forehead. "If it's any consolation, I don't remember what I said to you."

"It's not," the Doctor smiled jokingly, but he was still a little shaken up. "Hame says you're doing so well. How are you feeling?"

Relishing in the brief respite her daughter was giving her before the next round of contractions, Clara sank backwards into her pillows with a frustrated and blatantly scared expression on her face.

"I thought she was ready," Clara's words are so softly spoken, the Doctor has to lean in closer to hear her. "But we've been here for nearly three hours, and I don't know why. It's like she's fighting me."

"We're forcing her from her home prematurely," the Doctor tries to explain to his weary-looking companion. "It'll take some time, Clara, but we knew that already. We knew it'd be precarious, that there would be risks."

"What about the spell?" Clara asked, blinking up at the Doctor. He recoiled a little at the question, but she knew he couldn't have forgotten Missy's looming threat.

The Doctor shook his head, pressing Clara's hand to his lips in an attempt to calm the nerves he heard in her tone. "Now isn't the time to discuss—"

"I can barely see you," Clara announced, her voice betraying her as her anxiety began to bleed through. "I thought, maybe..." she sighs, shaking her head.

"What?" The Doctor frowns quietly, though Clara can't really read his expression due to her impaired vision.

"I actually don't know what I thought. That it'd go away eventually, maybe. But it's getting worse."

"Why didn't you say anything?" He asked, but the words didn't sound angry at all.

"Would it have mattered if I did?" Clara's rhetorical question hung in the air that had suddenly gotten to be so thick between them. "It's starting, Doctor."

The Doctor's jaw clenched silently as he helplessly watched Clara's brown eyes shift around, squinting up at him in an effort to see him properly.

"I'm right here," he promised, bringing her fingers to his face and cradling them against his cheek. "I'm right here, Clara."

She nodded fiercely, forcing a small smile to her face as she spread her fingers until they reached the hairline of his silver curls. "You'll stay with me, right?"

"Yes," the Doctor said, and he closed his eyes.

"Don't run. Stay with me."

The words echoed in the back of the Doctor's mind ominously, Clara's words seeming to have triggered something in his brain. Like he was remembering something, but in the wrong direction.

Unaware of the strange mental phenomenon he'd just experienced, Clara repeated her question, her voice, a little more shaky than before, brought him out of his reverie and he opened his eyes to see a pair of brown ones looking questioningly at him.

"You'll stay?"

"I promise."

"Til its all over, right?"

The Doctor nodded, knowing exactly what she was asking.

"Of course, I will."

-

It was while Clara was resting that there was a knock on the door which tore the Doctor's anxious eyes from the face of his sleeping companion and to the intrusive sound. He stole a glance at one of Hame's colleagues to find that the young doctor was already walking towards the door.

"Who else has security clearance for this floor?" The Doctor stood and asked just as the young man reached the door, his hand hovering just above the knob. 

The Silurian physician shook his head. "Only three other people besides myself, yourself, and Madame Hame."

The Doctor frowned, clearly suspicious as he started for the door. The young doctor took a step back as the Time Lord approached, confused. "Is there something wrong, sir?"

"No one with clearance would have knocked," the Doctor explained, pushing the baffled little man aside. "There are half a dozen sensors on the other side of this door that will scan the body print of the individuals given access to this floor and open this door once the scan has verified their identity."

The Silurian opened his mouth to speak just as he Doctor pulled the sonic screwdriver from his coat pocket, the low hum of the sonic the only other sound in the room besides the machine monitoring Clara's vital signs.

The Doctor frowned down at the results. "Go to her, and don't move from her side until I say," he commanded the Silurian doctor immediately, nodding towards the hospital bed Clara occupied.

When the young doctor had finally retreated several meters away, the Doctor opened the door, ignoring the frightened sound the younger doctor made behind him.

"Did you really miss me that much, Caelius?" The Doctor frowned up at the High Duke who looked like he'd just finished running a marathon.

"Where is she?" Caelius breathed, his black eyes seeming to search the room for Clara.

"Why are you here?" The Doctor straightened, finally able to pick through his annoyance and discerning the seriousness of Caelius' arrival. "What's happened?"

It was the oddest thing, watching a genuine albeit exhausted smile break out across the High Duke's face and it frankly spooked the curious Doctor even further.

"I have good news for you, Time Lord," Caelius grinned. "There's something you need to know."

