A/N Took me a while to determine what sort of ending I was going to give this. In the end, this was the only one that really fit (sorry). In this last chapter, we also find out why exactly the Doctor did not return. Must have watched the Time of the Doctor, probably, for it to really make sense. Also, Happy New Year, everyone, I'll be so grateful if you'd drop me one last review. And without further ado, let us revisit the song that inspired this fic in the first place. Now it reminds me of the Christmas special, so prepare for tears.

Christmas Lights - Coldplay

Christmas night, another fight
Tears we cried, a flood
Got all kinds of poison in, poison in my blood

Took my feet to Oxford Street, trying to right a wrong
Just walk away those windows sing
But I can't believe he's gone

When you're still waiting for the snow to fall
It doesn't really feel like Christmas at all

Up above candles on air flicker
Oh they flicker and they flow
And I am up here holding on to all those chandeliers of hope
And like some drunken in this city
I go singing out of tune
Singing how I've always loved you, darling
And I always will

Oh when you're still waiting for the snow to fall
It doesn't really feel like Christmas at all
Still waiting for the snow to fall
It doesn't really feel like Christmas at all

Those Christmas lights
Light up the streets
Down where the sea and city meet
May all your troubles soon be gone
Oh Christmas lights, keep shining on

Those Christmas lights
Light up the streets
Maybe they'll bring him back to me
Then all my troubles will be gone
Oh Christmas lights, keep shining on.

Oh Christmas lights
Light up the streets
Light up the fireworks in me
May all your troubles soon be gone

Those Christmas lights keep shining on.

•••

I used to think, once, that sadness melts, like snow.

I used to think, once, that sadness could be cured.

How silly, how naive, how utterly childish those young thoughts seem to me now. How could I have lived through a third of my life, or of what I thought was to be such a thing, how could I have felt so old—sometimes in body, and often in mind—and yet still, in actuality, have been such a truly ignorant, innocent young child?

How lucky some are to live as that child for all of their years, no matter how long. How lucky some are to never truly grow old.

How unlucky, am I.

Some days I can sink myself into those young thoughts, those fluid memories. Some days I can rethink them, re-remember them, through the eyes that I used to gaze through. Some days I can even pretend—because that's all it is, pretending, that's all most of my life has boiled down to—that I'm still that person.

Some days I can look in the mirror and see the woman—no, not the woman, the child who once lived in that same face.

The child who lived in the attic room of a family that was not hers but might as well have been, lived in and of an unfillable hole, an irreplaceable loss.

The child who immersed herself in so many thousands of ink-and-paper worlds that the one she inhabited ceased to be enough.

The child who harboured a hidden wish, a wild desire to roam to the very furthest corners and the very deepest crevices; a wish that time had begun to erode away with all its realities and lies, both of which are often the same.

The child who wanted to see the best that her own world had to offer, just to convince herself that it was enough, that she needed nothing else, that her desperate longing for something more was just a flimsy fantasy, easily quelled, easily doused with the wave of what was real.

The child who met the most incredible man, with the most incredible promise, the most incredible world at his feet; a man who needed her too much, but also, a man who it was too easy too need.

The child who lied to herself again and again, more pretences, more untruths, more words left unsaid; the child who constantly repeated that she was fine, she was fine, she was not in too deep, she was not running away, she was not denying the noose around her neck...

We are subjected to all kinds of lies.

Falsehoods, half-truths, omissions, twistings of actuality. Our world is built upon them, and thrives off of them. They are threaded into every aspect of our lives.

They start off small in childhood—in appearance, at least. Lies like "broccoli is delicious" or "you'll make friends" or "of course I believe in Santa Claus!". And then even more, as one begins to see the shadows that used to be invisible, these commonly insisted by a parent in false comfort: "mummy always knows best!" and "you can be anything you want to" and "monsters don't exist" and even "I will always come and find you".

