I look at you every single day and I don't understand a thing about you.
What he meant to say, what he knew he really meant, was that every single day he loved her.
He loved the sight of her when she woke up and walked straight to the console room where he was sitting and reading and keeping the TARDIS company. He loved her sleepy eyes and the slope of her neck exposed where her hair was pushed back. She smelled like grass and cracked peppercorns and something girly, like her perfume or the shampoo she used. Even after she left the room, he could still smell her. He pats her head to keep from kissing her quite often.
After he reset them, after he saw her cracked and burnt body and the realization on her face to see herself as a monster, he went back to the library. By some trick of their timelines or the TARDIS or both, the book was still open where she had left it. He stood there for a long moment, feeling the peace of Clara sleeping in her room down the hall. The Doctor read his name, over and over until it hurt too much and he turned the page back. His fingers stilled on the edges of the page, relishing the idea that her same fingers had touched that same page. He closed his eyes and struggled to keep the feeling of her hand in his at the front of his thoughts, terrified that it might dissolve as it had in her own mind.
His fingers rubbed the pages and he imagined she was here standing with him in this exact spot, reading the book. The two of them together. He could tell her about Gallifrey, about his family. The festivals they used to have, the orange sky. Clara would love the orange sky.
It felt like a nail through his heart that he could never share that with her.
He thought about her book, her mother's book. 101 Places to See. Once he had walked past her room to see her door open and inside she was sitting on the bed with the book open on her lap. He paused, watching as her fingers slid over the page before moving on to the next one. He could show her all those places, and more. That was one certainty he held on to. What scared him was seeing her die, over and over at some extension of his own hand. It was the cruelest joke of this universe that he had worked so hard, so hard, to protect.
No matter how hard he had tried, he had already seen her death three times.
The Doctor closed the book with a heavy thud and turned to walk back through the library. If he couldn't show her Gallifrey, he would make her live all the life he could give her. He wasn't going to waste this for a fourth time. He wanted to see every movement on her face at every realization of her place in the universe, of the enormous expanse and infinity of it all.
And he wanted to love her with both hearts in a way neither of them had known or could ever understand. If there was one thing he could do, he could make everything take notice. He gave his love, not easily, but he could and in that way they could live forever.
In the end, that was the only thing he could give them.
The Doctor walked back through the TARDIS slowly, hands in his pockets. When he got to Clara's room, the door was open and he hesitated. After a moment, he leaned in, looking into her wide, circular room. This room was the reason he was so certain the TARDIS didn't entirely dislike her. If it really disliked her, it would've hidden this room from her. And this room was so completely Clara.
He took a hesitant step in and squinted, making out the shadows of Clara sleeping on the edge of the round circle of her bed. She was curled up on her side, the sheets twisted around her and he could see her face was pinched in concentration. She was asleep but something about her expression made him take a step further. Clara shifted, mumbling something before she went still again and the Doctor swallowed. He felt as if he was intruding but an open door was always his weakness. At the edge of the bed he stopped and for a moment he almost doubled back at the sight of her deep in sleep.
Her brow was furrowed intensely, as if she was trying to solve equations in her dreams and her hands clutched the pillow under her head, her knuckles resting at her chin. The sheets bunched up around her waist and he could see she was wearing a nightgown, one she often walked into the console room wearing in the morning with nothing on top or underneath. A strand of brown hair flopped over her cheek and curled at the edge of her mouth. The Doctor reached out, gently pushing the hair out of her face.
His touch must've been too heavy because suddenly she was blinking awake, grabbing at his hand forcefully. Her voice was more than half asleep as Clara sat up with a jolt. "Oi, don't try nothin'!" She tugged his hand and her other arm swung out in a right hook, almost clocking him in the chin. The Doctor swerved out of the way just in time and the force of her own swing almost knocked her over sleepily. Clara blinked, as if confused as to why her punch hadn't landed on her attacker and looked up at him. Her hand was still holding his. "Oh. Hello."
He knew he should pull his hand away, leave as quickly as possible. But her hand was warm and she wasn't letting go either. He pointed to the door. "Sorry, your door was open."
Clara looked to the still open doorway, rubbing her eye. "Oh… yes. I was waiting for you to go to bed but I must've fallen asleep."
The Doctor blinked. "Waiting for me? Why would you do that, Clara?"
She shrugged and tried to unsuccessfully stifle a yawn. "I don't know, you seemed… weird. Strange, and not in your normal strange way where you want to wear fezzes and dress like Mr. Darcy." Even though she was half asleep, Clara still managed to land her teasing insult. It made him smile, the Clara-ness of it all. He was smiling at her dumbly, not sure what to say. The thought of her waiting up for him was too immensely lovably for him to wrap his mind around. She cocked her head at him when he didn't respond and continued. "Where do you sleep anyways? I picture you sleeping upside down like a bat for some reason."
He laughed bashfully, rubbing the back of his neck as he shook his head. "I have a bed. It's around here somewhere."
Clara's other hand was rubbing the back of his hand. "Since you're not sure where it is… you could always sleep here tonight." Her words were playful but she looked up at him and he could see the vulnerability just beneath the surface of her expression. He was already unlacing his boots.
The Doctor got into bed with her, sliding in and wrapping his arms around her tiny frame as she lay back on her side. His hand rested on her stomach and as they shifted to fit in next to each other, her hand fell on top of his. His face was in her hair and he inhaled the scent that had infected him by now and pressed his chest into her back. It was quiet for a long time and Clara's breathing evened out. The Doctor held her, feeling the metronome of her diaphragm under his hand and closed his eyes.
He jumped a little, almost certain that she had fallen asleep. Clara didn't move against him and, as he breathed against her neck, he pulled her closer.
"When you asked me if I felt protected…" She paused but he didn't rush her, pressing his hand against her stomach so she knew he was listening. "I never want you to think I feel anything less than safe with you." Her head turned a little as if to look back towards him. In the dark, he felt her foot slide back between his own.
"That's all I want, Clara." After a moment, he felt her nod and settle again. In the morning, he would take her to a museum, maybe the one on Torat that held the most ancient religious costumes from across the universe. She would like that.
But right now, all he wanted was the adventure of holding her as she slept.