By: Memory Dragon
Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who, nor do I make any claim to.
Summary: Running for his life with the Master, the Doctor finds someone he just can't leave behind.
Characters: Third Doctor/Delgado Master/Simm Master
Warnings: This fic is part of a well balanced diet of angst and cuteness. The Master gets a bit beaten up (off screen abuse of the insane on backwater planets) and there is a small bit of violence towards the Doctor, but it's short. Just a bit of choking, really.
Notes: I wrote this ages ago and I finally get to post the fic! Yay! Actually, I really like this one a lot. The characterization really just snapped into place, especially in the second half. This fic is a two-parter, so expect the second half of the story in a week or so.
Thanks: Many, many thanks to nemaline and narwhale_callin for betaing this. Cy might have taken forever and a day with it, but I still love her. And Nar gets bonus points for putting up with me when I send her three fics in one weekend.
You can read a semi-prequel for this fic with some really awesome art by pride1289 here: It's All Been Done Before
Running never ceased to be the one constant in the Doctor's life. Companions came and went, the TARDIS could be rendered unusable due to Time Lord interference, old friends could betray him by becoming evil megalomaniacs, and his feelings toward the humans at UNIT shifted depending on how abhorrent he found their actions, but he could always count on running from monsters/dictators/anyone currently after his life. It was one of the hazards of his lifestyle and something he could fall back on with surprising regularity. He'd almost come to like it.
He was running from a particularly nasty little King at the moment (emphasis on 'little,' since the man was about three feet tall and a foot shorter than most of the rest of the species), who had taken offense not to the Doctor, but to the Master's backstabbing nature. How the Doctor got himself caught up in all of this when he'd been the one to point out the aforementioned nefarious plot was honestly baffling, but the King seemed to like blanket judgments. If one alien had a backstabbing nature, then all aliens did, and heaven help the unfortunate (in this case the Doctor) who brought such a thing to the King's attention.
He'd admit to being just a little glad to see the Master here, though. For one, he could potentially trap the Master in his TARDIS and properly deal with that menace. For another... Jo's leaving had stung a lot more than he'd been prepared for, and a tête-à-tête with the Master had been just the thing to cheer him up. Not that he would ever admit the latter aloud, but it was still nice to have the Master around on occasion.
Unfortunately, now it also meant running from vicious four-foot guards who had all sorts of ideas about how to torture outsiders. Their size did not diminish their strength or creativity in the barbaric acts of public punishment, and the Doctor didn't want to stick around to see more than he already had in the town square. The Master was behind him, struggling to keep up with the Doctor's longer strides but managing, and they were ahead of their pursuers when a figure curled up in a dark alley caught the Doctor's attention. An alien to the planet, given how big the figure was and the lack of fur covering his body. The Doctor paused at the entrance to the alley as the Master caught up to him.
"Why are you stopping?" the Master asked, hissing as his voice betrayed his lack of breath. The Doctor himself was more than a little winded considering how long they'd been running, and his side was beginning to ache from the effort. Next time, he was going to remember to park his TARDIS a little closer. The Master continued berating, since the Doctor appeared lost in thought, "We don't have time to stop."
The Doctor shook his head, the unmistakable feeling of recognition piqued by the figure. Whoever that person was on the ground, it was someone the Doctor knew and someone he knew well. "He's not Gaspridian," the Doctor said, "and the way we left old King Larenti, aliens won't be welcome here for some time."
Walking further into the alley, he kneeled down next to the man. As his eyes adjusted to the poor light, the Doctor was momentarily confused. He was quite certain he'd never seen this fellow before in his life, despite the intense feeling of recognition earlier. The bleached-blond man was wearing a black hoodie and jeans that were far from clean, and the stubble around his face further proved his disregard for personal hygiene. From the style of the clothes, the Doctor would say he was from early 21st century Earth; but how he'd gotten here, rocking and murmuring to himself with a half-crazed look in his eyes, the Doctor couldn't imagine. His eyes widened when he saw the nasty bruises that covered almost every bit of the man's visible skin. "There now, old chap," he said gently, reaching out to touch the man's shoulder. "You'll be alright, but we should get out of here. Can you walk or-"
The stranger hadn't acted like he even knew the Doctor was there, but the moment the Doctor's hand touched his shoulder, he looked up as if the Doctor had shocked him. "You!" he spat, curling up further in on himself. "It would be you. Velvet and frills and gagging chummy expressions and your constant smug superiority. Well, the latter never changes. I don't need your sympathy, so-" The man paused, a terrified expression on his face. "No. Stop. Keep away! They won't stop."
