A/n: Updates might be slow, but they'll be pretty lengthy (if all things go swimmingly). This story features the AU Clara/11 & company from my fic Of Adoration and Chaos, but you really, truly don't have to read that to read this (I'm just utilizing that AU version of Clara/11 and their family because I see no reason to create entirely new ones when I've already got them + their family + backstory already fully formed!). This story is—beyond everything else—a construction of 12/Clara and a story of how they eventually come together (through the help of some very familiar and unlikely friends). Will be around four parts, but don't hold me to that! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy :)
They were in the middle of a passionate argument when the TARDIS began lurching.
They went from angrily tossing words to quickly grabbing onto each other for balance. Clara felt her stomach plummet as the TARDIS flung itself sharply to the side. She and the Doctor spiraled to the side accordingly.
"What've you done?!" The Doctor bellowed. He was a mess of sharp, boney limbs below her. Clara spat out the hair that'd ended up in her mouth and reached blindly to the right, grabbing onto a bit of the railing to keep from falling down to the lower level.
"What have I done!? What have you done?! You're the pilot!"
"Well you wouldn't think so with the way you're trying to command my piloting—"
The TARDIS lights flickered once, twice, three times, and then shuddered off completely. Clara reached forward with some struggle and grabbed the railing with her left hand, too, as the TARDIS began doing what felt like barrel rolls. She gritted her teeth and squeezed her eyes tightly as they were flung back and forth. She spat her words through clenched teeth.
"I JUST WANTED TO BE BACK IN TIME FOR MY—"
All at once, the TARDIS stopped churning. Clara lay there panting, staring up at the flickering console lights, her heart trying to escape from her chest.
"…date." She finished quietly.
An ominous hissing sound was emitting from the ship. Clara had only just managed to pull herself painfully upright when a shrill alarm began. She clapped her hands over her ears and looked to the Doctor, wide-eyed and confused.
"WHAT IS GOING—"
He lunged towards her and grabbed her upper arm. He yanked her to her feet and took off towards the TARDIS doors, tugging her along behind him.
"Out. Get out!" He ordered.
Clara, for a moment, thought he was telling her to leave. But then she felt the back of her throat begin to burn and itch. The feeling swelled until she was on all fours, coughing so hard it felt like her lungs were being yanked up her throat by fishing line. The Doctor stooped over with great effort—as he was coughing himself—and grasped her. He lifted her back to her feet and all but dragged her to the door. They both tumbled out and fell face-first into the grass below them as the TARDIS doors slammed shut behind them. Clara was in too much pain to pull her face from the muddy grass. She listened as the Doctor kept repeating "no, no, noooo…" from her left. After at least two minutes of coughing dryly (her throat now felt like sandpaper) and struggling to catch her breath, she turned over onto her back and looked up at the bright blue sky. She glanced backwards towards the horizon line and spotted the top of her building. She looked back at the clouds.
"At least we're here." She commented.
"No, no, no…"
"Granted, it's a bit earlier than when we left. But we'll just have to avoid the coffee shop until our past selves are gone."
When the Doctor failed to respond, she glanced towards him. He had his palms pressed over his face. He was shaking his head, horrified.
"What?" She demanded. She met his eyes once he slowly slid his hands from his face.
"The TARDIS sealed herself up."
"Because the gas?" Clara asked. She paused. "That's not going to cause long-term health problems, is it?"
He ignored her latter question.
"More because of the damage that caused the gas. She's going to have to shut herself down until the gas leak empties to prevent damage. Then she's going to have to slowly repair herself. I can't go in to help unless I want my veins to burst."
Clara propped herself up on her elbows. She stared down at him seriously.
"At least six months. Maybe more."
Her heart began pounding once more. Maybe harder than it had when they were crashing. And she'd thought hiding the Doctor from Danny was difficult before. How was she to keep him a secret if he was living with her for six months? She slowly lowered back down onto the grass.
He turned his head to the side, as if the idea of eye contact was upsetting.
"I can find some place else to stay." He said gruffly. "I know you've got Pink things."
It was oddly considerate and understanding. Clara sighed.
"Of course you're staying with me, Doctor. You know you're always welcome." Her tone was begrudging but her words were genuine. She sat up. "Perhaps it won't take as long as you think it will."
"Maybe." He said, but his frown communicated pretty clearly that he didn't believe that for a moment. Clara turned back to towards the TARDIS.
"Are we just going to leave it here?" She asked.
"We'll have to." The Doctor muttered. But he stared worriedly over his shoulder as they rose and walked towards the building, like leaving it behind was causing him great anxiety. Clara might've let her hand brush against his a few times as they walked, but she never would've admitted it. She told herself it was purely from the unsteady way she felt.
They were already to the third floor when she realized something wasn't right. She stopped in front of Mrs. Anderson's door and stared.
"What?" The Doctor asked impatiently. He was a good ways down the hall from her, not having noticed that she stopped. He trudged back and stood beside her as she stared at the door.
