A/n: Thank you all so much for all your continued support throughout this story. I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed writing it. If anyone's interested, I'll be posting another Human!AU sometime tonight or tomorrow. It's going to be a series of Whouffle family oneshots and pretty much just pure fluff, as I've had my fill of tragedy for a while. Thank you all once more and I hope you enjoy the conclusion.
In the end, there's always a moment of doubt.
After all, we all end up where we end up because of a specific chain of random events, events we chose, or didn't chose, or almost missed, or never would have given up for the world. One day we're planning for some day far in the future and the next we're living a reality far different from the one we ever planned for. We tell ourselves that if we had known what choice A or choice B would have led us to, we would have chosen something else. But for every bad choice we make we receive a handful of good things. To give up any is to give up all.
The truth was that, no matter what the Doctor would have done, he would have destroyed Clara Oswald. Had he ignored the cult years ago, they would have murdered her and her family, along with most everyone else. But paying them mind and stopping them simply earned her a more intimate look at her own death. She would get the privilege of anticipating her exit, but in all honesty, that wasn't much of a privilege at all.
These were the things the Doctor could not forget.
One, two, three.
He counted each Dalek that passed by them.
Four, five, six.
Oswin whimpered. Clara's nails pressed into his back. She pressed her hand over the baby's mouth, muffling her cries.
Clara's breathing changed from slow and shallow to deep and gasping. He saw it after she did.
She tried to shift in front of him, but his hands pressed onto the walls on either side of them, barring her behind. The Daleks' movements were slower outside of their alcove.
Through the shadows, a Dalek's eyes met the Doctor's. And slowly all of them surrounding him turned, their weapons held tightly in their hands, and stared at him too.
His muscles tensed, already anticipating the showering of bullets. All he cared about was that Clara and Oswin were okay, but he knew they wouldn't be. All he could hope for them now was a painless death. And how was it that he ended up here, only able to wish his daughter and the woman he wanted to make his wife a painless death instead of safety? Was it because of what he did, or who he was? Perhaps this is what he deserved all along. Punishment.
Clara was crying behind him, her fingers gripping onto the back of his jacket tightly, and every word she gasped out sounded like stay. He wanted to turn and tell her how much he wanted to, how he'd never wanted anything more than to stay by her side, to hold her close, to be with her. But his life was narrowing to a point no bigger than the barrel of the gun and all that he could feel was fear for them.
And then, all at once, they turned. The Doctor watched them continue walking, unsure whether or not he was still alive. He briefly considered the idea that he'd died so quickly that he hadn't even noticed it. But then no more came, and the sound of their footsteps faded, and he registered the sharp pressure of Clara's nose against his shoulder as she threw herself forward, pressing her face against him and clutching him tightly, their daughter cocooned safely between her chest and his back.
She kept whispering his name into his shoulder, his neck, her lips cold against his skin. She called him Doctor first and foremost, the name coming out of her lips like it eased her pain just to speak it, but then it was John. John. John Smith, like she was desperate to prove to herself that he was really there.
His numb fear gave way to slow concern for Clara. He turned, so his back was to the hallway and he was facing Clara—still with her back in the corner—and he took in her tear-streaked face, her distraught eyes, and he knew. She loved him more than they could ever hate him, and still, it probably wouldn't be enough.
She turned and slid back into his embrace the minute he opened his arms. She sat between his legs and leaned back against his chest. Before he closed his arms around her, she pulled Oswin from the sling for the first time since they'd left her room that morning and settled her into her lap. And only then did the Doctor wrap his arms around the both of them, his own distress a thick layer on his heart.
"Why did they go?" The Doctor asked quietly. He couldn't shake the unnerving memory of their piercing gaze, or the way they abruptly turned and kept walking. He knew they saw him. He knew it. They literally had them backed into a corner—what was the point in walking away? Why prolong this any longer? Part of his mind was screaming at him to get up, to pull Clara and Oswin along with him, to run to another hiding place…but to what avail? He'd been gripping into hope so tightly that it had slipped from his fingers and he would rather have this. He'd rather hold them in peace for the last moment than spend the next five minutes running to another hiding place, and then another, and another. Had Davros wanted them shot down, they would have been. They were powerless.
For once, Clara was raw emotion and no sense. She clutched his forearms with her hands and shook.
"I don't care." She answered. "I just—I don't want this!" The exclamation was slightly hysterical. "I don't want you to die!"
His realization was slow and sad.
"I don't either. I don't want to die." He admitted. And oh, he'd come so far to be able to say that. And look where it had eventually taken him.
He had the sick suspicion that Davros was fucking with his head, and it was working. His skin was crawling and somehow them walking away made him more frightened than ever, because what else might they be planning? They could do whatever they wanted now. They'd probably already killed all the converted Daleks. No one knew they were up here. So why did they walk away? Because maybe Davros believed death by shooting was too humane.
He didn't share these thoughts with Clara. He knew she'd probably already considered them, but he wouldn't give life to them. Instead he ran his nose along the top of her head and rocked her and Oswin gently. He stroked Oswin's small hands with his thumbs and kissed Clara's head. He comforted them in every way he could, because he felt it would be his last chance to. And eventually Oswin stopped crying and fell asleep against Clara, lulled to sleep by the slight rocking and the Doctor's soothing caresses, and Clara's breathing turned less gasping and more even. He listened for the sound of approaching footsteps, expecting their deaths to arrive any minute and understanding that he couldn't do much about it, but no one came.
He wanted to keep pretending to have hope, for Clara's sake, because he knew she needed that. But he was terrified and suddenly feeling the weight of these last moments against his heart.
"I wanted to marry you, Clara." He whispered into her hair. He tightened his arms, pulling her close against him, and then kissed her head again. He left his lips pressed to her head for a moment, trying to memorize the scent of her hair. "I wanted to give you everything I had for the rest of our lives."
Clara gently pulled a hand free from Oswin's grasp—she had fallen asleep with both her hands wrapped tightly around her mother's thumbs, like she was afraid she'd leave her—and reached back blindly, her fingers grazing the Doctor's cheek.
"I know you did. I wanted that too." She murmured. She craned her neck back then, catching his eye, and they shared a sad, wistful smile. All the days that should have been were hiding in her smile.
