It took a long while for me to wake up again. Time felt as if it had bent and twisted to stretch itself into an eternity. A dream within a dream within a dream. The memories I had seen, condensed and incomplete, had left me with the impression of years and decades instead of the few hours I had actually slept.
As tired as I still was, the experience left me with thousands of burning questions. How much of this had really happened? How much was only half a memory and half a dream?
In my back I felt the calm double beating of sleeping hearts, his hand still resting on my skin below the shirt. With every other person this would have felt too close, too intimate, too demanding. Not because of the proximity, but because of how safe it made me feel.
Yet I moved away, lifted his arm to turn on my back and stare at the dark ceiling. Had the TARDIS dimmed the lights in here or had it been the Doctor? It was still bright enough to make out shapes and many machines gave off small sounds and hums.
One of those sounds was close to my ear, repeated once. Then I felt a strange electric tingling on my arm and heard it again.
"Did you save him?" I asked the TARDIS in a whisper.
Another hum answered, sounding warm and reassuring.
"Why?" I breathed. "He hurt you so much."
Another soft hum and a tingling in the air around me that almost felt like a soft stroking over my arm. Almost a melody, a caress. Outside of the dream she couldn't directly speak to me, I realized. It was a true gift that I had been able to actually hear her words a single time. Now I could not understand what she wanted to tell me and maybe it wasn't for humans to understand at all.
She did hold a grudge against the Master, but she also cared for him, had sent me into all of this just to drag his mind outside and save his life.
Was that enough of a reason to do the same? I had suffered because of him, had gotten hurt in many ways. And the glimpse inside his mind just now also told me that there was not much good in him.
But still something.
Most of what I had seen already faded, as dreams tend to do, but I could hold onto some snippets. The alien child he had spared, the short memory of a small voice calling him… I turned my head to face the Master, although I could barely make him out in the spare light. I couldn't really picture him being a father. Not at all.
But after nine hundred years of living… it certainly was possible. And most certainly something I should never ever mention.
And then his memories of myself. Something about me had left an impression, although I couldn't point at it. Witnessing some thoughts and experiencing the world from another one's perspective had been confusing at best. It's almost impossible to put into words. The faint impressions had taught me something however.
Even a Time Lord could feel lonely.
They were so much more than we humans and still they were able to experience the same emotions, and maybe even more intense, despite their age. Remarkable and sad at the same time.
In my few years of living I had already grown so cold and hard inside that I barely felt my own emotions anymore. What would I become in decades? What would happen if my life continued to do its best to punch and gut me whenever the possibility arose?
Many called me cold-hearted already and I knew, if needed, I could be what others would call a bad person. With ease.
Would I become like him, in the end? Would I chase after extremes only to be able to feel something? Or to run away and bury everything in a pile of corpses and drown it all in screams of pain…
And how could the Doctor be so different? He still tried his best to be kind and to help most people. Or was this only his own way of coping?
I stared at the shape of the Master and let my thoughts run in circles until I could no longer hear them. It was in vain anyway. Something inside me had long decided to stay with him, to take what he had to offer, even though it might destroy me. I was broken anyway. Had been from the very start of this.
Careful not to make much noise I skidded closer and huddled against his chest. What did it matter what we were to one another? All I wanted was this feeling of safety and warmth and the knowledge that I could be a tiny light in all that darkness within him.
"Your energy levels are stabilising," the Doctor told, monitoring numbers and images on a screen that made no sense to me. "And you really have no idea what could have exhausted you so much?"
"Uhhh… nope." I shrugged, trying to keep my face still.
There was no way I could tell him about the dragon egg. Even with what it had caused I still felt an urge to keep it safe and within my reach. Well, as soon as I'd find out where the Master had hidden it.
It was clear that the Doctor didn't believe me, but whether or not he had a hunch as to what was actually going on, I had no clue.
"How's the Master?" I wanted to know, instead of giving an answer. When I woke up he had been gone. Together with the egg.
The Doctor shrugged, looking worried still. "I should say he knows his limits, but after this…" He sighed. "Lucy."
