Fandom: Doctor Who
Notes: There is a very good chance that this is the geekiest thing I have ever written. I don't know. I opened a document a couple of hours ago and started to drabble Doctor/Master with absolutely no idea of where I was going, and somehow THIS happened.
The game of three-dimensional chess belongs to ariastar -- I just borrowed it :)
As a general rule, the way humans think about the universe is incorrect by a magnitude of a single dimension. This is most easily illustrated by their linear progression through their own lives, and can be expressed:
G = K(E + 1)
Where E represents the human experience.
Where G represents 130Σ(T), which is a term of summation.
And where K represents the way it feels to stand with your arms outstretched and let the magnetic field of eternity strip you down to your core and then give your thoughts back to you, one by one.
The only problem with playing a game you invented, against the person you invented it with, is that if you wish to use an unfamiliar move then first you have to convince your opponent that it always existed: they've simply forgotten it.
The Master has an excellent memory.
"It was a long time ago," he says as obnoxiously as possible. "I suppose spending so much time among lower beings was bound to soften your mind eventually. How did you stand it?"
The Doctor looks up with his annoyance bare and lovely like a fresh bruise on his face, but what he says is, "At least I never married any of them."
He grins, delighted. "Tick-tock, Doctor."
"It's not my turn!"
"Oh?" He points, without looking, to a small confluence of knots in the blue string, held together by a paperclip that represents a cup's worth of distilled uncertainty flux.
"Oh, that was illegal. Doesn’t count. Still your turn."
"I told you, you simply --"
"I remember." The Doctor's voice is sharp as he slips into Gallifreyan, adorning the verb with a cadence that means I have always. "I remember every game we've ever played," and he moves his Tuu'la ambulance smack bang into the middle of a warzone, where the Master's bishop was about to stage an ambush and now can't do so without violating at least fifteen laws and being pulled up in front of the Shadow Proclamation.
"That's very close to cheating," the Master says in the same language, and the word feels strangely unfinished in his mouth without the usual suffixes: cheating time, which is a paradox, and cheating death. Which is a pun, but only if you know the other meanings that can be carried by the word for death. "I'm so proud."
"I'm a fast learner," the Doctor says.
"Oh, you're not." He smiles. "If you were any good at learning from experience you'd have given up on me a long time ago."
The Doctor blinks and then, surprisingly, smiles back. As ever, this regeneration smiles brilliantly, smiles either too much or not at all. "I could say the same about you," he says. "Not that I'm not flattered to be continually factored into your plans for the universe, but don't go pretending that you haven't got a bit of the codependent about you."
The Master clenches his hand around a piece of string -- deeply unsatisfying, there is barely anything for him to hold, and so his fingernails just dig into his own flesh -- and tries not to look surprised.
Physics has always been more fun than chemistry because it allows for creativity of expression, even if all you have is the vocabulary of the Doctor's favourite little mud puddle of a planet. Physics is a language with which you can construct poetry and have it change the universe: basic chemistry holds no surprises, just all the elements laid out in neat squares like a chess board. Rows and columns and names to be learned.
Group VIII: those that remain isolated and unresponsive.
Group I: those with the tendency to react with anything, to throw away their identity and become the action of explosion.
Oh, the humans have done admirably, considering the constraints of their pitifully fragile bodies and their even more pitifully limited senses, but they are still unable to move past the two-dimensional representation. There's hope yet: after all, they discovered that their world was not flat, but a sphere. If they could see far enough to add the third dimension to the periodic table, then they would realise that the board is as curved as the Earth and that the noble gases lie side-by-side with the alkali metals.
Inertia is just a held breath away from volatility.
The TARDIS doesn't like him. He can tell this because:
a) he can't leave
b) he can't leave
c) he has never seen the Doctor do a single piece of laundry, and yet all of his own shirts are a crumpled mess
Ironing. Ironing. He slams his hand down onto one of the little white buttons and a weak jet of water spurts out, like a plasma cannon on the lowest setting. He glides the metal across the damp patches and listens to the vindictive sizzle, but it doesn't help.
"Do you know how an ionic bond works?"
The Doctor pauses with a teacup halfway to his mouth, looking bewildered. "Well. Yes?"
"The atom with the strongest field strips away the defences of the one with the least, drawing it in. Trapping it in a helpless orbit."
The Doctor looks at him, and then down at the ironing, and then back. "Feel better?" he asks, and the Master takes hold of the shirt's collar and gives it a flick that he hopes looks expert -- it's not like the Doctor would be able to tell -- it's always been about what he can bluff his way through, really, and this is no different. This is where they've always been. Stepping inwards amongst the columns, searching for what it means to be complementary; to have your deficiencies be matched exactly by someone else's excesses.
"Make yourself useful," he says airily. "Find me a hanger."
The Doctor just stands there for a moment, teaspoon hovering, and then does as he says.
