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Zero Sum

Chapter Text

The time came when it was necessary to transfer the paradox machine to its permanent home. As powerful as the TARDIS was, it paled in comparison to the Eye of Harmony, the black hole housed at the very heart of New Gallifrey's central city. Through the Master's unending conquests, the Time Lords now had the technology for the machine to be separated from the ship, and the Master was greatly looking forward to having a functioning TARDIS again. It was a waste of resources to let it sit there collecting dust in a vault.

The Doctor, when he'd been told the news, hadn't been quite so thrilled. He'd retreated to his lab and buried himself in work. The Master could feel him brooding all the way from the Great Tower.

He didn't have the patience for the Doctor's moods, not when he had incredibly complex temporal-gravitational calculations to sort out. No one had ever moved a paradox machine before, at least not without collapsing the paradox. And he was not about to lose his empire because of a calculation error. He called Allia. "Go talk to your father," he told her. "He's in a sulk."

She sighed. "You always make me do the dirty work," she said, with reluctant affection.

"That's right," the Master said, unrepentant. "All you have to do is go over there and smile nicely and he'll go back to being nauseatingly mushy."

"Why don't you just zap him?" she asked. That was her term for the way he used their Archangel link. He could hear the Doctor's thoughts from galaxies away, and send him pain or pleasure with equal ease. But sometimes a subtler weapon was necessary.

"Because I'm too busy to micromanage," the Master told her. "Do you want your own plasma squad or not? Because I could give it to one of my other lieutenants."

"Fine, fine," she said, relenting. "But I want the squad and a cruiser. I do have a rebellion to crush next week."

"That's my girl," the Master said.

"Allia!" said the Doctor, spreading his arms wide for a hug. He squeezed her tight. "Feels like you've been gone forever."

"It's been two months," she reminded him. "I had a break, thought I'd drop by."

"I'm glad," said the Doctor, the corners of his eyes wrinkling as he smiled dotingly.

Mushy indeed, she thought. Oh, well. She didn't mind, not really.

"You're in charge of the Traidus cluster now, aren't you?" he asked, already heading for the kettle. He always made tea when she visited.

"Yes," she said, settling into a chair at the kitchen table. "It's going well. There's some trouble on Rho-4, but I don't expect it to be a problem."

The Doctor frowned as he set out two teacups. "Trouble?"

"Rebels," she said. "The usual troublemakers. There's always a group of them who aren't affected by Archangel."

"It's my fault, I suppose. I could never reach better than 99% effectiveness," the Doctor said, regretfully.

"Don't feel sorry for them," she told him, not for the first time. "Some people don't know what's good for them."

"One percent of the universe is a lot of lives," the Doctor said. "I just wish..." He trailed off, shrugged. They'd had this discussion before, and there was nothing new to add.

"You don't really want the whole universe to be peacefully controlled," she told him. "How boring would that be?"

The Doctor gave her that despairing look of his. "You're too much like him, sometimes."

"He says the same thing. I'm too much like you, too soft." Sometimes she wished her two fathers would stop trying to mold her in their respective images.

"I'll have to take half the blame, then," the Doctor said, quirking a smile. The kettle whistled, and he turned it off. "He sent you, didn't he?"

"Can't fool you," she said.

He poured their tea, quiet as he went through the familiar ritual. When he added a plate of chocolate biscuits, she knew something was bothering him. That was his comfort food.

"Want to talk about it?" she asked, after he'd been staring into his tea for several minutes.

"Not really," he said. "But he's not going to stop pestering you until I do, so..." He sipped his tea. "Best get on with it."

"Are you two having trouble again?" she asked.

"No no," the Doctor insisted. He gave a soft smile. "I don't see enough of him, that's all. Ruling the universe takes up most of his time. We have the link, but it's not the same."

"You could offer to help," she said. "You're probably the only one he trusts enough to shoulder the important stuff."

The Doctor gave a laugh. "Nah. I'm too soft, remember?"

"You've designed half the armoury," she pointed out.

He didn't look entirely comfortable about that. "I also want the universe to be peacefully controlled, rather than massacred. We never could agree on that, so we compromised."

"We're their superiors," she said, confidently. "They deserve whatever we give them."

"Oh, Allia," he sighed, sadly. After a pause, he continued. "It's the TARDIS. She's being restored, in preparation for the transfer."

"Didn't that used to be your ship?" she asked. He'd rarely talked about it, but it was a point of general knowledge. Everyone knew that the Empire was founded on the paradox locked inside the blue box.

"A long time ago," he said. "I said goodbye to her, so I could keep you." He looked up at her, and his eyes were so old. He still looked the same as ever, physically young, which made it hard to remember that he was over a thousand years old. She was just coming up on her first hundred, and even though she was older than almost everyone else on New Gallifrey, it was humbling to realize how young she actually was.

"Well, speaking for myself, I'm glad you did," she said, lightly.

"I tried to forget about her," he continued, staring down at his tea again. "Did forget, for decades. I've forgotten more than you've even lived."

"You remember," she said. "You used to tell me all those stories about your adventures."

"Only the parts that didn't hurt," he said, then sighed. "They used to say that once you hit the thousands you'd spend more time with memories than the present."

"The old Time Lords?"

"Yes," he said. "I don't like my memories. Sometimes I've thought..."

"What?" she asked.

"I've thought about asking him to put the rest of them away. Everything but our lives here." He looked up at her again. "I don't want to live in my memories. I want what I have now. You and him, and your brothers."

"So don't live in your memories," she said. It seemed simple enough to her.

"I'm trying, but the TARDIS, it's... that's almost my entire life. My ship." He looked pained. "I wish they'd just left it in that vault."

The Master heard everything, of course. He was used to the constant buzz of the Doctor's thoughts, relied on the link to keep an eye on him and influence him when necessary. He'd never quite been able to bring the Doctor completely over to his point of view--there was some core of do-gooding that was impossible to pry loose without risking his whole personality. The Master had considered a straightforward wipe when the Doctor had been particularly irritating, but in the end he'd decided a little conflict kept things interesting. He liked it when things were interesting.

The fact that the Doctor missed him was rather pleasing for his ego. Even with the universe under his leather-gloved thumb, his domination of the Doctor was so much more satisfyingly personal. The man who'd thwarted him for a thousand years, now safely at his side, his genius (however inferior to the Master's) turned for the benefit of the Master's conquest. The sex was good, too. Perhaps he would pay a visit to the house, later. A good hard fuck still quieted the Doctor's mind better than any zap.

He set aside his calculations to check on the reports flowing in from every corner of his Empire. Things were going so very well. Even the rebellions were satisfying, giving him the chance for a spot of slaughter and the occasional genocide. He always made sure to lead the most promisingly deadly campaigns himself. He liked the personal touch, and besides, it was good for his image. Terrified respect was so useful.

