“He’s not going to say it - never - but he does want you to stay.”
“And why do you care?” Alison crossed her arms. “You already told me you hated me.”
“Hate is a very strong word, my dear, and one that I never used,” the Master replied, in a voice that was somehow both pompous and drawling. It was impossible to tell if he was being sincere or not. “It’s just that people like you- people playing your role- they tend to make him sad.”
“Then why’d you ask me to stay?” Alison couldn’t read him. She did want to stay, she knew she wanted to stay. She just had to find a concrete reason to justify it or she’d just run back to Joe and try to forget any of this ever happened. She was a logical person, she always had been. There had to be a logical reason to stay.
“Because it would make him very happy.” The Master was staring at her, and his eyes looked very much like real, living eyes. A good imitation, then. “And I never asked you, not directly.”
“You just said two different things,” Alison said. “Which one is it, then? Me staying. Is it good or bad?”
“I’m sure that’s entirely up to you, dear,” the Master told her, and leaned a hand on the console of the TARDIS.
Alison shook her head, coming to terms with the fact that this man - or robot, or whatever he actually was - would never give her a straight answer. She glanced around the ship, taking in the lights and the big spiral staircase. She sighed. “You know, my boyfriend would never let me stay here anyway. Doesn’t matter.”
“Wouldn’t let you stay?” the Master repeated, cocking his head slightly to one side.
“I mean- he wouldn’t just say I couldn’t, he’s really a nice guy, but he’d…” Alison sighed again. “I couldn’t do it to him. He’d… no, I couldn’t.”
“You just saved your entire species,” the Master said slowly. “Your entire planet, and you’re telling me one human man can keep you from doing what you want to do?”
Alison immediately felt like she had to defend it. Defend Joe. She didn’t know why; he wasn’t even there. He’d never know what they were saying. And what the Master said did resonate within her, somewhere. “I don’t know,” she settled on. “He’s my boyfriend.”
“In my experience boyfriends don’t dictate what one can and cannot do,” said the Master. “Just do it, and if he really has that much of a problem with it he won’t preserve your consciousness next time you lose your body. Between you and I, though, it seldom gets to that point.”
Alison chuckled. She couldn’t help it, it was all so bizarre and different and really, this guy was funny. He couldn’t be all robot, then. “I was actually… I don’t know. Going out for a degree. In uni. Anthropology. History degree. It was dull, but… not to me.” She shrugged. “Gave it up when Joe asked me to. He said I’d be traveling too much, or I’d end up making more money than him and his mates would laugh, so I…” It hit her, for the first time, how much she’d given up. “I dropped out. So I could be with him. Took that job at the bar. I never even realized there was another option. I have no idea why I’m telling you this.”
The Master regarded her silently.
“Anyway, here it is.” Alison gave the TARDIS another once over. “My other option.”
“Or you could dump him and go back to school. Finish your degree,” the Master offered, after a minute of saying nothing. “I’d make sure they let you in. I’d even make sure it was paid for.”
“Is that legal?” Alison asked, laughing. She shook her head. “No, no, I don’t know why I’d study history when I could go live it.”
“You’re staying, then.”
Alison gave it a final thought, even though her mind had been made up practically since the moment she met the Doctor. “For now I am, yeah.”
The Master didn’t quite smile, but something about his face shifted. “He’ll be happy to hear that.”
“What about you?” she asked, and she leaned back against the console next to him.
“Robot. No emotions. Surely you’ve consumed some media featuring robotic lifeforms, you should know that-”
“You’ve got emotions,” Alison countered, grinning. “He preserved your consciousness, or whatever it was you just said. Come on, that’s not going to work on me.”
The Master sighed. “Perhaps not. He’s right, you are clever.”
“Yeah, right, and you were never going to sell us out to the Shalka, were you?”
The Master stared at her. “Of course I was.”
