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He strolls through the halls of the Master’s TARDIS—through Lolita. He runs one hand along her walls, as he does when he walks through the Type T-40 that he’s bound to—the TARDIS that, as much as one set of his memories, protests, is his. Lolita doesn’t respond to his touch, doesn’t answer in his mind. He understands. She has her Master, and a TARDIS never divides its loyalties.

His Lolita died in the War, when the Master abandoned her for the Doctor—Time Lords often divide their loyalties. He misses her, and he misses the Type-40 that should fill the empty space in his mind, the TARDIS that’s responsible, partially, for the patchwork person he’s become. Rubbishy junker, interfering addled busybody, mixing him up the way she has, trying to make him into the Doctor when he isn’t. The Doctor’s old girl, and his, this new person’s, even dearer friend. Half of him, when he’s already two halves the whole. He should work out a lease system, he thinks. Charge for synapse space. He really needs to get all of these subletters together, arrange some room for him in between all of their differing claims. They’re all his property now, after all. Well. Not the TARDIS. But the two others.

They’re dead, like Lolita, and he’s the benefactor and not certain he feels like he’s benefiting. They’re ghosts and they are going to have to learn to rest peacefully, or it’ll be sleepless nights for him for the rest of his life.

Damn, damn, damn, he needs a name.

He turns a corner, hand still trailing along the wall, and without thinking he turns in at the first door on the right. This should be the Herparium, and it shouldn’t surprise him when it is, but it does. The Master’s memories come as instinct still, startling bubbles of certainty and knowledge, and each one that finds its mirror in reality, that finds confirmation, unbalances him.

He is the Master.

He is the Doctor.

He isn’t either. He’s the blurring, the tmesis, the portmanteau, the word between the two, made up of the two, fusion/fission. The blend. Of oil and water.

Charming.



His Converse sink into the mulch with each step he takes, bringing out its sharp tang. The spring and give of it underfoot add life to the walking, life to the feel of the earth, add to the richness of the composition.

Which it is, of course.

Everything in Lolita is composed, everything the Master turns his hand to engineered and controlled and formed for effect. Nothing is haphazard, nothing is accidental, what one sees, what one experiences in the Master’s presence, in his home, has been crafted and influenced and bent out of its natural shape so that it might better impress, better sway, better overwhelm. This room no less than any other.

His next step falls on firmer ground, thick and soft/hard, like stepping on the back of a child, giving flesh and hard bone and the resilient-brittle strength and resistance of both.

(He’s broken the spines of children, he realizes, a foot in the small of the back or at the base of the neck, stamp hard or reach down and pull up. Parents watching and the sharp crack of bone and oh, they never thought you would, did they? Look at them, so surprised. How delicious. How fantastic.)

(No. No, that wasn’t him. That was the Master. Not him.)

(But the memory is still good.)

The surface under his foot shifts and slides, and, dazed by the sudden pleasurable/terrible his/not his memory, he corrects his balance by taking a step that’s almost a trip forward, putting more of his weight onto the rippling length of vertebrae and muscle as he does so.

He catches himself against a tree, the wet scrape of the bark slick-rough against his hand, and jumps and swears as something clamps down on the back of his thigh, a pincered sting straight through the fabric of his dark trousers.

He knows what it is—the snake he’s just stepped on. When he looks down, the pit viper’s kneading at his leg, working poison down its hollow fangs into the muscle.

Trimeresurus flavoviridis, common name “habu,” found on the Okinawan islands, not overly poisonous but enough to be irritating. This one’s a record-breaking member of its species, judging by the dimensions of its head and the bulk he’s just tripped over—over seven feet. Life on Lolita must agree with it.

He reaches down, ready to snap its neck and fling it away. It’s a common species, easily replacable, there’s no reason to forgive it its cheek, its trespass. No reason to deny himself the small satisfaction of destroying a life that’s had the temerity to inconvenience his.

But he catches the movement before he can wrap his hand around the snake’s throat, shifting up to stroke down the side of its triangular skull, the smooth interlocking scales and the ridge above the eye, twisting into its mind and…

There.

Unconscious.

He detaches it from his leg, fingering the two small holes in his trousers and the wet trickle of blood and venom beneath. His body will take care of the poison quickly enough.

The Doctor’s body, and the Doctor’s impulse, letting the snake live. The Master’s trick, overriding its mind easily, in and out without a second thought.

Would he do that to a person? In and out and easier to overpower than to argue, or to listen?

He won’t know. Not until he’s challenged.

The two small wounds sting, and the poison burns as he continues walking, but it’s almost stimulating, a deep muscle-ache that loosens as he walks, as the poison’s circulated out from the bites, diluted and filtered. The faster he walks, the better his leg feels, exertion speeding up his circulation, until he’s running, running through the mulch and the damp and the trees and the startled snakes, hanging from the trees, resting on warm stones, half-buried in bark and leaf litter, jerking back into tongue-flicking S’s as he brushes by.

Running. The Doctor loved to run.

He loves to run.

The landscape proves as familiar as he expected/didn’t expect it to be. He comes out of the trees, into a clearing dominated by an Aztec-style temple, tiers of steep stone stairs leading to what should be the sacred space at the top, but which is instead a terrace incongruously bound by elegant balustrades, a widow’s walk for viewing the forest below.

He’s already halfway up the steps, still running, even though the footing’s treacherous, the stairs uneven and narrow, before he notices there’s already someone at the top.

The only other person on Lolita besides the Master.

Lucy.
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