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A child's perspective

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p>“Hello!” A voice by her elbow sounded quite suddenly. She frowned slightly. People under four foot didn’t tend to approach her. A glance down revealed everything, Clara took after her parents for her curiosity.

“Hello,” Missy replied carefully, studying the small creature carefully. Clara was bright eyed, dark haired, neatly combed. It was a far cry from the mad scientist look her father sported or the adventurer in waiting her mother tended to employ. The girl was pristine. And curious.

“You look sad,” the girl continued promptly, climbing onto the chair next to her and sitting down, big wide eyes observing Missy.

“I’m not sad,” Missy smiled carefully, not wanting to scare her away. Very few people tended to approach her, the Queen of Evil reputation reaching further than she could imagine. “I’m waiting.”

“No,” Clara insisted, pointing a finger towards Missy’s blue blue eyes. “Your eyes are sad. Do you not like your job? Most times when adults are sad it's cuz they have a job.”

How to explain to a six year old that your job was to take over companies and turn them into multinationals. That to do so she had to be cold hearted and practical and that yes, she hated it. She had been an inventor in another life, before Clara had been born, now she was a destructive force that had grown men shaking in their expensive suits.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Missy whispered, smiling to herself as Clara’s eyes got even wider, the girl nodding vigorously. “I really don’t like my job.”

“Then why do you do it?” Clara asked promptly, her little forehead creased in confusion. Missy let out a long exhale. How had it come to this? She was confiding in the grave robbers brat. His brat.

“Because I’ve been doing it so long,” she answered absently before she could check her words, “that I don’t think I can do anything else.”

“Of course you can!” Clara cried excitedly, hands flailing in such an imitation of her father as a teenager that Missy had to look away to stop herself from laughing outright at the earnest face. “My daddy always says that if you don’t like something you shouldn’t do it, unless it’s eating your vegetables then you have to but that you should do things that make you happy because we only get one life so we may as well be happy. So if you don’t like it, just do something you do.”

Missy smiled sadly, gone were the days she believed that. She hoped that this little girl never forgot it, as she had.

“Being an adult isn’t quite that simple,” Missy said gently, not wanting to burst the bubble of this innocent little baby.

“Being an adult isn’t an excuse,” Clara replied hotly, crossing her arms and looking like her mother. “Daddy always says what’s the point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes. So adults just overcomyicate things.”

“Overcomplicate,” Missy corrected gently. Oh to be that young again, when daddy’s word was all that mattered and life was yours for the taking. “But yes adults do overcomplicate things and then adults have to deal with the consequences. You’re a very wise girl you know.”

Little Clara puffed out her chest proudly. “That’s what mummy used to say!” She announced gleefully before continuing very matter of factly: “My mummy is sick. That’s why we’re here. Mummy doesn’t want me to stay in the hospital too much so Auntie Rosie is watching me. I said you looked sad so she let me come over.”

Missy glanced in the direction Clara waved, seeing a familiar blonde framed face watching them carefully. Missy raised a hand. Rose raised it in return. John’s eldest niece, daughter of his sister Sarah-Jane, had always liked Missy as a child. Back when Missy’s edges were softer and before her life fell apart under her fingers. Missy smiled sadly. Little Rosie Posie all grown up. Rose stood awkwardly, her eyes asking if she should approach. Missy inclined her head carefully. Watching. Waiting.

Rose approached her slowly, twisting her bag around her hands. Her eyes were wary.

“Auntie Is,” Rose whispered.

“Rosie,” Missy replied her voice surprisingly thick with emotions she didn’t know she could still have. She turned to Clara, the confused looking girl swivelling her head between the two women. “Clara dear, why don’t you go play with that box of k'nex a moment. I need to talk to your auntie Rosie for a moment.”

Clara regarded them suspiciously, frown set. A quick nod from Rose though, and the little girl was walking away slowly, watching the adults carefully.

“What are you doing here Auntie Is?” Rose asked quietly, sinking down into the chair, both women watching Clara.

“Would you believe me if I said I was invited?” Missy asked, rubbing her eyes. “Little miss wife wants to see me. Why, I don’t know.”

“River asked for you?” Rose asked in surprise. Missy felt a little fiendish delight that she was just River and not Auntie River. Missy nodded slowly. “Does Uncle John know?” Missy shook her head. “He’s got enough on his plate without you appearing out of the blue.”

“I know,” Missy said softly, watching Clara play, “that’s why I’m sat here. I didn’t expect anyone to see me and the w- River asked me to come for four o'clock. End of visiting hours so they wouldn’t be here. I don’t think she wanted me seeing Clara.”

‘Can you blame her?“ Rose asked, exhaustion taking the edge off the catty tone. "You left him a broken shell. River put him back together.”

But who had put Missy back together? She could trace the lines of sellotape holding the pieces of her life and her heart together. A botch job leaking emotions she had long thought suppressed. She didn’t answer Rose.

“How bad is it?” She asked quietly. Rose sat back, rubbed her forehead.

“The shadows virus moves fast. River has been lucky to have this long,” Rose paused “she isn’t going to make it through the weekend.”

Missy nodded. Dying wish to see the woman who broke your husband was certainly a new one. Missy reached into her purse, drawing out a piece of card and a pen with long fingers. Piano fingers. She scribbled her personal number in elegant letters and handed it to Rose.

“I know I have no right,” missy started. Faltered. “But if you wanted to stay in touch this time…”

Rose studied the numbers carefully. She gave no answer, curling her fingers round the card and standing up to call to Clara.

“It’s was good seeing you Rosie,” Missy said quietly, catching the blondes eye. “I’m sorry. For what it’s worth.”

“Don’t let him see you,” Rose instructed, taking Clara’s hand. She paused, opened her mouth as if to say something and then turned away instead.

Somehow that hurt more. Missy took a deep breath, gathering her things and moving towards the lift, making sure to stay out of sight in case John appeared. Silently wondering why she was even there, Missy took the lift up to the floor where on River Song, owner of the most pretentious name and wife of John Smith. She never thought she’d be here, yet here she was. And she had no idea what to expect.

Chapter Text

The matron of the ward buzzed Missy through the glass doors without asking for ID or confirmation or anything. Instead, she just pointed left down the corridor and said “Room 11”. Then she turned, and headed back down the hall.

This part of the hospital was one patients didn’t leave with breath still in their bodies. The overbearing sense that this was simply death’s waiting room permeated the air. It was stale, thick, lifeless. Not one to be put off by a bad atmosphere, Missy adjusted her coat over her arm and made her way to the left.

She paused, just before the open door to private room 11. She could see flowers, and a child’s drawing. She took a deep steadying breath, unsettled by this meeting, here, now. There was such pressure, such expectations for a deathbed visit. And Missy wasn’t sure that they would be able to talk everything through in one meeting. They both held grudges. It had been years since she’d last seen River.

Then, River had been full of life, innuendo and laughter. She teased and manipulated and hurt and loved. Now, Missy wasn’t sure what to expect. The shadow virus was nasty. It practically ate its host from the inside out, zapping their life energy slowly, painfully. Missy wasn’t sure she wanted to see what River had become. She wanted to remember River as young, driven by passion, and alive.

“Come in Misstee,” an amused, gravelly, tired voice called softly into the relative quiet of the hospital hall. Missy started. “Seriously Miss, I heard your heels and I can see your shadow. You aren’t scared of me are you?”

Ah. Challenge. It was going to be like that was it? Missy squared her shoulders in her expensive silk blouse and strode confidently into the room. The retort died on her lips as saw River for the first time in seven years.

She was thin, so thin, her nightdress hanging loose over a frame that was once enviously curvy. Her hair, her crazy impossible neverending hair that she was so unbearably smug about, hung lifeless rather than coiled, pulled back off River’s face and making her look strange, naked almost. Seeing River without her mane of hair was like seeing a priest without his collar on, it didn’t match. There were two sparkly purple grips holding an errant wisp off River’s face, the colour a stark contrast to the underlying bruised pallor of her cheeks. River smiled, her eyes crinkling, bruised hands laying her pen down, closing the blue journal into her lap.

“Speechless Mist?” River teased, her eyes duller than usual, but still defiant and confident. “I never thought I’d see that happen.”

“Well I must say my dear,” Missy feigned carelessness, draping her coat over the back of the guest chair level with River’s bed. “You’ve certainly looked better.”

“High praise indeed,” River replied wryly. “Sit down Missy.”

Missy was going to make a retort about respecting elders or something equally cautistic, but instead she sat down on the chair, leaning back and draping one elegantly clad leg over the other.

“There we go, now we can talk,” River put the blue journal on her bedside table, next to the flowers. “How was your journey?”

“Why am I here River?” Missy sighed, picking lint off her trousers.

“Can’t a girl want to see her sister before she dies?” River retorted, eyebrows raised.

“When said woman made it very clear I was to never talk to her again,” Missy challenged, pursed lips. She liked being in control of every situation, it was what made her so very good at her job. “Did make me pause grave digger.”

River snorted. Missy couldn’t help her responding smirk.

“Better not let John hear you call me that once I’ve actually died,” she chuckled, pausing to cough into a handkerchief.

“John won’t be hearing me call you anything,” Missy reminded her, kicking the side of the bed with the toe of her boots. River glared at her. “I came because you are literally standing at the edge of your own grave, looking like a corpse already. Doesn’t mean I’m staying.”

“You should,” River advised. “It’s time to come home Missy. Time to stop punishing everyone.”

“I’m not punishing anyone,” Missy replied coldly, “I know where I’m not wanted.”

“Mum and dad miss you, they don’t understand why you ever left,” River continued, “And if I have to make you promise to talk to them on my deathbed I am not above such emotional blackmail.”

“I could easily promise you to go and see them after your clogs have popped and just go back to America,” Missy reminded her, inspecting the end of her hair for splits – or at least pretending to.

“You always keep a promise, remember?” River smiled sadly, eyes far away. “Do you remember when I arrived at the group home?”

“You were five, I was ten,” Missy replied. River nodded.

“I was angry at everyone,” she continued, “Wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t eat and you just came into the cupboard I had hidden myself away in, produced a match and said that burning hurt but I’d learn to use the pain, and I’d learn to not get burnt again.”

“What did you do with that match?” Missy wondered.

“I burnt myself,” River laughed, an echo of herself. “I thought you meant it quite literally you know. I worshipped you. You and John were the royalty of our little group home.”

“What can I say,” Missy said, “You were all so easy to impress.”

“You looked out for me,” River pressed. “You taught me how to fight, how to stand up for myself-”

“How to start a fire without getting caught,” Missy added with a smirk. River chuckled.

“You were my sister before Amy and Rory arrived and adopted us both,” River said firmly, “And now, no matter what has happened, you’re still my sister Missy.”

“Amy and Rory only adopted me because you turned your big green eyes at them and told them you wouldn’t come without me,” Missy reminded her. “They didn’t want a thirteen year old kid with an arson problem. They wanted pretty little River, not me.”

“They loved you though,” River said firmly, “I couldn’t make them love you. And you stopped setting fire to people that annoyed you which helped. And, may I remind you which one of us has a rap sheet and spent their adolescence waiting for dad to bail them out?”

“I just didn’t get caught,” Missy smirked. “So is that what this is? Memory lane? Because honestly little sister, it’s not going to make me go back. The fires of hell couldn’t make me go back to Gallifrey.”

“I wouldn’t leave you behind then,” River pressed on, “Sarah-Jane was old enough to take John, and I was adopted and I would have chosen to stay in the home with you if Amy and Rory hadn’t taken you with us.”

“You always were an investment piece,” Missy mocked. River smiled sadly.

“Mock all you want firebrand,” She said gently, “I know you’ve missed me too.”

Missy had to grit her teeth to prevent herself from saying something she’d regret later. She reached up, pulled her hair out of her ponytail, letting her hair fall about her ears so she could rest her head back against the chair.

“Yeah, I missed you grave digger,” she admitted quietly. “Doesn’t mean I’m going back. Not there.”

“it’s time to come home, Missy,” River said gently, her eyes fluttering closed briefly.

“Because that will go down so well,” Missy snorted, “Honestly River I thought you were intelligent.”

“Seven years ago,” River said, her voice tired, “You appeared at my door, handed me everything, and told me to look after him. And I told you that if you left, you shouldn’t bother coming back, because losing you would break him. You left anyway.”

“You were always the better person,” Missy shrugged, were they going to drag everything that ever happened up?

“I’m second best,” River stated, in such a final way that Missy had to blink up in surprise. Her sister? Second best? Since when? “Don’t look at me like that. You know he only married me because of Clara. He was waiting for you to come home.”

“You were the one sleeping with him when I left,” Missy reminded, honestly could no-one remember facts these days? River laughed, nodding. Self-deprecation wasn’t in either of their styles. “I was leaving, you were staying. You wanted John, I wanted the world.
Seemed a fair trade to me.”

“I’m still second best,” River stated firmly, “We’d been on again and off again for years. You were always his best friend. We were never serious, John and I. Not till Clara.”

“Speaking of, she’s got balls, your brat,” Missy inserted into the conversation quite suddenly. River’s eyes snapped up. “Came over to me in the waiting room and lectured me about doing a job I love. Not sure how to get paid for arson, legally anyway, but I didn’t explain that to your seven year old.”

“Thanks,” River said dryly, “She’s very opinionated. Reminds me of someone I once knew.”

“Yeah, she reminded me of John too,” Missy snorted, shaking her head. She recalled Clara’s eyebrow raise, crossed arms and added, “Got your mannerisms down pat though grave digger.”

“She’s far more like her mother,” River said pointedly, tired eyes boring into Missy’s blue ones.

Missy scoffed, and here it was. The real reason she had traipsed halfway across the bloody country to this stupid little city forty minutes from home. The real reason River had called her, demanded to speak to her.

“I’m not her mother, River,” Missy stated firmly, “You are. We agreed that seven years ago. I just gave birth to her. I’m practically a broodmare. You couldn’t have kids, I could. You wanted them, I didn’t. I still don’t.”

“She didn’t remind you of yourself?” River asked, “Incredibly neat when John and I really can’t claim any sort of order, fantastic leader, no nonsense attitude, likes everything to be just so and for some reason loves pears.”

“All baring that last one, that could be you, or John,” Missy pointed out. There had been a lot of overlapping personality traits that had caused more than a few explosions growing up. Mostly because Missy was a little lighter happy. “You’re her mother.”

“And by Monday I’ll be dead,” River said frankly. “Seven years ago you passed me the baton because you didn’t want to have to live a mundane life and you knew that I loved John. Now it’s time for me to pass it back. John and Clara will need you.”

“You do remember the last time John and I were in a room together?” Missy felt a rant brewing. “It was the first time in years that I felt like blowing something up!”

River smirked, pressing her lips together. Missy rolled her eyes. At least some things never changed.

“Didn’t you end up blowing each other up?” She teased, “Two months later you called me and I left everything to come to Glasgow for six months to wait out the pregnancy with you.”

“If the next words out of your mouth are ‘you owe me’ I’m leaving.”

“No, of course not, I’m just saying that you and John were like vinegar and bicarbonate of soda,” she paused, taking a steadying breath, her skin paler. “You and him, you were always everything.”

“Does he know?” Missy asked suddenly.

“That you provided the genetic material for Clara, gave birth to her and then ran off to conquer corporate America?” River shook her head, “I’ve never told him, but I think he guessed. Clara really is your mini-me.”

“Poor kid,” Missy muttered, “You look tired grave digger…”

“I am,” River admitted, “But I only get one shot with you. I’m making it count. Promise me you’ll come to my funeral?”

“Why would I want to visit a pile of bones?”

“Promise me.”

Missy found herself nodding, “I promise to go to your funeral.”

“And talk to mum and dad, and John. Harry and Sarah miss you as well,” River pressed on.

“Please don’t make me promise that,” Missy stood up and turned away. River nodded sadly.

“I want you to get to know Clara,” she admitted. “She’s old enough now that you can’t set fire to her or give her away when bored, or whatever it was you said seven years ago as to why you wouldn’t make a good mother.”

“I still wouldn’t make a good mother.”

“That may be, but get to know her, please.”

Missy paused, emotions welling up inside of her, not for the little girl she’d spawned and pawned off on her sister, but for the little girl she’d found hiding in a closet. The little girl she’d fought bullies for, and helped stand on her own two feet. The little girl she’d
taught and laughed with and mocked and loved.

“I’ll try,” She promised quietly, “I can’t promise more than that River.”

“I know,” River said, holding her hand out. “I’m glad to see you Missy.”

“Me too,” Missy held back the tears as best she could, taking her sisters hand and sinking down on the bed beside her. “I’ll stay till you’re asleep, how bout that?”

River nodded, eyes already fluttering closed as Missy lowered the head of the bed. She pulled the blankets up over her sisters emancipated form.

“Love you Misty,” River slurred, over-exhausted from the visiting hours with her husband and daughter and then the lengthy conversation with Missy.

“Love you too River,” Missy said softly, watching her sister fall asleep for the last time. When River was breathing gently, Missy pressed a kiss to her forehead, gathered her belonging, and left.

Chapter Text

It was cold, the day of the funeral. Overcast. Outside the village church where the funeral was taking place, Missy lent her head against the dark wood and watched her warm breath curl into smoke in front of her. She amused herself wondering how River would take the pathetic fallacy of a cold dreary day for a funeral, half-listening to the droning of the same priest who'd denounced the sisters aged 18 and 13 for their wicked ways. The church was almost full, River having apparently mellowed with motherhood, trying harder to be normal for the sake of her daughter's acceptance.

Missy could hear snuffling, tissue packets being opened, boring old Michaels droning on about life and loss and River's love for life. People were tearing up over that crap? Missy's eyes were dry as she thought about how much River would have hated the service, how she'd have preferred a drunken party or at least a little bit of a stir. But, she;d promised. And Missy had never broken a promise, not to River, not to anyone. She avoided promises like the plague, but River had always been the one to extract the words from her lips.

She watched a squirrel run over a gravestone, up a tree. She'd had her first cigarette in this graveyard. She'd snuck an underage River booze and comforted her after a teenaged River had her heart broken. John had been on her other side, his hands bundled into his pockets apologising furiously for his gender and offering to hold Missy's bag when they saw the fucker at school the next day. River had made them promise not to hurt anyone, forced Missy to say "I promise" even. Missy just screwed with his mind instead, River had been more specific with her promises after that. This graveyard had seen fires started by Missy in a temper, had seen arguments that sent birds flying when John found out Missy wasn't planning on coming back after their graduation. This had been their space, down in the corner by the old oak, sat between gnarled roots.

Now it was just a graveyard, somewhere River's body would decay and crumble. It was a place that Missy had thought she'd never return to, a view of a village she's sworn she was through with. It was home and even she couldn't deny that seeing the uneven roof of the school (interesting afternoon spent convincing the school they really didn't need to call Amy and Rory to get River down, Missy and John had it covered if they would just let them up too!) and the overlapping houses of the village sparked a sense of loss. It also sparked that undeniable desire to run as far away from confines and restrictions and poor wifi and the same faces every single day. In New York, she could return to the same corner at the same time every single day and never see someone she recognised. Here, families and generations moved between Gallifrey and Leadworth and sometimes a little further into the Cotswolds but no-one ever went far and family relationships could be drawn on peoples faces. It was so constricting and she hated it.

She was interrupted from her musings by a hymn. A hymn? Who thought River would want a hymn sung over her boxed corpse? Honestly did any of these imbeciles know her sister? Missy knew the answer for that. Funerals weren't for the dead. They were dead, what did they care? Funerals were for the ones left behind, as full of tradition, pomp and circumstance as weddings. Grandpa was a devout churchgoer, and Mum and Dad had bought Missy and River up to be sensitive to religion, even if they thought it codswollop. This service wasn't for River, it was for those sat in the room sniffling into Kleenex. It was for John, Clara, Mum, Dad, Grandpa, Harry, Sarah, Rose... it was for them.

As the last dregs of the hymn faded into the degraded rafters and silence fell, a new voice echoed through the church hall and out of the door to where Missy rested her head against old wood. A voice that had her standing upright, turning to the gap she'd wedged into the door. A voice thick with emotion and an accent that matched her own, that matched her mum's and a remnant of their earliest childhood spent together in an orphanage in Ayrshire. She hadn't heard his voice in nearly seven years and it hit her now like a wave. She was already tender from losing River, from speaking to River, from her sister. John had the power to break her again and he didn't even know it. She thought about walking away, but his first words after thanking everyone for coming made him stop. He was the only person who understood, knew and loved River as much as Missy herself did.

"River would have hated this," He said, accent thick. Missy smiled, feeling her own stern façade start to fail. "She hated funerals. Said they were for boring people. When she started speaking to me last week about her funeral, I told her that it was ok, I knew her , and I would do my very best to throw the wildest party so that none of you could ever forget her. There was er, some talk of fireworks on the school field at one point. I was surprised when she said she wanted a traditional service. Nothing about my wife was traditional," a spatter of laughter bubbled up. "River was... River was a free spirit. She was good, and she was kind and so many of you didn't understand that. She was a fighter, a protector. I first met River when she was five. I was nearly eleven and my ... River stamped on my foot and called me an imbecile before climbing out of the window onto the roof. River... you know the only way I can describe River is to say... She was River. She was a force of nature and loved fiercely. She loved our daughter, Clara, so much. She was an amazing mother, even though you thought it strange that a five year old needed to learn martial arts."

Missy chuckled. Of course, hopefully taught the brat how to defend herself. Hopefully not in the same way she and River had had to learn.

"So, we are here today to mourn my wife, my friend, my companion, the woman who raised my child with me," he paused, Missy blinked. John was ever so clever with words and truth and the way he'd phrased the last bit made her pause. "River would hate this, and I hate that Clara will never know her mum beyond the stories that I and her grandparents tell her. River deserved the world, and before she died, she told me that she now has the universe. So, um, yeah. That's all I've got, everything else, every other emotion, or feeling or thought, those are mine. Mine and River's. Yeah. Thank you for, er, coming. Father Michaels."

By the end, his voice was thick with tears, and Missy could picture his furiously blinking them back, refusing to let other people see him cry. River deserved better than either of them. Missy blinked furiously, her own eyes glassy, and swallowed firmly. She listened to the shuffling that signalled another song, and pushed away from the door, planning on waiting out the actual burial in the woods, away from people who might see her. She'd come back later, say her own goodbyes to River. She glanced at the wedged open door, using the two inch gap to see her family briefly before she made her way away from the churchyard.

........................................................................

It was late afternoon by the time Missy was convinced there wouldn't be anyone hanging around anymore. She emerged from the treeline, glancing around, a laugh catching in her throat when she saw that River had been buried by the old oak of their childhood. She wasn't usually one for sentimentality. Neither of them were. But Missy could appreciate that. She stopped at the foot of the grave, still open and waiting to be filled, a spattering of dirt across the casket.

"Check you out grave digger," Missy murmured, attempting a smile. "Dug yourself a right pretty hole here."

She paused, half expecting River to make an equally disparaging comeback. The silence echoed back, the wind whistling in the trees. Missy felt foolish.

"I came," she said quietly, "Just like I promised. I'll try to keep the other promise but... well, no guarantees I'll be able to...look at me, talking to a wooden box and some bones."

Missy shook her head, partly to laugh at her own foolishness, partly to dispel the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. She pulled her hand out of her smart coat pocket, rubbing her thumb against the starter on the box of matches she'd bought the day before from an off-licence near her hotel. She held the box up, as if for inspection.

"Reckon you're going to need these grave digger," she smiled wetly, opening the box and stepping forward to empty them amongst the dirt and the gravel on top of the casket. "I'm going to miss you. I already did and now I know I can't ever talk to you again and um... well, guess we do have hearts, hey."

She closed the box, tucking it back into her coat pocket.

"Good luck with the stars River," Missy said softly, still feeling foolish. Still feeling as if she'd lost her sister all over again. "You deserved better than all of us. Goodnight golden girl."

Missy waited a few seconds more, listening to the wind before half-smiling, and turning to leave. She was walking round the corner of the church towards where her car was parked when she stopped up short. She thought everyone had left, but apparently not. He was older than when she'd last seen him, a little more recently than John and even Amy. He was sat on the bench overlooking the car park, where Missy's hire car sat hidden.

"Missy," he greeted quietly, not looking at her. Missy swallowed.

"Daddy," she replied finally. He turned to look at her, eyes slightly bloodshot but dry. He patted the bench beside him. Missy sat. They sat in silence, Missy not sure how to start.

"I knew you'd come," he said, quietly confident. "I've been waiting for you, I knew you'd wait till everyone had left. So... I waited."

Missy nodded, pursing her lips together more firmly.

"Your mum cried all over again when she realised you weren't in the service," he added, "But I knew you wouldn't come in. You think we all hate you."

"Don't you?" Missy cursed how her voice cracked. Rory looked at her

"You're our daughter," he said simply, "We may not understand you, but we love you."

"I'll be honest dad, it wasn't you I was avoiding," she commented wryly, swallowing firmly again, Rory nodded in understanding.

"The rest of the town don't hate you either," he reminded her, "Most of them just thought you disappeared to a big city like so many young people do these days."

"They'll know that I fell out with John and River though," Missy reminded him, "And I was always the scapegoat. People don't forgive that easily dad, people never do."

"Not their business is it?" Rory shrugged. "It's family business."

"Have you met our town?" Missy snorted, "Biggest bunch of busybodies I've ever come across! It may not be their business but you can guarantee they'll stick their nose in anyway."

Rory fell silent, pondering. Missy found herself feeling glad that of everyone who might have been waiting for her, or found her, it was dad. It was sweet, unflappable, and secure dad.

"I never pegged you to be afraid of a bit of gossip," he said finally, pushing himself up off the bench. Missy looked up at him and glared. "Don't look at me like that. River wanted you to have something. It's at home. You'll have to come if you want to get it, and lord knows you were always a curious little thing."

"That's emotional blackmail," Missy muttered. Rory snorted.

"Right up your street then," he said firmly. She flinched. "I'm not saying come to the wake Miss. I think that would be too much for the person you're trying to avoid. But home is always home, you're always welcome here. And John may rant a bit at first, but he's angry about everything, and god knows you've weathered stronger storms than John's temper. Time to come home Missy."

Rory leant forward, pressed a kiss to her forehead and smoothed the top of her hair, tied back as it was in a ponytail.

"We love you," he reminded her. "We've already lost one daughter forever, please give us hope that the other one hasn't gone too."

He nodded, put his hands in his pockets, turned and walked away, leaving Missy sat on a bench outside the church wondering what other emotional beatings she was going to have to deal with that day.

She climbed into her car, put the key in the engine and just sat there, not sure what to do, where to go. Who did you turn too when you'd made it a point to never have someone you relied upon? She turned the key in the engine, pulled out of the carpark and made her way away from the village, thinking of River and afternoons spent arguing with Amy and an adolescence spent with a household of strong personalities and Rory loving them all unconditionally through every argument, the voice of reason in a sea of tempers. She missed home. She missed her parents. Years ago she'd thought it would be easy. They were River's parents, not hers, they'd wanted River, not her. They'd always choose River over her. But... Rory had waited for her. Had said he'd been waiting. Patient Rory, always willing to wait as long as it took for tempers to cool and then willing to help, offer reason.

Later that night, after darkness had settled over the village like a damp blanket, Missy killed her engine and rested her chin on her steering wheel. Ahead of her, half hidden by an out of control bush, was the house she'd spent her teenage years in. She watched the shadows move through thin curtains, as the inhabitants settled in for the night. Home was such a funny word. It really didn't have a meaning, or a feeling. For Missy, home was something to run away from, far, far away. And she wasn't even sure if this house, with these people, was home anymore. But whatever you wanted to call it, they were safe, a safe place to be. People who'd refused to give up on a skinny little Scottish arsonist and given her a home.

The door opened, flooring the garden with light, a silhouette standing in the doorway, tall, willowy, arms crossed. Missy took a deep breath, stepped out of the car and into the light, watching as her mum's face transformed from vaguely hostile to downright shocked.

"Hi mum," Missy didn't even try to disguise the crack in her voice or the tears bubbling up. "I don't suppose ..."

Amy pushed out of the doorway, pulling Missy into her arms tightly, both shoulders getting damp. Tomorrow they could talk about seven year unexplained absences, tonight, they would grieve together, and be together without expectation or pressure.

"Oh my god Missy," Amy released Missy to look at her face, her blotchy mascara covered face, "Where the bloody hell have you been?"

Chapter Text

Missy stared at the rain tracking its way down the glass of the window, absently listening to the kettle boil and wondering what she had been thinking and what the hell was she supposed to do now? Her life was ordered, planned, designed to give the appearance of chaos, but the truth was that Missy didn't do things "just because" anymore, that was where the bad memories of her younger years resided. She'd stopped being impulsive in her twenties when she'd worked out how much damage she could do when she planned.

There were bright coloured children's toys littering the patio, and the swing had been replaced in the years she hadn't been around. The garden of grandparents - neat grass, neat hedges, sandpits and toys.

The night before, Missy had been so upset that she'd followed some strange instinct to run home, run home and spend an evening curled up between her aging parents, all three content to studiously ignore the huge fluorescent elephant in the room. Now, in the cold, harsh light of day, Missy was wondering if she shouldn't have just crept quietly into the night. But the fact of the matter was, she wasn't quite the heartless bitch everyone made her out to be. Not with her family. Everyone else could go hang of course, but she'd come back for River, and she would stay a few days with Amy and Rory. Hopefully avoid John and Clara altogether.

"You didn't plan on coming back here last night, did you?" Amy appeared in the window next to Missy, her cheeks curved where Missy's were sharp, hair a fading copper, round glasses perched permanently on her nose. Missy shook her head slowly, moving out of the window, feeling guilty at even sharing that space with her guiltless mother and towards the boiling kettle, busying herself with making tea for three.

"I wouldn't have if it weren't for dad," she said quietly to the teacups. Amy nodded, expecting the answer.

"How long are you staying this time?" Amy asked, mouth set, resignation and an absence of disapproval making Missy's stomach drop. Disapproval, disappointment she could deal with. The absence of it, the expectation that she was going to hurt them again stung more.

Missy couldn't answer. She didn't have a plan. Had done nothing more than follow some half-promise to River and ended up on her parents doorstep. She looked down, away. Amy snorted, nodded.

"Why did you leave?" Amy asked suddenly. Missy stilled. How to condense lots of things that happened into a single sentence. Why did she leave? She wasn't even sure of the answer.

"Wrong question," Missy said quietly, sliding a teacup to Amy.

"Alright then," Amy amended, "Why did you come back? Why now?"

That one Missy could answer.

"River called," She shrugged, "Asked me to come home. I promised her I'd visit one last time before she died."

"It's been nearly eight years Miss," Amy rubbed the bridge of her nose in exhaustion. It had been a stressful month, what with one daughter dying and the other returning out of the blue. "We need more than that."

"She'll tell us when she'd ready," Rory said firmly, shuffling into the room. Missy glanced up at her dad gratefully. "But," he said pointedly, "You'd better not leave here till you've told us."

"As soon as I've remembered why I left," Missy promised him, "I'll let you know."

Amy scoffed, putting her tea down firmly and turning to Missy.

"Hey, look at me," she ordered, Missy glanced up, not meeting her mum's eyes. "Eyes, Miss." Missy reluctantly dragged her eyes up. "What about John? What are we supposed to tell him?"

Missy looked away faster that she'd have thought her eyes were able to move.

"I didn't plan to ruin everyone's lives again," she snapped, pushing off the counter. "I know I do it naturally, but I really honestly didn't set out to fuck everything up."

"Language," Rory coughed. He patted the chair at the table soothingly. "Sit down Missy. We can discuss this like rational adults."

Amy snorted. Missy glared. Coming here had been a bad idea.

"You told me River had something for me," Missy directed at her dad. "I'll take it, and I'll get out of here and you'll never have to lie to John, and you'll never have to worry about me."

Amy gaped at her. "You think that's what this is about?" she asked incredulously. "Michelle Oakdean you sit your ass down and you do not move."

Missy sat down.

"Your dad and I have been worried sick about you for nearly eight years, did you really stay away that long because you thought we didn't want you? God Missy. We want our little girl back. The tiny little kid that set fires to things for fun and would fight with kids twice her size and win. We want our daughter back. That's all we've wanted, and if you want to make us choose between you and John, well tough shit we aren't going to. He is the father of our grandchild and you two will have to learn to be civil," Amy paused, and breathed deeply. Missy swallowed back tears. She didn't cry in bloody years and now she was like a leaky bloody tap.

"You need to learn to accept that there are people that care about you," Rory added, standing up and resting a hand on Missy's shoulder. "We thought we'd gotten that into your head when you were a teenager, but then you get to your thirties and pull a vanishing act, so I guess we'll have to keep reiterating it."

Amy nodded firmly "You're our daughter," she said, "And I am not letting you leave again without one helluva fight girl so I hope you're prepared for that."

Missy studied her hands in minute detail, waiting till Amy sighed and followed her husband from the room. Then she took a deep deep breath, feeling the air shudder in her chest. They still cared. After everything she had put them through they still seemed to care about her. Maybe that's what having parents really was.

A shrill, efficient noise interrupted her solitude and she nearly curse at the poor timing, rooting through her bag and clearing her throat carefully. She pulled the phone out, managing to hit the "accept" button just before it could ring off. She hurried out into the back garden, ignoring the drizzle.

"What?" she barked into the phone, somehow transforming from the little girl she wasn't into the solid, unmovable, terrifying businesswoman she was.

"Why hello to you too," The voice on the other end of the line was smooth, English, posh. She nearly ground her teeth. Of all the assholes that had to call her, of course it would be him.

"Harold," She said shortly, "I am on vacation, if you don't tell me why you're calling in three seconds I will have you struck off."

"Oh now dear, don't be so hasty," smug bastard was amused. Her mind immediately tracked to what he might know, what he might think he has on her. "A little trip back to the mother country hardly constitutes a holiday now does it?"

"Oh, and that's your time up, goodbye Harold," she taunted, waiting for him to hurriedly speak into the receiver, which he did.

"Mind games Michelle," he chuckled, "I just wanted to...check... you'd be back in time for the Cybernetics merger. I wanted the best and that's you my love."

"That's two weeks away," she said in a carefully designed way that made her sound completely bored and above the conversation. Which she was. "Why are you interrupting my vacation to remind me of a takeover not happening for two weeks."

"I just wanted to check our...agreement," the bastard chuckled, "Was still in place. Wouldn't want you getting cold feet after all."

"Have you heard of the Mistress of Evil?" Missy snorted into the device. "She's about to hang up on you for being a mindless imbecile."

"Oh darling, you wound me," she could picture the smug look on his stupid face.

"Darling, I'm going to call you next time you and the trophy are on holiday, let's see how you like it," Missy said drily. "I've got to go, my fish and chips are arriving. The mother country wants to remind you to never set foot here again by the way."

"Enjoy then," Harold Saxon said and she could hear the smirk on his face, "I'm looking forward to the takeover."

"Me too," Missy chuckled, aware of how deranged and sinister she must sound, "Oh, it's going to be spectacular darling, you don't need to worry about a thing."

Then she hung up, took a deep breath, and removed the battery from her phone. He'd probably try to trace it, if he hadn't already. Falling in with Harold Saxon had never been a good idea, but it was exciting and now, after three years, she finally had him right where she needed him, and she'd had to come home to bloody Gloucestershire. With the bloody sheep. She took another deep breath and let herself back into the house, throwing her phone down on the table. She could hear something in the hall, too far away to make out anything other than the general hum. She always felt like punching someone after talking to Harold, but after the few days she'd had, she would happily take a lighter to the gymnasium again.

She frowned, wondering if her parents were talking about her behind her back and if she should eavesdrop or just surprise them outright. Her hand rested on the door handle, and without really thinking, she let herself into the room. Silence fell instantly and Missy stopped as if she'd been punched. Honestly she should have expected this really, the way her day had been going.

"I know you!" A little voice cried, and Missy forced her eyes down to the little girl that had jumped up on her entrance. "You were at the hospital the other day."

"I was," Missy confirmed, smiling awkwardly at the girl. Oh Clara, she thought, you've dropped me in it this time. She glanced up again as Clara continued babbling on.

"Clara," John's voice was low, gruff, angry, "Get away from that woman."

Clara stopped, frowning over to her father. He glared at Missy, big eyebrows glaring at her. Missy tilted her chin up in challenge. He glowered some more, reaching to pull Clara towards him. The little girl twisted away.

"But daddy, who is she?"

Ooh, how would he answer that?

"That's Missy," Amy supplied from where she was poised ready to intervene if necessary, one hand resting firmly on John's shoulder. "She's your mum's big sister."

"I thought Auntie Missy was a dragon," The girl said, turning big brown eyes onto Missy again. A dragon? Really? "Are you really Auntie Missy? Mummy said you had to be the dragon because you were big and scary and would protect what's yours and that you breath fire to keep people away but to beat you, you just need a big hug and ..."

The little girl latched onto Missy's legs. Missy had to focus very hard on not recoiling in shock at unsolicited human contact after so long. She was fairly sure she'd reached her quota and exceeded it. Her eyes were wide, she was still holding onto the damn doorframe, she could feel John's eyes burning her skin, and she wasn't entirely sure how to extract herself from the arms of the spawn. She made a few noises, patted Clara awkwardly on the head. Honestly, River thought she'd be adequate at this? Missy glanced up, eyes pleading to Amy, Rory, hell even John. Well, John looked like he'd gladly jump up and haul Clara away from her. Please, please John do that.

"Um, thank you..." Missy said hesitantly, patting Clara awkwardly on the head. "Um, perhaps you could let go now, and I'll er... free the ...princess from the... er... tower." That's what dragons guard right? Clara giggled, thankfully releasing Missy's knees.

"You're funny," she announced, a wide grin. Missy examined the girl briefly, noting the matching clothes and shoes but the mess of a ponytail. Huh, maybe this was her spawn after all. Still, she didn't feel anything but the need to bundle it back to John.

"Amy," John's voiced was strained, even. Missy looked at him. He was coiled up, ready to go off, the only thing keeping him in his chair the hand on his shoulder and probably the fact he shouldn't hit his sister-in-law in front of his daughter. Missy was excellent at giving a calm, impersonal façade when inside she was screaming and honestly she wanted Clara out of there too. Preferably all of them. Preferably long enough to grab her bag and get back to civilisation. John's knuckles were white against his knees. "Amy can you please take Clara to the park?"

"No chance," Amy snorted. The unspoken premise was 'if you two think I'm leaving you alone you've got another thing coming.' Missy was grateful. She also wanted her parents out so they couldn't see how bad an argument between John and herself could actually get.

"Backyard perhaps," Rory said quietly, indicating the patio doors leading out through the living room. "Come on Clara, Amy. These two don't need an audience."

Clara frowned up at her dad, her head swivelling between the two scots having a blue-eyed staring contest over her head. She walked over to her grandfather hesitantly, stopped at her dad's knee. She tapped it sharply, pointing up at him.

"Be nice," she ordered, "No grumpy scotsman."

He blinked, releasing Missy from the almost painful stare. He looked down, relaxing enough to smile at her, and press a kiss to her forehead.

"I'll try my best," he smiled, "You go out and play with your gran, ok?"

Clara nodded, glancing back at Missy before running outside.

"You need anything," Amy directed at Missy, "You call for us ok?"

Missy nodded, loosening her grip on the door as Amy released John's shoulder.

"Both of you," She added. She turned to leave, before stopping, turning back, "You just need to be civil," She reminded them. "That's all any of us want. For River's sake if not your own."

Then she slid the patio door closed. Missy stepped forward enough to lean heavily against the open door, letting it fall shut against her back. And for the first time in seven years and ten months, Missy and John were left alone.

Chapter Text

Honestly, the silence was deafening. Seconds ticked into minutes, echoing in the stony, tense atmosphere of the room. Missy ground her teeth, leaning against the door, arms wrapped around her waist and just waiting for him to say something explosive. For his part, John seemed as if he couldn't decide which incendiary thing to say first, which was new. Actually, no, not too new, he always used to find it hard to start important conversations. Of course, once he started he wouldn't stop and they would both say things they regretted, but for now, the silence was audible.

Missy didn't want to be the one to speak first. Then again, if they wanted to get some shouting out of the way before mum and dad came in to check, she'd probably have to.

"What are you doing here?" John ground out, his eyebrows quivering, eyes stormy grey. She'd once loved seeing his eyes that colour, it meant he was passionate about something.

"Very imaginative," Missy quipped, almost instinctively, "Of all the things you could have said that are decidedly less polite, and you settle on 'what are you doing here', honestly man you used to be much more fun than this."

"We aren't here for fun," He replied through gritted teeth, his fists white on his knees. He was restraining himself. Missy wondered if she should feel afraid, but she knew, she just knew that no matter how angry he got at her, John would never, ever hurt her. It was one of the few things in her universe that had been evermore. "Why are you here."

"Visiting my parents," Missy answered promptly, still lounging against the door. "I don't think that's illegal."

John breathed deeply through his nose, a calming breath. He was probably counting to ten like their anger management idiot had instructed. He pushed himself up suddenly, hand raking through curly grey locks in such a familiar motion that Missy's breath caught in her throat. It was painfully familiar.

"Why now?" he barked. Missy shrugged nonchalantly, about to make a smart response, before remembering her promise to River. To talk not antagonise.

"River phoned when she got sick," Missy admitted to her nails, "Left a message. Asked me to come by to the hospital. Wanted to talk. Deathbed wishes. Apparently it's bad luck to ignore one. So I went."

John paused, half turned back. Missy pushed off the door, matching his pendulum motion on the other side of the room.

"Nice speech at the funeral," She added, off-handedly. "You were right, River would have hated that crap."

She could almost hear him stop, turn, even though she was facing away from him.

"You saw her in the hospital," He stated. Missy nodded, examining a picture on the wall from her graduation day, Missy in a cap and gown, River smiling next to her, John holding his cap and frowning at his gown. That had been a good day.

"Yeah," Missy drawled, "Met Clara that day. She had a few "my daddy says" for me about employment and being childish. I didn't tell her that I knew exactly what you would have said I just didn't care."

"Oh," He replied sarcastically, "thank you so much for that. What did River say?"

"The usual," Missy shrugged, "Promise you'll come to my yawneral, promise you'll talk to mum and dad... promise you'll talk to John."

There was a beat of silence, Missy stroking the leaves of her mothers wilting begonias.

"Did you?" he said quietly. Missy stopped.

"Did I what?" She didn't turn around.

"Promise."

Missy thought about lying, about making it seem like she was there out of obligation. She was, partly. But maybe River was right, maybe it was time to stop punishing herself and the people who'd once meant everything to her. After the Cybernetics merger and Harold Saxon were through.

"Don't lie," he warned, Missy heard his tread towards her on the carpet. "Did you promise?"

"I said I'd try," Missy said, clearing her throat, glad she was turned away so he couldn't see the tears in her eyes. "I promised I'd try because I couldn't guarantee you would listen."

Silence, again.

"You're the one who left," John growled, his earlier anger returning, but less than before. This was a simmer, not a full blown boil. More intense but less dramatic. Missy huffed, he wanted to talk about that now? In her parents living room. She span round to face him, registering the startled look oh his face as she stepped towards him, into his personal space. Missy had once been the only person allowed in his space. Now she wasn't sure. But it would unsettle him and she needed the upper hand.

"What reason did I have to stay?" she asked archly. "We don't need to talk about that to be civil. That's conversation three at least."

"Oh, you're planning on sticking around long enough for three conversations?" John raised an eyebrow, feigning shock. "Who knew."

"Don't be a dick," Missy muttered, "It doesn't suit you."

"Being a bitch certainly suits you," He muttered back. They moved away from each other, mirrors. "Fine. Civil. Apparently. Why are you back?"

"River asked me," Missy replied promptly, "And I miss my parents."

And him. And their friends. Not that she'd ever tell him that.

"What about Clara?" He asked.

"What about her?" Missy glanced out to the garden, catching Amy standing in view of the patio while dad played with Clara on the swing. John examined her face closely, she glared back.

"Nevermind," he dismissed it with a wave of his hand and Missy felt her heartrate settle. They definitely weren't ready for that conversation. "Where've you been? Why come back? Why not just bloody call. Bloody hell, it's been eight years, and now you turn up the day after my wife's funeral-"

"My sister," Missy interjected fiercely. "She was my sister long before she became your little wife."

He stared at her, slightly open mouthed. Missy turned to pace again. He barked a laugh.

"Is that what the radio silence was all about?" he asked incredulously, "Because I married River?"

"Don't be daft, dear, it doesn't suit you," Missy snapped, turning back around. "I'd gone long before that."

"You haven't answered the where or the why yet," John snapped back, "I mean, heaven forbid we try to have a goddam conversation here."

"A conversation?" Missy laughed "This isn't a conversation. Never has been. It's been you telling me what I should do to be good, when you know what, you should've just been happy for me."

"You can't be serious!" his eyebrows disappeared into his hair. "You come home after being living in London as someone's goddam Mistress for a bloody year, only to announce you're moving to America to be some goddam corporate suit. I wasn't telling you what you should or shouldn't do, I was asking 'what the fuck are you thinking' like a good friend is supposed to! Why the hell would you want to be a suit?"

"Oh, I don't know," Missy feigned thinking about it, her blood boiling, "Maybe because it is a job more inclined to prosperity than you're stupid plan to save the bloody planet."

"Stop the BS you just wanted the power," he hissed, stepping forward. Missy matched him toe for toe.

"And doesn't that frighten you?" she taunted.

"Never has," he answered, "Until you up and leave me with a dear bloody John on my pillow."

"Couldn't resist," she said. They were practically heaving chest to heaving chest. "Now that we've got that out of the way. Can we be civil?"

"Civil?" he asked incredulously. "What does that mean?"

"It means that you and I," Missy smoothed down the lapels to John's jacket. He squirmed under her touch. "Can be in polite company without ripping each other's throats out. Just whenever we have to be in the vicinity which shouldn't be that often, I have to go back to work at the end of the week."

"A week?" he raised his eyebrows. "You're here for a whole week?"

"Then occasional visits I suppose, to see mum and dad," she informed him, watching as he stepped back just enough for a wedge of space between them. He'd always cracked first. "So hardly any time to have to be civil."

He surveyed her with grey eyes, grey eyes returning to blue.

"I don't trust you," he warned, "Not sure I'm going to trust you again." It was as much concession as they were going to achieve that day.

Missy shrugged, moving past him, making sure to deliberately brush his side with her own.

"Shame," she said moving towards the back door. "I missed you John."

She was opening the back door, giving a nod to mum and a wave to Clara, when she heard the quiet admission, "Missed you too Missy."

And she wanted nothing more than to curl up and cry, but instead she plastered on a smile and greeted Clara warmly, knowing that John's eyes were fixed on her back.

"No promises," she warned mum as they entered, "I mean, we've got years of stuff to sort through, but, John and I have agreed to be civil."

"Have you?" Amy looked suspiciously from John to Missy. "Because it still feels like the artic in here."

"Well then John," Missy turned back dramatically, making Clara giggle. She faltered, frowning at the child and wondering what was so amusing. She shook her head, back on track to her original thought, "We're doing better if we're in the arctic now, a few minutes ago it was the eye of a tropical storm!"

"Missy," John growled in warning. Amy nodded, accepting that this was probably as good as it was going to get. Missy poked her tongue out at John, he glowered in return. Rory sighed, muttering about putting the kettle on and getting Clara a biscuit. John caught the last statement, turning round and gesturing wildly at Rory. "No biscuit! It's not lunchtime yet, you'll er spoil her lunch."

"It's ten o'clock John," Missy replied wryly, settling herself down in the armchair delicately, "A single digestive isn't going to spoil her appetite. She can run it off in the back garden."

He span around to her again, eyes flashing.

"You don't get to turn up after seven years and decide to start being a parent," he shot at her. Missy froze. Amy and Rory glanced between them. John must've re-said it in his head because he went pale (always impressive for his pasty Scottish skin), mouth flapping as he struggled to take back the words he'd thrown carelessly into the air.

Missy sighed, watching her parents confusion, before looking down at Clara studying them all thoughtfully. She wouldn't understand what had been said, but she knew it was something bad. Clever kid. Definitely got that from her and not John. Although, he was pretty smart when he wanted to be.

"Phone," She instructed, "Call Rose to pick Clara up. Apparently John and I have got more to talk about."

Chapter Text

“No,” John insisted, waving his hands in front of his face in some sort of protective gesture probably. “No, Missy and I do not need to talk. I didn’t mean it how it sounded, I just meant – er”

“John,” Amy said cautiously, “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” John said louder, “I just meant that Clara doesn’t know Missy, as her aunt, so Missy can’t be telling me how to er parent my child, mine and River’s, er-”

“Stop before you hurt yourself,” Missy cut in, eyebrow raised. He glanced at her and looked away as if burnt.

“Clara and I will be going now,” he announced, holding his hand out to Clara. The little girl stood up carefully, silent in the palpable tension in the room. “Clara, come on sweetheart, time to go.”

“John,” Amy warned.

“No,” He said firmly, “This is not a conversation I want to have in the presence of my in-laws the day after we buried River.”

“Not a conversation I want to have ever,” Missy muttered. John glared at her. “You were the one who bought it up,” she added defensively. John huffed, turned away. Missy rose from her chair, crossing her arms across her chest and titling her chin up.

“Not. Happening,” John muttered firmly, rubbing his forehead, eyes closed. He turned back around, holding his hands out, palms up towards Amy and Rory. “I only came because River said you had something for me, instead I’ve had arguments and god knows what else.”

Missy felt something nudge her leg. She looked down, Clara’s big brown eyes holding a hand up expectantly, Missy disentangled an arm, letting it drop down onto the girl’s soft hair. Clara smiled, reaching to hold onto Missy’s hand and then just standing together, on the edge, watching.

“We don’t have anything for you,” Rory said slowly, his eyes tracing between Missy and Clara, over shared facial features. Missy had to turn her face away, towards John, a burning sensation she didn’t recognise in her chest. She was embarrassed that her parents had to find out like this. They were never meant to. Or they were meant to already know, Missy wasn’t sure which anymore. “We have a package for Missy,” he added thoughtfully, “But River said we weren’t allowed to give it to her straight away, she needed to be home a little first.”

Of course she bloody well did, meddler. Oh, River wouldn’t….would she? No, scratch that, River would.

“What did the letter say,” Missy asked, “Exactly, wording excetera.”

If there was a package or a note or something waiting for him here, Missy had a sneaking suspicion she knew exactly what it was. What her conniving, sneaking, meddling little sister had done.

John’s ears turned a little pink at Missy’s voice, but he dug around in the pockets of his jacket and hoodie anyway, until he pulled out a slightly crumpled letter. He unfolded it quickly, eyes scanning the text.

“Er,” he frowned at the page, clearing his throat and reading aloud, “Hello sweetie, I’ve gone now, and that’s the end of that. Don’t be upset, or at least, try not to let it consume you. Promise you won’t be alone, promise you’ll remember that Clara has lost me, she doesn’t need to lose you too. Remember there are people that love you dearly, and who want to help. Let them, foolish man, you aren’t a superhero or a god no matter what you think.” He paused, shuffled embarrassed, before continuing.

“Tell Clara the good stories, and the bad. Tell her that dragons need saving and sometimes princes aren’t what they seem. I found something we lost a long time ago. It should be at my parents, but you’ll have to ask them quickly because I’m not sure it’ll stay for long. I found something that has been missing for a while now, but move quickly my love, or you’ll lose it again. Please forgive me, and if you can’t forget, at least move on. Anger has caused you so much pain, maybe give forgiveness a shot. Be happy, John. Please, be happy. I love you, always have. Goodbye sweetie, River.”

He cleared his throat, everyone ignoring the tears building up in his eyes. Missy closed her own. Oh River, she thought wryly, you just can’t leave alone.

“Well,” John turned to a point a little left of Missy’s shoulder. Missy huffed out a chuckle. Of course River knew. River knew she’d run home after the funeral, and sent John there to make sure Missy kept her half promise to try. Amy and Rory glanced at each other uncomfortably, shuffling. She’d forgotten they were there. Her parents witnessing the biggest screwed up mess of a family in the south west.

“It’s me,” Missy said frankly, not looking at John properly. “River sent you to find me.”

John’s eyes flickered down to River’s shaky handwriting, understanding dawning.

“Something lost, missing, forgiveness, accept help, be happy,” Missy listed dully, “River didn’t want to give me the option not to try.”

“Of course she did,” John said softly, fingers tracing the sign off at the end. “She wanted us to stop fighting.”

“I guess so,” Missy replied, using her free hand to rub her temple. “She was always good at working out what people were going to do… better than we were at any length.”

“Truce?” he asked the paper.

“For her?” Missy was talking about River, but it could also refer to the girl currently pressing a pale cheek against her hand. It was quite uncomfortable. She wanted her hand back. “Truce.”

John nodded, carefully folding the letter back and slowly putting it back into his pocket. He turned towards Missy, his eyes fixing on how Clara had decided to stand next to Missy, holding onto her hand. His eyes flickered up. Missy shrugged, honestly it was his spawn, how was she supposed to understand it?

“Come on Clara,” He held his hand out. Clara let go of Missy’s instantly, moving across the room to take his hand. “We’re er going to be off now, leave you some time with Missy before she goes back to America.”

“You live in Merica?” Clara turned back to Missy, eyes shining in excitement. Missy nodded carefully, wrongfooted by the display of childish excitement. “Have you met the President?”

“Have you met the Queen?” Missy returned, eyebrow raised. Clara shook her head. “I haven’t met her either, nor the President. Not sure I want to. He’s a lunatic with a finger on a nuclear trigger.”

President Wotsit was generally quite out and proud about how much of a louse he was. Missy didn’t want to sully her hands with any of that. He probably wouldn’t be all that bothered by the type of pressure she preferred.

“She’s seven,” John reminded her with a weary sigh, like he knew he was probably going to have to remind her again. “We are off now though. Say goodbye Clara.”

“You’ll come back though,” Amy checked, bending down to kiss Clara.

“Yes,” John sighed, “Missy and I have a lot to work through, but not now. It’s been a helluva week, and I just want to spend some time with my daughter.”

Clara stopped in front of Missy. Hesitantly, Missy copied her mother’s earlier actions, crouching down and letting the child wrap arms around her neck. Honestly, were all seven year olds that small or had Clara inherited Missy’s stature over John’s?
She’d need other children as a reference point for that.

“It was nice to meet you,” Clara said politely with a gappy smile when she let go.

“It was nice to meet you too,” Missy said softly, realising how true it was. It was good, knowing that Clara’d had the happy and safe childhood Missy and River had been largely denied until adolescence. Clara smiled wider, and then promptly turned and ran back to her dad.

“Daddy,” Clara tugged on his hand. “Did you bring my park bag?”

John crouched down with a small groan, “No poppet, I didn’t, but we can still go to the park.”

“No we can’t!” Clara looked horrified. Missy looked to Amy and Rory for some clarification as to what was going on, but they just looked mildly amused. “These aren’t park clothes daddy!”

“You were playing in the garden with Grampy not ten minutes ago,” John said, “You can wear those to the park.”

“No,” Clara looked like she was horrified at the very thought. “No daddy these aren’t park clothes.”

“She’s awfully particular about what clothes she wears where,” Missy muttered.

“Whose fault is that?” John replied without missing a beat. Missy conceded his point, sitting down again. That was an interesting case for nature verses nurture there. “Ok, we can’t go to the park then. We can go for a walk. Those are walking shoes.”
Clara studied her feet for a moment, before nodding slowly.

“Can we go see if Kate and Osgood are back from Versity?” She asked.

“University,” Missy corrected absently, not realising she had said anything until Clara repeated the word and John shifted to glare at her. She mouthed an apology.

“We can go see, ankle biter,” John stood up, joints popping. “We might be able to go see Uncle Alistair and Aunt Liz after school finishes as well. That ok?”

Clara nodded, grinning.

“Right,” john said awkwardly, waving his hand slightly, “See you all later.”

“Bye Clara,” Missy waved at the little girl (seriously, was it normal to be that small at her age?). “I’ll speak to you later John.”

“Can’t wait,” he muttered dryly. Missy snorted. Nor could she. She’d get a bottle of whisky for them to share. Second thoughts, probably not a good idea as a bottle of whisky turned into Clara.

Amy and Rory waited before John and Clara had closed the door before they turned to Missy expectantly.

“Explain,” Amy demanded, hands on hips, eyes fiery.

“I’m inclined to agree with your mum,” Rory added, “I was happy to wait for you to be ready to speak, but right now, you need to explain.”

“Fine,” Missy huffed, “Long story short, John and I had sex. About eight years ago. Nine months later Clara was born in Glasgow. Two months after that, River came back here plus baby, I went to America minus baby and I suppose you can fill the rest in?”

Amy sat down.

“You’re Clara’s mum?” She asked faintly. Missy frowned at them, they really had no idea? The way River had been speaking, it was completely obvious that Clara was Missy’s progeny. Apparently not.

“Why is everyone having such trouble with this?” Missy complained, “I am not Clara’s mum or mother, River is. River is the one who loved her in the way you loved us. That makes River Clara’s mum. I’m her birth mother, yes. But we wanted it to be a secret adoption if you will. No-one was supposed to know.”

“John knew,” Rory pointed out.

“River wasn’t sure if he did,” Missy admitted, “She thought he might but he never asked and she never said.”

“She never told us,” Amy said faintly.

“She never told anyone,” Rory reminded her. Missy hadn’t wanted to make them upset with River.

“I never told anyone,” Missy reminded both of them. “It was our secret, mine and River’s. And River said if I ran, I wasn’t going to be welcome back, but I did it anyway.”

Two pairs of startled eyes focussed on Missy.

“River wanted me to tell John from the start,” Missy confessed, “She wanted me to tell him, and then if I didn’t want to be a family then she’d help him raise her. I said it would be better if John thought he’d knocked you up. River wanted kids, and I didn’t. It was as simple as that. River is her mum.”

“And now?” Rory asked quietly, studying Missy’s face. “What are you now?”

“I suppose I’m Clara’s aunt,” Missy summarised. “I’m certainly not a mother and I never was one.”

“Why didn’t River tell us?” Amy asked quietly. “Didn’t she trust us?”

“I’m not River,” Missy replied with a sigh, “I can’t tell you why she did or didn’t do anything. I just stayed away.”

“Clara is your daughter,” Amy repeated faintly. “River lied to us for eight years.”

“Seven,” Missy corrected. “And she’s not my daughter. She’s theirs.”

“But she is,” Rory commented quietly, Missy looked up at him. “She is yours and you can feel it even though you really have no idea what to do with kids. You just don’t know how to deal with it so you’re still running.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Missy stated firmly, standing up. “Right, enough soul-destroying conversation for one day. River didn’t want to hurt you. I don’t know why she didn’t tell you. You know now. Sorry. I’m going back to my hotel.”

“You aren’t staying?” Amy came out of her shock to confront Missy.

“Yes, I’m staying,” Missy huffed, “I’m going to cancel the rest of my reservation and get my things from Gloucester. We all need a bit of time I think. I know I certainly do.”

And with that, Missy swiped her bag from the kitchen, her keys from the hall and let herself out, hoping that the drive calmed her down and she would be able to have another emotionally draining conversation with her parents later that day.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Missy snuck out before her parents were even awake, her favourite low heeled boots on, dark designer jeans and a purple blouse that made her look scary and efficient and matched. Her parents lived on the edge of Leadworth, a tiny little village with barely more than a post office and a duck pond. But over a stile and across the field was Gallifrey, nestled in the valley. Gallifrey was the closest thing to a town they had, although it was technically still a village. The absence of an Abbey saw to that.

It was a route Missy had taken many, many times, the deviations as fresh in her memory as if she’d struck out down the path just yesterday. She meandered Leadworth for a while, before heading towards Gallifrey. Often, the locals didn’t discern between the two. Leadworth was just a part of Gallifrey, and it probably would be some day if they decided to build on the Plain.

She didn’t have a plan. Her plan for this fine Saturday was simply to see her old home, to wander nostalgia. Also, perhaps, to let everyone know without a shadow of a doubt, that she was back. It would take one person on the gossip tree to see her and the entire town would know by the time she crossed the stream into Gallifrey.

The central hub of Gallifrey was a green square with a bandstand and a bustling high square rather than a high street. There was a cottage hospital, there was a secondary school and four primary schools that fed into it. It had been boring growing up. Now it was just quiet, even on the first Saturday of the school holidays.

Missy wandered slowly, idly wondering where John lived in Gallifrey, or if he lived in Leadworth instead. What school did Clara go to? Did River work in Gloucester or with John at the Pryordian Research Institute some five minutes drive from town.

“It’s true then,” A voice called out from the doorway of a café. “Michelle Oakdean has returned to Gallifrey.”

Missy smirked. It had begun. She turned around, smirking coyly at the green-haired woman lounging against glass.

“Vastra,” Missy greeted.

“Missy,” Vastra returned, her thumb hooked through the belt look of her ripped jeans. “You look like a suit.”

“And you’re still a hippy, I thought you joined the police?” Missy responded, arching an eyebrow and letting her eyes sweep over Vastra appreciatively. “How’s your stupid brother?”

“Still stupid,” Vastra replied promptly. “It’s been quiet here, without you stirring up trouble.”

“Oh darling,” Missy chuckled, “It’s not me that stopped the crime rate, it’s you turning black and blue.”

Vastra scrunched her nose up, but didn’t move to correct her. It was probably true. If Missy had been one terror, Vastra had shocked the town with her bright green hair, her piercings, her drugs, her lesbianism. Missy was a background nuisance,
Vastra offended them on many levels.

“How’s Jen doing?” Missy peered into the café, half expecting to see the tiny cockney brunette that had simply appeared at Vastra’s side one day in the nineties and simply never left. Missy liked Jen, she was calm where Vastra was wild and the pair of them together were simply amusing.

“Glad the holidays have started,” Vastra smiled fondly, her smile faded, her face hardening. Missy wondered if she was going to get the first scolding of the day. “You back for good now?”

“Just visiting,” Missy replied, “Came to see River, my parents…”

Vastra studied her shrewdly. Missy raised an eyebrow in challenge. Vastra let it go.

“Jen and I will be in the Citadel by seven I expect, if you happen to be free and not winding up certain other Scots in the town.”

“There are more Scots?” Missy gasped dramatically, looking around. “Where!”

Vastra didn’t laugh, rolling her eyes instead.

“It’s good to see you Missy,” Vastra admitted, “It’s been quiet here with you gone and River being a parent. The teenagers aren’t nearly as inventive as we were in the eighties and nineties.”

“Kids eh?” Missy chuckled, turning to continue her progress down the square. “Say hi to Jen from me Vas.”

“Say hi to John from me Miss,” Vastra countered.

“Will do,” Missy sang, waving absently as Vastra disappeared back into the café.

It was a pretty village, with pretty storefronts that fitted in with the “aesthetic”, everything the village and surrounding farms could need so they didn’t have to go to Gloucester, some forty minutes by car or longer by the one bus that looped round occasionally. Some of the shops were new, the old cookery shop now a women’s clothes store catering to the practical rather than the designers Missy usually favoured.

She was examining the fudge in the window of the “Olde Sweet Shoppe” when she felt someone come up behind her.

“You’ve got some nerve, showing up after all this time,” A very familiar voice said behind her. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”

“Oh Alistair,” Missy drawled, turning around, “I’ve never explained anything to you and I’m not going to start now,” She blew the older man a kiss. “You went grey.”

“And you’re still an annoying little so and so,” He informed her curtly. Missy curtseyed dramatically.

“Liz not with you?” She asked, peering round, “Is she showing your greys up with that amazing red of hers?”

Alistair grunted but didn’t say anything. He simply studied her critically.

“Are you going to ask me where I’ve been and why I’m back?” Missy asked, titling her head, studying him. Alistair had been one of John’s best friends growing up, and they’d always gotten along well. Except where Missy had never encountered a rule she hadn’t tried to break, Alistair would be informing her of the letter of it. John was some sort of neutral chaos set between them.

“No, that’s your business,” he said frankly. “I was just wondering what you’re planning.”

“Would you believe me if I said I wasn’t planning anything?” Missy retorted. He snorted.

“You’re forgetting how well I knew you,” he said in amusement, “You were always the one with a plan and dragging us into trouble. Of course, John got into all sorts of trouble without you, but we always seemed to be chasing you. No-one comes close to that brain of yours.”

“Of course no one does,” Missy replied archly. Alistair nodded, smiled.

“Are you back for good?” He asked suddenly, “That’s all I want to know. Your little disappearance act hurt a lot of people and if you’re going to hurt them again I’d like you to leave now.”

“That’s my business,” she reminded him.

“No, this is mine,” he said, “I was the one who had to pick up the pieces after you disappeared.”

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. She owed Alistair that much. “I haven’t got a plan Alistair.”

He surveyed her. Nodded. “I’m going to be keeping an eye on you,” he warned her.

“You and every other person in this village,” Missy rolled her eyes, falling into step beside him as they crossed to the green. “Did I pass the test?”

“I suppose so,” Alistair commented absently, lifting a hand in greeting.

“Liz,” Missy greeted the ginger haired woman with a wave. Liz had arrived at the Institute and had been a good friend before Missy had disappeared. She’d forgotten that. Liz had moved in with Alistair when Kate was eleven, after a good five years of bickering fiercely from the moment Alistair moved back to Gallifrey, a five-year-old in tow and a collapsed marriage.

“Sarah-Jane,” John’s older sister, the one who’d come to get him from the orphanage when she was old enough, who’d tried to take Missy too but wasn’t allowed. She’d spent as much time in Sarah and Harry’s house growing up as she had in her own. “Harry.”

There was a beat of silence, Sarah-Jane seeming to be caught between two thoughts.

“I won’t automatically assume you’ve forgiven me if you hug me,” Missy finally said. “I’ll promise to assume you’re still angry at me for disappearing like everyone else.”

Sarah chuckled, before pulling Missy in for a firm hug that smelt of newspaper. After a few seconds, she pulled away, stepping back next to Harry.

“I’m really quite mad at you,” Sarah-Jane informed her sternly. The group descended into awkward giggles and then conversations about people Missy had known, marriages that had taken place and children that had been born.
In the midst of this conversation, Missy noticed a strange noise, a sort of phkut vwoorp. A very distinct noise. Missy peered round Sarah, frowning as a familiar blue car turned onto the Square. She frowned, watching the car’s progress, growing more certain as it turned the corner onto the stretch she and the Gordon-Stewarts and the Sullivan-Smith’s were standing. She had completely tuned out of the conversation.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said incredulously when she’d confirmed that yes, the car was the one she was thinking of, and yes, John was driving. “He hasn’t traded that pile of bolts in yet?”

“Of course not,” Sarah-Jane chuckled, “He’d never part with it. He and River have a sensible car as well, but there was no way he is ever going to trade in his TARDIS.”

“It’s retro,” Harry added teasingly.

“How’s he been keeping it going without me?” Missy studied the car, eyes narrowing. The car must’ve heard her, for it spluttered, made a loud noise and stopped in the middle of the road.

“He hasn’t,” Alistair commented wryly. Missy huffed, striding off towards the car, just as John was clambering out, cursing the car under his breath.

“This ought to be good,” Alistair chuckled to the other adults assembled. They settled in to watch.

Clearly, John breaking down on square was common enough that the car was barely two steps from the curb and other drivers were simply going round without offering assistance. John had his bum in the air, unbuckling Clara from the side seat when Missy arrived at the car. She opened the door, stuck her head in, popped the hood and was propping the hood up before John could offer any sort of resistance.

“No, no what are you doing here?” he complained, setting Clara up on the green and pointing her off to where Kate, Rosie and two unfamiliar faces had joined Alistair, Liz, Sarah and Harry. They were just standing, watching.

Missy dismissed him with a wave of her hand, examining the interior of the engine with a furrowed brow. John appeared beside her, trying to nudge her out of the way.

“What the hell have you done to my car?” Missy asked him incredulously, looking into the engine without caring about what it did to her coat. The poor engine was cobbled together and held together by electric tape and random other things. “Is that a whisk?!”

“It’s my car,” John insisted, “I can fix her. Go away.”

“Not bloody likely, go get your tools out,” Missy ordered, pulling a handkerchief out of her handbag and reaching in to check the oil levels.

John sighed, and went around to the back of the car, pulling out a box. Missy noticed something dislodged through the mess that was the pipes of the 1950’s car that they’d restored together. Missy rolled her sleeves up, muttering obscenities
under her breath. What had he done to the car? John appeared around the edge of the car, dropping the box down at her feet, grumbling.

“I’ve been gone eight years, what have you done to her?” Missy demanded of him, poking him in the chest.

“It’s my car,” John reminded her, grumbling, “I fixed her when she went wrong.”

“With what, brown paper and vinegar?” Missy huffed, her head back under the hood.

“Don’t do that,” John sighed, leaning against the front of the car. “You’ll ruin your coat.”

“You ruined my car,” Missy’s voice was muffled. Honestly, just because she wasn’t around didn’t mean he had to abuse the poor car so! He was such a tinkerer, he didn’t have nearly the focus to be an engineer.

“My car,” John repeated half-heartedly. “How’s she looking?”

“Like you’ve mangled her insides and I’m going to spend hours trying to go round these random things you’ve added,” she muttered. She focussed her energy and twisted sharply. The engine clanked and fell silent. Missy pulled her head out. “Try her now.”

John glanced into the engine, but went to the drivers without complaint.

