The sun was high and hard on the rocks where the TARDIS landed. ''Iowing Valley!'' said the Doctor, opening the doors. ''Biggest stone valley on Earth, deemed inhospitable by a lot, but some of you humans thought it was a good place to stay. Mind you, those humans are slightly above the average. Just like the one we're about to meet!''
''Yeah?'' asked Yaz, testing the ground before putting her feet flat against it. ''What makes her so special?''
''You'll see soon,'' answered the Doctor, smiling. They took off, the rocks burning the palm of their feet through their shoes. The sun was reverberated off every surface, blinding them, and everywhere Yaz looked it was only rock and gravel and dust. The air was still and hot. No wind, or plant. Not even the slightest organic life seemed to be able to survive this place. The Doctor was chatting excitedly, floppy hair bouncing on top of his head, saying something about the history of the valley and how it had a twin on another planet, identical, down to a single gravel.
They walked for what felt like hours, but could've been minutes, in the heat and the bright. Yaz had to block the constant babble of the Doctor, concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and wish that she had gone to interview Barton with Ryan and Graham instead of coming here.
''Can you see it, Yaz?'' he asked eventually, slowing down, hands buried in the pockets of his big coat.
She had to shake her head. There were only rocks in front of them, rocks after rocks after rocks, shimmering in the daylight, waves of heat coming off them. She started to feel a headache developing, starting from the base of her skull, climbing up to her nose, her eyes, her forehead where hair were sticking with sweat. Her vision was blurred, the lines of the landscape fading into one another, until it felt like the stones were moving and shifting and coming towards her-
She blinked once.
In front of her, the dull, grey, immovable rocks were standing still.
''How long 'til we arrive?'' she asked. The Doctor just turned towards her, winked, and stopped. Far behind them, the TARDIS was nothing more than a blue point in a land of greys.
''You really can't see it?'' he offered as an only answer. He seemed fine, happy even, smiling widely and staring at one big rock next to the path, that looked like it had fell from the cliff. He looked like he hadn’t even broken a sweat despite his coat and turtleneck. She rolled her eyes and it only made him smile more.
''You can show yourself,'' he shouted, turning back to the inconspicuous rock. ''It's me. I decoded the diamond.''
At first, nothing. Then the air shivered. And, slowly, the front of the rock tipped to the side, revealing that it was, in fact, hollow.
The Doctor didn't move, grinning, and balancing on the soles of his feet.
''Very impressive show,'' he said. ''We're very impressed.''
''Sure hope you are,'' answered a new voice, and Yaz held her breath as the most beautiful woman in existence exited the depths of the apparently-not-a-rock.
''Wanna take a look around my gaff?'' she asked, standing near the entrance. The sun caught on her hair, making it light up like gold on fire and her grey outfit – a jacket thrown above a shirt, with what looked like suit pants – made her bland in perfectly against the stone landscape.
''Would be my pleasure,'' said the Doctor, brushing past her. Yaz was a bit behind, and she stopped in front of the woman, extending her hand.
''Yasmin Khan,'' she said.
The woman smiled and took it. She had small hands, rough with calluses and cold to the touch. Yaz shivered.
Yaz lifted her eyebrows.
''God,'' repeated the woman. She let out a little laugh in front of Yaz's bewildered expression. ''I know, I know, it's really up there hubris wise, but every time I came into C's office in MI6 he would say ''Oh, God!'' and, well, it stuck.''
''Oh,'' said Yaz. Then she realized she was still holding God's hand and let go of it quickly. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, but was stopped short by the Doctor shouting ''God!'' at the top of his lungs from inside the rock.
''Coming!'' she shouted back, then turned to Yaz, rolling her eyes. ''He's so insufferable. How do you put up with him?''
''Mostly by feeding him the unhealthiest food in the universe'' she shrugged, and God laughed.
''Sounds like him.'' she said. ''Nice to meet you, Yasmin Khan.''
Yaz smiled. ''Yaz. You can call me Yaz.''
''Yaz it is then,'' said God, and the corner of her eyes crinkled. ''I feel like you and I are going to get along well.''
It was dark. It was dark and flames were dancing around him, bursts of fire, coming from the ground like geysers.
The Doctor’s voice ricocheted off invisible walls and lost itself in the dark. He turned on himself.
Somewhere, someone laughed.
In the corner of his eyes, something moved, too quick for him to catch it.
''You can show yourself.'' he tried. ''I know you're here.''
''But do you really?''
The breath was hot on his neck. He couldn't move. The thing laughed again.
A burst of fire shot up from under his feet and the Doctor died.
It was night outside when the Doctor woke up with a start. Yaz was hovering above him, a worried expression on her face.
''Doctor,'' she said as soon as he opened his eyes. ''I got this call, from Graham. It's. It's Ryan.''
He got up, grimacing. He shouldn't have fallen asleep. He didn't even remember falling asleep. His neck ached. In the periphery of his vision he could see God, taking vigil at the door.
''Ryan? What happened to him?''
Yaz bit her lip.
They had to go fetch Graham near Barton's office, then find Ryan, stranded in 1834, London, where he had apparently befriended Ada not-yet Lovelace.
The run to the TARDIS, from God's house, had been exhausting. Yaz had almost sprained her ankle, stumbling on the uneven rocks, and there was something about this valley, once the night had fallen, that made all the hair on the back of the Doctor's neck stand up. Yaz, clever Yaz, could feel it too, and she had told the Doctor so. ''It's moving,'' she had whispered, too afraid to speak loudly. ''It's moving and it's coming for us.''
He had kept quiet.
God had come with them. She had taken a bag and threw a jacket over her shoulders and ran, steadily, just behind them. She had stopped when entering the TARDIS, not even short of breath, unable to hide the surprised awe on her face and the Doctor had felt a shot of pride going through him.
''She's beautiful'', she had let out in a whisper, and then she had smiled to the Doctor. He had smiled back.
(Maybe this time she would accept the offer and come with him.)
