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Silencing the Drums

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Author's note: <b>IN WHICH THE DOCTOR RECEIVES AN UNEXPECTED GUEST</b>


At first, the Doctor was certain that the object huddled against the doors of the TARDIS was a tumbleweed or scrap of garbage blown in from the nearby settlement. The land around him was flat, endless and empty, and the wind blew something fierce. The dominant species on this planet was an airborne biped, dependant on the strong winds to get aloft. The Acamarians were pack-rats, constructing nest-like dwellings out of whatever odds and ends they found scattered across the open plain, dwellings that often shed bits of wall and roof during windstorms. The Tardis was the only upright object for miles around, so it was only natural that some bit of roving flotsam had fetched up against it.

It was only when he came right up upon the huddled shape that he realized that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

The shape was not a pile of garbage, nor a grounded Acamarian, but a man. He was thin and stringy as a hare, his ribs rippling under pallid skin with each breath. His sun-bleached hair was shaggy and patchy in places, neatly complimented by days of rough stubble. Livid bruises blossomed across most of his body, crossed here and there by bright stripes of broken flesh. He'd clothed himself in the ragged remains of a blanket – a standard-issue Gallifreyan prison blanket, the Doctor noted – and seemed to care little for modesty.

The man was not a man at all, but the emptied-out shell of a Time Lord.

The Doctor fell to his knees beside him, unable to resist his first impulse, and stretched a hand out to touch him. The Master recoiled and his head snapped up, white teeth stark in an animal snarl.

"Don't touch," he spat, clawing his way along the TARDIS, away from the Doctor. "Don't touch me!" His eyes, bleached from their former brown to a white-blue, were enormous in his gaunt face, and the Doctor realized in that moment that he was completely out of his head.

"Alright," he said, forcing the tremor from his voice. He'd gotten good at that lately – projecting a coldness he didn't quite feel. "I won't touch you. But you're sitting right in front of my front door." He tilted his head and sat back, bracing his shaking hands against his knees. "You'll have to move."

The Master fixed him with a blank stare, and for a moment the Doctor wondered if he'd heard him. Then the Master lurched forward and said, teeth chattering, "The drums, Doctor. The drums – I can still hear them, pounding, echoing, deafening – the drums! Can't you hear them? Can't you-" Before the Doctor could react, he reached a hand out and laid claw-like fingers against the Doctor's chest, spanning the space between his hearts.

"You're frightened," he said, suddenly lucid. "Your hearts- you're frightened of me. And why not?" He threw his head back and laughed, long and uncontrolled. "Here I am, naked, weaponless, half-mad, and you're still scared of me."

The Doctor rose abruptly and brushed his coat off, as if the Master had left some sort of filth on him. He could not deny the accusations, but why bother even addressing them? "How are you here?" he asked. "You were drawn back into the time lock, and I doubt our dear friend Rassilon would make the same mistake twice, so he can't have sent you back."

The Master leaned back against the door of the TARDIS and gave a huff of a laugh. "Sometimes, Doctor, when you wish for something hard enough, it happens. I learned that from your little tale-telling Companion."

"I should leave you here." The Doctor folded his arms and gazed down at him, feigning a grim nonchalance he didn't feel. "I should let the winds scour you away. Isn't that what you would do?"

The Master grew still, the remaining color draining out of his face. "You wouldn't do that to me."

"Wouldn't I?"

"You wouldn't. They'll find me – I'll be consumed by this drumming." He stumbled forward and clutched the hem of the Doctor's coat, dragging him back down to his level. "You can't leave me," he pleaded.

The Doctor knew he was right.

"I'm going to regret this." He dropped to his knees and grasped the Master under his arms, noticing how he flinched away, how his pulse raced. This close, the Doctor saw the tracery of blue veins beneath his thin skin and old, poorly-healed wounds. He lifted him up, half-carrying him, and after a moment's pause to reconsider the situation, opened the doors to the TARDIS.

~*~

The Master was surprisingly harmless. For the sake of his own peace of mind, the Doctor had hurried him down through the TARDIS's maze-like hallways, showing him as little as possible. He took switchbacks and unnecessary backways, ensuring that the Master would have quite a time getting back to the control room if he decided to make a break for it. He was in terrible shape, and by the time they finally reached the small guest room beside the library pool, he was very near to collapse. The Doctor doubted he'd been able to pay much attention to anything on the way down.

He lay the Master down on the small, neatly-made twin bed, wrinkling his nose a moment at the thought of an unwashed body mucking up the sheets. The moment the Master's battered skin touched the bed he left streaks of rusty red behind.

He was asleep within moments.

The Doctor stood at the edge of the bed, looking down on his age-old nemesis with mingled pity and disgust. This was not the impossibly clever mind he'd grown up with. He had no trace of his razor-keen wit, hardly a scrap of his legendary ego. Whatever the Time Lords had done to him, it'd shattered him completely. The Doctor was too cautious to feel safe, but he relaxed his guard just slightly – just for a little while.

He knew he ought to take certain precautions. He could lock the doors, but that wouldn't keep the Master out if he was determined enough. He needed a way to keep track of him, and wouldn't be able to follow him around constantly.

He tugged the corners of his bowtie reflexively, adjusting it out of habit. It was the faint tug of the band around his neck that made him think of it. A collar – why not collar the Master? It wouldn't be the first time. He darted out of the room and moved briskly down the hall towards one of his store-rooms, and the TARDIS, perhaps sensing his needs, made certain that this particular room held what he was looking for. A moment of rummaging through boxes and cases of suspicious origin produced a heavy brown leather collar with a small, silvery box fixed to one side. The buckle held an old-fashioned lock, all the more difficult to open without the key. The Glass Jackals of the Lich Nebula used just such collars to keep control over their hounds. The box held complex tracking devices, capable of pinpointing the wearer's exact location even through time and space itself.

The Doctor crept back into the spare room and crouched by the bed, waiting a moment to be certain that the Master was still sleeping. He was deep under, his breathing steady and regular. Even a touch to his shoulder didn't wake him. As the Doctor slid his hand beneath his head, he no more than sighed in his sleep. It was the work of a moment to fasten and lock the collar, but the Doctor found himself lingering, his fingers caught in the Master's shaggy, unkempt hair.

What had brought him here, of all places?

Before leaving, the Doctor made a quick circuit around the room to check for any objects the Master might be able to turn into a weapon. He found nothing but a few old, heavy, waterlogged books, but the Doctor doubted he'd be able to lift them, much less use them as bludgeoning weapons for a while.

It was time to leave. The Doctor had an appointment to keep, and couldn't risk lingering on this world any longer – especially if the Master had other Time Lords on his trail. He stopped at the side of the bed once more and tugged the blankets up around his emaciated body, then forced himself to turn away and leave him. He locked him in, made a mental note to check on him in an hour, then turned his face and his thoughts away from the wounded Time Lord in the spare room.