The room was spinning. The Master could tell even after closing his eyes against it. It wasn’t anything to do with his perception--the actual room was twisting in on itself, warping and bending under the strain of extra dimensional forces. The Master could feel the ebb and pull of temporal gravity coursing around and through him, and just as he feared that neither he nor his TARDIS could take any more of the strain, everything blotted out into pitch black.
When the Master woke up, he was shocked to find that he rested in a pair of arms. Someone was cradling him gently, stroking his forehead and whispering something unintelligible but completely soothing. When his eyes were once again able to focus, he was shocked to discover who it was administering this care.
“Doctor?” Not the Doctor as the Master now knew him, but a face he had not seen in decades. The Master tried to shout and jump away from this shadow of his past, but he was too weak, and only managed to twitch and whisper the accusation of title.
“Hush,” the Doctor began gently. “Don’t try to talk, I’m right here.” The soft stroking hands returned. “You are just fine. There was a temporal anomaly, but it seems to have just passed through us. Our TARDISes managed to protect us from the worst of it.”
“Our what-- Doctor you are, you cannot be here. Not as you are--” The Master tried again to sit up, hoping to possibly shake off this torturous delusion. The Doctor, as he had been: young, fair, bright and playful. The last the Master saw this version of the Doctor was through searing flame, as he stood passively by and left the Master to his fate.
Things were different after that. The Master wanted him still-- always, he would never be absolved of that driving need-- but it had all become bitter and hopeless. A line had been crossed and the nature of what they were was forever changed. So after that day, once he had recovered, the Master restrained himself as best he could. No longer sought the Doctor out at every chance. No longer lingered with him for stolen moments of affection when the eyes of the Doctor’s pets were averted. No longer lived in hope that maybe, just once, the Doctor would stay with him instead of going back to them as he always did and--the Master had finally realised--always would.
“Stubborn as ever.” The Doctor from the past smiled down at him, as the Master fell back into his arms after his second attempt to rise and pull out of the Doctor’s hold. “I’ll take that as a sign that you are on the mend but, please, just lie still a little longer.” The Master nodded, only because he had no other choice; his strength was sapped and he was, for the moment, at the mercy of this distorted memory that held him.
The Master tried to speak again and managed to whisper, “What happened?” He could feel himself slipping back into unconsciousness from the effort of trying to sit but he held fast, desperate for some explanation of his situation.
“You pushed me out of the way.” The Doctor had a pained look now, sympathy and love, real honest love as the Master had never seen so openly displayed on the Doctor’s face in countless centuries. “You were an absolute fool. The TARDIS was filling with distortions, tangible whorls in the air. There was one forming near me. I didn’t see it in time to move, but you,” the Doctor smiled again and the Master could see now the strain on the Doctor’s face, the exhausted, worried expression that was just now being eased away by joy and relief, “you put yourself in its path and pushed me clear of it.”
The Master blinked up in confusion while memories began to slot back into place. He remembered the distortions: a side effect from an overly ambitious attempt at building a weapon, one of unparalleled power, attempted by the Time Lords but abandoned as too dangerous to exist. The would-be timonic fusion device had gone horribly wrong all around him, that was true. But everything else was complete fantasy. It was ridiculous, a bold and obvious lie-- and then he felt the Doctor’s lips press against his, just as soft and cool and perfect as he remembered, often, no matter how hard he tried not to.
“You are a perfect idiot. We had no idea what they were; you could have died. If you ever do anything that reckless and foolish again, I’ll do away with you myself.” The Doctor smiled. “Thank you, my love.”
It was too much to process. The Master slipped back into unconsciousness.
The Master awoke on a hard, unforgiving floor. He had just managed to open his eyes when he was assaulted with a barrage of unintelligible questions and a blinding assortment of colours. With effort, he turned his head side to side, looking for the Doctor, but couldn’t find anyone in the TARDIS but a shouting man in a most garish coat.
“Doctor--” he tried, “What have you done with my hu--” The Master found his hoarsely spoken demands summarily ignored as the strange man—with a face that, oddly, struck him immediately as too kind to be so clearly enraged—continued to demand answers from him.
Then he realised what must have happened. The Master panicked as his memory returned and the situation became clear. The Master struggled against his own lack of strength in vain, trying desperately to sit up and help the Doctor. Confusion, anger, memory loss, and lashing out at loved ones; even through the Master’s own confusion he could clearly see the signs of regenerative trauma. This man was the Doctor, his husband. The Master’s world focused down to one simple thought: the Doctor needed his help, and he would not fail him.
With an effort that felt as though it stripped years from his life, the Master managed to sit up. The Doctor was so involved in his ranting lecture that he had hardly noticed the Master or his struggle until the Master reached out and grasped the tail of the Doctor’s coat. The Doctor turned immediately and wrenched it from his hands with a sharp tug.
“I’ll thank you not to paw at my coat,” were the first words the Master could make out clearly. He watched as the Doctor examined where the Master had held the coat with a display of distaste, as though inspecting for contamination.
“Doctor?” the Master asked weakly. He could scarcely believe that this was the Doctor. The commanding presence and bizarre sartorial choices, those were both undeniably his husband, in any from, but the way this man looked at him with nothing but annoyance and disdain that could not be the man he married. The Master’s head reeled again but he fought against the blackness, determined to stay at the Doctor’s side. No matter what else he might be, this was most certainly the Doctor, and no mater how this caustic behaviour stung, the Master he knew it was only a symptom. He was needed now more than ever.
The Master pushed himself to standing, gasping against a horrible wave of nausea that came over him as he did, and took slow measured steps towards the Doctor. The Doctor in turn took a step in retreat for every one the Master progressed until, pressed against a wall, he ran out of room and the Master was able to take the Doctor’s hands into his own.
For a moment the Doctor went still. The Master looked him in the eyes, and where there had been a wall of anger was now just a bare sort of confusion. “Do not be afraid,” the Master tried to comfort him, “I will take care of you, my dear. You need to re--”
The Master could feel the world tilt around him. He reached out to the Doctor to steady himself but in a panic at the sudden move the Doctor pulled away. The Master crashed to the floor and back into blackness.
When the Master awoke he was in a large bed. The sheets beneath him were cool white cotton, a cheerfully striped canopy hung above him and across the room, on a shelf, a large brown toy rabbit stared at him with guileless glassy eyes. It required no very in-depth assessment to determine that this was not his own bed. He tried to sit up and had some success this time. He had just focused on a door in the white roundeled wall when that very door opened as if by his will.
“Oh, you’re awake again, wonderful.” The Doctor brightened instantly on seeing the Master in better health. He came in and set the tea tray he carried at the Master’s bedside. The Master’s head still swam slightly, but the thought of his best enemy nursing him back to health wasn’t too far fetched. After all, he had done much the same himself for the Doctor, some time ago.
