I did have nightmares.
But as soon as I snapped out of my sleep, the content of the last dream was forgotten. All I could vaguely remember was that it had disturbed me a great deal. My breath was still heavy, heartbeat thudding fast against my ribs. I tried to get the images back, wanted to know what had scared me so much, but all effort was in vain.
Only then did I feel the fingers that lightly rested on my temple. Through hooded lids I made out the blurry shape of the Master. He was at my eyelevel, squatting in front of the bed, one arm resting on the mattress, the other hand on my head.
"How did I know?" he mumbled.
I wasn't sure he even noticed that I was awake. It sounded as if he was talking to himself.
"Know what?" I asked quietly, fully opening my eyes.
He looked at me and removed his fingers. "That you would soothe the drums. There is no way I will know, if you're dead."
I lifted a brow, suppressing a yawn. My brain was decidedly not awake enough to understand what he was saying. Should I get up? Should I just close my eyes again and continue sleeping? I was drifting away already, so...
"Wait." My eyes snapped open again. "Last time you said, it's too subtle to tell. With the drums I mean."
The Master shrugged. "It is. And it's not." He propped both elbows on the mattress and ruffled through his hair. "It makes no sense. Why would I go back and safe you when I couldn't have known?"
"Dunno. You make no sense," I mumbled.
He growled and looked at me. He was close enough for me to see his annoyed expression. Close enough that I should have felt uncomfortable, yet, for some reason didn't.
"There must be something else," he mumbled.
Even though I was still so tired, something about his words made me curious. "Care to explain?" I asked and turned a little to be in a more comfortable position to speak.
The Master eyed me suspiciously, almost as if he awaited me to abuse whatever he was about to tell. But his features softened already and he slightly shook his head. "For some reason I went back and marked you. So I wouldn't let you die. But that means you did already, and that means there is no way I would have known."
I snorted. "Seriously, you make less and less sense. What do you mean, you marked me? Where did you go back?"
He didn't even look at me, head still in his hands, mumbling towards the mattress.
"Seems like something will happen that makes it necessary for you to be alive. Which only happens because I will know something I have no clue about... yet. And after that happens I will go back in time and place something in your mind. Something that calls out as soon as you're too close to death. The very thing that made me bring you back to life."
Utterly confused I blinked at him, trying to make sense of this all. "That... what? You can't change the past."
He lifted the head from his hands and stared at me. "You forget where we are."
"Huh? Where are we?"
His brow shot up in amusement. "TARDIS?"
"Yeah... I get that. Sentient spaceship and all... But how would I know where we are? We could be anywhere."
"You... have no idea?" His words were honestly surprised. He snorted. "Normally he can't stop bragging about it."
"'bout what?" I started to become impatient.
The Master smirked, showing his teeth. "Right now, we are everywhere, lil' lumin. We're in the Time Vortex. A place that connects literally everywhere... and everywhen. Or to explain it in words your tiny mind can understand: This ship travels through space and time."
I shot up to my elbows, glaring down at the... well... Time Lord. It made sense. With this tiny information so much of what had happened recently lost a great deal of its strangeness.
"W... wait... Just now. I mean on the planet. We were in the future?" The Master nodded, still having an amused twinkle in his eyes. "And I was already wondering how they can hide all of this advanced stuff from humankind... And... the colonies... Humans spread into space?"
The Master let out an exasperated sigh. "So they did. Pesky race of yours."
My mouth dropped open for a moment, closed again and widened to a smile. "Wow. I really thought we would destroy ourselves long before that."
"It's not that I didn't try," he commented sarcastically.
There was such a childish smile on his face, his whole expression that of mischief. I had to laugh, even though it shouldn't be funny, and my reaction made him smile even wider. The inappropriateness of the whole thing made it only more ridiculous.
But then another thought interrupted the light mood. A string of information, a net of facts. The smile faded and I dropped back onto the mattress, on my back. I turned to the side, propping my head on one hand.
