He set the coordinates: 10-0-11-00:02. The TARDIS was dark, but for the orange glow of the time rotor. He held his breath, hearts beating madly in his chest. Could she have been telling the truth? Part of him that told him he should be cautious. When had she ever told him the truth before? Why did he think–why was he being so stubbornly hopeful–that just this once, she wasn't lying?
The time rotor finally came to a stop, and the wheezing sound of the TARDIS materializing ended in a thunk. His palms were sweating. Outside those doors could be home–the red sky and mountain slopes and trees with silver leaves. Or it could be empty space. All he had to do was open them. Once he did that, he would know. No more hope. No more waiting. Just the truth.
He pushed the door open slowly. It creaked as it always had. He and his TARDIS were not as young as they had been when he'd run away. He drew in a breath sharply, trying to combat the hollowness welling up inside him. He was staring out blank space. Empty blackness. No home. No hope.
His eyes darted through the darkness, desperately searching for some sign–some indicator–anything! But there was nothing, nothing. Just like there had always been. Just like he should have known there would always be. He shut the door. No home. No hope. She'd lied. She'd lied like she always had. There was no Gallifrey.
He made it back to the console, barely. Then he broke down. Everything came pouring out. Thousands of years of fighting to protect his people, and he got nothing. He slammed a fist against the console, sparks flying, his skin bruising and splitting. He kept hitting it, methodically, one blow after another. Every Dalek he had fought. Every Silent who had died. The Question, repeating over and over and over. All flashing through his mind. It was all for nothing. For nothing. Gallifrey wasn't there. She had lied. She–
"Well, don’t give up now, love, you've just got the wrong dimension's all!"
He stumbled backwards, blinking tears out of his eyes as quickly as he could. "You! "
The Master stood at the console, tapping the display with a manicured nail, one hand on her hips.
He ran to the console, which was still sparking. A whole section of controls were crushed. He ran an aching hand over it, scarcely able to take it in. Alive. She was alive. Not vaporized. Not dead.
He forced himself to regain his composure. "What are you doing in my TARDIS?"
"OH, Missy, I'm so pleased you aren't dead!" the Master said. "Or perhaps we could have another 'thanks for everything' kiss, no? What sort of welcome is that?"
"I–you shouldn’t be here." He glared at her. "How can you be here? I saw–you were vaporized."
"Not vaporized, teleported."
The Doctor took in this information without comment. Of course it was a teleport, Doctor Idiot!
"I'd've thought surely you would recognize the difference. A teensy little trick to make them all think I'm dead then–boop!–I show up here." She twisted around the face him straight on. "What do you say, why don't we go home together?"
"It's not here," he said, rubbing his hands and glancing at the smoking TARDIS console. "You lied."
"Just a bit. Or maybe you made a little boo boo? Got your dimension wrong?"
"Where is it?"
"Aw, come on. I'm being nice here. Is that all I can get?" She made a face, clearly imitating him. "Where is it? Where is it?"
The Doctor let her keep talking. Too many emotions were running through his mind. Relief, hope, distrust. She was alive. Did she really know where Gallifrey was? How did she get onto his TARDIS? He knew, logically, that it was bad that she had survived to wreak more havoc, and that it was doubly bad that she had managed to get onto his TARDIS without his knowledge. It was even worse that he liked that she was there.
"It's in another dimension, like I said. Let me just–" She flipped a switch on the console. "–pop us a few dimensions over."
"Don't–" the Doctor reached a hand to stop her from messing with his TARDIS, then stopped himself and crossed his arms over his chest.
"See? You really do trust me." She grinned at him as she flipped another lever.
He walked nervously around the console. "Maybe I will, if you tell me why you're doing this."
"I told you, I want my friend back," she said cheerfully. "This is what you want, so I'm giving it to you. A friendly gesture to a friend."
"You can't just–"
She reached over him to grab the dematerialization lever and paused with her hand on it. She leaned in closer to him.
"You want it too, Doctor. You want it to be back the way it was just as much as I do. Before the War and the Daleks. Before you ran away." She turned around and put a hand on his chest. "I know your hearts. I've always known them." She looked at him with wide eyes. "You remember the red fields? Where we used to play?"
"On the slopes of Mount Perdition," the Doctor said slowly, staring ahead, not looking at her. "We would run and run…and then you stopped running. I never ran away from you. I never gave up on you! That was you, always you. You were the one who changed. I kept running, trying to hold the universe together while you tear it apart!
"Do you know how many times I've hoped that you were really different? That somewhere, deep inside, you were still my old friend? I want my friend back too, but you are not my old friend."
He stepped away from her. The Master reached up and touched his cheek. He flinched, but didn't move away.
"Let me bring us home," she said softly.
She turned and pulled the dematerialization lever. The TARDIS shook violently, and they were both thrown off their feet. The Doctor grabbed the railing to keep from being thrown around, and was suddenly aware that the Master was clinging to his shoulders. The ship rocked back and forth, spinning through the time vortex, slipping through the very fabric of dimensions.
And then there was silence. The Master was sitting on the ground beside him, fixing her hair. He pulled himself to his feet and checked the scanner. It was blank.
He flicked the screen, annoyed. Still nothing.
"It won't work now," the Master said. "I had to disable it to make the flight work out." She crooked a finger at him. "Come and see."
He still had his doubts. She seemed sincere, but they'd have to have jumped a lot of dimensions to find a universe where the Master would actually do something kind with no ulterior motive.
He opened the TARDIS doors slowly, preparing himself this time for crushing disappointment. A rush of cool, crisp air hit his face. A red landscape opened out in front of him, an auburn sky overhead and miles and miles of red grass all the way up mountain slopes as far as the eye could see.
He stepped out. The TARDIS had landed in the valley. And there, just behind it, rose a magnificent dome, housing towering majestic spires–the Citadel of the Time Lords.
A lump caught in the Doctor's throat. He took a deep breath–he had forgotten how sweet the air smelled–and looked away from the Master, who was watching his face avidly.
Home. His knees felt weak. He could look up at the sky and see the twin suns shining overhead. He could almost make out the southern edge of the Mountains of Solace and Solitude. Even the trees, the silver leafed trees, glistened as he had remembered.
The Master tapped his shoulder. "Is this a better birthday gift, Mr. President?"
"You–you found it. You said–but I didn't believe–and now–"
He reached up and kissed her again, just as he had done in the graveyard. "You weren't lying."
Her eyes had lit up as he kissed her, and were now big and bright. "Well, no one can be evil all the time. It'd get ever so boring."
"You remember the hermit–the one who used to live up the slope?" he said, the corners of his mouth twitching upward into a genuine smile. "And that barn on the other side where we used to hide?"
The Master laughed. "They'd search for us for hours and we'd be hidden almost in plain sight."
There were tears welling up in the Doctor's eyes now. Home. He was home. He'd been all over the universe. He'd seen worlds so epic in majesty that they could never be described. He'd seen the birth of stars and the rise of civilizations. He'd been hailed as a hero, welcomed as a friend, and even worshiped as a god in so many places. He'd cared for Trenzalore and he loved the Earth, but Gallifrey had been his first home. His world before her started running.
The Master stooped and plucked a flower from the field and held it up. It was a small, red thing that glowed at the center. "You remember what this is?"
He took it gingerly. "Madevinia aridosa."
"Yes, madevinia aridosa. The flower that blooms after rain. The storm's over Doctor. Welcome home."
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