Continuing Tales

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 19 of 29

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Valentine had thought that with Helena here, it would be unbearable. But he survived the first moments. Then the first hours. Then those hours turned into days and the next thing he knew, he'd been there for almost a week with only one major incident. That was impressive, as he had still been lingering just out of Helena's sight, rather than completely avoiding her.

He'd tried that. Then that night all he had dreamed about was the Battle, within the tower, where he had come in to see the Princess shove the dagger straight through Helena's heart. Repeatedly. When he stumbled out of bed, eight hours later, with only two of them actually spent sleeping, he knew he had to change something. He'd resolved to keep an eye on her, even if he didn't speak to her. He could do that.

But he'd seen their first altercation coming.

Every meal saw Helena sitting with a new group. She moved among them quietly, sitting and listening for the most part, offering up answers or comments if needed. She did speak some to them, asking them questions to make sure they had everything.

He had to admit, it was a good strategy. No one felt left out, Helena never appeared to be above any of them. She did well.

And then she sat down at his table.

It was lunchtime, on their third day here. Valentine ate alone for the most part, choosing the smallest table in the corner. Nobody tried to sit with him, until that lunch.

She settled across from him, smiling slightly at him.

Valentine continued to eat his lunch, not paying her any mind.

"How's the Tower?" she asked him after a few moments of uncomfortable silence.

The Tower had returned to him once it deposited everything and everyone at the City of Light. Valentine had dreaded sleeping in the castle, so he was relieved when it arrived, choosing to sleep in his own bed. "Fine."

"Getting enough rest?" she questioned, looking over his face.

Every night, he got maybe two or three hours before the insomnia or nightmares took over. He'd wandered around the castle at night so often now that he had already figured out where everyone was sleeping.

Still, his answer was, "Yes."

Helena looked at her plate, picking out all the tomatoes from her salad first. "Have to admit, I'm still not used to sleeping here."

With her eyes on something else, Valentine took the opportunity to look her over. His mask hid the shadows and dark circles, but she didn't have that luxury. Her eyes were sunken in, though it was difficult to tell as her smile and attitude kept anyone from noticing how bone tried she was. Her shoulders sagged just slightly when she wasn't paying attention to her posture and he'd caught her rubbing her temples to get rid of headaches more than once.

This is where things got difficult. He'd promised to protect her, which meant he had to stay away, but he'd also promised to look out for her, which required him to get involved.

"You should take off for an hour or two," he suggested, ignoring how her eyes snapped up at the multitude of words he was stringing together without insult. "Get some rest."

She smiled, "Thanks for the advice."

He looked back at his food without another comment.

The Creator was, however, excruciatingly persistent, "Are you feeling better?"

His chest still hurt to breathe, his arm was still in a cast, he couldn't get a full night's sleep, and he still jumped at every little noise.


"I'm glad," she said quietly.

He didn't respond and Helena sighed.

She ate quickly and quietly, finishing her lunch before him and standing up. "Well...great talking to you," her voice was tight.

Valentine just nodded.

Helena waited for a moment and Valentine could almost feel the waves of tension coming off of her, waiting for him to say something - anything - that proved he wasn't the man he was pretending to be.

Still Valentine remained silent.

Helena walked out of the room quickly, leaving him on his own.

For about thirty seconds.

Five trays landed around Valentine on his table. He couldn't quite hide his surprise as he looked over the faces that had suddenly invaded his quiet table.

He knew some of them - the blue-eyed, sharp-tongued Laurel was one of Helena's friends. Nodd was another, but Valentine hadn't had much experience with him. Finley was a former Shadow soldier and he nudged at Valentine's memory, though he couldn't place him. Rickett was another Shadow, one of Finley's close friends, a tall, dark-skinned man with a perpetual frown on his face for one reason or another. The last one was a girl he wasn't familiar with, who had brown eyes and a purple masquerade mask that flared out past her eyes. She also wore a veil beneath her mask, which was unusual.

"So you're Valentine," Laurel said with a glare.

"Unfortunately, you're correct," he answered, pushing his tray back slightly.

Finley leaned forward, catching Valentine's attention, "You don't remember me, do you?"