“Hands free?” He called over the top. Missy waved both her hands over the top of the hood, then stood, wiping her hands on the handkerchief as the engine to spluttered to life.

“Should be enough to get you home,” Missy informed him, slamming the hood down and patting the top. “But I’ll be round to do a proper service y’hear? Stop putting things in my engine.”

“It’s my car,” John protested weakly. Missy raised an eyebrow at him. He rolled his eyes, ducking in to turn the engine off again. He closed the door. “Come on, let’s get Clara and I’ll give you my damn address.”

“You’re a physicist,” Missy reminded him, handing him the bag of tools for the back seat. “Leave the engineering to those of us with a talent for it.”

John glowered at her, but it had no heat. This was a familiar argument, one they’d had for years since Idris had been gifted to John on his sixteenth birthday by a newly married Sarah and Harry. It had been the project of a summer investigating every scrapyard in the country and had sparked Missy’s interest in something other than setting fire to things (Amy and Rory had been grateful).

They crossed to where the group were waiting, the lanky unfamiliar boy playing with Clara by throwing her in the air.

“Don’t drop her,” Missy called absently to the boy. Then she turned to the rest of the group, “Enough entertainment for you?”

“Ample,” Liz chuckled, “Some things never change, and you two arguing over that car is apparently one of them.”

“Glad we amuse you Lizzie-dear,” Missy chuckled, looking at her oily hands. “Right, I need to go clean up. You, make sure you treat that engine right!”

“Don’t you start,” John sighed, turning around “David lad, stop throwing Clara in the air like that, she’ll throw up all over you.”

“Oh, David, that his name,” Missy wondered, turning to Rose, drinking coffee with Kate and the other new one. “What’s this one? Who does it belong to?”

“This is Osgood,” Kate introduced, “And she doesn’t belong to anyone.”

“Yours then,” Missy nodded at the terrified looking adolescent. “I don’t bite you know,” She rolled her eyes a little. “Well, unless you ask,” She teased. Osgood went bright red.

“Osgood, my Aunt Missy,” Kate introduced dryly. “Nice to see you haven’t changed.”

“You’ve grown up,” Missy pointed out the obvious, “Heard you got a degree. Anything interesting?”

“Chemistry,” Kate admitted, and Missy noticed how Liz practically glowed with pride. She was more Kate’s mum that Fiona had ever been, yet she was always just the stepmother to anyone other than those who knew them.

“Ooh, good girl,” Missy praised, “You going to the Institute then?”

“Yeah, working with a friend of Liz’s,” Kate flushed with pride at the faint praise, she was still in the fresh faced stage of graduation after all. “We both are.”

“Well, congratulations,” Missy meant it. “What bout you Posie?”

Rose started and turned scarlet. “I’m er… gap year. Not sure I want to go to uni.”

“That’s fair enough,” Missy shrugged, “Costs a lot if you’re not sure what you want to do. What’s your boyfriend do?”

“David,” Rose stammered, glancing over at him with wide eyes to make sure he hadn’t heard. “He ain’t my boyfriend.”

Missy saw the amused glances of the other adults, she smirked at them. Oh, so that’s how it was? Interesting. She could have fun with that…if she stuck around.

“Isn’t Rose,” Sarah-Jane said pointedly.

“Yes mum,” Rose rolled her eyes, sipping her coffee.

Missy chuckled, going to put her hands in her pockets when she felt long fingers close around her wrist. She started, looked down to where John was extracting his hand.

“Er – grease,” he reminded her awkwardly. “Don’t want to ruin the coat…”

“Oh yes,” Missy examined her hands again. “I’d better go wash up. John, I’ll see you later. Everyone else, it was, well, interesting and good to see you all, even if you still haven’t decided if you like me again yet.”

She smirked at the awkward glances and shuffling feet. Missy turned to Clara.

“Clara, going now, throw up on pretty boy, there’s a good girl,” she called.

“Missy,” John rolled his eyes with a sigh. She giggled, starting to dance away towards the café with a wave.

They weren’t sure about whether to accept her again, but as none of them knew why she’d left, Missy was fairly sure sticking around and being her usual charming self would have them tolerating her in no time. For now though, she wanted to see if there was still a loose plank by the pet shop.

Chapter Text

There are a million and one emails in Missy's inbox when she logs in, and she has a message open, nails snapping against keys, to her assistant instantly. He was supposed to filter the emails and answer all the less important ones himself. The boy had been with her for nearly a year, he should know this by now. She created a new folder and was sorting emails into ones she needed to answer and ones that he could really answer himself (or what was the point of having an assistant) when she heard a soft knock on the wooden frame of the door.

She looked up, glasses perched on her nose. It was John. Oh. She wasn't expecting that. He looked exhausted, like he'd been fighting himself. He probably had. John liked to think he could take on the universe, when he was just shouting into space. Missy had a more nuanced approach, she couldn't control the world but she could control parts of it. She removed her glasses, closing the lid of her laptop with a soft click.

"Come on in," she said drily, crossing one leg over the other and lounging back. John drummed his fingers against the wood of the table before he complied, hands tracing the patterns in the woods. She waited. He waited. "Oh for heaven's sake John. Tea?"

"Er, yeah, three sugars," he muttered, threading long fingers through long silver hair. She rolled her eyes, but stood to put the kettle on regardless. "Thought we should er... talk... that's what people do right?"

"Since when have we been people?" Missy replied archly. John's lips quirked up. "I don't think we need to. It's quite simple really, I didn't want a baby, River did so we swapped."

"It's never that simple," He sighed heavily, pulling an envelope out of his pocket and studying it intently. "River's will was read today. Did you know that? That's where I was going this afternoon. Had to take River's car and left Clara with my sister but... River had a will."

"She had more than one kind of will too," Missy commented before she could stop herself. John chuckled in agreement.

"That she did."

"So anything interesting? Was she secretly a millionaire and you'll never need to work again?" Missy questioned him lightly, throwing some coasters in John's direction. He caught them, setting them out. A moment later he was fiddling with his mug while Missy was positioned, head inclined, waiting for him to continue.

"She left you her parental rights," He said quietly, "Said she was only borrowing them anyway."

"She did what now?"

"Parental rights to Clara, she left them to you," John repeated, still not looking at her.

"Can she do that?" Missy asked, incredulous. "I mean, is that even legal?"

"According to the lawyer, yes," He sighed, taking a large gulp of scalding tea. "It helps, of course, that you two had some strange side adoption going on. River had temporary custody apparently."

"That can't be right," Missy frowned, thinking back to the paperwork she'd scrawled her name over months after leaving Clara with River all those years ago. She hadn't questioned them, had hired a separate lawyer so no-one would ever know. "I signed full adoption papers."

John flinched.

For heavens sake.

"Alright, have at it," She sighed, leaning back. "Tell me what a bad person I am for now wanting our baby after everything we went through as kids, believe me when I say River probably said it over the seven months we lived together in Glasgow."

"You're not a bad person," he said, rubbing his eyes hard. "You've never been a bad person. Misguided, bullheaded, annoying, determined maybe, but never a bad person."

Missy's heart stuttered. She wasn't expecting that. She was expecting more ranting, raving, censure. She was expecting bottles to be thrown, words to fly like bullets.

"I may not have always agreed with you Missy," John added, "But I've never thought you were a bad person. Even now. I always knew you'd have your reasons, and they were yours. And yes, I want to know, I think Clara deserves to know. But they were your reasons."

Oh, he was that mad at her. Silent fury masquerading as kindness mad. He was so mad he was calm.

"You disagree," She stated, watching him closely. It was strange, being sat next to him, at her parents table. Both of them older, both of them wiser, both of them with burnt fingers and scalded hearts.

"I just don't get why you didn't tell me," he answered heavily, slouching back, eyes focussed on the tea as if he could move it with the sheer force of his gaze. "Why didn't you just tell me Miss?"

"You'd have wanted to fuss and try and be a family," She shrugged, "I didn't want that. We'd have killed each other and I'd have left anyway."

John was silent. He couldn't disagree, if he disagreed he'd be vocal, he'd be shouting. He agreed. He knew they wouldn't have lasted. Maybe he did deserve some semblance of the truth.

"I didn't want the baby," Missy said slowly. "But I didn't want to abandon it, not in this world. We saw the worst the universe has to offer and we survived, but I wouldn't wish our past on anyone. I didn't want the baby not knowing she was loved. I couldn't love it so I found someone that did. Simple as."

"It's not simple," he said, simply. "It's never simple. Did you think about the fact one day, something would happen and Clara would find out the truth? Did either of you think about what it would do to me, to your parents, to our friends, to Clara to find out the truth? That she wasn't wanted?"

Missy had thought about it. Briefly, her belly swollen and heavy, a strange new life twisting inside of her like a little fish. She'd allowed herself to daydream only once. She'd allowed herself to imagine turning up on John's door with her swollen stomach and the truth on her lips. She'd pictured the standard happy family fare the tv peddled. Everything "girls" were supposed to want out of their backwards society. She'd nearly thrown up at the thought of it, the tedium. She knew she'd be proud of her child, but she also knew she could never promise to stay put. Never promise to be there. Never promise to be safe. She'd not daydreamed again.

"Course I did," She answered finally, "And I thought that it could be answered honestly enough by the sentence: Missy was River's surrogate."

John took a sharp breath, and turned away. Missy pursed her lips slightly at his drama.

"I never wanted a baby," she shrugged "That's never been a secret."

It hadn't. She'd looked at the small, spewiling, mewling, defenceless infants in proud parents arms, and where River had alternated between quiet disdain and cooing, Missy had seen them as inconveniences, as millstones around their parents necks. Missy hadn't wanted a legacy, she'd wanted power. Her ambition was stronger than her desire to procreate. If other people wanted offspring, so be it. It wasn't for her. She wasn't soft, she wasn't nurturing. That was just how it was. She didn't mind children when they were a bit older, when they had personalities and could hold a conversation. If she'd ever thought about children, she'd always assumed she would adopt one already house trained.

"When did you find out?" She asked suddenly, examining black nails before looking up at him with shrewd eyes. He turned back, looked at the corner of the table next to her elbow. She tapped on the table pointedly, until he raised his eyes to about her nose. "I mean, River suspected you knew, but she wasn't sure. I'd have thought you'd have gone beserk."

"Clara has an echo," he said simply, averting his eyes again. Missy's could hear her own strange heartbeat roaring in her ears one-two-three-four, a never-ending beat of drums. "She has since she was bought home. I managed to dismiss it for ages but... when she was about eighteen months old, I took her to her doctors appointment because River was on a dig and... the doctor made a comment about how it wasn't a life threatening murmur, which I would already know because it's maternal. It's a rare, inherited heart murmur."

Missy had always called her strange heartbeat an echoheart, because it sounded like there were two in her chest.

"Sounded like when I listened to your heart," He admitted, "I knew for certain then."

"You never said anything to River," Missy confirmed quietly.

"She never said anything to me," He replied. And there was the anger again. "You, you I can understand. You're ambitious and you've never wanted kids and I've never understood why you didn't just tell me. I'd have understood and don't give me the bullshit that I wouldn't. If anyone knows you after forty years, it's me. I'm angry at you for that. But not for giving her up. That I get. You're right, I disagree with it, but I get it. I don't get why River never told me the truth. I gave her so many opportunities to over the years... and she didn't ever tell me."

They lapsed into silence.

"I'm angry at you," He said firmly. "But... I don't even know. You're always forgiven... and maybe that makes me weak, but you're always forgiven. And so is River."

Missy swallowed heavily, turning to examine the back window to avoid him seeing the tears prickling her eyes.

"And I want to know if you're going to stick around," He said suddenly. Missy half turned back, waiting for him to continue. "Are you going to stick around? Even if it's as Aunt Missy, I just want to know if you're going to let us down again."

She wanted to promise. But she had to go back. She had a job to do. John scoffed at her silence.

"I have to go back to America," She said quietly, "I have a job there, a life."

A lonely life, with the only person who didn't cower in fear her foolish assistant. A lonely life at the top with all the power she'd ever dreamed of. She had the ear of government advisors. Had their balls in the palm of her hand, willing to acquiesce to whatever demand she made for her businesses. She said jump, they didn't even ask how high, they just leapt into the unknown. Oh yes, she had power, she had more money than she'd ever dreamed of as a child. But she'd always dreamed John would be at her side, it had never occurred to her that her best friend wouldn't follow her.

John nodded, a twitch in his jaw. He nodded. He stood up.

And there was a flash of the future before her. If she said a resolute no now, she'd never come back. And she wanted to. She felt the words spilling out of her mouth before she could stop them.

"I've got a huge merger coming up, a week today. I need to go back to America tomorrow. I can't get out of this one, but maybe after that, I'll be able to come back."

John paused, fingers still trailing on the table. Missy soldiered on.

"I can't tell you anything about the merger, but it's huge, enough to fill our retirement funds and afford Clara's university fees even after the hike and still have money to burn. I know you don't care about money, but this merger is about more than money. And I'm the only person who can do it. So I am going to do it. But then, after that... well, maybe River was right. Maybe it's time to come home."

She waited for John to say something, anything. He didn't. He jerked his head once, before leaving the room and Missy sat at the table taking deep steadying breaths. She hadn't promised anything but possibilities. She heard him reach the door, heard the door open.

And then what she heard turned her blood to ice in their very veins. A voice, rich, honeyed, British, smug, saying:

"Good evening, I'm looking for Michelle Oakdean. Can you tell her Harold Saxon is here?"

Chapter Text

"Who're you?" Missy heard John say rudely as she shot up out of her seat and into the corridor, eyes wide and planning murder. She hurtled down the corridor, coming next to a stop a few steps behind John. John and Harold. In the same room.

Oh shit.

What the hell was Harold doing here? She wasn’t battle ready. Her hair was down, a mane around her face, she had on jeans for christs sake. She wasn’t armoured up for a meeting with Harold Saxon, which was probably what the smug bastard was aiming for. She could see him rake his eyes over her body, the ever present smirk deepening as he "appreciated" her. She wanted to claw his face off.

"What part of 'I'm on holiday' did you fail to hear?" She snapped, nudging in front of John slightly. Not enough that Harold would notice, but enough that John would. John didn't deserve the crap that usually followed in the wake of Harold Saxon and she'd be damned if she gave Harold any reason to turn his sights on her oldest friend.

"Did you forget the part where you invited me?" he replied smoothly, glancing round the modest hall, his sharp designer coat clashing horribly with Missy's home. "Oh Michelle, you wound me."

"I'll actually wound you in a bloody minute," she huffed, glaring at him. "I'll ask you again, and I expect an actual answer this time, what the hell are you doing here Harold?"

"Reconnaissance," The smug bastard said, his lips twisting into what he probably thought was sinister. John shifted behind Missy's shoulder, his hand pressing gently into the small of her back. Next to Harold in his impeccable double breasted jacket, John looked a right slob, a hoodie under his patched up jacket, but his dress sense made him less of a target to Harold.

She risked a glance to him, eyes flickering up briefly to where he stood rigidly, carefully surveying the newcomer, suspicion in his eyes. His eyebrows did a strange thing, as if he were trying to communicate using them.

"Lovely place this," Harold sneered, finger reaching out to stroke her dads mac, hanging next to a ratty old coat both her parents used for gardening. "Can't imagine why you ever left." Tone implying the opposite. How dare he. Missy might rail and moan and growl about how boring her home was, but damn him if he thought he had any right to make a comment.

John bristled beside her and Missy had to stop herself reaching out a hand to calm him down. Doing that would give the game away to Harold completely and the asshole could smell a chink from fifty paces. Missy breathed out in a long thin stream, her hands finding stable purchase on her hips.

“If you wanted me that badly you should have waited, I’ll be back in the office tomorrow evening. No sense in wasting an air fare.” She taunted,

“Pocket change,” Harold waved his hand dismissively, stepping into the hall. Missy was about to open her mouth and say something when Harold, without breaking her gaze, said, “Who’s grandpa?”

 

“John Smith,” John said coldly, “And I don’t believe Miss-elle invited you in.”

“This is Harold Saxon,” Missy informed John, waiting for him to look at her so she could tell him to run, run far away, grab Clara and hide until he was gone. “We’re working on a big merger in America, and I don’t quite know why he is here, interrupting my holiday.”

John must’ve heard something in her voice that Harold missed, because while the shorter, rounder man smirked, John’s eye’s flickered to her raising his eyebrows checking if she was ok.

“I’ll tell mum that you dropped everything off for the bazaar,” Missy informed him, hoping he got the message to scarper and that she’d call when she could. “Thanks for the help bringing it in from the car.”

“No problem,” John said slowly, eyes shifting back to Harold suspiciously. Sometimes Missy wished she and John were truly as psychic as people had joked during childhood so she could tell him to get out and wait for her signal. “You need me to stick around?”

“No, thank you John,” Missy smiled thinly at him, and he finally nodded, and left.

“Old friend?” Harold asked, feigning politeness and interest as John shut the door behind him.

“Family friend,” Missy corrected, “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Just checking in,” the bastard smirked. “Wouldn’t want you running off on me when we have a deal.”

“Why would you think that?” Missy ground out, “I’ve got a flight booked for six o’clock tomorrow morning, didn’t you see that whilst getting your minions to stalk me?”

“Yes,” he said smoothly, pressing forward, Missy forced to step back from the force of his chest. He smirked down at her, all leer and oozing toxic power. Missy was unaffected, raising one carefully shaped eyebrow and waiting for him to speak.

“And?” She prompted when he did nothing by glance down at the slip of skin exposed by her shirt. Creep. How did Lucy put up with him? Missy recalled Lucy’s vacant expression, the painted smile, the long sleeves and high necks. Oh, yes, that was why.

“I was curious about why you’d holiday in such a backwater little place,” he replied, pressing forward again slightly. When she and John had been chest to heaving chest pouring salt into open wounds, she hadn’t felt like she had no-where to go. Normally, she’d push back. But she’d put too much effort into this game with Harold Saxon to give up now, when it was so nearly over. Instead, she pushed her shoulders back and her chest forward, reducing the gap between the,.

“So you decided to come for a visit?” She asked sarcastically, “Cut the bull, I’m not a flight risk. You’re looking for leverage.”

“Oh no,” He sneered, “I have plenty of that, as you well know. Oh no, Michelle dear, I have something far better planned. How do you think mummy and daddy would take it? Your sordid little secrets?”

They knew the same one he did, but he didn’t know that.

“You can’t be serious,” Missy snorted, “You wanted me for the Cybernetics-Mondas merger, that’s happening. I’ve already promised you that. You don’t need more pressure dear, I’ve got it. I’ve got the message loud, and clear and you don’t need to worry about me messing up. I’ve got too much riding on this merger to let it slip.”

Harold wet his lips, glancing down at her chest again. The bastard was always turned on by threatening her and her fighting back.

"Maybe I just..." his voice dropped an octave, his fingers trailing up to Missy's bare forearms. She refused to recoil, tipping her head back. "Is it bad that I..."

He glanced down. Missy followed his gaze, before looking up, and stating, very emphatically, "Yes. Very. Get out."

He swallowed heavily, lingering a moment more before stepping back.

"I wonder how much it would take for you to break," he mused aloud, hands pushed into his pockets. "Maybe I will stick around. See what else I can dig up."

"Trophy deserves more than you," Missy commented, glancing away dismissively, "And trust me dearest, you couldn't handle me. You think you can play with the big girls? We'll eat you alive."

It was a promise. It also had him swallowing heavily again, eyes flickering down her body.

"You know," he said conversationally, turning towards the door, "I like you like this. Claws out. Just remember what I have that you don't-"

"I'm good without a penis thanks," Missy snorted, "Means I have a brain."

Harold sighed, shaking his head as if he were chastising a misbehaving child.

"Oh Michelle," He said smoothly, the smirk back on his thin lips. "You shouldn't make jokes like that. It's mean."

"You know how you wanted the Queen of Evil to run your merger," Missy asked frankly, one eyebrow arched in condescension "You didn't read the caveat that I'm a bitch?"

"It was just what I was looking for," Harold flirted, smirked before his face turned hard. "I'll be joining you on your flight back. Don't think I won't use everything in my disposal to end you if you try anything."

Missy rolled her eyes. Huffed.

"Honestly, child," She mocked, "Go and play with yourself before you hurt something. And don't you dare come here again tonight. I'll be at the airport tomorrow, and I'll be running your bloody merger. Now get out. And don't you come back here again."

Harold chuckled darkly, turning and walking out of the door. He stopped on the porch.

"I love how you think you have the power," he said confidently, raising one hand to mock salute her. "Idle dreams Michelle. See you tomorrow morning."

"Goodbye Harold," Missy said forcefully, closing the door onto his smug face.

She waited until she'd heard his footsteps crunching down the path before she let out a long breath, resting her head against the door.

Harold Saxon had come to her home. Her home, on the other side of the country. He'd come, to show her that he could. Foolish, foolish boy. Did he really think she was that easily swayed?

Missy knew he was behind her before he even spoke. It was just something, an instinct that hadn't really been fully stamped out.

"You want to tell me what's going on?" John asked quietly. Missy lifted her head, took a deep breath. "Only, you didn't look happy to see him..."

"You know I said I had to go back to America?" She asked quietly, still facing the door, not facing him, never him. "That's why. I have something I need to see through to the end."

"Missy," John said carefully, reaching towards her. Missy recoiled, knowing John wouldn't use it against her and after the close proximity of Harold, needing her space. John stepped back instantly, observing her carefully. "You wanted me out of there..."

"Harold has an amazing capacity to find leverage," Missy stated frankly, crossing her arms across her chest. She sank down onto the stairs, John coming forward to stand at the base of the stairs.

John looked confused for a moment. Missy rolled her eyes. He had always been her weak spot, and the last thing she needed was Harold bloody Saxon working that out. John squeezed onto the steps next to her and it was almost like they were gangly teenagers again, all arms and legs and hormones and pride.

"Don't go," he said quietly, studying long hands. Missy studied them too, watched as he rubbed the palms carefully with circular motions to keep himself from reaching for her.

"I have to," Missy said firmly. "I have to finish this."

"Finish what Missy?"

Missy shook her head, pulled herself up.

"I fly back to America in the morning," She said firmly, half wondering whether she was reminding herself that was the plan. Being back with her family had been hard, emotionally wrecking, but River had been right. She'd been away too long.

John nodded, sighed before pushing himself up.

"You promise you'll come back this time?" he said in a low voice, face turned away.

"Yeah," She said, "Yeah, I promise."

Chapter Text

She pulls the door closed behind her with more force than necessary, enjoying the way the sharp thud reverberates through the silent office beyond. Good. They'll leave her alone for at least an hour, until Sebastian pokes his weasel-face round her door with a joke and a coffee.

She sinks into the chair in relief, letting out a long breath and massaging her forehead with her fingers.

It's nearly over she reminded herself, wondering when her job had gotten so hard. When seeing a young incompetent intern flinch had made her feel vindictively happy and not just bored. When Sebastian's awful jokes had made her glare at him until he fell silent and looked away awkwardly. In this world, the only thing she trusted was Sebastian. He'd been her assistant for nearly four years now, content with the power afforded to him through Missy. People in their industry, in the global business industry, would blanche when they saw her name. And over time, it had extended from hearing her name, to seeing him coming knowing Missy herself wouldn't be too far behind.

Everyone here was terrified of her. Missy had the power to end a career with a flick of her carefully decorated fingers. Her role was to sweep into a failing business, cast a critical icy-blue eye over the people who worked there, and make the executive decision as to who stayed, and who went. She was cold, measured, ruthless effective. And that was how she'd drawn the attention of Harold Saxon.

Harold liked pressure points. He liked things to play with. Missy had provided him with resistance, enough to get him intruigued. Enough to get under his skin.

If she hadn't been home, her role as the undisputed Queen of Evil would have been a second skin so familiar she often confused it for the pink flesh beneath. Now it felt a little awkward. Oh the admonishments came to her lips easily enough, the scolding, the derision. It came back easily, like riding a bike. But she was restless. She'd left John asking for a number, and email address, any way of contacting her. She'd left him with nothing but a promise spoken from blue eyes to blue eyes. It was a lot to ask, to ask him to trust that she'd return because she'd promised, after her nearly eight year hiatus. She was restless to get back. The second skin scratched.

There was a light knock on her door. Missy adjusted herself, flipping her hair over her shoulders and settling back with a face that smelt lemons, before she called enter. It was Sebastian, all gangly limbs and a rodents face, holding a file in front of him.

"I thought you might like the projections for the Mondas merger," He said brightly, closing the door behind him. Once he was in the room, he handed the manila folder to Missy, waiting for her to read the note he'd slipped inside. Her eyes widened, pleased with the way this was going. It was going better than planned, even with the contingencies in place.

"Thank you Sebastian," She said dismissively, handing him the file back. "I think you might need to check the network."

His eyes widened slightly, before he nodded firmly, leaving the room.

Three years planning to bring Harold Saxon and the board of Mondas industries down. Three years of having to pretend to put up with the despicable excuse for a human being. Three years of roving hands and leering and comments. Three years. Over tonight. Missy stretched languidly like a cat, feeling her spine click into place.

Oh she was ready.

Sebastian sent in files, making everything look as if something was going wrong. Making it look as if something had come up last minute. Missy stood at the door to the office, issuing clipped orders, watching her worker bees scurry around to access the information she was demanding. She could see the worry in the glances they were exchanging, wondering what might have happened to cause their erstwhile Mistress to go full ice queen on them. Missy complied documents, fitting them into a folder and onto a disk drive, imprints and back ups of the technology irrefutable evidence. With each sharper command, with each piece of evidence stacked into the file, Missy's mood improves. She's almost free.

She wishes John were here, helping her shift through paperwork at alarming speeds, both of them working through the pile faster than any other person in history. They'd start sentences that never needed to be finished, brandish evidence with gloating success. Then, he'd hand her the folder, and smirk. He'd tell her that he should have the limelight, but it would be better to see Saxon's face if he wasn't at the podium.

But John isn't here.

And she's glad he isn't, Harold Saxon is the worst kind of pond scum that evolution had ever produced. He was maniacal, dangerous, power-hungry. He was everything she hated about men.

It's later, when Sebastian knocks on the door and gives her a significant nod, lowering his eyes to the floor.

"You're car will be arriving any minute Ms Oakdean," he says smoothly, "You will have exactly an hour to prepare for the Handover tonight."

The handover. A huge, public event to signify the great merging of Mondas and Cyber Industries, filled with journalists and politicians and a selected number of people from either company. Missy was delivering a speech, supposedly to celebrate the advancement of science that would undoubtedly come about from the merger. She couldn't wait.

She's cool, confident, efficient, as Sebastian hands her out of her limo. She has a dress on that would send the sexually active community into a tizz, exploiting Harold's known inability to control himself effectively when she is practically on display (she likes the power the dress gives her. The hush as she walks through the room). She flirts, and mingles, making sure that people can see that she is uneasy. She notices confused looks between two of her Senators, a confused look loaded with a healthy doing of hope that maybe she'd let go of their balls sometimes soon. She wants to smirk, keeps it beneath a cool veneer that smacks of loathing every other person in the room.

"Michelle," Harold calls out brightly, the Trophy a splash of vacant red on his arms. Lucy smiles insipidly, reaching forward to bump bony cheeks with Missy. That woman deserved better than Harold Saxon. Every woman deserved better than a louse. "You look absolutely divine, love. I'm not sure I want you giving a speech, you'll be making it awfully uncomfortable for a lot of the yanks here."

"Good," Missy said flippantly, raising her champagne to her mouth and feigning forcing a careless smirk to her face. "I'm still doing the speech. As Merger Mistress, it is my right."

"All right then," Harold conceded, leaning forward, pressing his lips against her each and gripping her wrist tightly with his free hand. "Just you be careful what you say."

Missy raised unimpressed eyebrows, "Oh hush," she purrs, sticks him with a carefully measured glare that has him gulping. "I've got this dearest."

Oh if only he knew how much. Harold stalked off to smooth-talk other unsuspecting people in the crowd, oozing charm and doing an admirable job.

And then he kisses his wife, moves towards the dias and the podium and starts a self-important speech about how much Cyber Industries means to him and how glad he is that he will be supporting there work - like he's their benefactor and hasn't just executed a hostile takeover of the entire company, taking all the money and shredding all the people.

"And now," he smirks into the microphone, making eye contact with the people standing around, as many as he can. A born charmer. "Without further ado, allow me to announce the woman who made all of this possible, Michelle Oakdean! Come up hear darling!"

Missy raises a hand to the polite applause, accepts the kiss to the cheek, and starts on her pre-prepared speech. She's practiced it so many times, starting off strong. She thanks everyone for co-operating with the merger, for the people in her office for their mediocre performance - her standard fare at these gatherings. But she lets her breath hitch over thanking Harold Saxon. She lets it look like she can't go on. She stops, starts the sentence again. There is a ripple in the audience. Confusion, worry, concern. She has their full attention now in a way she hadn't before. It's time.

Missy lays down the cards with her speech, grips the side of the podium tightly enough that her knuckles turn white. She lets her eyes go wide, the tears already ready to go. It's easy when you're angry. She catches Harold's eye, very noticeably looks at him. He glares a warning at her and she looks away. Looks down. Wets her lips.

"This is normally the part where I'd thank the incoming CEO, tell them they're doing a good job and some other teacher like PR rubbish I don't really care about," she pauses in the silence. "But tonight, I can't. I can't think of Harold Saxon with any sort of luck, or positive. I may bend the truth, distort it and re-direct, but I'm not a liar. I can't, in good faith, tell you that Harold Saxon is a good man and we're lucky to have him."

The audience are hanging onto her every word, Harold coiled like a spring, absolutely furious. Missy continues.

"A few months ago, I was going through some things to do with Mondas, a huge technology company that does humanitarian work across the globe. A benevolent corporation, some would call it," Missy paused for effect. Eating out of her hand. "But I found something that didn't make sense. The company have an office in Montenegro. Nothing unusual about that really. I already knew that, I'd recorded it in documents. I didn't realise that the Montenegro office is a shell. It doesn't exist but all the paperwork makes it look as if it does."

"Michelle," Harold hissed dangerously from just below her, unable to do anything to stop her. She had the power and she knew he knew it.

"I did some digging," she said, faltered, glanced at her hands. "You all know I can call a favour in anywhere. Well I called one today. The Montenegro office recorded a several billion dollar income last year. But it doesn't exist. Now. I know, shell companies are part of the parcel of doing business these days, but I couldn't in good conscience keep the truth under wraps." She paused, swallowed, took a deep breath. "Mondas is a money laundering corporation, funded by the acquisition and sale of young men and women from across the world... into the sex trade. Also guns to terrorists."

A ripple passed through the crowd, several people shuffling back from Harold.

"I couldn't say anything sooner," she admitted, tearfully - genuinely angry at what Harold Saxon put those women through, those poor men and women. "I had no firm evidence, and I have spent weeks and months investigating, gathering data and I have the proof. I have an entire file of proof that has been sent to the FBI, the CIA, and the international agency Torchwood. I wasn't supposed to say anything today, but the evidence is irrefutable. Harold Saxon built this company, and the women he hires are vetted to see if they'd be a suitable match."

The whole point of this, as agreed with Tony Tyler, was to let them draw their own conclusions, to turn against him. Then there would be a power grab within the crime syndicate and they could close the entire operation down for good. They were just waiting.

Missy saw a tuxedoed man work his way round the room towards the front where Harold stood.

"I can't stand by and let this happen," Missy declared, tears brimming in angry eyes. "I have been made complicit in the lowest form of human depravity and I won't stand for it. Harold Saxon is a human trafficker. He sells women, men, children, guns and information. He probably thinks he has something on me, to get himself off the hook, divert attention. But all he has is what is already public record. The evidence I have collected, financial records, meetings, they point to a huge, huge corruption that stems completely from that, benevolent, charming snake, right there."

Harold laughed. He threw his head back, and laughed. And Missy knew then that whatever doubts this audience had before, they were eradicated. She watched kindly old Yana and his niece Chantho, both incredibly powerful members of the board, turn to him with stony eyes. His company was his power. His reputation was his power. Missy's plan was to take that away.

"This is insane," he laughed, eyes flashing sharply. Lucy stepped away from him, eyes wide and into the arms of the disgusted crowd. "You don't really believe what the embittered ex-mistress of the Prime Minister of the UK has to say do you?"

It's the wrong thing to say. She's feared in the business industry, yes. But she is also respected. Her past transgressions have never been a secret and she'd never used that particular trick to get anything. She'd played the homewrecker card so well, that people fully believed she was guiltless, and that her past had been redeemed with her commitment to her industry.

"My conscience can't take knowing that you sell American women, girls, children to serve masters overseas," Missy's voice broke, convincingly. She was so angry that he thought he could get away with it, that he thought he could turn up and blackmail her with a snippet of her past when he was the worst type of human being, a despicable, disgusting excuse for a man, who delighted in pain, suffering and reducing people to the dirt beneath his shoe. "And I can't take having been complicit in this, however unknowingly. I tender my resignation. I have sent all information I have to the authorities, they would have already mobilized I think... I am sorry. I'm..."

Missy falters, letting her tears fall, before she shakes her head and steps into the crowd. Jackie Tyler is there to greet her, the handsome blonde woman escorting her out into a second room where Tony is waiting. Missy throws her head back, blinking her tears away before turning to the Torchwood upper echelons. When they arrested Harold, with the evidence they had collected between them, he would never see the light of day again.

"Very convincing," Jackie muttered drily, "You deserve an Oscar."

Missy fixed her with a glare, sitting down on the sofa to watch the proceedings. It had been hard. It had been a hard three years, gathering enough to bring the Tylers on board, enough to have them willing to support her in closing this horrific practice down. Three years. Three years were over. And now, she was exhausted. She watched as Pete directed several smartly dressed young men to arrest Harold, heard his jeers through the speakers, watched the crowd part like the red sea.

"What happens now?" She asks around the very real lump in her throat. She wants a bottle of Shiraz and a phonecall to River. The latter is one she can never, ever have. It doesn't stop her wanting to hear her sister's lilting voice convince Missy that she'd done the right thing.

"Now," Jackie taps out message on her phone, locks it. "Now, we arrest him, charge him, and hope that the power vaccum doesn't move too quickly. We need to be there to arrest Delgado, Ainsley and Pratt. They ain't getting away Missy. We got 'em."

"Good," Missy says firmly, suddenly so, so tired.

It's over.

Just like that.

"They'll be safe though?" Missy checks cautiously, "The ones he's been keeping?"

Jackie's eyes turn sympathetic. Missy does care, no matter what she presents to the world, no-one deserved to have their body and their will taken away from them. No-one.

"We've just received word that they've rescued the individuals being kept for sale in ten different continents," Jackie says gently, "They aren't going to be ok for a while, but they'll be safe. And we'll end the management."

"And then it's just waiting until the next sick depraved soul finds an opportunity," Missy almost whispers. "What good have we done?"

"A lot," Jackie insists, "That world can never be fully fixed, but Missy the information you've been collecting for us has saved thousands of lives."

"But what about the rest?"

"Careful," Jackie patted Missy's shoulder, "Or people with start to think you have a heart."

She leaves Missy then, sympathetic and hating her own stone cold practicality. It doesn't shock Jackie Tyler that Missy has a heart, she always knew it was there. Though the initial investigations into Harold Saxon had been self serving, Missy had come to them as soon as she'd unearthed the more suspicious and worrying information.

Missy sits there, letting her eyes glisten for the lives of those she couldn't save, for the children she couldn't free. She thought of how terrified they must all be. And somehow, without quite knowing how, her mind flashes to a bright smile, dimpled cheeks and brown eyes.

"Can I borrow a phone?" She askes shakily, overwhelmed with the need to call John, to make sure that Clara was safe and sound and to tell him to keep her close. If any of Saxon's comrades found out about Clara, Missy had no doubt the bright little girl would never be seen again. Tony barely glances her way as he passes her a mobile with muttered instructions that it's encrypted. He's watching the crowds being shepherded from the great hall beyond the door.

Missy hesitates, dials a now familiar number pressed into her hand by her mother on the way out. She hesitates before she presses connect. It feels like an eternity when the line stops ringing, when it clicks into life and a gruff voice asks her who the bloody hell they thought they were, calling at stupid o'clock in the morning.

She nearly cries in relief, pressing the phone to her ear. She apologises, tells him to check the news. Asks him if Clara is safe.

Tells him she's coming home.

Chapter Text

In the end, just "going home" wasn't quite as simple as she'd lead John to believe. She had been hauled in for more interviews with pretentious bastards to prove she had nothing to do with anything except exposing the louse for what he was. Then there was the moment when she'd thought Harold might get off scot bloody free. It ended up being a further three weeks before she was formally allowed to leave the country.

She'd been booked on a flight by the end of the day, her fingers tapping out messages to her family with her arrival time, just hoping that someone would come and pick her up. The last thing she wanted after an eight hour flight (even if was in first class) was a four hour coach trip, surrounded by the great unwashed.

Missy had left her company in Sebastian's hands (boy was due a promotion anyway) and the Mondas-Cyber merger in the very capable hands of Chantho. That girl would do wonders with a company like Cyber, even if Mondas was going to take more than a few hits for it's connection to Saxon. In fact, Missy had advised Chantho to fold Mondas and just bring Cyber up to higher impeccable standards. Girl had been a little annoying, but Missy was certain Chantho would go incredibly far in the technological world.

It was dark when she arrived at Gatwick, her suitcase trailing behind her, the stars obscured by the harsh bright of the artificial lighting. It cast everything around her into sharp relief. Missy checked her phone, reading through the exclamations of excitement at her return followed by apologies they couldn't collect her. Looks like she'd be keeping her nails to herself on a bus then.

She was heading out of the terminal, following signs for a (heaven forbid) national express service, when she caught sight of a long thin figure, half in shadow, eyes a dark streak against the harsh lighting of his face. Missy altered course immediately.

"John," She said, trying not to let the relief seep into her voice. He nodded once, hands in his pockets, before turning towards the exit. "No," Missy halted him, "Thank you."

John shrugged, glancing away and not saying anything. Missy stepped in beside him. Silence she could manage. She'd told him everything over a secure line after collapsing a criminal empire. Had told him everything because she wanted him to understand why she'd had to leave. They'd had some sort of contact since. Namely John taking period pictures of Clara, sending them to Missy's phone. So she knew that Clara was safe. It was silly. But it had made her feel calm in the repetitious questions put to her by various governmental agencies.

John stretched out a hand, took the handle of Missy's suitcase. Missy let him.

He'd (sensibly) chosen the ford, rather than their Tardis. The car was tidier than Missy had been expecting, knowing how little John cared about a clear car. A traitorous thought wondered if he'd cleaned it knowing she'd prefer that, but she killed that pretty sharpish. They drove off in silence, the lights of the motorway flickering overhead like morse code, before progressing into darkness penetrated only by the headlights of incoming traffic and the brake lights of cars speeding past.

"You got somewhere to stay tonight?" John asked gruffly, half an hour into their silence, a soft silence that didn't need filling. A silence that arrived at night, leaving people whispering even when there wasn't anyone else to hear them.

"My parents won't mind it I arrive at three o'clock," Missy shrugged. She hadn't planned ahead. She'd been released from a Capitol Hill meeting, been told she could return to England, had organised her flight and the removal of her flat in due course, packed enough to last and been on a flight away from a country that had eaten up seven years of her life, but never really been home.

"Amy and Rory are in Edinburgh," John reminded her. Missy remembered the phone call, filtering through the haze of tiredness in her mind. "And Sarah and Harry have Clara. I wasn't bringing her out this late."

"Thank you for coming to get me," Missy said quietly, sincerely, turning her face to look at him, her head resting against the back of her seat, watching his shadowed profile somewhat nostalgically.

"I promised to always come if you called," John shrugged, like it was no big deal. But it was. It was a promise born out of fear of being abandoned, when Sarah had managed to get custody of John and would be taking him away. Missy had been so scared of being left alone, young and suspicious of the world that had treated her with such scorn. But John had clasped their fists, and promised over the fairy ring in the group home garden that he'd come if she called, he'd always come. Because they were best friends and that's what friends do. She'd called him a week later having got into a fight and he'd skipped school to wrap her hand up.

He said it like it was no big deal, but it gave Missy more hope than she'd dared even think of, lying alone in bed the past few weeks. Hope that one day they could be those two kids under the tree in the Wastelands Group Home, promising forever but not really understanding what it meant.

"Hey Missy," John's gravelly voice broke the silence. "Can you keep talking? I'd quite like Clara to have her parents tomorrow and..."

And he was tired, this impromptu trip to London not having been factored into the prior night's sleeping arrangements.

"I'll book into a hotel then," Missy decided, her mind trailing back to their previous conversation, "Unless you've got a key to my parents house and can just let me in?"

John shook his head

"I don't tend to need it," he shrugged, "If I'm going round, it's to see them, and they're terrible for locking their doors if they're not in. Everyone knows that."

"Constantly surprised they haven't been burgled while on a walk down the Cotswold Way," Missy snorted, resting her head back to look at the stars.

"It's Leadworth," John scoffed. "The biggest crime they've ever had was who stole the jar of sweet from the summer fete of 1988."

"Ha," Missy laughed into the darkness, "That would be me."

"We ate them in the graveyard with the bottle of ginger beer River stole from the pantry," He agreed, chuckling. It had been a good afternoon, that one, in the summer before they left for university. When everything was on the brink of change, but not quite there yet.

"We had fun," Missy said softly into the night. She felt the air stir, but it may have just been her imagination, because John didn't reach across to hold her hand like he might have once upon a time in the nineties, driving them both home from university for the holidays. "What do you do for fun now? And, actually, for work to? We were too busy doing the awkward situation thing to sit down and properly chat last time I was home and it's been hell since. So, tell me about teaching at the Academy."

In the dark, you can ask things you wouldn't ask in the light of day. There is an unspoken rule that governs during twilight only. A rule where old grievances are put aside, where things can be asked without eye contact, where reactions are kept secret. Tomorrow, when the sun cracks the horizon and spills brightness everywhere, nothing can hide. But in the night, in a car, on a long drive, with soft silence bending around yielding bodies, things can be asked. Things can be explained. Things can be promised.

Tomorrow would be a new day, but tonight, he would explain his job, about how much he hated the Chief, Tobias Rassilon, how much he liked seeing Liz for lunch on the days she taught post-doc and not school kids, how annoying Ian Chesterton could be but still be a dear friend (not that he'd said the last, but Missy wasn't a fool, she knew he loved it). He told her about students who'd come through and gone off to other universities and careers. He told her about a huge part of his life. His passion for Physics, for teaching, for being needed by someone.

They had nearly arrived back in Gallifrey when he asked what Missy was planning to do now she was back. It took her by surprise, and it shouldn't have. She was a planner. Everything had contingencies. But this didn't. She'd followed her instincts that lead her home but hadn't thought any further ahead.

"I don't know," She replied in wonder, "Which is an entirely new experience for me, I must admit."

"You'll need to find something to do or you'll end up trying to take over the PTA," he'd replied drily.

"I'd have to be involved in Clara's school life for that to happen," Missy had snorted without thinking. And it was like the spell had broken. She'd broached the subject they seemed to have unconsciously agreed not to broach. She tensed, waiting for whatever negative reaction John was going to have.

"Get to know her," he said simply, pulling up outside a B&B on the edge of Gallifrey. "Then we can talk about it."

It was all he said. Like it was obvious. Missy stared at him, tired eyes wide and a little glassy. He turned his head slightly, just catching her eye before turning away.

"Sophie and Craig run this place," he nodded towards the B&B, a pretty house with a child's swing set in the garden. "Have a boy in Clara's class called Alfie. I booked you in for a few nights, just till you find your own place."

Missy opened her mouth to thank him, but the words didn't come out. They lodged in her throat and stuck.

"I'll get your bag," John added brusquely, out of the car and flooding the interior with harsh, overly bright light. The door to the B&B opened, a woman waving down the path, overly cheerfully. Missy sucked in a breath, wondered how she was supposed to act around John when he acted like he actually didn't hate her thank you very much, It was easier to be defensive, to think he was mad at her. This was grey, and while Missy was happy to operate in the grey area between legal and illegal in her work life, she'd never been much good at it in her personal life.

"Right," John handed her the suitcase, not meeting her eye. "I'll see you tomorrow. If you call me before lunch I'm never speaking to you again."

Missy laughed. She couldn't help it. John looked up at her in surprise, before turning and rushing around to his door. He waved slightly, before folding himself into the car more designed for River and Missy's height, and driving off into the dark.

It made Missy wonder if he knew how to operate the grey either. Or perhaps they were just two fools fumbling in the dark with no idea how to navigate this strange not-friendship they'd ended up in. It was a little reassuring, knowing that neither of them knew where this was going. Where Missy wanted it to go was irrelevant. Where it did go, well, she'd need a crystal ball for that.

Missy turned sharply, dragging the bag to the front door, and introduced herself to Sophie, apologising for the late night and finding herself ushered in with no prejudice. Either this woman loved everyone, or she hadn't heard how Missy was supposed to be a bad egg.

It was nice actually.

Chapter Text

That people retire willingly is a puzzle Missy will never solve. In the three days since arriving back in the backwater town she called home, she'd found herself at rather a loss. A trip to the local library had yielded a book list that would keep her busy for a few months, but just sitting around reading had never much been Missy's speed.

In fact, she was terrible at it.

Which may have been what led to her taking apart Craig and Sophie's toaster in her satin button down pyjamas at two in the morning using only a screwdriver and a knife, sat on the cold linoleum floor. Even Missy could admit she was having a bad time. This inactivity wasn't sitting well with her.

The next day, her parents arrived home, demanding to be told everything and asking where she was planning on moving too, seeing as she couldn't stay with Craig and Sophie forever. John had booked her in for the week, but honestly, Sophie was ridiculously chatty, always bubbling in a way that made Missy's teeth grate. Craig was a darling, but he had a tendency to look like he was afraid Missy was going to bite his head off and snack on his entrails. She wouldn't do that. Not in front of the boy anyway. Their kid, Alfie, was actually rather sweet in a solemn, quiet kind of way. He didn't bother Missy and she didn't bother him. They got on splendidly.

But Missy was missing having her own space, her own front door, her own flat really. The day after she realised this, Missy signed over a significant amount of money that barely made a dent in her personal finances for a three bed flat on a new development on the road out towards the Institute. It was plain, it was simple, it would do. She could move in a week. Populating the flat took the work of an hour, her credit card and John Lewis.

It was oppressing, the boredom. She could spend what felt like hours executing an activity like making tea the proper way, steeping the leaves and everything, and find that in reality, mere moments had past. It was excruciating. Honestly the monotony. She'd found herself helping Alfie silently build a replica of the San Francisco Golden Gate in meccano the morning before. What was the world coming to?

And that was how, six days after arriving in Gallifrey-Leadworth again, Missy found herself on the doorstep to a pretty two up, two down detached house raising a fist to knock on a royal blue door. John may have been waiting on the other side of the door the speed of which it opened.

"Morning," Missy said brightly.

John gaped. Missy frowned at him, trying to work out why he could be looking at her with such amazement. Then it hit her. She was wearing jeans, a big shirt that may or may not have been his about a decade ago and her hair twisted out of her face.

"If you can't already tell," Missy informed him archly, "I've come to do that life-saving surgery on your car."

John frowned, "You should have called," he sighed, but he let her in anyway. The house was nice, if a little boring. A glance into the living room revealed the ordered chaos of a child in the middle of three different games at once and a glance to the left revealed a room that could only be John's study by the sheer amount of mess and oddbobs. It was all a bit too....nice. It unnerved Missy a little. John had always been passion and chaos and River had been similar but their house was too ordered, too neat, too like everyone else's. Like they were trying to fit in rather than embracing the madness within.

"Nice place you got here," Missy made sure her voice was sincere. John snorted.

"I'm thinking of leaving Clara in here with a paintbrush for an hour and seeing what happened," He muttered, glaring darkly at the light brown (not beige) walls where Clara was proudly framed with and without her parents. "We both hated it, but we're renting, can't change the décor without landlord's say so."

"Oh," that made far more sense.

"Anyway," John led Missy through an equally boring but slightly more disorganised kitchen and into the cool dim of the garage. He gestured to the room, to the mess of tools on the bench, to the car sat in the middle of the room. "I'll er, let Clara know you're here so you don't surprise her. She shouldn't bother you, she's reading that series about a boy wizard and she'd on book five."

"Isn't Order of the Phoenix nearly as big as she is?" Missy commented with a snort, John looked at her in surprise. "You know it's only been eight years since I saw you last," she reminded him a little archly, "yes I know what Harry Potter is."

John's ears turned red as he looked away.

"Right," he declared, backing away towards the door. "I'll er, leave you to it, I've got an essay to mark for Bill. Hoping to get a paper published before term starts again and... er"

Missy held out her hand. He stopped, faltered, stared at it, before hesitantly taking her hand and shaking it.

"Keys," Missy huffed a little affectionately, enjoying his look of realisation and subsequent embarrassment. A moment later, the key dropped into her palm. "Thank you dear."

"Don't damage my car," he said half-heartedly, before turning and running away. He was always running.

Missy shook her head fondly, thinking absently of years gone past where he would have returned with steaming tea and perched on the edge of the work table, pretending not to admire her ass in her dungarees. Back when fighting was flirting and they were comfortable in being each others best friend.

She wanted her friend back. Didn't know if she could ever have that again. Unlikely. But perhaps they could form a new friendship that wasn't quite so destructive this time round.

Missy made short work of organising the tools, popping the hood and putting on some shouty mid eighties rock to work too. This, this was what she had been missing. Weighing up where a part should go, feeling around the engine and letting instinct guide her as she bought the machine back to full health.

She was in quite her own world, bobbing her hips to the music with her head under the hood when she realised she wasn't alone. It wasn't the same spatial awareness as when John was around, but she was very aware she was being watched. She pulled her head out of the engine, turning sideways to look towards the door. The door where an abnormally small seven year old with dark hair and dimples was sitting cross-legged, watching her work with somewhat suspicious eyes.

"What are you doing to daddy's car?" Clara asked, her voice firm. "Only daddy is allowed to touch the Tardis."

Oh bless.

"Daddy asked me to fix her up a bit," Missy patted the hood affectionately, wondering what had gone wrong in her that she found it far easier to have emotions about her vehicle than about her own offspring. Clara snorted, in such fair imitation of River that Missy had to check it was dark hair and not blonde sat watching her.

"There's nothing wrong with the Tardis," Clara insisted, with all the loyalty a seven-year old could muster. "She's indestructible."

"Did your daddy tell you that," Missy snorted, leaning a hip against the fender. "Because you should never trust a man about a vehicle."

Her first piece of advice. How absolutely fitting. Clara frowned up at her, like she wasn't quite sure she could trust her.

"Why?"

"Because men," Missy collapsed herself down onto the floor cross-legged in front of the girl. "Have this annoying habit of being overly sentimental about cars, or motorbikes or, well, anything that goes vroom."

"What does sentimental mean?" Clara asked again.

"Oh, er," Missy dug around in her brain for a child-appropriate equivalent. "erm, nostaligic? They erm, get very emotional about silly things."

Clara nodded solemnly, no doubt storing that piece of information away.

"In the case of this car," Missy continued, "I built it, and your daddy has done his level best to make unnecessary improvements which actually hurt her, or at least make her feel a bit sick."

"So you're like a car doctor?" Clara asked dubiously, eyeing Missy unsurely.

"If you like," Missy shrugged. "I'm an engineer. It means I fix things in machines when they break."

"Like daddy?"

"No dear," Missy chuckled, "Your daddy is a tinker, he meddles with things and tries to make them better but very rarely succeeds."

Clara nodded, probably already aware of her daddy's deplorable success rate.

"What's that?" Clara pointed to the oil stained tool in Missy's hand.

"This is a spanner," Missy named the parts for her, listening as Clara repeated them back and asked what they did. They moved further into the room, Missy explaining the different tools she was using, before draping her spare shirt over Clara's tiny frame and hoisting the little girl up to wedge her between her hips and the fender. There, she explained the different parts of the engine to Clara, fielding the little girls questions and making a conscious effort to not start being overly technical.

It was nice. Having Clara there. Explaining something that Missy enjoyed so much. Maybe it wasn't parenting, she wasn't sure she'd ever be ready for that, but she wasn't quite so afraid of Clara when she was asking Missy if she was holding a spanner right, or showing her how to properly tighten a nut, or how to check the oil. It was a nice afternoon, spent educating Clara and hopefully convincing her that daddy didn't always know best when it came to an engine.

Clara was a quick study. In fact, give her a few more years and Missy would start showing her how to make engine alterations, maybe get them a project car to build together, showing Clara how to strip and engine down to its component parts and fix as they went to build a practically new engine.

It was a nice little daydream. It also scared Missy. Here she was, planning to stick around long enough to build a goddam car? Who even was she anymore.

"Missy," Clara called her attention back to the present, wiggling a little to get down. Missy obliged, watching in amusement as the girl picked up a screw and turned back to her, holding it up questioningly. It wasn't the right screw and Missy told her, watching as Clara's brow puckered in a painfully familiar way (she should know, she saw it in the mirror every single day) before rooting through to find the piece Missy described. She ended up getting down on the floor and helping Clara sort all the mismatched screws into some sort of order for the next time they did this (if there was a next time).

"What's going on in here?" A voice interrupted Clara telling Missy a story about her teacher Miss Wakefield. They both looked up, Missy smiled a little awkwardly at John, not knowing if this was within the acceptable boundaries of getting to know Clara when they hadn't really talked about it since mentioning it very very briefly in the car.

"Missy and I are sorting bolts," Clara announced gleefully, scrambling up to greet her father. John plucked at the almost grey shirt that Clara was ensconced in, lifting the rolled up sleeve to Clara's giggle. He raised an eyebrow at Missy. "Missy's been showing me how to fix the Tardis!"

"Has she now?" John asked wryly. Missy shrugged, joining them upright and dusting her knees off.

"She's very good," Missy informed him with a smirk. He returned a small smile, before turning back to Clara and demanding proof of what she'd learnt. The girls excitement at showing her father an engine (occasionally being corrected by Missy) was adorable, and gave Missy a little bit of hope. Because over the course of the afternoon, she had realised that she did want to know Clara. She didn't want to be her mum, but she did want to know her, wanted to see her grow up.

"Well then, little miss mechanic," John announced dramatically, "You'd better ask Missy to help you wash up, because you know what tonight is?"

"Pizza night!" Clara crowed, doing a peculiar little dance and then running out of the room. She appeared again a moment later to grab Missy by the hand and drag her away with her.

Later that night, after helping make a mess in the kitchen creating pizza-masterpieces, laughing more than she had in a while, and helping clear up while John put Clara to bed (girl was exhausted), Missy wondered if she could stick it out. If she'd be able to have a family with all she'd done, with her past, with her tendency towards flight.

"So," John was leaning in the doorway, watching Missy put on her boots.

"I'm sorry for outstaying my welcome," Missy apologised before he could tell her to leave. She was already on her way out, he didn't need to rush her.

"No," John moved into the room a little warily, "I wanted to ask... how it...went ....today."

Missy paused, before turning to look at him incredulously.

"Do my ears deceive me?" She mocked, "Are you asking me how I feel?"

"Yes."

His answer, so blunt, so honest, pulled Missy up short, least she could do was repay the favour.

"Talking about cars, I can do," she admitted quietly. "And Clara seemed interested, even if she's right not to trust me. She barely knows me... but... John if I can have cars and engines with her...maybe ..."

She trailed off, not sure where she was heading with her maybe. But John, dependable as ever, John understood what she meant without her saying anything.

"River would have loved watching that," he admitted quietly, "Watching you show Clara around an engine, sitting with her and sorting screws because god-knows Clara can't deal with disorder."

"She's a good kid," Missy admitted quietly, "You and River did really well."

"I guess you could say all three of us did really well," he snorted, "You did provide the genetics after all."

Missy half-chuckled. That was awkward, and she'd prefer to stay far away from that.

"She likes puzzles," John offered suddenly. "She likes books."

Missy frowned at him. And?

"Maybe you'd like to think about that for next time you visit," he said quietly. He stood up, offered a hand to pull Missy up. "Please don't break her heart Missy," he whispered.

And that was the problem, wasn't it? Letting people in. Letting people in to stay. They were both bad at it. She was worse. But Clara didn't deserve that. If she was in, she would have to be all in. And that was absolutely terrifying.

"I'd like to try," Missy offered half-heartedly, knowing that as far as promises went, it was a bit pants. John nodded. He let go of her hand.

"Good luck with the move," he said. Missy looked up at him sharply. He smirked. "Queen of Evil rents a house on Arcadia Crescent and you didn't think it would hit the gossip vine immediately?"

"Bought," Missy corrected him, "And actually, more surprised you, of all people, heard off the vine."

"Sarah heard from Liz heard from Katie," He muttered a little self-consciously. Missy made an "ah" of understanding. It was amusing really.

"I'd best be off," Missy said, inching towards the door.

"Come over soon?" He asked. "Clara's only got a fortnight left off school, so make the most of it."

"I will," Missy said. And it surprised her to find out she actually meant it.

Chapter Text

She hates her flat. No, that isn't strictly true, her flat is very nice, especially now it looks less like a showhome and more like somewhere she lives. But it still feels like it is waiting. And how ridiculous is that? How can her flat be waiting?

The truth is that her flat is too quiet. Half of the estate is empty. The people that do live on the estate are fairly happy to keep themselves to themselves, being newcomers to the town rather than having grown up in Leadworth and migrated across the park to Gallifrey. Once upon a time, Missy relished the quiet. She congratulated herself on the quiet. It meant she'd done well. Now she lay awake at night, her fingers itching to reach across her 600 thread count cotton duvet to where her mobile phone sat. She wished she could call someone, anyone to fill the silence.

Well, that wasn't quite true, it was a fairly short list, those she was actually willing to talk to in the wee hours where the darkness sits heavy against the hills. And topping that list, topping that list is a loud voice and a louder personality with hair big enough to hide the cosmos with room going begging. At night, in the silence, Missy let herself grieve her sister. It still stung in ways she didn't know it could sting. She and River had been estranged, had been for years before her death, but for perhaps the first time in her life, Missy felt true regret. Not for leaving Clara, as much as she was growing to like the little brat she'd have been a terrible mother and knew that for certain, but for leaving and never looking back. For not letting herself just swallow her pride and pick up the phone. She could have had years with River, not hours.

The village aspect of their home was recovering. It had been weeks. The school holidays were nearly over. People were getting on with their lives. John still had a tendency to frown into the distance sometimes, but Missy understood how he must've felt, like something just hurtles out of nowhere and it's like she's died all over again. Over and over and over and over. Sometimes it would be something Clara would say, or the way she'd huff and roll her eyes and Missy's breath would catch in her throat and she'd see green eyes not brown, yellow curls not dark brown. But at the same time, seeing Clara helped soften the loss of her sister. Because this child was River's, had her mannerisms (and more than a few of John's, like stubbornness. Girl was pure Scots) and knowing that, somehow, made it a little easier.

It didn't help that Clara was just too easy to tease, but also to love. She was bright and enthusiastic about everything, but also quiet and thoughtful, examining the possibilities before deciding on her course of action. Clara tended to have mixed opinions about Missy being around. Some days, they would settle into a puzzle, or disappear into the garage and it would be easy, easier than breathing. Some days, Clara would eye her suspiciously, like she knew Missy didn't belong, and nothing Missy did would make the blindest bit of difference. Those days left Missy feeling hollow. She was a charmer, a manipulator, she had been her whole life. But somehow, some quirk of genetics had meant she couldn't pull that card on her own offspring.

It was a relief actually. Knowing that Clara couldn't be taken in by nice words or a kind smile. It probably helped that John was one of the most sceptical people in the cosmos. Their personality traits balancing perfectly. Clara would either be unstoppable or unflappable. Preferably both.

She couldn't help it. Missy liked the little brat. She had guts. And somehow, despite all the water under the very flimsy bridge she and John balanced on, Clara made it easier for them all. Try as she might, Missy couldn't bring herself to regret any chain of events that led to Clara. And she knew John didn't too. Clara made it easier for John to let Missy slip back between the pages of their life, and her slipping back into John's made some of their friends lower their guards just a little. In fact, Sarah had practically sobbed with relief when John had gruffly snapped that she didn't have to hate Missy any more because he didn't. Sarah held very few grudges, and Missy had always been her sister-in-law, her family.

So yes, she hated her flat. It was too quiet. But beyond the walls, she knew there were people who, even if they didn't love her as fiercely as they once did, were willing to welcome their prodigal son home again. She rather liked it. Even if she was bored bloody witless most of the time. Her brain was turning to mush. She needed something, anything, to do! Clara was going back to school soon, and given most of her limited group of friends worked at the Institute she was facing long days of absolute mind-numbing boredom.

It was with this thought in her mind that Missy turned the corner towards her flat (she hadn't spent the day with John and Clara today - he was taking her uniform shopping and Missy couldn't get away from that domestic nightmare fast enough) and almost straight into someone. Someone made of bone and sharp edges.

"Watch where you're going," She snapped automatically, adjusting her bag and glaring behind sunglasses, channelling her inner John.

"Don't mind me," the stranger laughed, dark shadowed eyes raking her way down Missy's body in a way that she hadn't been looked at in a while. The woman was tall, wiry, dark haired, dark eyes and incredibly regal. Missy's kind of woman.

"Well," Missy drew the sound out, letting her own gaze linger on an impressively tight pencil dress, "Maybe I want to mind you."

It was a terrible come on, but hey, Missy's brain had pooled in her ears a few days previously when she'd realised she'd willingly gone to Sophie and Craig's to lunch.

"If you can come up with something better than that," the other woman spoke in a low throaty voice and a sharp smile that spoke of teeth and nails. "Maybe I'll let you."

"Let's get worse," Missy let the words roll out of her mouth like honey in a trap. "You're not from around these parts, are you?"

The dark haired woman laughed, a coarse smokers laugh. "Nor, I'd bet, are you," Aha, one of those games.

"Bred, not born," Missy confirmed. "You just passing through?"

"Perhaps," the other woman's dark eyes glinting in the half shadow. "Are you asking?"

"Are you telling?" It was far from her smoothest pick up on a street corner, but with eyes like that, she could work with it. Her phone buzzes in her pocket, barely registering in her periphery. She'll get it later.

"Missy," She held a carefully manicured hand out in greeting "Pleasure to meet you", The other woman's blood red lips curled around bright white teeth.

"Tasha," She said, taking Missy's hand tightly in her own. "Oh, the pleasure's all mine, Missy."

It was different, it was something a little exciting, and perhaps, if she played her cards right, it could be something a little dangerous too.

Chapter Text

"How's your first week at school been then Clara-bear?" Amy asked as lunch ended the end of the first week of September, nodding her thanks to Missy as she slid a mug of tea in front of both her parents. She snorted as Clara instantly launched into her practically pre-prepared speech about the new boy Danny and her new teacher Miss Foreman.

Her grandparents made the appropriate noises as Missy cleared the table and started loading the sink while John started loading the dishwasher. Missy shook her head fondly as Clara complained about the lack of green apples in the break time fruit basket.

"I'll get you some for next week," she promised absently, "Daddy can put them in your lunch box."

"Thank you Missy," Clara beamed, "Can I have a cup of tea too?"

"No," John said quickly, cutting off anything that Missy would have answered. "You are not giving her caffeine. She's seven."

Missy smirked at John, then shrugged to Clara in a way that said "sorry darling, daddy said no." Clara grinned in response, waiting till her dad had turned back to the dishwasher before taking a gulp of Missy's tea, already sitting near Clara. Missy chuckled, turning back to the washing up. She didn't notice Amy and Rory sharing a pointed glance, instead she pulled soapy dishes out of the sink and nudged John with her hip to remind him to dry without saying a word.

"There's biscuits in the top cupboard," Missy added absently, listening to the chatter of Clara and Amy and Rory asking the little girl questions. John huffed at her. "What?"

"If you think you're giving out my jammy dodgers stash," he said pointedly, his eyebrows looking particularly fierce. Missy blew a handful of soap bubbles into his face. "You're a bad influence you know."

"Oh, I know," Missy winked, enjoying the way John could only hold her eye for a second before coughing and looking away. "I was talking about the bourbons I put in there when I arrived. Honestly man, I know better than to come between you and those bloody biscuits."

"Yeah dad," Clara chimed from the table, grinning her toothy little grin. Missy winked at her as John huffed, but pulled the biscuits down from the highest cupboard and throwing them onto the table.

"Two," he said firmly, pointing at Clara. Clara turned to Missy.

"Dad's right," Missy said with a smile, "You've just had lunch."

Clara nodded, reaching forward and taking two of the biscuit fingers and putting them in front of her.

"You've got to stop treating her," John muttered, sidling up next to Missy to continue drying up next to her.

"I'm her aunt," Missy said lightly, not looking at him, "Isn't it my role to spoil her?"

John glanced at her, a loaded glance that was hard to look away from. But she managed it, pulled her gaze away and adding more hot water to the bowl.

"Grampy will you play tennis with me?"

John had bought Clara a tennis racquet the week before, when he'd gone to take Clara uniform shopping. Missy had mocked his inability to say no to the girl, especially when she had been roped into after school tennis four out of five nights that week. She was glad Dad was here to play if it gave her a break.

"John, why don't you go too," Mum said, tugging the tea towel from his hands and not really giving him an option otherwise. John narrowed his eyes at her, before nodding slowly and leaving the room, casting a wary glance over his shoulder as he pulled the door too. Missy waited a few seconds, wondering what she had done now, why mum wanted a private chat and was willing to put John's hackles up to do so.

"Are you having sex?" Mum asked bluntly, a moment after John had left.

"Not with John," Missy replied equally bluntly, "Not as far as I'm aware." Her mum asking after her sex life. That took her back.

Mum narrowed her eyes.

"Do you remember when I gave you the sex talk?" Mum asked a moment later, putting the dried pans to one side.

"They go in the cupboard by the oven, left hand side," Missy pointed a soapy hand to the right cupboard. "Yes, I do, I was fifteen and you gave me a pack of condoms and told me that you didn't want to know if John and I were having sex so long as we were safe while doing it."

It was a conversation burnt into Missy's adolescent brain. It had never occurred to her that people were expecting her and John to have sex, like it was an inevitability. And Missy had a feeling that this was what her mother was referring too - not the actual conversation where Missy had informed her mother she was fully aware of what was going where and had no intention of getting pregnant thank you very much. She found out after that Sarah had forced an equally embarrassing conversation onto a beetroot John.

"John and I aren't having sex," Missy said bluntly, "That is definitely off the cards. No, I had sex with a rather...interesting... woman last weekend, if you must know. But that's not going anywhere, I'm fairly certain she isn't local."

"If she was local she'd know that John is looking at you the same way he was when you all left for university," Mum muttered. She put the teatowel down and turned her body to her daughter. "Missy."

Missy took the teatowel, drying her hands before turning to face her mum, resting one hip against the sink.

"Mum," she said dramatically, one eyebrow raised and waiting.

Amy studied her carefully. She opened her mouth. Closed it again. It was unnerving. Her mother was well known for being blunt. Incredibly blunt. It meant no-one was surprised to find out that the two bluntest adolescents in the village had belonged to Amelia Williams.

"Be careful," Amy said finally. "You make him happy. And I think you're happy... and that's usually when you start running."

Missy wasn't sure how to respond to that. How were you supposed to respond?

"Look, Missy," Amy took a deep breath, "It's been three months since... since.. River died... just be careful. Both of you. It's not just you two and River in the mix anymore. You can't let Clara down."

"I don't intend too," Slipped out of Missy's mouth before she could stop it. Clara was... different. Time spent with Clara went quickly, even when Clara was being grumpy or was tired. She enjoyed spending time with Clara, getting to know the quirks of the little girl that screamed John, screamed River...screamed her. And John was...mellowing towards her. He was quick to criticise, but also never denied her access to his house, was willing to share his time. It may have been duller than watching paint dry while everyone was at work and she had nothing to do, and sometimes she wondered why she ever came back, but then other times John would say something, or Clara would laugh, or Amy would drape her arm over her shoulders, or Rory would sit quietly next to her and share the paper...and she'd feel she was home.

"Mum..." Missy started, looking away, "I'm not saying it's easy being back. John and I have a lot to work through. But we aren't the same people we were back before I left. And we aren't the same people we were when River dragged me back on a promise. I'm trying. I really am."

Mum quirked a smile.

"I know," She said quietly, tears welling up in bright eyes, "Dad and I are proud of you. John is too, though the taciturn bastard would never say it."

They both snorted at the truth of it.

"We are proud of you Missy," Mum reiterated, "You do know that, don't you?"

She did know. It was nice to hear though.

A soft knock at the door preceeded John's grey head appearing gingerly round the door.

"If you're done talking about me, Clara wants us all to pair up and play doubles," he looked pained at the thought.

"Bagsie Ref," Missy said quickly with a grin, "I have played tennis far too much this week."

"That's parenting for you," John quipped with an awkward smile. It was adorable.

Missy pulled the drain, dried her hands and indicated for her mum to proceed her out. She caught John's hand as they made their way to the garden, pressed her lips close to his ear and muttered "Heads up, parents get involved again as they did with sex ed." then she pulled away and left him groaning at the prospect of a similar conversation with his older sister. Or worse. His brother-in-law.

