The Doctor had moved with the lightning reflexes Craig had so envied at the football match, blocking the door with one foot before it closed.
"Just listen to me," he pleaded. "I know what's going on now – it's a time engine-"
"I don't want to hear it," Craig cut him off. "All right, I won't call the police – I just want you out of my house and out of my life." The Doctor rolled his eyes and shifted his foot so that he was standing facing Craig straight on, still holding the door open.
"Right. No time, got to find him…ooh, I am going to regret this…" Before Craig had a chance to react, the Doctor grabbed him by the front of the shirt and brought their foreheads together in a violent collision. There was a strange plummeting sensation, and suddenly Craig felt his mind flooded with time and space itself – with faces, so many faces, but only one man – with stars and planets and a billion worlds to explore, but only a distant, intangible memory to call home.
"Yes – now sh-"
"You've got a TAR-"
"Yes – now shut up!" Once again, the Doctor took him by the shirt front. "Right – specific details…" They both yelled out in pain as their foreheads made contact, and Craig saw the TARDIS vanishing, leaving the two Time Lords in the park; his own advert in the paper shop window, with a post-it note above it – "This one, Amy xx"; a shrewd, redheaded girl, Amy Pond herself; the whirling structure in the bedroom being steadily constructed from the ground up, the Doctor sorting through piles of junk and handing parts to Kaiser – except he wasn't Kaiser, he was…
"Oh my God – that's the Master!"
"I am…never…doing that…again," the Doctor groaned, rubbing his forehead with one hand and reaching for his earpiece with the other. "Amy? Amy, have you got those plans for the house?"
"Yep," Amy replied promptly. "Right here – what did you want to know?"
"I've worked out what's up there," said the Doctor, while Craig pressed his hands over his mouth and shook his head in disbelief. "Only, the Master's figured it out first, and I think he's gone upstairs, and-"
"Wait – he can't be upstairs," Amy cut in. "There is no upstairs – it's a one-storey building." Craig's eyes widened and he frowned, baffled, but the Doctor merely nodded.
"Perception filter…" he muttered.
"But…but Doctor," Craig stammered. "The Master – he can see through perception filters-
"-can see through perception
"-can see through perception-
"-ception filters." A deep rumble through the building accompanied the time loop when it struck, but it didn't last long, and Craig shook himself. "What's it doing?"
"It's been using people to try and launch." The Doctor grabbed at a corner of the scanner to bring it to a halt, and elbowed roughly past Craig to reach the door. "But whenever it does, they get burned up – hence the stain on your ceiling."
"People are dying up there," Craig realized, paling with horror as he stumbled after the Doctor through the living room. "It's killing them!"
"Yes – but the Master is far too clever to let that happen to him, far too clever. Which means…" They had reached the hallway, and Craig's eyes fell on the pink, fluffy keyring on the doormat.
"Sophie!" he cried. "Sophie's up there!" His earlier trepidation vanished into sheer terror, and he elbowed past the Doctor and sprinted up the stairs, taking them two at a time in his panic. With hardly a moment's hesitation, he shouldered open the door to the upstairs flat – and staggered back, straight into the Doctor, who had followed him through the door.
It was as though they had stepped through into a massive hall – far too big to be above Craig's flat, he was sure. On a slightly raised circular deck, dominating the room, six massive, articulated struts like the claws of some monstrous, black crab stretched to the ceiling. They came together in a dome above a cylindrical column which sprouted out of the centre of the deck, surrounded by four evenly-placed solid shapes like small coffins on the ends of looped pipes – black coffins adorned with intricate gold patterning and a faintly luminescent violet dome near the top. With the only sources of light a dim, white glow from the column and several hazy spotlights that shone down between the struts, they couldn't make out the edges of the hall, and at first, they could only stare.
"Ah, Doctor – finally managed to bring yourself to open that door, did you?" came the Master's icy voice. It wasn't just the Master who stepped forth from the shadows on the other side of the console, though – Craig's heart nearly stopped when the insipid light illuminated the figure of Sophie, her arms pinned behind her back and eyes wide with fear above the Master's hand that was clamped across her mouth. At the sight of Craig and the Doctor, she struggled to free herself, but he pulled her closer, gripping her arms tightly behind her back. "Oh look, isn't that sweet – they've come to rescue you," he hissed in her ear.