What surprised him was when the Doctor sat down on the bed beside him and leaned in to press a kiss against the Master’s temple. The Doctor pulled back with a small, puzzled frown, but the smile quickly returned. “I’m glad to see you’re up,” the Doctor started as he began to pour the tea. “I suspected you just needed rest, but to be completely honest I was starting to get a bit bored for lack of company.” The Doctor mixed in one sugar and pressed the cup and saucer into the Master’s hands. He took it automatically, still feeling too weak to focus on any one of the deluge of questions slipping around in his mind. He sipped his tea, which was prepared just as he liked it, and tried to think what to ask first.
The Doctor mixed an obscene amount of sugar into his own cup and then took a long, satisfying sip. The Master watched the Doctor while he did so. He looked so completely calm; he clearly had no fear or even mild apprehension at the Master’s presence. The Master thought about what the Doctor had said before the Master passed out the second time, the endearments and affection, the delusion that the Master was...
If the thought had been a word, it would have stuck in the Master’s throat. As it was, the thought “husband” lodged itself in some neural pathway, refusing to be properly acknowledged.
“You still look a million light years away.” The Doctor set aside his cup.
“I am disoriented,” the Master answered, now becoming unsure whether he should give away what might be a vulnerability, or an advantage.
“Well, I imagine you are. I was able to run a few scans while you were sleeping, and the magnitude of those distortions is astounding. By rights you should be...” the Doctor looked grave for a moment, just a shadow passing over his bright expression. “Well, you are perfectly fine.”
The Doctor placed his hand on the Master’s thigh. It was a comforting gesture, but the touch lingered. The Master watched the hand in disbelief as the Doctor began to slowly stroke up and down his thigh, starting with a little twitch of the fingers and slowly building until the Doctor was fully petting his leg.
The Master stared at him like a spooked cat. It had been so long since the Doctor had touched him like this; the last time had been not long before his last meeting with the Doctor in this current form. The awful row they had afterwards more or less ended their already tenuous relationship, and the Doctor’s unwillingness to save him from the flames of Sarn, when the Master had stooped so low as to beg for the Doctor’s help, had driven the last nail into the coffin.
The Doctor carried on, obviously unaware of what the Master was thinking. He gave him a suggestive, playful grin. “If you are feeling well enough...” The Doctor’s hand wandered up still further.
The Master’s body was responding to the Doctor’s ministrations without the courtesy of consulting his mind, so the Doctor found the Master as he expected him, hard and ready under his hand.
“You did play the hero very well today, dear, and I’m more than happy to give you your due reward.” The Doctor reddened slightly at his own words. The Master gasped as the Doctor gently squeezed him through the bed covers. Any thoughts of protest, even for the sake of his convalescence, were banished instantly. The Doctor leaned forward and gave a soft kiss to the corner of the Master’s mouth while he continued to stroke him. Pulling away a fraction he whispered against his lips, “Just lay back. I’ll take care of you.”
The Master gasped. The Doctor’s touch was so sure and so precisely as the Master liked; he could not think past the stimulation. The Doctor so close, so affectionate, willing and enthusiastic to please him. He couldn’t do much but whimper and lift his hips up into the sorely needed touch. Another moment and he was shuddering and twitching as he spent himself against the underside of the bed covers.
The Doctor sat back, blinking in surprise. “Oh.” He drew his hand away, a funny little smile on his face. “I had a bit more planned than that.”
The Master looked up at him with fond disdain. “You only have yourself to blame, Doctor,” he chuckled, endorphins neatly shunting his greater concerns to the side for the moment. The Doctor fell into laughing and then kissed the Master again, passionate and bursting with life.
“You are wholly and indefensibly impossible.” The Doctor smiled.
“And you love me...” the Master asked with quiet wonder.
“Of course,” the Doctor replied, automatically. The Master still had no idea how he had come to be here, what any of this meant, or if it would last, but he knew one thing absolutely for certain: whatever had happened before, now that he had the Doctor, he was going to do anything necessary to keep him.
“And I love you, my dear husband,” the Master tried, the words feeling awkward in his mouth.
“Good, I should hope so. Now, you should rest.”
And he did—over-warm, sticky and confused, but blissfully happy.
The Master awoke on the floor, again. The first thing he was aware of was a pain in his shoulders and back. His arms had been twisted back at an odd angle while he slept and tied together at the wrists. As he began to recall what had happened, he panicked. The Doctor was clearly in desperate need of his help. He strained against the restraints with all his strength but was unable to free himself. Once exhausted from the effort he fell back against the wall, caught his breath and tried again.
After repeating this process an embarrassing number of times, the Master finally gave up for good and tried to formulate some better plan. He was woefully lacking in resources. The Doctor had apparently hauled him into an empty storage cupboard while he slept, emptied his pockets and left him alone. The Master was left with little recourse.
“Doctor!” he called out. There was no response. “Doctor!” he tried again, and waited. He could only hope that his husband would make it through his regeneration alone and at some point recover him from the cupboard. Before he had time to dwell on how depressingly pathetic his current situation was, he heard someone on the other side of the door working the lock.
“Are you all right? Doctor, are you hurt?” the Master asked, immediately sitting up and struggling to his feet when the Doctor opened the door so he could look his husband over for any sign of injury.
“I-- What? No, I’m perfectly fine,” The Doctor looked down at the Master incredulously. For a moment the Master had hoped the Doctor would have recovered in the interim, but the Doctor remained in the doorway, making no move to release him and certainly not to apologise. “I, however, can’t help but wonder what is wrong with you . And, more pressingly, how you managed to appear in my TARDIS while she was mid-flight in the vortex. What precisely is your game this time, Master?”
The Doctor seemed lucid and didn’t look to be in any physical danger, but his memory was obviously damaged, and he seemed unusually hostile. The Master despaired. Clearly, it had been too much to hope that things would resolve themselves while he slept.
“Doctor,” he tried gently. “I mean you no harm. You must know this. I know that you are frightened. Confused. But I want to help you.”
“No harm? Don’t be ridiculous,” the Doctor blustered. “I’m certain you just dropped by to catch up, is that it, hmm? Maybe take some tea? Spare me. If you are here, it’s not out of any sort of altruism, so out with it. What did you do to cause the spacio-temporal distortions?”
The Master slumped back against the wall and took a deep breath, reminding himself that the Doctor couldn’t help this. He didn’t know what he was saying. The regeneration must have been particularly traumatic to have caused this much distress. The Master took a deep breath and focused on being happy that his husband was alive at all.
“Doctor.” The Master looked the Doctor in the eyes and spoke evenly. “You know that isn’t true and so do I. I need you to remember for me, please, Doctor? Simply do this thing for me? Remember us together. The Eye of Orion, Helicon Prime, the Babylonian gardens. You must remember for me, my love.”
“Stop it.” The Doctor looked to have been lulled for a moment but snapped away quickly, retreating from the Master. “Your feeble attempts at hypnotism are a waste of time and I am not your love, I haven’t been for some time, if I ever was at all.” He added the last rather petulantly, clearly bothered by the notion. “If you think you can deceive me as you used to, assuage me with gilded promises and little lies, I am afraid you have another thing coming, Master. I’m not the feckless little milquetoast I used to be.”
