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What Might Have Been

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Striding calmly towards his TARDIS, ignoring the occasional Scythin who passed him, the Master entered the abandoned quarry completely alone. Absorbed in his plans for the world, he was halfway across the dividing space before he noticed the sound. When he belatedly recognised the harsh groaning that signalled the arrival of another TARDIS, though, he began paying attention. Wisely deciding not to be caught out in the open, he slipped behind a convenient boulder, and watched warily as the familiar form of the blue police box materialised.

The Master frowned. The Doctor was still in exile, surely? With neither the memory nor the freedom to use his TARDIS, and no reason whatsoever to bring it here. The Master had barely laid the groundwork for his plans for this planet. Not even the Time Lords could have picked up on them yet. Then he paused in his thoughts, as a figure that was most decidedly not the Doctor exited the other TARDIS, tersely commanding someone else to remain inside.

The Master studied the other Time Lord as he strode towards his hiding place. Big, burly, dressed in the most garish outfit the Master had ever seen, he bore little or no resemblance to the white-haired dandy the Master so loved to annoy. But something in the movements, in the air of arrogant superiority that was the default expression of both the Doctor and himself ... Yes, he thought. This could well be some future incarnation of the Doctor.

Deciding abruptly that he couldn't let this confrontation pass, the Master stepped silently out into the Doctor's path, slipping his weapon into his hand in readiness. The Doctor stopped short at the sight of him, as if he'd run into a force-field, and the flare of worried recognition in his eyes was enough to confirm his identity.

"Why, Doctor," the Master greeted, politely, before running an insolent appraisal over the form in front of him. "Whatever have you done to yourself?"

"You shouldn't be here," the Doctor snapped. "I shouldn't be meeting you."

The Master smiled suavely. "But I am, my dear Doctor, and you are. And it is most impolite of you to ignore my question."

"Go away," the Doctor responded shortly. "I haven't time for you. And believe me, you won't be any better yourself, next time around. You lost whatever sense of style you ever had, in exchange for cheap black velvet and a smarmy grin!"

The Master filed that away for future consideration, tutting disapprovingly as he stepped up to the Doctor and raised a hand to stroke softly over the yellow lapel of his coat. "Well, I must do something to match such monumental bad taste, mustn't I? So far removed from your elegant fripperies, my dear Doctor."

The Doctor caught his hand, an edge of violence in him that delighted the Master. So this was his Doctor's future? Harsh and brusque and arrogant? How very ... workable.

"I've no time for velvet and lace," the other Time Lord snarled.

"Now, now," the Master soothed, retrieving his hand and straightening the Doctor's necktie. "I always found them ... quite charming. Not that your current apparell lacks appeal. It has a certain ... brashness ... that one could learn to appreciate. Much like the rest of this incarnation of yours, Doctor dearest." And he smiled, a dark, knowing smile, and stepped back, gesturing for the Doctor to continue on his way. "I'm sure I shall learn to appreciate this you as much as I appreciate your older self. And I do appreciate him, believe me."

The Doctor jerked forward, as if to move on, then paused and, with sudden violence, turned and shoved the Master roughly against the boulder. The Master reacted instinctively, pushing his weapon into the Doctor's sternum and glaring pointedly. The Doctor merely snarled.

"I have to know," he said, nonsensically. The Master blinked at him.

"Know what, Doctor?" he rejoindered, warily but with a certain edge of curiosity. Now what could the Doctor want to know that would draw such violence from him?

"What it would have been like," the Doctor spat, a furious blush staining his cheeks and angry regret haunting his eyes. Regret, and something else, and abruptly the Master understood. Oh, so very well. A sudden tenderness came over him, a half-moment of pity for this brash Doctor who wanted something he thought he had lost the chance to have. Slowly, cautiously, he nodded, and lowered his weapon. For a moment, the Doctor could only stare at him in shock.

"What is it?" the Master asked softly.

"I'd forgotten," the Doctor answered, oddly distant. "I'd forgotten how willing you could be, back then, to cooperate when you needed to. You would never do this now. You hate me too much."

The Master felt a wave of sadness at that. So one day their games would come to an end, and respect be replaced by bitter enmity? Beyond all chance of repair? Although he could not claim any real surprise at the thought. It was inevitable, in the end. It always had been. He'd known that, he supposed. But still. To see the proof of it, to see the future beyond it, it shook something in him, even still.

And this Doctor, standing here watching him with regret and with longing, wanting to know what they might have had ...

He made a decision. It was oddly easy, almost natural. So easy, to lower his head to kiss the Doctor, to allow something of his regret at the news to be felt by his enemy. The Doctor responded with desperate passion at first, all fury and anger and loss, but after a moment he softened into the gesture. It was pure regret the Master tasted as he pulled away, a bleak and shocking sense of loss, and he cursed his own Doctor for the pride that one day would leave them both so crippled, when they could have shared something so much more than an empty rivalry.

The Doctor leaned into him for a moment, wrapping powerful arms around his waist as if trying to hold on to a promise that could never be kept, and then, at last, set him gently down. Seeing the rumples his embrace had left, he started briskly brushing them both down while he regained his composure, ignoring how the Master stared at him in bemusement. Then he looked up and grinned, the expression suited to this round, expansive new face.

"I always thought you were pretty charming yourself," he murmured. "And I suppose my telling you this now is the reason you always looked so smug when I denied it."

The Master shrugged, smiling mysteriously, and feathered a touch over the Doctor's face in goodbye, in lieu of words that would probably only hurt them both. It was enough, it seemed. The Doctor didn't flinch from it, at any rate. He moved away, turned to go, and the Master watched him leave, watched that burly figure stride purposefully away. He thought of his Doctor, the one on Earth that matched him still, awaiting their next game, and he smiled.

"No," he said to himself, as an unhearing Doctor turned the corner out of the quarry. "Not quite the reason, my dear. I didn't need you to tell me. You're not so opaque as you like to think, Doctor. I knew. I always have."

Then he turned and walked back to his TARDIS, and to the white-haired dandy he felt was in sore need of some entertainment in his exile. He had a promise to keep, after all, to an old friend.