x_losfic (x_losfic) wrote,
x_losfic
x_losfic

The Crane Wife: Chapter 1 of 7

Title: The Crane Wife
Chapter: One:Seven
Author: x_los
Rating: R
Pairing: Five/Ainley!Master
Summary: The Doctor, a half-human renegade Time Lord who's never so much as set foot on his father's home world, has had a really rotten day. As if dying weren't bad enough, now he's facing the auction block. The renegade Time Lord Emperor of Hestin makes an ill-starred impulse buy.
Beta: aralias, who this is, as a great many things are, also for.
A/N: Remember that best_enemies Cliche Challenge forever ago? This was started under its auspices. Slave!fic cliche ahoy!





The Crane Wife
Chapter 1

Sound the keening bell,
And see it's painted red.
Soft as fontenelle—
The feathers in the thread.
And all I ever meant to do was to keep you,
My crane wife.


—The Crane Wife No. 2, The Decemberists



“Are not the lines—by which I mean to suggest, the entire form—the very illustration of grace, my Lord?” The Thane of Glispywallop rapped his thin, ring-encrusted knuckles on the wood enthusiastically. The resulting metallic jangle made the Master’s jaw clench involuntarily. His ears were already over-taxed—the Thane had a voice like lumpy gravy that wanted sieving.

“The quintessence of elegance, Thane.” The Master’s lip quirked in private amusement. “And you have no any idea where it’s from.”

“No idea whatsoever,” the Thane admitted cheerfully. “The object was discovered in the marketplace this morning. Serendipity itself! Found art, my Lord! We have been calling it ‘Police Public Call Box,’ but perhaps ‘Untitled in wood and chipping paint’ would suit it better—it sounds so common, so much more approachable.”

“Indeed, Thane. One could never accuse you of pretension.”

Whatever it had chosen to disguise itself as, to the Master it was obvious that this ‘Police Public Call Box’ was a TARDIS of some description. It had made itself conspicuous to the populace by stubbornly remaining in a shape akin to nothing the Glispywallopians had seen before. Possibly its chameleon circuit was faulty. But what could a (possibly) broken TARDIS possibly be doing on Glispywallop, of all the wretched corners of the galaxy? Obviously the TARDIS’s pilot was still alive somewhere: if he weren’t his TARDIS would have departed for the graveyard of its kind, where the ships sang and screamed their loss to one another in static cackles and sizzling electric whimpers, rather than let itself be collected and exhibited by a dilettante art critic. The TARDIS could belong to another renegade, someone hiding out here on the fringes of his empire. Or perhaps it was the property of a CIA agent who’d come out to the spatial-temporal boondocks expressly to gather intelligence on him. The High Council conventionally took a laissez faire approach to his project, but the possibility still bore investigation.

“I wonder if you might be persuaded to part with the object.” The Master laid a palm on the wooden door. He felt swirling sentience stir beneath the grain in answer to his touch.

The large blue box was entirely incongruous in the Thane’s overly dainty salon. Really in taking it off his hands the Master would be saving him from a grave error of taste. People, the Master often felt, should thank him for using his good sense on their behalf, especially as most of them seemed to him to lack any of their own. The Thane, however, typically ungrateful, looked like a sulky dog deprived of a treat.

“I could hardly deny such a long-standing and important trading partner as yourself, my Lord Master—” The Thane cleared his throat and smiled hesitatingly. Someone of a more charitable disposition than the Master might have thought to call his manner coy, but even the very polite would have held the word in reserve for use in the description of someone more self-assured and significantly more fetching. “But isn’t there anything else—”

“Excellent.” The Master smiled toothily at him. “I’m delighted you elected to give me such a satisfactory present. I will take possession of it after our tour of your new commercial sector.”

The Thane of Glispywallop coddled his wounded dignity, reminding himself that his ancestors had been kings. They had conquered the dells of this land back when it was a wild place, and its name altogether harder to pronounce, with a great many more silent ‘t’s’ in the spelling. Likewise he reminded himself that the Master’s imperial treasury housed a truly obscene amount of money, trickling rivulets of which kept him in exciting new rings.

The Thane swallowed and gave his nearly-coy smile one last old college try. The warbling grin failed its classes, drunkenly lost its virginity to an uncaring cad, and slinked back home to the small corners of the Thane’s mouth in defeat. The heir of the ancient line of Glispywallop signed and resigned himself to acting as the Master’s delivery boy. “Shall I have it delivered to your craft, sir?”