"You look familiar, but I'm trying to block out most of the past three years, so…" he shrugged.

Finley's arms, neither in a sling any longer, crossed and he tilted his head. "I was Captain."

Valentine began to salute.

"I trained you," Finley finished.

Valentine's hand dropped back to the table. "Ah." He remembered getting some help from the living soldiers, but he'd been so concerned about keeping busy that he hadn't taken the time to get to know anyone.

"I trained you, along with my other boys, and then you set off an explosion that killed four of them."

Valentine recalled the flour explosion. He'd heard the screams of those he'd killed or injured. In fact, he'd heard them again last night in a nightmare. The reanimated soldiers hadn't cried out and they'd been the bulk of the victims, but Valentine had known there were living soldiers among them. And he'd done it anyway.

"They were good boys."

The juggler responded quietly, "I imagine they were."

Finley stared at Valentine for a long moment and the juggler stared back. Maybe Finley would do for him what the council hadn't.

"We were all fighting our own battles," Finley said finally, sitting back in his chair. "I know you did what you could."

Except he hadn't done enough. Valentine reached for his plate, but Rickett slid it away from his hands.

"Gonna handle that for me? Thanks, mate," Valentine forced a smile and stood up.

"Do you mind," Laurel jumped in with one of her dangerous smiles, "telling me why you're being such an utter arse?"

"You'll have to be specific about what arse-type activities I've been doing, because I do quite a few things that could be considered that and I'd need to know-"

"To Helena," Nodd contributed.

"You used to be best friends, and just now was the longest non-conversation you've had since you've been here," Laurel explained.

Valentine let Val handle this. He leaned over the table, getting in Laurel's face, "Remind me how what I do is any of your business?"

She didn't flinch. "You made it my business the second you started hurting my friend."

He couldn't argue with that. "Maybe she should take the hint," he said, pushing away from the table and walking away.

Purple Mask stepped in his way. She was tiny, almost a foot shorter than him, and delicate. Her head was cocked slightly and she grabbed his cast.

"Get off," Valentine ordered, trying to pull away. Those tiny, tenacious hands hung on, though.

"Medic," she explained quietly. "Whitt."


"Her name's Whitt and she's the castle's doctor," Rickett explained. "Keep up."

"Fractured ulna. Healing well. Few days more," her voice was as small as she was, moving in disjointed sentences. Dropping his arm, she looked up at him, tiny fingers poking and prodding at his other arm and chest. "Healed breaks all over. Expected. Sallow complexion. Not enough sun? Unlikely. More likely - not enough iron. Too much blood loss, not enough recovery. Remedy: up your iron intake."

"Knock it off, doc. I don't need a checkup," Valentine said, stepping back from the tiny whirlwind of words. She followed, still touching him.

"Temper. Constantly on edge. Lack of sleep. Assume nightmares. Common in soldiers. Exhibiting avoidance of people. Suspected, but undesired response. Diagnosis: Battle fatigue. Remedy: social interaction and-"

Valentine grabbed Whitt's wrist in his hand. "I said, knock it off."

Whitt fell quiet, her big eyes staring at him from mask. Valentine noticed that the others in the room had gone quiet, watching him. Dropping her hand, he stepped past her.

"And conversation with others of a similar condition," Whitt said, her voice carrying in the silence.

Valentine glanced back at her, and the tiny medic lifted her veil.

Her lips were twisted in a grimace, scars slicing and peppered all over what he could see. He assumed that there were more beneath the mask. She covered her face again.

"Solitude is not a remedy," she added.

Looking over the others, Valentine was struck at how many of them had the same shadows under their eyes. The same sagging of their shoulders. The same flinch at loud noises. The same tempers.

In fact, he could only really find one difference.

"I don't want the remedy," he muttered, leaving the kitchen and slamming the door behind him.

The next meal, he'd been alone at his table again, Helena sat with another group, and things returned to how they were.

Unsurprisingly that night, he hadn't slept well. Around two in the morning, he got up and decided to walk around the Tower. When that got boring, he walked outside through the gardens. He remembered Helena warning them not to do that very thing, as they weren't certain what roamed the grounds, but he pushed that aside.

