After we came back I went to check on the baby dragon, watching it play with a pink bug for a while, before devouring it. Its head snapped in my direction, purple eyes big and expecting. I chuckled and praised the little one for the good catch.
The Doctor was right, it could barely walk, clumsily skidded around and lacked all the grace the mother had had. Not even a hint of wings were visible, no claws or teeth and certainly nothing that hinted at any ability to spit fire. I looked through the few notes he had been able to gather, but they were nothing but legends and told nothing about hatchlings.
So the only thing I could do was to wait and hope that the little creature would grow one day. Or hope I would find out what it might need to do so. The hatching itself had needed a tremendous amount of energy and probably a connection to the void, somehow. I was convinced to have been there, despite what the Doctor said.
The dragon yawned and stared at me until I reached a finger inside the terrarium to tickle it under the chin until it squeaked happily and rolled itself together to a small ball.
The sight always made me smile and also reminded me that I still hadn't decided on a name yet. I had always been horribly bad at naming things or characters for stories, let alone pets and I wanted something fitting.
"Good night, little one," I murmured, smiling and left the room to find the kitchen.
The waffles had been a nice treat, but I needed something better to fill my grumbling stomach.
To my surprise, I found the kitchen occupied already, and by none other than the Master, busy stirring something in a pot and just about to taste a spoonful of the content.
"Found a new hobby?" I teased and sniffed the air. It smelled deliciously like a hearty stew.
"I could hardly try all the recipes I found recently," he said, nonchalantly. "And since we got actual cheveron crabs, I couldn't resist."
I trod closer and peeked inside the pot, admiring how nice it looked already. Then I turned to the fabricator and listlessly scrolled through the list of items until the Master grabbed my wrist.
"You really want to eat this stuff?"
My eyebrows shot up and I turned my head to look at the Master. "Sure. I'm hungry. And I bet you'd enjoy having me drool at your plate while I munch on a sandwich." With that I tugged my hand from his grip.
"Then you're wrong. I actually want you to try it and tell me how much you like the taste of my skills."
The Master chuckled and got out two deep plates from a cupboard, setting them on the table, together with some cutlery. A few minutes later the steaming pot followed in the middle and he waved expectantly at the chair, smile smug. He even filled my plate first.
Suspiciously I poked my spoon into the dish, ignoring my rumbling stomach just long enough to savour the smell. If that tasted only half as good as it smelled then I'd be tempted to dedicate the rest of my life convincing the Master to become a chef instead of a villain.
It was better than that.
I hummed content and shoved another spoonful into my mouth. It was hearty, but not spicy, savoury, but not too much. And the crab meat was so delicate it practically melted on my tongue.
"This is even better than what you made for Christmas," I said with closed eyes, smiling. "And I'm not trying to please your praise kink here. This is actually good."
"Of course it is," he replied, practically oozing pride. "Now eat up, I need you in good strength."
"Why's that?" I took a sip of water from a glass next to the plate and eyed him through it.
"Because I want you to learn."
"Oh, right. Sure. Sorry I've been so useless until now. Didn't plan to fall ill."
There was no retort to that. We silently finished our meal, anticipation rising with every minute. Afterwards he led me to his room, pointing at the sofa. It was wide enough so we could both sit on it, cross legged and facing each other.
Suddenly nervous, I glanced up at him, fidgeting with my fingers. The Master sat there, seemingly concentrated, and suddenly the lights dimmed until they were gone. Instead, small orange glowing dots appeared next to us, forming a line along the wall.
"The TARDIS has a low telepathic field," the Master murmured, smiling at my dumb expression. "She doesn't like me much, but reacting to certain signals is just built into her, so…"
"Show-off," I huffed. "So… how…"
"Give me your hands."
He stretched out his own and I placed mine in his, the gesture making me suddenly too aware of every detail, the rough skin of his palms, the way his thumb moved an inch before halting. I looked away and into his eyes instead, glinting with the reflections of the lights around us. Like stars. Like there was a fire burning deep within him, ready to break lose every moment and devour the universe.
A smile twitched his lips upwards and the glint seemed to gain more intensity, mesmerising me so much I barely registered how our minds intermingled until we were so deep already I could feel his mirth.
Am I that fascinating, lil' lumin? he asked, smug and amused. Concentrate. You need to learn how to get deeper.
How do I do that? I wanted to know, deliberately ignoring his question. Doesn't it need more skin contact? Nerve endings and all that?
The Master nodded. The more, the stronger. But it's not necessary. See it as a boost. The stronger the initial contact, the easier it is to go from there. And more dangerous.
Now it was me who nodded, ready and eager to learn more.