It's a good start.
Two or three or four dimensions: it's just a numbers game, and an element's volatility is not a property of the nucleus, but of circumstance and castling. The king changes positions with the rook and finds himself closer to the dangerous column at the edge of the board.
If there were any chance of the explosion being harmless, he's certain the Doctor would have found a way to kill himself by now. But he's not going to provide a friendly black hole; no, he's not going to make it that easy.
Besides, for someone bent on self-destruction, the Doctor does seem to attract a large amount of people that bond to him. Stabilise him. Kick his activation energy higher and higher until it would take something close to miraculous to send him over the edge.
And that would be --
Well. A waste.
He finds himself falling into routine and starts a fight, a bad one, as punishment. He's been good. He's been quiet. The Doctor has been watching him and sometimes smiling like everything might actually be turning into some kind of conclusion.
There is no word in Gallifreyan for a conclusion. There are words for temporary pauses and there are words for the end of all things, but nothing that means happily-ever-after, because Time Lords know that there's no such thing. The Doctor's started to believe in his own human myths, and the Master takes great pleasure in proving him wrong, and the Doctor stands there and won't even yell at him. It's infuriating.
"Why won't you give up?"
"It's not who I am." The Doctor doesn't smile. "Regeneration hasn't changed that. And it hasn't changed you."
He stares. "You believe that. You really do."
"When will you learn?" he hisses. "I'm not one of your precious human projects. I'm not stable. The Vortex put one of my pieces back just out of alignment, and now I can hear it spinning. Trying to fall back into the centre and missing every single time."
"I don't know --" the Doctor starts, his eyes wide, and if he's trying to say I don't know what you mean then he's lying.
"Hear it!" he shouts, and drums his fists on the Doctor's unmoving chest -- ba-bump, ba-bump -- one hand over each heart -- until he can't tell where the drums end and the blood begins.
"Stop." The Doctor takes hold of his wrists and for a moment he is all boiling clouds and electrical storms, like might do something violent, and the Master really, really wishes that he would. "You're all I have," the Doctor says, ragged. "And something inside you is the same as it was on the day I first met you. That's why I won't give up."
His eyes are dark and serious. Their skin is pressed so tightly together that with very little effort one of them could start to unravel the other's brainwaves, or perhaps start to fall into synch, and the Master pulls his hands away and walks backwards when he realises that he honestly can't decide which of the two he'd prefer.
Perhaps this is how it works after all. Gallifrey's alchemy: potassium into lead and lead into gold, but the gold remembers how it felt to be reactive. To have weight. So it doesn't matter how many times the transmutation is forced and how many particles are scattered to be swallowed by the Vortex, because in the end it's just a numbers game: protons are protons no matter how many of them try to crowd themselves into the heart of a star.
He remembers (has always remembered) their conversations, all of them, every body that he has discarded and every body the Doctor has clung to, and no matter what they have looked like in the past they have always created something electromagnetic between them: no matter which pieces they choose to play with, one of them has always been inert; the other volatile, explosive. The immovable object and the unstoppable force.
He realises that he is holding his breath.
"Do you know how a covalent bond works?" The Doctor takes a step closer. Another. "It's still about complementary electrons, but the point is sharing."
"Sharing." He laughs. "And taking turns and saying please and thank you, I suppose."
"So what you end up with," the Doctor continues, ignoring his sarcasm, "is two complete entities made out of fragments. Something far greater than the sum of its parts."
That sounds...correct. And smugly, intolerably Doctor-like.
The Master glares at him. "I never agreed to that."
"No," the Doctor says. "But we're too similar for anything else to work."
Trapped by the laws of the universe. He sighs. "It's no fun without the instability, you know."
The Doctor's final step brings him close enough to touch once more. "Stable? You think so? I seem to recall you being very melodramatic and insistent on the subject of your own instability."
Personally he rather thinks they're just as broken as each other, but he's not going to say that because the Doctor would probably interpret it as further proving his point, or something equally uncreative. All the models of the universe are too simple to properly define what they have, their eternal fluctuation between states of coexistence, but there's a name for that too.
"Resonance hybrid," he says. A final stubborn offer. "If you insist on being metaphorical about it."
The Doctor gives him an exasperated look that fails completely because of the smile trying to fight its way across his lips. "You've always got to go one better, haven't you? There's nothing wrong with a normal covalent bond, you know. Water manages it. Oxygen. All sorts of important things."
"Fix me, then," he says, and feels the triumph spill across his face. "Make me normal. I dare you."
The Doctor looks at him in a way that means he doesn't want to, because despite all his small, human protestations, he doesn't want to spoil the fun either. Which means the Master's won this round, which means he can afford to be generous, so he closes the distance and presses his mouth against the Doctor's and lets their orbits slot into place.
There is no word for beginning, but there is one for renewal.
They race up the periodic table leaving clouds of probability in their wake.