Author's Note: WELL. 2 years and almost 4 months later, I have FINALLY completed this story! So many thanks to everyone who sent me those messages, reviews, sometimes multiple times that let me know that they still wanted to know how this story ended. THANK YOU. It helped me to know that people were still reading it and ultimately helped me finish it. Originally conceived before we had even SEEN Twelve as a sequel to Hold Onto Me, this story was supposed to end about 6 chapters and 2 years ago. So really, if you have stuck with me this long – thank you SO much. A huge shout-out to my incomparable beta, V/FBS/Castiolar, who will always unapologetically rock. And without further ado…I give you THE FINAL CHAPTER! :)
Clara stared at the door. The door stared back.
She steeled herself with a breath, fingers twitching at her side. A stand-off with a door, reminiscent of the Old American West. She half-expected a tumbleweed to roll down the empty corridor.
She could do this. She'd faced doors that concealed unimaginable danger, doors that hid the grotesque and the terrifying, doors that stood as the flimsy barrier between her and oblivion. How many times had a door been the only thing between her and a silent, screaming death in the deep void of space?
She could keep her cool, too. Heaven knew how much her students had tested her, or well-meaning parents had tested her. Hell, even how much he had tested her. In the face of the infuriating, after it seemed every last bit of compassion and kindness was wrung from her, she could stand steady, a port in the storm.
So this door? Easy.
Letting out a forceful exhalation, she turned the handle and swung the door open –
-to find another broom and mop standing mockingly in a corner, an empty bucket overturned on its side.
"Seriously?!" she exclaimed, slamming the door shut, the sound reverberating throughout the deserted corridor. "That's the fifth broom cupboard – you couldn't even find something a bit more creative to block me with?!" She dug in her bag, extricating the translator and brandished it at the open air. "Look – this is just to translate something! I had to go get it because I've looked and there aren't any mentions of the Levantrian in any of the books I can read, which means that I have to look in the ones from Gallifrey." She turned, as if making sure she addressed every inch of air, her words picking up speed. "But I can't read Gallfreyan so I have to learn it first! But I can't do that unless I have a source that has words that I already know that will show me what they are in Gallifreyan – look!" She waved a paper frantically, the one she had carefully copied down every bit of the previous Doctor's message to her, leaving space for the Gallifreyan text. "It's just a project! So can you please stop it with the diversion tactics and let me find the bloody library?!"
Honestly, she shouldn't have expected any different. The Doctor was nowhere to be found when she'd first walked in that evening, already buried underneath a highly impressive tangle of wires. He'd managed to half-extricate himself to have what passed for an abrupt conversation with her, punctuated by terms like filbergrands and bloody stabilisers and stroppy fit. And, at the end, it was punctuated by sparks followed by a series of curses that she guessed were in several different alien languages. The TARDIS had probably translated each of them for her with glee.
She gave a sigh, drawing on those reserves of patience she saved for her most disruptive students, falling back on the words of her well-meaning boss: remember that all behaviour is a form of communication. "Look…I get that you're probably just trying to protect him." Or you're just taking out whatever tiff you have with him on me. Again. "But I'm trying to protect him, too – we're on the same side! And once I find out what the Levantrian is, I can…move on. Okay?"
A pause hung in the air, a sign that the TARDIS might just be listening, Clara's request under consideration. Then – a release, almost like a rush or a change in pressure, a long sigh blowing out as she grudgingly capitulated. The library was at the end of the next corridor.
"Thank you!" Clara whispered fervently as she stepped into the dizzyingly endless array of books and other story collection instruments that lined the walls and ceilings. She headed straight for the Gallfireyan section, breezing past the encyclopaedic bottles, the jars of children's stories, and the strange funnels which apparently contained political and philosophical treatises.
"Honestly, would a photo or even a picture be that difficult?" she murmured absently, fingers brushing over the spines as though she could divine where the meteorology books were hiding.
Or…perhaps she could. With a little help.
Right. From the ship who had just steered her into five broom cupboards.
