It seemed as if the Doctor had finally succeeded in granting his friends an ordinary vacation. After the fun they had in the snow, they were now enjoying the cosy warmth of the cabin's wooden interior.
To everyone's surprise the Master had grabbed the dead rabbits and had vanished with them inside the kitchen, only dragging a protesting Rory along with him.
"I get the feeling he found a liking to Rory." The Doctor rubbed his neck and glared after them.
"Do I have to get jealous?" Amy wondered, though sounding sarcastic. "Well... you should," she added towards Roka.
"Huh? Why would I?" She got off her jacket and boots and placed both in the hallway, before putting on a pair of fluffy slippers Jeremiah had provided for them all.
"Come on. You're totally into him." Amy snickered and winked suggestively.
"What?!" Roka spun around. "Wh... what in the universe makes you think that?!"
"How about the fact that you're blushing right now?" Amy chuckled some more and took a precautionary step back.
"That's just from the cold outside!" Roka protested and folded her arms over her chest.
"Now, now, you two." The Doctor stepped between them with raised hands. "No fighting here. Although Amy might have a..." He looked thoughtful for a second, a finger tapping against his lips.
Roka glared daggers at him, barely able to contain the anger that was welling up inside her. After all that had happened, how could they think something like that?
In that moment the Master came out to them, marched towards another door, but stopped to curiously observe the scene. He didn't get spared when it came to murderous looks, making him mockingly raise his hands and grin widely.
"My, what imp spat into your soup, little crow?"
"Don't call me that!" Roka demanded and spun around to him. "Never again!"
His grin dropped when he noted her anger. "Hey, I've done nothing to you!" he whined and pouted. "Not my fault that you're bad at snowball fights."
A very thin and fragile thread finally snapped. Roka stabbed a finger in his direction. "What you did? You really ask that? You?! It's more a question of what you didn't!"
A scowl deepened on the Master's face at being treated like that. And had it been another time there would have been no doubt that Roka wouldn't leave this situation unharmed. Now though he only glared back with barely contained ire.
"Right... I didn't harm you, ungrateful brat," the Master spat back, now towering above her with a menacing glare, suddenly very much the man he used to be. Anger and something more dark and dangerous seeping from him as he darkly continued, his voice threateningly low, "I didn't let you become a literal ghost. I didn't left you with that glitch. I didn't left you alone and as the miserable thing you were when I found you."
The Doctor coughed slightly. "Please. There really is no reason for..."
"Shut up!" Roka growled without taking her eyes off the Master. Right now she wasn't bothered if she hurt anyone. All this anger that had accumulated for more than a century was now let loose, and she had not the slightest intention to put it back again already. Instead she took a step closer to the Master and glared up at him.
"As if you had done anything of this for anyone else than yourself," she snarled. "It's a coincidence that I'm still alive, and nothing more! You would have killed me, regardless of the outcome!" The only thing she was holding back was her desire to punch him, but only because she knew he would evade it with ease.
Had he been his old self this would have been a dangerous move. She saw it in his eyes. Not much was there that held him back. And she knew all too well how good he was at hurting people. But instead of attacking her, there was only a malevolent smirk curving his lips.
"True," he confirmed nonchalantly. "Because this is who I am after all, right?" He shifted slightly to one side, leaning closer down to her. "I told you a long time ago... I'll enjoy destroying you. That's still true, my little crow."
Roka took a step back, her frown deep. "And then you wonder why everyone hates you. Why you have to hypnotize people so they don't run away." A sickeningly mean grin was on her face all of a sudden. "It's because you're such a disgusting person. No one should ever be forced to be around you!"
No one but her saw the slight change in the Master's eyes. She had finally hit the right spot, one that hurt. One that would make him suffer for quite a while.
And Roka hated herself for being the cause of it.
In an instant all her anger subsided as if someone had suffocated a fire, and all she wanted to do was to apologize. She hated how there suddenly were tears in her eyes, how she couldn't stop staring at him, almost begging him to forget her stupid words.
But the damage had already been done. And no words would be able to take it back. Roka hurled around, lowered her head and rushed to her room, slamming the door shut behind her.
Only silence stayed back with the others as they all glared at their shoes. Eventually though a slight chuckle came from the Master. No one, not even the Doctor, saw how much Roka's words had hurt him. He was just too good at hiding these things.
"My, what a temper," he remarked snarky.
"I can't help it," the Doctor mumbled, blinking at the Master. "But she somehow reminded me of someone."
"Yeah." Amy also found her voice again. "It's rather creepy."
"Mhm, that's what I thought too," the Master snickered amused.
But deep down he was concerned. Because he knew too well how a behaviour like that came to pass. How long someone had to be lonely and miserable to push everyone around them so far away that they stopped trying.
