"It's bigger on the inside," the Doctor says, with perfect sincerity. This Doctor is apparently 90% sincerity, and 10% big blue eyes. The Master looks at him, suspicious, and the Doctor does nothing but gaze guilelessly back, his soft new hand wrapped trustingly up inside the Master's stolen one.
The Master finally gives a tired leer, for the sake of tradition, and replies, "Many things are."
It hadn't been a brilliant plan, or a complicated plan, or even a particularly devious plan. The Master had just retrieved the Doctor's bag of miscellanea from the stupid Asian child who had stolen it, looked inside, and found a smaller bag, all white and crumpled and full of little candies.
It had been the 'Oh, of course', kind of plan. It had been, to borrow a phrase from his lumpish American body's lexicon, a 'Duh' kind of plan.
The only thing was that it was a plan that had actually worked.
The Doctor had stood there, a sheet round his shoulders and rainbow smears across his fingers and stared at the Master.
And the Master had said, "I have more candy in my van."
And the Doctor had smiled like the suns at him and said, "I love you."
The Master had dropped the bag in sheer astonishment.
The first thing the Master does, after he sits the Doctor down in a hideous armchair, checks on the chest wound from the human's barbaric surgery, fetches him a pillow, sits him back down in the damn armchair, hands him the jelly babies, fetches him a throw blanket, peels him off of the console and sets him back in the gods-forsaken miserable fucking armchair, retrieves the jelly babies from the console, trips over the footstool, handcuffs the Doctor to the arm of the actually rather convenient armchair, plumps his pillow, and searches all over the console room in vain for a spare handkerchief to wipe blood and jelly baby stains off his fingers-- the first thing the Master does after all that is he finds the Doctor's Zero Room and reverses the polarity of the neutron flow.
The anti-zed energy radiation now emitting from room gives him the faintest of headaches, like far-off drums, but it should do the equivalent of taking a sonic eggbeater to the Doctor's already regeneration-addled brain.
And it does.
The second thing the Master does is sit with the Doctor and watch him cry.
"It hurts," he sniffles into the Master's chest. "Inside my head, it hurts! What did I do wrong?"
If there happens to be a moment of cuddling involved in this stage of the procedure, well, it's a necessary component.
Explaining to the Doctor that they are in fact enemies who have battled across the stars for centuries does not seem to make the slightest bit of difference to the Doctor's relentless, clingy bonhomie. The part where the Master gloats as the Doctor realizes his incipient mortality is going to have to be put on hold, at least until the man masters the concept of trousers and how you can't put both your legs through one hole at the same time, no, stop that, you do it like this.
"I'm going to kill you, you moron," he tells the Doctor, and does not think about how soft the Doctor's thighs are, or how pert his ass is, or that freckle just over his left hip.
The Doctor kisses the top of his head.
The Master stares up at him, his hands tangled up in the Doctor's pants' waistband, his stolen face demonstrating it can still flush just fine, thanks. "Right," he says, "I think you can do the rest of this yourself."
He goes to wait outside the door.
"What are you doing?" the Doctor asks.
"I'm rewiring your piece of crap TARDIS so that she listens to me," the Master growls. He resents that the Doctor's senile disgrace of a Type-40 has so far thwarted his every attempt to do so. He also resents that the Doctor has regenerated with easily his sweetest, most pleasant voice to date, and he himself sounds like a soap opera thug.
The Doctor sits down near him, at the very end of his handcuff chain, and pats at his legs good naturedly. The Master is starting to wonder if this particular incarnation of the Doctor is capable of doing anything bad naturedly. Even his appealingly boyish fifth self had got cranky once in a while, and his most recent seventh self had spent the majority of his time being a waspish little dickhead.
"Who am I?" the Doctor asks him.
"You're the Doctor." The Master strips a pair of wires with unnecessary force. "You're also a pain in the ass."
"Who are you?" the Doctor asks him, unperturbed.
"I'm the Master. I'm your Master."
"Are we married?" the Doctor asks him.
"Holy shit, what?" the Master, who really needs to get a handle on this American thing, says. "I'm your fucking arch-nemesis. Why would you even ask that?"
"You seem to spend a lot of time handcuffing me to things," the Doctor says, "and I didn't think you were my parole officer."