The Doctor crossed his arms over his chest and looked down his nose at the Master, who was reaching the end of his patience. Madness was one thing, but this was becoming entirely another. “I’d never lie to you,” the Master hissed through his teeth.
“Marvellous. Pull the other one,” the Doctor replied glibly, caring little for the Master’s visible frustration.
The Master glared at him. “Not concerning anything this serious, and never if you are hurt or in danger.”
“As you like,” the Doctor dismissed, with a wave of his hand. “But your newly-found honour and good will towards others still doesn't explain what you are doing here.”
“I’m here because I am your husband, Doctor. ” the Master gave an emphases to the title that he hadn’t used in some time. The sound of it surprised him and he forced himself to be calm. “I understand that you are not yourself, the things you say are a product of delusion, but know that you have hurt me. I believed that you learned to trust me but it seems I’ve not earned even as much confidence as you always showed your human pets. I don’t recall you ever locking any of them in a cupboard, regenerative crisis or no.”
The Doctor goggled. Stunned silent, he simply stared at the Master as though he had grown a second head. “You’ve gone mad.” He finally managed after a moment. “More so. You’ve gone more mad than before!” the Doctor proclaimed, pointing an accusing finger at the Master and started backing out of the room into the corridor.
“Wait!” The Master called out after him, only to have the door shut in his face as he tried to follow. The Master slumped down to the floor and laid back against the wall, feeling more stupid and helpless than ever before.
The Master wandered through lengths of white-on-white corridor with little aim in mind. He had risen from his sleep alone, feeling mostly recovered, and after a shower and change of clothes-- he had found several sets in the wardrobe that were, by cut and colour, obviously for him-- he had taken to trying to clear his head. Reason had replaced hope, and he was certain this had to be some sort of deception. With his faculties collected, he was now set on learning how he had arrived here. No less pressing was the question of how the Doctor appeared to have regressed a regeneration and gone mad, albeit pleasantly so, in the process.
The Doctor had left him free reign of the TARDIS; nothing was barred to him. He opened doors to laboratories of any sort he could wish for (some of which looked startlingly similar to his own facilities), a cheerful springtime garden in bloom, an ancient Earth cinema, a country cricket pitch in late summer, and finally a study decorated in dark polished wood and brocade velvet that felt like nothing so much as his.
He moved into the room, still cautious. It all still felt a bit like a dream, no matter how tangible everything around him was. He examined books on a wall of shelves and was shocked to find that they were all his, truly his, his own books from his TARDIS. He tilled one from its place with a single finger and pulled it out to hold in his hands. A History of Draconian Warfare was embossed, gold on green leather, on the spine and again on the cover. He’d had this book for regenerations. He would know it as well as anything, as well as his own--
It was only then that he became aware of her. He didn’t know how he could have missed her, even in this delirious state. He could feel his own TARDIS all around him, her presence reverberating gently in his mind. But she was different, transformed-- no, combined. His TARDIS and the Doctor’s had bonded, intertwined themselves together in a multi-dimensional embrace; they were now one cohesive unit.
The Master sat in a chair close at hand, the gravity of his situation finally coming home to him in full. Something had changed-- no, nearly everything had changed. Not only the Doctor but their TARDISes as well. He could believe any number of explanations for Doctor’s state; duplicates of many kinds were easy enough to come by, as he had good cause to know. Minds could be altered, as could forms. The Master had even heard of rare cases of Time Lords regenerating back into earlier forms. Any of these could have explained away the Doctor’s state, but the TARDISes could not be so easily waved away. They were not creatures to be replicated or coerced, and the fact that the TARDISes were bonded together gave almost complete credibility to the Doctor’s claims that he and the Master were as well.
On the table at the Master’s side sat two more books and a data pad. One book was little more than a pamphlet, a paper on some genetics study. The other was a well-loved hardback of fairy stories with a note attached, nearly illegible angles and circles that read : I think you’d rather like this, it’s quite grim (pun intended) . The Master turned on the data pad, pressing a thumb to small gel pad on the back. He thought of that Traken courtyard he could never quite shake the memory of, and the thing came to life with a dull blue glow. Same passcode, he thought, not terribly surprised at it in light of everything else.
His finger moved across the pad bringing up files, logs that he skimmed and found to be mostly recordings of experiments and research notes. It was much as he would have expected to find. Then he started looking at the notes more closely:
Narrowly escaped another catastrophe with life and limbs intact, I’ve all but given up attempts to instill any sort of caution in that man. Level of involvement with indigenous life far out of acceptable limits for such a hostile environment. Still, he revels in it all, and I don’t have it in me to deny him anything. Recovered inconclusive but fascinating findings from samples obtained--
A long chart of biodata followed.
The closer he looked at his own notes the more he found them littered with remarks of affection and exasperation. Chronology in such comparative maters was difficult but not impossible to orient oneself by, with the aid of a TARDIS. With some calculations he produced corespondent dates for points in time.
The last time that he should have seen the face of his alleged husband had no corresponding entry. The next one to follow was a note of complaint over lack of progress. The one before contained what looked like holiday plains, coordinates for a place called Helicon Prime.
He went back further, found plans for a ceremony, everything as meticulously documented as any of his bids for galactic conquest. The Master set down the pad and drew in a deep breath. This was impossible.
But experience had taught the Master that few things were truly impossible. Especially where the Doctor was concerned.
It had to be the experiment he was working on. Something he had done had rent time and space apart, and he’d come to be here. Or here had become around him. There had to be a point of divergence, he reasoned, and too much was the same between the two realities for it to have been more that a few major causal nodes back his timeline.
The Master began to go back further, trying to find a time where his memories and the logs of his other self aligned. He read through picnics and cricket games, trips to fine austere alien courts and advanced laboratories where marvels were being discovered, missteps into war zones and the occasional catastrophe, but not near so many of the last as he would have imagined.
Finally he found it:
Awoke in the care of the Doctor after being called to his aid by the Council. Surprised to find the TARDIS empty of his pets. A tentative truce seams to have been formed, dare I hope an alliance? I have to admit, I had been growing weary of the situation as it stood. This concession may be late but it feels as thought it might have been what was most needed. Perhaps he has been having the same thoughts as I--
The Master was startled away from the pad by the sound of the door. Looking up, he found the Doctor standing in the doorway.
“There you are,” the Doctor announced and walked into the room. The Master quickly shut off the data pad and set it aside. The Master couldn’t help but stare at him, just standing there as thought this was all the most normal thing in the universe--and to this Doctor, he now realized, it was.
“Yes, my dear,” the Master finally answered, when he realised the Doctor was perplexed by being gaped at.
“We’ve materialised,” the Doctor said, in a frustratingly unreadable tone.
“Have we?” he offered in hope.
