Why had Lucy picked up the ring? It was a question that had swallowed her. It digested her when she woke up in the morning and went to sleep at night. Because the first and last thing she saw was him. Harold. Her husband. Her Master.
She'd told Rani. Not that she thought Rani could fix her, as she'd seen Harold even before she picked up the ring—maybe not as verbose, but even so. It had just seemed to come up in conversation as Rani seduced her, that her husband was dead and he was singing to her.
"Let's put on a show then," Rani said, and Harold became the second-to-last thing she saw before she went to sleep.
Rani was the Rani, of course. Harold had known. He'd had a good laugh at how far the Time Lord had fallen, reduced to test tubes and government science. When Lucy became Rani's lab assistant, Rani told her how amusing it was that Harold had become a politician. A British politician at that. He hadn't even managed to take over America, and honestly, they let anyone be President over there.
Why? It wasn't a regret, like "Why didn't I play my numbers the night the lotto picked them?" She literally didn't know why she'd done it. She didn't wish Harold was dead… or deader than he was just then, at least. And she didn't like him now, anymore than she did when they were married. Spending a year aboard a flying battleship with someone revealed many a relationship defect.
She didn't like him anymore, not the way she liked Rani. Rani, who could now do all the mad science she wanted on the taxpayer's dime. That was the kind of long-term thinking she wanted from a partner, going into her forties. And honestly, Rani would make a much better father, despite lacking the physical apparatus and possessing a willingness to imbue children with dinosaur DNA.
Why? All she knows is she doesn’t take it off and she doesn’t stop listening.
Lucy's job around the lab was pretty much handing Rani test tubes and rubbing her feet while she waited on an experiment. Lucy was good at that.
Time Lords had some sort of erogenous zone in their ankles—but after Lucy fouled up her coffee order, Rani decided it was time they started sharing thoughts. Lucy was nervous. Harold had never done that with her.
"You want inside my head?" he'd asked, and tapped his fingers on her desk until she'd gone. He'd been like that for most of the last few months.
Of course, she was also worried about Harold. She didn't see him much since she'd taken up with Rani. Just dancing out the corner of her eye when the radio played. But if Rani were in there too? It sounded dreadfully crowded.
"He'll make room," Rani promised, and kissed her and pinned her to the bed and entered her. "Oh. There you are. Master. Funny. Funnier than you, even. The Master turns Theta Sigma into bloody Gollum, then he shrinks you down to this. Must run in the family."
"I set the Toclafane on you," Harold said, one of his snits. Without the power to back it up, it wasn't scary. Just—immature. "I fried you on your own Bunsen burners."
"Let's not get into alternate timelines, little one. We'll be here all day. Remember that Eight you moved in with for a short while?"
He sighed in exasperation.
"Probably not, come to think. Time Lords, my lovely Lucy, can't fit into humans. Not without a metacrisis. The Prime Minister here had to gnaw off his limbs to get in. But anything's better than the final regeneration, eh Master? Can you even remember who I am?"
"I remember all the important details."
"I'll take that as a no."
Harold had taken to wearing a gas mask around Rani. Lucy didn't get it.
Theta Sigma and Ushas were students and even on Gallifrey, students were given leeway. They were expected to theorize and experiment; all the better for their elders to correct them. And like many life forms still in their first century, the two tested their species' outmoded, natural mode of reproduction. Since the invention of the looms, it was only useful for physical pleasure.
It'd be safe to say Theta was addicted to it. To him, it was freedom and curiosity and unpredictability. Ushas, on the other hand, lost interest quickly. With that outlet gone, Theta took up dancing, though Ushas could still feel his eyes pressing in where his fingers couldn't.
Theta was a little bit in love with her, Ushas thought, but then, he was in love with everything that wasn't Time Lord.
Ushas didn't feel the same, but when he suggested making a child in the old way—how could she resist? The first live birth in a dozen histories. And Theta had always had genetic desirability. His creative mind would work best coupled with her scrupulous mindset. They had sex, dancing first on Theta's insistence, then allowing conception to occur.
She found the ensuing process valuable in terms of understanding what lower life forms went through, but all in all negative. The fetus interfered with the natural distribution of her hormones, damaging her rationality, and after four months she decided she had learned all she could and remanded the fetus to an incubation chamber to finish gestating.
Theta didn't understand. "Surely it wasn't that bad," he argued, to which Ushas suggested he regenerate into a woman and try it.
