"He's… not dead… right?" I finally asked, my voice barely above a whisper. Only after we had walked for some minutes had I managed to muster up the courage to ask.
"Oh, now you remember your conscience?" The Master laughed to himself, adjusting the other Time Lord's weight on his shoulder.
Somehow no one paid us any attention, even though we must have been quite noticeable. But people simply walked by, not looking, not reacting. And eventually we reached a small alleyway in which a familiar blue box was parked.
The Master let the Doctor sink to the ground, then squatted down to rummage through the coat pockets until he found a key.
"How did you know where the TARDIS is?" I wondered aloud. "He hasn't said anything."
"No?" The key vanished in the lock and a subtle clicking noise came from the door, shortly before the Master pushed it open.
"Uhhh… no… 'm pretty sure he didn't say a word."
"Well, must be luck then." The Master winked at me, obviously not willing to fill me in on the secret. He picked the Doctor from the ground and carried him inside to drop him on one of the jump seats.
I followed close behind, again amazed by the alien interior. While the Master was busy tying up the Doctor, I stood there, leaned against the console, and listened with closed eyes. There was the familiar humming of the machines, soothing, although it probably would give me a headache quickly. There were the noises of the Master moving around. But this wasn't what I listened for.
"Think she will talk again?" a mocking voice Tore through my concentration. "I'm still pretty sure you only imagined it."
Scowling, I opened my eyes. "She made me immune against your dumb hypnotism."
The Master raised a brow, the corner of his mouth twitching. "That's not something a TARDIS can do. Especially not from so far away. Am I right, Doctor?"
He didn't move or turn, but from behind him I could hear a soft groan, then the rustling of cloth and another, more annoyed groan.
"You still can't use the controls," the Doctor ground out, his voice a little raspy. "Ugh, damit Master. That has some nasty side effects."
Now he turned, a wide grin spread on his face. "Nothing your body couldn't dispose of within an hour. Would have ended far worse had I tried that on the human."
The Doctor shot straight, serious eyes glaring at the other Time Lord. "Don't you dare! She has nothing to do with us. Leave her be."
"You know," the Master drawled, grin dropping. "I'm getting bored of your speeches. It's always the same. Can't you spice them up a little? I don't know… maybe add some jokes? No?"
His only answer was a dark glare, which made him chuckle.
"And now?" I wanted to know. "Bit useless if you can't do anything here, isn't it?
The Master turned swiftly and grabbed me with one hand by the neck. I let out an indignant squeak, shrinking together under the grip.
"On whose side are you?" he scolded. "How about you thank me for still being alive?"
"Master, stop it!" the Doctor called out, fighting against the rope around him. "What do you want?"
"Want? For not harming that one?" He pushed me away, but at least let go of my neck. "I want the TARDIS."
The Doctor groaned, quite as if he had heard this already and for too many times.
"And with that power," the Master continued, ignoring the response, "I can have your cute little apes be my willing slaves."
"What?!" With gritted teeth the Doctor fought against his restrictions, but failed. "What have you done?"
My eyes also darted to the Time Lord. "You're not planning to heal my people, are you?"
"Heal them?" the Doctor laughed bitterly. "No, whatever he plans to do can't be good. Not for you and not for any human being on this planet."
The Master pursed his lips, eyes crinkled with joy. "Listen to him," he purred. "Sooo concerned." He turned around, towering over me with an intense glare and still smiling. "You can thank your own kind for this, by the way."
He laughed. "Have you read all their conspiracy theories? Especially those that are so afraid that someone could… you know… inject everyone with a control chip." The grin widened.
So did my eyes, in realisation, in surprise. I couldn't help it, my mouth had its own mind, simply stretched to an amused smile. That certainly was a whole new level of irony.
"Look at that!" The Master stepped back and clapped his hands, laughing. "Doctor, I think this human likes my idea!"
"I don't! Stop it before it escalates. Please!"
"Hey, I never said I like it," I tossed in. "It's just ridiculous. And yeah… funny too. Somehow."
"Is it now?" The smirk really couldn't have been any wider. "This will affect everyone. All those friends and beloved people of yours."
"There are some people I care about," I let him know. "But… they don't actually return the favour. Yes, I'd be sad about them becoming your puppets." My voice dropped quite a bit at my next words. "But if I'm nothing but a ghost while being with them, or if I stay with you, who hates me… It doesn't make much of a difference."
"Oh it does. None of those primates could show you the stars. Time and space." The grin was still wide, triumphant even.
"Don't listen to him, Lucy!" the Doctor screamed. "He's using you! If you help him he will kill you without even blinking!"
"How dramatic." The Master rolled his eyes and winked at me.
I sighed. "Murder me the second we're done."
His eyes rested on me for a while before he started to chuckle. "Who knows? Maybe you're entertaining enough to keep you for a while longer. Maybe, though, you prove to be a pain in the arse and I definitely will have to get rid of you."
Well, at least he was honest. And I still stood there, with nowhere to go and no one to bother. It was the wrong choice. The wrongest of all wrong choices. The Doctor glared at me, his look pleading. But he was the one who had sent me into this situation. He was the one who had hidden almost every detail about himself, about the Master, about what this was all about.
"I'm not helping you," I finally decided, facing the Master. "I'm also not stopping you, though. Not that I even could, but still."
"Deal." He beamed at me.
"No! Don't do that!" The Doctor begged. "Master, stop before it's too late. Think about what you're doing there!"
The Master hurled around, grabbed the Doctor by his collar and dragged him as far up as the ropes allowed. "I have thought about it all," he spat. "Remember? Revenge. No… no no no. It's not even that. It's just you, Doctor. You and your sanctimonious attitude."
