Disclaimer: "Had you known him long?" "Who?"
(An: This is just my own take on Valentine's past (AKA an explanation of why he was so down on himself in my other fic, "With Whom to Dance") and an extrapolation on the co-dreaming touched on in the film... oh, by the way, I realized after the fact that I named Val's girlfriend after the girl from Labyrinth, but that was a coincidence, I assure you.)
He didn't love her, not really. He liked to run his fingers through her hair, yes, he liked kissing her (especially when she did that thing with the tongue), yes, but did she bore him? Very yes. Just like everyone else. And he had honestly thought she knew this as well. Obviously, he couldn't bore her—he was Valentine, after all—but he figured he had made it quite clear that he was not taking this relationship at all seriously.
A jar of face cream smashed on the wall three inches from his head.
At least Sarah's stage of throwing things appeared to be over. She was kneeling now, and shaking, and crying, and going on about all sorts of things that made him feel horrible.
It was just a kiss! Valentine thought, although he wasn't quite stupid enough to say it out loud. (Valentines had a crazy amount of business sense, but not much when it came to people. But it wasn't a good idea to further enrage Sarah when she still had an arsenal of makeup at her disposal.)
"You're an awful, awful man," said Sarah, wiping her eyes and looking up at him. The pain in her eyes wrenched at his heart, but still not enough to make him feel bad. It was only a kiss, his stubborn mind repeated. Nothing to get so upset over.
Valentine shrugged a little, still backed up against the wall, just in case her fury blazed up again. "I am who I am," he replied. "I'm Valentine."
Her lips twitched. "Yes, and that's exactly the problem, isn't it?" She sniffled, and that wrenched at his heart a little more. He needed to get out of here, or he'd start feeling—ugh—guilty. There was no point in feeling bad about things; one had to accept what was and move on, hopefully forgetting about what had happened as you did.
Sarah hugged herself. She was shaking again. "It wouldn't be so bad," she mumbled, "if you'd just apologize…" She looked up at him again and held his gaze with her own. Oh, dear. He really had to leave. "But you won't, will you?" She affected his lilt, only her voice was far more bitter than he could ever manage: "Valentines never apologize."
Ouch. That was uncalled for, even though it was true. Wounded, he mumbled, "It was just a kiss."
Sarah stared at him for a moment, as though she absolutely couldn't believe he'd said that, and then she laughed. "Just a kiss, was it? Just a kiss, when we've been dating for over a year? Just a kiss, when you hardly ever kiss me?" Her voice cracked a little on that last word.
"Well, when you put it that way…" His voice was light, nervous, and that seemed to offend her.
"Get out," she said, standing up. "Get out. Go back to that damn flat of yours, and don't bother coming back."
Sarah put her hands on her hips. "That's the way it'll always be with you, won't it, Valentine? You, you, you. What will you get out of it? What profit's there to be made? You make it seems like there's so much more to you, but there's not." She swiped the back of her hand across her face; she was crying again. "Just go. I'll bring your stuff when I can look you in the eye again." She pointed at the door.
There was no arguing with those tears. He hated when girls cried. It always seemed so low of them. Valentine sighed and walked away.
Usually, sitting on his bed in his tower made him feel like thinking his own thoughts—like writing. But now all he could think about was the encounter with Sarah. This was not normal. Girls were girls, and feelings were feelings, and he'd never gotten the one confused with the other. So he knew he wasn't thinking like this because of… sentimentality.
It wasn't his stuff, either. Stuff was stuff. He probably wasn't going to get it back, so there was nothing to do but wonder how he was going to replace it. It wasn't that big of a deal, anyway. Out of sight, out of mind was always a strategy that worked for him.
So then… what? Was he honestly still feeling bad because of those tears of hers? He'd made girls cry before—admittedly, they hadn't been girls he knew so well, but still. It wasn't anything new.
No, it wasn't the tears. It was what she had said. "You're an awful, awful man." Was that true? Were Valentines awful? They were wonderful, of course, but what was wonderful wasn't always good.
Well. Who said he wanted to be good, anyway? Good was boring, and Valentines were anything but. Valentines were fascinating. Valentines were marvelous. Valentines were… were... were hated by their mothers.
