As the last Time Lord in existence (or, rather, one of the last Time Lords; even after a year, he was still getting used to that), the Doctor would be the first to call himself a complete genius. He understood what he considered to be a respectable percentage of the sum of knowledge in the universe. Not much was beyond him, whatever the other remaining Time Lord might have to say to the contrary.
Yet, somehow, he couldn’t quite comprehend how he, the Master and Rose Tyler were going to coexist on the TARDIS without the whole of time and space imploding ten times over.
He hadn’t really thought about the logistics of it when he’d decided the Master would have to stay in the TARDIS. There hadn’t really been any other options, so what would have been the point of over-thinking it? The reality of the situation only really dawned once he’d found himself fixing the mess the Master had made butchering the console room to turn his ship into a paradox machine.
The Master was slouched against the far wall, giving a running commentary on how inept the Doctor’s repair efforts were. Rose, in turn, was defending the Doctor’s intelligence vehemently enough that the Doctor was a little worried the two of them might actually come to physical blows. If they did, the Doctor would put his money – if he actually had any, that was – on Rose, since he had a sneaking suspicion that slapping might be hereditary. Still, even though no violence actually broke out (this time, he couldn’t help but think with a sense of impending dread), the Doctor began to realise precisely what he’d signed himself up for.
It probably wasn’t a sign of good things to come when he found himself thinking that having the Titanic break its way through the TARDIS exterior was pretty much the perfect distraction.
“If you’re going to leave the TARDIS shields down like a particularly dim-witted five year old, couldn’t you at least have the decency to run into something hard enough to get yourself killed?” the Master asked, sounding supremely bored despite having been showered just moments earlier with bits of the colliding ships.
The Doctor merely rolled his eyes and had the TARDIS help him lock the Master away safely while he and Rose went out to explore. Or, well, to find some trouble to get themselves into, really; it wasn’t as if they didn’t know what was coming from the moment they saw the word ‘Titanic’.
The TARDIS seemed to draw great joy from slamming the door of the Master’s makeshift prison cell shut with an extra loud clang. The Doctor could hear the Master’s grumbling from all the way back in the console room. Even more clearly, he heard the Master complain loudly as the TARDIS apparently mildly electrocuted him.
The Doctor, rather than scolding her, stroked the nearest bit of coral, barely stifling his smile.
They were all going to kill each other, no doubt about it. The Doctor thought that if the Master didn’t manage to blow the TARDIS up out of spite, or set the Doctor and Rose up to be killed somehow, the TARDIS might just dump the lot of them off in the middle of a volcano. Even if none of that happened, he thought that Rose might still decide to throttle him for the not-so-brilliant idea of bringing the Master on board in the first place.
He thought he’d probably deserve it, but it would still be a shame. He didn’t want to die. Everything else aside, he really liked this hair. Not to mention the teeth.
There really was no other option, though. He had to keep the Master with him to prevent the universe from being torn apart. And he had to keep Rose with him, otherwise he feared that he might fall apart.
Thankfully, no matter how Rose had eyed the TARDIS door as if she was considering whether she had the upper-body strength necessary to throw the Master out into the Vortex mid-flight, she did seem to understand that it was necessary, at least enough that she hadn’t tried to argue against the Doctor bringing him with them.
For the Master’s part, the Doctor didn’t really care what he thought about it. After everything he’d done, he didn’t get a choice.
After the Titanic rather predictably sank (sort of), the Doctor and Rose headed back to the TARDIS. Even with their joined hands swinging between them in a way that any outsider would undoubtedly describe as ‘jovial’, neither of them was quite able muster a smile as open as they might have shared prior to spending an entire Earth year watching half a planet be destroyed, and then immediately witnessing most of the occupants of the Titanic be thoughtlessly slaughtered, all for the sake of nothing more than power and greed.
The Doctor found that he missed Rose’s outright grin. Perhaps it was his focus on the lack of it that caused him to not see the crossbow bolt that greeted him upon opening the TARDIS door. The stabbing pain and the sudden shortness of breath drew his attention quickly enough, though.
It was just as well that a punctured lung wasn’t enough to really slow him down immediately. He couldn’t even think of going straight to the infirmary to patch himself up, because he had to deal with the Master and dismantle the trap first (and where in the universe had the Master picked up a crossbow, anyway?). Since locking him in a room clearly hadn’t worked, the Doctor had to secure the Master to one of the coral struts in the console room using a particularly complicated (and probably somewhat circulation-inhibiting) knot system. This wouldn’t have been a problem, despite the way the Doctor’s vision blurred and flecks of blood occasionally foamed at the Doctor’s lips as he exhaled. However, he also had to put up with the Master’s seemingly endless stream of suggestive comments about bondage. Rose turned bright red and the Doctor’s fingers fumbled on the rope, subsequently making tying the knots take nearly twice as long as it should have.
