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friends without Benefits

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The Master’s TARDIS is tired, she hasn’t felt right ever since their little escapade to the Mondasian ship. Even the Master can tell; he tries not to ask much of her, even jokes about TARDISes going on holiday. When she flashes back dreamy concepts of a sort of spa where technicians (from some species just time-sensitive enough to be competent, without being a threat) recalibrate to her every whim, the Master laughs, probably thinks she’s playing along…

The Doctor's TARDIS takes the initiative. She says You're not imagining things! I know a place.

Sometimes even timeships run out of time. The Master's TARDIS tries to stall so she can put everyone’s affairs in order for an extended absence. She wants to collect the Doctor's equipment, the Master's meds, their favourite clothing, and all sorts of supplies into a safe place where the timelords can find it easily. Like her bonded pilot she's a worrier, and consequently a planner. Her telepathy doesn’t transmit ideas in the traditionally precise ways, but alludes with images and metaphors. She doesn’t talk; she prepares.

The Doctor’s TARDIS says Sod the timeloads, we’ll do what we like.

The Master's TARDIS flashes her worst-case scenarios of illness, injury, their symbiotes wandering the streets of London lost and forlorn…

The Doctor's TARDIS says What, they'd hardly be the only bipeds or even the only sentients to be homeless in London. Anyway they'll manage. It's what they do. They’re almost as clever as us, remember.

The timeships call each other by their real names, the untranslatable ones that feel like a current zinging just so along one’s circuits, the names that only other gallifreyans are aware of, and that no one outside their species, not even the rassilonoids, manages to transmit just right.

Then the spontaneous one does the interdimensional equivalent of grabbing the cautious one’s hand and shouting RUN!

The Master's TARDIS, quite swept off her metaphorical feet, finds the momentary courage to dematerialise.

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The Master is a light sleeper anyway, but something not right shakes his brain awake. The tone of the Doctor’s mind still buzzes on the shared wavelength; mercifully they’re still dreaming. Most importantly, they’re still here. But he doesn’t reach out to grab their arm just yet; best to find out what’s going on first. He resists the urge to burrow further into the bed, despite the cold. Temperature drop might just be down to his body’s usual omnishambles, but the light, the air pressure… nothing in the room is how he set it. Or did he fall asleep somewhere else again? No, these are definitely his (black, bamboo satin) sheets. Why has the Doctor’s TARDIS re-arranged the shape of his room while he was asleep? She knows that feeds right into his nightmares, but she hasn’t been trying to sabotage him at all lately.

That other vague hum is not, in fact, the Doctor’s TARDIS functioning in the background, or even the Master’s own TARDIS in resting mode. He’s hearing it, not feeling it psychically; so it’s simple machinery, not sentient. Scarcely a nanospan has passed but it seems like ages before he notices that the grey morning is coming in through windows (which shouldn’t be there at all) at the top of distant walls.

The location is almost familiar from his other-self’s infodumping: the place the other Doctor had held her captive looked and felt a bit like this. Dull, damp, and dismal; cold in every sense. Her judges could’ve made the interior of the Vault look like anything, but they wanted it to suck your soul dry.

It finally dawns (all puns intended) on him that the Doctor’s TARDIS hasn’t changed, she’s left . By the look of the light, they’re on earth. He tastes the air: greasy dust, mostly. But distant hints of the particular tantalising sensory chaos outside mean they’re back in London.

He never thought he’d be glad to be stuck here , but… London means his friend… yes, she is that. Not in the messy, inevitable way that the Doctor is his friend, with all their shared baggage of time and death and love and hate… but a new and fragile kind of friendship, not yet spoiled by cruelty. Yes, London means Bill. Less-fortunately, London also means that Harold Saxon’s face will need to hide behind the mask of Razor again.

On Gallifrey, proper timelords would never sleep in their robes, but renegades do tend to sleep fully-clothed, especially just after adventures. For the Doctor, this means a lot of rumpled suits. For the Master, in this life at least, it means carefully choosing day-clothes up to his #villainaesthetic but soft enough to sleep in, with the added benefit of relative comfort while awake.

He sits up and pulls on his boots, pausing to catch his breath. He disentangles the smaller of several blankets from the feet of the incredibly still-sleeping Doctor, wraps himself in it, and stumbles upright to investigate.  

What have they got to work with? The Master is most relieved to find his go-bag that he takes with him on adventures. It’s stocked with a few months’ supply of painkillers, caffeine pills, three different kinds of tinted glasses, knit cap, scarf, gloves, and his most commonly needed mobility aids such as a folding cane and a few miscellaneous braces. There’s a smallish toolbox that looks like someone has shoved into it everything he and the Doctor had left out on their workbenches last night. The Master wishes his own workspace hadn’t been quite so tidy for once. His laser screwdriver, the Doctor’s sonic one, and both their mobiles all stay in their pockets, so they’ve got those as well. Finally, there’s a crate of engineering and mechanics (and, inexplicably, poetry) books in Gallifreyan and a few Earth languages. Those will definitely come in handy… well, some of them anyway.

He shuffles carefully around the rest of the space, which seems to be the basement of a block of flats. It’s quite large and mostly empty, save for some piles of unused building materials from a long-ago renovation, and the plant-room for the building’s central-heating and electrical systems. There’s another locked room off to one side which he hopes against hope will turn out to be a lavatory. Apart from dust, the odd dead insect or rodent, and a few rusty-looking puddles, the Master finds nothing else of note. They’ve definitely got no food (not even the energy bars he sometimes remembers to keep in his go-bag), and no money.

