The Doctor woke up suddenly; scrambling to sit up in a slow groggy panic. There was nothing, no threat. After a moment he calmed, or at least tried to while his hearts still raised, there was no visible danger but something was still wrong.
He put his hand on the empty space beside him on the bed where the covers were bunched and wrinkled. Still warm. Sighing, the Doctor stepped into his slippers and pulled his dressing gown tight around himself.
Padding through the corridors with the TARDIS in night mode always made him feel like a child up to no good; out to raid the kitchens for sweets or some such thing. Growing up on Gallifrey there had never been much in the way of sweets or even kitchens for him to sneak to in the night. But all the same the dim light and half octave low hum of the engines made him feel small and cautious.
It didn’t take long to find him; the Doctor didn’t know where it was his wandering was leading him but letting his mind drift and his feet go where they would always seamed to bring him to where he needed to be. Especially when someone needed him there.
The door to the gardens was tellingly ajar. Stepping inside, the grass tickled the exposed sides of the Doctor’s feet and a cool night breeze pushed his hair around. There was no physical sign that he was not alone but he knew he was in the right place.
Measured strides brought him to the base of a hill, he knew there to be a lake beyond and rose gardens some where to the north, at least that’s where they were last time he’s been here. Last time he’d been here the gardens had been bathed in sunlight, infused with colour too bright and perfect to be real. Now everything was cast in silvery blue and while no less fake it seamed to the Doctor more solid.
He saw a form in the distance; the silhouette of a person wrapped in a blanket, sitting on one of the more ornate benches, staring up at the artificial sky. The Doctor breathed out, expelling the spectres of half formed fears, and made his way to the stargazer’s side at an unhurried pace.
No response, so the Doctor simply sat down beside him; close enough to make it easy for him
to bridge the gap should he need to. The Master’s eyes were red and his face was drawn; the Doctor couldn’t remember the last time seeing him look so tired.
He counted his hearts’ beat and waited, watching the Master from the corner of his eye, his brow pulled down in worry. But for all the Doctor’s faults, the one thing he was this time around was slightly more patent and he bore the silence stoically enough.
The Master was so still that in the moments between breaths, the Doctor’s mind would take a turn to the absurd and imagine for a moment he had turned to stone. Before he could speak, his friend would breath again and the Doctor would feel pointedly silly, only to do it again in the next moment.
When the Master did finally move, the Doctor started slightly but then simply watched as the Master held his own hand out in front of himself; making a fist and releasing it, splaying his fingers out against the sky.
“It was unimaginable,” the Master started suddenly as though he had resumed from a brief pause in an on going conversation. “The pain, the torture of existence in that broken form.”
The Doctor was silent, watching, waiting, uncertain what was wanted of him, if anything at all. They’d never spoken about that time before. Not directly. The Doctor knew, vaguely, scientifically, what happened to a Time Lord body pushed past it’s naturally limits. The whys and the hows and the broad ethics of it all had been discussed. But never like this.
Never with the Master shaking beside him as fear threaded to over take him, tearing down all his bravado and ego. Leaving him something so delicate the Doctor could barely make his mind connect it to the man he knew.
“I could feel it slipping away. The skin--” the Master choked but cared on in an even tone. “The skin pealing from my body. Every raw nerve alive with the most blinding sort of agony.”
“And you were there, you were there laughing. Laughing, surrounded by your children. And they cheered, cheered for the fall of--”
“Master stop.” The Doctor commanded as he took the Master’s hands and forced him to face him. Bright blue eyes, wide and frantic, stared up at the Doctor. He held the gaze, refusing to back down and breath by breath the Master calmed.
“Sometimes it feels as though it’s all going to slip away.” As the Doctor looked down at him, he knew the Master wasn’t talking about his current body any more. He squeezed he Master’s hands tighter.
“It’s a funny old universe. The things that happen, the most terrible horrible things, things that really shouldn’t. And the most wonderful too, good things that occur against all odds. And some things that are both all rolled up in one. It so full of surprises that even the people whose business it is to keep on top of these things get thrown for a loop. Maybe even more than the people just hanging on for the ride.”
“But Master, there are constant things too, that will never ever change and I promise you that this is one of them.”
“You can’t know that.”
“No, but I believe it.”
“You’re a fool.” The Master smiled and let himself fall against the Doctor’s chest. The Doctor wrapped his arms around him.
“Half right, I’m your fool and now that you have me there is no getting rid of me. I’m ridiculously stubborn, you know, and my mind is all made up, I’m afraid you are stuck with me Master. Stuck for a good long--”
“Silence, Doctor.” The Master laughed softly and mumbled into the Doctor’s chest. The Doctor smiled.
“Yes, yes, me too. Of corse.”