''I don't know what happened,'' said Graham once he was back in the TARDIS. ''We were in Barton's office, and then the lights went out, and when they came back, Ryan- Ryan was-''
''We're gonna find him, Graham. Don't worry.'' Yaz said, stroking Graham's arm, holding him. ''Right Doctor?''
''Of course we will find him.'' He was already running a program in the TARDIS's circuits, locking her on Ryan's mental signature. ''Easy as saying hello. But Graham, first I need you to tell me exactly what was in Barton's office.''
Graham swallowed, and nodded. ''Two couches. A coffee table. His desk, with his chair. Lamps.''
''No, not that, I don't care about that,'' the Doctor cut him off. ''I mean something that you wouldn't usually find in an office. Like, for instance, a statue? A stone statue? A big, bad, angel stone statue?''
''Yes, yes there was one, one of those angels you see in graveyards!'' exclaimed Graham. ''But how did you know-''
''Doesn't matter.'' The Doctor pulled a lever and the TARDIS took off. God was standing near him, a worried expression on her face.
''You don't think,'' she started, then stopped. But the Doctor nodded.
''Oh yes, I think. I know those creatures. Weeping angels, we call them. They feed off the days you never get to live. One touch and they send you back into the past, where you die.''
''Ryan will be fine. I promise. We're gonna find him and bring him back here. I'm not losing anyone else to that.''
Yaz frowned. But this wasn't the time to ask the Doctor about that. The TARDIS stopped and he strode up to the doors.
''Listen to me carefully. Those creatures are sealed in rock. They can only move when no one is looking at them. So be very careful. Don't blink. And if we ever find ourselves in a graveyard, or in a hotel, or anywhere with written names, never, ever, read those names. Understood?''
The three of them nodded. The Doctor smiled with faux-excitement.
''Marvelous. Let's go then!''
Dark. Fire. Dark. Fire.
Dark. Fire. Fire.
He crouched. The floor was cold under his hand. He licked it. Stone. It had the dusty, old, candle taste of a cathedral.
''Where am I? Why bring me here?''
A laugh, again. He felt like he knew this voice. A column of fire shot right in front of him, so close he could feel the warmth on his face. But this one didn't disappear. It stayed, dripping drops of molten lava, shining like gold.
''Come on, Doctor,'' whispered the voice. ''You can do better than that.''
He could see his own face, reflected in the flames, looking at him.
There was something wrong with this fire.
Was it even fire?
''See,'' said the voice, something like pride in it. ''I knew you could do it.''
The flames were dancing in front of him, mesmerizing. He extended his hand, brushing the surface of the column. Someone took a sharp breath. Maybe him; maybe not.
''It's not fire,'' he muttered. He sank the tip of his index finger in it, then his hand, then his entire forearm. It was warm and welcoming and it curled around his flesh, stroking, whispering, laughing. Alive.
''How,'' he breathed. ''What- How- Why-''
Something cold brushed against his neck.
''Time to wake up Doctor,'' sing-songed the voice.
This time it was the three of them that were standing above him.
Talk about a crowded view.
''Doctor?'' asked Yaz, in the tone of one who already said this word way too much in the past minutes – or was it hours? He got up on his elbows, groaning.
''Yes, yes, I'm alright, thanks for,'' he waved his hand, ''all that. Don't worry about me. Doing cat-naps. Just discovered cat-naps. Very useful, cat-naps. Did I ever tell you about that time I was almost a cat? Well not really a cat, and you should've seen the other one, he was in an even worse state than me.'' He stopped here, the thought of the Master tightening his throat.
Ryan was still looking at him with those big, worried eyes, clouded by something new since his little trip to the past. Yaz looked like she wanted to ask more but before she could open her mouth he sprang to his feet, running to the console room.
''Everyone's changed? Great! Time to crash a party then!''
God was waiting next to the console, arms crossed. She said nothing. But she smiled, tentatively, and the TARDIS's light caught on her earring. It made something warm move inside the Doctor's chest.
''Suit suits you,'' he grinned, not even ashamed. He liked the word ''suit'', sue him. She grinned too.
''Nice socks,'' she shot back.
''You're one to talk,'' he retorted. He was proud of his purple socks. And God's ones were not really the best to go with her suit, but she was totally rocking the red and black outfit.
The TARDIS took off for the grapefield near Barton's mansion.
The not-fire was surrounding him.
''No, not this time, I can't, they need me-''
It was warm and comforting and it filled him with calm and he felt so young-
''Let me go!'' he shouted, hitting the burning walls with his fists. ''Let me go, let me go, let me go !''
Something moved, outside the fire.
''Look at you, Doctor,'' the voice said. ''So desperate.''
The thing got closer. He could almost see it. It had the shape of a human and moved gracefully, like a feline.
He hit the walls again.
''Why can't you just relax, for once in your life?'' It sighed. ''I'm offering you this and you can't even accept it. People killed for that you know.'' A pause. ''Literally.''
''What is this? Who are you? What do you want with me?''
The laugh filled the space, bouncing off stonewalls and ringing in his ears.
''Soon,'' it promised.
The entire room started to move and the floor opened up under him and he fell in the dark, screaming, the laugh following him.
''Doctor? Are you alright?''
He stumbled on the concrete, found his balance, swapped God's worries with a wave of his hand.
''You don't seem like it.''
He gritted his teeth. They were almost at the plane, God running fast right next to him. He jumped, gripped the floor and climbed on it, turning back right after to help God and his fam. The plane was empty and the door to the cockpit closed when they got in.
''What do we do now?'' asked Ryan.
''Make ourselves comfortable. See where he's going.''
He let himself fall on a seat, breath heavy.
God sat right next to him.
He suppressed a groan.
''Look, I can see you don't want to talk about it, but you really don't seem okay and we're all worried about you. Is there anything we can do?''
He turned his head and looked through the window, at the sea of clouds.
''It's nothing,'' he said. ''Just. Visions. Sort of? Happens a lot with me. Nothing to worry about.''
She raised an eyebrow.
''Seems pretty worrying to me.''
He sighed. ''It's nothing. Really. Now I need to think about what to do next.''
