Just a brief bit of speculation I've had on the difference between Clara and her echoes, centered around the first one we ever met. Also, a little experimentation with style during the first section, so we'll see how that goes. Almost all of the dialogue and some italicized parts come from actual episodes. I hope you enjoy!
Dobby's Polka-Dotted Sock
The Never-Were That Was
She's a leaf blowing through the wind, letting the current of a wild and dangerous river carry her through a time stream, but that leaf always has a name: Clara. Clara Oswald, Clara Oswin Oswald, Clara this, Clara that, and always, always Clara.
But Oswin is different.
Oswin Oswald is so very different.
Nina; her mum—Happy Birthday—alive; and she is, in her humble opinion, a lot more fun. More fun than cautious, grown-up, too-scared-to-wander-off Clara who had a job to do.
Yes, there is him. There is always him. But he took too long to show this time, so Oswin will go out and find him.
Junior Entertainment Officer, Starship Alaska is an adventure, something just for Oswin and not Clara. And yet, she panics and feels very much Clara as the alarms blare and crew members scream and the starship falls and this is about when he's supposed to show up.
But he doesn't save the Alaska, and Oswin doesn't save him. She wakes up to a locked room, alone, unhurt, but stranded and scared. Those sounds outside—Exterminate!—they echo across her subconscious just as much as he does.
So Oswin fights the Daleks all on her own, no thanks to him, and sits and counts the days and talks to herself, all the while baking soufflés. She never eats them, and she never eats anything else, but it never bothers her. She doesn't think to wonder why it never bothers her.
She's taken to blasting loud, operatic music to fill the silence inside and block the noises outside by the time there's a crackle on the radio and—
"Hello? Hello, Carmen?"
It's a voice. A voice mercifully different than her own, and it's been a year, for God's sake but that suddenly doesn't matter because it's him isn't it—he never gets her name right, isn't that funny?—that's his voice, her him. And she scrambles to answer, and he's just as Clara remembers and Oswin doesn't.
"Where'd you get the milk?"
Of all the things to ask! But it's been so long since he's asked anything of her, said anything to her, been aware of her one bit, and she glows with pride.
But all too soon they're cut off by the Daleks—the wretched, interfering things—and she feels equal parts joyous and despondent because she knows he's coming at last but he's left her alone.
For the time being. The sensors she's hacked pick up incoming gravity beams and she knows who it has to be. And sure enough, when she gets herself an above-ground view, he's sprawled in the snow.
"You coming to get me?"
She doesn't know why she asks. Clara's not supposed to ask this, but Oswin wants out of here and she wants out of here with him.
But as the picture breaks up—"Hey! Oi! Soufflé Girl!"—she hears and sees Amy Pond, who Clara's seen hundreds and thousands of times and Oswin's never met. It taunts her, reminding her that he's a raggedy man in tweed and bright colors and happy and he doesn't need Oswin or even Clara, he just needs his Girl Who Waited—she's waited a year—and not his Impossible Girl.
But he called her Soufflé Girl.
She holds onto that until she can make contact again—"Oi, what is wrong with my chin?"—and she enjoys planting the little words and phrases in his mind, the ones he said to Clara that made no sense but Oswin understands because she's a—
"Doctor. You call me the Doctor."
And she's grinning as he rises to her challenge because that's what they did together, and because Oswin finally knows: Doctor. She calls him the Doctor, and it's not his name, but she knows that too.
She's in such good cheer she even helps Rory, tries to pass on her optimism, because this will save him just as much as stopping a bullet. It's not fair to blame this man or his wife anyway, just because the Doctor's Amy's boy and Oswin's not the Boss. And the faster she gets these three back together, the more grateful he'll be and the faster he'll come get her. He'll have to, it's what he does. And he said he wanted to see her, frustrated he doesn't have a visual. He hardly ever sees Clara and he wants to see Oswin.
So she sends him a map and his friends nearly get him blown up, not to mention the growing danger that is Amy Pond, Dalek-to-be. It makes her so nervous for some reason and she can't help but ask.
"Doesn't she seem a bit too angry to angry to you?"
Because all this, everything that Clara did was to keep him safe. And she doesn't like watching the transformation slowly overtake the Scottish woman, it makes her anxious, and he's asking her about the soufflés again and she wishes he'd just stop.
And he does need Oswin, it turns out, he needs her skills, the skills Clara never would have had if not for him. But—
"Why would you wait for me?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
Oswin wants to believe, but Clara's seen too much of him for that.
"No idea. Never met you."
And it's a lie, but isn't. Oswin's never met the Doctor and Clara's never met this Doctor, and neither of them have the assurance that he won't leave, that he'll fight against everything to save her, that she's under his protection.
