"You're bluffing," I deadpanned with squinted eyes, even though I somewhat believed it. Everything was possible with an alien. But he looked so... young, if not for his eyes. They told another story. One of countless years, unimaginable suffering and so, so much loneliness. All of it shining through for a mere moment.
He huffed and smiled bitterly. "Wish you were right, little one."
I took a sip from my coffee and studied his face for a while longer, especially since he wasn't focusing on me, but rather at something within his own mind. It almost seemed as if he were in pain, barely able to hold up the facade of nonchalance. His hands sank to the table, one forefinger taping against his other hand. Always in the same rhythm.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
tap, tap, tap, tap.
Always the same, never changing in speed. How odd, I thought as I emptied the coffee, still contemplating what to ask next. What did I want know about him? What person was he? Old, okay. Cruel, definitely. Heartless?
I had met many people throughout my life. Many people that could be considered bad in countless ways. Psychopaths, way too many narcissists and other dysfunctional people. They all shared the same cold charm that was designed to lull you into a false state of safety, but still gave me a sense of... wrongness when I was near them. They all wanted you to succumb to sympathy and trust, for them to be able to get into your head and break you for good.
The Master, however, was just downright blunt with his self-proclaimed evilness. He didn't seem to care at all what I thought of him, wasn't interested in building some kind of fake trust, although I was rather certain he could, if any of his plans required it. And right now, it actually did. So why did he behave as if he wanted to shove me away as far as possible, even though he needed my willing help?
I sighed and shook my head. This guy just made no sense at all. How he sat there, lost in whatever thoughts, tapping the strange rhythm. But now his eyes actually showed the pain somewhat. Whatever plagued him seemed to get worse.
"Hey," I quietly interrupted his and my own musings, "are you okay?"
He woke from a dream, a nightmare, a memory too painful to bare. His eyes were wide in an almost childlike manner, surprised, pained, desperate even. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it again, pinched his eyes shut and suddenly let out a quiet groan, while his hands shot to his head, clawing into his hair.
"Master?" I tried again, uncertain what was wrong and what to do about it.
There was no answer, not the slightest hint that told me he even heard me. Instead he only sank further down, fingers stiff, but also twitching from time to time. Finally I shot from my chair and walked over, placed a hand on his underarm to get his attention.
And I got it. Way too fast for me to react, his head shot up, he grabbed my wrist and pushed me away from him. His eyes were clouded by what I could only be describe as unadulterated madness. But not the type one would find in a psych ward. This went deeper, far deeper, as if a foreign entity was scraping at his very existence.
"It hurts," he muttered, sounding desperate. "It never actually hurt before!"
"C... can I help somehow?" I wanted to know, barely able to cope with the sight. I could feel that he wasn't acting. Whatever happened was very real.
Suddenly he sprang from the chair, made it clatter to the ground behind him, his hand still around my wrist, the second suddenly grabbing my collar. He growled. Actually growled. Like a wounded wolf.
"Insufferable thing you are," he snarled with disgust. "Don't think I will let you go just because you pretend to care!"
With his last words he slammed me onto the table, both hands around my throat, thumbs pressing against my windpipe. Not enough to really strangle me, but painful and awakening some of those old survival instincts I wasn't even aware I possessed. But there wasn't much I could do, trapped between him and the table, his truly inhuman strength holding me in place with ease.
"Not... true..." I brought out somehow, feeling my vocal cords rub against his thumbs. Such an odd sensation.
There was a pained smile on his lips for a moment, then he tore me up and just threw be to the ground. My back and head hit the floor, the impact letting stars dance in front of my eyes. I barely noticed the pain, only how my consciousness flickered back to life a moment later.
Or maybe more than one. When the stars and black spots vanished there was a dull throbbing in the back of my head and I heard a voice.
Not the Master's.
"...were you even thinking?" the Doctor called out exasperated.
"Oi, you always have pets! Let me have one of my own," the Master answered snappishly.
"Humans aren't pets!"
"Oh, reeeeaaaaally?" the Master drawled with mock surprise, "What a revelation, coming from you."
What followed was a heavy sigh and a few seconds of silence, in which I finally realized that I wasn't lying on the floor anymore, but on a softer surface. Opening my eyes revealed a med bay of sorts, countless weird devices and monitors around me, some noises that were impossible to assign.
Okay, I definitely had been out for longer. Nothing hurt, though, or felt strange, so I hoped everything was alright with me. Reason enough to close my eyes once more and lull myself into a few more moments of peace and quiet, not wanting to face the question what would now happen with me. Our little game was over before it had even begun properly.
The Doctor spoke up again, his voice quiet now, "I'm really trying to help you, you know?"
The Master snorted. "As if any of those bloody tests of yours would reveal anything. I searched for centuries! I went to any place known and unknown to find someone to tell me how to get rid of the drums! Guess what? They are still in my head!"
"I... I know! I'm trying, okay?" the other Time Lord sighed again. "But maybe you should consider that they are just... weeeell... in your head?"
The Master groaned irritated.
"Some kids got a lot worse maladies from looking into the Schism," the Doctor tried to defend himself.
"Tch, yeah... but those had the luck to completely go mad. And not..." It sounded as if he had thrown his hands up and was now dropping them down to his legs. "Can't expect you to believe me, though... You never have."
