A Shift in Reality

Part 1 - A Shift in Identity

A/N: A thought that came to me at one point while writing bits of Project Gallifrey. Completely AU, really. I won't say anything more lest it spoil the cracktastic ending.

DON'T KILL ME! cackles madly and hides under the bed

It began three weeks after the events in Farringham.

The first time, he was in the console room. The lights were dimmed, the TARDIS settling in for the night period to coincide with Martha's internal clock. She was asleep, safe and sound and dreaming in her bed, and he was under the floor, doing what he did best to pass the time.

He reached his hand up, wandering aimlessly for the toolbox, but never quite finding it. The ache began behind his eyes, blurring his vision slightly, and he blinked, pausing to rub his fingers across his temple. Flickers of memory danced like stars across his eyes, a phantom of a voice.

"... promise me one thing, please. Don't let..."

And then it was gone. His brow furrowed, and an involuntary shiver ran through his skin, as he picked a new tool from the box, and returned to work.

The second time, he was on a planet, about to be executed. The smell of iron and ozone and dust assailed his nostrils as he looked out at the crowds, catching Martha's eye. She was waiting for the signal, waiting to leap into action with the other rebels and free him and the others from an unjust death.

The sun beat down, making his eyes sting with the brightness. A low, dull throb began pulsing in his temples, and to his surprise, he felt himself wince. He shut his eyes against the light, and sucked in a painful breath, as sparks of nerve-light spat in front of his vision, bringing the memories again.

"I don't think we're going to make it out of this one, old friend..."

"Don't say that..."

"It's truth, though... promise me one thing, please. Don't let..."

And then it was gone again. The dust was in his eyes and the sun still shone and the milling crowds had turned into a panicked frenzy of revolution and someone was unlocking the heavy shackles from his neck and wrists. He grinned broadly, infected by the victorious cries, and allowed one of the other prisoners to hug him joyously, while all the while, his stomach twisted in knots of disgust.

The third time came unexpected and fierce. He had taken Martha to a banquet on Lantea in the Pegasus Galaxy, and the Alterans were more then gracious to accept them as guests; he one of their oldest allies, she one of their descendents.

He never felt the fork leave his hand, clattering back onto the plate before him as he hissed, crushing a palm against his left temple as stabbing, fiery bolts of pain lanced through his head. His consciousness registered the sudden, alarmed exclamations, and the warmth of human hands holding him steady in his chair through the fabric of his suit. All he could focus on were the lights, blinding his eyes the tighter he held them shut.

Hands pulled the body to the sidelines,, hands covered in blood, the smell of burnt fuses and copper in his nose as he held on, the weight in his arms growing heavier as the air filled with a terrible cacophony of warning klaxons.

"I don't think we're going to make it out of this one, old friend..."

"Don't say that..." His voice choked, trying to force a semblance of hope into the despair in his hearts.

"It's truth, though... promise me one thing, please. Don't let..."

And it was gone. His eyes snapped open, meeting concerned faces and the hushed banquet hall. He heard someone breathing heavily – it took a moment to realize it was him. Stilling the shake of his hand, he accepted a cup of water, and waved Martha's worried questions off. It had just been a headache, nothing more. She looked hurt, though, he recalled later – perhaps he had been too tetchy in his response.

It happened again the night of the election. The TARDIS was safely parked in an alley around the corner from Martha's flat. Martha had left, gone to spend the night with her family in celebration of the big event. The Doctor had stayed behind, not wanting to get in the way and be forced into domestics. There was nothing alien about a PM election.

The television was on, but muted; the scenes rapidly flicked past without volume as he worked on a nondescript piece of circuitry on Martha's coffee table. He put down his tools with a groan as a headache began rising from his temple, spreading behind his eyes and turning into a full out migraine. A grimace of agony crossed his face as he clutched his head, moaning under his breath as his vision slowly swam into blackness, and he felt himself slide sideways and hit the carpeted floor before he lost consciousness completely.