She stayed quiet, then said: ''You know, I've been thinking, and if it's really weeping angels we're after, we should be asking who's controlling them.''
''What do you mean?''
''Well weeping angels don't work like that usually, if my informations are correct. They hunt erratically, only looking for preys to survive day by day. They're not organized like that. So, they must have someone controlling them, some sort of master they obey.''
He frowned. ''You're right, it's not their usual pattern. But I can't see weeping angels obeying anyone.''
She smiled. ''Then it's probably not anyone. They are fallen angels; maybe we're looking for the Hellmaster?
''Behold,'' said the voice. ''The fall of the devil.''
''Enough with the theatrics.''
The fall didn't stop.
The cathedral was quiet and still. No one else except them. The sun was catching on the stained glass, colors moving lazily on the walls and floor.
There was a lone figure standing at the altar.
''Barton?'' shouted Yaz, her voice bouncing off the walls and resonating again and again. ''We know it's you.''
The figure didn't move.
Behind her the Doctor was biting his tongue, red flashing behind his eyes. His neck hurt and his head hurt, and he knew this place, he was sure of it, but he also knew he never came here before. Cold fingers brushed his arm and he lifted his eyes to see God, standing next to him, something indescribable in her eyes.
''Barton?'' shouted Yaz again. Ryan and Graham were already moving up the alleys, towards the altar, and the Doctor wanted to stop them, tell them not to go farther, to stay with him, safe, where he could protect them, but his head hurt so much and he was falling, falling,-
- he dropped on the floor, stone cold under his hands.
The figure at the altar turned.
''I didn't want this,'' said Barton, hair white and face wrinkled like crumpled paper. ''I didn't want any of this.''
Ryan and Graham stopped, Yaz took a few steps back. ''What,'' she asked, voice trembling.
(Stone cold under his hand, and he brought his fingers to his mouth, licked them.
He knew this place.)
The walls moved.
''God,'' he muttered. ''She had asthma. Last one in every race at school.''
At the altar, Barton fell. Dead, probably. A figure walked past the Doctor, towards the altar, in long strides. ''Took you long enough,'' said a voice and God turned back, nudging Barton's corpse with her foot.
''Doctor?'' asked Yaz. ''What is happening?''
''I don't know,'' he said, going back to his feet.
God laughed. He winced. He knew this laugh.
''Oh come on Doctor, of course you know. I told you, didn't I? To look for the Hellmaster.'' He took a sharp breath. She smirked, blue eyes glinting. ''Or should I say... Hell... master ?''
''No,'' he breathed. ''You can't be.''
''Oh, but I am, I very much am,'' she said. His head hurt and he saw fire.
''Why?'' he said. “How? I met God, years ago!''
''I know!'' she exclaimed, ''and doesn't it make it even better? I've had, oh, so much time to plan it all. And you fell into it head first. My dear Doctor, is age making you rusty?''
Ryan took a few steps back, taking Graham, who was trying to cover him with his body, with him. ''Doctor. What's happening? Who's she? She's not God, then?''
''Oh, I am,'' she answered, still smiling. ''Feel free to revere me. But most people know me as ''the Master''. Me and the Doctor we go way, way back.''
''Those, flashes I've had,'' he interrupted her, a hand pressed to his forehead. ''Was it you?''
''Flashes?'' mouthed Yaz. But he was focused on God, whose expression had turned serious.
''This, Doctor, will be for another time. Right now,'' she smiled and wings of stone opened behind her, ''it's time for you to die.''
All around them statues broke away from the walls, arms stretched towards them. ''No one blinks!'' shouted the Doctor, looking around him frantically, trying to encompass all the angels in one gaze. God – the Master – sat at the altar and closed her eyes, head thrown back.
''Good luck with that,'' she laughed.
But the angels were too numerous and the last thing the Doctor saw before being transported in the middle of the first World War were the terrified eyes of his fam.
''I know it's you now,'' he said. ''No need to hide anymore.''
The darkness moved.
''I've never truly hid,'' she said. ''You're just too blind to see me.''
There was no fire this time. He found that he missed it.
''Why take me here? What are you trying to show me?''
There was nothing but silence. The Doctor sat on the cold, stone floor and waited.
''The truth,'' she said a hundred years later.
He fell again. As he died and woke up, her words followed him, whispered in his ears with all the rage and bitterness of a demon forever condemned to the dark.
''But then you already know it, don't you?''
''Let them go,'' he shouted, coming out of the frightened crowd. ''Let them go and you can have me.''
The Master turned towards him, the TCE still brandished at the humans – terrified refugees, fleeing from the front and the war, that got involved in their centuries-old love affair.
Was it even love still? He couldn't take it in himself to keep hoping; and he could find nothing but hatred in her eyes (but then wasn't that how she had always shown him her love?)
''I've got you anyway,'' she pointed out. Then, after a silence: ''I've always had you.''
''What do you want?'' he asked, coming up to her, looking her directly in the eyes – but she averted her gaze.
''Kneel,'' she said.
''Kneel,'' she repeated. ''Or they all die.''
One knee then the other - he knelt, her gaze on him, his on her. It should have been relieving, to fall back into their old patterns, something he knew and could identify, far from her pretending to be her friends for years – and didn't that just sting, the thought of God pretending, just as Missy had pretended, to better let him (her, at the time) down, refusing her outstretched hand and letting her to her death. But there was something strange in the Master's eyes, something that he couldn't quite identify, and it made a shiver run down his spine. This time, there was more at stake than their usual power-plays.
Above him, the Master let out a shaking breath.
''Apologize,'' she said.
He frowned. That wasn't what he expected.
And there it was again, that glimmer in her eyes – hope? Despair? He didn't know and that drove him crazy.
''You know what for,'' she said.
''I really don't. If anyone here should apologize, it's you.''
She fired the TCE.
The man fell on the ground, dead.
''Don't ever say that,'' she said. ''You have no right to say that.''
He swallowed. ''No right? After you left me on that spaceship, after I died still hoping to see you come back? After what you did to Bill?''
