Pulling Strings

by Creirwy

Tags: #cw:noncon #cw:sexual_assault #bondage #comic_book #dom:female #drones #pov:top #body_control #doll_play #dollification #dolls #puppet

Doll-fanatic Tess is frustrated at the damage her town is taking in the midst of a superhuman skirmish.

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Tess was a bit of an oddball. She could get along with people well enough, but most of the time she wasn't interested in socialising. She preferred to keep to her own devices, in her own space, with no company but herself and her thoughts, and the imaginary friends she made.

Ever since she was a child, Tess had been obsessed with dolls. Though the stereotype was that younger girls were supposed to prefer dolls,  Tess carried it through her pre-teens, through her teens and into her adulthood. Puppets, marionettes, even mannequins... she just loved them all.

Perhaps it was an unwillingness to lose that childhood innocence. Perhaps it was learned behaviour from her father, who owned a small network of doll shops, or her mother, who had been an artist. Perhaps it was the simple beauty dolls offered - a blank facade onto which a skilled doll maker could imbue a personality or appearance.

In any case, when the town lost her parents there had been more public grieving than Tess would have expected. Her parents weren't heroes, or super famous, but they had been behind several of the town's more touristy artworks and the local politicians wanted to score points with the local artists and their fans, despite trying to cut museum and gallery funds. In fact, if  Tess was honest, they were probably trying to curry favour with herself, since she had inherited the multimillion dollar chain of stores her father and his parents had spent sixty years growing.

Now, at twenty-six and with no real reason to work, thanks to a small army of accountants, managers and trust fund lawyers at her disposal, Tess was free to spend her days doing what she loved; working on her dolls.

She didn't live in a mansion so much as a large studio workshop. Mannequins lined the walls, dressed in all manner of dresses, or awaiting their own. Puppets and marionettes dangled from strings, dolls sat on shelves and furniture everywhere.

Some might call Tess eccentric, but she was happy.

Apart from one small problem.

"Damn supers," she grumbled. "Don't they ever think about other people?"

As a moderately sized town in the country, Lanston had avoided the trouble most major cities had to deal with as the age of supers wound up like a toy soldier. Only forty years ago special powers and magic had seemed consigned to the realms of fiction and mythology, but one day they became all too real. First one supervillain showed up, then, as if in response, a superhero popped up out of nowhere. Suddenly there were entire TV channels, websites, newspapers and fan clubs dedicated to every super hero or villain imaginable.

Tess just wanted to make and play with her dolls, so she stayed hidden. Sure, some supers got their powers and immediately went out to play hero, and sure, she might like to help people if they needed it, but she'd rather not get involved.

She sighed and waved a hand irritably. A dozen marionettes began dancing on their strings as a music box deep in the studio began to play. Tess smiled and sat at her work desk and watched them for a while before snapping her fingers and ending both the music and the motion.

Sighing again, a little more contently, she picked up her most recent project, reached for a paintbrush and touched up the smile she had started last night. Most of her dolls were human, but she wanted to try something different this time. Perhaps a little kitten girl? Just because it was new to her didn't mean she would have trouble with it; Tess had a skill with puppets and dolls many would consider supernatural.

It was a nice way to distract herself from the drudgery of meetings with her managers or the constant media hype over supers. She really didn't like them butting into people's lives, causing trouble. Her fingers tensed on the paintbrush as her eyes narrowed. She cricked her neck to one side and smiled as her music box blurted out a single tinging tone in response.

"Fuck!" She screamed and jumped out of her chair as a loud crash exploded behind her. She whirled around to find a hole in the wall of her studio the size of a car, a size she was confident to use as a metric since the car itself was upside down on top of half a dozen mannequins. Shadows glimmered in the dust, obscuring her view, but she could hear shouting, screaming, and could see bright colours flashing intermittently as whatever fight had brought itself to her home continued.

She clenched her fists, and her teeth, and glared at the intrusion. A hundred lifeless heads snapped as they turned to stare at the battle, her music box taking on a discordant air as Tess stomped toward the destruction.

"What the hell are you doing!" She cried, waving her hands through the dust in an attempt to clear a path.

"Stay back!" A woman's voice called, strong and authoritative. Despite herself, Tess stumbled to a halt. She heard a punch, a kick, falling rubble, and yelped as a hand reached out of the cloud, grabbed a mannequin buy the ankle and swung it around with force. It vanished into the dust but Tess heard it shatter against its target, wincing.

