|Walking On Air
Author: Rogue137 PM
When you thought it was all a dream, it comes back to haunt you and your children. History repeats itself, secrets are retold, and shattered hearts must be mended.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Chapters: 15 - Words: 68,019 - Reviews: 83 - Favs: 27 - Follows: 15 - Updated: 08-16-08 - Published: 05-07-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3527975
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: This is it, guys. The last chapter. That's all I have to say.
Dylan – What do I have to say? I love you. XD
Wolfinson – This may be too much to ask, but can you give me a little more of a detailed review next time? I'd love that.
Phyllis Joy Wolfe – Okay, okay! I'm sorry! I was moving to Bolivia, no internet. I hope this makes up for it! Thanks so much for loving my fic! You gets kudos and cupcakes.
Disclaimer: I don't own the world or the characters of the movie 'MirrorMask'. That is the work of the amazing Neil Gaiman and Dave Kean. What few characters I do own are Hermia, Laverna, Barnaby, and the random little people you didn't see in the movie. I also don't have the rights to Harry Potter. Or the Blue people. That's all Beatles, whom I love. (silence) Hello? 'To The Benefit of Mr. Kite' reference? Yes? No? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Oh, never mind.
Walking on Air
"My Queen, the Prime Minister is expecting the reviewed guest list for the ball. He asked me to inform you that he will be waiting in the Library." The white-masked servant was as ramrod straight and unbending as always as he watched me practice on the high wire strung on the southern end of the room. I ordered it installed as a personal comfort since most royal matters didn't include doing cartwheels on a string for an audience. I sighed and made my way steadily across the room and descended down the ladder.
"Tell the Prime Minister I will be with him shortly," I said. The servant stiffly bowed and exited the room. Surly that I was interrupted during my practice session, I took more time than was necessary to change out of my white leotard and tights and into a more stately costume.
After a while living in the palace, I was beginning to become paranoid; just as soon as I would have some harmless fun or diversion, something would eventually come up to vie for my attention. I hardly would start a book or become involved on the high wire when one of the Prime Minister's drones come stalking in informing me of some item or issue of immediate importance. Recently I have noticed I've increasingly avoided becoming 'idle' (to Palace standards) simply to keep them from bothering me during the day. It's so much easier to invent 'urgent matters of state' that for them to be pressed uninvited onto you.
I placed my favorite mask on my face, a light blue papier-mâché that only covered my eyes. Even now I couldn't get used to wearing a mask all the time except for sleeping and bathing. It was usually uncomfortable, and I always associated it with business, like it smothered my personality. I tried to avoid them as often as I could. Eventually the servants and other regular palace people overcame the initial shock and scandal of their Queen, boldly maskless, walking around the corridors.
The Library was two levels above the high wire room. I took my time to reach my destination with the tightly bundled paper securely in my hand. I learned by experience that it does not do to have classified reports flying off unfettered, especially when the palace is hosting an ambassador from the sphinx population.
Wincing at the memory, I knew I was lucky that those types of incidents were few and far between. Despite the fact that my citizens were dream people, they are pretty reasonable. Regardless, the politics of the Mirror World were as complicated as one could imagine. Every once in a while, I would find that dream logic could become the rule rather than the exception. It took a while for me to catch on when it came to things like Dark Lands' foreign policy and washing machine property rights and all that, but two years were more than enough to get one's feet wet. I laughed at myself sometimes when I remembered how much I lamented choosing to become monarch rather than being in the family circus. I never missed it much when I figured out that running a city is much like running a circus
Truly, though, the biggest problems that really popped up were regarding the sphinxes. They were like the mafia of the Mirror World, scrabbling for power and paper whenever instability of authority threatened the City of Light. After things got settled and rebuilt and all, they calmed down a bit and refrained (for the most part) from terrorizing innocent townsfolk. It was the occasional book massacre that became a liability with these creatures. And every once in a while the Library would call on me in terrible distress as the cats infiltrated the (usually) highly advanced security system, and it was my job to draw them out before things got really nasty.
I reached the staircase, lifting my toga-like dress off of the ground to climb without tripping. The staircase was crystalline and as polished as marble, much like the rest of the palace. From the setting sun shining through the western window, the stairs adopted a soft orange tint as the light was absorbed through the glass-like stone. I never cared to ask what exactly the palace was made of, but the architects' close connections with the spider-women of the Diamond Caves gave me some suspicions.
"Prime Minister?" I said, entering the Library quietly. In his old age, the Prime Minister did not care to be bothered by noisy entrances.
"Ah, Hermia! Do you have the list?" his voice drifted back to me from behind a tall bookcase.
"Yes, I finished it this morning," I told him, heading over to G3-Creation Non Fiction.
"Wonderful!" he said, coming into sight. He took the papers from my hand, untying and unrolling them. "Oh, there are a few chefs I hired for the banquet waiting in the kitchens. They want you to pick the main courses."
"I'll check up on that, then," I told him, backing out towards the exit, hoping to get out before…I heard an expected sigh behind me. Bollocks.
"Again, your Majesty?" he asked. I winced.
"It doesn't hurt to ask," I said, turning around and trying to keep a straight face.
"He's always found one excuse or another to not come visit," the Prime Minister said, obviously uncomfortable trotting on such a delicate subject. I simply shrugged, fidgeting under his scrupulous observations.
"He'll come when he wants to," I muttered. I averted my eyes to escape the slight pity in the Prime Minister's.
"Two birthday invitations? Two annual masquerade balls? Four bi-annual fundraisers?" he pointed out. I flinched at every one.
"He'll come when he wants to," I repeated, this time a note of dejection entered my tone. The Prime Minister sighed, wringing his hands in a familiar gesture showing his anxiety. Wishing to lighten the mood, he decided to change the subject.
"Well, young Master Pennyweather has already expressed interest in attending the ball that evening," I heard him say lightly. I stifled a mirthless laugh. I'm sure that over-inflated, pompous ass would express interest for two minutes of fame to dance with the Queen of Light.
"Excellent. Another man deluded to believe that I care about how many washing-machines he owns," I replied dryly. "Oh, don't tell me…Mr. Pennyweather drives dryers now." That pulled a smile from his lips.
"Would you like me to look into it, my lady?"
I shook my head. "No. I can think of other forms of transportation that peak my interest."
Besides, I thought. I think I've had enough important men in my life.
I then headed back out of the Library, eager to get out before the conversation reverted back to its original tone.
Has it really been two years? I wondered to myself as I took the stairs down towards the kitchens.
Feels like ten.