For his part, the Doctor rocked back on his heels, the small touch telling him everything he needed to know about the man's identity. He looked over at the Master, then back to the crumpled man, almost at a complete loss of what to do as shock numbed his senses.
The Master made no motion of having recognized the curled-up figure and looked more than a little exasperated at the Doctor's willingness to linger. "My dear Doctor," he said amiably despite the tension of the chase. "I should remind you the guards weren't that far behind us."
"I'm not leaving him here." Though how he was going to move the half-crazed man would be a problem he hadn't quite planned for yet.
To his surprise, the blond man looked up at that, anger in his eyes. "That's a change, Doctor. Not leaving me this time? No fires to burn me in? Or am I really that pitiful?" He laughed, a rough bark that didn't suit him, and it frightened the Doctor just a little. "Burning, roasting, scalding, searing-"
"Your sympathy is commendable," the Master said, cutting over the lunatic's raving. "But he's clearly insane and making quite a bit of noise. Leave him. I won't wait around for you to get both of us killed."
A shudder passed through the Doctor as the blond man rambled on about fire, memories of the alternate Earth burning still fresh in his memory despite the length of time that had passed since then. "You go," he said, reaching into his jacket pocket for the TARDIS key and tossing it to the shocked Master. "Go on. Collect your TARDIS from the palace. I'd appreciate it if you returned mine back to where you found it so I can get away as well."
"You're trusting me alone in your TARDIS?"
The Doctor didn't answer, instead reaching out to pull the aggressive blond man to his feet. He was surprised at how much strength the fragile-looking man had as he fought against the Doctor’s grasp, but the Doctor managed to grab hold of both his arms securely. It wasn't until he was sure of his grip that the Doctor looked up, surprised to still see the Master there. "Well, what are you waiting for?" he snapped, wishing the Master wasn't so stubborn all the time. It'd be better if he didn't see this. "I'll take too long dragging him along, so just go."
The Master's eyes narrowed, this time carefully looking over the babbling man in the Doctor's arms. "Who is that?" he asked, fingering the TARDIS key absently.
"I hardly see how that matters," the Doctor retorted, desperate to push the Master away. The Master couldn't be allowed to recognize this fellow, not at any cost. No one should have to know this was in their future. Unfortunately, the anger only served to make the Master more curious. He raised an eyebrow and didn't move from the mouth of the alley. "Look, just go. It's better you don't-"
The blond man's knees buckled, diverting the Doctor's attention to supporting his full weight. "Doctor," the man gasped, managing to rip his hands out of the Doctor's grip only to clutch at the velvet of his jacket helplessly. "Doctor, they won't stop. They're useless now. I won't let them control me. They're still here. Doctor, the drums won't stop!"
The Master stilled at the mention of the drums, going pale under his usually dark complexion as the Doctor attempted to soothe his future self. "We'll get you fixed up, old chap," he said quietly, absently rubbing the future Master's arm. "Come along to the TARDIS now, there's a good fellow. We'll see what can be done."
Silently, the current Master slipped around to the side of his future self, helping the Doctor support the lunatic. "I'll take care of him," the Doctor said, forcing a bit of cheer into his voice before speaking more gently. "You don't have to see this. In fact, you shouldn't. Let me take care of things."
Shaking his head, the Master smiled grimly. "Self-preservation, Doctor," he said, his voice not giving away how shaken the Doctor knew him to be. "This will go quicker with two of us."
The Doctor couldn't argue with that, nor with the unspoken agreement of what would happen if they were spotted. As much as he would rather be the decoy come the worst-case scenario of being surrounded by their captors, they were breaking the laws of time as it was. It would be better in the long run for the Doctor to stay with this future regeneration of the Master, despite the fact that the less sane Master alternately accused and clung to him.
Thankfully, even with the extra baggage they never ran into the guards. There was one close call; they hid in the shadows of another dark alley as the guards rushed past, hoping the blond Master wouldn't give away their position with his raving. Luckily, the future Master calmed with prolonged exposure to the Doctor, and by that point, he was more like a sleepwalker than a madman, stumbling after them into the conspicuous blue police box.
Helping the blond Master into one of the closest bedrooms, the Doctor left the other Master to make arrangements of getting back to the palace and collecting his TARDIS. It wasn't the most comfortable feeling in the world, knowing the Master was at the old girl's controls, but there wasn't much to be done for it. Besides, this time he had the Master's 'self-preservation' to count on, so he doubted the other man would try to sabotage the TARDIS.