"Fuck you!" A second voice growled. Tess heard the sound of rushing air and a brief flash of light, and one of the shadows vanished.

"Get back here!" The woman's voice yelled, and moments later Tess heard the sound of footsteps rapidly distancing themselves.

Shaking with adrenaline and anger, Tess stepped over the rubble and through the dust cloud, into the alleyway behind her studio. Dolls and strings and mannequins lay tossed around like garbage, and it almost broke her heart.

"Oh, Maggie," Tess sighed, crouching to pick up her shattered mannequin's plastic head. The blonde-haired, pretty face stared blankly back at her as Tess stroked its cheek, then held its forehead to her own. "Who did this?"

Light glimmered behind Maggie's glass eyes and behind Tess's own, and Tess felt the sensation of leaving her body. She was staring forward as a fight erupted around her, unable to turn her head. Her view of the studio suddenly spun violently and swung around as Maggie's body was weaponised, and slammed face-first into a blue-suited super in the alleyway. Tess stepped back a few milliseconds and saw the grimacing face of the woman who had told her to stay away.

"Newton," she growled. She knew this super; she had arrived in town a few weeks ago with a whole band of ne’er-do-wells, trashing people's homes, lives and businesses in some kind of turf war none of them had any real stake in.

God, she hated supers.                       

She respectfully put Maggie's head back on a table in the studio and clapped her hands. Her music box began to play a sombre dirge, and the mannequins still standing jerked to life to begin the process of cleaning up and fixing the wall.

Tess stumbled back across her studio toward her bedroom, but on the way she made a stop in her recreation area. A TV, a window, a nice plush sofa, and one of her rare life-sized dolls waited for her.

She approached the doll and touched its cheek fondly. This doll was the spitting image of her mother, down to the hair, the soft smile, the colour of her eyes. Tess always felt guilty the last time she had spoken to her mom was in the heat of argument. She supposed this was her teenaged-self's way of staying close to a loved one.

Tess flopped onto the soft, laying her head in the doll's lap. She closed her eyes, sighed, and lifted one hand up lazily, stroking the air just above her belly. The doll's matching hand twitched, moved itself to Tess's hair and mimicked her strokes exactly.

Tess mewled and pouted. "Mommy-doll, the stupid supers broke my dolls. And the wall. Why do they never care about innocent people? Or our property? We just want to live our lives!" Her hand balled into a fist and she winced as the doll grabbed a fistful of her hair in response. "Ow, okay, okay, I'll calm down. I'm calm."

She opened her eyes and looked up at the doll's face, staring forward at the TV. "Look at me, mommy-doll." The doll's head twitched and slowly pivoted to stare down at Tess, smile frozen on its face. "You hate supers too, right?" The doll nodded along with an up and down flick of Tess's finger. "The villains especially. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with what they do, right?"

The doll shook its head, still smiling, as Tess waggled a finger and sighed. "I'm no hero, but at least I'm not a villain. I dunno. Should I get into the hero business? Lanston doesn't have its own protector. I'm the closest thing we've got, and no one knows about me. What do you think I should do?"

Her doll continued to smile and stroke her hair. Tess nuzzled its belly and allowed it to comfort her for a few minutes before forcing herself to a seated position. "You're right. It's what mom would have wanted; me to be the best I can be, right?"

The doll's smile didn't change, but it felt more encouraging than blank to Tess after she asked the question. Tess smiled and kissed the doll's cheek. "Thanks, mommy-doll. I... miss mom, but..." She stared at the quiet TV for a few minutes then stood. "Newton - god, that's an unoriginal name, but I guess that's what happens when the media gets to name you - can throw a car through a wall. I'm gonna need some help arresting her. Wish me luck!"

Tess blew her mommy-doll a kiss, which the doll returned with a jerky motion that made her smile.

"You do see what I mean, right? They broke my wall!" Tess grouched.

"Yeah, I get it, supers cause collateral damage," her best friend Macy sighed. "What do you expect to do about it?"

"I'll become a heroine myself and stop them! Non-destructively." Tess tossed a pigtail behind her shoulder in a huff as Macy snorted.

"You? A heroine? That's hilarious." The blonde smirked and crossed her legs under the table.

"I can be a heroine. I care about people." Tess narrowed her eyes and stared Macy down. Macy jumped in her seat as Tess's mommy-doll suddenly appeared at her side with a tray of tea and biscuits.

"Fucking hell, that's creepy, Tess. Talk about uncanny valley." Macy clutched a hand to her heart and took a cup with a couple biscuits as her host giggled.

