She'd seeone hundred and one more places and then she'd die, Clara decided, remembering the cherished book that she'd left in her room in the TARDIS, its inside covers now filled with exotic locales the author could never even dream of. There was something fitting about that – a symmetry that could allow her to pretend she had some control over what had happened – what must happen next. She'd been out of control for so long now, and the headiness was beginning to wear off. Without the Doctor beside her she could no longer see the fun in running for your life when you meant to have a peaceful cup of tea.
Ashildr was fine enough company, but she never pulled an electric guitar out from under the TARDIS console and tried to convince Clara she'd actually written, "Don't Stop Believing." It was hard enough to get the girl – who was technically an old, old woman but still looked about sixteen – even to smile, let alone laugh. And there was also the bit where Clara's predicament was technically her fault.
Honestly it would be most fitting – and far less hazardous for the universe – to limit herself to twelve more adventures, but that was too few. She wasn't ready to go.
She told Ashildr the plan to hold her accountable. Having already seen its end the girl did not particularly care if the world burned because of Clara's carelessness, but when Clara told her she could have the TARDIS when she was gone she took to counting down their adventures daily.
They ran like hell – because the Time Lords were after her and dying anywhere but that trap street might unravel the fabric of the universe.
They laughed – because it was a challenge, even though nothing really seemed funny anymore.
And Clara never ate a pear – even though they looked delicious in every marketplace. (She'd loved pears before she met the Doctor.)
The days were all right, mostly. There was so much to see and she was determined not to waste this second chance the Doctor had given her.
But the nights were torture.
Her body didn't need to sleep but her human mind couldn't withstand the constant stimulation. Every time she closed her eyes she relived the Doctor's last goodbye, followed by their final encounter in the diner. The way he'd told her their story, even played a song named after her and then looked right through her tore her not-beating heart to shreds.
She understood why it needed to be done. He would go on being a Doctor now. The universe would be safe – as soon as she gave in to her fate and faced the raven.
It was kinder that he didn't remember her. She knew that. Because being the sole carrier of their memories was a constant torment. Every day she contemplated whether something couldn't be done. She could find a way to reverse the neural block – track him down. Or she could get him to take her on as a new companion, come up with a false identity. Spend her last days with him, even if he didn't know it.
They'd never be her last days, then. It was the damn catch twenty-two that kept them apart, the curse of the hybrid. Instead of giving up on each other they'd tear the universe apart. And she couldn't let her healer of worlds become a destroyer of worlds on her account. It might feel like she needed him more than the universe did, but she wasn't so vain to think she was more important than every other living soul.
She'd thought it unfair when Danny died. That she'd been owed better. But this was true cruelty.
Although, she supposed she was holding all of time and space at ransom. Served the Timelords right to quake in their ostentatious boots a little.
It was a wonder her Doctor could be so good, coming from such a pompous, terrible lot.
She's suffer anything to make sure he stayed that way.
For her forty eighth trip she went to visit Jane Austen, figuring she'd be good for a pick me up. She chose a date years after they'd last visited so she wouldn't cross her own timestream.
She and Ashildr parted ways as soon as the TARDIS touched down, the girl claiming she didn't want to impose. She was touchy whenever Clara encountered people she knew. She supposed the immortal was uncomfortable with the concept of friends.
At least it would save her from an awkward introduction, Clara thought as she turned onto the road to the Austen's cottage and ran straight into the Doctor.
He caught her by the shoulders, his gruff: "Watch where you're going," becoming, "Clara. I told you to wait for me in the TARDIS," as soon as he realized who he'd collided with.
She gaped at him, searching for an explanation. She knew they had never come here together in1815, and unlike his unreliable driving her TARDIS always took her exactly where she meant to go.
But he'd recognized her immediately, that much was obvious. She'd missed that so much that she couldn't help but stare, drinking in his familiar appearance – her favorite velvet coat, his tousled grey hair and bushy eyebrows. But his eyes gave her pause. They were too old, too knowing, and they drank her in with the same desperation she felt coursing through her dormant chest.