Life was, in other words, almost entirely perfect. But that didn't mean he should let himself get sloppy.

The paradox machine was a problem. He'd cobbled it together using one ancient Type-40 and whatever Earth technology he'd been able to find that was crudely advanced enough to be useful for more than a paperweight. It had been running for a hundred years now, but he needed it to run for a hundred trillion more. That meant stability, that meant power. That meant somehow transferring the linchpin of the universe to the thickly-armoured bunker below the city, upgrading it, and connecting it up to the Eye of Harmony.

Even aside from the technical problems, it was just the kind of moment that people tended to take advantage of. He loathed vulnerability, especially his own, and until this was all over everything was at risk. Everything.

He read the next report, and frowned. Their little pest problem was back, again. The first thing he was going to do once he had a working TARDIS was go back in time and destroy the Cult of Skaro personally. The Daleks had to be the most obstinately annoying race in the universe, and he was sick of them popping up at the fringes, manipulating a species into helping create more Daleks, and then buggering off once the Master's fleet started blowing them out of the sky. There was only room for one ruler of everything, and that was not going to be some disgusting mutant blob in a personal tank.

He slapped down the report and glowered. He needed to make something die. He took the lift down to the torture rooms, and tried to decide which miserable piece of shit to put out of his misery. Oh yes, he knew which one.

He walked over to what used to be Jack's cell. Now it held the imbecile who'd let him escape. The Master had been slowly flaying him for almost a decade now, always letting him heal before the next round. He was an almost unrecognizable mess of scar tissue now, and there'd been a satisfying rattle in his breathing during their last round. Best to make sure he dies screaming rather than peacefully in his sleep.

Losing his favourite (well, second favourite) victim and pincushion had made him very, very angry. Decades of torture had probably left the Freak too broken to do more than huddle in the basement of his rescuers, but he still didn't like it. He had a sense for knowing when someone was up to something, for seeing the shape of a plan, and there were too many things falling into place. It made him very, very angry.

If he was going to visit the Doctor later, he needed to be able to pretend to be vaguely nice, and that meant someone else was not going to survive the next few hours.

"Two visitors in one day," the Doctor said, wryly. "You just missed her, as you well know."

"Busy day at the office," the Master said, giving him a kiss. "I hear you've been missing me."

The Doctor's expression softened. "It was sweet of you to send her. Though if you hadn't posted her so far away..."

"She goes where she's needed. You know how it works." He closed the door behind them and pressed the Doctor up against the wall. "I'm not here to talk about her." He rubbed his hand over the Doctor's crotch, and gave him a zap of pleasure, just to get things started.

The Doctor moaned. "You're not here to talk at all," he said, already starting to glaze over. He was so delightfully receptive, but then, the Master had made him that way. His very own customized Doctor. Most of the work had been done in the initial stages, but he still found time to tweak things here and there. A memory clarified or hidden, a bit of internal chemistry altered just a notch. The link made behavioural conditioning so easy, and the latest spinal implant gave him even finer control than the one before. No matter how stubborn the Doctor's ingrained morality might be, there were still so many other things that could be altered at the slightest whim.

The remote control wasn't a clunky device anymore. He just needed to think, and the Doctor's body obeyed. The Doctor made a choked sound as the Master paralyzed him, and amplified his surface nerves.

"Trouble breathing?" he asked, slipping his hand under the Doctor's shirt, feeling the complete failure of his chest to rise and fall. There was always such delicious panic in the Doctor's eyes when he did this. It made him want to do it more. Sometimes he waited until the Doctor had almost passed out, and savoured his fear before releasing his lungs. That first, desperate gasp was like music to him.

He only waited a few minutes before letting him breathe again, this time. Oxygen deprivation always made the Doctor pliably euphoric, and grateful for every breath. As he should be.

"Something different today, I think," he murmured, slowly unbuttoning the Doctor's clothes. He leaned in and gave his neck a hard nip, and felt the Doctor yelp in his head, even though he couldn't so much as twitch. He considered his options, and inspiration came.

"You wanted to see me so much," he continued, tracing his fingers around the Doctor's eyes. "Let's make you want a little more." He released the Doctor's paralysis, and at the same time disabled his optic nerves. The Doctor immediately reached out for him, anxious and aroused, and the Master let him touch.

"Bastard," the Doctor muttered. His hearts were racing.

"Try again," the Master said, a hint of steel in his voice that he knew made the Doctor quiver in the best way.

"Master," the Doctor breathed, and then groaned as the Master's hand wrapped around his cock.

It wasn't until a long time later, when they were both exhausted and sated, that the Master turned his eyes back on. The Doctor blinked and rubbed his eyes, and drank in the sight of the Master like a man dying of thirst. Oh yes, he'd have to do this one more often.

"Miss me?" the Master said, smugly.

"Terribly," the Doctor said. He stared intensely at the Master's face, then down at his body as his hands wandered along the Master's chest. "I've been considering your offer. I'd miss the house, but I miss you more."

"You'll have an even better lab," the Master told him. "A whole floor, the latest equipment." He reached down and grabbed the Doctor's arse. "You can come over for lunch and suck my cock."

The Doctor moaned, and his irises dilated. "I miss having you in my head. Properly, I mean."

"The link's not the same," the Master agreed, echoing the Doctor's earlier sentiment. He released the Doctor's arse and pressed his palm against his face. Slipping inside the Doctor's head was still an exquisite trespass, even after a century. Eleven hundred years of memories that were as familiar to him as his own, he'd handled them so many times. So much raw material to play with. "I'll be able to watch you dream again," he said.

"Yes," the Doctor said, happily. The Master could see him already planning what to pack. It was so sweet, how much the Doctor needed him. So conveniently useful. That had been there from the start, without any manipulation at all.

He pulled up a memory from their time on the Valiant and polished it like a jewel. It had been some of the best months of his life, when he'd been whittling away at the Doctor from every angle, when he'd had his hands red with the Doctor's blood on a regular basis. He was certain he could come up with an excuse for another surgery. The Doctor clung to this body despite how it had been weakened by carrying Allia, which meant he still needed, or at least thought he needed, regular checkups, the occasional injection. There'd even been some extremely entertaining implants for a few decades, though right now the Doctor's body was sadly untampered with. Once the paradox machine was safely in its permanent home, that would have to change.

Oh yes. He had so many ideas to try. Some of them were going to hurt quite a lot, he imagined. He couldn't wait to see the Doctor writhe.