“Yes...” The Doctor eyed him oddly for a moment. “There was a disruption, residual distortion waves in the vortex. I thought it would be safer to land than to try to pilot through, especially after the last bit of excitement.”
“Let’s have a look at the scanner then, shall we?” The Master was still cautious but gaining confidence in the ruse. He took a moment, stood and then nodded enthusiastically.
“Are you sure you’re well enough? I’m still uncertain as to what caused the distortions to begin with, I think I would feel much better knowing--” The Master walked over to the Doctor and seized him into a kiss, strong and possessive. He didn’t let him up for air until the Doctor had all but melted against him.
“Very certain.” The Master grinned as the Doctor gasped for breath on release. “I can see no point in waisting our time on an incidental anomaly.”
“I-- well, I suppose if you insist.” The Doctor stammered a bit, touching a finger to his own flushed lips. “But I thought you would be more interested in this.”
“And snatch from you the opportunity to bound out and explore a new world? Perish the thought, my love.” The Master grinned. “Shall we?”
“You are certain that you are feeling well? I haven’t even told you where we are.” The Doctor eyed the Master and the arm he had proffered curiously, but finally shrugged. “I won’t argue, but just promise you’ll not over overexert yourself.”
“Do not worry your precious head over it, my love.”
“Right...” The Doctor looked him over once more, shook his head and turned to head for the console room, leaving the Master to follow.
The opening of the door surprised the Master. When a far calmer Doctor stood in the doorway he was even more shocked, but didn’t allow himself to hope that this had all been resolved. “Doctor,” he nodded, and stood with as much grace and dignity as was possible for a Time Lord with his arms bound behind his back.
“Master.” The Doctor looked at him for a moment then sighed with great drama. “The simple fact is, I cannot keep you captive in here forever.”
“That is encouraging to hear.” The Master received a warning look, but the Doctor carried on.
“If you can be reasonable I might be convinced to untie you. I...” The Doctor looked reluctant. “I’m afraid I might need your assistance.”
“I assure you, my dear, I can be a picture of proper conduct when it suits me.”
“As I know too well.”
The Master turned his back to present his wrists and the Doctor made quick work of them. Once the Master was free, he turned and looked the Doctor over properly for the first time since his regeneration. Certainly a change, he thought, and automatically reached out to touch the soft-looking curls that now crowned his husband’s head. The Doctor flinched away.
“None of that,” the Doctor warned.
“Very well, Doctor.” The Master swallowed back a number of unpleasant emotions that surged up from the rebuff. “How shall we proceed?” The Master had calmed since their last meeting. For how insulted he was by the Doctor’s behaviour, he knew little could be done about it with his husband in this state. One thing at a time, he reminded himself. Once everything was set to rights, he could see that the Doctor spent the rest of this colourful regeneration apologising to him.
“How indeed.” The Doctor was visibly uneasy. He seemed terribly simple to read in this regeneration, and his body language was screaming that he didn’t have much more of a grasp on the situation than the Master did. It wasn’t hard to imagine why; wandering around in post-regenerative delirium trying to make sense of the expansive holes in his memory was hardly the most productive state.
“Why don’t we start with the facts? Tell me what you know of the situation...” The Master tried in his gentlest tone. The Doctor watched with caution, like he was looking for the trap for which he’d just seen the bait.
“Reasonable,” he finally answered. “I had just left my friend on Trellus III. She had requested some time alone and I myself was pleased for some personal time...” Even in the grave situation, the Master failed to suppressed a chuckle at that.
“Yes, Master? Did you have something to add?”
“Not at all, Doctor.” He raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll have you know that like most great thinkers I am my own best company. It is only in solitude that one might true...”
“Yes, yes of course, dear. You are an island unto yourself. Please continue.”
The Doctor looked properly mollified and carried on. “Yes, where was I, Ah. I had left Peri for her holiday and was going to the library to see if I couldn’t finally tackle Remembrance of Things Past when the TARDIS was assaulted by some manner of distortion wave. There was a massive fluctuation in the vortex, spacio-temporal disturbances, and then when the dust had settled I found you laid out on the console room floor, delirious and babbling.”
“You were unable to discern the source of the disturbances?”
“Frankly, I had assumed it was you. That’s why you are here and not hauled off onto the closest planet I could find.”
“Charming.” The Master frowned and the Doctor bristled.
“You should be grateful I didn’t send you back to Gallifrey.”
“I suppose I should be,” he conceded through a grimace. “Now may I tell you what I know, Doctor?”
“By all means. I have certainly been anxious for some manner of explanation.”
“I’m afraid that you may not believe the answer, but I can assure you that I am being truthful.” The Doctor rolled his eyes, but the Master carried on. “As I recall we, that is you and I, where en route to Alexandra IV after yet another little robotic summons regarding your outstanding book loans. We encountered distortion similar to that which you described. The TARDIS was filled with them. I attempted to push you out of the way of one and it hit me. I was knocked unconscious. I awoke to find you in this new body, in the throes of regenerative confusion.”
The Doctor listened patiently until the last, at which he protested, “Regenerative confusion... You think that I regenerated?” The Doctor seemed to suddenly interrupt and correct himself. “Of course, yes, I have regenerated, but we have encountered each other since then. You were cavorting with Ushas and wanted me dead at the hands of Luddites. That’s not the sort of thing one forgets.”
Each Time Lord looked at the other for a long moment. The Doctor seemed lucid, rational and not at all infirm-- yet still his memory was wildly incorrect. The Master wondered if it could be the distortions somehow twisting the Doctor’s recollection or if the damage done during his traumatic regeneration might be permanent. That prospect terrified him. But before he could dwell on it, the Doctor spoke again.
“Well, it seems we have some rather large discrepancies in our memories. But as far as deceptions go, I think that even you are capable with coming up with something a fair sight more plausible than that.” The Doctor lost a degree of his energy and gained a genuinely sympathetic tone. “You honestly do believe this, don’t you?” He put a cautious hand on the Master’s shoulder.
“It is what I know to be true.” He sighed at the contact but thought it best to make no move himself.
“And when you said, we, us, together, you are under the impression...”
“That we are bonded, married. Happily so, I’ve always believed.” The Doctor gave the Master a most heartsbreaking look, but it quickly faded, giving way to something more determined.
“And you know I have no recollection of this. To me, my regeneration occurred years ago and you and I, we’ve not had anything like that sort of relationship for some time.”
“So one of us in incorrect.” The Master for the first time genuinely considered, honestly feared, that the person in question might be him. Nothing had felt right here from the moment he awoke. Not only the Doctor but the TARDIS herself, and it was herself--singular--because he realised now that he could not feel his own with in the walls.
“Perhaps,” the Doctor continued thoughtfully, “however it seems that we both have full and accurate memories of our pasts, two different pasts, with a starkly different you and me.”
“Two. Two of an infinite possible number, with major temporal events creating fully realised tangents...” the Master wondered aloud.
