"You can lick a big honking D battery until your tongue is dry. Not much will happen."
--some clickbait blog article
What he doesn’t remember. Before the ashes. Before the dancing. Before the grip of the Cyberman and the charged fire of its unbreakable embrace.
If he could hear them speak of him--
“You won’t kiss me, but you’ll kiss him?”
“You made yourself your very own wrinkly version, and enjoyed him very much! As I recall, even when he was all just eyes and skin…”
The Master grimaces. “That one was under my control.”
“Or so you thought, until he went all fairy lights and Messiah complex on you. And what makes you think this one hasn’t been under mine?”
“Just look at you.”
“I knocked him out for you, didn’t I?”
“It doesn’t mean I trust you. Can’t tell whose side you’re on.”
In the pause, the Doctor floats into consciousness, the precision of Missy’s thump on the chest perfectly calibrated to knock him out and then allow him to surface gradually, clandestinely.
“Look, do you want me to show you?”
A purple shadow moves across his field of vision. Missy slaps him the rest of the way awake, the flats of her fingers only just enough of a sting to startle him, to cause him to bridle, blinking up at her. She curves them around his cheek, cradling him, tilting his head by moving her hand below his jaw.
She smiles the same preparatory smile as she had once, in the beginning, and yet he’s just as surprised this time when she kisses him: all this time in the vault, and they have never allowed each other any nearer than a heartsbeat’s hand against a hand. With some concentration, he can almost hear her thoughts, but try as he might, he can’t understand the whisper, only respond the way he’s always wanted to respond, his mouth, slack, obeying hers.
As Missy pulls away, she rubs her thumb across his lower lip. It comes away dark with her lip gloss, and she smears it onto his shirt as though applying oil paint to a canvas or sauce to a plate.
“He’d look good in that colour,” the Master notes.
“Do you think so? Let me see.” She produces the tube and uncaps it, twists it until the applicator emerges, wet and shiny. She brings it close to his mouth.
But by then the Doctor remembers his voice and the use of his hands. He knocks Missy’s hand away before she can touch him again. “Enough!” The lipstick smears a line across the corner of his mouth and his face as it flies out of her grasp to roll along the linoleum floor.
His first question: “Where’s Bill?”
The Masters seem vague on the concept entirely, gesturing without real meaning at some sort of elsewhere out of sight. “Oh...secure.”
He lurches out of the chair they’ve dragged him into, though it’s the same as before; he doesn’t know which to turn to first, and he staggers from one to the other, both just out of reach. It takes no time at all for them to make a game of it, the Master backing away with nimble steps, his hands behind him, Missy all but dancing trippingly from spot to spot, her arms swinging. He’ll never catch either of them like this, so he goes for the easiest target, snatches Missy’s hand out of the air.
“It isn’t too late,” he says.
And it is, they all know it is, but at these words there is an indecision on Missy’s face that the Doctor could read as hope. He would like to call it hope. But he doesn’t know what to do about it, only to try anything he can to reach her--to reach her, and to stall.
To give Nardole time. To give the new code time. To give Missy time, too.
He reels her in and kisses her in return, with all the control of his full intention, the way the humans do in their films, dipping her, a supportive hand on her waist, the other smoothing her hair behind her ear.
It isn’t too late, he thinks. Let it not be too late.
He releases her and looks down at her, and everyone is shocked at what he has done, and everything is humming. Anything could happen.
And so, into that hesitation, he kneels.
This is not a subservient gesture, not the obeisance of the defeated. This is a statement of fealty, and also an appeal to everything that has taken place between them since she became who she is, and no longer exactly the previous version now in this interlude of time with them, from whom the Doctor has very deliberately turned his back, shutting him out of the exchange entirely.
It’s a foolish risk, because of course, Missy is also very much still the Master.
So now he’s looking up at her, and she’s the one looking down at him.
Happy birthday, Mister President.
