Warnings: Non–linear, potentially confusing narrative with spoilers from 7x13: The Name of the Doctor (which, along with how Matt Smith is nearing his last episode, is tearing me apart, but that's another story entirely).
this is how we collapse
"Part of you thought: please don't look at me. If you don't, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: look at me." ––The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
She sees him with Amy. It was an accident, though bound to happen because of all his faces and ages that she followed him through, and she won't dare to state it aloud, but that's the moment when everything changes. The Doctor loved her, Clara is absolutely sure of it, so much so that she is willing to put her very life at stake to make things right. She recognizes that things must be wrong simply because Amy isn't with him now, as far as she can remember – and she doesn't have the courage to acknowledge that she might have been a replacement for her. There's no time for those trivialities anymore.
She's already made a sacrifice to the Doctor by jumping into his timestream, and fixing the event that had made his world dark before she met him properly in his eleventh form can't possibly cause considerable damage. He'd emphasized at every available opportunity that paradoxes tended to resolve themselves when it came down to it.
(She realized deep down, however, that he was wrong, because the two of them hadn't been resolved at all after he'd figured out the mystery behind her existence. They would never be the same again.)
"Doctor! Turn around, please!" she yells, standing on the corners of planets and in the centers of stars until the ache in her lungs overwhelms her and she falls into blackness and is forced to start from the beginning and the middle and the end all over again. Her head constantly spins as she shifts between identities and realities.
The sights around her to choose from are ceaseless, images of the Doctor and the places he's been and the people he's been there with, and she briefly wonders what it would look like if she ever managed to see herself with him in the future with no idea of her purpose, or the past, where she's been running after him forever, hoping that he'd hear her somehow. The longing is cut short, of course, because that's not the way this works. She's dying on repeat and living lives she doesn't recall although she should, and there's no room to let selfishness creep in to the midst of that sort of mission.
"I had a dream about you," she whispers from a good distance behind him, "I had a dream about you, and all the things you were supposed to do but never did because of me." He's just witnessed Amelia Pond's death and Clara is determined to change the course of the tragedy that has transpired. She's positive how her story and her story with the Doctor are going to end, but that doesn't mean that his story and his story with Amy should end similarly.
When she aims to talk herself out of the plan formulating in her mind, the scene of them together plays and reminds her not to forget her true reason to be. He had called her Amelia Pond and looked at her like she was the only sacred thing left in all the galaxies he'd ever been to, and all the ones he ever would. It was evident that she was the reason his hearts beat, both the motivation to go on and explore and save those in need of his help and to discover the bravery and trust it took to give in to a great love.
Clara concludes quite easily that saving the Doctor is not only useless but impossible if she doesn't manage to save Amy as well. The two will always go out blazing hand in hand, no matter how many definite and indefinite endings there are to their story.
(It's the only justification she can make to dull the pain around the edges of her own heart.)
"Turn around," she screams, pleads, dreams, and he rarely ever does. Many occasions pass when she wants to give up on him and the objective she's dedicated her every passing breath to, convince herself that she is nothing special and retreat into some semblance of an uncomplicated life – but then guilt will consume her like a cloud continually hovering over her head and any chance at fitting in will be crushed before it even begins.
There's no such thing as fate, but fate is what made her path and his intersect in the first place. Fate is initiating games with her every time he doesn't turn around, it seems, but she remains ready to put up a solid fight.
Amy's bright hair flashes across her vision, followed by the sound of her stubborn voice nagging him and his reprimanding her in return. Her arms are crossed, and the Doctor appears to be pretending he's not going to abide by her requests.
Clara shoves away the feeling that perhaps the real reason her travels with the Doctor began is that she reminded him of her.
She recalls his hesitant solemn face and lame attempt to change the subject whenever she brought up his history with previous companions. On a typical Wednesday afternoon, she takes a leap of faith.
"I've been thinking –"
"Depending on the situation, that could be either very good or very bad," the Doctor interjects, fiddling with the controls of the Tardis.
She ignores him. "If you're scared of me leaving –"
He looks up. "Clara –"
"– I just wanted to make it clear that I won't leave you."
She can see something burning in his eyes. Everyone's always called her clever, but for once she wishes that her guess wasn't right.
"They all claim that at some point or another," he says stoically, as if her bold statement has no merit, "And then they leave."
"I just said that I won't," she retorts, hand on her hip.
"You will," he insists. You either leave or you –"
She reads his expression and senses the impending switch of topics. She wouldn't willingly leave him, so that keeps the door of her death open. He might leave her, she thinks, or die trying to save her, but she will die at any cost nonetheless. It's the straightforward way the universe restores its balance.
"I know," she nods, not quite sure how else to convince him that she's one hundred percent set on never abandoning him because when she puts it into words it's easy to fumble and come out like she has no idea what she's talking about. The emotion is there, as is the conviction, but the ability to name it isn't.
(If she knew she'd already died multiple times by that point, she could have turned around and left, even if it broke her promise, to save him the struggle of chasing after her. But she didn't know, so she wouldn't leave, and if she'd known, she's afraid of how firm she would've been on the decision of still not leaving.)
She approaches her once the Tardis disappears into the evening. The sole trace it leaves is the tear–streaked cheeks of the girl standing in its wake. "Amelia?"
Amy spins around at the unknown voice coming out of nowhere, considering she and the Doctor had been alone on the street a few moments ago. Rory was inside, and the Doctor had left her. Just like that, out of fear for her death or something more, he had left her alone, and now there was a stranger calling her name from shadows she shouldn't have ever turned around to.
