It had only taken about a week for the Doctor to feel he had been very immature. He’d spent the next months alternately trying to forget the whole incident and to either find a way out of apologizing, or talk himself into apologizing.
When he returned, he carried a neat parcel of the Master’s cleaned clothes. It was October, and the day (unlike the fact that he had to go through this) seemed fair.
In the teashop, people he’d met or seen previously mixed with strangers. The Doctor waved at the Kingstons, who were this time accompanied by a small boy who was unmistakably their son.
In the back room the Master leaned, back straight against the counters. He was watching the door as if he’d been waiting for the Doctor. Perhaps he had been.
The Doctor set his parcel on the counter top, and cleared his throat. There was a moment of silence, so long and uncomfortable that the Doctor thought seriously about just turning around and going, getting back in the TARDIS, and in future only speaking to people who didn’t expect this sort of thing from him.
The Master quashed the notion by beginning with something else entirely.
“Is that one of your old jackets?” He nodded at the Doctor’s coat. In fact it was, one of his third body’s, tailored to fit his now-smaller frame.
“I don’t remember ever having worn this, during one of your—let’s call them ‘visits.’” The Doctor noted slyly, feeling he’d thoroughly called the Master out.
The Master raised his own challenging eyebrow. “You remember what you were wearing each and every time I paid a call?”
Touché. The Doctor gave him a cross look, and the Master gave him a self-satisfied one before continuing. “Speaking of clothes, I have some of yours upstairs. I’m occupied at the moment,” he obviously wasn’t, but the Doctor wasn’t going to argue the point, “but go and fetch them yourself, if you like.”
The Doctor brightened at the prospect. It was something to do, and a way to get out from under the Master’s inspection. The Doctor didn’t know if he only imagined the tinge of disappointment in the other man’s expression, but he felt it nonetheless.
Upstairs, the Doctor found his clothes near the front of the closet. He flung them behind him towards the bed, taking a moment to rub the pad of his thumb on one of the Master’s soft cloth jackets. He shut the door and turned around, surveying the room carefully—he’d not been in the proper frame of mind to do it, the last time he’d been up here. There were small signs of anachronism, but nothing more dramatic than the sculpture that he’d tripped over a few visits ago. The lightly glowing shelves might be from IKEA, rather than carved out of bioluminescent coral from the gas seas of Ope. A great many of the books resting on them—the Master had always been fond of reading in bed—didn’t belong to this time or place, but the Doctor didn’t suppose a great many humans found their way up here to comment on the strange jumble of alphabets the Master was able to understand.
Unless they did. It was unlikely, given the Master’s traditional disdain for intercourse, conversational or otherwise, with anyone he didn’t consider almost as intelligent as he himself was—which, the Doctor had to admit, was setting the bar very high. A trail of human lovers was not impossible, however. Especially if he were doing it to annoy the Doctor. Maybe that was why he was here. A long, slow… assault on the Doctor’s sanity.
The Doctor shook the mad paranoia off. Even convinced as he was that the Master had ulterior motives for this Kindly Old Shop Owner act, he still thought the other man was above seducing Liz or some nonsense, just to get under his skin. The bedroom might contain some clue as to his larger purpose—though surely the Master would be more careful than to invite him up here, if it did.
He spotted a picture frame turned face-down on the Master’s bedside table. Trailing a hand across the bedspread, the Doctor approached. He laid hesitant fingers on the rim, and was just about to flip it over when a voice directly behind him murmured, “Prying, Doctor?”
The Doctor jumped, stumbling into the man behind him, who caught and steadied him with a hand on his hip. “Careful, my dear,” the Master purred. “Do you suppose that’s any of your business?”
The Doctor extricated himself, turning and taking a step back, and forced a smile. To sate his curiosity, he would have to admit to thinking he was owed answers to that sort of question, which would put whatever it was they were doing in an uncomfortable context. Instead he said, “I thought you were busy?”
“Certainly not too busy for you,” the Master smiled, all easy charm, slick mockery, bitter irony and naked earnestness. “Besides, you took so long I began to wonder if anything had befallen you.”
“You wish.” The Doctor held up the two tickets he’d quietly pilfered from the bedside table’s drawer while the Master was distracted by their conversation. “The opera, Master?”
