The Doctor sat cross-legged on the bed opposite to Marcellus. They were alone inside the Tardis, with the familiar whirring and churning of the engine the only sound that filled up the space between them. Outside, the blue box navigated through the clouds of stardust that would one day become the sun, the planets, the moons, and even the icy rocks of Saturn's rings. This phenomenon created a scene with a strange kind of beauty, both serene and overwhelming. The clouds were like brushstrokes, a work of art created by an artist, vibrating with colors, and becoming alive with every collision that occurred between the drifting particles, all merging, and all changing, giving birth to new entities.
How he would have loved to show this to him, to take his hand, part the doors of the Tardis, and let him see, let him understand, and allow him remember who he really was.
But he just couldn't. Not yet. Jack, in all his human frailty, had created a mirror image of the doctor. He had made Marcellus kind, intelligent, and loyal, with an intuitive sense of right and wrong, only to put him through a life of suffering and degradation that had turned him mad and paranoid. Marcellus was damaged, a human shell, broken and hollowed-out inside. Even the trust he had in the Doctor was fragile. It was a thin rope from which his beloved friend dangled from a high cliff, and he was slipping away from him. He was falling away into the abyss fast.
I will cure him. The Doctor thought, a sadness stirring his hearts. No matter what, I will save him, and than he will be able to see it. I will show him all the beauty that lies in time and existence. The last two timelords in existence, traveling together, no longer each-other's enemies, but trusted companions.
He placed his fingers gently on Marcellus's temples. He only flinched a little, a small, almost undetectable reflex left over from his past life. Blink and you would have missed it. Still, the Doctor had noticed. He closed his eyes, tilting his head towards him.
Don't be afraid of me Marcellus.
Please, don't be afraid.
The roads inside Marcellus's mind reminded the Doctor of the slums of Rome itself. There were no straight lines of logic, the path of reason was all twisted, and fear lurked around every corner turned. There were so many dead-ends that it seemed highly remarkable that Marcellus could form one complete thought inside his head at all. The rooms had no doors, and dark memories of a short and tormented life spilled straight onto the path of reason, polluting it with its filth. He did not wish to be reminded of what was stored inside these rooms. Maybe he could just seal it in, he had contemplated it many times, it would take just a small adjustment to Marcellus's memories to put all these horrible recollections behind him, but it was a ridiculous idea, really. The damage had already been done. Forgetting about the past because it was such a convenience for the one bearing the guilt would not help Marcellus at all.
So the Doctor ventured further, deeper into the slumps, entering the parts that needed illumination for any traveler to find his way. Something was buried there. The Doctor could sense it. It squirmed and wriggled in the dirt just under his feet. The Doctor sank through his knees and started to dig. But the object he wanted to uncover eluded him every time when he was getting near. A glimpse of white fingertips beckoning him, almost mockingly, then sinking back into the dark pit, is all that he got for his efforts.
What are you hiding there Marcellus? What scares you so much that you need to bury it and hide it away, even from me?
What are you afraid of?
What lies beneath the surface?
"What is this?" The Doctor asked, while he watched with childlike curiosity how Martha poured the boiling water into the colorful plastic cups sitting on top of the coffee tray.
"It's a cup noodle. Here." She handed the scrimp-flavored one to the Doctor. "What, you've never heard of it?"
"No, well I saw them stocked up in the supermarket but it never occurred to me that it was a food item that was suitable for human consumption. I thought it was some kind of parakeet feed."
"So you never had one before?"
He shook his head and inquisitively took a fork-full, chewed on it, pushed it around in his mouth, slammed it against his palate with his tongue, and spat it out again, pulling an grossed-out face. "No, nope, never had one before and never will have another one. Yuk!" He wiped his tongue on his sleeves.
"Is it really that bad? I know it's not exactly gourmet cuisine, but I though the prawn-flavored one was quite edible."
"It tastes like sewage leakage from chemical mining plants. You must be utterly mad to like this."
