The Master spends days modifying the handcuff. With a bit of transdimensional engineering it's surprisingly easy to hide some useful elements in it. Mostly he only puts a bunch of tiny chips with different codes on them in it. To hack into the most common species' systems. That's always helpful. And can cause a fun little chaos when done right. Or wrong.
He decides to keep it slow and inconspicuous for a while. There is no need for the Doctor to find out just yet. He will, eventually, but not now.
There is the odd malfunctioning of whatever is in reach when they visit civilized planets. There are cases of people acting out of character once in a while - as if hypnotised, one might say. Things vanish and others appear in places they shouldn't be.
The Doctor doesn't suspect anything at first. Then he does and checks the handcuff - thoroughly. He can't find a thing. So his trust grows, as does his belief that the Master had changed. Only a little maybe, but it's a first step - right?
The Master only smirks whenever he gets away with mischief. These days he feels more like a trickster than a monster. And to his surprise it's not half as boring as he had feared.
Then they are on a colony ship, somewhere far out in the Ploreny galaxy. It's impossible for the Doctor to leave his TARDIS without finding trouble. Sometimes the Master suspects the ship to even find it for him. A perfect symbiosis. Nonetheless, they are in trouble, surrounded by men with weapons, all pointing at the two Time Lords. He only smirks, activates a mental link on his cuff and sends a psychic shock wave through the room.
Most men and women drop dead on the spot. Some are more resistant and only cry out in pain, paralysed and tormented, maybe never to be fixed or to have a proper thought again.
Of course the Doctor is shocked, of course he makes the Master hand over the cuff. Or so he tries. He has nothing to threaten him with, after all.
"We can't continue like that," he pleads. "I need to be able to trust you, Master."
A smile grows on his face at hearing his name. Almost he wants to command to say it again, just to hear it tumble from the Doctor's lips. He wants to feel the sound of it on his skin, wants it to echo through their shared minds. But that's not a thing they do anymore. Not since a long time ago.
"You can't trust me as long as you keep me imprisoned," is his dry answer. "Give me a Vortex Manipulator, I know you have a few. Let me go and mind your own business."
"And then what?" The Doctor throws his arms up. "You run back to earth and finish what you started? You go and enslave some other planet? Or do you plan to summon some ancient powers because you think you could control and command them?"
"I could do all of that in a sector of the universe that's far, far away from you." He just has to smile at the thought of doing all of those things. Those and many more the Doctor would never think of listing. "I'll spare the earth. That's my offer."
The Doctor only sighs and wearily shakes his head. "I can't," he mumbles. "I have a responsibility."
Of course he has. This self imposed bulshit. After that the Master hides in the TARDIS for quite some time. He's not in the mood to deal with the other man, not in the mood to get another leash attached. Instead he builds himself a new laser screwdriver and decides to resort to simple methods.
A simple threat of killing the Doctor until he runs out of regenerations. Maybe it won't stay a threat. The urge to kill his enemy grows stronger each day, maybe has grown ever since the Doctor ran away without saying a word.
Maybe then the drums will be quiet.
Maybe this is what they want him to do. All the times he could have ended the other one's life, all the times he hasn't…
Sighing deeply the Master slides down against a tree, not knowing if it's a real one or not. He found this room that contains a forest some days ago and hasn't left ever since. Now he glares up to the roof of branches and leaves, cursing himself. Who else would be able to stand up against him if not the Doctor? Who else was as smart and dangerous as himself, albeit in a different way?
They've always done this. A rivalry as old as themselves. As old as the times when they had been young and had shared so much… They had run through the corridors of the academy, had hidden in secret rooms and had sneaked away to the lake to…
He bites his lip. Hard. Those are not times to think about. They won't come back. Ever. They are too far apart now and neither of them would change to adapt to the other one. And so it will stay as it is, the pain in his hearts forever consuming him in equal measures as the sound of his drums.
All he wants is to be free again. Free to drown all of this in chaos and fire before it can destroy his soul.
The Master stays in the forest for days or maybe longer, until he is tired of his growling stomach and his own smell. And as he gets up to take a long needed shower, he suddenly knows that there is a plan inside his head, has been there for a while already without him even noticing.
The length of his tousled beard makes him grimace and laugh at the same time. It looks funny and stupid, but also reminds him of old days, when he had loved to sport a neat goatee. And why not? This new face is certainly suited for one.
By the time he enters the console room, he is shaven, kempt and neatly dressed in a dark red dress shirt and a black waistcoat. He likes his new look, likes that it's a good contrast to the Harold Saxon persona.
"What do you think of Vurialka?" the Doctor casually asks, busy with some knobs and not even looking. It seems as if he hasn't even noticed that the Master was gone for so long.
"Dull place, but has some nice views at night. At least around their thirtieth century."
"It does, doesn't it?" The Doctor laughs and finally turns, his eyes widening, surprised at what he finds, wandering over the Master as if they wanted to remember each and every detail. It even takes him some seconds to respond and is that a light blush on his face, or had that been there before? "Ahem… uh… Vurialka. Wanna visit? Have a cuppa somewhere?"