"Should we run and find somewhere else to hide? Or what?" He asked. A moment later he sighed in frustration and lowered his head, resting his cheek against the top of her head. He suddenly cared about nothing but holding her close. "Fuck. I don't even know what to do. I'm suddenly so tired."
Her hands slid slowly up his forearms, caressing thoughtlessly.
"Well, you've been running for a very long time." Her voice was soft and creased. She leaned back into him more, allowing her weight to sink fully into him. It almost seemed to press out some of the pressure sinking his heart.
"We're not quitters, are we, Clara?" He asked her curiously, because he was suddenly feeling like she felt exhausted as well. Like they both just wanted to stay like this until they died. "We don't walk away. Right?"
She let out a tired hum, and when he peeked over her shoulder at her face, her eyes were shut. She had a look of strange contentment on her face, and it made him terrified of what she might say. But then he noticed her hands had wrapped tightly around Oswin's fists again and he suddenly understood her, fully and keenly.
"We might have, if things were different. But we're holding onto something precious." She replied. "And I've just realized that we've got something they don't. Something that they can't match. And somewhere my mother is bursting with pride to hear me say it, but damn it Doctor, we have love. Now all we need is a plan."
He could feel hope—buzzing like energy—slowly seeping back underneath his skin. His bones felt lighter and his hands found hers. With her hands around Oswin's and his around hers, he knew she was right.
"And we'll make one." He decided. "I have no idea how. But we will."
She leaned over and pressed her lips to the back of his hand.
"That's what we do." She said, almost as if that knowledge had surprised her. "We keep going."
There would be no giving up and there would be no rest. There would be no sitting and waiting. He slowly stood, pulling her up after him. When they were facing each other, he nodded with a sudden smile.
"Yeah. That's what we do." He agreed. He knew his eyes were teary, but that didn't matter, because he didn't intend on going out without a fight.
They hid again in the laundry rooms, huddled close behind the industrial dryers. The laundry rooms were in the recesses of the craft, tended to only by the lower ranked Daleks, and since most of the original crew had been murdered, it was eerily quiet. Clara fed Oswin another jar of pears—insisting she wanted to save the jar of bananas for the bus ride home, as if she fully anticipated they'd make it that far—while the Doctor kept watch, his ear tuned acutely for the sound of the door opening.
"They know where we are." The Doctor said matter-of-factly. When Clara didn't respond, he turned to glance at her. She was gently wiping pear mash off Oswin's pale face with the bottom of her dress, and for a moment the Doctor was stuck staring at the smooth skin of her navel, thinking soft thoughts that were soaked with love. His eyes traced upward, quietly appreciating the woman in front of him, like she should have been every moment of the past year. His soul was burdened with the knowledge of all he'd made her deal with alone.
She looked up at him once Oswin's face was clean. He took a moment too long to right his eyes, earning him a sarcastic "show's over, mate" as she lowered her dress back down. She extended a hand out and he met her half way, intertwining his fingers with hers. She peered at their joined hands with a calm expression.
"I know." She finally said. "They're waiting for something, only I can't figure out what. Maybe for us to hint about what our grand escape plan might be. Maybe they feel threatened by us and would rather wait and see what we're capable of before they lock us up."
The Doctor figured that was probably a good bet. Clara leaned back against the wall, pestering the Doctor every few minutes about drinking some of the water they had packed, but like her he couldn't get himself to. She didn't say it, and he didn't say it, but they both knew they weren't sure how long they'd be hiding like this. Maybe Davros was intending to starve them out. And both parents seemed to have reached the quiet agreement that all resources would be saved for the baby and the baby only.
"I'm worried about her." Clara told him a few hours later. Her voice was muffled from behind the dryers (he'd been walking around the laundry room, giving his legs a good stretch once he realized no one was coming). He walked back over to the gap between the wall and the dryer and offered Clara the rinsed out detergent cap they'd been drinking tap water from—provided thankfully from the sink at the wash basin. She took it with nervous, quivering hands, her eyes trained on his face like he had all the answers. He knew she meant she was worried in ways different from the constant worry they had for her safety. Oswin was pale and meek and not at all like her usual self. She wasn't babbling, clapping, or smiling. The Doctor felt the backs of his eyes burn as he looked to Oswin, slumped back against her mother's chest, staring listlessly at Clara's shoe. His mind was immediately filled with terrible worries—that the noise from the gunshots had temporarily deafened her, that she'd somehow received internal damage from all the falls, that they'd poisoned her somehow, and on and on it went—and he was finding it hard to cope with. He nervously scratched at his face and tried to suppress his panic, but finally when she failed to smile after Clara tried the "I've got your nose" joke, he broke.
"Bring her out here. It's as safe as it's going to get. I want to look at her."
All at once, all his years of medical schooling had been worth it if only for the fact that he knew he could take care of his child. It was reassuring to know that, even if he couldn't figure out everything about how to be a good father, he could take care of her.
Clara turned Oswin around and cradled her to her as she slowly scooted out from behind the dryers. She rested her head on Clara's shoulders like she didn't even have the energy to keep her head up, and the Doctor's heart was suddenly severing, like every stitch holding it together was being snipped. How much had to go wrong before the universe decided that he'd been punished enough? How many more fucking tragedies had to happen to him before they could just…leave him alone. Really, that's all he wanted. He wanted to be alone somewhere with his baby and his Clara and he wanted the universe to just leave him in peace for once.
Oswin wasn't too happy when her mother laid her on the folding table. She immediately began wailing, earning her hurried shushes from both parents as they shot nervous glances at the door. The Doctor felt they were walking on eggshells even though he knew they must have known where they were. He was afraid to irritate Davros enough to come find him. Not until he made Oswin smile again. That was the quiet bargain he made with the universe.
Clara gave Oswin the teething ring to bite while the Doctor carefully examined her for bruises. Once he deemed her bruise-free, he quietly snapped beside both her ears, making sure she turned her head towards each sound. It took her a little while longer to response to the noises beside her right ear, but she did respond. He felt her forehead and applied gentle pressure to her stomach, making sure she didn't cry out in discomfort that might hint at bigger problems. He bent her elbows and knees and checked her pulse. But nothing seemed that out of the ordinary, which led him to a more disturbing thought: that she was just that scared.
