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Stuck in the Middle with You

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"This will work." The Doctor's voice comes to him out of the falling blackness, the only sound he can hear above the stutter of his own faltering heartbeats. "It'll be all right. I can fix this. This, at least, I can fix."

And then, nothing.

For a time, there exists that most unacceptable, most unthinkable state of affairs: a universe without the Master.

**

He is aware again, suddenly. Aware, first, of the Doctor's face inches away from his, staring eagerly into his eyes. And then, a moment later, of his own continuing existence.

"Ah," says the Doctor. "There you are! How are you feeling?"

He's not entirely sure. But... "I no longer appear to be dying. That, at least, constitutes an improvement."

The Doctor rocks backward a little, and the Master forces himself to look away from the Doctor's face and take in his surroundings. He realizes, now, that his latest rebirth has taken place in the console room of the Doctor's TARDIS. He's redecorated since the Master saw it last. Leave it to the Doctor to waste time on such frivolities when he holds the Master's life in his hands.

"Oh, come on," the Doctor says. "I put a lot of work into you, you know. Long hours slaving over a hot workbench, making sure the end result would be sturdy enough to contain your ego. Surely you can do better than that."

"Give me a moment to assess the workmanship." He closes his eyes – which, it must be said, do feel and function very much like every set of biological eyes he's ever possessed – and concentrates on his new body.

It's not a Time Lord body, that much is immediately obvious. But it's a surprisingly good facsimile, right down to the steady, reassuring beat of twin electronic hearts. Pumping coolant, he wonders? Lubricant? Or are they merely there to fulfill some sentimental fancy of the Doctor's?

An unbidden image flashes across his mind: of the Doctor holding his hearts, the Doctor painstakingly putting together every part of him, designing the Master's body with his mind and piecing it together with his hands. The thought causes a odd twisting feeling in his gut, and the Master cannot help being impressed by the presence of visceral feedback. He opens his eyes.

"There, you see?" says the Doctor. "Much better than stealing bodies, eh?"

It is. It feels infinitely better, infinitely more him, than some of the bodies he's inhabited before now. And that's without even counting the unfortunate period he spent as as snake creature made of ectoplasmic goo, which he prefers to dwell on as little as possible. "It will do," he says. No point in inflating the Doctor's own ego beyond its already considerable bounds, after all. He looks smug enough as it is.

"I even recreated the rubbish beard. I know how you like to stroke it while looking sinister. Wouldn't want to deprive you of your greatest joys in life, would I?"

"Yes, you would, Doctor. You always do." He touches his chin. The hair feels like hair, against fingers that feel like fingers.

The Doctor waves this response away with a flick of his hand. "You could say thank you."

Well, he supposes, just this once, it couldn't hurt. "Thank you."

A grin flashes across the Doctor's features, then fades away into a peculiar expression, half sly, half sheepish, that tells the Master he's about to hear the hidden "but" behind the Doctor's unexpected generosity. "Erm, there is one thing you should probably know..."

Of course. Such an uncomplicated gift, coming from the Doctor, was bound to be entirely too good to be true. The Master braces himself to hear... he can't imagine what. That there is some fatal defect in his wiring? That his consciousness has been damaged in the transfer, in ways that he cannot even detect?

"I've linked your power source to the TARDIS's Eye of Harmony connection," the Doctor says. "Ironic, I know, but it was the most efficient–"

"The most efficient way to keep me prisoner?" His artificial hearts, the Master notes, even beat faster when he is angry. Clearly the Doctor has thought of everything. "Since that link would only be operational within the TARDIS's plasmic shell."

"That wasn't the reason! Although, it is true that having brought you back from the dead, I do have a responsibility to the universe to prevent you from doing further harm. So I think of it as something of a useful side effect."

The Master brings his fist down against the TARDIS console, hard enough that if he were still flesh it would hurt. It doesn't. "What else have you brought it upon yourself to do to limit me, Doctor? Have you altered my mind as well? I–" I trusted you, he doesn't say. It would be inane. It would be ludicrous. He knows better than that, surely.

The Doctor tilts his head a little, looks at him with a gentle expression. "I've programmed that electronic brain of yours very carefully, very specifically, to hold you. As you are. As you were. I've altered nothing. Don't believe me? Try to hurt me, then. Go on. You'll find you're still entirely capable."

