The Doctor rolled his shoulders, then shifted; finally, he gave Jo a small nod. He was ready, the wire was in place, the angle was perfect. Now all they had to do was talk to create distraction. Jo leaned back against the bars of their cage, took a deep breath and smiled firmly. She was ready, too.
"So," she said. "Isn't it curious? I mean, why does he go through all this trouble with us? The Master, I mean. Impersonating a commissioner from Sirius 4, rescuing you from a penal colony the moon, locking us up in here — he's putting an awful lot of work into this, not to mention that it was quite risky for him just to show up on Earth. If they'd found out he was lying, his whole little plot to cause war between Earth and Draconia would have gone down the drain! And what for? What's he going to do to us?"
"Only he knows," the Doctor said, smiling encouragingly despite his grave words. "But I doubt it will be pleasant."
There was this thing, about working with the Doctor. Travelling, Jo corrected herself. She wasn't technically working for UNIT at the moment, or rather, she was probably MIA or AWOL or some other military acronym. So she wasn't the Doctor's assistant anymore, but something else. Something better, maybe, but also something less professional. When he introduced her to other people, he called still sometimes called her his "assistant," or his "companion", or sometimes even his friend. But that was the thing: he was rarely entirely sincere. The Doctor was always talking, performing. Even their conversations in the TARDIS, with no one there, were sometimes so artful and witty that Jo wondered who he was trying to impress. Her? The TARDIS? It wasn't out of the question, the Doctor treated his ship even more quaintly than he had treated old Bessie. The Master had called them "partners in crime" when he had spun his tale about them being criminals from Sirius 4, and even though it was a brazen lie, it still carried some truth. They were partners — a two person acting routine. And this little performance for the Master's benefit was hardly different from their usual behaviour.
"But why doesn't he just kill us? I thought that's what he wanted." Jo wasn't sure what to think about the Master anymore, well, apart from the fact that the old blackguard was undoubtedly up to no good. But by asking, she played the ball into the Doctor's court, and now he'd have to talk.
"Oh, it's not quite that uncomplicated," the Doctor said, still working on the bars with the wire. "He's not quite that uncomplicated. Remember our little adventure with the colonists and the mining corporation? He offered me ruler-ship of half the galaxy at his side. And that was far from the first time he did that."
"Well, he sure isn't offering you anything now," Jo said. She almost wished he were offering something other than this cell. How many times *had* they been locked up today?
The Doctor squinted; if his hands hadn't been working behind his back, he would have touched his neck or rubbed his chin. "Yes, you're quite right. He's been very successful so far with his scheme… and if Earth and Draconia really do start a war, the two most powerful empires in the galaxy at this point in time could fall, and some third party - say, the Master - could move in and pick up the pieces and become the new ruler of the galaxy. Don't you think he's gloating unusually little?"
Jo laughed. "Oh, well, he did gloat quite a bit about coming to rescue you from prison on our flight to the moon, so I wouldn't worry about the old scoundrel just yet." Smug was no word for it. The fact that he would save the Doctor had seemed to be a much greater personal victory to the Master than locking them up in this cell. Only pretending to be a man of the law had filled him with similar glee; he had delivered one heart-felt speech about justice and order after another, not only to the President of Earth and the governor of the penal colony, but even to Jo. Privately, she wondered if maybe the Master had chosen the wrong career. "Have you ever noticed that he does seem to enjoy impersonating human figures of authority quite a bit?"
"He's always loved a bit of dress-up and theatricality," the Doctor agreed fondly. "But I think he's in a much tighter spot than he's letting on. He's tense, and that's why he doesn't give away the whole of his plan. He either needs us where we're going or wanted to get us away from where we've been, or else he wouldn't have spent so much time on us at such an important moment. Did he by any chance mention how he knew we were on Earth?"
Jo perked up. She had quite forgotten to tell him that! "Yes, he did! He told me that the Ogrons brought him the TARDIS! It's on their planet now!"
The Doctor's whole face lit up with a devious smile of triumph as realization hit him. "So that's it! He's lost his TARDIS again. That explains why we're travelling in this slow ship - he needs me to get off the planet of the Ogrons. Mind you, he can't be enjoying their company very much. They're a bit below his usual standard of hired thugs."
"I don't understand," Jo frowned. "Why doesn't he just take off with your TARDIS?"
"I'm sure he's tried that already. But we've been running into him so often lately that I decided to change a few things now that the Time Lords have given me back the knowledge I need to properly handle the TARDIS. I've locked the controls so she'll only follow my commands. If the Master tried to fly her, he'd receive a nasty electric shock at best!"
"But then what's that whole business with the war?"
The Doctor shrugged, using the movement to shift his angle with the wire a bit. He didn't glance at the camera once. "Well, he might not have been lying when he said that we were going to meet his employers. Or I suppose the Master could have been bored enough to try and start a war and that's all there is to it. As you may have noticed, he doesn't always make sense."
Jo wondered if it was wise to insult the Master — they wanted to distract him, after all, not provoke him — but the twinkle in the Doctor's eye when the loudspeakers made a scratchy noise and the Master's dry voice rang out told her that he had done it on purpose.
"Isn't that a bit rich coming from you, Doctor?" the Master demanded to know. "Or could it be that you're bored? Maybe I have neglected to make your confinement comfortable enough — how rude of me! After all, you made quite sure that my stay in prison was filled with all manner of entertainment."
The Doctor wriggled his shoulders and his hands reappeared from behind his back. The wire was nowhere to be seen, probably hidden somewhere beneath the ruffles of his shirt, but Jo caught a glimpse of raw skin and red circles around his wrists that made her startle. He had given no sign before that he was in pain, but he must have been. "Oh, I can't complain," the Doctor called up to the camera with a sharp smile. "Compared to your imprisonment, I'm sure the company down here is much better!"
"Yes, and we've been in much less comfortable prisons lately," Jo spoke up, following the Doctor's lead even though she wasn't quite sure what he was trying to do. "At least there haven't been any mind probes yet!"
The Doctor's quick frown told her that she shouldn't have said that. There was a moment of quiet on the Master's end, and then you could hear the dangerous smile in his voice, "Oh, have I not been living up to your expectations, Doctor? We shall remedy that!"
All the Doctor had wanted to provoke was a sign that the Master was listening, a verbal reaction, but he couldn't blame Jo for involuntarily stepping over the line that would prompt the Master into action. She was probably worrying enough already, poor girl. If only he could make her believe that the Master wouldn't do anything too drastic. And his wrists could need some rest, so really, this was quite welcome. Too bad the Master hadn't taken him to the ship's bridge, but he was probably being cautious and didn't want to let the Doctor come too close to the controls.
"What now?" he demanded, surveying the cabin that for such a small ship was quite spacious. The colours were muted, the furniture utilitarian. Yet there were books on a shelf and some half-finished engineering projects on the writing desk that were clear signs of the Master's presence. The wardrobe looked all his own, too, its monochromic neatness reminding the Doctor of the fact that throughout his exile he had planned to tidy up his own wardrobe room but never had gotten around to it. Ah well. The lack of windows made the cabin slightly claustrophobic. It resembled the rooms of their childhood, of their school days. Most buildings in the Citadel didn't have windows either.
"I really would be most grateful if you didn't feel the need to sift through my mind as well."
"Nothing so primitive, Doctor, I assure you. I was merely thinking you were right — I was not paying you the due attention. And to think: in all the months I spent in prison I was perfectly sure that when the tables would be turned, and you'd be my prisoner, I wouldn't neglect you so cruelly!" The Master shook his head in mock shame.
There was a chair by the desk that might have been offered to a guest, but the Master merely stood leaning against the locked doors with a sardonic smile playing around his lips, watching him. The Doctor's eyes fell on the bed, which looked unused, the covers straightened out with military precision. He turned back to the Master and raised a brow.
"Be my guest," the Master said politely, and turned towards a cabinet.
"My, how sordid," the Doctor commented, but really, if the Master wanted to play this particular game of crude seduction, it served him right if he burnt his fingers. He sat down on the bed, propping his back against the headboard and stretching out his legs. It had been a while since they had circled each other like this, with no one but each other for an audience and time at their hands. Would the Master really try something? No doubt they had both been thinking about it from time to time, but the Master hadn't made a definite move since they had fooled around with each other as boys, life-times ago.
Ignoring for a moment the matter of the Master's moral deficiencies, the Doctor wasn't averse to the idea of letting himself be seduced. In theory, at least. The set-up was a bit fanciful though. Ravished prisoner? Really? "Have you by any chance been reading too many romance novels?"
When he turned back around and closed the cabinet door, the Master held a carafe of wine and wore a look of astonishment, eyes wide and scandalized. "I'm starting to think you have associated with Miss Grant a little too closely, Doctor! I have to disappoint you, though, you're rather unsuitable for the part of the screaming damsel in distress. For one thing, I suspect that all you're offering is a display of Venusian Aikido."
It was reassuring to know that the Master wasn't yet quite overcome by his baser impulses. If they existed at all — it was a bit annoying, but the Doctor still wasn't entirely sure if their flirtation was merely an affectation on the Master's part or spoke of genuine interest. The Doctor pretended to be affronted in return. "Planning such an attack would be a bit insulting, wouldn't it? You're not usually… passionate enough to fall for a simple trap like that."
"And you're far too big a tease to actually offer anything."
The Doctor eyed the wine. "So instead you'll drug me first? Becoming so adept at hypnotism has apparently rusted certain other charms of yours."
As if he only now remembered the wine, the Master glanced at it and chuckled. "I seem to remember a time when it was quite easy to loosen you up with certain substances, but actually, I merely thought it would be a pity to let a fine wine like this go to waste. And the Ogrons, as you can imagine, are abysmal drinking company."
He accepted a glass against better judgement, feeling amusement coil warm in his belly. The Master gave as good as he got, you had to leave him that. If the Doctor hadn't known it was all for show, he would have been quite insulted to be compared to an Ogron, even favourably.
The Master pulled up the chair, sat down, and filled a glass for himself, but didn't drink. His eyes rested on the Doctor — no, they were anything but restful, roving from his crossed ankles to the loosely curled fingers that held the Doctor's glass, hungry but strangely tense, like a waiter who longingly eyes the spread-out banquet that is not meant for him. This was unusual, and it gave the Doctor pause.
"Something the matter with the wine?" the Master inquired. "I would hate to think I had served you anything but the best, considering that this is something of a condemned man's last meal."
The Doctor, hiding his surprise, sipped from the wine. It was excellent, this vintage from the past future. "Ah, so you're finally going to tell me who your mysterious employers are?"