He can hear the Master’s jacket shift against his shirt, minutely, the rubber heels of his shoes lift with a mouse’s suppressed squeak from the floor. Time and again Missy has made him this offering, and the Doctor could only ever grudgingly accept. Even now, he doesn’t mean it entirely, and this withholding must be obvious to everyone, especially to the one who has tried so hard for so long, but still, her face is full of want.
Missy reaches for him. A hand grasps him by the hair. He’s hauled to his feet, his back bent over his spine, just enough to unbalance him. Missy messes with the buckle of his belt even as he staggers against the cyber-conversion table. She moves her hands to the buttons of his waistcoat, crowding close to him so that he can’t regain his balance.
“Close your eyes,” she says. Her voice is quiet, not a secret whisper, but muted, meant for him.
“Pretend we’re back on your TARDIS. Pretend we’re back in the vault. It’s a year ago, and you’re asking for my help, and I’m letting you in.”
It’s a ridiculous, absurd thing to try to do, here, now, like this, but the Doctor closes his eyes anyway. It’s only one of so many ridiculous things.
“Good,” the Master murmurs--a shock rushes through the Doctor, who in their intimacy had almost managed to forget that he was there.
The lip gloss applicator is unexpected and sticky against his mouth. It traces a complete shape around it, scented and cloying.
He could open his eyes at any time, the Doctor tells himself, but he doesn’t. This dark is familiar, only now in the darkness with him there is Missy, and there is the Master, and there is the pulse of machinery and the buzz of flickering lights, and the rush of furnaces starting somewhere. Below that, all around it, the thrum of the great engines pushing ponderously against gravity, and the collapsed star, so close its silence is a roar.
This is an active dark, the dark of space, and, treading water in it, the Doctor thinks, hurry, come on, let’s get on with it, let’s go!
He thrusts his hand out into the dark and his hand lands on someone’s arm. The someone at the end of it squeezes that hand and then grips it to twist his arm behind his back, to leverage him around so that he’s leaning over the table, suspended above it through the wrenching force on his shoulders.
Too suddenly, the someone lets go, and he falls forward against the table, off-guard and unable to catch himself. The impact reopens a wound, a wet tear bursting where the Master had hit him with his laser screwdriver. The operating surface smells of steel and scrubbing powder and organic matter. The Doctor scrabbles to push himself up--he has to get his face away from it, at least--but the Master is behind him, pinning him with his weight, and Missy pulls on his wrists from the far side of the table.
When they have him positioned just so, it is draped horizontally over the midsection of the table, its edges wedged beneath his hips and shoulders. A reluctant, industrial clank, and light penetrates his eyelids, his back immediately beginning to warm beneath the intense beam. The buzz is like bees massing for attack above him.
The Masters circle around him. Thin footfalls, the Master’s unearned jump boots, Missy’s Italian heels, describe a pattern of overlapping ellipses that interpose themselves, like a spirograph, like hypnotic polyrhythms he forces himself to follow, until as though with repeating taps they lull the Doctor into something like the entering into a struggling, soothing dream.
His arms dangle beneath him, floating. Hands caress his brow, the small of his back. One set slips loose fabric from his hips, lifts the tails of his jacket tidily aside, rubs his cheeks, pulls on them to make room for a tongue. The other set disappears while a mouth bends close to kiss the exposed back of his neck where his collar doesn’t meet his hair. The mouth withdraws. The hands return, lift his head by gently propping up his chin.
Still, he resists the temptation to look. In fact, there is no temptation, there is only his body in the dark, and what he is trying to do with it, the gamble or the game, and the hands of his friend, his Master in the dark, insisting this isn’t a delaying tactic, but the thing they have been waiting for all along.
The Doctor lets his lips part--it does seem, as he’s doing it, the only thing he could want to do--and he moves his legs apart, and he opens himself, as he’s never had the courage before.
It’s all right, because he’s pretending, and also he isn’t pretending at all, now that permission has been granted. He wishes there were no Cybermen, no incubating betrayal lying in wait, no friend brutalised and desecrated in a closet somewhere nearby.