“First semester linear theory. Divergent time lines. Do you think that...” The Doctor became animated as realisation dawned. The Master’s thoughts were right on his heels. It seemed perfectly clear. Nothing was right here because here was not where he was meant to be.
“The simplest answer is almost always the correct one,” the Master returned, equally excited at the prospect that somewhere the Doctor, his Doctor, was safe and sound.
“The simplest answer is that one of us is lying, or mad.” The Doctor raised an eyebrow. The Master couldn’t judge how serious he was.
“Nether of us are lying. There would be no point to it, nothing to be gained,” the Master asserted.
The Doctor eyed him for a moment, “A reasoned argument. I note you don’t discount madness.”
“As I am attempting to gain your trust I would think so bold a lie as to claim that neither of us are mad would be a clear misstep.” The Master smiled.
The Doctor laughed and then nodded taking on a more business-like tone. “We need to discover the source of the distortions. It can’t be a coincidence that they are the one point where our experiences coincide. They are mostly likely the key to whatever has caused this.”
“Agreed. Let’s have a look at the scans you’ve conducted so far.” For just a moment, even though he might be universe away, the Master felt as though he had his husband back.
“Would you mind not pacing? You are starting to make me dizzy.” The Doctor looked up at the Master from over his spectacles for a moment, and then returned to the bit of circuit board that he had pulled out of the wall. He had been prodding it with an unfurled paper clip and a bit of foil for roughly an hour, pointedly not speaking to the Master as he worked.
Given the fact that he was responsible for landing them in this far-from-charming prison cell, the Master couldn’t say he entirely blamed the Doctor for his silence.
The Doctor and Master of this universe, it seemed, had something of a rhythm, a sympathy and understanding of the way the other worked. This generally allowed them to waltz through their adventures together rather elegantly. Only now the rhythm was off, and the Master had spent the last day or so tripping and stepping on the Doctor’s feet.
The planet of Carsteus didn’t take very kindly to visitors, and they had managed to get captured with little effort on their part. Only when the Master had let slip, in the form of an offended boast, that they were Time Lords (and thus should not be treated in this disgraceful manner) had the natives changed their plans from simple imprisonment to burning both them and their TARDIS at dawn for the perceived crimes of their people.
An escape attempt had been made, but blundered, and now they sat again in their cell. The Master watched the sky grow lighter through a little barred window while the Doctor worked away on the next attempt, refusing any help from the Master, with whom he had grown increasingly cross over the course of their adventure.
Suddenly there was a flash from the corner where the Doctor sat. The Master turned to see the Doctor nursing a burnt finger and looking all but overcome with frustration. “Blast it all!” the Doctor shouted, exhausted and at the end of his tether. He immediately cringed at the volume of his own voice. “I’m sorry,” he sighed, “I just don’t know if I have enough time to do this. And with the increased guard patrol after the last attempt I’m interrupted every few minutes.”
“Doctor,” the Master had walked to his side and knelt down beside him, “calm yourself.” The Master was unused to seeing the Doctor like this, at anything but his confident best even when he was in hopeless situations or had only half his wits about him. He recalled this regeneration having a gentleness to it that the others did not, but this open vulnerability was unnerving. “Let me help you.” He put a hand over the Doctor’s injured one. “Please.”
The Doctor looked up, clearly scrutinising him, but nodded and handed the Master his project.
“I still don’t know what you were thinking,” the Doctor offered from beside the Master as he began to look over the Doctor’s patch job. ”Pulling the tissue compression eliminator on that guard. Why have you even brought that? I thought you’d had it in mothballs for years. I know that the accident was traumatic, but I can’t begin to understand what has happened to you.”
The Master ignored him, choosing to focus on carrying on the job of trying to disable the security network. The deception was not going much like the Master had planed. He was more than accustomed to filling in a role, stepping into the shoes of another person and reading cues to know what to say or do in any situation to keep all around him fooled. This should have been simple; he was only impersonating himself, and the person he was fooling was one he knew better than any other. He had imagined that he would have this domesticated Doctor wrapped around his--well finger, if nothing else--in no time at all.
Instead he found himself skittish, unable to predict the Doctor’s responses. In some instances he received unexpected kindness and sympathy where he expected anger, in others annoyance where he was certain his words should have pleased.
“Master,” the Doctor began delicately, “your memory...” The Master continued to work.
“It is still somewhat fragmented, yes.” The Master could sense the Doctor’s unease.
“And there is far more missing than you let on, is there not?”
“I... I’m uncertain.” The Master pulled away, drawing in on himself. He could feel the Doctor’s doubt, a growing mistrust that left him felling hollow. A sudden sinking in his chest made it difficult to think. He focused on the circuit board in his hands. ”I’m certain that I will recover fully in time,” he bit defensively. “My love,” he tacked on hastily after.
The Doctor looked confused, slightly hurt, but most annoyed, and shook his head. “Your mind is completely closed.” He let the accusation hang starkly.
The Master’s eyes went wide. Of course, if they had married they would have formed an empathetic bond. The low level psychic connection would have tied them together, given each of them easy access to the other’s mind.
The Doctor had carried on giving him the benefit of the doubt (perhaps even catering to his pride), not questioning the lack of connection that he must have eventually become aware of during their time on this planet. All the Doctor’s mixed signals and obvious frustration with him suddenly made sense when he realized that the Doctor must have been sending him countless little empathic messages that his typical defences were deflecting without a thought. The Master suddenly became aware that he had said nothing in some time, and the Doctor was now starring at him with decreasing patience.
“Doctor, I... I fear there must be more damage than I let on,” he began weakly, confidence in his deception all but destroyed. “I did not wish to worry you further than was absolutely necessary, my dear.” The Doctor’s expression was still wary as he moved to place his hand over the Master’s.
The Master jerked hands away and the Doctor’s expression darkened again. “You’re being ridiculous. I can help you if you just let me in, it should be simple for me to mend at least some of the damage.”
“I do not need you help, Doctor. I must to focus on this task now, as it is clearly beyond you. I must save us both. Now, leave me to my work.” The Master dismissed him angrily, hoping the Doctor might go curl up in the corner to sulk and let him concentrate on freeing them from this cell.
“I am going to assume, rather generously might I add, that this is a result of some manner of trauma, because let me assure you that being completely out of your head is the only thing resembling an excuse for you speaking to me that way.” The Doctor took a steadying breath. “We can find another way to escape, we always do. What is important is that I make certain you are well. Master, I can’t trust you like this.”
The Doctor moved again to make contact with him and the Master shoved him away with a hand to the chest, sending him sprawling backwards from where he had been precariously sitting on his heels. “Stop this at once, Doctor. I’ll have no more of it. I am your husband and you will obey me,” he commanded and then regretted the words as soon as he saw the look of shock and rage on the Doctor’s face.
“There is a small problem with that Master,” the Doctor replied, with chilled venom, from where he had landed on the hard prison floor. “You are not my husband.”
