Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by the BBC.
Thanks to: Kathy, for beta-reading.
Timeline: Set post-Last of the Time Lords for the Master and post-Blake for Servalan, hence spoilers for both shows until these points.
Author's note: Originally written for Astrogirl in the Multiverse5000 ficathon.
Game, Set and Match
The first thing he noticed when he opened his eyes was the silence. No more drums. That particular present from the High Council that had come with his resurrection in the Time War seemed to be gone. Unfortunately, the silence came with a price tag, as all things did. The drums weren't the only things missing. He could hardly feel the flow of time anymore, just barely, and every other sense seemed dull and second rate. It wasn't a new experience. In fact, it was exactly how he had felt when writing his biodata into that Trakenite body he was subsequently stuck with for years. Better than rotting away in a Gallifreyan body, but still. After everything that had happened, it seemed a step back.
The Master frowned. What had happened? There had been a gunshot, he remembered that much, and he knew he had tasted triumph at last, mingled with tears, his tears, of course, but his memories appeared to be muddled; he couldn't decide whether he had been the one shooting, or the one shot, and someone's voice asked "Did you betray me?" which was assuredly not his or anyone else's he had bothered to deem worthy of attention. Tremas' memories, he thought, yapping again, and then remembered that body was long gone. Not Tremas. Whoever had owned this current body before him, presumably. Well, the Master had practice in banishing unwanted memories, at least if they belonged to a lower species. He had never been all that successful with banishing his own. He focused, and pushed back anything that didn't feel familiar.
It had been his back-up plan, of course. Losing to the Doctor so many times in the past meant he always had one. Use the chameleon arch in the Doctor's TARDIS to create another artefact that could, if necessary, store the essence of a Time Lord. Make it a ring, because really, fobwatches were so outdated. He had counted on the Doctor being sentimental enough to keep the ring with him; the first time the TARDIS had entered the Vortex would have allowed him to access its energies and reconstitute himself. Failing that, whoever put that ring on was to be in for a rather final surprise. He hadn't looked forward to a human body, but it was certainly better than either death or living with the Doctor on the Doctor's terms, instead of his own. But what he hadn't counted on was what he felt now with his limited, nearly crippled Time Lord senses. Nobody had put that ring on for centuries. He was in another era altogether. The Doctor wasn't anywhere nearby; nor was his deliciously broken and ever so useful Lucy.
"Do you know who you are?" asked a woman's voice, coolly imperious, with a nearly undetectable hint of urgency underneath. He sat up and saw her standing on the other side of the room, watching him. Short, black hair, an elegant gown of the type he loved Lucy to put on, and complete self-possession that reminded him of the way the Rani carried herself.
"I might," he said, trying to decide whether or not it was worth accessing this body's memories for more information. In the first stages of taking over someone else's entire being, complete suppression was the best way to go, not giving the previous owner room to manoeuvre. Even so it had taken him a while to shut up Tremas completely. He preferred not to think of the American at all. That entire interlude was best forgotten. At least Tremas had been an intelligent man destined for rulership.
Something flickered in the woman's eyes. "No, you don't", she said with absolute certainty. The corners of her mouth curved down in something like disappointment. Apparently his current body used to belong to someone who would have reacted to her presence in a very specific way. Favourably? Unfavourably? He gave her Harry Saxon's smile for wooing voters, not knowing how it would play out on his new face.
"Come now," he said, trying to draw her out a little. "If you were me, would you admit to it immediately?"
She looked unimpressed. "I knew there was a risk," she said. "That's why I didn't put the ring on myself. Artefacts with supposed life-restoring powers simply must have a drawback."
"Well, that ring would simply have clashed with your gown," he said. "So I applaud your caution. But I assure you, there is no question of my identity."
Now she was the one smiling. She had a generous mouth, and there was nothing whatsoever warm or charmed in her amusement. He recognized a fellow predator when he saw one.
"No, there isn't," she agreed. "You're not the person I wanted to bring back. You might or might not be someone useful. Convince me. Because otherwise I have no reason to keep you around, and every reason to hand you over for a lovely public execution. Nobody would care who is actually inside that body."
She held a small laser gun in her hand, which meant simply killing her and leaving wasn't an option for the moment. By now, he knew in which period he had ended up in. The number of centuries that had passed between his reign as Harold Saxon and the type of weapon she held meant he had ended up somewhere in the Federation. He had avoided them before, not because he objected to dictatorships but because it was an era of human history the Doctor never visited. His pet humans were either drugged into obedience or killing for the greater good, and as this era was a fixed event that couldn't be altered, shortened or circumvented, he naturally didn't have the guts to face it. Face what humans truly were like. Well. Truth to tell, the Master wasn't exactly thrilled by the prospect of being here, either. There was no challenge in establishing a dictatorship where there was one already, and ruling humans was only worth it when the Doctor was around to see it. The administrative work alone was a headache, and why bother without a reward?
