Disclaimer: My life would be complete if I owned this timeline and its associated characters. *mournful sigh*
Warnings: Character death, angst, bit more character death, insanity...hey, it's the "He Jests At Scars" timeline - of course it's not going to be a bundle of cheerful happy-muffins! (I love it to bits, I really do...)
Written for a prompt: "Broken". Supposed to be a drabble, supposed to be Doctor/Master - but as you can see, I failed epically on both counts - and enjoyed every minute of it! This is set during "He Jests At Scars" - in case you're not familiar with that, basically the Valeyard has messed up in a big way and accidentally killed himself in the past. Several times. Nuts. And now I've gone and thrown poor, unsuspecting Delgado-Master in there. I'm...sorry?
"Answer me!" Slumped against the wall, one knee half drawn up, his arms resting limp by his sides, the Master could have been totally lifeless but for the almost imperceptible rise and fall of his chest, slow and erratic. The Valeyard's face was unreadable; mouth pressed in a grim line, he stepped forward, crouched down and snapped his gloved fingers in front of the Master's face. "You will speak to me!"
"I don't think 'e can 'ear you," came Ellie's voice from somewhere near the console. "Eh – do I always 'ave to point out the obvi-"
"Be quiet, girl," the Valeyard snapped without turning his head. "He will hear me." He could hear her footsteps approaching, but paid no heed as she stepped up behind him – the Master had gone disconcertingly still.
Seconds crawled past. Each moment that passed was an intolerable stretch as they too held their breath without even realizing, eyes trained unblinking on the motionless form of the other Time Lord, watching, waiting…willing for even the slightest sign of life. Some part of the Valeyard was growing horribly cold, and even Ellie's usually unapologetically blunt voice, when she spoke, was hushed.
"Well, now you've gone an' done it."
If it hadn't been for a shallow, shuddering breath from the Master at that point, the Valeyard might well have carried out his earlier threat and snapped the human girl's neck. As it was, he felt his hearts thud unpleasantly in his chest, and that part of him that had been – no, could never have been – growing cold was vehemently pushed back beneath the surface…it would drown one day… He reached out and gripped the Master's face in one hand, roughly twisting his head around and forcing their eyes to meet.
"Look at me!" he snarled. The Master blinked, so slowly, hooded lids slipping shut and then dragging themselves open as though they were made of lead. His pupils constricted just a fraction, and for the barest instant, the Valeyard could have sworn the light brown eyes had focused on his face. Then, to his shock, the Master recoiled, pressing himself back against the wall, his mouth dropping open in a silent cry of horror before he turned his head aside, cringing and raising a hand defensively in front of his head.
Morbid fascination kept Ellie looking on, but she had moved back in surprise at the Master's sudden movement and now watched uncertainly from a distance as the Valeyard remained stock still, hand still outstretched. When he eventually and abruptly rose, turning his back on the Master and stalking back to the console, there was only anger clouding his grey eyes and darkening his voice.
"I should have expected such ingratitude," he spat. "Does he not realize I have saved his miserable life?"
"Yeah…" Ellie whispered, her eyes still on the Master cowering against the wall. "Yeah, course you 'ave…"
Twelve lifetimes of memories, but the diaries had been only the tip of the iceberg. He couldn't recall when he had stopped keeping a diary. Probably during the Time War, he thought at first, although his memories of that were rapidly fading – with both Daleks and Time Lords already eliminated by his hand, it would most likely never happen now. Most likely…but as the increasing unfamiliarity of the pages in the diaries in his hands reminded him, the Web of Time had ways of repairing itself…
"Oy – you reading that one or not?" Ellie's voice broke unexpectedly into his thoughts and he glanced at her, blinking. She sat cross-legged on the library floor, surrounded by loosely-bound books and aging scraps of paper, glaring up at him where he bent over a large volume on the table. "You still with us? Earth to Doct- …sorry, TARDIS to Valeyard?"
She sighed and set down the papers in her hand. "You've forgotten what we're lookin' for, 'aven't you?"