"If you insist." The Master moves forward swiftly, wraps his fingers around the Doctor's throat and squeezes.

The Doctor doesn't flinch. "You see?" he chokes out. The Master's hand tightens a little. "If I were going to reprogram you to be a nicer person–" He stops to pull a wheezing gasp in through his constricted throat. "–isn't this exactly the sort of thing I'd keep you from doing?"

The logic of this is difficult to argue with. The Master relaxes his grip, letting his fingers trail slowly across the Doctor's neck as he withdraws his hand. His touch sensors convey the feel of the Doctor's skin perfectly.

"Why?" he says. It's the question he's been wondering, in the back of his mind, ever since the Doctor proposed this scheme to him, in the face of what would have been his final death.

"Well, I don't appreciate being strangled, for one thing." The Doctor rubs his neck and winces, although the Master's hardly left a bruise.

"Not that, Doctor. Why bring me back? Why help me? Why keep me here on your TARDIS, since that seems to be what you are prepared to do?"

"I don't know. Old times' sake? Because I foolishly hope my continuing influence will make you a better person? Because I like the sight of your face? Because, loath as I am to admit it, I owe you one? Take your pick." He waves a hand.

It's a rather disconcerting list, and one the Master is disinclined to choose from. "Do you know what I think? I think it's because I won't go and die on you." He runs a hand down the torso of this new, artificial body. If it's anywhere near as well-constructed as he thinks it is, he'll almost certainly outlast the Doctor's remaining lifetimes. "I'm not fragile. Not like your humans."

The Doctor's face falls, goes cloudy, closes down and closes off. "Clearly, you haven't changed," he says. Then he turns, silently, and stalks out of the room.

"Not fragile like you are, these days," the Master says quietly, but the Doctor is gone. He sighs. "And entirely too trusting." He looks around the empty console room for a moment, imagining all the havoc he could wreak in here, feeling no programmed compunctions about doing so. Then he goes to find the kitchen and make himself a cup of tea.

His taste receptors, like the rest of him, are exquisite.

**

He's just finishing his first cup when the Doctor comes in, sits down across the table from him, grabs the teapot, and wordlessly pours the remainder of its contents into a second cup he appears to have produced from thin air. The Master purses his lips in annoyance. He'd been rather looking forward to finishing the pot himself.

"So," the Doctor says, finally, after several sips, "I see you've figured out you can still drink." Apparently they are not going to talk about their confrontation in the console room. So be it.

"Given your sometimes obsessive fondness for this particular beverage, it hardly occurred to me to doubt you'd provide that functionality."

"No one should be deprived of a good cup of Darjeeling, no matter what they might have done." The Doctor takes another long swallow.

The Master decides not to dignify that with a reply.

"We should test your physical control," the Doctor says, sitting his cup down. "Can you raise your hands up above your head?"

He shrugs and does so, leaving them up there for a moment before suddenly realizing how much it looks like he is surrendering to the Doctor. Scowling, he lowers them again.

"Good, good," says the Doctor, seemingly oblivious. "Now, make a fist."

"Gladly." The Doctor studies his hand closely, and attempts to pry the fist open with his fingers. The Master resists with ease.

"All right, now relax it." The Master does. The Doctor curls his own fingers loosely in towards his palm. "Squeeze my hand. Hard as you can."

He has hold of the Doctor's hand almost before he's finished speaking, clenching it relentlessly. The Doctor makes a little sound of pain, but the hand does not explode into pulp and gore. "Yes, I think we've calibrated your strength correctly. You can let go, now."

The Master continues to squeeze. He feels a slight smile creeping onto his face, can tell by the expression in the Doctor's eyes that he recognizes this as a choice, and not a malfunction.

"Master..."

The Master opens his hand.

"Just one more test," says the Doctor, snatching up the Master's empty teacup and hurling it at his face.

The Master catches it, millimeters from his nose. "I think the reflexes are noticeably improved," he says, setting it down gently in front of him.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"My dear Doctor," he says, the words coming out before he remembers his earlier resolution not to feed the man's ego, "whatever our philosophical differences, I have never doubted your technical prowess."

The Doctor makes a scoffing sound. "Philosophical differences? Is that what you call what we have?"