"You let her go!" Craig bellowed, lunging forwards, but the Doctor grabbed the back of his jacket before he had taken two steps. Boiling with rage, Craig struggled to pull away, and watching them, the Master's eyes filled with mirth.
"Yes, you know me so well, don't you, Doctor? You know that I could hurt her just like that." On the last word, he made a sudden movement forwards, feigning pushing Sophie towards the console, and Craig froze.
"Look, you don't need to hurt her," said the Doctor evenly, his eyes holding the Master's unflinchingly. "No-one else needs to die up here."
"But I've planned this so carefully," the Master pouted. "I've spent all this time gathering data, calculating what this ship can do for me – wouldn't it be a waste not to run one last test?"
"It would be a waste to use her," said the Doctor, holding his voice steady and level. "You know as well as I do that a human brain can't fly this ship – she'll burn up. Let her go." The Master appeared to consider this, and for an instant, Craig was almost hopeful when he nodded.
"No, you're right. It would be a waste – and I am so hungry…" Slowly, savouring the sickened horror on Craig's face, he licked his lips and his mouth twisted into a cruel smile.
"Master, just calm down," the Doctor pleaded. "If we shut down the engine of this ship, we can get the TAR-"
"Doctor? What's going on?" Amy's voice buzzed suddenly in his ear, and the Master's face darkened into a disgusted scowl.
"Turn that off," he ordered. The Doctor raised his hand calmly to the earpiece.
"Doctor, don't you dare cut m-"
"Now take it out. On the floor, where I can see it." Obediently, the Doctor dropped the earpiece. "This is none of her business – and now that she's not wittering in your ear, it's my turn. Actually," he added, "let's give Sophie a turn, shall we? Go on, Sophie, tell Craig how much you want to go to your orang-utan park." He removed his hand from her mouth and took another step towards the console; the violet glow on the dome brightened briefly and then dimmed.
"I…I…oh, Craig, I'm sorry," she half-sobbed. "I don't know what he wants – I-"
"Y-yes…yes, I do…" she choked. "I just can't- ah!" A surge of dissipating energy rushed through the Master, turning his flesh briefly translucent, and Sophie cried out as she felt the crackling heat of it. "I…I can't stay here all my life, Craig – there's other places out there, other-" She gasped in pain – the violet dome on the coffin-shaped control panel had lit up again and there was a bright glare as tendrils of neon-pink energy shot from it, drawn to Sophie's hands as if to a magnet.
"You see, Doctor?" The Master threw back his head and laughed, and then wrenched Sophie away from the panel and shoved her roughly towards Craig and the Doctor, cutting off the energy. "This ship wants to leave. And you know what? It's not the onl-" He was interrupted momentarily by a shimmering in the air at his side, which solidified into a hologram of an elderly man.
"The correct pilot has been found," the hologram stated expressionlessly. "The correct pi-"
"Shut up, you," the Master snapped, kicking the panel, and the hologram vanished. He turned back to the Doctor. "Do you see now? It's been calling to me all this time. Remember what you said to me, after the Atraxi had gone, outside the TARDIS?" The Doctor nodded slowly, the memory replaying itself in his mind – he remembered clearly the hope that had lit up in his hearts.
"So, Doctor. Looks like I'm stuck with you."
"Well, for the time being, yes…"
Now, he realized his mistake – he had been a fool to think that it could ever be a permanent arrangement, that the Master wouldn't seize the first opportunity that presented itself. Turning to the control panel, the Master spread his arms wide, welcoming the neon-pink fingers of electricity that reached for his chest.
"You can't," the Doctor implored him. "You're a Time Lord – you'll be too much for this ship – if it doesn't explode, the whole solar system will."
"Oh, no." A manic glint entered the Master's eyes as he brought a hand to his chest to take control of the bolts crackling over his hearts. "No, that's where you're wrong. You, Doctor, would be too much for this ship. You never know from one minute to the next where you want to go, you don't plan, you just want to see everything – the whole of time and space. But me? I could settle for one thing at a time, all in its proper place. I can control this ship – and it can support me just as well as any other TARDIS." The Doctor could only clench his fists in frustration – even if the Master could survive with this TARDIS, which he doubted, it could spell disaster if he were let loose around time and space with it. He wished with all his hearts that that were not the case – if he could only trust the Master – but despair was beginning to overtake him, clouding his mind as he racked his brain for any solution. His eyes fell on Craig, who was holding Sophie protectively, and something fell into place.