The Master did not sip — he nearly emptied his glass in one. "Not yet, Doctor. You'll have to trust me on this."
That was unlike the Master, too, just like the odd stare. He had always relished uttering threats far more than their executing them, and while a lot could be said for the power of anticipation when it came to creating fear, the Master had enough foresight to know that whatever it was he was holding back was unlikely to live up to expectations. Besides, if he were keeping the Doctor in the dark for his own amusement, the glee would be obvious, and it wasn't. The Doctor didn't like the conclusions this lead to.
"Do me a favour, Master, and don't get us all killed just because you're too proud to admit you're in something of a tight corner here, will you?"
"Drink your wine," the Master ordered, suddenly cold. "We don't want to leave Miss Grant waiting too long."
For a while after the Draconian boarding party had locked them all up in the cage together, the Doctor and Jo talked softly. The Doctor kept an eye on their cell-mate, who was pretending to sleep. His mind was quite calm. By his telepathy alone, the Doctor would not have been able to sense the deceit. He knew his old adversary a bit to well to fall for it. He remembered how the Master looked when he slept, and it wasn't this comfortable, relaxed pose. In true sleep, the Master would either be lying straight as a soldier at attention, or curled up tightly, depending on how deep he was lost in unconsciousness.
The Doctor was tired himself. He'd been on his feet, running, fighting, being locked up and interrogated for more than a day, almost two. The mind-probes had taken their toll on him, despite the good humour he had displayed for Jo's sake. Too much time among the British — now he was starting to affect a stiff upper lip as well. It wouldn't have happened to his previous self. That one had always been quick to complain whenever things got a little uncomfortable.
"You should sleep," he told his young companion, "we'll need alert minds tomorrow on Draconia when our captors take us to the Emperor. If we want to prevent the war, we must convince him that it is all one of the Master's schemes. We'll need all our wits for that."
Jo yawned. "Mh-hm. If only I wasn't so hungry. All I had today was a cup of tea and some biscuits the Master gave me when we flew to the moon, and I didn't eat them because I thought they might be poisoned."
The Doctor raised his brows in tired amusement. "But you drank the tea?"
Jo rolled her eyes, probably at herself. "He was very polite, you know how he is. I'd already had a sip before the thought occurred to me."
"You needn't be so distrustful in future, not when it comes to food. Poison isn't quite his style," the Doctor told her, then he turned his head to call for the Draconian guard. "Excuse me, might we have some dinner if it isn't too much of a hassle? My companion and I are terribly hungry." He added, remembering a bit about Draconian customs, "Isn't it very rude to leave a female without nourishment?" The Draconians, like many societies that oppressed one gender or the other, also believed that the oppressed needed special treatment.
It worked. They were brought water and some fruit not much later. When the guard had closed their cell again, the Doctor tapped the Master's shoulder, pretending to wake the false sleeper. "Dinner time, my friend."
The Master sat up just in time to catch the pear the Doctor tossed him. He glanced once at the fruit and cut a grimace. The Doctor had secured the bananas for himself. Jo had two apples. The Master visibly wavered, then asked her in his most friendly tone, "Would you care for a little trade, Miss Grant?"
Jo blinked. "Why, is there anything wrong with your pear? Oh, don't say you hate them, too! So does the Doctor!"
"Yes, well, they're quite vile," the Doctor defended himself, biting another piece off his banana.
"For once I perfectly agree." The Master held out his offending pear and Jo, with a shrug, exchanged it for one of the apples. "Thank you, Miss Grant."
"Remember it the next time you're threatening to kill me," she retorted, causing the Master to laugh once.
"Touché, my dear."
"So," the Master said a few bites into his apple and swallowed, "I hear the Time Lords pardoned you?"
The Doctor tilted his head in assent. It was a small gesture, designed to give away nothing, neither his triumph nor his exhilaration, nor the immense discomfort and humiliation he had felt throughout his exile. Most likely, the Master could guess at all that. But Jo didn't notice his reluctance. She started telling the Master the whole story about Omega, and she sounded so proud of him prattling away like this that the Doctor couldn't quite bring himself to stop her. Instead he nodded whenever she glanced at him for confirmation and watched the Master, who showed himself suitably impressed, laughing and saying, "Oh, did he now? How brilliant of you, Doctor," in all the right places.
Once the story was finished, though, the Master gave a dramatic sigh. "There you are now, Doctor. You defeated one of the greatest heroes of Time Lord history, and as thanks, the High Council has allowed you to be their errand boy again! Well, I suppose it is a step up from working for those UNIT people."
The jab worked, for a fraction of a second. Then the Doctor remembered something he had ignored so far, and that suddenly came to the forefront of his thoughts, nagging and insistent. "Funny you should bring it up," he said with a smile that was no kinder than the Master's mockery. "Didn't you mention your mysterious employers a while ago? So who are you selling your services to these days?"
The insult was well-aimed, hitting whatever it was that made the Master so tense. He stilled, then laughed, a little too loud and too cheerful. "Oh, good, Doctor." He glanced meaningfully at the surveillance camera inside their cell. "Are you performing for our Draconian captors?"
Jo watched the Doctor fiddle with the Master's fear generator. The Draconian prince and the human general locked up in the cell next to theirs were talking in low voices, and Jo felt a flare of hope seeing how the bitter enemies had become friends and allies so quickly, now that they had seen that the Master was responsible for all the tension between their people.
"The Daleks of all creatures," she said, shaking her head. "I sure didn't think *they* were the Master's employers. Did you?"
The Doctor looked up, and shook his head. He looked worried, as he always did when Daleks were around. "No, Jo. I certainly didn't. The Master is a renegade, but he is still a Time Lord."
She frowned. Sometimes it wasn't easy to follow him. "So?"
"Well, Jo, you might say that my people and the Daleks are at war. It isn't a war like the ones you humans fight. Both the Daleks and the Time Lords can travel through time, so the battles don't progress linearly." He caught her confused look and paused for a better explanation. "You see, Jo, when I was a young Time Lord, no one had ever heard of the Daleks. But now, the old Time Lords have been watching them suspiciously since before I was born. My people are doing their best to keep the timeline stable, but they don't always succeed. Now, the Master is anything but a patriot, but even he would not wish for our people to lose a war against the Daleks. There would be no galaxy for him to rule if the Daleks should win."
She was startled to hear that the Doctor's people were at war. Did they have soldiers? A military? It was hard to imagine him not opposing all that.
"No," the Doctor went on. "I think the Master has only allied himself with the Daleks to save his own skin… perhaps they're even forcing him to cooperate. He did talk them out of killing me for the moment, but he wasn't his usual demanding self."
"Then why doesn't he just leave? Even if he doesn't have his TARDIS, he could still use that spaceship!"
"Yes, that worries me too. The Daleks must be quite strong if he doesn't even dare to make a run for it."
The Ogrons had run when the Doctor activated the fear generator, and their human and Draconian friends had already left the Ogron base to return to their spaceship. There was no one there, and all Jo could to was try and help the Doctor into the TARDIS — she could smell the scorched cloth of his shirt, the burnt flesh where the Master's laser pistol had nearly killed him.
He was pale as death, could barely keep his eyes open, clung to the console more than he stood, but he was still fighting. The time rotor moved, but they hadn't taken off yet. A strange noise came from the console, one Jo had never heard before. "Doctor," she pleaded, "what are you doing?"
"Telepathic circuits," the Doctor breathed, then swallowed, pausing for air. "Sending a message to the Time Lords."
"The Time Lords!" Jo exclaimed, so loud she almost missed the sound of footsteps behind her.
"He's warning them," the Master spoke up at her back. "He's warning the Time Lords about the Daleks. How very brave of you, Doctor."
The Doctor's eyes slipped open once more; they were dark with pain, and his ashen skin glistened with cold sweat. His lips moved, but he made no sound except for a sigh and then he slid down to the floor. Shaking, Jo pointed her laser gun at the Master. "Don't you dare to come closer!" She took a step, bringing herself between the Doctor's fallen form and the Master. "You should really leave the TARDIS — or I won't hesitate to use this gun!"
He raised his hands. "I'm afraid I quite honestly can't! We've already taken off — now everything is in the hands of the Time Lords and the Doctor's obsolete ship."
She threw the shortest of glances at the time rotor, and yes, it sounded and felt as if they were in the vortex already. On the floor behind her, the Doctor was silent. Too silent. Jo stared at the Master, the pistol still trained at his chest. He hadn't lowered his hands, but now he cocked his head to the side and smiled patronizingly. "Ah, come now, Miss Grant. You know you don't stand a chance, so why don't you hand over that weapon?"
So he didn't have a weapon of his own! But it was the Master. Who knew what tricks he had up his sleeve? Although, Jo had resisted his hypnosis twice already today, and she knew for a fact that he wasn't as good of a physical fighter as the Doctor, who had taught her quite a few tricks out of his repertoire. 'Strength and size doesn't matter in a fight, Jo,' he'd always told her.
"I don't think so, Master."
He took this in stride, just raised his brows and glanced past her at the fallen Doctor. "What about our friend? Will you just let him lie there, bleeding to death?"
No, of course not. He was right, she couldn't just keep standing there with an eye and a pistol on him while the Doctor might be dying. But just as she started to lower the weapon, Jo raised it again, firmly. "No, you're quite right, someone has to help him." Jo stepped sideways, so she could keep an eye on both of them. "You do it."
"Oh, very clever," he huffed. Now he sounded a bit frustrated, and if she hadn't been so frightened for the Doctor, Jo would have smiled.
The Master stared at her for another moment, then finally went and bent down by the Doctor's side. He slipped off his leather gloves and touched the Doctor's clammy cheek with two fingers, then slid them down to his neck, feeling first the left pulse, then the right. Finally, he laid his hand flat on the Doctor's chest and let it rest there for a moment, only inches from the place where the fire from his pistol had hit scorched the Doctor's shirt. There wasn't much blood, but the wound was close to the hearts.
"Well?" Jo prompted anxiously.
"He'll live," was the Master's verdict, spoken in a cool, almost clinical tone. Still, Jo thought she heard him exhale in relief. "Without regeneration, even."
"Is there anything we can do?"
The Master's look was intense and rather contemptuous. "He is a Time Lord, Miss Grant. His body has regenerative powers beyond your comprehension. A small injury like this will be gone in a few hours without any of your human meddling."
