Solar Flares

Two sentient stellar beings, in close orbit around each other, exchanging plasma, in an epic romance that had taken millennia to consummate. One would envelope the other in a few million years, and then they would burst outward in a supernova, bringing their love to a spectacular end. Their light and their love would be ash, but not now, and not any time soon. Today, now, in the glory days of their love -- or so the Doctor described it -- their names swirled across their surfaces as sunspots, dots and whorls in the plasma. The written language of stars.

 

It was true of every being in the universe, the Doctor had assured Clara once, back when he had his chinny no-eyebrows young face. He wasn’t about to go into the technicalities of it, he said, nor was he about to speculate about universes he’d been unable to visit, or the many dimensions alongside this one. He was instead going to spin out on a long discussion about how the Copenhagen Interpretation had always been nonsense, and he’d told Bohr as much, but it had done no good; Bohr was off and away. The Bohr he’d known, anyway, in this universe of the many possible ones. Bohr had found Margrethe’s name over his heart and been struck by the possibilities, then horrified by them. Many worlds, the Doctor said, and then he was pushing his ridiculous hat back and flinging himself at his ridiculous console and sending them across the universe again. This one, this universe. The one where intelligent beings who were meant to be together – in whatever way together meant for their species – had some kind of marking on whatever served as their skin, in some location meaningful to their species, of their soulmate’s name, or some expression of their soulmate’s identity somehow. Somehow. Once they knew. Again, somehow. The Doctor wasn’t interested in speculating how. He was more interested in fine adjustments on the console, nudging them closer into something.

It turned out he had taken her to see one of the more unusual and famous soul-mated couples, a binary system of stars. Two sentient stellar beings, in close orbit around each other, exchanging plasma, in an epic romance that had taken millennia to consummate. One would envelope the other in a few million years, and then they would burst outward in a supernova, bringing their love to a spectacular end. Their light and their love would be ash, but not now, and not any time soon. Today, now, in the glory days of their love – or so the Doctor described it – their names swirled across their surfaces as sunspots, dots and whorls in the plasma. The written language of stars.

“They’re destroying each other to be together?”

“They are.”

“Is that romantic or horrible?”

“Both, I suppose. They are famous lovers for a reason,” the Doctor said, flipping his hair away from his face as he leaned dangerously out the TARDIS door. “Poetry has been written. One bit of it by me. The version of me that had long hair and liked velvet. A tad embarrassing.”

“Can we say hello?” Clara said. “Feels rude to gawk and not say hello.”

“Nah, they operate on a different timescale than we do. Takes a dozen years to say the smallest thing. I did it once, long before the poetry thing happened, sort of stretched myself out using a wave modulation technique. Had a nice chat. Ace rather took to them.”

“Ace,” Clara said.

“Yeah, Ace.” He looked melancholic for a moment, and impossibly old, but there wasn’t anything bitter in it. Not like there was when he talked about Rose. “She was – her name was over my hearts, at the time. She was a little put out the day Professor showed up over hers. Didn’t tell me about it for ages.”

“She told you eventually.” Clara said this confidently, because of course people told. Eventually. It was silly not to tell, because why wouldn’t you tell your soulmate they were your soulmate?

“I winkled it out of her. I always do. Now, Oswald, let’s go look at the feathered beings who live on the planet fourth out in this system. Perfectly lovely, haven’t chased me with pitchforks in at least three regenerations.” He chucked her under the chin, and they were off again.

Clara did some thinking anyway, though the Doctor set such a crazy pace it was hard to sometimes. River’s name was over his heart now, she knew that. She’d seen it often, whenever he went swimming in the TARDIS pool with her. It hadn’t surprised her to see River’s name on him, because, well, they’d been married. Now she knew that Ace’s name had been there once. And this meant that the name changed sometimes for the Doctor. For a near-immortal, this wasn’t a surprise either. It sometimes did for humans, even, when if the person whose name was written on you had died. Not usually. Mostly it was mate for life.

