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The Insanity Contagion

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“I thought you would’ve approved,” Rose said as they filed into the TARDIS. The Doctor still had trouble believing she could comfortably turn her back on the Master like that, after everything they’d been through. For the Doctor’s part, he was watching the Master so closely that he was literally breathing down his neck (which had earned a brazen comment or twelve from the Master, of course).

“I appreciated how they killed people for their own ends, of course,” the Master said. “I literally wrote the book on that, though Rassilon went and stole it for himself before I could publish it. But there were tiny waving fat babies.” He grimaced. “What’s the point of that, other than to make me sick?”

“I thought they were cute,” Rose said.

“And you happen to be a lower life form. I rest my case.”

Rose turned and looked at the Doctor. “You know, if we’d fed him some of those pills and let him disintegrate into Adipose, maybe Donna would’ve decided to come with us. Think we could find another way to get rid of him and then go back for her? She’d be a way better travellin’ companion.”

“I wish,” the Master muttered, voicing the Doctor’s own thoughts. If only he didn’t know that Rose was joking, the Doctor might have been inspired to go back to trying to find ways to safely stow the Master out of sight for good. They’d been letting him run wild for far too long. Just knowing he was always right there, waiting for the Doctor to screw up, was tiring.

Rose excused herself to go off and get some sleep, leaving the Doctor and the Master alone.

The Doctor flicked the TARDIS switches thoughtfully, trying to think where he could next steer them that the Master couldn’t get them or the locals into too much trouble.

He glanced away for just a moment, but when he looked back the Master was somehow clear across the room from where he’d last seen him, now mucking about around the other side of the console.

“Would you stop that?” the Doctor snapped. “I’m trying to fly here.”

Trying,” the Master said dismissively. “Not succeeding, though. I’m surprised you ever got off Gallifrey in the first place. Just how badly did you fail your test?”

“Maybe I could fly better if you weren’t messing the console up,” the Doctor suggested, trying to hang onto at least the semblance of patience. The Master enjoyed it a little too much when the Doctor let himself get riled up.

“I’m bored,” the Master complained. “You never take me anywhere nice anymore.”

The Doctor gave in and scowled.

“Anyway, please try to act like you have any logic skills to speak of. It’s not like me touching your precious console even does anything now,” said the Master. “I can’t figure out why you didn’t set the controls to isomorphic years and years ago. Then again,” the Master looked around with distaste, “what Time Lord in his right mind would have tried to steal this junker out from under you?”

The TARDIS gave a warning judder. The Master sneered upwards at the time rotor in response.

You tried to steal it,” the Doctor reminded him.

“Well, I also chose you to torture out of everyone in the whole of time and space. Desperate times, you know,” the Master said dismissively. “I have to settle for what’s available.”

The Doctor almost went to insist that he was the best captive the Master could ever dream of getting his hands on, but then realised how completely barmy that sounded just in time to stop himself.

Too long in the Master’s presence was clearly starting to have an effect. The Doctor was losing it.

“Also,” the Master added, “in case you’ve somehow missed this, I’m insane, so using me as some kind of gauge is probably not the best argument you’ve come up with. Or, actually, given that it’s you, maybe it is.”

The Doctor glared. Even though he knew it’d have no impact at all on the Master, it made him feel slightly better. Not to mention that the Master would never let him hear the end of it if the Doctor pouted like he really wanted to. Rose laughing at him every time he forgot himself and did that was bad enough; it just made her laugh even harder when he tried to explain that it was just because this body was more mouthy somehow (“You’re not kiddin’,” she’d said, gasping for breath between bouts of laughter). The Master’s reaction would be so much worse.

“You have the whole universe at your disposal,” the Master said, sounding almost as though he’d like to pout himself. “Don’t you actually want to do something fun with that power for once?”

“We do fun things all the time.”

“What,” the Master said snidely, “like that time you took us to the planet where all of existence was a giant game of scrabble? Oh yes, believe me, we came this close to someone literally laughing their head off there.”

“I saw that ax coming at my neck from a mile away, you know,” the Doctor said.

