Genre: Sapphire and Steel, Torchwood
Word count: 2921
For sallymn, who really knew a faceless doll once. Thanks for letting me use this! And to my beloved beta, sparky955, who tries to keep up with my typos.
“HONEY, the mail’s here!”
Cindy’s head bobbed up. Daddy sounded happy. That must mean no damned bills. At three, almost four, she didn’t really know what damned bills were exactly, but she knew it made Daddy sad and sometimes angry.
“Anything good?” Mommy’s voice sounded hopeful. “Like maybe your paycheck?”
“It’s here. The rest is mostly catalogues and a big package.”
“Yeah, it’s addressed to The Birthday Girl.”
“It must be Alicia. She never forgets.”
“She spoils her. I thought she was in Alaska now.”
“She is. It’s weird. She told me she was going to wait until she came back. Guess she changed her mind.”
“How like her.” Daddy sounded a little mad. Daddy didn’t like Alicia very much.
Cindy felt a thrill go through her. She knew what that meant. She was The Birthday Girl. Mommy had said so. She paused for a moment to pat her blonde curls into place. Mommy said that she had hair the color of spun sunlight. That was just silly. Cindy knew at three, almost four, you couldn’t spin sunlight. She’d tried and ended up dizzy and nearly threw up from all the spinning and her hair wasn’t any more yellow than when she started.
She hugged herself and patiently waited for Mommy to call her.
“Cindy, sweetheart, could we see you for a moment?”
Cindy looked around to make sure things were in order, her order, not Mommy’s and left the playroom. She held onto the bannister as she climbed down the steep stairs. She already had a chipped tooth and a tiny scar on her top lip from a tumble down those stairs last year. Now she was extra careful going down.
“Where are you, Mommy?” she called as she reached the bottom landing. Of course, she knew, but liked to ask anyhow.
“We’re in the living room.” Her father’s answer wasn’t as much fun as Mommy’s. She would have said something silly like “Across the fern gully and between the tall trees. She liked Mommy’s answers better than Daddy’s.
She presented herself at the door with the air of someone who didn’t know what was going on. Daddy called it playing dumb, but she wasn’t stupid. You didn’t get to be three, almost four, without learning a trick or two.
“I’m here, Mommy.”
“Look what your aunt sent you.”
“Wow!” She’d never seen a box that big before. She started to tear off the paper, being careful not to rip it too much. She learned that at Christmas.
“That’s okay, sweetheart, you don’t have to save it,” Mommy said and even helped her tear it a little.
With a giggle, they removed the paper and Cindy struggled with the tape holding it shut.
“I can help with that.” Daddy took out his pocket knife and flipped open the blade. Cindy watched mesmerized by the reflecting blade. “There you go.” He lifted the lid and Cindy flipped back the sheets of tissue paper, gasping as it revealed a life-sized fabric decorator doll of a small child without a face. Just a blank space surround by black wool ringlets and a white lace collar and mobcap.
“Mommy, how come it’s gots no face?”
Mommy looked troubled. “I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe you are supposed to paint one on it.”
“Looks plug ugly to me,” Daddy said as Cindy wrestled the doll from the tissue paper.
“I think she’s beautiful.” Cindy hugged the doll. It smelled like honey and chocolate, two of her favorite things.
“Why don’t you take her up to the playroom and write your aunt a thank you card?” Mommy suggested and Cindy nodded enthusiastically.
“Okay. Come on, Linsen.”
“Uh, huh, that’s her name. She told me.”
“Okay,” Daddy said, slowly. “You and Linsen go up and play.”
Cindy carried the doll carefully, but it was very hard. It was as big as her. Finally, they arrived at the playroom and Cindy set her in a chair and arranged her dress. “I bet my clothes would fit you,” she said.
Cindy looked startled. “Linsen, how can you talk when you gots no mouth?”
I’ll whisper it in your ear.
Howard dropped the rest of the mail in the trash and turned as the phone rang.