"Dolls aren't creepy, you weirdo. They're cool."

"This entire place is like a haunted dollhouse," Macy grumbled. "Too many eyes and smiles. And I don't like how they move."

Tess grinned and snapped a finger. Her music box began to play a track from her favourite ballet, and her mommy-doll jerked into position in the middle of the room to start dancing on the spot, movements stopping and starting and stuttering like her joints were full of cogs and gears snapping into place. Macy shuddered.

"Eurgh. Anyway, what do you need me for?"

"I want to find Newton's lair. She's the one who caused the fight, and one fewer villain on the streets is one fewer reason for other supers to hang around here. You'd have contacts, wouldn't you, Miss Journalist?" Tess batted her eyelids and smiled dollishly.

"All right, all right. Just stop giving me nightmares," Macy begged. Tess giggled and snapped her fingers again. The music box stopped, as did her mommy-doll, hanging in place, balanced on the toes of one foot, arms and second leg parallel to the ground.

Macy shivered again.

"Great!" Tess clapped. "Should I come with you? Do we go on a stakeout? Should we meet up at your office?"

"God, no," Macy laughed. "You're not going out dressed like that. People will think you're a nut."

Tess frowned and inspected her frilly, lacy black and white gothic dress. "What's wrong with my look?"

"You look like a..." Macy cut herself off with a groan. "Normal people don't wear bonnets. Or petticoats."

Tess's frown deepened. "What's wrong with people these days?"

Macy buried her face in her mug.

A few days passed before Tess heard back from Macy. As usual, she was relaxing in her studio, painting smiles and eyeliner on plastic and ceramic faces, when a sudden knock at the door had her squealing in a brief shot of fear. A haughty huff helped her regain her composure and she walked across the studio floor, fussing with her flouncy skirt and twin tails on the way. She paused before a mannequin that stood by the door and looked into its eyes until her perspective shifted and she could see herself from the front.

"Hmm." Tess fixed her left ribbon with surgical grace, then brushed some lint from her right shoulder, and then returned her viewpoint to her own eyes. She smiled and stroked the mannequin's cheek in gratitude before opening the door. "Macy!"

"Hey, Tess. Got that information you wanted!" Macy explained as she walked into the studio. It had been raining outside, so she removed her coat, jumping slightly as the mannequin by the door held its hands out for it. "Fucking... Tess!"

"What? Sally's a great coat rack," Tess pouted. She twirled her finger down by her thigh and the mannequin contorted, putting Macy's coat on and striking a pose like a store display. "See?"

"Least she's not as realistic as the milf-doll," Macy grumbled. "Still feels like I'm way outnumbered every time I come here." She passed her eyes over the dozens of dolls, puppets, mannequins and homunculi littering the wide space suspiciously.

"It's not like they're alive. They only move when I control them, silly." Tess smiled. She had powdered her own face to a near-doll like whiteness to enhance the visibility of her makeup, and Macy squirmed at the sight.

"This is why I can never take you out, you know. Least you look the part if you're coming out as a super."

"Thanks!" Tess twirled on the spot, enjoying the flare of her skirt lifting with the motion. "Now, you've got Newton's location?"

"Mhm. You're gonna love this," Macy smirked. "She's basing herself out of the abandoned warehouse on Belaway Avenue."

"Belaway... Belaway..." Tess paced a few times, then spun to face her friend with wide eyes. "Don't I own that warehouse?"

"Yes, Tess, you do." Macy's smirk widened and she shook her head. "You delegate too much."

"She's living in my warehouse while she goes around breaking into my studio!" Tess balled her fists in indignation, and Macy backed up as dozens of puppets jerked on their strings and a piano buried behind a set of shelves emitted a noise like someone had slammed their fists on the keys. "That's just... villainous!"

"Mmm. How are you gonna stop her, though? You know she's super strong, yeah? I don't think your toys are going to slow her down, let alone stop her, and you aren't exactly..." Macy looked over Tess's delicate, petite form almost drowning in frills and lace. "...combat ready."

"Don't worry about that, Macy!" Tess grinned and stretched her fingers. Six life-sized mannequins marched around a shelf and lined up behind her. "I've made some proxies!"

Macy cast an uncertain eye over the featureless shapes. "All six of them won't stop one of her punches."

"Yeah. But I got a secret weapon from the black market," Tess giggled, producing a canister of off-green gas. "Courtesy of the Apothecary."