There was a crash, the circuit board sparked in the Master’s hand, and an explosion sounded in the distance. In an instant the prison fell in to darkness. The Master could hear the Doctor get to his feet, then a click of the gate opening. He followed the sound in the near pitch blackness and reached the Doctor with an outstretched hand. The Doctor shuddered under the touch.
“My love, don’t be...”
“Stop it.” The Master could hear the revulsion in his voice. “We don’t have time for this now,” he commanded, and snatched the Master’s hand up at the wrist, pulling him along. “We can discuss it in the TARDIS.”
The Doctor and the Master gathered close together over the monitor in the console room, looking for all the world like a pair of conspiring school boys, until one burst away from the little huddle.
“That’s not possible!” the Doctor fumed, actually cross with the numbers on the screen for not behaving at he wished.
“No, it’s unlikely,” the Master corrected, “but based on Pailox’s research on temporal catalyst instability in anti-looping fields it should technically be possible.”
“That paper was rubbish and Pailox is a first rate hack--who happens to owe me ten pounds and a pork pie,” the Doctor asserted, crossing his arms over his chest and standing straight as a board. “The destructive force needed to generate these sorts of results is simply staggering. That level of power should not exist in this or any other universe. I’d bet another pie on it.”
“Unless it happens to be something that theoretically can’t exist,” the Master offered dryly, though faintly amused by the Doctor’s outlandish conduct.
“What are you getting at?” the Doctor’s annoyance failed to mask his intrigue.
“There were experiments on Gallifrey. Very dangerous ones, even by the dubious standards of the Time Lord academics. I could never specifically track down any solid information on them, but it had something to do with a planet, Minyos. At the time I discovered the discrepancies between the reports and the actual evidence left behind after the planet’s destruction, I had at one point...” The Master chose his words with care. “...more of an active interest in what it was that had caused the destruction, but as time went on it became more of an academic puzzle. I never lost my curiosity over the matter.”
“An active interest?” the Doctor accused mockingly.
“Long since past, my dear, nothing you need trouble yourself over,” he smiled with unending charm. “But what if, perhaps, in some divergent timeline in close proximity to ours, the experiments were continued, and managed to damage the surrounding realities? With the ebb and flow of realities attempting to heal themselves, this other Master and myself might have been transposed.”
The Doctor mulled the theory over for a moment or two, “That doesn't quite add up. The distortions should be centered around the elements that created it, and they seem to be focused on...” The Doctor snapped his head up and looked at the Master, pointed his finger at him sharply. “I was right!” he proclaimed with great volume. “I knew it was your fault!”
“I haven’t done a thing!” the Master shouted, positively offended at the accusation.
“Perhaps not you, exactly, but while you were in your universe with your ‘academic interest,’ another you was out there working to earn his girl guide badge in temporal apocalypse!”
The Master was unamused, and not wholly certain what a girl guide was, but he had to admit that the Doctor had a point. He had planned to carry out practical experiments when he found more data.
“If we assume that you are right--”
“I think that we safely can.”
The Master sighed and continued, too hopeful to be deterred. “Then we might be able determine the transdimensional coordinates of the other universe from the data on the disturbances and return me to my home.”
The Doctor looked impressed for a moment, but then countered, “For all the good it would do us. I can hardly fly the TARDIS through the fabric of space-time to pop out the other side on a whim.”
“You can hardly fly the TARDIS in a straight li...” The Master spoke automatically, but cut himself short seeing the look on the Doctor’s face. Comical as it was, it was far from productive. “Could there have been a rip, a breach of some sort that we could travel through?”
“No, I doubt it. If there was we would still be experiencing the disturbances. Whatever the other you did, he closed the door behind him.” The Doctor’s face grew tight with concentration. The Master watched him, thinking of his of Doctor. He was worried, and not unduly, he thought. His husband was capable, brilliant and almost infuriatingly lucky, but this was different. It was himself, the Master, in a worst-case scenario, without the Doctor at his side, and he couldn’t say that he had any idea what this other him would be capable of.
Suddenly something occurred to the Master. The pair had been so focused on the technical end of the matter that he had only now thought to ask the most obvious question.
“What happened between you the two of you?” he asked plainly.
The Doctor looked disquieted for a moment but laughed, though not convincingly. “Oh nothing at all, Peri simply has something of a delicate nature, though she would never admit to it. She’s never been quite the same after Erimem...” The Doctor trailed off unable to bear up under the Master’s increasingly annoyed glare. “You, of course, meant the Master relative to this universe and myself.”
“I certainly didn’t mean one of you pets.” he answered sharply.
“We had a row,” the Doctor said dismissively after a long pause. He turned away, signaling the matter close but the Master chuckled behind him, drawing his attention back.
“That’s hardly enough to alter a timeline. We certainly do it often enough in our universe,” the Master joked. The Doctor looked serious, however, so he schooled his expression to match.
“Are you certain that you want to know?”
“I inhabit a different reality, Doctor. There is no danger to the timeline.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know. And yes, I do.”
The Doctor took a long moment to compose himself and order his thoughts. The Master waited patiently, saying nothing.
“I...” he paused. For a moment the Master thought he might refuse to tell him, but the Doctor continued gravely, “I made a mistake. I let him get hurt. I thought he had died, because of me. In the end it was easier for me to tell myself that I had made a choice. That I made some magnanimous moral decision, putting the good of the universe ahead of my own personal desires. But the fact is, I just made a mistake. I didn’t realise that he really needed my help until it was too late.”
“I see.” He didn’t, but this was not the time to press for details. “But there is still another of myself in this universe?”
“Yes, you showed up again. You always do manage to.” The Doctor smiled, but with little joy. “It was such a long time until I saw him again. It seemed simpler to just be enemies instead of... whatever it was we were before.”
“Doctor...” The Master frowned, unable to decipher how exactly he felt about it all. He wished to comfort the man in front of him, so much like his husband but so clearly not, but he was held back; he felt a sense of repulsion for everything in this universe, a time and place where he and the Doctor became more estranged than they had ever been, unable to connect even briefly. The idea of another him, one driven further down that road to chaos and madness from which the Doctor had been his reprieve, left him unsettled.
Further still, he now had a better idea of exactly how dangerous this other him--a self devoid of any but painful lingering shards of hope--would be. He had to get back to his universe as soon as possible, if, he pondered with horror, it was even possible at all.
While the Master fretted, the Doctor had returned to the numbers on the screen. “Hopefully,” he offered, not at all in the spirit that the Master had begun to think was normal for him, “ it will be nothing that you need to worry about, once I get you home.” There was something implacable in the Doctor’s eyes that the Master didn’t wish to dwell on.
Back inside the TARDIS the Master felt anything but safe.
“What are you? And please spare me any of the false affection, I don’t think I can bear it at the moment.” The Doctor eyes were cold, and pinned the Master to the spot with their unwavering focus. He was terrifying, a face that was meant to be always soft and smiling fixed hard with quiet rage. This man who the Master thought he had seen the worst side of now threatened to reveal something wholly untold.