The wind was cold and the grass was slightly damp, so there was a sharp chill in the air. He was glad he'd worn his robe.

The grounds were heavy with trees and shrubbery, making it impossible to see much once you were within them. Valentine stayed on the southernmost section, by his Tower. His footsteps were muffled in the grass, his hands jammed into his pockets as he wandered aimlessly.

He remembered his nightmares. Which hardly seemed fair. He could rarely remember his dreams, but he remembered these with almost perfect clarity.

Well, that was probably because his dreams were all fantasy, while his nightmares were mostly real.

He scuffed his foot through the grass, shaking the memories of the Choir out of his head. He'd have to mention that to someone. They needed to get rid of that before someone stumbled across it. In fact, it was a miracle that no one had yet.

A noise yards away from him made his head snap up. Cautiously, he approached a fork in the path and listened.

He could hear the faint shuffling of something ahead of him, to the left.

Valentine frowned, taking a step nearer.

A hand on his shoulder made him jump and spin.

Helena stood behind him, her hair pulled back and a finger pressed to her lips. She nodded up ahead, obviously hearing the same noise he had. He bit his tongue at whatever epithets he had and narrowed his eyes at her, warning her to get back.

She arched a sarcastic brow, passed him, and walked silently towards the noise. Valentine followed her, already exasperated unable to do much else.

As they got closer, they could hear a heavy breathing from somewhere to their left. Helena tried to peer through the bushes, but they were too dense. Valentine moved past her, trying to regain some control of the situation.

Helena grabbed his arm, pulling him back slightly. He turned to yell at her, but she pointed at a small path through the bushes.

Valentine looked through it, seeing a massive, shadowy form breathing heavily in a small clearing. It was taller than him by far, but the only other things he could see were the six legs and long, two pronged tail.

He stepped back into the shadows as Helena took her time looking. When she finished, she jerked her head at the creature and a questioning look. Valentine shrugged. He'd never seen that thing before. He had no idea what it was, but knowing the Princess, it wasn't anything good.

Helena and Valentine moved away from the creature, trying to get far enough away before they...well, he didn't know what he was going to do.

He opened his mouth to jump the gun, but Helena grabbed his good wrist, her eyes wide, and staring back over her shoulder.

Valentine froze. He didn't hear the creature breathing quietly.

He heard it growling.

Turning, Valentine saw the creature emerging from the shadows behind them.

"Run!" Helena shouted, pulling him.

Valentine followed without a complaint, seeing Helena grab at her waist for a sword that wasn't there. The creature's paws pounded against the ground, gaining on them.

Valentine glanced back, seeing the creature just feet from them. Without another option, he shoved Helena to the side just as the creature jumped, pinning Valentine to the ground with three of its huge paws. His still-healing ribs protested the weight and something in his shoulder popped with an unpleasant feeling, but he was more concerned about the flashes of white fangs that appeared between the swirling shadows.

The growls reverberated through the shadows, making his bones hum.

At least Helena was-

"Valentine!" she shouted, drawing the creature's attention.

"Shut up," Valentine wheezed. "Get out of here."

Helena came closer, holding her hand out in front of her. The monster snarled as she got closer, shifting its weight and making Valentine wince. He was so stupid for coming out here alone, without a weapon, without anything.

Helena lunged forward with her hand outstretched, her palm brushing across the monster's frontmost leg-

It yelped, flinching away from her as she came nearer, getting off of Valentine's chest as the Creator advanced on it. He struggled to sit up, still finding breathing and standing painfully inconvenient.

"Go on!" Helena shouted at the creature, "Get!" She got the side of its muzzle and Valentine caught a flash of bright purple before the thing yipped and ran off into the darkness.

Helena watched it for a moment, making sure it was gone. Only then did she turn to the juggler. "Are you okay?" she asked, hurrying over and helping him to his feet.

"I'm fine," he said, trying to brush her off and cringing as his shoulder protested. "I'm fine. What did you do to it?"

"What in the world were you doing out here alone?" Helena asked, ignoring his command to leave him alone.

