Chapter 1: Stranded
Run for Cover
Rose sat in the back of the car, uncaring of what happened next. She’d been so sure she’d get to go back to her universe, when she got the dream… but if even the Doctor didn’t think that their reunion was possible, and thought that she was stuck in Pete’s World forever… then what chance was there? Rose’s last hope had guttered and gone out like a candle flame, leaving nothing but apathy and desolation in its place.
She was aware of her Mum glancing back from her position in the front seat with a concerned expression, but Rose couldn’t bring herself to reassure her. Not when Rose’s entire world had turned to ashes.
Eventually, Rose was stirred from her introspection by the increasing awareness that something was digging into her hip. She stuck her hand in her pocket to see what it was, and pulled a battered-looking old pocket watch.
Rose frowned down at it, struck by how incongruous it was. When had she slipped her grandfather’s old watch into her pocket? She must have brought it with her when she crossed between universes, but… Rose had no memory of that at all.
She peered closer. There, barely visible in the fading light, was a series of concentric circles that looked oddly familiar.
In fact, when she thought about it, they looked exactly like the circles that appeared on the screens attached to the console of the TARDIS – the written form of Gallifreyan.
Rose stared down at the watch, her heart suddenly beating fast. Now she was really concentrating on it, the watch was… it felt almost alive in her hands, warm to the touch, and even though the mechanism didn’t work she could almost swear she felt a rhythm beating somewhere inside the metal case, like the sound of drums: tap-tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap-tap.
Rose’s fingers traced the concentric circles, and some part of her was screaming in warning, some deep instinctive part of her reacting with terror; but a bigger part of Rose was desperate for the knowledge tickling the edge of her consciousness, and the sound of drums was growing louder.
“Stop the car,” said Rose. When Pete didn’t do so straight away, Rose said again, more forcefully: “Stop the car!”
Pete glanced back at her, and whatever he saw in her face made him pull over. Before the car had quite stopped moving, Rose threw open the door beside her and scrambled out, uncaring of the drizzle falling from the dull grey sky.
“Rose!” her Mum called out, her voice worried, but Rose was staring down at the watch. The sound of drumming was drowning out everything else, and she thought that she could hear a voice saying, At last.
Rose thumbed the button at the top of the watch, and the case sprang open.
The next moment, she was burning – burning alive, only this wasn’t death, it was rebirth, in a blaze of light and fire and energy, becoming who she was always meant to be. Becoming Rose Tyler had been so very painful, every cell crying out in protest, but going the other way didn’t hurt at all. Instead, it felt like being born.
The golden glow finally died down, and her hand snapped the watch-case shut. And then, just as it started to rain in earnest, the Master tipped back her head to the sky and began to laugh.
She knew how it must look, her standing in the pouring rain by the side of the road, clutching a battered pocket-watch in both hands and laughing, but she didn’t care. Her peals of laughter rang out, bright and joyful.
“Oh, it feels so good to be me again,” the Master said to the sky. Finally she brought her gaze back down to where Jackie and Pete were staring at her from the car, and her grin was manic and toothy and just that little bit dangerous.
She opened the nearest car door and climbed back into the car, shutting the door behind her. Jackie and Pete swivelled in their seats, turning to look at her with wide eyes and pale faces.
There was a moment of long silence.
“Rose?” Jackie ventured.
The Master didn’t lose her smile. Her drenched hair was falling into her eyes in little wriggles, and she was soaked to the skin already, but she was so incandescently happy to be herself that those were only minor considerations.
“Nope. Guess again.”
“What do you mean, guess again?” Jackie demanded, worry coming across as indignation. “Rose, you tell me what happened right this minute, or–”
The Master sighed, still smiling, and leaned forward to press two fingers to Jackie’s temples, and spoke a single word of Gallifreyan.
Jackie gasped as the trigger word set off a cascade of suppressed memories, her eyes going glassy as she struggled to reconcile the truth with the lie she’d lived for so long.
Pete, ever the brightest human in the room, shoved the Master backwards. She let him, still smiling.
“What did you do?” he demanded, fear and anger mingled together.
“Oh, it’s alright,” said the Master. “She’ll be fine. She’s just assimilating memories she hasn’t had for, oh, about twelve years.”
“Memories?” Pete repeated, and Jackie gave a little moan as her gaze came back into focus. Immediately his attention snapped to her, although he kept a wary eye on the Master where she was sprawled in the back seat.
“You’re not my daughter,” Jackie whispered. Devastation was written across her face.
“What?” said Pete, frowning. “Jacks, what do you mean?”
“I wanted a daughter so badly,” said Jackie, apparently without hearing him. “Or a son. Anything. You were just a little girl, but you said you could fix whatever it was that made it so I couldn’t have kids. Next thing I knew, I thought you were my daughter. I thought you were my daughter for twelve years.”
Jackie’s eyes were full of grief and just a little bit of terror as she stared at the Master.
The Master, well aware of the toothy glee in her smile, carefully dialled it down.
“I kept my promise,” the Master said, and her voice was uncharacteristically gentle, because the Master or not, a teeny-weeny little part of her was still Rose – and that part had loved Jackie just as much as if Jackie really had been her Mum. “You’re going to have a baby, remember? You and Pete.”
“But what about you?” Jackie asked, and the grief didn’t lessen one iota. “You’re not my daughter, and never were.”
“Wasn’t I?” asked the Master, because once in a blue moon she remembered how to be kind. And Rose was still so close to the surface, and kindness had come to her as easily as breathing. It made this conversation a little easier than it might have been. “Family is about more than genetics. You’re still, in a way, my Mum.”
But Jackie shook her head.
“You’re not my Rose,” she said, desolation in her gaze. “Are you? You’re whatever you were – before.”
“What are you?” asked Pete, and his expression was hard.
The Master lost her gentle expression.
“I am the Master,” she said, with a grin that was dark and dangerous. “Turns out the Doctor’s not the last of the Time Lords, after all. Funny, isn’t it?”
“Not really,” said Pete, his posture tense. Ready to act if the Master tried anything. He had no way of knowing that by the time he worked out she was up to something, it would already be too late. “What happened out there? All that gold light?”
“It’s quite simple, really. Time Lords have a way of disguising ourselves as other species – a disguise so complete even we believe it. It rewrites our biology and our memories, and locks away everything that makes a Time Lord who we are into a repository device. Something that looks simple and innocuous – like a watch.”
The Master held up the pocket-watch in her hand.
“I’ve carried this thing around with me for twelve years, never questioning what it was or where it came from. Not until the time was right. Then I opened the watch, and… hey presto, instant Time Lord.”
The Master stopped speaking. The car was silent.
“Why?” asked Jackie. Her voice was clogged with unshed tears, her eyes shiny with them. The Master hated the fact that some part of her cared.
“There was a war,” said the Master. “The last great Time War. They resurrected me to fight on the front lines. Time Lords… most of us are beings of order and tradition and everything in its place, you see. But not me. I suppose that was my appeal.” The Master’s smile was mirthless. “Who better to deal with the madness of war than a madman?”
The Master shook her head, and the smile disappeared.
“I was terrified,” she confessed, and the two humans in front of her didn’t know how galling it was that she had to admit it.
Her, the Master, as terrified as a tiny human child in a thunderstorm, hiding under the covers. Pathetic.
“My planet was burning, and I knew that if I didn’t do something, I’d burn too. So I ran. I hid. And then, twelve years later, I opened the watch.”
The Master spread her hands in a ta-da, here I am gesture.
“And the war?” asked Pete.
“It ended. Somehow. I know that much.” The Master’s mind had already put two and two together – it was easy enough to tell Pete what she’d deduced. “It has to have been the Doctor. No one else survived. Somehow, he ended it – and the Time Lords and the Daleks burned together.”
A twitch of the lips, too faint to be called a smile.
