A/n: A thousand thank yous to everyone who's read, reviewed, rec'ed, or favorited this story, and a million to Annie for her advice, thoughts, and proofreading! Thank you for reading and I hope you've enjoyed it!

Clara sat in his armchair for the entire fifteen minutes it took to coax the TARDIS into returning them to present-day.

The Doctor tried not to let himself get distracted by his concern, but he was guilty of looking back at her far more often than he would've liked. He didn't like the way she was staring listlessly at her lap. He didn't like the way her hands trembled. And it was his fault.

He tried not to let himself, but all he could do was replay everything he should've done. If he'd only moved a bit quicker, been a bit cleverer…well. He could harp on the what-ifs for centuries. It'd never do anyone any good.

He triple-checked the location and date when the TARDIS finally landed. He couldn't get them any closer to their original leaving-date than a week afterwards, but he figured it was close enough. After assuring Clara that they were in the right place and time, they stepped from the TARDIS into the Smiths' empty, moonlit garden. It was silent except for the sound of a neighbor's obscenely loud television and the house was dark. The Doctor hesitated, but Clara didn't; he watched her weary gait as she inserted her own key into the door and walked in. He trailed after her, suddenly feeling like the control had shifted quietly. He watched Clara's determined movements through the house and decided he would follow her lead. He was the expert when it came to the parasites, but she was the expert when it came to herself. And the Doctor didn't want to make this situation any worse with his lack of tact.

She was beaten down and resigned for most of the journey through the home, but when they reached the front hall, she stopped. The Doctor watched her posture go rigid. He watched as she froze, stuttered, like her mind was tripping over what she saw. And then he saw it himself.

"What's happened?" Clara demanded. She stepped over the turned over table, the mail scattered wildly about the hall, the shoes and bags littered chaotically over every surface. He could see her breaths catching as she gasped. "We left them here." She realized. She turned, her eyes wild and panicked. "Doctor, we left them!"

It hadn't occurred to him. In his worry for his Clara, he hadn't considered that taking her away to save her was also abandoning this family in a city where there were perhaps thousands that wanted to infect them. He hadn't realized that saving his Clara would mean leaving this one for dead. She was doomed by his actions before he'd even led the parasites astray.

Clara lowered down, her hands shaking. She was reaching for something on the stairs, something the Doctor couldn't make out from where he was standing…but she stopped before she touched it. Her hands hovered above.

"Oh, God," she gasped. A strange keening sound came from the back of her throat. The Doctor felt his heart plummet as she promptly fell to her knees, her shaking hands grabbing onto something soft in front of her. "Oh, no. No, no, no, no," she moaned.

"What is it? What?!" The Doctor took the steps two at a time until he met Clara. And it was only when he was beside her that he saw. She looked up from the child's blanket, eyes horrified. It was Miles', the one that was special, the soufflé-patterned one, the one they'd gone to retrieve for him when he was distraught. And it was wet with something dark. "Is that blood?" The words were little more than a whimper. "Whose blood is it? Doctor, please, whose—whose blood is it, tell me, whose—"

Her words tore off as her hands flew to his chest. She patted him, single-minded in her panic, her hands seeking something. She reached into his pocket and pulled free his sonic. Her fingers were quivering to the point of uselessness. He was sure she could've figured out how to do the scan herself, but not in her current state. He gently pulled it from her hands.

"Doesn't matter. Let's go." He ordered gently. He turned his gaze up towards the stairs. "We need to find them."

She nodded. He watched her swallow hard and then reach up, wiping the tears from her face with the back of her shaking hand. Her brave face was always her most beautiful.

He wanted to storm up the stairs in a run, but he was terrified. So terrified that he couldn't get himself to move very quickly at all. He told himself it was nothing to worry about. It could be from a nose bleeds. Children got those a lot, or so he heard. Or maybe a skinned knee. There were a million reasons for what they'd found, but even a million wasn't enough to counterweigh the horror of the one he was harping on.

They emerged from the dim stairs to the first floor. The Doctor was cautiously hopeful when his sight settled on the light drifting from the couple's opened bedroom. That hope only grew as they neared and heard the distinct sounds of light snoring. He felt Clara brush his arm as she broke through her panicked haze and surged forward.

"Clara!" She called. She burst through the doorway, the Doctor fast on her heels. He stopped in the doorway and watched as Mrs. Smith immediately sat up in bed. She wasn't alone, either. He counted each small, rising back, each head peeking above the covers, and it was only when he'd counted all seven of their family that he allowed himself to breathe. He leaned back in relief and watched Mrs. Smith hastily fling the duvet off her. She gently moved Bristol's head from her chest and onto the pillow. She was as mindlessly relieved as his Clara was; they collapsed into each other's arms without another word.

"I thought you were dead," they said together. The Doctor rubbed his hands together awkwardly and avoided Dr. Smith's eyes as his Clara pressed her face into Mrs. Smith's shoulder. He cast a critical eye over the tight grip they had on each other and wondered (not for the first time) exactly what their dynamic was. There was an intimacy that he couldn't understand in the way they touched each other.

"We saw a blanket. On the stairs," the Doctor interrupted. He finally met Dr. Smith's gaze. "With blood. What's happened?"

The level of fury in the man's eyes was stunning.

"It's not their blood. And I might ask you the same thing." He leveled.

The warmth the Claras' reunion had infused into the room drained out. The Doctor straightened his posture defensively. He looked towards Mrs. Smith when she began speaking.

"So he saved you?" She asked Clara. "You're all right?"

His Clara's face crumbled. She took a step back from Mrs. Smiths' arms. She looked towards the Doctor, pained. He only had to look at the desperation in her eyes once.

"Why don't we talk somewhere else?" He asked the Smiths. He cast his eyes towards the children, who he now realized were only half-sleeping.

It almost worked. Dr. Smith managed to slip out from underneath his kids, and they all made it to the doorway—only to be stopped by the sound of a child gasping. Mrs. Smith turned immediately and moved back to the bed. She didn't even stop long enough to spare the Doctor or Clara a word.

The gasp grew to a panicked wheeze and that grew to something nearing hyperventilation. It didn't stop until Bristol's mother was back at his side. She slid back to where she'd been when they entered and enveloped her son in her arms. It was only then that the Doctor noticed how off this was. Every single child in the parents' bed. Not one of them jumping up to greet the Doctor or Clara. Not even a word from them, and he could see now that every one of them but Poppy was very much awake. He felt his skin prickle uneasily.

"What's wrong with your children?" He demanded. He turned to Dr. Smith, but he would not look at him.

"I'll stay with them," Mrs. Smith called to her husband. She stroked her son's hair back gently and kissed his forehead. "You go chat."

Dr. Smith swallowed roughly. "Okay." His voice was scratchy, like his wife had just suggested he abandon the children forever. The Doctor didn't understand the sorrow in the man's steps until the first sob tore from Ellie's lips. The girl wept harder with each step her father took.

"Don't go!" She pleaded. "Please, Daddy! Don't go!"

"Come here, Ellie," her mother called gently. "It's okay, love. It's all right."

Dr. Smith took a quick, jerky step from the room and sped down the stairs, like if he dared to go slowly, he might never have allowed himself to leave. The Doctor stood still in shock and fear. It was only when Clara took his hand that he was able to move forward. The sudden, instinctive urge to go into that bedroom and take care of whatever was hurting that family was so extremely paternal that it frightened him. He'd tried so hard to keep from thinking of this family as his. He'd spent so long this entire journey telling himself that he had no claim to them. And in that one moment of pain, his heart reacted as if he'd sired them himself. All his work was nothing when faced with his weeping children. Especially when he knew their tears would only grow before the night was over. Because they were destined now to lose the woman protecting them.

He followed Clara down the stairs to the sitting room, where Dr. Smith was already waiting. They hadn't even sat down before he started speaking. His words were quick and cold and his face was emotionless. There was something deep brewing inside of him, and for a man the Doctor ordinarily found dull and soft as pudding, he found himself grateful he wasn't showing the depth of his true emotions for fear of what it might bring.

"When you left us, we were cornered. I guess once the parasite in you saw where we were, they all knew. We couldn't answer the door for days. But we ran out of food, and the children were so scared. We went to my clinic, thinking we could bar the doors and stay there. We didn't know my receptionist had it until we were all in the lounge with her. Clara and I were getting food from the pantry, and all our children were just chatting with her like normal…and the next thing we knew, they were screaming. We hurried back out, but it was too late. She'd slit her own throat in front of them." An almost sardonic snort came from him a moment later. "A gun would've been kinder. Never thought I'd say that. I was six years old when my parents shot themselves in the head in front of me, but even that wasn't close to this."

