The Beating of Our Hearts is the Only Sound

by nostalgia [Reviews - 2]

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  • Teen
  • Swearing
  • Alternate Universe, Angst, Slash

(“You mean you're just going to... keep me?”)

-

One silver lining on the cloud that was ‘not being able to go anywhere’ was that it left him a lot of time for dealing with the necessary repairs to the TARDIS. She still wasn’t quite recovered from her time as a paradox machine, and when those wounds were healed there were other, long-overdue repairs to deal with, Maybe he’d even be able to fix the chameleon circuit… but he was getting ahead of himself, first he had to undo everything that the Master had done to her.

He had thought the task complete before they left Earth for this possibly-eternal stay in the vortex, but even now he kept finding new changes to undo and new additions to remove. This could take weeks. Months. Possibly longer, if the bright scars didn’t fade. And it wasn’t his fault, in the strictest sense, but he had left her unlocked for the Master to steal and hadn’t caught up with him quickly enough to prevent what had happened afterwards. She had been treated like an inanimate object by his former best friend, who he should have stopped long ago, one way or another.

The Doctor studied the mess of wiring in front of him, touched the injured TARDIS gently with one hand and tried to find the right setting on the sonic screwdriver with the other.

“This might tingle a little,” he said, softly, though in reality he had no idea what she might feel. Hopefully not something analogous to pain – she had been through enough of that already. The lights flickered and he winced – probably pain, then. He made a quiet shushing sound as though that might help, and tried to work faster.

He heard footsteps approaching, and since there was only one other person on the TARDIS he didn’t have to guess who it might be.

“I can help.”

“I’m sure you could,” said the Doctor, not looking up from his work, “but why do you want to?”

The Master crouched down beside the hole in the metal grating that made up the floor. “I’m bored. Incredibly, mind-numbingly, bored.” He certainly sounded bored. “Let me help, it’ll give me something to do.”

The Doctor shook his head. “No.”

“Why not?”

Finally he looked up at the Master. “Well, for a start, my TARDIS doesn’t like you.”

“Good, it’s mutual.” He thumped the floor with the side of his fist. “You should have scrapped the entire thing centuries ago, picked up something that actually works. It’s a wreck.”

The Doctor turned back to the inside of his ship, touching a nearby piece of metal. “Don’t you listen to him, old girl, you’re a classic.”

The Master sighed rather dramatically. “You’re not supposed to talk to it. Or stroke it, for that matter. Or… I don’t even want to think about what else you might have done to it.”

“I thought you wanted to help,” said the Doctor, pointedly. “Because this isn’t helping anyone with anything.”

“I do want to help.”

The Doctor fiddled with some wires, thinking. “Not sure I trust you not to break something on purpose.”

“I’ll be good. Time Scout’s honour.”

“You were never in the Time Scouts,” said the Doctor. He eyed his new prisoner and considered the options. He had been maintaining the TARDIS solo for years, but some tasks needed two pairs of hands even if it was just someone to press a button on the other side of the console while he worked. From now on that would mean relying on the Master, and they might as well start somewhere. “Hand me that spanner,” he said, pointing.

The Master reached into the nearby toolbox and selected the spanner. He weighed it in his hand, getting a good grip, holding it like a murder weapon. Which, of course, it could be. He stared down at it, apparently lost in thought.

The Doctor cleared his throat and held out his hand. The spanner was passed, rather reluctantly, and he set it to one side without using it. Just a test.

“Force of habit,” said the Master, not sounding remotely apologetic.

The Doctor took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I’m done here anyway. She’s been through enough for today.” He pulled himself out of the pit under the console, got to his feet and tried to stretch away the stiffness in his limbs.

The Master stood as well. “I’m still bored.”

“I don’t care,” said the Doctor, moving the grate back into position.

“You should care, you’re supposed to be looking after me. I’m your responsibility now, and that means you have to keep me entertained.”

“It really doesn’t,” said the Doctor, tiredly, following the usual steps of this conversation. “Read a book or something.”

“Your library’s crap. It’s all trashy Earth novels and bad Martian pornography.”

“I don’t own any -” He stopped, shook his head. “Stop trying to annoy me.”

“I wouldn’t have to annoy you if I wasn’t bored.”