"I remember that you were supposed to wait for me in the TARDIS, but it's hardly shocking, you swanning off. Never one for listening to directions, Miss Clara Oswald."
"Don't." She felt fury building within her. The old Clara would have slapped him for trying to pull the wool over her eyes. She'd always had a tendency for hysterics. But now the anger built and simmered and she kept it at a distance. She understood him better now, the Oncoming Storm. "Everything we've both been through, don't you lie to me. We never came here together in 1815. We didn't come here together today."
He seemed to deflate, and she could see how he'd been wearing bravado like a suit of armor. Her anger waivered. "No we did not," he said solemnly. His tone took her back to their last encounter on the TARDIS, how sad he had been when he had explained how one of them would need to forget.
"How long have you remembered?"
He refused to meet her eyes, and she knew. "I never forgot."
"How dare you." Her hand twitched at her side as the fury became a vibrato, all the sleepless nights of misery looping through her. "Do you have any idea how much I agonized? Thinking that you couldn't remember my face? Repeating the way you collapsed. But it was just one of your famous lies."
"I do know. I remember that look on your face. And the way you stared at me in the diner, searching for some recognition as I told you the story. I know that look of yours, when your eyes get all large and moist. All I wanted to do was tell you the truth, but I couldn't. I shouldn't have done it now. But damn it all, Clara, you make me want to go back in time and erase all that heartbreak, consequences be damned."
She wrapped her arms around herself. She had that look now, she knew, as she felt tears prickling behind her eyes. She had her best friend back and she wasn't sure why she still felt so awful. "Why didn't the neural block work?"
"It was set to human. You reverse the polarity – that's why it didn't affect you – but it wasn't programmed to affect Timelords."
She squeezed herself tighter. "So you knew you'd be fine. All that talk about leaving it to fate and doing it together was rubbish."
"I didn't know which of us it would affect. But I hoped you had reversed it."
"Why?" she whispered.
"Because you wanted to keep your memories. And you deserve to have them."
There was something in his voice she couldn't place. A fondness she wasn't quite used to but desperately missed. She felt the anger crumbling. She could never manage to stay mad at him for long, no matter how furious he made her.
"So why pretend?"
"Because if I hadn't we'd be at the crossroads we're at now."
She closed her eyes against the headache, the heartbreak. She couldn't look into his eyes as she said this. "It's hardly a crossroads anymore. We'll each get in our separate TARDIS and be on our way."
"I've been hiding in Jane's garden shed for nine months," he answered, nonsensically, and Clara opened her eyes and stared.
"You were fond of Jane. I figured you'd come back here if I waited long enough. I needed to see you again. I needed to ask you to come with me."
She gaped, picturing the man and his TARDIS hiding for months in the tiny shed that wasn't any bigger in the inside. The image was ridiculous but the sentiment behind it more inconceivable. "How can you ask me that? You know that I can't." She had to pretend to be cross with him, because if she just stopped to consider his offer, even just for a moment –
She knew that she couldn't, but if she let her want hold sway –
"Because." He ran his hand through his hair, mood gone from manic to agitated in an instant. "Because. Damn it Clara!"
He strode towards her, and she thought he was going to embrace her, despite this body's distaste for hugs. Instead he grabbed her by the shoulders, pulled her off the path and behind a tree, and kissed her.
At first she was too shocked by his actions to contemplate the shock that ran through her as his lips executed some rather impressive gymnastics against her own. She and the Doctor were snogging in the shrubbery in Jane Austen's garden! By the time she got her wits about her enough to realize that she ought to kiss him back he had pulled away. But his hands were still tangled in her hair, leaving his face close enough to her own that she could see the pulse pounding in his throat and his nostrils flare.
"Why did you do that?" she demanded, but her voice came out high and breathless.
"I thought human girls liked that sort of thing. Your Jane makes her living selling yarns of exactly this sort. That's why I pulled us behind that tree. She could be watching. Her next heroine could be based off you. Rewrite the whole English canon you used to teach."
"Doctor, please." He was deflecting and distancing himself and although her lips still tingled the high was fading, and she was far too tired to play this game with him. It had been hard enough when she'd been well rested and he'd refused to show his hand.