At first I was angry when all I got from Valentine were a few short, sporadic letters. No visits, no clues of where he was at, and no bloody invitations. And I kept telling myself why the hell I was sending him mine. Of course, eventually I go fed up with it and—according to my more severe controlling tendencies—hunted him down using a bit of my new resources. Through my informants, I found out that he was doing business in the entertainment districts across the land, trying to make something of himself as a juggler. He didn't have a partner, like he suggested he might do the night he left, but was strictly a loner when it came to those types of things.
I felt horribly frustrated with myself on keeping up this…tracking. It was immoral, unethical, and embarrassing to me. I had allowed my feelings for Valentine, as confusing and messed up as they were, to run away with me. Eventually, I pulled myself together enough to reign in the last of my dignity to stop it. But that tight, painful ball remained lodged in my stomach. I could never truly ignore it.
What really got me riled up, however, was what happened a couple months ago.
Curiosity killed the cat and all.
I got all wound up one day and decided to go out and find Valentine by myself. Sending out some well-trained eyes and ears, it didn't take long for me to find out Valentine's next performance. It was a long way away, out on the outskirts of the Dark Lands. Even with the Dark Queen's diplomatic relations with my city, I didn't want her to think that I was sending out spies to her palace. So I went out in a disguise and rooted out Valentine myself. I had in mind a very well-versed, intelligent outburst to place squarely on his shoulders, and I was determined to see to it that Valentine would at least talk to me. It was a childish thing to do, but I was all but past reasonable when it came to a certain masked juggler. This cold shoulder thing was grating on my nerves. But I had to admit it wasn't the sole driving force of my actions.
The truth was…I missed him. Terribly.
The tight ball in my stomach had been slowly driving me insane, and I finally reached the point where I was finally ready to admit the cause. I had finally reached the point where I was ready to do just about anything to finally talk to the infuriating bastard again. And that is where it led me.
Straight to Blackbug Circle.
It wasn't all that hard to find, really. It was notorious for the hard-to-please crowd and unsavory bars. All I had to do was scrounge up some old clothes (I got them to see my father one last time before my mother destroyed the Mirrormask) and some second-hand mask and I was able to sneak out of the White Palace with considerable ease.
With a few bribes and washing machine rides, I was able to make it into the Dark Lands without so much but a bump in the rode (a very painful bump, though) and into Blackbug Circle. There was already a sizeable crowd at the town's center. My heart had clenched in on itself when I heard a familiar Irish accent pierce through the air with all the boldness of any ring master. I had pushed through the crowd to catch a glimpse of him. He was the same as ever; ratty robe, childish mask, lopsided smirk, and distinctly brassy persona. It came as a strange shock to my system to see him again, in person. All the terse, cutting words I had stored in my head dissipated like smoke. Part of me was so grateful that I had this mask to hide my face, because the sane part of me realized that I would have mentally turned into a pile of ash if he recognized me and came over to talk. Another part of me thought that this ironic turn of events was hysterically funny. It was this part that had made me sigh, and turn away from Valentine and the new life he made for himself.
At least he had looked happy, as much as I hated to admit it.
Toughen up. It's not like your life fell to pieces when he left. Why beat yourself up over a frivolous heartache? This reassurance from the back of my head wasn't all that helpful. One, because it was simply contradictory to my melancholic state, and two, it sounded too much like Laverna for comfort.
It was in this sullen state that I arrived in the bustling kitchens. Some very important-looking people came sauntering up to me, demanding my attention with questions about hors d' oeuvres and sautéed duck. I gritted my teeth and forced a civil expression onto my face before answering their questions.
There's really is no end when preparing for a ball. You are either setting things up, controlling the crowd, or tearing things down to get ready to set things back up again in a few months, albeit differently.
I rubbed my temples before answering another urgent question. Nothing was allowed to be repeated when it came to Mirror World parties. For this ridiculous planning of the Lover's Holiday, I tried to suggest reusing the beautiful pink crystal statue of a rose that we had for the Flower Festival the previous spring. Needless to say, a good half of the royal organizers nearly had hemorrhages. Instead it was donated to charity, and in its place would be a lovely red crystal rose. I kept certain comments to myself.
Eventually the plannings and choosings and appetizers steadily ceased their demands for attention for the day, and I dropped the imperial veneer to trudge back to my bedchambers. A long, hot, bath was in order.
I hoped the scorching water would sooth my anxiety and frustration, but it only cleared my head of the frivolities of the upcoming festivities and made way for my more suppressed, deeper thoughts. The nostalgia towards my parents and the circus often tightened my chest with longing. I resigned myself long ago that I would eventually do without them, but the wounds were still raw as I recalled my parents' faces and the old carnies' routines.
As I submerged my head, the shock of hot water to my face helped sweep these depressed feelings away for a moment. Then another face floated to the forefront of my mind. Annoyed and frustrated, I broke back to the surface, unwilling to allow those emotions to catch me by surprise again.
My chamber maids helped me dress into a sleeping gown. I missed my old t-shirt and pajama pants, but now I had to be more dignified when it came to clothing, even clothing that I'd be sleeping in. It was times like these I wistfully wished that someone here would have the disposition to humor me. Everyone was just so stuffy and…boring.
It was times like these that I wished Valentine were here to lighten things up a bit.
Poking that thought back into submission, I slipped into the small, yet comfortable bed that all the queens before me had slept. The suns that usually dazzled across the ceiling dimmed into mere stars for the night.
"Would you care for a small snack before you retire, your Majesty?" one of the maids asked me delicately. I nodded, and she scampered off to the kitchens. The other two stepped out quietly once they were sure that I needed nothing else. I exhaled slowly, absorbing the fact that I was finally alone. Exhausted, of course, so I wouldn't enjoy that luxury for long because sleep was not far off, but it was a calming feeling nonetheless.
The maid entered with a tray. A gold kettle with what I supposed was hot milk or something of the sort sat in the midst of a matching teacup and a plate of biscuits. In the next breath, the smell of baked sweets hit my senses.
"Is something wrong, your Majesty?" the maid asked, concerned. I struggled to construct a passive expression, while at the same time trying to restart my breathing.
"F-fine," I managed with a false smile. "Erm, what kind of biscuits are those?" Damn fool question. You know exactly what…
"Cinnamon and…um…butterscotch, my lady," she told me. I took a breath through my mouth.
"Be a dear and set them on the table, will you?" I said, keeping my tone light. She did so.
"Is there anything else you'll need, your Highness?" she asked.
"No, that'll be all, thank you," I said. Internally, I wondered why servants insisted on lingering in the room when you least want people around. The maid bowed and left me.
Butterscotch, I thought to myself with disgust, picking one up like I was picking up a dead rat by the tail. It had to be bloody butterscotch.
Tossing the offending thing across the room with a kind of vehemence that startled me, I sunk into the thick mattress, a lump forming in my throat. The tight knot in my stomach constricted like a snake around my intestines.
Why can't I just forget about him? Valentine owed me nothing, and he had no claim on me, either.
