"Christmas?" I let out a groan. "You've travelled through time and space and all you can come up with is that?"
In the back I heard the Master snicker and saw the Doctor's face fall.
"Why not? You loved the Yule fest and it's almost the same." He visibly pouted at the last words.
"If you consider that the Christians stole all those traditions and didn't even bother altering them much…" I shrugged and grinned. "Well… the kids might like it."
"I wasn't planning on including any religious parts," he mumbled stubbornly, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "Just decorating a little, having an amazing diner and, of course, presents for everyone."
"I take the food. But as for the rest-" The Master let his neck crack, wearing a sinister smile- "I'm definitely out."
I grumbled a little, but then nodded. "Well… I won't ever say no to good food. And I love decorations. The presents would be a bit much, though. Those are quite a lot of children."
"Mhmm… yeeeah, maybe you're right," the Doctor agreed, pursing his lips. "But the rest would be fun, yes? Doing this all on my own would be boring."
"Not to mention that you would burn down the TARDIS in your vain attempt to cook something edible," the Master sneered.
The Doctor snorted indignantly, ripped one hand out of his pocket and waved towards the door. "Then go on. Do it better if you're so snooty. I would have simply let the TARDIS make-"
"You what?" called the Master. "The food is the only good thing about this stupid ape tradition. You can't have it be fabricated. Are you nuts, Doctor?"
The two glared at each other and I had a hard time not laughing. Or telling them that they were bickering like an old married couple. I did have an idea, though.
"I bet you know some really great recipes," I wondered aloud, looking at the Master. "With all the planet's you've been on already…"
"You bet I do," he commented and sprang to his feet. "Two days. Give me two days for preparations and… Doctor?"
"We need to stock up on a few ingredients. Meaning you can actually be useful for once and bring me to the places where I can get them."
"Uhhhhh… Weeeell, yes? I guess so. Just let me kno-"
"Wonderful!" The Master smacked his hands together and winked at me. "Consider this challenge won already."
Since we were doing this, I decided to participate and bake some cookies for everyone. It was the least I could do and I loved them.
Halfway through the process I had the Doctor join me, doing his best to ramble on about recipes from different times and places. Some of which sounded downright disgusting. But he was fascinated by them anyway.
"And that's-" he dipped a finger into the molten caramel and made a delighted face as he stuffed it into his mouth- "was how I saved the queen of the autumn equinox on kelfrem. With nothing but chocolate chip cookies."
"You completely made that up," came a sneering voice from the door. We both looked up to see the Master enter. His eyes wandered over the scene. Me, with cookie cutters in hand, some of my creations already in the oven, the Doctor, perched upon the counter, swinging his legs like an impatient child. "It's a fascinatingly bad idea to have that one in any proximity while baking." The Master continued, grinning. "He'll blow up the entire TARDIS if you leave him alone long enough."
"Oi, that's absolutely untrue, Master!" The Doctor called out and jumped from the counter, fists stemmed into his hips. "I'm a great cook."
"Certainly not in this regeneration," mumbled the Master, lips curled to a mean smirk. "I bet you wouldn't even recognize the difference between something good and something utterly burned and destroyed."
The other man made a bunch of incredulous faces, unable to find words to defend himself. I actually had to laugh at that, because I, indeed, had made sure the Doctor would stay away from any step of the process that could end up ruining my work. He was allowed to cut out the dough. And that's it.
"Why are you even in here?" I wondered, poking one of the already baked cookies to test if their temperature had reached edible.
"I smelled something nice," was alle the Master answered, as if that were obvious.
"And now you think I'd give you some?" I asked, arching a brow.
"I cut out a bunch!" the Doctor told proudly, holding one up that looked a bit crooked. "The recipe is awesome! Lucy put lots of extra vanilla into it!" He closed his eyes and chewed with a smile.
It made me happy to see he enjoyed them so much and I tossed a side glance at the Master, secretly hoping he would like them, too. The look on his face, however, showed disgust. His nose was wrinkled and his lips pursed as he watched his fellow Time Lord munching the next cookie.
"Try one," the Doctor said, holding out a handful of the cookies.
The answer came so immediate that an inappropriate pang of whatever negative emotion I couldn't name went through my chest. Maybe it was sadness, maybe disappointment. Maybe something else entirely. All I knew was that it felt bad to have him reject the pastry with such venom in his behaviour.
"How's the Christmas dinner going?" asked the Doctor, mirth in his voice, as if he awaited his counterpart to fail miserably.
The Master, however, smirked, satisfied. "I'm sure you'll all be delighted by it. For once the TARDIS is actually quite helpful with the ingredients. And it's certainly going to be more spectacular than those…" he nodded at the pastry. "...things."
"Now, don't be unfair. The simple things in life are what makes it special."
"You mean boring?"
"Not at all. It's the opposite of boring."
"You would know," grumbled the Master, rolling his eyes.
The Doctor stuffed another baked star into his mouth. Then snatched a bit of flour from a bowl and tossed it at the Master. He tried to evade, but stood too close.
"That's your kind of fun?" he grumbled. Something dark crossed his eyes, but there was also a smile. And suddenly he shot forward and grabbed a fistful himself, rubbing it all over the Doctor's precious hair.
"Hey, stop playing with food you idiots," I called out, trying to get my ingredients to safety.
