Continuing Tales

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 3 of 29

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The next year was infinitely better and decidedly worse than the year before.

It had started off with an errand gone wrong.

So far, he'd been able to get in and out of the City of Light without any problems. No one bothered him, since he was a very important man. No one suspected him because he'd saved the kingdom. No one noticed little things and nobodies going missing. So he was free to roam. Until he wasn't.

He stepped into the Library, barely looking at the Librarian. He browsed as always, slowly working his way towards his goal. He was heading to the East Wing, the fifteenth stack to the left, the second shelf from the bottom. A blue book, with green whorls on the front. Black edged pages. Almost as thick as his hand was wide. It didn't have title, but it showed a mirror on the front. All he had to do was grab the book and leave the Library. His Tower waited outside and-


"Oi!" he shouted, holding his head as something flew about it. "What gives?"

He caught sight of a red binding and snatched it out of the air, his juggling reflexes not quite atrophied yet. "You little bastard of a book," Valentine muttered, staring at the cover of the A Really Useful Book.

"What your problem?" he asked it.

The book flapped open, pinching his fingers in the process.

It is a man's own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.

"It's not my mind that's evil it's-"


He turned on his heel and came face to face with the Queen of the City of Light.

"Your Majesty," he said, bowing after only a momentary hesitation. He shoved the book into his pants pocket then tugged his sleeve over the spider. For the first time in a while he wished he still wore his robe.

"I have missed you, you've been in and out of the City faster than I can get a summons to you," she smiled at him.

It was odd, being smiled at and knowing that there wasn't a hidden motive behind the smile. She smiled at him because she felt the desire to smile.

"I'm sorry. I've been booked left and right. I'm a-"

"Very important man," she finished with a laugh. "Yes, you are."

The spider on his wrist tightened and Valentine covered it with his other hand. "Well, not as important as you, of course."

She walked over to him, "You are mistaken, Valentine. You are far more important than I am. And you're more important to far more important people."

He blinked. Did she know he worked for the Princess?

"How is Helena? I have missed her. I thought she would have returned before this."

Valentine swallowed. "So did I. But she belongs in her own world."

"I suppose. But I admit, I had thought…"

He waited, but she never finished her sentence. She shook her head with an embarrassed smile, "Ah, but they were just the thoughts of an old woman." The Queen looked at him.

The spider clenched hard around his wrist and Valentine flinched.

"Are you all right?" she asked him, concern etched on her face. She took a step nearer to him and the spider hissed. Valentine cried out as his tendons ground together, bending double and clutching his arm.

"Valentine?" she asked, touching his shoulder.

He stepped back, his sleeve slipping up and revealing the spider.

She glanced at it and then to his face, "Oh, no…"

He shoved past her and out of the Library, ignoring the calls of those behind him to come back, to stop, to surrender. He ran until he got to his Tower and then he flew far away, empty handed for the first time.

He landed outside the City of Shadow and the guards met him at his Tower door when he stepped out, the Princess nowhere in sight.

He knew that didn't bode well.

They led him up to the dark room, her room. Valentine stepped in and the doors were shut behind him.

"Val…where's my book?"

"I couldn't get it," Valentine said. "Things got complicated."

"Enlighten me."

"The Queen was there. I couldn't get it."

"You mean you let a little hitch in your plan get you all flustered that you couldn't grab the damn book and get out!" she screamed at him.

He'd been yelled at. Reprimanded. Shoved around by the guards. But for some reason, her voice got under his mask so well this time that he found himself yelling back at her.

"Well, it was either leave without the book or get caught!"

"And you just decided to abandon your task?" she snapped.

He glared at her. "Yeah. I did. And now they don't know what I was looking for, which I'm sure they would have been very interested in, don't you think?"

She bared her teeth at him, stepping around her desk to come toe to toe with him. He remembered the Monkeybirds, but he was so angry he found himself not caring. "You think you're so clever."

"I am a very important man," he sneered.

"And now everyone knows you're a criminal. A very important criminal," she retorted.

He didn't let that faze him. It had only been a matter of time before someone figured out he was working for her. "If that'll be all?"

"Get out."

"My pleasure," he said, adding in a bow for emphasis.

The door slammed behind him and Valentine found a vindictive smile on his face. He managed to get under her skin. He chuckled and happened to glance in a mirror on his way back to his room, catching sight of his face, an ugly sneer on it that he never remembered wearing before. It was like the one the Princess always had on. She had twisted him so that…

It is a man's own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.

