She knows he didn't really just leave. Or rather, he did, but he's come back, where she can't see him, like some sort of tweedy ninja. After all, he had her book, she left it in his... TARDIS (or snog box, hard to say), but it's sitting out on the kitchen counter when she comes down for a late night cuppa. It's a bit strange, and a little unnerving - she didn't even suspect he was around - but still. It's nice, that he gave back her book without prompting. Still a little annoying that he took it without asking, but... it all worked out. The leaf is still there, which is important.
She spends all night trying to work out what she's going to say, and going to do. It's almost one of those too-good-to-be-true situations, where she can have everything she wants without any of the downsides. There has to be a catch, right? Something horrible, to go along with all that good?
If there is, she can't see it. Other than the fact he's a bit of a book thief. A polite one, who lets you know he's done it and returns the books in perfect condition.
She can hear when his ship lands, and she waits on the stairs, like a kid listening for reindeer at Christmas.
And then there's the doorbell ringing like someone's leaning against it, and someone is - an alien in tweed with that silly nervous-teenager grin that goes straight to his eyes the moment he sees her and figures out there's never been any answer other than 'yes'.
"So, we're moving through, actual time?" They're flying, flying away in his ship, she can feel the floor vibrating under her feet, and she has come to the realization that she hasn't the foggiest how it's being done. "So what's it made of? Time? I mean, if you can run right through it, it's got to be made of stuff, like jam's made of strawberries, so what's it made of?" The affronted face is back, and the Doctor draws himself up from where he was leaning against the console.
"Well not strawberries, no, nonono, that would be unacceptable." He stalks to the other side of the console - she circles in the other direction to catch him, because there's so many questions, and he never seems to get tired of answering them.
"And we can go anywhere?"
"Within reason. Well, I say reason..." Well, that's promising, isn't it?
"So we could go backwards in time?"
"And forwards in time?"
"And space, Totally. So! Where do you want to go, eh? What do you want to see?" His expression is one of utter glee and she's not sure who's having more of a Christmas-morning-and-Santa-Claus-came-and-brought-a-pony moment - her, or him.
"... I.... dunno." Because when faced with the totality of time and space, she can't think of... anything. "Do y'know when someone asks your favorite book and straightaway you forget every single book you've ever read?"
"No, totally not." He looks utterly baffled by this concept, leaving her flat-footed.
"Well. It's a thing. That... happens." Does it not happen to him because he's an alien? Or because he's super-smart and never forgets anything? Or is it a thing that only happens to her? She hopes it's not the last one.
"And? Back to the question?" The glee on his face hasn't worn off, so clearly she gets another crack at this.
"And. So... So. Soooo." She's stalling for time, because she still can't think of a single thing, because this has to be perfect, right? Best thing in the universe, she's finally getting to start on her list and she has to start it with a bang. "So. I'd like to see, I would like to seeeee, what I would like to see is..." She turns and beams at him, finally having the answer in hand. "Something awesome."
And they're off, and it's Christmas.
She is standing on an asteroid. An asteroid in an asteroid field circling a dark red sun, an asteroid field with seven planets nearby and a golden pyramid where the locals believe all life began in the universe.
This is definitely awesome.
And then it gets better.
They land again, and he practically races off the ship, dragging her along helter-skelter into the middle of a marketplace unlike any she's ever seen - everything is alien, the colors, the smells (oh lord, the smells) the sounds, the people. She'd be afraid of being thought an idiot for giggling with excitement but he's just as excited by everything as she is. She'd also worry about seeming like a bit of an idiot for dashing about trying to see everything, except he's doing that too, so really it's just best to dash along in his wake, trying alien fruits and dodging alien... aliens. Though there's some things that are odd (besides Doreen the barking alien) - objects of 'worth' are money here, the Doctor has a granddaughter, there may or may not be hallucinogenic fruit...
And then she turns about, and she's alone. He's gone and wandered off, leaving her in the middle of this market, and lord, she thought she was bad about keeping track of people. She's so busy looking for the tweedy ninja that she runs smack-dab into a small girl, all in red robes, and the poor thing looks utterly terrified.
"Hey..." She tries to look reassuring - though whether that'd be reassuring to the girl, who looks more human than most here but with her luck is probably the farthest from it, is anyone's guess. "You okay?"
The girl gives her one wide-eyed stare and bolts down a passageway as if all the hounds of hell were behind her.
Slightly unsurprisingly, two dour-faced men in similar robes (also bizarrely humanish, and it's saying a lot if she thinks human looks bizarre, here) run into her next.
"Have you seen her?" One demands, clearly used to being in command and obeyed.
"The Queen of Years."
"... Who?" She must look as baffled as she sounds, because the two robed men share a look like she is the most hopelessly simple creature they've ever had the displeasure of encountering, and rush past her. Of course, she does strongly suspect that this Queen of Years just might be a frightened little girl, but she's not about to tell them that.