"What else would you call it?"

The Doctor shakes his head, downs the remainder of his tea, and stands. "Well. I have a great deal of cleaning up to do. You were a messy thing to create, you know."

"Aren't we all."

The Doctor snorts, and heads for the door. On the threshold, he hesitates. Quietly, half-turning, he says, "You know, you may be right. Much as it's proven an irritation to me over the years, there is something... comfortable in your continued refusal to die."

Before the Master can think of a suitable reply to that, he's gone.

Briefly, the Master considers following him, but chooses to brew another pot of tea instead. After all, the Doctor having stolen his is hardly a situation that can be allowed to stand.

**

The Doctor keeps his TARDIS hovering in the Vortex for a week, until the Master asks him if he has finally given up his peripatetic ways in favor of eternal, dull domesticity at the Master's side.

"Well, you should know by now," the Doctor replies flippantly, "I can't take you anywhere."

A fatuous reply, but the Master chooses not to push him on the subject. The situation, for the moment, is not unpleasant. The Doctor has a well-stocked library, and although the contents of his larder run entirely too much to sweets for the Master's taste, a little exploration reveals a surprisingly well-stocked wine cellar located between an empty dirigible hanger and a room full of boots. (The wine, of course, has no physiological effect on him, but then, it barely did when he possessed a Time Lord body, when consumed in any remotely reasonable quantity. Which is really just as well. During the period when his physicality was as much Trakenite as time Lord, alcohol of any sort had had an unfortunate tendency to go to his head, resulting in a few experiences he is not at all keen to repeat.)

He also discovers that the Doctor is as satisfying an opponent at 7-dimensional chess as he was in the days of their youth. Which observation, when he voices it, leads to a surprisingly entertaining session of reminiscence. The Doctor, in this incarnation, turns out to be capable of remarkably droll and astonishingly accurate impressions of several of their old professors.

It all passes the time well enough, during the hours when he's not busy planning his escape.

**

He would prefer to drug the Doctor into sleep for this, but the means to do so appear not to exist anywhere on this ship. He does, in one of the many eccentrically-stocked first aid kits scattered about in random locations, find the packaging for several doses of a Gallifreyan sleep aid, but their contents have all been consumed.

Instead, he is forced to employ plan B: keeping the Doctor awake for a full week by presenting him with new, irresistibly challenging variants on their chess game every time he looks as if he's beginning to think about bedtime, and then, at last, settling him down in the most comfortable chair in the library with soft music and a mug of chamomile. Soon enough, his head is nodding over one of those Harry Potter books he's inexplicably fond of. The Master grabs the book as it slips from his hands, then snaps his fingers in front of the Doctor's face. He responds only with a snore. Excellent.

The Master proceeds with deliberate haste to the console room. After their initial confrontation, the Doctor has locked the controls to his biodata, but such measures are sufficiently trivial for one of the Master's skills to bypass that he rather feels he ought to be insulted. Still, full access is likely to be somewhat time-consuming, and the Doctor has always been an annoyingly light sleeper. The Master opts instead for partial control: enough to allow him to land the TARDIS, but not to give him free choice of coordinates. He'll be limited to whatever destinations are currently residing in the TARDIS's memory buffer.

He scrolls through his options rapidly, and smiles. 20th century Earth. Of course. How utterly predictable. And how appropriate. They'll be stranded there together, quite like old times. He is sure that, once again, he can think of a few entertaining little schemes to keep them from becoming bored.

As soon as they've materialized, he yanks a panel from the console and begins removing the components he'll need. The TARDIS emits a shrill, mechanical yelp, then powers itself down with a groan. No doubt the Doctor, sentimentalist that he is, will resent this mutilation of his precious machine as much as he does the result. Well, it is his own fault. If he had chosen literally any other power source for the Master's body, escape would have been a simple matter of building an external battery – easily done with scraps gathered from the Doctor's workshop – and walking out the door. As it is, he also requires a means of breaking the link to the Eye of Harmony conduit and replacing it with a similar temporal signature. Which means that nothing but the TARDIS's own power couplings will do.

He is crouched on the floor, fitting the couplings into his new battery pack, when he hears a footstep behind him. He turns to see the Doctor standing above him with an angry expression on his face and a remote control device in his hand.