The Master stares at him, inexplicably disappointed.
"Also, I love you," the Doctor says brightly. "Isn't that wonderful?"
The Master smiles a little before he can stop himself. Then he sneers.
"Sure," he says. "Right, whatever. We're husbands. I'm the husband. You're the wife."
The Doctor examines his hands. "Where's my ring?"
"Jesus H. Christ. You don't have one."
The Master lets his forehead thump against the edge of the console. He feels around in his pockets and, yes, there's Bruce's wedding band in his jacket pocket. He'd kept it because you never knew when a bit of gold would come in handy, really. Like now.
He grabs the Doctor's free hand and crams the ring on, though not as roughly as he might. It's a fair fit, and the fact that the Master's picked up which goddamn finger humans like to stick wedding rings on is really, really sad.
"Here's your ring," he sneers. "I hope you choke on it."
The Doctor beams at him like a besotted puppy. "Can I help?" he asks.
"Give me the hyperwrench, if you can reach it," the Master says grudgingly.
He doesn't watch the little band shine in the light as the Doctor drags over and then sorts through the case of tools, the ring set into those soft, pretty fingers of his like a signature on a piece of art. He doesn't watch it. He just... happens to catch sight of it, now and then.
The Doctor had always been highly susceptible to preference imprinting, post-regeneration. Whatever clothes he ended up in afterward, no matter how ludicrous, he would cling to like a sartorially-minded duckling. Witness: opera capes, celery, that goddamn seizure-inducing Broadway reject of a jacket, and the infamous question-mark jumper, the burning of which the Master still counts among his greatest triumphs. The Master had entirely forgotten to take all this into account when he'd left the Doctor handcuffed to a chair in nothing but a sheet for three hours, and then a sheet and a loose pair of drawstring trousers for six hours after that.
"Stop taking your clothes off," the Master demands. "You're embarrassing yourself."
"Oh, no, I feel fine. It's just that I don't think I like jackets," the Doctor says, experimenting with the drape of a red silk bedsheet across his shoulders. It makes him look like some decadent emperor's prized catamite, and makes the Master think dangerously pathetic thoughts, like how long it had been since he'd had a catamite, prized or otherwise, and how maybe keeping your insane arch-nemesis trapped on his stolen time-ship under false pretenses could be construed to be pretty much the same thing.
"How do you feel about pants?" the Master asks, desperately keeping his eyes on the Doctor's face. "How do you feel about underwear?"
The Doctor only smiles, and drops the sheet.
The Master goes to strip more wires.
He picks up a case of nanogenes in a Chulla outlet mall off of the Sirius turnpike. Properly calibrated to his biowave, the nanogenes rewind cellular degradation as fast as it happens, or even a bit faster. It's not that he likes inhabiting this human corpse, or that he intends to stick around, but... as long as he's in a corpse, it might as well be a nice, sturdy corpse. A deluxe corpse. He's the Master, after all. He deserves a bit of luxury.
It's just till the Doctor gets a little more Doctorish. There's no point in crushing your rival's hopes and dreams as long as his hopes and dreams consist mainly of candy, rolling about on satin sheets, and fetching tools with heart-rending eagerness. And anyway, the man's really very short. Almost dainty, now that he thinks about it. The Master's been short before, he's even been dainty before, and he doesn't like it at all. This body of his has flaws, but at least it's built to respectable proportions.
"The rain in Spain," he says to the mirror, concentrating very hard on his a's, "falls mainly on the-- aw, fuck it."
It turns out that a reversed zed-neutrino field nixes any attempt at psycho-kinetic transfer. The Master puts away the transfer equipment and the human sacrifice, with a weird feeling of relief and desperation. He can't do the transfer with the neutrino field reversed. He certainly can't do it without the neutrino field-- with a clear mind, the Master has about as much chance as a frog on a freeway that the Doctor wouldn't figure out some way to save himself, or at the very least summon a few plucky young humans out of nowhere to do it for him.
They are, effectively, stuck.
The Doctor wanders into the bathroom without asking and rubs his face against the Master's ornamental robes in the manner of a retarded housecat.
"You're marvelous," he says, sneaking his hands under the Master's shirt. "I love these robes. I love you. Did we just have sex?"
"I just tried to suck your brain out through an inter-dimensional gateway," the Master drawls, "so no."
