A/N What a horrendous delay. If you're still with me at this point I'd say you've more than earned an ending. So here it is. Thank you for reading this silly, stop-and-start tale.
(Long ago I worked out a short sequel to this, but given my tardiness I'm going to make sure I have it complete before posting it. So it should be out... at some point. 'I don't know the future, I just work there'.)
Chapter 10 - Talking to Girls
The Zygons stared dumbly at the space the TARDIS had momentarily occupied. Before their confusion could turn to anger the TARDIS rematerialized and the Doctor practically launched out of it, "Sorry, bit of a struggle, but I told you I would get her." The Doctor didn't miss the way the Zygons stared at the TARDIS, it was as close to wonder as they could manage, "Do you want to see inside?"
The Doctor opened the door, but the sight that greeted them was more of a disappointment than a marvel. The room was perhaps 2 m squared in area and a good deal of the floor space was occupied by two bound figures: an unconscious Doctor (Doctor duplicate, at any rate) and a gagged Clara. There was only room for the Doctor and the Zygon commander, the others peered in from the doorway. "Why do they say it's bigger on the inside?" the commander asked, gruffly.
"Well, it is a bit," the walls were lined with control panels, but the Doctor pulled gently on several of them revealing storage compartments in behind.
The commander scoffed, "We will never fit in here."
"No. Fortunately, being a Time Lord, he had this," the Doctor pulled the stasis cube out of his pocket.
The commander looked between him and the cube, "You're suggesting we reenter the painting?"
"It will fit if we place it diagonally. Which leaves just enough room for me to pilot. And for our guests of course," the Doctor pointed to the hostages.
The Zygon commander followed his gaze, "More room if we leave them behind."
"I wouldn't do that. The ship has been letting me pilot, but she's a fickle thing, I'd rather have an expert around."
"Then the girl—"
"Stays too. He'll never help us if we leave her behind."
The commander considered this and seemed to grunt in approval. He barked orders and the others complied immediately. They retrieved the painting and entered it one by one. When only the commander and the Doctor remained they positioned it inside the TARDIS. "Your turn, commander," the Doctor held the stasis cube out to him. The Zygon didn't take it. "There's enough room for both of us. I will spend the journey out here."
The Doctor shook his head, "Won't work, I'm afraid. If I start this ship with a Zygon on board the HADS will be enabled and the ship will eject us."
"She flew well enough for you," the commander observed.
"She's as gullible as her pilot," the Doctor said with a shrug.
The commander was eying Clara, "Then I will need a disguise."
"I've already told you, he won't help us if she's missing," the Doctor tried to keep the concern from his voice.
The Zygon had knelt down so that he was eye level with Clara, "I will have to be convincing then."
"He'll know," the Doctor warned.
The commander held Clara's gaze, "I don't think so." In a moment he morphed into Clara's form. The Zygon reached for her, but before he could grab her, Clara discarded her fake restraints and cast a well aimed blow to her doppelgänger's head. The Zygon was knocked out cold.
The Doctor looked both bewildered and impressed, "Who knew an umbrella could be such an affective weapon," he observed with a laugh.
Clara removed her gag and shrugged, "The TARDIS made it heavier on the inside for me."
Together they positioned each of the unconscious Zygons in contact with the stasis cube and secured them both in the painting. Clara stared at the three dimensional image, "Looks like the beginning of one of our adventures." The last two Zygons had maintained their shape and their placement in the picture gave the impression that Clara and the Doctor were lying in a field of flowers, while Zygons loomed in the background. The very thing he promised her wouldn't happen this time.
The Doctor made an apologetic sound and then retrieved a small black controller from his pocket. With the press of a button a doorway opened up in the wall in front of them. Clara followed the Doctor through it into the rest of the control room. He turned back, typed in a few more commands, and the fake walls became a shimmering blue and contracted around the painting.
Clara shook her head with a laugh, "Holograms and force fields. Isn't that a bit Spock for you, Doctor?"
"They were a gift from the Garney people," he offered as an explanation. "It would have been rude to refuse them."
"All sorted, then?" Casanova asked from the control panel.
"Minor set back, but Clara took care of it."
"No surprise there. I'm beginning to understand who's the brains in this operation."
"You're not wrong," the Doctor said, jovially, his smile not quite making it to his eyes. His mind once again returning to all the thing he shouldn't know about the night before. He pushed the thought from his mind and smiled more kindly, "I guess I should drop you off at home before we deal with the Zygons."
Casanova nodded and then seemed to smack himself in the head, "Your hat! In all the commotion I left it in the street where the Zygon dropped it."
The Doctor looked momentarily disappointed, but then smiled, "Probably for the best. Fezzes suit me better anyway."
Casanova laughed, "Well, even without the bet, I still expect you to visit."
"I will. And I have the perfect person in mind to bring with me next time."
"You don't owe me—"
"Think of it as a 'thank you' present."
"I look forward to it then. Until the next time, Doctor." He turned to Clara and bent down to kiss her hand. "No more pretending," he whispered. And with that he was off. Clara turned back to the Doctor with a raised eyebrow.
"Captain Jack," he said simply.
"The person I was thinking of bringing."
Clara thought about it for a moment, "I'm not really sure that's... Casanova's cup of tea."
The Doctor didn't seem the slightest bit bothered by that, "Even so, those two would have a good time together."
"You make an excellent point." Clara smiled and held his gaze, expectantly.
"What?" he asked at last.
"You still haven't explained." The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Why did you looked like Casanova?"
