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Force of Nature

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River trudged through the ankle-deep snow towards towards a small cottage with smoke rising from its chimney. Her breath made clouds in the cold air, and she quietly cursed the Doctor for summoning her here in the middle of winter. He'd better have a good explanation for this, she muttered, shivering even in three layers of clothing.

She reached the cottage and as she raised a gloved hand to knock on the door it swung open. Inside was brightly-lit and she could feel the warmth from the open fire. River stepped into the house as much to escape the cold as to look for her husband.

“Sweetie?”

“I'm afraid he had to pop out for a while,” said a woman's voice. River turned and saw a dark-haired woman who looked to be about middle-aged (though, as River knew too well, appearances could be deceptive). “I said I'd look after you until he got back.” She was dressed in black and she sounded lightly Scottish. “I'll put the kettle on, help you warm up a bit.”

River nodded gratefully and stepped up to the fireplace, peeling off her gloves and shaking snow from her boots. “The note I got was rather cryptic,” she said conversationally. “It wouldn't kill him to give out a few details on occasion.”

“No,” said the woman as she poured two cups of tea, “I imagine it wouldn't. He's awfully hard to kill, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” said River. “Sorry, I didn't catch your name?”

The woman smiled, placing a packet of biscuits on the tea-tray and carrying it to the coffee table. “I'm Missy. The Doctor and I are old friends. The oldest, you could say.”

River sat down on the sofa and took the nearest teacup. “Oh?”

Missy nodded and opened the packet of biscuits. “Here, have a digestive. The Doctor will turn up soon enough, I'm sure.”

River smiled and sipped at her tea.

 

The TARDIS materialised with its usual fanfare, the sound dislodging snow from nearby trees and scattering a flock of black birds. The Doctor stepped out into the snow and looked around to get his bearings. He spotted the cottage and headed towards it as the only sign of civilisation.

He hadn't dressed for this weather, and was beginning to regret this by the time he arrived at the door. He knocked once, waited, and then knocked again when he didn't get an answer. He tried the door, found it unlocked, and opened it.

“River?”

The woman with her back to him certainly wasn't River. She didn't have the ridiculous hair, for a start. “Excuse me,” he began, and the words died on his lips as the woman turned to face him.

“Surprise!” said Missy, throwing her arms wide. “Oh, the look on your face. If only I had a camera!”

“Where's River?”

Missy pointed across the room. “She's having a little nap on the sofa.”

The Doctor hurried over and checked River for signs of life. He was relieved to find her breathing normally and nudged her arm to wake her. When River failed to stir he looked at Missy. “What have you done?”

“I told you, she's asleep.”

He lifted River from the couch and pushed past Missy out into the cold air. With some effort he carried River into the TARDIS and let the doors slam shut behind him.

 

Two days later the Doctor stepped into the cottage to find Missy standing where he'd left her as though nothing had happened in the interim.

“What did you do to her?” he demanded.

“Nothing much,” said Missy. “She'll be fine once you give her the antidote.”

“And what's the antidote?” he asked, stepping into her personal space.

Missy didn't flinch. “I'll tell you when you've helped me pick up a little something from that nice museum on Europa.”

“No, you'll tell me now.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Or what?” She tilted her head. “Really, Doctor, you shouldn't make empty threats. It makes you look weak.”

He stepped back from her and scowled.

“Now, now, don't sulk,” said Missy. “You can have your pet human back when I've got what I want. The sooner you agree to help me, the sooner you get to play with her.”

“I'm not doing anything that gets anyone killed,” said the Doctor.

“Oh, it's nothing like that. There's an exhibition of ancient religious artefacts, I just want to steal one of them.”

The Doctor eyed her warily. “Why?”

“It's worth quite a lot of money.”

“Since when did you care about money?” he asked.

“Well, some of us like to live in a degree of luxury.”

“I don't believe you,” he said after a moment's thought.

“Do you think I'd lie to you?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“Yes.”

She scowled at him. “I'll tell you what I want and why when we get there.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “That's my final offer.”

The Doctor considered his options. Finally he sighed. “I'm going to regret this, I can tell.”

 

The TARDIS made an odd little growling sound when Missy stepped inside.

“She doesn't like you,” said the Doctor, helpfully.

“Me?”

“You turned her into a paradox machine.”