“Nah, no you weren’t.” Alison crossed her arms, and shot him a smug look. When she’d first seen him she didn’t know what to think, but now she felt like she knew him. At least well enough to say, with surety, that he wouldn’t betray the Doctor. Her or the Doctor. If he really were completely malevolent he wouldn’t offer to pay her student loans.
“I changed my mind, you’re not allowed to stay here,” he said firmly.
Alison laughed, covering her mouth with a hand and trying not to snort. “Alright, I’ll add ‘grumpy robot’ to the list of things I’ll defeat next. I’m warning you, though. I’m one-oh. The Shalka didn’t stand a chance, do you think you’ll do any better?”
And whatever part of the machine made up his vocal chords was doing a bang up job, because when he laughed, it sounded real.
The TARDIS elevator doors opened and the Doctor strode out, already saying, “I’ve told you time and time again not to leave the umbrella on the-” He stopped, looking from Alison to the Master and then back again. “What’s going on?”
Alison tried not to laugh. “Nothing.”
He squinted at them. “Fine, if you’re going to be that way. Don’t let him rub off on you, it’ll be bad for your manners. I should be bringing you home anyways, shouldn’t I? That boyfriend must be wondering where you are.”
Alison looked down. “Actually, Doctor… if it’s not- I don’t know, too crowded in here or anything, I was thinking maybe I’d stay. See those pyramids.”
“Really?” The Doctor looked like he’d had the wind knocked out of him. He slowly set the umbrella he was carrying down against the wall.
“Yeah.” Alison shrugged. “I’ll give it a go. If that’s alright with you.”
“Oh, it’s- it’s more than alright. It’s brilliant,” the Doctor stammered. “Is he giving you trouble about it?”
The Master muttered, “Rude,” under his breath.
“Loads,” Alison replied, smirking. “You know, he’s nice. For a robot.”
“Ruder,” the Master added over-dramatically. “And since when do you know any other robots?”
The Doctor’s eyebrows went up, and he shot another glance back and forth between them. Then, his jovial expression dropped. “What about Joe?”
“I’ll call him, I don’t know.” Alison shrugged. “I’m not going back. It’s about time he learned to take care of himself.”
“Really.” She couldn’t help being nervous saying it. Her throat was almost closing up. She was turning her back on the relationship that had dominated her life for the past four years. She could do it, though. She’d destroyed the Shalka. She could do anything. “Let’s go, yeah? You did promise me pyramids.”
“And pyramids you’ll get, Ali,” the Doctor replied. “But you need a change of clothes. One, at least, probably more if you’re planning to stay. I’ll make a quick stop back at… oh. Right. I’m sorry about your flat, I really am.”
Alison shrugged again. “Shitty old work clothes anyway. Shitty place, really.”
“A shop, then?” the Master suggested.
“A shop,” the Doctor agreed. “Don’t worry about money, I’ll take care of it. I owe you for the flat.”
“Fine by me,” Alison said. “Also- Ali? Where did that come from? No one calls me Ali, not ever.”
The Doctor winced. “Do you mind?”
“Nah, not at all.” Alison couldn’t stop smiling.
“Good.” The Doctor flipped a switch on the console. “Dear, could you get that lever-”
“Already done,” replied the Master.
Alison went and sat on the bottom steps of those spiral stairs, and let their banter fade into the background. She took in the fact that she’d just helped save the world. She took in the fact that at this very moment, she was in a time machine, traveling through space just so she could go shopping downtown. She took in the fact that, technically, she’d just left Joe. Maybe she hadn’t told him yet, but something about it felt official. She took in the fact that despite losing her flat, her job, and her boyfriend she was the happiest she’d been in a long time.
After a while, the Master came over and sat next to her, still looking over at the Doctor, who was doing his pilot’s dance around the console. “Didn’t I tell you it’d make him happy?”
“Maybe.” Alison nodded.
“I don’t hate you. I don’t even dislike you,” he muttered.
“I know,” Alison said.
“And- on whether or not to stay,” said the Master. “I believe you made the right decision.”
Alison smiled. “Yeah. Me too.”