Rating: R overall; this chapter G
Disclaimer: Doctor Who and all related trademarks are the property of their respective owners, mostly the BBC.
Summary: "When the Doctor stumbles into his own future, he takes the chance to find a way to co-exist with an old enemy. But such things are rarely easy, and always come with a price - particularly when the Master is involved."
Author's Note: And so, after months of work, this fic finally sees the light of day. Happy birthday, fic! This is the prologue; the fic itself has 15 more chapters and an epilogue, and total wordcount is about 75,000. I'm planning to post an update every Wednesday and Saturday.
Two minor notes about the fic: it is Doctor/Master, and it is very wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. I've tried to keep confusion potential to a minimum, but if you do get confused, which someone probably will, just drop me a comment and I'll do my best to explain!
My thanks go to Hannah, Sophie, Tay and Aya, for their own individual mixtures of encouragement, criticicism and entertaining conversation.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about
language, ideas, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi
It was a tiny disturbance in the fabric of time – just a ripple, a seam concealing a small scar. Very neatly done. Too neatly to be naturally occurring; someone had done this on purpose.
Nothing to be concerned about. Nothing particularly interesting, really, but on a whim, or out of idle curiosity - or perhaps an itching sense at the back of his head of the strands of his own future weaving tightly through that scar in time - the Doctor took a detour and landed his TARDIS right in the middle of it.
He stepped out onto a lawn that sloped gently upwards towards a neatly-planted row of trees, too dense to see through, although he could hear the sound of water. They were pretty enough, but it was what hung above them that really drew the Doctor’s attention: a vast gas giant filled nearly a quarter of the sky, scattered with spots and deep lines of almost-green running through the dusky orange. The sky around it was black, despite the bright sunshine. No atmosphere, then, except where he was standing, and the vista of the sky had that strange texture that it only ever had when looked at through something like glass.
Some sort of biodome, then? A biodome filled with life on an otherwise barren moon, hidden away in its own personal fold of time. The Doctor grinned, breathing in the fresh, still air, laced with the scents of grass and soil and clear water and, faintly, some perfumed flower. He locked the TARDIS behind him, in case the dome was inhabited, and set off towards the trees.
He headed towards the sound of water, which turned out to be a small stream, obviously artificial but no less pretty, edged with rocks and tiny creeping flowers which trailed long fronds down into the water. It was beautiful, but he couldn’t shake off the nagging question of why all this was here. Someone had obviously built it – but what had happened to lock it in its own damaged stretch of time?
If there was life here, he decided, a stream wasn’t a bad place to start looking. Humming some catchy 45th century advertising jingle to himself, he took his shoes and socks off and rolled the bottoms of his trousers up before walking barefoot downstream, the cool water tugging at his ankles. It led him, after about five minutes of walking, to a small lake with a cosy-looking stone building on the opposite side, half-hidden in the trees, with large glass windows overlooking the pebbled slope that led down to the water.
He hadn’t been expecting to find anything interesting. But there was a figure sitting by the side of the lake; a familiar figure, an impossible, terrible, incredibly wonderful figure, sitting there tossing pebbles into the water.
The Doctor stopped, eyes fixed on that sight, letting himself take it in. He could feel the hope in him building, flavoured with fear, building up from the base of his chest and twining around his hearts till they hurt and it was still building; within only a few seconds it was lemon-sharp and bright as a falling star, and so sweetly agonising that he couldn’t simply stand and stare any longer.
He reached out with senses that had been far too blind since the War, and there he was, unmistakable, the impossible made real, so wonderfully, cleverly, brilliantly alive: the Master.
He ought to be worried – ought to be, but he was too filled with relief to care. And he could feel, distantly, another Time Lord, in the house somewhere, deeply asleep – that could only be himself, his future self, here, with the Master. Which meant he should leave, shouldn’t have two of himself in one place, especially not with the damage to time weakening this place already – but he didn’t care.
Stumbling down the small waterfall that ran into the pool, getting soaked up to his knees even in the shallows, he splashed around the lake. The Master could hardly fail to hear him coming; he looked up, staring with a blankness that looked almost like surprise.
‘When did you wake up?’ he called, getting to his feet.
‘Oh, no, I didn’t, I’m still asleep. Well, not me, of course.’ He shook his head, coming to a stop in the shallow water, just inches away from him. ‘And look at you. You came back!’
The Master looked bemused for a moment, then reached out and took hold of the Doctor’s chin – perfectly casually – and tilted his head to one side, brushing fingers over his cheekbone. The Doctor’s breath caught. The Master felt so real, cool skin matching his own. ‘So you’ve chosen to turn up now,’ he remarked, letting go. ‘You’ve always had terrible timing, Doctor.’
The Doctor grinned, bouncing on the balls of his feet. ‘I suppose,’ he admitted. He had to curl his hand into a ball to keep from reaching out to him. ‘But you – what is this place? How are you here? I mean, you were dead. Properly dead. Not that that’s ever stopped you before, but-’
‘You’re crossing your own timeline. I’ve been expecting you, eventually,’ the Master said, sitting down on the pebbled beach with a cool smile. ‘It also means I have a perfect excuse to infuriate you by not telling you anything.’