Somehow she had acted quite like him.
Amy played cards with Mike and the Doctor for some hours, while Jeremiah sat nearby, watching and sometimes throwing in a funny comment when someone tried to cheat again. Here and there he vanished into the kitchen to see if it was still intact, but every time he exited there was a satisfied smirk on his face.
"I really can't imagine those two not to burn down the whole building," Amy remarked while trying to inconspicuously pick up a card less than she had to. "Rory is horrible in the kitchen."
The Doctor only hummed in thoughts, glaring intensely at his hand.
"Oh," Jeremiah chuckled. "Seems like your friends have some hidden talents then."
Finally the doors opened and out stepped Rory, wearing an apron that suited him astonishingly well. Amy's head already spun a few more uses for that thing together, before she noticed a somewhat proud look on his face.
"Dinner's ready!" he announced in an unfamiliarly confident voice.
"I'm not sure I'm hungry..." Amy drawled mockingly.
"Oh, just you wait, Amy!" Rory grinned from ear to ear, rushing back into the kitchen.
They all looked at each other and Jeremiah gestured them towards a large and heavy wooden table where they all found more than enough space to sit down. Only then did Amy remember Roka and went to drag her out of that room. With force if necessary.
She knocked a few times, and when there came no answer, Amy blatantly opened the door and stepped inside.
To her surprise it was dark, making her ponder for a moment if there even was anyone inside. But then she found Roka, sitting upright on a pillow on the floor, legs crossed and hands folded in her lap. Her eyes were closed, the breath slow and controlled.
"Errr... We'll have dinner in a moment," Amy told, a bit puzzled. "What the heck are you doing there?"
Slowly Roka's eyes opened, her movements showing no haste, and it made quite the impression as if she had just returned from somewhere far away.
"Meditating," she answered quietly.
"You mean like those yogis? Or monks?" Amy chuckled. "Sounds horribly boring."
With a weird graze that almost didn't fit her, Roka got up from the ground in a single fluid move. Again Amy remembered that feeling she had had the first time. That this little woman was more dangerous than looks made believe. Even though she did good at hiding it from everyone.
"Keeps your mind calm and... tidy. In a way." Roka shrugged and put on her shoes. "And I can strengthen my psychic barriers."
"Still sounds boring," Amy decided and lead them both to the dining table. "By the way, it seems like Rory and the Master were brewing something together in the past hours. So we'll probably die."
"Oh? Mhm... wouldn't be so sure about that," Roka mumbled from behind.
They sat down and Roka and the Doctor shared a knowing look that spiked Amy's anticipation even more. Luckily she didn't have to wait long before the doors opened once more and both men stepped outside, loaded with dishes and plates.
They placed everything onto the table and filled it out completely.
"You're freakin' kidding me!" Amy's mouth hung open at the sight.
There were several dishes, all apparently made from rabbit meat and decorated with various garnishes like vegetables, rice, bread and other things. Her eyes caught a few of them nearby. In front of her boasted a juicy roast with its mouth watering scent, next to it sat a plate with small pieces of meat on toothpicks that were wrapped in bacon and somewhere else stood something that probably was stew.
"Could be a lot better," the Master complained when he came back once more, carrying some bottles of wine. "But that old geezers here had almost nothing in stock."
Jeremiah laughed at the insult, showing clearly that he was too old to allow himself to be offended by anything anymore. "Oh, I think you did quite wonderful with what was at hand, my boy."
"Only boy here is he!" the Master pointed at Rory. "Although you were a lot more useful than anticipated."
"Eh... thanks... I guess." Rory brought out, but still smiled proudly.
"Might keep you even," the Master continued, chin in hand.
"Hey! I'm not to keep!"
"At least not by anyone but me," Amy claimed.
Meanwhile the Doctor was hungrily glaring at the foot, folding a tissue to stuff it into his collar, before he turned to the others. "I'm definitely more eager to try those delicious looking treasures than to continue all that bickering. Come, come, you two. Sit down. You did all the work."
Only Roka stayed silent, urgently trying to avoid looking in the Master's direction. She was the first to grab some of the food, giving the others a signal to also help themselves.
For quite a while the room was only filled with the sounds of clinking cutlery, cutting and here and there a satisfied noise. Amy still couldn't believe it, but everything tasted extraordinarily amazing.
"I know Rory is rubbish in the kitchen," she eventually stated between bites. "Sorry dear, but it's true."
Rory grumbled and hid his pouting by stuffing a piece of meat in his mouth.
"So... that must mean you made all of that, Master," she continued. "Villain and cook. That's a combination to behold."
He only snickered and glinted at her over the rim of his wine glass.