"Soooo," she started, affecting what she hoped was a beguiling head tilt, "Any chance you could at least point me in the direction of the meteorology section? Would make the work go a lot faster. And then I wouldn't be wandering about where you don't like me."
Clara's pleading smile came out as more of a grimace. "Please?"
More silence. Not even the whir of an engine.
Her shoulders slumped, dropping the obsequious act. "Or not." It didn't need to be a meteorology book, after all. It was just that her intrigue surrounding the Levantrian had climbed to near-bursting levels. Shortcuts around the tedious translation and language-learning process were welcome at this point.
Well. She had wanted a project.
Letting out a healthy sigh, she'd just landed on a random choice when a thud rang out through the stacks off to her left. Judging from the heft of it, it wasn't an ABC's book. The cover was nondescript, but that was hardly surprising given the dearth of anything adorning the other covers.
"Thanks," she said sincerely. "Even if you were just trying to chuck me on the shoulder and missed."
She made her way back to the plush sofa, settling in and withdrawing the translator from her bag. She didn't exactly expect anything to jump out at her when she opened the book and tried to make sense of those graceful curlicues, circles and whorls – it had been at least a year since she'd even so much as glanced at any Gallifreyan. A cursory examination didn't reveal much, not even that pop-up translation screen she'd accidentally activated that first time so long ago. Ten minutes later, she wasn't sure how she'd found it in the first place: there were no familiar shapes to indicate play, stop, and record, much less translate. All of the buttons were covered in foreign symbols, with no obvious lever to press. Her finger hovered over each in turn, huffing when nothing happened. Perhaps if she pressed the one she knew, other options would appear? There was only one way to find out.
The sound of the Doctor's former gravelly baritone filled the silence, and she leaned back into the cushions, tucking her knees up. One of the buttons was flickering now, and she pressed it. A holographic screen appeared, and the words from the message started streaming across in English. But how to turn them into the proper Gallifreyan? The tornado-looking one sped things up; the four crooked diagonal lines slowed it down; the half-octopus skipped five seconds ahead. There was probably a function for the angry lightning bolt, but she didn't want to accidentally delete anything.
She let out a sigh, resting her head on the cushion and closing her eyes as she tried to form a new plan. Maybe she could jog her memory if she just listened...
"I don't mean to interrupt, but we're sorted."
Clara's eyes flew open, and she fumbled for the off button, her cheeks burning. "Oh! Right." How long had he been standing there? "Well, that didn't take long then, did it?" She forced a smile.
There was a wretched split second of hurt and thinly veiled accusation, but then his features went blank and he shook his head. "No. Turned out it wasn't the filbergrands after all. Made for a much easier fix."
She faked an enthusiastic nod. "Good. That's good."
He was restless, weight shifting absently as his feet probably itched to flee the awkward situation he'd stumbled into. "So if you wanted to go somewhere, we uh…we can, but if you're - busy –"
"No! No, no, I'm not, I was just – trying to read. Trying to translate, actually." She fingered the page of the book in her lap, her mind racing for an explanation.
He took in her set-up – the open book, the piece of paper, and the translator, a crease forming between his eyebrows. "Translate…what? The message?"
"No, not the message. I was just using it to help me translate this book."
His look of perplexity deepened. "You're trying to translate a book? In…Gallifreyan."
"Yeah. I was trying to look up about certain…meteorological events."
"I see." His expression said otherwise. "Is there a reason you didn't just – ask me?"
"Well, um…I didn't want to bother you with it 'cause…" She fought for something believable, a plausible explanation, another reason to stall. And gave up. "I didn't want to bother you with it 'cause I asked you about it before, and it didn't seem like you wanted to talk about it."
This time it was his answer that sounded a bit forced. "Maybe it was because I hoped you would ask about something less boring than Gallifreyan meteorology."
She couldn't help the way her lips quirked at that.
"Seriously! Out of all the possible things you could ask about Gallifrey, why on Earth would you want to know about the weather?!"
