Helena likes visiting new places; there are always new secrets and oddities to find. Every place has got its own story, and she wants to know all of them. Having lived most of her life in a traveling circus, finding new places hasn't been hard.
She can't spend all her life in a circus, though. What's the fun of only doing one thing, your whole life? And she's nineteen, anyway, it's high time she goes out to explore new things. It's only natural.
So she spends all of a minute convincing Valentine (That's not his real name, of course, his real name is Anthony Mayhew, but she calls him Valentine all the same. He doesn't seem to mind, and four years is long enough for him to stop asking her why she does it.) that it's a good idea to go traipsing off to America for the fun of it, and he agrees, because Why not? I'm sure my talents will be appreciated wherever we go. Can we go to a baseball game, and eat apple pie? At the same time, if possible, though I don't know if they let you bring apple pie into a baseball stadium… Helena giggles behind her hand, and tells Valentine to find some money so they can go buy plane tickets. She also tells him that no, they will not go to see a baseball game, they are going to explore and baseball is boring anyway. The apple pie, they can have.
Her mother and father are a bit distressed, but, well, that's to be expected.
On the plane, Helena and Valentine sit next to each other. The man in the third seat beside them says he's going to Hollywood, to get his book made into a movie. Helena asks him about it, half politeness, half interest, and when he talks about it, everything else seems to fade into the background. She pays more attention to the way he talks about it than to what it is he's actually saying, and she misses most of the explanation. Something about Charles Manson. He's passionate about it, she can see that plainly, so she wishes him the best of luck on the movie. He thanks her with a smile.
Valentine is too busy playing some sort of handheld game to pay attention to either of them (and Helena isn't sure handheld games are supposed to be played that animatedly, but oh well.)
She and Valentine get off in Milwaukee. The man they sat next to stays on. It's raining.
Helena's planning hadn't gone much farther than this, really. She just wanted to see new places, and what was newer than America?
So they rent a car and start driving. It seems the sensible thing to do.
When she notices a girl, not too far from her age, on the side of the road with her thumb up, it doesn't even occur to her not to stop. It occurs to Valentine, of course, but selflessness has never been his strong suit. He half-mutters a comment about chainsaws and hitchhikers and gruesome murders, and leaves it at that. They don't have a way to go out of, anyway, so Helena doesn't see what the problem is.
"Hey," says the girl when they pull up beside her. "Thanks a lot for stopping, nobody ever does anymore." Helena grins at her, and jerks her head to the backseat.
"Nice car," the girl says, "Much better than the last one I hitchhiked in. That one was a first-rate piece-of-shit."
The girl's name is Sam, they learn. Samantha Black Crow, and she used to go by Sammi with a cute doodle over the 'i' but then everybody was doing that so she stopped.
"Oh, and thanks for not being all weird and murderer-y. The last time I hitchhiked, you know, with the piece-of-shit car, the guy was wanted by the fucking feds. Would you believe it? The feds. And then he showed up at my aunt's house a bit later. I'm lucky I'm not dead."
"Most people would stop doing it, after that," Valentine says, pointedly. Helena would kick him, if she weren't busy driving. The act of kindness must still be eating at him.
"Naw, he turned out to be pretty alright. He was cute, too."
"So Sam," Helena says, "I probably should have asked, but where are you headed? Me and Valentine don't exactly have a place we're going, so anywhere is fine."
"Oh, well that works out perfectly then, cause neither have I! Just thought that I needed to, you know, get out more."
Helena raises an eyebrow, and has to stop herself from grinning. "Hoping you'd see a certain man who picks up hitchhikers and is wanted by the feds?"
Sam shrugs. "Maybe, maybe not. It would be nice to seem him again, though."
They lapse into silence. Not for long, of course.
"What kind of name is Valentine, anyway? I mean, no offense or anything, just asking."
Valentine blinks. "It's not my name, actually," he says, "She just decided it was what I ought to be called. My name's Anthony."
"Oh. Well, Valentine's a whole lot more interesting that Anthony is, I think you should keep it. Kind of sounds like you should be in a book. Book characters always have interesting names, like Valentine. They never get normal names, which is weird, don't you think? And nobody ever acknowledges that there's anything odd about the name, either."
Helena smiles a little, to herself. "It's a much less dull name than Helena, at an any rate," she says.
"Helena's not so bad. It's elegant, I think," Sam says.
"It doesn't make much of a stage name," Valentine says. "You always change it for the performances."
"Performances?" Sam asks, interest piqued.
"We," Valentine says, with a bit more relish that strictly necessary, "Are part of a traveling circus. Well, were, I suppose, we kind of skipped out on them when we left for America."
"So you were in a circus," Sam says, "And you left? What for? You were in a circus. People dream about running away to join the circus! I ran away to join the circus once, actually, but I ended up protesting it instead. Animals and stuff."
"Hey," says Helena, "You can't do something like that forever." And as an afterthought, "And our circus didn't have any animals, anyway. Mum wouldn't have stood for it."