"Ah, Doctor. I trust you had a nice nap? I'm afraid that I–"

"Oh, please," says the Doctor. "Spare me." And he hits a button.

**

"–must decline your continued hospitality," he says, realizing even as the words leave his lips that he's no longer where he was. Instead, he's back in the library, occupying the chair that was so recently the site of the Doctor's nap. "Oh." Well, at least he isn't chained up in a closet somewhere. Which may be a mistake on the Doctor's part. "You built me with an off switch. You built me with an off switch?!"

"Don't sound so surprised," says the Doctor. He's still holding the remote in his hand, slipping it back into his pocket as he speaks. "You'd have done the same thing, in my position."

The Master draws himself up from the slightly slumped position the Doctor must have dumped him in. "Oh, yes, I would." He lets out a nasty little laugh. "So much for all your lofty pretense at being better than me. You're just as willing – eager, even – to seize control over others as I am, when you feel you have an excuse. You're simply too much of a hypocrite to admit it."

The Doctor looks stricken. It's an attractive look on him. "I am not. I–"

The Master leans forward in his chair and smiles. "Yes, you are. Don't pretend it didn't feel good to stop me. To hold my continuing existence in your hand." The thought sends a strange little thrill through him. From the way the Doctor's looking at him, perhaps it shows.

"Fine," says the Doctor. He yanks the control from his pocket. A stick of gum, three Venusian pennies and a tiny wind-up dog fall out with it, but he doesn't appear to notice. "Take it, then. I've already safeguarded my TARDIS against further interference. And you're right, we all deserve to be in charge of our own existence. Even you." He holds the device out to the Master.

The Master puts his hand over the Doctor's, curves his fingers around the control. "No," he says somewhat to his own surprise. No doubt he'll regret it later.

The Doctor looks confused. "If this is some kind of a double-bluff, Master, I assure you, it won't stop me from using it if you–"

The Master tightens his hand on the Doctor's, almost, but not quite, enough to press the button that will, however temporarily, extinguish his consciousness. "It's no bluff. I like you better this way."

The Doctor pulls his hand from the Master's grip. "I swear, I will never understand you."

"Oh, but you do." The Master grins. "That's what frightens you."

The Doctor makes a small, disgusted sound and shoves the remote control back into his pocket. "I'm going to bed."

"Do you want company?" the Master says, not quite able to stop himself. He is pleased by how bland his voice manages to sound.

The Doctor rolls his eyes. "Leave my TARDIS alone!" he calls over his shoulder as he leaves. "Try that again, and she'll deactivate you herself!"

Well. That was interesting.

**

Of course, he tries it again, just to see. He loses consciousness with his hand on a TARDIS console access panel, and comes back to life again still in the console room. The Doctor is standing next to him, his finger on what the Master is starting to think of as "his" button.

The Master shrugs. "I had to try."

"I'm starting to think you're enjoying this."

Starting to? He'd thought it embarrassingly obvious. Honestly, for such a brilliant mind, sometimes the Doctor can be amazingly slow on the uptake. "We must all take our amusements where we can get them," he says.

"Personally," says the Doctor, "I'd rather just play chess."

**

Over the next few days, they play a great deal of chess. When they grow tired of that, they play two-handed Zeta Reticulan Poker, multilingual Scrabble, Fizzbin, virtual reality Snakes and Ladders, the Board Game of Rassilon, and a frankly insane variant of Monopoly that involves rescuing hotels from invading armies and vying to see who can give the most money to charity. The Master is fairly certain the Doctor has made all of them up, but his inventions are not without a certain eccentric charm. And, while they lack the high-stakes heft of world domination plans, the result is surprisingly intellectually stimulating, and helps to keep him from thinking about the remote control in the Doctor's pocket and the disconcerting, strangely contented excitement he feels upon imagining it there. Well, not more than a few times a day.

Of course, there's no way it can last. The Master expects this interlude to end when one of them becomes sufficiently restless. He imagines that the Doctor is thinking the same thing, and that this ridiculously extended version of Game Night in the Prydonian dorms is simply the product of each of them refusing to give the other the satisfaction of blinking first. Knowing the Doctor as he does, he fully expects to win. Which is some consolation for losing repeatedly at Monopoly.