Regardless of this logic, he continued to seep through the corners of my mind, making me miss his stupid, warm robe, his silly gestures, his enthusiastic smile…
The way he smelled like butterscotch.
Stop it, Hermia, I groaned. It was easier to be angry at Valentine than to think about the things I liked about him. I could bring up to myself how he broke my trust, how he constantly asserted his cockiness in the most annoying way, how he chose Laverna over me, how he never came back when he said he would.
"Stupid, juggling git," I muttered into my pillow. Twenty-two and only now do I choose to toss and turn in my bed, stressing over someone of the male sex.
Not that I took Valentine as the steady sort, really. Palace life would not suit him; that much was evident in his personality. But he could give a girl a warning, you know. Especially after living all those weeks in his Tower, eating in his scullery, listening to his jokes day after day…you can't blame me for being a little shocked when he told me he was leaving in five minutes.
I considered those weeks in Tower, being my last as unofficial royalty—without all the bloody protocol—as a discernable highlight of my time in the Mirror World. When I wasn't with Mum rebuilding the city or at official meetings and such, Valentine would take me to the unblemished parts of town and set up a miniature performance (him juggling and me on a high wire), or we would fly over the Mirror World in Tower and he would tell me about all the amazing (mostly fictional) adventures he had during his life.
To tell the truth, before Valentine told me he was flying off in Tower, the thought of him leaving never even crossed my mind. It was like Val blundered into my life and it turned out he was stuck there. He seemed like a permanent fixture in my world. Like an oven, or something.
I yawned, the need for sleep overpowering the strange sadness weighing on my chest. My arms wrapped themselves around my torso, trying to alleviate the painful twinge from the weight as I thought about him. I was too tired to force my thoughts anywhere at this point. So I drifted, resigning myself to the fact that Valentine was probably still "too busy" to accept my invitation, no matter how much I wished otherwise.
And I woke up the next morning to find myself curled up on my side, my head tilted towards the comforting scent of butterscotch.
'You are planning to set up another performance there for what reason?'
"…Because. Anyway, in a week, so we should probably start heading that way in a couple of days. I'm determined to make someone cheer for me. Just once. A teeny, tiny little clap. A whistle. A laugh. I'll even settle for a well-placed gasp. Then I'm done, I promise."
'And when was the last time I took the word of Valentine seriously?'
I threw my hands up in defeat, continuing to skulk out the door in the opposite direction of her voice.
After the whole Blackbug Circle comeback a few months ago (or setback; however you want to look at it) Tower has been grating on my nerves about retiring from the juggling circuit and getting a real job, especially if I keep up the appetite I've been cultivating recently. Unfortunately, seeing as I lived in Tower, she had free reign to bother me in the most inconvenient of times, like when I'm eating. Or sleeping. That gets extremely tiring, in more ways than one.
We had landed on the outskirts of the borderlands, by a small, strange town called Blue. I was here only once before, as a very young child. Not the best memories resurface around here. Moving about the town, I recalled another reason why I didn't really like Blue. The residents here were quite…strange. They cared little about the goings-on around them, like they were all partially blind. They also spoke with these whispery, creepy voices that made the little hairs on your body stand on end.
But the most unnerving characteristic of the Blue people was their universal obsession of this disturbing, other-worldly, nonsensical kind of music. Singing about people named Jude and Prudence and diamond people in the sky and walruses and fields of red fruit…
It was just weird.
"Enjoy Blue," a man on the nearly empty main street told me with an eerily bright smile on his face as he handed me a pamphlet of some sort.
Oh yeah, they were also fanatics. Something about future fruit. I should probably listen more closely to their music. Maybe there was some method to their madness.
On the other hand, I thought as tried not to make eye contact with another Blue person, maybe I should just grab the groceries and high-tail it back to Tower.
I hurried to the store, which was nearly as vacant as the outside, other than the occasional slack-jawed wanderer through the aisles. I kept my head down, quietly grateful for the Blue peoples' tendency of keeping their heads in the clouds. I was obviously an outsider.
Grabbing a few bags of crisps and a little box of cakes, I headed over to the check-out counter. The cashier gave me a dreamy smile before taking care of my purchases. Needless to say, I counted my change afterwards.
I was nearly at the city limits when a thin, trembling young woman grabbed me by the arm, a look of exultation on her masked face. I tried to jerk away, but her grip was stronger than I expected. I noticed a small, pale fruit with a piece bitten away was in the hand that wasn't restraining me.
"Excuse me, ma'am, I'm in a bit of a hurry," I said, forcing a smile to cover up the alarm on my face.
"You should be. She's waiting for you," the woman giggled in that breathy voice that gave me chills.
"Exactly. Don't want her to fly off without me," I replied, chuckling nervously, wondering how she knew about Tower in the first place.
"You've been gone for too long, and you keep ignoring her," she chided darkly, her mirth fading into an intense seriousness. I froze when I caught the gravity of her words. "The future fruit showed me that you two are irreversibly intertwined, and that this—" She fluttered her hand at me. "—is only going to cause the both of you more pain than necessary."
The crazy woman finally released me, but I was too stunned to move. "Now hurry!" She waved her hands at me again, this time in a 'shooing' motion. "No more dawdling! There isn't much time! Go!"
Shaken out of my shocked state, I staggered out of Blue, more confused and wary about the people who inhabited the town now than ever.
'Dawdling again, Val? All you were supposed to get were some snack foods,' Tower badgered the moment I stepped inside the door. 'Don't tell me you spent more on food. We have at least three more pizzas in the freezer.' Going back on the psychic woman's advice, I ignored Tower's comments. Instead, I tuned her out like I always did and went to one of the sculleries to shove the chips and cakes into a cupboard. Tower was still talking in the background, and I grunted at appropriate moments so she didn't seem to notice. I headed up to the navigation room, eager to lounge in an armchair and do nothing as Tower flew us to a nice little grassy spot in the Neutral Lands.
Tower's annoying voice resounded in my ear as I lowered myself onto my favorite chair.
"I'm so sorry, Tower. I didn't catch that," I droned with false enthusiasm as I slumped into the cushions. A grating humph echoed through the walls.
'I said,' Tower repeated with heavy exasperation, 'that you got another invitation to a festival ball from Hermia. But I don't suppose you're interested. You passed off all the others anyway.'
I cringed, but stayed silent. I hated when she does this. The both of them.
'I gathered as much.' She sighed. 'I'll go write a letter for you. Valentine, I don't know what is going on with you. Staying gone for so long, and you keep ignoring her—'
Whoa. Stop the presses. Hold the phone. What did she say?
'You are causing yourself more pain than necessary by staying away from her. Maybe you should stop being a coward of your own feelings and just—'
"When is the festival?" I demanded, stumbling onto my feet.
