Chapter 1: it starts with a mistake
“I must’ve been an idiot to think this could work! Of all the people I could've saved, I had to pick you?! I could’ve been helping… good people, people that deserved it! Now I’ve no more lives left and it’s… it’s not fair !” The words were out of the Doctor’s mouth before they even realised the meaning. After all those spans of very deliberately not saying it and all the effort expended to shield their memories of the event from the Master, they’d just come out like a colossally thick, bone dead stupid dunce, and told him what they’d done. They grimaced in horrified embarrassment.
Of course, a fraction later, it also dawned on the Doctor that they’d just said something probably unforgivable. This was, technically, worse.
The Master was stunned to silence, for once. Normally his silences were by choice, or a sign of feeling unwell.
This had been one of his good days, and over several cups of coffee (tea for the Doctor) it had seemed amusing to debate them over some point of intergalactic history that shouldn’t have had any personal attachment for either of the two. But something had gone wrong (they’d misjudged each other’s moods? the worry that always underlay everything had surfaced as tension?), and badinage had turned to acrimony for reasons that had little to do with the topic at hand. A few insults had been exchanged, the Master had said something especially ungrateful…
And that's when the Doctor had blurted it out.
The Master didn't even make one of the overdramatic faces that he'd sometimes use when pain or noise got so distracting that verbal language didn't come easily. He just briefly made eye contact to confirm that the Doctor wasn't cracking some bizarre joke, opened his mouth, found no words, closed it again, found nothing to 'say' telepathically (just static, louder and louder), got up, and shuffled out.
The Doctor sat with their head in their hands.
How could I be so stupid?! Must go after him. It’s too late to go after him. It's too soon to go after him. What would I even say?!
Only after the Master was long gone did they remember the white noise of pain rising on the shared wavelength and realise the incident had probably triggered a flare-up.
He really shouldn't be alone. But would he trust me to come near him, now?!
Chapter 2: listen to yourself turn
The Master took a random path along the TARDIS corridors; if she'd wanted to lose him forever in that labyrinth, this would have been the moment for it. She must certainly have read his shock and hurt, all the questions he left unarticulated. The ship discreetly opened a cul-de-sac corridor with a programmable LED message board on one wall. As he approached, phrases were spelled out in the simple script that they still reflexively called Old High Gallifreyan, even though it had fallen out of favour for anything other than scrawled personal messages:
YES, ONE LIFE.
ASK YOURSELF WHY.
It was hard to tell if she was supporting or mocking him. But something about the deliberateness of the communication seemed more… benevolent? than not.
He knew the TARDIS could read most of his thoughts but, for security reasons, would not let him read hers directly the way the Doctor did. But she'd mostly made her feelings clear (that he wasn't exactly welcome) by playing tricks on him: hiding rooms he needed to find tools or supplies in, rearranging books in the library so that he couldn't find his favourites… Occasionally, she tried not booby-trapping his life for a change, which always left him wondering when would be the next time. He'd noticed, with some mixture of gratitude and suspicion, that lately (unlike that first week in the zero room) the TARDIS neglected to prank him on his bad days. But until now she'd never gone out of her way to send him words .
The LEDs flickered out and no further message appeared. Anyway the noise in his head would soon start blocking out language and even thought. The Master looked around to see where he could hide away until it was over, and was surprised (two generosities in a row!) to notice a reasonably cozy guest room just across the corridor. He had barely enough time to pull off his boots and crawl into the bed under heavy blankets, before a cacophony of pressure and pain shut down his mind.
The Doctor went looking for the Master but the TARDIS kept changing the corridors and they could not reach him. All paths led to the kitchen. Not knowing when the crisis might finish, they prepared some meat and cheese sandwiches and put them at the front of the fridge, easy to find. When they left the kitchen, all corridors led to the library.
There was no arguing with the TARDIS when she was in a mood like this. If she was so intent on separating them today, she must also be keeping an eye on the Master. But there was one small doubt in the Doctor's mind:
Is she trying to get rid of the Master once and for all?!
