Small Warning: Mature Content in this chapter...
It happens far faster than she thought it would; far faster than she would have liked – the passing of time. Her mother never got the chance to explain the way things worked in the world. The way time was supposed to flow and things were supposed to happen. And before she knew it, time had flown. Flown so fast she couldn't keep track of it anymore, but she didn't mind.
He's sitting next to her, legs dangling off the edge of the platform, occasionally knocking into each other, and he's holding her hand while he tells her about the way the sun sets on the mountains in Gallifrey because she asked – she wanted to know where he was from and every time she asks, he gives her something new. And he does so with a wondrous look in his eyes and an eagerness to share, to include her in his world, as his hand closes tighter and he gazes over her face.
Sometimes she remembers it, when she's asleep – just like she does all of her past lives. There are spires reaching into a burning sky through the glass dome and she walks among them, making her way cheerfully to the Tardis factory to guard over the vessels and occasionally repair them. She worked on his Tardis personally, upgrading and smirking at the quirky flaws in its operating system.
Maybe she put them there, an extension of herself, for reasons she doesn't quite understand on the surface, and when the Doctor arrives to steal a Tardis, she approaches him with a playful spirit – it's the Tardis she would have taken. And then she wakes with a smile and that time is gone. Just like all of the rest. She wishes she could hold on tighter to the memories, but he's told her if she does, she could lose her mind, so she leaves it all in dreams.
"I wish I could show it to you, Clara," he ends with a sad sigh. It's his home and it's gone. Time locked, she remembers, and he'd done it to save the universe. "Why are you crying?" The question is sudden and pained and she feels his thumb rub over her cheek before her vision comes back into focus and she smiles up at him, sniffling lightly and shaking her head.
"You gave up your home. Everything."
For the universe.
"You did the same," he reminds with a grin.
To save him.
He pulls her to her feet and he's leading her closer to the console, hands already slapping at the buttons and twisting knobs and she stops him. Because she doesn't want time to move so quickly. She wants him to stop. To slow down. To look at her again. So she takes his hands and she stares at them. Really stares at them.
They're soft, but they're worn. And they're open to her, allowing her to explore them because she's suddenly terrified and she doesn't want to look up and see what's in his eyes – what's written on his face. This will end, she knows. They will end. He's over a thousand years old, for crying out loud, and she knows there have been dozens of others before her and there will be dozens after.
So she wants time to stop. She wants time to stand still and not budge an inch so she can be frozen in this moment with him. And she can't breathe because it's too painful to think about. Clara understands why he hates good-byes; she's never been very good with them herself. But things should come to their natural conclusion, it's just... sometimes it's impossible to let go.
"Tell me this means something," she manages, eyes welling over as she continues to trace the lines on his hands. "Tell me I mean something."
"Clara," he says her name with a laugh. "Clara, you mean everything."
"No," her head rises so she can look at him, take in the sorrow in front of her. "Not right now. Not in this moment. Not because I'm the impossible girl, or soufflé girl, or the girl who is standing in your Tardis today, for a time. Tell me I mean something forever."
She can see the understanding drift across his face like a slap and he bends slightly, his fingers slipping out of hers to cup her neck at either side. This is what it is to give in, she knows; to not trick herself out of what she feels when she looks at him after a long day, or explain away the tickle in her stomach when he shows up outside her door.
"Forever," he repeats with a sad smile. "You mean everything forever."
Turning away, she laughs. He says it because he knows I want to hear it, she convinces herself, and she tries to shake herself out of the situation. She smiles at him and pretends she hadn't broken out of her composed state, and she turns to the Tardis.
"Where are we off to now?" She asks, and for a moment, she thinks maybe he'll let it slide. He has to let it slide if he wants them to continue on, she supposes.
He's horrible at romance, she knows, incredibly dense and incapable and... he drops down slightly, catching her lips in a gentle kiss that takes her by surprise and he shifts back to catch her, eyes closed, waiting.
A hand snakes to her waist and moves her away from the console, towards the ramp that lead to the interior of the Tardis. Clara watches him as he backs down it a bit, so that his eyes are closer to level with hers, and she waits, his eyebrows furrowing in concentration as he looks about – lost for what to say to her and it's almost infuriating.
All of the words, all of the speeches, all of the times she's watched him talk down an army, or a madman, or himself. All of the lies and all of the brilliance and all of the insanity that she's seen leak out of his mouth and he stands before her at a loss. Impossible.
"Clara..." is the only word that emerges.
