He’d suspected something was wrong for a while, but it was not until the Archbishop approached with the crown that the Master realised just how wrong things were.
He excused himself from the coronation before things could develop any further and, whilst they were still making a fuss, slipped off to where his TARDIS was camouflaged as a grandfather clock in the main corridor. From there it was a small matter to trace the closet equivalent version of the Doctor’s TARDIS, which was parked three years in the past on the planet Balcairn. Not a planet most people relished going to — its people were essentially giant otters in flares and their constant whistling was rather grating for even the sanest visitor - but not far away at all.
There really was no excuse, the Master thought sourly, as he set the co-ordinates and sent the TARDIS spinning into the vortex. What did the Doctor think he was playing at?
At Balcairn, the TARDIS disguised itself as a giant statue of Benny Andersson, several yards away from the Doctor’s absurd police box, which was not so much parked, the Master noted, as abandoned. It leant slightly to one side and the doors swung open invitingly. It could, of course, be a trap, but the Doctor was not well known for entrapment, and so the Master pushed his way past the crowd of Balcairnese gathered around his TARDIS, and through the open doors of the Doctor’s.
The console room was empty, but a quick glance at the main screen told him that the Doctor was two floors down and that his two current pets were in the next room. As he watched, the pair of dots moved out into the corridor.
“…but what’s wrong with him?” the girl’s voice said as she came into audio range. “Haven’t you got any idea?”
“No, I haven’t,” the boy said. “I didn’t even know he could get-”
They turned into the console room and the boy stopped abruptly and the girl said, “Oh no. Not you again.”
The Master smiled and raised a gloved finger to his lips. “I was never here,” he said, and then, just for good measure, stunned them both and locked them in a stasis wardrobe.
He found the Doctor in hat and stripy pajamas wandering around what appeared to be his bedroom. He looked slightly pale, but otherwise perfectly fine, except that he was engaged in a furious argument with the wall.
“Doctor?” the Master said, gently, and then, when the Doctor continued to rant about how he had definitely reached the wicket before the wall bowled him out and it was simply preposterous to suggest otherwise, “Doctor, are you all right?”
“Hmm? Yes, I’m fine, thank you, Celia,” the Doctor said and fainted.
It took the Master three days to nurse him back to health, and the TARDIS heating systems failed on the first. In his own ship, it would have taken the Master less than an hour to fix such a minor problem, but the Doctor had clearly made several modifications to his boiler over the years. After being almost electrocuted twice and actually electrocuted once, the Master decided to leave it to sulk. There was a small battery powered alarm clock on the Doctor's bedside table, which crowed like a rooster at 7am and the Master spent an enjoyable afternoon taking it to pieces and rebuilding it as a rudimentary heater.
The Doctor, meanwhile, spent his time veering between delusion and unconsciousness. His mind was completely locked and, in less forgiving moments, the Master wondered whether he might be adopting this ludicrous invalid pose as a joke. In his less forgiving moments, he also considered fucking the Doctor’s body in payment, but with his mind closed it would just be a body like anyone else’s - sweaty and ill and unresponsive - and, mostly, the Master didn’t think he was that desperate. Mostly. Sometimes his hand started stroking the Doctor’s hair of its own accord, but he put a stop to that as soon as it came to his attention. Sleep-deprivation did funny things to your mind.
He was certainly not at his best after almost seventy-two hours of wakefulness, but there was no mistaking the sudden mess of thought as the Doctor slid back into consciousness. Pleasure and confusion and, yes, a slight tingling of fear, heightened to a deliciously heady level by almost physical contact. He was leaning against the Master’s arm, and, as he woke properly, his mouth moved against the Master’s shirtsleeve, almost like a kiss. Oh yes, the Master thought. It had definitely been worth it.
Carefully, the Doctor peeled his face away from the shirt, leaving behind a rather unpleasant string of saliva. He rubbed his hand across his face and then, frowning, reached out to touch the damp smear left in the silk.
The Master raised his eyebrows, and the Doctor shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” he said, slowly. “I appear to have ruined your shirt.”
“It’s not one of my favourites.”
“What happened to your jacket? Aren’t you cold?”
“You were sick on it,” the Master explained. “About two days ago.”
“That’s quite all right,” the Master said, which was only mostly a lie. “And I’m not cold, so don’t trouble yourself.”
Without getting off the bed, he took the bowl of soup, which had been simmering over the former alarm clock, and pressed it into the Doctor’s hands. “Here. You haven’t eaten anything since I found you. You must be starving.”
