A Very Original Sin
“Oh, no, not again.”
The Doctor stood, crossly throwing his Wells novel down on the chair he’d just vacated. It lay like a beetle on its back, the pages flopping down. The TARDIS shook slightly, and something nasty oozed through the chink between the panels covering the Eye of Harmony. Well, the Doctor amended, someone, really.
He folded his arms over his chest and, tapping a foot impatiently, waited for the Master to finish spilling out. A ball of clear gel solidified at the cover’s apex, eased into a loose snake-shape, and promptly rolled off the top of the cover and onto the floor with a dizzing thump.
The Doctor shook his head. “You never learn, do you? Evil, evil since the dawn of primary school--and I should know, you bunged a Röntgen brick at my head inside the first hour. You still haven't learned to just ask nicely for my attention. ”
The Master, looking rather like a vaguely outlined jelly cobra, slinked towards him with pathetic determination. His progress was so slow that the Doctor foiled him by merely making a tiny jump to the left. Shivering in a way that seemed part weakness, part irritation, the Master regrouped and headed in the Doctor’s new direction.
“And then a step to the right!” the Doctor said, suiting action to words. “Are we going to do the Time Warp all night, or are you going to stop being insufferably stubborn and give up on this whole absurd notion of ‘possessing my body?’” He knelt down to address the snake, whose inarticulate reptilian glare had a touch of unintentional pathos about it. Trust the Master to emote even when barely solid. “You do realize that a transfer of the kind you tried with that poor American results in severe mental and physical degradation for you and leaves you with a rather dodgy accent. And let's not mention what it does to the American. Aren't you tired? You've exhausted yourself, and for what? A cheap leather jacket and fingernails that won’t stay on like they should? At least in this form your skin's supposed to shed on occasion. Hardly up to your usual standard, Master. I can’t even blame you properly for trying to kill me this time. You’d so obviously taken leave of your scant senses. The whole thing was frankly a bit embarrassing. But then a rough regeneration can do that--my sixth tried to strangle poor Peri right out of the gate--oh don't roll your eyes like that, I know you never liked her.”
The Master made a weary feint to the side, which the Doctor properly ignored. The small snake, which had raised itself erect for the charge, plopped back down on the ground and wheezed.
“And you think trying to occupy a Time Lord body, with the original host still clunking around inside like the mad wife in the attic, is a better idea? Of all the bad plans you’ve ever come up with, I think this may be one of the shoddiest. It’s not ‘control Chronos’ bad, but it’s–oh, I don’t blame you, of course,” the Doctor soothed, upon the snake mustering the strength to flop over onto its back just to glare at him. “Formally executed by Daleks. According to what I could wheedle out of the CIA agents when they dragged me from the Vortex to drive your hearse, you were in the middle of running some positively innocuous experiments, attempting to breed a pomegranate that would be less annoying to eat when the ‘recruitment’ team came along and forcibly conscripted you–you never were lucky, were you? The one time you weren’t engaged in something nefarious.”
The snake rolled properly back on its stomach and avoided the Doctor’s eyes sulkily, curling into a tiny, wretched ball.
“Now Master,” the Doctor poked his flank lightly, “it’s not so bad.” The snake shuddered derisively like a snicker. “Well, no, you’re a moist cobra sort of thing, I expect it’s more demeaning and awful than I can imagine–but, for your sanity’s sake, don’t try anything too exciting just yet. Rest up, recover that classic Master panache.” The Doctor stroked the scales tentatively with his thumb. “Once you’re well again, we can get you little plastic eyeballs, and pop them into you so you can leer just as you always did–maybe some hair trimmings to absorb, you know, make your own little beard, you'll feel like yourself again in no time–I’m sorry, that’s cruel and in poor taste, isn’t it? Apparently I’m somewhat thoughtless in this regeneration.” He sighed. “Master, Master, Master--would you accept an offer of truce?”
The snake raised his head, rolled his eyes in a way the Doctor was ninety percent certain natural snakes couldn’t actually do, presumably in a way that sardonically acknowledged the lack of other options, nodded, and collapsed into a dead faint. Scooping the limp Master into his arms (with a brief flicker of concern for what his viscous enemy might do to his new velvet jacket), the Doctor carried him to the medical bay.
