The Doctor steps into the Vault and says, without so much as pausing for breath, “What changed for you?”
“You could at least have the decency to knock first,” Missy says, looking up from the book she’d been half-reading.
“Noted,” he says. “My question still stands.”
She sighs and sets the book to the side. “What’s changed?” she says, getting to her feet. “Well, let’s see, I’m now spending every waking moment locked in a university basement, so that’s new.”
“Yes, but you agreed to that,” he says, stepping forward. “What I want to know is why?”
The manner by which he’d made his entrance suggests he thinks this is some brilliant epiphany on his part. If so, it took him embarrassingly long to get there. “You were there,” Missy says. “I was on death row, didn’t exactly have a lot of other options. I think you’ll agree that it was all very properly dramatic.”
He approaches the glass now. “No,” he says, “I don’t think that’s it. You’ve been at death’s door plenty of times before. I don’t believe for a second that’s enough to get you to even begin to repent.”
She doesn’t respond. She’s not especially interested in listening to him psychoanalyze her.
The Doctor turns and steps back towards the exit, and her hearts lurch. (It’s all good and well to put on a brave face, but she’d be lying if she said her ability to stand her current situation didn’t hang on every second of his attention.)
“Yes, okay,” she says, and he stops. “Maybe you’re right.” She doesn’t really know what she’s going to say next, but he turns back towards her, so it’s alright. “But I already told you,” she says finally, putting on a smile. She has him now, just as much as he has her. “I just want my friend back.”
She says it like it’s easy. Like their entire relationship wasn’t built on a lie.
“Again,” he says, “what changed?”
She doesn’t answer.
It’s hardly her fault she can’t tell him yet.
The Master died, on Gallifrey. She made it out perfectly fine, of course—didn’t she always?—but she died. Regenerated.
She wasn’t entirely sure what to do with herself, now it was all over. She’d thought she would feel better, having told the Doctor, having watched her break. But she was just left with a stolen TARDIS and scraps of Cyber tech and the ruins of a life that no longer conformed to the narrative she had so carefully crafted.
It had been more fun, she decided, before the Doctor had known. Like back on Earth, before the debacle with the Kasaavin, when the Master had chased her through time; that was fun. The absolute terror on the Doctor’s face when she’d found out the truth about O—there was simply nothing like it. But she was sure, suddenly, that the Doctor would hardly be so impressed now that she knew the Master was only a blip in the endless thread of her timeline.
Luckily, she had a time machine.
Missy (yes, Missy, she was rather proud of that bit, never underestimate the importance of a clever name) devised a plan. She spent a long while sliding every piece into place, double-checking all of her math. She really was rather fond of Cybermen, she decided. And now that she’d already worked out using corpses instead of living humans, well, the possibilities were endless.
There was matter of the Doctor’s companion, of course; this only worked if he was attached at the hip to some prattling human the way he always was. Clara was no Yaz, in her opinion, but she’d do.
And then it worked, and he was in front of her, and for a moment all her careful preparation almost went out the window because he was right there, and he had no idea about any of it. She dragged him into a kiss without thinking twice because she knew these days were numbered.
“And what thrilling exploits have you gotten up to since you last deigned to visit me?” Missy says as the Doctor enters the room. She is already on her feet, at the edge of the glassed-in space, itching with more restless energy than she’d like to admit.
“Well,” he says, “I met a secret agent.”
She fights to keep her expression neutral. She should have known this was coming, one of these days. “Oh?”
She realizes her mistake too late as he grins and says, “Exactly.”
Missy has to resist the urge to roll her eyes. She has a part to play; according to the script she’s never heard of O, can’t understand the joke. “What on Earth do you mean?”
He steps closer and sets the bag of food he’d been carrying on the ground for now. She is still, for all intents and purposes, a caged animal. “That’s his name. Code name, really. ‘O.’ Like the letter.”
She’d thought she was so funny when she came up with that, hadn’t she? “And this is exciting how, exactly?”
He shrugs. “Knew an awful lot about aliens for someone from this time period. He made an impression.”
