A/N As much as I love the charm of explanations in Doctor Who being little more than hand waving and saying it's "timey whimey", I'm sure I'm not the only one who watched "Listen", loved it, and then cried out, 'But how did the TARDIS get to any or all of those places?'. And in moments like that, my tragically logical mind has to sort out the plot holes and provide an explanation, even if only to appease myself. So, here's what I came up with.
"Clara Oswald," Danny Pink said, with reverence, as he brushed a strand of hair off her face. It was nearly sun up, and yet it still surprised him that she was lying in his bed, particularly given how badly their date had gone. "Clara Oswald," he repeated, as if relishing in the sound of it.
"That's my name," she replied with a laugh, enjoying the look of pure affection on his face.
"I like your name."
"I know. It's the one nice thing you managed to say to me tonight." Danny buried his face into her shoulder in embarrassment. "Not to worry. More than made up for it now." He still looked perturbed when he lifted his head, so she added, "I like your name too. Danny Pink. It's a good name."
"Better than Rupert?"
"Are you ever going to tell me how you knew that name?"
"But not tonight?"
"No," she said definitively, before laying her head on his chest. "Why 'Danny'? What made you choose that?"
"It's a stupid reason."
"No it's not. Big decision like that. Couldn't have been."
"I had these toy soldiers when I was a kid, used to play with them all the time. One of them was broken, didn't have a gun, but I liked to think of him as the colonel. I used to call him "Dan the Soldier Man". See I told you it was stupid."
"Shut up, it's not."
"Guess I just wanted to be like him. A soldier so brave he didn't need a gun." Clara's whole face fell. Misunderstanding her expression Danny added, "Let me guess, you don't approve of playing soldiers?"
"Nothing wrong with it. Lots of scary things out there when you're a kid. Probably nice to have your own army."
"Plastic army. But yeah. They… well actually, they used to guard under my bed."
"Keep out the monsters?" Clara tried to sound nonchalant and not give away the current of fears and questions swirling around her head.
"Yeah. Did a pretty good job actually. I used to have a lot of bad dreams as a kid. You know that dream when someone grabs your leg in the middle of the night? I used to get that one all the time. But it turns out it was Oswald's fault."
Clara quickly sat up in bed and stared at him, "What?"
"Oh Oswald, he was my best friend. I sort of… well I grew up in this children's home and Oswald had the room next to me. He was a practical joker and used to sneak into my room to scare me in the middle of the night."
"So it was just a kid in a bed spread," Clara said, more to herself than to Danny. She quickly added, "and not a monster under the bed."
"Don't think he knew how scared I was, but when I started putting out the soldiers, it's like he just got it. He told me it'd been him. Even apologized. I thought he'd tease me for being scared, but he never mentioned it again. Almost looked spooked."
"Maybe Dan the Soldier Man sorted him out," Clara said in an off handed way, while she reevaluated the events of the night. She knew that a child in a bed spread was entirely possible, but she hadn't considered how unsettling the scene would have been for them. Strangers spouting nonsense in the middle of the night, scarier than monsters any day. "When was that?" Clara asked, suddenly aware that this must be how the TARDIS knew to take her to that moment. If Danny told her the exact date it made sense that the TARDIS would find it.
"Oh I don't know, guess I would have been seven or eight. Oswald was a year older. Maybe he just grew out of it, you know? Got too old for pretending."
"All the silly things little boys do to each other."
"Or that friends do."
"Suppose that's why you like my name, then. Good memories of old friends." Clara said, laying her head back on his chest. Pleased that he didn't seem to have any memory of her and the Doctor's visit.
"Guess so. You know I hadn't thought of him in years. Oswald Oswin—"
"What was that?" Clara tilted her head up so she could catch his eye, praying she had misheard.
"That was his name, Oswald Oswin. Bit of a little shit. Would've driven me crazy, if I took him for maths. But back then he was family."
"What happened to him?" Clara asked, already fearing the answer.
"He died. He was young. Nineteen. Rescued a man from drowning. Oswald… well he was a good man. Maybe it goes with the name. You Oswalds are quite the bunch."
"You have no idea."
Clara had to laugh at the state of her apartment. Her favourite mug sat on the counter, still containing about a half cup of cold tea. Her clutch lay haphazardly on the sofa, where she had tossed it. The entire space now a relic to moping interrupted. It was amazing how much things could change in an evening, especially when time travel was involved. Brave little Rupert Pink. Afraid of the monster under his bed, but never batting an eye at the presence of two strangers, one of whom was particularly strange. She worried he took the Doctor's words (and the subsequent "dream") a little too much to heart. Would he have always become a soldier or was his fate sealed on that day? Did his big dream of being Dan the Soldier Man set the course for the rest of his life? And was it his recounting of the story to Clara that led the TARDIS to Rupert's room last night, or was it Oswald? Was there another her in that room listening to them talk of nightmares and monsters under the bed? These thoughts consumed Clara as she washed her face and brushed her teeth. The idea that she had inadvertently shaped the whole course of Danny Pink's life was terrifying. Then again, it wasn't nearly as terrifying as the thoughts she was avoiding: questions about Orson and who he was to her were decidedly not being considered. The answers, even just the possibilities there in, were far too much for this moment, especially considering she had only just got home from her first date with his potential great grandfather. That was one of the things she was definitely not thinking about.