The Doctor tried to think of a witty response and had to settle for, “Whatever.”

- -

They had been alone together on the TARDIS for eleven days, though it felt like much longer. With no obvious end in sight the future stretched out endlessly, a long line of identical, shapeless days.

The Doctor’s plan, such as it was, was to keep the Master locked up safely so that he couldn’t harm anyone else. Forever, if need be, though it had quickly become clear to him that ‘forever’ was a ridiculous length of time that was going to pass very slowly indeed. Eleven days in and he already had a number of regrets.

Ideally there was the possibility of rehabilitation, but that would require a lot more engagement from the Master that he was currently likely to commit to, so unless he got extremely bored with the passage of time that option was probably ruled out for the foreseeable future. Still, it was something to hope for in the longer term.

They were trapped together, probably until they died, unable to go anywhere in case the Master managed to escape and therefore limited to whatever activities they could find to amuse them on the TARDIS. And so far the Master had been unwilling to play nice and make any sort of genuine attempt to interact with the Doctor on friendly terms. No wonder, given the circumstances, but it did make things a lot more difficult than they really needed to be.

As someone who was a habitual explorer, the idea of eternity parked in the time vortex did not appeal to the Doctor. He couldn’t go anywhere, he couldn’t see anything new, he couldn’t meet people. It wasn’t a bright-looking future.

On the other hand, he was trapped with the other last of the Time Lords, which meant that he was no longer alone. And that made up for a great deal of frustrated wanderlust. He could feel the Master’s presence in his head, a constant gentle reminder that there was someone nearby of his own species. Just one someone, but after the war and being alone for several years that was enough to change everything. He had never really needed the company of his own kind but when it wasn’t even an option he had missed them terribly.

He wondered if the Master felt the same way, and knew that he would never admit it if he did. The Master was… difficult. If they were going to spend the rest of their lives together they would have to learn to accommodate each other, even if one of them was a prisoner and the other was merely trapped here by a sense of responsibility and a certain amount of guilt. All they had to do was behave like reasonable people who were prepared to like each other.

The Doctor sighed. There was a good chance that they were going to end up killing each other instead.

- -

He became aware, through a daydream about visiting Earth, of a persistent ringing sound from somewhere on the console. He looked up from where he sat cross-legged on the floor. “What’s that?”

The Master was in the crash-seat, leafing through an old gossip magazine that had been left on the TARDIS by one of her former occupants. It promised to tell all about the biggest wedding of the 1980s. He dropped it on the floor, deliberately careless. “It sounds like a phone.”

“I don’t have a-” The Doctor sat upright, suddenly alert. “It’s Martha,” he said, getting to his feet quickly and without much dignity.

“Do you only have one friend?” asked the Master, who certainly knew the answer to that.

“I’ve got hundreds of friends,” said the Doctor as he moved to where he had left the phone. “Thousands. But Martha’s the only one who knows this number.”

“Oh, good,” said the Master, dryly, “God forbid we be spared the wisdom of St Martha Jones.”

The Doctor glared at him and answered the phone. “Hello!” He hadn’t spoken to anyone other than the Master for almost two weeks, and Martha was always a welcome distraction. He felt himself grin as he heard her voice on the other end of the line, and saw the Master roll his eyes at that. The Doctor resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at him.

Martha was doing well, which was good to hear, and she wanted to know how things were going on the TARDIS. The Doctor kept his tone casual. “Fine, really. We’re okay.” He fidgeted with the controls on the console, pretending he was likely to be going anywhere anytime soon.

“He hasn’t tried to kill you or anything?” she asked, concerned.

“Not yet,” said the Doctor, then added, “I mean, I’m sure he won’t. He doesn’t want to be alone here any more than I do.” He raised his eyebrows at the Master, daring him to disagree. The Master glared at him and stood, then left the room with a scowl.

“Well, I’m still going to worry about you.”

“Martha, really, I’ll be fine. If he kills me he’s still stuck in the vortex for the rest of his life. It’s not like he can escape once I’m gone, he’s locked out of the controls.”

“Be careful,” she insisted. “He’s an evil genius, if there’s a way out he’s going to find it.”

