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Deconstruction

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The Doctor, being a genius, has managed to dismantle about a third of the paradox machine. The floor of the console room is covered with grating and metal and wires and there's a distinctly singed smell to the air, but the inner workings of the machine are bared to his view. There's one component that he particularly likes. Originally it was part of a far more complex and subtle system, but at the moment the only way it will function is to mangle and then erase the timeline of anyone tampers with it.

Just now, the Master is chained to it.

His hands are shackled about a foot and a half apart, connected to the device by thin metal rods. There's a similar arrangement around his ankles. It's a beautiful set up; four tiny, delicate loops of wire around one tiny, delicate lever and all together they mean that if the Master wants to continue existing he's going to stay perfectly still until…well, until something else happens. For once, the Doctor isn't thinking about the future. Jack's still around somewhere, but Martha's gone and Jack knows how to wait.

The only thing he's concerned with right now is the Master. He feels magnetized, pulled continually toward his prisoner as he paces the ravaged console room, dismantling the paradox machine layer by tangled layer. The tension between them is practically visible. The Doctor's hands are steady but his hearts are racing and he can't stop checking over his shoulder to make sure that nothing has changed, that the chains are holding the Master to here and now and life outside the Doctor's dreams.

"Honestly, though, you can't keep me here forever," the Master says, unruffled and a little condescending. Never mind the cosmic battles; the two of them could probably talk each other to death this time around.

"Why not?"

"Believe it or not, I will eventually starve to death."

"Who said anything about starving? Not that I'm going to let your hands free, but I'm perfectly capable of feeding you myself."

"Oh, you're going to feed me? How sweet of you."

"Just don't bite."

"No promises, sorry."

"Fair enough. Now be quiet a minute, would you?" The Doctor's wielding the sonic screwdriver in one hand and a sort of miniature welding torch in the other, trying to undo a particularly nasty bit of machinery without disturbing the tangle of wires surrounding it. He's just gotten it properly charged and beginning to melt when the Master speaks.

"I do think biting's my prerogative. I mean, not only have you killed my friends and chained me to what's essentially a temporal bomb, now you have to strip me of my dignity by way of spoon feeding."

The Doctor bites back a curse, so on edge he's practically vibrating.

"Didn't I tell you to shut it? I nearly blew up the TARDIS!"

"They say that's the worst thing you can do to someone," the Master continues, completely ignoring him. "Take away their dignity, that is. Their pride. Their concept of self-worth. Of course, whoever came up with that probably never had burning shards of metal inserted under their fingernails."

"Do you mind?"

"You really aren't very intimidating. If you were going to kill me you'd have done it already. Same goes for torture."

"Master!"

"No, I'm serious. I'll get out of here eventually. You don't know what I have planned, what tricks I have up my sleeve. And do you know what? I don't think you really care."

The Doctor drops his tools back in his pocket and storms around the console, ripping his tie off as he goes.

"Open," he says. The Master raises his eyebrows but keeps his mouth firmly shut until the Doctor reaches for the chain attached to his left wrist. Then he sighs dramatically and opens up.

That really won't keep me quiet. Or had you forgotten? The Master's voice echoes in his head. The Doctor drops the tie, not bothering to hide his triumphant grin. A door once opened, after all, and he shoves forward, gets his psychic foot in it, and drags. The Master resists too late. He throws up walls around his thoughts and feelings but he can't stop the bond from forming, the connection between them snapped taut and shivering.

It's enough. The Doctor takes a deep breath, seizes hold of it, and sends everything through. He pours it all into the Master's mind- the anger, the pain, the grief, Gallifrey burning and the screaming and the silence, the loneliness, the guilt. The Master tenses at the onslaught, finally quiet, but he doesn't stir. The Doctor opens his eyes wanting to scream, having relived it all. It's hard to believe in the existence of the man in front of him.

He gathers the Master to him in a strange embrace, one arm around his back and one tucking his head securely beneath the Doctor's chin. It's the pose of a mother comforting a child, only backwards and desperate and mindful of the chains. The Doctor lets his control go. He has so many senses, so many that he doesn't use because they've had nothing to sense for so long and now he releases them all. He bends his head to the Master's shoulder and breathes him in. It floods his mind, dizzying, intoxicating. It's strange that among all this taste is still his strongest sense this time around, but he doesn't stop to question it because his mouth is already on the Master's neck, halfway between licking and biting.

Clothing is in the way and he pauses, grabbing the Master's shoulder in a bruising grip as he fishes for the sonic screwdriver. There's a setting for fabric and it shears through the suit easily. He shoves it to the ground. The screwdriver leaves red lines like burns on the Master's skin and afterward he's never sure if he intended that.

The Master tastes of soap and sweat and skin, but also of fire and ash and the end of the world. Underneath it all there's something else. It's a bitter tang on the Doctor's tongue, like the taste of copper and of a metal that never existed (not anymore). Artron energy.

He realizes dimly that he's rubbing himself against the Master's thigh in desperate, uneven jerks, but he doesn't really care. He's bending now, biting hard at the skin over the Master's hearts. There's part of him that wants to tear it aside. He wants to hold a heart in each hand, wants to touch and know that they're real. Instead he straightens. His hands map and catalogue every part of the Master's body that mark him as Gallifreyan and he presses closer, takes his head between his hands and tilts it roughly upward. The Master is passive beneath him. He's definitely kissing now, fierce and violent and whispering I'm sorry, I'm so sorry because home is burning behind his eyes, only he must be saying it mentally because he's drawing blood with his teeth and he's arching up hard and coming and the air he chokes on tastes like scorched metal and life.

Afterward his mind doesn't clear, but it quiets. He's still wearing all his clothes (except for the tie, forgotten by their feet) and his hands are fisted so tightly in the Master's hair that the nails bite into his neck. The Doctor lets himself sink forward, idly watching the muscles in the Master's arms flex as he takes the extra weight without moving his hands an inch. He's only doing it to preserve his own life, of course. It doesn't really matter. The Doctor just wants forgiveness; he wants rest; he wants someone else hold him up for a while.