'What does it matter to you? You never want to go to these things,' Tower mocked.
"Shut up, Tower, and answer the bloody question!"
'Goodness. We are feeling a bit bossy today…Here.' Something came zooming up behind me and hit me in the back of the head. I whipped around. It was the letter; Tower sent it out of the fireplace at an annoying speed. I stifling my comments and picked up the offending thin, opening it.
You are cordially invited to attend the royal celebration for the Holiday of Lovers—
Holiday of Lovers? I nearly dropped the bloody thing—
The ball will be held at the White Palace a week before the Spring Equinox, at exactly seven-o-clock in the evening.
Please arrive promptly with this invitation in hand and in the appropriate formal attire.
A complimentary rose for Her Majesty, the Gracious White Queen Hermia, is encouraged.
"Tower, how many weeks til the spring equinox?" I asked carefully.
'The spring equinox?' she repeated. 'Let's see…the, ah, spring equinox is a week from today. Yes, that's about right.'
"WHAT?! It's today?!" I exclaimed, dropping the letter. "Tower, quick, what time is it?"
'Why do you need—?'
"No questions! Just give me the time, Tower!" I snapped, rushing out of the room. I raced down the stairs to my closet.
'It's six twenty-five in the evening,' she answered, sounding startled as I ripped through the rows upon rows of purple shirts and black slacks with a gusto that was accelerated when I heard the time. Finally I reached the back where I kept all my hats, and a few fancier articles of clothing. I fluttered my hands in exasperation at the limited choices I had.
"I have nothing to bloody wear for a stupid ball!" I groaned, shuffling through the hangers and boxes. "I shouldn't go. I have no reason to go. This is ridiculous, why am I listening to the advice of some barking mad Blue person?"
'You sound like a prepubescent girl,' Tower commented dryly. 'And if your acute agitation is any indication, you do have some sort of reason.'
"What the hell am I going to say to her? An 'oops, my mistake, it won't happen again'? I don't think that'll go over too well."
'Valentine!' Tower barked. I stopped sorting through clothes with a sigh.
"I'm listening," I muttered.
'I have two very easy solutions to your two dilemmas. And since it looks like you don't have much time, I think you should just follow my directions without your excuses.' Satisfied that I didn't throw out another comment, she continued. 'Firstly, since it's obviously for the Holiday of Lovers, wear that red outfit of yours—'
"Ugh, that's so tacky."
'Shush. Just do it. Secondly, you need to apologize. Actually apologize, not that cowardly sidestepping bollocks you do.'
"Tower, I am not going to do that," I said, frowning. "I'll…I'll express my…regret that I haven't been able to see her, but I am not going to ap-ap…you know, do that whole thing. It's not going to make everything I've done un-happen." Tower sighed.
'Alright. Fine. Do what you want. Just try to show a little gentlemanly behavior when you get there.'
"Why, Tower! When have I ever done otherwise?" I said with false indignation.
'Just get dressed, Val. When did that ball start?' At that reminder, I quickly grabbed the red tunic and vest. On a second thought, I went back and grabbed one of my hats.
We took off not long after, with a lot of huffing from Tower and a lot of yelling from me. We hardly had twenty minutes to get there, and we were halfway across the border lands. Tower didn't appreciate my commentary as she gradually picked up speed, and seemed to catch some turbulence every moment I was off-balance.
All in all, it wasn't a pleasant flight. On top of Tower's irritatingly slow progress, I was also extremely nervous. Outrageously nervous. Astoundingly nervous. Run-away-and-never-come-back nervous. All because I was seeing Hermia again for the first time in two years and all that was driving me to go was some insane, bottled up desire to see exactly how angry she was with me. On one hand, she could be furious that I never lived up to my promise and believed I broke her trust again. On the other hand, she could have forgotten about that promise and the letter was simply a formality and it turned out that she didn't care whether I came back or not.
Strangely, I wasn't sure which was worse.
"Are we nearly there?" I asked again, pacing in the navigation room and occasionally glancing anxiously at the grandfather clock by the fireplace. Tower growled.
'Valentine, if you ask me that one more time, I'm bloody turning around,' she snapped. I could tell she was serious, so I kept my mouth shut, and tried to content myself with looking out the window. It was already five after and the blasted City of Light was still nowhere in sight.
"We're late," I stated accusingly at Tower under my breath. She just huffed in response.
I sighed loudly and went back to the armchair, throwing myself on it, a sour expression on my masked face. I closed my eyes in mental exhaustion. Maybe if I could forget the fact I'm going to see Hermia, we'd be there sooner…
I was jerked out of my attempt to fantasize a nice, clean, Hermia-less beach when Tower coughed.
"What?" I asked gruffly.
I shoved myself out of the chair in an unbalanced haste toward the window, feeling an odd sensation in my chest, like I could hardly breathe.
"Bugger," was all I could say as I saw our descent into the cobbled roads converging toward the White Palace.
I stumbled my way downstairs, passing innumerable mirrors to make sure the damned hat was on right and the vest was unwrinkled. But even as I reached the door, I froze, my breaths coming out in shallow heaves.
'Well what are you waiting for, Val?' Tower asked. 'You're already late as it is.'
I couldn't answer. I just tried to move my hand to open the bloody door. I heard a sigh, and the door opened by itself.
"Thanks," I muttered weakly, taking the few steps down onto the street.
'Go and get the girl, loverboy,' Tower said, trying to sound encouraging. My throat only closed up as I headed mechanically towards the palace, merging with a few other late-comers towards the palace gates.
"Invitation?" the doorman asked dully, hand outstretched.
I fumbled inside my vest pockets for a moment, and then eventually found it in my back pant pocket.
"Happy Lover's Day," the man muttered, waving me in. I took a breath and headed up the steps to the palace, following the bright pink lanterns lining the way towards the ballroom. I quickly adjusted my broad-rimmed hat to shade my face. I didn't want Hermia to see me just yet.
I meandered down the hallway, trying to figure out a way to make an inconspicuous entrance. I suppose I could hide in the middle of stragglers and lurk in the corners until I build up the courage to confront her. Or I could find the back door, through the kitchens or something. But then there was the off-chance I wouldn't be allowed back there. Of course, I could slip through with relative ease. It was the possibility of being kicked out—
"Excuse me, sir."
I noticed that I had been staring at a map of the White City for a good five minutes, debating with myself. I turned to find an official-looking man standing stiffly beside me.
"Sir, the festivities have already started. I suggest you hurry along to the ballroom rather than miss the entertainment."
I forced a smile on my face. "Of course," I told him.
"Do you need assistance in finding the ballroom?" he asked.
