He spends every day with the Archangel Network. While the Master rants and prances in front of him and forces him to watch Earth burn, he is far away, his mind entangled with the satellites'. He can feel his hearts stuttering feebly in his chest, the uncontrolled trembling of his muscles, the powerlessness of his body, but he tells himself it doesn't matter, that his body is not him, that his true strength has always been his mind, his intelligence, his optimism. Because he is the Doctor, damn it, and he does not give up.
When the Master finally tells him what the Toclafane are, he does not go back into the Network for a month.
When he does, he tells himself it's because he still has faith in humanity, in Martha Jones, in himself. But if he's honest, really, properly honest, it makes him feel less lonely, and that by itself would be reason enough.
The Master made the Network, built it from Time Lord technology and activated it with his own formidable telepathic skills, and it carries within it the echo and the imprint of its creator's mind. The sound of drums crashes through it, constantly, until the Doctor can hear them sometimes even when he's not connected, sometimes even in his sleep, though he lies about it when the Master asks. And beneath and beyond that percussive beat, never quite drowned out by it, lies the familiar texture of the Master's psyche. All the megalomania, all the astonishing genius, all the wounded desire, are recorded there for him to touch. It feels strangely comforting, somehow. It feels like home.
"We're the same, you and me," he says, six months in. "That's what you used to say to me, remember?"
"You never agreed with me," says the Master, his voice low, his face close, breath whispering on the Doctor's wrinkled flesh.
"I see it now," he says, his voice raspy and dry in his throat. "You don't have to do this. We don't have to do this. I--"
"No," says the Master. "No. You don't see it. Not yet." He leans in closer, smiling a hard smile.
"Listen. Just listen. Master, please--"
The Master tilts back his head, licks his lips. "I do love it when you beg," he says. He opens his eyes and stares into the Doctor's, his expression cruel and soft. "When you mean the same thing by it that I do, Doctor," he says, "then we'll talk."
"I forgive you" is all he says after that, as missile silos rise and islands burn and humanity slowly flickers out below them. "I forgive you."
He doesn't think he and the Master mean the same thing by that, either, but he has nothing else to say.
Time passes, and of Martha Jones, he hears faint and contradictory rumors.
Sometimes when he closes his eyes and tries to think of humanity, all he sees are Toclafane.
"How much hope has this man got?" says the Master, talking to a Martha who doesn't answer, who might not even truly be there. The Doctor listens to the question as it runs round and round his mind, but he doesn't know the answer. None of his plans has ever taken this long before. He feels very tired.
But the Master isn't stopping here. "All 900 years of your life, Doctor. What if we could see them?"
It might be more than 900, he thinks, as the pain wracks through him. It probably is. But he's lost count, and the Master has, too. There's no standard to measure by anymore, with Gallifrey gone.
And then, for a while, as the years of his existence bear down on him, he thinks of nothing but the pain.
He sits in a cage. Once no prison could hold him, not for long, but now the flimsy bars of the birdcage are sufficient. The bars, and the Master.
He is withered, diminished. His body is a grotesque, un-Time Lordy thing, and he can feel the ache of each individual neuron firing as his thoughts make their sluggish way through his brain.
Unlike his own lethargic mind, the Archangel Network zips and zings, ready for a signal that might or might not come. The Doctor thinks of Utopia, broadcasting false hope to a dying universe. He thinks of the Master, long ago, trapped in a corpse and unable to regenerate. He nearly destroyed Gallifrey then, the Doctor remembers. And forgives him again, unheard.
For the first time, he allows himself to think about what will happen when -- if -- this plan fails. Perhaps he and the Master deserve each other. Perhaps it won't be that bad if he gives in. Perhaps he'll finally be able to rest, just for a while.
He closes his eyes and falls into the echo of the Master's mind.
When Martha arrives, half of him feels triumphant. The other half is sorry, so sorry, at the thought that she will be here to see it all fail. But he forces a smile at her with this body's withered lips and pretends there's nothing but the Doctor here, still. The old, confident Doctor.
At last, the clock strikes zero -- a beginning or an end, he isn't sure which -- and almost to his surprise, something happens.
When the power hits him, it's a shock, a rush. It's like swallowing the vortex, but this time he will not die from it. This time, he's more alive than he's ever been. More than a Time Lord. More than himself. "It's good," the Archangel Network sings in his mind, a planet full of worshipful voices whispering behind it. "Isn't it good?"
And it is, because he can do anything now. He can remake the world. He can forgive as only the powerful can forgive. This time, it will work. He will make it work. Because he is the Doctor, magnanimous in victory, and he always, always wins.
"I forgive you," he says to the fire, not at all sure what he means by it now, if he means anything at all. And, "We are the same." And, in the end, with a catch in his voice, "I was ready to surrender, you know. I was almost ready."
But the fire doesn't answer, and the Network only laughs.