Martha glanced over her shoulder at Marcellus, who was sitting up with his legs crossed in bed and was happily munching down the entire cup.
"See." The Doctor said, furrowing his brow worryingly. "Proves my point."
"Here." Martha smiled, she offered her portion to Marcellus. "Take a bit of mine. It's chicken flavored."
He just nodded and stuffed another plastic fork full of wriggling noodles into his mouth.
"Gee, You do really like them." Martha said, a bit astonished.
"It tastes really good." Marcellus muttered between two mouthfuls. "It's even better than what the Doctor cooks!"
"Ah." Martha shot an accusing look at the Doctor.
"Hey! Stop that! I know what you're thinking and it's not fair. I'm a wonderful cook!" The Doctor responded defensively.
"Well, you're not going to get me invited to your diner parties soon." Martha teased.
"I am a delightful cook, I know more than 12000 different recipes with a 100 different ingredients!"
"So does the latest Delia Smith recipe collection on CD, but it doesn't mean that I can sent my labtop into the kitchen to make diner for me."
"Delia Smith, oh yes, I do like her." The Doctor grinned, leaning back in his chair, his hands folded over his chest. "She is an immigrant alien. A Psedonian, a very curious race. Did you know that they've invented 230 ways to cook an egg?"
"That explains a lot. I started to wonder how someone could make so much money by teaching people how to boil eggs."
Martha listened how the Doctor started rambling about the precise science involved in process of egg preparation. She noticed how he continued to check and to take care of Marcellus, offering him his portion of the food, taking away the small plastic fork as soon as he was finished, and feeding him the pills. And although it seemed that his attention was directed to Martha because he was talking to her, she knew that he was constantly worrying and fussing about him like a large bouncy mother hen. Five hours before, she would have found it hard to understand his behavior, being far less forgiving towards the Master than the Doctor was. But the Doctor had explained to her what he had been through, and she now understood it completely. No man, even if he was the Master in his former incarnation, should be put through that kind of torment. And she accepted it that the Doctor was doing his best to help him. In fact, she realized that she liked Marcellus, and she wouldn't hesitate to offer them her help.
They waited till Marcellus had fallen asleep before they both quietly slip out of the room.
"At least there are no dishes to clean." The Doctor made a single knot in the white plastic bag with the garbage and dumped it into the bin in the kitchen. "And it would help me to lose some weight because it puts me off food for the rest of the day. Maybe those cup-noodles are good for something after all."
Martha shook her head and smiled. "The Doctor's turning domestic, who would have thought."
"I should stock up on those. He seems to like it. Maybe my cooking skills are a tad exotic for his taste." He smiled, rubbing the back of his neck.
"So Doctor. What's your plan? How are you going to help him?" Martha asked, with a sudden serious tone in her voice.
"You worry about me, don't you?" He smiled at her.
"It's just…I am a MD, and I've seen patients like him. I've seen dozens of them, wandering around in the psychiatric ward with their minds completely off this world. They need a lot of care. In the hospital we have a staff of 40 people to watch over them 24 hours a day. You are all on your own."
"Don't worry, I take good care of him. I want to take good care of him."
"All I'm saying is that perhaps, you should get some help with that. Bring him to the hospital. Let him see a proper psychiatrist."
"I'm not going to get him committed!" The Doctor replied sternly. "I can't just abandon him. It's my fault that he ended up being like this in the first place."
"But it's not fair. Not to you and not to Marcellus. You can't just keep him sedated and tied down to a bed for the rest of his entire life. He can't do anything without you. That's not living, it's imprisonment."
"I know." He replied gloomily. "But that's why I need to find a way to cure him. Martha, before you arrived, I went out into the city to look for Jack."
"Jack? He's in London?" Martha asked, pleasantly surprised.
"His team is tracking down a time rift that has opened here right in middle of London. I went looking for him because I needed to speak with him. You see, when I allowed Jack to create the Master's human form, I also gave him this."
