I thought I would be alright after a good night's rest, that all the tension and anxiety would simply fall off and vanish.
But not only could I barely get any sleep at all, it also was ridden with nightmarish images of billowing black smoke and eyes so dark they must be holes into eternity itself. A beacon snapping towards me, accusing eyes glaring in my direction from a circle of bound people in weird machines.
Several times I shot up from my sheets, panting and heart hammering, hands fumbling for the switch of my light to see something else than darkness, to be assured that I wasn't trapped in the eternal blackness of the void.
The morning after was spent in a daze. The food didn't taste like anything and when the children played in the console room and tried to get my attention, I barely managed to give them a confused smile.
"You've been staring into nothing for an hour already," the Doctor said. "Is everything alright with you?"
I looked up at him, opening my mouth to respond. But somehow words wouldn't leave me, my mind was too blank to come up with any. So I simply nodded, because that usually is what is expected.
In the end I had enough of all the noise and wanted to leave the room, only to get held back by the Doctor's voice. He was so busy with those children and still managed to get some repairs done. But I couldn't stay, answered his question where I wanted to go with a simple shrug and a nod to the doors to the inside.
Everything appeared as if behind smeared glasses, although I was still wearing contacts. When I walked, it seemed as if my feet never touched the ground. When the hot water of the shower ran over my skin I barely even felt it. There was no thought, no direction, no desire to do anything at all. Quite as if someone had simply cut the line from my brain to myself.
The Doctor later found me in the library, looking tired and a bit dishevelled. The children had probably kept him busy all day.
"Ah, I was wondering where you're hiding," he greeted. "Those rascals really demand every ounce of one's attention." He let out a dramatic sigh and smiled. "So, now don't even dare to deny it. I know something's up with you, Lucy."
He flopped down on the reading sofa with me and took the book out of my hands.
"Oh, The never ending story. Always liked that one."
Had I been reading that? I couldn't even remember. It was one of my favourites, so maybe that was why I had picked it up.
"You're not listening, are you?" the Doctor asked with a little pout. "Come on, tell me. I'm sure we can find something to brighten your day."
Was that needed? I didn't feel like my day wasn't bright enough. It just wasn't anything at all. So I only shrugged, dragged my knees under my chin and glared at the shelf opposite to us. Maybe it was a little cold. Or was it just me? Was I hungry? Had I even eaten something today? Absently I tapped my fingers against my leg in a non-rhythm, trying to recall what the book was about. There I had read it so often already and still, at this very moment, I couldn't recall the details.
A hand waved in front of my face, making me look up and remembering that the Doctor still sat next to me.
"My, you're completely absent, today, aren't you?" he mumbled.
Was I? "I opened my mouth to respond something, but then realised there wasn't anything I had or wanted to say and so I closed it again and continued staring at nothing.
"Heard of that," the Doctor continued mumbling. "...regression?" Was it that? "Maybe just tired?" A whirr resounded next to me, followed by more mumblings. "Mhm… hm. Nothing out of the ordinary. Brain functions seem normal. Well, normal for your standard. Slightly increased…"
Something was missing, wasn't there? We had come back from that place with the android cowboys. That much I remembered. And yes, right, we had hatched the dragon! For a short second it excited me, but when I was to get up and look after the small thing, I found myself unable to. My limbs were too heavy and my head too unfocused. The commands I sent to my limbs just didn't seem to reach them. And so I stayed where I was, not minding that it was strange.
I had felt like that in the past already. When everything just was too much to process. When the outside was too overwhelming, then what else to do than to hide inside? That was, after all, only the most logical thing to do, wasn't it?
"Come on. Get up. We'll get you to bed, shall we? It's late already."
Numbly I blinked at the offered hand and somehow managed to take it.
The world went blank. Colour and smell and taste vanished with my ability to speak or to react in any reasonable way. Faintly I wondered if it was a depressive episode, but those usually were accompanied by a lot more self loathing and a lot less of completely dissociating from reality.
The latter was something I heard the Doctor say during his ramblings and in a distant corner of my consciousness it did make sense.
The children managed to get me out of that stupor from time to time, demanding attention and that I'd play with them. So I sat there and helped them build all sorts of huge structures made of Lego pieces or wooden blocks, forgetting the world and everything around me as long as my hands were busy.
The Master noticed my state, too, of course and tried to rile me up or to get me to argue, but most of what he said and did simply got blocked out from my awareness. At some point he stormed out of the room and wasn't seen until the next day.
Somehow we ended up in a place that was snowy and cold and breathtakingly beautiful. For the longest time I stood there, watching the orange sun peeking out behind radiant blue ice formations in the distance, while snowflakes danced around me.
"Thought you would like that," said the Master as he stepped next to me. "The Doctor is so busy with the little rats, I told him to let them play in the snow for a while. Bet they've never seen any."