He was quick to scoop her up into his arms at that thought. He cradled her close and kissed her head, realizing that he had tears clinging to his eyelashes but unwilling to do anything about it. He hated that they were hurting the two people he cared about. He hated that his baby had gotten shot at, had gotten ripped from her mother, had gotten treated the way she had. He almost felt worse when she clung to him, because that meant she might have somehow understood that his presence was temporary. Or worse, that hers might be.
"She's okay physically, I think." The Doctor finally told Clara, who was watching them nervously and fiddling anxiously with her mother's ring. "It's crazy, but I almost feel like she understands that we might leave her somehow. I think she's just terrified."
Clara's eyes were shining with a sheen of tears that she was either unwilling or unable to let flow.
"Somehow that's almost worse." She voiced the Doctor's thoughts. "We could fix most physical things. How do we fix that? I'm scared out of my mind, too."
The Doctor kissed the baby's small shoulder and then shifted her, so he could extend a hand towards Clara.
"We comfort her and I comfort you. That's what we're going to do." He decided. "For tonight, that's the plan. We've got to keep each other all right, because we're all we've got. Otherwise what's the point of even escaping?" He didn't let her answer, because he knew there wasn't an answer to it. There was no point. He gently pulled her over to them and felt her sink into his embrace as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder. He directed his next whispered words into Oswin's left ear, just to make sure she really heard them.
She wasn't even a year old yet and he was already lying to her. It seemed to him that too often comforting required untruths.
He slowly rocked Oswin until she drifted off to sleep, still stunned and shaky but a little less pale. Clara placed her back inside the sling—uncomfortable with the idea of making her a pallet on the table with clean laundry, probably for good reason—and then touched the back of the Doctor's hand.
"Well, come on. Let's search this place." She decided.
He smiled, like he always did whenever she took charge. He counted on her a lot more than he liked to admit.
"For what?" He finally asked. He slid off the edge of the table and stood beside her, eying her curiously as she began circling the large room. She opened a washer and stuck her head in momentarily, causing her words to sound very far away when she finally responded.
"Anything. Weapons, escape tunnels, cutting-edge teleporters. What else is there to do?"
It was rhetorical, but the Doctor had an urge to answer her. Take care of you, he wanted to say. Because everything inside of him was screaming for him to cross over to her and take her into his arms, in the hopes that he could make up for some of the horror she'd had to experience. In the hopes that he could make her less scared. He remembered a time when he was her safety, and he wished he could have that back now. Instead of being the reason for her pain.
There were times where Clara wanted to be comforted, but the Doctor knew that now was not one of them. She had her determined look in her eyes and he knew this was her way of saying it was time to get down to business. She was always all action and he wasn't sure if now perhaps that was a flaw. It was good to try, but the Doctor also knew they were times to try and times to give up. He was just unsure of where they were on that spectrum.
They walked around the room for at least an hour, examining every loose floor tile and cobwebbed corner. There wasn't much in terms of weapons, but the Doctor thought the clothing chute might have some potential, if only he knew exactly what was going on in the room it led up to. After crossing the room dozens of times, Clara lifted herself back up onto the table, her feet swinging almost adorably above the floor. The Doctor joined her, listening carefully for any indication of what might be going on inside her head. She looked at him once they were sitting side by side, her hand resting protectively on Oswin's back as she slept.
"Let's burn it to the ground." She finally said.
The Doctor did a double-take, his words and her serious expression making his brain stutter for a moment.
"I'm sorry. Are you quoting vague punk-rock lyrics or suggesting that seriously?" He demanded.
Clara's eyes didn't lower from his. She held his gaze—no, cradled it—and then shrugged, like she'd just suggested getting dinner before the movie instead of after.
"What else is there to do? They all have to die. They all deserve to die. Let's take them all out at once."
His mind was still stumbling over that mess of a plan, trying to stare at all the odds and ends and make sense of what it might make as a whole. He turned towards her and took her hand, suddenly mildly concerned about her mental wellbeing.
"But Clara, we're in here." He reminded her gently.
She inclined her head to the right. "Of course we are."
There was silence for a moment. He was filled with hopelessness when he considered the idea that maybe she was saying they should blow themselves up with it. He would have gladly died for the cause of taking out the Daleks, and he knew Clara hated them enough now too, but Oswin? Little Oswin. None of this had anything to do with her. She was just…new. She was brand new to this world and she didn't deserve to leave it.
"So…" the Doctor pressed, lifting his eyebrows in askance, urging her to explain herself. He hoped she didn't mean what he thought.
She looked back down at Oswin and stroked her fingers over her dark curls.
"So we jump." She said simply.
He found himself massaging his temples, trying his hardest to follow. He couldn't tell if Clara was a thousand steps ahead of him on this or a thousand steps behind. Either way, it was ridiculous to him.
"We'd die on impact. It's very high up." He pointed out patiently. "Besides, there's only one exit hatch, and I'm sure they're watching it closely. And say we get out…what then? There's still dozens on the ground. With weapons."
She seemed to be in her own small, tender world. She pressed a soft kiss to Oswin's head and held her closer, resting her cheek on top of her head and smiling tiredly. She hadn't said that she loved her out loud in that moment, but it was so obvious in her expression that it was almost as if she had.
"And you're a bloody genius. How hard could it be to make a parachute? To smash through the floor at the opposite end of the craft?"
His thoughts sped up and crashed into hers. They were finally on the right track, but he was still limping.
"Okay, theoretically, that might work. If we somehow manage to find materials to make parachutes, escape unseen to the bottom level near the front of the craft, rig the craft with explosives, and manage to jump out just as those explosives go off and hope the craft lands and destroys all the Daleks underneath…but that's a lot of buts, Clara."
She looked back up at him.
"Looks like that's all we've got."
They stole some of the sheets from the dryer and made a decent pallet behind the dryers. The Doctor and Clara curled up on their sides, Oswin between them, their arms resting lightly on each other's shoulders so it was almost like a protective cage for Oswin. The Doctor stroked Clara's hair until she fell into a light, fitful sleep, and despite everything, the sight of her sleeping made him so happy. He watched them both, falling even more in love with them and their funny noses as they dreamed, and found that it was almost more restorative than actually getting sleep himself.