“He can’t get out of the TARDIS,” he assured her. “Even I couldn’t, if the situation was reversed. Trust me on this.”

“Okay,” she said, her doubt obvious.

“How’s your sister?”

“Do you really want to know or are you just changing the subject?”

“Bit of both,” he admitted. “Mostly I really do want to know. She’s been through a lot. They all have.” And whose fault was that? he thought, guiltily.

Martha told him about Tish, who was doing relatively well, all things considered, and then they chatted about nothing in particular until Martha had to go. It was nice having someone to talk to who wasn’t evil. The Doctor sat the phone on the console and stared at it for a while in case that might somehow make it ring again. He couldn’t ask her to call more often, she had her own problems to deal with. He had to leave her to get back to her own life, a life that he would never again interact with in person. He realised, belatedly, that he was never going to see her face again.

He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, sniffed, and then went to find the Master.

--

The kitchen by the library had become what might be termed neutral territory, if there could be such a thing in a prison. It was near to the fiercely-protected privacy of the Master’s own room but still part of what might be termed the public spaces of the ship, and it had a practical use that could distract from other concerns.

The Doctor was making tea, stirring in milk and sugar (four lumps for himself and none for the Master), and while he stirred he talked. “Bet they didn’t expect us to end up like this. The Time Lords, I mean. Not us. Not Theta and Koschei, always together and -”

“We’re not children any more, Doctor.” He emphasised the name, a pointed reminder that Theta was long gone and so was the best friend from his youth.

“No, Master, we’re not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends again.” The Doctor handed him his tea. “Not yet, I know that – I’m not stupid – but there’s plenty of time.” The rest of their lives, if that was what it took.

“Only an unbearable optimist would think we could ever be friends,” said the Master.

“Someone like me, you mean?” asked the Doctor, sipping at his tea. Too sweet, he should cut down on the sugar a little.

The Master nodded. “Someone exactly like you. Someone sad and lonely who doesn’t think very far ahead and usually just pisses off before he has to deal with the consequences of his own actions.”

“No need to get personal about it,” said the Doctor, lightly. The Master could always see right through him, and could always find a way to hurt him. It was a dark inversion of the very things that had made them friends in the first place. They knew each other, instinctively, and they were similar enough that it gave them insight into themselves. Once upon a time they had been good for each other. Very good, in fact.

“How many years have we been stuck here?” asked the Master, who couldn’t really need to ask.

“Fifteen days,” said the Doctor. “They’ll go quicker once we get into a routine of some sort. We could-”

The Master cut him off. “I don’t want to spend time with you. I don’t want to rekindle some lost friendship that you wish would come back. I want to be left alone.”

“That would be why you’re in the kitchen then,” said the Doctor, pleasantly. “You can hide in your bedroom if you want to, but you’ll get bored even quicker on your own.”

The Master drummed his fingers on the table and the Doctor had to try very hard not to reach out and stop him. That rhythm, like heartsbeats, like some tune that he had never heard but knew perfectly. It would drive anyone mad. “We could try taking those drums away,” he said, quietly.

“You think I haven’t already tried that?” asked the Master. “I’ve done everything you’ll be able to think of, and more.” He shrugged. “They’re part of me. Like your unrelenting goodness, or your self-righteous arrogance.”

The Doctor sighed. “Why does it always come back to insulting me?”

“Because that’s fun.” He put his hands flat on the table, drumming apparently forgotten. “You know, I haven’t killed anything in a fortnight. I’m getting quite the craving.”

“Then it’s a good thing you’re stuck in here with me, isn’t it?”

“You really think I wouldn’t kill you?”

“I don’t think you could.”

The Master smiled. “Would you like to test that theory?”

The Doctor wasn’t worried. “If you kill me then it’s just you. Alone. For the rest of your life.”

“Might be worth it.”

He scoffed. “Oh, come off it, you’d never cope on your own. You don’t know what it’s like, no one in your head, no one to speak your own language to, no one who understands time -”

“Picking up stray humans and pretending they’ll fill the gap,” mocked the Master.

“Yes,” said the Doctor, seriously.

The Master raised his eyebrows. “Didn’t think you’d admit that.”

