|[fic] getting lost is easier than losing your mind [mirrormask/constantine/sandman]
||[Jul. 6th, 2006|07:20 am]
Getting Lost Is Easier Than Losing Your Mind by Pen [PG]
A Mirrormask crossover with Constantine and Sandman, featuring Helena and Valentine and an assorted cast of characters
This is something self-indulgent that I have have written as a present to myself on my birthday. Which is today.
He looks up and up, and the officers seem taller than the sky. "Come this way," they murmur, and "Oof," and "Oi, you could stand to lose a bit of weight, mate," as he is cradled in their stick-like legs. "Hey!" he protests, "let me go." He tumbles through the paving stones; down and down and the birds introduce themselves.
A hand on his shoulder, and he blinks.
Beside him, Helena laughs. "You can't sleep!" she shrieks with delight and nervous joy. "We're about to perform!"
The clapping in the big tent sounds like wings.
After, they juggle on the lawn, laughing and avoiding stepping on the three legged dog, and people come up to them. The audience laughs with them and applauds them, and bathed by the light from the flaming torches, Helena glows. "Thank you!" she yells, "we'll be here all week!"
As he looks out into the crowd, he catches the eye of a beautiful woman, young and pale in the moonlight. She smiles at him; he smiles back and misses his cue.
"Oh honestly, Valentine," Helena laughs, and when he turns she is watching the young woman. "Can't you at least wait until we're finished before you try to pull?"
Beneath his mask, he blushes, and Helena keeps laughing.
The crowds disperse, and the young lady approaches. Her skin is paler than he first thought, and her dress is black. A tattoo trails from the corner of her eye, and curls down her face.
"Nice tattoo," he says, and she laughs.
"It's just another type of mask," she replies, and her voice is thick and rich and reminds him of old friends.
"Hello," says Helena, mischief in her voice. "I'm Helena, and this is Valentine. I think he likes you." Valentine reaches to strangle her.
The lady smiles. Behind her, a tall man approaches. In the wind, his hair blows across his face, and in the darkness, his features remain obscured. Sister, he says, and rests a hand on her shoulder.
His voice is familiar.
When he looks closer, he sees glowing blue stripes and lips the colour of coal. He blinks. "Lord Shaper," he says, reverence and love and fear in his voice, and Helena turns to him.
"Valentine," she says, "don't be silly." He knows she cannot see the Shaper's true face for the mask that he wears, and behind his own, he blinks.
Little elf, the Lord Shaper says, Your kind no longer walk this plane. The Shaper waves his hand, and Valentine feels a tingling that starts in his feet and weaves up through his body. His vision wavers, and Helena's hand on his arm is weightless, like she is not there. Like he is not there.
"Oh, stop it," says the Shaper's sister. "Let him be."
The tingling stops, and Valentine breathes heavily. "Lady, my thanks."
"It was very nice to meet you, Helena," says the Shaper's sister, and he takes a step back. "And you, Valentine." She smiles at him. "Please don't mind my brother. He's in a bad mood."
"My lady," he says, and they disappear into the darkness. Helena throws a rubber chicken at his face.
"Come on, stupid," she says, as if nothing happened, "let's go pack up."
Helena does not understand.
Helena cannot see the truth as he sees it.
That night, he dreams of fading stars and endless falling. The house he leans on crumbles under his touch, and the dog at his side glares at him. "Oi," says the dog. "You didn't have to do that." In the wreckage he searches, but he can't remember what he lost. He cannot remember the shape of his life, nor the sound of her laughter; nor the thing she asked him to find. He dreams. He wakes.
Valentine curses the Lord Shaper; stares at his ceiling until he can hear the birds greeting the dawn.
Helena pauses at the gate. She likes the real world well enough, she supposes, but better to wait in the circus for Valentine to arrive. She watches his approach; he walks surely, but he blinks too fast and his eyes are shrouded in black.
"Are you sick?" she asks, concerned, and steps out of the gates.
A sharp, brittle woman shoulders roughly past Helena, and she is pushed back against the cold metal. "Hey!" she yells, and knows this is the real reason why she does not wish to leave the circus. The sickly sweet smell of perfume and manufactured scents wafts back towards her, and she shudders.
"You shouldn't be out," Valentine says; "We have rehearsing to do." His voice is hoarse, and horses, and rainbows, and grates like music upon her ears.
