Title: Then There Was The Girl (1/?)
Fandom: MirrorMask/Labyrinth. I know, I know. I'm crazy.
Characters/Pairing: Helena/Valentine/Alt!Valentine, Jareth
Summary: And then there was the girl who was such a freak that the circus ran away to join her. Helena's back in her own world, having visions and mislaying her pencil.
"Anyone seen my pencil?"
The request is made. It falls on deaf ears. There is hubbub and havoc backstage this early afternoon, and no one can quite spare the time to listen. Though Helena has her own chores to attend to, her continuing inability to find a pencil is downright bothersome.
"I want to draw," she says, to no one in particular, and no one in particular answers her.
She frowns, dark eyebrows drawing down over dark eyes, and feels the tide of wanting surge up in her. There's something in the offing, waiting in the wings. Only it feels more like a someone.
But she'll have to wait.
"Pencil?" she tries again, looking about her at the circus family, crowding her on one side and passing her by, jumbling up against the wall in the brightest kaleidoscope, a broken fall of colors. No one says nothing. Very probably no one heard.
Jason— sneaky devil, going around looking like someone he wasn't, she wouldn't put it past him to have appropriated all pencils in the vicinity as an awkward sort of joke— offers her a pen. She turns it down.
"Thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather be able to rub it out if I feel like it, not leave it indelibly for all to see."
Rub what out, she doesn't say, and he doesn't ask. But she's polite, and his smile is hopeful and kind.
"You're sure? It's quite a good pen, I think. Very pointy on the pointy end, and not so much on the other, which I'm told is the fashion in pens these days." He has a go at balancing it on the tip of one finger. He's been taking lessons from Helena's father, but his natural clumsiness continues to get in the way. The pen wibbles, wobbles, topples, and he snatches at it with the other hand, misses, bats it away like it was an interfering insect, and stands crimsoned.
He takes encouragement.
"You haven't called me Valentine in nearly a month now," he says.
"I haven't needed to," says Helena.
She does need something, though, whatever the something is. It takes shape in her head, a vague sort of shape but a shape nonetheless. It's the urge to draw, to create, countered now with a lingering fear that her creation will come to life and eat them all. She'll be careful not to draw something with too many teeth and talons, just on the off chance. She can't draw anything now, though, not without she finds a pencil first. She looks in her mother's desk in the caravan, all the drawers. She checks behind people's ears in case anyone's been note-making, and sticks her hand in people's pockets. She even asks a few members of the audience, promising to give it back by the end of the day. There are no pencils to be had. The urge does not abate. By evening, when she takes her curtain call beside her parents, the continued absence seems to turn sinister.
Sleep comes uneasily, with the desire to draw still itching under her fingernails and in her ears, and though it disturbs her, it bothers her far more that the shapes might be gone when she wakes. But the morning comes, and the ideas are clearer, if anything.
Jason, shoveling in the wake of the elephants, takes a break, steaming slightly, and comes to stand by her. She takes a half step away, but when he smiles on her genially she manages to respond.
"Find one yet?"
She shakes her head. "Still looking."
"Rather sudden, this urge to draw something?" He hints around for an explanation. He alone, out of the members of the circus, thinks this is unusual. He alone is too new to know that to Helena, pencil and paper is an absolute must. "Comes on strong, does it?"
"Moderately," she says, though this is in no way true. But he already thinks she's a bit weird— hints dropped, here and there, small lies and blatant truths, and the fact that she kept calling him Valentine when he first joined up, and also roars of unbridled laughter when it turned out he was, after all, very, very bad at juggling— and as much as Helena dislikes misrepresentation, she doesn't want to frighten him off altogether. It's best to reveal herself little by little, she thinks— though she doesn't admit the thought to herself, not outright— and let him get used to her. Then there was the girl who was such a freak that the circus ran away to join her. Right. "I like drawing."
"But not with pens."
"No, not since— well." She smiles at him, to make him forget that the sentence was going somewhere. There's no good place for that sentence to go. Not while she's trying to be honest with him. He obliges and moves on.
"I always wondered what would happen if drawings were able to come to life, like in children's stories," he says brightly. Helena jumps, just a little.
"I'll have to tell you some time," she says.
"Um?" says Jason, vaguely, and curious.
"But not now," says Helena. The itch makes her fingers curl, and she fists her hands together and decides to believe, today, that she is strong.