“Life is full of surprises.” He finished off his tea and sat the mug down next to the sink. “You know, when we were on the Valiant, when you were doing all those terrible things… I wasn’t lonely.”

“I’m sure Martha and her family would love to hear that.”

He shrugged. “It’s the truth. What about you? How did you feel?”

“I was ruling the world, how do you think I felt? Fantastic.”

“And now?” asked the Doctor, curious but hesitant. He needed to know. If the Master could feel a connection between them then maybe change wasn’t out of the question. All they had was each other, and it would be stupid not to take advantage of that, to leverage it into influence.

The Master laughed. “Is this where I’m supposed to be moved to tears by the beautiful nature of our isolation? Do you really think I wouldn’t rather be dead than stuck here with you?”

That hurt, but he hoped he managed not to show it. “Well, you are stuck with me, so you’d better get used to it.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Don’t really have a choice in the matter, do you?” snapped the Doctor, and instantly wished that he hadn’t. Reminding the Master that he was powerless in a situation was always a mistake. It just made him angry.

The Master stood up, chair scraping against the floor as he moved. He stood for a moment, unmoving, hands in fists at his sides. Then, very coldly, he said, “Let’s leave each other alone for a while,” and suddenly the Doctor couldn’t feel him any more. He had snapped up a barrier around his mind, locked the Doctor out. It felt rather like being stabbed in the hearts.

He left the room and it took every bit of the Doctor’s self-control not to run after him and beg him to come back. Okay, fine, two could play at that game. If the Master didn’t want company in his head then he wasn’t going to get any.

The Doctor tried to convince himself that he wasn’t going to be the first of them to break.

- -

Several days passed in an almost complete silence, inside and out. They avoided each other in their enclosed space, each sticking to the parts of the ship where they spent the most time, keeping away from the more communal areas. On the fourth day, admitting defeat in this battle, the Doctor went to the kitchen to wait for the Master, who would have to eat at some point. After so long on his own again he wanted to scream. Talking to himself just made it worse, somehow, and he dropped a plate onto the floor, deliberately, just to hear a new sound when it smashed. The noise was shocking and ugly and very, very welcome.

After another hour he heard footsteps in the corridor and his insides flipped as he waited for the only company he was ever going to have from now on. They had to talk to each other, the alternative was Hell. He found himself hoping for an argument, something anger-inducing and loud. He dropped the shields he had put up around his mind, reached out warily. I’m here.

The sudden resumption of mental contact was a jolt. Suddenly, all at once, he wasn’t alone. He drew in a deep breath and blinked, eyes suddenly wet.

The Master stood in the doorway, leaning against the wooden frame. “Please tell me you’re not going to cry.”

“I missed you,” said the Doctor, honestly. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“You were getting a bit needy, I wanted to make sure you could still cope on your own.”

“Well, I can’t. Neither can you,” he added, “or you wouldn’t be standing there.”

The Master shrugged. “It wasn’t the most enjoyable experience,” he admitted. He pushed himself upright, walked into the room. “I had an idea about what we could do to pass all this time,” he said.

“It had better not be crochet, I’m terrible at that. You should see my trebles. And as for-.” He stopped talking, because the Master had grabbed him and kissed him.

After a few moments he pulled away, more reluctantly than he would have cared to admit. “No.”

The Master looked disappointed, which was a strange sort of reward. “Why not?”

“Because I saw how you treated Lucy.”

He seemed confused. “Lucy was human,” he said, as though he were explaining something obvious to a child.

“And because you think that makes a difference.” He stepped back, moving away from temptation.

“I think you’ll find that it does.”

“It really doesn’t,” said the Doctor, shaking his head. A sudden despair hit him, a sense that all of this was hopeless. The Master was never going to change, they’d be stuck here for good, just the two of them alone in the TARDIS, hiding in the nowhen of the vortex. This was it, this was all either of them had to look forward to.

It was not a pleasant thought.

- -

“You know, I’ve been thinking. About how all this is going to end.”

The Doctor looked up from the console, almost finished with his work on the stabilisers. “It doesn’t end,” he said, “you’re staying here forever, remember?”

“Nothing lasts forever,” said the Master, dismissive. “There has to be an ending of some sort. Most likely death. So, what happens when you die? Do I just stay here, going mad on my own? Did you just assume that I’d die first? That’s very thoughtless of you.”

