When I woke up the next time it was because I heard the door opening. In came one of the smaller children, wearing a tray with a concentrated face. Behind him was the Doctor, watching and making sure nothing would be spilled.
Groggily I sat up in bed, tossing a quick glance behind me. Of course I was alone. I should be getting used to it.
"Doctor said I can bring you the soup!" the small boy chirped. "And I promised to get it here without a drop lost. See?"
He carefully placed the tray on my blanket over my feet and quickly stepped back with a wide smile. There was a bowl of soup, the smell waking some appetite in me for the first time in seemingly a long while. There also was a glass with juice and a spoon.
I nodded my thanks to the child and glanced up at the Doctor, who ruffled the boy's hair. "Yup, I thought he might have fun. Although I'm pretty sure you can stomach some more than soup… but tell that to the Master." He rubbed a hand over his eyes and sighed. "I swear I would have never expected him to… to… uh…" Suddenly he stopped and watched my curious expression. The Doctor stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and started to rock on his heels. "He… cares. Spent hours in the lab. And now he's even making you food."
I blinked down at the bowl and dipped the spoon inside. Small clumps of meat and maybe potato were in it, small enough to be eaten without effort. I raised an eyebrow, pointing at the dish.
"Yeah, not kidding you. It's not from the fabricators. And no, it's also not poisoned, I checked, don't worry."
I let out a snort and started to eat. The soup was quite tasty, not too heavy and still satiated my hunger. It made me think of how that might have ended had the Doctor tried to make that. I couldn't imagine he was able to use a kitchen without burning anything.
He ruffled the child's hair again and sent him outside before grabbing a chair and sitting in front of the bed.
"Your dragon is fine," he told with a smile. "It's sleeping a lot. But when it's awake it looks around quite curiously. Can't walk. Not yet. Seems like it wasn't ready to hatch, yet. Maybe." He held up his hands to signal I wouldn't have to worry. "We don't know if they are always born like that. Most lizard-like creatures are more or less fully developed when they hatch. Meaning they can walk or slither. Might be closer related to aerial species, though. Who knows. I found a bunch of planets to check for sources. Few might have a book or two."
I simply nodded and continued to eat. As long as the dragon was well I wasn't worried too much. I still looked up and gave him a questioning look, nodding to the door and holding my hand out and above the ground as if to symbolize a small person.
"Oh! The children!" The Doctor seemed to get what I wanted to ask. "Heh, they are quite a trouble. Wild crowd. But I'll manage, don't you worry. Haven't found a proper place to have them, yet." He smiled, wearily, maybe even a little nostalgic? "Can't stay in the TARDIS. Not forever. And I'm sure the Master will lock them away somewhere if it takes too long. He doesn't have a lot of patience with'em."
I grimaced at the thought of him having to babysit and could all too well imagine how he threatened them with extinction if they wouldn't behave. Although there also were the other scenes I had witnessed. At least for a small while, he was not only able to tolerate them, he also seemed to like having them around.
I pointed at the Doctor, then held my flat hand out again to show a small person. Then pointed at him again, raising an eyebrow.
"Me? Oh, I don't mind them. It's fun. But they need a more fitting place. A society and not only a time ship as company."
I shook my head and repeated my gestures from before. And suddenly the Doctor seemed to understand the question. His face turned sad, but a quick smile hid the pained emotion.
"Yeah. I had children. Long time ago."
That was all he said before he suddenly shot up from the chair and seemed uncomfortably eager to leave. He only took the tray from me, promised to check on me again and then vanished quickly.
This time around I felt much better. My throat was still clogged, but at least it didn't hurt anymore. And when I couldn't fall back asleep I decided to get up and have a shower, feeling sticky and grimy after having spent who knows how long in bed.
Some hot water did wonders to my well-being and the TARDIS proved to be a real dear when I found a hoodie on the toilet seat, completely in red plaid. I giggled at the gesture and gave the air a hand kiss.