Clara moved forward on the sofa, as if to reach forward and touch Dr. Smith. The Doctor couldn't waste time on emotions.

"Did she ever touch any of them?" He demanded.

"No." Dr. Smith whispered.

The Doctor could feel his hearts pounding frantically.

"You're very sure?"

"Positive." His voice cracked.

"So what's wrong with them, then? Why are they so…un-Smithy?" He asked. When Clara and Dr. Smith looked at him incredulously, he realized he was being slow again. "What?"

"Doctor," Clara said. "They saw Kathy slit her own throat. And I'm guessing she…"

She trailed off, looking towards Dr. Smith uncertainly. He looked down as he nodded.

"Yes. There was nothing I could do. It was too deep, too quick. She hemorrhaged."

The Doctor glanced between the two. He momentarily wondered when Clara had met "Kathy", but he cast the thought aside. His mind limped along sluggishly.

"And they're…just really frightened?" He surmised.

His daftness broke Dr. Smith. He slammed his fist into the side table furiously. Clara jumped.

"They're fucking traumatized!" He barked. "They can't sleep when it's dark. Miles sobs uncontrollably. Bristol hasn't said a single word since. Lottie pretends it didn't happen at all, Ellie hasn't eaten more than a slice of bread in two days, and Poppy keeps having night terrors. They watched a woman they've known for years slit her own throat and convulse in a pile of her own blood. By the end, their socks were soaked in it. And I blame you."

Clara stood up slowly.


"No. Don't you give me those eyes." He argued. He shook his head. His tear-soaked eyes drifted from both of them. "Everything was fine until your spaceship landed here. Everything was beautiful. I don't know how, but you brought this with you. You brought this here and it infected our lives. My children, Clara. Our children. All of ours. How could you two just—"

He stopped. He turned his face to wipe away his tears. For every bit of pain those words caused the Doctor, they brutalized his companion even worse. He knew they were both thinking about just how angry he was going to be when he knew the extent of what they'd done.

"Well," the Doctor said gruffly. "I suppose we'd better tell you what else we've done and get that out of the way. Best to get all your anger out at once."

"Doctor." Clara warned.

"What do you mean?" Dr. Smith demanded. His voice shook.

"Things didn't go the way I wanted. And I'm sorry."

Dr. Smith rose to his feet.

"Sorry for what?!"

"I was trying to save my Clara. I didn't know. We landed in the future, and Lottie was there, and she was a professor and—"

Clara stepped between the two men right at the moment the Doctor realized Dr. Smith's face was turning an alarming shade of red.

"You went into my family's futures?! You brought that thing close to my daughter?!" Dr. Smith yelped.

"Doctor, you need to go talk to Clara," Clara interrupted. She lifted up on her tip toes and sought out his eyes, effectively drawing his focus away from Dr. Smith. "Go to her. Tell her what's happened. I'll tell John."

He looked at the raging man, and for a moment his gut reaction was to say no way! He's furious! But then he remembered that she was Clara. Dr. Smith would never harm her in any way, and that was one of the only things he knew with any certainty anymore. He felt his eyebrows draw down with worry.

"But—don't you think you should be the one to tell Cl—"

"No, I don't." She interrupted. Her wide eyes studied his. "I can't give her the answers she's going to need, Doctor. Only you can. She needs you. Go. Do as you're told."

He hesitated for a moment longer. He looked towards Dr. Smith, relieved to see his anger had faded to horrified panic. He looked back at his companion. He stared at her worried eyes and thought about the warmth of her lips.

"Yes ma'am," he complied softly. I'll do this right for you. Because she was the only person he could never hurt, too.

The children were finally asleep when the Doctor returned to the bedroom.

It took Mrs. Smith a good three minutes to carefully creep from the bed. She padded silently across the floor and hesitated at the doorway, looking back to make sure her children were still asleep. When she deemed them safe, she looked up at the Doctor and nodded towards the room across the hall.

He followed her into the bedroom he'd called his own for weeks now. She sat down on the bed he slept in every night, and he wanted to sit across from her, but he forced himself to do the opposite. Her side brushed his as he sat down. He could not meet her eyes, but he would let himself touch her. His Clara always found comfort in touch. He had to give what he could, because he had taken everything.

His words were gentle and honest. He started from the beginning. He took his time and explained everything about the parasites, about how taking off in the vortex only put his Clara in excruciating pain. How there was no way to remove them, only prevent them. How every single one would surge forward once rooted in either her or her husband's mind, leaving those they were inhabiting free. He glanced up at her nervously after outlining his encounter with Lottie. She was staring at him in quiet, paralyzed horror. Somehow, she seemed to understand this would end badly. But her expectations for how badly fell short.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. He shut his eyes as he took a steadying breath. "It got into you before I could do anything at all. I wasn't able to give you the tablet. But it didn't infect your children or your grandchildren—which means…I must give it to them now. Do you understand what that means?"

She looked down at her lap for the first time since he'd started speaking. Her hair tumbled over her shoulder like a curtain, blocking her expression from his worried eyes.

"Yes. It means they're safe," she finally whispered.

"No. No, Clara. It means much more than that. It means we have a choice. It means I can save you. I could give it to you now, if you want me to." He said urgently. To hell with everyone else, he suddenly thought. It was evil and unlike him, but the tiny twitch of her nose did things to his mind. All he knew was that she was in danger. And he could do anything to protect her.

She slowly turned to look up at him. Her eyes were dry, but he could see her distress in the way she was breathing.

"But you said the parasites would abandon everyone else once they infected me or my husband. So all the people here who were infected are safe now. Because they all went into me."

He wouldn't have expected her to say anything else. For once, he hated her bravery. He hated her self-sacrificing attitude. He blinked rapidly to counteract the horrid burning that'd begun at the backs of his eyes.

"Yes." He admitted.

She nodded once and looked back down. He counted each swell of her chest as she breathed rapidly. After twenty inhalations, she looked back up. Her expression was steeled.

"Tell me exactly what is going to happen to me. Tell me exactly what they're going to do to me." She ordered.

He looked away. His eyes roamed over the hundreds of children's book titles as he spoke. His eyes snagged on every hole he'd put in that bookshelf, every hole he wasn't supposed to. One for each dosage of tragedy he'd given this family. He'd come here and he'd built nothing. He'd only destroyed.

"It will be slow. They're going to take their time with you. First it'll start with your temporal lobe and parietal lobe. You'll start forgetting things- most recent things, first. Your motor skills will weaken. Eventually everything will go." He turned and glanced back towards her slowly. He could feel the moisture gathering in his eyes as the terrible truth of her fate settled over him. He wished he loved her a little bit less. He wish he did so he could have lied to her. "Eventually you'll even forget how to walk. How to read. The doctors won't know about these parasites; how could they? You'll most likely get a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. They'll throw experimental drug after experimental drug your way. But nothing will help. Nothing will stop this. Nothing will even slow it down."

She nodded and turned to look towards the door. He was unaware of her frightened tears until he saw the profile of her trembling chin. It made his throat ache worse than it ever had before. He had to look down to choke back his tears. He couldn't be weepy. She didn't need weepy. She needed honesty.

Her voice was strained.

"How long?"

"A couple years after the initial date of infection. Five years, maybe."

Silence crashed over them. He could hear the ticking of the clock in the hall. It made his ears ache. (And he wanted to hold her. But she wasn't his to hold).

She looked towards the doorway, no doubt staring towards her opened doorway. Towards her children. And he knew he was correct when she asked her next question.

"You said you saw my children." She looked up and met his eyes. Hers were damp. "What were they like?"

It was soft and desperate. He focused fully on the question, because he knew she needed to hear something good. She needed something to cushion her heart against the terrible blows he'd served it.

"They were all beautiful." He admitted honestly. He closed his eyes and stirred up that waiting room in his memory. He replayed it and paid close attention to everyone he saw this time. "I only talked to Lottie, but she was lovely, Clara. Clever, confident. So much like you. Little Poppy was having a baby, and all of your family was there. Every one of your children, and other people I'm assuming were partners or spouses. And just a warning—you're going to have to get a larger sitting room for Christmases, because you have quite the hoard of grandchildren. And they love you dearly."

It was the first smile he'd seen since they returned. He couldn't keep from grinning at the sight.

"How was the Doctor?" She sniffed.

"Big-chinned as always. Loving you, as always."