"Then why didn't you get me earlier?" I wanted to know. "Why let over a year pass for me? Why did you wait..." Until I was so broken that I couldn't bear to be alive any longer.
The Master stayed silent for almost a minute. The thought occurred that he might not answer at all, but eventually he did. "Didn't care," was the short answer. "You were fun to play with, that's all." He slightly shrugged and I felt a nasty sting in my chest. His brutal honesty could be really disturbing, sometimes. "And when I came to your place and found it empty, I traced you down, found out where you went and jumped there. Honestly with no real intent. Wanted to mock you a little. Then I was curious if you'd really do it." A chuckle made his eyes crinkle in mean joy.
I pursed my lips and frowned. "But why keep me alive, then?"
"Wasn't planning to. But I got aware of something in your mind. Something I placed there for my past self to find. Only made itself noticeable when you were almost dead, though. You know the rest."
So he hadn't saved me out of sheer mockery. And... A deep breath slowly escaped me. "So, there is... or was... a version of time where I died?"
The Master hummed confirming, once again lost in his own thoughts.
In the end he had accepted my wish, I realized. Or rather hadn't bothered at all; wouldn't have without this mental post-it in my head. And still... in that night he had spared some time to stay with me, to share some last minutes of comfort, even though he could have simply walked away.
Would a truly bad person really do that?
"What're you staring?" He rolled his eyes and poked against my forehead with a finger.
A light exploded.
I saw a flash, something rushed through me, like an electric shock and I saw...
... how he had rained hell upon humankind, saw his Toclafane decimate the human race, how he had tortured and humiliated the Doctor's friends with glee, had burned planets to ashes, overthrown rulers, simply to run their countries into chaos afterwards.
I saw him standing there, laughing. There were different faces, but it was always him. I knew it somehow, groaned and clenched my eyes shut from all the images that flooded my mind. There were hands around my head, fingers slightly pressing against my temples.
"Stop that," I ground out, trying to push him away.
But the Master was far stronger than I, didn't even flinch.
"That's not me," he stated curiously and chuckled. "Oh, that's fascinating."
I groaned at the overwhelming amount of images and impressions. I no longer could make out the separate scenes, everything was just melted together to a blurry mass of colour.
Then it stopped. I panted, slowly opening my eyes to find the Master leaning above me with the most curious expression. Quite as if he was eager to dissect my brain right on the spot.
"Why do you have those? Did you ever see more of my memories?"
I swallowed and heaved myself to my elbows. He was kneeling on the bed, right by my side, hands still stretched out a little in my direction. Only after some seconds did he let them fall to his lap.
"Y... yeah. When I was... dead? When I came back? Somewhere, then. Not much." I shook my head. "It... wasn't coherent enough to really tell anything."
Slowly his features morphed into an evil smirk. "You know more about me than most, as it seems." His lips split to a menacing grin. "Why aren't running, little one? Run and run and run, until I can't get to you any longer?" He bent over me, his hands grabbing my collar to draw me to my knees, right in front of his face. "None of those memories are for you to see. Not a single one!"
There was a sudden madness in his eyes, or maybe it had been there before and I simply hadn't seen it without my glasses. Those ancient, bottomless depths were boring right into me, making it impossible to speak. My body started to tremble slightly and I was so hellishly confused, until I finally understood what it was I felt.
The grip on my collar got stronger, almost choking me. I grabbed his hands, tried to pry them open without success. I might not die from his actions, but he could do so much worse, I realized. There was a potential, one for destruction, one for completely taking me apart and leaving nothing behind but an empty shell of what I once was.
And there was pain. I had no idea how, but I could feel it, intense and all consuming, without origin or direction. Not even physical, but just... there, eating away at... him. This didn't come from me.
I forced myself to breathe, my hands rose, rested on his chest, right above the hearts. Through the cloth off his shirt I could feel them beating frantically, too fast, too painful. How else could he endure it, if not through inflicting all this pain onto others? How else could he survive, if not through fire and chaos?