“I’ll get it.” Margaret was closest and scooped up the receiver. Chances are it was for her anyhow. No one ever called him here. “Hello?”
“Alicia! How are you?”
“Great. The trip is going well.”
“Wonderful. We got your package today. Cindy loved it.”
“Yes, the doll. It’s a little creepy, but she loves it and that’s what matters.”
“Maggie, sweetie, I didn’t send a package. I have Cindy’s gift right her. He’s a husky puppy.”
“Not a dog, Alicia. We talked about this… wait, what do you mean you didn’t send—“
Cindy’s scream interrupted her and the parents exchanged terrified looks. Margaret dropped the receiver and ran to the stairs, followed by Howard.
Together they raced up them to the play room.
“Cindy? Sweetheart, where are you?’ Frantically, Margaret tossed toys aside and looked into the toy chest, while Howard searched the closet.
He turned and gasped. “Maggie, the doll.”
It sat quietly on a chair, hair the color of spun sunshine peeking out from beneath the mob cap, bright blue eyes and a grin that featured a nicked front tooth and a tiny scar on the upper lip.
ALL IRREGULARITIES WILL BE HANDLED BY THE FORCES CONTROLLING EACH DIMENSION; TRANSURANIC HEAVY METAL MAY NOT BY USED WHERE THERE IS LIFE. MEDIUM ATOMIC WEIGHTS ARE AVAILABLE: GOLD, LEAD, COPPER, JET, DIAMOND, RADIUM, SAPPHIRE, SILVER AND STEEL. SAPPHIRE AND STEEL HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED.
Steel pushed open the front door and stepped inside. As far as houses went, this one was seemed as cluttered as most. Humans loved things. It made them feel important, but all he saw were too many places for Time to hide. He immediately went to a wall clock and stared at it.
Sapphire followed behind at a more leisurely rate, letting her hands travel over the items that lined the hall, feeling them, feeling their age and listening to their stories
Surprisingly normal and random ones. Sapphire studied her surroundings, looking for something odd, something that seemed out of place. “There’s nothing in here.”
She stepped through the entryway and into the main part of the house. It was a typical living room, crammed full of life. It was obvious that a child lived here. There was a corner filled by a small table and chairs. Stuffed toys sat around it, expectantly. Silk flowers caught dust and permitted it to dull their surfaces. Magazines littered the top of a low table and on it was a box.
He came to her side, frowning. What is it?
That box. It isn’t right.
What do you mean? Steel walked briskly to the box, prepared to react if necessary. It was simply a cardboard carton, nothing outstanding or extraordinary about it.
It’s not… right.
What do you mean? He lifted the box and examined it more closely. Tell me?
Sapphire’s face grew hard and she reached out to touch an end flap. Her blue eyes began to glow. Hungry, anger, fear, loneliness.
“How can a box be angry?” Steel said out loud and that broke Sapphire’s concentration.
“I don’t know, it just is.” She released the cardboard and crossed her arms as if shielding herself from it. “Or rather what was in it was. The box merely absorbed the emotions.”
“But what was in it?”
“A gherkling, boys and girls.”
The voice made the pair turn. A man stood by the front door, a formidable looking weapon in his hands. Steel took him in and scoffed.
“A pickle? An angry pickle?”
“That’s a gherkin, Steel,” Sapphire corrected softly as she approached the stranger. “Who are you?”
He lowered the weapon and smiled. Sapphire felt herself growing warm and slightly uncomfortable beneath his gaze, as if he was sizing her up as a romantic conquest. He held out a hand. “I’m Jack Harkness, but you can just call me Captain Jack.”
She took it delicately, then pulled back, gasping.
“Sapphire?” Steel was at her side in an instant, his face angry. “What is it? What did you do to her?”
The weapon was back up.
“Put it away,” Steel commanded.
“I might need it,” Jack was on the defensive now.