The Doctor was oblivious to his plans. The Master liked it that way. Once he was living in the Great Tower, the Master would need to be more careful about keeping the wrong information from reaching him. It was easy when the Doctor kept to the house--he'd never quite fit in with the new Time Lord society, which wasn't much of a surprise, and isolation kept him needy. Especially now that all their children had left the nest. It was time to reel the Doctor back in.

"Do you want me to help you pack?" he asked.

"You're sure you're not too busy?"

"I can spare a morning," the Master said. "Allia can help. Call it family time."

The Doctor's happiness was so strong he had to dampen the link for a few seconds.

The Doctor's relationships with his sons had never been quite as warm as the one he had with his daughter. Chalk it up to her being the first, blame it on them being loomed into infancy rather than born. Or maybe the Master hadn't kept the balance so fifty-fifty as he had with Allia. The Doctor had always suspected as much, but no matter what the ratio, they were still his children, and he loved them.

Their youngest, Kerinoxacavilli, was still in the Academy. Not that it was the Academy of the Doctor's youth, given that the professors were all adult-loomed from the Master's DNA, and there weren't enough students in the upper classes for houses. In a few generations it would look more like it was supposed to, he expected.

Kerin had left home early, partly because he was ready for the challenge, but also because he'd spent so much time picking arguments with the Doctor and making sarcastic remarks. It had been like living with a teenaged Master, and the Doctor wasn't young enough to enjoy that particular experience all over again. Now that he'd passed the half-century mark, the Doctor was hoping their relationship would improve. And if it didn't, well, there was no harm in trying.

He left the Great Tower and walked to the Academic Residence quarter. He took his time strolling through the city, seeing how life had settled in since he'd last visited. For all that he'd helped with planning the city and creating its inhabitants, it had never really felt like home. That was reserved for their house at the edge of the dome. He would miss it, but it was too empty without the children, and he'd rattled around on his own there for too long. The change would do him good.

His status as a Founder gave him access to almost anything in the city. It also gave him a lot of attention. He was a rare enough sight that people stared at him in the streets, pointing and whispering, so he was glad to reach the residences and make his way inside. He'd never been much for celebrity.

He found Kerin's door and knocked.

"Oh, hello father," Kerin said, in that wary way of children when their parents made a surprise visit.

"Don't I get a hug?" the Doctor asked, holding out his arms. Kerin rolled his eyes, but obliged with a curt embrace. ”Oh, it's good to see you."

"What are you doing in the city?" Kerin asked, letting him into the room. "I thought you hated it here."

"I never hated it," the Doctor protested. "I've moved in with your father, in the Great Tower. Thought I'd give the city another try."

"You should've called first," Kerin said, gathering up some papers. "I have to go to class."

"Which one?" The Doctor started nosing through a stack of books, noting the various titles.

"Independent study," Kerin said, making a face at the Doctor's prying. "There's a group of us helping with the paradox transfer."

The Doctor stilled, then covered his discomfort with a smile. "You were always so smart," he said, proudly. "That's a big responsibility."

"Yeah, I know," Kerin said, rolling his eyes again. Still as prickly as ever, it seemed.

"Think they'd mind your old dad paying a visit?" the Doctor asked, eyebrows raised in hope. "I promise not to be too terribly embarrassing."

"Don't make promises you can't keep," Kerin said, then sighed. "Fine, you can come."

"Great!" said the Doctor, giving Kerin a slap on the back. "This'll be grand."

Chapter Text

The new paradox machine. Even inert it looked ominous, and the Doctor felt uneasy just being near it. But it was also about to become the very thing that held his life together. It was not the most stable of foundations on which to build an Empire and raise children, but there it was.

Something bad was going to happen. He could feel it in his bones.

He peered intently into its workings, wondering if he was subconsciously noticing a flaw, but he had to admit it all looked as it should. It wasn't quite classical design, but it was solid, and even a bit elegant. He recognized hints of his own design style, which he'd put into buildings and weaponry alike, and shook his head at how strange it was to have ended up a pillar of Time Lord society.

"There isn't anything wrong, is there?" one of the students asked, worried.

The Doctor realized he'd been scrutinizing for an unusual length of time, and straightened up. "No no, it all seems to be fine. Excellent job, really."

The other student, a woman who reminded him of Romana's third regeneration, spoke up. "Oh, it's not our design. We're just helping with the testing and fine-tuning."

"Ah," said the Doctor. "Still, important work. Vital, actually. If this goes wrong, well, either the universe will implode or you'll all stop existing." He gave a weak smile.

Everyone looked uncomfortable. Kerin looked about ready to bolt.

"Sorry. Awkward moment," the Doctor said. He sought a change of topic. "So when's the big day?"

"It's a secret," Kerin said, pointedly.

"Kerin!" said the female student. "He's a Founder. Show some respect."

"He's my father," Kerin said. "I don't have to respect him."

She shook her head. "The transfer's in two weeks, but it'll be down in the bunker. We'll have to use robots to handle it, because of the radiation, but you can come to the test run. That's in a week. Your ship will be there."

The Doctor felt his stomach tumble. "Will it?" he said, weakly. "I suppose I'll have to come, then. Welcome the old girl back."

"It would be a great honour," said the other student.

"What's it like? The TARDIS, I mean," she asked.

"Er, it's... Well, she always was a bit unreliable," the Doctor said, rubbing the back of his neck. The metal implant was below the skin now, but he could still feel it, a comforting bump. "Never knew where I was going to end up most days. But I suppose... she was rather wonderful."

"An unreliable time machine? That doesn't sound very safe," said the male student.

"It wasn't," said Kerin. "I've been suggesting that they take it apart and use it to grow a new batch."

The Doctor winced. The idea of it, breaking up the poor girl after a hundred years of suffering, it was too cruel. But voicing his objection to Kerin would only end in another argument. So much for father-son bonding, he thought.

"That'll take too long," said the woman. "Unless you were planning on waiting around for the eight hundred years it takes to grow one from scratch."

"The biology department's already engineered new coral buds," said the male student. "So taking apart the only TARDIS that's actually useable would just be stupid."

"I'd hardly call it useable," Kerin began, already launching into a familiar diatribe that the Doctor really could do without. He had enough on his mind.

"Perhaps I should be going," the Doctor said. "You have things to do, and you don't need me in the way." He shook hands with Kerin's classmates, and they thanked him for making an appearance. As if his mere presence was all that significant.

"I'll see you at the test run?" he said to Kerin, in the hallway.

"Don't you have to get permission?" Kerin sneered.

The Doctor frowned. Kerin had always taken a dim view of the way he sought the Master's approval for everything. Kerin didn't understand that that was just how they worked. "He already knows I've been invited," he pointed out. "He knows we're having this conversation right now."

"How can you live like this?" Kerin asked, giving him a disgusted look. "Like some kind of slave. People think you're a hero, but you're just pathetic."

