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Still Time to Change the Road You're on

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She is going to die.

The thought should hold no terror for her. She has faced and defeated death so many times. Real death, not mere regeneration. She has held onto her consciousness in rotting, decaying bodies, more than once, through the sheer force of her will. She has died laughing and resurrected herself using nothing but stored data and her ability to manipulate humans. She is the Master of death, always with an escape hatch, always with a plan.

Until now. Now, at last, she has no plan, at least none that these busybody executioners haven't circumvented with their devious apparatus and their ridiculously over-engineered box. She might almost be flattered, if she weren't busy feeling... What is she feeling? Not fear, she realizes, rather to her surprise, quite so much as regret. What kind of a life has it been, really, to lead her to an ending like this?

Except. Except she does have a plan, still, doesn't she? A plan, or a hope.

Him.

She'd like to think that he's too much of a bleeding heart to kill like this, but of course she knows better. His self-righteousness doesn't stop him from killing when he decides it's "necessary," whatever that means, and she's a far worse monster than most of the threats he's eliminated. She'd like to think, too, that the weight of their history might hold him back, the memory of everything they were or are to each other. But it hasn't before, has it? He's stood by, doing nothing, and watched her burn. He's left her at the non-existent mercy of the Daleks. He's even pulled the trigger on her himself.

And in his place, what would she do? If she had the chance to carry out this sentence on him? She thinks she'd save him. Probably. If she's going to kill him, she'd rather do it on her own terms, and, anyway, the universe would be so much more boring without him. Besides, there's something in the back of her mind, a feeling or a premonition or a fragment of memory. She doesn't know what it is or where it comes from, but it's been with her this whole regeneration, as if it's been poured into her mind to fill the space left by the absence of the drumming. Something that tells her there is still hope for the friendship they once shared, that one day they might stand together again. Even if he has rejected all her overtures so far.

"Please," she says. "I'll do anything. I'll be good."

She's lying of course. Of course she is. Of course. If he spares her, she'll turn the tables on him, betray him. She'll win him over to her side, or she'll kill some more of his friends and leave. It's what she always does. It's how this game is played. Yes, she'll have to do that... eventually.

Right now, though.... Right now, she looks at him, and all she sees is her friend, the one she once vowed to explore the universe with, the child who was kind to her when no one else was. The only one who ever understood her.

Please.

**

She doesn't struggle as he puts her in the box. Doesn't swear or threaten or insult him

He seems rather surprised by that.

**

She sits sprawled in a plush armchair, her ankles crossed in front of her. It's a cozy prison. He's given her everything she's asked for and a few things she hasn't. But it's still a prison. She should be plotting her escape.

"So," she says. "Finally got what you wanted, eh?"

His chair is wooden, less comfortable. There's probably some tedious symbolism in that, but she doesn't care to analyze it, merely takes some small level of amusement from the way his gawky limbs seem to stick out in all directions. He shifts a little. It doesn't seem to do much for him. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, a lifetime ago. You said you wanted to keep me, remember?" She waves a hand at him. "Lock me up and redeem me with your love?"

"That's not what I said, Missy." He's looking less comfortable by the minute. It's oddly adorable.

"It's what you were thinking, you poor, naive thing."

"Temporary insanity. I know better now."

"You do?" She looks around the cell in mock-surprise. "Oh, well, I'll just be going, then, shall I?"

"I'm not keeping you here because I'm expecting you to reform. I'm keeping you here because I swore an oath. And because you're a danger." He rubs his forehead. Only a few days out of a thousand-year sentence, and already he looks tired.

"But you're hoping, aren't you? That's what you do. Hope." She pronounces the word with all her accustomed cynicism, but somewhere in the back of her mind, some strange, traitorous impulse wants to hear him say it. Wants him to admit he has hope for her. Or in her.

"As I recall," he says, "you decided you'd literally rather die."

"I know." She gives him a small, wicked smile. "The look on your face! I'll never forget it."

