Valentine had always hated formal functions, in the same way that she had always hated Peter. The former reminded her of the latter - displays of power sheathed in glamour to make them acceptable. The fact that she always felt like a doll in a dress and make-up didn't help. With every such event she went to, her hatred only deepened.
Most of all, she didn't understand why there was always dancing. She had nothing against the practice in general, it just seemed odd that it was still such an important part of culture. There were so many other ways to interact.
She couldn't remember a time when she hadn't felt that way. That was probably why, even when it had first been an issue, she'd reacted with such distaste. Peter had argued with her, of course.
"It's just a school dance, Val."
"Which makes it perfectly okay for me not to go."
"Which makes it even more important for you to go. For both of us to go. We have to look normal."
Valentine had glared at Peter, but eventually she'd had to agree. In the month since they'd started writing on the nets, they'd been spending their free time pretty much exclusively with each other. Their parents were worrying about them. Something as mundane as a school dance would do a lot to ease their minds.
So Valentine had found herself at the dance in a ridiculous pink dress that was cut to show off breasts no one her age would have, steadfastly avoiding Peter. She was sitting at a table with some of the more intellectual girls from school, discussing why dancing was a silly hold-over from medieval court. She had actually started to enjoy herself a bit when Peter showed up.
"Hey, Val. How's it going?" Peter asked with a smile.
"Fine, Peter," Valentine said warily, waiting for Peter to show whatever he had up his sleeve. But Peter just smiled wider and turned to the girl to her right.
"May I have this dance?"
The table fell silent until the girl managed to stutter something affirmative and follow Peter to the dance floor. Then the rest of them exploded with chatter about how handsome and nice her brother was, and did Valentine think he was really interested in her?
Valentine smiled weakly and began counting the minutes until she could go home.
She confronted Peter about it later.
"Why did you do that? You don't even know her."
"The color of her dress brought out my eyes," Peter said. She tried to summon anger at his offhandedness.
"And besides," he added with a grin, "It'll give her a story to tell when I'm ruling the world."
Valentine choked back a laugh at that. Then she stopped trying to be angry. It was hardly Peter's fault that ten-year-old girls were shallow, after all.
The second time the issue of dancing came up was even worse, but that time she only had herself to blame. It was an award ceremony for a school writing contest. She didn't want to be there. She wouldn't have been there, except that she'd been stupid and written that assignment on Locke and Demosthenes far too well. Her teacher had entered her essay in the contest without asking her, and after it won several awards it was all she could do to convince everyone that no, she really would rather it weren't published. She couldn't get out of going to receive her award.
The awarding ceremony itself passed without incident. Afterwards, though, there was food, music, and, of course, dancing. She was consoling herself that at least Peter had stayed home this time when a man approached her.
He introduced himself as an editor from Demosthenes' newsnet. Not Demosthenes' editor, fortunately, but a lower-level editor in charge of the smaller community interest section. He was, he explained, the one who had wanted to publish her essay, and could he try to convince her one more time?
Valentine was stiff with fear at the beginning, but as the conversation progressed she relaxed and then became vaguely angry as it became clear that he had no idea what he'd found. He hadn't even understood some of her main points. He seemed to be mostly interested in her essay as a novelty, at best quite clever for a girl her age.
By the time she finally convinced him that she wasn't going to let it be published, she had her arms crossed tightly and was only barely containing her anger.
Finally resigned, the editor turned away from her. She sighed and relaxed all at once.
Then he turned back to look at her. "At least dance with me once, before I go?" he said with a frankly disturbing smile and a tone of voice like he was doing her a favor.
She stared at him for a moment and was about to refuse outright when her teacher came up from behind her and urged her to go. Probably she'd been eavesdropping on their entire conversation, now that Valentine thought about it.
And so Valentine ended up moving stiffly across the dance floor with an idiot man from a newsnet who nevertheless could ruin all their plans. She was so absorbed with keeping her disgust at him and at herself from showing on her face that she was completely unprepared when he dipped her at the end of the song, and her stomach dropped with a lurch.
She left the dance floor trying to keep herself from visibly shaking.
In bed that night she thought angrily about how even though she was sculpting the fate of the world with Peter, this random man could toss her around like a toy. She could pretend at all the political power she wanted, but when it came down to it, she was an adolescent girl, and that meant large men had physical power over her.
Then she pulled out her desk and wrote a Demosthenes column. In it, Russia was the blustering idiot, and the western world the intelligent girl. He used it to point out that the very physical nature of the Warsaw pact's military was something they could not just ignore, no matter how much weight they thought their social conventions or their treaties held. When she was done, she deleted the whole thing, because after all that was not the sort of analogy Demosthenes would use. But she stopped raging at herself enough to roll over and fall asleep.
The third time was right after the announcement that Ender had won, that the buggers were gone. Their whole family was flown to Washington for the celebration. Ender was a hero, and by extension their parents, and so all four of them had to be present at the celebration. Their parents were dazzled at the amount of important people congratulating them.
Valentine hated it. Ender was only a tool to these people. More importantly, wasn't this the moment they'd been waiting for? The moment when they could use their influence as Demosthenes and Locke to set the course of history? And here they were, at a party, out of touch with the nets. Valentine's hands itched for her desk.
Peter looked absolutely in his element. She didn't understand it, how he could smile and express his admiration of Ender and dance with the wives of dozens of politicians while the world was on the brink of war, and all his plans could home to nothing.
Peter saw her discomfort.