"Getting a bit illegal there, Tess," her friend warned. Tess pouted.

"It's illegal for a super to break private property without compensation, too."

"Touché. So, you're going to be a super heroine. You picked a name?"

"Mmm. I was thinking Dollmaker?"

Macy blinked. "That's terrible. The media will love it."

"How is it terrible? I make dolls... Dollmaker!"

"You keep telling me Newton is a bad name just because she manipulates force," Macy grinned.

"That's different!"


Tess flailed her arms in agitation. "Force is stupid! Dolls are cool!"

Macy laughed. "You don't think a doll-focused super heroine called Dollmaker working out of a town famous for a historically significant doll production company would draw any attention your way, would you?"

Tess blinked a few times and scowled. "Fine, I'll do it secretly. I didn't wanna be famous anyway. Thanks for your help, Macy."

Macy grinned. "No worries, doll."

"Aheheheheheh," Tess laughed sarcastically. Try as she might, her makeup and outfit only prompted Macy to laugh harder at her attempted withering glare.

Amy sighed and flopped on her sofa. Newton's job wasn't easy, but it had to be done. Still a pain in the ass, though. She hadn't been in town for too long but it was already the site of a minor turf war. She smiled to herself and drew her left hand into a fist. She was strong, and that helped. No one could really harm her, or resist her force. She was, as far as she was concerned, invincible, and that led to risk-taking.

She closed her eyes to get a bit of rest, still in her costume. It was barely three in the morning, but the streets were relatively quiet today, and she had informants to let her know if any trouble was brewing in her territory.

She had just started to doze off when her sixth sense shot adrenaline through her body. Amy's eyes snapped open. When did it get so dark? She knew she had gone to sleep with her lamps on, and they still were, but they seemed dimmer somehow.

In fact, as she stared at the yellow light, it continued to dim. Shadows grew around the edges of the room, and Amy got to her feet, instantly alert.

"What's going on?" She demanded, pulling her mask over her face. "Who's there?"

She was greeted with silence for several anxious moments until the light level stopped decreasing. She strained her eyes and looked towards the door, forcing herself to listen for any sign of trespass.

She almost jumped out of her skin, cutting off a scream as the tinny ping of a music box played somewhere near her ear, but quietly. She spun on the spot to locate the source, but it seemed to be coming from all around her at once.

"The hell..." Amy shifted into her combat stance, raising her fists and crouching slightly, coiling like a spring. "You don't know who you're dealing with."

A tinny giggle broke though the music box's melody, making Newton's hair stand on end. She flinched as a shadow lurched out of the darkness, raising a hand to knock it off course before it stopped a few metres away from her.

A felt doll, button-eyes and stitch-mouthed, floated before her like a ghost, and the giggling came from somewhere within it. "I know exactly who I'm dealing with. A menace! A disrupter of the peace! Lanston was fine before you came, dragging your wars with you!" The doll floated slowly in a circle around Newton, the artificial smile completely at odds with the scornful anger behind the voice.

"I'm here to keep the peace," Newton countered. "I'm here to stop villains like you from -"

"Villains!" The doll shrieked, jerking in place on invisible strings. "Me? A villain!

“I'm here to stop you from destroying property! You're the villain!"

Newton shrugged as she checked the shadows to either side of her again. "I guess everyone's the hero of their own story."

The doll made a sound Newton could only interpret as an audible sneer, then shot towards her. Newton's fists moved instinctively, and before she even realised she what she was doing she had ripped the doll in two.

"You'll pay for that!" The voice shrieked, this time from somewhere in the room with her. The music box raised in volume, reminding Newton of carnival nightmares she had had as a child after visiting haunted houses. She suppressed a shudder as the shadows moved around her, and blinked as half a dozen figures stepped out into the low light.

"So we're fighting, then," Newton smiled, readying herself. She watched the figures approach for a moment and then frowned again. Their movements were... wrong. There were no natural steps or swaggers from the threats she was used to. Instead, each figure raised and lowered each foot like their joints were rusted, and they swayed side to side was they walked. "Oh, what the hell..."

The light suddenly fell across the figures' heads, revealing a total lack of face. No eyes, no mouths, just the shape of a nose. Like store mannequins, but they walked jerkily towards her, stuttering in their movements.

"Get her!" The petulant voice cried, and the automatons broke into a run.

Newton put her fist right through the first's torso. Cracks splintered all the way up to its neck and down to its waist, and the mannequin fell into two halves, quickly lost below the feet of its companions. Two more came at her from either side, but a spinning kick shattered them in a single blow.