Her eyes fluttered shut as she smiled. He felt his heart jerk as her head moved to lean against his shoulder. He reached up hesitantly and cradled the side of her face. He brushed his thumb over her soft cheek—just for a moment. But then he felt out of bounds. He moved to pull his hand away, but her fingers intertwined with his before he could. He kept his arm around her shoulders and his hand in hers.

"And they're all safe from the parasites?" She asked. "I couldn't give it to them? They're safe?"

"Yes." He affirmed. But her tone was a bit too accepting for his tastes. "But it's got you- and once it has you, there's nothing we can do. It will leave other hosts, but not you. You were its intended. You and your husband." He reminded her.

She was alarmingly quiet as she thought. He continued.

"If I gave you the pill too, your entire family would still be immune. And the parasite would leave this world and die, because there'd be no food source for them. You and your husband would be dead to them for all intents and purposes."

She looked up.

"But they would kill the people they're already in."

He looked down.

"Well. Yes."

Her eyes returned to her lighted bedroom doorway. He could just make out the mounds under the covers that he knew were her children.

"How many people do you think are already infected?"

"No way to know." He answered honestly. "Hundreds. Thousands. Perhaps more."

They both looked straight towards the hall as the sound of a soft whimper reached them. Mrs. Smith immediately tensed, as if to rise, but they heard no other sound for the next minute. She gradually returned to the conversation. She looked up at him and her eyes held a sadness he didn't want to acknowledge. Because he knew what it meant.

"Some could be mothers." She realized softly.

He declined to answer. He looked down and blinked against the tears forming in his eyes. He knew the decision she would make. He had always known it. But he hated it.

"There's something else, Clara." He told her. It swam to the front of his mind in his haste to make things better for her. He remembered how Lottie didn't remember him at all, and when he thought about how much pain the kids were in now…he couldn't help but wonder if he was the reason for that. "Your children are very upset, because of what they've seen. I want you to know that I could take that away. If you wanted. If you thought it would make things better. I could rewrite the past few weeks. I could make all of this go away."

She lifted her head from his shoulder.

"How do you mean?" She asked.

"Well," he began. "It's sort of like a telepathic link. I can sort of…reach into their minds. Take some stuff out, edit other things. Like that."

She looked down. He could see how uncomfortable she was by the way she shifted.

"You'd have to go into their minds?"


"What all would you be able to see?" She questioned. "I mean…would you be able to see all their private thoughts? Their dreams and nightmares and memories?"

He could tell by her uneasy tone that she felt that'd be a huge violation. He was certain now that that was the source of her discomfort with the idea, not the idea of taking that one memory itself.

"I could, but I wouldn't. I wouldn't go snooping about. I'd have to go back and see everything that's happened after the receptionist's suicide, but I would stop after I took care of that. And I promise I wouldn't pay much mind to anything I saw that wasn't what I was looking for."

She was quiet as she considered his words. He watched her fiddle with her hands for a bit, and then she started biting at her thumbnail, and then she was just still. Finally, she spoke.

"I don't know," she admitted softly. "I'll have to talk to the Doctor. It's kind of…well, there's no good answer really, is there? They could overcome this, but they would never forget it. But if I let you alter their memories, I have to live with that knowledge. I'd have to live with the fact that I could do something like that to my own children."

He thought to Donna, but it was such a painful track that he immediately jerked his thoughts from it.

"It'd be for their own good, though," he said. It was slightly defensive.

He felt her eyes on his expression.

"I don't know if there's ever a good enough reason to mess with someone's mind." She admitted.

She would know that better than anyone else.

She crafted her words as delicately as she possibly could while still being truthful.

She kept her hands wrapped around his as she spoke, and she tried to appear sturdy and strong, so perhaps he wouldn't worry so much. But no matter how she spun it, the knowledge of his wife's impending death ripped him apart. She should've known there was never a chance she could help him handle this.

His first reaction was to bow his head and gasp. He put his hands on the back of his head and repeated no, like denial might stop it. Clara fought back her own tears throughout this reaction and she was able to overcome them. And then he asked her a question that affected her in ways she wouldn't have expected.

"What year?" He pleaded. "Please—what year was that? How many more years until then?"

Clara stared.

"He said about twenty-eight." She admitted.

Objectively—to her—it seemed like a fair amount of time. It was more than her entire life thus far. But she remembered that Dr. Smith had known his wife for over thirty years. And he must've known how time flew.

"That's too soon," he breathed. He pressed his forehead into his thighs. "That's—we'll only be sixty-five. That's too young to die."

There was only one thing left to say. She could do no more.

"I'm so…sorry, John."

He rose to his feet. His posture was eerily rigid, determined.

"He should be sorry." He corrected.

Clara hurriedly jumped up to follow as he walked from the room.

He glanced into the bedroom first, but his wife's side of the bed was empty.

"John," Clara called. She turned and followed as he went to search the room she'd been staying in. "It's not his fault. He didn't mean for this to happen."

"It did happen. And he will fix it."

"Like I told you, he's giving your wife a choice, but I think we both know—"

She stopped speaking as he opened the bedroom door. Sure enough, the Doctor and Mrs. Smith were sitting on the bed closest to them. They both looked like whatever they were talking about was causing them great discomfort. Dr. Smith's eyes narrowed in on the Doctor's arm, wrapped loosely around Mrs. Smith's shoulders. And they had no time to process it. One minute he was staring, and the next he was storming across the empty space.

"You bastard!" He exploded.

Mrs. Smith quickly rose and stepped between the Doctor and her advancing husband.

"Doctor—" she called. He stepped to the side and avoided her interruption.

"You fix it. You fucking fix it!" Dr. Smith barked. His path was blocked once again, this time as his wife wrapped her arms around him from behind and pulled back. Dr. Smith struggled, but not with his full strength. He was mindful of his wife even in his times of rage. "You did this! Those parasites must've hitched a ride on your TARDIS, because they weren't here before! You did this!"

Mrs. Smith stepped to the side and moved in front of her husband. She reached up and gently grasped his face, tugging his eyes towards her.

"Doctor, it isn't his—"

He flinched backwards and out of his wife's hold.

"No!" He yelled. Mrs. Smith looked nervously towards her bedroom. Dr. Smith's eyes were wild, horrified. Desperate. He shook his head and pinned the Doctor with his stare. "You fucked up my wife's future. My family's future. It is not supposed to go like that. My wife is not supposed to die like that! Go fix it. GO FIX IT! I will not tell you again! I will not repeat myself!"

The Doctor rose hesitantly from the bed. He took one step forward, but then Dr. Smith surged forward. He stopped as Mrs. Smith gave him a scolding tug once more.

"John," the Doctor whispered. It was the first time he'd called him that that Clara had heard. "The only way I could do anything about it would be to give your wife the tablet also. It would make her immune. I've talked to her about it, and she just told me—she just told me that she doesn't want it. Because if she takes it, thousands of people—who are now safe because of her—will die."

Clara stepped forward slowly.

"It's like I told you," she reminded him softly. "They all went to her mind in the future."

He stared. He looked between the Doctor, Clara, his wife. His eyes lingered on her the longest, and they stayed there as he responded. Clara should've known what he'd say by the way the green softened.

"So give her my tablet."

His wife protested immediately.

"No. That's not how we're doing this." She snapped.

He looked towards the Doctor.

"Give it to her, not me. Then they'll latch onto me. All those people will still live. And so will Clara." He swallowed roughly and cast his wet eyes towards his wife. He looked back to the Doctor a moment later. "This isn't just some…random person, Doctor. This is my wife. This isn't just some trivial person that's another casualty to your romps through time and space. I grew up with this woman…she's the only woman I've ever loved. She's what I love most. Please. Save her. Just do it."

"You don't get to make this decision for me." Mrs. Smith bit. Her words were low, angry. "How dare you go over my head and ask him to go against my decision. This is not your cross to bear. It's mine."

"Why?!" Her husband yelled. "Why does it have to be you?! Why is it always you?! You don't deserve this!"

"And you do?!"

Clara and the Doctor slowly edged back and out of their circle. She felt they had no place in the couple's domestic, even if it was entirely because of their actions.

"I do more than you! You've never done anything to deserve this! Doc, you know I'm right. You know we deserve this fate more than Clara does. You know they—our Claras!— never deserve any of this!" Dr. Smith bellowed.

Mrs. Smith spun and glared at the Doctor.

"Don't you dare even consider it." She warned dangerously.

