It was all over now. The Doctor had won. The drums pounded in response, like the bad moments, the terrible ones when he was almost blind with pain, became totally thoughtless, but it didn’t stop. They didn’t like losing, and they didn’t stop, but grew and grew and grew, faster, louder. Onetwothreefour, onetwothreefour, onetwothreefour. Oh god.
Shot again. Another gun. There was a strange symmetry to it, the body brought into being by a bullet ended by one too. He couldn’t appreciate symmetry any more. The drums had become everything, consumed him totally, the only thought not utterly obliterated by them the Doctor, and it wasn’t enough anymore. No, not anymore.
He fell and was cradled in the Doctor’s arms, and it felt both wrong and right, strange and familiar, everything a confusion of emotion and sensation and thought that was not thought. He could feel it, though, rising up inside him. Regeneration. But he didn’t want to. The drums would return, no quieter, maybe worse, and all he wanted was for it to stop. Just stop.
He had thought the Doctor might have been able to help, as he once had just by being near. But the relief hadn’t returned, his hopes were dashed, withered and dead after a year of nothing, no easing or quieting, and the thought of saving the Doctor even as he broke him was no longer enough. The Doctor hadn’t wanted to stay – or maybe he had, but not on his terms – hadn’t wanted to be his. No, he wanted to keep the Master instead, and the thought of what the drums might do in captivity terrified him, made him want to shake and weep and tremble.
The Doctor forgave him, had repeated it over and over for a whole year. Maybe he knew this was going to happen. Maybe the Doctor was forgiving him for leaving him alone. He grabbed hold of the thought, clutched it tight, keeping it close, a battered, useless defence against drums and guilt and an insanity that had already devoured him. The drums wanted him to win, and he wanted it to end, and their desires coincided.
He would die. He would win. And then maybe he could have some peace.
So he held back the regeneration by sheer force of will, the effort huge, painful, but not as painful as the drums, and it was worth it. Even if the Doctor was crying over him it was worth it – maybe because of that? – even if it meant death, and that was never something he had wanted before. But it was what he wanted now. He won. Death was winning against the Doctor, and maybe it was winning against the drums too.
Would they ever stop?
The world dimmed, faded, his eyes closed, and for a moment, a tiny, infinitesimal moment, everything was silent. No drums. Nothing.
The deep, echoing quiet was the last thing he ever knew.