Nevertheless, the TARDIS had thoughtfully provided a temporary bed in the console room, and Jo made the Master drag the Doctor's unconscious body over to the bed and put him down on it. It was really only an extendable foam mattress, without blankets or pillows. But he would be more comfortable there than on the floor of the TARDIS. The Master helped without much complaining or any petty attempts to be rough. He even loosened the Doctor's collar by unbuttoning the uppermost buttons of his shirt. Jo approached the bed from the other side, and allowed herself to touch the Doctor's hand. A small gasp escaped her: it was worse than she had hoped. "He's icy!"
The Doctor's body would soon reach subzero temperatures, and the Master, despite his confident words, was a bit nervous. The Master had gotten out of quite a few scrapes in his time, but an injury like that would have killed many a Time Lord easily. He hadn't intended to shoot the Doctor and cost him another regeneration. If he killed the Doctor, it was going to be deliberate, meaningful, not a finger slipping on the trigger because some Ogron knocked his hand aside. Strange, he thought, if the Doctor died from this wound, he would probably feel shame, or at least embarrassment. And a bit of regret, because this wasn't a bad regeneration.
And there was still the matter that he couldn't leave. The Doctor in a regeneration phase was the last thing he needed on top of being locked in a TARDIS controlled by the Time Lords while a human girl pointed a deadly weapon at him.
"It'll pass," he told her. "Until then, why don't we call a truce?"
"A truce? And when I turn my back on you, I suppose you'll grab this gun and laugh at how naïve I've been? No, Master, I think I know you a bit too well for that." Miss Grant shook her pretty head. "Now, uh… go over there and take that chair, and I'll sit here by the Doctor's side where I can see you."
It was only a strategic retreat, the Master decided as he picked up the chair and chose a position that allowed him to watch the Doctor and Miss Grant. A little pause to give him time to come up with a plan, one that ideally involved no risk of anyone getting shot, particularly not him. Unlike the Doctor, he had no taste for physical violence except in the most abstract terms. He liked the idea of it, the knowledge that he only needed to press a button and worlds would burn. He liked to watch from afar as others killed each other. But common brawling of the kind this regeneration of the Doctor so excelled at was quite beneath him.
Miss Grant probably had no idea what she was doing, the Master reflected, and she was as much in the dark about where they were going as he was. She had declined his offer of truce, but she was still just a human girl, and one who trusted every word the Doctor said, when it should have been quite clear to anyone that half the things the Doctor said should be taken with a grain of salt and the rest was entirely for show. It'd be comparatively easy to get her to lower her guard once an opportunity presented itself to do some good and show her that he wasn't all that bad.
He watched her sitting by the Doctor's bedside, his hand in her small ones, the gun in her lap. Did she even have any idea about the meaning of touch in a society that hadn't just climbed down from the trees, a society of old men in stuffy robes who wasted a thought on procreation about once a century? Every touch on Gallifrey was performed, according to elaborate rules, and with a lot consideration. Every touch was deliberate, and to some extent, public. But she wouldn't know, not from the Doctor. The man had always quite infuriatingly ignored these traditions. Brushing hands, claps on the shoulder, exuberant hugs.
He kept doing it, quite as deliberate as the delicate language of touches that other Time Lords spoke, and yet at the same time rebellious, tearing down walls. As a young man, the Master had found himself intoxicated by these transgressions, following them eagerly until one day he found himself teetering on the edge of the acceptable and quite alone. In the end, the Doctor had shied back from taking the things he had started to their natural conclusion. Gallifrey had been no place for them. But instead of accepting that and leading the life of a true renegade with the Master, he had chosen to family as an excuse, first a foolish marriage, then his granddaughter.
It made the Master want to chase him and pin him down, flay him open until the Doctor lost control. The Doctor would call it obsession, but the Master called it retribution.
But there it was, that twitch in his fingers that told the Master that the Doctor's own walls had been ignored against his will. The Doctor, for all his claims of not being as stuffy and repressed as everyone else, was just as touchy as soon as it wasn't he who controlled the transgression.
First his fingers flexed inside hers, and then his long legs thrashed. The Doctor squirmed and threw his head from side to side, groaning.
"Doctor!" She tried to hold him down but his struggling got worse, and in one hand she still held the weapon. "Doctor, calm down, you're going to hurt yourself — you're delirious — "
There, his chance to impress. In an instant, the Master was by her side and took over by grasping the Doctor's head and pinning him down into the soft foam mattress of the bed. Static sparks of consciousness sprang over into his mind, prickly as the Doctor in his waking state.
"Doctor," he commanded in his firmest voice, and imagined his hands in the soft, pliable mass of the Doctor's outer self, forming it like clay, parting it, gaining entrance. The Doctor's back arched a little, and his mouth opened in silent protest, and then one of his hands flew up to fight the Master off. The Master caught it by the wrist and wrestled the Doctor down again, pinning him to the bed, intertwining their fingers to maximize exposure of the Doctor's mind to his touch.
This, he thought viciously, this is what touch should mean, Doctor, and forced the raging mind to yield to his greater mastery.
"What are you doing to him?" Jo raised her pistol a little higher, her voice tremulous with worry, but he had her, she didn't know if he was helping or hurting. And right she was. He was doing both.
It had been too long for the Doctor, and his mind was too weak. Too many places where it had been broken and mended, and like a dark skittering mass it tried to run from the Master's presence, but running was impossible in a place that you couldn't leave. The Master stretched and settled, and gently offered shapes and memories as bait, landscapes of safety, sanctuaries of the past. He drew them from the Doctor's mind, one after another, until he happened onto one that wasn't familiar to him, but seemed a well-trodden path within the Doctor's mind.
"You're walking up a mountain, Doctor," he said softly, head lowered, concentrating.
The Doctor's mountain, a place the Master had never been. Now it was his mountain, he was the height and the weight and the canopy of the burnt sky above. Putting the images he saw into words, he gave them substance and power. "It is spring, the grass in the meadow is the colour of early wine. The ice is melting. You're walking up the mountain. The second sun is rising…" It was the Doctor's sun, remembered and cherished, and the Master could feel its warmth, too, but he took none of it for himself. "You can feel it warming your back, soaking your robes in sunlight…," there was a spark of life, of consciousness from within the Doctor, but the Master preferred not to be noticed just yet, "no, don't look behind you…"
Word by softly spoken word, the tension flowed out of the Doctor's face until it looked nearly young, and quite at peace. The Master paused, taking a deep breath, and glanced up at Miss Grant. His mind was with brimming with power, and if he had tried to hypnotize her then and there, she wouldn't have been able to resist. She lowered the pistol until it lay quite uselessly in her lap. But his fingers still rested on the Doctor's temples and that mind was drawing him in again.
He knew, abstractly, about the things he could do to him now.
His mind was rooted in the Doctor's, and he had chased him, driven him into a corner of memory, a warm place of solace, a safe and lonely place. He could feel the twin suns as the Doctor had felt them long ago, and the icy chill carrying down from the mountains. A sanctuary, and the Doctor, unconscious, had no power to keep him out. The Master's physical body was still, but his mind laughed, and the Doctor, in his red student's robes, turned around to face him.
"You," he said. The copper sky shivered with night, the chill grew colder.
The Master drew closer, mental steps carrying him within inches of the Doctor. He reached out and touched the place on his chest where the scarlet robes were dark with blood. "I killed you, Doctor," he smiled, feeling the blood. It was cool. The Doctor glanced down at the wound in surprise. The sunlight, weakening, caught in his grey eyes, turning them amber.
"It seems I'm not dead yet."
"You're close. Every shred of energy you expend trying to resist me is bringing you closer."
Frost climbed the stalks of crimson grass. The Doctor stood higher up the slope, and he was looking down at the Master, shadows and a smile on his face. The Master's hand clenched in the robes, but grasping a mind was like grasping a handful of eels. "If I fight you, I die?" asked the Doctor, but he didn't believe, his freezing mind was slipping free of the Master's grasp, a feather-light thing, just as it had always been.
Feather-light. Weak. With a small snarl, the Master pulled him around by his robes and hurled him down onto the powdery snow of memory. In an instant he had his hand around the Doctor's neck, pinning him down. "You'll die either way, Doctor. But not just yet."
The sky on fire he drew from his own memory, the tearing, lava-bleeding ground from the Doctor's: they both had seen worlds burn, and now he wrapped them into it, two small seeds in a body of destruction. The snow melted, and then the grass, and the soil and the mountain itself as the sun sank into the cradle of the valley, igniting the furnace of a sky.
In those few instants, the Doctor lay flayed open beneath him, and the Master felt faint surprise: so much fear, the twin beat of the hearts of a running man, so familiar. Words fell from the Doctor's memory, from his lips, of willing souls and instant fires, of the fleeting nature of things and the fear of death. It was a desperate invitation, and the Master, laughing as he recognized the words, finished the verse for him.
Heat suffused them, and afterwards, the Doctor, very close, very soberly, asked, "Human poetry, Master?" and shoved him out of his mind.
On the outside it took merely a minute before the Master pulled back his hands from the Doctor's head, and the Doctor, with newly flushed cheeks, opened his eyes, staring at them with sudden clarity. "What's going on?" he demanded. "What is *he* doing on my TARDIS?"
Jo rushed to keep him from trying to sit up. "Hush, Doctor, don't overdo it. You've been *very* sick. I thought you were going to die."
More or less grudgingly, he stayed on his back and let Jo fuss over him. The Master had moved away, standing at the foot of the bed now with crossed arms. Unfortunately for the Doctor, the effect of his glare was somewhat diminished by the fact that Jo was patting his head soothingly.
"Messing about in my mind uninvited!" the Doctor groused. He could still feel the raw places in his mind where the Master had been. "I hope I gave you a headache for that."
The Master sneered down at them. "Don't worry, Doctor, this touching reunion of yours is doing the job admirably."
The sound of the Master's voice reminded Jo that he was still there, and she grasped the pistol a little more tightly. "I'd just helped you into the TARDIS when he appeared, Doctor," she reported. "And then the TARDIS took off, and there wasn't much I could do about it."
"Don't worry, Jo, you did very well — the TARDIS took off? When?"
"Don't you remember? You sent a message to the Time Lords right before you fell unconscious."
"Did I?" he asked with a raise of his brows, and then it came back to him, and he jumped to his feet. "I had to warn them!" the Doctor exclaimed, and stabbed a finger at the Master's chest accusingly, "About your Daleks!"
The Doctor was still unsteady on his feet, stumbling like a drunken man, so the Master steadied him with a hand on his elbow, "Careful," he muttered, and more loudly said, "Warning the Time Lords *and* handing over control of your TARDIS to them? Not your finest moment, Doctor. They're either going to take us back to Gallifrey for another trial, or they're going to send you on a suicide mission."
