Like Light and Cloud Shadow
A "V for Vendetta" short story by Tina Price.
Preview: V's life was forever changed the night he brought an unconscious Evey Hammond down to his home. Little had he realized that they would ultimately change each other's life... for the better.
Disclaimer: V for Vendetta and all characters therein are the property of Warner Brothers Entertainment Company and DC Comics.
Author's notes: This story (overall) is rated R. An NC-17 Rated version is available on my homepage. Criticism and advice are always appreciated!
Chapter Seven: I, While Living...
Somewhere in the Shadow Gallery, a heavy door creaked open. It was followed by the sound of Evey calling out, "Hello? May I come in?"
"Doctor, my mask," V ground out. Although grateful the man had saved his life, it didn't mean that he had to like him.
"One moment, Evey," the younger man called out. Then he swung back to face him. "You can't have the mask, he stated. It's gone; Evey took it with her earlier. Besides, your face is too badly swollen to tolerate a mask. We'll have to improvise."
V watched as he searched through a pile of items that Evey had probably provided. And as the doctor went through the clothing and supplies, V continued to sum him up, while fuming silently to himself.
He was young, which was to say that V guessed him to be no more than twenty eight years of age. He was tall, lean and well built, with blond hair and blue eyes.
All in all he was the kind of man most women thought of as a 'catch'. And therein lay the rub: That this handsome fellow was friends with Evey could not be denied, and so V found himself suddenly with a competitor.
Oh Evey might not think of the doctor in such a way, and the good doctor himself had stated that they were simply friends with a common goal, but no young man in his position risked his career and life to help a woman who was merely a friend, let alone one whom he had treated as a patient.
The doctor was after Evey, was hoping for her, that much was certain and given enough time and latitude, he might possibly win her away. After all, Cahill could give her the kind of normal life she would never have with him. He could walk the world above with her; give her social status and all the finer things...
And although V felt he could not hope to compete with the doctor's good looks, compete he would, for he did know something this man didn't. He knew that despite everything, Evey was already his, as he had known it that night up on the balcony, as he'd known it in her bed and as he'd known it down in the tube station. He would never make the mistake of taking her for granted, but would cement her loyalty the old fashioned way; with love and trust and kindness.
He would not yield to this younger man, no matter how young, how educated or how handsome he was. Neither would he give Evey any reason or desire to do likewise.
No, he did not have to like the good doctor, but he would treat him civilly until such time as the doctor discovered for himself who the true alpha was and where Evey's loyalties really lay.
"What about this?"
V stopped brooding the moment he was addressed. The doctor was holding up one of his wigs and a red silk scarf, which he recognized as Evey's. She must have intended that these items be used to this purpose, so he nodded.
Evey waited around the corner at the end of the gallery for permission to enter and visit a man who should be dead, yet somehow wasn't. Against all odds, he had somehow survived, her plan had somehow made a difference and to top it off, Detective Finch was convinced that the terrorist known as V was dead.
What a night! She was currently in such a state of anxiety that she feared she might never be able to sleep again! Her worry over her erstwhile lover's condition was almost more than she could bear, and if she wasn't invited to enter soon, she would do so anyway.
She had already spoken on the phone briefly with Michael, so she new that V was alive and stable at the moment, but beyond that...
Finally she heard Michael invite her in and she sprang forward at a full run, which ended only as she rounded the final corner and skidded to a standstill. She had stopped dead in her tracks at the sight that greeted her eyes; and it wasn't an unconscious V languishing at death's door...
For there he was, sitting up on the gurney, wide awake and watching her. Yes, watching her... with those beautiful, wide set, dark blue eyes she had glimpsed in the light only once before. He wore the wig she was accustomed to, but only her thin silk scarf covered his lower face, from the eyes down.
And then she was carefully, oh so carefully, sliding next to him and wrapping him in her arms as tears of joy and relief rained down her face. It was almost too much to bear, having nearly lost him, having come here this very night thinking she probably would, and then to be greeted by him like this!
She sobbed like a baby, all the while pressing her cheek to his own and holding on for dear life, while his right arm encircled her and did the same.
She was barely aware that she kept repeating," I thought you left me, I thought you left me!" or that he was soothing her with his own repeated sentence, "Never, Evey, never again..."
Finally she began to calm, comforted by his nearness, his scent and his one-armed embrace. She finally accepted that he was still with her and not likely to be leaving anytime soon, so she dried her eyes, caught her breath and lifted the scarf enough so that she could kiss him.
And kiss him, she did; a deep, soulful kiss it was, and one that managed to communicate just how grateful she was to have him with her. And then, for good measure, she rained them over the rest of his exposed face.
As she pulled back to look at him, the sight of his eyes, his TRUE eyes regarding her with wonder, nearly made her start crying again.
"I love you," she breathed. "It's what I so desperately wanted to tell you that night so long ago, yet couldn't."
Then his hand came up to gently pull against the back of her head, forcing it down to his right shoulder, so that he could again press his cheek to hers.
"Oh... Evey..." he breathed, apparently finding those words to be enough.
Long minutes ticked by as she hung onto him, still having a hard time believing her good fortune. It was only when he groaned and shifted uncomfortably that she reluctantly sat up.
"V, I'm so sorry..." she apologized, only then taking in his immobilized left shoulder.
His eyes twinkled. "Don't be. It was well worth the discomfort."
Evey looked around then and noticed that Michael had disappeared, no doubt to give them privacy.
"Looks like we drove him off," she smirked. "And here I wanted to ask his honest opinion on your condition..."
He lifted his hand and brushed her cheek. "You can always ask me."
She shook her head. "And trust you not to gloss it over? I think not!"
His eyes crinkled with amusement. "You know me too well." Then he was suddenly serious, "Tell me Evey, everything that I missed this night."
And she did, explaining how she had moved him up here, how she had brought the doctor down and fetched the old interrogation lamps to better light his impromptu surgical suite and then how she had retrieved his mask and clothes from Michael and hurried off...
V didn't seem at all surprised, but merely nodded as she covered each detail. "Then what, my dear?" He finally prompted as she hesitated.
So she told him the part he really wanted to hear; of how she had dressed a mannequin in his tattered, bloody clothes, mask and cloak and placed it atop a pyre of gelignite in the train, then topped it off with roses. Her tribute to him...
And then the most amazing coincidence, as a detective had stepped out of nowhere and commanded her to stand-down. He had seen the false V and believed him truly dead, and been doubly astounded when Evey refused to step away from the controls.
In the end, that detective, Finch, had seen things her way, agreeing that the people needed hope, not the building that was about to go. And so she had sent V's effigy down the tracks to bear witness to Parliament's destruction and then watched with Finch from the balcony as pyrotechnics and bits of mortar and stone filled the skies.
She had spent the last few hours walking the city with the detective, bearing witness as the population scattered the military and celebrated the end of their oppression.
The two of them had talked quite a bit, he telling her what he knew, while she confirmed some things and pleaded ignorance of others.
In the end when they parted, she had his card and his personal phone number, as well as a promise that the Shadow Gallery would remain secret: he would trust her to see to it that its treasures were eventually restored to the people. He believed the gallery to be her home now, and would not visit unless invited.
"So you see," she explained. "As far as the world is concerned, you did die tonight. All that's left for them is your dream and the symbol you represented..." She took his hand and kissed it before continuing, "...but I have got the man himself and I intend to hold him in this world for a long while to come."
He nodded and sank further back into his pillows, exhausted, yet apparently deep in thought.
