The Master, in his moments of lucidity, tried to avoid thinking about the Time Lords. They were gone, he was wreaking revenge (and havoc, but havoc was fun and really unrelated except by a general impulse towards rebellion), end of story. But sometimes the drums receded, and he couldn’t avoid thinking about how ironic it was that the one Time Lord they couldn’t even fool themselves into thinking they could rehabilitate, a Time Lord crazy enough to body swap into a corpse (and that had been fun, if only for the shock value), had taken one look at their War and run for the farthest reaches of Time and Space. He wasn’t that crazy, compared to these deranged people last-standing a hopeless war, and yet he’d been the one frozen away.
Waste not, want not. Thrifty bastards. But he’d never been one for following orders. He seized on the thought, mostly unrelated to his people and their War, with relief.
The Doctor had figured out that the Master’s immediate instinct was to immediately do the opposite of his orders, once, back at the Academy. He’d promptly tried reverse psychology as subtle as a paradox. The Master smiled, remembering – the Doctor, Theta, he’d looked at the Master (who never thought of himself as Koschei even when remembering the time when he was Koschei) like someone had stolen his particle accelerator completely out of the blue. Incomprehensible. He’d explained Theta’s error in cutting detail, but it was hardly the first time and Theta usually just grinned at him. So he’d asked,
“Why are you looking at me like that?” His younger self hadn’t had much sense, always asking questions with potentially dangerous answers. Of course, he’d never really outgrown his penchant for the difficult and dangerous. It was naïve to imagine he might suddenly stop.
“Because I can’t make you go on the TARDIS factory field trip with me.” Theta had replied, his voice taut. He was standing by the window, and the Master had been sprawled across the bed. The sky had glittered, garnet-like in the setting of the sun. Theta shimmered, a little, looked a moment away from vanishing into that light.
The Master remembered how bewildered he’d been.
“Why didn’t you just ask?”
“Because you would’ve said no and told me it was for children.”
“Try me.” Theta would be surprised, he’d thought, at how different reality could be from his expectations.
So Theta had asked, and the Master had said yes, and when Theta grabbed his hand as they looked out over the TARDIS dock, he didn’t say anything or jerk away. He had a sneaking feeling, remembering, that he’d been had.
But the drums were coming, he heard them advancing, and while he still could think about questions, the past, he made a note to ask the Doctor about it later. And then the drums were upon him, washing across his mind in an ecstasy of chaos, and he surrendered himself gladly into that infinity of patternless sound.
The only way to get relief from the drumming, he thinks and not for the first time, is to stop looking for order. The Master’s sitting at his desk, which looks like a Void wind has swept across it, and doesn’t recall how he got there. There’s a dark stain on his collar – he’s amused by this century’s obsessive fondness for the button-up shirt as formal wear.
He stretches, begins to reorder the stacks of paper – who would’ve thought becoming supreme overlord of the planet needed so much paperwork? – and eventually runs across a note to himself – ‘Ask Doctor re: TARDIS factory visit’ and – oh, yes. Curious, he goes to ask before the drums come back and next thing he knows he’s in the middle of something horrible like kissing Lucy. If he tries, he can usually recall what he’s done while in the thrall of the drumming, but he’s found that the results are usually not interesting enough to justify the effort. So he’s mildly surprised when he goes to see old man Doctor and finds gnome Doctor.
“Did you plan it, how you got me to go with you to the TARDIS factory?” he says, standing nonchalantly next to gnome Doctor’s cage. Gnome Doctor – he can’t stop thinking of him that way, gnome Doctor seems completely different from Doctor Doctor – doesn’t even blink, just leans against the back of his cage.
“I tried something, it didn’t work, you asked, I explained, and then you said yes.”
“I know. Did you plan it?”
“You age me into a gnome and then come sauntering up to ask me about a date?”
“It was a date?” the Master asks surprisedly, momentarily distracted.
“The handholding was insufficient in terms of indications?”
“Hm.” He remembers his original question, and thinks for a moment. “You did plan it.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because you avoided the question.” Sometimes it takes him a little while to recognize the obvious, and the Doctor is very distracting.
The Master’s head begins to ache. He’s tired, and wishes that the drums would come back so he could get some rest, but they remain conspicuous in their absence. Irritably, he suspects the Doctor of interfering, blocking the drums somehow. The Doctor’s never known when to leave well enough alone. Sometimes the Master feels a bit like one of Gladstone’s prostitutes. He makes a better living mad than sane.
“I like to think so.”
“I know.” The Doctor sounds tired too, which is logical given his current age, so the Master forgives him his unsubtle sarcasm. The Master’s not quite insane enough to disassociate his current behavior from his behavior on the drums. He’s still the same person, even if he can’t remember what he was doing at the time and isn’t sure he’d do the same thing now in similar circumstances.
Come to that, the Master probably would do exactly the same thing without the drums. He enjoys mayhem, and the Doctor as a gnome is definitely entertaining, if less likely to produce interesting - and by that he means explosive – results. It might be worth de-aging the Doctor, actually, so that he didn’t die of old age before the Master got tired of him. It hasn’t happened yet, which is surprising, some nine hundred years after they met. Perhaps he’s approaching the threshold. However, it’s just as likely that he’ll continue to be interested for millennia yet.
The Doctor’s looking at him, confused. “Master? Are you still there?”