So she makes him sneak along the dark corridors of a place he reviles, calling up ghosts of memories, names of battles that Clara has seen and fought and Oswin has only read about. And then he is screaming for her.
"Oswin! Oswin, please! Get this door open! Help me!"
And she does as Clara always does, the impossible. Goes into the path web of the Daleks and eliminates the threat to him, like always, even if he says it can't be done.
"Come and meet the girl who can."
And he's right outside, just there! The Doctor. He's seen her, he's spoken to her, and he's here now, for Oswin. Because to him she's not an echo, a millionth part of a whole, she's real. It's really happening. And she doesn't care that it's not supposed to happen, that Clara's already been ripped apart and Oswin is trying to rip him apart now, too. She just wants it all back.
"Rescue me, Chin Boy, and show me the stars."
If that's selfish, then she thinks she's done enough by now to make up for it. She wants him back.
"Does it seem real?"
He needs to stop that, stop it right now with that face, that tone of voice, because she knows it, recognizes it so well now. Something's coming for her or already has, but it can't, not her, not Oswin. She always feels so terrible after they've spoken.
Where is she?
"Oswin, I am so sorry. But you are a Dalek."
And it hits her now, the familiar rush of memories that are and aren't hers, but these ones are and she feels it all anew; the pain, the terror. But she is human. Oswin is human. Yet even as she thinks this a bitter laugh threatens to bubble up because he told her—"I met you in the Dalek Asylum. There was a girl in a shipwreck and she died saving my life, and she was you."—he told her this would happen.
"It wasn't real. It was never real."
How dare he. How dare he come in here and shatter what little world she had left? If Amy Pond and Rory Williams had been on that starship- if Clara had been on that starship- if anyone else had been on that starship, he would have saved it. He would have found a way to stop this from ever happening.
But Oswin was left to rot in a padded cell for a year, and now he can hardly look at her, his expression warring between pity and disgust. When all this was for him! If she is this way, he is to blame! Him with his plans and companions and clever observations about eggs and milk, maybe he's always known.
Eggs. Stir. Min ate. Egg-stir-min-ate. Exterminate "EXTERMINATE."
And Oswin hates him in this moment—and the Dalek hates him, too—hates him and charges—rolls—forward as he backs away in fear.
"Listen, Oswin, you don't have to do this. Oswin!"
Abruptly, she stops with the sudden realization of what that fear is for. He's in fear of her. She, who was born to save the Doctor. Yet he stands, tense and waiting to die by her hand.
It's too much; what she is, what she's almost done, and Oswin can't take it. It's not real but she still feels herself crumple to the floor, curl into a ball because no one's going to comfort her. The Doctor can't, not ever again. Clara gave that up for him.
So what if Oswin's alone? He's always been alone, despite her being there. It's near impossible to save him over and over, and Clara didn't want him to know, didn't want him to think about the echoes. She wanted the universe—just this once, over and over again—to let him be, to let him learn, to let him live, to let him—
He still hesitates, like he wants to stop, to think up a way to fix this, but Oswin knows now it can't be done—his warm, sincere, "Thank you," is enough—all he can do now is—
"Run, you clever boy. And remember."
It's all she—Clara and Oswin—will ever ask of him.
He's never taken orders well, not even from the Boss. "Just this once, just for the hell of it, let me save you." And she does, for she's been running and running all her life—all her lives—and she needs to rest.
The Doctor's glad to be there for her at last and carry her away, away from his secret. He'll always have his secrets. And now, so will she.
"How many times, Clara?" He murmurs to himself, shifting the sleeping weight closer as he does so, wanting to keep her safe and sound. "How many times have I been saved and never realized?" He doubts she'll ever tell.
Still, he is a Time Lord. He might never know for certain, but he can sense it rippling through his time-stream, echoes in his past. So many of them. And that isn't how time is supposed to work. All those different versions were created by choices, and only one set of choices should have been chosen in the end, resulting in one version: Clara Oswald. The rest should have been lost in silence and shadow, not in death. Not because of him.
But all of them, given life, only to choose to give that up time and time again for him. And no matter how it might break him, he wishes he could meet all of them—all of her—just to say thank you. Just to give her a small amount of the gratefulness and the awe and the remorse he feels.
"Oh, Clara. My Impossible Girl. You are the Never-Weres That Were. And I am so sorry." He might never know how many, but he can sense it. He can guess.
The Doctor never would have asked it of her, even if he could see the inevitability of it from the moment they'd stood before his time-stream. But that's why she is too perfect. Every single one of her.
Ok, so I'm not sure how this one turned out—wrote most of it in the early morning, which is admittedly something I've avoided for a while—but hey, let me know what you think. Thanks for reading, and please review!