Sorry for taking so long to finish it, but I guess it's worth the wait.
There was no sound except for the metallic clang of gates closing behind her. The stale air in the corridor reminded her of the mortuary of the hospital where she had first found him. It was cool and sterile, smelling of disinfectant and chemical preservatives. She felt that it belonged to this place. Here where dead things were kept for eternity.
Jack guided her through this underground domain of the Torchwood institute, passing quickly by the rows of closed doors as they made their way to the last of the security locks at the far end. The captain spoke his name into the pinprick microphone installed next to the gate and put his palm against a black screen mounted on the wall. The sensor combined the information of his voice with that of the line scans from his hand. Concluding that they matched, a door opened in a slow mechanical shuffle.
So it's not only UNIT who's into high-tech gadgets to keep in the monsters. Donna thought not without a sense of irony as she stepped into the next corridor segment. Her mind was occupied by a thousand different thoughts and worries, and unknowingly she was already half-way when she finally noticed that Jack wasn't following. Hesitating, she turned around.
"Are you not coming?"
He shook his head. At this moment he was already going against the Doctor's wishes and against own his better judgment by allowing this secret meeting to take place, and he actually had to refrain from deciding to blow the whole thing off at the very last minute. But there was something in Donna's eyes that made him feel sorry for her that had made him grant her request.
"You let me go alone then?" She asked warily.
"You're going to be fine." Jack gave her a little smile for reassurance, but noticed that it did little to comfort her. He recognized that look on her face. Like the Doctor, she was lost. Unable to make up her mind what to do with that man waiting for her at the end of this corridor. "Remember." He urged her. "Keep as far away from the window as you could or else the mind-shield won't be able to protect you. There is a white line on the floor for guidance. Stay behind that line, and you'll be safe."
She nodded, for the good captain was only repeating what he had told her before. She knew that the mind-shield was installed around the Master's cell to keep him from tapping into the humans' brainwaves, a clever precaution, set up by the Doctor to prevent their prisoner from gaining control over the guards. Even now that he had been imprisoned, he was considered highly dangerous. She felt a pinch of fear in her heart, though it was not the concern of her own safety that was the reason behind it. With her blood pumping fast in her veins, she turned around and slowly walked away from the captain.
She passed by a single corroded door with a small glass windowpane. Behind it, she saw the frail frame of Lucy Saxon, sitting motionlessly on her bed. Her complexion seemed gray in comparison to the simple white hospital gown she was wearing. Her once golden locks carried streaks of white, and except for the slight movements in her chest that showed her breathing, there was very little life left inside her. Donna quickly averted her eyes from the wretched woman. Her feelings towards her were mixed. Although her pitiful condition could only evoke her compassion, she couldn't stare that woman in the face without remembering what she done. Better not to open those wounds again. She hastened her steps till she reached the door at the far end of the corridor. She pushed it open with both hands, taking in a deep breath before stepping through.
A single light bulb dangled from the ceiling to lit the small gloomy room, which walls were lined with dirt-caked tiles in a seasick green color. She cast her eyes on the floor, following the suspicious brown stains that reminded her of the very gruesomeness of the place. A window, strengthened on her side by rusty bars, granted her a view into an adjacent chamber, a barren cell that was hidden in darkness. No visible door led into it. Cautiously, she came as close as she dared, till the tip of her shoes stepped on the white line markings. Searching for the prisoner held inside the chamber, she squinted her eyes, peering past her own reflection in the glass and into the darkness.
"Hello." Her voice sounded weak, and trembled of nervousness. She cleared her throat and tried again, louder this time. "I said hello? Do you hear me?"
"How large do you think this stinking prison is?" His voice came from out of the shadows, and was dripping of sarcasm. He emerged slowly, like a wounded wolf from behind the trees in the winter forest, his eyes ablaze with an anger that had settled deep inside his hearts. The indignity of his defeat had cut deep into his soul, and the very sight of the bars of his cage sickened him, but his composure towards her, at least at the surface, remained calm. "I hear you loud and clear, miss Noble." He lowered his head and glared at her. "Now what do you want?"
Donna's breath caught for a moment. Although her mind knew better, her heart could still easily forget that the prisoner she was facing wasn't the same man who she had loved and lost. But then, if she didn't believe that the future Master could have once been this despicable fiend, why would she have risked her own life to be here?
