His mind roils, a heady sensation flooding his veins that seems to throw the room itself off-balance, yet the Master stands still, perfectly still, absolutely controlled even as brain and body scramble to re-stabilize after crossing into the Vortex yet again. The mind of a Time Lord crosses seamlessly, but the Trakenite form lags behind, never as naturally ready for the leap as he should be. Of course, it was no accident, this body, lesser though it may be; it was the best choice available at the time. It afforded low-level telepathy and psychic empathy just similar enough to be compatible with his Time Lord mind, something he could sharpen and magnify. More important, however, was a touch of physiological Time empathy tucked away in the species’ genes.
Yet, all that did not keep him from feeling the wrongness. No matter how clever, how methodical, how powerful the Master’s mind, this body is not his. He knows. He is reminded at each jump in his TARDIS, every time he reaches out to influence another psyche. He is painfully, painfully aware, and yet, the Doctor thinks he can’t see it.
Oh—the Doctor. The most recent sartorial disaster gives him a headache just from recalling the brightly colored monstrosity. Their latest confrontation revealed a vain and incorrigible persona, his razor words and proud manner a far cry from its boyish and soft-spoken predecessor.
He has never wanted to kill the Doctor more in their lives.
The Doctor hasn’t been more like Theta in centuries.
He gives into the impulse to close his eyes. Imperious Theta, proud Theta, maddening, clever boy! The Master doesn’t let himself think of it often, that life past and buried. But this Doctor drags every memory back into undeniable view. It isn’t the Master’s fault that the Doctor has become a ghost of himself. It isn’t the Master’s fault that Ushas appeared to twist the knife further and pry the memories open fully.
It’s all quite enough to drive one mad, and no one could possibly blame the Master if he succumbed this time.
Tousled golden curls mock boyish locks. Sharp eyes, blue as the thin line between an orange horizon and the Gallifreyan night leer over centuries. The scent of honeyed grass and electric energy and the dust of stars snatches back the years.
He could kill the Doctor, kill the Doctor, kill him, kill him, kill him, k i l l h i m—
Sharp breath. Open eyes. Black and white console. Neatly ordered controls. Steady rhythm of hearts, one, two, onetwo, one, two. Hands unfurl from fists with a whisper of silk.
Humans, simple though they are, have a word for the past, for its inextricable link to memory and the present that few other cultures and species possess. “Nostalgia”—living, for an instant, in both moments at once, the now and the had-been, recognized by a hollow feeling of displacement settling in the stomach. And of course, the characteristic sentimentality of humans misidentifies that hollow perception with longing, of all things.
It’s a sweet pain they relish. Foolish tripe.
Seeing him burns. Even were the Doctor’s dress less inflammatory to the eye, the resulting displacement in the Master’s core would still ignite that cold fire between his hearts.
Ah, but there is only one heart in this body.
Strange how that still feels the same.
The discomfort of the Vortex has settled, but the Master does not move. Outside of Time, the past and the present are only words, distant scientific concepts, but somehow, memory retains its power. He is still hollow and cold and he still burns.
He wonders if the Doctor realizes just how apropos it is that his last demise was in flame. The Master could kill him whether the Doctor does or not; both knowledge and ignorance are each their own sins. Sins the Doctor embraces wholeheartedly without ever asking why.
But the Master knows without asking.
One can always run from both.
And this time—he closes his eyes—this time, perhaps, this once, it is the Master’s turn. There is a measure of peace outside Time. Peace that comes with both the benefit and the price of never again looking into eyes that dredge up ghosts of the past, of never-weres and should-have-beens. Of studiously forgetting tousled curls and red grass.
The Doctor will still be there, running, ready for the swift justice he deserves. He’ll be waiting with new eyes in a new face when the Master is finished here. For now, the Master can be assured that the Doctor is one of the constants of the universe.
After all, no one else would dare try to take what is rightfully his.