Even though I craved it a little, I resisted to get some coffee and went straight to the library instead. Simply to see something else for a while and maybe get lost in a book or two. There were so many fascinating stories to be found and, to my absolute delight, a few continuations of series I had started reading during my life on earth.
I found a nice spot among the countless reading corners. One with a wide, green sofa, lots of pillows and some stuffed animals I didn't know what species they are meant to resemble.
Despite my slightly better wellbeing it was hard to focus on the words. Here and there I managed to read a page or two, but then, for a while, the letters just blurred to a mush and I had to rest my eyes for a bit. Which still was better than this not even half aware state I had been in before. Just a dark, endless void of consciousness.
"Ah, there you are." The voice barely rang through to me, didn't manage to make me open my eyes. "Oi, make a noise or something, will you?"
No, I didn't want to, was neither in the mood to strain my throat nor to move a single muscle. It was too much of a struggle. And whoever was there surely could just walk past. Maybe.
Some weight settled next to me and fingers connected to my temples, sending a warm, familiar tingle through my mind. I heard a relieved sigh and smiled a little, leaning closer to the touch, to the unexpected warmth beside me.
"The TARDIS brought me here," the Master mumbled, slightly annoyed. "After you've been gone for hours. Damn idiot you are. You should have told anyone."
Was he worried?
"Tch, you wish!" he grunted, and I remembered his hand on my head. "You need to do something for me, remember?"
I nodded and leaned against his shoulder, too sleepy to respond in any other way.
"Stop that," he grumbled. "I need to check if you're fine."
I didn't budge, though, and heard another sigh. His fingers were back on my temples, searching for any sign of me doing bad.
'm fine, I thought. Just slipping. Sleeping.
Slipping, yeah. It's like you're not fully here anymore. Again.
That finally startled me, reminded me of how absent I had been the previous days and made memories rise to the surface I had long thought were buried. Of other times when I had been living more inside my own head than in the outside world. Where my life had consisted of fantasies in my mind and life itself had been barely more than an unconscious dream I managed to ignore.
I did talk, back then, did manage to commute and to live normally, on the outside. But I never was fully present. Never fully… real. Caught in the world within my own mind, barely aware of the one outside of it.
Like a ghost, the Master whispered. A ghost amidst the living. What a strange way to exist.
I didn't know what it was, I thought. For me it was normal. For everyone else it wasn't.
It had taken a long time before I had found out what was so horribly wrong about me, what it was that set me apart from all the other humans. So many years before I had learned that there was a name for people like me. And that it meant I could never be fixed, never be normal.
You still haven't told me what you think makes you so wrong, the Master said, more inquiring than stating a fact. And you're burning, little one.
I didn't care, didn't want to move. And suddenly there even was a fear bubbling to the surface. A fear of maybe slipping away once again. Maybe I was fading, vanishing, returning to that absent state I had existed in until only some years ago and had briefly slithered back to, recently. But I didn't want that anymore. I didn't want to be erased from reality as if I had never been more than a dying dream.
You're not going anywhere, you hear me?, the Master called indignantly in my mind.
It feels like it. Like I'm too far away. Like there is nothing grounding me in reality anymore.
The fear rose up like bile and I sat up, wrapping my arms around myself. It broke our connection, but he wouldn't understand anyway. How could he?
I heard a grunt and glanced sideways. The Master had a somewhat hurt expression on his face, his head was slightly tilted and his hand still stretched to where my head had been before. Now he let it sink and glared up at the ceiling, thinking for quite a while.
Again I dozed off, although not entirely, too caught up in the fear I felt, too scared I might… vanish. The more I thought about my current state, the more it felt like this could happen any moment if I wasn't careful. Something in that void had clawed itself into me, had torn a piece out of my very self and was holding it captive in the absence of light and movement and time and everything that being alive was made of.
There was a tug at my hoodie and a pull, making me jump and glare into an amusedly smirking face. The Master tugged at me again, harder this time, dragged me closer and down until my head lay on his legs and my bewildered look met his above me.