''That wasn't me,'' she said, averting her gaze once more. ''That was spiky hair. Always loved Cybermen that one.''
''Tell me about it,'' he grumbled.
''But that's not the point,'' she bent down slightly over him, bringing their faces closer. ''Apologize.''
''I won't apologize if I don't know what I'm supposed to be sorry for.''
''But you know. You have to know. They all knew. You all know.''
He looked closely at her face. ''Who's that ''all''? What am I supposed to know? I know a lot of things, so you'll have to narrow it down a bit there.''
''Don't try to be clever with me'', she gritted down. ''Just apologize. Or I kill them all.''
''Very well. But you do know that it won't have much of a value if I do it because of a threat and without even knowing what I'm apologizing for, right?''
''Just. Do it.''
She straightened up, taking a deep breath.
''Again. With my name.''
He held up her gaze without blinking, daring.
''I'm sorry... Master .''
She passed a hand on her face. Her eyes were red.
He wanted to say something – ask her what all that was about, check if she was okay (was she ever?). But it wouldn't be well welcomed, so he stayed quiet.
She slid on her knees, in front of him.
''You have to know,'' she whispered.
''What? What do I have to know? We won't go anywhere if you don't give me more.''
She shook her head.
''No, no, you have to confess, to tell me you know.''
He changed his strategy.
''The visions, dreams, whatever, why are you doing it? What is that fire?''
She lifted her head again.
''Are you telling me you really don't know?''
''What? Is that linked?'' He perked up. ''So are you telling me that if I understand what is this fire I could understand what you want me to know?''
She made a face. ''No. Maybe. It doesn't work like that. You already know anyway.''
The Doctor had a feeling they could keep going like that all day long, but a shell choose that exact moment to land next to the refuge, and he used the distraction to flee. She didn't chase him.
They could never really leave each other anyway.
The fire was surrounding him this time.
It smelt of burnt flesh, of ashes and dust.
She was sitting on the floor, back to him, in the middle of a round of fire columns.
He took a few steps towards her.
''Master'', he said.
She raised a sword in front of her, examining it.
''Master,'' he called again.
''I like it when you say my name,'' she said offhandedly. She didn't even turn to him. He was beginning to feel vexed.
''What are you trying to tell me?'' he asked.
She didn't answer.
A burst of fire, near him. He brushed it with his fingertips. It was still warm and brought him memories of children running under the sun, of babies laughing at angels.
He removed his hand.
''What is it exactly?''
''You know what it is,'' she said.
''How many times will I have to tell you that I don't?''
She got up, slowly.
''When did you last go to Gallifrey?''
The question took him by surprise.
She turned to him. She was smiling, but her eyes were red.
''You should visit, someday. They took a good decision, for once in their lives.''
''What do you mean?''
''Come and see.''
The ground opened under his feet and he fell in the dark, again, the Master standing above him, flames like a halo behind her head.
''It would all be so much simpler if you just told me,'' he sighed as he died.
He dropped them all back home after that. Not for long; he promised he would be back as soon as they called him, and not after a week for them. But they needed this, they all needed it, after the chase across time, trying to escape the weeping angels without creating paradoxes that could potentially rip the universe apart. Not that he wasn't the one with his picture next to the ''ripping universe apart'' entry in the dictionary. But still. Never a good thing to rip the universe apart.
He might have said ''rip the universe apart'' a bit too much.
Anyway. They all needed it, and he wanted to be able to sleep without visions of a graveyard in Manhattan and a redhead saying her goodbyes flashing in front of his eyes.
(Donna would have called it ''trauma'' and told him to go see a psychiatrist. Instead he spent forty-two hours searching the TARDIS for psychic pollen. Better safe than sorry; plus it kept his mind occupied.)
Many times, he entered Gallifrey's coordinates and set the TARDIS to travel to the pocket universe. He never followed through. Memories of Clara and the confession dial stopped him every time. He knew himself – herself. He could remember the cold burning rage he had felt when setting foot on his home planet, how he was ready to burn it all to the ground – Clara had died because of them, because of their little pathetic schemes and when he had entered the Matrix he had felt the whispers of the Moment, taunting him, teasing him (how easy it would have been to go back to her, steal her again and put an end to all that). He hadn't, at the time. The memories of losing Gallifrey had been too fresh, too close, the screams of the children still present in his mind. Somewhere, he was too relieved to see them all back, to see the barn and the kids and the silver leaves shimmering under the burnt orange sky.
He couldn't – wouldn't – bear to lose them again.
So he occupied himself. It wasn't very hard. This regeneration was more childlike than any of his previous ones and he spent one month reorganizing all the clouds in the atmosphere of Calzebra 3 so they could form the shape of a garden with all its animals.
The visions subsided. He tried to contact the Master, but her mind was closed and well guarded. She obviously didn't want him there. He didn't push.
If he was being completely honest – which happened very rarely, and only after weeks without sleep, when he was lying on his bed, in the dark, with no one to hear him except the TARDIS – he would admit that he missed Missy. He missed the days where he just had to go down a flight of stairs to see him, he missed entering the TARDIS to find him playing his stupid, annoying guitar. He missed the comfortable, almost domestic turn that their relationship had suddenly taken.
And he missed God.
(He missed the one kiss they had exchanged when he had first met her, as he was still a woman and devastated over a loss she couldn't even remember.)
He came back to Yaz, to Ryan and Graham, who smiled and laughed and made him laugh too. They also asked questions. That was the less fun part. He easily dodged them, but as a result the smiles were less bright, the whispers behind his back more frequent.
He still didn't go to Gallifrey.
''Been a while,'' he commented.
Somewhere, he was feeling relieved.
''You didn't come,'' she said.
He couldn't see her, but he felt her – her smell and her quick breathing.
''You didn't give me a good enough reason.''
The tip of a sword was pressed into his chest.
''Why do you always have to be so irritating?'' she growled.
''Part of my charm.''