Theta was inordinately pleased with the result of their experiment. An infant as big as a well-sized fruit, after months of work. It didn't have the racial memory of a loom-product; it couldn't even regenerate into a more capable form. One hour of forcing sustenance down its throat and having the subsequent offal forced upon them and Ushas could write a paper on the looms' adoption. Even Theta shared her frustration, thankfully. "But what's the point of it?" he insisted, laboriously trussing up the thing's untrustworthy orifices in a diaper. "All it does is eat and cry. Later, it's supposed to crawl, yeah, but isn't that even more inconvenient?"
"Propagation of the species," Ushas yawned, "idiot. We didn't always live forever."
"I know that. But I thought there'd be more to it. The histories say there's more to it."
The life form started crying again. Dreadful noise, and nonsensical. It was fed and cleaned. What more did the greedy beast demand? "Would you like to sedate it?" Ushas asked. "It's oddly satisfying."
"No thanks, I have a test on fifth-dimensional cleanliness to study for."
Without the looms' memory base, the child was hopelessly behind in his knowledge. Theta had thought of that before they started, of course. A little mind-share and the boy would be on the same level as other kids his age.
Ushas scoffed at that, of course. "All that work, just so you can hold up a mirror to yourself. Does your preening know no bounds?"
"Aww, he's his own man, our Harold."
"And must you call him by an Earth name? I'm retroactively embarrassed to have a Harold in my womb."
"It's better than Koschei. What's that even mean? It sounds like a name for a fish."
"It's an old word for the outermost limit of an electron orbit. Seemed fitting somehow."
Theta stared at the photons of the nth-cube, trying to pick the best future in which light's decay coincided with un-mass being released. Forty years and he still hadn't mastered it. With a whine, he passed it over to Harold. "You try," he said, settling behind the adolescent, massaging the boy's shoulders as he shared his own memories of childhood rediscovery, racial memory unlocking from his developing mind. He wondered how much of it was boredom at his instructors' pedantic repeating.
Harold twisted the nth-cube, taking the pocket universe to the end of time and back again. Covalent bonds formed and failed. Stars lit and extinguished. If it weren't for the nth-cube's parameters, life would've evolved to extinction a thousand times. "What's that?" he asked suddenly.
"What's what?" Theta backtracked through his own memories; Harold's now. "Oh, that." He'd gone too far, shown Harold his own birth. Had it been so long ago? "That's you, silly!"
"Me? That little… overripe fruit?"
"Mmhmmm." Theta patted his head. "Our grand experiment."
Harold frowned at the nth-cube. "Was it a success… me?"
Theta plucked the cube away. Harold had created a dwarf star, the little devil "I suppose so. We really just wanted to see if it could be done."
"But what was the point of the experiment? What's my purpose?"
Theta cried out in glee as he developed the dwarf star into a super-nebula. "I don't think anyone quite has a purpose. Oh, the teachers do go on about our place in the cosmos, but their little loomlings only exist to be more Time Lords. Time Lord after Time Lord, on and on, up and down eternity, all exactly the same. Sometimes I think they should just shut down the looms and revoke the regeneration limit. Live forever. It'd be more honest." He tossed the nth-cube up in the air, back down into Harold's hands. "There. Super-nebula. Tricky thing, that. Don't you worry, though. The Time Lords will always be Time Lords, but you will always be special. There've been billions of them, but there'll only ever be one of you."
The chimes rang. Theta sprang up, jostling Harold. "That'll be my wormhole. Good talk."
As he left, Harold's fingers flexed on the nth-cube. Theta would later find it black as coal, no stars, no space. He'd never been able to manage that.
Ushas came out of her lab a few times a year, always doting on Harold when she did. She chattered over how he'd grown and tested his various functions. When Theta sat in, she gossiped about her experiments. When he didn't, she told Harold.
Theta actually found out she had proven her latest hypothesis by finding her in Harold's bedchambers, drawing blood for her tests. "Ah, good day, Theta Sigma. I was just telling Koschei about my research into the disappearance of the Cavonians. It was as I suspected, wiped out by a virus. Clever little thing too. It has an incubation period of ten years before showing symptoms. By the time someone died, the entire planet was infected."
Theta remembered. The teachers had brought him ten bodies and told him to look for signs of Dalek technology in the deaths. The bodies were men and women, children and old people, and they'd been dumped in a pile on the floor. "That's horrid. You shouldn't be filling his head with such things."