The Doctor continues nuzzling the Master's chest. His hands are en route to third base.
"I could, uh." The Master meets his eyes in the mirror, still unfamiliar after so many days: they are snake-green and glittering with an eldritch malice. Is he really going to do this? Is he really going to stoop so low as to take advantage of his addled nemesis's compromised mental state to engage in tawdry, primitive intercourse?
Hell, yes, he is.
"My dear Doctor," the Master says, pushing his own hands under the Doctor's robes, "shall we adjoin to my bedroom for a practical demonstration?"
"I'm going to fuck you through the mattress, come on."
"I love demonstrations," the Doctor beams.
"You never told me you were half human," the Master says, sometime later.
"Half-- oh, God, do that again."
"How do you feel about murder?" the Master says to the Doctor, some time later. If he can't steal the man's body, he figures, he can at least corrupt it.
"Very poorly," the Doctor says, because even with half a brain he still manages to be a complete bitch.
"I could make you kill your companions, one by one," the Master suggests waspishly. "It would be fun."
The Doctor wraps his sheet around himself, very tightly, and wanders off. The Master doesn't see him for a week, and anyway figuring out the temporal coordinates for the Doctor's many and varied pet monkeys in this mouldering clunker of a TARDIS is like trying to nail pudding to the wall. Then the Doctor turns up again, this time in an orange sheet with gold embroidered dragons all over it, and asks him what the word 'tantric' means, he saw it in a very puzzling book, and the subject of killing his side-kicks never quite comes up again.
"You know what? We're going to take over a planet," the Master says. "It's going to be great."
It goes well, really, until the Doctor wanders out of the palace and into the clutches of some very well armed rebel forces, who can't believe their luck. The Master is given an ultimatum: we can chop the Doctor into little bits and then set those bits on fire, or you can both leave and good riddance to either of you. Also, does he ever shut up?
Back in the TARDIS, the Master can only glare furiously, so speechless is he rendered by his rage.
"They had sweets," the Doctor says innocently, and holds out a little plastic carton of neon worms. "I saved you some."
The Master slaps the carton from the Doctor's hands and storms off, the Doctor's forlorn cry echoing unsatisfyingly after him.
The next time, the Master decides to save some time, and takes them to a planet the Doctor has already been appointed Emperor of. The foolish man had been by the place a hundred years ago, the planet's time, and about seven hundred years ago, his time, and had never thought to come back and check up on his worshipers, or even deign to be worshiped by them in the first place, which seemed to the Master to be the only redeeming value to the whole compulsive-planet-saving-thing the Doctor had developed.
"They're staring at me," the Doctor says thinly, edging behind the Master.
"You're their Emperor," the Master explains for about the fifth time.
"I don't like it."
"You should have thought of that before you-- what did you do again?"
The Doctor shrugs miserably.
An attendant discreetly points to a gigantic wall mosaic of a four armed man haloed in gold--presumably the Doctor-- holding the sun and three moons in the heavens while trampling a thing that looks like the benighted offspring of a snake and a horta.
"Okay," the Master says, "I have no idea what you did. But you should have thought about whether or not you wanted to be a god before you did it. Now come sit on your throne and be massaged by the nice ladies, Doctor."
The Doctor sulks a little, but goes.
The planet is rich in minerals, fairly technologically advanced, and the locals have a charming tendency to believe every single thing he tells them. The Master has them building intergalactic missile silos inside a week.
The Doctor stops trying to hide behind things when people bow and scrape at him, and comes to quite enjoy the twice-daily imperial bubble baths, at least. He also likes the imperial hair-brushing sessions, the imperial tea time, and the imperial kitten appreciation hour.
"I think this is working out rather well," the Master says smugly, one morning.
The Doctor smiles at him, distractedly but sincerely, and resumes appreciating the imperial kittens by way of making ridiculous faces at them and letting them chew on his hair.
A four-armed man, blazing with golden light, walks into the throne room.
"Motherfucker," the Master says.
"I am the Emperor Naroon, released once more from my tomb," the shining figure declares, and his voice shakes the very stone. "I have come once more in my people's hour of greatest need, to claim that which is rightfully mine from the vile grasp of the foreign usurpers."