‘Oh, not even a little bit?’ the Doctor asked, sitting down beside him, wrapping his arms around his knees. ‘I already know I end up here.’
‘No,’ the Master said, with a cruel little smile that didn’t really reach his eyes. ‘It was all your idea in the first place, anyway. You always were an idiot.’ He lay down on the pebbles, looking only slightly uncomfortable. ‘You should go,’ he added.
He was crossing his own timeline; the Master was probably right. But he’d only just found him, he couldn’t leave. ‘Oh, I promise I won’t wake up soon,’ he said. ‘I mean, I’ll remember, and when I get to now I’ll stay inside. Really.’
The Master looked at him blankly. ‘You probably won’t wake up soon anyway,’ he said. ‘You should still leave.’
He didn’t. ‘You’re going to start destroying things again, aren’t you?’
‘Can’t tell you.’
He wanted to know what was going on, why he and the Master were both here, but knew that wouldn’t be answered either. ‘I know I’ll run into you again in our proper timeline,’ he said instead, ‘and we’ll end up here. Wherever here is.’
‘And that’s all you’re going to find out,’ the Master said. ‘Although I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to remind you to check your TARDIS databanks,’ he added, with a dryly sarcastic tone of voice.
The Doctor grinned. ‘First thing,’ he said.
There was silence for a few long moments, in which the Doctor took the chance to simply bask in the presence of another Gallifreyan. He knew it was all going to go horribly wrong, as it always did; knew that people were going to end up dead, and dreaded it, and when it happened he’d do what he had to. But here and now they weren’t fighting; there was nothing for the Master to take over and nothing for the Doctor to save from him. Here and now, for a few precious minutes, he could forget about whatever evil the Master might be planning next and just relax.
‘And still you aren’t leaving.’
‘I’m enjoying the scenery,’ the Doctor said, picking up a smooth blue-grey pebble and rolling it in his fingers. He shifted, settling his coat underneath him and lying back, not touching the Master but close enough to do so if he wished.
‘You blind, sentimental idiot,’ the Master said, and the Doctor thought he sounded angry, which was unusual. Cruel, yes; sarcastic, yes; disdainful, mocking, vicious – all those things – actual anger, not so much. But when he looked over, pebbles shifting beneath his head, there wasn’t a trace of it written on the Master’s face.
He must have imagined it. It didn’t matter.
The Master only allowed him a few moments of silence. ‘I’m trying to think,’ he said flatly. ‘You’re distracting me. Go away.’
‘About what?’ the Doctor said, rolling on to his side so he could look at the Master. He knew he had to leave, and soon, but part of him was enjoying this far too much not to draw it out as long as possible.
‘Oh, sure,’ the Master said. ‘I’ll just break every law of time and gossip merrily about the future, shall I? Crazy I may be, Doctor; stupid I am not.’
‘Well, you don’t have to tell me details.’
The Master gave him a long, hard stare; disdain with an undertone of something the Doctor didn’t have time to put a name to. ‘I know what you’re doing,’ he said. ‘Stringing the conversation out as long as possible. You’re pathetic.’ The Doctor didn’t respond, and there was a long pause before the Master sighed and said, ‘If I tell you the vague outline, will you leave?’
The Master was silent for another long moment, obviously thinking of the best way to phrase it, before slowly asking, ‘If I have a… problem outside my usual area of expertise and all conventional methods have failed, I should…?’
The phrasing reminded him, oddly, of question formats back at the Academy; whether he’d done that on purpose or unintentionally - or whether he was simply reading too much in to it - the Doctor didn‘t know, though it still made him smile. ‘Ask someone with greater knowledge in the subject field?’
He’d phrased the question well; the Doctor had no idea what the problem actually was. Which meant he could only offer general advice on problem solving. ‘Come up with an unconventional solution,’ he suggested. ‘Something that plays to your strengths.’ Although considering what the Master’s strengths were, that might not be the best of answers.
The Master snorted. ‘Oh, that would go down well. Are you done making daft suggestions, or are you going to stay here until your presence makes this entire timeline collapse?’
‘I’ll go,’ the Doctor said, getting unwillingly to his feet. The Master was already apparently ignoring him and didn’t seem inclined to goodbyes, so he picked up his shoes and walked back around the edge of the lake.
He hesitated, though, before he reached the waterfall. It was hard to leave anyway, not knowing how long it’d be until he saw the Master again or what kind of circumstances that would be in, not knowing how long he’d have to wait to reach this point in his future or what he’d find there when he did. Even harder just to walk off without any kind of farewell.
‘See you soon?’ he called back, his voice betraying him by turning it in to a question.
The Master had sat up and turned to look back at the house; at the Doctor’s voice, he half-turned, slowly, frowning. ‘I certainly hope so,’ he said enigmatically, then stood and walked away.
The Doctor watched him until he vanished into the house, then turned and left, walking slowly back along the stream until he came to the place where he’d left his TARDIS, and took her into the Vortex. The first thing he did was check her databanks.
Chapter One: Paradox Broken