After some minutes of watching everyone I hopped down into the crowd and left the Master to play earl on his own. It couldn't take too long for him to get bored of it.
Being in the hall was a bad idea altogether. So many noises, smells and colours. Everything blurred together to a mass of impressions. But right now I didn't care. Alcohol usually dulled down my oversensitive senses enough to make me able to enjoy occasions like these. Like it did now.
I drank and sang and danced, listened to stories and told a few of my own. From every corner came music, wild and raw and ancient, close to nature and the earth below.
It was Yule.
A kind of magic filled the night that cannot be explained by words. It can only be carried by tunes and drums and laughing voices, by the smell of roasted flesh and sweat honey mead. Once or twice I left to take in the aurora and its wonderful light. But I always returned, let myself be swept away.
Somewhere I met Ivar again, right as the tunes of a dance ended. He turned and we came face to face, his eyes lighting up at my sight.
"Hey! There you are. I saw how your friend conquered the throne." He chuckled. "The earl truly is in a good mood to let Erik have his fun like that. Didn't even know your companions were still here."
"Yeah. I didn't know either." Somehow I felt stupid at how jealous I had been some hours ago. No one would let such a chance slip. I certainly wouldn't.
"Will you still stay with us?" Ivar wanted to know, his look somewhere in-between hopeful and apologetic.
"No," came my immediate reply. And there was not the slightest hint of regret within me when I said it.
Someone bumped against my back and suddenly there were arms around my torso, holding me quite possessively. Surprised I glanced up and found it to be the Master. Who else would it be?
"Don't keep your hopes up, hunter," he growled. "You're aiming for the wrong prey here."
Ivar blinked dumbfounded, but then he smiled sadly and nodded. "I understand." His gaze wandered up and down between me and the Time Lord. "May the gods watch you on your travels. I won't forget you."
With that he turned and vanished into the crowd to be never seen again. I hoped he would find happiness in years to come. For a short moment I even contemplated running after him to ask if he wanted to come along, but remembering the Master made me quickly forget about that. This would only end in a disaster. And maybe bloodshed.
Speaking of the Master…
I squirmed in his grip to throw him an annoyed look.
"Why so hostile? He hasn't done anything to you."
The Master just grumbled something that got lost in the music and dropped his chin on my head.
"And you can let go of me," I sighed, tugging at his sleeve. "Not that I don't enjoy a good cuddle…"
That made him release me and I giggled at the childish behaviour, turning to face him. The Master bent down slightly, brows knitted together. "You're not staying."
"Uhm, yeah. You already said that." I stemmed my fists into my hips and regarded him with a tilted head. "Are you drunk?" I mocked. "Wasn't sure you lot even react to alcohol."
"Only if I let it happen," he grumbled.
"You clearly do then. I'd challenge you to drink with me… but that's a lost game. And I'm not fond of losing." Especially when I didn't have the strongest stomach and didn't drink too often anyway.
The Master cringed. "I actually was looking for someone to have a good fight with. Heard they were challenging each other somewhere."
"Guess there were a few fist fights over there." I thumped behind me where I had seen some men doing a little friendly contest. "Just don't ruin the mood by killing someone, yeah?"
"Oh, I would never."
"You know what, I'll watch."
The Master laughed out. "Want to make sure, eh?"
"Nope. Just wanna see Time Lord vs. Viking." Giggling I gave the air a few playful punches.
"And you're calling me drunk." He poked against my head, swirled around and marched to the fighting group.
They cheered when they saw who had appeared and an opponent was quickly found. A bald guy with a short beard and tattoos all over his head and arms. The Master only grimaced at the guy and undressed his gambeson and shirt, before he stepped in front of the other man.
The Master actually didn't look that strong, I realized, seeing him like that for the first time. Certainly not weak, but compared to the Viking guy…
After a sharp call they made short process with one another. It was fast and all I managed to make out were a few hits on either side, before the opponent was dropped to the ground and found a boot on his chest. After that more men lined up to fight against the Master, but not a single one could win - even though a few managed to land a blow or two.
