Solitaire

by Bagheera [Reviews - 3]

Printer
  • Adult
  • Explicit Sex
  • Alternate Universe, Drama, Slash

The Doctor was widely considered a very good President.

Deep down, he wondered if this made him a failure. Not often, because he wasn't generally given to self-doubts. Still, he had a lot of time to think about these things. To be a good President of Gallifrey, your presidency had to run without major events, changes or any signs of individuality. Under ideal circumstances, no one even remembered who you were — if the good citizens of Gallifrey had to think hard to recall any facts about your term in office, then it could only have been a good term. But then again, wasn't this the same case with all politicians, no matter what? Peace and prosperity didn't make headlines. Maybe he had changed nothing for the better on Gallifrey: considering the choices and changes the Doctor had already made before he became President, he was quite content with leaving things as they were. He had bought peace and stability at a high price. The Doctor felt that it had made him a graver, more responsible man, less willing to gamble with everyone's safety.

Since he was so universally popular (and thus had nothing much to do), he was surprised to receive a call in the middle of very engaging game of checkers against himself. A few of the black and white pieces fell to the floor and rolled away as he jumped from his stupor and scrambled for the comm unit.

"Yes?"

The voice on the other end wasn't one he knew — and yet its low, silky cadence was instantly familiar. "I have reason to believe that you will be assassinated, my Lord High President."

Boredom and idleness had dulled the Doctor's mind to the point where he had to blink a few times before his eyes widened in realisation. "The Master," he said, and despite himself, a smile brightened his face for a moment — a child's gleeful smile at spotting his best friend in the playground. "You're going to assassinate me?"

"Have I ever been so obvious as to announce myself like this?" the Master sighed on the other end of the line.

The Doctor thought about it. "Yes. You have."

"Well, this is not a threat. It's a warning. Someone plans to kill you, and they will succeed."

"Why would anyone want to kill me? I'm terribly popular!"

The Master tutted. "Is that really the question you should be asking?"

"I suppose you want me to ask what I can do to prevent it, so you can offer me some kind of deal, because this is actually a thinly-veiled attempt at blackmail."

"Be careful, Doctor. I hold your life in my hands, do you really wish to insult me? I needn't have made this call at all. In fact, it is mostly a personal indulgence on my part — I would hate to see you die in such an ordinary manner. I'm not blackmailing you, I'm saving your life at a price."

"How do I know you're not bluffing?"

"Wait and see, Doctor. You still have some regenerations to go — I'm sure losing one or two of them because you find it ever so hard to trust an old friend won't be an inconvenience."

The line went dead. The Doctor tapped the desk for a few moments, then shrugged. It might just have been a prank call.

*

"Well, Doctor? Do you trust me now?"

The Doctor felt a wave of defensiveness and embarrassment wash over him as soon as he heard the Master's voice. He knew why he was defensive — being pushed off his balcony had been a very startling and disruptive experience. He wasn't sure yet, but he thought that he had regenerated into a rather nervous man. The reason why he was embarrassed was less easy to divine. Maybe it was because of his new face — he looked so terribly young, not at all like a respectable Lord High President of Gallifrey. He had caught members of the High Council staring at him in fond amusement when he tried to be stern. Also, the hat did nothing for his floppy blond hair.

"No," the Doctor snapped, and resented how high his voice rose. "I most certainly don't!"

"But you admit that I did tell the truth."

The Doctor had pondered this over and over, and he had admitted to himself that the Master, although vile and evil, would not actually descend to political assassination. And if he did, he would be better at it, and brag about his success afterwards. The Master only ever denied his crimes when he was in immediate danger of being punished. Besides, the Doctor had seen his assailant. The man had not been the Master, and not been hypnotised. Just remembering him made the Doctor shiver.

"What do you want?"

"Manners, Doctor. If I hang up, you might well lose another regeneration."

"No! I mean, I'm listening."

"First, you might show some gratitude towards your benefactor. I've gone through an awful deal of trouble for you. I'm a renegade, patriotism isn't necessarily expected of me."

The Doctor took a deep breath to steel himself, which proved a mistake. His words came out in a breathy rush. "Thank you, Master."

"Hm." He could hear the Master smile. "Much better."

"When and where is the next attack going to happen?"

"Is that what you want me to tell you?"

"Yes!"

"All right. You want a time and a place, so do I. My price is one night with you."