"Er, I think I'll be fine, thanks," I said, slightly irritated that I was being forced to the place that I feared most at the moment. Making my way towards the sound of music and talking and laughing, I caught sight of a small group of people also making headway in the same direction. I hurried to converge with them, not wishing to enter by myself, just in case she bothered to look my way.
The first thing I encountered was a gigantic red rose, constructed of glass or crystal, standing directly in the center of the entryway. A bit ostentatious for my taste…well, with the exception of headwear. This thought reminded me of the hat upon my own head, and I tilted the brim down, silently hoping it would hide my mask. Luckily, many others had hats every bit as, or even more grandiose than, mine.
The ballroom was crowded with an explosion of color. The women of the City of Light loved to flash their latest finery, nearly blinding anyone within a five-foot radius. I recognized a couple masks, but no one cared to pay much attention to me. There was a concerto orchestra on the small stage on the opposite side of the room, and people were already dancing and forming groups to gossip.
Okay. First order of business; find Hermia, and avoid her.
For now, anyway. I scanned the ballroom, trying to find a familiarly tall, thin, brunette figure in the masses surrounding me. It took a minute or so, but I couldn't miss the fact that the Queen of Light usually had the largest audience.
Hermia looked tired. Not many people could catch the slight sagging of her shoulders, or the tightness in her smile, but she obviously had a wearing patience for the people talking with her. She was wearing a dark burgundy gown and matching satin mask, a gold circlet in her hair. She seemed a little different, too. Something in the way she carried herself. More…regal, I guess. It makes sense. Overall, however, two years hadn't changed her much. She was still tall and moderately lean, and even with a good twenty feet separating us, I could see her eyes were as piercing as ever, even when they weren't fixed on me.
Heat rose in my stomach when I realized I had frozen in the middle of the room. I kept Hermia in my sights, but I walked over to a table to get a good, hard drink.
What the hell was I doing here? I didn't belong in this world, full of flashy dresses hiding rules and regulations and customs. Blech. No thanks. Not the kind of atmosphere for a Valentine. I like showing off some wealth now and again, but the strings attached to it lessens its attraction.
I tried some of this red cocktail thing called 'sangria', but it was too weak for my nerves. Scanning the waiters waltzing by with trays, I grabbed something blue in a small glass off of one tray and downed it. It burned down my throat, so I guessed it was the right kind of liquid courage I would need tonight. I kept myself from taking another, though. I winced at the thought of being wasted while trying to win over Hermia's favor again.
My heart still thumped uncomfortably in my throat as I kept a sharp eye on Hermia, maneuvering out of sight when needed. I wasn't ready to face her yet. A few things had to be kinked out before I could talk to her.
Alright, Valentine. You need to figure out when you're going to pull her aside and exactly what you are going to tell her. She's preoccupied with those stuffy old nits right now, but she'll find some excuse or another to get away from them. Now, what the bloody hell to say? Am I supposed to look happy to see her? Or guilty that I hadn't been here sooner? Probably should keep it more light-hearted. Yeah. That'll help my case. She'll know I missed her, and it'll soften her up and everything will be back to normal between us. Valentine, you are brilliant! Now…to wait for her to get away from those dodgy politicians. You can intercept her then and take her by surprise! Perfect.
I slowly made my way closer to Hermia, careful to keep my head down. She was still chatting politely with the self-important men, but I could see her eyes wandering toward the banquet table. I positioned myself strategically between Hermia and the escape of her choice, my throat feeling excruciatingly dry. I snatched a glass of what I thought was water from another tray, but immediately spit out the liquor in fear that I would tip the precarious balance of nerves I was trying to control.
Though alcohol, at the moment, was a tempting mistress; persuading me to drown out said nerves.
I attempted to look as if I was nonchalantly listening to the band. My foot-tapping was probably garishly off-beat, but I was preoccupied with Hermia's obvious farewells to the politicians. She curtsied and the look of relief on her face was blatant as she headed my direction, albeit a few feet off to my left. My heart leapt into my throat. I wasn't ready to talk to her. Not just that, I'm pretty sure I was incapable of speech in the immediate future.
I took a tentative step to catch her before she brushed by without noticing me—and was foiled by a very fancy man with an unappealing smirk. Said man crossed directly between Hermia and me, catching her by the arm in a much too familiar way. I quickly spun on my heel and made a hasty retreat a few yards off, cursing violently under my breath. I hid behind a small fern just close enough for me to hear and see the two of them.
"My dear Majesty, you look ravishing tonight," the man said with an elegance that made me want to gag. "I was hoping your Grace would grace me with a dance?"
That did it. I gagged.
"Call me Hermia, please, Master Pennyweather," Hermia replied with a tight smile. "I really try to encourage more familiar acquaintances to drop some formalities in more informal settings, you know?"
"Of course," Penny-wotzits replied, looking a bit smugger then he should. "Would you then, Hermia, give me the honor of dancing with you?" Hermia just smiled politely and extended her hand toward him. The bloke took it in his and led her to the dancing couples in front of the stage where the band just stroke up a bubbly waltz.
Frowning, I followed them, a voice in the back of my head commenting wryly on my embarrassingly deliberate eavesdropping. I ignored it, keeping the brim of my hat tilted to shade most of my face.
I watched as the Penny fellow placed his hand boldly on her waist and took her right hand in his left, and began twirling her around. I could make out their lips moving in conversation as they danced. A peculiar sort of heat began to build in the back of my throat when he bent by her ear to whisper something, and then the tell-tale motion of laughter from Hermia's jerking shoulders.
It may have been either a coincidence or a work of fate. But all I could process was that the moment I cleared through enough people to get a better view of the dancing couple, I caught the bastard in the act of pulling Hermia much closer than deemed appropriate, by even the most obliging of etiquette.
And by me.
Really, most people shouldn't think much of it, seeing as other men were also stepping in to dance with the women, but part of me was terrified that now was the time I chose to catch up with Hermia. In contrast, the other part was aware of the burning jealousy in my throat propelling me towards the object of said jealousy.
I took her empty hand the moment the Penny boy sent her into a graceful twirl; it was solely out of impulse. But everything seemed to slow down and materialize as Hermia's normally uncompromising face gave away into, first, confusion, and then pure shock.
"Excuse me," I heard myself telling her previous dance partner brusquely, "but I don't suppose you would mind me cutting in?"
Hermia was shaken out of her bafflement and tore her eyes away from me to him.
"Pennyweather, I hope you won't mind if I danced with this old friend of mine," she said, a hint of weakness behind her usually certain voice. "We have a few things to…discuss."
He briefly turned his head to look at me with nothing short of contempt, but bowed away, muttering an, "Of course, Hermia". I tried to keep from sneering at him as he backed away, looking as if I had force-fed him ten lemons. But instead I turned my focus back onto Hermia, expecting the shock I saw when she first recognized me, perhaps demanding, with wide-eyed astonishment, where the hell I had come from.