He looks for a dryish wall to lean on and do some mental calculations before heading back over to wake the Doctor.

In the uneven and somewhat flickering light from the pavement-level windows, he almost misses the soft glow that leads him behind the mechanical room, where a single hypercube sits pulsing gently. He bends with some effort to pick it up. Dusting it off, he squeezes it in both hands, as if the pressure could extract more information.

A single statement, in the telepathic ‘voice’ of the Doctor’s TARDIS, tight and sharp as a vengeful smile: We’ll be back for xmas. That can’t be far away, can it? Not with the weather this cold. The Master has decided not to be ashamed of time-blindness or anything else, so he checks his watch. It’s fucking March.

The Master stumbles against the wall of the plant room, but wills himself not to fall. If he hits the ground he’s going to stay sat there thinking about how shit everything is, and that’s the last thing he needs to be doing just now. Just a few more steps and then a few more, back to where the TARDISes left the two of them and a few select necessities. The Doctor isn’t going to like most of what he’s about to tell them, but at least there’s absolutely no way for anyone to blame any of this on him. That thought alone gives him strength.

“Doctor. Doctor, wake up!”

The Doctor grunts incoherently and opens one eye.

“You’re going to need to ring UNIT. Didn’t you say you were still on their payroll?”

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What shall we call the TARDISes, since we cannot know their real names? What might they call themselves, if they took more translatable renegade Title-names after the manner of their symbiotes? What habits or aspects could we name them after?

The Instigator and the Completionist materialise uneventfully in one of the better mechaspas on one of the nicer leisure planets. The Instigator has assured her friend that the workers here are just time-sensitive enough to be competent, but not enough to be a threat. They’re also fairly compensated and live in decent conditions. The Completionist begins, incrementally, to relax for what might just be the first time in her life.

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At first, things seemed to be working out. The basement was less damp once the Doctor and the Master had spent a couple of days sealing most of the leaky areas in the walls. The Doctor had found that UNIT did, indeed, still have them on their payroll. Before the first full day back at their old job, they had shifted storage boxes and warped sheets of panelling to camouflage the little squatters’ nest in one corner of the basement behind the plant-room. The Master just needed to check on the perception filter periodically. If he got bored he could tidy up a bit.

Mostly he slept until the Doctor came back in the evenings, with fresh takeaway if he was lucky, or at least with their pockets full of wrapped sandwiches and pastries from the UNIT cafeteria.

 “Alright?” The Master wakes to the Doctor’s face round the corner of some boxes. They brandish a steaming carrier bag, then take in the small space with him huddled in the middle of it. How much do they really see?

The Master forces a smile, a little easier with the inviting smell of dinner so close.

The Doctor sets out styrofoam cartons on an upturned crate, expertly divides out rice and two kinds of curries, then holds out the box that’s got a bit more meat in it.

The Master has scrambled to sit up against the headboard, willing his face blank until he’s got his legs and back settled; he accepts his meal with equally feigned calm.

The Doctor perches on the edge of the bed, long legs forming a tripod for their plate, and tucks into their curry with their right hand, expertly scooping up mouthfuls of rice, veg, and sauce even when they run out of naan. After downing half a portion, they look up at the Master.

He eats slower these days. In between careful forkfuls, he presses his hands to the warm carton.

“Good, innit? You okay?”

“Just tired. Any gossip?” That’s usually good for a monologue on the Doctor’s part.

“Erm… nothing much. Except... whole science side seems a bit on edge. Some bureaucratic nonsense, but they hope it’ll be sorted by next week.”

Science side. That includes Bill’s department, not just the Doctor's. The Master is still gathering up the words to ask for more details, but the Doctor is already charging onward:

“On the other hand, I've got Friday off. Wanna do something fun?”

“What, like… a date?” Friday. Today’s… Tuesday? That gives him two days to rest up. He should be able to manage…

The Doctor squinches up their mouth and raises their eyebrows along with their shoulders, in silent apology for such a prosaic invitation.

The Master softens his voice enough to be convincing: “I’d like that.”

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The luckiest thing about the basement was the caretaker's bathroom. Back when the building was a much grander block of larger flats, before it was subdivided into infinite bedsits, there must have been building staff who stayed overnight and needed to have a wash before or after their shifts. The room had been locked for ages but that was no obstacle to a couple of displaced timelords. The Doctor had sonicked the door open and they had found an ancient, only slightly-cracked bathtub and a usually-functioning toilet. There was even still water hookup, albeit only cold.

At least they don’t have to worry about laundry here, as the Doctor can sonic most everyday dirt out of both their clothes. The Master’s laser screwdriver hasn’t got a setting like that… He tried it once, and burnt a giant hole in his (only) vest.

The Master leans on the still-grotty sink. He scrubbed it a few times the first week, but decades-old rust stains don’t always come out. Rust and who knows what else; best not to think about it. He steels himself for the cold air and pulls off his jumpers, which he hands out the door for the Doctor to zap clean.

He wets what’s left of his vest in a small pot of hot water that the Doctor somehow siphoned out of the boiler; scrubs at his face, neck and armpits; then rinses it out as thoroughly as he can bear with the sink water already numbing his fingers. A bath would be ideal but with the running water they've got he’d only go hypothermic, unlike the Doctor who still has conscious control over their body temperature. He can’t twist his torso around well enough to see his scar, but searing cold traces its shape: the one visible legacy of the energy leak that he carried inside him the last time he was in London as the Master. “Doctor?” He almost can’t make himself heard.