"You don't have to do this," the other one ground out. "Don't start a new war."
I couldn't see their expressions from where I stood, but his voice sounded so pleadingly, so desperate. A new war? Was that what he needed the controlled humans for? Mindless soldiers?
"I will start whatever it needs. And this time I will win, Doctor. I already have. You can't do anything to stop it. Not this time, not ever again."
With those words he tossed the man back into the jump seat and waved me over. "I don't need him to unlock the controls. It only needs a second person."
I hesitated to come closer. This was it. A final decision. Helping to create a whole planet of soldiers, but being able to travel the stars, or staying trapped and lonely, living as a ghost among a race that didn't even treat me as one of their own.
The Master held out his hand, a small smile playing on his lips as if he knew exactly what was going on inside my head. He waited, patiently. The Doctor did so, too, although his features only showed a plea. It was so clear, I didn't need much skill in reading faces to decipher the expression.
Who was I even fooling? I had already made this decision... a long time ago. I remembered it. A vague glimpse of something that had not actually happened. Or had it? In some different version of the cosmos, where his eyes and hair had been brown, where the TARDIS could not do what she could here, where the seasons didn't just change in seconds. A version of reality where…
"It won't stop!"
The Doctor's voice tore through my thoughts as I stepped forward.
"Master, listen! It won't be quiet just because you drown the noise in screams."
… where there was a constant rhythm of drums echoing through time.
"What noice?" The Master laughed. "Your annoying chatter? Yeah, I might as well drown that."
He didn't know.
I took his hand.
"The drums in your head, Master," I almost whispered. "Those that were planted there by the untempered schism. Those that accompanied you since you were just a child."
However I knew this...
His eyes widened with every word I spoke, fear shining within them. Denial.
"No." He shook his head and tore his hand away. "No, you're making this up! There is no such thing. It's quiet! It is! There are no drums! There is nothing to stop me. I won! I won it all!" The last words were shouted, thrown out into the silence like an anchor.
Another place. Another reality. Something tugged at my mind, my memories. It was all there, always had been. All I needed to do was to make him see. So I stepped to him again and took his hand, pointing the other one at the console. "Unlock it. You have my consent."
The Master glared at me, hate and confusion radiating from him. But he pushed the required buttons anyway, making the ship spring to life with a gasp. The pillar in its middle started to rise and fall, pumping new energy into the veins and systems, his hand still in mine.
"See," he said. "It's mine now. Finally. No restrictions, no one to stop me! See that, Doct-"
He fell silent as we both looked at the jumpseat in which he had tied up the Time Lord. The Master glared at me again and balled his hands to fist.
The jump seat was empty.
"Where is the Doctor?!" he demanded and hurled around to grab my collar and drag me up. "Have you done something?!"
"No! How even?"
"Then why is he gone?"
There was so much anger and frustration and even despair radiating off the Master, it choked me more than his tight grip. Around us the light started to flicker, blinked off and on again as if they were reacting to his overflowing emotions.
"He's never been here," I ground out. "It wasn't real."
"Bollocks! This is real!" He shook me, pushed me away and followed close, towering over me as I stumbled to keep my balance. "It is my reality! My victory! You can't take that away!"
"'m not…" I straightened, begging him with my eyes to just listen. "I don't know what's going on, but this is not rea-"
"It's as real as I want it to be," the Master growled, even though it sounded more wounded than aggressive. He stabbed a finger at the jump seat and when I looked, the Doctor was back, all tied up and unconscious.
That was when I realized that he knew, that maybe he had long understood what I still struggled to comprehend. But I couldn't stop there, couldn't wait for my mind to catch up, when my instinct told me that we were running out of time.
"Yes, it's your reality," I admitted and took a step towards him, closing the small distance between us. "But I think it is also mine." With that I placed my hand on his chest and closed my eyes, let my awareness collide with his.
And everything around us exploded in a kaleidoscope of shards. Like in his office, but this time reality itself splintered into a myriad of scraps, torn apart images of what never had been, each of them glittering in a golden hue.
I still wasn't sure what exactly happened. There were only glimpses of what reality really was, of what had happened long before we had even ended up here. Right now it didn't matter. All that did was to get out. And I did my best to project it as a plea, a command, an urge… as whatever I was able to, let it radiate through our both minds. I heard a gasp, felt the rhythm under my fingertips spread up, heard it in my head. No… in his.
"You can't run away from the drums," I muttered. "Not like this."
A hand curled itself over mine and when I looked up I saw tears in his eyes - and pain. Such a raw display of emotion that my heart ached.
"Why are you doing this? You don't know how it is to live with them."
"No." I shook my head slightly. "But it feels… as if you will die if you don't get out of here. You… and I."
"I could simply expell you." He dropped his forehead against mine, clutching my hand tighter. "I will be nothing but a prisoner again, tortured for eternity."
I huffed and poked my tongue out. "Can't say you don't deserve that. But I can't let you stay. I won't. When I wanted to die you didn't allow me to. It's time to return the favour."
"That's cruel," he said, but still smiled somewhat.
"Yeah… guess I'm just not a kind person."
Almost the same words he had once spoken to me.
The Master huffed, stroked his thumb over my curled hand. "Insufferable little light. Lead the way."
The shards around us slowly faded into golden dust, swirled around us and got so bright that I had to close my eyes. All that was left was the beating of four against my ear and the humming of medical machines around us. But even those started to faint as my consciousness slipped away from my exhausted body. Only a whisper remained, like the sound of gentle chimes in the wind.
Thank you, little one.