After almost eleven hours under an intense heat lamp, the Master’s color deepened from translucent clarity to an opalescent blue sheen, so reflective as to be nearly opaque. The Doctor had a few theories as to how the Master might have preserved his consciousness, even through the execution of that near-exhausted Trakenite body, but no coherent explanation as to how the Master might have acquired his current form. He seemed well now, or at least our of danger, as nearly as the Doctor could guess, given that he didn't really know what temperature or color might indicate the Master's good health anymore. But his consciousness was a mess. He was all there, but jumbled, as if someone had taken a neatly ordered bureau, dumped all the drawers’ contents into a burlap sack, and shaken well.
It was like terrible regeneration-trauma. In lieu of guidance from a bonded TARDIS, an officiating elder, or a self-made guardian, the Doctor carefully gathered up the small, sinewy body and looped it around his neck. He let the influence of his own now-settled mind — and through him the healthy murmured song of experience of the TARDIS that had guided him through his own regenerations — seep into the creature. The man, the Doctor corrected himself--Rassilon help him if the Master caught him mentally referring to him as anything else when he was conscious again.
The Doctor went about his business, puttering around the TARDIS, not bothered by the silent hum of consciousness in contact with his skin, the weight against his shoulders and chest. After the time it took to pick up seven books in his library, flip idly through them, put them back in the wrong places, and decide that someday soon he really must do something to organize his eternally-disheveled library, he felt the slide of scales across his neck–the Master, stirring–and a brief, confused flutter of recognition.
The Master raised his head and blinked, with two sets of eyelids, bleary jet eyes up at him. He nipped the lobe of the Doctor’s right ear, and settled back down to sleep again. The Doctor, amused, went back to tinkering with the automatic tea dispenser in the secondary console room, occasionally reaching up absently to stroke light blue scales with the back of his knuckles. The Master's snake-form, he guessed, given how it had stopped looking quite so fuzzy now that he was feeling a bit less peaky, was largely a conceit. Really his body now was that clump of formless gel--but since no one hated lack of control more than the Master, he'd chosen a convenient shape, one he could manage, and was clinging to the little biological details of it: scales and all.
The Master woke, this time more decidedly. The other man didn’t slide off the Doctor and slink into the hinter regions of the TARDIS now that he was well enough to manage it, as the Doctor has half expected him to. The Master’s recovery was self-evident in the open drift of comments through the light contact between them: the Master having a number of Thoughts on the state of the Doctor’s, admittedly dilapidated, second console. They couldn’t really communicate by any means but touch-telepathy. It wasn’t as if the Master had proper vocal chords like this, or a resonance chamber to put them to any use with.
Irritated at how slowly the Doctor was adjusting the rotor coils, the Master at last slithered down his arm–under the jacket, prompting the Doctor to twitch at the cold tickle–and onto the console panel. With a few undulations of his serpentine body, the Master had the indicators sorted, just as the Doctor should have done ten minutes ago. moving onto the next bank of controls he passed his body over the Doctor’s hand, letting him feel the lush peach triumph/pale green buttery smugness/blue pine-smell-sharp mockery that comprised his opinion of his own technical skill in relation to the Doctor’s.
“I’m sure you don't need my praise. You’re impressed enough with yourself for a dozen people,” the Doctor grumbled, resigning the computer core to the Master’s manipulations. He wiggled down under the console to make the manual adjustments that no snake could possibly hope to best him at, as the tools were rather heavy. But In a few minutes he groped blindly with his left hand for the socket wrench and instead found something soft and wet. Looking over, he found the Master, who had apparently already finished fiddling with the core. He was gripping the necessary wrench in his mouth and offering it to the Doctor with a level of condescension that should really have been impossible in a man reduced to not-quite-reptile-hood.
“Thank you very much.” The Doctor took it off him with bad grace, getting a positively smarmy you’re welcome when the Master butted against his hand in passing.