“Or at least, that was what the Doctor believed, until the Daleks showed up again. So I guess it’s only our people who are dead.”
The Master didn’t cry. She’d never liked the other Time Lords much, after all – but somehow, without all of Gallifrey in her head, the silence was terrible. She wondered how the Doctor managed to bear it. For her, the drums seemed even louder, without the background noise of an entire planet’s worth of people to drown them out.
“Oh, you poor thing,” murmured Jackie. The Master glanced at her, startled by the sympathy. “Deep down, you must have known. Why else would you have followed the Doctor?”
The Master’s mouth twisted, because while Jackie was righter than she knew, she was also wrong. Rose Tyler had loved the Doctor; so very, very much. The Master remembered what Rose had forgotten, remembered having all of time and space in her head, and trying to fix what had been done and keep the Doctor safe all at once.
She’d messed it up, of course; she’d saved the Doctor, but she’d turned ordinary, mortal Jack Harkness into a fixed point in time, never-ending and immortal. It was a cruel thing to do to someone so human… but then, even though she’d channelled the awesome power of the Time Vortex, Rose’s grasp of spacetime and causal relationships had been imperfect. Her tiny human mind simply hadn’t been able to handle the strain.
The Doctor’s mind had been able to, for a little while – but taking it been enough to trigger a regeneration in him.
He’d loved her, the Master knew, and there was bitterness to that realisation as well as pleasure. He’d loved her, and she him, but they would never be the Doctor and Rose ever again. Maybe she’d never again be to him what she had been, for that brief, shining moment.
The worst part was that Rose’s love had stuck – or maybe the Master had just loved him all along, and never realised it, because of the endless drumming in her head.
But Jackie and Pete were looking at her like they were waiting for an answer, so the Master simply said, “I suppose.”
“What happens now?” asked Pete. “The Doctor said you can’t get back–”
“Ah,” said the Master, a manic grin spreading across her face, “but that’s where he was wrong. One Time Lord can’t open the breach again without collapsing both universes. But two?”
She threw back her head and laughed, and didn’t care that it made Jackie and Pete jump.
“Oh, that’s a different matter. Besides… the Doctor’s not actually brilliant at everything, no matter what it seems like to humans. He has his strengths; I have mine.”
The Master leaned back in her seat, and fixed an expectant stare on Pete.
“So why don’t we get going, because the sooner we get back, the sooner I can begin working on a solution to my problem.”
Pete looked at the Master. The Master stared back.
Jackie tugged on Pete’s sleeve.
“It’s alright,” she told him. Pete glanced from her to the Master, and finally let out a sigh.
“Fine,” he said, and sat back in his seat. A moment later, he started the engine, and turned the car back onto the road again.
There was silence for a while. The Master went over calculations in her head, already plotting how to get back to her home universe. Finally Jackie spoke.
“When I first met you, you were just a kid.” The question was clear in her voice.
The Master grimaced.
“Not really. I just looked like one. Dear old Rassilon,” and both humans flinched at the sudden venom in her voice, “said that if I was going to behave like a child, then perhaps I should look like one. Next thing I know, I look like I’m not a day over two hundred.” The Master glared out the car window. “Sadistic old bastard. He was twice as mad as I was, but none of them could see it. Or maybe they were just that desperate.”
“Who’s Rassilon?” Pete asked, into the silence, his eyes looking at the Master through the rear-view mirror.
“The closest thing the Time Lords ever had to a god,” said the Master, and refused to say anything more.
She leaned back and closed her eyes, and feigned sleep until they reached the airport.
Things were strained all the way back to England. The Master spent most of the flight back sleeping, tired from all the energy she’d lost in the process of changing back.
As soon as they were back in London, The Master went shopping with the credit card Pete had given Rose, because clothes maketh the man – or woman, in her case. Several elegant black pant-suits lined with crimson silk and a selection of red shirts soon made up the most fundamental part of her wardrobe.
She updated. She adapted. But the core of her stayed the same. Much like her wardrobe.
Her second day back from Bad Wolf Bay, the Master went to Torchwood.
It was Mickey who found her, ten minutes after she’d breezed past her sort-of colleagues and her boss without stopping, standing in the room where it all ended. She was staring at a blank white wall, her face an unreadable mask.
“Rose?” Mickey said, and then, “What the hell are you wearing?”
The Master turned away from the wall, smiling and straightening her suit jacket, and Mickey’s eyes narrowed.
“Yes and no,” said the Master. “My name is the Master. I’m a Time Lord.”
“Oh, bloody hell,” said Mickey. He sounded resigned. “You’ve gone and lost it, haven’t you?”
The Master rolled her eyes.
“Mickey, just come here and take my pulse.” She pulled up her sleeve and held out her arm.
Mickey sent her a dubious look, but did as she asked. The Master laughed as he did a visible double-take.
Mickey fixed her with a steely glare, and she laughed even harder.
“Where’s Rose?” he demanded. “What have you done?”
The Master stopped laughing, but her eyes still glinted with mirth.
“Nothing, honestly. I’m Rose – or rather, I was, for twelve years. How old were you when I first appeared on the Powell Estate, Micks?”
“Ten,” said Mickey without thinking. Then his eyes widened. “Wait, no, that can’t be right–”
“Oh, it’s right. The wonders of hypnotism and all the right paperwork – no one questions it when you suddenly acquire a child,” said the Master. “Jackie couldn’t have kids, Mickey. Never could, never did, not until I fixed it. She always called me her miracle baby, remember? I needed someone without a kid, but who desperately wanted one. Making her believe she’d had one with Pete was easy. Putting the necessary paperwork into the system was even easier.”
The Master watched with mild amusement and a vague sense of pity as Mickey grappled with what she’d told him.
“So, what, you pretended to be Rose Tyler, all this time?”
“Nope. No pretending necessary. That’s the beauty of it.” Mickey didn’t look like he appreciated her observation, so the Master gave him a quick run-down of everything she’d told Jackie and Pete.
At the end of it, Mickey finally looked a little less ready to shoot her.
“So you’re a Time Lord,” he said slowly. “Like the Doctor.”
“Nothing like him,” the Master corrected. “We’re polar opposites. He was my nemesis, even.”
Mickey gave a hoot of disbelieving laughter.
“You’re kidding me.”
“Nope. Should be interesting when I finally catch up with him again.”
That made Mickey sober.
“Do you think you can?”
The Master sent him a patronising look that made him bristle.
“Mickey, Mickey, Mickey. I’m not just a Time Lord, I’m the Master. Doing six impossible things before breakfast is my bailiwick.”
“Thought it was believing six impossible things,” said Mickey.
The Master raised both eyebrows, pleased that he’d caught the reference.
“I leave believing to the Doctor,” she drawled. “Me, I’d rather be doing something.”
“Alright,” said Mickey. “You have a plan?”
The Master’s mouth curved a little.
“About six-eighths of a plan. It’s a work in progress,” she said, when Mickey looked doubtful. “Don’t worry. I’m very good at what I do.”
“Which is what?”
“Murder and mayhem, usually.” The Master smiled at Mickey’s barely-hidden alarm. “But don’t worry. Right now, all I want to do is get back to my home universe.”
And interrogate the Doctor on what happened to Gallifrey , she didn’t say.
She also didn’t say that she was desperate to find out what she and him would be to each other, now that they were the Master and the Doctor once again – she had too much pride to ever admit that to anyone. As it was, she was barely able to admit that longing to herself.
She’d been the Doctor’s antagonist for so long. It was hard, even in her head, to think of becoming something else.
“Rose,” Mickey started to say, and was interrupted.
“Like hell I’m calling you that,” Mickey retorted, making the Master grin. “But listen – if you were able to hide yourself in a fob-watch–”
“It wasn’t actually a fob-watch.”
“–then how many more Time Lords do you think are out there, wandering around, thinking they’re human?”
The Master stilled.
“None,” she said softly, but Mickey heard her.