"And what does that make him?" the Doctor asked, his own hackles raised.

"At least he's what he's supposed to be," Kerin replied. "He runs the Empire. Running you's just a hobby."

The Doctor went quiet, the deadly kind of quiet. "You know nothing about me, and nothing about us."

"I wish I didn't," Kerin said. "Then I wouldn't know I have such a disappointment for a father."

The Doctor tried not to let that hurt, but wasn't very successful. "I'm going now. I'll see you at the test run." He turned and walked calmly down the hall and outside, and didn't stop until he found a park thick with silver-leafed trees. He sat down on a bench and rested his head in his hands.

He'd been having a difficult time when they'd loomed Kerin. He'd been having one of his weak periods, and the Master had put him back on treatments, and that had made him moody and somewhat unstable. The Master had offered to force a regeneration and eliminate his health problems altogether, but the Doctor had refused, still would. He wanted every year he could squeeze out of his life, so he could stay and watch his family grow. None of his children had shown an interest in marriage or looming yet, and that made it all the more important that he stay in this body as long as he could, even if it was damaged. He'd been going through bodies far too fast before the Valiant, and now he had to make up for the losses. There was no reason why this one shouldn't last a few hundred years, as long as it was taken care of and he didn't take any foolish risks.

Like flying in his TARDIS again.

He was painfully torn whenever he thought about her. He missed her, but she represented everything he'd left behind. Freedom in the form of rootlessness, loneliness, loss after loss. He had family now, he had a home. It wasn't perfect, but nothing in the universe was. He'd travelled here and there, been shown the grandness of the Master's Empire, but he seemed to have lost the taste for it. He'd found something so much more important.

He needed his family. The only problem was, they'd grown up, and they didn't need him. It made his chest ache unbearably. Kerin hated him, and their middle child, Briam, was on the other side of the universe, leading some squadron or other. At least he saw Allia a few times a year.

The Master had agreed on three, but he could probably be coaxed into a fourth if the Doctor truly put his mind to it. But another loom-child wasn't going to magically make him happy. He needed the Master to be happy.

At least he knew he'd made the right decision, now, in moving into the Tower. So what if people stared at him? So what if they thought he was a heroic Founder? Living here, he'd be with the man he loved. He'd go to sleep with the Master comfortably in his mind again. They'd have a great deal more sex, and most of all he'd have the Master's attention, the way he did when they were on the Valiant. He so often thought about that time, the closeness they'd shared. The Master knew how much it mattered, because he made sure to keep those memories sharp for him, so he wouldn't have to work to remember. They felt as sharp as yesterday, even sharper. He wanted to go back to that.

He'd even been dreaming about lab-days, the way the Master had cared for him when he'd hurt. It had been worth every second of pain, to be so cared for.

He shook off the memories. That was then, this was now. He'd have to be happy with the attention the Master could spare. He was, after all, in competition with the universe. But he wasn't a hobby. He wasn't.

"I thought we might do something tonight," the Master said, over dinner. "I know today was hard for you."

The Doctor nodded. It was times like this that he was particularly grateful for the link, because it meant he never had to explain how he felt. The Master just knew, always knew. Kerin had no idea how much that meant, how much he prized their connection.

"He's young," the Master said. "Give him a few hundred years, he'll come around."

"I hope so," the Doctor said. "What did you have in mind? Something special?"

"Oh, yes," said the Master, smiling secretively. "I thought I'd give you a tour of my lab tonight."

The Doctor wondered what was so special about that, then remembered what he'd been thinking about in the park. His breath caught. "Did you now?"

"Oh, yes," the Master said again. The secret smile curved into one with rather more malice to it. "You give me such wonderful ideas."

Hours later, the Doctor lay naked and strapped to a metal table, damp with sweat and streaked with blood. The deepest cuts were already healing, soon to disappear without leaving a mark, but the sight of the Master slicing into him with a scalpel wasn't likely to fade from memory anytime soon.

The Master stood over him, practically glowing with satisfaction. "I've wanted to do that for almost a century," he said. "Maybe I should go back in time, pick up Grace from good ol' San Fran." He wiped the bloody scalpel clean on the Doctor's thigh. "We could bond over having our hands around your internal organs."

"Maybe not," panted the Doctor. All through the Master's game, he'd been constantly fed pleasure through the link, and the Master had forced his body into a continuous state of high arousal. His hearts were racing, and even when the scalpel had reached his genitals it hadn't been enough to dent his lust. He'd long since lost any separation between pain and pleasure. He gasped as the Master's mouth slid down onto his erection, and his tongue prodded the shallow wounds.

Afterwards, the Master bent him over his desk in his office, and left the glass walls untinted as he fucked him. They were probably too high up for anyone to see in, anyway, but it was the thought that counted. The Master had tsked over the bloodstains on his blotter, but the Doctor knew he was pleased.

And after that, the Master had run him a luxurious bath, washed off all the dried blood, and washed his hair. The Doctor sucked his cock in bed, and then the Master sank into his mind and spent a whole hour playing with his memories, and it was the best bloody night he'd had in decades.

They did it again the next night, but differently, and then every night for the rest of the week. It was like a second honeymoon, if he counted the Valiant as the first one. And he rather thought he did.

Several galaxies away, Allia was having a problem crushing her rebellion. It wasn't there.

"Where the hell are they?" she fumed, glaring at Rho-4's patrol commander.

"I don't know, sir," he said, fearfully. "All the reports said they were going to strike the solar collectors. They were trustworthy sources, I swear by the Master they were."

"I don't like this," she said. "We're pulling out." She gave orders to the squadron to keep careful watch for anything unusual, and had the pilot set course back to New Gallifrey.

Just before their ship was about to jump out of normal space, there was a massive explosion. Rho-4 imploded before their stunned eyes. They barely got their shields up in time as the shockwaves hit, and then great hunks of planet were flying everywhere.

"Jump! Jump, damnit," Allia shouted, as two other ships were crushed like insects. They made the jump just in time, seconds from sharing the same fate.

"What the hell was that?" said her second-in-command, who was normally one of the strongest men she knew. Right now he looked like he'd come within seconds of pissing himself. Not that she could blame him.

The sensor data was compiled and processed, and they pored over the printouts as they sped to their destination.

"Oh no," said her second, pointing at an energy signature.

"Daleks," Allia said. This was not good.

The Master was less than thrilled to hear the news himself. Even the bloodstains on his desk didn't make the situation more palatable. He glared at Allia's report, seething at the audacity of it all. The Daleks were hitting closer, and blowing up a planet's core meant they'd somehow got their hands on some serious firepower.

