Of course, he says he won’t teach her at that moment. Thus the Domina and the Magister have their first contest of wills not over some fundamental aspect of personal integrity, but over the truly universe-shattering topics of sandwiches and sleep. He says that’s enough for the day, no lessons, and recommends that she eat something for local lunch time and then rest. She concedes that her stomach is growling, so she silences it with a sandwich, but she insists that she has plenty of stamina to continue. He counters that he has noticed that her endurance has been limited in recent weeks; they have just been through some extensive negotiations, and any more would overwork her. She tells him not to presume that he knows her limits better than she. He says that his conclusion is no presumption, but an educated guess based on his observation. Swearing follows on her part and a lot of squinchy eyebrow maneuvers on his.
After about fifteen minutes of this, he holds up his hands. “You act as if I am telling you what to do solely to infuriate you, which, I assure you, is not my object. I am giving you an order because I think that you would benefit from following it. If you disbelieve me, then obviously I cannot make you do otherwise, but this ridiculous discussion is over. Stay awake -- go to sleep -- do what you will. In any event, I will be ready to talk to you tomorrow morning and not before. If you are ready then, come to me in the library after you eat breakfast. If you are not, then do not, and we will make other arrangements.” He takes his leave of her with half a bow, then turns an exact half-circle on his heel and leaves before she has a chance to say a word.
Of course, Alison’s inner ear chooses just that moment to betray her and side with the Magister by completely cocking up her balance. Though she has just eaten, she feels air-headed, as if from hunger, and her legs shake. While she can’t yet claim a headache, the base of her skull definitely feels funny, like she’s suddenly aware of it and it might do something painful at any moment.
“Oh, fuck you,” she tells the useless meat inside her head. “You were doing so well!” She jams some sort of TARDIS-made casserole into her digestive tract, along with a pint of milk and several painkillers, and doesn’t even make it to bed before curling up in a chair in her favorite atrium and crashing into a hard, deep sleep, surrounded by cats.
The next morning, finally functional once more, Alison pries herself from the chair where she has slept for about eighteen hours. She has got to stop flopping over like this -- her hair is frazzling out of its rows. She subdues it under a yellow scarf of raw silk, then washes her face, eats breakfast, thinks about it, eats some more breakfast just to prevent mid-morning dizziness, brushes her teeth, changes her clothes, and washes up a bit. Finally, after doing all those boring necessities, she runs off to the library to do exciting stuff.
She comes across the Magister, hunched over at a table, working in a bloom of light beneath a flower lamp. She holds her breath and peers around his back. He holds a wickedly pointed scalpel in one hand. In his other hand is a round thing, the size of the inner circle made by Alison’s thumb and forefinger. It’s a miniature head.
He sculpts with loose, strong lines, a caricature without detail, yet the likeness is instantly recognizable. The long face with high and hollowed cheeks, the narrow eyes deep in the skull, fixed on some dream far away, the peaked eyebrows in impressively high arcs, the thin mouth open wide in soliloquy… “Oh my God, you’re making the Doctor!” And this is not the cruel Doctor, but the marvelous, brilliant Doctor, stagey, playful, and kind, who saves the world by singing a song. This is the one that Alison first saw and the one that the Magister loves.
Her exclamation startles the Magister, and he lets the knife slip. The blade goes directly through his glove as if it’s not there, sinking deeply enough into the foundation of his thumb that it just sticks there, handle vibrating. “Mmmph,” he remarks, the sort of sound one makes when one’s shoelace comes loose again.
“I’m so sorry!” Alison cries.
“Yes,” the Magister says, acknowledging her apology, “but, Domina, look -- there’s no need to be frightened.” She watches with bugging eyes as he yanks the knife out of his hand, and...nothing happens. No blood, no nothing.
He removes his glove with quick tugs on each of the finger ends. Much to her relief, he exposes no robotic skeleton, but only his hand. Like the rest of him, it’s a warm brown as of old formal portraits, but possessed of a slight translucency, like high-end doll resin. She is reminded of those expensive ball-jointed dolls that she has long coveted, but never made enough to own. With their big eyes and glowing skin, they look expressive enough to be alive, but their symmetry and stillness render them eldritch. “Shit -- I’m staring,” Alison mutters, ducking her head.
“You are permitted. I would rather have you stare at me than look away,” he says. Realizing that he’s not angry at her, Alison tentatively returns to the strange sight of his non-biological integument. She sits at his left side, glad that, for once, he’s not running laps in front of her.
“I’m not bleeding, as you can see,” he says, showing her his palm, the skin marred only by a narrow slit where the blade entered. “I have a much higher tolerance for pain than I ever did, and this sort of damage to the plastic will self-repair easily without any interference from the Doctor.” He flexes his fingers open and closed a few times, demonstrating no ill effects from his impalement. Then he draws on his glove quickly, putting the head and the knife away. “There are many reasons why I might scare you, but my fragility should not be one.”