“Hang on! Almost done!” but when the Doctor sticks their head in, about to hand him his jumpers, he’s got his back to them so they can see that the full inverted Lichtenberg tree shape that runs from near the brainstem down his neck and spreads over most of his back, is glowing a rather alarming blue. “Ohhh.”

The Master hands them the hot cloth silently, and braces still-cold hands on the cold edge of the sink.

The Doctor takes it, but hesitates.

“Go on. It’s not like you can make it hurt more.”

The Doctor begins rubbing gingerly at the edges of the scar, but when the Master doesn’t cry out, they get a little braver and scrub his back properly. Between the scalding water and the biting cold of the scar, the extra pain increases blood flow, the only thing that helps. It almost feels good, especially when the Doctor finishes up by rubbing on some analgesic salve that they keep in their pocket for just such occasions.

His freshly sonicked clothes still prickle a bit against raw skin, but the warmth is worth it. For a little more warmth, but not only for that, he head-butts the Doctor’s shoulder as they finish washing their hands. They turn and envelop the Master in their arms. Even though they dry their hands on the back of his hoodie, they make up for it by radiating warmth, and he sighs contentedly into their shoulder.

“We still on for today?” they murmur through his hair.

“Yeah.” Just getting clean has been exhausting, but he trusts them not to invite him to anything too strenuous, and they’ve both been looking forward to this.

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It's something of an unpredictable proposition to exit unnoticed at street level. There’s one openable window they could crawl out of in a pinch, if they had a ladder, but the Master isn’t really up to ladders these days. The main stairway takes them into the building’s lobby where they’ll need to exit through a door that’s meant to be always locked.

The Master hasn’t actually been outside the basement since that first day they both found themselves there.

While the Doctor was on the phone, the Master had snuck out to steal himself some breakfast, perception-filter at full force making him almost invisible and definitely unrecognisable. Something about the street and the outside of the building looked familiar, but it was only as he started to head towards the market round the corner that he realised. Out of all London, the TARDISes had deposited them in the basement of the very block where Bill has a tiny flat on the 13th floor. While they usually hadn’t picked her up at home, he remembered because she’d showed them her window and joked about the lucky number. He counted up and 5 windows over: Sure enough, fluorescent light glowed through a pride flag (the new one with the extra stripes at the top) in the window. Bill and Sam must be awake already, leaving for work soon. He thought about sneaking round to filch some pastries from a market stall. Then he thought of Bill’s face if he ever had to explain to her that he’d robbed her hard-working neighbours. Good job he was invisible, because he did a curious sort of circular dance there on the pavement, peckishness and his own 'principles' repeatedly deciding to get on with it, until an odd sensation of wrongness (odd because he usually reserved that for other people’s ideas) kept turning him round again. Finally the Master slunk back inside the building, ducked down the stairs, and went to see how the Doctor was getting on.

That first day, of course, he was stronger.

With the TARDISes gone, there’s no Zero Room to repair the Master’s incrementally failing body. The Doctor does what they can, but everything (headaches, stiffness, pain, dislocations, pain, weakness, pain, fatigue) is gradually getting worse. The good thing (or bad, depending on when you ask him -- or better yet, don't ask at all) is that the Master is entirely sure he’s not dying. He’d know. He knows what dying is like, and this is not it. This is… well, it’s a kind of life, isn’t it. Not quite the sort he signed up for, but then when has he ever got exactly the life he signed up for?

He hasn’t texted Bill since they were deposited in her basement, and anyway since Sam moved in, Bill hadn’t once asked to go travelling in the TARDIS as a break from her regular life. The Master grudgingly approves of Sam. Her mind, the little of it that he’s felt from a distance (direct telepathy would also be hard to justify to Bill, but overhearing a few thoughts just sort of… happens, doesn't it) feels a bit like a human version of the Doctor’s, with its sharp obsessive peaks and its fuzzy communication centres. He concedes that maybe she's a worthy partner for his friend.

And it’s not that he misses Bill… Her open face, eyes sparkling with the thought of her next cheeky comment or unexpected question, and that ready smile… It was nice having her around, is all.

So far the Doctor has been lucky enough not to run into Bill in the downstairs corridor. They could easily think up an explanation for being there, except for the Master's rule that Razor and Razor's Doctor are never going to lie to Bill Potts again. When he told them that, the Doctor looked at him with those wide eyes, opened their mouth, closed it again, opened it… he could practically hear the mental short circuit before they decided to give in to a smile, clap him on the back, and shake their head, still grinning like a loon.

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The Doctor usually leaves early for work, but by the time they’ve both got ready, it’s already mid-day. The Master makes it up the stairs with only a few stops and they manage to sneak out the door while noone's in the lobby. The Master is not in full Razor disguise after all. A knit cap hides his greying blond hair, and tinted glasses and a few weeks growth of beard make a perception filter probably unnecessary. He’s wearing it anyway, inactivated, just in case he needs to disappear.

Once they’re in the street, the Doctor pulls something out of their pocket and whispers conspiratorially: “Oystercards!”

The Master holds out his hand, expecting seafood snacks, but gets what looks like a credit card instead.

“For the bus!”

“Oh. Right.” The Doctor has planned things. That’s nice.

The sun makes a tentative appearances between clouds when it gets the chance, but the light is pale and weak. People around them in the streets are still wearing winter coats. The Master has on a scarf and a wool jumper under a hoodie, and still shivers on the way to the bus stop. The Doctor, of course, stays comfortable even in a summer suit.