-

Chapter Text

The Doctor listened with heavy hearts as Caelius told him of the illegitimacy of Missy's scheme, a plan that was little more than a hoax, a twisted and poorly executed attempt to win him over and resume their vicious cycle of destruction and order. Unsure of whether or not he was truly angry with the woman he still called 'friend', the Doctor turned to where Clara lay fast sleep, his stomach churning with the choice he knew he had to make.

"It doesn't matter," The Doctor sighed, resignation coating his voice in a way that made Caelius pause mid-sentence. "It doesn't change anything."

Caelius watched as the Doctor rose from his chair and begin to pace the length of the room, an ancient, primal sign of anxiety that almost every mammal displayed at some point in their life. Discerning the emotional context of a given situation had never been his forte of expertise—so, it's very like he was wrong—but the High Duke thought it was still rather odd that the Time Lord had reacted so contrarily to what he believed to be happy news for the grouse old man.

"With all due respect, Doctor, this information changes everything," Caelius countered, and from the silver haired man's stern reaction, he seemed to be intruding on a maelstrom of thought on the Doctor's behalf. "The dilemma has completely reversed itself. The neural block is no longer needed, Clara will live, and you are released from your contract because it was never valid to begin with."

"Perhaps," The Doctor stopped pacing to turn his stoney gaze to the (ironically) apathetic Fish Person, chewing at his thumb rather enthusiastically. "Perhaps not."

The Doctor shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets, searching for some article Caelius could not see. When he finally withdrew his right hand, a small vial of clear liquid was in his palm. Caelius frowned, immediately recognizing the substance.

"You... you've altered its form." The High Duke was unable to dilute his stunned expression. In all his years, he'd never known someone who possessed the frankly difficult and rare skill of reversing the physical state of a neural block. "How?"

"Oh, I was a rather brilliant chemist once," the Time Lord's words weren't exactly a boast, just the truth. But they still tasted unsavory in his own mouth.

"Your abilities are obviously unparalleled," Caelius stated plainly, waving away what he expected would soon be false modesty on the Doctor's part. "'Brilliant' doesn't do it justice."

"When you gave me the neural block in its solidified state, I knew I'd better brush up on a few of my old textbooks. But, in all honesty, it was actually easier than I remembered."

Caelius glanced nervously from the vial to the strangely nostalgic old man, and then briefly again to Clara's unconscious form on the bed. "Doctor—"

"Don't," The Time Lord's warning came attaches to a surprising amount of venom. "If you're going to try and stop me, Caelius—if you're going to try and reason with me, don't. I've made my decision."

"Exactly," The Fish Person stood from his seated position to tower over the Time Lord who stood his ground, a blossoming scowl on his face. "By your own admittance, that decision excludes Miss Oswald."

"You're going to lecture me about Clara?" The Doctor's incredulous expression matched the bitter scoff that came at hearing Caelius' words. "Well, Caelius, I hate to tell you this, but I don't think that's your place."

But Caelius barely flinched, his cool demeanor somehow impenetrable.

"Be that as it may," he acknowledged after narrowing his gaze, "someone has to stop you. And if I am all that stands in the way of your self-destructive idiocy, then so be it."

"'Self-destructive idiocy'?" The Doctor's upper lip curled with contempt before he chuckled darkly and asked, "Why don't you tell me what you think you know?"

Taken off guard by the inquiry, Caelius took a step backwards, which the Doctor eagerly sneered at. When it became clear the he would not be speaking any time soon, the Doctor shoved past the large man towards Clara's bed.

"You, see, I knew long ago, long before I knew about you or your involvement with Missy, before I knew anything at all about why this had happened to Clara—I knew this would never end the way I wanted it to end. It would never end with peace; only violence and fear."

"You assumed," Caelius reminded the Doctor, his comment almost given as an afterthought. "There is a difference."

"I'm two thousand years old," The Doctor retorted, annoyed at the interjected response. "At some point, assumptions just become premonitions, warnings you either do or don't heed. And I'm too exhausted to be stubborn anymore. It's time I started acting my age."

Caelius looked on as the Doctor let out a weighted, world-weary sigh that might have broken the High Duke's proverbial heart had he actually had one. He looked on, dazed, as the Time Lord uncorked the vial and carefully poured every last drop into the glass of water beside Clara's hospital bed.

"It's probably best," The Doctor began as he disposed of the vial, "that you be gone before she wakes."

It wasn't a threat, Caelius knew, nor was it the Time Lord asking him to leave that exact moment. 

"Why?"

