Summary: The Seventh Doctor and Ace go to a party. Of course it's not just a party.
Notes: Written for Heimeldat
"Wow." Ace glanced around the massive ballroom, taking it all in.
It was gold-themed, with a gold painted ceiling and two huge gold chandeliers, equally spaced along the room's length. On one side of the room was a string quartet on a stage, playing a tune she didn't recognise. In front of the stage was the dance floor full of dancers dressed in ball gowns and dinner jackets, and dancing like they were in a Jane Austen period drama. The other side of the room held a long table full of buffet food. The sight of it made her stomach rumble. Although she didn't recognise any of the food, she was absolutely willing to try it.
"This is not just any old party."
"I said it was a ball," the Doctor said, from his position beside Ace. He was dressed in his usual outfit, but somehow didn't stand out.
Having seen the other people here she was glad she'd changed. The top hat and tails she'd found in the wardrobe room helped her blend in, although she was already regretting the hat. She wondered if the Doctor would notice if she 'accidentally' lost it by taking it off and forgetting to put it back on again.
"Why are we here?" She'd asked this question before and was hoping for the truth this time.
But he gave the same answer as he had before. "To go to a ball. Have fun."
She rolled her eyes. But she would find out what he was up to. However, first there was a buffet to investigate. She gave him a little wave and headed over to it.
Once there, she left her hat at one end of the table and picked up a plate. A perusal of the treats on offer gave her no clues as to what they were. At random she picked up something that looked like a cross between broccoli and bacon. When she tried it she discovered it was sweet. "I like it," she said to herself.
"It's my favourite too."
She turned to her left, to the source of the voice. There she found a shy-looking girl about the same age as her, wearing a big, pink ballgown and blonde hair in ringlets. "I'm Ella," she said.
"Ace." She smiled. "What else do you recommend?"
Ella either didn't notice or didn't care that Ace was unfamiliar with the food, but pointed out a few things, which Ace added to her plate. "They always have the best food at these balls." She sighed.
"Have you been to many?" Ace asked,
"Oh, heaps," Ella said, enthusiastically. "There's one nearly every week."
Ace's eyes widened. "Wow."
"Everyone here is looking for a husband." Ella made a face, which Ace matched. "Husbands are like families, it's just someone else telling you what to do."
That sounded broadly similar to what Ace had seen of her friends' parents, which didn't make marriage an appealing prospect. She made a sound of agreement.
"I just want to be free," Ella said, with a sigh.
"I wanted the same thing as you did, once," Ace admitted.
"What happened?" Ella asked, wide-eyed.
It didn't seem like the place to tell the whole story, and it wasn't as if the time storm had led to freedom exactly. So she cut that bit out and said, "I met the Doctor. Now we travel together."
"That sounds like fun." Ella sighed. "I've never even been outside of this town." She frowned. "What is it?" She'd seen Ace's expression change and now she turned to see what Ace could.
There was a boy who had approached them. He was wearing a gold crown with jewels embedded in it.
Ella curtsied and Ace managed something that could be considered a bob herself.
Not that the boy was paying Ace any attention. He held out a hand to Ella, asking, "Would you like a dance?"
Ella said, "I'd love to, my prince," without much enthusiasm.
As they headed to the dance floor, Ella glanced over her shoulder with a helpless expression in Ace's direction.
Ace shrugged. A dance with a prince wasn't the end of the world and she was sure Ella could get out of if she put some effort into it. She was acting like she was helpless, but there was something about her that told Ace she wasn't.
While Ella danced, Ace took the opportunity to eat a decent, if experimental meal, while watching the dancing. Everyone else knew the steps, so she was glad no one asked her to dance.
She couldn't see the Doctor anywhere. No doubt he was up to something. He'd said before that parties weren't really his thing, yet he'd been determined to come to this one. She hoped to find out what he was up to before he got himself into too much trouble.
When Ella returned to Ace after two dances Ace was full and Ella was breathless. While Ella filled a glass of punch, Ace asked, "Is dancing with the prince really that bad?
"No," Ella admitted, and had a long drink from her glass. "I like dancing and the prince is handsome, but if I have to marry I don't want it to be to anyone royal. They're constantly scrutinised. Being married to him would be like being in captivity at the zoo.
Ace made a sound of agreement. Ella had a point there.