“It’s Gabrielle Muscavoy—not as a headliner, of course. Not yet, anyway. But halfway through the final aria the prima donna will suffer a brain hemorrhage, prompting Miss Muscavoy to surge up from the chorus, stepping up to the proscenium so they can close the curtain and remove the body discreetly. She will improvise a bridge so flawless that the patrons won’t realize until they read the reviews that the show very nearly didn’t go on. In seven years she’ll be hailed as the woman who re-popularized opera, and in ten as the greatest musical talent of her generation. Even for us, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“And you didn’t invite me.” The Doctor thought it would be quite something to be able to say he’d met Gabrielle Muscavoy—perhaps she’d let him call her Gabby. And on such an important night, too. “You know I love opera.”
“Almost as much as you love name dropping,” the Master agreed, smugly plucking the tickets from the Doctor’s hand.
“Well, who are you taking?” the Doctor started in, prepared to wheedle.
“No one,” the Master said, sitting down on the bed, the better to take in the Doctor’s sulking. “Why?”
“Oh come on, Master, let’s not do this. No one buys himself two tickets. You know perfectly well you bought those so that when I half-remembered that something important was going to happen today in London, and then when, upon coming here, I dropped in to see you, I’d—”
“Be drawn to riffle through my drawers and make it your business?” The Master raised an eyebrow.
“Almost inevitably,” the Doctor agreed.
“You really are something of a gothic novel heroine,” he shook his head. “You know,” the Master pretended to consider, “I might consent to bring you with me. Might,” he stressed when the Doctor brightened triumphantly.
The Doctor sighed, theatrical. “You’re sitting on a bed, I’m standing in front of you—I wonder what you could possibly want.”
The Master smirked at him. “Simply for you to ask politely, Doctor.”
“Ask politely?” The Doctor repeated, incredulous and somewhat huffy. Surely the Master wanted something a bit more personal than courtesy?
“Mm. Do you think you can manage that?” The Master lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, anticipatory.
The Doctor knelt over him, legs on either side of the Master’s, propped up on his elbows. His hair slipped over his shoulders as he bent down. His lips almost touched the Master’s. “Master, please let me come with you.”
The Master chuckled, his eyes still closed. “That’s laying it on rather thick.”
“When have you ever disliked ‘over-the-top’?” The Doctor smirked. “That’s practically your middle name. I think I know my audience.”
The Master took one of the Doctor’s hands and kissed the skin over the pulse point in his wrist. The Doctor’s breath caught, but then the Master was nudging his leg out of the way, sitting up and sliding out, and walking out the door. “You’re invited,” he called back without turning around.
“I accept,” the Doctor shouted down the hall, sitting down rather grumpily on the bed. It wasn’t as though he’d wanted the Master to take advantage of the situation. He’d just expected it.
He saw the picture frame from the corner of his eye. It might contain nothing at all, a picture of him, or of something or someone else entirely. The Master had put it here to catch the Doctor’s curiosity, and the Doctor wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of coming back to find it in even a slightly altered position.
The Doctor swung himself off the bed and clattered downstairs after the Master, grabbing an apron as he passed the door. When they closed for the day, and the Master changed into something suitable, the two walked, convivially, towards the opera house, stopping for coffee when it became obvious they were going to arrive ridiculously early. Thanks to the Master’s obsessive punctuality, and without the Doctor really noticing that he was being handled until it was over, they presented their tickets at precisely fifteen minutes to the hour, giving them ample time to claim their seats and settle.
The performance was emotive and controlled. Sumptuous. Perfect. The Master very casually brought the Doctor’s knuckles to his mouth and kissed them, once, during the third act. It was only then that the Doctor realized he’d gripped the Master’s hand at a compelling moment and not released it.
They walked back towards the Doctor’s TARDIS, chatting idly, the Doctor laughing at the Master’s very cruel and terribly accurate imitation of an absurd secondary character. He had his hands clasped behind his back. He was very aware of the space between them.
They reached the TARDIS, and the Doctor, who’d been leading the way, cleared his throat. “This is my stop. Thank you—for a wonderful evening.” And my clothes, which are still at yours, the Doctor thought, internally annoyed for an instant.