Considering the attempt on his life, and with all of the loss of the last year still so fresh in his mind, the Doctor really wasn’t in the mood for any of it. He supposed that might have explained why he was completely unapologetic when he yanked the rope too hard, prompting a pained grunt from the Master.
Once he was satisfied that the Master, no matter how slippery he seemed to be, wasn’t going anywhere for the next few hours at least, the Doctor set off towards the infirmary. Rose looped an arm around his waist and helped him walk. He thought about telling her that if he could manage to spend ten minutes barely swaying on his feet while he’d strapped the Master in place, he could probably manage to stumble across the couple of hundred feet to the infirmary on his own. Then the tips of her fingers stroked his ribcage in a way that made the pain seem slightly less consequential. That certainly wiped all thought of protesting against her touch clear out of his mind.
Later, when he woke splayed across the infirmary cot, his chest still aching but long since healed over, he found that he wasn’t any more inclined to protest against the way Rose had settled onto the tiny bed beside him. Her head rested on his chest just a couple of inches above the bandage he’d applied earlier, as if monitoring the beat of his left heart.
If the crossbow had hit just a few inches higher it would have likely injured that heart beyond repair, and he’d have had to regenerate. Or, he realised with sudden horror, the same would have happened if he’d been a few inches shorter as well. Say, Rose’s height.
The Master was even more of a mathematical genius than the Doctor himself. There was no way he’d make a miscalculation like that. Not about predictable things like angle and thrust and the like, anyway. The only thing he’d been wrong about was the human (and Time Lord) element, as was so often his problem.
The Doctor smoothed Rose’s hair repeatedly, almost compulsively, though he was careful not to apply enough force to wake her. He wanted to watch her sleeping, and safe, for at least a little longer.
He thought that he might bring this up the next time some woman got upset that the Doctor didn’t really practice chivalry, with all the paying for meals and ‘ladies first’ and such that humans seemed to get hung up on. He was going through every single door they came across first from now on, thank you.
Then again, he realised, looking down at Rose’s face, her slumber making her appear even more vulnerable than she usually was, maybe it would be better if he never brought it up. Maybe he just wanted to forget how close he came to losing her. Again.
* * *
“It was your choice to let me out of the TARDIS,” the Master taunted, “so technically whatever happens to her is your fault.”
“I couldn’t exactly leave you in there alone after the last time, could I?” the Doctor growled angrily, his eyes darting around anxiously looking for a clue.
“She’s long gone, you know. Low-life primitives. They’ve probably got her roasting on a spit as we speak. Do you think she’ll taste good? I suppose you wouldn’t know, being an insufferable prude and all.”
“Shut up. I’m thinking.”
The Master laughed. “Most of us can listen and think at the same time.”
“No one,” the Doctor stressed, “could possibly listen to you and think of anything other than how much they’d like to strangle you.”
“So do it, then. I got your girlfriend captured and quite possibly – hopefully – killed. If that isn’t worth regenerating me, I don’t know what is.”
The Doctor shook his head. “You haven’t got Rose killed. Rose has been in far worse situations than this and been just fine.”
“You keep telling yourself that,” the Master said. “I’ll laugh while you cry at her funeral.”
The Doctor, it turned out, was actually the one who had the last laugh. Or rather, Rose was. Somehow, while the Doctor had been dragging the Master all over the jungle looking for her, Rose had managed to convince the locals that she wasn’t an offering, or dinner, or whatever else they’d seemingly had planned for her. When the two of them stumbled into a clearing loudly and obviously enough to draw the attention of the whole crowd of natives – who all turned to the Doctor and the Master and looked as though they were carefully considering just which part of a Time Lord’s body would prove to be the greatest delicacy – it was Rose who saved their hides.
Rose, from high up on her makeshift throne, ordered the natives to let the Doctor go. She jokingly told them that they could still eat the Master if they liked, and then had to stop them from actually doing so when the fine art of sarcasm apparently proved to be over their heads.
“You made them believe you were their queen?” the Doctor whispered when Rose had descended down his side.
“A god, actually,” Rose said.