It was fun to watch him, to see how much faster and stronger he was than humans. The way the Master moved seemed almost too fluid and there was a weird aesthetic to it. I really should ask him to teach me a few of those moves. Most of the time he didn't even use any kind of force against the men and simply defeated them by using their own strength against them in various ways.
After a while he probably got bored and left, not without dramatically bowing at the cheering mass. He wasn't even sweating, I realized and pursed my lips when he approached.
"It's really not fair," I protested. "Why are you so much better than us?"
The Master chuckled. "It's just the way it is. Deal with it."
"You still got a few bruises." Grinning I poked a blue spot on his side and giggled when he hissed.
"Only because I didn't want to raise too many suspicions. Stop poking that!" He grabbed my hand.
"Okay okay." I giggled and looked him up and down. "You should get some tattoos." When he released my hand I traced a line into the air, right along his side. "Maybe a dragon here."
The Master snorted and slipped back into his black tunic. "Waste of time and energy. Next regeneration and it's gone anyway."
He cringed. "You wouldn't understand."
My answer was to poke the bruise again. "Not the first time you underestimate humans."
"Shut up, ape!" he hissed.
Swiftly I stole the gambeson before he could put it back on and lay it around my shoulders. They had been used as light armour, but also looked really cool and were padded quite nicely.
"That's too big for a dwarf like you," the Master mocked.
"But it's waaaarm." I cuddled myself into the cloth and eyed the Time Lord. "And you look good as you are. No need for the badass mode."
He laughed out. "Well, whatever. I'm not cold anyway." A questioning look wandered towards me. "Do I look good?"
I gave him a thumbs up. "Decent enough."
I leaned against an empty spot on one of the tables and poked out my tongue. Which was the wrong answer. The Master came to stand like a tower over me, eyes glinting.
"I don't accept decent."
"Well, 'm not going to lie to boost your ego." I giggled and poked him. "Get lost. You look good enough to fetch a date for tonight."
He scrunched up his nose and tossed a glance into the crowd. Then he spun back, bent down with a smirk and placed both hands on the table to either side of me. We weren't touching, and still only inches apart. His hazel eyes bore into mine, so close I could make out the pattern in his iris.
Someone had to teach him about personal space at some point.
"You're my date."
"Ab-so-lute-ly not." I laughed out and glinted amusedly at him. "And you say I'm the drunk one."
"Because you are."
"True." I shrugged. "Still don't wanna date you."
The Master chuckled. "Your loss." His look turned serious all of a sudden. "Not what I want anyway. There is something in your mind. Something the dragon left behind there."
Puzzled, I blinked at him. "Uhm, yeah... it tried to communicate, I think. But it didn't feel intentional..."
"Doesn't matter." His hands snapped up, enclosed my head firmly. "I'm still curious what it wanted."
Quickly there was the familiar tingling sensation swimming through my head, only that it was weirdly distorted, hazy, as if someone tried to shine a light through thick fog. The Master tried for a while, then grunted annoyed.
"Oh my, your head's a mess. Totally scrambled and out of place."
He chuckled. "Because you're drunk. Don't worry. Will go away on its own. Makes it just hard to find anything."
"I could try and focus on it?" I offered, head tilted in his grip. "Or do we need more contact?"
I closed my eyes and concentrated on what I had felt during the last vision the dragon had shown me. But the images kept slipping over and over again. The Master scowled at me and my answer was an apologetic grin. There was no helping it. I already tried my best. But the longer it took the more I wondered why he was only in my head and I not in his. Usually it was sort of both and for some reason I missed that feeling, this weirdly soothing closeness which it brought.
My hands reached up on their own, cradling his cheeks. And just like that our minds connected completely, like a puzzle piece snapping into place. Surprised, I gasped and heard a chuckle, simultaneously felt it vibrating through my mind. Being alcoholised had a weird effect, made everything blurry and hard to grasp. It felt like sinking down into muddy water, deeper and deeper, slow and steadily, as if I would simply get lost, only able to numbly watch the fading light of the moon, shining through the water's surface far above.
The Master mumbled something, voice soft and a bit amused. "Hey, what're you doing there?" Or did he think it?