He had a point, and it was one that the Doctor had been trying to avoid since this had all started. If he died that left the Master alone, trapped inside the TARDIS until one way or another he faded away too. That felt unfair, outright cruel, in fact. “I’ll think of something,” he promised vaguely. “I won’t let that happen.”

“I know you won’t, because I’ve got the solution to this problem.”

“Go on then, I can tell you’re desperate to share your conclusions.” He folded his arms, genuinely curious to see where this was going.

“I want you to kill me.”

He stared, blankly. “What?”

“I’d rather be dead than stuck in this miserable limbo with you for the rest of eternity. So, kill me. It solves all the problems – I won’t be able to hurt anyone, you won’t have to keep guarding me, and I don’t have to look at your stupid face any more. Perfect.”

“I’m not going to kill you,” said the Doctor, steadily.

“I know, I know, you’d prefer if I did it myself, so you don’t have to get those perfect hands of yours dirty. But that’s exactly why I want you to do it, you need to live with the consequences of your actions for once.”

My actions?” said the Doctor, trying to steer the conversation away from murder, “Which of us tried to take over the universe?”

“And right now you’re avoiding any consequences,” said the Master, undeterred, “because this way you’re putting off the inevitable for as long as you possibly can. One of us has to die, Doctor, and all things considered I’d prefer it to be me.”

The Doctor shook his head. “I’m not even going to discuss this, it’s stupid.”

“No, stupid is turning your TARDIS into a prison and hoping to outlive me.”

“You might decide to change,” said the Doctor, saying it out loud for the first time. It sounded pathetic, even to him.

The Master just laughed at that. “Oh, go on,” he coaxed, “kill me. You’d probably enjoy it.”

“I don’t enjoy murder.”

“Euthanasia, then. Putting me out of my you-imposed misery.”

The Doctor turned on him, exasperated. “Stop it!” He ran his hands through his own hair, sucked in air between his teeth. “You can’t possibly think I could kill you. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.”

The Master tilted his head. “Aww, how sweet. You really are in love with me.”

“You’re just trying to provoke me,” said the Doctor, pointing at him. “Why do you have to be like this? Why can’t you be a normal person, like you used to be?”

“When we were kids?”

“Yes, when we were kids! When we were at university! When you weren’t impossible to deal with!” He was shouting now, losing control and he knew it. He really should step back and try to cool off. This wasn’t going to help anyone. He took a deep, calming breath and tried to slow his racing hearts. “I’m not going to kill you,” he said, at a more acceptable volume. “Think of something else.”

“You did it before,” said the Master, who hadn’t raised his voice once.

“Yes, and I had to live with that, every time. Not that you even had the decency to stay dead,” he added, because he had suffered a lot for nothing, one way or another, and was bitter about it. He turned back towards the console. “Let me know if you have any better ideas,” he said, checking the stabilisers again. He shook his head to clear it as the Master left the room. He just wants me to be a killer, he thought, he just wants to turn me into him.

If one of them was going to turn into the other, it certainly couldn’t be that way round.

- -

The Doctor spent the rest of the day trying to think of a better answer to their problems than murder. It really did seem like the only good outcome would be rehabilitation. Which would be a slow and difficult process, even if the Master was willing to give it a go. So, the first step would be to win him over to the idea. Arguing had never helped, nor had merely leading by example. He was going to have to turn on the charm.

He found the Master in the TV room, parked on the sofa watching a soap opera.

“Didn’t think that’d be your sort of thing,” said the Doctor, taking a seat beside him.

The Master pointed at the screen. “That woman murdered her husband, and she’s just told his sister, who’s married to a dodgy policeman and having an affair with that man in the background. He’s a stripper.”

“Oh,” said the Doctor, who had never seen this programme in his life. “How many episodes have you watched?”

“Just this one.” He seemed to be interested in what was unfolding. Maybe the Master had developed an affinity for complex fictional narratives. The Doctor had never really asked him about his recent interests beyond murder and universal domination. He sat back on the couch and together they watched the rest of the episode. It was actually quite pleasant, sitting together like this.