"So what will you do now?" she asked.
"Evey, my dear, I haven't the foggiest," he answered truthfully. "My plan has ended. It was never meant to cover this moment, nor those to follow. I suppose that for now I have no other plan other than to make healing a priority."
She raised her head. "Let me go find Michael so that we can get you settled in for the night."
He brushed her cheek. "Evey… before you do, there's something I would like to ask you."
"You can ask me anything," she replied.
He took a deep breath, causing the scarf to billow out. "How is it that you know Dr. Cahill?"
She froze. It was the last thing she had expected him to ask her now. With a sense of dread she somehow knew he had already asked Michael the same question and would instantly compare their answers to judge their veracity. The problem was that she had something to hide and it was highly likely that he would discover an inconsistency unless she kept her answer simple.
So she forced herself to look him in the eyes and answer, "I collapsed at the market place where I was working. Dr. Cahill… Michael happened to be there is all."
"That still does not explain how he came to be your friend," he stated. "If he merely picked you up and dusted you off, that would have been the end of it."
"I had to go in hospital for a bit," she admitted, hoping desperately that he would accept her answer and not push it any further.
Then he asked, ever so softly, "Were you bleeding, Evey?"
His question shocked her to the core. How could he have surmised that; had Michael told him?
"Yes," she answered numbly, too shocked to even consider lying.
He cupped her face, his thumb gently stroking her cheek. "My love, did you lose a child; our child?"
She felt as though she had been punched in the gut. How could he have determined… Closing her mouth, she swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded.
Again he pulled her to him, holding her tightly and she felt him kiss her forehead through the scarf, as he rubbed her back.
"I'm so sorry," he told her, his voice none too steady. "I'm so sorry that I couldn't be there for you, so sorry that you had to go through everything the circumstances entailed and all without my support and... I'm so sorry for having been the cause of it."
"How did you figure this out?" she asked, sniffing and wiping away a tear. "How could you possibly have jumped to such a correct conclusion?"
He sighed. "Don't be angry with the doctor, my dear. He accidentally let slip something on what should have been an unrelated subject. Everything just 'clicked' together for me then."
She nodded, not understanding what unrelated topic could have led him to his conclusion. "As to it being your fault; it does take two, you know. I knew the risk, V," she admitted. "It just didn't seem that it would be likely given the time of my cycle and that we were together just the one night." She laughed bitterly. "When I found out… the fear came back. You know how it is up there for unmarried mothers. Sutler made certain that those proved to be of questionable moral fiber never had the chance to raise their babies. They are... were given over to the state."
He remained silent, but hugged her tighter and kept his cheek against hers. It was a long time before he spoke again.
"Tell me more, Evey. I'm sorry to make you relive it but I really wish to know. Only then can I put this to rest."
So she told him the story; how, in her third month, she had miscarried alone and without medical help in her apartment rather than risk discovery by the authorities that still searched for her. She had seemed to be fine for the next few days, but then her bleeding grew worse and she began to feel very ill. The day she collapsed in the market, Michael had been there. It was he who had revived her, quietly asked her the hard questions, and then told the gathering crowd that an ambulance would be unnecessary.
Putting her in his own car, he let her know that she had to have treatment as he took her to the hospital himself. Once there, he made certain she remained 'under the radar' while a D&C was performed, then got her home and checked up on her daily.
Right from the beginning, he had recognized her as V's accomplice, for whom the police were still searching, and his admiration of her was the catalyst from which their friendship had sprung.
When she finished her tale, she lifted her head to find that V had turned his face away. She gently held his chin through the scarf and turned it back so that she could meet his eyes. "What is it?" she asked, when she saw his pained expression.
"Why didn't you come to me?" he asked. "You carried my child, yet still you stayed away..."
She sighed and fought the tears that threatened to come. "V... Don't ever think I didn't want to. At first I was in denial. Then, as things progressed, I had to weigh the benefits to the child against the possibility that my coming back here like that would be the one thing that would derail your plan."
"You stayed away because you thought I would have changed my mind and not followed through?" he asked, incredulously.
She nodded. "I was still trying to work out what to do when..." She couldn't continue and dropped her eyes.
"Evey, look at me," he said gently. When she did, he continued. "You were right; I would have dropped my personal vendetta, although I would still have had to find a way to take out Sutler and Creedy and I still would have blown up Parliament. And I don't think, given the circumstances, that I would ever have regretted making that choice." He brushed her tears away with his thumb.
"I told you that from now on you'd hear only the truth from me. When I told the doctor of my mutation, he immediately and too quickly surmised that I might not be able to sire viable offspring. He then mentioned off hand that it explained something."
"Oh," was all she could say.
"Evey, I knew that something significant happened to you, something that warranted more than just minor treatment from the doctor," he explained. "Putting that all together and wondering, as I have these last months, if there was a consequence to our tryst, how could I not see the truth?"
"I doubt that most people would have pieced it together that quickly, if at all," she replied dryly.
He sighed. "Perhaps not, but then I am not 'most people', to my great regret. And now, added to the long list of things I cannot give you, there is also this; you more than likely will get no child from me."
She blinked at him. "You're saying that I miscarried because our child had a genetic defect?"
"Nearly all mutations are lethal, my dear," he explained. "Obviously mine were not lethal to me, but the changes in two of my chromosomes since Larkhill are drastic enough to make proper fertilization improbable. The resulting embryo would be beginning with a serious, fatal error, one which could not result in a living child."
"V, you cannot know that for certain," she began. "There are centers that do genetic testing and counseling..."
"No, I cannot know for certain, but it is very likely that I am correct." He was suddenly unable to hold her gaze and again looked away. "This is something you must think long and hard upon. Only you can decide what you can or cannot live with, but I..."
Again she turned his face towards her. "Tell me," she encouraged him.
It was his turn to fight back tears. "I don't think that I can have you and then give you up. I already love you too much to be that selfless." Again he pressed her against his shoulder and leaned his cheek against her own. "You'll have to decide before... this goes any further between us. Can you understand? I'm asking for time, for you, for me… I must be certain of you, of the fairness of this to you, before we speak to the future."
Then he whispered, so low that it was under his breath, "You shouldn't have saved me… The doctor would've been your better choice."
She grew angry then. Indignant.
Then her anger faded as quickly as it had come. He was in a fragile place and only her understanding and the right words would ever get him past this.
"Hush," she whispered back, as she hugged him and kissed his cheek. "Michael is a wonderful man, but I do not love him. My heart only lives while you do. And I made my choice a long time ago in this very place; in your bed."
Brushing aside the bangs of his wig, she planted a kiss on his forehead. "If you want time... if you want to take this slowly, then we will, and we will discuss this subject and any others that arise, but you have to accept that I did make my choice. I thought I lost you tonight. I thought you were gone... Now that I have you, there is no hope of me ever rejecting you."
The tears he had been fighting against fell then, rolling down his cheeks to wet the scarf below. He pulled her to him and hugged her as though his life depended upon it.
Together she and Michael wheeled V to the bedroom in the gallery and carefully settled him into the bed. With the injured man's permission, the doctor had shown her V's wounds and given her the rundown of their extent and what needed to be done for the next few days.
She was painfully aware of the way V averted his eyes and as she looked. There was no doubt that he felt ashamed of his scars and that she had been introduced to them in this way, yet he had allowed it and that said a lot about the trust he had in her.
Before leaving, Michael gave V another dose of pain medication. Then he handed over the rest of the medical supplies, cautioned her to phone him at the slightest sign of fever, wished them both a good day and gone.