Feel the flow of your own mind. Feel how it's different to mine and where they meet.
I nodded once more, exhaled slowly and relaxed my muscles. Going inside my own head was easy, drawing all of my awareness away from the world and inwards. But what in there was me? The sound of my blood in my ears, my breath, the tingling of warmth where our hands met. Up from there, up, up, up and inside.
All the way into the darkness.
I flinched away from the sensation, surprised, scared even. Was that really inside of me? This deep, endless pit of nothingness?
The Master didn't react , didn't interfere. I could barely feel him and lingered in that seemingly empty space for what felt like hours, until I noticed that it wasn't empty at all. It was impossible to tell what it was I felt there, it wasn't perceivable with my usual senses. Maybe those were my emotions? Memories? Maybe…
Yes, I heard the Master. This is your life force.
For a while longer, I lingered there, trying to sense what it even meant. It was different to what I had imagined, fainter, darker, barely existing.
This should be a bright glowing pool of energy, said the Master. He felt curious, fascinated, tendrils of his awareness tenderly stroking along the edges of this place. But you allowed all of it to go. There's nothing left.
Softly he guided my awareness to the centre of the darkness to where I found a small, hazy sphere of hovering embers, bright and strong and burning like the Master did. In awe I gaped at the sight, the sensation that was so strong I could see it clearly behind my closed lids.
This is yours, I realised.
Yes. All of it.
I thought… I thought it was just a metaphor, I admitted. Never had I expected that he meant it so literal.
The Master chuckled and gave my essence a nudge. Then he slowly retreated and took me right along until our minds had unravelled. The connection, however, stayed, hung between us like an unspoken question.
"That wasn't so bad," he commented, using his voice again. There was a hint of mockery, but it sounded strangely affectionate.
I opened my eyes, having difficulties adjusting to the dim light in the room after I had seen the darkness inside myself. Had the Master chosen the faint orange glow because he knew this would happen? The same sparks were burning in the darkness of his gaze, lingering, waiting to be let loose. The familiarity made my heart jump.
The Master observed my features closely and smirked, his thumbs idly stroking over the backs of my hands.
"Now you've seen it," he whispered, tugging at me.
I swallowed and glanced down at our joined hands, somehow scared and somehow soothed at the same time, knowing that I truly didn't belong to myself any longer.
Did he know the extent of what he had done on a whim? Or had he slowly found out as time dragged on? Was this the reason I felt so safe with him, or had that been the case before? How could I ever know? How could I ever answer any of this?
Another tug at my essence tore me out of my fearful musings, made me aware that my breath was trembling, as was my body. The Master grabbed my hands firmer and pulled at them, tore me to my knees and made me yelp in surprise.
"So I am still able to scare you," he said mockingly. "That's almost cute."
I couldn't protest. When I opened my mouth to do so, he pulled at my hands again, harder this time, made me fall forwards and almost against him. But he caught me, showing off just how strong he was as he held me in place, our hands still clasped. A grin was spread on his face, eyes glinting.
Slowly he eased me lower until I was able to sit back on my knees again. His fingers slipped out of mine, only to grab my collar and drag me forwards until we were almost nose to nose.
"Let me taste it," he muttered. "Let us go deeper."
My breath hitched at his words. I nodded, waiting for him to reach out to cradle my head, dropping his own against mine. The contact was there immediately and still slow, like colour trickling into water, dissolving, mixing. My hands wanted to move, wanted to hold something. Instead I curled them to fists on my upper legs and focused on my mind instead.
The process stopped at some point, left us intertwined and still only at the surface. I felt him tugging, probing experimentally. I focused on the sensation, tried to trace it to the end, or maybe the beginning.
You're much stronger than I, I thought. Why can't you just go deeper and take me along?
I can't. His answer was amused. It would break you. Telepathy isn't a thing for one. It always needs both.
Tendrils of his awareness wrapped themselves around parts of mine, guided them to the point I had been looking for. It was like feeling a membrane around myself, an invisible barrier, but incredibly thin and almost illusive.
It's not really there, said the Master. Your mind tries to protect you from intrusions.
So… I have to let you go deeper on my own will?
The word reverberated through me like the sound of a bell, but something was still missing. Something that had to come from myself. I tried to let the barrier vanish, tried to bring us both beyond it, but I couldn't. It was simply impossible.
Eventually I let out a frustrated groan and opened my eyes. The Master gave me a smirk, confirming that he had been suspecting my failure.
"Don't mock me," I grumbled.
"Och, let me have the fun." He snickered and retreated his mind, then his hands. "I hadn't suspected you to manage on the very first time."