He did fall asleep around an hour later, but it was an uneasy sleep where he was half-conscious the entire time. He knew something was wrong the minute someone entered the room, because he jerked awake with the sensation of nausea rising within him. It didn't take him long to understand what was happening because the fear of it was exactly what had kept him half-awake the entire night.
He sat straight up, listening intently to the sound of their heavy boots against the floor. He held his breath and prayed that Oswin wouldn't wake up and start crying randomly. They seemed to circle the room a few times, and then he heard the sound fading, so he figured they were going. Relief was seeping into him and relaxing his muscles when, all of the sudden, the dryer directly in front of them began moving away from the wall.
The sound woke Clara immediately. She let out a ragged gasp, sitting straight up like she'd been shocked, and her first instinct upon seeing the Daleks that were now nearing them was to snatch Oswin up from the ground and clutch her desperately to her chest. The Doctor was in a similar way; he pulled Clara into his arms so quickly he worried he might have bruised her.
The two rose unsteadily to their feet. The Doctor's eyes traveled around the room, searching desperately for some weakness in the chain surrounding them that they could slip through. But the Daleks were shoulder-to-shoulder with guns in hand.
Why had they waited? That was all the Doctor could think about as he stared at their blank faces. Why would Davros let them run off and hide and then, hours later, send someone to them? What was the point? What was different from now and then?
The answer came to him slowly, through the choked inhalations of Clara. They had hope now. They had made a plan. As soon as Clara felt even a little hope, they were here to rip it away. Of course. After all, Davros knew what Simeon knew too. Emotional pain was often much more intolerable than physical, and nothing ached like having your last hope taken.
From this, he knew what words were coming. But when the Dalek directly center of the line said them, he still felt his stomach plummet.
"Hand over the infant."
Clara was breathing shallowly and repeating no!, over and over again, her hold on Oswin tightening so much that the baby began to wake. The Doctor moved to shuffle in front of them, but immediately all weapons pointed to him. If he thought he could hold them all off even for a moment, he would have gladly given his life. But it did Clara no good to get himself killed and Oswin taken away.
When Clara didn't comply with the demand, they all took three steps forward, backing Clara and the Doctor up against the wall.
"Please, please, no," Clara begged. The Doctor had never heard her beg anyone for anything. It turned his bones to fragile ice. "Please. Take me. Don't take her away again!"
The hysterical note to her last sentence rose until it broke, crashing into empty gasping.
The first time a Dalek reached out and put his hands on the baby, the Doctor punched the side of his head until he let go and fell back onto the floor, his ear angry and red from the blows.
"If you do that again, we'll shoot the child right here in front of you." The Dalek in the center warned quietly, staring almost disinterestedly at his comrade groaning on the floor.
The Doctor turned to look at Clara, his face twisted with distress, and when she met his eyes he knew she knew. She immediately began shaking her head, the corners of her mouth pulling down underneath the weight of her sorrow. Her eyes filled with tears and she just kept whispering no, like someone might listen. But no one was listening. No one ever listened. The universe didn't, no gods did, no one cared. There was no God, and even if there was, He had been dead to the Doctor for a long while. She pressed her face into Oswin's hair and the Doctor reached over, rubbing the baby's back gently, his entire body filled with pain.
"What do you want with her?" He demanded, hoping talking would buy them some time. He saw Clara peering around them intently, searching for some plausible escape route. She wouldn't find anything, but he'd give her time to hope. Time to hold Oswin.
The Dalek smiled, but it was an eerie one that didn't hold a trace of emotion.
"Through her suffering comes yours." He responded patiently.
The Doctor had the urge to murmur no as well. But instead, he screamed it.
"No! You can't do that! That isn't right—that isn't fair! She hasn't…she didn't do anything! She's a baby, a baby! She can't help who her parents are! She can't help where she was born! Please, torture me all you like, okay? I willingly surrender. But don't take the baby. It will kill Clara. Do you understand? You won't be able to hold anyone over my head anymore because this will destroy them both." He pleaded.
He saw Clara shift slightly to her right from the corner of his eye. He very much doubted there was a way out, but if she wanted to try, he wasn't going to stop her. He was going to help her.
The Dalek found his outburst insignificant, judging by his bored expression.
"We don't need to hold anyone over your head. You're ours now. And we can punish you with the finality you deserve."
A million brief images of them hurting Oswin flashed behind his eyes, and he had to fight the urge to sink onto his knees.
"You're disgusting," he finally said, his words thick with pain. "You're sick. You think you've evolved past everyone else, but you've regressed."
The Dalek blinked. "Thank you for the commentary, Dr. Smith. But we really must be going. Sec, get the infant."
He begged with them, his pleas running into Clara's and mingling with a desperation that seemed to hang in the air like fog. Clara was near the edge of the line, trying to slide unnoticed between the line of people and the wall, but they closed off the space immediately as all eyes flew towards Clara—or more specifically, their target, Oswin.
It took two men to pull Oswin from Clara's arms. Between the baby's clinging and Clara's tight grasp, they appeared to be a solid unit that wasn't compatible with separation. The Doctor watched and gasped, feeling Clara's brief, blaming stare his way as he did nothing. But he couldn't do anything. They would kill them all if he did. If they were taking Oswin, the Doctor would just have to find her and take her back again. That was all there was too it. He couldn't risk Clara's life right now, because he knew they'd shoot her dead in a moment. And he didn't want another Oswald girl living without her mother.
Once Oswin was pulled completely from Clara's arms, the room was a mess of frenzied yells. Oswin was screaming at the top of her lungs for her mother, her face turning beet red, and Clara was screaming pleas at no one in particular, her eyes streaming. The Doctor crossed over to pull Clara into his arms, hoping to offer her some comfort, but she immediately shoved his arms off her and took off running towards the Dalek with Oswin. They threatened her lowly, with words he couldn't hear, and whatever they said made Clara stop dead in her tracks, like someone had turned off her ability to move. The Doctor watched from the back wall, his face raw with tears, as the Daleks ascended back up the stairs, the screaming baby clutched in their grasps. And Clara was still standing in the same spot, her face glued to that doorway, and it was a full two minutes before her shoulders pushed forward and she began slowly sinking down to her knees.