Clinging to the Master with one hand and to the console with the other, the Doctor paused for breath and grimaced. "The latter, I fear. But I was hardly in my right mind — dying from a shot from your weapon, if I remember correctly!"
The Master started to speak, not sure himself if he should claim innocence or gloat, but the Doctor interrupted before he could get a word out, still ranting. "Waving about lethal weapons like that! Like some human child running with scissors — no wonder you're going through regenerations faster than other people go through coats!"
That was the Doctor — laughing things off when you least expected him to, the Master mused. But it had always been like that: the Doctor hardly cared about what you did to him as long as no one else was harmed. His disregard for his own person had often confused the Master, but he remembered the depths of the Doctor's self that he had seen a moment ago, and things seemed a little clearer now. The Doctor wasn't unafraid so much as too scared to consider his own mortality to care much about dying.
It was almost disappointing, but he couldn't tell why.
Miss Grant had watched their exchange. Now she gave the Doctor a fond smile. "Good to see you're back in your usual spirits, Doctor." She offered him the laser pistol.
"Oh no, you keep that, Jo. I won't be needing it."
She shrugged. "If you say so — you two will probably be too busy arguing for him to try anything. I'll go and get a change of clothes. Don't get us into more trouble!"
It was quiet in the console room right until the door fell shut behind Jo and the Doctor turned back to the Master. He knew he would really rather not have her there to witness their following conversation, but perhaps it had been unwise to send her away so soon. He still felt raw, more than awake, and the inside to the TARDIS to him seemed to positively glow, white hot light like the sun. And at the same time, his body felt ephemeral, his hold on it tenuous, as if he hadn't yet escaped the dreamscape of his mind.
"What were you going to do?" he snarled softly into the Master's general direction, still not quite able to tell the psychic residue of their contact from the real man standing a few feet away. "Steal my body? Is that what you were after? Trap me into some mental scenario so you could play puppet master?"
The Master shifted, moving out of the Doctor's line of sight. The Doctor forced himself to stand straight and follow the motion, though it made him even dizzier. The other Time Lord raised his hands, pleading innocence.
"Doctor, you shock me. Would I ever do such a scandalous thing to my dearest, oldest friend?"
The Doctor felt his knees soften with a momentary bout of nausea and sought support, perching on the edge of the console. He tried to make it look like a nonchalant, deliberate pose, but the tightness in his voice most likely gave him away. "There's obviously hardly a thing you wouldn't do!"
The Master, sensing weakness, stepped so close that their knees nearly touched, staring up into the Doctors eyes. "You sound surprised, Doctor," he said softly, with a glitter in his eyes that knew no remorse.
"Yes," the Doctor said softly, contempt making his voice heavy, "Yes, and quite a fool I am for it."
A light chuckle escaped the Master. "You are," he agreed with dangerous fondness, a feeling that now the Doctor caught a glimpse of its full extent, made him shiver inwardly, because the affection was both true and terrible. He hadn't thought - but of course the greater the Doctor's discomfort was, the more it showed, the more the Master would feel he had to brag. "Did you honestly think I would draw a line at betraying my Time Lord loyalties, Doctor?"
The Doctor released the tense breath he had been holding in a scoff. That bald-faced old liar. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I did and still do. If you weren't as big a coward as you are, you wouldn't have given the Daleks so much as your small finger."
The Master had never been good at hiding surprise, and so it was evident now: his eyes widened and he raised his brows, then frowned angrily as he stepped back into a more defensive position. "Oh, still so much faith in me, Doctor?"
"I've seen it," the Doctor replied coldly, unwilling to admit that, yes, he did think the Master wasn't quite mad enough to let the Daleks win. He tapped his temple. "When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also. I've also seen the rest of it."
A badly hidden swallow, and the Master crossed his arms. "The rest?" he scowled. "I shudder to think what insights a meddling amateur like you could have gained from my mind."
"I'll leave you to it," the Doctor replied with a tight smile, ignoring the nausea that the images he had seen caused him. "Surely you know best what it might have been."
In truth, he didn't want to speak it out loud, to shape the thoughts into words. He didn't know if he could. He had seen Earth at the brink of destruction once already, drowning in fire and heat. In the Master's mind his rule of hell was glorious, and his dance on the volcano almost one of deranged love rather than revenge. Hard to tell the difference, when those two feelings were so closely intertwined in the Master's heart. The heavens would darken with Dalek armies, but the Master imagined he would reign Earth with the Doctor constantly at his side, reduced to something easily manageable, a pet for a puppet dictator. It was narrow and coiled in on itself, the Master's fantasy. What the Doctor couldn't have put into words was the raw greed that almost passed into need, into terror. It lay like a poisonous seed at the Master's core. He would not act on it, but he had thought of it, and the thought remained, ready to bloom and bear fruit.
The Doctor tried to shake the memory off. He wished he hadn't seen it. It had been easier to believe that the Master's feelings were merely those of a petty rival. Obsession of this scale and depth was harder to laugh off, but it was pointless and self-destructive to dwell on it at this moment. They still had centuries and life-times to sort out their personal problems if they managed to deal with the crisis at hand first.
"So," he said sternly. "Got yourself into a right mess again, I presume? What happened to your own TARDIS?"
The Master sighed. "I was captured by the Daleks. The self-destruct I installed into my TARDIS activated when they tried to take it apart."
Rubbing the back of his neck, the Doctor considered this. It meant the Master hadn't sought out the Daleks — unless that was what had happened, and he had tried to strike a deal with them and been betrayed. "The Daleks. Well, at least it didn't fall into their hands, that's something."
"Yes, the thought of the Daleks with Time Lord technology is rather worrisome."
The Master watched the Doctor, waiting for him to go on and come up with a solution. He had that effect universally, people would just sit back and expect him to solve their problems, Usually the Doctor could tolerate this, as it meant they at least weren't standing in his way when he *did* solve their problems. But this was the Master, and such an attitude from him was quite ridiculous.
"How many of them were there?" the Doctor prompted impatiently, trying to incite some cooperation.
"I only saw about of a dozen of them, but trust me, Doctor, they're recovering from their last defeat. I believe they must be building an army somewhere. That little war between Earth and Draconia was only supposed to weaken the prey before they were going to strike."
"I can't believe you managed to talk the Daleks out of killing you. The most obstinate-minded killing machines in the universe, and they fall for that silver tongue of yours."
Arms linked behind his back, the Master smiled and bowed at the compliment. Just then, the TARDIS lurched, and the time rotor groaned like some antediluvian animal, heralding their materialization.
The air was rank, reminding Jo of the way the countryside sometimes smelled when you took a drive in late winter and the farmers had just spread fertilizer on their fields. But at the same time it was much wetter than that, almost muggy, only it wasn't nearly as hot outside the TARDIS as the thick jungle would have made you think. The sky above the canopy of alien leaves was the colour of mustard gone bad, a sickly greenish yellow.
The ground was soggy and soft with a thick layer of moss and squelching mud. With a sigh, Jo reflected that wearing her white coat had probably not been the best idea. It was noisy out there, too: hooting and wailing from a hundred inhuman throats. Not a friendly place to land the TARDIS, but not exactly the kind of environment she would have expected the Daleks to thrive in, either.
"And I still don't see why I have to accompany you on this foolish endeavour," the Master complained as he and the Doctor emerged from the TARDIS, following Jo. "Someone should stay behind to tell the Time Lords about your regrettable demise, don't you think?"
"If I happened to have a dungeon and some heavy chains on my TARDIS, then perhaps that might be an option," the Doctor replied, his stern tone undermined by a current of humour.
They had materialized on this planet hours ago. At first, both the Doctor and the Master appeared relieved that they hadn't been taken back to their home planet (and Jo couldn't say that she regretted not being able to visit the Doctor's world, from what he had told her) but soon they had started arguing again. First they had disagreed about where they were (finally reaching a consensus that they just didn't know), then about why they were here ("Typical of the Time Lords, they just can't give a straight order," the Master had scoffed, to which the Doctor, although he didn't dispute it, replied, "Yes, well, that's no excuse for running away and letting the Daleks go about their business!") and finally about what they should do. In the meanwhile, Jo had found time to change her clothes and make some tea and sandwiches, eager to nurse the Doctor back to health. By then they had been on this planet for several hours, and still the sensor had picked up nothing more threatening than some very lively plants.
Finally, after getting a change of clothes himself, the Doctor decided that if the Daleks didn't come to them, they would come to the Daleks.
"But seeing as there's no way to lock you up securely, I feel much safer having you where I can see you," the Doctor finished his thought, and gestured in front of him. "You first, old chap. Oh, and Jo, kindly stay away from those spitting plants, I doubt they're just feeling mischievous."
"Thank you, I would never have guessed," Jo smiled, and heeded the warning. "So where shall we go now?"
"Back inside the TARDIS to devise a proper plan, I should say," the Master groused.
The Doctor's mood, which had been dark upon their landing, had turned restless but much lighter in the hours since. He was slipping into one of his near-manic spells. He clapped the Master on shoulder. "Come now, some hiking will do you good, get you into shape! This way!" he declared, and led them off into the jungle.
For what seemed like several hours, they climbed over gnarled roots and squeezed through tight thickets, stepped into mud and got bitten by invisible insects, but neither a Dalek nor any other form of sentient life presented itself. During the first twenty minutes, the Master had kept up a constant stream of complaints and disgusted commentary on the local plant life, answered by cheerful interjections from the Doctor. Then they had given in to heat and humidity and just silently trudged onwards.
"Doctor," Jo finally sighed, "Are you sure we aren't lost?"
"Lost?" the Doctor exclaimed. "What a nonsense! We've gained some very important insights into the situation."
"Yes. One, this planet is covered in jungle, which is singularly unsuitable for Daleks. Two, it is seismically unstable, since there have been several small tremors since we arrived."
"It's a miserable little speck of dirt no one would possibly want to go to, making the planet of the Ogrons seem like a holiday resort," the Master summarized dryly, but even as he said so, he stepped close to the Doctor, not looking him in the eye, and said under his breath, "And we've been followed for close to an hour."
Followed? Jo turned around anxiously. Behind them she saw nothing but trees and foliage, and few large spider webs that made her shudder, but just when she turned back to ask how they know they'd been followed, something grabbed her from behind, one strong arm around her waist, the other around her neck, and a furry hand clamped shut over her mouth before she could scream. A pungent smell filled her nostrils as she jerked in the iron grip of her attackers. The Doctor was leaning close to the Master, out of her reach, neither of them looked up —
"It's no use, Doctor, the girl has obviously wandered off and gotten herself into trouble. I don't see why you're so surprised — isn't that some kind of job requirement for your assistants?" The Master asked. He was sitting on a mossy log, watching the Doctor circle their current position in the jungle with rising concern in his voice as he called out for Miss Grant.