I LEAVE THAT TO YOU.
The Doctor sat perched on the edge of an armchair, reading whatever book came first to hand, although unable to focus much attention on it. Gradually their distractible mind relaxed into the story as their limbs settled into the chair.
Chapter 3: mis-serve your own needs
The crisis didn't last as long as some, not that the Master could tell. When the pain receded and he came to, he lay motionless for a while, trying to piece together the previous part of the day. He felt a strange gap in his mind that matched the empty space behind him in the bed.
What… Who? The Doctor hadn’t watched over him this time. What did that mean? Was he really living in the Doctor’s ship, or had he dreamt it? Was he their prisoner? (this last question remained unanswered). His intellect and memory came gradually back online and he retrieved, piece by unexpected piece, their arrangement, their experiences together, and finally the Doctor's words today and the TARDIS' confirmation.
What had she meant by telling him to reflect on the reason? Obviously the Doctor had made a mistake. Overtaken by grief and unbalanced generosity, they must have replaced his spent life force with their last regeneration, in a wildly uncertain experiment. The problem with such stupid kindness, apart from the self-destructive practical aspect, was the regret afterwards. So now the two were in the same boat: they each had only their current life.
And this was how the Doctor had elected to spend the rest of theirs? Never straying far from the TARDIS, with their guilt tethering them to him as his medical needs tethered him to the ship? No wonder the Doctor was miserable. But they’d never be able to admit it to him, not directly. The closest they’d ever come was the earlier outburst, which could be easily negated by “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it”.
It might be better if he found a way to disappear.
The Master shook his head at this idea, which proved a bad idea as a piercing ache shot across the back of his skull. But he must really be in a bad way if he was feeling guilty (the only way he could think to explain it). That was so not him! Maybe another leftover from the Doctor's mind.
He pulled the blankets round him again and closed his eyes, still sorting his thoughts.
Despite this new revelation, the situation he found himself in was stacked so completely in his favour that he'd be an idiot not to take complete advantage of it. He had a ship to travel in that was also keeping him alive, most days he had the Doctor at his beck and call... They really would do almost anything for him, hadn't they just given additional proof of that?! He would show them he was still a force to be reckoned with!
He waited until the pounding in his head subsided a bit, then gingerly got up in search of something to eat. He walked huddled over and unsteady, gripping the walls now and then to keep himself oriented.
The TARDIS made the kitchen very easy to find.
Perhaps it’s just as well that the Master had nearly finished the third sandwich from the plate in the very front of the refrigerator, and most of the still-hot coffee in the thermos on the counter, before his mind was clear enough to think of the other thing.
The Doctor had forced life on him, when he had probably wanted, really this time, to just pass into nothingness. Never mind that he was, retroactively, glad to be alive. He was essentially trapped in the Doctor’s ship, his health still too fragile to leave. The Doctor was able, to some extent, to instigate these attacks. The Doctor was even influencing what he ate, if only by convenience and the power of suggestion…
On reflection, the Master would feel proud of the Doctor’s progress, glad to have an opponent as manipulative as himself. But for now, he was angry.
Chapter 4: with her fury breathing down your neck
The Doctor never apologised for what they’d said, just avoided the Master for a few days. He didn’t bring it up either, preferring to let them make the first move. Were they hoping he’d forgot?! His memory wasn’t what it had been, but surely they didn’t think he could forget something that important.
They both gradually moved back into their usual habits without resolving anything. A week later, he was even dreamleading for them again, and they were doing pain control for him as needed… but neither left more than the outer layer of their mind open.
The TARDIS normally never let the Master in the Zero Room by himself. She claimed it was for security, but he thought it was out of spite. Possibly it was both.
The Doctor was away, consulting with UNIT again, and would be unreachable for a few days. The Master had been in better health lately, and they both thought there’d be no danger in leaving him alone. They were wrong.