“So? She ate me, I think that makes us even.” Missy looked around. “I like what you've done with the place.” She walked up to the console, typed in a few commands, and turned the scanner towards the Doctor. “I want this,” she said simply.

He looked at the flickering image on the screen. “What is it?”

“The coronet of the Undying One.” She shrugged. “It's a stupid name, I'm fairly sure he's been dead for centuries.”

“What you want it for?”

Missy looked uncertain for a moment, then said, “It's pretty.”

“Pretty?” he echoed.

She tilted her chin slightly upwards. “I don't judge your motives, don't judge mine.”

The Doctor shook his head. “What are you not telling me?”

Missy didn't answer.

He shrugged and turned to the console, accessing the data-banks for information on the coronet. Nothing jumped out at him as he read the details. He gave Missy a long look, and then set the coordinates for 42nd-century Europa.

 

They stepped out into a crowd of tourists. The Doctor tugged Missy's sleeve and whispered “Might be an idea to come back when the place is shut.”

She rolled her eyes. “Amateur.”

The tourists moved on to the next exhibit. “I've done this sort of thing before, it's safer when the lights are out,” said the Doctor.

Missy smiled. “Is that what you say to all the girls?” She walked confidently towards the glass case with her prize in it. “Look, it's just sitting there.”

“Surrounded by guards and alarms, yes.” He glanced around as casually as possible. “We'd probably be dead before we got it out of the display case.” He looked back to Missy. “Besides, I'm not helping you with anything until you tell me what you want it for.”

“I've been cursed,” she said.

He frowned. “What?”

“I may have... destroyed a few priceless relics. And some temples. And a couple of priests.”

The Doctor tried to process this information. It didn't sound good, but it didn't sound like the worst thing Missy had ever done. “And?”

“And it turns out they're very into retaliatory medicine.” She looked up at the Doctor. “They poisoned my hearts. I'm dying.”

“Regenerate,” he suggested.

“I would if I could.” She held up a hand. “This is the only body I have until I can redeem myself. Which can be achieved by returning this,” she gestured towards the coronet, “to its rightful owners.”

“Why didn't you tell me this before?”

“Because I didn't want your pity.” She poked his chest. “Stop it. Stop pitying me.”

He moved her hand away. “You couldn't just ask for my help like a normal person? Why bring River into this?”

“You might have said no, and besides, she's annoying.”

“I wouldn't... Annoying?”

Missy nodded. “She's smug, and she thinks she knows all your secrets. I don't know why you married her.”

The Doctor blinked. “Are you jealous?”

“Of course not, I just think you need to reconsider your attachment to humans. Jo Grant was bad enough, but at least she left you for a younger man.”

“I wasn't jealous when you married Lucy,” said the Doctor, aware that this was something like a lie.

“You should have been!” said Missy.

“Well, I wasn't.” He took her arm and started leading her back to the TARDIS. “Let's jump forward a few hours and get the robbery part over with.”

“Don't think of it as theft,” said Missy, “think of it as giving something back to the galactic community.”

 

The TARDIS rematerialised in the darkened museum and Missy stepped out carrying a hammer and a torch. “You could at least have let me bring a gun,” she said, voice echoing loudly in the empty halls.

The Doctor followed her out. “I told you, no killing.”

“Spoilsport.” She stopped in front of the coronet's display-case. “Hit it and run?” she asked.

“That's not very subtle,” said the Doctor, checking for pickable locks. “I thought there'd be lasers,” he said, just a bit disappointed.

Missy lifted the hammer. “That's just in the movies. Right, stand back, I'm going to break some glass.”

 

They stumbled back into the TARDIS and stood with their backs against the exterior doors, listening to the shouts and alarms outside.

“Feels good, doesn't it?” asked Missy with a wide smile.

“Adrenaline,” said the Doctor, who didn't want to admit that she was right.

“You like it,” she said, stepping away from the doors and setting the coronet on her head at a jaunty angle. “You and me, life of crime, how about it?”

“Don't be ridiculous,” he said.

Missy pouted at him. “Why not?”

“Because you put River in a coma when all you had to do was ask for my help.”

“Oh, come on, you're not holding that against me? I'm sure I said I was sorry.” She stepped towards him and put her arms around his neck. “Kiss me.”

He shrugged her off. “We drop off your priceless relic and then you wake River. Deal?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Missy, sulkily. “You're no fun at all.” She stepped up to the controls, entered the coordinates, and tugged the dematerialisation lever.

