There she stood, blue and covered in dust and dirt, but definitely there and real. The TARDIS.
I ran towards it and tore the door open, surprised to find it unlocked. Hastily I stumbled inside, my side hurting from the run. I pressed a hand against it, panting to get in enough oxygen. Finally some air that wasn't so hot that it nearly burned my lungs.
"Don't... leave," I got out between breaths. "It's gone. Not in my head anymore. Just left."
I wiped some sweat from my forehead, slowly cooling down, thanks to the immensely nicer temperatures inside here. It was so quiet. Only the engines hummed as usual. The Master didn't say a word, only stood there, leaned against the control table with folded arms. His space suit lay neatly folded next to him. He even had brought his hair back in order.
Had he waited there like that the whole time? Why hadn't he gotten away already? His look was almost dissecting me before he approached to lay his hands on my head. The familiar tingling of his mind slipping into mine only lasted for some seconds, then an almost soft smile turned his lips upwards.
"Good. You did it."
I blinked at him, almost too confused to answer.
"I... haven't," I mumbled, remembering what had happened just minutes ago. "It just left me." I shook my head, tossing a glance at the closed doors, to where the beast still lingered. Could it be? "I think," I mumbled, "he let me go."
"Bollocks. Now stop looking at me like a retard and help me with the lock. Remember? I can't get rid of it, alone."
"The... lock?" I mumbled, having trouble to process the situation. "You... didn't leave me? You wanted to get me angry... so I would..."
"Sometimes you're really a little slow." He shook his head, but smiled. "Had I tossed it out of your head, it could have simply slipped back in without any effort," the Master went on. "Had to be yourself to deny him."
Dumbfounded my mouth dropped open. Why couldn't he have said so? Why did he just walk away, risking that I might give up? There hadn't been much left and I would have.
"C'mon. Lock. Or you wanna get swallowed, at last?"
Then I remembered. There was a lock in place, so the Master couldn't simply steal the TARDIS. For anyone but the Doctor it needed two consensual people to unlock the controls. It still seemed like a bad idea to give him that access, but otherwise we both would die here.
"O... okay, right. What do I have to do?"
The Master held out his hand and after a moment of hesitation I took it. He lead me to the controls and started to press some buttons, never letting go of me. He instructed me to push and pull a few things on my own, until the ship sprang to life and he finally released his hold on me.
"That's... it?" I asked dumbfounded.
"Yup. It's not a complicated lock, only effective." He fiddled with a loose screw and tossed a side-glance at me. "So, where do you want to go?"
"Huh? What do you mean? Shouldn't we..."
"Exactly what I said, idiot." He laughed. "C'mon. Pick something."
It dawned on me. Of course, why wouldn't he? "You're going to leave the Doctor here, aren't you?"
A short hint of anger crossed his face and he tossed the screw away. He fully turned to me, his face showing a weirdly unfamiliar honesty. Even his words lacked any venom. "Would you rescue someone if that meant to be a prisoner for the rest of your life?"
No! No I would not!
My mouth opened to let out those words, but quickly closed again. There had to be another way.
"Don't you think... the Doctor will let you go for saving him?"
"Sure... if he hadn't a few thousand more reasons not to." He grimaced.
"So... what you're saying is that he's right to keep you away from the universe?" All I got was a mockingly raised eyebrow and I sighed. "'Kay... you know that and still keep going."
"I'm not going to change who I am." The Master shrugged. "And the Doctor knows it. Doesn't matter what I'd tell, he'd know it's a lie." He shifted from one foot to the other, crossing his arms. "So, what happens to him is up to you."
It took me a few seconds until the words sunk in.
"Wha... hey! You can't force that upon me!"
"Oh? I think I very well can. Say a word and I'll get him. Everything'll stay as it was. Say nothing and we'll leave, free to roam, no one to hold us back." He grinned charmingly. "Easy decision, isn't it? And by the way." He thumped at the doors. "The planet is still collapsing. The TARDIS shields us from the quakes, but it's still all going to hell, out there."
Time pressure. Great. Uneasily I worried my bottom lip, fidgeting with my fingers. This was bad, really bad. My head was so overloaded already, all my thoughts clouded and too slow. Saving one life, condemning a person to imprisonment... forever? Letting the Doctor die, leaving a man behind I didn't even know, who hadn't treated me too well... but for the price of what? What would the Master do with his freedom?
I couldn't know, there was no time to think. I pinched my eyes shut and rubbed the bridge of my nose. Why would he let me make that decision? The answer, to him, seemed to be obvious. So why did he risk...