The Doctor frowned, but not at the Master: it was something on the ground that had captured his attention and kept him from paying his fellow Time Lord his due attention. He squatted down, patting the twigs and grass with no concern for his ruffled sleeve, which would certainly have looked better without brown dirt. The Master watched, torn between fascination and rolling his eyes. "Will you be shedding tears on the ground where Miss Grant last stood?" he asked with morbid curiosity.
"Jo didn't wander off," the Doctor explained distractedly. His tone was off-hand, but it lacked the usual tension and hostility. It'd been a long time since he had talked to the Master as if he had quite forgotten that they were enemies, and the Master didn't know whether to be insulted or strangely touched. It was rare that he could observe the Doctor being so unselfconscious, and although the opportunity to run was presenting itself, the Master preferred to watch the uncommon sight. The Doctor turned his head, following traces in the undergrowth only he could see. "Someone stood behind her for some time… you can still see the indentations his feet left behind in that patch of grass. They struggled… but only briefly."
"Not a Dalek, I presume?"
The Doctor scowled, quite clearly remembering their roles now. "Well, a Dalek would have a hard time dragging her off into the woods, wouldn't it?" He ran a hand through his hair. "It appears we're faced with more than one enemy on this planet."
"You are," the Master corrected. "I am merely an unwilling prisoner."
The Master didn't think it a good idea to remind the Doctor that another enemy meant a potential ally for him (and honestly, as long as it wasn't a verbally-challenged tin box, the Master didn't care whom he had to work with to get the upper hand against the Doctor), but a little warning before the Doctor got too invested into this idea that they were somehow on the same side was probably sportsmanlike. The Doctor, ungrateful as usual, merely glared.
It was getting dark when they finally returned to the TARDIS, and they almost didn't find her at all. Those disgusting spitting plants had covered her in a brown sludge which had dried to a hard, crusted brown mass that enveloped her from top to bottom. The sun set much faster on this planet that the Doctor had come to expect from his long stay on Earth. The temperature had suddenly cooled down almost ten degrees, causing the plants to stop spitting their sap at the TARDIS, but the damage was done.
"Delightful," the Master commented, unhelpful as usual. He was standing next to another pile of dried plant-sap that was about waist high and had roughly the shape of an upturned dustbin. The Master moved as if to put his hand on the mound, but with two big steps the Doctor crossed the distance between them and seized the Master's wrist, pulling his hand away.
"What are you — "
"Look again," he told the Master softly, and they both looked at the sap-covered shape. The Master drew in a sharp breath of recognition, and the Doctor let go of his wrist. There was hardly any more light in the jungle, but looking closely, you could make out bits of dried sap floating in the air at roughly the place where a Dalek's eyestalk would have protruded from the pile, but the stalk itself, and the weapon next to it, remained invisible for some reason. Only the brown specks of plant sap could be seen.
"It must be dead," the Doctor decided, still speaking in a low voice. "Or rendered immobile."
"Yes, but even so, it's sure to have alerted the rest of them when it was attacked," the Master cautioned, but then he fell silent and they both listened. The jungle never was wholly quiet, but now the guttural noises of night were broken by the harsh cracks of breaking branches, the clicking of twigs slapping against metal bodies. Twin lights flashed to their left, emerging from the undergrowth:
"Stop! Do not move! You are surrounded! Surrender, or you will be exterminated!"
The noises of Daleks breaking through the forest and onto the clearing could be heard from all sides. The Doctor raised his hands, hoping they could see the gesture, but before he could say anything, the Master stepped forward, away from the dead Dalek and exclaimed, "Finally, there you are!" in a put-upon tone.
The Doctor squinted suspiciously. Was it a bluff, or had the Master successfully deceived him when he had told him the Daleks had forced him to cooperate?
"Stop!" the Dalek screeched again. "Do not move!"
"I am the Master, and if you think hard, you will find that we are on the same side," the Master replied with smooth arrogance, not the least bit fazed by their threats.
The Dalek which had spoken first remained quiet, its eyestalk moving from side to side as if trying to get a closer look at the Master, then it rolled forward a few feet. "You are the Master," it confirmed. "You are working for the Daleks."
"Indeed," the Master muttered under his breath, then with a flourish indicated the Doctor. "And I have brought you a prisoner you will be most delighted to receive!"
The Dalek manoeuvred around the Master to get a better look of the Doctor, who stood with his arms crossed, awaiting the inevitable. And here it came.
"You are the Doctor. You are an enemy of the Daleks!"
"I've captured him just as he was trying to sabotage my — our plan on Earth," the Master improvised.
"He will be exterminated."
"No!" The Master raised a hand in warning. "Don't you realize what a waste it would be? He is a Time Lord."
Listening to the Master dissuading a Dalek from killing him for the second time today, the Doctor couldn't help but admire his old enemy a little. He'd never known anybody who could convince himself of his own lies to thoroughly, and that was certainly the secret of his success as a liar. Right now, the Master was so fully immersed in his role that it was immaterial if it was the Dalek he was lying to or the Doctor. Only one constant remained, no matter how often he changed his guises: he definitely could not bear to cede the Doctor to anyone else. The degree of his obsession was at once worrisome and touching.
The Dalek's light bulbs flashed as it considered the objection. "You are also a Time Lord," it pointed out stubbornly. "He is useless to the Daleks. He is to be exterminated!"
"You single-minded — all right." The Master visibly forced himself to remain calm. "If revenge isn't enough, then I appeal to your sense of pragmatism. At the moment I am working for you, so you can't risk harming me. But he is expendable. A Time Lord to do whatever you want with." In the near-darkness, the flashing lights of the Daleks' speech the only thing to illuminate his face, throwing the lines and grooves of it into sharp contrast, the Master looked tense and exhausted, but also determined.
Another Dalek approached their leader. "We could use him for the experiments."
"He will die," the first Dalek agreed. "No one survives the experiments. This is acceptable!"
The Doctor sent the Master a thin, bitter smile. "Thank you so much."
In their own way, Daleks were remarkably similar to the High Council of the Time Lords: unimaginative plodders entirely too convinced of their own invincibility. The Master owed his life for the second time to their stupidity, and all the way to their underground base he could barely contain his derision — it hadn't even occurred to them to ask him how he had found their secret hideout on Spiridon (which, according to the Daleks, was the name of this miserable reeking piece of mud) or why he had come to them with the Doctor as his prisoner.
They had, unfortunately, left a guard with the Doctor's TARDIS. Not that the Master could use the Doctor's ship to escape Spiridon, as her controls were still locked to the Doctor's mind. Now, it would have been different if his plans for Earth and Draconia had worked out. Watching his little pet planet bleed dry and burn to cinders might have broken the Doctor eventually. But without Earth as a hostage, the Doctor would die long before his spirit would break. The Master had to admit that even he wasn't quite as resilient.
At the Daleks' base, the Doctor was led off to be imprisoned somewhere, and the Master was ushered rudely into a lab, where he was briefed on the situation: the Daleks had successfully enslaved the locals and established their base here with them as slave-workers.
The problem was, they had been followed to Spiridon by some people called Thals, who were intent on fighting them. The Daleks, apparently made nervous by a bunch of barely space-faring crusaders, intended to get rid of the Thals by using some kind of virus.
The Master thought it unwise to point out to his employers that he didn't actually specialize in life sciences, as his life depended on making himself useful.
"It must be ready by dawn," a Dalek ordered. "Work!"
Rolling his eyes as soon as the Dalek turned its shiny metal back on him, the Master set to work, but really, the last time he had so much as glanced at a biology text-book lay several centuries and eleven regenerations in the past, and even then his interest had been minimal. What worse way to waste your time was there than gazing through a microscope for hours, gaining nothing but a deeper insight into dead vegetables and a crick in your neck?
The virus the Daleks had concocted was pretty nasty, you had to give them that. They'd originally tried to developed a strain that was only lethal to these Thal people that were bothering them, but all they had succeeded in was to create a particularly aggressive strain that only survived in Dalek tissue and had killed several of their lab workers. That, he supposed, was their reason to put him to work here.
"This might be done much faster with two Time Lords working on it," he told the Daleks standing guard. "We could give the Doctor the pleasure of both working on the vaccine and being the first test subject."
The Daleks conferred amongst themselves, and then, to his surprise, actually agreed. Fools — but the Master certainly approved. The Doctor was brought into the laboratory some minutes later, wearing a sour expression and sending the Master quite a glare.
"You don't look too happy," the Master observed in amusement, "did we by any chance disturb an escape attempt?"
The Doctor didn't answer; he had spotted the airtight glass container in which the virus was brewing, and was circling it, wearing a dark frown. "What are you up to now?" he asked suspiciously.
"Not my idea," the Master replied modestly. "You see, there are actually two good reasons Daleks chose this miserable planet as their base. One is the ability of the natives to turn themselves invisible, which they intend to harness for their own purpose. Personally I don't think much of the plan — Daleks and stealth don't really go well together. They tend to be dreadfully unsubtle, don't you think?"
The Doctor wasn't amused. He jerked his head at the bubbling virus concoction. "And what has this got to do with it?"
"Oh, that is what they need us for. The Daleks have a little problem with some people calling themselves Thals — they seem to think the easiest way to get rid of them is to extinguish all life on the planet with this virus. I'm supposed to create a vaccine for the Daleks and their slave workers."
"Under no circumstances am I going to help you extinguish the life on a whole planet! Not to mention the Thals - !"
"You know them, I take it?"
"My cellmate is one of them. And I've encountered them before, on Skaro."
"On Skaro?" the Master inquired in surprise. He had never before heard of these people, but they had to be pretty reckless to attack the Daleks on their home-ground.
The Doctor huffed a superior little laugh. "You didn't know that, did you, Master? The Thals are native to Skaro. A long time ago, the Daleks and the Thals used to be of the same species."
"It's of no consequence," the Master answered, "even though the story sounds quite fascinating and I'd love to hear it another time."
"Another time?" the Doctor asked with a raise of his brows. "I was under the impression I didn't have much longer to live — certainly you haven't forgotten that!"
"Don't try to stall, Doctor. We have a job to do. Think of it as saving lives, Doctor. It is a vaccine, after all."
"Without a vaccine, the Daleks won't be able to use the virus in the first place. I won't help you with genocide!"