The Doctor stared back at her for a moment. When he broke their gaze, his voice was apologetic.

"I'm sorry, John. But she's the boss. It's always been that way…and it's that way for a reason."

He was quivering to the point Clara could've cried for him.

"No. Please." He begged. His eyes bore desperately into the Doctor's. He observed him with a steely expression, but Clara could tell he was hurting.

"John. Stop begging long enough to think about this. Do you think your wife would ever be content with that scenario? Do you think Clara-our Clara—would ever let you die for her? That's about as likely as her sacrificing her own children." He spat.

John straightened defensively. His words were sharp. "You don't know her better than I do, Doctor, so don't take that tone."

The Doctor lifted his hands. Clara could tell his words were going to be nasty by the way he lifted his eyebrows. "Sure, you're right, you're right. Okay. You're incredibly right, Dr. Smith. Here, Mrs. Smith. Let me get you a pencil and a notepad. Why don't you make me a list of your kids in order of who you love most to who you love least. Whoever's at the bottom, we'll give you their tablet and they can die for you and everyone else! That's absolutely something I could see you doing, so thanks to your husband for reminding me how likely you are to throw aside those you love for your own wellbeing! And bloody hell is it a great day to be Bristol! The rest of the kids, well- find the pecking order and we'll start praying accordingly. My observations tell me it's a really terrible day to be—"

"Would both of you shut up!"

Mrs. Smith's cry effectively drowned out the Doctor's words. She glanced sternly from her husband, to the Doctor, to the doorway, most likely worried the children had heard the Doctor's less-than-subtle exclamation. She crossed over and shut the door softly. When she turned around to face them, her face was lined with so much exhaustion that Clara couldn't believe they'd missed it. It couldn't have come about so suddenly. She couldn't have been hiding it. But she looked liable to fall apart at any moment, like whatever thread had been holding her together was now so frayed and weak that it didn't even matter. Clara stepped forward out of concern automatically, because she knew what it felt like inside to feel like that, because she was her.

"Please stop." She pleaded with her husband. "Please. God, I can't stand it. Even the suggestion. This isn't helping anything, Doctor. We can't change what's already happened. What if one of those people infected was me? You'd want someone to save me. At least we get a while more, and at least we know that our family makes it that far whole, complete, and happy. The emotional safety that comes from that knowledge almost balances out the fear that comes from the rest of it all."

Her husband was far too gone inside his sorrow to be reached. He shook his head and then moved almost numbly over to the other bed. His legs looked weak as he sat down slowly.

"I can't be the one who's left again. Please, Clara."

He bowed his head so low that Clara could see the back of his neck. In no time at all, his wife was at his side. She gently stroked that same skin Clara had just been looking at.

"Come on," she told him gently, and it was only then that Clara realized he was crying. "Let's go to our room."

He straightened, but only so he could press his face into her neck. His body leaned heavily into hers as his tears grew to sobs. The gasping sound he was making cut into Clara so acutely that she had to look away, nauseated.

"She said you won't remember me, or our kids, or how to even read—you love to read, Clara, you love it, and you love us, and—" he grew too choked up to speak. His next words were hardly audible. "I need you. God dammit, I need you."

"I know." Mrs. Smith whispered. She looked over his head. Her lips were trembling, and Clara knew she was going to do it before she did. She was already looking towards her when the woman sought out her eyes. Once the two women locked gazes, Clara felt all her composure rupture. Pain flooded her chest rapidly, and soon she was seeing through a film of moisture. Everything looked unclear.

"Clara?" Mrs. Smith asked. She looked more vulnerable than Clara had ever seen. "What would you do?"

And God, she wanted to say I'd take the tablet. She wanted to. But she couldn't lie to herself. That was perhaps the only person she couldn't lie to. So she forced a broken smile onto her face and did what had to be done. She was always doing that, it seemed.

"You already know."

She felt numb as she tightened her grip on her Doctor's hand. With quivering resolve, they left the couple to deal with the fallout in peace.

She was unashamed as she leaned into the Doctor.

"Why can't we ever be happy?" She wanted to know. It was as close to whimpering as she'd ever been.

He was slow as he wrapped his arms around her stiffly. She thought he wouldn't reply, but then he did. And she almost wished he hadn't. She didn't want to hear it right then.

"I think, Clara," he began. "The point is that together we are still happy, even when we're not."

It sounded like nonsensical shit to her, but she didn't care. She pressed her cheek against his jacket and breathed.

Come morning, she began to understand why Dr. Smith acted as if everything was falling apart.

It was because it was.

She had never seen the family that way. She sat at the kitchen table and stared, her heart heavy in her chest. The silence was the most unsettling thing of all, and there were times living here that she would've given anything to have some peace and quiet. But now that she had it, she didn't want it.

She watched Dr. Smith attempting to coax Ellie into eating some toast. The Doctor was late to breakfast, but when he finally arrived, Lottie sprang to her feet. Clara watched her race across the kitchen and unceremoniously fling her arms around the touch-phobic man. She'd hugged Clara too that morning, but not like that.

"You're here," she cried, overjoyed. "Now you can fix it."

The Doctor had been enduring the hug for the child's sake, but at that, he recoiled. Mrs. Smith hurriedly rose and crossed the room, setting her hands on her eldest daughter's shoulder.

"Come eat some breakfast," she urged gently. She attempted to guide Lottie back to the table, but she locked her knees.

"No." She said. Her tone conveyed her confusion. "No, he's here. He's back. So he can change it and make it better, Mum. He can save Kathy."

All at once, Clara understood why Lottie had been handling Kathy's suicide the way her parents said she was. She wasn't pretending it never happened as a coping mechanism. She was pretending it never happened because she honestly thought it didn't. She thought the Doctor would fix it at some point in the future, erase it, and because of that she never came to terms with it. Clara feared what might happen with that hope snatched away.

The Doctor did, too. His eyes were softer than she'd ever seen. And for all the dad skills he'd been lacking, well. Suddenly he had an abundance. So many that Clara's heart swelled in a strangely conflicting way.

"You look so tiny." He commented, almost tenderly, and then he laughed shortly. "Last time I saw you, you were this tall!" He held his hand up, so it was level with the midway point on his neck. Lottie stared, baffled, but it didn't take long.

"You were in my future?" Her posture changed. She straightened, excited. "So you did fix it!"

The smile melted right off the Doctor's face.

Mrs. Smith moved her hands to her daughter's biceps.

"Come on, love. We'll talk about it later."

Lottie slid from her mum's grasps. She must've known from her tone. A mother's tone could convey thousands of things everyone else but her child would be deaf to.

"You're back," she repeated, but this time her voice shook. She did look small then, with her hands tucking inside the sleeves of a long, gray cardigan, and her wide eyes flittering about the room uneasily. "You have the TARDIS. You can change the past. You can change whatever you like. You told me that. You said it."

Mrs. Smith turned back to the table. She must've sensed a storm brewing by the way her shoulders were braced.

"Kids, let's go watch a film, how about that- oh, I'm right here, love, please don't cry."

Clara had her back to the table, but she could tell whose sniffles were whose. It only took a few from the eldest son, and the rest of the children were following suit.

Lottie's determination had only grown during the silence.

"You have to fix it. She was my dad's friend. My sisters and brothers are upset. And I can't stop thinking about it, it's in my head and it won't leave me alone, the sight of it. So I need you to do what you do and make it better." She ordered.

For the Doctor's sake, he tried to be gentle about it. Clara watched his face as he softly and gently informed her that there was nothing he could do about Kathy's suicide. Lottie watched, and she listened. But it was clear she absorbed next to nothing of it all.

"But," she began. And then she had to look away, her eyes brimming with tears. Her thumbs were working anxiously over the material of the cardigan. "But you can go wherever you like. Why don't you want to help us? Don't you love us?" She tucked her chin further, so her face was curtained behind her hair. "We love you," she admitted.

And in Clara's years upon years of working with children, she'd never seen them set off so abruptly. The minute Lottie began crying softly, her siblings collapsed emotionally. Clara turned around in concern and watched Dr. and Mrs. Smith anxiously consoling them. Even Poppy—who'd seemed relatively all right that morning—was now a tear-sodden mess in her father's lap.

The tears of five children (his five children) impacted the Doctor heavily. She watched him back up slowly, almost in horror. His hand rose to his face anxiously.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, like he was amazed to be saying it. He looked down at the ground. Clara was certain she was the only one who noticed the film of unshed tears. "I'm so sorry. I would change it if I could, but I can't. I can't."