The blood rushed out of the Doctor's head. Feeling a bit faint, he sunk back in his chair. It was all getting a bit too much for him: this large chair behind this large desk, the heavy collar on his shoulders and the responsibility, and the Master's snake-charmer voice in his ears making him feel like a deer in the headlights. He just wanted to go on holiday.

"You're not serious, are you?" the Doctor asked plaintively.

"I am. It's your choice."

The Doctor shivered as he recalled the dead, hateful gaze of his murderer. He felt it like a current running through him, as if a circuit had been closed the moment they looked at each other. He didn't want to face that man ever again.

"I only want to help you, Doctor."

*

The Doctor glanced left and right. The corridor spread wide to either side of him, silent and empty. He wondered how the Master had gained access to the Citadel. The transduction barriers were supposed to prevent unauthorised TARDISes from landing on Gallifrey, weren't they? Maybe he should have the High Council look into that.

But for now, there was nothing to do but to knock on the door in front of him. The Doctor raised his hand — and let it fall again.

He wished he could believe the thing he had been telling himself on his way to their clandestine meeting point: the Master wouldn't really go through with this. The last time the Doctor had seen him, his nemesis had been on the brink of death, hideously disfigured. The Master was too vain to force himself on the Doctor, too vain to face the revulsion and pity on the Doctor's face. Not that the Doctor felt much pity for the Master at the moment. He was rather too busy being scared.

Well, he thought defiantly. If it comes to it, I'm armed. I don't have to go through with this. I'm the President of Gallifrey.

The door opened, startling the Doctor.

The man on the other side was not some bent, disfigured skeleton in rags. The Doctor's eyes roved from the velvet tailcoat to the well-trimmed beard, from the charming smile to the gold-embroidered collar and then finally dared to look into the Master's eyes. They were clear blue, but there was a lively glitter of madness in them that made the Doctor's breath hitch.

The Master chuckled. "Are you going to come in, Doctor? Or maybe you shouldn't. There's still time to run."

The Doctor raised his chin. This was just the Master. He wasn't scared of the Master. "I'm done running," the Doctor declared and stepped into the Master's rooms. They weren't what he had expected (and since the Master had named their meeting point, the Doctor had imagined the room all night and day in lurid detail) — there was nothing squalid or cheap about them, in fact, he had stepped into a perfectly normal parlour. There was a table with two chairs, a portrait of Rassilon above the fireplace, bookshelves, and windows looking out over the Citadel. In light of all this respectability, he felt slightly silly when he told the Master, "And if you think I'm just going to lie back and let you have your way with me, you're wrong."

"But you've come to me nonetheless." The Master closed the door.

"To talk," the Doctor snapped, and wished he sounded more authoritative.

"Of course. Some wine?"

There was a bottle of it on the table, and two glasses. The Doctor stared desperately at the bottle.

"Yes, please," he said, sunk down in a chair, and let the Master pour him a glass.

*

After the third bottle, the Doctor still felt desperate, only now he was drunk. His hand crept over the table, and when it unexpectedly found the Master's hand, he seized it and clenched his fingers tightly around it.

"Please," the Doctor whispered, shaking all over. "This is driving me mad. Just do it."

The Master pried off the Doctor's fingers, poured him the last of the wine and pressed the glass into his hand. "Drink up."

The Doctor stared at him over the rim of the glass as he dipped it forward, grateful for the tang and burn of grapes and alcohol. There was a heavy hand on the Doctor's knee, and he choked on a whimper when it started moving in soothing, possessive circles. Watching the Doctor as he had done for the last few hours, the Master looked perfectly patient.

The last of the wine was gone. The Doctor put down the glass, transfixed by the Master's growing smile.

"Very good. Now, follow me, my Lord President."

Rising from the chair so quickly was a mistake. The Doctor swayed, and found himself led by the Master, a hand pressing against the small of his back. Suddenly, they were in front of the door the Doctor had avoided looking at all evening. He stalled. "I — "

His back hit the doorframe, and the Master's mouth covered his own. The Master was taking what he wanted, crushing his mouth cruelly against the Doctor's, threading his hands through the Doctor's hair and pulling. It was good, perfect, the Doctor had to do nothing but let it happen, and it was the Master's fault that he squirmed and gasped and his eyes fluttered shut. The Master's beard brushed against his cheek after he broke the kiss. "Do you know what you're going to do now, Doctor?"