Tiredly I let out a snort and shook my head. "You're playing with me, again. You wouldn't leave him behind, would you? Not that I'd understand the reasons..."
The Master's eyes twinkled in amusement. All he did was press one small button right next to him and the ship sprang to life, rattling and rumbling, wheezing and groaning.
"I already sent a signal through the base. I know where they're located. Go on. Open the door."
I straightened and rushed over, doing as he had said. Right then the Doctor rounded a corner, his hastened gaze turning into surprise and joy at the sight of the blue box. He sprinted towards us, Danny and Zach in tow.
"Oh, you two wonderful... How'd you find her?" he exclaimed. "Brilliant!"
He ran ahead, stumbling through the doors, and the same moment he had past the threshold, the TARDIS groaned again, the door slammed shut and everything shook, sending me and the Doctor lurching to the ground. Only after some time did the ship calm down and let us stand up again.
The Doctor was on his feet in an instant, fury and disbelieve on his face. "What have you done?!" he shouted. "Get her right back, this second! We have to get the others!"
"Nope," the Master answered nonchalantly, popping the 'p' with a smile.
The Doctor pushed the other Time Lord out of the way, frantically pulling levers and pushing buttons.
"This devil," the Master drawled, sounding almost bored. "It eats itself into the minds of people. Lucy tossed him out, so he probably already went to search for a new host. And he is... very... good at hiding."
"So what?!" the Doctor almost screamed. "We get them on board. At some distance the thing will snap back into his own body."
"It... won't," I quietly told.
The Doctor halted in his movements, turning to face me. There was an anger in his eyes I hadn't thought possible. A cold shiver slithered down my spine. This man could be dangerous, despite the usually so bubbly facade.
"See? That's why it's not good that you're here," he scolded. "You're too much like him!" At that he pointed at the Master. "How can you just stand there and be okay with letting all those people die?!"
Like him? He couldn't really mean that, could he? I was too exhausted to really react much any longer. In other situations I would have gotten scared at being scolded like this, but now I was too numb to really respond emotionally. So I reverted to simple facts.
"That devil, or whatever it is, has the potential to threaten the entire universe," I mumbled. "If it gets away, that is. His body was sealed in the belly of the planet. We just destroyed the seal, so it lost its orbit. Everything will be sucked into the black hole."
"More reason to get them-"
"No!" the Master interrupted, grabbing the other one's wrist. "You still don't get it, Doctor," he spat. "This is not about me and you, not about saving some apes."
"Let... go!" he shouted, trying to struggle his hand free. "It was such a... bad... idea to free you of the cuffs!"
"Maybe," the Master held tighter, now grabbing the other wrist as well, stepping on the other Time Lord's feet to make him stand still. "But just this once you will listen to me!"
"Oh no, I won't! This madness ends here!" The Doctor shot his head forward, connecting it with the Master's with a painful sounding thud. The other one stumbled backwards, releasing his hold. The Doctor caught himself, hurled around. "Whatever sadistic satisfaction you think to get from this-"
"Doctor, listen," I tried to interfere. "The body will die in the black hole! If we get the crew on board, there is no way to tell if one of them is possessed."
"We'll test it!"
"And then what?" the Master growled, rubbing his head. "I fought that thing. It's so bloody strong you wouldn't believe it for a second! That monster could easily slip past any control."
"As if!" the Doctor whined, slowly deflating as he seemed to get aware of his dwindling options. "I can't," he almost pleaded. "I can't just let them all die."
"Oh, is that so?" Anger contorted the Master's face. He was back in front of the Doctor, grabbed his suit and tore him in front of his face. "You claim the right to hold me here. Because what? Because you think I would only run around, murder everything I come across?"
The Doctor gritted his teeth, but didn't struggle. "Each time we meet you prove that thought to be right."
For the fraction of a second the Master's features softened, got almost sad, but quickly returned to a contempt scowl. "You know so little of me," he snarled. "But oh, look! You're the Doctor! So wise and so powerful! You lock one monster away, because it could harm a bunch of no-names." Angrily he tightened his grip on the other one's collar. "Yet you would free another monster, one that might devour the entire universe as we know it, only because some humans would die otherwise!"
"We can't know that," the Doctor whimpered pleadingly. "I..."
"You're a shame for all Time Lords!" the Master pushed the other man away, forcefully enough to let him crash against the console. "We ought to stand above them! They don't matter!"
The Doctor caught himself, turned around and let out a heavy breath, his hand wiping over his face. "As if you'd care about the universe."
"Sure do. Can't own what isn't there anymore."
