*See end for A/N
Clara couldn't really articulate what she'd expected when she stepped outside those doors. She hadn't expected dusty landscape of uninviting, rocky terrain with nothing and no one in sight for miles. She curled her lip in distaste, wondering if the TARDIS was still throwing what the Doctor had deemed a 'hissy fit' and what Clara considered the temperamental ship's last-ditch effort to protect him from himself. She wondered if he'd set the coordinates for somewhere near the Kaapornum galaxy, because then she really hoped the TARDIS had rebelled again and sent them to some distant moon in retaliation…
Or…perhaps not a distant moon. Perhaps a moon much closer to home.
There was a source of light coming from somewhere and she followed it, climbing up a steep slope just ahead of where the TARDIS had landed, picking her way over loose rocks and uneven surface. What she saw at the top confirmed her suspicions.
A stunning view of the Earth, such as she'd only imagined.
So – the TARDIS had sent him to the moon again, maybe even an hour into the future. Still didn't trust him, apparently.
Well – she wasn't sure if she was trusted him yet, either.
He had disappeared when they'd landed, shooing her out the doors and telling her he would catch up. But he clearly wasn't pleased when he emerged and discovered she had climbed to the top of the hill without him. Her tentative wave was met with a very elaborate display of annoyance, some shouted something-or-other, and then he vanished again only to reemerge with the TARDIS a few feet from her. She had to jump out of the way to keep from being blown over the edge.
He was still peeved when he popped out a few seconds later.
"You never used to wander off like that – do I have one of those faces again?"
"All I did was climb a hill, and you said you'd catch yourself up. What's that?"
He was clutching a basket behind him as if hoping she wouldn't notice it. "Oh. This? Well – what does it look like?"
"Very astute of you, Clara."
"Oi, I'm allowed to ask – you don't normally carry baskets." She eyed it curiously. "Am I allowed to know what's inside?"
"Well, if you must know…grenades."
The Doctor shrugged. "Strax once said he wanted to declare war on the moon – I thought I'd give him a proper head start."
Swallowing, Clara pushed back the lid in trepidation before frowning at the contents. "You've got wine in here."
"Again, it's becoming quite clear how nothing escapes your notice."
Narrowing her eyes at him, she grabbed the bottle out of the basket, clinking against something in the process. "And glasses and – are those biscuits?" Now she eyed him with new interest. "What's all this for?"
"Have a seat." He motioned to the doorway of the TARDIS as he settled himself with a few noises of discomfort. "Mmph - I should have brought a pillow. My arse is going to be all manner of bruised from this floor."
"And those are words I never expected to hear come out of your mouth," she muttered as she smoothed her dress over her legs. "So – are you going to tell me what's going on?"
"I thought it was obvious." He produced a corkscrew from one of his cavernous pockets and set to work on the wine. She looked at him blankly. "Oh, please don't tell me I have to make you guess."
Clara huffed in frustration. "Okay. We're sitting in the TARDIS doorway, on the moon, about to drink wine and eat -" She withdrew the package of biscuits and smiled. "Jammie Dodgers, apparently. Guess some things don't change."
The Doctor grimaced as he struggled with the wine. "They were all I could find on such short notice…blast!" He shook the hand that had been twisting the corkscrew, flexing his fingers. "These damned joints." He scowled at the wine as he pushed it towards her. "Can you give it a go?"
Clara shook her head, refusing. "Not until you tell me what's going on. What are we doing here, Doctor?"
The Doctor's head fell back against the doorway. "Oh, for crying out loud – do I really have to spell it out for you?"
"Guess I'm just that slow," she seethed.
He let out a sigh. "All right." He waved a hand vaguely. "I couldn't find any chairs, and we'd get moon dust on us if we sat on a blanket. There also wasn't any cheese or fruit, so – this was the best I could do."
Clara found an unexpected lump in her throat. "This is a picnic. We're…having a picnic on the moon."
He shifted positions, crossing one long leg over the other. For all his complaining, his movements had never appeared more graceful and fluid. "You said you'd never been, and you're right…" He clasped his hands in his lap. "You really can't beat that view."
Unable to speak, she reached for the bottle and finished twisting out the cork. Pouring them each a small glass, she handed one to him before setting the bottle down next to her.
"Here it comes!" His excited exclamation startled her. "Well done, old girl – right on schedule!" He patted the door behind him affectionately. "Look to your right – see?" He pointed over her shoulder, drawing her attention to a streak of light in the sky.
Clara let out a soft gasp as she discovered that the streak of light was an object, hurtling through space on a collision course with…
"Uh, Doctor, it's…" She turned to him in alarm.