As years pass, the lies only multiply, strengthen as others fade away. And then we begin to fashion lies for ourselves, we begin to consciously ignore the truths, we begin to hide them away from others. That's what growing older does to you, that's what each new year means. One step further, one inch deeper into the void of never-ending lies that we don't seem to want to—much less be able to—fight against.

I listed them, once. The biggest ones. I wrote them down in a fit of ragged emotion and clinging insomnia, on one of many nights such like it. The ones others told me, the ones you told me, the ones I told me. I've copied them down, here. Even now, even after all this time, I cringe at my younger self.

Lie number one: Life is a beautiful journey.

I laugh, now, at the sight of that. I laugh and laugh and laugh and it's hard to stop. I laugh, though the laughter sounds like that of a madman. Probably that's because I am one. Probably that's because it's just so funny. Inexplicably hilarious, in all its wrongness, in all its melancholia. It's hard to tell the difference between laughs and sobs anymore.

Lie number two: I am in control of myself.

This one's rather amusing, too. Just—sidesplitting. I used to repeat it often, it was my mantra, a constant string of words always beating away at the back of my head. So when it seemed like nothing was under my control, nor even could be, I would still know that I held myself in a strong grasp. When people died, when others were lost, when connections faded or were ripped away, when fires built and voices clamoured, when there was nothing for me to do about it: I control myself. I control myself. I control myself.

Oh, how naïve was I but a year ago.

Lie number three: The Doctor will not leave.

That was what I needed, what I wanted, wasn't it? Someone who wouldn't leave. Someone I wouldn't have to lose, like I've lost my mother, like I've lost the person my father used to be. You seemed to be perfect: unchanging, undying, if a little unstable and in possession of a time machine, constantly shadowed by an abyss of everything that might whisk you away at any moment. But I still thought you would stay. I still deluded myself with hopes of you and I.

Lie number four: I can stop lying.

Lying is wearisome, each false word and masking sentence lays yet another brick around you, until the world must shout for you to hear it, until you must scream for it to hear you. Maybe I could even stop lying to you, I thought, perhaps. We could stop darting back and forth from each other and start...I mean, stop pretending, at any rate. This one, for want of a kinder word—bullshit.

There are so many more, hundreds upon hundreds of lies. But five is all I listed, on one of those mad nights in which I let my mind run unfettered. Five little phrases to tear down my mind, word by word, letter by letter.

Lie number five: sadness melts.

It was one of those silly things, those fantastical thoughts that flitter through a mind wrought with grief and winter fever. Risen out of painful memories and the wistfulness of the season.

Like snow, I thought. Like snow.

I'd had plenty of experience with the emotion to think about it, and I knew that sadness was cold. Not just cold—that it was searing in negative heat, that it stung against your skin and creeped into every crevice. That it could whip you and win you in a wild frenzy, so hard and huge and ferocious it was easy to believe that it would never stop, never cease, and it would keep you in its icy claws forevermore. I used to think, too, that—no matter how what—it would always drift away; always morph into the wet, slick drops of cooling rain, always melt with the spring sun and the summer smiles. I used to think that such an emotion was only temporary, and though it may return with each onslaught of winter, it could be endured til its end. I thought that it could be a beautiful thing, even, a thing of nostalgia and times and people past. I thought that grief, that loss, that sadness—in all its forms —would always be a looming shadow, but one that shied away from light, one that grew as a part of you, one that could never truly take you for its own.

I look at my old self, and know. God, I was nothing if not a sentimental, wanderlusting, idiotic fool.

For sadness is not a thing of wild nature, not a thing to hide from behind walls and comforts and memories until the salvation of the spring melt.

I know, now. I am no longer a child. I no longer believe in those stories, those worlds, those lies.

Sadness does not melt, sadness is nothing like snow, for there is none falling now. Not this night, not this eve of the darkest and brightest day of the year. Not this last hour before the day of joy, turned day of only death.

Because I'm here, sitting on a bench with my coat and my gloves and a knitted hat, watching anxious parents rush out of empty toy stores, watching a dark starry sky dulled by the thousands of lights adorning every eave and awning, watching my hand dart and still across the page of a book that should never have been written.