"I did it because I spent the past year thinking about every time I should have kissed you but didn't," he said solemnly, as one hand untangled itself and rested softly against her cheek, cool but so surprisingly gentle. "Hell, I spent four billion years thinking that."
Her breath hitched in her chest, because a voice in her head that sounded quite like Ashildr chanted, too late, too late, too late. "Why," she pressed. "Why did you want to kiss me?"
He actually squirmed. "Does it really need saying?"
"Yes. With human beings it does need saying."
He frowned, and he brushed away the tear that had fallen from her eye, and then threw back his shoulders as if he was preparing for war. "Fine. Then here it is, plain and simple. Clara Oswald, I love you."
She stumbled backwards, the force of it almost too much to bear, too late, too late, too late a rising crescendo. She's spent so much time wishing, hoping, but then he'd changed and become so cold she'd seen the foolishness of trying to pin human emotions to a demigod. She'd accepted that her feelings would never be reciprocated, tried to move on until her attempt had got a decent man killed, and convinced herself that any time he was overly affectionate with her she was just reading too much into it. To hear that he truly did care – the mighty Time Lord admit to something as human as love – it should have made her joyous but instead it choked her with dread. Three hearts would break here today.
He followed her forwards, his face crumbling into something that seemed like panic. "Surely you knew that."
She shook her head. Shook him off. "I hoped. Even suspected at times. But I never knew. Not for certain."
"I was going to tell you, before the raven. You said you already knew."
"The lying's a bitch sometimes, isn't it?" she answered. She was rarely so coarse with him but it was better than screaming out her frustration. "I didn't know what you were going to say – only that whatever it is would have only hurt us both because there was nothing that could be done about it."
"You also said that people like us should say things to one another. In the Cloisters. I learned, Clara. It took me a very, very long time because something I can be so thick. But I learned. I'm not afraid to say it any more. I'm not even afraid of what it means."
He was offering her everything she'd ever wanted and all she felt was sick. It was worse, somehow, than those minutes when she knew she'd have to face the raven. Because the threat was still there and this time she knew what she was leaving behind.
This was why she hadn't let him speak on Trap Street. Some tiny romantic part of her had wondered.
"You haven't said anything." Now he was shaking his head, biting his lip. "You don't feel the same way and you're trying to come up with a way to let me down easy. There isn't a card for that, is there?"
It would be better to let him think that, maybe, but she couldn't do it. "Of course I love you, you silly old man. I've loved you since the first adventure we had, and every fractured piece of me has loved the version of you it saved. I loved your stupid bowtie and these ginormous eyebrows. And if you had just told me this months ago." She raised her fist to her mouth, biting down. She didn't want to make him feel guilty yet part of her did, because it seems like this should have been avoidable and yet now it wasn't. She could have spent the rest of a good long life with him, truly together in a way she'd only be able to dream, but instead she had to leave him to suffer alone, while she played at being alive for a few more months before she faced a pointless death – a death she'd actually died billions of years ago.
It was so bloody unfair. But if she said that, even hinted just how deeply she knew it, he'd tear the universe apart trying not to make it so.
"I'm telling you now. Isn't that a start?"
"It's too late," she said, and the voice in her head wasn't Ashildr – it was her.
"Come with me." His voice trembled. "That's not a request. It's a command."
She shook her head, the reminder of their last proper moments together strengthening her resolve. As the clock ticked down, she had understood him so clearly. She couldn't forget that. "I can't."
"Yes you can. Don't worry about time. We'll set it to rights. There has to be a way."
"But you don't know what it is."
"No," he admitted.
"It's because I love you that I can't let you do that. You need to be the Doctor. Everything I said before the raven – it still applies. I can't be the thing that changes you into something you can't live with. Running from my fate will have terrible consequences, and I don't want anyone to suffer because I was foolish. I know I shouldn't be here now. This is borrowed time. But it's limited. A hundred and one more trips I was going to take. I have fifty three left."
"Then spend them with me," he pleaded.