Well. The Doctor is just going to have to practice his tweed ninja act without an audience. She has a frightened girl to find.
It doesn't take long to find her - after watching Angie and Artie for a year, she has a fairly good idea what makes a good hiding place for children, and it seems that children are children the universe-over.
What she finds is a remarkably intelligent little girl, who (like Angie for her school play) is nervous about getting a song wrong for a ceremony she's supposed to be part of. Of course, there's some seriously creepy people looking for this girl, and she may have judged Robed Guy One and Robed Guy Two a little harshly - they just looked like officials, these... things look like something out of a nightmare. But evidently TARDISes (even ones that won't let you inside) make good hiding places from frightening things, so they stay there for a while. And it seems to do some good - she tells the girl - Merry Galel - about her own fears when she was little, of getting lost, and when she actually did get lost, and being found again, and a promise her mum made a long time ago. It's a rather more confident little girl that she returns to Robed Guys One and Two (without so much a word of thanks).
That's when her tweedy ninja returns.
"And what have you been doing?" He asks curiously, nibbling on the glowing alien fruit that she thought didn't taste very nice earlier.
"Exploring." She lifts her chin defiantly, because he's not allowed to give her grief for wandering off when he started it. But he just shrugs, and wanders away, leaving her to trail in his wake.
After a few minutes his wandering turns more into a trot, then into a run, tugging her along in his wake with a firm grip on her hand. They skid into an arena, the stands nearly full of expectant aliens, and in the center, Merry Galel is standing on a raised platform, facing the asteroid opposite, where the pyramid stands in all of its glory. Hastily they take two of the last remaining seats, despite her protests that she's not at all sure they're supposed to be here.
But she's glad they are when Merry looks back for reassurance, and she's there to smile.
And then the singing starts - Merry's voice high and ethereal, and a voice from across the adjoining space singing counterpoint, the voices twining and perfect, the chorus taken up by all the voices around them. It is completely gorgeous, and completely alien, just the right amount of awesome.
And then awesome turns to horrible - Merry turns, terrified, but before she can do much more than sit up straighter, the girl is actually whisked off her feet by this... ball of light transporter thing, and dragged towards the pyramid, kicking and crying and utterly frightened.
And the Doctor leaves. He leaves and, after a stunned moment, she storms after.
"Why are we walking away? We can't just walk away! This is my fault, I talked her into doing this!" She shouts after his rapidly retreating back and she must have hit some sort of sore spot because he whirls on her, more intent than she's seen him, right up in her face a heartbeat after the last word.
"Listen, there is one thing you need to know about travelling with me; one thing you need to know besides the blue box and the two hearts - we don't walk away." He lectures sternly, before whirling away again at breakneck speed.
And she misjudged him, misjudged him badly, because he's going for the speeder Doreen the barking alien offered earlier. It costs her - he has nothing of value, evidently, and she didn't think to bring any teenaged love letters, so the easiest thing (and still so hard) to part with his her mother's ring, but it's worth it, so worth it because a moment later they are racing after Merry, reaching over the Doctor's shoulder to reach for the poor girl's hand.
The rescue fails. They were just a moment too late, and Merry is sucked into the pyramid a moment before they crash into the asteroid with a thump that sends her heart up into her throat. She can still hear Merry crying behind the door, and she paces behind the Doctor as he tries to open the heavy door into the pyramid. They have to save Merry, no one else is even trying, and she's the one who convinced Merry to do this in the first place - Merry might still be safe somewhere in the market now if not for her.
Then he's done it, with his.... glowy stick of destiny or whatever it is, he opens the door and she's able to slip inside.
That's when it all goes wrong. The girl won't come, convinced that she has to feed her soul to this 'old god', and frankly it looks like an ancient mummy which isn't terribly frightening at all, and evidently frightened little alien girls can pin you up against the mummy's cage with their brains which is something that she doesn't find fair at all. Then the Doctor manages to get them trapped in with the mummy and the frightened girl and the singing priest fellow who has a teleporter that he uses to disappear before their eyes and that's not terribly fair either.
But the Doctor's voice.
She's noticed it before, he says things and you can't help but listen and believe what he's saying, there's power in that voice that doesn't come along every day, and just with that voice he manages to convince a frightened little girl that everything she's known, all her life, is wrong - she is worth so much more than to just be a meal to some old creature just because everyone says she has to. At least she's set free from the mummy's cage, and they're about to set to work on the door again when the nightmare creatures appear again. Horrible creatures from someone's darkest dreams, who scatter them like ninepins without raising a hand. But she's got a feel for this place now - everything's based on stories and songs and sound and there's even a song for opening hidden doors, releasing them from the pyramid and setting them free. The nightmare creatures disappear, the mummy collapses, and it's over.
That's when it really goes wrong.
