Title: Universes Will Evaporate
Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who
Author's Note: Constructive criticism appreciated, particularly on characterization. This fic mostly draws from TV canon, and picks and chooses from the extended universe. The title is from Alastair Reynold’s Doctor Who novel, the Harvest of Time.
Warnings: Spoilers for Series 7’s “of the Doctor” arc
Summary: When the Time War leaves them unsure of their own identities, they are there to remind each other of who they are.
The Master collapsed, overcome by the thum-thum-thum-thum of the drums in his head.
And at one hell of time. Not that there ever was a section of time and space where a noise-induced drop would be something good, because there was not, but this was a particularly awful one for it. Namely, a battlefield, one where the Time Lords fought the Daleks for possession of the Cruciform, which the Church - its current owner - was not about to give to either of them.
He tried to get back on his feet but his body shook too much for him to manage that. Since that was a complete failure, the Master decided to lower his aims and attempt to crawl across the pitted, bloody and barren ground instead. Even babies could do that, after all. That made it rather mortifying but it still was preferable to begging for aid.
As if he even would be helped, when the Daleks were threatening the whole of creation and he’d been revived solely because his people believed he would be not only able to cope with war, but good at waging it, when the Doctor - or the Renegade, as he was now called by the other Time Lords, regardless of the fact that there were plenty of other renegades, each deserving the title just as much as the Doctor did - was leading the charge against the enemies of almost all life.
The Master managed about one measly inch before the drums - and his fear - left him shaking again. He looked back, checking to see if the Time Lords had noticed his indignity. Fortunately for his pride, they were all looking in a different direction entirely, at a different phalanx of Daleks. Well, all but one. The Doctor, of course. He was looking straight at the Master, his composed leader-warrior front dropping.
“No…” the Master whisper-shouted at him. “You are not, you are not…”
The other Time Lord then went searching through his coat pockets, muttering his frustration and tossing things out.
“You are…” The Master said, in a way that was almost a sigh, a sigh that didn’t know whether to be happy or sad and therefore chose both. “You really are…”
The others of their kind had no such inner conflict. Instead, all they did and said and presumably thought was, when it came to it, either “what is he doing?”, “he really should not be doing that” or “has he found a way to win the Cruciform - or perhaps the entire war?”, sometimes in various combinations. As if the Doctor even cared what they thought.
Meanwhile, a Dalek, spotting that the Master was the weakest member of the Time Lord herd, floated towards him and then landed so close he was surprised that his cape had not been tread on. That gave his heart a jolt but he struggled not to show it. It also got the Doctor looking even faster through his pockets.
“SURROUND HIM,” that Dalek told some of the others. “HE MAY COME IN USEFUL.”
“Oh, may I?” the Master forced out.
In that moment, the Doctor pressed a small round button and appeared, out of blue light, beside the Master and gripped him tight.
“Do not let go,” he whispered.
The Master let out a strained laugh. “Now when have I ever been able to let go of you…”
Next thing he knew, they were both in a more secure place, far but not too far from the Daleks. A place where he could watch the battle but did not have to participate. A place the Doctor left in a beam of light as soon as possible.
Leaving the Master to watch as the Dalek forces overwhelmed both the human Church and the Time Lords, leaving to watch them gain the Cruciform and all its awesome power. Power enough to make Gallifrey’s strongest defences crumple.
Leaving the Master to watch it all fall, knowing he could not fight anymore. Knowing he had no control of events and no impact on them.
All was quiet within the Doctor’s TARDIS, in a marked contrast to the battlefield they had shortly left. Yet, the two Time Lords weren’t fully at ease. Closer to being at ease when they were still in the midst of the Time Lord-Church-Dalek conflict, yes. Satisfied by the lovemaking they had heatedly engaged in as soon as the fight was over, yes. At ease, no. The bed was soft, uniting their bodies was wonderful, but they weren’t at ease.
If they were at ease, the Master was sure, he wouldn’t be constantly replaying the moment when the drums made him weak and the moment when the Cruciform passed from the Church’s possession to the Daleks’ in his head. If they were at ease, the Doctor wouldn’t be constantly shifting around as he lay there, upsetting the blankets that the Master had set up so carefully. Showing him, thought the Master bitterly, that even objects could not fully submit to his power these days, no matter how hard he tried.
A tap on his shoulder then distracted him from his morose thoughts. He turned around and looked into the face of the Doctor, who took a deep breath.
“Ah, Master, there’s something I’ve been wondering about for a while,” he said, words like mere exhalations of air. “You didn’t call for me. Why?”
“That wouldn’t be very Masterly of me, would it?” He dripped as much scorn as he could into the words. “Bad enough that I needed help, wasn’t it, Doctor?”
The last word was supposed to contain the mocking force it used to, but this time, like most of the others with the Doctor’s current body, it just made him smile, eyes lighting up the way they used to at all the wonders of the universe.
His grin, alas, came to an end quickly. “And if I lost you, all because you were so set on being ‘Masterly’...”