The Doctor showed Martha the object that he pulled out of his coat pocket, it was the all too familiar fobwatch with the intricate alien carvings.
"Everything that the Master was is contained inside." The Doctor explained. "And everything will be reverted to the way it was, as soon as Marcellus opens it."
"You're going to bring back the Master."
"Martha." The Doctor tried, as soon as he noticed her growing distress.
"I know, I know what that thing does. Remember John Smith? It turned you back into the Doctor, but John Smith was gone. If you do this the Master will return and Marcellus will stop existing. You'll murder him."
The Doctor fell silent again, and stared down at the fobwatch that he held in his hand. He gently traced the engraved circles with the tip of his thumb. He closed his eyes and let the gentle ticking of the hourwork vibrate through his fingertip into the fibers of his being. He sensed the serenity that streamed into him like a cascade of clear, sparkling water.
"You can't do this to Marcellus. He deserves a chance at life, more than the Master ever does. Please Doctor, you must not do this."
He couldn't hear her, he was suspended in space, the contact with the earth beneath his feet lost, watching the glowing, shimmering string that coded for the Timelord's DNA shooting by like a comet's tail. All that information was too much to take in, even for a Timelord. But why, he wondered, why did it feel so empty? Why was there so much space, as if the fobwatch was not occupied, soulless even? And why, if this was indeed all that the Master stood for, was it so strangely peaceful?
"Doctor? Doctor, what's the matter?" Martha asked, observing the chance of expression on his face.
He woke up from his medication-induced oblivion when the Doctor lifted him out of bed. He stared at him with hooded eyes and asked where they were going. The Doctor did not answer him. He brought him into the control room, placed him in a chair that was bolted to the floor and strapped him down. Marcellus was confused, and scared, but this was the Doctor. Even in his ruined state he was convinced that the Doctor would never do him any harm. So he tried to calm his heart when it started to throb madly in his chest as the Doctor cuffed his ankles to the steel legs, and forced back his tears when the Doctor pulled down the helmet shaped device from the Tardis core and placed it on his head. He remembered it of course. He knew exactly what was going to happen, and still he didn't fight nor struggle against his restrains, for he trusted the Doctor. The Doctor would keep him safe, he kept telling himself. The Doctor was going to save him. So he bit his lower lip till he tasted blood, and breathed in deeply when the last leather straps were pulled tight around his wrists.
The Doctor knelt down beside him, his eyes meeting his, he gently stroked his cheeks.
"Doctor." He whispered. He swallowed hard.
"I'm sorry Marcellus." He kissed him on his forehead. "But I have to bring him back."
The Doctor walked over to the console and pulled the lever. A violent surge of electric currents passed through Marcellus, causing incredible pain. His muscles strained to the point that he believed that they would snap like a dry bundle of twigs. He screamed, his body desperate to escape the torture, it wriggled and squirmed, but there was no way out. He trusted the Doctor, and now he was caught like a dying animal in a hunter's trap.
The Doctor saw how he struggled, and sadness and horror were engraved on his features. He watched over the console. Oh how the dial climbed over the face of the display ever so slowly. Finally they reached the red line, and he immediately shut down the bioconverter. Marcellus had lost consciousness, his body was limp, with his head sank forward over his chest. The Doctor knelt down and gently stroked his hair while tears welled up inside him. He traced his temples with his fingertips, and closed his eyes as he entered his mind.
The path of reason was gone, dissolved completely into chaos, everywhere he looked were ruins, tired derelict walls still standing by leaning heavily into each other, and balustrades of rubble and dirt. The Doctor stared into the darkness and walked into the direction of the pit. A sound like thunder vibrated in he air en trembled the ground underneath his feet.
"Master!" He yelled. "I know you're here. Stop hiding. Show yourself!"
Footsteps, the sound of shoes with steel heels tapping on pavement. Out of the darkness, a figure appeared, walking towards him.