There was nobody written on Clara Oswald’s skin, no name over her heart. She wasn’t bothered. It wasn’t that unusual to be twenty-seven and not have a soulmate yet. Some people never had any names appear ever, because they’d never been lucky enough to meet their soulmate or think of their soulmate or somehow be hooked up by the universe. If the universe felt she wasn’t destined to be with someone, then it meant she had free will and could do what she wanted. Which was, as far as Clara was concerned, fine. Free will was fine. Clara was fine. Sometimes she thought the only person she’d ever met who had a chance of being her soulmate was the Doctor, and he had somebody else’s name over his left heart, and she had nobody’s. It wasn’t meant to be. At least not that way. They still had a lot of fun.

And then he died.

He died. In front of her. One moment he was there and the next he wasn’t. He died and regenerated and standing in his place, wearing his clothes, was a stranger, a terrifying and dismaying and disappointing stranger. He was older, hair graying. No, his hair was all the way gray and he had lines in his face. He was thin as a lath, all angles and long fingers jabbing the air. His eyebrows were everywhere, and his intense blue eyes stared into hers. So intense. There was a long moment of shock as they stared at each other, and then he was falling away from her, reeling around, babbling about his kidneys, flailing at the console, shoving her away. Crashing them. Crashing them with some kind of intent and control despite everything, because he sent them to a time where they had friends who could help. Or maybe the TARDIS had sent them. Clara never could tell sometimes.

He was punch-drunk and he didn’t recognize her and he was plain obnoxious about it. Mistaking her for Strax? Seriously? Was it really the Doctor? Why had he gone and done this to her? Why had he left her like this? He could have stayed, but instead he’d left her with this other man. Her Doctor was dead, and some other man had walked away with his memories. Taken his memories and his time machine and fallen face-first into the mud of the Thames. He was out cold , face down in the stinking mud, and he was heavier than a man that thin had any right to be.

Now that he was unconscious and his face had relaxed she was less angry with him, more hurt. She’d saved him, saved his life with regeneration energy, and then he’d gone and died anyway. She might as well make sure he didn’t die a second time. Though maybe if he did she’d get her Doctor back. It was with this confusion in her head that she helped Strax get him into the carriage and back to the shelter of Lady Vastra’s home.

Clara helped Jenny undress him for bed, get him out of those ill-fitting clothes, the clothes that belonged to a dead man. Sleeves too long for him, trousers too short for him – he was shaped completely differently. Clara unbuttoned the mud-stained shirt, the shirt he’d worn bare in years on Trenzalore, and stared at his chest. It had changed. It was still narrow-shouldered, but now ghostly pale and with gray hair, but that wasn’t what made her freeze and stare. Over his heart was a circular design. No, not a design. It was writing, Gallifreyan writing. The mark was blurry, still, because it was fresh, new. The lines were still coming clear. But it was already present enough that everybody in the room knew what it was: a soul mark. Someone’s name was over his heart. Clara knew a tiny scrap of Gallifreyan symbology, nowhere near enough to read that, but she knew what writing in a specific language meant: it meant the soulmate spoke that language or wrote it. It meant their deepest selves, their soul, their innermost identity.

That was another thing the Doctor had explained to her. Her Doctor, the one who was dead now, not the one who was here on the bed. The markings meant more than just the name. They encoded so much. Everything. The very soul of the beloved object.

So her Doctor – not her Doctor, the man who’d replaced her Doctor – had a soulmate already.

Clara buttoned up the nightshirt and laid her hand on his narrow chest. Who was he, this man? She’d known all his previous selves, yeah, some little part of her remembered all of them, somehow. Not fated to be with her, no matter how many crushes she had. And his name had never appeared over her heart, so it really had been nothing more than a crush. He had changed, and was already destined for somebody else, and that somebody wasn’t her. Still.

There was somebody else waiting for her, in the universe’s opinion. Or nobody. Clara went down to talk to Lady Vastra, to make some sense out of what was going on.

