It had all happened so fast that I still had a hard time realising that this had actually been real, in a sense. And that after all this time of being assured that my mere species would be reason enough to never ever get any closer to me than a kiss and some hugs.
Aside from that, it was also not easy to wrap my head around the fact that I had actually slept with an alien, even though he didn't differ from humans in that regard. Not that I had noticed at least. His experience, though, showed clearly. Never had I been with someone before who knew so well what to do and when.
A smugness travelled through our connection that I could clearly identify as the Master's and it disrupted my comfy state and all other thoughts that ran through my head.
"Stop grinning," I mumbled against him, barely able to suppress a grin of my own.
"Definitely not. It's so well deserved." He giggled, idly drawing circles on my back with his finger. His other hand wandered under my chin to lift my head. "I think I did a pretty good job on you."
I glared at his stupid grin and laughed, poking his chest playfully. "Well, I'll give you that."
He dragged me up for a kiss, a slow and savouring one, but it managed to speed up my heartbeat nonetheless. Especially now that our minds were connected again and I could feel his essence wash over me like a cloud of smoke, wrapping my thoughts in an embrace that was warm and soothing, allowing me to fall without getting lost. It was an apology for what had happened in the bath, threads of his mind weaving itself into that memory and tenderly smoothing over them as if to heal a scratch. An apology without any words, but so much more effective. Because words are cheap and easily spoken.
"Damn, it's really not the same without," he breathed against my lips and I knew he meant the connection. The meaning vibrated through it as if someone had struck a chord.
"Yeah, can Image" I agreed, shamelessly snuggling up on him. "Definitely need more practice."
"Tons of it."
Our foreheads bumped together and we lay there for a while, doing nothing but enjoying the intertwinement, calm and without the need for anything else. I was sure we had never done that before, not like it was now at least. Without underlying intentions and unanswered questions. Only the here and now, a moment that could last for eternity.
Eventually the Master quietly giggled to himself and drew me out of the calm relaxation.
"You know," he said, "I've won the bet.
A smirk spread on his lips. "The one about you having naughty dreams."
It took me a second to remember and I groaned. "Oh come on, that doesn't count."
"Of course it does."
"Nu-huh! Sod off. That's not fair."
"You're going to have to be my slave for a whole day, little one."
"Like heck I will!"
"Half a day?"
"An hour. Maximum!" I caved in, trying to glare daggers at the Master and failing miserably. I just had to smile at his stupid boyish grin, my heart doing a little jump.
"Deal." He chuckled and drew me closer, his fingers sprawling over the skin of my back. "Now sleep. We wanted to find out more about your dreams, didn't we?"
"Right… yeah. Almost forgot." I laughed and snuggled a bit lower so I could tug my head under his chin and breath in his scent while drifting away. "You were a little distracting for a moment."
The Master only laughed. "No one forced you to play along."
"'n miss that chance? Never."
"I really don't know if I should be flattered or disgusted," mumbled the Master, but his voice was filled with amusement and warmth. "Now, back to sleep, my little light. I'm curious."
Something warm and calming spread in my mind once again, lulling me in fast. This hypnotism was a true blessing, making me faintly wish I'd have it at hand whenever my thoughts were too busy to sleep, but already my consciousness slipped into the darkness.
It was how it always goes with sleep. It drags you into a swirl of sensations you can impossibly remember all after waking up. I had no idea if there was anything remotely coherent in between the chaos, but eventually the nightmare came, creeping up on me like a cat through high grass and pushing away every bit of comfort and warmth I had felt before.
At first there was only blackness surrounding me, but soon the sky exploded in a searing light, leaving me blind and confused and only able to hear the rumbling of something heavy crashing down and shaking the ground so violently that everything faded. And for the next fracture of eternity there was only darkness once more. Darkness and a pull of unimaginable strength. I couldn't help but follow it, without having senses to guide me.
Until I had.
There was light. There were… people. All busy and laughing and chatting and so alive. I had forgotten how that felt, had forgotten how I used to be like them and wanted nothing but to return, to touch that light and warmth just once more. But they wouldn't let me, started to scream whenever they got aware of me and it was impossible to ever belong, so I reached out and took a hand, dragged them along to show what I couldn't tell. Show… show the eternal darkness, the endlessness, the pull from that shining fire in the centre. They needed to see what the world might look like from my perspective, needed to understand what I was.
