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or do you not think so far ahead?

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The TARDIS lands. The Doctor takes a deep breath and unclenches her grip on the console lever. 

In her mind’s eye she can still see Gallifrey, burning. But she isn’t there anymore. No, she’s somewhere—somewhen—far more foolish. She reaches over and pulls down the screen displaying the external view: a picturesque farm, grass and holograms. 

She watches a moment, glances down at the time coordinates to see if she got it right, and then when she looks up again—yes, there he is. Her past self. Him, and the two Masters, neither of them the one she just left behind. 

She turns back to her controls. She needs to get a lock on the Master’s TARDIS before it takes off, so she can track where he went next. Figure out how they got from here to Gallifrey to 2010s Earth. (She doesn’t know what her plan is, past that. She’ll figure it out. She always does.)

On the screen, the past versions of the Doctor and the Master talk, and the two Masters keep walking, and soon they are outside of the viewport’s range. The Doctor fiddles with the knob, and it pans towards them again, talking to one another—the Doctor doesn’t have audio, though. There’s a way to do it, but that isn’t what she’s focused on just now. The Master’s TARDIS is still several levels down, so maybe—

The sound of the weapon firing is audible even from within her TARDIS, and the Doctor jerks her head towards the screen in time to see only Missy’s lifeless body, discarded in the grass like so much detritus. 

Not possible, of course. She’s not dead, she can’t possibly be dead because the Doctor knows the Master survives this, but more than that: if what just happened is what she thinks just happened…

No. Right? Can’t be. He wasn’t even a little reformed.

And yet. 

She thinks back to that last exchange she had with Missy. That moment when she’d been so sure she was really getting through. What if she was? What if Missy really had been reformed, had been prepared to sacrifice everything? (Without witness, without reward…)

The Doctor looks at the screen again. She hasn’t moved. She is frozen in this instant, because—well, because what in the world is she supposed to make of this? To know that the Master had gotten so close, and still…

Missy hasn’t moved either.

The Doctor bites her lip. “Okay, Doctor,” she whispers to herself, “you ready to do something very stupid?” 

She spins on her heel and pushes open the doors of the TARDIS, and without stopping for a second to examine her surroundings sets off for the location of Missy’s body.

She tries to stay alert as she traipses through the grass. She can’t let anyone see her, especially not herself. This whole situation is a tangle of fixed points she can’t risk messing with; just being here has her entire body tense. But she isn’t turning back now. She’s trying not to think about it too hard, trying not to give herself a chance to change to her mind.

She spots the body—spots Missy, rather, alone on the ground, and picks up her pace until she is kneeling by her side. The Doctor lays a trembling hand on her old enemy’s hand to check for a pulse. 

Ridiculous, really, that she’s so worried. The Master survives this. There’s no threat to anything, just a plunging feeling in the Doctor’s stomach as she stares at the unmoving body of her old friend.

A pulse. Faint, but—yes, there it is, the double-beat of a Time Lord’s hearts. (What had she said to Noor and Ada? A very personal code…)

The Doctor scans the horizon again; no one is nearby. She pulls out her sonic and runs a scan.

Missy’s fine.

She does the scan again, sure she’s misread, but—yes. Her body had tried to regenerate and failed, but it hadn’t mattered, because she wasn’t quite dying. If that weapon had been intended to kill her, it had… misfired, somehow. Some setting wasn’t quite right. 

Missy is going to be fine, assuming someone gets her out of here before the whole place blew.

Assuming that happens. It must, right? Because the Doctor already knows she survives. 

The Doctor pockets her sonic. There is no one around but her.

***

The TARDIS hums with the quiet energy of mid-vortex flight as the Doctor double-checks its system readouts. Doesn’t seem look looping back on her own timeline like that has caused any permanent issues, although she should consider recalibrating some of the safety nets, just in case.

The Doctor’s gaze slides away from the console, towards Missy, still unconscious on the floor.

It occurs to her that if she’s the one who saved the Master’s life, everything that they do after this is her fault. All of that blood is on the her hands. 

Missy gasps awake, eyes wide. “Who are you? Where…?” She pushes herself into a kind of sitting position in a single, startled movement, and the Doctor looks down at her without knowing how to begin reacting.

“Don’t you recognize me,” she says, only it comes out flat, not quite a question, and her own words give the Doctor a kind of horrid, role-reversed deja vu. “No, ‘course you don’t, I suppose. Hypocritical of me really. You’re safe. Let’s start there.”

Missy gets to her feet. “Doctor?” she says, not quite not a question.

The Doctor takes a breath. “Yeah,” she says, “hi.” She looks at Missy. There’s an expression on her face that she can’t seem to read.“How’d you know?”

“Who else would be foolish enough to come save me?”

The Doctor averts her gaze. She can’t do this right now. She can’t look the Master in the face knowing where this ends for the two of them, right back where it always does.

Her eyes drift to the corner of the room where the Master’s hologram had projected itself. She thinks of the smug look on his face as he’d told her what he’d done. It was her fault, wasn’t it, hadn’t it always been, because she always has a soft spot for them and then they always go and do something like this and now she is alone all over again and—

A hand, on her arm. The Doctor flinches away, turns to look at Missy. “Don’t touch me.” Her voice is barely a whisper.

