Valentine was not self-absorbed. Not really. He was just forgetful.

For example, once when he was 14, he forgot to put his mask on. Or rather, he did not so much forget to wear it as he forgot that it was necessary to wear it, and so he decided not to.

Unfortunately, this occurred on the day his mother had invited the neighbors over for tea.

Valentine had wandered through the hallways of his house, juggling some eggs he had stolen from the kitchen and looking at the walls, and the plants, and the portraits, and out the windows. Sometimes one of the plants would ask him how he was this afternoon, and he would usually tell them that he doing all right and ask if they had enough water. The portraits were not as kind, for the portraits had eyes, and they knew that something was wrong with Valentine's face and did not ask him to come in for tea as usual. Even the mirrors shied away. He was confused, but he juggled his eggs and walked, and got himself lost and then found again several times before he reached the sitting room.

His mother didn't approve of juggling. "Silly party trick", she would tell him, and sniff and take his pins away. So he dropped the eggs into his pocket before he went into the sitting room, but that honestly didn't make it much better at all.

"Valentine!" his mother snapped, livid and startled. "What are you doing?"

"Going for a walk, ma'am," he replied, perplexed at her tone.

"What do you think you're–" She stopped, recovering quickly and turning to face the neighbors. "I'm so sorry. Let me just take care of this, hmm? More tea? I'll be right back." She patted Mrs. Matterson's knee apologetically and rose from her seat, swiftly crossing and exiting the room without pause, snatching Valentine's elbow and dragging him along with her as she did.

"What is the meaning of this?" she hissed, pressing him against the wall with one white and sharply manicured hand. "How many times have I told you not to embarrass me in front of the neighbors?"

"I…I didn't mean to, ma'am," said Valentine, still confused and attempting to wriggle away from the fingernail prodding into his chest.

"You didn't mean to?" his mother repeated, incredulous and scandalized, and released Valentine, but kept him boxed against the wall with the force of her rage.

"No, ma'am." He eyed her warily, but could not discern her expression. She wasn't quite looking at his face, though; he could see that. Her head was tilted toward a window, rather than at him, and the angle of her mask indicated that…

Her mask…

"I, I'm sorry, I just…I just forgot, I didn't mean to–"

"You forgot?" his mother snapped, still not entirely looking at him. "How exactly did you forget to put on your mask before traipsing into the sitting room in front of Mr. and Mrs. Matterson?"

"…I don't know, ma'am," Valentine said quietly, staring at his hands. "I suppose it didn't seem important at the time…"

"It didn't seem–" She stopped again. Pulled in a deep breath, tapped a long fingernail against the chrome and violet surface of her mask. "Valentine, you simply cannot forget things like this. Masks are extremely important. We wear them for a reason!"

Valentine tipped his head to one side and blinked up at his mother, wondering why she still wouldn't look at him. "What is it?"

"What?" she said suddenly, looking at him, and flinching before glancing away. Valentine drew his eyebrows together in confusion.

"What's the reason we wear masks?"

His mother looked at him again, and quickly turned away with another flinch. He wondered if perhaps she was ashamed. She opened her mouth and left it that way for a long time, as if thinking, and then her face turned placid and her mouth firmed into a determined line. "Maybe…" she began, and turned to look back at Valentine (but not all the way). "Maybe it would be best if you leave home and never come back."

Valentine was startled. "That's not funny, Mum," he said, with utter consternation, but she was nodding as if she had just made an important decision.

"Your luggage is in your closet…why don't you just go back to your room and pack up. I'll be done with the Matterson's in a few hours, and I'll come back to look into your room when they're gone…perhaps you shouldn't be there, hmm?"

"Mum, that's not funny," he tried again, gripping the sleeve of her robe, but she tugged it away, not looking at him, not even really talking to him, as if he were already only a dream that she had awakened from. "Mum!"

"I'll have to get some more tea…" She was talking to herself, disregarding his presence. Valentine watched her walk slowly back toward the sitting room and tried to keep from crying. "And, Valentine," she said finally, with her hand on the door, and gave him a last glimmer of hope. "It's a dog-eat-dog world, son. You get them before they get you."

With that, she went back into the sitting room with a smile that was for the Mattersons and never again for him, and closed the door. It was the last time Valentine saw her.

He went back to his room in a daze, packed a bag, took his mask down from its shelf and stared at it for a long, long time before putting it on. He left the house without looking in any mirrors. Not even the plants bid him goodbye.

He walked until his home was only a black and brown and metal speck on the horizon, and then he walked until he forgot why he was walking and where he had originally intended to go, and forgot everything except that he could never go back.

Valentine walked out into the world, on the hard brown earth under the gray and orange sky, and he realized that his mother had not looked at him because she had not wanted to see his face.

He had a tower, for a time. A grand, tall tower, a beautiful one that flew and had lots of spiral staircases and places for books and things for juggling and that made him feel like a very important man, and that told him once that they would always be together, and that it would never leave him no matter what, but it lied. He also had a best friend, one who played a violin and was almost as good at conning people as he was, and with whom he had loads of fun and who told him once that when they went, they would go together, but he lied, too.

And then he met her. She didn't wear a mask, and she was older than he had been when it had happened to him, and she hadn't the faintest idea that masks were important, and that suited him just fine. She suited him just fine. The first time he saw her, he had spouted some nonsense about her shoes just to keep from telling her something totally idiotic about her eyes, despite the general sense of crisis that permeated the atmosphere, and he continued to tell her stupid things for most of the time he knew her, but he told her things because, all instincts and sense of self-preservation aside, he trusted her. Enough to admit to her that he wasn't speaking to his tower anymore, and enough to tell her (in a roundabout sort of way) about how his mother used to say things like "Eat your greens, or I might sell you back to the man I bought you from!" and enough to try as hard as he could (without the threat of imminent death at his heels) to apologize to her.

Yes, he had betrayed her. But he had gone back for her, and rescued her, risking life and limb, and he had never done that for anyone. He had never known anyone else he would be willing to do that for. Helena…she was different. She was special. He trusted her; he liked her, he…

But now she was gone. And she would never come back, would she? No, no use hoping; she had left, abandoned him like everyone else, and he could wish all he wanted for her to come back to him, but it wouldn't do any good. After all, he had been the one to tell her that we often confuse what we wish for with what is.