Despite feeling a little anxious about being all alone in the TARDIS I slept like a log. Maybe it was only a matter of habit. Being on my own had become the new normal over the past years. Before that I had never spent a night on my own. Always had there been a family member or partner or at least a cat around. But while living on my own I came to enjoy the silence quite a lot. And in here I was fairly certain that the TARDIS herself would keep an eye on me.
The true anxiety came when I was about to be on my way back to the portal and realized I would have to make the long walk through the darkness entirely on my own.
Again did the ship prove to like me. As I stood there in the door frame, treading from one foot to the other, not daring to leave, I suddenly felt a small nudge. And when I turned around there was an old oil lamp seated on the console table.
The gesture made me smile and I mumbled a thanks while stroking one of the pillars. There even was a box with matchsticks next to the lamp so I could light it easily.
With both in hands I finally stepped outside the doors. My feet connecting with the black metal created a sound that sent chills down my spine. A sound to wake a sleeping giant.
For a moment I froze, held my breath and listened. But the monstrosity didn't stir, didn't wake, and so I continued my way to the tiny spec of light in the distance and the shrinking warm glow of the TARDIS in my back, all while my imagination haunted me with creepy images of unknown horrors that might lurk in the impenetrable darkness.
But worse than that was another feeling that crept up on me. In the TARDIS I hadn't really noticed it because the ship had kept me company, in a way, and because I had been tired. Now, however, it had caught up with me and gnawed on my insides.
A feeling of loneliness. One I hadn't experienced in a long time since there had always been someone around. Now there was no one and only darkness and an empty void around myself, filled with unknown nightmares. My guts twisted and once again I remembered the feeling of being utterly lost and all alone in the world with no one around to keep the fear away.
By the time I reached the portal my body was shaking slightly, anxiety had gripped my insides, making me wonder if anyone there even wanted to see me, willingly as they had left. They probably didn't know that it had hurt, probably didn't even have a concept for what I felt in this very moment. After all, they were aliens to me, people I didn't and couldn't belong to, no matter how hard I tried.
Even the egg was taken from me. This tiny existence that had drained my energy and would have probably taken my life sooner or later. But for it I had been important, useful. For this tiny being I had a right to exist.
Now I had nothing.
In the end I did step through the light, but only because the darkness in my back was worse than the growing fear and the spiralling thoughts.
One step and everything would be normal again. One step and… I blinked and trembled, stumbled forward and felt panic arise when the darkness stayed with me. A blanket of coldness, of knowing to be lost and utterly alone in it, the icy sting of chaos too big to, to… to…
I forced myself to stand still and slowly inhale some deep breaths to stop the world from spinning and my mind from collapsing into madness. The darkness hadn't followed me, it was simply night. The small radius of my lamp revealed the shapes of sparse furniture and in the distance the faint melody of a piano crept it's way to my ears.
I took some more slow breaths, just to calm my racing mind, while I turned off the lamp and sat it on the floor. Only then did I manage to take a few steps to the door and open it to escape into the light and dive into the notes of a merry tune.
The light of the saloon enclosed me like a soft blanket, a warm ray of sunlight. People were laughing, singing, dancing. And amidst them…
My mouth dropped open at the sight of both, the Doctor and the Master, being in the middle of the crowd, performing a thing that was neither coordinated nor could it be called a proper dance. They were fooling around, circling the other, sometimes pushing, sometimes grabbing the other and pulling or almost throwing. I never was quite sure if they weren't actually fighting. But the smiles on their faces told me enough.
Carefully I manoeuvred through the crowd and casually asked the bartender what he had given them.
"Those two fools?" the man asked. He was maybe in his mid forties with short grey hair. "Honestly, it was only our home brewed beer. Not much alcohol in it. Is more for the taste, you know. Few herbs, bit of ginger." He shrugged and left me to myself.
Ginger. Hadn't they mentioned it a few times? Was their race susceptible to it? It really seemed to be the case, seeing that they acted like every other drunk idiot I knew. It definitely was fun to watch, even though they stopped their silly dance to vanish into a less crowded corner, giggling and seemingly bickering.