And then he ran off. He was missing, maybe half-mad, maybe entirely sensible, definitely not going to be found tonight. Clara let Strax show her to the room she usually stayed in, next door to the room the Doctor had escaped from, and shut the door on him. She tucked the hook of the lock into the loop. Safe. Quiet. She had a vague hope that the Doctor would reappear, knocking at her window, but he didn’t. It took the machinations of a stranger to bring them back together again, and confront the clockwork horrors, and even then he vanished again, taking his TARDIS with him, leaving Clara to wonder if she’d been stranded in the past.

When he turned up again, he was unrepentant and different yet again. He was dressed like a magician, hair cropped short, all elbows and frosty distance.

“I’m not your boyfriend,” he said, and with those words Clara truly accepted that he wasn’t ever going to be her soulmate, so she should probably get over him. Get over him, move on. Do something else. He wasn’t her Doctor any more. He was depositing her back on the chilly streets of a city that wasn’t hers, but was close enough.

Except he was, and he was scared, and he was lonely, and her Doctor told her so, and so she hugged him, while he stood all awkward and gangly, and she felt him tremble against her. The frosty distance was fear, then. She could forgive him that for the sake of more adventures, even though the very next thing he did was ditch her in Glasgow with no coat. She forgave him that too, for the sake of more adventures, and through them all he was spiky and awkward and uncomfortable and utterly jealous of the man she was dating, which made no sense whatsoever and was intolerable. And then he had the infernal gall to treat her like a child, to terrify her and abandon her when she most needed him, to leave her to make an epic decision for humanity all on her own.

Why, she wondered, was she doing this? Was it worth the adventures? Did she even like him? No. She did not.

One last hurrah, she told him, and yes, that was pain on his face, immediately masked away. And it was a lovely hurrah, a space train and lovely clothes and champagne, leaning her head on his shoulder in that black coat, feeling him lean back into her. Not that he would ever admit it. He could do elegant when he wanted to, this Doctor with the long mournful face. Her chinny boy had never quite managed elegant. This one pulled it off with complete indifference to the feat: he was all elegance and courtesy and graceful gestures, and then outbursts of impatience because what really mattered to him was the puzzle he had of course led them to.

They stood close enough to each other in the corridor of that train, so close that she could smell his cologne, which was bay rum with an alien note in it. Different to what he’d worn before, when he was her Doctor, the one with the chin and the forehead, not this long-faced mournful skeleton with the ferocious eyebrows and nose. Why was she studying his face so intently? Why was she standing so close to him right now? Something was going on inside her that she couldn’t understand. Why was she regretting this decision so much? He was as baffling and closed-off and frustrating as ever and he seemed never to pick up on any of her hints.

He had somebody else’s name over his hearts, that was why. Her skin was unmarked and his had somebody else’s name. Clara turned away from him and went into her tiny sleeper cabin to change into pajamas. Lovely silk pajamas. The TARDIS wardrobe, yeah, she’d miss that. She lifted the dress over her head, looked down at herself to undo the garters, then stopped. Looked down again. Found her hand mirror in her luggage and looked a third time.

It was there, on her chest, over her left breast: a mark. Indistinct, but undeniable.

Clara rubbed at her skin. She had some kind of idea that it should be burning her, it should feel like something special, but it didn’t. It was just there, a blurry smear over her heart, cold, inert. She had a soul mark now and it had appeared without her even noticing. But what did it say? She looked down, frowned, then leaned into the mirror and squinted. The marking was a gray-ish circle, not like a name written in English or a signature or even kanji. A circle with writing of some kind on the inside, more circles and curlicues and dots and whorls, maybe. Gallifreyan writing? What else could it be?

“No,” she said to the mirror. “No. It’s somebody else. He’s completely maddening.

It hadn’t come clear yet, anyway. It wasn’t him. It came clear when you knew the other person, and Clara certainly knew the Doctor, in all the ways you could know somebody without sleeping with them. She’d known his every face, saved his life over and over, been saved by him over and over. She knew everything about him. If it were him, it would be clear by now. She’d just drunk champagne with strawberries in it with him and leaned her head on his shoulder and listened to him avoid the subject of her decision to leave him. She knew what she was doing to him. To herself.

Later on that night she would be deeply angry with him, and then deeply impressed by him, and then the train exploded on them and she was sure she would die. When she woke on a stony beach, wrapped in blankets, he was standing guard over her, still in his black coat and tie. He was drawing something on the sand with a stick. They sat next to each other, and he said to her the thing that made her understand him at last. Choices. The universe forced them on him. He was doomed to know that he would never save them all, but he was bound by his hearts to do his best to save those whom he could.

Clara sat beside the Doctor on the beach, close but not touching him. They both looked at what he’d drawn on the sand: something in the writing system of Gallifrey, circles within circles. The bit at the bottom reminded her of the marks she’d seen on his chest that first day, back in Lady Vastra’s house, but she couldn’t be sure. And there was no way she’d ever ask to see it again. Unlike his predecessor, this Doctor was not fond of midnight swims in the TARDIS pool. And besides, she’d decided to break up with him.

Of course she went back on that decision, when it came to it. She couldn’t stop, not now. Not now that she knew. Not now that there was a smear of Gallifreyan writing over her heart and when she thought about it properly, when she gave it a chance, she knew she couldn’t walk away from him. She loved him. He was her soulmate. Not that she was going to tell him in so many words. He had a marking over his heart and it wasn’t her name because he’d said so. He was never, ever going to know his name was over her heart. It would be too painful.

The problem, of course, was Danny. Danny, who she’d started taking to bed enthusiastically, because he was a big sweetheart with nice muscles and an affinity with kids, and he was everything she was supposed to want. Danny could be distracted by darkness and giggling under the covers for a little while, but he liked looking at her body enough that he couldn’t be distracted long. Though Clara would of course give it a shot.

Their next date went well, and they went back to his this time, and Clara almost stopped thinking about it because Danny had very nice muscles and kissed beautifully and it was all a huge turn-on until Danny unbuttoned Clara’s almost-exactly-like-silk shirt – found on special, guaranteed to make somebody on a schoolteacher’s salary look marvelous – stopped, and stared. And then she remembered.

“What?” she said, hoping against hope she could dance her way out of this one.

“You have a soul mark over your heart,” Danny said. “It’s new.”

“Well, not really.”

“Yes, really. And it’s the same writing as in his time machine. I’m not stupid, Clara. I’m the opposite of stupid. Patient, yes, but please. Stop lying to me.”

“It’s not his name,” Clara said, and that was the third biggest lie she ever told and got away with. “It’s the name of the Doctor before him, there was this whole deal with regeneration and my Doctor died and he replaced him, and the soul mark belongs to the dead one. I’ve been covering it up. Because I’m embarrassed.”

“Oh,” Danny said, in a completely different voice, because he was the most adorable man who’d ever lived. “I’m sorry to hear that. How long ago did that happen?”

Clara was a little taken aback to realize that she had no idea whatsoever, then she did some fast math. Christmas last year, real time, right right. She disguised that bobble by kissing him quite passionately, and telling him how he’d healed her heart, and he was smart enough to let himself be distracted by her. Or turned on enough. The lump of guilt in her stomach would go away if she made him happy, right?

Danny was good for her, really he was. He was everything she might have loved with all her heart if she’d never met the man in the box. Never been given that computer help line number. Never tasted adventure.

The trees grew, and covered the world, and the Doctor figured out there was a solar flare coming, and Clara resolutely chose to follow Danny to death (except that she didn’t believe it would be death because, well, the Doctor would figure it out like he figured everything out, surely) and then he figured it out and they didn’t have to do anything at all in the end. And Danny, bafflingly, chose not to watch the solar flare.

The little voice in Clara’s head, the one she ignored regularly, told her that this was why it wasn’t Danny’s name over her heart, and never would be. How could you not want to watch a solar flare?

A solar flare. Her sun, Sol itself, pouring its light into the ashes of trees. A spectacular thing to watch, now that she knew it wouldn’t destroy them all. She clung to the TARDIS doorway, exactly as she had before, looking down at the binary system, the famous stellar lovers, and watched a jet of plasma arc out of a star. The Doctor was beside her, as solid and intense as ever, almost like last time, almost almost. His wool coat was warm under her hand and she moved closer. Vacuum was cold, the star below them was hot, and the alien beside her was more dangerous than either. She watched the plasma roil out, silent, terrifying, fascinating. A coronal mass ejection, in the sterile language of the astronomers who studied it. Sub-light, the Doctor said, but fast enough that they could see it moving with their naked eyes, no games played with time lenses to speed it up. And that meant energy.Plasma, x-rays, magnetic effects, a whole mess of energy that would kill if it weren’t for the trees.

Well, not trees. That was the joke. They looked like trees and the Doctor hadn’t bothered explaining to the kids that they weren’t trees as commonly understood. A semi-organic semi-autonomous defense system, he explained, put in place ages ago by – he stopped at that and stared at Clara for a moment before waving his hands around.

“Somebody,” he said. “Some being or beings who were very clever and had a lot of time to think it through.”

“Oh,” Clara said, and then it hit her all the way. “Oh.

“Shall we take a little trip?” he said, and there was a gleam in his eye that she knew was the twin of the one in hers.

That night – or five weeks later, depending on how you counted time – Clara sat before her mirror and looked at the circular tattoo over her heart. It was much clearer than it had been that night on the space train. It was starting to show some color, even, in decorative swirls around the main dark circle. Little bits of gold and red, so bright, so beautiful. Burning hot colors against her skin.

She knew. She knew, she knew, she knew. No pretending it was anybody else’s name, now. And she said nothing, nothing at all to him. Instead she told Danny Pink, stalwart brave Danny Pink, that she loved him, because she did and there were many kinds of love, and people were happy with people who weren’t their soulmates sometimes, no matter what the poetry and songs and plays and movies and novels said. And Clara Oswald knew that the Doctor was bad for her, that she’d meet her end out there someday, and that Danny was everything she ought to want instead. And there was a name over Danny’s heart now, and it was hers, and she had a duty by him. A duty of care.

Only that worked out about as well as anything she ever did. She lost Danny and she gave up the Doctor so he would go back to Gallifrey, which he’d found, and that meant he’d be able to find his soulmate and find joy with them, whoever they were. And it was Clara’s duty to stay out of the way of that. So she lied and she watched the TARDIS flicker out of existence.

She went home alone and resolutely did not cry. She was done with crying. Done with emotion, like she’d been the one whose heart had been switched off and not Danny. She was Clara Oswald, and she got on with it. And if the world was cold ash and her joy was gone, well, it stood to reason, right? She and Danny Pink had been together, and everybody understood why she was merely going through the motions.

Another Christmas, and this time when he came back to rescue her once again, she decided that she had been a fool. A fool in real life, a fool in the sixty-two years of dream life, and thanks to Santa Claus, not a fool in the future. She had a soul mark over her heart, and whatever language it was in it meant that her place was with the Doctor. It didn’t matter what his soul mark meant. It didn’t matter that he wouldn’t feel the same way about her. Nothing was going to go right until she gave in.

So Clara gave in, and kissed him on the cheek, and ran off to the TARDIS with him hand-in-hand. Through the cold snow, breath pluming out in the night, her hand tucked warm in his, and into the TARDIS, into that flare of orange light and warmth. The TARDIS burbled at her, as happy to see her as Clara was, and she was home again. Same old, same old, the Doctor and Clara in the TARDIS. He was her Doctor, not the chinny one she’d loved first, but the gray-haired one with the eyebrows and the nose. He’d started to let his hair grow out, and that meant that he was relaxing into himself at last. Relaxing with himself, with her, with the universe. He let her hug him now, and after so long of him keeping himself from her, it felt like a gift. He was soft around the middle and had bony elbows. He always smelled good. Tea, coffee, alien cologne, grease, ozone, petrichor, wool.