"Are you sick?" she repeats, unsure of what she is hearing.
"I'm fine," he replies, and looks through her. "But there," he says, and his voice is soft with wonder. Helena turns. The woman who passed her by stands arguing with another, her skin tight and red, her face drawn with anger. She spits as she yells, and storms away, throwing her disposable coffee cup onto the ground. The coffee spills across the pavement, and a kid from the local school rides his bike through it.
Helena hates the real world.
There is a new fortune teller with the Circus. Joanna placed no advertisement; there was no thought or call or word of mouth, but one morning in the lull between waking up and opening, Joanna looked up, and he was leaning against the wall of the glass of the ticket counter.
He told her fortune, then, before she could open her mouth to send him on his way. Her fortune came true two weeks later, and he was waiting by the ticket counter the very next night.
"Of course," she said. She did not ask his age, or ask him to pass the auditions.
There is a new fortune teller with the Circus, and he tells the most beautiful lies.
His name is Gabriel.
Gabriel shuffles his cards. He feels them beneath his hands: Justice, here. The two of cups and the nine of wands and the World, and he smiles.
"Helena," he says.
She stops walking. Frowns. "How did you know it was me?" she asks, and crosses her arms.
"The cards like to talk."
"I don't believe in the cards," she says.
"But the cards believe in you," Gabriel says, and turns over the six of cups. Helena sits on the grass beside him. She picks at the grass stalks, and makes a stunted daisy chain from squashed, dying daisies.
"Trying to catch monsters?" Gabriel enquires.
"Trying to make princesses," she replies.
"Have you ever considered juggling?" she asks. "It's much more satisfying than telling stories." Gabriel hums again, and Helena offers a chip. Gabriel declines. "So, what do the cards say?"
"You don't believe in the cards," Gabriel says, and shuffles the deck back together.
"I don't," says Helena. She drops a chip in her mouth; waves her fingers about like she's burnt them, and perhaps she has. She waves at Valentine, outside the lot, still stuck in the real world, and stands up. She stretches to the sky. "But they believe in me, right?"
Gabriel cuts the deck and reveals the ace of swords. "They do," Gabriel says, and does not watch Helena wander away.
Gabriel smiles, and starts again.
The circus is an interesting home. A haven for faeries and monsters and those who cannot go home, Gabriel reads their fortunes, though none of them ever ask what he sees.
Gabriel likes them, their jealousies and their love and their perfectionism. He watches as the mimes silently squabble, and he turns the cards as delicious cake smells waft around the field. In the distance, he listens to the fights over who gets the first cookie. It's like a microcosm of humanity, in the circus, only it's not quite as disgusting, because so few of them are actually human.
In the red light of the setting sun, Gabriel turns the cards over, and The Hanged Man stars back at him. "Oh," says Gabriel aloud. "Now, that's just a little too obvious." A hand wraps around his neck, and Gabriel finds himself lifted and pushed against the caravan.
"What have you done with it?" Constantine yells, right up in Gabriel's face.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Gabriel gasps out.
"Stop!" yells Helena from some distance away. "What are you doing?"
Helena is such a lovely girl, Gabriel thinks, and curls his hands lovingly around Constantine's forearms.
"I know it was you," says Constantine, as he drops his arms and recoils from Gabriel's touch.
Helena crashes into Constantine. "Stay away from him!" she cries out, and reaches for Gabriel. Constantine pulls her back.
"Don't touch him," Constantine says, urgently.
"John," says Gabriel. "I have never been your enemy. This animosity is uncalled for."
"You're broken, Gabriel. You're wrong. And you need to tell me where it is."
"I have been abandoned, John. I have not fallen. I do not have it."
"Don't have what?" asks Helena, always quick and keen and curious.
"It's a cup," says Constantine; quickly, slyly.
Valentine coughs. "It is mine," he says slowly, unsure; it is like a question, and Valentine frowns.
"I don't want to go on an adventure," says Valentine, as the sky darkens and the sound of leathery wings grows louder.
Afterwards, Helena vomits.
"You get used to it," says Constantine. His coat flaps in the wind as he leaves.
"He does so like to make an exit," murmurs Gabriel.
Sister, says Dream, I stand in my gallery and I hold your sigil. Will you come to me? She extends a hand and he wraps his fingers around it; pulls her through and kisses one knuckle.
"I always do, dumbass," Death says fondly, once he has released her hand.