The preteen had been crying, but those words sparked something inside of her. She lifted her wet face and glared forcefully. Her words were so powerful that they almost felt like a slap even to Clara.

"Then leave!" She shrieked.

"Lottie," her mother scolded, but it was halfhearted.

Clara watched her reach over to her left wrist and give a strong tug to her little charm bracelet. The thin silver chain snapped. Clara watched the tiny moons and planets and stars tumble right to the kitchen floor. In an entirely overtly-dramatic, preteen way, Lottie flung the empty chain right across the room towards the Doctor. It fell short of him, but he flinched back anyway, stricken.

"Go! Because you don't care! You could fix it, you could go anywhere you like, but the truth is that you don't care enough to! So what's the bloody point?! I hate the stars and I hate space and I hate you and I wish I had never, ever met you! I wish Kathy was still alive! I wish we were happy like we used to be, and you're the reason we're not!"

In any other situation, with any other family, her dramatic exit would've earned an eye-roll and a wry comment about how "hard" it was to be "that age". But no one was undermining the intensity of her feelings here.

Dr. Smith hurried after his daughter. Clara saw Dr. Smith in Lottie's reactions- saw the wild emotions, the misplaced blame, the deep chasm of denial. She hoped a good cry and conversation would help Lottie begin to cope, as it obviously had for Dr. Smith. After a night with his wife, he was much calmer, as if they'd reached an understanding about the sordid situation. He wasn't blaming the Doctor anymore, at least. And Clara was glad for it, because she didn't think he could take much more of it.

She glanced his way, but the Doctor didn't even meet Clara's eyes as he turned from the room. For once, he had nothing to say.

When you become a god, you become a reason.

The Doctor was happy to play god sometimes, to take the adoration of those he was saving. But when it came time to own up for the bad things that happened, he didn't have the callousness required to assume responsibility.

He would never tell a soul (not even Clara, especially not Clara), but when he returned to the room, he cried.

It didn't matter how.

Any time he had children, he burned them.

Clara spent the next seven days working side-by-side with Mrs. Smith. They were attempting to rebuild the children, but whereas the world could be built in seven days, emotional repair could not. It was too grand of a job. They coaxed soup into Ellie, but she had no interest in ballet lessons. On the other side of the spectrum, Lottie spent the entire day in the garden playing football all by herself. She had no interest in talking about it. Miles looked haunted, but did okay as long as the lights were on and his parents were in sight. Poppy was bouncing back quickest of all due to her young age and inability to full comprehend what she'd seen. But Bristol had yet to say a word to anyone. And for a child that could've argued with a wall successfully, it was unsettling.

In a last ditch effort, Clara dug a hidden Cornetto from the back of the freezer. She knocked lightly on the Smiths' bedroom door, interrupting the film Bristol and his dad were watching, even though Clara was certain the shell-shocked child wasn't absorbing a thing.

"May I come in?" She asked.

Dr. Smith muted the television immediately and nodded. Clara padded quietly across the carpet and perched carefully on the edge of the bed. She waited until Bristol was looking at her, and then she offered him the Cornetto. She had to work hard to dig up a smile.

"The very last," she told him, in a secretive tone. "I was saving it for a rainy day, but I think it's pretty stormy now."

He was immobile for an uncomfortable amount of time. When his dad gently nudged his shoulder, he reached up and grasped the cone. Clara smiled. She waited. But it became clear after a moment that he wasn't going to do a thing with it but hold it until it melted.

"Bristol," she began gently. She shifted on the bed, so she was facing him fully. "Why won't you talk? It would help to talk. It would get your mind off of it."

He looked down at the duvet.

"I know you spent a lot of time with Kathy. You go to your dad's work and help a lot, right?" She asked.

The only input she received was the quick nod Dr. Smith gave. She took a deep breath and powered through.

"I can't imagine what it was like. I've never seen anything like that. I mean, I've seen really…really terrible things. I've even had a throat slit in an echo life. But I can't imagine seeing that in my childhood. And, well. I just think….out of all the children in the world, if any were going to be strong enough to handle this, it would be you lot. And well…you said it yourself. It's really bad when the things that make you sad are difficult to talk about. But you said Cornettos always make those things just a bit easier, so I thought…maybe they would again."

She waited another tense, ten seconds. But then the Cornetto began to melt and her heart followed in suit.

"All right, buddy," Dr. Smith sighed. He reached over and gently took the Cornetto. He passed it back to Clara. She held it with weak fingers and watched as he wrapped his arm around his mute son. He kissed the top of his head and shut his eyes. "It's all right."

It wasn't.

He drowned his guilt in cups of exceedingly sugared coffee.

He thought about his Clara's lips.

He tried to remember he was strong enough to do the right thing, but it was difficult to.

He knew Clara wanted to help him, but he also understood that there were other people who needed her help more, so he stayed in the shadows for the next week. He nursed his wounded heart and he tried relentlessly to find ways around the terrible things that'd happened, but no matter how much he brainstormed, he came up with nothing.

He took to sitting in the sitting room, because now, hardly anyone ever went into it. He sat in Dr. Smith's chair and he read books or browsed through photo albums, like a retired grandfather with nothing left. It was where he was when Mrs. Smith perched on the edge of the seat quietly.

He looked up and took in her utterly exhausted appearance. She looked as if her tears had drained every ounce of energy from her body. Weak, dejected. Worn. He had to look back down at the photo album in his lap to keep from tearing up. He stared at the baby pictures intently instead.

Her voice was soft and tired when she spoke.

"You never forget, you know." She commented. He looked up, confused, but then he noticed her eyes were on the pictures, too. He looked back down. "Memories come and memories go, but your body and your heart always remember them. The weight of them in your arms the first time you held them. Their first giggle, first smile. The feeling of their tiny bodies curled atop your chest, the smell of their hair, the tiny feet and their first words. It becomes a solid part of you. You love them so much you think the pain of it might kill you."

His ancient memories were a hot, painful flash as they came to life. They were never forgotten, but they were long suppressed. He felt the fluttering heartbeat of his very first daughter as she slept atop his chest. He saw the gentle, unforgettable rising and falling of his son's tiny back as he slept. He pictured his daughter toddling across the floor to his arms for the very first time, her chubby legs wobbly and her face wide with the most beautiful smile that had ever existed. He remembered the impossibly soft hair on top of their heads. He remembered what it felt like to press his lips there, to hold them, to know that everything he loved so much it hurt was safe inside his arms.

And then he remembered what it felt like to think he'd burnt them all. An unwelcome chorus of Clara's voice as she read an old story infiltrated his mind then. "Then a star fell. And because of it they went up in flames. Now this happened when I wasn't with them; they were burnt when I wasn't among them. Then I died for them when I found them in a single heap of corpses. If you are brave, master your heart, and you will fill your embrace with your children, kiss your wife, and see your house! This is better than anything."

His intake of breath was sharp. He looked to the side, because he couldn't stand to look into the tiny face of another person who would ache because of him.

"I know."

"You were right, Doctor," she admitted. He could hear the tears brimming in her wobbly tone. "I thought I could be so more than I am. I thought I could protect them, that my love—and my husband's love—could somehow be enough to protect them from everything. But I failed. I failed so miserably. I see them suffering every day, and I know they're children, and that children are so resilient. But I see the effects of what my husband witnessed as a child every day of my adult life. I see the way he has to struggle to overcome it. I never wanted that for my babies."

He listened to her cry nearly inaudibly. After a moment, he reached over and grasped her soft hand gently.

"Clara?" He asked. "Is this your way of telling me you want me to take the memories away?"

Her words were choked. "This is my way of asking you if you think that would be the right thing to do. Please, I'm so lost. I want you to tell me that I'm a good mum. I want you to…tell me what you would do."

He rubbed this thumb gently over the back of her hand, but that was all he could do.

"I'm the last person you should be searching for the approval of, Clara. If you want the advice of a truly astounding parent, you needn't look much farther than the mirror."

When she lowered her face to his shoulder to cry, he didn't cringe back. He moved his hand to her back and held her.

He just wanted to be with his Clara, after that.

He cherished her, needed her, depended upon her. It'd taken seeing this Clara destroyed to fully understand that. He located her in the kitchen, but she was too upset for him to force conversation. He sat with her instead.

It was quiet until Mrs. Smith walked past. She tapped them both gently on the shoulders as she did.

"Parents' meeting." She said in passing.

When Clara rose to follow, the Doctor stared.

"Parents' meeting." He repeated, confused.

She nodded.

"Parents' meeting." She affirmed.

