Ink First, Think Second

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A/N: This was my submission for spfanclub's Skulduggery Pleasant competition, because this book series is one of my favourite reads and a competition sounded fun.

The prompt/pin I went with was: "If I didn't concern you, I wouldn't be me and you wouldn't be you," and was based on a discussion that went down in the Discord chat. For all my regular TCR peeps, your usual content will continue momentarily. I just have the attention span of a sparrow, sorry. Enjoy anyway?

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Skeletons didn't sleep.

They did, however, meditate and frankly, Valkyrie thought, aged 16 and poised with a Sharpie before Skulduggery's face, it was a minor miracle she hadn't been tempted to do this before now.

Quite how she was going to explain this if - okay, when - Skulduggery realised, she hadn't worked out yet. But that was an issue for future Valkyrie. Present Valkyrie was much more occupied with drawing the perfect moustache. She curled the ends like the villains out of her father's old movies and sat back to admire her work.

Somehow, she had avoided waking - or whatever the equivalent was for meditating - Skulduggery, or at least she assumed so. It wasn't always the easiest thing to gauge with someone without eyelids. Or eyes.

"If you're awake, you legally have to tell me now," she said.

He didn't move.

"Good enough for me," she said and she leant forward to complete the other side. When it was finished, she considered leaving it at that. That would be the sensible thing. The practical thing. The not-getting-caught thing.

She drew glasses around his eyes.

And angry eyebrows above that.

And a goatee beard.

And a flower on his left cheek.

It was only really through fate's intervention that she wasn't following it up with a heart on his other cheek when his phone rang.

She watched from the doorway, glass of water in hand as he obliviously answered the call, and tried not to look too surprised as he finished the conversation without calling out Valkyrie's little deceit.

"That was Ghastly," he said. "Trouble at the Sanctuary."

"Isn't there always?"

x

Luck - or perhaps the opposite of it - was on Valkyrie's side today.

Skulduggery didn't glance once at his reflection in the passing windows or the car mirrors on their way to the Sanctuary, righting his tie on feel alone as he swept into the Bentley. And as they got closer and closer to the Sanctuary and Skulduggery still hadn't realised what she'd done, she got quieter and quieter.

He didn't realise on the journey, and he didn't realise when they arrived, and he still didn't realise as the Administrator gave them a curious look as they were escorted through the Sanctuary.

"Skulduggery, Valkyrie," Ghastly greeted them. "Good you could make it, we could do with–" He pulled up short at Skulduggery. "What have you done to your–"

Behind Skulduggery, Valkyrie gestured sharply.

"–tie?" Ghastly finished clumsily. "What have you done to your tie? Is that new?"

"It is," Skulduggery answered. He looked to Valkyrie. "See, Ghastly appreciates my style."

"He's your tailor," she muttered. As they headed down the Sanctuary corridors, Ghastly raised a questioning eyebrow at her; Valkyrie gave a guilty shrug back. She didn't listen too intently to Ghastly filling them in - her mind was on other, more Sharpie-based matters - just enough to know they had a mortal to interrogate, for reasons that Valkyrie managed to miss.

Ravel was waiting for them outside the interrogation room, usually a welcome sight but today all she could see was the way his eyes widened as an obliviously decorated Skulduggery walked into the room. Ghastly elbowed him rather sharply, cutting Ravel off on the verge of a question.

Skulduggery tilted his head. "Yes?"

Ravel coughed, probably - Valkyrie suspected - to hide the laugh. One hand suspiciously rested over his mouth. "Mortal's in there," he managed. "Do you have all the information you need?"

"More than enough," Skulduggery answered, glancing back to Valkyrie.

She nodded.

"Right." There was a beat. "We'll leave you to it then."

"You're not going to stay?"

"We have other, Sanctuary business to attend to," Ghastly said.

Ravel nodded. "Yes. Important Sanctuary business. That way."

Ghastly and Ravel disappeared off, possibly to make bets on how long Valkyrie's deceit would last. "Well," Skulduggery said eventually, "that was odd." He tapped the sigil on his collarbone and the facade of fake skin flowed over his skull.

To Valkyrie's mortification, the marker pen remained.

