The mark on the inside of the Doctor’s wrist looked a little bit like a star.
It had been a bit of a scandal, when it had first appeared. The two of them, hiding away from classes, lips pressed against the delicate skin. They’d watched, entranced, as the marks blossomed, matching. Time Lords considered themselves above that sort of thing, back in her Academy days, when she'd had a different name. So did the person attached to the other wrist with its own, matching star.
They'd both been fans of causing a bit of a... splash. In the early days, they'd been more in step. There had been a fork in the road at one point, and the both of them had taken different paths.
She'd hoped, when she'd regenerated, that she'd lose the mark. The other mark (and the body it was on) was gone, after that final, painful betrayal, and she was left on her own again.
I'd have thought the mark would be gone, she thought, rolling up the torn sleeve of her jacket, the torn white shirt sleeve. There was the star, still there, as stark as a tattoo. There hadn't been a lot of studying of soulmates, back on Gallifrey - no respectable Time Lord would ever have one, after all.
The two of them couldn't have been the first non-respectable Time Lords, could they?
The Doctor rocked on her heels, and she watched Ryan fall off of his bike again, some complicated mix of sadness and hope filling her chest, making her hearts beat that much faster.
She hadn't had a chance to stop - first the business with meeting her first self, and then dealing with Tzim-Sha, and Grace's death, and she still needed to find her TARDIS, needed to figure out what her next step was going to be.
It wasn't the first time she'd gone without her soulmate. Sort of. They'd been separated before. When her soulmate was a man with blond hair and a manic laugh, he'd died. Sort of. And humans could live without their soulmates - there were countless stories about it through the ages. Some of the greatest art of the ages had come from that longing. And at this point, she'd mourned for the Master so many times that it was almost an old hat.
But never Missy, a helpful part of her brain reminded her. You've never had to grieve for Missy before, have you? That bit of her own subconscious had a Scottish accent, because of course it did.
The Doctor sighed heavily, and she pushed her hair back away from her face. So much hair now - had she ever had this much hair? It felt like she'd had this much, back when she gangled with a bowtie, but there had been more of her in general back then.
Still with the star on his wrist, back then.
... her wrist?
She was going to have to get used to the pronoun change, wasn't she?
There was muffled swearing, as Ryan fell off again, and the Doctor tried to take that as a sign. If he could keep getting up, so could she, right?
She pressed her thumb against the mark on the inside of her wrist, and she sighed, a long, low gust. If Ryan could keep getting back up after falling off, she could too, right?
Graham would probably understand. Him and Grace hadn't been soulmates, but it was patently obvious just how much they adored each other. And her feelings for the Master (and Missy, and Koschei, and all the other people that they had been together) were not that... simple.
Things never could be simple, could they?
In the Vault, they slept together.
He was taller, thinner. A Scottish accent and bushy eyebrows, a tendency towards snacking and calling people "pudding brain" when they were being stupid.
Bill wasn't a pudding brain, but he made a point not to talk about Bill to Missy, beyond the vague "I've got a new student I've taken under my wing," because there was a hole in his memory about... someone, and when he probed it, the nothingness of it was almost worse than any pain.
He tried to visit her regularly, brought her books and takeout and videos to watch. In the early days - before Bill, when people were still walking around the university wearing ties, when his ideas about co-education and string theory were considered outlandish - she'd talk loudly and at length about the atrocities she'd committed, and artfully shred the books on ethics he brought her into confetti, fold the pages into elaborate origami, scattered about the Vault like a cat leaving dead birds as a warning to the rest of the local avian population.
She'd been leaving them unshredded, lately. Unopened, but unshredded, and that was a progress of a sort, right?
They still shared dreams. He didn't know how she'd shielded her dreams from him, before they'd met... how had they met, come to think of it? He couldn't remember when her icy blue eyes had fixed on his own in his current shape, just that she was suddenly there.
"What are you hoping to accomplish with this whole endeavor?" Her voice was very quiet, in the darkness. He had offered her artificial windows, and then quickly rescinded the offer when she asked for views of various sights of devastation.
In the dark, they lay in her huge, four poster bed.
Her arms were wrapped around his waist, and her legs were tangled in his, her breath humid against the back of his neck.
