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Heavenly Bodies

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There was something decidedly odd about the UNIT HQ Christmas party’s guest of the hour, Jo reflected, and it wasn’t because he looked like Santa Claus. Not content with being potbellied, white-bearded, and twinkle-eyed, Dr. Aloysius Fischer carried the Kris Kringle theme throughout his dress. He arrived in flowing robes the color of dried blood, trimmed with white ermine. Sweeping them off with a flourish, he revealed a smoothly woven, finely cut suit that was the shadowy green of a Christmas tree at twilight. Jo caught a glimpse of a gingerbread man cufflink when he was shaking hands, and the diagonal red, white, and green bars on his tie mimicked peppermint sticks. Furthermore, Jo was pretty sure that his gleaming shoes of dark gold leather curled up at the toes like some sort of elf’s.

When people gibed him about the resemblance, he smiled widely. “Well, masquerades are common at this time of year, are they not? How better to win the goodwill of humanity than by impersonating the avatar thereof?” He spread out his hands [white gloves -- he was even wearing white gloves] to either side and inclined his torso forward a bit, as if at the end of a performance. Everyone reflected his brilliant smile back to him and laughed.

Hah hah, thought Jo. If he was trying to sound like a certain alien whose flimsy disguises seemed calculated for the Doctor’s instant decoding, he was doing a spot-on impression of the Master.

That probably meant, she realized with a sigh, trailing the Brig as he showed the guest about the UNIT facilities, that it was indeed the Master [yet again]. Well, that would explain why everyone was staring at him like he had just brought them the top items on their Christmas lists. He must have used his psychic powers on all the attendees to convince them that he was as innocent as Father Christmas himself.

--Everyone except Jo. When she and the Doctor had traveled to the twenty-sixth century, they ended up in the midst of the Master’s plots to provoke war between Earth and Draconia. The Master tried to control her psychically. Since her previous encounter with him, however, Jo had learned a few tricks. She had defended her mind against him by repeating nursery rhymes. The Master’s commands couldn’t get a hold on her thoughts, and he gave up.

Since then, Jo always kept a random selection of nonsense on rotation in the turntable of her mind. She cranked up the volume, as it were, whenever she entered new places or met new people. Her mind had remained Master-free since then. And earlier this evening, when the false Fischer made his appearance, Jo had greeted him with all courtesy, but clearly deflected his spells of enchantment. Thus she was the only one who wasn’t regarding him as a Yuletide dream come true. Leaning on a refreshment table in what she hoped was an inconspicuous manner, she hunched around her cocoa mug as if it were a small fire and monitored Master Claus across the mess hall.

The Brig had gotten orders from UNIT top brass to throw a holiday party just hours before, so staffers prepared improvisationally. The mess hall was pressed into service, with tables shoved against the walls to make a long, empty room. People danced at one end, talked in the middle, and drank at the other, where the canteen dispensed tea [of course] and hot cocoa, along with drinks of the more alcoholic variety.

Jo, who didn’t drink much, danced only in private, and often ended up sounding like a dolt when she opened her mouth, lingered, as did Brig and Master Claus, on the edge of the conversing groups. Between the cement floor and the high, arched ceiling, the mess hall retained little heat, and Jo shivered. Her scoop-necked, blue-white minidress, beaded with light-catching snowflakes, had looked so racy on the mannequin that only Carol’s dare could prompt Jo to try it on. It went well with Jo’s favorite white vinyl platform boots, but the long sheer lace sleeves gave her no insulation whatsoever.

Besides, Carol wasn’t even there to witness the dress’ public debut. Officially she was Captain Caroline Bell, member of the Brig’s support staff -- really just a glorified secretary, in her words -- and, like pretty much everyone else, a ranking officer over Jo. Unofficially she was Jo’s closest friend. While they limited their at-work interactions to shared eyeball rolling, they went over frequently to each other’s flats outside of work. They commiserated about the follies of UNIT hierarchy, laughed at the Doctor’s latest non sequiturs, and speculated about what deeper meaning [if any] lay in the lyrics of David Bowie.

