The taste of her was still on his lips when he walked out of the vault. He fled the basement, scaled the stairs and traversed the university library where he let his hand run along the dusty spines of books no one bothered to read any more.
Upon reaching his office he closed the door and laid back against the cold wood. His Tardis waited quietly in the corner. He'd painted over the scorch marks and replaced the bulb shattered by the explosion.
No more visits.
He'd used up the cracks between his first draft with Missy. In his youthful raged he'd stormed from the brink of calamity straight back into her life without thinking and now there was nowhere left for him to run. The worst of it was the silence. It followed him everywhere. Missy had taken the stars with her.
The prospect of mucking about in time and space was all a bit lacklustre without the threat of her lurking around the next corner with a devious plan. Hell, he'd take all of her mania over this – over nothing…
He still wasn't speaking to the Tardis. The Doctor might not have worked out exactly what went on in those intervening months but the Tardis helped manipulate Missy into her death and he was furious. No. He was in a place well beyond fury. When he looked at that blue box he felt all the ferocity of an ocean beneath a storm. He'd even scared Nardole and Bill off, throwing them out of the Tardis in the throes of his rage. It was there, coursing beneath his skin like time energy. At any moment it could flare and he didn't want anyone to see that. Except his Tardis. She deserved the damage.
His eyes wandered to the photographs on his desk. He could feel those faces looking at him. They judged with their frozen eyes. Maybe he was judging himself. Ghosts couldn't see what he felt. The Doctor was caught between the two and picked a third option – hunting into his Tardis.
The truth was that he knew exactly where he had to travel and he'd run out of reasons to avoid it.
The Tardis materialised in front of the vault with its soft light pulsing in the darkness like a sea creature, hunting the depths. He paced toward the towering doors furnished with Gallifreyan text. His breath misted in front of his lips as he approached. Even from this distance he could feel that it was empty. His younger self had gone of chasing echoes leaving the vault untouched.
Twenty years or a day since he'd stood here – depending on how you measured time.
He punched in the code and waited as the doors swung open. They scratched against their tracks. Strange. He'd never noticed that. The room was as Missy'd left it on her last day. He waited for the doors to close before he pressed deeper. There he found their cups of tea left, half drunk, on several of the tables. A spray of yellow roses wilted on another, dropping petals on the marble floor.
The Doctor avoided the piano. Her memories linger there, too strong for him to bear so he roamed all the way to the broken window and knelt among the glass. It flickered on the floor trying to render an image with its last gasps of power. A couple of shadows that might be leaves. Wings. It was meant to be a forest but all he saw was the stool that shattered it. As he turned one of the shards over in his palm he noticed a red stain. The Doctor dropped it in fright.
Missy's blood. Now it was on his hands. She must have cut herself that day he'd thrown the chair across the room. That was today and the blood was still wet.
He left the floor and moved to her bed. The sheets were pushed to one side where they'd laid down earlier. He'd played her songs on his guitar and she'd dragged her nails over the strings making them sing in alarm. Her glasses were on the table beside – little half-moons of glass. We match. Behind them sat the framed photo Bill had risked her life to gift. Goodness, Missy had even managed to catch him in a smile. Well… Maybe not a smile but a moment of confusion with enough levity to compliment her wild eyes.
How did she know when it was his birthday? He genuinely had no idea. A stifled crow caught at his lips. Maybe she didn't…
He decided to keep that photo – sliding it into his jacket. There's a space on his desk for her mischievous eyes and he's willing to risk Nardole's protest after all, she was oldest friend. His friend. Was…
Tenses were grim.
The Doctor stood up suddenly and wiped his face on the back of his sleeve. He squared off against the piano.
Up the stairs, his shoes shufflled on the floor then through the faux containment field. The piano hung on the platform like a stone weight in his heart. She's all over it. Her fingerprints on the black lacquer. A stray hair. A book of Gallifreyan poetry she'd left in place of sheet music. A glass of red, untouched, on the floor beneath.
He pressed his palm to the lid. Closed his eyes. Wished for the vision to return. Sensibly he knew it had come from her, not the piano but hope was a terrible thing.
The Doctor dragged his hand across the surface until it clipped the edge of the fall board. He sat down and he lifted the curved slip of wood, revealing the keys.
His fingers retreated.