"Because you have something about it on the time rotor."
He looked absolutely gobsmacked.
She fiddled with the pages again. "All your companions' names…except mine. You have something about the Levantrian instead."
"Yes, but I also have an old nursery rhyme that's an anagram for the names of all my favourite restaurants, and the names of places that sell dodgy spare parts so I remember not to go back there. Except Calibris."
"Sometimes I keep my grocery lists up there when I can't be bothered to write them down."
She leveled him with a gaze that meant business. "Seriously. Is the Levantrian something from the Time War?"
All of his mirth dissolved instantly. "No."
"Then what is it?"
He tried to shake her off. "It's really not that important."
"Is it less important than your grocery lists?"
He seemed primed for another snappy comeback – but must have noted her determination as all the fight went out of him. "All right." He gave a little resigned shrug as he joined her on the sofa. Given the easy closeness they'd recently shared, the abnormally wide berth he gave her tugged at her heart. "There were these – endless plains of red grass outside the citadel – they must have spanned hundreds and hundreds of miles. And every thousand years or so, there was this wind of unknown origin that blew through the fields, creating a –"
"A vibration," finished Clara. "The wind song."
You were the wind song of my hearts, Clara.
With the translator between them, she could almost hear the ghostly echo of his former self.
He must have felt it, too, a strain in his reply. "Yes."
"But I know about the Levantrian, remember?" She held up the translator as evidence. "When I asked you whether I'd heard of it –"
"I lied." The space underneath his clasped fingers became extremely interesting. "And I'm sorry. For lying. But I suppose I – didn't want to dredge up the past." His gaze flicked briefly to the translator.
"Then why would you need to remember it?"
Surprisingly, his answer was quick. "As a reminder. To appreciate what I have now." He finally locked eyes with her, and she was the one who had to look away.
She stared hard enough at the indecipherable symbols that it burned. "Yeah," she finally said. "Makes sense."
And it did, of course. His message to her and everything it meant was truly a thing of the past – which was probably why he'd looked so hurt that she was dredging it up again. "Makes perfect sense," she added.
She could accept it. She could move on, like he had done.
Didn't mean she had to like it.
Still, she forced another smile on her face, this time filled to the brim with the easy camaraderie they shared.
He returned it, some of the tension draining from his posture. "So, do you still want to learn about Gallifreyan weather?"
She chuckled, ready to reply in the negative – when another idea hit her. "Actually – yeah. I do."
He blinked at her. "That was a joke, Clara."
"I know, but…"
But it gives me an excuse to spend more time with you.
"But if I learned Gallifreyan, there'd be another person in the Universe you could speak your language with. Wouldn't that be…I dunno - nice?"
The Doctor went completely still. "Nice isn't the first word that comes to mind," he replied, his tone softened.
"Well, yeah, also 'cause it's possible I just want to learn all the curse words."
He snickered, picking up the translator. "I doubt you'll find too many of those when they're discussing high and low pressure systems." He fixed her with an unreadable look. "It might take us a while to get there."
An image rose unbidden of the hours and hours she would be spending with him, listening to that voice. Maybe he'd even allow her to snuggle into him, her head on his chest, the twin heartbeats an accompaniment to his low, sonorous brogue…
Right. 'Cause that would help her move on.
God, she was a glutton for punishment.
"Good thing we've got a time machine, then."
"And not just that…" The tech responded to his deft touch, to his long fingers gliding from button to button. "I'd forgotten the model I picked out for you." He raised his eyebrows, blowing air through his teeth. "This has a rather impressive capacity."
"It's got a lot of memory?"
"'A lot' doesn't begin to describe it – they adapted from Time Lord technology." He jerked his head at the stacks. "You could read every book aloud in this library and you still wouldn't even scratch the surface. Huh." The Doctor was eyeing the book almost warily. "Did you pick this?" he finally asked.
"No, I had…'help.'"
"Ah." He nodded once, gingerly turning the first few pages.