When she extended her hand, he understood. And he wished it hadn't taken a tragedy to help them all come together.

They followed Mrs. Smith to the garden, where Dr. Smith was already waiting. They sat in a ridiculously formal circle, no doubt set up ahead of time by either Clara or Mrs. Smith. The Doctor listened as Mrs. Smith paraphrased everything he'd told her about his memory modification to the group. His Clara already knew, of course, and it was obvious she'd already told all this to Dr. Smith. But they listened intently regardless.

She looked almost sheepish when she switched topics.

"We wanted to hear your input." She admitted. "Because, well…they're your children, too."

The Doctor knew they would end up doing it. He knew it because he'd seen it. But he wouldn't pressure the Smiths to make that decision. He would allow them the time needed to get to that point. And he'd be honest about it, too.

He spoke up.

"I think you ought to give at least Lottie a choice in the matter. She's old enough to understand." He supplied.

Dr. and Mrs. Smith exchanged a quick look.

"We were thinking the same. But we were thinking about giving them all the choice."

"You have to be prepared for a back-up in case one of them says no, though," Clara reminded them. "You can't have four of them thinking Kathy retired while one remembers her gruesomely slitting her throat in front of you lot. And you have to decide what you want to do about you two, too."

"We've thought about us." Dr. Smith admitted. He reached over and settled his hand on his wife's thigh. She set her hand on top of his. "We decided that we're going to have our memories wiped, too. If we are subjecting our children to it, we're subjecting ourselves to it, too."

The Doctor shifted uncomfortably. He met Mrs. Smith's eyes.

"After what you know about your future, you want me to take your memories away?" He asked incredulously.

"After what I know, I need you to take my memories away. And I mean all of it. The incident with Kathy, this conversation, and every conversation we've had since you've gotten back. In fact—"

She stopped. She looked up at her husband.

"In fact," he continued for her. His words were gentle, and that tipped the Doctor off to what he was about to say. "We think it would be best if this entire encounter were erased from their memories. We've thought about it. We know they've learned some truly amazing things since you two have been here. And I know they love you both, and you love them, but we're worried about them going on with what they know now. If we erase what happened with Kathy, how do we explain what happened with the parasites? If we erase the parasites entirely from their memory, we've still got children who know that time travel is a thing. That aliens are real. And those things are great—but not when they'll never be able to experience them. We're worried everything in life will pale in comparison to the idea of it. More than anything, we're worried about how heartbroken they're going to be when you two disappear forever. How do they come to terms with it? How do they explain it to anyone without sounding mad?"

The Doctor looked quickly to Clara. She had her eyes on the floor, but he could tell she was upset. He hurriedly changed the subject.

"And what if one of them says no, like Clara said?" The Doctor pressed. Clara was right—it'd be an extreme dilemma if one of them chose not to. They'd think they were crazy—they'd remember something that no one else in the family did.

At that question, the parents fell silent. From the guilty way they were looking at their hands, he figured it out quickly.

"Is it even really a choice if you're just going to do it anyway?" He asked.

He realized too late that his words came out a bit more cross than intended. Dr. Smith locked eyes with him.

"This isn't an easy decision to make, Doctor." He bit.

Mrs. Smith looked up.

"I think, at their age, the only reason they'd choose not to would be out of fear of what it would feel like, or if it was safe. And that brings me to my next point, Doctor. Before we even decide on anything, I want you to go into my mind, as you would if you were wiping my memory. Don't erase anything, don't mix anything up, but I need to know precisely what I'm putting my children through. If I can promise them it isn't painful or dangerous, they won't hesitate."

Dr. Smith frowned.

"I said that I would do the test run. Your head has been meddled with enough, Clara." He said softly.

She shook her head.

"I need to do this." She told him. "I need to know. For peace of mind. For my own sanity. I have to know it's okay."

He pursed his lips tightly, but didn't argue it further. The Doctor assumed they'd reached an understanding in private since their explosive argument a while ago.

"So how does it work?" Mrs. Smith asked. She rose from her chair and walked over to him hesitantly. He grasped the arms of his chair and hoisted himself up. He felt weak with all the restrained emotions locked inside of himself.

"First, I need to press my fingers here," he began. He reached down and set his fingers against her temples. She automatically shut her eyes. He took a quiet, steadying breath. "Then I need you to picture a door. Behind this door are all your thoughts, memories, emotions—"

He sensed the tension flooding through her small frame.

"I won't be nosy," he assured her. "You can choose what I see. I will only look at that. I swear."

After a moment, he felt energy surging to his fingertips, and gradually, to his own mind. He shut his eyes and he focused on the hazy, flickering image of a medieval door. She'd hold it still for a moment, but then he'd catch glimpses of quick, worried thoughts, and he'd feel the racing rhythm of her pulse, and it'd flicker off. He drew himself back to the present long enough to address his companion.

"My Clara," he called. "Take her hand. You too, Doctor. As long as you can feel their hands in yours, you're still here, you're okay."

After a few moments, the image of the door grew steady and firm. The Doctor inhaled deeply.

"All right, good," he praised. "Very Robin Hood-esque door, too. Not surprised."

He felt the warmth of a short peal of laughter enter his mind through their link. He smiled in response.

"I am going to open the door. You'll feel it when it happens, but it shouldn't hurt. Okay?"


He focused intently on the heavy handle on the door. After a moment, the door swung back, and then he fell forward into the rabbit hole. He'd expected the landscape to be stark, except for brief flashes of memories she was trying to withhold, but instead, he was immediately sucked in to the point he lost contact with his own physical sensations. He didn't feel his feet on the ground, or hear the sound of the neighbor's dog barking, or any of the sort. Instead, he was tumbling through Clara Oswald-Smith's life.

"Do you love me?" The words came from somewhere he couldn't see. Which meant she must've said them. He had a view of teenage Dr. Smith's flushed face.

"I adore you." He corrected.

The Doctor felt the surge of love and affection that she felt.

"But do you love me?" She asked, though it was clear she already knew the answer. Dr. Smith's face got closer, and closer, until she was pressing her lips right against his.

"Christ, Clara," he mumbled against her lips. His hand weaved into her hair. "I love you more than anything."

"You are my more than—" /

He was on a field.

"—anything," a tiny version of Clara completed. He could tell she was young by how tall everything else was. And how brave and huge her heart felt.

Dr. Smith was a lanky little boy with a missing front tooth.

"No, you're my more than anything!" He teased, and at that, they both fell into peals of childish laughter. The Doctor knew (because he was in Clara's head) that they were making fun of a mushy couple they'd seen a few moments prior. Not knowing they were destined to become them. Little Clara turned, and then he spotted a young mother pushing a pram, talking loudly into her mobile phone— /

He was walking along the pier in Blackpool. He was Clara and her hands were wrapped around the handle of a pram. He could feel how sore the arches of her feet were, how tired she was, how stiff her spine was, even how full her breasts were. He could hardly hear her thoughts over the sound of her tiny baby crying.

"Doctor," she whispered into the phone. He could feel her distress. "Where are you? I can't find you. I'm exhausted—I'm ready to go back to my dad's. And I can't find you."— /

She was a young girl. And she was sitting in a hospital room. The Doctor could feel the still-warm hand of her dead mother, still wrapped up tightly in her own.

"Where did she go?" The gasping words came from him, from her. He was her and he could feel the pain swelling inside his chest. He felt like it was pushing his sternum forward, out, like it would burst from his chest. He could not breathe. He was going to be sick. She gave her mother's hand a tug. "Mum." He felt her knees quaking as she stood. Felt Ellie Oswald's smooth cheeks beneath her hands as she grasped her mother's face and shook her. "Mum! Mum, come back! Mum, I can't find you!" - /

"There you are."

She was kneeling behind a slide at a playground, gasping in relief at the sight of her little girl. He could feel the rubber mulch digging into her kneecaps. Her stomach was heavy, swollen—he could feel the strange sensation of a child turning inside of her body. She lowered a hand to the top of her stomach absentmindedly and stroked over it soothingly. She reached forward and grasped Lottie's tiny upper arms, and he felt the soft texture of her little yellow jumper as she did. She pulled her daughter into her arms and she exhaled once she smelled her strawberry curls.

"Lottie," she whispered firmly, though she couldn't sound that stern when she was so relieved she was choked up. "You can't ever run off like that, love. Not ever, ever, ever. Okay? I was so worried. You have to stay where I can see you. Do you understand?"— /

"I understand."