Valentine avoided his reflection from that day on.

He should have known that the Princess wouldn't let him have the last word for long. He was summoned to her rooms almost a month later. It was one of the longest periods of time he'd gone without being summoned. He half thought she'd just let him die of boredom. He wasn't so lucky. The only good thing is that he had enough time to hollow out a behind one of the flagstones of his room to hide A Really Useful Book. He didn't know why he was bothering to hide the hurtful bundle of lies, but he did it nonetheless. So when he was summoned, nothing was out of the ordinary.

He went into the Princess's room, stopping up short to see a mirror that was as tall as he was, and as wide as his arms spread open.

"You know, vanity isn't becoming," he said, determined to have the first word.

"Have your little jibes, Val," she retorted. "But it's a present for you."

Presents from evil shadow Princesses were never good things. "No thanks. It's not my birthday. Not that I know what my birthday is, but-"

"Take a peek," she interrupted. "You know you want to."

He wasn't tempted. But she'd only resort to force if he didn't do as she said. So he did as she ordered. He stared into the mirror, finding it vaguely familiar. There was a bright green thing on the bed that was most of the mirror's view. A girl sat on the edge of the bed, something held up to her ear that she was speaking into. He couldn't hear the words, but he saw her mouth moving. The girl moved the speaky thing to her other ear and glanced at the mirror. Valentine drew in a breath, recognizing the eyes and disgusting, wrong face.

"Helena," he breathed.

He'd barely thought about her. He hated to admit it, but he'd been more concerned about his own skin than someone he'd already gotten out of harm's way. Besides, if he thought too much about things he didn't, couldn't, wouldn't ever have, he'd just get that much more depressed. And he wasn't very pleased with being depressed. But seeing her…

It was definitely Helena. But a different Helena. An older Helena. She was taller, skinnier than she had been. Her hair was longer, hanging around her face and brushing her collar. But the smile was the same, her quick, sudden movements the same. It was her. More than a year after he sent her away and she was perfectly fine.

"That's right, Val. Your Helena. At home, and safe, just like we had agreed," the Princess said. "She has no idea why you did what you did, but she's recovering just fine, wouldn't you say?"

He didn't know where she was going with this and he didn't ask. She'd tell him. Especially if it was bad news. And if it was bad news about Helena, he needed to know.

Valentine glanced at the Princess, who seemed to be waiting for something. He turned his gaze back, watching Helena stand up after a while and put the thing she had been talking onto down. She grabbed a stretchy thing and pulled her hair up off her face. She picked up a set of juggling balls and started with easy exercises. Still, the familiar movements made Valentine's own fingers itch to juggle for the first time in a long time.

He wiped his hands on his robe, "Is there a point to this?"

"Enjoying yourself?" the Princess asked.

Valentine stared at her, "The point?"

"Ah, and here is the point," she said.

Valentine looked back at the mirror, seeing Helena had turned to the door that had opened and someone walked in.

"Oh, Val. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do," the Princess purred.

It was a man that walked into Helena's room. Boy, really. With blonde hair and blue eyes and a stupid moveable face. He watched as the man-boy shut the door behind him. Helena looked up when the door and her face lit up. She dropped her juggling and stepped into the man-boy's arms. She stretched up on her toes and the man-boy leaned down and-

Valentine blinked, well that was something he hadn't been expecting to see.

"Aww," the Princess said, "How disgustingly sweet. She's replaced you with a Val-look-alike."

He took offense to that. "That does not look anything like me."

"Why? He's too handsome? Happy? Perfect?" the Princess suggested. "Yeah, guess you're right."

Valentine glared at her, refusing to feel subpar to this boy-thing. "Are we done?"

"Of course," she smirked. "Guards, take Val and his present back to his room."

No, nonononono. He did NOT want that thing in his room. He did not want to see that- that horrible face that wasn't his, but kind of was, at all hours of the day.

He was led back to his room, trying to ignore the rattle of the mirror behind him. The Princes had insisted. They set it up in his room, taking up a giant part of his wall. The guards shut the door behind them, leaving him alone with the mirror. And Helena and the man-boy. Stupid man-boy. Ugly, stupid, man-boy. He fell onto his bed, his arms propping his head up. He kicked his robe down to the bottom of the bed. It was too…white. Too many pockets to hold things he didn't have any longer. That was the kind of robe for a man with important things and Towers and friends.

He wasn't that man anymore.