As the days go by, however, and the Doctor shows no sign of interest in doing anything but living out his remaining regenerations here in the Vortex, the Master begins to suspect it may not be entirely about him at all.

**

The Doctor, being more familiar with the quirks of his vehicle, notices it first. He lifts his head from contemplation of the game board between them, closes his eyes as if listening to something, then begins to shout. "Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no!"

Somewhere around the third "no," the Master senses it, too: the TARDIS has made a – presumably unscheduled – landing. Which perhaps makes the Doctor's distress understandable, as most of the possible causes behind such an event are unfortunate and undesirable. Although, interestingly, the Doctor sounds more angry than worried.

The Master takes advantage of his distraction to pocket a few game counters from the Doctor's side of the board, not because he expects the Doctor will fail to notice, but because his reaction when he does is likely to prove entertaining.

The Doctor is shouting at the ceiling now. "I won't! Do you hear me? I won't!"

"If you're shouting at the Ship," says the Master, "you must surely be aware there are better ways of communicating with it?"

The Doctor gives him a nanosecond glare, and half-runs from the room. With a shrug, the Master follows.

When he arrives in the console room, the Doctor is giving the scanner screen a similar, although more sustained, version of the same glare.

The Master contemplates it calmly.

It shows an almost deserted city street. The architecture is unfamiliar, but shows signs of recent conflict: buildings scarred with laser burns, or bombed into teetering husks. A shadowy humanoid figure dashes out of a doorway, looking fearfully around it as it crosses the torn-up street, and disappears into an alley.

"Looks like your sort of place," the Master remarks. "Plenty of do-gooding to be accomplished here, no doubt."

"They certainly seem to think so."

"They?" Even as he says it, the Master realizes what the particular inflection the Doctor has given that pronoun must mean. "Oh. Oh, ho! They're at it again, are they? Using you as their puppet while they sit back on Gallifrey refusing to dirty their soft little hands?"

The Doctor doesn't answer, his eyes still on the scanner. His gaze darts back and forth, assessing the situation, looking for further movement. Well, of course. He could hardly help himself.

"Well, that explains why you've apparently decided to devote your life to sitting around playing games. I was beginning to think it was a failure of nerve. Which, I must say, would have been tremendously disappointing."

"Heaven forbid I disappoint you." On the screen, another terrified-looking figure darts across the street and vanishes.

"Indeed. But now I understand. Otherwise pleasurable activities, be they saving planets or a game of chess with an old friend, can quickly lose their luster when one has no choice but to participate."

"You just have to make everything about you." The Doctor turns away from the scanner screen and turns to face the Master instead. "Anyway, no one twisted your arm. You looked like you were enjoying yourself." He actually sounds a little hurt. It's oddly touching.

"Matching wits with you is always entertaining, Doctor. In whatever form. Watching you withdraw from the universe, however, is significantly less so."

The Doctor sighs. "Why did I ever choose to bring you back from the dead?"

"A question well worth contemplating," says the Master. "Perhaps because without me, you'd have to have this conversation by yourself."

On the scanner, the street is briefly illuminated by a flash of laser light, and a roar bellows out from somewhere out of sight.

"I suppose it can't hurt to go and look around," says the Doctor. "I'll be back in just a minute." He activates the door control with a weary thunk of his fist.

The Master watches on the scanner as he steps out into the street, looks around, and disappears down the alley after the hurrying figures.

He doesn't see him again for three days.

**

In the interim, he occupies himself in attempting to impose some of his own sense of order on the chaos of the Doctor's TARDIS. Halfway through reorganizing the library – the Doctor having at some point decided to arrange his shelves based on which authors would have the most interesting conversations if they were to take the place of their works – it occurs to him that this could be construed as the action of a man who has decided to settle down in a place and make it his own, but he decides not to dwell on this thought unnecessarily.

He's just finished programming the Doctor's dusty old food machine to produce something more closely resembling food and is in the process of upgrading the Doctor's toolkit when the alarm he's rigged up to notify him when the TARDIS doors open buzzes in his ears. Well. It's about time. Not that he was worried, but the question of how he might possibly be expected to rescue the Doctor from whatever mess he might have got himself into from in here has begun to distract him, just a little.

