Say You're Sorry

By Shahrezad1

Summary: "Valentine, what is wrong with you two today? And don't tell me that it's nothing, because it's obvious like always. So whatever it is that you did this time, just get over it and apologize already." Helena asks a question and gets more than she bargained for. A (long) one-shot.

Disclaimer: I do not own Mirrormask, the characters therein, nor Sara Bareilles' music. Cheers!

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"Circus of silence down at our feet
Paper cut tigers starting to bleed
Hang from your tightrope above the mess
Just say you're sorry, no more no less
Words you won't use, you don't feel them like I do
Show will be over soon

It's not the curtain closing causing us to call it a day
I want to walk away too
But I want you to say you are sorry
I'm not the one who went and made a mistake
I want to walk away too
But I want you to say you are sorry

I used to believe that the storybook's true
Now I don't need it, at least not with you
So if you see him, the man 'neath the mask
Tell him I'm leaving and not looking back
Words are no use, you don't need them like I do
Show will be over soon..."

"Say You're Sorry," –Sara Bareilles

This wouldn't do. It just wouldn't do at all.

Surveying the interior of the Big Top, its denizens poised in an array of uncomfortable positions and a wide variety of acts as they rehearsed one last time, Helena couldn't help but frown. Two weren't hard at work. In fact, two weren't doing anything at all, but rather standing as far distant from one another as they could possibly get.

There was the first, a lanky juggler, standing pointedly aloof as he ignored the performers surrounding him. The other was a tightrope walker, perched high above on her towered pedestal but making no move to cross the tightly-strung wire. Normally two such entertainers would hardly interact, but inspiration had led her father to the idea of the former tossing objects up to the latter, who would then struggle to cross as she was encumbered with weight, filling her ruffled skirt full to compensate. Helena hadn't really liked the idea at the time, but by now they'd had enough practice for the act to be fluid, the two individuals interacting smoothly.

Only now they weren't interacting at all. This was the last day for rehearsals, and the last time before the show was to open. And yet their star act for the newly begun season was suddenly acting standoffish, which made the fiery girl's blood boil.

Since her mother had initially fallen ill it had almost been automatic that she take over some of the circus' responsibilities. This included walking the 'team' through its paces, organizing the setup and removal of tents, and making certain that they were always on time and organized, no matter what was going on. Her father still saw to the finances, of course, even as he brainstormed, designed, and directed the show in his endlessly optimistic manner, while managing the prima-donna opinions of the performers with a fatherly hand. But her mother was on permanent light duty, handling the ticket booth and one act only as her contribution to her husband's dream, while Helena took over much of the grunt work.

After all, none of them wanted to see a relapse in the future. And if Morris Campbell had to choose between the love of his life and his life-long dream, there really was no doubt which one he would pick.

Which was why the two performers' blatant disregard for standard procedure was so infuriating to her: Helena was essentially responsible for them! Especially if something went wrong. And what was worse was in knowing that they knew that the cast were strapped for time, and that this would be their last chance to practice before the audience would roll in and fill the seats. The success of this season rested largely on them, as this first performance would set the stage for local popularity and word-of-mouth publicity. Why couldn't she make them see that?

Knocking her wings back irritably (an attachment her father had thrown on to her costume once she'd turned eighteen and had developed too much to use the guise of "Bambino," any longer), Helena marched straight up to the man that had been her friend for almost longer than she could remember. At least four years, although it felt like she'd always known him; no, that they had always known each other. She hadn't been sure at first, but several years worth of confessed dreams coming from him made her wonder, particularly regarding the source of her illustration inspiration. But connection or no, it seemed that only friendship and not memories had traveled with them back into the real world, and then She had come anyway, changing everything anyway.

Her arrival had stemmed first with Helena's mother. Right after her surgery, and even later, the doctor had been adamant about Joanne no longer doing acrobatics, particularly as her brain attempted to heal itself of the previous pressure and scar tissue. Nothing involving turning upside was allowed, nor anything that could put her in a situation where she exerted herself and could possibly collapse from the effort. Helena's father's answer was to hire a new act; a female tightrope walker with experience in ballet and mime. She quickly became a fan favorite, boosting circus morale and drawing flocks of audience members to their performances.