But as soon as they got too close, as soon as they melted with stone and plants, they stopped being. And all there was was the black and the cold and the emptiness, leaving them cut open and bleeding and screaming. And all I wanted was to fade and to cease and to just stop together with them. There was only a hole, empty and cold, dark and lonely and everything hurt, my soul being torn apart by a thousand hands, a thousand voices, screaming at me that I wasn't real, that I wasn't welcomed, that I was too strange for anyone to allow me by their side, that I could never be a part of anything, because the best I could ever hope for was to be a shadow in the void…
"Come back, little light."
A vast pit of nothingness stretched before me. And in its centre sat only a tiny spark that wasn't even my own. There it lingered, existed, taunting me, allowing me such bright and warming moments only to tear them away from me again eventually. Its sight reminded me that I would never be able to hold on to those moments, that they would always be ripped away from me, no matter how hard I tried.
"You shouldn't poke around in there. Come back."
Warmth wrapped around my essence, soft and soothing, like a blanket in the cold, without being able to entirely dispel it. Still I lingered, watching the faint pulsing light, the golden particles of life force that dwelled within myself, never to be mine.
"That dream resonated a little too much with you," explained a calm voice.
Hovering, halfway still in my dream, the other half almost conscious, I felt a slicing pain where the contrast of my different experiences crashed together, creating edges so sharp it could cut through my soul with ease. There was my life in the TARDIS and the warm moments I shared with the people there, and there was the entire rest of my life that was only empty and cold and not worth ever returning to. Would I lose what I had here…
I'm like them, aren't I? I thought. Nothing but a shadow that can't exist on its own.
And every bit of light that allowed me to take a shape got swallowed by even more darkness, running through my veins like ice.
There was a long pause from both sides and then, hesitantly, almost sad in tone, the Master whispered something, a truth none of us could hide forever. "You still would die, would I allow it, wouldn't you?"
Calmly, within the depths of my mind, I watched the spark of life force the Master had implanted into my being, watched it dance and shine and flicker like a candle flame. All I was was because of him and would he ditch me, I would once more return to be an empty shell without any substance.
Am I even alive at all? I asked, now awake, but still swimming in that space we shared.
Of course you are, stupid.
But it's not my own life.
Then you should cling to it even more. There was a chuckle in my mind and a warm tendril caressed our connection.
What for, though? You'll still take it back one day.
A humm resonated through me, rippling through my essence and vanishing into the darkness, letting the flame lightly sway.
It's more fun when the victim struggles, came a late answer. The tone, however, was strangely sombre, sad even. Like the memory of a warm summer day you knew was impossible to keep alive forever. Soon it would fade to be a mere memory, bittersweet and warming your heart in dark times, but never ever would it come back to life as it was in the very moment.
I glared at him, at his hazel eyes that were so dark in the dim light. If only I could read what was so plainly shining through them. Something he wasn't even hiding right now, but for me it was impossible to see nonetheless. A smirk stretched his lips, as if he had read those thoughts or at least sensed their meaning. He leaned closer and pressed a soft kiss to my forehead.
"I might let you go one day, if you obey and behave. But you belong to me until then." The last bit he spoke with a seriousness that stole my breath away. And then he smiled, a roguish and nasty expression. "You're such a deliciously dark and twisted thing. I'm not just throwing that away so easily."
I swallowed and returned a shy smile, still unsure what to make of this, or what he even meant with those words. I wasn't going to be some doll and certainly no slave of whatever kind. The sprawled fingers on my back started to move, gently stroking over my skin, and the Master chuckled quietly.
Maybe it's good you're so blind, little one, he sent into my head.
That earned him a scowl, but all he did was laugh and then he drew me closer and commanded me to get more sleep.
"... and the corridor in the Gerthadeum should lead us right to the centre! Some of the books gave a hint. It's inside the meteor! Can you imagine? It's so brilliant."
The Doctor was babbling a million miles per hour when we strolled back to the group, me still being a little sleepy, but the Master striding forward with what could only be called smug confidence. He had woken me up at some point, deciding that I had had enough sleep, human or not. And, of course, there was no time for coffee.
"I know what we're dealing with," announced the Master, approaching the group.
"Oh?" The Doctor stopped in his ramblings and cast a curious look at the other man. "How come?"
"Did you get one of the devices to work?" asked Meyla, holding one of them in her hands already.