He looked placid, content, even. "What are you looking at me for? You don't want to miss it!"
She thought maybe it would change course, maybe it would circle or spiral like those non-meteors from Loktor. Or burst into a dozen smaller bits to start up some kind of dance. "But it's headed for…"
It was like one of those horror films Angie sometimes forced her to watch, where the damsel walks right into the room where the serial killer is hiding, and all she could do was choke out a No!, knowing she was helpless to change the inevitable, gruesome course of events that would unfold afterwards.
As it smashed into the Earth, she let out a cry, tipping her glass and spilling the contents, the dark liquid leaving a blood-like stain on the dusty ground.
"Careful with that! That's not exactly a –"
"Why did you bring me here?!" She whirled on him, angry tears in her eyes. "What kind of…?" She clamped her jaw shut, nanny instinct kicking in and effectively stoppering every last hurtful insult she could throw at him. "Where did that crash?" She finally bit out.
The Doctor looked utterly perplexed. "Arizona."
"That's where? America?"
"Yes, in what will eventually be America."
"Eventually? How…" She closed her eyes as it dawned on her, her hands clenching into fists. "When are we?"
"About 253 million years back," he replied blithely. "This is a fixed point in time – I've never shown you one of those, have I?"
Opening her eyes, she fumed at him a moment before swatting him on the arm, causing him to start and tip his own glass, forming another stain on the ground.
"Ow! What the hell was that for?!"
She stabbed a finger at him. "That's what you do when someone takes you to watch a giant rock crash into your home planet without informing you that no one would be hurt! You don't just…!" She threw up her hands, emitting a noise of frustration. "Even a 'by the way, we're in prehistoric times now so you won't have to worry about anyone dying!'"
He rubbed at his arm, glowering at her. "I see no love lost for the poor therapsids, then." He continued muttering something about timorous beastie, which could've either been a reference to her or the therapsids.
"Prehistoric mammal-reptiles! We just witnessed the moment in time that led to one of the largest extinctions in Earth's history." He reached for the bottle, pouring himself another, more generous glass to replace his previously untouched one.
Clara regarded him warily. "If we're watching a moment that led to such widespread extinction, then why are we drinking to it? Why are we celebrating death like this?"
The Doctor scoffed. "We're not – it's not like that – it's a fixed point in time because without this, history would've played out completely differently. It wiped out 96% of life on Earth so evolution could start all over again, which led to the rise of the dinosaurs and eventually, to the human race. So without this you have no human race." He pointed a finger back at her. "And you were the one who wanted to watch some big, visual event while we ate. For watching things, Earth's moon is one of the dullest venues I know, so…" He made an all-encompassing motion. "I tried to give you the view and the picnic and – the big event, and I thought…" He gave a sigh of resignation, all of a sudden looking haggard. "I don't know what I thought," he murmured. "I'm still such a foolish, old man," he lamented bitterly.
Her heart lurched within her chest, dissolving her anger instantly. "All of this was for me?"
His silence rang out loud and clear.
"I guess I didn't…" She kicked idly at the blood-coloured stain on the ground. "I know you're still trying to figure yourself out, Doctor, but how do you think it is for me? I'm not just gonna automatically know that a basket means a picnic and watching a meteor -"
"An asteroid," he corrected.
"Whatever – crash into Earth is just our entertainment."
"It's witnessing a fixed point in time - not 'entertainment,'" he replied testily. "And do you really think I've changed so much that I would bring you up here to watch an event where people died?" He asked, clearly wounded.
"No. But I think you'd bring me up here so I was nowhere near an event like that to make sure I didn't die."
Judging from how quickly he snapped his mouth shut at that, she assumed she wasn't too far off the mark.
"So many things have changed about you, Doctor." Her voice was quiet. "I'm still trying to sort out the things that haven't. And you weren't exactly keen on the picnic idea yesterday," she reminded him, omitting the part where he'd called her out on arranging a "date."
He was staring into his wine glass with the same concentration he used to reserve for his shoes, but the expression was all wrong. There was nothing sheepish about it, and there was no fidgeting. "No," he admitted. "But yesterday I suppose…" He hesitated, his words measured and slow. "I suppose I didn't know how much I…needed you."
There was no way she could find a reply that was even halfway adequate to that, so she grabbed the bottle and poured herself another glass as her emotions roiled within, making her almost dizzy. She raised her glass, hand shaking a bit. "Well - we have to drink to something, and it's not gonna be to mass extinction, so…" She paused. "To new beginnings."
He raised his glass, clinking it gently with hers, his face thoughtful. "Everything's got to end sometime. Otherwise nothing would ever get started."