"Let me guess: not a meteorology book?"
"No." He shifted so she could see it, as if that would confirm he was telling the truth. "Though I suppose she might have figured it would help with the words of the message instead."
There was something off about the way he was holding it, though, like the pages were sandpapery and the words were in a dialect he didn't understand.
When he didn't start, she prodded him with "So…what is it?"
"It's a Western," he said. "One of the stories penned by an author from the lowlands – very different writing and sentiment than what the Time Lords produced. They probably would have considered this sensational sentimentalist rubbish."
The literature lover in her propelled her to lean forward in excited anticipation. "You mean it's a good story?"
The Doctor's expression was all wrong: where she might have expected some kind of disdain or even barely concealed distaste, it was instead carefully blank. "Yes. It makes for a good story, I suppose."
She frowned. "What do you mean 'makes for?'"
He ignored her question, setting the translator between them. "It's set to English; I can show you how to take the recording and default it to the original text later."
Now he definitely looked like he was steeling himself, and Clara tried not to squirm in the ensuing silence.
Why all the stalling? Was he having second thoughts? Was there something contained in that book that was making him think? Giving her real intentions away?
Unable to take it any longer, she cleared her throat lightly. "Do you want me to pick another one or -?"
"It's fine," he cut in. "It's fine," he repeated, almost to himself. "It uh – it starts with a prologue apparently." Then he took a long, deep breath and started speaking in that long-lost musical language.
What else could he do?
After all this time, what more did she need?
When he looked at her, he could see galaxies reflected in her eyes – the stars swirling in a never-ending dance around each other, millions upon millions of tiny points of light. There were supernovas in her smile, stars bowing down in their capitulation and dying to the brilliance of it. When he looked at her, he could see the endless stretch of Time; and he wondered how she could possibly have written herself into his future without asking him first (and even more, he wondered why he didn't mind.) He could also see Time freeze and grind to a halt, the paradoxes of No Time and All of Time contained in the breath that left her lungs. When he looked at her, he could see the Beginning and the End of all things, his Oneness made whole at last.
But when she looked at him, all she could see was the love she had lost, the man he wasn't.
And he wondered…
Would she ever truly know him?
Would she ever SEE him?
Heart hammering, air squeezed out of her lungs, a breathless "stop" tumbled from her mouth.
Her mind raced, struggling to catch up to the rate of her heartbeat. "Is that what you think?" she finally asked, eyes glued to the screen where would she ever SEE him? flashed at her like a beacon of hope.
He was silent for just a beat too long. "It's not what I think – I'm just reading the story."
"No, but – really?"
From the way his lips were pressed together, it seemed like he wasn't even going to acknowledge her question, let alone tear his eyes from the page. "Of course it isn't. It's just a story, Clara."
And, quite suddenly, she saw him.
His declaration at that fundraiser that they weren't dating and never would be, that "wife, girlfriend and lover" would never apply…
His careful efforts to cede control to her of how much personal space they shared, never once initiating something that could be mistaken as "intimate" (no matter how much she might've yearned for it of late)…
His reluctance to tell her about the Levantrian, revealing that he needed a reminder to appreciate what he had. Or, put another way – appreciate what they had…
And his reaction to the book. All that was missing was a hearty protest that no, the TARDIS hadn't picked this book for a reason, hadn't known how each of these words would prick at his hearts, drawing fresh blood from old wounds.
Though in all honesty, she had never been more grateful for the infernal machine.
"It's a romance, right?"
A muscle in his jaw twitched. "Yes."
She shifted closer. "So – normal romance stuff."
His head turned a quarter of the way towards her. "I assume so. I haven't read it before."
She laid her arm across the back of the couch and leaned her head on it. "So then – how do you say 'kiss me' in Gallifreyan?"
That earned her a half turn. "Well, we're – we're getting to that part, probably."
"Yeah, but – how do you say it?"
At first, she was afraid he wouldn't answer. But he finally mumbled something that lasted a few syllables.