I had to smile at that, simply because this might be the first time in a long while that they weren't fighting. Although… while I made my way to them the Master suddenly grabbed the Doctor's lapels with both hands and pushed him against the wall. Already I wanted to run, knowing I wouldn't be able to intervene anyway. The crowd didn't let me move faster and so I saw that the Master was whispering something in the other man's ear who's eyes slowly widened and then shut tight as if to block out unpleasant memories.
My path got blocked by a dancing pair and when they finally moved away my sight was clear again to see… them both in the same position, except that the Doctor had clawed his hands into the Master's shirt, not quite pushing, not really pulling. Their heads were connected and from one moment to the next their lips were too.
I halted dead in my steps, almost got pushed over by passing people. Perplexed, I watched, although it wasn't quite my place and none of my business. Was the Doctor pulling the Master closer or did he try to push him away? Was the Master's grip so firm to hold the Doctor in place or to steady himself? Maybe they both didn't know, too consumed in their own world, hands finding their places on other parts of their bodies, wandering, tongues tasting.
I turned away.
My head was spinning and everything in me was majorly confused. What was this cold sting in my stomach? Jealousy? Fear even? The fear of being abandoned if they decided not to have an intruder around?
Time to think too much about this was sparse. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw someone rush past in a haste and realized it was the Doctor, his brown coat vanishing in the crowd so fast I almost wasn't sure to have seen right.
The Master had stayed, one hand still against the wall, head lowered. Hesitantly, I made my way towards him, unsure how to read the situation. When I was close he pushed himself away, turned and then sunk against the wall with his back, letting out a deep breath. Only then did he notice me and his eyes narrowed.
"Uhm… hey," I said, just loud enough to be heard over the crowd.
The Master let out a noise that could have been a growl, his head dropped backwards.
"You just saw that, didn't you?" he moaned.
I shrugged and leaned next to him, giving him a small nudge with my elbow. "Come on. I've done far worse while being drunk. Well… I mean… it certainly looked like you were getting there..."
The Master let out another frustrated groan. "This's bad," he muttered. "What did I even think?"
"Nothing?" I offered. "Eh, he'll get over it. Just distract yourself a little and wait."
"Distract… yeah… might be a good... " The rest of his utterance got lost in the noise around us.
It was so loud I had to close my eyes for a bit. After the darkness of the ship this was such a vivid contrast. There wasn't time to get used to the ruckus, though. Suddenly I felt grabbed by my collar in the neck and dragged along. My protest drowned in the music and the noise of the crowd and eventually I got half pushed, half thrown onto a chair in front of a table. The Master dropped into another one opposite, waving over the bartender to order a round for both of us.
"Found out a few things," the Master said, when the man was gone. Nothing from his previews frustration seemed to be left, swiped away by an adventurous spark in his eyes, as if nothing had just happened. "'Bout those things I saw. Not sure it's connected, but there are rumours about weird stuff happening every once… uh… in a while."
He actually was drunk, I realized, amazed. Not just a little, like in the Viking village, but properly. His speech was slurring slightly and even his movements seemed a lot less coordinated than usual.
"So, you really can get drunk. Already thought you were bullshitting me."
The Master raised a brow, then grinned. "Didn't know they had ginger beer. And the Doctor wouldn't drink alone."
"And you wanted him to get drunk because…?" I couldn't help a small mischievous smile.
"'S fun!" He laughed. "You should've seen him try and dance."
I kept glaring at him, not sure if I really dared to ask. Or if I really wanted to know…. know what? What this cold feeling in my guts was? Why it made me feel anxious in a way I couldn't put into words? And at the same time it also felt like relief, because if this meant what I thought it did then maybe…
"'Bout the weird… uh, you know… stuff - rumours I mean," the Master drawled. "You wanted to hear 'bout'em, eh?"
"You hate the Doctor," I shot out instead.
I was met with a confused blink that was somewhat hilarious. The statement clearly had made him lose his train of thought and before either of us could come to any sense, I already blurted out the next stupid thing.
"Didn't know you were gay." I shrugged and took a sip of the beer that was just brought. It really was as weak as the bartender had told, but tasted nice and helped hiding my awkwardness.
"Huh?" The Master seemed even more confused now. "'M just a little drunk, not in a good mood."