"Dunno." Was I actually using my voice? Everything was so muffled. "Does it work?"
"Not quite. You're too untrained and weak." For once it only sounded like a fact and not like an insult. The words dripped into my awareness, sank down with me into the darkness.
My eyes crept open - had I closed them? One of them - both. One was still hidden behind the eyepatch. The Master was so close I wouldn't need aid to see him clearly. It was a strange sensation to be like this, holding each other's head, sinking deeper and deeper while still being somewhat aware of my surroundings. I got lost in the hazel depths of his eyes, drowned in my own mind.
Slowly I inched closer, my nose brushed against his.
One hand slipped from my temple, a finger suddenly on my lips, a smile on his own - still so close. His eyes wore a glint that was both warm and impish and confused me more than anything else so far.
"Don't," he all but uttered and eased out of my mind, straightened.
Everything washed back over me in a sudden wave. The hall, the fest, the music, the voices, the smells, the warm cloth around my shoulders, the racing heartbeat in my chest. I groaned and pinched my eyes shut. Too much. Way too much at once. And then also the slow realisation of what I had almost done. It seemed like a logic thing in that swamp of foggy thoughts, a way to strengthen the connection, to get clear, to...
I shook my head and looked up again. "Eh, sorry, shouldn't have..."
He was gone.
Perplex, I glanced around, not able to find the Master anywhere. Maybe he had gotten enough out of my head, after all. Whatever that vision might mean to him.
The night went on, with or without him. How much time actually had passed was hard to tell. I lost all sense of it. Maybe I even lost some memories here and there, snippets, short, unimportant moments. I made sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, but that didn't help in the long run. It only filled my bladder and releasing that wasn't the nicest thing on a cold winter night.
The only good thing about the outside was the aurora that kept glowing in the sky. Such a wondrous thing, a phenomena humans would only come to understand in many years from here. And it was one of those cases where science wouldn't ruin the magic, even add to it.
I smiled up at the bluish curtain, burning it into my mind to stay there forever, no matter how much the alcohol clouded my awareness.
Back inside I found a group of younger people gambling with stones and dice. It seemed complicated, but I quickly understood the rules and played with them for a while, even won some money. I decided to keep the coins as a souvenir.
More time blurred together, colours and music and dances and too much of everything. And somewhere in all that I bumped against someone, my hands between us and a 'sorry' already on my lips when I recognized the black tunic, and when I felt how icy cold it was.
"Have ya been outside?" I asked. "You're cold as an icicle."
The Master smiled mysteriously. Only then did I see that he now wore a jacket over his tunic. One that clearly belonged into my own time and not in this. But people were too far gone to notice. It also reminded me that I had no idea where his gambeson had ended.
"I've got what I wanted," he eventually spoke up. "And, as much as I like the taste, I think I had enough of their mead. Let's leave."
"Leave? Nooooo way!" I called out. "I want to stay."
His face dropped, a short hint of actual hurt crossed it, and I was sure not to have imagined that. I tapped against his chest, what made him scowl.
"Hey, whu's up? I thought we were good?"
The Master stroked a hand over his face and shook his head. It seemed as if he, too, wasn't so sober anymore. And when he suddenly grabbed my collar, it was not as rough as usual, in stark contrast to his penetrating gaze.
"You're not leaving me," he ground out.
"Huh?" Confused, I blinked up at him. "'course not, idiot. Just wanna stay until dawn. 's tradition, you know?"
The Master visibly relaxed, features softening. He released my collar and straightened. There was such a strong sense of relief radiating from him, in that moment, that I simply couldn't hold back a laugh. Especially when I considered his wording just before.
"What's so funny?" he growled.
I grinned. "That you're as drunk as me."
"Most certainly not, human."
"Why else do you keep forgett'n what I tell you?" I poked my tongue out, giggling at his eye roll.
"I'm not forgetting." The Master reached out as if to grab my shoulders, but let his hands sink. "But people always lie." His voice dropped to a level I could barely understand. His face was hard, but what I nonetheless felt from him was clear enough, even without his next uttered words.