Valentine wasn't jealous. Valentine's didn't get jealous. He was concerned. He was her manager, after all. And here she was, kissing unsavory types. If he knew anyone he knew himself. And Helena could do better. Not much, but enough to matter.

Glancing over, he was relieved to see that they had stopped kissing. Right now, the boy was sitting on the bed and watching as Helena told a story that involved some very expansive gestures. He was smiling at her, obviously entertained.

Valentine watched her face. After so long with the Princess, he'd forgotten what Helena's face was really like. They were exactly the same, but Helena was so much…more.

She started laughing, not that he could hear it, and hopped on the bed next to the boy, leaning over him. Valentine turned onto his side, facing away from them. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

It was a lot more difficult to pretend to be okay, when he was faced with people who were even better than okay. Still, he kept lying to himself.

Just less successfully than usual.


He looked up from his corner by the window, the only place he could sit and not see the mirror. The Princess stood at his door.

"Come with me."

"It's my day off," he told her. He didn't have those, but he said it anyway.

She crossed her arms, "I'm not sending you out. Come with me."

The guards behind her kept him from continuing the argument. He stood up and followed her, knowing there was nothing for it. He avoided looking in the mirror on his way out.

She didn't head to her room or the Choir. Instead, she led him to the Throne Room. He hadn't been there since his first day in the castle. He'd hoped to never go back again.

Valentine slowed upon entering the room. It looked like everyone in the City was in here, the ones who'd been the Choir, the guards, both alive and dead, the few courtiers who'd managed to be submissive enough not to be sent to the Choir.

"What's going on?" he asked the Princess.

She turned, stopping in the middle of the room. She gestured to a guard, who walked over and handed her three black orbs. The Princess tossed them to Valentine.

He caught them, the weight feeling unfamiliar in his hands after not practicing for so long. When he glanced up at the Princess, she smirked.

"Juggle, juggler," she ordered. She backed up to join with the rest of the crowd that had circled around him.

This wasn't going to end well.

He started with a slow circuit, a basic juggle. He felt off balance. Uneasy. He didn't like the feeling. Juggling was something he'd always felt confident with. But now he felt…wrong.

The circuit was out of balance and out of rhythm. He knew it was only a matter of time before he lost –

And there it went.

He dropped a ball. On the simplest circuit. On the most basic trick he'd learned. He missed.

It rolled away, right towards the Princess. She picked it up and looked at it. "So, Val. You're no longer a very important man. You're a hero who's now a criminal. You have a Tower that I control. Your Helena has replaced you with someone else. And you're a juggler that can't juggle." She walked up to him and handed the orb to him. "Tell me. Just exactly what are you now?"

He didn't know.

Valentine turned on his heel and left the Throne room, clutching the balls in his hand. He returned to his room, letting the guards slam the door behind him. He glanced in the mirror, seeing Helena lying on her bed and reading a book.

"This is your fault," he muttered at her. "You brought her back. You left her here."

Helena smiled at something in her book, her face softening.

Valentine returned to his corner by the window and closed his eyes. Before he fell asleep, he added, "And you trusted me."

Valentine held his breath as the City guards walked past him. He pressed back into the shadows, glad he wasn't wearing his robe. It was only by dressing darkly that he'd gotten this far. He waited until they clattered past before continuing on his way.

There was a back entrance into the Library, luckily. Otherwise he never would have been able to get in after his last fiasco. This was his first retrieval since he'd run into the Queen and the Princess had made it painfully clear that she wouldn't accept another failure.

He'd long ago discovered the drainage system that ran underneath the City. It was perfect for a less than honorable man like him. Not that he'd had to use it in recent years. He'd spent time being respectable and important, which meant he was allowed to use the front doors of buildings, rather than sneak in through the back.

So much for all that.

He could see the grate from here and he hurried across the square, lifting the iron and sliding into the hole, pulling the metal back into place. His feet up to his ankles were soon soaked through, but it was just the rain drains.

He plodded through the water, making sure to count the grates overhead. He had to get to thirty-one. At about sixteen, the Book rustled in his pocket. Valentine hurried to the next bit of light that was cast down from the grate and flipped it open.

I shall slip unnoticed through the darkness like a dark, unnoticeable, slippy thing.

It sounded familiar. Valentine muttered the words under his breath before glaring at the book and snapping it shut. He'd said that to Helena, when he went and turned her into the Shadow Queen. "Completely different situations, you crooked-bound book."

Valentine shoved it back into his pocket, ignoring the faint fluttering. He looked up, "Seventeen…eighteen…"

When he reached the right one, Valentine climbed up the rungs and peered through the grate. The Library was dark. He didn't know if the Librarian actually slept or just sort of hibernated among the stacks. Either way, he was going to have to be careful.