So, naturally, I was dumbfounded when I saw the look of seething anger on Hermia's face. Clearing my throat uncomfortably, I resumed the pace of dancing. She didn't say anything, she didn't look at me; she just stiffly allowed me to guide her through the steps.
"No, 'thanks Val from steering me away from that insufferable cad?'" I joked half-heartedly, feeling less confident about my whole scheme by the second. Hermia finally looked at me, but with a scowl on her face.
"That was rude," she stated.
"But true?" I wheedled, hoping this whole ordeal wasn't a complete loss. She didn't answer, so I took it as a yes. "Oh, c'mon, Hermia. Hermia? Ugh, okay, let me start over. Hello, Hermia! It's great to be seeing you again! Would you like to dance?" She simply stared at me, her eyes flashing with fury.
"I don't think that works when you're already dancing with me," she replied tartly.
"Do you want me to stop and ask properly with all the bowing and nonsense?" I asked, keeping my voice even.
"It doesn't matter now," she said. Her expression changed, like the fury behind her eyes decided to break free. "What does matter, though, is why the hell you have been ignoring me for two bloody years."
"I have not been ignoring you!" I protested. "I've been writing you letters and all. I've been busy, I've told you this." Hermia just rolled her eyes. It was times like these that I truly despised female intuition.
"For two years, Val?" she spat through her teeth.
"I'm pretty sure you were busy too, with all your blasted royal matters and meetings," I rebuked. "I remembered the whole gist of this palace thing. I was shoved off to the side when more important people presented themselves."
"You would have been welcomed here anytime," she said dully.
"Oh, of course. Then I would have to wait to be written into your schedule, I suppose? Very convenient for you, perhaps, but for me—"
"There you go again!" Hermia exclaimed, her voice raising an octave. "Thinking only of yourself and what works for you."
"It's not like you ever thought of coming to visit me," I said, not liking the feel of the brunt of her insult. She didn't reply to that, but just chose to determinedly fix her irritated gaze over my shoulder.
We continued to dance in rigid silence, both of us fuming, neither looking at the other.
As the music faded into another song, I noticed a softening of Hermia's expression out of the corner of my eye. Her eyes were downcast, in a sort of weary sadness. Concern breaking through my aggravation, I slowed to a stop and sighed.
"Why don't we talk out on the balcony?" I suggested quietly, taking my hand from her waist and her hand. Hermia pulled her reserve together and looked up again at me, her eyes revealing a carefully controlled emotion.
"The hallway off of the kitchens will be better," she replied, turning abruptly towards the exit. I followed her. The two of us fled unnoticed—luckily—from the ballroom and crossed into one of the adjoining hallways. We passed the kitchens on the way. There was a lot of yelling and clashing followed by the blurred forms of waiters and waitresses rushing to and from the ballroom. Again, no one took notice as we entered a quieter, empty corridor filled with small chandeliers and official-looking paintings.
Hermia stopped under a painting of a uniformed man with a large mustache, her arms crossed and her brow furrowed in intense musing as she refused to look at me. I took a similar stance across from her.
A sort of guilty awkwardness came over me, like I was a child in trouble for running away and coming home only once my mother had gotten thoroughly worried. I found myself incapable of speech once again. I waited for Hermia to speak first, nervously picking at the black tunic under my vest.
"This is ridiculous," she muttered, running her hand over her face. She looked up at me, a tight, mirthless smile on her face. "I never meant to get so…so mad at you. It's…It's insane! It's like everything is blown all out of proportion when it comes to you." She spat the last word out like poison, looking away, her fingers curling into fists. Then she relaxed, almost out of defeat, and chuckled weakly. She looked at me, looking a little sheepish. "I even tracked you down one night, just to…hell, I don't even know what I would accomplish."
"Wait a second…" I started slowly. "You tracked me down? You've been spying on me?"
"It wasn't spying exactly…"
"Tracking people down without their knowing is awfully close to spying, Hermia," I told her, feeling apprehensive. When in bloody hell did this happen? What had she seen?
"It was harmless. Really, Valentine. I just…wanted to see what you were up to?" Her excuse sounded suspiciously like she was questioning herself.
"And what was I up to?" I asked coolly. She shifted in discomfort.
"You were at Blackbug Circle, juggling," she said, shrugging, trying to seem nonchalant. "I…guess I didn't know what to say."
"Because you thought I had been making fake excuses not to come back," I accused.
"You promised you would," Hermia shot back. "And you've never been all that secure with follow-throughs, Valentine, so I don't see why you can blame me for making that assumption."
We lapsed into another silence, glaring at each other from the opposite sides of the hallway.
"I can't believe you're still worried about that whole Dark Lands incident," I said in a low voice. "Valentines don't make the same mistake twice."
"Then what do you call selling my mum out…twice?" she replied icily.
"Self preservation. Not a mistake," I told her hotly. Then I winced. "At least, that was before you were thrown into the mess, of course."
"So what? So you needed me to survive a hanging," she said cruelly. "What other excuses do you have for your actions, Val? Because I've think I've just about heard them all."
I exhaled loudly, feeling even more aggravated.
"Why can't you just listen? You used to be pretty good at that," I snapped. "I was worried about my own life, yeah, but do you know how…hard it was to see you strung up and beaten like a piece of meat, and then turned into a mindless robot? Do you really think that didn't make me feel useless? And do you really think, after all that effort to break that damned spell, and after you saved my cowardly neck, I would just…" I broke off, a knot in my throat. Hermia just stared at me with uncertainty.
Then, a thought came into my head. A painful, necessary thought. I looked down at the ground to keep my eyes from her. "It was my fault all of this came about, anyway." I opened and closed my mouth hesitantly. Hermia kept quiet, obviously curious at what I was trying to say. "This..." I motioned between us. "…animosity."
Oh, bloody hell. I'm actually going to do this? I've never…not in a million…billion…
"What I mean is…even before all this. You know, when I…after I tricked you and all, misusing your trust in me. I really don't like the idea that I…betrayed you."
I can't believe this. I am actually trying.
I trailed off, my mouth dry and my hands plucking nervously at my tunic again. "You know I never meant it, and I feel like shite for doing that to you, and your mum as well…" Christ, this was hard. Why was it so hard? I should just bypass it like I did with Helena. She got the gist of my foggy ap-apo-apola-apology.
"Ugh. It's so awkward," I exclaimed, rubbing my neck in embarrassment
And Hermia wasn't helping much. She just stared at me expectantly, oblivious to the warring going on in my head.
Dammit. You got this far. Just spit it out.
I took a hesitant step forward, hoping it came off as imploring.
"You're…?" she encouraged gently, her eyes ravaged with curiosity.