"I guess Mrs. Anderson passed away," Clara said, startled. She was looking at a pompous plaque on the door that said CARL CANTERBURG. She furrowed her brow. "But I just saw her this morning. How could they have already rented her flat to someone else? Unless…"
She spun around to face the Doctor. She pressed a finger into his chest.
"You returned me late! Again!" She shrieked. The panic began, thick and paralyzing. If she was stuck in some distant time in the future for six months…would she be able to go back? Or would Danny just think she disappeared for six months? How would she ever explain that to him?
She approached him so they were practically chest-to-chest. He stared down at her as she glowered.
"Get me back to where I belong." She ordered. "Now."
Had they not been arguing about this same thing a few minutes prior, she might've just had faith that he'd return her and gone with it. But he'd gotten her back late the past five times and she was starting to think it was all on purpose. And that thought infuriated her because it was the grandest action of disrespect she could think of.
"This is where you belong. This is the right time—I entered the right date, I know I did." He insisted. "Maybe Carl is the inheritor to her estate or something."
Clara held their gaze for a few long, challenging moments. She stepped back.
"Fine. But we're not finished with this conversation."
"Of course we aren't," he muttered underneath his breath. She glared and then walked off ahead of him. She was thinking of her brimming anger the entire walk up to her flat. It all crested when she inserted her key—only to find it didn't match the lock. She curled her fist shut around the metal key and gripped to the point of pain. She was so angry she couldn't speak.
"I don't understand," the Doctor muttered from her side, confused and irritated. "I know I put the right date in. August 3rd. I put in August 3rd."
Clara took a deep, calming breath.
"What year, Doctor?"
"Your year! The right year! 2014!"
She turned around and smacked his shoulder.
"Obviously—" another smack "you—" another "bloody didn't!" He rubbed his shoulder as she fretted. "If we're a year in my future, can we go back once the TARDIS is fixed? Or have I missed out on this year completely?!"
"Ah…well…since we're on your planet, this is part of your time line now."
"I beg your pardon?"
"We can't alter this."
"Can't alter what?"
She wanted very much to slap him, but an alarming wave of vertigo overcame her at the same moment she moved forward to do so. She felt nausea swell and listened as a roaring began in her head—loud and overwhelming—and then she felt her knees weaken. As she fell against the wall, she remembered he'd failed to answer her question about that gas causing health problems.
"Christ," she breathed. Her vison was slanting. "I need to—sit. Stairs."
"Wait for me, let me help—"
"You've done enough." She snapped. She knew it wasn't fair—that there was no way he'd intentionally done this—but she was ill and horrified. She stumbled the short distance to the stairwell and sat down on the top step. She leaned against the wall and breathed shallowly through her mouth. She'd been gone for God only knew how long now; Danny probably thought she was dead. Or worse: that she'd abandoned him without even bothering to say goodbye. And her father…
It was one of her worst fears. Missing out on a year (or more) of her life was a sacrifice she never wanted to make. Clara couldn't accept it. He was wrong; there was a way to fix it. Perhaps he was right and they were in the right time after all. Maybe the locks were just changed on her door for some reason.
Even though she was petrified to find out, she pulled her phone from her handbag with weak hands. She pressed the home button and then moved to the calendar. She expected to scream when she saw the date that she did, but instead, she was numb. 3 August 2023. Nine years in the future. Her future.
Her emotional breakdown was averted by a small difference with her phone. She might not have noticed it if she hadn't looked to the top to double-check the time. In the upper left, where her phone used to say vodafone UK, it said redu LTE. She'd never heard of that service provider, much less switched to it. If she'd been gone for nine years, wouldn't they have switched off her line? She was staring intently at the screen when she heard a door open from the corridor she'd just left.
"Are you looking to buy?"
It was an unfamiliar female voice. Clara lowered her phone to her lap and stared forward, uneasy and confused. She hoped the Doctor would come sit beside her soon. She was worried she was dying from whatever she'd inhaled (she felt poorly enough to be, anyway).
"Erm….sure. Yes. My…girl and I were browsing the area. Is someone currently living here?"
"God, unfortunately. He watches loud porn all night long every single night. I came out last Saturday, right, and I tried to keep things civil. I informed him that I had a fucking kid sleeping over at mine and I really didn't need to explain to her what porn is because that's not even my job, but did he mind?"
"No." The Doctor replied flatly. Clara could practically see the bored expression his face.
"No! So I had to hack into his laptop and turn the porn off myself. And now we're not really on the best terms. So basically, if you'd like this flat, I'm more than willing to put in an extremely good word for you. And finish scaring off the current inhabitant."
"Right. Uh…have you lived here long? Just asking to survey the tenant satisfaction."
"About fourteen years. I moved here after university. It's a fairly peaceful block of flats, hardly any—"
"Yes, fascinating. So has the current tenant lived here for those entire fourteen years?"
"I think you ought to check your tone." She warned him. Her voice was steely. "But no, he hasn't. He moved here about three years ago. Before him it was this same old man—he'd been here since the flats were built."
"And the year?"
"The year. Right now. What year is it?"
"20…23. You're very sure?"
"I know I'm blonde, but I know the bloody year."
The Doctor was about to reply, but his words were drowned out by a different voice.