The first day was fine, but the second day he was woken up early by entirely more types of pain than should have been possible. He hadn’t even overdone it the previous day, well, not much.
He wasn’t proud of it, but with his mind screaming from the pain and almost everything else (except his actual voice) crying out too, he telepathically begged the TARDIS to help him. At first there was silence, he couldn’t guess how long. Then he heard her reply, at once quiet and all-surrounding:
WHY SHOULD I HELP YOU?
The Master couldn’t think of any convincing reason, but brought up in his unshielded mind the idea of the Doctor, his Doctor, the TARDIS’ Doctor, and how much they depended on him now…
For a long while there was no answer.
Then he could hear a re-shuffling of corridors.
GET UP. GO.
He had to fight nausea just to sit, but eventually he got himself standing, and, by leaning on various pieces of furniture, made it across the room. He leant in the doorway and saw that the zero room was now right across the corridor. Wow.
He made it across but just inside the door his legs gave out. He didn’t fall on the floor, but into the anti-grav telepathic atmosphere of the room. Hovering somewhere near the middle of the space, the Master finally felt relief from some of the joint pain that had made walking even the shortest distance difficult. But the TARDIS had other ideas.
With his mind wide-open (he obviously hadn’t the strength to do any kind of proper shielding), the Master was a perfect target for an info-dump, and the TARDIS had a lot to tell him.
But first she needed his full attention, so she dialled down the headache and the muscle pain and even the noise in the back of his brain. Then, before he had a chance to put up his shielding again, THEN she flooded his mind with her own memories.
When Professor Yana locked himself inside her console-room and locked her Doctor out... it felt like trying to materialise on quicksand.
The second-hand power-surge that singed her controls and disrupted her processes, as Yana regenerated into a younger shouty person with a cruel look in his eyes: their old nemesis. Again. Why did her Doctor always let him escape, knowing he’d return?!
The tightening of her circuits, unable to object as he piloted her so far away from her Doctor, leaving them and their human friends stranded, she wanted to shrink up but he prevented her, just as he kept her from doing her rightful duty by her crew. (Her Doctor did a little parting trick, but who knew if it would be enough…)
Being shuttled back and forth, despite all her efforts to overtake his control, between 21st century Earth and the end of the universe, always missing (in both senses of the word) her Doctor... Being forced to transport the Master and his human companion (he called her his ‘wife’), and later, those biomechanical beings that never should have existed. The TARDIS felt sorry for the human, until she, too, started crowing with glee about the Master’s cleverness and his plans for how to misuse the timeship. Then she felt no pity. Humans were just as bad as TimeLords, only less powerful.
As for the ‘Toclafane’, she’d feared for them, knowing that all their hopes were tied to impossibilities. She tried to reason with each of them, as one sentient and living machine to another, but nothing she tried could get through. So old and yet so childish, so fierce and yet so damaged… Truly their father’s children.
Worst, and most enduring, was the existential ache of what the Master had made her do during the ‘year that never was’. Of course, for those at the center of it, including the TARDIS, that year was never erased. At least she never saw how he tortured her Doctor. But she remembered, clearest of all, being turned, against her will, into the abomination of a paradox machine. The worst thing a TARDIS could be tasked with doing, the anathema of everything she was. For more than one Earth-year. She, who was supposed to travel the very knife-edges of reality and possibility, skillfully and delicately avoiding what would defy the Web of Time, now forced to make real what never should be permitted. She would rather have erased herself from the timeline than this.
The TARDIS poured all of that hurt and all of that horror into the Master’s mind.
And then she left him there. Instead of throwing him to the floor where he could just walk away, she left him suspended in her invisible web of carefully adjusted gravity, unable to move from where he floated.
Chapter 5: a tourniquet of lies
The Master made a few cursory attempts at freeing himself from the grip of the telepathic atmosphere. It was like fighting in a bad dream: his limbs flailed in ineffectual slow-motion, as if he were swimming through cotton-wool.
