Clara knew it was a dream because she knew she'd never met him. Or at least, her original self hadn't met him. At least two of her echoes had, she wasn't quite sure – her memories had been exponentially increased since the jump into the time stream and a lot wanted to water together. A soup of faces and places and lives she was swimming to escape from.
She did know she'd saved him, and then been left behind by him. Again.
But this was a dream, it had to be because she was in a coffee shop she recognized and he was sitting in a corner perusing a newspaper and casually spinning a spoon through tea. Tea. She smiled. Of course he would take tea over coffee in a coffee shop. This version of him was proper that way, even lifted his pinky a touch when he brought the cup to his lips to taste the liquid that, she could tell, was still a mite too hot.
"You could give it a moment," she offered, dropping down into the seat across from him, gaining a look of amusement over the reading glasses she wondered if he even needed. "Or does your patience diminish with each regeneration?"
The Doctor's mouth widened in a smile before he turned away, nodding out the window, "Patience is for the world, for the slow moving clocks and the people bound by the rigidity of time."
"And scalded tongues are for Time Lords, who can't wait five minutes," she quipped, pouring a spot of cold milk into his tea as he protested, "Oh hush, you'll like it."
"How d'you know I won't hate it?" He asked, newspaper dropping in his lap before he crossed his legs and pressed an elbow into his knee, landing his chin in his palm. "Just because the new new new new new new new new new new NEW me might appreciate a bit of milk in his tea, how d'you know…"
She pushed it towards him with a lift of her chin, "Because you're all the same, you just complain in diverse tones with different styles of hair." Clara eyed the thin spikes that threatened the air around him in every direction and she smiled as he raised an eyebrow and lifted the cup to his lips again, casually, before taking a drink and rolling his eyes, setting the cup down.
"Always right," he scoffed.
"And you never listen," she replied.
"Oh, Oswin, why would I listen?"
"The proverbial question."
He smiled, the hair shifting forward slightly as his mouth slipped open to release a laugh of approval. This version of the Doctor was far less uncertain and a gracious amount of flirtatious that amused Clara because her Doctor was aloof about it all. Certain only in the acceptance that he had worlds to save and people depending on him, and occasionally, he was going to wear a silly thing and call it cool.
"You're not, technically, dreaming," the Doctor allowed.
"Am I not?" Clara questioned, not wondering about his sudden change of subject because she was used to such things, and she picked up his tea to allow herself a taste to wet her dry mouth. "Feels like a dream."
"Well," he started, "It is a dream of sorts, but not the sort you're accustomed to experiencing." Studying her a moment, he removed the glasses and laid them on the table next to the newspaper he settled there, "You're still in my time stream, in a split second of unconsciousness that might last – oh – days, in terms of 'felt' time, or 'experienced' time to you."
"So what is it then?" Clara asked, glancing around, "I know this shop. It's just around the corner from my dad's – we meet there sometimes, catch up on life and politics."
He tapped his head, "Yeah, got those memories, he's a rather cross fellow about the government, isn't he!"
Leaning forward, Clara declared, "You've got his memories?"
"Not your father's," the Doctor spat, looking insulted.
She shook her head, "No, the Doctor's."
"Well, I am the Doctor," he reminded.
She pointed, "But you're not the Doctor."
"I am," he nodded, "But not him. But I am me." Sighing, he admitted, "It's all rather confusing, isn't it."
Clara gave him a snorted huff of laughter and suggested, "Not a dream, but my memory."
"Plus Doctor," he grinned widely.
"You're in my memories?" Clara accused.
He shifted back with a frown, "Noooo." The Doctor uncrossed his legs and planted each Converse covered foot firmly on the ground, repeating roughly, "Noo, Clara, nothing intrusive like that – I'm here because you want me here." Then he tilted his head and brought it back with a hint of a grin, "Well, you need me here, really."
"To get you back," he supplied happily.
"Back to the real world." He considered a moment before explaining, "I'm your leaf."
She laughed, "You're not my leaf."
With a sigh, he understood, "Well, no, I'm not specifically your leaf, but I can't really explain how your mind works and why you pulled my essence out of your memories to use as a tether… you could change me – your head, after all."
"Maybe I'd rather not," she teased.
"And why wouldn't you?" He asked, slyly.
"You're only intrigued about yourself then – your memories."
"My memories of you," she clarified.
He raised his arms and leaned back in the chair with a grin. "And you brought me to a coffee shop."
"You seemed the coffee shop type," she retorted, folding her legs.
Tilting his head slightly, he asked, "Should I be insulted?"
"Seein' as you're just a memory of yourself, I don't see why you should be."
With a shrug, he reached to take the tea from in front of her to sip at again, shrugging and accepting her words before smiling, "We could be here a while."
"Split second, you said."
"Split second in reality, could be days here – wibbly wobbly…" he began, head bobbing.
"…timey-wimey," she finished.
He smiled, "Oh, I like you."
"Oh, I know," she nodded.
The Doctor set the tea cup down and watched her, head shifting when she a scone off a plate at the center of the table to nibble. "So why me?"
"Why not you?"
"No," he repeated, "Why me? Why not your Doctor – as he is your Doctor," he tapped his head lightly and grinned.
Clara shrugged, "Told you, intrigue."
He slapped his knees with his palms and nodded, jutting his bottom lip slight before offering, "Think I get it; think I do. You're intrigued, but you know you couldn't ask me anything because it's all your memories – your head – and anything I answer would simply be conjecture – your mind filling in its own blanks with its own workings and not really indicative of a proper answer to your proper questions. So you'll just remain content to whittle away the time until you wake up. Except you realize, when you wake up, it'll just be him and you know he won't answer any of your questions about me… the Doctor who came before…" he trailed ominously for effect.
She nodded slowly, agreeing, "It Is pointless to ask you anything."
"You might be surprised," he grinned.
Clara sighed, then asked, "Why didn't you notice me?"
"Why did you go unnoticed?" He replied.
She watched him as he touched the newspaper on the table, eyes darting up to hers as she considered the question before he sighed. "Why did I?" She prompted.
"It's funny, the things we do without knowing. The things that go on around us without our understanding or our attention or even our appreciation. You saved me, saved Donna – saved Rose that time that we'll never know about – and when it was over, you didn't question us or approach us, because you didn't need to. Being honest with yourself, somewhere deep down within yourself, even unknown to yourself, you didn't want to – knew you couldn't… because it wasn't us you were helping, it was the Doctor. Your Doctor. You weren't noticed because you didn't want to be noticed; knew you couldn't be noticed because when he finally did – when he finally did – it had to be something unique and special. Something to make him follow you through the stars and you wouldn't risk going back in time and changing that. But you also knew you couldn't. The one person who finally understood time and understood the trail of actions and consequences that echo through the universe. The wibbly wobbly…"
"The timey wimey," Clara finished.
"Yeah," he sighed, "That," then added, "Understand?"
Clara nodded slowly, glancing up as a waitress that looked like her mother dropped off a second cup of tea. Picking it up delicately on its saucer, Clara took a drink and looked at the man across from her who did the same. They shared a smile and she sighed when she went to staring out the window, at the dozen men who passed casually back and forth in between her friends and family. And when it was over, hours later, and she woke in his arms, it had only been really only been a second.