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An Awful Lot of Running

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Clara Oswald is alone.

She is standing in the console room of the TARDIS with the Doctor, but she can tell by the faraway expression on his face that, wherever he is, he isn't with her. He's drifting, green eyes following the path of someone only he can see, of Amelia.

Of the first face his face saw.

And if Clara thinks hard enough, if she dares push past the mental barriers she's erected and look into the memories of her past lives, she thinks she can remember Amelia ("Amy, it's me." Someone calls, voice choked with panic, "Do you remember me?"). But that volume of her story is full of anguish and terror and I am not a Dalek, and she'd really rather not look, so all that comes to mind is a flash of red and a man named Nina ("Do you remember me?").

So, Amy must have been one of his companions.

Clara can't find it in herself to be jealous, or even bitter, really. She knows she isn't the only person who has ever been lucky enough to travel the universe with the Doctor, and she's glad for it: the Doctor has a way of making her life mean so much more, and she would never deprive others the the chance to have the same happen to them.

But there's a tightness in her throat, and a stinging in her eyes, and, as always, Clara is reaching out for a man who can't even see her.

Clara likes to think of her life as a book series, with one novel for every life she's led. Of course, they have different stories to tell, but there are two recurring themes, two things that have remained constant throughout her lives: she is always running toward the Doctor, and he is never running toward her.

The Doctor reels back, the force of her slap returning control of his body to him, "How did you know that was him?"

"Because even if that was true, which it is obviously not," Clara tries not to wince at the tremble in her voice. She knows he won't notice, but she wishes she had been able to keep her emotions in check. And, even more than that, she wishes she didn't have to. "I know you well enough to know that you would rather die than say it."

Her knees are shaking, and she wishes more than anything that there were something she could do, anything (please, please, please, please, please), because for the first time in all the time she's known him (hundreds of years, hundreds of years of running, and I don't know where I am, and run, you clever boy, and remember me) she can't save him.

The way she sees it, everyone has a role to fulfill, everyone has a purpose. Hers was to save the Doctor. But he's dying and further away than ever-always running, running, running. The Doctor is running, and so is Clara, but she can never catch up. And this time, she's failed completely: this time, she isn't even quick enough to do what she's meant to do.

Born to save the Doctor, and he's dying right in front of her.

"We all change. When you think about it, we're all different people, all through our lives." Clara's bottom lip wobbles fiercely as she watches him, taking in his sweeping gestures for the last time. The Doctor won't die today, but her Doctor will. "And that's OK. That's good-you gotta' keep moving-so long as you remember all the people that you used to be."

Clara Oswald has been sad and confused and broken, but she has never been so lost. When she lost her mum she had her dad to take care of her. When she had to give up the idea of traveling to help the Maitlands, she had Angie and Artie to distract her. And every other time, every other time, she has had the knowledge that everything she endured, everything she suffered through, meant that the Doctor would live on. And it had always been enough for her. It had been more than enough: she would die for him in an instant, and it would be worth it because he was worth it.

The Doctor made everything worth it.

She wrings her hands anxiously as she listens to him, because she doesn't know what else to do with herself. She listens to him, letting herself get caught up in how wonderfully he speaks. She loves his speeches.

She loves him.

"I will not forget one line of this." He meets her eyes for the briefest of moments, and Clara forces a smile for him. "Not one day, I swear."

The Doctor looks away, but Clara's gaze remains fixated on him. Something about that felt like he was actually talking to her, rather than at her. It felt as if he was thanking her, as if he could tell how distressed she was, as if he were making a promise.

I will never forget you, Clara.

"I will never forget when the Doctor was me."

Or maybe not.

"I know you well enough to know that you would rather die than say it."

Clara shakes her head and takes a step toward him, her mouth hanging open for a moment as she tries to force out the words she's been using as her guide for so long (centuries, if she really wants to remember).

But then he's turning away from her, lost in another memory, and his smile as he reaches out to caress an unseen face reminds Clara of who she is. Of who he is. Of what they aren't.

The words die before they reach her lips.

The Doctor undoes his bow tie with practiced fingers, and they watch in silence as it falls to the ground.

He looks at her and smiles. And that smile says everything.

I'm sorry, Clara.

It'll be OK, Clara.

Don't cry, Clara.

Clara takes a few unsteady steps toward him, doing everything in her power to keep her knees from buckling, because now is not the time for her to be having a breakdown, "No, no."

She's afraid she'll fall to pieces if he leaves. For so long, he's been her compass. For so long, he's made her life interesting and meaningful and impossible. This new man, this new Doctor, he won't be the one who did those things for her, with her. He'll remember it, all of it, but his hands won't be the ones that held hers as they ran down exploding corridors. He might not ever flail about, or get flustered, or rant endlessly about something. And his chin won't be the chin she teased endlessly.

Who knows if he'll even keep her around? This Doctor may be fond of her, but the next one could see her in an entirely different light.

She's so afraid.

He's still smiling that smile that says none of the things she wants it to say, and she's seized by a surge of desperation. She holds out her hand, fingers only inches away from his, inches away from sparkling tendrils of regenerative energy.

She's not going to say it, she can't say it. Not now. It's too late.

The Doctor smiles, a wide smile, and this time Clara knows he's trying to soothe her. He's looking directly at her. His voice is almost tender as he whispers, "Hey."

One last reassurance.

And all Clara can think is:

I love you.

I will always love you.

I don't want you to go.

Please don't go.

Please don't leave

Please don't.

Please let there be a way for me to save you one last time.

I'll do anything.

Please, just-

Clara's face crumples. She shudders, "Please don't change."

Knowing that something is inevitable is very different from accepting the inevitability of that something. Clara hates inevitable things, hates that she can't get around them. Part of the reason why she loves traveling with the Doctor is his ability to ignore the label of inevitability, to get around it. He's broken so many rules tonight, can't he break this one as well?

Please, please, please, please, please.

The Doctor jerks backward, away from Clara. When he straightens out he has a new face.

Clara chokes down her tears and does what she's always done.

She follows him.