He could almost feel her roll her eyes. The tip of the sword caressed his chest, climbed up until it reached his neck and she turned the sword, let the blade rest here, cold against his skin, forcing him to throw his head back a little so he wouldn't have his throat slit. He could feel her breath on his face, her hair tickling his neck, and he bit back a nervous laugh.
''What's all that for?'' he asked instead, voice raspy. ''Why are you doing this, the dreams, God, Gallifrey? What is your goal this time?''
''You really think I will tell you?'' she whispered, air hot on his skin, and he swallowed.
''T'was worth a try.''
The blade pressed harder, cut against his skin.
A drop of blood fell down his neck.
''Come to Gallifrey,'' she muttered, lips moving against his ear (tender like a kiss, he thought and she heard it and laughed.) ''Come see my empire.''
She bit down his ear, harshly, and he woke up.
After that, he didn't have much of a choice.
Which is why he didn't go to Gallifrey immediately. He liked being contradictory; being contradictory was fun and often got interesting reactions out of people. So he took his fam to see Nikola Tesla, they saved the Earth from a plastic virus, they even battled some ancient gods. That's when he saw Gallifrey in his dreams, burnt again, and the Master standing in the middle, telling him, ''You did this.''
The gods were imprisoned again, but his nightmares weren't.
She brought him back, to the dark and empty cathedral, where she told him to go to Gallifrey, and each time he didn't she would find new ways to kill him here. One time she even launched herself at him and they fought on the floor, hand-to-hand, as if they were ten again and loved each other so much they thought it was hatred. She pulled his hair and he bit her hand and she punched him in the gut, and they ended up bleeding and laughing on the floor. Then she got on top of him, kissed him, hard and furious, and slit his throat open.
He woke up longing for something he had lost a long time ago.
''Did you figure out what the fire is?'' she would ask, each time, and he would stay quiet because it couldn't be , it made no sense, and she would kill him again.
He fell a lot too.
(He had the feeling that there was some kind of dubious use of the christian religion in here, what with the whole forming an alliance with angels and calling herself ''God'' but kept it to himself. The deaths he suffered in this dreamscape were painful enough as they were and he didn't really want her to find new creative ways of making him suffer.)
''You know you can talk to us, right?'' Yaz had told him after one too many sleepless night. He had smiled, brushed back the hair that were falling in front of his eyes, and retreated under the TARDIS's console where he found an old pair of glasses, that probably got lost here a few lifetimes ago.
''Age catching up, Doc?'' had teased Graham over his morning newspaper and his own glasses. The Doctor had just rolled his eyes.
''I don't like them,'' said the Master that night amidst the fire. ''Makes you look fragile.''
''Makes me look clever, you mean.''
She took the glasses and broke them.
''Rude,'' he protested, already conjuring up another pair.
''Come to Gallifrey,'' she asked, almost a plea. ''You can't run forever.''
''And yet that's what I've been doing so far.''
''Why are you so afraid of coming? Is it because you know?''
''What do I know?''
She almost gave up, that night.
''You were Lord President. You have to know.''
''You know me. Never been really good at my jobs.''
The fires went out.
''Have you never heard,'' she muttered, her voice filling up the empty space, ''of the Timeless Child?''
He woke up, gasping for air, the image of an abandoned child in robes too big for her in his mind.
''What are you doing in my house?'' asked Yaz, one hand clutching her pyjamas bottoms, the other one looking for some sort of weapon to protect herself. ''How did you get in here?''
''Don't make a fuss about it, will you,'' said the Master, grinning like a Cheshire cat. ''You should be happy I'm just in your house and not, let's say, your liver. Could do a lot of nasty things if I were in your liver.''
Yaz frowned. ''How would you get into my liver?'' She shook her head. ''No, wait, nevermind, I don't care about that. Why are you here?''
''Come on, Yaz,'' grinned the Master, and Yaz's grip on the baseball bat she had acquired after the nightmare man incident tightened. ''I'm here to kidnap you of course.''
''Oh grand,'' she said, her voice tight and sarcastic. ''What do I owe the honour to?''
The Master sighed and took a few steps forward. ''Let's say our dear Doctor is being quite a pain in the arse at the moment. I thought he would be more obedient if his precious pets' lives were on the line.''
''You know, maybe he would be even more willing to do what you want if you two just, I don't know, sat somewhere and discussed all your issues calmly.'' Yaz said, summoning a confidence she didn't feel at all. Her voice almost didn't waver, which was definitely a thing to be proud of. ''Over a cup of tea for instance. I'm pretty sure it would work way better than kidnaping and threatening his friends. What do you say?''
The Master shook her head, streaks of blond hair sweeping over face, as she kept walking towards Yaz. ''You know him, Yaz. When has he ever displayed any sort of common sense? No, what he needs is a good crack of the whip to remind him who's really in charge.'' She was close now, so close that Yaz could see her how red her lips were and how her scabbard lied against her hip. Soon, she would be in the bat-hitting range. Ok. So she was about to hit the Doctor's greatest enemy slash maybe ex-lover (they had theoreticized a lot about it with Ryan and still didn't get to any satisfying conclusion) on the head with a baseball bat. She could do this.
''No you can't,'' groaned the Master, suddenly looking very fed-up, ''of course you can't. You're a human; I literally am what you would call a god. I gave life to an entire specie, the greatest specie of all. I'm immortal. You're so fragile I could break all the bones if your body with my index finger on a bad day. Now put that thing down and be a good girl and let yourself be kidnaped so I can move on to the next one.''
Yaz swallowed and slowly lowered her bat, eyes fixed on the Master. Then, without allowing herself to think, she raised it and striked it right over the Master's ribs.
He would always deny it but Ryan let out a very startled and high-pitched yelp when his apartment's door got kicked open and the Master suddenly materialized in front of him at three in the morning.
''Shouldn't you be asleep by now?'' she asked, and Ryan had the very sudden and weird urge to respond, ''And so what, you're not my mom'' but he managed to hold it in and instead asked her in an absolutely not squeaky voice what she was doing in his apartment at three in the morning.
She rolled her eyes.
