"So," said Theta, dumping out his bag on his bed. "What did you do over break?"
"Guess," said Koschei. He was lying on his own bed, which was much less cluttered than Theta's. Koschei had emptied his luggage onto the floor.
"Built a thermonuclear reactor." Theta sorted through his belongings. Why did he have a soprano recorder? What was this screwdriver covered in LEDs for? Where was his civics homework? "You probably used it to threaten the President, and then you spent the rest of break on a secret CIA prison planet."
"How primitive." Koschei smoothed his robes, looking smug. "No."
"Got in a fight with your mother and then got disowned. Again." Theta tossed a chain of paperclips into the bin.
"Yes, but she got over it," said Koschei. "This is much more exciting."
"I give up," said Theta, flopping over his bed and also the twenty books and tablets still lying on his bed. "What is it?"
"Can't you see?" Koschei grinned at him. "I grew a beard!"
Theta peered at him. There were, yes, a few wisps of moustache at the corners of Koschei's mouth. And there was definitely hair on his chin. Four or five hairs, to be precise. At least his neckbeard was flourishing.
Koschei's smile faltered under the scrutiny. Theta noticed, and for once in his life, decided to be nice.
"It looks very good," he said. "Suits you."
"Doesn't it?" Koschei's grin renewed itself. "I'll need a beard comb soon."
Theta rolled his eyes. Koschei would forget about this soon enough—he did tend to get obsessed with things, but he was easily distracted. The 'beard' would be gone half-way through term, Theta would bet on it.
The so-called War Chief had a disjointed moustache and pointy sideburns. The rest of him was fine, yes, this regeneration looked good on him, but it was difficult for the Doctor to look him in the face without laughing. Which was highly inappropriate given the circumstances.
"We could be allies, Doctor," said the War Chief. "We could bring peace to the galaxy."
"I'm afraid I must—" The Doctor risked a look and had to bite his lip to keep the slightly hysterical chuckles at bay. "I'm sorry, but—do you think you could shave before we continue this conversation?"
"Shave?" The War Chief's eyes widened and his eyebrows raised, which made him look even more ridiculous. "What?"
"It's—your facial hair is missing pieces." The Doctor gestured. "You should grow an entire goatee or give up, that's what I always say."
The War Chief raised one hand to shield his chin. "We were discussing the fates of millions of lifeforms! Billions! And you want to discuss my facial hair?"
"It's the carefully sculpted spikes," said the Doctor. "They're very distracting."
The War Chief called the guards back in.
"I know a good barber!" called the Doctor, as he was dragged away. "In Ishbiliya, I think!"
"My beard is perfect the way it is!" shouted the War Chief.
The guards glanced at each other. One leaned in to the Doctor as they rounded the corner and left the War Chief's sight.
"We tried to tell him," said the guard. "But he said it was his native fashion."
"Slander," said the Doctor. "Although I think Aunt Flavia would look quite striking with pointy sideburns."
Obviously, the current circumstances were not ideal. The Master's machine was killing people, Jo was in a cell, and the Doctor was cuffed to a chair. But—
"I think you've really got it this time," said the Doctor.
The Master was bent over his machine. "What?" he murmured, absently.
"The beard," said the Doctor. "I meant to tell you earlier, it looks quite well on you. The neatness, the tinge of gray. It's distinguished."
The Master glanced at him, eyebrows raised. Then he looked back at the machine. "You're trying to flatter me. I was holding you at gunpoint not ten minutes ago. Do you think I'll release you for a few petty compliments?"
"I am completely sincere," said the Doctor, trying desperately to free his wrists. "You must introduce me to your personal groomer."
"I trim my own beard, I'm afraid." The Master flipped a switch.
"Oh?" The Doctor considered dislocating his thumbs and decided he wasn't quite desperate enough yet. "Very impressive, I bow before your talent—What's this?"
"Just hold still. Thank you for bringing the amplifier." The Master stuck it to the Doctor's forehead. He adjusted it minutely, and then paused. "Do you really like the beard?"