I scowled at him, lips pursed. The disappointment didn't stem from my inevitable failure alone. Truth be told, I had been looking forward to just vanishing in the blur of our minds for a while.
The Master was still smirking, watching me closely. It seemed as if he was able to sense my thoughts, or maybe they were just written on my face with indignant radiance. He leaned forwards, wriggled a finger in his own direction as if he wanted to whisper something in my ear. And when I bent a little to meet him, his hands were on my sides already, drawing me closer with a strength that left me no choice but to follow his movements until I, once more, was seated in his lap, mesmerised by the glow in his eyes and the sheer closeness we shared.
His hands slipped under my shirt and onto my skin, pressing me closer to him. I pushed against his shoulders to keep at least some distance, but already felt his mind slip into mine, deeper and more potent than before, wrapping itself around my awareness like soft silken smoke. Nothing about the intrusion was forceful. My forehead dropped against his with a sigh, warmth spreading in my whole body, engulfing me, letting me float and forget where I ended and he started.
I'm amazed, the Master's voice resounded somewhere in the swirls of what was us. How willingly you give into this.
I wasn't sure if I even understood what this meant. Why would I fight against something that felt so… good, so whole. It probably should scare me. Because the man I shared this with had committed atrocities far beyond anything comprehensible. I had seen some of it, felt the cold, calculating streaks in him, the enjoyment of cruelty, the bliss in owning the stars themselves.
His fingers dug into my skin, drawing me back to the surface as he slowly disentangled himself from me again. When I opened my eyes, after what could have been hours or mere seconds, I caught his gaze and blinked in surprise. There, for a second, he looked lost and so eternally lonely that my heart clenched hurtfully.
"Sorry," I muttered, not sure what else to say.
His look hardened instantly and the Master let out a huff.
I didn't know. But I could sense that, "I hurt you, didn't I?" I muttered, voice choked. "I don't know how, but I did…"
The intensity of his stare was almost burning me, a crooked grimace appeared on his face, there to betray himself.
"You still can't grasp what you're doing there," he said, voice barely audible. His fingers stroked along my jaw, the touch making me shiver. "And you do it only for yourself."
For the longest time I glared at him, heart thudding and hurting, ripped open by his words, even though I didn't know what they meant. The Master smiled, shoving me gently down from his legs.
"Tomorrow," he said then. "Same time, same place?"
Huffing I nodded, smiling even. Doing this maybe every day from now on sounded definitely like a good thing, despite whatever was going on with him.
The practice had made me tired, but not so much that I wanted to sleep already. And I needed to distract myself from thinking too much. So I went to the console room and really found the Doctor there, specs on his nose and staring at a monitor.
"You were right," he drawled, mouth open. "Something is not right at all about that company. Just can't really figure out what. Good numbers, no bad reports, satisfied customers."
"You're really investigating those?" I wondered, slightly amused. "I was just joking about it, you know?"
The Doctor snapped his mouth shut and turned to me, eyebrows raised. Then he suddenly grinned and chuckled. "I know. But you have some great instincts. So I thought this might be interesting after all."
Me? Great instincts? Perplexed, I blinked at him, but he didn't even seem to notice.
"New company. Many employers, mainly for marketing. Couldn't find out much about the product or the production. Nothing about ingredients or where they make it. Come, take a look. Take your time. I'll fetch a cuppa tea. Want some too?"
"Uh… yeah, sure. Thanks," I mumbled and stood next to him, glaring up at the screen.
"There. This knob is for scrolling, and that is bringing you back to the main archive. Rest is just touch controls. You'll get the hang of it, right?"
He encouragingly slapped my back and hurried away, leaving me alone with what he had gathered. I had no clue what most of it even meant, all those numbers and words I had never heard of. Coordinates, dates, names. I scrolled through most of it, trying to find something that made sense to me.
Some time later I heard the Doctor return and he placed a cup on the console, beside me.
"This is all completely random," I complained. "Nothing's sorted."
"Oh, yeah, weeell… I just came back. Didn't have the time for it. But you know what?"
"Mhm?" I Tore my eyes away from the screen and glanced at the Doctor, picking up the tea cup.
"I wanted to do some maintenance anyway. We'll stay for a couple of days. You can sort and filter all you want. If you want. Do you?"
I had to laugh at his hopefully glinting eyes, the smile anticipating like that of a child awaiting a yes to the longed for ice cream. He even wriggled his eyebrows in response, which made me properly laugh.
"Alright, alright." I nudged my shoulder against his. "But I won't promise anything."
"Ah, you don't have to. Just try. Maybe's nothing. Maybe we found something important. Who knows. Brilliant, isn't it?"
"Not at all." I giggled at his childish attitude and turned back to the screen.