“Resourceful,” the Master commented.
Rose smiled. “I like to think so.”
It was her resourcefulness, in the end, that allowed them to at least get something of a head start before the natives gave chase upon realising the two intruders were ‘stealing’ their new god.
Even the Master seemed to concede that running for their lives might be a good idea.
* * *
After Rose had casually pointed out that the Master had been mucking around with the purely-for-display phone on the outside of the TARDIS, the Doctor found himself stranded on board the ship for the next several hours. It was taking him longer than he would like to admit to dismantle the bomb that the Master had somehow (in the grand total of twenty seconds in which the Doctor had lost sight of him) made simply by tweaking the existing phone components.
That wouldn’t have been so bad, probably. The Doctor did like tinkering with things, after all. And the bomb was frankly ingenious if one could put aside the psychopathy of making such a thing just for kicks. However, it also meant that the Master was stuck in the console room with him. For hours on end. With Rose hanging about as well.
The Master was even worse than the Doctor himself at sitting still for long.
Rose, not looking up, slapped the Master’s reaching hand away from her face as if it was barely more irritating than a passing insect. The Doctor glared at him from across the console. The Master seemed to enjoy both reactions equally, grinning at them both.
“You should bleach your hair again,” the Master said to Rose for what seemed to the Doctor to be about the twentieth time since he’d initially dragged the other Time Lord onto the TARDIS. The Master seemed to be suspiciously fixated on Rose’s appearance. “People need to be warned about your intelligence levels on sight, I think,” he added cruelly.
“Your wife was a natural blonde, wasn’t she?” Rose shot back, not even looking up from her magazine. “Wouldn’t anyone smarter have you?”
“I don’t know,” the Master said, sounding contemplative. “Would you say that the Doctor is more intelligent than Lucy? I have my doubts, personally. He’s a disgrace to the legacy of our race.”
The Doctor shot the Master a warning look. It took Rose a second to get the implication, which was just about long enough for the Doctor to wipe the guilty look off his face.
“You mean... you...” Rose sounded like she was entreating him to contradict her.
The Doctor was a brilliant liar, of course (or so he liked to believe). Somehow, though, he couldn’t often seem to effectively apply those skills when it came to her.
“Of course not,” he said unconvincingly.
Rose looked stunned. The Master, the Doctor noticed, looked as if this was the best thing that had happened to him since being brought onto the TARDIS against his will.
“Once more with feeling,” the Master goaded.
“Shut up,” the Doctor muttered.
“Don’t worry,” the Master said to Rose. “It’s nothing personal that he’s been with me but not you. What can I say? He just prefers good looks. Ever since that year – you know, the one where I killed off most of your species and owned the rest of it – you’ve really let yourself go. I mean, brownish-ginger hair? Really? Still, I’m sure that given time, you might get up to his standard. Oh, but wait, humans don’t really have time, do you? Your lives are just the blink of an eye to us.”
“Shut up,” the Doctor ordered, sounding much more forceful this time.
“Hit a nerve?” the Master jeered.
Rose shook her head. “I’ve just gotta go do... you know, that thing,” she said.
The Master bared his teeth at the Doctor in a predatory smile as soon as she was out of the room. “They’re a fragile lot. I can’t wait to shatter her.”
The Doctor locked the Master in the most secure room he could find for the rest of the day, and the two days after that. He sat outside the room’s single exit point the whole time, even sending Rose away when she tried to bring him tea. It wasn’t that he didn’t want her company. He always did, no matter how much he might try to push her away sometimes. It was just... having her in the same vicinity as the Master, who would ostensibly live as long as the Doctor would (or perhaps even longer, if the universe was extremely unlucky), reminded him how very short her expected life span was. Especially since the Master kept trying to make that span even shorter still. And especially after the Master purposely gouged his finger into that particular open wound and made the ache of it feel even worse.
Barely an hour after the Doctor had finally let the Master out, shoving him directly into the bathroom, the Master flung the bathroom door open and swept past the Doctor before he could even ask what in Rassilon’s name the other man was wearing on his head. The Doctor followed closely behind, keeping the Master in his direct line of sight at all times.
The Master was never that quiet when he was obviously annoyed, even when he was plotting. The Doctor didn’t think it boded well.
When Rose appeared in the console room, she looked much happier than she had in days. She snatched the thing (a beanie, the Doctor was fairly certain) off the Master’s head before he even noticed that she was behind him. His hair, which was a very different colour than the last time the Doctor had seen it, stuck up in a less than flattering way.