He sent out a massive retaliation. If they had to crush the entire Traidus cluster to stomp out the pests once and for all, he was more than happy to watch a few dozen civilizations die screaming. In fact, that would only make the whole thing better.

He had to cancel his evening with the Doctor, which made the whole thing worse. He'd been so looking forward to electrocuting him tonight, and then not merely hiding but actually destroying the memory of a companion. He hadn't decided which one yet, since they were all equally annoying. He'd held off on complete memory removal before now because he liked to keep his options open, and he could hide things so well the Doctor would probably never be able to recall them. But now that he was getting the taste for his blood again, the Master didn't feel like holding back anymore. He felt like destroying something.

He should probably slow down, if only so he could have another hundred years of the Doctor begging to be drugged, manipulated, controlled, and damaged. Maybe a thousand years. It really never got old. It was probably the stress of the paradox transfer that was making him push hard, but the Doctor took all of it with such delicious suffering, and all the Master had to do afterwards was make him come and give him a cuddle, and the Doctor was all hearts and flowers and eager for another round the next day. He was the perfect victim, and the Master knew better than to lose something so precious simply because he was tense.

Besides, the test run was tomorrow, and he knew the Doctor wanted to be there. He'd given permission, of course. He couldn't wait to see the Doctor's thoughts when he saw the TARDIS again. Even thinking about the ship made him so wonderfully upset, which drove him right into the Master's arms for comfort and torment. Plus, the Doctor being there freed him up to deal with the Daleks, while still enabling him to keep an eye on events through the link.

Speaking of the test run, it would be good to up the protection, just in case. Allia wasn't part of the retaliation fleet, which meant she and her soldiers were free. Their ship was due to land tonight, so he sent the order.

The Doctor ran his hand along the painted wood as he walked around his ship. She still looked the same as ever, from the outside.

Allia stood in front of it with her arms folded, looking at it curiously. "It's smaller than I imagined," she said.

"It's bigger on the inside," the Doctor told her, the words flowing from his lips for the first time in so very long. It all felt rather surreal.

"Transdimensional engineering," she said. "I hear they're bringing it back."

The Doctor closed his eyes and rested his palm flat against the wood, feeling the hum of life. He never thought he'd see her again. It had been the TARDIS or his daughter, and now here they were, together again. Maybe it was a good thing, a blessing. Once the paradox was transferred next week, his ship would be his again--well, his and the Master's. Maybe he could have her back without losing everything else he loved. He hoped so.

He didn't have a key anymore, so he had to knock. One of the scientists opened the door, nodded in greeting. "Come on in. We're just making the final connections."

Allia exchanged meaningful looks with her soldiers, who were armed and ready all around the room, and then followed him inside.

Her light was golden and green, and he had to steady himself against the railing. When the dizziness faded, he hurried to her console and ran his hands lovingly along it, full of amazement.

"She's back," he said, barely able to believe it. "You've brought her back! Oh, my beautiful ship."

She wasn't in pain anymore. The paradox machine that had surrounded her had been slowly transferred to an intermediary construction, so they could restore her heart. She was still connected up, still powered the machine, but the thorn was almost out of her paw.

He slowly became aware that everyone was staring at him, and that he was making a spectacle of himself, grinning and fondling the console and jumping around it like he used to. Like old times. Allia was watching him with fond amusement, and Kerin was shooting daggers. His children and his ship, and the Master too through the link, and he thought his hearts might burst with joy.

He pulled Allia into a tremendous hug, and then hugged each of the scientists and Kerin's classmates for good measure. Kerin glared at him, but he hugged him anyway, because he was his son and this was his ship and he was so happy.

He was bouncing like an overexcited puppy. Allia pulled him aside.

"Come on," she told him. "Let them do their work."

He couldn't stop looking around, couldn't keep still. "I had no idea," he said, marvelling. "I never thought I'd have her back like this."

"She's beautiful," Allia said. "I always thought it was an old junker. That's what he called it."

"Only in the best way," the Doctor said. He'd always downplayed the TARDIS when he'd talked about his travels, because it had hurt to think of her and the Master had kindly tucked those memories away for him. He'd talked about the places he'd been, not how he'd arrived there. But seeing her again, feeling her in his head as a comforting hum, was bringing it all back.

They'd finished hooking up the new paradox machine, and now were testing each connection before the big run.

"We're going to turn on the new machine and run both paradoxes as one," one of the scientists explained. "That way if the new one fails, it won't be a problem."

"Sensible," Allia said, sounding a bit nervous about the whole thing.

"And then lots of testing," said Kerin's female classmate. "Lots and lots of testing."

"Okay people, let's get ready," said the lead scientist.

A thick power cable was pulled through the TARDIS door and hooked up to the new machine, reminding the Doctor of the end of the universe. He hadn't thought of that in ages. The memory trickled back like molasses. He couldn't remember what had brought him there; maybe it had just been curiosity. Had he been alone or with a companion? He couldn't recall. He felt a tug in his head, like something pulling the memories back, and then suddenly he found his attention back on the machines, and the past faded quietly away, irrelevant again.

Everyone held their breath as the final seconds of the countdown commenced. Three, two, one, and the machine powered on.

Reality remained as it was. Everyone breathed out.

"That was a bit of excitement," said the Doctor, shakily. This whole business was playing merry hell with his nerves, and he would be glad when it was all over. Allia looked pale herself.

It was then that he realized it wasn't just nerves. His legs wobbled, and he leaned against a coral strut. "Something's wrong," he said, utterly terrified. What if the paradox was undoing? What if his entire life was unravelling? It couldn't be, it couldn't, no no no no no.

"Disconnect the machine," he ordered, desperately.

"The machine's fine," Kerin said, staring at the readouts. He looked pale, too.

"This isn't the time to argue," the Doctor told him, in no mood for Kerin's games.

"No, he's right," the lead scientist said. "It's not the machine."

"Then what?" Allia said, and then her eyes widened. "Everybody out. Hurry, everybody out!"

She began herding the scientists out, even as one by one they began to drop to the floor. A few struggled outside, and the sound of blaster fire was heard. Allia, ever the soldier, pulled her gun and fired out at their attacker, laying down cover.

He recognized that sound. Dalek blasts. His blood ran cold.

"No no no," he gasped. He staggered to the console, not sure what he was doing, just acting on reflex. He wasn't even sure if she could fly.

"Allia, get back in," he cried, turning to the door. He screamed as he saw her struck down. "ALLIA!" He ran for her, but his legs gave out halfway to the door. He crawled desperately to her. He was crying, gasping as the edges of his vision began to fade.

A man walked over Allia's body and into the TARDIS. He wore a gas mask and carried a hand-held Dalek weapon. A key was hung around his neck, a TARDIS key. Why was that so familiar?