This version of the Master certainly went for the grunge look, he thought with a brief look of disapproval. Then again, if he'd been mad for a while, the Master might not have had much of a choice in the matter.
The Doctor settled him down on the bed, pulling the covers up around the currently passive Master. He placed a hand against the Master's forehead as if a fever might explain the delirium. Unfortunately, it was never that easy, though the Master did feel a little hot to the touch. There was a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead from all the exertion and the Doctor worried that moving him might not have been such a good idea despite it being unavoidable. The Doctor trailed his hand down the Master's cheek in a gentle caress, nearly jumping back as the Master's skull became visible through his skin. "Good heavens," he exclaimed, feeling like his hand had been shocked despite knowing no such thing had occurred. "What have you done to yourself this time?"
There was no response. Rubbing his chin to cover the deep fear that had settled in his stomach, the Doctor turned to leave. He needed to check on the saner Master and he wasn't sure how much longer he could stay in this one's presence. Why hadn't they taken off yet? Surely it wouldn't take the Master that long to set the coordinates... Before he could stand, however, there was a hand tugging on his sleeve. The future Master was sitting up, eyes wide and frightened - a nice light brown, he noticed.
"Don't go," the Master said, panic apparent in his voice. "The drums-they're quieter when you're here. Please, don't go..."
It was the please that nearly broke both of his hearts, the soft desperate pleading that he had never be able to refuse. Unfortunately, he did have to go. He reached up to the Master's face again, startled as the Master flinched away as if he expected to be struck. "I'm not going to hurt you." Those bruises had to have come from somewhere, and many civilizations do terrible things to those of weakened wit. The current planet was none too pleasant for ordinary people either... However, showing fury at the Master's mistreatment might only set him off more, so the Doctor kept it off his face. "That's right," he said as the Master hesitantly leaned into the touch. "Just lay back. I have a few things to do, so I'm going to put you to sleep. Won't hurt a bit."
"Sh," the Doctor said, finally getting his hand to the Master's temple. He put forth a calming presence as the Master's eyes closed and he lay back. He didn't quite dare to touch the chaotic vortex that held the Master's thoughts, but he did gently nudge the centers of the brain that produced sleeping enzymes and a few minutes later the Master was sleeping peacefully.
The Doctor sat on the bed a few moments longer, taking stock of the impossible man before him. Obviously tortured, bruised and battered, in an unstable regeneration and a mind that had been torn to shreds, but still surviving. Koschei the Deathless... "Who did this to you, old friend?" he asked, using a term of endearment that he'd never have used had the Master been awake. Pulling the covers up around him, the Doctor's mind wandered back to the Master's earlier accusation of leaving him to burn.
The mere thought of doing such a thing appalled him. Tricking the Master to save the planet, yes, but just leaving him to die and watch him - of all things - burn... The Doctor shuddered, sure that it had been some mistake, some misconception on the Master's part. He never wanted to see people burn like they had on that alternative Earth again.
A lurch from the TARDIS told him they were finally moving and brought him out of his thoughts. What had taken his Master so long? He couldn't really have been messing about with the TARDIS...
Giving the sleeping Master one last small caress on his cheek, the Doctor walked back to the control room to see what was amiss. The answer was readily apparent when he walked in. The Master didn't even look up as he moved closer; he was staring at the TARDIS controls without actually seeing them, his hands shaking as they hovered over a knob. It seems like he had misjudged the Master, both on how treacherous he was and how shaken up the Master had been with the shell of his future self so obviously broken. How long had it taken him just to remember the coordinates?
Coming up to stand next to him, the Doctor leaned against the console and broke the silence gently. "The landing controls are right in front of you."
The Master jumped, making an immediate attempt to calm his nerves. It worked admirably, and within seconds his hands were no longer shaking. A sour expression settled over his features as he regained control. "I am aware of that, Doctor. You were the one who had forgotten how to fly her, not me."
The Doctor smiled, despite how deeply that still stung. He resisted the urge to give a low jab in reply, but only barely. "Well, what are you waiting for? The Thames to freeze over?"
"When we land, I'll have to leave," the Master said, his voice lightly strained even though he was smiling pleasantly. "Quite quickly if there are guards. I wanted to know what's to be done with our guest before I left."
