It was quiet, without her.
The Bentley cruised along silently, a soft whisper through the streets, with its noiseless driver doing nothing to break it.
He’d been surprised when she hadn’t asked him to drive her back. She’d just…walked off. Probably caught a bus, or something. What hadn’t surprised him, however, had been her reaction.
“I’ve been through enough,”
Her words had been echoing through his skull ever since she’d uttered them.
Enough? She’d been through… enough?
When did she ever say that?
“I was slashed half to death, I was healed by a monster who once dissected me, I was betrayed and attacked by Solomon Wreath, who I thought was my friend, and then…you.”
Her words had hurt him. He knew she hadn’t intended to, but those words were like a poison. They took root in the core of his being and slowly eroded away at him.
“There is absolutely nothing you can say to make this better.”
It was exactly how he thought she’d react. She had rejected him. She thought he was a monster.
…She was probably right.
“Don’t even try.”
Try? All he’d ever tried to do was make things right! Granted, it was beyond his capabilities- nothing could cover his sins- but he tried! Wasn’t that something, at least?
“I know he’s lying!”
“I know you’re not Lord Vile…Lord Vile is a mass murderer!”
His grip on the wheel tightened. Unconsciously, he began to press down on the accelerator.
“Make it make SENSE!”
“I can’t…” he whispered to nobody, a hand leaving the wheel to cradle his skull.
A loud honk interrupted his train wreck of thoughts, and his foot found the brake in seconds. Noise filled the world as the brakes squealed under his unusually harsh treatment. The driver he’d nearly crashed into shouted an angry curse in his direction, before turning down the next street.
He shook his head, trying in vain to clear away the thoughts, and continued to drive towards his cold, empty house in his cold, empty car.
“What do we do now?”
“I…I don’t know…” he whispered again, her voice still plaguing his mind.
“I love you.”
“I looked up to you…”
She shouldn’t have done. He was no hero. He had told her he’d done terrible things. Hadn’t she believed him?
“But Skulduggery, you’re the good guy…”
That had almost been funny. He was the villain in every way. Sometimes he wondered why Vile was the one wearing the mask. Because that’s all he was. He was a demon pretending to be an angel. He had played the part of a hero to the best of his abilities- her hero, in every sense- and now, thanks to that damned Tenebrae, she would never see that again. She would only ever see Vile.
“I’m sorry you found out this way…”
And was he ever sorry she had found out. It was the last thing he’d wanted. He hadn’t been lying to her when he had said that. It was his darkest secret, the one he’d hoped to take to his grave.
“You’ve got to understand-”
Why had he said that? Of course she didn’t have to understand. The last thing he wanted was for her to understand how he felt. He would do everything in his power to stop that happening. The pain he carried with him should have been his and his alone.
He could still see their faces… the faces of the dead. They never ceased to haunt him. It was ironic, really. The dead man being haunted. He never wanted her to understand…
But the guilt… That was the worst. He wouldn’t wish that on anyone, and least of all Valkyrie. Why had he implored her to understand? It was something she should never have to understand. And something he’d devote himself to her never understanding.
The scenery had passed in a blur. Not that he’d have paid it any attention. But when he almost drove past his own driveway, he knew he needed to stop. With a grunt of frustration, he turned the car around in a side street, before driving back down the road and pulling into the drive. He was careful to keep his mind blank until he had gotten to the front door. Only once he had unlocked it, went inside and re-locked it behind him, did he allow himself to think on the matter at hand.
He took an unnecessary breath before trying to compose his thoughts. He needed a solution…and he didn’t think this one would come by examining some crime scene.
He sat down heavily in his arm chair, trying not to look at his mangled sofa, and began to think, heedless of the world passing by the windows. Then, he began to examine what he knew.
Go through the facts. One at a time.
Fact one: Valkyrie knew about Vile. She knew just what atrocities he was capable of.
Fact two: She also knew that he’d deceived her, and probably thought he had been lying to her.
Fact three: She had walked off, and had told him she didn’t want to speak to him.
Conclusion: He had broken her faith in him, and she probably now hated him.
…Why had this happened?