**

When he reaches the console room, the Doctor is slumped over, his arms braced against the console as if it's the only thing keeping him from falling over completely. His clothes are covered with grime, and there are ragged claw-marks gashed across his cheek, as if he's recently tangled with some very large, very angry beast. Which, knowing him, he almost certainly has.

"So," the Master says pleasantly, as he takes the Doctor's elbow and leads him to a chair. "Did you have a nice adventure, then?"

"I did what they wanted," the Doctor says, all but falling into the chair. "That's one war stopped before it spreads offworld and grows large enough to become an inconvenience to the Celestial Intervention Agency. Hooray for me." He blinks. "Did you tidy up in here? How unexpectedly domestic. And where did this chair come from? It doesn't suit the décor at all."

"I'm afraid this is what happens when you leave me to my own devices."

"Really? Time was, when I did that you'd try to hold the entire universe hostage."

"I confess, that was one of my more over-ambitious plans." The Master cups a hand under the Doctor's chin and lifts his face to inspect the scratches. "We're going to need a tissue repair kit."

"I think there may be one in the–" But before the Doctor has finished the sentence, the Master has the kit in his hand. "Hmm. I didn't think it was there."

"No, but it should have been." The Master closes the storage compartment and removes a moist, sterile wipe from the kit. "Hold still." He begins to clean dirt and dried blood from the Doctor's face. "Stop squirming, Doctor. I am trying to help!"

"You are, aren't you?" He actually sounds surprised. "Hmph. I didn't know you cared."

He almost feels angry at that, somehow. Part of him wants to let his finger slip on the the tissue repair device, to dial up the settings until it makes the Doctor yelp. Instead, he merely says, "No?", and the Doctor remains still and calm beneath his hands as he works.

"There," he says as he finishes. "Good as new. Although you should be more careful. If whatever attacked you had slightly less fortunate aim, you could have lost that eye."

"Considering that I'd just narrowly escaped being vaporized, it hardly seemed worth worrying about."

He sets the tissue repairer back into its slot in the kit. "In that case, you should definitely be more careful."

The Doctor shrugs. His eyes, suddenly, look as weary as the Master has ever seen them. "Might have been just as well." The flatness is his voice is frightening.

"Self-pity, Doctor? And here I thought you had finally given that up."

"It's not self-pity. Not that I would expect you to understand. Billions of people have died because of you, and have you ever felt the slightest remorse?"

Ah. It's not about the Time Lords this time, then. It's about the girl. Again.

"Occasionally," he says. "And I understand considerably more than you might imagine. I understand, for instance, the difference between billions of strangers and one person you truly care for."

"Do you?" The Doctor's voice is quiet, his eyes surprisingly difficult to read.

The Master thinks back over what he's just said, finds a confusing tangle of possible meanings in it. "One day," he says, "I'm going to be able to leave this place. You know that."

"Yes," the Doctor sighs.

"And you know how dangerous I am."

"Yes, unfortunately."

"And you saved me, anyway."

The Doctor rolls his eyes, a little too theatrically. "Yes, that is one more thing for me to feel guilty about. Thank you, Master. That's immensely helpful."

"I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, you fool!"

"Then what are you trying to do?" The Doctor's face is genuinely, frustratingly puzzled. A frustration made all the deeper because the Master isn't entirely certain of the answer, himself. Half-formed, inadequate answers flash through his mind, but none of them feel remotely right. He isn't trying to say "thank you," isn't trying to make the Doctor feel better, isn't trying to impress upon him his own capacity to understand self-destruction and failure and pain. Or maybe he is.

Not knowing what to do, he does the only thing that feels right to him. He leans down over the chair, grabs the back of the Doctor's head, pulls him close, and kisses him.

The Doctor lets out a little squeak of surprise, and then, much to the Master's own surprise, he kisses back. It only lasts a moment, but it's a beautiful, desperate, promising thing.

The Master rests his forehead against the Doctor's. It's an intimate position, one from which they could easily touch each other's minds, if they chose.

They rest there, for a long moment. Then, quietly, not moving, the Doctor says, "Well. One could make the argument that we deserve each other."

"Symbiosis, of a kind," says the Master. "You need me to stop you from doing something ill-advised." He strokes the Doctor's cheek. "And the universe needs you to stop me."