"This is already so trying for her as it is—"

"Not that," Caelius spat.

"Then, what?"

"Doctor, you say that this human being—this mortal whose numbered heartbeats are as fleeting as the wind—to you, this woman is the only thing you have deigned worth living for, and yet you would commit so treacherous a crime against her. Why?" Caelius' whisper sounded more like a hiss through his serrated teeth.

The Doctor's eyes were closed as he sat down, his face drawn with his body slumped sloppily against the back of the chair. "You would... never understand."

"Why would you betray her in so intimate a fashion? Steal her memories along with any chance she might've had at a relationship with your daughter?"

It was a long time before the Doctor answered, his thumb and middle finger pinching the bridge of his nose in an attempt to alleviate the incessant pulse of the headache he'd acquired in the past five minutes. But when he did open his eyes, Caelius swore he could see every year the Time Lord had ever lived, all of the joy, the sorrow, the turmoil—all of it was suddenly on display. It's was beautiful and terrible, much like the old man's beloved universe, seeing the Oncoming Storm so raw with unfettered emotion.

"I love her," he answered simply, looking a little lost as he spoke. "I love our daughter so much already, so much more than I ever thought I would.

"There was a time I hated her, hated the sight of Clara's body because I knew whatever it was that was growing inside her was leeching the life out of its mother. She unknowingly starved and tortured her mother in those early months while I stood powerless to do anything about it. But, I... I don't know that I have ever been more wrong about anything in my life. My love for Bill is unconditional, and, because of that, I want her to never know the pain of living a life of secrets and hiding and lies, a life she would be forced to live if Clara and I raised her ourselves. A life I know she'd eventually grow to resent us for."

"Her life doesn't have to be yours, Doctor," Caelius tried to persuade him, shocked by how catatonic the Doctor's behavior had become. His body was completely still save for his mouth and the tiniest movements of his shoulders that indicated he was still breathing.

"No, it doesn't." The Doctor half smiled, nodding a little. "You're exactly right. This is just a bit of an insurance plan to make sure Bill's life is nothing like the one I've been forced to lead."

"There's still time—"

"No, there isn't," the Doctor's empty laughter sounded hoarse, and was dry and scratchy as sandpaper. "There is no plan B; there is no white picket fence; there's no romantic summer holiday in the countryside. Not for the gods. Those realities were never ours to have, those memories never ours to make."

The Doctor's hollow voice was silenced for a brief moment as he blinked away the image of a middle aged, gray-streaked Clara Oswald and himself, playing in a field of lush green, a flock of giddy, smiling grandchildren surrounding them.

"I don't care if you're unable to see it, but this—what you call 'betrayal'—it is a kindness," The Doctor's voice broke with conviction, though he didn't know who he was trying to convince anymore. "The regeneration energy flowing through Clara's veins will completely restore her, help her body forget what her mind no longer can remember. And Bill will be sent to Earth, as originally planned, to live a human's life, something far safer than anything I could ever offer her."

The Doctor's clouded suddenly focused and turned to stone as his grey-blue eyes drifted over to meet the High Duke. "So, keep your word: watch over my daughter, Caelius."

Thoroughly perplexed, but having arrived at the revelation that he could never change the the Doctor's mind, Caelius nodded once.

"No harm shall come to her as long as I live."

-

Three hours later, after a total of six hours of labor, Wilhelmina Amie-Rose Oswald was born into the universe. For as monumentally historical her arrival was—the first child born to a Time Lord in millennia—Bill's was a silent birth with no applause or fanfare or even wailing cries from the premature newborn herself. The Doctor and Clara were only granted a few precious moments with their baby girl before she was to be whisked off to her new home.

"She's got my dad's nose," Clara half-cried as she held Bill to her chest, startled by how fiercely she could love someone she hardly knew. "God, she's so tiny."

"She will grow," Hame assured Clara, hushing the anxious doctors the stood nearby, waiting. "I'm sorry your time with her has to be so short."

Clara whimpered at the reminder that her newborn was about to be taken away from her for another three months. "Well, we'll visit often enough," Clara promised the little face pressed up against her bosom. "Won't we, Doctor?"

Utterly mesmerized by the tiny creature that was gurgling in Clara's arms, the Doctor jumped at the question, caught off guard. "Sorry?"

"We'll come visit her, won't we?"

The Doctor swallowed whatever half-truth he was about to tell her, remembering his promise to never tell Clara another lie. He simply leaned forward to kiss her forehead, rubbing his nose against her damp hairline.