"Yeah?" she replies slightly suspiciously, "Who're you?"
"My name is Clara," she says, as if this will be an adequate enough explanation, "Clara Oswald."
"Have we met?" Amy questions, still on the defensive. Her response is more polite than she'd intended.
"Not exactly," Clara says carefully, watching the lines of Amy's figure, in addition to their surroundings, slowly blur, "We don't have much time. You can't tell the Doctor you met me –"
Amy's interest is finally peaked. "How do you know the Doctor?"
"I'm from the future," Clara offers, speaking frantically now that she's realized that everything is slipping away faster than planned. The timeline she's in is forcing her out in order to retain normalcy. "I need you to do something for me. It might be the most important thing you ever do."
"What are you talking about?" Amy presses, apparently unbothered by the fact that she's talking to someone who claims to be from the future. Instead, she fights forward for further details, "You know the Doctor in the future? Is he –"
"He's fine," Clara lies, not having the energy to be guilty about it, "Listen to me. He hasn't met me yet, so you can't ever hint that you did. Firstly, he won't know who I am, and secondly, it'll screw up what's to come – you must know how that works."
"I do... But why are you here? What do you need me to do now if he's alright in the future?"
Clara chokes back a wave of unexpected sympathy. He's alright, but you're not, she considers saying, but even if she wanted to she couldn't because she can sense herself losing control of her ability to move or speak.
"Don't give up on him. Don't ever give up."
"Never," Amy assures, positive that Clara Oswald must not know much about her at all to think she'd give up on the Doctor, "Not ever."
Or that's what Clara imagines she would have said before everything fades to nothing right in front of her eyes, because this never really happened. It never really could have. Yet even in death, she can't bring herself to fully believe Amy's words.
The Doctor is far from pleased with her recent – or not so recent, since they occurred before she met him as a Dalek (she's finding it difficult to keep good track of all their legitimate meetings and the exact order they took place in) – decision–making skills.
"I know what you did – tried to do, however you want to phrase it, but you have to know that you can't."
Clara plays innocent. "I can't what?"
"You can't do it!" the Doctor exclaims, somewhat at a loss for words, "That thing – you can't do that thing that you do, with going back and forth in time and doing your best to forge alternate realities! That's not the way this works –"
"I did," she interrupts his rant solemnly, feeling a lot less victorious than she should at his knowledge of her actions, "I can, and I did."
He shakes his head. "You didn't. You think you did. That's what makes all the difference."
"What is that supposed to mean?" she asks haughtily, "Besides, if it didn't really happen and it's all in my head, then how do you know what I'm thinking? Maybe you just think that I thought it. Maybe that's what this is."
"So maybe it happened," he looks sheepish, but retains his firm tone, "But – but, there's always a but – in theory, it couldn't have. You changed something that you shouldn't have, and you have to learn your lesson so you don't do it again. I'm serious, Clara."
It begins to get under her skin that he's clearly avoiding mentioning Amy at all. "Time can be re–written!"
"No, no, no. Not like this."
"Why not? I'm helping, aren't I? I've seen every one of your faces through years and years and I know that her dying is one of your biggest regrets. I can make everything better, I swear, I gained abilities and I can do this, it won't hurt anyone –" She hesitates a moment too long and can't go on. It won't hurt anyone, except herself. And if one person out of her and the Doctor are going to be hurt, she prefers it be her.
"Don't you understand? If you alter the way Amy's life ends, then I never meet you! None of this will happen. If you do it, we won't be standing here having this very conversation! You wouldn't be able to save me, and I wouldn't be able to save you –"
"So what?" she challenges, silencing the tiny thrill she receives from seeing him worked up about potentially not meeting her, "Are you genuinely willing to trade my life for Amy's? We both know that you would rather it be her that gets saved. Admit it, if you had the choice –"
"This isn't some bargain," he cuts in coolly, "That's not the way this works. And if you think that low of me –"
She can tell by the infliction in his voice that he's taken aback, possibly hurt. She puts a lot of effort into looking nonchalant. "I'm sorry," she says quietly, though she's not sure whether she genuinely is or if she's just tired – tired of being known for running when she's done her fair share of waiting, like Amy did, and exhausted of having to become the hero in a story she's hardly going to be a part of.
He opens his mouth to accept her apology, though not quickly enough to stop her from stepping backwards towards the depths of space.
"What are you doing?" he demands.
"Dying, so we can start over. It's the only way."
(Her last thought once her eyes close and she welcomes the impending drop is that when the Doctor finally managed to acknowledge Amy, her name was music in a foreign language coming from him in comparison to what she reckoned it sounded like coming from her.)
Amy creeps out of her memory piece by piece once she dies too many times to hold on to significant information from past lives. The Doctor keeps losing her, so she keeps following him, because that's the only direct relationship between the two of them that she can cling to.
Seldom does she see him in a state of happiness, even when with many of those he's traveled with – it might be a coincidence, but the majority of times she stumbles upon him, he's in various shades of distress and anger and perhaps sadness, though she doesn't feel appropriate to be calling it that. It's sadness that's painted to disguise loneliness. That much she can discern on her own.
She says something she commonly wouldn't to get his attention, reflecting that he might respond better to that because of his curiosity complex. A minute that feels like it will never end passes. Rather than the usual anticipation or anxiousness, Clara feels absolutely nothing. Emptiness.
And then he does what she's desperately wanted him to do and simultaneously dreaded for as far back as she can remember because she's aware of how their story ends:
He glances back.
A/N: If you've read this far, I'd really appreciate reviews, but please don't favorite without reviewing!