He raises his four hands together and emits a blast of lightning that fries the red carpet of the room to ash. The imperial kittens scatter.
"Or else," the figure says suggestively.
The Master looks at the Doctor. "Released from his tomb? Tell me he didn't offer you candy!" he demands.
The Doctor actually looks offended. "No," he says petulantly. "He just asked nicely."
The next time, he spends a minute taking the Doctor firmly in hand, psychically speaking.
"I am the Master," he reminds the man, "and you will obey me."
"Yes, Master," the Doctor says, his mind smoothing out under the onslaught, his eyes going as blank and glassy as discs of ice.
They start small, appointing themselves leaders of one splinter group during the Centauri civil war, and working their way up. The Master feels like getting his hands dirty, this time, and the Doctor could use the training.
The Master sets the Doctor to work building things for him, putting together guns and bombs and mines and missiles and floating airships that rain down gelignite and nitro-nine. It is like the Master has punched a hole in a bucket that held an ocean, and every terrible thing the Doctor has ever kept himself from doing is pouring out, without cease, without censure, without joy: without his conscience to hold him back, this Doctor is so terribly good at the business of war. He builds mechanically, his face set like a doll's and his hands spinning out endless little constructions of death, each more perfect and horrible than the last.
When the Master fucks him, in their grim bunker, the Doctor only lies there, blank and pliable, spitting out 'oh' and 'yes' and 'more' like the words are pre-recorded.
"Why are you doing this?" the Master asks.
"I love you," the Doctor says blankly. He doesn't even flinch when the Master hits him.
He doesn't get kidnapped, though. He doesn't raise any undead saints from their sleep, he crowns no heroes. He sits at his Master's feet as quietly as the footstool, perfumed once more in precious oils, garbed in luxurious silks, dripping with fabulously expensive jewelry.
His eyes are like dead things.
When the Master is crowned Hegemon of this miserable little world, he looks out over the huddled, fearful masses that have attended their coronation with something that feels very much like despair.
"We did it," he says to the Doctor, standing beside him.
"You did it, Master."
The Master turns and shakes him violently, months of frustration boiling to a head. "Stop it!" he screams. "Okay, enough, I get it, now stop it!"
The Doctor blinks, a slow, puzzled blink, and then he's-- himself again. As much as he's ever been himself, in this self. He raises a lovely, shaking hand to his forehead, and leans slowly against the Master's shoulder. "Can-- can we go home?" he mumbles.
The Master sighs. It's part exasperation, part relief, part resignation. "Yeah," he says, putting his arm around the Doctor's thin shoulders. "Yeah, okay, let's go home."
"Let's rob people," the Master says, a trifle desperately.
"Oh, how exciting! Are we going to steal from the rich and give to the poor?"
"No. That's stupid."
"Well, doing it the other way around--"
"Shut up. We're going to rob from the rich and then keep it."
The Doctor looks honestly bewildered. "Why ever would we want to do that? We have a time ship. We can just go get anything we would like to buy."
"I have a time ship, and it's a piece of crap," the Master says, though inwardly he's charmed by the Doctor's 'we'.
The Doctor watches him patiently, as if he's waiting for a longer explanation that he doesn't expect to understand anyway.
The Master sighs. "I'm going to rob people," he says. "You can stay in the TARDIS."
The Master steals the Crown Prince of Gloriana just to see if he can, and is promptly arrested. Even more humiliatingly, the Doctor comes to rescue him.
"Is that a bedsheet?" one of the guards asks.
"He's a free spirit," the Master snaps, and stalks out of his cell.
"Where did you get the money to bail me out from?" the Master sneers, as they once more cross the threshold of the TARDIS. "I suppose you raised the sum with honest labor? Helping widows cross the street? Baking pies for orphans? Fetching puppies from trees?"
"Goodness, no, that would take forever," the Doctor says. "I got it from the evidence locker at the station where they were keeping you. It was just sitting there in a big pile."
The Master thinks about that for a while. "Bed," he says hoarsely. "Now."
The Doctor beams proudly.
The Master thinks of Castrovalva, as he wanders the labyrinthine corridors the Doctor has allowed the ancient TARDIS to grow. Castrovalva, the house he had built for himself and the Doctor, when they were both so much younger, when he had once thought that the Doctor might forgive him, or at least accept him, or at least chose him over his ephemeral companions.