Our gazes were locked, the fog of madness slowly fading from his hazel eyes. The tight grip of his fists became softer, his heartbeats slowed. In the end he simply blinked. Once, twice, returned from a place so far away...
"You alright again?" I breathed.
My words seemed to confuse him even further, eyes dropping to my hands on his chest, his own leaving my collar to fall down beside him. He swayed, closed his eyes halfway and dropped his forehead against mine.
"Not enough," he mumbled. "It's still too loud. Still hurts. Make them quiet, lil' lumin." The Master took a shaky breath and placed a hand over one of mine, pressing it against his chest. "Why don't you run?"
"Where to?" I quietly asked. "I belong nowhere. Even if I would run..."
His eyes crept open, his voice was soft, had lost the mad touch. "Do I scare you?"
I smiled weakly, nodded. "Sometimes, yeah."
There was a crooked grin on his lips, slowly morphing into an expression of anguish. A slight tremble went through him, his hand released mine. Before I could comprehend what happened, he dropped to the side, collapsed onto the mattress. His skin was incredibly pale, almost white and a slight shimmer of sweat coated his forehead.
"Hey!" I called out. "What's with you?"
The only response was a weak chuckle, almost bordering on madness again. Whatever happened to him frightened me a lot more than all of his threats had done. I swung my legs from the bed, tossing a concerned glance at the Master.
"I'll get the Doctor."
That seemed to snap him out of whatever tormented him. Swiftly he grabbed my wrist, held me in place.
"Don't," he breathed. "That idiot doesn't believe a word I say."
"Can you blame him?" The things I had seen, the memories, the impressions... How often had the Master lied and betrayed, destroyed and broken? How many lives had he thrown away for mere amusement, out of morbid curiosity or simply to piss off the Doctor?
His face dropped. He even let go of my wrist.
"No. I can't," he muttered and chuckled again as if it were funny. But his expression was more that of intense pain. Of the mental sort. "I don't know why you saw all that. You shouldn't have. Shouldn't know."
"Why not?" I almost whispered.
"Cause now..." He shook as if a cold shiver had caught him and he rolled to his side, burring the head under his arms. "Now your eyes are different."
Startled I ceased any attempt to leave. Those words stirred something within me, stung like cold ice, although I couldn't name what I was feeling. And still I understood. That the Doctor knew so much about the Master and therefore treated him the way he did, whereas I...
I couldn't bare being alone after one nightmarish adventure, while the Master had probably lived through hundreds if not more of those, constantly tormented, constantly alone... may it be through his own behaviour, but still...
Something I had no words for and still understood deep within me.
"I believe you." My words were barely audible. His head appeared from under his arms, the skin still too pale. "Tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can help."
"You can't." The Master clenched his teeth as if from pain. "I'm still ripped open. Didn't know how long it would take to heal."
"Are you injured? Did that happen in the..."
"No." He chuckled. "It happened because I gave my life-force to you. See? It's always bad to do something good."
I snorted. "Depends on what you consider as such." I sighed and observed him, concerned. "Still... can I help? Is this dangerous?"
"Almost sealed up again," the Master mumbled. "You can't do anything. It just takes a while." He took some deep breaths and looked back at me. "There's something I should do for you, though."
Questioningly I raised my brows, not moving a muscle.
"I ripped a hole through your mental barriers. That's not so good. Other people can take advantage of it."
"Yeah, I noticed," I grumbled. "How do I heal that?"
"You?" A mean little smirk spread on his face, even through his obvious pain. "Your psychic abilities are barely developed. You'd probably make it worse."
"Then stop mocking me and fix this mess." I poked out my tongue.
The Master snickered to himself, the seemingly severe state of his obviously not as bad as it looked. Had he be human I would have been a lot more concerned. Was it the sudden outburst of the drums that had worsened his state? Because before there had not been a noticeable sign of it. Or maybe he simply was extremely good at hiding how lousy he really felt. So good that his body first had to collapse until he would acknowledge it.