If he wanted to show her that he was more impregnable than flesh, he failed. She remembers more how easily, how neatly, and how far the blade went into his palm. He showed her then that he was vulnerable. In other words, he has demonstrated that he trusts her very much, though she hasn’t really done anything to earn it. And that’s my first lesson, she thinks. He’d better not expect some sort of dramatic submissive display in return. “Yeah, that’s impressive, all right, but just so you know -- I don’t do knife play, and blood is a hard limit for me.”
“Knife play? Hard limit?” he repeats. “Are these technical terms?”
“Well, sort of,” Alison says. He has a quick comprehension and intuitive application of the rules of bdsm, so she sometimes forgets that he doesn’t know the vocabulary. “Knife play is just what it says on the tin -- activities involving blades, bloodshed strictly optional and only then under certain very specifc, sanitary conditions. And there are two kinds of limits. A hard limit is a non-negotiable boundary, something we agree beforehand never to do or something where we we call tace and say never to do it again. A soft limit is more flexible; you can push it if you agree on the parameters beforehand.”
“A useful distinction indeed. So a hard limit is one of those boundaries that we have given each other for it which would be a violation to cross. Meanwhile, a soft one could be an opportunity for experimentation -- in a carefully controlled environment, of course. And who taught you that, may I ask?” He turns partially sideways in his chair, hooking one arm over the back.
“Let’s just say it wasn’t my Latin teacher,” Alison says, mirroring his posturing and giving him a wry smirk.
Alison knows that, at some point, he will realize that she’s drawing on established kinky protocols, after which will follow some sort of educational discussion. But right now they’re both vying for the coveted title of Control Freak of the Universe, though, of course, they wouldn’t admit that. And one of Alison’s key advantages is that she knows kink, and the Magister, as experienced as he is in many other realms, does not. She’s going to retain her secret as long as she can because the possession of a hidden power reserve just makes her more dauntless.
“In any event, please rest assured that I most emphatically share your limits on blades and blood.” He doesn’t pursue the question of the source of her information, seemingly more interested in practice over theory.
Hurray -- she can claim her advantage for a while yet. “Cool.” Alison nods, but she’s disappointed that he, being annoyingly literal sometimes, totally missed her attempt at humor. He does need to learn this stuff, though.
“I have no interest in any of that with you,” he goes on. “You will much better serve me by learning from me and being my good Domina. If you stab yourself, I’ll only have a miserable mistress and a mess all over my suit.”
Alison snorts. “Yeah, and God forbid you ever get anything on your clothes! What if you get tomato sauce on your cuffs or something?”
“I incinerate them,” he says, completely deadpan.
Alison, who has often sprinted from the table in the middle of a meal to apply a cold water soak to a splattered shirt, can’t really tell if he’s joking. “Nice. Is that what Time Lords do instead of using bleach pens? What about cat hair? Do you have lint rollers in every room?”
“I have long since conceded defeat in the battle against cat hair,” he says airily, as some of it drifts through the beams of Keplershine and settles on his shoulders.
“Yeah, well, it’s the price of cat ownership.” Alison slides down in her chair to a comfortable angle, stretching her legs straight in front of her.
“Really? When have you ever owned a cat, Domina carissima?”
“When I was a kid, we had Florrie, who, I swear, loved me like a dog. She’d run to meet me halfway up the street when I was walking home from school and then trot home besides me, telling me all about her day. She always answered to her name, and she’d fetch wads of newspaper. She’d even follow me into the bathroom and sit on the toilet when I took a shower to make sure that I didn’t wash down the drain or something. I’m pretty sure I owned her.”
He chuckles. “The rare and selfless devotion of the toilet guardian. It is to be envied.”
“Have you had cats -- or do you have cats?”
“I should rather say that certain felines condescend to associate with me on occasion and even use me as cat furniture.” Yesterday the Magister might have been an exhausted Grim Reaper, haunted and melancholy, but now he’s completely, fully, wonderfully alive. The incident with the scapel may have proven how artificial his robotic frame is, but that detracts nothing from the genuine enjoyment drawn in the open, relaxed lines of his posture and his face. His right eyebrow takes a high curve, balancing out the partial smirk creasing the left side of his face. The evil alien robot appears to be having fun -- at no one’s expense except his own.
Alison avoided the Magister until now in part because she thought that he was a miserable, evil control freak who would dump on her the sharp derision that he launches regularly at the Doctor. Now she recognizes that he is indeed all those things, but he has no interest in taking any of that out on her. Even if this attempt at mutual voluntary obedience goes nowhere, at least the Magister will stay out of her head and behave with reasonable politeness, and that’s more than she can say for the Doctor. “You have a sense of humor!” she exclaims.
“As do you.” He gives her that look that he did when he saw her with her dolls and called her an artifex. In other words, they share an interest, and this both surprises and delights him. Maybe he likes her or something? “And now that we have concluded our observation of the obvious, shall we begin lessons?” he says.