"It's not…" Theta looked for a word other than 'proper'.
"Why horrid?" Harold continued. "They're not Time Lords. They're not special."
Whenever Theta left Gallifrey, he was in causality. Time rushed in on him like he was underwater and he could see all the wrinkles in the fabric that could be straightened out if they would just let him. A push there, a nudge there, and the universe wouldn't be so dark and dead. It would flourish.
Just then, Theta looked at Harold and saw a wrinkle. Not one he could iron away, but something living and breathing. A fixed point.
But of course he could straighten Harold out, what a silly thought, the boy'd just spent too much time with Ushas. It just meant Theta would have to work on him that much harder. Show him the real world, not the… holiday spot the Time Lords had gone to to get away from the universe.
The Earth's timeline was young then. Barely woven. A suggestion of life was evolving, arising from probability and variance, becoming bipedal, humanoid, sapient. Eating a food that would become popular in the thirty-fourth century or never be imagined, Theta and Harold watched the reptilians and mammals clash. Theta wished there was something to the time period more solid. Violence was the only inevitability, it seemed.
"They live in caves and yet they have arrows to kill each other," Harold said. He ate hungrily. "Busybodies, aren't they? All of them want to take a life."
"So uncivilized," Theta rued, and picked at his food. Where was Atlantis? They were supposed to be looking at Atlantis.
"Where do you think they'll stop?"
"Killing each other."
"When they're… mature, I suppose."
"What if they don't? What if they keep building bigger and bigger weapons, and going against others and more others, and then… what if there's nothing left? But them? All the universe would just be them."
"Don't you suppose they'd get lonely?" Theta clapped Harold's shoulder and pointed. "Look there! They're fishing! They've got boats!"
"They're killing fish now," Harold said.
The thing Ushas appreciated most about Koschei was how self-sufficient he'd become. It was gratifying to see him evolve. When he'd first arrived, he'd been so needy, an experiment that simply demanded all her time. No matter how often she'd bathed and fed him, he kept wanting more from her. She'd been convinced there was something wrong with him.
She'd never had that need for affection. He must've gotten it from Theta. Her parental figures had respected her intellect enough to leave her to her studies. The worst they'd ever done was spend too much time on ceremonial celebrations of her skill, when all she wanted was to continue knowing things. That was the difference between her and the other end of the microscope, after all. She knew things. Microbes did not. Humans did not. Even Theta did not, behind what blinding obviousness made its way through his prattle. It was no wonder he was barely passing his courses.
Ushas had managed to cure Koschei of his attention-starved antics, as she always wished to do for Theta. All it took was a steadfast refusal to give into his demands and a little pain maintenance when he became absolutely unruly. It was amazing how much of a Time Lord he was.
And now he asked to look into the Untempered Schism. Just like a real boy. She felt a surge of pride and wondered if she could get back to the lab fast enough to examine her neurochemical levels.
"He's not ready!" Theta said, and since when was he such a killjoy? He had doubts about Koschei. Now that the boy had finally stopped being such a pest, Theta was critiquing him. No empirical evidence, no basis in fact, just feelings and mist. She couldn't believe she'd danced with him.
"None of us were ready. That's the whole point."
"You know," Theta said, doing his serious thing now, his voice so low. Why couldn't he ever be this way about his studies? "You know what the vortex can do to an unbalanced mind."
"And why would he be unbalanced? We raised him, after all."
"We experimented. Only experiments are supposed to end. You do them over and over until you've proven a theory. You don't just do something because you can."
"Then what do you propose we do? You, of the sudden responsibility."
"We fix him." Theta was terse, he never got terse, and Ushas actually found a little interesting. Theta could be distracting, but he'd never been interesting before.
"Then he's broken?" she prodded.
"Something in him is."
Theta just stared at her blankly. She smiled at him.
"Something he needs," Theta insisted.
"You're becoming tiresome, Theta. If you're bored of him, you just have to say so."
Theta could be so predictable sometimes. Whenever they fought, he ended up getting sad and stalking off to pout. He couldn't stay mad.
Ushas watched him go. She wondered why she kept wasting time with an inferior model when she had a form of him leavened by her own supremacy.
"Koschei. I have something to share with you."
Harold blinked away his sleep. The same dream as before, the primitives from Earth closing in on him and nowhere to run. They had spears for each of his regeneration.
