Title: The Final Countdown
By: angstytimelord
Pairing: Tenth Doctor/The Master
Fandom: Doctor Who
Rating: PG-13
Table: Epsilon, challenge_the
Prompt: 30, Power
Warnings: non-con
Disclaimer: This is entirely a product of my own imagination, and I make no profit from it. I do not own the Tenth Doctor or the Master. Please do not sue.

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His relationship with the Master had always been a power play, the Doctor reflected as he gazed up at the sky above him. At the moment, they weren't at each other's throats -- but that was only because he had no idea where the other man was.

Once the Master had hatched some plot, he would show up again, like the proverbial bad penny. He could never be kept down for long; that was one thing that the Doctor had learned the hard way in the long centuries that they'd been locked in battle.

It had even been that way when they were children and called themselves friends, he thought sadly, shoving his hands into his pockets and walking away from the Tardis. There had still been a power struggle, even though they were too young to realize it at the time.

Well, maybe he was the one who hadn't realized just what their strange relationship was. The Master had probably known it all along, even as young as he was.

He couldn't help smiling ruefully when he thought of how naive he'd been as a child; he'd been intelligent, yes, but he'd been too young and unformed to really have a clue as to what life was about -- and how people could hide behind masks.

In retrospect, it was probably quite surprising that he'd been allowed to take the tests to become a Time Lord, considering his naiveté. But he'd passed those tests, and here he was, all these centuries later, with his mind still intact.

Would things have been different if the Master had been able to retain all his faculties? He couldn't say that for sure; the other man had always seemed to gravitate towards the dark side, even when he was a child.

How many times in the past when they were children had he tried to force the Doctor into following him into something that they both knew was wrong -- with the Doctor pulling back and the Master taunting him for doing so?

Too many to count, he told himself ruefully, sighing and shoving his hands deeper into his pockets. The Master had always had a sadistic streak, even when he was young.

The power struggle between them hadn't been so marked when they were young. But then, they hadn't been Time Lords -- and their differences hadn't involved the fate of the world, or at least some of the planets within various galaxies.

For the Doctor, being a time Lord wasn't about wielding his power -- but using it to benefit others, to help the world when it was needed. For the Master, it was about abusing his power to make himself the ultimate authority in the universe.

He shook his head, closing his eyes for a moment. As long as he lived, he'd never be able to fully understand the way that the Master's mind worked. He couldn't fathom having such a low opinion of the universe that he'd feel as though he had the right to destroy it.

But that was the Master's particular madness, wasn't it? Of course he couldn't understand it; he was sane, and his mind didn't run in the same circles that the Master's did.

If only he'd been able to stop the Master from taking those tests -- or had been able to make sure that the other man was better prepared for them. But he'd been so busy trying to prepare himself that he hadn't had time to help his friend.

That was another bit of guilt that would always assail him when he least expected it, even though he couldn't have known just what would happen to the Master. He'd always feel that he somehow could have done more, have been able to prevent what was inevitable.

The elders on Gallifrey had been philosophical about the Master's madness; they'd explained to the Doctor that this happened at times, that there was really no explanation for it other than that the person so affected had been a flawed vessel.

The implied words were that he should be thankful for making it through the tests without having the same thing happen to him, and that he should leave the Master to his ultimate fate, whatever that might be. But he'd never been able to do that.

He'd always wanted to make a difference. He'd always wanted to help -- even those who probably didn't deserve the hand that he held out to them. And he'd tried to help the Master, numerous times over the past centuries.

It was one of the differences between him and the rest of his race, the Doctor thought to himself. None of them had wanted to interfere -- only to stand back and observe.

But he'd always been different. He'd always wanted to right injustices, to help other planets in their battles. Especially when the Master had begun threatening the peaceful existence of the galaxy -- he'd had to do something.

After all, it was due to Gallifrey that the Master had been set loose in the world. Of course, they'd tried to imprison him -- and they'd even succeeded a few times. But he had always escaped, to wreak more and more havoc in the galaxy.

The balance of power between the two of them had shifted back and forth so many times at this point that the Doctor had no idea which one of them could claim more victories. But really, he'd never kept a count.

What mattered to him was making sure that the Master didn't carry out any of his plans for the destruction of Earth, or any other planet in the galaxy. As long as he could defeat those plans, he didn't care how many times he did so.

It was part of being what he was. It was part of what he'd made a vow to do when he became a Time Lord -- and of his own personal vow to the rest of the world.

He was here to protect them. That was why he had become what he was, and he would stand by that vow as long as there was breath left in this or any other body that he might happen to have. He'd never turn away from that promise.

At the moment, he was the one who held the power. The Doctor knew that -- and so did the Master. And he had no doubt in his mind that his mad adversary would try to change that, to turn the tables to his advantage.

That was something he always had to watch for -- and something that he'd almost become used to. But there was a part of him that would always regret what had happened when they were children, and would always wish that things could have been different.

Would their lives have ever been different? He paused to lean against a tree trunk, looking up at the sky again. To be honest, he really didn't think so.

The Master would always have been the sort of person who wanted to grasp power. That was why he'd wanted so badly to become a Time Lord -- not because of it entailed, or what he could do for the world -- but because he coveted the power that went with the title.

It had never meant more to him than that, and the Doctor couldn't quite understand that reasoning. He could see how power could corrupt -- he'd seen it often enough in the world -- but it made no sense to him that the Master had gone in that direction.

He would never know, he told himself as he pushed himself away from the tree and turned to retrace his steps back to the Tardis. The Master's inner motives, the workings of his mind, would always be a mystery, an enigma. He'd never penetrate them.

Not that he would want to, he thought with a shudder. That was the sort of thing he'd rather keep himself as far away from as possible. It was a path he didn't want to turn down -- and he wanted to keep himself away from being tempted.

There had been temptations in the past, but he'd always managed to look away from them. Though the Master had tried his best, the Doctor had never fallen victim to his wiles, his blandishments. He hoped that he'd always be strong enough to withstand them.

If he ever took those first steps, he could very likely become as mad as the other man. That was the only power that the Master had -- the power to entice, to corrupt.

And it was a power that he refused to let himself fall prey to, the Doctor thought as he reached the Tardis. With any luck, he'd be able to keep the Master from exercising that power -- though he had a feeling that their final decisive battle was still a long way in the future.

The final countdown to that battle had started a long time ago. And he couldn't the uneasy feeling that the balance of power might be swinging back in the Master's direction -- and that he would be hard pressed to keep that power from falling into the wrong hands.

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