She dreams, that night, that there's an owl in the tree outside the caravan. Or maybe it's not a dream, maybe it's an actual owl. It's hard to tell while she's sleeping; the lines of things get messed up, like a charcoal drawing with a careless artist, all smudge and bleed-over. But it doesn't sound like an actual owl. It's speaking, for one thing.
Not in English. The words are strange, some other language, some other meanings to syllables that seem half-familiar. The eyes of the owl— which she can't see, but she knows this anyway, that a dreamer's insistence on certainty in impossible situations— are refracting the light of the stars, half-hollow, milky shallow bowls with pits of blackness floating in them. The owl, she thinks, may be related in some convoluted way to the sphinxes that she recalls from the old lady's house, in that other world where once she was. And the advice then was Don't let them see that you're afraid.
But the owl looks at her through the window, and with a voice full of innocence it insinuates— somehow, she's not clear on this point— that if she would do it the favor of promising to obey, then it would bow and be her slave. Would give her everything she asks, and more.
But the lack of clarity can only mean that she's waking up, to a muzzy sort of headache and an aching sort of vagueness, a sense of loss.
She's irritable for the day. She sets into the feeling of it early on, when her father tells her to eat breakfast. Something in Helena goes click, and this Voice comes out, the Voice of Irritability, a Voice that she hasn't heard since the other Helena took over her life and started macking on random boys in Helena's bedroom, without Helena's permission.
Her father stands back. Helena covers her mouth, but it's too late, and the pattern is set.
"Oh, I wish I could just go back to sleep," she says, miserably, but her father doesn't hear, and her mother isn't there.
Jason, eyes bright, comes up to her with something he's found on the circus grounds, some random object left behind by the crowds of the night before.
"Look," he says, and that's not the end of the sentence, but she holds out a hand.
"Let me just— stop you there. I'm really not in the mood for it."
"But it's—" It's something shiny, it winks between his fingers when the sun hits it just right. Helena shakes her head. This is entirely the wrong day for something shiny. Jason develops a look of disappointment, but shrugs manfully and closes his fingers over the object a bit more tightly. The shine is cut off abruptly, his fingers an eclipse. "D'you think I should put it in the lost and found?"
"Oh, put yourself in the lost and found," says the Voice of Irritability, and Helena runs away before it can make her say anything else. She still can't find any pencils. The picture in her head is taking shape, grasping at clarity, and she can't get it out.
She gets her wish, in the end, and goes to bed early. Still she tosses and turns for what seems like hours; but when the moon is blotted out abruptly by a curtain of clouds, she doesn't know it. The darkness wraps around her, and in it the voice of the owl echoes, asking her cautiously who.
"Who what," says Helena, the Voice still clinging desperately to her, claws digging deep.
"Just who do you think you are?" says the owl, but it sounds like a man, a man with a deep and deliberate voice, slow and insulting, stress on the words like color, like dressing, dripping into the cracks of the nonexistent conversation and demanding that she explain herself. But Helena is sleeping, so she puts her hands on her hips and answers without fear.
"I draw worlds, and have them come to life," she says. "That's enough for you to be getting on with, now, isn't it?"
There's a pregnant pause, which gives birth to a slow laugh, ancient as time.
"I've given you a vision," says the owl. "And what have you done with it? Helena."
She doesn't stop to wonder how he knows her name. This is a dream, which means she's the most important person in it. Everyone knows who she is.
"I can't find a pencil," she says. "And I don't want to use a pen."
"Oh, really?" The voice is arch. Helena fidgets.
"I'm afraid," she says, simply.
"Excuses," says the owl, and she can see him shaking his head. "Such a pity."
She's about to argue, but she wakes up instead. Awake, eyes still closed, the vision is clear, the owl is still there. Soundless, now, but eyes alert, watching her, and if she concentrates she can see it breathing. In, and slowly out, and slowly in, steady as a heartbeat, as a distant drum, soundless as the monster under the bed.
She wanders a bit, the next day. She wanders past the main tent, past the caravans lined up around the backward curve of it. It's raining, drearily, as though even the weather can't manage much enthusiasm. She wanders through the ticket counter (deserted) and ducks under the tent set up for the Bearded Lady to work her whiles. The Bearded Lady has been demanding her own tent for a while now, but only recently has Helena's father acquiesced. The Bearded Lady is a diva.
She wanders past Jason, who is raking out the horse pens. He stands still when he sees her, and puts both hands on top of the rake, just watching her. She feels ashamed.
"Hi," she says.
"Hi," he responds, and his caution is almost painful. But entirely, entirely deserved. So she stands for a moment, and looks at him; and he leans on the rake, and looks at her.