"You're not far away at all, little light," he said, smiling impishly. "And if you dare run from me, it will have bad consequences."
A hand slipped into my collar and rested there, lightly initiating some shallow contact. This time one that went both ways, him stroking the borders of my mind as much as I did with his. Almost like holding hands, feeling the pulse in the other one's fingers.
"Rest a little. I'll take care of you," the Master muttered and grabbed one of the books I had been reading.
If it weren't for the fever he would probably have seen me blush right there and then. Just sleeping in someone's lap really wasn't a thing I was used to. Not at all. It had an intimacy to it that exceeded every level of cuddling I usually liked so much and still was so oddly… casual.
I couldn't help but simply glance up for some time, watching how the Master quietly read, the book in one hand hand, the other still gently resting on my skin. The connection was too light to sense anything from him. It was simply there.
My eyes got heavy, my lids already closing on their own. There was warmth all around me now, soothing. Save. I leaned my head against him, allowed myself to relax and forget about the darkness and about vanishing… for now. As long as the Master was with me he wouldn't allow for it to happen.
This time the darkness behind my eyes could not scare me.
"-just makes no sense to me."
"Well, have you asked?"
"Mhmmm… sort of. I think she's just confused from being sick. What's there to laugh about?!"
"Shhhh. Master, you'll wake her."
"Shut up and just tell me. You obviously know."
"Yep, I do. Some humans have it, it's not too uncommon, but still rare enough to…"
"Enough for what?"
"What? What's… that's got nothing to do-"
"You remember how the students treated those with bad side effects? Those that were stable enough to be let into the academy, but still had ticks or bad dreams or…"
"Of course I do. Why do you think I never told anyone about the drums? Self preservation. You might learn a thing or two from it."
"Stop grinning, morron."
"It's cute how you take care of her."
"Leave. Now. I swear I'll smash your face if you don't."
"Oh… but I thought you wanted to know?"
I awoke to the giggling of small voices, barely contained joy. And also to the smell of coffee. There was movement and another voice, and I realised I hadn't changed position. Cool fingers stroked gently through my hair, making me sigh content and lean in to the touch.
"Hey, the rats brought something for you. Wake up, lil' lumin."
I grunted, wearily blinking my eyes open. There was no way to decipher the Master's look above me, curious, demanding, mocking and still strangely soft. My heart did a weird little jump and I quickly turned away and sat up, somewhat shocked and confused.
It had to be the illness, I decided. It had to be.
"The Doctor allowed us to bring you a little something," the smaller of the boys told, now that they had my attention.
The other one held out a small tray. "Biscuits and coffee. But I wouldn't recommend the coffee." He stuck out the tongue in disgust. "It's horribly bitter."
"Hey! You shouldn't taste it!" the younger one called out.
"But I was curiouuuuuus!"
I had to laugh at them, surprised I was able to get out some creaky sounds. The kids looked over and I gave them a wide grin and stretched my hands out so they could give their tray to me. They happily did and I handed them some of the biscuits, which earned me happy squeaks before they ran off with their loot.
"I told him not to give you something so…"
The Master cut himself off when I tossed him a puppy look, one biscuit already between my teeth. He blinked, a hint of uncertainty in his eyes, annoyance, wonderment maybe. The corner of his mouth twitched, not yet a smile. Suddenly he chuckled quietly and shook his head.
"Don't come to me if you have to vomit. Your stomach might still be a little weak."
I shrugged and took the next bite and also a careful sip from the coffee. So far, I didn't feel sick from it. And simply to mock him, I offered the Master another pastry, grinning and poking my tongue out.
"Tzz, you're an idiot," he decided and took the offer. "Are you feeling alright?"
I nodded. The nap had done me good.
"Then come. Let's check on your little fletchling."
So far, they hadn't let me come near the dragon, in fear it might try to drain more energy from me. My eyes widened and I immediately jumped up, suddenly as excited as the kids from before.