Ushas was in the hallway, the light of the walls brightening to follow her. When she came into his room, his eyes hurt. "Were you sleeping?"
"Yes," he said, adding a nod.
"How many hours? Is this your usual schedule?"
"It was just a nap. I couldn't sleep last night. I had a nightmare."
Ushas lost interest. "That's to be expected. I have a question for you, Koschei. Is it true that you've shared memories with Theta."
"Yes. It helps me learn."
"And you aren't worried? Concerned that there are things he doesn't share with you?"
"What would he keep from me?"
Ushas sat on the bed. Usually, Harold would flinch away from her. Pain maintenance. He didn't now, fixated as he was. "It's important to get more than one point of view. It helps maintain scientific objectivity. Why do you think I've shown you all my experiments? And why do you think Theta doesn't take you on all his field work?"
"It isn't safe. He says so."
"And would you like an objective view of that?" Ushas reached for him, the fingers for mental connection extended. Harold's eyes moved fearfully to them, but he still didn't flinch away. He wanted to know what she meant.
The share hit a snag. It bounded and ricocheted, echoing back and forth until it had sunk into Harold's mind through all the resistance. Ushas had never seen that—a single word dominating a transition so.
His tear ducts were activating absent irritation. Ushas made a mental note.
Theta looked at Harold and Harold didn't look at Theta and Harold looked at the vortex and the vortex looked at him and he kept looking at it, kept hearing it, as Theta led him away by the hand.
"What'd you see?" Theta asked, so concerned.
"More of the same."
The experiment wasn't over yet. Harold had taken the vortex better than Theta had anticipated. There was no failure, no need to involve the higher-ups. Theta just had to stay the course. Harold was just like him, after all. No matter how bad he might look on the surface, deep down he had a heart of gold.
Theta had given Harold the Zela to be a curative disguised as a lesson. On the surface, it was all very Time Lord. The small animal was as weak and dependant to a child as a human would be to a Gallifreyan adult. Caring for it would teach Harold responsibility, give him a touchstone for the Time Lords' proper place in the universe.
But c'mon, Theta had smiled to himself. It was a pet. It was small and fluffy and it gave Harold a kind of love Theta hoped he needed. Simple and instinctual.
On Earth, fathers gave their children pets and children hugged their parents. How superior could Gallifrey be if they'd forgotten that?
The Zela was a steadfast companion, following Harold's every step, rubbing against his legs and licking his toes. Now it stared up at Theta, eyes of glass, fur matted by blood.
"It was an accident," Harold said. His eyes were red, but Theta hadn't seen any tears. "I was trying to—"
"it doesn’t matter what you were trying. Something is dead that could've been alive. That's all that matters."
Harold looked at the Zela like he was committing broken skin, broken bones, to memory. "It probably didn't like being a pet anyway."
Ushas always found Koschei's progress so easy to check on. No matter what, he kept growing, so that gave her a tidy visual reminder of what phase they were in. Seeing him now, she thought she'd missed one. He was tall and hairy and smelled off. Ah. Puberty. Soon she'd find if he'd inherited his father's penchant for females in their nubile years.
"My studies are progressing well," he said as soon as she opened her mouth. He'd been waiting. "I'm in good health." Theta hasn't said any sentimental foolishness to me lately. That's all you were going to ask. Correct?"
"Many forms of life find routine comforting," she countered with a hot blush. Theta had called her predictable as well.
"And many of them die. Should I do that as well?" He scanned her lab like a predator scenting prey. Koschei ended up tipping on the glass wall of her miniaturized life experiment. "That is adorable."
"It's resource-conscious. Imagine a world where only the laborers are small, while the elite rule in tiny luxury."
"You can't keep the underclass under foot if they can step on you."
She restrained her prodding arm. "What do you want, Koschei?"
He looked at her hand. "Your touch is warmer than I would've thought." He kept looking, fascinated by the contrast in epidermis. "I want to ask you a question: Why?"
"Why you're here? Doesn't Theta have a speech for the occasion?" She felt his muscles tense under her hand.
"I want the facts."
She smiled. Stroked his arm with her thumb. "That's my boy." With a tsk, she released him. "Speaking for myself, I wanted to see how nature would divide attributes between Theta and I. Would natural selection ferret out his undesirable traits or would it simply be a shot in the dark, justly abandoned?"