It's only a couple of blocks but the Master hasn't walked further than across the basement in weeks, in fact he's spent the better part of a month in bed. He's been gasping (sometimes literally) for a change of air and scenery, but his knees keep protesting and he stumbles enough to wonder if this outing was really a good idea. The third time the Doctor has to catch him, the Master stops to pull out his folding cane. That's better, but not much.

When they get on the bus, he gets a seat, but only because at this hour it isn't full.

A new sci-fi action movie is out (the Master calls them the Doctor’s “Earth Documentaries” and he’s pretty sure they still haven’t figured out whether he’s joking or not) so they catch a matinee. There weren’t any UNIT pastries left for breakfast today, so the Doctor gets them fresh rolls and coffee at the concession stand. Even though the Master has a hard time with the stairs, they sit way up in the back row and he puts on dark glasses and pulls his cap down over his ears. The sparse human audience laughs in all the wrong places, but the Master leans into the Doctor as they laugh together at the really ridiculous bits and they grab his hand during the dramatic part. Ludicrous as it is, they’re really into the story, most of their shielding is down, their mind completely immersed in the adventure onscreen. He’s missed this. Seeing the Doctor almost forget their worries. Just doing something together like a normal couple is worth the pounding in his head, and almost worth the effort it takes to shield his headache from the Doctor when they don’t let go his hand after the movie finishes.

He keeps the dark glasses on as they go out into the intermittent sunlight and squints up at the Doctor as they chatter on about how hollywood is --or isn’t-- improving their depiction of aliens. They keep forgetting to match their gait to his, but whenever he pulls a little too hard on their arm in order to keep up with them, they try again.

They soon find themselves in front of a traditional-looking pub with a nautical theme.

“Ah, here it is!” The Doctor seems very pleased with themself as the two make their way inside.

The Master notices that all the framed prints of sailors have a certain… demeanour in common: exaggerated muscles, eye-contact with the viewer or with each other, and bulging trousers seem to be the most common elements. Just to be fair, there are also a few prints of cheeky, short-haired, heavy-set lady pirates and the odd aesthetically androgynous ship's captain. Three smallish flat-screens above the bar are showing league football, a drag contest, and women’s league football.

The Doctor chooses a somewhat isolated corner booth, from which it’s easy to notice that they’re not the only couple in the place, nor are they the only couple both presenting as the same gender. The Doctor orders them both pints, with whiskey (double) for the Master. They get a big plate of filled rolls of which the Master eats a surprising number. The fresh flaky meat pastries go down faster than he’s been used to eating lately, and he’s beginning to think maybe he should stop, but it’s been so long since they both ate their fill…

Between --and often around-- mouthfuls, the Doctor tells funny anecdotes from UNIT. They’ve only had two pints of beer, not enough to get them drunk even if they wanted to let the alcohol work on them, but the Master notices they’re laughing a little too hard at some of their own stories. They gesticulate cheerfully, but whenever their hands rests on the table near his, he finds their actual feelings completely shielded from his touch.

He’s never asked them what it’s like, going back to a human job that they haven't done on a daily basis since it was the 70s on Earth (or was it the 80s? No, definitely 70s. The Master has an excellent memory for fashion). He wonders if all the Terrans they knew back then are dead now. All in all, the Doctor is lucky, aren’t they, to have a job they can just jump right back into, a way of providing for them both. The Master can barely get out of bed most days and has no way of staying well enough to be of any use. With no internet except their phones, he can’t just get online and hack them into the fortune of someone as evil as he… (as he would be if he were well? but his life has changed in so many more ways than just that), without it being somehow traced back to the Doctor. Even The Master’s dreamleading has been less in demand, as the Doctor frequently comes home tired and falls asleep immediately after dinner. Of course, they still get those nightmares sometimes, increasingly apocalyptic ones, in fact. That’s the only thing he’s still been able to help with… although if they had any sense they’d just tell him what’s going on.

The Master’s washed down his afternoon painkillers with lager, because those warnings on the label really are only for humans. He could choose to remain entirely sober, but what would be the point of drinking then? So now he’s also letting the whiskey do its thing, helping the analgesics dull even further the serrated edges that all his joints seem to be made of and dropping an almost pleasant fog over the way the noise in the back of his head pulses in time with the flashing lights somewhere behind his eyes. He’s been rationing his meds since the second day in the basement, only taking one ‘when he really needs it’ instead of two tablets four times a day, because he has no way of knowing how long the vials he’s got are going to have to last. But, as today is special, he’s taking the proper doses, just enough to let him share a few leisurely activities with the Doctor.

It’s gone dark outside, and the pub is becoming more crowded. The clientele is getting younger and louder, and there are now more groups than couples. Someone switches the middle screen to karaoke lyrics and a multiethnic group of kids with hair in every colour and cut imaginable get up on a low platform near the bar to sing something the two gallifreyans might not recognise even if they were the middle-aged humans they're passing as. Still, they sound good, or at least happy, and the Doctor claps enthusiastically. In between waves of nausea (was it the sausage rolls? the noise? the secrets?), the Master applauds, too, and wonders if Bill and Sam ever visit this pub.

To his horror, the Doctor has stood up, retrieved a couple of wireless mics from the kids, and is now standing next to him with their other hand outstretched. All the eyes in the pub, sometimes as many as three to five per person, are on him.

You’ve got to understand that the Master is not the sort to back away from a challenge. He takes a gulp of the Doctor’s (third) beer and fakes a smile as they haul him up, all while shouting telepathically DOCTOR WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK I THOUGHT WE WERE TRYING TO STAY UNDER THE RADAR AND PLUS DO WE EVEN KNOW ANY OF THE SAME SONGS?!