When the Doctor cautiously approached her, she was crying so hard no sound was coming out. She fell back onto her bottom and pulled her knees to her chest, her body rocking slightly from the power of her sobs, and he'd never seen her cry like that before. He'd never seen anyone cry like that. He stared, suddenly unsure what to do. He realized after a moment that she couldn't even breathe, and her quiet sobs turned into ragged wheezes as she tried to inhale fully with no success. The first time he sat down and tried to pull her over to him, she cringed away again.
"Why didn't you stop them?" She choked out, her words rising and falling in tempo. She pulled at her hair, her chest heaving with sobs. "Why did you let them go?"
He stared at her, his heart sinking slowly. I don't know, he wanted to say, I was too afraid to…hurt you. But he didn't dare. His silence weighed heavily on them, and her crying picked up volume and made her breathing problem a lot worse, but after another few minutes of gasping and sobbing, he only had to pull gently on her shoulder before she was lying back in his lap, turned on her side with her eyes still glued to that doorway.
He pushed his hand up her dress and stroked the smooth skin of her back. The muscles underneath his hand were all taunt and shaking as she cried, and he could only lean down and kiss her hair and promise her things he really shouldn't have.
"I'm going to get her back, Clara. I swear. I promise. I'm going to get her back."
She didn't respond for a long while, probably because she couldn't stop crying long enough to. If her pain had been a person, it would have been beating the shit out of her and the Doctor. He felt the pain of each blow each time she whimpered.
Finally, after a long period of listening to her struggling to breathe, he lifted her up into his arms and carried her over to the wash basin. He turned the sink on to the coldest temperature and grabbed one of the folded pillowcases on the shelf next to it. He soaked it with water and pressed it gently to Clara's forehead, her cheeks, over her eyes, over and over again until she slowly began gasping less and her cries turned audible. Once she was breathing normally, despite her gentle crying, she pressed her face into his neck and looped her arms tightly around him.
"They took my baby," she cried, as if he didn't already know. He rocked her gently and pressed a reverent kiss to the top of her head, his own eyes burning once more.
"I know. I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry Clara." He whispered. "But we're going to get her back."
He winced briefly as memories of Oswin's distraught face as they walked away with her filled his mind. Some father he'd been so far.
"No, I'm sorry. This is my fault," she whispered, her voice still nasally from her tears. "It's my fault, it's my fault, it's my fault." Her words were sharp and they cracked across the Doctor's face like a slap. She began gasping again, her head shaking senselessly and her eyes wide with horror. "I should have gone to the clinic the minute I thought I might be pregnant. I should have gotten an abortion, I should have followed my gut! I knew it was too dangerous, I knew it was just going to—if she would have never been born, they never could have hurt her. I'm such an idiot, I'm such a fucking—oh, God! Not Oswin, please, not her. Not—"
She broke off again and began shuddering, like she'd just jumped into icy water. Her teeth clattered together and the Doctor was beginning to worry she was having some sort of mental break. He kissed her and pressed the cloth back to her face, repeating his promise over and over again until she seemed like she could hear him at least a little bit. And then her cries faded to a stricken silence that was somehow worse. The Doctor couldn't forget her words. He knew the dark, panicked places they came from, but he couldn't imagine her actually wishing for that.
"But if she were never born, she never could have been loved." He pointed out gently.
Clara lifted her face and peered up at him, hers red and wet and twisted with grief.
"A hell of a lot of good being loved by me did her. Look where she is now because of it. Oh, God." She looked like she might be sick. The Doctor knew the feeling well. He realized that, in that moment, she probably understood exactly how he'd been feeling his entire life knowing that his love only brought pain.
He felt her eyes on him and he glanced down, meeting her gaze.
"What do you think they're doing to her?" Clara asked. Her voice was so soft that he almost had to read her lips to figure out what she was saying. Her eyes appeared to be blurred behind the veil of tears. The quaking was worse than ever.
"Nothing." The Doctor lied, his own stomach churning and his heart filling with pain. What indeed? A million horrifying mental images flooded his brain and he felt his composure slipping.
Something was triggered in Clara. She went from still and gasping to pushing against his arms. She fought her way from his arms and slid down onto the ground instead, her fingers curled into fists as she beat the ground.
"Bullshit!" She screamed. Her words brought tears to the Doctor's eyes. He stared down at her helplessly, opening and closing his own hands nervously as he tried to figure out what to do. She stared down at her pale, shaking knees for a moment and then looked up at him.
"She's just a baby, Doctor! She's—she's our baby, and this is our fault! We're her parents; we're supposed to protect her! It's our fucking fault! She's probably being tortured right now, and she's just, she's just a small little person who laughs and loves and—you have to fix it! You have to fucking fix it, okay, because I can't do this anymore! I can't fix anything else!"
The Doctor remembered being bit by a dog when he was five. The teeth had punctured his calf with a particularly stinging sear of pain that he never forgot. He felt that same pain again in that moment, only this time it was inside of his chest. She was looking up at him like she couldn't even believe the own words coming out of her mouth. Her face was wet with tears and snot and he'd never seen anyone look more distressed. Not even himself. She lifted her dress with shaking hands and mopped at her face, looking for a moment like she might vomit, but then she continued talking, her words shaking as she tried to catch her breath around her sobs.
"I—I—I've been in this fucking hell for a year, an entire year of my life, and I don't blame you for that, but I have been trying so fucking hard! I've done things I never thought I ever could, things I never thought I'd be cruel enough to do, things I have nightmares about every night! I haven't seen my dad in a year, I haven't seen Melody, I haven't seen the sun! Or the grass! Or—or even the clouds! And I can't…I can't do it anymore. I'm—so—fucking—tired. And weak. And I don't even know who I am anymore. I don't even know if I'm a human, or a Dalek. All I know is that my baby is hurting and it's all my fault and I…I don't know what to do. I don't know anything. I've ruined her. God, Doctor, I've raised her for the fucking slaughter."