And this time, there is no snow.

There is only silence.

And that is what grief is. Because everything returns to it. No matter the singing, the shouting, the laughing, the words. No matter the wind gusts, the bird songs, the scatter of rain.

It all just fades away.

And, if you think about it, sound is such a tiny part of this universe. You can't hear in space, there are no particles for the vibrations to travel through. There's no medium for noise.

There's no medium for joy.

It all just fades away.

And all that's left, at the end, after life, after death, after the explosion of suns and the crashing of planets, after the ageing of monsters and the forgetting of names, after everything, just as it was at the beginning, there is only silence.

In the end, there is only silence.

In the end, there is only grief.

•••

You probably have myriads of things to compare sadness to. Being you. Being the Doctor. I know, don't I know?

My losing you once can never compare to your losing hundreds. Some more than once. I'm not you, I'm not your age, I'm not your memories. But, I'm me. I'm Clara. And sometimes it feels like the years are stretched out behind me, falling away in the thousands, while I can see nothing but black before my nose. Sometimes it feels like I've lived hundreds of lives all in one, hundreds of times while in the same second, hundreds of places in only my small corner of a single country.

Sometimes, I feel like you.

It has been many many times that you have been labelled a god, Doctor, and there will be more in future. Because he is a part of you, that god, and you are a part of him. You call yourself a man—and that is what I see you as—but the truth is that there are so many millions who call you a deity, a divine spirit, a supreme being.

They say that God—the one I have been told of, anyway, as the one who is real might not exist, and the one who I believe in doesn't—made humans in his image. It's an interesting sentiment, that such a being would create us—us lowly, selfish people—just as He was made. I don't know. Maybe it's true. Maybe it's not just a sentiment. I don't know. But if you are a god, as so many believe that you are, then you are just the same.

I didn't want to have to rely on you. I didn't want to have to cling to you, for fear of fading. I didn't want to have to be afraid of your leaving. I didn't want to love you, not at all, and I really, really did not want to need you. Because I knew that you needed me, and I knew that you needed all those who came before me. And I knew that that needing was destroying you, day by day, loss by loss.

But I failed.

(I love you.)

(I need you.)

And if God made humans in his image (as the story goes, but I've lived too long in stories), then you took Clara Oswald, however unknowingly, and made her in your own.

•••

Sat on this frosty wooden bench, cracked with years of similar below-zero days and marked with dozens of similar restless thinkers (the difference being that they were armed with rebelliousness and Sharpies), it is harder than you would think to believe that tonight is Christmas Eve.

This is supposed to be a night of waiting, of quiet and shining anticipation. Supposed to be a night of hanging stockings on the windowsill, a night of setting out a glass of milk and some ginger snaps. A night for children willing themselves to sleep, for hope of a quick leap to the happy spoils of the morning. A night for teenagers listening to the crinkles of wrapping paper, the murmurs of parents, the rustle of pine; and then grinning alone at a darkened ceiling. A night for remembrance and celebration of times and people past, calling them into being before the day in which they would be re-loved, re-cherished. A night of joyful longing and careful wanting, of truths and kisses and dancing fingertips. A night of so many things, for so many people, and yet...

And yet I feel none of it. None of it, at all.

And I see things, behind the flickers of closed eyelids, behind the sea of sky, behind the skeletons of crooked trees.

I remember.

I wanted to go to the forest (you know, that one), even though the roads would be sprawling car parks, and the short trek through the trees would freeze my toes off of my feet. But...it's Christmas. What am I to do with myself, what am I to say? How am I to scrape through this day, for lack of joyous memories strung along beside it?

And besides, I am not yours. And you are not mine. I should be long over you, long forgotten you, long laid you to rest in some coffin of faraway stars.

Because my life is moving. It's moving even when I am not. Sometimes it's sprinting, bounding and flying ever onward, yanking at my fingers til they ache as it pulls me along behind.