Surprise flickers onto Missy’s expression for just an instant. “Alright,” she says, lowering her hand. “Are you going to explain what’s actually going on then? How long was I…” She lets the word hang there. Dead. Unconscious. Either would be close enough. “More importantly, how long have you been gone?”

“Long enough.”

“Would you care to elaborate? If you didn’t come running back for me as soon as you’d regenerated—which, quite frankly, I’m offended if you didn’t—then why come back now?”

“It’s not important.”

Missy laughs. The Doctor thinks for a moment that she’d trade her entire world just for that sound, and then remembers that she has. “And how exactly is it not?”

The Doctor doesn’t answer. Instead, she readies her hands above the TARDIS controls. “Where do you want me to drop you?”

Missy blinks. “Don’t be ridiculous, Doctor, I’m not going anywhere you aren’t. Didn’t you see that back there? I’ve made my choice. I’m not backing down.” 

Her voice is so sincere as she says it, and the Doctor wants to—to scream, maybe, or to start crying, or to kiss her. She does none of these things just now.

She forces herself to keep talking. “I don’t have a vacancy on the ship this time around. I’m sorry, but—“

“What in the universe are you talking about? There’s no one here but us.”

A new kind of guilt. The Doctor’s human friends don’t know she’s here. She shouldn’t be here. This was only ever going to get messy.

“Not the point. Tell me where you want to go.”

“I don’t know,” Missy says, “Gallifrey? I haven’t been back there in a while.” Her tone so cavalier, like it’s a hilarious joke.

The Doctor flexes her hand at her side. “Somewhere else.” She needs to get through this part of the timeline and leave before it breaks her, but there is no way she’s going to make it that easy for them.

There is a long moment of silence. The Doctor doesn’t look Missy in the eye.

“This is a new look,” Missy says, finally, as if only now noticing, gesturing towards their surroundings. “I like it well enough, I suppose.” She glances back towards the Doctor. “Not as well as I like your new look.”

The Doctor doesn’t respond.

“Okay, really, Doctor, I’m going to need you to tell me what is going on with you because as far as I’m aware I just did the whole big clever hero thing you’re always on about, and you’re treating me as if I’ve just killed one of your pets.” 

The Doctor sighs.

“Am I never going to pass your tests?” Missy says, and there’s a level of emotion in her voice the Doctor doesn’t want to think about. “Do tell me, what exactly have I done wrong here?”

The Doctor leans onto the console so she faces away from Missy. “It’s not about what you did,” she manages. “It’s about what you’re going to do.”

There’s a pause as Missy takes that in. “Well,” she says, "that hardly seems fair, to punish me for something I haven’t even done yet.”

It isn’t fair, of course, but nothing about this whole situation is fair. If Missy had wanted fair she shouldn’t have gone and tried to kill Ryan and Yaz and Graham, shouldn’t have…

It’s all circular. Well, who cares.

“Tell me where you want to go,” the Doctor repeats.

“Doctor.” Her voice so gentle the Doctor could melt in it.

“Missy,” she says, and her voice breaks as she says it.

Missy. So easy in what it isn’t—not Master, no, not a title, no matter it’s etymology, just a name that the Doctor can call her. She’d never thought about it much until this moment, had always just accepted it as the Master making a game out of gender the same way they do everything else, but she wonders whether Missy’s redemption didn’t start the moment she introduced herself.

“Oh—” Missy says, and follows it with something else but the Doctor doesn’t hear the rest because that, on the subject of names and games and things the Doctor hadn’t been letting herself think about, is really just too much. 

The Doctor laughs, and her eyes blur over with tears, and she leans her weight into the TARDIS console and tries to ignore the fact that Missy is still watching her.

She takes a deep breath and reaches a hand up to wipe the tears from her face, and sees Missy, standing just in front of her now, her hand raised but hesitating now, waiting for permission, and the Doctor reaches out and takes it. Squeezes it tight.

She lets herself meet Missy’s gaze. She hates how right this feels, how much of a comfort it is just to have her near. “This is embarrassing,” she mumbles.

“A little, yes,” Missy says, and the Doctor cracks a smile. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“I’ve missed you,” the Doctor says.

“Wish I could say the same but, you know, just saw you. Relative passage of time and all that.”

“Mhmm.”

Missy steps even closer, and raises her free hand to the Doctor’s face. The Doctor closes her eyes and takes a breath.

When she opens them, Missy is still looking at her. Neither of them really know what to do, she realizes, now that they have this. Have all the time in the universe and the frailest of trust and no one to interrupt them. (The Doctor has friends to return to, and Missy, she knows, has a planet to burn, but they are on a time machine and neither of those things are of immediate concern in quite the same way that Missy looking at her like that is.)

Missy leans in and kisses her, on the lips, just once, and the Doctor lets her. For just a moment, she thinks, To hell with Gallifrey. To hell with her friends. She wants this.