"I'm going to investigate their headquarters," said the Doctor when I strolled in the next morning to enjoy my first coffee in the company of the TARDIS' humming. "It's close by and there is supposed to be a presentation."
"Presentation?" I parroted, leaning against the console.
"Yup. It's all for the press and important people. Want to come along?"
"And get into trouble? They wouldn't even let us in."
The Doctor only grinned and flashed his psychic paper. Right now it was empty, but I remembered what effect it could have.
"I could just blow the place up and all worries would be gone," announced another voice from behind.
My heart rate shot up in an instant, thudding painfully in my throat. I didn't dare turn around, afraid at what disgusted face he would make at my sight.
"Noooo! I don't even know if they do anything bad!" protested the Doctor. "We'll go and have a look and maybe I might get some customer data."
"I didn't agree…" I carefully objected.
An arm landed on my shoulder, casually propped up there.
"Playing detective?" the Master asked joyfully. "I thought you were too scared for this kind of thing."
I had no choice but to look up, anxious and shy and awaiting to find more of the repulsion he had regarded me with the night before. He was still facing the other man, but then turned his head and… flashed me a grin. An expression of boyish mischief and challenge.
A sharp pain shot right through my heart, so fast did it beat, so frantically did it try to escape its cage. I caught myself fast enough to not let him see through me, straightened and returned the challenging smile.
"I'm not scared, just you watch me."
There it was. I could prove to him that I wasn't useless, that I wasn't afraid of things I didn't know, and if I was anyway that I could overcome it all and be brave.
"So you're coming with me?" asked the Doctor, already grabbing his coat to slip in.
"Yeah. Just let me get a jacket."
The presentation was rather boring. The Doctor had gotten us inside by busting a backdoor with his sonic and had then flashed his psychic paper to make anyone who dared ask believe we were from "Health and Security". Which ended in us sitting in the film cabin, watching how a blond lady in oversized glasses tried to convince everyone how great their product was.
To me it all sounded like made up bullshit.
A woman in the film hall started to ask some uncomfortable questions, clearly willing to rile the blonde one up and to get some nice headlines.
I barely listened to more babble about biology. A topic that had never fascinated, nor interested me. I knew the basics and probably more than most anyway, since my brain tends to soak up information like some sponge. It sounded pretty bullshitty anyway, even to me. As if a big company like them would tell in detail how their product worked…
"This is a scam," I muttered towards the Doctor. "Dunno how they fake the reviews, but come on…"
"Mhm…" He nodded, continuing to watch the scene below.
Sometimes it was fascinating how concentrated and calm he could be, in contrast to his usual overexcited behaviour.
I, on the other hand, was still nervous, despite the psychic paper and despite how no one so far had really bothered us. This was too easy. It couldn't be so easy. Sooner than later someone would ask questions we couldn't answer and tell us we had no business being here, no matter the status.
The presentation ended, everyone poured out of the room and the Doctor, too, made his way outside, following some corridors. We passed another exit and I contemplated just waiting outside.
If only it weren't for my stupid decision to prove that I wasn't a coward.
If only it weren't for the fact that I was.
The whole time we spent in the office was sheer torture and it surprised me that no one could smell how nervous I was, while the Doctor casually flirted with one of the sales women. That no one saw how I couldn't keep myself from tossing glances around. That no one felt all the anxiety I radiated.
Then again and despite how I felt about the situation, I could not, for the life of me, resist nicking one of the golden capsules the sales woman had lying on her table. Not that I needed the money anymore, but it was small and shiny and just perfect to have in my pocket and fidget around with.
Priorities, I guess.
It made the whole situation only worse, though and when we finally left the building it felt as if I was about to simply collapse from exhaustion. The Doctor looked at me, smiling.
"You did great, you know that?"
"I?" I squeaked as we walked down a street to meet one of the customers to question him. "I've been nothing but an antsy ball of fear!"
"Yup, I noticed." He chuckled. "And yet you stayed and managed not to be suspicious. You didn't run off. I think that deserves a little praise."