Clara gave him a small smile. "Like – the start of being able to drink wine with you."
He held the glass up, swirling the liquid with a practised motion. "I actually used to enjoy it. But for some reason the last body had some very strange tastes – every time it tasted like wet newspapers." He raised it to his nose and sniffed. "Still smells the same." He took a sip and immediately spat it out to his left. "Eugh! That's vile!"
Clara giggled. "Or not. Guess that's something else that hasn't changed, then." She took a sip herself, grimacing and spitting it out to her right. "Eugh, what is that?!"
"You mean that's not how all wine tastes?"
"No, definitely not." She set her glass down and picked up the bottle. "Because this wine is corked, which…" She turned it towards him. "Doctor. It's from 1851. When's the last time you went to 1851?"
The Doctor winced. "Oh, well - a very long time ago."
Clara took his glass and dumped both of theirs out onto the ground before setting them back in the basket. She retrieved the package of Jammie Dodgers and tore it open. "Good you've got these, then – I need something to get that taste out of my mouth." She bit into one, humming contentedly.
The Doctor was watching her, some inner struggle playing out across his face. Clara caught his eye. "What?"
He slowly reached towards her, his movements purposeful. Her hand twitched in her lap as his neared, her breath hitching as it hovered over hers…
…and dipped into the package, snatching a biscuit.
Clara quietly let out the breath she'd apparently been holding and quite deliberately set down the package into the neutral space between them.
He was examining the biscuit with furrowed brow, like he'd never seen or eaten one before. Sniffing it made his nose wrinkle before he ventured taking a dainty bite, features scrunching immediately.
Clara smiled ruefully. "Don't like them anymore?"
He swallowed with what appeared to be some measure of difficulty. "It tastes like candy. So bloody sweet. Do you want it?" He proffered the offending biscuit in her direction.
Even though he'd never actually offered her a half-eaten Jammie Dodger before, the image of waking up to a plate of them beside her bed with the half-eaten one sitting on the top of the pile still tugged at her heart. She hadn't known it then, but it was that gesture more than the vase of flowers and glass of water that signaled just how deeply this man already cared for her.
Meeting his eyes, she saw that reflected back at her for the first time since he'd changed, some wordless understanding passing between them as she plucked it from his fingers and took a healthy bite. "It is sweet," she agreed. "I dunno – I couldn't eat them all the time."
The Doctor grunted his agreement. "I don't know that I ever want to see one again."
Clara couldn't help her sad smile at that. "But sometimes it's nice to have a little something sweet." She finished it, brushing the crumbs off her lap. "Especially to get rid of a bitter aftertaste."
They both fell quiet then, their first comfortable silence since he'd changed. Yet it called her attention to the glaring difference from previous silences: namely, the foot-wide gap between them. With as much as they had always been in each other's space, it felt more like a yawning chasm. This knowledge chilled her – that they were still travel companions, but wherever they would go from now on might be as separate entities. She gave an involuntary shudder. Allies, yes, and probably friends, but not…together. Not slotting together perfectly like two pieces of a half-human, half-alien puzzle. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to enjoy the view of the Earth that looked no different from where she was sat despite its prehistoric age, and trying not to feel…well, alone. But the chill had spread to her legs, too, so she tried to tuck them up without drawing attention to herself.
The Doctor's exasperated noise to her left broke her reverie.
"You can't get warm by just scrunching yourself into a ball – come here." He held an arm out awkwardly, the gesture hardly inviting.
She eyed him skeptically. "Won't it hurt your joints or be too hard on your brittle bones?" She was only half-joking.
That earned her a proper eye roll. "My bones might be more brittle, but they're not going to break. And the arthritis is localized to my hands. Besides, it only acts up when I try to perform extremely fine motor functions. Now do you want to be warmer or do you want to keep fidgeting?"
Clara hesitated, almost wishing she could return to her musings and reclaim that relatively easy silence between them again. His brusque offer notwithstanding, she preferred neutral and content to awkward and forced. She was going to politely decline and opt to hunt down a jumper she must have stashed somewhere onboard when the look in his eyes arrested her.
It was difficult getting to know a new face, but behind that thickly furrowed brow and grumpy-old-man mask, there was the briefest flash of vulnerability. Like he'd noticed that yawning chasm between them, too and was feeling just as alone.
So she pushed their picnic items off to the side and scooted closer to him, feeling the slight increase in warmth as his arm draped around her shoulder. She stopped just a few inches from him, seeing if he'd pull her all the way in or not. But he let his arm hang there, rubbing up and down her shoulder vigorously, clearly only intent on warming her up.