Of course he did. He’d made quite an effort to.
For a moment, Missy considers telling him.
It would only take a couple of words; she only has to get him suspicious enough that he’ll start putting the pieces together a little bit sooner the next time “O” shows up. The Doctor would never have to find out the truth about Gallifrey, could live out her life in ignorant bliss, thinking the Time Lords alive and happy in their bubble universe. Missy considers telling him and letting her own timeline unspool around her like so much fraying yarn.
Instead she sits down at the piano and puts her fingers to the keys and doesn’t say anything at all.
She’d thought she was done, after Skaro. It had been all very well and fun but she wasn’t going to spend forever living in the past, tempting as it was. There were things to do, worlds to conquer, she was sure of it.
She got sloppy, was the thing.
That was, really, the only possible explanation for how she found herself slated for execution. She’d made a stupid mistake, and kept making them, and it was really only a matter of time before it caught up with her.
When they’d told her they’d found another Time Lord to carry out the sentence, she knew who it would be. Missy wondered if she’d be brave enough to go through with it, this time around.
Except it wasn’t her.
She’d been expecting the Doctor who was all blonde hair and bright colors and simmering fire, but no—it was the other one, the older (younger) one, who didn’t yet know what she’d done.
So if she begged for her life with a little less dignity than she’d like, it was only because he was looking at her like that. Like she was his oldest friend, his best enemy, the only person in the universe who was the same as him. The way she’d been sure the Doctor would never look at her again.
She doesn’t intend for it to work, this whole thing where he tries to teach her morals. But she has a lot of time to spend alone with her thoughts, and somehow they always circle back to Gallifrey in flames. The more time she spends with the image the less satisfaction it brings.
“What was it like for you,” she asks him one day, “when you thought you’d destroyed Gallifrey?” She doesn’t say, Was it like this? A gnawing thing that you can never quite shake?
He sets down the takeout box he’d been holding. They are sitting across from each other as if this is simply a casual meal between friends. Nothing had been said prior to this that would obviously spark such a question, but she likes to think that the two of them are past social niceties like that.
“Why do you ask?” he says.
She shrugs. “Oh, you know. Idle curiosity.”
He looks at her a long moment, trying, she has to assume, to figure out what could have motivated this. She’s fairly confident he won’t come to the correct answer on his own.
“I regretted it everyday,” he says. She raises an eyebrow. “Most days, at any rate.”
“Why?” she says, leaning towards him. “I know for a fact that you hated the Time Lords at least as much as I did. The universe is far better off without them.”
“Not everyone on Gallifrey was a Time Lord,” he says.
She waves a hand. “They were all complicit on some level or another.” The past tense slips out without her meaning it to. If he notices, he doesn’t comment on it.
He scoffs. “And you and me, we aren’t?”
“I didn’t say that,” she says. “You’re not telling me after everything I’ve done you don’t think the universe would be better off without me too?” She says it like it’s a joke. Maybe it is.
“Missy,” he says softly. He does not say no.
She stands. “You were too cowardly to go through with it, in the end. I do wish you could have figured that out sooner and saved everyone around you all the angst.”
“What is this about?” he says.
She paces as she talks. “You thought that was the right decision at the time, didn’t you? If there had been no other option, that would have been the right decision.” It wasn’t good, it would never be good, but it wasn’t worse than the Doctor. It wasn’t something he couldn’t forgive her for.
“There’s always another option.”
“But if there wasn’t,” she says sharply. “You still learned to live with yourself, didn’t you? You were still out there having your inane adventures. You were still you.”
“Barely,” he says.
“No,” she says. “No, that can’t be the—“ She stops in her tracks. She is getting dangerously close to admitting aloud the things that she has been talking around this whole time.
“Can’t be what?” he says.
“I’m only saying,” she says, and it comes out quieter than she means for it to. “You, of all people, don’t have any right to judge me.”
“What did you do, Missy?”
If she were someone else, the line here would be Spoilers. But she is only herself. She smiles and says, “What, haven’t you been paying attention, all these years?”
He’ll find out soon enough. There’s no need to rush.