"Oh, the hell with it. I'm sorry," I blurted, throwing my hands into the air. "I'm sorry for selling out your mum, I'm sorry for leaving you for Shadow bait, I'm sorry for being an ass and a coward, I'm sorry for not accepting all those damned invitations, and I'm sorry for dropping in on you like a sphinx in a library, thinking that everything would go back to normal between us."
I didn't know what to expect after apologizing to her. It was different from yelling desperately to Tower all those years ago, because I was pressured out of self-preservation rather than true guilt. I had thought…maybe I would feel a little better after apologizing to Hermia, that I would be rewarded by my actions, like I had been with Tower.
But it was cruelly the opposite; I felt the guilt grow ten-fold, and it suffocated me. Every pain I had inflicted on her was now squeezing the life out of my chest, and I didn't know how the hell to get rid of it.
And Hermia still wasn't saying a bloody thing.
"So much for 'Valentines never apologize'," I mocked hoarsely, crossing my arms over my chest.
"Val," Hermia said tersely.
I looked up. She was walking over to me, a small, wry smile. She took my shoulders, and her eyes pierced into me like daggers.
"I accept your apology. So…stop moping."
When she released me, it was like the weight that was constricting my chest suddenly unraveled and fell away. There was lightness there now that I had never experienced before. I couldn't help but grin sheepishly back at her.
"That wasn't so hard," I said, my courage returning. "You know; that whole apologizing business." Hermia rolled her eyes again.
"Not very Valentine, though, is it?" she mocked, smirking. "What ever shall you do without your identity to excuse yourself with?" I sighed with little gusto.
"You're right. You've corrupted my deeply engrained values," I said woefully, slinging an arm across her shoulders in refreshing camaraderie as we unconsciously began walking back toward the ballroom.
And she had. I had become a singular 'Valentine' now. It wasn't unpleasant, just strange. Hermia, in one fell swoop into my life, had erased my instinctive cowardice, my utter revulsion to apologies, and my selfish perspectives.
Well, mostly anyway. And there was still that one word. Just thinking of it sent shivers of fear up my spine. And to think Tower had thought I would tell Hermia that I l-lo-lo-damn, I couldn't even say it in my head.
I looked over at Hermia, a queer ache in my heart at the relief I felt when she smiled back at me, chatting about her adventures while I had been gone. I felt conflicted. I knew what I felt for Hermia. I knew it; I just couldn't say it outright. It was…it was just too terrifying a concept. It was foreign, alien…dangerous.
It felt like something scolding hot, and if I said it, nothing would be the same. If I wrote the word on a piece of paper, it would take flight and never come back.
But I had to know…if she felt the same?
"…I swear I thought he was going to bite my head off. It was terrifying," Hermia exclaimed as we entered into the ballroom once again. I hummed a sound like interest, but Hermia caught my wandering mind. "You alright, Val?" I took a deep breath. Damn.
"Hermia…can I…tell you something?" I asked, pulling her to a stop by the glass rose. My heart was beating in my chest like a piece of paper fighting to be freed.
"Of course," she said, raising her brow inquisitively. I took in another ragged breath.
"Hermia…you know…I just wanted to say—"
"My Queen! My Queen!"
A person across the room was calling across to us.
"Just a moment," she called back, then turning towards me again, waiting.
"Well, um, I guess I wanted you to know that, well, I…care about you, Hermia," I stuttered, my eyes flicking over to the person heading over to us.
Her face froze in place.
I chickened out. Part of my cursing myself, I smiled weakly. "You know, like I would hate to let the Shadows get you again." Her face relaxed into a smirk.
"That's very sweet, Val," she commented sarcastically. "I'd hate to have the Shadows get you either." The man that was trying to get her attention finally reached us.
"My Lady, the Chief of the Guard would like to speak with you. And Madame LeFere has been looking all over for you."
Hermia grimaced slightly, and then looked over at me apologetically.
"I'll get back to you as soon as I deal with the brownnosers, eh?" she told me, patting me on the arm.
"Sure, sure," I assured her. "I'll be…you know. Around." She smiled at me gratefully before allowing herself to be led off, and I forced a return gesture, even though my heart was sinking into my stomach.
Unfortunately, the brownnosers never gave her a moment of peace, a point of return whereas I could grab her attention. Not saying that I didn't try. I got perhaps two words in edgewise between self-important authorities.
Annoyed by the fact that I was being shoved away from Hermia, after two years, by more 'important' people, I headed over to one of the long tables, sitting in an empty chair. I tore my eyes away from Hermia long enough to take another shot glass from a passing waiter's tray.
"Long live the Queen," I murmured into my scotch. At least, I thought it was scotch. It had this odd red tinge. I glared back at Hermia.
Bloody Lovers' Holiday. How it mocked me.
"Valentine, was it?" a slightly familiar voice spoke to me. I turned my head to find the blasted Penny-man sitting in the chair beside me. He was smiling in the most disconcerting way. I grunted an affirmation, turning my attentions back to Hermia and the aristocratic posse that clung to her like the drowning. I saw him follow my line of perception.
"Hermia is very popular in this city. Beloved by all her people," he commented lightly. He laughed; a false, ringing kind of thing. "I remember I had to fight off the blasted Bank Commissioner to even get to talk to her. Ah, but she's a lovely woman." The tone in his voice made me tear my gaze away from her and watch him carefully.
"Hard to keep her attentions, though," I said, trying to sound casual. "Being the Queen and all."
"Oh, that's no problem," he laughed again. It grated my nerves. "I have quite the admirable reputation. My stock in the travel business is a plus as well. Surely you have heard of Pennyweather's Washing Machine Services?"
"No," I said shortly, drinking from my glass again.
"Ah, you've been out of town, right? That's probably why. You know, Hermia and I go quite a ways back. I first met her two Lovers' Holidays ago." I kept myself from smirking. Quite a ways back. Arrogant fop. "We hit it straight off. I don't know…" He grinned at me, eyebrows cocked over his mask. "Maybe there will be a different kind of festivity in a few months, if you know what I mean."
"I'm…not sure I do," I replied darkly, a dark sort of feeling making my jaw tighten.
"Well…" he drawled. "After a few years, you think another step is in order. Women don't like to be kept waiting. I'm sure you understand."
"I think I do," I said, keeping my voice low, while my knuckles whitened with the grip I had on my glass.
"I know it might sound a bit ambitious, asking for the Queen's hand, but I have some royal blood myself…"
These wheels started turning in me head. Faster and faster, like every word this Penny bloke was saying was burning and speeding things up. I couldn't stand it. The thought of him or anyone like him courting Hermia started this deep, primal rumble in my chest. This anger…it was like I was actually capable of swinging a fist at the bastard! Me? Cowardly old Valentine? Throwing a punch? It was unreal.