"Doctor, Doctor, Doctor." He spoke in a voice that was mockingly disapproving. "Now look what you have done to the poor wretch's mind. It's like a bloody earthquake in one of those sad backwards countries."
"I didn't do this to him. You did."
"Really, that's strange. Because I do recall that it was you who pulled the lever." The Master replied, smiling a very insincere smile. He was wearing his black coat and leather gloves, as if he was still Harold Saxon, stalking the streets of London with his Toclefane minions.
"You were the one who kept him sick. You've hiding in here like, sucking every bit of sanity out of him, like a vicious insatiable parasite!"
"Oh, come on Doctor! Such harsh words for a serial killer! So you wanted to get rid of me, I understand. I can be a bit too much handle, it's true. And I do have my own gruesome but sadly unfulfilled fantasies about your fate. So I respect your efforts, I really do. Only, if do you want to turn me into a stupid biped monkey, why not use the proper bioconverter? The one that came with the Tardis, that is. Instead of using a real shitty one that you made out of toilet rolls and painted macaroni tubes. After all those years of wasting materials at art classes in Gallifrey, don't you realize that you really suck at it? And I mean, really really suck. Like with a capital S?"
"Why didn't you show yourself when I was in here?"
The Master laughed at him, visibly amused. "And let you spoil all the fun? No way!"
"I could've helped you. I still can help you. You're not alone in this. Not anymore."
"What –" The Master yelled, clapping his hands right in front of the Doctor's nose. It sounded like a trap that sprang shut. "Did you have in mind, Doctor? Hm? This saving business of yours, does it involve group hugs and singing merry songs around the smoldering remains of poor Marcellus's mind? Or should I lie down on a couch, tell you about what kind of prick I think you are?"
"I want you to come with me. Stop torturing him. It's not his fault that he's stuck here with you in the same physical form."
"I knew it, you are going to spoil all the fun!" The Master said, pointing an accusing finger at him. "Watch out humans! The stuck-up high and mighty moral crusader is loose again. Lock up your sons and daughters before they get kidnapped and are brainwashed into his next mindless dummy companion."
"I'm serious. You have to leave Marcellus alone! His mind can't take any more of your assaults."
"Why would I ever listen to you? I can do in here what I bloody well like." The Master answered insolently. "I can feed his paranoia with poison, or twist a neuron or two to complicate his motor functions, it makes the daily activities of this gay version of me a bit less dull. Remember that time you just lost sight of him, just for a minute or so? It was enough to make him find a nice long skewer and force him to carve your name in his thigh." The Master grinned insanely. "I absolutely loved that look on your face when you found him in the kitchen. Priceless! Such compassion you have Doctor, for a man that doesn't even really exist. Now I would have loved to repeat that little joke. Only you wouldn't let poor Marcellus harm himself anymore, would you? Illegal drugs and leather restrains, that's really kinky Doctor. Who would have thought you would lower yourself to my level. What's next, you're going to chop off his limps and put him away in a box in the attic with the rest of the Christmas tinsels?" He shrugged indifferently. "He's useless anyway."
"Stop it! Don't talk about him like that!" The Doctor shot him an angry look, just when another rumble of thunder resounded in the air. It sounded louder now, as if it was a summer storm, approaching fast.
"Doctor?" The Master asked, cocking an eyebrow as he noticed how the Doctor was alarmed by it.
"You must stop this, we don't have much time." The Doctor said, looking up worriedly at the sky.
"What are you playing at Doctor?"
The Doctor sighed. "Listen Master, I know what you are trying to achieve here. You want to blackmail me into turning you back into a Timelord. But I can't restore you. Martha was right. If I allow you to resurface, Marcellus won't stand a chance."
"Who gives a bloody fuck what is going to happen to that little twat!" The Master spat. "What about me!? What about my life?! Don't you remember what you said on the Valiant? Those three little words, Doctor, I wonder, do you still remember them?"
"I've forgiven you." The Doctor said, his eyes staring straight into the Master's. "And I've failed to protect you, but I won't fail again for Marcellus's sake."