“Because frankly, it took a phenomenal amount of luck just for me to get the opportunity to run – and for anyone who tried and was caught in the process… well, there are worse things than death, and Rassilon knew all of them.”
There was a silence. Mickey looked like he was determined not to ask.
“Okay,” he said instead. “So what are you going to do now?”
The Master smiled, wide and sinister. Mickey took an involuntary step back.
“I’ll find a way to re-open the breach without destroying two universes… and then I’ll find the Doctor, and discover what the hell he did to my home planet.”
Of course, it wasn’t as easy as that.
Building the technology she needed would take time, even for the Master; for a start, the energy drain would be enormous. Like drain a star or two enormous, probably.
But first – first she needed to get herself off the ground.
It wasn’t hard for Pete to convince the President that they needed to do more research into space travel. Somehow word got around that the UK was working on it, and pretty soon it had become a group effort across a dozen different countries.
A new, international organisation was formed, devoted to the task of getting Earth ready for whatever might be coming.
Naturally, the Master ended up leading the engineering arm. She walked in on her first day on the job to a room of hostile scientists, all of them wondering what the Vitex heiress was doing here, leading people like them.
The Master smiled, bright and wide, and saw two or three people in the room take a step back. Mentally she made a note of each one, and marked them down as people with good survival instincts.
“So,” she said, still smiling the wide, unsettling smile. “You’re probably wondering why I’m the one leading this team.”
The scientists looked at one another, but most of them nodded.
“Good question.” The Master beamed at them all.
The brightest minds on the planet. Boy, were they in for a shock.
“The best answer is that I’m not really from around here, and I don’t have plans to stick around long. Therefore it suits my interests to help your interests: namely, getting yourselves up to speed and into space travel, before someone else comes along with the aim of conquering and subjugating you.”
There were murmurs from the scientists.
“Do you really think there’s much risk of that?” Professor Graham Davis asked.
“Are you saying you’re an alien?” asked Dr Priyanka Suresh at the same time.
“Yes to both those questions,” said the Master.
The Master grabbed the nearest workstation chair, spun it around, and sat in it so that she was facing her audience, not at all bothered by the fact that they all now towered over her.
“In my universe,” she went on, lounging in her seat, “humanity’s been under attack by aliens for millennia. The Earth’s just lucky enough to have had a protector all this time. In your universe, by contrast, things have been rather quiet – right up until your universe came into contact with mine, at which point things started heating up rather quickly. Given the way things have been going since then? It’s only going to get worse. And without a protector like the Earth in my universe has, you’re going to be in trouble.”
“There’s no evidence that aliens even exist,” said Professor Aleksander Kowalski.
“I thought you’d say that.” The Master smiled at him. He looked wary. Good. “Have you ever taken a pulse before, Professor Kowalski? Or listened to one with a stethoscope?”
Kowalski looked taken-aback that she knew his name.
“I’m not a medical doctor, Miss Tyler.”
“But you understand the theory, yes?” The Master received a hesitant nod. “Then perhaps you’d like to come up here and listen to my heartbeat.”
“I – I’m really not sure …”
But with the Master waiting up the front expectantly, and all eyes on him, Kowalski reluctantly moved forward.
“Mickey!” the Master called over to where Mickey stood in the doorway, looking vaguely amused. “You got that stethoscope ready?”
“Yep,” said Mickey, walking over. “Here you go, Professor.” He gave the stethoscope to Kowalski.
The Master took off her jacket.
“Alright, now: Professor Kowalski, if you’d just put the ear-tips in your ears, and put the bell of the stethoscope on my left side…?” The Master tilted her head, smiling up at him.
Kowalski went to place the stethoscope on her chest, then jerked his hand back as he realised what he was doing, and placed it on the Master’s back, instead.
“Now the right side,” the Master suggested. Slowly, Kowalski moved the bell of the stethoscope to the right. Then he stopped, staring down in bewilderment.
“You have… two hearts…?” he hazarded. He sounded as though he couldn’t quite believe his own words.
The murmuring from the crowd of scientists was louder this time.
“That’s right,” said the Master. “Now, if you’d like to rejoin your colleagues…?”
Kowalski slowly walked back across the room to join the other scientists, still looking bewildered and lost. Mickey grabbed the stethoscope back.
“You’ve all signed half a dozen non-disclosure agreements,” said the Master. “I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of threats.”
There were nods of wry agreement.
“Good. Let me add to them.” The Master leaned forward, suddenly unsmiling, her expression intense, and her eyes…
Almost seemed to glow.
“If any of you speaks so much as a word of the fact that I’m an alien to anyone outside this room, or even talks about it where someone else could overhear… I will know, and I will find you, and there will be nowhere on this Earth where you can hide.”
Several people shifted nervously as the Master spoke, one finger tapping out a steady beat against the edge of her seat.
The Master sat back, and the grin returned. But she knew that no one would forget the moment of uneasy fear that had gripped them as she’d made her threat.
“We clear?” Dozens of nods. “Good.” She clapped her hands together. “Then let’s get started!”
It all went surprisingly well. Within three months, the team understood the basic principles of the technology they were developing; within six, they’d begun building prototypes. Really, it was all going swimmingly, and perfectly according to the Master’s mental timeline.
And then, eight months in, the stars started going out.
And the Master thought, as she stared up at the dark and empty sky above:
Now I'm really in trouble.
Chapter 2: The Unlikeliest of Reunions
Chapter 2 of 3.
Just to clarify: the Year That Never Was didn't happen in this AU. Series 3 went completely differently, because Rose!Master has replaced Simm!Master.
Chapter two of this fic takes place during the Series 4 episode, Journey's End. Chapter three of this fic will follow the aftermath of what happens in chapter two.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The first thing the Master did after arriving back at the correct Earth, back in her home universe for the first time in years, was look up.
Just finding Earth had been a problem at first, because it hadn’t been where it usually was. Now that she was actually here, one glance told her that there were planets in the sky that shouldn’t have been there, brought along by whatever had moved the Earth.
There was a fiendish plan at work, and for once, it wasn’t one of hers.
Mickey had already gone ahead, and doubtless he was on Earth somewhere, getting into trouble. He’d been sent through the breach before the Earth had been moved. It had taken the Master a little longer, because she’d had to sign everything over to the new director of the international space-travel program, and last but not least, say goodbye to Jackie and Pete and little Tony.
She and Jackie had never gone back to the mother-daughter relationship they’d had when she was Rose, but they had an approximation of it. Jackie had made her peace with the Master’s existence, and worried about her habits and her health and her future just as much as she ever had over Rose.
And the Master… well, she was fond of Jackie, despite her disdain for humans, and fond of Tony, too. People didn’t usually let the Master near small children, but in this incarnation the Master was actually good with kids, for a given value of good. She’d been Tony’s favourite babysitter, mostly for the stories she told the toddler. The Master thought that she might actually miss him, just a little.
Now, looking up at the sky, the Master felt a grim smile spread over her face. Yes, she had to admit that whatever was going on was completely terrifying, because there wasn’t a universe she’d been to so far that wasn’t somehow affected by whatever was happening in this one… but after all that time playing nice with the humans in the other universe, the drums were spurring her on to violence and mayhem.
They’d probably get their wish.
The dimension cannon wouldn’t work again for a while, but the Master had come prepared. The Time Agency in the alternate universe had winked out of existence a while back, alongside the stars, but one agent had managed a trip back to twenty-first century Earth before everything in his time had been destroyed, bringing valuable intel with him and an even more valuable piece of technology.
The Master now had a vortex manipulator of her own, one which she’d specially modified. It didn’t matter where the TARDIS was – using the TARDIS key still hanging from the chain around the Master’s neck, the vortex manipulator could lock onto the TARDIS’s energy signature, and send the Master to its exact coordinates.
Well. In theory. The Master had yet to actually test it out.