He'd been a fan of her too. First it had started with the desire to teach the 'new girl' juggling, by way of, "oh, Helena, is it alright with ye if I help Torre practice? Ye can practice with yer father just this once, right?" And then it had led to, "Helena, should I change my outfit? Torre's is such a lovely color, I thought I'd give mine a switch." Suddenly, however, it had ended up at, "Helena, what should I get Torre for her birthday?" and, "Helena, which flowers should I pick?"

The two, both older and more street-smart than she, had begun dating, and she couldn't tell when it had begun, and overall, the whole thing was actually quite tiresome. But it had become a constant within their circus "family," the romance of the jack-in-the-box and his porcelain ballerina. Some of the other artists had even begun whispering about an upcoming proposal, gossip Helena tended to hush upon hearing, but her father's reaction lied only in the realization that the two of them performed better when together.

Except for today, apparently. And Helena wanted to know why.

After all, the show must go on, regardless of their feelings (or even hers) and no truly professional entertainer was ever foolish enough to let their emotions get in the way of their act.

Unceremoniously the owner's daughter marched across the sandy oval, snatched at her friend's sleeve and pulled him away, into the shadows of the tent. He struggled and squawked impressively in his usual fashion before eventually settling down enough to glare at her through the eyes of his mask.

And then she tore into him.

"Valentine, what is wrong with you two today? And don't tell me that it's nothing, because it's obvious like always. So whatever it is that you did this time, just get over it and apologize already. We only have an hour before curtain—," she paused for a moment as Pingo/Bing, their resident mime, and his new tutu-ed partner passed by, nodding cheerfully to her in greeting and carrying on a silent conversation all to themselves. Helena's voice started out lower when she began again, but with no less frustration evident, "…so whatever is going on between you two has got to stop. Please."

Ending on a plaintive note, she searched what she could see of his face—a flash of mouth, a glimpse of eye—then waited.

Connor "Valentine" Haderlie, a nickname that she'd automatically given him and which had stuck before he'd even got the job, sighed heavily and finally lifted the squarish, be-spiked and goateed mask from his face.

"We split, thanks for askin'. And here I was trying to pretend that all was well and to keep my 'cool' in the face of pressure."

"'Cool'? You're practically frigid right now, Val," she retorted as two emotions warred inside of her: frustration at his blasted timing—by all that was ink-drawn, what horrible timing!—and an odd sort of relief…that she would have to examine later in depth. And then realization hit home and her voice became softer, "and what do you mean 'split'? You and Torre were getting along fine as of yesterday. What…what happened?" she swallowed on a dry chunk of concern.

"Nothin'. Nothin' happened, just as it never has," he muttered, scrubbing a hand down his face and then itching at the mask band held tightly around his ash blonde hair, "look, ye know now. May I go, yer Majesty?"

The words were abrupt; a half-hearted attempt at an emotional defense. But they were closer to home than he could have known as another face just like hers came to mind, "No!" the single word cameo out harsher than she intended, as the much shorter girl prodded his chest once, then twice, ire bringing her closer to him, "not until you undo whatever you did, Valentine! I won't have the two of you messing up my—our show just because of your squabbling!"

"'My show'? Oh, I see how it is then. Yer more worried about ye and yer Da's silly circus than the wellbeing of yer best frie-!"

"OUR silly circus! Own up to some responsibility for once!"

"—and here I am, with my 'eart almost torn out. But no, no, 'Valentine' is always in the wrong, isn't he? Why is that, I wonder?" he asked the empty air, exasperated, "'Valentine, don't do this.' 'Valentine, stop messing with that.' 'Connor, maybe it's time ye moved out and got a real job, don't you think?' Crush it all, ye sound like my mother, Helena!"

Furious, she spoke thoughtlessly, angrily, "well, someone has to be! I mean, you don't take care of yourself-!"

"I take well enough care of meself!"