He felt the Master's rage in his head, a breathtaking, unholy fury. If he hadn't already collapsed it would have brought him to his knees.

"Doctor," the man said, and it was the last thing the Doctor knew.

Jack hauled the scientists out the door and disconnected the power cable. He looked coldly down at the bodies piled around the entrance, feeling little pity for them. He locked the TARDIS doors, and then dragged the Doctor's unconscious body over to a corner. Disabling the paradox machines was going to be tricky work, and he had to do this right.

He took the TARDIS into the Vortex, safely away from New Gallifrey, from anything at all. He'd been briefed by the rebels on the mechanics of paradoxes, on the proximity factor and the importance of location. The last thing he wanted to do was lose part of North America because the TARDIS happened to be parked there.

The universe was depending on him to save it, and he was damn well going to do it right.

Chapter Text

The Doctor woke up screaming. The Master was gone from his head! The Master was gone! His absence was agonizing. What had happened? He couldn't think, his head was foggy, jumbled.

Then he remembered Allia, and he howled with grief. He pried his eyes open to see the smoking remains of the paradox machines, and a man standing over him, looking down at him.

"You killed her!" the Doctor growled. "You killed my daughter, you bastard!"

The man flinched, and looked away. There was a Dalek gun at his waist, and the Doctor lunged for it, grabbing it, and fired. The man fell flat on his back, dead.

Not even Time Lords could survive a Dalek blast.

He couldn't remember ever shooting someone before. Not at close range.

His head echoed with quiet. His link to the Master was dead, completely dead. He was made of nothing but grief, and wanted to die. He stared at the broken paradox machines and howled again, smashed at the dead things with his bare hands, ripped out cables and wires. His skin was torn by the sharp metal, and he didn't care.

He turned in shock as the man on the floor gave a huge gasp, and started to sit up. He picked up the Dalek gun with shaking hands and shot him again, and he fell back down.

The Doctor circled the body warily, nudging it with his foot. He certainly looked dead. He shot it again, just to be sure. No change.

His blood dripped down the gun as he held it pointed down at the body, and a few drops landed, staining the man's clothes. His daughter was dead. His sons had never existed. New Gallifrey was gone.

The man gasped alive, and the Doctor shot him again.

He waited for him to come back to life again, and killed him again. And again, and again, and again. It didn't make him feel any better, but it certainly didn't make him feel any worse.

Maybe it was the result of the way the paradox had been broken. Maybe if the man killed him, he would come back to life too, in the same body. Maybe he'd already died and this was hell, trapped with his daughter's killer forever. His hell or her killer's hell? Maybe both.

He shot the man again. He knew how long he had before he gasped back to life, and the rope was where he'd left it, over a century ago. He tied the man to a pillar and waited for him to open his eyes.

"Don't shoot!" the man said, finally getting a word in edgewise. "Doctor, please don't shoot."

"Who are you?" the Doctor asked, keeping the gun trained on him.

The man looked hurt, surprisingly. "The Master made you forget. I'm Jack. Jack Harkness. I used to be your friend."

The Doctor laughed. "Friend? You murdered my daughter! You've destroyed everything. Everything!"

"I did what I had to do," Jack said. "I'm sorry about your daughter. I didn't know she'd be here."

"Are we dead, Jack?" the Doctor asked. "Is that why I can't kill you? Because I'd really like you to die."

"We're not dead. It's a long story, but I can't be killed. Ever. You used to know that. You said I was wrong."

"Oh, you are. You are so very, very wrong," the Doctor said. But he looked at Jack properly, past the veil of grief and anger, and realized that he really was wrong. He shuddered and took a step back. "What are you?"

"Impossible," Jack said. "I'm impossible. A fixed point."

The Doctor couldn't take this. He stumbled to the console, leaned heavily against it. He kept seeing Allia fall, over and over again, and it hurt even worse than his head, his empty head. He'd lost everything. Everything. The enormity of it had swallowed him whole. A sob burst from him, and then another, and he sank to the floor, crying.

Jack looked at him sadly. The Doctor wanted to wipe that sympathy from his face forever. He picked up the gun again, and pointed it at him, but what was the use? What was the point? He stared at the gun, turned it in his hand. Pointed it at himself.

"Don't!" Jack yelled. "Please don't, please, I'm begging you, Doctor, please."

"Why not?" the Doctor asked, hollowly. "There's nothing left."

"There's Earth. Do you remember Earth? There's your ship, your beautiful ship. There's your friends."

"I don't have any friends," the Doctor said. "You just erased everyone who ever mattered to me."

"You do," Jack insisted. "You've just forgotten. You have to remember, please. There's people who love you, who need your help. The Master has them captive."

The Doctor blinked, lowered the gun. "The Master's alive?" he said, feeling a glimmer of hope in the darkness.

"The Valiant. You remember the Valiant?"

"Yes," the Doctor said. He did remember that. Their honeymoon, their child. No, before that, it was before that. The formation of the paradox... there'd still been an Earth, then. A London. The Master had been Prime Minister.

His head ached terribly. It felt like something had jolted loose and made a terrible mess.

"I have to go to him," the Doctor said. The Master would know what to do. He would make things better. He could fix his head, stop everything from being such a jumble. He might even be able to restore the paradox.

"Doctor, please listen to me," Jack said. "Martha and her family. We have to save them."

The Doctor shook his head. He didn't know what Jack was talking about. "9:02 am. It was 9:02 am, I remember that." He set the controls for the Valiant, the main room, for two minutes after nine in the morning. Tears ran unnoticed down his face. Surely there was still time, still enough echoes of the paradox to pull it back. He had to believe that, or there was nothing to keep him breathing in and out.

He stumbled out of the TARDIS, and the Master was there, staring at him in shock.

"You were just..." the Master said, pointing at an empty spot on the floor, next to a girl in a purple jacket.

"Master," the Doctor said, grinning so hard his cheeks ached. "The paradox. You can put it back, I know you can."

The Master kept staring, bafflement written across his face. The Doctor realized he could feel the old Archangel network. It was crude, but it was wonderful. He opened his mind to it, sending out an invitation.

"Master," the Doctor said. "My Master. Please help me. We can bring it all back."

The Master gaped in disbelief.

"Doctor, what are you doing?" the girl hissed, looking betrayed and confused.

The Doctor flinched as a memory shook loose. He knew her from somewhere, knew that betrayed look. "You were dead," he said, fairly certain of that much. "Didn't you kill her?" he asked, turning to the Master.

"Apparently not yet," the Master said, slowly. Realization was dawning on him, even though he still hadn't answered the Doctor's mental invitation. "How long has it been for you?"