"I'm not letting you put another leash on me," the Master announces, arms folded in front of his chest.
The Doctor's gaze drops to his shoes for a moment, but then he nods. "Right. No more restraints." In a casual manner he leans against the console. "I… I'm sorry for that."
"You aren't." The Master snorts. "You had years to be sorry, I don't buy it now."
"Not for the cuff." The Doctor's head snapped up, his chocolate brown eyes filled with sorrow. "I'm sorry I didn't try something else. I'm sorry I treated you like a rabid animal instead of like a person."
That is not a response the Master has predicted. Not in any way. He's at a loss for words. It takes him a full moment to respond anything. The Doctor is quicker.
"I can't just let you run and you know why. But I don't want you to feel as if you were my prisoner. I…" He lets out a heavy breath. "... I want to help. I really do. We're the only ones left. If we don't help each other then who will?"
"Do you really think I care?" the Master snarls. "I don't want your help. And all I'm willing to continue is finding a way to get rid of you."
Again the Doctor sighs and runs a hand over his face. The look on his face, however, makes it clear that he doesn't see himself in a dangerous situation. Quite the opposite. His posture remains calm.
"That's not your plan, though, isn't it?" The question is more of a statement, accompanied by a smile that's annoyingly friendly.
"How would you know?" Suddenly he finds himself in the defensive, senses that the other man knows something, something important. And it gnaws on him, making him antsy. "I kept you for a year, but for how long am I imprisoned with you now? Ten? More? If we take your precious earth measurements."
As if it would matter. Ironically time isn't of much concern to a Time Lord. They have enough of it, can waste it and throw it away without wasting a thought.
"Weeell…" The Doctor rubs his neck, peeking with a mischievous grin at his counterpart. "If you count it from a geljomerukian perspective it's only been half a day." He gets serious after that, holds out both hands in a defensive gesture to keep the lingering insult from getting spit out of the Master's mouth. "Can you listen?"
"Can I?" He lifts an eyebrow, not quite sure where to put his arms and hands. Inside his pockets, across his chest? Nothing feels right, nothing feels like he is in control. And that after he planned to be exactly that before coming here.
The Doctor knows a simple plea would do nothing. He knows. That he's using it anyway shows that what he has to say is something the Master has to hear. Something he doesn't want to hear.
He says nothing.
The Doctor lowers his hands and takes a breath.
It's such a casual question, the way it's asked breaking through centuries of animosity. What he offers is equality.
So the Master nods and soon finds himself in a remote place. It's a small city on some unimportant moon. The tea is in the top tens he has ever tasted and for a while it's all they talk about.
As evening draws near they are almost alone in the place. It's big enough to give them a decent privacy. No one will hear what they talk about.
"You won't let me go, will you?" The Master finally addresses why they are even here.
"You could have long left on your own."
"Without a TARDIS?" He scoffs.
The Doctor nods. "Will you listen? Like in old times." A melancholic smile whizzes over his face. "I have some theories and want you to hear them. You don't have to answer my questions, you don't have to make a decision."
The Master grunts. "Yeah, fine. Shoot."
They used to do this when they were at the academy. One presenting a set of thoughts, the other closely observing to find a hole or to add something.
"I've soniced the wristband before you retreated and the scan showed me you modified it over two years and some months ago. That's a hell of a lot of time to do whatever you want. And it's more time than you usually take to trick someone." He pauses, waiting for a reaction, but not getting one. That seems to reassure him. "In fact, you only revealed it to escape danger. Which makes me think you did enjoy being this version of you."
"I did play quite some tricks and pranks on you, though," the Master can't help but add. Not a real Objection.
The Doctor nods, searching his memory for situations and making connections. He is quiet for a bit, sips from a new cup of tea.
"Yeah, I should have seen it before." He smiles almost fondly. "It still proves my point. You could have done much worse."
Well, the Master gives him that.
"What I think…" The Doctor pauses, eyes dropping to the desk, peeking back up at his counterpart. He sighs wearily. "I think you're still running away from the war. It put us all through unimaginable terrors. The time distortions, the loops, the…" His voice breaks for a moment.
The Master knows how he feels, remembers enough of the battles, fought with time technology that ripped and shredded through reality itself, killed probably as many of them as the Daleks had.
"I… don't think what you want is my company," the Doctor reluctantly continues. "You want the mind of any other Time Lord close by to… fill the silence. Even I haven't gotten used to it yet. I can't imagine how it is for you."
For him it's never quiet. The drums are his constant companion. Today they behave somewhat. Tomorrow they might drown his mind for hours. But he feels it too, or rather doesn't. The absence of the background noise of the other Time Lord consciousnesses. When he had regained his memory from the watch, this emptiness had overwhelmed him, had driven him crazy for weeks. It was wrong. It was a sensation none of his kind was ever supposed to feel.
And he hated the Doctor for pointing it out. He kept silent, however, waiting for what else might come.