"Much better than your previous attempts," the Doctor assured him.
The Master smiled thinly before he switched the machine on.
The Master's skin was burned and raw, his eyes wide and staring without eyelids to cover them. His claw-like hands petted at the Doctor's scarf, his hair, his coat. The Doctor yearned to flinch away, even as he pitied his old enemy. Unfortunately, he was stuck on the Master's ship while the man went on and on about his plans.
"And I shall live again!" ranted the Master. "Not in this husk, but a new body, your body—"
The Doctor peered a little closer. Was that a shadow on the Master's chin, or was it—
"—The world, the universe, all of existence shall be mine—"
"You're wearing a beard toupee," said the Doctor.
The Master stopped talking. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, soundlessly. "No," he said, finally. "No, it's my own hair."
"It is not." The Doctor raised his brows, which drew attention to the fact that the Master was currently lacking in the eyebrow department. "You're too damaged to grow any hair at all."
The Master actually growled at him. "I just wanted to feel good about myself! And you're not one to talk—you've been living vicariously through my facial hair through years."
"I've been observing and critiquing your beards," said the Doctor. "A shame you burnt the last one off, it was quite nice."
"I am going to steal your body," snapped the Master. "And then I will grow a beard, the best beard. My beard will inspire awe in all of existence!"
"I wouldn't recommend it," said the Doctor. "It comes out all orange and curly. Not dignified and black like yours used to be."
They shared a sigh of regret, for the beards that once were. Then an alarm sounded, and the Master turned to deal with it.
The Doctor considered mentioning that the Master's 'beard' was becoming unstuck, but perhaps silence was the wiser (and more entertaining) course of action.
The Master was as smug as ever in his new body. Something about the black velvet and the gloves and, well—
"I never asked you what you thought, my dear Doctor." The Master grinned at him, claustrophobically close on the cramped radio tower walkway. "My marvelous goatee has returned."
The Doctor examined him, looking mournful. "You can't recapture the magic," he said. "Your beard is only an echo of the glory of beards past."
The Master squawked, looked furious, and shoved the Doctor off the radio tower. If the Doctor thought about it, he'd probably had it coming for the last few regenerations. Not that he regretted anything.
"You ought to try a fuller beard!" shouted the Doctor, as he fell. "You could braid it!"
"I'm finished with your advice," snarled the Master. "My future bodies won't even have stubble."
And the Master kept that vow, at least until several faux-regenerations later when he started eating people and his personal grooming regimen began to fail. But, the Doctor reflected, that was also when he started bleaching his hair. Perhaps there was a limit to how many entertainingly terrible hair-related decisions you could make per body.
The Doctor hoped that the Master would have mutton-chops when he inevitably returned. Or a soul patch. He would look truly awful with a soul patch, it would be wonderful.
The Doctor finished the last illustrative touches to his latest fantasy Master-beard portrait, and spun it to display to Amy. She took it, looking skeptical.
"What do you think?" asked the Doctor.
"I think it's weird that some company puts a picture of a man under a piece of plastic, fills it with iron filings, and then sells it to kids to make magnetic beard portraits," said Amy. "I think it's even weirder that you've customized it with your own man-pictures. What is this called again?"
"It's a 'Wooly Willy.'" The Doctor fiddled with his magnetic pen. He'd cut the plastic open to stick a picture of the Master's latest regeneration in before sealing everything up again.
"Sounds like a venereal disease," said Amy.
"I meant," said the Doctor, "what do you think of the beard?"
Amy gazed at the picture, critically. "I think that the horseshoe moustache isn't working. Especially not with those sideburns."
"It's horrible, isn't it?" The Doctor sighed, wistfully. "You know, Amy, the saddest words in the world are 'it might have been.'"
"I never thought that line was about beards before," said Amy, and tossed the Wooly Willy back.
When the Master finally showed up again, he was clean-shaven. But he did have one of those hats with a knitted beard attached, and the Doctor was entirely willing to accept a beard-substitute when it was made of purple yarn.