Dream tilts his head. What is this 'dumbass'? he asks.
Death hums. "It means I like you, but you're a bit slow sometimes," she says, and laughs.
Dream regards his sister closely. You believe me to be unintelligent?
"No," she sighs. "I believe you to be a bit unobservant of the people around you." She rests a hand on her brother's arm. "Brother," she says, "What did you call me here for?"
That Elfling, Dream replies. From the mortal circus. He is searching the Dreaming for something, and leaving tiny holes. I would remove him, but I would not upset you, Sister.
"Leave him be," she says. "He does no harm."
But that is the problem, says Dream. He is dropping bread crumbs as he searches, and his lost thing is burning a hole.
"So tell him where it is."
I cannot. If he chooses to live as a mortal, then I will not give him his Elfling acoutrements.
Death sighs. "You cannot? You will not? You are such a stick in the mud. Give him his thing back." Her hand tightens on his arm: a warning.
He frowns at her, and she kisses his cheek. "That's a good boy," she says, with a laugh and a shake of her head.
She steps back into her painting, and when she is gone, Dream covers his eyes.
He loves his sister, and will do as she advises.
In Valentine's dreams, the Lord Shaper argues with the oldest of his sisters. They are horrible, loud dreams; the sky flashes warnings of lightening and shakes the ground with thunder, and the trees around Valentine quiver with fear. "YOu ShOUlDn'T be hERe," says a little girl floating by his ear, and his throat seizes up.
"I don't want to be here," he tries to say, but when he opens his mouth spiders crawl out of his mouth, and the Lord Shaper's eyes are pools of black.
When he wakes, the sheets scratch his skin, and he sits until the sun rises.
"Okay," he says to Gabriel, and frowns.
Gabriel smiles, and Valentine is suspicious.
"So," how do we begin?" Helena asks.
"Ideally," complains Valentine, "We'd begin by not beginning."
"It was your decision to go," Helena says, and reaches for Valentine's hand.
Gabriel rests a hand on Valentine's head. "Close your eyes," he says, and pushes them through the gates to leave the Circus. Helena stumbles, and when they open their eyes, the road is gone: a yellow brick road has taken its place. Valentine turns, and Gabriel waves from the gates, the Circus a haze of bright colours in the distance.
"Have fun," calls Gabriel as he closes the gate, and then he is gone from sight.
"Well," says Helena. "I only hope we can get back."
They start down the path.
Helena feels something damp seeping into her shoe. "I'm sure these are waterproof," she gripes, before she slips and falls. The ground is not where she expects it to be, and she falls and falls through the murky water.
She flinches, suddenly, at the sound of her screams in the thick water. She swallows the water in shock and it is cold and tastes like chicken. She laughs. "Come on in, the water's fine!" she calls towards what she hopes is the surface, and opens her eyes. A shark bumps noses with her. Understandably, she screams again.
The shark screams back, and his voice is deep. Like the water, she thinks, and holds in a nervous giggle.
"You scared me," she says.
"You scared me," the shark accuses. "Sharks you expect in water, but little girls live on the dry land."
"I'm not a little girl," Helena says indignantly, forgetting perhaps that she's arguing with a shark.
"Whatever," says the shark, and flips his tail. "What are you doing here, little girl?"
"I'm looking for a cup."
"No need for cups here. We just open our mouths to drink."
"I worked that out," says Helena. "Tell me, does all of your water taste like chicken?"
"It does," says the shark. "It's all the farting. Tell you what. There's a party on the other side. Everyone will be there. Ask a pretty lady." He flips his tail and swims away.
"A pretty lady?" Helena asks softly, half to herself, then looks up and calls after him. "Thanks for your help!" She swims for the surface.
"Where have you been?" Valentine asks as she breathes in the fresh air. It's not as tasty as the water down below, and she thinks about sticking her head back under.
"Talking to a shark."
Valentine recoils, and pulls her with him, frantically tugging them away from the water's edge. "Are you crazy? What are you doing talking to vicious, man eating sharks?"
"We have to go to a party and talk to a pretty lady about your cup." Valentine rolls his eyes.
"You really are crazy! A pretty lady indeed. Next you'll be telling me the shark told you this."
Helena nods. "He did!" she says. "He was very helpful."
"Oh, I'm sure he was. I can't believe I'm doing this."