When it was over he took a risk and tried to start a conversation. “Do you remember on the Valiant, when you used to watch that kid’s show? The one where they’ve made of televisions and they’ve got aerials on their heads.”

Teletubbies,” said the Master with a small smile. “By the time I realised it was fiction I was already addicted.”

Which, yes, was quite weird, but many people were weird and the Doctor had never had any issues with most of them. “We could watch that, if you like,” he offered. “Or I’ve got Bagpuss on DVD?”

“What’s that one about?”

“A talking cat and some other toys. They mend things.”

The Master shrugged, slumped back on the sofa. “I’ll give it a go, can’t be any worse than that one about the postman.”

“That’s the spirit,” said the Doctor, cheerily, patting the Master’s knee without thinking. The Master looked at him for a moment, but didn’t protest, so the Doctor felt quite confident as he got up to find the DVD on his uniquely-organised shelves.

Charm, he thought to himself, hiding a smile by turning his head slightly. I’ve still got it.

- -

For his next trick he needed to prepare. It took him two days to make all the necessary adjustments to the TARDIS, which meant he had to avoid the Master to maintain the element of surprise, but he seemed happy enough with the Bagpuss DVD and an electronically-monitored internet connection.

The Doctor worked carefully. He couldn’t afford to mess this up, he needed to draw the Master away from evil by being nice to him. Which, when he put it like that, sounded unlikely to work, but he didn’t have any other options. He was most definitely not going to murder the Master, even though he had to admit that there was a certain logic behind the Master’s suggestion. Was it really kinder to keep him imprisoned forever than to just kill him and get it all over with?

Yes, of course it is, he told himself, rather sternly. Killing the Master would be the easier option, but the easier option wasn’t always the best one. Actually, it was quite often the worst option, as in this case.

And he had already killed enough Time Lords for more than one lifetime, so he certainly wasn’t going to kill the last-but-one of them as well.

He tinkered with the last of the wiring work, and tried to think happy thoughts.

- -

“Where are we going?” asked the Master, following him along the corridor.

“Library,” said the Doctor, “there’s something I want to show you.”

“The library isn’t usually the right venue for that sort of thing,” said the Master.

“Oh, shut up,” said the Doctor, without bite. “You’ll like this, it’s good.”

They arrived at the library and the Doctor ushered him into the room. “Sit on the floor, preferably a nice comfy bit. This blue rug would be good,” he said, walking over to it and dropping to the floor. He patted the space beside him. “Come on.”

“What’s wrong with the chairs?” asked the Master.

“Nothing’s wrong with them, they’re just not ideal. Right,” he said, when the Master was in place at his side. Using the sonic screwdriver as a remote control he turned the lights off and switched on the ceiling. “Look up.”

It was a fairly accurate facsimile of the night sky as seen from Gallifrey. The Doctor grinned at his own ingenuity. “Good, isn’t it?” He moved to lie on his back. “Took me ages, I hope you’re impressed.”

“It’s just a projection,” said the Master, but he didn’t sound irritated or bored. That was a start, at least. He pointed upwards. “That star’s a bit too pink.” He too was on his back now. “But,” he admitted, “it’s not bad otherwise.”

“Do you remember -”

“Of course I do. We did this at least once a month for… what, seventy years?”

“Hmm, at least.” The Doctor gazed up at the fake sky, head resting on his clasped hands. “I’d sort of forgotten what it looked like, you know. Don’t think I looked up once during the war, in case I saw something I didn’t want to know about.”

“Does it move?” asked the Master. “If it moves you could synchronise it so that -”

“-it shows the appropriate stars at the right time of year. Yeah, it does.”

The Master pointed to a faint star near the pole. “I’m sure I blew that one up about two hundred years ago.”

“Don’t nitpick,” said the Doctor, softly. “And don’t boast about blowing up stars.”

“I wasn’t boasting.” His voice was calm.

“Good, because I wouldn’t approve if you were.” He reached to his side, took hold of the Master’s hand.

“I’m not going to become good just because you put on a pretty light show,” said the Master, quietly. He didn’t pull his hand away, though.

“I didn’t think you would,” said the Doctor.

“But you hoped I would.”