The Doctor gave him a rather exasperated look, and, for a moment, the Master thought he was going to refuse, but then he shrugged and smiled and started eating. The Master watched until he’d eaten everything, at which point the Doctor said, “Thank you, that was really… excellent”, and the Master said, “You’re welcome”, and the Doctor said, “So, why are you here?”
The Master frowned and took the bowl away from him. “Don’t pretend to be stupid," he said irritably. "It doesn’t suit you."
“I’m not,” the Doctor said. “I just thought you might want to tell me. I suppose I'm being rather cruel. Look, are you sure you’re not cold?”
“No,” the Master said. “I’m not. Please don’t do that,” but the Doctor had already started pulling the covers away from himself and draping them over the Master’s legs. Then he pushed himself further down the bed until he was lying on his side, which forced the Master to either lie down as well, or leave him with a rather incriminating eye line.
“So,” the Doctor said at last when they were settled, nose to nose, underneath the bright counterpane. “Let’s try again. I’ll start. Thank you, my dear Master, for nursing me back to health.”
Infuriating bastard, the Master thought, and pulled his hand away from where it had wandered onto the Doctor’s hip.
The Doctor smiled and kicked him lightly in the shin. “Your turn,” he prompted.
“Very well,” the Master said. He cleared his throat. “I am about to be crowned high king of all Fenwick. They have that rather useful telepathic gas, if you remember, which, as king, I would, of course, be in control of.”
“Good heavens,” the Doctor said mildly. “Imagine the damage you could do.”
“Unspeakable,” the Master agreed. “Naturally, I expected you'd at least try to stop me before that."
"But then you didn’t turn up for the coronation. Killing thousands of people effortlessly certainly has its attractions, it's not nearly as much fun as killing thousands of people after a tiring struggle with an equal mind. So I went looking for you, in case something had happened.”
The Doctor nodded. “I caught what I thought was a nasty cold in 4th century Agruncible. By the time, I realised it wasn’t, I could barely see, which made landing the TARDIS rather tricky. Where are we, by the way? I never thought to ask.”
“Ah.” The Doctor smiled. “The planet of the Abba loving otters. One of my favourites.”
“Sadly, not one of mine.”
“No, I wouldn’t have thought so,” the Doctor said, fondly.
There was only a short distance between them, and the Doctor leant across it, and kissed him gently, briefly. The Master forced himself to remain still as the Doctor smiled into his mouth and opened his lips, tracing the Master’s teeth with his tongue. He burned with acid, and it was with some considerable regret that the Master pulled away from him.
“Sorry,” the Doctor said, trying and failing not to look hurt. “Sorry. No, of course. I’ve been ill. I must taste dreadful and besides, it’s not as if you even want-”
The Master smiled. “Quite the contrary, I assure you. You don’t and I do, but now you’re better I have a planet to take over.”
“Ah, I see. Business as usual,” the Doctor said. His eyes began to flicker. “You know, you could always just stay here,” he added, his voice pleasantly muffled by the Master’s shoulder. “We could…. Well, I could… attempt to talk you out of,” he yawned, “of world conquest…”
“That sounds delightful,” the Master said, stroking his face gently. “But unfortunately, you’ve just ingested twelve ounces of retcon. I’m surprised you’re still talking now.”
“In the soup?” the Doctor mumbled. He laughed. “I should have known… Slight chalky taste… didn’t want to upset you… but you,” he yawned again, and snuggled closer, “were always an excellent cook, so I assumed…”
His thoughts drifted back into a sleepy haze, but a healthy one with free-flying emotions. The Master leant in and kissed him, rather chastely, on the lips. Then he pushed himself off the bed, picked up his coat and gloves, installed a short-term disruptor in the TARDIS’s navigational circuits, and left.
From somewhere just outside the hall, there came the whirring of localised dematerialisation, and then the Australian girl said, “Well, where are we this time?”
“Sixty-fourth century Fenwick, by the looks of things,” the Doctor said. The Master could almost see him pulling on his hat and looking around in interest at the entrance hall. “Home to the most advanced form of air-born mind-control gas in the known universe and a rather extraordinary blue dessert which they invented in the process. Must have been… yes, about now, actually. Nice place. There seems to be some sort of ceremony going on. Shall we take a look?”
The Master smiled, and turned back to the Archbishop. “Proceed,” he said.