Her anger gave way to a level of horrified sadness that the Doctor had only felt one other time in his life. He watched her slowly lean forward, as if a heavy weight was pressing down on her back, and she sobbed almost dejectedly into her thighs. He watched her small frame quaking and thought about all she had done in this year while he'd wandered around and cried. She carried a baby all alone, gave birth to it all alone, and spent months brainwashing Daleks into being human again, all the while deceiving Simeon enough to get access to her daughter who she then took care of day in and day out. All this while knowing she might never leave, that she could be killed any moment, that her daughter might end up never touching the grass or seeing the stars.
It didn't seem like that long ago that she'd been a young woman, glowing with hope in his shabby living room, her slender hands wrapped around a mug of tea and his heart.
If it were true that she'd led their child to the slaughter, he had led her. He'd walked her down with her hand in his.
He didn't touch her, because he could tell from her posture that that would have been a mistake. He nodded to himself, although he wasn't quite sure what he was affirming. And then he moved towards the chute.
"I'm going to get her back, Clara." He told her. He wasn't entirely certain if she heard him over her crying. He stared at the shine of her hair, feeling the tenderness in his heart mingle with his pain. "I'm going to get her back, and I'm going to get you, and then I'm going to kill them all for what they've done. I'm going to make this right. You're under my protection, remember? You're my, well, you're my impossible girl. And you have done enough. You've done enough." He took a step forward, wanting to touch her, to hold her, to comfort her, but he stopped himself. "You stay here, okay? You're safe now. I'll be back soon with Oswin. Just, please, don't do anything stupid. Don't hurt yourself. Because I am a selfish old man and I need you. And I love you so much. So much. I've never loved another more and I never will again." It occurred to him abruptly that there was a good chance this was the last thing he'd ever say to her. He ran through a couple phrases in his mind, ones that at first glance seemed large enough to encompass his love, but they didn't feel right. Finally, when she slowly lifted her tear-soaked face and met his eyes, the right words fluttered into his mind. He smiled at her softly. "I don't know if I ever told you, Clara, but everything I do is for you. Everything I've done and everything I do is done with you in mind."
He could hear her calling his name in a panic as he began crawling up the chute. But he didn't turn back. He wouldn't let her take his place this time.
He thought in nothing but short flashes of images as he shimmied up the chute. He saw Oswin's face as she craned over the Dalek's shoulder, her small arms extended out towards where her mother was screaming for her. He saw Clara, caved in on herself and shaking with sorrow. He saw the blame in her eyes as the Daleks walked away with Oswin. Each image pushed him forward until his pain became his sole source of energy. He couldn't have stopped even if he wanted to.
When he descended up into a linen storage room, he wasn't surprised to find it empty. He felt as if he was on autopilot and unaware of the next steps he'd be taking. There was a plan in his mind, but he didn't know it yet. He was just following it.
The short walk between the linen room and the kitchen was uneventful. He pulled a knife from the drawer and held the handle firm in his hand as he turned and changed his path. The first Dalek he came up on in the hallway, he shoved against the wall and pressed the blade to their throat in one smooth motion.
"Tell me where my baby is." He hissed.
The Dalek was unaffected. He glanced down at the blade and then back up at the Doctor, supplying no information. The Doctor grit his teeth, thought of Clara's tear-soaked face, and then pressed down the blade just enough to draw a few beads of blood. That slight pain seemed to trigger something in the Dalek. He shifted in the Doctor's hold and his eyes widened.
"Don't!" He pleaded, his voice hoarse from the Doctor's pressure on his throat.
The Doctor ignored him. "I'll do whatever I please if you don't tell me where Oswin is."
To prove his point, he drew more blood. The man let out a gasp of pain and shifted again, his eyes filled with panic.
"She's in the bottom cell! CH-11!" He whispered.
The Doctor fell back from him, trying not to feel like a monster at the sight of the blood dripping down the man's neck. He lifted his hands and pressed them to the wound, his eyes still wide with surprise.
"I can feel that." He said, and then he gave a hoarse, bewildered chuckle. "I can feel something."
The Doctor didn't stick around enough to hear anything else the man mumbled. He immediately found an elevator and studied the minimalistic map, pressing the G button to take him to the "lower holding deck". He could feel his heart pounding in his head as the elevator lowered and his palms began sweating so much he almost dropped the knife, but he tightened his grip.
When the doors opened, he saw dozens of guards staring at him in mild surprise. They immediately lifted their weapons, but this time, the Doctor knew something. He knew they wouldn't shoot him this time. They needed his brains too much. Davros needed to see him punished too much. So he simply continued walking forward, ignoring each shot they fired at him (just close enough to graze and never close enough to harm him). They yelled commands at him, growing panicked the closer he got to cell CH-11, but he suddenly got the impression that he was invincible.
He kicked the handle of the door over and over again until he knocked it out. When he opened the door, he only took a slight second to note the surroundings (a white room with only a small table that had his baby restrained to it), and then he was hurrying over and carefully cutting through the straps holding Oswin down. He noticed bruises already forming on her forearms, and when he set the knife down and lifted her, she cried out in discomfort even as she clung to him. He gently held her with one hand and then lifted the back of her shirt with the other, taking in the slight purple there as well. And then he was no longer himself. He was no longer a man who hated violence or hatred. He was a ticking bomb.
He held Oswin with one hand and the knife with the other. She pressed her face against his neck as she cried, her arms looped tightly around his neck, and he kissed her head as he stormed out.
The first guard he shoved against the wall refused to tell him who had hurt her, so the Doctor slammed him back into the wall until he stopped staring at him with those smug eyes.
The second guard he stopped, who had watched the entire ordeal, was quicker to offer up information.
"Dalek Sec. He's Davros's right-hand man."
The Doctor could hardly breathe through his anger. He carried Oswin carefully as he traveled from room to room, gathering crude materials that he cradled with his other arm. He found it strangely juxtaposing that he was cradling the new life he'd created in his left arm and the parts to assemble a bomb in the right, especially considering a bomb is what had set him on his way in the first place.
He slid down the chute, crawling out with a gracefulness he hadn't known he possessed. Clara was pacing the room, pale and drawn, and when she turned and saw the Doctor and Oswin, she had to grab into the nearby table for support.
