Author's Notes:
(This is an AU in that I am just ignoring all that Timeless Child stuff because I don't like it. Such is my power! MWAHAHAAHAHAHAAA!!)

The note arrives two hours after Ryan disappears. It's not signed, but she knows who it's from as soon as Yaz holds it up to show her. The Doctor snatches it from her friend's hand, to the other woman's obvious surprise. (The Doctor should probably apologise. She doesn't.)

“Is that a map?” asks Graham, who can't have more than glimpsed it in any case.

“It's a note,” says the Doctor, reading one set of words as she speaks another. “Circular Gallifreyan.” (Very neat Circular Gallifreyan. The Master has always had beautiful handwriting.) She picks up her coat from where it rests on the console. “I'm to go alone.”

Yaz steps between her and the exit. “You can't. What if he kills you?”

“I'll be careful,” promises the Doctor. (He'd never kill her, not more than once or twice. Not in any way that would stick.) She puts her hands on Yaz's arms and moves her gently out of the way. “If I'm not back by tomorrow morning press the green button next to the custard cream dispenser.” She nods in the direction of the console. “The TARDIS will take you home.”

“But -”

“That's in a worst-case scenario,” she says, calmly. “I'm ninety-nine percent sure that me and Ryan will be back in here time for tea.” A pause. “Supper at the latest.”

(They're going to worry, but they'd feel worse if she told them the truth. More to the point, they'd feel worse about her if she told them the truth.)

At the door she stops and turns. “Remember what I said about that button.”

(They will remember, but they won't press it. It's fine, they probably won't need to anyway.)

- -

Of course he's in a bloody castle. The Master has never been one to opt for subtle when he can get away with showing off. The Doctor climbs a spiral staircase, certain of her destination. This isn't like it was with O, he's not hiding himself from her this time. He wants to be found and she wants to find him. (The note was quite explicit on certain topics, after all.)

He's in the room at the top of the tower, probably just to make her climb every one of those steps. He stands at the window, doesn't turn to check it's her that's entering the room. “I was starting to think you wouldn't show up. Thought you might have abandoned your friend.”

“As if.” She stops just inside the room, looks around to make a note of all the exits, just in case. (Two doors, three windows.)

The Master nods. “Yeah, it did seem a bit out of character.” He turns to face her, looks her up and down and up again brazenly. The Doctor manages not to shiver. Just.

“You could have just texted,” she says, not moving any closer. (Make him move first, if he's so desperate.) “I didn't block your number.”

“O's number,” he corrects.

“What, you're too good to share a phone with the fake human you catfished me with?”

He laughs. “I knew you'd like him. He was sweet, wasn't he? Admired you. Just like that kid downstairs in the dungeons.”

The Doctor remembers what she's ostensibly here for, and represses the guilt of having briefly forgotten. (She has a lot of guilt, and she's learned to be very good at pretending she that doesn't.) “Did you hurt him?”

The Master shakes his head. “Didn't want to waste my energy on torture. It can be quite draining, you know.” Finally he moves, steps inside her personal space. “So. You're here.”

“Only because I want to be. Like I said, you don't have to kidnap my friends to get to see me.” It's warm in here, she thinks. But then it would be, wouldn't it? “You could just ask.”

He asks.

- -

“He didn't hurt you, did he?”

She doesn't smile. She has far too much control of herself to do that. “Nah, just ranted at me for a bit about how he's better than me. The usual.” (Yeah, the usual.)

Ryan nods, relieved. “Good.”

“Nothing to worry about.” (If she concentrates she can still feel the graze of the Master's beard against her inner thigh. The nip of his teeth on her skin. All the rest.) “He's not as scary as he'd like to be.”

“I'm -”

“Ryan,” she interrupts, “if the next word out of your mouth is 'sorry' then I'm going to be quite upset. You didn't do anything wrong, it's not like you got kidnapped on purpose.” (Even if he had she wouldn't mind, all things considered. But Ryan doesn't need to know that. Ryan should never know that, or he'd stop looking at her with that slightly awed expression.)


She walks a bit faster, expecting and assuming and knowing that Ryan will speed up to keep pace. The TARDIS isn't far, but it's getting late and the others will be worried (because the Doctor didn't tell them that they didn't need to be).

“So what did he want?”

She shrugs. (Sex. Attention. Possibly love.) “Help with his TARDIS. I was always a better mechanic than him.” (Never.)

“You helped him?” Ryan sounds surprised. (He should be, it's not a very good lie.)

“Why not? I always help out when someone asks me to.”

“Yeah, but...” She wonders if he knows that she's lying. She wonders what she'd do if he worked out the truth. (Run away. Find new friends. Pretend none of this ever happened.)

“Maybe next time we run into each other he'll remember what I did for him.” (He will. Oh, he will.) “Might help him change.” (It won't.)

“I suppose.”

“Don't dwell on it,” she tells him. Time to change the subject. “Where should we go next? It's your turn to pick a planet.”

“No, it's Grandad next.” (She knew that.)

She picks up speed again. “Come on, then, let's get a move on, I'm dying for a cup of tea.” (Almost true, actually.)

There is something in her hearts that shouldn't be there, that doesn't fit and never will. She really should try to get rid of it.

(She won't.)