The Master waved her words away with an eye roll, ignoring everyone but the Doctor. "Seems like, for once, Lucy was right. Those shadows are indeed ghosts."
"They are?" I repeated, dumbfounded.
"We'll, they haven't always been. It's the meteor, or rather something inside of it that keeps the… whatever is left of the people here. It binds them to this place, binds them to the darkness. Tell me, Doctor-" He glinted at the other man - "have you found something strange with your sonic? Something that doesn't really belong here, but doesn't seem to do anything either?"
"Uh… yeah. Yeah, I have, actually." The Doctor scrambled around in his pockets, producing the Sonic Screwdriver. "It's similar to void particles and the saturation is quite high. Everywhere. I say everywhere, but it's actually almost zero in here. Not in here only, that is. But I didn't have the chance to thoroughly test-"
"Because of the lights," interrupted the Master, sighing exasperated. "As I thought."
"What does that mean?" asked Bor. He was sitting on his sleeping bag, a pile of relatively unscathed books next to him.
"Are there myths in your culture?" asked the Master instead, for the first time addressing any of the others. "About reincarnation, ghosts, the afterlife, anything of that sort?"
"A few," confirmed Darwil. "About all of those things, actually."
"Consider it true, then." The Master snickered and it sounded not at all friendly. "Your souls do seem to stick around after death. Or maybe just some memory fragments, both could be. I don't care about the details."
"How can that be?" wondered Darwil, eyes wide. "We've never seen those shadows anywhere else before."
"The meteorite," murmured the Doctor. "It's the source of the substance in the darkness and somehow it binds… mhmm…" He snipped his fingers in thought. "Well… something."
"The shadows remember that they were once people," I uttered to myself, recalling some of the details from my dream.
"Don't say that," pleaded Donna. "I don't want to pity those things.
"Don't blame others for being an idiot," the Master grumbled. "It also seems like they have the ability to convert whatever they touch into this ominous substance. I took a scan of Lucy and found traces of those particles where the shadow had grabbed her. I bet that's how they dragged the other woman into the wall."
"Traces?" I asked. "I'm not dissolving or anything, am I?"
He chuckled and shook his head. "Doesn't seem like it. And I didn't find anything unusual in your mind either. You should be fine."
I sighed in relief, ignoring the Doctor's dark look after the brief mention of mind. He would never approve of us sharing. And he certainly would totally lose it would he ever find out about last night.
"And you learned all that from my dream?" I quietly wanted to know, hoping the others wouldn't hear it since everyone was now loudly chattering about the news.
At least the Doctor seemed to have listened in, however. "What dream?"
"I uh… Was having weird nightmares and…"
"And I dissected them," added the Master, arms folded and a provocative smile on his lips.
The Doctor seemed perplexed by this, his mouth opening and closing as if he were a fish for some moments. It made him look quite stupid and funny too. "But… you'd have to…" His eyes darted back and forth between the two of us. "And how would you know it's not just a regular dream?"
The Master shrugged. "I know her mind well enough. It's easy to see when the patterns deviate. And with her heightened empathy and the complete lack of barriers it's no wonder."
The smile stayed and he kept eye contact with the other man until he squirmed uncomfortably and coughed." Errr… you…you shouldn't poke around in other people's heads." His look fixated on me, even though he was still addressing the Master. "Even if she agrees to it. Human minds work so differently, connecting could… well… it's dangerous. For Lucy."
"Don't I know." The eye roll was practically audible. "But hey, my pet, my responsibility."
And with that he turned around and strode away to grab his stuff, leaving me with the Doctor and an awkward silence. He was looking through me, deep in thoughts and worrying his bottom lip. Eventually he made a popping sound and sighed.
"I know, I know… none of my business, right? Just… I don't even know." He threw his arms up and let them fall again. "Don't trust him. Whatever is happening there… no matter how…" The Doctor turned his head away, almost as if he were ashamed. "It's not real. He doesn't care. He doesn't…"
There was silence, followed by nothing. Was he saying this because it was what he feared? The reason he kept running away as soon as the two of them seemed to get even remotely closer? The Doctor wouldn't continue speaking, but I had a hunch about what he wanted to say. Or at least, what direction it would take. And he was probably right about it. About everything. And still…
"It doesn't matter," I said quietly and walked away before everything could get even more awkward.