So. The Federation. He had not bothered to find out much about them, due to the Doctor's disinterest, but there had been some details buried somewhere in his memories. Playing for time, he decided on a gamble. If she had access to centuries old artefacts that were supposed to restore life, she had to be a person of some influence and power. Which automatically meant she also must have some things to hide. If she was using that artefact on someone who was supposed to face a public execution, she was a risk-taker.
"Probably not," he agreed, "but would they care who is in yours?"
"Go on," she said slowly. The gun in her hand did not waver. He got up from the bed he had been sitting on, and noticed that his current body was dressed in black leather, which wouldn't have been bad, except for the sheer number of studs that went with the costume. This simply wouldn't do. The Master was the first to admit he was fond of the colour black, and leather gloves in particular met with his highest approval, but studs were out of the question. Even Bruce the American hadn't sunk that low. He needed more leverage on this woman, who looked as if she might shoot him if he didn't get the upper hand soon, so he took another gamble and deliberately allowed something of this body's memories to resurface while looking at her. There was something, an image, an exchange that immediately came to mind, coupled with some distinct physical sensations.
"But I don't think of you as an enemy," he said slowly, reciting what she had said in that memory that wasn't his own, "I think of you as a future friend." After a slight pause, he added the name that went with that memory. "Servalan."
For the first time, she looked uncertain.
"Avon?" she murmured, with some disbelief. The Master congratulated himself; if she believed that this Avon was still around long enough for him to get the gun from her, he could end this inconvenient situation and restore the normal balance of things, which was him having the upper hand, naturally. Whether or not he would shoot her would depend on her own usefulness.
Unfortunately, her voice and that name triggered a barrage of memories that he hadn't wanted to access at all. Another whisper, this time from a male voice. "Avon? Oh, Avon." Death around him. The weight of his dying body in his arms, looking at him. But that was wrong, all wrong. The Master had been the one who died, not the Doctor. And it hadn't been defeat. It had been victory. He had finally broken the Doctor. A year as a prisoner hadn't done it, the Toclafane hadn't done it, seeing his beloved humans exposed as the spineless cowards they were hadn't done it, but this had, and it was good. There never had been a sight more beautiful than the Doctor broken and more his than he ever would have been with ten cages around him. There was no reason to feel guilt, all encompassing guilt and horror and the blood on his hands, the blood…
With an effort, the Master shut down all memories. Sorting out the ones belonging to this Avon person and his own would have to wait for later, when he didn't have an armed woman to deal with. Being shot by a woman thrice in a row really would have been one time too many.
"You never were one for waste," he said to Servalan. Which might or might not be true for all he knew, but it was the kind of thing everyone liked to hear. "Shooting me would be one. Executing me would be one. We could be good together, I can see that now."
He had always excelled at convincing people, whether through hypnosis or charm. True, not having a Gallifreyan body limited the amount of mind control at his disposal, but genius should be able to overcome this. He smiled at her, this time going for the more intimate version of Harry Saxon's smile, the one he had used on Lucy Cole before he married her.
"So good," he said, taking another step towards her. "We could rule the universe together."
Which she should be interested in, even if she wasn't sure about whether or not he was this Avon. She looked pragmatic enough to adapt, and no one who had ambition wanted to be anywhere but on the top. Not that he had any intention of letting her get there. Once they had made their alliance, she would provide him with the best technology of the era, he would build her some nice toys to distract her – giving primitives weapons wasn't something he had ever had problems with, not even before leaving Gallifrey – while creating a rough version of a time machine. Nothing as elegant as a TARDIS, of course, a TARDIS took centuries to grow, but he should be able to manufacture something like the freak's time hopping device. And once he had that, he would track down the Doctor. After all, what was a triumph worth if one wasn't around to enjoy it? The thought of the Doctor broken lost all satisfaction if he imagined him consoled by the human apes next.
Servalan made a step towards him. "And Blake?" she asked.
Avon that other voice whispered again, and again, the Master pushed it back as best he could. Whoever Blake was to Avon, he couldn't allow that to distract him now.
"We'll deal with him later," he said, and knew in the same moment he had made a mistake as she pulled the trigger. This kind of death really had become a habit he needed to break.
"Avon would not have let me mention Blake without trying to strangle me," Servalan explained matter of factly while the Master crumpled to the floor. "He also would have known better than to assume I'd ever let anyone but myself run the universe. Pity. You're not him, but you might have made a very decorative companion. If you hadn't known who I am. I really can't have people calling me by my real name."
The barriers between memories were breaking down again as he needed to focus all his energy on transferring himself into the ring once more. Her words made sense now; Servalan was in disguise as Comissioner Sleer and was trying to regain her old power that way. She disposed of people who knew who she was, she didn't share, she never let herself be blackmailed, and if he had opened himself up to all of Avon's memories before, he'd have been aware of that. But there it was again, that sensation of complete loss and emptiness, and where was the point of it all if he wasn't around anymore, dying, dying, and the lights grew dimmer all the while.
So he did the one thing he could do. He smiled, and looked up while everything else went away.