The Doctor sucked in a sharp breath as the Master ran a hand down the Doctor's robes and found the bulge of his cock. It had been hard all night. Adrenaline. The Doctor squeaked and bucked his hips when the Master gave it a squeeze.

"You're going to lie back and take it," the Master said and pushed him into the bedroom.

Stumbling a little, the Doctor froze when he found himself face to face with a large bed and an equally large mirror above the headboard. He saw himself in it, flushed, wild-eyed, his ornate presidential robes askew and his lips obscenely wet and swollen. And he watched himself gasp as the Master stepped close behind him and looked over the Doctor's shoulder in the mirror.

"What a mess you are," he said fondly. "The President of the Time Lords. The most powerful man in the universe."

His hands worked nimbly on the clasps of the Doctor's robes, as if he had studied its design and practised his moves. It fell open bit by bit, and in his confusion, the Doctor gratefully accepted the cool air on his bare chest. He wanted to look away from the scene in the mirror, but the Master seized his chin and forced him to look. "I'm to fuck you until you beg. Isn't it good?"

The Master's tone was commanding, but not cruel. He let go of the Doctor's chin, petted his cheek with the back of his knuckles instead. The Doctor closed his eyes with a shudder. His hands felt terribly empty. "Yes," he whispered, ashamed to be grateful. Being able to let go of all responsibility was wonderful.

He let the Master turn him around and push him down on the bed. The robes fanned beneath him, red and white, silk and brocade, slithery on the silk sheets, open in the front. The Doctor let his head fall back into the cushions, and felt the world tip sideways drunkenly. It felt too good.

"I'm the President of Gallifrey," he mumbled, faintly, petulantly, but at a tap of the Master's fingers, he pulled up his legs, spread them and planted his feet on the mattress.

"That you are," the Master agreed, and ran something blunt and slick over the Doctor's arsehole. The Doctor tensed and reached up to grab the pillow. He held on to it even after he realised that the Master was just teasing him with his fingers. For a while the Master played with him, stroking and teasing, tickling the insides of his knees with bearded kisses. The Doctor's chest tightened in response to the unexpected tenderness. This wasn't the promised fucking.

"I could be gentle with you," the Master murmured against his skin.

The Doctor frowned and felt his eyes burn under their lids. It sounded deceptively as if the Master was giving him a choice. He could ask him to go gentle, to go slow, maybe even to stop altogether, but only if he let the Master in, if he permitted blackmail and sex to become something more intimate and personal. The Doctor wished he wasn't given a choice at all. He gripped the pillow tighter. "No."

Abruptly, the soft touches ceased. "I understand," the Master said, hooked his hands under the Doctor's knees and pulled his legs higher up. This time, the Doctor felt a pressure against his entrance that was decidedly not the Master's fingers. "Brace yourself."

He tried to. The Master pushed his hips forward, but the Doctor was too tense, and Master's cock too large. The Doctor flinched, his eyes flying open in panic. "No, wait, it won't — "

But with the second try the Master shoved himself into the Doctor with brute force. The Doctor tried to stifle his shout of pain, but he could do nothing against the way his eyes swam with tears all of a sudden. He couldn't believe how tightly he was stretched. Blurred, he could see the Master grit his teeth as he moved, grunting with effort. He rocked, then shoved forward - more of him, splitting the Doctor apart, making him sob.

The Master's fingers dug into his hips. "Relax," he panted angrily and pushed deeper.

"Please," the Doctor cried, because he remembered something about begging, until you beg, and he didn't care, it was too much, he couldn't take it. "Please don't — "

The Master leaned forward, making the Doctor discover just how bendy his new body was, and licked the Doctor's sweaty collarbone. "Are you crying? For me?"

No. There were tears on his cheeks but he wasn't — he wouldn't cry. The Doctor sniffed and bit his lip, and with a huge effort of will, wiped his eyes. He had done worse things and hadn't cried and this was just the stupid wine. At first the Master watched him like a hawk, but then he lowered his head, concentrating on his slow, deep thrusts. The Doctor stared at the Master's broad shoulders, the glistening skin, and noticed how the pain dulled after a while, growing into something warm and red and viscous, almost like pleasure. The fit of their flesh was still glove-tight, but the slide and slap of skin became faster, slicker, easier. The Doctor pressed his heels against the Master's back, closed his eyes and tasted tears on the roof of his mouth, tears and a tingle —

The Doctor sucked in a surprised breath, keening as he suppressed a shout, and jerked through a sudden climax, breaking the Master's rhythm, painting his chest with streaks of come. Then all energy left him with a breath he hadn't realised he had been holding. Dimly, distantly, he felt the Master pound him into the mattress with renewed force, then the surprising stillness of the Master's orgasm. There was a burn as he pulled out of the Doctor, followed by a warm, wet trickle of come between the Doctor's legs. His head felt empty and woozy; he just wanted to sleep.