Rose bit her knuckle to stifle her laughter. “I know you said he likes blondes best,” she said, “but me? I’d call that more sort of grey.”
The Master rolled his eyes at her.
“Also?” Rose added. “Your roots are showin’.”
Oddly, the Master still didn’t say a word, not even to complain. The Doctor decided that, based on that evidence, the universe was obviously ending.
Rose looked over at the Doctor. “Oh, and we’re out of lemonade,” she said pointedly. “I knocked the rest of the last bottle over a few days ago. Funny how every single drop made its way into this random bottle of shampoo that was lyin’ around. And straight after someone had gone to the trouble of addin’ a bottle of peroxide to it too! Such a shame.”
She left again, a smile itching to break out across her face. The Master watched her, looking more sort of speculative than angry by then.
The Doctor glared at the Master, who merely gave him an insolent sort of smile once he looked away from Rose’s retreating form long enough to notice the Doctor’s ire.
“What?” he asked. “I figured it would be fitting. I know it’s not the most effective poison, but I had to work with what was available, didn’t I? The only time you let me out of your sight is in the bathroom.”
“Do I have to keep an eye on you in there as well, then?” the Doctor asked.
The Master quirked an eyebrow. “If you’re hoping to take this whole jailor-prisoner fantasy of yours in a different direction, all you have to do is say so.”
“All right,” the Doctor said. “How about this direction? You try to hurt Rose again, I’ll make you wish I’d let one of those people on the Valiant run you through the rest of your regenerations.”
The Master sneered. “Like you could, you bleeding heart.”
They squared off for long enough that the Master must have seen something in the Doctor’s eyes that convinced him, because he broke eye contact and muttered something inaudible even to the Doctor’s sensitive hearing as he threw himself down petulantly into the pilot’s chair beside the console.
Just as well. There were a lot of things the Doctor was willing to put up with in order to keep the Master with him. On the other hand, there was almost nothing he wouldn’t do to keep Rose safe. He’d long since admitted that, at least to himself. He was glad that the Master appeared to know it as well. They’d all likely live a lot longer if they were clear about that one important thing.
* * *
“Do you have anythin’ that detects poisons?” Rose asked, seemingly out of the blue. “I mean, like, all poisons,” she continued. “Anythin’ that you could, say, put into food or drinks that could be deadly to humans.”
The Doctor might have expected a question like this straight after the bleach incident, but it had been several days since then. “Has he threatened you?” he asked.
“Nah,” Rose said blithely. “But then, he never really threatened me all the other times, either, did he? Just thought it’d be a good idea to be prepared.”
The Doctor frowned. “How many times, exactly?” he asked.
Rose shrugged. “Don’t even worry about it. So, you got a poison detector sittin’ around in storage, or what?”
“Something like that might come in handy,” the Doctor admitted, concerned.
Rose, on the other hand, really didn’t seem all that troubled. “Yeah. I mean, don’t worry about it if it’s not too much effort or anythin’. I’m probably just bein’ paranoid, you know?”
Humans had a nice little saying about it not being paranoia if someone was actually out to get you. The Doctor would be the first to admit that humans could be intelligent. Some of them, anyway. Sometimes. Maybe.
He found, after much sorting through the ‘P’ section of his much bigger on the inside storage compartments under the TARDIS console, that he didn’t have anything like what Rose wanted on hand after all. Unless he’d sorted it under another letter and then forgotten about it, obviously, but in that case he’d never find it. That certainly didn’t stop him from building the device in question for her, though. Not once he’d stopped off at an intergalactic marketplace in the 94th century for some of the necessary parts. The Doctor didn’t tell Rose that. It wasn’t a lie that he’d been picking up TARDIS parts, exactly; he’d also picked up a flux capacitator, and if asked he’d swear that he’d actually desperately needed one... for the heating system in the disused hallway three rights, a curving left and two more rights from the Wardrobe Room. Someone might actually need to use that hallway sometime in the next few centuries or so, after all.
Even before he’d finally the device and pressed it into her hands, the Doctor noticed that Rose had taken to constantly wearing a jacket he recognised from the Wardrobe Room. It was one of the few he’d ever bothered to make with pockets that were bigger on the inside. Considering he’d caught a glance of a pair of handcuffs in one pocket (he thought he might give away a whole regeneration to know exactly what she had those for), the Doctor suspected the poison detector was only one of many odd things that she ended up carrying with her at all times. Still, the Doctor supposed he could hardly talk. He still hadn’t found that family of mice he’d had to stow away in his right jacket pocket that one time, after all.