“Well of course it wasn’t one of my more subtle plans. I only had an ‘a’ and an ‘x’ tile to work with by then. And a ‘q’, but what was I really going to be able to do with that?”

“So which plans of yours have ever been subtle, then?” the Doctor scoffed.

The Master fumed silently, and for once the Doctor felt like he’d actually scored a verbal win over him. The Doctor definitely preferred his apparent ability to foil the Master’s every plan, but it would still be nice if the Master didn’t in return have the ability to always make the Doctor look like an idiot whenever he opened his mouth. It would be especially nice if he didn’t make such a point to do it in front of Rose.

If only Rose had been there to see the Master speechless. She’d once remarked that that happened even less than the Doctor’s silence, though she’d been quick to almost patronisingly assure him that with the Doctor she actually wanted to hear what he had to say, at which the Master had snorted disbelievingly.

He felt a bit idiotic, though, that he actually had the urge to show Rose that he was superior to the Master, as if they were actually in competition or something.

Yeah right. He could have a laugh with Rose over the idea of that later.

* * *

“D’you seriously mean that R.O.U.S.s actually exist?” Rose gaped as the Master regaled her with yet another story from the Doctor’s awkward (more so, at least) younger years that made the Doctor hide his face pointedly under the console.

He tried to concentrate on fixing the TARDIS. For once he regretted that Time Lords could split their attention in countless different directions without even trying, for he couldn’t block out the Master’s words just by busying himself.

He wished, for the seventy-thousandth time since ‘adopting’ the Master, that he’d managed to find some way to successfully shut the Master up for more than a second at a time once the Master was set on saying something. He’d settle for shoving one of the dirty socks that had gotten lost in some corner of the Wardrobe Room into the Master’s mouth right about then if he thought it might have worked any better than all the other failed methods.

He couldn’t even properly retaliate. Whenever he tried to tell Rose about one of the many times the Master did something idiotic or embarrassing, the Master took it as a challenge to put some kind of a spin on it that made the Doctor still come off the worse for it.

The Master snickered at Rose. “You’ve been traipsing through space for years and the thing you’re really impressed by is big rats?”

The Doctor didn’t need to be able to see her to know Rose was staring balefully at the Master. “Impressed isn’t really the word,” she said. “They’re rodents. Their size is unusually large. In what way is that not the most horrifyin’ thing ever?”

Through the gaps in the grating, the Doctor could just make out that the Master’s expression was sly. He subsequently knew exactly what was coming. “The Doctor didn’t think they were so bad. He lived off them for eight weeks before Romana took pity and rescued him from the planet and dropped him back at his TARDIS. What would you say, Doctor? Did they taste like chicken?”

Rose was never going to kiss him again now, the Doctor thought.

Not that he had any plans to try to kiss her or anything.

“Do you think you two could do something more useful than sitting around playing Truth or Dare or whatever’s going on up there?” the Doctor asked, exasperated.

There was a long pause. “Oh, sorry,” Rose said sarcastically. “We can’t all have Time Lord brains and the ability to make chewin’ gum into somethin’ that can hold the TARDIS together and save people from dyin’ of polio all at the same time.”

“Well I could do that, actually,” the Master boasted. “Much more easily than he could, actually. Not that I would. Polio can be such a fun disease. What’s not to love about crippled children?”

The Doctor nearly banged his head against the underside of the console, he sat up so fast. “What? What? I get told off for being tired of listening to you gossip about me right in front of me – well, above me, whatever – but he comes out with that and, what, nothing?”

“Actually, I’m too disgusted for words to even cover it,” Rose admitted.

“Have I surprised you?” the Master sneered.

“No. You’ve just reminded me that you killed half the human race and enjoyed it,” Rose said. “Every now and then I forget. Thanks for that.”

Rose, then, apparently did find something better to do than sit around laughing with the Master after all, for she swept out of the room.

“Smooth,” the Doctor commented.

The Master loudly kicked something that sounded heavy and important, and the Doctor sighed, extracting himself out from under the console to make sure whatever it was wasn’t too badly broken.

“Why does everyone around here assume I’m trying to impress someone?” the Master asked. “I hate you, both of you, and remind you of that every minute of every day. When are you going to figure it out?”