I snorted. "Don't pity me."
"Oi, I don't! I meant it!"
It still made me feel bad how noticeably scared I was. I had thought to have gained more confidence through staying with the Time Lords and the adventures I had been through, but in the end I was still as small and useless as before.
"But if you want to go back I can talk to that customer myself. No problem."
I grumbled and fingered the golden chain in my pocket. The texture of the small links was soothing, damping down my anxiety.
"I'll wait outside," I decided. "Just in case. Call me if you need backup."
"Oh, I will."
The Doctor had chosen someone who lived nearby, so we only walked for another ten minutes. The house was like every other in the street, nothing special or suspicious. I walked up and down the street, using the chain as my new fidget toy, while the Doctor questioned the man inside.
Eventually he came back out, holding a strange blinking and beeping device in his hand.
"I have a trace!" he called out. "Come, Lucy, it has to be cloooo… sssse."
Before I could even start to follow, the Doctor already stopped, as did his device. The look on his face fell in disappointment.
"What is it? Why did it stop?"
"It's… gone," said the Doctor, hitting the device a few times and doing something with his Sonic. "Just picked out of the air."
"And that thing here…?"
"Oh, this!" He proudly held up his toy. "I made it who knows when… it's a detector for alien life forms. When it finds one it makes ding!"
How in the world could he tell that with such a proud face? Sure, the tech behind it must be complicated, but it sounded so silly that I could hardly suppress a laugh.
"Anyway," he continued. "Either it malfunctioned or whatever there was is gone now. Let's get back and check a few more customers tomorrow. That one told me a few interesting facts. Might as well compare them."
I had dinner with the Doctor, pondering over the information we had gathered. He was rather sure it had to do with aliens, especially after his device had gone off just before. I wasn't so sure about that - tried to argue that our own people were capable of enough bad stuff on their own.
After that I went to check on the dragon and then went to the library, trying to read or to sift through more data on my laptop. The thing wasn't suited for gaming and I was contemplating asking the TARDIS for one that was. Video games had always been a great way to flee from reality for a while. Just wandering around worlds where the rules were clear and consistent, world's where I didn't have to constantly remodel my perception of reality, because I met new people who destroyed whatever I had believed to be right about human behaviour.
And there I was supposed to understand how a Time Lord worked? A completely different species that only resembled humans in the way they looked?
I didn't go to the Master. Not when the clock showed the time I would usually see him and not when it had long passed the numbers. Doing anything, however, became more difficult with every creeping minute. The anxiety from before was back in full force, albeit for a different reason.
Absently I plucked out the golden pendant and let the chains run through my fingers. The capsule itself was pretty and felt smooth between my fingers, the size perfect to trace over it, let it roll in my palm and just turn it around and around. I closed my eyes, focusing on the sensations to ground myself. For most of my life I used to carry around various crystals or other objects with nice textures, just to have something in my fingers.
"What an awfully ugly thing."
As soon as I heard the voice, the pendant was plucked from my fingers. My eyes opened, as did my mouth to let out a protest. Then it closed again, whatever I had wanted to say replaced by the sudden and frantic beating of my heart.
The Master's voice had come from behind me and now he was leaning over the sofa rest, right next to my head, examining my trinket. I shifted uncomfortably, the laptop on my legs almost slipping down. In the corner of my eyes his fingers moved and the sound of the necklace's chain quietly rattled through the numbing silence.
Then it paused. The Master let out a disbelieving huff and I prepared for contempt or rage or…
"What is it with humans and porn ads? Seriously."
I blinked, utterly confused, until my eyes landed on the laptop screen again. A Web page was open with more conspiracy theories and… yes, lots of random ads. Some of them definitely pg18.
"Haven't installed an ad-blocker yet," I mumbled, just because I had no idea how to respond to that. "Spend enough time on the Internet and you just blend them out, after a while."
"Do people actually… use those… services?" the Master asked, sounding amusingly disturbed. "I know that you lot can't control yourself, but that… that's just disgusting."