The Doctor let out an exasperated sigh, "Oh all right." He paused a moment to collect his thoughts. "After the time war I was... broken. I wasn't Grandpa anymore. I had regenerated. New face; new me. In truth I would have rather not." Clara grimaced. All that pain inside of him, all that sadness behind his eyes, it broke her heart. "But I was the last and after everything else, I wasn't going to be the one to destroy the last Time Lord. Leave it to someone else, eh?" the Doctor gave a weak smile. "I didn't know what to do with myself. Didn't want to do anything, but that was worse, being alone with my thoughts... So I continued on as I always did."
"Yes. But not engaging. I moved like water, putting down no roots, forming no attachments. I wanted to be alone. Until I met Rose. She saved me. She really, really did. Put me back together. Made me, well, me again. And I wanted to tell her how much it all meant. How much she meant to me, but I didn't know how. My ninth self was good at sulking and being stubborn, but he was rubbish when it came to feelings. I did try, as I was regenerating. Told her she was 'fantastic', which is true of course, but maybe not as eloquent as it could have been. That's what I was thinking about, as the regeneration energy spread through my body. That I wanted to be able to tell her anything. Everything. And, I guess, somewhere at the back of my mind I must have thought of Casanova, and the ease and unabashed way he spoke, particularly to women. Like I said, it's all rather subconscious, but that's my theory."
Clara considered this, her eyes never leaving his. After a long moment she said, "So basically you look like Casanova because you wanted to be better at talking to girls?" she grinned wickedly at him.
"No," the Doctor protested, "I wanted to be better at talking to a girl."
"Yeah, but those are transferable skills. I saw Ten with Queen Elizabeth," Clara winked.
The Doctor blushed and fiddled with the controls instead of responding. Part of him couldn't help but wonder how things would have been different if he had first met Clara (his Clara, the real Clara) as Ten. What would he say to her if even the slightest teasing and innuendo didn't make him stutter and fix his bow tie. Would she have preferred him like that? An unhelpful thought that of course led him to thinking of Casanova, which he very much did not want to do. He shook his head and focused back on Clara, "I still owe you a normal, human holiday. I'm guessing you've had enough of Venice, but there are still plenty of wonderful places to see on Earth at the end of 2013. Once we give the Zygons over to Kate Stewart we can—"
"Actually Doctor, I should probably be getting back."
"But..." the Doctor was lost for words, "but you only just got here."
"Busy week," Clara said apologetically.
"Yeah, but I was so focused on it I neglected the rest of my life. I've got all sorts of errands and responsibilities, and I haven't even started on my shopping."
"But... we're in a time machine. We could go away for years and I could still have you back with plenty of time to get all that done." Clara shook her head. "I won't be late this time, I can plan it out really carefully."
"It's not just that, it's... remember the time we went off for three months, and you popped me back at the Maitland's later that same evening, as if only a few hours had passed? I was useless. Couldn't remember any of my arrangements or commitments. It took forever to get back into the swing of things. And the holidays are stressful enough."
"Alright," the Doctor acquiesced, "next weekend?"
Clara shook her head, "That's Christmas." The Doctor could tell she didn't seem altogether pleased at the thought of it. "Why don't you pick me up for New Year's Eve? We can go off on an adventure, ring in the new year stopping Daleks or running from space crabs. Our normal."
The Doctor nodded and set a course for Clara's flat, while she popped down to her room to retrieve her bag. Left to his own thoughts, the Doctor once again went through the private and unsolicited details the Zygon had shared with him about the night before. He had no reason to be angry with Clara or Casanova. They were both young, unattached, human; and Casanova had been perfectly honest about his intentions. The situation may have made the Doctor the tiniest bit jealous, but that was his fault not theirs. So he knew he could move past it. In truth, he nearly had, there was just one thing that stuck in his mind and seemed to play on repeat. The last thing the Zygon said to him. After describing the night in painful detail, it said, "And all the while she was thinking of you." Of course the Zygon could have been lying. They have access to a person's memory, but that doesn't bind them to the truth. 'The truth...' he heard Clara say, and while it hadn't really been her, the idea of telling Clara that particular truth terrified and delighted him.
"So tell the truth," Clara's actual voice startled him (and for a moment made him a little concerned that she could read minds), "could you tell the difference between me and the Zygon?"
"'Course I could."
"Your pants are so on fire."
"Then how did you end up bound and gagged?" Clara smirked.
"Well, I had my suspicions, but I wasn't about to whack you in the head to find out. It did give itself away, did something you would never do."
Kiss me... He nearly said, before giving in to Rule 1. "It forgot my hat."
Clara laughed, "A true tragedy." Suitcase in hand she headed for the door. "See you in a couple of weeks, Doctor." She was nearly out of the TARDIS when his voice called her back. She looked up at him, a patient grin on her face.
Just tell her, "Clara..." She smiled at him encouragingly, her kind eyes staring into his. "Happy Christmas."
She chuckled, "Happy Christmas to you, too, Doctor! See you in the new year," and with that she took her leave.
The Doctor let out a sigh. He was a coward, but he was also a Time Lord, and it wasn't just an empty plateau to say there was still time. New Year's was as good a time as any. He would tell her then. He was already punching in the coordinates when he stopped. If he couldn't tell Clara the truth now, he wouldn't suddenly be able to in the three seconds it would take to jump two weeks into her future. He needed time away. A holiday of sorts, to get himself sorted out. "The Maldovarium Market!" He said out loud, "I haven't been there in ages." He felt better with a plan, something to occupy his thoughts. The future would work itself out. It usually did, and who knew what the new year had in store for him.