“Oh no, that won’t be necessary,” the Master said. He planned to materialize around the stray TARDIS and carry it back, nestled within his own TARDIS like a matryoshka doll. The Master gave a sharp smile at the bewildered look on Glispywallop’s face. “I have my own methods, Thane.” What he didn’t have was any interest in explaining the techniques in question to a man with all the scientific acuity of a goldfish. “And I’m afraid my time is not infinite—shall we see how your people are getting along?”

The economic wellbeing of Glispiwallop, like that of all the planets that bordered his own empire, was a subject of no small concern to the Master. Failing economies bred dissent, and unstable environments were ripe breeding grounds and safe harbors for terrorist cells. These tended to be, not altogether unsurprisingly, unsympathetic to the Master’s regime. That was the trouble with running an empire: it didn’t take much in the way of training, intelligence or resources to attack such a large target, just a lack of anything better to do at the moment. The Master had invested generously in development projects that he hoped would keep this economy strong, the political situation stable, and the people of Glispywallop as deferential as their Thane.

He thought it prudent to check in occasionally to see that his money, and thus his far-flung sphere of influence, was being competently managed. It wouldn’t do at all for the local strongmen he supported to leave their underlings to starve and plot while the Master’s back was turned. Fortunately the Thane had too little imagination to be a truly bad man. He bought himself a few extra baubles with the Master’s stipend, but he didn’t really know what to do with any more of it. The Thane turned the rest over to his burghers, and the burghers had apparently decided it was high time Glispywallop develop its ancient market into something respectable.

The Thane held up a shiny hand—he favored gestures that emphasized the day’s carefully chosen combination of accessories. “Naturally Master. You’re a busy man, I quite understand.” This seemed to imply he, himself, was A Busy Man, and sympathized with the Master’s struggles.

The Master arched a cutting eyebrow at any such comparison, but let it pass. “No rest for the wicked,” he sighed self-indulgently, drawing on his black traveling cloak.

***

The Doctor’s day was going poorly. If he’d been asked to rate it on a scale of one to ten, if he’d been able to stay conscious long enough to comprehend the question, he’d have given it a solid negative eleven.

He’d died, for one, which was always enormously inconvenient. After that he’d crawled into his TARDIS to regenerate (good), but then he’d accidentally set the damn thing in flight and ended up at what looked to be, but probably was significantly more sinister than, a Renaissance Faire (bad). He’d staggered outside and remembered to lock the door behind him before slumping down against the TARDIS’s side (good, except for the undignified slump, which was probably very bad for his still-developing new regeneration’s posture). Passers-by offered him medical attention (and while he didn’t actually need a cold compress and a hot cup of something very like tea to help him through the agonies of regeneration sickness, it was still: very good!).

Unfortunately, it turned out they had only been so generous with their healthcare because they wanted to ginger him up and sell him into slavery. Apparently it was market day, and the slavers were trying to round up a particularly sizable amount of merchandise to impress some visiting dignitary. The prospect of being sold as chattel at auction was too vile to be safely ensconced in parentheses. This was all very bad indeed.

Still, the Doctor reflected brightly as he was dragged, squinting, into the sun, emerging from the covered wagon only to be plunged back into what looked very much like a holding tent, at least he’d found the time during his feverish regeneration trauma to change into these jaunty cricketing whites.

***

“The public auction is the highlight of the trade fair. The magic of commerce has already united cows with dairy merchants, thread with the ladies of the seamstresses' guild, lonely entrepreneurs far from home with the ladies and various assorted representatives of the other seamstress’s guild, and bric-à-brac with whoever it is that actually has a use for bric-à-brac. It sells quite well every fair, so I’ve always supposed there must be someone. Never gotten around to asking what they actually do with the stuff, though.”

The Master had to admit that the elected leader of the Council of Burghers gave an efficient tour. The man seemed aware that what was essentially an agricultural fair held little to no inherent interest for a technologically advanced off-worlder. The Council leader seemed to be actively trying to make this thinly-veiled inspection as painless as possible.

“The auction traditionally culminates in an offering of slaves.” The Burgher stopped at a large, smelly orange-red tent. He lifted up the flap for the Master to pass through ahead of him and looked back quizzically when the Master didn’t take him up on the invitation. “A problem, my lord?”