He pulled away, "I could ask the same of you. Wasn't it your genius rule to not wander out here alone? What were you doing out here? How'd you get it to leave?"

If she hadn't been so close, he wouldn't have seen the way her eyes flickered towards his Tower. "I couldn't sleep." Her eyes narrowed, "And shouldn't we be more focused on the monster that just tried to eat you?"

Valentine pointed out, "You brought it up first." He pulled away from her too-warm hands, wincing as his ribs shifted again and she bumped his shoulder.

"You're not okay," she noted, letting go of him.

"I'm fi-"

"Stop lying to me," she cut in, with a glare.

Valentine's mouth snapped shut.

Her fingers prodded at his chest, finding the almost healed breaks. "Let's get you up to Whitt."

"I don't need a caretaker," Valentine snapped.

"Well, you sure aren't interested in being friends, so this is all I've got left," Helena said shortly, leading the way out of the grounds.

He tried not to let that sting him, but it did, a little.

"Besides," she continued, her voice dropping some of the emotion held in it just a second earlier, "I can't have you dying on me again. Sucked enough the first few times."

"Sure," he said sarcastically, wincing as his ribs shifted. He passed her, leading the way to the castle. It was only when he'd gotten another ten feet that he realized Helena wasn't with him.

He turned, seeing her staring at the ground. Her throat worked, but no sound came out of it.

He took a half step back to her, unsure what had happened.

"You think..." she started faintly, swallowing hard. "You think I didn't mourn for you?"

"We were on opposite sides of a war," he pointed out, keeping his voice blunt. "I'm...I was the enemy."

"I watched you die, right in front of me. Twice. It didn't matter what you'd been doing, or the fact that everyone thought you were against us, or that you had tried to kill me."

He knew that she knew that some of those had been his copies, but she hadn't known it at the time. "It didn't matter because I saw my best friend die. Not the enemy, not the Princess's lackey. You, Valentine."

Valentine was staring at her when she lifted her eyes. They were bright, but she didn't cry.

"When you died, I mourned for you." Helena said quietly. "I don't give a damn if you care, but don't tell me that I didn't."

She walked past him, her hands in fists.

He couldn't help it.

"You know, Creator," Valentine called after her. "You weren't the only one who watched their friend die."

Helena didn't stop, but she turned and walked backwards to respond to him. "Then you should know exactly how it feels." She faced forward again, calling over her shoulder as she approached the castle, "Let's find Whitt."

Valentine went after her, wishing he could stem the snake in his stomach that only woke up when he'd hurt someone. Stupid damn snake.

He followed silently, biting his tongue against the remarks that roiled behind his teeth.

Helena's fists clenched and unclenched as she walked in front of him. The door of the kitchen ricocheted off the wall as she slammed it open. Valentine caught it and couldn't smother a tiny smirk. Somebody had a temper.

Of course, that temper was aimed at him, which wasn't ideal…

And, based on what he'd seen in his dreams and on the battlefield, it could also be dangerous to his health and important body parts.

He lagged back, wondering if it were better to let Helena pull ahead.

She turned, her eyes blazing, "Don't think you fight me on this. You need to see Whitt."

"As the regent commands," he retorted.

Her shoulders tightened, but she marched them through the back ways of the castle, avoiding the bedrooms of the other soldiers. In fact, Valentine remembered this hallway. He remembered that door. He remembered what was behind that door and stopped.

"Helena," he muttered, having to mention it even with the tension.

"What?" she said, turning to face him and crossing her arms.

"Tomorrow we need to get into this room," he told her. "This is the-"

"The Choir," she interrupted quietly. "Yeah, I know."

He asked, "How'd you know?"

Helena frowned slightly, "Don't you remem- Never mind. Mags and I have been looking into it. We'll be in there tomorrow."

"It's dangerous," he said.

"Yeah. I know," she repeated quietly. She turned to move on, then hesitated. "If you don't mind, we could use another hand tomorrow."

Valentine paused.

"I know it's a lot," Helena continued. "But you're one of the only other people who really knows what to expect here and I'd...I'd really appreciate it."

"Yeah," he said before he thought about it. "I'll help out."