The Master tucked the presidential robes around the Doctor, and slipped a piece of paper into his hand before he left.

*

"You bastard," the Doctor snarled when he realised who was on the line. "'Tomorrow, at dinner time'? How in Omega's name was I supposed to know you meant the killer, not another date?"

Everything about the day before made the Doctor indignant: that after their sordid encounter, he had slept like a baby until morning, that he had woken up to found the Master gone, that the Master had left him a cryptic note instead of a proper warning, that subsequently, the Doctor had spent the rest of the day feeling confused and strangely dejected until dinner time had rolled around and he had been murdered again. Death by poisoned strawberry sorbet, of all the undignified ways to die.

"You wanted a time and place, Doctor," the Master replied smoothly. "A pity you didn't know how to make use of it. I rather liked your last regeneration."

"Good, because you'll have to content yourself with the memories of our ill-advised encounter from now on. Good day!"

The Doctor slapped the comm unit, closing the line, and seethed in the silence of his presidential office. If the Master had been right here, he would have done nothing rather than wrap his hands around the scoundrel's neck and squeeze hard.

"And you were a bloody lousy fuck, too," he told the empty room.

*

He was lying in his comfortable bed in his luxurious presidential suite when the comm unit beeped again. The Doctor rolled around and took the call without bothering to find out who it was. Instead, he instantly launched into a stream of abuse. He didn't care if it was a member of the High Council. They had no business calling him in the middle of the night right after he had regenerated.

"Doctor," a voice said on the other end. It wasn't the Master.

The Doctor sat up straight. "Who's there?"

"I have a message for you."

"I demand to know who you are!"

"You know me."

"I most certainly don't!"

"I will ruin you, Doctor. As you deserve. Tomorrow, all of Gallifrey will learn what you've done. I wonder… what will you do when their indignant cries reach your ivory tower? Will you silence the truth? Will you do what is necessary, as you have done before?"

"I will not let you intimidate me!"

There was a crackle, a whisper of static and the line went dead. Shivering, the Doctor hugged a pillow to his chest. He was suddenly aware of how very dark and silent the room was. He missed the comforting hum of his TARDIS.

*

He was back in his office, unable to go back to sleep after the mysterious call, and it was barely past midnight. The Doctor had yelled at Flavia and Borusa and several members of the CIA. They didn't even believe him that anyone was trying to murder him. And Borusa had had the cheek to hint that perhaps, grass-green wasn't quite the right colour for a presidential sash.

"Green is a very dignified colour," the Doctor groused when Borusa had shuffled off. "It matches my eyes."

"I'm sure it does." The Master again, sounding highly amused.

The Doctor glared at the comm unit. "You! Get off my phone."

"Doctor, I'd like you to reconsider that. If I get off this phone now, I won't call you again until whatever horrible thing your other enemy has planned for you has happened. Do you really want that?"

"At this point, I'm not sure what's worse!" the Doctor wailed and threw up his hands as if the Master could see him — which maybe he could. The Master's stalking skills shouldn't be underestimated. "It seems that I have the choice between public humiliation at his hands and a rather more private humiliation at yours."

"But mine will be infinitely more pleasant," the Master said smugly. "And you may always pretend that you were drunk."

"I'm different now," the Doctor said haughtily. It was a relief: his previous incarnation had been ill-equipped to deal with this mess, and a coward, too. "I don't need any feeble excuses."

"Very admirable. So this person has threatened to humiliate you? If it's any consolation to you, I've made sure that there are no recordings of our meeting. The public will be spared the sight their beloved President spreading his legs for a notorious renegade."

The Doctor snorted. "You're hardly notorious, you know. You've been wasting too much time bothering me to make a name for yourself." He chewed his lower lip, thinking and worried. "And you're certain no one could have recorded our meeting?"

"Perfectly certain."

Staring ahead of him into the dusty air, the Doctor was silent for some time. He could feel himself paling. "That's… not good. It means he has something else he can use against me."