"They need to take her now, love," he whispered apologetically as Clara tensed, tightening her hold on Bill subconsciously. "They have to put her back to sleep, and there's a window for that if we want her to transition well."

Clara eyes went wild for a moment before she let out a quiet sob and kissed the closed eyelids of the little girl in her arms, adjusting the blankets around Bill's face as she steeled herself for what she knew would be the most difficult thing she'd ever done in her life.

"Don't you worry, sweet girl," she cooed to Bill. "Everything will be alright, you'll see. Mummy loves you."

And with that, the small team of doctors and engineers surged forward to carefully remove the infant from her mother's arms. Clara let out another small sob once her hands were empty, not quite knowing what to do with herself.

"You've done well," Madame Hame grinned eagerly at an exhausted and emotionally drained Clara, patting her head gently. "I'm very proud of you, my dear."

Clara's tired smile was weary, her eyes still lingering near the door where she'd see Hame's colleagues take Bill. "When can I see her again?"

Hame opened her mouth to speak just as the Doctor stepped up. "Clara, I think it'd be best if you let the professionals do their jobs for now. Bill's getting excellent, state-of-the-art care, and it's important you get your well needed rest."

Clara's disappointment was palpable, but she could already feel the desire to sleep and recover settling over her. "As soon as I wake up, though, alright?"

"Of course," Hame smiles again, checking Clara's vitals before she excuses herself from the room, leaving them alone.

The Doctor fought the shaking of his hand as he reached for the glass of water beside Clara's bed.

"Have a sip before you sleep," he told her, half-wishing she'd see through his shite bravery and tell him off for hovering.

But she was too out of it to notice the way his eyes faltered, the way his voice trembled. So, all she said was a grateful, unassuming "Thanks."

Then, Clara took the glass in her hands before throwing her head back to take a hearty gulp of what she did not know was a laced drink.

The Doctor swallowed as he watched Clara completely drain the glass, blinking in thinly veiled horror when she'd finished it all off after only moment had passed.

And for as long as he lives, the Doctor will never forget Clara's face when she realized what he'd done. He will never forget the way the already dimmed fire in her eyes seemed to be completely snuffed out all together, or the way her mouth went slightly agape in shock. The sound of her gagging in an attempt to exhume the poison already coursing through her will always echo in his ears, as will their last conversation before she succumbed to the neural block.

"Doctor?" She says his name and he can hear his hearts breaking.

"Forgive me, Clara," the Doctor whispered his plea, tears in his eyes as she gasped and winced at the feeling of her memories being torn in half and scattered.

"What... have you... done?" Is all she is able to ask before her brown eyes go blank and roll to the back of her skull.

And the Time Lord shuts his eyes just as a single tear cascades down his lined face.

"Forgive me."

Chapter Text

 

There's no such thing as fate. The stars don't align and there is no magic, no fairy dust, no shooting stars to grant our wishes. Most of the time, there is just coincidence, life happening at random intervals that leave us always wondering if there could be more, something formulaic. Occasionally, however, there is science—science that disguises itself in the form of miracles.

But, of course, that's not how Madame Hame saw it at all.

It would take them decades to learn how the fire started—who started it—and it would take them even longer, if ever, to fully understand why it started in the first place. But it should be known that as Madame Hame lie trapped beneath the crushing weight of a fallen pillar, one of her lungs collapsed and the other quickly filling with toxic fumes and smoke, she couldn't think of anything else but the screaming baby lying not even ten feet away.

Not many understood what it meant to give your life for a cause. Not many had the ability to comprehend the finality of that sacrifice or the importance of such a thing, and those that did were rarely brave enough to face their demise without the urge to flee. But wanting to run doesn't make you a coward—she'd learned long ago that the most courageous man in the universe had spent more than half of his life running away in a blue box.

Hame herself, now looking death in its ghoulish eye, fully understood sacrifice, certainly better than the Doctor could ever have taught her. Her mind was starting to slip, playing tricks on her, making her see things that weren't there. A figure emerged from the smoke, and she would've laughed if she wasn't so weak.

"I've come for the child," Caelius said, his grave tone raised over the sound of the crackling of the flames and the wailing little girl.

"She will die here, with me," Hame coughed wetly, blood dribbling out of her mouth and into the soft fur on her face. "We will both rest soon."

The Fish Person was again wearing his disguise, however he seemed a great deal more uncomfortable in it now than he usually did. "I cannot be here for long—the... environment is too hostile for me."

