The TARDIS was being kind.
It was obvious in a quiet, sinister sort of way, a kindness that crept up behind a person and wrapped its warm, gentle fingers around their throat and offered itself in a manner not to be refused.
It made the Master feel violated.
With every particle of his newly-regenerated body, with all the energy and passion in this strong, young frame, he hated the TARDIS and its cursed kindness. Most of all, he hated his room. He hated the comfortable, modest bed. He hated the cozy sheets and blankets. He hated the soft carpeting. He hated the chairs, and the bookcase, and the desk, and all the amenities. He hated the cool, soothing walls.
He hated that the TARDIS refused to make it a jail cell.
He was a prisoner, for fuck's sake! The Doctor, in his infinite kindness and mercy (he thought the words with venom, as though the concepts pained him) had locked him up in this little room, away from everything that made him happy, and pretended it was for his own good! So give him cement walls, a concrete floor, give him chains and manacles and a little slot in the steel door to be mocked through, give him dripping water and bone-chilling temperatures and mold and rats, but dear Rassilon, don't give him fluffy bath towels!
Give him some gods-damned antagonism. The Master loved it, he thrived off it. Confrontation, war, control, even torture . . . it was all the sweetness of certainty to him, the knowledge that whatever else he was, he could be someone's enemy.
But the TARDIS seemed intent on its kindness, and the Doctor seemed intent on his isolation, and where did that leave the Master? Locked up in some sickeningly nice room with nothing to do, no one to hurt, and nothing to be. Just him and the drums.
Oh, he found ways to pass the time. Most of them focused on the TARDIS—intense, painful attempts at making an enemy of her. He pulled books off the shelves and abused them, slowly, cracking their spines and shredding their pages. He broke apart the furniture in increasingly inventive ways, tearing legs off chairs, smashing shelves against the wall, whittling at the bedframe with his bleeding fingernails until it collapsed into a pile of splinters. He started small fires, ripped up carpeting, flooded his bathroom. And he wondered, viciously, if the TARDIS could feel pain. He hoped so.
If she could, she gave no sign of it, for every time he managed to reduce everything in his room to unusable fragments, she redecorated, as though she was simply searching for an era or color scheme he would like and leave alone. He destroyed everything from squishy, vivid blue, disturbingly warm seats to a lofty bed carved of soft rose-colored stone. Personally, his favorite incarnation had been the one with dark red walls and ebony furniture, but he pushed down the feeling of contentment and smashed it to pieces just like everything else.
There was only one thing he could not bring himself to get rid of. It had appeared in the fifty-fourth redecoration, when the room had gleamed with glass and stainless steel and smooth, sweeping lines. The glass had been a mistake on the TARDIS's part; so easily shattered into a million deadly pieces, which tore through the other furnishings with perfect efficiency. Better yet, the jagged edges bit deep into the Master's flesh as he wielded it, slicing him open and painting the clean white and silver walls with blood. He used it to draw lurid murals, of flames consuming the TARDIS, of worlds disintegrating into chaos, of the Doctor put through the hells of every species in the universe. At last, this seemed to disturb the TARDIS; she redecorated again before he'd even finished that round of destruction.
But she'd left him the box.
Another kindness, so sweet he almost choked with rage, so thoughtful that he swore to dismantle it out of pure spite, to fuse its circuits, start another fire, melt down the delicate insides and the slick metal skin with the utmost prejudice.
He couldn't do it.
He tried, a hundred times, but he trembled, and swore, and stopped. He stared down at it, small and innocuous, and tried to imagine it gone, and then he wept, tears of fury and fear.
Because the box played music.
Beautiful music, harsh music, calm music, bombastic music . . . anything he wanted, it could play, with a thought and a touch on its one unobtrusive button. Loud music. That was important.
On days when he felt victorious (there were a few), when he thought he'd injured the TARDIS in some delightful new way, when he managed to slip back into his new persona, he would dance, spinning around the room like a demented tornado. This body was good at dancing, it loved it, and the music was always perfect. He relaxed, smiled, even, and let his muscles move almost instinctively, let the drumbeat flow through him until it was just another part of the rhythm, lost among his racing heartsbeat and the stomping of his feet and the insistent meter of the song.
Other days, the worst days, the drums would not be drowned out.
They insinuated themselves into every inch of his being, prizing apart his thoughts, quivering through him until he twitched in synchronicity. Pain. So much pain when the drums echoed in his head, as though the sound was too large for him to comfortably contain. Those were the days when even his strong new body gave out, when it protested the destructive use he put its muscles to. He felt tired, and hopeless, and impotent, and still the drums thundered.
Those were the days when he turned up the music as loud as it would go and curled up in the center of the room amidst the devastation and wept until his eyes burned and everything ached. On those days the music could never get rid of the drums, but at least it could drown out his helpless sobs. He couldn't stand to hear them.
Then, the Master hated himself.
He made himself sick, with his weakness and his petty acts of war against the TARDIS and his drifting, elusive sense of self. He hated his history, all the lives spent chasing dreams that never came true, inevitably thwarted by the Doctor and his precious companions. He hated his future, the lives he would spend trapped in an infuriatingly kind spaceship. He hated everything that he was, everything that he wanted, and everything that he was too frightened to man up and do.