"CHARLIE, CAN I HAVE A MARTINI?"
The woman lifted her voice to reply. She sounded cross.
"ABSOLUTELY NOT, LOTTIE!"
"BUT YOU MADE MY MUM ONE!"
"YOUR MUM'S AN ADULT!"
"WHEN I'M THIRTEEN CAN I?"
"AGAIN: ABSOLUTELY NOT! MAYBE WHEN YOU'RE SIXTEEN."
"Anyway, as you can tell, I've got company that probably needs adult supervision. Good luck with your, ah, flat searching."
"Wait. So, just to clarify. You've lived here since 2009. And during that time, a petite, young, brunette schoolteacher never lived in this flat?"
"Brilliant! Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant."
She heard his approaching footsteps. She was still too lightheaded to turn and greet him. She didn't even open her eyes.
"Clara, this is great." He began. He sat down beside her and reached over for her hand. He pressed his fingers over her pulse point as he continued talking. "We're not nine years in your future. We're nine years in the future in an alternate universe. Well, either that or you've been erased from history somehow, but seeing as though the TARDIS had such a terrible landing—we're safe."
"We're stuck in a different universe for six months. How is that a good thing?" She demanded.
He dropped her wrist.
"You're not going to die. You just might feel woozy for the rest of the day. It's possible you might pass out for anywhere from ten to twenty-four hours. And it's brilliant because this means we can get you back home right when we left. Once the TARDIS is fixed, that is."
She let out an exhalation of relief. She reached up and pressed her face into her hands.
"Thank God," she whispered. She knew it was still less than ideal—they were stranded here and a lot could change in six months—but it was better than the alternative. She felt her muscles gradually relaxing. "So what now?"
"We need a place to stay. So we need money. Have you any on you?"
"Not much. I've got my card, but I'm guessing I don't have a bank account to access?"
"You'd guess correctly. Seems we'll be needing jobs, then. Or a bank that's very easy to rob…hmm, hang on. I've got a contact. Or a person I'm going to make contact with again."
Clara opened her eyes and turned to glance at him, but he was already halfway out of the stairwell. She listened to him knock firmly on what she presumed was that same lady's door.
"You again? No offense, but I'm rethinking my recommendation."
"I'm new in town. I haven't a job or money. Where can I get a job that pays well but requires relatively no effort?"
The woman paused. Clara expected her to slam the door in his face or tell him off. She was pretty close.
"The job you're looking for doesn't actually exist, mate. We're looking for a few more receptionists where I work, but it's not the easiest job. And I don't have the best impression of you right now, but I'm willing to give you a second chance because I like your voice. Are you any good with computers?"
"I'm better than anyone you've ever met with computers."
"Not likely. But, hey, we've got an opening for a tech assistant, too. You'll mostly be dealing with my boss, she's got a lot going on and needs someone to—
"OH GOD! WATER SPILL!"
"Fucking hell." The woman groaned. "Sunny shits. Right. I've got to go. Seriously, don't come back, all right? If you're interested in the jobs, we're doing interviews tomorrow from eight in the morning 'till lunch. We're at the technology headquarters of British Airways. It's in Southwark—just google it. Bye."
"OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! THAT IS NOT WATER, CHARLIE! YOU LIED! THAT'S CORROSIVE!"
"GET AWAY FROM MY…WATER…BOTTLE! YOUR MUM'S GOING TO—"
The screams turned to indistinguishable mumbles once the door was slammed shut. Clara counted the Doctor's approaching footsteps until her mind was too hazy. She could barely feel him placing a protective hand on her back.
He sounded terribly far away. Clara struggled to right her thoughts.
"Someone should…tell that girl's mum…to get a better..."
"Shhh. Hang on. I'm going to get you somewhere safe to sleep this off. The effects are temporary, I promise."
She parted her heavy eyelids two times as he pulled her to her feet. She got moving flashes of the stairwell both times, but not much else before her eyes rolled back into her head again. She shook. She didn't know what she felt beyond ill and frightened.
"I want to go home."
"We'll find a home. Don't you worry, Clara."
She wanted her home. Her flat and her fish and her plants. She was filled to the brim with that longing—until her insides emptied out completely.
She woke to the sound of the Doctor arguing with himself.
Her chest ached like something weighty had slammed into it, and her head was throbbing, but she was able to sit up without any difficulty. She glanced around the fully furnished studio flat, her mind scrambling to place her location.
"It's technically breaking and entering. But the owner's out of the country right now. I figure, as long as we tidy up after ourselves, he never has to know."
Clara's eyes turned slowly to the far corner. The Doctor was sitting on a plush, black sofa, his hands locked nervously in his lap. She reached up and touched her tender temple. She winced.
"What happened to me?"
"Toxic fumes. They wreaked havoc on your body. But you'll be okay. When I did a scan, you only had a small percentage of the toxin left in your body."
Oddly enough, she wasn't really reassured to hear that. She pushed the duvet off her legs and turned. The bed was so strangely high that her feet dangled above the ground.