"I need-" She noticed how her anxiety amused him, and Donna being Donna, quickly composed herself, raising both her chin and voice. "I need to speak to you."
The Master stared back at her. At first he seemed annoyed that this loud and most obnoxious of his enemy's companions dared to march in and demand anything from him, but then the corners of his lips slowly curled into a sly smile.
"Are you sure you should be here? Didn't they tell you not to talk to the monster in the cage?"
"Actually, they have. Captain Jack, Martha. The people from UNIT and Torchwood, they all tried to keep me away from you."
"And you ignored all of them, because…"
"I can't stay away."
"You have nerves to come here. You have even ignored the Doctor."
Donna fell silent for a moment.
"He doesn't know about this, does he?" His smile widened as he leaned against the wall with his arms crossed, turning his ear towards the glass panel. "This is getting interesting."
"The Doctor didn't want me to see you, but I managed to convince Jack to let me in."
"Speaking of the git, where is he?" He inquired almost casually, as if they were just having a friendly chat about a mutual friend and there were no iron bars or powerful mind-shields between the two of them. "I've not seen him ever since captain brain-dead and his Torchwood muppets dragged me down here. Oh please, do shed a light in my dreadful existence in this hellhole and tell me he died of grief."
"He's attending the funeral. Which should have been yours." She added, and the words left a bitter taste in her mouth.
"Oh don't be stupid!" He sneered, laughing at the very idea. "Even you must know that wishing that it was me who's baking crisp on that funeral pyre right now couldn't have saved his miserable life."
"That's not what I meant." Donna responded in a soft voice.
He leaned towards her. Unnoticed, his fingers tapped on the glass in the rhythm of the everlasting drumbeats that were only present inside his mind.
"I know what you think of me." Donna continued. "You think I am too stupid to point out Germany on a map of Europe, let alone understand all this complicated timey-whimey Timelord stuff." She said it without anger, if anything, her voice carried a hint of sadness. "But I actually get these things. I am not that clueless. I know that you and the future Master are one and the same. I understand that now. That's why I could never wish you any harm. The thing that I still don't understand, and never had, is why you two seem so different." She caught the look in his eyes, and her features softened.
She studied his face and gestures, desperate to recognize perhaps just only a trace of the future Master in him.
"What will happen you?" She whispered. "How do you become him?"
"Enough." He replied in a cold voice. Her persistence made him feel uneasy. That and Donna's closeness with his future-self, combined with the eerie knowledge of his possible future sent cold shivers down his spine. Maybe bullying this woman by ridiculing her sorrow wasn't the right type of distraction that he had craved for.
"When we first met. The Master…" She stopped to correct herself. "You told me that you have seen me before. You recognized me after your memory was restored. And in that park, just after you were stabbed by those two kids, I somehow came into possession of your ring. I have no recollection of how I got it, but it saved me from burning up when I started to remember the Doctor. And it was you who brought me here and kept me safe -"
"I said enough!" He snapped.
"All these things that had happened between us, they could not just have happened without a reason."
"Take a good look at me woman!" He raged back at her with his eyes flashing. "I am not HIM! The man you seek no longer exists. Go find the Doctor and stand by his side at his funeral pyre to mourn over his passing, if you wish. Don't come down here in the hope to find even a trace of him in me. Did you think even for a moment, that now I know what the future holds in stall for me, I would allow myself to become so – so weak, so utterly pathetic?"
Donna breathed in deeply. Although she could have expected this, his harsh words struck like spikes driven into her heart.
"You cannot prevent it from happening again." She pleaded. "No-one can change time. Not even a Timelord."
"Did he tell you that?" The Master said with a bitter grin. "Or was it the Doctor? It must be. Such a stoicistic view of life, I can hardly imagine myself saying that, even if I had lost my bloody marbles. Tell me then, miss Noble, do you still remember Pompeii? Oh you must, I've seen it inside your mind. Do you recall how you persuaded the Doctor to go back to save a Roman merchant and his family? You forced the Doctor to change history that day. Because of your action, there were sons and daughters of Ceacilius his children, who lived their lives and altered the time stream in their own small, but significant ways. Still, the earth kept turning, the stars continued to shine, and time went on, because it had simply adapted itself to the consequences of your seemingly insignificant act of compassion. What does it teach us then? It teaches us that nothing is set in stone, Donna Noble. As you have demonstrated, a strong will can alter the course of time."