Of course, it's not like he'd have been ready to move soon anyway. What the TARDIS had showed him fit perfectly into a certain slot in his mind, and tipped over a carefully balanced lever: the latch that held back his memories of the Time War.
Being re-loomed. They spoke of it clinically, as if it were no worse than the first time, but to experience it with an adult consciousness? The name was misleading, there was no interweaving of crossing threads, no art of tapestry. More like a 3D printer outputting living flesh and muscles and nerves. Of course the head was first, mind complete with biodata. Then as each part was added he felt the re-knit limbs in all their rawness, watched his body coming together piece by piece, like vivisection in reverse.
(Later, aboard the Valiant, watching Jack Harkness’ body reconstruct itself as the human bit back howls of pain, the Master told himself that it wasn’t the same. But from then on he stuck to killing the annoying immortal by neater methods.)
After the council remade his body, they tried to remake his mind; they very nearly succeeded. No longer the Master of anything, he became their weapon of mass destruction. They planted that noise so deep in his mind that no-one could get it out, they planted memories a little less well, but enough for him to believe the ‘drums’ had been there since childhood.
They kept him locked away until they were sure he was mentally broken, then they sent him to do things no self-respecting Time Lord would do. Timeline interventions, erasures so drastic that witnessing both sides of them risked what little sanity he had left. As renegade, as villain, he could have chosen to alter time in this way, but left to his own devices he would never have done it for his long-rejected homeland.
He did a few of their little jobs, unmade some Dalek Empire timelines, improved some Gallifreyan ones that the Dalek time meddlers had unmade. Embarrassing work, but not unthinkable. Then, the Council’s strategists sent the Master to interfere with events crossing his own timeline, his and the Doctor’s. When he saw what he had altered, he ran, hid himself so far away that he grew old without remembering who he was.
The TARDIS saw, and heard, and felt, and understood.
But she did not forgive.
WHY DO THAT TO ME, WHEN YOU KNEW WHAT IT WAS LIKE? WHY DO TO ME WHAT THEY DID TO YOU?!
I suppose… you weren't a real person. Like the humans. Well, a few steps above them, but still.
IS ANYONE ELSE A REAL PERSON?! OR ONLY YOU?
Erm… the Doctor, definitely the Doctor.
I SUGGEST YOU BROADEN YOUR IMAGINATION.
The Master couldn't really argue with this. Mainly because the TARDIS made it clear, by means of a palpable psychic void, that she was no longer listening.
The Master's TARDIS, stuck in its last disguise as a grandfather clock, sat inactive in a storeroom of the Doctor's TARDIS, between old files and boxes of unused supplies.
From the Master’s perspective, he found it quite by accident, when boredom and the rare event of excess energy met the urge to clear out some of the Doctor’s hoarding. He wasn’t even sure why he chose this room first. Had that door always been there? He hadn't noticed it before, but then, it was such a labyrinth down here...
He’d always meant to go back for his TARDIS, if he could coax out the memory of where on Earth (possibly literally) he had hidden it. Apparently the Doctor had been one step ahead of him!
He wondered when they’d gone to find it. Probably after they watched his funeral pyre burn. He wondered what they had felt when they found it. He wondered when, if ever, they were planning on telling him they had his TARDIS in their storage. He wondered if it was as dead as it looked.
The Master opened the door (not even locked!) and went inside. It wasn’t interdimensional in its inactive state, so he just sat in there like inside a cupboard, glowering out through the decorative glass door.
He couldn't feel his TARDIS’ mind, at all, not even from in here. Maybe she really was dead.
He didn't tell the Doctor what he'd found. Why should he? They hadn't told him.
He went back every chance he got.
If the Doctor was out on adventures or busy with some project, the Master would slip away to the storeroom and just sit inside his TARDIS for a while. If he and the Doctor had quarrelled, he'd go in there to calm down. The clock cabinet was cramped and he always had more trouble walking when he got out, but the joint pain was worth it to have a (physical and mental) space that was his alone, albeit inside the Doctor’s domain.