“I don’t.” Steel reached out, grasped the tip of the weapon and easily crushed it.
“What the hell did you do that for?” Jack made a face and tossed the useless weapon aside. “I might have needed that.”
Steel was in his face now, angry and threatening. “What did you do to her?”
Jack fell back a step, eager to put space between himself and Steel. “Nothing.”
“It was nothing, Steel.” Sapphire regained her composure. She touched her hair, making sure it was in place and managed a wan smile. “What do you mean a gherkling?”
“It’s a creature from another planet. It’s a long story.”
The Elements exchanged looks. “We have the time.”
“Well, I don’t. Ianto will have my hide if he finds out. Suffice it to say we have a facility where we house captured aliens until they can be transported out.”
Steel smiled at that. “Torchwood, Sapphire. He’s from Torchwood.”
“What good is a secret organization that everyone knows about?” Jack muttered. “Yes, I’m from Torchwood.”
“How did this creature escape?”
“If I knew that, it wouldn’t have escaped.”
“What does it do?
“It mimics things, objects until it can get close enough to feed. Then it takes on its victim’s appearance in part.”
“And you tracked it here?”
Voices interrupted her. “Look everywhere. I’ll look down here!” A man came thundering down the staircase and stopped as he caught sight of them. “Who the hell are you?”
Sapphire closed her eyes against the anguish and fear that rolled off him. Within a moment, she had flashes of a scene - a child, now missing, unwrapping a toy… a doll? It didn’t feel right. A doll, but not one either. A trickster.
“We have come to help you find your little girl.”
“Thank God…” He started to say, then he stopped and sized them up. “But I didn’t call anyone.” He took a protective step back towards the stairs. “Who are any of you?”
“We are what stands between finding your little girl and not.” Steel was spare with words. “Do you wish to further delay us?”
“No… it’s just… I can’t… we can’t…”
Sapphire smiled, a sense of calm emulating from her. She took the husband’s arm and led him away. She cast a fast look at Steel, who nodded.
“What?” Jack’s attention shifted from them back to Steel.
“She said that she would calm him and give us some time to regroup. The doll is upstairs.”
“Doll?” Jack was confused now.
“Your gherkling creature.”
Jack’s blue eyes flashed with relief. “Thanks.”
“How did you know where to look?”
“I’ve been dealing with aliens for a long time. You develop a knack.” He looked Steel up and down to the point of where Steel was getting a bit uncomfortable. “Great disguises, by the way.”
“Disguises?” Steel looked down at his grey suit.
Jack beamed, because it was what he did. “As I said, you develop a knack for spotting aliens.”
“Likewise. You are not human.”
“Well, not lately.” Jack investigated the box. “How it managed to ship itself here is a mystery. It looks like an inside job.”
“One of your coworkers?”
Jack shook his head. “No… but then Ianto was keeping a Cyberman, or Cyberwoman… thingie… so anything is possible.” He lifted a small device to his mouth and began to talk.
Steel started to listen, but was interrupted.
I found the creature and we have an issue.
“Issue?” Steel said aloud and Jack glanced over at him as he tucked the device away.
“They’ll take care of it. Gwen’s like a dog with a bone when she gets started.”
Steel repressed all but the smallest hint of a smile. “I understand. Sapphire said that she has located the creature upstairs.”
“Excellent. Of course, that’s only half the battle.”
The two headed upstairs, Jack letting Steel take the lead, just in case.
“Who are you?” A strange woman had been joined by the man, obviously the parents.
“I am Steel and Sapphire is my partner. We have come to find your daughter.”
“Who’s he?” The woman pointed to Jack, who grinned.
“No idea.” Steel dismissed him easily. “Sapphire.”
She was sitting on the edge of a small bed, staring at a doll. With its ringlets of blonde hair and wide blue eyes, it was the picture of innocence. “There.” She nodded to the toy.
“A doll?” Steel reached for it.
“Don’t!” Jack ordered. “Don’t touch it!”