He came close to her, her soft eyes meeting his that were harsh and cold. When he spoke, his breath fogged the glass panel. "And I can assure you, that right now, no stronger will than mine exist, to prevent myself with every fiber of my being, from becoming that weak and pitiful fool who you and your precious Doctor have murdered."
Donna trembled, and felt how the frail hope that she carried with her left and died then and there, only to be replaced by dark thoughts and fears.
"I didn't…I didn't murder you."
"He lost his heart to you, and that had cost him his life." He said in an accusing voice, and observed her coldly.
"You can't blame me for trying to escape his fate. For what I've seen so far, you're hardly worth that kind of sacrifice." He added with a cruel and joyless smile.
She couldn't breathe.
She couldn't breathe till she was back outside in the corridor, and had slammed the doors shut behind her. Sinking down with her back against the wall, her eyes quickly filled with the tears that she had fought back so desperately when she was still inside that claustrophobic little room. Now, out of his sight, she let them fall freely, taking in deep ragged breaths between wails that shook her entire body.
A long time passed before her tears finally ran dry. Slowly she pulled herself up. There was no use in staying here. It was clear to her that the man she had loved was truly gone. Had she ever felt a connection with that monster who wore his face and spoke with his voice, it was no more. All she longed for now is to be with the one she had lost. She had lied to the Doctor that she didn't want to attend the funeral ceremony because it would grief her to see his body being reduced to ash, but now she was half-wishing she didn't have wasted her time on this futile quest. Suddenly she felt the urge to be there, to be with him for the last time, and saying her farewell. Wiping the last of her tears away from her cheeks with the back of her hand, she checked her watch. The Doctor had been gone for a little more than one hour. If she asked Jack to bring her to the site, she could still make it in time. She started rushing back, and just had passed the other room, when a pale hand slapped hard on the small windowpane. It startled her, and Donna looked over her shoulder to see Lucy Saxon standing in front of the locked door with an anxious expression on her pale face.
"Miss Noble! Stop! I must speak to you!"
Feeling too vulnerable to face her right now, Donna turned away and pretended not to hear her plead.
"No, no! Don't go! Listen, just for a minute. It's important! Please. Miss Noble! Miss Noble." Her voice became more desperate when she noticed Donna's reluctance to even slow down her steps.
Donna hesitated and turned around.
"Oh please. Please." Lucy folded her hands in a begging gesture. "You have to listen, For the sake of him. You have to save him. You have to save my Harry."
"Your Harry doesn't want to be saved." Convinced that Lucy Saxon had lost her mind and was speaking nonsense, Donna responded with such aloofness that it surprised her. Perhaps she was more capable to hate that woman than she believed she could.
"Oh that's not true.' Lucy shook her head, her face strained with tears. "It's not true. You can still save him, and I can tell you how."
"What are you rambling about?" Donna came back. Lucy's eyes burnt feverishly as she stared back at her through the glass.
"I know what you think, but I'm not mad…they think I am because I shot him, but I didn't have a choice. Really. I had to kill him. You see, everything, everything that has happened, it can't be changed. I just can't. It was all supposed to happen, because I have seen it happen, a thousand times before. We're all victims here. Especially my poor, poor Harry."
"What do you mean, why have you seen it before?" Donna asked, finally suspecting that the may be something in the poor woman's ramblings. "Did the Master show you the future?"
"Oh no. It wasn't my love. He couldn't see, not that far. His fear to die made him deaf and blind for his future. No, it was the timevortex, kept inside the heart of the Tardis that had showed me the chains of destiny to which we all are chackled, and from which we cannot escape."
"You, you looked into the timevortex?" Donna blurted, and then as she remembered what the Doctor had told her about what happened to Rose Tyler. "But that's impossible."
"Harry told me about the Doctor's companion. The one called Rose. She sacrificed herself to save the Doctor. At that time, Harry was going mad. He knew the future Master was down there on earth with you. Just by saving you he knew that he was siding with the Doctor. It endangered everything that he had worked for. He couldn't sleep. He couldn't eat. I tried. I tried everything to calm him but he would just not rest before he had eliminated this threat. I wanted to help him so badly, but he told me I was useless and kept pushing me away. Perhaps you know how it feels. To be abandoned by someone like him." Lucy said softly, and stared at Donna with tired, red-rimmed eyes. "When Harry was first with me, he used to be so warm, and perfect, being with him was like you were bathing in the sun, but then he turned away and everything became so cold and miserable. That's what happened. He left me and I was desperate."