"And they always leave."
Wide eyed I glanced up at him, at the man, who had burned galaxies, who had enslaved the human race to wage war against the universe, who had sown destruction in his wake, who left corpses and oceans of blood and misery wherever he could.
And all my mind kept repeating was what the Doctor had said about the Master so, so long ago.
Angry and lost... and all alone.
And I was too drunk to care about anything. So I took a small step forward and just dropped my head against his chest, ignoring how the Master winced as if a lightning bolt had hit him.
"What the...?! Will you get lost, you bloody..."
"'m not leaving you alone," I promised.
He tried to shove me away, but I had no intention to budge, kept my forehead propped against his chest and clawed my hands into his tunic. His attempts were only half hearted and eventually he gave up and sagged together a little. A sigh deflated his lungs, almost a sob.
"Don't..." he choked out and it sounded like a weak plea. "I can't... That's not me."
Surprised I glanced up, saw a weirdly desperate look on his face. Never had I witnessed him like that, all the usually hidden pain lying bare so visibly, for once. I had no idea what or who had hurt him so much and so often. And so deeply.
When our gazes met, he looked away, tilted his head backwards as if to hide his face. He took some deep breaths, eyes glued to the stars, even though they were hidden by the roof above our heads. I knew he still saw them, felt them, wore them all within his hearts.
"Why not?" I asked. "It's Yule. You can be whoever you want."
Seconds later his head lowered, revealing a sadness in his eyes that shot painfully right into my own heart. We looked at each other, maybe truly saw the other person in front of us for the first time.
"'t was a bad idea to get myself drunk," he muttered.
And that was a good enough excuse to gently drop his chin on my head and wrap his arms around my shoulders, carefully, as if he feared to break me. As if it was something he wasn't quite sure how to even do properly.
It felt warm, his hearts thudded soothingly against my ear. I could simply get lost in this sound that drowned out everything else around us. Being lulled in like that, it made me aware of how tired I actually had gotten, of how far the night must have progressed already.
"You're way too soft and cuddly," I mumbled against him and felt a laugh vibrate through his chest. "I wanna sleep on you."
"Oi! Don't you dare, you intoxicated dwarf." But he didn't budge, only ruffled a hand through my hair, making a mess of them. "There, suits you better." He chuckled to himself.
"Dwarves're cool. You have to try harder to insult me." I finally let go of him and, reluctantly, he did the same. I smiled and brought my hair back in order. "Alright. Let's leave."
"Before you do something stupid?" he mocked.
"Yup," came my giggled reply. "I'm in a very I-will-regret-nothing state. Could end really badly."
"Tzz, I noticed."
"'m still alive."
He glared at my smirk, eyes narrowed to slits, even though he couldn't quite hide how his lips twitched upwards. "Don't provoke it, lil' lumin."
I poked out my tongue and eyed the hall. Not much remained of the celebrating crowd. Many had gone home, others slept on prepared pelts, or simply on benches. No one really cared. There were enough still dancing and drinking and playing music that sounded progressively less melodic.
"Where's the Doctor?" I wondered. "Haven't seen him all evening."
"Probably sulking in the TARDIS."
"Oh. Hm... well... at least we don't have to look for him, then."
The Master grunted and followed me outside. "He can rot here, if I'm concerned. But then we'd be stuck."
When we exited the hall we were greeted by the last fading gleams of the aurora. Soon it would be gone, not more than a memory in our heads, superseded by the emerging light of dawn on the horizon.
Soon the days would get longer again, winter would cede to make way for the warmth of the sun, life would return and with it... some hope.
On the hill, where the TARDIS stood, I stopped to cast a last glance back, over the village and the still burning Yule-fire in the middle. Stories would spread, tales would be spun, legends no one would believe in my time.
"You coming?" the Master asked and held the door open.
After some seconds I tore myself away from the sight, my finger stroked over the brooch on my chest. I nodded, stepped past the Master into the dim interior of the time machine. Its humming had become almost familiar, greeting me with a welcoming warmth.
After everything I had been through and every decision I had and had not made, I knew, felt and accepted that this was my home now.