"—and every time you've done something wrong, I'm always the one who nudges you into making things right."

"I don't know what yer talking about."

"Well, there was that time with those twin acrobats, for one—."

"—not my fault."

"And then the time you accidentally called my mother an old mango!"

"—there's a perfectly valid explanation fer that! Which I'm about to get to…"

"Not to mention just how stubborn you were with apologizing to your tower," she finished rashly, then not thinking about what she had said, pointed to the performer that was still standing atop her pole, "this is just like then! Some stupid argument that has no purpose or explanation. So why don't you just go to her and say you're sorry!"

"Why?" he began as a shout, drawing some attention from their "family" before dropping his words several octaves until they were nothing more than a gritty growl, his eyebrows dark and furrowed over flashing light eyes. Connor then threw his hands out in desperation, "why should I apologize when she's the one who broke with me? She said-! …Wait, what was that you said about my tower?"

They both stopped moving like stills in a moving picture reel, realization making their eyes meet.

Helena blanked for a second, then, "…it's nothing. I just-."

But she never discovered what she 'just' did as Valentine, not her Valentine but the Valentine that she'd come to know, blocked her escaping path, long fingers gripping her upper arm, "No. No."

The touch burned on contact, and Helena drew in a sharp breath. Then his face took on an expression and, oh how she wished it hadn't. That she wasn't look at the raw oyster of emotions within his hardened shell. She wished for a moment that all she could see was his mask, which told her how he was 'feeling' or what his opinions were. Not this raw swirl of anger, offense and something…speculative. Curious with epiphany.

It spelled out trouble for her in the form of change. Because well, she wasn't sure what she would do if that result did occur…

His grip became more certain and less desperate, making her look up into Connor's face, his brows crunched thoughtfully, eyes somewhere off in the middle distance. He swallowed hard and licked dry lips, one arm lifting up to finger the tent's draped fabric, before finally tearing himself away from his vacant view. And back to her.

"What…what was that about my tower?"

"Nothing."

Her deadened response only livened him as he turned to more fully grip both of her arms now, pulling Helena into the privacy of the tent's thick folds, a hazy red glow lighting them just enough for her expression to be clearly visible.

A half an hour. They only had a half an hour left now, was all the thought that she would allow herself to think through the numb haze that had overtaken her. It was either that or face Valen—Connor. And she didn't know if she could handle the truth—whatever it may be—right now.

Abruptly he was crouching low to look her in the eye. Stubbornly, resolutely. As though waiting for something. And in his eyes she had a clear vision of a friend that she had never thought she'd never see again.

Connor and Valentine, in one.

"I have told ye many of my dreams over the years, Helena, but never that one. And don' say that I did, because I know I haven't. It's too…personal. So now, I'm going to ask again. Helena…what do ye know about my tower?" his expression had an almost haunted earnestness that made her fear to lie—he would see it, she knew, and be infinitely disappointed with her. Maybe forever. So there was no other path to choose…

"Only…that you must have been a very important man to have a friend like that."

The words slipped free in a whisper, dark eyebrows clenched on her own face in…what? Fear? Rejection? She was as afraid of their friendship changing as she was of people intruding on it. But what was it that she was really afraid of? What harm was there in maybe, perhaps revealing to him that they had, quite literally, known each other in another life and another place? Connor had never rejected her, nor ever would—he'd proved that over and over in the past. So what was she afraid of? And why did it clench at her heart and send adrenaline rushing through her?

Still, Helena held herself breathless and emotionless as he processed what had been said, face paused in a worried composition. It was like watching the sun rise on a spring morning, hidden from the world's view and clear and unhindered. His face changed in phases, his eyebrows first becoming undone, wrinkles gone as they raised in joy. And across his angled face, a slow-growing smile ached from cheekbone to cheekbone, eyes as small as the dots that she had so loved, and buried in happy creases.

Wait. Loved?

The question was tossed aside as he whooped gleefully and snatched her up for a whirling, twirling hug, nearly crushing her attached wings in his exuberance. Then, when Valentine had finally stopped, letting her go, he pressed the palms of his hands to her face, cupping her cheeks with hands long and broad. Lengthy enough to dive the tips into her short hair even as he held her there, immobile.