The Doctor sighed. “For me personally, you’ve said it so many times that it’s lost all meaning. As for Rose... when was the last time you tried to make out that you hated her as more than a joke?”

“I threatened to strangle her just yesterday,” the Master protested.

“From you that’s like asking her on a date,” the Doctor said with an eye roll.

The Master looked like he was considering. “I do like the odd bit of breath play now and then,” he muttered thoughtfully. “And I bet she’d turn such a lovely colour when –”

Anyway!” the Doctor interrupted loudly. The Master smirked, apparently pleased to have had the effect he wanted on at least one of them.

“You should take us to Christopolis,” the Master said. “Seeing a live R.O.U.S. would cheer her up.”

“Or make her have nightmares for weeks, more likely,” the Doctor corrected.

“Po-ta-to, po-tah-to. Hmm, speaking of, we could have chips as well. She likes those.”

The Doctor shook his head disbelievingly. The Master really did treat showing how much of a psychopathic jerk he was as if it were part of some strange wooing ritual.

Although... he remembered that his first date (of sorts) with Rose had included chips as well, not to mention blowing up her whole planet.

He wasn’t anything like the Master. He wasn’t.

The Doctor wondered – not for the first time since bringing the Master on board the TARDIS, either – how many times he’d be able to bang his head against the wall before he ended up regenerating.

* * *

“I thought you’d be mad at him for a lot longer,” the Doctor said quietly (he knew the Master would still be able to hear him, but at least it gave the illusion of privacy) half a day later when Rose, apparently freshly rested, entered the console room and immediately started bickering almost companionably with the Master, as had become their strange custom.

Rose shrugged. “I dunno. I s’pose it’s too much effort to get fired up and stay that way every time he does or says somethin’ despicable.”

The Doctor couldn’t find any way to dispute that. And Rose didn’t even have to babysit the Master all the time like he did. The Doctor himself felt like he’d been completely run ragged by having to spend most of every day in the Master’s presence, only getting rid of him every now and then when he needed to take a quick nap; even that almost wasn’t worth it, given how much more vocally annoying the Master made sure to be every time the Doctor got the TARDIS to fully restrain him (right down to the gag) for a few hours so the Doctor could get some actual uninterrupted rest. The Master himself never seemed to need to sleep. It was the only thing that the Doctor wished he could learn from his mostly-wanted companion.

“Where we goin’?” Rose asked.

“I thought a dungeon might be nice,” the Doctor answered, pointedly making his voice loud enough for the Master to hear this time. “We could watch them torture the Master for a while.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” the Master said. “To have the tables turned for once. Oh, the ways I’ve made you scream...”

The Doctor was about to reply, but Rose beat him to it.

“I dunno about the Doctor, but sometimes I’d certainly like to see someone poke at you with somethin’ hot and pointy.”

The Master couldn’t even get out the innuendo he was apparently dying to say, he was cackling so hard.

“But seriously,” Rose said without waiting for him to stop, “we got plans?”

“Not today,” the Doctor admitted. “Plans are a bit rubbish, I think. Nothing ever turns out the way I mean for them to. Well, almost nothing. Well, nothing at all when the Master’s around, anyway. But if I set the TARDIS to random, there are no expectations. It’s hard to be disappointed, don’t you think?”

“Unless we end up in Cardiff or somethin’,” Rose said. “But with all of time and space to kick around in, what’re the odds of that? About twenty to one, for us?”

“More like ten to one, sadly,” the Doctor admitted.

“Whatever. We’ll just cross our fingers and hope for somewhere else, yeah? I’m up for it, soon as Chuckles over there stops pretty much rollin’ around on the floor.”

The Master gasped between laughs, but then set himself off again. If there had ever been any doubt that he was crazy, it was certainly gone now. It was just as well he had a respiratory bypass, the Doctor thought. Then he realised that he was actually glad that the Master’s life wasn’t at risk.

As much as he drove the Doctor perilously close to insanity, the Doctor had to admit that he still wanted the Master to stick around.

Unfortunately, the Master had clearly known that all along.