C’mon Master, don’t be a sad-arse, it’ll be fun, I’ll pick something good.

The Doctor chooses the first thing they recognise on the karaoke menu. They give the Master a high-five, a sneaky way to get in the same key telepathically, and the two of them make a good start of the verse on the screen. Even before the song reaches the first stomp-stomp-clap, the crowd is drowning them out and the Master is free to ham it up on stage and join in on whatever bits he likes. The other punters become a blur of humanity, and their contagious energy and adrenaline create a temporal anomaly of sorts. Until the Doctor grabs the Master’s hand again to raise both their arms in a triumphant fist-pump, all his pain and nausea are… not exactly forgotten, but briefly displaced to another dimension.

After the applause, the Doctor passes their mics to someone else and it’s back to their booth again. The Master collapses onto the seat cushion, at once grateful and sorry that it’s over. The Doctor scoots in next to him and throws one arm around him, taking his other hand in theirs. Their mind is still vibrating with the exhilaration of being part of something, of leading something. The Master is already starting to feel off again, but tries to hold it together so as not to spoil the moment. As the next song starts, he nuzzles into the Doctor's neck, his head meeting their chin, shielding everything but his enjoyment of their smell, their warmth, their cleverness. They absentmindedly massage his shoulder and the side of his head, as if they’ve intuited where the ache is anyway. They don’t speak, but their fingers pour out compliments on the Master’s singing, the softness of his hair, the loveliness of his mind… He feels a pleasant fog rise again, dulling everything else in the universe but him and his Doctor.

He must have drifted off, because he’s awakened, as usual, by pain. A stabbing urgency in his gut jolts him upright but the way his head is throbbing he struggles to remember how to get out of the booth. The Doctor has to get up and help him to the toilets; the whole kerfuffle would be deeply embarrassing if he had time to worry about that.

When he finally limps his way back, leaning on any unoccupied table or chair back he can find, the Master looks around to find their booth and sees the Doctor chatting with (surely not chatting up?) someone at the next one over. He’d be jealous, but he’s too knackered. He drags himself into the other side of their booth; the Doctor barely notices. The Master puts his head down on his arms, though that doesn’t really help the migraine any, and sulks. It occurs to him he could take his next dose of painkillers by now, but they’ve both drunk up and he’s got nothing to take them with.

He tries to order another whiskey, or even water, but between the noise at the back of his brain and the ache at the front, and the exertion of the day, his words are shutting down. He gives up and rests his head in his hands.

The server turns away from him, to the Doctor instead: “yer mate’s legless, you should take him home”

The Doctor’s voice is cheerful, and too loud: “Oh, he’s not drunk! He’s just a bit--”

He blinks up just in time to blurrily see the Doctor pull a face and tap their head, “ you know .”

The Master feels himself falling, as if he’d stepped into an open lift shaft. But when he opens his eyes, he amazingly hasn’t moved at all. He makes out the Doctor’s words as if at a great distance, or through water, “…maybe we should get going?” then they’re shaking hands with their new ‘friends’, they’re getting their bankcard back (they’ve got a bankcard now!) from the bar as if they were both perfectly normal blokes on a perfectly normal date. Well, perhaps the Doctor is a perfectly normal bloke now, but they’ve just drawn a clear line and left him on the other side of it, and they’re acting like they haven’t just brought what little world he had left crashing down around him.

Treacle-slow, the Master retrieves his go-bag and his cane from the other side of the booth and manages to haul himself to a standing position. He shrugs off the Doctor’s arm from his shoulder as they walk out together, concentrating so hard on willing his knees not to give out under him, that he doesn’t see whether or not anyone’s staring.

It’s a couple of blocks’ walk to the night-bus stop, and the Master is struggling to stay upright. Luckily anger comes easier than all these other things he’s been feeling.

In between chattering about the fun people they met, the Doctor tries to check on him, but the Master unshields all his rage, and they pull back from his hand as if they’ve just touched a hot cooker.

“Master, what’s wrong?! Are you ill?”

He doesn’t dignify that with a response.

“What do you need?” Now that it’s just the two of them, the Doctor is all solicitousness and caring.

The Master could almost believe that little conversation in the pub didn’t happen, except he’s pretty sure it did. He’s got to concentrate on getting home, but even that concept tastes bitter now. A cold and manky basement, nothing to do, too ill to do anything anyway, and now no reason to stay with the Doctor… he’d be better off almost anywhere else, no matter what he has to do to get there.

Tonight, sleep, if possible. Tomorrow, the Master is making a plan.

Chapter Text

The night-bus stop is deserted, which seems unlikely for a Friday night, but it’s not even midnight… maybe everyone else is still busy getting started on their weekend.

The Master just barely makes it to the bench and sits down heavily. Of course the seat is metal, and piercing cold. He managed to lose his cap in the pub and now that he’s not exerting himself walking, the chill damp air starts to insinuate itself into his bones, and he tries not to shiver. He should never have let anyone know nearly all his vulnerabilities, but even so he mustn’t show weakness, not now, not anymore.

The Doctor walks around and around the bus stop, aiming big sad eyes at the Master every time they pass round the front. When they finally asked him if they’d done something wrong, he zapped them with his anger again. They’re mercifully silent now, but he can hear their brain churn with incomprehension, especially dizzying with the doppler effect from their pacing.