"A century," the Doctor said, relieved that he was finally understanding. "A hundred years of the Time Lord Empire. We can bring it back."

The Master looked around. This clearly wasn't in his script, but his Master was always good at improvising.

"What's wrong with you?" the girl said, angrily.

The Doctor ignored her, and walked to the foot of the stairs. He took the Master's hand, guided it to his face, his own injured hands leaving bloody smudges on the Master's white shirt cuff, his pale skin. "Please," he begged, inviting him in directly. He felt a taste of that familiar presence, and then it was gone.

The Master pulled his hand back as if he'd been burned. He boggled, swore, and then pressed both his hands to the Doctor's face.

It was like cold water after days in the most parched of deserts. He keened with relief as the Master moved in his head, looking around as if he'd found some alien landscape. This what was he needed, what eased the pain in his head. His Master.

He cried out as the Master was ripped away from him. He fell to the floor, disoriented. There was a key around the Master's neck, and the Toclafane were dead on the floor, and people were running around, shouting. He looked up, and Jack was standing over him with the Dalek gun in his hand.

Jack was about to kill the Master. There was absolutely no way that was going to happen. He lunged up with a yell and wrestled the gun from his hands and shot Jack again. He fell to the floor, and the Doctor turned back to the Master.

"He broke the paradox machine, but there's two of them. We could combine the parts," he said, desperate for time not to run out for Allia, for Kerin, for Briam. For their house in the red grass, for the silver-tree parks, for the Great Tower and the Academy and the city and the dome and the looms and the Time Lords. It couldn't be gone forever, just like that. A hundred years of his life, his entire family, his everything, surely it couldn't be gone.

"It's too late," the Master told him, dazed.

"No," he begged, falling to his knees at the Master's feet. "No! Bring her back! You have to bring her back! My girl, my Allia." He sobbed, clung to the Master's legs. The Master just stood there, stunned by the derailment of his plans and this strange, weeping Doctor.

Men grabbed each of them and pulled them apart. The Master was handcuffed and dragged from the room, snarling at his captors but staring at the Doctor, staring and staring until the lift doors closed.

"Doctor," the girl said, kneeling down in front of him. She stroked his face gently, wiping away his tears. "What happened to you?"

"He lost everything," Jack said, sadly. "And now he needs our help."

They were keeping him prisoner, because they weren't sure what he was going to do. The Doctor had to admit it was a sensible move, as he wasn't sure what he was going to do either. Being on suicide watch reminded him of the Valiant, of those early months before he'd accepted his new life. That new life was gone, and now he was surrounded by strangers who knew his name.

He remembered some of it. Bits and pieces were coming back to him. Not all of it fit together the way it should.

Martha was nice. He liked her, even though she was so hard to remember.

"We met Shakespeare," he'd said once, and she'd smiled. He liked her smile. If he could remember more, that would make her happy.

He remembered Allia's smile so perfectly, and it was like a knife to his hearts.

He didn't remember Jack, and he didn't want to. He didn't want to be friends with her killer, to have anything in common with this man who'd destroyed his family.

They wouldn't let him see the Master, even though he asked about him every day. They were putting him on trial for assassination. How funny was that? The Doctor thought it was hilarious, even if nobody else did.

He was quite certain that he'd lost his mind somewhere in all of this. He just wasn't sure when that had been.

"What are we going to do with you?" Martha said, sadly. She sat with him often, and he liked to rest his head in her lap while she played with his hair. "Your head's all scrambled. We have to find someone to put you back together. And don't say the Master."

"All right, I won't," the Doctor said. It was the obvious answer if anyone bothered to ask him, not that they did. You didn't ask someone who'd lost his mind how to find it again.

Most of the people he could remember didn't exist anymore. He'd lost Gallifrey twice now. Once was misfortune, but twice was just carelessness. The real mystery was why he kept surviving when no one else did. Maybe he was cursed. He checked his neck for an albatross, but he didn't even have a tie anymore. They were afraid he'd strangle himself with it.

They brought him photos of people. Some of them he recognized, like the Brigadier and Sarah Jane. They brought Sarah Jane to visit him, and she left with her heart broken just from being near him. He had that effect on people. He was so full of sadness that it spilled over, making a mess of everyone else.

"Earth's not the answer," Jack said, finally. "We'll have to bring him somewhere."

"Yeah, but where?" Martha said. "It's not like he took me to any telepathic psychiatrists."

"Telepathy," Jack said, thinking. "Who do we know who's telepathic? And not evil?"

Martha shrugged. "The closest thing I can think of is the Face of Boe, but he died in the year five billion something."

"The one who knew about the Master?"

"Yeah," Martha continued. "The Doctor said he was billions of years old."

"He called me his old friend," the Doctor said, suddenly joining the conversation. They did tend to talk about him as if he wasn't there. "But we'd only met a few times. I remember that."

"That sounds suspiciously like a non-sequential loop to me," Jack said.

"Is that, like, wibby-wobbly timey-wimey?" Martha asked.

"Now you're getting it," said Jack, smiling.

They brought him to the Face of Boe in the 2003rd century, somewhere in the Isop galaxy. It was hard to be exact when they wouldn't let him near the TARDIS console.

As none of them had actually met yet, and he'd lost his mind, Jack handled the introductions.

"Such grief," the Face said. He was a feathery presence in the Doctor's mind. "And such damage."

"Hm, tickles," the Doctor said, smiling. He thought he might have said that once before, but he couldn't be sure. The memory smelled metallic, for some reason. Ionic energy. Ionic energy did tickle, so that sounded right.

"Can you help him?" Martha asked, hopeful. "We don't know who else to ask."

"I can help him," the Face said. "It will take some time. Take your ship forward fifty years, and I will return him to you."

They left him a bag with some clothes and necessities, and said their goodbyes.

"It'll be just a minute for us," said Martha, hugging him. "But we'll miss you. Take good care of yourself, all right?"

"All right," the Doctor said.

"I'm sorry," Jack said, not for the first time. He felt responsible for the Doctor's shattered mind. That was fine by the Doctor, since it was all Jack's fault. "Let him help, if he can. The universe needs you."

The Doctor shrugged. He didn't care much about the universe, not when there was nothing for him in it. Just confusion and pain and grief and people who wouldn't let him die.

He watched the TARDIS wheeze away, and the Face of Boe tickled his mind again.

"Come," he said. "We have much work to do."

The Master had set up mental blocks deep in his mind, thick walls that held back whole chunks of his life. The Face of Boe took them down, brick by brick, and held back the flood of memories that threatened to wash away the rest of the Doctor's fragile sanity. The strands of the Archangel network were removed, and so was the Master's door.