"Christ," she gasped, her words strangled, and then she was hurrying across the room. She pulled her daughter into her arms, noticing immediately her discomfort, and then pressed tearful kisses into her hair.
The Doctor couldn't inhale fully and everything seemed tinted.
"I know who hurt her. I know who did it." He dumped the contents from his right arm at her feet. "Do you know how to assemble a bomb?"
She looked at him in disbelief, her shaking arms still gripping her child closely. "Yeah, of course, I learnt it during my brief time in the army!"
He dimly acknowledged the stupidity of his question. While he sat down and began assembling it, Clara tended to Oswin, her breaths equally stunted.
"Do you think these are from when they grabbed her from me and carried her up? Or do you think they hit her?" She asked as she carefully inspected Oswin's purpling bruises.
The Doctor's hands were momentarily too shaky to continue. He took a break and couldn't meet Clara's eyes, because he didn't want her to see the darkness in his. He didn't want her to understand suddenly just how this was the same man who'd killed millions.
"It doesn't matter which one. They hurt her and they will pay." He answered.
The part of her—very likely the small Dalek-part of her—that had been so keen for revenge a few hours prior had drowned in her sorrow. She was broken and cold.
"Let's just go. Let's just leave." She begged. "Take Oswin and run far away. We can leave the country and hide somewhere remote for the rest of our days. Let's just…run."
But he couldn't do it anymore.
"You've always made me want to be better, Clara. And leaving our daughter in a world where she has to hide away in fear is not right or fair. This has to end today and it has to end by my hand. I recognize the responsibility."
Clara's eyes were red and filled with disagreement.
"No. No, it doesn't have to be like that." She argued, her voice quiet and feeble. But he knew she knew it did.
He looked back down at his crude bombs, tweaking the last few bits and setting the time for ten minutes. He looked back up at her.
"We are walking out of here. You and Oswin walk in front of me. If anyone comes near you two, I'll threaten them with this—" he waved the makeshift trigger "—and I'll tell them that I'll detonate the bombs scattered around the craft. But there is no trigger; they're going to go off in ten minutes no matter what we do. So we just need to get out."
Clara's eyes were wide.
"Ten minutes? Doctor, it'll take that long to get to the exit hatch from here!"
He stood up and gathered the five small-but-powerful bombs.
"Then I suggest we start running. I'll scatter these throughout as we move." He declared.
She stared at him and the bombs he'd birthed, her eyebrows creased and her face worn with sudden fear. When she didn't move after a moment, the Doctor gently touched her cheek, his impatience almost choking him.
"I know you're scared," he started, his voice shaking slightly despite his efforts to appear calm, "I'm scared too. But I just need you to trust me, just this once. I know I've messed everything up thus far, but let me fix it like you asked. Please, Clara. I love you."
She stared at him for a moment, her eyes still guarded and dark with fear. But after a few seconds of staring she gradually smiled, like she was laughing at a private joke.
"Just this once?" She teased, lifting her eyebrows challengingly.
He grinned briefly. "Geronimo?"
She took off running ahead of him in response, and all he could think was that she was lovely, Clara was. And he'd believe that down to his bones until the day he died.
As he ran throughout the ship, dropping the bombs strategically along the way, he got the eerie feeling that his life had come full circle in the strangest way. It didn't seem like that long ago that he was trying his hardest to destroy bombs. Now he was creating them. But there would be an explosion, just like before. Only this time he had someone holding his hand.
They were faced with at least a hundred Daleks when they entered the main corridor. They were blocking off the door that lead to the room with the exit hatch. The Doctor's mental countdown informed him they had exactly three minutes and twenty seconds to get past them all, and so really, there wasn't even time to panic. There was only time for last ditch efforts.
"Let us through or I detonate the bombs." The Doctor said.
Davros lifted an eyebrow. "We've got bombs, too. You'd know all about that."
The Doctor waved the last one in the air. The Daleks exchanged looks as he did, obviously thinking he was bluffing. Before anyone could do anything, he surged forward and stuffed it in the basket underneath Davros' wheelchair. The man couldn't lean over and reach it from where he was sitting. Then the Doctor lifted the trigger unit.
"You have three seconds to let us pass." He told him.
Davros still wasn't convinced. "All of this started because of your dislike for bombs. What makes you think I'd believe that you'd willingly blow up your wife and child?"
"She's not my wife yet, thanks to you. And you don't have to believe it. You just have to look at me and see how much I love her and that baby. I'd never let you hurt them. I'd rather blow them to pieces than allow that. And if you don't believe that's true, you don't truly understand why I detonated your bombs all those years ago."
The clock was ticking. The Doctor was beginning to panic.
"Three—" he began counting down.
"What makes you think I'm afraid to die?" Davros challenged.
The Doctor paused in his countdown. "Because everything you've done has been a desperate attempt to live forever. Making these Daleks worship you and only you, making them love you and only you. It's pathetic."
"Two—" the Doctor hovered his finger over the button. Right as his lips rounded to form the word one, Davros caved.
"Move back! Move back! Let them through!" He screamed at the others. "And Sec, get this out of my chair!"
The Doctor didn't waste any time to gloat. He helped Clara and Oswin through the parted Daleks and quickly made sure Oswin was secured in the sling before Clara began descending the ladder. He turned, just as his mental countdown reached the final minute. He saw that Sec was holding the bomb as planned and standing right beside Davros. He smiled.
"Joke's on you, Davros. They're timed. You get your explosion after all. And Sec? Fuck you."
He grabbed onto the metal sides of the ladder and let himself slide down. He briefly registered the burn as layers of skin rubbed off his palms. Once his feet touched the roof, he felt Clara grab his arm.
"Run!" She screamed. He took her hand and pulled her after him, flinging their way through the door and down the steps. The few Daleks in the building looked up in surprise at them, but by the time they realized who it was, Clara and the Doctor were in the main room. The Doctor heard the explosions above and heard a loud roaring as the craft began falling. The floor shook so hard they went flying forward as it made contact with the roof of the building. And then the walls began groaning. The Doctor picked himself up off the floor, his eyes glued to the front door only a few feet away, and picked Clara up off the ground. His adrenaline pushed him forward, faster and faster, until he was flinging all three of them outside into the street. He landed hard on his back, the breath knocking from him, but he rose again and ran half-blind. He could feel bits of broken glass slicing the back of him as he ran and he heard the screams and the explosive sound of the building caving in on itself, but he didn't stop. He kept running, even after the sounds of screaming had faded. Even after the ringing in his ears faded to a dull echoing and the blood on his legs dried.