One day Rose strolled into the console room and asked to be taken out for chips.
“Weren’t you baking just a few minutes ago?” the Doctor remarked, already throwing the TARDIS into motion.
“Well, turns out that the food at the moment isn’t especially... edible.”
The way she said it sent alarm bells ringing in the back of the Doctor’s brain. “All right,” he said, drawing the words out uncertainly. “Chips. Sure.”
When the TARDIS landed, Rose stepped outside first, leaving the Doctor alone to glare at the Master.
“Did you try to poison Rose? Again?” he asked the Master darkly.
The Master shrugged. “She looked a little peaky. Thought she could use some Zeroxytonecin to boost her immune system.”
The Doctor clenched his hand into a nearly painfully tight fist. “It’s fatal to humans. The effects are drawn-out, painful and incurable, and you know it.”
A hint of amusement lurked behind the Master’s mildly appalled expression. “Is it? My, that could have been tragic. You really would think I’d have learned more about humans after having to live on their stinking cesspool of a planet for a few years, wouldn’t you?”
The Doctor felt himself growing angrier with every moment that the Master continued to speak. Or breathe, for that matter. No matter how imperative it was that he keep the Master with him, no one threatened Rose.
The Master snorted. “Oh, come on. She was making cutesy little biscuits shaped like bunnies, of all things. Personally, I think she was trying to send you a message about copulating frantically like those disgusting little animals. Could you really expect me to resist doing something about that?
“If Rose hadn’t thought to ask for a device to check for poisons, she’d have died,” the Doctor fumed. “In which case, you’d have quickly followed her.”
The Master didn’t seem at all worried by the threat. “Is that how she knew?” he asked. “Clever little minx.”
The Doctor, who’d been entertaining visions of flying the Master off to find a Grunx the Doctor could feed him to (he’d love to see him try to get out of that maze of slow-digesting organs any time in the next century), stopped in his tracks.
“You’re impressed,” he said, shocked.
The Master sneered. “I’m impressed when the Yerovaxi stand on their hind legs as well,” he fobbed the Doctor off.
“No,” the Doctor said. “You’re really, properly impressed by Rose. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.”
The Master scoffed. “I’m just interested enough to want to dissect her, nothing more,” he said, but the Doctor didn’t buy it for a second.
“Try it and I’ll –”
“I already have,” the Master admitted, looking gleeful. “I nearly got stabbed for my troubles, as well. Interesting how your supposedly peaceful little humans are all so happy to carry weapons about.”
Interesting. That was one word for it, the Doctor thought. Usually he’d have protested, but if it had saved Rose’s life...
“Leave her alone,” the Doctor said. “I’m the one you want to take it out on.”
The Master looked at him like he was being especially stupid. “Have some imagination! Even if the universe did revolve around you and that was my motivation, killing her would be a much better way to rip your already bleeding hearts right out of your chest than just killing you until you ran out of regenerations. Still, that’s not it anyway. She had control of the whole universe and killed off half a million Daleks with a wave of her hand. As much as I think the good Captain is about the most disgusting brand of freak I’ve ever encountered, she also did that. All of that power, and it didn’t kill her. Of course I want to cut into her and study her insides.”
The Master nodded theatrically, looking like one of those odd bobble-headed dolls that inexplicably remained popular throughout the universe for millennia. “Give the man a prize! It’s taken you this long to figure that out?”
“Stay here,” the Doctor ordered, ignoring him.
“Would you like me to lick your boots as well? Or maybe you’d like me to call you ‘Master’?” the Master asked, following with a nearly impossibly deep bow of mock obedience.
The Doctor just glared, shutting the TARDIS door behind him so he could have just a little bit of privacy with Rose (from the Master, at least, if not from the other people on the street around them). Getting away from the Master just for a few minutes would be worth whatever repair work or dismantling of traps the Doctor would have to do as a result of leaving him alone. As long as the Master was on that side of the door and Rose was on this side, the Doctor wasn’t really too worried.
Thankfully, Rose hadn’t wandered too far away. The Doctor held out both hands, sighing as hers slotted into his grasp a few seconds later. Her pulse under his fingertips felt nowhere near as frantic as his own heartsbeat at the thought of how close he’d come yet again to losing her because of his own stupidity.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yeah, fine,” Rose said, sounding for all the universe as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
What had he done to her, that running the risk of losing her life on a daily basis, even in a place that should have been safe – that she should have been able to call ‘home’ – was considered normal?
