Disclaimer: The poetry is mine. The characters are not. No harm, no foul, no money made.

Timing: About two days prior to the ending of Max Force within the Identiverse to start off with.

For everyone who's never had a paper heart...

~*~

Have You Never Had A Paper Heart?

Eric rolled over and lay, staring up at the ceiling of his temporary bedroom in Vista Del Oro. He knew he should get up. He had classes most of the day; things that needed to be done.

But it was the fourteenth of February.

Valentine's Day.

He shuddered.

Strangely, he disliked Valentine's Day more than he disliked Christmas Day. Neither were days to be alone, but Christmas Day turned people's thoughts outward. People were kinder, nicer -- there really was a holiday spirit involved. Valentine's Day tended to turn people's thoughts inward. And the sap some couples produced!

Vaguely he wondered if he could perhaps sleep through the day and wake up on the fifteenth. Unfortunately, that idea just dragged forth some of the remnants of recent nightmares. Maybe sleeping more wasn't a good idea.

Which pretty much condemned him to getting up.

Valentine's Day.

As he rolled out of bed, he admitted to himself that there was another reason why he detested this particular day. A purely selfish reason. No-one had ever sent him one.

Have you never had a paper heart?
A gift of love so true
Have you never had a paper heart?
A gift from me to you

The day had proved to be as annoying and nauseating as Eric had suspected it would be. Del Oro Bay College had been full of people with red roses, red-wrapped chocolate boxes, balloons, cards...people holding hands, cuddling, kissing... He was fairly sure he'd managed to catch at least one couple on the verge of something rather more than kissing. It wouldn't have been so bad, but two of his surveillance targets were dating each other...

At least Wes and Jen would have some consideration for him, he reminded himself.

Before he could put his hand on the door to open it and let himself into the house, however, the door swung open wide and Wes was standing there.

"You're home. Finally!"

Eric gave Wes a very long, searching look. "If there was a problem, I'm assuming you'd have phoned me on my cell phone."

"No -- no problem," Wes agreed. "But..." For further explanation, Wes held out a suspiciously red coloured envelope.

Eric looked at the envelope and then up at Wes' face, then back to the envelope then back to Wes' face. "Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?"

Wes had the grace to blush. "It's not from me, if that's what you're thinking."

"Well, good." Eric shook his head. "Any chance of you letting me actually come in, or am I sleeping out on the porch tonight?"

Wes' blush turned darker.

Jen's voice floated from the living room, "I told you to let the poor guy come in first."

Wes looked sheepish and meekly allowed Eric entrance to the house. Eric slowly shook his head as he came through the door.

"So if it's not from you to me -- and may I just state for the record that I'm relieved about that," Wes choked, "what the hell is it and why are you trying to give it to me?"

Wes closed the front door. "I don't know," he said, still proffering that red envelope. "But it's addressed to you."

It was Eric's turn to choke. "Excuse me?"

Wes held the card out. "See? You are Mr E. Myers, yes?"

Eric actually looked at the card. Sure enough, it bore his name on it. Whoever had mailed it had mailed it to the SGHQ and Gina, in her infinite wisdom had forwarded it to Vista Del Oro.

"What the hell?" he muttered, frowning. He finally accepted the card from Wes and tore the envelope open. Inside was a pink heart-shaped piece of paper, folded in half. Brows lowering further, Eric took the paper heart out of the envelope and unfolded it. One side of it was blank. The other bore the words: Will you be my valentine? The whole thing was signed with a question mark.

"Who's it from?" Wes asked, clearly curious as hell.

"No idea."

Somewhat to his surprise, Eric found his annoyance melting. Someone liked him enough to send him a valentine. Someone liked him enough to send him a valentine. The cynical little devil that dogged most of his waking moments pointed out that it was probably someone's idea of a joke but...

"Eric?"

Both Wes and Jen were now standing in front of him -- when had Jen joined them in the hallway?

"Are you OK?" Jen asked.

Eric blinked and shook his head. "Yeah...yeah." Who would have sent him a valentine card anyway? Yeah, it was someone's idea of a joke. He'd just put it into the garbage.