After showing Michael out, she returned to the bedroom to find V already asleep, and pausing just inside the doorway, she took the time to drink in the sight of him.
Several very large pillows propped him up. His left arm lay across his chest, immobilized in a sling; his right lay atop the covers at is side. His head was turned to the right, the hair of his wig framing his face and head in a black, silky puddle. The covers were drawn up to his chest, nearly hiding the black silk poet's shirt he was using as his nightclothes. Besides that, under the covers, she already knew he was wearing black silk boxers and nothing else. She could see the outline of the traction splint through the covers and winced at the memory of how painful it looked.
But then again, his entire thigh looked gruesomely mangled. It had to be excruciating, so she supposed that he might not really be minding the splint.
Slowly she drew nearer to him and knelt next to the bed so that she could look at him close up. His eyes were closed, his lids twitching as he dreamed. Despite the visible scars and the scarf that hid his lower face, she found herself focused entirely on his eyes.
Who was it that had said that the eyes were the windows to the soul?
How right they were...
Resisting the urge to stroke his cheek, she rose and, as quietly as possible, collected the things she would need for a shower. She was just leaving the room when he quietly called her name.
She turned to find his position unchanged, but his eyes watching her sleepily.
Placing her things on the vanity, she returned to his side and this time she did stroke that cheek and kiss his brow.
"What is it, V?" she asked, still running her hands over his skin.
"Stay? There's room enough... and I swore..."
"What, my love?"
His eyes widened at her choice of words, followed by a contented sigh. "I swore I would never sleep in this bed again without you by my side."
She smiled, deeply touched. "I was planning on just that. Let me get cleaned up."
He nodded and then drifted off, the final dose of painkiller having done the trick.
Rising, she collected her things and headed for the shower, eager to be clean and in bed with him.
He slept fitfully; terrorized both by pain and by bad dreams he couldn't quite remember. Yet, interspersed with them were brief memories of a gentle hand playing with the hair at the nape of his neck and a voice murmuring words of comfort...
V gasped and was suddenly awake. The pain from his leg had reached a throbbing crescendo, drowning out the pain from all his other injuries and leaving him bathed in a cold sweat. His mouth was dry; no doubt a side effect of the medication, which apparently had worn off.
A glance at the clock showed the time as seven in the morning. He had slept a full seven hours, thought they had not been restful ones.
The events of the previous night returned to his still fuzzy memory. The last thing he remembered was Evey leaving to have a shower.
Evey. Where was she?
He became aware of her arm draped over his chest and shoulder, as her fingers began playing with the hair at the back of his head. She was curled up against him under the covers.
Sometime during the night she had managed to relieve him of his scarf and wig, for which he was grateful. He felt claustrophobic enough as it was; his shoulder and leg useless, bandages everywhere and his leg screaming bloody murder with the slightest of movements.
Yet, somehow, knowing that she was with him, the pain became bearable. With a deep sigh, he steadied his breathing and focused himself. Gradually he was able to block out much of the pain, dropping it down to a bearable level.
His thoughts then turned to her.
Carefully, he slid his free arm around her so that he could run his fingers over the bare skin of her back. In the dark of the room, it was impossible to see her, but he knew she was naked. He could feel the heat and silk of her skin against his own.
Was she playing with his hair in her sleep or was she awake?
It was hard to say, as her fingers moved chaotically. Ah, to be able to gaze on her! Unfortunately the darkness of the room robbed him of the pleasure, and for once he had an understanding of her desire to glimpse his face, of why it was so important for her to at least she his eyes.
And right now he yearned to be able to see her; she was the best part of him, the best reason to go on living.
To think that she had carried, even for a short time, his child, yet stayed away... for love of him; because she respected and loved him enough not to wish to change the fate he had made for himself.
It had been a true demonstration of selfless love.
"Evey?" he whispered near her ear, wishing to discover whether she was awake.
"Shhh..." came her soothing response.
And then she did something he never would have expected; she sang to him, her voice sleepy, tired, yet beautiful... and all the while she played with his hair;
"Every time I look at you the world just melts away...
All my troubles all my fears dissolve in your affections.
You've seen me at my weakest but you take me as I am,
And when I fall you offer me a softer place to land...
You stay the course, you hold the line, you keep it all together;
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in.
You're all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me;
You're the one true thing I know I can believe..."
Her voice and the words she sang so softly gave him chills, despite the fact that she was half asleep and he in pain. And suddenly he could remember that she had sung to him on and off, all throughout the long night, soothing him whenever he awoke.
His heart swelling with gratitude towards her, he planted a kiss upon her forehead. Then, happier than he ever would have believed a man in a shattered body could be, he relaxed utterly, drifting off into a restful sleep at last.
Evey awoke around nine and stifled a groan as she began to rise. Then she remembered where she was and stayed utterly still, listening...
Beside her, V was breathing softly and rhythmically.
She exhaled in relief. He was sleeping and for once deeply, without the constant gasps and stifled moans that had punctuated the last few days and nights.
Shortly after being settled in he had simply shutdown, remaining in a state of continuous, if restless, sleep. Michael had come and gone several times, had reattached an IV line to hydrate him and had even cleaned him up to spare him the embarrassment of Evey doing so. He had assured her that the wounds looked good and the leg seemed to be holding its own, though he had to loosen the traction considerably to avoid circulatory issues. There were no signs of fever or infection... V seemed to be healing very well indeed.
"But why hasn't he awakened?" she had asked, extremely worried.
"At the speed with which he's healing it would seem to simply be a part of the process," Michael had answered. "Or perhaps his body has no choice but to conserve every bit of energy given the workload of such a massive repair."
He had returned twice a day since and she had finally relaxed a bit.
Over the days she had done her best to sooth him and eventually found that just being against him, touching him and singing had produced the best results. She smiled as she remembered all the silly little songs that had slipped out of her. Thankfully she doubted that he would remember any of the sillier ones. She had simply searched for easy words just so that he could hear her voice.
But there had been a big change this day, in the early morning hours. She had awakened and at first thought he was again rambling, but then realized he was lucid and so she had sung him one last song; one she had been holding back, but had chosen during the long sleepless hours. It had just seemed... appropriate.
And he had sighed, squeezed her close and drifted back off.
Carefully, so as not to jar him or give herself away, she eased herself from the bed, donned a robe and padded out into the gallery.
She was exhausted, the round-the-clock care she had given him having taken its toll. At night she hardly slept, but instead comforted him. During the day, she cooked them meals in the hopes that he would awaken and share them with her, she kept vigil by his bed or in his bed where she might doze for a short while and she welcomed Michael, glad for his care and reassurance.
Evey yawned and stretched. At least the worst seemed to be behind V now and she did feel a deep satisfaction that she had been able to help him.
She headed towards the kitchen, happily certain that this was the day he would awaken. And she would hasten that awakening with the smell of a good meal.
It was already well into the day and Michael would be coming by soon. Giving it some thought, she decided to go up to street level and phone him before she got cooking. She would give him an update and ask him to stop by earlier than he usually did.
An hour later, Evey was placing the tray on the floor outside the bedroom so that she could slip inside and replace his scarf and wig before turning up the lights, so it was with some surprise that she saw light when she cracked the door open.
She froze and then knocked. "V? May I come in?"
"You may," he answered, his voice weary and hoarse.
She picked up the tray and pushed the door aside, then nearly dropped the whole thing at the sight that greeted her eyes.
"V!" she exclaimed. "My God, what have you done?"