"Mhm?" I looked up from the device he was currently running along my lower arm. It produced some fascinating and colourful patterns.
"This wasn't your fault. No matter what he says and no matter-"
"I know. It's not my responsibility how people react to things. Sometimes 's just hard to accept."
He blinked at me. "I told him to leave you alone with his drums. There is no reason to pull you into that. I don't want him to hurt you because of it. Not because of anything of course, but…" He trailed off, got lost in a thought or an idea.
I vaguely remembered the dream snippets from the night before and if any of it was a real memory then I understood the Master's frustration.
"It wasn't a projection," I muttered. "I really heard the drums."
"You can't know that." The Doctor's voice got defiant again. "If you had seen what the Schism did to other people, if you had seen how many went insane or… worse…" He clenched his hands to fists, almost breaking his scanner.
"Yeah, I haven't. I don't care, honestly. If you want me to stop believing they're real, then I want proof."
The Doctor's eyes locked with mine, surprised and also a little scared. I could almost hear his thoughts. That I should be careful, that I should never trust the Master, no matter what he did or didn't do. That he would use his opportunity to break me into pieces, otherwise.
Playfully I stabbed a finger at his wrinkled forehead.
"C'mon, Doctor. Don't look so sombre. That doesn't suit you."
His frown melted into a smile, one that seemed still a little sad, but it was better. "No? Shall I smile instead?" He grinned his toothy grin and I laughed at his demonstration.
"You're so silly." I giggled. "How do you do that? After so many years."
"Och, it's a talent. I'm a natural." He made some silly faces that made me laugh even more. In the end he smiled. "I always remember that there is beauty all around me. That there is always something I don't know and that I can explore. All this time and all my travels, Lucy, and I can't say I've seen it all."
I returned the smile. "Yeah, that sounds wonderful."
"And-" He sprang up and clapped his hands together and then stretched one out to me- "I know there will always be wonderful people whom I look forward to meeting. And have adventures with."
I huffed and ignored the hand. "Big words for someone who didn't want me around at first. But guess I can't blame you," I quickly added when seeing his smile drop. "People always need some time to get used to me."
"Well… I'm glad I did, then." The hand lowered and he turned towards the door. "Fancy a cuppa somewhere?"
"I can't!" the Doctor called out, throwing his hands up in exasperation.
The Master glared at him, arms folded, back leaned against the console. He didn't appear to be surprised. From what I had gathered, they had had this conversation a thousand times already.
I ducked away from the Doctor and leaned against the coral nearest to the console.
"It's so honourable of you to protect the universe from me," the Master said mockingly. "Domination of everything isn't part of my agenda, though." Not now, at least, was what the wink he tossed in my direction told.
"That'd be a first."
The Doctor slumped into a jumpseat and sighed.
I had entered the room while they were in the middle of the fight already, but figuring out the topic really wasn't hard. And once more they seemed to have hit a wall. One, neither of them was able to break down.
For a while the quiet thudding of fingers against metal was the only noise beside the machine humming.
Tap tap tap tap
Always and ever and never stopping for even a second, except that it did, in opposite to the noise he carried in his mind.
"You don't have a clue what I usually fill my time with," the Master eventually spoke up, voice barely raised above a murmur.
The Doctor huffed. "I see it every time we meet. On purpose or by accident."
"Accident… I'm not sure there is such a thing when it comes to the both of us."
The Doctor looked up, regarding the other man with a long and thoughtful look. Finally I decided to speak my own mind and coughed. Both looked at me and the desired attention suddenly made me nervous.
"Uhm… not to be on anyone's side or so," I started, fiddling with my fingers. "And I'm rather sure he'll murder me for that comment" - I nodded at the Master - "but he can hardly be the most dangerous thing out there."
"Oi!" he called out. "Take that back. I definitely am."
I poked my tongue out at him and continued towards the Doctor, "There surely are more important and more dangerous threats you could prevent from endangering time and space. So why him?"