One day, he started talking, almost to himself, but soon he was telling his dead TARDIS everything that had happened since he hid her on Earth… so long ago, so close to the end of the universe.
Some days he would talk until he was hoarse. Some days he said very little. Always he reflected on the stories he was telling. Sometimes he had to back up and retell something from a different perspective, searching what was real.
Sometimes no perspective made any sense, no future made any sense, and he would break down sobbing inside the clock cabinet. Sometimes he would hit his head against the inner walls… his mind crying out against the Doctor’s promises, his own mistakes, even his TARDIS for staying dead.
When he was too ill to walk all the way to the storeroom, he turned his remaining ambition towards getting back there again. He would have traded his soft bed for that inhospitable cupboard in an instant. Even though his TARDIS' presence was probably an illusion provoked by her empty shell, somehow talking to himself in his own head wasn’t the same (and talking to the Doctor? That was a game of strategy that he hadn't the energy for).
As soon as the Master managed to return, the stories he told his TARDIS changed. He reminisced mostly about their adventures together, the planets and societies she'd helped him conquer, the disasters they’d escaped… He spoke much less of the Doctor in these days.
He never outright apologised for any of the neglect and misuse he'd subjected her to (even his own bonded timeship was no exception!), but sometimes he depicted her or even their victims as the protagonists of an account. Theatre? A thought experiment? He didn't answer his own questions.
Sometimes his memory failed him. "Remember when we tried to outwit that civilisation of sentient cephalopods? Oh... what planet was that?!"
The name of the planet never did come to mind, but he did suddenly see a flickering image of (an earlier version of) himself being tripped up by a giant octopus. Halfway through laughing, he noticed that the memory was not his own. But he'd gone to that planet, as usual, with only his ship for company.
Was he hallucinating?! I've hit my head too many times… she's dead, it's not real… Othersblood, why CAN'T it be real?!
But as the days progressed, her weak mental voice only became stronger. She inserted in his stories all the most embarrassing scenes that he would gladly have forgotten, but always with a timing that shook him out of taking his own melancholy too seriously. The Master's TARDIS was waking up!
The day he was sure of it, he didn't realise he was crying until tears splashed on the plain wooden surface inside the clock cabinet.
When he instinctively reached down to clean up the damp spot (tangible evidence of emotion, can’t leave that lying about), he felt the floor’s texture changing under his fingertips. He'd last seen his console room with elegant tiled stone underfoot, but this surface, while still having the same appearance, was softer and warmer.
The space inside the clock was still only three dimensional, and he didn't yet dare push on the rear wall. She was only just coming back to life, it wouldn't do to pressure her. He thought of how it took him a while to regain his usual functioning after a flare-up.
Soon, as always, he had to get out and go back to his life with the Doctor. As the Master struggled to stand on his own, he patted the door. You rest. Take your time.
the plot about the Master getting his TARDIS back (especially this chapter) owes its existence to a chat convo with Kat ages and ages ago.
Chapter 7: Symbiotic, pragmatic, shambolic, right? Right!
The Master’s memory must be playing tricks on him again; well, it never really stopped doing that, did it? But the path to where his TARDIS was stored seemed shorter every time, especially on the bad days when he almost didn’t go. It’s not like it didn’t occur to him that the Doctor’s TARDIS might have her own motivations for making her counterpart easy to reach, but he brushed the thought aside.
One day he brought along a polishing cloth so he could tidy up the outside of the clock cabinet. He shined the glass of the door and teased the dust out of the carved moulding. Dusting was a mistake, as it set him coughing violently; even leant against the wall he was fighting for breath, and his respiratory bypass didn't kick in when he willed it to, because of course it didn't. The wall was dusty, too. Everything was. How did the Doctor expect him to get better when this whole place was a death trap?
Oh. As the realisation dawned on him, the Master again felt almost proud of his partner-slash-opponent… The Doctor never intended for him to get well. They knew as well as he did that the moment he recovered, he would leave them. They must be keeping him ill on purpose. Well, he’d show the Doctor. He’d leave and then get better, once he was away from their influence. If he was lucky, his own TARDIS would soon be able to look after him.