He was sitting on the edge of the bed, his ruined leg out straight, heel propped on the floor and the traction splint off. And as if that weren't enough, the poet's shirt was off and so were all his bandages save the one around his upper thigh. The drains from his thigh and shoulder had been pulled, along with the IV line and were also laying on the floor, along with...
"No! Not the chest tube!" she moaned, all but throwing the tray on the vanity as she rushed to him.
He was holding a pressure dressing over the wound where the tube had been.
She quickly opened the medical bag Michael had left and removed the largest elastic bandage she could find.
"Are you bleeding?" she asked tersely.
"No. Don't fret, Evey. I'm quite better off than you might imagine."
She scowled at him, only just noting that he again wore his wig and the scarf. "Well right now the only thing I am imagining is giving you a good tongue lashing," she scolded. "Are you really insane, or are you merely the most foolish fellow I've ever met?"
As she talked, she wrapped the bandage around his chest, over the pressure dressing he was holding. Then she pulled it tightly, taking some satisfaction in his sudden, indrawn breath.
"A little of both I suspect," he gasped in answer to her question. "I certainly feel quite foolish most of the time when you are near me."
At any other time she might have blushed and been pleased to hear such words from him, but at the moment she was both frightened for him and furious that he had risked his life. She finished securing the bandage then stepped back and looked him over.
To her surprise, the massive, black bruising that had covered him had already faded to a medium shade of green. The eye that had been nearly swelled shut was now fully open, very little swelling remaining around it or on any of his exposed face. She could see that the nose splint had also been removed as it was on the floor at her feet.
He reached out to take her hand and she was startled to see that it was with his left hand; that arm had been useless a few days ago.
"Evey, love, don't worry. Come and look..." he placed her hand squarely atop the shoulder wound, where Michael had sewn him up.
She ran her fingers over the incision site, then bent closer to confirm what her fingers and eyes were already telling her; the incision was closed. It wasn't merely scabbed over; it was closed; healed shut with new skin. A fresh scar formed atop the ones that already mottled him.
"How...?" she breathed, meeting his eyes and the amusement she saw in them. "This isn't possible..."
"It is," he affirmed. "But the process is a costly one. I'm literally starved half to death and if you don't bring me that tray of delightful smelling food you went to such trouble to prepare... I shall be forced to fetch it myself!"
Shaking off the shock she'd had, she retrieved it as V used part of the splint to lever his leg up onto the bed. For all his bravado, she could see what the movement cost him as he lost all color and broke a fine sweat everywhere over his unscarred skin.
Once again setting the tray down, this time next to the bed, she made him lie flat while she sat beside him and mopped his brow with a cloth and cool water she kept near the bed. "Fetch it yourself... Indeed," she admonished. Then she ran her hand over his chest, making him gasp and lock eyes with her. Despite his injuries it seemed her touch still moved him greatly. Yet that had not been her intent.
As she moved her hand over his ribs, her worry increased.
"Oh, V... you aren't lying about being starved; you're all ribs," she said. "Still, you shouldn't be moving so quickly and you'll have to be very careful to eat slowly as well. You've been out for days."
"Days?" his eyes searched her face. "Really? How many?"
"Four. How is your pain now? Would you care for some medication?"
He was still stupefied that he had lost so much time, but eventually refused her offer. "No thank-you. I need to eat and drink and I can't whilst taking that." V struggled to sit up. "Here, help me with these pillows, if you don't mind."
She did, piling them behind him so that he could sit up to eat. "I suppose you'll be taking out your own stitches next?" she joked.
"Unless you would be kind enough to do it for me?" He wasn't joking.
"I'm already going to catch hell from Michael over this," she griped. "All he asked was that I promise not to let you get that chest tube out... and the first time I leave you alone... "
He reached up then and pulled her face down, then lifted his scarf just enough so that he could kiss her soundly. When he pulled back they were both out of breath.
"I am sorry, Evey," he said. "For having put you through so much..."
"And scaring me to death," she prompted.
"And that." He kissed her again.
"Not to mention insulting me..."
His eyes narrowed as he thought it over. "When did I do that?"
"When you implied that I might not want you, that I would do better with Michael."
Scarf or no, he had the decency to look embarrassed. "Alas, I shall have to blame that on the drugs."
Michael had been and was now gone, with a promise to collect V the following afternoon, having talked him into allowing x-rays.
She had met him up at the street entrance.
"How is he?" had been the first thing out of his mouth after giving her a quick peck on the cheek.
"Actually, he's so much healed that you're not going to believe it," she'd answered.
"Really? And the chest tube?" As she turned to look behind her, one look at her face had given him the answer. "Oh, Evey! It was the one thing, the only thing..."
She had cut him off, "Michael, he was sleeping. I went to fix brunch and the rest is, as they say, history."
"Well, if he's still doing well so long after its removal, then I suppose that all's well," he had huffed, still put out by his patient's audacity.
And he had been correct, his examination revealing an amazing improvement in V's injuries.
Still, he had argued with his patient over the need for x-rays, finally making a valid point after making the man aware that healing fast did not necessarily equate to healing correctly… and how did he feel about the possibility of a permanent limp?
Returning to the Gallery after showing Michael out, Evey sighed. She was tired, weary in body and mind, and she could really use a long soak in a tub, except that V didn't have one.
She was desperate for some sleep and made up her mind to camp out on the sofa for a nap, but first she popped into the bedroom to check up on the man she loved.
He was wide-awake, propped upon his pillows and reading a book. He lowered it when she bent over to place a kiss on his forehead.
"I'm going to take a nap," she announced. "Will you be alright for a bit?"
"Of course," he replied, but as she headed for the door he spoke again, some surprise in his tone. "Are you napping on the sofa then?"
She stopped and looked back over her shoulder. "Just this one time. I'm exhausted and unlikely to rest as well if I stay here. You know how you fidget..."
He chuckled. "Quite right. I'm already becoming desperate for a good workout."
"Then, can I trust you not to push yourself while unsupervised?" she chided.
"Not in the least," he answered, picking his book back up.
With a grumble, she snatched up an extra blanket and left the room.
She awoke many hours later to find her worst fears realized. A loud thumping had awakened her and she sat bolt upright, scanning the Shadow Gallery over the top of the sofa for a certain manic someone.
Unable to spot him right off the bat, she rose and wandering towards the rhythmic sounds, found him at the far end of the gallery, dressed in his dark dressing robe, and wearing the scarf, wig and some slippers. He was seated on the displaced piano bench with his leg also upon it.
It was the area of the gallery that he referred to as the armory, where he usually worked out and he was throwing knives at a thick wooden board he often used as a target. After the last knife left his hand, he rose and hobbled on one leg across the room to retrieve it, without the use of his walking stick.
'Give me strength,' she thought to herself and had the satisfaction of seeing him start when he turned and saw her standing there, her hands on her hips.
"Evey, love, you're looking rested and lovely as ever," he said, apparently feeling that the best response was to turn up the charm. "You've been sleeping a good five hours and I had begun to become anxious for your company."
"V…" she began, then stopped as she sniffed the air. "Have you been cooking as well?"
"Why yes, a feast for two," he said cheerily. " I just thought I would exercise the shoulder while it finished up."
"I see," she answered, doing no such thing. "Well now that I'm up you can either go back to bed or have a seat out on the sofa. Either way, you are not to be up and about any more tonight… no negotiations."
"As my lady commands," he replied with a bow.
Summoning the loudest humph she was capable of, Evey set out for the kitchen.