The Doctor swallows and looks the Master straight in the eyes.
"I think you didn't cause too much damage because you're tired of fighting. You could have blasted everything into a flaming inferno. You could have hacked into the TARDIS' systems to override the console lock. I'm sure you'd find out how, eventually."
The Master waits, eyes narrowed to slits. He doesn't like being observed like that, dissected. If only the Doctor knew with what idea he had appeared right before they came here. The plan was to stop being that dormant.
"There is no way I could let you run. And if you harm me the TARDIS will lock up completely. Thought you might want to know. Without me you are stranded."
He stayed silent, waiting fow what would come next. The Doctor didn't throw out observations like that only to have them hanging in the air.
"No more cuffs," the Doctor says gently. "And I will continue the tests to find… you know."
Coward. Still not willing to just listen.
"We can go wherever, you know?" he continues. "See the stars and their wonders. I don't ask you to save anyone or to do good. Just travelling."
The smile that blossoms on the freckled face is wide and childish and reminds the Master so much of the boy from the academy. Let's visit every single star out there. The memory makes his hearts ache and he hates the Doctor for making him feel that way. He hates him for making such an offer, when he knows perfectly well that the Master could never be content with just seeing.
He isn't sure whether he should punch his face or rather take it into his hands and…
"What do you say, Master? Travel with me. It's an offer."
"No more cuffs or collars."
The Doctor nods.
"Well, isn't that lovely." The Master pushes all his emotions and memories back to where they belong and puts on a frown, nose wrinkled. "I'm basically your pet then."
"What? No! No, that wasn't what I…"
"Oh stop lying, Doctor. It's disgusting." He gets up and stares the other one down. "Nothing changes. You're just dragging me around in the hopes I might adapt to your views. And I have to behave or otherwise what?"
"It's only an offer." The Doctor stands up too, throws some black shards on the table they use as currency here. "For the time being. This can't be forever. I know that as much as you do."
They leave the location and stroll back through some alleyways, colourful advertisements blinking above their heads. It's quite the dumpster of a planet. Noisy, criminal. But the tea is exceptional.
The Master mulls over the conversation, contemplating what he would do to convince the TARDIS to let him fly after he killed the Doctor. A question he knows the answer to already. The ship can't stand him after the paradox machine, hasn't forgiven him yet. Maybe she never will. The ship sees him as a threat. As does the Doctor.
Good. At least something.
He can't leave, that much is clear. But if the Doctor doesn't plan to cuff him anymore then what exactly would keep him from doing whatever he wants? He can wreak havoc wherever they go and reward the Doctor's stupidity with a sly grin.
He could have done that the whole time already. And hasn't.
The Master stops, waits until the Doctor notices and comes back, his mouth half opened to ask. The Master doesn't let him. He moves quickly, grabs in front of him and clutches cloth, tears the surprised Time Lord close to get a better grip, then rams him backwards against the dirty wall of a rotten house. A trashcan falls over. Somewhere a cat screams.
"I can't kill you," the Master whispers, leaning close enough for the other one to hear. "It doesn't mean I can't hurt you, or break your bones, your mind. Every little bit of you."
The Doctor's eyes are wide in shock. He doesn't struggle. This time it's him who keeps quiet.
"I'm still your prisoner and just a better pet. You really think I'd like that? Do you even know me? Have you ever?"
"What's the alternative? Both of us running alone? And then I chase you around to clean up the mess you leave?"
"Was always fun before." The Master smirks.
"Not this time," the Doctor mutters. "You went too far with the Valiant and the paradox machine. And all the killing. Everything. You've never been so…"
"Charming?" He chuckles, then suddenly gets serious. "Insane?" The grip tightens. He wants to hurt the Doctor, so badly. And at the same time he wants to do something else entirely, barely can keep himself from leaning closer.... He stops pushing him against the wall, but doesn't let go of his clothes. "Do you remember? Everything used to be easier. So strict and confined in rules. But we had all the freedom we wanted. We just took it."
"Oh yeah, I remember." A small laugh escapes the Doctor's mouth. He has a way too childish face, this time around. "We got into so much trouble."
Does he keep clutching the brown coat for threats or does he need something to hold on to? The past is not a thing the Master can just push away and forget. He tried. He tried so hard. But it didn't help.
"Everything fell apart. It's all gone."
For a moment he thinks the Doctor might try to hug him and the Master isn't sure whether or not he would kill him for the attempt. Neither of them moves, an eternity of history between them no matter how close they stand.
The past doesn't vanish. The Master knows and it's majorly fucked up that he can't stop feeling like this. He hates the Doctor for it with every fibre of his very being. His head drops, thuds against the Doctor's.
"I want to hurt you," he whispers, although it's not at all what he wants. It takes every ounce of composure not to move.
He is relieved when the Doctor tentatively takes the Master's hands from his collar, holds them in his own for long enough to let their minds brush against one another. Nothing more. An acknowledgement.
"No more cuffs?" the Master asks, voice pathetically small.
"No more cuffs. Promise."