Chapter Text

She's taken to counting things in days. Days that seem to stretch into the distance. It's 130 days since River died. Four months, two weeks. It's been 63 days since John picked her up at the airport. 59 days since she taught Clara the names of things inside an engine.

it's 131 days since her sister died that Missy finds herself in the woods to the north of the church, flicking a lighter and watching the flame dance.

It could be so easy. She could set the whole place on fire. Just for fun. She could hear the crackle of wood blistering in the heat, the hiss and fizz and crack as sparks fly sending smoke into pretty patterns in the air. But she knows forest fires are dangerous, they catch too hard and lose control too quickly. They're dangerous. She feels like the flame. She's dancing to be released, but it's hard to keep herself contained in a body made too soft, a body made of skin and blood and a beating heart and delicate brain.

She leaves the lighter in a drawer in John's house. The temptation is a little too much for her fingers to be allowed near the starter.

it's 148 days post River, when John leaves Missy alone with Clara for an evening. He has a meeting at the Pyrodian Institute, a staff meeting to discuss fundraising and probably some other equally tedious things like timetabling for the spring term. Missy is left alone with Clara for the first time since the two had been introduced. It feels significant. Like they should mark it with a balloon and a red sweep around the date in the calendar.

Instead she's terrified she'll do something to hurt the girl, something that will turn everyone against her again (and she wouldn't blame them, would pick Clara too). Missy burns the pizza and Clara finds the takeaway menu, content to eat microwave beans from a jug while watching an obnoxious all singing, all dancing cartoon with some freakish talking snowman. The kid has stripy socks on and patterned pyjamas that Missy suspects may match the obnoxious film she is enduring. Her little feet bounce in time to the songs and she chatters happily to Missy the whole film, letting Missy know what is going on at all times, sharing stories of things River had done or said in response to the characters (it doesn't hurt as much as it did). They share a pizza and garlic bread, commiserate over River and John's weird obsession with putting fruit under the cheese, and then Clara is tucked into bed and demanding a story.

"I don't want any story, Missy," Clara instructs, snuggling down under the duvet with a bedraggled rabbit, bald in some places. "I want you to tell me a story about when you and mummy were girls. Daddy said you have some good stories."

"Oh, that I do," Missy replied drily, "Not all of them are appropriate for little pitchers though."

Clara pouted, but Missy stands firm, reminding Clara that she'd already stayed up past bedtime, and that if she was still awake when Daddy came home, Missy wouldn't be allowed to babysit again.

She's surprised it worked, truth be told. While Clara snuffles her way through sleep, Missy lets herself into the study, wanders around, reads his research findings. She's reached for a red pen and is circling significant findings before she really realises she's got her feet resting on his desk in slipper socks and a cup of tea at her elbow, glasses propped precariously atop her nose. But with little else to do on a Tuesday night (especially once Holby City has finished for the night) she settles herself into John's office like she belongs there, and for the first time in more than a hundred days, feels something broaching peace.

John arrived home blustering and Scottish, throwing his coat onto the rack and storming into the kitchen after Missy as she made him a cup of tea heaping three sugars in instead of four.

"Rassilon is an absolute fucking moron," John announced hotly, accepting the tea and putting it down again almost instantly, the heat of the ceramic burning his fingers.

"He always was," Missy reminded him with a snort, remembering the snotty asshole from three years above them, who could have been a genius if he'd adored science as much as he adored himself. "And you've been working with Ratty for years John, you should know how far up his own arse his head is. How is it a surprise?"

John looked at her in surprise, his eyebrows raising almost comically, then flopping down into their neutral disgruntled position rather than pissed disgruntled position. His eyes flit down to her feet, her very cosy, very fluffy feet, and his lips turn up slightly.

"I think he might have gone too far this time Miss," John replied softly, ignoring the fluffy feet, "I really think he had. He wants to start increasing the restrictions on the students we take, like we don't already have high enough expectations for the poor buggers we let through our doors. No humanities degrees, hard sciences only."

"That'd put Barbara out of a job," Missy says hotly, she has little regard for most humanities, but Barbara was different. Barbara was the beating heart of the Academy, had been since she and Ian had started there. Even when Missy was in a murderous, psychopathic rage, she'd never even dream of doing anything that might hurt Barbara.

"Not to mention the other humanities staff who collaborate with us hard scientists," John reminded her pointedly, the collaboration between science and society one of the greatest talking points of the post-graduate scheme. Where else did a literature professor work with a chemist to try and work out how to recreate the colour of a chemical bomb? "He also wants to hand pick students from the school, from the Gallifreyan Academy, and make sure they're educated in 'the proper way'." His face betraying the disgust at what Rassilon likely meant by 'the proper way'.

"Brainwashing," Missy surmised, "Let me guess, he's planning to run for President of the World, not just our little corner of Hell."

It was said as a dry quip, but they both registered the truth in the statement. Rassilon had always hungered for more power than he had, never being satisfied. If Missy's addiction had been new situations, new sensations, his had been his inflated sense of self worth and his lust for hitting this highest he could, then reaching for more. Ambition was good when tempered, but when it ran riot it proved more of a hindrance to long term success, than it did a help.

"And Dr bloody Lem isn't helping matters," John continued, blowing gently over the skin of the tea, sending the steam swirling in the air in a hypnotic way. Missy tried to remember which one "Bloody Lem" was from the tirade of colleagues John had been ranting over in the past weeks. Missy had a feeling Lem was a woman, a religious physicist who (if John was to be believed, which should always be taken with a pinch of salt) regularly disagreed with John, doggedly pursuing her own agenda at the cost of all others. As far as John was concerned (and actually, Liz and Ian were a little snotty on the subject of Dr Lem as well, which certainly leant some credence to John's old man grumblings) Dr Lem had her eye on the top spot, and would stop at nothing, trample them all and burn the entire Institute to the ground if it got in her way.

Missy thought she might have liked her.

"Dr Shaw thinks Lem's planning on helping Rassilon fall on his own sword," John added, almost absently, and Missy can't stop the roll of her eyes.

"You can call her Liz you know," Missy pointed out, knowing full well the futility of her case. At work, the more John respected someone, the more he would defer to their expertise and recognition of their title. Even those he didn't really respect (re: Lem), he always called by their title, arguing that after the shitstorm that got them into a teaching position at the Pyrodian Institute, the least they all deserved was a little recognition. Thus, despite having been nigh on best friends with Liz for almost sixteen years, she was always Dr Shaw in the context of work, and Liz in their personal lives. Missy guessed it was to help him separate between personal and professional. She, on the other hand, made a point of calling everyone by their first name, forcing people onto the back foot in the first meeting and reminding them of her superiority in other interactions.

"Doctor Shaw," John mumbled into his mug, eyes twinkling a little.

"So, apart from your battle of the roses going on between Rassion, Lem and the rest of the staff, meeting go ok?" Missy asked, wanting to eke out the evening, not wanting to go from this warm place back to her sparsely populated flat.

John pulled a face, "They're hosting an Autumn Ball," he looked disgusted at the very thought, before clearly quoting some propaganda, "To promote the research and the institute to potential donors to get us a new fucking library."

Missy snorted, knowing full well how much John hated being trussied up and paraded in front of donors.

"I don't know why you're laughing," He said shortly, "We get a plus one and guess fucking who."

That sobered her up rather quick.

162 days after River died, Missy found herself dressed to the nines, kissing Clara on the head and promising her mother she wouldn't stab someone with a fork, or set fire to a set of tails to see what happened when she lit someone's arse on fire. Then, somehow, she and John ended up standing next to the bar, making small talk with the Chestertons, and Missy realises just who Dr Bloody Lem actually is.

Chapter Text

It's clear that it's more fun watching a train wreck, than it is to be smack bang in the middle of it all. And really, Missy isn't sure what else the Autumn/Winter fundraising ball at the Pyrodian Institute could be called. It was a complete and utter trainwreck.

It started out reasonably well. John complemented her after a sharp elbow from Amy (not that Missy was expecting a compliment, she had known him forty years). They had taken a taxi to the institute (John grumbling about the unnecessary expense, and then grumbling when Missy pulled out her bag to pay). They had sipped at cheap prosecco masquerading as champagne, trying not to let more than a taste past their lips. They'd instantly found themselves with Liz and Alistair, none of them too impressed with being there. Liz had been fretting about leaving Kate and Osgood in the house alone, while Alistair had been very pointedly not thinking about what his adult daughter and her best friend, possibly girlfriend, were doing in his house while alone.

Then Liz had to talk to a donor, Alistair standing by nodding at his partners words and offering silent support for a genius level he knew he could never attain. Missy and John had slipped away, Missy smirking at guests, John trying not to grimace. They'd talked to John's recently graduated phd, Ace, who was happily waxing lyrical on her new postdoctoral project in Birmingham and all three had enjoyed that conversation, before Ace slipped away and John suggested they find Ian and Barbara. They were waylaid by an overzealous reporter who was asking rather pointed questions about the governmental origins of John's funding. A few smart comments from Missy, and from John, later and the reporter was left floundering like a fish while the pair walked away, sniggering to themselves.

"Do we really have to be here?" Missy complained, glancing around at the preening and the absolute waste of time going on around her.

"Yes," John replied simply, placing an order for a whisky and a large merlot.

"Let me rephrase," Missy huffed, "Why do I have to be here?"

"Because I am," Really the man could be so terrifically infuriating.

"Contrary to popular belief," Missy replied, "We aren't joined at the hip. So why do I have to be here?"

"To stop me from committing a crime," John muttered under his breath, passing Missy her glass and nodding a thanks to the server. He indicated for Missy to lead the way away from the bar.

"Stop you?" Missy snorted, "I'll be egging you on, man!"

She stopped, turned to John, eyes wide and pleading.

"Stop that," he complained half-heartedly.

"Stop what?" Missy asked innocently.

"Making your eyes all big," he pointed at them, "Clara does that too. Stop it."

"Can't we pretend my mum called, and Clara's ill, and we get to rush home like the concerned guardians we are?" Missy wheedled, batting long eyelids. John turned away abruptly, sipping his whisky. Missy knocked against his shoulder, drawing his name out in a long whine.

"Maybe in a bit," he conceded quietly, "But not before, say, half ten?"

"Half ten!" Missy acted enraged, dramatically looking at her bare wrists before remembering she didn't actually have a watch on. She grabbed John's wrist, pushing back the sleeve to check the time. John rolled his eyes. "It's barely even nine! Forget me stopping you from committing a crime, you're going to have to hold me back from homicide!"

"You used to do parties all the time," John reminded, scanning the crowd for friendly faces.

"You aren't paying to me to be nice to people," Missy shot back.

"That would be prostitution," John muttered, raising a hand and waving at Ian. "Come on, we can do an hour and a half, then we can go get Clara, okay?"

"I still don't get why I had to come with you," Missy complained, smiling at Barbara and greeting her by bumping cheeks. Barbara was gorgeous, as always, Ian equally as adorable, even if he seemed unable to part with his turtleneck that made the couple look like they'd been frozen since the 60's.

>"So," Barbara said brightly, showing white even teeth in perhaps the first genuine smile of the evening. "What have you two been discussing so intently over here?"

"Why John made me come with him," Missy answered frankly, sipping her wine. John rolled his eyes, but didn't refute the statement. "I'd rather have stayed home with Clara and that fucking Frozen movie."

"At least you got the name right this time," John raised an eyebrow and his glass, before adding to Ian and Barbara, "She's been calling it 'that fucking snowman' movie."

"If I have to listen to 'do you want to build a snowman' one more time," Missy trailed off dangerously, eyes glinting.

"If you break Clara's dvd, I'll just buy another one," John informed her. Missy glared at him. Ian chuckled.

"You two are back on form I see," He said jovially, "You're here to liven things up I imagine Missy. You know this old bore finds events like this."

"True, but I hate them too, so I'm going to drag him to something equally tedious," Missy huffed. "How's your boy doing? Last I heard, he'd just had a baby. Kid must be the same age as Clara by now, bit older?"

That opened the floor up for a conversation about Johnny Chesterton and his son Matt, who apparently took after his grandfather in the chemistry department, and was living further south. Missy and John offered stories about Clara in exchange, and it was a well spent half an hour. Liz and Alistair joined as soon as they could, the six closing ranks to protect their scientists from over-zealous anybodies.

The first Missy realised anything was amiss was when she felt John stiffen beside her, in the middle of an entertaining rendition of one of Kate's experiments going spectacularly wrong. She glanced up at him, frowned, a little concerned. A moment later, she heard Liz huff on her other side, clearly annoyed about something. They were both looking at something over Barbara's shoulder. Missy peered in that general direction as well, wondering who had gotten her two friends so riled up.

Then someone moved, and Missy finally saw Dr Rassilon, looking a lot older and a lot colder, looking for all the world as if someone had placed a foul smelling fish on his upper lip. And on his arm was a face (and body) very familiar to Missy, having spent a satisfactory afternoon getting to know it intimately. She was wearing a long navy dress, with full length sleeves and an interesting blue streak across her face, but it was undeniably Tasha.

"Can you believe it?" John muttered loud enough for their group to here.

"That Lem is here with Rassilon?" Liz confirmed, "What did I tell you two, she's after all she can get from the tight bastard."

"That's bloody Lem?" Missy confirmed, fairly sure her core temperature had dropped several degrees. Liz nodded. Missy turned to John, grabbing his arm slightly. "John, dear, remember how you took Clara school shopping and I told you I had sex that day?"

John flushed, glancing round at their friends, who were at least pretending not to be listening, He nodded sharply, once. All Missy knew was that she had to tell him before Tasha approached and he found out an entirely different way. Missy glanced over, seeing that the pair who seemed determined to run the Institute into the ground making their way directly towards their group.

"Her name was Tasha," She said quickly, watching the confusion play across his face. Missy heard Liz's sharp intake of breath, as her friend realised what was being said.

"Good evening everyone," A silky voice greeted them all, "Doctor Chesterton, Mrs Chesterton, Dr Shaw, Mr Stewart, and ... Dr Smith and...Mrs Smith?"

"It's Doctor and Doctor Chesterton," Missy corrected her, turning to face Tasha and giving her a disarming smile, "And Alistair is a Lethbridge-Stewart, and I'm an Oakdean, not a Smith. Which I believe you know Tasha dear?"

The look Tasha gave her in return was indecent for any sort of company.

"You look gorgeous babes," Tasha purred, eyes raking over Missy's purple dress.

"What's with the mask?" Missy jerked her chin, "You planning on hiding your secret identity? Or is that just what happens in the Incredibles?"

"Oh, why so sharp?" Tasha teased, "I knew you could bite, but I thought that was only in private?"

Missy felt the moment John finally caught up. His arm stiffened under hand, and he almost leant away from her.

"And only if you ask nicely," Missy flirted back, figuring she'd committed now, might as well make this train wreck a spectacular one. "Ratty, darling, been a while. I hear you're determined to rule the universe."

"Missy," Rassilon had been flicking hungry eyes between Tasha and Missy (and more precisely, their breasts) for far too long, and with far too predatory a look. "I heard you failed to conquer America."

"Depends on your definition of failed," Missy shrugged, "You say Michelle Oakdean over there and see how far it gets you. Much further than saying Albert Rassilon for sure."

Barbara had to turn away, supposedly to retrieve her drink from the side table. Missy winked at her laughing eyes.

"But what can I say," She raised a glass, "Thought I'd retire home, see the sights, have a bit of peace."

"So how long have you two been screwing this time?" Aha, striking Rassilon's ego had always been a sure-fire way to put him on the defensive, where he was much more fun to play with.

"Well, Ian and Barbara have been married, ooh, twenty three years now? Alistair and Liz-dear have been together nine, ten? I can't remember, is it nine or ten?" Missy turned back to Liz.

"Eleven," Liz confirmed, eyes laughing, mouth pressed into a tight line.

"There we are then, eleven years! Gosh how time flies," Missy turned back to Rassilon, "But shouldn't you know that already? They are your staff after all!"

Rassilon spluttered. Tasha laughed, high and clear and false, patting her companion on the shoulder in what could only be described as a patronising way.

"Oh, Missy," Tasha purred, her voice low and sensual, "I knew your mouth was good, I didn't realise quite how quick it could be."

John shuddered, trying to extricate himself from Missy. She held him tight, not willing to let him get away.

"Oh, my mouth is very good," Missy agreed frankly, "And my wit is better, but then, some people just can't help but put themselves on a silver platter, and they make it so easy." She flashed blue eyes at Tasha's dark ones, watching them narrow as Tasha realises that Missy isn't just some past lay, but was a dangerous player in her political game. "Now, Ratty dear, I hear you've decided that this fine Institute needs to be more selective?"

"Yes," Rassilon puffed his chest out self-importantly, "I'm sure you'll agree that we need to ensure we strive to improve our scientific standing internationally-"

"No," Missy interjected, sipping her wine, letting go of John's arm but stepping back against his chest so he couldn't move away without it looking suspicious.

"No?" Rassilon stopped, zoned in on Missy.

"No," Missy repeated herself, "You're wrong. This school doesn't need higher standards to get in. Why, John was just telling me the other day about the insane standards you expect of your incoming phds, eliminating humanities is just idiotic. You'll lose funding and respect. Now, if you don't mind, I think I just saw an old friend of mine from my own days as a Phd. It was lovely to speak to you both again. Come on John."

Missy smiled disarmingly, placed her glass on the low table behind John, and led him away from the group, through the crowded room, and out onto a private patio. She stopped there, took a deep breath, and turned back, face impassive.

"Go on then," She held her arms away from her body slightly, "Have at it."

John just stood there in the dim lighting, then his hand raked through his hair and he started to pace.

"Tasha Lem," he clarified harshly, "You're telling me, that on the day I was collecting our daughter's school uniform in Cheltenham, you were screwing Tasha fucking Lem?"

Missy felt her blood start to boil a bit. She knew he'd be annoyed, she didn't know he would be acting all self-righteous and downright wounded about it! Like she'd done it on purpose?

"Oh, don't you dare use Clara like that!" she hissed, stepping forward and nearly jabbing him in the chest. "Just because I don't hate the girl now does not mean that I am tied to a life of celibacy and practically married to you! You may not like sex but some of use really rather do. And I told you that I had sex that day, when you asked why I hadn't answered my phone, I never kept it a secret. It's not my fault you turned absolutely beetroot and insisted you didn't want to know!"

"But Lem?" He spat, "I've been ranting and raving and furious with her for months, and you never said anything until now? Jesus Missy, a little warning would have been fan-fucking-tastic!"

"Let me just run through the things you call her," Missy began listing on her fingers, "Doctor Lem; Bloody Lem, that harpy, that moronic phd, erm, Lem. The list goes on. What you have never called her, is Tasha. And I had a one afternoon encounter with a woman who I thought was passing through and who I haven't seen since. I didn't exactly get her name and life story. It's not like I could have accidently knocked her up."

John stepped away, began pacing again, running his hand through his hair furiously.

"I gave you as much forewarning as I could," Missy informed him hotly, "And do you really think that I would sleep with someone you detested just to aggravate you? Do you really not know me John?"

"Where are you going?" John barked. Missy paused, halfway to the gate that led out of the Institute.

"Home," She said simply, "Because I think you need to cool off. And maybe, once your pride has recovered from the damage, you'll realise that I had sex with her before the term started, before you even knew who she was. And also that it's really nothing to do with you. So you need to get over it. Good night John."

Then, brimming with rage and flowing with dignity, Missy swept out of the building, furious with John for thinking so little of her, and furious with herself for caring. Part of her wants to tell the cab driver to take her to Gloucester, where she could easily find someone in Fever to while away half an hour with, but also knows that she would regret it. That revenge is only sweet when the other person knows about it.

>Instead, she straps on gloves, goes a few rounds on the punchbag she set up in her living room, her dress discarded over the back of a chair and the pretty silver clip that Clara had picked tossed in with the house keys.

She was furious at John. And by the look of it, he was furious at her too. The honeymoon period was well and truly over.

Chapter Text

Friday

She isn't expecting there to be a message or a bouquet of roses on her doorstep the next morning. In fact, had a bunch of flowers turned up she'd have been liable to go nuclear out of sheer frustration. The absence of a contrite, dishevelled old puppy of a man on her doorstep isn't a surprise the morning after the ball. It's a Friday, and she takes herself off to Cheltenham for a little bit of something resembling culture. Contemplates driving out to Bristol, or Birmingham or somewhere a little further afield, and decided that people might think she was running away because she was embarrassed, not because she was angry at John.

It's a thought that has her directing her car back and taking tea in a café in full view of the entire square, shopping bags at her feet, sipping her coffee, and reading a new book from Waterstones. No-one approaches her. It's a Friday, most people have work. At tea time, she packs up. Goes home. But it's too big, too quiet and she tries not to think about how she usually meets John and Clara for fish and chips on a Friday night, how she would take Clara into the shed and attempt to teach her how to build things while John got his paperwork out of the way.

She didn't want to let Clara down, but she couldn't face John. She doesn't know what she should do, knows that if she goes to the beige house then she and John would just argue and it would make things worse.

In the end, it's her mother who texts her. Amy texts Missy that John wanted her to know he was taking Clara to visit Rosie, Kate and Osgood in the flat and therefore wouldn't be in. Amy wants to know why Missy isn't going too, why John can't text himself, threatens to call. Then, moments later, Missy's phone starts buzzing. Missy considers not answering it. Decides that’s the cowards way.

"Sarah just called,” Mum blurts out the second Missy swipes the green phone across her screen. “She heard from, well, everyone, that you and John had a pistols at sundown at the bally party! How the hell did you two go from looking like you were off on your first date to tearing each others eyes out? Oh, wait, sorry, forgot who I was talking too. Ignore me. Just tell me what it’s about.”

“Mum,” Missy rubs her eyes, wonders just why she decided this would be more fun than isolation. At least silence didn’t care who you shagged.

“If you don’t answer I’ll just come over,” Mum replies smugly, and Missy knows it’s true. It’s what she would do to get answers. “So, spill. Who did what to who.”

“I told you that I had sex with someone who wasn’t John when you asked if we were sleeping together,” Missy dove straight in.

“I remember,” Mum huffed, sounding distinctly unimpressed. “You told me she was a one night stand.”

“She also happens to be Tasha Lem,” Missy waits a beat, nods when she hears her mother’s realisation in the form of a long drawn out curse word that Clara shouldn’t hear till she started secondary school. “Oh yes. I found this out when we were at the party and she walked towards us. John took it about as well as can be expected.”

"You didn’t know beforehand?” Mum clarified.

“Cast your mind back to before you met dad, and tell me, how many one night stands did you get the surname of?” Missy snarked.

"Don’t be crass,” Mum muttered with a weary sigh, “Bloody hell. John hates that woman. And you slept with her?”

“Before he knew who the hell she was,” Missy added indignantly. “I’m not that much of a bitch.”

“I know you’re not,” Mum soothed. “Yeah, you’re right this time. You aren’t always, god knows you aren’t always, but this time he should apologise.”

“Damn right.”

“Hopefully he will soon,” Missy glanced out of the window, hearing her mother sigh down the phone, “I’m too old to deal with you two having a stand off over who has to apologise first. And Clara doesn’t deserve it.”

That was the truth of it. Clara had only just got used to having Missy around. Missy had only just gotten used to Clara.

"He wouldn’t be that cruel, would he?” Missy found herself wondering aloud. He held all the power when it came to access to Clara. And that scared her.

“He wouldn’t,” Mum said firmly, “Sarah and I will make damn sure of it. He wouldn’t do that to Clara. That girl thinks the world of you and he would do anything to make her happy.”

“Feeling’s mutual,” Missy admits. “Hey, if I haven’t been able to speak to her by Monday…”

“I’ll make sure she calls you,” Mum promised, “You ok?”

“Angry at John so what’s new?” She wasn’t just angry, she was hurt, she was insulted, she was frustrated. She didn’t deserve the disgusted look of judgement she’d seen on his face before she’d walked away.

“You take care now,” Mum warned, “Or I’ll send dad round to mum you.”

Missy smiled in spite of herself, bid her mother farewell, and put the phone down. She had a few projects she’d been neglecting in favour of Clara, she had more than enough to keep her going. She had a theory, all she needed was a whiteboard and a grapefruit…

Saturday

She keeps herself busy. She takes Kate and Rosie shopping, teases Rosie about her boy toy, turns on Kate the moment the elder young woman thinks she’s safe. They don’t ask about what happened at the party and she doesn’t tell.

Instead she scandalises them by flirting with the young man who serves them at the cocktail bar and delivers them back to Osgood and David giggly and very, very drunk. No one could ever accuse her of being a good influence.

Sunday

"What are you doing here!" Strax demanded an answer the second Missy slid into their booth at the Citadel, hair poofed and lips looking like she'd drawn fresh blood from a jugular. Strax was short, dumpy looking and prone to likening things to a video game. He had been bought up with Vastra, and their childhood nicknames from nights spent playing battle games had stuck. Everyone still called Simon “Strax” to the point most people didn't even know his name was Simon anymore.

Drinking," Missy replies smartly, rolling her eyes and bumping cheeks with tiny little Jen. "Jen darling, you look ravishing as always. Are you sure I can't tempt you away from your green haired lizard woman?"

Jen laughed, "Only one woman for me Missy," She winks at their old friend, "And you ain't her."

"Shame," Missy pretended to pout, accepting the glass of wine Jen pours for her. Vastra smiles at her wife, and for a second Missy envies that look of complete peace that they have when they look at each other. The look that says 'everything is alright in my world because you're here and you're you'. But the second passes and she barely thinks of it, delighting in teasing them a little longer. "I think we would be excellent together. And if you two ever need a third, well, offer is still on the table."

"We know," Vastra rolls her eyes good-naturedly, and they both laugh at the pink that graces Jen's cheeks at the outright insinuation. Once upon a time that hint of pink would have been Jen stumbling over her words and unable to meet Missy's eye for the next three weeks. It is still fun to tease her though. "So, what are you doing here, with us on a Sunday afternoon?"

"Drinking with my friends," Missy toasts them with her glass.

"Nothing to do with the fact John's not talking to you because of something that happened at the ball on Thursday?" Vastra raises a beautifully shaped eyebrow, leans back. Jen glances at her quickly, studying her glass as if it contains the secret of the universe.

"What's the gossip on that then?" Missy asks. Vastra and Jen share a look, as if deciding whether or not to share. She’d heard some things. Nothing interesting so far though, and Vastra and Jen were the best for finding out the different gossip going around and distilling it into top shelf vodka

"Well," Jen drew out the word, her voice low in the hum of the Sunday afternoon crowd in the Citadel pub. "It basically boils down to if youse slept with Ratty or Lem. But everyone thought youse two were back togever when you arrived so it's all over the place really. We can't get a straight story twice."

"Well you wouldn't," Missy mutters into her glass. She registers what else was said and looks up, frowning. "They think me and John are together? Again? We were never together before! Let alone now."

"You mean you and John weren't going out?" Strax looks genuinely confused, as if years of his adolescence was all a big misunderstanding. "But I thought you were. You always acted like you were."

"Hush Strax," Jen glared at him. In all honesty though, Missy knew that everyone had seen her and John as an inevitability, rather than a gas explosion waiting to happen and consume the surroundings.

"You have been spending an awful lot of time with John, and everyone has noticed how much effort you're putting in with Clara..." Vastra raised her eyebrows, shrugs, "You can see where they're coming from. Of course, we know better, being your friends. But honestly Missy, ever we were starting to question it. You two have been even tighter since you got back. And it was always a question of whether you two were going to tear each other’s clothes off or gouge each other’s eyes out.”

“Not sure we know half the time,” Missy toasted to them. “Oh, that’s not so bad. Actually, as far as the gossip round here goes… it’s pretty on the nose actually…”

“So, Lem then,” Jen huffs, reaching a hand into her pocket and passing Vastra the telltale blue of a five pound note.

“What makes you say that?” Missy flirts. “And really, only one of those plastic monstrosities? That’s barely worth the wager!”

“Tasha Lem is gorgeous and you’ve been setting traps for Ratty since you were a wee girl,” Vastra sipped her beer and shrugged, “Wasn’t rocket science. I just said it before Jen did.”

“She is gorgeous,” Jen sighed, “Shame she’s such a bitch.”

“Well done,” Strax raises a clenched fist over the table. “Come on Missy, don’t leave me hanging, you did good there.”

There's no judgement, only a misplaced sense of pride. It's one of the few things Missy actually likes about Strax, he is blunt, and he doesn't judge. He once declared war on the moon in the field behind the school and has accepted that nothing can ever be worse than that. He also has no problem with her sexual preferences, unlike some people who insist she picks men or women but call her greedy for liking both. He shares her opinion that pleasure is pleasure and what the hell does it matter who is doing the pleasuring? He's refreshing.

“I’m not bro-fisting you,” Missy tells him bluntly, eyeing his fist with distaste. He grinned, bumped his own fist and went back to his drink and listening to both their discussion and the football.

"Strax, don’t be so gross," Jen hisses, and Missy winces when Jen's boot connect with the heel of her outstretched foot. "Oh god, sorry Miss! I was aimin' for 'im!"

"I gathered," Missy says drily, drawing her feet back under her chair for their own protection. “And he does have a point, she is gorgeous to look at. She just, unfortunately, is more of a snake than I am."

“So, we’re waiting for John to apologise first?” Jen checked.

“Given how I told both of you about the gorgeous woman I had a fun afternoon with long before I ever knew who she was, then yes, he has to apologise first,” Missy answered shortly, “Now I haven’t seen Clara in three days, and I’m mad at her father. Can we please talk about anything else?”

Jen and Vastra share a look and nod, Vastra launching into a story from work.

She’s sick of talking about. She’s sick of the hot knot of anger that coils inside her. She’s sick of people feeling like they needed to tread carefully or be nice to her just because she and John had a very public dust up. For the love of all that was holy she was an adult and they both made choices. She wanted actions, not moaning about how unfair John was being.

As Sunday afternoon sank into Sunday evening, Missy rounded the corner to her flat, digging in her handbag for her keys. She was a few steps away from the door when she recognised his shuffling, looking up to see him standing up from leaning against the door, hands deep in his pockets, hair mussed beyond extreme. How long had he been there?

"I’m sorry,” he said quickly, spitting the words out as if admitting them were simply too much to bear. It was how he always apologised. John hated being wrong, they both did. “I was unfair.”

“You were,” Missy confirmed, her fingers finally closing round the cold metal. “You want to come in and talk?”

He nodded slowly, moving aside to let her in.

“You’ll come over tomorrow night won’t you?” He asked quietly as Missy opened the door, “Clara misses you.”

Talking they could do. For Clara. And for their own sakes. Missy is still angry, and he is still hurt, but they’re getting too old to be overly stubborn for the sake of winning an argument.

“I’ve missed her too,” Missy admits, and she isn’t just talking about Clara.

Maybe they can be grown ups now.

Chapter Text

John had scurried home a little before midnight, their excruciating conversation done for now and much left unsaid. Missy was exhausted. She wished she could feel relieved that she and John were talking again, that she would be picking Clara up from school the next afternoon (some things were best said publicly, and in their relationship nothing was more public than being trusted with Clara). But she wasn't relieved. She was just tired. Tired of this ridiculous dance that her sister had started months before.

She misses River. It's a misplaced sense of missing her little sister, because if River had still been here, Missy wouldn't be in this situation. Not that she can bring herself to even pretend she regrets coming home. River was right, as much as it pains Missy to admit it. Clara was ... well, it was hard to explain how her eight year old child had wormed so completely into her heart in such a short space of time. It gave everything that happened with John an added risk. But whereas the Missy of old loved taking risks, damned the consequences, this was one risk she was never, ever going to take. She wasn't losing Clara, not now. It had been easy to hand off a mewling infant and she'd barely thought of the child after. It wouldn't be so easy to forget the little character that Clara was, had grown to be. It was a risk that she would never take.

Boundaries needed to be set. She and John needed boundaries, so that no matter how much they argued it never affected Clara. It was that thought that stayed in Missy's mind as she dreamt.

The next morning, Missy rose early and went for coffee at the café on the square. She nodded to people rushing for the commuter bus to Gloucester, the harried parents rushing their children to their schools. It had been her little way of making those staring feel uncomfortable. Her quiet rebellion complete, Missy walked the half an hour to her parents house and let herself in. It was quiet, but both her parents were early risers and both were retired. Well, Amy was supposed to be retired, but she had another book scheduled for the spring, every book always The Last One, that usually swayed into another, then another. Rory took great delight in mocking his wife's inability to stop dreaming, but he was always the first to acknowledge that without The Raggedy Man rocketing Amy up the bestseller's chart in her early thirties, she wouldn't have been happy just settling, and they wouldn't have been able to move home to Leadworth and live a private life. Amy often snorted that there wasn't much that was private about Leadworth.

It was the charged quiet in the house that had Missy climbing the stairs and nudging open the door to the study. She wasn't surprised to find Amy squinting at an electric screen, fingers clicking furiously over the keys and her mouth moving in an indistinguishable blur. Her hair was piled haphazardly on the hop of her head, her round glasses slipping down her nose, a cardigan pulled close against the autumnal chill. Rory glanced up from the sofa in the room. He smiled and pressed a finger to his lips before holding up three fingers. Three hours? Mum was due a break. Missy nodded her understanding and turned round to head back down the stairs to the kitchen.

It had always been dad's job, interrupting mum while she was writing. She and River had unashamedly exploited their mum's inability to fully disengage from her writing, poking their head around the study door and asking if they could go to this party or stay at that friends, or if they could borrow money to get to Gloucester with Vastra. Whatever their request, it was usually agreed to with a curt answer and a wave of the hand, Amy still completely submerged in whatever plot she was currently spinning in her mind. As teenagers, they had told people that Amy was a writer and people tended to assume that she was a small part writer. Amy Williams was their mother. Amy Pond was a bestselling novelist.

Missy had preferred it like that. She was suspicious enough of other children to be wary of friendships that appeared out of nowhere. She wanted people to like her for who she was, not who her parents were. River was lucky enough to be universally liked (and universally feared in a way only popular girls could be), Missy and John hovering on the fringes of polite society sneering at those who attempted to get close. School had been pretty shit actually. The kettle boiled, and Missy added the hot water to the teapot almost absently. She had made the teacosy for Amy for Christmas one year, thrusting it over poorly wrapped and refusing to meet Amy's eye. It had taken her a lot to provide her adopted parents with handmade gifts that year, it was her quiet way of saying "I like it here" some two years after arriving. Amy had used it almost exclusively ever since, and had never told anyone that Missy had made it, wonky stitching and all.

"Missy!" Mum cried out in happy surprise as Missy nudged the door open with her hip to bring the tray fully into the spacious study. "When did you get here?"

"While you were tapping," Missy replied with a smirk, "I'd love to make a memory and old age joke here, but you've always been oblivious when it comes to people talking to you while writing."

Mum smirked back, not even attempting to refute it or be embarrassed by it. "My imagination paid for university and a graduate degree," she replied smartly.

"And what was I doing, collecting peanuts?" Rory replied in faux affront. Another standing joke. Amy the breadwinner. Rory the caretaker. Her parents were so happily balanced it was nauseating.

"Yes dear," Amy bopped Rory on the nose before accepting her tea. "And looking after the children."

Rory chuckled, a sappy content look on his face that Missy knew well. It had been comforting, knowing how much mum and dad had loved each other, knowing that their world wasn't going to be split in two again. Teenage Missy had been worried they would fight over who got to keep River if they ever did divorce, fully expecting to be dispatched back to the Home post haste.

"So, do we need to be organising an intervention?" Mum asked abruptly, eyes narrowing at Missy.

"Why would we need to do an intervention?" Dad asked non-plussed. Missy wasn't fooled. Dad knew exactly what was up, but he always advocate a natural simmering of tempers.

"John came over last night," Missy filled them in with a huff, wondering if this was her life now. Her life defined in it's relationship to one Doctor Smith. "We talked. He apologised. Many times. And I'm picking Clara up from school, I think John said he'd organise a meeting with his PhD student so I could have a few hours with her before he gets home."

Mum and Dad looked at each other over their tea, a shared look that said more than a verbal conversation ever could.

"Care to cut me into the conversation?" Missy asked a little irritably,

"You don't look how you usually do after you and John have...made up," Rory said carefully, clearly having drawn the short straw. "You're usually a bit well... happier? Sometimes vindictive of course. But right now, you seem a bit nervous."

"What if she hates me?" The words tumble out of Missy's mouth before she can really register them. And suddenly how she feels makes sense. Penny in the air, was what River used to say. Now the penny's fallen.

"You're her mum," Amy replies immediately. "Of course she doesn't hate you."

"But she doesn't know that," Missy shoots back. And oh she hadn't even realised that had been niggling at her. She hated talking to her parents sometimes. Now it would be all she could think about.

"Maybe she should," Rory interjected quietly. "She has a right to know."

"She's eight," Missy replied bluntly, "If we tell her, we tell the whole damn town."

It was the truth, Clara was far too young to be trusted with that sort of secret. To Clara, Missy was just some old friend of her dad's who happened to be her mum's big sister. Missy wasn't anyone important. Rory hummed his agreement a little reluctantly.

"She won't hate you," he told her gently, "Missy, trust us when we say Clara won't hate you."

Trusting her parents is easy, trusting herself is harder.

"Maybe," she sighed, signalling the end of the conversation. "So, mum, what's the new book about? I dinae like you last one, the main character was just too nice, it was boring."

"This one's about you, so I expect you'll hate it," Amy replied drily, and the rest of the morning is spent happily sharing stories from the past that might be included in the book, each one more outlandish than the last. And while everything isn't right in her world, for a few hours Missy can pretend she isn't anxious about how Clara will react to seeing her.

Later that day and Missy was back in Gallifrey, feeling the eyes on her back and the gossip whispered behind hands. She stays aloof, stays apart from the crowd to provide them a better focus when pointing her out to those who do not know what she looks like. The school was a pretty yellow brick building, low slung with bright coloured play equipment interspersed with wooden frames, parents hovering just inside the gate to the playground behind some unspoken line. All the while, Missy kept a cool, disinterested look on her face to dissuade other parents from attempting to talk to her by the school gate. She wasn't gossip fodder, and her just being there would be enough to set the whole damn tree alight again.

There was a chilly wind, and Missy caught herself wondering if John had dispatched their child off to school with her duffle coat or just a jumper today, hoping for the former. It was a throwaway, domestic thought that startled her slightly. She didn't usually pick Clara up from school, it was rather out of her way to get to John's so she usually met them on the square and walked back with them from there. She had picked her up once before, with John, barely a few days before they'd argued. Picking Clara up from school was the sort of thing that had terrified a thirty-two year old Missy with a newborn in her arms.

Suddenly there are children spilling from various orifices of the building, children of various shapes and sizes with bookbags bulging. They seem to appear by age, and Missy finds herself studying their stature in comparison to her own offspring's diminutive size. She's amazed by how much they vary. Some children in the lower years are dots on the horizon, others taller than Clara. Missy's eyes skim over each child long enough to dismiss them as being Not-Clara before seeking the next dark haired mini-human. After what feels like positively ages and an absolute deluge of children have been claimed by parents (Who knew there were that many mini-humans in Gallifrey!) Missy recognises Clara's hair bobble, inexplicably relieved that Clara is there, and that she has a navy duffle coat folded neatly over one arm.

Clara turns, and Missy feels as if someone had slammed something hard into her chest. Clara is moving slowly, unsurely, her dark expressive eyes darting at the crowd of parents as if she is unsure anyone will actually be there to pick her up. Missy reacts instinctively, raising her hand and calling out Clara's name with a wave. Clara's head snaps towards Missy, and she watches the relief and the happiness blossom over Clara's face. The little girl darts forward and slams into Missy's lower legs, arms wrapped tightly as far as she can reach.

"You came!" Clara cried out happily, stepping back. Missy crouches down in front of her, feeling the eyes of parents on her back and not caring one whit. Clara hands Missy the duffle coat and Missy helps her into it with practiced hands. She knows Clara can do this herself, has been told so very crossly by the girl herself, but there's something comforting in the gesture for both of them. "Daddy said you would be here. But daddy said he upset you and I wasn't sure you would come."

"Of course I came," Missy said firmly, pushing herself up and accepting the bookbag without hesitation. "No matter how upset I get with Daddy, I'll still be here for you no matter what, you hear me little Missy?"

(her heart stutters as she realises what she has said, how Little Missy could in this case be a neon sign that says "this one's mine" if anyone cared enough to listen)

"Did you know that shadows are caused by light?" Clara slipped her hand into Missy's, quite happily tugging her along as she skipped down the path. "And which way the light is facing depends on the way the shadow goes?"

"Really?" Missy pretended to be surprised, letting Clara happily explain her limited knowledge of shadows and thinking of what John had in his house that they could do shadowplay experiments that weekend. And the weight that had been sitting on her shoulder since arguing with John finally, blessedly lifted.

Chapter Text

"I want Missy to put me to bed," Clara ordered with all the imperialistic might her tiny form could muster, fully aware that every wish she could ever make would be granted to her parents abilities. Her big eyes somehow got bigger. "I want Missy to stay."

Missy had been planning on staying till the offspring was in bed, then bidding a hasty retreat back to the relative safety of her own flat, free from John's being so unfailingly polite and courteous. It was downright awful and she wanted her cantankerously adorable old fool back on full form, not this apologetic sap. Missy was fairly certain that if he thought a bunch of bloody roses would further his forgiveness, she'd have been presented with more than a dozen of the blighters. Luckily, John knew her well enough to know how that would go down. Their evening had been spent awkwardly sidestepping each other and pretending everything was perfectly fine for Clara's sake. Clearly their little girl hadn't been fooled.

"I'll put you to bed," Missy agreed, being very careful not to agree to anything more. Clara had her uncanny ability to recall minute detail, including the exact phrasing of a half-meant promise without the adult understanding of little white lies. She had all Missy's skills and all John's bombastic need for the truth. It was a frustrating combination for both parents. Missy was trying to work some leeway in, John was trying to work some haze in. Neither were succeeding. Clara was proving to be as delightfully and irritatingly stubborn as both of them had been renowned for their entire lives. "How about that, Clara-bear?"

Clara narrowed her eyes at Missy, looking so scarily like River for a moment that Missy almost forgot to breathe. Then Clara switched her gaze to her father, clearly trying to read his expression.

"You'll come back again?" Clara asked suspiciously, "You promise?"

"I promise," The words fell easier from her lips than they ever had with River. And Missy meant them. John clearly heard the truth in her voice, the raw honesty she usually hid so well, for he turned to look at her, his substantial eyebrows raised. Clara however, was not convinced. They were still just words to her, playground words easily spoken and easily broken. "Clara Smith, I promise on jelly tots and on Mister Snuffles and on daddy himself that I will never leave you."

The specificity seemed to placate Clara a little. John, on the other hand, could be heard muttering "charming" beneath his breath. Missy kicked him under the table, smiling innocently when he turned accusing grey eyes on her.

"Well, come on then Missy," Missy stood up, reaching a hand out to help Clara down from the sofa. The assistance was readily accepted where Clara would have huffed and rolled her eyes in such a fair imitation of herself that Missy was sometimes surprised the whole of Gallifrey didn't know the truth. Clara was easy to get into her pyjamas, pretty blue soft things with the wretched snowman on, hair and teeth brushed and face washed with little difficulty. It was when Missy had pulled the covers over Clara's shoulders and pressed kisses to Clara's forehead and then each offered stuffed toy (of which the brat had so fucking many) that Clara began to be a little more problematic.

"I want a story," she demanded, then insisted, then pleaded, each reiteration making Missy more firm in her refusal.

"You have school tomorrow," Missy reminded her, "And clever little ladies need lots of sleep."

"Then I don't want to be clever," Clara countered, pushing her covers back and clambering into Missy's lap before she could escape. Missy huffed slightly in affectionate annoyance, scooping the girl up to put her back into bed. But Clara's arms wound their way around Missy's slender neck, her little round face pressed against Missy's cheek, and the softest whispered confession of "What if you don't come back?"

Missy's arms tightened around Clara's back briefly, before pulling the child to face her. Clara's face was wide and afraid.

"What makes you think I'm going to not come back?" Missy asked softly, her hands framing Clara's face and letting the girl bury her hands in the fluffy jumper Missy wore (only when at John's, no one else was allowed to see her in this monstrosity).

"Mummy went away, and she came back and then she'd go away again, and she kept coming back until the last time and she didn't and we had to say a proper goodbye in a way daddy said mummy wouldn't have liked very much," All this was said so matter of factly - Clara's version of history. "And now you went away. And you can't promise you'll always come back because mummy promised and she didn't come back."

"Mummy never wanted to leave you," Missy said firmly, "Your mummy loved you more than anything in the whole wide world and she will always be there for you because she's your mummy, and you're so much like her."

Clara brightened a little at the praise, having heard it many times before.

"Can I tell you something Clara?" Missy spoke only to the girl in front of her, wanting to comfort her, or to at least make her not feel so alone. "I can't promise I will always and forever be here with you. Sometimes I will have to go away, and sometimes daddy and I will fight and be cross with each other. But no matter what happens, you will always be what I come back for. I can promise you that. Whatever happens, I'll be your Missy and you'll be my Clara-bear. And I'll tell you something else, I sometimes hear funny things your mummy said to me when we were children, or I remember silly things we did. You can talk to daddy and I about mummy you know, always."

"I think it makes daddy upset when I talk about mummy," Clara confessed, fingers playing with the curling ends of Missy's hair. "And someone at school told me I should be sad because I don't have a mummy, and I'm too happy so I must be broken. Am I broken Missy?"

"No," Missy spoke so vehemently she surprised herself. "No you are not broken. Your mummy wouldn't want you to be sad. She'd want you to be having fun at school and learning lots about shadows to tell daddy and I when you get home. And as for daddy, he gets sad because he misses your mummy, like I get sad because I miss her too. But daddy is never upset if you want to talk about her. I promise. You can always talk to daddy and I about anything, okay offspring?"

Clara nodded seriously, tucking her head against Missy's shoulder and working her thumb into her mouth.

"No thumb Clara," Missy warned, gently extracting the girls wet thumb from her mouth. She hated taking away any form of comfort that Clara could seek, but they couldn't let her re-start sucking her thumb now after the weeks spent getting it out of her mouth again. "Do you feel a bit better for talking to me?" She felt Clara nod against her neck. Missy soothed her hair back, pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Do you think you can sleep now?" there was a pause, then a sigh and a nod, as Clara lifted her head and reluctantly climbed under the covers.

"Will you rub my back?" Clara asked, wiggling down onto her stomach and accepting the offered Mister Snuffles. Missy murmured her agreement, perching on the side of Clara's bed and gently soothing the little girls back and humming a Beatles song under her breath in lieu of a lullaby. She continued a few moments after Clara's breathing had even out, and breathing had been replaced by snuffling. Then she stopped and just watched Clara sleep, looking so small in the bed but seeming to take up so much room.

She felt the bed shift behind her as John sat down, leaning back into his warmth automatically.

"You did good," he said, voice thick with emotion.

"We caused that," Missy breathed out, "Our arguing caused that."

John's hand covered her own next to Clara, his chin resting on Missy's shoulder. "She'd have kept it to herself otherwise," he sighed, the truth of the statement hitting them all at once. "At least now we know how to move forward. You made sure to avoid promising we wouldn't argue again, and I suppose... we're going blind here Missy, and we don't know what we're doing. But nor do any other parents out there. It's all freestyle."

"It's terrifying," Missy admitted, using her free hand to wipe her cheeks clear before letting it fall back to John's hand resting against her hip.

"It's parenting," she felt his shrug, "You're supposed to be scared."

It seemed such a gentle clarification, a stance of solidarity, but the truth, an honest and raw and emotional truth. He was asking in that statement if it was too much for her, now knowing what it would mean to be involved and to be there forever.

"Well then," Missy sniffed regally, "I'd better get used to having a high blood pressure."

His chuckle reverberated through her back before she felt him pull away, stand up, offer her a hand up. They padded out of the room quietly, pulling the door to, but not quite closed.

"I've had the spare room made up a few weeks now," he admitted, "If you want to stay?"

The offer was tempting. She'd never staid. She'd never had the getting Clara up and ready for school. She'd helped, but had usually arrived once Clara was up and sat pushing cheerios around the bowl.

"I can't," Missy sighed, feeling the weight of what she was turning down. "Not after the weekend we had. If we pander to her on our first argument we're going to spend our lives making it up to her... and, well, people will talk if I spend the night, however innocently."

"People already talk," John said roughly, "Let them."

In some ways, Missy wasn't used to being the rational one, the one who thought about the future. That had always been, well, River. John followed his heart, Missy followed the high, River smirked and revealed she'd had a plan the whole damn time.

"Stay with us," he repeated the offer, holding his hand out for her to take. "It's all I've ever wanted."

"Me too," Missy confessed, her eyes wet, her heart - an organ she'd once thought existed purely to pump blood around her body but was emotionally redundant - pressing painfully against her ribs. "But I can't."

It was too soon, too soon and too much. They would burn brightly and burn each other. And they'd burn Clara. She took his hand, squeezed it tightly and looked up at him clear eyed in the dim light of the moon through the hall window.

"Not yet," she finished, squeezing his hand tight before letting go and walking away quickly before she could change her mind.

There was too much at stake this time. And she didn't regret her choice, even if it hurt a little more with every step to her coat, the front door, and to her flat in the cold, still air.

Chapter Text

Missy wakes up to a text from Sarah-Jane, asking if she wanted to go for a coffee to while away the hours till the kids, in brackets it said both of them, come home from school. It had been a while since Missy had really spoken to Sarah-Jane, and it was the sense that she wasn't quite out of the woods that had her texting an affirmative.

When Missy and John were away at University in London, learning about physics and engineering and people, people tended to assume they were either related or in a long term relationship. And in a sense, they were both - they had been bought up alongside each other, and if that isn't a long-term relationship then nothing is, and they were family. There was one particular afternoon when Sarah had surprised them at their halls, walking in and greeting them both with the same level of affection she always had. Some smart arse had asked how old Sarah was when she'd had John, made a cutting remark about Sarah's morals and earnt himself a bruised cheekbone from Missy in the process.

Their family and their relationship was always complicated to describe, having adoptions and families mixed up in some peculiar cocktail. So, generally if asked, Missy referred to Sarah-Jane as an old family friend, while privately calling her a sister-in-law or something to that affect. Relationships, Missy had found, didn't always fit into the neatly titled boxes pedalled by society. Sarah-Jane and Harry were John's adoptive parents, and Rose was his sister, and Luke was his brother, despite the twenty something year age gap between them. They were all family, all linked in simple ways that defied the English language. But there was never a doubt that Sarah was Missy's family, as much family as John always was.

"Hello pet," Missy greeted Sarah affectionately, accepting the warm hug and returning it. "What sort of coffee did you have in mind?"

"A lets-get-started-on-Christmas-shopping kind of coffee," Sarah laughed, opening the door to her car, "Hop in, I thought we could go out to Bicester Village, and don't worry, we'll be back in time to pick your daughter up from school."

"Bicester Village is the other side of Oxford," Missy argued, "Hasn't that new Westgate opened yet?"

"Darling, it will be a lot easier for us to drive to Bicester and back than it will to get into the city centre for Westgate," Sarah said cheerfully, kicking the car into gear. The car smelt faintly of peppermint. "Besides, we can talk on the way."

"I haven't even thought about Christmas shopping," Missy pointed out, "And John and I haven't talked about what we're getting Clara and I'm still being good and asking first."

"You mean you haven't already got something crazy that he'll disapprove of planned?" Sarah teased, easing them out into the country roads that would take them to Oxford.

"Well I did contemplate getting her a pony," Missy replied honestly. "When I was annoyed at him, but he'll make me look after it so I thought better not."

"Yes, better not," Sarah laughed.

"So how's Luke getting on at Oxford?" Missy asked, genuinely curious about the son she'd barely known as a thirteen year old some eight years before, and hadn't had the occasion to meet since her return. "He's a third year now, right? Does he know what he wants to do when he graduates?"

"He wants to work with John," Sarah chuckled fondly, "He's doing very well, has a couple of lovely friends - Clyde and Rani - Rani wants to be a journalist so I try to include her in my stories whenever I can and Clyde is a lovely lad, very good artist."

"Luke wants to work with his older brother?" Missy asked in some amusement, trying to imagine the thirteen year old who thought John hung the bally moon and John's grumpy reaction to him. "That won't end well."

"John wants him to come to the Institute and earn his PhD under another supervisor to ensure that no-one can include him of nepotism," Sarah's voice was affectionate, amused at her younger brother and his nephew/youngest brother. "Besides, he treats John more like an Uncle. He's been looking forward to meeting Auntie Is again."

"I hate that nickname," Missy grumbled.

"No you don't," Sarah replied easily. "Now I have you on a motorway and there is no-one who is listening or can interrupt and you can't run away, I think we should talk."

"I knew you had an ulterior motive," Missy sighed dramatically, "Bloody journalists."

There was no heat behind the insult, John and Missy having teased Sarah, thirteen years their senior, for her journalism since she'd started and been discovered to have quite the knack for stories.

"I just wanted to talk to you about what you're going to be doing to fill your time," Sarah promised, "I mean it, the last thing we need is you getting even more bored that you already are and taking off again."

"I won't," Missy snapped. Why did everyone think she was going to take off at the earliest opportunity? No-one seemed to trust that she was determined to change, determined to stay. Not just for Clara, for her own sake, for feeling safe in a place once again. But history was a deck stacked against her. People only had to look at her past to see the possibility that she would take off again. John was the sort who ran away emotionally, Missy caused pain and took off when she felt backed into a corner. It was their M.O.

"Oh, sorry, I didn't realise you liked the stay-at-home mum thing. Forget I said anything."

The silence lasted for exactly fifty eight seconds before Missy huffed loudly.

"Alright, I hate it, I'm bored to tears. I spend my entire day waiting for Clara and John to get home from school and honestly I'm not that sort of person. I built a battery from a watermelon the other night. I have been building a city out of matchsticks and I have been building a supercomputer I think I'm going to call Mr Smith and give to you for Christmas. What do you suggest?"

"Teaching," Sarah replied smugly. "Work at the institute. You've got a PhD Missy, and you're smart. Just think of all the projects you'd have access to at the institute."

"Oh, yes, because John really wants me and Tasha in the same area," Missy scoffed, "It'd be pistols at dawn every day, wouldn't be good for the PhDs or the research."

Sarah grinned at her, a secretive grin of "I know something you don't know".

"Alright I'll bite," Missy sighed, "What have you got?"

"I had a conversation with Lem one afternoon, before she knew I was the one who raised John. And she said something that tickled my story senses... I sense a story."

"Aha, so, are we really going to Bicester Village or are we going somewhere to work our joint magical powers?"

"Oh, no, we are actually going Christmas shopping, I need your help on what to buy John, because I'm not sure what is supposed to top you being back in his life, so River wins on the best present," Sarah laughed, "And I thought we could have a coffee."

"You can't taunt me with this and then tell me we're actually going shopping," Missy complained loudly, throwing her hands up in the air.

"I don't have anything yet," Sarah smiled, "And nor do you. But we both know you belong at the Institute. You always have. You may have been good at the corporate organisation things, god knows you were always excellent at manipulating the people you don't care about, but you always liked building things, fixing things, inventing things. Maybe now you're richer than Midas and could buy the entire country, you should start doing the thing you love. Missy you're a scientist at heart. A crazy, destructive one, but still a scientist."

"You do know how to charm a girl, don't you Sarah," Missy snorted. "Alright I'll think about it. See what Liz and Ian and Barbara have to say before I take it any further."

"Well, I can't ask more than that," Sarah sighed, "Alright, what do you think we should get John?"

"Patience?" Missy suggested glibly. "Or perhaps an eyebrow grooming kit."

Sarah threw her head back and laughed a deep belly laugh, one Missy couldn't help but join in with. It was nice, just sitting in the car and chatting about mundane things like Christmas presents and ordinary life stuff. It seemed surreal, nothing like Missy, and nothing like her life. Did she even deserve a normal life after everything she had done, everything she had said, everything she had been through, after every time she'd run.

The thought of navigating the Christmas holidays after so long pretending it didn't exist and using the day as an extended weekend was quite frankly, terrifying. She was used to Clara now, really enjoyed the kids company and she was enjoying being part of the family again. But she wasn't sure how Christmas was going to go, at all. It would be an adventure. Her life had become a rollercoaster the day she'd seen the blinking red light on her answering machine and heard River's exhausted voice asking her to come back.

She wasn't sure she wanted off the rollercoaster.

Chapter Text

It happened by some sort of strange aligning of the universe. John’s car had broken down, and he’d (grumbling the whole while – Missy did wish sometimes he didn’t know how to text) taken the student bus out to the Institute. Missy had walked Clara to school because the bus left earlier that Clara did, and everyone knew the little one liked her routines to be just so.

Missy had spoken to the parents of a friend of Clara’s, a Ms Pink (unfortunately wearing blue) about Clara going for a playdate the following evening. Missy had agreed superficially, saying she’d need to discuss it with John, but that they’d let her know. She’d been feeling rather domesticated and was a little unsure as to what she was supposed to do to fill the hours until it was time to pick Clara up at three thirty. There were times when she thought that Sarah (and Liz, and her mum and Vastra and Ian) were onto something, and it was time to try her luck at the Institute. She was out of practice with the research side of things, but building things came naturally, she was sure she could pick it up again quickly enough.

Retirement didn’t suit her at all, everyone knew it. She was just considering picking the lock to John’s front door when her phone rang rather violently on the kitchen side. Think of the bloody devil and he’d ring you.
“John!” She answers sharply, rolling her eyes even though he can’t see her. “I really don’t care if the old man in front of you – and you’re really in no position to be calling anyone old dearest – has got a higher score on candy crush than you. For such a smart man you’ve always been terrible at strategy and until you learn, Clara will still have a higher score than you.”

There’s a confused sort of silence on the other end of the phone.

“Or hello, as people used to say,” John says gruffly, sounding a little far away, the wind buffeting the microphone. “He didn’t have a higher score than me. And I was just trying to keep you amused… Wait, no, not why I was calling. Why was I calling?”

“I don’t know, you’re the one who called me,” Missy replied smartly, leafing through her mail with the phone wedged between her ear and her shoulder. “Haven’t you got a lecture to be going to? Oh, wait, no, it’s Wednesday. Staff meeting at nine John, and please remember I’m not your bloody secretary!”

“Meeting!” John cried out victoriously, “I have a meeting with Bill and Nardole after lunch, and I forgot the file for it. It’s on the desk in the office.”

“Let me guess, you put it there so you wouldn’t forget?” Missy mocked him with a sharp laugh. John huffed in response. “Why are you phoning me?”

“You at home?” Was his enigmatic reply.

“Yes, I even took Clara to school and left her there, though why we don’t homeschool her is beyond me,” She frowned, trying to regain her trail of thought.

“If we homeschooled her she’d be next to useless in social interaction,” John replied patiently, “So we teach her what she wants to know outside of the school and they pretend we don’t and Clara gets the mental stimulation she needs, and the social stimulation as well. Win win.”

It’s a conversation they’ve had before over a bad TV drama after Clara has gone to bed.

“Why did you want to know why I was at home?” Her voice dropped into the most sultry she could pull off. “Why Dr Smith, what are you wearing?”

John’s resounding huff has Missy stifling a giggle.

“Hilarious,” he deadpans, “Check the top drawer of the cabinet by the door.”

Missy frowns, curiosity getting the better of her. She opens the small drawer of the cabinet she uses to store her letters and keys. On top of her post in that top drawer is a misshapen envelope, her name scrawled across the front in Clara’s large but relatively neat handwriting. Inside there is a key. A simple, unassuming, ordinary Yale lock key. There’s a clumsily made keychain in shades of purple and grey.

“You got it?” John asks impatiently. Missy nods, remembers he can’t see her and mutters an affirmative. “I figured it was better to just give you a key, than to have you break the lock trying to pick it because you’re bored.”

Maybe he does know her better than she thought. She wonders if this was supposed to be an emotional moment, John giving her a key. It certainly feels like a tangible measure of their resolving issues, of their falling back into friendship after all those years apart.

“Anyway,” John coughs loudly. Maybe he’s wondering if this is a big deal as well. Like it’s a promise they aren’t sure they can keep. “I need you to go and get the file. It’s got today’s date written over the top, and it’s got a copy of Bill’s essay inside.”

“Remind me to show you how to use track changes,” Missy mutters, picking her recently discarded coat up.

“Bill showed me last week,” he said dismissively, “Don’t bother, I’d still print and forget things even if I wanted to use these new fangled editing tools.”

Missy couldn’t help rolling her eyes as she locked her door behind her, making her way towards the car she’d only bought because of how bloody inconvenient a place Gallifrey and Leadworth could be.

“Alright,” She sighed, “I’ll be there shortly, and remember, considering it’s been nearly twenty years since I was at the Institute, you’ll have to let me know which building you’re in.”

“I’m opposite Omega’s old office,” John replied promptly, then there was some muffled speech ending in a “thank you” and suddenly the sound of the wind was gone. Missy plugged the phone into her hands free. “It’ll be locked so you’ll have to bring it between ten and twelve, I don’t have any PhD’s in that time, and I’ll be writing some more of my paper.”

The last sentence had an accompanying huff that reminds Missy of evenings spent in the library at university, John gently knocking his head against the table, asking if they can go and do something, anything other than the essay he was supposed to be writing.

“Alas, research leads to having to write books, that’s the price of genius,” Missy reminded him with the superior air of someone who doesn’t have to do it. “Now, go, you’ve got a meeting, and I’ll pop in for a cup of tea when I bring in your paper like I’m some sort of assistant or-” She stops just short of saying ‘wife’, quickly skating onto a different line of thought. “Are you sure this paper is clearly labelled? Are we talking your idea of clearly labelled, River’s idea of clearly labelled, or Clara’s idea of clearly labelled?”

It’s a good enough measure, each one getting progressively more organised the younger the person was.

“Your level,” He huffed. “Look, Miss, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you in a bit, ok?”

“Alright, cheerio then pet,” she called out, guiding the car towards John’s with ease, and whistling once she’d put the phone down.

She used her own key to enter John’s house, looking at her watch and deciding to straighten Clara’s ongoing games up before crossing to John’s study. Bill’s essay was exactly where he said it would be, directly in the middle of the desk, atop his scattered sheets of paper. He had results, and half scrawled pages of thoughts and theories. There were pages and pages of figures, of adjustments made in pencil and things circled haphazardly in a way that seemed to have no logic, rhyme or reason.

Missy sat down at the desk, cleared her throat loudly, put her glasses on her nose and began to make her own comments on John’s research figures, tutting loudly when she disagreed with things he had said, humming approval if he had been particularly brilliant. When it was time to leave, she gathered her revisions up and took them along to, along with Bill’s essay (that Missy had second marked).

The Institute was a comfortable drive away from the village, far enough in the middle of nowhere for them to test flying things in the grounds without houses getting in the way. Missy’s fondest memory was a joint project between her and John during their PhD years, while he designed a new fuel and engine for a robot she’d built, like something straight out of science fiction. It had been great fun, having that thing stomping around the grounds, an example of ingenuity and persistence.

The Institute had once been a long rectangular building in yellow Cotswold stone, with a courtyard in the middle. It had expanded into a collection of buildings for different departments, the chemists and the humanities and the physics and the engineers. To have an office in the main building was an honour. To have a lab a privilege.

John, the absolute wanker, had both. Granted, he had been teaching at the Institute from the moment he got his PhD, back in the early nineties when it was still only one building and a giant building shed for the engineer’s big projects. Now it was a sprawling mess of different architectural styles mashed together to create an eclectic image that completely reflected the unusual approach to science within.

Missy parked in John’s spot, and left a note in the window which simply said “Dr Missy Oakdean. Bite me.”. She rarely used the Doctor, but it was on these grounds she’d earnt her title. John would still call her Missy, she was the only exception to the Title Rule, and that was simply because to him she had always been, and would always be Missy, in any context, in any version of reality. She was always just Missy, and he was always John. That was easier.

“Hello,” Missy entered through the main door, finding a pretty young thing with a star in her eye behind the desk. “Do I need to sign in or something? I’m here to drop something off for John.”

The girl eyes her carefully, before standing up and pushing the book forward with a shrug.

“You must be Missy,” She said, “I’m Heather. I’m working with Dr Chesterton, double up as the secretary when Donna is on holiday. I can’t wait for her to come back. This place doesn’t run nearly as well without Donna running the show.”

Missy had heard a lot about Donna from John, had even met her husband Shaun and their twins Ella and Josh while picking Clara up from school, but she had yet to meet Donna herself. She had a feeling she would either be loved or hated by the woman, though John sometimes complained that it was just as bad being loved by her as being hated.

Donna sounded formidable. She wasn’t a secretary, she was The Secretary – the entire Institute ground to a halt in her absence, she had a group of well-trained people who would hold it together until she returned, but Donna had the magic touch with all the teaching staff. They all loved her and respected her, bowing to her vastly superior knowledge about absolutely anything outside their personal projects. And even then, they’d probably listen to her about that.

“Do you know where his office is?” Missy asked, attempting the polite thing even though she knew exactly where John’s office was.

Heather smiled at her, a mysterious smile. “He said you’d know where it was,” She supplied, sitting back down again and pulling her notes towards her. “Have a good day Doctor Oakdean.”

“You too Heather,” Missy found herself saying as her feet took her down familiar corridors with unfamiliar decorations. A few minutes’ walk and she approached the stairs that would take her up to the first floor offices reserved for department heads or important people. Rassilon’s office, as Head of the Institute, was directly above the entrance on the first floor, smack bang in the centre of the building. Power play. John had an office on the same stretch.

He’d moaned for a full evening when he found out “Bloody Lem” had been offered an office on the first floor. Liz had glowered, Ian had been a few notches less than his usually jovial self. It had been an insult. You had to earn a first floor office.
Some people arrived on the wings of a reputation so great that a first floor office was practically guaranteed, and some offices were specifically reserved for title holders. Rassilon’s office was technically two, Rassilon using one office as meeting room. But the rest were for prestige or for positions. The seminar rooms were on the ground floor, and the phd offices were in a squat glass structure in the centre of the campus, supposedly to be equidistant to all the blocks.

Finding John’s office was easy. Omega had been her supervisor back in the day, her and a girl named Rani who had been banned from working with explosives for life. A legal ban, not just an informal reprimand. She taught at a polytechnic in Bournemouth now. Omega had long since retired, his office now empty. John had said that Doctor Yana had retired and they were getting a new experimental physics doctorate in the new year, but she had to finish her project at Stanford before she moved back to the UK over Christmas. Missy wasn’t sure why anyone would choose Gloucestershire over sunny California, but then she had chosen it over the Big Apple so the point was moot.

There were two chairs outside John’s office, for students who were coming to talk to him about projects. John had an open-door policy, so many students that were not under his direct supervision would come and talk to him about ideas. He put his foot down at reading through work unless he really liked you. Missy was just standing there contemplating breaking the chairs and using that to break the door (although she wasn’t sure it would help if she tried to get a job there) when she heard footsteps down the corridor. She turned automatically, a little wary about encountering Tasha and John in the same place again.

It was a student Missy didn’t recognise, head in notes, a slightly panicked look on their face as they scurried from the stairs in the opposite direction, no doubt in search of their supervisors office. Missy relaxed, then looked at the door. She’d already tested it, so she knew it was locked, but it was a fairly simple lock and she had a hair grip.

She’d pulled a pin out of her hair and had nearly worked the lock free when a hand holding a key appeared in her peripheral vision.

“No, I’m practicing,” Missy said primly, continuing to work the lock. A second later she let out a triumphant cry and pushed the door open. She swivelled to face John, who had elected to sit down to watch her with an indulgent look on his face.

“Very clever,” he said drily, “On your knees in front of my entire department.”

“Ooh John, how naughty,” Missy purred, watching his face flush red in embarrassment and hearing the awkward titter of people behind them. “Are we giving the staff a show?”

“You always do,” John muttered, “Come on, get up and stop being, well, you.”

“No chance,” Missy grinned, using John’s knee to leverage herself up. She turned to the few physics staff members assembled and winked. “Show’s over. Mummy and daddy need to talk about daddy just giving mummy a key.”

“It’s my office,” John sighed, pushing himself up and towering over Missy. “Why do you need a key to my office?”

Someone in the small crowd they’d gathered snorted loudly. John looked at them confused.

“See, I was thinking I could bring Clara after school for a wee while, expose the monster to some proper sciencing, your colleague over there was thinking sexy desk shennagians. Ooh, that’s a good word – shenanigans. We should use it more often.”

“For gods sake, get going, the lot of you,” John ordered his staff gruffly, “Missy, stop it.”

“Stop what!” Missy pretended to be affronted, winking at a scruffy young man staring at her till he blushed. The gaggle of people made their way to the stairs and down to their own non-first-floor offices.

“Saying hello,” A new, American voice cut through the giggles. Missy span around, grinning and holding her arms out in welcome. Jack Harkness (Always known as Captain for his years of military service) swept her into a kiss, full on the mouth in true Jack style. “Missy, Missy, Missy, you’re the only girl for me!”

“Which you say to all the girls, when we all know Ianto is the only one for you,” She winked at him. Jack laughed and slung his arm over her shoulders.

“Honestly though Miss, you ever get tired of waiting for McGrumpy over there, you know where I am,” He pressed another kiss to Missy’s cheek, and then leant across her to John, “Aw, you all jealous old man?”

“Not in the slightest,” John said, completely deadpan, but with a flash in his eyes that made Missy a little pleased with herself. “Haven’t you got planes to build?”