He lifted the grate carefully, holding it up as he climbed the last few rungs. He looked around, resting the grate against the nearest shelf. It took a minute for him to catch his bearings, but once he did it was only a matter of minutes before he was in the right place. He crouched down and counted the number of stacks until he reached the fifteenth one. Second shelf from the bottom and aha, there it was.

Valentine pulled it out of the stack and glanced at the cover. Got it.

"What are you doing?"

He looked up from his position kneeling on the ground. There was a young man staring at him, his mask covering his entire face in brown paper except for his forehead, which was wrinkled in confusion.


Valentine moved the book behind his back. "Cleaning crew."

"You're not due in until next week. And usually there's a lot more of you," the man said.

"Everyone's been coming down with the Sphinx Spots. So they're sending me and a couple other people in over the next couple nights. That way we could get this whole place cleaned by the regular time."

He stared at Valentine, actually considering it. Valentine really hoped this kid was that stupid.

The man slowly started to shake his head. "No, I need to contact the Librarian…"

"You really don't," Valentine said quietly.

The man backed away, glancing over his shoulder down the hall. Valentine followed him, "Look, just pretend you didn't see this and neither one of us will get hurt."

They got out into the main aisle. Valentine knew that the grate was behind him, he started edging towards it.

The boy hesitated, looking over Valentine's shoulder and obviously seeing the grate.

"Don't," Valentine warned.

He didn't listen. He ran towards Valentine. The juggler wouldn't be able to make it to the grate. He dropped the book and grabbed the boy, twisting his arm up and shoving him into a shelf. The kid wasn't prepared. He probably wouldn't have known what to do anyway.

"Look, I don't want to hurt you, but I have to take this book."

"I am the Librarian's Assistant and I can't let you! Intruder in the Libr-!"

Valentine slapped his hand over the Assistant's mouth, "Shut up."

The boy mumbled beneath his hand.

"I don't want to do this," Valentine hissed. "But she'll kill us all if I don't. I don't want to hurt-"

The spider ripped out of his skin, making him yelp and step back from the Assistant.

The boy went rigid and then slipped down the shelf, lying on his stomach, his face staring down the hall with wide eyes. Valentine backed away, clutching his wrist. The boy jerked once, twice, and then moved slightly onto his side.

The spider crawled out from underneath him, bright red covering the metal far more than Valentine's injuries could have done. It faced Valentine then split into four tinier…things with two legs each. They each went for one of the boy's limbs and dragged his body across the floor to the grate, leaving a deep crimson smear across the stone.

Valentine only flinched when he heard the splash and thud. Once he moved that much it was second nature to try and run. Something sliced at his calf and he stumbled then tripped. Metallic feet were on his back, then wrapped around his wrist. He got to his hands and knees, glaring at his wrist.

"Welcome back, you little metallic son of a bitch," he muttered.

It only took a moment or two to wipe up the mess that remained and pick up the book that started all of it. Valentine climbed down out of the Library, replacing the grate. When he reached the water, something brushed his ankle, but he ignored it and limped back the way he came.

He kept the book under his shirt until he got to the edge of the City. He whistled for his Tower, which appeared nearly instantaneously and hopped up the few steps to the front door. "Let's go," he said, dropping the book on the table and taking a seat. He wiped his face and mask, feeling that queasy feeling growing in his stomach.

The A Really Useful Book in his breast pocket fluttered so hard he winced and yanked it out. "What?!" he shouted at it.

It flopped open, the words scrawled across the page. Knowledge is power.

Valentine stared at it. "I think you've had too much to drink."

It flipped in a breeze that wasn't there to another page. This one had a big arrow that pointed to the book he'd picked up for the Princess.

Valentine shook his head. "I'm not reading anything she wants."

The book flipped back to the other page, talking about power again.

"The only power I have is not being nosy enough to get killed. So, no," he told the Book, flipping the cover closed and keeping his hand on it. It slid away from him and opened up anyway, the words in a different hand than all the others. It wasn't uniform, but looked like handwriting.

You pathetic creep!

Valentine flinched, as if the words had been shouted aloud.

You useless, cake-hogging, coward!

"I don't have a choice. I wish I did, but I don't. And for the last time, I did not hog-"

We often confuse what we wish for with what is.

"Great, use my own words against me now. That's plagiarism, that is."

Books are the best weapon in the world.