I risked a glance upwards and saw his incredulous face. Despite my still raving anxiety I had to smile.
"Guess some do. Those ads would be wasted otherwise." I watched as his expression morphed more into a grimace and I couldn't help it and mockingly asked, "Gee, how do you guys even reproduce?"
The Master's head turned slightly to me, his brows raised in a surprised what?
"We'll, I'm pretty sure the Doctor doesn't even know sex exists." I poked the screen. "He'd probably ask me what game they are playing there or something like that." Now the Master snorted and then giggled at the thought, obviously finding it as amusing as I did. "And you seem so repulsed by the whole thing that I can't imagine…" I paused, remembering that both of them seemed to have had children at some point. "I mean… you might lay eggs. Do you?"
The Master glared at me with wide eyes for a second, then barked out a laugh and knocked against my head. "No, we don't. If you really want to know… most Time Lords are infertile. And it's ineffective anyway. They are very… keen on keeping the gene pool… unsoiled. Except for rare cases we are born from Looms. Energy and DNA carefully mixed to weave a new little Time Tot."
"You're…. made?" It was a surprise, but not the biggest. "Humans would totally freak out would you suggest that to them."
Although I could see the benefits. It probably ensured that inherited diseases couldn't spread and that no child was born with severe disabilities. Or any at all - which made me swallow. The whole of diversity would parish should humankind ever decide to use a method like that. I certainly wouldn't exist, then.
"And it doesn't repulse me," muttered the Master. "I just don't get it."
"I'm not going to give you a birds and bees speech. Sod off."
His knuckles knocked against my head again. Not hard enough to hurt, not even closely, but definitely to make a point to stop being silly.
"I mean-" he waved at the laptop screen- "it's the only method humans have to connect. And you sell it to strangers as if it were nothing more than candy." His voice had taken on a derisive tone, almost a snarl.
I blinked at the screen, somehow even understanding what he meant and why. "It's not… the only way," I murmured, pondering over his words.
"You have to know," he grumbled.
I coughed, remembering the adventure with the Vikings. And everything that had come with it. "See, that's why I think you're wrong."
"Oh? Do enlighten me."
"Well… how to frame it? I don't think it's that much of a connection. It's a… voluntary and mutual display of vulnerability. And an agreement of not abusing it. For the sake of both. Most people need a great amount of trust to do that. So it appears to be… like some kind of ritual to connect."
"Now, that was a lot more elaborate than I anticipated." His remark was incredibly snarky and probably accompanied by an eye roll.
"Shut up," I grumbled, but also had to chuckle. "You wanted to know."
He shifted next to me, making noises with the capsule. I really wished he wouldn't hide behind the sofa and just sit down. The position made it hard to look at one another. But that was maybe the purpose.
"We do connect, though," I continued, after he stayed silent. "Not as deeply as you do, but… we can have long conversations, spend hours having fun, drink and dance and play together. Swap stories. That's… probably as close as we can get to a real connection."
Finally the Master moved away from the backrest and rounded the sofa to stand in front of me. The laptop screen lowered and closed, his hand on top of the lid. He went down to his haunches, glaring up at me with half knitted together brows and a look that couldn't decide if it wanted to burn or slice me open.
The racing pulse was back and with it a part of my previous anxiety. Then again, I couldn't help it, just had this urge to be honest with him.
"Honestly… I think a kiss is a lot more intimate."
At that both his eyebrows shot up and still he managed to look angry somehow. "How's that?"
"Uh… I… I'm not sure I can explain." I looked down at my hands, suddenly feeling extremely stupid for even mentioning it. And when I spoke, I told the closed laptop lid what was actually meant for ears to hear. "There is nothing to gain. You don't achieve anything with it. Not really. You're just… close. And quiet. And just… together. It's just about those two people, about a shared moment in time. It's… the closest thing to a mental connection we have."
And maybe that also was the reason it could deepen one so much.
When I finally dared to look up, the Master's eyes were still trying to burn holes through me. I swallowed, waiting for an answer that never came. He just sat there, like a cat waiting for its prey to make a wrong move. I wanted to get away, wanted to wrap my arms around my knees and just have the knot in my chest vanish.