Hadn't his mum said the same thing when he moved out? "You'll never make anything of yourself, you know, lad, dreaming the way you do. Your father would be ashamed of you." She hadn't called him that world—awful—but the disgust in her eyes had certainly implied it. And what right had she, anyway? She hadn't even been his real mum. His birth mother had died years ago.
Valentine rolled over on his stomach and propped his head on his arms. This was not at all like him. Valentines did not brood. Valentines moved on. "Onwards and upwards," said Valentine, nodding. So why was he still thinking about it?
Valentine looked at his dresser, and then he got a grand idea. He would call Bing. Bing always made him feel better.
Bing was certainly a man after Valentine's own heart. "So you broke up with Sarah? Eh, she was a drag anyway."
"It wasn't exactly a breakup. Things were broken, though."
"Not you, I'd hope." There was a loud thump and a curse from the other end of the line as Bing fudged up his juggling. "So what was her problem?"
"I may have kissed another girl, and she may have caught me," Valentine mumbled. "You know, nothing big."
Bing whistled. "That is something most girls frown upon, mate. Why'd you do it?"
Why? Valentine had never stopped to consider a why. Whys required looking back, and that was not something Valentine was fond of doing. The girl—he hadn't bothered to catch her name—had been pretty and interested; it seemed like a fun way to waste a little time. He hadn't meant to hurt anyone. He was just bored, and when he was bored, it got him into trouble. "Because she was there, I guess."
There was a long pause from the other side of the line. Bing was thinking. Oh, dear. When thinking didn't get Bing into a mess, it made him dreadfully uninteresting. "Well… that was mean," said Bing. "Did you at least apologize?"
Valentine had to stare at the phone for a moment. He thought Bing knew better than to ask such a silly question. Bing, after all, knew him better than most people. But, he supposed, Bing was just an ordinary person, not like himself, and therefore he could be just as stupid as everyone else sometimes. "Of course I didn't!"
There was another pause. "I like Sarah," said Bing quietly. "I thought you did too."
Valentine blinked, absolutely flabbergasted. Of course he liked Sarah. He liked Sarah just fine (although maybe not as much anymore now that she had thrown things at him). But liking wasn't enough to keep him interested—very little was, unless it involved money or juggling.
Bing seemed to sense his surprise, and he sighed. "So what are you guys going to do?"
"Well, we've already broken up, so-"
"About the business, you nitwit." Now Bing sounded a bit more normal. Like Valentine, he shared a love of all things commercial. "I thought we were going to run it together, but if Sarah's not speaking to you..."
Valentine, as usual, hadn't thought that far ahead, and, as usual, he didn't let that bother him. "You guys can still take over. I'll find my own work for now, and when Sarah cools off, I'll join you."
"Where will you work?"
Valentine huffed. Why was everyone so concerned with the future and the past? The now was all that mattered; the past couldn't be changed, and, if one were a talented Valentine and knew how to improvise, the future would fall into place, like near the end of a jigsaw. Yes, he had only a Liberal Arts degree to his name, but he would figure something out. The bookshop the three of them had wanted to buy had been a nice idea, but apparently it wasn't the right fit for him now.
"Onwards and upwards, mate," Valentine replied.
Now it was Bing's turn to huff. He recognized Valentine's trademark sendoff and knew nothing would make him extend the conversation. "All right, bye. Take care of yourself."
Valentine hung up, shaking his head at the silliness of that statement. Who else was there to take care of?
When Valentine woke up in the maskworld (as he thought of it), he wasn't the least bit confused by his new attire or dismayed that he couldn't seem to get the mask off. No more constant queries of "What were you thinking, Valentine?"—it was right there, written all over his face, and if the other person was too dim to figure it out, well, that was their problem.
Valentine was very good at adapting to new situations; after a few days in the maskworld, he forgot there was any other life at all. He had even found someone who reminded him very much of Bing—or, at least, the man would have if Valentine had any recollections of Bing.
All in all, a very good life. And he certainly didn't want to do anything to mess it up. He was a very important man here, after all.
And then he saw the girl. He couldn't help but be dreadfully curious about how she had gotten her mask off. He had tried—Valentines were handsome, and he rather missed the sight of his face—but instead he ended up with his hands full of duplicate masks, all babbling at him about the best way to con his neighbors out of their pocket money or new juggling tricks. Much too weird. The world only needed one Valentine, after all.