"Noooo, that's not…" I sighed and glanced past him, not able to look him in the eyes. "You're… you know. You're into men. Sexually."
"So're you," he deadpanned, sounding hilariously puzzled. "Don't go and tell me that's weird to humans. You make no sense here, lil' lumin. How else would you reproduce?"
I grunted and rubbed two fingers over my eyelids. In the background someone started to sing a wistful tune to the piano's simple melody. The Master poked my head with his forefinger, making me open my eyes again to see an impish grin sitting on his face.
"No idea what you're going on about," he said, "What's gender got to do with all of this?"
I blinked at him, suddenly being the confused one. For a second at least. "It doesn't matter to Time Lords? In general?"
"That'd be weird. Stop being silly. And why's that more important than my mystery? There is stuff happening here, stupid."
I gnawed on my bottom lip and tried to hide behind the beer mug (it didn't work). He was right, I shouldn't ask dumb questions, especially not when I didn't even knew what for. What was I trying to find out anyway?
"I don't care about this," I grumbled eventually. "Why do you?"
"Have my reasons. Cheers." He winked at me and raised his mug to down its content in a few big gulps.
"Reasons… for everything you do?" My eyes kept glued to the table. "And if so, then what reasons? What's there to gain from…" Snogging the man you claim to hate? I swallowed and quickly took a few more sips.
It almost happened that I spilled the rest when the Master suddenly shot from his chair and sprang to my side to grab my shoulders. Surprised, I winced and wanted to get away, but couldn't struggle free. Instead of hurting me, however, the Master pulled me up and glared at me with narrowed eyes.
"Spit it out already. I'm done with your vague nonsense."
I shrunk together somewhat and turned my head away, mumbling, "I don't know. I… I just… I thought maybe you didn't…"
Strangely enough his look calmed. "What?" he demanded softly and laughed.
And then he grabbed my hip and my hand and pulled me flush against him with a wide grin, swaying to the piano tune in the back. I almost yelped in shock, but was then more busy not stepping on his feet, being the bad dancer I am.
Luckily he didn't move a lot and was busier holding me surprisingly close to himself. The warmth of his body engulfed me like a soft cloak, mixed with the music and the noises of the crowd, the scent of alcohol and cigar smoke, chasing away the fear and anxiety that had settled in me during the walk through the darkness. I hadn't even realized that it still clung to me, but now that it melted away, everything seemed silly and unimportant.
"What're you afraid of, lil' lumin?" the Master uttered into my ear.
"Dunno," I grumbled. "Don't really have words for it."
"Show me then."
I glanced up and found a reassuring smile on his lips. A warm expression I had never seen before.
An expression that let my fear spike in an instant, made me tense up and almost tear away. But the Master held onto me tightly and intertwined our fingers, letting his mind brush against mine, not yet slipping in. A shiver went down my spine, all my instinctive defences shot up, even though none of them probably were of any use.
"Wh… why don't you let me go?" It wasn't a question. This was me begging not to have to face myself.
"Because for once you're scared and I want to know why."
"I don't want to."
"Master, please…" I breathed out.
He giggled and dropped his head against mine, drew me closer into something that was almost a hug, yet didn't completely disrupt the slow dance. There was nothing intrusive about the gesture, only offering some warmth and safety. I could probably slip away and leave him there, drunk and weirdly confused. It felt as if he was hiding as much as I, was clinging to whatever he could grab to chase away the darkness inside of him.
"It scares me," my voice was just loud enough to be heard, "that it feels like this." For a brief second I looked him in the eyes and then hastily turned my head down again and let out a humourless laugh. "For a short second I thought… ugh… it's so stupid. I'm sorry. Just forget it."
I had thought, if he weren't into women, that I'd be safe. Safe from creating any kind of closeness that exceeded what I could cope with. Sure, he had assured me nothing of what he did meant anything, but it could still be a lie. And I…?
A scream disrupted my thoughts. Instantly the piano music stopped and the whole saloon drowned in a nerve-wracking silence.
The source of it had just entered the small wing doors, his hand holding a still smoking gun. To his feet lay the body of a young guy, a hole in his chest, eyes staring into emptiness.
And the only thing visible from underneath the stranger's hat was a wide, devilish grin.