* * *

The Doctor had always thought that ambush was something that happened if the attacker was lying in wait in one place for the prey to appear. Apparently, though, it could happen from right beside him, from someone he knew all-too-well was there, and yet still be completely without warning.

The Master lunged at him and pressed him against the hallway wall, and the Doctor found himself putting up a sadly minimal amount of resistance. It was the shock of it, he told himself. He’d lied to himself too often to even begin to believe it, though.

The kiss was forceful and as much like a battle as any of their other interactions, just the way it had always been between them. As much as he knew he should hate that the Master was clearly winning, that confident control he exhibited over both their movements was sort of intoxicating. The Master had overpowered him mostly by surprising him. If he wanted to, the Doctor could throw him off.

If he wanted to.

When the Doctor did find himself pushing into the Master’s body, it wasn’t to get himself free. He knew he would be ashamed of that later, but for now he couldn’t quite convince himself that stopping was a good idea.

He supposed it was lucky that a door slamming open just down the corridor made him pull away, startled.

Seriously?” Rose asked loudly. “A cupboard?”

The Doctor was just a moment too late putting distance between himself and the Master. Even if she hadn’t seen them practically wound around each other, though, the Doctor’s reddened lips and expression of guilt probably would have been enough to provide Rose with the details of what she’d just literally burst in on.

Strangely, instead of looking particularly hurt, as the Doctor had expected (and dreaded), Rose merely glared at the Master before turning on her heel.

“Reading between the lines, I’d say that means she’s joining the competition after all.”

The Doctor wheeled around to give the Master what must have been the mirror image of Rose’s glare. “What?” he snapped.

“Oh, just a little wager I tried to make with your girlfriend a few days back that I’d have you before she did. I believe my exact words were that I’d have you strapped down to the nearest flat surface and begging me for it before you’d ever stop acting like you’re perpetually stuck in that disgusting little game I saw children playing when I was on Earth; what was it, ‘catch and kiss’? Humans. Pathetic.”

“As if Rose would ever agree to a bet like that,” the Doctor said. He ignored the little voice that helpfully reminded him that Rose loved bets. He didn’t hear imaginary voices, after all. He wasn’t the crazy one here.

The Master shrugged. “Oh, she got all indignant the way your little humans do, of course. She pretended she wouldn’t have any of it, but I knew better. She just needed proper incentive to step up to the challenge.”

The Doctor, unsure whether to be annoyed or just plain baffled, glanced back in the direction Rose had retreated.

“Your life is about to finally get a bit interesting,” the Master breathed in his ear.

The Doctor shivered and distracted himself by walking over to close the door Rose had flung open and left that way. He stared past it in confusion.

“So what exactly was Rose doing in a storage cupboard?” he asked quietly, speaking more aloud to himself than anything.

“Oh, I locked her in there,” the Master said matter-of-factly from behind him.

The Doctor wasn’t even sure why he was surprised, though he really had no idea when the Master had got away from him for long enough to do that.

“Don’t worry,” the Master said smugly. “I didn’t have to hurt her. She’s no more roughed up than you are.”

The Doctor’s eyes widened. The Master could clearly see what he was thinking, as his laughter echoed loudly through the hallway.

Surely the Master hadn’t...

Well, actually the Doctor wouldn’t put anything past him. The point was, surely Rose hadn’t done that. Not with the Master.

But he had, hadn’t he? Who was to say that Rose hadn’t given into an ambush just the same as the Doctor had?

The Doctor pushed the thought away. He grabbed the Master’s sleeve to drag him the rest of the way back to the console room. Not for the first time, he wished he could have just two minutes alone to actually think. His brain was beyond exhausted.

Why else would he have let the Master kiss him?

* * *

The Doctor found that he couldn’t even look at Rose lately without thinking of that stupid bet. He couldn’t quite bring himself to ask her if she was actually taking the Master up on it, and if so what she intended to do about it. Surely if she was really in on it, she’d be trying harder to seduce him, or something.

Of course, she might be doing just that in some wily female way that the Doctor didn’t quite understand. After all, almost constantly whenever she was in the same room as him (to the point that Rose must have thought there was something really wrong with him), he kept running his eyes all over her body and wondering...