His original plan to trap the Master had gone to pieces with the addition of his future self and the Doctor found he hadn't really thought too much further ahead than getting them both back to their respective TARDISes. "It's probably better I look after him," he said, absently rubbing his cheek as he placed his other hand on his hip. "We shouldn't mess around with the First Law of Time any more than necessary. Don't worry, old chap. I'll look after you."
The Master did not look overly pleased at this, but he nodded. There was a brief moment of awkward silence before the Doctor took a step forward. "I say, are you alright?"
Looking up with a glare, the Master made a dismissive gesture with his hands. "Once I get back to my TARDIS, I won't need your help, Doctor. This was a temporary arrangement."
"That was hardly what I meant, old chap. No need to snap my head off about it," the Doctor said, putting a bit of huffiness in his voice to cover the hurt. Being brushed off like that stung a lot more than he'd thought it would.
The Master seemed to realize this, his body language relaxing into a less defensive position as his shoulders went down. He hesitated, dark eyes looking so very young. "You won't be taking the other me back with you to UNIT, will you?"
Shaking his head, the Doctor would admit that he'd considered it. However, as good as it would be to use UNIT facilities, he doubted he could keep the Master's identity secret and there was too much bad blood between UNIT and the Master to hope that they'd keep quiet over it. The Brigadier, good man though he was, could be insufferably stubborn when it came to certain things. "Not if I can help it," he said. "I think I'll keep the old girl in the vortex for a while and find some place near the Eye of Orion if I need to land. Would you like me to keep you posted on his progress?"
The Master nodded, fiddling with the coordinates on the scanner. "I'll contact you," he said absently, not looking up.
Reaching out, the Doctor lightly patted the Master's back, shifting the smaller man over slightly with his other hand to gain access to the controls. The Master didn't resist, tolerating the Doctor's touch a second longer than usual in order to take the comfort he wouldn't admit he needed. "Ready?" the Doctor asked, checking the controls to make sure everything was set. He corrected a knob with a slight of the hand to hide that he was doing so from the Master. At any other time, he'd have pointed out the Master's mistake with no small amount of superior smugness, but right now he exercised his rarely used tact. The Master's hand still shook almost imperceptibly.
The Master nodded curtly, moving over to stand by the door. "It's been a pleasure, Doctor, but next time I'll thank you not to interfere."
That earned him a smile from the Doctor, the earlier tension between them all but forgotten. "Come now, you know I never could resist interfering. If I don't 'interfere' as you put it, you do all sorts of dull things like conquering worlds or studying too hard."
Before the Master could respond, the Doctor pulled the lever to materialize and opened the door to the astonishment of the gaping guards outside. Then he waved cheerfully as the Master shot him a quick glare before dashing out the door to his own TARDIS.
The Doctor watched from the screen to make sure the Master disappeared behind the tapestry before the guards could even prime their weapons. He allowed himself a low chuckle as the tapestry dematerialized, much to the guards' further shock, and quickly pulled his own TARDIS back into the vortex.
He waited for a few more moments before setting the TARDIS to hover in the vortex, out of the way of any other passing traffic. Then he gathered a bit of medical equipment from the TARDIS' med bay and walked back to the bedroom he had left the Master in. He just hoped that there was something he could do.
* * *
None of the tests he ran were conclusive. He knew the Master's body was degenerating at a frightening rate, but not why, and nothing could explain the deterioration of the Master's mind either. The zero room helped calm him, but only for short periods before the Master started panicking about the drums getting louder.
The Doctor could at least treat the bruises, fractured ribs, and other physical abuses that the Master had been put through. His eyes hardened after seeing the stripes across the Master's back and he had to stop by a hospital in the 43rd century to pick up more antiseptic and a few chocolate-covered strawberries. The latter was more to give to the Master, as he knew that was a particular favorite of his in most regenerations. Unfortunately, the Doctor had eaten half of them himself before he remembered they weren't for him.
When he came back in the room he'd put the Master in, the Master was in the midst of a nightmare and tangled in the sheets. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence for when the Doctor had been absent for a short length of time, so he quickly put the strawberries down to shake the Master's shoulders lightly. "There you are, old chap," he said soothingly. "Just a nightmare. Nothing to be frightened of."
It wasn't until he started trying to wipe some of the sweat away with a cold compress on the Master's brow that the Master's eyes flew open. For a moment, the sheer terror in the Master's eyes froze him. The Doctor had never seen such unguarded emotion in the Master's face. He shook himself and went right back to soothing, trying to put those thoughts from his mind. "That's right, old chap. Nothing to worry about. It was just a nightmare."