With a deep breath, the Master glanced up at the sky once more, and began fiddling with the device around her wrist. The press of a button, and she disappeared from the street she’d only just appeared in.
A moment of nauseating disorientation as spacetime spun around her – and then she was falling.
But a blue police box was falling beside her.
The Master didn’t hesitate. She grabbed the handle of the TARDIS door with one hand and pulled herself close, until she was standing on the very edge of the blue-painted wooden exterior.
The Master risked a glance downwards, and swore in Gallifreyan as she saw the fiery glow of what she recognised as Z-neutrino energy, far below. She had a couple of minutes at most to get inside and raise the TARDIS’s defences, and probably less than that.
Before she could even reach for the key around her neck there was a familiar singing in her mind, and the TARDIS door fell open. The Master tumbled inside onto the floor. Without hesitating she kicked the door shut, scrambled to her feet, and bolted it.
“Who are you?” an angry voice demanded, and the Master spun to see Donna Noble standing near the console, looking terrified beneath the anger. The last time the Master had seen her, she’d been dying on a suburban street in a timeline created by a creature which fed on timelines.
That Donna had been pale and worn-down by one traumatic event after another, but oh, there was a fire in this Donna, and she wasn’t going down without a fight.
The Master grinned, wide and toothy.
“Donna, good to see you, but now’s really not the time for a chat,” she said, dashing past the human woman to begin hitting switches and buttons on the console, raising the TARDIS’s defences.
“You! You’re her! The woman from the other timeline! I recognise your face!”
“Really not the time,” said the Master, entering new coordinates into the console and flipping the biggest switch of all. The central part of the console began to move up and down, and the familiar grinding wheeze of a TARDIS dematerialising filled the Master’s ears.
She took a deep breath, and sagged against the console, because that had been closer than she liked. Grinning, she patted the console, and saw the lights flicker in response.
“Yeah, I missed you too,” she told the TARDIS, and straightened up, turning to face Donna.
For a moment the drums surged to the surface. The Master shook her head, forcing herself to concentrate.
“So. That should buy us a little time,” she told Donna. “Right now we’re in the Time Vortex. Which gives me just enough time to come up with a plan.”
“Who are you?” Donna asked again, with more uncertainty this time.
The Master smirked.
“I am the Master. Last of the Time Lords, aside from the Doctor. But I spent twelve years believing I was a human named Rose Tyler.”
“Wait, you mean the Doctor’s Rose?”
The Master wrinkled her nose.
“Please. I’ve never been the Doctor’s anything, thank you very much.”
“Sorry,” said Donna, but she was still staring. “It’s just… the way the Doctor talked about you…”
The Master felt a pleased smile spread over her face at Donna’s comment, and hated herself just a little.
“Yes, yes, I know, the grand love affair and all that,” the Master said, keeping her voice dismissive. “But that was when we both thought I was human.” A smirk. “My history with the Doctor goes back a lot further than that. But enough chit-chat, Donna Noble. We have every universe in existence to save.”
“But how?” asked Donna.
“You were with the Doctor,” said the Master. “Which means that you probably know exactly what enemy the Doctor is facing, yeah? So who or what is it?”
She wasn’t expecting the answer she got, which was a terrible oversight.
“It’s the Daleks,” said Donna, and ice trickled down the Master’s spine. “The Dalek Empire, at the height of its power, the Doctor said.”
“Oh, just wizard,” the Master snarled. “And I suppose the idiot got himself captured, didn’t he?”
“Oi!” Donna snapped. “Don’t talk about him like that!”
The Master bared her teeth in an expression which could barely be called a smile.
“I’ll talk about him any way I like, Donna. He’s been like this forever, you know – stupid saviour complex. But it seems to have gotten worse since he did whatever he did that destroyed our planet.”
Donna didn’t look surprised by this information, the Master noted. Only saddened at the reminder.
“Oh, so he goes around telling people that he killed off the Time Lords, now?” The Master laughed, even though she was more angry than anything else. It was laugh or cry, and the Master didn’t cry. “Figures.”
Donna was looking at the Master with concern.
“Are you okay?”
“Not since the day I first looked into the Time Vortex,” said the Master, with a mirthless smile. “But that’s another story. Come on, Donna. You’re going to tell me everything you know about the current situation, and I’m going to build something that can take out the Daleks. Somehow.”
She paused a beat.
“It’s a good thing I know the kind of junk the Doctor leaves lying around,” the Master added. “So come on, because we’re on a deadline! Literally.”
She sent Donna a manic grin, which Donna returned, a little hesitantly. She followed after the Master as the Time Lord dashed out of the console room.
As they walked, Donna told the Master everything she knew. It wasn’t much, but hopefully it would be enough.
As she looked through the Doctor’s storerooms for something useful, the Master’s brain was whirring at a mile a minute, trying to figure out what was going on.
“Whatever they’re doing, Z-neutrinos are involved,” the Master said aloud, trying to figure things out. “And they needed a bunch of planets–”
“Twenty-seven,” Donna said.
“Twenty-seven planets, all closely aligned, and whatever the Daleks do with them makes the stars… No. Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” said the Master, as she put the pieces together. “Z-neutrinos, flattened into a single string! Oh, bloody hell no.”
“What? What’s going on?” Donna looked worried.
“The planets act as a giant transmitter,” said the Master, and on the one hand she was furious, not to mention utterly terrified, because this was genocide on a scale even she would never consider. But on the other, she was just that little bit admiring, because she had to admit, the plan was audacious, even by her standards.
The Master picked up a laser oscillator and began kicking junk out of the way, looking for the parts she needed. She continued explaining to Donna as she did.
“Blasting out across the universe, dissolving the atoms that make up everything – and then the wavelength will hit the rift at the centre of the Medusa Cascade, and it won’t be just our universe that dissolves. It will be every. Single. One. All of reality, everywhere and everywhen, will cease to exist. Kabloom. That’s it.”
Donna looked horrified, as well she might.
“How do we stop it?”
“Leave that,” said the Master, “to me.”
Thirty minutes and forty-seven seconds later, the sound of the TARDIS materialising filled the air. The Master took a deep breath, and hefted the weapon in her arms.
“If I fail,” she said, and her voice was quiet, but the drums were not, “you’ll need to shoot Davros and the Daleks with this thing. Do you understand, Donna?”
Donna nodded, pale and frightened, but there was determination in her gaze.
“Good,” said the Master, as the TARDIS finished materialising. “Now open that door.”
Donna threw open the TARDIS door, and the Master stepped out, the drums pounding in her head.
She had a moment to see the Doctor and a handful of familiar faces, all of them trapped in individual force-fields. But her toothy smile was only for the Doctor, staring at her like he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Rose?” The Doctor sounded confused, terrified, delighted all at once. Either he hadn’t noticed the Master’s presence in the back of his mind, too concerned with the current crisis, or else he had yet to put two and two together. But the Master knew he’d realise who she was any second, what with her being so close.
“Sort of!” the Master called back. “Two words: Chameleon Arch!”
That was all it took for the Doctor to put it all together. The Master saw his expression change to one of grief and joy, horror and hope intermingled, before she raised her weapon and braced herself.
“Rose Tyler!” Davros began, raising his arm ready to shoot her.
The Master’s grin was all teeth.
“Wrong!” she shouted, and fired. Davros disintegrated immediately, and the Daleks in the room all turned, and began shooting at her.
The Master ducked behind the conveniently-located control panel, her eyes scanning the controls in front of her. She had only seconds before the first Dalek would round the panel, bringing her into firing range. Better make those seconds count.
The Master did. She grinned at the first Dalek to reach her.
“Go on, try and shoot me,” she taunted, smiling. The Dalek did as she said, and cried out in pain.
The Master fired her disintegration gun at the Dalek. The moment it disintegrated she dodged back around the console, hitting the correct buttons as she went, and began firing her weapon at every other Dalek in the room.
