Characters: Sapphire, Steel
Fandom: Sapphire and Steel
Summary: It was a terrible gift to have to give, and she was honoring it.
Author's Notes: This was a gift for the lovely lost_spook for this year'sfandom_stocking effort. She drew me into Sapphire and Steel, which was really quite dreadful of her to do, but it's rewarded me with a great many good pieces of fiction, many of them hers. (Go! Read! Get drawn in as I was! And find the show on YouTube if you haven't yet seen it ... there's a great deal that might commend it to Who fen) This was unedited, although my beloved buckaroobob did give it a read through.
The dress brushed the ground, its heavy velvet panels falling into deep folds that gracefully accentuated her regal stance, just as everything she appeared in always did. Steel eyed it with distaste.
They stood at a window, looking down on the small town square. The deep snow that had blanketed it in picturesque winter white was disappearing, now that they had corrected the time leak; so were the sixteenth century cobblestones that had lain unseen beneath it. The deep well which had arisen, unremarked, in the square’s center had receded in favor of the proper and pedestrian tourist kiosk put in place mere decades before. The Christmas shoppers rushing to get home before the real snowfall began noticed neither the rapidly fading drifts nor the well’s disappearance. That was as it should be. But that dress ….
“What?” He was annoyed when he saw her smile, the gentle quirk that told him he was amusing her.
“You think the dress is the wrong colour.”
That wasn’t nearly the half of it, but if she was going to bait him like that, he could respond in kind. “Yes.”
“And you don’t like it.” She inclined her head toward him and the smile deepened.
If he had been human, he might have hated how she could so easily pinpoint his thoughts, even when he wasn’t sending them to her. “I don’t care.”
She raised an eyebrow and he quickly correctly himself. “I don’t care personally. But that was —"
“—her gown.” Sapphire nodded, once, an acknowledgment. It was almost a bow, like the one she’d given to the doomed woman whose desires had accelerated the leak.
The human had styled herself a sorceress. She had been nothing of the kind, just a new widow whose grief and as-yet-invisible illness had curdled into obsession and hallucination. All of which, Steel thought, would have been of no import, had she not lived so close to a place where the walls defending reality against time were worn thin. Had she not chosen to employ her “magicks” — half-remembered and misunderstood pieces of childhood rhyme, dredged up bits of Druidic nonsense misused to horrible effect on the darkest, shortest night of the year — it would have been one more forgettable instance of human tragedy. Laughable, if one were the type to care enough to laugh.
But Sapphire hadn’t laughed.
She had knelt before the woman — barely out of girlhood, really, and perhaps that had been the source of the trouble — and spoken to her of the fracture she’d caused, and the far future she’d slipped into, all unknowing. She told the woman that her beloved lord husband would not return to her. Not only that, but that she herself must return to her own time, to succumb to the same cholera that had taken him. If she did not return to die, Sapphire had said, she would bring not only cholera to the bustling twentieth century town that had once been her liege lord’s responsibility, she would ensure that the change, and the cholera, would spread like wildfire across a defenseless world. She would be responsible for the death of millions upon millions.
Sapphire had spoken softly as she said it, had held the girl’s trembling hands. She was as implacable as he might have been, but ….
Steel told himself she understood as little of humanity as he did. He was sure of it. Reasonably sure. But she did seem to want to understand it. Maybe that registered as sympathy or empathy to those humans with whom she interacted, he reasoned. It certainly came in handy during assignments.
As it had tonight. The woman — the girl — had cried for a blessedly short time. Then she had risen from her chair and gone to the window. She had looked out on what must have been an alien landscape to her. No manor house surrounded her, no household servants attended her; they were all hundreds of years in the past. She was no sorceress. She was tiny, and alone.
Sapphire had said nothing and had put up one warning hand to silence him even before Steel had started forward, mouth open. He had glared at her, but had checked himself. The silence had stretched for some time.
When the human finally shook herself from her reverie, she returned to her seat. She wrapped herself in a dignity almost too immense for such a small creature, dragging it up from who knew where inside herself, along with a strength of character he would never have suspected she had. And she asked to be sent back. Or rather she asked Sapphire. She made it an order when she turned to him.
And so they did it. The child was sent back to die. The fracture healed, the toxic leak of time-out-of-place was plugged.
It had been tiring, and Steel had closed his eyes. When he opened them and looked at Sapphire, the smart blue outfit that had been her seeming for this assignment was gone. And she wore the hunter green velvet of a 16th century lordling’s wife.
“Why the green? Look again, Steel.”
He did, and saw previously unnoticed piping of red down the seams. He saw glints of golden embroidery along the panels — and he saw hints of blue, her blue, in the green. The more he looked, the more blue he saw.
“It never was. You just had to look a little harder.”
“I wear it in honor of her. She gave us her life. It was a terrible gift to have to give, and yet she gave it, for a world she didn’t understand, and which certainly wouldn’t understand her. And coming at this time of year … well, the colours work well together, don’t you think?”
He said nothing for a moment, then sighed.
“I suppose it suits you well enough.”
She smiled again, and reached for his hand. They turned together and walked out of where they were, while gold lights and green, red ones and blue, shimmered in the town square below.