He has very large eyes, the Master notes absently, and feels a sudden urge to hit someone, or light the conference table on fire, or sink Australia since Japan’s gone already.
“Oooh, say my name again!” He doesn’t really have to sound like some female Earth teenager, but it’s entertaining to watch the Doctor wince. Not to blame him – they’re more annoying than really stupid minions, and he’s had plenty of those to compare the TV with.
The Doctor sighs.
“Master. You keep going off somewhere.”
“I’m waiting for the drums to come back.” The Master explains. The Doctor has never heard them, he knows. That’s why he likes Lucy. She may be human, but she’s also heard the drumming, and there’s nothing like a little common ground to establish a relationship upon. “They don’t exactly follow a schedule.”
“Of course not.”
“It would make it easier for you, wouldn’t it?” the Master says. “For the gathering of strength, for the resistance, for the eventual – and futile – attempt at overthrow.”
“You know, even when you aren’t hearing the drums, you sound the same.”
“I am the same.” It’s not like the drums are the mysterious potion of Dr. Jekyll. He doesn’t turn into a monster – if there is a monster, it is in no way separate.
“I don’t think so.”
“I am the same.”
“You don’t torture me, when you’re not hearing the drums. You talk about our pasts, and are – are in general more how I remember from before the drums.”
“I am the same.” The Master pauses. He feels surprisingly magnanimous, and decides to return the Doctor’s admission. “More controlled. The drumming, Doctor, I don’t remember what happens when I hear the drumming, not without effort. I used to work to remember, but it never shocked me. Do you hear me, Doctor? It never shocked me. I am the same.”
The Doctor nods thoughtfully, his little gnome body tucked up against the side of the cage in a meditative posture. The drums inspire excellent ideas most of the time.
“You are the same, Master.”
Perversely, the Master’s unsatisfied with this submission.
“Maybe I’m not.” The Master hates how petulant he sounds. He thinks he sounds more dangerous when the drumming rolls through his bones, but it might just be the drums distorting his hearing. He prefers to think he sounds more dangerous.
The Doctor looks like he wishes that the Master would leave, like he’s tired to the bone. The laser screwdriver would come in handy now, he could de-age the Doctor, give him some pep, he’s funny this way but not very interesting in the long run, not unless he took up aerobics or something, but he left it in his office and when he’s thinking clearly there’s nothing better to do than talk to the Doctor. He has more fun when he hears the drums.
“What are you, then?”
“I thought, when you asked me to come with you, that you were a step away from disappearing into the sky.”
“And of course you did, eventually. We both did, we swept across the universe in a rain of fire. There’s a reason Time Lords stayed on Gallifrey; we are incapable of living peaceably. Too much power, too much energy, too much vision.”
“We can try.” The Doctor offers quietly. “We could try.”
It sounds like a proposal. The Master laughs.
“We could live like hermits in our TARDIS cave, occasionally appearing on planets to buy milk and other things we couldn’t raise ourselves – although really, the TARDIS is large enough for a farm, there’s no reason to ever leave.” Something impossible, which the Doctor ought to know perfectly well by now.
“I wasn’t making a suggestion. An observation. Some of us do try.” It’s a lie. The Master doesn’t need to call him on it.
“Done with that diatribe against domesticity?”
“I tried it. It agreed with me.”
“And yet here you are.”
“Circumstances are a natural result of someone like you trying to be domestic.” He is trying to be cruel. The Doctor will always, always vanish into that light. He’s part of the universe, something here one moment and gone the next, he has no business trying to settle down, especially not with some stupid ape.
The Master really hates this planet. It’s pretty enough, but the people, such a drag. And this time period! He can’t figure out why the Doctor keeps coming back here, usually to the same few hundred years. Humans aren’t interesting for another millennium or two, and even then they don’t have quite the eye-catching interest of the Krillitane, who change their shape but never their natures, which is something after the Master’s heart.
Finally, the drums are coming, he hears them in the distance.
“Here come the drums, Doctor, do you hear them?” He loves to remind the Doctor that he can’t hear them, that they aren’t his, to remind him of how the Master wants them, how he himself wants them even though he tries to deny it. “The drumming, Doctor, it’s pounding through my bones.”
He thinks he sees the Doctor mouth a farewell, but the drums are in his ears and he closes his eyes to the world.
Next time he opens them for more than a few minutes, he’s dying in the Doctor’s arms and wondering fuzzily how in Rassilon that happened. This is important enough to remember – ah – Lucy, a gun, an overthrow and will he never actually win against the Doctor, it’s so unfair. And the Doctor, babbling about keeping him on the TARDIS – he approves of his response. Like a pet, indeed, and no amount of cows would ever keep either of them happy for long. They’d go crazy for real in less than a month.
Of course, it was always a possibility, since he seems rather reckless when he’s listening to the drums. Only a fool would have forgotten to take precautions, and he’s not a fool. There’s a ring, and it may take a while to get back into proper form, but he’s got plenty of leeway for a little bit of dying, if it suits the moment and he thinks that just this once it does.
He takes a great amount of delight in telling the Doctor to stuff it (metaphorically, of course) before he dies, since it doesn’t seem like the drumming’s going to come back in time. Eventually the Doctor will realize he’d been had. He hopes he’s around to see the look on the Doctor’s face when he figures it out.