Once there, she found that he had a chicken roasting in the oven, complete with carrots, potatoes and celery. Fresh croissants were on a baking sheet, just waiting to be baked… and he had already cleaned up and set the table.
Looking at the number of wet dishes on the drain board, she knew he had already ravenously disposed of quite a few leftovers. A quick peek inside the icebox confirmed it.
Checking in on the chicken one more time, she noted that it was just starting to brown. "How long on this?" she yelled.
"Another fifteen minutes until we need to pop in the croissants," he called back.
With a shrug, she set the timer, opened a bottle of wine and poured up two glasses. It certainly was a pleasure to be with a fellow who not only cooked and cleaned, but liked to do so... even if he did have far too much energy for is own good.
Picking up the glasses, she headed back to where he lay stretched out on the sofa and handed one over. He scooted further back into the cushions, accepted the glass and patted the space next to him invitingly. Settling in beside him she sipped her wine and noted that he had the news on.
"Anything of interest?"
He looked at her, then rubbed her head affectionately. "Now that you mention it, yes..."
"I meant on the telly," she laughed.
"Oh. The usual rioting, hard liners being ripped apart... and all that," He replied, sounding somewhat distracted. His eyes were raking her in a lazy, appreciative manner.
She wondered how often in the past he had done just that and she had been unable to tell. No matter, tired or not, it lit a flame within her. She suddenly had to feel him next to her and share the passion that was rising up in her; she wanted to reconnect.
Taking his glass, she placed it on the coffee table next to her own and then swung around a lay full length beside him, her face just inches below his own. She had his full attention, his head dipping down so that he could gaze directly into her eyes. Then his face moved the last few inches as he lifted the bottom of the scarf and she moved to meet him.
The kiss was tender, loving and warm. A slow fire building, rather than a quick conflagration. After a time he was kissing her neck and moving to her throat as his arms tightened around her and his hands began to wander.
Mindful of his leg, she moved astride him, pushing him down into the sofa so that she could run her hands over his shoulders and down his chest as they kissed. She was pushing them into his robe, working it open when he caught his breath, then caught her hands, stilling her.
"Evey..." he ground out. "You'll drive me mad."
She leaned down to kiss him again. "Too late," she husked against his lips, pressing against his hardness to make her point.
"I think its time to bake the croissants..." he protested.
Shaking off her amusement at his attempt at humor, she tried to free her hands, but found that he wasn't complying.
"V... " she begged. Then she noticed how still he had gone, and the pained look in his eyes. "What's wrong?" she asked, feeling as though she had been doused by ice water.
"I do want you," he whispered. "More than you can know, but we agreed to take things slowly, remember?"
Of course she did, but some part of her hadn't believed that he would take it that far. Drawing back, she stared at him and tried to keep the disappointment from her voice.
"I remember," she admitted. "I guess I just couldn't help myself..."
"Nor I." he released her, kissed her and hugged her to him.
After a while she lifted her head, unable to let the topic drop, though she knew she should. "So... you're not ready; to trust me?"
"It's not so simple as being ready to trust, love. I do trust you. It's a matter of striking a balance, of waiting until things are... right."
"And when will that be?" Again she fought to sound neutral, but her heart was pounding and she felt somewhat ill. She felt rejected even though she knew she shouldn't.
"Trust me to know when," he replied, then moved to kiss her again.
She evaded him and numbly began to rise from the sofa.
Again he captured her arm and held her a moment.
"Don't be glum," he sighed. "This is not a rejection. I really do need time to think, to plan... to come to terms with the fact that I am not dead. And I'm not the only one who needs to do some thinking. Everything is still up in the air, love. Be patient. We'll get there, I promise."
"Patient? This from the man who is walking about when he should be in bed, nearly dead?" she forced a laugh, doing her best to keep the hurt out of her voice.
The timer in the kitchen went off just as he let go of her. With that, she collected her wine glass and left the room as quickly as she could without seeming to rush... and felt his eyes upon her the entire time.
Dinner was awkward, but bearable.
At bedtime, he remained out on the sofa with a book, pleading that he had slept long enough. She left it at that and kissed him before heading to bed.
She was instantly sound asleep.
Michael arrived right on schedule the next afternoon to find Evey waiting for him on the street. Together they unloaded the wheelchair he had brought along and then he guided it down the stairs after her.
"Did you arrange things with your friend?" she asked.
"I did. Is he ready?"
"He is." She made a face. "I've not been in a good mood today and I believe he'd go almost anywhere with you right now to get a breather."
He searched her face. "Are you alright? Anything you want to talk about?"
"It's nothing, I'm just tired and cranky."
She might be smiling, but Michael knew her well enough to surmise that something was really troubling her. Still, he let it drop, knowing how obstinate she could be. If at any time she wanted to talk, she would seek him out.
'Or perhaps not,' a small voice in the back of his head spoke up. After all, she had her paramour back and he, V would most likely be her sounding board from now on.
Michael had to admit to himself that it made him sad to think how much he would now be giving up to the other man.
By then they were entering the Shadow Gallery, Evey calling out to V that they were there.
In the next instant they both got the scare of their lives, each of them flinching and letting out a quick sound of terror when V suddenly exited the bathroom as they were about to pass it.
He was dressed in loose fitting black workout pants, a gray long sleeved sweatshirt, black leather gloves and black sneakers. Over the pants, he had affixed a makeshift splint and he was using a silver walking stick for support. Over everything he wore a black coat of medium length.
Once again his mask was in place as well as the wig.
"Are you daft?" Michael yelled at him as Evey let out a groan and shook her head in exasperation. "How will we ever get you fixed up properly if you pay no heed to our good advice? You're going to ruin that leg!"
V's mask tilted as he regarded the other man
"I beg your pardon," he said. "But I am used to making all my own decisions; I've had twenty years in which I only ever answered to myself. Please do be patient with me as I adjust to doing the polite thing. Besides, I really had to use the facilities."
Michael had the absolute conviction that he was being laughed at. "Fine, do as you please, then." he sniffed, kicking the wheelchair so that it rolled away. "It'll be quite amusing to watch you getting around with a permanent limp. If you're lucky that leg may only heal bent or perhaps just a few inches shorter than the other."
He knew his words had hit the mark, despite the man's mask; for V stiffened and glanced down at his leg.
Michael turned to Evey. "We're off then. He can make his own way to the car, I daresay."
With that, he headed for the exit, leaving them alone together.
Evey stared at V, as a mixture of emotions ran through her. It saddened her greatly that he had gone back to the mask, yet it was also as though she were seeing him again after a terribly long time.
She had, of course, known that he had this other mask. The one that she had sent down the train tracks to its destruction had been much newer and made of metal, whereas his usual mask was of a tough, unbreakable plastic covered in a ceramic veneer. She could have brought it to him at any time, could have included it in the pile of clothes she had given the doctor the night before...
She had thought he would have known why she hadn't.
Or, more likely, he did know, but chose not to acknowledge it.
She jumped as a loud clack echoed in the Gallery, but then found herself in his embrace. He had dropped the walking stick and pulled her to him.
"Evey," he whispered, as his hands rubbed her back. "I won't wear it all the time. It's just until I get to the car; I have another mask on beneath it which I fear would provoke bad memories for you."
"Rossiter..." she breathed, knowing it could be no other.
"Yes. Tell me something?"
She looked up. "Ask."
"This is the face you know me by. Would you really prefer me to wear a silly scarf?"