"Tell me what it is, Doctor, and I will erase every trace of it from the Matrix. At a price, of course."

The Doctor felt his hearts jump in a sudden rush of guilt and temptation. Of course, hushing things up like this wasn't noble or honest… but it was such an easy way out, and even a small victory against his assassin would feel good.

"Oh," the Doctor moaned. "Why do you torment me so? It's subfolder Tau Zeta 7-66 in the archives. I suppose you'll have a good laugh. It's right up your alley."

"We'll see about that," the Master said in a pleased murmur. "Now, don't you think it is time to apologise for what you said earlier?"

"What I said — oh, alright, you're very notorious. Your name is feared everywhere in the Seven Systems."

"Tell me."

The Doctor sighed. "You're the Master."

"Again." The Master's voice had dropped to a low rumble.

This time, the Doctor felt uncomfortable. He swallowed, tugging at his collar, and averted his eyes from the comm unit. "You're the Master."

A chuckle rolled through the aether, and for a moment, the Master said nothing. The Doctor flushed at the laden silence. Then the Master spoke again, intimately as if whispering into the Doctor's ear. "Consider your sins forgotten, Doctor. Go back to sleep."

He didn't sleep. Two hours after he put out the lights, the Doctor rolled onto his back with a heaving sigh. Somehow, the Master's voice had wormed its way inside his head and wouldn't leave him. Other effects of their conversation were just as persistent. For a while, he contemplated his erection. Then he fondled it a bit. Then he shrugged in defeat and wanked to the mental image of fucking the Master over his desk in the President's office. In his fantasy, the Master's silky purr pretty soon devolved into gasps and moans as he swore his allegiance to the President of Gallifrey.

There, the Doctor thought as he wiped himself clean. Much better. And he rolled over and finally got some sleep.

*

The Master kept his word. The following day passed without any incidents, and when dinner time had come and gone, the Doctor locked himself in his private study and checked the archives. Suddenly, he realised how final a decision he had made. The assassin had been right. He had had the choice to silence the truth. Every trace of his deed, erased from the annals of history. No evidence of the things he had done. A clean slate. And he had seized the chance and done it. The files in question had never existed. History was doubly changed now: his actions had erased an entire possibility of history, and now his actions had been erased in turn. It didn't feel right, though. With one small decision, a necessary evil had turned into a crime that had to be hushed up. But it hadn't been a crime! He had been given a mission from the Time Lords, and he had done the universe a favour. In hindsight, he knew that there was good chance that no one but him even cared. The assassin had tricked him, and used his conscience and emotions against the Doctor.

Vertigo overcame the Doctor, but it was quickly followed by a sense of power, clenching in the Doctor's chest like an iron fist around his heart. From now on, no one could manipulate him like this anymore. He sneered at the thought that anyone would try to threaten him. But the sneer faded quickly, and the Doctor felt vaguely sick with guilt once again.

At that precise moment, someone hit him over the head with a blunt object. With a soft moan, the Doctor succumbed to regeneration.

*

"I heard about your unfortunate accident, Doctor."

Despite the intrusion of the Master's voice into his thoughts, the Doctor finished his line of thought, mapping out another move on the empty four-dimensional grid. He was playing against himself, and it proved highly educational. With a nod, he finally turned his attention to the comm unit.

"I'm fine, Master, thanks for asking. The Chancellery guard charged in before the assassin could finish his work. No need to concern yourself."

"This is your seventh body." The Master sounded a bit peeved at the Doctor's lack of worry. "Are you really going to go on wasting your lives?"

"I don't plan to," the Doctor replied pleasantly. "By the way, I'd be most interested to learn how you overcame that little problem. But as for the assassin, I'm gaining insight into his motives as we speak. Yes… I think you needn't worry yourself anymore. I'm perfectly in control."

The Master's reply was drowned by a sudden swelling of music. Surprised, the Doctor tapped his feet to the thundering rhythm, then shook his head. A little too bombastic, too obvious for his tastes. No, he didn't like opera very much, he decided as he sagged forward onto his desk, a flower of red blooming on his chest.

*

The Doctor yawned. All this regenerating made him terribly tired. And he kept forgetting that red-haired woman's name… Chancellor something-or-other. Flavia! That was it. Flavia. Yawning again, he pillowed his head on his arms, ready for a round of sleep on the job. Who knew? Maybe if he kept regenerating, they would fire him. No, wait. Presidents couldn't be fired, he was fairly sure of that.