Helena's face softened a little and her shoulders relaxed slightly. "Thanks. With the monster on my plate now, it's nice to know that this won't be as difficult."

He nodded, his shoulder pulling and making him flinch.

"Come on," Helena said, gentler than before. "Let's get you fixed up."

The walk to Whitt's room suddenly wasn't as awful as it had been. It seemed like just another moment or two before they stood outside the small set of rooms given to the doctor. Helena knocked loudly and Valentine heard movement before the door opened.

"Late," Whitt murmured tiredly.

"I know," Helena answered, "and I'm sorry. But we were just attacked by some sort of thing outside and I think Valentine's bruised his ribs and hurt his shoulder."

Whitt's eyes landed on him for a moment, then cast between the two of them. "Monster?" she asked, stepping aside and gesturing them to come in.

"Yeah," the Creator answered. "Some big, shadow creature on the grounds."

Whitt pointed Valentine towards a low couch as she lit some candles for more light. There were shelves of vials and herbs, needles and cups, fabrics and dressings. Valentine sincerely hoped he wouldn't need any of them. Maybe the fabric, but that was it.

"Grounds are off-limits," Whitt said, coming over to Valentine while Helena perched on one of the two desks.

"Yeah," Helena admitted. "I know, but-"

"I was out there. She was coming to tell me off," Valentine jumped in. Helena's hazel eyes found his, some confusion swirling around in there. He didn't know why he covered for her. Time was, he would've thrown her to the wolves, or medics, as it was.

He wished he could be that man again, sometimes.

Whitt's fingers prodded at him with more skill than Helena's, but came to the same conclusion. "Bruised, not broken. Good. New dressing needed for that. Shoulder?"

Valentine shifted a little to allow her access to it. He had a feeling it was-

"Dislocated," Whitt decided.


"Remedy: replace-"

"Just shove it back in place," Valentine muttered. "Not the first time."

"Ribs first. Remove shirt, to allow better access," Whitt demanded.

Valentine nodded, pulling off his robe and unbuttoning his shirt. Whitt scurried about, gathering this salve and that dressing and some other things Valentine wasn't paying attention to. He had to get his arm out of sleeve, but he couldn't bend his shoulder enough to get it off.

Warm hands brushed his shoulder and he did his best not to flinch. Helena helped edge the shirt over and off of his shoulder, her eyes focused on the fabric and the limb, not his face. Valentine couldn't do much but moved as she arranged him, a hand on his wrist gently holding him still so as not to jostle him. Still, it was near impossible not to move the shoulder and he winced, not more than a tightening around his mouth, but she saw.

"Sorry," she mumbled.

"'s fine," he told her, getting a brief flash of her eyes for his trouble.

"Need extra hands," Whitt told Helena, who had taken Valentine's shirt and robe, folding them neatly and putting them to the side. "Stand," she told him.

He did, doing his best to stand straight, though it hurt.

"Get the bruise salve," Whitt said to Helena. The Creator nodded without turning, going to a shelf and grabbing a jar with familiarity.

"Turn," Whitt told him and Valentine listened to the tiny general of this room. "Wrap up ribs, then the shoulder. Need to see damage. Helena? Salve, now."

With his back to both of them, he didn't quite see what happened, all he heard was something heavy hitting the ground.

He looked over his shoulder, seeing Helena reaching to pick up the jar she had dropped. She was lucky it hadn't broken. "Butterfingers," he commented, turning around again.

It hit him then.

A dark, beautiful, black-eyed version of his friend, glaring down at him from the stairs. A pair of jugglers trying to pull back what was ripped from them by a world that didn't give a damn about them. The words that tumbled out of his mouth the day he stopped being an awful man and started being a halfway decent one.

"Helena, if I was to say...If I was to say…"

He stumbled over the words. These words, which were the absolute least he could say and he couldn't even get the damn words out - he betrayed her and he couldn't...he couldn't…

"If I was to say something apologetic, it would reflect my feelings in this matter accurately."

Those black eyes that weren't the way they should be. Those eyes that belonged in another face that was not nearly as nice or friendly or caring or honest or-

"And you were right, you know," he continued, those half-good, half-useful, half-a-person words that weren't good enough, not true enough, just not enough, "and I was not as right as you were. About everything."