It was an honest question, not necessarily meant to defend the Master, but because I was curious what all the trouble of keeping him was supposed to accomplish.
But instead of defenses and explanations there only grew a deep and thick silence in the room. From both sites, to my surprise. The Doctor tried to say something after a while, but seemed to choke on his own unspoken words and fell silent again.
The Master, on the other hand, had balled both hands to tight fists, eyes darkly glaring at the ceiling. He knew. They both knew. It might have even been the reason they played this game.
I wouldn't get an answer so soon. Right as I was about to apologise for the obviously inappropriate question we all jumped in surprise as an alarm started to blare through the room. Then a jolt tore us from our feet, followed by the rumbling crash of something heavy.
Dizzy and confused I sat up and glanced around, finding the other two doing the same, luckily unharmed. Purple light doused the console room, fading from dim to bright. Somewhere a loose cable spilled amber sparks over the ground, but otherwise everything seemed unbroken.
"Ough, that was rough," the Doctor complained, rubbing his head as he sprang up to take a look at the monitor.
"What the sodding time vortex has your ship done now?" the Master growled. He tossed a quick glance in my direction and got to his feet. "Can't you just… what the…?"
"Where are we?" the Doctor muttered bewildered. "It looks like metal, but…"
"Are we inside a ship?" I wondered. The image on the screen looked like the ground was covered in black metal plates with dark blue pixelated patterns on them. No light was around except for the dim glow of the TARDIS' lantern.
"A dead one maybe. There aren't any readings."
"Let's have a look," the Master suggested, surprisingly enthusiastic. When I tossed a glance at him there was definitely something sparkling in his eyes.
"I can't even tell how big this is," the Doctor said, scanning the readings on his screen with a half opened mouth. "It seems to be huuuge! And not a single energy signature."
"There's a light, though," I pointed out, stabbing my finger at a single tiny pixel in the corner of the screen. "Or maybe just dust."
With both hands the Doctor grabbed the monitor and almost touched it with his nose. "Yes!" he squeaked. "It's a light! Good job, Lucy."
"So, are we going to explore or do you want some private time with that screen?" sneered the Master. "After that ruckus I want to punch someone in the face."
I snorted, but definitely agreed. "I'd love to have a look, too."
"Yeeeeeah…" The Doctor slowly retreated from the readings and pushed some buttons to get the lighting in the console room back to normal. "Something disturbed the TARDIS enough to draw us here. We'll go out anyw…" He stopped and turned to face the Master. "That's new. You're never so eager to go out with me."
The other Time Lord rolled his eyes. "Nothing's changed there. I'm just curious."
To find whatever was powerful enough to disturb the TARDIS and use it to escape the Doctor? I doubted this thought got completely conveyed by my sceptically raised eyebrow, but the Master's wide grin almost made me believe otherwise.
I could have told the Doctor what I thought, but either he knew already or… well I wasn't eager to snitch on someone. That's just not my style. And no matter what the Master did, my opinion hadn't changed. There surely were more urgent problems in the universe.
"Alright. Let's go then, but be careful. We don't know what's out there."
There only was another eye-roll from the Master and he used his hand to make a mocking chatting gesture when the Doctor turned away. I could barely hold back a giggle and nudged him with an elbow to stop.
The Doctor opened the door only wide enough to poke his head out, then produced his Sonic to scan the metal ground. That didn't seem to yield results, so he finally stepped outside and waved us along.
It was eerie to wander around in complete darkness. The light from the TARDIS wasn't bright enough to illuminate more than a few meters around the ship and the light from the Screwdriver did little to actually show what was in front of us.
I tried to stay close to the others and close to the tiny spec of light that lost itself in the blackness of vast emptiness. My feet hit metal wherever they touched the ground, black and straight and only interrupted by riveted seams. The pixelated pattern stretched on and on in all directions, never hitting a wall, never bending or sloping.
I kept my eyes glued to the ground, watching our feet moving instead of trying to comprehend the size of the monstrosity we were in. The hull might stretch around us for miles and miles on end, containing nothing but empty darkness… or many more things I didn't dare to think about.