“I dislike slavery, Burgher Swivvy. It’s an inefficient economic system, and it inevitably breeds slave revolts, which fracture polities and destabilize whole regions. If I were the sort of man who indulged in morals I imagine I would find them affronted by such a tawdry public display of money being exchanged for sentient beings. Though I am not that sort of man, I find I’ve little interest in being shown around your reeking slave pens.”

“It is cultural, sir,” the Burgher rebuked his guest. The slave auction was the highlight of the fair. Burgher Swivvy couldn’t quite believe even an off-worlder could fail to appreciate that. He glanced around them at the various tradesmen loitering about waiting for the sale to begin and lowered his voice. “If people see you turn your nose up at the pens without even going in, they’ll think you know something they don’t. Within the hour they’ll all be telling each other that this whole lot’s rubbish. Traders won’t bid fair value for the goods, and the most profitable day of the year will be spoilt. Please, sir. Perhaps you’d submit to a tour of the merchandise before it goes on the block? It would be your special privilege, my Lord. A sneak peak?” Burgher Swivvy played to the Master’s (admittedly rather justified) sense of his own importance. With an aggrieved roll of his eyes the Master indulged his guide and entered.

“You!” A young blonde man in the first pen, who was sitting in a lump of straw and wearing clothing as out of place as it was anachronistic, pointed at the Master. “I know you, don’t I? Ah, no,” the young man corrected himself, “no, no, I’m sorry, I’m going to know you. I seem to be confusing the two today.” He quirked his head and squinted up at the Master. “You’re a good deal taller than you should be.”

“My height is much as ever it is,” the Master corrected the stranger, amused. You, however, are crouching in a bed of hay. It’s possible this isn’t a position you’re much accustomed to, which might account for your altered perspective.”

“Am I really?” The blonde man looked about him with an air of surprise and discovery, “am I indeed—ah, I see, yes. This is, indisputably, a bed of hay. Well. I’m the Doctor—” the man stood and swayed dramatically, catching himself on a tent pole with a last-second dive. This worked for a moment. He let go of the pole, very cautiously, and promptly pitched forward, careening dangerously at the Master, who had to catch the projectile stranger in his arms to keep from being bowled over. “You know you’re quite comfortable, actually,” the Doctor said, voice muffled because his mouth was pressed up against the fabric of the Master’s shoulder. “Are you wearing velvet? I don’t think I’ll be doing that this time around—it's difficult to clean, for one.”

“Tell me, are you suffering from regeneration sickness, Doctor?” The Master laid his leather gloved fingers against both fluttering pulse points in the man’s neck, then carefully pushed the other Gallifreyan back against the handy tent pole.

“Certainly not,” the Doctor, all hectic complexion and wild eyes, scanned the room for an escape. He made a feeble break for the door. The Master caught him with one hand and again guided him back to the pole.

“Only those Time Lord fellows get that,” the Doctor continued as if he hadn’t just tried to flop feebly off to freedom. “I, on the other hand, have a virulent case of Venusian bird flu. If I’m not released it’ll spread to everyone here, so you really should let me go. Please. Aside from that I’m perfectly alright.” The Doctor’s sulky defense had gotten quieter as it continued, and now he appeared to have fallen asleep against the wood support.

“You can’t want much for this one,” the Master said casually to Burgher Swivvy. “He’s raving mad and violently ill. He seems likely to fall off the stand and topple into the crowd at auction. I’d spare your auctioneer the trouble of presenting him and give you fifty drachbars for him now.”

“I’d hazard a guess we’d get a good deal more than that for him at an open auction,” Swivvy scoffed. “He’s rather pretty, if mentally negligent—but then in my experience no one’s ever yet bought a bedroom slave because they were attracted to his loquacious sanity.”

“I’ll give you seventy five, then,” the Master pressed, and then, when Swivvy opened his mouth to protest, “and I’ll throw in a reminder that I am your honored guest—one who has allowed himself to be persuaded to observe your repellent cultural traditions, Burgher.”

“Ah. Quite right, my Lord.” Swivvy smiled nervously. “Of course. If you like him, he’s yours for seventy five. Droit du seigneur and all that.”

***

When the Doctor woke up, he saw a woman in an unfamiliar uniform who was nonetheless unmistakably a nurse. She clucked sympathetically at him.