"So we're in a parallel universe," she began. It was trickling back into her bit by bit. She looked up from her swinging feet and found the Doctor's light eyes. "So this means…once the TARDIS is fixed…"
"We can go back to when we left, yes." He reiterated. Clara let out an exhalation of relief. She closed her eyes and pressed her fingers over them. All she had to do was take it step by step, and then she'd be back home. This wasn't a disaster. This wasn't out of her control.
"Good." She said.
"Yep. So your interview's in about an hour. Mine's in thirty minutes, so I guess I'm going to go on ahead."
Clara snapped her head up. She stared at the Doctor, her lips parted, eyes wide.
"My what?" She demanded.
He was already up and in a flurry of motion. She watched him step into the opened bathroom and spray the flat owner's cologne on his stale jacket. He ducked his head and gave it an experimental sniff a moment later.
"Your interview. Coal Hill wasn't hiring so I got you an interview at another secondary school. I've got an interview with the bad babysitter. Something with computers. I'll be great and they'll all be rubbish."
Clara tried to jump to her feet, but she wasn't ready for that yet. She swayed and then fell back down.
"Doctor," she started. She forced herself to remain calm. "I haven't got a CV with me. I don't exist in this universe. How am I supposed to do an interview?"
"I already took care of it while you were out. Which was for quite a long while, actually. It's because you're so short. Less area for the toxin to spread about." He replied. "How do you feel about the name Ossie?"
"Sorry to hear that, Ossie." He walked back into the room once he felt freshened up. Clara lifted her hands as he threw something her way. She slapped her hands shut and caught the folder barely. "There are your documents."
Clara opened the folder and rifled quickly through the papers. She stared at her fake CV.
"Ossie Oswin? Are you serious?" She breathed. She looked up at the Doctor, disturbed to find him not the least bit concerned. "What happened to Clara Oswald?!"
"Computer didn't like that for some reason. Had to make up another." He replied. He sat on the sofa and leaned forward, beginning the process of pulling his shoes back on. Clara wondered, for a moment, if he'd slept in the bed beside her last night. But the question was abrupt and it made her heart swell in strange ways, so she quickly compartmentalized it.
"The computer 'didn't like it'." She repeated flatly. "What exactly does that mean?"
"It means—" he tugged aggressively on a shoe lace. "That either someone has that same name and birthday and national insurance number, or the computer was feeling off-color, and that's all the answers I have for you, Ossie."
Clara cast her eyes to the clunking monster of a computer in the corner. Just looking at it made her feel anxious. She turned back to the Doctor.
"So did you give me a new number?" She demanded. She paused. "Hang on. You have my national insurance number memorized?"
"For emergencies." He stood up and held his arms out. "Do I look like a Tech assistant to you?"
"You look like a know-it-all who's scheduled me an interview without even asking first."
"Sounds about right."
He headed towards the door. He paused in front as he tucked his own folder into an inside pocket of his jacket.
"So where am I interviewing?" Clara demanded. She looked through the papers in her lap again. "I don't see an address."
"It's there. Back page. Good luck. We need some money, so do good." Those were his parting words. Clara stared at the shut door once he left, overwhelmed and stressed. She wished their interviews were at the same time so they could go together.
He was extremely cross with himself.
"You're being an old fool," he grumbled underneath his breath. "She's fine on her own. The toxins are out. Sure, this is parallel universe and following the laws of her own might end up getting her killed or skinned alive, but generally everything should go fairly smoothly."
After listening to him ramble on the entire ride, the woman beside him on the tube handed him a card for a mental hospital.
"I'm not mad!" He barked after her retreating form. "I'm cleverer than everyone here, you old ninny!"
No one sat beside him again.
The first thing he did upon entering the building for the British Airways tech department was run right into a hoard of tiny children.
He jumped back and looked down at them. And then he took a few steps back—so he was just barely out of the doorway—and glanced up at the building again. He looked back down.
"Have I gone to a primary school?" He demanded.
The nursery teacher—or perhaps babysitter, he couldn't understand the context of the situation—shook her head.
"Interviewer?" She guessed. "We watch the children of employees here during the work day. It was instilled by our late senior partner."
"Late because he died or late because he retired?" The Doctor asked. He caught movement from the corner of his eye. He looked down and watched a child with angel blond hair start pulling on the hair of another child. He pointed. "Little kids who bully go straight to baby he—"
"Come along, you lot!" The babysitter yelled loudly, turning to glare at the Doctor. She herded the children towards what the Doctor could now see was a back entrance that led to a tiny playground. He shuddered once they'd gone.
"I'm here for an interview," he greeted the lady at the front desk. "There was a bad babysitter who said she was recommending me. Not sure of her name, forgot to ask. Blonde hair. Young-ish, but not as young as she thinks she is." He paused. He leaned forward. "I'm not working with the children, am I? Because my dad skills are fairly rusty and I didn't like the look of that blond one."
The woman stared coolly.
'That blond one was my little boy."
"Oh, heavens. I'm so sorry."
Her cool stare turned into a glower. She lifted a paper and cast her eyes to whatever words were on it.
"You must be…'a rude, Scottish elderly man with a sickly complexion and no concept of small talk'." She read off.