''I came to kidnap you, of course. Why do you lot keep asking me that? When did you ever see the bad guy pop by the good guy's sidekick’s house to take a cup of tea?''
He shrugged, unable to move. She focused on him again and her whole face contorted around a very sweet, very frightening smile as she sauntered towards him.
''So, are you going to let yourself be captured nicely? I'd quite like for this night to be over already. I have more important things to do than kidnap humans.''
''Well,'' said Ryan, moving slowly towards the other end of the couch in a desperate attempt to get farther from the Master, ''I could absolutely do that.'' She smiled. ''But,'' he added, ''I could also call Yaz and Graham with this phone that I just happen to hold in my hand, and warn them that you're coming. And also call the Doctor at the same time so he could come and stop you.''
''It would do nothing,'' she said sweetly but he noticed how her eyebrows twisted. ''I already have the two others humans. And the Doctor is busy at the moment, he won't have the time to take your call.''
''Ok, ok but. You never know. So, how about we make a deal?''
She raised an eyebrow. ''A deal? Why would I make a deal with you?''
''Because,'' he said, speaking as quickly as he could, ''I know that you came here with a TARDIS where you must have put Yaz and Graham and so if I call the Doctor now and he answers then he will have no problem finding it and rescuing them and me. And that would be bad for your plan, whatever it is. Plus I know you're bluffing.''
She was now looming over the other end of the couch, only centimeters away from Ryan. ''What would I be bluffing about?''
''Graham. I know where he is and I know you didn't take him in it yet. So if you're bluffing about that you may be bluffing about the rest too, and that's a shot worth taking.''
She straightened up, and let out a slow whistle.
''You're the one that's good at all that casino stuff, heh.''
''Not only that,'' he half shrugged, finger hovering over the call button. ''I also like video games and comics. Helps when a villain breaks into your house.''
The Master seemed to think about it for a quarter of a second, before perching herself on the arm on the couch, her sword across her lap. ''Very well. What deal do you wish to strike?''
Ryan let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. ''Why are you kidnaping us?''
''Answer my question first, child,'' she said sweetly.
''Ok, ok, then I'll just assume you're kidnaping us to force the Doctor to do something. But I want your guarantee that you won't hurt us.''
She laughed. ''And how are you going to be sure I'll respect that once you're in my care?''
He straightened up, pointing his phone at the Master as if it was a weapon, trying to sound sure of himself. ''That's the deal. You let me keep my phone and I don't call the Doctor unless you hurt one of us.''
''And why would I do that when I could just destroy your pathetic piece of technology right now?''
''Because I have my finger on the call button and if the Doctor sees a missed call from me he'll come back for the exact second it ended. He promised.''
''You'll find, little human, that the Doctor has never been one to keep promises,'' she smiled, a hint of acid in her voice. ''But fine.'' She got back to her feet. ''Come with me now without making a fuss and I'll let you keep that ridiculous device. It's not as if I'm interested in you. I have no more time to lose with apes. But,'' she turned back to face him and Ryan found himself with a sword pressed to his neck without really knowing how it got there, ''if you break your end of the deal I'll have no remorse in breaking mine. I will even take great pleasure in it. Understood?''
He nodded vigorously and she went to the other room to retrieve a sleeping Graham.
Ryan's hands were shaking when he put his phone back in his pocket.
''If you see that,'' said the hologram of the Master on top of the stairs, ''then you've discovered that your little pets are missing.''
The Doctor could only stare at it, on his knees, helpless.
''This is what you get for ignoring me,'' smiled the Master, a hollow smile, that wasn't even directed at him. ''Now come to Gallifrey before I do something that would hurt them. Humans are so fragile after all.''
''Why?'' he whispered, pleading. ''Why are you doing all that? What's so important that you so desperately want me to go back here?''
''I want you to come to Gallifrey because I need you to see what I saw,'' she answered (she'd always known him too well but he felt like she was escaping him, that when he had been able hold her close she was now slipping between his fingers, and he hated, hated , that with his whole being.) ''I need you to witness the lie of the Time Lords, the lie upon which our whole society was built. I need you to come and see the Timeless Child.''
''But what is it?'' he asked, desperate. ''Why are you so obsessed with it?''
''But then,'' she growled, crouching above him, ''you already know don't you?''
The hologram went out.
The Doctor took off for Gallifrey.
(on the other side of the console room lied the hologram projector, shattered to pieces.)
The smoke was the first thing the Doctor saw when he opened the TARDIS' doors.
The second thing was the glass dome of the Citadel, shattered and broken open.
He stood at the doors, unable to move or think.
''What did you do, Master,'' he whispered, knuckles turning white. ''What in the world did you do.''
The third thing he saw was Graham, standing near a large rock.
''She sent me to guide you,'' he said before he could ask anything. The Doctor ran to him, taking his face between his hands, checking him for any injuries. ''I'm fine Doc,'' half-laughed Graham, battling him away, ''we're all fine. She didn't do anything to us.''
''Strange, how I have trouble believing that,'' he muttered, scanning him with the sonic to be sure. But Graham really seemed to be fine and there wasn't even the slightest trace of mind-control. Frowning, he pocketed his sonic.
''Where's she? How long have you been with her? Did she tell you anything? Where are Yaz and Ryan?''
''Somewhere in that big globe,'' answered Graham, who started to walk, the Doctor following him. ''Ryan and Yaz are with her, she said she would release them once you were there. I don't know really know how long, some hours, one day at most. What was the rest?''
''Did she tell you anything?'' repeated the Doctor. ''Do you know why she didn't hurt you? Not that I'm not happy about it, it's just, she usually has no problem hurting people. Even more when they are my friends.''
''Very reassuring, Doc,'' said Graham, chuckling a little. ''But no, she didn't do anything. Ryan mentioned some kind of deal though.''
''A deal?'' The Doctor was now trying to refrain the impulse to run, instead half-jogging and Graham was panting a bit behind him. ''With the Master? Oh, Ryan, Ryan, clever, wonderful Ryan, how did you do that?''