“There’s a love, you just drink some of the water on the bedside there. I’ll fetch you your soup. You can handle the pitcher? ‘Course you can.” She turned to the wall com. “Yer, would you tell his Lordship that the patient’s awake? Ta.” She turned back to the Doctor as if he’d been eagerly awaiting her news rather than rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “He’ll be with us in a moment then, dearie.”

“Excuse me, but may I ask who exactly will be?” The Doctor sat up with a slight wince. His muscles were dull from the lack of use occasioned by bed rest, but otherwise he felt hale and rested, as if he’d slept off his regeneration sickness entirely. Which was odd. Here he was in some hospital or other, but he felt sure he remembered having been at a fair of some kind.

“Who? Lord, you were out of it!” The woman shook her head in bemusement at him, but before she could refresh his memory the door was opening to admit a bearded man. The nurse nodded to him very deferentially and slid around him and out the door.

“The Doctor, was it?” The man settled in the chair the nurse had abandoned. He had a peculiarly penetrating, intense gaze. The Doctor stifled the impulse to squirm under it.

“You have me at a disadvantage, I’m afraid.” He gave the Master a small smile. The slight tilt of the head this involved caused a shock of blond hair to flop forward into his face. Annoyed, the Doctor brushed it aside. His last head of hair hadn’t given him this sort of trouble, or been nearly as likely to keep him from being taken seriously. Still, this was the sort of thing one had to adjust to with a new regeneration. At least this time he didn’t feel the slightest urge to take up a new musical instrument. “If it’s not too terribly cliché, could we go through the traditional questions?”

“Ah.” The other man had what seemed to be an almost-perpetual warm smirk. “I trust you refer to ‘where am I?’ ‘Who are you?’”

“The classics,” the Doctor agreed, “beloved of those recently restored to consciousness the universe over.”

“Mm. Well, in observance of tradition, Doctor,” he leaned back and gestured at the room around them, “you’re in the Imperial Palace on Hestin Prime. You occupy a portion thereof that I have had converted from an old Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue into additional living quarters, if you care to know. And if you’re attempting to identify a certain disquieting sensation of familiarity, it may help you to know that I am, like yourself, a Time Lord.”

“Ah,” the Doctor’s eyes flared with recognition. “Hestin Prime—you must be the Master. I know you by reputation, of course. This does save me the trouble of wondering whether you’re a CIA operative.”

“Is that something you wonder frequently?”

“If I ever ran into other Time Lords, then yes, I imagine it certainly would be. As it’s never happened before, I’ve never yet had cause to.”

The Master arched an eyebrow. “You’ve never met another Time Lord, and yet you claim to be one yourself?”

“Well, no—I have met my father.” The Master’s absolutely blank look made the Doctor draw a weary breath. “I’ll explain later.”

“Explain now, Doctor,” the Master corrected him. “Or do you have some urgent luncheon engagement?”

The Doctor opened his mouth, began to say something, paused with a glare because no one ever actually called him on that, and then obliged the Master. “My father was, well, something of a renegade. He took a TARDIS out on a routine scientific mission, faked his own demise in the Medusa Cascade—which, I’m told, happened often enough back then so as not to have been particularly suspicious—and retired to a quiet life on an inconspicuous M-class planet in the Milky Way galaxy sometime in the Rassilonate era. He certainly hadn’t planned to, but he ended up marrying a local woman.

“I’m the product of that marriage. When I reached a certain age my father told me the whole truth about the world he’d left. He offered to send me to live with relatives there, even though he’d have to expose himself as a renegade to do so. I appreciated my father’s reasons for leaving, however. And naturally I didn’t want to inconvenience my family. I asked that he educate me himself on Earth instead. Other than making a brief visit to an orbital space hanger for disused TARDISes to,” the Doctor coughed, “collect my Type 40, I’ve been nowhere near the planet. I’ve never so much as been introduced to another Gallifreyan. Until now, of course.” He smiled at the Master, boyish and charming. “Delighted to make your acquaintance.”

“Likewise.” The Master grinned. “You know, Doctor, your origins are extraordinary—I’ve never met a Time Lord born or reared outside the Citadel.” The Master leaned back, watching the Doctor over his laced fingers. “And I suppose the CIA doesn’t even track you as a renegade—”

“Because they’ve no idea I exist? That’s right,” the Doctor agreed briskly, then changed the subject. “I’m incredibly obliged to you for rescuing me from that auction. I could never have made a respectable servant. I’d only have been blackballed in the Junior Ganymede ballot, and I don’t know whether I could have borne the snub.”