It was too bad Carol was poorly. She lived just minutes from HQ, but a nasty cold was keeping her home, though Jo had begged her to attend. She always made parties more exciting. Last Christmas, for example, a discussion about Yuletide carols devolved into a general competition for who sang the worst. Carol, who wasn’t even drunk, hopped up on a table to prove herself the anti-champion. She belted out a version of Suffragette City, which, if not precisely on-key, still stunned everyone. Either that or her hip gyrations stunned everyone. [Jo remained uncertain as to which was more impressive.] Awwwww…wham, bam, thank you ma’am indeed. Jo had never been able to listen to David Bowie the same way again.

“Ugh,” muttered Jo as yet another draft whipped its way up her legs. She wished she had thought to pack a shawl in what Carol called her Bag o’ Booty: a white canvas purse the size of a bed pillow, loaded with fringe, blue and tan beads, and supplies for nearly every single occasion...except this one.

Dim and slightly dank, the mess hall was like an ice rink. Last year’s silver garlands, at both the dance floor end and the canteen end of the hall, only emphasized the vast, lofty stretch of undecorated ceiling in between. A few aluminum Christmas trees threw rainbow reflections on the wall from color wheel spotlights, but they were really the only beautiful things in the room. Now she knew why the Doctor, who usually loved parties, had retreated to their lab and shut the door with the excuse of very important experimentation. Unless you were boogeying up a storm and/or hitting the booze, there seemed to be very little holiday warmth in the air.

Jo downed her cocoa, but it only heated up her core. Setting her mug aside, she glanced across the mess hall. While she had been indulging in self-pity, Master Claus had disappeared. “Shit!” said Jo. Couldn’t she do anything right?

Fortunately, the Brig and his questionable guest materialized just a few meters from her. “And this special consultant of yours, this Doctor...” said the false Fischer to the Brig. “I was told that they would be here, but I haven’t seen them put in an appearance. When might we meet? I have read so much about them and followed them for so long. I’m most anxious to make their acquaintance.”

If Jo had any doubts about Fischer’s fakery, they disappeared at his use of third-person plural pronouns for the Doctor. People who hadn’t met the Doctor before assumed that they were a human male to be referred to by he and him. The Doctor never corrected anyone who did so, but Jo, the Brig, Benton, and a few others knew differently.

Oh, I don’t really have a gender, said the Doctor one day. They, Jo, and the Brig were musing about the Sibizilzan of Connach, who had four genders based on psychic states, and the topic had broadened to gender in general. The Doctor informed the Earthlings that Gallifreyans fell into three categories: one roughly equal to the Earthling female, one roughly equal to the Earthling male, and one that was either one, the other, both, several, all, neither, or something else entirely. The Doctor said that they were in the last grouping, mostly because they hadn’t really thought about their gender. It had never seemed particularly relevant. The Earthling woman and the Earthling man at the table exchanged looks of baffled surprise. How could your gender be irrelevant?

After that discussion, Jo thought that perhaps they/them would be better for the Doctor than he/him. The latter was pretty specific, but the former was general, mutable, and noncommital, kind of like the Doctor was gender wise. Clever girl! said the Doctor when she was explaining the pronouns to the Brig. See -- you understand! They flashed her a deep, true smile, which Jo returned. She and the Doctor kept up pretenses of condescension in public, so they were the only ones who knew that the seemingly dismissive epithet was really the warmest compliment.

You have very strange notions, Miss Grant, said the Brig, crinkling his brow. He made no secret of thinking Jo dotty and incompetent. There was no way, though, he was going to be outsmarted by an inferior. I suppose it does make a kind of roundabout, backward sense, though, he conceded.

In any event, if the false Fischer was truly the stranger to the Doctor that he claimed to be, he’d refer to them with masculine pronouns like nearly every other Earthling did. But he didn’t, which led Jo to the conclusion that he knew that the Doctor was not as they appeared. If the false Fischer knew the true Doctor, then he could be only one person: the Master [Claus].