"Hey, Roka! Did you know that?" Amy nudged her.
Roka grumbled agreeing, but obviously determined not to share her attention with anything but her filled plate.
"I didn't know," the Doctor remarked, dreamily looking at a piece of meat on his fork. "Well, not until those two had this date."
"It wasn't a date," Roka mumbled sourly.
"It sure was," the Master chuckled, earning himself an intensive eye-roll.
For once Amy decided not to dig deeper. Right now didn't seem a good moment, since she was way too occupied by eating, and Roka's mood indicated that she probably wouldn't tell anything anyway. And hearing it from the Master... who knew how much of it would be true.
Later that evening they all sat sprawled over the sofas in front of the fireplace, sated and content, listening to one of the Doctor's stories about a wild chase after the crimson dice of an alien called a frigorox that had an obsession with dice games. Jeremiah had brought Mike to bed and was now listening with glinting eyes, not showing any hint of whether or not he was believing these stories, or if he simply didn't care anymore.
At some point they started to play cards again, and the Doctor vanished into the TARDIS for a few minutes to get out a bigger deck. They were too many now to play with a normal one. Not that they exactly followed the rules anyway, but like that they could all participate.
Roka admitted to herself that, once more this day, she actually had fun playing with them. It was hard for her to grasp where the anger from before had stemmed from. Suddenly it had just been there. And now she felt guilty and bad about having been so mean. The entire time the Master hadn't spoken much to her, what was unusual considering how he always tried to stay close and annoy her. But there also was her pride, preventing her from actually apologizing.
The game ended eventually and they went back to telling stories.
"You know, boys," Jeremiah yawned after an hour or so. "You're either the biggest liars in the world, or some fancy fantasy authors... or real aliens. And the later wouldn't even surprise me."
"Good!" the Master cheered. "Then don't be surprised, human."
"We're really just on a vacation," the Doctor assured, folding his thin legs one over the other. "No need to worry. We won't harm you lot."
"Stop speaking for everyone," the Master pouted.
"Aha!" Amy threw in. "So you only cooked to make us fat and slow, and then slice us all up!"
"Amyyyy!" Rory whined. "Don't give him ideas."
But the Master only smirked from ear to ear, clearly satisfied with having strewn some fear around. Even when it was only a little.
Lulled into the contentment of the good meal, the crackling fire, being exhausted from being around people so much and also the time itself, Roka noted how she slowly started to drift away more and more often. She slid one seat away from Amy to have more space and drew her legs close to wrap her arms around them. Like that she stayed and allowed herself to nod away, while still enjoying to watch the others.
Sometime later she vaguely felt someone sitting next to her, expecting it to be Amy, but she was too tired to actually look and once more gave in to sleep.
"Why don't you go to bed?" someone asked in a mixture of curiosity and amusement.
Roka shifted slightly and somehow lost her orientation. She had been leaning with her back on the sofa, but now she leaned with her side and head against it. Or... no... that wasn't...
Groggily her eyes opened a bit and when she glanced up she met the Master's amused eyes, looking down at her. Somehow she had ended up leaning at his side without noticing. It was warm and comfy, and a part of her couldn't be bothered, while another, stronger one, made her shoot away and blink perplex.
"I don't mind," the Master just said, not taking his eyes off of her. "But still... isn't a bed more comfortable?"
Roka sunk together, clutching her knees once more.
"I don't want to be alone right now," she admitted and carefully glanced back at the Master, too tired to read his face.
"I could keep you company," he offered and poked out his tongue.
"You wish," Roka grumbled.
Faintly she could make out how Jeremiah told the others of how things had been, back when this cabin had still served as a place for families to have a nice vacation. She wasn't really interested in it and instead tried to nod away once more, but found herself unable to. Somehow this position suddenly wasn't comfortable anymore and she glanced back at the Master.
He stretched out a hand and grabbed her collar in the neck, tugging at it enough to make her practically fall back into the position she had woken up moments ago. Surprised she looked up and met a smug smirk.
"Aren't... you mad at me?" she asked quietly.
Both of his eyebrows raised. "What for? For complimenting me?" A grin widened on his face.
Oh, he was always so proud of being all evil and mean, but Roka had seen the hurt in his eyes and knew better.
"I'm sorry I said that," she mumbled and snuggled a little closer. He was warm and his ridiculous woodcutter shirt was soft and inviting. Enough to chase away her inner protests.
"Oi! Wanna play another round?" Amy's voice resounded from ahead. "Oh... Eh, don't mind me. Keep sleeping." She giggled and watched for a few seconds. "You know... considering that you despise each other so much... you're quite cute together." With that she hasted away, tugging at Rory to tell him who knows what.