She leans forward and lays her forehead against his, feels the trembling in the hands that are at her sides and she nods slowly. "I understand," she tells him sadly, pushing him aside and slipping out of his delicate grasp. "Forever is an eternity I don't have," she mutters as she moves down the ramp and makes her way through the first corridor door and down several steps, touching her necklace with a shaky hand as she bats away tears.
"No, Clara, you don't understand," he shouts, stalking after her, but she doesn't turn, simply quickens her pace, which she knows is useless because his legs are twice as long. "Clara, you don't understand," he repeats, hand coming out to catch her by the elbow before he lets go and she can hear him give a long sigh behind her.
It takes her a moment to turn, top lip held tightly between her teeth and she can see his face is red with frustration and she nods.
"Explain then, Doctor."
He looks up and a smile creeps over his lips before he laughs. "It's difficult."
"Use small words," she prompts, narrowing her eyes at him.
He shakes his head. "No, falling in love." He pauses to let the words sink in and she only looks away because she thinks he's speaking about her. Surely he's had a few companions fall in love with him. Clara imagines it would be impossible not to after travelling with the Doctor for a while, but then he continues, "I don't make a habit of it."
Clara tilts her head slightly and widens her eyes at him as she lowers her brow, hands fidgeting at her sides. "You don't."
The words aren't the most clever, but she feels as though she might have been hit in the side of the head with something heavy and the thoughts in her mind aren't formed properly. He doesn't fall in love often. HE doesn't. He doesn't?
Clasping his hands together at his chest, he gives her a tight lipped smile, slowly taking a step towards her. "I avoid it, mostly. Because I know how much it hurts when it ends. And it always ends – even if you could have all of the days of my life." One hand jettisons into his hair, ruffling it slightly before dropping away, open-palmed at his thigh. "And sometimes it's just there, like a wound in my chest I can't avoid or heal, even with the best Sontaran nurses in the galaxy."
"Am I a wound in your chest, Doctor?" Clara pleads. "That isn't love, that's pain."
He points at her condescendingly and snaps, "Sometimes love is pain!"
"How can you say that?" She shouts back, just as passionately.
And his composure breaks and he replies harshly, "Because it ends. It is the worst ending because it's the story you've cherished the dearest and it's the one that's torn from you the slowest because it doesn't end when you're no longer here. It's a lingering, a memory, a remembrance that continually stabs with every fiber of the universe." He punches a fist into his palm. "The smell of wood burning and crackling like leaves, the sound of some random woman's laughter, some wild look in a child's eye, some little trinket in a corner of the universe you'd never noticed before that suddenly reminds you of the most important part of your life no longer available to you."
With a quick nod, she barks, "So you never love because it's the only way you avoid losing."
"Yes," he tells her slowly.
"Then you've already lost," she enlightens him with an infuriated huff of laughter. And before he can say another word, she's stepping into him, "Take me home."
"What?" He asks, terrified.
Clara shakes her head. "Let's not prolong the inevitable because it's my heart you're breaking."
"Clara," he bends, hands at her shoulders. "Don't."
"I can't... do this," she admits. "I've run out of ways to tell myself to stop."
"Stop what?" The Doctor questions, brow knotting.
"Loving you, you great oaf!" She shouts into his face, surprising even herself.
Clara waits, chest heaving with the deep breaths she's trying to take to steady herself and she watches him as he stares at the ground. There's a smirk again, the stupid smirk that makes her want to kick him in the shin and he peeks up at her through the thick hair that hangs off the front of his head. Clara looks away. She can't look at him anymore; she can't do it anymore. She wishes she could turn back the clock and throw away the card the woman in the shop had given her.
She could figure out life for herself.
But time doesn't work the way you want and neither does life and she finds herself standing there watching him because as much as she never wants to look at him again, she never wants to turn away. Clara glares at him, whole self in contemplation before he slowly begins to move.
Tugging at his bow tie, he loosens it, stripping it free from his neck and unraveling it to hold in his hands. And he stares down at it a moment before he shifts towards her. Clara moves back, unsure, but he reaches out for her hand, taking it gently in his. He wraps their hands together while she glances down at the dark ribbon now binding them and up at his eyes, wrought with concentration, and back again.
"What?" She questions. "What is this?"
Raising his eyes to her as he cups his free hand at her cheek in a way that's become so familiar she nudges into it automatically, he explains, "This," he gives her grasped hand a squeeze, "Is a promise."
"What kind of promise?"
"Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?" He laughs.
"Speak for yourself," she laughs back, not quite understanding.
