There hadn't been a body.
There hadn't been a body, and the Doctor couldn't explain that. (The Doctor never liked it when he couldn't explain things, and there were often more of those than he liked to admit.) Had the Master been swept up with the other children of Gallifrey (ascension, no - there was only one angel among that lot), or had his body consumed itself in that last desperate act of revenge (revenge, yes - the Doctor knew that hadn't been about him at all, but there was part of him that liked to think -), or was it possible that, like a rat on a sinking ship, he'd somehow managed to wriggle free before it all went down (it wouldn't be the first time, would it)?
It might not have mattered if there had been a body. Death hadn't stopped the Master before.
But there'd been too much death already - there was always too much death - and the Doctor didn't want to think about death. Particularly not at a time like this.
It's already started, he'd told Wilf, and that was true. He had a little time before the end on this go-round, though (couldn't explain that, either, but what was the point of being a Time Lord if it didn't do what you wouldn't admit you wanted once in a while?), and if it was there, well - he was going to take terrible advantage of that, like he always did.
There was time between stopovers in Old Earth chip shops and fifty-first century bars, too - no matter how much the TARDIS might shorten the trip, there was still time, time, time to be killed, and he killed it by, of all things, watching TV.
The Doctor had good reason to hate TV. There'd been that business with the Wire, for one - nasty, that - to say nothing of the bloody Game Station. He had good reason to watch it, too. That was one thing you could say about humans (and several other species): they recorded everything. If it had happened since the advent of tape, chances were good you could find a reel of it (or a disc, or an OodTube) somewhere.
If Rose had been there, she would have insisted they watch something with a laugh track - sitcom, Britcom, the latest offering from any of several all-but-identical American comedians that would pull in sixty-five million quid with the expenditure of no talent or effort at all. Best medicine and all that. He could only imagine what Donna would have suggested and how many times he would have been forced to pat her hand awkwardly as she sobbed into a tissue. And Martha -
Martha would have smacked him right around the head for what he'd chosen, and he rightly deserved it, too.
From the tiny screen amidst the TARDIS' main controls, Harold Saxon beamed at him. Vote Saxon! commanded the painted drape behind the podium and the crowd in front shouted it with automatronic glee, never knowing where their enthusiasm would lead them. Never would know, either.
Sometimes, the Doctor envied creatures that only had room in their heads for one timeline.
He watched the vids trying to figure out where he'd gone wrong - or so he told himself, at any rate. There wasn't exactly a pop-up at 07:55 that said And if you'd known the Master had developed a technology fetish, Doctor, you could have stepped in before he started mentally masturbating all over those satellites. He hadn't been there to step in, anyway, or he would have. Still, he watched them hoping there'd be some sort of clue as to how he'd tripped up and how he could avoid making the same mistake next time.
(Anyone else would have pointed out [and did] that he could avoid it by bloody well giving up on the Master already. The Doctor chose to ignore that voice. He didn't like it. Besides, letting the Master roam the universe unchecked was just as much of a mistake.)
You could learn a lot by just observing, and so the Doctor observed, despite what it did to him. The worst part, actually, wasn't watching Harold-The Master-Saxon kiss babies and promise a bright new world; it was that the Doctor had to stream all the videos from Old Earth network archives, and that meant there were ads. Ads for chips-and-burger joints, ads for laundry soap that would get your whites whiter than white (the Doctor had seen whiter than white, and he didn't really think the humans wanted to, or that their eyes would be able to take it), ads for hybrid cars and new fall lineups and home insecurity systems, and every last one of them spliced over some or another piece of unremarkable clone-vat pop music.
I'm your biggest fan...
When it came to pop, the Doctor could take it or leave it. It didn't stir him the way the choirs the star-children of Delta Centauri did, but it wasn't the worst thing he'd ever heard, either. Not by much, but there was worse. The only time he'd ever really wanted to kill himself over it (and not regenerate) was when Rose had talked him into taking her to see what she called a boy-band. Not even a Time Lord could make three hours of half-dressed, androgynous young castrati go down easily.
Hell. Jack Harkness probably couldn't have made that go down easily.
The Doctor'd gotten used to hearing it on the Valiant. It had been that or go mad himself, and at least the Master (possibly proving the previous point) hadn't seemed to have any interest in (or was it tolerance for?) the dregs of the dance floor. He'd always suspected the reason the Master insisted on being surrounded by a stereo drumbeat was that it drowned out the rhythm in his own head. It hadn't been constant, but there'd enough that by the end of the Year That Never Was, the Doctor probably could have made his own catalogue of Top 40 charts: The Top 40 Voices Like Nails On A Chalkboard, the Top 40 Men With Far Too Much Interest In Leather Pants, the Top 40 Bands Who - Hey This Actually Isn't All That Bad.
There's no other superstar...
The way it was layered beneath ad copy was almost more subliminal than the sales-push itself, and when it trickled from the TARDIS' sound system, it came with the free gift of several (dozen) memories the Doctor would rather have forgotten: The months he'd spent helpless on the Valiant as the Master wreaked havoc on everything around and below him; Jack's increasingly-hoarse shouts as the Master found ways to break even the most unbreakable toy; the way the Master grinned as he died, knowing nothing he could ever do to the Doctor would be as cruel as refusing that offer of forgiveness and unconditional love.
Promise I'll be kind, but I won't stop -
He watched it now not because he wanted to watch, but because he needed to - needed to remember all those things he'd rather not; needed to remember that as much as he might have wanted to bring the Master under his redeeming wing, the Master was the Master, and required a special sort of handling. A point was coming (faster than he would have liked) when the Doctor - this Doctor - wasn't going to be around anymore, and he wanted to make sure that whoever was standing in the TARDIS then had all those things up front where they belonged. Oh, he knew the ghost of him would be there, with all that went with it, but this was particularly important.
There hadn't been a body, and that meant the Master almost had to be out there - somewhere. He might be wearing Harold Saxon's face or he might be someone else altogether, but as long as the possibility existed, the Doctor had to stay on his trail. The Master was dangerous. The Doctor knew that. And still, when he thought on those final moments before the end of (the) Time (Lords), on the vented anger of a long-simmering madman, he wanted to believe that there might have been something beneath it besides hate and vengence and rash last acts (Get out of the way): The seeds of redemption.
The Doctor always wanted to believe in redemption.
And so as the TARDIS spiralled through the Time Vortex on its way to England, Old Earth, 2005, the Doctor told it one more thing - no coordinates, no dates; just a hint of where he wanted to go next in case whoever came back from that trip forgot, logged in the flicker of a viewscreen and the sweeping emotion of a political rally.
Chase you down until you love me...
Author's Notes: Just something that came to me while I was abusing my cable company's music-on-demand channel. Paparazzi is © Lady GaGa. I feel like I picked up the idea of the Master using music to drown out the drums from another fic, but when I tracked down the one I thought it might have been, it wasn't in there - so if I was externally inspired on that account, I hope whoever originally came up with it will forgive me for running with it!