They’d kissed before, of course, but to do anything more than that would be so very different. They couldn’t just pretend that had never happened afterwards. That was hard enough with the kissing. Things would change.

Did she want that?

Did he?

These were questions he’d been asking himself for ages now, but the Master’s knowing smiles whenever he caught the Doctor staring at Rose somehow escalated it until it was pretty much the only thing he could think of anymore.

“Why did you tell me about the bet?” the Doctor asked one day when Rose had gone off to get some sleep, the way humans had to do so annoyingly often.

“Why didn’t you ask me that a week ago instead of angsting over it all this time?” the Master shot back.

“I’m serious,” the Doctor said.

“So am I.”

The Doctor sighed and waited. Neither of them were very good at being patient, but the Doctor was still confident he could win at that game fairly easily with the Master’s short attention span. The Master would get bored and reveal his ‘cunning’ scheme, just as he always eventually did.

It didn’t take long at all this time.

“I wanted you to worry endlessly about it,” the Master admitted. “Obviously. The idea of you casting little sidelong glances at her and torturing yourself is entertaining. You know me. A cure for boredom is all I want in the universe. Well, and a little domination. But you know that as well, don’t you?” the Master said with a wink.

“Oh, shut up,” the Doctor grumbled.

“You hate that, don’t you? That I know all your dark little secrets. Do you think Rose knows those things about you? I could lock us all in a room and show her. She’d probably like it.”

Whatever lurid little fantasies the Master had taken to whispering to the Doctor just a little too quietly for Rose to hear (except when he intended to rub it in her face as well) ever since the Doctor had accused the Master of really liking Rose, the Doctor knew that Rose wouldn’t have any of it. She wasn’t interested in the Master. She loved him.

And that was the thing that the Doctor kept coming back to. Rose had made it clear enough how she felt about it. He’d known for ages. And he was certain she had to know what he felt in return. Would acting on it really change things when they both knew it anyway?

Absolutely, the Doctor acknowledged with a sigh. It would be like crossing a chasm without the TARDIS and then watching the bridge immediately fall apart after them. They’d be stranded in that new land of things that he couldn’t even think about without wanting them badly enough to nearly go wake up Rose and get them started on that path immediately. Once he tasted that, he knew he’d always want more. As good as that sounded, the more logical part of his brain knew that things could go so wrong.

The Doctor thought that he could live without ever sharing those things with Rose Tyler. He wasn’t so sure how well he’d survive if he messed it up once he had (as he knew he was bound to) and she decided to leave him. Alone in the TARDIS. With the Master.

That was the image that he kept reminding himself of, like the ultimate repellent. That was the idea that stayed his hand every time he almost gave in.

He tried to tell himself that it was for the best.

* * *

The moment they stumbled back into the safety of the TARDIS, Rose whirled on the Master and slapped him hard enough that the Doctor flinched away sympathetically just from the sound of it.

Ow,” the Master protested.

“You nearly got him killed!” Rose shouted.

“It’s not exactly the first time,” the Master pointed out.

“It’s the first time he’s ever got so close, ’cept the regeneration. But there would’ve been no regeneratin’ from that, and you know it.”

The Master shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah, well, I saved his life, didn’t I? What more do you want?”

Rose took a deep breath to calm herself, the way the Doctor himself often had to do with the Master around. Then she nodded slowly. “Yeah, I guess you did. Thank you.” Rose leaned in and kissed the Master lightly on the same cheek she’d just slapped. “The savin’ part you can feel free to do again. The tryin’ to get him killed has to stop, though. You don’t try to kill me anymore.”

“That you know of,” the Master interjected quickly, trying to save face.

Rose didn’t seem to buy it. “Sure. You don’t actually want him dead any more than you do with me. You proved that much today. So you can just stop pretendin’.”

Rose carefully led the Doctor out of the console room towards the infirmary before the Master got over his speechlessness for long enough to retort.

“What was that?” the Doctor asked as Rose pushed him onto the infirmary cot and started tending to his burns.