"Doctor?" the Master gasped, trembling lightly as the Doctor toyed with his bleached blond hair.
"Yes, it's me," he replied, frowning slightly as he realized how hot the Master felt under his fingers. Had he gotten a fever on top of everything else? "You're in my TARDIS and we'll find a way to reverse what's happening to you. Just rest for-"
"You always want to fix me, don't you?" the Master snapped as he sat up, pushing the Doctor's hands away. Fury mixed with the fear in his eyes, though the Doctor could sense that some of the anger was actually directed at himself and not at the Doctor. "The Doctor, always wanting to fix every problem, even when you aren't wan-"
The Master gasped, his hands flying to his head. The Doctor watched uncertainly, not sure how the Master would react to the Doctor trying to reach out to him again. "It burns," he said in a much smaller voice. "The Time Lock, the drums, it all burns and sears and..." The Master cut himself off, hunched over and trembling as he held his head. Gingerly, the Doctor reached out to the Master's shoulder.
He honestly wasn't sure whether the Master had leaned forward or if the Doctor had pulled him there, but somehow the Master ended up sobbing against his shoulder. All this talk of burning reminded the Doctor far too much of that alternative world he hadn't been able to stop from ending in flames, and he took as much comfort from the Master in his arms as he gave.
Making sure to be careful of the Master's back, he started rocking him back and forth in a soothing motion. He was humming absently after a few minutes, which slowly transitioned into crooning. An old Gallifreyan lullaby seemed to calm the Master the best, so he stuck with those to pass the time.
Thankfully, he'd taken his jacket off upon entering the TARDIS, so it was only his shirt that the Master was ruining. One thing to be grateful for in this mess, he supposed. Though what had happened to push the Master to this sobbing wreck, clutching at the Doctor as though he were a life line? He thought back over the Master's more lucid moments... something about a time lock and the Doctor leaving him behind? Neither were particularly pleasing to think about, though if the Master had escaped a time lock, it would explain the condition of his wits if not the regeneration problems.
Finally, the Master's shoulders stopped shaking and the sobs quieted down. The Master went limp in his arms, relaxing against him. The Doctor moved back into a soft hum, both to not disturb the Master and because his throat was starting to hurt. He stayed like that for some time, holding the Master gently as he tried to sort it all out. None of this made sense...
So caught up in his thoughts, was he that the Doctor almost didn't notice the Master shifting against him, reaching up and placing small kisses against his neck. He looked down, amusement entering his eyes at the sweet, almost innocent, kisses. It was so different from their usual encounters. "I take it this means you're feeling better," the Doctor said, smiling fondly. The Master soon wasn't content with just kisses, however. He was pushing closer, hands reaching for the buttons on the Doctor's shirt. The Doctor had to catch his hands and push the Master back slightly, recognizing that this was going too far. "Now look here, old chap. You don't-"
The Master, as ever, was hard to dissuade from his set course of action, and with growing violence, he pushed the Doctor onto the bed. Soon it was the Master's hands, rather than his lips, that were at the Doctor's neck, slowly choking him as he rocked his hips against the Doctor.
The Doctor abandoned the hands at his neck, finding the pressure points on the Master's neck and pressing on them without hurting the Master. "You don't know what you're doing," the Doctor said once the Master's hands fell away, a touch more breathy than he'd have liked and not entirely due to the choking.
Though still held in place, the Master managed to roll his eyes and speak with a bit of concentration. "I think... I've had more... experience with it... than you."
"That's not what I meant." And well the Master knew it too, despite the snarky reply. There was a furious clarity in the Master's eyes that the Doctor hadn't seen before, and he released the pressure points and lowered his hand carefully, not quite trusting the Master to remain where he was. Thankfully, the Master only moved to wipe away the tears still left on his cheek in disgust, giving the Doctor time to rub his own neck. "I take it this is one of your more lucid moments then," the Doctor said, wondering if it had started before or after the choking. "Why don't you tell me what's happened while you can."
"You're assuming I want to tell you," the Master spat. The vehemence in those hazel eyes took the Doctor completely aback, despite the earlier choking.
"Well," he said in response, trying to cover the hurt he felt with a huffy tone. "If that's the way you feel about it, old chap, why don't I just drop you back in your proper time stream? I'm sure the me in your time will be happy to deal with you."
He stood up, prepared to leave until the Master had calmed down a bit, but the Master's hand grabbed hold of the ruffles on his sleeve. He glanced back down, but the Master was looking at the wall and not succeeding in hiding the fear that was coursing through his body. A few seconds later, the Master forced his hand to let go and waved the Doctor off with a trembling dismissal.