"And the prince only came here recently. He was a long-lost son or something. He still doesn't know all our customs: I had to lead him in those dances!"
"Oh, really?" Ace perked up, hoping for more information. Maybe he was the reason they were here.
"And the whole royal family changed once he was arrived. It was all very sudden."
That clinched it. But where was the Doctor and what was he doing? He wasn't watching the prince, although perhaps he meant Ace to. He hadn't said anything, but it would be like him to expect her to find that information out for herself.
She resolved to keep her eye on him throughout the night. But not dance with him. That would be a disaster with neither of them knowing what they were doing. Unless the Doctor meant her to do that to expose him. No, if he'd wanted her to dance he'd have said so, even if it was just a hint.
Ace sighed. The Doctor did like to make things hard.
What caught her attention and turned her thoughts away from the Doctor was Ella slipping her shoes off. They were high healed and looked clear until the light hit them. Then they shone rainbow colours, like a stained glass window.
"I'd love some shoes like yours." Ella sighed, looking down at Ace's boots. "These are uncomfortable after a few hours."
"They're nothing special." They were really scuffed as well, Ace noticed. Her mum would have complained about that and told her to shine them, but the Doctor didn't care.
"Can I try? I think we're the same size." Ella was looking at Ace with wide, innocent eyes. "You can try mine, if you like."
Ella's shoes looked uncomfortable after a few seconds, never mind hours, but it didn't look like the prince was going anywhere, so neither was Ace. "All right, then." She unlaced her boots and kicked them off.
She picked up one of Ella's shoes, wondering how it sparkled so much. It definitely wasn't something she'd wear out of choice, but she was curious about how it would feel to be a few inches taller.
She slipped her foot into one. And because it was then hard to balance, she put the other one on too.
By this time Ella had laced Ace's boots and had stood up to admire them. At least they offset that terrible dress. "I don't get to choose my dress or shoes," Ella said with a sigh. "Your life must be so much more fun. Seeing lots of places, doing whatever you want, wearing whatever you want."
"There's a lot of running away from people trying to kill us too." There was something in Ella's expression that made Ace worry. Maybe it was merely jealousy, which Ace wasn't used to. But maybe she was imagining it while being distracted by the shoes. They weren't too bad if she kept still, but if she tried to move she thought she'd fall.
"I'm sure it's not that bad." Ella sighed again. "I wish I could be you."
There was something in Ella's tone that Ace didn't like. But before she could say anything a grandfather clock chimed nearby and Ella gasped.
"Midnight! I have to go." She pinched her dress on either side to lifted it off the floor and ran across the ballroom.
"Wait!" Ace tried to take a step, but wobbled. She bent to take the shoes off, but they wouldn't budge. They were melded to her skin. "What did you do to me?"
Forget the shoes, she needed to find Ella. She ran after her, but it was really more of a hobble.
Ella headed out of the ballroom and Ace followed, but there was a small flight of steps leading to the ground. While Ella had been able to easily run down them, Ace tripped at the top. She went tumbling down the stairs. Although she put her hands out to catch herself, that was the last things she remembered.
When she woke it was in a bed that wasn't hers. And she was still wearing the shoes.
An experimental wiggle told her they weren't coming off. She groaned, feeling bruised from her fall.
A rustling sound coming from the corner abruptly stopped and a girl came over to the bed. She was blonde, like Ella, but that was where their resemblance ended. She was holding something behind her back and Ace thought she saw it sparkle. "Oh, good you're awake. Everyone thinks you're Ella. You have to get to work, they'll be waiting for you."
Ace watched her leave up a flight of concrete stairs.
Ace sat up and looked around the room. The small windows near the top of the wall told her she was in a basement, if she hadn't already guessed from the gloom and the smell of damp.
"Ella!" came a female voice from above. "You're late lighting the fires!"
Curious, Ace sat up and eased herself out of bed, her suit wrinkled from sleeping in it. Going up stairs was easier than down, she found, but she still did it carefully. When she reached the top she found a woman standing there, arms folded. She bore a strong resemblance to the girl who'd been in the basement.
"Finally! Get to work, you lazy girl."
Ace wasn't sure where to go, but she found her arm being grabbed by another girl, clearly the sister of the first girl. Ace struggled, but nearly overbalanced and had to submit to being pulled into a room.