Sleepily, the Doctor patted the comm unit. Maybe the Master would call? The Master wasn't such a bad bloke. His best friend, really, all things considered. Not that he had any friends to compete with the Master, now that he never left Gallifrey any more. He hadn't even visited his TARDIS in ages. The poor old girl was probably quite cross with him.

The unit beeped obligingly, which made the Doctor smile. "I'm here."

There was a pause. When he spoke, the Master sounded slightly disconcerted. "Are you well, Doctor?"

"I… don't know. Can Presidents be fired?"

"A question that will be quite irrelevant if you keep refusing my help."

"Probably," the Doctor agreed. "I don't seem to be able to do much about this killer, do I? So when do we meet again? We could have tea, and then you could tie me up. Or you could tie me up and then we could have tea. Or we could do both at the same time, but that might be kinky."

"Hmm. What if I don't like tea?"

"Nonsense! Who doesn't like tea? Everyone likes tea."

*

The Doctor loved the sound of tea being poured into a perfect china cup, the chink of the spoon, the small click when the cup left the saucer, the soft brush of breath as someone blew over the hot brew. Details. Pretty, meaningless details. A lot of beautiful things were meaningless.

After a sip, the Master put the cup down again. "Not bad, Doctor," he hummed.

Happy to hear this, Doctor lifted his head. "I knew you'd like it," he said breathlessly and beamed at the Master.

The Master reached out and petted the Doctor's hair, giving him a low-lidded, indulgent glance before pushing his head down again. "I didn't tell you to stop."

It wasn't a comfortable position, kneeling before the Master with his hands tied behind his back, but the Doctor liked the hard floor beneath his knees and the way the ropes cut into his wrists, numbing his hands. For once, he couldn't feel the phantom memory of the wires between his fingertips, the current sparking through his body as he erased a whole species. Leaning his head just a little sideways, so that instead of taking the Master's cock back into his mouth, he let it slide against his cheek, the Doctor earned himself a sharp, warning tug on his hair. He gave a small sigh of pleasure and mouthed the base of the Master's cock before resting his head on the Master's thigh.

"You know," the Doctor said, "A word from me, and I could have you executed."

The Master smiled slowly, pulled him back by his hair and slapped him. It was almost gentle, but not quite. The Doctor turned the other cheek, hair falling into his face. "Don't think I wouldn't do it. You know what I've done," the Doctor whispered, his voice thick. The second slap came down harder, more precise. He kept his eyes closed for a second, then smiled.

The Master curled a finger under the Doctor's chin and tipped it up to look him in the eyes. "Are you sorry?"

"It wouldn't make a difference, would it?" the Doctor replied.

*

When the Doctor stopped panting and managed to open his eyes again, the Master was still dead to the world, sprawling on the bed next to him. Strands of his dark hair had pulled free from their slicked-back neatness and stuck to his face. Sitting up took a lot of wincing and stifled groans, but the Doctor managed. Once he sat, he studied his wrists. Angry red streaks encircled them where the Master had tied him up with a piece of thin, rough rope. It now lay cut to pieces beside the bed. The Doctor bent down to look through the Master's discarded clothes. He found the small dagger with which the Master had cut through the rope — and through the Doctor's presidential robes. There were a few shallow cuts on the insides of the Doctor's legs as well, fading already. But he picked up the black jacket instead of the dagger, running his hands over the soft velvet. On a whim, he slipped into it. It fit him in ways that had nothing to do with cut or size. Maybe he should introduce presidential robes made of black velvet. And abolish the collars, while he was at it. The Doctor pulled on his own underpants as well, the only part of his clothes besides his shoes that the Master hadn't ruined, and limped out of the bedroom.

Using the same meeting place twice — a small but potentially deadly mistake that was typical of the Master. Although his TARDIS had to be here somewhere, ready for a quick escape. And perhaps it wasn't really a mistake, the Doctor thought as he looked at the teapot on the table, the shattered cup on the floor in its small puddle of tea. Perhaps the Master had realised that although the Doctor had crossed some of his most important lines, the Master would remain his one blind spot.