"Shut up."

Knowledge is a better weapon than a sword.

"Stop." He tried to reach out to close it again, but the book skipped out of his reach. If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.

"Who even talks like that anymore?" Valentine snapped.

You probably hate me. I mean, I'd hate me too. Look...whatever she's done to you, I know you're still in there.

Valentine watched his words fade from the pages. He sighed, looking up at the ceiling. "I'm going to regret this." He pulled the book he'd stolen closer to him and flipped it open.

By the time he got to the City of Shadow he'd read through a good majority of the book. And none of it was good. He walked out of his Tower, blinking as the sun was just beginning to rise, with the book under his arm and A Really Useful Book in his pocket. He handed the book to the Princess with one hand, barely even looking at her.

"Val," she called after him, actually sounding offended.

"I'm tired," he said, not stopping.

He ignored the guards, but from the fact that he wasn't tackled to the ground, he figured the Princess had called them off. He didn't stop until he reached his room. He knew where it was by now.

He shut the door behind him and sat down on his bed. Only a few seconds passed before he was up again and pacing. The book he'd read was a history of how the MirrorWorld was created. He knew some of it from when Helena had visited the first time, but this one was much more detailed. It talked about the MirrorMask in particular.

Reaching for his pocket, Valentine remembered he wasn't wearing his robe. He looked around and shuffled through the dingy white pile underneath his bed until he found what he was looking for.

He rolled one of the plastic orbs around his hand, pacing again.

The MirrorMask did more than open ways to another world. It could create things. Duplicates of other people and things.

The orb sailed through the air and Valentine caught it in his other hand.

It could let you wear the face of another person, but only if the Mask had been worn by that person before, which as far as he knew had only been Helena and the Princess.

He tossed two of them in the air, catching them as he walked over to his window.

It could open entire gates between words, not just for one person, but for a group. And if you knew what you were doing, it could do so without displacing the doppelgangers in the other world.

Valentine didn't notice when all three balls were in the air.

Most importantly, the MirrorMask could ward off the shadow powers that the Princess and her mother had. Which is probably how the Princess had managed to overthrow the Queen.

He stood at the window, his hands moving independently of his own mind as he thought. If he could get the Mask away from the Princess…

Well, that wasn't going to happen easily. He was going to have to wait and bide his time until there was an opportune moment and-

Valentine stopped, catching the juggling balls that had been arcing perfectly around him. He was talking about being some sort of double agent. If she found out, he'd be killed, just like the Librarian's Assistant. Just like the Monkeybirds.

Valentine thought about the young man, now somewhere beneath the City of Light. He thought about him and then sat down on his bed again.

He couldn't do it. Not alone. He dropped the juggling balls onto the floor again, ignoring the fluttering of A Really Useful Book and laid down facing the wall.

He was just one juggler. He couldn't stop her. No one person could stop her.

Valentine stumbled, being shoved into his room.

"Stop trying to wander around," the ground ordered, slamming the door behind him.

"Stop trying to be a guard, you lazy bastard," Valentine muttered. He had tried to explore a bit of the castle, going out of his mind being cooped up and wanting to get away from the mirror. He'd been politely informed that he wasn't to do it again.

He looked up, immediately seeing the mirror. He tried to ignore it, but it took up so much of his small room. He sprawled on his bed, kicking his robe down to the bottom. He been on two more missions since the last one, and although he didn't know what to do with the information, he kept reading the books. There was more worrisome things, like if the balance of the world got too tilted in one way or the other, the stronger power would wipe out the weaker one. The whole world would be covered in shadows. If the Queen died it would all be over.

Motion out of the corner of his eye drew his attention. He looked over despite himself, seeing Helena sitting on her bed, putting things away into her backpack. Three juggling balls appeared in her hands and he sat back to watch her practice. She'd been trying new moves and Valentine found himself commenting on them, even though she couldn't hear.

She had been working on adding a spin while the balls were in the air. It took a lot of control, speed and concentration. Three things he only had when he was juggling. Until recently.

She warmed up with some easy throws and then prepared herself. He already saw it wasn't going to work.

"Not high enough," he reprimanded her.

Two balls hit the ground. She caught the third one and he saw her sigh in frustration. Still, she picked them up and start again.

"Too slow. Spin faster."

One ball hit the ground.

"Better. Just a little bit faster."

She closed her eyes and took a breath. Then she started juggling, her eyes watching them fly through the air. Valentine sat forward as she spun-

-and caught every one, continuing the arc without a break. She grinned and did it again, not missing a beat.

