There were days when Jackson Lake woke up safe in the knowledge that he was Jackson Lake, mathematics teacher, friend to Rosita, and father of Frederick Lake. Then, there were other days.
Often those other days were easier than the days he knew he was himself. He still dreamed things too terrible to be put easily into words, but he awoke knowing those nightmare monsters feared him and could be defeated if he reversed the polarity of their bi-couple motivators. On those days, he had a strong sense of purpose, which took him outside in the mornings at a dashing sprint. On those days, he saved good people who deserved to be saved and punished those who did not. His memories were still incomplete. The tragedies of the Doctor’s life were still shadowy memories of pain. It was quite possible not to dwell on them, and focus, instead, on his purpose on the other days.
His own tragedies, when he remembered they were his own, were not so easily ignored, but he dealt with them. He put his life back in order: hired servants, replied to his mother’s fraught letters, bought some respectable clothes. He taught mathematics to small children, competently and well, he thought, and helped people, in a smaller way. He enjoyed living his human life: the one the Doctor, the real Doctor, could never have, but there was always a lack of certainty to his real life that was present when he was the Doctor.
Most of the time, Jackson Lake was glad to be human and to be real, but he was glad, too, that there were other days.
It was on one of these other days that he first saw the Master.
He’d been hunting a vortisaur in the TARDIS for the best part of an hour: letting the balloon drift where it would, confident that the beast would eventually be drawn to the ‘void stuff’ around him. Sightings had been minimal over the course of the hour, but the Doctor remained confident and enjoyed the ride up above the smog. At last, as the TARDIS drifted lazily past the flat rooftops of a row of townhouses, the flying-lizard swooped down and attempted to tear his head off. Now, that was more like it. The Doctor set the TARDIS to hover, threw out a safety rope, and leapt out of the basket as the vortisaur returned for another go at his head.
He had been aiming for its back. Unfortunately, he had grievously underestimated the creature’s speed and was forced to grab hold of its tail as the appendage whipped past. The sudden unexpected weight of him sent the vortisaur into a shrieking backwards fall, its great wings flapping vainly. The Doctor cursed, as beast and resident Time Lord plummeted inexorably towards London town. He dug his fingers into the deep grooves between its scales. Quickly and painfully, he clawed his way up its back. The air whooshed past: the Doctor’s coat flying up around his waist; the vortisaur’s squawking deafening him.
Half of London must be watching this display, he thought grimly, hauling himself into a more comfortable position. Well, there would be time to worry about those watching when, and if, he survived. He’d brought a harness, but there was no time for it now. He merely threw his arms around the scaly neck, as if giving the vortisaur a bear hug, and pulled it upwards.
There was another shriek from the creature, and then, slowly, it began to rise. The Doctor shouted “Allons-y!” in triumph, and loosened his hold. Up and up they rose, away from the flat-topped roofs of the townhouses.
As he steered the vortisaur back towards where the TARDIS was waiting for them, the Doctor spared a look downwards. There, standing on the roof of the last house in the row, was a man in a black coat and a black top hat. He was clapping.
Jackson Lake woke the next day and, with a wry grimace, remembered that he was keeping a dragon in his cellar. Fortunately, he also remembered that the real Doctor had left the Dalek’s dimension vault behind. Or, rather, he remembered personally lifting the dimension vault from the Doctor, whilst the Time Lord was slumped over an inn table, having consumed a solitary jug of ale and promptly fallen asleep under its influence.
Jackson’s Doctor-self had no memory of meeting the real Doctor, except as the eccentric stranger, John Smith. He had no memory of borrowing the dimension vault, because Jackson had done that, and he had, therefore, left the vortisaur to forage around in the cellar, whilst he considered what to do with it.
Now fully himself, Jackson dressed hurriedly and dashed down to the lower levels of the house. In the kitchen he found Timothy, the butcher’s boy.
“Sir,” the lad said uncertainly as Jackson approached.
“There’s a dragon in the cellar?” Jackson asked briskly, and nodded when the boy did. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said, with a reassuring smile. “The situation is under control, I assure you.” He scooped up a leg of lamb from the worktop with the hand not holding the dimension vault, manhandled the cellar door open with his elbow, and shut it behind him.
