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from the ashes

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Even when she’s not with him, she can feel him. All those hundreds of years of friendship—well, if you could call it that—don’t add up to nothing, you know. She’s a force of nature, always has been. A hurricane of chaos and insanity, determined to ruin his life, or even save it if she’s feeling particularly generous.

She’s not going to let a little, stupid inconvenience like death ruin her favourite hobby. Sure, shooting yourself in the back leaves one hell of a sting, but she was incredibly idiotic way back then. Reckless, yes, and most definitely evil—but idiotic too. She stands, brushes the dirt off her gown. If she ever sees that smug son-of-a-bitch and his stupid round face ever again, she’s going to be having words. And not nice ones.

The air tastes like petrol and she can hear explosions, sharp bursts piercing the serenity. The holographic sky is still blue and her blood scalds like fire in her veins—yes, yes, he must still be alive, because if he wasn’t she wouldn’t feel like this, would she? Like he’s sitting in the lining of her lungs, ready to crow another one of his long, pacifistic speeches about rainbows and ponies and dancing off into a hazy, amber sunset hand-in-hand? He’s a stupid, optimistic fool, but in fairness, he’s her stupid, optimistic fool. It’s always been that way, even if he’ll profusely deny it. Any year, any regeneration; he’d do anything for her, even if that meant locking her in a vault for hundreds of years in recompense.

(The vault wasn’t a prison, it was protection. The thought of letting her die is more terrifying than letting her live to him. Thousands, millions, billions of people—whole civilisations, the ones she watched burn for the fun of it—would scream otherwise, but he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t.)

Her hearts hurt. She’s not felt pain like it, not once in over a thousand years—it’s a throb that blooms in her chest like a bouquet of black roses, the kind of pain he forced her to feel, the kind that brings tears to her eyes and sends dark thoughts spiralling round her brain. Blood on her hands. Faces contorting in agony. The dust curling round her feet. Oh, how she laughed, as the people screamed and burned and died.

She doesn’t find it so funny anymore.

The sky blazes in gold a bit closer this time, smoke leaving a bitter tang on her tongue. A gentle hum ripples at the back of her mind. The tell-tale psychic disturbance of a nearby Time Lord. Maybe this time—maybe this time she can stand with him. After all this back and forth, refusing to let him in, maybe she can stand with him.

She picks up her gown and begins to run.

-x-

“Do you remember that monsoon?”

He looks up from a book, razor-sharp eyebrows furrowed. “What monsoon?”

“That monsoon. We were children on Gallifrey—perhaps sixty, sixty-five.” She turns on her piano stool to face him. “We were told that the rains were only ever like that once in a millennia. And it poured, Rassilon, it poured. Like liquid amber bursting from an erupting volcano. The whole citadel was flooded out, and father…”

She mentions her parents more and more now and he notices this, his face crumpling into a soft smile she wants to smack straight off him, but she can’t help it. She’s tried so, so hard to bury them with the ruins of Gallifrey but now, muted visions of her mother and father and siblings keep manifesting themselves—sometimes just in her head, sometimes right in front of her. She reaches out for her mother’s hand but the fingers vanish, curl away from her. She was much the same in reality.

He closes his book. Watches her intently. “Go on. Tell me what happened.”

Part of her is tempted to spill out her soul, but most of her isn’t ready yet. She laughs bitterly. “Shut up. You are not my therapist.”

“No,” he murmurs, reopening his book. He’s waiting for her to come to him, which she will, eventually. “No, I’m not.”

“Good, because the day you start listening and offering advice to me is the day I’d rather be dead.” She folds her arms, swivels back round on her piano stool. Her fingers dance over the notes in Fur Elise—the only human music she’s ever been able to stomach—so she doesn’t hear him say I always listen to you.

-x-

He’s lying on the ground when she finally finds him, surrounded by pieces of dismembered cybermen and tufts of long grass. She wonders idly where his metal pet has gone, the one who had all that black curly hair, who was actually quite brave in the end—as far as bravery can go in relation to the primitive apes he so enjoys hanging around, cramping his style. He doesn’t shift on hearing her presence, which is frankly worrying. He’s not usually this dismissive. He should be trying to at least lock her up again.

“Oh, come on,” she shouts, to no avail. His lips barely even quiver. “Don’t be a bore. Look—it’s me! I came back! Your stupid speech actually…”

Her voice trails off into the void. He’s not moving. His eyes, usually crammed with all the stars in the universe, stare up at her glassily. Before she even realises what’s happening all these awful emotion things he’s been begging her to feel start frantically pumping around her, desperately dropping to her knees, hands grasping out to feel his. No, no, he’s not allowed—

“You better not be dead, you sanctimonious sod,” she laughs, but it’s not really a laugh—because she’s crying, properly crying, like crying she should really be embarrassed about because that’s so not Queen of Evil. “If I’ve come all the way back here and you’re bloody dead that’s going to make me look stupid, and that’s not something I’d particularly like to admit to.”

But he’s still, rigid. She’s used to people doing what she wants—her uncanny persuasive abilities are yet another part of her unmatchable charm. She brings a cold, limp hand to her lips, eyelids fluttering shut. Oh, if her past self could see her now. He’d kill her all over again.

“I’m ordering you to come back. Who is going to lock me up if you’re dead? Definitely not that weird bald creature you have hanging around. He thinks I’m going to bite his head off every time we catch eyes. In fairness, I’ve been tempted—you know what, that’s what I’ll do. If you don’t come back, I’ll—I’ll kill the bald thing. I’ll do it. Don’t think I won’t. I’ve had plenty of practice when it comes to killing people. I know where it hurts.”

Her pleas fall on deaf ears because he’s dead, actually dead this time. There’s no regeneration energy pooling round his hands, no soft golden glow. She usually prefers corpses to people. More stoic, less chatty, not likely to answer back.

Maybe she could—she hasn’t done it in a while, but could she? She wipes her tears with the back of her hand then rubs her palms together, and slowly, surely, she’s grasping sunlight. She rolls her eyes—there was a time where she would’ve done anything to kill him, but now she’s sacrificing some of her own lives to keep him alive.

“I’m not doing this out of anything other than my own boredom, you do realise,” she lies, because it’s so much more than that, “What would my life be without you? No-one to fight with or set traps for—too dull for words. Blowing up Daleks does pass the time, but all they do is screech at me and frankly, it gives me migraines. At least you provide some fairly intelligent rhetoric before I try and kill you.”

I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thinks, as she clasps her hands round his face. She likes this face, she decides. The last one she remembers was too young and too aware of it. This one is more him, somehow.

A breath breaks out of his throat. She jumps back, shakes her hands, wills her pores back to normal. He blinks, hands pressed over his hearts. “You…”

“Now, let’s not get emotional about it,” she says, grabbing his arm, pulling him up. “Yes, I’m alive, you’re alive, we’re both alive. Yes, I’m here. No, I don’t know where other me has gone, or your little pals. And as far as I know, more cybermen are on their way, so stop being such a drama queen and help me.”

He smirks, raises an eyebrow. Doesn’t want to ask any more questions. “Yes, ma’am.”