Helena starts to walk, knowing Valentine will follow her, and she watches as the water evaporates from her skin.
"I don't know how you propose to find this party," Valentine complains.
Helena stops walking, and looks around. "The shark said-"
"Oh, the shark said," mutter Valentine, but Helena ignores him and keeps talking.
"The shark said everyone would be there." She runs toward a speck on the horizon, a rabbit bounding across the plain. "Excuse me! Excuse me sir!" The bunny pauses with such suddenness that his monocle falls out.
"Can I help you?"
"Where are you going?" she asks.
"To where," he corrects.
"I'm sorry. To where are you going?"
"Why, to the party, of course."
He starts to bound again. "And where is that?" Helena calls.
"It's always in the same place," the rabbit calls back, and bounds into the distance.
Helena turns to Valentine. "Well, come on," she says. "We need to hurry if we're going to follow him."
Valentine huffs. "And how can we tell who this pretty lady is?" Valentine asks.
"I should think that would be obvious," Helena replies. "She'll be the pretty one."
Giants float through the sky, tethered to the party by steel cords wrapped in streamers and glitter. Ducks quack happily to snakes and penguins, and horses with tiny bunny tails delicately sip from gilded porcelain buckets filled with jelly-like liquids. Sphinxes twine about their feet, and try to trip up the party goers.
Valentine reaches for a canape. "I think I see her," says Helena. "You wait here." The canape is delicious, and Valentine reaches for a second and he watches as Helena weaves her way through the crowded room. He steps backwards, and bumps into a warm, hard body.
"Oi! Watch where you're going." Valentine frowns.
"You are very careless," says Desire, his/her voice soft and sweet.
"Yeah, well," says Valentine, unaware of the danger he circles. "It's a skill I take care to cultivate."
"Little changeling, I do not like your tone of voice. I think." Desire pauses to think.
"Your friend," Desire says. "You will wrap your hand around her elbow and lead her away from here. The rain will plaster her hair to her head and her clothes to her body, and she will look bedraggled and wretched. But you will look upon her and she will be the most beautiful creature that you have ever seen."
Valentine struggles against Desire's words. "But Helena is not-" he begins. Desire holds up a hand and pushes. He/She will not be defeated by one such as this.
"And in the rain," Desire says, "You will lead her to your home. You will offer her a towel, and offer her the use of your shower, and she will wear your shirt and you will make love to her in your warm, dry apartment. And when she tries to leave, you will not want to let her go, until-"
Helena rests her hand on Valentine's wrist. "Let's go," she says, talking over Desire, "I'm done here," and he turns to stare at her.
"Yes," he says, "Let's get away."
He twists back to look at Desire once, but Desire does not see.
Desire has other concerns.
"You want to talk to talk to the Priests of Shapes," says the Parrot at The Bottom Of The Valley.
It squawks and caws, and when it flaps its wings glitter showers them.
"And where would we find them?" Valentine asks, trying to be polite.
"Not here," squawks the parrot. "Try out!"
"Out?" asks Valentine as the parrot flies away. "Well, that was a lot of help."
"Out," repeats Helena. She hums, and rests a hand on his arm. Her palm is warm on his skin and he shivers. Tries to ignore the thought of her warm hands and her soft skin and the hum she might make as she did other things. "The real world?" she asks him, and points to a door in the distance, a door to nowhere. She is oblivious to his distracted thoughts.
"Oh?" he asks. "Yes," he says, and rests a hand on the small of her back, as if to usher her out to the real world.
Her skin is warm.
The door opens onto a dark alleyway. At the mouth of the alley is a busy street, all fast cars and moving people and the sky is dark. "Are we in England again?" Helena asks.
"Uh," says Valentine. "No, I don't think so."
He is in an Italian restaurant, lights down low and a man singing from the corner. Leave this place, Sister-Brother he hears from just beyond his vision, the voice familiar to him.
"I don't see why it bothers you," comes the reply, and there is the sound of a fist slamming down onto a table. Valentine serves a fettucine with mistletoe and ground fish lungs, and heads over to the disturbance.
"Please," he says. "Can I help you?"
Eyes like pits turn towards him. You are some trouble, Little Elf. Consider, it would be better were you to return to your own plane of existence.
"I'm not sure what you mean," says Valentine, and he tries not to lose his patience. He can ill afford to lose another job.