Because I'm growing, I'm changing, I'm aging. That's one thing I can't stop, not like you do.

Everyone else is growing too.

There's Evelyn, the art teacher at school, who always brings me hot tea and a handful of good humour when I'm stressing over three classes' worth of Shakespeare essays. There's Cam, he's the barista at the cafe just down the street from my flat, and never fails to procure half-price shots of caffeine when I stumble in at six after a sleepless night. Peter, the boy slumped alone at the back of year 11 literature, silent and unmoving but for the careful fingers that turn the pages of the novel he's hiding under his desk. And Linda, one of the cleaning ladies who's always up for a chat, even if it's all gossip and rumour to keep my mind in the material. There's Grace, too, who teaches bio and a bit of chemistry, who keeps the staff room alive with the youth that I struggle to provide. The three girls who sit at the front of my year 7 class, always asking the most curious of questions, laughing amongst themselves with an innocence I long for, staying after class to chat about the holidays and whatever else is news. And Alex, the white-haired, white-faced neighbour who's always knocking on my door to ask if I might retrieve the stepladder from the top shelf, or change the batteries in the smoke alarm, or explain to him how his new phone works without a cord. And more, more, more people who I am slowly slotting in besides; more, more, more people fastening me down.

There's so much to this life. And I am beginning to feel myself, ever so slowly, ever so painfully, falling in love with it.

(It's a familiar feeling)

Perhaps that's why there's grief, frustration, a ferocious rage in me, instead of the blissful anticipation that should come with this day.

Perhaps that's why I'm so much more angry than simply sad, why I'm so much more likely to throw any reminder of you at the wall 'til it shatters instead of clutch it to me and sob.

Because I'm living.

(I hate you)

I'm living, I'm loving, I'm losing.

(But I don't, not really, I never have, not ever)

I'm living.

(I hate myself)

Without you.

•••

I think I've decided.

I say 'think', because I really haven't decided at all. But the thought of a decision sounds a lot more grounding than the absence of one.

I think I've decided what to do.

I think I've decided to keep going.

I think I've decided that you've left, or died, or faded away.

I think I've decided that you're never coming back.

There. That's it. Done. It's out there.

You're never going to come back for me.

That's all there is.

That's all there's always been.

It's just taken me a stupidly long while to wrap my stubborn old brain around that fact.

Did you know my dad wanted to send me into therapy? He thought I was going mad. I probably was. I probably still am. The difference now is, I can hide it. I can pretend, just like I always used to. But, also, horribly, I can forget.

Not that I'll ever let myself. But I can. I could.

It's been...how long has it been now? Since I wrote that last, the one about Christmas and my new 'life'? Years, it's been. This entry is my first one in years. No, decades. It feels like centuries, though. It feels like millennia.

In all that time, this book's just been sitting there, just lying in that big old chest in that gnarled old tree beside that plump old stump in that sad old forest.

In all that time, you haven't come back. I knew you wouldn't. I always knew. But I could never accept it, simply because I didn't know why.

I still don't know why. Did you die, like I thought you would? Did you regenerate, somehow? Did you run away, forget me?

No. I know you. I know you better than you ever thought I could. You wouldn't forget me.

But I'm biased, of course. I'll never forget you, and it can't just work one way, can it? No. I know you. I know you.

I knew you.

This is the very last time I'll write in this, I think. Can you see how shaky, how faint my handwriting is? Arthritis. Yes, imagine that, Clara Oswald living long enough to get arthritis in her fingers. I know you hate it when people you love grow old. But it's a fact of life, death is. It's a fact of everything.

It's a fact of me.

So, I'll say it again. I think I've decided. I think I've decided what I'm going to do. I'm going to stop coming back here, for one. The trek makes my back ache. For two, I'm going to stop rereading this book/letter/plea for nothing. Third, I'm going to stop checking the pages for notes, for finger marks, for any sign that you might have been here. Fourth, I'm going to dig out the TARDIS key from the bottom of my wardrobe and leave it here in the chest, let it freeze. And fifth...