"Good job," he told her reflection. "Now you have to add a cape or something to make it really dramatic. Have something that spins about you. That would be perfect."

She looked into the mirror and met his eyes. Valentine froze in his seat.

Then the speaky thing on her bed glowed bright. Helena blinked and looked down at it, dropped the balls into her duffel bag and picked up the glowy thing. She flipped it open and smiled, which made Valentine roll his eyes. It was the man-boy, as usual.

The balls disappeared into it and she headed out of her room, leaving Valentine alone again. He rolled onto his side, trying to get rid of the ever-deepening hole in his chest.

Valentine glanced in the mirror, seeing Helena coming through the door. He didn't mind the mirror when it was just Helena. It felt like he had company to talk to, even if she couldn't hear him. It was only when the man-boy joined her that he started to dislike it again. But this time, Helena was talking over her shoulder and smiling as she shut the door. She leaned against it for a second, the smile fading away. She reached for the knob and locked it.

He sat up. She'd never locked her door before.

Dropping her bag, Helena walked towards her bed, holding her hand to her side. Her face was tight now, none of the smiles or carefree nature she'd just shown whoever she was talking to. She was in a lot of pain.

She pulled up the hem of her shirt and Valentine caught sight of an ugly looking bruise on her ribs. He knew that kind of bruise. She'd cracked a bone or two. What in the worlds had she been doing?

Helena pulled her top off entirely and though Valentine felt a little uncomfortable, he didn't turn away. The bruise started just a few inches below her ribs. She had to go to some sort of doctor to get it bound up, or...

Helena kicked a plastic box out from underneath her bed, bending down with a wince to grab it. She straightened and popped off the lid, grabbing a roll of brown bandages.

Quickly and with an ease that said she'd done it before, Helena wrapped the bandages around her ribs tightly. She stood up and remained still for a minute, obviously testing to see if it was tight enough.

She jumped and stared at her door. Obviously someone was knocking. She grabbed her shirt from the ground and pulled it over her head, the only indication that she was hurt was the slight wrinkle under her clothes and the tightness around her eyes. She grabbed the door and unlocked it, letting in a man that looked like the Prime Minister. He grinned at her and pulled her into a hug, not noticing the way she stiffened.

Valentine watched the Prime Minister stay and talk to Helena, who subtlety pushed the box of bandages back underneath her bed when the man had his back turned. She smiled throughout the conversation until the man bounced over to her and kissed her on the forehead. He took her shoulders and said something to her, his face serious and excited at the same time. Helena smiled and nodded.

The man left, shutting the door behind him. Helena sat back down on her bed, her face pale. She glanced towards the edge of the mirror and said something to herself before she stood again. Valentine looked away the second she put her fingers through her belt loops. He counted to 100 before looking back. He caught sight of the bandage again as she pulled her t-shirt down. What drew his eyes were her legs, also spattered with bruises both new and old. She tucked her legs under a blanket just before her door opened again.

Her mother walked in and sat on the edge of her bed. Valentine watched as Helena and her mother chatted for a bit. Just as she was getting ready to go, her mother patted her leg. Helena winced and her mother froze.

Her mother drew back the blanket, revealing the bruises. She glanced at Helena and even through the mirror, Valentine knew their voices had dropped. Helena tried to brush off the injuries, but her mother clearly wasn't buying. She examined Helena hard with her eyes, and caught the shadow of the bandages underneath. She reached for Helena's shirt, but Helena grabbed her mother's wrist and said something very quietly, glancing at the door.

Her mother stared at her and the hugged her gently. Helena's eyes tightened over her mother's shoulder, but she was smiling when her mother pulled away. They talked quietly for a little while longer before her mother left. Helena turned out the light soon after, though Valentine could still see her from the glow beneath her door and through her window. She fell asleep soon after.

It was few hours later when Helena sat straight up, her eyes flying open. Valentine, flipping through A Really Useful Book out of boredom, jumped at the sudden movement.

She looked around, breathing hard and clearly just coming out of a nightmare. Her hand held her side as she bent over out of pain. Helena rested her head on her knees, hugging her ribs. Slowly she straightened and looked up at the ceiling, her breathing calming down. Valentine caught sight of a few shiny tracks on her face. She wiped those away quickly and lied back down in her bed.

He found himself staring at the mirror for a long time after that. Why would she rather cry alone and in pain rather than let her mother or father know? He wasn't really one to talk from experience about parents, but the impression that he got is that most of them took care of their children, especially when they got hurt. His mother left him to fend for himself, but she was just a horrible person. Helena's parents obviously cared.