“Actually, I’m not quite sure if the Doctor will be joining us, Dr. Fischer,” said the Brig. “They’re holed up in their lab, and they won’t come out. Jo tells me that they’re currently tinkering with microelectronics -- it’s their latest interest -- but I’ve known the Doctor long enough to recognize pouting when I see it. I asked them why they were looking so glum, and they said, I made a Christmas wish, and he’s not coming true. I think they meant It’s not coming true, but the Doctor always has been a little peculiar with their words.”

“Hmmmm…” Leaning on a table propped against the wall, Master Claus stroked his chin as if he were used to having a much shorter and pointier beard. “Perhaps then I shall have to stop off later with a special delivery of Christmas cheer.” His hand brushed the underside of the folded table. “But come!” He clapped the Brig on the back. “You will show me the armory, won’t you?”

“Oh yes!” said the Brig. “I will show you the armory. Right this way!”

Jo shook her head. Echoing -- it was one of the most conspicuous tells of the Master’s mental manipulation. The Brig had it bad then, just like everyone else in the facility. What could she do? If she tried to inform her UNIT superiors, they wouldn’t believe her. The Doctor might, though.

Before she started for the Doctor’s lab, Jo examined the table that the Master had touched. A small, low-profile disc stuck to the underside. Jo carefully pried the disc loose. There was a pinpoint hole along the side. A camera? She had never seen anything so small and sophisticated before. She tucked it into her bag.

This couldn’t be the only device that Master Claus had planted. She had to assume that he had similarly bugged every location that the Brig had shown him -- which meant that he was about to bug the armory, which was full of top-secret, cutting-edge technology. Jo ran out of the room to discover what other offerings Master Claus had bestowed upon the unsuspecting UNIT personnel.

Chapter Text

Fortunately, the armory was the last stop on the Brig’s itinerary. Jo simply followed him at a discreet distance and removed the microelectronics from wherever Master Claus had stowed them. Unfortunately, she discovered that he wasn’t just planting cameras, but also miniature bombs.

At that point, Jo realized that her mission had just increased in danger. She had no idea when the explosives would detonate and no one who would help her with their removal. Yet she had to collect them quickly. What if Master Claus planned to kill the entire UNIT staff in a Yuletide conflagration? Dashing from the armory before the Brig and Master Claus sighted her, Jo pulled the nearest phone off the hook and hid behind a pillar as she dialed.

“This had better be good.” Carol, answering the phone, hacked violently. “If Benny Boy’s not drunk and trying to get in Thiltgen’s trousers,” she said, Thiltgen being a Senior Surveillance Technician and Benton’s latest romantic interest, “I’m ringing off.”

“No no! It’s the Master!”

“The Master’s trying to get in Thiltgen’s trousers? Huh, he always seemed more interested in the Doctor than anyway else.”

“No, the Master’s here -- now -- dressed up like Santa Claus -- leaving presents -- but they’re not presents -- they’re bombs!” Jo cursed her tendency to blurt incoherently when she became agitated. People laughed at her, called her silly, and dismissed her instead of taking her seriously. But she was smart; she was! Maybe she wasn’t brilliant like the Doctor, but she was definitely quick and clever. She didn’t know how to explain, though, that it was as if the wires between her brain and her mouth dropped the call when she was excited. She was left babbling like a little kid, unable to transmit the urgent messages that piled up inside her.

“Okay, Jojo, so the Master’s at UNIT. From the beginning, what do we need to do?” Carol’s voice changed to that quick and even one that she used in crises, and just hearing it made Jo feel less flustered. Though she could never pass up a joke, especially a dirty one, Carol always took Jo seriously, even when -- especially when -- she was agitated and babbling. Unlike most people at UNIT besides the Doctor, Carol knew that Jo’s insight and intuition never failed her. Even if she didn’t quite understand what Jo was asking, Carol always stood by Jo and helped her.

Jo forced herself to take a few deep breaths. “The Master -- he snuck in as Dr. Fischer,” she tried again. “He charmed everyone -- even the Brig was echoing -- Yes, I will show you the armory! -- but he’s bugging the place -- cameras and bombs everywhere -- I can’t get them all -- but no one else believes there’s a problem, and the Doctor’s stuck in their lab -- and I know you’re sick, but this is serious -- I need your help!”