The vortisaur had been making shallow circles of the room. It landed as he entered and waddled over to him, cocking its head inquisitively to one side. Jackson threw it the lamb, which cook had, presumably, been planning to serve them for dinner, and, as the creature devoured the meat, sent it back into the vortex with the Doctor’s machine. Then, he pulled his coat on, collected Frederick and left for the school house before cook learned what he’d done.
It was another eight days before he awoke as the Doctor again. There was an odd light to the West, and, when he asked around, he found that nobody had seen a single cat for the last fortnight.
The Doctor did not approve of cats in general, but he found their sudden absence suspicious rather than relieving. The light was equally suspicious. It was a bright, clear white, almost solid in appearance, and certainly did not belong in London town. At least, not yet. The two matters might not be connected, but both were clearly things he should investigate.
Of the pair of mysteries, the light seemed a more immediate problem and, with the wind south-westerly, it could be easily reached by TARDIS. Relieved that he would not have to deal with the cat problem yet, the Doctor collected his TARDIS and set off it pursuit of the alien light.
It was definitely issuing from a specific location: a circle, half a mile in diameter, on the outskirts of Hammersmith. The Doctor flew into the centre of the light, and set the TARDIS to slow descent.
As far as he could ascertain from this position, the light had no alien, or harmful, properties. It was just - improbably bright. So dazzling was it, in fact, that it was difficult to get a good measure of what he might be getting into if he went down to ground level. It could very well be anything: Daleks, Cybermen, somebody advertising a stage spectacular. It was fortunate, therefore, that the Doctor liked surprises more than he liked cats. Pausing only to pull on thick gloves, he slid down a long rope towards the light source.
Hammersmith seemed to have been drained of colour. It was so bright at ground level that everything was reduced to a shade of white: the Doctor’s hands in front of his face were white, and the silent houses around him were white, and the man who approached from the West seemed to be dressed in white, though the Doctor knew he was dressed in black, because he had seen him before.
“Doctor,” the man said, with a wide, white, manic grin. It was the man from the roof: today wearing small, round sunglasses that completed his urbane appearance. “I knew you couldn’t resist.”
“Did you?” the Doctor said warily. “How very interesting, Mister…?” He left a space for the other to provide his name, and noted the look of annoyance that crossed his face, as he said, “That’s Master.”
“And your surname, sir?”
“Sir?” the other laughed, eyes cold. “Sir?” he repeated, more incredulously, after a moment’s pause. “It’s funny, but I don’t think you’ve ever called me ‘sir’ before. Not even when I asked nicely.”
The Doctor raised his chin. “You’ve met me before.”
"Of course I’ve met you- oh,” he realised, “no. Not more amnesia. It’s just so boring. Why can’t you just regenerate properly like everyone else? Used to,” he added with a sneer, which faltered into another sigh when the Doctor merely stared at him. “No, of course.” He smacked his own forehead with a gloved hand. “You have amnesia. Again.” He shook his head with a smile. “But then I find it’s absolutely invaluable for getting over that pesky post-genocide-guilt, don’t you?”
“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” the Doctor said, keeping his voice pleasant.
“Well, no change there, then,” the man said. He sighed, rubbed his eyes behind his spectacles. “OK. Quick recap so we can get onto the fun stuff. You’re the Doctor: whiney, interstellar do-gooder. I’m the Master: sexy, criminal genius and your self appointed mortal enemy. I landed here two weeks ago, heard you were hanging around and decided to stay, just to upset you. That’s the kind of thing I do. Any of this ringing any bells yet? No? Other things I might do include global conquest, governmental infiltrations and,” he adopted the intonation of a circus announcer, “mass poisonings. Coincidentally, the light we’re standing in right now has been slowly poisoning the people of this useless little borough since six this morning. Which means, that you have,” he consulted a silver pocket watch, and winced, “oh dear, just under two hours before they all die.”
“Thank you, sir,” the Doctor said and punched him hard in the face, felt the man's small, round sunglasses smash under his knuckles. “You’ve been most helpful.”
Shaking the tension out of his hand, he stepped over the Master’s prone form and into the light in the direction the Master had come from. The man’s name tickled and whispered at the back of his mind, but the Doctor pushed it further down for now. Two hours left. How could this be happening? Two hours and he could hardly see an inch in front of him.