He went into the bathroom, mostly to stare at himself in the mirror, mapping his new face, with its blue, blue eyes and split lower lip, and the bruises around his collarbone and neck. When he leaned against the cool glass of the mirror and closed his eyes, he could hear opera, sensed the current running through his arms, felt the gunshot —

The Doctor stumbled back and away from the mirror, staring into his own wide, shocked eyes. Not a gunshot. Staser fire. The staser discharged again. A single shot could kill a Time Lord, permanently. Breaking out of his paralysis at last, the Doctor hurried out of the bathroom. The parlour was empty, but as soon as he thought he had imagined things, there was a low snarl from the bedroom. The Doctor spotted a staser lying on the floor right behind the threshold to the bedroom. Numbly, he walked towards it.

As the bed came into view, he saw feathers flying around the room like snow, slowly settling on the two figures on the bed. A staser shot had torn a pillow apart. The Master was still naked, but it made him look feral rather than defenceless. The other man, who had the Master bent backwards over the bed, wore black robes with white lining and white seams, and in his hand he held the small dagger, raised high. The only thing that stopped him from bringing it down was the Master, who had seized the other man's hand and was holding it in place with all his strength. They were silent in their struggle, wordless. The feathers floated down around them. Inch by inch the dagger sunk lower.

A third staser discharge rang in the silence, so loud it made the Doctor wince. The dagger slipped out of the attacker's hand and clattered onto the floor. The man staggered sideways and slipped down onto the bed, collapsing on his back next to the Master. Blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth, and small feathers got stuck to it, one by one. His eyes were blind already. The Doctor watched until he noticed that the Master was prying the staser from his hands.

"Do you know who you've killed?" the Master asked and looked at the Doctor with glittering, greedy eyes.

Shaking his head in denial, the Doctor sank down onto the floor. On the bed, the body crumbled to dust and time and nothing.

*

"I had a choice. I knew that those infant creatures would grow up into a race that would never stop killing and killing and killing. They'd envelop the whole universe in their war. So I touched the wires and did the right thing."

The Doctor emptied the last of his wine. It stung in his throat. The Master reached for the bottle and refilled his glass. The curving glass reflected the soft, golden candlelight in the dark. The same light gleamed on the metallic embroidery on the collar of the Master's jacket, which the Doctor still wore, and in the Master's steady gaze. It wrapped the shadows of the room into a golden haze.

"And with one small decision, you eradicated the entire Dalek race."

The Master wore his trousers, and a clean white shirt. He had tidied up and brought the wine, lighted the funeral candles and come to sit with the Doctor. They were leaning against the headboard of the bed. At the foot of the bed lay the duvet and the ruined pillow in a pile of silk and spilled feathers. Between them, on the white linen, there was a dark stain of blood and ashes.

"It must seem laughable to you."

"You altered all of history, Doctor. There's nothing laughable about that."

"When I came back to Gallifrey to stop you from assassinating the President… it felt right to stay afterwards. I had made that choice already, hadn't I? I shouldered the responsibility for Gallifrey the moment I committed genocide."

"You killed for a noble cause," the Master said, satisfied by the Doctor's choice. "And you did it again and again as President. The Sontarans, the Cybermen — whenever Gallifrey was in danger, you did what was necessary. The question is, why did you pull the trigger this time? Why did you kill yourself to save me?"

"You're the one I'm going to spare," the Doctor said gently.

The Master chuckled. "Doctor. Oh, you do scare me sometimes."

"You should find some new blackmail material." The Doctor glanced at the Master. "I'm serious."

The Master nodded his agreement. Whatever grudges he had once borne against the Doctor had turned into something altogether different, now that the Doctor had blood on his hands in so many complicated ways. The Doctor touched the stain on the linen.

"Was he really one of me?" the Doctor asked, even though he felt the answer written into his flesh.

"A part of you. He called himself the Valeyard."

"So something is going to go horribly wrong during one of my future regenerations and I'm going to come back to try and kill myself — only to be killed by me. I feel a bit morbid now, I think."

"Tell me something, Doctor. Why would you want to kill yourself?"

"You should know. You've tried it yourself often enough."

"But I was never quite as successful. Why did you do it?"

Through the blinds, the Doctor could see the night paling. One of the suns was rising over the mountains, bringing a copper dawn. Yet the Citadel of the Time Lords lay sleeping, at peace, safe in the hands of her President. He still felt the hot wires burning his fingers, the cool metal of the staser. The Doctor let his head sink onto the Master's shoulder.

"I don't know," he said. "But I did the right thing."