“Got it,” said Carol, in that curt, confident tone that always gave Jo shivers of envy. “He used his psychic powers to make everyone think he was someone else, all so he could come in and plant cameras and bombs. But, even though I may be hacking up a lung here, at least I’m not under the Master’s spell. Let me just drown my sorrows with cough syrup, and I’ll be over in two shakes to help you debug the place.”

And so Carol dosed herself with cough syrup and motored the short way from her flat to HQ. Dodging the increasingly drunk and convivial partygoers, Jo and Carol spent an hour and a half retracing the Brig and Master Claus’ tour route. They collected so many cameras and mini explosives that Jo’s Bag o’ Booty started to look like Santa’s sack, assuming that Santa distributed toys to terrorists and spies.

After canvassing HQ for a second time, Carol started coughing harder. She and Jo withdrew to one of the mess hall’s side vestibules so as not to disturb other people. Jo gazed up at her. Even with a drippy red nose and a housedress, Carol looked amazing: tall and strong, with a sharp, square face. Her chin-length blond flip always curled up in symmetrical exactitude. A nearly full moon rode high amongst a stream of stars, and its radiance put glimmers into Carol’s long eyes. Jo reminded herself not to stare as Carol massaged her forehead with the heel of her hand. “Blaugh, I feel a headache coming on.”

“You don’t sound good; you should go,” Jo agreed. Unhunching her shoulders, she realized that the temperature in the vestibule exceeded that in the mess hall. Well, the weather had been unseasonably warm this month, a side effect of the temporary seasonal reversal caused by the Xalvax when they made Earthfall last month on their massive asteroid ship and inadvertently damaged the planet’s axial tilt. Jo and the Doctor had, of course, saved the day, using the TARDIS as a sort of whirligig motor to set Earth back to the appropriate angle, but the climactic oddities were expected to linger through the new year.

Anyway, it was almost comfortable in the vestibule, especially with Carol here: more of the damp cold of early spring than the sharp icy cold of a rink. “Thanks for your help, though, Caro -- Captain Bell,” Jo said, using Carol’s title in case any superiors were listening.

“Sure thing, Agent Grant. Secretaries and assistants,” said Carol with a sigh as she pulled on her knit ski cap. “We keep the world going ‘round, and no one notices. Well, good night. Oh, by the way…”

“Yeah?” Jo, who had pivoted halfway around to the mess hall entrance, turned back.

Carol looked at her for a moment, her wide thin mouth going up at one end in a secret smile. “Your dress…” she started, and Jo could almost see her formulating double entendres about it.

“Um…” Jo’s eyes widened. She wouldn’t say something like that here, would she? Even if most of the people were partying too hard to notice, this was still technically a workplace function.

“I like it. I’m glad I got to see you wearing it.” Carol finished with the blandest possible compliment, but her smile said so much else.

“I’m glad I got to see you too.” Jo felt a blush come on as she watched Carol head for her car. “Merry Christmas!” she called, though it was four days till. She even thought she might be feeling slightly merry herself.

“Marry Christmas? I hardly know her!” With a last wave, Carol was gone.

Chapter Text

Feeling an inward glow from her encounter with Carol, Jo decided to brave the party again. Carol had lent her a muffler, so she wound that around her shoulders and re-entered the Arctic mess hall.

“Heyyyyy, Jo…” With a teasing singsong, Benton, slightly pink in the cheeks and more than slightly drunk, ambled up to her. “I see mistletoe…” He dangled a sprig in the air, like it was a bell he was about to ring.

Jo smiled. Benton wasn’t actually angling for a kiss. He just got kind of goofy when he’d had a few; in fact, he’d been pointing out his mistletoe to anyone of any gender for most of the evening now, just to see people’s reactions. “Heyyyyy, Benton,” she returned in the same voice, hopping up, “I see Thiltgen…” She called to a woman about her age about five meters away: “Thiltgen, you’re not going to believe this! We’ve had a sighting of the rare flying mistletoe, and it’s right over Benton’s head!”