Together they undertook the painstaking process of reconstructing eleven hundred years of memories, the very things that made him who he was no matter which body he wore. The worst of the damage was here, for the Master had spared nothing. Even the hidden memories were fractured and rearranged, countless jumbled pieces of a shattered mosaic.

They started from the beginning, and restored the Doctor's memories of Gallifrey, the first Gallifrey. He remembered how the rules had chafed around him, how he'd yearned to escape, to explore. He remembered trouble, and hiding on Earth with Susan, and thinking humans were tedious fools.

Down the years they went. He remembered finding delight in the universe. He remembered his friends, from different times and places but all of them dear. He remembered hating injustice and oppression, and risking his life for the sake of others. He remembered thinking that humans were wonderful, curious, and irritatingly ignorant. He remembered Rose and Martha and Jack.

He remembered the Master, and saw him clearly for the first time in a century as the Master's memories were disentangled from his own and removed, as hindsight settled in. Yet he still loved him, and grieved deeply for what they had lost. For their family that never was. For his Allia.

The Face of Boe helped him deal with the pain instead of hiding it away. It took a long time for his grief to lessen, but it did. It was bearable, for the most part. On his good days.

He had to go under the knife to have his spinal implant removed. It made him sad to lose it, but there wasn't much point to keeping it when there was no more remote control, and the Master he knew wasn't around to wield it. It turned out that the Master had left a few other things inside him, things that were hurting him, and those were removed too. Once he'd recovered from the surgeries, he felt better, stronger. And this time he had scars that could be seen with the naked eye. All the Master's scars were invisible.

It hadn't been healthy, what they'd had. In fact it had been shockingly unhealthy. People who loved him didn't put slow-leaking poisons into his body. They didn't turn him inside-out and torture him physically and emotionally and make him do terrible things. That didn't stop him from missing what they'd had quite badly at times, especially those long nights when he lay awake, thinking, and knowing that if only the Master was there, he could sleep.

The most difficult part was admitting how low the Master had brought him, and accepting that he had to climb back up again. Facing that meant facing a terrible amount of guilt, almost as suffocating as his grief had been. He'd aided the Master's conquest of the universe, built him weapons that had destroyed billions of lives. It didn't matter to him that it had all been undone when Jack had destroyed the paradox. But the Face of Boe was old and wise, and showed the Doctor how to live with his actions. They hadn't really been his fault; he'd been broken long before stepping foot on New Gallifrey. But it was good for him to recognize his own capacity for destruction, for darkness. It was a lesson that few had the opportunity to learn from, and that made him lucky.

He didn't feel very lucky.

He remembered how to hope again. That was a big one.

When the fifty years was up, he still didn't feel ready. His destruction had taken a hundred years, perhaps he needed a hundred years to recover. But the Face of Boe gave him a swift mental kick in the arse, and affectionately told him to go out and wait for his ride.

The TARDIS wheezed back, and Jack and Martha came out. He gave them a little wave.

"Feeling better?" she asked, looking him over.

"I think so," he said, giving her a smile and a hug. "Thank you." He looked at Jack, who was hanging back. "C'mere and give me a hug," he said, and then he had them both around him, and he definitely did feel better now.

He wasn't alone. He had friends who loved him. He had his ship.

He wasn't the last Time Lord. Maybe he could bring the Master to the Face of Boe. Surely he could help with the whole drums business. But when they returned to Earth, the Master had (predictably) escaped, and was nowhere to be found. The Doctor tried not to smile too much at the news, in case they thought he was still unstable.

Jack went back to his team, but the Doctor was fairly sure he chose to leave because he was the man who'd killed the Doctor's daughter. If he hadn't shot Allia, if she'd stayed in the TARDIS, she could have been saved. She wasn't evil, just misguided, a product of her upbringing, and she'd loved the Doctor. Jack would carry that guilt forever, and the Doctor was a little bit glad of that. He'd forgiven Jack for everything but her death, and didn't think he could ever let that go. Not his precious girl.

Martha stayed, though. He needed her, and her family had been saved with minimal trauma. She reminded him to visit Sarah Jane, so Sarah Jane wouldn't be sad anymore. They all had tea and chocolate biscuits, and the Doctor didn't cry at all at how much they reminded him of Allia. He said hello to K-9 and was sorely tempted to take him back to the TARDIS, but didn't. He wanted to take Sarah Jane along too, wanted them all back, so his ship would be full of people and life and noise and it could be almost the family he'd lost.

Instead, they picked up Donna, and she and Martha ended up being just what he needed. They kept him moving, and kept him in line. They made him smile. He took them to lovely places, and only a few of them had alien invasions or evil dictators. He never quite felt like his old self again, but that was all right. He was learning how to move on.

"You know what I haven't seen?" he said, releasing the handbrake. "The swamps of Ursa Meena."

"And you're not gonna see them," Donna said. "Think sunny. Think beaches."

"So not the ice forest of Squanchila?"

"That would be a no," said Martha.

"You two always gang up on me," he pouted. "It's entirely unfair."

"I'm still trying to warm up from the last ice planet we went to," Martha said.

"Some lovely ice skating, he says, and then we get stranded in a cave for three days," Donna said. They exchanged looks.

The Doctor sighed, not wanting them to know that he privately loved their affectionate bullying. It made them feel like family. If they figured that out, they might stop.

"Sunny beaches it is," he said, with an air of reluctance. With any luck, they would coax him into a pair of swim trunks, and he could go surfing. He'd scared the daylights out of more than one lifeguard with his respiratory bypass. He wasn't supposed to find that so funny, but he did. It was a bit of the Master that the Face of Boe hadn't quite been able to exorcise.

They landed, and they looked out the door. There was plenty of sand, but no ocean.

"Doctor," Donna warned.

"It wasn't on purpose!" he said. It really hadn't been, not this time. "I take it you don't want to go out and explore?"

"We can see fifty miles in every direction. The only thing I see is sand."

"And that," Martha said, pointing to a scurrying blob on the horizon.

"Oh no you don't," Donna said, grabbing him by the collar as he started out the door.


"Do you want to burn to a crisp? Because I don't."

"Sunblock," Martha said. "Lots and lots of sunblock. And hats and sunglasses and bottled water."

"The wardrobe has those robe things, like Lawrence of Arabia," Donna said.

"Back in ten," Martha said, and they disappeared into the ship to gather supplies.

The Doctor waited for them to return, and watched the mysterious scurrying blob. He still liked a good mystery; that hadn't changed.

Martha slathered him with sunblock, and Donna took off his jacket and tie and adorned him with robes. He made the necessary protesting noises. That seemed to be his job these days.

Once they were ready, he held out his arms for the both of them. "Shall we, ladies?"

They each took an arm, and together they walked out the doors and into the desert heat.