"Of course not," he snorted, averting his eyes. "No – we were…we were trying to find out… Yes," he admitted finally. "The gaps in my memory are…spreading…I can feel my past decaying, rotting away like the ancient parchment I kept my first diary on, crumbling into-"
"All right, all right, I get it." Her tone was impatient, but there was genuine sympathy behind her gaze. "We're tryin' to find out when you first went to Logopolis. You remember Logopolis, right?"
"Logopolis…" he repeated hesitantly. The word sounded so familiar, but trying to force recollection felt like peering through a thick fog, with distant wraiths of memory dancing just beyond reach, taunting him. "Logo- …ah! Yes, I remember Logopolis."
"Right, well done." She smiled, but it might as well have been words falling on deaf ears – he felt nothing from the smile, no warm glimmer of reassurance, no trace of comfort or encouragement…he tore his eyes away and returned to the heavy book open before him. "So, unless you heard about it from that 'Master' fella you went and blew up with your fourth self, you reckon you must've been there when you were younger, and that's the…"
Her words had faded to a buzz in his ears – the very instant she had mentioned the Master, his eyes had uncannily landed on a diary entry that was recognizable to him even now: his third former self, he placed it. A hastily scrawled note with a date in both temporal coordinates and Earth calendar notation, and the address of an off-shore maximum security prison. He turned the page – notes on Sea Devils, interspersed here and there with memories, ranging from bemused to exasperated, of his old foe during that particular escapade. Leafing back and forth through the diary, he was struck by how often that other Time Lord seemed to appear, the wry observations his third self had made following their battles of wits, the lapses into nostalgia that came from rare moments of cooperation and unity against common enemies. Their lives had intertwined for so long now – surely they had become so tightly woven together that it would be near-impossible to pull them apart…and yet, it now occurred to him that their timelines had indeed been cut prematurely, and the Master's was slipping away…
"Destroyed. Him, his companions, the Master, both TARDISes – blinked out of existence…"
Hindsight was a terrible thing.
His fifth former self had been racked by guilt after letting the Master burn on Sarn, and he had had only five lifetimes' worth of memories to contend with. For his tenth, it had been worse still – if he hadn't regenerated so soon after watching his nemesis vanish into the Time Lock, he wasn't sure he would have been able to live with himself for much longer. But for the Valeyard…
If the Valeyard had had hearts of anything other than stone, he would have felt a frost creep across them as he realized that his memories of the Master were falling away faster than his own past in the damaged timeline. If the Valeyard had had any warmth left in his soul, it would have been extinguished the instant it dawned on him that after all these centuries, all the threats and enmity that had passed between them, he had in fact at long last eliminated the Master permanently, erasing over half their shared history in the process. And if the Valeyard had had any semblance of a conscience, it would have been tearing at him, replaying over and over in his hazy mind that terrible moment when the two TARDISes had collided in the vortex, plaguing him with questions to which he knew the answers all too well – what if he had been a fraction of a second earlier or later, what if it had been his own error in calculation that had caused the accident, what if…
Of course, that was impossible. He had been freed of such weaknesses and burdens a long time ago. The Doctor, pathetic pacifist that he was, was gone – his lives now belonged rightfully to the Valeyard, and…
…yes, that was it. The Master had been an integral part of the Doctor's life, and the Valeyard had as much of a right to that part of his life as any other part. His own timeline was disintegrating around him, but if he could salvage that one part then he would. The Doctor's history belonged to him now.
And clearly, the TARDIS was not protecting him from the effects of the paradoxes as well as it should have done – that was the only explanation for how he was feeling.
"…and 'ow many trees went into makin' this lot, anyway? God, your handwriting's awful," Ellie was still chattering. "Hey – are you all right?"
"Will you stop asking me that?"
"All right, calm down." Clearly used to his irritability, she rolled her eyes and returned to the diary in her hands. "I'm just worried about you, is all," she added softly.
"I am a Time Lord, Ellie. I can shape time to my will, rewrite it to suit my purposes – I cannot be defeated by it." With both hands, he firmly slammed shut the diary, sending a puff of dust across the table. "Come, girl. We have an important task ahead of us…"
"You're sick, you know that?" The words were as bold as ever, but Ellie's voice cracked, and the Valeyard couldn't miss the tremor behind it.