"Sorry," she says, finally, and surfs the wake of his smile as she hurries away.
She wanders into the Miscellaneous Tent, and is passing the box of Lost and Found items (a handkerchief, an umbrella, a handful of muddy stuffed animals, someone's jacket, a fountain pen, a picked-over wallet, and an incongruous set of barbells) when the gleam of something silver catches her eye. She wheels, marches back to it, and rummages about in the box.
The gleam of something silver is an owl, small enough to fit in the palm of her hand but still oddly large for an apparently pointless piece of statuary. There's nothing to indicate that it was a pendant or piece of jewelry, nothing to indicate its purpose at all. There's no mud on it, and she wonders if it was like that, or if Jason wiped it off after he found it. It has the look of keeping itself clean.
It's a silver version of the picture in her head.
She watches it, closely, to see what it does; and draws the fountain pen out of the box. There's paper in a drawer.
She seats herself at one of the picnic tables outside, under the high-arched, open tent set up for eating purposes. The stack of paper is thick enough that, when she begins to draw, the rough and uneven wood makes no difference in the smoothness of the line. The fountain pen is easy, draws quick and sure as an Old-West gunfighter, and she has a moment of guilt for not holding out for the pencil after all. The surge of fear is beaten down, though, by a moment of practicality. It's too late, anyhow.
She draws a series of straight lines, aimlessly, and sets to connecting them. Under her careful hand, it takes shape and form. Becomes a hallway, down which one might walk, only to be confronted with sets of stairways, straight and wide or narrow and curved, going this way and that and leading nowhere in particular. She draws like she's setting out to confuse someone, as though this paper is a maze in which she can trap her enemies. She shades it in, adds dimension. Frowns and concentrates and creates.
The wind comes up, sure and certain-handed, and whips away the top page, sending the roomful of stairways tumbling through the air. Helena yelps and starts from the wooden bench; but the paper is gone from sight in an instant. There's no catching it.
She subsides back into her seat.
"I gave you a vision," she says to the paper, thoughtfully, "and— what have you done with it? Helena. What have you done with it, Helena?"
The silver owl is heavy, and holds the paper down. She draws. The vision in her head, and the silver version here in front of her, combine in every particular; she puts them onto the paper, gives them reality in pen, the shallow shining eyes, watching her as she watches them. The white face, flat and round, and the curve of the beak that looks almost conciliatory.
She puts a fine point on it, for catching mice.
As she draws, the owl on the paper looks at her. It does not blink, and maybe doesn't really move at all, but she's nonetheless certain that it's watching her now. She sits in the gaze of the pen-and-ink owl and the silver owl and she wonders just how much watching she can take. It's a creeping sort of feeling, but exciting too, the feeling of riding a bicycle down a steep hill but believing that the brakes could fail at any moment. Exhilarating— that's the word for what she's feeling, and there's no reason for it, but she feels it all the same. She smudges the ink, just a little, and the paper jumps sideways as the wind comes up again. It whips some dust from the circus grounds into her eyes and she closes them, turning her head to one side, hardly able to breathe with the sudden force of it.
When she opens her eyes, the world isn't there. Instead, there's space, and for a blind white moment she thinks of a story told to her: In the beginning there was the page.
But the light fades and shapes grow, shadows wrap themselves into their proper mimicries, and stairs are built where once there was nothing. She knows this— she drew it, moments ago. But it seems a very long time indeed, and there is dust on her fingertips along with the ink.
The owl is there, too, and it flutters about her head before it settles almost awkwardly down a few feet from her, perched on the edges of a steep set of stairs that leads to nowhere. It shuffles a step or two, unruffling its feathers, and twists its head to one side uncomfortably. It's looking at her the way it looked at her from the flat white stretch of the paper, and what once was ink is now bodied and real. The eyes are no less shallow for that.
Helena takes a breath to speak, but the world skips sideways for just the smallest of seconds, a tiny jet bead of time, and the owl has grown, has thrown off its shape, has taken on a new. There stands a man, tall and sleek, with narrow shoulders and narrowed eyes, piercing and shallow as the owl's.
Helena raises her hand. She's still holding the pen, and in the air she writes as he speaks.
"Well, well," he says, and with each breath and each syllable something about him rounds out and becomes more real, and there's a definite quirk at the edge of his mouth, like he knows something she doesn't— which is likely true. "Look who's here."
She swallows, and bites her lip, and concentrates. Writes his name in the air, signs it for him, knows his name and names him all at once.
Jareth, she writes, and it's the truth.