“Well? What are you two waiting for?”
It feels like forever, and his voice sounds like a howl, shouting demands into the suspended air. The words have barely left his throat before the Master, one of the Masters, cuts off any further ones, shoving into the Doctor’s mouth, and the other one, too, behind him, some unthinkable greasy substance dripping extraneously down his leg.
They’re in his head, too. Where they belong. Both Masters, like embolisms circulating in his mind, one molten, one burning cold, so full of angry elation (and yearning, too, he sees yearning, and it can’t all be his) and time confusion they must be almost as uncertain as to which is which as he is.
They course through him, crashing into one another, throwing shockwaves, colliding, splitting, setting up a cadence in the physical world so that the Doctor, banging repeatedly against the table, must clutch at its metal rim to protect himself. His nails slip and snag on the hair-thin scratches in the polished steel. The unforgiving, hard material catches him. The raised lip digs into the soft flesh of his belly, furrowing a long, straight bruise.
He wants to meet them both. He wants to buck against the hips behind him and close his lips and suck and swallow. The Master and the Master, amplified in his brain, are so loud and vivid the Doctor begins to wonder who he himself is, if he is quite real, or if he is just the strip of metal that completes the circuit between two parts of this meta-Master, the one doing the thrusting, the one inside him, all through him.
But the danger--
Don’t think about the Cybermen!
It’s enough to bring him back to himself, to the primitive cyber-conversion theatre, the machines menacing in their shadows, the bodies so vulnerable in this room, not least his own.
He becomes aware of the pleasure he probably shouldn’t be taking in the severe surface shivery below his skin. The pleasure he definitely shouldn’t be feeling at the impact of the Masters’ bodies, the friction on his lips and arse. There’s the mounting sensation, he doesn’t know whose it is, like an elastic winding tighter and tighter, a buildup of potential energy radiating itself through all of them, engulfing them and not caring about any of the distinctions they think they might insist on.
There’s a cry, and the Doctor only understands it to be his own when he hears the way it is strangled, sounding around the shape deep in his mouth.
By the time he opens his eyes, the Masters are standing side by side again in front of him, wiping their fingers in identical postures of disdain and fascination. Only Missy’s averted gulp when the Doctor meets her eyes differentiates them at all.
He’s weak at the knees. He clings to the operating table like it’s a life raft. The Master steps forward, but he addresses himself to Missy.
“We can’t let that happen again.” His voice is steady, but small, discomfited.
He seizes the Doctor by the lapel and lifts him from the table, half propping and half shoving. He tenses, and as with Missy’s kiss, the Doctor should have seen it coming, but he doesn’t, and so he staggers, stunned, when the Master cuffs him across the temple.
He stumbles, but already Missy is there to catch him. She drops him into the chair. Back where he began.
“We’d better tie him down this time.”
“I think there’s wire in one of those drawers.”
Missy buckles the belt at his waist and arranges his clothes, tucks him into place. She positions his arms on the arms of the wheelchair, bends the thick wire the Master hands her around his wrists. He’s woozy from the blow, disoriented by the suddenness with which it followed the absolute and unfamiliar sensory absorption of sex.
“Sorry,” he thinks he hears her say, but he can’t be sure, because he wants it so much.
Behind her, the Master looks on with concern.
“Do you think I’ve hit him too hard? He’s losing consciousness again.”
“I thought we wanted to kill him.”
“Only once or twice.”
“Which regeneration do you think he’s on?”
“Did you feel it...did you taste the way he sizzled, like it’s all right there, right on the surface, like he might erupt at any time?”
“He’d go off like a firework. He’d be ever so pretty.”
“But why is he so exposed? It isn’t right.”
“He plays games with it. I don’t think he wants it.”
“How can he not want it?”
If he could hear them talk--
After the War. After the waiting. After doubting who he was and finding out again, and coming to terms with the parts of himself he didn’t want to be.
What he wants to tell them...it’ll have to wait. There’s time; at least he hopes they’ll still have time.