This just…wasn’t fair! The one person who looked up to him, who believed in him…
Yes, he had friends; wonderful people, loyal and honest, good, decent people…
People that would have left him for dead, or killed him themselves, if they had been in Valkyrie’s place.
She wouldn’t tell them. He knew she wouldn’t. She didn’t want him dead. She had still fought alongside him, still been there with him… they had escaped together….Maybe…just, maybe…she didn’t hate him THAT much...
“You let me go through this Darquesse thing, with all the guilt and the fear…and you didn’t say anything!”
Scratch that…she hated his metaphorical guts.
At least he hadn’t lied to her in his poor attempt of an
explanation. He hadn’t told her because he truly believed it would have made it
harder for her. He hadn’t wanted her to believe she had to pass through it the
same way he had. And she didn’t!
She was so much better than him.
She didn’t have to stain her hands like he had.
He’d make sure she didn’t.
They were a team, and a damn good one. And he wouldn’t let his partner go through that.
But…were they still a team?
The thought made his metaphorical heart stop dead, before beginning to double its metaphorical pace. He suddenly felt very cold, and something like dread began to course through him.
Would she still want to work with him now?
…Was this his punishment?
Would she leave his side?
That would be…understandable. Who would willingly stay with a monster?
Only a stupid fool would.
And, despite his teasing, she was neither foolish nor stupid.
He shifted in his seat, unable to stay still. The unanswered questions were spinning through his mind, like glass shards in a hurricane.
…But, would she go?
He didn’t want that. She was…she…Valkyrie was…
He sighed, and ran his fingers along his cranium, ignoring the little hollow taps that echoed around the empty space inside his head.
What was Valkyrie to him?
She’s your partner, one voice whispered. It sounded a bit like Ghastly.
She’s your student, your apprentice, or she was, another said, rebuking the first. Wreath. He hated him. A lot.
You’re Pleasant and Cain, two halves of a whole, in every sense, China.
You’re the only ones who can understand each other, a soft, grating whisper that set his frayed nerves on edge.
More and more words were spiralling through his mind, competing and jostling with each other, each one vying for his attention. He was getting a headache.
But then, one quiet, little voice spoke up.
I’m your friend, silly, Valkyrie smiled, mirth in her voice, Until the end.
Everyone else shut up. It was quiet again.
And he knew what he needed to do.
They needed to talk. Soon.
His fingers began to make their way towards his pocket, and to the phone contained within. He had just grasped the thin object, and was pulling it out, when he decided against it, and left it where it was.
He would wait until tomorrow. He’d let her make her own decision after letting her think. He’d messed up, and it was up to her where they went from here.
She’d probably ignore his call, anyway.
It was already dawn when he next became aware of his surroundings. He must have drifted off without noticing…
He got out of the chair, stretching his arms above his head, and almost wincing when he heard the bones crack. He left his living room and made his way towards the stairs. He changed into a new, clean suit, and looked at his reflection in the mirror.
It was as impassive as ever. There was only one expression a skull could convey.
And thank goodness it wasn’t ‘nervous’.
He left the house quickly, and started up the Bentley.
And the nerves wouldn’t leave him. They were his constant companions until he reached Haggard.
And then they must have invited all their friends for a party or multiplied exponentially, because by the time he made it to her window, he was almost unable to knock.
Taking an unneeded breath, he quelled his doubts, and tapped quietly on the glass.
This was it.
The sound seemed to echo around him. He knew she heard it, because she stirred in her sleep, rolling to stare at something. He could tell that much through the curtains.
She didn’t move.
Come on, Valkyrie…
Then, by some miracle, she got out of bed and began to make her way over to the window.
He waited, hardly believing his non-existent eyes, unmoving. What was she going to do?
Please… Please don’t….
No, he chided himself, Whatever she does, it’s her decision.
I will respect it.
She pulled back the curtains, and he was greeted with the mother of all bedheads, and tired, conflicted eyes. She undid the latch, before making her way back to bed.
He stared at it for a moment, before accepting the unspoken invitation.
She was staying with him.
She was a stupid fool.
If he had a face, he would be grinning like a loon. He knew it.
She was a wonderfully stupid fool.
Thank you, Valkyrie…