The Doctor leaned back, slightly affronted.
"No, I wouldn't think that I am."
She lowered the paper.
"Ms. Grisenko's sent instructions for you. You're to report to the conference room on floor eleven. Room 1123."
"Well that wasn't so hard, was it?" He asked. He didn't pause for her to respond. He turned on the spot and walked off towards the (blessedly empty) lifts.
He made it to the sixth floor before it stopped. He felt his eyebrows draw up in horror when he saw the masses of people about to climb onto the lift. He flattened himself back against the wall, hoping more than anything that no one would brush up against him— and then he saw it was only one woman that was getting on. She'd been chatting with the giant group of others. She walked backwards onto the lift, still in conversation with those standing outside. It wasn't until she got near enough to smell that he realized who it was. He relaxed and reached forward to grasp her arm, shocked.
"Clara!" He exclaimed. His tone grew stern. She was supposed to be at an interview. "What are you doing here?!"
She turned to look at him. Her eyes found the hand that was locked on her bicep and she stared at it for a long moment before looking up to meet his eyes.
"Can I help you with something?" She asked.
Her tone was very cross. He knew her cross tone. He lowered his hand quickly and cast his eyes over her ensemble. He had no idea where she got such…professional dress. She'd been wearing black jeans and a button top. But now she was wearing a nice black skirt and a yellow silk top. He tried to remember if there had been any ladies' clothes in the flat, but he didn't think so.
"Where'd you get those clothes?" He demanded. He studied her eyes intently, and as he did, he noticed she looked extremely exhausted. She had dark circles underneath her eyes and the little, delicate lines at the corners seemed deeper and more noticeable. Her hair looked different too—longer perhaps—but it was pulled up so he couldn't tell for sure. He stared at the utterly befuddled expression she was giving him and realized that this was not his Clara. This was the Clara of this universe. And she seemed very tired. He stepped forward out of automatic concern. "Are you feeling poorly? You look terrible. You look like you need a week's worth of sleep."
When he reached into his jacket and removed his sonic, with the intent of scanning her for illnesses, she took a wary step back. She lifted a halting hand into the air.
"Stop." She ordered. She stared sharply at the sonic. "I dunno who you are, what you're going on about, or what that thing is, but I'd prefer it put away and you out of my personal space."
He faltered. He stared at her uncertainly as the lift doors opened at floor eleven. She didn't even spare him a second glance as she walked off, seeming entirely preoccupied with something that wasn't him. It made him feel pouty. Sure— maybe this was the alternate version of his Clara (all evidence pointed to that so far), but she should still care for him somehow. He followed after her without a second's hesitation.
"Stop following me." She called flatly. She hadn't even had to turn around. She continued talking with her face facing forward. "What exactly do you need? If you're a passenger on flight BA2595, I already had the vouchers sent out. Check your email, and if it's not there, check your spam folders."
He hated that she kept on walking. He sped up (which was easy with his significantly longer legs) until he reached her. He walked beside her and looked down at her as they walked on.
"I'm here for an interview." He said truthfully. "With the senior manager. His conference room is room 1123."
She shot him the most sardonic look. He came to a standstill when she did, and when he glanced up, he saw they were outside of room 1123. He looked at her, shocked and a little bit pleased.
"Copy Cat Clara! You're here for an interview, too." He realized. He reached forward and gruffly patted her shoulder. "No hard feelings when I get the spot."
She lifted her hand and reached up. She patted his shoulder harder.
"No hard feelings when you realize I'm the senior manager."
He was stuck in the same spot staring as she strolled through the doorway. It took him at least ten seconds to process that (and to get his feet to move forward).
"No." He said. He crossed into the nicely decorated room. This alternate Clara was already sat at the table with an opened file and a mug of tea. The Doctor got momentarily distracted when he spotted the bad babysitter in the corner. She shot him a humored wink.
"No!" He continued. "You're not the senior manager!"
"I can assure you that I am." She replied. "Dear God, this might be the worst start to an interview I've ever had."
He hovered in front of a chair. He realized just how much trouble he was in. To talk like that to someone you hoped to be your boss? Bad. To speak like that to a Clara? Horrendous.
"Oh." He said. He slowly sank down into the chair. "Ooooh. Ohhhhh. Oh."
His next instinct was to flee, to find a different job. He hadn't considered that he might run into the Clara in this universe. He knew there had to be one (especially considering the fact that one came up in the government system when he'd hacked to establish himself and Clara as citizens that morning) but he hadn't told his Clara as much. He'd told himself they wouldn't go looking for this Clara and he figured the odds of running into her were slim. But he should've known. She always found him. In every reality, in every universe. Clara Oswald ended up by his side.
He reached up and smacked his forehead.
"Of course. I can be so daft. Not as daft as you lot, but daft." He growled. He rose to his feet immediately. He told himself the pang of sadness he felt at the idea of walking away from this alternate Clara was just from curiosity's sake. He already had his Clara, so there was no reason to be so greedy to want to know another one. He turned on the spot, about to stroll quickly from the building with the intent to never, ever return again—when a child ran silently through the doorway.