After fixing the automatic tea dispenser, the Doctor took a cup just to test his work. Resting, his body remembered that it had been subjected to a good deal of abuse in the past day, and the Doctor suddenly wanted nothing more than to limp off to his bed. The TARDIS, still coddling him after his rough regeneration, gave him his bedroom right through the first door he opened in the hall outside the console room. The Doctor, insultingly, deposited the Master on the hat stand while he trotted off into the wardrobe to put on some very modest pajamas. He scrounged around for something that hadn't belonged to his last body and thus might actually fit this much taller frame. Wadded in the back, clean but forgotten, was some of his sixth's nightwear. He winced at the heliotrope silk, but he was far too exhausted to try and forage for something less sartorially offensive at the moment.
“Now,” he clapped his hands, addressing the seething Master, who was draped across an alpine hat, a beret, a Prydonian robe and an overcoat, “I can put you back in that nice, warm tank in the medical bay for the night. Would you like that? Or I’m sure somewhere in the TARDIS I can find you an excellent stone to bask on, if you'd prefer–” he stopped. The Master, after hissing at him derisively, had descended the hat stand and shot off under the armoire.
“Master?” he called, poking his head down to peer into the gap between the armoire and the floor. In the darkness, up against the wall, he could barely make out the gleam of the Master’s coiled body. He soundlessly waved his tail about with what he probably thought was an air of menace. The Doctor couldn’t quite find it in himself to inform the Master that he wasn’t that kind of snake. Actually, the Master’s attempt to rattle a warning greatly reminded the Doctor of a dog wagging its tail. Despite the unintentional note of comedy, it was clear that the Master was not of a mind to be moved.
“Fine.” The Doctor stood. “I suppose you must find lurking in the shadows as comforting as normal people find their childhood teddy bears.” He lay down, wiggled under the sheets and pulled the counterpane up over his shoulders. “I suppose you're going to sulk down there until morning?” No response, not even a hiss. "Only I haven't actually dusted under that in some time, you know, and you're awfully sticky." Still nothing. The Doctor sighed. "Well, I tried--it's not my fault if you're too stubborn to let me try and make you comfortable. Goodnight Master. Pleasant dreams of thwarting me or swallowing mice or whatever it is you dream about."
In minutes the Doctor heard soft, slinking noises, shuffling and dragging closer. Then, something heavy and cold slid up against his side. He started — suddenly there was a firm, coiled weight on his chest. The Master had apparently decided this was the most amenable sleeping spot: warm, soft, Doctory.
“Master,” the Doctor whined, “you’re freezing. Whatever happened to the idea of that lovely basalt slag I offered you?” The Master laid his strawberry-sized head down on one of his coils and regarded him for a moment. The Doctor petted the head with a gentle index finger, and the Master closed his eyes and slept. The Doctor sighed, and in a few minutes — as the Master’s body temperature adjusted to his own, with some help from the covers the Doctor pulled up over him, until the covers were just under the Doctor's chin, and only the Master's diamond-shaped head poked up above them — it wasn’t so bad, really.
The Doctor woke, slid the Master off him and onto the bed in a grumpy, sleepy pile. He could feel the Master dreaming of carving into a slab of roast meat. He was wielding the knife in his own proper hand, which he’d not known for centuries. And then with one of the sudden jumps dreams are prone to he was, without having taken a bite, tasting a hunk of red meat with a Gallifreyan mouth. His remembered tongue was whole, not forked, and it savored the press of time on the flesh.
The Doctor sought the grand wardrobe, bringing back, for his own, smaller wardrobe, a trolley full of things that he found suited him now: stray articles he’d never yet worn, items pilfered from compatible older bodies, clothing he’d picked up Rassilon knew where. The rumble of the wheels disturbed the Master, who lazily flicked his tongue out, tasting the air for a clue as to what the Doctor thought he was doing so unreasonably early in the day. The Doctor dressed again demurely in the small, personal wardrobe, emerged. Upon examining his still strange face briefly in the mirror, he hung the Master around his neck like a garland, flicking his long hair back out of the Master’s coils.
“I thought we might go out today,” the Doctor explained, wrapping an elegant scarf–one of many he’d brought with him on the overloaded trolley–around the Master. “But, from the little the scanners were willing to divulge--I really must actually overhaul those one of these days--I suspect it’s a bit cold, and I think you might give the natives something of a fright–poke your head up, will you? I assume you want to be able to see when I’m done winding this.”