His patience was coming to an end. Every minute the Doctor wasted arguing, they got a little closer to extermination. "The fallacy in your argument," the Master pointed out softly, stepping close to the Doctor and guiding him towards the single chair in the room, a nasty metal contraption with restraints, "is that the virus and the vaccine will be completed with or without your help. I'm merely offering you a chance to help me to perfect it before you become test subject number one."
He had seized the Doctor's elbow, and the Doctor, faced with the chair, pulled up his arm and tried to wrestle free, more indignant than frightened, although after what he had seen in the Doctor's unguarded mind, the Master knew much of the Doctor's bravado was just for show. A Dalek, having witnessed the struggle, rolled closer, its weapon pointed at the Doctor. "Obey!"
The Doctor glanced from the Master to the Dalek, then gingerly took seat.
"Stop being so unreasonably stubborn," the Master said angrily, because that was not the reaction he had been hoping for. "Work with me on this!"
He was met with a soft smile from the Doctor. It was his most condescending, because it almost strayed into pity. "Oh, you know I wouldn't be of much help. Anything we brew up together would be just as likely to kill me as not. Remember? Without the Rani's help, we'd never have made it through any of the life sciences at the Academy."
The Master gritted his teeth. Seething, he turned on his heels and picked up a sub-dermal injector, filling it with the vaccine prototype with a few brisk motions. The Doctor was deliberately provoking him — daring him. Well, with any luck, his next regeneration would be less foolish. He unbuttoned the left sleeve of the Doctor's coat and then the cuffs of his shirt, pushing both up. The Doctor watched him. At least the smug expression was wiped from his face, replaced by something far more sober. If he changed his mind now it was too late. The Master pulled his arm straight and set the needle against the pulse. It kept slipping. He glanced at the Doctor, looking for a sign of fear. Even if he begged now —
He was thrown off his feet, over the Doctor, and the needle broke. A rumble filled the room, and the tremors grew stronger, and then there was another, louder bang and the lights went out. The Daleks screeched orders at random. The Doctor grabbed him and hurled him around, then jumped from the chair, and with a fighting cry, dealt out a kick that even in the dark was precise enough to upturn the Dalek closer to them.
The Master pulled himself up by the chair, and with only the flickering lights of the remaining Dalek's lightbulbs to see by, spotted the Doctor making his way to the door, dodging lab tables and the virus container.
Considering his chances, the Master followed him.
Halfway down the corridor, the lights went back on and the Doctor nearly bumped into Jo. She was clad in a hideous purple fur cloak, and flew into his arms to hug him. "Doctor! Oh, I thought the Daleks had killed you! We saw the ones by the TARDIS, and the Thals said — "
"Jo, Jo calm down. There's no time to explain now. How did you get in here?"
"I disguised myself as a Spiridon," she said proudly, displaying her purple garment.
"Is there a way out?"
Jo's smile fell. "Oh dear, Doctor… I'm sure there is, but this place is a bit confusing. Back this way, probably, and then right…"
The Doctor turned around and found that the Master had followed him. He looked a bit worse for the wear. He was breathing shallowly. The high collar of his costume was askew, and he wasn't armed.
"Ah," the Doctor exclaimed. "So now you've decided to betray your new masters again. Always the opportunist!"
"Doctor?" Jo asked in confusion, looking from one to the other.
Ignoring her, the Master told the Doctor, "You can thank me later for saving your skin. The safest way out is climbing up the lift shafts."
The Doctor decided they could discuss the concept of loyalty later — to be honest, he didn't except a lecture to be of much use in the Master's case. At the moment, there were too many angry Daleks around. He patted Jo on the shoulder and grudgingly allowed the Master to show them the way.
The night was chilly, moonless and buzzing with hostile life. The spitting, twining plants were inactive at night, making way for insects and predators. They stayed close together. From time to time a swaying light would show them the way — the invisible Spiridon friend Jo had made was keeping his distance, but leading them to a place that would be warmer and safer.
"He's the one who kidnapped me," Jo explained with chattering teeth, "but it turns out he's just a bit intimidated by you two. Wester wants to help us against the Daleks."
"And the Thals? Did you meet them?"
"Yes. But they had explosives, and they wanted to sneak into the Dalek base to blow it up. They said they'd seen the Daleks take you two away but they didn't want to risk their plans, so I had to go in all by myself to try and find you."
"And you did very well," the Doctor told her.
Jo smiled. "Yes, I just wish I hadn't left that Spiridon fur in the lift shaft. It's freezing out here."
"So I assume that blast we felt was caused by your Thal friends?" the Master inquired. He was following closely behind them, and had been quiet since their escape, no doubt brooding over the fact that he still wasn't in control over the situation.
Jo nodded. "It seems they didn't quite succeed… I'm glad, though, or we would all have died in there."
"You might not be so glad come morning — provided that we manage to survive the night," the Master said ominously.
The Doctor glanced sharply over his shoulder, while being careful not to lose his footing in the jungle. By starlight, the Master's expression was veiled in shadows. "What are you talking about? The virus?"
"That and the army of Daleks deep frozen in the bowels of their base," the Master replied grimly. "I managed to sneak a look at their computers, Doctor. This is the largest army of Daleks ever built. Once they wake it up from cryostasis, it won't matter very much that you prevented my little war between Earth and Draconia. No power in the galaxy could stop them — perhaps not even Gallifrey."
His first instinct was to say something cutting and angry, but for once, the Master couldn't be blamed. The Doctor caught Jo's worried look, and was almost glad. Between the two of them, as Time Lords, they knew exactly how serious the situation was. Jo, blessed with relative ignorance, offered a chance for the Doctor to show himself confident. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
"They aren't awake yet," he said. "There's still hope."
It was slightly warmer on the Plain of Stones where Wester had led them, but the sunlight-soaked rocks could only do so much. They hadn't brought wood with them from the forest to light a fire, and their invisible guide was too busy keeping the hungry animals prowling the dark at bay to bring them any. The Doctor and Jo sat with their backs to a large rock, and he had his arm still draped around her. Jo pressed close to him, her head resting on his shoulder.
The Master sat a few feet away with his knees pulled up and his shoulders hunched against the cold night air, but he had finally given in to the shivers that were threatening to overcome them all. "Freezing to death or eaten by wild animals," he complained, "what an ignominious way to waste a regeneration."
The Doctor sent a dark look in his direction. He still hadn't quite forgiven him for the incident in the laboratory, even though the Master's little turncoat stunt had probably saved them from immediate extermination. And now he was lowering all their spirits with his typical pessimism. "Don't be so melodramatic."
"We'll talk about melodramatic when you're in your twelfth regeneration," the Master replied sourly, teeth chattering a little.
It was preposterous — a Time Lord of the Master's age already in his twelfth regeneration. And it could have been a lie to rouse compassion, except the Master despised pity more than anything. The Doctor felt the same way about pity. At times he had been tempted to bare his heart to Liz or Jo or even the Brigadier, but he had never done it. Truth to be told, humans were not stupid, and Liz and the Brigadier at least had probably known that his exile wasn't as light a matter as they all pretended it was. The Doctor preferred the pretension. In fact, he came to value it after a while, because it allowed him to keep his dignity and good humour in the face of captivity and humiliation.
No wonder that the Master, who had always preferred to work quietly and efficiently when they were boys, was suddenly so hungry for an audience. Suddenly, the feelings the Doctor had glimpsed in the Master mind, the obsession and desperate greed, made far more sense.
"Good grief," the Doctor said, keeping his tone light, "are you trying to win a bet or were you just clumsy?"
It wasn't easy to joke in the wake of such a revelation. The sudden discrepancy in their life expectancy was shocking. The Doctor felt himself painfully reminded of his trial and the swift, unexpected way in which he had lost Jamie and Zoe. He knew, every time he chose to make human friends, that they were mortal, and would die long before him. Seizing the day was the Doctor's philosophy, and while their lives were brief, it made them all the sweeter. The Master was supposed to be a different kind of friend. They were supposed to be allowed to take their time, to leave things hanging for centuries only to take them up again as if no time had passed at all. That his time to come to terms with the Master might be running out was scarcely imaginable.
"Don't sound so scandalized, you've been catching up quite a bit lately," the Master snorted in reply. "How long did that little fellow live? And this one's still fresh, and yet I've got the feeling it won't last much longer."
"Nonsense," the Doctor groused. Knowing that they might both die wasn't much of a consolation for him. He raised his free hand, "Now come here you old fool. I've no desire to see you turn into someone even less pleasant, and you know what they say about thirteenth regenerations."
The Master hesitated for a bit, but discomfort won over his pride, and he scooted over. Arranging themselves in a way suitable to all parties involved mutual glaring, and a sleepy, muttered protest from Jo, but finally they all sat huddled close together. Jo curled up against the Doctor's left, whereas the Master sat a bit stiffly to his right. At first the Doctor ended up with his right hand on the Master's knee, but pulled it away quickly at the realization that neither of them seemed to find it unwelcome there. The Master's hooded, questioning glance was telling. Instead, the Doctor rested his arm on the rock, draped around the Master's shoulder. Wedged between these two people, the Doctor was starkly aware of how unlike they and his feelings for them were. Holding Jo was pleasant. Her trust in him as comforting as the knowledge that wherever they chose to take their relationship now that they weren't colleagues any longer, it would a controlled, deliberate change. Being so close to the Master, on the other hand, was at once uncomfortable and exciting. There was always the possibility of a loss of control, of mutual destruction. Happiness together seemed unlikely, but there remained the promise of the sublime in their union.
But something they both had in common. They were far more vulnerable than the Doctor, who had many lives still to give. He felt the false confidence he had shown earlier slowly turning into something real, something fierce and coiled tight in his belly. He would stop the Daleks or die trying. There was no reason to be so afraid of change. It might be good for him. This life had started in captivity and grown far too used to it. Domesticated. If he hadn't sent the message to the Time Lords like a well-trained errand boy, they wouldn't have been dragged into this unprepared. Maybe to shake off his prison entirely, he had to change.
It was just nerves. The last time hadn't been pleasant, so naturally he was nervous about doing it again.
"How did it happen?" he asked the Master softly, tilting his head in his direction. "I know the first one, and I can imagine when the last time happened, but what about the other ones?"
The Master tsked. He had stopped shivering quite so violently. "That's a bit of a rude question, Doctor."
"Yes, well, I've often been told I am rather rude. Don't be coy."
The Master raised his hands, which had lain curled in his lap, and put them on his knees, palms down, all ten fingers fanned out. "None of them were as clean and comfortable as yours. But I consider them all valuable lessons."