“My pleasure.” The Master nodded. “There’s—”
The Doctor pressed a firm kiss to the Master’s open mouth, insinuating his tongue there. He gripped at the Master’s lapels and then his back with suppressed energy, before easing into a chaste embrace. The Doctor let go, took a step back, and glanced away before looking again at the Master, who observed him with a clouded, unreadable expression.
The Doctor nodded. “Bye, then,” he muttered, letting himself into the TARDIS and closing the door behind him. He watched the Master walk away on the scanners before dematerializing.
A month later, the Doctor stormed past the Master’s customers, his own acquaintances, with just a curt nod. He headed directly to the back room, slumping heavily down into a chair.
The Master was unruffled, but he did put down the archeology journal he’d been perusing. “I take it you’ve had a bad day?”
The Doctor gave him a disgusted look in response, laying his head down on his arms.
“Well?” The Master pushed his plate, which contained an untouched half of a cucumber sandwich, in the Doctor’s direction.
The Doctor lifted his head and looked at the Master through the curtain of hair, which had fallen over his face. “If I say they were horrible, and if I ask why I bother, and if I tell you that people are dead because I couldn’t come up with something brilliant enough quickly enough to prevent a great deal of damage being done, what are you going to say? Because if it’s that of course they were, and you’ve always asked yourself that, and that it doesn’t matter, I think I’m going to punch you or just leave. I’m not entirely sure which.”
“Try to punch me,” the Master corrected. “You’re exhausted, and I’m a very good dodger. Another colony of worthless humans, then? Destroying each other over resources, or ideology? Hardly worth the carbon they’re constructed from,” the Master said, waving a dismissive hand. “Your efforts were meaningless. You should have just left them all there, to rot in their own filthy stupidity.”
“I saved them. I couldn’t save them all, but the point is that I tried. I still—”
“There, wasn’t that simple? You bother because that’s what you do, and it matters intensely—to you. You wouldn’t be who you are without your pet causes, or your ridiculous emotional investment in what seems to be nearly everyone you meet. When one of your interventions goes poorly, you tend to sink into a slough of despond. It never lasts long enough to take proper advantage of. Trust me.” The Master stood and poured out water from one of the kettles, bringing the Doctor the resultant tea. “Let that brew. You look as though you need it.”
The Doctor, shocked into civility, blinked at him. “It was Draconians, actually.”
The Master shrugged. “I said it mattered to you, not to me. Eat your sandwich, my dear.”
Obediently, the Doctor took a bite. Other people’s sandwiches always tasted best, and this was no exception. The Master took the Doctor’s forgotten clothing from a cabinet and laid it on the table. There would be no excuse to return, then, the Doctor thought fleetingly. He finished the sandwich, gulped down the tea, and stood, grabbing the package from the table.
“Right,” he said. “Thank you, Master.”
He left almost calm, still bone-weary, but with enough restored humor to properly greet the people he’d breezed past earlier.
“Hard trip?” asked one of the regular crowd of office ladies sympathetically.
“Not one of my better days, Melissa,” the Doctor admitted.
Melissa sighed. “I suppose you’re better for being home.”
“....Yes.” The Doctor gave her an awkward grin and took a quick, furtive look back towards the kitchen. “Excuse me.”
He slipped out to his TARDIS, entered the Vortex, slept heavily, and then started out for the next planet.
When he came back it was the twentieth of December, after hours. The Doctor was delighted to discover their temporal proximity to Christmas. He’d landed in the broom cupboard, but the Master was out, and so the Doctor found the date by snooping through the neat product order forms, all in the Master’s handwriting. Not knowing when the Master would return, he headed upstairs to the bedroom, plopping down on the comfortable mattress with one of the Master’s books. The picture frame was absent. He could have riffled through all the drawers, but that would have shown bad faith, given that he’d come here in a more friendly capacity.
After about an hour, the downstairs door creaked open, jangling the bells attached to it.
“I’m up here,” the Doctor called, loud enough for the Master to hear him.
“So I can see,” the Master called back. “You’ve tracked mud all over the stairs. Where were you that had fuchsia earth?”
The Doctor winced. Not a very good start to his call. “Metabilis 1. Sorry.”