She was impossibly tiny—short even for her age—and was obviously being chased. She padded lightly across the floor, fell to her knees, and then crawled behind Clara's calves. She crouched underneath the woman's chair and hid. The Doctor was about to get his sonic out and sweep the hall when another child burst through the door. His hair was mused up in the front, like he'd slept face-down all night with wet hair, and he was a bit older than the other child. He faltered at the doorway after scanning the room. His shoulders went down in disappointment.
"Mummy," he called. Frustration was thick in his voice. "Have you seen Poppy? I've been looking for her for ages. I think she's moving hiding spots."
The Doctor turned to look at the bad babysitter, realizing all at once that she wasn't just a bad babysitter. She was a bad mum too. But it wasn't her who responded.
"Hmmm, not sure." The alternate Clara said lightly. Her tone was teasing and he could hear her smile. "Could be here. Could be there. I'm not really at liberty to say."
The little boy sighed heavily.
"I never, ever find her." He sniffled. "I'm the worst at this game."
"Nonsense. You're great at everything you do." She replied warmly.
"I'm sure he isn't. Children are notoriously terrible at most things, actually," the Doctor said, once his shock waned. He gestured towards the little boy. "This is your…spawn?"
The little boy in the doorway seemed to deflate at the Doctor's words. His mother noticed.
"My children aren't terrible at anything." She snapped, defensive and cross. "They're great at everything. And yes, that's my son."
He turned and pointed towards the little girl, still crouching behind her mother's legs.
"And that's yours? You've spawned off two?" He demanded. But he only had to spot the tiny noses on both kids' faces to know who they belonged to. He scoffed. "Dear God, woman. Get a hobby."
The little boy finally spotted his sister. He jumped into the air.
"I see you! I see you! I gotcha! Yes!" He cried happily.
The little girl promptly burst into tears. She pressed her face into the back of Clara's calves and wept. Clara leaned to the side and reached under the chair. She stroked the girls' hair as best she could as she responded.
"I've got plenty of hobbies, actually. Not that it concerns you."
He crossed his arms angrily.
"Well, they look nothing like their father."
The new Clara lifted her eyebrows.
"I'm sorry?" She demanded. She looked at him suspiciously. "You know my husband?"
The Doctor looked away. He was suddenly furious and he didn't want to admit why. He just knew he'd rather slam his head into the wall than suffer through the mental images of Danny and Clara raising children together. Of Clara marrying him, of her pregnancies, of their children as babies…no. He was sure he'd be sick all over the golden carpet.
"Sort of. Right prick." He growled.
This time, danger flashed in her eyes. She reached down and gave the little girl's arm a gentle tug. She crawled right up into her mother's lap, still sniffling, and Clara held her close, her eyes locked coldly on the Doctor's.
"You obviously don't know my husband if that's your opinion of him." She bit. She reached forward with one hand and shut his file. "I think this interview is over."
The Doctor clenched his fists.
"You're right. It is over." He snapped.
"Clara, I know I said I'd get the kids at ten, I'm so sorry—there was a little girl with a fractured—oh. Hello. Interview?"
The Doctor felt an overwhelming feeling of nothingness when he turned. He stared. The man stared back. He could feel his heart ticking in his head.
"I've lost it," he whispered. He took a slight step towards the man. "I've truly gone mad."
The man shot an uncertain look towards his wife.
"Um…is everything…all right?" He asked.
"This is my husband," Clara introduced. "Dr. John Smith. Goes by 'Doctor'."
The Doctor retreated backwards until his legs were hitting the table. He leaned back for stability as he stared at a perfect human replica of his last self. He shook his head.
"You can't be here." He breathed. He looked towards Clara and then back to the man. "She's Mrs. Smith?! Those are your—children?! You've had two children?! What—one wasn't enough? Isn't zero enough?!" He stopped. He inhaled deeply against his racing heart. He pointed accusingly at the man. "You can't be here!"
Dr. Smith looked down at his body. He glanced back up.
"It seems I am, mate." He said apologetically.
"Daddy, Miles finded me!" The little girl lamented. She jumped off Clara's lap and ran towards her father like she hadn't seen him in years. He lifted her up into his arms and hugged her with equal love. Despite the odd introduction—and the obvious stress he was under—he beamed so widely it looked almost painful. There was a single-minded love and attentiveness in the way he held his daughter.
"What? Oh no!" Dr. Smith responded.
The little boy leaned against his father's side.
"Well, I didn't really," he admitted. "The man did. But I'll get her next time."
Dr. Smith glanced up at the Doctor briefly. He reached over and brought the boy to his side in a hug before he leaned down to kiss his forehead.
"Your time is coming," he assured his son. He straightened and looked up at his wife. "Where are the rest of the kids?"
The Doctor choked on air. He coughed and sputtered.
"The rest? What rest?" He barked. "Have you two built an army with your—reproductive parts?!"
Mrs. Smith almost brushed into him as she crossed the room to her husband.
"This man is extremely interested in all aspects of my personal life." Mrs. Smith introduced. "I'm a bit suspicious and uncomfortable about it."