"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" she whispered. "But I'm not strong enough. And I don't think you are either."
"This isn't like one of Jane's books at all."
She felt the smile tug at the corner of her mouth before she could help it, and then she was stumbling forward, wrapping him in the hug she'd been resisting since the moment she saw him. His arms wrapped around her tightly as he buried his face in her hair.
"I suppose there is something pleasant about hugs, on occasion. If one has to say goodbye, best to do it this way." His words rumbled through her, his brogue like a soft caress. She tilted her head back to look up at him.
His eyes were rimmed in red, and she wished she knew a way to ease his suffering. "I'll call you when I have one adventure left. Perhaps we could take it together?"
He nodded. "I would like that."
"Then this isn't goodbye," she said when she could finally force herself to pull away. "Just see you later."
"Then I will see you later, Clara Oswald." He tried to smile, and she appreciated the effort, even if it looked more like a grimace. "Perhaps in the meanwhile you could tell Jane that I've vacated her shed."
"I will," she said with an answering grin. She watched him return to said shed and listened to his TARDIS's familiar screech. (Hers was so quiet it was like it never even touched down. He made waves wherever he went, and she barely made ripples.
Which was probably better. She shouldn't have been anywhere near the water on her own.)
Then she turned and went to town to find Ashildr. There'd be no pranks with Jane today. The woman would see right through her, and Clara didn't want to see her heartbreak staring back at her from someone else's pages.
Eleven adventures later she went to see her former Doctor on Trenzalore.
She chose a date a few months after he'd sent her away for the second time, after Handles had died. His pain would still be fresh, she knew, and she hoped she could assuage it a bit.
She also hoped it might make him honest.
Ashildr stayed behind again. She was disapproving of her meddling, and nervous around the Doctor in general. Clara supposed she had not taken his threat in Trap Street lightly, even though Clara had begged him to be merciful.
Christmas was dark, as it typically was, but beautiful, with snow lightly falling and the town lit by tinsel and lights, as if the holiday it was named for truly held sway here all year long, even though it was the center of a war zone. She could see evidence of that war, buildings that were scorched and crumbled, but no one in the streets seemed afraid.
The Doctor had done this, she knew. And even though it hurt to think of him bunkering down here to die, he'd done so much good. This was the man she loved, selfless and brave.
She found him in his tower, surrounded by his toys, and she couldn't help but gasp as she drank in his floppy hair, big chin and trademark bowtie. She'd come to terms long ago with never seeing him like this again, but there was something so comfortable and familiar about his appearance. She'd understood him better in this body, she thought. Or at least they'd both been better at pretending that was true.
He looked up at the sound of her shock and frowned. "How did you get here? The TARDIS is parked outside this time, and you weren't hanging on. I checked."
His harshness was nothing compared to her current Doctor's normal tone. She had to keep herself from gasping again as their eyes met. He was old for this body – though not as old as he'd be by the end – lines beginning to crease his boyish face. But his eyes, though weary, were so young.
"I didn't come in your TARDIS," she answered. "And I'm not stayin', don't you worry. I have a question for you."
"If you didn't come in my TARDIS, then how?"
"Got my own wheels," she answered, and then clenched her teeth as she fought off the truth field's influence as it tried to persuade her to spill more details. "Didn't mean to say that. Don't ask. I shouldn't tell you. Spoilers."
The Doctor's nose wrinkled. "Don't say that. I hate it when River says that."
He looked so adorable perturbed, and she pulled up a chair to sit across from him. "Fine. I won't. But don't ask. It's better that you don't know. I don't want to risk changing what's already happened."
"You shouldn't have come here and crossed the timelines."
"I know," she said. "But I don't care. Got that from you, I think. You never cared about that quite as much as you should."
"I know. That was a problem with this body. I used to be very strict about that sort of thing. Got very mad at Rose once for wanting to see her dead father. Reapers almost unraveled the universe. But I got old, reckless."
She reached out and folded his hand in her own. He must have been lonely, with Handles gone. He'd never spoken much about those who had come before her. Certainly not without her prompting and a decent amount of alcohol.