The Master waved a dismissive hand, not wanting to admit to not having understood what had sounded like a joke. “Not at all, Doctor.”

“I don’t suppose you know what became of my TARDIS?” The Doctor gave him a hopeful look. “It would have been large, blue and wooden at the time—at any time, actually. The chameleon circuit’s broken, I’ve been meaning to fix it. Reads ‘Police Public Call Box’ across the top?” The Doctor’s expression was genuine, endearingly earnest. The Master was almost tempted to tell him the truth.

“There’s no trace of a TARDIS anywhere on the revolting world I found you on,” he said, which wasn’t strictly a lie: the Doctor’s TARDIS wasn’t anywhere near Glispywallop, now. It was still inside the Master’s, the location of which, when he wasn’t using it, was a matter of Imperial state secret. The Master always wanted her somewhere discrete, well-protected and yet close at hand in case of emergencies. The capsule was currently disguised as his bedroom closet. If one pushed past the dark, plush capes and jackets and they’d find, to their great surprise, a sleek console room, vast and otherworldly.

“Oh.” The Doctor’s eyes (blue, the Master observed almost without noticing he did it, very blue indeed—a striking—what would you call that? Wedgwood? No, he corrected himself, they were darker than that—more of a cobalt shade) dropped in disappointment. Then, with some decision, the Doctor slung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. “The poor girl must have wandered off. She does that from time to time—getting on in years, you see. Well. I must be off. I’ve a TARDIS to find. Thank you very much for—”

“Off, Doctor?” the Master inquired politely, lazy in his low chair. He should have moved his legs to let the Doctor pass, but he didn’t.

The Doctor frowned at him. “As I said, I’m delighted to have been saved from slavery—”

“Ah,” the Master arched an eyebrow. “I see. You do not understand your position, Doctor. I’ve bought you.”

Excuse me?” The Doctor goggled at him. “You’ve bought me?”

“For seventy five drachbars. You’re now mine to do with as I please.” The Master chuckled. “You have been somewhat naïve, haven’t you?”

“Seventy five drachbars? What’s that, roughly the price of a small wagon?” The Doctor’s voice had gone squeaky with indignation. Not that it was important, but he might’ve hoped to be thought worth at least as much as a cottage or something. The Doctor swallowed, eyes widening slightly. “And what exactly am I supposed to be doing to earn my keep?”

The Master, of whom he’d heard nothing but the most appalling rumors, had a tight, vicious smile. It seemed a product of unfathomable sources of private amusement. Something in it made the Doctor’s breath catch in his throat, his stomach tighten. “Tell me, Doctor,” the Master eyed him up and down, his gaze frank and infuriatingly proprietary, “how are you in the laboratory?”

It wasn’t quite the question the Doctor expected. His eyes narrowed. “If it’s about the money, I assure you, I can buy my liberty—”

“Oh, I’m far more interested in your mind than your monetary resources, Doctor.” People generally find declarations that someone isn’t just in their bedroom because they’re after money flattering, but, difficult as ever, the Doctor only winced. “Besides,” the Master smirked, “what else can one really accomplish with seventy five drachbars? I’m not currently in the market for a wagon, small or otherwise.”

“Master,” the Doctor sat down on the bed again, facing the other man at eye level. “We’re both Time Lords. From what I know of our people, we’re culturally far beyond this nonsense. Surely there’s some way to convince you to be reasonable about this situation?”

The Master interlaced his fingers in his lap. “I’m being entirely reasonable,” he said coolly. “I’ve acquired another Time Lord to work under me at bargain price. Surely it would be unreasonable of me to throw back such a catch. And I must warn you, Doctor, I won’t tolerate a poor performance from you. Any attempt to sabotage my work through mediocrity will be met with the direst consequences.”

The Doctor gaped at him, managing simultaneous incredulity, righteous indignation and rage. Splashes of red stood out on his fever-pale cheeks, striking as wine stains on a table cloth. “What’s this then, ‘Good work, sleep well, I'll most likely kill you in the morning’?”

The Master raised an eyebrow at the indecipherable reference, stood, and adjusted his gloves before turning to go out. “Pleasant dreams, Doctor.”
Tags: fanfiction, five/master, i crack naturally, the crane wife
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