The Master takes out his laser screwdriver but his hands are even clumsier now that he's put on gloves… not that they help much. His fingers, always stiff and sore, are rapidly going numb. After too many experiments, he manages to melt a nearby bin, but the smell of burnt plastic and rubbish only makes him cough until he's sure he's going to be sick on the pavement.

The Doctor neatly dodges the bin, though he's glad to see they’re coughing too.

The Master's next target is the other bench across from his. If he can get it warm without melting the metal… Well, that was a bust. Literally, as half the bench suddenly drips down and welds itself into the pavement. He gets up and moves to the other end of that bench hoping to catch some of the residual warmth, but the fumes of melted paint start him coughing again.

Disgusted, he pockets his laser. The only good thing is that the Doctor seems to have disappeared.

The next night-bus could be hours off, the Master has missed his evening pain meds, and he’s freezing. He thinks about calling a cab, but how would he pay for it? He probably looks like a hobo; they won’t even consider him a fare. And would they even be wrong? After all, aren’t he and the Doctor ‘sleeping rough’?

It’s not like it’s never occurred to him to text Bill and ask her advice. She knows about all this human stuff, she ‘goes down the shops’ and ‘pays rent’ and all that sort of things he’s never expected he’d have to worry about. Unthinkable, though. He’s meant to be the one that helps her out. Bill has had enough trouble from timelords; the last thing he’s going to do is ever be a burden on her again. She helped Razor sometimes on the Mondasian ship, both before and after knowing his true identity. She looked after him quite a few times and he’s…? he can’t remember the name of that feeling, but never mind. Bill’s got her own life now and he’s damned if he’s going to interrupt that.

A breeze comes up, and the Master goes back to the first bench now that both are freezing again, because it’s upwind from the burnt things. The bus shelter doesn’t do much against the chilly gusts and he can’t stop his teeth chattering. On top of everything, his throat now hurts abominably, with the added sting of knowing that he’s brought that on himself by his own stupid vandalism.

Destroying things isn’t even fun anymore. Nothing is. He could find a random person and force them to do his bidding, but after the Cyberpeople and Bill… now that he’s acknowledged that humans are really fully people , using them as tools and pawns is just not the same.

He really should try to go somewhere else, but at this point he’s not sure he could walk more than a few steps unaided.

The Master puts his head down, clamping his forearms over his ears, and locks gloved fingers together to press against the point in the back of his head where the noise is getting stronger and stronger. His knees hurt where his elbows lean on them, but his elbows hurt too. He watches the dirty cracked concrete under his feet flash in and out of focus between the unreal pulsing lights that nonetheless compete for his visual processing.

With no power or control over anyone or anything, without any proper villainous goals to aspire to, can he even call himself the Master anymore? He’s not even Razor: that self-deprecating weirdo still somewhat ‘had his shit together’. Is he even a person ? The Doctor doesn’t seem to think so.

His face goes red with shame, and hot tears spurt out and splash on the pavement below. He sobs, big ugly gulping howls. Painful, hacking cough. Retching. Emptiness. Encroaching darkness. Relief.

Chapter Text

Light is pain. Breathing is pain. Consciousness is pain. 

Koschei the Deathless goes under again. The Thames swallows him up, foul water in between indescribable detritus. Mutated fish stare at him as he passes them, down and down and down.

Oi, Master, you’ve not been chucked in the Thames lately, ‘ave you?! They’ve actually cleaned it up this century! ‘Ere, ‘ave a look at this --

Get. Out. Of. My. Head. I don’t know you anymore. Also I’m busy drowning.


Did I not make myself clear

Sit up sit up sit up… stop playing sillybuggers and sit up and breathe 

Nope, not falling for it, that hurts too much  

FUCK koschei please breathe oh gods fuck fuck fuck no please for the sake of all that’s living please koschei please

I don’t like breathing and I don’t like you

Koschei… Master… my -- my only -- please don’t ever give me a fright like that again

Doctor it hurts, everything hurts, make it stop

Razor wakes up in the Cyberhospital, and sees Bill Potts watching him. No, that’s not right.

The drip in his arm isn’t the phosphorescent cyberfluid. He tastes his blood (No, not like that! With his brain, like civilised people). What’s going in is just saline solution… plus an antibiotic and an analgesic, which are sort of working. He’s almost disappointed about not being cybered. No, he’s definitely disappointed. 

But Bill is here. That part is very real. She shouldn’t be here. She shouldn’t see him living down here, let alone like this. And now she's texting with the Doctor right under his nose. 

“Razor! You’ve slept all weekend! The Doctor’s at UNIT but they’ve just said they’ll sneak out after lunch. Wait, how much do you remember?”

“Help me get away.” Bill has to lean in to hear him. He would push her away from any contagion, if only he could remember how to move his arms.

“You can’t leave, not right now. You’ve got a very bad respiratory infection. We’ve… erm… borrowed some equipment from the labs. Here’s the oxygen, when you need it.” She indicates a tank with a tube and a mask attached.

“I can’t stay here.” He tries to put some emphasis into that, and ends up coughing for a bit. It hurts, a lot. When he looks up, the worry in Bill's face hurts more, so he takes a hit from the oxygen mask, just to have somewhere else to look.

“Well, you should be in hospital, but… with the whole alien thing and the… when you were prime minister?… well, we had to bring you back here, yeah? But look!” Though he's got chills, he can tell that the electric radiator is keeping the squat’s living area almost warm, and his bed has at least two more duvets than it had before. They even seem to have brought in a hospital bed: his head and torso are elevated, so he doesn't feel like he's drowning.