Dr. Smith leaned forward. Mrs. Smith did too. The Doctor reached up and slapped his hands to his face in chagrin as they kissed each other on the mouth, horrified and disturbed. His skin was crawling.
"No! This is—not right!" He insisted. "You're a Time Lord! You can't be a human! Come here, let me scan you—"
"Charlotte, I think it's time to ring security." Mrs. Smith decided. She aimed her words at the bad babysitter.
"No! No! I will not go! Not until I've scanned your husband!"
He was certain he couldn't be moved, but in the end, three buff men were more than capable in their feat to remove him from the premises.
He could not (and would not) accept that it was his past self.
Because if he did, he had to accept that it wasn't him.
Clara met him where he'd indicated for her to. He'd left a note in the folder for her and he was glad to see she'd actually rifled through the papers.
Her well-rested face soothed him for a moment. He felt his arms itch to pull her in for a hug, but he resisted. He set a brief hand on the top of her head instead.
"We have a problem." He greeted.
"No," she moaned. "No. I just got a job. We don't have a problem. Things are going swimmingly."
She screwed up her face in frustration and waited. The Doctor turned and scanned his eyes over the park until he located the family he was looking for. He stared and waited until Clara did as well.
"Wh…" she stopped. She moved closer and squinted. "Is that…me? Is that…"
She recoiled like she'd been hit in the face with a burning wire. The Doctor could feel her eyes on his face.
"How does that work?" She demanded. Her voice was shaking. "That's—you. The old you. Why are all those childr—oh, no. No way."
But there was no other way it could've gone. They watched as the children talked and cuddled up with Dr. and Mrs. Smith, with a familiarity children only offered their primary caretakers. The Doctor glanced towards Clara. She looked faint.
"It's a trap." The Doctor proclaimed. "I'm sure it is. That man is something evil. That's why we were dragged here. I just need to scan him. So what I need you to do is go over and introduce yourself."
Clara barked out a laugh.
"I'm sorry? You want me to walk over there and just casually introduce myself to my alternate self?" She demanded. "In front of her children?!"
He wasn't following. He looked back and tried to decide why that'd be so terrible. It'd do exactly what he wanted: distract the family entirely. He was only half-listening to Clara's reply.
"Need I remind you, Doctor, that most humans aren't aware of the concept of parallel universes as actual, possible things?"
"He's not a human." The Doctor reminded her darkly. He watched Dr. Smith reach over and wrap his arm around Mrs. Smith. He pulled her close to his side and grinned down at her, muttering something the Doctor failed to decipher from his spot. They looked cozy enough that the Doctor wagered they would copulate at some point. "He's building an army. A biological army. But for what?"
"You're being overtly suspicious and thick-headed again. What makes you so sure that can't be a human version of one of your regenerations?"
He grimaced in disgust as the parents dotted on their children. He had to look away. He looked towards his Clara instead.
"Because. It doesn't happen. It's never happened and it will never happen." He declared firmly. He whipped out the sonic. "So I've got to scan the lying, procreating thief."
"And really, five kids isn't an army, it's a decent amount but it's not enough to—"
He spun around and stared hard at his companion. Had the fake-Doctor's influence somehow cropped over her mind as well as Mrs. Smith's?
"What did you say?" He whispered.
Clara leaned back from him, her cautious eyes on the whirling sonic that was now facing her direction.
"Steady, boy. What's gotten into you? You're acting ridiculous!"
He gestured wildly towards his past alternate self. He was fuming.
"I'm acting ridiculous? I'm acting ridiculous? Look at that! That's-that should be illegal! I want to vomit all over their picnic!"
Clara turned and followed his gaze uncertainly. He had to turn away as she watched the parents applaud for another son, who'd just done something that the biological parents obviously considered to be above average, but the Doctor knew was really just on track for his age group. He looked at the ground in disgust.
"Have they no shame?" Clara said sarcastically. "Being good parents to their children. How dare they."
He pointed the sonic at her again.
"Right, your sass is not appreciated, Ossie."
"Too bad, Doc." She shot right back. She hesitated for a moment, a wicked grin cropping up on her face. "Doc. That's a perfect equivalent to Ossie."
"No," he started, horrified. "No, no—"
His words ceased when he spotted two of the five Smith children running their way during a spirited race. He quickly reached over and grasped his tiny companion. He yanked her behind him.
"What are you—"
"Shh!" He ordered. "I'll explain in a moment!"
She fell quiet. The Doctor casually looked up at the sky as the children approached. He hoped Mrs. Smith wouldn't spot him and come over to give him a slap or something. He watched the two kids—two different ones than the ones he'd seen before (and one was at least eleven)—run right up to the other side of the tree he and Clara were standing beside. Due to the angle, it was pretty hidden from the Smith parents' view. Which made the Doctor certain they'd soon be coming this way in search of their children if they didn't hurry back.
Unfortunately, they didn't seem in a hurry. When they began speaking, their voices were low and secretive. The Doctor realized their placement was as deliberate as his had been. They were trying to stay out of sight.
"Okay, tell me now," the boy whispered.
"I've got two words for you: Last. Cornetto."