“Nothing to say now? Let me help, then. Android? Clone? Dalek replica? Does anything sound vaguely familiar to you? No?” The Master found himself unable to answer. He had no real answer to give; he had no idea how he had arrived here. He could gather it was something to do with the experiments he had been conducting, but outside of that he knew as little as the Doctor.
“You know,” the Doctor started again, ”at the moment, I don’t actually care what you are, or how you got here, but listen please, because this next one is very important to your continued well-being. Where is my husband?”
“I don’t know,” the Master spurted out at last. “I honestly do not know.” The Doctor seemed to soften, but only slightly, only so much as to finally permit the Master to feel safe enough to take a full breath. “I am the Master,” he asserted, “but you are correct. To my knowledge, I am not the one you know.”
The Doctor looked at him for a long moment, scrutinising him, then after an agonizing silence, “Why did you lie?”
“You assumed I was him, your husband. I found his situation to be more desirable than my own, so I attempted to hold fast to it. I’ve done nothing to harm him; I can’t say I have even had the honour of meeting him.”
“You simply took advantage of the situation,” the Doctor confirmed, with thinly veiled disgust. “And what you seem to know of his life?”
“Gleaned from his notes and journals,” the Master admitted, never able to resist the urge to display his cleverness to the Doctor, any Doctor.
“Of course.” The Doctor closed his eyes for a moment and took in a deep breath before commanding, “Tell me what you remember from before the accident.”
The Master was beginning to lose his patience. Fear had cowed him for a time, but he was frustrated with the loss of the Doctor. The prospect of having him at last had been once more torn away. Before the Master’s eyes, this Doctor had turned from the loving paradisiac husband he had awoken in the care of, into the cold impassive man who had refused to save him.
“Would you really like to know what I recall, Doctor?” he started dangerously, stalking towards the Doctor.
The Doctor stood his ground, looking down at the Master with contempt. “I have a feeling that you will tell me whether I wish it or not.”
“You killed me, Doctor.”
“I don’t seem to have done a very good job of it.” His tone was light, and the Master hated him for it.
“No, thoroughness was never your strongest point. But you left me to die, watched me burn while I begged you to save me, your darling husband. You cared more about your hypocritical morals, about how you would appear to you dear little pets, than about me.” The Doctor gave away nothing, standing starkly still.
“Am I? Or are you just afraid to know what you are truly capable of?”
“I know perfectly well what I am capable of. It’s not a thought I exactly relish. I also know what my husband is capable of, and there is nothing he could have done that would drive me to that. He takes no joy in death or destruction. He doesn’t flinch at using them as tools, but there is no pleasure in it. He doesn’t do it simply because he can. At his core he is a good man, and I would never, if it was at all in my power, let a good person die.”
“That is a very lovely speech, Doctor, but a year of painful convalescence makes it a lie. You burned me and left me for dead.”
And then the Doctor did something wholly unexpected. He smiled, calmly and with a half-lit sort of amusement. “I didn’t say I was incapable of making a mistake. I can’t know what your Doctor was thinking. Nor can you.” He sighed, clearly exhausted. He wasn’t a man suited to anger and it taxed him visibly. “There but for the grace of time...” He shook his head. “It doesn't matter. You don’t belong here.”
“This much is clear.” The Master was still teeming with anger at this Doctor and his clean conscience. He didn’t dare give credence to his words. The idea that the wall placed between himself and the Doctor was no more than some mutual misunderstanding was inconceivable. He wanted to get away from this place and this Doctor as fast as he could.
“So let’s try this again. What do you remember that is at least remotely relevant to...” The Doctor stopped speaking suddenly, and the Master could feel the floor begin to tremble under his feet.
The Master turned to see what had drawn the sudden look of fear to the Doctor’s face. Behind the him a point in the air had begun to distort, twisting and winding in back on itself and growing steadily out from its origin point. The Master backed away quickly, retreating to the console as more of the whorls began to form and grow.
“We have to materialise and try to get to the door,” the Doctor insisted. He too had been herded into the middle of the room by the rapidly multiplying distortions.
The Master looked down at the console as the Doctor tried to coax his TARDIS into a landing, frantically throwing switches and jabbing at buttons. “Doctor, there is something else, something coming from the distortions, a pattern.”
“What? Where?” The Doctor shoved in beside the Master, gripping the console as the TARDIS started to pitch and twist violently, trying to shake her way out of the sea of distortions. “They are coordinates,” the Doctor said, confused but hopeful. “Someone is sending us coordinates.” The Master moved to the other side of the console, gripping its edge hand over hand as he made his way around.
“You can’t simply take her there. You have no idea where this came from. It could be a trap, or just some mislaid communication not intended for us at all.”
“I don’t presently see many other options, do you?” The Doctor didn’t wait for the Master to reply; he pulled a lever and set them flying off to where ever the coordinates would take them.
With an undignified flailing of beige and striped limbs, the Doctor came bursting out of the TARDIS first and the Master followed on his heels, just ducking under a newly forming distortion to make it out the door. They found themselves in a rocky landscape. Fairly barren, though sparse grass was trying its best to take a hold in the hard earth. It was cold and grey overhead, threading to rain at any moment. It all looked looked so calm and docile that the Master could scarcely believe they had just closed the door on what might have been their mutual deaths.
The Master looked around, scanning the area for any sort of threat. They were on solid ground in a breathable atmosphere, and while that was better than he had expected it wasn’t enough to put him at ease.
Both the Doctor and the Master turned suddenly at a familiar sound and watched as an identical blue police box materialised only a couple of yards off. Once the TARDIS had come fully into being, the door opened and the Master watched himself stride out, followed by a more familiar Doctor with a bright patchwork coat who looked terribly pleased with himself.
The Master turned and looked up at the Doctor beside him, watched his face light up in an instant, and turned to see the same expression mirrored in his own face across the way. The couple was drawn together instantly, the other Master all but running to reunite with his husband. Beige and black limbs folded all together until there wasn’t a hope of a breath between them.
The Master retreated slightly, edging his way away from the couple and towards his own Doctor, but continued to stare openly at them. He felt less jealously than he would have honestly imagined and more plain curiosity. The way they kissed—hungry was an understatement, ravenous was closer but still palled. It was as though they had both been starved of something vital and had been silently suffocating for the lack. Now they drew in that vital element in great desperate gasps. He wondered at their life: one he might have had, one he had tried, with little success, to steal.
Once they appeared to be sated, at least for the moment, they didn’t part but held fast to one another, the other Doctor resting his forehead forehead on the other Master’s. Both Time Lords sighed in a way that threatened to give way to laughter. But they stayed quiet, clearly sharing something inwardly.
The Doctor not involved in the exchange of affection coughed, obviously embarrassed for all of them, as no one else seemed to be bothering with any shame or dignity at the moment. “One could venture a fair guess that these versions of ourselves don’t get very much done,” he said snidely. The other two took no notice. The Doctor cleared his throat quite loudly then started again, half shouting, “I said, one could venture...”