“What?” Rose asked.

“That kiss,” the Doctor said. “You kissed the Master. I saw it. Right in front of me. What, was that some kind of payback for him kissing me in the hallway that time? Because that was all him. Well, mostly. He started it. Maybe I should shut up, now. The pain’s making me stupid.”

Rose glared at him. “I don’t think that’s the pain. You know, I never thought I’d say these words, but the Master’s right. You do think the world revolves around you just as much as he does. At least he’s honest about it.”

“He’s crazy!” the Doctor said.

“Exactly. Which is why negative and positive reinforcement are the best ways to deal with him, yeah? ’Cause his craziness means he doesn’t understand normal human – or alien – interactions. What’s your excuse?”

“How was that normal? Your lips being anywhere near the Master is so far from normal that...” He made an inarticulate noise of annoyance. “Anyway, I don’t need an excuse!” the Doctor exclaimed. “I’m not the one who was kissing the megalomaniac!”

“Not today, maybe,” Rose said.

“I didn’t initiate that! He jumped me. You were the one who jumped him, though! Kissed him. Him.”

“What, are you jealous or somethin’?” Rose asked. “Seriously?”

“Of course I am!” the Doctor shouted before he could stop himself.

They both lapsed into silence, regarding each other. Then the Doctor leaned up, ignoring the way the burned skin on his back pulled painfully, and kissed her.

He couldn’t ignore the pain for long, unfortunately. His exploration of Rose’s soft lips ended much sooner than he would have liked when the pain made him practically swoon back flat onto the hard cot. The jolt of that impact only made the pain worse again.

She carded a hand gently through his hair while he got his bearings about him again.

“Say it,” she demanded when she decided he’d recovered enough.

“What?” the Doctor asked. He blinked, and Rose slowly came back into focus.

“The last time we were kissin’ in here, everythin’ just went back to normal afterwards, like nothin’ had even happened. I can’t do that again. I need to know it means somethin’ to you, that you can admit it happened. And if I give you time to over think it, you’ll never admit it. So I want you to just say it. Now”

Ah, the Doctor thought. That.

But there was no going back from that either, any more than there was from sex. It was why he’d never said it, even though she had to know already. Having it out there in the open was a whole different thing.

But he looked at her, and saw how deadly serious she looked, and realised that if he didn’t finally stop pushing her away and denying what exactly their relationship was, she might not just silently bear the hurt anymore.

Things might change regardless. She might just give up on him.

She couldn’t do that. Not when he...

He swallowed, and he stumbled slightly over the words, but he managed to get them out in the end.

“I love you.”

Rose’s bright smile made it seem like it was all worthwhile. Just the sight of it also made him feel slightly better overall, which was lucky, since he was still in quite a lot of pain.

Rose didn’t say anything after that, and apparently didn’t expect him to say anything more either. She went back to applying the salve to his burns, and thankfully ignored the way he flushed bright red when she carefully removed both his jacket and his shirt so that she could roll him over and tend to the skin low on his back.

“You got anythin’ for the pain that’s Time Lord friendly?” she eventually asked as she rolled him back over to face her.

“Yeah, but it’d knock me out,” the Doctor said. “I can’t leave you alone to deal with the Master.”

Rose put her hands on her hips. “If you’re worried he’ll try and kill me, it’s like I said earlier; he hasn’t done that in ages, so don’t worry. If you think I’m gonna go out there and start snoggin’ him or somethin’ while you’re all laid up and in pain in here, and after that, then you’re an idiot. And I know how you hate lookin’ like an idiot. So show me the medicine already.”

The Doctor pointed, and Rose watched like a hawk as the Doctor reluctantly gulped the pain relievers down like shots, followed by the glass of water Rose had provided for him.

“A bit of sleep’ll do you good, anyways,” Rose said. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed how close to snappin’ you’ve been lately, never gettin’ a break from the Master. You need some proper rest.”

The Doctor couldn’t really argue against that with any success. He might have tried regardless if the drugs weren’t already kicking in and affecting his mental acuity, but as it was, he had little choice.