The Doctor lets out a short, sharp laugh, his breath puffing gently across the Master's face. "And you think I can do that, do you?"

The Master dips his fingers into the Doctor's trouser pocket, caressing the remote control briefly. "For the moment, at least, you seem to have the situation in hand."

"I'd have expected you to resent that."

"Yes. So would I. And, yet."

The Doctor draws in a ragged little sigh. "I'm tired," he says. "I'm going to bed."

The Master steps aside to let him stand. He feels suddenly, vulnerably empty. Foolish Master. What else should he have expected?

"I wouldn't mind some company," the Doctor says.

**

He holds the Doctor in his arms. The man is naked, drenched in sweat, trembling slightly in the wake of their exertions. The Master himself, while well-satisfied, feels cool and fresh and in control. He basks for a moment in a pleasant, albeit petty feeling of superiority, before he realizes that the Doctor could plausibly claim the credit for himself. Well, so be it. He is in a magnanimous mood, and entirely willing to share.

"This will never work, you know," says the Doctor. His body cuddles close into the Master's as he speaks, one leg thrown over the Master's own.

"No?" He strokes the Doctor's hair. He rather likes this regeneration's hair. The pointy bits are a bit melodramatic, but the widow's peak is quite appealing. "I thought I was meant to be the pessimist in this relationship."

"You're the megalomaniac in this relationship," the Doctor responds. "Let's be realistic. Are you really going to be happy, trapped here, playing chess and rearranging my emergency supplies and talking me out of giving up? Because, to be honest, short of cannibalizing my own TARDIS – which is not going to happen – I don't actually know how to set you free. Even if I could convince myself it would be ethical."

"You took it upon yourself to keep me trapped here, for your own selfish reasons and your grandiose notions about the good of the universe, and I'm the megalomaniac?" For some reason, he finds this terribly amusing. He smiles as he strokes the Doctor's side, smiles wider as he feels him shudder a little at the caress.

"Oh, dear. It's not going to be the boring 'We are not so different, you and I' speech again, is it? And I was just starting to enjoy your company." The Doctor shifts his body slightly against him and nuzzles gently at his shoulder.

"I think we can take that speech as read," the Master says, "and not bother with it again at this point."

"Oh, good."

"But, I believe I have devised a cunning plan of escape."

"Oh dear. Does it involve trying to get me to fall asleep again? Because you do seem to have come up with a much better strategy for that." He yawns and rests his head against the Master's chest.

"No. The plan is this: I become your partner, your lover, your dearest companion."

"There's that ego again." He can feel the Doctor's smile against his skin.

"Hush." He smacks the Doctor lightly on his side, and continues. "I become those things. I give you what you need, what you secretly hoped I would give you when you brought me back in this form. I thoroughly enjoy the power this gives me over you."

"I ought to have known power would come into it somewhere."

"It's already come in on your side, Doctor. Fair's fair."

The Doctor stretches a little and raises his head to look at him. "Maybe. Go on with this plan of yours."

The Master trails a finger down the Doctor's arm. His sweat is already beginning to dry. "The rest of it is simple," he says. "You could hardly bear to have the man you love cut off from full experience of the world. You'll want him to be free to see the universe with you. Free, perhaps, to help you shake off the yoke of the Time Lords."

"And I'll help you escape, is that it?" The Doctor laughs.

"I'm sure the two of us together will be able to solve the problem. We are the most brilliant minds in the universe, after all."

"I see. And what guarantee do I have that as soon as we've solved it, you won't go right back to killing people, and trying to take over the universe, and similar tedious pursuits?" The Doctor's tone is light, but his face is still and serious.

"You'll simply have to see to it that I'm well-satisfied here." He lets his hand drift lower down the Doctor's body, bringing it to rest against his hip. "And, of course, there is always that remote control device of yours."

"You are completely insane."

"So I've been told."

The Doctor yawns again, snuggles against him, and closes his eyes. "Maybe we do deserve each other."

"Go to sleep, Doctor."

"You won't be here in the morning," the Doctor mutters. "You'll have taken that remote and done something brilliantly evil, and you'll be off to destroy some poor, undeserving civilization, and it will be all my fault."

"Go to sleep," he says again.

And brings the Doctor tea in the morning when he wakes.