"And yet," he says. "Here you are."

"At your mercy. I knooooow. Must you gloat about it?"

"Gloating? I think you're confusing me with you. Again."

She doesn't dignify that with an answer, and a moment passes in a silence she might almost call companionable. Or at least familiar.

"Do you remember what happened after that?" There's a terribly sincere look on his face now. She doesn't much like it.

"Oh, when I turned everyone on Earth into me? Yes, that was fun."

"You saved my life," he says.

"Don't flatter yourself. That was about revenge."

"Do you remember what I said to you before that?"

"What, when you told me I was beautiful, called me a genius, and asked me to run away with you? Nope, don't recall that at all, sorry."

He sits up a little and tries to look her in the eyes. She looks away.

"It seemed to me that you were considering it," he says.

She shrugs.

"I meant it. I wasn't just saying that because I thought if I flattered your ego enough, you'd let me go. I mean, yes, all right, I did think that. But I also meant it. You could be more than this, Missy. You could be a force for good in the universe. We could be." It looks for a moment as if he's going to reach out and try to take her hand, but he stops himself. She's not sure if she's glad of that or not.

"You may think you mean it Doctor," she says, and is surprised by a small stab of dismay at the sound of her own words, "But you're still just trying to flatter me into letting you go. You're as much a prisoner in this arrangement as I am."

He's silent again for a moment. Then, "Yes," he says. "Yes, I am. But that isn't the reason, and you know it."

"I said I'd try to be good. I'm not escaping, am I? This is me being good. Don't ask for more, Doctor. I don't have it in me."

"If I believed that," he says, standing. "There'd be no excuse not to kill you."

And without another word, he leaves her alone in her cell.

**

She doesn't try to escape. She thinks about it. She draws up plans, dozens of them. None of them is entirely satisfactory, but with enough attempts, one of them would be reasonably likely to work.

But she implements none of them. There is something satisfactory in the thought that she is holding him prisoner, as much as he's holding her. His life revolves around her, now. It's satisfying. It's revenge.

And the more time they spend together, the more she begins to realize how much she's missed his company.

**

"You could let me out now, you know. I've changed. Clearly, I've changed. I haven't murdered anybody in decades."

He leans against the wall and regards her calmly. "You haven't had the opportunity in decades."

She sits forward in her armchair. "I could have murdered you."

"You could try," he says mildly.

"But I am changing. I've had a good, long think about my life. I've even been feeling, what do you call it? Remorse. For all those people I killed."

"Really?" He gives her a hard-to-read look.

"No," she snaps. "Of course not. I'm faking it. I'm bored with being in here, and I'll say anything to get out."

He continues staring at her, with that same look. What is that? Compassion?

"I'm starting to wonder," he says.

"Well, don't!"

There's nothing to wonder about. There's nothing to give her disgusting empathetic looks about. She hasn't been sitting in here, days when he doesn't come, wondering what the point of her life is, if it's only brought her here. Hasn't been poking and prodding at that strange, premonitory sense that she is destined to change, in the end. Hasn't been wondering whether it would really be so bad. Whether the self she's become over the millennia is really worth clinging on to.

"Fine," he says. "I won't."

But neither of them believes him.

**

They talk. They touch. They reminisce over old times. He brings her takeout. She plays the piano for him. He tells her funny stories about his students, or his past adventures. They play mathematical games together. They tease each other mercilessly.

Sometimes, they talk about the things they've lost.

Sooner or later, she'll betray him. But she keeps finding reasons to make it later.

**

"I've changed," she says, for the thousandth time. "You can let me out now."

"Not yet," he says. The first time he hasn't said "no."

"When?" She doesn't mean for her voice to be that small. He's done something to her. He's done something to her, and she should resent him for it. She tries very hard to resent him for it.

"You're changing. " he says. "At least, I think you are. But you haven't finished yet."

"Don't be ridiculous, Doctor." Petulantly, she turns a little on the piano bench and pushes her fist into the keys. It makes a discordant sound. It doesn't please her the way she thought it might.