"Is that so, my dear?" he answered absently, his eyes still fixed firmly on the TARDIS scanner as his hands moved across the control panel.
"Keepin' 'im around like that." He knew who she was gesturing to without raising his head. He knew that just across the console from where he stood, the Master also stood. One hand resting on the edge of the control panel, head tilted slightly to one side and shoulders slumped, the other Time Lord had not spoken a word. Occasionally, his hands would move listlessly towards a control as if in an attempt to mirror the deft motions of the Valeyard on the other side. Every now and then, he would take a few shuffling steps, drifting aimlessly about the console room, apparently oblivious to the alternating curious stares and uneasy edging away of Ellie.
He was a presence that the Valeyard was constantly aware of – but why should he show anything other than cold indifference towards him? He had saved the Master's life and thus preserved one filament of his own failing timeline, and that was where it ended, wasn't it? The silence had to be a welcome relief – their banter had never been anything more than petty, childish squabbling, hadn't it? The Master was so young and inexperienced at this point in his timeline that compared to the Valeyard, he would have been little better than a Time Tot – so really, nothing had been lost, had it?
And he could have looked across the console and met that vacant stare any time he chose.
"I mean, look at 'im – I don't know how you can-"
"What would you have me do with him, then, Ellie?" he interrupted, voice low. "Are you suggesting I kill him?"
"No!" Ellie exclaimed, horrified. "No – I…I don't know…I mean-"
"Fascinating – I never thought you would be capable of such callousness." Adamantly ignoring the stirring at the periphery of his vision – the Master moving back from the console and away towards the corner of the console room once again – the Valeyard took a step towards the girl, his cold gaze fixed on her. "Very well. Perhaps you would like to do it? I can find you a blade. I can teach you how to use it, if you like."
"No…that's not what I meant…" Face pale, she backed away as he slowly advanced on her.
"A clean cut should do the trick, don't you agree? Wouldn't that be the best thing for him now? Wouldn't that be appropriate?"
"I…I don't know," she stammered. "I don't-"
"Precisely," he hissed. "You don't know!" In a flash, his voice had escalated to a shout, and she flinched. "Insignificant imbecile – you cannot understand! You know nothing! Get out – get out!"
For once, she didn't dare argue. She turned tail and fled into the corridors of the TARDIS, leaving the two Time Lords alone in the console room.
It hadn't quite gone as the Valeyard had hoped.
All he had needed was to ensure that those infernal, interfering UNIT personnel were well out of the way for him to move in and remove the Master from the timeline. The idea had been simple enough, and it should have succeeded – his mind was still frustratingly clouded, but he was certain he could recall enough of these events to be prepared.
The explosion had killed his third former self instantaneously with no chance of regeneration. This time, the Valeyard felt it almost immediately; felt his timeline rent asunder as though the Web of Time itself were tearing at him with savage, unforgiving teeth, ripping away great chunks of his past and swallowing them whole. It had been the Master who had had to help him, stumbling and clutching his head, back to the TARDIS, half-dragging him over the threshold and slamming the door behind them.
"Well, well, Doctor," the Master chuckled as the two caught their breath. "You have surprised me this time. And you've repaired your TARDIS, I see." Brushing flakes of ash from the sleeve of his jacket, he strode across to the gleaming white console, where he placed his hands behind his back and peered down at the controls, inspecting them with an approving nod. When he received no reply, he glanced up and raised one eyebrow at the sight of the Valeyard still leaning against the wall by the door, one hand to his head. "Dear me," he tutted. "You have gotten yourself in a mess, haven't you, Doctor? Do you think I don't recognize the effects of a grandfather paradox when I see one? So, tell me – how far in the future are you? I must say, you appear to have developed some sense of style at last – although I never realized you fancied yourself a lawyer."
"Oh no…" came Ellie's voice from the doorway to the TARDIS interior.
"Ah – some things never change," the Master said in bemusement. "Whatever happened to Miss Grant, Doctor?" To his surprise, the girl ignored him entirely, storming across the room to stand, arms folded, in front of the Valeyard.
