The house is a lot smaller than she expects. Two floors, four neat windows and a red door with a shiny brass knockers. A number nine sits at eye level and she knows how appropriate that is. The garden is well kept. She recognises some of the species of plant, and enjoys pretending that the rest are from some alien world. Because that would be just like him.
Tentatively, she opens the door. The hallway is larger than she would have guessed and she counts eight doors. She glances up the stairs and notices that they keep going up for another five floors. She grins to herself as she realises that it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
“Who the devil is that?” she hears a voice shout from one of the rooms. She doesn’t recognise it, but she can tell it’s him. She doesn’t give herself time to think as she pushes the door open.
“Hello, Doctor,” she says.
He’s sitting in a plush armchair by a roaring fire, even though it’s the middle of summer. The curtains are drawn and the room is stuffy and too warm. There’s an open book on his lap, but he isn’t reading it. His fingers are steepled, his eyes closed and there is a furrow across his brow. Even in this light, she can see how pale he is and she wonders whether he’s always looked like that or if it’s due to the lack of sunlight.
She notices that one wall is a bookcase, so over-stuffed that there are still piles of leather-bound volumes on the floor. There is a portrait above the fireplace of a woman she doesn’t recognise, and three other armchairs in the room, all unoccupied.
He still hasn’t replied, so she tries again, “Doctor?”
“I heard you the first time,” he snaps, but doesn’t open his eyes.
“Doctor, we need your help.” The scowl deepens, but she continues anyway. “We need you to save the universe.”
“What? Again?” he says and she flinches at the scorn in his voice. “Haven’t you found some other poor sap to take over that job?”
“Besides, I’m just about to have afternoon tea. And we’ve just bought an excellent Victoria sponge that I simply shan’t see go to waste.”
“We?” she asks, confused. They never mentioned anyone but the Doctor.
“Yes, Miss Jovanka, we.” She didn’t even notice him enter the room, but now he places a tray on the little table by the fire, and picks up the teapot. “Tea?” he asks her.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
He shrugs and pours two cups, passing one to the Doctor and sitting down.
“Where’s the cake?” asks the Doctor irritably. “What on Earth is the good of tea without cake?”
The other man sighs, and leaves the room without another word.
“Does he live here?” asks Tegan, her voice higher than she would have liked, but she isn’t able to hide her shock.
“Yes,” replies the Doctor shortly. But she doesn’t care if he doesn’t want to talk about it.
“But he wants you dead!”
“Actually at the moment, the Master’s ambitions are a little more botanical. He wants nothing more than to keep our rather expansive garden from getting overrun with those dreadful dandelions.” He takes a sip of tea and finally looks at her. His eyes are pale and grey. “So, they sent you.”
“I agreed to come, Doctor. When I found out how serious it was, I had to.”
“Oh really? How nice. Well, you’ve got my answer. Do give them my best wishes, and remind them of how delighted I was to do all those other little jobs for them.”
“Doctor, there’s no need to be so rude.” Tegan glances round to see that the Master has returned, this time with cake. He places it on the table and picks up a knife. She can’t help but shiver at the sight, knowing how close he is to her, and how easily he could sink that blade into her flesh. “Miss Jovanka, do stay, I’m sure the Doctor is pleased to see you.”
“I am not,” insists the other Time Lord as he accepts the slice of cake the Master offers him. “She’s only here because she was sent, and because she thought I might remind her of him a little.”
The Master’s eyebrows rise and Tegan looks down at the cake she has reluctantly accepted.
“Oh yes, did you think I didn’t know about that. How you simpered over that poor, pathetic fool who decided to sacrifice himself oh-so-nobly for one life. One miserable human life. And it wasn’t you. No, he couldn’t wait to get away from you. It was another girl he met only a few days after he abandoned you on Earth,” he pauses. “Touching, isn’t it?”
She runs out of the room, not bothering to slam the door behind her, and blinks back tears. The door opens again, after a few moments, and she is surprised to see the Master standing there, observing her in a not entirely unkind way.
“A word if you please, Miss Jovanka,” he says quietly, and she follows him through the house to the kitchen. She stands there, looking at the wall with all the clocks on it as the Master fills the sink with water and begins to wash the dishes.
“I really must apologise for the Doctor’s behaviour,” he says. “He’s not quite the man he was. This regeneration...”
“He didn’t have to say that. He didn’t have to be so cruel,” she whispers, watching the seconds tick by on the tall mahogany wall-clock. The Master sighs, ever so softly.
“I suspect he’s still fond of you in his own way,” he says. “But he is getting on, you know. Middle-aged. You have some idea of what he’s seen. The death, destruction.”
“Nothing to what you’ve seen, I’ll bet,” she mutters, turning to him.
He nods, and she sees a ghost of smile on his lips. “A bet you would most certainly win, my dear. But people, even Time Lords, change.”
“You expect me to believe that! The two of you setting up house on Earth, doing nothing more harmful than spraying pesticide and pulling up weeds?”
“Actually, I don’t use pesticide. The chemicals can have some nasty long-term effects on the environment.”
Tegan rolls her eyes, “Since when have you cared?”
He holds up his arm and tears back his skin. Behind it she sees circuitry and metal. Her eyes widen and she isn’t sure what to say.
“This body is an android, Miss Jovanka, though my consciousness is intact.”
“What happened?” she asks.
“Nothing that I wish to discuss. You see, we all change.”
“But, they’re in trouble, they need him.”
“And what about the next time? And the next? And the next? Do you know how much the Doctor has done in his life? Where does it say he must keep going on and on until he uses up all his lives, until he finally dead? Do you want to die, Miss Jovanka?”
“No, of course not,” she says. “But the Doctor...”
“Deserves a little life, don’t you think? Here he is very much alone, and cut off from the universe, and he likes it that way. He likes it because there are no emotional entanglements, because he doesn’t know what’s going on, he can look at everything in the abstract. It isn’t happening to him, so why should he care?”
“People are dying!” she cries.
“People are always dying, Miss Jovanka, and as you yourself have observed more people tend to start dying when the Doctor gets involved.”
“But in the end, it’s for the best. Thinks work out.”
His lips twist into a sneer, “The ends justify the means? That’s certainly not a doctrine the Doctor would agree with.”
“All right, that’s enough,” and Tegan turns to see the Doctor in the doorway, his arms folded.
In the brighter light she can see dark circles under his eyes, and pale, gaunt skin. “Tegan, I’ll come. But I want to make it very clear that this is the last time. The very last time I ever do such a thing.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” she says, but isn’t quite willing to smile.
He glances at the Master. “Oh, and while we’re away could you pick up some Darjeeling? I think we’ve just run out.”
It isn’t till they’re outside and she’s holding out her arm, with the Time Ring around her wrist, that she speaks to him. “Why?” she asks.
He shrugs. “It’s who I am,” he tells her. And she isn’t sure which question he’s answering.