There was blood on the keys too.
He pulled his sleeve up and wiped it across the pale surface. He pressed too hard and flinched as a mournful note echoed across the vault.
The first of her song. Loud and ruthless.
Tenderly, he brought his other hand up to settle on the keys. He spread his fingers, checking carefully before he hit another note. The Doctor didn't need sheet music – he'd never forget what she'd played for him that night. It circled his dreams. Nested in his heart. For twenty years it tormented him.
He played it now.
As the notes rippled through the room he could have sworn he heard the first beat of Sol, mewing quietly in the sky. The Doctor closed his eyes and the beat grew. Thump. Thump. Thump. Spinning tides of plasma making space shiver and he could hear it – as she had. He delved deeper between the sad notes. There was more. The hush of the Milk Way rustling against Andromeda and two roaring black holes sizing each other up. That's what she heard. The oncoming storm. She'd tried to teach him…
The Doctor felt her lips. His fingers slipped immediately into a false note.
He ripped his hands away from the piano. Her voice had stolen through the cracks between voids – fresh.
His hands dived into his jacket and extracted his physic paper.
He dropped it onto the keys. The freshly inked words bore into his soul. His hearts hammered.
"What did Missy do?" Bill asked, sitting with Nardole on the steps of the university. It was cold – mist dripping off the wind which hit them in the face in passing gusts. Leaves rolled by their feet, dried and finished for the year. They crunched into the gutters and waited for the rain.
"The Doctor never asked." Nardole admitted.
"What – he saved her from an execution without even asking what she'd done?"
Nardole nodded. "That's what it means to be the Doctor's friend."
Friend still felt like a bit of a stretch. "Do you know what she did?"
"I looked it up." He admitted. "Thought at least one of us should know."
"Are you really going to make me ask?"
"She wiped out an entire race from existence. Removed them – completely – from time."
"Oh shit..." Bill looked toward the ground. Fond was the wrong word for her thoughts regarding Missy but since that day on the spaceship she'd been spending a lot of time thinking about her. Friendship and devotion were powerful things and what the Doctor had lost that day was something she couldn't even wrap her head around. "Probably better that he doesn't know."
"She was saving Earth." Nardole added quietly. "It was the only way and she knew full well that she'd get caught for it but she went ahead with it because, and this is a quote from her trial, 'it's his favourite planet'. Don't feel too sorry for her, Bill. Missy has done a lot of unspeakable – unforgivable things during her lives."
"She was changing though. The Doctor said."
Nardole sighed. "Showing someone a few pretty lights in the sky is hardly going to undo thousands of years of torment. We'll never know if her intentions were true."
"And what about the Doctor – do you think he's ever going to come back for us? Because I was thinking, maybe that's it… And if it is, you know, that's okay, I understand. I just need to hear it so that I can close this chapter on my life. With a bookmark because it was amazing."
"The Doctor always comes back, Bill."
Starlight died into roving clouds, tracking along the horizon of a pastel sky. Cliffs lifted to greet them, shifting colour at the faintest whim. They were dying. The rock cracked apart one century at a time before crumbling into the shallow sea.
Missy found herself standing in the water. It lapped around her ankles – warm and surreal as if she were trapped in a Salvador Dali. The reflections on its surface were perfect. A mirror of the sky except for the faint outline of torn pages floating beneath. Poetry and sheet music. Layered like sand. Forever and ever. This definitely wasn't real.
A set of rusted iron gates loomed ahead. Their reflections reached like dark claws on the otherwise perfect waters. It took her a moment to realise that it was the decayed remains of the vault – collapsed and broken until only its supports remained.
Is that what this place was for? A crypt where her timeline had been left to unwind until she too became a layer of dust on the water?
Petals floated beside her, scattered over the surface. Dew collected in their base like tears but they weren't hers. Somewhere – nearly lost in the chorus of violence – she picked out a strain of sad piano music.
She whispered her friend's name to the mirage.
The Doctor had returned to the Tardis and now paced around the console wearing tracks in the floor.
The psychic paper was laid open on the console and every now and then the single word refreshed as though someone were screaming it. There was only one person who'd do that. If he hadn't bloody gallivanted off so fast in a rage he might have noticed earlier.