Fifth, I'm going to place this book back in the chest, fasten it up, double check the Gallifreyan, sweep my eyes over the spot where you last lay...

And then...

And then...

I think I'll walk away.

-:-

Clara. Clara Oswald. Clara Oswald.

I have no excuses. I have no apologies. I have nothing.

I haven't even you.

I suppose there's no point trying to explain, not now, for there's no one to write to. As you so poetically put it, there's no one listening under the skin of these pages, there's no one waiting on the other side of this book. Always the English teacher, always the literary one, eh? Clara Oswald.

I'm not one for sentimentality, usually. I just run and try as best as I can to forget. But not for you, I don't think. Never for you. The girl who breaks all my rules. Impossible Clara Oswald.

So, I write this. After returning to this spot as you always hoped I would. As I was always going to.

This will not help—of course not, you're gone, aren't you? But it wouldn't help anyway—but I did not mean to abandon you. I never even considered it, not for a second. I was dying. All I considered was you. And death itself, certainly, but that was only a lesser, weaker thought.

I regenerated. You won't believe it. I'm alive. Actually, properly. I'm alive.

And you're not?

It strikes me how similar this reads, my writing to yours. You, writing to a dead Doctor. Me, writing to a dead...you.

I can't even say that I'm sorry. Though I am. I'm more sorry than I've ever been, and that is quite a lot. But I sill can't say it. I don't deserve to say it.

It was the Time Lords, Clara. It was the Time Lords. We saved them, we really did. For a while. For a little while.

If I must say anything about it, about why I left, why I am here, why I never returned, it is this: the Last Great Time War did not turn out to be the Last. Nor the Greatest, if you can ever call wars 'great'.

The time distortions were violent enough to ripple across the whole of the universe, just like the last time. Daleks and Time Lords burning together at the centre of it, and me.

It's always me, Clara. It's always me.

And you, too, for a little while. Until I left. Until everything fell to pieces as it does again and again and again.

So, Trenzalore burned. And with it the Time Lords and Daleks alike. Most of them. I hope. But the embers sparked fires elsewhere, all around the universe, even here. Even twenty first century Earth. Even with you.

It took me years to even land the TARDIS here, in this time, and by now...well, I've missed you, haven't I? I've missed you, and I've missed you in the other sense, too. Frankly, 'missing' is a direly inadequate word. But you probably know that. You definitely know that.

Oh, look, I'm doing it again. Silly Doctor. Talking to a ghost. Silly Clara. Talking to a man she only thought was one.

Clara Oswald, I'm glad you lived. Thank you for that. Thank you for living. Thank you for you.

I'm sorry for me.

There's another thing, too, something I never got to say. Something I hope you noticed. In fact, I bet you did. Clever Clara, of course you noticed. Did I kiss your forehead one too many times? Did I smile at you too long and too often? I knew that was a dead giveaway. Couldn't stop myself. Didn't particularly want to.

I never got to say it, never will, now. I hope you know. Knew. Knew. See, I'm doing it too. The tenses thing. It makes my head ache almost as much as my heart does.

Ooh, that was poetic of me. You would've liked that. Very dramatic. Very English-teacher-y.

Now, I can't say sorry, however much I yearn to. Sorry fixes nothing. I can't make anything better now. I can't talk to ghosts, although this is my desperate way of trying. So I'll say only this: thank you.

Thank you, Clara Oswald. Always, thank you. Thank you for living. Thank you for keeping me alive.

Thank you for everything. I can say that forever, and it still won't be enough. I never deserved you, but thank you despite that.

This has turned into something wildly melancholic, sentimental, and overall uncharacteristic, but you need the truth. You need the realities, as best as I can lay them out. You need the truths, because you lived too many lies.

You were right, in the end. I could never run from you, I could never forget you. And I won't start now.

I'll run, as always, but with you, Clara Oswald. I'll run, and, above all, above everything, I'll remember.

Clara Oswald, I'll remember.

—the Doctor

26th December, 2172.