She still wasn't back. She still wasn't Helena. He had to bring her back, he had to fix what he'd broken.

"The windows. The world ending." Being friends.

"And you probably hate me," he pointed out. "I mean, I'd hate me, too."

He did. He does.

"Look, whatever she's done to you, I know you're still in there."

The Creator. The maskless girl. Helena.

He missed a catch and the ball went rolling past him. He stared at it because...because anything was better than those black eyes.

"Butterfingers," Helena murmured, drawing his attention.

And she smiled.

Valentine closed his eyes. How could he have forgotten that? She knew the Choir. She knew it more than he ever did. What had been his threat - his nightmare - it had been her reality.

A touch of something cool made him jump slightly.

"Sorry," Helena said, spreading the salve over his bruised ribs. "This'll help the...the ribs."

He nodded, trying not to focus on her fingers spreading the balm on his sides and chest. His head was crying out to back off, put some distance between them, while his heart was…

Well, it was disagreeing a bit.

So wrapped up in his own head, he didn't notice.

He saw the drop on her wrist before he realized he should look up. Helena's eyes were spilling over, no sobs or cries, or anything like that. Just silent tears, her fingers shaking as she continued to spread the balm over his bruised ribs.

Why was she crying?

Valentine opened his mouth to say something, he wasn't quite sure what just yet, but something would come to him. Probably.

Helena looked up, meeting his eyes. He could see something twisting behind the hazel. She shook her head slightly, blinking away what was left and locking it away.

"Injured?" Whitt asked, touching Helena's wrist.

"Fine," Helena said easily, even forcing a tiny smile. "It didn't touch me."

"Good. Stand back."

Helena did as she was told, stepping out of Valentine's field of vision. Without straining and making it obvious he was looking, he couldn't see her. And he wasn't sure he wanted to see her crying again. He barely breathed as the tiny medic wrapped him up, keeping everything in its proper place.

"Shoulder now," Whitt said. "Lie down. Hold him," she pointed for Helena.

Valentine reclined on the couch, his arm and shoulder hanging off the edge. Helena grasped his hand, holding him steady. Whitt put one arm on his chest, just below his shoulder and the other just above Helena's hands.

"Painful," she warned him.

"I know. Just do it."

"On three. One. Two."


"Argh!" Valentine shouted, the expected pain still just as bad. "What happened to three?!" He sat up, rubbing his shoulder.

"Ice. Tell you to wear a sling, but pointless," Whitt said.

Valentine smirked and shrugged, with a flinch.

"Well. Thanks for your help, doc," he stood. "I'll be going back to bed now."

"No wandering," Whitt ordered. "Goodnight."

"'Night, doc." He walked to the door before he realized he was on his own. Helena hung back with the medic and he overheard some of it.

"Still not sleeping?" Whitt murmured.

"No, it's fine."

"Not fine. Exhausted. Take tea."

"No," Helena said sharply, glancing at the door where Valentine stood. She shifted slightly and dropped her voice, but as the only noise in the silence, he couldn't help but hear her. "I can't take that anymore. I can't wake up from makes it worse."

Valentine stared at the door, wishing he couldn't hear, but unable to move away.

"Headaches, tremors, nightmares, only get worse."

"Well, you know what they say about the wicked," Helena tried to laugh.

"No. What?"

"No rest for the wick...forget it, bad joke," she said. "It's fine, Whitt. 'Night."

Helena patted the medic on the shoulder and walked towards the juggler. They shut the door and walked to the stairs in silence.

Without speaking, they both hesitated at the landing.

He didn't want to ask about the tears.

She didn't want to talk about them.

Helena didn't look at him, but she touched his arm, something half-healed between them. It was still too delicate to look at closely, so neither one of them even glanced. "Goodnight, Valentine."

"'Night," he answered.

She went upstairs and he went down, back outside, into his Tower, as far away from her as he could possibly be.

It was too close.

It was too far.

He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to block out her tears. It didn't work.

His night was filled with teary eyes and black eyes, warm hands and cold smiles.

Valentine didn't sleep well.

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 19 of 29

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