"Craig – put your hand on that panel," he shouted.
"What?" The Doctor could hardly blame the human man for the fear that passed across his face, but time was running short and the Master's hand was moving closer to the glowing dome.
"The ship wants to leave – but you want to stay," he said desperately. "It never wanted you – you're the sofa man, you can't see the point in anywhere else except right here, right now. You can shut the engine down."
"Quickly, Craig – that panel there – before he stabilizes it. You can do it."
"Are you sure?"
"Go on – tell them, Doctor," the Master spoke up, grinning maliciously. "Tell them you have no idea whether it'll work – you're just clutching at straws and hoping he doesn't look you in the eyes before he burns up." Even as the Doctor faltered, a steely resolve passed across Craig's face and he pulled away from Sophie.
"You're lying," he said with just the slightest tremor in his voice, and smacked his hand firmly onto the panel, yelling out in pain as the static fizzed across his skin.
"No!" The lights flared and the Master brought his other hand up towards the dome, fighting to regain control. With both hands now caught by the ship's energy, he could only stare as the Doctor hurried over to Craig.
"Concentrate, Craig," the Doctor urged frantically. "Why do you want to stay? What's keeping you here?"
"I…I don't know – I just-" Craig stammered, his gaze shifting between the Master and Sophie, whose hands were pressed to her mouth.
"Come on, you've got to fight him. Out of everything you have here, what would you stay for?" Another flare of the lights sent energy crackling up Craig's wrist and he gasped.
"S-Sophie!" he burst out. "I can't leave Sophie – I love Sophie!"
"Oh, Craig," Sophie breathed, lowering her hands. "You idiot – I love you too." And before the Doctor could prevent her, she had flung one arm around Craig and her other hand had joined his on the panel.
"No!" the Master screamed. "No – I will not stay!" Wild-eyed, his gaze locked onto the Doctor, and pink mingled with blue as his own life force crackled around his hands. "Get them away, Doctor – or I will blast you all into the vortex."
"Please – just think about what you're doing." The Doctor's hearts were racing, but he could only look on, helpless. "That would cause a black hole the size of a solar system…we would all be sucked in – are you ins-" He broke off – there was no light in the Master's eyes now, only a cold fury.
"Say it, Doctor."
"No – no, I-"
"Say it!" the Master shrieked. Hearts sinking, the Doctor swallowed hard.
"You're insane," he whispered. For a moment, for the space of a hearts-beat, a pulse of four, the Master was silent – and then the blue-white sparks around his fingers died and he slammed both hands down on the panel. With a hiss and sizzle of singed flesh, Sophie and Craig were flung back from their panel as though they had been struck. Above their heads, green lights flickered on around the great black crown of the time engine and began to spin, faster and faster until they became indistinguishable emerald streaks.
"Get out!" the Doctor bellowed, assisting Sophie to haul Craig to his feet as the time rotor began to pump. "There's nothing we can do – get out." Racing for the door across the hall, they stumbled when the whole ship juddered, the floor bucking beneath their feet. "Quick – go, go, go!" The Doctor half-pushed Sophie and Craig through the door ahead of him, and then glanced back. A slender, dark silhouette against the pallid glow of the time rotor, the Master turned with glittering eyes.
"It would never have worked out between us, Doctor," he laughed, and with a final lurch of the ship, the door slammed between them.
It wasn't until he was down the stairs and halfway out the front door that the Doctor became aware that Craig and Sophie were half-dragging him by the arms. Outside, blinking in the bright sunlight, he watched numbly as the entire top floor of the house shimmered and blurred into the metallic black outline of a spaceship that gripped the roof of the house like a monstrous virus. Its pointed legs straightened, thrusting the body of the ship upwards, and then in a blink, it was gone.
Wrapped in each other's arms, lost in each other's eyes, Craig and Sophie didn't even hear the Doctor's footsteps crossing the room towards the door until his metal keyring clinked on the kitchen side. Pushing himself up from the sofa, Craig winced and glanced down at his hand – the skin of his palm was blistered and raw, and he saw that Sophie's hand that had not been holding his was the same.