“I’ll come back in to check on you later,” Rose said. “And don’t worry. I’ll make sure the Master doesn’t mess up the whole TARDIS while you’re out.” Then she disappeared out the infirmary door with a small wave and an affectionate smile.

The Doctor was half-unconscious from the drugs by the time he heard Rose’s voice echoing down the hall, saying, “You should be glad I never took you up on that bet,” which was followed by a string of suggestive comments from the Master. The Doctor sighed and decided that sleeping might not be such a bad idea after all if it would mean that he didn’t have to face either of them just then.

* * *

Rose told him a day later, when she was sprawled satedly over his naked chest and lower body, that she’d never before been so happy that he’d been right about Time Lords having superior anything.

The Doctor’s healing power, whatever the Master might have said about him being defective because there was still a slight trace of a burn under the Doctor’s left eye, was pretty much unprecedented, and Rose had made sure to take full advantage.

Any well-rested feelings he’d had from getting much more sleep after his injury than he usually would were well and truly used up, and he didn’t mind a bit. He sighed, content.

“I love you too, you know,” Rose said. “Just in case you missed me screamin’ it at you before. You looked a little far gone.”

“It’s a big part of why I was ‘far gone’, actually,” the Doctor admitted. “But it’s still nice to hear it again. In fact, maybe I was a little hard of hearing after all. What did you say just now?”

Rose poked her tongue out at him and kissed his chest, though she refused to play into his hands by saying it again.

“What would the Master have won?” the Doctor asked suddenly, as it finally fully occurred to him what they’d just done, beyond just blowing out the pleasure centre of his brain. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know, but he’d never been able to help his curiosity. “You know, with the bet. If we hadn’t done this.”

“I’d have sex with both of you. You know, at once. Together.”

The Doctor gaped, forming noiseless words with his mouth for a long while before he got something of a grip on himself. The Doctor had been right. He hadn’t wanted to know that. He was stunned that the Master had asked for that above the multitudes of other things that Rose had the power to give him if he won.

“That you’d what?” he eventually managed to ask, sort of hoping he’d misheard. Maybe Rose had affected more of his brain than just the pleasure-processing part.

Rose waved a hand nonchalantly to hush him. “Calm down. I was never gonna go along with his stupid bet. I think he was just goin’ on about it to get a rise out of you, more than anythin’ else. You make it so easy for him sometimes.”

To get his mind off the idea of the three of them together (only because it was disturbing, he told himself firmly, not because it was oddly fascinating), he asked Rose, “So what would you have won, if you’d decided to take him up on it?”

Rose laughed teasingly. “Never you mind.”

The Doctor blinked. “What? You’re not even going to tell me?”

“Nope,” she said. “That’d spoil it.”

The Doctor should be running for his life at the anticipatory smile she was giving him, but he had to admit he really had next to no sense of self-preservation. Besides, he was kind of tied up at that particular moment.

Anyway, he’d run away from her long enough. The Master had been right all along (even thinking those words hurt a little, but he couldn’t really deny it). Things between the Doctor and Rose couldn’t have stayed that way indefinitely. They’d have gone as mad as the Master himself.

This particular change at least seemed like a much better option than many of the alternatives.

“I’m gonna go grab us some breakfast,” Rose announced. “Or dinner, I guess; have I ever told you livin’ in the TARDIS, with all the time bein’ relative and stuff, is confusin’? Or, I know, we’ll just go straight to dessert. That’s always my favourite bit anyways.”

“What, you’re leaving now?” the Doctor asked, shaking one bound wrist to remind her of his current predicament. Surely she wasn’t going to leave him vulnerable like this while she went off and found herself something to nibble on (as if he wouldn’t happily volunteer for that task if only she asked).

She smiled wickedly, and the Doctor realised that of course she planned to do exactly that.

“How d’you feel about strawberries and cream?” Rose asked.

“I’d rather have a banana,” the Doctor muttered mutinously.

“What about if I use the cream right... here...”

A hand trailed over the region in question, and suddenly the Doctor didn’t mind waiting there in bed for her so much.

“Cream,” he said, sounding suddenly far more enthusiastic. “Genius. There should be more of it. Maybe some chocolate sauce too, don’t you think?”