She paused, just to see if he'd sweat. He punched the glass instead. Cracks.
"You have his instincts. There's so much of him in you, you could be brothers. But you're smart enough to want to be like me."
"Calm. Cool. Collected," Koschei said, like a child going down a wish list. "Unfeeling."
A red light saturated the lab. It dripped right off Koschei, he didn't even seem to notice.
"That'll be my black hole," Ushas said, stepping lively to the control console. "Ever wonder if life can survive on the disk of a black hole? I think it can, if evolved against the gravitational pull. I've been breeding bacterium closer and closer to the event horizon—"
She shut the alert off. With the red light off him, Koschei moved, turning his head so sharply that an invisible force might've snapped his neck. "What about him? Why'd he—the facts."
Ushas stared into her macroscope. Light years away and a thousand years hence, she could see the bacterium had developed a sort of immunity to gravity. Interesting. "Truthfully, Theta was a bit in love with me and he figured if he could get me into bed, I'd eventually be a bit in love with him. It's the same way he looks at the universe, with the same fallacy. No matter how he romances it, the universe will keep on turning. If he gets in the way, he's crushed. Simple, really."
"And why was he so in love with you?" Koschei insisted. Ushas only knew how close he was by his breath hitting her neck.
She pushed the macroscope down until it reformed into part of its table. Turning, she let Koschei keep her way blocked, his proximity pressing her into the table. This close, she could see the wiry stubble that'd formed on his chin and cheeks, like an infection. He scratched at it with dirty fingernails.
"Biology," she answered. "Theta could never separate himself from it. My long, glossy hair shows that I'm in good health, as does my clear skin. My long legs are apt for evading predators. Theta doesn't remind himself that there aren't any. My breasts are large enough to establish that I was well-fed since childhood, and therefore well-situated to care for young of my own. I could go on."
"Go on then."
For years, Theta didn't want ripples in the water. There was something under the water, something important, but he didn't dare reach under the surface to see if it was an illusion or the real thing.
Harold entered the Academy and they were actually schoolmates for a while, although more for the fact that Theta kept being held back than sentimentality on the part of the headmasters. Theta actually put in an effort, even on the Time Lords' more daft subjects, just for Harold's sake. And when Harold surpassed him, the valedictorian, the perfect eager student… Theta was proud.
For years and years they studied together, and if Harold seemed off at times, Theta convinced himself he didn't. He told himself that Harold didn't light up during lessons on war the same way Theta lit up when the teachers talked about art and invention. He tried not to notice how bored Harold was by the most enlightened periods in Gallifreyan history. He didn't let himself think that he had been deceived.
"I've got something to show you," Harold said one day, and Theta didn't let himself fear.
Harold led Theta deep inside his TARDIS, away from the brightly sterile console room, through corridors and stairwells that twisted and cracked, fractures in the walls with glossy wet things behind them. Theta wondered why a TARDIS would do that. Where Harold had been.
Suddenly they came to a door, whiter than the bleakly gray surroundings, crayoned with pink clouds, pictures of boys ripped out of magazines to be taped on, a cushion hanging from the top with "The cutie is IN" stitched on it.
"I did it myself," Harold said with zealous pride, flipping the cushion so Theta could see the inverse of the statement on the opposite side. He shoved the door open. "Ta-daaaaa."
The room was like a museum exhibit Harold had curated for Theta's benefit. In every aspect it was the prototypical example of a First-World teenage girl's inhabitance during the twentieth century. Pinks and pastels, a smattering of posters, boy band CDs next to a record player… the Doctor's favorite era, cut and pasted together into a collage. Everything fit but the pale, dark-haired little girl, crouched on her bed like a black spot. Like something in the room had caught fire and left its ashes in the midst of all the bright and cheery colors.
"You got a son, Theta, so I got a girl. Her name's Susan." Harold said it all with a grin. He closed his eyes and breathed, sucked down calm, and continued in a balanced voice. "She knows all her history, all her languages, even without the TARDIS she could talk her way around a Cyberman."
"Where'd you get her?" Theta asked.
"Where is she from?"
"From me, of course." Harold's grin had dipped, it had soared, but it stayed put, almost smugly, a scar cut between his nose and chin. "The old-fashioned way. I really think you started a fad, Theta. Soon, all the kids will be doing it."