The Doctor walked further into Hammersmith, the light growing brighter with each step. He pulled off his cravat and tied it around his eyes, diminishing the glare slightly, but hardly enough to see anything more than an arm’s length away from his face. It was ridiculous. Even if there was-
He grunted in pain as he walked into a hard edge belonging to a knee-height metal object, which somebody had thoughtlessly left in the middle of the road. Quickly, the Doctor bent down, pulling off his gloves as he did so, and traced the contours of the object with his palms. A grill, several dials, a round hot object to its centre, a vaguely familiar corporate crest. A Baroxian detoxifier, the Doctor decided. Third or fourth generation possibly, adapted to exude poison into the atmosphere, rather than suck it away. This must be it. Now, how did one disarm the blasted thing?
He depressed the left-hand side and there was a metallic clang as the maintenance hatch dropped open. Still blinded, he pushed his bare fingers into the tangle of wires. With such an early model there was a slight danger of electrocution, but perhaps, the Doctor reflected, the regeneration would do him good. He gave the mass of wiring a sharp tug, heard the low crackle of electricity and then the light vanished with a deep thump as though it had never been.
He looked up, pulling the cravat off his head. It was mid-afternoon, perhaps four o’clock. He grinned.
There was a slight grumble of voices from within the house directly to his right, and then as, if woken by the ringing of a church bell, the former-sleepers swarmed out of their houses into the street. All of them chattering and gesturing; none of them looking at the Doctor. As it should be, the Doctor thought with satisfaction.
He picked up the detoxifier, and was promptly smacked in the face by a long rope, dangling from his TARDIS. The Doctor shook his head, laughed and tugged on the rope. It had been a good day. And there was still plenty of it left to look for those cats.
The Master was waiting for him the next day as Jackson Lake locked the school room door. He lent against the wall of the house opposite: his nose one dark bruise, a dark blot on the former elegance of his appearance. Despite this, he did not look angry. In fact, he looked almost amiable, which made Jackson distrust him all the more.
He bent down to the height of his small son and murmured, “Frederick, I need you to run home now.”
“What are you going to do?” Frederick whispered back.
“I have to talk to that gentleman,” Jackson explained, nodding slightly across at the Master. “No, don’t look at him. Just run all the way home, and tell Rosita that it’s happened. Will you do that for me, Freddie?”
“Never you mind,” Jackson said, with a shaky smile that he’d hoped would be steady and stern. “Just it’s happened. She’ll know what that means. Make sure you run.”
With a rather obvious look at the Master, Frederick scampered off. Jackson saw the Master’s eyes follow the boy for a moment and then pull back instantly to him, like a spring powered toy. The Doctor had been right: it would be possible to identify the Master from that look alone, even if the man had not identified himself.
Jackson made himself smile broadly, and walk towards the Time Lord. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”
“But you’re not sorry you punched me or that you broke my new sunglasses.”
The Master shook his head, with a slight smile. “No. How spectacularly unsurprising. I come back from the dead just to visit you and you can’t even work up the energy to look pleased.”
“I thought you said you’d come here to upset me,” Jackson reminded him, pleasantly, as if they were old friends. Like old friends, they fell into step, walking side by side through the streets of London as Jackson led the Master away from his house and his family, towards the less populated areas of the city.
The Master grinned, with some of the mania of the day before. “That’s how I show I care. Look, Doctor-”
“I’m not,” Jackson said.
“Not what?” the Master asked. “Not looking? I haven’t even told you what to look at yet.”
“Not the Doctor,” Jackson said, aware it was madness of a kind. As far as he knew, his identity was the only thing keeping him alive. But the Doctor had promised this would be the right course of action, that more people would die if the Master (who would undoubtedly show up at some point, dead or not, to make a nuisance of himself) thought it would hurt the Doctor, and Jackson trusted him. So he said, “My name is Jackson Lake-”
The Master’s face crumpled with disdain. “Oh, you used a chameleon arch. Doctor-”
“No, I did not,” Jackson said. “But I know what the device you speak of does. It turns a Time Lord into another species: all the many cells of his body and his mind. I know this not because I learned it on your planet, but because the Doctor told me. The,” he sighed, “proper Doctor told me.”