"I stand by my assessment of the other night; you are a foolish man for all your intellect," she said, but with much amusement. "Don't you understand? I've seen your face. I saw the night you made love to me... and it changed nothing."
The mask drew back then and tilted ever so slightly. There was a long pause before he spoke and she knew he was trying to get a handle around her statement.
"But in the gallery, the night we danced..." he finally began to say.
"I wanted to remove the mask, yes. But only so that you would see for yourself that it made no difference." She reached up and stroked the mask's cold cheek. "I think I understand now what you were trying to tell me last night. You prefer to show the masked face you have used as your identity for years, rather than the changed and unfamiliar face beneath it... I can accept that. I only ask that you allow me to see your eyes now and then, because when I see them, I truly see YOU. That's all I really want."
He hugged her briefly and then stumbled back a pace.
"I must away." his voice was none too steady, as he watched her retrieve his walking stick. "I'd remove the mask right now and kiss you soundly, but I am, unfortunately wearing just the wrong face at the moment."
He took the cane from her, his fingers brushing her own and lingering for a moment. "It is a small thing you ask of me Evey, of great importance, yet difficult for me to grant. I do want you to know that I had already begun to realize just how important a shared gaze is." He nodded. "Give me time and I'll find a way that does not involve the scarf."
She nodded and smiled at her rather large victory. "Michael's waiting," she prompted.
With a nod, he turned and limped off, in obvious discomfort for she heard a muffled curse as her passed through the doorway followed by, "Damn that man!"
And Evey laughed, as she hadn't in months.
Once out of the Shadow Gallery, V removed both his wig and the mask and locked them in the gardening room, then slowly made his way up the stairs to street level.
Had he really been so close to death just a few days before? Even knowing of his uncanny healing ability had not prepared him for this recovery. And he had awoken to a new world, all without even venturing above.
Evey had miscarried, she had seen his face... and still come back; in fact, she had apparently decided he was the one!
And as if that weren't enough, a new person had entered his life; the doctor, Michael, his rival and perhaps... a potential friend?
He had to admit that the more he interacted with the man, the more he admired his intellect and personality. Then again, he should have seen this coming. After all, Evey liked the man, so he must have something going for him.
V stepped out into the daylight and took a moment to admire the sun, as he always did on those rare occasions when he ventured above during daylight.
A car pulled up in front of him, the doctor in the driver's seat.
V opened the door and carefully slid in before gingerly maneuvering his damaged leg inside. When he shut the door and looked up it was to see a dumbfounded look on the Michael's face.
"That's an awfully good makeup job," the man breathed. "I only knew it was you by your clothing and splint!"
"Yes, well one does have to shop on occasion," he answered.
"OK, we're off," the other man announced and the car pulled away from the curb.
It was close to three when Michael and V arrived at the practice of his close friend, and former medical school comrade, Jonathan Mann. A brilliant physician, Johnny had done well for himself after his residency and now ran a large, multi-physician orthopedic practice, complete with its own radiology department. True friend that he was, he had offered the use of his facilities, no questions asked.
As V lay on the x-ray table and allowed the radiology tech to take multiple pictures of his chest and leg, Michael gave Johnny a run down of the patient's injuries… and his unique healing abilities.
Long moments later, developed film in hand, they asked V in and went over the results.
It was astounding.
The clavicle was nearly knit; only a fine line remained where the previously ragged break had been and if it hadn't been for the scar and the mark from the recently removed stitches on the skin over the break, Jonathan never would have believed it.
As to the bullet, it was present but had embedded itself in a muscle behind his shoulder blade. It should be harmless where it was and needed no further treatment, unless it began to bother the patient.
As for the leg… after viewing the films both of them turned and stared at V in disbelief. The man had a faint smirk on his face, obviously not needing them to explain the image they were looking at; the long splintered fragments of his femur had made tremendous progress in knitting back together, from the distal margins back towards the point of impact. More than that, the two severed ends were already fusing.
V had finally spoken, "Well, my good men of medicine, what is the verdict? Shall I keep the leg without resorting to surgery?"
"I should say so!" Jonathan had exclaimed. "Let me get you a soft cast, though. You'll need it for a few days from the looks of it."
As his friend left the room, Michael had turned to his patient. "Are you taking any supplements? I just cannot imagine how your body is fueling this kind of frenzied bone repair."
V nodded. "I've taken a frightfully high dose of calcium and I've boosted my other vitamins as well. Aside from that, I'm about to eat myself out of my own home."
"You've no idea," came the dry response.
"Well then, let's stop for a bite on the way back; my treat." He had offered. "Besides, I've not had lunch and I'm ravenous myself."
V stared at him for a moment, apparently taken aback by the offer, then he nodded. "I should like that," he replied.
It was midmorning on a blustery, dreary day late in December when Evey received the cryptic note. She had been working at the British Museum for all of a month and had only just reached the stage where she felt the least bit useful, so receiving a note addressed specifically to her had come as a big surprise.
Sitting down at the shabby desk in the corner of the cataloging room, she carefully tore open the envelope and pulled out a folded paper. A thrill went through her as soon as she saw the finely textured beige paper with a seal stamped in maroon wax.
There was only one person she knew who went all out when writing… but why would he send her a note at work? Was something the matter?
She immediately broke the seal, unfolded the paper and read the elegant cursive within:
Please do me the honor of joining me for
lunch downstairs at the Great Court
Restaurant, twelve-thirty this afternoon.
Your most humble admirer
Her heart hammering in her throat, Evey consulted her watch, and then groaned. She would have to wait a full two hours before meeting up with him.
To think; V walking about above ground in broad daylight... and finally, she would see it. Oh, she had known that he did this on occasion, yet for the most part it was rare for him to 'procure' supplies before nightfall. She suspected that he did that only when the shops he wished to visit closed early.
"V..." she sighed his name as memories of the last few weeks came back to her.
At first, when he had not died, she had immediately jumped to the conclusion that a happy ending was right around the corner. She thought that he wanted what she wanted; a life together. After all, hadn't he told her just how much he loved her?
She was bewildered when he first raised the issue of proceeding at a slow pace, but at the same time she felt she could understand the hesitation of a heart that had been so long denied any human comfort. Oh, how he must have feared the possibility of having love suddenly ripped away from him!
But a game of wills had quickly developed once he had healed. He still insisted on having her in his bed, in curling up naked together, but despite repeated evidence that he did physically want her, he refused to make the first move.
Her bewilderment had rapidly changed to frustration and anxiety as attempt after attempt at seducing him had been met with a polite, "Soon, Evey. Be patient my love." followed by kisses and reassuring hugs.
Eventually she had succeeded in pushing him far enough one night that, with a needful groan, he had stopped fighting her and let her have her way with him.
Evey sighed as she remembered how, at the time, her spirit had soared, her body rejoicing in their union. Yet after several such events in the following days, it had become painfully obvious to her that he was merely acquiescing to her needs; he never once initiated any of it, and to top it off he seemed rather withdrawn afterwards. She had wept silently in the bathroom after that last time, when she finally realized it; that she could push him beyond his limits and have his body, but that his spirit was still waiting.
And to her added shame, he had somehow known that she finally understood that, for he had been waiting for her outside the bedroom door, still naked and intent upon again comforting and reassuring her.
"Evey..." he had whispered as he rocked her in his embrace, she having started crying again the moment he pulled her to him. "I do love you, please do not doubt it."
"I just... don't... understand," she had somehow gotten out between sobs.
He had lifted her then as though she weighed nothing at all and returned her to her place beside him in their bed. And he had held her close and stroked her hair.