Green mist hung in the air where the mannequins had broken. Gas? Newton wasn't too worried, kicking her right foot through a third mannequin's side, until she felt her mask tugged from her face.

The headless doll that had spoken to her zoomed into the darkness, giggling and clutching the mask in knife-like fingers. Newton felt the heat of a cut on her cheek and scowled, holding her breath. Just need to get rid of them and I can get to a window, she thought as she grabbed the fourth attacker and threw it effortlessly across the room to smash against a wall.

She knew there were two mannequins left, but she heard no footsteps and saw no movement. The green mist was dampening the lamplight even further, and made the shadows hazier. Slowly, expertly releasing air through her nose, she turned in the direction of the door.


Something scraped against the floor behind her, like a piece of plastic kicked by a foot. She spun on the spot and threw her fist out, charging it with her force energy to break the next attacker apart -

A face appeared in the green mist, smiling and human.

Newton gasped, pulling her punch to the side at the last moment and narrowly avoiding putting her fist through the woman's head. "Fuck!" She swore, though the blonde in front of her didn't react, even as her hair stirred in the wake of Newton’s arm.

Newton's head swam, and with another gasp she realised she had inhaled the gas. Her senses dulled even faster, and she slapped a hand to her mouth, trying not to breathe any more in, but it was too late: two breaths had already been taken, and she couldn't get to empty air in time to take a safe one.

"Nice work, mommy-doll," a sing-song voice giggled. "Knew she wouldn't want to break you. You're just too pretty!"

Newton dropped to one knee, vision dulling further as she looked up at the new arrival. For a second she thought it was the floating doll again, until her focus returned just long enough for her to register a pale-skinned woman in a black dress with white lace trimming. D-doll?

"The Apothecary's sedatives are strong, huh?" The new arrival grinned. "I figured ’you’d be happy enough to break my toys, so I filled a few of 'em up. Let you trap yourself, you know?"

"Who..." Newton coughed and wavered to one side.

"Who? I'm the Dollmaker! Patent pending. Maybe. I dunno!" The girl shrugged and raised her hands, cracking her knuckles. "Now shut up and watch. Normally I can only play with inanimates but when a person gets their mind dulled enough..."

She swept her left hand out to one side and Newton's own was yanked away from its place in front of her mouth. Newton gasped another mouthful of the gas and groaned, eyes fluttering. "Nnngh..."

"Oh no, you don't!" The Dollmaker chided. "No sleeping through justice! Come over here," she demanded, walking around the sofa and into the kitchen. The figure she called her mommy-doll obediently followed, and Newton felt her own body jerked to its feet as if by invisible strings, her legs remote piloted and out of her own control.

The air in the kitchen was clearer, but Newton's focus wasn't any better. The Dollmaker sat on the counter and twitched her fingers, lifting Newton to hover slightly off the ground, arms and legs spreadeagled. Can't... think... Amy slipped out of her super persona, too tired to hold onto it, and her head dropped forward as her eyes closed.

"Not yet, dummy!" The Dollmaker growled. Newton's head jerked to one side, the sharp sting of a slap wrenching her eyes back open. She forced her gaze forward and saw the mommy-doll standing before her, smiling, moving its hand back to a resting position. "This is my favourite toy, you know. She's the first. I'm really proud of her," the Dollmaker smiled, stroking the mommy-doll's hair from behind.

The doll did not respond. Newton shuddered. "What..."

The Dollmaker crossed her legs and bounced a foot, leaning back on her hands. "My mom was never really the best, you know? Especially after dad ran off. She was mean to me, wanted me to go to school, find a good career... Wanted me to earn my inheritance." Her face soured. "I would've been better off without her, or at least with a replacement. But she was my mom; I couldn't get rid of her. I'm not a monster. Am I, mommy-doll?"

The smiling doll shook her head as her master waggled a finger.

"You're sweet. So, anyway. I started developing these cool powers, right? The ability to make dolls real fast. The ability to control them remotely. The ability to alter people's perceptions of them a little. It's like... If it's related to dolls, I can control it, kinda?"

"What the fff..." Amy moaned. "Get away..."

The Dollmaker giggled. "No. You broke my wall. You broke my puppets. My property. My precious friends. And now you're going to be one of them. Mommy-doll, induce her."