The Monsters that lurk in the unknown are always the most frightening ones.
"You're shaking," the Master said, his voice barely more than a whisper, but still echoing through the emptiness, tearing me out of my dark thoughts. "Scared?"
Was I? "No… I'm … I'm not shaking." I wasn't. Not physically at least.
The Master huffed and grabbed my hand, not saying another word while we kept walking for what felt like hours. Until the tiny spec in the distance finally started to grow in size and let some hope blossom within me that the eerie walk might finally come to an end.
And it did.
We found a wall. The first one since we left the TARDIS. It was impossible to tell how tall it was, but it didn't matter anyway. What caught our attention was the stripe of bright white not-light that sat in this wall. The whole thing glowed and still could not illuminate any of the surrounding area. It looked like a doorway, but there was nothing behind it but pure white.
The Doctor scanned the light with his Sonic, not getting any useful results, judging by the disappointed growl he let out. Carefully he stretched out a hand, poked the light with one finger and then put a hand inside when he found no resistance.
"I think it's a Portal of some kind," he concluded, rubbing the nape of his neck. "Can't get a good reading, no idea where it leads."
"Then find it out," the Master sneered. "Chop chop, go on. Through the portal with you. If you come back in one piece we can follow." The last bit was accompanied by a grin.
"Tzzz, you could go first, once. Some might think you're a coward for letting me do it all the time." The Doctor, despite his words, started to reach through the light again, this time submerging almost half of his body in it. "Oh, is that music?"
The Master grinned, folding his arms. "It's not cowardice, Doctor. Sane people call that survival instinct."
But the other one wasn't listening anymore. His head vanished, then the rest of him. Almost. Only his foot remained with us, then his hand returned and waved.
I tossed a glance at the Master and he shrugged. The little hand gesture seemed to be enough for him to actually follow and a moment later I was all alone in the all consuming darkness of the monstrous ship. A cold shiver went through me as I got aware of it, of the pressure that grew within my chest, the fear of being abandoned, the fear of unspoken horrors lurking in the blackness behind me. A fear that paralyzed me instantly, made me unable to move, unable to turn around to convince myself that there was nothing, knowing I wouldn't see anything but darkness anyway. Thick and heavy and unyielding, rising and twisting around me like black smokey wings and-
Something tugged at me, ripped at my clothes and let me stumble forward, fall through the light and against someone. My heart thudded painfully in my chest, made my breath quiver when I dared to look up to find.... the Master, holding me by the collar.
"Afraid of the dark?" he mocked and let go of me.
"A… actually. No, but… but..." I took another shaking breath and tried to calm down.
The Doctor was a step ahead, tracing his fingers along the frame of a wooden door. I blinked, looked around and found myself even more confused. There was a small bed, an old dirty wardrobe and a bowl with water on a small nightstand. Behind me was… nothing. The light was gone. Or… no, it wasn't. When I moved my head I could still see a flimmering on the wall. From somewhere came music, faint and hard to make out. There was laughter and chatting.
Wordlessly I followed the Time Lords as they left the room and entered a wooden corridor that looked as shaby as the small room. The music increased in volume with every step, a piano, maybe a guitar too? I knew this kind of music, but how…?
The Doctor pushed open another wooden door and led us into a brightly lit room. Warmth and music and the sound of people washed over me as I stumbled into it, my eyes widening with every second, because my brain couldn't comprehend the scenery.
The people there were too busy to notice us coming out of the door, were busy drinking and laughing and gambling away their money with cards and dice. Tables and chairs and a shabby chandelier above our heads. A wooden piano next to the bar and an older guy in front of it, his hands eliciting melodies from the instrument I only knew from old movies. Someone else tumbled and almost fell, a bottle of beer in his hands, dust covered jeans, a plain shirt and a leather vest. He even wore a fitting brown hat.
"That's… a saloon," I mumbled, dumbfounded. "Am I crazy or did we stumble into an old cowboy movie?"