But Hermia probably wouldn't appreciate a brawl breaking out in the middle of her party. A desperate sort of adrenaline started to race through my veins. Then what could I do? Should I just stand by while snotty rich brats came and fawned over Hermia? Could I just stand by when their white, unblemished, and unworked hands pulled her against them?
No. No no no no no no no no NO!
Not my Hermia.
So instead the wheels kept turning in a different direction, a more wild direction. I couldn't think. I could hardly breathe.
But I knew what the bloody hell I had to do.
"What on earth are you doing?" Penny-boy called in indignation as I leapt up from my seat, dashing towards a table by the band. I ignored him as I loped towards the nearly empty banquet tables. With hardly a hesitation, I jumped up onto the table, knocking over a few dishes and centerpieces in the process. A few people cried out in shock and anger.
"Excuse me; may I borrow your glass? And this knife?" I asked, grabbing said items before the woman in front of me could answer. She sputtered a line of expletives. "Thanks."
Straightening, I began clanging the knife against the crystal goblet rapidly. A few heads turned, but Hermia was across the room, and the bloody band was still playing. I sighed in exasperation and leaned over towards the conductor, muttering to him. He nodded and silenced the band.
With relatively less noise to deal with, my stubborn clanging turned a few more heads.
"Excuse me? Hello? Yes, over here," I called out, using the voice I saved for reaching the far corners of crowded streets when I was about to give a performance. I saw Hermia look over towards my voice, and I saw her eyes narrow in suspicion. "Ahem, can everyone hear me? Good, good. Alright. I would like to make a speech, if you don't mind. Hermia? You don't mind, do you?" A hundred heads swiveled in her direction, but she just kept her eyes locked with mine. She shook her head, her expression carefully amused. I cleared my throat. "Wonderful. Because it is about our dear hostess and queen. And royalty adore compliments, I've heard. This is a marvelous party, Hermia. My compliments to the chef…and to your distiller as a matter of fact…"
A few laughs from the audience. Hermia grinned slightly. I took another breath.
"I'm fairly sure you have all heard of the…er…unusual circumstances regarding the crowning of our current queen? Yes? I thought so. It is a fascinating story. I should know. I was there!" I paced back and forth across the long table, illustrating my words as I did. "You see, the first time I met Hermia, she fell from the sky. I know, I know, incredible. But, our queen here is quite unconventional, as you might have found for yourselves." More chuckles this time.
"But I digress. What I'm really doing here, and not just 'doing here' meaning why the hell I'm standing on this table, but why I'm at this party is because I haven't laid eyes on Queen Hermia for two years…" I trailed off, swallowing. I stopped my pacing. "By the way, have any of you seen just how intense her eyes are? Sure, she prefers those crazy open-eyed masks, but I've seen some maskless people before…and never have I seen eyes quite like hers."
"They…they see you. I should know; my profession centers around…being seen. But Hermia…that's the first thing I noticed about her. Other than the fact that she appeared out of thin air, of course.
"I was bloody nervous coming back here, you know," I said, chuckling weakly. "Hermia's very perceptive, and I was right in guessing that she would see right through my…charming disposition. I really didn't know what to say to her after two years. We've been through…quite a bit of adventures, and I guess I'm not used to all this grandeur surrounding you." Part of my mind registered that I suddenly directed the speech exclusively to Hermia. "I had so many things to try to explain, and you just make me forget all the intelligent things I have to say. And what I'm trying to say is…why I'm up here…" I waved my hands vaguely towards the table I was standing on. "…I'm trying to say the one thing that keeps being interrupted, either by these other silly important people, or by life-and-death situations, or by my own bloody cowardice."
My breath was becoming shallower, and my heartbeat thundered in my ears. The crowd was rabidly curious now, forced into a breathless silence, but Hermia was the most captivated. Her jaw was locked in concentration, and her eyes were focused utterly on mine.
"Hermia. The fact of the matter is…" I stuttered, hardly able to speak past the panic rising in my throat. "I actually am, well…kind of…in a weird, unpredictable way…It's like…I am. In...love. With. You."
The atmosphere changed suddenly from anticipation to silent shock. I saw as Hermia's mouth open and her face blanch in equal astonishment.
My breathing stops altogether, and fear suddenly tightens my throat. Dread, icy cold across my skin, whispers to me how stupid this whole thing was. Why, why did I do this? In front of the whole bloody city no less.
My heart thumps irregularly with terror as Hermia began making her way towards me through the shell shocked crowd, her face expressionless. My legs feel weak as she approaches the table, looking up at me.
She looked almost…mad. I swore silently, a silent, pitiful explicative in the back of my head.
Hermia took her red, satin mask off, unveiling the full force of the incredible power of her eyes. I was as frozen as I would be if the Shadows had cornered me and I was facing my imminent death.
And then she jumped up onto the table, making herself level to me. She took off my hat and threw it aside. I still couldn't breathe.
Then she kissed me.
My brain did not register this for a full five seconds. Then the feeling of her soft lips pressing gently against mine jump-started both my heart and breathing. With a ragged gasp, I kissed her back, wrapping my arms around her waist, pulling her tightly against me. A wild joy surging through my body from my fingertips to my toes as I felt her smile against my own lips.
It felt…right. So bloody, insanely, unbelievably right.
Faintly I heard the room erupt in cheers.
A moment later, Hermia pulled away, staring sternly at me. My heart skipped a beat with insecurity.
"Don't keep me waiting like that ever again," she told me, poking me sharply in the chest.
Smiling in relief, I nodded enthusiastically and dipped my head down to catch her lips again.
A beat past, and I pulled back this time. She looked at me in confusion as a broad grin appeared suddenly across my face.
"Oh, don't be such a baby. It wasn't as bad as me waiting for you to snap out of it while I was hanging by me neck."
Oh my god. I don't know what to say.
Okay, okay, I'll pull myself together. This was an insane writing experience. I mean, this is the first long term project I've done. I mean, I've counted.
ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY NINE PAGES!! Wow. Just…wow.
I want to thank all of you, all of you reviewers for supporting me. This could not have been done without you guys occasionally giving me the push to update.
I also want to thank Neil Gaiman and Dave Kean for their amazing inspiration. If either of you guys read this and thinks of making a sequel, my email is . ;)
But the person I want to place on a pedestal, the man who continues to support me in whatever I do, the guy who, when I kiss him, it feels "so bloody, insanely, unbelievably right." I love you Dylan. Thanks for luvin me. This whole damn thing is dedicated to YOU.
This is probably the last of my serious fanfiction writing. I'm off to fry bigger fish. Like attempting a novel of my own. (flinches) We'll see.
Oh!! I almost forgot! Check out the soundtrack for Walking on Air. I'll be posting it in chronological order, on my profile page.
I LOVE YOU ALL! THANK YOUUUUU!!