“I’ll have the Domestibots get it,” the Master dismissed his concern, heading up the stairs himself by the sound of things. Obviously he had them, now the Doctor considered it. You’d never catch the Master on hands and knees doing all the heavy polishing the gleaming wood floors would require. The again, the Doctor wouldn’t have believed the Master would willingly, manually clean up a counter if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes.
The Master came in, taking in the Doctor’s position on his bed. “Presumptuous,” he teased.
“You like it,” the Doctor countered tartly, turning a page in the book he was now just pretending to read, protesting for the form of things, when the Master plucked it from his fingers and positioned the Doctor’s hands instead around his hips. The Doctor allowed himself to be kissed for a moment in this position before rolling them over, sliding his cock over the Master’s.
“Happy Christmas,” he murmured, bending down to kiss the Master.
The Master woke up late the next day, alone, and thus intensely annoyed. Groggy, it took him until he was dressed and downstairs to realize that the oven was on full blast, and someone in the kitchen was humming Christmas carols poorly but enthusiastically. The culprit was also covered in flour.
“What are you—”
“Stress baking,” the Doctor replied, smiling. “I stress-bake, this time around. But I’ve moved on to just baking, at this point. You did say you were having trouble finding anything that satisfied your obsessive perfectionism.”
“My exacting standards,” the Master corrected. “And I said that months ago.”
“Mm. Have a biscuit. It’ll have to be shortbread, only the shortbread is done. The cheesecake batter needs to go in as soon as the carrot cake and lemon bars come out. I thought I’d start on turtle clusters next.”
The Master blinked at him. The Doctor felt suddenly nervous and stupid, as if this wasn’t going to work at all. But then the Master grabbed the back of his head, fingers working into the flour-dusted curls, and wrenched him into a quick, hard kiss.
“I’ll make room in the display case,” he volunteered.
“Lots of room,” the Doctor agreed, kissing him again.
“Right,” the Master nodded, taking a step back and discreetly reaching for another biscuit.
The Doctor gave him a stern look. “Keep doing that and there won’t be any left for the customers.”
“You can always make more. Besides, I find I have rather an appetite this morning.”
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Make us breakfast then. Anything’s better than making cheesy innuendo.”
It didn’t take long for the Doctor to notice that the Master had no Christmas decorations of any kind up in the shop.
“But you love pageantry!” the Doctor wheedled, stirring emphatically, a fleck of batter splattering his cheek after a too-vigorous whip of the spoon. “Think of it like an elaborate disguise!”
“Are you suggesting I play Santa?”
“Well, you do have the beard—” the Doctor began, only to be cut off by the Master throwing a tea towel in his face.
“Only if your TARDIS disguises itself as my Rudolph.”
“Master, Master, Master, you know that’s not fair. My Chameleon circuit can’t be repaired just like that. Besides, I like her exactly as she is. Now, if you’d consent to use yours— ”
The Master looked a little ill at the very idea.
“No Rudolph, then,” the Doctor concluded. “But this tea shop is facing a serious shortage of tinsel. And a tree! What do you think of lights and garlands?”
“That depends,” the Master considered, “are we outfitting a stripper?”
“Well if you’re going to be uncooperative—” the Doctor huffed.
The Master took a step towards him, and the Doctor, clutching his bowl, took a small automatic step back—finding himself up against the wall. The Master capitalized on his position, pressing into the Doctor as best he could with a mixing bowl between them. “You may do whatever you like to my shop. Within the bounds of good taste, naturally.”
“This from a man aesthetically offended by plastic bags. ‘Good taste’ probably means a discreet little ‘seasons greetings’ banner to you.” The Doctor rolled his eyes.
“Surprise me, Doctor.” He licked the spot of batter off the Doctor’s cheek, and went back to work.
The Doctor did surprise him—by announcing that evening that he thought he’d stay through the Christmas season.
The Master had been sitting on the couch with a glass of mulled wine, staring into the flickering tableaux of the fire he’d kept burning in the main room through the winter months and thinking, when the Doctor had settled himself into his arms, scooting down so he could nestle his head on the Master’s chest.