He squeezed her hand back. His fingers were calloused and wrinkled, but there was still strength there. "Clara." He said her name with such fondness that she wanted to giggle like a schoolgirl. She'd had such a crush. He'd been flirty yet oblivious, and absolutely ridiculous, but he'd looked at her like she was the most precious thing in the universe and she had felt so special.
"Why are you here?"
She tried for levity. "Think of me as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come."
"I've done that before, actually. On another planet. With fish that swam in the sky!"
She could not look away from his face – his daft, handsome, long-gone face. "I have a question for you."
"Ah. And just like the Timelords you know this is the place where I'll have to answer it."
She blushed, a little guilty – but not enough to put her off her mission. "It's not your name, I promise. Besides, I already know that."
"You look – so much older," he said, and her hand twitched in shock. It really hadn't been all that many years for her since this day – especially not compared to what he had lived – and her Doctor hadn't been able to tell when her dream crab self had aged sixty years. "It's not your face. You're not even wrinkly. But your eyes – they're wise. But so sad."
The fact that he could see that so readily brought tears to her eyes. Why had his next self lost the ability? Would she even have had to come here if he hadn't?
"It's me, isn't it?" he asked softly. "Oh Clara. What have I done to hurt you?"
She cleared her throat, swiped away the tear from under her eye and tried to be brave, even though everything inside her wanted to answer.
"Why did you send me away? Twice?"
They were still holding hands over his workbench. He flipped her hand over gently, and ran his thumb across her palm, sending shivers down her spine.
"You know that I'm not affected by the truth field anymore," he said slowly. "Not after all this time."
"Course I do. Good liar like you. Even I'm getting used to avoiding it a bit." She chuckled, even though it felt strange, because he'd asked her to once. "But I'm hoping you'll answer me anyway."
"I told you, not that long ago. I would have buried you."
"But why couldn't you do that? Taking up with human the way you do, you must know you'll outlive us."
"But I don't want to see it."
She wanted to pull her hand away but didn't. He needed this comfort now, even more than she did, even if he was being difficult.
Perhaps she had expected too much. They'd never been much good at being honest with each other.
"That's all then."
"No." Their eyes met, and she was caught in that old, wise-manic gaze. "I would have sent anyone away, to protect them. Sending you away – lying about it – it was both harder and easier than if you'd been anyone else. Because I love you, Clara, and I couldn't let you die in this place. A selfish part of me wanted to keep you beside me for as long as I could, just to keep making each day that much brighter, but you deserved so much better. So I sent you back to your family. Christmas dinner. I wish you wouldn't be mad. I never meant to fall in love with you. I don't typically do that. Only once before and that ended badly for her. Well, not as bad as it might have, but I had to send her away too and I think that hurt her more than I meant it to. You see, that's why I tried so hard not to love again. It's not to protect myself. You're right – I always outlive my companions in the end, and it always hurts when they leave, no matter why. But when they love me too much, the parting hurts them in ways I can't fix, and I'd rather avoid that. Like now. You were probably better not knowing all this. I'm sorry. I guess I'm not as immune to the truth field as I thought."
But it didn't hurt as much to hear the second time around. It was what she'd come for after all. She straightened his bowtie, pushed his wild bangs out of his eyes. "It's all right. I already knew. Just wanted to hear it from your lips."
"You have always been a marvel, Clara. My impossible girl."
"That's me." Her life had seemed so much simpler then – swanning off on adventures between classes or babysitting duty. He'd been the one trying to figure her out. It was once he changed, and she committed to being by his side full time that she'd started to change too.
"I have another question."
He smiled at her. "Ask away. Can't be as hard as the last one."
Something about the openness in his face made her bold. Her Doctor didn't invite questions, not anymore. He'd kept his past and his emotions locked up like his guitar case. "May I kiss you?"
"No one's asked me that before. They just do."
She thought of River, Tasha Lem, and every other woman she'd ever seen flirt with him, and it made her a little bit furious. "Well I'm askin'."
