Under attack from the dark presences of the Glory, Kid Curry is fighting his own doubts...


White roaring light. Stripping him -- stripping him to the bone. A jewel-bright feather hidden in his breast. A small warm hand in his, gripping tight.

One final mercy? Tired -- so tired --

He felt all of them pressing round him, all those queer strangers, all those separate lives. Close -- too close -- Old habit made him flinch away.

And then a cold voice was whispering in his ear.

Everything you did, every breath you drew, in the City -- playing the Master's game. Weakening the world... weakening the Contessa... till she gave you the charm. And you brought it straight to him, like a puppet on a string. Better to have died in that dust-storm -- to have died a hundred times, in those endless years when you clawed and fought to survive -- to have died -- have died -- died -- died -- died --

Beating in his mind, round and round, like the tolling of a bell. No way to go back. Nowhere else to go.

Scowling boy to sullen youth to brooding, violent man. Killer to outlaw to puppet plaything -- a life stretched out, stretched thin, beyond what any man had a right to hold onto, beyond what any man could wish to hold onto...

Faintly, now, the others fighting, somewhere beyond. Struggling upwards, with a heavy burden dragging them back; his own dead weight hanging from their close-linked hands.

But the cold voice whispered on; and he was too tired to fight. Too far gone, drifting off into a seeming dream... and maybe the whole thing had been a dream. A fever dream, face-down in the jungle with a knife in his back. No woman's arms to greet him, where he was going. No clouds and harps and angel-wings. Just the cold, dark earth, and the worms, calling...

Dead man walking. Dead weight, dangling. Set them free... he dragged his fingers from the Doctor's grasp and felt himself slip away. So much easier... just to let go.

Felt Sandra brush his mind. Partners... a touch of regret. But he'd said his goodbyes, there. Paid her due.

Other hand slipping, now. The troll's little fingers, clutching at his own. The sharp blade of her concern stabbing at him. "Curry -- no --"

"Lady --" He could barely reach back. "Been wanting to tell you -- this long time --"

A blue blaze before him that was the charm. And far off, linked still, the Contessa; the proud sweet fire of her. A last gift of warmth, that, for a man to carry down to the dark.

Small fingers tightened, painful now. "Curry -- Harvey --"

He almost smiled. "Been wanting to say -- you got something special, lady. Sound and good the whole way through -- the first I ever met --"

He curled his own scarred hand round hers, returning her grasp. Took a deep breath; and as her fingers slackened in relief... let go.


Eloise felt a chill where the warmth of his hand had been, as he got sucked toward the dark fissure that was spreading at the Master's feet.

And the Master was laughing, silent and mocking.

:::The current of the stream was too dark -- too fast, dragging the rose petals away from her (all that love, all that beauty -- soon, only the thorns would be left). And the Dark Giant was coming closer:::

:::NO!!:::

She remembered the vow she had made to him, back in Sweetheart's zero room: "... this fat lady ain't gonna sing till you and I can do a duet at the victory party." She never meant to break her vow ... she never meant to ...

Then her hand was no longer empty. Not Curry's hand... Harvey's... not his hand.

The Doctor's hand, the friend she trusted so completely, reconnecting the circle. Something in his touch directed her thoughts outward, away from shards of memory and dream, to what was happening before them.

She didn't want to look. But she looked anyway.

Those dark impulses, those presences, converged on Curry like a swarm of mud wasps: attacking, hungry for the strands of story that still hung about him like a tattered shroud -- hungry for the kill. And he did nothing to fight them off.

Sailor Gallifrey's thought-words echoed through her mind:

Take the darkness within and be one

She took a deep breath, tried to open her heart to the darkness, just a little.

And saw them, knew them -- these swarming things -- for what they were:

Lost fears, angers, hatreds, even hopes, dreams, loves -- remnants of those who had given up themselves to become the Glory. Like orphaned children, with no place to go, no thing to be, they were trapped here outside space and time, and yet, in the middle of it all -- in the Center. All they wanted was to be free, even if that meant not being -- at all.

Just like Curry.

:::Yes,::: thought Eloise, as her heart opened a little wider, :::I could give some of this darkness, at least, a place to be, a home, a sanctuary:::

And everyone, it seemed, had the same thought at the same moment.

The darknesses paused in their attack on Curry, as if they'd caught a new scent, and radiated out toward the circle of friends -- still hungry, but not attacking -- curious, lonely.

And little, by little, those in the circle embraced the Darkness -- took it home.

Take the darkness within and be one

The old outlaw, however, remained slack, as passive as though he already swung at the end of a noose.

The Master had stopped laughing.

The Charm -- not the Contessa's any longer -- rose out of his hand, bright and crystalline, and so much more than it had been: no longer blue, not white, either, or black, or any other color the mind could conceive of, but all of them together. It rose above the Master's head, hovering just outside his reach.

He grasped for it, clawing, desperate, wild-eyed.

(Eloise felt the Doctor flinch as he watched)

Slowly, finally, Curry raised his eyes as well, but they were hollow, blind -- already those of a ghost. He, too, reached for the Charm. But not out of desperation. He reached for it as one would reach for a memory -- one good, last thing, worthy of holding on to.