Their Spiridon friend remained invisible, but with the first light of dawn, he returned from the forest, bringing water and a thick paste made of roots and fruit for breakfast. They all were hungry enough to eat the strange meal, even as Wester told them of bad news in his wheezy voice.
"The Thals have not returned. And your blue box was taken to the city by the Daleks."
"Don't panic, Jo. We have to go back into their base in any case to stop them from using the virus. Having the TARDIS there might actually turn out to be an advantage if we need to escape quickly. Do you know how the Thals entered the base?"
Jo nodded. "There are tunnels that the Daleks use to channel some sort of liquid ice they use to cool something inside the Spiridon city. The Thals wanted to crawl in that way."
Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, the Doctor glanced at the Master. His anger was gone, by now he was merely glad to have the Master on their side (now that he had betrayed the Daleks twice, he had no choice but to work against them if he wanted to survive). His brilliant mind would be a great help. They worked well together when they had to and in a crisis, the Master tended to follow the Doctor's lead. (Unfortunately, this regeneration also tended to combine the nagging of an old woman with the impatience of a four-year-old whenever they were in a tight spot.) "They must be using the liquid ice from the cryonic volcanoes on this planet to keep their army in cryostasis."
"They are," the Master confirmed, "but if the Thals used that way to enter and were caught, the Daleks will be guarding these entrances. We'd be fools to enter that way."
"But if they want to stay cool, they have to get rid of the heat produced by their machines somehow. Wester, do you know of any air vents? Places where hot air comes from the ground?"
"There is a place like a great well, where only wind comes from the earth," the Spiridon whispered, his heavy breathing quickening.
"That's all good and well," the Master interrupted, "but surely you haven't forgotten the time, Doctor? Almost eight hours have passed since we left the city, and even the Daleks will have cooked together a working vaccine by now. They'll need some more time to inoculate themselves, and then they're going to release it into the atmosphere. You'll have to come up with one of those ingenious plans of yours quickly."
"Thank you, I was well aware of that — you're welcome to contribute."
"We could always just find your TARDIS, cobble together some paradox that will get rid of this whole blasted planet and leave."
"Constructive as usual," the Doctor huffed, and shook his head. "No, this is what we'll do. The Daleks want to become invisible? Well, we'll beat them with their own tricks — "
The air vent they had scaled down with only a rope provided by Wester originated in a chamber full of electronic equipment and computers. It turned out to be the control room for the whole refrigeration unit. Not for the first time, the Master envied the Doctor his luck. With so many things to do — stopping the distribution of the virus, finding the TARDIS, destroying the Dalek army — there was no choice but to split up. There had been some squabbling about who should go with whom, but Miss Grant had held her own and insisted that she could take care of herself, and the Doctor had finally agreed to let her go with Wester, probably because he didn't trust the Master to return once he'd found the TARDIS.
"I have to admit, that was a bit ingenious," the Master commented as soon as the doors closed behind Miss Grant and Wester. "A brilliant little feat of on the spot engineering."
Up on the surface, the Doctor had asked him for his TARDIS key. Seeing as his TARDIS was lost and the key no more than a memento without it (the Master supposed that for a fool like the Doctor, it would have had sentimental value) he had given him the thing, although not without expressing some scepticism about how it could be useful. The Doctor had sat down with his sonic screwdriver, fiddled around for a bit, furrowed his brow in concentration and after a couple of minutes, proclaimed it done. He slid the key (which had taken on the form of an actual key, since it still had a working chameleon circuit even if the TARDIS it belonged to was gone, thereby proving the superiority of the Master's TARDIS even post mortem) onto the string on which he carried his own TARDIS key.
"Would you care to enlighten us about what you've actually done?" the Master had demanded, but the Doctor had merely winked at him.
"Wait and see, Master."
It was a sign of how bad an influence the Doctor was that the Master actually did resign himself to waiting and seeing, and followed him down the ventilation shaft, thinking that if they died together down there at least he'd have the satisfaction of laughing at the Doctor in his last moment.
But once they'd come out at the bottom, the Doctor had turned to Miss Grant, lifted the keychain from his neck and put it around hers, adjusting the Master's key with his sonic screwdriver once more. The Master realized what he had done, eyes widening in admiration against his will. He could see her outlines shimmering, her face blurred a little. To anyone but a Time Lord, she'd be perfectly unnoticeable. "There you go, Jo, invisibility!" the Doctor had said and sent her on her merry way with Wester. If the Daleks didn't have motion sensors, they'd almost have a chance of succeeding.
"Thank you," the Doctor muttered in reply to the Master's compliment on his brilliance. He was already engrossed in the computer readouts. "Come here and have a look at this."
The Master came to his side, following the Doctor's finger as he indicated a number of screens that showed the layout of a complex net of tunnels and tubes. "The cooling shafts surrounding the cavern where they're storing their army. So?"
"I'm thinking that if we can't destroy them all, we could at least slow them down. If we manage to sabotage the cooling unit so the whole cavern system is flooded with liquid ice, it will take them centuries to recover their army. Try and find some direct access panel to the cooling unit."
The Master nodded, and left the Doctor standing by console and making his calculations. Not a bad plan. It was feasible that it might work, but the Master didn't think much of it. It was the Doctor's usual half-hearted softness that inhibited him. His instinct here was to stall, to keep the war from happening at all, the typical pacifist response. Happy to have found a solution that was almost peaceful, he didn't look for anything else.
Well, he didn't have to. The Master walked past the cooling unit, and discovered a window in the rock wall, currently obscured by a plastic shutter. He pulled it aside and found himself looking down into a huge ice cavern. His hearts beat faster at the sight.
"Imagine the power of wielding such an army," he said softly, and after a moment was joined by the Doctor.
A blue twilight filled the cavern, shadows hiding the farthest reaches. In the faint watery illumination, the walls and icicles shimmered like opals. Row after row of Daleks filled the cavern, all the way into the shadows, each one gleaming and perfect, a deadly killer in a thousand year sleep.
"Imagine the destruction such an army would bring," the Doctor countered harshly.
The Master looked up at him, barely restraining himself from grabbing the Doctor, forcing him to see what he saw. "Yes, exactly! No one in the galaxy could stop them."
The Doctor shook his head, impervious to greatness. "We can," he said, and returned to his work. The Master stared at his velvet-clad back for a moment, frustration making him clench his teeth and ball his hands into fists, but he told himself that he was a fool to expect anything less from the Doctor, who was too sanctimonious even to win this war properly.
Expelling a sharp breath, the Master patted the hidden pocket of his jacket and left the room, sneaking out on light feet.
"Yes," the Doctor finally said, and patted the console triumphantly. "That should do it. Now all we have to do — "
One of the readouts caught his attention, and he fell quiet, staring at the needle, which kept hitting the red area, and slowly but surely showed the temperature in the chamber rising. The Doctor hastily pressed a few more buttons, staring at the numbers. His worries proved correct.
"They're turning off the refrigeration unit," he called out, "we need to hurry up!"
There was no reply. The Doctor looked over his shoulder, and found that the Master hadn't even started to take the panel apart as he was supposed to do — as a matter of fact, the Master was gone. The Doctor hurried to the door, but then, led by an instinct, turned back around and dashed over to the observation window. The cavern had brightened a little, and with the temperature rising, the walls were glistening wetly. On the floor, the Daleks were starting to stir like animals waking from hibernation. They moved this way and that, still sluggish and disoriented. And in their middle, a small dark figure was threading his way through the waking Daleks, jumping nimbly now and then to evade them.
"What in the world — "
The sound of someone running in the corridor made him turn around, and Jo hurried into the room, breathless. "Doctor! We've found the TARDIS. The Daleks who were guarding it just moved away to get the vaccine — Wester went after them to stop the virus. Now is our chance to get back into the TARDIS!"
"Good girl," the Doctor said, but his heart wasn't in it. They might get away, but if the Dalek army woke up, it would only be a short reprieve, and meanwhile the Master was down there, doing Rassilon knew what — no doubt to the same effect as a boy prodding a wasp nest with a stick.
"And I brought the explosives from the lab in the TARDIS, just as you said," Jo added when she'd caught her breath, producing a package no larger than her palm. The Doctor brightened up, kissed her on the cheek, grabbed the explosives and ran out of the room, only to glance back in a moment later — "Wait in the corridor, Jo! I'll be back in a minute!"
The entrance to the cavern was next door to the chamber with the cooling unit controls, but that was where it stopped being easy. The doors slid open to reveal a sea of slowly moving Daleks. They bumped into each other, turning in confusion, the lightbulbs on the tops of their metal shells still dark, but they were so close to each other that it was going to be nearly impossible to get through. Deeper into the cavern, standing at a point where the floor was elevated so he could overlook the stirring Daleks, the Master stood.
The Doctor narrowed his eyes. He didn't like the odds, but he had to risk it. He climbed down the ledge and jumped into the fray, dodging a Dalek and running smack into the next. Luckily, they weren't awake enough yet to recognize him, and they were quiet but for the scraping and clanging of their metal hulls rubbing against each other. The Doctor squeezed through, slowly getting further into the cavern.
The Master turned around, and after a moment of searching, spotted him among the Daleks. "It's too late, Doctor! You won't stop them now!"
His leg got caught between two Daleks, and he had to wrench it out with brute force, painfully twisting his ankle. An eyestalk waving blindly around caught him in the stomach like a vicious punch, and the Doctor staggered sideway on the slippery floor. "You're mad!" he gasped.
"A bit of gratitude would suit you well," the Master called back, "I am winning this battle for you, Doctor!"
The Doctor limped through a gap between a group of Daleks just big enough to let him through, then had to disentangle his coat from another eyestalk. When he looked up again, the Master has raised his hand, a manic gleam in his eyes, smiling. He was holding up something, a small vial, uncorking it.
"What in blazes — "
"The virus, Doctor! They've been experimenting on it for a while. I managed to nick this while working in the lab."
"You'll kill us all!" the Doctor yelled, then stilled, breathing harshly and staring at the Master in astonishment. "Would you die to stop the Daleks?"
The Master tilted his head to the side and laughed, the sound echoing hollowly in the cavern. "I'm afraid I'm not quite that heroic, my dear friend. This is a strain that's only lethal to Daleks. It's too aggressive for the vaccine, so they didn't intend to use it. It works slowly, too — they'll wake up, carrying death in their veins, or what ever it is those blobs have, and they'll move out to conquer the galaxy, reuniting with the rest of them, and just then, and the height of their power, they'll drop like flies!"