Jack was an engineer, like Missy. They had all been at the Institute together, and as Missy and Jack were of much the same vein, they’d gotten on like a house on fire. Get togethers’ with Jack, River, Vastra and Missy tended to have John and Jenny heading off to a quiet corner to avoid the constant battle of innuendo.

“He’s jealous,” Jack confirmed, pulling back from Missy, “When you’re done up here, you should come down to Hanger three, Gwen, Tosh and I have got something awesome cooking in Torchwood right now. You’re gonna love it.”

“I’ll be down after lunch,” Missy promised, “I’ve got to talk John through some problems with his new book.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my new book!” John said, fully affronted.

“There’s a lot wrong with it,” Missy said firmly, “In you go pet, we’ve got work to do. And actual work before you wolf whistle Captain. I’ll see you, later.” She winked at him. Jack laughed, winked and made a whipping noise at John, before sauntering off. “I feel like I haven’t seen Jack in ages.”

“You saw him at the ball,” John grouched, “It was embarrassing.”

“You love us really,” Missy informed him, pulling out the notes. “Right, sit down, shut up, buckle up. Here’s Bill’s paper which is a darn sight better than yours right now. What were you thinking?”

“I would say I can’t believe you’ve gone through my notes,” John huffed, flicking the kettle on and sitting on the desk at Missy’s elbow. “But I’m not even a little surprised.”

“I’m helping,” Missy said, pretending offence.

“You’re meddling, because you’re bored,” John corrected. “I can talk to Rassilon. We can have you part of Hanger 2 by the new year.”

“Oh please,” Missy sniffed, “If I’m going to be working here I’m going into experimental, Hanger 3 or no deal.”

“I don’t think you and Jack working together is a good idea,” John pushed away to the not yet boiled kettle, his back to Missy. “You wouldn’t get anything done.”

“Jack and I know exactly where we stand with each other. His team won’t like me when we first meet, I’m sure of that. But Jack and I are fully aware of where our brains work together, and where they don’t,” Missy slid her glasses up her nose and turned away from John to the paper in front of her. “And if we haven’t slept together yet, do you really think we’re going to now?”

Chapter Text

After a few false starts, Missy and John finally got into the rhythm of his research, as equally likely to offer helpful suggestions as cutting remarks. The time flew by, and their madness was interrupted by a loud knock on the door.

“That can’t be twelve,” John muttered, turning his clock towards him and shaking it. “Bloody hell it is.”

“Should I hide under the table?” Missy asked wickedly. John glared at her and stood to answer the door. Missy smirked and left her feet tucked under her, boots discarded and returned to her notes.

“Er, Doc, there’s a woman at your desk…” An unsure young female voice said. Missy smirked, but didn’t look up.

“Well, she certainly gets a gold star for observation dear,” She said drily, looking up to the loud t-shirt and slender body of John’s PhD student. “You must be Bill. Good job on the thermodynamics paper, though there were a few things you needed to work on to make it truly excellent.”

“What?” The young woman, Bill, stared at Missy slightly slack jawed and eyes wide.

“Bill, Missy,” John introduced the two a little reluctantly.

“That’s Missy?!” Bill dragged her eyes away from Missy to stare incredulously at John. “That’s your sister-in-law?”

“Sister-in-law,” Missy wrinkled her nose, “No I don’t like that. Friend, please. Ooh, Lady Friend sounds a little more risqué. Let’s use that one.”

“You are technically my sister-in-law,” John reminded her, resting a hand on the back of Missy’s chair. “You need to go now.”

“I don’t see why I can’t stay,” Missy huffed, leaning down for her boots. “I’ve been marking her work as well.”

“You have?” Bill dropped her bag by the desk and sat down in the available chair, all long twisted limbs and uncoordinated movements.

“He marks in green, I mark in red,” Missy confirmed, tidying her papers up. “Has he been telling you it’s just him? Naughty.”

Bill sat there, looking at Missy like she was trying to puzzle her out. As Missy had quite the evil-genius reputation preceding her, she wasn’t all that surprised. But honestly, she was trying to be good. There hadn’t been any murders and she hadn’t blackmailed anyone. John’s version of good wasn’t absolute, but she was trying.

“Well, looks like dad doesn’t want me corrupting you,” Missy rolled her eyes at John’s hovering. “I’m going down to help Jack. Get my hands dirty.”

She enjoyed John’s imperceptible wince and glare more than she should – she was acting nice, didn’t mean she had to think nice too.

Bill was looking between the two of them, eyes wide, no doubt trying to tally as much of the gossip with them as she could, while also providing new gossip.

“You should come over for tea one night,” Missy decided to unsettle the room even more. “I would say I’d cook but no-one deserves that.”

“Er…” Bill’s eyes flickered to John.

“You could invite your other PhD student, Egghead,” Missy added on, having met Nardole briefly in the town a week prior. “Little bit of a Christmas do.”

John glared at her, “You’re inviting them to my house,” He reminded her, “Don’t you think you should have asked me first?”

“Okay,” Bill said loudly, “Why don’t you let me know if the invitation is actually an invitation, after you’ve discussed it someplace where I don’t have to feel awkward.”

“I like her,” Missy told John, patting him on the arm as she left. “John darling, I’ll go pick Clara up from school then I’ll drive back round for you. I’m not putting up with your whining about the bus ever again.”

She blew him a kiss and sauntered from the room. The trek over to Hanger 3 where “Torchwood”, or the experimental engineering elite force occupied most of the space, was nice and shady, although the winter chill had settled in now, with only weeks to go till the Christmas break, rather than months.

“Knock knock?” Missy called out loudly, her voice echoing through the circular building affectionately known as the Hub, where all the cluttered desks and random bits of tech were situated.

“Hello?” A well-to-do voice responded. “Sorry this area is offlimits.”

“It’s only me Ianto,” Missy called back, dropping her coat on a hook and pulling on grey overshirt from the pile. “Jack wanted to show me the latest toys.”

“Ah, Missy,” Ianto looked a little wrongfooted. “Um, yes, Jack did say you…might be down.”

“Where is the devil?” Missy peered around, surprised that Ianto was the only one at his desk. “Oh, stop looking so frightened. I’m not here to steal your balls or your boyfriend.”

“I didn’t think you were,” Ianto responded lightly. “I was trying to decide if I should put arsenic or hemlock in your coffee.”

“Arsenic tastes more bitter,” Missy advised him, “You can hide it in coffee better.”

“Arsenic it is then,” Ianto mused, standing up and opening the wall behind him. “Come on then, Jack and the toys are through here. Don’t laugh at me like that, you don’t spend a decade sleeping with Jack Harkness on and off without picking up innuendos.”

The room Ianto lead her into was cavernous and a little chilly, the edges liberally decorated with workstations and collections of smaller projects. Ianto handed her a pair of goggles, snapping his own to his face.

“Right this way,” He said, a little pompously, as Ianto as Ianto could be. Missy liked messing with Ianto’s head a little, but she liked him well enough. He was very, very loyal to Jack, and through Jack, to John. He was still a little frosty towards Missy, but they had their own version of a friendship and were both quite happy with that.

Missy saw the project before she saw the three overalled people bent over various parts soldering, calibrating or downright firing. It was a hovercraft. She was fairly sure it was a hovercraft anyway. They’d made something similar before technology really started being like drones. It was clunky, it was only half complete, it was beautiful. But it wasn’t amazing, she’d seen something like that being built before. In fact, it looked like they were doing repairs, not building something.

Ianto stopped with his toes against a painted line, where he cleared his throat loudly, and put two empty mugs on a nearby desk. The effect was instantaneous. The one calibrating, by the complexity of the wiring, likely to be Tosh, carried on with their task. The other two however, swivelled around and headed for Ianto as soon as they’d discarded their gloves and tools.

Missy pulled her goggles off her face as Jack and Gwen did, bristling a little at the younger woman’s distrust, but beaming at Jack as he swept in for a hug.

“I wasn’t sure you were actually gonna make it,” he crowed, “God, what was Doc Grumpy’s face like when you said you were coming?”

“Well, I told him I was coming over to get my hands dirty,” Missy smirked, “Fill in the face for yourself, whatever you’re imagining, it was better.”

Jack threw back his head and laughed, before reaching over for the mug. He looked betrayed when he realised there was no caffeine to be had. He looked up at Ianto, pouting like a child.

“Doctor Cooper,” Missy greeted formally, holding out her hand. Gwen held up an oil stained hand in response and as a reason for not shaking.

“Oh, call her Gwen,” Jack said, in and around begging Ianto for a coffee – a good strong coffee, promising to make it worth Ianto’s while.

“I will call Doctor Cooper by any name she invites me to call her,” Missy said pointedly. She wanted Gwen to choose to be her friend, not because Jack decided for her. “She’s a grown woman who can make her own choices Jack.”

Gwen crossed her arms across her chest, and raised her eyebrows at Jack, a smirk on her face. Jack matched her pose and stuck his tongue out.

"Oh," a faint voice said. Missy peered around Gwen to see the third member of the Torchwood team blushing and shrinking in on herself. She looked a little like Clara when she was worried she'd done something wrong.

"Hello Pet," Missy said gently, "I'm Missy. I read your paper on sonic disruptors, I thought it was amazing. How did you overcome the overheating problem? I've never been able to get adequate insulation."

Toshiko's eyes darted to Jack, her mouth forming a small circle. She reminded Missy of a scared kitten, seeking approval before approaching someone new, some sort of assurance that the person was safe. Instead of saying something that would embarrass Tosh, Missy just smiled as comfortingly as she can, and turned her attention to Jack who had started talking loudly about the changes they were making to the hovercraft. After several minutes of deliberate mistakes, Toshiko huffed and began to correct Jack in a quavering voice that steadily grew until she was somewhat happily discussing the new type of thermosetting plastic she had used in her design for the sonic disruptors with Missy.

Jack had wanted to show her a new circuit board the three of them had been working on, a circuit board that ran on audio rather than electricity or solar. It wouldn't take off in the financial markets, but it was an interesting concept that Missy thoroughly enjoyed pointing out all the flaws to Jack and Gwen, backing Tosh up when she gently voiced her opinion.

Missy's phone buzzed loudly in her pocket at half two, interrupting Jack and Missy having a loud battle of wills about something or nothing, Gwen and Ianto laughing at their antics and even Tosh smiling as she fiddled with the sleeves of her overalls.

"Oh, blast," Missy fumbled her way into her trouser pocket to turn her phone off. "Ah, I'm afraid I need to cut this party short, school pick up time. Clara'll get stressed if I'm late."

She finished unbuttoning the overalls, stepping out of them with a peculiar amount of grace and unceremoniously dumping them on Jack. He was smirking.

"Mama Missy," he teased, "Looks good on you."

"What can I say, I look good in everything," Missy returned with a wink. She gave him a quick kiss, turned around and planted one on Ianto before he could shuffle out of reach. She cooed at him as she wiped the red smear from his lips and patted his cheek. "See you around boys."

"You betcha," Jack laughed.

Gwen took a step back when Missy turned to her.

"Oh, honestly Doctor Cooper," Missy laughed, holding out her hand. "I reserve that for certain people who I know it doesn't bother."

"Bothers me," Ianto coughed lightly.

"I think," Gwen stepped forward and gripped Missy's hand tightly, "That you can call me Gwen."

"Well, Gwen," Missy winked, enjoying the faint flush on Gwen's cheeks at the gesture. "It was lovely to meet you. Keep Jack in line, alright?"

"Always do," Gwen snorted, her hands already in her pockets. "You coming back to visit?"

"Well, I want to come and work on the T86 engine for a bit, so I suppose I will be," Missy promised, turning half her attention to Toshiko so as to not overwhelm the skittish scientist. "Doctor Sato, it's been an honour discussing our craft with you."

"You can call me Tosh," The slip of a woman mumbled, her eyes fixed on the floor behind Missy, "When you come next can you show me how you deregulate the pressure in the T86? I've not been able to work it out."

"It's certainly not intuitive," Missy agreed, wincing as her phone buzzed again, sorry for making Tosh start at the noise. "Well then Tosh, till the next time."

"I'll walk you out," Jack said, handing a pair of gloves to Ianto. "Hey Jones, can you hold the tools for the ladies?"

Without waiting for an answer, Jack's hand found light purchase against Missy's back, guiding her through the maze of half-assembled electronics to the door. At the door, he lounged sideways, thumbs hooked through beltloops.

"Sooo," He drew out the word, flashing Missy a boyish grin. "They actually seem to like you."

"I'm a total raving genius," Missy replied deadpan, "Of course they do. I'm a misunderstood gem."

Jack laughed freely before turning serious.

"Thanks," He said a little self-consciously, "For how you were with Tosh. It helped, I think. She warmed up to you quite well today."

"She's a perfectly exceptional young woman," Missy shrugged, "She's shy, that's not her fault and I wouldn't have done anything to upset her Jack, you know that. She speaks science, and numbers. And I understand that. She hides from the world that I shout at. Now, as lovely as it is to stand here and chat, I really do have to go pick Clara up, and then I have to come back and pick John up."

"I meant it," Jack said suddenly, "That Mommy Missy suits you."

"Well, I'm not sure about that," Missy focussed on adjusting her scarf and finishing the buttons on her coat. "But I'm trying."

"Job here when you want it," Jack pushed off the doorframe, patting Missy on the shoulder. "Don't run away this time Missy, you got a good thing going here. See you at the Citadel on Saturday night?"

"I'm sure Kate and Osgood are looking for babysitting money," she said instead of agreement, signing herself and John up in one go. "We're going Christmas shopping at the weekend, I'll need a drink or a fresh homicide and you fit the bill for both."

Jack laughed, waving cheerily as Missy escaped back into the chilly winter air. In the car, she wondered what it would be like to work part time in the hanger, joining forces with Gwen to tell the boys where to go, having Tosh able to meet her eye and ask her questions or debate her point. To have Jack at her back and John over the way. To be able to have lunch with Liz and Barbara without having to book it at least a week in advance. And then, like today, leaving at two thirty to drive and pick her daughter up from school. John usually ended at two thirty as well, and they didn't both need to end early, but it would be a far more interesting way to spend her days that the self-indulgent retirement she was finding so painful to endure. They could pick Clara up together. Bicker about dinner. Help Clara with her homework, and she'd have her own work to do in the evening, she wouldn't have to filch John's research for entertainment.

It was a very attractive thought.

Chapter Text

“What’s this?” Missy asked, batting John’s hand away from her face. He returned it to its place wafting a letter under her nose with annoying speed. Missy took the letter with a huff, turning the blue envelope over and looking at John. “Well? Why’ve you given me Clara’s letter to Santa? Why do you let her believe in Santa anyway?”

“Because by the time we had people who loved us enough to tell us magic was real, we already knew the truth,” John replied simply, shrugging. “River and I wanted her to believe that dragons could be loved and defeated and yes, that Santa and the tooth fairy existed.”

Missy sniffed, she couldn’t argue with that.

“Why have you given me her letter?” She switched back to the initial track.

“Read it,” John ordered, leaning forward with his hands in his pockets.

“Pretty sure letters to Santa are expensive lists from the argos catalogue,” Missy tried to hand the letter back to him. “Can’t you just tell me what our brat wants? And remember I’m not above buying her affection.”

“You don’t need to buy it,” John said softly, pushing the letter back, his eyes worryingly soft. “I thought the whole point of you being here was to co-parent. Reading your child’s letter to Santa is a parental right of passage… and it’s not a list.”

Missy grumbled even as her finger pulled the lilac craft paper from the envelope.

“Do I need to read it aloud?” She asked sarcastically, unfolding the page. “And one day you’re going to stop holding that against me.”

“I’m not holding it against you,” John said quietly, “I was just … you need to read it.”

“I’m reading it!” Missy huffed, turning her back to John very dramatically and poking her tongue out over her shoulder. She turned her attention back to the page, to the round even lettering in silver.

“Dear Santa,” She read aloud quickly and quietly, “I think I’ve been good this year, but you should ask Daddy and Missy, they might say I have been naughty. I hope I’ve been good this year, because I have a lot to ask you for. But first, Missy told me that you have to be on a diet until Christmas because you eat lots of mence pies and cookies, would you prefer rubarb? Nanny can make it with me. I won’t ask Missy, she burnt the toast – cheeky git – I will get Rudolph – how can she spell Rudolph but not mince? – an apple – well, good for Rudolph, you’re eating that one dear, I want mum’s crumble-”

“Missy, just read the damn letter,” John’s breath was hot on her neck, his voice amused. Missy huffed loudly, cleared her throat.

“I will get Rudolph an apple. Daddy said that I needed to rite my Christmas list, and that he would post it to the North Pole. Missy wants to know when you will get an email address. A lot has happened this year. My mummy went away and died and my aunt Missy came back to help Daddy lots. She makes Daddy shake his head a lot and go grumpy scotsman, but she reads me bedtime stories and talks about my mummy and makes Daddy happy even if he pretends he is upset with her. I like Missy. I miss my mummy. Nanny said that even you don’t have enough magic to bring mummy back. I understand. It’s a lot of magic. I know it’s a big big thing and I don’t know if I’ve been good enuf this year, but for Christmas, I want daddy to be happy all the time. Can your magic make Missy stay? I would also like a bike and a box for some tools, just like Missy has! Thank you very much, merry Christmas Santa, Clara Oswin Smith.”

Missy blinked, her eyes a little full.

“Well,” She cleared her throat loudly, “I can get her the tool box.”

John sighed against her neck, his hands leaving the perch on her hips as he took a step back. She was a dangerous person and Clara wanted to spend more time with her, wanted her to stay. It didn’t seem right. It didn’t seem like the cosmic balance should shift so in her direction.

"Take the job in hanger 2," he said shortly, "It'll make her year."

She'd been sitting on Jack's offer for the whole evening. It had been made off-handily, it wasn't a real offer in pen and paper, but it was still an offer. But she knew John wouldn't like it. John didn't have to like it. He didn't get to dictate her life in any other realm than Clara, and that was the only area she allowed him an inch, because she had been the one to leave in the first palce

"Jack offered me a job," She said quietly, folding the letter along the creases and carefully sliding it back into the envelope. "It'll be grunt work, less to do with research and more to do with using my skillset, but I think I'm going to take it. It seems to mean so much to all of you, me having a job here."

"We just want you to be happy," John insisted, but his eyes were sparkling a little under the thick eyebrows, the corner of his lips tugging up, fighting a losing battle. It wasn't one of his more terrifying, teeth bared grins, but it was John's version of not wanting to admit he was glad. She half smiled back. "And I think it's also a commitment beyond your word, for er some people. It's harder for you to just leave if you have a job."

"Yes, it is," Missy didn't want to make any of them doubt her any more, but she was getting sick, quite frankly, of everyone assuming she had some elaborate escape route. Like she wasn't already miles out of her comfort zone, with no plan and no matches. "If I wanted to leave, I'd have gone already. Leaving a job is easy. You just don't turn up one day. Send an email. Work'll be pissed but it's just work. I don't need to do it for anything more than fun and to prove to you all that I'm here to stay. Has it ever occurred to anyone that the constant questioning is exhausting? That I'm tired of living up to the expectation that I'm going to bolt if someone says something a little too close to home. When will I have proved enough to you? How long do I have to be here before you realise that I'm here. I'm engaging with the process. And that I am not leaving without that little girl."

She was ashamed of the tears that bubbled up in her eyes, she hated that it was a thing she did now.

"Because I don't know if it's all an act," John answered honestly, "Maybe you're just trying to impress me."

"Yes, falling in love with that little girl was all part of some devious plan," Missy said sarcastically, brushing the tear from her cheek in bubbling frustration. "That sounds about right."

"The alternative is much worse," He admitted, stepping forward hesitantly, not quite in her space, not quite not, "And this is all for real. The house, your parents, me...Clara... and it's time for us to become...friends... again."

Missy stepped forward, unable to stop the bubble of hope that he had finally forgiven her and would stop holding their past over her head. It was almost too good to be true.

"Do you think so?" she asked, hope lacing every sound, her hands reaching across the narrow gap between them. Then John stepped back. They had been getting more and more tactile, each others body simply an extension of their own, so having him withdraw so pointedly had her drawing her hands into her chest, fingers pressed into her palm to stop her reaching for him again when her touch was so unwelcome. It hurt, the hot sting of rejection, followed by the cold thought that she'd bought it all on herself.

There was pause, a long drawn out moment, before John shuffled forwards again, slowly placing his hands over hers and drawing them out to link their fingers between them. She looked at their hands, an interlocked system of pale fingers, and then up the distance to his face, his face that was trying to be open and honest, but was as guarded as his wounded heart.

"I don't know," he said softly, blue eyes fixed on blue and the world not existing around them. "That's the trouble with hope, Missy, it's hard to resist."

Her breath caught, and then he was pulling his hands away, stepping backwards and away. He decreed the moment over. The moment of honesty, a moment that let Missy know exactly where she stood in their cobbled together family. She was standing on moving ground, the ending never getting any closer. What did she have to do to prove herself? In her exhaustion, her frustration and her sorrow, she had to raise her hand and wipe the tears away again, just once, before she threw her head back and breathed in sharply to dispel the tears.

She heard a moment upstairs, one that said little feet were out of bed when they shouldn't be. Leaving the letter on the side where Clara had placed it before bed, Missy hurried to the stairs on light feet, climbing slowly and carefully, listening to the patter of feet, the creak of springs as Clara clearly tried to hurry back to bed before she was caught.

Missy leant against the doorframe, watching Clara's incredibly still form under her pile of blankets. She smiled slightly, Clara was adorable sometimes.

"Word of advice," Missy said softly from the doorway, stepping over discarded toys and settling on the edge of Clara's bed. "Sleeping people breathe."

Clara's head poked out of the duvet, making a show of blinking and rubbing her eyes. The little actress even yawned.

"Missy," Clara scolded, in a voice that had clearly been awake a while, "I was asleep."

Missy simply raised a sharp eyebrow at her daughter. Clara grinned, sitting up properly and pulling her stuffed toy with her. She wasn't just awake, she seemed barely tired.

"You should be asleep," Missy pointed out, pulling the duvet a little more evenly around Clara. "You've got a busy day, with a playdate with Danny Pink after school. And you've got literacy in the morning, and reading at lunchtime. You don't want to be too tired for that, do you?"

"I wanted to find out what happened to Lucy and Edmund and Peter and Susan," Clara admitted, pointing to the book she'd left open in a hurry by the nightlight. "I had to stop reading because of dinner, and they were on a waterfall and the ice was melting! Can I just read a bit more to find out if they get to Mr and Mrs Beaver again, or if the Queen's wolves get to them? Please Missy. It's only a few pages."

The voice, pleading from the heart in a way that reminded Missy of tugging books out of her sisters hands at bedtime, of John pulling them out of her own late at night because he wanted to go to sleep and her lamp was keeping him awake (he could have returned to his own flat, but it was late and he was warm).

"Just to the end of the chapter," She conceded, knowing that if she didn't agree, Clara would be up and at the book again the second she had left. It's what she herself would have done as a child. It's what any book-loving child would do. "You stay there poppet, I'll read it you, how about that? Now, I know my voices aren't as good as Daddy's, but I'll do my best."

Clara beamed an answer as Missy crossed the room and picked the book up, thumbing through to find how many pages there were to the end of the chapter.

"Snuggle down," she advised. Clara did as she was told (for once), pulling back the covers, her big brown eyes pleading for Missy to sit next to her pillow, the quilt covering the top of her lap. Missy was just about to begin when Clara made an unimpressed noise, lifting Missy's elbow and laying her head (rather awkwardly) against Missy's boob so she could see the book too. Missy adjusted slightly to an arrangement more comfortable to them both, cleared her throat, and read to Clara of how the chosen four survived the thawing river, escaped the wolves and only nearly lost Lucy in the mayhem.

"Bed time now poppet," Missy whispered, pressing a kiss to Clara's head. The girl nodded sleepily, barely able to lift her head for Missy to re-negotiate her to her pillow. "Sleep tight my girl."

"Love you Missy," Clara mumbled, already asleep, her teddy suffocating under her arm. She looked so tiny in the bed. Smaller than usual anyway. And a little more helpless. Missy smoothed Clara's fringe from her face gently, amazed at how far she had come in such a short amount of time. It was only months ago when Clara giving her a hug had been vaguely traumatic, causing Missy to freak out and want to run. But now, now she liked how comfortable she was with Clara. She was near enough useless with other children (Alfie excepting, but he needed the encouragement to help build things and they didn't need to talk while making a mecano car. But Clara had wormed her way inside the dead thing Missy had called a heart, just like her mother had done so many decades before.

"I love you too, Clara," Missy whispered to the sleeping child, before she pressed a final kiss to her head, adjusted the covers and pushed herself to her feet with a restrained puff. John was sat on the top of the stairs, his elbows resting on his knees. Missy rolled her eyes and sat down next to him. "Before you say anything it was the quickest way to get her into bed, and to sleep," Missy found herself defending a point that hadn't even been made.

John just smiled, one of his adorable enigmatic half-smiles that made him look self-conscious about being happy. It was her favourite smile. It was an honest smile.

"I was about to say well done," he said softly, nudging her shoulder. He was relaxed, whatever residual tension he'd been holding over the past few months having evaporated, and only in it's absence did Missy even notice it had been present. She felt a little like she'd passed some sort of test. "Stay in the spare room tonight?"

Every night, John offered, and every night, Missy smiled sadly, and refused. They both knew tonight would be no different.

"What time do you want me to pick you up in the morning?" Missy asked, skirting the question entirely. It was a bigger question than just staying in the spare room and they both knew it. It wasn't an invitation to have sex with their daughter in the next room. Beside, John was the least likely person to request sex. He fell in love, deeply, but sex had always been an afterthought and never a priority. In asking for her to stay, he was asking where she stood. And the day she slept in the spare room would be the first day she made it her room. And neither of them were ready for that. "We can take Clara to the early club, get you to work... and I'm going to accept Jack's offer of Hanger 3. I'm bored on my own all day. Part-time should keep me from re-wiring your toaster."

John's lips curved into another secret smile.

"Good," he said softly, eyes lingering. Then suddenly he was gone, his lanky frame almost tumbling down the stairs.

"Hush," Missy scolded good naturedly, standing more gracefully and following him to the steaming tea she could already smell. "You'll wake the baby."

"She sleeps like her father," John snorted, stopping at the bottom of the stairs. "Nothing short of screaming loudly will wake her up."

"You and River must've enjoyed that part of her sleep regime," Missy snorted, chuckling when John replayed what he'd said in his head and then turned to scowl at her, his eyebrows ferocious. "Oh dearest, you walked right into that one,"

Chapter Text

"This is a terrible idea," Missy announced, pulling her hat (smart, not woolly, not designed to keep out the cold) firmly onto her head. "People will gossip if I come to the school with you."

"Missy," John grunted, his head inside the car trying to right the seats from transporting Clara's Christmas present while the sprog was at her grandparents. "Will you just shut up."

"Don't tell me to shut up beanpole," Missy barked, hands into gloves, one long finger at a time.

"As far as everyone is concerned, us losing River had us shacking up," He clicked the seats into place and straitened up. "And, I'm too old to give a shit about what everyone else thinks. Usually you are too. Get in."

Missy crossed her arms, and tilted her chin defiantly.

"Missy, it's parent's evening. I'm not proposing you move in," He said with an exasperated sigh, opening her car door for her. "Please, get in the car. We'll be late, and there's ice out."

From the shadowy haze of her own childhood, Missy though parent's evening came much earlier in the year, around mid-November, not early December and weeks before term ended. Apparently they were combining parent's evening with a fundraiser, and Missy was well, concerned.

"I don't care what they think about me," She sighed, hand pressed to the top of the car, waiting in the open door. "If it were just us I'd say hang them all. But it's not just us any more John. I don't want anything I do to make Clara's life harder."

"Clara doesn't care," He said firmly, "So long as she has her Missy, and daddy is happy. And, well, I can confirm we have both halves of the list covered."

Missy half smiled at him, at his eyes soft and grey in the half light outside her flat, the corners of his eyes so creased there must be secret lives hidden in every fold. Then she blinked firmly, and climbed into the car. John loped around the car to his own side, sliding into her car (not his) with ease and starting the engine.

"How do these things usually go?" Missy asked a little hesitantly. Give her a room full of wealthy obnoxious people any day of the week. That she could manage. Other parents gushing about how miraculous and how wonderful their grubby little brats were made her want to go pick her own grubby brat up and take cover. Parents were, in her experience, odious people. They saw no fault in their offspring but affectionate ones. Now, Missy considered herself quite devoted to Clara, she loved her little girl with a fierceness that surprised her. But she was very very aware of Clara's failings - and not the cutesy little failings parents bemoaned in the playground about little Timmy not going to sleep on time or being messy.

Clara could be very manipulative. Other people saw an innocent little girl, a little girl who they needed to protect. At the grand old age of seven (and three quarters Missy!) Clara had learnt exactly where she stood in the patriarchy and she used it well. She used it worryingly well. She also over-controlled everything. It had only gotten worse since River had died, and she had learnt that she couldn't control everything as she wanted. She couldn't control the big wide world, so she focussed so much on controlling her own little portion of it she had made herself sick before now. They were worried about her.

"Do you think they'll bring up her control problems?" Missy asked into the dark.

"I should think so," John sighed. "I've only done a few of these myself Miss, she is only in year three. But.. we go and sit with other parents until Clara's teacher calls us in and we talk about Clara for five minutes and then I promise we will be out of there and we can stop for a Chinese before we pick Clara up. Your mum and dad will get her ready for bed, all we need to do is pour her in and hope for the best."

"We have to sit outside until her teacher calls us in?" Missy asked incredulously. Then she barked a laugh. "Do you remember when we got called up to Kovarian's office back in school?"

"Which time?" John replied drily, manoeuvring the car into the busy car park. "We were sent to Kovarian a lot Missy. She hated us."

"Hated River more," Missy fell silent. It hurt less now, the unconscious references to the life shared with River. But it twinged like an old wound, one that you can get by with perfectly adequately, but that hurt in cold weather, or when the skin is stretched the wrong way.

"Ready?" John asked, one hand on the door handle, eyebrow raised.

"I was born ready," Missy muttered in response, releasing herself from the car with a conscious effort not to grit her teeth at the thought of having to mingle with other parents. She returned Mrs Pink's wave with a polite smile. "You owe me a drink for this," she muttered, linking her arm through John's and shivering at the icy wind that threatened to trip her up. "It's fucking freezing, let's get inside."

"Language," John chided, leaping forward to catch the door.

"Oh do stop being so damn chivalrous," Missy groused, but passed through the door nevertheless, removing her hat glancing at the bright primary-coloured artwork lining the walls. "Any of this Clara's?"

John looked at the display's with a focused eye, scanning the titles and the years as they progressed down the corridor. He pointed to a display not far from them, with "year three" in bubble writing beneath a title stating "Our Heroes". "She may have something over there," he suggested, glancing at his watch. "Want to avoid having to mingle dear?"

"Always," Missy had already taken off towards the display, examining the crude stick drawings and developing handwriting with a curl of distaste. "I don't remember her doing this project."

"I think you were out with Jenny and Vas," John scrunched up his face to remember, scratching the back of his head. "Either way you weren't around that night. I think it was before the ball - I mean it really was ages ago but they don't update the displays all that frequently."

Missy hadn't stopped scanning the bordered sheets of paper on the wall, her eyes dismissing anything that wasn't written in Clara's very even, very controlled hand. Then her eyes snagged on a scribble of yellow and her eyes filled with tears. She gently laid a finger on the page, checking the top corner for the even 'Clara' spelled out in biro, a handwriting that wasn't her daughter's. John smiled sadly in her peripheral vision.

"My mummy," Missy read out gently, her red nailed finger trailing under the lines, "Is with the angels. She is kind and she is funny, and her hair is big enough to high the galaxy. She is an archaeologist. She digs for secrets in the sand. Mummy is my angel, she watches over me always."

She paused a second, her heart torn as to whether it should be filled with pride or paid. She felt John rest his chin against she head and she didn't care what anyone said or thought or whispered. Clara wouldn't care.

"She's quite the poet," Missy smiled, proud and sad and a veritable war of emotion. "I'm not holding my breath that she'll be a scientist like us. Have you seen her maths?"

"Doctor Smith?" A light voice called down from the door a few behind. "Ms Oakdean, if you'd like the come through."

The teacher, Miss Foreman, was small and a little birdlike. Her movements were a little jerky, like she'd been forced to stop midway through a dance and her dark eyes had a way of looking straight through you. Missy liked her immediately, and could understand why Clara, who liked to know exactly where she stood at all times, liked this forthright young woman.

"Susan Foreman," She introduced herself, holding out a hand for a brisk shake with Missy and with John. "Please, take a seat. I'm afraid I don't have much time tonight, why they've left parent's evening so late in the year is simply beyond me."

Missy liked her a lot. Susan shuffled some notes around, pulling a report from the pack and sliding it across the table. The

"Clara is a very enthusiastic student, and she is consistently one of my high performers," Susan Foreman began briskly, hands folded on the table and head tilted - like she'd studied mannerisms and hadn't quite gotten it right. "Her grades speak for themselves. Tell me, do you have much trouble getting her to do homework?"

"No," John looked at Missy. Missy rolled her eyes.

"I'll be honest with you pet," Missy said bluntly, "If you don't set Clara homework she gets distressed and I have to make her some. It's not the actual work, it's that an hour of homework is part of her routine and she likes her routine. She will try and avoid maths of course. That multiplication grid you set was like pulling teeth with string and a doorknob. But her routine is important to her. Her home routine at least, I know you have a relatively unstructured day and she doesn't seem to distressed when she comes home."

Susan was nodding strangely, as if Missy was just confirming something she already suspected.

"I must admit that I keep a loose structure, but not one that the children can become overly dependant on, in case there needs to be change at short notice. Clara does struggle with unexpected changes to the week. We had an assembly on a Wednesday last week, rather than a Friday and it took me fifteen minutes to convince her that it was an acceptable change to her schedule."

Missy and John nodded, this confirmed things they already suspected. John's hand gripped Missy's behind the desk.

"We try to keep her routine as similar as possible, to minimise her distress," John said, "She seems like she's doing ok academically - maths is a bit lower than the rest but numbers don't come nearly as easily to her as they do to us, and that doesn't matter. Who needs maths?"

"Point, dearest," Missy interjected.

"Point: How can we help?" John finished abruptly. "It's gotten worse since her mother died. We're both seeing therapists and we have been since River took ill. I can try and book a meeting with her therapist if you think we need a game plan?"

"Will you let the woman answer your questions?" Missy asked pointedly. John glared at her, but fell silent.

Susan looked between the two of them and smiled. "I think you two are doing everything right. Clara just likes structure. She is also not being challenged enough in my class, even in maths despite her aversion for it. I wonder if giving her more to think about will help her feel more in control of her environment. I wanted to move her up to the Year 4 class, but we like children to skip whole years, not just terms and Victoria - Wakefield, her teacher last year - didn't want to add more pressure on when she was already going through so much. But I would like to seriously talk to you both in the Spring term about Clara skipping year 4. I plan to start her on the year 4 syllabus after Christmas."

"You can do that?" Missy asked a little hesitantly. "Won't the others notice. Make fun of her..."

"Oh yes," Susan replied easily, "It's a matter of applying year 4 principles and marking, but on the same topic as her peers. Take comprehension for example. If we were to be reading How to Train Your Dragon, I set Clara a different set of questions to the rest of her peers, to encourage her to interrogate and question the text a little more, rather than just finding information. I won't set her a different text, or make it obvious that Clara has different work to the other groups. Each group has a different level of questions anyway, so the children aren't likely to question it too much."

"She'll stop being bored?" John checked.

Susan smiled enigmatically. "She'll be less bored, yes."

"Do we need to talk to her?" Missy glanced at John, checking with him silently that they would be willing to have the conversation.

"I honestly don't think she'll notice that it's gotten harder, but hopefully we can pull a Matilda, and help fill her head with things to do a little more," Susan sat back and smiled. "I enjoy having Clara in my class. It's not often I get to have a spirited debate with an eight year old as to whether Mrs Coulter is truly evil, or just seduced by power."

Missy chuckled, she'd had a similar discussion with Clara only a week or two before, when they had finished the Northern Lights book. Clara had asked what seduced meant, and they'd gotten down the dictionary so she could learn the definitions.

"That sounds like our girl," John chuckled beside her, squeezing Missy's hand. She squeezes back.

"The one thing I can't say Clara is doing well in is P.E," Susan tapped the single 4 on the page. "She struggles with people not playing by the rules."

"That sounds about right," Missy agreed, privately wondering were the need for rules came from. "And sometimes they aren't even the right rules. They're just her rules. We're trying, but I'm not sure she'll ever be one for team sports."

"Her mother wasn't," John side-eyed Missy, "And neither is Missy so I don't imagine much will change." Missy kicked his ankle.

"Pot, kettle," She said, raising a fine eyebrow at him. Susan checked her watch and pulled a face.

"I'm sorry, I'm running late now," she lamented, standing up. "Are you both coming to the fete and to the carols service."

"We'll be at the fete, and I'll bring Clara to the carols, but Missy won't attend. She burns if she enters a church," John said it so seriously that it took a second for Missy to catch up and turn to him slowly, eyes narrowing. He had to the audacity to wink at her. Bastard. "Thank you for your comments on Clara, do let us know how we can help."

"Yes, do," Missy turned her full beam onto Susan, "It was good to meet you. I'm glad Clara is in such capable hands."

"It was certainly interesting to meet you both," Susan held out her hands, shaking their hands firmly in farewell as she led them across the bright classroom with higgldy piggldy tables and chairs to the door. "Clara is a joy to teach, and I'm not just saying that to be polite. She is a challenge, yes, but she reaches for information as a flower towards the sun and while I have the year that are still enthusiastic about information for information's sake, Clara is a very interesting young person. She's done well this year. Just in case Santa was wondering, she's been talking about the mechanics of the Millennium Falcon for the past month."

Missy laughed. They both thanked Susan for her time, leaving the same way they had came, the corridor a little thicker with parents waiting their turn. It had been about twenty minutes in total. Missy jammed her hat onto her head and opened the door for John.

"I liked her," Missy called over the car. "Now, seeing as we aren't accommodating a seven and three quarter year old, lets get all sorts of crazy shit from the Chinese. We've still got an hour till we're due at my parents after all. Isn't this what parenting is all about? Leaving them with their grandparents for as long as possible?"

John paused, contemplating the question before they both slid into their seats.

"Pretty much," he admitted, nodding thoughtfully. "For right now at least."

Chapter Text

The weekend was set, and the decorations were dragged in from the garage. Dad set up the tree, Mum made the bailey's hot chocolate, Missy doing emergency surgery on the long string of twinkle lights, muttering angrily under her breath at every knot. She was just about to slice through the fucking cable when the string was tugged firmly from her fingers, and John's face swam into view.

"Why don't you go and help Clara sort the baubles," he suggested gently, "Before you destroy the lights."

"Why couldn't you have just coiled them nicely last Christmas," Missy huffed, letting John help pull her up from the floor, wincing as her back and legs creaked in protest. "I'm getting far too old for this shit."

John just smiled at her, the soft indulgent little smile that said 'I don't believe you." And he'd be right, she didn't believe that. Missy pushed her glasses up onto her head and huffed at him, more to prove the point than for any need to actually huff. John slid her spectacles from her face and slid them up his own nose, before he sat down in the easy chair and immediately loosed the knot Missy had been attacking for near five minutes.

"I loosened it for you," she insisted, before turning and picking her way across the minefield of boxes. "This is too damn stressful," she informed her father as she passed, hearing his chuckle amongst the fake pine he was teasing into shape in the corner. "Hallo there pet," She greeted Clara, sinking down onto the sofa behind her daughter and ruffling her dark hair. "What's our system?"

"No," Clara said firmly, pushing Missy's hand away from her head. "Mummy helps with this. Not you."

Missy felt her stomach fall with a sickening thud.

"Clara," She said gently, her hand hovering about Clara's shoulder. "You ok pet?"

"Go AWAY!" Clara screamed, standing up and knocking the box of coloured baubles to the side. "Just go AWAY."

Then she ran, dodging Amy laden down with a tray of drinks, her fading hair adorned with reindeer antlers. Then Clara went storming up the stairs, a stunned silence filling the living room as the door slammed shut. It echoed with a finality. Missy's chest felt simultaneously empty and overwhelmingly full. She opened her mouth to say something. Anything. But it was like there was a golf ball stuck in her throat, and a pressure building that had tears welling up. She closed her mouth.

"I'll go talk to her," John said quietly, discarding the lights in a heap next to his chair. He touched Missy's shoulder briefly as he passed, and moments later, he could be heard asking Clara to open the door, his voice gentle but carrying in the silence.

Mum put her tray down and dad fully emerged from where he had been frozen in the tree.

"I should go," Missy said finally, swallowing around the golf ball, wanting to be alone when she couldn't stop the tears or the sense that after everything she had still failed.

"Don't be stupid," Mum replied promptly, sitting down on the sofa next to Missy but not touching her. Missy almost cried at how much her mum knew her, how she knew that when she was upset the last thing she wanted was an audience or for someone to reach into her space and hug her. She needed to be in control of her own body, and she needed to be the one to initiate contact. "You know that wasn't anything to do with you. It's just the season. We all miss River but Clara is still struggling to rationalise it. River always made a big song and dance out of putting the tree up."

"She misses her mum," Missy repeated, "I know, I miss River too. But she's never sounded like she meant it before. She wanted me away from her. Mum you heard her. So I should go, and when she's calmer, we can talk a bit maybe."

"No, you should stay," Dad said gently, still quietly setting the tree up in the corner. He had all the stems attached, he was just slowly working his way through untwisting the wire leaves. "Parenting is nine tenths waiting for your child to come around, to realise that they didn't mean what they said. I think you need to stay to prove to Clara that you aren't going anywhere, no matter what she says."

"She's testing you," Amy finished for her husband, "She doesn't even know it. But if you walk away now, before she's had a chance to calm down, she won't realise that no matter what happens, what she says or what she does, that you will always love her and will always be waiting for her."

Missy blinked. They both sounded like they had a lot of experience. She turned to her mum, the question in her eyes, one she couldn't verbalise but boiled down to 'did I put you through this?". Mum smiled weakly in response, studying her hands before she answered.

"When you first arrived you both liked to test us," She admitted, "You thought we only let you tag along because we wanted River and by god and all the angels you challenged us. You would break curfew, you'd say things that were cruel, and you were a teenager who was used to being abandoned. We just had to prove to you that we wouldn't ever leave. And eventually you stopped testing us quite so much."

"Until you decided to pull a vanishing act and decided to stay away because you thought we didn't want you, after all that," Dad added from the corner. Missy felt a flare of guilt.

"I had no idea," She admitted, twisting the bottom of her jumper tightly. "I'm sorry I ever made you feel like this."

Mum smiled gently, "All teenagers do it," She said gently, "You should hear Liz talk about when Katie got into her adolescent stride. You were just a tough nut to crack. What I'm trying to say here is that Clara needs to see that you won't go, no matter how upset she gets, no matter how horrible she is to you. You have to grin and bear it. You basically signed a contract saying that when you returned for good. It's shit Missy, but it's worth it."

Missy nodded slowly. She felt as if her insides had been scratched, her heart hot and swollen. Her instinct was to run. Missy stood up on slightly shaky legs, dismissing her mothers look of concern. With a focus that spoke of how hard it was to turn left up the stairs over right towards the door, Missy made sure she hit all the creaky stairs so they knew she was coming.

Then, she sank down against the wall outside Clara's door. And there she stayed.

What may have been moments or hours later, Clara's door creaked open slowly, and moments later, Clara herself stood hesitantly in the doorway, her eyes red, her cheeks flushed, her breath hitching. Missy's heart thumped painfully in her chest, and she quirked her lips upwards in what she hoped was a reassuring face. It can't have been that reassuring, for Clara promptly burst back into tears, and launched herself into Missy's chest.

"Please don't leave," She sobbed, nearly hysterical, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, please don't leave me!"

"Shh Clara," Missy soothed, sitting Clara in her lap and rubbing her back firmly, "It'll take far more than that to get me to go, I can promise you that. I promise pet, you're stuck with me."

Clara continued to sob into Missy's shoulder, several months worth of stress and anxiety and anger flooding out in one go, racking the little body with a feverish heat and convulsing sobs. It made Missy's heart hurt, and she longed to be able to take all Clara's pain away, but she did the only thing she could think of. She wrapped her arms tightly around Clara and silently promised to be there for anything and everything that would be thrown at them.

Missy looked up at John, standing in the doorway, his own cheeks slick with tears, his hair wildly on end. Her cheek was pressed firmly against Clara's hair, and she was reluctant to move any contact that was providing Clara even a modicum of comfort. Missy looked up at John, and he nodded, mouthed a thank you, a muscle in his cheek twitching from trying to keep his own tears under control. His eyes were a storm. he was as torn apart by Clara's tears as she was. They should have seen it coming really. Clara hadn't known how to grieve. And she still didn't, but this was a start in releasing some of the emotions.

Missy held out her hand to John, just for a second. He took it, sinking down next to her. Clara had one arm wrapped tightly around her Missy's neck, the other reaching blindly across to fit in John's shirt - as she had when she was a baby and she couldn't sleep. Together, they sat on the floor, their pasts and their futures come to rest in the present, until Clara finally fell into an exhausted sleep, her feverish cheek pressed firmly into Missy's neck.

"She didn't mean it," John said, his voice cracked and quiet so as not to wake Clara. "She's felt guilty almost instantly."

"I know," Missy replied, her voice much the same, broken but surviving the best it could, "This was always going to happen John, and I know she doesn't want me gone. I know."

"Still hurts though," Missy wasn't sure if John had asked her a question or not. His arm was wrapped tightly around her shoulders, all three of them coiled together on the beige hallway floor.

"Yeah," she agreed nevertheless, "Still hurts."

Chapter Text

Clara was bored of not being at school. She had been needy and fretful and downright trying at times. Missy and John bore it as patiently as they could, distracting her with the new toolbox, the lego Millennium Falcon set, the new Star Wars movie - anything that would keep her little mind occupied for more than a few minutes was an absolute godsend.

So when Kate and Osgood turned up (Kate bearing a smirk and Osgood still a little suspicious) and announced that Kate's parents required John and Missy's help with decorating for the New Year Bash (an annual event in their social circle that had gotten bigger as they'd gotten more competitive, until a cap had been put on what was allowed), Missy hugged her. Kate had recovered fairly quickly, snorting and asking Missy if Clara was really being that difficult. (John had snorted and asked them if Rosie and David were coming around as well, they'd need all the help they could get).

They'd kissed Clara goodbye, and somewhat reluctantly gave the standard instructions to call them should anything happen or if Clara really did become unmanageable from the pent up sugar and excitement and overtiredness. Then they'd linked arms and started walking in the direction of the village, Kate promising that she wouldn't give Clara too much sugar, purely on the basis of the girl having given herself a sugar quota.

They breathed in the cold air, taking deep lungfuls of the chill and relaxing almost instantaneously.

"I love our daughter," Missy said with a pleased sigh, turning her face to the sunlight dappling through the bright trees, "But I'm so glad Katie and Goody-Two-Shoes turned up."

"I know you are," John said mysteriously, a little smile on his face as he looked ahead, not looking down at Missy as he usually would. From her vantage point she could see his ears turning pink.

"Thank you," she said simply, snuggling a little closer. Somehow John had orchestrated this break, this little tiny break that would stop her from snapping at her emotionally vulnerable offspring.

"You two are winding each other up," He shrugged a little self-consciously. "I love you both but you're doing my head in. Neither of you are suited to being confined."

"We went for a walk yesterday," Missy reminded him with a pout, "We went all the way round the Brecon Beacons and she slept all night. It was bloody bliss."

John chuckled and they finished their walk in a companionable silence, not so secretly enjoying being with each other without anyone else.

The New Years Bash, contrary to the name, did not actually take place on New Year. When they first started the Bash, inheriting the event from their parents, it had been a huge piss up and they'd stagger back to their respective homes nursing hangovers that bled into working life. In order to enjoy the event (and pity themselves in the aftermath) they'd shifted the Bash to the 29th December every year, a standing date in the diary. It gave them all New Year's Eve free to spend with their significant others (which became more important as they started seriously pairing off) and it meant that they could commandeer everyone ahead of time. It wasn't quite the raucous party it had been in the late eighties, the appearance of more than one child had pushed the wilder party back a few hours, until eventually the wildest part of the night just petered out a little. It was still absolutely the best night of the year. It was her first New Year in eight years.

"Hello," Liz called out over the low fence, waving a hand that wasn't holding the other end of the lights, "Excellent, John you can help with these lights, I'm just too short and so is Missy. We're going to go and finish the back garden."

"Yessir," Missy stood to attention and snapped a hand to her forehead with a mock solemn face. Liz rolled her eyes. John patted the arm still linked with his before disentangling and relieving the loop of lights from Liz, giving her a playful warning with his eyes. "Oh stop it, we'll behave. You don't think we'd do anything without letting you two watch did you?"

Liz laughed, a loud honk of a laugh, one that Katie had inherited without genetics being involved for a second. Missy winked at the men's beetroot face.

"I don't think either of them are up for sharing," Liz chuckled, "Come on, we really could use the extra hands, it wasn't just us trying to help you out. Katie at least had Rosie to play with on Christmas break."

"We tried organising a playdate with Danny Pink or with little Alfie - he's got one heck of an imagination that one. Have you heard his story of Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All?," Missy queried, waving distractedly at John and falling into step beside Liz. "So, what needs doing, or is all this because John thought Clara and I were going to murder each other?"

"I think he wanted a nice quiet walk with you," Liz shrugged, "He said you'd happily help, and we really do need a hand. Katie offered before Alistair had even finished the sentence. My daughter isn't much for party organisation and I think Osgood's a bit overwhelmed by the whole family Christmas thing."

"They're cute," Missy smiled, helping Liz unpack another box with BASH written in what looked like River's handwriting. "Blimey these lanterns are new."

"They're about five years old, back when Vastra and Jenny hosted," Liz replied absently, "There should be hooks in there too. Alistair and I already strung the globes, we just need to hook these onto the wire and then pop the lights on. I'll turn them on before everyone gets here."

There were lots of new items, new only in the respect that Missy hadn't seen them before. The decorations for the Bash had grown organically, like all good decorations boxes do. There were ornamental stars that the children had made over the years, and it was with shaky hands that Missy withdrew the shoebox labelled "Clara" in John's chicken scratch. Somehow it hadn't occurred to her that Clara would have a box. It should have, but it hadn't registered. In an alternative reality, one where Missy stayed from the start, she would have helped Clara make her stars, would have decorated her first star with "Clara's first New Year". But it was John's sharp letters that were on the hard baked clay.

"I thought River would have made her ornaments," Missy said quietly, settling down to look at seven years worth of ornaments. They would set up the table later so this years ornaments could be decorated and baked and hung at midnight, bringing luck for the year ahead.

"I can't remember why she didn't," Liz frowned over her own daughters attempts at decorating. "She wanted John to do the writing. They both did the rest of the decorations though. You know, we tried to suggest that Kate and Rose were too old last year, and you should have seen heir faces. They're in their mid-twenties and they don't want to stop doing the decorations."

"Well, it's tradition, isn't it?" Missy smirked, fully able to imagine how Kate and Rose would feel like their entire childhood was ending because they didn't make their New Year decs anymore. It may have seemed something stupid to other people, but it was their little tradition, their little peculiarity. "I imagine they've suggested that Osgood and David make their first Christmas ornaments."

"Distinct possibility that they may be a first Bash ornament being made next year," Liz chuckled, "Though all bets are off as to whether it's Clara getting a little brother or us becoming grandparents."

"I'm over forty, you really think I'll be surprising everyone by next Christmas?" Missy arched an eyebrow scathingly, "I'm menopausal and John and I don't have a relationship like that."

"You know, to be convincing you should have started with the 'John and I aren't in a relationship'," Liz pointed out, standing up and dusting herself down."

Liz paused, frowning. Missy sighed and waited patiently for whatever it was one of her best friends was deciding whether she could or couldn't say.

"Spit it out Lizzie," she sighed eventually, rolling her head back to look at her. Liz studied her.

"What's holding you back this time?" She asked quietly. "You've always had excuses, and I think you were right... but... what's holding you back this time round?"

Missy wished that people would stop asking her because she was running out of reasons.

"It's never been the right time," she admitted, "Or there's been something else and it's always been something unspoken, and I guess maybe we're still afraid that ,,, if we try and change what we are,,, well there's so much more to lose now, and it's something neither of us want to lose. I can't lose her."

"I don't think you'll need to worry about that," Liz smiled, "And it's not like you to worry about something out of your control, that's usually where you're the most confident. Paint on a face and tell the void what to do."

"I'm happy, right now," she said certainly, feeling anything but certain. "Why ruin a good thing?"

Liz gave her a long hard look, before clearly giving up that line of thought and moving out of the room. Missy staid where she was, thinking of the other huge reason that stopped her every time she saw that soft look in his eyes and he asked her to stay in the spare room. River hadn't even been gone a year, they were all still mourning her. And Missy may have known that her sister would be pulling her curls at their dithering, it was still too raw, the life still new. Her life didn't quite fit, and they just weren't ready. They were never ready.

Chapter Text

Several hours later, Missy and John were knocking on the fairy-light covered door to the Shaw-Stewart's house. Missy had one hand clamped on Clara's shoulder to prevent her from tugging the lights and bringing the whole sparkling edifice down on top of them.

"Auntie Liz!" Clara cried, leaping out of Missy's grasp to wrap her arms around Liz's satin-clad legs. Liz laughed, patting Clara's hair and pulling them into the house with instructions that existed no further than "you know where everything is, and you know the rules!" before she had to dart back in. Katie and Rosie appeared not long after coats were shed, both sparkling in very different styles and comfortable with each other in the way two best friends could be, time and space be damned.

"Aunty Is," Rose greeted Missy cheerfully, "Uncle John, guess who finally arrived home! Come on, Luke's been dying to see you both all day. He was as annoyed as Luke can get when he found out you were both here with Liz and Alistair, and not home with the kid."

"If I'd spent another hour home with "the kid"," Missy said faux darkly, "I'd have been locking myself in John's study and refusing to leave."

"Most people would say 'go home'," Kate said slyly," "Especially when you live apart."

"I didn't even think of that!" Missy said to her own surprise. It was true, no matter how annoyed she had been with Clara during the day, not once had she considered leaving before it was gone eleven, Clara long having been in bed. Her flat was simply a place to sleep now. John smiled slightly in her peripheral vision, a secret happy smile that the world wasn't supposed to see. It cheered her and worried her in equal measure. She and John had exceeded old habits it seemed.

Rose dragged them through to the garden, when a young man with floppy brown hair and earnest eyes, laughing happily with two faces Missy had never seen. He looked up as Rose called his name, his face widening into an even bigger smile.

"Auntie Is," He greeted, far too formally for such an affectionate moniker. He held his hand out to John, "John."

"Luke," John greeted sternly, his eyes sparkling. "Clyde, Rani, good to see you both again."

"Did mum remind you what they were called?" Luke laughed, his manner so different from John's mostly serious nature.

"No, I did," Missy replied before she could stop herself, tilting her head to look at the man the boy had become. "You got taller."

"You got smaller," The cheeky git replied instantly. Missy laughed, and offered him her hand. "It's good to see you again Auntie Is," he said seriously. "I'm glad you found your way home."

"I think for Gallifreyans," Missy said, somewhat seriously but pretending otherwise, "The only destination at the end of the road is Gallifrey."

Luke nodded, and grinned, proceeding to introduce her to his best friends, his ears turning pink as they teased him about a girl from his halls called Maria.

"Uncle Luke!" Clara cried, her eyes wide with excitement and too much Fanta, launching herself at him and trusting that he wouldn't fail to catch her. "Did you bring me anything from Oxford?"

"Clara!" Missy and John scolded simultaneously. John blushed. Luke grinned, swirling Clara around and telling her that he was present enough, and that he's bought Clani so there wasn't much more he could bring. Clara seemed appeased.

"We'd better make the rounds," John whispered in her ear, "And Donna's just walked in. If I want biscuits for the next month we have to go say hello."

Missy nodded, calling for Clara, because if the Temple's had arrived, then the Temple twins would have too, giving Clara some people her own age to play with, and not people over a decade older than her. Clara darted off with the twins instantly, calling for Alfie as they went, clearly well set for the evening. Missy was introduced to Donna. She felt as if she was being appraised, and felt some peculiar satisfaction when the formidable redhead nodded to herself and they became engaged in a conversation about the best places to buy books for their children that challenged them without having sexist undertones. It had been a surprisingly interesting conversation, even if John suffered greatly at seeing them getting along. He feared for what his working life would become with Donna and Missy working together.

Jack and Vastra arrived almost simultaneously, Ianto and Jenny taking John with them to talk to people and leaving the three to their bimonthly meeting of the Innuendo squad.

"Have you heard, Liz invited the newbie, office on floor one," Jack was almost quivering with excitement at the juicy gossip he'd unearthed. "I heard he's like, physics whisperer."

"I heard that she is a human being, much like any other," Missy replied archly, "I'd better go and find my parents, say hello. I haven't seen them since Christmas day, which is a shame. They could have given me an afternoon off."

The party was fast paced and fun, in the way formal parties never were. Missy would barely have time to talk five minutes to one person before she'd be dragged off to talk to another. She compared how she felt here to how she would have felt had she only just arrived, and it amazed her. She was accepted now. Everyone was polite, cheerful, friendly, asking how what her research plans were for the new year, whether they had a holiday booked. It was boring benign stuff, far too stiflingly domesticated, but it felt real in a way that all of her gatherings of the past never had. She caught John's eye a few times, would wink and raise a glass just to see him blush and turn away.

"We can watch Clara tonight," Mum had whispered not so discreetly, after observing their cross-room interaction. "If you two want to make plans."

"I'm not talking about my non-existent sex life with you!" Missy informed her bluntly, before heading off to see Liz and Ian by the wine.

"Can I have your attention please," Alistair boomed out from the patio, helping Katie up onto the wall so she could be clearly seen. "Before we all start getting too addled with wine, we're going to draw next years hosts. Remember if you've hosted in the last five years, you are excused. For all those who are at their first Bash, this is an annual tradition. To prevent unfair bias, or just to give us all a laugh, we are all entered into the pot, and whoever is drawn will host next years do. There are some exclusion criteria, not is your under twenty-five, or live in a flat, or if this is your first Bash. Just to make thing a bit fairer, you understand. Liz and I put everyone in earlier this afternoon. Our daughter Katie drew us last year at the Williams bash, so I think it's only right she should pick which couple has to suffer this next year."

There was a spatter of laughter.

"I'm so glad Vas and I drew a few years ago," Jenny sighed at Missy's shoulder. "We're safe for another year."

"I'm exempt," Missy smirked, "I live in a flat."

Katie made a show of rustling round in the bowl for a slip of paper, holding it up triumphantly before handing it to her father and jumping down to join Osgood. Alistair opened the paper, squinting at it before sighing and handing it off to Liz. Liz's eyes widened, then she cleared her throat.

"John and Missy," She called out, a wicked grin on her face. "Good luck to us all!"

"What!" Missy responded, turning to John across the garden to see he looked as surprised as she did. "I live in a flat, I'm exempt."

"You live with John," Jenny replied practically, dancing out of reach, "Welcome to coupledom."

There was a spattering of laughter, a few more amused by Missy's reaction by the fact that they were next years hosts. "I want to see that we're not the only name in the pot," Missy hissed at Liz, "I wouldn't put it past you matchmakers."

"Missy, it's ok," John said soothingly. "We'll host. It's fine."

"It's assuming," Missy replied smartly. Clara ran up to them then, her eyes bright with excitement.

"Is next years Bash going to be at our house?" She cried, jumping up and down in her navy blue peter pan dress and shiny shoes. "Is it really Missy?"

Missy felt her resolve crumbling. She hadn't minded the hosting, she minded the mindless assumption that she and John were as coupled as the long-marrieds. But then she'd look at their little girl, and she'd understand where they came from, John's hand warm on her back.

"Yes pet," She sighed, giving in completely, "We're hosting next year. Hosting means it'll be at our house."

"Yes!" Clara punched the air and ran off back to the stars table. "Missy you come too!" She ordered over her shoulder.

"You don't mind, do you?" John asked her anxiously. She turned to face him fully, features sharp enough to cut cheese softening slightly. She smoothed his collar down. "Because I can host on my own, I don't mind."

"I'm not going anywhere," She said finally, meaning it. "And this means that everyone has finally accepted it I guess... besides, of course I'll be hosting, you know next to nothing about party planning. I'd better go help Clara with her stars."

John's lips quirked up, and he looked like he was about to say something before closing his mouth and nodding, happy at least.

"These are magic stars," Clara informed Missy, showing off her own overly colourful concoction. "We make them every year to bring us good luck. I put you and daddy on mine this year. Can you help me hang it?"

"Of course pet," Missy kissed her hair, lifted her up to put her star on the tree. They would be baked tomorrow. She kept hold of Clara as the little one talked her way through the tree and the stars that hung there, chattering excitedly with her arms looped around Missy's neck.

"I love you Missy," Clara said finally, a yawn breaking across her face and settling her ribboned hair against Missy's neck. Missy sank down onto the chair at the stars table, adjusting Clara slightly.

"I love you too pet," She whispered with a smile, waving John off as he made to move towards her. David was sat at the table, his long limbs folded into a chair too small for him. "You alright there David?" Missy asked cautiously, watching him chew his pen and consider his empty star carefully. "It's not a pre-requisite you know, you are twenty four."

"Rose wanted me to do one," he admitted, not meeting Missy's eye. "I was just going to put my name, but Rose said that isn't the purpose of the stars, that they're hopes for the year ahead..."

"They're a silly superstition we started for the children to keep them entertained when they were younger," Missy informed him "Why not just write 'marry me Rose' on the front and be done with it."

David looked up at her with startled eyes, instantly starting to babble some sort of refusal or retraction.

"David, maybe marry is a bit strong, but you could use this to pluck up some courage and ask her to do whatever it is you young folk do for dating these days, honestly lad, we aren't getting any younger watching you two skirt the issue," She interrupted him, feeling Clara giggle into her neck. "Put youself out of your misery and just ask her where you stand. So much easier."

"I will if you will," he answered suddenly, his eyes fixed very firmly on his star, but sliding one to Missy, "Deal?"

"Sure, why not," Missy picked up a pen, feeling Clara adjust to turn her head towards the table, "You have to prove first though."

"Deal," David said, writing something quickly on his star and showing it to Missy. She read it, and nodded towards Rose in the corner. He went pale, but jumped up, and strode somewhat determinedly across the room towards her niece.

"What are you doing?" Liz whispered, sinking into the chair David had vacated. Sarah appeared at Liz's shoulder, all three middle-aged women watching as David awkwardly handed Rose his star, how Rose read it, went pale and then looked up at him. How a moment later her arms were around his neck, his around her waist, heads tucked together and lighting up like it was bloody Christmas.

"Putting us all out of our misery," she muttered, satisfied with a job well done. She finished doodling her elaborate design on her star and let it dry.

"Your turn," David suddenly appeared in front of her, reaching a long arm out to hang the charm that said "I love you" in bold letters. She honestly thought he'd have forgotten. "You promised."

"No, mummy said 'sure why not'," Clara piped up from Missy's shoulder, "She didn't promise."

David looked surprised. Missy smirked, "Offspring speaks truthfully," she shrugged, "I never promised anything. Go and enjoy your evening with Rosie, leave us old fogies be."

Clara giggled, snuggling back into Missy's shoulder, David turning around and deciding it wasn't work arguing over. John soon took his spot, eyes narrowed at the girl who was equal parts little sister to niece. "Your doing?" he asked quietly, watching with a slight frown as Liz and Sarah took off in the opposite direction without so much as a by-your-leave. "Set up?"

"I expect so," Missy murmured, "I can't find it in me to be annoyed right now though," she smiled at him, leaning across the slight gap between their outward facing chairs to lean her against his shoulder. "Clara's asleep. She also just slayed David when he tried to say I promised something when I never said the words."

John glanced down at the intricate pattern on Missy's star and looked back up at her, before frowning and looking back down at the star again. He huffed a laugh of surprise. "We made this up when we were kids!" he breathed, lifting the ornament, "I can't believe you still remember it."

"I remember enough to write 'I'm here to stay'," she smiled, "hang it on the tree for me will you? Our daughter is getting to be quite heavy now she's asleep."

John hung the ornament almost reverently, staring at it a few moments before turning back to Missy.

"It's all I've ever wanted," he admitted, resting a hand on Clara's sleeping back. "Pass her over here, I'll put her upstairs. The twins are already out for the count, and Alfie isn't far off himself."

As John took Clara upstairs, Missy heard the doorbell ring. She had been certain everyone on the invite list was here, but as she seemed the only one to notice, she went to answer the door in Liz's stead. In the door stood a slightly started young woman of thirty something, with dyed blonde hair in a bob and bright blue trousers under her light blue coat.

"I'm sorry, I'm looking for Liz Shaw's house?" She asked in a Northern accent, a smile bringing a dimple to her thin face. "I'm new, and she said this was when the New Years Eve party is?"

"You've found the right place," Missy said, inviting the newbie in, not much taller than she was. The newbie was wearing lace up boots, baggy socks. "I'm Missy Oakdean, I start in Engineering hanger 3 on Monday."

The woman looked a little relieved, holding her hand out to Missy.

"Nice to meet you Missy," She said brightly, "I'm Jane Whittaker, taking over Experimental physics."

"You'll be working closely with John then," Missy remarked, taking Jane's coat and hanging it up. "He's head of theoretical."

"Oh, yes!" Jane's eyes almost glittered. "I haven't met him yet, is he here? Liz said quite a few upper staff members come here, that it might be a more informal way for me to meet people."

"Well, she's right," Missy indicated the party taking place, "Most of us grew up together. We've adopted a few along the way, but you'll find quite the contingent here. And in my opinion, these are the best people you could ever find, or hope to be friends with."

"High praise from you indeed," John appeared from the stairs, eyes bright and narrowed on Missy, "Are you bringing in strays again?"

"That's your job dear," Missy replied back just as quickly. "John dear, I'd like you to meet our newest member of floor one, this is Jane Whittaker."

"Nice to meet you," John said warmly, "I'm looking forward to being able to talk with you properly about the new term, but for now it's a party, and Missy'd have my guts if I started talking shop now."

"I wouldn't," Missy corrected him, "But Liz would. Clara go down ok?"

"Like a light," he confirmed, a warm smile in Missy's direction, "Come on then Jane, let's introduce you to some people."

"You don't need to remember anyone's names," Missy filled in quickly, "Just enjoy yourself, the actual New Year is for getting serious, for now, come and make some friends."

Jane looked slightly shellshocked at this introduction, but she quickly beamed and got stuck in, following Missy to Liz. It was as if she'd always been there, always a part of the family, they just hadn't know.

Chapter Text

"We're not late," Missy huffed for the third time as John checked his watch, for the third time. "We will be perfectly on time. Have I ever been late?"

John gave her a look that plainly stated "do you really want me to dignify that with an answer?". Missy turned the "you're one to talk" back on him. Out of the two of them, she was generally early enough to unnerve people, or late enough to make a dazzling entrance. But never late late. John was the sort to come tumbling into a black tie event with his hair at all angles babbling about something or other which had caused his lateness. He was inexcusably and consistently late. Sometimes, the less scrupulous of their friendship circle gave John an earlier arrival time in the hope that he would actually be on time for once.

Taking Clara to school had delayed them, a few red lights and some dawdling parents having conversations through the open windows of their passenger side doors holding up traffic on both side.

"For heaven's sake John, we'll still be the first ones there," Missy huffed. Her contract said nine, John was adamant they had to be there by half past eight.

"Oh you're really out of it," John chuckled darkly, "If we don't get there before the students do, the buggers steal staff places and leg it. I refuse to park out by Biosciences because some asshole second year student thinks he has the right to swagger on through the front entrance."

"Maybe I'll park by engineering, give your old muscles a stretch," Missy teases, turning into the car park right on time and beeping at a student that was about to turn into John's space. The student saw John glowering and reversed to give them the space. "Buggers barely old enough to drive. They let kids behind the wheels of cars now?"

"Which one of us has been contemplating buying a scrap heap car to teach her seven - nearly eight - year old daughter how to completely strip a car?" John huffed, unfolding his long limbs from the relatively low slung car. He opened the back car door to get his bags, Missy on the other side doing the same.

"You know she'd love it," Missy argued back, looping her bag over her shoulder and leaning against the open door, "It'll be a bit three dimensional puzzle for her, it'd be Christmas all over again."

"I didn't say she wouldn't love it," John reasoned, shifting his box to his hip and nudging the door closed. "I'm saying she's eight. You can't teach her to build a car and then not let her drive it. And I repeat. She's eight. She is actually a child. No, you aren't getting Clara a fix it till she's ten, at least."

"You're a boring old fart," Missy muttered, rolling her eyes. She and John walked side by side to the entrance, Missy pulling the door open for him and letting him in first.

"Mornin' Doc, Mornin' Missy," A commanding voice called from the desk. Missy smiled at Donna and made her way to where the redhead was leaning against the front of the reception desk. "Doc, you can clear right off, go and get ready for your term. You've got a big meet at nine remember you noodle. Leave Missy here with me, god John I'm not gonna hurt her! Bloody hell."