Seeing his prize -- his survival -- about to be snatched away, the Master made a final angry lunge -- and fell into the spreading fissure before him.


Kid paused.

Not because he had seen the Master's fall - his eyes were blank, empty of life. Eyes which saw nothing else in this world.

But because the Eye had begun to descend towards him.

Descending into his outstretched hand.

And slowly, oh so slowly, it came to rest there.

This is the decision -- thought-words in their minds


In every ending, there is a beginning.

Which ending will it be?

Life or death? Both offer freedom, both carry a burden.

Whichever is chosen, the burden will be taken up.

You have been judged, outlaw. Your heart rests in Ma'at's Scale.

You have lived without living, far beyond what you wish.

You have a choice.

Life or death. True life or true death.

The choice all face, every moment.

In this moment, you have that choice once more.

True life or true death.

There is no way back.

Tired. So tired. Always fighting... too tired to fight.

Don't want another weight...

Every moment, there is another weight.

It comes whether you live or die.

So tired... lived too long...

The stories have hounded you, driven you to this point.

Your choice will release you.

Yes...

One moment. In this one moment, your life is your own, to do with as you wish. No persuasion, no tricks, no violence, no silver tongues... none of it.

In this moment, you are free to choose.

Whatever you wish.

The burden of that choice is yours alone.

If I choose death?

Then you will pass on, to the place that awaits you. And the others shall go on, remembering your death.

Life?

Then choice, each and every moment. And the others will remember your life.

Can I rest?

That is your choice, whether you live or die.

I just want to rest... to lie down a while, let it slip away... just wanna be free of it all...

I know.

Free if I stay, free if I go?

Yes.

Will they be free?

It's their choice.

Couldn't free myself from all the death...

Just wanna rest...

Wanna set them free...

To live. Or die.

Everyone makes that choice.

You will be free of the death. From the pain, the grief, the hate, the anger. Free from it all.

Whichever you choose, you will be free of it.

Free to rest.

Free?

Free.

Life or death.

Choose.


Eloise heard the thought-words, and not heard them, for Curry (that-which-had-been-Curry) had let go of nearly everything including language and thought. Only the questions remained:

If I choose death?

Life?

And it was the Omniverse itself that asked these things, the Center, fractured within itself, that answered. The fissures, radiating from the central point, through which the energy of stories had been drained, flickered as though illuminated with strobe lights, wavering between one choice and the other, teetering in the balance.

And at the center stood a lone figure -- transparent, now, devoid of color, and yet still solid. Each hair, each scar, each wrinkle of his clothing stood out in sharp relief -- visible yet invisible. He was a hollow vessel, now, the medium through which the questions were asked.

Then, for a brief moment, the man returned -- the single, living man with a story of his own, unlike any other. Life returned to his eyes, and he gazed down at the tiny crystal in his hand. A smile softened his features -- a true smile, untainted by regret, scorn, or bitterness -- and he closed his fingers over the Charm, as one would take the hand of a lover. Then the last of his Self flickered out.

The Charm blazed in that instant, filling the vessel that-had-been-Curry with light, shattering it in the process. The light flowed out, filling the dark fissures, healing them, returning life to the Omniverse.

When the light dissipated at last, they saw it: a single feather, ridiculously colorful. It hung there for a moment, at the point where Curry's heart had been -- where he had slipped it into his pocket, out of sight. Then, slowly, it drifted down, coming to rest with the other debris that had gathered there, where it would remain forever.


Hesitantly, slowly, Sandra began to sing.

A song without words, for words would shatter the moment.

A life in darkness, turned from the light. A life of shadow.

Xeffy's voice joined in.

To be feared, mistrusted, outcast... to have lost what was loved.

Then Allie's.

Searching for a new direction, trying to make some understanding.

Then Yokoi's.

From despair, hope. From confusion, awareness. From rejection, acceptance.

Then finally, Tessa's.

Freedom.

And then silence.


Eloise let out a long, shuddering breath. She wasn't sure she could speak, should speak... but...

'I said I wouldn't rest till we could sing a duet back at the Hoedown.'

She chuckled, almost wryly.

'Won't be getting it now...' Her voice trailed off.

'He got what he sought.' Eighth said softly. 'He got peace. He got an ending. For him, the battle is over.'

Eloise didn't turn to him.

'Everyone gets a happy ending,' she murmured. 'That he was happy, wherever he's gone... that's enough to know for now.'

The Doctor nodded silently.

'So...' Eloise said.

'The Glory is healed,' the Doctor said. 'The conduits have been broken, the energy restored where it came. The forces of destruction are quiescent once more.'

His gaze rested on the spot where the Master had fallen into the fissure.

'And him?' Eloise said, not speaking the Master's name.

The Doctor seemed to understand, regardless. 'He's out there, somewhere. He always is. And we'll meet again, somewhere, somewhen. And maybe, one day, we'll be free.'

'There's always a chance.' Eloise said. 'There's always a chance.'

The Doctor chuckled softly.

Eloise looked around her. 'I think, maybe...'

'Mm?'

'Maybe we should clear this.'

The Doctor nodded.


So they did.

But as they cleared it up, loading the debris into Sweetheart's storerooms...

...as the debris was cleared away...

...they left the feather where it lay.

Continued...

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