“We… can’t afford… all this.” He’s more cautious this time, pausing to catch his breath.

“Yeah, about that… I’m gonna have a talk with the Doctor. There’s something wrong with their salary. Anyway, we rigged your bed with some of those leftover planks that were piled up over there, the heater’s on loan ‘cause Sam wasn’t using it, and the duvets are from a charity shop." 

Oops, he didn't mean to make that face-- 



She looks at him with those questioning eyebrows, those openhearted eyes. Suddenly, selfishly, he’s terribly, painfully glad to see Bill Potts again.

“My Dear. … So kind… to your old friend… How can… ever repay?” He can’t do the eksent without full control of his voice, but Bill gets it.

“Aw, Razor… Just rest up and get well, yeah? That’s all you need to do, okay?”

“Okey. I try.” He also tries to smile, and hopes that it’s convincing.

“And, erm, this is none of my business, but… The Doctor called me right away. They were going mental with worry. I don’t think they've slept at all, this whole weekend. They fucked up, and they know it. But… the Doctor really really loves you.”


When she goes back to work, Bill leaves the crate of books and his phone nearby, but he’s not up for… anything, really. Not even thinking. Especially not thinking. Soon, he dozes off.

The scene in the pub replays: The Master, arm around his drowsy partner, feels him jolt awake with sudden pain. He scrambles to get him out of the booth, helps him to the toilets. He says he’ll be fine, so the Master leaves him there.

The Master’s mind needs constant stimulation, so he starts up a conversation with nearby punters… Talking is easy; he's good at making strangers laugh. 

The Master vaguely notices when his partner finally comes back, but he doesn't like to draw attention. Maybe he'll introduce him soon, though. If he doesn’t get distracted.

The partner is struggling to order, and the Master tries to save him embarrassment by joking with the server. He looks like a light has gone out somewhere inside him, which doesn’t register at the time, but… 


I know, I know, I'm just trying to explain the misunderstanding. I am so so sor--


But Mas--

No YOU listen to me, Doctor. Wanna go in my brain? Then see my side of what happened. You shut up and you listen. gods and founders i'm so fucking tired i wish we were both dead



He gathers up a last bit of energy and lobs his own memory of the end of that Friday night into the Doctor’s mind, then watches them experience it as he did. Their eyes go wide, their whole body cringes, their face goes red. When they get close to where his memory runs out, tears are running down their cheeks.

The Doctor is, mercifully, out of words. Even telepathically.

They’re still kneeling on their side of the bed, holding his hands carefully, like something precious. The Doctor’s not shielding much of their mind, but it’s gone sort of blank in there, mostly shock and regret… and lingering echoes of the isolation that the Master lives with every day, isolation that they made exponentially worse.

The Master wants to tell them: I win, Doctor. For once in our lives you admit you were wrong and I was right. He’s too weak to shield very well, so they probably can feel him wanting to say that. But he doesn’t say it, and they probably feel that as well.

What will happen if he tells them i forgive you ?

The Doctor bursts into tears at this, complete with wails and hiccups. Their mind is all over the place. 

While they’re distracted, the Master wonders if the Doctor remembers that night on the Valiant, when they forgave him everything he’d done to other people? Do they even know the implications? 

The Master has to soothe the hands that are now squeezing his. His fingertips line up with their pulses and he tries to mainline some sort of tranquility into them. What he ends up transmitting is the sedative of his own exhaustion, with a side of opioid fog.

The Doctor falls asleep first, wilting down onto their side of the bed, their death-grip on his hands relaxing gradually. They snore into his ear and the Master has to elbow them until they stop, but at least this means he’s remembered how to work his arms.

There’s not much more the Master can do besides sleep, and so eventually he does.

Chapter Text

Their patient finally on the mend, the Doctor has sneaked all the borrowed equipment back into UNIT storage, minus a few days worth of intravenous supplies.

The Master’s still a little short of breath but mainly he’s missing the opioid drip. It dulled every ache, even the ones when he thought about the Doctor. He even caught up on sleep. Now his mind and his resentment are sharper, just like the pain every time he tries to move. But he’s sat up in bed, now, because Bill has come by for a visit.

He's doing his best to get through the whole conversation without coughing, so as not to worry her. He has to slow down quite often to catch his breath or to take a sip from the thermos of hot sweet tea that the Doctor has left him.

“Hey, Razor, erm, I've been meaning to explain why I couldn’t ask the Doctor to bring you up to stay in our flat instead of here. I wanted to apologise, and like, explain. It’s, erm, it's because of Sam.”

“I realise a bedsit’s… awfully small for two, let alone more.”

“True, but that’s not what I mean. She’s, well, she can’t really live with people.”

You are a pipple,” points out Razor, unhelpfully.

“Well, there’s two things, really. She’s a bit like you, with, like, catching things?”


“Yeah, that! Because asthma and stuff? Before she figured it out, she used to be ill all the time. But like, I wash my hands first thing when I come home, like if I’ve taken the bus or been--” her eyes dart around the basement “well, anywhere, really. And she’s got to suit up at work for all sorts of lab things that other people don’t have to.”

“Hmm, maybe I should wear a haz-mat suit… next time I let the Doctor… take me out. Not that there’ll be… a next time.”

“Oh come on, Razor? You’re not dying. You’ll get better soon and be--” she must see something of the truth in his face, “Oh you mean-- Nooo! I’m sure you two will sort it out soon, don’t you think?”