''I didn't catch it all,'' said Graham, ''but it had something to do with calling you. And Yaz mentioned something about a baseball bat and God being the founder of a society? She said she was a literal god. I don't know if that helps, and maybe you already knew, but that's all I know.''
''A god? Has she finally lost her mind?'' he exclaimed, walking even faster. They were on the bridges now and everywhere around him was nothing but rubbles and fires. ''That doesn't make sense, why would she think that?'' Unless, whispered something in the back of his mind, and it stirred a very unpleasant sensation inside him, as he saw a child – that child, in her big robes – surrounded by a purple light. He blinked and it was gone.
''Doc?'' asked Graham, hurrying up to be at his side. ''Are you ok?''
''Yeah, yeah, I'm fine,'' he waved his hand. ''Perfectly fine. In which room is she?''
''She called it the Council room? I think. Big table in the middle. Everything is very round.''
''Yeah, Time Lords do love round things,'' he muttered. ''I love them too. But the Master doesn't.''
''Well it's pretty nice. Your,'' Graham hesitated, looking around him. ''Your planet seems like a nice one. Love the sky.''
''Oh it was,'' whispered the Doctor, shaking his head to prevent a wave of nostalgia from submerging him. ''You should have seen this place before. It's where I went to school. We used to hide from our teachers, in those streets, me and her. Some troublemakers we were.''
Graham laughed lightly. ''Of course you were. Wouldn't have expected anything else from you Doc.''
The Doctor smiled, tight and short.
''Did she... Is she the one who did that?''
They were inside the Citadel now, and the Doctor couldn't feel anything. He had no idea what was the state of it all; who died and who didn't; how the rest of the planet was. The Master called it ''her empire''; but what kind of empire would be made of ruins and ashes?
Her kind of empire , he thought bitterly.
''I don't know,'' he answered eventually. ''She didn't tell me anything. She only wanted me here and here I am. But yeah. I wouldn't put it past her to destroy our own planet.''
Graham stayed silent after that, but he briefly put his hand on the Doctor's shoulder.
That was nice.
''You can let them go now,'' called the Doctor from the entrance. ''I'm here.''
Yaz and Ryan immediately turned to him, smiling, and he tried to smile back. The Master didn't move. She was watching Gallifrey through the window, back to him.
''Graham, you know where my TARDIS is,'' said the Doctor in a hurried whisper. ''You take Yaz and Ryan with you and you pull the lever, you know the one. It'll make the TARDIS invisible so she won't be able to find you. I'll be back as soon as I can.''
''Promise?'' asked Yaz, looking him directly in the eyes.
They left, Ryan slightly dragging Yaz behind him – and of course Yaz would be the one to doubt him. She would hate him once she understood he had sent them back to Sheffield; but it was the best thing to do (again, and again, using the same desperate tricks to save his friends. He was so tired .)
''Always saving your pets first,'' said the Master, still back to him. ''You never change.''
''Well, I'm finally here,'' he took a few steps in the room. ''Exactly where you wanted me to be. What's next?''
''I've seen it all,'' she said. ''In the Matrix. And I've seen everything they've done to you. The Confession Dial. You went through billions of year of torture to save one friend.''
''And I would do it again if I had to.'' He went to stand at her shoulder, looking at the view, the charred ground, the smokes who were dancing lazily above the ruins. ''Did you do that?'' he asked, his voice barely a whisper.
She stayed quiet for a long time. Then,
He took a few steps back, his legs hitting the edge of the table. ''Why,'' he whispered, pleading. ''Why would you do that, why would you kill them again?''
''I bombed this city,'' she said, her voice even. ''I dragged Rassilon in this room and I killed him, again and again, until he was nothing more than a bloody lump of flesh on the floor. I killed every single member of the Council and they elected me President. I killed them again after that.''
''They did what?''
''Oh yes, surprise,'' she turned to him, smiling. ''You've been impeached. The President is dead, long live the President.''
''President of what?'' he spat, anger rising within him. ''Of bones and dust? Of smoke and fires?''
The Master smiled, balancing her head, and spoke as if he had just said something extremely stupid. ''Oh, no, no, come on Doctor, you know I wouldn't do that. No, I just destroyed this city; the rest of Gallifrey is safe. Very safe. Super safe. Extra safe! I'm taking care of them all. Almost as if they were my own children, you could say.''
There was something here, a hint that she dropped – and he felt like she had been dropping hints for ages now – but he couldn't figure it out. Not yet.
''Come on, say something Doctor! Aren't you overjoyed? Amazed by my mercy? Full of admiration for your new Lord President? You know, I think you should bow in front of your President. Correct etiquette and all that. Well, what are you waiting for? Bow!''
She screamed the order. His legs were shaking. She didn't really have any means of pressure over him but there was something in the way she stood, in her clenched fists, in her voice, that made him fear for his life more than ever before.
''Good,'' she said, voice breathy, ''very good. Love seeing you like that. Acknowledging who your real master is.''
He didn't say anything, but raised his eyes just enough to look at her. Rebellious.
She smiled. There was sweat rolling down her forehead and her jaw was clenched tight.
''Come on,'' she taunted, ''ask me again why I did that.''
''Why did you do that?'' he repeated, straightening up.
The Master laughed, baring her teeth.
''Not telling you.''
He just stared at her.
''Oh, go on, crack a smile,'' she smirked. ''This regeneration is so boring. Don't see how you didn't already kill yourself out of boredom.''
He kept staring.
''Ouh, so intimidating!'' she jeered. ''Very good, the thing with eyebrows. Good eyebrows. Almost as good as my last ones. Did you get them for him? You've always been so nostalgic Doctor.''
''Are you never tired,'' he gritted, ''of all that? Of all the games? All the betrayals?''
''Why would I be?'', and she seemed genuinely surprised, ''I mean, how else would you see me as your Master?''
''You're mad, you're completely mad, you've gone even madder than before,'' he breathed.
It only made her laugh.
''Me? Mad? Oh, love, tell me something I don’t know will you? But no, Doctor, not this time. I'm saner than ever. I can finally see clear, understand why I've felt so different all this time, so powerful. I have found the reason behind my name and I'm finally standing at my true place. And you're going to understand it too, soon.''