I sighed, having enough of the vagueness. "You come in here, ask some random questions and steal my trinket. What do you want?"
"What I want?" The Master smirked and stretched his hands out, placing them on the closed laptop to form a bowl. "I want to hold all those stars out there in my hands, little one. Each and every single one of them. I want to feel their weight and walk their surface, I want to own all the wonderful things they shelter. I want to see flames dancing in beautiful patterns and ash falling like snow on long forgotten battlefields. I want to feel their suns' warmth on my skin and dive in their freezing waters. I want to rule over their people and topple their known structures, just to leave them behind with nothing but chaos. I want to…" Suddenly his voice faltered, breaking the hypnotic spell his speech had cast on me. He took a sharp breath, pinched his eyes shut as if in pain. "I just want it to be quiet," he muttered, eventually and so quietly that I barely understood the words.
"And now your only option turns out to be useless," I concluded as quietly. "I… I'm sorry. Really."
The Master got to his feet again and regarded me with a long, dark look. I wished he would just tell me to try harder or to have patience, wished he would wave my words away with a sneer.
But he said nothing at all and eventually just strode away.
The Doctor took me to see more of the customers. I even got inside with him, watching as he casually asked them about this and that, trying to find a pattern in their answers. All of the people seemed genuinely satisfied. No side effects, a good price and the benefits were literally measurable.
"I really wish I would have had something like that when I tried to lose weight," I sighed while we walked down a road.
"You don't look like you need to lose some," replied the Doctor, quickly darting his eyes over my slim form.
I snorted, grimacing. "Cause not. That was the point. I've been overweight for almost all of my life. And when people hate you anyway they use every detail they can get to make it worse."
And bully you mercilessly.
"Oh, I didn't know. Were they that mean to you because of that?" The Doctor strolled along, hands in his suit pockets, coat flapping behind him.
"It wasn't because of that. In elementary school we had a girl who weighed a lot more and even she made fun of me. It's just… another detail."
The Doctor tilted his head, pondering. "Then why did you want to lose anything?"
"New me." I shrugged. "It was… when my ex dumped me on the street."
"He did what?" the Doctor called out. "You had a place to stay, right? You weren't homeless? He didn't just…"
"He did." I sighed and glanced at my moving feet. "Had nothing but a bag of clothes. No money, not even a valid ID. Some people are just… evil."
"Yeah. New bodies are confusing." His brows knitted together.
"A friend took me in. And I decided I needed a change. A new me. So I lost weight, got myself a haircutter and shaved my hair off. I even got a new style of glasses."
"We'll, you can't just change your body, after all."
"Heh, yeah, no. That would be cool. But I do like that more andogynous style I have now. I don't need a new body. Would be weird."
"Yeeeaaahhh," drawled the Doctor.
"So. Any more people to interrogate today or can we have waffles?" I asked hopefully.
"Oi! I don't even have any money."
"Last time you had."
"Well… leftovers. I helped this woman some time ago. Long time ago, actually. For me, probably not for her. She needed to get to her wedding, but then we had to fight a giant spider and… anyway. I got her money for a taxi and had a few notes still in my pockets."
"And from where did you get it back then?" I asked, brows raised.
"I, uhhhh…" He shifted uncomfortably, kicking a pebble away. "I soniced an ATM. It was an emergency, okay? I won't do that again!"
I giggled, even though I was a little disappointed. "You have way too high morals, you know that? The banks wouldn't be hurt."
"It's still not right."
I shrugged. "But why is it bad if it doesn't hurt anyone?"
The Doctor gave me a long look, humming thoughtfully. "Because… everyone would start to do it. And then it starts to do harm."
"We're not everyone, though…"
"That doesn't change a thing!" he protested. "No waffles for you, young lady! For a sheer lack of morality!" He nudged me playfully and laughed.
"Aaaaw, come on! That's not fair!" I laughed with him. "How about I'll make us some when we're back?"