It was getting harder and harder for the Doctor to move forward. It was getting dim here, inside his own time stream, all the days of his life collapsing in on each other. He knew they had to get out, and quickly, but he was no longer sure of the way, and he was becoming ever more weary, Clara's slight weight dragging at his arms. Finally, his strength gave out and he crashed to his knees. He closed his eyes, just for a moment, he told himself, just to catch his breath.
A booted toe prodded him roughly in the leg. "Oi! What you doing down there?"
The Northern accent was a dead giveaway, so the Doctor was not at all surprised to see his leather-jacketed self glowering down at him.
"You. On your feet, now. You get her safe."
"You think I'm not trying?"
"I think you're sittin' on your duff, feeling sorry for yourself. Rose would be ashamed of you," he added contemptuously.
The Doctor shot him a look that had been known to send brave men running for cover, but his younger self just stood there and crossed his arms. Gritting his teeth, the Doctor shifted Clara carefully in his arms and began to struggle upright. His ninth incarnation met him halfway, hauling him roughly to his feet. The look he directed to Clara, though, was peculiarly gentle, an expression that only Rose had ever been able to evoke from him. He reached out as if to touch her hair, then sharply withdrew his hand and shoved it in his pocket instead.
"I never did get to thank her," he muttered.
"I'll see that she knows," the Doctor promised.
"You want to go that way. The others will help you if you need them."
"You want to thank me, you keep her safe. I think she's done enough dyin' for us, don't you?"
The Doctor headed off on the direction indicated, walking carefully over the broken ground. Eventually, he came to an open space, with no indication of which way to proceed. His second incarnation was seated on a rock, playing a flute-like instrument. Without bothering to interrupt his tootling, the little man irritably jerked his head to the left. His sixth incarnation didn't bother to speak, either, just pointed haughtily up a rocky hill, but really, what could one expect from a fellow with that fashion sense?
The hill was rough going, and as he toiled up the steep slope, the Doctor found himself braced on either side by his fourth and fifth incarnations.
"Easy there, old man, we've got you," said the curly-haired one with the scarf.
"How much farther?" the Doctor asked, his face pale with strain and exhaustion.
"Not much," replied the fair-haired one in the cricket outfit. "It's downhill from here, bad pun most definitely not intended."
The other Doctor's gaze was focused on Clara. "So she's the one, is she? The one who saved us all?"
"Yes," the Doctor replied. He noticed something then…all his previous selves, even the ones who couldn't be bothered to speak to him, had looked at Clara as if she was the single most precious thing in the universe. All of them were remembering now: a girl, barely seen out of the corner of their eye, giving her own life to save them. They weren't about to let that happen again.
They reached the bottom of the slope. "Now then," the fair-haired Doctor said briskly, "Can you make it on your own from here?"
"Geronimo!" the Doctor replied, trying for his usual bravado and not quite managing it. He cradled Clara just a little closer in his arms and walked on, until he encountered another of himself - the one who favored longer hair and a velvet frockcoat.
This particular Doctor was rather more openly affectionate than some, and he reached out to touch Clara's cheek gently. "You will take good care of her, won't you?"
"Count on it," the Doctor promised.
"You'll want to cross that bridge, there."
The Doctor nodded grimly and continued on. His seventh manifestation met him halfway to the bridge, offering encouragement. His third met him right at the edge of the span, and patted his back reassuringly.
About halfway across the bridge, he realized that his tenth self was walking beside him, hands nonchalantly stuffed in his pockets.
"She's lovely," he observed, staring at Clara's somnolent face..
"And you're just seeing the outside."
The tenth Doctor nodded thoughtfully. "I can see it, in your eyes, what a remarkable person she is. Just…don't make the same mistake I did. Don't forget to tell her, all right? She may have saved all of us, but she did it for you."
The Doctor stumbled slightly, and his former self steadied him.
"You're almost there. Remember what I said, all right?"
"Off with you, then."
The Doctor staggered on until he came to a solid rock face. He wasn't particularly surprised to be greeted by the very first version of himself. "Well, I suppose I should have expected this, seeing as how I've met all the rest of me today."
"Quite right." The eternally young old man looked down at Clara and smiled. "I remember her," he said reminiscently. "She's the one who convinced me to borrow the right TARDIS."
"I know," the Doctor agreed. "Now please, tell me…how do I get her home?"
"Why, it's staring you right in the face, my boy. An impossible exit, for you and your impossible girl."
The Doctor looked closely at the forbidding, rocky surface. "Why does this not surprise me?" he muttered.
The first Doctor gently stroked Clara's hair back from her face and kissed her forehead. "Thank you, my dear. And good luck to you, lad."
The Doctor snorted a bit at that, the youngest of them all calling him 'lad.' He sucked in a deep breath, tightened his grasp on Clara, closed his eyes, and stepped directly into the rock face.