They walked along the boulevards of a planet neither of them had ever been to. The pair seemed, to the other pedestrians, just one handsome, well-dressed man. Albeit one with a harmless, eccentric penchant for talking to himself, who tucked his chin to his chest, almost as if addressing his scarf.
As was just typical, the Doctor saw spotted a young girl drowning in the river. The Master had to slide off him in the instant before he heaved himself over the railing on the bank, determined to rescue her. After the Doctor made some especially polite requests for help, and apologized very thoroughly for not stopping to put the Master down before he engaged in his typical foolish heroics, the Master wound off, leaving the Doctor in some suspense as to whether he and the girl had been left to their fate. But then the end of a rope plopped down on his head, and he looked up and there was the Master, peering over the side at him. He grinned madly, did a grateful little wave up at the Master, and, tugging the now nearly unconscious girl under his left arm, swam back to the wall to get the leverage with which to climb. The Master, he gathered, had slithered back with a rope in his mouth, and, having laboriously tied the other end to a handy mooring post, flung it down to the sodden pair by heaving the front of his body out over the water, with his tail wound around a railing.
Of course then the Doctor put the Master back on his neck, where it was damp and unpleasantly chilly. And, of course, the Doctor then felt compelled to involve himself in the plight of this unfortunate would-be suicide. She was apparently running from an evil orphanage of extra-terrestrial origin, which wanted her back for less than altruistic reasons.
Back in the TARDIS at the day's end, the Doctor babbled about how exciting it had all been and praised the Master’s several incidents of resourcefulness with tolerable gratitude and respect. It… wasn’t as awful as the Master might have expected. Vulnerable as he was, weaker even than he had been after that unfortunate TCE-shrinkage incident, it was convenient to stay with the Doctor, especially with the CIA in control of his TARDIS. Eventually there would be some opportunity to restore himself to a more able body. The Master could have patience, when the occasion required it. And in the meantime, traveling with the Doctor afforded him with certain opportunities. Opportunities he'd prefer to have on his own vastly different terms, perhaps, but the Master was nothing if not willing to turn an unpromising situation to his advantage.
The Doctor had unwound the scarf and had hung it on the hat rack. He reached up to do the same to the Master beneath it, but stopped right in the middle of expressing a belief that the new foster-family he'd left that rather vapid little girl with would take good care of her. The Master had squirmed luxuriantly on his neck, re-positioning himself, seemingly for his own comfort.
“That’s–” the Doctor coughed.
Yes? the Master inquired with a sarcastic politeness.
“You know perfectly well that the area you're slinking all over's actually very sensitive, so I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t–”
Sensitive? The Master tightened his body around the Doctor’s neck, choking him lightly, touching as much of the Doctor’s flesh as possible, flicking out his forked tongue along the shell of the Doctor’s ear. Dear me. I had no /idea,/ Doctor. Do explain it to me. In detail, if you can manage it.
The Doctor stumbled back, knees hitting the bed, the rest of his body toppling down after. The Master slipped down across his chest, flicked over nipples, pooled in his navel, wrapped down around a cock not unaffected by the asphyxiation.
The Doctor recovered his breath, “stop, stop, that’s, I–”
You what? the Master wound around him and squeezed.
The Doctor gulped air, fisted his fingers in the bedclothes, “That’s not what I–I–”
Did you mean to change your clothes in the wardrobe every morning, and never dream of taking advantage of my rather unusual, vulnerable position?
"You know, I did, actually? Given that you tried to kill me so especially recently--I know that you were a bit madder than usual at the time, but it is the type of thing that sticks in one's mind. I hate to bring it up, but never in any of my bodies thus far have I been even slightly intrigued by bestiality, and this new one seems true to form. I'm interested in you, still, since you didn't ask, but there are some textbook insurmountable difficulties. Sleeping with you wouldn't be fair to you, really, considering that--"
The Master’s chortled hiss was obviously a laugh. Predictable. /I/ would've taken advantage of /you,/" with a note of reproach, as if disappointed that the Doctor should have scruples where imagination should be. "Trying to force /us/ into your typical 'chaste bosom companions' scheme sounds, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, extremely tedious, Doctor. And not a little improbable. He slipped down and around. I’ve a /much/ better plan. One even you won't object to.