“Woo hoo!” Thiltgen cheered and cleared a chair in her excitement, landing in front of Benton. “I’ve been wondering where that went.” She seized it from him and stuck it down the front of her [rather low-cut] dress. “Hey Benny…” She fluttered her eyelashes. “Wanna...pop my Christmas cracker?”

Benton’s ears turned red. “Um...that sounds...kind of painful.” He started snickering.

Thiltgen laughed too. “Well, how about a kiss -- or several?”

“I like the sound of that!” Benton’s face reddened, but he perked up considerably as Thiltgen dragged him to a more secluded corner.

‘Tis the season to be lusty, Jo thought. It wasn’t just Benton and Thiltgen getting snuggly this evening. The Davisons from finance toasted each other, then drank out of each other’s tumblers, all while looking like they were on the verge of kissing. Patel shyly presented a card to Vernon, who gasped in surprise. Someone had plugged in a radio, and several couples somehow managed to waltz to Silent Night. Fermier, Collinsworth, and Tierney forgot most of the words to God Rest You Merry Gentlemen and ended up collapsed on each other’s shoulders, giggling. In short, everyone was having a rather merry Christmas.

Ugh, there was too much love in the room. The Doctor had the right idea then, hiding in their lab...unless, of course, Carol’s speculation was correct and the Master really was trying to get into the Doctor’s trousers. In any event, Jo did need to alert to the Doctor to the Master’s presence -- as good an excuse as any to escape all this togetherness. Hitching her Bag o’ Booty higher on her shoulder, she hastened from the mess hall.

Jo opened the door into a narrow hallway between the main room and one of the kitchens. Somehow, maybe because of the nearby iceboxes, it was even colder in here than in the room she had just left. Jo looked out the window at the snowless courtyard, covered with leaf fragments and sere, crunchy grass. Maybe she should go out for a walk to raise her body temperature. Carol’s house was nearby….

“A touch of the Christmas blues, Miss Grant?” A familiar voice sounded at her elbow.

Jo switched her head to the side. Master Claus had appeared out of nowhere. Actually, it was just the Master. He wasn’t even pretending anymore, now that the two of them were by themselves. As soon as he saw that he had her attention, he transformed. The rotund bulk compacted into a dense stockiness; the entire face redrew itself in harsher angles. The eyes sank more deeply into his head and darkened to brown, but, disturbingly enough, they still flashed in a way that might seem friendly if you didn’t know any better. He was still wearing the whole Santa-like suit, but it rearranged itself around his body, tightening and refitting, so that it somehow resembled bespoke fancy dress [which it probably was].

“A pity Captain Bell couldn’t have stayed.” The Master joined her at the window. The soft moonlight outside made everything a duochrome of white and blue. “It’s always a disappointment when one can’t spend the holidays with one’s friends.”

“What would you know about not being able to spend holidays with people?” Jo asked. “You’ve got a TARDIS; you can go anywhere.”

“True.” The Master nodded, hands clasped behind his back. “As for friends, however, I have but few of those.”

“Probably because you keep killing, torturing, and brainwashing people,” Jo pointed out. “Do I even want to know what you did with the real Dr. Fischer?”

“I merely borrowed his appearance for the evening.” The Master waved his hand. “He’s in the Building 4-B Supply Closet C-12, and he’ll wake tomorrow with no memories of his temporary inconvenience.”

“Why does anyone trust you with anything?” Jo muttered. “You’re the worst.”

“And yet…” The Master trailed off. “And yet there are still those who have faith in me. It is a fond and foolish faith, to be sure, irrational and incomprehensible...but welcome, especially at this time of year.”

He sounded kind of lonely. “Well, you’re not going to catch me feeling sorry for you just because it’s the holidays and all.” Jo moved sideways toward the nearest door.

“That was not my intent. I was merely making conversation. You know -- you really should call on Captain Bell this -- “

Jo sensed a command coming on; he was about to use his power on her. She crossed her arms and recited the first nursery rhyme that came into her head:

 

“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.