He finds the Doctor in the Butterfly Room, sitting stark naked in a patch of sweat pea blossoms, weaving together a wreath of the bright pink flowers. Around him, blue morphos twist and flash like pieces of lightning.
"Do you remember Castrovalva?" he asks the Doctor. "Do you remember your children?"
The Doctor looks up from the flowers. His eyes are wide and guileless; a paler blue than the morphos, but a softer one. This Doctor could no more remember that far back than could the flowers in his hands. This Doctor hardly bothers to remember yesterday. It makes the Master feel cruel and frustrated and unhappy, that this is somehow the only way they can be with each other without tearing themselves apart.
"Who would you chose, over me?" the Master asks the Doctor. "A world? A human? One of these butterflies?"
The Doctor smiles. "There's no one else, Master," he says, and sets the wreath of flowers on the Master's head like a crown.
"There are plenty of--"
The Doctor pushes him on to his back. "It's just us, Master," he says. There's something firm in his tone, something certain, underneath all that foggy innocence.
"My Doctor," the Master says, and lays his hand alongside the smooth skin of the man's throat. The Doctor's eyes crinkle up at the corners, and he lays his own hand over the Master's. In that instant he is perfectly himself, old and wise and silly and kind.
In the sunlight, the Doctor's ring gleams between them.
He makes love to the Master slowly, insistently, and with infinite sweetness.
The flowers all around them are as bright as jelly babies, and the morphos flash brown, blue, brown, blue, winking in and out against the blue summer sky above them. It is almost too much to bear, the beauty of it all, and it makes the Master wonder what he had ever done to deserve this.
Afterward they lie together, and one by one the butterflies flutter down to perch on their skin.
"I love you," the Master says brokenly, into the silence. It's a poor thing to give the Doctor, a paltry wretched thing.
Once, he was going to conquer the universe and lay it at the Doctor's feet; he would have brought him empires, the treasures from a thousand worlds, the slaves from a million planets; if it had been requested of him, he would have gathered each and every star from the firmament and laid them at the Doctor's feet. If he had wanted them. If he had only asked.
Only the Doctor had never done so, and now the only thing the Master has to give him is those few humble words.
"I know," the Doctor says, and kisses his cheek. "Master. I know."
"I love you," he says again. It feels a little bit better the second time.
"I love you too," the Doctor says, and laughs.
He goes to disable the zed-neutrino field. He won't try to kill the Doctor, or even hang around long enough that he starts being tempted. He will just go somewhere no one will ever find, and rot quietly to pieces. He's done it before; it's horrible, but it's a familiar well-worn sort of horrible, and at the end he will be at peace and so will the Doctor.
But the field's already disabled; someone had come along and burnt out every fuse ages back. The Master stares at it, feeling confused and afraid and also something that might be hope.
It's been so long since he's felt anything like hope.
The Doctor comes up behind him, and kisses the back of his neck.
"Stay with me," the Doctor says.
So he does.
They go to a football match, the American kind where the football is thrown instead of kicked, and the players are built like gorillas and given lots of armor and drugs. This body of the Master's seems to be fond of organized sports; the Master himself certainly has no objection to watching a pack of humans doing their level best to destroy each other, or of watching the Doctor lick the condiments off a foot-long hotdog. The Doctor likes not having to wear a shirt, and doing the Wave.
The crowd does not like public sex, and it is thus that the Doctor and the Master reach their TARDIS scant yards in front of a furious mob.
The Doctor swings the Master around as soon as their inside, still laughing, and presses him up against the inside of the door. He's getting green and yellow body paint all over the front of the Master's jacket, and his hair is a sticky mess, and his eyes are blazing like a summer sky in the cool gloaming of the TARDIS console room.
"Touchdown," he whispers against the Master's lips. He smells of ketchup and cheap American beer and sunshine.
The Master kisses him. It takes him a moment to realize it, but this, this slow warm heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach, this is exactly what being happy feels like.
The next morning, the Master wakes up. He's in a magnificent bed, with an armful of soft, sleepy, naked Doctor and the prospect of decadent wake-up sex in his future.
"You've domesticated me," the Master says. "You bastard."
"I was wondering when you'd notice," the Doctor says, and smiles.