He only stopped running when Clara grabbed his shoulder, screaming something at him that he couldn't make out. And then he felt his knees giving in from underneath him as they tilted forward, both falling onto the damp grass.
The night sky was smooth and peppered with light. Sprawled out on his back, for a moment all the Doctor could do was stare up as he struggled to regain his breathing. He ran through the names of all the stars and their constellations until he felt his heart regulating, and then he sat up in a panic, his eyes searching the grass next to him. When his eyes landed on Clara and Oswin, both untouched but deeply shocked, he let out a relieved sob. He was on bloodstained grass again, but this time, all he saw was life.
Clara was crying. The sight scared him, thinking she might be hurt after all, but then he noticed the smile on her lips and her wondrous gaze towards the sky. She lifted Oswin from the sling and sat her on her lap, encouraging her to look up. Once Oswin turned her curious eyes to the sky, her smile returned. The Doctor had feared it never would again, but as she stared at the stars, she beamed like she'd never been happier.
"Those are the stars, Oswin," Clara told her, her voice choked. The Doctor remembered with a pang that Oswin hadn't ever seen the outside world. She'd never felt the breeze or seen the sun. And Clara hadn't in an entire year.
Clara grabbed Oswin's fists and leaned over slightly, grazing her hand gently over the blades of wet grass. Oswin let out a quiet, brief laugh at the tickling sensation, her smile widening.
"And this is grass." She told her, and then she was crying into the baby's hair in what could only be described as wondrous relief.
The world had never been more beautiful to the Doctor than it was in that moment. He slid over and wrapped Clara in his arms. He didn't know if all the Daleks were dead, or if he'd have to answer to the authorities, or any of it. He just knew that Clara and Oswin were free, and that they could look at the stars together now, and really, that was all he'd ever wanted.
The Doctor always thought of himself as an entity with a very defined beginning and a very defined end. He'd believed that he had started as a person with the burning of Gallifrey, but that wasn't quite true. In the end, he realized that time wasn't a straight progression, but more of a wibbly-wobbly mess. A person had many different beginnings. Most of his just happened to carry the weight of endings, and his most important beginning began with the sky on fire.
It took a long while for things to return to normal. Every Dalek in Trenzalore died that day, even the converted ones like Latimer, who didn't deserve that cruel of a death. The Doctor had always known more than others that there was always sacrifice in victory. With all those Daleks gone, there were only a few scattered Daleks left around the world. Each day more and more were converted, thanks to the revolution Clara had started. It was estimated by the new, proper authorities that by the one-year anniversary of the bombings in Trenzalore, there'd be no Daleks left in power anywhere. They were considered defeated.
Clara, the Doctor, and Oswin returned home, but home didn't feel the same as it had before. They were all different now. They'd been given prestigious awards of both merit and money by the country and the world once all they had done was revealed, but it did little to help the damage of all they'd seen and endured. Those they knew before didn't quite know how to act around them or what to say to them, especially Clara, as everyone knew she'd been held prisoner for an entire year. It was at least six months before people stopped ogling at them in the streets and it was another year before people stopped widening their eyes anytime Clara mentioned the time she spent locked up.
There were quiet differences in Clara that the Doctor noticed. In the first weeks after the explosion, they made him cry because they were painful reminders of all the pain she'd had to endure because of him. But eventually he learned to see them for what they were: Clara coping. She acquired a deep fear of enclosed spaces. The Doctor eventually knocked the entire front wall of their little home out and made it into a large window, placing two armchairs in front of it for them both to sit in, but before that Clara spent every single day out on the front stoop. Being indoors made her panicky and sullen. Their little family had even spent a few nights camping underneath the stars in the small backyard on nights Clara just couldn't handle it. She hated white walls and had painted all of them in a slight panic the first week they were home, but once every wall in their home was a varying shade of a crisp autumn leaf, she seemed better. Most importantly, they coped together. When the Doctor woke in a fright, Clara held him close. And when she was lost in terrible memories, he chased them away. That was what mattered.
Oswin bloomed. Where she had been happy and sweet in captivity, she was a source of never-ending light once free. She was a star to her parents' darkness. She loved the outdoors more than anyone the Doctor had ever known, possibly more than Clara. Her second word had been "sky", following closely by "dada". They could have bought a larger family home, but Clara hadn't wanted to leave the Maitlands. Melody had been so happy to see Clara that the Doctor knew they'd probably never be far from one another ever again. They built a room onto their small house for Oswin, a blue room with every star and constellation painted and labeled on each wall, a room for her to grow and laugh in. And she was the most beautiful thing of all.
They were married in autumn, underneath the stars, surrounded by everyone they loved. It had been two years since Trenzalore and Clara had long grown used to the feel of the breeze against her skin and the sight of the moon, but she was reduced to tears underneath the constellations once more. The Doctor kissed her like she was his own personal miracle, and she kissed him the same, because he was that for her. He always had been.
She picked Oswin up once everyone burst into applause and catcalls. The Doctor hugged her and Oswin and pressed a kiss to both their heads, his eyes alight with happiness. For their first dance, he spun Clara around and around until those stars were a swirling blur of white-on-black, and she was so in love it hurt. Halfway through Oswin joined them, squeezing between them and standing on her father's feet with her arms wrapped around his legs. The three danced around for hours, staring at the spinning stars and the blur of the lanterns surrounded by clouds of bugs, and they were whole.
They spent the three years before Oswin started school traveling the world, like Clara had always wanted to do.
Clara and her daughter checked off each place in her 101 Places to See book after each trip, giggling together and flipping excitedly to the next page, eager to see where fate would take them next. The Doctor traipsed excitedly through paths he'd already walked, but this time he didn't feel like anything was missing, because he had his family. Finally, after all his suffering and all his pain, he had a family. Perhaps it was what he deserved after all.
"And the boy loved the tree…very much. And the tree was happy." – Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree