In Common

by AstroGirl [Reviews - 0]

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Author's Notes:
Written for Nelja for Multifandom Tropefest, for the prompt "Telepathy - Accidental temporary telepathic connection is created."

The Doctor stands before the old country house, the sound of Bessie's cooling engine ticking gently at his back, and rubs his chin thoughtfully.

The place has seen better days, certainly. The wooden door in front of him is scarred and weathered, the masonry around it beginning to crumble. The windows are boarded and blank, and the grounds desperately require the attention of a competent gardener.

Unlike the colorful locals in the pub where he took his lunch today, however, he would hardly describe it as "spooky." Still, clearly there is something interesting afoot here, and from those fellows' descriptions, he's quite certain he knows what -- or, rather, who -- that something is. The man hasn't even bothered with a ridiculous disguise this time, it seems.

His gaze rests on the heavy, tarnished bronze knocker on the door. It's worth a try. Whatever else he might be, the Master is usually polite enough to answer a door.

He rests his hand on the knocker, but some impulse stops him from lifting it. An odd sense of... What? Reluctance? Foreboding?

It occurs to him that he could, and perhaps in fact ought to call UNIT. The Brigadier might be surprised to hear from him today, after he insisted so strenuously on taking off for a restorative drive in the country, but he'll certainly send in reinforcements if asked. Or possibly even if not asked.

But, no, it hardly seems necessary. He's quite capable of handling the Master on his own, surely. At the very least, he ought to gather more information on whatever the villain's up to now before bringing the humans in to stumble around shooting at things.

So why is he hesitating? Why does this feel...? Hmm. Perhaps "spooky" is the word for it, after all?

Oh, come now, he thinks, shaking the sensation off. What superstitious human poppycock. As a Time Lord, he is entirely above such things. Still, he raises his hand from the knocker. Has the feeling eased slightly, or is that only his imagination?

He lowers his hand to the doorknob and tries it quickly, before he has the opportunity to second-guess himself again. It turns easily, and the door swings inward. Unlocked. He feels less surprised than perhaps he should be.

Sternly telling the hairs threatening to rise on the back of his neck to stand down and behave, he steps inside.

What greets him is the dimly lit interior of a disused English country home, nothing more. The space is largely empty, save for a few remaining items of furniture scattered about, draped in dingy cloths. Pale rectangles on the walls mark spots where paintings once hung. Ragged cobwebs cling to the ceiling, limp and motionless in the stagnant air. The floor is dusty... dust that has been disturbed by a blur of recent footprints. The Doctor squats to get a better look. Yes, multiple comings and goings. All the same pair of shoes, he's fairly certain. Probably about the right size to be the Master's current feet. Interesting.

He straightens up again and turns to look behind him. There is no door.

Well, of course there isn't. Why on Earth was he expecting one?

He frowns as a thought tries to surface in his mind, only to slip away again. Never mind. If it was important, no doubt it'll come back to him later.

In the meantime, another thought seems to be crossing his mind, sliding slowly into his brain. Or, no, not a thought, exactly. A feeling? Or a complex mixture of thoughts and feelings, rather, none of which seems to be quite his own. A surge of warm happiness, as if he's just caught sight of a dear old friend, and rising sourly behind it, a bubbling of resentment and annoyance. Possibly even a faint hint of regret? Or perhaps not. If that was there at all, it's gone before he can quite get hold of it, replaced by a wash of hopeful relief, an anticipation of... rescue?

And then all of it is drowned out on a rising tide of dismay. A voice insinuates itself into his neurons, whispering across his cortex. Oh no, it's saying. The fool. The absolute fool. He's caught in it, too. The trap has both of us now, and-- The distress rises, spikes. An exertion of will -- not his own -- attempts to tamp it down and fails. --and it's connected us. He can feel me. He can hear my thoughts! This is not to be borne!

He knows that voice. Knows the feel and the taste of it in his mind from lifetimes ago. From long-lost youthful moments when he eagerly welcomed it inside him.

Well. It isn't welcome now. He raises fingers to his temples and concentrates, trying to expel the intrusion. Somewhere nearby, he can feel the Master doing the same, his mental forces clamping and squeezing and pushing in an attempt to wrest their psyches apart. It's an impressive effort. The Master always did have a gift for the telepathic arts, and a truly formidable will, when he chooses to apply it. It's only a pity he never chooses to apply it in the right areas.

Beneath their mental exertions, he can feel the Master hearing him think that, can sense the accompanying flash of flattered gratification and irritable amusement. For a moment, it almost makes him smile.

But the pressure in his head is building quickly now, and rapidly turning into pain. For the Master, too. He can feel it. Can feel the Master feeling his pain, as he feels the Master feeling his. A dangerous feedback loop. If they don't end this soon...

A sound escapes him, a strangled cry. His knees are beginning to buckle. It feels suddenly as if his every neuron is on fire. His and the Master's. He can feel them all.

He staggers backwards, thuds against a wall, and begins sliding helplessly downwards.

"Stop!" he shouts, with both his mouth and his mind. "Stop it! Whatever's maintaining this connection, it's far too strong! If we continue fighting it, we'll only kill ourselves."

He can feel the Master grasping this, his understanding of the truth overcoming his desire to deny and reject it. In his mind, there is a wordless cry of rage. And, riding in upon it, a thought: This is all your fault! You shouldn't have come here! It's loud, that thought. Loud enough that it very nearly drowns out a smaller, quieter one that's saying failure, my failure, again.

If it weren't for the pain, he might almost be capable of feeling pity at that. But it's just as well he isn't. He's certain the Master would not appreciate it.

The pressure eases off as the two of them stop resisting. The pain begins to ebb. The Doctor runs through some soothing psychic exercises he half-remembers learning as a child, and senses the Master doing the same. Rather better than him, a fact he tries not to notice. And fails, as the flash of smug superiority entering his mind makes annoyingly clear.

The Master is right. This really is not to be borne. Indeed, it could rapidly become intolerable.

"Where are you?" he says, when the pain has finally receded to a dull residual ache.

In return, he receives a wordless beacon. He rises to his feet, mostly steadily, and follows it into the next room, where Master sits on an antique chair, the only thing in the room entirely free of dust. His face is pale, but composed. He lowers his hands from his temples.

Their eyes lock together. The Doctor can feel a short, sharp thrill at that, a spike of delight at the meeting, at the attention. Entirely and utterly the Master's of course. Yes, entirely.

The emotion fades, tamped down by a hefty assertion of willpower. Oh, really, the Doctor thinks in its direction, only half intentionally. As if I weren't aware of your penchant for dramatics and love of attention by now. He can feel the Master choosing to ignore it.

"You utter fool," the Master says. "Couldn't you feel it? I know your skill was never as advanced as mine, but even you should have been able to sense the psychic emanations. And yet, you simply walked right in! No care, no preparation." I expect better from you, he is thinking, and simultaneously, You are always like this, you have always been like this. He doesn't seem to notice the contradiction, at least not until the Doctor noticing it brings it to his attention and his mind brushes it impatiently aside.

"I'm the fool?" The Doctor responds quickly. With luck, perhaps the Master will sense only his disdainful challenge and not his embarrassment. Even if he should, perhaps, have taken the humans' descriptions of this place's atmosphere more seriously, should have listened more closely to his own instincts. He wrenches his mind away from that line of thought and back to the Master's own, clearly much more grievous, failings. "My dear chap, let me remind you that you were here well before I arrived. What is this, anyway? Some sort of... of..." He can sense it now that that he knows to try. Sticky threads of psionic energy tangling all around them. "Psychic spiderweb?" he finishes.

"An apt analogy," the Master concedes, and for a moment the Doctor can observe it all through his senses, too. Can perceive all the places where he's struggled against those threads, tried to break them, and succeeded only in tangling them further. "Especially," the Master continues, "given the traditional fate of prey caught in such webs."

Flashes of borrowed memory skip across the surface of the Doctor's mind. Creatures of pure psionic energy, detectable only as shimmering flashes of light and a tickling of Time Lord telepathic senses, slowly dying on a world no longer capable of supporting their existence. A promise: freedom, a new world, new minds to encounter, in exchange for some of their power, psychic energy that could be harnessed to... to...

In fact, it seems the Master hadn't even known what he would do with it. Hadn't decided. But it was power, and he wanted it. His offer was sincere, at first. They would have known if it wasn't, with their ability to see into his mind. But once he had them, trapped in the depths of his TARDIS, what reason was there to let them go? To take only some of their power and leave them alive, when he could just as easily take all of it? But even trapped as they were, they managed to weave their psychic webs inside his TARDIS, to confuse its telepathic circuits, and convince it to release them. The Doctor can see them, as if he'd witnessed it himself. See them pouring out onto Earth -- of course he'd brought them to Earth, what other planet would he choose to conquer first, with his new-found power? -- and into the abandoned house the Master had thought to make his new base of operations. Can see the trap they laid for him there -- here -- and the arrogant way he'd walked right into it.

The Doctor closes his eyes and pinches his nose. He's seen more than enough. "You never learn, do you?" he says, and looks back at the Master again. He can feel the Master feeling his judgment of him. Can almost, for just a moment, catch the smallest glimpse of a boy he once knew holding a paper on which he'd been given a near-failing grade, looking stricken and disbelieving at this evidence of his fallibility.

That glimpse is gone almost before it's fully realized, leaving the Doctor half wondering whether he'd imagined it. And, outwardly, the Master shows no sign of it. "A minor miscalculation," he says.

"Oh, is that what you call it?" The Doctor is about to ask the obvious next question: where is your TARDIS now?, but even before he's fully formed the thought, the answer is arriving in his mind. The Master doesn't know. Can't remember. It's all a complete blank.

Which is odd. Odd, and presumably meaningful. If...

If...

Wait, what was he thinking? He can't quite remember.

"Perhaps we should--" Go over the web again, strand by strand, he's going to say. Probe it for weaknesses. Perhaps I'll be able to see something you missed.

But the Master cuts him off, interrupting his words and brushing aside the thoughts behind them. "Wait," he says, frowning. "What was that?"

"What was what?" says the Doctor. "You're going to have to be more specific. Even with the ability to read your mind, I've still no idea what you're on about."

The Master rises to his feet and looks him in the eye. It's oddly disconcerting, on top of the telepathic connection. "You were thinking something," he says, his tone almost accusatory. "And you stopped. Why?"

"My dear fellow, I was telling you what I think. You're the one who interrupted me!"

The Master makes an impatient chopping motion with one hand. Inside him, the Doctor can feel not only impatience, but curiosity. A sense, almost, of excitement. The feeling of a crucial insight hovering just out of reach. It's a feeling so terribly familiar that, for a moment, the Doctor isn't at all certain it's not his own.

And it's always been a feeling he believes in taking seriously. He stops and thinks back over the last few moments. "I was only going to ask..." To ask... What was he going to ask?

He feels the Master's mind... pouncing. There's no other word for it. His consciousness leaps like a cat onto the fleeing thought. "You were going to ask where I'd left my TARDIS!"

"Was I?" The thought squirms and wriggles, but the Master's mind keeps it pinned.

No. No, that's entirely the wrong analogy, isn't it? He isn't pinning it. He's reflecting it. The question bounces from the Doctor's mind to the Master's and back, over and over. Constantly escaping, constantly recaptured. What a very odd feeling.

"Well, then," he says, as the question echoes inside him again. "Where is your TARDIS?"

He can feel the Master catching the echo, losing it, catching it again. Can feel him formulating an answer, aching with concentration, between the bounces. "I left it..." Gone again. Back again. "I left it... Doctor, I left it outside!"

Outside? Outside where? The concept of "outside" forms in his mind and slides away.

And reflects. Outside. There is such a place. Outside this building. How could he have forgotten? And to get there, there is... there must be...

"A door!" the Master shouts. He dashes into the next room, back the way the Doctor came. His mind is awash with epiphany, with the frustrated triumph of a man finally seeing the obvious.

The Doctor turns. He follows. And he sees the door.

Wait, the what?

Oh, of course, the door. The door.

He holds tight to the image of it in the Master's mind, feels the Master holding tight to the image of it in his. It wavers and steadies.

The door.

He grins at the Master. Not directly, since he can't risk turning his face from the door and perhaps losing the memory of it again. But he sends the feeling of a grin in the Master's direction.

He can feel the Master smiling back. And not only in satisfaction at this significant step forward in freeing themselves. He's enjoying it now, the Doctor realizes. Enjoying this single thought shared between them, the way it crests and troughs inside them, one after the other, over and over. The rhythm of it. The unity of perception and purpose. The way their minds move together to create this thing between them that neither could manage alone.

Well. Yes. It really is quite... intimate, isn't it? A flash of memory sparkles inside him, a memory of past intimacies he's tried quite hard, over the years to forget, or at least to set aside. He can feel his face getting hot, can feel the Master feeling it. Can see flashes of that same, discarded memory from the other side, and recall the Master's young hearts swelling with a tender possessiveness that...

The Doctor clears his throat. Now, he tells himself -- tells both of them -- is not the time. Likely it will never be the time, not again, but this is certainly not it. "Perhaps it's best," he says, his voice shaking rather more than he would like, "to concentrate on the exit for now."

The Master's mind wrenches away from the memory so fast, so violently, that it feels as if he's tearing part of the Doctor's psyche away with it. He winces, and the Master does, too, with his own pain or with the Doctor's, it's impossible to tell. And with that twist of pain, that shift of attention, comes another deluge of emotion.

Anger. No, rage. Stronger and more frightening than anything the Doctor has felt from him yet. How dare they? How dare anyone thrust him into a situation this humiliating, this vulnerable? How dare they alter his perceptions, manipulate his mind? HE IS THE MASTER! It's is for him to control others! His power is superior. He will show them. They will regret this for the rest of their short, miserable lives!

The Doctor winces again and raises his hands to his head, trying desperately to drown out the shouting, without taking his eyes or his mind off door, which is threatening, now, to disappear again. He can see it shimmering with their mutual distraction.

Yes, drown out the shouting. Replace it with calm. Calm...

He sends out soothing waves of emotion. Like a telepathic pat on the back. Or... Well. Perhaps not quite like an embrace. Or, at most, only a little.

It does seem to be working. The shouting, the rage, are still there, but they are growing muted. Enough so that he can see below them. The whimper beneath the bellow. There are no words in it. It isn't conscious enough for that. But the emotion it carries is as clear as the vacuum of space. It's fear. Resentment and fear, of being the one controlled, manipulated, kept captive, crushed beneath the weight of others' stultifying expectations. An old, old, familiar feeling. A feeling the Doctor knows well, too, and not only at second-hand.

"Master," he says, but behind it he knows the Master can hear the echo of a much older, much gentler name. "We can escape." A memory: leaving Gallifrey, alone. Being left on Gallifrey, alone. "We can walk out that door, if we do it together, and when we do--"

"The psychic web should snap," says the Master. His voice is strained. "It's only functional inside this house. Pulling the threads that bind us to it through that door should unravel the entire thing." The Master doesn't want to keep this echo bouncing between them, now. It isn't fun anymore. Knowing it's about to end has soured the experience. But he will carry on with it, for as long as he has to. It's a question of survival. And he will do anything, anything at all, to survive. Even intimacy with his... with his enemy. With this man he hates and will never, ever have this with again.

The Doctor tries to look away, psychically. Tries to pretend he doesn't feel any of that. Doesn't feel the Master's itchy desire to burst through that door and be done with this, or his contradictory desire to stay like this forever. He isn't fooling either of them, of course. But he can, perhaps, sense some tiny thread of gratitude from the Master at this attempt to let him keep his dignity.

A moment passes. He feels the Master withdrawing into himself, as much as he possibly can. Feels him sliding a mask of composure across the parts of himself that have been psychically exposed. The Doctor follows suit.

Between them, their perception of the exit bounces back and forth and back and forth. Beckoning them endlessly, together.

The decision to clasp hands is made by neither of them, and both. The Master's grip is firm in the Doctor's, the Doctor's warm in the Master's. "Together," the Doctor says, and the word echoes between them. "Now," says the Master, and that reverberates, too.

They step forward. The door before them seems to grow more solid, somehow, more real. Another step. Another. Another. They're standing before it. A hand reaches out, and turns a knob. Beyond, there is daylight.

Hand-in-hand, they cross the threshold. Instantly, the feeling of pressure is back. It fills the Doctor's skull, fills the Master's. They are being pulled, tugged, told to stay.

They step forward again.

Something breaks, with a sting like snapped elastic striking the surface of their brains, and they are free.

No, wait, says the Master, in the Doctor's mind, or perhaps the Doctor in the Master's.

And then it's silent again. He is alone in his head. They are not one. Not in any sense that matters.

The Doctor realizes he's closed his eyes, as if attempting to shut the emptiness out. He opens them. Before him, the Master is looking at him. His expression in inscrutable. Unknowable.

He drops the Doctor's hand, and turns, and runs.

"Wait!" the Doctor calls out, but it's already too late. There's a door opening in the side of an oak tree, a brief glimpse of something bigger on the inside. And then, with a groan, it's gone.

The Doctor draws in a deep breath. Around him, birds are singing. Leaves on the trees that are actually trees rustle softly in the breeze.

He turns and looks back though the open doorway. No hairs rise on the back of his neck. There's nothing in there now but dust, and abandoned furniture, and cobwebs. Just as predicted, the psionic web has torn itself apart and dissolved completely.

There remains, he supposes, the question of what to do with the Master's aliens, who are presumably still around somewhere. But the answer to that might very well be "nothing at all." From what he saw in the Master's memories, they seem to have meant no one but their captor any harm. No doubt they can live here on Earth quite happily, subsisting on this world's strong young sunlight and the stray mental emanations of the human population. Most likely, no one will even know they're here.

They might, of course, come seeking revenge on the Master again, once they realize he's escaped. It would be hard to blame them. Honestly, it's no more than he deserves.

And if they do? What does the Doctor care? The Master is, after all, only his enemy. Nothing more. Nothing more at all.

No response comes to the thought. There is no one in his mind, now, to contradict him.

On the journey back to London he turns the radio up as loud as he can and tries to believe that the sound of human voices is more than enough to fill the silence.