Some time later – months, years, who knew? probably the Doctor, but not Clara – she was in something very like a castle, presented with the problem of how to carry fire from the bottom of a terrifyingly narrow and steep staircase up to the improvised flares the Doctor was constructing at the top of the tower. Fire burning in a hearth, yes, no logs she could grasp, just this metal mace – right, problem solved. Clara ripped off her shirt without thinking and wrapped it around the mace. Improvised torch in hand, she made her way back up the stairs and triumphantly set the flare alight.

Orange and yellow flames rose into the sky. Clara held her hands out to it to warm them, though carefully, because whatever the Doctor had made the flare from was spitting out sparks.

The Doctor glanced at her, then froze and turned to look at her full on. His gaze was on her chest, but she was wearing a sports bra – very practical for adventures – so he couldn’t see anything he hadn’t seen before, so what was this about? More of his inexplicable prudery in this incarnation? Clara blinked, then remembered her soul mark. She covered it with a hand, but it was too late.

“Clara Oswald,” he said, and his voice was shaky. “Did you know that you have been walking around with the universe’s greatest secret tattooed over your heart?”

“A secret?”

“My name. My true name. Put this on.”

He handed her his jumper and was up and moving before she could react. Clara tugged the burnt shreds of her shirt away from herself and pulled the jumper over her head. A little scratchy, warm from his body, his scent on it. She doubled up the sleeves, pushed herself to her feet, and followed him wherever he’d run off to, because what else could she do? They still had to get out of this one alive, and that meant chasing the Doctor around the ramparts of the castle to the place where the giant almost-but-not-quite eagles would be landing, called in by the signal flares.

Some time later – hours, days, Clara wasn’t sure – they were back in the TARDIS, safe: the Doctor set the controls and Clara pulled the lever home. They were in the vortex, moving somewhere and somewhen, didn’t much matter where. Clara was covered in soot and mud and there were feathers stuck in her hair.

“We need to talk,” the Doctor said to her.

“I need a shower and a cup of tea first.”

He raised an eyebrow at her, and Clara pointed at the feathers. “Off with you, then,” he said.

When Clara came back to the console room, all clean and dry and wearing her own clothes, he was standing at the far side, facing away from her. He was playing something on his guitar, something she almost recognized. He’d played it before, perhaps. He would hop around through time even with his music, so she was never sure if he was playing a song from her past, from the far future, or if it was original to him. Ah, now she heard it: he was doing a long and winding improvisation on a Grateful Dead song she knew. He’d bought a t-shirt at a Grateful Dead concert, one year, along with a prodigious quantity of magic mushrooms they’d immediately shared. They had a tacit agreement never to speak of that incident again, but he’d had been very fond of jam bands since. Clara had heard him playing along with recordings sometimes, jam sessions with the recorded Jerry. Once, the real Jerry, because apparently the Doctor had decided to completely rewire their touring sound system to improve the TARDIS’s recordings.

So, it was the Dead today, one of the track so famous even she knew it. He might be a while. A tea pot and two cups sat on a tray by his armchair. The tea would be perfectly steeped. Clara poured for the two of them, then sat on the steps to wait for him to finish playing. He knew she was there, of course. He always knew when she was near.

Eventually the guitar fell quiet. Clara listened to his boots behind her on the console floor, pacing back and forth. Then he came up behind her and stood still.

“How long?” he said, and Clara knew what he meant.

“Since the mummy on the train.”

“Oh, Clara, Clara, Clara, that was a long time to go holding this secret.”

“It seemed pointless, you know? You’ve somebody else’s name on you, so telling you would just have made things awkward.”

“I’ve somebody else’s – how do you know that?”

“I’ve seen your chest. The day you regenerated, and you passed out. We undressed you and put you in a nightshirt and I saw it.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s not my name.”

“Look again,” he said. He unslung the guitar and set it into its stand. And then he began to undress.