“Oh God,” the Doctor panted, “look, this is terribly weird– Master I really think you should take a moment to think about this--oh Master, we should, we--”
“Shh,” the Master soothed. Or it might have been ‘sssssss.’ It was hard to say, really.
“Well,” the Doctor fluffed his pillow awkwardly the next morning, “that was–well. It was: that much is undeniable.”
The Master rolled his eyes and tail in simultaneous sardonic display. Despite the Doctor’s current embarrassment, he’d become deliciously unselfconscious as the previous night wore on. This form had… possibilities the Master hadn’t previously credited it with. The Doctor was thoroughly disheveled, his hair was mad sculpture of mussed curls, and he couldn’t quite look the Master in the shiny black eye. He was, all in all, delightful.
“I'm not dimensionally-transcendent, you know,” the Doctor muttered. "You'll have to be a little more careful next time. Still, for a first try--well." The Doctor flopped back down and mused. "I suppose that since you never embraced the simple virtues of goodness, an acceptance of goo-dness will have to do in a pinch.” He snickered to himself. The Master gave him a pained look and the Doctor grinned back fondly. “No, I didn’t think you’d like that one much.”
“Doctor,” Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (retired) eyed the stirring mass around his old friend’s neck warily, “your–friend there is glowering at me like it knows me. I almost don’t like to ask, but is it some sort of sentient alien?”
“Oh, he’s no one you know,” the Doctor said, playing skittishly with the biscuits they were sharing between them, stacking them into piles that mirrored the Fibonacci sequence. Unfortunately, the way the animal was glaring daggers made his assurances seem somewhat unlikely. “Just my friendly pet goosnake. He makes a much better companion than a cat: just as independent, sheds less hair, and he's very hypoallergenic.”
The snake squirmed on the Doctor’s neck, unhappy at participating in this little reunion, turning to hiss at the Brigadier very pointedly.
“There’s something strangely familiar about the creature, actually.” Lethbridge-Stewart’s eyes narrowed. “I can’t quite place it.”
The Doctor sighed. “A moment, Alistair.”
Walking outside into Doris’s front garden, back towards the TARDIS, the Doctor removed his living accessory. Holding its neck almost up to his nose, he began to argue with it: quite audibly, given that the window was open. “If you can’t make it though a civil cup of tea with any of our old acquaintance–well, perhaps I would have poured some tea into the saucer for you if you’d bothered being polite. This is just like that time I took you to the Amazon and we ran into ‘Missssss’ Grant as was, and you were awful. Dropping into her hair from a height like that–no, it wasn’t funny in the least. She still screams like a banshee. I haven't managed to regain the hearing in my right ear yet, I’m going to put you on a little leash if you can’t learn to behave. Really, at your age–”
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart drank the tea in his cup of in one long, hot gulp. He poured himself another, and forced himself to forget all of his impossible suspicions about the Doctor’s viscous new pet’s identity.
“I’ll put it in terms so clear even you can’t pretend to misunderstand me, Master,” the Doctor snapped. “You can either have my body, or you can enjoy someone else’s.”
The rather handsome, dark-bearded man in front of him narrowed his eyes. “Doctor, you’re being entirely unreasonable. This is a sturdy host, an obviously compatible form--very me. It’s like finding an expensive suit on sale. Do you really expect me to pass by an opportunity like this without attempting to seize it?”
“Yes, but it isn’t going to work, is it?” the Doctor persisted. “I give you two good hours before you start gibbering, flaking off in chunks, and trying to don ceremonial robes. Again. The particularly ridiculous ones we keep all the way in the back of the wardrobe, in short, Master, the ones with the gold braid. Do you really want to descend into insanity looking like Sergeant Pepper?” He arched an eyebrow, and took a step back when the Master extended a hand to pull him into a mollifying embrace.