But they didn't listen. The Doctor tried to push the other one away and eventually succeeded, laughing so much he almost dropped the few cookies he still held in his other hand.
The Master was grinning himself, white dusted and tousled. He leaned forward and took the endangered pastry, sticking one into the Doctor's mouth to shut him up. And then, after a short moment of consideration, swiftly leaned forward to bite off the other end of it.
"Not so bad, you were right," commented the Master, as if nothing at all had happened. "I'll definitely nick a few more."
The Doctor almost choked on his end of the cookie, but still managed to swallow it somehow. "It… it's time to check on the children," he decided, very suddenly. "You… two will get along, I presume."
And with that he stormed out of the kitchen, leaving us in stunned silence. I eventually ended it by breaking out into a laugh, barely stifling it with my fist.
"I think," I brought out between giggles, "you either need to be more subtle… or a lot more bold with him."
The Master only stared at me with a scowl and a look that was able to burn a hole right through me, while he dusted himself off. But I didn't mind.
"No idea what you mean," he grumbled darkly, munching another cookie. "Only wanted to annoy him. And that worked extraordinarily well, as you could see."
"Yeeeeah, right," I drawled, smiling. "Maybe you should get the Doctor drunk again. Seemed to work the last time you tried to snog him."
If it weren't for our deal, I would have probably been killed that very second, judging by the broodingly dark look I received from the Master. But then, all of a sudden, the frown turned into a grin, one of the mocking kind.
"Jealouls, little one?"
"Wha-haaat?" I giggled and shook my head. "Why would I?"
The Master shrugged and stepped closer. "Maybe you want me all for yourself."
"Nope," I deadpanned and donned some oven mittens to take out the next plate with fresh cookies. Carefully I placed them on the counter, next to the shrunken pile of the previously made ones. "I'm glad to have my peace and quiet."
I tossed him a glance and started to spread a fresh collection of raw dough on the plate. This conversation was certainly headed in a weird direction all of a sudden. I didn't even know what the proper answer would be. I definitely enjoyed abusing him for cuddles, no doubt about that. But anything else? It confused me a lot more than I wanted to admit. Even after we had come to an agreement.
I winced when the Master was right next to me all of a sudden. His hand on my chin forced me to look up at him, making me unable to turn away. "I can sense if you lie," he said darkly.
"Then you should know that I don't," I retorted with a scowl and tried to push him away.
"Really now?" A grin spread on his face and he leaned down to my eye level, however, still frustratingly far away. "I know you want more than you care to admit. You'd take more, would I let you, wouldn't you?"
Images of the cave flashed through my mind, of those moments of shared almost-intimacy, the few kisses before that, the way it felt when our minds were connected…
And still, I only huffed and gave him a smile that might have looked cruel, be it only because it was taunting myself. "I am able to respect other people," I said, dripping venom that had no real direction. Maybe it was for him, maybe it was for me. "You can't stand humans. Told me often enough. I get it."
His eyes narrowed and his grip on my chin softened just enough so I could look down again. "And what makes you think I would want him, of all people? We're enemies, polar opposites. There is no way… no… absolutely not!"
"It's so obvious, even I can see it," I remarked, smiling softly. "I'm just afraid that I can't be of help with that." I grimaced and shrugged, finally freed of his grip. "I'm terrible at this sort of stuff."
The Master glared at me for a bit, then let out a huff and shook his head. "Yeah, I see that."
He snatched away some more of the cookies and vanished from the kitchen, leaving me there, alone with too many thoughts and a beeping oven.
For a while the two Time Lords were nowhere to be found. Instead, there was a bunch of crates with Christmas decorations, half unpacked, clumsily hung over one jump seat already.
I decided to busy myself with decorating and was soon joined by a few of the younger children, who were happy to suggest the funniest place to hide a little star or a light.
"And when you're sad one day-" one little girl told with a stern face and a posture that was very much impressive. At least that was what she probably aimed at and so I kept myself from grinning. "-or lonely, then you find that hidden little star and you remember us and then you smile again," she finished, visibly proud of herself.
I pretended to think about it and nodded slowly. "Yes. That is a very good idea indeed. Good job on thinking that up."
The girl dropped her pose and squealed happily, running to the nearest crate to sink both arms into the pile of decorations and fish out the tiniest stars she could find there.
I giggled at seeing so much joy and thought about hiding something myself. Or rather strategically placing it around the console room. There had been a bunch of mistletoes in those crates, freshly cut and still green.
Somehow I couldn't stop thinking about that the Master, obviously, had a thing for the Doctor. Once realized it was hard to overlook, even for me, who had no idea what to even look out for.
It was there. It explained so horribly much about everything I had witnessed and was so extraordinarily chaotic that I could hardly put words to it.
Time Lords probably saw everything about romance, intimacy and everything else around both things quite differently than we humans did. It was impossible to tell what either of them even wanted. Or expected. If anything at all. But chasing one another through time and space for centuries, harming, rescuing, imprisoning one or the other time and time again, pushing and pulling, approaching and retreating. It was more like an eternal dance, rather than a game.
And now that I had a promise not to be left alone, not to be abandoned and forgotten, I also had no fear anymore they might throw me out. No matter if they created a world for themselves. No matter if I'd still have a place in it.
My existence finally served some purpose.
And that was all I needed.