Sometimes, during those most terrifying of days, he tried to kill himself. It was an exercise in pointlessness, not least because it could never be an escape for him. At most, he would get what? A new body? A new talent? A new personality? Secretly, he hoped he would regenerate as someone stronger, someone who could reach inside his own head and beat the drums into submission.
But it was also pointless because he could never take his own life. Even knowing regeneration waited, pure self-preservation had always been a defining trait of his. He could reach the fuzzy edges of consciousness, whether by inhaling his bathtub water or tearing open the veins in his wrists or driving a jagged shard of whatever he had recently shattered deep into his chest, but then panic took over, yanking him back from the edge, driving his trembling body toward the medicine cabinet the TARDIS tended to keep nearby. And he was a genius. He could always save his own life.
He hated that, too.
On the best days, the Master was all cheerful psychopathy and physical exuberance, with no room for thought in his head; the worst days were desperation and self-loathing and drums, so no coherence there either. But as in any normal distribution, best and worst were fewest, and most days were mid-level. The music made him sway, the drums made him restless, but nothing really made him crazy. So he pondered the Doctor's actions as his hands and teeth worked at whatever new furniture the TARDIS had created. Perhaps the Doctor thought prolonged captivity would somehow wear the Master down, that he'd become less frenzied, less destructive, less dangerous. Perhaps his self-appointed savior truly believed in the healing power of isolation, as though not seeing people would make him stop wanting to subjugate them.
The sheer naivete of such an idea made the Master laugh. If the Doctor, of all people, thought being alone could miraculously fix insanity, he was in for a nasty surprise. The Master was an antagonist. Above all else, he needed something to antagonize. Otherwise, what was he? A genius in a box, where he could do no good or harm; just another unobserved particle flickering through an undefined existence.
And when he wasn't, the drums were, with truly frightening intensity. All the Master had ever wanted was to rule, to be god, king, emperor, to control something, anything, even if he never could control . . . no. He wouldn't think about that. But every time he felt his purpose slipping, they thundered into existence, offering him the blank slate of true insanity—the sort incapable of rational thought or action, the sort that reduced a person to frantic bloodletting, without any planning or sense of scale—and every time he felt more tempted to accept.
As time wore on, the drums, more than the panicked need to make an enemy, became his reason for destroying his living quarters. It gave him something to do on those mid-level days, someone to be. The Master mused on this as he methodically unraveled a sheet, thread by thread (he had decided this incarnation, a shockingly pink affair with enough lace and ribbons to nearly send him spiraling into another suicide attempt, deserved the most subtle and sophisticated tortures he could devise). Music played loudly in the background, and as he mouthed the words, his train of thought shuddered to a halt, stopped in its tracks by an unexpected idea.
He hadn't spoken.
He had no clue how long he'd been in this miserable dungeon (he continued to refer to it in his mind as such, despite the yielding comfort of the mattress he sat upon), but in all that time, he hadn't spoken a single word. It was a strange thing; the Master had always been one for conversation, up to the point of foolishly divulging his plans to the Doctor whenever he'd had him in captivity.
He supposed it was because he didn't know quite what to say. His mind was always working (well, almost always, exceptions only for the most extreme emotional highs and lows), soliloquizing, theorizing, analyzing . . . but said aloud, to an empty room (however frustratingly sentient it might be), those thoughts would seem . . . silly. Only madmen talk to thin air.
Not to say that he wasn't mad. The Master knew he was completely off his rocker, stopping just short of the precipice the drums pushed him toward. But, in an utterly silly way, he didn't want to seem mad. Power-hungry, vicious, cruel, sure, but he wanted to be taken seriously.
What all this meant, then, was that if the Doctor had been observing him, he had only seen the never-ending furniture smashing, the weeping, the suicide attempts, those glorious blood-murals, and he had no idea what went on in the Master's head. A slight jolt of surprise ran through the Master as he realized, truly realized, that they didn't have a psychic connection anymore. It had been true for centuries, but he'd never really thought about it, almost assumed it was still there, neglected. After all, at the Academy the times they were outside each others' minds had been rare.
He had no way of knowing the isolation wasn't what the Master wanted. Or needed.
The Master had an idea. A stupid one, all things considered. It would never work, he was deluding himself, he was finally giving in to the insanity . . .
"Doctor?" he called softly, hesitantly, remembering the feel of his long-unused voice. "Doctor, could you come and let me out now?"
A minute passed. And another. And another. The Master turned his attention back to the sheet, cheeks burning with shame. He was an idiot. Of course his captor wouldn't set him free, not ever, and he'd only embarrassed himself by asking. Asking, as though he were some submissive follower! He should have demanded. He should have ordered. A few curse words wouldn't have done any harm, and maybe if he'd shouted, shown some backbone, been a little more masterful, he wouldn't feel so fucking ashamed now.
And then the door slid open, revealing the tall, slim man leaning casually against the frame. He grinned boyishly—damn him, the man got more attractive with every regeneration—and nodded a greeting.
"I thought you'd never ask."