The reason why I cannot tell.

But this I know and know full well:

I do not like -- “

 

Bowing his head, the Master lifted his hands. “Peace! Spare me that...that...jangling prosody.” He shuddered fully. “I have no nefarious purpose here tonight,” he continued, quieting down, “and I was not exercising my power on you when I made the suggestion about Captain Bell. I meant only to give you a piece of advice. Cherish your friends, Miss Grant, especially those of like mind, your equals, the ones who know you completely and yet still accept you. They are your dearest possessions, and you will never lack power if you keep them close.”

“Uhhhhh...right then. I’m just going to go show the Doctor all the nice festive micro bombs you planted for them.” Jo hefted her bag, burdened with weapons.

“Oh, I don’t think you’ll be doing that for a while yet. You see -- I do believe you’re a little tied up at the moment.” He snapped his fingers, turned on his heel, and left.

“What? I am not!” Jo called after him. And then the weaponized tinsel descended from the ceiling.

Chapter Text

Technically, it was more of a tinsel web trap. It enveloped Jo, then swooped her up off. She now dangled at least a meter and a half from the floor. It was like that time she was five years old and got tangled in the hammock on the back lawn, only much sparklier.

Jo took only twenty minutes to disentangle herself. Most of that time she spent flailing around so that she could reach her bag, which she then rifled through. At the very bottom, she grasped the heavily accessorized jackknife that she had been carrying with her since her first day on the job. She flicked out the sharpest blade and hacked at the garlands until she was free. She dropped to the floor, sustaining only a bruised elbow and some slightly injured pride.

That was the first of Master Claus’ seasonally themed booby traps. After that, Jo walked into the next room to discover herself sealed in a massive snow globe. Glass walls curved around her; a painted ceramic townscape unrolled at her feet; and glitter drifted down onto her shoulders. Praying that the bombs wouldn’t blow on impact, Jo spun around a few times, holding her heavy Bag o’ Booty by the strap. Then she let it crash into the snow globe at full force. Thankfully, the bombs didn’t explode, but the snow globe did.

Further misadventures ensued, none of which were truly lethal or difficult. In fact, they seemed deliberately constructed to require the contents of her bag for solution. Jo worked her way out of, through, or around all obstacles quickly. After all, she was an accomplished escapologist. The Master, evidently aware of her expertise, thus left her hidden surprise gifts in the form of successive inconveniences. Jo was touched -- really.

Jo soon registered that the Master could have killed her with any of his traps, but he obviously declined the opportunity. Maybe he had been telling the truth when he said that his visit was without harmful intent. Unfortunately, even if he wasn’t being evil, he was still incredibly annoying -- which was arguably just as bad, especially since the smugness quotient was about the same, if not worse.

Finally Jo made her way to the Doctor’s lab. Though they had firmly slammed and locked it earlier today in their pout, the dented metal door, scorched about the edges from various experimental disasters, stood ajar. Jo peeked in to see the Master trying to convince the Doctor that his motivations for this visit were entirely benign. “Would you believe nostalgia?” he said. His chin lifted, he spoke directly to the Doctor.  

“No.” The Doctor stared almost furiously at a small device on the table before them, as if willing it to be much more interesting than the person they were ostensibly ignoring.

“Simple seasonal goodwill.” The Master walked toward the Doctor, his stride loose, casual, and powerful.

“Even less so.”

Sidling up to the Doctor, the Master slid a look askance at the Doctor. “How about...a peculiarly personal interest in your affairs?”

Whatever the Doctor was holding abruptly leapt from their hands and broke on the floor. “Erm...yes...well...that I can definitely believe.” They scuttled sideways away from the Master.

“I know you share the same interest, Doctor.”

“What? No! I’m not obsessed with me! You’re obsessed with me.”

“No, my dear Doctor, you’re obsessed with me.”

“Look…” Stopping, the Doctor planted their feet and folded their arms. “I’m not the one who has the ability to fly around the entire universe and just keeps happening to turn up on Earth...in England...in the present day.”