"I might know the exact location of it. And I might be willing to give it to you. In exchange for some information."
"What kind of information?"
"I know Dad bought me a new telescope. Since you broke mine."
"It was an accident, Lottie!" The boy groaned. "And maybe he did…"
"I saw the page in the internet history."
"What I want to know is very important to me. And if you can get me a reliable answer, I will give you the very last Cornetto. I hid it for me, but you can have it. Are you on board with this?"
"Yes. Tell me what to do."
"There were two pages in the history. One for the Celestron Nextstar SE Series telescope. And another for the Celestron AstroMaster 114 EQ Reflector telescope. I need you to find out which one Dad bought."
"Why's it matter?"
"Never mind why it matters, nosy! Just find it out for me, okay?"
"All right. I can do that. I know exactly where it is. I helped Mummy hide it."
"…why don't you just tell me where it is?"
"Sure. For a higher price."
The girl sighed crossly. "Fine. Be that way. Meet me in the kitchen after dinner with the information and you'll get the Cornetto."
"It better not be old and crumbled."
"It's not. I promise."
"All right," he said, a bit suspiciously. "Let's go back before El tells on us."
The Doctor didn't have to explain anything to Clara once the children scattered back towards their parents. She came out from behind his back and stared at the spot they'd be in. Her face was screwed with an uneasy expression. When she looked up at him, her eyes looked vulnerable somehow.
"Are those…my children?"
He blinked. He studied her eyes and wished that he still knew how to read every emotion there. This self has such a difficult time with it.
"No." He snapped. The question irritated him for some reason. "Do you remember birthing them?"
"Those aren't anymore your children than your students are Mrs. Smith's—that's your Copy Cat's name, by the way. Don't let yourself think of those children as yours. You'll just confuse yourself."
Clara's eyes sought out that family again. She stared.
"But…are they? I mean…Mrs. Smith…and I are obviously of the same biological makeup— we're identical. So is it my blood running through those children's veins? If my blood was checked against theirs, would I read as their mother?"
"Yes. But so would Mrs. Smith." He said curtly.
He thought the conversation was over. He'd given her more than enough information to understand the concept. But she was still looking at the family with that same furrowed brow.
"So…who came first?" She wanted to know. "She's older than me judging by the ages of her children. But I'm the original, right?"
He realized the root of her confusion. He turned towards her fully.
"Oh. Clara, this isn't like your echoes where there's you and then copies of you. This is a parallel version of you. This is the actualization of the blueprint energy your life and path of existence has left in the cosmos. Don't think of it any other way. There's no…original Clara and clone Clara, even if it might feel that way. This woman—whoever she is—is a different woman when it comes down to it. She might have the same parents as you, might share the same basic outline of life events, but she's had unique experiences to you. And I think she might even be bossier than you are." He wrinkled his nose in distaste.
Clara fiddled with her hands as she processed all that. She looked up at him and then looked back down, like she didn't want to have eye contact when she asked her next question.
"So then why are you here as a human?"
He felt doors slam shut in his heart. He straightened his posture. His tone grew cold.
"I'm not. This is a trap somehow. He's not real. He can't be."
She ignored his outburst.
"But say that it was. Say that really was a human version of your last regeneration. What would it mean for that to have happened?"
He didn't want to answer. He stared off at the other families scattered about the park as he hesitated. He waited until he could feel Clara's impatient eyes on his face.
"Well," he started. He cleared his throat gruffly. "Well. If it were true—which it isn't—it would mean that I—he is part of your energy by now, like your parents are."
He turned his eyes to hers. She was looking at him softly, considering his words.
"So to the universe, you are my family." She summarized.
He quickly looked away.
"No. Because he's not real. That isn't what's happened." He argued stubbornly.
She pressed on.
"To the universe, you're more than just my family. You're the father of my children."
He cursed underneath his breath and reached up to press his palms over his ears. He didn't even care that it was childish.
"Except no, because he's not real!" He insisted. And it isn't me. It's him.
He was about to continue arguing, but then he stopped. While he'd been protesting, she'd turned back to look at the family, and he'd caught something in her eyes. And a twitch of her nose. He lowered his arms uncertainly.
"Are you sad?" He blurted.
Clara quickly turned to face him. She lifted her shoulders awkwardly—like she wanted to cringe but then thought better of it—and then shook her head.
"No." She lied. She nervously interlocked her fingers. "I just think I'd like to go somewhere else now."
He stared hard at her, even when she turned so her hair was a curtain in front of her face. He knew she was fibbing, but he wasn't sure what to do about it. He closed his sonic after a moment's hesitation.
"Fine." He allowed. He would do whatever would help her. It wasn't always like that, but he genuinely disliked seeing her in pain, no matter how stubborn he could be.
And he felt slightly guilty for keeping so much from her. He knew he should've told her there was a threat in this alternate universe (there had to be—why else would they've gotten sucked here?), but he felt telling her now might push her over some emotional edge. So he walked beside her and thought about taking her hand. He wondered if it would've made things better for her if he did. But then he remembered that it wasn't him the universe picked for her, so that must've said something about who was truly in her heart.