He had a lot of layers on him: the jacket, the hoodie, the jumper, the shirt, the undershirt. He hesitated, then pulled it over his head. His hair shot up every which way. Clara looked everywhere but at his chest: at his narrow shoulders moving as he pulled the shirt over his arms and dropped it onto the pile of discarded clothing, at his long fingers scrubbing through his hair, then touching his chest. His chest. A scattering of gray hairs, pale pale skin, and on it the space-dark lines of a soul mark. A circle. Gallifreyan writing, just as it had been before, when she’d seem him after he regenerated. The lines were now shimmering gold and green around the black. It was as gorgeous as a soul marking could be.

“Gallifreyan,” she said. “Can’t be me.”

He shook his head at her and ran his fingers over the lines, tracing around the first circle inside the circle.

“Bright one who walks in power like a god. That is your name.”

“But–”

“There’s a pun encoded in it. My people’s language has lots of written puns, to the point where it’s absurd trying to read anything written in it, because you see, it’s circular, and you can start reading in another place. Or read backwards. If you read my tattoo in a mirror and start at the bottom, it means short and round. So it’s you again.”

“You. You. You insult me over and over!”

“Not me! I didn’t invent my soul mark! The universe put it here. The universe is making this joke.”

“I don’t even know if I can trust you.”

“Clara Oswald, oh my bright one, the one thing you should never do is trust me with anything. I am unreliable. I am a criminal, a thief, a madman with a box. And I have your name over your heart and you have mine over yours. And even more, they tell a tale together, our markings do. The thief who stole the bright moon! Or maybe it’s the bright moon who enchanted the thief and stole him away. Either, both, whichever you like. I will teach you to read it, and you will understand for yourself. Our lives are intertwined and our soul marks are too.”

He sat next to her on the TARDIS console room steps and they were silent. The engines thrummed. The ship breathed around them. Clara laid a hand on the metal of the step and let herself feel it, feel the life within the machine. The machine that she thought of as home.

“So,” she said.

“So.”

“You’ve had your name over my heart all along.”

“And you’ve had mine.”

“In my defense, I couldn’t read it. I thought maybe–”

“You know another Gallifreyan?”

Clara scrunched up her nose. “Only the one besides you, and she tries to kill me every time I meet her. But what’s your excuse?”

He sighed. “I have none. I didn’t even need to see the marking to know. I knew the moment I looked into your eyes the very first time. I just – wasn’t ready. And you said nothing about soul marks, and I was certain you would. You’re rarely shy. I – Well. I was certain it was Danny for you.”

Clara wrapped her arms around her knees and stared at the round things on the wall. “It wasn’t,” she said, eventually, “though he had my name on him.”

“Poor brave Danny Pink.”

“He deserved better than me.”

“Ah, and what does that say about me?”

“I’m exactly what you deserve. And you’re exactly what I deserve. Apparently.”

The Doctor frowned at this. He reached over to his pile of clothing and fished out the vaguely pink t-shirt from the pile. He pulled it on and hid his soul mark away. It was one of his many skeleton shirts. This one showed a skeleton dancing, in a crown of flowers. The dance of death? He didn’t seem to interpret skeletons that way.

He picked up his teacup and drank. Clara let go of her knees and found her own cup. Still hot. Magic cups. Well, not magic. Science. Stars exchanging matter, reaching out to each other slowly with jets of plasma. Sunspot telegraphs. The universe, signaling to them both as best it could that they were meant to be together and that they had better do something about it. Though sunspots would have been clearer. That binary system was still out there, exchanging superheated gases, still slowly destroying each other.

Clara set down her empty teacup and said, “I don’t know why the universe thinks I’m supposed to be able to read Gallifreyan.”

The Doctor shrugged, and there was a twinkle in his eye and a quirk in the corner of his mouth. “Strange things await you, Clara Oswald.”

“Stranger than you?”

He smiled then, and it lit up his whole face. Clara smiled back. “Exactly as strange as me.”

The Doctor reached out his hand to her. Clara took it, and they laced their fingers together.