You don't want to play.
But you must, he says, so you do.
The merry-go-round. The blue paint on the surface is chipped and painful against your bare feet. You hold onto a bar and dig your feet into the soft sand beneath the merry-go-round and give a push. One, two, three. You run and run and run in great big circles and the merry-go round spins and spins. You leap up and hang on, while centrifugal force threatens to push you off. Your hair is wild and flapping in the breeze and you spin, spin, spin. It should be fun. But there's only sand around you, no danger, and you only have the illusion of movement, you're really just going around in a big circle.
The slide. You hum a few bars of Helter Skelter and grip the hot metal bars of the ladder. You imagine if you hold on a little longer you could blister your fingers, that's how bloody hot the dirty metal bars feel. But up you climb. Up, up. And down the aluminum slide that isn't affected by the fire and rain like the rest of the playground is. It's just as hot, though, and that makes the speed with which you go down that much more satisfying. It should be fun, but all you can think is no matter how high you went, all you did was go back down.
The rope ladder and monkey bars. The rope is too damaged to even support your very slight weight, but you take a hold of the bars and pull yourself from one to the next. And the next, and the next. Your legs hang wildly, twisting back and forth to keep you moving forward, keep you going. It should be fun, but the chipped paint bites into your hands and it feels less like a game and more like a challenge to make it to the end. You give up halfway and drop to the ground.
The swings. All twisted metal chains that cut into your hands and a half-melted off seat that is anything but comfortable. You give a push, and you go up, up. You pump your legs harder, harder. You almost can imagine you're heading for the sky, but there's that gravity again and you go back down. Then up. Then down. The higher you swing, the greater the tease. It could be fun, but in the end all you do is leap from the highest point, landing on your feet.
The grass. This is your favorite part. The grass is sharp and dry from months without rain, but you're running. You love the running. You remember running in your youth; long runs down the red grass countryside, through the corridors of the Academy, down the streets of the city. Your weight has shifted up and down in your regenerations, but you've always had strong running legs. You've not always needed strong running legs, but they've always been there. They're still a part of you.
You can almost imagine you're free.
You close your eyes and let the sun bake your dark hair and just run. Run and run. A straight line, no more circles. No more up and down.
Not so far, he says. He only says it, but you can hear it from how far you've run. You would stop even if they weren't there, blocking your way.
So, you drop. Flat to your back, knocking the wind out of yourself as you fall. Your tiny lungs don't hold nearly as much air, but your tiny hearts don't need as much oxygen, either. The sun bakes your face, feeling painfully hot and wonderfully real all at the same time.
Within moments, one of his eternally shiny shoes presses against your cheek. You can't stay. We have to go back soon.
It's only fallout radiation, you say, keeping your eyes shut. And I like it here. It's a lie, of course. But it's either here or your tent on the Valiant. And while being a six-year-old isn't necessarily your idea of fun, it's better than being 100.
There's silence, then you feel him lay down next to you, his adult head somewhere near yours. He won't make himself younger, of course. Not even when the idea of playing in the playground appeals to him more, not even though you two used to play together as children. You two could play now, but now he wants to be bigger, taller, more important.
I just can't stand to see you so mopey after the assault. So I thought I'd show you that Baltimore really is better afterwards. The important things are still here. He obviously means the playground toys and you wonder, again, why he won't play with you. He wants to. It might do him the world of good.
The children are gone, you say. You think of them. The little faces looking up to the sky as their eyes turn to cinders. No tears, only ashes.
You're here. He says the words with so much mocking sincerity. This pretend father-son time, this pretend play time, this pretend everything, it's all a mockery.
I'm not a child.
To me, you are.
He shifts in the dirt and then gets back to his feet. Playtime is over. Instead of waiting for you to rise to your feet, he reaches down and scoops you into his arms like a father whose son has just tuckered himself out, not a captor picking up a defeated prisoner. He seems to enjoy this role and you wonder if he'll keep you this way for very long.
You're twisted, you say.
He laughs. You're the one who only knows how to have fun when you're running.
And he's the one who takes you from the things you love the moment you realize you love them. You open your eyes to see the melted paint of a teeter-totter horse grin grotesquely at you as you're taken away from the charred remains of a piece of a planet you love.
It's all a mockery.
No wonder the Master loves it.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 1,026