“I’ll find a way to get rid of him,” the Doctor promised, “Well, maybe lock him up, actually. Or, well... I’ll do something, anyway. I’ll keep him away from you.”
Rose shook her head. “You know it’s not that easy. Anyways, it’s a small price to pay.”
“For what?” the Doctor asked.
“For stayin’ with you,” Rose said. “Don’t look at me like that. I know you’ve been thinkin’ it. You can’t exactly leave him behind – he’d take over half the universe before any of us could blink, probably – so the only other option is leavin’ me behind instead. It’s nice that you want to protect me and all, but I don’t need that kind of help. You don’t get to drop me somewhere for my own good. Not again. I don’t even have anywhere to go this time, anyways.”
The Doctor thought to himself that being back on Earth even without her mother, or Mickey, or even the ability to exist under her current identity (for she’d long since been labelled dead after Canary Wharf), would be better than being killed by a mad Time Lord. By either mad Time Lord, at that. The Doctor thought he was just as likely to put her in danger as the Master, really, regardless of the fact that he didn’t exactly try to do so.
He opened his mouth to say as much, but Rose silenced him before he could even start.
“No,” she said decisively. “Unless you can honestly tell me that even if the Master wasn’t around you wouldn’t want me on the TARDIS anymore, I’m stayin’ with you. End of story.”
The Doctor nodded regretfully, defeated.
When had he let it become her decision? If there was one thing he might have liked to go back and change in his own timeline if it wouldn’t mean the destruction of universes, it was that. Things had been so much easier when his word had been law on the TARDIS. At least, he thought it had been. He could hardly remember a time when she wasn’t mucking around with all of his best plans and intentions and replacing them with something he didn’t even know he wanted. He didn’t want to remember a time like that, when it came right down to it.
“Go on,” she said. “Go track down your evil twin before he blows somethin’ up. I’m not afraid of bein’ near him. Actually, the nearer the better; he’s less likely to be able to try anythin’ when he’s right where we both can see him.”
The Doctor was very careful to be the first one through the TARDIS door, keeping the Master in plain sight. A quick scan with the sonic screwdriver detected some rudimentary pulley system rigged up on the roof of the kitchen, which he dismantled without stopping to figure out what the heck it was supposed to do; he didn’t think he really wanted to know. He vowed to check out the rest of the TARDIS properly before letting Rose anywhere near the inside of it again. The Master’s disappointed look at how quickly the Doctor found his trap was a little too pronounced to be anything other than a ruse to draw attention from the fact that there were still other surprises stashed away somewhere.
“You’re just asking to get more closely acquainted with the air lock,” the Doctor warned.
“Every time you threaten me and don’t follow through,” the Master said, “you seem even more pathetically ineffective. You might want to watch that. Besides, you don’t have an air lock on this thing. Believe me, I checked.”
“I’ll create one,” the Doctor said. “The TARDIS will be happy enough at the idea of being rid of you to oblige, I’m sure.”
The Master merely laughed.
The Doctor tried not to let it get to him.
* * *
The Doctor lost track of the Master for all of one minute. That, however, was one minute too long for his liking. He couldn’t afford stupid mistakes like that when Rose’s safety was on the line.
He found the Master – of all things – handcuffed to a stray pipe in the hallway outside Rose’s room.
They silently regarded each other for a moment.
“Huh,” the Doctor said. “So that’s what the handcuffs are for.”
The Master smirked. “You saw them in her pocket too, did you? I would have thought they were for making you her bitch during your kinky sexcapades, except it’s clearly been far too long since you got any for that to be the case.”
The Doctor ignored him. “What exactly did you do to get yourself locked up?”
The Master looked away. “She’ll tell you if she wants to. Otherwise, I think that’ll just be our little secret.”
The Doctor sighed. “Since when did trying to kill people become the new form of flirting?”
“If it was,” the Master said, “then I’d say it was pretty successful. I got your girlfriend to engage in some hands-on bondage with me. It’s more than you can claim, I think.”
The Doctor said under his breath, “I get tied up with her all the time.” Apparently the Master’s hearing was even better than he’d thought, because he gave the Doctor a mildly impressed look. The Doctor shook his head in frustration, then eyed the handcuffs more closely, sceptical. “You can break out of the most secure room in the TARDIS without blinking an eye, but you can’t get out of a pair of cheap handcuffs?”