“The thing is,” the Doctor said, “I’ve always loved Christmas. It’s over-blown and gaudy and a bit cheesy, but perfect. It makes me happier than almost anything I can think of. Maybe it disappoints you by not being everything you’d hoped for, or by taking ages to come, but you’re largely disappointed because you love it so much, and you expect everything from it. Still—it’s one of my favorite things in the universe, and it’s been far too long since I properly celebrated it.”
“Stay, then,” the Master said, quietly.
“If you’ll have me,” the Doctor murmured.
The Master kissed the top of his head in answer.
The Doctor left after Christmas (he didn’t stay to long enough to help take down his ludicrous decorations—typical, the Master thought), but he took to spending a few nights a month at the Master’s. He dropped in, always telling the regular customers ridiculous, conflicting, amusing stories about where he’d been. He told the Master the untellable stories—as entertaining anecdotes or with heartsbreaking, unflattering honestly, depending on his mood. He did enough baking to supplement what the Master ordered from the inferior bake house, and left in the mornings.
He began to come a few nights a week, and the Master ordered less and less from the bakery, until he ordered nothing at all. One day the Doctor brought up a past misadventure, asking the Master the reasons behind one of his schemes, and the Master didn’t evade the question. The next day the Master returned the favor, and the Doctor brushed him off with a joke. Later that night, in bed, in the quiet of almost-sleep, without prompting, he answered seriously.
And then he came to spend almost every night in the teahouse, because it was more pleasant and more natural than sleeping alone. He was captured once, for two weeks, and came back with apologies and explanations, as if he owed them. He was somewhat surprised the Master hadn’t tracked him down after a handful of nights, but then what guarantee did the Master have that the Doctor hadn’t just decided, of his own volition, not to return? He might decide any visit was his last, but the Master would always be waiting—always willing, though sometimes more grudgingly than others, to welcome him back. The Doctor supposed that was really just a blatant manifestation of a worn old truth.
“You told me once that we were from slightly different time lines,” the Doctor said to the Master one day as they sipped tea poured from a Yixing clay pot.
“I also said I didn’t wish to discuss it,” the Master reminded him, adroitly refilling the Doctor’s cup.
“Please,” the Doctor caught his free hand and his eye, insistent and earnest. “It might even help you,”
The Master gave him a cold look. “It’s very like you to take everything I’m willing to give you and demand more.”
The Doctor shook his head. “I’m not going to be distracted by an argument.”
“You don’t want to know this,” the Master hissed. “Something terrible happened to us, until, one day, it didn’t. The details are unimportant, and difficult to relate.”
“Master if you still can’t be honest with me—” the Doctor pushed his chair back, as if to go.
“No Doctor, stay. You don’t believe I could have reason to be silent? You won’t trust me enough to do as I say, even regarding something that could do no harm to anyone but us? Fine. A man, who was me and was not, was thrown back onto an ever-dying Gallifrey. He fixed the world before it broke, and, to insure his own existence, he pulled me, the version of him from the original timeline, to safety in the new timeline he’d created. The point of his creation and survival fixed, he returned to where and when he’d come from. He left me to live with the impossible memory of a war we never fought, of an annihilation you cannot imagine. With a terrible fear. And I am tired, Doctor, so tired of the blood and the mess of conquest. Of the uncontrolled, unnecessary savageries…. I hope you never learn, never truly understand what such a war could make of you. What it did to you.”
Throughout the explanation, the Doctor sat silent, wrapping his comprehension around the sinking lead weight of the Master’s words.
“I’m sorry,” he said as the Master finished.
“So am I,” the Master snapped, standing. “Are you happy now, my dear? With that fragment of your mystery solved?”
“Master—” he tried.
“See yourself out,” the Master said, heading up to bed. The Doctor heard the familiar sound of the bedroom door locking—for the first time, from the wrong side. He hadn’t been dismissed from the Master’s presence for centuries, and was surprised that it hurt. If he wasn’t wanted here, he’d have to make things clear to the Master through some other means. The problem was that he was only beginning to grasp what precisely it was he needed the other man to know.
In 8709, on the sinoplanet Sakoku, the Doctor had the great honor of meeting the Lotus Prince. The famous Liu Bei, named for an ancient mythic Emperor, had united three empires, and ruled with justice and compassion. The Imperials Wars had been fought for understandable, even just reasons, but they had also been long and costly, and all of his children had died in them. His wife, upon hearing of their last son’s death, had calmly walked off a parapet. She had been his greatest general, and his constant companion throughout the long war. He felt her loss keenly, and some said this, combined with his bitter guilt over the deaths of his sons and daughters, was what drove him to what the history books concluded had been a discreet, quiet end of his own making.