“What are you implying?”

“I’m not the one with an obsession. You’re the one with an obsession.”

“An obsession? Really?” His voice bubbling cool, his head tilted, the Master watched the Doctor eye to eye. “Is that truly the term you wish to use? An obsession is a fixed, inflexible interest -- a perseveration, one might say, that turns the object thereof into...well...just that: an object. Do you think that obsession is truly the fittest term to describe an interest that begins in childhood and encompasses years of familiarity with the workings of one another’s minds, that spans centuries, galaxies, lives, and cosmic vicissitudes, all to arrive at the same mutable, unchanging center whence it originated?”

There was a long pause. The Doctor looked the Master up and down several times. “Is it hot in here, or is it just you? Uh...no...wait a minute. How does that go?”

“Is it hot in here, or is it just me?” the Master supplied.

“Ah! Yes! Very much so! Thank you! Well, it’s a tad nippy in here, so it must be you.” The Doctor grinned widely.

“You flatter me.” The Master bowed.

“Not really. I mean -- you are rather full of hot air.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” the Master pointed out.

“Huh?” The Doctor was busy staring into the Master’s eyes.

The Master sighed voluminously. “Must I repeat the entirety of my sesquipedalian rhetorical question?”

“Ahhhhhh, no, I got it the first time. And I’m standing by my original answer. You are obsessed with... Wait. Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Obsession, I’m afraid.” One eyebrow and half of the Master’s mouth were curved upward. Hands joined behind his back, he stepped forward.

The Doctor stepped backward. “Do you mind, erm, stopping that?”

“I’m unable to do so. It’s a compulsion.” The Master continued his slow approach.

“You’re...very...unsettling.” The Doctor bumped into a wheeled office chair and plunked down into it.

“Obsessions usually are.”

“Could you...you know...sort of...stop it?” Using their feet, the Doctor propelled the office chair in reverse.

“You could make me.”

“How? Ow!” The Doctor collided with their laboratory wall.

“Ah yes -- your perennial problem, dear Doctor.” Leaning his hands on the chair’s armrests, the Master, his nose a centimeter from the Doctor’s, fixed them with his eyes. “You’re very effective at counteracting my schemes on an intergalactic scale, but, when we move to a personal level, you suddenly seem to lose all ideas. One might think you enjoy the predicament.” Judging by the Master’s animated eyebrows, he was definitely having fun at least. [He was probably also saying, I hate your guts! / Take me now! in Delphonian eyebrow sign language.]

Jo stepped from the shadows. “Well, I was coming here to tell you that the Master had kidnapped Dr. Fischer, infiltrated UNIT, and bugged HQ…”

“Of course he did. I’d expect nothing less.” The Doctor was still gazing at the Master.

“Ah, Miss Grant!” The Master consulted his pocket watch. “You’re right on schedule. Thank you for allowing me some time alone with the Doctor. I see that my little diversions were sufficiently entertaining. You have tinsel in your hair.” Turning back to the Doctor, he said, “I had another purpose in coming here, of course. I left you a gift as well.”

“Yeah, miniature spy cameras and explosives,” cut in Jo. “All of which I found and ripped out, by the way.” Emptying her bag, she dumped the lot of devices on the lab bench before her. “I can’t believe no one else saw these.”

She expected an astonished double take from the Master, but his eyes just shone. “Thank you for collecting those for me. Sometimes I think your powers of observation and your wits are wasted here at UNIT. You’re much more intelligent than your superiors think.”

“Ooooh, Master!” The Doctor was distracted by the cameras and bombs on the table. “How did you know I was into microelectronics?”

“I know everything about you, my dear Doctor.”

“Am I the only one who sees what’s going on here?” Jo threw up her hands.