The Master lowered his head, a cynical smile spread over his lips. "We are the last of our kind Doctor." He slowly raised his head and looked up at the other Timelord.
"I still want to save you. I want to save you both."
Lightening flashed and thunder roared loudly across the black sky, making the ground under their feet tremble like in an earthquake while the sound vibrated through every fiber of their bodies.
"What the hell is going on?" The Master asked, looking up while he blinked nervously at the flashes of lightening that blinded him. "Doctor! What did you do? I demand to know!"
The Doctor remained calm at the surface, only his eyes betrayed his inner turmoil. He spoke with a solemn voice. "You were right Master, I made a mistake with the bioconverter's design. It failed to remove you from Marcellus's mind, but it didn't fail in containing you in a compartment where you couldn't do him any harm. If it wasn't for what had happened to him, you wouldn't been able to get out and cause such mayhem."
The Master stared at the Doctor, his eyes widening as he realized what he had done.
"The bioconverter." He whispered in one breath.
"I used it to amplify Marcellus's biological response to your presence. And that -" The Doctor paused, while a new violent crack of thunder split the air. "Is not a storm that's approaching, but the sound of the walls closing in on you as his mind reacts, repelling you like a malignant cancer. Soon you won't be able to get out. You will be imprisoned in here for the rest of your existence, until the very day that Marcellus dies."
"You can't do this to me!" The Master sneered, gritting his teeth.
"I don't want this to happen." The Doctor spoke, and reached out to him. "Master, I beg you, for once, make the right decision and accept my help."
I don't need your help!" The Master responded angrily, but his eyes were glistering with fear.
"Don't be so stubborn, you must realize that the only way for you to survive is to find Marcellus. You don't have another choice and you know it."
"You want me to become one with him. " The Master stepped away from the Doctor, anger and fear flashing across his face. "You want me to merge with that - that weakling! That's what you've been planning all along!"
"It's the only way to stop this reaction against your presence. When you two merge, you'll be become a part of his character and his physical form will finally accept you. Master! Wait! Listen to me!"
The Master turned around and ran, stumbling over the debris. The shouts of the Doctor were hardly audible above the violent cracks of thunder that seemed to be following him, aiming for his head. He went straight across the dark ruined path when the ground began to rise. Rubble sprang up and grew into monstrous high walls. He almost crashed into it, scratching the palms of his hands over the rough stones. For a moment he was stunned. This couldn't be happening to him. He swirled around, and ran into the opposite direction, only to be stopped after a couple of meters where a wall sprang up out of the earth. He turned again, and fled. The thunder grew louder and louder, till it was deafening, till it even silenced the drums inside it head. It frightened him to death. He tripped and tore the knee of his pants. The coarse stones ripped the skin of his chin wide open. The dirt under his fingers trembled and he sprang up just in time before a third wall rose up in front of him, climbing higher and higher till the top vanished into the sky.
He looked up at the monstrous construction that towered above him, casting an eerie shadow over his existence. He blinked his eyes when he saw the Doctor's face appearing out the gloom. Oh, how he loathed and hated him, and how he feared him.
His appearance was still calm. He was the center of all the destruction, the eye of the storm. From that moment that he had looked into the vortex and had seen the fabric of time, had heard the rise of the drums that were summoning him to war, from that moment on, he had known that he couldn't co-exist with him. So they had fought. They had fought each other from the beginning till the very end of time. Without him, he wouldn't be the Master. He was the reason for his existence, the catalyst who had made him who he was. And now, now that he was lying here on the ground, finally defeated, forced to stare up at him with his face in the dirt, the Master could only smile while the tears were welling up inside him.
"I thought you were compassionate Doctor?" He said, as calmly as he could force himself to be, but inside it felt like his hearts were turning into stone.
The Doctor didn't say anything. He just stared down at him. His eyes unblinking, he offered him his hand.
After a long pause, the Master finally took it.