It was a large, chilly living room, with a few comfortable chairs around a fireplace. The girl had pushed her inside, rather than coming in with her. It was empty, so Ace tried the windows, but found they were all locked.
Unfortunately she hadn't been able to fit any Nitro 9 in her pockets without the Doctor noticing. She resolved to find a way to store it in smaller quantities in smaller containers, should she ever find herself in a similar position in the future.
Now, though, she found matches on the mantelpiece, which she used to set light to the curtains.
When she went back out into the hall she grinned at the woman and girl who were still there. "Fire's lit."
They went to check, and then, in panicked voices, shouted "Fire!"
Ace ran for the front door and found it locked. But it had a glass panel that was big enough for her to get through and she had shoes with a heel that would surely break it. It took a running jump to get her foot high enough up at the right angle, but the glass broke easily.
Then she took off her jacket and wrapped it around her hand and arm as she removed the rest of the glass. And put it back on before climbing through the panel.
Hearing shouts behind her, she ran, which wasn't very fast in these shoes. Although she didn't know which way to go she could hear a crowd up ahead. Maybe she could lose herself in that.
The crowd, she found, were jeering at a balcony above, making disparaging remarks about the prince. "What did he do?" she asked the woman beside her.
"Terrible things," the woman said, shaking her head. "The prince isn't a prince at all. He came to steal the throne. Down with outsiders."
Maybe it was a good thing people thought she was Ella. But this was something she could be certain was to do with the Doctor. She edged around the crowd and found herself at the gates of the building. Beyond them she could see the Doctor. With Ella beside him.
"Professor!" she shouted as loud as she could.
He came over and opened the gate, letting her in. "Ah, Ace, there you are. Looking remarkably like someone else. Unlike this person, who looks like you." He glared at Ella.
Ella wilted in the face of that glare. "How did you know?" she asked sullenly.
"You called me Doctor," he said, to which Ace grinned.
"I only wanted a better life," Ella said. "And I did. I had fun! We got to unmask a prince and get him arrested!"
Ace hated that she'd missed that. "I think she's Cinderella," she said to the Doctor, who nodded in understanding. "But you lied to me," she said to Ella. "You said you go to balls all the time."
She hung her head. "I wanted you to like me. I don't have any friends."
"You have one," Ace pointed out. "The younger girl in the house. I think she's your fairy godmother."
"She gave me those shoes to get me away from the house," Ella said in a small voice. "But it's all right, it's not forever. They'll have fallen off after a day and then they'll have known you weren't me."
Ace wasn't at all sympathetic. Yes, Ella was treated awfully, but she'd still been happy to let someone else live that life for a day. "I've got you away from that house. Can I have my shoes back now?"
Ella said nothing for a moment, before sitting and removing her shoes.
Once they were off Ace felt hers shift and discovered she could remove them. She sighed with relief, finally able to stand with her feet flat again.
"What are you going to do with me?" Ella looked between Ace and the Doctor while Ace put her on boots back on.
"We can't just leave you here," Ace said slowly. She didn't want to take Ella with them, not after the way she'd acted. And yet she still felt sorry for the other girl. "We can't let you keep those shoes either." She darted down to grab them before Ella could. "We need to call the NSPCC," she concluded. "Or whatever the equivalent is here."
"I believe," the Doctor said, "that's the king. And since he's grateful to me for freeing him from the hypnosis he was put under, he owes me a favour."
Ace grinned. "Time for an audience with the king."
And after they'd spoken to the king everyone lived happily ever after.
Except Ace when they returned to the TARDIS and realised what she'd forgotten. "Professor, I've lost the top hat."
"Ace," he said in a long-suffering tone. "Haven't you learnt anything about being careless with your clothing?"
"Sorry." She did her best to look contrite. "I was chasing after my shoes." Which probably wasn't helping her case.
"Fortunately, on this occasion I was looking out for it for you." He bent down, and from under the console he picked up a top hat. It wasn't quite as pristine as when she'd put it on, but it was still the same shape.
"Thanks Professor." She put it on her head for safe keeping. "But wherever we go next, can we stay away from parties and fairy tales?"
"Good idea." He pulled a lever and Ace grinned with the anticipation of their next destination, wherever that was.