The Doctor watched all of this silently, trying to work out the personality quirks of this regeneration of the Master's. Obviously a lack of patience and a temper, but still just as proud as ever. With a sigh, the Doctor sat back down on the edge of the bed. "I've half a mind to make you ask politely, you know. Your past regenerations at least had manners."
The Master ignored the quip, perhaps because saying anything more would drive the Doctor away again and his control was too fleeting for his pride to take over. They sat like that in silence, only the hum of the TARDIS making a sound as the Master hesitantly rested his head against the Doctor's shoulder. Finally, the Master spoke softly, with an honesty that the Doctor had never seen in any of his past regenerations. "They're quieter when you're here, the drums. Quieter, but still there. They're useless now, of course, but they're still here. Will they ever go away?"
On the last question, the Master looked up with an expression of mixed clarity and terror that the Doctor almost didn't know what to make of. When the Master's wits had been scrambled, the vulnerability had been one thing, but to openly show it in a lucid moment was frightening in and of itself. He wasn't sure how he felt about the Master's new found honesty, though it was a little disturbing. "I don't know, old chap. The best I can tell you is that I'll try to help you. Which I could do better if I knew what happened."
The Master nodded, though he stayed silent a bit longer. It had allowed the Doctor time to consider the 'drums' that the Master kept mentioning. There had always been rumors at the academy about a mark of insanity that his old friend heard, but the Master had never said anything about hearing drums to him, not once. It was only in eavesdropping on their professors a few times that the Doctor had ever heard mentions of them. The way the current Master had stilled once they were mentioned, recognizing his future self with that one phrase, lead to the conclusion that the whispers had been true. But if that were the case, why hadn't Koschei said anything, not even to him? The Doctor would have tried anything to help.
Though it did explain Koschei's occasional headaches and why he'd stayed so close to the Doctor during those times. With a sudden clarity that did make much more sense. If only the idiot had told him.
"The resurrection went wrong," the Master started, breaking the Doctor from his thoughts. Resurrection, not regeneration. Now that was interesting. "And I had to break through a time-locked barrier. It was..." He shuddered, curling against the Doctor who started to rub his shoulder encouragingly. "It burned... It all burned," was all the Master said after that.
It was chilling, hearing and seeing the Master like this, but he had to try and piece things together. A bad regeneration - or resurrection, however the Master had managed that - was obvious, though the Master's lack of detail on the situation probably meant it had something to do with him. The time lock though... "What were you doing in a time lock, anyway?" he asked, despite his own rising discomfort at the mention of burning.
He was too late, however. Already, the clarity was leaving the Master's eyes and the brief moment of lucidity faded like a moon passing behind a cloud after a short time of being unobstructed. "Everything burned," the Master said, starting to tremble again. "Everyone burned. Screaming, burning, searing, ripped apart by flames and crushed and-"
Unable to stand anymore, the Doctor quickly placed a hand on the Master's temple and put the Master back to sleep. He caught the blond man as he slumped forward and held the Master tightly for a few moments before laying him back down against the bed.
The Doctor forced himself to keep moving, trying to diagnose and cure, because if he didn't the Master was slowly going to burn himself out.
* * *
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck absently, waiting for the Master to pick up on the other end of the line. He'd been trying to contact the contemporary version of his best enemy since earlier this morning, but there seemed to be a faulty connection. He'd even moved out of the vortex to the Eye of Orion to see if that would help, both with the connection and with the other Master's sanity. The connection still wouldn't go through, but the fresh air had done the Master some good at least. While the older Master never returned to that level of lucidity he had at the start of the week, he was easier to calm out there - almost as well as in the zero room and without the after-effect of the drums being louder. Plus, he got a bit more color to his cheeks after the outing, which was promising.
In that week, he'd only been able to do so much. The TARDIS wasn't equipped to heal such a severe problem with regeneration. The Doctor wasn't sure he could deal with it even with the right equipment, because it was beyond both him and the TARDIS. A specialist on Gallifrey might be able to make heads or tails of it, especially with the new technology of a loom converter he'd read about recently, but without it, the Doctor was patching the bottom of a boat and finding six more holes that let water in for every one he patched.
It would help if he knew what happened to the Master. But every time he tried to get into the Master's mind to find the problem, he was met with an impassable block. So he healed the Master the best he could and tried to get a hold of the one other person who would want to help, the Master's current self. Which lead back to the main question... why wasn't he picking up?