“Not at all,” said the Doctor, which wasn’t entirely true. “I just thought this would be nice, that’s all.” He turned his head to the side, towards the Master. “Anyway, I’ve set it up now, we might as well look at it fairly often. Make it worthwhile.” He looked for a reaction in the half-dark of the pretended night.

The Master’s expression didn’t change from one of mild interest, which disappointed the Doctor but he couldn’t really expect anything else at this stage. The Master wasn’t really the sentimental type, not these days.

But he said, “If I kiss you will you complain about the way I treat people?”

The Doctor considered. “Probably not.”

The Master turned onto his side, pushed himself up on his hands. “Because you’ve forgiven me or because you’re not in the mood to argue?”

“The second one,” said the Doctor, full of nervous hope.

“That’s good enough,” said the Master, and he kissed him.

- -

“I still think I could do something about the drums,” said the Doctor, talking on the phone while he recalibrated the temporal gyroscope, “but he won’t let me into his mind to take a look.”

“Surely you don’t think they’re a real thing?” asked Martha. “He can’t literally have drumming in his head.”

“Stranger things have happened,” mused the Doctor. He fumbled with the sonic screwdriver, trying to change the settings one-handed.

“Yeah, they probably have,” said Martha, who was very well-travelled for a twenty-first century human.

Distracted, the Doctor failed to hear the Master sneaking up behind him, and his first clue was when someone – who else? - snatched the phone out of his hand. “Hello, Martha Jones! How’s the family? Still traumatised?”

“Give that back!” The Doctor tried to grab the phone, but the Master twisted away from him.

“Oh, he’s upset! You should see his face, it’s hilarious. Did he tell you we shagged?”

The Doctor managed to get the phone back too late. “Martha, don’t listen to him, you know what he’s like.” He glared at the Master. “Look, I’ll call you back,” he said into the phone, “and seriously, don’t listen to him.”

“Doctor -”

“Call you soon, I promise.” He hung up. He turned to the Master. “Why did you do that?”

“Why not do it?” He grinned. “Oh, come on, the poor woman deserves to know the truth. It might help her get over you.”

The Doctor dropped the phone into his pocket and dragged a hand through his hair. “Haven’t you put her through enough?”

Me? She didn’t walk across the entire planet for me.”

“She wouldn’t have had to do it if you hadn’t taken over the Earth!” He was shouting again, for all the things he’d had to watch on the Valiant, all the things he had to hear about from the Master’s stupid smug face.

“I like it when you’re angry, your hair quivers with rage. How do you manage that? Is it alive?”

“You know, that murder idea of yours is looking very tempting at the moment.”

The Master smiled. “Finally he admits it!”

The Doctor felt like he had been punched in the stomach. “I didn’t mean-”

“Yes, you did.” The Master stepped towards him, up close. “All I need to do is get you angry enough to do it. And I will, sooner or later.”

The Doctor shook his head, but the possibility was always going to be there. It might, it just might, actually happen one of these days. He thought for a moment, then spun towards the console. “You won’t,” he said, “because you’re not staying.” He walked around the console, setting the coordinates to random, flicking the right switches and turning the right dials. He looked at the Master. “You’re right, keeping you here is cruel, and killing you would make me feel like the villain. So, you’re leaving.”

The Master stayed calm. “What’s the catch?”

“No catch,” said the Doctor, as the time rotor slowly came to a halt. “You can go, I won’t try to stop you.”

“But you’d be responsible for whatever I did,” he said, carefully. “You’d never forgive yourself.”

The Doctor nodded. “I know.”

“And you’re okay with that?” The Master looked at him strangely.

“No, but I’ve already done a lot of things that I’ll never forgive myself for, one more isn’t going to kill me.” The TARDIS jolted into a landing. “Go on, off you go.”

The Master looked from Doctor to door and back again, waiting for the trap to spring around him.

“Get out!” yelled the Doctor.

The Master finally did as he was told, stepping out into a misty forest and letting the doors slam closed behind him.

The Doctor took a deep breath, counted to ten very slowly, and pulled the dematerialisation lever. When he was safely away from wherever he had left the Master he reached into his pocket and took out the phone. No, he thought, I’d better explain this in person. He slipped the phone back into his pocket and set the TARDIS spinning towards Earth.



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