Missy smirked as John slunk off in the other direction, practically leaving oozing anxiety in his wake.

"Boring stuff I'm afraid," Donna quipped, handing Missy a clipboard. "We got some paperwork to do for HR, sayin' you're no axe murderer and stuff like that. I've got your badge ready to go, and I assume you two'll be coming in together so I weren't sure if you'd need another car badge or not. If you want a key to John's office, he's gotta give you one. I was hoping Jane Whittaker would be here by now..." Donna glanced at her watch, just as a waft of cold air and a bobble hat bigger than anything Missy had ever seen. Under the bobble hat was a pink-faced Jane Whittaker.

"Mornin'," Jane called out brightly, unwinding a monster scarf as she went, leaving it trailing on the floor behind her. "Bit nippy out there."

"It's winter," Missy replied drily, smiling at the younger woman. She liked her, Jane was refreshing and honest, that much had been clear at the Bash. There didn't seem to be an agenda. And even suspicious-to-the-last Missy found herself hard pressed to dislike the woman. "It's cold. Did you walk here?"

"Yup," Jane beamed, plucking her hat from her head and shoving it into her satchel. "I live out in a cottage by-"

"Arcadia House?" Missy checked, she'd loved that cottage growing up. It had been her dream forever house - not that she'd ever wanted to stay in Gallifrey. She'd dreamt that Arcadia House (more of a small mansion than an actual cottage or house) and it's surrounding land could be lifted and set down wherever she wanted.

"Nah," Jane laughed breezily, her coat now slung over the desk revealing bright blue trousers held up by yellow suspenders. She'd fit right in. "I'm in the cottage over the way. Arcadia's fallin' to bits. It needs way more love invested in it than I can give it. It's a nice place though. Would be a bit lonely for one person though."

"Hmm," Missy agreed, wondering if the old garage was still there. Donna handed Jane a clipboard with a clipped Donna-smile.

"Ooh, paperwork," Jane grinned.

"Is there anything you don't find exciting?" Missy asked in amusement. Jane reminded her a little of Clara - she was delighted by everything that crossed her path with a neverending supply of cheerfulness. At the party she had been declared wonderful, and she had a room full of people ready to defend her to the hilt. Missy wasn't sure if Jane was capable of having an enemy.

"Backstabbers and banana's," Jane replied promptly, throwing a winning smile that hide the dark humour in her words. "There is nothing worse than a banana daiquiri. Why would you even do that?"

"John feels the same way about pears. Not that you can get a pear daiquiri of course. He says you can't trust a fruit like that," Missy signed her name, but hung onto her clipboard, not wanting to have to venture into this new workplace alone. She knew the people, she knew the work, she knew the school - but that didn't mean her stomach wasn't trying to bubble out of her three-piece trouser suit. "Clara and I don't think pears are that bad, so we eat them when he's being annoying."

"Clara's your little girl, right?" Jane checked, her hand pausing over the form. That was certainly the easiest way to describe Clara. "How old's she?"

"She'll be eight in six weeks," Missy smiled automatically, "She's counting. It's driving me crazy. I want to get her a project car, but John think's I'm over-indulging her."

Jane sighed wistfully, "I'd have loved a car at that age," She mused, "Or a train set. Something I could put together, y'know?"

"Clara quite likes helping me with her dad's car," Missy continued, keeping half an eye on Donna at the desk, Donna who was smirking. Why was she smirking? "But as a general rule, she likes books and puzzles. I'm not sure she'd go for a train set...Unfortunately. We're struggling to decide what to get her."

"And by struggling she means bickering," Donna interjected, her eyes fixed on the LED screen.

"It's not my fault he's unreasonable," Missy reasoned. Jane laughed, signing her name with a flourish and handing the form over. "What next O Mighty One?"

Donna glanced over the forms, checking all the information had been inputted correctly before sliding badges over the counter to them and rattling off some information about departmental meetings, whole staff meetings, swipecards and lunch money. She handed Jane a set of keys, told Missy that Jack would have hers.

"Missy, you mind showing Jane where she's gotta go," Donna leant sideways to narrow her eyes suspiciously out of the window. "I think some snot-nosed kid's decided to park in Rassilon's spot and I'll be damned if I have to put up with him moaning about it."

"Ooh, have fun," Missy winked, before hooking her bag over her shoulder and making her way towards the stairs. "Come on pet, you aren't far from John."

They headed down the corridor shoulder to shoulder.

"You look really nice," Jane suddenly blurted out, eyeing the tailored cut of Missy's suit. "I didn't realise it would be so... formal?"

"It's not," Missy grinned, John had turned a funny shade of pale when she'd stepped into the house that morning in her plum-coloured suit from her old life, "I'm incredibly over-dressed, but I figured I'd be in overalls for the rest of term and it's just staff meetings and paperwork today so I thought I'd enter with a bang."

Jane laughed, hooking a thumb through her bright coloured suspenders and declaring "Me too," with a laugh. It was easy, laughing with Jane. It was friendly, open, uncomplicated.

"This one's you," Missy rapped her knuckles on the office three down from John and over the way. Jane's name and job title had been painted onto the frosted glass, making it look like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. "John's just over there. I'm not sure who else you've got... Liz is right round the other side of the quad, Barbara is over in the humanities block and Ian's on the floor above until Liz leaves and the chemistry head position becomes open. You unlock your door, and I'll have a look..."

Missy clicked her way around the corner to read the department on the door. John Pertwee, absolute dandy but extremely moral. He must have been ancient by now! Missy was fairly certain he was old when she studied here under Omega. He had been great fun to fluster and had a huge soft spot for Liz Shaw, his research assistant Jo Grant and her many, many grandchildren named after famous cities.

"Oh, hello," Missy heard Jane say brightly.

"You must be Jane Whittaker," A smooth a caramel voice said. Missy gritted her teeth and decided now was the best time to snoop, and also to let Jane decide for herself if she likes Tasha Lem, rather than disliking her through some misplaced loyalty to the crew at the Bash. "Tasha Lem, I've the office next to Rassilon's. I heard you were in an thought I'd come and see how you're settling in."

Bitch was fishing, Missy fumed, fishing for allies.

"Oh, don't worry," Jane said brightly, Missy saw her shake Tasha's hand, her chin a little stiff. "I'm settling in just fine. I mean, I've barely been here five minutes, but I'll get the hang of it. You know, get lost a few times, get super confused and end up asking some poor student where the tearoom is, but that's the best part of a new job!"

Tasha laughed a very fake chanel bag laugh. "Well, if you need absolutely anything," she practically purred, "You just come and knock on my door. And if you want me to introduce you to a few people, just let me know. Now, we have a whole staff meeting at nine while the students jostle over desk spaces, shall I pick you up?"

"Yeah, I mean, John said he'd show me, so you can walk down with us if you like?" Jane offered, her chin up and a polite smile on her face. Like she was the one offering Tasha a favour, like Tasha's thinly-veiled favour was worthless.

"Oh, Doctor Pertwee. You've met him already?" Tasha asked cautiously. Jane must've heard the real question for she pointed down the corridor Tasha had come from and replied. "Nah, John Smith - talk bloke with crazy grey hair and a real pair of eyebrows?"

"Yes, Dr Smith is a very... prevalent member of our community, but should you require a woman's opinion-"

"Then I'll ask Missy, or Liz, or Barbara, or Donna, or Jack," Jane said sweetly. "We're planning on meeting up at the staff thing. I think John's a bit worried about Missy meself. You could join us?"

Tasha visibly soured, "Perhaps," she hummed non-committedly, "I'd better head off. I have a meeting with Albert before we head down to the hall. It was lovely meeting you Dr Whittaker."

"You too Doctor Lem, remember, if you need anything my door is always open," Jane smiled winningly, "After all, I am you boss."

Missy had to press her lips together to stop herself from laughing out loud. Jane and John were heads of the entire physics programme, and Tasha was just another member of their physics staff, a departmental head, yes, but still their staff. John was looking forward to having someone share the load with him again. Tasha would fall under Jane's purview. Tasha's shoes clicked away, getting quieter and quieter.

"She's gone," Jane called out, Missy rounding the corner, looking and feeling rather impressed. "She always like that?"

"Like what?" Missy feigned ignorance.

"Like a glob of glue you can't get off your clothes," Jane indicated for Missy to follow her into the office. "It's almost like she was expecting me to fall all over myself to accept her offer, or like she didn't think I'd have researched every single member of staff in the entire physics programme before coming here. Honestly, her project isn't even testing anything - it's a puff piece. Even the religious section don't want it. I take it you don't like her all that much."

"Lets just say you don't want John, Tasha and I in the same place," Missy replied wryly, "I'll tell you all about it Friday night, my place with a bottle of wine or two."

"Deal," Jane laughed. Moments later there was a soft knock on the door, and John's floofy head appeared slowly. "Alright John."

"Dr Whittaker," he said, making it sound both formal and informal. "Doctor Oak- nope, I can't. You're right, that one's too weird."

He sighed, holding out a ten pound note to Missy. She took it gleefully.

"You can call me Jane y'know," Jane had her feet up on her desk, already looking quite at home, even if Missy could see her adding a few eclectic pieces to the room.

"Good luck with that," Missy snorted, "He used to call his wife Doctor Song every day at work, never River until they'd left the building."

"How'd you know that?" John asked, his eyebrows shooting into his hair.

"I have my sources," Missy winked. John flushed. Jane laughed.

"He doesn't call you Dr Oakdean though," Jane pointed out, "You must be special."

"Oh, I am special," Missy flirted, "Very special indeed."

Chapter Text

Missy piled up Clara's plate, ignoring the girls protestations that there were too many vegetables, before piling up her own. Luke grinned across the table, making a show of putting vegetables on his own plate and winking at his young niece. Missy cleared her throat, looking pointedly at John's vegetable free plate until he huffed and reluctantly put vegetables on his plate too. Harry snorted.

"So, Missy," Sarah asked cheerfully, passing the juice around the table to her daughter. "How have your first few days gone?"

Missy huffed, she'd had to tell absolutely everyone the same "first day at work" stories, and was getting quite sick of them. She was contemplating inventing invading pepper pots to spice the stories up again.

"She's really sick of telling people," John said absently, forking chicken into his mouth. "'Ee's 'ad 'oo 'ell 'evreeone -"

Daleks. She would call them Daleks.

"John I raised you better than that," Sarah interrupted sharply. John fell silent until he'd swallowed his mouthful, glaring at his younger brother, trying to hide his giggles. "Now, I was talking to your slightly more polite girlfriend, not you."

"I'm not his girlfriend," Missy protested half-heartedly, "I hardly qualify for the title of girl now, at the very least. And I refuse to be defined in terms of my relationship to Grumpy McGrumpy over there."

John raised his glass in salute. Clara grinned around a mouthful of mash potato. She seemed to love it when her parents called each other names.

"But he is right, do we have to talk about the fact that yes, I've had a good few days. Yes, I'm enjoying myself. Yes, I eat lunch with Liz and Jane because as much as I enjoy John's company, too much is definitely a bad thing. Or the fact that Donna seems to like me and it's making John nervous. I can't be dealing with all that," Missy complained, ending her tirade with a firm shake of her head. "I'm more curious as to why young master Sullivan is still with us. Shouldn't you be back in Oxford by now?"

"Dad's taking me back Friday," Luke said cheerfully, spearing broccoli onto his fork. "Our terms at Oxford aren't as long as yours Missy, so I bought my books home with me so I could spent a fortnight here before going back home again. Clyde and Rani are on holiday until tomorrow, so we're all meeting back at the flat in a few days."

"Humpgh," Missy said. "So, have you actually been studying?"

"Yes," Luke rolled his eyes, "Mum's made sure of it."

"I just want you to show them how utterly amazing you are," Sarah-Jane protested, Rose chuckling into her plate. "I have complete faith in you."

"He never said you didn't mum," Rose commented smartly. Clara giggled. She loved full dinners like this.

"Mum just wants us all to know how much faith she has in us," John grumbled, eyebrows pulled together in feigned annoyance. "No matter how old you get."

"Darling you're only fourteen years younger than I am," Sarah replied instantly, "So please stop calling yourself old."

"I missed having you all here," Harry announced with a self-satisfied smile. "Brings back memories." The twinkle in his eye suggested that they would make for a book of memoirs on their own.

"But you've got me instead of River," Missy pointed out, waving a fork in his direction, "So slightly different."

"But no less good," Harry countered firmly. He was a sappy sod. Missy rolled her eyes.

"How's the hospital treating you dad?" Luke asked, "You were in late last night."

Harry worked at the medical hospital linked to the army base, technically a civilian doctor, but of high rank in the military wards due to his skill in trauma.

"Well, we had an emergency splenectomy," Harry shrugged, his theatre achievements often reduced to a self-deprecating smile. A surgeon was only as good as his worst case, Harry always said, and assuming you were god would get people killed. He'd been a good sort to have growing up. John hasn't much liked him when he'd first gone to live with the young couple, not liking that Harry was now effectively his father-figure, but the two got on better than wood burning now. "And then Bernie called. She wanted to ask my opinion on setting up a trauma unit in Nairobi."

"Oh, how is Bernie?" Sarah-Jane asked with interest. "Last I heard, the hospital had shut down her unit and were shipping her off somewhere in the Ukraine."

"Well, she's now in Nairobi," Harry rested his fork down, his eyes sparking with the talk of his long-term army friend. "And as far as I am aware, Serena is due to join her out there in a few weeks. I think Ms Campbell is making a stop at Holby first. We should go down and visit while she's in the country. You covered the shooting, didn't you dear?"

Sarah's eyes shadowed over slightly. She had covered the shooting of staff at their friends hospital, and had called Bernie herself to tell her all she'd been able to find out.

"Yes," Sarah looked down, "We shouldn't be talking about that at the dinner table Harry darling."

There was a beat of awkward silence. For a room full of speak-first-think-later kinds, they were having trouble coming up with something to speak next.

"Nanny," Clara piped up from where she'd been watch the conversation with interest.

"Yes dearest," Sarah smiled at her first grandchild. Clara smiled sunnily back.

"Can I be excused?" Clara still had all the vegetables on her plate, and they could all see she was targeting the weakest member of the unit to avoid eating them. Missy coughed pointedly, raising her eyebrows at her old friend. Sarah pulled a face at Clara.

"Not till you've eaten the vegetables your Missy put on your plate," She said firmly, "If you wanted a pushover, you should have asked Pops."

Harry looked a little frightened at the prospect. Clara just sighed theatrically, picked up her fork and began to munch her way morosely through the broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

"Word of advice," Missy ruffled Clara's hair gently, "If you eat the veggies first, you get to enjoy the rest more."

Clara didn't look convinced.

"Now there's a look we've all seen before," Harry chortled. "Boy am I looking forward to when Clara is a teenager."

"I'm bloody not," John grumbled, "One of them is bad enough. Not sure my heart can deal with two."

Later, after dinner had been cleared, desert had been eaten, and Clara had managed to convince her aunt and uncle to play scrabble with her (none of them going easy on her, words were that girls thing), Sarah suddenly snapped her fingers and pointed at Missy.

"Oh, I just remembered!" she cried, laughing, "I'll be down in two tics. Can you make us a pot of tea John?" She moved swiftly from the room and could be heard going upstairs. They looked at Harry. Harry shrugged, smiling that he didn't know, and that was fine with him. She appeared a moment later, a dusty black portfolio bag in her hands.

"I found this in the attic the other day," she laid the folder down on the table, unzipping it. "I think you should take a look!"

The folder opened to spill out pages and pages of drawings, measurements, rough scribbled notes, large A2 pages of plans and circuit boards. Missy's mouth fell open.

"My portfolio," she said, moving forwards, shuffling through the sheets, admiring the thin spidery handwriting of a Missy long past. "Blimey Sarah!"

"I know," Sarah pulled a few sheets out of the pile. "Now, I barely know what all of these are, but I do know that you should have them back. You had some good ideas before you boxed them away and went corporate, perhaps you should take a look! Maybe you'll find the solution to global warming in the redesign of a Walkman."

"What's this Missy," Clara's insatiable curiosity had her abandoning the scrabble board to claw at her father's leg for a bit of height. John sat her on the edge of the table, holding Clara in place as Missy sorted the sheets in front of her.

"These, pet, are called plans," Missy replied absently, eyes scanning over weight distributions and measurements, density and metal-types. "They're instructions on how to make things like the toaster." Not just the toaster, significantly more complicated than the toaster, but Clara had seen the inside of a toaster.

"Your Missy designed them all," John said, pride evident in his voice. "She's a clever cookie, your ... Missy."

"Missy is clever," Clara said confidently. "Is she as clever as you daddy?"

"She likes to think so," John said, at the same time Missy snorted an "He wishes,". Clara grinned. Luke leant over the table, studying one of the plans thoughtfully.

"You designed all this?" he asked, impressed, glancing over the many, many half-completed sheets.

"You don't need to sound quite so surprised, pipsqueak," Missy replied, affronted. "I won't let you have a look if you say things like that."

Luke grinned, picking up another piece. He was a genius, everyone told him so. But he knew that his genius was nothing compared to what his brother and sister-in-law could do. "Hey, this one has John's writing on."

"Well, yes," John said, his very tone saying 'why are you surprised', "Missy and I have known each other for a long time. And, once upon a time, we worked together on projects. Out of curiosity, which one is it?"

"Er," Luke squinted at the writing and shrugged, "You're handwriting was worse then than it is now. It looks like some sort of audio thing..."

He passed the paper over to John. John squinted at it a few seconds before laughing and passing it down to Missy, "It's our sonic amplifier," he chortled, "Remember what we were going to do with this?"

"Hush dear, children present," Missy winked, laughing at the disruptor they had built to emit a high pitched whistle into their randy roommates bedroom when the sex had been going on too long. It hadn't come to fruition. They'd just moved flats.

"What's this?" Clara pushed a complete sheet over to Missy.

Missy picked it up, scanning her eyes over the oblong frame, the wheels, the data processing unit she hadn't been able to fully configure. She laughed in delight.

"It's K-9!" She said, leaning to show Sarah-Jane. "You remember when you said you wouldn't get a dog and I said I'd build you one! I never got round to actually building it, but I designed it."

"Far more suitable than a car," John whispered in her ear, his breath ghosting her cheek. Missy agreed, glancing over the specs again, her brain already whirring. She'd had to shelf the plans in the early days, but technology had moved on and she'd gotten smarter. The issues flashed like pulsing red sections, the solutions presenting themselves before her very eyes. Could it really be that simple? Simple enough for Clara to help with? Clara had been asking for a pet recently after all. Had they really just shot two tins with one bullet? What else was hiding in her old portfolio?!

"Can someone pass me a pencil and a fresh sheet of paper," Missy asked distractedly, already mapping out the practical solutions for the problems she had encountered twenty years prior, still new to electronics, that she hadn't known how to fix. "I think I know where I went wrong..."

Chapter Text

To Clara's dismay, starting the K-9 project has to be put on hold while Missy builds the core components needed. Work that is far too finicky for the nearly-eight-year old to be of any help with. Missy hoped to have all the pieces ready to start on Clara's birthday at the start of March, but the lithium core she'd been developing on her lunch breaks needed to wait a few days before she could continue. It was bloody aggravating. John wasn't helping much, he was being annoyingly calm about the impending doom of Clara's birthday - but then, he didn't have the pressure of seven birthdays to make up.

"'Ey up," Jane piped up, plopping down onto the chair next to Missy in the staff common room, ripping into her sandwich with her teeth. "What's got your knickers in a twist?"

"Jane dear," Missy said with all the patience of a pre-school teacher at the end of her tether. "For my knickers to be in a twist, I'd have to be wearing some."

"Alright," Jane amended instantly, "What's got John's tighty whiteys in a twist?"

Missy couldn't help it, she laughed. Jane grinned, biting down on her sandwich and spilling mayonnaise onto her bright yellow trousers.

"How old are you?" Missy rolled her eyes, handing Jane one of the napkins she kept in her bag simply for when Jane

"Old enough to not care," Jane quipped with a pop of her eyebrows. "So, want to talk about it? Or do you want me to just talk shit for half an hour so other people leave you alone?"

Missy smiled, and Jane instantly launched into a long winded story about her research assistant and the mess they'd made in the lab absolutely accidently. It was a long and involved story that had Missy clutching her sides with laughter, and attracting quite the crowd of onlookers.

Jane had become, in the short few weeks they'd known each other, a surprisingly loyal friend. It surprised Missy no end that the one she'd chosen to stake her pole next too was Missy. When she'd voiced her surprise to John, he'd chuckled, mentioning something about birds of a feather. Clara absolutely adored her new Janey, and Janey seemed equally enamoured of the smallest Smith. Jane had been a hit full stop actually, with everyone except Tasha Lem, and her little minion Rassilon. But then, no-one got along with them.

"Oops, I better get back," Jane said suddenly, spying the clock and unfolding herself from the sofa with all the grace of a baby elephant. "We still on for the Citadel tonight? Kate said she's got Clara for a sleepover, so I reckon we should make a proper night of it."

"I'll see you later Jane," Missy said pointedly, nudging her friend towards the door, on her way out herself to the engineering garage again.

"Hey, Miss?" Jane stopped her at the door, "Clara will love whatever you get her, promise." She smiled briefly, and left down the corridor, whistling a jaunty tune.

Missy liked working in the garage. It was a way of thinking she'd had to train herself out of, but falling back into a world of nuts and bolts and gears and wires was far easier than training her mind to see dollar signs. It was peaceful, and it was chaotic, and she loved most of it. But she was struggling to concentrate that day, it was like she was trying to focus on a single spot of light when there were millions of lights in the sky.

"You know, staring at it ain't gonna do much," Jack said drily, sitting down next to his friend and slinging an arm around her shoulder.

"I'm just thinking," She said defensively, instantly knowing it was the wrong thing to do. Jack would prod and he would poke until he got an answer.

"Aw damn," she heard him mutter. She looked at him sharply. Jack shrugged a single shoulder, waving his hand expressively but not actually saying anything for a few seconds. "I hoped you'd get like this around your mom, or Sarah, or, I don't know... John. I shoulda known I'd be the one to have to talk to you."

"Get around to what?" Missy said sharply, twisting to look at him, her eyes glinting dangerously. "Get around to what, Jack."

"Freaking out about Clara's birthday," he said carefully.

"I'm not freaking out about Clara's birthday!"

"Yeah," he said, slowly, pointedly, "You are."

Missy wanted to defend herself, to insist that she was completely fine with it being Clara's birthday, that she wasn't in the least bit bothered. But it would be lying, and she was excellent at bending the truth, but not so good at outright lying these days.

"See," Jack smiled winningly. "Look, it's ok to be freaked out a bit. You've shacked up with your sisters husband, and you're helping him raise their kid. You're worried that Clara will get upset her mom's not around, and that you won't be good enough. Because Miss? You're a damn perfectionist, and you want her first birthday with ya to be perfect. Amiright?"

He wasn't quite. Jack didn't know the whole truth. He guessed, but he'd never outright ask, he was a ass but not a dick. Oh god, why did her brain have to think it like that?!

"I'm not worrying," Missy insisted, "Clara will enjoy her birthday because she's young and it's her birthday."

"But you're her mom," Jack said, lowering his voice so it wouldn't carry in the large space, "And it's your first birthday with her. But you don't need to worry, if you're there she'll be having a ball."

Missy glanced at him sharply. He just smiled in his infuriated knowing way.

"One thing I don't get," he said in the same low voice, "How'd you an John, both with the bluest eyes to ever exist, have a kid with brown eyes?"

Missy closed her mouth and breathed out through her nose carefully.

"Genetics are a mysterious thing," She said finally.

"Clara has you, and she loves you. So you don't need to prove yourself, least of all to her, or to John."

He pressed a kiss to her cheek and stood up.

"Look, I ain't gonna do this every day till her birthday, because it's next Thursday and we've got work to do, but why don't you take off early today - go annoy John or whatever it is you two do to get your kicks. I'll see you bright and early Monday morning with your head screwed on the right way, and the last bit of lithium needed for my goddaughters birthday present." He did a mock salute, and started to walk away.

"She's not your goddaughter," Was the only comeback Missy could think of. Jack held his middle finger up as he walked away.

Missy gathered her things slowly, trying to decide if she should interrupt John's book-writing time to tell him she was leaving, or to just send him a text. A quick check of her pockets reminded her that John had their keys, so she'd need to go via him to get to the car anyway. Maybe she could convince him to play hooky for the afternoon. It was a blisteringly cold day, the wind whipping at her face, and rumours of a terrible snowstorm hitting the valley in the relatively near future. Missy wasn't looking forward to the inevitable snow days that would come of it. Unless of course, there was a snow day on Thursday, and she'd get to spend the whole day with Clara, not just the hours after school had ended.

She was just raising her fist to knock on John's door when she heard voices inside. And she was nothing if not a seasoned eavesdropped. The chair's outside John's office were so conveniently placed for eavesdropping inconspicuously. It was quite easy to work out that John was upset.

"...you to know that you have absolutely no right to say anything, anything at all. We are your direct supervisors, and we are the ones who make the decisions. What do you find so difficult to understand about this? It's fairly simple you know," He blustered. Missy could imagine him pacing wildly, throwing his hands up in the air, eyebrows furious.

"He is right, you know," Ah, kindly Jane was in there too, sounding disappointed, a quiet fury in her tone. "There are procedures in place. And more than that, it's a simple bloody courtesy. We're supposed to be a team here, we work together and we rely on each other because nowhere else in the damn world do you have the expertise you have here. Why'd you do it?"

"I don't have to explain myself to you, either of you," Tasha's sultry tones filtered through, and Missy almost huffed at the sheer luck that had her eavesdropping on this. It was like it had been written in a crappy story. "If I had come to you, I wouldn't have been able to get the first sentence out before you'd both turn me away, out of some misplaced sense of loyalty to your beloved Missy."

"Missy's got nothing to do with this," John boomed, (hands up in the air, eyes grey and stormy), "You forget, Doctor Lem, that I hadn't liked you long before that thing with Missy, and I really couldn't care less because I trust her. I would have said no to your proposal because it's poorly thought out, poorly referenced, half plagiarized and quite frankly, my dear, there are more important research projects to fund."

"You're research project isn't just badly thought out, there are holes in the methodology, holes in the research question, bloody hell there are even holes in the referencing," Jane continued from the end of John's sentence. "We'd be remiss if we didn't pull you up for shoddy workmanship, it's like you ain't got a clue how the research world works, and Albert had no right to give you a chunk of money outside of the departmental grants. Grants which John and I don't even have full power over. We have to take the most promising research proposals to a bloody committee in London, and they choose how the money gets split. It's to prevent unfair bias. You haven't got a basis for your complaint, and you shouldn't have gone outside the system."

"You have discriminated against my research because you don't think I'm a 'proper' scientist," Tasha replied, voice like ice, "So I went to someone who appreciated my methods."

"Stroking Albert's ego and other things in private do not constitute proper scientific methodology," Jane said firmly. "We'll have to write you up on this Tasha. I'm sorry."

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Tasha's voice cut like a razor, "I really wouldn't try it babe."

"Doctor Lem," John said, his voice barely concealed rage now, "Report to my office at 9am on Monday morning. That isn't a request."

There was a beat of silence, then heeled footfalls, and the door swung open, Tasha a dark glittering wave of energy spilling out into the corridor. She didn't seem to notice Missy, instead storing down the corridor towards Rassilon's office.

"Bloody hell," Jane sighed, "I hate having to do things like this. Why do people feel like they can get away with it?"

"Why do people think they can get away with putting their feet up on my desk," John said, "Get your bloody feet down Whittaker."

"Ooh, I'm moving up in the world, you dropped the Doc," Jane teased half-heartedly.

"Jane," John said, suddenly very serious, "How far do you think we'll have to take this?"

There was a beat of silence.

"Honestly, it depends on if she gets Rassilon to back her up," Jane said quietly, "John this will have to go before the ethics board. She could be blacklisted."

Missy decided to interrupt there, knocking sharply against the door.

"Only me," She said, slipping in, "Apparently I was worrying too much about Clara, Jack sent me packing."

They both looked exhausted, drained. Missy moved instantly to John's side of the table, sitting on the arm to his chair and feeling him relax slightly against her side.

"How much did you hear?" John said, all the fight bleeding out of him.

"Well, I heard you telling Tasha that she should have come to you first, and also telling her you hated her long before any issues with me cropped up... so, a fair bit," John took her hand. "What happens next?"

"We have to write her up," Jane said simply, "I'll do it. You two go pick Clara up from school. I reckon we shelve the Citadel, let's just have a bottle at yours."

"We've got a bottle of whisky left over from Christmas," Missy offered, squeezing John's hand. He squeezed back.

"No, I'll stay," John fished a hand out to grope for the keys on the desk one-handed. "Here, you go pick Clara up. I'll get Ian to give me a lift home after we're done."

There was a brief stalemate, blue eyes fighting blue, before Missy reluctantly accepted the keys. He was upset, she didn't want to leave him.

"John, go home," Jane said firmly, "You've had a proper shit day. Go and leave the paperwork with me, and we can review it Monday morning together. To tell the truth, it'll have to have my name on it anyway, I'm her lead. You're supporting. So, go home with Missy. Get Clara and just... enjoy your evening. I'll be over as soon as I'm done here."

"Give me a call and I'll come get you," Missy said firmly, standing up and holding a hand out to John. "Come on dear, home time for the both of us I think."

John looked at her for a moment, before reluctantly accepting her hand and pulling himself up. He moved like he had old bones grinding together.

"I'll go get started," Jane looked weary, her never-ending supply of energy suddenly run dry. "I'll call you in a bit Missy, you two relax. I think you both need it."

"See you later Jane," Missy called, standing at John's elbow as he locked the door to his office, watching her friend's retreating back, the usual bounce in her step missing. It was as if Jane had taken the weight of the world on her shoulders.

"I should be helping her," John said, taking Missy's hand and letting her lead him out of the building towards the car.

"No, you should be with Clara, and with me, I think," Missy said firmly, "Can you go warm the car up? I just need to make a call."

"Not one of your calls?" John checked sharply.

"I promise, no-one unsavoury," She reassured him, "I just need to call Sarah quickly. Go on now. Please."

John looked at her for a long moment before nodding and ducking away, swinging the keys on his fingers. She waited till he was out of earshot before dialling the familiar number.

"Hey, Sarah," Missy glanced over her shoulder at John waiting in the car. "You know how we said we'd hold off on the Tasha Lem thing? I think I might know where we should start...."

Chapter Text

Clara had been born at 02.47 on the 15th February. It had been a wholly motherload of pain, and at nearly twenty hours of labour, Missy had been practically delirious. It had been excruciating on a level she hadn't known existed. And then, out of a hole that was far too bloody small for a fucking head to fit through, Clara had slithered out. And she'd eventually cried.

Missy had been handed this blotchy wrinkled mess that squirmed and screamed. She'd wanted to put it back. She'd loved it, yet, but abstractly. She didn't love the baby. Not the squalling infant with a black hole for a mouth in her arms. She would never be a natural mother. River, on the other hand, accepted the baby without hesitation, she knew how to hold it, how to make it stop crying, she cooed and called it "a pretty little girl!" and laughed in delight.

Perhaps that was when Missy decided that River would be a far better mum to the baby than she ever could. Maybe it was over the following few days, bone weary and feeling stretched in places that really shouldn't be stretched. Over the few days where River could calm the baby when she cried, when River didn't grumble about late night feeding or cleaning up dirty arses. Maybe it was seeing Clara's dark eyes, a quirk of genetics the doctor had said, and seeing the baby looking so calm in River's arms, when she whimpered while in Missy's.

She'd chosen the name: Clara. River had wanted to call her Melody, or something equally descriptive, something "cool". Missy had read a book while pregnant with a character called Clara, but it wasn't until she was pressed for a name that Missy said "For heavens sake! Clara Oswin Smith. That's her name, River. Not Melody. Clara." It had been the most passionate she'd been about the thing she'd birthed since it had made it's way into this hot mess of a world. She didn't feel like a mother. She didn't even like the brat. But River loved it. So Missy named it, and left it in River's arms to raise.

It had been easy then, and it had been the right thing to do. Especially now, seeing the little person Clara had become. Missy had resented the baby she'd birthed. She loved the little one it had turned into.

"What are you thinking about?" John collapsed heavily onto the sofa next to her, adjusting the blanket over his legs. "Because I know it's not 'grand designs."

"I'll have you know they're trying to build a castle behind a wall of hay to get around the green belt bylaws," Missy replied snootily, parroting back the episode she'd started watching while John put Clara to bed. She frowned. The episode was still on. "I wasn't expecting you down for another half hour at least!"

Clara didn't much approve of bedtimes.

"She went off with nary a fuss," he shrugged, snuggling down into the blanket a little further. "It is her birthday tomorrow after all. She'll be up with the dawn, you just wait and see."

Missy nodded, Clara had been practically quivering with excitement over tea, willing to let her usual structure slide in honour of the auspicious occasion.

"We should still wait until later to put her presents out though," John added absently. "Like Christmas."

"So, what time do you think I should be over in the mornings then?" Missy voiced absently, reaching across to the coffee table to reach the half-drunk whiskey. John looked at her askance, his eyebrows attempting to communicate without the power of verbal speech. Missy was fairly certain his eyebrows had syntax and grammar.

"You aren't staying?" He asked, a little hesitantly, "I thought you would stay tonight. It's our first birthday and...well, she has a tendency of getting me up at three to open her presents-"

"Ha, right on time," Missy mumbled into her glass. John's eyebrows asked her what she was talking about. "Did River never tell you about Clara's birth? She was born at two forty seven in the morning after twenty hours of labour. I should have called her the Minotaur. Or Pasiphe."

John's eyes were narrowed, hidden under his copious eyebrows.

"Two forty-seven?" He asked, then cleared his throat very loudly. "River just said she was high on gas and air and she didn't remember much of what happened. I'd worked out Clara had an echo-heart by the time her second birthday rolled around."

"No amount of gas'n'air could make me forget that," Missy informed him darkly. "If there's a hell, it'll be a neverending childbirth."

John winced slightly, muttering an apology under his breath. Missy raised her glass at him. They descended into a fairly comfortable silence.

"Why Clara?" He said suddenly, "I've always wondered. Did you name her, or River?"

"I did," Missy confirmed, "River wanted to call her Melody..." Missy shuddered at the thought, "You and I are called John and Michelle - I couldn't call her Melody. I don't remember where Clara came from... And I didn't have that moment that they talk about in stupid tv shows where they just "knew" what they were going to call this screaming mess... River just kept needling about Melody and I said to her, no, her name is Clara. I think River wanted to name her because I'd given birth...like we should take it in turns. I don't know. But I just called her Clara."

John nodded sagely. "It suits her."

"I hardly knew that it would suit her one day," Missy snorted, "I just couldn't let her be called Melody."

"River always did like the name Melody," he agreed absently. His gaze sharpened back on Missy. He opened his mouth to say something and faltered. Missy waited, a little impatiently, for him to work through what was going on in his archival brain mass. "I wish I'd been there," he said finally, eyes fixed firmly on the glass in his hand.

"I wouldn't have let you in," Missy muttered darkly, thinking back to the pain and the cursing, "I'd have put a knife into your chest without an ounce of regret."

John nodded sagely, unsurprised by the addition. Missy trained her eyes back on the television as the bales of hay were bought down and the castle revealed.

"That is the ugliest building I've ever seen," She announced, her nose wrinkling, "Why would you waste money building that monstrosity?"

John chuckled, turning his gaze to the television as well. "What kind of house would you build then Miss?"

Missy thought for a moment, rolling a mouthful of whiskey from cheek to cheek before swallowing. "I wouldn't start from scratch, I'd buy old Arcadia and sort it out. Big office, library, garage, garden...you know, the essentials."

John looked at her thoughtfully, before leaning forward and pushing the blanket to the floor.

"Come on," he announced, "We oldies need to get the babby's presents out and ready for when she wakes us up at silly o'clock. We also need to have all our coffee supplies ready to go. Tomorrow at work is going to be hell. I can tell you that from experience."

"Joy," Missy sighed sarcastically. But she stood up to help him.

..................................................................

Missy felt herself being pulled from subconscious in a peculiar and bizarre manner. It felt strangely like her left eyelid was being pulled up. She blinked the other eye open a little blurrily, wincing as her neck registered a rather bony pillow.

"Good, you're awake!" A chirpy voice said, chirpily. The pressure on her eyelid released. "It's my birthday!"

Ah. Clara. It must be three o'clock. Missy nodded slowly, mouth like sandpaper, before she frowned and focused on Clara, knelt precariously on the sofa in front of her.

"You shouldn't sleep on Daddy's shoulder," the little one advised, in her overenthusiastic disney pajamas and hair sticking up. "His shoulders are really sharp and it hurts your neck."

Missy frowned, leaning forward enough to realise that the bony pillow was in fact John's shoulder, and that the TV was still playing a movie (different from the one she remembered them putting on). John had his head thrown back against the top of the sofa, mouth gaping, fast asleep.

"He is rather uncomfortable," Missy agreed, struggling to sit upright and blinking furiously. "Do you know what else is uncomfortable? Being woken up by an eight-year-old lifting your eyelid."

Clara just beamed. Missy rolled her eyes, pulling Clara forward for a hug.

"Happy birthday pipsqueak," She whispered into the little girl's ear. Clara was almost quivering with excitement. "Now, what time is it?"

"Um," Clara pulled back to look at the clock, concentrating hard. "The big hand is on the twelve and the little hand on the three."

"Which makes it?" Missy prodded, reaching across to shake John from his slumber.

"Three o'clock?" Clara asked, a little unsurely. Numbers weren't her strongest suit and she tended to get a little over excited with telling the time.

"Right on time," John grumbled, blinking heavily. "Happy birthday munchkin."

"Daddy, I'm not a munchkin!" Clara huffed dramatically, "I'm a big girl now!"

Missy had to resist the urge to snort loudly. If Clara's ambition was to be "big", her genetics were firmly stacked against her. On a good day, Missy reached 5 foot four and it didn't look like Clara was going to catch up any time soon.

"Well then," John said seriously, tugging Clara so she sat tucked between them, "I guess you don't want any presents then?"

"No!" Clara cried out

"You don't want presents?" Missy teased.

"No, no I do!" Clara insisted, getting more and more flustered.

"Daddy's just teasing you pet," Missy pressed a kiss to her hair, "You have to sit tight with me while Daddy fetches them."

Clara cheered as John made his way to the cupboard they'd stashed two of her presents in. The project K-9 was waiting in the garage and would be till the weekend. Her bright upturned face made the sting of Missy’s eyes worth it.

Several hours later, Missy walked back into the living room, severely sleep deprived but dressed for a day at work regardless. Clara was still flat out, drooling against her father’s chest, her fingers wrapped tightly around the book of historical women that had (unsurprisingly) proven to be her favourite gift. John’s fingers carded through her dark hair. Missy handing him a coffee, sinking down to drink her own.

“You’d better go and get dressed,” Missy said quietly. “I can get Sleeping Beauty ready if we have any aim of getting out on time today.”

“Just a few more minutes,” he said softly. Missy could understand the appeal of just sitting there watching Clara sleep. She looked so much younger when she was asleep, so much smaller. “When she was younger, she’d fall asleep on me all the time. She doesn’t do it so often now she’s older but… sometimes I wish she didn’t have to grow up so fast.”

“I know you do, but you love watching her grow up anyway,” Missy downed the last of her coffee, wincing as the hot liquid burnt the back of her throat. “But we really do have to
wake her up and get going you know.”

“I know,” he replied, pressing a soft kiss to Clara’s head at an awkward angle. “I guess we do. Come on then, Clara, up you get. School time for the birthday girl.”

……………………………………………………….

Missy yawned over her umpteenth coffee for the day, and attempted to focus on what Jack was saying. Getting Clara into her uniform had been awful. Getting her to school had been manageable, especially with the promise of birthday cake for her classmates and an “I’m 8!” badge pinned to the front of her pinafore. They’d struggled through the main staff meeting, and then gone back to their own departments, where Missy was now struggling.

“Hey,” Jack threw a stress ball at her. Missy started, blinked heavily at him. “What’s up with you? Late night?”

“Early morning,” Missy corrected with a shuddering yawn. “Clara got us up at three to open her damn presents, then she fell back to sleep, leaving John and I wide awake.”

“Oooh,” Jack winked salaciously. Missy rolled her eyes at his insinuation.

“For the love of science,” Missy huffed, far too tired to deal with Jack’s bullshit. “Clara fell asleep on us. Will you just leave us alone?”

Jack blinked a little at the sharp tone to her voice. He wasn’t used to being on the receiving end. He changed the subject, warning Missy away from the electronics while she was this tired. Missy didn’t need the warning. An hour later she was napping on a textbook, and the others didn’t have the guts to wake her.

……………………………………………………..

“Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear Clara, happy birthday to you!” Chorused around the kitchen table, John putting the birthday cake in front of the beaming child. It was a rectangle with the decoration of a book cover, of a book series and TV show Clara adored (and Missy didn’t mind watching the TV show, the deputy head was rather overdramatic and enjoyable to watch), the worst witch written in spindly letters. Clara looked delighted as she blew out her candles.

“What did you wish for?” Amy leaned forward to ask, pressing her chin into her hands.

“I can’t tell you,” Clara said solemnly, “It’s the magic.”

“Silly Gran, she just forgot,” Rory said firmly, moving his plate to the side, being careful not to jostle elbows at the busy table.

“Missy,” John nodded to the knife on the side, she passed it over.

“I’d like a piece of Miss Hardbroom,” Missy muttered mischievously with a wink in his direction. John’s ears turned pink. Clara (luckily) didn’t understand, but Katie sniggered into her wine glass, Osgood going a little red beside her. Missy was fairly certain she heard a “wouldn’t we all” coming from Kate’s direction but she couldn’t be certain.

“Maybe we should eat the cake in the living room while opening presents,” Sarah-Jane said innocently, knowing that it was now a suggestion that would have to be upheld, especially when Clara turned to her with excited eyes.

“Really Nan?” She almost shrieked in excitement.

“Only if you lower the decibel,” Missy told her a little sharply, helping John dole out slices of chocolate buttercream on paper plates. Her nose wrinkled at the amount of sugar. “Alistair, not that I don’t appreciate the cake, but did you have to put so much sugar in, she’s going to be impossible to get to sleep tonight.”

“She’ll crash,” Alistair replied solemnly, with absolute certainty.

“We used to use the same trick on Katie and Rosie,” Liz added, accepting her slice. Her daughter raised her glass in mock salute.

“You did what?” Rose turned to her mother for confirmation. Harry hid a chuckle as Sarah shrugged in a "well, now you know" way.

It was chaotic. It was loud. It was crowded, people could barely shift without ending up in someone else’s lap, but it felt more like a birthday that Missy had had in years.

“Can we open my presents now?” Clara piped up, jiggling in her chair, eyes big and round, begging her father to release her to the small pile that had accumulated in the living room again.

“Oh, alright,” John sighed, handing the last plate to Missy, and picking up Clara’s. “I can’t believe you couldn’t just wait five more minutes for the cake to be finished mum.”

“I’m her grandmother,” Sarah-Jane replied in faux affront, eyes sparkling. “I’m supposed to suggest things that annoy you both as parents. It’s my job.”

“Yeah dad, it’s her job,” Clara mimicked cheekily.

John stared at her for a second, before turning accusing eyes on Missy.

“This is your fault,” He said, pointing a finger at her.

“And you love it,” She said smugly, bypassing his hovering hand to press a kiss to his cheek. “Come on pet, I want to watch you open your presents, even if daddy is trying to be sensible.”

“One of us has to be,” John grumbled, but led the way out of the room regardless, to the chorus line of family laughter.

Missy had been terrified that Clara’s birthday was going to go horrendously wrong, that Clara would hate her for all eternity. But it hadn’t gone wrong. Yes, she was exhausted. Yes, it was irritating having all the suggestive looks from various family members. But all that was irrelevant when Clara picked her first present up off the floor and climbed into Missy’s lap to open it.

Chapter Text

It was with a bone-deep groan that Missy slumped into the empty chair at the Citadel. Jane giggled, sliding into the booth and completing the table on one side as John completed the other.

"We weren't sure you'd actually make it," Jen grinned, taking in their sluggish movements and a weary head tilt. Jane sprung up, already off to put her round in. She was the one with the most energy left. "How'd it go, 'avin fifteen under ten in the hall?"

"Twenty," John corrected, rubbing a hand across his face. "It's over. Thank god."

"And we should leave it at, it's over," Missy said firmly, heaving a sigh. "God, we are never doing that again John."

"You missed the worst of it," he said darkly, "Her fourth birthday was an absolute disaster. Twenty under ten is nothing compared to fifteen under five."

"It weren't that bad," Jane slid the tray onto the table, pumping her fist when she didn't spill any of the drinks. "Bottom's up guys. But seriously, don't listen to these two - the kids were a bit energetic but they're kids. They ran around-"

"Screaming," Missy supplied. Jane ignored her.

"They played games," she continued.

"Screaming," Missy added, arching an eyebrow at Vastra.

"Ate their food," Jane carried on, a grin twisting the corner of her mouth.

"Screaming," Missy rolled her eyes, before adding "And food fights."

"Then their parents picked them up," Jane shrugged, eyes sparkling before turning to her best friend.

"Thank fuck for that," John sighed into his beer. Jane looked at him, faux betreyal plastered across her face.

"It weren't that bad," Jane insisted.

"Jane, you're still a child yourself," Missy patted her younger friends hand, "So you let us old fogie parents complain about our daughters rambuctious birthday party."

Jane chuckled, hiking her leg up onto the seat to rest her chin on it and twinkle at Missy.

"You ent that old Miss," She said firmly, "I reckon you two could still give Clara a sister if you tried hard enough. Just like she wanted for her birthday."

Missy, rather than glaring (as everyone bar Jane thought she would) simply rolled her eyes and shook her head. "No-one deserves to see me pregnant," she said with a shudder.
John took a sip of his beer, eyes trained on the amber liquid.

"Enough about our brat's birthday," Missy said, leaning back to look into the pub in confusion, "Where's the rest of the crew?"

"Liz and Alistair are claiming they're too old, Kate and Rosie are claiming they're too young, Ian and Barbara are visiting Jonny and Matt, Jack and Ianto....just sent a message saying 'tied up' and I didn't want to ask for any more details. I did once and they actually told me," Jen shuddered beside Vastra, Jane giggled. "And your parents haven't come for Saturday night drinks in about two decades."

"I didn't think Kate and Rosie came either," Missy pointed out, "They're the next generation, not on the Starship Enterprise. Why would they want to hang out with their parents and the people who helped raise them? Come on."

"They do sometimes," Jen defended herself. "Alright, so, we're flying the Enterprise with a skeleton crew tonight, and apparently we aren't allowed to talk about Generation Discovery, so, Jane - any juicy gossip?"

"Why are you asking her?" John complained. He and Jane had settled into what could only be called a sibling relationship. They teased each other mercilessly, and took great delight in tormenting each other. But they were thick as thieves.

"They're asking because I'm fifth wheelin' on your double date," Jane pointed out. "Nah Jen, nothing goin' on with me. I've been doin' a lot of marriage counselling today though."

"We haven't been that bad," Missy sighed, wondering if it was possible to roll your eyes out of your head at your friend. Or when this kind of teasing had stopped making a flash of fear spread through her nerves like a wildfire.

"You were arguing over whether or not the cucumber should be sliced in circles or sticks for an hour," Jane pointed out, then she caught herself, "And it weren't a euphemism either."

"Circles," Missy said quickly, as John turned to her with "sticks". Vastra shook her head slowly.

"Sometimes I wonder if you two ever really grew up," she mused.

"Growing up is for boring people," Missy declared, "And we are anything but boring pets!"

...........................................................................................

The next weekend, Clara's birthday shenanigans officially over, Missy had declared it a day of spending time in her own flat. John would be in charge of the brat for the day, and Missy was going to catch up on peace and quiet (too quiet actually). She hadn't realised how much of her stuff had migrated over to John's office until she sat down to do some of her life paperwork and couldn't find anything more recent than Christmas. She'd have to collect it later, and give herself an entire afternoon of sorting her paperwork out.

She had just started making lunch when there was a firm knock at the door. A Katie knock if ever there was one.

Katie was flushed red when the door opened, her mouth set in a thin line. Kate Stewart had come to rant. Missy smiled, waved her in. What else were aunt/older sister/bad influences for?

"What's happened?" Missy asked conversationally, ready for the onslaught.

"No privacy!" Kate exploded. "I get that when I moved home I would have to accept that I wouldn't be able to do all the things I could do at University. I got that Aunty Is, I really did - but it's impossible. I'm just winding mum up, mum's just winding me up, and dad's winding both of us up and -"

She threw her hands in the air, a nosie of frustration

"When's the last time you saw Osgood?" Missy asked, eyeing her niece (semantics) as she poured boiling water into waiting mugs. Kate's hands curled into fists, rolling her shoulders back.

"Three days ago," She replied snootily.

"I'm not your mum," Missy pointed out severely, "I'm giving you a space to vent. You can vent about sexual frustration to me, and I'll get it far more than your mum could because, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, you're parents are probably the only exclusively heterosexual people in the village. So, lady troubles, come to me, or Vas - Not Jen, she'd turn into a tomato faster than you can say lesbian, which is hilarious because she is exclusively women."

"I'm not upset over Osgood, nothing wrong with us. Besides, Uncle John's straight," Kate pointed out, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Missy barked out a laugh.

"If you say so," she said wryly, remembering days spent with John mooning after his highlander flatmate and the resulting relationship. Kate thought about it for a second, before shrugging. They were a family that loved, not one that judged.

Kate crossed her arms on the island, slowly resting her chin on her arms and sighed, deflating visibly.

"I thought it would be easier," Kate said quietly, eyes a bit glazed. "I love mum and dad, and I used to love coming home for the holidays...but it's just been so hard since I got back. And Rose still lives with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Harry. Osgood's living in Lower Leadworth in someone's spare room and David's in that PhD hall out towards the Institute. It's just so.... crowded. All the time. I hate that I'm fighting with mum. I hate it. I've never really fought with mum, but now, I feel like we're always diagreeing over something."

"It's just because you're both used to having your own space," Missy advised. She knew Kate knew all this, but sometimes it helped being told what you already knew. "You're both used to only seeing each other in fits and starts, so you learnt to cling during those short times. But now, you're living together again and it's hard to break that clinging habit, and now all you're doing is winding each other up. And you are used to your own rules. Have you been talking to Rose about this?"

"Rose is finding it hard too, especially because Aunt Sarah is...well... Aunt Sarah."

Missy observed her niece for a moment.

"I don't mean to sound like I'm pointing out the obvious," she said slowly, "But why don't you and Rosie find yourself a place to share. You two could pool resources, find yourself something close by..."

"Have you seen rental prices round here?" Katie's yellow eyebrow raised into her mess of hair, looking at her Aunt incredulously. Then her forehead smoothed. "Oh, wait, I forgot, you had enough to buy a flat outright so you probably didn't look at flat prices. Let me explain. There aren't all that many flats round here, and certainly not two bed flats for a reasonable price. It's frustrating, but most of the students live in Upper Gallifrey because it's cheaper and they rent out entire houses between them. Rose and I couldn't really do that. Upper Gal may be good for me to get to the Institute, but it's a right bugger for getting Rose to her bus in the morning. We need something a fair distance from our parents, my school and her bus. Aunty Is there just isn't anything like that for us yet."

She sounded a little defeated. They hadn't just thought about it, they had clearly put in a lot of work. And been disappointed by the outcome.

"Why don't you stay here?" The words had tripped out of her mouth before she could stop them, but as they solified into actual words, Missy realised how much she meant them. Kate froze for a second, eyes flickering to check if Missy was joking. "I'm serious," she reassured herself and Kate in one go, suprised to find herself meaning every word. "What use do I have for this flat? I literally sleep in it. I arrive at home about midnight and I leave in time for the school run, picking John and Clara up after breakfast is over. I spend about seven hours here every day, if that. There are two other decent sized rooms here, you have one, Rose have one."

"But what about you?" Kate said cautiously, wary of ending up in the same boat as she was with her parents: loving them but fundamentally frustrated by the old rules she'd long grown out of.

"Don't even pretend, we all know I spend so much time with John and Clara I've practically moved in," Missy huffed, "I've bought a perfectly large flat that I barely use. You and Rose can use it till you're on your feet enough to find your own place, you can save for the end of the school year. Osgood will be looking to get out of her spareroom situation, and David gets kicked out of halls. You'll be two young couples looking for places. So, I'll charge you whatever rent your parents are charging you, keep the place clean and so long as you don't mind me flitting in and out every night, we won't have a problem."

Kate sat there, staring hard for a few seconds.

"You're deadly serious," she realised, eyes widening, "Aunty Is!"

"Look, I've been a returning student," Missy pointed out, "It may have been years ago, but I remember how annoying it was. Staying here will put your parents minds at rest, it's safe, and it's affordable. Added bonus of me being around for late night worry sessions about your respective other halfs. Look, I'll confess I didn't think it through before I said it, but it makes sense. This place is getting dusty from disuse, and Clara would rather be at home, so that's where I'll be. You two'd be doing me a favour, keeping the place ticking over."

Missy could see how tempting an offer it was.

"What't the average rental price for this area, for a room," Missy prompted. Kate looked at her suspiciously before stating a number. Missy halved it and told Kate to talk about it with Rose. "I'll tell your parents and Rose's parents that I've made this offer," she'd warned Kate, "I don't want them thinking we're going behind their backs. But take to Rose about it. So, enough about that, how's Osgood?"

 

Later than evening, Kate safely dispatched back home and the two sets of parents dutifully informed about the offer (She'd head the relief in Liz's voice even as she questioned whether Missy had really thought it through), Missy picked up the phone a third time to call John.

"So, I think I've just sublet my house to our niece and your sister," she said conversationally without preamble, "What did you do today?"

Chapter Text

It was late in the evening when John's head appeared around the doorway to their study, the house phone pressed against his chest. Missy acknowledged him by slightly tilting her ear to the left, her eyes still scanning reels of data. He waited a second, till Missy's finger struck the page, and she looked up, eyes a little red rimmed from focusing for so long.

"Your mum," John said promptly, "Want's to know when we're going over for dinner next week."

Missy frowned, trying to mentally recall her commitments, and Clara's commitments that week. She pulled her glasses off to rub the bridge of her nose.

"I've helped set up a meeting for your mum on Thursday so I'll be out most of the evening facilitating the contact..." She said slowly, "But I think mum's stuck on a relatively good week. Why don't we say Friday? I'd check the kitchen calendar though, I can't remember what Clara's got on."

John nodded sagely, putting the phone back to his ear and ducking out, presumably to go to the kitchen to put it on the calendar. Missy slid her glasses back on and turned back to the sheets of numbers in front of her, trying to work out where something had gone wrong and how this something wrong had caused Hanger Three to fill with smoke the day before.

She'd barely progressed another row when John slid back into the room, a mug of something hot in his hands. Missy sighed, circling the number she had reached before she accepted the offering. John sank into the second chair they'd added to the study, scooting it closer to Missy.

"No luck?" John questioned softly, leaning against the back of Missy's chair. Missy pushed the chair into a bit of a recline (gently so as not to spill the coffee) and rested her head back, cradling the hot drink against her cardiganed chest. She snorted a confirmation that, despite several hours spent pouring over data and barely kissing Clara on the forehead before she'd gone to bed, she had not had any luck.

"Everything's tallied so far," She huffed, "I just don't like not knowing. I think it might be-"

"No," John interrupted firmly, "It's gone eleven Missy, the girls have been texting asking if you're coming home tonight because they want to know if they can set the alarm. Come at it again tomorrow with fresh eyes."

Missy glanced back at the pile of paper waiting to be checked, a pile still an inch thick. John's hand appeared in her vision.

"Come on," He said softly, "I put Firefly in the DVD played."

Missy stared at it for a second, only glancing back at the pages once before accepting his proffered hand.

"What did you tell the girls?" She asked, the clock informing her it was indeed, gone eleven. The agreement with the girls (signed by all three) was that she would text by eleven to let them know if she'd be back. She hadn't missed a day yet in the weeks since they had moved in. She only messaged them for the sake of the alarm. She sank into the sofa gratefully, her neck tired, her shoulders stiff.

"Told them to set the alarm, and if you came home late you'd reset it as quick as you could," He shrugged, "Spare rooms made up though."

"Hmm," The sofa really was quite comfortable... "Was Clara ok tonight?"

John paused over searching for the remote. "She was a bit confused as to why you came in and shut yourself in the study," He admitted, "She's never experienced you caught up in fixing a problem before, so I think it was a bit strange for her. She was sitting on the stairs outside the study reading her book. When I asked her why she said so she'd know if you fixed the numbers. She's used to me getting caught up in work sometimes, but... first time with you. She said to tell you goodnight, love you. And that she'd see you tomorrow."

Missy felt a rush of love for their little girl who hated her routine to be disrupted in any way shape or form, but with a heart bigger than the world as well.

"I'll try and get the problem fixed before I pick her up from school tomorrow, so I'll have time with her tomorrow," Was it just her or were words getting harder? Her limbs felt heavier too. She blinked slowly, recognising the signs that sleep was dragging her under.

She felt the mug lift from her hands, and then felt John tug her sideways against his chest, her legs coming up to curl on the sofa automatically.

"You're a bony pillow," She complained half-heartedly, already halfway asleep as the opening credits to their favourite tv show started.

"Go to sleep Missy," his voice sounded amused, but oh so far away. She was asleep in moments, John's hand gently soothing her arm.

She awoke with a start some time later, John having shifted to turn the television off. She yawned, bleary eyed, exhausted.

"Bed," John ordered, his own voice sounding like he'd rather he were asleep, "We're too old to sleep on the sofa twice in two months. Come on now, scoot it."

Missy took his hand, uncurling herself from the sofa, followed him upstairs, and was asleep again some five minutes later in the single room adjacent to Clara's bedroom.

The next morning, Missy awoke to her hand being lifted, and a second small warm hand trying to push her over on the bed.

"It's polite to ask if you can climb in with someone," Missy said, her voice thick with sleep. Clara stopped what she was doing to ask sweetly if she could climb into bed for a morning cuddle. "What's the time?" Missy couldn't remember if she'd set an alarm or not. Clara replied that the big hand was on the five. Missy scooted over on the narrow bed, Clara curling into her side, head on Missy's shoulder.

"Love you Missy," Clara murmurred, nuzzling her face into Missy's shoulder, her teddy bear pressed awkwardly against Missy's side.

"I love you too," Missy drifted back off to sleep not long after.

................................................

"You know that symposium I've been invited to in Oxford in two weeks?" John asked over their next nightcap, Missy's legs thrown across the sofa, Firefly being largely ignored on the TV screen, half an ear out for their late night takeaway.

"Yes dear," Missy glanced up from the book she had been reading, looking at the way John was rolling his mug between his hands. "You're taking the Bill and Egghead aren't you? Bill's been in and out of my office all week hyperventilating about her first paper being presented. It was adorable the first time. Now? Not so much."

"Yes, that one," John frowned slightly, "Miss, you don't have an office."

"Hanger Three is our office," She shrugged, "And Bill know's where to find me. She prefers Jane though, can't blame her, younger and prettier."

"I bought it up because, well, I thought I might stick around after. Make a proper weekend of it you know?"

"I don't mind watching Clara for the weekend too," Missy's attention turned back to her book and the adventures of the tunnelling crew of the good spaceship Wayfarer.

"I was going to ask if you wanted to come as well, actually," John said quickly, attention focussed on the empty mug in his hands. "I thought we could take Clara to see Luke, see Blenheim...I'm sure Luke or his friends wouldn't mind watching her while we went to a show at the theatre or... something..."

Missy's heart returned to it's normal rhythm a little, at the start of the conversation, she thought he meant sans Clara. She wouldn't have been able to stop the "dirty weekend" joke and he would have been upset. Clara made things safer.

"Sounds like a grand idea," Missy agreed readily, watching as the tension left John's body. But not all of it. "You book a room for when your conference is done, and I'll bring Clara up when school is done. It'll be fun. Wait a sec, is that before the Easter hols? They're early this year right?"

"I think it might be the weekend at the start of Clara's easter holiday, our students will technically already be on holiday by that point but so few of them actually leave until then."

"Then lets also take her to, I don't know, Bath. Or whatever might be fun for an eight year old. We can take time off as well right?" Missy argued, folding the corner on her page and setting the book to one side. "Is the Wildlife park still open?"

"In the school holidays?" John scoffed, relaxing more with every idea Missy put forward herself, as she knew he would. He shifted her feet aside to turn and face her properly, daddy long legs folded awkwardly to the side. "You're having a laugh. We aren't taking her in the school holidays. Besides, you know how she'll get about the animals and being stuck in the car on the way round."

Missy hummed her agreement, scrolling through suggestions on her phone. John was looking at her again, that half smile on his face. "Stop watching me," She ordered and John smiled properly before turning his face away as bid. A moment later, the doorbell rang and the chinese was being plated up.

"Were you worried I'd say no?" Missy asked conversationally, when both of them were occupied with their food, so had more reason not to make eye contact. She knew he didn't like that when he was worried.

"I was worried you'd take it the wrong way," He admitted, "Family holiday is a little new."

Missy nudged his foot with hers. He looked up.

"I've stayed over twice this week," She reminded him, "I'm getting jokes from the girls. Family holiday? Not going to phase me. Besides, I think there is a story museum in Oxford, Clara will absolutely love that. I'll make sure we all re-read Alice in Wonderland before we go and she'll be happy as a lamb in spring."

"And you?" He was always of intensely sincere it made her chest hurt.

"I'll be glad to be there with the two of you as well, as a family, because that's what we are now John. You're both stuck with me," She shoved a spoonful of noodles into her mouth and wiggled her eyebrows, expecting him to laugh at the idiocy, and direct them back to safer waters. John however, smiled his secret soft happy smile and simply said,

"Good."

Chapter Text

“Are you sure this is the right place?” Sarah-Jane asked dubiously, leaning her chin on the steering wheel to peer up at the seemingly abandoned building not far from a main road. “It looks a little… Rose would say ‘stabby’.”

Missy snorted, unbuckling herself before checking her hair in the mirror. Sarah-Jane had been to some pretty dubious places herself to follow a lead, but Missy was sure that the Maldovium was going to blow her in-laws mind. Staying outside, however, was simply not an option. Not if they wanted a new direction in their investigation.

“You can always stay outside,” Missy taunted, waiting for Sarah-Jane to turn and glare at her (as expected). Journalists were always curious little things. “Now, remember, this is an anonymous tip.”

“Missy, I would have been out of the journalist business decades ago if I wasn’t a reputable source,” Sarah-Jane said sternly, “And my being a reputable source has put two children through university, and the other has the same amount waiting in a bank account for whenever she wants to use it.”

“Chill out ma,” Missy teased, hand resting on the doorhandle, glad Sarah was back as Sarah, and not some green behind the ears story-chaser. “Come on then. He’ll be waiting.”

Sarah-Jane nodded firmly, zipping her coat up before sliding out of the car into the fine misty drizzle. It really was the kind of March evening at the start of a horror film, complete with seemingly abandoned warehouse. They walked down the lane together. Suddenly, Sarah-Jane let out a little “oh!” of surprise. Missy carried on walking, knowing Sarah had just realised why Missy had insisted upon their car parking space – the car would be entirely invisible from the outbuilding and the road.

“You come here often?” Sarah-Jane asked drily, catching up with Missy quickly. Missy chuckled, she’d only been once or twice, years ago. This had been River’s circuit, not hers – but few people knew that her sister had been a feared sight in the criminal elite, a periphery power, much like the elder.

“Something like that,” She said, reaching a set of stairs and making her way down. When Sarah had reached the bottom as well, Missy rapped smartly on the wall, hoping that the entrance hadn’t changed since she’d last been facing this place. There was a beat, then a brick appeared to remove, very Hollywood sinister. The criminal elite had a sense of humour, and Dorium Maldova more than most. If people wanted to believe criminals drank straight gin with a secret door and a peephole, he would have a secret door with a peephole and a drink to order called “the Hollywood”.

“Melody Pond,” She said in a lilting British accent. The eyes widened and within seconds they were being ushered into a decadent side room, luxurious hangings on the wall. Sarah shuffled a little uncomfortably, but Missy arranged herself on one side of the table, an artful carelessness in every line of her body. This was her stage, and she excelled.

There was a shuffling, a cussing beyond their door. Sarah moved to stand near Missy, arranging her face into her best “source” face. It was a pretty frightening thing to see sometimes. Then, the curtains parted and the substantial bulk of Dorium Maldova, dressed head to toe in blue robes, entered the room. Missy stood to greet him.

“All, Miss Pond the Elder I see,” he said, voice rich and slimy. “And she’s bought a pretty friend.”

“Dorium,” Missy greeted, “Miss Smith and I have some business dealings to be getting on with, why don’t you take a seat?”

Dorium tsked her, waggling a sausage finger in her face, but sitting nevertheless.

“Word on the ground is you’re looking for time travel Miss Pond,” Dorium drawled.

“Are you selling?” Missy asked, sitting back in her chair and tilting her head. He surveyed her for a moment, before rapping his knuckles against the table, twice. The curtains twitched and a mole of man slides in, handing a single blue envelope over before exiting again.

He starts to slide the envelope across the table, but keeps his meaty hand on top.

“Have you bought me a pretty toy?” He asked lightly, beady black eyes greedy.

Missy giggled, a slightly manic giggle, her head tilting to one side. “Oh Dorium,” She smiled widely at him, watching as his eyes looked a little less greedy and a little more I-fucked-up. “Don’t you remember Trenzalore?”

His eyes dropped instantly, his hand moving off the envelope.

“Miss Smith has some questions,” Missy said, sounding bored as she picked the envelope up, turning it over and checking the documents inside.

“What do you know of a Natasha Lem?” Sarah supplied instantly, her voice cool. Dorium’s eyes flickered from Sarah to Missy and back again before he sighed.

“Everything you know, Dorium,” Missy instructed lazily.

And then Dorium told him everything he did know.

………………………………………………………………………..

“So,” Sarah-Jane said briskly, when they were back in the car and driving a winding route back home. A very winding route. “I’ve got a friend in the records office, I’ll get the evidence.”

Missy hummed her agreement, settling back and letting Miss Pond fall away. She could practically feel Sarah’s curiosity rolling off her in waves.

“Miss Pond the Elder?” Sarah-Jane finally. “Is there a Miss Pond the Younger?”

Missy had smirked when Sarah had finally voiced her curiosity, but it made her chest constrict. Even John hadn’t know about this secret of his friends. It had been theirs, just theirs. Melody Pond.

“There was,” Missy said quietly, looking out the window into the oppressing darkness. “Not anymore.”

Sarah was silent for a moment before she stated, “River.”

“Melody Pond, River Song,” Missy surmised, “We came up with it at the orphanage, back when we were just kids. We used to tell stories. Then… we got a bit older, and we realised that we were less likely to get caught if we were two people using the same alias. I became the Elder, she the Younger. We were both Melody Pond…guess it’s just me now.”

Sarah-Jane grimaced sympathetically. Missy pressed her lips together in a thin line, before clearing her throat and pulling the envelope out of her pocket. She slotted open the flap, pulling out the wad of paper inside.

“So, what were you after?” Sarah-Jane eyed the

“Time travel,” Missy said softly, pulling a document from the pack and putting it on the top. “Or leverage if you prefer. Don’t worry, same case, I just wanted to see if there were any pressure points.”

“I thought you told John you’d quit,” Sarah-Jane said in amusement. “Who’s the leverage against?”

“Now dear, that would be telling,” Missy said coyly, tucking the documents back into the “Now, Dorium may be a lying bag of lice, but he was telling the truth. I slipped Tasha’s name into conversation while asking for time travel, I knew he’d get curious. He was well connected to the Order of the Church of Truth when he was young.”

“You think Tasha was part of a cult?” Sarah-Jane asked in surprise.

“No, it’s a legitimate church, no matter how odd it sounds, there used to be a town called Truth or something” Missy corrected, “The cult part was the Order of the Silence, the Kovarian Sept – they’re the ones who broke away and became the criminal gang that everyone associates with the Church. I don’t think Tasha was part of the Kovarian Sept. Anyway, I knew Dorium would know enough to get us started.”

“Do you think we can trust him?” Sarah-Jane asked in concern.

“Not as far as I can through him,” Missy replied cheerfully, “So I say we can trust him enough. We do some digging, maybe we’ll unearth a few skeletons.”

“You know, you’d have made a rather good journalist,” Sarah-Jane teased.

“Now that’s just insulting.”

……………………………………………………………………………….

Clara was curled up on the sofa against her grandfather, determined to stay awake a little while longer, but struggling against the alluring sound of The Worst Witch repeats on the television. Missy smiled as her dad waved her away.

“So what was that earlier, about a little family holiday?” Amy piped up as soon as Missy entered the kitchen to make herself some tea. Missy nearly jumped out of her skin.

“Rassilon’s death Mother!” Missy scolded, one hand pressed to her chest to try and manually compress the rapid beating of her heart. “What did you do that for?”

“Nevermind that, you and John are going on holiday?” Amy looked far too eager.

“John’s got a conference in Oxford, we thought I’d take Clara down and we could enjoy a few days in a different part of the Cotswold’s is all,” Missy rolled her eyes at her mum, moving to make her damned tea. “Will you chill out?”