“As if I am that now…” The Master sighed, looking down, head held in his hands.
“You are. You always are,” the Doctor replied, moving closer to him and taking one of the Master’s hands for himself.
The Master scoffed, avoiding his lover’s gaze. “Ah, Doctor, I do believe you are… mistaken. Very mistaken.”
“No. I’m not. I’m just… not. Just not,” the Doctor said, eyes watering and voice cracking. Then, much softer, “Without you, I honestly don’t know if I would have any hope. At all.”
That reduced the Master to simply blinking and opening and closing his mouth, rather fishlike.
“You know, one thing all Time Lords are taught, one thing they all have to learn, is that everything ends. And the Time War, oh God, the Time War, just seems hell-bent on proving that. An entire hotel chain, Zygor, the Gelth: all gone, all gone now. But you, but you…” The Doctor let out a short happy sigh, a smile spreading across his face like the sunrise. “Just like humanity…”
In response to that mention of the Doctor’s favourite species, the Master snorted. Sometimes he wondered why he felt so much for that man. Comparing him to humanity? Pah. Too bad, he thought, that didn’t prevent something in him from lighting up in response to the Doctor’s affection. Life would be so much easier if it did.
Waving a disapproving finger in reply to his rude noise, the Doctor continued, “Just like humanity… You live on. You don’t end. You always find a way to survive, when the entire universe agrees that you just can’t. When some people would have just given the ghost. Run out of regenerations? You devote yourself to acquiring more.” He chuckled, then his tone sobered a bit. “Burn up? Somehow I end up meeting you again, unburnt and not so pleased with me. Dinosaurs? You don’t go their way, that is for sure. That, and the Daleks. The Daleks. They threaten all of time and space, and yet when they executed you, you just didn’t stay dead. You survived and continued. And when you fell in the Eye of Harmony, that wasn’t the end either. You don’t end, and that gives me hope.”
The Master grinned, pulling the Doctor closer. “Well, I have always prided myself on being beyond such petty obstacles as death.”
“You should. You always find a way, and that is Masterly. That is what you are the Master of, even when nothing else submits to you. Your own fate.”
“I notice that doesn’t stop you from helping out from time to time, Doctor,” the Master replied, laughing lightly.
“Not Renegade. Doctor. You still call me that. Now why’s that?”
“I could say it’s because there are plenty of Time Lord renegades in the existence, including me, and so you are not unique in that,” the Master said. “But… simple and clean as that explanation is, it’s just not all there is.”
“What more could there be? We all know I broke the vow behind my name when I entered this war.” The Doctor’s tone was desolate, as desolate as the many worlds devastated by the Time War.
“Much more. Only the Doctor would do what you did for me today, despite the odds, despite the cost, despite everything.”
“Would the Doctor kill all the people I’ve killed, unleash what I’ve unleashed, all to win this war?”
“If he had no choice. Which he did. And I believe that vow you were speaking of was: ‘Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.’”
“Yes. That was the promise, alright.”
“Then I simply don’t see how you have broken it. You didn’t do what you have done to be cruel, enlisting in a war is hardly what I’d call cowardly and not what I would call giving up or giving in either,” the Master said, some amusement in his voice. “You did what you could and what you had to. And you make the universe worth being in.”
“If only I could believe that…” the Doctor sighed. “If only…”
“Well, I do. And that might have to be enough.”
They were both silent for a moment, and then began touching each other; joining together in intimacy, body to body and mind to mind, savouring the presence of the only ones to still believe in the names they had chosen, oh so long ago.
Waking up, the Doctor found no Master beside him. No Master anywhere in his TARDIS, actually. At first, he presumed that meant the Master had returned to his TARDIS and then to the war, but…
No matter how long and how far he searched, how wide and how high, he could not find the Master anywhere in the universe. It was days, it was months, he did not know anymore, but he still had not found the Master. His Master. Worlds died, monstrous things were set upon the universe, and he was nowhere to be found. Nowhere in the Epoch of Mass Time Travel. Nowhere in the Epochs of A Little Bit of Time Travel, A Reasonable Amount of Time Travel, Hardly Any Time Travel, and Absolutely No Time Travel.
And the Doctor began to wonder if he was dead, if the unsinkable Master had proved to be sinkable after all. If he was wrong to invest all his hope in him. If he was wrong to have any hope at all.
Then the sky trenches around Arcadia fell, and Arcadia itself was about to fall, and having no hope, he took the Moment. There was no other way. Gallifrey had to burn, the Master was gone. Everything ends. The Doctor had ended already.
Far away, however, out in the Silver Devastation, a little boy was found with a pocket watch and no memories. That little boy was named Yana, chosen by those who found him because of the prophecies of the Boekind, and he grew up wanting to be a Professor, in absence of universities, and to save all the remaining peoples of the universe, in absence of hope. To be, maybe not a master, but still someone to beat the odds when the game was rigged against him and all else that existed.