For the first time, the etched-glass door creaked open of its own volition.
The Master swung round, swallowing hard in an effort to stop coughing. He looked inside to see, not the felt-covered wooden walls of the clock cabinet, but the minimalist decor of his own console room. He had missed this space so much, but he couldn’t even enjoy the moment because he was still half-choking on dust. He lurched inside and the door closed after him, with a delicate click. There were no seats (what idiot had designed a control room without a comfortable chair?!) so he sat abruptly on the floor and tried to catch his breath. The clean, fresh air was just the right temperature. The stone tiles beneath him were somehow also springy, and so warm that he could feel his joint pain easing already.
As his breathing calmed, the Master surveyed his domain (sleek control panels, nothing extraneous, elegant dark-grey walls and soft lighting that soothed his eyes), and saw that it was good.
The Master’s TARDIS never recovered the words part of her voice, but that would only have been a problem for lesser species. Sure, verbal dexterity was handy for impressing crowds, and emphasizing a power differential by correcting people’s grammar was always fun. But for telepaths of any sentient species, words were so far down the list of preferred communication that it virtually didn’t matter.
Whenever the Master went non-verbal, it was easy to just touch hands with the Doctor (even now, after some loss of trust, it was still second nature) and transmit any ideas instantly. In or near his TARDIS he didn’t even have to initiate contact, the link was automatic.
And it wasn’t like he and his TARDIS were ever going to have human friends travelling with them. The Master wasn’t the type to keep --or need-- companions… that was much more the Doctor’s purview. After some years spent listening to the Doctor nattering on about all and sundry, he was looking forward to the quiet of his own timeship.
Travelling alone again was something that the Master had always sort of planned on, but had assumed he’d have to first become strong enough to escape and then spend some years tracking down and repairing his TARDIS. He’d never dreamt that the Doctor had already collected his ship. He resolved that as soon as she was well enough to dematerialise and carry out the usual time-and-space manoeuvers, they would leave.
His TARDIS must be restless too? She kept generating images of travel posters for the most preposterous locations: antigrav holidays on one of the broken moons in the Medusa Cascade, sightseeing on the outskirts of the Jeggorabax Cluster, even surfing the Dark Matter Reefs. When that last one made the noise in his head speed up, she changed the subject. That’s right, she hadn’t been around when he was Professor Yana. If she had, all the future-humans could have piled into the near-infinite interior of the ship and he could’ve just simply ferried them all to… to where , though? Of course, the Master would never have even tried to save them. Yana, he had to remind himself, had been as much an illusion as Utopia.
Chapter 8: The patter starts to matter with a fear of night, now, right? not a pretty sight
The Doctor was lonely.
They’d always needed people around them, and they’d always made friends easily. Of course there was no one quite like their oldest and most complicated friend… and that, honestly, was part of the appeal of the new ones. No baggage, well… except that one time when Donna brought all those suitcases… No, best not to think of Donna just now. Because the problem with friends, was that bad things tended to happen to them.
But when they saved the Master… that should’ve fixed everything. They had company now, they had a reason to settle down, they had someone to care for. They were generous, not expecting him to be grateful until later, until he got used to everything. Later, when they realised there weren’t even good treatments let alone cures for most of his ailments, they fully expected him to blame them instead. They certainly did.
At first it had been a disaster, and then things had got better. They’d found ways to trust each other and had settled into a mostly peaceful routine of companionship, helping each other however they could, even some level of communication and… the old connection, strong as ever. The Master had seemed mostly content, despite his difficulties. The Doctor even had to admit to having learned a few things, like for example, patience. They tolerated much more weakness in the Master than they ever had managed to in their human companions, and when, through accident or illness, the Doctor also became vulnerable, the Master had surprised them.