The man's words were curt. He was balding and he was sitting behind a wooden desk. Clara had her son on her lap, and her arms were wrapped protectively around him. In her mind, she knew she was being overprotective. But she didn't care. She would have killed for the child in her arms, and she felt close to it.

"Good." She said. Bristol turned in her lap and wrapped his arms around her. The Doctor felt his tears, cold against his mother's neck. She rubbed his small back and he felt the love that was choking her. He felt the urgent need to protect, the maternal instinct to guard, to love, to rescue. He knew that he was here because Bristol had vomited during rest time. He knew that the teacher hadn't even phoned home, even though Bristol was sick and asked multiple times to go home. He knew that Bristol had told his mother all about it after school. And he knew that Clara was now fully intending on switching playgroups. He knew that she felt so angry that she would've done things she never would've thought herself capable of, too. "I will never send one of my children here ever again. You have a duty of care, Mr. Seymour. These are other people's children. You have to treat them like people."

"We were keeping an eye on him, Mrs. Smith. We had him assessed by—"

"You are not his mother; it is not your call to decide if he's ill enough to come home." She interrupted sharply. He felt the nausea rising within her. He felt the tangle of guilt in her heart, the knowledge that she'd made her son go somewhere where he wasn't treated right. She tightened her grip on him. "That is my call. It will always be my call. How dare you overstep my boundaries. How dare you." – /

"How dare you."

Dr. Smith grinned boyishly. He darted his eyes to the doorway of their bedroom before reaching forward and looping an arm around her waist. He pulled her against his body.

"A thank you would suffice." He teased.

She pulled back impatiently and looked back down at the diamond ring in her palm. The Doctor knew it was her wedding ring— and that it used to be modest, seeing as though her husband had bought it when they were only eighteen—and that her husband had now added diamonds to it.

"How much did this cost?!" She hissed. "We're still saving for a house; you shouldn't be spending this much on me."

"It's your birthday."

"Birthday shag and a nice cup of tea would've been more than plenty."

"Oh, hush," he scolded gently. He pressed his lips lightly against his wife's. The Doctor felt the warmth that flooded through Clara's body. "Let me appreciate you with expensive jewelry every once in a while."

"You're ridiculous," she sighed against his lips.

He grinned. "I know." – /

"I know!" She panted. The Doctor felt the tightening beginning down low, just above her pubic bone. It grew in intensity and spread up and around the entire span of her pregnant stomach. She gasped from the pain, and the Doctor didn't blame her. It was stunning, blinding—he was her, and for the first time, he didn't want to be. It hurt enough to remind him he was just visiting her thoughts, enough to try and leave her memories—but he knew she was showing him everything for a reason.

"Just a bit longer," Dr. Smith whispered into her hair. He was beside her on the hospital bed, his hip pressing into hers, his arm around her shoulders. "Then she said you can push. This is our lucky number four, Clara."

The pain swallowed her (and the Doctor) whole.

"Fuck," she gasped. "I always forget how terrible this is, Jesus Christ!"

Dr. Smith's fingers stroked through her damp hair.

"Well, I never forget how amazing you are. How strong. How beautiful." – /

"You're really pretty, Mummy."

She looked up from her computer screen and turned. She looked down at her feet, where Ellie had been playing with her dolls. Her heart crept slowly up her throat as she smiled softly.

"Thank you," she said, somewhat bewildered. She reached down and gently stroked her fingers through her daughter's pony tail. "You're even prettier."

"Nuh uh," her daughter argued, but she'd begun smiling.

"Yes huh!" Clara countered. "And you know what else?"


"I love you." – /

"I love you."

It was a whisper to a tiny baby that might not have lived. He was Clara and he could feel staples in a line down her abdomen. Her body felt raw. But her heart had never felt lighter. She kissed the baby's small, delicate nose.

"I love you." She repeated. "I'm your mum, and I love you forever."

He saw, through her eyes, as Poppy's tiny lips parted in a small yawn. He could feel the empty places inside of her body that the infant had been. He could feel the piece of her heart that was now inside that child. And he understood.

His door for his mind was the bluest blue. He felt Clara stand, her newborn baby still in her arms. He watched her approach his door. And when she pushed it open, his mind sprang back from hers, and hers went into his, and he said: Okay.

He gasped back into consciousness in the garden. His palms were sweaty and his fingers were still on Mrs. Smith's temples. When he opened his eyes and met hers, the love and understanding that surged through his body made his throat narrow.

"Do you understand now?" She whispered, her eyes still on his.

He swallowed against the tears building.

"Yes." He croaked. "I do."

It was never about her understanding what a telepathic link would feel like. It was about him understanding what she was feeling.

She gave him a mother's love for those children. By allowing him inside of her mind that way, by letting him feel exactly what she had felt, she'd made him part of her.

It was the cruelest thing anyone had ever done.

By doing so, she'd assured that he would do whatever it might take to take care of her children. But she'd also assured destruction of his heart when he had to leave them.

Dr. Smith crumbled the kids' tablets into mugs of hot cocoa. He sat with them until each child had drained their mugs. When it came time for him to take his—and by extension, his wife to not take hers—he needed coaxing as well.

"Our children are going to need you," his wife told him softly. She stroked his thigh and stared up at him bravely. "When I'm ill, they'll need you. So you can't get ill, too."

He looked extremely nauseated.

"The grief will kill me, Clara," he told his wife. His voice wavered between two different octaves. "Either way, I'm going to die alongside you."

"Well," she said briskly. "At least die alongside me with all the memories I'm going to forget."

The Doctor sat with Mrs. Smith and Clara that night, wedged between them on the sofa, closer to both of them than he'd ever been. Dr. Smith was on Mrs. Smith's other side; the two were leaning into each other. For once, they all felt like one unit. He didn't feel on the outside any longer.

"Before we do it, there's something that needs to be done." The Doctor decided. "Let's get rid of the Kathy memories, and then, let's take them on one last holiday. Before they forget me and Clara."

"First rule—keep your hands off all the cool buttons and switches." The Doctor ordered. He led the children through the doors and then strolled quickly to the console, where he could keep a close eye on them. Free from the traumatizing memories, they were back to their bubbly, happy selves. They immediately turned and began walking around, examining everything, their faces open with wonder.

"We can't go anywhere, really. She's still ill and needs to rest for the big trip home. But we can go up in space, like where the astronauts go." He informed them. He strolled around and nodded towards Clara. She pushed a lever up right as he keyed in his coordinates. "Second rule. Do not try to jump out into space. The TARDIS has a protective shield, but you'll frighten all the adults and possibly give us coronaries."

He waited until the TARDIS was situated right where he wanted. Clara snapped and opened the doors. Dr. and Mrs. Smith led their children to the doorway and helped them sit on the edge, so their legs were dangling into space. Then they stood behind them and stared out at the tiny image of earth below them. The Doctor and Clara stayed to the back and let the family share the moment in peace. After a few minutes, the Doctor turned and began fiddling with the temperature knob. He swallowed the words layered thick in his throat and tried to continue on. He didn't want to think about the fact that he wouldn't see any of them again. He didn't want to think about the fact that he could've shown them so many things. He could've taken them so many places.

"Third rule—" he began, but he didn't even have the chance to suffer through it, pretending to be all right. In what felt like the blink of an eye, five pairs of arms wrapped around him tightly.

"Oh—" he said, surprised. He looked down at the tops of their heads. He patted a few, his hearts swelling painfully. "Oh, I'm not really a hugger."

He felt a familiar body press against the back of his. His Clara's lips pressed briefly to his shoulder in a quick kiss.

"Too bad." He felt her arms join the huge hug.

"I wish you could stay forever," he heard Lottie mumble.

"I wish you were our granddad." Ellie added tearfully.

"You even look like our granddad," Bristol added sadly. "Like it's meant to be."

They'd told the kids they had to leave early, that the TARDIS was making them. They didn't mention anything about choosing to.

"We could adopt you," Miles suggested. "You can have my room forever."

"Wait," Poppy mumbled, her face pressed against the Doctor's leg. "Are you goin' somewhere? Mummy, where are they goin'?"

The Doctor met Mrs. Smith's eyes as she crossed over to them. She smiled as she reached forward and wrapped her arms around her children, who were around the Doctor. Her husband wrapped his arms around her, and just like that, the Doctor became the center to a family he would lose in only a few days' time. He looked up at the ceiling with his searing eyes.

"They're going back home. Where everybody has to go eventually." She answered.

"Oh," she mumbled. She paused thoughtfully. "Can we go with them?"