She saw the way his eyes drifted to her lips, just for a moment, and her stomach erupted in butterflies – the giant, eight winged alien kind they'd encountered once on the moon of Foon. "If you like."
It was soft and tender, nothing like their garden kiss, but absolutely lovely. Afterwards she flung herself into the crook of his neck, and he'd always given the most remarkable hugs. She felt safe in his arms, and cherished, and now, finally, loved.
When she pulled away he pushed her hair behind her ear, so carefully, but there was something troubled in his eyes.
"Clara," he said softly. "I don't wish to alarm you, but you're not breathing."
He reached in his pocket for his screwdriver but she stopped him. "I know. My heart's not beating either."
"What's happened to you?"
"I can't tell you that." She glanced out the window and saw the first vestiges of light. "It's almost sunrise. Shall we watch it together?"
The walked hand in hand to the roof. There she snuggled beside him, her head on his shoulder and his arm wrapped around hers. She would have this memory forever now – the length of forty two adventures.
He'd have it much longer.
The sunrise was glorious; being so short-lived couldn't diminish any of its beauty.
"This isn't the last time we see each other," she told him as the light began to fade. "Don't give up. Don't despair. This isn't the end for you."
"You shouldn't tell me that."
"I'm not giving you any of the details. Just telling you not to lose hope."
"There isn't a way out of this, Clara."
"Maybe not one that you can see," she teased. "But I've always been just a little bit cleverer than you."
"No one's cleverer than me," he protested, and she laughed. This time it was real and true.
"Typically not," she amended. "But on occasion."
"You have to go," he realized.
"I have to go," she echoed. "But I'll be back. Someday."
"I'll wait for you." He smiled. "It's funny. Usually other people have to do the waiting."
"Just keep on being the Doctor." She wrapped herself in another of his famous hugs, hoping it would sustain her through the days ahead.
"I love you too," she said as she pulled away.
"That was always rather obvious."
She was going to blame the truth field for that one. She pushed him lightly, smirking. "It was, wasn't it?"
The warmth of that chill night on Christmas carried her through her next destinations, and Ashildr asked her frequently what she'd done to put herself in a better mood, but the truth field was out of range so she told no one but her diary. Somehow she was more at peace with what was coming. The Doctor had faced his raven for hundreds of years, staying just as kind, never fleeing, even after he had his TARDIS back. She could face hers just as bravely.
He would be all right, just as long as she could convince him she didn't need saving.
She made the call after her and Ashildr toured the pyramids, the last destination in 101 Places to See she had yet to visit. He gave her a set of coordinates, and she promised Ashildr that she'll be back in three days, and asked her to follow if she wasn't.
Her TARDIS landed on a green rolling hill with a city in the distance. But all she could pay attention to was his TARDIS. The old girl seemed to be calling to her, even though it was troublesome more often than not when they were traveling together.
She forgot all about his TARDIS when the Doctor himself emerged, looking properly dapper in his velvet coat, with his hair neatly combed. But his guitar was strapped across his back and he wore his sonic sunglasses. She was never quite sure why he'd fancied himself a bit of a rockstar after the face-hugging dream crab Christmas, but she kind of loved it.
She tried to walk toward him all dignified like but he smiled when he saw her, and he was wearing those ridiculous glasses, and the excitement bubbled over and she barreled toward him. He caught her tightly, and she could feel him press a kiss to the top of her head as he breathed her in.
"Hello," she said, all her nerves vanished.
"Does your TARDIS look like an American diner all the time?" he asked, staring past her shoulder.
She laughed, because surely this was a sign he was going to be okay. "You're one to talk."
"A police box blends in," he defended. "But a restaurant? And one with such garish decorations. Surely you attract attention."
"Ashildr insisted on fixing the chameleon circuit. But I like it."
The Doctor released her but tucked her into his side, weaving their hands together. "It's so quiet," he said with obvious disapproval, and she laughed again, knowing that it must be gone.
"That's because we fly it properly."
"You probably read the manual or something," he said with a roll of his eyes. "Boring."
They had indeed read the manual, but she wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of knowing that.
"So where are we?"
"Space Glasgow," he pronounced.