Only when they were all disintegrated did the Master deactivate the force-fields holding the Doctor and his companions.
“Nice timing,” said Mickey, stepping forward.
“Hold this,” said the Master in reply, handing him her disintegration gun. She turned to face the Doctor, who was still staring at her.
“Master,” he said, his voice dark, and the Master smiled. Not apologetic in the least.
“Yep, that’s me,” said the Master.
“What?” said Sarah Jane Smith.
“You mean the Doctor’s nemesis from the seventies and eighties?” asked Jack Harkness, staring from the Doctor to the Master.
Neither the Master nor the Doctor took any notice. They were too busy staring at each other.
The Master waited for the Doctor to say something. But there was only silence.
She couldn’t stand it.
“Go on, aren’t you a little glad to see me, after all that time alone?” asked the Master.
The Doctor still didn’t answer, just looked at her. A long moment passed, fraught with tension.
It was broken by Jack.
“ Okay, Doctor, Rose – or whoever you are now – I hate to interrupt, but how do we get the planets back where they belong and disable the reality bomb?”
The Master watched as the Doctor shelved his feelings in favour of springing into action. He ran to the control panel. His eyes flickered over it.
“Right!” he said, and went sprinting for the TARDIS. “The Master already disabled the reality bomb, so – we have twenty-seven planets to get home! Jack, I could use your help activating the magnetron!”
“Sure thing, Doc.” Jack glanced at the Master almost apologetically before he followed the Doctor into the TARDIS, leaving the Master just… standing there.
“Well,” said Mickey, into the silence. “That was anticlimactic. Not even a hello, or something.”
“Oh, shut up,” said the Master. “Shoot anything Dalek that tries to get in here.” Alarms were going off everywhere, and doubtless there’d be more Daleks along to investigate any second.
Something started cackling. The Master slowly turned.
There was a Dalek, hanging half out of its casing, and it was laughing.
The Master’s eyebrows rose to her hairline. Daleks… did not laugh.
“What are you?” she asked it.
“I am Dalek Caan,” said the Dalek, still laughing. “And you must destroy the Daleks, Master!”
The Master stared at it for a moment. Then she said, “Mickey, shoot that thing.”
“You sure?” asked Mickey.
The disintegration gun fired, and the laughter cut off. The Master was already turning back to the control panel, because the peculiar Dalek was right – and who was she to argue with death and destruction?
“What are you doing?” asked Sarah Jane sharply. The Master could barely hear her past the sound of drums.
“Destroying the Daleks,” said the Master, flipping switches and hitting buttons. “Because with or without a reality bomb, the Dalek Empire is big enough to kill everything, just like in the Time War – only this time, there isn’t a Time Lord army there to fight it.”
She looked up from the control panel, and there was death in her eyes. She smiled, and hit the big red button.
A second later, the Doctor ran out of the TARDIS.
“What have you done?”
The Master looked him in the eye.
“What was necessary.”
“Doctor!” said Mickey, as the room they were in began to shake. “We need to get out of here!”
The Doctor shot the Master one last, furious glance, and shouted, “Everyone into the TARDIS! Now!”
The Master went with everyone else into the TARDIS. She leaned against one wall, and watched as the Doctor busied himself with getting the Earth back where it was supposed to be, contacting the Torchwood of this universe to get their assistance.
“So,” said Jack, coming to stand beside her. “You’re a Time Lord.”
The Master didn’t bother to respond. She kept her eyes on the Doctor as he talked to the strangely-familiar woman on the console screen.
“You’re in UNIT’s files, you know,” said Jack, after a moment. “Tosh hacked them a couple of years back. You planning to pick up where you left off?”
The Master shrugged.
“Depends, I suppose.”
The Master was still looking at the Doctor.
“Who do you think?”
Jack followed her gaze.
“Well,” he said at last, “good luck. I think you're going to need it.”
Next chapter should be posted sometime tomorrow or the day after. We'll see.
Chapter 3: Denouement
I agonised over this chapter. Hopefully it works.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
One by one, the Doctor’s friends and companions left the TARDIS, some of them going home for a well-earned rest, others running off to check on family and friends. Finally it was just the Master and the Doctor, alone.
The Doctor set the TARDIS to dematerialise, sending her back into the Time Vortex. He didn’t once look at the Master.
As though he couldn’t bear to.
When it was clear the Doctor wasn’t going to start the conversation, the Master finally said: “I did the universes a favour.”
The Doctor spun on his heel to face her, his eyes flashing, every pent-up emotion bursting to the surface.
“That was genocide!”
“They were Daleks!” shouted the Master. “Doctor, listen to yourself!”
“It doesn’t matter!” the Doctor shouted back, and the Master knew this wasn’t just about the Daleks, not really; it was about the same old argument they’d been having since day one, back at the Academy. “There are lines you should never, ever cross!”
You did, the Master wanted to scream at him. You killed our people. Tell me, Doctor, was it glorious? Or did you lose a part of yourself you never thought you would, the day that Gallifrey burned?
But prickly and cruel as she could be – and usually was – she didn’t actually want to hurt him, for once. Not even if he was hurting her.
The Master reined in her snarl, her hands fisted at her sides as the drums beat a never-ending tattoo inside her mind.
It took everything she had, to say in an approximation of a calm voice: “You know who I am, Doctor. You and me, we’re like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. You know there’s no redemption for me, so why do you keep on TRYING?”
Despite her best efforts, the Master’s last word was a shout. She took a deep breath.
But the Doctor was looking at her, something sad and soft in his expression somewhere beneath the anger; every inch Rose’s lonely, grieving Doctor. The Master’s breath caught, because there in his eyes, even after all this time, was hope. He was trying to quash it, the Master could tell; but hope was a stubborn, difficult thing to kill entirely.
“How can I not?” asked the Doctor. “How can I not, when it’s you?”
The Master didn’t mean to do it. She honestly didn’t. But somehow she took a step forward, and then another, and her brain was screaming at her about useless sentiment – but the Master smiled at the Doctor, just as desperate as he was in her own way, and said:
“Go on, Doctor. Tell me you missed me.”
The Doctor stared at her, realisation dawning in his eyes, and simply said “Oh.” Like all the breath had been knocked out of him.
“Oh,” he said again, and there was wonder in his voice that he didn’t even try to hide. “You were Rose.”
The Master rolled her eyes, feeling uncomfortable exposed.
“No, but you were Rose,” the Doctor insisted, as though the emphasis meant something quite different. “Kind, compassionate, brilliant Rose. I’ve had a lot of companions before, and sooner or later they all move on, but you – you were the one who promised me forever.”
The Master stayed frozen to the spot, caught by the Doctor’s gaze. She didn’t know whether to deny everything, or dredge up some last, nearly-forgotten sense of hope.
“And then,” the Doctor went on, “you became yourself again, and the first thing you did was come and find me.”
“Excuse you, the first thing I did was destroy the Daleks,” said the Master, but it was a feeble excuse, and they both knew it. Her hearts were beating much faster than usual.
But the Doctor wasn’t even trying to hide the hope in his face, now.
“Master,” he said, and somehow he made her name sound like an endearment. He’d said her name in a lot of tones over the centuries, the Doctor: in exasperation in fury, in despair; but he’d never used that tone to say her name, before. “It’s just you and me. There’s no one else left. But it can be different this time around.”
The Master hesitated, feeling torn.
She could play along. She could say, yes, of course, and it’s all I ever wanted. She could make the Doctor terribly happy, for a little while.
But it would be a lie.
The drums were still in her head, egging her on to violence and anarchy, and she wasn’t fool enough to think she could keep them at bay forever.
The Master summoned up a smile. It was dreadfully bleak.
“No it can’t,” she said. “And you know it.”
“Why not?” the Doctor demanded, desperation back in his voice. “I can help you–”
“No you can’t. No one can. Nothing I’ve done stops the constant, endless drumming. Urging me to maim, to kill, to destroy.”