 

Missy was first out of the TARDIS when they landed. She stepped out in front of a crowd of kneeling locals.

“Hey, boys and girls! Did you miss me?” She held up her prize. “Look what I found!”

The Doctor followed her out and looked round, confused. This wasn't at all what he'd been expecting. “Missy? What's all this?”

She turned to him and said, “I may have told a teensy bit of a lie.” She looked at her audience. “Which of you is the high priest? Is it the fat one?”

A large man stood and shuffled towards her, eyes on the ground. “I am, Mistress.”

“Good, good. Be a good lad and open the Undying One's chamber for me.” She waved him off and then turned to the Doctor again. “You'll like this, I know you will.” She took his hand and pulled him along behind her as she walked.

“I take it you're not really dying,” he said, trying and failing to shake her loose.

“Nope!”

“So what was the robbery in aid of?”

They entered a new chamber and Missy stopped in front of a large well set into in the floor. “I need it to control the big mind-sucking monster that lives down there.” She was in her element, happy and out of control. “How are you going to stop me this time?”

“No,” said the Doctor.

Missy looked at him. “What?”

“No,” he repeated. “I'm not going to stop you. You want my attention, and you're not going to get it.” He turned away from her and started walking. “You can have this planet, there's plenty more.”

Missy called after him. “What about River Song?”

“I'll think of something.” He'd swear he could feel Missy's stare on his back.

“I'll start killing people,” she shouted. “It'll be your fault, Doctor!”

He moved through the still-kneeling crowd towards the TARDIS. He opened the door and stepped inside without glancing back. He threw the ship into flight and leaned on the console. He realised he was shaking.

He couldn't just leave. Even if he could wake River he certainly couldn't leave Missy angry and in control of a planet. Angrily he put the TARDIS into reverse and headed back to face her.

 

The scene that greeted him was worse than he'd expected. The ground was littered with bodies, the walls of the buildings were cracked through, and the sky flashed and thundered. He headed back to where he'd last seen Missy, stepping over corpses and fighting the urge to run away.

The well had become a gaping chasm. Missy was kneeling beside it, hair hanging loose and blood on her hands.

“It's too strong,” she said as he reached her. “Even with the wee crown on... it's just too strong...”

The Doctor pulled her to her feet. “What happened?” he asked, trying to keep his voice level.

Missy dropped and he had to embrace her to keep her on her feet.

“Oh, now you want me,” she muttered. “Keep it in your pants, I'm not in the mood.”

He shook her gently. “Missy, focus. Tell me what you did.”

She looked up at him. “It eats minds.”

“And?” he prompted.

“The coronet protects the wearer's mind. Supposedly. I thought it would let me control their undying god-monster thing.”

The Doctor sighed wearily. “You never learn, do you?”

Missy pulled herself more-or-less upright. “We have to go, we have to get away from it.”

He left her standing and looked into the pit. “Is it down there?”

“Yes, but there's nothing you can do. You can't stop it.”

The Doctor plucked the coronet from her head and looked at it, turning it this way and that. “What if we amplified the power in this thing? Or we could -”

“Try it if you want, just give me the keys to your TARDIS before you fry your brain.” She slumped suddenly and the Doctor only just caught her before she fell.

“I'll need your help,” he said. “You were always better than me at mind control.”

“If you'd just applied yourself and done the homework...” muttered Missy against his chest.

He lowered her carefully to the ground and knelt beside her. “You'll have to let me into your mind.” he said, feeling suddenly awkward. He brushed his fingers against her forehead.

“Sure thing,” said Missy, though he wasn't entirely convinced that she was in a fit state to consent to anything.

Something roared loudly from the pit. “Okay,” he said, “I'll have to assume you actually meant that.” He closed his eyes, leaned his head against hers, and -

 

The Doctor woke to the soothing hum of the TARDIS in flight. He blinked a few times, turned his head to one side, and saw a small bottle lying beside him, along with a carefully-folded sheet of paper.

He sat up and read the label on the bottle. Antidote, it said in familiar handwriting. He picked up the folded note and read it as he got to his feet. His head ached and there were worrying gaps in his memory of events. Still, he was alive and Missy seemed to have fulfilled her part of whatever bargain she'd felt bound to.

He turned the note over in case there was anything written on the other side, but there wasn't. Shaking his head, he read it once more before heading to the medical bay to wake River.

See You Soon,
Love,
Missy