That mummy creature wasn't the old god. It was part of the system to keep the old god from ever waking, and the old god is the star, or something that looks like a star, something that shatters the confidence the Doctor had been projecting, leaving Clara to stare wide-eyed and suddenly frightened. She can see what he's going to do. He's going to make a last stand here, stubbornly stand his ground and fight a god back into it's cage, just so she can get Merry to safety, so she can be safe herself. But he's so determined, and there's that voice, that she's found she's flown herself and Merry back to the arena before she can really think about it.
But that's not the end, not by a long shot, because Merry is a braver little girl than she gives herself credit for, getting back on her stage and singing, the crowd behind them taking up the chorus so that it echos around them like so much defiance and love and fierceness it takes her breath away.
And she can hear the Doctor speaking - too quiet sometimes to really make out words, but there are bits, echoing back to them across the open space.
"Can you hear them? All these people who lived in terror of you and your judgment. All these people whose ancestors devoted themselves — sacrificed themselves — to you. Can you hear them singing?" He sounds so proud of them, and she's so glad he can hear them, that maybe they're helping, just a little bit.
"Oh, you like to think you’re a god. Well, you’re not a god — you’re just a parasite, eaten out with jealously, envy, and longing for the lives of others. You feed on them. On the memory of love, and loss, and birth, and death, and joy, and sorrow." And there's the scorn, the righteous outrage that is the counterpoint to the gleeful joy she'd seen earlier today. But his voice softens to the point of being drowned out by the song, and she strains to hear.
"But I hope you’ve got a big appetite. Because I have lived a long life, and I have seen a few things." His voice is suddenly strained, pained in a way she hasn't heard before that makes her own heart hurt. "I walked away from the last Great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out, moment by moment, until nothing remained — no time, no space, just ME! I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a mad man. And I’ve watched universes freeze, and creation burn — I have seen things you wouldn't believe and I have LOST things you will NEVER understand!" He's shouting now, fire and ice and rage, fiercer than the storm that is the false sun. "And I know things. Secrets that must never be told. Knowledge that must never be spoken. Knowledge that will make parasite gods BLAZE So come oooon then! Take it! Take it all, baby! Have it! You! Have! It! All!"
The impossible happens. He falls silent, but the star collapses in on itself as the last words of the song also echo into silence, and... they've won.
For approximately a second. The beast roars back into full being, and she knows, she just knows - the Doctor's going to die here. Maybe all of them will, but he's definitely going to die. Except she's figured it out. This whole place, with memories and personal value being so important, she knows what would fill a creature like that so it'd choke to death.
So she runs, faster than she's ever run before, back to the TARDIS, back to where she left her book, the book of places she always meant to see. With the book in her arms she races back, dodging terrified aliens and confused priests and a Merry who has lost all of her fierceness once the creature returned but she can't worry about that now. She's figured it out, and she can do this - she can save the Doctor, and all these planets.
When she reaches the Doctor, he looks exhausted, crumpled in the dust and she finds she can't look at him or she'll lose her nerve altogether. So she faces the angry god instead.
"Still hungry? Well. I brought something for you." She opens her book, and picks up her leaf. Dry as dust, still as red as the day it fell, larger than her palm as it balances there, fluttering as she shakes where she stands.
"This. The most important leaf in human history. The most important leaf in human history. It's full of stories, full of history. And full of a future that never got lived. Days that should have been but never were, passed on to me. This leaf isn't just the past, it's a whole future that never happened, There are billions and billions of unlived days for every day we live, an infinity - all the days that never came. And these were all my mum's." He's come up beside her, supporting her as her leaf disappears, dissolving into the parasite god's maw, and it crashes in on itself with a finality that leaves them both breathless and staring.
The rest of the day seems a bit of a blur - she knows he pilots back to the marketplace, babbling on about gravity balance points or something, bundling her past the staring throng. Merry is gone, along with the red-robed priests, hopefully safe - she's sorry she didn't get the chance to say goodbye. He gets them into the TARDIS, gets them both a cup of tea, nearly before she can finish it, they are back in London, and she's staring at the house she's lived in for a year.
She's about to leave when she realizes something. Something that had been bothering her since she met him.
"You were there. My mom's grave, you were watching." She stares at him, wide-eyed. "What were you doing there?"
"I dunno, I was just... making sure."
"Of what?" Because that vague stalker-ish feeling is back, and she doesn't like it.
"You remind me of someone." He seems to be struggling over something, though she couldn't say what.
"Someone who died." That voice, and his expression, almost make her want to stop, and leave it there, but she has to make something clear.
"Well, whoever she was, I'm not her. Okay? If you want me to travel with you, that's fine, but as me. I'm not a bargain-basement stand-in for someone else. I'm not competing with a ghost." He shakes his head fervently, and suddenly reaches into his pocket, fumbling to pull out...
Her ring. Her mum's ring, the one she gave up for the scooter to save Merry. Turns out bravery has rewards, and in this case, the reward was a bit of memory she thought she'd have to give up. But they returned it. To her, for her. Not for him, not for them, just for her.
Maybe that's enough to be going on with.