"Missy knew her death was coming..." The Doctor said aloud. The Tardis was listening, whirring softly. "And she's smart – much smarter than me. All that time with the resources of a Tardis and she didn't plan anything? No. I don't buy that."
He pushed away hope and focused on reason.
The Doctor turned on his Tardis. "Did you do something? Oh… you did. You did!" He grabbed the console, staring into the pulsing lights. "Go on give me a hint. Is she alive? I need to know. Tell me. TELL ME!" He covered his mouth as he yelled, trying to hold the emotion back. The words on the psychic paper bled rivers of ink. Some of it was diluted by what looked like tears only they weren't his.
"How could Missy be dead..." The Doctor mused to himself, trying to think it through. Logically he understood what happened. She'd blown the ship and disintegrated – two copies of herself in one go. Her echo was real but that was just a snapshop of a mind. A copy trapped in cyberspace, decaying. Missy was a Timelord and that meant there were rules and protocols. She hadn't even sent him her Confession Di-
"Stupid Doctor. Stupid idiot Doctor!"
The Tardis agreed, flaring with a moment of colour.
He abandoned the control room and raced across the Tardis, taking the corridor junctions so fast he smashed into a few of them and toppled right over. He stopped at her bedroom door and hovered his hand over the handle. He took a breath – embraced the faintest glimmer of promise.
"Just a little bit of hope..." He begged.
Surrounded by crimson sheets and guarded by a sea of galaxies above, his Confession Dial lay in the centre of her bed with the brooch he'd given Missy the day her daughter was born. He almost fell onto the items as he reached forward.
"Missy..." He whispered, stroking his hand over the golden surface. He lifted it to his lips and was hit with the deep scent of cinnamon. But how to get her out? Had a Timelord ever been trapped in someone else's Confession Dial before? They were in uncharted waters. He eyed the brooch suspiciously. Maybe she'd already solved that problem too. Missy and the Tardis had a long time to think it through.
The Doctor swallowed. He did. He trusted her. Now he had to prove it.
He scooped up the items and carried them back to the main deck. "Missy, you better be right..." he whispered, as he placed the Confession Dial on the floor. He gripped her brooch firmly in one hand and took a deep breath.
If this didn't work and she was really in there then he was about to kill the last fragment of her…
The brooch pierced the Confession Dial and almost immediately a blinding light ripped through the centre of the Tardis. The Timelord technology processed the breech and immediately enacted its failsafe protocols, re-materialising any lifeforms trapped inside.
The perfect sky shattered above Missy. It cleaved into horrifying pieces and then fell into the water around her, exactly as the vault window had. She ducked – screaming as pieces the size of mountains smashed into the sea. Light poured in through the cracks and behind it a familiar wheezing of a certain blue box.
She looked down at her hands. They were fading. The light spread and soon it consumed her. Missy held her breath in panic then -
- then she was standing inside the Tardis.
"Doctor…" Missy choked back a sob. He was there, on his knees, staring at her as though she were the sum of all his fears.
The brooch tumbled onto the ground as he stood up – wide-eyed and broken. "Are you real?"
Real or not, Missy leaped into his chest and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. His caught at her waist and dragged her closer.
"I could hear you..." He murmured against her hair.
"I was screaming..."
One of his hands can't help cupping the back of her head, holding her as if she were the most precious thing in the universe. "You should have told me, Missy."
"Oh yes," she drawled, turning her head so that she fit into the crook of his neck. "And you'd have let me go? Dear Doctor, I think you'd have kept me locked in that vault for a thousand years if you thought it'd keep me alive."
Her logic was perfect as ever. "Twenty years… I left you in there..." He cast a horrified gaze at the Confession Dial. He wanted to simultaneously burn it and frame it.
"I played cards with your shadow pet." Missy lied, then added softly. "It wasn't like that. The Tardis tried to protect me. She set it up with a memory – one she thought I like. I went to Mars like we promised." She pulled back to look into his eyes. He was crying again but this time there was happiness creeping into his eyes. They were changing. A different Doctor.
"I should have taken you to Mars instead of flying off..."
"You were only a child," Missy touched his face softly, following some of the creases, "running from the dark."
"And what were you?"
The edges of her lips caught the broken fragment of a smile. "I ran in the dark. Not the same thing at all."
The Doctor met her eyes and in that moment he understood her completely but not at all.