"Lucy." Donna tried, starting to feel pity for her. "No-one should look at the vortex. The Master saw it when he was just a small boy and it drove him insane. And he's a Timelord, you're just human."
Lucy shook her head. "I had no choice." Her pale lips curled into a bitter smile. "He used to speak of Rose Tyler in such an admirable way. My Harry. Like he considered her the perfect companion, worthy of a Timelord. I wanted to be worthy of him. So although I was so very, very afraid, I went inside the Tardis with one of my most fateful guards. I ordered him to force open the panels that shielded its heart. When he had it exposed, I looked into it, only a second, no more. The light that came from its core, it was such a beautiful sight. Oh you should have seen it…such….completeness…." She closed her eyes as she remembered, an expression of exhilaration washed over her and for a moment she came back to life. But then her memories shifted and her mood darkened again.
"Then the guard closed the panels and it was gone. And it felt so cold, and dark, I never thought it would be like that…It felt like dying…"
Lucy stared into distance with a lost expression on her face. A tear glided down her cheek.
"Lucy." Donna urged, trying to keep her patience, but her heart was beating wildly. "What do you want to tell me? What did you see?"
"Everything. Everything that once was, and everything that will be. But most importantly, I saw the chain, a circle of time, a stream without a spring and with no mouth opening into the sea. My Harry, my poor Harry is trapped."
"Please, you're talking gibberish. I can't make any sense out of it. What do you mean by trapped?"
"Trapped in time, he's a prisoner of time. And no-one can save him except for you, Donna Noble, the one with the key, the one with the ring."
"What ring? I don't have a…" Donna halted as it suddenly came to her. "The Master's ring!" She blurted out. "Do you mean the Master's ring?"
"It's not just a ring. It's a chameleon device created with Timelord technology. Harry was so afraid that he would be assassinated before his great work was completed that he created it to cheat death. It was only to be used in emergencies, as a last resort. He once told me that everything he was could be contained in it. It was hard to imagine, but all of his memories and dreams, could be digitally stored inside that petite little thing. When he tried to explain it to me, he called it the safety vault for his own soul."
"I just saw Saxon, he didn't have that ring on his fingers." Donna's eyed grew wide as she realized what Lucy was trying to tell her. "Saxon didn't have it when he was arrested..."
Lucy nodded, her eyes fluttering tiredly. "He gave it to the Master. The one from the future who came here with you."
"The ring!!" Donna cried, and a smile of relief washed over her. "The Master got the ring when he was shot, but that means he can be saved! He can still come back!!" But the smile quickly vanished from her lips when she remembered what the Doctor was doing right now at this very moment.
"The funeral! Oh no! The Doctor!"
Lucy stared at her, her eyes widening.
"The Doctor! He's performing this Timelord ritual thing, he's gonna burn the Master's body! I can't! I can't let him!" Donna turned on her heels and ran out of the corridor as fast as her feet could carry her.
"Please. Hurry Donna!" Lucy leaned heavily on the door, her willowy figure losing strength as she was quickly being consumed by a high fever. "You must save him…" She muttered, and collapsed on the floor. Her eyes closed, but her lips continued to murmur her pleads as if in a prayer.
"Donna…please…please save him…"
The air was thick with black smoke that stung the Timelord's eyes and hurt his lungs, while the heat coming from the leaping flames burnt hot on his face. Still, he didn't want to move away from the burning pyre. The torch he had used to light up the dry wood was long since burnt out, but he still held it in his hand. His thoughts were everywhere, going back to times beneath the red sky of Gallifrey to the moments in the dungeon, and to the brief encounters in between when both of them wandered the universe in search of a meaning and a justification for their own existence. They had fought each-other for so long, but although he had often defeated the Master, in the Doctor's eyes there had never been any real victories, only losses.
And this time, he had lost so much…
Caught up in his thoughts, he didn't notice the black van pulling up behind him on the top of the quarry. A door swung open even before the car came to a full stop, and Donna jumped out and ran down towards the still burning pyre.
"Doctor!" She screamed her lungs out, waiving her hands in the air. "Stop! Don't burn him!" She came closer and saw the smoke billowing up high with the wooden scaffold engulfed in flames.
"Put it out!" She shrieked. "Put it out!!"