I smiled at the thought and nodded, then glanced at the Master with questioning eyes.
"Got him off my back so I'd have some time. I wanted to get you out of your small and probably wonderful world in that head of yours." He gave me a nasty grin. "No idea what you're doing there, but it's annoying not having you nagging about."
Another smile tugged at my lips at those words, but then my attention was again glued to the falling snowflakes.
"Geez, how can someone like that bloody stuff so much?" the Master grumbled. "It's just frozen water. Sure, it's pretty and all, but… you're not listening."
I wasn't. Not really. Although the calm and the quiet allowed me to be more focused than in a while. A gloved hand slipped into mine and tugged at it, making me follow along as the Master wandered down the hill we had been standing on and towards the formation of blue ice.
"There is a place," he told. "The Doctor doesn't know about it, but I wanted you to see it."
For some time we trudged through snow and wood, past some dead trees and snow covered rocks. Our way led up and down a small hill and then inside a forest where the Master squeezed himself through a gap between stones and waved at me to follow him.
On the other side of the rocks was a small lake with crystal blue water, surrounded by snowy trees and covered by several thick plates of ice. The orange sun was casting its light over the frozen water's surface, making it shine and glitter in the most beautiful way.
I stood there in stunned awe, taking in every small detail of the place, eager to remember it forever. My eyes fell on a shrub with star shaped, grey flowers near the water and I decided to take one with me as a souvenir. Carefully I slid down the hill and plucked a few of the stars, watching the pretty shape in my hands with a smile.
The loud cracking of ice sounded through the air, making me look up in surprise and glance at the lake that was right next to me. There was another, louder crack, one I could literally feel under my boots. Surprised, I looked down, shoved away some of the snow and saw that I wasn't on solid ground anymore, but already on the lake itself.
The Master shouted something I couldn't make out. More cracking sounds filled the air and were now visible underneath my feet. I had no time to react when the ice finally broke, tearing me down into the freezing water. It engulfed me immediately, made me gasp for breath when I managed to resurface, only to find myself unable to breathe, shocked by the temperature. My legs would barely move to keep me over the surface, quickly going numb. And my soaked clothes already dragged at me as if they were the claws of greedy mythical beings that wanted to tear me down below the ice to drown and feed on me.
Something else ripped at my clothes, dragged me towards the shore and finally out of the water.
"Damn, I didn't see the ice," I heard the Master say, cursing nastily as he examined my state. "It's too far to the TARDIS." Again he cursed, looking around and finally decided on something.
I was shivering violently, almost unable to breathe at all from the cold. When he picked me up into his arms I didn't even manage to protest. All I was aware of was that we entered a cave, some minutes later. I was sat to the ground, leaning against the cold wall, whilst the Master rushed outside again.
Everything seemed so unreal after I had spent so much time in that unaware state. Even now I struggled to keep focused, although I was pretty sure the cold did its best to add to it. I curled myself to a wet, freezing ball, hoping it would help anything, although it didn't seem like it. It didn't even help that the Master quickly built a fire and lit it with his laser screwdriver. My logical mind told me that the cave must get hot pretty fast, given its small size, but my body refused to accept any of it. The wind was also blowing through several cracks in the stone, making the fire flicker and wildly dance around.
"Get up, idiot," the Master grumbled when I didn't move.
My only answer was clattering teeth.
"Damn it. Whatever." He kneeled down in front of me and pushed me on my back, his fingers making short work of my jacket buttons. "Get up a little. And don't dare complain. You need to get out of that wet stuff, you hear me?"
Somehow I managed to nod and sit up, moving my stiff limbs to get them out of the sleeves. My hoodie was drenched as well, as was the rest of my clothes. I looked up at the Master and found him wearing the most wolfish grin I had ever seen on his face.
"All of them," he said, clearly having some inappropriate fun with my misery.
"Pervert," I mumbled and stuck my tongue out.
"Ohhhh, it can talk!" the Master called out and laughed. "Well, maybe that little accident wasn't so bad, after all."
I huffed and promptly sneezed, shivering even more. As much as I hated him for it, he was right. I couldn't keep the clothes on me. At least he had the decency to let me take them off myself and even busied himself with stabilizing the fire while I did so. In the end I was left wearing nothing but my underwear, even though it was drenched too. And while I usually didn't mind being seen naked I refused to give him that satisfaction.
"You know," he drawled, not deigning me more than a quick side glance- "I've really seen my fair share of naked people. And species."
I sneezed again, wrapping my cold arms around myself. "Y… you're not even interested in humans," I accused, shivering. "You ju-ust want t… to mock me."
"Yup," he admitted, grinning widely and poking a finger at my shoulder. "Come, take that off. You can have my jacket."