Until he kisses her. So different from the kiss he'd given her on the console. It isn't gentle or restrained, it's hungry and makes her loose her balance right into him, but he doesn't let go or let up, he holds the hand bound to his tightly and wraps the other at her waist to keep her pressed against him. She exhales breathlessly and moves on tip toe, free hand finding his shoulder, grabbing hold firmly.
And she's off the ground, floating in his arms as he moves slowly down the corridor and through a door she doesn't know she's ever been through. It's so close to the console, but she can't recall it and she doesn't care. She allows him to lead and she follows, light-headed and giddy in his arms when his lips finally trail off hers and onto her neck as she bows her forehead into his ear. Clara lets out a small gasp of surprise when they tumble into what feels like a stack of pillows and when she glances sideways, she sees they have.
But she doesn't question it, she just reaches up with her free hand and she yanks him down closer to her, eyes fluttering as his body presses forcefully against hers as he works oddly successfully on her earlobe with his lips.
"What are we doing here?" She whispers, because it's the highest volume she can achieve.
He tilts his head up and smiles, lifting her bound hand and letting the fabric slip away with a small twist of his wrist. It settles beside her stomach lightly and she laughs quietly before he dips down for her lips again and there's a burst of images behind her now closed eyelids. Some sort of memory transference that makes her head spin in delicious ways.
It's time. Time and time. Coursing through her mind and unhinging it as they manage to strip out of their clothes and bury themselves in the pillows. Clara feels as though it were all too fast and too slow all at the same time and she cries out when he carefully slips inside of her, receiving a delicate stroke of each hand at either side of her face.
"Are you... okay?" He questions.
She looks up and knows he's asking if she's had second thoughts and she smiles, shaking her head and running her hands over his bare shoulders. So pale and so incredibly strong. He nudges at her nose with his own and they share a silent chuckle before she wraps her legs over his back and feels him shift deeper into her. His hands move away, tucking themselves underneath her arms, fingers diving into her hair to cradle her head.
Clara feels as though her heart might explode and her mind travels over the universe, the distant stars and the stray dust and his blue box whipping through it all. She tests his neck with a nibble that gifts her with a guttural noise from the man atop her and she wraps her arms up around him, eyes pinching shut when his mouth moves over her skin, suckling her nipples and she expects him to make a joke, opens her eyes and waits to see a goofy grin plastered on his face, but she finds dark eyes staring back up at her.
Not like anything she'd ever seen on his face.
Clara edges up, pillows falling aside as she straddles him, giving him a small unexpected pop of her hips that makes him gasp out and she wraps her arms over his shoulders and kisses him while working a rhythm with her pelvis over him that he jerks up into, hands latched to her sides. She sees the swirls of galaxies and then the sunset drenched red mountains and the city in the globe that sparkles.
And then she sees herself.
It's a slight shock he takes advantage of, easily lifting her and settling her back down against the pillows to press into her with a small moan before he whispers, "Home hasn't been that place in some time."
"Where is home?" She responds, barely audible.
He doesn't speak, only drops his lips onto hers and rubs his hands over her skin as she clutches at his hair, feeling herself reaching her climax, not wanting it to come. Not yet. Not so fast. But he's driving her there, quickening his blows as she twirls her tongue over his and they groan at one another.
It doesn't seem like there's enough time to savor it. The beautiful eruption of spasms that overtake her, bringing her feet down roughly so she can pivot herself into him as he continues to move against her, join his as he drops his forehead into her shoulder and sucks at her skin. Clara chances to whisper his name, his real name, into his ear and he sighs with satisfaction, body resting against hers, occasionally moving lightly, reaching up into her, desperate for more.
She's out of breath and parched and her body is on fire. Clara reaches over and finds the bow tie absently with her fingers. She rubs at the material as she relishes the last waves of it all and the feeling of his body against hers, holding her as if she might fly away from him. Holding onto her as though she might disappear.
Dropping the edge of his bow tie into his hair, she flicks it about, smiling when he finally looks up at her sleepily, grin lazily on his lips as he leans on his elbows. "Hi," she tells him.
"Hello," he responds.
And time was frozen for those few seconds, staring into one another's eyes. Clara imagines this is normal, this is what this should feel like – apart from the space travel and the pillows scattered about. The fullness in her heart and the warmth in her belly and the notion that she could be perfectly satisfied lying there with him for all of eternity.
She raises the bow tie, "What is your promise?"
He twists it around a finger and she does the same and he kisses her lightly and whispers, "Forever."