The tiny dragon raised its head and let out a little squeak which made my heart jump with warmth. As soon as I had entered the room it had started to move and when I had stuck a hand inside the terrarium it had promptly started to stroke its head against my fingers.
Had I been able to speak at that moment I would have squeaked right alongside the hatchling. It probably was the cutest thing I had seen in my entire life.
Now it sat in my palms, rubbing against my fingers, snout occasionally opening to lick or nibble on my skin. It had no teeth yet and even if, they would have been too tiny to do any damage.
I looked up at the Master with wide eyes and a big grin, happy and thankful that he had brought me here instead of insisting on rest.
"It hasn't changed since it hatched," he said. "Well, it's gotten a lot livelier since then, but that's it."
An observation I quickly shared. It was easy to play with the small creature, since it tried to catch every moving thing with its mouth. And when it managed to get a hold of it (in this case my finger) it let out another tiny squeak of joy.
I truly was convinced my heart would simply burst any moment from so much cuteness. Especially when the little one got tired quickly and curled up on my palm, tail wrapped around one of my fingers.
"Geez, you're completely enamoured with that thing, aren't you?" the Master commented, mockingly. He was holding a scanner to see if there might be any fluctuations in… whatever it was he had tried to explain to me earlier. "It doesn't drain energy from you. That's for sure. It probably only needed it to hatch."
I shrugged and kept smiling as I carefully put my fletchling back into its makeshift home. A closer look revealed a bowl of water and another one which had a bunch of dead insects and slices of fruit in it.
"The Doctor insists on keeping it on a… careful diet, as he put it. No real meat and certainly none of… sentient species."
I snorted and nudged the Master. He only grinned, convincing me he would absolutely feed some slices of human to the dragon if he could.
"Oh, and so far you are the only one who is allowed to touch it. When we tried that it panicked." He laughed at my surprised expression and bent down to meet my eyes. "Congratulations. You're a mom now."
I just stuck out my tongue and shrugged. There definitely were worse faits to have than to raise a dragon. And as soon as it would grow too big, there surely would be a solution as well.
Although my skewed sense for time told me something else, I learned that only two days had passed with me being completely knocked out. And then two more with me being semi conscious. My condition got better rather quickly to my relief and I spent most of the time either sleeping or playing with the dragon or the children.
The latter were immune to my illness. The Doctor tried to explain it to me, but I wasn't sure whether or not I understood. It had something to do with genetics and certain types of viruses that were present in their sector of the galaxy. It seemed as if their ancestors - or architects? - had possessed antibodies for this kind of illness already.
The only reason it had befallen me so badly was because I had practically zero defenses against this particular structure of virus.
"Not a surprise, if you ask me," the Doctor babbled, as he conducted his usual tests on me. "Think of the natives on earth. When the Spanish people invaded they didn't die because they were killed. Well, yes, lots of them were, actually. Too many. You really don't wanna visit that part of history." He paused for a moment, considering what he had wanted to tell me in the first place. "Oh, yes! Right! What truly killed a huge chunk of their population - you won't believe it - was the common cold. I'm serious!"
I nodded and hummed, confirming. It wasn't new to me, although I couldn't recall where I had heard it. Maybe in school?
"Well, usually I tend to visit places that don't have dangerous bacteria or viruses for humans. I try to, really. And the TARDIS shields also do a big part in protecting."
I raised a sceptical eyebrow. From my own experience and from the Doctor's stories I knew all too well that the locations could often be extremely random and also that the TARDIS certainly wasn't present at all times.
"Yeah, well…" he drawled, suddenly a little uncomfortable. "I tend to give every human a standard vaccination cocktail. Sooner than later… Everything went rather… out of order and all strange and unusual with you, so…"
"It's okay," I mumbled. My voice was still a little weak, but at least did its job again.
"No, it's not!" the Doctor exclaimed. "This isn't a thing that should just slip my attention. Really isn't. This could have ended rather badly."
I simply shrugged. "Don't worry. People seem to always forget that I'm there. It's… kind of the norm, honestly."
"It shouldn't be."
I huffed and gave him a bitter smile. "There are a lot of things that shouldn't be in my life. Or rather… were."
"Were?" His eyes lit up. "Are you happier here?"
"A lot," I reassured.
"Despite all the dangerous adventures?"
"And despite… the Master?" His voice dropped almost to a whisper, as if he felt guilty. And he probably did, considering his next words. "I should have kept him far away from you right from the start."
"Then I'm glad you didn't." I poked my tongue out and grinned up at him. "I'm alright. Don't worry. He's not harming me. And I really mean that."
"Doesn't seem like it. I don't know why you let him do all this to you." He sighed at my raised eyebrow. "Using you for experiments? Invading your mind. And I'm pretty sure there are more things you just don't tell me."
"Hmmm…" I made uselessly. He wasn't wrong about that, but all those things didn't feel as bad as they probably should. And others didn't bother me at all, although I decided on giving up on explaining that to the Doctor. "You don't have to look after me. No one ever has and I still managed."
"Well-" He smiled warmly and got out a small syringe from a drawer. "-then maybe it's time someone does." He nodded to my arm. "Roll up a sleeve. I'll give you a vaccine."
"Sure that's a good idea while I'm still ill?" I raised an eyebrow, but did what he had told, ignoring his other words.
The Doctor filled the syringe with a clear substance and tested it before injecting the stuff into my arm.
