All Over Again
Clara leaned against the TARDIS railing and watched as the Doctor leafed through the books on the new bookshelf, muttering in dissatisfaction and tossing them to the floor. She considered asking him what he was trying to find, but in his current mood he wasn’t likely to give an answer.
Sighing, Clara shook her head in exasperation. All she had wanted was coffee, a simple, harmless cup of coffee. Trust the Doctor to get them involved in an Auton uprising in a shopping mall in Glasgow instead. She smirked a little at that thought; the fact that they did get involved in an Auton uprising in a shopping mall at Glasgow dispelled the last of her doubts. Only the Doctor could ever have managed to get into a situation like that.
She tilted her head and studied the Doctor, who continued his determined search for…whatever it was; Clara wasn’t honestly sure she even wanted to know at this point. She was tired and sore from running from the Autons, and her heart was still full of conflicting emotions over this new Doctor. Regeneration was not a new concept to her; she could grasp the ability to change his face—she had been in his timeline; she had seen all of his faces—but the drastic change in his personality and his bizarre actions when they were facing Half-Face Man had cracked the foundations of their friendship.
“So he’s regenerated, has he?” a new voice mused out loud. “I quite like it. The mature look really suits him much better than that twelve-year-old face he used to wear.”
Startled, Clara turned around and saw a curly-haired woman leaning casually against the wall, keen hazel eyes appraising the man who had his entire attention focused on the book in his hands. Clara had only seen her once before, but there was no mistaking that penetrating gaze and knowing smile.
“Professor Song,” she stammered.
The other woman turned her attention to Clara and smiled kindly. “Please, call me River. ‘Professor’ makes me sound…old.”
The only response Clara could make was confusedly blinking. She hadn’t seen the Doctor’s enigmatic wife since their first visit to Trenzalore, and she could honestly say she hadn’t expected to see her afterwards…because who expects a dead woman to suddenly appear in front of them?
Finally Clara managed to ask the question foremost on her mind. “How did you get here?”
River shrugged. “It was simple enough to lock onto your brain pattern; I remember it from our conference call with Madam Vastra. The real trick was finding the right time zone. His regeneration was in flux, you know—it might have happened, or it might not. Nice job with the Time Lords, by the way.”
“Thanks.” Clara was still trying to cope with the fact that she was having a conversation with the data ghost of her best friend’s dead wife but eventually decided that it was really no stranger than anything else she had experienced. Life with the Doctor tended to make one immune to surprises. “So…you’re here because he regenerated?”
“I was curious to see which form he decided on this time,” River admitted. “Usually he gets a new body by chance or luck; it’s a completely random process. I got lucky,” she smiled, fluffing her dark blonde curls. “But this…there’s something different about this one.”
“You’re telling me,” Clara murmured, turning her own gaze back to the Doctor. After studying the most recent book so carefully, he had tossed that onto his discarded pile and was now prowling the shelves again. They were starting to look a bit bare.
The old Doctor had the attention span of a five-year-old, but now he seemed more determined, more focused. There was something predatory in the way he devoured the pages at lightning speed. No, Clara had seen the Doctor’s fiery, formidable side before his change, but now it seemed to be always at the surface instead of sleeping beneath the persona of a cheerful, bumbling buffoon.
She was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she failed to notice when River began to speak again. Vaguely aware that she had missed the other woman’s observation, she apologized, “I’m sorry—wasn’t really paying attention. What were you saying?”
River gave her a sympathetic smile, guessing, perhaps, what the younger woman had been thinking.“I was saying that whatever the reason behind this body, I think it was a good choice. Whether the Time Lords decided it for him or it was a subconscious decision, this latest model feels like the right one for him.”
On impulse, Clara decided to ask River a question, a question she felt that the professor of all people would be able to answer. “River…how many Doctors have you known?”
“I’d say the one I knew the best was the one right before this one—the one you met. But I wouldn’t really say I knew him; our time streams were always out of sync. We could never get too close for fear of spoiling something in the other’s future.” River’s expression briefly turned to sadness as she watched the Doctor now; there was a longing in her eyes for the life she had wanted so badly but never really got to have. It passed, though, and she turned her eyes back to Clara. “I’m surprised to hear you ask that, Clara, when you have known all of him.”
“I wouldn’t really say that,” Clara deflected. “I may have been in his time stream, but I don’t remember all of it. I get flashes, sometimes, of his other selves, but that’s it.”
“But you understand regeneration and know that a personality shift is inevitable,” River supplied, guessing Clara’s unspoken question.
Clara started, surprised her thoughts had been read so easily. “A personality shift is one thing; abandoning your friends is completely different!” she protested. “How am I supposed to trust him?”
Instantly she regretted her words, knowing the Doctor was bound to overhear them. What he thought of the whole conversation was beyond her; he probably thought she was crazy for talking to herself. Or was he aware that River was there, too? His body language had changed subtly ever since she arrived, almost as though he was trying to listen to their conversation without looking like he was listening.
River sighed and shook her head. “Oh, Clara, when did you get so blind? Can’t you see he’s hurting, too? He never tells you exactly what he’s thinking; you have to learn to read him…and now that he’s regenerated, you’ll have to learn all over again.”
Clara considered River’s words. It was true that the Doctor was adept at hiding his emotions, but his new persona was so callous that Clara had just assumed he had no emotions. It never occurred to her that he might be acting callous in order to hide how much he cared.
“Do you think he’ll forgive me?” she wondered.
River gave a wistful yet knowing smile. “You’ll have to ask him.” Slowly she began to fade, but her eyes remained on the Doctor up to her final moment.
After a brief period of indecision, Clara crossed the console room and climbed the staircase to join the Doctor in his pile of books.
“What are you looking for? Can I help you find it?”
The Doctor took his eyes away from the book and looked up at Clara. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve found what I was looking for.” Gratitude shone in his blue eyes, letting Clara know that he had indeed heard her conversation with River…and that he would always forgive her.
The moment didn’t last long, though. The Doctor slammed his book shut and got to his feet. “I’ll be dropping you back home after we go to Luna University. They’re hosting an exhibit on the influence of Venusian art on the artwork of Alpha Centauri, and I needed this book to show them how wrong their information cards are. Do me a favor and put the other books away.”
Clara sighed. River made it sound so easy, but she suspected she and this new Doctor had a long way to go in repairing their friendship.
(Read more of Emerald’s works at My Turn to Talk)