She slid her arm further along the back of the couch towards him, scooting her body with it. "Sorry – didn't quite catch that."
Another beat. He repeated it with a touch more volume, his head halfway turned to her, cheeks noticeably tinted pink.
She shook her head, creeping further towards him until there was only about six inches of space between them. "Yeah – one more time?" She leaned in like she needed to study how his lips formed the words.
He blew a long sigh out through his nose. And then, possibly out of sheer annoyance at her, he turned his head, looked her in the eye and repeated the words like one would to a child, elongating the syllables until they were almost incomprehensible.
Not that any of that mattered, of course.
"Okay, okay," she said in mock irritation. "I get it." She let a hand bravely stray to his cheek, turning his face towards her. "Besides, you really only had to ask the once," she teased, before closing the distance between them and pressing her lips to his.
He stiffened – probably from shock. It was a rather chaste kiss, but there was a slight indentation in his forehead when they broke apart. "Clara," he started to protest.
She placed a finger just shy of his lips. "Before you say anything, just one question. You remembered the bit about the Levantrian – but do you still remember everything else you said in that message? Specifically," she continued, pressing a finger into his mouth when he tried to answer, "picturing me and you in every room of the TARDIS?"
His eyebrows went up before pulling low as he frowned at her finger. She removed it, laying it against his cheek. "That's two questions."
She let the finger trail lazily along his jaw, a challenge in her eyes. "And?"
"Yes," he admitted haltingly.
She started tracing the shell of his ear, noting with a thrill how he tried to suppress a shiver. "And the translator…" She placed a soft kiss on his jaw. "It doesn't just record words, right? It can record things that aren't words. Like…sounds?" She found the spot at the juncture of his jaw and kissed there, grazing the tip of his earlobe with her lips.
He made a noise in the back of his throat. "Yes. It's a recorder, so it can record any…sounds."
"Mmm." Her lips moved lower to his neck. "And top shelf model, right? Almost endless memory? So does that mean it can record, I dunno…hours?"
His eyes had fluttered shut. "Yes. Hours. Easily."
She unbuttoned the top collar of his shirt, her lips following. "Days?"
He hissed as she kissed the patch of skin exposed there. "Days, yes."
She slid a hand down his stomach, anchoring around his waist so she could pull herself flush against his side. Meanwhile, her fingers had dipped inside his collar, finding their way to the back of his neck, teasing it. "Weeks?"
His mouth had dropped open by then, making his chuckle more audible. "I suppose it could take weeks."
Her hand trailed to the front of his face, cupping his cheek. "What about years?" she asked softly.
That was enough to surprise his eyes open, a watery film appearing over them as he stared at her in wonder. "You'd need to break it up a bit – into multiple segments," he replied, his voice coming from somewhere deep in his throat.
"Well, yeah, there'd be pauses. Breaks here and there for the essentials." She found his hand, and interlaced her fingers through his, squeezing. "How many years do you think it could take?"
His attention fell to their joined hands, his thumb rubbing tiny circles on the back. Grasping her hand in both of his, he brought it slowly to his lips, placing a tender kiss on her palm, before pulling it down towards his chest. He reached for her other hand, then, fingers clasped around each wrist as he pulled her purposefully towards him, crossing her hands behind his neck so they were nose to nose. He kissed that first, trembling fingers stroking down her cheeks, anchoring behind her head and scrunching ever so slightly in her hair. Then, he leaned in and kissed her full on the lips.
The Beginning and End of all things, Oneness made whole at last – the words she'd just seen on the screen danced dizzyingly through her head as he poured everything into his kiss, and into her.
Both breathless and quivering when they broke apart, they reached simultaneously for each other – petting and caressing and cuddling. Connecting and reassuring.
Huddled together, the Universe forgotten.
She forgot her question, too, until she found him gazing down at her. The low lamplight caught, swirling and reflecting back at her against a backdrop of limpid blue.
Galaxies in his eyes, he gave her a slow smile that would shame a supernova. "Let's find out."