Mum sighed a long, protracted, pointed sigh.

“I’m going to be fully grey by the time you two get your act together,” She declared dramatically, “Or dead.”

Missy put her spoon down rather forcibly and turned to her mother, steel in her eyes.

“Has it ever occurred to you that John and I like the relationship we have?” Missy said sharply. “That actually, we know that we’re co-parenting, that we’re trusting in each other, that we can plan a future we know the other one will be in now. Has it ever occurred to you that we don’t have to be sucking face and bumping uglies to do that? That we already are happy?”

Missy closed her eyes, regret at her sharp words lacing through her chest as she turned back to the boiling kettle. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched mum close her mouth, study her curiously.

“You don’t have to be, as you so crudely put it, sucking face and bumping uglies,” her mum said softly, “But I think you two need to have a very frank conversation about your lives, then you’ll be even more secure. We know neither of you are going anywhere, but Missy, you like to know absolutes, even if you pretend you work in the morally grey zone. You and he both do. You need to make it an absolute.”

“I don’t think we need to say anything,” Missy said softly, “He knows I’m not going anywhere.”

“But does he still think it’s just Clara you’re staying for?” Amy rested her hand against Missy’s arm briefly, before turning to leave. “You’ll be on holiday, is all I’m saying. No-one to watch you two be anything but yourselves.”

Missy stood over the steaming tea, watching as the steam from the mugs curled through the air, becoming one stream, and wondering when the fuck she had started seeing omens in the pretty shapes smoke made.

“I see fucking dead people,” She muttered, her voice deadpan, before picking the mugs up, and resolutely turning her back on the conversation she had just had.

Chapter Text

To put it plainly, the drive over had been fucking hell. John had forgotten to mention that Clara got travel sick any further than Gloucester, and Oxford was a good hour beyond, over winding hill and beautiful dale. They'd been having a jolly time, singing along to the radio, Clara bouncing in her seat, thrilled to be on a road trip with her Missy, when the littler suddenly stopped, went very pale, and told Missy she wasn't feeling too good.

Luckily, country roads have a surplus of side roads. Missy had pulled over sharpish, and had barely lifted Clara from the car before her little girl was crying piteously while throwing up in a bush. Missy should have remembered really, she'd suffered something awful until she'd learnt to drive. Checking Clara wasn't feeling too ill, they had climbed back in the car and carried on their way. But the mood was definitely gone. She'd bought a bag of mint imperials to share, whispering to Clara that they stopped her feeling sick too. The big brown eyes had been relieved.

It was hard though, passing Witney. Clara was clingy when she wasn't feeling well, and she resented her Missy being sat on the other side of the gearstick. She curled up around herself instead, glaring at the car dashboard. It would have been funny if it hasn't been so stressful.

So, the journal started out well, went decidedly downhill even as the car climbed upwards, and then when they reached the edge of Oxford, they hit traffic. Lots of traffic. According to the radio, the A40 was closed, which ground Oxford to a halt. And John, being sweet and wanting to reduce the amount of driving they'd have to do over the weekend, had booked them a nice hotel close to the city centre.

They'd finally arrived at the hotel, and Clara had cheered from the passenger seat, her skin still a little shiny. It seemed sitting in traffic was easier than long winding roads. The hotel was big cream building with plenty of garden for Clara to run around in. It was close enough to city centre to be a manageable bus journey, far enough they weren't actually staying with Luke. Missy parked up, warning Clara to watch for other cars as she jumped from the car.

"Hello," she said a little tired, "Clara! Get down from there. She's been cooped up a little too long. I think my partner's already checked us in - Booking under the name of Smith, which I understand is the most common name in the history of - Clara Smith!"

"Daddy!" The little girl shrieked, jumping off the chair and knocking a plant over in her quest to reach her father. Missy turned back to the receptionist and quirked a shoulder. "Daddy you're here!"

"Where else should I be?" John teased, hoisting Clara onto his hip and walking towards Missy. He put his free hand on her back and kissed her cheek. "Good trip dear?"

"You failed to mention Clara got travel sick," She said drily, rolling her eyes at his apologetic wince. "Have you checked us in, because this wee one needs a shower and I need a stiff drink."

John nodded, soft smile on his face as he slid Clara to the floor despite her protests. "We just need to get your key signed for, and while you're doing that I'll get the bags from the car. You coming with me Clara-bear?"

Clara nodded gleefully, and they left the lobby, leaving Missy with the smiling receptionist.

"Sorry," Missy shook her head to clear it, pulling her purse out, "What did you need from me?"

"Mr Smith has already checked you in for your room, a second keycard can be issued, and I will add the deposit charge to your room, payment on exit," the woman didn't stop smiling. Then her smile seemed to become more real as she looked out to where Clara was 'helping' John. "How old is she?"

"You may not believe it to look at her, but she's eight," Missy turned to watch them, "Girl eats us out of house and home and she doesn't even have the decency to be as tall as her father."

"She takes after you then?" The woman laughed, leaning on the counter.

"In more ways than just her height," Missy replied fondly.

"My boys are the same," The woman rolled her eyes, before reverting back to business-like. "Right, so this is your keycard, you're in Room 11. Please keep it away from your mobile or it will deactivate the card. The card needs to be used to get into the hotel part of the building, but the restaurant and some of the amenities are open to the public, so please keep your keycard on if you want to get back into your room," The woman wrote some notes on the slip of paper. "Car parking is free for the duration of your stay, your husband has already recorded your license plate so that's not an issue, the reception is manned twenty-four hours, so if you have any issues please come down and ask. Er, for the little one, there is a play area out the back and she can run around as much as she likes on the lawn, but we do ask that you do not play any ball games. Restaurant opens at five pm, you can make reservations here, and breakfast is from six to ten every morning."

Missy blinked, that was quite a spiel. The woman laughed and tapped the receipt. "I wrote all the times down," She said cheerfully, sliding the keycard over. Missy heard the door open, Clara busily telling John all that had happened since she'd seen him the week before, even though they'd spoken on the phone every night. "Please enjoy your stay."

"Thank you," Missy felt quite sincere, the woman was smiley, but nice after all. She felt Clara running up behind her, turning around in time to stop the little one from crashing due to the unexpectedly slippery floor. "Come on you, lets get you changed into playclothes, let you run off a little of that energy of yours."

"But I'm hungry!" Clara threw her arms in the air, "I'm hungry first!"

Missy sighed and held out her hand for Clara to take. “Come on Little Missy,” She said firmly, “we’ll go up to the bedroom, get changed, then Daddy or I can order dinner while you’re running around. Win-win situation and I get wine. Or whisky.”

Clara giggled, already significantly perked up now her feet were on terra firma.

“How was your conference dear?” Missy asked absently, trying to keep Clara from bounding into a wall as they waited for the lift.

“There were a few lectures you would have enjoyed,” John answered absently, easing the suitcase into the lift. “Clara, floor 1. Do you remember Brax? He was presenting on the evolution of terrestrial fauna in non-terrestrial growth. So, plants on the space station.”

“I forgot he became an astro-biologist,” Missy mused, “Clara stop bouncing dear, we’ll be outside before you know it. Did you stop by and chat?”

“Invited him over for a day in the next semester, I thought it would be good for the PhDs to hear about a different form of space stuff. Thought we could have him over for dinner, put him up at ours,” John added, pulling the bags along the hall, Clara running back and forth, counting the numbers loudly, “What did you give her in the car?”

“Mint imperials, they always stop me from feeling sick. Think I might have overdone it a bit,” Missy handed Clara the keycard, helping her unlock the door and letting them in. She looked at the set up at the room and then turned to a suddenly sheepish looking John, one eyebrow raised. “So how did you see this working out?”

The room was a fair size, with a wardrobe and a table and a tv. There was a nice enough looking ensuite, and towels piled on the corner of the beds. There were two beds, one a double, one a single.

“I asked for a family room for two adults and a kid,” John admitted, putting the suitcase and bags to be unpacked later. “This is apparently what they give people.”

Missy quirked an eyebrow, turning to Clara who was trying to open the door to their little balcony. “Pick a bed pet, before Daddy or I pick first!”

Clara span around, laughing manically before selecting (of course) the double, bouncing experimentally in the middle.

“One way of fixing it,” Missy heard John mutter, before he raised his voice a little higher, “You share with Missy then Clara-bear, I’ll take the narrow bed.”

“You’re skinny Daddy, you’ll be fine,” Clara said dismissively, already leaping over to her little Frozen suitcase to place her pjs on the pillow. John’s eyebrows raised into his hairline, and Missy had to press her lips together to stop herself from laughing out loud at the look on his face.

“This is all you,” John accused, pointing a finger in Missy’s face. He shook his head in wonder, “I’m wounded, Clara, very wounded.”

Clara didn’t seem phased, already stripping in the middle of the room into her leggings and jumper dress from the “playclothes – outdoor variety” pile in her wardrobe. She stopped when she’d pulled her trainers on, holding her foot out to Missy.

“Please may you tie my shoes?” She asked politely.

“I know you can do it yourself,” Missy said pointedly, “I’ll check them but I won’t do them for you. What’s the plan for dinner John?”

“I booked us in the restaurant for half an hour,” He replied, glancing at his watch. “We’re eating with Luke and the gang tomorrow, and Luke’s proposed taking Clara to the Oxford museum on Sunday so we can have a bit of peace and quiet.”

“I’m quiet!” Clara defended herself, not quietly. Missy bent down to check her laces.

“Of course you are pet,” She chuckled, kissing the top of Clara’s head. “Alright, jacket on, lets go burn some of this energy of yours before we sit down for food.”

Clara ran wild, screeching in joy as John chased her in circles, catching her and throwing her in the air. Missy shook her head fondly, glad she didn’t have to run around, keeping half an eye out for their food. Clara had practically inhaled her food, and after nearly drifting off into her jelly, was taken back up to their room for bed. Clara had climbed into the single bed and been asleep in seconds.

“Well,” Missy said drily, “It’s not like we haven’t shared a bed before.”

“That was before all,” John gestured wildly to the space between them. Missy rolled her eyes, pulling the cover back on the side closest to Clara and propping her glasses on her nose.

“John,” She said patiently, “We’re adults. We shared a bed for years before Clara happened, and we’ve slept on the sofa countless climbs. Get your book and get into bed.”

“But…” he tailed off, before complying.

“Take it up with your daughter in the morning,” Missy huffed, opening the book. “And we both know we will wake up tangled so don’t even think about getting all freaked out about that. It is not news to me that you are a cuddler.”

John flushed red.

Missy was right. She woke up the next morning with a bony elbow digging into her hip, John on his back right against her, legs tangled under the blankets and Clara tucked under her chin. It felt a little like home, if a little claustrophobic.

Chapter Text

The wonderful thing about small, energetic children is that they are better (and worse) than alarm clocks. Better because they are unfailingly punctual, and worse because you can't mute them to stop a beeping noise. Clara had climbed under the covers with them at some unspecified time in the morning, but by six, she was sat bolt upright chattering persistently, the illustrated Harry Potter in her hands as she described in excruciating detail the colours used in Fawkes the Phoenix's tail - as if her mother couldn't see every single bloody orange herself. John, the coward, was still asleep, stick insect arms looped over her hips as Missy rested her head against the padded headboard.

"Is daddy going to wake up soon?" Clara diverted from her track suddenly, tilting her head to one side as she looked at her father. Then, suddenly, she fixed all her (quite considerable) attention on Missy. "Why don't you and daddy share a bed at home?"

Missy felt John's arm tense and felt like pinching him if he'd been awake and letting her suffer the whole damn time.

"Well, I don't stay very often - I have to go back to my flat. Make sure your cousins haven't blown the place up," she winked - hoping beyond hop but not really beleiving that Clara would let it go. Clara nodded very seriously, apparently well versed in Katie's propensity to experiment and the very serious risk of burnt ceilings.

"But, really," Clara said, equally as serious, "It would be so much easier for cuddles on weekends if you were in the same place. And I know daddy likes cuddles - even if he says its just a way to hide your face. I think you should both just be in one place. Like when you both fall asleep on the sofa."

If Clara hadn't already turned her attention back to her book, Missy would have though her mother had put the brat up to this. The last thing she needed was complications - although Clara had been one whooping great complication that turned out pretty well.

"Clara," Missy said, in a mock whisper, her hand fiddling with John's wrist. "I think Daddy has been asleep far too long. We girls are getting bored. I think we should wake him up."

Clara's round face shot up, grinning in excitement as Missy held John's wrist tightly to prevent him from making a successful break for it.

"I hate you," she felt, rather than heard him say, as Clara abandoned her book to throw herself head first across her father's torso.

"Wake up daddy," she sang gleefully, "Time to gooooo. I'm hungreeeee."

John made an unimpressed noise, half rolling so as not to dislodge Clara off the bed (although she would probably find it terrific fun to face plant the floor). Missy patted him on the arm and let him go, reaching across to hold Clara in place by virtue of the back of her tshirt.

"I'm in dire need of a coffee," Missy added, as John adjusted himself enough to loop his arms around Clara and hug her close. "You can get Clara ready while I get dressed." The unspoken promise was because you made me suffer that alone you bastard. John sushed himself up against the headboard, Clara sitting up on his lap.

"Morning," he said gruffly, leaning across to kiss her cheek, and winking at her raised eyebrow, before his bent his head to press a squelchy kiss to Clara's face - to her apparent glee.

"You need a shave," Missy retorted smartly, shaking her head at their antics. "Bagsie the shower first."

"Go ahead," John said, pulling Clara's book across Missy's knees and handing it back to Clara. "We'll do some reading."

Clara grinned, opened the book again, and proceeded to explain to John how Hermione had discovered it was a basalisk - just in case he hadn't already known. Missy slid out of bed to get dressed, and apparently emotionally prepared for John when no-one was watching.

An hour later they were all dressed, caffeinated and fed, waiting for a bus to take them towards the city centre. John was texting Luke the "plan" as it were - which was simply to take Clara to the Ashmoleon musem because the Story was closed for refurbishment, to see the shrunken heads at Pitt Rivers, and to see if the Waterstones in Oxford had some more books that might capture their daughters attention long enough for them to do laundry. Oh, and food. The brat and the stick insect would need feeding at some point.

There had been a small scuffle with paying for the bus far - Missy beating him by virtue of a contactless card when he didn't have enough cash. Clara had gone dashing upstairs in the small tussle, perching herself perilously against the bar at the front, her face pressed ridiculously close to the window.

"I dare you to lick it," Missy said as she and John bumped their way to the front window seat, earning herself a disgusted glare from the mother on the other side. Clara grinned and pulled her face back a litte, standing between the cacophony of knees so she could see out of the window.

"Where's Jordan College?" She said in excitement, peering at the yellow masonry that trundled by. "And will we find Wonderland here?" The literary questions continued in an almost neverending stream.

Missy wasn't sure she wanted to tell Clara that neither of these places actually existed - it was refreshing seeing Clara so excited about a place that wasn't their house or her parents. Oh, speaking of her parents. She fished out her mobile phone.

"Smile for Nanny and Grampy pet," She called out, snapping a picture of a beaming Clara and a bemused John in quick sucession. "And come up here between me and daddy now, we'll send them a selfie."

"I don't do selfies," John grumbled, even as he leant his head closer to the frame and obliged them. "Where do you want to go first Clara-bear? We'll see Luke for lunch and he wants to show you something - it's called the Radcliffe Camera."

Missy had to bite back a smile. Clara was going to explode when she saw the camera, and then she'd be heartbroken to realise they were all grown-up-boring-books (as she called them). Boy did good. Clara's face contorted with the weight of the decision she was trying to make.

"Coffee first," She said decidely, patting Missy's knee a little paternalistically. "Then the moley."

"Missy's had coffee," John said decidedly, "Last thing we need is to let her have any more."

"I resent that!" Missy said, "I think coffee sounds like an excellent idea!"

"Look, we're going into a museum - you can't steal things. And you just might if you get bored enough without coffee - I'm not risking it with caffeine in your system."

Clara turned to her with big worried eyes. "Do you not like museums?" she said anxiously.

"I like laughing at the things there - so you'll have to help me find funny things to laugh at," She said, poking Clara's chin. "Besides - I need to stop daddy from wandering off. We'll never find him again if we lose him in the moley!"

Clara didn't look convinced, but seemed to accept the challenge(s) and turned her attention back to the rapidly yellowing scenery. John however, leant over to whisper in her ear "Laughing at things? Mentally valuing them more like. No stealing."

"I know," she replied childishly, rolling her eyes and untwisting the straps on Clara's Frozen rucksack for when they got off.

Clara had loved the Ashmoleon, darting between the more exciting objects like mummies and statues, and demanding that John or Missy lift her up to see the higher placed ones. She seemed determined to find as many things to amuse and enterain Missy as possible, and she kept running back to pull on John's hand if she worried he had gotten too far away from them (he was usually reading the exhibit information. Missy promised him they'd return sans child at some point so he could point out historial inaccuracies to his hearts content.).

It was with a rapidly dropping stomach that Missy turned around to read an information sheet to her knee-high daughter, John at the other end of the gallery examining pottery - to realise that her over curious seven year old was no longer crouched by the peculiar horse figure. In fact, she wasn't at any of the stands in the room. Missy felt her heart start racing, fear bubbling up as she called out her child's name. John looked up, rushed over - but all Missy could feel and fear was that Clara, her little Clara, had gone.

Chapter Text

She had never been so scared. In fact, she hadn’t known this kind of heart-twisting fear before – she’d been scared, terrified even, before but this was a whole different ball game.

She felt as if her ears were under water and her eyes were only capable of seeing the absence of Clara. She could heart her pulse. It was loud.

“It’s ok,” John was saying, distantly, desperately, “She’s probably just in the next exhibit, breathe love – I’ll go right, you go left. Call if we find her. Meet you at the front desk.”

Then he was gone and she was striding into the next exhibit, a reasonably small room and nowhere for Clara to hide. She kept going, a straight line, neck on a bungee cord as she searched for Clara, calling out to her and asking other patrons if they’d seen her daughter. They hadn’t. Three rooms later and Missy was striding down the gallery, looking into each side room with a gnawing desperation.

Then, she heard it – the desperate little voice that caused a wave of relief to come crashing down.

“Mummy!” Clara yelled, her voice broken, her cheeks red, straining against the hand of a museum worker. But Missy didn’t see that person – she was too busy rushing forward to meet Clara in the middle, holding her so tight neither of them could breathe. “I couldn’t find you! I went to look at the feathers and then I couldn’t remember where I had come from and I called and called and I couldn’t find you.”

“It’s ok now,” Missy soothed, trying to get her heart rate to calm enough to not upset Clara any more, “It’s ok, I’m here – and daddy is looking for you too. We’ll go find him, and then we’ll go, ok.”

“I’m sorry mummy, I’m sorry,” Clara sobbed into her shoulder, clinging on with all her tiny might. Missy held her phone out to the assistant.

“Thank you so much,” She said in genuine relief, “Can I ask you to dial my partner for me? He’ll be frantic. It’s 1 on the speeddial – or Grumpy McGrumpy in the contacts.”

The assistant nodded and handed the phone back a second later.

“I’ve got her,” Missy said, hearing him swear in relief down the phone. “We’ll meet you by the front desk. Is there paperwork we have to fill in?”

The assistant replied that there wasn’t, but that she would take them to the front anyway. Missy tried to stand but Clara was still crying, still clutching at her shirt, so she picked her up. Clara was far too big for Missy to be picking her up now – she was only just small enough for John to be able to cart her around with ease and he was a foot taller – but she wanted them together again and out of there.

Some day trip this was turning out to be. John was pacing by the front desk, crashing into them again when he saw them – a giant group hug with Clara apologising with every hiccupping breath. Suddenly Missy felt a little faint, John hanging onto her elbow and Clara on her hip.

“Darling, I need to sit down, have a cup of tea,” She said firmly, kissing Clara’s forehead and she pushed the little girl into John’s arms with some reluctance. “Let’s go down to the café. Catch our breath.”

He nodded, not speaking, eyebrows furious, his chin pressing against Clara’s forehead. She’d known he would need the connection to Clara – the reminder that they hadn’t lost her. It would pass quickly enough, with this becoming a story they passed onto Clara’s significant other to tease her, or to Clara herself when her own offspring inevitably wandered off.

A cup of tea and a slice of cake later, and Clara was feeling a little bit better. They were lucky she was a relatively sensible girl, and they would be keeping a much closer eye on her from now on. It was only later, Clara humming while colouring in, that Missy truly began to feel herself relax again, John rubbing circles against the inside of her wrist as they watched their daughter.

“Are we going to see Uncle Luke now?” Clara asked, looking more like her usual self though her cheeks were still a bit rosy. Missy had pressed a damp paper towel against her face in the toilets to clear her face, but it still looked a bit raw. She was much happier, but she was suddenly insisting on holding onto the hands of at least one parent, preferably both, and they were more than happy to oblige.

“Yes,” Missy said, “He’s going to take you to see the Radcliffe Camera remember. And I think we get to meet Maria.”

She winked at John.

“Not if the boys got any sense,” John reminded her.

“Sense doesn’t seem to run in the male side of the family,” She replied smartly. “Your mum and sister are sensible, you, Luke and Harry are defiantly on the sensibility side of the
Austen novel.”

“If you say so,” John half-smiled indulgently before tugging them down a side alley. He was more familiar with Oxford than she was – it had been years since she had last been to the city and while the buildings were still shaped the same it felt awfully different. Ahead of them, at the other end of the alley, Luke and his (three) friends were waiting.

“See, told you,” Missy nudged John, before waving and calling out a hello. Clara let go of hand to launch herself gleefully at Luke with an inhumane screech of joy. “Runs in the family. Idiocy.”

“Poor kid,” John mused in resignation as they approached his brother and friends. “Hello Luke.”

“Hey John,” Luke grinned, all puppy eagerness and excitement, spinning Clara around. “You two enjoying your weekend?”

“Clara wandered off in the Ashmoleon,” Missy said, full deadpan, “We’re having a blast.”

Luke winced, and looked down at Clara.

“We’ve already talked about it,” John said hastily, “But she might want to hang on to you while you’re away from us.

Missy, however, had turned her attention to Luke’s friends, loitering against the alley wall.

“Clyde, Rani,” She greeted, purposefully offering a hand to the opposite one being named. Rani rolled her eyes, but greeted her cheerfully enough. With the known greetings out of the way, Missy turned her full attention to the additional, pretty dark-haired cabbage patch girl smiling awkwardly. “And you must be Maria,” She said gleefully, “Luke’s told us all about you.”

“Missy!” Luke hissed, both of them beetroot at Missy’s heavily insinuating tone. “John!”

“You should have known what she’d be like,” John shrugged, non-committal, “I am not responsible for Missy’s behaviour. She’s not my pet.”

Clyde had his lips pressed tightly together, looking up at the sky and Rani was very pointedly not looking at any of them.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” Missy simpered, playing on Maria’s slightly deer-in-the-headlights look. “After all I’ve heard about you from Luke, I feel like I know you!”

That broke Clyde’s admirable hold on his snorting laughter. Luke muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “traitor”. Maria blushed a little redder, her hand still hanging limp in Missy’s own.

Missy blundered on, “Luke tells us you’re studying classical literature.”

Maria’s chin finally stiffened, going a little into the air.

“Missy Oakdean, I presume,” she said, incredibly sweetly, finally having decided how she needed to play this particular game. Missy hoped she proved herself. “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure. Perhaps if you take a step back, we might actually get to know each other, rather than you attempting to embarrass Luke into early retirement.”

Missy studied her for a second, blue eyes meeting dark brown in a steady challenge. Then she smirked, registering the surprise on Maria’s face.

“Ooh, snap,” she chuckled, winking.

“Down girl,” John said, in some amusement.

“I thought you said I wasn’t your pet,” Missy snarked back, abandoning Maria as quickly as she’d pounced on her.

Maria must have looked confused, because Luke suddenly said (in as close to irritation as Luke could get) “She approves, and likes you. She’s just being Auntie Is about it all.”

“And I thought I was being nice,” Missy shrugged carelessly, looping her arm through John’s. “I was going easy on you because Luke’s only heard stories about me.”

“That was brilliant,” Wheezed Clyde, still chuckling, “Your face mate!”

Luke flushed again and Clara giggled.

“It weren’t that funny,” Missy rolled her eyes. “Now, how long are you taking Offspring for?”

“Offspring?” Maria whispered to Rani, who replied with the Offspring’s name.

They made a funny little collection, standing in the shadow of an Oxford college. Missy leant against John, a better leaning post than a wall any day.

“We thought we’d take her for a few hours – meet you in time for an early tea maybe?” Luke suggested. “They’ve got some branded stuff in Westgate. I know Clara’s quite fussy, so we’ll be able to find somewhere she likes.”

John looked at his watch, registering the time and suggesting a time around the four o’clock mark. Luke agreed cheerfully, spinning Clara around till she was giggling dizzily and tottering around the cobblestones. Missy had visions of skinned knees and wanted them out of there asap.

“You be good for your Uncle Luke, ok?” Missy instructed, squatting down to Clara’s height and adjusting the straps on her bag. “You stay close to him, and…” she trailed off, and turned suddenly to John. “Pen on you dear?”

John didn’t even look confused for a second before he was patting pockets down and passing a biro into her hands.

“Pull your sleeve up please pet,” Missy instructed gently, testing the pen on the back of her hand. Clara hesitated, but eventually pulled her jumper up a few inches. “I’m going to write my mobile number right here,” she tapped the expanse of pale skin under the coat. “So, if you lose Uncle Luke, or Clani, or Maria – you ask a police officer to give me a call
and I’ll come get you.”

Clara nodded firmly, holding still as Missy carefully inked her mobile number onto Clara’s skin.

“Ok pet?” Missy asked gently, helping Clara pull her sleeve back down again.

“Yes,” the little one said firmly, “I have to stay close to Luke, and if I get lost, I need to find a police officer or a nice friendly person like a librarian and ask them to phone my mummy and daddy and show them my arm.” She recited firmly. “I’ll see you later?”

“We’ll see you later,” John confirmed, smoothing Clara’s hair down. “Now, off with you. Mummy and I have got to go twiddle our thumbs until you’re done having fun with Uncle Luke. Love you sweetpea.”

“Love you Missy, love you Daddy,” Clara waved jauntily and took up Luke’s hand. “Are we going to see pictures now?”

“You call if you need us,” John said firmly to his brother.

“Promise,” Luke said back, equally as serious, as Maria tried to explain to Clara that the Camera was not a device on her parent’s phone, but a building, not far from there.

Luke, Clara and the associated press release waved as they walked down the alley, leaving John and Missy standing there

“So,” John started slowly.

“Don’t” Missy warned, with a deep sigh, dropping her head against his chest with a dull thud. “Bloody hell what a day.”

John seemed as if he was torn between asking Missy how she felt (always dangerous territory) or what she wanted to do. He plumped for the latter.

“Can we just go watch a movie?” Missy asked slowly, “I have wasted so many hours of my life watching that fucking snowman movie. Let’s go watch something with a good bit of violence in or something equally unsuitable for our child. Otherwise I’m going to spend the next three and a half hours worrying about her. It’s exhausting.”

The corner of John’s eyes crinkled at her, his mouth in his secret happy smile, as he offered her his arm. “Curzon is this way,” He said, leading her off. “And we’ll leave our phones on loud in case Clara needs us. Which she won’t. Kids bounce Missy, and it take us, their old parents longer to recover than it does them.”

“Oh, shut up and buy me some popcorn,” Missy grumbled good naturedly.

Half an hour later, they were on one of the sofa-seat in the new Curzon cinema, watching Tomb Raider, with Missy’s feet tucked under her bum and John’s head tilted dangerously towards her shoulder. Their phone (on the cupholder where they could easily see the screen) didn’t go off once.

Several hours later, they were eating pizza – treating Luke and his student friends to a large relatively extravagant meal in exchange for a few hours off parenting, as Clara told her parents all about the Radif Camera and its library within with almost a reverential tone that made all of them laugh.

From that point on, if anyone asked Clara Smith what she wanted to be when she would grow up, her instant and excited response would be “a librarian!”

Chapter Text

Chirp!

Chirp!

Chirp!

Missy pressed her face into the cushions, but it was impossible. She was awake now. John’s elbow was lodged uncomfortably against her ribcage, so getting back to sleep wasn’t happening. She lifted her head from her arms, turning to glare at John’s sleepily mussed up face, before wiggling away from the offending elbow. John sniffed and turned to the other side of the bed.

Clara was still flat out, the excitement of Oxford, seeing Luke and declaring war on the pirate playset having proved a delightful way to have a lie in. Until, that is, someone persistently messages you. Given the frequency of the annoying chirpy noises, it would be Jane – a compulsive multi-message sender if ever there was one. Her parents were too slow at texting, the girls would still be asleep, and Sarah was a block messager.

Six fifty. She was going to bloody kill Jane, adorable face or not. She pulled the phone towards her, unsurprised to see “Jane Darling”, followed by [3].

Morning lovelies! Your mum told me Clara went AWOL, u ok?

Oh, shit, I just realised the time! Ignore me till later

Sorry

Missy rolled her eyes, smiling affectionately at the completely characteristic message. She pushed herself out of the warm bed and her feet into slippers and the hotel dressing gown, pressing a kiss to Clara’s head before scooping up the keycard and heading down the corridor, the phone already pressed to her ear.

“Mornin’” Jane’s voice was far too bright for this time in the morning. “I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Yes,” Missy said bluntly, “I finally had a bit of space in bed, and you wake me up. Thank you dear, much appreciated.”

“No probs,” Jane said brightly, “So, how’re you doing after little miss smith’s master adventure?”

“We’ve recovered,” Missy said firmly, “I don’t think she’ll be running off again in a hurry.”

“And what’s it like being on a family holiday, eh Miss?” Jane teased. In the background, Missy could hear a kettle boiling. Jane despised coffee (probably good for the universe that she did so) but she adored tea. Ooh, speaking of tea, Missy headed towards the breakfast buffet in search of a mug of her own caffeinated beverage.

“It’s been surprisingly easy,” Missy admitted, filling a mug up with disgusting filter coffee and adding a John-ish amount of sugar. “Nothing crazy, just a bit of touristy stuff. I’m looking forward to getting home though, Clara’s keeps getting into bed with us and it’s just downright annoying after a few days.”

Missy heard a small crash.

“You ok dear?” She asked in concern – for someone who was so very good at building things, Jane was a disaster waiting to happen at the best of times.

“Did you just say us?” Jane sounded deceptively innocent, excitedly innocent. “As in, you’re sharin’ with your baby daddy, and your baby keeps climbing in? With the both of you? Together?”

“Yes,” Missy rolled her eyes. “I have been sharing with John, Clara conked out on the single the first night and we figured that it was hardly the first time the two of us have shared a bed. Get your mind out of the gutter.”

There was a puzzled silence, followed by a sincerely confused “Why would my mind be in the gutter?” that reminded Missy of just how innocent Jane could be. Jane probably believed that babies were delivered in a blue police box or left by the fairies.

“Don’t worry pet,” Missy chuckled. “Now, how are things back home? I know we’ll be home tomorrow morning, but I need the upper hand on gossip before I get home.”

“Well,” Jane paused, and Missy heard her biting into something before she carried on talking with her mouth full, “I ‘oo up ‘or ‘oos’er.”

“Jane,” Missy said patiently, “Swallow your food, then tell me about just how you blew up my toaster.”

A short while later, coffee finished and Jane was cheerily telling her of the gossip she knew, the sun was high enough in the sky to call it morning. People always underestimated Jane – her childlike, gleeful innocence meant most people didn’t see her as a gossip threat. They probably figured she was looking for nargles or some other oddities. As a result, Jane, sharp eared and relentlessly curious, always knew the best gossip, and was always happy to share with her bezzie mate. Missy bid farewell, and wished her luck with finding new tenants for the rest of her (definitely not cottage sized) cottage.

Moments later, she was quietly letting herself back into the room, trying not to wake her sleeping occupants up. It was a fruitless task.

“Did you bring me any coffee?” John asked, sat up with his glasses on his nose, reading in bed. It was disgustingly domestic.

“What are you doing awake?” Missy countered, sliding the dressing gown back onto the door and smirking at John turning quickly away. Bless his huge cotton socks.

“Woke up when you got out of bed,” He admitted to his book, ears turning slightly red. “Noticed you leaving, I figured you had gone for a walk because you couldn’t sleep. Like you used to.”

“Jane messaged,” Missy informed him, sliding back under the covers and cuddling up to his side, shivering in the warmth. “Brr, cold out there.”

“Missy your feet are freezing!” he scolded through clenched teeth. “Urgh. So, what did Jane want?”

“Ask how we were, how Clara was after the Ashmoleon adventure, and Katie let her blow up the kitchen as well, so I need a new toaster at the flat,” she shrugged, dragging her own glasses onto her face and picking up her book. “She’s got her uncle, his wife and her grandson visiting – they’ll be arriving later today. And she’s been talking about her housemate in that front bedroom – young trainee police officer or something. Jane sounds smitten so we’ll probably meet her. We’re invited for tea Monday night. That ok?”

John made a noise of agreement in the back of his throat. He was looking forward to being at home too. Missy knew he had enjoyed their holiday, but he had been gone for nearly ten days now, and he was nothing if not an adventurous home bird. He liked being able to return to his own house at the end of a trip.

“About when we get home…” he started slowly, wedging a finger into his book and closing it gently, toying with the pages. It was endearing, in a get-me-out-of-here way. “Can we… er… that is to say… er… Clara-“

“Is currently asleep and won’t be by the time you get to the point of whatever it is that’s got you shyer than Jen,” Missy pointed out with a role of her eyes – hiding behind sarcasm.
John puffed out his cheeks and glared at her, all attack eyebrows and no bite. He spent a minute just looking at her, brow furrowed and she wanted to swat him away like an irritating fly on her shoulder.

“Why do you keep going back to the flat?” He asked, finally, his voice soft. “You don’t need to. You know that, right?”

They never had been good at actually expressing things. They had known each other so long that it used to feel like they knew the inside of the other. But sometimes, clarification was useful, sometimes things needed to be stated to clear the air and prevent confusion. This was probably one of those times. But Missy did know. She did know that he knew why she left every evening, just like she knew why she didn’t stay.

“Your house is boring,” She said, turning her nose up in the air and sniffing dramatically in a way that he would know meant she was just avoiding the question. They were always avoiding the question and the answer, the truth hidden in the halves. Staying the night felt a little too real.

“We could always move,” He pointed out quietly, eyes focussed on his book again. “Maybe we should do that… Maybe we should move.”

“Clara likes it there,” Missy protested half-heartedly.

“Clara also likes it in the trampoline hall in Gloucester,” he said drily, “Doesn’t mean we should live there.”

Missy rolled her eyes at him, and tried to find the words, any words in fact, to say to him. Even something cutting that would have him huffing and leaving her alone.

“It feels a little too permanent, doesn’t it?” it was softly said, and she barely heard it. “Like it'll be different.”

Yes, there was a difference. It may not have felt like it, but there was. She knew she loved him in her own way, and he loved her, in his own way. They had always been two sides of the same coin and it was always hard to know which way the coin would fall.

“Anyway,” He coughed briskly after what felt like minutes of intolerable silence. “We need to find a babysitter for the Hydraulics symposium.”

And it felt like their previous conversation had never happened – as much as you could ignore a neon elephant in the corner.

“You don’t have to come to the hydraulics lecture with me,” Missy pointed out, “You’ll be bored.”

“What, me? Bored?” He shook his head and smiled, “Never!”

Missy rolled her eyes. He may have been a dork, but at least he was a consistent dork. He’d be bored to tears within ten minutes, and would spend the rest of the evening happily picking apart any arguments made.

There was a loud sigh on the bed next to them, followed by a strange groan. They looked over to the other bed, Clara stretching out like a cat amongst the pillows.

“M’ning,” She said, slightly groggy, “Breakfast?”

And they laughed, to their mussed up little brat’s extreme irritation. She stalked off to the bathroom, her little nose in the air and her hair sticking up eight ways to Sunday.

“Jane would love to babysit,” Missy said cheerfully, pushing herself out of the bed to get ready for the day. “You know how much she and Clara adore each other.”

John rolled his eyes and grumbled something about children not being responsible enough to look after smaller children. Missy threw his socks at him, and their heavy morning gave way into a familiar normalcy.

Chapter Text

“Hullo!” Jane cried, flinging her door open with more force than was strictly necessary for the poor door. Within seconds, she had scooped Clara into spinning hug, beaming in an unparalleled excitement that only Jane possessed after the age of ten. “I bloody missed you three! Even you, grumpy guts. Gi’ us a hug!”

She released Clara to launch herself up at John. John was trying very hard to maintain his grumpy moniker, but it was hard in the face of such happiness. He patted her hesitantly on the back, knowing that while reciprocation was appreciated, it wasn’t really necessary.

“Missy!” She greeted cheerfully, squeezing the breath out of her briefly, before grabbing her hand and Clara’s and dragging them through the door. “Come meet my fam!”

“You gotta stop callin’ us your fam mate,” Came the exasperated sigh of a significantly taller, significantly younger man, shaking his head in the pained way teenagers only seemed to manage with people older than them. “You’re like so embarrassin’ sometimes, you know that?”

“Course I’m embarrassin’,” Jane said, all dimples and bounce. “Missy, this here’s me cousin, Ryan-”

“I ain’t your cousin,” Ryan muttered, “Your uncle married me nan – that don’t make us cousins.”

“Well, it does to me,” Jane announced, attempting to swing an arm around his significantly more substantial shoulders. “Fam.”

Missy tried not to chuckle too much at the eye-rolling, but clear affection Ryan held for whatever family member he considered Jane to be.

“And this is me Uncle Graeme,” Jane was off again, bounding over to a man a bit closer to the retirement age than they were. “An his lovely wife Grace. Grace is a nurse! Ain’t that cool. Fam, I’d like you ter meet my Gallifrey fam, Missy, Clara and John. John’s my co-lead in the physics department, and he may look grumpy as all hell but he ain’t that bad. And Missy’s awesome, and this is their awesome daughter Clara.”

“It’s lovely to meet you,” Grace said cheerfully, “Jane’s been talkin’ bout you all since she got ‘ere.”

“She really ‘as,” Graeme agreed, looking as if he hadn’t quite got used to “Been drivin’ us barmy.”

“Love you too Graeme!” Jane put her hands on her hips and surveyed the room. “We expectin’ anyone else Yaz?”

A rather gorgeous young woman stuck her head out of the kitchen, a jet black braid swinging as she found Jane (easy, given the bright colour of her clothes) and shrugged.

“You’re the one who invited people Jay,” Yaz pointed out, “Hi, I’m Yaz. I bet Jay’ll forget to introduce me again. She forgets I don’t know all ‘er friends.”

Jane looked surprised and turned to Missy, “Oh, yeah! You ain’t met Yaz yet, have you?”

Missy shook her head in barely contained amusement and glee as Jane bounded over the room, toppled a chair(that Graeme set right with a long-suffering sigh) and dragged “Yaz” into the room, tea towel and all.

“This is Yazmin Khan, Yaz to her friends,” Jane beamed, arm threaded through Yaz’s and holding on for dear life. “Yaz, this is Missy and John – they’re the not-married married people I told you about, and the little ball of adorable over there is their daughter Clara. I reckon we should have her over – she’s totes amaze and comes up with The Best stories ever!”

Yaz waved a little awkwardly as John rested his forehead in his hand at Jane’s (accurate) description of their marital status. There was a second of quiet, in which a pot boiling over could be heard. An almost comical look of panic crossed Jane’s face and she bounced away – quickly followed by Yaz who was practically ordering Jane not to touch a single damn thing.

“What is it with you physicists and not knowing how to cook?” Missy turned to John and asked with interest. John levelled her a glare, but it was Clara who piped up from the sofa that daddy could cook better than she could. “Traitor,” Missy muttered affectionally, tussling Clara’s hair.

“Truth,” The mini-me shrugged and turned back to one of Jane’s logic puzzles (that she left lying around purely for Clara’s benefit). Missy’s eyebrows raised into her hairline.

“Bout time you were on the receiving end of the sass you’ve taught her,” John said in amusement, sinking into the armchair.

“I’m honestly so proud,” Missy pretended to wipe a tear from her face. They all winced as a loud clatter sounded in the kitchen, followed by Jane shouting apologies to Yaz. Ryan chuckled, leaning back for a better view into the kitchen.

“I tried to teach her how to cook,” Graeme sighed, shaking his head, “’onest, she’s had ‘er ‘ead in the clouds since she were old enough to walk. Tell you what – I weren’t prepared to raise a genius. She’s been leavin’ me behind since she could talk. But at least I can boil water without an explosion ‘appening.”

“Missy’s the same,” John commiserated, “We’ve finally got to the boiling water stage, but if I’m not there to cook, Clara gets takeout for dinner.”

“Hits all the major food groups,” Missy insisted primly, sitting on the arm of John’s chair and using his head as an armrest. “Doesn’t it poppet.”

“I prefer it when Grampy comes over and cooks,” Clara replied absently, focussed on getting a ball into a hole through a maze.

“Touche,” John muttered, as Grace laughed in delight. Missy couldn’t disagree, her dad was an amazing cook. Mum didn’t have the attention span for cooking.

“I can see why our Jane likes you all,” She admitted. “I’m so glad she’s gettin’ on ‘ere. And I’m glad fer ‘im that Jane’s just a few hours don’t the road, a’not eight hours time difference. Graeme’s been getting proper unbearable about it.”

“I have not,” Graeme muttered to his hands. There was another clatter in the kitchen, followed by a loud order to stand still and not touch anything from Yaz.

“I’d better go help Yaz,” Grace chuckled, pecking Graeme on the cheek. To Ryan, she said “You help Grandad set the table.”

“You mean Graeme,” Ryan muttered into his phone screen. Graeme winced. John and Missy shared the awkward glance of people who had ended up in someone else’s messy family situation.

“Graeme then,” Grace sighed and with a soft hand on Graeme’s shoulder, she walked into the kitchen and sent Jane sprawling out moments later with a box of cutlery.

“Right then,” Jane said cheerfully, as if she had just popped out for a glass of water. “Ooh, Clara! I got you a new puzzle. You ‘ang on and I’ll go find it. ‘ere you go.” She shoved the cutlery at Ryan and bounded off upstairs. There was a muffled thud, followed by a shout of “I’m ok!”

“She’s always done that,” Graeme smiled wistfully, searching the sideboard for the placemats. Missy leant over and pulled them out of their entirely illogical drawer. “Ever since she were little and she first came to live wiv me. First time she fell on the stairs, nearly gave me an ‘eart attack. Spent years wonderin’ if I should send ‘er to school with a helmet and kneepads, number o’brusies she came ‘ome with.”

“I can imagine,” Missy agreed, finding it worryingly easy to picture a young and overly excitable Jane. “How old was she? When she came to you?”

“She ain’t told yer?” Graeme passed her a few glasses and pulled more from the cupboard. “Plastic, huh. She used to bite glass y’know. I used to make ‘er drink from plastic cups so she wouldn’t hurt ‘erself.”

“Nan used to do that wiv me,” Ryan said from the other side of the table, “So I din’t break nuffin.”

“You must be glad to have her home again,” Missy prompted, glaring at John to at least join in the conversation.

“Actually, I reckon she only moved back cuz of me,” Graeme shrugged. “I was sick, and she was flyin’ back all the time. But… I’m glad she’s been gettin’ on so well ‘ere.”

“I actually quite like it ‘ere, you dafty,” Jane walked back into the room, head buried in a box searching for something, “And don’t you go feelin’ guilty that I came ‘ome, it was goin’ to ‘appen at some point.”

Jane was so engrossed in her box that she didn’t notice the coffee table rapidly approaching

“You know what I don’t get,” Ryan said, in the slow measured way of his, “Why you have so much furniture when you can’t even walk in a straight line without trippin’ over yer own feet.”

“I like it!” Jane looked affronted, surveying her completely mismatched (and compared to the Smith household, sparse) living room. “I’s got character.”

They all laughed at her scrunched up face as she let out a battle cry of success and pulled out what looked like a scrap of metal.

“I ‘eard you and yer mam were making sommat special in the garage,” Jane whispered to Clara. “Why don’t you find out what this is, eh?”

Clara studied the metal, before promptly turning round and handing it to her mother. Missy pursed her lips, looking at the molten block, twisting it until she found what looked like an untarnished end.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “Would you look at that! It’s a sensory pad receiver.”

“I know, exciting right?” Jane beamed.

“Anyone gonna tell us what a sensory receiver whatsit is?” Graeme piped up.

Missy sat down, Clara clambered onto her knee to take a closer look.

“It’s kind of like you iPhone,” Missy searched for the best way to describe it. “But for testing things. See this indent, if you attach a sensory receiver, you can use it to test things. Like the contents of the air. It’ll need some cleaning up and reconfiguiring, but this is the basic receiver box. I’ll take it into work and see if I can get it working again…”

“Can we give it to K-9?” Clara asked, poking the dull metal curiously.

“You aren’t adding it to the dog,” John insisted rather weakly.

“Why not!” Missy replied instantly, “He needs a sense of smell.”

Ryan and Graeme shared a puzzled look, as Yaz came back into the room, announcing that Grace was going to finish the dinner and they were all banned. Jane looped an arm through hers the second Yaz was close enough.

“Why would you give that to a dog?” Ryan asked eventually.

“We’re building one,” Clara said, not realising this was a potentially peculiar situation. “We can’t have a dog y’see, so we’re making one. In the garage. It’s a project. He’s called K-9. Missy’s gonna calibrate him next week.”

“And he needs a sense of smell,” Missy agreed, examining the receiver until John leant over and plucked it from her grasp.

“We’re in company love,” He reminded her with a soft smile. Missy huffed and hugged Clara, resting her chin on Clara’s head as the smaller girl tried to show Ryan how to get the ball into the hole.

“So, Yaz,” Missy smirked at her friend, “How did you end up sharing with disaster queen here?”

“I knew Ryan at school,” Yaz grinned. Jane smiled at her, a little nervously. “When I got offered a place down ‘ere, he put us in contact. We got on great, so, yeah. It’s great ‘ere. Bit far from the bus, but Jane walks to work so it’s not too bad.”

“If she could cook she’d be the perfect girl for yer,” Ryan smirked. Jane beamed, but Yaz, Yaz glared at Ryan, as if sheer willpower alone could burn him to pieces. Aha. Reciprocated hella crush.

“If you’re with the police training programme, do you know Vastra?” John asked, apparently acting out of character and actually picking up on something in the room.

“Yeah,” Yaz smiled, relaxing at the (apparent) change in conversation. “She’s been real friendly, offered me a lift ‘ome a few times when on a late shift.”

“You should come to the pub one night,” Missy continued John’s apparent trail of thought. “I’m sure you’d get on real well with Jen.”

“Who’s Jen?” Yaz asked in confusion.

“Vastra’s wife,” Missy said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the whole world. Yaz flushed again, and Jane was looking adorably confused as to why everyone was chuckling.

“Dinner everyone,” Grace called from the kitchen. “Can I have a hand carrying the bowls in?”

Graeme jumped up. At a prod from Missy, John followed.

“Oh, Missy,” Jane said suddenly, sitting down at the table between Missy and Yaz. “I meant to tell you earlier, but I forgot. Thanks Yaz, fer remindin’ me just then. Yaz is brilliant she is. Always remindin’ me of things.”

“Jane,” Yaz prompted quietly, smiling to herself as the table was piled with dishes and they tucked into their dinner. “Arcadia.”

“Right,” Jane visibly pulled herself back on track. “Arcadia House, over the way, just gone up for sale. Demolition notices. I thought I’d let you know, I know you liked the place.”

“What?!” John and Missy exclaimed at the same time.

“They can’t tear down Arcadia,” Missy continued, distracted from adding vegetables to Clara’s plate (knowing full well Clara wouldn’t eat them if Jane wasn’t. Which she wouldn’t).

“They think they’ll get a better offer on development land,” Yaz contributed, “Reckon they’ll try puttin’ some flats up or a shoppin’ centre. That’s what people do with land nowadays right?”

“But they’ve just bought the land at the Basin,” John frowned, “And they haven’t sold the houses out where the girls are.”

“Girls?” Grace asked

“John’s sister and her friend live in my flat, about half an hour south of the Green,” Missy supplied, before turning back to Jane. “Have they confirmed?”

“Well, the old geezer that lived there before snuffed it,” Jane piled rice on her plate, even as Graeme whispered a sharp Jane! From the other end of the table. “And the grandkids or whoever are puttin’ it out there. Figure it’s too much work, big ‘ouse like that. We can get you the info if you like. After dinner though, I’m starvin’.”

Missy went back to her dinner, thinking of the days she and her sister spent in the gardens of Arcadia House.

“Why don’t we buy it?” She asked suddenly, turning to John. John stalled, fork halfway to mouth as the table fell quiet around them. “We can’t let Arcadia fall.”

“Maybe we er, should discuss this later?” John questioned a little pointedly, eyebrows raised at the table.

“What?” Missy glanced at down the table. “You don’t mind do you?”

“Not at all,” Grace put her glass down, eyes gleaming.

“I mind,” John muttered, “Jane said she’d get us the paperwork later so we can take a look. But later, Missy.”

Missy nodded in agreement and turned the conversation expertly round to places to visit in their corner of the Shire, adding that Yaz would probably do well with Katie and Rosie if she ever wanted to be introduced.

They did discuss it later. Much later, after they’d gone home and Clara had gone to bed, John agreed to see how much work Arcadia would take (although both knew Missy was going to buy it anyway. She could be sentimental. Sometimes). While it would take a lot of work, this was a house they could really, properly turn into their home.

Chapter Text

“We were gone two weeks!” Amy exclaimed as soon as the door opened. “And what do we find out when we get home? Our daughter and our son-in-law have bought the whacking great house on the edge of town!”

“Hello mother, lovely to see you, how was your holiday? Oh, I’m so glad. Daddy dearest! How are you? Did you enjoy the cookery course?” Missy replied pointedly, her voice deadpan. “Why don’t you come in and John can put the kettle on. Clara’s out in the garden but I’m sure we can pull her in. And oh, good news, I’ve decided to buy Arcadia to prevent it from being knocked down.”

Amy folded her arms and raised her eyebrows. Rory sighed, and gently pushed past his wife and daughter having an intent staring match to greet John and remove his coat.

“It’s bloody cold mother, I’m not paying to heat the whole of East Gallifrey,” Missy said finally, reaching out and pulling Amy into the house. “Glare at me all you like once you’re in.”

“I resent the implication that you pay the bills,” John muttered from the kitchen. “You pay half.”

“I still pay half,” Missy retorted, helping pile the tea onto a tray. “Go and sit down you two, and call Clara in while you’re there will you? It’s almost lunch time.”

Rory went as bid. Amy however, was a dog with a bone.

“You two bought a house?” She asked again.

“Missy bought a house,” John clarified, “After River’s medical fees I could barely afford this place.”

Missy nudged him slightly, knowing that he’d hated her offer to pay half of everything when she had her own flat to pay for. Missy had argued that she spent more time with him than at the flat, and she had eight years of child maintenance to make up.

“Arcadia was up for sale, Jane told us last week. We made an offer straight away. We haven’t closed yet though, but there shouldn’t be any problems. We should have confirmation in a few days,” Missy expanded. “It’s going to need one hell of a lot of renovating. It needs an entire new interior, new roof, foundations check and I’m going to re-wire the building. And there is a fairly expansive basement garage that will make an excellent workshop.”

“Basically, it’s big enough for all Missy’s expensive toys,” John rolled his eyes. There had been a lot of discussion on how the house should look, Missy insisting that they all have something they desperately want in the house (as they were redesigning anyway).

“And your library,” Missy reminded him, “Clara, pet, sit down and I’ll pass your tea over, but if you’re going to be up and down like a jack in the box, tell me now and I’ll put it on the table.”

Clara contemplated for a moment, before replying quite seriously, “I think I’ll be a jack-in-the-box. Please may you put my tea on the table Missy?”

Missy complied, smoothing Clara’s hair down with her free hand. She sat how on the sofa, and raised a finely sculpted eyebrow at her parents.

“You couldn’t wait until you’d stepped into the house before shouting questions and now you won’t say a thing,” She huffed. “If you’re worried about little pitcher over there, she already knows. We took her to see if yesterday. Didn’t we pet?”

“Missy and I have been doing house plans!” Clara agreed, jumping off her chair and dashing over to the pencil sketches on the table. “And there will be plenty of space for K-9 and I can have him in my room!”

“No, you can’t,” John interrupted. “We said K-9 could stay on the ground floor only. Your room is not going to be on the ground floor, so please adjust your expectations accordingly.”

Clara pouted, she had clearly hoped that by stating it to the grandparents, it would become true. Amy smiled indulgently, and looked at the pages Clara had pushed into her hands.

“So, you’re ok with moving?” She checked with Clara hesitantly.

“We’re going to build our own home,” Clara declared excitedly. “Look, here’s my library, and daddy and Missy are going to have a study big enough to fit them both this time round, rather than trying to squidge. And I’m going to have a treehouse! Daddy said he’d build me one. And then Missy said that she’d make sure it was actually ok for me to climb in before I was allowed in. And I’m going to have a blue bedroom!”

“Blue, I thought it was purple,” Missy glanced at John in amusement. “Clara is also aware that there is no way we will be moving before winter. She’s just a wee bit excited.”

“There will be enough room for you and grampy and nanny and pops and uncle Luke and Clani and Aunty Rose and David and Aunty Kate and Osgood to live as well!”

“That big?” Rory checked in surprise. “On top of the library and the workshop and the big kitchen and whatever else appears to be going on here?”

“Well,” Missy admitted, “I thought we might use the underground garage for the workshop, so I have proper venting. And the library will also be the study – we’re going to have the desks on one side with a little study room ready for when Clara is a bit older. Kitchen and living areas – all this on the ground floor."

“Then there is two storeys to the house without adding in what would have been the servants quarters, so we’ll have the rooms on the first floor for the three of us, and then three or four guest bedrooms, for now,” John added, significantly more excited than he was pretending to be. “And Jane over the way of course, so Missy’s got a friend.”

“I can’t believe you two just went and bought a huge house and have decided to re-do the inside!” Amy insisted again, laying the paper aside and wedging Clara on her lap. “You two go from nought to bloody sixty!”
John nodded sagely.

“Well, we’re never going to find a new build we like, believe me we’ve looked,” He pointed out, “It was buy Arcadia or buy a plot of land and build up. It’s the only reason I agreed. Though Miss would have bought it anyway. She loves that old house.”

“They are absolutely not knocking it down for a shopping centre,” Missy replied darkly, “It would be a crime against Gallifrey.”

“So, you two were already thinking of moving in together?” Rory checked, glancing at Amy (probably to make sure she wasn’t about to combust. There was a reason offspring was sitting on her grandmothers lap).

“Of course,” John said impatiently, pushing himself up. “Now, anyone for lunch?”

Missy smirked at her mother’s disgruntled expression. “Do you need any other evidence for commitment, or does this suffice?” She asked sarcastically, getting up herself and holding a hand out for Clara.

The look Amy gave her would have caused a roman legion to flee, but it merely entertained her eldest daughter.

“Come on, tell us all about your holiday over lunch, and we will keep you up to date with any other lifechanging decisions John and I make.”

Chapter Text

"It's been a while," Missy said drily, tilting her head to look at John sprawled out across the garage floor, "Why did you think it was a good idea in the first place, you foolish idiot?"

John huffed, wincing as he raised a hand to his forehead and pulled his fingers away laced with red. He'd decided to work on the car while Missy and Clara had been working on their K-9 in progress on the other side of the room. He'd accidently loosed a pipe too much and it had clattered to his head. Luckily Clara had decided to vacate the room some ten minutes earlier, leaving Missy to tidy up, or the atmosphere would be a lot less jovial.

"I got distracted!" He defended himself, pushing himself up. "I'm injured, you could be a little sympathetic?"

"Oh, poor baby," Missy cooed, leaning down to cradle his head. "Do you need me to kiss it better?"

John glowered at her. MIssy laughed and dropped a kiss to his forehead anyway, before shifting over to the sink and their first aid box.

"So what had you so distracted that you dropped the edge of a pipe on your head?" She called over her shoulder, balancing the first aid box and water with practice and sashaying back over to John. He'd gone a splotchy red colour that had nothing to do withh the shallow cut on his forehead. "Are you embarrassed?" She teased, bending over to put the first aid stuff on the floor. She caught John's eyes flicker to her legs and then away again.

"Oh!" She pointed at him gleefully. His ears went beetroot. What had she been doing when she'd heard the clunk and a muffled curse? She had been bent over nearly double putting all the tools back in their (deep and locked) box. John, under the TARDIS, would have had a direct view of her backside in demin jeans. "You got distracted by my arse?!"

John flushed, mouth opening and closing once or twice before he clearly though *screw this* and shrugged.

"It's a good ass," he suppressed a smile. Missy collapsed gracefully to the floor in front of him and sniggered her agreement. "I couldn't help it. Laugh all you want, I don't usually have such a….well…unobstructed view."

And no children around to see, Missy added in her head, dabbing gently at the cut on his head. John winced.

"You daft old begger," She said affectionately, "You really are an idiot."

John hummed his agreement. He'd be the last person to say he was't an idiot. In fact, he usually said he was an idiot of the first class, graduated honors in idiocy. He was a professional idiot.

It felt strange and familiar all at once, them sitting like this - Missy's knees pressed up against John's leg, him turned half towards her as she patched up some part of him as efficently as she patched up their car. The silence was warm, familiar.

"Do you remember when we first got this car?" John asked, clearing his throat slightly before speaking. "I swear we spent more time patching up bumps and burnt fingers than we did actually doing anything to the engine."

"Sarah spent more money on plasters and detol spray than she did chocolate biscuits that month," Missy continued, "And River couldn't understand why we wanted to spend all day risking tetanus in junk yards we had to hitchhike to get to."

"She did get it," John corrected softly. "She knew it was our time. Our time to run around without anyone watching. Even her. She was eleven when we first started going through junkyards, but she knew that it was ours and she wasn't going to take that away from us by demanding you let her tag along."

Missy cleared her throat awkwardly, picking up a square plaster and pausing, staring at the beige fabric.

"It was our time," she admitted softly, "The world wasn't quite so big then. It was just the three of us agaist it all."

There was a beat of loaded silence, before John rested his hand on her knee and squeezed gently. Then it was gone. Missy looked up, smiled, and reached up to press the plaster against his forehead.

"Remember that time you tried to climb on the roof of that mini metro and you fell through the roof?" Missy mused, resting her elbows on her knees rather than moving away.

"I still have the scar," John replied softly, eyes crinkled at the edges and oh so blue, lips curling upwards slightly. "Thank you for the first aid Nurse Oakdean."

He pressed a kiss to her cheek, softly, carefully, and then leant back again. Missy rolled her eyes affectionately and ruffled his hair.

"I still can't believe you dropped a pipe on your head because you were staring at my legs," Missy snorted, his head patched together. She leant forward, dropping a kiss to his cheek before sitting back, laying a hand across her heart dramatically and pretending to swoon, "My hero!"

"Oh, give over," he nudged her, before huffing his way upright again, hauling Missy up as well. He made a show of not looking at her ass this time, and she loved that they were still like this. That they could be silly and serious and perfectly content. Instead, she made a show of tutting at his ass, asking him where the rest of it had gone, and laughing at the delighted look on his face.

She loved an idiot.

They were interrupted by Clara, keen to find out what all the laughter was about. John let go of Missy's waist, but only long enough to scoop Clara up and spin her around, shrieking in delight.

……………………………………

The phone rang later that night, Clara tucked into John's side with her feet digging painfully into Missy's hip (What they both had with digging bony body parts into her bony hips she would never know). It was Sarah, she sounded suspiciously jovial, and John had frowned at the tinny sound of forced laughter, nodding at Missy's gesture that she'd take the call elsewhere.

She'd dropped a kiss on Clara's head and told the half-asleep (but valiantly refusing to sucumb) little girl goodnight, Sarah silent on the other end of the phone as she waited for Missy to be alone.

"Alright," Missy said finally, the door to the study closed and her feet tucked underneath her. "What's the matter? John's in the other room with Clara so you can talk without that weird voice."

Sarah took in an audible breath, before she released in a rush "It's bigger than we thought! I've got someone willing to act as a source, and they've sent reams of data! And my friend that I was telling you about has done some digging and honestly Missy, we have more than we could possibly need, but we need to talk. To properly talk! What time do you have lunch tomorrow? I can drive over to the institute. We can go to Arcadia - there won't be anyone there right?"

Missy's eyebrows had been slowly furrowing as Sarah babbled on, caught up in the excitement.

"Do we know what she has on Rassilon yet?" She asked quietly, glancing at the door. "We might as well kill two birds with one stone after all."

"I think I may have worked it out, but I could use a fresh set of eyes. Arcadia? Tomorrow?" Sarah sounded like she was probably ruffling her hair to avoid flapping. Possibly smoothing non-existent crinkles out of her waistcoat. She was high on a story and if it weren't eight o'clock on a school night, Missy imagined that the invitation would have been for Now.

"Arcadia, tomorrow," Missy confirmed, pulling her diary forward to block it off and remind herself to cancel lunch with Jane (Which was less an appointment and more an assumption at this point).

"Excellent, and you might want to ask Miss Pond to look into the institute in 1998, I think it will prove useful for all involved, if I'm right of course. It might be a total dead end, but it's also a little out of my wheelhouse," Sarah admitted firmly. Which didn't necessarily mean that the endeavour was completely illegal, just that Missy would be better placed to find out information. Missy was good at skirting the immoral line between illegality and legality.

"Any particular reason?" Missy scrawled 1998 and a question mark in her diary as well for good measure. She could place a few nets, see what caught.

"I hope so," Sarah said enigmatically. "While I've got you on the phone, I don't suppose you happen to know what you and John are getting for Harry's birthday? Only, Rosie mentioned she was going to suggest to you something to do with cricket? He doesn't need any more whites, but I'm sure we could find something small for Clara to get him if you and John wanted to join the kids in renewing his membership."

And just like that, the conversation slid into the idle chitchat, swapping ideas, jokes and gossip. John knocked on the door a short while later, his head appearing round the door warily. Missy bid farewell airly, and passed the phone over with a reassurance that everything was ok now, but she had a few things she needed to finish up first before they could switch to next episode of The Chilling Adventure of Sabrina (she liked Zelda Spellman, but John seemed to fidget uncomfortably whenever Madam Satan or Miss Wardwell - or whatever her name happened to be at the time - was on screen).

And so Missy cast a few nets, and wondered what they would reap with the changing tide.

Chapter Text

People had begun acting strangely as April approached the middle. Namely, John had taken to frowning out of the back window as the recently boiled kettle went cold and her mum had taken to changing the subject with alarming frequency. Even Sarah seemed to be chewing her lip over something, eyes darting warily between Missy and John from her perch in the armchair.

“What is it?” Missy asked finally, helping her mum haul fallen branches of the tree in the back yard out of Clara’s playground. Amy puffed, pushing the branch the final metre to the brown bin, dusted her hands off and frowned at Missy.

“What’s what?” She asked, looking like she was tracking her way back through their chatter about Missy’s latest project.

“What’s got everyone looking at me out of the corner of their eye? What have I done, or not done now?” Missy complained. She knew she was being adolescent about it, but honestly what did people have against being up front? She managed it perfectly well!

Her mum’s mouth formed an “oh” of realisation, closing a few times in fair imitation of a remarkably attractive guppy. Amy pursed her lips, glancing up at the house, air being released in a puff.

“Come on down to the greenhouse,” She said finally, taking off before Missy could even acknowledge what was going on. She waved at John in the window as they passed the back door, blowing him a mocking kiss to make him roll his eyes.

“Alright, what is up with everyone!” Missy threw her hands up in exasperation. “You, and dad, and Sarah and even Vas was giving me a weird look the other day.”

“We hoped John would talk to you about it first,” Mum sighed, “But he’s being John about it all.”

“About what?”

“It’s their anniversary,” Mum admitted, “Day after tomorrow. April 26th, it would have been six years. We… weren’t sure if you knew. Judging by your face, you didn’t.”

Missy shook her head. People made a big thing out of wedding anniversaries, and she could only imagine how it would feel to hit another benchmark without the person you had thought to share a life with. The first year without her parents, River and John had been awful – and that had been her choice. She didn’t need to imagine the sucker punch feeling of thinking “River should be here”; she was well versed in that feeling. But for the first time, they weren’t sharing the feeling.

Her mum had continued talking. “Sarah thinks he’s going to ignore it, but she’s worried. You know what he’s like when he’s ignoring something. He’s like a bear with a bad head. Dad hoped he’d tell you himself, he doesn’t like to get involved.”

“I’m hearing a lot about how you and the in-laws talk about us quite a lot behind our backs,” Missy teased, no bite to the words. “Thank you for telling me. I’ll talk to him. Or, better yet, I’ll just make plans for that night so he can have Clara to himself.”

Mum looked relieved, and she looked tired. Exhausted even. Missy focussed on her mum properly, not on the way her mum had been looking at her. There were bags under her eyes, and her hair was a little more flyaway than usual. But it didn’t have the inexplainable look of mum having forgotten to sleep because she was caught up in a story. This was mum was worried and hadn’t been sleeping. Had she been worrying about this that badly?

“You should have just talked to me earlier,” Missy said gently, “You didn’t need to worry about me or John or Clara. We’re muddling through, just as usual.”

“I know,” Mum said, and Missy heard the unspoken, but I’ll keep worrying you daft daughter of mine, it’s what mum’s do. And Missy found she was right, it did seem to be something that happened when you got yourself a kid.

………………………………………………………………………

“So, what did your mum want,” John asked, later that evening, holding a bathtowel in his hands ready for the laundry basket at the end of his bed. He’d come out of the bathroom to find Missy already reading under the covers, Clara having been down for the count for a good while.

Missy looked at him over her glasses. He was fidgeting with the towel, even though he was barely a metre from the basket. She flicked her eyes back to the book, to give herself something to focus on.

“To let me know about your anniversary,” She replied. In the corner of her eye, John stilled.

“Oh,” He said quietly, deflating. He dropped the towel in the basket and sat down, facing away from her. He thought she was mad at him.

“I’m sorry I didn’t know,” Missy apologised softly, keeping her eyes on the page to give him some facsimile of privacy, even as her hand reached across to rest on his arm. His hand closed around hers and squeezed.

“I should have told you,” he confessed, and Missy could imagine the watery eyes she couldn’t see. “But… it’s… bloody hard to explain.”

“You don’t need to,” Missy told him bluntly. He started and looked around at her in astonishment. “You have things with River I never could have. Neither of us are more or less injured for losing her, but we hurt in different ways. And yes, we have milestones we will both feel like we’re on a thousand-foot freefall for – I’m dreading her birthday. But you’re allowed to miss her, and you don’t need to explain to me how you’re feeling. They’re your feelings. It’s not even been a year yet. I have to admit it would have been helpful to know that it was your anniversary coming up, but you don’t ever have to explain feelings to me.”

John gripped her hand tightly in response, looking down and taking a deep, shaky breath.

“What I was going to ask you was whether it would help if I took Clara with me on the 26th, or if I left her with you,” Missy asked gently. “I don’t know what sort of routine you had with River, but I’m not intruding on it.”

John stared at her, and opened his mouth, before closing it again and looking to the headboard instead. He didn’t like eye contact when he was having emotions.

“Could you take Clara for a little while?” He asked slowly, “Not all night… but I always took River to the same restaurant, and I’d booked the table for this year the day after we were there last year. They called me to confirm I still needed the booking last week…”

It had been a week of John staring out windows. That made sense.

“I’ll take her to mine for the night, she can hang out with the girls,” Missy informed him.

“No, I want her back again,” He said quickly, ears turning red. “I …”

“Of course,” Missy responded instantly, “I’ll put her in her jimmies and you can pick her up on your way home. Or I can pick you up and drop you both off.”

The corner of his lips turned up slightly in thanks. They’d discuss practicalities tomorrow. He squeezed her hand one final time, before sliding off the bed to climb under the covers. Missy frowned at the arrangement, given their conversation.

“Do you want me to sleep in the spare tonight?” She asked, putting the bookmark firmly in her book now she had her hand back.

“Don’t you dare,” Was John’s muffled reply.

………………………………………………………………………………….

“Clara!” Kate had hoisted her into the air and was spinning her around the second Missy had opened the door. Rosie bounced behind them, waiting her turn for a hug. Hovering awkwardly by the sofa were the other halves, smiling politely but not quite sure what to do with themselves now she was back.

“Hey Missy,” Rose helped her with the carry bag (far too much for one small person for half an evening, but apparently Missy had been leaving more than she’d though at John’s) and closed the door behind them.

“Ooh, something smells good,” Missy turned her nose to the kitchen briefly, before turning to greet Kate, and then David and Osgood almost as affectionately as she had the girls. “It’s good to see you all again!”

“We were just saying about how long it’s been since you’ve actually stayed here,” Kate teased instantly. Rose snickered, making vague noises about drinks. “It must have been at least a week since you’ve actually stayed the night.”

“Did you miss the memo?” Missy asked, raising finely sculpted eyebrows, “John, Clara and I are renovating a house and moving in together. This is pretty much your four’s house now.”

Kate smirked and slung Clara onto the sofa, to the child’s delight.