“Two hours, my dear,” the Master pointed out. “I may not have the resources to permanently shed my somewhat inglorious predicament, but two hours is plenty of time to get some use out of this body.”
The Doctor stared at him agog. “I’m not… I’m not raping this man! Master, get out of there, before you do any serious damage!”
“Oh, he won’t even consciously experience it,” the Master said with a huff. “Besides, he’s not entirely opposed to the notion. He was ogling you before I took possession of his form with the intent of putting it to better use than he ever could. Shall I take a quick look? Ah, here, He thinks you’re ‘dishy.’ And is that a word I’d ever use? ‘Dishy?’ Naturally it isn’t, so you must see it’s his opinion.”
“Ignoring, for the moment, that I’m beginning to think you stole this body because the man made eyes at me: first of all, absolutely not. It’s wrong and you know it’s–well, you know I’d find it objectionable, at least. Second, you don’t think I’m ‘dishy?’ And last, but certainly not least, what exactly’s wrong with our sex life? You’re desperate to possess a man who might easily be your doppelganger--are you dissatisfied? I didn’t ask before because despite common sense and anatomical appearances you certainly seemed–”
The Master interrupted him, answering the Doctor’s points in his maddeningly orderly fashion. “All I’m aware of is that, yet again, your infuriating, hypocritical morality’s been the ruination of my most diverting plans. I find you a great number of things, Doctor, none of them reminiscent of dinnerware. And lastly, even you must have realized that lately I find myself an anthropomorphic snake comprised of something gelatinous. I’m not exactly my old self, or, indeed, anything that might drive you to distraction with desire.”
The Doctor flailed his arms about in irritation. “You accepted me when I had the hair of a Cabbage Patch doll and shouted at anything that came within a few miles distance, and when I was something of a sour-faced midget in a poorly designed, silly embroidered jumper, or any number of other ups and downs–don’t you understand I don’t care? You never change--not inside, not who you are, and even when you’re stuck as a reptile with the consistency of Vaseline, I still want you.” There was actual anguish in his charming voice. It occurred to the Master that this was easily the most ridiculous of the patented ‘impassioned Doctor speeches’ he’d been subjected to all regeneration--and this current Doctor had a filthy soliquizing habit. But as it concerned the over-powering seductiveness of himself, he couldn’t object all that strenuously. “Besides,” the Doctor continued, “that thing you do, the twisty, tubular bendy bit?” The Doctor’s grin stretched, bright and sudden. “Incredible.”
“Of course I am,” the Master responded almost automatically. “Oh very well,” he sighed petulantly. “I’ll leave the body. You’re right, I can feel it starting to unravel at the fringes. But I want something, first.” He took a step closer, fingers pushing up along the nape of the Doctor’s neck where his reptilian body usually laid. He trailed his hands up into auburn curls, drawing the Doctor’s head down.
The Doctor knew what he wanted and didn’t have the hearts to object. At first he let himself be kissed, with the air of someone permitting an impertinence. But then the Master’s lips slid against his (he had lips!). The Doctor moaned against his better judgment, a release of tension like a champagne cork popping out of the bottle. He sucked on the Master’s tongue until he remembered it wasn’t, not really, and slipped an inch back, chagrined. Still in the Master’s arms. He’d missed that–the warm security of being pressed into a body. He hadn’t even realized he’d felt its absence, because it hadn’t been an option.
“Are you," the Doctor swallowed, "anything like happy? Not about being in this somewhat reduced form, or being confined, neither of which you know I can do anything about in good conscience. I know that you've seen better fortunes, and I'm deeply sorry that it came to this, but you–” he broke off with a slight sigh. “You didn’t steal this body because sex with me isn’t doing much of anything for you in your current state, did you?” He smiled weakly. "I've always had very few means of helping you when I thought you might really need me. Sorry if I tend to fixate on what I know--or think I know--I can do."
It was a more complicated question than the Doctor realized. Initially, the Master had contented himself with the vicarious pleasure of feeling the Doctor writhe about on the bed like a man being electrocuted, a fish out of water, with increasing fervor as the Master got defter, more inventive with this new form. He’d been able to taste the want, the need, bordering on adoration in the Doctor’s words, seeping through his skin through their contact, as control fell away from under him during their evenings together. That had been power and satisfaction of a not insignificant order.