The smiling blonde doll took Amy's face in both hands and leaned forward, staring into her eyes. Amy tried to look away but found her gaze dragged into the glassy, empty eyes staring through her. The music box started up again, volume slowly rising, tones becoming increasingly discordant.

Amy groaned, then whimpered, as she saw visions in those glassy eyes. Puppets by the hundreds. Dancing marionettes. Mannequins in costumes. Scissors, string, fabric, music, the touch of hands and fingers, the brushing of hair, the smell of polish and paint, the taste of wood and the sensation of paintbrushes on her tongue.

All her senses were assaulted as she stared into the doll's eyes, and she tried to scream, but all she could hear was the music box, chimes and tones drowning out all other noise. The visions were rapid, and Amy could barely focus on one before a dozen others had flashed by. She sank into the dark eyes in front of her.

It was a nightmare. It was arresting. It was arousing. Amy couldn't describe it. She could see her own eyes reflected in the doll's and they showed helplessness, defiance, resignment, fear. Too many emotions to count, many contradictory, but all true.

Amy dimly felt her limbs jerk and the strange, phantom sensation of a needle and thread being drawn through her legs, arms, toes, fingers and neck. It didn't hurt. It discomforted her, very much, but she could feel something worming through her body's muscles, one after the other, tugging tight like an elastic and usurping her own control lf her body.

Amy whimpered and looked deeper into the doll's eyes. Behind everything, behind the nightmare visions, behind her own reflected gaze and the Dollmaker's power, she saw something buried deep.

The glassy eyes, just for a moment, showed fear, regret. Sorrow.

Amy felt her lips tighten as they pulled into a smile.

"It has been one week since the heroine Newton vanished without a trace. She was last seen in Lanston, working with the local law enforcement to stop an underground smuggling ring from -"

Tess huffed and hit a button on her remote, turning the TV off. "Heroine, honestly. It's like I'm the only person who understands how much of a rogue Newton was! You agree, don't you, newbie?"

Amy nodded, smile frozen on her face. Tess smirked and resumed applying lipstick once the motion finished.

"Well, don't worry. You don't have to be a villain anymore. You can just be mine. My dolly! Mom loves it, don't you, mommy-doll?"

Amy felt her head turn to the right. Mommy-doll sat next to her on the sofa, her own head turning to face Amy's before it nodded.

Amy had felt strange since her failure and capture. She knew what emotions she should be feeling, but they felt muted. Sometimes they felt normal, and she was full of horror. She railed and raged and pleaded inside her mind, while her outside expression was a serene smile. The Dollmaker had been casually giving her a makeover for the last few days.

The idea another woman was trapped behind those dark eyes and blank smile unnerved Amy, but she hadn't seen a sign of sentience since her own capture.

"All done!" Tess chirped, picking up a hand mirror and holding it in front of Amy's face. "How did I do?"

Amy couldn't voice her opinion, but she had to admit Tess had made her look beautiful. Her rough brawler aesthetic had been entirely replaced by a soft, feminine, harmless look. It would have made Amy's stomach churn with humiliation, but she only felt a detached appreciation of the art.

It didn't matter what she wanted though: Tess was a narcissist, and every question she asked was followed by both dolls being guided to answer correctly.

Tess put the mirror away and hummed as she packed up her makeup kit. "Good week, overall. Got rid of a villain, made the town a bit safer, got a new doll and a new partner for mommy-doll." She smiled and almost skipped over to her work bench, before returning to the sofa. "Actually, you know what? Let's celebrate."

Tess snapped her fingers and the music box and piano both began to play a slow, romantic melody. Amy felt gears and cogs inside her jerk to life, her muscles tugged into position by the phantom strings, and her limbs stuttered to life. She rose unnaturally to her feet and was dimly aware of mommy-doll doing the same.

The two dolls moved into the centre of the living room, faced each other and smiled. They stepped close, interlocked the fingers of Amy’s right hand with the other’s left and placed their opposite hands on each other's hips. Then, as Tess watched, admiring the way their bodies fit the frilly date night costumes, as their blank eyes and frozen smiles remained etched in place and as the instruments played their tune, Amy and Tess's mother began to dance like a couple in love.

Sometimes Amy felt the horror of captivity, the anger at the abuse and the fear that she'd be trapped forever. She was sure Tess's mother felt the same way.

But sometimes, when the music box played its calming tones and she was made to stare into her companion's equally glassy eyes, Amy could only feel contentment. Happiness, even.

She was a doll, and her owner loved her. She wanted her owner to be happy.

In the end, at times like these, that's all that mattered.


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