[fic] the flame in your eyes [mirrormask] [unvalentine]
MirrorMask. unValentine. Rated G.
Beta by miraielle, and tris poked at it for a bit to remove errant semi colons.
A birthday gift for Imry, who really wanted MirrorMask fic. HI IMRY.
There is no memory that is not coloured by juggling and unknown quantities.
Masks are familiar, and he slides into the Circus like he has always been there.
"Valentine," says Helena on his first day. "You must juggle with me." She throws a bright orange ball towards him; she follows it with a pink ball and a blue one, and before he can blink they are juggling together.
"My name isn't Valentine," he says, and focusses on the balls. Best not to drop them whilst the ink is still wet, and whilst the boss is still watching from his caravan.
"Of course not," Helena says with a grin. "Names change out here."
His name or not, she never calls him anything else.
There is an entire caravan filled with costumes - of course there is - and he spends half a day rifling through the shiny fabrics and besequinned shirts until he is breathing in nothing but feathers and glitter. A hand reaches through the beaded haze, holding a mask striped chocolate brown and the tan of hide.
"What's this?" he asks, and a mime pulls the mask down over his face.
It is a snug and comfortable fit.
"What's this?" he asks the mime again. The mime shakes her head; waves her hands over her face and mimes shorter, shorter, and slides out of the caravan.
Mimes, he thinks, fondly, and finds that the costume he has chosen matches the mask perfectly.
As he emerges from the caravan, Helena glides up on a pair of bright purple roller skates. She stops, and the skates bring her high enough that he could bite her nose. If he wanted to. She reaches her hands out, and her fingers are warm against his ears. "You look brilliant, Valentine," she says, and adjusts the mask just slightly.
"How did you know it was me?" he asks, and Helena laughs.
"How could it be anyone else?" She skates away.
"Valentine!" she calls as he exits the tent. He turns; waits for her to catch up.
"Shouldn't you be in school?" he asks.
"I don't go to school," Helena says. "Home schooled. Or circus schooled, I suppose."
"By whom? Your mum?"
"Yeah," she replies. "Nah." She shrugs. "By whoever's about. Eric used to be a biologist, and the Tumblers taught me German. Mum's pretty good with her geography. Gwendolyn was a teacher, once, but joined the circus after a bad couple of years with some really crap kids. It's not a lot, but it's good enough that the government doesn't care that I'm naught but a circus brat."
"You don't want to do your levels? Go to uni?" They pass a house with a long driveway, and two griffins guarding the gate. Helena turns her head: watches the statues closely and skates backwards until they're a good twenty metres behind and no longer a threat.
"I live in a circus, Valentine. What do I need to go to uni for?"
He sighs at the name. "We've been friends long enough," he says. "You can call me by my name, if you want."
"I do," she says, and nearly bumps into him as he stops.
"This is me." He points up, and thinks maybe his apartment block is looming more than usual.
"Oh," she says. "A tower. Of course."
He smiles. "Not quite."
"What are you going to do with it when we're traveling, then?" she asks.
"I rent it, so I suppose I'll keep on doing that. Give me somewhere to come back to."
"Don't leave it alone too long. It'll get upset and not be there when you want it." He frowns; she says the weirdest things, but he supposes teenagers are like that.
"It's not much," he says. "Did you want to come up?"
"Nah." Helena laughs; throws her arms about his neck and kisses him loudly on the cheek. "Have a good evening, Valentine. I'll see you later."
She skates away, and he rubs the dampness from his skin.
He offers to teach her maths: he was an accountant, once, and he supposes he can still remember how to add.
Well, he was an accountancy student, but it's pretty much the same thing.
Their act is part juggling, part clown. They play school yard games: they jump rope and play hand clapping games and chase one another around with water pistols. When they've had enough they do what they are actually supposed to do, and juggle. Tiny glowing balls and rubber chickens are Helena's favourites, and he doesn't really mind what they use, so long as she laughs all the while.
She always does.
Helena leans against the door to her caravan.
"The boss' kid lucks out, getting her own caravan," he says. Helena smiles; scratches her head and makes her hair puff out.
"It's a perk," she agrees. "Maybe a bribe, for putting up with the circus." She leans forward and scratches his head with her nails.
"And what is this?" he asks, and closes his eyes.
"A bribe for putting up with me?" she asks, and when he meets her eyes she's all innocence, and the glitter around her eyes sparkles in the afternoon light.
"Come to the pub," Eric calls across the lot, and he turns. Marie waves and beckons him across: mimes don't speak when they're in costume. She doesn't spend long out of costume, but she doesn't speak then, either, and it's the little things that leak out from the big top into the real world.
Helena's hand stills. "You should go," she says, quietly, and he does. When he turns at the gate to wave to her, she's already disappeared into her caravan.
"Someone's got a crush," Rachel sing-songs, and it takes him a moment before he realises she's talking about Helena, not him.
He keeps quiet.
They stumble out of the big tent, laughing and exhilarated by the thrill of performing, and Helena almost trips over a little girl. "Are you okay?" she asks. "Are you lost?"
"Dog," says the little girl; points and shakes. The girl is right: there is a dog, all big and shaggy and completely, totally harmless, but he knows the little girl won't understand that.
He kneels down. "You know what to do?" he asks, when his eyes are the same level as hers. She shakes her head. "Never let them see you're afraid," he continues, and Helena says the words with him.
He looks up and meets her eyes, and her gaze is even and unafraid.
"A friend taught me that," she says, and places a hand on the little girl's shoulder. "Now, let's find your mum, sweetie."
Sometimes, when Helena smiles at him, he forgets that she is still so young, and hates himself for loving her wide grin. He listens to her laugh, and when she skates up to him she wraps her arms around his neck and insists he give her piggy back rides.
He tells himself it is brotherly and platonic, and he is nothing but fond of her, and wills himself to have a crush on her mother instead.
On her birthday, they sit at a trestle table thirty feet long, in a field lit by fairy lights and flaming torches. The table is festooned with flowers and masks and candles, and the food they eat is as haphazard as the lives they lead. There is a creamy pasta, and spicy noodles; fingerfoods of every sort and a rich, gooey chocolate cake. When Helena sits at the table she laughs; is showered with gifts and compliments. She wears a black dress - a gift from her mum, she says - and her hair is pushed back, high and heavy.
She looks distant; she looks different. Like she is not Helena.
"Are you having fun?" she asks, a smile on her face.
He strokes her hairline, but does not allow himself to touch her skin. "This isn't you," he says, and retires early.
"Valentine," she says, and turns her head.
In this light, she looks familiar. "Helena," he says, and pauses. "That's a very dull name."