The doll’s head swiveled towards Jack and it sneered at him. “Too late.”
“We’re not.” Steel interrupted. “Sapphire, the child’s future?”
Can you take it back? Take it back to that point?
Steel reached out his hand and she took it, drawing it to her cheek. He closed his eyes and let his mind go blank.
Jack gasped and fell to his knees. The room swirled, then righted itself. He looked up and there was a small child studying him.
“Hello,” she said, obviously curious that three people had suddenly appeared in her bedroom, but she took it with a four-year-old’s aplomb. “Who are you?”
“I’m Jack. Who are you?”
“I’m Cindy and this is my new dolly. It’s my birfday.”
“Put the doll down, Cindy, and come to me.”
The child’s bottom lip stuck out. “But she’s my dolly and I love her.” Cindy started to embrace the doll and then cried when it was snatched away by Steel. Already tendrils had started to sprout from the beneath the mobcap.
Jack grabbed the child and hugged her closely, watching, open-mouth as Steel tossed the creature to Sapphire. “You want someone it eat, take her.”
“STEEL, NO!” Jack pushed Cindy behind him and tried to grab Sapphire’s wrist. He found his own encased in a vise-like grip. “What are you doing?”
The gherkling extended its tentacles to Sapphire and wrapped them around her head. Suddenly, with a shriek, it withdrew and fell, writhing to the floor. Steel lunged forward to catch Sapphire as she collapsed. He moved them away, nestled her face to his neck and held her tightly. They collapsed to the floor and he rocked her slightly.
The gherkling flailed and flopped like a landed fish on the pretty pink rug until it slumped. A wisp of smoke escaped from it and it abruptly burst into flames.
“My dolly!” Cindy shouted and then began to cry.
“It’s okay.” Jack hugged her close. “Shh, we’ll get you a new dolly, a better one. One that is much nicer.”
“You promise?” She pulled away, knuckling a tear from her eye.
“I promise. It’ll be the best dolly ever.” He looked over at the strange pair. Sapphire was stirring, but seemed content to stay where she was. “Sapphire, are you okay?”
She nodded wearily, her voice muffled. “Just tired.”
“I don’t understand. Why didn’t the gherkling take you? What stopped it?” He looked down at the smoldering carpet and the lump of blue sludge. “What killed it? I’ve never seen that sort of reaction before?”
Steel stood and help Sapphire to her feet. “Apparently, it has no stomach for inorganic materials, literally. Shall we?”
“Wait!” Jack shouted. “Who are you?”
This time Steel permitted himself a full smile. “Perhaps the better question is not who but what?”
And they stepped out of existence.
Jack looked at Cindy and shook his head. “I’m confused.”
“I thought you said your name is Jack. Would you like to stay for a tea party, Jack?”
He grinned and nodded. “I would love some tea, Cindy.”
“Cindy, are you all right?” Her mommy and daddy came in and stopped at the sight of a man in her daughter’s bedroom. “Who are you?”
“His name is Jack. He saved me from my dolly.” Cindy looked over at her pink rug, which was no longer pink, not really. “There were two other people, but they went away. I think they were angels. We’re having a tea party. Would you like to come, too?”
The two exchanged looks and then her mommy nodded. “Of course, that would be lovely. We could get to know Jack a bit more.”
“I’d anticipated it being a few more years before my daughter smuggled a man into her room, but if what she says is true, we owe you a debt of gratitude. That doll was creepy.”
Jack had to agree with that and he took a tiny cup from Cindy.
“Will they be okay?” They watched from a distance. She still leaned on him, not so much because she needed to, but she liked it. He didn’t push her away and that made her glad.
“They will be. Cindy will go on to accomplish great things?”
“You might say he’ll be ahead of his time.”*
*For those people who might not be familiar with the shared history of Doctor Who and Torchwood, there was the hint that Jack, being immortal, would eventually evolve to become the Face of BOE.