I've never had a paper heart
No-one's shown they cared
I've never had a paper heart
I guess that no-one's dared

Late that night, Eric found himself staring at the pink paper heart. For all his assertions that it should go into the garbage, he couldn't quite bring himself to do it. It was just a paper heart...

...that someone had cut out and addressed to him.

Someone had actually taken the time to do that. Even if it was their idea of a joke, no-one had ever done that before and for all the cynical outpourings of the little devil on his shoulder, Eric couldn't get beyond the fact that someone cared enough to make that effort.

He stared at the words written -- now he came to look at it -- in just an ordinary black marker pen. Will you be my valentine? Who would have a reason to ask him that?

The obvious answer was Kimberly, but she'd made it painfully clear she didn't want anything more to do with him. His own fault and he knew that, but that probably disqualified her from wanting to send him a valentine.

The handwriting wasn't Wes' and he was fairly sure that neither he nor Jen would pull this sort of trick on him. Nor would Ben and Gina certainly wouldn't. It crossed his mind it could be one of Gina's predecessors, but given he'd pretty much reduced them to flinders before firing them; the chances were good it wasn't them! The other option was that it was one of the future dwellers. Lucas and Trip probably were practical jokers but Eric couldn't see either of them doing this. Katie was a possibility...except that Eric was reasonably sure she was more interested in Alex than she was in him. As for Alex... That idea was so ludicrous that he didn't even bother finishing the thought.

No, it was a true mystery.

And somehow that thought warmed him. That someone, somewhere, cared about him. It was almost enough to make him consider staying in Silverhills to find out who it was.

Almost.

With a sigh, Eric folded the paper heart up and tucked it into a convenient CD case for safekeeping. He'd probably never know who sent it, but it suddenly seemed like the most important piece of paper he'd ever received.

Then I shall buy you a paper heart
To show you that I dare
I shall buy you a paper heart
To show you that I care

Alice flicked through the CD collection; unsure of what she was looking for, only knowing that when she found it, it would be obvious. It was a CD of her dad's; she knew that much, and it would be one of the older ones. But which one? Half remembered snatches of songs danced through her mind, something about a 'Spanish city' and an amusement arcade, she thought. Her eyes fell on a purple-blue CD entitled 'Sultans of Swing'. Something about that phrase leapt out at her, and she took it off the shelf.

Some band called Dire Straits. Not a group Alice had ever heard of -- although that wasn't so surprising. Eric had what could only be described as eclectic musical tastes and at least half the CDs he owned were by bands that Alice had either never heard of or only vaguely remembered. She stared at the cover of the CD for a few moments then decided to try playing it -- to see if this was the one she was looking for.

But when she opened the box, out fluttered a much-creased piece of pink paper. Alice felt the breath catch in her throat. It couldn't be... He wouldn't have...

She bent over and picked the paper up. Putting the CD down, she carefully unfolded it. Sure enough...it was a pink paper heart with the faded words 'will you be my valentine' written on it in black marker pen.

Alice slowly shook her head, the hunt for the CD forgotten as she stared at the piece of paper.

He'd got it! More than that, he'd kept it! Alice felt absurdly pleased. It had obviously meant something to him when he'd received it. It must have done because she couldn't imagine why else he'd have kept it.

It had been something that she'd seen her mother write. Kimberly had even got so far as to put it into an envelope and address it to the SGHQ, but then she'd changed her mind. Alice smiled and carefully folded the heart again before tucking it back into the CD box. She'd seen the envelope sitting on the counter and in a moment of enterprise had sneaked it into her school bag. That afternoon, when old Mrs Kennedy was babysitting her, she'd produced it and the kindly woman had obliged and walked her down to the nearest mailbox to mail it. If her mom and Eric were prepared to be silly over this, Alice wasn't about to stand back and let them!

And maybe it hadn't had a huge impact on things, but Alice knew that she'd done good.

Now I have a paper heart
And I don't feel so lonely
Now I have your paper heart
I am your one and only

~*~