“It’s all in your head,” the Doctor tried to argue.
“That doesn’t make it any less real!” The Master crossed the space between them and glared up into his startled face. “You don’t believe me? Take a look!”
The Doctor blinked. He looked flabbergasted.
“You… you want me inside your head?”
The Master understood his confusion. A Time Lord’s mental integrity was a precious thing, and only the closest of friends or most trusting of lovers fully opened up their mind to each other. The Master hadn’t let anyone inside her head in… oh, centuries.
“Why?” asked the Doctor, looking wary, now.
“Because nothing I ever do can get rid of the drums! I’ve tried! You think I haven’t? You think I don’t know how I end up ruining everything I touch? Every lucid moment, Doctor, I’m always fighting the drums! Always. But sooner or later, everyone breaks. Even me.”
The Doctor stared at her. Then he said simply, “Alright.”
He raised both hands to the Master’s temples, and her eyes fluttered closed as she felt the Doctor at the edges of her mind. She let him in. A second later, she heard him gasp.
It took an effort not to lash out as she felt the Doctor poking around in her brain, no matter how gently he was doing it, but the Master kept her defences lowered.
Finally the Doctor retreated from her mind, and let his hands fall. The Master opened her eyes, unsure of what to expect.
The Doctor’s face was grim.
“You’re right. The drums are real,” he said, and the Master’s hearts leapt. “I recognise that signal. Tell me, Master: did you ever have any contact with Rassilon?”
The Master burst out laughing. The Doctor looked thrown off-balance by her reaction.
“Oh, yes,” the Master said, baring her teeth. “Unfortunately. I was under his direct command after I was resurrected to fight in the war.” Her fingernails were digging into her palms, hard enough to draw blood. She didn’t care. “Why?”
“Because,” said the Doctor, and his voice was grim, “like I said, I recognise that signal. When did it first start?”
“As a child,” said the Master. “The moment I looked into the Untempered Schism. Doctor…”
“You didn’t see what it was like, in the final days of the War,” said the Doctor. “You never saw what the Time Lords turned into. What Rassilon turned them into.”
The Master thought of Rassilon. Her lip curled in a sneer.
“Whatever he did, I’d believe it.”
“I used the Moment,” said the Doctor, and the Master sucked in a startled breath at that information. “They’re stuck in a Time Lock. But here you are, with a signal inside your head, phoning home. Giving them something to lock onto.”
The Master stared at him. Then:
“No!” she howled, clawing at her temples. The Doctor quickly grabbed her hands before she could do any further damage. “Get it out!”
“I will, I will, I promise,” the Doctor soothed, but beneath the soothing tones the Master could hear the brewing thunderstorm of his rage, and it was that which stilled the Master more than anything else.
She’d been the target of that rage so many times, but when had that protective ire last been for her, instead of for her victims?
“I can fix it,” the Doctor went on, and the Master realised she was close against him, and he was still holding both her wrists as though afraid she’d start clawing at her temples again. “But you’d have to let me into your mind.”
“Do it,” the Master ordered.
“It’s not that simple – the signal must be rooted deep in your subconscious by now – who knows what damage I could do if I try and–”
“Do it,” the Master said again, more vehemently. The Doctor was silent for a moment.
“Alright,” he said, eventually. “But not right now. I’m exhausted, and I’m sure you are too. I’ll do it when we’ve both rested.”
Much as the Master wanted to argue, it was a good reason not to try and remove the drums right away.
“Fine,” she said, with a snarl. Then she noticed the look of guilt on the Doctor’s face. “What?”
“All this time, I thought you were…” he began, and the Master realised what was going on.
“Oh, for the sake of the universe, Doctor! Not everything is your fault! How were you supposed to know?”
“If you don’t stop guilting yourself, I’m getting my laser screwdriver out of my pocket and zapping you with it,” she informed him. “I’m sure first degree burns would give you something else to think about.”
“And how are you going to do that?” The Doctor still looked wracked with guilt, but now there was also a spark of amusement in his eyes.
The Master tried to pull her hands free from his grip, and couldn’t. After a moment she gave up, and leaned against the Doctor’s chest instead.
His grasp on her wrists slackened, probably out of surprise, and the Master smirked where he couldn’t see. Then she raised her head, waited until he met her eyes, and caught her tongue between her teeth in the way the Doctor always been so very aware of when she was Rose.
“Guess I’ll just stay here then,” she said. “It’s comfortable.”
The Doctor looked like he didn’t know what to do next. Finally he said, “Master?”
“Flirting?” The Master sent him an amused smile. “Yes, Doctor.”
But he didn’t move away.
The moment was broken by a banging on the TARDIS door. The Doctor made an exasperated noise, and let go of the Master so he could go answer it.
“What?” the Doctor demanded, as Mickey walked back into the TARDIS.
“Seeing how tense you two were earlier, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t killing each other, or something.” He looked to the Master. “You alright?”
“I’m always alright,” said the Master.
“Sure. Except when you’re not,” said Mickey, and the Master laughed.
“She’s fine,” said the Doctor. “We’re fine. Now go away so we can get some sleep.”
“Sleep, huh?” Mickey raised an eyebrow at the Master. She raised one right back, knowing exactly what he was implying.
The Doctor grabbed at his own hair in frustration, making it stand on end even more than usual.
“Oh, for – not like that! You humans, minds always in the gutter!”
The Master couldn’t help laughing as the Doctor literally shooed Mickey out the door, waving his hands at Mickey to make him leave.
Hope was a foreign thing, but for once… it was there.
When the Master woke up the next day, alone in the bedroom aboard the TARDIS that had belonged to Rose, everything inside the TARDIS was still and quiet. Still wearing the pink flannelette pyjamas she’d pulled out of the wardrobe the night before, the Master left the room, and padded down the hallways.
The TARDIS had rearranged herself since the last time the Master had been here, but that was nothing new. She’d always delighted in confusing the Doctor’s companions, and occasionally the Doctor himself, by remodelling. Trust the Doctor to have a TARDIS with a sense of humour.
The last TARDIS left, now, the Master thought, and was surprised at the melancholy quality of that observation.
The Master frowned. Without access to the proper equipment, the Doctor couldn’t have performed maintenance and repairs as well as he had before Gallifrey was gone. And frankly, he’d never kept the TARDIS running as well as he should have.
With that in mind, the Master went off to the console room.
Half an hour later she was elbow-deep in the wires and diodes beneath the console, when she heard the sound of footsteps.
“What,” said a familiar voice, “are you doing to my ship?”
“It’s called maintenance, Doctor,” the Master called back, shifting her position slightly. The grating was uncomfortable against her back, even through the thick flannelette. “Something you’re unfamiliar with, judging by the state of this console.”
The Doctor grumbled something that the Master couldn’t quite make out.
“I’m not quite sure I want you messing around with it,” he said, a second later.
“Why?” The Master grinned up at the underside of the console. “Afraid I’m going to do something to your TARDIS?” She paused for a moment. “It’s a bit late for that.”
“Oh no,” the Doctor muttered, and then said more loudly, “Master, what did you do?”
“Just a little harmless fun,” said the Master, knowing he wouldn’t believe her.
“I’m back!” a new voice announced, and the Master peered sideways to see a pair of feet in women’s shoes approaching. “Oi, Spaceman. Who’s that under there? I thought you didn’t let anyone mess around in here.”
The Master slid out from under the console, and smirked at Donna.
“Who said he let me?” she asked, and looked up at the Doctor. “How do you feel about giving me a hand up?”
“That depends.” His arms were folded. “What have you done to my ship?”
“Fine then,” said the Master. “I’ll help myself up.” She scrambled to her feet.
“You’re in pyjamas,” said Donna. “Did you sleep here?”