The Doctor's gaze had followed his, and raising their heads, their eyes met. The Time Lord's hand was on the doorhandle; Craig opened his mouth uncertainly, but no words emerged.
"Sorry." The Doctor broke the silence, pain and guilt evident in his eyes and voice. "I shouldn't have brought him here."
"Don't say that." With a gentle smile, Sophie squeezed Craig's arm. "You gave me Craig." Despite the subdued atmosphere in the room, Craig's heart felt a little warmer at her words.
"Yeah," he agreed. "We should be thanking you." The Doctor averted his eyes, but Craig could see the faintest smile pass across his face.
"So, Sophie. Monkeys?"
"Not for me, I don't think." Shivering at the memory of the Master's voice in her ear, she shook her head. "Besides, I wouldn't be able to start for a while now..." Self-consciously, she shifted her injured hand in her lap, and then squeezed Craig's arm again with the other and her tone brightened with fondness. "And who says I can't be happy right here?"
"But wherever she goes, I'm going with her," said Craig decisively.
"That's the idea," the Doctor nodded approvingly. "Well, I suppose I'll leave you two to it…"
"You're on your own again now, aren't you?" Craig asked hesitantly.
"I've got Amy Pond," the Doctor answered, far too quickly. "Speaking of which, I'd better go and-"
"I've been in your head, Doctor."
"Yes…yes, I suppose you have. You want to be careful in there, you know…" The Doctor shook his head, and when he looked up again, his face wore a cheery grin. "Well, you'll be wanting some space, won't you? Don't waste time." And with that, he was gone.
Later that evening, as he was putting the leftover pizza in the fridge, gingerly shutting the door with his bandaged hand, a flicker of recollection brushed at the edge of Craig's mind…
…and still, he smiled into the cameras as the living room window shattered, and Sophie's bloodcurdling scream rent Craig's heart in two…
…and then it was gone, leaving him with an inexplicable chill running down his spine, and the faint luminescence fading to black from the crack in the wall behind the fridge.
"Come on, Doctor…" Standing at the console, his hand resting on a handle, the Doctor glanced up at the sound of Amy's voice.
"Ah – right, yes, back in time." He mentally shook himself and pulled the lever, bringing the TARDIS out of the vortex and hopefully near the paper shop where Craig had placed his advert a few days previously. It was just the two of them in the console room now…the Doctor wondered briefly if he had been waiting for an inevitable criticism of his driving, or if his mind had simply been wandering in the unaccustomed emptiness of the TARDIS – it hadn't been that long ago that his capsule had had four occupants. Five even, at one point.
"Oh come on, smile, would you?" Amy scolded him mockingly. "Didn't you say you two always used to run into each other when you were younger? Besides," she added, "he's always been a bit of a loner, hasn't he?"
"Did you find that red pen?"
"Yep – written the note. 'This one, Amy xx'," she read, and hesitated. "Are you sure you don't want me to-"
"Time is a dangerous thing to mess with, Pond." The Doctor straightened up and took the note from her outstretched hand. "Best leave it alone for now." Still, Amy was dawdling, and he watched her impassively until she finally blurted out,
"Did he pick up a girl somewhere?"
"A girl?" the Doctor echoed, genuinely bewildered. "What?"
"Oh, just a guess," Amy shrugged. "I have to guess these things if you won't tell me anything."
"B-but what makes you think…"
"Hmm, let's see…" She pursed her lips and slipped one hand into her pocket. "You spend a few days on Earth, acting 'normal', and then he does a runner…and leaves this behind." From her pocket, she drew a tiny red, velvet box, small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. "It's a woman's ring."
"Oh…" If possible, the Doctor's expression became even more melancholic at the sight of it, and he reached out to take the ring box. "No…no, that belonged to a friend I lost. A friend who was only too human…"
Wowee! That was fun! And hey - you read to the end!
Well, I seem to be making a bit of a pet project of this AU - "The Pandorica Opens" is done, and "The Big Bang" is coming up. Do review - I love hearing from you! And if you want to follow this AU and any other installments in it, add me to your Alerts, not this fic - each episode is a separate fic, and this one's done and dusted.
Thanks for reading!
One very awesome Ilssii-Koschei has drawn a little cartoon inspired by this fic, entitled "Socks". It can be found on her DA at fav (dot) me /d4izyx7 - thanks! :D