"Give them to me," the little boy hollered.
"No, they're mine!" his sister replied in frustration.
She'd gotten used to the sounds of screams and the fights over who should get to pick the radio station in the car, or who should get the last chocolate chip cookie, or who should have the last shower – because neither of the children wanted the first. She'd gotten used to the kicking and the small punches or scratches or bites or deliberately tossed toys that left tears and red welts and she'd gotten used to the name calling. She was fairly certain she could write a novel on the amount of insults children could creatively throw at each other and she knew today would be a day to add a few to the list.
They were having an argument over socks.
"Henry, Olive," she called loudly as she stopped trying to pull her hair into a bun and turned away from the mirror, eyes momentarily shut before she moved out of her bedroom and into the hallway. Hurrying into Olive's room, she found the small boy yanking a pair of cartoonish yellow socks out of the hands of the girl in front of him. Snatching them out of his grasp, Clara held them up in the air as he jumped for them, tongue tucked tightly between his thin lips.
"I told him they were for girls," Olive informed her, arms crossed over the chest of a pink and blue shirt that clashed horribly her neon green tool skirt.
"And I told her they were mine," Henry grunted as he finally stopped reaching and mimicked the girl to his right, tightly weaving his arms together in a knot over a button up blue shirt that hung lop-sided from mismatching the buttons with their holes.
Clara looked at the socks and shook her head, "They're Olive's socks," she allowed, "And you can't wear them today," she told the smirking girl, before addressing her brother, "Henry, apologize to your sister."
"But…" he started, bouncing on the spot twice in a way that sent dark hair over his right eye.
Pointing, she repeated, "Not today, Henry, please."
He stomped sideways and looked at the girl who waited expectantly before muttering, "I'm sorry."
"Now," Clara dropped to her knees carefully and grabbed hold of his shirt, fixing his buttons before straightening his collar and wiping the hair out of his face with a soft, "You need a haircut," as he smiled deviously at her. "Go, brush your teeth."
"I already did," he told her.
She shook her head as she stood, "I can smell your breakfast on your breath."
Dragging his feet and groaning loudly, Henry went into the bathroom and she listened as he began working on scrubbing his teeth while she moved to the closet. Plucking items, she turned back to Olive with a half-smile. The girl was currently doing circles on the spot, humming some song off one of her favorite cartoons.
With a sigh, Clara told her, "You, it's a school day and you know you have to wear your uniform."
"I don't like my uniform," the girl told her, stopping and jutting out her tongue in disgust.
Clara laughed, hearing the spit from the bathroom and the mumbled words of aggravation before she told Olive, "I don't like school uniforms either, but they're the rules."
"Couldn't we break the rules just once?" Olive asked brightly, large brown eyes waiting.
With a shake of her head, Clara walked towards her with the khaki skirt and pale blue top that matched her brother's. "Come on, let's get changed."
The child complained in murmurs and random sounds of protest and went limp at one point – another game Clara had gotten use to – and soon she was ushering them both to the car outside the small house, knowing she had to get them to school within the hour and that hour was almost up. Clara pushed her key into the lock on the front passenger door and grunted in frustration when it got stuck before a familiar buzz started up from just behind her, giving her heart a jump.
"I've got it!" the Doctor said happily as he pointed his Sonic at the lock and it clicked.
The car alarm blared and the children covered their ears, looking up at the strange man with expressions of confusion as Clara pressed the buttons on her key and in the subsequent silence they all looked at one another. The Doctor glanced from Clara down to the children and then back up at her, smile widening before he gestured to them and asked, "New charges?"
"Um," Clara managed, head coming up slightly before she tugged the front passenger door open and hit the auto-unlock button to get them loaded into their seats in the back. "Seat belts," she told them both, then pointed, "And no arguing, you know what I've told you about traffic fatalities."
"People hamburger, smashed across the street," Henry replied with a laugh.
Olive made a face of disgust that the Doctor mirrored.
The door closed and Clara looked up at him, the surprised smile frozen on her face telling him something was wrong and he was instantly uncomfortable, pointing at the dark blue vehicle beside them, "New car? You didn't have an automobile before, did you? I don't recall it."
"No," she told him plainly. "Had to get one."
"Ah!" He said quickly, then clasped his hands together and gestured at the Tardis, parked across the street before glancing at the children, "Is it not Wednesday?"
