The Man From Gallifrey, or, I was a Free Man in Paris, Sod It
“Dad! No! Can’t you see he’s sick?”
In the moment of death, a shade was cast o’er the Master’s face, and he felt not a blow, but a swift, cool breeze, which breathed on his close golden hair and filled his lungs. As he lay on the grass, he could see the face of his childhood friend toss itself aside from his savior as though she too were an angelic creature. The thing playing puppet with the Doctor’s body dove backward, rising into the air and curling in tight somersault twice before landing barely two metres away, eyes burning like molten rock, though not with anger. Not with anything. Just... consideration. Reflection, perhaps? How could he not have noticed those three red wings before? This was not the Theta he knew. The boy he had known. This was not the friend who as a child had betrayed him to the Dark Places. The drowning pools of bleak eternity, fit only for the destined. His hands were shaking as he rose, and there were streaks of browning grass on his black suit. At least the Drums were gone and he could think. He felt himself stiffen from far away, then fall, as though a fog had lifted and he the last one to notice. Indeed, since the Drums had gone, he could almost-
Gone? The Drums? But they never left him. Never. That meant... oh Rassilon, that meant he wasn’t... mad. Koschei, who had been the Master, sank to the grass behind the blonde child called Jenny. Realization, hot and wet, burned tracks down his cheeks for what must have been millennia, but when he looked up again the girl was still kneeling at his side, protecting him. He was Free! His mind worked circles upon circles, calculating, referencing, devising. How long? Long enough, he reasoned. Long enough to set one thing right, at least. The madness would stay gone long enough for him to help. It had to.
“Get back to the TARDIS, Jenny-girl. I lost the right to his mercy the moment I left Gallifrey.”
That said, he pushed himself to his feet and shoved her down, back, away from the creature in front of him.
“I said, GO. You don’t really want to see me get it, do you? I mean really... ”
His hand flew up, twirling like a curl of paper as he made a flourish with long, slender fingers, then snapped two, and Jenny found herself backing away toward her father’s Ship. Toward safety. She shook her head, breaking his hold and spinning to face them both. The two men were locked gaze in gaze, the angelic, unearthly youth her father the Doctor had become, and the fortyish Master. Old enemies, older friends, she assumed from what she had gleaned, tidbits from her dad, and outright admittance from the older man.
“Do you remember what you said, the day I was born from that machine on Messaline? The day I died?” she said as she drew herself up and bounded toward the Doctor.
Koschei watched her with a small portion of himself, noting points of comparison between herself and her progenitive source. He had expected this.
“Well, I did try, Theta. And now she’s coming over here. See how that turned out.”
He shrugged at the Old One, who merely blinked in vague acknowledgement.
“Rather like that prize Malkan bull you trapped in Ming-Lao’s Water Closet back in Academy, eh? Oh, those were good times.”
“What do I care for these children of Sol? They are below me,” said the Old One, absently tugging on the white silk ribbon that snaked about his person, “... I have removed Death’s influence from you only because I consider you a far more interesting plaything when you aren’t drunk with power.”
For the first time in his horribly long life, Koschei wished he was human. Because then he could have gagged.
“Na ja, Thete. For a moment there I thought you were going to be entertaining. But I suppose that’s beyond you, in this state. Tell me, before you toy with me, ahem, what exactly led to this transformation, if I may be so bold, as it isn’t remotely like you, this getup. Far too classical for your tastes, as I recall. If you could only see yourself, you’d surely have some kind of sobbing fit.”
A grin broke over the Master’s face, and then he added, “Or I could shag you. That ought to be enough of a shock.”
The Old One stared, his eyes blazing gauntly with some small measure of Theta Sigma’s special brand of stupid.
“That look. See? That there is quite you. All idiot, with a dash of conceit. Throw it into a big pot of ego and look yonder. Now then!”
Koschei thrust his arm in front of the blonde girl just as she was tensing for a run to daddy.
“Wait, wait, wait! We wouldn’t want to spoil our progress with the monkey-loving moron, would we?”
He spun her around and held her arms, anxious to make his point as he mouthed the words he thought he’d never say.
“Go. He’s my responsibility.”
That sounded laughable, coming from his mouth. Gods. Theta’s insufferable hero complex must have truly rubbed off... perhaps it had gone the other way, too? Perhaps the Darkness was... eating the other man, the way it had eaten him. He couldn’t let that happen. Who would he have left to play kill the monkeys with? Ushas was no fun, and Romana... Romana wasa heartless bitch.
So he launched a fist in the girl’s direction, hoping to connect before the Old One decided he was boring. But the girl turned his hand aside with a swift thrust and jab, shoving one foot into the dirt and twisting away. Before he could breathe, he was on the ground. “What?” He managed, looking up into her smiling face.
“I never would. That’s what he said. Simple!”
Koschei blinked and took her hand.
“Bollocks. Whatever did I do to deserve two idiots? And one with inborn skill, no less. Well, Theta is decent with a blade when he can’t engage his mouth or his foot -preferably together, knowing him- but nothing compared to me. I mean really, all those times he won our little spats? That was just for show. I could have beaten him.”
“Now you sound just like dad when he’s moping. Works for me!”
Then the girl grinned at him, eager to enact whatever horrid little goody-goody plan was filling her brain.
“Oh, don’t start. It’s true, damn him. Now come on, Goldilocks, be a good girl and share, and we may just save Thing One from himself before my brain implodes from the irony or he decides to have us for early lunch. Your choice.”
“Like Dad says, then. Allons-y!”