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Both Ends of a Candle

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Something wasn’t right. There it was again, that uncomfortable prickling feeling at the back of his neck. His stomach twisted with that kind of nausea that had nothing to do with hunger or sickness.

Something was out of time. Something was wrong, and the Doctor couldn’t pinpoint what it was. It made him feel nervous, wary, and protective of the human woman beside him.

“You’ve paled. That can’t be good, unless it’s because of that strange alien burrito we ate earlier. Yes, I also think it was quite spicy.”

He might have replied with something witty of sorts. But he didn’t, staring at the shadows shifting around them. Bill was braver than him, not even batting an eyelid despite the creepy whereabouts they were currently exploring.

Oh, what a joy to be human.

The worst part of it was that he positively knew he had experienced that before. And that his stupid brain was choosing not to share with him what exactly it was, instead keeping him in the dark. So, it couldn’t be a threat, could it? He wasn’t that reckless this time around to purposely forget imminent signs of doom…

“Gotta admit, this place is giving me quite the chills, Doctor. Why is the bad stuff never somewhere nice?”

Then it clicked.

He could have grabbed her hand and run back towards the TARDIS, but he didn’t.

Too soon for that.

“My, my! You should teach your pets the difference between ‘bad’ and ‘good’, my dear Doctor. This place looks nice to me.”

And there she was. Fiery, majestic, almost innocent - if it hadn’t been for that semi permanent coldness that only cruelty could bring, shining in her eyes.

“Of course it had to be you,” he snarled, but couldn’t help chuckling immediately afterwards. “I didn’t peg you for a cave woman.”

Missy snorted in disdain. The Doctor could almost taste her amusement at their traditional banter. Just like it always had been, then. He could live with that; he could handle it.

Except for the clear as day notion that time still wasn’t right. Something was very, very wrong.

“What is Mary Poppins doing here?” Bill was extremely smart. Of course she must had noticed the woman in front of them was the… enemy (for lack of a better word), but she had also guessed that her humour wouldn’t cause harm. At least for the time being; Bill was keeping her eyes on her, her body displaying subtle signals of preparing herself for a run. The Doctor smiled inwardly: yes, he and Bill could handle this.

Missy slowly nodded, her boots resonating against the stony ground when she got close to Bill. She was evaluating her, calculating as always; alright, perhaps that wasn’t good.

“Missy...” He started, but she shushed him; all her attention was on Bill.

“Glad you appreciate my sense of fashion, human. Maybe you will also turn to be entertaining for me, just as the previous one.”

Her smile shone with sadistic delight and he got the confirmation he had lately been suspecting: Missy knew something he didn’t, something that would have probably helped him with his quest, a couple of years ago. It was impossible that she was talking about Amy, was it?

Dangerous waters.

To his credit, the Doctor quickly regained a poker face to hide his confusion. Missy had already seen it, and her short laugh tested his patience.

“Missy, whatever you’re doing, stop it now.”

She didn’t mind in the slightest his now icy tone, all playfulness gone. Her perfume smelt of flowers that only existed in a galaxy millions of years away. He was quite sure that shade of scarlet on her lips wasn’t invented yet on Earth. She was too close all of sudden, almost chest to chest, and when had she got there?

Why did it feel as if time was bending around her, within her, outside her?

“The day you stop playing oblivion will be the day that I win. Although maybe I already have.”

Missy was saying everything he needed to know with her eyes, and he was trying to understand the hidden meaning behind them. He had to stop thinking and just start feeling, if he really wanted to define what was exactly wrong in that god forsaken part of the universe.

He wasn’t trying hard enough. He knew it.

Missy’s smile fell off her lips and she spoke – it came out as a command.

“You know who I am.”

The Doctor would later swear his hearts had shattered when she pronounced those words, a throwback to the last time he had purposely ignored the ominous sensation of recognition.

“Of course he knows who I am. He just loves the anticipation and sweet torture of surprise.”

Someone screamed; Bill, probably. Someone laughed in delight; Missy, no doubt. Someone stared in silence and in denial; himself.

Someone grinned. Predatory, coldly, maniacally, yearning. Someone who didn’t belong anymore in his present life.

“You musn’t be here. The paradox...” He croaked, not even resisting when Missy grabbed his wrists and a steely material closed around them.

“Doctor!” Bill was too good to be with him. Definitely more than he deserved. He shouted in warning when she launched towards him, but it came too late. Missy was already on her and, even though Bill put up quite a fight, it was over in roughly ten seconds; cuffs securely restraining her while Missy rested victorious on top of her back, cackling mischievously.

“Doctor, Doctor... Don’t you worry, we only want to have a good catch up. Isn’t that what –” a pregnant pause that made his stomach lurch, “friends do?”

The Master (even on his mind only, that name and the vision of the blond haired psycho made vile rise on his throat) was now within his personal space.

The Doctor was feeling too much at once. Repulsion, disgust, shame, pity, fear, longing.

“So stupidly proud, even more as an old man...” His hand tried to grab his chin, but the Doctor stubbornly turned his face with a sneer, throwing daggers at Missy, for he knew she had been the one to stagger this encounter. She refused to humour him and blew him a kiss.

The Master went for a slap to have his attention back.

“Look at me when I’m in your presence, Doctor.” He threatened, showcasing his overwhelming authority and a hint of something else. Something that hadn’t been there last time they had seen each other.

The glint of madness hadn’t abated though.

“I see you haven’t changed.” The Doctor was sure his voice was cold enough, but his left cheek was still stinging red. Anger was bubbling inside, and maybe some specks of it had showed through in his voice. Not that he cared.

“Oh, but you have. A bit, I guess – don’t worry, she hasn’t told me all the juicy details you surely are afraid of – We could say I only know... Enough.” The Master smirked and the Doctor dreaded the sight of it.

That word had chilled him to the bone. What could have she possibly told him? Missy wasn’t careless enough to really risk any kind of paradox with her own timeline... or was she? He didn’t trust any Master, but this regeneration was by far one of the worse, for sure. His eyes scared him, the madness within them told him he was still capable of everything he hadn’t been centuries ago. And now that Gallifrey was found, what if Missy had unveiled that to him? What if...

His thoughts were racing inside his brain, so he gasped in surprise when the Master briskly took his head between his hands, abruptly stopping his reflections.

His hands were much colder and calloused than last time they had done this.

“Doctor, you were way, way naughtier than I had ever dared to imagine,” he purred, a sadistic smile of delight colouring his expression. “Thank you for proving me right.”

He knew.

His chaffed lips crashed against his mouth with violence. The rest of the world shut down for the Doctor: Bill’s protests, Missy’s squeal of satisfaction.

As the Time War unfolded through his mind, the tendrils of his conscience slipping out of his control, everything that mattered was the pain and the punishment that the Master was inflicting upon him.

He had thought he had been over it. After the search of Gallifrey, the reunion with Missy, the return to home, the farewell to River. He had overcome his sorrow, his impending need for atonement.

Of course, he had been a fool to believe that. This particular Master (his one and only Master, the man that owned him, the Master warningly reminded him inside his mind) had never ceased to torment him on the recesses of his guilt, his words echoing in the deepest corners of his soul. And now he was back, back to make him remember how alike they had once been.

How alike we can still be, my Doctor.