He stared at the mirror, but Helena had turned her face away. She wasn't asleep, he could tell. She was still crying. Valentine knew what that was like. Not that Valentine's cried. But the few times he thought he might close to crying, he would have given anything to have someone who actually cared there for him. If only there was a way through the mirror then he could be there for Helena.

He shook his head and looked back at his book. She had her ugly man-boy for that. She didn't need or want him around. And he didn't want to be around. Or wanted.

"I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me."

Valentine sighed and shut the book, "Shut up."

Valentine looked up as Helena entered her room, the boy right behind her. She was dressed in a dress, which was an odd way for her to dress. She had paint on her face, and her hair was curled and pinned and fancy. Beneath all the frippery, he saw anger boiling to the surface. It wasn't the first time Valentine had seen them fight, but this one was different. He watched, feeling like an intruder into her life, but unable to look away. Helena turned on the boy as soon as he shut the door, her hands gesturing wildly.

The blonde boy jabbed his finger at the mirror and Valentine stepped back, he could see him? No, of course he couldn't. Don't be stupid, Valentine. But what was he pointing at?

Helena paled, looking at the mirror as well. She shook her head and grabbed his arm.

He reached out and reached for something right by the mirror, Helena pushed his arm and shouted something.

The boy's face got ugly, his mouth twisting up. He went for the mirror again and when Helena tried to stop him, he pushed her.

Valentine was on his feet, vibrating with fury. How dare he shove her! And here he was, stuck in the City of Shadows and unable to help her when she needed it the-

Helena drew back her hand, formed a fist and slammed her boyfriend – now decidedly ex – in the nose. He fell to the ground, cupping his nose and Helena stood over him, pointing at the door and making her meaning clear even through silence.

Valentine added his own gestures as the man stumbled out of the room.

"Well done, Helena-na," Valentine told her as she faced the door. "You deserve better. Now, take up those pins and let's…"

He trailed off as Helena shut the door and turned around. She was pale and shaking, and when her mouth quivered, Valentine felt something in the area of chest start to hurt. She made it to her bed and grabbed her see-an-enemy, hunching over it and burying her face in the fuzzy greenness. Valentine watched for what seemed like an eternity until she lifted her face.

Her eyes were red and there were tracks down her face that kept him from pretending he didn't know what had happened.

Helena was hurting. Over a boy. Over a stupid boy. Over a stupid boy that had hurt her and she was still crying.

She grabbed the small bag she had carried in, pulling out a red book and started tearing out pages, crumpling them up and throwing them to the ground, more tears streaming down her face. She threw the book a few moments later, yelling at it.

Then she breathed in, staring at the mess. Helena slid to the ground and gathered up every single page she had ripped out, smoothing them and putting them back in the book as best she could. She was still crying, but she clutched the book to her chest and curled up around it, her mouth mumbling things that he couldn't quite read. Helena pressed her eyes into her bedspread, hiding her face from her empty room. Eventually her fingers relaxed around her book and her breathing settled out.

Valentine made sure she was asleep before he stood up, his own muscles sore from crouching in front of the mirror for so long. If she had cried like that over someone she no longer liked, what had happened to her when Valentine had said his awful things. Even though he meant to help her, he'd had to hurt her. And he liked to think they were better friends than the man-boy. Or had been better friends.

Which meant Valentine had hurt her more.

He knew that, in a way, those years ago. But knowing he had hurt her and seeing her hurt were two wildly different things. And for all of his good intentions and reasons and excuses, he couldn't run from that.

He'd hurt his best friend. Only friend, really.

Valentine walked towards the window, needing to get some space. He didn't know why he felt more guilty for this than he did for the City he was ransacking one piece of valuable information at a time. Helena was just one girl. He was helping to destroy an entire city. She wasn't even in this mess, not really. So why did his chest hurt so much?

He shook his head, trying to clear it. Helena was one person. An unhelpful person. A poor-choice-making person. An unimportant person at this point.

It didn't help. Valentine paced now, what did she even matter? She was an ugly, maskless, little girl who had ruined everything and-

Well. Not ugly. Not really. She was pretty, he supposed, as a completely objective outside observer.

And true, she didn't have a mask and that made her different, but he kind of liked different on her. It suited her far better than a mask like the Princess's did. He liked watching her talk, even to the ugly man-boy. The way her face would move was far more revealing than any kind of changeable mask.

