It was weeks before the Master smiled at him, a slow, wicked thing like the world was on his strings. For a moment, the Doctor forgot that he had this, that the Master was all but harmless to the universe at large. There was an anxious feeling in the pit of his stomach, a nausea that remembered caged and tormented and the world coming down around his ears. Despite it, despite everything, the Doctor still found himself reaching out, like maybe he could fix this.
Some days he wished he had the capacity to hate the Master for his sins. Maybe the Doctor could have even, for Martha and Jack if no one else. If the Master were just a bit more lucid, a bit less belligerent. Every time he was woken to banging on walls, which was nearly every night if he were honest, he was a little less certain anything salvageable remained.
One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four, and eventually the Doctor got used it until the cacophony was no longer so jarring. Eventually, the Master would wear himself out and the hammering would fade, less insistent with each beat until the Doctor knew he'd find his captive passed out on the floor somewhere.
It was a night no different, save for the fact that the Doctor was tired. All the times the Master shouted at him to listen, and of course it would be just then that he complied, in the small hours of the morning when he was meant to be sleeping. One, two, three, four, and the Doctor couldn't even be angry because the very idea of centuries trapped with that in his head made him ill. One, two, three, four, and somehow he'd failed because they'd been something once, hadn't they? The Master had been bright and beautiful and ridiculous and there he was, reduced to his basest instincts, the ashes of all his potential. One, two, three, four, and the Doctor was clenching his jaw, sucking a breath through his teeth to steady himself. It seemed so heartless, rolling over, grasping at slumber, but...
But there the pounding stopped, rattling in the blunt silence that followed. Quiet was so rare anymore, it took on an eerie quality, tugging at the Doctor's exhausted nerves. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he slipped out of bed, padding down the hall in search of the silence.
Somewhere along the way, the Master decided, not that the Doctor could keep him, but that he would, whether he liked it or not. The Doctor would keep him and pay for the privilege. He would listen until he understood, until he could hear it too. Long since given up on running from his madness, the Master reveled in it, shouting it to a captive audience.
The Doctor was probably sleeping, or trying to. Some muted, saner part of himself knew he ought to be too, but it was silenced by the drums, still pounding away. The Master sang along, after a fashion, caught up in the echoes of the TARDIS walls as he matched the beat.
Oh, but his head hurt. It snuck up on him, crept between the drum beats, ambushing him all at once. They were so loud, until he couldn't hear himself breathe, couldn't even feel the ground when he crumpled to it.
The Master was clawing at his head, just to make it go away for a while. He couldn't hear even footfalls over the din, didn't even know he was shaking until there was an arm around his shoulder. He might have snarled at the Doctor, but he wasn't sure, not when he couldn't even think.
He felt the Doctor slump against the wall, dragging him along until his cheek was pressed against the Doctor's shirt. It wasn't that he didn't have the urge to bat the Doctor's hands away, to flee entirely. it was just that his head was more immediately distracting, throbbing, deafening, and no amount of scrabbling at his own head eased it.
Long, nimble fingers gently pushed his from his hair, and he scowled at the Doctor through the noise and the agony. The Doctor was grave and silent, eyes closed like he couldn't bear the sight, and good, the Master decided. If he was miserable, the Doctor damn well better be too. He had every intention of saying as much, but the cruel, disparaging words died in his throat as the Doctor's fingers moved.
It was such a small, insignificant thing, the pads of the Doctor's fingers rubbing circles along his scalp. There was a thumb against his temple, and the Master noticed in horror the way his body just sagged, relaxing against the Doctor, and he'd never told it that was okay. He tensed, ready to pull away, to wreak havoc on the Doctor for reducing him to this, but... just often enough, some place the Doctor touched eased the drumming, just a little.
He hated the way his own body betrayed him. Even more, he loathed the Doctor for his audacity, for the way he felt more than he actively participated in being urged to his feet, for the way the Doctor kept touching him like he had remotely any right to. The Master's fingers curled so hard his nails dug into his palms, but the moment he jerked away, all the relief the Doctor offered was gone, the drumming and the agony rushing back in a wave that threatened to topple him. The side of his fist only thumped ineffectively against the Doctor's chest.
It was a sad world indeed, the one where the Doctor felt this much compunction to help the Master. Every time he fought, the Doctor considered letting go, leaving him the Master to his drumming and going to sleep. Only, invariably, the Master glared at him, all hate and fury and somewhere underneath it, an anguish the Doctor couldn't refuse. The Doctor only allowed himself a shake of his head as he shuffled the Master to the bed he belonged in this time of night.
He might have said something, tried to soothe as much with words as he did with his hands. There was nothing for it though, nothing he could offer that wasn’t a lie, and there were only ashes in the Doctor’s throat. The way the Master practically hissed when the Doctor gently shushed him, the way he fought even as he melted under the Doctor’s fingers, there was probably nothing safe to say anyway.
The Doctor was reminded of a stray dog he’d see once on Earth. Injured and bleeding, it snapped viciously at the humans trying to valiantly to help it. He found himself idly wishing he’d stuck around long enough to find out what they’d done. The Master was still struggling, which at the moment mostly amounted to baring his teeth as the Doctor arranged them on the bed.
The Doctor pulled the covers up around them, less because it was cold, and more because it offered a warm, safe place to hide. Before the Master could squirm out of his arms, he brought his hands back up, thumbs smoothing along the Master’s hairline. There was scowling and silence, and for all the Master offered him a multitude of angry, petulant expressions, he wasn’t pulling away either.