Within weeks of this he’d conceived of a feedback loop, and could actually experience the Doctor’s pleasure. Not simply the fact, but the sensation of it. From enjoying his possession of the Doctor, he'd moved to vicariously feeling his own touch on the Doctor's skin, everything pleasantly filtered through the Doctor's own particular impressions. Some time after that he’d learned this strange new body well enough to sensitize its skin with nerve endings, so that being inside the Doctor was almost too good.
But it was never the easy, comfortable sexuality he’d taken for granted in his stolen Trakenite body, or in his own original bodies. He longed for the simplicity of the old dances they’d learned together centuries ago, dances to which he knew all the steps. Their flourishes and variations had long been endeared to him by familiarity, and an assurance of personal competence. Not to mention every other reason he longed to be an able-bodied, proper Time Lord again, with his dignity restored to him.
He smiled ruefully, kissed the Doctor once more, lightly. “Tolerably so, yes.” And throwing his borrowed head back, the Master slithered out of the possessed man’s mouth in a wet clump. He landed on the ground in an untidy heap after a long drop, shaking his head and looking around to discover the Doctor apologizing to a confused man in a luxurious black overcoat he hadn’t owned an hour ago. The Doctor was brushing at the pile of it in an ineffective, embarrassed sort of way.
“Terribly sorry about that, can’t take him anywhere. You’ll feel better in an hour or so; have some tea, won’t you? I find the tannins healing–Master?” The Doctor tilted his head. The Master slithered up to him and inclined himself to be picked up and enthroned upon his usual perch. The Doctor wrinkled his nose expressively. “No, I don’t think so. You’re dripping with gastro-intestinal fluids. You’ll spoil my second-best coat, and you won't even have the decency to be really sorry. I’m putting out a saucer of warm water when we get back, and I expect you to have a nice roll around in that before we have a talk about acceptable field-trip etiquette.” He shook his head. “Come on then, no sense in you dawdling out here and catching an ectoplasmic chill.”
The Doctor turned on his heel. He left a grumbling Master to rear and snap at it with impotent viciousness before quickly slithering along after him, and an utterly confused, distinguished older gentleman, standing in the disused street with a sensation of missing time, blinking after the odd couple. Or the strange man and his surly pet cobra. Whichever.
“Oh Doctor,” an enthused Chancellor Flavia came as near to swooning girlishly at him as ever she would in all her millennia, “you’ve saved Gallifrey yet again!”
“I suppose I have.” The Doctor surreptitiously shifted the scarf around his neck, which had twitched as if in amusement at Flavia's unusual enthusiasm.
“If there’s anything–”
“There is, actually.”
“Pardon?” Flavia, the assorted chancellors, and the disgraced head of the CIA (currently in chains), blinked with dull owlishness at him, in that way Time Lords, who rarely saw the sun or encountered anything surprising, were wont to do.
"I would like something--and not another fruit basket, though that last one was lovely, and except for the pears very appreciated, thank you again, Castellan," the woman in question nodded fondly at him. "No, I was thinking something a trifle more substantial this time around, something that very rarely comes in wicker and Easter grass."
Flavia stared at him like he'd suddenly, with no provocation, flipped inside out, and his small intestine was dangling lewdly at her. "I'm sorry, Doctor," she managed after a moment, “it’s just you usually prefer to run away, at this point. Not that we begrudge you some recompense for saving your people from the ravages of anti-time, but, customarily, you’re halfway back to Earth by now–”
“Well, that’s all in the past, isn’t it?”
“–screaming like a little girl at the threat of being put in any position of responsibility.”
The Doctor coughed loudly to cover the spasmodic seizing of his scarf, and the wheezy, reptilian chuckles issuing from therein.
“Sorry, touch of flu there. Must be the exposure to the anti-time, weakening my immune system. Aaaahchu!”
“Well what is it you want, Doctor?”
“Ah.” On firmer, well-trodden ground–that of name-dropping, a pastime second only to running in his estimation– The Doctor grinned charmingly: “As my friend Virginia recently pointed out to me, what a person really needs is the use of a loom of one’s own.”