Clara walked to her bedroom in a daze. After sitting up all night with the Doctor and then staying up with Danny she was well past the point of exhaustion. Her questions and fears began to drift away. All she wanted was her bed. The only problem was that it was currently being obstructed by a police call box.
"That date went longer than the first. Was it any better?"
"Much improved," Clara replied, putting her heels away and pushing past the TARDIS to lie down on her bed.
"Good. Now come on."
"Not going. Sleeping."
"Sleep later. We have places to be."
Clara put her pillow over her face and tried to evoke the insolence of Courtney Woods, "Like where?"
"Gloucester. We still haven't determined why the TARDIS brought us there."
"Maybe someone told me that story," Clara said, closing her eyes, willing sleep to win out over her curiosity.
"Like who? No, you must have been there somewhere. Little you, with your little brain. Maybe you knew Rupert. Maybe he told you he was having bad dreams."
Clara sighed, there really was no way she was going to get any sleep. She sat up in bed and absentmindedly hugged her pillow, her mind far away. "What if it wasn't actually me. What if it was one of the other ones? The copies from Trenzalore?"
The Doctor's face grew hard for a moment. "It's possible. Do you have memories of that place?" He sounded almost clinical, but she knew him well enough now to know that was a defence mechanism. The Doctor had witnessed two versions of her give their lives for him, and was well aware of the countless others who had done the same. She could tell from the way he almost never talked about it, the way he didn't ask her anything, even though he must be deeply curious, that be felt a tremendous amount of guilt and responsibility for the demise of so many Clara Oswalds.
"No, but then again I don't remember much from the others."
"Why don't we check?" The Doctor ran into the TARDIS, confident Clara would be right behind him. Covering up feelings with a task and a flurry of motion was something he shared with his former self. "Here it is," he called from the console, rotating the screen so she could see it, "Oswald Oswin. He had the room next to Rupert." The picture on the screen could have been Clara's brother. Or perhaps herself at nine if her hair had been kept short. "But he's a boy. If he's a copy of me, why is he a boy, Doctor?"
"Think of how many there were, thousands upon thousands of you. To think one might have slipped up, got a Y chromosome instead of an X is hardly impossible." The Doctor's voice was dismissive, but it masked a thought, or the beginnings of one. What if no one is every really alone? What if every single living thing has a companion? A silent passenger? Another Clara in that room. How many times had he passed one of them unaware?
Clara didn't notice the Doctor's worried look, she was too busy reevaluating the night, "Could there have been another me with Orson? Only no, I mean there couldn't have, because there was no one else. But how did you get there? Even if he's somehow related to me, why would he be in my timeline long after I was dead? But it was the end of the universe. There was nothing else…" Clara thought of the copies upon copies, enough to save the Doctor in every moment. Did that mean they would outlast the universe to protect him? "It wasn't me knocking, was it?"
The Doctor looked far away and then snapped back to the present. "No, but you were there." He began typing furiously into the console, looking between two screens and studying the Gallifreyan characters on display.
"Let's just say you were there in spirit." One screen suddenly showed the interior of Orson's shuttle. "Do you see it?"
"See what?" Clara asked, scanning the image without comprehension.
"You," he pointed to the bottom left corner of the computer.
"Operating System With an Intelligent Network?" she read out, still not seeing the significance.
"Oswin Clara Oswald," the Doctor flipped a switch and the photo of another copy, this one pale with short hair, appeared on the screen accompanied by a biography. "Brilliant computer scientist. Groundbreaking work in artificial intelligence. Sickly though. Incurable genetic disorder, probably another misplaced gene, like Oswald. She was afraid she'd die before she was able to complete her work, so she put herself into the program. You were there, Clara. Not breathing, but still thinking, remembering. Saving me."
"Orson saved you."
"I should have been sucked out of that airlock long before he got there. She must have repaired it, at least partially. Or I would have been bye bye, and Orson Pink and the TARDIS would have come sailing out after me."
"Guess I'll never be done saving you."
Clara tried to smile at the Doctor, tried to lighten the mood, but his features were a mask, darkened by the inner workings of his mind. "Where did you go after? Where were you without me?"
"Doctor," Clara's voice held all the warning of the previous night.
"Was it in your timeline or one of the others?" She crossed her arms across her chest, sealing herself up, trying to show persistence was futile. "The TARDIS safeties were off. She could have taken us anywhere." He moved towards the console, but Clara placed her body in front of it.
"But what if it does? All of these you's, all over time and space. Living, and dying, and always there. My fault, and yours, but why can't I see this one? What are you hiding?"
"Yes, yes, do as I'm told." He stepped to the right, but again she blocked his path.
"You promised to never look where we had been."
"Yes, I did. But I lie." This time he was too quick for her. His hands moved across the keys and his eyes flew up to the screen expectantly. It, however, remained blank. He typed in a few more commands, but to no avail. He glared at the TARDIS. "I think I liked it better when the two of you didn't get along."
"We're just looking out for you. Sort of our jobs."
"Thought I was your hobby?" He said it with a sneer, but the tension of the previous moment had all but gone.
"Actually, at the moment, you are a pest. I need sleep." Clara began walking towards the door, the Doctor didn't stop her. "Come back again tonight. We'll fight Sontarans or rescue space squids. Just let me get at least eight hours of rest." She turned back to him before entering her bedroom, "See you later, Doctor," and with that she was gone.
A/N There's one more part to this story. We still need to address the question of how Clara ended up on Gallifrey that night, so TBC.