The Doctor snorted derisively, then slowly lifted his head to glance at me. "See now?" he mumbled. "Look at what you've gotten yourself into. Listen closely and then tell me again you want to stay."
I gaped at him, not getting a word out. My eyes darted back and forth between the two Time Lords. Slowly I felt panic arise in me. This was all wrong! It was all too much. I couldn't think clear anymore. I didn't even understand the problem all too well.
"I get that you want to save them... but..." I took some breaths, trying to calm myself. Why were the lights so bright? Why did this ship had to hum so loud? "A few lives lost to save so many more..." I blinked and rubbed my eyes with two fingers. "Isn't that the lesser evil?"
Get rid of one person, to make the lives of two more better. Wasn't it the same? Had that wish been so bad? I felt sick, every beam of light seemingly burning directly into my brain. The jump seat was right behind me, so I dropped into it, squinting my eyes shut.
The Master snickered. "You can't argue against logic, Doctor."
"I bloody well can!"
Even their voices were amplified a hundred times. There was a huge urge to cover my ears and just hide in some dark corner. I groaned silently, holding my head. I heard them fight, but didn't quite understand their words, everything rushing over me, every light, sound, smell. I was so tired, my head hurt.
There was a hand gently placed on my shoulder, but the mere touch let me jolt up, almost falling from the seat as my vision blurred and my head spun.
"That was all a bit much, wasn't it?" the Doctor asked, his face a little worried.
I slapped his hand away. "What do you care?" I growled.
He seemed to be taken aback by this, his eyes widening in almost horror. His hands clenched to fists, opened and clenched again. The Master had left. There were only the two of us, the noises, the lights...
"I'm... sorry," he muttered. "It's all been so much, those past years. With him, you know?"
I snorted. "Doesn't excuse being such a dick to me."
He shook his head an dropped to his haunches in front of me. "No. No, it's not. I'm not quite myself anymore. That's why I wanted you to stay away." There was a pause, he licked his lips. "Among other things."
"Because I don't get emotional over people I don't even know?" I moaned quietly, rubbing my eyes. "I'm too tired for this morality crap. There is no logic at all behind it."
"There's more to life than only logic, Lucy," he answered softly. "But yeah, you don't seem to be in a shape for this. Looks like some heavy sensory overstimulation."
I glanced up, actually surprised, and nodded. "It's like my brain can't handle any input anymore. Any at all."
"Yeah." The Doctor's eyes were lost in thoughts. "A human brain is like big bucket, not easy to fill up with sensory input. But yours..."
I grumbled. "Thanks. I know I'm broken. No need to remind me."
"Oh no, not broken." He tossed me a grin. "But where others have a bucket, you autistic folks have only a cup. Gets full way too fast. Can't take in any sensory stimuli anymore. Just... blows your head like a bubble!" His hands gestured something popping, his smile clearly indicating how fascinating he found all of this.
I didn't. Not at all. "Will be over in a bit," I mumbled. "Just... need somewhere dark and quiet. Maybe sleep."
"Right!" The Doctor shot to his feet and offered a hand. "Let's ask the TARDIS for a room for you. Somewhere you can sleep and retreat when things get too much. Does that sound good?"
Slowly I nodded and picked myself from the jump seat, ignoring the offered hand. A glance around confirmed that we were, indeed, alone. "Where did the Master go?"
The Doctor dropped his hand – and the smile. "No idea. He can't go anywhere in here where he could do harm, though."
The emphasis on this made me think that there had been quite some incidences where he had caused havoc inside the ship. For some reason it made me smile. I could almost imagine him throwing some childish fit, smashing stuff and all that. But there also were other images. Of the Master raging around in an terrifying fury, no longer in control of himself. Both versions seemed plausible, but I didn't have the energy to think about it any further.
Instead I simply trod after the Doctor, followed him to the corridors, where the TARDIS let a new door appear. An old wooden one, smelling of autumn. When I opened it, I was greeted with the cosy atmosphere of a simple room. There was a bed, only big enough for myself, with coffee brown sheets. A wardrobe, a table with a chair, some filled bookshelves. Everything made out of dark wood, giving the whole room the atmosphere of some cabin. The lights were dim and slightly orange, soothing to my strained eyes.
"This is... perfect." I smiled, warmth spreading in my chest at the sight. "Is that really... can I really stay here?"
The Doctor sighed, but returned the smile. "I'm still against it." A toothy grin followed. "But I promised to let you come along, so that's what I'm doing. And I have the feeling the Master would abduct you again, anyway, would I not."
I chuckled weekly and poked out the tongue at him. "I certainly hope so."