"Maybe you should let me do the interrogating," she offered quickly. She tried not to stare at the inked moustache. It stubbornly remained above the sigil's moustache, inanimate while the fake one moved on fake lips. It was mildly mesmerising, but mostly unsettling.

"I am. I'll even open the door to let you go in first."

"Alone." ignore the moustache ignore the moustache ignore the moustache "As part of my training."

"Valkyrie, I know you can interrogate. You did a splendid job while tracking down my head. But, even if you hadn't, I hardly think that he," and he pointed to the door, "is the way to prove that."

"He could have hidden depths."

"The man is a semi-retired mortal milkman."

"Very hidden depths."

He looked at her. Valkyrie did her best to keep a straight face.

"As much as I appreciate this newfound and frankly uncharacteristic enthusiasm for tackling a straightforward and impersonal interrogation, I think we can afford to both get involved today."

"But I really want to do this."

He looked at her again. His eyes were blue today. She tried to focus on that. "Valkyrie, is there something you're not telling me?"

ink ink ink

"No."

"He didn't kill your hamster when you were five or run over your dog? Because you're being weird."

"I'm not being weird, you're being weird. I've never owned a dog, you know I've never owned a dog, and Fluffy's still alive. Somewhere in the floorboards."

"The average lifespan of a domesticated hamster–"

"I don't care. Are you seriously going to squash the dream that he's been living happily beneath the house with his hamster family? Are you really going to make the five-year-old in me cry with stupid things like logic and reason? Are you?"

Skulduggery paused. "I suppose not." He opened the door. "Shall we?"

Valkyrie was halfway inside before she realised she'd been outmanoeuvred.

"Sneak," she muttered.

Skulduggery raised an eyebrow. The facade skin moved.

The marker pen did not.

Valkyrie watched, with a mixture of fascination and disgust, as the eyebrow moved up, into, and through the inked glasses. She managed to disguise her splutter with a cough. .

Their interogee did not.

"What the hell is wrong with your eyebrows?"

Skulduggery swept towards the mortal. "Mr Delaney, I understand you've had a shock–"

"And your chin. Why is none of it moving?"

Skulduggery paused. Looked at the milkman, and then Valkyrie, and then, finally - finally - to his reflection in the window. The eyebrow rose again and shot through the marked glasses and secondary eyebrows. He wiggled his chin and watched as the drawn goatee remained eerily stationary.

."Hold, please," he said and swept back out of the room.

Valkyrie gave an apologetic smile to the milkman and followed Skulduggery out. Ghastly had rejoined them, but was rapidly looking like he had regretted returning to watch the interrogation.

There was a long, long pause.

"Valkyrie," Skulduggery said slowly, "is there marker on my face?"

"Mm-hmm," Valkyrie confirmed.

Another pause. Another silence that was somehow filled with disappointment despite the absence of words. "Valkyrie," Skulduggery said, "explain to me exactly how you pictured this going in a way that benefited you at all."

"It's funny?" she offered.

"This," and he motioned sharply to his sharpied face, "is not funny. This is a liability to the mission."

"It is a little funny," Ghastly said.

Skulduggery spun to Ghastly. "You do not get a say in this. You may not have wielded the pen, but I heard no protests from you. Valkyrie, I could believe this from, but you–"

There was protests from both parties involved that was cut short by a sharp gesture from him. "Valkyrie, for what it's worth, you concern me sometimes."

"If I didn't concern you," she retorted, "I wouldn't be me and you wouldn't be you. And, for what it's worth," she added, a trite ruefully, "I honestly didn't think I'd get this far without you noticing."

"Because you thought the magic keeping my bones together would detect the intrusion?"

"No - well, yes, but mostly because you're really really vain."

He started to cock an eyebrow, visibly remembered the state of his face, and tapped the sigil to remove the facade. "I'm really really vain?" he echoed back.

"I thought you would have looked in a mirror before now."

"Sometimes, with the life we lead, I can't always spend all day before a mirror." He pulled off a glove and passed a thumb over the markings. They stubbornly stayed. "And if I'm vain, it's simply because I have standards. Valkyrie, tell me you have a removal plan for this."

"Oh," she said.

"Oh? That better be a good oh. That better be a 'I have the cleaning fluid on me right now' oh."

"It's permanent marker."