"You stuffed up again, didn't you?" she accused him. "Go on – what 'appened, then?"
"It…went wrong…" the Valeyard croaked. "My third self – he wasn't…where I thought…how is it possible…?"
"Again?" The Master folded his arms and leaned back against the console, his forehead creasing with apprehension. "Would you care to elaborate on the situation here, Doctor?"
"Because, you stupid twit, that Web of Time's got it in for you!" Ellie retorted. "We've been through this before – but did you listen? Now what're you gonna do?"
"We must leave immediately." The Valeyard appeared to collect himself. Apparently recovering quickly and making for the console, his face was a mask of composure; even the Master couldn't be certain he had seen a hint of panic behind the steely eyes. "I cannot remain in this time period." The Master was somewhat put out when the taller Time Lord passed him as though he had been a mere fly on the wall, and he cleared his throat loudly.
"So, Doctor. No doubt you require my assistance in working your way out of this predicament." One hand crept down to check for his faithful TCE in his pocket, and then he began walking across the console room towards where he would be in sight of the Valeyard. "I propose we begin by securing your TARDIS databanks against any further temporal decay. From there, we can retrace the paths of your past and current selves and map out the intersections to determine the best course of action. Given your current condition, I suggest you retire to the Zero Room and hand over control of your TARDIS to me. I should warn you, though, my aid will not come without- …Doctor? Doctor, are you listening to me?" The other Time Lord had still not acknowledged his presence, still stood obstinately with his back to him, head bowed over the screen set into the console. Watching him closely, the Master couldn't help but get the impression that his shoulders were tensed and knuckles would have been white where he gripped the edge of the console, despite the broad collar, gloves and loose, flowing robes that concealed much of his body language. "Doctor…?"
"You wanna watch out for 'im," Ellie warned in a hushed voice, stepping up beside the Master with a jerk of her head over towards the Valeyard. "Gets a bit touchy about-"
"Nonsense, girl," the Master replied with a short laugh. "The Doctor and I have known each other for longer than you can possibly imagine. There is very little that this man can hide from me – wouldn't you agree, Doctor?"
"The Doctor…" said the Valeyard quietly, turning slowly to face them and raising his head, meeting the Master's gaze with eyes that glittered like ice. "…never even saw himself coming."
The Master had lapsed back into a near-lifeless stupor, lying against the wall in the corner of the console room like a propped-up mannequin, blank-faced and devoid of emotion. Hands folded, the Valeyard stood over him, eyes trained unblinking on the Master, neither moving a muscle.
He had lost count of how many times the Master's unsteady respiration had ceased now – and each time, the Valeyard had found himself frozen on the spot, his chest tightening as though it were him who could not breathe – just waiting, hanging on as if suspended in time by a thread.
A shaky gasp, sucked in slowly through dry, parted lips…the sound would have been barely audible if it weren't for the almost void-like silence in the console room, and the Valeyard felt he could hear every nuance of that rush of air. Like the howling of the winds of time, he thought to himself. Like the dreadful, unforgiving pull of an unravelling paradox, a wave sweeping out across time to mercilessly suffocate any who tried to hold it back.
What must it be like, he wondered, to stand at the axis of time itself, the heart of the time vortex? Would it be like standing in the eye of a storm? Or would it be the crushing heart of a black hole? No – he decided – it would be the abyss at the bottom of a whirlpool, where the flowing, ever-changing, melding timelines that branched off him would come bearing down on him, cascading inwards, accelerating into a terrifying and unstoppable force that would drag him down.
And the Master…
Another faint breath; another deafening roar of the winds of time, that maelstrom that was surely closing in on him.
To think – after all this time, the Master would still be the one to see him dead.
But the Doctor had never gone down without fighting for something. Never gone down without a fight. Never given in so easily.
He crouched down, eye to eye with his old adversary. Extended a gloved hand that shook only imperceptibly as he clamped it over the Master's mouth and nose.
There was no struggle, no resistance, no golden glow of regeneration energy – nothing but the serene silence. In one hand, the Valeyard held the threads of those fragile, branching timelines; with the other, he held back the storm.