Finally, the Master's face appeared on the screen, looking very tired and just as worn out as he was. The Doctor was honestly never so glad to see that rubbish beard in his life. "It took you long enough," the Doctor snapped, trying to hide his relief. "I'm only doing you a favor, after all."
The Master shook his head, and the Doctor noticed just how deep the lack of sleep around his eyes went. The Master replied sarcastically, trying to hide as much of the exhaustion as he could. "I'm terribly sorry. I've been on Daltron 7 and they have longer days here. Unlike some people, I try to keep myself busy. Now, is there any news, Doctor, or is this just a social call?"
The Doctor didn't show the pity he felt since the Master wouldn't appreciate it and he was already tense as it was. He leaned forward, absently tapping the side of his cheek as he took the earlier anger out of his tone and didn't respond to the insult. "Yes, well, I suppose I can understand that. I'm afraid it's not looking terribly good for your future self, old chap. I was rather hoping you'd be willing to help."
Raising his eyebrows, a bit of the Master's old spirit came back. "You're asking me for help? My dear Doctor, this really must be a special occasion. What makes you think I care enough about my future self to agree? I'm sure I can take care of myself."
The Doctor grinned, moving his hand until it rested against his chin. "Self-preservation, dear fellow. It worked once, it'll work again."
Acceding to this point, the Master nodded. It was only because the Doctor had known him for so long that he could tell the signs of the Master relaxing fractionally. There was finally something the Master could do and he was already planning for a way to help. Those two things made quite a bit of difference to the Master's mood and manner. "What do you need me to do then?"
"I need you to return to Gallifrey and pick up an energy coil and a loom converter," the Doctor said, keeping his face neutral despite what he was asking for. It was a risky job, for one, and it also told the Master a lot more than he should know about what was ailing his future self.
"Ah," the Master said, clasping his hands in front of him with an equally neutral expression that didn't fool the Doctor in the slightest. He pretended it did for now though, because there were more important things going on. "Problems with the regeneration," the Master continued. "I thought as much. Why send me to Gallifrey, though? I'm sure you are aware, but you'll still receive a much warmer welcome than I would. I don't think they'd take too kindly to finding me snooping around secure areas and equipments either. They might just give it to you, on the other hand, if you ask politely."
They both knew that the Doctor would end up stealing the equipment regardless because of all the red tape involved and the lack of time, but the Master did have a valid point. The Doctor was far more easily forgiven by the Time Lords than the Master was. That wasn't the problem, however. "I've tried," he admitted quietly. "But every time I got near Gallifrey, he starts to deteriorate faster. Something on the planet is affecting him."
After the last time, the Doctor wasn't willing to try going back again. The older Master was sensitive to something on Gallifrey, sensitive enough that his screams could be heard all the way to the control room. It wasn't a sound the Doctor ever wanted to hear again, much less think about.
If the current Master inferred any of this, he didn't comment. Instead, he repeated the two items in question to confirm it and waited for the Doctor's affirmative before speaking again. "Anything else?" he asked finally.
The Doctor shook his head, wishing there were something more, something that could help with the Master's mind. "No. That should be all. I'm sending you my co-ordinates now, so I'll expect you shortly. You should probably time it, because I don't think your future self will last too much longer."
"I should get started then," the Master said, leaning over to cut the connection.
"Why didn't you tell me?" the Doctor interrupted.
He saw the Master's hands freeze over the controls just a fraction too late for him to pretend he hadn't heard. "I don't know what you mean, Doctor," he said amiably to cover the fault. "Tell you what?"
"About the drums," the Doctor said. The Master didn't flinch or even move at the word, but suddenly the Doctor could feel how much more tense the conversation had become. He sighed, feeling all the more frustrated for the Master's defensiveness. "You're just as incorrigible as ever. I could have helped, you know."
"I hardly wanted to advertise the fact," the Master snapped, all pretense of good humor gone. "You 'helped' regardless of whether you knew about them or not, and I saw no reason to tell you. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some parts to steal."
"Wait, don't-" Too late. The Master had cut the connection before he could ask more. The Doctor rubbed his eyes wearily, wondering if he'd have time for a quick nap before the Master returned. His question was answered a few seconds later when there was a soft knock on the door. A cursory glance at the scanners told him it was the Master, presumably back from his errand with precision timing. He pulled the lever to open the door and went to help bring in the larger of the two boxes.