He reached out, grasping the jacket, pulling the body to the sidelines as the Arcadian building crumbled under the onslaught of the Dalek bombings. His hands were covered in blood, the smell of burnt fuses and copper filling his nose as he held on, shielding the man from the dust that fell from the ceiling with every strike. The weight in his arms was growing heavier as the air filled with a terrible cacophony of warning klaxons.

"I don't think we're going to make it out of this one, old friend..." the man in his arms remarked with a wisp of deadhumour, coughing as he clutched his hands to the blood-stained hole that the shrapnel had torn into the side of his chest.

"Don't say that..." His voice choked, and he cursed it for doing so, trying to force a semblance of hope into the despair in his hearts. "Don't you dare say that, you bastard. We're going to win this war, you hear? We're going to win it and we are going to survive it, so that I can go back to hating your guts."

The man beneath him smiled weakly, and shook his head, reaching up and grasping the dark fabric of his tunic. "It's truth, though..." he said, his blue eyes dimming. "…promise me one thing, please. Don't let…" He tensed, sucking in a ragged breath as he clutched his chest, blood dribbling from the corner of his mouth. "Koschei, don't let the universe be without a doctor."

The Master tightened his grip on the Doctor's hand, so tight his knuckles whitened beneath the stain of crimson blood. "I won't, Doctor, because you're still going to be around."

There was no reply from the man at his knees, and something swirled into his chest, a clutching fear. "Doctor?" He shook the man's shoulder, wiped his hand off on the crushed velvet and held it over the Time Lord's mouth.

No breath brushed his skin.

The Master took in a shaking breath, leaning back as shock rippled over the pang of grief. The injury had been too severe – damaging the hearts was one of the quickest permanent deaths for a Time Lord. There would be no regeneration. The Doctor had known it.

A cosmos without the Doctor scarcely warranted consideration.

The Master reached forward, sliding the eyes of his oldest and best enemy shut, and breathed a sigh, reclaiming his calm façade.

A sudden beeping from one of the Doctor's pockets startled him, and he admonished himself for jumping before plucking the comm.-device out.


The face on the screen was that of Lady Romana. She looked shocked. "Master? Where's the Doctor? How did you get his comm.?"

He breathed in a slow breath and fished the Doctor's TARDIS key from the same pocket. "The Doctor is dead, I'm afraid. What do you need me to do?"

He woke with a jolt, his breath raggedly heaving to and from his lungs as he stared, wild-eyed at the ceiling. The phantom smell of blood and dust still filled his nose, and his stomach constricted. For a moment, he laid there, willing the nausea to settle.

The television was still on, the flat still dark. From the screen, images of the post-election party were mingling silently around, cameras flashing as Harold Saxon made a speech to an absent audience. His blue eyes flickered around the off-camera crowd, and for a moment, they looked directly at the shivering Time Lord. And though he knew Saxon couldn't see him, he could swear there was a flicker of recognition crossing those eyes, and the faintest of coy smiles drawn across the candidate's lips, before the moment vanished.

He staggered to his feet, and stumbled into the bathroom, drawing a basin of cold water and splashing his face, breathing heavily.

It was so deceptively simple, and so unwittingly cruel. With a brush of a single button, he unleashed the Eye of Harmony, and he watched with satisfaction as the Dalek ships burned in the skies.

Then Gallifrey began to burn, and his head split open with the deaths of millions. He screamed and burned in the fires of death and regeneration, within the ship of a dead hero, the pain stripping memory after memory from his mind as he sank to the floor of the TARDIS.

When he woke, he was completely alone.

His hands gripped the ceramic of the sink as he clenched his teeth, fighting the memories back. No, no-no, it wasn't how it happened. He had woken in ashes in his ship, a new face, a new body, but still the same man.

But it was a lie.

He lifted his eyes to the mirror, and found a stranger staring back at him. The face of the man he wasn't. He had taken his name, his identity, his memories, his ship, and continued on.

He had promised once, to never let the universe be without a Doctor.

"Well…" the Master breathed, softly, feeling his stomach roil as he swallowed, gazing into brown eyes that weren't supposed to be his. "This changes things."