Hame squinted through watery, smoke-hazed eyes until her vision focused for a moment. "Caelius?" She whispered in awe and amazement, a spark of hope igniting within her as she realized that he had actually come to save the baby. She watched him pick his way through the rubble in order to get to her, his eyes flitting back and forth between the fallen nurse and the child, conflicted.

"Don't speak," Caelius commanded, sounding a little annoyed as he appraised the pillar that had collapsed onto Madame Hame. "My apologies. I know mine is not the face you wished to see. The Doctor was... unavailable."

Hame didn't think much of the Doctor being 'unavailable' at first, figuring he'd been lured by some shiny thing or other and was off on the other side of the universe, completely unaware of what was taking place. But it was of the utmost importance that he be notified all the same. And Hame started to disobey Caelius' ordered and tell him about her personal distress signal code when she noticed the incredibly forlorn look on Caelius' features.

"Miss Oswald is dead, and the Doctor has gone to seek his vengeance," the Duke announced, his words filling Hame with a dreadful unease knowing that the Time Lord no longer had the love of his life to tether him to his morality.

After a few moments of attempting to lift the pillar, Caelius sighed, shaking his head. "I could do it, but it would be unwise of me to move it. You would not survive either way, and moving the pillar would only make your death all the more painful for you to endure. I myself would expend too great an amount of energy displacing it—energy I need to get the child to safety."

Hame smiled through her tears, unsure of whether she was crying with relief or because there was too much smoke in her eyes. Perhaps a bit of both.

"Take... her," Hame said with difficulty, the pain starting to dissipate in a way that could only mean one thing. "To Earth. That was... the Doctor's... wish. Take her."

Caelius watched the blank stare that would now permanently occupy the Madame's eyes as she died, caught in a bit of a trance by the dullness there until a bit of ceiling gave a loud roar as it came tumbling down to the floor. Caelius quickly ducked away from the rubble, navigating his way through the wrecked nursery to the baby that had quieted down a great deal. Grateful for the ability to hear himself think again, Caelius reached the crib at last only to be slightly horrified by what he saw inside.

The child was coughing, hacking, trying to expel the large amount of smoke and fumes her tiny lungs had taken in over the course of the last few minutes, and she was starting to turn red in the face with the effort. Caelius barely had time to remark on how the child was almost the carbon copy of her mother—her dark brown hair, round face and dark eyes were all Clara Oswald's features—before the child suddenly went from red to an alarming shade of purple.

Caelius swore in an ancient tongue, scooping the choking baby up into his arms and grabbing the blanket in her crib to cover her face, hoping that it would be sufficient enough to shield her from the fumes.

-

"Mmm, if you're trying to sneak up on me, the least you could do is quiet that awful breathing of yours. I'd know that airy wheeze anywhere."

Missy whirled around to see her traitorous ex-henchman hunched over in the entryway to the small kitchen of her new home. Her keen eyes drew several conclusions from just one glance at Caelius, the first being that he was weak—too weak to fight. His futile attempt to look rather intimidating was utterly shot by how apparent it was that he desperately needed to be put back into a fishbowl.

"If you have me here," he began, his words trailing as he started to cough, "then you know what's happened."

She smiled, returning her gaze to the bottle of breast milk she was testing on the back of her palm.

"Ah," she acknowledged, shaking the bottle expertly. "I thought about waking you—poking you with a fiery hot stick, but I thought you needed your rest after such an ordeal. And it seems I was right."

Missy threw him another cursory glance, wincing a bit. "You look terrible, by the way."

Caelius barely batted an eyelash. "The Doctor is missing, which means I have been given charge of his ward—the hybrid child he and Clara Oswald conceived."

"So, you do remember everything?" Missy suddenly went cheery despite faltering a little at the news that the Doctor was MIA. "That's good! Give me a moment, and I'll be right with you."

And, indeed, a moment later, Missy's gleeful eyes met the Fish Person's as she walked right past him into another section of the house, her crooked finger the only indication that he was supposed to follow her.

There was a thin layer of ash covering Caelius' gils that was making him cough as he clambered after the madwoman through what he was quickly figuring out was a cottage. His golden scales had lost their gleam and were now flaky in appearance. He knew he would need to locate a water source soon if he wanted to escape with the child.

"Give me the girl, Mistress," Caelius warned, painfully aware of how much his body was beginning to shut down on him as he limped into the room.