The room was blessedly quiet for a little while, as the Doctor worked his way over the Master’s scalp. He watched the Master’s eyes go a little unfocused, not really relaxed, but a bit more lucid. A stuttered sigh bled from the Master’s lips, followed by an irritated frown, like the Master just didn’t have the energy to fight anymore about it. It would’ve been precious if the circumstances had only been different, and the Doctor found himself aching all over again, wondering how long it had been since existing hadn’t hurt.
“Do you hear it?” It was the Master’s voice that broke the quiet, tired and plaintive and scratchy, like his throat was raw. The Doctor’s teeth scraped over his upper lip, mulling over a response. He worked his way down, rubbing circles at the base of the Master’s skull and shaking his head.
“Just listen,” The Master insisted, shifting closer like the Doctor would hear by sheer proximity. His eyes were wild again, his voice edging on manic as he insisted, “You have to listen.”
It hurt, it hurt, like the drums were offering retribution for the way he sought refuge. The doctor had no right, and the Master intended to make that perfectly clear… later. In the moment, he was so desperate, so exhausted of his own chaos, he could only strain against the doctor’s fingers, slightly relieving, but not enough.
Blunt nails scratched down the back of his neck, and for the space of one beat, the drums were edged out entirely by something else. It probably hadn’t even been intentional, but the idea stuck, the slip hope of relief for just a little while. That the Doctor would have to listen, would hear what he heard every second of every day was not lost on the Master.
Before the Doctor could figure him out, the Master grabbed at him, shimmying a bit until their eyes met. That the Doctor would do it if he only asked was something the Master meant to ignore. He didn’t get a choice, so why should the Doctor?
The Master ignored the look of recognition on the Doctor’s face as his hands curled around the back of the Doctor’s head, dragging him closer. The Doctor flinched, almost imperceptibly, but did not pull away. The Master needed and hated that the Doctor didn’t’ fight, even as the Master butted their foreheads together.
One, two, three, four, and the Doctor heard it too. His pretty, mournful eyes went wide in something like horror, and the Master felt him jerk back. The Master could only cling, desperate for the Doctor to understand.
“Oh, oh you… oh.” The Doctor was murmuring at him, arms around his back, lips to his hairline. He wanted to scream because he would be feared and respected and never pitied, but the Doctor’s mouth was over his, a willing sacrifice as they fell together.
He tried to consume the Doctor, to make him hear it until there was nothing left of either of them. The Doctor would suffer with him, would surely fall to pieces under the weight of it. Maybe then he’d be sorry for the arrogance that led them to this.
He was brutal, mocking their intimacy with bruising lips and yanking fingers. The buttons of the Doctor’s shirt popped, one of them rolling away, but the Master was less interested in that than he was in owning the Doctor, body and mind. It wasn’t strictly necessary, but an overwhelming need all the same. His head still throbbed, and the Doctor had to feel it too.
The Doctor spent so very much time running, in retrospect the Master couldn’t be sure why he hadn’t expected it in this too. Brave and stupid and compassionate, the Doctor reached right through the noise, coaxing him out and dragging him along. The Master didn’t even know he’d lost control until they were fleeing together.
It wasn’t alright, it wasn’t fair, but the Doctor’s hands were on him again, warm and sure and soothing, palms swiping along his spine. They moved together, physical contact no more than a byproduct of something deeper. He was frantic and angry and just about to force the situation when something gave entirely, and if he stopped to think, it was probably the Doctor himself.
The shift came in bits and pieces, and sometimes the drums began to fade. He hated and envied and craved the Doctor for his silence, for the peace that came in the absence of drums. They were two, and the Doctor moved against him, whining as their hips met, pleasure bleeding beyond flesh and blood.
They were two, frantic hands and stuttered breath and minds striving to meet, but ever so slightly out of sync. They were two, tangled limbs and the Doctor all around him, coaxing the pain from his head, buffering him from the drums, and he was awed and thrilled by how much the Doctor must be suffering for his relief. They were two, just barely, tremors and warmth, everything reduced to hearts that beat in tandem.
Briefly, blissfully, beautifully, they were one, neither existing, except at the behest of the other. They came unraveled and spun together, nothing and the whole of the universe. They were hopelessly bound and the Master was only very dimly aware that he shook in the Doctor’s arms. For just a little while the drums ceased entirely. There was nothing but the way they existed together in overwhelming, exquisite silence.
For all the Doctor had feared, it was so much worse than even he could have anticipated. Century after century of that, and it was no wonder the Master was quite mad. As the high of what they’d done wore off, even those brief moments, the ones where the Doctor had well and truly heard left him shaken, smoothing his hands down the Master’s back to hide his own trembling.
It had been so very long, so much more beautiful and terrible and overwhelming than he remembered. The Doctor’s breath still came in uneven stutters, and his nerves sang with something just out of reach, like the wisps of a dream lingering just out of grasp. He licked his lips and braved a glance at the Master, stunned to find the fury finally receded. The Master wasn’t looking at him even, half closed, bleary eyes focused on nothing at all.
He could not hate the Master, he decided, not after what he knew. He was awful and grasping and he suffered so, in ways the Doctor still didn’t know how to fix. He would try, he knew, and in the meantime… In the meantime the Master’s eyes were closed and the Doctor couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him sleep.
The Doctor combed his fingers through the Master’s hair, fighting off the drums that had probably already returned. In sleep, the Master pressed closer, and the Doctor ached for how far he’d fallen. It would not last, and at best, the Doctor expected a few hours before the Master was waking him, intent on sharing his misery. For now though, the quiet didn’t mean The Master simply hurt too much to bang on the walls. Silence and peace finally coincided, and the Doctor wasn’t sure how long he stayed like that, offering what comfort he could. Somewhere along the way, the Master’s head was tucked beneath his chin warm in his arms as they slept.