At first, the Doctor didn't notice. Neither of them wasted time on pleasantries due to the Master's apparent hurry, and he was too busy helping to carry the box to look the Master over, but he felt it in the way the Master moved on the other side of the box. The Master was limping. Placing the box on the ground, he got a better look at his best enemy.
The Master looked even more exhausted than he had earlier, completely run ragged. It had certainly been a while for the Master since their last conversation, even though it had been mere seconds for the Doctor. "Are you alright?" he asked, stepping forward in concern.
"The CIA has been tracking me ever since I left the citadel," the Master said, waving him off with a movement calculated to expend the least amount of energy as possible. "We've got to hurry. They've almost caught up with me again."
"Again?" the Doctor asked, his eyes narrowing as he regarded the Master's leg. "You stay here, I'll get the last-"
While he'd been speaking, the Doctor had reached out to the Master's shoulder to shift him to a nearby chair, but the Master hissed sharply at the light touch. "You're injured."
"Yes. I realized that. We don't have time," the Master said shortly. He started to pull away, but the Doctor took hold of his good shoulder and gently pushed him down into the chair. "Did you hear me? The CIA will be here at any moment and-"
"And you're wounded," the Doctor said, cutting him off. "Your TARDIS will be fine. I've seen the traps you've set up on her first-hand, and they won't be tracking my TARDIS, so you just stay here."
The Master's eyes narrowed. "I don't need your help."
The Doctor was already bringing in the last box and pulling the lever to close the door. He noticed the Master didn't try to get up again, despite his protests. It must be bad for him to stay put like that, the Doctor realized with a start. "No, but I need yours," he said reasonably as he could, hoping to put the Master at ease. "I can't get through his thoughts to see what caused this. Perhaps you can."
He took off before the Master could come up with another argument. The Master was forced to grab onto the chair as the TARDIS rocked violently. Then he forced his way to the console after a few seconds, pulling a few levers and pressing buttons opposite of the Doctor until the movement smoothed out. "I thought the Time Lords gave you back your memories of flying the TARDIS?" he asked pointedly.
"Well, I didn't exactly have a lot of time, now did I?" The Doctor ignored the comment about how a type 80 wouldn't have had this trouble, petting the old girl fondly in apology for the Master's rude handling of her. He went on to fiddling with the coordinate controls to set them safely in the vortex.
By the time he'd finished and looked back up at the Master, the smaller man was sitting again with his eyes closed. He looked almost dead with exhaustion and in no small amount of pain either. The Doctor walked around until he was standing next to the Master, placing a hand on his good shoulder. "Why don't you let me take a look at the wounds?"
The Master stared at the contact, a polite mask coming into place to cover his weariness. "I told you, I don't need your help," he snapped, then closed his eyes again for a few moments to collect himself. The Doctor forgave the rudeness, putting it down to exhaustion. "You have a different patient, Doctor," the Master said finally. "One I suggest we get started on since you've trapped me here for the time being."
"I've hardly 'trapped' you," the Doctor said with a small huff, though he supposed the Master had a point considering his original plans for escaping the planet Gaspridi. "Look, it will take a while to set up the equipment, so why don't you get some rest. I can at least stabilize your future self's physical condition, and then we'll see what we can do about his mind once you've slept a little. You'll do no good to him in this condition."
The Master attempted to look suspicious, but only succeeded in looking a little less tired as his voice betrayed the weariness. "And how do I know you won't try some trick while I'm sleeping?"
"You don't, do you?" the Doctor said, highly amused at the question. He rubbed his chin in mock consideration as he tried to hide a lopsided grin. "Why, you'll just have to trust me."
After an exhausted glare, the Doctor relented a little and patted the man's shoulder absently. "My dear fellow, I've had the other you on my TARDIS for the past week and a half. If I'd been planning something, I'd have done it by now, surely? I'm not you after all." That got a weary nod from the Master, who accepted the Doctor's hand to help him up. "Besides," the Doctor added, "I rather think we're past all of that for now. Just get some rest. There should be a few spare bedrooms down the hall to the left."
Either that or a rose garden, but the Master could probably find his way around without too much trouble. He watched the Master limp off, allowing a worried expression to seep through as he wondered if he should follow regardless. Maybe it would have been better to call the Master here to babysit his future self while he had gone to Gallifrey to get the equipment... But what was done was done. Besides, the future Master grew anxious if the Doctor left him for too long.
Speaking of which, he really should get back to the poor chap and start getting the equipment set up.
Quote of the chapter:
"Insanity destroys reason, but not wit."