Missy frowned in thought, tapping her chin with a red nail before she suddenly gasped with delight. "Oh, I know exactly what you need. Should do the trick."

Strutting up to the small bar set up against the wall of a different room, the den, he supposed, Missy pulled a cool water bottle from the mini fridge before offering it to the High Duke who went visibly still at the sight of water.

"Drink this, then we'll talk."

Caelius' upper lip curled as a low growl hit his throat. "If you have harmed her—"

"I created her!" Missy boomed, her once calmed half closed lids now blown wide with incredulous fury. "She's mine."

"Is that why you started the fire?" Caelius put his developing theory to the test and watched Missy shrink a few sizes. "You wanted her for yourself?"

Assuming a defensive position with her arms crossed and chin raised like a defiant child, Missy narrowed her gaze until her eyes were mere slits in her face. "I was saving her life, actually."

"By raining hellfire on her home?" Caelius spat, winded from standing so long. He eyed the loveseat nearby, but tossed the idea just as quickly as it'd come.

"It's going to be a bitch, dragging you out when you keel over any second now. Especially when you could have just walked out yourself." Missy sighed, whatever showy guise she'd been wearing before shedding to reveal an exhausted middle-aged woman who looked as if she hadn't slept in weeks.

"Drink this." She repeated earnestly, holding the bottle out to him still. Caelius wondered if he was imagining her arm beginning to shake.

"Drink it, and then we'll talk."

-

It was eventually revealed that Caelius had been with Missy in her new home for three days before he regained consciousness, which explained why his body felt so depleted of energy. He needed to be hydrated to stay disguised as a human, and he'd used nearly half of the stored water in his body to maintain it while he rested. Once Missy was sure he was incapable of any maneuvers that would put her at a disadvantage, she took him to the large jacuzzi behind the cottage, having pre-filled it to the brim with enough water to restore him. And there, while Caelius was recovering in the shallow pool of water, Missy finally began to tell him her version of events.

As the Doctor had told him many times, the Time Lords enemies were innumerable because of what had happened during the Time War. Despite millennia having passed and the years wearing away the memory of some, the hardest, most unforgiving species of the galaxy still remained unrivaled in their hatred for the Doctor's kind.

"I knew the Dalek's were coming for her, for Clara and the Doctor as well, but I didn't know when. I'd heard rumors that what the Doctor had done while we were on Skaro—freeing vengeful Daleks in the sewers—had angered Davos enough that his dying wish was for the Dalek's to put an end to the Doctor once and for all. And, of course, the only way to get to the old man is through the people he loves."

"Hundreds of people died in that hospital," Caelius pointed out, though his tone wasn't exactly judgmental. He'd killed thousands of innocent people, so he didn't really have the right to condemn the Time Lady. "Couldn't this have been prevented by warning them? Hame—"

"Was weak," Missy finished, looking a little bored. "She was old and weak, and her security system was too lax. It's not saying much that I could hack the system, but you," Missy rolled her eyes and shook her head. "That's just embarrassing. The Dalek's would've stormed the place and left it more of a wreck than I ever could have. And they would've killed the baby."

Caelius' ears perked at the thought of the child, his tail flipping anxiously in the water. "Is she alright?"

Missy's eyes clouded briefly before she said cryptically, "She will be. She's recovered a great deal. Her lungs aren't very strong yet, but she'll be fine."

"She was choking when I last saw her," Caelius' confession was hesitant and said between a clenched jaw. "I need to see that she's physically well."

An odd gleam was suddenly sparkling in Missy's eye as she searched Caelius' with intrigued interest. "She reminds you of her mother, of your relationship with her—Clara. Doesn't she?"

"How could she not?" Caelius didn't seem too ruffled by the way Missy was peering at him. "She looks just like her."

"Looked," Missy said with a strange emphasis on the word that made Caelius' stomach churn. "Bit more complicated now, I'm afraid. Tell me, fishboy, what do you know of regeneration?"

Chapter Text

Hello, All!

I know you are all just as excited as I am about the sequel to this story, and I've pushed it back so that the first few chapters will be a sort of early Christmas present for you. I'm projecting a current release date for sometime at the beginning of December, but even though I have the first few chapters already written, I'm still looking for a cover (because this story's first home is on Wattpad)! If you or anyone you know is interested, please DM me for details! The sooner I get a cover, the sooner I can publish!

Comment with some of your expectations/hopes for the sequel and I'll post a little snippet of the first chapter of my sequel to The Hybrid titled The Woman Who Asked.

-B