"Nah, it's more effective than what you discovered on earth yet. No side effects, so to speak. And it doesn't use such harsh methods to… anyway. Too complicated. Important part is-" He poked the needle with a proud grin- "it protects you from the most common stuff out there and is adaptable. So, as long as we don't run into something entirely new, structure wise, you'll be fine."
"Huh, that's neat. Thanks."
Again, the Doctor looked guilty. "Still. Should have given that to you on day one." He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "You won't listen if I tell you to stay away from the Master, will you?"
I shot him an amused glance. "Nope."
"Then at least-"
"Also nope." I hopped from the med bed and smiled up at the Time Lord. "And you should try and listen to him once in a while. If you two weren't fighting all the time I'm sure he would have told you about the whole egg thing."
The Doctor gave me a bitter smile. "I've known him for too long. I've reached out a hand far too many times…"
I shrugged. "Maybe that's just not what's needed?"
Maybe all he wanted was for someone to just listen and not run off. Not a helping hand, but a shoulder to lean against. But somehow I didn't manage to speak it out aloud and just left the room.
"I think I found a good place," the Doctor announced the next day. "I thought about giving them to an orphanage or to people who couldn't get children on their own, but…" He rubbed his neck and sighed. "I'm not sure that's the best idea. I can't even tell what species they are, or what their creators were."
"Look like humans to me," I pondered. "Then again… so do you."
The Doctor grinned and nodded. "Lots of species look alike. Lots even have similar biological details. But with them…? Their DNA doesn't match any race in my database. Probably because they are technically artificial."
"They aren't," grumbled the Master from the jump seat he had occupied. His feet lay crossed on top of the console and he was glaring at the ceiling as if it were the most interesting thing, although his entire posture radiated boredom.
"Not so sure, honestly," the Doctor continued. "I tested their brain waves and different patterns and…"
"They aren't," drawled the Master again. "Stop messing with them, Doctor."
The other Time Lord was silent for a moment, then he huffed and stuffed his hands inside his coat pockets. "For someone who's using others as test subjects left and right you're awfully concerned about those children."
It was all he countered, sounding as bored as ever. I hadn't seen much of him those past few days. He had checked on me, once, to ensure I was safe from dying, and when he had been certain of that he had vanished entirely.
"Weeell," the Doctor continued, "I'm sure they aren't androids. Not biologically, for sure. Their brains also seem to work like expected and I couldn't find any restrictions. Nothing unusual. Except that it's not matching the patterns of other known species I have data from. You could say-" and here his face lit up-" that they are a completely new race."
"Means you plan to take them where?" I asked with raised eyebrows. Somehow his talk, fascinating as it was, didn't sit right with me. "I don't want them to be outcasts for the rest of their life, just because they are different."
I didn't want them to be thrown away and be abandoned like myself.
"Exactly!" The Doctor nodded enthusiastically. "So I asked a friend of mine. Well, I say friend. He's probably barely remembering. I saved their city from a seaweed tornado once… long story. But he owes me something, said it himself. He's leading a huge intergalactic academy. And their research is fascinating. Complicated. Take on children all the time."
"I hope not as test subjects."
"Nooooo! Well… not for that purpose. They have things like dorms and homes for the younger ones. All of them will be taken care of and if they want they can then study there, later. And yes, also participate in studies. But only if they want that themselves. "
The Master stopped examining the ceiling and gave the Doctor a mocking look. "You're putting them into an academy?"
"Didn't hurt us, did it?" The Doctor shrugged and then suddenly smiled. "Don't tell me you have no fond memories of it."
"Pshaw… waste of time." He rolled his eyes.
"Except for plotting all those pranks, skipping classes left and right to get drunk instead."
The Master huffed and cracked a crooked smile. "We always went to the citadel to see the star liners fly in."
"And all the summer evenings with the Deca."
The other man's smile fell and his eyes wandered back to the ceiling. "Yeah."
"You've been to school together?" I wanted to know. "What's Time Lord school like? How long do you study there? I mean, you get so old, you have all the time you want, don't you?"
A sad smile crept over the Doctor's face. The Master stayed silent.
"It depends on the student," the Doctor said. "Most study until they are half a century old. Others for centuries. And others their entire life. But everyone starts at the age of eight, right after their initiation."
"Initiation?" I poked a tennis ball that lay on the console. It didn't seem to be part of the machine. "Sounds either horribly boring, or super dangerous."
"It's the untempered Schism," the Master growled, changing position. His feet landed on the ground and he leaned forwards to give his words more weight. "They bring us there in the dead of night, each child on their own. Lead there by the light of fire torches and red robed figures. And they just watch. They watch while you stand there, trembling and scared and cold."
"Wait. They did that to you so you could go to school?" I asked, dumbfounded. "What the hell? I thought this was… I don't know. But…"
Helplessly I glanced back and forth between the Time Lords, unable - or rather unwilling - to comprehend what they had just said. The Master gave me a bitter smile.
"Yeah. They do that to every child that's going to visit the academy. Reason enough to leave that place behind."
"Reason enough to give those children to a place where they don't have to do something like that," said the Doctor, firmly. "But before that, I thought we might have some fun together."
From one moment to the next he managed to radiate excitement, making it hard to discern him from those very kids.
"What do you have in mind?" I asked.
The Doctor's mouth spread to a wide, toothy grin. "How about a proper Christmas for us all?"