Disclaimer: Don't own anything - just my beloved adopted muses, one of which is the Master. He's not very happy with me.

Warnings: Character death - both literal and metaphorical. This is not a happy little ficlet.

This was written for a prompt: "Fire". Didn't quite go to plan - it was supposed to be a drabble, and it was supposed to be Doctor/Master. Well, I suppose it can still be read as that if you like - or just a close bond between two Time Lords who've known each other since time immemorial. Huh. Looks like I've found my favourite Doctor/Master combination, anyway.

After everything that's gone before, the Master can't fail to notice the irony. Half-paralyzed, struggling for breath, he can only flinch as cool fingers are placed on his temples and their foreheads meet.

It is as though he has been plunged into ice. He gasps aloud and his eyes widen from the shock of it, but as he is gradually numbed, he comes to see that in fact, everything he is being exposed to now was always there. What he can't bear is the total absence of the light and warmth that had always seemed to radiate from the Doctor – and the knowledge that he had scorned it for so long, taken it for granted. All these years, encountering the Doctor time after time…to the Master, the familiarity of his telepathic presence had been almost like returning home to a crackling log fire blazing in the hearth. The Doctor could bring comfort as easily as he could bring fear; protection and destruction in equal part; appearing benevolent and tamed, but the Master knew better than most how it would take little more than a spark for him to flare up and burn civilizations to the ground.

Now, it is as if a candle has been extinguished in a cellar, and the Master is immersed in the dispassionate void that is left. The Doctor might be alive, but in one sense of the word only.

The moment the Master realizes this, the tide recedes – the hands are lowered from the sides of his head and the other Time Lord draws back, leaving the Master shivering.

"I trust you will not make that mistake again."

At first, the Master can only shake his head. However, he has never been one to simply let something go that easily – something he considers his, no less. Before the other Time Lord can turn away, the Master has taken two steps forward, reached out and brought their heads and minds together again.

He feels like he is scrabbling through ashes, searching frantically among the dry, dead cinders for something, anything that might remain in this burned-out husk left by the inferno of regenerative artron energy. Desperation and despair blacken the mental fingers that he plunges into the tainted memories, raking them aside as he digs deeper.

There – a glowing ember, submerged but still glimmering valiantly in the darkness. Hearts surging, he reaches for it, pulls from his own mind the kindling it needs to reignite what has been lost…

…before he is crushed, as mercilessly and effortlessly as one might swat a fragile moth that approaches a dying flame.


By Aietradaea