The other Doctor smiled but didn’t turn away from his husband. “I assure you, we get plenty done,” he said, more as a tease to the Master in his arms than in response to his counterpart. Finally they did disentangle, and turned to the Doctor. “Thank you for seeing him home,” the other Doctor said sincerely, though he couldn’t help staring, slightly dismayed, at the appearance of his counterpart.
“Think nothing of it, Doctor. Certainly it was a stroke of genius, but no more than would be--”
“You make me sound like a lost cat,” the other Master chuckled to his husband, cutting off what had promised to be a self-aggrandising account of the rescue.
“Well, you did traipse off to another dimension the moment I took my eyes off of you.” The other Doctor pressed his lips into a smile, turning all of his attention back to his Master.
“Is that how it is? In that case, I do hope there will be a saucer of cream for me when we get...”
The Doctor cleared his throat very, very loudly, and the couple managed to take the hint. The other Doctor sighed and looked at least slightly embarrassed, but from the Doctor’s expression not nearly as much as he felt he should.
“How are we to return to our home universe? And for that matter, which are we in now?” the other Doctor asked. He had a good question. For all the happy couple’s revelry at being together once again, it did little good to the Master who stood at arm’s length from his corresponding Doctor, wondering how he would manage to get back to his TARDIS and escape once more.
“Excellent. I’m very pleased you have finally decided to join the rest of the class,” the Doctor started in, unproductively. “I was becoming very disappointed at the idea of a version of myself whose mind had turned to complete fairy floss--”
“Wait a moment, I just so happens that I--” the other Doctor started, with great annoyance.
“Now Doctor.” The other Master started, then turned to the Doctor at his side. “Doctors,” he corrected. “He has a valid question.”
The other Doctor sighed, “Yes, do go on, Doctor. With a little less personal commentary, if you don’t mind terribly.”
“I will try my utmost. And to answer your questions,” the Doctor looked between the Master and the other Doctor, “we are currently at a point where both universes are overlapping.”
The other Doctor looked intrigued. “Ah, so it wasn’t a rupture but a bleed-through.”
“Yes,” the other Master began, clearly not wishing the Doctor to take all of the credit for the resolution. “The distortions were only the beginnings of the overlaps. They are only dangerous at the edges when they are forming, the energy there being so concentrated at their inception. Once they expand they are perfectly safe to exist in, as we are, of course, within one right now.”
“Yes, yes, he is correct,” the Doctor assured, as though it was needed. “I was able to se--”
“We,” the other Master interrupted, more amused than angry.
“Yes, thank you, we were able to initiate an overlap in your vicinity in the other universe and send a message through to you once the overlap became stable enough.”
“So then how do we set things right?” the other Doctor asked. “Certainly we can’t leave things as they are...”
“That, Doctor, is the simple part,” the Doctor smiled smugly. “These two here are what was causing the disturbance. Mine,” the Doctor nodded, indicating him, and the Master was unsure whether he found himself offended or charmed, “was trying some to make some ghastly weapon work, and in typical fashion it all blew up in his face. Isn’t that right, Master? You have been awfully quiet. What do you have to say for yourself?”
The Master was startled and pulled himself up straight —though to nothing like close to the Doctor’s height— and looked him in the eye. “My dear Doctor, far be it from me to interrupt your delight in the sound of your own voice.”
“How very gracious. I think you might have actually picked up a few manners from that one.” The Doctor laughed sharply and carried on. “The experiment caused a warp in the multiverse, one Master being pushed into one universe, and the other being pulled into the other to replace him. Because they both happened to be in TARDISes in the Vortex they were shielded when the universes tried to right themselves. The two universes were being held together by the connection of the two Masters, both realities trying to reclaim their lost Master and straining themselves in the process. That is what caused the overlap distortions.”
“So it should all right itself soon, now that they are both outside of their TARDISes.” The other Doctor nodded, looking begrudgingly impressed with his other self.
“Exactly, my dear, and all the pieces of our respective universes should simply slide back into their proper places,” the other Master assured.
“I suppose this is good-bye then, or see you soon in any case.” The other Doctor looked his counterpart over once and again, vaguely distressed, frowned and sighed. “Oh look, I think it’s starting.” The couple looked across at the Doctor and Master, no doubt seeing them begin to turn slightly transparent in the same way that the Doctor and Master began to see them.
The other Doctor and Master linked hands as they and their TARDIS began to fade further from this universe. The Doctor raised his hand and waved farewell, looking very happy to see their doubles on their way. “Good luck to the both of you, I wish you many fat babies.”
The pair looked slightly horror-stricken at the Doctor’s comment, and then turned to each other, each questioning the other wordlessly as they faded entirely from the universe proper.
There was a long awkward moment of silence and the rain that was threatening in the sky finally began to fall. The Doctor popped open his big bright umbrella--extracted seemingly form nowhere--to shelter himself while the Master stood by trying not to look at all uncomfortable as his velvet became soaked.
The Master was just starting to consider the merits of making a dash for the Doctor’s TARDIS, as his own was nowhere to be found, when he felt the rain cease and looked to see the Doctor standing beside him.
“I do hope you didn’t deceive that poor credulous man,” he started conversationally. “I know there is only so much someone with a detestable nature such as yours can do, but I--”
“You seem terribly concerned for the inhabitants of some mad aberrant time line. What about you and that pathetic, domesticated version of myself?”
“What about what? I can’t imagine what you might be implying.” The Doctor gained a precise and haughtily offended look.
“And here I had supposed you were far more creative. It seems I have been giving you more credit that you are due, my dear Doctor.” The Master chuckled. It was strange how natural this felt for how tenuous the Master knew it to be. He looked at the Doctor and briefly a connection was made. They had seen what that could have been. Something neither could deny had at least some element of appeal.
The other Doctor’s words, “I can’t know what your Doctor was thinking. Nor can you.” lingered in the Master’s mind. He didn’t want to believe it then. Nor did he want to do so now. Still, the thought persisted whether he wanted it or not.
He was pulled out of his introspection by the Doctor clearing his throat. “I am correct in assuming that your TARDIS is not on this planet?” The Master nodded, uncertain what he was leading to “Then I suppose I can’t leave you stranded here. You haven’t precisely done anything wrong this time.” He made a good show of looking very put out by this revelation.
The Master opened his mouth, bitter retort at ready but stopped himself--no, it wasn’t that he consciously halted the words, something else held him back. Something that felt uncomfortably like hope.
“You are too generous by half.” He smiled wryly.
“Three quarters at the very least.” The Doctor smiled in return and the Master wasn’t certain whether the Doctor had missed the note of sarcasm or simply plowed directly over it. “After you, Master.” The Doctor had opened the door to his TARDIS. “And don’t bother trying anything nefarious, I’m right on your heels.” The Doctor ushered him in and closed the door behind himself as he followed.
“As ever, my dear Doctor, as ever.”