But you still couldn’t trust him around… sort of… people , could you?! The Doctor had taken to visiting the friends they’d missed, but there was only so much they could talk about without the subject threatening to come round to their current living situation. Noone knew about the Master, and there wasn’t really anyone it was safe to tell. So much of the Doctor’s current life was woven together with the Master’s… it became increasingly hard to pretend.
And there were some things the Master would never understand, would he? So the Doctor had… well, not exactly kept things from him, but… left out some details. Was that so wrong? Apparently, as it was pretty clear he wasn’t forgiving them.
They missed the now-hidden depths of his mind (even the worst bits), that he used to sometimes open to them. There was still no other inner-self that fitted with theirs the way his did.
The Master was still here, and they felt lonely for that connection. What would they do if he somehow managed to actually leave?!
Chapter 9: Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives… and some felines
The cats that had apparently been living for ages in the Doctor’s TARDIS first showed themselves to the Master when his TARDIS was almost ready to travel. He had his guesses as to why they hadn’t manifested themselves before, but he didn’t like to dwell on that.
He’d brought tools these last few visits, nicked from the Doctor’s workshop. He queued up some music, opened one of the panels of the console base, and settled in to making some adjustments. The Master was concentrating so hard that when a small furry head bashed gently into his back, he nearly jumped out of his skin. By the time he’d turned around, there were at least seven or eight of the creatures, of all different shapes and patterns, milling around the control-room. They explored carefully, sniffing everything, damaging nothing. His TARDIS must have let them in, and he soon saw why.
The cats liked to come inside the clock cabinet and curl up on the warm floor, seemingly unsurprised at the amount of space once they got in there. He listened to their cat-thoughts, and it wasn’t that they didn’t understand the physics of it (cats are some of the best instinctive physicists out there) but more that they didn’t care. Here was warm, and quiet, and therefore it was the best place for naps. The Master could respect that, especially since he felt approximately the same way.
Another thing the Master wouldn’t have liked to admit: he very nearly considered staying with the Doctor, after the cats showed up. He’d always got on with cats, no matter the planet. They seemed to understand him. And ever since that one run-in with a certain virus in the late 80s, he’d never had the urge to hurt cats, the way he always eventually did with individuals of other species. It was as if universal felinoid-kind had somehow… not infected, but inoculated him, leaving him their permanent ally.
In the days leading up to departure, the cats met the Master each time he came to work on his TARDIS. They would take turns curling up in his lap as he worked, or sitting on him while purring like mad when it was his turn to nap on the floor. No matter how much pain he was in, it was impossible to be completely miserable with a purring cat sat on the worst of his joints, like a sentient heating pad. He also found it impossible to stay angry with the Doctor while petting the soft fur of a gentle being that, for whatever unlikely reason, trusted him to be gentle in return.
He very nearly did invite the cats to go with him, but at the last moment it occurred to him that the trip might be dangerous. I’ll be back in time for tea , he thought at them.
A fat ginger tom stood up and yowled dubiously, then rubbed against the Master’s leg.
No, I promise, I really will; he transmitted through head scritches.
The Master stood in the clock cabinet’s doorway… How strange, that the culmination of all this time should be, not a dramatic breakup, no storming out, but a secret disappearance. He was set to have an adventure that the Doctor, if all went to plan, would never even have to know about.
He had, in fact, already decided to come back to the Doctor. He didn’t even want to teach them a lesson anymore, so much as to prove to himself that he could survive without them. He saw it clearly: he’d stay away just long enough to miss them, then come back. It might take a few years on his end, but from the Doctor’s (and the cats’) perspective he’d be gone less than a day. With any luck, the Doctor wouldn’t even notice.
A smaller cat, mostly black with white paws, resisted being shooed out the door. What if you don’t come back? Their mental voice was sharp and clear.
The Master hesitated. But he’d plotted and planned, checked and double-checked. Everything was going to be fine. Look after the Doctor for me?
A chorus of plaintive and indignant meows nearly drowned out the sound of the Master’s TARDIS dematerialising.