The Doctor started forward, but found his way barred by more Daleks, and slapped his hand on a smooth metal top in anger. "That's genocide, Master! You're going to kill a whole race of beings! Not even the Daleks deserve — "
With a last twist of his fingers, the Master popped the vial open and raised it high. "Oh, be quiet, Doctor, you know as well as I that it needs to be done, and you'll always be able to tell yourself that there was nothing you could do in case your overdeveloped conscience gives you a hard time."
And even as his hearts jumped and his skin grew cold, the Doctor knew deep down that it was true. He could let this happen as long as he didn't have to do it himself, which made him a coward on top of a killer. Wordlessly, he watched the Master pour out the contents of the vial. With a last triumphant look, the Master threw away the vial and climbed down from his chosen spot, dashing and skipping past the increasingly mobile Daleks. The Doctor remained still, imagining death spreading slowly through the room like a shroud falling over the army. Before he knew it, the Master had made it past him and climbed out of the cavern onto the ledge by the doors.
"Doctor!" the Master called impatiently. "There'll be time for guilty soliloquies once we're safely in the TARDIS!"
Paying no heed to the pain in his ankle, the Doctor followed the command. Running away was easy, even now. The Master squatted on the ledge, extending a gloved hand. For a second, the Doctor hesitated as he came to terms with what he felt. He didn't blame the Master, the powerless anger he felt was shapeless and made all the heaver by the sliver of gratitude that he *did* feel towards the Master for taking this decision from him. Their hands met, and the Master pulled him out of the pit of doomed creatures.
He glanced at the explosives in his other hand. There was no point in using them now. The virus would survive alongside the army, and comb back when they woke from the ice again. Jo came hurrying towards them, and the Doctor dropped the bomb back into the cavern. He wasn't sure if she had seen it. In any case, Jo would not be troubled knowing what they had done. Humans were blessed with a lack of empathy for all creatures that did not look remotely like them.
"There are Daleks coming towards the chamber," Jo reported.
"Then lead us back to the TARDIS, will you, Miss Grant?" the Master told her, and seized the Doctor's arm to pull him along. They ran through a flight of corridors, one looking like the next, and then went up in a lift, where the Master let go of him and Jo gave him a worrying glance.
"Doctor? Are you alright? You did manage to stop that army, didn't you?"
The Doctor smiled down at her sadly, thinking what a blessing a human companion could be. The best audience in the world for his one man act.
"Yes, Jo. We did stop them. Everything will be alright."
He didn't look at the Master, and the Master for once did not point out the lie of omission.
They all took a deep, relieved breath once the TARDIS had fully dematerialized, leaving Spiridon and the poisoned Daleks behind. Their clothes looked ragged, they were dirty and tired, but they had gotten away alive and victorious. All Jo wanted was a good long bath, fresh clothes and her own bed in her own apartment. Travelling with the Doctor was fun, but he didn't seem to know the meaning of the word rest. And she missed home.
The Doctor rubbed his hands. Whatever had bothered him a moment ago was gone as if it had never been there. "So! Where shall we go now? I think a nice, peaceful planet — we deserve a good long holiday, Jo, don't you think?"
The Master cleared his throat, raising a brow. "What about me? Not that the idea of sipping strange drinks with you on some exotic beach isn't wonderful in theory, but I would like to have my freedom back."
Cocking his head to the side, the Doctor crossed his arms and considered his old adversary. Jo wondered if he would really let the Master go. He had helped them on Spiridon, and apart from being murderous and evil, he wasn't so bad a fellow, and Jo knew that the Doctor was never terribly upset when the Master got away, as long as his schemes were foiled. And without his TARDIS, he was probably not quite as dangerous.
To her surprise, the Doctor said, "No, I don't think so."
The Master took a violent step forward, his voice rising indignantly. "But — "
"You're still my prisoner. I can't let you go, Master, you know that. You'll get another TARDIS from Gallifrey somehow, and you'll be up to your old tricks in no time."
"What are you going to do?" The Master stared at the Doctor as if he had gone mad. "You're not going to hand me over to UNIT again!"
"No, of course not," the Doctor said, shaking his head calmly and fiddling with the controls. "Those poor chaps don't stand a chance of keeping you locked up."
"Then what? Are you just going to keep me in the TARDIS?"
Jo looked from one to the other. The Doctor looked amused. The Master looked murderous. "Is that really a good idea, Doctor?"
He considered, a wicked smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. "No, probably it isn't. But we'll arrange ourselves somehow. Now, Jo? Where shall we go? A beach with three suns? A singing forest? A peaceful meadow on the Eye of Orion?"
Jo sighed. He seemed eager to show her the universe, but she was tired and her head was nearly bursting with all she had seen and learned. If he wanted to have a holiday, then there was only one place she wanted to go.
"Home," she said firmly. "Earth."
Driving in the night had washed off the scent of laughter and song. The Doctor felt sober, and achingly human, and he knew examining his feelings any more closely would not help; they were petty and simple and terrifyingly honest.
He was afraid of going on by himself, without Jo, the part of his exile that he had taken with him to freedom. Hurt that she had left him so easily, so happily. Ashamed of himself for wishing that they hadn't returned to Earth so soon. If they hadn't returned to UNIT, he and Jo wouldn't have gotten involved with the business in South Wales, and she'd never have met that Professor Jones. His jealousy was embarrassing of course, all the more because he had never really intended to turn their relationship into a romantic one. Wanting things all of sudden just because you couldn't have them any longer — it didn't get much more petty and immature than that.
"Back so soon?" the Master asked with a raise of one brow, pretending he hadn't been waiting for the Doctor in the TARDIS library.
The Doctor had half expected to find him gone by the time they returned from Wales. For a second he was simply stunned to find him there. He had taken precautions to prevent the Master from leaving, but if the Master had really tried to escape, he probably could have. Maybe he hadn't. There was a book in his lap, a bottle of wine among the tomes piled high on the table. Maybe he was content to stay here as a prisoner, because as a prisoner you had no choice, and your jailers were as chained to you as you were to them.
The Doctor paced the library. Would Jo have left him if he were still exiled to Earth? Well, he would not have wanted her to stay out of pity anyways. Similarly, the Master would probably not appreciate an invitation to stay that was based on the fact that he didn't have many regenerations left. His distress had to be bright as a bonfire, psychically, and the Master was already deducing, "And without company, I see."
He turned on his heels, staring at his smug prisoner. Travelling with both Jo and the Master as his companions was one thing — they would have arranged themselves somehow. But things would be very different with just the two of them in the TARDIS.
Then suddenly he realized how similar his own jealousy and the Master's obsession were.
"The only reason you want to defeat me is because I left," the Doctor said, both accusing and questioning and perfectly sure. "It's all a matter of exercising control — no honest feeling whatsoever. I should have known."
That had to be it. Fuelled by mortality, of course, but the Master's feeling were no different from the Doctor's own petty unwillingness to let Jo go. The Master simply couldn't bear rejection. Knowing this, the Doctor felt like a fool, both for taking Jo for granted and for believing that there might be more to the Master's feelings.
"Left?" the Master asked softly, and shut the book with a small slap of pages, then rose to his feet with dangerous precision. "You ran from me. And I honestly don't know what feelings you're talking of — contempt, perhaps?"
The Doctor closed in on him, perhaps a bit quickly, as the Master leaned back, seemingly surprised at his forcefulness of motion. "You never said a word, because until I left there was nothing to say. But the moment I was gone you realized that you wanted me."
The Master's dark eyes hooded and he smiled, infuriatingly amused. "I never said a word because I thought nothing needed to be said."
Things like that should be perfectly obvious. There had been no need to tell his childhood friend that Gallifrey was fine place, sure, if you had the mental agility of a very old rock, but the one thing that made the place bearable at all was the company of such a fine, fine chap, and if he left one day, it wouldn't be because his company wasn't enough, but because there were such marvellous things out there, things to see and be done.
"We may have relied a little too strongly on people's ability to read between the lines," the Doctor admitted ruefully, and reached out, because it was easier to show than to admit. The Master did not stay his hand, and did not flinch from the fingers touching his temple, but his mind was a diamond fortress, smooth and impenetrable.
Fingers tangled in the curls at the back of the Doctor's head, pulling him down ungently, and the Master hissed with his lips nearly brushing the Doctor's ear, "I'm your prisoner, Doctor, but I won't be your consolation prize."
Startled, the Doctor laughed, because that wasn't what he had tried to say at all, but speaking without pretence was hard. He stilled when the Master shifted, impossibly coming even closer, and slipped a clever hand inside the Doctor's coat, raking the ruffled shirt beneath, digging his fingers in possessively. His voice was a little breathless then, husky. "Or is it my pity you want?"
The Doctor laughed and tilted his head to the side to kiss him, not on the cheek but on the lips, like humans did. They had both gathered experience along the way since the time they were young and left things undone and unspoken, but the Master remained perfectly frozen in shock. "Idiot," the Doctor said affectionately, and let his hand roam down the Master's side to feel him shiver in surprise. "I'm leaving Earth tonight. Come with me?"
The Master's hands let go of him and fell to his side; shorter and slighter he stood before the Doctor and stared up at him, nostrils flaring with each harsh breath. His dark eyes glittered with desire, and yet he stood there like a coltish horse, ready to bolt. "Not as your prisoner."
"No, that would be a bit sordid," the Doctor agreed with a sly grin, remembering their conversation on the police ship. "I think we're both done with prison for a while, don't you?"
"This wouldn't be another trick? I haven't forgotten the business with Axos, you know."
Ah. He was still sulking about that, so now he played hard to get. The Doctor leaned back against the table, resting his hands on the edge, an open and inviting pose. "What should I be tricking you into? Things you want so badly that you keep pestering me with offers to rule to world together? Some people just send flowers."
The Master stepped so close their knees touched, putting a hand beside the Doctor's hip on the table, trapping him. "You're right, there are things I want."
The Doctor smiled, and tilted his head to let the Master kiss his neck hungrily in a spot no human would have known to seek out. He smiled even wider at the way the Master's breath hitched in surprise when he realized that the Doctor wasn't fighting him. Like a satisfied cat pulling its claws in and out he ran his hands over the Doctor's chest, up his back, and gave a pleased shiver when the Doctor touched his neck. The Doctor bent his head and let himself be kissed on the lips. Too soon the Master drew back, the need for space and control warring with the need for everything else. The Doctor, feeling tousled, lazy, undone, smiled encouragingly at him.
When the Master had his breathing back under control, he pulled at his collar and decided, "Doctor, I think we can come to a mutually satisfying agreement."