The man's companion laughs. "Brother," he says. She says. Valentine is not so sure, and he turns at the sound of glasses crashing to the ground, and the bell above the door ringing.
"Shit!" he yells, and jerks awake.
The moonlight filters into his room.
The dream stays with him, clear and worrying. It does not fade as he wipes the sleep from his eyes. The Shaper seeks to meddle, to change, some element of Valentine's life. He knows with whom the Lord Shaper conversed in the shady restaurant at the end of the world, and Valentine wonders how it ended.
Beside him, Helena stirs, and the sheets pool around her back, bare in the moonlight.
He strokes her skin, and curls up around her.
In the darkness, the Shaper rules all, and Valentine knows it is better not to worry.
He returns to sleep, and is blessed with no dreams.
In an ill-lit bathroom in a dingy motel, Valentine studies his reflection. "We'll never find it," he moans in despair. He breathes in, and feels the blood welling to the surface. Thinks about staying behind in this country with its bizarre food and weird habits.
There is a banging on the door. "Hurry up, Valentine," Helena calls, and when he closes his eyes he sees her soft white skin.
He opens the door, and banishes the demons under his skin.
A girl reaches for his ears, and she looks familiar.
"Oi!" he yells. "Get off!" he bats her hands away, but she holds on. Behind her, a dog snuffles.
"my SISteR-bRothER HAS yOu," she says, and frowns. She holds her breath and pulls his head down to her level. "HOLD STILL," she commands as he squirms, her body still, and he obeys her. She kisses his nose, and releases him, and he rubs the spot where she kissed him it tingles.
"What are you doing?" he asks.
"neVErMinD," she says. "LeT'S gO."
"I'm Barnabas," says the dog as he nips at Valentine's heels.
He ducks his head as they enter a tunnel, and when they come out the other side the sky is pink and the trees are blue.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," he says.
"UH," says Delirium. "wHAt's ThE wOrD FOr old fRIEndS WHo'Ve juST mEt?"
"There isn't one," says Helena.
Valentine climbs a tree of fishes. "Was this here when we got here?" he asks.
"No," says Helena, from far above his head. She coughs. "And stop making me talk. This is hard work."
"You're just weak."
"I'm carrying a lot of dead weight, in case you hadn't noticed," she snaps, and her teeth click together and jaws snap at her ear.
"Hey!" protests Barnabas, "I resent that!"
"You represent that," replies Helena. When she giggles, bubbles come out of her ears and catch in the tree.
"ARe wE tHEreYEt?" ask the fishes, all voices and one voice at once.
"No!" yell Barnabas and Helena together, and Valentine's hand slips.
"Could you give me a hand here?" he asks, as he grasps for something, anything to grab onto.
He catches onto something, and grips it tight. As he pulls himself higher up the tree, he glances down, and sees that he is holding onto a bright purple hand that is protruding from the trunk. He shrieks and climbs higher.
Helena's legs disappear out of sight, and when Valentine, too, reaches the top, he heaves a sigh of relief.
"Well, that was an experience," he says, and shuts his eyes.
"I'm hungry," grumbles Barnabas.
"YOu ALwaYs ARe," says Delirium, who is no longer fishies. She rubs the top of his head, and his tongue lolls out. "i cAn giVE yOu HaLF a GraSShopPEr, IF yOu WOUld LiKE."
The dog rolls his eyes.
In the end, the cup sits on an altar, like a gift.
"Like a sacrifice," says Valentine, as he holds it to his chest.
"Like someone wants us to have it," says Helena, and when a door opens up beside her she grips Valentine's arm and jumps.
He jumps with her, and it's mostly willing.
Destiny closes his book.
I think it should be your birthday every day. The Helena/Valentine is still my favourite. OMG.
(what's with the capitalization omg?!?!!1!/)
I love the Helena/Valentine PLUS bonus Desire.
And I love the way this makes no sense, because it is my birthday.
Oh, yay! I've been waiting for this. It was a bit more confusing than I'd thought it would be, but still good. Especially liked Del being fishes and a tree, both at once. So like her.
You really should have a birthday every day, or at least every week (and happy belated one of those, btw!).
It was a bit more confusing than I'd thought it would be
HA! That's because it was unbetaed and totally self indulgent. Where usually I'd rein myself in and force myself to write a tighter plot, I was all THIS IS FOR ME HAHAHA. etc.
But thank you!