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This Last Of Meeting Places

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The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

They meet for the final time on a beach. Not by the sea, but by a river, and the shore is desolate, broken, everything still and silent about them.

‘You’re leaving, aren’t you?’ he asks, and the Master nods. The end is coming; they can both feel it. The Cruciform has fallen, and with it the last hope of the Time Lords. The Master’s fear flows from him, through him, tangling with the Doctor’s despair, making everything sharp and dark and desperate. The Master doesn’t want to stay - can’t, won’t - and they both know the Doctor will never leave, will remain until his last breath, until everything has fallen and the world is ended. Their futures are written. They can feel it already. They are in the twilight place, where the end is, and will be, but has not yet closed around them. Not quite. Gallifrey will fall. The Doctor knows this, just as he knows the Master will not be there to see it, will never face his death or the end. Just as he knows that he is the one who controls the manner of its ending.

And so they stand, on a broken shore on a broken world, with the sky blazing red about them, like when they were young, before time and enmity fell between them, when everything was simple, the brightness of youth glowing around them and everything they saw was good. This shore is not the soft, sweeping red meadows of that time. The landscape is jagged, raw and grey, stones jutting, ancient temples of a time long-dead fallen and crumbling around them.

At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone

Here they stand, on a broken, dying world, while the Time Lords fall and scream in the face of the nightmare that has risen and comes to devour them, inching ever closer, day by day, minute by endless minute, Time twisting and sliding away, folding back in on itself to enclose them. Broken, as they are, as Gallifrey is, as the Universe is becoming. That is why he has to do this. That is why the Master runs.

There are no words. Everything that they might say has been said, so many times over, and the things they should say but can’t - never will, never have - hang heavy between them. They cling together, no hope, only desperation, and every emotion, every moment that has ever been between them, those that had the potential to be but never came to pass, wells up as they make love in the sand and the stars fall from the sky. It might be romantic, but they have never been that way, and the stars fall because the Daleks have destroyed them.

Pleasure and pain and despair and hope that has long since dimmed and failed. Love and hate. Friendship, memory, darkness. They clutch and grope, clinging tight together as heat rises, fighting against the end and each other and themselves, until pleasure peaks and they slump breathless against each other, sharp rocks at their back.

The Doctor laughs, and it is a fractured sound. They sit, bound together by the knowledge of what is to come and what has always been. They do not rail, but they do not quite accept it, either. The war has taken so much of them, hollowed them out and scraped them raw, draining them as they pour out their life and energy into hopeless battles, until all that is left is screaming, raging defiance and a race that has become bitter and twisted, mirrors of their own enemy.

The Master can feel it. The end draws near. And as it does, it echoes back, across their timeline, invading their every action, cutting between them through the ages until now, when it has drawn them together one final time.

‘Do you think ...?’ the Doctor asks, but does not finish. The Master understands the question anyway.

‘No. This was the only way it could happen.’

This is the way the world ends

The Doctor nods against him, twists upwards and presses a tight kiss to his mouth. This is familiar, though not easy or comfortable, never that. Nothing has ever been easy between them. But amidst the War it has been the one good thing left between them, the one thing that allows them to forget, if only for a little while. And he wants it, one last time.

In the morning, or the evening, or perhaps the middle of the night - time has fallen away from them, cracked and fracturing, splintering apart from this point, this unstoppable moment in which their roles were laid out for them both before their births and after their deaths. The War has broken - is breaking - will break - Time, the cracks spinning out, spreading, shards falling away. And yet it stretches on, inescapable. It was their last meeting, but they do not speak, just look and go, with past and present and death (not just their deaths, but the deaths of millions, billions of others) burning endlessly between them.

Gallifrey, the last place on which they stood, falls. The Doctor ends it, becomes for one moment a god, and is the saviour of the universe and the destroyer of his race and his home. The Master flees, across time and space, and is lost. The Doctor wishes he had fallen too.

Life is very long

Everything is much too quiet, and a shadow has fallen across the universe. He wishes he had fallen too.

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river