Her parents laughed sadly

"No, love. We've got to stay here."

He let them pick rooms on the TARDIS—his TARDIS moved child-safe rooms to right outside the console room, arranged perfectly and kindly for each child—and let them sleep there that night, but not before they'd had a chance to swim in the pool, explore the library, and even stumble upon a hidden treasure room. He felt content that night, simply because he knew he'd made them happy.

His Clara was in a similar place. She slipped into his room after everyone was asleep, a sight in a white gown. She hovered just inside the doorway.

"You made those children so happy. I won't forget it." She swore.

"Well," he began lightly. "They are our children."

That earned a smile from her. She edged closer, her hands clasping in front of her.

"Yeah. They are." She agreed softly. She stopped a few steps from his bed. "I'm glad it was with you."

"Hmm," he hummed. He looked down at the duvet, his lips curving up traitorously. "Are you?"

She perched lightly on the edge. "Yeah. I am. I wouldn't have wanted to share this experience with anyone else."

It was as close to I love you as they'd ever been.

For once, he felt absolutely certain about how he felt and the ways he felt it. And he felt certain that they'd reach an understanding one day.

When it came time to say goodbye, Clara was as nervous as she always was.

After the trip into outer space, the Smiths had wanted to let their children keep the memory of the entire encounter. But the Doctor had explained to them all—gently and over time—that the children couldn't remember, because he had seen it. Had Lottie known who he was, she would've reacted very differently in the future to him. One thing changing could set off a chain reaction of events, events that could end up in the deaths of thousands. They had to forget because he'd already seen it happen. That seemed to be happening a lot in his life.

They'd decided it'd be best for the Doctor to remove and alter the memories at night with everyone in their own beds, so they could wake up and think their trip in outer space was just a lovely dream. He, Clara, and the Smiths had spent two days after the TARDIS holiday reworking everything. They'd kept the Doctor, but they'd edited out his alienness. In this new version of events, he was simply Mrs. Smith's assistant at work with a degree in astronomy and medicine. They fabricated memories of him watching the kids at Mrs. Smith's office, of coming to work parties. They kept the correct memory of the passage of time, but made the time the way they needed it.

But still, Clara had to be edited out completely—there was no way to reconcile her with everyday life. She was lost in their memories just as her alternate self was set to lose hers completely.

But it hadn't happened yet. She crawled up onto the bed between the two people who had become her closest friends outside of the Doctor. She hugged Dr. Smith, and then she rolled over and held Mrs. Smith. She pressed her face into her neck and succumbed quicker than she would've liked. She didn't cry; she wept. The way she loved her alternate self was unique and complicated, and it was a love she would never forget. She wasn't embarrassed of her tears for once.

"It's all right," Mrs. Smith reassured her, her hand stroking lovingly over her hair. "We've had the best time, you and I. The best. And we'll remember that even if we don't."

"It feels like you're dying," she admitted tearfully.

"I'm not. But regardless, you don't need me," Mrs. Smith told her. She reached down and gently held Clara's chin, redirecting her gaze. She leaned forward, pressing a kiss to the top of Clara's nose, then to her upper lip. Clara felt her tears slipping down her face at a quicker rate than they ever had. "You've got everything you need inside of yourself, because I'm you. Whatever you're searching for when you're missing me, you've already got it."

Her eyes were swollen when she turned over to face Dr. Smith. He wasn't the last Doctor—she had learned that a long time ago and come to terms with it—but this was the very last time she'd see this face. She tried to keep from sobbing again.

"How about one for the road?" She asked lightly. "With your wife's permission, of course."

"Make a baby for all I care—you're me, so I'm not really sure if it counts as cheating." Mrs. Smith laughed. It was watery, though.

"Oh, now she tells me that! When you're about to leave!" Dr. Smith joked. "Though I'm fairly certain you two have been getting up to far worse."

"A lady never tells." Clara and Mrs. Smith said casually, in unison. They exchanged a tearful smile.

"See, that's just not right," the Doctor spoke up. "What is your dynamic? Beyond "uncomfortable for everyone"?" His tone was grumbly, but when Mrs. Smith reached over to tug him down on the bed with them, he was smiling. Clara felt Dr. Smith's hands gently grasp her cheeks. He pressed a warm, friendly kiss to her lips, and when he pulled away, she realized that was all she'd ever wanted. She pursed her lips and smiled. Her heart felt warm.

"I love you, you big idiot." She admitted. He grinned widely at that.

"And I love you, you bossy English teacher. I'll never forget the drinking game you showed me. It was truly legendary."

She winked. "I'd rather hope not."

When she rolled over, she was pleased to see the Doctor in a reclining position. Mrs. Smith glanced over, met Clara's eyes, and they shared a knowing look.

"Might as well be swingers, Doctor," Mrs. Smith commented.


His question was effectively stopped by Mrs. Smith's lips, pressing gently to his. It was a quick, innocent kiss. Clara thought she would've made it a bit more wicked had it been her, but to each their own. The Doctor's cheeks were red when Mrs. Smith pulled back.

"I expect that to happen with her many, many, many more times," she told both the Doctor and Clara sternly. She tapped the Doctor's chest. "I've been in your head. I know how you feel. Stop hiding it."

He grumbled and looked away. Clara felt her heart rise dangerously.

"Well," Dr. Smith began. He sighed for a dramatically long time and then sat up slowly. "Looks like it's our turn, Doc."

"For wh—arg! No! Get off my face!"

He leaned back.

"What's a kiss between alternate selves?"


When their laughter panned off, they all grew quiet. The four looked up at the ceiling, still sprawled on their backs. Clara didn't want it to be over. She wasn't sure how she was going to go back to her everyday life, back to teaching, and Danny, like none of this ever happened. She was sure something similar was on everyone's mind.

"Don't screw up our kids." The Doctor finally said.

"We won't." Mrs. Smith assured him. "If you ever make it back to this universe, check in on them. Protect them."

"From aliens, bad decisions, and rude friends and partners." Dr. Smith added.

"Of course." The Doctor promised. "I'll email. That's a thing, right? Emailing? Coworkers email?"

"Sure." Mrs. Smith smiled. "We'll email. We can all be pen pals across the universes."

"You can meet Clara again, just over email, and not knowing she's your alternate self." The Doctor assured Mrs. Smith.

They couldn't put it off much longer, or Clara knew they'd never do it. She had to leave the room—she didn't want to watch him rearranging their minds. While he dealt with that, she went into each room and kissed each child, before they lost all memory of her. She had faith that they'd be okay—at least for a little while—and that could keep her going for a very long time.

She'd almost made it out of the boys' room, but then a tired voice stopped her.


She froze in the doorway. It took an infinite amount of strength to turn around and smile.

"Yeah?" She whispered. "Is everything all right?"

Bristol was obviously still half asleep. Clara was just glad to hear him talking again. He yawned, and she thought he wouldn't reply, but he did.

"You never told me."

She blinked, confused. She shifted closer.

"Told you what?" She asked softly.

"What kind of haircut I have in your world."

She remembered their very first conversation. She faltered. She'd never mentioned whether or not she had kids in her own world to them, and she'd forgotten he had always assumed she did.

"Oh, right," she whispered. She hesitated for a moment longer, and then she smiled. "He's got your haircut."

Bristol yawned. "Oh man, two Dad haircuts."

Clara laughed quietly. "You've got to get up early tomorrow—you should probably go on back to sleep."

"Okay." He agreed. She waited until he settled back underneath his covers. "Ossie?"


"Are you going back home to be with him?"

Her hand slipped from the door frame. She crossed her arms and swallowed the inexplicable pain that question caused.

"I am."

"Good. We don't like it when you're gone."

"Well, Clara," the Doctor began. She watched him trail his hands over the console controls. "What do you make of it?"

She looked up from the floor distractedly.


He cleared his throat. "Our experience. What do you make of it? Are you going to go start a family with P.E. the minute I get this TARDIS to cooperate and take us back home?"

She knew she should've been irritated to have him back on that topic after all they'd been through, but for once, she wasn't. She leaned back in his armchair.

"If you're asking if I still want kids, the answer's yes."

She felt the corners of her mouth curving up at the way his shoulder dropped, dejectedly. He wasn't even trying to hide it any longer.

"But I'm still holding out for yours."

His head spun in her direction, shocked, but she was already rising from the seat. She strolled from the console room with a smirk in place, feeling better than she had in a long time. Because he was right; he wasn't her boyfriend. He was much more than that. It only took the universe to show her that.