“The proper Doctor,” the Master echoed. “And what are you, then?”
“I,” Jackson explained, “think that I am the Doctor. Sometimes. I have some of his memories. I’m afraid it’s rather complicated, though I will explain if I can. He said you deserved that at least.”
“He? Ah, his Properness. Did he really? How thoughtful of him.”
“I’m sorry,” Jackson said. He knew no real reason why he should be apologising to this man, but it felt necessary; something whispered and tickled at the back of his mind. They had stopped outside what he now saw was the same inn he had taken the Doctor to on Christmas Day. “Would you care for a drink?”
“You see,” the Master explained, still mostly fluent after his third drink, “I wasn’t really dead. I’d just stopped my hearts temporarily. Then, when he tried to burn me in a touching ceremony, very Return of the Jedi, no, don’t worry, you don’t know that one yet, I activated this.” He held up a hand, on which he wore a chunky silver ring.
“A time ring,” Jackson said, after a momentary glance.
“A time ring,” the Master agreed. “Excellently done, Mister Lake. Top marks. Where did that one come from?”
Jackson swirled the beer inside his tankard. “A man in a long cloak gave the Doctor a time ring during his fourth incarnation. He was supposed to carry out a mission on Skaro, I believe, for whomever the man represented.”
“Must’ve been the CIA: the Celestial Intervention Agency,” the Master said with faux pomposity. “Interfering bunch of killjoys,” he added after a brief pause for thought. “Makes you wonder why our friend, the Doctor never worked for them officially, doesn’t it?”
Jackson huffed a small laugh. He found he rather liked the Master, as the Doctor had warned him he would. That meant it was time to go.
He pushed his stool backwards and stood. “I’m afraid I must be heading homewards before my household come looking for me.”
“Sensible,” the Master said with a deep exaggerated nod that suggested he thought this was not a particularly good thing to be. Still, he drained his drink, and followed Jackson out into the street. The sky outside was dark and the air was cool. Jackson breathed in deeply as he always did after stepping outside a smoky tavern.
He offered his hand to the Master, who had yet to don his leather gloves. “Goodbye.” The Master took his hand, but did not actually shake it. “I’m sorry I punched you,” Jackson added with an apologetic smile. “But I’m certain that bruise will disappear within a week. Time Lords heal fast, or so I’m told.”
“We do,” the Master agreed.
With the hand not in Jackson’s, he reached up to touch the side of Jackson’s head: palm to his chin, fingertips light at the temples. It was a peculiarly intimate touch, reminiscent of the way Jackson, himself, had once touched the Doctor, desperate for a life line. Jackson had a moment to wonder if the Master was reaching out to him, before there was a sharp tug in his mind, which obediently dropped open like the maintenance hatch of the Baroxian detoxifier.
His eyes flared, he gasped, he tried to wrench himself away, to push the Master from him, but there seemed to be no strength left in his body. The Master tugged his right hand free easily from the handshake, and brought it up to Jackson’s other temple. There was another matching tug and more of Jackson’s mind hung open.
“Strangely enough, I’m almost sorry,” the Master said conversationally, as memories streamed from Jackson’s head, “I was actually beginning to like you. Not a lot, obviously, but still - for a human.”
Jackson tried to work his mouth, but this, too, proved to be beyond him. Flashes of events he wasn’t present for whipped past his eyes.
“By now,” the Master continued, “you’ve probably noticed that I’m leaving behind all your memories, including any of him and of this. It’s a little gift from me to you.” He hummed a laugh. “I’ll take your wordless gasping as an expression of thanks.”
Jackson’s knees collapsed underneath him. The ground was gritty and uneven beneath the fabric of his trousers. His vision flickered, and then faded completely. He heard the Master say, “Goodbye, Mister Lake. I’ll be sure to tell the Doctor you said hello,” and passed out.
Rosita found him and helped him home.
The next day Jackson Lake awoke in his own bed, sore and angry, but safe in the knowledge that he was Jackson Lake, mathematics teacher, friend to Rosita, and father of Frederick Lake. And the day after that he woke up, safe in the knowledge that he was Jackson Lake, mathematics teacher, friend to Rosita, and father of Frederick Lake. And the day after that the same. And the day after that. And all the days after that.
There were no more other days.