"It's Wednesday," Clara nodded.
"You're not… coming?"
"Doctor," she uttered before she looked back at the children who were both peering up curiously from the back seat – two sets of identically large dark eyes, "When you said you'd be back next week… you missed the mark by a bit."
"Is it not the Wednesday after our trip to Venus?" He questioned, brow coming down in a familiar way that made her tilt away slightly with a hidden smile.
Clara shook her head at him, feeling her eyes warming with tears before she admitted, "No, that was quite some time ago."
And then he frowned, "How much time ago?"
The window rolled down roughly as Henry turned the manual knob before popping his head out to shout, "Mum, we're going to be late for school!"
The Doctor stared at Henry a moment before looking to Clara and repeating, "Mum?"
With a small nod, she gestured back at them and told him, "Doctor, those are my children."
They stared at one another. The Doctor giving her a small smile at first, one that studied her, saw the years he'd missed in her eyes, he hadn't noticed the weariness there, or the small flecks of wrinkles at the corners. It hadn't been too long, but it was long enough. His grin sadly drifted away with the understanding that he'd missed her. Not by a few hours or a few days or even a few months. He could see the children, easily five or six years old, both fidgeting in their seats in the back of the vehicle. He swallowed hard on the acknowledgement that there was a very good chance – an absolute certainty – that she wouldn't travel with him anymore.
She had other responsibilities now.
Two very important ones.
Clara opened her mouth several times, thoughts that never made it out, before the car horn honked and she turned to see Henry falling back into his seat, sharing a laugh with Olive and she smiled back at the Doctor, "I'm really very sorry, Doctor, but I have to be going."
Nodding awkwardly, he raised a hand towards her and asked, "Could we, I mean, could we have brunch? Catch up?"
Twisting her wrist up, she glanced at her watch, Clara shook her head, "I have work. I'll be late as it is, dropping them off and getting through traffic…"
"You have a job?" He didn't know why he was so surprised. He supposed he'd always considered her a governess – a watcher, a teacher, a caregiver of children. If she had children of her own, why wouldn't that be her job. She interrupted his thinking with a half laugh.
Clara nodded and gestured back, "Kids don't really pay for themselves, Doctor."
"But, your hus… their fath…" and he found himself incapable of finishing either word, his chest crushing with an unfathomable jealousy as he turned his attention to the children currently having an animated discussion. Both, he realized, easily wielding her expressions on their small faces.
"No, it's just me," Clara told him gruffly. "We can…" she trailed and sighed, "We can catch up later."
"What's later," he brought his own wrist up to glance at his watch, moving nervously on the spot as she stood perfectly still, considering him.
"Later," she repeated, "Um," Clara looked back at the children who, she knew, would break into a fight if she didn't get herself into the car soon. "Tonight, could you come back tonight? They'll be out around eight."
"Tonight," he nodded, "After eight," and he smiled because she was still dictating their schedule.
Clara moved to the driver's side and she pulled open the door, giving him a smirk and a once-over before her eyes trailed away and she fell into the seat, turning swiftly to remind the children to put on their seat belts. To remind her children. Clara's children. The Doctor felt somewhat faint. Yesterday she'd been hanging on his arm, asking him where they'd go next; yesterday she'd been in his Tardis, nudging him with her elbow and giving him doe eyes about having a normal dinner on Earth while the Maitland's were on vacation.
Yesterday they'd been together…
He waved to the car as it eased out of the driveway past him and he watched the two small sets of hands that thrust themselves at the window to wave back. The Doctor walked slowly towards his Tardis and laid a hand on her, closing his eyes against the aching in his chest, two broken hearts that made it hard to think, much less move forward. He stepped inside and found one of the chairs that sat around the center console and he planted himself in it.
Around him, the Tardis stood silently, as if even it understood his sorrow, and he gave his head a shake, standing and moving to the center to touch the equipment there. Except he hesitated. If he jumped forward in time, he might miss her again. He might miss all of her, and he was certain there wouldn't be another Clara out there in the universe to console him. She was the original, his, and he began working to power his ship down. The more lights went off, the more angry he grew.
Somehow this machine had caused it.
"Never get me where I… I don't need to be now; I needed to be then," he growled under his breath as she complained – another light flickering off. "And now it's too late for that. This life is fixed."
He shouted out as he gripped the darkened console.
He'd loved her.