“I’ll even bring a banana as well,” Rose promised. “Like a proper sundae.”

Why hadn’t he told Rose he loved her years ago, again?

After she disappeared out of the room, the Doctor immersed himself so deeply into a daydream about Rose and bananas that the sound of a throat being cleared was something of a shock.

The Doctor never imagined a time when he wouldn’t be deathly mortified at the mere idea (let alone the reality) of the Master witnessing him handcuffed naked to a bed.

“So she finally put those things to proper use, did she?” the Master smirked, leaning against the doorframe.

The taunting didn’t bother him all that much, for once. Nor could he bring himself to care that he’d have to rebuild practically the whole TARDIS after leaving the Master unsupervised for over two (magnificent) hours.

It all paled slightly compared to the fact that Rose would be back soon.

“Finally, over the last few hours, I’ve found something that’s not boring,” the Master announced.

The Doctor frowned, suspicious. “What do you mean? What have you been doing out there?”

The Master looked incredulous that he was even asking. “You’ve never been all that sharp, but were you really always this slow on the uptake?” the Master asked. “Maybe old age is getting to you. Or more likely you’ve been hanging about with dull-witted humans too long, since I’m as old as you are and my brain is more than fine. Apart from the psychopathy, obviously.”

“Rose is the only human I’ve been travelling with lately, and don’t even try to tell me you think she’s stupid. You like her.”

“Mmm,” the Master said noncommittally. “She is certainly amusing. And the way she looked with her hips swinging in that short, tight little number she wore out into Fraxia when you took –”

“All right!” the Doctor practically squeaked. “Get back to the point. What trouble have you been getting up to on your own?”

The Master looked disturbingly triumphant. “I’ve been sitting quietly in a corner like a good little boy, actually. Just listening to the sounds of your TARDIS. Or, should I say, the sounds in your TARDIS. Thin walls in this room. Did I ever tell you that you whimper like a girl when you particularly like something? Going by what I heard, your little human must have been very good.”

Oh. Well, the Master was right. That was fairly obvious, at least in retrospect. It certainly hadn’t occurred to him at the time.

The Doctor thought that if he’d had any concept that the Master might be sitting in hearing’s distance, silently mocking his sexual prowess (presuming he was right in thinking he actually had any in this body), he might have been far too mortified to completely enjoy himself. It was one thing for the Master to look at him this way afterwards, his eyes lingering over the Doctor’s groin and looking appreciatively at the reddening around his wrists where he’d writhed against the handcuffs. That was after, and he was the Master, and the Doctor would actually expect nothing less. But this...

He might as well have been in the room with them the whole time, really.

The Doctor pointedly didn’t voice that thought out loud. The Master already had enough of those thoughts on his own without the Doctor putting even more of them into his twisted mind.

“Of course, I make no promises about what I’ll do the next time you two sneak off to make each other pant and squeal and there’s no one to keep an eye on me,” the Master continued. “I guess you’ll have to invite me along if you don’t want to have to put your whole ship back together every time you get that urge and can’t help yourself.”

The Master took one last look at the Doctor’s naked body, especially the traitorous part that was starting to recover at his words combined with his regard, and turned on his heel.

“I can’t say I’ll complain as much about being stuck with the two of you on this ship anymore,” he called back from down the hallway as he disappeared. “It’s going to be such fun.”

The Doctor was half-tempted to drag himself further up the bed just so he could bang his head repeatedly against the wooden headboard.

He wondered what he was going to tell Rose about this when she got back from making breakfast, dinner, whatever. He had the sinking feeling that she wasn’t going to be much help. She’d probably be too busy laughing.

He’d known, from the moment that he even considered putting himself, the Master and Rose all together on the one bigger-on-the-inside-but-nowhere-near-big-enough TARDIS, that things were bound to get interesting. He just hadn’t predicted this, exactly.

The Doctor had to admit that he’d always sought more than his fair share of excitement. He supposed he couldn’t really complain about having that wish so thoroughly fulfilled. It was his own fault. He’d asked for it.

He wondered whether that made him just as crazy as the Master after all.