“The difference is that I like the handcuffs,” the Master said. “Want to take advantage of me while I’m helpless?”
“You’re never helpless.”
The Master narrowed his eyes, looking suddenly more serious than the Doctor had seen him in a very long time. “No,” he agreed. “I’m not. I think I’ve proved quite nicely that you can’t watch me all of the time. Eventually you slip up and I slip away, always. So maybe you should think more closely about how you treat me when you do have me in your sights, hmm?”
A couple of coordinated jerks of the Master’s wrists and he was handing the now-detached cuffs to the Doctor. “You should tell her how much you like to be tied up,” he said. “At least then the cuffs might be put to some proper use after all.”
The Doctor flushed red, but he followed the Master down the hall anyway. As much as he’d like nothing more than to be as far away from the Master as possible right then, he really would prefer not to let him out of his sight again so soon.
After all, the next time he and Rose had a run-in, the Master might not be in such a good mood.
* * *
The Doctor knew what it was like to have his mind racing, putting together up to twenty-seven different trains of thought to create a single unquantifiably complex conclusion. Now, he also knew what it was like for his mind to go absolutely, horrifyingly blank. Paralysed. Useless.
She wasn’t breathing. All of those times he’d worried about Rose dying, whether it was right at that very minute or in fifty years time, and now that the time had suddenly arrived the Doctor didn’t know what to do, or even what to feel.
“For the love of –”
The Master’s voice interrupted the Doctor’s horrified inaction as he stared at Rose through a cloud of smoke, his respiratory bypass having kicked in without him noticing. The Master swept into Rose’s bedroom and hoisted her off the bed onto the floor, where the smoke was thinner.
The Doctor had no idea that the Master knew how to perform CPR on a human. He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. The Master had, after all, recently spent several years as a politician on 21st century Earth. He’d probably picked up all sorts of things that neither of them would have ever expected him to be bothered with.
As the Master breathed into Rose’s mouth, the Doctor just stood by the door, watching, helpless.
How long had the fire been going? How long since Rose had last breathed on her own? Was there even the slightest chance...
Rose. Oh Rassilon. Rose.
“Fuck,” the Master said after the last compression. He pulled Rose – Rose’s body – off the floor and into what 21st century humans would call a fireman’s hold. He shoved the Doctor out of the way as he hurled himself down the hall. Towards the infirmary, the very small part of the Doctor’s uselessly large brain that was still working realised. As if moving of their own volition, his feet propelled the Doctor after the two of them.
He had to see. Whatever happened, he had to see it for himself.
“Come on you stubborn... little... bitch,” the Master was panting as the Doctor stumbled in. To the Doctor himself, the Master accused, “You call this an infirmary? Nothing in here is useful.”
Apparently, though, a simple set of 26th century defibrillators were actually enough to do the trick, given a couple of bursts. Rose’s breathing was even more laboured than the Master’s once it restarted, but the sight of the autonomous rise and fall of her chest was still just about enough to make the Doctor literally collapse with relief. He gripped the doorway of the infirmary for support.
“And you,” the Master said, rounding on him. “You’re even more useless than this ridiculous room on your scrap yard ship. What were you trying to do, wish her back to life from across the room?”
The Doctor privately agreed. He’d been completely frozen by the sight of his worst nightmare (other than, of course, himself) playing out right in front of his eyes. However, he wasn’t about to admit that to the Master, of all people. And the best defence was a good offence.
“Me?” the Doctor asked. “You’ve been trying to kill her for weeks. What, did you have a sudden attack of conscience after you lit the fire.”
“I don’t have a conscience,” the Master spat. The Doctor couldn’t agree more, and would gladly confess to it this time. He was done trying to pretend that the Master felt anything like guilt or remorse.
“But don’t even think of blaming me for this. Your TARDIS malfunctioned all on its own,” the Master continued. “That’s what happens when you hold the whole thing together with chewing gum and a bit of twine. I had nothing to do with it.”
“This time, maybe,” the Doctor said.
The Master glared at him. “Those other times? Just foreplay, nothing more. If you’d care to recall, it took me only an hour to have a tenth of her whole species killed, with just a few words and time to spare. You really think that if I legitimately wanted her dead she’d still be breathing?”
It was a fair enough question, the Doctor thought. The Master could have killed Rose a thousand times over. They each were well aware of that, underneath the contrived facade that bringing the Master on board the TARDIS wasn’t the most dangerous thing the Doctor had done in the history of ever, which was really saying something. He certainly didn’t need to actively keep her alive. Well, bring her back to life, the Doctor reminded himself, feeling sick at the lingering thought of her lying there not breathing.