"Relax," he said to her in a low voice. "Nothing will happen for a few hours; everyone needs a little time to celebrate the victory of the human race." He sounded far too certain. Even a little giddy.
"How can you be sure?" Valentine hissed. "We can't tell what's happening!"
Peter smiled at her. "If you're that worried, you know what you need to do," he said. "Look as excited as everyone else, dance and eat and talk until we can plead exhaustion and head back to the hotel. After all," he said with a strangled giggle, "we're only children."
Then Valentine understood. She saw it in his eyes. None of the happiness in Peter was for Ender. It was all for himself, anticipation of his pending conquest. After all their long hours of planning, things were falling perfectly into place.
So Valentine plastered a Peter-smile on her face, warm and fake, and danced constantly until her feet refused to hold her weight. Her parents looked at Peter and Valentine sympathetically when Peter expressed earnest concern for her, and a car was arranged to take the two of them back to the hotel reserved for their family.
Then they did it, curled together in the bland hotel room. They responded to messages, made suggestions they'd considered for months. Peter's giddiness didn't decline much, even as it got later and later. At one lull in activity he even offered to rub Valentine's feet. She just narrowed her eyes at him. She didn't like his power-hungry grin, but she couldn't help but admit that it was affecting her, too - the kick of telling the world what it needed to do, and having it listen.
The high had long since faded by the fourth incident, a few weeks later. She had no idea how she'd managed to forget, even for that one night, what Ender's victory meant for Ender. But once she finished thinking about it, the inevitable decision had to be made.
Ender couldn't come back to earth. That had been certain.
As hard as admitting that to herself had been, it wasn't the decision that wracked her with guilt and temptation to reconsider as she stood at her second government party in a month, the farewell banquet for the first colony ship.
That decision was why she was standing here, instead of on a shuttle to Eros. She'd suggested - suggested - to him that she might go with Ender, and he'd freaked out even more than he had when she'd told him she wasn't going to let him bring Ender back home just to use him for political clout. And even though he'd screamed that she was being selfish and childish, she could see the truth, just like when he'd first proposed his ridiculous plan. He couldn't do this alone. And, in the end, she decided to stay.
She loved Ender. She did, more than anything. But love was not the only thing, and she couldn't completely tie her life to his. And maybe she liked Peter's political games even more than she would admit to herself.
"Are you sure?" She looked up at a gruff voice. Graff. The Minister of Colonization, now. Locke had argued for that position to exist, she thought somewhat randomly.
"He won't like you for it, you know." Graff continued. "Ender nearly broke for Earth. It will be a shock to learn he can never come back."
It took Valentine almost a minute to realize that Graff hadn't been talking about her staying on Earth, but about sending Ender away. For a moment she felt like a terrible sister for being so certain that she needed to send her dearest brother away forever. She choked back a hysterical sob and pulled herself upright.
"You know he'd end up as someone's tool. Or trapped somewhere. Ender has had enough of that." She was proud that her voice sounded almost level.
Graff looked her over with a considering gaze. This man probably knew who Ender was now better than she did, she realized abruptly. At least he had spent more time with him than she had, at this point. She knew how Ender thought, but Graff had controlled what he thought about for years.
She wondered how much of Ender he saw in her.
Eventually Graff just nodded. Then he paused again, and for a terrible moment she was afraid for no reason that he was going to ask her to dance. But he just turned and walked away.
The fifth incident had been fortunately long in coming. Or maybe not fortunately, considering that what intervened was months of kidnappings, betrayals, revelations and war. For a frightening amount of time, it felt like just her and Peter against the world. Valentine's confidence had wavered when the enemy had dozens of Battle School kids gathered - kids who not only had infinitely more military training than either of them, but in theory had more raw ability as well. Neither she nor Peter had been accepted to Battle School, after all. They'd never talked about it, but from the way he acted, she was sure it had shaken Peter as well.
Despite constant reassurances, she was sure it was going to be over when they revealed their identities. And for a few hours it seemed she was right - the buzz on the nets had been solely about how these great names were in fact only children. But it didn't last long - after months of turmoil over a few Battle School kids, she shouldn't have expected "only children" to be an adequate argument any more. Five hours after they announced themselves, someone brought up the more important point - Locke and Demosthenes were brother and sister? Had they been sharing information, planning together this whole time? And Valentine had breathed a sigh of relief. Because that they could recover from. That meant they were considered capable of planning.
So here she was, at Locke's assignment ceremony as Hegemon. He had no real power, of course. He didn't even have nominal command over a third of the world, held by the newly conquered Russian Empire. He had only a tiny army. He had no funding to speak of. But he had the title. And the army was commanded by Battle School kids, who for some reason Valentine could not fully understand thought that Peter's side was the right side to be on. Most importantly, he had Valentine.
Sometime in the past few months Valentine had stopped second-thinking herself when she thought something like that.
Of course this was only a ceremony for the nets to see. But they had to look in control, like they were the rulers of the world.
For some reason Valentine could not fully comprehend, this meant there had to be dancing. She half-thought Peter only did it to annoy her. He certainly was smiling genuinely when he approached her after Petra utterly refused to dance with him.
"Aw, Val, don't make that face. We're on top of the world!" He almost managed to keep all the sarcasm out of his voice.
"Right. We're in the perfect position to watch helplessly as it falls apart." But she smiled back at him. "I'll just never get used to the amount of posturing necessary."
Peter grinned. "Well, with any luck, you'll have a lot of time to try." He extended a hand to her. "Dance with me?"
She sighed and took it. "Always."