''Then show me.'' The Doctor stepped closer, their noses practically touching. ''Show me so it can all be over.''
She glared at him, letting the seconds stretch, before looking away. ''Fine,'' she snapped. ''I will.''
She brushed past him and he followed her as she lead him down flights and flights of stairs and towards the heart of the Citadel. There was no sign of life. He wondered whether or not she had finally managed to kill Rassilon for good, and couldn't find in himself any pity for the man. One less evil in the galaxy wouldn't hurt.
She stopped in the Matrix chamber.
''Remember when we used to hack into it as children?'' she said, brushing her fingers against the wall. ''How many times we've been punished for it?''
He hopped down the stairs, looking around him. ''I thought I was the nostalgic one.''
''Oh shut up. Those were good times. Before you became all holier-than-thou and collar-tight. Before you started to think you were better than everyone, and especially me.''
''I never thought that.''
''Oh but that's the thing, you totally did,'' she snarled, grabbing him by the collar and pushing him. He lost his balance and fell on the pedestal that was in the middle of the room, the Master on the steps towering above him. ''But here's the truth, Doctor. You've never been the special one. I am .''
''What do you mean-'' he tried to ask, but she brandished something at him and glowing rings appeared around him. He started to panic when he realized he couldn't move anymore.
''Paralysis field. No need to try, you can't break it. You asked me to show you everything; well there you go.'' She leant above him, grinning. ''Are you ready for the truth Doctor?''
And the world shifted.
The Doctor slowly came back to him. He was still collapsed on the floor, his whole body cold. The Master was sat on the steps, back to him.
The paralysis field disappeared.
''Master,'' he said, and coughed. His voice was raspy, his throat sore. It felt as if he hadn't used it in years.
It might have been the case.
''Master,'' he called again.
''Do you get it now?'' she asked, her voice so light it sounded like a song. ''The fire?''
He dragged himself across the floor to sit behind her. ''Regeneration energy,'' he gasped. ''All this time... all this time you had all of this inside you.''
''The power to give life,'' she confirmed, looking at her hands. ''Eternal life. Almost eternal life? Don't really know the specifics.''
''How many lives did you live?'' he asked in a whisper. ''How many deaths did you endure?''
''I don't know. Yet. I've been trying to track them – to track me – down but... they erased all traces. It's actually pretty difficult.''
''I could help you.''
''Yeah?'' she turned to him, eyebrows raised. ''You would do that? For me?''
She stared at him, at his face, scrutinizing his every expression. ''You really didn't know, did you?'' she eventually breathed.
''Of course I didn't!'' He wanted to punch something. He wanted to scream. ''Do you really think I would have stood here and never told you? Do you really think I could've learnt that and not do anything?'' Tears of rage were welling up in his eyes and she brushed her thumb across his cheek.
''Look at you,'' she whispered. ''Crying over me. But I don't need your pity.''
''This isn't pity,'' he spat. He gripped her wrist, looking her dead in the eyes. ''This... this is... they used you. They tortured you. Again and again. We're all born from your suffering. I am born from your suffering. How do you think I feel? I don't pity you. I hate them. I want to make them pay.''
''I made you,'' she said, amazed. ''I made you and there's a little piece of me inside of you, there always has been. How does that feel?''
He couldn't help but smile. ''Same as ever.''
She looked at him like she couldn't believe her ears. ''How?''
He slowly raised her hand to his mouth, never breaking eye contact, and kissed her knuckles softly. ''I've always built myself around you, Master,'' he smiled. ''It doesn't change anything.''
She laughed at that, throwing back her head, and he laughed too.
''I thought,'' she said, ''I thought all this time you knew and you didn't care. I thought maybe you were with them, helping them.''
His grip on her tightened. ''Never. I could never,'' he swore. ''I would... I would have killed Rassilon myself if I had had the chance.''
She smiled softly and freed her wrist. ''I killed my parents too,'' she said. ''The ones I had in this life at least. I went back to my father's estate and I burnt it all.'’
''Why?'' he asked, longing for a touch. ''Were they involved in all this?''
She shrugged. ''I don't know. I don't have proof if that's what you mean. But they most probably were.''
He didn't say anything.
''What do you think of that?'' she whispered, leaning towards him. Their noses were barely brushing, he could feel her breath on his lips, and his skin itched where they'd touched before – he needed her, he realized, and he needed to show her how much he cared, how much he wanted to avenge the child she'd been. ''I've killed my whole family, even the little kids, who were so young they couldn't have been a part of this, and I won't ever feel sad about it. What do you make of that, Doctor?''
His breath hitched. He could remember the screams of the children when he had used the Moment, and the terrible nights he had spent counting the dead. But the Master was one of these children; killed for something she couldn't comprehend, for something she had no power over.
Killed by someone she trusted completely.
''Tecteun,'' he rasped. ''Is she... did you...?''
''Didn't find her. Don't know what happened to her.'' She shuffled closer, intertwining their fingers on top of the stairs. ''But tell me Doctor, tell me how you feel about all the children I murdered in the Citadel. Does it pain you? All those kids you saved, killed by me, and you can never ever fix it, does it hurt?''
''Tecteun,'' he breathed. ''Tecteun. I need to find her.''
''Answer me Doctor!'' the Master shouted, taking his chin in her hand and forcing him to look at her. His eyes didn't focus, running over her face, pupils dilated. ''Do you think I'm a monster? Because I have every right on these children. I have every right on you . I created them, I created you, and every life on this planet is mine. What does that make me? Say it!''
His tongue darted out, wetting his lips, and he was breathing in quick, uneven gasps. Finally, his gaze focused on her.
''I need to find Tecteun,'' he said again. ''I need to.''
She let her hand fall on the ground, speechless, and watched, still half kneeling on the stairs, as he got up and dusted himself off, his pants, his coat, and pushed his hair back from where they were falling on his forehead.
At last he looked at her.
''Come with me,'' he said.
His hand was held out between them
(She took it.)