Perhaps Rose had never seemed all that worried by the Master’s attempts to kill her precisely because she’d figured out the truth of it long ago; life was little more than a game to the Master, and as long as he found the players interesting he’d want to keep them around, despite any appearances to the contrary.
“Keep an eye on her, if you think you can manage that. And if she stops breathing again, you might want to actually do something about it this time,” the Master said, sweeping angrily out of the room.
Ah, the Doctor thought, guilt. Unlike the Master, that was an emotion he was well acquainted with, even without the Master’s help in driving him deeper into it.
The Doctor sat himself down on a remarkably uncomfortable stool beside the cot Rose was lying on. He waited. And waited.
Oxygen deprivation had far-reaching consequences in humans, he couldn’t help but think hours later when he was still waiting for her to wake up. He shoved the thought violently away. She hadn’t been out long before the Master got there. She just hadn’t. She couldn’t have been.
Except actually the Doctor had no idea how long that fire had been filling her room with smoke.
If she didn’t wake up, alive and whole...
He waited still longer. There was little else to be done, after all.
* * *
When Rose’s eyes opened, the Doctor really couldn’t help himself. Oxygen deprivation or not, he pulled the oxygen mask away from her face and his lips found hers as if on autopilot.
She certainly didn’t seem to mind, all things told.
“Hey,” she greeted weakly when the Doctor pulled away to look at her, then coughed.
“Hi,” he greeted in return. He started chuckling, which devolved into somewhat hysterical laughter.
“Um...” Rose said, looking at him like he’d gone insane. Perhaps he had, at that. Regardless, her expression just made him laugh even harder. “Am I missin’ some joke?” Rose asked. “’Cause this really isn’t exactly my favourite ever reaction to my kissin’ abilities.”
“No,” the Doctor wheezed between laughing. “I’m just... relieved.”
“Relieved?” Rose asked. “That’s not exactly my favourite reaction either. Oh!” Rose suddenly exclaimed, diverted her gaze from the Doctor long enough to look around. “Would you look at that. How’d we get to the infirmary?” Her eyes narrowed. “Did I get hurt? I don’t remember gettin’ hurt.”
“You, well... You kindasortadied,” the Doctor said.
“Oh. That’s... different.” Rose, apparently, was fluent enough in hysterical-Doctor-speak to understand his words. Who knew? The Doctor thought that particular skill might come in handy in future. Thank Rassilon there actually was a future for her, and therefore for him as well.
“Yeah,” the Doctor said, forcing himself to calm down enough to speak coherently. “Let’s keep it that way. Different, I mean. I don’t want this to be a regular thing, all right?”
“Yeah,” Rose breathed. “How...”
“There was a fire,” the Doctor replied. “I don’t know how it started. I thought maybe the Master –”
Rose snorted. “Yeah right,” she said. “He’s a control freak. He wouldn’t start somethin’ wild like a fire, I reckon. Besides, I’ve been in enough life-or-death situations in the last few years to recognise them. The Master hasn’t made any real attempt to kill me since we took him off the Valiant.”
“So he says, too,” the Doctor said thoughtfully. “He saved you, you know. I was just standing there. I didn’t... I couldn’t...”
Rose reached up towards his face, but didn’t quite have the strength for her hand to make it that high. The Doctor grabbed her hand instead, gripping it firmly in his own.
“Yeah, well, who was it who brought him on board?” Rose asked. “So it was still you who saved me, right?”
The Doctor hadn’t really thought about it that way. “Think we should maybe keep him around after all?” he asked.
“Oh please no,” the Master said from the doorway. “The sexual frustration in this ship is going to kill someone far more effectively than my efforts to cure my boredom via half-hearted assassination attempts. I’d rather the eventual fatality not be me. Honestly, drop me off on the nearest uninhabited moon. I’ll wait for the respiratory bypass to falter and then asphyxiate, if it’s all the same to you.”
Rose laughed, though in her weakened state (the Doctor imagined her chest must hurt quite a lot, at the very least) it was more like short puffs of expelled air than the laughter he usually enjoyed hearing so much.
He found that he still liked the sound of it.
“Yeah,” Rose said to the Doctor. “I think we’ll keep him.”
The thump from behind the Doctor sounded suspiciously like the Master’s head banging against the doorframe. The Doctor and Rose shared a conspiratorial smile.