"You're kidding me."
"I am not." He turned to face her, grasping both her hands. "We've done so much running together. I thought maybe this time we could stay still." He searched her face for approval. "If you want. If you'd rather a proper adventure we can do that instead. Anywhere you haven't seen yet, I'll take you."
She squeezed her hands. "This is perfect."
"It really is a lovely city. I fit right it."
He wasn't kidding. The locals were human, for the most part, from the year 5217, and they thought the Doctor's accent meant he could trace his ancestry to the city's ancient predecessor so they gave him special treatment wherever he went, even though as usual he couldn't pay. He took her to the theater, delighting her with Sense and Sensibility, even though they had modernized it quite a bit. They ate until they were bursting, and spent two days playing tourist, seeing everything the city had to offer. He played his guitar on the street, and people even dropped coins at his feet, which he used to buy her flowers. On the third day he took her to a secluded spot with a beautiful view of the river. She told him of all the places she had seen, and he interrupted constantly, but she could tell that his petulance was feigned.
"You came to see me," he said as the sun began to set. Their position mirrored theirs on Trenzalore, though the air was warmer here. "I think that was cheating."
"A bit. But we were never much for rules."
"Did he give you peace? You seem – less screechy."
She shoved into him. "Oi!" she scolded. He scowled at her and she laughed, resting her head back on his shoulder. "You gave me peace, you pudding brain. I know I didn't handle the transition well, but I know that he's you, and you're him."
"He was kinder to you."
"You were afraid." She raised a hand to trace it across his features – his high brow and bushy eyebrows, his sharp nose and less pronounced chin. "You were so sure that loving me would bring me to ruin."
"I was right, wasn't I?"
"No," she said sharply. "You made me more than I would have ever been on my own. My story – it was shorter than either of us would have liked, but it was glorious – and that's because of you. All the wonders I have seen, all the people I have met and saved – that was all because some madman in a box showed up and showed me the stars. To have been loved by you – even just for a few years – makes me far luckier than most. I'm at peace with what's happened. I'm ready to go back and face the raven. I can do that with a clear conscience just as long as I know that you're going to be okay. Can you promise me that?"
He grasped her hand and raised it trembling to his lips to brush a kiss across her knuckles. "Aren't you going to command me?"
"Not this time. I want it to be your choice."
"Losing you will never be my choice."
"The losing can't be helped. But the way you react—"
"Aye," he promised. "I shall stop raging against the dying of the light. I will learn how to live without you. But I shall never forget you, Clara Oswald."
"You better not." She reached into her purse and pulled out three books bound in gray, and then her tattered copy of 101 Places to See. "I want you to have these."
"What are they?"
"Journals, of my travels. Ashildr was always doing it. Seemed like a good idea."
"How did they all fit inside there?" He gestured towards her small bag.
"Bigger on the inside, of course," she said with a cheeky grin. "Timelords are annoying blokes but their technology really is clever."
"Now who's being rude?" he chided.
"I don't want to be forgotten," she confessed. "I've already disappeared without a trace from my former life. No one who knew me will ever understand how I died or where I went."
"You will never be forgotten, Clara. No matter where I am or who I become, I will always remember you. That is a promise."
"Love is a promise," she said softly, remembering his proclamation in a graveyard full of Cybermen.
"Exactly." She let herself appreciate his accent one last time – how the intonation that could sometimes be so gruff and harsh could also be so beautiful that it left her dazed and distracted. He was a creature of contradictions, her flawed, perfect, impossible man.
"Then promise me you will always be the Doctor. Find someone to travel with and just keep on running, and laughing, and avoiding pears."
"I promise, Clara. Not one person will suffer."
This kiss was soft, yet fierce. Tender, but laced with the regret of a lifetime of kisses that would never be. Because he had an abnormally large lung capacity and she did not have to breathe at all it lasted a very long time, until she heard her TARDIS land lightly behind her. She turned away without looking back, and died with the taste of him still on her lips.
Please review but don't hate me – there's still two more parts, and the second half of the fix-it comes in to play next chapter, in Morpheus's Rescue.