“Yep. Got a room of my own here, you know,” said the Master, cheerful in the face of the Doctor’s annoyed expression. “Although I really need some new clothes – I left all my other suits in the other universe, and everything in the wardrobe suits Rose Tyler, not me.” She glanced down at her pink pyjamas. “Speaking of which, I’m going to go get changed back into the suit I was wearing yesterday.”
“Master, what did you do?” the Doctor burst out.
The Master grinned.
“Have fun finding out,” she said, and sauntered out of the control room, brushing past the Doctor as she went. The last thing she heard was the Doctor making a frustrated sound.
Donna caught up the Master a little later, while she was looking through the cupboards in the kitchen for anything that looked remotely like food she’d actually like to eat.
“You,” said Donna, appearing in the doorway. “Do you have a name other than the Master?”
“Nope.” The Master opened a cupboard, hoping for cereal or something similar, only to find a collection of bottles of Corellian alcohol. She shut the cupboard doors again in irritation. “This is a kitchen, not an alcohol cellar!”
“Well, I’m not calling you the Master,” declared Donna. “It sounds like… well, you know.”
The Master turned to look at her and raised an eyebrow as though curious, even though she knew perfectly well what Donna meant.
“Is there anything else I can call you?” Donna asked, ignoring the Master’s innocent question.
The Master considered.
“Magister would work, I suppose.”
“Alright then. Magister,” said Donna. “What exactly’s going on between you and the Doctor?”
“You’re very direct, aren’t you? It’s complicated.”
“It can’t be that complicated,” said Donna.
The Master gritted her teeth in annoyance.
“Donna – just drop it.”
Donna frowned, but let the subject drop.
“The Doctor said you did something to the TARDIS,” she said, instead of pressing further.
“Oh, I did,” said the Master. She grinned, feeling conspiratorial. “Don’t tell him, but there’s now a ball pit instead of a bath in his personal bathroom. I’m guessing he hasn’t tried to have a bath today, or he’d have noticed.”
“The things I did not need to know about that man,” said Donna. “Honestly. Hygiene.”
The Master smirked.
“Oh, Donna Noble, I think you and I are going to get along splendidly. Now, why don’t we go out and get some breakfast, since all the food in this kitchen seems to be more suited to Xpraxian tastes? The Doctor’s treat.” She held up the wallet she’d picked from the Doctor’s pocket when she’d brushed past him earlier.
“It’s almost midday.”
“Lunch, then,” said the Master. “Go on. We can go somewhere fancy. I know all the best places.”
“Oh, all right, then,” said Donna. “Just let me get changed, if we’re going somewhere fancy.”
When the Master and Donna emerged from the depths of the TARDIS’s labyrinthine corridors into the console room, there was a pair of pin-striped legs and Converse-clad feet sticking out from under the console. Obviously the Doctor was trying to work out for himself what the Master had done.
At the sound of the Master’s and Donna’s footsteps the Doctor rolled out from under the console, and blinked at them.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Out, Doctor,” said Donna. “Magister’s promised to buy me lunch.”
“Magister?” The Doctor’s eyebrows rose to his hairline. “That’s an alias I haven’t heard in a while. Wait. Buy you lunch with what?”
Grinning, the Master held up the stolen wallet.
The Doctor recognised it, if the way he started frantically patting down his pockets was any indication.
“Oi! That’s my wallet!”
“Well, I needed to get money from somewhere,” said the Master. “Would you rather I went and robbed a bank?”
The Doctor battled with himself.
“Fine,” he bit out. “Let’s go to lunch.”
“Oh no,” said Donna. “This is a girls-only lunch, Time Boy. I want all the gossip.”
The Doctor looked horrified, as though he wasn’t sure what he was more afraid of: the Master hurting Donna somehow, or the two of them actually getting along.
“Relax, Doctor,” the Master drawled. “It’s just lunch. Maybe a bit of shopping, after. Don’t work yourself into an early regeneration over it.”
“It’s fine, Doctor,” said the Master. “If we’re not back in five hours, send a search party or call UNIT, or something. Until then, stop worrying that I’m about to do something fiendish to your companion. Come on, Donna.”
They swept out of the TARDIS before he could argue with them any further.
The Master hailed the nearest taxi. As the two of them settled into the back seat, Donna sent the Master a sideways glance.
“What had the Doctor so worried about you and me getting lunch?”
The Master paused.
“You know how the Doctor is always facing down the Villain of the Week?”
“Villain of the Day, more like,” said Donna. “Yeah. Why?”
“In the good old days, that would have been me.” A flash of a smile. “Probably still will be, some days.”
“But you two…”
“Like I said,” said the Master. “Complicated.”
Donna didn’t ask any more about it.
Instead, she and the Master went to an excellent French restaurant. One look at the Master’s tailored suit and Rolex watch, and the maitre’d gave them one of the best tables in the place.
“This is delicious,” said Donna once she’d begun eating her meal. She sounded amazed.
“I mean, really, really good.”
“I know,” said the Master again, amused by Donna’s enthusiasm.
They ended up exchanging stories of the Doctor over lunch, and Donna nearly laughed herself sick at some of the choice anecdotes the Master was able to tell.
“But he must have gotten one over on you at least once,” said Donna.
The Master hesitated. Dozens of incidents leaped to mind.
“I knew it,” said Donna, correctly interpreting the Master’s hesitation. “So tell me that story.”
“Well, there was this one time when Borusa pulled all the Doctor’s regenerations out of time and dumped them in the Death Zone, I suppose…”
“Regenerations?” Donna interrupted. “And what’s the Death Zone?”
Both of those questions took some explaining.
“You mean you lot just… grow a new body?” Donna said, a little too loudly.
Heads turned in their direction. The Master tried to shush her.
“Don’t you shush me, Time Girl. Every time I forget you and the Doctor are aliens, you go and do or say something completely mental. Two hearts. Regenerations. Can you get any weirder?”
The Master waited for Donna to get past her shock.
“Alright. Fine. I can handle it.” Donna finally moved on, although she still looked a little…concerned. “Tell me what the Death Zone is, then.”
The Master explained that, too. Donna looked even more perturbed than before, but soldiered on.
“So this Borusa bloke pulled every version of the Doctor out of time, and dumped them there?”
The Master nodded.
“I was… bribed, I guess you could say, to rescue him.”
“So what happened?”
The Master scowled.
“The Doctor didn’t believe I’d come to help him,” she admitted, and braced herself for Donna’s amusement. “He stole my teleport and left me there.”
But Donna didn’t laugh, as most of the Doctor’s other companions would have. Instead, she frowned.
“What, alone by yourself, in the Death Zone? Doesn’t sound like him.”
“To be fair, I’d tried to kill him a number of times,” said the Master. “And I’d been involved in his most recent regeneration, at the time. He may have been holding a grudge.”
“I think,” said Donna, “I’m beginning to see what you mean by complicated.”
They finally left the restaurant an hour later, and the Master glanced at the watch. There was still a few hours left before she and Donna were due back at the TARDIS to avoid the Doctor panicking.
“I need some new suits,” she told Donna. “Want to come shopping with me?”
“Oh, why not.”
By the time they arrived back at the TARDIS, the Master was carrying an armful of clothes, and Donna was looking tired.
The Doctor was sitting in the console seat, his feet up on the console itself, reading Les Miserables.
“Donna!” he said, leaping to his feet and slamming the book shut. “Everything all right?”
“I’m never shopping with her again,” said Donna. “She tried on thirty-seven different suits. She only bought three of them. I’ve never seen anyone so picky about clothing in my life.”
The Doctor nodded sagely, as though he could possibly talk. Hypocrite.
“Oh, as though you didn’t spend an entire regeneration insisting on wearing a vegetable,” said the Master.
“It was perfectly useful, I’ll have you know!”
“It looked ridiculous.”
The Doctor frowned. The Master smirked.
“Anyway, I need a nap,” said Donna. She left the console room.