They end up stopping at a motel that night, since it takes until it gets dark for any of them to realize that they have no idea where they're going or what they plan to do. Helena's not worried; they've got enough money, for now, at least. Valentine is sure they'll find something to do eventually. He's an amazing performer (and an amazing everything else, as well), of course he'll find work somewhere. He's still pushing for the baseball thing, but Sam backs Helena up about it being boring. She does say she knows a diner with great apple pie, as consolation. She promises to give them directions tomorrow.
Helena and Valentine share a room (separate beds, Helena tells her with a blush, when Sam gives them a curious look), and Sam gets her own.
That night, Helena dreams about Valentine. The real one (Or the fake one, depending on how you look at it). They talk, for a while. This isn't the first time they've met like this, and Helena enjoys his company. Sometimes they're juggling, sometimes they're not. The transitions between the two aren't particularly definite. Dreams are a bit fluid like that.
"You know," she says, "I hope you don't mind that I call him Valentine. The other you, I mean, the one in my world."
"Well, just so we're clear, there isn't anyone like me," Valentine says. "I'm unique, I am."
Helena laughs. "Oh, I know that," she says. "He's not exactly like you, anyway. Close, but not quite." And it's true. Anthony isn't quite like Valentine.
Somewhere along the way, the dream shifts. Helena's never been good of keeping track of time, during these meetings, but the dream's never actually changed. It takes her a moment to realize that Valentine's gone, and she's underground, somewhere. She wrinkles her nose. Something smells weird.
She sees a glimpse of something that looks like a man with a buffalo's head, and a normal man, it looks like maybe they're talking? Or maybe not, it's pretty hard to tell, and what are those things in the distance--? But then the world jolts, and Helena wakes up.
She rubs at her eyes, feeling bleary. The clock tells her, in cheerful blinking letters, that it's three in the morning. Helena gets up, pads silently out of the room, bringing her paper and ink with her. Her fingers are itching to draw something, and she's not going to do it with Valentine--well, Anthony--snoring in the background. Helena giggles. The real Valentine would have a fit if he knew his human counterpart had the audacity to snore.
The air in the hallway is cooler, and she settles back against the wall, propping the paper on her knees. She's not sure what she wants to draw, but she starts anyway, and something seems to start forming on the page without her having any sort of control over it.
When she's done, Helena realizes it's the two men from her dream. The buffalo one, she's not surprised about, but the other man is interesting. It's not often that she draws things anywhere close to realisticaly.
"Woah," says Sam, looking over her shoulder. "That is seriously creepy."
"What do you mean?" Helena asks, looking back at her drawing. "You mean the buffalo man?"
"No, not that," Sam says, waving a hand dismissively. "The other guy. That's the hitchhiker guy, the one who the feds wanted. What, have you seen him around too? That'd be a weird coincidence."
Helena shakes her head. "I've never seen him before in my life," she says. "He was just in a dream I was having, I think."
"Oh. That's kind of weird, really really weird actually, I only came out her cause I had a freaky dream. I think you were in it, and some guy with a spiky mask."
"I didn't know other people could go to that world. Huh, guess it isn't only mine."
Helena only realizes she said it aloud when Sam says, "What world?"
"It's nothing. You wouldn't believe me, anyway."
"Why is it," Sam says, "That people always underestimate my ability to believe? The feds guy did that too. I believed him, and he was practically certifiable. I don't think your story is going to seem so odd, whatever it is. Nothing could seem odd, when you compare it to that."
Helena figures, what the hell, it's late. If Sam ends up thinking she's crazy, then hey, that's not her problem.
So she tells her. About everything, the whole other world and all the times she's gone there. About the first time, when her mum was sick, about saving the White Queen and getting rid of the other Helena, and all the times after that, the times she's talked with Valentine. Helena had thought it would be harder to talk about, but the words come easily, spilling out of her like a river of fish (and Helena tells her about those, too).
Sam looks at her, for a moment, after Helena runs out of words, and then she nods, and says, "Okay. I guess I was expecting something a little less far-fetched, but if I can believe in gods then I can sure as hell believe in that."
Helena hadn't really expected Sam to believe her. She'd half-expected her to assume it was a joke, honestly, and the fact that Sam believes her is making Helena feel kind of odd inside. She doesn't say anything.
"Well, this is kind of cheesy, and I hate being cheesy, but it's some obnoxious time in the morning, I can be cheesy if I want to," Sam says, after they've been silent for a while, "So, hey. You're cute and have an interesting story and I like you. Can I kiss you?"
Helena says, "Alright."
Sam leans in, and does. Helena kisses her back.
In the morning, Helena comes back to her own room to get dressed. Valentine's already up. He opens his mouth to say something, cocky smirk firmly in place, and can't, because Helena throws a sock in his mouth before he can get a word out. He spits it out, and sticks his tongue out at her. She sticks hers out back.
All three of them drive down to the diner Sam told them about earlier. The apple pie is just as delicious as she said it would be. Sam and Helena share a slice, and Valentine is happy enough to have his own. It only takes Helena kicking him in the shins twice before he stops making teasing comments, which Helena thinks is pretty impressive, considering.