"Not this again. Listen, Master... I'm not going to let you run around and wreak havoc all over the universe. But I also do not want to treat you as a prisoner!"
With that I heard angry steps quickly departing, followed by a slammed shut door.
"Hypocrite," the Master grumbled, but then stayed silent.
Did he leave, too? The door didn't resound a second time and otherwise there was only a lot of different and alien humming noises around me. Finally I decided to open my eyes again, only to blink into a curious face that slowly got graced by a mischievous smile.
"You too think it was a stupid idea to leave me with you in one room?" he asked, eyes wrinkled in joy. "He forgot that I'm all about wreaking havoc over the universe."
Slowly I sat up and rubbed my still slightly throbbing head. "Aren't you?"
Strangely enough his smile faded. The Master glared at me for another moment, then sat on the bed next to my feet, arms crossed.
"I didn't lie about my age. What do you think, lill' lumin? All those years... what would you do with them?"
"Uh... phew..." I sat up and looked around for my glasses. "No idea, seriously."
"Looking for those?" He pointed at a small table with drawers next to him that was littered with... stuff. I squinted my eyes at it, but couldn't make out anything. The Master reached over, picked something up and wordlessly handed it to me. "You can't even begin to comprehend how much time that is, right?"
"Thanks... no, not really." Numbly I glared at my specs, thinking about the past thirty years. About all the shit I had been through. "Sometimes it feels as if every second is one too much," I mumbled so quietly, I wasn't sure the Master even heard it.
"Think so?" He tilted his head a little. "There' so much to do, though."
"So many places to burn and so many lives to take?" My words were dry, bare of any emotion. The slight smile on his lips confirmed my words to be true. "Would I have your possibilities... I don't know what I would do. And if it wouldn't do worse."
The Master chuckled. "My, aren't you cold hearted."
I shrugged and finally put on the glasses. His face was such a carefully crafted mask of mischief. But behind... right now there was something else behind those hazel eyes. Something calm, the perfect opposite to the madness that had clouded them before.
"'m not sure I have a heart," I confessed. "And I wouldn't want to wander the universe being all alone. Would probably be worse than my current life."
Just this word. This tiny sound of agreement. It told so much. Revealed so many unspoken truths. There was a sense of sadness in the air, thick and almost palpable. I swallowed and looked away, right in time to see the door opening.
"Oi! Get away from her!" the Doctor called out and rushed over.
Mockingly holding his hands up the Master sprang from the bed and took a step away. "As you command, Lord Doctor."
The other man rolled his eyes. Then he gave me a warm smile and rushed over.
"We only talked," I assured. "He hasn't done anything."
The two cast a glance at one another I couldn't decipher. It was obvious that the Doctor didn't believe my words and he studied my face closely as if to make sure I wasn't... oh right... hypnotized. It seemed he was satisfied, the smile wandering back to his lips as he pulled out his strange, noisy wand - I still had no clue what it was.
"Mhm, all readings are fine. You're good, Lucy. Come, come." He clapped his hands and reached one out to me. "Get up. We'll get you back home."
"H... home?" I asked dumbfounded as I got up, without his help.
"Yeah, of course! I'm not letting him hold you prisoner! Not on my watch!" The Doctor grinned from ear to ear, gesturing the other Time Lord towards the doors. "You first."
The Master rolled his eyes, but moved. It seemed as if he was already used to the procedure and somehow I was quite sure it hadn't always worked so smoothly. In the beginning he probably had put up a fight. But somehow it now seemed less effort to just follow along. As did I.
"Do... you have to bring me home?" I asked carefully.
"Why, of course! My special service. Free of charge," he joked and giggled to himself.
"And I can't just... stay? It was so cool to..."
Abruptly he stood and I almost bumped into him. The look in his chocolate brown eyes was deadly serious all of a sudden, darting towards his fellow Time Lord for a second, then back to me. The smile returned, as if it was routine.
"It's too dangerous. I don't want you to get harmed, Lucy. And I don't think, travelling is... It wouldn't do you good."
"You mean," the Master interrupted snidely, "you're afraid she could not fit into your category of big eyed human puppy with a way too soft heart and a too high moral ground? Ohhhh, right! That’s not the reason, is it? She needs protection! From me!"
"Quite right!" the Doctor snapped, leaving it open which part exactly he answered with it.
For the rest of the way we stayed silent. I tried to ignore the mean lump in my throat and the nasty feeling in my stomach. Not again. Not again! I didn't want to be stuck on earth, forever!
The though repeated in my head like the songtext to the wheezing and whoozing of engines, as we rushed from one place to the other in seemingly no time. It didn't yield the same fascination in me now. I didn't care how we could move so fast.
The Doctor was busy with his control table, the Master leaned with crossed arms against one of the coral pillars, seemingly unfazed by the rumbling and shaking. It eventually stopped and I managed to catch his eyes for a brief moment on my way to the doors, begging him with mine to do something.
But all I got in return was a bitter smile.
"I'll help," I whispered while passing him. If the Master had heard my words and how he reacted I couldn't know.
Outside the TARDIS was broad daylight, greeting me with warm rays and busy streets. The Doctor waved goodbye, promising to take care this would never happen again. And I knew... oh I knew so well that he was doing the right thing. That he was protecting me and maybe countless of lives and places.
But in this moment I hoped for nothing more than the Master to escape again.