The Master blinked one normal set of Gallifreyan eyelids upon coming to, and smiled. He blinked again for the pleasure of it. New, but indubitably authentic. His own eyes.
“It worked?” The Doctor was anxious. His lilting voice was stretched pleasantly husky with a bare, un-concealable trace of worry. Worry that belonged to the Master, by virtue of him being its subject, like a gift, unselfconsciously given.
“There was only the slightest probability that it wouldn’t, my dear Doctor.”
The Master flipped off the arm cuffs and hopped off the chair. The action made him dizzy–he reveled in the indisposition. He felt slightly nauseated as well, and even that was perfectly fine–his own stomach, churning in rebellion because it was at last, again, his to command in the first place. He chuckled, feeling the sound roll up his throat.
The Doctor came in from the observation room, and the Master saw the man for the first time as a Time Lord should. He took in the sweep of Artron particles in the Doctor’s walk, the graceful dimensions of his telepathic field.
The Master chuckled nastily, the sound scraping at his new throat. “I was ever so much more manageable, in that state. You don’t know I won’t use this to commit all the acts you always found so distasteful.”
“You’ve said you wouldn’t.” The Doctor tidied the loom. He flicked off the power relays, avoiding he Master’s look, his accusation, for the moment.
“But you don’t know I'll keep my word,” the Master insisted. He twisted to watch the Doctor’s back — which was turned to him — stiffen, sag, and ease, as the Doctor turned back around to face him. "Surely the doubt is already pricking at your over-developed conscience. The terrible fear that you've just done something whole worlds will curse you for, something that you yourself will one day find unpardonable, and rue."
“No,” the Doctor agreed at length, tapping his sonic screwdriver against the panel he’d just deactivated. “I don’t know. I can’t know..” He tilted his chin up. “I don’t need to know.”
The Master leant against the table he’d just generated on, still weak, needing support. “Because it was wrong to leave me like that, if you had the power to do otherwise? Or because you felt pity for me? The same pity that allowed you to spare my life whenever it was convenient, perhaps.” He crossed his arms over his bare chest without a trace of self-consciousness.
“Those were among my reasons,” the Doctor allowed, lifting his head to look at the Master, his large eyes desperately communicative. “But it was so much more than that. I thought of what was just, and what was merciful, but more than any of that I thought of you. You were miserable,” he added after a moment. “You felt less than yourself. How could I sit by and watch you suffer like that, and do nothing for you, when I knew that this time if I reached out my hand to save you, you'd take it?” He looked down again at the console, and finished his work, lips tight.
The Master let the Doctor finish clearing the databanks–it was pure idiocy to leave one’s biodata lying about on a cache, for anyone to idly examine, and perhaps even appropriate. “Come here,” He asked, cajoling.
The Doctor glanced over his shoulder at the haggard Master, and at the choice of surfaces, which seemed limited to the inconvenient birthing cot. “Master, I don’t think you’re really up for–”
“I know for a fact that I’m not,” the Master laughed, disposed to approve of everything right now. “Help me get this robe on–my arms still feel gelatinous.”
The Doctor folded the dressing gown around the Master carefully, as if afraid of this body’s newness. Suddenly he giggled childishly to himself. “You know we’ll have to start buying lubricant, now that you’re not naturally slick. And let’s face it, now we both have proper faces to do it with, you were the wet spot in the bed–”
“Not going to miss my signature ‘twisty, tubular bendy bit,’ then? Oh Doctor,” he mock-sighed, “how you wound me.”
“No, I am, actually,” the Doctor admitted, “and I’ll miss you curling up for a nap in Bessie’s glove compartment that time I wanted to go back and take a drive–that was precious. But, if I recall correctly, you’ve a whole host of signature ‘I have a body’ moves at your brand new fingertips with which to compensate me for my losses.”
“An incredible repertoire,” the Master assured him, “to be rediscovered after we’re off this planet, and I’ve slept for approximately a solid year.”
"I look forward to it," The Doctor grinned and supported him as they walked back to the TARDIS.