And little girl wasn't quite right, either. Maybe it had been right two years ago, but it had been two years and...things...had changed about Helena that made Valentine think about how old she really was. Seventeen now? He was twenty one. Not too big of an age difference. And next year she'd be eighteen and he'd be twenty two which was perfectly reasonable to be-


Because that's what they were. Or used to be. Or had been?

And she hadn't necessarily ruined everything per say. He'd maybe had a hand in it. But he hadn't had a choice. And Helena hadn't known what kind of trouble she was in. It wasn't her fault.

Valentine walked back to the mirror, staring at the girl who still dressed up for the ruined date, a beaten up notebook in her arms. His chest still hurt and his head was whirling, but he relaxed on his bed, watching Helena sleep.

He must have dozed off, because next thing he knew, she was under the covers in her bed, the lamp by her head turned on and she was scribbling in the red book. She didn't look sad any longer and there was even a little smile on her face.

Valentine fell asleep, the ache easing a little.

He woke up the next morning, feeling a little different. He felt...taller? Cleaner? He stood up and looked at his clothes. They were the same, but just a little off. His shirt a slightly different shade of burgundy. His robe was a little longer, and the back of it was split to have tails. He liked it - a little drama never hurt anyone. Valentine looked inside his robe and found that he had more pockets than before, stuffed with things he didn't remember putting there. Juggling balls, bits of paper, toffee. Oooh, toffee. He took out a piece and continued his examination.

His shoes weren't shoes any longer, but boots that were comfortable and functional. With a dash of romance. He liked them too. But how had it happened? He'd been wearing his old clothes and shoes when he went to bed the night before.

Valentine glanced into the mirror and saw that Helena was still asleep. She was lying on her stomach, a pen lying limply in her hand. He could just barely see the top of a spikey head.

He grinned for the first time in a year. She hadn't forgotten him.

He stood in front of the mirror, staring at the sleeping, ugly, maskless girl who still managed to find time for him, even after the things he'd said to her. Who only asked him to do things that were right and wouldn't hurt others. Who forgave him when he forgot and reverted to his selfish ways. The girl who held her own against Queens and Princess and Very Important People and ugly boys who didn't deserve titles. The girl who created an entire world of people and places and still remembered him.

The girl who could juggle.

In a moment, his entire world had shifted and although he couldn't explain it, he finally had something that mattered. Something that could keep him from wallowing and vanishing into the guilt and depression that had been creeping up on him for the past two years. Something that the Princess could never touch.

He knelt down and dug beneath his bed. He fingers found a round sphere and he snagged it, grabbed the two other ones he found, too. The dark circles went into his pocket. He shoved open his door, catching one guard in the face and the other unaware. He jogged down to the Throne Room, the guard unable to catch him because of his armor. He got to the double doors of the Throne Room and shoved them open with a bang, cutting off the Princess mid sentence and drawing all eyes.

She glared at him and Valentine wondered how he had ever confused her and Helena.

"What do you want, Val?" she snapped, tapping her fingers.

He didn't answer, but he started to juggle. The simple circuit he had failed on last time. The one that he was completing flawlessly now.

Glancing between the spinning orbs, he saw the Princess' face clouding as she watched.

Valentine hid his smile and juggled one-handed to get the other three balls, the ones she had embarrassed him with the first time. Then he added those in, interspersing the colored ones with the black ones.

The Princess' eyes tightened as he continued to juggle, the spheres going higher and higher without a single hiccup. Her knuckles were white on the chair. Valentine started to wind down, catching the balls one by one and putting them into his pockets, punctuating each one with a promise in his head that he hoped the Princess could hear.

I'm not your victim.

And I'm not like you.

I won't let you win.

I'll find a way to stop you.

Because I'm a Valentine.

He spun on the last one, knowing before it even happened that it would be perfect, his robe snapping out behind him. Valentine stopped and caught the final black orb in his hand amid the utter silence of the Throne Room. He dropped it on the ground and it rolled back to the Princess. She watched it until it hit the bottom of the dais, then looked up at Valentine.
He met her black eyes and then bowed, never lowering his eyes.

And I'm a very important person.

He turned and walked right up to the guard who was still out of breath, huffing and puffing at the door. Valentine walked through the double doors, letting them close behind him. He caught sight of the Princess just before the doors shut, her face pale with anger and he couldn't help it. He laughed.

It was time to start acting like a Valentine again.

If I Apologised

A MirrorMask Story
by Caitastrophe8499

Part 3 of 29

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