“Yes, the Master has come to wish me a merry Christmas.” Slipping out of their chair from under the Master, the Doctor hurried to the lab bench. They raised a spy camera to their face and squinted at it. Meanwhile, the Master lurked up behind them and stood at their side, as if ready to entwine his arm in theirs. “Don’t sentimentalize him, Jo,” the Doctor warned. “He’s very… Oh! Hello!” They suddenly realized that the Master was within breathing distance. “He’s very, uh…” The sentence wandered off for a few seconds while they looked at him again. “--Dangerous!” they finished, nodding. “Yes, he’s very dangerous.” They absorbed themselves with the camera again in a pointedly studious manner.

“I’m not sentimentalizing anything!” Jo cried. “I’m analyzing. You’re the one who’s sentimentalizing!” She jabbed her finger at the Doctor.

“You seem excited,” said the Master. “Perhaps a drink would calm you.” He poured her a glass of brandy from a side table and proffered it across the table.

“Hah!” Jo folded her arms. “You’re not persuading me to do anything.”

“Might we at least have a little privacy?” the Doctor spoke up.

“Why? So he can get away with God knows what?” Jo waved her arms at the Master.

“Oh, I know exactly what...and he’s not getting away with any of it.” The Doctor smiled fiendishly.

Jo actually felt her jaw loosen and float slightly downward. “Wait a minute. Is that what this is -- a Christmas Eve fling?” She crossed her arms and addressed the Master: “You dressed up like Santa Claus so you could come ‘round and seduce the Doctor?”

The Master sniffed. “Don’t be vulgar. I never seduce anyone. I dominate people, control them, and compel them to submit to my will.”

“So...are you telling me that’s what you’re going to do...to the Doctor?”

“No, that’s what I do do to the Doctor.”

“Is this true?” Jo narrowed her eyes at the Doctor.

“Well, he tries. Sometimes I let him. It makes him feel better.” The Doctor shrugged.

The Master laughed. “I just permit you to think you let me. I know how much you cherish the illusion of control.”

“Oh yeah? Well, I let you let me let you... Wait -- where were we?” The Doctor scratched their head.

“Are you two... Is this serious?” Jo cried.

The twinkle died from the Doctor’s eyes; they nodded earnestly, their voice moving down a note. “Oh, I’m never more serious than when I’m being silly.”

“And vice versa, of course,” interjected the Master. “Now, Miss Grant, do you mind closing the door behind you as you leave?” He made a shooing motion with one hand. “I solemnly swear that I am not going to hurt the Doctor.”

Drawing themselves up, the Doctor glared at the Master. “Excuse me? Why not?”

“--Except, of course, under certain carefully defined and mutually agreed-upon circumstances.”

“Thank you.” The Doctor nodded, satisfied.

Jo stared for a few seconds. “Now I know why no one believed me earlier this evening. This is...unbelievable.”

The Master coughed hintingly. “Ahem. Do you mind?”

“You’d better not blow anything up or zap anything or...”

“Awwww, does this mean it won’t be an electrifying encounter?” The Doctor, despite their disappointed tone, was trying hard not to laugh.

“You and your painfully puerile puns.” The Master groaned.

“Hypocrite!” said the Doctor. “You’re the cunning linguist.”

“Ugh. I’m leaving.” Snatching the camera from the Doctor, Jo returned all the devices to her bag and quit the lab.

Back at the mess hall, the Brig accosted her, a goblet of punch in one hand. A Santa hat was perched crookedly on his head. “So where is that jolly ol’ Fischer? I wanted to introduce him to some people.”

“With the Doctor in their lab.” Jo sighed. “I left them in a discussion of, uh, alien tongues. I’m sure that by now the topic has moved onto a deep exploration of extraterrestrial...I mean...heavenly bodies. Or something.” She rolled her eyes.

The Brig righted his Santa hat and sipped his punch. “That’s odd. I could have sworn he was a doctor of...uh...something else. Now what was it?”

“I don’t remember,” said Jo, “but I’m pretty sure he has a master’s in disguise, deception, and making fools out of Earthlings.” But nobody got the allusion. Jo made a decision. “You know what? I need to get someone...I mean something…from Building 4-B Supply Closet C-12. Then I’m going to head out and stop by Caro -- Captain Bell’s flat. I think she’d like a slice of this rum cake...and a special delivery of Christmas cheer.”