"Ye know. Ye KNOW! Ye were there, weren't ye? Right from the very start, knowing ye. And I am not crazy, by all that's green and gold. Mum was wrong, and I knew that someday I would meet the girl in my dreams and then I did, but ye didn't remember! So I kept telling ye my dreams, hopin' and hopin' that you'd wake up one day and know. Oh, Helena this is wonderful! But how do you…but…?"

"How…?" the question remained unarticulated as several thoughts fought to find a place at her mouth and thus none succeeded. Instead she just searched his features, seeking…something. But if he'd been dreaming about her, and she had been dreaming about him…and then there were her drawings? His tower she'd found illustrated on her mother's get-well card. And his 'character,' was one of her many sock puppets. But how much was her creation and how much was a reflection of what already existed? He was older than her—had he created the world, and she just brought it to life? She had so many questions, but the answers were so far away…

"Val-Connor. What I mean to say is…"

"She broke up with me on account of ye."

"What?" what was he talking about. Then the reason for their initial conversation hit home like a lightning bolt and, dumbfounded, Helena stared.

But all Connor did—dressed in wonderful browns and creams and just a hint of Valentine burgundy—was straighten himself in order to more fully look at her, half in wonder as his hands traced the half-moon circles beneath her eyes. He was somber, serious, and utterly focused on every detail of her face now…and was standing by far the closest that he ever had in their years of knowing one another.

And in that moment of tension Valentine explained slowly, calmly, and like stairs falling from the sky, suddenly everything made sense, "Torre broke up with me on account of ye. She pulled me up into her auto and told me outright that I should stop wasting her time and go after what I really wanted. And that ye were eighteen now and it was 'bout time that I stopped using our—yers and my—age difference as an excuse," he watched for a response, and when one didn't come, continued, "she told me to stop talking about my dreams and instead to go after them, Helena. Now, I have to ask again, how do ye know about my tower?"

Helena swallowed quietly and searched for some response—any response. Her mind was in overdrive, her being about to crash. How much could she say before incriminating herself? And what's more…what he was saying…did that he mean that she was the girl of his dreams or the girl just in his dreams? And maybe…what was he trying to say? Valentine was her best friend; her closest ally. She couldn't just…they couldn't just…

Suddenly an image came to mind of their "family" members whispering. But they always had fallen silent whenever she came around. Helena had always assumed that this had been because she had tried to stifle them in the past; to end the cycle of speculation and whispers. But what if those tall tales—those ideas of engagement and marriage—hadn't been about Connor and Torre, but maybe about something else…someone else…?

"My…my sketches. One day they didn't exist, and the next they did. I started with blank spaces and filled them up, and when I ran out of room I turned them over and began again. You…the real Valentine…he's nothing but a sock puppet. Just a sock puppet. But then there was a princess and she switched places with me, and Mum got sick and the Queen was sick, too, and then there were sphinxes and giants…the really useful book…and the Bobs and Malcolm…"

"Then ye met me. For years ago ye actually met me," he murmured. The hands holding her face stretched so that his pinkies ran along her jaw, and she so wished that he would let her go. Let her go so that she could look at anything but his direct gaze. Because a mask doesn't burn you when you look at it…

"Now I suppose it's my turn to tell ye a story," Valentine finally intoned, a half-smile ever present upon his face. But it was melancholy as the twenty-two year old's gaze turned inward, and almost automatically he brushed a kiss across her hairline in absentminded devotion. In that moment Helena had to remind herself how to breathe, " A long time ago a boy discovered a world he'd never seen before. It was strange and didn't listen to gravity. And everyone wore masks, and the boy found that he had to wear one as well, to be one of them."