“Right,” Kate clapped her hands, “David’s a dab hand at cooking so we’ve got veggie burrito’s, a selection of cartoons, more wine than we can shake a stick at and a boatload of chocolate. Sleepover is a go!”

The wine was actually a brand of fizzy drink that looked enough like wine for children to get practically dizzy with excitement at the thought of having a beverage like their parents. Missy would be sharing said fake wine. The young ones would not.

Half an hour later, their evening was set. Pyjama’s had been put on, dinner had been dished up to be eaten on laps in front of the first of the cartoons (which Kate and Rose had carefully curated for themes – none of the true love’s kiss stuff for them!) and fizzy juice was in plastic wine glasses. They were, indeed, set.

Some time later, as a cartoon bunny became reluctant ally to a cartoon fox, Kate nudged Missy’s shoulder, leaning down to talk to her.

“We weren’t sure how Clara’d be feeling about today,” She said quietly, “So we’ve got a chocolate cake for desert…. Are we just spoiling her now?”

“Rosie is actually her aunt and you’re as much her aunt as Rosie is – I think it’s your job to spoil her,” Missy snorted, tapping the bridge of Clara’s foot, watching her daughter squirm gleefully. “Clara pet, Katie’s just been telling me they’ve got chocolate cake! Are you still hungry?”

The resulting scream of joy was a resounding yes.

Even later that evening, and Clara had fallen asleep, her head on Missy’s lap and a blanket tangled over her legs.

“Are you sure you don’t want to sit on the sofa?” David asked for the umpteenth time, frowning at the rug, “That can’t be comfortable…”

“I like sitting on the floor,” Missy shrugged, carding her hand through Clara’s hair. “Besides, I don’t get to do this much, I’m not waking her up now. Not until I have to.”

“She is a pain when she’s grumpy,” Rose agreed, cradling her wine in her hands. They all spoke in soft voices, even though Clara would sleep through the apocalypse. “Hey, Kat, you two got any more wine over there?”

Kate lent over the side of the sofa, lifting up a near empty bottle of wine and sighing in resignation at the lack of alcohol within. She pushed Osgood’s feet from her lap and ambled over to the kitchen. “Red, white or pink?” she called back, pulling out bottles and looking at labels.

“I’ll take a small glass of red,” Missy answered, “Now the baby’s asleep.”

Kate grunted an agreement and started hunting for another wine glass.

“Did you ever think of having more?” Rose asked, her head lolling against David’s shoulder.

“God no,” Missy snorted, “Don’t let Clara hear you say that! She’s been hinting, and I use that in the loosest possible way because she is eight, that it might be nice. It wouldn’t. Not for us. The only baby we need is Clara here. No, we’re all wondering who’s going to be next but it sure as hell won’t be me.”

She winked at Rose, who took a rather large gulp of wine to avoid looking at anyone. Adorable.

“How’s the house coming along?” Kate asked, stumbling slightly and stopping dead still to overcompensate a moment before carrying on. Osgood extracted the bottle from the crook of her arm, giving Kate the manoeuvrability to pass Missy her glass.

“We’ve got contractors in now all the permissions are done,” Missy smiled, thinking of the shell the house had become, and all she was going to fill it. “I’ve got an old acquaintance from my parliamentary days running the project. She’s got a good head on her shoulders. They’re rewiring at the moment and updating the plumbing – putting in some ensuites an all that. I don’t want to have to share with Clara when she’s a teenager. Not if she’s anything like John or River.”

“I don’t know, mum tells me you could give people a run for their money on time spent in the bathroom,” Rose piped up with a grin.

“It was the eighties, there was a solid Look going on, it took all three of us a lot of time,” Missy defended herself, frowning at the wine. “Is this one of my wines?”

“I didn’t think you’d want one of our tesco express pinot noir’s,” Kate shrugged, “And we get to help you drink it. Win win really, Auntie Is.”

“Well, considering it’s my expensive bottle of wine, I think I get to call the toast,” She held her glass up in anticipation, waiting for the rest to follow suit, “To John and River.”
There was a beat of silence, before everyone followed suit. A thoughtful silence

“You’d have loved the wedding,” Kate mused, smiling softly, “River wore black and John looked like he’d forgotten that was what they had on that day. It was tiny – basically an
elopement. They told us all a few days before and we all piled in to go to Gloucester registry.”

“It was raining,” Rosie added. “Clara cried for an hour straight right up until they had to start doing the vows. Then she went dead silent and River stopped everything to check she was ok.”

“Sound like River,” Missy chuckled. She wished she’d been able to see River in full mum mode. It sounded a blast. Who’d have thought her wild younger sister would become a responsible adult.

“It was fun,” Kate agreed. “What would you do, if you were getting married?”

Missy swallowed the mouthful of wine she’d taken as Kate was speaking and raised the glass to her niece.

“Point is moot, never happening,” She said firmly. She’d never wanted to get married, and she never would. It seemed a pointless bureaucratic exercise to her.

“Even now?” David asked. He finally felt comfortable enough around her to ask inane questions. Or maybe it was the banana daquiri he’d made earlier.

“Especially now,” Missy made a show of shuddering. “Can you imagine me at a wedding? I don’t do weddings. At all. They’re not for me. Look, I get why people want to do the whole wedding thing – but I’ve always thought promises for forever should be personal…private…”

The kind where you hold hands under a dumping ground tree and promise to be there for each other. The kind made in cupboards with angry little kids where you promise to protect them.

“To me, it’s just a party – a very expensive party. I’m not romantic. Not in the traditional sense. If John bought me flowers I’d probably not talk to him for a week. But, if he bought me a new screwdriver because I’d mentioned offhandedly that mine was wearing out – that’s him listening and caring and means way more to me. It’s the same for marriage. I’ll attend yours’ but I’ll feel damn awkward while I’m there. It’s all a bit gushy.” Missy shuddered.

“I mean,” Kate pondered for a second, “Seems fair.”

Rose looked like she couldn’t imagine feeling that way but was trying very hard to understand.

“John and I are not going to get married, at any point, because that’s not how we are,” Missy tried to rephrase it. And she though explaining bisexuality was hard. “We’ve bought a house together, we share bills and we’re raising a child together. Why would we need to get married on top of that? It’s just extra unnecessary admin.”

Rosie nodded slowly, but understanding had dawned in David’s eyes. He got it. Osgood was looking at Kate with a strange light in her eyes. Like she’d realised that maybe it was a Thing after all. Missy liked Osgood. She was quiet and nervy and apparently had a twin sister who lived in New Mexico who also went by the moniker Osgood, but she was sweet. She and Kate seemed to balance each other out, as David and Rose. It was nice seeing the girls feeling confident with people other than themselves.

“What about you two?” Missy asked, enjoying David blanche and Osgood smile into her drink.

Before either could answer, they heard a car slowing to a stop outside and a car door open.

“Whoops, that’ll be the grumpy half of the dynamic duo,” Missy leant forward to put her wine on the coffee table. “One of you be a dear and go let him in before he rings the doorbell?”

Chapter Text

Once a year, during exam revision season, John gave a lecture. This lecture was different from his other, scheduled lectures, although for the life of her Missy couldn't work out why. Bill had tried explaining it, saying that the students liked how he explained things, that This lecture was unpredictable, that it was the nerdiest equivalent to improv theatre and the students (and apparently the staff) loved it.

It had been Bill who had asked if she was going, draped over Missy's desk in Hanger 3 and sketching out the body to her next essay while Missy fixed a piece of machinery that Jack and Gwen had been using for catch the previous day. It hadn't ended well. Bill had been stunned when she'd found out Missy hadn't the foggiest what she was talking about. Apparently these lectures of John's were bordering on legendary at the Institute. Apparently everyone stayed late to attend. Missy had known John was staying late, but had never bothered to ask why. According to Bill, he hadn't given his lecture the previous year (for understandable reasons), and there had been some concern he wouldn't pick them up again before the lecture had been announced.

So Missy phoned her dad and arranged for the offspring to spend the night with her grandparents (Dad hadn't been able to keep a mum-level smirk out of his voice as he agreed). Then she'd gone to Jane's to find out everything she could about this supposed lecture series. All Jane knew was that tonight was about time (although rumour had it that he'd once been supposed to give a lecture on astrophysics and given one on poetry instead, so it was anyones guess).

There wasa genuine sense of excitement and expectation in the air as what felt like the entirety of the Institute crowded into the lecture theatre - people sat on the stairs between the seats, on the wall at the back, cross legged at the front, legs dangling over the balcony level. Anywhere a space could be made, it had been made. It was a health and saftey nightmare.

Missy snuck in late, she'd wanted to avoid being seen but had misjudged, and he was ten minutes into an endearing ramble, back turned to the audience when she'd forced her way in (glaring at a few of the bolder upperclassmen) and leaned against the low wall that seperated the chairs from the walkway.

"Imagine," he announced, turning back round to th audience. Missy felt the need to roll her eyes - he had on his rattiest hoodie under his old velvet jacket, hair six ways to Sunday, almost vibrating with the words he had yet to say. "If time happened all at once. Every moment of your life laid out around you.." he paused for dramatic effect, before stage whispering "Like a city!"

His audience were enraptured, as he crossed the stage, pointing into the middle distance and expounding on his metaphor: "Streets full of buildings made of day. The day you were born. The day you will die. The day you met your best friend, and the day your daughter was born. The day you fall in love. The day that love dies. A whole city built from triumph and heartbreak and boredom and laughter and cutting your toenails."

There was a smatter of breathless chuckles from soe audience members, but for the most part, most of the students were picturing this city of moments, a city where moments make up their life. He had the attention of the entire, enraptured room.

"It's the best place you will ever be!" He announced. "Time is a structure relative to ourselves. Time is the space made by our lives. Where we stand together forever."

He paused at the end, uncapping his whiteboard marker and beaming manically.

"But, Time, how do we measure it, how do we see it, how might we use it?" And his lecture veered from poetical abstract to real science and equations, explained so simply that Clara would have understood what was going on.

Halfway through what could only be his closing paragraph, John faltered, tipping his face forward to peer over his sunglasses. His lips quirked up, his eyebrows raised and she winked at him. He huffed a laugh and carried on, eyes sweeping over the rest of the room but coming back to her. Under the guise of an expansive gesture, Missy aw the back door to the stage area. She chuckled, and made her way out of the hall, down a flight of staff-ony stairs, and back into the lecture to hear John announce gleefully:

"Time and Relative Dimensions in Space - it means Life."

Then, he'd glanced back to the door, seen Missy standing leaning against the doorjam, arms crossed, her coat and bag draped over them, and he pointed at her, calling out to the class:

"IT'S THE WICKED STEPMOTHER, EVERYBODY HISS"

Missy swirled her scarf in a dramatic elongated bow, her arms outstretched as everyone in the lectue hall actually hissed. She stood up straighter, and raised her eyebrows at her partner, fighting the smile and only somewhat failing. He smirked back, pushing his sunglasses up his nose. Somehow in the interim, he had pulled his electric guitar out - she hadn't even noticed it on the stage. He played the first few bars of Pretty Woman at her.

"What the hell do you think you're doing man?" She snarked back. The hall of people were outright laughing now it was clear the lecture was over and the entertainment had begun.

"I'm explaining Life, the Universe, and the number 42," He explained, "In a fun and relevant way!"

"Having been here for the whole lecture, I know you haven't been referencing Douglas Adams," Missy pointed out, holding out her hand for the guitar. "Tomorrow I'll make sure you've got a copy for your lunchtime reading."

"Well I've got some good news about that," he said.

"Oh yeah?"

"It's still today!" He crowed and turned back to the room. "Now, that's all we've got time for folks. I'll be down here for questions, but I can tell you now, if you're going to ask when time travel will be real, I'm not psychic and I don't know. G'night dudes!"

John bounded down from the dias to give her a quick kiss (ignoring the soft awww that seemed to be coming from their audience) and passed her his guitar.

"Questions, then home," He promised, eyes bright as he pressed his sunglasses into her hand as well. "Promise."

"Promises, promises," Missy had mocked, pushing him back to the little crowd of people already waiting to ask questions on what had clearly been an hour long monologue about appreciating the then and now, not really about the physics of time or whatever she had been expecting. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Barbara, Liz and Jane attempting to extraciate themeselves from the crush of people. If they had questions, they'd just call him.

"Good evening Old Bean," Ian greeted her jovially, helping Barbara up a step she really didn't need help with. "Excellent lecture from John, as per the usual of course."

"Yes, quite," Missy greeted them warmly. "Bastard didn't even tell me he was doing a lecture. What would his comedy act have been if I hadn't been in the crowd?"

"He knew you would come," Barbara said, all soft smiles and maternal care. "If you hadn't of been here, he wouldn't have done it at all. That bit was new."

"Yes, he's certainly never played electric guitar at the end of his lecture before," Ian chuckled. "He certainly was out to impress tonight."

"If you're implying he was out to impress me, with his speech about Life and important moments and then a guitar riff and comedy act, I don't know how I can impress upon you that I have that on a fairly daily basis - sentimental idiot that he is," Missy pointed out, adjusting the guitar so it didn't weigh as heavily in her hands.

"It was a good, hopeful lecture," Liz agreed, "Where's Clara?"

Suddenly, they were interrupted by all five four of Jane barreling towards them.

"Can I 'ave a go?" She cried out in excitement, sliding to an ungainly stop and reaching for the guitar. Missy didn't even need to see John to move it out of Jane's reach. "Aw, c'mon Miss, John never lets me play!"

"And just because I am the one holding the guitar, it doesn't make it any less John's guitar. No."

Jane pouted sullenly. "Fine," She muttered, sneaking a glare over her shoulder. "Good lecture. He's a great teacher, ent he? I reckon it's why all the students love 'im so much."

She knew, abstractly, that John was a teacher, in the same way that she knew the sky was blue and that he loved her. It was just something about him, like the way he took his tea with more sugar than he should, or how he liked his whiskey on the rocks but his coffee black. She had never stopped to think about it, but seeing him here must be how she looked when she had worked out a particularly vexing piece of wiring, succeeding in turning an abstract and quite frankly nonsensical idea into a reality. He looked in his element. He looked invigorated. He looked happy. Here, answering questions with sweeping gestures and a slightly manic look in his eye, his audience hanging onto his every word.

She smiled. "Yes," She agreed, "He is."

Chapter Text

She arrived home shaking the rain off her umbrella and stopped in the doorway a moment to admire the grey mist that hung over the entire valley. It had been a productive day, ending in an engineering faculty meeting to finalise discussions of who would be supervising students and whatnots during the upcoming exam season (May to July was not a fun time at any academic institution. The poor idiot children were running around with bush-baby eyes from the caffeine).

"I'm home," she called out absently, toeing her shoes off and trying to avoid the growing puddle on the floor from her umbrella.It was a perfectly miserable spring day. She wondered when the sun was due to make an appearence, hoping it would in time for the offsprings next half term, for her parents sake if no one elses. She frowned at the lack of grumbled insults before John announced where in the house he and Clara had set up shop in her absense. "John? Clara? I normally get some reaction, be it positive or negative, when I get home late."

She didn't even pretend not to be needy. John would roll his eyes but he loved it - soft, crinkled eyes loved it. And it wasn't like it was late. Granted, it was nearly half seven, so she'd missed dinner and half the nightly routine - but Clara didn't scream about disrupted routines quite as much anymore, and she knew they couldn't be there every second of the day. But still. It was quiet.

Luckily their house wasn't overly big (for now) and Missy checked all of the rooms in the house before letting herself through the door to the garage. And there they were - it was quiet, but the sort of quiet you get when you're tired and you're content. In this case, Clara could barely keep her eyes open, sorting non-dangerous items with her dads help.

"Hallo," Missy picked her way across the room and tucked Clara under her arm, leaning over to press cheeks with John. "You're looking awfully sleepy there little one. Think it might be bedtime?"

"Daddy said I could wait up for you," Clara yawned, her face turned into Missy's chest and her fingers curled into the fabric of her shirt, nosing her way in for comfort. Missy kissed her forehead, it was awfully warm. She looked up to John sharply.

"Clara's had a bit of a rubbish day, she just really wanted a hug to make up for it," John supplied, reaching out tug gently at Clara's pigtails.

"Why'd you have a bad day poppet?" Missy eased herself down onto the bench, Clara leaning across her middle and burrowing as much as she could.

"Jus' people bein' mean," Clara muttured, eyes closed and breathing deeply. "Daddy made ravioli and we talked about it and it's ok now, I jus' wan'ed a hug from you."

Missy let it go. Children were mean, and Clara would be strong enough to stand up proudly, and they would be there with her in whatever way she needed. Instead, she just tightened her arms around Clara until the little girl fell asleep.

After Clara had been slid into bed, and Missy had changed out of her work clothes, she found John sat at the table with their supper, waiting for her.

"You didn't need to wait until I came home to eat," She chided softly, without any real heat, sliding into the seat next to him and accepting the glass of wine. "So. What was that all about?"

"Some of the older kids were being cruel about River, and you and me," He sighed heavily, looking down at his bowl to spear some pasta. "Stuff they'd have heard from their parents and misunderstood - kids stuff, about you not wanting her, and River not being her real mum because she died, and that I'd leave her in an orphanage because I had you."

"That's kid's stuff?" Missy asked in horrified disbelief. "That's just cruel! She didn't-" Her voice caught.

"She was upset that people could be so mean without there being a reason, not because she believed what they said," He reassured her gently, taking her wine-free hand and holding it tightly. "She came home in tears because she was worried that we would be upset with what they'd said - she knows that her mummy loved her something fierce, and she said she told them that her mum and dad loved her too, and they wouldn't get on without her. So, she's doing pretty well, our little girl." He smiled lopsidedly, trying to inject a little humour into the exchange.

Missy put her wine down to start stabbing at the ravioli, feeling her throat go hot with something like anger or tears or both.

"Hey," John stopped her hand from desicating the pasta, gently removing the fork and tugging her into him. "She's ok. She's one damned secure kid despite everything. She just needed a hug, and now I guess we do too."

Missy chuckled into his bony shoulder, breathing in the smell of old books and ink and tea and apparently tonight, tomato sauce, garlic and red wine. She felt him take a deep breath against her own neck, and she wondered what she smelt like to him. Reluctantly, she pulled back, pressing a kiss against his cheek in thanks, before starting her supper.

She strove for a bit of brevity, Clara would be fine. And if she wasn't fine, they were confident that she would come to them in the first instance, or her Nanny Amy in the second. She'd probably go to Rory or Harry before anyone though - she adored her grandpas.

"I've been roped into invigilating the firsties end of year exams, and I'll be on the viva panel for the flock of mechanical engineers. I have no idea how I've wound up on the list - I don't even teach! Jack's also put me down for admin for the Mech Eng programme officially, now Sally isn't coming back at all," She petered off, John having not said anything since she started babbling, just that infuriatingly adorable half smile on his face. She pulled her hand free from his to pat her face, eyes narrowed. "What?"

"Nothing," He said softly, eyes crinkled and soft grey-blue, "I'm just glad you're here. Despite everything, I'm glad you're home, with me. With us."

Missy pressed her lips together, and leaned in, resting her forehead against his. John had never been one for kissing - cheeks he could do, but he didn't think it was a particularly nice way of showing affection. But foreheads pressed together, even she could admit that was more trusting than any kiss she'd ever used to get her own way. This was trust. This was theirs.

………………

A few days later, John answered Missy's phone for her, elbow deep in grease as she was in the car. She could hear him speak to his sister for a bit, his voice going a bit flat for a moment before he told her that Missy would be able to call her back later. Then he'd slid the mobile back into Missy's back pocket and leant against the front of the car, brooding.

"What did Sarah want?" Missy attempted to blow a straggle of fringe out of her face before giving up and letting John assist in tucking the hair back into her clip. She stuck her head back in the engine, determined to finish tuning before they turned in. It had become a comfortable routine now the evenings were getting longer - Clara went to bed, she worked on a research project or their car or K-9 (almost ready to test, but they needed more space so would have to wait until a testing room became available at the Institute or they took it to the park) until it started getting dark, then they would go in, eat or snack, curl up on the sofa and read. It was horribly domestic and she loved it most of the time.

"Well?" She asked again, when it became apparent that he wasn't going to speak. She picked up the towel and started to scrub off the grime.

"You and River," he said, so quietly that she barely heard him, "You aren't interchangable, you know that?"

Missy paused, and continuted cleaning her hands. She nodded slowly, wondering where in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros this was going.

"I sometimes wonder if people think you are," He continued, pacing slowly, "Mum called and she said it was about dad's birthday - but we've already discussed everything there is to discuss… and… I just… I loved River. I'd have switched our places in a heartbeat if it meant she got more time. And I - Clara - she loved River but she loves you too and not because you're trying to replace her mum, which you aren't, she loves you for you. Despite what some people think, I haven't just swapped one Williams sister for another like I have apparently doing my whole life-"

He was rapidly descending into incoherent babble.

"John," Missy caught his face and forced him to focus on her. "I know. I know that I am not a replacement for River. You think I'd be here if I thought you were just trying to replace my sister? It's ok. Breathe. Attsa lad. Now. Do you mind telling me where the fuck this all came from? You were fine before Sarah rang."

"I know you've been helping my sister with a case," He breathed out quietly, "I know it involves Melody. Missy I can't lose you too. I'm not sure I'd survive that."

Missy took a deep breathe in and out and then a second one for good measure.

"How'd you know about Melody?" She asked carefully, John's eyes closing tightly in somethng resembling pain, like he'd hoped he'd been wrong.

"River couldn't quite give her up after Clara was born. She didn't want me thinking she was having an affair so she told me the truth, or as much of the truth as she could without getting any of her contacts muddled in. She always said she only took cases to help people, you know like missing persons cases."

Pretty little River, pretty little liar. They mostly had fairly alturistic intentions, but it wasn't always possible. People never got hurt when they were involved though, that was a fact.

"I don't know what River got up to here after I left," Missy admitted honestly, hearing the plea for the truth in the first voice she'd ever known and trusted. "I can't answer that. But I've only taken one case since I got here, a personal one. It's less a case and more just helping Sarah out on a… well… I guess case fits. I'm not making it a thing. I don't want to."

"Will you tell me what it is?" He asked, and Missy felt her resolve crumbling, even as it revealed the steel wards underneath.

"I can't," she whispered, "I want to, but not yet. I don't want you getting involved. Sarah and I have this, and we know what we're doing. It's barely any Melody, she's done her part and now it's me following up on leads, not her. Me and Sarah - all legal and above board. Melody is technically legal and above board of course, but well…If I have to use Melody again, I'll tell you straight away."

She faltered, wondering if she should tell him that she'd worried he would think she was falling back into old bad habits, whether it would help or hinder her case.

"It's Melody's last case," and Missy was suprised by how much she meant it. Oh, she could be an anonymous contact for people, she'd been doing that for years as herself, not as Melody. But she didn't need Melody to satisfy some craving, some itch under her skin any more

He smiled sadly, wearily, "That's what River always said as well. Just one more case. It was never the last case."

"You won't lose me," Missy promised, pulling his forehead down to hers, hands holding his head in place as his hands came up to her shoulders.

"River said that too," He breathed. Her heart fractured a little, and she fought the instinct to pull him even closer, to mend every rend in his soul through sheer proximity. If only it were possible

"You're right," she barked out a laugh, that was a stupid thing to promise. She spoke fiercely. "I can't control life, I can't control death but … I need you to trust me, I need you to trust that I wouldn't do anything to put our family in danger, or me. I'm planning on coming home to you and Clara for a long old time yet. I know you're scared, I've been scared since I peed on a bloody stick and a goddam pink cross mocked me. I didn't want you to worry, to think that I was halfway out the door. I'm being as honest as I can."

John's hands slipped down to her waist, and she wondered if he was going to pull away. Instead he gripped tight enough that he thought she might slide away.

"Just…Be careful, please," His forehead was furrowed against her own, his eyes tight shut. "I trust you." He promised. "I trust you. I trust you. I trust you," a whispered mantra into the narrow gap between them.

Chapter Text

In the summer term, all four of the local primary schools pulled together for a joint sports day, which mostly consisted of organised fun on the big field between Gallifrey and Leadworth. It was a large sort of fair, with parents and children from each school mingling long after the actual sports day had ended. Someone had set up an improptu bbq a little south of them. John and Rory had gone to find Harry, who had somehow gotten lost between where he had parked his car and where the family had parked their blanket.

Missy, dutiful parent that she was, was topping up Clara's sun lotion and making sure her plaits stayed in during whatever activities she decided to participate in. It was nice to see Clara itching to get back to the other children. Finally, the bottle of water handed back ("Hydration is important Clara, I don't want you passing out from heatstroke") and the last smudge of lotion had been cleared. Clara was free to go.

"Thanks Mum!" Clara called, already wheeling off to join whatever antics the other children had convinced her to join. It looked like some complicated game of tag was going on the field and Clara was joining right in.

Amy raised her eyebrows behind her impressively huge sunglasses. She had on a big drapy sunhat and a pretty floral dress. Missy thought it most unfair she didn't get to look as good.

"How long has that been going on then?" She asked pointely, turning to face her daughter and pushing said sunglasses off her face.

"She's been trying it out since at least New Year," Missy replied conversationally. "She usually calls me mum when she's tired, scared, stressed or wants something. It's like when she calls John daddy."

Amy smirked at her, eyebrows raised.

"And you're ok with this?"

"Well, of course I am," Missy frowned at her, perplexed. "John and I have discussed it, and we've decided that we are not raising it with Clara until bitesize raises it with us first. I've bet that she won't ever raise it, just that one day she'll stop calling me Missy. John thinks she'll ask. But given River and I didn't ask before we started calling you mum and dad, I think I've got him beat."

Amy carried on with her infuriating smirk.

"She's testing it out," Missy continued "Like we did. John never picked one or the other - he calls Sarah mum when he needs a mum and Sarah when he needs his sister. It works for them. I don't think she'll settle just yet though. River's barely been gone a year, and I know children are resilient and she's getting on with it as children do but I think she's still… wary. I think that if she starts calling me mum too soon, she thinks I'll get taken away. Just like River did."

Missy didn't look at her mum, shielding her eyes before waving enthusiastically at Sarah, walking towards them with a box of ice lollies in her hand and a cooler over her shoulder.

"Clara," Missy yelled, "Nanny's back with lollies."

Clara peeled off instantly, making a beeline for her grandmother. Sarah handed over a lolly, a kiss in payment, and Clara was off back to her game. Luckily, she wasn't the sort of child to get upset if she dropped her lolly through some accident of her own causation.

"Hello, hello!" Sarah greeted, huffing a loose twirl of hair out of her face. She dumped the cooler in the single bit of shade they had and sank down on the picnic blanket. "Has it got hotter in the ten minutes I've been gone?"

She passed each of them a lolly and put the rest of the box in the cooler.

"Nope," Amy said said around a mouthful of ice. "You just lugged a box through a crowd. We aren't as young as we were you know."

"Speak for yourself," Sarah snorted, a good ten years Amy's junior at the very least. "I'm not even allowed to retire yet, you choose to keep writing your books."

"You won't retire," Amy said confidently, "Just like I won't stop writing books. Did you know Clara calls Missy mum now?"

Sarah stopped and turned to Amy for confirmation, eyes wide and still with suspense.

"Heard it with my own ears," She confirmed, "Apparently she's been trying it out since Christmas. Just, apparently where none of us can hear and these two haven't been talking."

"Really?" Sarah turned to Missy in excitement. "Oh that's wonderful news darling!"

"What's wonderful news?" Harry called out jovially, several large umbrellas under his arm to simulate some sort of shade. He dropped them in a pile, bending down to give Sarah a hello kiss. John dropped down next to Missy, huffing. Absently, she offered him her ice lolly. Rory set up a few of the umbrellas, making sure one was providing Amy with enough shade before he joined them on the blanket and dug out one of the waters that Sarah had bought.

"Clara is calling Missy mum!" Sarah beamed.

"Jesus Christ, only sometimes," Missy complained, "She just happened to do so after I'd finished drowing her in sunscreen!"

John nodded, "Ah, so she was trying to get you to stop?"

"Precisely, she said Thanks Mum and ran off to play with her friends," Missy sank back against one hand - away from John. It was too hot to sit close to someone, even a beanpole like him. He shuffled away in acknwoldgement, passing the lolly back, as you would an illicit cigarette shared between two teens.

"So she's called you mum before?" Rory checked.

"What is this? Twenty bloody questions?" Missy asked in frustration. "Yes, she sometimes calls me mum. No, we haven't talked about it with her. No, we have no intention of talking about it with her. Are we done? Good. Harry you missed the most spectacular face plant I have ever seen any child achieve. You would have hated it."

A beat of silence fell across the blanket.

"I'm sorry sweetie," her mum said gently, "We're just excited for you. And for her."

"It's not something we want to make a fuss over," John pointed out, tugging up some grass. "We don't want to draw Clara's attention to it, make her think she has to call Missy mum because it makes everyone happy. It's to be her choice, and her choice alone. So, please don't talk about it and especially not to Clara or where Clara could hear. Please."

"Of course dear," Sarah replied instantly. The mood had taken a rather awkward turn.

"You know, the other night," John said hesitantly, glancing at Missy, "The funniest thing happened. Clara's three quarters of the way to the land of nod when she opens her eyes, looks directly at Missy and says: Mum, the squirrels are coming. We have to save the ice cream. She was alseep five minutes later!"

"Oh, you think that's funny?" Missy understood what he was trying to do, and they started a game of one-upmanship on the frankly ridiculous things their eight year old had said over the part few weeks, until the enitre blanket was roaring with laughter. Clara had run over in concern to see what was going on, only to dismiss it to her new friend (a boy from a neighbouring school with round glasses) as her family being typically unusual - which set them all off again.

Chapter Text

"Aren't you ashamed?" a stranger asked her in the queue in the clothes shop one evening. Clara drew closer to Missy's legs, scowling fiercely at the stranger.

Missy made a point of looking down at the patterned shirt in her hands and frowned.

"I think it's quite a nice pattern actually," She said, in what she knew would be a vain attempt to shut down any further insults. "A bit bright maybe, but what's life without a little colour?"

The woman puffed up like a tropical fish, eyes glowing with dislike. "You should be ashamed of yourself, swooping in to steal your sister's family after not speaking to her for years. That little girl deserves better."

"The man and little girl in question are quite able to decide what is good for themselves, without it being any of your business," Missy replied conversationally, handing the shirt over and making eye contact with the young woman there, shaking her head at the young woman's silent offer for help/managerial assistance.

"It's unnatural, is what it is," the opinionated stranger continued, all bluster and mightly bothered by Missy's veneer of unbotherdness. "What with your … proclivities. You're corrupting them.

"Love's n'ver unnatural," Clara replied hotly, holding tightly to Missy's shirt and glaring up. "You're rude. You shouln't be rude."

Missy rested a hand on Clara's head, trying to calm her down slightly.

"It's ok pet," She reassured Clara, accepting the bagged shirt with the other. "Did daddy want pepperoni or ham and mushroom pizza?"

Clara glared at the woman again for good measure, before accepting the change of subject with some reluctance.

To the woman who'd upset her daughter, Missy smiled politely to hide how angry she really was, and merely said: "Our life and choices do not affect you in any way shape or form, so maybe it's you who should be ashamed."

Then, she took Clara by the hand and they left, walking to the car. Clara was unusually silent once they were buckled in and driving.

"You ok there pet?" Missy asked gently. Clara was used to people in the village being polite and friendly, not cruel and judgemental. But what with the recent school bully issue, and now this, Missy was a little concerned by Clara's silence.

"Mum," Clara said slowly, examining the buckle on her shoes with far too much interest. "Why do people keep saying that you aren't allowed to be my mum? Is it because mummy was your sister?"

Missy pondered how to reply for a moment.

"Yes," She replied carefully, "And also because your mummy and I weren't speaking when she got sick. I came home because mummy got sick and she wanted to see me, but do you remember how angry daddy was when I came back?" Clara nodded. "Other people don't think daddy and I left enough time between mummy dying and me… well, being in yours and daddy's life. It's like those people from school."

"But you make us happy," Clara sounded so confused, a little lost. Pipsqueak was learning the world wasn't all sunshine and friends and Missy wished she didn't have to learn at the hands of judgemental twats. "How is that a bad thing?"

"It isn't," Missy said firmly. "But there will always be people who don't like that we are happy. They are unhappy and they want other people to be unhappy as well.'

"Why did she say you were un'atural?"

Missy paused.

"Well, it's common knowledge that I fall in love with men and with women. I've had boyfriends and girlfriends over the years and some people think that's not ok," Missy tried to explain as simply as possible, but Clara looked even more confused.

"But that's just normal," She decided, nodding firmly. "That woman was rude. And wrong."

"Yes," Missy smiled, "She was wrong to have a go at us. I've found the best thing to do in those situations is to just be polite, answer with something like - it's none of your business what we do - and then ignore them. The problem is that no matter what we say, she will continue to think what she wants to think."

"Well that's just stupid," Clara announced, suddenly cheerful again. "Can we get garlic bread as well as pizza?"

Missy snorted, children were changable creatures.
…………………………………………………..

"You know that I love you, right?" John asked, as easily as if he were asking what she wanted for dinner that evening. Missy rolled her head away from her book to look at him. He was deathly still, not a fidget to be seen. She bent the corner of the page she was reading and folded the book into her lap, giving him her full attention.

"I know," She said surely. "Why? What have you done?"

It was a question thrown out into the open without any cause to do so. It was very unlike John. She couldn't imagine him using an "I love you" to get out of trouble, he wasn't that maniuplative, but she thought it might work as a joke to break whatever rigid spell someone had cast over her decidely grumpier other half.

Clara screeched in the distance, gleeful as she chased Jane around the garden.

John however, still looked unsure. He surely wasn't doubting her was he?

"You know I love you as well, right?" She mimicked his question and raised a challenging eyebrow in response. His shoulers relaxed slightly, even as he smiled and a soft "I know" passed his lips.

He wasn't helping matters at all. If he was determined to have this conversation, the least he could do was be a willing participant.

"What's bought on all this?" MIssy asked impatiently. "It seems a bit out of the blue, you talking like this. Has someone said something?" She was going to bally well kill them if they had.

"No, well, not exactly," John looked away, over to where Jane was helping Clara into the tree. He didn't seem to see them. "It was just something Vastra said about Jenny. I can't remember the exact details, but it was something along the lines of always making sure she knew. And then, it was Harry's birthday and he was saying about how much he loves Sarah still… and I guess it was more lots of people talking about things they usually talk about… and I kept wondering if you knew. How much I love you that is. And not in a you've been my best friend for over forty years now kind of a way. In an I love you kind of a way."

Missy smiled, feeling her eyes crinkling around the edges, watching as he tried to explain in his flustered, emotionally stunted way.

"That's sweet," She would have scrunched her nose up at the saccariness of it all, but John's fidget-less earnestness stopped her. "And, now we both know something we already knew. Didn't we? Already know? I already knew that you loved me but I'm starting to doubt if you knew I loved you."

"No, I did," he reassured her quickly, rolling his eyes at her tease. "I just wanted to make sure I had told you out loud, at least once."

"Well, I'm not opposed to hearing it every now and then," She said carefully, "But you don't need to say it for the sake of saying it. I know because of what you do, how you act, how you are. Because I know you. And I know."

Now she was the one doing a piss-poor job of explaining things. But John held out his hand, and smiled at her and she rolled her eyes as she took it and shuffled closer to him on their bench, watching the misadventures in the garden.

"Am I the last person to know?" He asked quietly.

"I think you knew ages ago," She reassured him. "But also yes darling, you probably were the last person to know."

……………………………………………………………

When they had been growing up, she and John and River had had wildly different points of views about books and books that were worth reading. John liked fantasy, River prefered mysteries with a badass female lead and Missy had prefered reading about violence and decapitation. They all thought the others were missing out. But there was one book they had all agreed on, released in the 1990's when they were all at least pretending to be adults. That book had been Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Missy had marked the release of the TV series in her diary with glee.

"It's got that bloke that looks like an aged up David in it!" She'd shouted out to John gleefully, scrolling though the casting information when it had been released. "And Michael Sheen's playing the angel. I can't believe they're finally making this into a tv series!"

John had grumbled, but a few days later he'd told her that Frances McDormund was voicing God and she'd known he was as excited as she was. As the TV show drew to a close, Apocalyse successfully averted and an angel and demon dining at the Ritz, John held onto her slightly tighter than usual.

"That was incredible," Missy announced, beaming. John murmured an agreement, frownng vacantly at the end credits. "Come on then, out with it, you're eyebrows are doing the Thing."

The thing being looking all moody and contemplative and not in a fun way.

"I was just thinking about how you're like Crowley and I'm like Arizraphale and that they never needed to say I love you out loud all those years. They just didn't question it. Just knew."

"Are you getting sentimental in your old age dear?" Missy teased, resting her chin on his bony shoulders. He smiled.

"I think I might be," He agreed. Then he said "Do you think they go back to the bookshop and then spend eternity together?"

"Yes," Missy replied decidedly. "I think it's supposed to be up to the viewers interpretation as to exactly how that eternity plays out, but they absolutely spend the next however many thousands of years pushing each others buttons and being sickeningly in love with each other."

He smiled. "Me too."

Missy pressed a kiss to his shoulder and sat up straight, stretching up and feeling her back click into space. She was getting far too old to bingewatch six hours of a tv show! She started clearing up the remnants of their snacks. She picked up her phone to see a veritable sea of messages from Jane, who had also elected to binge watch the whole season with Yaz, although much earlier in the evening. Missy had silenced her phone around dinner and hadn't looked at it since.

She chuckled, scrolling quickly through Jane's largely incoherent texts, delving more and more into emojis as the show progressed.

"I think Clara would like it dearest," She commented absently, still shifting through Jane's message, relieved that contracts didn't have text limits nowadays. There had to be over fifty messages… She frowned at one towards the top, clearly when Jane had finished the season and switched to social media for her continued hit.

"Of course, there's already a row about queerbaiting because they didn't say I love you or kiss or bone on TV" She sighed in irritation, reading some of the screenshots Jane had sent her, "It's clearly a love story, but some people can't see past the sex or lack thereof. They're having a go at Neil Gaiman directly, and he's never been shy about leaving it up to reader interpretation! How utterly ridiculous."

"What's queerbaiting?" John asked, frowning and testing the new word. Missy stared at him. She closed her phone and put it down. Reading any more of those messages would make her mad, and she was currently basking in the glow of a favourite book adaptation well done.

"When shows ramp up a queer relationship but then don't actually make the characters explicitly queer, you know, like them saying I love you or clearly having sex" Missy summarised, "If you want more detail, examples and a powerpoint, ask Bill."

"But they're clearly in love and in a relationship, and who cares if they're having sex?" John asked, confused. "The third episode had them falling in love and breaking up in the same sixty minute period."

Missy wondered if she should explain the concept of Tumblr to him, and decided against it. Instead she shrugged and muttered that a lot of people did.

"For some people," She tried to explain, knowing that he only watched shows because she did now, "The appeal in a tv relationship is in the confirmation that they get toether and start kissing and start a rock solid family. Look at the long standingness of TV shows like Bones, and the Mentalist - part of their appeal is waiting for the two main characters to admit they are head over heels for each other. Have you seen Rizzoli and Isles? It's about two women in the same sort of roles, but they never get together and its the most godamn frustrating thing you've ever had to sit through. Seven seasons! And then they just go off and continue being 'best friends'? That is queerbaiting. The characters chemistry is off the scale, but then Rizzoli's ex boyfriend comes back, Isles gets a boyfriend and yet other characters make jokes about how Rizzoli makes a great lesbian. It's the same for shows like Once Upon a Time, Supergirl - of course, I'm focusing on the female queer side here, but there are plenty of examples of queerbaiting male characters. It's like how corporations have co-opted Pride by sticking a rainbow on thir logo!"

She stopped and huffed in a vain attempt to calm herself down. She hadn't realised quite how insensed she'd gotten.

"I'm just saying, if you feel the need to ramp up any homosexual undertones to get viewers, and then make a huge production about making the characters straight, you need to re-evaluate your entire project. It's like when asexuality gets ignored because people can't possibly understand the concept of not experiencing sexual attraction!"

That was when she saw the fond, amused look in his eyes, the slightly turned up lips, the awe on his face, the love.

"You bastard," she muttered, throwing herself back down onto the sofa next to him in a huff. "You know exactly what queerbaiting is."

"Mmmh," he agreed, kissing her temple, "Sort of, I've heard Bill and River using the term all the time, but they never really explained what it actually meant, and I'm not interested in popular culture enough to warrant using google. I liked how you explained it. Suddenly so much of what my wife and my PhD student talked about makes so much more sense."

"So, my point was, people are angry because at no point do we see Aziraphale and Crowley necking like teenagers, or hear the words I love you," She wondered if "They see it as queerbaiting, when they should see it as the 6000 year slow burn love story it is."

"They are basically married," He agreed, "And sex isn't for some couples." Missy felt him hesitate, and wondered quite what he was using Good Omens to gear up to say, "Does it bother you? That we don't… y'know…"

Oh. They were talking about that now.

"No," she answered honestly, twisting to face him "Relationships are about way more than getting sweaty between the sheets doing the horizontal tango. It's more than sex. And I've been you're friend for as long as I can remember, baring a rocky past decade. I know that you're fairly ambivalent towards sex."

As predicted, John flushed. John had a delightfully Victorian manner about sex in that if you didn't name it, no-one knew. His reaction was epecially awkward when talking about having sex in relation to himself. Bless.

"How is it that after six years being married to my sister, you still blush so deeply at sex?" She took great delight watching his cheeks stain even darker. She shouldn't tease. "S - E - X, John, sex. It's ok. I know you aren't that fond of it as an activity. I came into this relationship with my eyes wide open."

"I don't… dislike it with certain people," he stumbled over the words. Missy tilted her head curiously. She imagined not. He'd had plenty of sex in the past, but he had never seemed to need it like other people. It was an added extra in his relationships, not a key feature. When she'd first heard the term "asexual" she'd instantly thought of John's very neutral attitute towards sex.

Even their one attempt at sex had been fuelled by a lot of whiskey, a simmering argument and them basically daring each other to cross that line. The result was sleeping upstairs in her room with her ragdoll under one arm and a book under the other. She had wondered what it would be like to experience sex with John without that fuel of anger and alcohol, but it wasn't important. It didn't even rank top fifty.

River had always been fairly liberal with the details of her short lived trysts with John in their chequered past. He'd always shuffled awkwardly. As much as she felt he was trying to be as open as possible, she wasn't going to ask him how he'd enjoyed sex with her sister. That was far too much awkward information to be shared.

"Well, you know I'm always up for it," She said conversationally, "But I know, understand and am honestly okay with the fact you don't…operate like that. If you wanted to have sex, bonus points to us. If you don't, bonus points to us anyway because we are still awesome and in love without sex. We share a home, a daughter and it's no one's business what we get up to in bed but out own. Okay?"

It was somehting she wanted to be very clear with him about - that love did not equal sex, not with her. She could have sex without love and she could have love without sex. He nodded, and she was fairly confident that if the mood ever struck, Clara would be shipped off to anyones house as soon as could be reasonably managed. She looked forward to it, and she looked forward to not telling anyone about it becasue it was no-ones business but theirs.

John was doing that thing were he was smiling and not smiling and very pleased and embarrassed and not sure how to process the number of feelings he was experiencing.

"Okay," he whispered, and leant in to kiss her to seal the deal.

Chapter Text

"I think we should throw a party for River's birthday," Missy said conversationally, a week before the actual event was due to take place. They were all lounging on the newly fixed patio of Arcadia, the inside of the house a mess of half started renovations.

They consisted of her parents, John's parent's, Jane and Yaz, over to admire the first finished part of the house on such a nice summer evening. John turned to look at her, pondering for a second, before looking back out to the ragtag garden they hadn't yet decided what to do with.

"A party?" Rory checked.

"She'd have liked that," John mused, squinting at their space. "What do you think - fireworks?"

"A right proper kick-your-heels-up shindig," Missy agreed. "The send off she would have actually wanted."

Amy and Rory were looking at them with a strange sort of look on their face. Yaz looked uncomfortable and Jane was swinging upside down from a tree.

"Sounds like something your sister would approve of," Jane calld out cheerfully. "Yaz and me can watch Clara after the first bit if you like. And your garden is proper big enough for a bit of drunken cavortin'."

Missy raised her glass in thanks.

"We can have it here," she gestured to the untamed expanse of garden with her glass. In the distance, the lights of Leadworth and Gallifrey were starting to blink on. "Before it gets all nice and as pretty as two people without a green thumb can get it."

"Might as well," John sat back on his elbows to survey their small plot of land. "We could put some pools in, have a barbie. I reckon I could get Donna to lend me the faculty tent things and we can put the drinks under there…"

"Bring your own poison," Jane added cheerfully.

"And fireworks," Clara called down from the tree. "I can stay for the fireworks right?"

"Course you can poppet," Missy called back up, "Jane, your head is starting to go purple. Please return to your normal gravitational orientation."

Jane poked her tongue out but swung down nevertheless. Missy sometimes wondered if she was Jane's friend or a stand in parent. Then she remembered some of the craziest things they had done since their freindship started several months ago, and decided she was her friend first.

Amy and Rory had been strangely quiet during this half planning, half brainstorming session had been going on. Missy was very aware of her mothers silence at least. Mum wasn't silent. Mum was never silent. Mum's silences were really quite loud.

"We were going to have a quiet night in," Rory said to his hands a moment later. "We thought we'd invite you over, have some Indian takeout, make her a cake. Something lowkey…" he looked at his wife under his floppyish fringe, before he looked up, "But I think your idea sounds more like our youngest daughter. I'll go to town and get some food stuffs. Amy was going to make a cheesecake."

Amy still looked undecided, biting her lip as she looked up to the sky. Then she sighed and Missy knew she agreed.

"Open invitation," She added somewhat reluctantly. "We can invite the core people of course, but it wouldn't be a proper River Song party if people we weren't expecting turned up. I'll send a message out on the group chat now."

She pulled out her phone. A moment later Rory and Missy's phone buzzed. John frowned at the noise.

"There's a group chat?" He asked, nonplussed.

"River was in it for the both of you," Amy told him, a cacophony of buzzing already taking place on their little courtyard as their friends - no, their extended family - offered items to bring, to eat, to drink. "Alistair has offered the use of his barbeque and a lot of people have offered to bring food. Rory babe, you want to co-ordinate that?"

"We should invite Leela," John said softly, eyes unfolded. "Maybe Nyssa. They were both out on digs when River passed, they couldn't get home for the funeral. Leela at least is back from her trip. Not sure about Nyssa. They were her latest grad students," he added for Missy's benefit. "Only graduated a week or two before River died."

"You can message them then," Amy all but ordered. "It'll be strange coming from one of us. Missy, you're in charge of pyrotechnics. Nothing too crazy, remember there are laws."

"I won't. It'll be in my back garden," Missy pointed out. "If I go too crazy we could lose the house. I like fire, but not that much."

Amy shrugged. It was true that Missy never set any fires where something important could actually catch fire.

"Can we have a trampoline?" Clara turned herself upside down on the branch Jane had recently vacated, the disaster in question hovering (but not hovering) in case of accidents.

John turned to look at Missy, eyebrows furrowed. They had an almost silent conversation that determined that yes, they were in agreement.

"After the party Clara," John decreed. "We don't want it getting broken at mummy's birthday party."

Read: They didn't want to have to deal with any drunken accidents which resulted in damage to or loss of limb. Clara however, nodded solemnly before asking Jane how she was supposed to get back up again, her head was starting to hurt.

Less than a week later, they were back in the garden of Arcadia, hasty bunting strung from the trees, a set of gazebos housing all the alcohol while Alistair and Liz manned the grill (as was their wont at any summer party), their bickering audible from the patio where Amy was unveiling the strawberry cheescake she had made, always River's favourite.

It was the small space of quiet they had allowed themselves before the party started, for those who had loved her the most. Katie and Rosie had come without their other halves to help 'set up' and were now clasping hands silently. They'd adored River in the hero worship way of younger pseudo-siblings. Harry had his arm around Sarah's shaking shoulders. Missy stood beside her parents, a wave of guilt crashing over her that she hadn't felt in a while. Amy was stoic, Rory had tears shining his cheeks. And John stood with Clara on his hip, both of them silently drawing comfort from the other. Before them was a collage of River - pictures that each and every one of them had bought trying to represent their relationship with River.

There was River as a little girl, dressed up in clothes far too big for her and beaming. One of her on her wedding day, a photo John had taken of her head thrown back and laughing gleefully at their pub dinner. The girls had bought a picture of the three of them, River with an arm around pre-pubescent Katie and Rosie. There was one of River and Clara, and lots of River laughing and smiling. But the one Missy had picked was one from her months spent with River in Glasgow waiting for Clara. She was just reading quietly, not performing for the world. Missy couldn't even remember why she had taken the picture - it was hardly unusual. Perhaps even then she'd known that this would be what drove the wedge between her sister, that soon she wouldn't be able to walk into a room and find River lost to reality. Whatever the reason, it was the photo she had chosen.

After a moment of reflection, Amy cleared her throat loudly and pulled out a small sword with a smile. She cut into the cheesecake with a flourish, and held up a slice victorious.

"Happy birthday River," She smiled a little thickly.

Yes, Missy said silently. Happy birthday Golden Girl.

Then Liz called Alistair infuriating beyond belief and demanded a divorce, and everyone laughed, relieved that the moment had ended naturally, as moments were wont to do.

Chapter Text

Missy's phone buzzed for the seventh time that half hour when Jane slammed her hand down on it and demanded that Missy switch the vibrate function off.

"It has been going off quite a lot love," John agreed, frowning over the top of his whisky. He'd been a lot more liberal with his affectionate nicknames in public since their 'conversation' which was less of a conversation and more of an affirmation. They were in Jane's kitchen, supposedly discussing plans for Arcadia but really just planning to drink and gossip a little. "Maybe you should just answer whoever it is."

"Although I am offended you have friends other than me that text you," Jane poked her tongue out. Missy didn't dignify that with an answer, flicking the screen on the messages. She frowned.

"What's wrong?" John asked instantly, checking his own phone for any missed calls in case it was about Clara.

Missy flicked her eyes to John and then to Jane, wondering how much she could tell, how much she should tell, about all that she and Sarah had been finding out for the past few months. John followed her eyes and understanding dawned.

"Can it wait till later?" He complained a little too loudly, "I've just got my whisky!"

Jane looked between them susupiously. "What's goin' on?" She demanded.

Missy glanced back at her phone as another message pinged through, this time with an email attachment. Damn, she was curious.

"I need to go," she said slowly, reading through the message that accompanies the attachment and frowning. "I need to speak to Sarah."

John's eyebrows shot into his hairline. He put his virtually untouched whiskey down with a sigh and fished his phone out of his pocket. "I'll call her, ask her to pick you up. Drop me at home," He said in resignation.

Jane's hand slammed down on the table, startling them.

"You two are acting downright weird and you need to tell me why," She announced firmly.

"I've been helping Sarah on a… case... and an old contact has just sent me some information through that… sounds very much like we'd have enough evidence," Missy hedged.

John was frowning at his phone very intently, clearly unhappy that he didn't know more than that.

"I'm coming with you," Jane announced, leaping up and sending her chair flying. "You can fill me and John in when we get to 'is mums."

And that was that really. Missy didn't want to keep them in the dark, and if she was right, this was virtually the end of their investigation into Tasha Lem. She nodded. John hit dial.

Moments later, they were in Sarah's car.

"What's going on?" Sarah demanded, the second all the doors were closed.

"Romana came through," Missy answered instantly, already pulling out her tablet to open the email attachemnt. There were pages of information.

"Romana?" John spluttered, "You're on speaking terms with Romana? Since when?"

"Who's Romana?" Jane stage-whispered from the backseat next to John.

"Romana is someone Missy knew from her politics days. Someone we both knew from University… they didn't exactly get on. She's now a really high up civil servant. Isn't that illegal?" John directed his final question towards Missy sharply.

"You can't think Romana would have sent it to me if it was illegal," Missy scoffed. She was right, Romana had always been a stickler for rules. She had been at univeristy, and she had been even worse once they'd both started working politics. Missy had found morally grey to be very useful, Romana had always stayed brilliantly, teflon clean. "It's all in the public domain…mostly… newspapers, trial transcripts and the like…"

"Is it what we though?" Sarah asked, swinging into her drive and killing the engine. Missy looked up from the screen, eyes bright in a way that had little to do with the blue of the screen.

"It's better," she breathed.

Inside, Sarah made them a pot of coffee and showed them up to the attic where her ongoing research was strewn about in a way that wouldn't make sense to anyone but her.

"Right, explain," John crossed his arms and looked at his partner pointedly. "You've gone to Romana so its a people thing. And it's big. Clearly."

"We've been investigating Tasha Lem," Sarah said distractedly, pushing files around until she found the right one with a flouish. "We got suspicious about… a few things and thought we'd follow up-"

"It's been a rabbit hole of information," Missy picked up. "For starters, she hasn't even got an undergraduate degree let alone the masters and doctorates she's been pedaling - but this job isn't her only fraud."

"Meet Nora Flynn," Sarah announced, pinning a mug shot of a teenager on the wall. "Arrested when she was fifteen, disappeared in 1988 when she was 16."

"Pop quiz," Missy continued. "What was the easiest way of assuming someone's identity in the 80's? Anyone? No? God you're such goody goods. The easiest way was to pick the name and date of birth of someone born in the same year as you, who died as a child."

John made a noise of understanding.

"Parish of Kingston in West Sussex," Sarah pulled out another piece of paper with a flourish, "List of recorded child deaths in 1979, see the circled?"

There, in highighted yellow, was the name Natasha Elisabeth Lem, born 1972, died 1979. Jane's mouth fell open.

"That's not all," Missy was hitting her stride now, and by the sound of it, so was Sarah. They'd been shifting through paperwork and recods for months now. It was exciting to share it all. "Lynda Moss, died in 1981 but arrested in 1994 on a counterfeiting charge Released without charge but only due to a police cock up resulting int the evidence being thrown out. Evelyn Smythe, married millionaire Henry Copper eight months before his death four years ago, then disappeared. Luckily he'd had the sense to tie most of his wealth up in his foundation. These are just a few that we found. The most noticeable. The ones we've found their faces at least. She's had more identities than I've had hairstyles."

"And they're all our Tasha Lem?" Jane checked, looking slightly stunned.

"Yes, different ages, different hair colour, but undisputably the same woman. Romana was compiling criminal records for each of the women we've found. She was very interested in what we had to say. She's got a few of her own contacts, and the Tylers are sending another Torchwood couple to see us as soon as possiblr. Turns out Tasha has form. Blackmail, robbery, forgery, counterfeiting, but mostly fraud on a grand scale. She's an expert hustle."

"Which is how you spotted her," John concluded, nodding.

"It's hard to con a con," Missy agreed. "She said things that didn't match up - and the one that was the biggest was something you said Jane, about how it was like she'd never researched anything before. She hasn't. She is incredibly smart, she has genuinely learnt everything she needs to know. Expert chameleon. But, it's hard to copy a good grant proposal."

"You said she's a grand master at this sort of thing," John pointed out, "So what they hell's she doing here?"

"Ah, that's what we thought," Sarah jumped in, "She has something on Rassilon, we're sure of it."

"But you don't know?" Jane asked, deflating slightly.

"Romana has sent me some other information," Missy admitted, "I just haven't been able to check it yet. And you know me, I don't like to share until I've got proof and checked it with two independent sources. I'm still waiting on a second check."

John whistled. "I knew she was an untrustworthy pain in the ass, but you'd have thought she'd have put more effort into not getting caught."

"Well, half of this information required a lot of source gathering," Sarah admitted. "I don't think even Missy or I could have managed were it not for the other. And even then, she's covered her tracks extremely well. Apparently, however, she is wanted on multiple counts."

"So whatcha gon' do with all that information?" Jane asked. "Send it to the police?"

"Oh, um, I've got an in with Torchwood - they're an international super agency - and they're sending some people from UNIT, the military equivalent," Missy tried to explain.

"I know who Torchwood are," Jane said impatiently, "Helped Yvonne Hartwood out with some experiemntal equations they discovered a few years back. Told em never to use em and cuz I didn't trust em, I put line of dead code in. They'll never get the code workin'. Impressed you know the Tyler's, don't they run the entire thing? Why you goin' to Torchwood if she's wanted by the Met?"

"Torchwood want her for questioning," Missy shrugged. "So we don't say anything. They'll be here in time for the council meeting if we want something dramatic."

Every year, at the close of the term, there was what was called a Council meeting. All the staff of the Institute met together to discuss Things of Importance (or play tic tac toe if you were John). It was at this council meeting that teachers could raise motions and pretend they were a democratic insitution. For example, raising a motion of no-confidence in the current head of the insitute.

"She's presenting at the council meeting, isn't she?" Jane's nose wrinkled. "Bit humiliating for her."

Missy envied Jane's good heart sometimes.

"But no-where for her to run too," Missy sighed frowning. She would prefer not to have another very public takedown to her name. She might start getting a reputation, and not one she wanted. "I'll talk to them about it when they get here. They're sending a married couple. Does everyone who works for Torchwood work with their spouse, or is it just the ones I work with?"

Jane shrugged.

"Anyway, married couple, Martha and Ricky or something," Missy dismissed their names instantly. "Luckily it's a weekend, so you two - no telling anyone and no acting stranger than normal, you hear?"

Jane rolled her eyes, "I only act like I'ma disaster in the midst of happenin'," She huffed, "I'm actually quite good at secrets."

"And if I'm grumpy, who's going to notice?" John asked sarcastically. "Ask them to Anonymously dump the information as evidence, not include your name on any of it. Then you won't get dragged into another round of merrry go government."

Missy liked the sound of that. Or giving Sarah full credit to run the story. She glanced at her mother-in-law and smiled at her in a way that said 'all yours dear'. At least one of them should make some income out of it.

"While you're all here," Sarah jumped straight into mother-mode, "Can I make you some tea? Any food?"

"Leave off mum," John grumbled good naturedly, not meaning a beat of what he said. Jane grinned, and asked if there was any jelly. And that was that. They all went downstairs, leaving Missy with a tablet and wondering how she could prove Tasha Lem was blackmailing Rassilon without having access to any bank accounts.

Chapter Text

Unlike when Harold Saxon was arrested, there was no fanfare for Tasha Lem. No big public reveal. Martha and Mickey were a young-ish couple of good sense and exuding an air of general competency. Theirs was a UNIT-Torchwood partnership, taking the spirit of co-opertion to the next level apparently. They had arrived promptly, bickered good naturedly and been concerningly efficient.

They had collected all of the evidence, recorded Missy and Sarah's detailed explanation of how all the evidence had been obtained, had been shown to Tasha's office, and she had been gone within the hour. Martha and Mickey stayed to supervise the sorting through all the potential evidence from Tasha's office and flat. It would probably take weeks to go through it all properly.

And just like that - Tasha was gone. The Smith-Jones couple had agreed to list Missy as an anonymous source for Sarah, giving the journalist full credit for the research and subsequent arrest (and of course, first dibs on the story of the year by the sounds of it). Missy just didn't want it coming back to her.

The entire affair was, of course, a grave secret. So, naturally, the whole Institute knew by lunch and the whole of the town by teatime. The rumour mill was going wild. Tasha hadn't been particularly well liked, especially by the staff and students of the Institute. The academic year ended with a bang, and a scandal. People were hooked. It even overtook talk of Love Island for one, blissful, afternoon.

Rassilon became virtually unbearable. He was either incredibly paranoid and suspicious, or puffed up with his own self-importance on a scale no-one had seen before. Every time Missy heard his voice or saw him or anything related to him, it niggled. Her intial investigations hadn't pulled anything blackmail worthy. Yes, Rassilon did a lot of under the table deals, and he was as shady as an oak tree in full summer, but nothing worth paying out to Tasha for. She was missing something, and it was bugging her something chronic. She tried to put it out of her mind and focus on sorting the Mech Eng admin as she had been asked to do by Jack. Tried being the operative word.

Mickey Smith was incredibly friendly and charming, deflecting any serious questions with an expert ease that had Missy slightly envious. Anybody who tried to wheedle information from Mickey found themselves walking away feeling several degrees more cheerful, no new information and doubting what they thought they already knew. Martha was a bit more wary. She was a trained medic, which had seemed strange to Missy - to send a medic for a collection job - but it turned out she had been medical director on several projects and had one of the sharpest eye in the British branch of UNIT. Missy liked her, and after more than a few false starts, Martha seemed to warm up to her as well.

Technically, Martha and Mickey weren't supposed to know Missy and John, but after several days of forced distance, Missy just called over the yellow tape seperating the office from the corrdidor that she was cooking meatballs, and if they were really unlucky, they would have to eat them. John, resting his head against the wall beside the doorway, had called out over her head that he wouldn't wish Missy's cooking on his worst enemy, and it would be fine because he was ordering pizza - if they wanted some. With the very public (and very in character) inital overtures of friendship made, John and Missy became the bridge between the investigating party and the staff. Distance was maintained, but they seemed to like Clara and Clara liked them so they were ok by Missy's standards.

It turned out Martha Smith nee Jones had lived with David while they were both in university, having seen him on the square with Rose while trying to find John's house. She'd hesitantly asked if he was happy and well, in that endearing way that screamed of an old unrequited crush. Missy, being Missy, had invited the four in her flat over when Martha and Mickey were due, just for the entertainment value. John had tutted, but had appeared in the kitchen looking incredibly alert the second the doorbell rang.

David, over excited puppy that he was, had been thrilled to see Martha again, sweeping her up in a hug and spinning her around. He'd introduced himself to Mickey, introduced Rose to the pair of them (with heart eyes worthy of an emoji) and they'd sat down and talked about some of the things they had gotten up to at university. They had all left promising to meet up, for Martha and Mickey to come to the flat, friendships made and reinforced. Missy had the distinct feeling that her trying to provide herself some entertianment had actually done some good. John's gentle hug suggested that he aggreed.

Days later, Martha and Mickey had finished boxing everything up and were interviewing staff related to Tasha. For appearences sake, Missy went along to her meeting. Once inside, Martha had relaxed, resting her head against the back of the chair and sighing.

"I'm glad we scheduled you, John and Jane for different times over the next few days," she rubbed the bridge of her nose. "If nothing else, it's a break. We've already spoken to you about everything there is to speak about."

"Have a rest poppet," Missy grinned, baring teeth so what should have been soothing ended up faintly menacing. "Any luck with why Lem was blackmailing Rassilon?"

Mickey dimpled, "Now Missy," he teased, "You know we can't go sharing information like we have no evidence that she was even receiving payments let alone that she was blackmailing him."

Martha huffed and rolled her eyes, but didn't refute the statement.

Missy shook her head faux seriously, "No, no, of course. I should have known better."

"It's not like he was going to say 'oh, yes, she was blackmailing me' in his interview," Mickey continued, getting up to pour them all a tepid coffee. "However easy it would have made our jobs. And she ain't said a word since we got her into Torchwood custody. She knows what she's doing and she's damn good at it."

"I don't suppose you've been able to find anything out?" Martha asked hopefully, dark shadows under her eyes. If Missy had learnt one thing about Martha, it was that she didn't like leaving puzzles unfinished. Why Tasha Lem came to Gallifrey was one big question mark.

Missy shook her head, "Sorry pet, nothing here. I've only found stuff that a halfway decent journalist would unearth for a smear campaign that wouldn't make a difference because he's a man, white and rich."

"I reckon it's summat to do with the Institute," Mickey said thoughtfully, grimacing at the coffee. "Summat y'know, that means something to him."

"That is generally how blackmail works, yes," Missy replied drily. Mickey pulled a sarcastic face at her. "Look, I can't narrow it down - he hasn't killed anyone, he hasn't caused death and he hasn't done anything to cause physical harm to another person so his repuation would still be intact. In my, lets pretend it isn't considerable, experience, those are the big ones - those and money."

"Something that'll impact his reputation as a researcher then?" Martha theorised a little desperately. "He doesn't have any family, and our asking around hasn't unearthed a single friend. He's a man that gets off on his reputation as the smartest person in the room. So… we can narrow it down to professional standing. Forget about bribery and all that, he's an arse and clearly taken more than a few bribes but you're right. Nothing worth getting het up about."

Missy nodded thoughtfully, glancing at the clock to see how much longer they had.

"I can get my nerds to look into it," Mickey pulled his phone out, thumbs dancing across the screen impressively fast. "Might take a few days."

"You call them your nerds?" Missy checked, one finely scultped eyebrow raised. "How's that going for you?"

Martha sighed the weary sigh of someone who has had to answer this question on behalf of her spouse more than once. Missy was familiar with that sigh. "His, and their, argument is that if they are calling themselves nerds, other people won't think it's an insult."

"Reverse psychology," Mickey added cheerfully, pocketing his phone. "Any chance you and the boyf can do a bit of digging? Our nerds aren't field experts so they might miss something."

"Only if you promise not to call him my 'boyf' again," Missy sniffed and stood up to leave.

Chapter Text

"You planning on coming back to bed any time soon?" John asked, leaning against the door frame in his mismatched sleepwear, hair sticking up in a dozen directions. "Beds gone cold y'know, and it'll still be here in the morning."

Missy glanced up from the kitchen table, paper everywhere, and smiled tightly. She was exhausted, but sleep wouldn't be possible for her. She knew she was missing something, and it was on tip of her tongue. Whatever it was, it was close, but just out of reach. Sleep wouldn't be happening until exhaustion took her like a club to the back of the head.

John stepped forward wordlessly, coming to rest his hands on her shoulders, peering down at the collection on their table over her head. He dropped a kiss to the top of her head, earning a mouthful of disarrayed curls for his trouble. Missy leant back slightly into his chest, closing her eyes and wishing that she could let him lead her back to bed, that they could tangle themselves up and sleep a few hours before the sun, and their daughter, rose.

"This all Rassilon's work?" John checked softly. Missy made a noise of confirmation, rubbing her sandpaper eyes.

"Every paper he's ever written," She added, gesturing sarcastically. "I even did a citation map on Web of Science for all his papers, but the screen was hurting my eyes so I put it away."

John hummed, slipping quietly into the seat next to her, at least two points of contact maintained for comforts sake.

"Want to soundboard?" He asked genuinely. Missy shook her head. "I'm not going to sleep until you do. I've got used to you sleeping next to me and I can't without you. So, if soundboarding gets us to bed quicker, start theorising Doctor Oakdean."

Her glare was half-hearted at best before she conceeded and started her explaination.

"His first few published papers are a bit rubbish, I won't lie. Heavily cited as examples of his early work before the constraint. Then, he published the constraint data and vroom, straight to the halls of fame. Rassilon's constraint is taught on every higher level physics course in the economic north. Entire theories have spiralled out of this - it's what put him on the map. All of his papers are well cited, if bloody arrogant in tone, and all of them mention the constraint in some way shape or form," She paused to pull away from the warmth of John's side to pull a file forward. "Except these two. These were both published in the last year, one before Tash arrived, and one after. I didn't realise publishing could be done so fast. I checked - both legitimate peer reviewed journals with a good reputation. I think you've published in them both more than once."

"These are the two you keep coming back to though?" John prompted. Soundboard had become their late night study method in university, with one explaining to the other and the other re-directing them if necessary. Sometimes it was the only way they could sleep.

"Yeah," Missy frowned at the pages. "Its something to do with the constraint, I'm sure of it..."

"But no evidence?" John checked. Missy shook her head, frustrated. He nodded and stood up, groaning slightly as his joints protested. "In which case, bedtime. We can kip for an hour or two and then come at this with fresh eyes. I'll even re-check the figures, although god knows they've been checked repeatedly. The maths adds up."

Missy stopped dead. She'd seen a page of numbers before, where the maths appeared to add up but it didn't.

"But what if they didn't," She said slowly, pushing the academic papers aside to pull the sheet of numbers towards her. John frowned at her. "What if he made them fit?"

"They've been reviewed by every scholar worth their salt over the last ten years Missy," he pointed out. "Come to bed, maths is for when the sun is up."

Missy looked up at him, a little glassy eyed with exhaustion. John sighed, and bent down to rest his forehead against hers.

"I have no doubt that you will figure this out," He said softly, "But your beautiful mind needs rest as much as the rest of us do. So, come at this fresh in a few hours love, it'll make more sense when you do."

She couldn't fault him that. She nodded against him, and they went up to bed together.

…………………………………………

Much like in the modern day, power had always been a dick measuring contest, and having a lavish office was a perk of any high ranking job. Rassilon had two offices - one ostentatious and gilded and ridiculous used for external meetings and the other for personal use that was filled with dark wood and all manner of apparently masculine enhancing things. Missy knocked on the door firmly, a studiously blank expression on her face.

She could hear Rassilon grumbling, even as he moved towards the (heavy oak) door decorated with misletoe.

"Yes?" He asked harshly, "What do you want? I don't have a meeting scheduled in my diary."

He didn't. Missy had asked Donna when he was free. He had a meeting this afternoon with the chair of the board ahead of the council meeting that evening.

"I need to talk to you," Missy said simply, just walking past into his office, ignoring his spluttering. "You'll want to close the door for this."

That got his attention. He closed the door firmly and walked slowly back to the near throne behind his desk (Missy couldn't imagine it was comfortable in the slightest) and sat down.

"So," He drawled, fingers steepled in front of him. "What can I do for you Michelle?"