I huffed again, but had no other choice, but to comply. Even with the fire it wasn't particularly warm in here and I wasn't going to risk anything just to preserve some dignity. To my surprise, the Master didn't even look and just handed me his jacket, which was too big and long enough to cover everything. I wrapped it around me like a blanket, made myself as small as possible and skidded closer to the fire.
"Great," grumbled the Master. He had poked his head out of the cave and came back to sit next to me. "There's a storm brewing. I sent a signal to the Doctor, but I doubt he'll get here anytime soon."
"Yay," I mumbled. "Best day in my life."
The Master chuckled and tossed me a side glance. "So… back with us, eh?"
I peeked up at him and let out a long drawn breath, watching it evaporate in the cold air. "Guess so. It was just… so much. Everything. All of it. Not just the last bit, but… everything."
"Doesn't make much sense to me."
A small laugh escaped me. "No, why would it? It's a kind of… shutting down, I think? Never had it that bad, honestly. But… guess I also never experienced so much in such a short time."
I shivered when another gust of wind blew through the cave and drew the jacket tighter around me. Like that I probably wouldn't get dry any time soon.
I heard the Master humm thoughtfully and saw him stroke his beard, eyes darting around the cave.
"You really manage to keep getting into situations where I have to keep you warm. That's quite annoying, you know that?"
"Oi, that's not my fault," I protested. "Actually… it's you who always gets me into these."
He dipped his head from side to side. "Well, yeah… sort of." He watched me shiver in the wind for a while, before slowly adding, "Hate to break this to you, but I'm not sure you will survive the night like that."
"Pfff, you wish." I sneezed yet again, cursing under breath. "Wha… what the heck are you doing?"
Perplexed, I glared at the Master. He had started to unbutton his waistcoat and was now tossing it aside, only to continue to do the same with his shirt.
"Not letting you freeze," he said, drily, moving behind me. He stole the coat from my shoulders, but only to put it in front of me before he dragged me backwards against him. "Even you should be aware of some basic survival skills, little one."
I grumbled something inaudible, but immediately felt better when my back was pressed against his chest, warmth pooling into my almost frozen body. He was right, after all, which didn't mean I liked it.
For a while I thought about the weird state I had been in the last few days. They seemed like a dream to me, now and I still felt the urge tug on me to go back inside my head and never leave it again. I remembered the days and weeks in my past when I had wished to remain in that distance, when I had wished I would go mute entirely and wouldn't have to speak a single word anymore for the rest of my life.
"Storm's getting better," the Master mumbled. "Not much, though." He squirmed and sighed. "A little uncomfortable, don't you think?"
"Huh? Dunno. There's worse."
The Master chuckled and wrapped his arms around me, then laid us both backwards and myself next to him, making sure the jacket was still wrapped around me. My heart leaped to my throat in surprise and I shifted in his grip to turn around so I could at least face him. And to steal more warmth. That was an excellent excuse. Although it made me promptly remember that I was completely naked.
Shyly I glanced up at him and saw him examining my every movement, curiosity sparkling in his eyes and also a hint of amusement. Something else was there, too, tugging at my senses, and it took me a moment to recognise it as his mind, playing with the edges of my own, poking and tugging. A playful question to be let in. I smiled and allowed the contact, sighing content when the familiar feeling of his mind washed over me.
But this time I was curious, wanted to explore a little myself. After all, I had promised to find the drums for him and that meant I needed to be familiar with moving around in a mental space. There was a sense of amusement at my clumsy attempts and I mock-scowled at him. He didn't try to stop me, though, so I kept spreading my awareness in different directions, trying to feel the flow of our thoughts or psychic energy or whatever there was. The stream of my mind slowly intermingled with his, slipped between gaps and stroked along parts I couldn't name.
I heard the Master sigh and lean closer to me, his hands pushing me firmer against him. It was like moving currents of water, I realized, trying to reach further. I also felt that there was no way to keep this one sided. The deeper I managed to dive into his mind, the deeper his own pooled into mine. And for a while we just let it happen. This was so much better than to vanish inside my own head. Not as lonely, not as forlorn.
I felt his hearts pounding rapidly in his chest, knew that my own did the same. Our noses bumped slightly against each other, dark eyes meeting, his mind asking without words, no, demanding, wanting. My breath caught in my throat when he leaned closer, when his hand moved from my back to my hip and down to my thigh, dragging me closer against him and-
"Oi, are you in there?!"
I was startled and our connection loosened instantly, throwing me back into reality. The Master was already on his feet, calling out to the Doctor and buttoning up his shirt in the process. I, too, sat up and wrapped the jacket around me as much as was possible, already dreading to walk around in the cold like that - or in wet clothes.
Luckily, the Doctor had also brought the TARDIS along and was babbling all sorts of nonsense about us leaving without a word and about survival and whatnot. I didn't stay to listen and scurried down the corridors to my room. Both, to get into dry clothes and also to calm down my still racing pulse.