"When you can figure it out yourself, we'll have gone a step in the right direction," he said, his own voice quiet.
It was almost vulgar, to speak out loud like this, when it was just the two of them in the quiet. Their minds were still shielded off from each other, because he might have been hopeful about rehabilitating her, but he wasn't so foolish as to let her roam through his thoughts.
"I'm still having the dreams," she said, after another long pause.
"I know," he said. "I have them too, y'know."
"I can't tell which ones are yours and which ones are mine." Her small hand trailed up his arm, over the cuff of his sleeve. "What makes us so different, after all these years?"
He let her fingers slip into his cuff, into his sleeve. The tips of her fingers, with their smoothly polished nails and calloused pads, resting over the familiar tick of his pulse, his two hearts beating in time with hers. She was touching his soulmark, and it was making his whole body tingle, the proximity and intimacy more than he'd let himself feel in far too long.
"The choices we make," he said.
"Both of our choices led to cities burning and people dying." Her hand was slipped into his now, their wrists pressed together. Mark to mark, pulse to pulse. "Why does the reason matter?"
He searched his tired mind for an answer, and couldn't find one. Instead, he brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed the back of it. Their fingers were so tightly entwined that his knuckles ached, and she was holding him tighter.
Their shared dreams had always been a source of... unpleasantness. He'd never been the most skilled, when it came to telepathy, and whatever barriers that he had up awake were much weaker in his sleep.
"I wake up smelling smoke sometimes," she said, and she was trembling against him, so hard that her teeth were almost chattering. "It makes no sense, for me to care. We're so much better than... anything. Their lives are like candles - they burn up, not even particularly brightly, and then they're gone."
"We're not better," the Doctor corrected. "We have better access to technology, maybe, and we've got more experience, but that doesn't mean they can't surprise us. Can't introduce us to new things. There's so much in the universe, and you can find out so much more when you go through it while trying to cause the minimal amount of damage."
"But why should that matter?" There was a vulnerability to her
She was questioning. That was a good first step, right?
He held on to the idea as tightly as he held on to her hands.
She kept replaying it in her head, over and over, as she fiddled with the TARDIS console, adding this, patching that. Her oldest friend (apart from... well) and dearest companion (apart from all the others) rumbled under her hands, and she tried to take comfort in it.
"A spy... Master," he'd said, and then he'd rolled up his sleeve. His previously bare wrist, with a mark that looked a little bit like a star, and the dread that had flooded through her had been like falling out of a plane all over again.
How did I not know? She stared, unseeing, at a bundle of wires in front of her. The humans were all back in their own time, their own planet. She was alone, apart from the TARDIS.
She missed O.
Was that strange, to miss someone who hadn't ever existed? At least, not really. Not as she had known him. O might have been a real person, once upon a time, but the O who had sent her a picture of a fish and sent her pictures of interesting looking birds... it had all been a lie.
She had even liked how he looked, once they'd met in person. Although that was probably linked to the fact they were soulmates. Always that internal tether, pulling them towards each other through time and space.
They were always well matched, always complementing each other, and now was no different.
He had a piece of her, and she had a piece of him, the two of them endlessly chasing each other in circles through the wreckage they left in their wake.
It would explain the dreams, some traitorous part of her whispered. You thought it was just shock from seeing that battlefield on the ship, but it wasn't, was it? That was him out there. And instead of investigating or going for the root of it, you just avoided sleep.
The dreams of smoke, of fire, of death all around her. The sick, strange triumph that built in her gut, erupting from her throat in hideous laughter.
The Doctor pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes, closed them tighter. It was so tempting, to reach out to him - even after everything that he had done, there was that missing place, right between her hearts. She wrapped her arms around her torso, holding herself the way she never allowed anyone else to hold her, and she ached, a dull, steady throb. Her thumb passed over the mark on her wrist, and she closed her eyes tightly.
Maybe our people were right, she thought, as the TARDIS hummed against her hip. It's a bad idea to connect yourself to someone like that.
It was as if she was stuck on an endless cycle, of losing her people, her soulmate, grieving for him (for her), rediscovering her home, her soulmate, losing them again.
It was all just an endless cycle, and she didn't know how to get out.
In the deepest parts of her hearts, she didn’t know if she wanted to.