"I know," he soothed. "But you will, I promise that you will."
After that night she had stopped pushing him, had retreated sexually, though there wasn't a night she didn't ache for want of him. The sexual tension between tbecame almost a living thing that colored every touch, every longing look...
Not long after that, she had begun going out more often, for her own sanity's sake. She even began visiting with Detective Finch, meeting him for a meal here or there and hearing all about the government upheavals from his perspective.
She never lied to V about it either. If she was going to take lunch with Finch, she let him know as soon ass he knew and he never objected or seemed upset by it. On the contrary he seemed to relish the information she brought back with her.
V on the other hand had actually begun a friendship with Dr. Michael Cahill, and although they didn't get together often, she knew that the new relationship was a very important one for him. She was genuinely glad to see the two of them connect and at the same time she found it extremely amusing, for their interaction was always clever and often funny. They played so hard at trying to vex each other, yet were fooling no one. They had much in common and truly enjoyed their verbal sparring.
Then she had made a lucky break. Finch had introduced her to the director of the contemporary British exhibit at the British museum; as the woman who had helped him recover a treasure trove of lost artwork. It had been part of their plan on reintroducing the Shadow Gallery contents to society. It not only worked quite well, but also landed her a job, one she enjoyed and which paid well.
She and V had handed over elements of the Shadow Gallery on a routine basis ever since and the place was now beginning to look quite barren. They still had their personal favorites, as they were saving them until the end and the jukebox would be the last to go.
One night just a few weeks ago, they had discussed the gallery and the future.
"We can't just stay here, can we?" she had asked after they had each had a few glasses of wine. They were curled up together on the sofa, the news on, but the telly muted.
He thought for a bit, then answered carefully, "No, you're quite right; sooner or later we'll need to go." He was wearing a scarf, as he often did and suddenly turned a stern look on her. "When, oh when are you going to give up that flat of yours?"
"That depends. When are you going to formally invite me to move in with you?" she had asked, all but rolling her eyes at him.
"Oh dear. Have I unknowingly skipped a part of the courting process?" He was only half kidding.
"I don't know. Is that what you're doing; courting me?"
Feigning indignation, he had playfully pinned her to the cushions, all with just one hand. "I know you have your doubts about that," he laughed. "But in all seriousness, will you move in with me, Miss Hammond?"
She had nodded, all she was capable of until such time that he released her.
"Even if we must up and relocate?" he had added.
"Yes, I'd love to. Thank goodness, I've been wanting to get rid of the flat forever."
And then it had happened:
He had started to run his free hand over her...
There had been passion,
...and a gift,
...and a promise.
In the end it had all come down to her; her life, her choices. He had been waiting for her to get her own life in order before accepting her completely into his own.
Evey clutched the pendant that she wore, that she's always worn since that night and felt the elation of that moment again as the memory returned to her.
She smiled as she thought back on how much things had changed in the last few weeks, recalling the comfortable routine they had developed;
He was always out of bed, showered, dressed and cooking up breakfast when she awoke. The smell would fill the gallery, making it difficult to resist the kitchen and instead stumble to the bathroom for a shower. She would return in her robe, freshly scrubbed, her hair brushed out, to be greeted by open arms, a fierce hug and a sound kiss, for he never wore the mask at breakfast, opting instead for the scarf.
They would share the meal and good conversation before she had to finish readying herself for work.
By the time she was ready to leave, he would be back in his mask and dressed for a round of fencing or some other exhaustive workout. As he had explained to her, he had a physical need to use his muscles and push them to their limits; when he didn't, he paid the price, spending the rest of the day pacing, fidgeting and unable to keep his limbs still. The untapped energy would make it impossible for him to rest or even sit still long enough to read. Nor would he sleep at all those nights.
It was what he referred to as his manic tendency, and although the driving force was physical rather than mental, manic he definitely became.
She smiled at the memory of the last time she had enticed him to spend time with her rather than working out. He had ended up cooking a weeks worth of meals and freezing them... hand scrubbed the entire gallery floor and later he had enticed her into remaining awake with him... all night long. She hadn't been able to sit down for quite a while after that, which had amused him no end and led to his admonishment, "There now, my little minx... that will teach you to distract me from my exercise and keep me home all day and night. I do hope you've learned your lesson."
"Oh definitely," she had replied with a pained expression and a feigned attempt to ease her sore bottom on the sofa cushions.
"You did?" he had sounded very put out, acting as though she had seriously wounded his ego, but in the next minute he was reaching for her...
Evey quickly dropped that memory as it already had her blushing. Corr, what if her supervisor walked in?
Picking her thoughts back up; on the usual day, she would come in to work, then on the way home she might stop for groceries or anything else he might have asked her to pick up before heading back to the Shadow Gallery.
And he would be waiting; always with is arms wide open, always with a hug and a kiss. And he would follow up by leading her to the sofa and handing her a glass of wine or a brandy. He would have a glass of his own and listen to her tell of her day.
Sometimes he would have dinner ready, other times she would arrive with take-out fare, but more often than not they cooked together, ate together and cleaned up together.
What happened then was never any part of a routine. And that was the beauty of living with V; that you never quite knew what he would do next.
One evening he might dance with her near the jukebox, until they both stumbled over to the sofa and collapsed in a torrid heap upon its cushions. On another evening, he might ask if she'd help him tend his roses, afterwards presenting her with one and a chaste kiss. And then an evening might arrive where he literally snatched her off her feet and ravished her against a wall.
Every night seemed to be a brand new night with him.
She sighed as she came back to herself. How was she supposed to keep her mind on her work for the next two hours?
It was going to be a very long morning.
She arrived at the restaurant, which was actually part of the museum complex, at exactly the appointed time, but was then struck with a slight anxiety. How was he disguised? Would she even recognize him?
Just then she was approached by one of the wait staff. The woman seemed to anticipate the problem and addressed her politely, with a genuine smile, "May I help you?"
"Yes, please. I'm meeting someone for lunch and believe he's already arrived."
The woman was looking intently at her pendant, clearly visible since her sweater was open and she hadn't needed to wear a coat.
"Would you happen to be Miss Hammond?"
Her eyes widened in surprise. "Yes."
"Your companion asked me to be on the lookout for you. Your pendant gave you away. It's quite lovely, where did you get it?"
Her hand reached down to grasp the miniature Guy Fawkes mask which dangled on the black suede cord. "It was a gift," she replied, blushing in remembrance of the night he had given it to her.
Polite as ever, the waitress merely smiled and dropped the conversation. "If you'll just follow me?"
They walked down an isle of tables and turned left towards the windows which lined the street outside. Just on the other side of a large potted stand of plants was a cozy table for two...
...and there he sat.
He rose to his feet the moment she arrived and gave her a peck on the cheek, then helped seat her, while she just stared at him, completely dumbfounded.
She continued to stare as he sat back down and regarded her with amusement.
"Well, what do you think?" he asked, although she could plainly see that he already knew she liked it.
And what was not to like? The reason for her stunned surprise was that she could have recognized him easily all on her own, for he looked like... himself. His cleverly applied mask and makeup were the image of the face she always seemed to visualize on those occasions when she had glimpsed him in the dark.
Seemingly unblemished skin now covered his scars. His nose was restored. There were even laugh lines around his eyes, which were now accented by well-arched brows. His ears now appeared undamaged and were framed by brown hair of a medium length and shade. She felt a jolt of elation at the sight of him. It was as though she was seeing a long lost love for the first time in many years.