Roka shot straight and slid away, hiding the light blush that crept up her neck. Being tired really was no reason for letting the Master so close to her. Definitely not, she decided, even though now it was a bit colder and lonelier.
It was the silence that woke Roka hours later. The only remaining light in the enormous living room area stemmed from the fainting flames of the fireplace. Calm crackles resounded through the night, sparsely accompanied by the soft moaning of old wood in the freezing cold of winter.
Roka yawned and rolled to the other side on the sofa, drawing the covers over her.
Her hands felt soft and padded cloth around her shoulders and she realized it was the woodcutter shirt the Master had worn before. He must have left it when they had all headed to bed.
For a brief second Roka was about to throw it to the ground, but then decided otherwise and instead wrapped it closer around herself. Why was everything suddenly so confusing? She had decided such a long time ago to never let anyone near her again. Especially not the Master after what he had done.
But there she was, trying so hard to deny that she enjoyed having this stupid shirt that smelled like him.
It was idiotic. She had been on her own for over a century and hadn't been bothered by it. So why did she now feel so isolated all of a sudden? The perfect opposite was the case after all. But the feeling got so overwhelming that she had to curl up for a while.
Eventually she sat up, unable to fall asleep again anyway. Quietly she donned her shoes and wrapped herself into the woodcutter shirt. It was snugly warm and perfect for those temperatures. Well... and she always had had a soft spot for plaid anyway.
The cabin had a somewhat eerie feeling to it, covered in this looming darkness. Roka could barely imagine it to be brimming with smiling guests, life and happily playing children. Those days were long gone and would never return.
Since the door didn't need to be locked out here, Roka simply slid outside, carefully manoeuvring down the snow covered stairs. The sky was dark, free of any clouds and dotted with countless glimmering stars, all watching upon the sleeping folks.
Roka took slow breaths, relishing the sensation of the freezing air almost hurting in her lungs. For some minutes she only stood there, trying to ignore the cold that crept through her clothes and into her bones. A flock of thick feather light snow flakes sailed down from the blackened veil above her head, the sight calming her racing thoughts and clearing her mind.
Snow... it always had been fascinating to her. Even when she had still been a child and she and her father had set out with a sleigh to conquer the nearby hills. Back then the effect of the glitch had only been subtle, although already painfully obvious to her. There were moments when Roka found her father staring at the sleigh, wondering what he might be doing with this thing out here and already about to head home, before she had tugged at his sleeve until an expression of sudden recognition had crossed his eyes.
The only time she hadn't been forgotten at all, was when she had been sleeping wrapped in his arms, the smell of hot chocolate and the sound of fantastic stories still lingering in her little mind.
But the moment her father had laid her to rest, it had been over, and there would be no one to wake her for the morning, and progressively also no one noticing her presence when she entered the kitchen for breakfast.
What else could she have believed back then, but to be a ghost?
The word rang in her mind, making her remember what the Master had said before.
I didn't let you become a literal ghost.
What had he meant by that? Those words hinted at the possibility of him having met a future version of her during his search. But her mind refused to puzzle together on its own what he had encountered there. She had a hunch... taking off the gloves to stare at her hands... How far would this have gone without his interference?
Roka shook her head and sauntered to the back of the cabin to get her mind in another direction. Jeremiah had told something about there having been a hot spring at some point. It wasn't hard to miss. An almost perfect circle of snow was melted away, leaving nothing but the bare ground to stand on. Water wasn't there anymore, although no one had an explanation where it could have vanished to.
Curiosity sparked, she stepped into the circle, feeling the temperature raise immediately. It was so warm, she even had to drop the shirt for a while. The ground was almost too hot to touch at some spots. In others it was cold.
There also was something that looked like it could be or have been a hole. Earth now filled the small circle and there was no heat emanating from it. Roka lay next to it, hands folded behind her head and watched the stars above, wishing she could travel on her own again.
Not long though and her musings got interrupted by a weird, bleak smoke that slightly covered the ground. When she glanced around, she noted surprised that it stemmed from the previous hole in the ground. And as she stared at it, dumbfounded, the soil started to move slightly.
Roka shot up and onto her knees, for a second undecided whether to get the Doctor or to take a look on her own. But her stubbornness commanded her to stay. She was old and experienced enough to deal with those things on her own.
Once again she took off one glove and touched the shifting ground, her hand gliding through the warm, white smoke. There was barely any resistance and she could reach right down into the earth. It actually felt as if the ground was only a thin layer, and there was nothing beneath it. Her hand reached into literal nothingness and fumbled around in vain.
Roka let out a surprised shriek, then a louder one, when something grabbed her arm and pulled at it, the grip too strong for her to get free, no matter how much she struggled.