His expression altered somehow as he continued. Helena couldn't exactly pinpoint how, though, "Then a man came and took him away from it, and gave the boy to a woman who said that everythin' he remembered wasn't real. So the boy tried to believe what she said, but in the meanwhile he dreamed of where he had been. A world of flying books and bathtubs of fish. Never seeing another being like hisself beyond the masked folk. Until one day, years later, a girl appeared. She made rules of the place and created it so that everythin' had order. And instead of just livin' in the place, she influenced it. For years of 'is life. And they never interacted, the boy and girl. Until one day she, the creator they called her. The maskless one. She talked to 'im and saw 'im. And the next day the boy woke up and wanted to join the circus."

His eyes bored deep into her soul, "So tell me this answer, maskless girl, which came first? Yer dreams or mine?"

"Maybe," and the words came out as breaths of stuttering speech, hardly discernable except that they were so close, "maybe they already existed. And we just…stumbled on them?"

"It's possible," the shadow of a beard on his chin scratched against her forehead as dark strands of her hair caught in his stubble. Then Connor…Valentine breathed her in, just once, before continuing, "could it explain why I was attracted to such a wee thing like ye upon our first meeting? Because I've never wanted to kiss an underage girl more than I did four years ago, my first time at the circus."

Her thoughts stuttered to a complete and total halt.

He wanted to kiss her. Connor…who was actually Valentine…had wanted to kiss her for four years.

"Hello. Did I dream you a boyfriend?"

"No! You did not! He's not…He's just a…He's…Oh, he's…"

"I'm sorry I brought it up."

And how did she feel about this? Confusion was natural, of course, and shock. But…what about her negative feelings regarding Torre? Could that be construed as…jealousy? At her taking up all of Helena's friend's time, or just at her taking Valentine, period? And then there was the feeling of comfort around him, despite his 'not remembering.' Connor and Valentine had come into her life almost as though they'd always been there…would always be there. And now there they were, his face so close that she could see every nuance. But hope warred to the very top of all the things that he was feeling.

Which led to the question, could she give change a chance? Could she set aside her fear that their friendship might becoming…something different? Or maybe different was really more, in this situation?

Well, there was only one way to find out.

Taking in one deep, brave breath, Helena allowed herself a cheerful, confident smile. A trademark Helena smile. And finally, taking a leap, asked, "well what about now?"

"Now," he chuckled, dipping his eyes again down to her level so that they were literally eye to eye, "I do have Torre's instructions to consider, am I correct in saying so? And to just, 'say sorry,' as ye've so eloquently put it, I should make some restitution in order to make things right. Which leads to the question…what exactly does a gentleman do after telling a girl that he's been dreaming about her since she was fourteen?"

"He gets back into that tent before she murders him for ruining her show."

An ironic eyebrow met her droll expression, almost as though he was tutting her for her shameful response to his romantic overtures, "does he now?"

"And maybe then they can talk afterward…"

"I think that's a lovely start," and then both Connor and Valentine dove in for a short, energetic kiss. His mask knocked against her forehead, and the fragile tulle of her wings were creased beyond repair at her back. They were lost in the surprise of finding each other for a slim moment, until he tore himself away and dragged his 'superior' inside with only ten minutes to spare.

And then, and only then, did the woman standing upon her towered tightrope smile. That was more than enough of an apology for her.

Let the show begin.

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AN: "Torre" translates into "Tower", according to my Spanish dictionary. But If I've got it wrong, don't blame me—blame Langenscheidt's Universal Dictionary. XD

Also, this is a drabble that kind of ran away with me. ^_^; It started out simple—the idea of Valentine's decided lack of apology-related-abilities crossing over to the other side. But it turned sappy somewhere two thirds of the way in. Oh, well. XD

In any case, this was inspired by the song, "Say You're Sorry," by Sara Bareilles( http : / www . youtube . com / watch ?v=2T b7x Qluc mU ), particularly as the lyrics includes mention circus details. And the other half of the inspiration came from a drawing I did that matches the beginning of the one-shot. Check it out: http : / shahrezad1 . deviantart . com / gallery /#/ d3k8 2ma

Also, there are very slight ties to my other Mirrormask/Labyrinth crossover, "Reflections," in which "Connor" is actually "Vance." Which you should definitely check out if you get the chance. :)