Donna rushed by him and threw her coat on top of the burning flames in an attempt to smother the fire.
"What? Donna what are you doing! You're setting yourself on fire!" Convinced that she was struck by grief, the Doctor pulled her away from the flames, tossing her burning coat away. Donna looked close to frantic, and he was about to slap his companion in an effort to get her back to her senses, but Donna managed to shake his hands off her.
"It's the ring!" Donna yelled. "It contains Timelord technology. He was wearing it when Lucy shot him down. He's not gone Doctor! We can still bring him back!"
The Doctor let go of Donna with his eyes wide in bewilderment. Meanwhile, Jack appeared from the car and came down the quarry slope, carrying a hose that was connected to a water tank sitting at the back of the van.
"Guess we're a bit late, Red." The captain uttered as he took in the situation, squinting his eyes as he came too close to the heat. "There will be nothing left but charcoal –"
The Doctor took the hose out of Jack's hands and aimed it at the burning body. The water hissed loudly as it hit the flames and sent a big cloud of steam rising up from the pyre.
"I need more water!!" The Doctor yelled, his eyes flashing and determined. Jack back ran to the van to pump up the pressure, while Donna rushed towards the smoldering heap. Now that the flames were dying down, she could see what was left of the Master's body, it was burned beyond recognition, with most of his limbs already reduced to blackened sticks.
"Donna!" The Doctor screamed. "It's not safe yet!"
"Why do you guys have to burn your dead?" Donna shouted. When she turned to face him, he saw the tears of frustration running down her flushed cheeks.
"What's wrong with digging a decent hole and putting him in it?"
When the Doctor and Jack finally succeeded to put out the fire, Donna dropped her knees in front of the black pile of wood and ash. The ground was still hot, and she felt the heat burning though the fabric of her trousers. She didn't care.
There was nothing left. No face that she recognized, no legs, no feet, no arms, and no hands. No sign of the ring. She tried not to panic. It must have dropped into the ashes when he burnt. She started digging. The skin on her fingers blistered as they racked through the smoldering ashes, but she didn't feel the pain. The Doctor crouched next to her, and also started searching through the remains. She hardly noticed that he was there. She just kept digging with her tears blurring her sight, and with only one though running through her mind.
There is nothing left of him. Nothing….How am I now suppose to bring him back?
And then, at that very moment, it finally dawned on her. Donna never had been a firm believer in such things as fate or destiny. But now, after all that had happened, and with the knowledge that Lucy had given her, she finally had the time to reconsider this. She suddenly realized that they had always been heading towards this.
Every step she took, every decision that she had made, however small or seemingly insignificant, had brought her closer to this fixed point in time.
And as she realized this, a sad little smile curled her lips. A sigh escaped her when her fingers closed around the small metal object that was buried underneath the layers of black ash.
She did not need to see it, to know that it was the Master's ring.
If she had the choice to do it all over again, she knew she would, and she did.
Two lonely figures were standing at the cliff above the quary. The late afternoon sun threw long shadows over the blackened circle below. Donna pushed a lock of stray hair from her face, her was expression one of conviction. She didn't need to wait for the Doctor's reply to know what he thought of her plan. The disturbed look on his face said enough, but she wasn't going to give up so easily. Not if it meant that her stubbornness could grant him a second chance. She knew that the Doctor was too kindhearted not to listen, and his loss was too great to not act on this one chance to silence his conscience.
"Do you realize what this means Donna?" The Doctor asked, his eyes firmly fixed on hers.
"I'm bringing him back." Donna said, her voice was small but determined.
"You're condemning him." The Timelord answered. "Like Lucy said, by allowing this to happen again, he will be chained to this time paradox, an endless loop in time in which he is doomed to repeat this over and over again for eternity…"
"Unless this time we get it right. "
The Doctor sighed. "The chance of that happening is one to a trillion…."
"So there is still a chance." She cast her eyes on the ring. "Doctor." She pleaded. "I know that you must still remember him from before he became this…monster. You must know how he used to be. I'm telling you now. I know him, I know him as you once did." She held out the ring to him. The delicate silver symbols gleamed in the warming rays of the afternoon sun. "That man that we both loved, he's still in there. I'm begging you…with all my heart…Please…help him."
The Doctor's expression darkened. He cast his eyes on the smoldering remains of the pyre where the smoke still rose from the ashes, than back at Donna. After a long silence, he finally held out his hand to take the ring from her.