Hesitantly I lay back down and turned to face him. There was still some distance between us, although we were close enough for him to reach out and touch my temples. The most direct way, even though I still wasn't sure I understood what this meant.
The Master's thumbs rested lightly around my head, his eyes were closed in concentration. A shiver went through my body as I felt the stream of foreign energy enter my head. It was like a thin trickle of warm water, gently searching its way through the windings of my thoughts. Somewhere it stopped, spread and grew like a wall, or a net, filled me with warmth and another shiver.
Something clicked. Not audible, not physically. As if an idea had been born, as if a deep realisation had been accomplished, like the intense rush of a past danger, of a managed struggle, of a first kiss.
I exhaled sharply, pushed my hands against his chest. The rhythm under his skin was steady, almost pulsating. A set of four beats. Soothing, yet so foreign.
Like the images before, those sensations overwhelmed me slightly, made it impossible to tell apart one thing from the other, impossible to determine if it felt good or bad. I sensed him searching, digging. No longer busy repairing my barriers, because that had been done, but now eager to find something unknown.
If the Master was only in my head or if part of my consciousness also flew into his mind was equally hard to tell. I sensed his curiosity, his growing frustration and a slight, bitter taste of resignation. But none of it felt as intense as it had hours before, when he had chased the devil out of my mind. There, for a moment, I had lost myself completely, had ceased to exist as a sole being.
The memory, combined with how I felt right now, made a cold, dark and icy patch of loneliness blossom within me. Was it even mine? Or was it rather something we both felt, bounced back and forth, amplified, cutting through my very essence like a cold shard.
It took a while before I noticed that I had curled up more and more, somehow trying to cope with those alien sensations. My hands were clutching his shirt, my head resting against his chest.
"Can't find it," the Master eventually murmured, fingers slipping from my temples. "Whatever soothes them..." I felt him exhale slow and deep. The next question came whispered, almost a plea. "You still don't hear the drums, do you?"
I lifted my head to find pain in his hazel eyes. One I knew and understood too well. One that came from having to deal with something other people could not perceive, nor comprehend.
"No, I can't. Sorry," I uttered back.
"Thought so." The Master swallowed, took a breath. "The barrier is fixed. You can leave."
Leave... right. Or maybe stay a tiny bit longer like this, partially curled up against his chest, my head lowering again, eyes closing. Just a bit. Only for one more minute. One more tiny fraction of existence that I wouldn't spend feeling lonely.
A warm hand came to rest on my side. "You saw my memories. You know who I am."
I did. In a sense. What I had seen was more than enough to have a clear picture of what kind of person the Master was. He was a firestorm, scorching the earth below his feet. He was a wild cyclone, tearing out ancient trees with their roots. He was a raving ocean, crashing and swallowing everything that came too close, carrying monsters in the darkest depths of his very being.
And I really shouldn't be so damn fascinated by that!
The hand slowly, almost hesitantly wandered a little lower, slipped under my shirt to rest on the same spot as before, but touching bare skin. Again I felt a tingle in my mind, lightly slipping through my thoughts without ever really touching them. Just lingering, sensing. I didn't move.
The whole touch telepathy thing still was so strange to me, defied everything I knew about how humans (well... aliens) interacted with one another. It was a physical thing, in some sense, and it also wasn't at all. I wished I would know more about it, but meanwhile simply enjoyed not being alone in my own head.
The Master huffed. "Not even a little scared. That's kind of an insult, you know?" There was a smile in his voice, belying the words.
Next thing I knew was that his hand slid to my back, pushing me closer against him. Surprised I stiffened, hands still resting against his chest. His thumb absently stroked over my back, our minds intermingled ever so slightly, barely noticeable. There was no way of naming it, no way of telling what I even felt.
And I didn't want to be alone. Didn't want to let go of what he had to offer, even if it was only because he abused my presence. Because something about me, or about my mind, made his drums a little quieter. That much I got.
It didn't matter. He was helping me too after all. Even when it was only with letting me have some peaceful sleep.