His household staff discovered the suicide note, but never found his body. A very capable cousin who’d supported him during the war took up his crown and ruled in the fair spirit of his departed kinsmen. The people of the Three Empires remembered Liu Bein millennia later as the Lotus Prince: an Arthur-figure, an undying King who would one day return to them, an emblem of hope. All the Emperors after him bore his seal, and ruled, technically, in his name.
Meeting the sad, tired old warrior, who was so ready to take his own life, the Doctor thought it was clear what he had to do.
“He’s—well, I don’t know if he’s a good man or just an excellent imitation of one at the moment. But I think he could use a bit of help, when I can’t be there, and that you could be good company for one another.”
Liu Bei, Lord of Three Empires, blinked at the Doctor. “You want me to go into this teahouse and offer myself as an assistant to its master?”
“Look, I realize it sounds ridiculous, but I really think—”
“Perhaps not so ridiculous as you think, Doctor. Old emperors have often sought humble, monastic lives when weary of the business of the world. Perhaps you are right about death in anger and despair not being the escape I seek. An opportunity to do good work, simply, and, in time, to grow to love something is an opportunity to seek balance. I have wrought great change in the world—not all of it good. What I need is not the stasis of death, but the growth of a new life.”
The Doctor was taken aback. “Perhaps that’s something like what the Master thought. Though with less gratuitous goodness. You’re a very wise man, Liu Bei.”
Liu Bei grinned, the corners of his mouth crinkling. “Ah, Doctor, it is only because I am so old.”
“You forget, Emperor,” the Doctor smiled, “I’m far older than you are, and yet I often find myself making very foolish mistakes.”
“Please, Doctor—I am no longer an emperor. Perhaps your trouble is that your people have two hearts, and you are simply very young at one of them. It is no bad thing to be, and far better than not using them both.”
With a nod, the Lotus Emperor, dressed in appropriate clothing from the TARDIS, entered the teashop and, in the back room, bowed formally to the Master and asked to become part of his establishment.
The Master considered him. “How do you come to be here, your highness? As I recall, you won’t be born for millennia, and by the time you’re this age, you’re scheduled to disappear without a trace.”
“Ah,” Liu Bei’s mouth crinkled, “so you recognize me, Master. But I am simply here seeking employment.”
“And I would wager I know who gave you a lift.” The Master stood, pacing around the table. “What is this, then? An attempt to acclimate me to companions? Someone to keep an eye on me when he’s away?”
The old emperor shrugged. “He said he would prefer if I didn’t discuss it with you. But if you harbor such suspicions, I believe you should know that he spoke of you with care and concern, and seemed to hope that I could be a help to you. He said you were a good man.”
The Master gave him an incredulous look.
“Or an excellent imitation of one at the moment,” Liu Bei appended calmly.
“That’s faint praise I could actually believe,” the Master muttered. It was far better than he’d hoped for. “Tell me, Liu Bei, do you know anything about tea?”
“Only that it is delicious,” Liu Bei answered promptly. There had been little time to learn the old ceremonies in school when he was a boy. Even then, the looming conflict had overshadowed more peaceful pursuits.
“Right,” the Master pressed his hand into the counter-top, considering, “then we have a great deal of work to do.”
The Doctor visited a few days later, ostensibly to order tea and to see how his protégé was getting along.
“Terribly,” the Master, sitting at the Doctor’s table, snapped before softening. “But he’s willing to learn, and has the potential to be great, given time. I’ve started him on the teas he’s more familiar with. He can be introduced to non-Eastern and period-specific blends when he’s mastered those.”
“I’m certain he has the universe’s most capable teacher,” the Doctor ran his fingers across the back of the Master’s hand.
“Flatterer,” the Master smiled.
“Mm. I’ve been terribly lonely these last days, you see, and am now interested in inveigling my way back into your good graces.”
“Was it Julie London who said ‘cry me a river?’” The Master softened the statement with a sarcastic grin.