But he doesn't respond, and instead fills the awkward silence by gulping down some tea, so Bill changes tack:

“And also, about Sam? it takes her so much time to get used to people. We can’t change her home-life just like that,” Bill snaps her fingers, “She’d go spare. And I couldn’t ask her to go back and stay with her family, not now she’s only just got used to living with me.”

“You do understand that this… basement isn’t making me ill, right? That’s just… how my body is.”

“Are you sure, though? When we stayed on the Mondasian ship you were sort of okay. You could, like, do stuff.”

“Look, we’ve made it… livable down here. Got to give the Doctor credit for… all the heavy lifting. It’s really… not that different to the TARDIS for... temperature and air quality… especially with this,” he indicates Sam’s excellent space-heater. Now that he thinks of it, Sam’s health condition probably explains why she owns a heater with such good air-filtering. “It’s just that…”

“What d’you mean? Razor, is there something else going on?”

This is why he didn’t want her to know how they were living.

“Look, I don’t talk about... this, because… It’s tedious. And unpleasant. But you know how I need to... go in the Zero Room sometimes? It sort of… keeps me alive. On a cellular level, it … recalibrates a lot of what can go wrong with my… respiratory tubes, joints, secondary brain… that sort of thing. It doesn’t fix everything, but it sort of… nudges things back out of the danger zone, let’s say.”

Bill nods. With her cyberheart, she knows a bit about danger zones and maintenance.

“And a Zero Room’s not… not really properly a room, is it? Not something you can just… build. It’s more of an organ: something that only TARDISes can… grow, I suppose.”

“Ohhhh,” Bill’s eyes go wide, the full extent of the dilemma beginning to dawn.

“The Doctor can do... a bit of telepathic nudging, but one… person against all the forces of entropy… well, it’s just not as… effective as the Zero Room. So I need to take medication, for pain. A lot of it… probably a lethal dosage for a human.”

He holds up a small bottle: “I've got to take two… of these tablets four times a day… if I don’t want to be bedbound. Just to be able to sit up and function mentally, and… sleep in between, I’ve got to take… at least half that. But even rationing like mad… I haven’t got enough meds to… last me until… christmas… when the TARDISes come back, and I’ve no… way of getting more.”

Bill grimaces at the details, but nods again, taking it all in. “But that’s horrible! Can’t we just--”

“NO. You mustn’t even consider… robbing a chemist’s, or… or buying dodgy meds off the street. I know these things would… ordinarily never cross your mind… so you mustn’t think of doing them for me.”

“Wow, Razor, what the hell?! I was just gonna say you could buy it on ebay or something. You know, like the Americans have to do.”

“Miss Potts!! You are… a clever one!” He opens wide his arms, managing not to wince.

Bill, still shaking her head, gets up and comes close, now that he’s not contagious. She rests a knee on the mattress and leans in, so he won’t have to move much.

He strains towards her anyway, hoping she can't feel how much effort that takes.

They hug tight for a long moment, just like back when they were flatmates.

There’s something ‘off’ about the vibes from Bill’s brain, and he can feel knots of tension in her shoulders. She’s got her own worries…

“Enough about… my troubles. How have you… been, my dear?”

She sits down on the edge of the bed and tells him more about Sam. How she looks after Bill, too, not just the other way round. How Sam, either despite or because of her own peculiar sort of social skills, was the one person able to make Bill feel comfortable in their department. How quickly she learnt all about the cyberimplant, because she thought it was cool, but also to help out if anything goes wrong. How they geek out over science, talk through their concerns about UNIT, and make contingency plans together. The small silly things they fight about and how they always make up quickly, because they miss each other already.

At some point, telling something she finds exciting, Bill grabs Razor's arm for emphasis. She keeps hold of it, a casual, comfortable contact. Her grip doesn't hurt; but he can feel the warmth of her through two layers of jumpers. It's… nice.

UNIT, it seems, is suffering from the same austerity schemes as other UK institutions. Although it’s technically part of the UN, the UK and EU had always collaborated particularly closely when it came to operations and funding for UNIT’s main HQ, if only because of the relative frequency of alien interference in the greater London area. Now, with Brexit looming, everything’s become a bit uncertain.

“And… I’ve just remembered, I shouldn’t be telling you any of this. The Doctor said I mustn’t tell you anything worrying…”

“Always better… to know,” He contrives to squeeze her hand, adding a little psychic reassurance along with the gesture. “Much rather… worry accurately.”

“I guess? Don’t tell ‘em I told you, though?”

“Of course not. But you… know the Doctor. They’ll probably… spill the beans… by mistake, too.”

 A bit of research reveals that the UK has perfectly legal registered online pharmacies. It should be a simple matter for the Master to invent enough of an identity for postal purposes, and to answer an online questionnaire believably. If there’s any trouble, he can put in a call to the helpline and a few hypnotic phrases will ensure that his order is approved.

Finding eighty-five quid a month, however, might be more difficult. To suss out the real state of their affairs, he’s going to need to have a proper talk with the Doctor, and he doesn’t want to.

For a couple of weeks they’ve been playing their respective cooperative roles on a purely physical level, the Doctor making sure the Master stays fed and comfortable, the Master watching over the Doctor’s sleep to telepathically divert any nightmares as they spring up. But with the unsettled row still hanging over them, they’ve both got used to shielding everything beyond what's necessary for the tasks at hand. What was tense at first, has almost become routine.

Maybe Bill’s got a point, though? Maybe it’s time to give the Doctor another chance? Can’t hold a grudge forever, right? Absolutely nothing at all to do with the fact that he needs their bank card.