"Oh, so you're not changing?" he says lightly. "You mean I shouldn't let you out after all?"

"I..." But she can't say "no." She can't say "no," and she can't say "yes."

"Missy..." He comes over to her, and takes her still balled-up fist in his hand. "Missy. It's all right."

"It's not," she says. "It's not all right. I'm going mad in here, Doctor."

"Are you sure? You know what I think? I think you're not going mad. I think maybe you're going sane, instead. I can see why that would confuse you, but, really, it's a good thing." His voice is flippant, but a moment later it slides into quiet seriousness. "It's a good thing," he repeats.

"If it's true," she says.

"Yes." He squeezes her hand and lets it go. She unclenches it, finally. "If it's true."

She runs her finger across the keyboard, soundlessly. "If I'm not faking it."

He nods and sits down at the bench next to her, nudging her with his hip to scoot her over. His fingers begin idly picking out some tune she doesn't know. Something soft and sentimental-sounding. She feels as if she ought to hate it.

"What really gets me," she says. "What really grinds my gears is that I honestly don't know whether I am or not." Her fingers dance around his on the piano, playing strong, crashing chords between his softer notes. There. That sounds more like music.

"Ooh," he says, and increases his tempo to match her improvisations. "Sounds like progress to me."

"Shut up."

Mercifully he does, and for a few minutes, they play something incomprehensible together, until Missy ends it abruptly by pulling her hands away.

The Doctor plays a last few sad, fading notes, and turns to look at her. He's much too close for comfort.

"How is this not making you crazy?" she says. "How is this not driving you right round the twist?"

"What? Being stuck here with you? Who says it isn't?" He turns back to the piano and plays a show-off-y little flourish.

"Not that," she says. "I mean, not knowing. Is she changing? Is she plotting behind my back? Has she really been sitting here all this time feeling increasingly sorry for what a right bastard she's been all her lives and wondering whether we could make a go of it again, or is she plotting some spectacular betrayal that'll probably end with my favorite little planet on fire and all my pretty little human friends begging for merciful death?"

He sighs. "Have you stopped to consider that maybe I don't have to know the answer? Maybe there isn't one yet." He regards her with a disturbingly intense expression. "We're Time Lords. You're sixty years into a thousand-year sentence. We have time. You have time." He takes her hand again, and this time, she grasps his in return.

"You're an idiot," she says.

"Always."

"Such an idiot."

"Yeah." He clasps her hand harder. "If something is happening, Missy, you can let it. Just... let it. You don't have to understand it yet. Just trust that it'll make some kind of sense in the end."

She removes her hand from his and lowers the fallboard over the piano keys. "You'd like that, I'm sure."

"Yeah," he says. "I would. You're not the only one who misses the way things used to be."

She turns away. "I want Chinese tonight," she says. "Extra egg rolls."

"Anything you like," he says. She ought to resent the kindness in his voice. She ought to hold it in disdain. She doesn't.

That evening, he brings her six eggrolls. She eats three, throws one at his head, and lets him have the rest.

It's a surprisingly good night.

**

He was wrong, she decides, as she checks the stiletto in her sleeve. Now that she's made her decision, and chosen the fate of her old life, now that she's decided her place is at the Doctor's side.... It still doesn't make any sense. Perhaps it's a paradox, a self-fulfilling prophesy. She saw herself changed, here at the end of her last life, so she's changed because, deep in some forgotten corner of her mind, she's known all along that she would.

Temporal bollocks. None of that explains anything. She still doesn't know why she's doing this. Doesn't know why she wants to do this. Only that she's tired of being who she was. Tired of being alone. Tired of being endlessly cruel, the fun of it having, somehow, finally worn off. Tired of the company of her past.

Maybe later she'll understand it. Maybe not. At the moment, she doesn't particularly care.

All she cares about, right this moment, is that she finally knows where she wants to stand.