"It's you," she finally replied, as she broke into a smile. "...just the way I've always seen you in my mind."
He gave her the best grin he could manage, then he reached across the table to take her hand, which he quickly kissed. His own hands were still covered by a pair of black leather gloves.
"That was the idea," he admitted.
They broke apart as their waiter arrived to take their drink orders, which gave her the chance to study him further.
He was wearing jet black jeans and a gray, scoop necked shirt with one of his dark charcoal gray silk shirts over top of it. A black leather belt and what appeared to be his usual boots beneath the jeans completed the outfit. It showed off his lean, wide shouldered, well-built form in a way that had several ladies in their vicinity staring in open admiration.
She didn't mind though, for she knew something none of them did; that he was already hers. None of them stood a chance.
She felt mildly embarrassed at being caught so obviously 'checking him out', when she came back to herself to see that he had tipped his head as he always did when he was amused.
He chuckled. "See something you like?"
In answer she grabbed his hand and squeezed. "Definitely," she answered.
He sat back in his chair and rested his hands loosely in his lap, while he regarded her. "So it stands up to scrutiny, then; even in the sunlight?"
"It's very realistic, but..."
"It doesn't move, doesn't really change expression," she noted, her voice pitched low for his ears alone. "It looks like you've been overdosed on botox."
There followed a long, uncomfortable silence as the significance of her words sank in.
It all fell into place for her then, reaffirming something she had surmised so many weeks ago: his own face really was a mask, as unresponsive and nearly as frozen as his Guy Fawkes facade. But he felt more comfortable behind the guy Fawkes mask, as it had been his face for twenty years. His own true face was lost and replaced with an unresponsive mask of scars.
And only now was he rediscovering it, his true face, only to have her remind him...
Her hand flew up to her mouth. "Oh God, please don't take that the wrong way," she begged. "I only meant to..."
He held up a hand and did something very unexpected then; he laughed. And his mouth actually did open in a true grin that showed his teeth.
"I'm fine, my love," he protested. "Your Botox description conjured some very silly mental images for me. It was quite amusing."
Her heart was still flopping painfully in her chest and it wasn't until he again kissed her hand that she believed that he was alright with what she had said.
"I do understand," she whispered. "I suddenly understand everything..."
His eyes stunned her with the intensity of his stare. "I believe that you do." He rose from his seat then to lean forward and kiss her. "But honestly now, for I know you are always honest with me; how do you think this face will work?"
"I think it's a good as any you're ever likely to make. With a bit of work and experimentation you'll make it more believable."
He nodded. "I'm already working on that. Anyway, since I've passed muster I'll be popping by later as well."
She leaned forward. "What are you on about?"
His mouth turned up ever so slightly at the corners. "I was thinking of coming around to collect you at five so that we might visit a very nice little shop I am acquainted with."
"V…" she began, then lowered her voice. "I can't be calling you that here, can I?"
He shook his head. "That is something we shall have to discuss."
"So, what's this all about?" she asked, then added, "Not that I'm not intrigued and pleasantly surprised, you understand…"
He sat forward so that his face was close to hers and he could speak softly.
"You asked me a time ago what my plans for the future were. Well, it is something that has been very much on my mind. As I said then, I really had never thought beyond November the fifth. Well, now I've devised a new plan. It's not as convoluted nor as clever as my last one, but it is every bit as ambitious and important to me."
She sighed, so very glad to hear him say it. "Is it really? Important to you, I mean?"
He nodded. "Yes, it is. I feel that I've been given a second chance, whereas before…"
"You thought you had to die to fulfill your agenda."
"No. Not exactly; I made my plan to that end as I did not think I had any reason to want to live beyond it. You are the one thing I never foresaw. I've found a reason now to move forward, to live, to dream… hence the new goals and the new plan."
"And you're going to let me in on it, beginning this evening after five?"
He broke out in a crooked grin. "Measure by measure shall I reveal it to you. This new mask; step one in my plan, to be able to move freely about during the day, to appear normal and avoid undue attention in public. Step two; to use my new face to obtain a legal identity. These parts of my plan, Evey, are completed as of today."
"You have a name now?" she gasped, trying to keep from raising her voice.
"I should probably have discussed this with you sooner, but the truth is that once I'd thought it through, I knew it was the right choice. I only hope you don't think me too forward."
"Forward? Why would I think such a thing about your name?" She was truly puzzled and her puzzlement increased when she saw how he fidgeted and suddenly seemed almost… shy.
He sighed. "Might as well get to it." With that he produced an ID card and handed it to her.
She looked down, read it and then reread it. Her voice was shaking when she spoke.
"You took my name…" it was almost a whisper.
He cupped her cheek with his hand. "I have no true name I could ever hope to offer you. Given this, I hope that you don't mind that I took yours as it is a name I hold in highest regard."
She covered his hand with her own. "I'm honored beyond words."
He stood then, leaned forward and pulled her to him for a quick kiss and it was one of those moments that she knew she would remember forever. The sun hit him full on as their lips parted, so that she opened her eyes to see his deep blue ones revealed in all their depth and softened by a great emotion staring back at her.
There was a cough and they both started and then chuckled at having been caught by the waiter, who had returned with their drinks.
Still having so much to ask, she found it excruciating to have to wait while V placed their order. As soon as the waiter had moved on, she got around to it, "Your ID has only the initial V. for a first name." When he merely nodded, a smirk firmly in place, she continued, "I know that your official files must have a full name listed. By the way, I assume you did this all by hacking the system?"
"They do and I did."
She let out a frustrated, "Oh you!" then finally burst out, "Are you intentionally trying to kill me? Tell me what it is!"
He could no longer fight a grin. "Evey, I shall always be V. It is my name now as surely as if I were born with it and it is what I wish you to address me by. But for legality's sake, I chose the name, Vartan, which means 'giver of roses'."
She started to snicker.
"Please do not use it unless absolutely necessary. I certainly won't."
"Vartan Hammond," she said aloud so that she could hear it, then at the face he made, she repeated it the way he wished to hear it. "V. Hammond." Then she handed him back his ID. "I like it; very much, in fact."
He accepted the card and placed it back in his new wallet, which he then tucked away in a back pocket. "I'm glad that you approve."
"So then, what is this next part of the plan?"
"My dear, you'll just have to wait until later. Measure by measure, remember? For now, let's just enjoy this, our first time together out in public during the day."
Filling their wine glasses he handed one to her and lifted his own in a toast.
"To the Hammonds."
"To the plan, whatever it is," she countered.
"To you..."he insisted.
"Evey, you've brought us back to square one," he laughed.
"Kiss me?"she asked, suddenly very serious.
"Every chance I can," he replied as he granted her request.
The story continues in Second Chances.
Meanwhile be on the lookout for a stand-alone entitled The Pendant, available on my home page (due to content)
lyrics by Sarah Mclachlan
time I look at you the world just melts away
All my troubles all my fears dissolve in your affections
You've seen me at my weakest but you take me as I am
And when I fall you offer me a softer place to land
You stay the course you hold the line you keep it all together
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in
You're all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me
You're the one true thing I know I can believe
get mad so easy but you give me room to breathe
No matter what I say or do 'cause you're to good to fight about it
Even when I have to push just to see how far you'll go
You wont stoop down to battle but you never turn to go
love is just the antidote when nothing else will cure me
There are times I cant decide when I cant tell up from down
You make me feel less crazy when otherwise I'd drown
But you pick me up and brush me off and tell me I'm OK
Sometimes thats just what we need to get us through the day