But when he saw her strut down the street with her nose in the air and her arms crossed, her sneer suggesting she owned the place and her black eyes flashing, his first instinct was to ask her how she'd managed it. Valentines should know everything, after all—or at least where to find out.
As he got closer, he realized she had to be from the Dark Lands. He'd never been, but he'd seen a picture of the Queen of Shadows, and this girl had hair just like hers... although the queen at least had a normal face.
He didn't approach her directly; the Dark Lands were quite dodgy. Best to be cautious, see if she sent shadows first and asked questions later. But she still spotted him while he was several feet away and whirled on him. "Where is the palace?"
Ooh, she was sharpish. Almost a girl after his own heart—except she was too scary. Those black eyes and that shifty face—ooh! Like a scary story. "It's, uh, that way," said Valentine, pointing. He was quite eager to be rid of her company now that he had it. "Giant shiny paperweight. You can't miss it."
"I won't." She linked arms with him. "You'll be taking me there."
Oh, boy. This was definitely a bad deal. Her grip on his arm was iron-tight, and her smile dared him to protest. "Okay, good idea," he said, trying to sound bright. From the way her sneer lengthened, he knew it hadn't worked. He led her down the high street as quickly as possible, avoiding meeting her creepy eyes. They were like proper eyes, only shinier… and somehow emptier. She was making him think too much—wasn't that why he had cheated on Sarah?
…who was Sarah?
Valentine shook himself. "Onwards and upwards," he muttered, trying to dislodge the strange thought. Thank goodness the palace wasn't too far from here.
It wasn't turning out to be such a good dream after all. Here he was with all of the things he could ever want in life: jewels, a hat, fish to bathe in... and all he could think about was Helena and his tower. He wanted his tower even more than usual. What was the point of having all this pretty stuff if he didn't have a tower to put it in? So frivolous. That didn't mean he was going to apologize or anything like that, but he still missed it.
And Helena... damn every thought he had of her. Why did she stick in his mind so? He had no memories of his parents beyond a vague feeling of betrayal, and the only other thing of a girl he could remember was a name—Sarah, or maybe Sandy... something with an S, anyway.
So why did he remember Helena? He remembered her face, and her name, and the way her face was shifty and disgusting and still somehow quite lovely. What was the good of betraying somebody if you couldn't forget them afterward? If you didn't forget, it left you with all those disgusting guilty feelings, and it turned all your pretty things to ash that blew away in the wind.
That girl! Oh, she made him feel so… she made him feel, and wasn't that bad enough? He was not supposed to second-guess his actions because he was not supposed to remember them afterwards. Valentines did not work like that. Valentines charmed and juggled and made money, but they did not feel—at least, not anything that lasted for more than a moment or two. And especially nothing as irritating as guilt.
After all, he had no coping strategies for guilt. When he was lonely, there was always a willing girl. When he was sad, there was always money to be made. But guilt…
Well… maybe he'd go and see her. Just a quick visit. He was a clever boy: surely he'd find a way into the dark palace without anyone noticing!
When he woke up, he was vaguely aware that he'd changed. It was an odd way to feel: he'd only been asleep, after all, and, as he was already perfect, there was nothing that needed changing. But he felt like he'd gone to bed with socks on and woken up with galoshes—something weird like that.
Half-awake, he stumbled over to the mirror and took a good look at himself. He half-expected to see a mask—but that was just in his dream. Even Valentines didn't have dreams that turned out to be true. Letting out a deep breath, he studied himself in the mirror. Nope. Nothing had changed. He was still as perfect as ever—and yet he couldn't shake that feeling of difference.
He remembered, suddenly, that he was no longer welcome at Sarah's house, which meant that he would no longer be welcome at their business establishment. A sudden pang of loss struck him—which made absolutely no sense, as Valentines never regretted. Valentines never had anything to regret!
Shaking his head at his own foolishness, Valentine got dressed and decided to go for a walk. Perhaps an idea would strike him—that was what he had always done during his brief stint in college, when the drudgery of daily exercises and a schedule that had to be kept chipped his inspiration down to nothing.
Someone had taped a poster to his door, a poster for a circus. Valentine looked at it for a moment before tearing it off the door. He didn't want a destination, but it couldn't hurt to stop over, could it…?
(So… ending might be a little abrupt, but there's nowhere I could go that I haven't already.)