Theta grabbed Harold's arm, forgetting to be gentle, and dragged him out of the room. He toed the door closed behind him. It wasn't right, any of it, the TARDIS, the room, the girl, Harold… it was staged. Everything was staged, maybe even the cracks, and Theta wondered what was underneath it all. Was there anything underneath? Was that the problem?
There was a problem. He'd admitted it to himself, but like an addict, he'd given into Harold's veneer of being better, let the sobering realization keep slipping away, while Harold—while Harold went through something that Theta refused to help him with.
"You ask a lot of questions, you know that?"
"You cannot just—" Theta forced calm, but he wasn't as good at it as Harold, and maybe that's why Harold was still smiling, teeth biting through his lips. Theta closed the door all the way. "You can't just have a child!"
"Your example to the contrary."
"I was wrong!"
Harold stopped smiling. It shot through him, deflating his body, and reached his mouth last. His jaw set like cement. "The things you think you can say to me…"
"I didn't mean it like that."
"No. You didn't mean it like anything. Nothing you do means anything, you just do it, and you let the consequences…" Harold fluttered his fingers in the air, an abstractly strung-out motion, like they were moving on their own, spider's legs.
"I didn't know you felt that—"
"Don't lie either!" Harold's raised voice seemed to shake the door. Theta wondered how much Susan could hear. Was she on the other side, ear pressed against the plaster? What could that do to her? What had it done to Harold--hearing everything?
"I can fix this!" Theta insisted, and he let himself yell, scream, shout in Harold's ear. Let Susan hear him. Let all of Gallifrey hear him. "I can stop whatever is it you're going through, you just have to hold on a bit longer, I'll make things better!"
"Because that's who you are," Harold said, voice shrunken, collapsed. "The man who makes everything better."
He didn't protest as Theta walked back inside the room, took Susan's hand, and led her away from Harold and away from his TARDIS and then, just away. However much she'd heard, she went willingly, clasping his hand as soon as he held it out.
He went to class the next day just to find the Corsair and ask if he'd ever heard of a Time Lord going mad. He wasn't expecting to find Harold in a study nook, together with a female student but not talking to her, just staring out into space. His eye twitched. The woman had a pen in her hand and was tapping it against her Pad as she read.
"Susan's with me," Theta told Harold, keeping his voice low for the woman's benefit. He didn't want anyone else to know just yet. "I got some food into her, put her to bed."
"Look at her," Harold said. The words came out of him like steam from a burst pipe. "Making such a racket. Don't you think that's rude?"
Theta looked to the woman. "Excuse me, my friend here is trying to concentrate. Do you think you could keep it down?"
Theta clapped Harold on the shoulder. "I'll be right back. Just wait right here. I'll be back with someone who can help you."
He was gone five minutes. One minute to the classroom. One minute waiting while the Corsair talked to another teacher and Theta looked for an opening. One minute spent on the Corsair calming him down, because he'd been worrying all night, all year, and it all came tumbling out as he tried to explain it. One minute for him to explain things, calmly and rationally. One minute back to the study nook.
Harold wasn't there. Neither was the woman. There was just blood, going in a straight line. It led into a closet. Theta saw what was behind the door every time he closed his eyes.
Enough blood for thirteen regenerations.
They let him talk to Harold before the trial. That was worse. It meant Theta had to think of something to say.
"She wouldn't stop drumming," Harold said, saving Theta the trouble.
"Yes, she did. Remember? I asked her to and she stopped."
"No. You're lying to me. Like you always lie."
Theta went for the door then.
"The first regeneration I cut and the second regeneration I choked," Harold called after him. "The third regeneration I held underwater. And after that… well, I couldn't repeat myself, now could I? It'd be disrespectful…"
Theta broke into a run.
"You wanna know the funny thing? None of them could figure out what I was doing."
They'd want to talk with him. Everyone. When they learned where Harold had come from, they'd want Theta to deal with him. And Theta couldn't. Not yet. He could fly into every danger imaginable, risk his life in every way, but facing Harold again scared him too much.
He went to Susan and put on a brave face for her, because he needed the excuse not to feel anything. "Come on. Let's go for a walk."
They walked up and down Gallifrey. When Susan got tired, Theta picked her up and carried her in his arms. They both knew there was nowhere to go back to, just the walk. They walked under both suns and past silver-leafed trees and over red grass. When Theta's feet were tired, he took off his shoes and socks and felt the bare soil on his feet. He trod it into an impound lot for old TARDISes, the unhinged Rift energy putting Susan to sleep as it was recycled.