"Is that better?"
She smiled, though it didn't reach her eyes. "Yeah. Thanks."
He eased the motion, but kept his fingertips curled there, squeezing lightly. "God, you're a wee thing."
Now it was Clara's turn to roll her eyes. "Amazing how nothing escapes your notice, Doctor."
He guffawed at that. "Touché. But I didn't mean it like that, it was more an observation that there's really nothing to you. It's no wonder you get cold so easily."
"This better not be leading to a lecture about how I ought to bundle up more or keep my head covered because then I will start calling you Granddad," she taunted.
She'd meant it as an idle threat, but he stiffened beside her. Mentally kicking herself, she rushed on to explain. "And I don't want to call you that, 'cause – you're not." She paused, trying to sort out her confusing jumble of thoughts. "You might look old enough to be my father or my grandfather now, but you're not, and I'll never think of you like that. So I don't want you to think of me like that 'cause…"
"Because you're not my father or grandfather, either?"
"Shut up – you know what I mean. I'm not your daughter or your granddaughter, so I don't want you to think of me like that. I just want it to be -" She stopped herself before she could say the same. "Like it was. Y'know – equals."
"And here I was thinking I was a 1200-year-old alien genius, but apparently we're on the same level," he remarked sardonically.
Now it was her turn to tense up, but he must have felt it because he pressed his fingers into her arm again. "Oh, don't be like that – I'm only joking."
She shot a glare his way. "I'm not above smacking you again, you know."
"Smacking the arm that warms you? That's like biting the hand that feeds you, you ungrateful child."
Clara bristled. "Don't call me 'child.'"
"I won't call you child if you don't call me Granddad." His sharp reply was automatic. She'd obviously struck a nerve.
"Fine. Deal." She shifted a little of her weight into him, just shy of a shove, a real smile tugging at her lips.
He was quiet again, but she swore she could feel him thinking. "I wasn't going to lecture you on dressing warmly," he said, returning to a thought that was evidently still on his mind. "I was just thinking about the other times you've been out with me and all of a sudden gotten cold. Like that time on Cedaraius."
She huffed. "Because – what? I should've been able to handle a little snowfall?"
He hummed something noncommittal. "I suppose I never told you that I can sometimes predict things like that," he said slowly.
She pulled back in surprise, studying him. "You knew it was going to snow that day? Why didn't you tell me?"
He didn't look at her but pulled her in closer so she was flush against his side. "Because you're such a wee thing. And you're also incredibly predictable when you get cold."
Clara gaped at what he was implying. "Are you actually admitting that -"
"I'm not admitting a thing. But I have the power to travel through all of time and space. Do you think I've never checked the weather report before we've landed?"
Clara muttered something about how maybe he should spend more time checking things like whether a planet was in the midst of a war and less looking at cloud formations.
"What was that?"
"I was just saying that clearly I'm not the only predictable one."
He snickered. "Well, isn't it nice to know that some things haven't changed?"
She became very aware of the proximity of his shoulder to her cheek. "Let's see…toasting the end of an era to make way for another with undrinkable wine, biscuits only one of us likes, and all from the floor of the TARDIS 'cause the surface we're on would've been too dusty for a proper picnic." She let her head fall lightly onto his shoulder, feeling the unfamiliar, bony curve of it beneath her cheek. "Yep – definitely still the Doctor."
"Well…" His voice wasn't as deep as before, but it had retained that gravely quality. "Not bad for a first date, then."
She jerked her head up. There was a hint of a smile playing on his lips, but it was impossible to tell what, exactly, that meant. He eventually slid his gaze her way, his head following. "I'm teasing, of course," he deadpanned, with what may or may not have been a twinkle in his eye.
But instead of trying to determine what was going on in that bloody man's infuriatingly complex, new mind, she decided there was really only one response to that.
"No, Doctor," she agreed, letting the whole weight of her head fall back onto his shoulder. She smiled again. Two could play this game. "Not bad at all."
Author's Note: Just a final thank you to all who stuck by me during this rather unorthodox story – I've appreciated every follow, favorite, review, PM and show of support (and for all who've wished me luck on my move, I'm afraid I need the job before I can do the move, so - it isn't happening yet. But I appreciate all of your well wishes, so thank you! :)) Finally, many, many thanks are due to my amazing beta Friendship-Bravery-Souffles who not only saved me from a MAJOR Classic Who faux pas but a far less fitting ending and crappy stylistic stuff (as well as listening to me vent about how prickly and complicated Twelve was. :-p) You are absolutely fantastic, V! :)