"I want to talk about Tasha Lem," Missy pulled a plain manila folder from her bag and slid it across the desk. "She left this in her personal papers. Torchwood dismissed it as just being a string of numbers, but I couldn't shake the feeling I'd seen it before. And the I realised I had."

She paused, watching as Rassilon opened the folder carefully and let out a deep shaky breath. She had walked in ready to viscerate him, but found she only felt sorry for him instead. She hoped no one ever felt sorry for her, it felt like such a weak emotion. In that moment, across the desk from each other, Missy usually felt some degree of victory, but she just felt sad. Jesus Christ how she'd changed.

"You faked the results for the constraint studies," She said quietly, but firmly. It was the truth, and he couldn't deny it.

"I didn't fake them," Rassilon corrected, "I just left out some data which … pulled everything out of kilter."

"You manipulated your results, still faking it," Missy pointed out bluntly. "Your entire career, life even, is built out of that constraint... the page Tasha had - those results aren't just a few outliers Albert, they're a whole other dataset. How much of your final dataset did you use in the end? Thirty percent? Forty? That's not enough for statistical significance and you know it."

Rassilon was silent, knuckles white on the desk.

"And then Tasha came knocking," Missy theorised, "Threatning to, what, unravel it all?"

"How much do you want?" He sounded so tired, like he was done with this game. So, completely done. Missy watched that last bit of anger slip out of the door, waving merrily as it went and waving in pity instead. She supposed her reputation did preceed her. She and Tasha were cut from the same bolt of cloth.

"I'm not here to blackmail you Albert," She sighed, collecting the sheets and filing them efficently in their folder. "I'm giving you a heads up. Copies of this are going to the board, and to the ethics board, and here will be action taken against you, you know this. I'm givng you the chance to bow out on your own terms first. I know what it's like to not be in control of what happens to you. So, ball is in your court. This file is going to them all."

"I'll lose everything," he hissed, a little bit of bite rearing its head, however briefly. "People cherrypick datasets all the time, even more in those days. My constraint hasn't hurt anyone."

"But it's not the truth either," Missy pointed out. "And it is a big deal. The constraint is used as the basis for formulas for them trying to create a bloody wormhole. Look, people find evidence against their own findings all the time. Write a paper saying you were doing checks of your own results, what with this open science movement, and that you found it isn't true across all conditions. Or that you haven't been able to replicate it. That gives you scope for fixing it. You shouldn't have accepted extortion in the first place. You're a scientist man, you should have figured out there was another way."

"I never thought-" He faltered, looked away. He looked like a lion that had lost it's mane. He cleared his throat. "I never though it would come to this. It was just selecting the part of the dataset that worked."

"Actions, meet concequences," Missy stood up to leave. Then she paused. "Look, you might, and thats a mighty big might Albert, have been able to fix it if you'd not accepted the blackmail. One too many bribes, looking the other way and now you've been blackmailed? Ethical nightmare. Straw meet camel's back. It's one black mark too many."

"I didn't know how to make it all stop," he confessed, blinking a little too rapidly for Missy's taste.

"You admit you need help," She told him, thinking of when she'd realised that she couldn't keep going it alone, that she needed her friends and family and especially John and Clara. "Even if it's just to yourself."

She turned to leave him to think about it.

"I'll talk to the Chair this afternoon," he called after her, sounding distant even though there couldn't have been more than two meters between them. "I'm done."

Missy didn't know what to say, so rather than make things more awkward for both of them, she just left.

Five hours later, at the council meeting, Albert Rassilon announced that he would be leaving, effective immediately, due to professional ramifications and unethical research practices. He'd added on that he had been blackmailed by Tasha Lem, had accepted bribes and other such, and that while he would prefer to keep it all under wraps he would rather have the true facts on the grapevine than mere speculation. He thanked the staff for their time, and then sat down, leaving Donna scrambling to call the room to order and for the meeting to be ajourned and rescheduled post haste.

Chapter Text

The rescheduled council meeting was delayed a further week and then given a completely new agenda according to what the board needed out of the staff. It was being run as an Extraordinary Council Meeting, Donna as the Chair/Minutes (apparently they had tried other people, but noone else seemed to inspire as much universal awe and fear as Donna Noble).

There was only really one thing on the agenda for this meeting.

"We just need someone for the interim, that's what the board have said. We need to decide who," Tegan, head of the Humanities and Social Science programme and head of the staff liason committee sighed, rubbing her forehead. She'd gained lines on her forehead in the week post Rassilon's abrupt departure. "Just while the board work out what the fuck they're doing. They won't listen to us anyway for the long-term candidate, but we need to choose someone for the short term."

"We might have some bargining power if we propose someone," Dr Pertwee sniffed dramatically, adjusting the lacy sleeves of his shirt under his velvet jacket. "Which we would have to agree on as a collective. We could put them forward for consideration."

"But who?" Argued Yates, someone Missy knew vaugely but not well enough to know his first name. "A scientist? Someone who studies humanities? How are we all going to agree? And do we suggest someone internally or externally? It's a right mess Jon and you know it."

Dr Pertwee bristled.

"I don't think we should suggest anyone internal," Doctor Baker drawled from his reclined position, a hat propped over his forehead, irritatingly long scarf trailing on the floor. "Smells a little too much like a popularity contest."

"Which you wouldn't win," Dr Pertwee snarked back pompously.

"Nor would you," Tiny little experimental Dr Troughton tutted, tacking on "Dandy" for good measure. A glare from Donna had all three elder rivals deflating and settling back into their seats next to each other. They never seemed to get on except for when they did. They were strange.

Missy wished she'd bought popcorn. Everyone knew that she'd helped Sarah-Jane Smith with the ousting of Rassilon's shady dealings and faked results (the latter of which infuriated more) and this discussion about what to do next was highly entertaining. She glanced sideways at John to see him rolling his eyes in frustration. He'd never had much patience for the cantakourous old fools linked to the Philosophy department.

He glanced at her briefly and frowned, before he stood up and paced at the front, commanding the attention of the room as easily as he would in one of his infamous lectures. She settled back a little more comfortably in the uncomfortable auditorium chairs.

"Look, none of us want another Rassilon, and not all academics are like that. We know that. So… why don't we try and find someone who cares about academics and furthering knowledge, someone who we knows loves and understands this community we are in. But someone who isn't actively an academic. Why don't we look at the job description, and look at the core skills needed."

He pulled out a whiteboard marker and turned to the whiteboard. Then he turned back expectantly.

"I know we've all read it," He said, "So come on now, group activity. What are the skills?"

"Good at organising?" A chemistry teacher suggested. John scrawled ORGANISATION in captial letters.

"Talking to people, donors, staff, students, the board and suchlike," Barbara added. John pointed his pen at her and wrote SUPER COMMUNICATOR underneath, starting a list.

"Someone who is good at multitasking, understands finance, and how budgets work," Donna huffed. Everyone nodded. "Someone who can give us a bit of direction."

John wrote BUSINESS on the board. Missy took that to encompass business minded-ness as a general whole.

"Someone who is honest, and listens to what staff have to say," said someone else.

This list continued. Then, John took two more coloured pens out of his pocket and began to circle items that were similar.

"So you're looking for someone who doesn't have too many academic committments, who is politcally and business minded, and is honest," Missy snorted. "We haven't a hope in hell of finding someone like that!"

John capped his pen, and didn't look at her. Liz however, was nodding thoughfully. Jane was smirking.

"But he's suggesting you old bean," Ian said jovially. "You're right, of course, John. Do you want one of us to raise the motion, as she is your partner?"

"I, Doctor Elisabeth Shaw, propose Doctor Michelle Oakdean for the position of Interim Dean of the Pyrodian Insitute," Liz stood instantly. Missy gaped at her. What the fuck sort of a turn had this meeting taken?

"I, Vislor Turlough, second the motion," a young ginger man Missy could honestly say she had never met in her life stood. Was it some sort of ginger solidarity going on?

"I second," another person piped up, followed by another.

Donna smirked, and raised her hand to stop any more seconding. "As secetary of this meeing, I acknowlegde the motion and all that bull - The floor is now open to discussion."

"I abstain from any vote or discussion, based on my personal relationship with Missy Oakdean," John said quickly, slipping into a seat near Donna. "I can't be relied upon to be unbiased in any discussion."

Donna acknowledged this and turned to the room with and expectant expression, her fingers already poised over the keypad of her laptop.

"Ok, jokes over," Missy said firmly, feeling a little humiliated. "This is all utterly ridiculous."

"Is it though?" Barbara asked gently, "You have been academially trained, but are not actively researching, yet you are still well known in our academic sphere. You worked in politics for years after you graduated, nearly ten I do believe, and you recently spent eight years starting a business in Amercia from scratch and turning it into one of the most highly sought after agencies in the world. And, if I am not mistaken, you recently gave up a multi-million dollar contract and worked to bring to light a criminal - so you're honest. And you're real."

"She isn't an academic though," Someone Missy didn't know raised a little warily. "And not all of us are best buds. Not to be rude, but how do we know this isn't all some big… well... plot?"

"Apart from the fact she clearly hasn't got a clue and doesn't want the job?" Missy snarked, glaring at John who was very studiously examining his fingernails to avoid looking at her. "I won't give up my time with Clara to run this company. I can recommend some businessy people if you want, they're generally good at schmoozing, but I've only been back here a few months, not even a year. Surely you want someone who knows the institute better?"

"She was the one who ousted Harry Saxon in New York," Someone piped up. Missy rolled her eyes. Who didn't know that by now? What next? Were they going to bring up her affair as well? "So we know she's good at digging out pertinent information and being honest enough to use it."

"You want to know why I started digging?" Missy stood up, temper flaring. "I started digging so that I would have leverage against Harold if he tried anything against me. I found pressure points to use, and ordinarily I wouldn't have gone to the police with anything I had found. I didn't do any digging for the greater good! I'm no Robin Hood. I was digging for my own personal gain!"

"But you did turn it in," another person said gently. "And you did all that to help Ms Smith with Rassilon and I'll bet my Bentley you helped with whatever happened to Lem, and I know it's for personal gain but it's helped all of us as well. The entire world is now free of Harry Saxon, and we're now free of Rassilon and Lem. I'd rather trust you with our finances and our future than a stranger. At least you're honest about being who you are. You'd tell us the truth about stuff going on here."

"Whoever you are," Missy snapped at them, "You don't get to decide that. I do. And I say no."

Missy went to squeeze out of her row to storm out dramatically, but was pulled back by Jane.

"What if we split the job?" She announced loudly, her grip suprisingly tight for someone who looked like a stiff wind would blow her over. "Missy doesn't want ter be working full time, but we need her know how on the business front and the schmoozing and all that. She's good at that. We know she's good at running things. She's proper organised is our Missy. But… what if we did it so the role is split. Two people. Not one. Accountability and all that right?"

Missy paused. That sounded a bit better, the thought of being responsible for one eight year old was terrfiying, but the weight of the entire institute was a weight she wasn't prepared to shoulder as well. By the sounds of the mumblings around the room, others agreed. Missy acknowledged she was listening by sitting down slowly.

"I'm jus' sayin'," Jane was on a roll now. "We got inter this mess cuz no-one knew was Rassilon was up to right? A pair of people don't necessarily means it ain't gonna happen again. We're scientists, we know the odd ain't good on never. But if two people need ter sign off on stuff, if two people have responsibility over the Institute… maybe that's a bit fairer, and a bit more secure. And, in the interim, gives us someone who knows a damn lot about pulling reputations up by their bootstraps!"

Missy glared at her, even as the audience laughed. Jane had the same sort of gravitaional charisma as John - they could commander a room in seconds, the pair of them. Missy had always been better at the background. Even with her business in New York, the "schmoozing" as Jane so put it, had been harder than the running and controlling of her empire.

"Who would you suggest then?" Missy asked, sarcasm dripping from her voice, but genuinely curious as to who Jane thought would be good at running the institute with her. Jane glanced over at John briefly, but Missy shut that down instantly, "This isn't a mom and pop shop Jane, be serious."

Jane rolled her eyes, and then shrugged. "I didn't have anyone specific in mind," she admitted, "Just that you don't want to do it on yer own, and it makes sense to split the job somehow. Seems more legit."

"Why don't you do it?" John piped up from next to Donna. Donna glared at him. He held his hands up and mimed zipping his lip sarcastically. He looked at Liz, who nodded, and repeated what he had said. Donna recorded it diligently, supressing a smile.

"What, me?" Jane laughed, throwing herself down. "Forget I said anythin' - I know how Miss feels now. Nah. What makes you think I'm gonna be any good at that?"

Missy thought it made a lot of sense actually. Jane was new enough that untangling her from the adminitsrative duties of the Institute wouldn't be agonising, and splitting the role would mean that she would still be able to teach and expriement - sorry, research - rather than be in a purely administrative position. If Missy was good at admin, Jane was good at academia. They would balance each other out fairly well.

'For starters," Jane carried on, propping her booted feet up on the back of the chair in front of her and gesturing down. She was dressed, as usual, in her brightest blue trousers, with yellow braces and a rainbow across her shirt. "Secondly," she pointed at John, "I'm already a co-lead of a department. What, would you 'ave ter get another co-lead in? Seems stupid to me. 'Sides, I ain't nearly serious enough to be the outgoin' face of the Institute."

"No," Missy conceeded, "But you could be the internal one. If we're sharing, you could probably still do most of your head of dep roles, and John was managing the entire department for a year before you arrived without too many adverse concequences - he wasn't much grumpier than usual." She winked at John. He pulled a face in response. There was a smatter of laughter.

"I think splitting the role does sound like a bloody good idea," Ian acknowedged. "I, Doctor Ian Chesterton, do raise the motion of splitting the interim head role into two positions to share the tasks and roles of the Head of Insitute. I also propose Doctor Michelle Oakdean and Doctor Jane Whittaker for the positions, until such a time as the Board of Directors appoint a new individual."

"I, Doctor Tegan Jovanka, second this," Tegan added quickly.

"Jus' temporary?" Jane checked. There were confirmations around the room. She turned to Missy. "I'm game if you are. We can split the additional pay so we ain't costin' the Institute more, an' it's only temporary… we can 'ave a bit'o'fun with this I reckon!"

Missy glanced around and saw more smiling faces than disapproving ones, more nods of encourgement than frowns.

"You all really want me to do this?" She asked in disbelief. "You're all actually willing to vote on me being a - a - a head of the Institute?"

Six months ago, people were still afraid she was going to bolt, now they were offering her the keys to the bloody kingdom. She hated people, she really, really did.

"Put it this way," Another of the Institute's many staff she wasn't all that familiar with said brightly, "At least with you two we know what we're getting. Can we put it to a vote?"

There was beat of silence as they waited for Missy to confirm. If she really didn't want to, she knew they would find someone else. But… it was only temporary, and people Missy was barely on a nodding aquaintance with were agreeing with her friends and family. Had John drummed up support before the meeting? Were they all agreeing becuase of John?

Finally, Missy nodded her agreement, and a collective sigh of relif reverberated through the room. Were that many people seriously hoping for her to be given power? Hadn't she proven again and again that she couldn't have power?

"Right then," Donna cracked her knuckles and stood up. "You all know the rules. First off, does anyone want to propose an alternative?"

Missy hoped they would. Then she could go back to her Hanger Three and stay there. She didn't want to be an active researcher, that was true - there was nothing she was curious about at the moment - but that didn't mean she wanted to run the whole institute!

"Great," Donna was setting up a coin counter on the desk in front of her, a weird combination of connect four and the charity selection at the local supermarket. "So, as written above, right hand for aye, left hand for nay, middle for abstain. Come on, up you come. Get a coin from the box, I'm the supervisor."

Then came the long, tedious wait as the entire staffing body of the Prydonian Institute shuffled into a queue, shuffled to the front, dropped coloured counters shuffled back to their desks. By the end of the queue, the choice was clear, a good three inches of coin between the aye and the nay (with a smattering of abstains which included Missy, Jane and John).

The choice was clear.

Missy and Jane were the new Interim Heads of the Institute.

Well shit.

Chapter Text

Missy didn't talk to John for three days out of sheer principle and a healthy dosing of spite. She and Jane had multiple meetings - on their own, with the board; with Donna, the bursar and various other important internal people. Everyone was a little wary, a little skittish. Rassilon had managed to get his shady dealings past a lot of people with a panache Missy felt a sliver of admiration for - there would be a lot of by the book bullshit for ages in the seesaw of lessons learnt.

He, for the most part, accepted her silence with grace. Clara was a little confused, but she'd spent long enough with her parents now to just roll with it, filling silences with chatter. Missy knew John took it as a win that she hadn't decamped back to the flat she owned and the girls lived in. She had considered it, but only because she was pissed off that he hadn't just let her know what was fucking happening beforehand. She hated being blindsided. Her organisation came from a deep seated need to overprepare for every situation. It was why she did so well.

There was so much work to do at the Institute. The plan had been just to have them untangling a few issues and kind of keep things in a holding pattern until the new head of the institute was appointed. However, as there was still no bloody clue of when that might be, Missy and Jane had spent more time trying to work out the complicated pre-historic systems than trying to keep things in a precarious balance. It would be far easier to rip the floorboards up and start afresh.

On the third day, after Clara had been sent out to play in the garden to make the most of the sunshine (before it inevtably poured tomorrow), Missy was holed up in the study trying to keep on top of all the reading that had been piled on her and Jane apiece in the various meetings of the previous day. She was just wondering if there was a way to absorb the information through a hole in the front of her head in a mass infodump when John's hand appeared in the corner of her vision, a cup of tea rattling slightly on a mismatched saucer.

It felt like a peace offering, and with scratchy eyes, Missy was more than inclined to take it.

"Thanks love," she sighed, pulling her glasses off to give her eyes a rest and inserting them into her hair to avoid losing them before she accepted the tea. His hand reteated, hovering by his own empty chair. Missy huffed and nodded. John sat down and scooted closer.

"You can't read any of this," She reminded him, before his eyebrows got too curious and his eyes followed. "You know that right?"

"I know," He said softly. He paused, and Missy really looked at him for the first time since he'd suggested - in a roundabout way - that she become the head of the institute. He looked, for want of a better word, worn. Missy clicked her tongue.

"However bad you look, Jane and I feel worse," Missy huffed, a little peeved. It was his own fault that she'd been pissed and busy.

"Sometimes," John murmurred slowly to his twisting hands, "It's better to ask permission than forgiveness. And I'm asking forgiveness now."

"Oh no," Missy snorted, "That cliche pile of crap is for when we buy mum a new pair of shoes because her back hurts and she won't be able to get to town herself, not for suggesting I take on a significant pile of crap. Not going to cut it."

"You're right," He admitted, and isn't that what every argumentative person ever wants to hear? That they are right? It felt like a hollow victory. She was too tired for this. "I should have spoken to you first, as soon as the though crossed my mind… but I'll be honest Missy, it didn't cross my mind until we were in the meeting, right before I stood up. And even then, it ws a bloody long shot. I wasn't going to suggest you - not at all. I'm biased and I love you. But I thought maybe if we approach it like scientists we could find someone between us all. And they picked you love, not me. I wasn't doing it deliberately. I just listed the qualities and you ticked every box. So, Missy, my love, I'm sorry."

Missy glowered at him. It was hard to stay mad at him sometimes, espcially when he was being cute. She was exhausted, but it was a puzzle. He was right, she did love those. She rolled her eyes and looked away and she guessed he knew he was forgiven, always and completely, because he let out a breathe she hadn't known he'd been holding and relaxed into the chair slightly.

"So, how bad is it?" he asked hesitantly, fingers trailing the hem of her cardigan.

"It's like, each thread we pull on reveals more and more knots. I'm not suprised he was able to squirrel away money. This entire financial system needs bringing into the 21st century. Unfortunately, because we're temporary, Jane and I can't actually implement any long term changes. They want things factory reset, not made better," Missy ran a hand over her exhausted face. "Honestly, it's a nightmare. There is so much we want to change but we can't. If we weren't interim, Jane and I could at least have our proposals taken seriously. They want someone in my Christmas, so no point in us getting too cosy right?"

John pressed his lips together in a not-quite-a-sad-smile and stopped short of actually taking her hand. She huffed and crossed the final inch of distance, appreciating that he always made sure the choice to actually touch was hers.

"It's just so frustrating," She admitted, sipping her tea and wincing at the amount of sugar he'd put in. "I don't have sugar love, you know that. Anyway, Jane and I already know some of the changes we'd want to start putting in - long term projects and restructures and making things more transparent but we just can't. We could really make a difference and they won't let us."

John pressed a kiss to the back of her hand, not one to offer verbal plaitudes.

"Not to mention the smarmy git whose only role at the Institute seems to be to hit on Jane, make borderline comments and sometimes actually fix the technology he is there to fix," Missy ground her teeth slightly.

"Let me guess," John asked gruffly, "Adam?"

Missy murmered her agreement.

"Yeah, he makes a lot of people, women especially, feel very uncomfortable," John continued. "He's not all that useful with fixing things either. All talk."

"Staffing issues are yet another thing I wasn't quite expecting to be so close to the top of the pile," Missy indicated the pile in front of her with a sweeping gesture that somehow managed to look sarcastic.

"You know what I prescribe?" John offered hesitantly, "I prescribe a daughter, some walking boots, and a walk over to Arcadia to see how our house is getting on. Maybe pop to your parents for dinner. Then, you can come back to this with a clearer head, and a calmer heart. How about that? Doctor's orders."

It sounded bloody marvellous.

"You're not that kind of doctor," MIssy muttered, looking at her pile, her to do list, and the ever growing email inbox full of frantic messages from Jane. They wouldn't be able to get through this unless they structured it, and they both knew it. "Revision to your plan. We go to Arcadia, check out the house, maybe paint a wall. Then, I go over to the cottage and Jane and I can work out how we're going to approach this all wihout interruptions from various staff members with titles I didn't even know existed. We can still have dinner with my parents, but I think Jane and I need to come up with a proper plan, and as much as I love you it would be easier just the two of us."

"Accepted and agreed," John stood up and opened the door to bellow out, "Clara! We're going to Arcadia and Missy is coming as well. Go get changed into your walking clothes and be by the door STAT."

There was a whoop of sheer glee before a blue and brown tornado barrelled in, launched herself at Missy, giggled and whirled off again. "Mum's coming too," She screeched to absolutely no one as she ran up the stairs faster than her feet could clear each step. There was thud, followed by a quick "I'm okay!" and more rapid footfalls.

MIssy sat back, and exchanged a look of wonder with her partner. Where in the seven levels of hell did Clara get that kind of enegry from because it certainly wasn't them. She held her hands out. John helped her up and then pulled her into a hug.

"I am sorry," he whispered into her ear, "For not talking about it first, but I'm not sorry you got the job."

"No," Missy kissed his neck. "I don't think I'm sorry I got the job either. I just wish they'd let me do the job I signed up for."

They heard Clara trip over again and chuckled. She was as clumsy as Jane now, a trait that wasn't nearly so prominent since the blonde has whirled into their life only half a year ago. It felt like longer.

………………………

It was a beautiful day. The kind of day people risked sunburn to venture out in, cool enough not to have man pulling their t-shirts off for absolutely zero reason, but warm enough to be enjoyable. Clara was employing her very best tigger impersonation - running a few meters up the lane and then stopping to look at something and either running back to drag her parents to see it as well, or running further ahead. But she was a good girl and she never went too far. She knew country roads were dangerous after all.

They climbed a rickety style, Clara leaping off with a cry of delight before going to investigate the sheep. She could run a bit freer here and she knew it. John and Missy followed at a far more uniform pace, hands swinging between them and looking for all the world like the country couple they had become. It was peaceful, and they couldn't have possibly believed it was the calm before the storm.

…………………………………….

"Mum is coming," Clara ordered, pushing open the door to the office a week later, a determined look on her face that would have been adorable if she weren't being so petulant. Missy and Jane had been in their role for a little more three weeks, and were starting to feel like they were getting the hang of the role. Clara had been on summer holiday for eight of those days.

"I can't Clara," Missy answered distractedly, glasses perched on her nose, typing on her email. She missed Clara crossing her arms, lips pressing together in a worryingly familiar sulk.

"You never come anywhere anymore,' Clara replied hotly, "You're always working. It's not fair. You never do anything fun!"

And with a dramatic flourish, Clara turned and stomped up the stairs, announcing loudly to all that would listen that she was Not Happy. Missy stopped typing and closed her eyes briefly.

Clara had been….difficult since the holidays had started. Missy had thought working from home a day or two a week would make the transition a bit easier, but if anything, it seemed to be making it harder. Clara was unimpressed at how little time Missy apparently had for her, and seemed to be entering her teenage sulky years a little early.

"I'll go talk to her," John paused the door to the office and offered helplessly.

It was their own fault. Missy had rather spoiled Clara with her time, if nothing else. And now, Missy still had time for Clara, but she wasn't spending virtually every moment of their evenings together. She wasn't always home. They had explained it to her, but she wasn't ten yet, and there was only so many concequences of Mum's New Job she could understand. It probably didn't help that Jane was also near to overwhelmed and so hadn't been over as frequently to just play with Clara.

Missy honestly wasn't sure she'd have been able to juggle everything without Jane. Rassilon hadn't even been doing a third of his administrative job, and a high staff turnover in his admin team made for some incredibly patchy and piecemeal records that needed a whole damn team to decipher. The head of the institute had only been a one-man job in the last twenty-five years since Rassilon took over, that much was becoming clear.

She'd been very good about making sure that the time between school ending and dinner was time spent with Clara in some way or another, and then after dinner she'd do paperwork in front of whatever movie had been selected, then return to the study after Clara had gone to bed. The end of school had been more problematic as Clara saw how much time Missy spent either at the Insitute, with Jane or just locked up in the study.

"I'm not GOING," was screamed down the stairs, followed by a clattering of what sounded like books hitting the deck. Missy took her glasses off and rubbed the bridge of her nose. This had been brewing for days. She and John had already discussed how it was being handled. Missy wouldn't get involved. They didn't want to teach her that a tantrum would give her the attention she seemed to think she was lacking, so they were going to leave her to it.

And apparently, the meltdown had started. Clara was screaming incoherently in her room, the rage bleeding through the walls and invading every particle of space in their small house. Missy couldn't even work out what she was screaming at the top of her lungs, but could just work out the words "mum" "work". Well, at least Clara was clear about what she was mightily pissed about.

John sank down along the doorjam, sitting on the floor in the doorway.

"Suprise, suprise," He said drily, "Our drama queen is upset she isn't getting enough attention."

Missy was certain that she hadn't been spending any less time with Clara than usual, and pointed so out to John. She didn't understand her offspring sometimes. She was so much better than when she first arrived, but sometimes she was as clueless as the day Clara called her a dragon and attached herself to Missy's waist.

"She's just worried she isn't your top priority any more," John translated, "She just doesn't know how to have a proper grown up conversation about whether you'll be more interested in work than you are in her. I know she's your top priority," He added hurridley at the look on Missy's face, "But she's eight, all she knows is that you've got a lot of work and she's not allowed to get involved. You always let her help, in inverted commas, with your garage work, but she's probably feeling shut out from this new job, and she's worried you're going to leave."

Missy stared at him.

"You got all that from a temper tantrum?" She asked incredulously, wincing as Clara hit a worryingly high note in her screech. "She's going to get a sore throat if she keeps this up."

"Not just from the tantrum," John corrected wryly, "From eight years of bringing her up, and forty plus years of knowing her mother.… also I read some child development books when River first got sick… and a few about how kids take step parents and or adoption when you came back. I wanted to be prepared for whatever Clara was going to hurl at me. She dumped her books, by the way. I think she might have ripped a cover or two which will probably do more for helping her regulate her temper than anything we do. Bloody books."

"You read parenting books?" Missy clarified, she hadn't even thought of that. She probably should have. Although, she wasn't sure there was a book for - you gave your baby to your sister to raise and then your sister died and now your back with your never-quite-an-ex raising your pre-pubescent daughter with control problems. Possibly a bit niche.

"Yep," he popped the 'p', head cocked to listen to Clara's slowly decreasing crying. "Reckon she's done with the worst of it now? And they helped. The books that is. They helped me work out why she was behaving in so and so ways. And her therapist helped with recommendations so I wasn't reading quack science shit. It's helped."

Missy nodded thoughtfully.

"You'd hate them," he tacked on, "And you've got enough getting on. Most of it's common sense anyway - don't pander to her during a temper tantrum, for example, or they'll never stop."

There was another slightly more half-hearted wail that digressed into sobbing.

"She's tiny," Missy mused, "How is she so loud?"

"Genetics," John muttered, and the pink his ears turned suggested he hadn't meant to say it out loud. He clearly decided to commit. "You're not exaclty huge dear, and you can be quite loud when you put your mind to it."

Missy bit back the 'in more ways than one' that was on the tip of her tongue. It wasn't an appropriate time for innuendo, no matter it appeared a similar train of thought had entered John's head (if the slight shake was anything to go by). He pulled his phone out.

Their quiet musings were interrupted by a shuffling on the stairs. They waited patiently for her to hesitantly make her way down to the bottom of the stairs. She looked a fright. Her face was red and puffy and looked painfully raw in some areas, tears leaving dried colums on her face. Her nose was snotty. She was avoiding their eyes, twisting her hands in the bottom of her t-shirt. Clara sniffed loudly.

"M'sorry," She snuffled eventually.

"What for?" Missy asked patiently. They were trying to help Clara be more aware of her emotions so she didn't find it so hard to talk about feelings as her parents do.

"I got angry cus you're working lots and… I got upset," She said a little hesitantly. They waited for her to continue. "Do you have to keep working mum?"

"Yes," Missy replied instantly. "And you throwing your books around and screaming is only going to stop me from doing my work, so it will take me longer to finish. I've got a new, very important job - but it's boring and there's lots of things I need to read to fix it. It doesn't mean you're any less important, it just means I have to fit more in. And trust me, you don't want to be helping me with this. Clean your nose poppet, you've got a lot of snot."

John passed Clara the tissue, the little uns face returning to its normal colour in splotches.

"But it's the school holidays," Clara half-whined.

"Adults don't get school holidays," John reminded her, "We may work at a university, but we have to work through the summer as well. And, well, mum's got a really important job now and she needs to get everything sorted for when the students come back. So she's going to be really busy for a few weeks. So is Aunty Jane. You can't throw a tantrum every time they need to work or it's going to be a bloody long summer kiddo."

Clara nodded sadly, shoulders drooping.

"I'll still be here in the evenings, as I would if you were at school," Missy pointed out. "And I'll have to work some weekends, but it's so I don't have to work quite so hard later on. You've got lots of fun exciting things planned with all your friends, so you wouldn't be seeing much of us - may I remind you. You've got a more exciting social life than I do right about now."

Clara smiled, a dimple appearing in her still-pink cheek.

"So, you need to go and tidy up all the things you have messed up in your room, on your own," John instructed, "And we aren't going to Grandma's now. I told her and Grampy that you threw a tantrum."

Clara's eyes widened a little in fear. Missy assumed she'd thought she get away with going to her grandparents and being doted on. Good, brat was learning concequences.

"You have to tidy your room and you don't get to go to your grandparents," Missy reinforced firmly, "And next time you feel like that, talk to daddy or I calmly and explain how you feel. We will always be honest about why I, or you, can't do something. I have to work at the moment, and I know you aren't used to it. But I'm still here. I will still be here, and I still care. Agreed?"

Clara nodded slowly, wiping her congealing nose on her sleeve. Missy wrinkled her nose, but decided it wasn't a battle worth fighting at that precise time.

"Sorry mum, sorry dad," she said quietly, turning to go up to her room. "Can I call Grandma and Grampy later to tell them sorry as well?"

"After you've finished your room," Missy confirmed. Clara nodded again and started making her way up the stairs slowly, dragging her feet with each, apparently agonising, step. Once Clara had reached the top of the stairs, John dropped his head to Missy's knees, gripping to her legs tightly. Her hand went instantly to pet the top of his head.

"She's going to be such a shitty teenager," he complained into her skirt. Finally he sat back up and made a production out of getting himself up off the floor. "Right then love, I'll go get you a new jug of juice and leave you to it. No point exacerbating the issue by me sitting in here with you."

Clara had broken six books and John had been right, that was a far more effective temper control than anything they could have said - because she was only allowed to replace them out of her own pocket money. She also learnt a little more about the value of money and books that day, because she didn't have enough for one of them, let alone all of the ones her temper had destroyed.

Chapter Text

Somehow, they had managed to convince the Board that some changes were absolutely necessary, and that it would make things easier for whoever superceeded them. Suprise, suprise, the appointment of a successor had been delayed. They were expecting Easter. The extension to their contract meant that Missy and Jane had a bit more bargining power. And while there were some issues that couldn't really be meted out without a sense of longevity (Missy was including personel restructures in this and Jane heartily agreed - that was a can of worms they wanted very far away from them), there were some issues that belonged to updating the electronic administration systems.

Oh, how John had grumbled. They would be moving everything online (what was this, the dark ages?) and all expenses would be processed through a shiny new system - freeing Donna's time up for more important things (Donna was delighted, as were her minions). That was just for starters. The board had been convinced to hire a second accountant - part time - to help in the mass untangling of the ledgers (some of them were in actual ledgers heaven help them all).

The entire summer had been project after project after project, making sure all the systems were tested thoroughly by the new head of IT now that Adam had been very firmly asked to seek employment elsewhere when he'd demanded a payrise. She was startlingly efficent and spoke code like others spoke words. Missy was absolutely in awe of her, especially as Charlotte seemed barely old enough to hold a pencil the right way up. The child (for she really was barely eighteen) had come in to interview for the assistant position, tutted at the state Missy's laptop in and had it working faster within two minutes, eighteen seconds (apparently not even close to her personal best). They'd let her loose on the mainframe on a trial basis and heavily supervised by Doctor Moon, but within the month, Charlotte was given free reign. She'd installed a programme called Library and it was running smoother than anything Missy had ever encountered. She didn't doubt it would be able to handle all the new programmes.

Donna they promoted. She hadn't been an assistant in years. They'd asked her what she wanted her job title to be, and after some consideration (and being talked out of Director of All you Fuckwits because it would be hard to explain in the future) she decided on the bland and boring Director of Facilities and Personel - including the administration and support of personal assistants. She had her own office, and had recommended that Heather become her assistant (taking over the front desk duties) and that Missy and Jane employ an assistant of their own (she had some recommenations). With their mounting workloads, they confessed they needed the help and Tish Jones was employed within the month (They'd only realised after they'd decided it had to be her that she was Martha's big sister - oh well).

But while the Board and the actual implementation of 21st century systems has been stumbling blocks, the biggest hurdle was always going to be the staff themselves. The meeting with training on the new systems had been frustrating to say the least. So many of the older staff members were furious with the changes, refusing to even contemplate this new world order and (some) declaring they had been right not to vote for Missy and Jane.

Suprisingly it was Jane who'd had enough first - snapping at one particularly churlish bloke that if he didn't like the changes he was perfectly welcome to search for employment elsewhere, but he should be aware that in this area the Insitute was shockingly behind the curve. If he wanted to only use paper, she'd finished with her hands in the air, he needed to invent a bloody time machine.

Training had gone a little easier after that.

It had been Bill's idea to train all the TA's and Grad Students on the system first. By and large, they were young uns of the computer generation, with an almost innate understanding of how technology worked. Charlotte had amazed them, and they'd taken to the new systems like fish to water, with relatively few teething problems. By the time the professors had come in, there were a bevy of helpers willing to take the time to explain (again) what files needed to be attached and no the order doesn't matter.

John was one of the ones Not Impressed And Being Grumpy About the new system changes. It wasn't helping that he had a hard time seperating work from home and had taken to glaring ominously at the laptp screen, experimentally hitting buttons. He'd snapped out of it pretty fast after Clara'd huffed, leant over and shown him what needed to be done without actually being told.

"I told you it's just common sense," Missy had muttered, "Although it's apparently not that common in you lot."

One of the other changes was that Missy had converted the two offices Rassilon had used into a spacious and light one for her and Jane to use (with a collapsible board for if they were distracting each other too much) and a heavy doorstop so that people were welcome. Tish sat in with them as well. It felt more communal and more like teamwork that way. Tish was still being rather formal with her, and they were determined to let her know that they were absolutely batshit crazy and she was more than welcome to join them. Tish had her own smaller space for when they got too much. The other room, Jane had converted from a state meeting room into a quiet study area - filled with blankets and beanbags and those balance on your lap laptop boards. Music was allowed through headphones. Shoes had to be discarded at the door. It was a wellness room, more than a study room. They didn't need a second meeting room. Rassilon had held himself above the Insitute staff - Missy and Jane were bringing the role firmly back in line.

Despite the relative resistance to the changes currently being implemented, Missy and Jane moved forwards with creating evidence based proposals for more student and staff support, a third person to review funding applications to avoid bias (someone who wasn't only employed from another city, but would only come to the university for days as necessary to maintain a degree of seperation Missy and Jane wouldn't be able to achieve), the groundwork for more interdiciplinary research opportunities and various other projects. They knew that out of the seven or eight proposals they had decided were urgent, they might be allowed to fund one or two, but they still toasted each other -drinking whiskey out of mugs with their feet up on their desks.

Missy had been making herself heard in the right networks, and she was already sweet-talking a funder from the old days. Harriet Jones had been the Prime Minister that superceeded the one Missy had…worked with. She hadn't particularly liked Missy, but she'd always been a champion of education and health, and had been considering setting up a foundation for medical science research. Some research like the ones some of the post-docs were employed in prosthetics, for example. Harriet was more interested in the less glamourous projects that would be less likely to get funding. They'd found a mutual respect, and Harriet was a hair's breath from agreeing a specific grant fund for their research facility seperate from the rest of the country.

Loathe as she had been to start with, Missy liked her new role. She was enjoying being truly, properly busy again - to be doing something she was excellent at beyond the constraints of an engine. She kept a notebook on hand at all times, finding ideas popping into her head in the middle of a conversation with John, her mum, Mickey Smith, whoever she was working with. She was, dare she say it, enjoying herself.

Another tradition had started while Missy was gone - that of a Last Hurrah - or the last BBQ of summer before going back to school. It was held at the end of August in a faint bid to make the most of summer and in time for Jenny to start her new school term. They all piled into their cars and drove to the nearby lake where the children (and adult-children) could swim and paddleboard and the adults could eat charred meat and talk about plans without looming responsibility over their heads.

"So, you like it then?" Liz teased, shooing her daughter out of her collapsible chair. Her hand instantly found Alister's - half snoozing beside her. To Kate she said "You, go and play! Adults are talking."

"I'm coming up for twenty-three mum," Kate rolled her eyes affectionately, "I'm an adult as well now."

"Oh hush," Liz wrinkled her nose. "Go on with you all now."

Katie laughed, and hauled Osgood to her feet, calling out for Rosie to put David down or they would haul her into the lake. Rose did get up to join in, David giving Clara a piggy back out. Offspring would be safe with them.

"Yeah," Jane answered Liz's original question, sprawled across a blanket with her head in Yaz's lap, huge Audrey Hepburn sunglasses on. "Yeah I think we do. It's been bloody tough, but we've got it figured ain't we Miss?"

"In a way that means you get to keep being the brilliant genius level scientist that you are," Missy finished, accepting a bottle of cider from John. "Yes, Liz dear, I think we have started to get a handle on things. Of course, the students haven't come back yet. We need to put it into the diary to discuss how we're going to handle things once your teaching workload starts again." She nudged Jane's foot. Jane waved her off.

"Not today Miss," She complained, "S'family time."

"She is right," John rested his head on Missy's shoulder. "Family time not work time love."

"I know," Missy stuck her tongue out at him, and then sat up quickly to dislodge his head. She waved at her incoming parents with more enthusiasm than she would usually, taking a vindictive sort of pleasure at his under-the-breath grumbles.

There were the usual spatter of greetings, doubled as Sarah and Harry arrived with Luke and (to Missy's extraordinary excitement) Maria. It was nice. As much as Missy was enjoying being busy, she had missed being completely surrounded by her family, teasing those within it (Luke) and just resting for a second.

"Mum!" Clara screeched, appearing out of nowhere and tripping over Jane's legs into her parents laps. She was soaking wet, clearly having darted here direct from the lake. A dripping David appeared a moment later, grinning manically. "Mum! Save me!"

"Don't get me involved," Missy unceremoniously dumped Clara of the grass and wafted out her shirt. "All your David."

Yes. It was rather fun.

……………………..

The first day the students were back was absolute bedlam. It seemed that despite all preperations, the staff of the Institute were collectively suprised when students turned up for teaching. The electonic systems were holding but the staff were crumbling. Donna had huffed over the mid-morning coffee breather, saying that it was the same every year and that it would all be sorted by the end of the week.

By lunchtime, the end of the week felt a lot longer away and Missy was wondering how she and Jane thought they had a handle on things. Things were going wrong left right and centre - from staffing mix ups to arguments over rooms and lab spaces and people appearing where they weren't meant to. It didn't help that Jane had gone off to deal with a Physics department issue with John early in the day, and so Missy was left to deal with the minutae of running a university by herself (and Tish) for a few hours.

"You're in a meeting," Tish informed her when she arrived back to the office, just about ready to breath fire on the next person who so much as looked in her direction. She needed a coffee. This was worse than most mergers she'd handled and it was only the first day.

Missy blinked in her direction. She knew she didn't have any meetings today - had arranged her schedule so she didn't have any meetings and Tish knew this.

"Till half past," Tish added, smiling in a very blank, carefully schooled way. Tish closed the door as she left and Missy realised what Tish had been trying to say. She had scheduled Missy a break, so no-one would disturb her.

"You angel," She breathed, sinking into her chair and finding Tish had left her a steaming mug of coffee and three bourbon biscuits next to her desktop. "Marry me."

There was only silence for an answer and it was blissful. For the full ten minutes until Jane came tumbling in, hair flying, apologising profusely. Missy tutted, sat her down, and they sat in a peaceful companionship answering emails calmly until Tish knocked on the door at half past precisely and informed them the head of the Mechanics course was on line 3 and getting a bit testy.

…………………………..

"We survived!" Jane collapsed onto Missy's sofa, pulling Missy down with her. Clara giggled, climbing up to join her mum and aunt.

"We just have to do it all again tomorrow," Missy groaned, thinking of all the paperwork they hadn't been able to get done.

"Don't matter," Jane said petulantly, squidging Clara tightly to her. "Firs' days always the worst. Everyone knows that."

John snorted when he saw them, an ungainly mess of limbs.

"I've ordered pizza for dinner," he announced, "Got one for you as well Jane. You can kip here tonight if you want."

"Nah," Jane yawned, her jaw creaking slightly. "I just wan'ter curl up next ter Yaz. I'll get her to pick me up on her way back through the village."

It was the closest Jane had come to an offical announcemnt of her relationship with Yaz. It wasn't a secret, but Jane hadn't felt the need to announce to anyone the status of her relationship with her housemate. It was entirely sweet.

"Next week will be easier," John promised, gently resting his hand on the top of Missy's hair. "It's always mad the first week."

"Goody," Missy replied deadpan, eyes closed and already half asleep.

But John made her sit up, stay awake for food and then all but poured her into the bath after Yaz had picked up an equally deleriously tired Jane. He sat down next to the bath to make sure she didn't fall asleep, and chatted to her about all the gossip he'd picked up on throughout the day. She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

Chapter Text

Somehow, despite all the expectations of delays (or perhaps because of the expectations of delays) Arcadia was finished before any of them anticipated. They'd planned for moving in over winter, but the leaves were still red on the trees when Missy got a phone call from their project manager announcing that everything was done, all they needed to do was move in! John and Missy had gone to check, of course, and everything really was ready to go. The house was sound, it was wired, it was plumbed and now just waiting to really be theirs.

Missy hadn't been able to take a week off of her new duties to properly pack up, but the girls had gleefully thrown all ther remaining items from her into a few boxes and shipped them to Arcadia. Everything she'd put in storage (which didn't actually amount to much) had been sent over and John had been cursing his papercuts as he packed up their house. There had been more than a few sentimental moments when something of River's was found and then put carefully in a box to take, but it had been exciting. Clara had unpacked and repacked her books three times before John sealed it and drove it to Arcadia himself.

They moved in stages - making the process take a little over a fortnight in total. One day the new furniture was moved in. The following few evenings they moved and unpacked the boxes as they went. And slowly, box by box, Missy's cardigans hung next to John's hoodies in the wardrobe. Clara's books were placed upon her new (larger) shelves with various knick knacks she'd picked up going through River's things. The new workshop was filled with shiny worksurfaces and worn tools, K-9 placed quietly in the corner of the room - finished now but not yet activated.

By the time Final Moving Draft REAL THING was upon them, Clara was chomping at the bit to be in the new house, but first they had to have the time honoured tradition of camping out on mattesses in an empty living room. Clara, having never moved before, was amazed. It was so easy to entertain her sometimes. Missy's paperwork had been put in her new office, all the furniture had been set up. No distractions, jus uninterrupted family time.

They had decided to go all out. If everything went to plan, they would never have to move again - certainly they wouldn't, even if Clara would one day move out. A final farewell to John and River and Clara, and latterly Missy's home. They had pushed the mattresses together, set up a standing tea-kettle (electric, but they had found it in Sarah's garage so it was definatley from the dark ages) and were fixing hot chocolate cross legged on piles of blankets. Clara's chosen toy for the night was wedged under her arm and i was probably a good thing stuffed sheep didn't need to breathe.

"So, what are you going to do with the other room now you and daddy are sharing?" Clara asked around a mouthful of marshmallow. It had been a game they played to keep Clara from getting too irate about the slow process of their move. Normally she would paint the room a different colour (purple had been the colour decided in the end) or have a canopy bed and a wall of books (she'd been watching Beauty and the Beast a lot that week), or was considering a comfy beanbag corner (after visiting mum at work).

This wouldn't be the first time she'd turned the question on them, but it was the first time she'd done it with such a particular look in her eye. A look which had Missy narrowing her eyes and choosing her words carefully. She wasn't sure what angle Clara was going for, but she knew her daughter and that look meant she was building up to something.

"It's going to be another spare bedroom," She reminded Clara pointedly.

"But it isn't yet?" Clara checked.

"No," John replied warily, adjusting the kettle so he could stretch his legs out and lean back behind Missy. It felt a little like he was seeking her protection or something. At least he had noticed Clara was up to something this time. He had nearly absent mindedly promised Clara a furry pet the other week, before Missy had jumped in.

"You know that," Missy pointed out, "We're going to get the bed and the furniture in a few months because we already have two spare rooms."

Clara nodded thoughtfully, chewing carefully on another marshmallow. There was a few minutes without any comments, and Missy felt John relax and reach forward to pour out the hot chocolate into their mugs. He let Clara drop some marshmallows into each mug.

"Could it be a baby's room?" She asked suddenly. "I'd like a little sister I think."

Missy was glad John hadn't actually picked up a mug, because it would have dropped to the floor in an instant. If she'd been holding anything it would have been bouncing by now.

"No," Missy said firmly, "Clara we've talked about this. We aren't going to be having another baby."

"But we have the space now," Clara argued, pouting. "We have lots of room."

John was studiously ignoring Missy's glare for assistance, concentrating on moving the hot kettle out of the way of flailing limbs. He better not want another kid. She was over 40 - pregnancy was not happening. And she wasn't going to explain the menopause to Clara.

"It's not about space," She tried to be patient, she really did. "We think you're more than enough trouble for us."

Clara looked distinctly unimpressed at this line of reasoning.

"No, Clara," John said in a rare tone of absolute finality. "A baby is a lot of work, and it takes a long time, and there are lots of very adult reasons why we aren't going to have a baby. You have to stop asking poppet, we aren't going to change our minds."

"No matter how often you ask," Missy added, raising an eyebrow. Clara sulked for a minute or two before hedging another bet.

"If I can't have a little sister, can I have a puppy?"

The no was unanimous and instant.

………………………………………..

"Last one!" John called into their newly decorated and significantly bigger hallway (Call it what it is Miss, Jane's voice echoed through her head, It's a proper entrance hall this. Y'need a coat stand an' a butler.) before he appeared mostly hidden by a large cardboard box. Mum followed in a moment later, red-grey hair pulled off her face by a floral scarf that shouldn't have looked as good as it did.

"I closed the van up," Mum added, dropping the keys on the dresser that had been put in place earlier. Missy opened the drawer to sweep the keys in - less likely to get lost that way. "Where's dad?"

"Unpacking the kitchen," Missy stepped forward to help John with the weight of the box. His back had been playing up because of all the packing "I got this one love, it's just knick knacks for the workshop. All one level."

John relinquished the weight of the box with a relieved look. If the box was big in John's arms it was huge in
Missy's. In recompense, he walked through the hall, the dining room and to the workshop, opening doors and navitgating Missy's misshapen bulk around objects she couldn't see.

"I thought we'd moved all the workshop stuff weeks ago," he muttered, helping her put the box on one of the new (for them) worktables that lined the walls of their new, fully aired workshop.

"This is something Jane and I have been working on," Missy admitted, "It was a break for us, after the quarterly budget meeting. We got drunk and started making things out of scrap metal in her backyard. Yaz was the reponsible adult, don't worry."

Missy reached into the box and started putting all the random tools she'd found while moving in their correct places. Then, she pulled out the twisted metal vase that Jane had gifted her (it was strangely beautiful, an would look fantastic with some long spanners in. Who needed flowers?) and then pulling out the real reason for their metal-bending evening.

It was a case for K-9's charging point, but more than that, it was a dog food bowl. It was a food bowl with K-9 blowtorched into the side, that fed their metal dog. Missy was shaking in suppressed laughter before John had even dropped his head into his hands to groan loudly.

"You're terrible," He mumbled, looking down at her through his fingers. He shook his head in wonder. "Bloody hell I love you."

He took the bowl out of her hands to kiss her - which was, of course, when her mum came in to ask about where some furniture needed moving to before boxes.

Hours later, the house was mostly done. They were dusty, exhausted, but more than anything else they were happy. The three of them waved goodbye to their contingency of helpers from the porch, saluting Jane as she just crossed the road and opened the gate. They returned to their kitchen - to the pile of empty boxes in the corner and her dad's meticulous ordering system. Missy was planning on moving everything around once they'd gotten used to the layout of the kitchen and found out where things were best placed.

Harry had disappeared some half an hour before everyone else to buy fish and chips, and the wrapped paper packages were still warm on the table. Hands were washed, bread was buttered, chips were devoured. Clara was dispatched to her own bathroom, while Missy and John made plans. She emerged dustless and slightly pink, in her comfy Moana jimmies, rubbing her eyes carelessly and climbing into Missy's lap for a hug and for her hair to be brushed.

"One last thing before bed I think," Missy pressed a kiss to Clara's clean, damp head. She had plaited Clara's hair after the shower, and was inclined to ask John's to do her own plaits for her before they went to bed.

Clara was half asleep already, but they had both been wating for the right moment to see if their pet project (quite literally) worked.

"I think it's time to wake the dog up," She said gently, watching as Clara physically brightened. She took Clara's hand, and led her down the corridor to the workshop, where John had already given K-9 a final dust and placed him on the floor. "What do you think Clara-bear?"

Clara nodded mutely, and Missy swapped places with John to do the final checks in silence. Clara was practically vibrating with supressed excitement, her hands tugging at the bottom of her t-shirt.

A few more tweaks, and the final wire was unplugged from the wall. K-9 would only need to use his food charging station from now on, unless he needed a mechanical system fix for some reason. Missy took a step back, holding her breath that this project of hers was more than just some remote control nonsense she could have picked up at a toy shop. Given the computing power in the metal casing, she seriously hoped not. Clara glanced up at her parents a little unsurely. John nodded encouragingly at her, wrapping an arm around Missy's waist.

Clara stepped forward. The head of their metal dog rose to meet her. K-9 came to Clara's waist. A girl and her dog.

"Good evening, K-9," she said politely, a little unsurely. And K-9, a metal dog that had been dreamt up and built into being spoke for the first time:

"Good evening Mistress."

Chapter Text

Eleven Years Later

It was a warm day when the train pulled to a stop at Gloucester Train Station. Clara took her girlfriends hand and pulled her through the barriers and out into a dingy car park with nothing more than an excited smile. Ashildr Me let her pull her along without complaint. She and Clara had met in the first week of university and instantly wound each other up. Two months later they were dating. They had been together six months now, and she was a little nervous about meeting Clara's family for the first time, even though she wasn't usually nervous. Gloucester was apparently 'boring as all hell' according to Clara, and she had been warned that as far as things to do went, Gallifrey was worse. But Gallifrey had the benefit of being home. Which made it the best in her eyes.

Suddenly Clara pulled away and half ran the last few steps towards a battered silver car where a gangly woman about a decade older than them (in the loudest t-shirt Ashildr had seen) was beaming against the bonnet. Next to her was a lanky teenager with long messy blonde hair, a face that Ashildr had seen many times on the wall of Clara's dorm room.

Clara flung her arms around the blonde teenager, nearly of a height as her already. They were laughing, hanging off each other tightly. Finally, Clara pulled away to make the necessary introductions.

"Ash, this is Skye, my little sister. And the gangly thing over there is Bill," She said gleefully, indicating the driver of the car. "Clouds, Bill, this is my girlfriend, Ashildr."

Ash waved a little awkwardly, not able to keep the smile off her face at how clearly thrilled Clara was to be home. She wanted to feel that way about a place. She had very few intentions of heading back to her village, and was desperately trying to convince her dad to move away. It was somewhere to go, but it wasn't home. Bill greeted her cheerfully, taking her rucksack to sling into the boot of the car.

'"Just push all the stuff out of the way," Bill said jovially, opening the back door for the girls. "Oi Smokedeans, you two know the drill."

Clara and Skye had already started pulling the paper into piles and shoving it in the pouches on the back of the car seats.

"What are you and dad working on at the moment?" Clara slid into the middle of the back seat. Bill checked all three of them were plugged in before pulling out into the traffic.

"Ah, your dad's taking it slow this year, you know that," Bill winked in the wing mirror. Clara gave her a look that Ash was familiar with - and apparently Bill was as well.

"You look just like your mum when you do that," Bill teased. "And mini Smokedean's getting worryingly good at it too."

"Smoakdean?" Ash whispered to her girlfriend, confused by the name. She thought Clara was a Smith.

"Mum's an Oakdean, Dad's a Smith," Clara answered, "And Bill decided like, ten years ago to Bradgelina them. So they're Smokedeans, and she calls us Mini Smoakdeans."

"It doesn't help there's like six parts of the family called Smith and not all of us are actually related," Skye added, "Bill says its so she can differentiate. And lots of other people call us Smoakdeans as well so it isnt just her."

"Jane so doesn't count," Clara counteracted.

"Does too," Skye replied stubbornly, lifting her chin.

"Nope, none of that you two," Bill cut the stubborn-off before it could happen. "Your mum and dad don't know you two are coming, or they'd have come to get you. But all your grandparents know."

"If you were the one coming, why didn't you bring my bike," Clara teased. Ash knew about Clara's motorbike - apparently it had started off as a project with her mum when she was twelve years old, and it had been roadworthy long before she was old enough to ride it. She loved her bike fiercely.

"Mum would kill you if you put me on your bike," Skye pointed out, "And I wanted to come. Sides, how would Bill drive her car and bring your bike?"

"She's got a point," Ash muttered to Clara, not wanting to get between sisters too loudly. She didn't have any experience with siblings, but she heard it could go from 0-60 faster than a Harley. Clara laughed loudly and acknowledged the logistics left a lot to be desired.

Ashilr wasn't worried about meeting Clara's family in the strictest sense. She was excited to meet her mum, who was still running the Pyrodian Institute with resounding success over ten years after having accepted it as a temporary position. She was curious to see what stories about her dad were true. She'd been excited to meet her grandparents, who Clara positively adored and one set of which whose party they were going to. Amy and Rory William's sixtieth wedding anniversary was a big deal. But it's everyone else that Clara considers family she was worried about. Clara had once described her family as misfit toys and broken things in the most cheerful way. She had described it as a collection of strays. She had described it as her family, and a closer family you would probably be hard pressed to find.

She isn't too worried about meeting everyone - she gets on well with most people after all. She is worried she won't be able to keep everyone straight in her head. Clara had a lot of Aunties and Uncles, and an increasingly crazy big family as far as she can tell (Clara had tried to explain how all of her aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents fitted into the family once. It had involved several sheets of paper and a rather complicated interconnected forest of family trees. Ash still wasn't sure she'd gotten everyone in.) She didn't want to get anyone mixed up, was all.

Ash was pulled out of her thoughts when the car stopped outside what could only be described as a freaking manor house.

"You live here?" She asked incredulously. She had known Clara was from a wealthier family situation, but having the evidence in front of her was completely different to knowing.

"Riddiculous isn't it," Clara beamed, nudging Skye to get out. "Move it Clouds!"

Bill was hauling items out of the boot of the car, mostly of a liquid nature. She handed a box of pop off to Skye and a bag of booze to Clara muttereing something about corrupting minors and death by Missy as she did so. Clara went bounding up the path between the drive and the house, leaning on the doorbell. Skye hung back slightly, smirking. Ashildr decided it was probably safer to stay with her than stand by Clara, if the twist to the younger girls lips was anything to go by.

There was no reply. But inside the house, a voice could be heard shouting, another deeper voice shouting back.

"…It's not my bloody fault you-" The middle aged woman on the doorstep stopped suddenly, eyes widening behind glasses, hair tied messily above her head, cheekbones ridiculously sharp. She looked like Clara but sharper. They were of a similar height, both small with dark brown hair. "Clara? What the hell are you doing here?!"

And just like that, Clara and who Ashildr could only assume was Missy Oakdean were tangled up in a hug, both laughing.

"Did something more interesting happen becaue you never finished insulting me," A voice called loudly from further into the house, and then there was a tall gangly man with the most incredible eyebrows Ash had ever seen making a high pitched noise and pushing Missy out of the way to hug Clara. "Hands off witch, my turn! Clara! You said you couldn't make it!"

Skye sidled up to her mum, leaving the box of cans on the floor and beaming happily, already tall enough to rest her head on Missy's shoulders. Ash had been suprised that both Clara's parents were Scottish - she thought they had been in Gloucestershire for decades. Clara's dad looked older by far, his grey hair thick and fluffy, looking like he'd been angling for a mad professor vibe. Missy looked more glamourous - for starters, she wasn't wearing a hoodie with visible holes in.

"You know me dad," Clara laughed lightly, stepping back. "Never one to miss a party. Suprise!"

"We're so glad you could make it pet," Missy reached out to bat Clara's arm, her eyes looking a little damp. Ash wondered what it would be like to have people delighted you were home. "If nothing else, you can help me convince your father that it is a totally idiotic idea for him to retire. He'd be bored stupid within a day and we aren't even at retirement age yet!"

Clara threw her head back and laughed. It sounded different somehow. She pulled both her parents into a hug at once.

"By the old gods and the new, I've missed you," She breathed into their embrace.

"We missed you too Pipsqueak," Missy replied, squeezing tighter. "Dad's been nigh on insufferable without you. Now. Why don't you introduce us to the wide-eyed mouse behind you?"

Ashildr started at the description. Mouse? Her? But Clara just laughed again and took her hand.

"Ash, this is my mum Missy, and my dad John," She introduced proudly. "Mum, dad, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend Ashildr Me, Ash."

Ash waved her free hand a little awkwardly.

"Welcome, welcome," Clara's honestly ridiculously tall dad said energetically, waving them into the house. "Ignore my wife, she's in a mood because I ate all the chocolate digestives. Come on in, we've heard so much about you."

"You aren't married," Ash pointed out before she could stop herself. Well, in for a penny in for a pound. "Clara said you two think marriage is a pointless piece of paper that wouldn't stop you from seperating if you had any inclination to do so."

She snapped her mouth shut, irritated that it was running away from her again. But Clara was smiling proudly and John and Missy seemed to be having a conversation without speaking.

"We're adopting you," Missy announced suddenly. "You'll fit right in with our misfit toys. Come on in. Clara can show you where her room is and get you settled. Skye, you need to go help Bill with getting the drinks to the back gardent tout suite. Then I want all of you on the patio for your assignments in say… fifteen minutes? Excellent. What are you still standing around for? Spit spot!"

She actually waved her hands in a shooing motion at them. Clara dropped a kiss to her mums cheek on the way past. Ash turned on the staircase to see that whatever Clara's parents had been arguing about was apparently resovled, her dad running his hands up and down her mum's arms. When Ash pointed out how easily they'd made up, Clara barked out a laugh and informed Ash that the day her parents stopped arguing about everything was they day they would, for want of a better word, divorce. Apparently it was how they operated, enjoying the game of needling each other. Apparently, when they actually argued, you knew about it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent moving things around the huge garden, getting things ready for the party. Skye was darting around as messenger, her blonde hair trailing behind her. Skye had been Clara's reading buddy when Clara was in Year six, nearly nine years ago. Skye had been five, Clara had been eleven. When circumastances made it apparent Skye would need to be fostered, Clara had offered her own parents and they had agreed. A year later, and little Skye returned to school for her first day in Year 2 with a uniform that fitted, a new sister and a new surname. Clara had gotten her wish for a little sister in the end. They adored each other, even now. It was clear Skye thought her big sister hung the stars.

Around seven, Ash was interrupted from her task by a high pitched squeal of "Granny!". She watched Clara launch herself at a tall couple with silvery hair. Her grandparents, for whose sixtieth anniversary this party was to celebrate. She was hauled up a few minutes later, instructed to call them Amy and Rory. Ash wondered how Clara could be so small when her father and grandparents were so tall. Then she met Sarah-Jane, Clara's other Nan, and decided genetics were a weird thing and she was going to give herself a headache (later, Clara would remind her that her mum and dad had both been adopted and she would feel awful for a second).

Over the next few hours, Clara introduced her to enough people to make her head spin. She met Aunty Jane and Aunt Yaz, Vas and Jenny and Jack and Ianto and she understood why Clara was so comfortable in her sexuality in a way she had taken years to learn. She also met Kate, another of Clara's pseudo-Aunts and her eight year old son Gordon. They were conversing happily with a strangely attired friend wearing round classes, a bow tie and a long scarf. Clara had been thrilled to see Osgood again, her having moved to Peru for work after she finished her studies. She and Kate were very good friends now, long distance not being something either of them were into.

There seemed to be some sort of game going on amongst the adults, trying to one up each other and ask more outrageously exciting variations to 'hows uni going'. Ashildr was a little confused but answered as best she could, but they seem a cheerful bunch and Clara was walking around with the confidence of someone universally adored. She was introduced to her actual Uncle Luke and Aunt Maria, learning alongside Clara that they had moved to Gloucester (but not quite back, Luke liked being marginally closer to a main transport hub), with his friends Clyde and Rani visiting for the party. Aunt Rose was there with her husband David, hoisting their eight month old son into Clara's arms so she could be reunited with her cousin (he was a cheerful baby, named Alonso, or more commonly Al). They also had a little girl called Susan running around getting her dungarees dirty. Apparently a Martha and Mickey sent their regards but were on a mission in Peru.

It was, dare Ash say it, fun. She wondered if the general cheeriness and close knit community she had found herself in was what all families were supposed to be like, or just the ones where they had chosen each other. In the middle of everything, Ash kept spotting Clara's mum and dad - Missy there laughing with Jane, John there arguing some point with expansive hand gestures to a red-and-grey headed woman and a man in a grey polo-neck top. There they both were, silently passing each other by, and there again, talking to Skye with little Susan balanced on John's shoulders.

Ash shouldn't have been fascinated by them, but she couldn't help it. They were a little like gravity and they always seemed to know instinctively where the other was. She wondered if her view had been clouded by Clara's half-forgotten stories, or by romance novels. They didn't look romantic, so much as puzzle pieces worn by time that fit together. She hadn't seen anything like it before. But she saw it again, to a leser extent, amongst the other couples of the garden party. It was almost romantic, and she wasn't a romantic person at all.

"Come on," Clara whispered in her ear, after several hours of the party, just as Ash was starting to feel like she'd had enough of being polite. She let Clara take her hand and drag her through a gap in the hegde and into the gardens properly.

"Which of your parents gardens?" She mused absently, watching grey flowers and grey shrubberies pass her by illumintated by the occassional yellow orb. Clara seemed to know where she was going without looking.

"Neither of them could keep a cactus alive, I've no idea how they kept me going for so long," Clara snorted. "We have a gardener - Old Wilfred Mott used to do it, but he's really getting on bit now. He just comes over to talk about stars with dad now."

Suddenly, Clara turned, skin shining a little in the moonlight, eyes already gleaming in a way Ash knew. She pushed Ash into an alcove, and then hands were everywhere and lips were meeting and Ash forgot all about the party and everything except the feel of Clara's hips and hair and mouth beneath her. Time always stood still when she was kissing Clara, she had decided.

What may have been minutes or hours later, Clara pulled her body away from Ash's sharply, half turning to a sound on the passageway. Ash watched her impatiently, Clara's ear tilted towards the walkway, for her to hurry up and start kissing her again. But instead of kissing her when Clara turned around, she dropped her head to Ash's shoulder and started laughing as silently as she could. Ash understood why a moment later when she heard two distinctly Scottish voices whispering.

"Ooh, I suddenly feel ten years younger, you dragging me out of a party like this," Clara's mum almost purred, and Ash was suddenly struck by the thought she may have to listen to something she really didn't want to!

"Down girl," Clara's dad replied in a way which probably didn't help. There was a beat of silence, and then unmistakeable sounds of kissing. Ash felt her cheeks flush, even as Clara was holding her breath to stop herself from laughing. "Alright, as fun as this is, I just wanted a break with you. I feel like I haven't spoken to you all day!"

"Well, we were definatley speaking earlier, and I'm quite happy to speak again," Missy said in such a suggestive tone that she was certain they weren't talking about actually speaking. God, she was so embarrassed. Clara, however, wasn't in the slightest. "Oh, all right, I'll stop teasing you. Put the eyebrows away! And don't make me say it."

"Say what love?" John asked far too innocently for Ash to believe him.

"That I've," Missy coughed loudly, "It would have been nice to be able to spend some of the party with you and the girls, I admit."

Clara was smiling softly now, all trace of laughter having oozed from her frame.

"Your seat, milady," John said pompously a moment later, to Missy's laughter. Ash vaugely recalled seeing a bench just past their alcove. There was no way they could get out without being seen, but Clara didn't seem inclinded to move, leaving her hands on Ash's hips.

"It's so nice having Clara back," Missy said softly. "I like having both our girls under one roof again."

"Me too," John agreed, and that seemed to be the end of the confession for a long moment. "Did you ever think we'd turn out like this? On the wrong side of fifty with two amazing kids, a house big enough for all the parties to be hosted and… well…"

"Together?" Missy finished for him. "It depends on which me you were asking. Teenager me would have been fine spening eternity with you because that's just how it was but I'd have scoffed at the kids. If you'd asked me just after giving birth to Clara, when River and I had that bust up? I'd have said it was impossible. You and me, we were always just waiting to catch fire."

"It's been a funny old time," John agreed. "But we're here, with one daughter off playing pirates and trying not to fall asleep because she'd thirteen goddamit, and the other having disappeared some twenty minutes ago."

Ash froze.

"Clearly she takes after us," Missy said proudly, "Clara pet, why don't you come out now before you give that poor girlfriend of yours a reason to never look us in the eye again."

It wasn't so much a request as an order. One that Clara quickly obliged. She pulled Ash out of the bush, her clothes already straight again, and smiled a little wickedly at her parents. How had they even known they were there?!

"In our defence," She said brazenly, leaning against the back of the bench as if her parents hadn't caught her doing anything untoward. "We snuck off first. I would say that calls dibs, but then you'll pull some bull about age when I know you two just want to make out."

"That's such a disgusting phrase," Missy's nose wrinkled. "Make out. And your dad and I just wanted some peace and quiet. It's hard to do that when you two are in the hidy hole trying not to make a sound."

"Very distracting," John agreed. His arm was slung around Missy's shoulders, both of them turned out towards where this hidden part of the garden (built for privacy in their garden when parties were being hosted) overlooked the hills of the Cotswolds countryside.

"How are you both enjoying the party?" Missy asked, shifting slightly on the bench. Ash couldn't believe they were actually having a conversation after each couple metaphorically catching each other in compromising positions. She was even more flabbergasted when Clara started detailing that yes, they had been enjoying themselves.

Missy saw her bemused expression and laughed shortly, "Oh pet," she sniggered, "We're a rare breed that did away with embarrassment years ago. You'll get used to it."

Ash wasn't sure how to respond to that, but she found the corners of her lips turning up slightly as Clara clambered over the back of the bench to talk to her mum, snuggling up against her side like she was a child. Ash took a small step backwards.

"Hey," a tired voice called out, and Ash turned to see Skye passing like a ghost, squidging herself on the bench between her mum and her dad. "Susie fell asleep and Aunt Kate took Gordie home before he fell asleep. I think Osgood went with her!"

Ash smiled, and started moving away quietly, aware that the family had all but forgotten she was there, just for a moment. She slipped away quietly, leaving Clara and Skye curled up with their parents in a part of the garden that had been designed exactly for that purpose when it became apparent Arcadia would be used for all events. She left them for a time to spend as a family, delighted to be able to share all that it entailed.

And Missy and John sat with a daughter either side of them, basking in the feeling of having a full house once again, of knowing Clara was within calling distance and treasuring the little time they had before she flew away again.