That Subtle Knot

The Doctor tells his story, then reaches out to touch the waitress's hand. And freezes. Memory returns.


The Doctor said, “You have been very kind to listen to my story. It must have seemed strange at times.”

“No, not strange at all.”

The waitress smiled at him. Space Glasgow. He’d actually said space Glasgow to her. He wasn’t sure why that was supposed to be funny, but they’d both found it so. He reached out to the waitress and laid his hand over hers for a moment, meaning to thank her for her kindness. He touched her for a moment and froze. There was something. A flood of something. He let himself feel it and then he knew. He knew.

“Clara?” he said. “Clara?”

The waitress’s eyes went wide and she jerked her hand away.

“You–” he said. “Who are you?”

“A waitress. In a diner. Nobody special.”

“No. No. There’s something-- when I touch you, something-- Please. Hold my hand for a moment. Please!”

He extended his hand to her again, palm up. She reached out with less hesitation than he expected and set her hand in his.

His eyes fell closed. He let himself open to her, let himself touch her mind. And then it happened: the block faded away. It was incomplete and would never be complete. It was fragile. A breath of wind could open this gate. The force of her mind in his was a gale. The gate slammed open. Everything poured back into him. He cried out. Longing, love, the aching pain of loss, of knowing that he had to give her up because he was not worthy of her, that he had deliberately sacrificed himself so that she might keep her memories and run, run, run to the ends of the universe without him.

“Clara,” he said. “Clara. It’s you. Oh, God.”

The pain was almost unbearable, but the love, oh the love he felt. How could he have shut himself off from this? How could he have closed this off?

“Doctor, I think I understand how this works, but I have to find out. I’m letting go of your hand now.”

Clara let go of him and stepped back. Her minded faded from him and–

There were tears on his face but he didn’t understand why. There had been something. Touching her had done something. Opened up something inside him. It was gone, but he remembered its absence. A hole in his chest, a wound as if someone had ripped out one of his hearts. She had his missing heart.

“You,” he said again. “Who are you? What are you doing to me? Have you taken my memories of her?”

There were tears on her face too, running and smearing her mascara. "No. No. I wouldn’t. You did that. You took them yourself. But-- " She reached out and grasped his hand firmly. “Open your mind to me.”

And it was there again, everything, flooding over him, the dam bursting. He stood with his face tipped up and his eyes closed, feeling it all again. Clara, Clara, Clara, his other half. His soulmate. His everything.

“Don’t let go,” he said to her.


He cupped her cheek with his hand and kissed her deeply, as he never had before. As he ought to have kissed her. What she’d said in the Cloisters, what he’d said-- no more wasted moments. No more dancing around each other.

They went hand in hand into her TARDIS. Ashildr made a disgusted noise and walked out. She drove off in his truck. The Doctor watched her go and restrained his snarl. He had remembered his anger as he remembered his love. He turned to Clara again, drew her closer, kissed her again, and again.

“Let me touch you,” he said, lips against her neck. “Let me be with you.”

“Every way you want to.”

Three days. Three days together, in the bedroom that Clara’s TARDIS made for them. They learned quickly that separating even to bathe was a mistake, because he could not retain his memories of her or why he was there for more than a few seconds. They experimented with writing instructions for him.

“Like that movie,” Clara said. “We’ll have to tattoo this onto your arm.”

“I could never forget you,” he said, but he forgot her every time he lost contact with her mind. Every fresh touch was that pain once again, the pain of remembering losing her even as he gathered her back.

They spent time exploring the block, picking at its loose ends. In time, he thought he might be able to defeat it. Not yet, however. Three days in that bed, holding each other, touching in every way two beings might touch, reveling in each other. He didn’t value what he’d had with her until he lost it, and he was always one instant away from losing it again.

He wrote in his diary. Instructions for how to find her if he should lose her again. Descriptions. His deepest oath next to his plea to himself to take her hand if she should ask him for it.

On the third day, Ashildr reappeared. She marched into the bedroom without the least concern for their nudity. Clara pulled a blanket over herself.

“Do you mind?” she said.

“No,” Ashildr said.

“Well I do.”

The Doctor cut them both off with a gesture. “What do you want?”

“You have one hour to finish up and go your separate ways. Then Clara and I are leaving. You’re not good for each other.”

He snorted.

“Not good for the universe. You know it. I’m coming back in an hour and I’m throwing you out whether you’re dressed or not.”

They watched her stomp out.

His heart sank. He knew what had to be done. “We must part,” he said to Clara. “I have my notes. I have what we learned. We know we can break this.”

“Is there some other way?”

“We knew it had to end. There was a reason I chose to forget.”

“I know. I know. But I think we have some wiggle room. I think we can meet up again. Do this again.”


“We leave instructions for you. At some point Ashildr will forget or be off doing her own thing. I’ll ditch her. We’ll meet somewhere and figure it out. Break it.”

When their last hour was up, when they were dressed again and walking with pinkie fingers hooked together, then his nerves tweaked him and he nearly refused to go. How could he give this up? Clara kissed him, told him it was the right thing to do, assured him they would meet again.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay.”

A bow, a last kiss of her hand, and she eased her fingers from his. A moment of loss, of confusion, of bewilderment. Why was the woman in little plaid skirt crying? And yet she was smiling at him. He smiled back, bewildered.

“Goodbye, Doctor. When you get into your TARDIS, look in the breast pocket of your jacket, the Doctor-y one. You’ll know what to do.”

And then she was turning him and gently pushing him out through the door of the diner, into the heat and sunlight of Nevada. And before him, revealed in the shimmer of dust, was a blue police box. His TARDIS! A mural on it, a mural of the woman from the diner with her face surrounded by flowers. Lilies, stargazer lilies. His TARDIS. He went up to it and laid his hand on it, in deep relief. The door opened for him. Inside, into the cool darkness, the hum of engines around him. His home. And yet-- That woman. The waitress. Her big eyes, her plaid skirt. Why her? How had she known he was the Doctor? There was nothing in his jacket pocket but a gnawed pencil.

And then he saw the coat, hanging by the chalk board with the message telling him to be a Doctor. A red velvet coat. Something about it-- he touched it, caressed the sleeve. He put the coat on, settled it onto his shoulders. Raised his hand, caught the sonic screwdriver his TARDIS tossed to him. A Doctor. Be a Doctor. And look inside his breast pocket.

Inside his velvet jacket pocket were two things: a folded scrap of paper and his 2000 year diary. He unfolded the paper: not his handwriting, Roman letters, English words. Jane Austen’s apartments in Bath, 1st June 1802. An assignation then, one meant for a time traveler. He opened his diary and leafed through until he found the last page with writing in it. His handwriting, this time, and the same message in English and in Gallifreyan:

The waitress in Eddie’s Diner is a time traveler. The diner is a TARDIS. She holds your memories of Clara. When you meet her, take her hand. And when she says run, run.

That Subtle Knot

Twelve/Clara general

1474 words; reading time 5 min.

first posted here

on 2016/01/16

tags: p:twelve/clara, f:doctor-who, c:clara-oswald, c:twelfth-doctor, genre:angst, episode:hell-bent, memory-loss