“You know very well it was,” the Doctor tsked. “Unless you meant Justin Timberlake.”
“I don’t think I could have. It doesn’t seem very like me.”
“No,” the Doctor agreed, “but then neither does running a tea shop. And yet here we are, with Ceylon.”
“A strange coincidence,” the Master agreed. He stood. “Coming?”
“In the middle of the day?” the Doctor gasped, faux-scandalized.
“Liu Bei can mind the shop.”
“You trust him with this bewildering array of teas?” The Doctor raised an eyebrow.
“Of course not,” the Master said pleasantly, taking his hand. “As you’ve often remarked, I don’t trust anyone other than myself. I simply care more about becoming reacquainted with you, at the moment.”
“More important even than half an hour away from the shop? Be still, my hearts,” the Doctor tugged him towards the stairs.
“If you want grandiose gestures, please see my published works,” the Master snapped back.
“Point taken,” the Doctor agreed.
“Not quite yet,” the Master countered, “but I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Liu Bei became almost as adept with tea as the Master. Then one night the Doctor found a young girl trying to break in to the shop. He took her with him as a companion, and showed her the stars. When Tricia started to display signs of being ready to go home, he began to teach her to bake.
“Have we been training replacements?” the Master asked as they cleaned up one night. Liu Bei and Tricia were off looking at the fireworks that marked the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics, and the Time Lords were alone.
“Maybe. Now you tell me, was this all a plan?” the Doctor asked, setting down the plates he was carrying and folding his arms.
“That depends.” The Master adopted a similar position across from the Doctor, his back against the cabinets there. “Has it been a success?”
The Doctor considered. “I’d rank it better than Castrovalva.”
“Though in the same vein, naturally,” the Master agreed.
The Doctor shook his head. “Why didn’t you explain it to me, from the beginning?”
The Master sighed. “Would you have believed me?”
The Doctor chose not to answer that. Obviously he wouldn’t have believed him, and he felt he’d have been right not to. Over the last centuries, what reason had the Master given the Doctor to trust him? He only barely trusted him now, after months together. “If you’re capable of doing this, why didn’t you try it earlier?”
The Master glared at him. “And if this was all it would have taken, why didn’t you suggest it?”
The Doctor winced at the blatant underlying accusation. “It was never that I didn’t love you.”
“Wasn’t it?” the Master’s voice was harsh.
“No.” The Doctor insisted, catching the Master’s eye and holding it, making the Master look at him. “It was a sort of saudade,” he began, which was a Portuguese and Galician word for a feeling of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is lost, which often carried a fatalist tone and a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might really never return. “And a kind of mamihlapinatapai," which was a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desired, but which neither one wanted to start.
“I was always willing to begin,” the Master reminded him.
“Nearly always. You had your less generous moments. But yes. Thank you for that. It was everything else you did that was the problem.”
“I don’t think,” the Master conceded, “that I properly understood what you really wanted until I saw the war take it away from you. I don’t know that I understood how to go about giving it to you until the same process worked upon me. You could say my experience was ever styska se mi po tobe,” which was Czech, and amounted to something like ‘I yearn for you,’ ‘I'm nostalgic for you,’ and ‘I cannot bear the pain of your absence.’
“ When I turned down your proposition to rule the galaxy,” the Doctor told him gently, “I should have told you I’d much rather see it with you along. I know we love this place, this life. I know it’s your creation––”
The Master shook his head. “Fond as I am of it in its own right, it has always been the means to an end.” He broke the space between them, walking towards the Doctor and placing his arms on either side of him, leaning in so close his breath brushed the Doctor’s face. “But now I’ve finally defeated you, Doctor, and I find I don’t need anything but this. My victory. I’ve won. Tell me, Doctor, how does that feel?”
“You know, much better than I thought it was going to, actually?” The Doctor swallowed, and the Master grinned, delighted at the effect his proximity was producing.
He leaned in as if to kiss the Doctor, who closed his eyes. “Shall we go now, my dear?” he asked instead, in a low, silky tone.
“Why not?” the Doctor laughed. “We can always stop back and check in on them later—but there are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea's asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” the Master grabbed his coat and headed towards the broom cupboard. “Come along, Doctor. We've got work to do."