The Doctor and the Master were left staring at each other.
“So,” said the Doctor abruptly. “When do you want me to remove the drums?”
There was only one answer.
“As soon as possible.” The Master paused for a second. “But let me go hang my new suits in the wardrobe, first.”
The Doctor nodded.
“I’ll meet you in the medical bay.”
“Fine,” said the Master, and went to put her brand-new suits away in her room.
As she hung each of her new suits in the wardrobe, followed by the red shirts she’d also bought while clothes shopping with Donna, the Master glanced around her room. It was more to Rose’s tastes than hers; she’d have to redecorate at some point.
She tried not to think of how much it might damage - or even just change - her mind to have the drums removed, after living with them since childhood.
When she got to the medical bay the Doctor was already there, waiting. He’d set up a medical scanner beside one of the beds, and had his hands in his coat pockets.
“You sure you want to do this?” he asked, very serious.
“Yes,” said the Master. She climbed onto the bed and lay down, closing her eyes. A moment later she heard the Doctor drag a chair over to her bedside. Seconds later she felt his fingers at her temples, and one by one she lowered all her mental defences, even the most prickly and ancient of them.
“Sleep,” said the Doctor, and the Master let herself go.
Some time later, and for once she didn’t know exactly how long, the Master awoke in the medical bay. It was the strangest feeling. She knew immediately that whatever the Doctor had done to her mind had been successful – the drums were gone.
She didn’t know how to feel now that the endless drumming had been torn out. Who was she, without the drums?
She sat up and swung her feet out of bed. Without the drums, and without all of Gallifrey as background noise, everything seemed so cold and empty inside her head – except for the Doctor’s quicksilver mind at the back of her own, humming with warmth and light.
She wondered where he was, and went in search of him.
She found him in the kitchen, cooking – she snorted in laughter – banana pancakes.
He spun around at the sound of her snort.
“Master,” he said, looking tremendously relieved, and she wondered uneasily how long she’d been unconscious for. “You’re awake!”
Well, that was ominous.
“How long was I out?” asked the Master.
The Doctor’s answer was not reassuring.
“Four days. I was beginning to wonder if you ever going to wake up.” He spoke the words flippantly, but the Master knew him well enough to know that he meant what he’d said. “How do you feel?”
“Empty,” said the Master. “Like… there’s this great empty space inside my mind.”
The Doctor looked terribly sad all of a sudden, which confirmed the Master’s suspicions.
“You had to rebuild bits of my mind, didn’t you?”
“Master, I’m so sorry,” the Doctor began, but the Master didn’t want to hear it.
“Just tell me how bad it was.”
“Bad,” said the Doctor, still with that doe-eyed, sad expression. “I got the signal out, but in the process… so much of your consciousness was intertwined with it that, well, bits sort of… fell apart, without it. I stopped the worst of the structural damage, but… you’ll have to rebuild the rest yourself.”
Normally, the Master would have been furious at that, but… without the drums, she felt a… a sense of calm she hadn’t experienced since…
Well. Since she was a child, really – before she’d looked into the Untempered Schism.
So she only nodded.
“You’re taking this very calmly,” the Doctor said, looking worried.
“I feel calm,” said the Master. “It’s so strange. I haven’t felt this calm in… a very long time.”
“Well, that’s a good thing, I suppose.” The Doctor sounded like he was trying to convince himself.
“But it’s so… silent, without the rest of the Time Lords,” the Master continued. “Now that the drums are gone, the fact that we’re alone, it’s like… being locked away without sight or sound, or touch. This big blank silence where there should be so much noise. How do you bear it, Doctor?”
For a moment, the Doctor didn’t answer. Then he spoke.
“You helped. Saved my life, in more ways than one. Rose Tyler, the girl who reminded me that there was still wonder in the universe. And now you’re you, here in my head, and it’s… easier than it was. Easier than being completely alone in my own mind.”
The Master shivered at the thought of being that alone. The silence stretched out.
“What happens now?” the Master finally asked.
“Well,” said the Doctor, “I was hoping you’d travel with me.” He didn’t quite meet her eyes. “The universe needs saving, and I could do with some help.”
The Master waited for the usual scorn to bubble up, as it always did when the Doctor tried to urge her to reform.
But it didn’t come.
Slowly, like the break of dawn over the horizon, she smiled.
“You’re not calling me your companion, though, alright?” she said, and the Doctor’s gaze snapped to hers, desperately hopeful. “I’m not one of your humans, following you around like I’m on a leash.”
“Is that a yes?” asked the Doctor. The Master grinned at him, and the Doctor beamed back, looking radiantly happy.
A voice in the Master’s head told her that it wasn’t going to be that easy, not after centuries of villainous habits, but she shoved it away. She’d deal with that issue as it came up. Right now, she was going to enjoy the moment.
She and the Doctor stood and smiled at each other.
“Where’s Donna?” the Master finally thought to ask.
“Don’t know,” said the Doctor. “Said something about staying with her family for a few days, and I wasn’t to leave without her.” His voice was fond.
“She’s good, isn’t she?” said the Master.
“Oh, brilliant,” the Doctor agreed, smiling.
“Mm,” said the Master, and then, “Doctor, your pancakes are burning.”
The Doctor spun around, and swore as he saw that she was right. He sprang for the spatula and started removing the pancakes from their pans, muttering under his breath.
“So I got a call from Martha,” said the Doctor, once the pancakes were served in a pile on a large plate. “Said something about UNIT having a storeroom of my old stuff.”
“Oh, right – Martha Jones,” said the Doctor. “She’s a doctor with UNIT now, used to travel with me. Anyway, she said that UNIT was sick of everything I’d left behind taking up space, so could I please go and sort it out? Oh,” and the Doctor was grinning all of a sudden, “and do you know who the new head of UNIT is? You’ll never guess.”
“So just tell me.”
“One Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. Well, just Stewart now. Suppose she wanted to be judged on her own merits, and not her dad’s.”
The Master blinked.
“The Brigadier had a daughter, and now she’s head of UNIT? Isn’t that nepotism?”
“Don’t know, I’d have to meet her. Do you want to go and find out?” the Doctor was looking at her with that eager expression he always got when he’d been in one place for too long.
“Oh, alright,” said the Master. “So long as they don’t shoot me on sight. If they do, I’m blaming you.”
The Doctor waved away her concerns.
“Oh, I’m sure they’ll understand, once I explain,” he said, as ridiculously optimistic as ever. The Master decided then and there she was taking her laser screwdriver with her, set to the force-field setting that would deflect bullets and energy weapons alike.
“Pass me some of those pancakes,” was all she said, however, and the Doctor got another plate and transferred half the banana pancakes to it, before passing the plate to the Master.
There was silence as they ate. The Master was still trying to come to grips with the lack of drums in her head and the changes to her psyche, but… for the first time in a very long time, she felt like happiness might be within her grasp. And it didn’t depend on murder and mayhem, either.
When he was done the Doctor dumped his plate in the sink, and leaped into action.
“Come on, Master!” he said. “We can pick up Donna first, and then go and visit UNIT headquarters. Blimey, it’s been ages since I’ve been there. I can’t even remember what I left behind.”
“A mess, apparently,” said the Master dryly. The Doctor grinned at her, and somehow, the Master ended up slipping her hand into his.
“Allons-y!” said the Doctor, and tugged her along.
The Master laughed, falling easily into step with the Doctor’s rushed pace.
She might not know how she felt about a lot of things, anymore, but this? Racing hand-in-hand with the Doctor?
It felt good, like there was nowhere else she would rather be.
There... may be one more fic in this 'verse? We'll see. Keep an eye out over the next week or so.
Also, since I mentioned my other, much more cracky Master!Rose series from way back in 2014, it's called 'A Rose By Any Other Name' and you can find it here. Fair warning: it's been described as hilarious, but also disturbing, so YMMV.