Theta stopped. One of them was still on, its light glowing dully, chameleon circuit shifting through shades of blue. It hadn't yet been unpacked, and as he watched, it gave a gasping vworp and faded a little ways in and out of existence.
He walked inside, tracking mud. Someone had thrown out a perfectly good TARDIS, for the console room was completely intact. No unstable time loops, no anti-tachyons, the time rotor was still going even. Rassilon, it even had chairs.
Theta set Susan down in one and sat himself. He watched the time rotor chug along, faithfully waiting for a destination, and listened to the doors be pushed from side to side by the wind.
Sometime later, Susan awoke. It could've been hours. Theta didn't know. His feet hadn't stopped hurting from the walk, not quite, it was just that his whole body was sore. He was tired.
"The Master's a bad man."
Theta looked at Susan. She was looking at the time rotor too, maybe reminded of Harold's. This TARDIS was so unlike that one that it felt cleansing to just be in it.
"The man with the beard. The one who fed me. He named me and I asked what his name was and he said he was my master."
Theta rubbed at his eyes. He was old, with an old man's eyes, and he still knew the color of blood on Harold's skin. "Yes. He's bad. He gets it from his father."
I'll carry you away and I won't let them get you.
Theta got up. His bones weren't aching anymore. He leaned on the console, cracking his neck. "What do you like to be called?"
"Susan's fine. It's an Earth name, right?"
"What's Earth like?"
"It's like… it's like everything, really. You could spend a lifetime there and not know all of it. More than one, even."
Come away then. Come away with me and you'll never have to go back.
"It sounds nice," Susan said. "Nicer than here."
"It can be. Not always. Not enough."
"Do you have an Earth name?"
"Yes. The Master's Earth name is Harold. My Earth name is Susan. My Time Lord name is Ifras."
It was a Gallifreyan word meaning 'freak'. And Harold had called her that. She was a little girl.
Theta walked over to her and fell on his knees. He took her hands—small hands, clean hands—in his. "You can call me the Doctor, because I make everything better. Absolutely everything. I was just going to Earth—paying a house call. Would you like to come along?"
He looked at the doors—they were already closed, the wind must've done that—and the time rotor was speeding up. The console was meant for six people, but the way the controls jumped at his touch it was like they were doing all the work for him.
"Is this your ship?" Susan asked, gripping the seat of her chair tightly as it started to shake.
"Oh, no. Not quite. I'm just borrowing it for a bit."
"Never did come back for me," Harold—the Master—said in something that could've been a waking dream, or an actual voice in Lucy's ear. "I had to go find him."
Coming back to bed, Rani heard. She smiled and gave her mug of warm milk to Lucy. Lucy sipped it, smiled, went back to sleep. And Rani stared at her, watching as her sleeping feature went from serene to contorted, something else at the surface while Lucy went under.
A time-share mind. Rani was very proud of it. She wondered how long it would last before someone was driven mad. Though with the Master, who could tell?
"You're still there?" he asked. Lucy could've been talking in her sleep, only the voice was so assured, so fitting to that mad leer on her lips.
"Still," Rani said, taking the milk back and adding some whiskey to it. She drank.
"Thank you for not caring," he said, and Lucy yawned and rolled over. Rani got up, sipping again, and crossed to the other side of the bed to face him. "It did make things easier, didn't it?"
"Yes, it did. Why? Would you have liked things another way?"
"I would've liked to have known what happened to Susan. I always meant to ask him. I never did."
"Mmm." Nothing more to drink. Her lab beckoned, far louder than this trifling conversation. Rani got up, fixing her dress of the evening's diversions.
"Ushas," he called gently.
"Is there something you want to say? Before… anything happens?"
Before he killed her or she killed him or the Daleks killed them all. Nothing was permanent. They were Time Lords. They knew that better than anyone.
"You really did it, on the Valiant? Killed the President, aged the Doctor, decimated the planet."
"Well… it wasn't quite a tenth. More a tenth and a quarter."
"You had it all," Rani continued. "You won."
"I suppose so. Felt like it. A little."
Rani nodded. "I'm proud of you then."
The Master looked at her through closed eyelids. Then Lucy woke up with a start, gasping her way out of a nightmare. "Oh! Rani! You're here… I heard people talking…"
"Go to sleep, dear. Just a bad dream."