A/N: Exams and a new neighbourhood are approaching with terrifying speed, so next chapt might be a while. Also, I've fleshed out the plot line, got a vaguely better grip on what I wanted, and cleaned up all the chapts.
Just a note, to those who seem to think this is ending soon-- this is going to be a long fic. We are pretty much still at the starting line. (oh, horrors!)
Evey soon learned that V was better than fine. He was actually completely fine. He was the perfect, amiable gentleman again. He was the apron-wearing V before her betrayal. He was, in fact, bloody fantastic.
He had moved on.
It was very hard not to strangle him, sometimes.
Which was completely hypocritical and yet so depressingly typical of her, Evey reflected morosely. The cityscape blinked back at her in a thousand insect-like lights, the insides of a beehive spilled and flickering with subdued life as it coated the land in sullen towering shapes and squatted, cramped houses. Eventide always gave the best viewing: the interlude between the harassed bustle of the day and the hushed, cowed stillness of deep evening. From the roof, this strange flat landing that looked down on the trivialities of the Londoners below, Evey found that the view didn't diminish even without the lightning-play of a christening storm. It gave her a dark, secret thrill— as if she alone held the power to watch the poor fools scuttling about below bow under the weight of Sutler's fist and pass indifferent judgment on them.
Perhaps that was what V felt like all the time. Playing small god must have its guilty addictions.
It could not have been very hard, then, to pick one off the street and attempt to breathe life and eradicate fear by whatever godly—inhuman—means necessary. Evey dropped her head to stare at the book on her lap till the lines of cornfield print blurred into one senseless chunk. She tried to pick out the words, fit it into the holes of the story, but an image kept peeking through the white spaces of the text: a masked man, head lowered, the knife in his hand singing in ringing, measured strokes as he sharpened them over a block on the kitchen table.
There had been something inherently private about that scene, in the way he had held the hilt almost lovingly; the intensity in his deliberation that reminded Evey of a man defusing a bomb and devoting himself to the reverent ceremony of it. When the mask had jerked up and seen her, the blade's rasping song ended in an abrupt clatter to the table like an obscenity cussed and V had swept away the stone block and knives like a boy hiding a forbidden magazine. And his voice had smiled in that polite, distant way it could when he'd asked her whether she was hungry.
He had not cooked her anything since her return. It was an irregularity Evey was almost grateful for; she would not have eaten it. There was something to be said about giving your life up for a man who stopped caring after the fuss was over—it took your appetite away, even if the wound's ache didn't.
Evey forced her thoughts away from the hypocritical hurt—she had wanted him to let go, just a few weeks ago; she wanted this— and immersed herself in another world where the protagonist's problems didn't seem half as bloody-minded as hers.
She had managed to get through nearly four pages when the light proved too weak for a pleasant read. Evey uncurled herself from her position in the corner and stretched, wincing a little as the joints popped. She stood and went closer to the roof's edge to have a better view, careful not to present too obvious a silhouette. The deepening darkness softened the city, somehow; if she pretended, she could imagine that vague shadow huddled among other indistinct shapes there was the building where she'd rented her apartment.
The longing was an ambush, sharp as it was sudden. A craving to get out, get out, get out. Away from V, away from his revolution and his blinding obsession—away, alone. It was like gasping in a breath of fresh air, a dizzying rush of the lungs— and then it was gone.
Evey gripped the rough-weathered edge of the stone balustrade carefully and stared across dusk-smothered London till her eyes watered.
She could play small god too, a thought whispered, emerging from the chaos of her frustration. Like V. Or at least, pretend. To pick one off the street…
She nearly laughed: it was unthinkable. Even V had barely been able to do it— at least, she'd thought…? The angry doubt returned, gnawing.
She had been so sure, before. So viciously sure that her interrogation had been as bad for V as it had been for her. It was the only thing that kept her away from the knives, some nights…
… and he had moved like an wounded man after her release and talked like a dying one when she left… but it must have been all an act, all another mask, and one that he's now lost patience with, that bastard, how dare he, how could he, because now—
Evey did not know how long she stood there, lost in the web of her thoughts. When something cold touched her shorn head, she jerked in surprise and looked up to have another rain droplet fall from the indigo night onto her eyelashes. It was starting to drizzle.
She rubbed at her eye with one hand and was surprised to find there were little white-crescents on her palms. Fingernail marks. She salvaged the book from where she had left it and went inside before something more precious than her could be damaged by rain.
V was not in the kitchen or any of the main rooms, so she surmised he was still out. He had not avoided her like she thought he might after her first bath; if anything, he was around more openly, if that knife-sharpening incident had anything to warn about. They could very well be mere acquaintances who happened to share the same living quarters: they'd not spoken more than a few sentences each since her return, four nights ago. Evey had found she did not have any questions that mattered enough to ask or dare to ask, and V hadn't seemed to notice either way.
In her room, she paused when she placed her book on her dressing table. Her old friend with the weeping shards and five Vs had been replaced by a stout, dark-framed mirror. Its lean, horizontal lines fit well with the glazed top of her dresser, but she could not help missing the more ornate and decadent look of its predecessor.
A rose-blush stain at the side of her bandaged patch attracted her eye just then, barely visible under the cream gauze. Evey leaned forward for a better look, forehead furrowing as her fingers pried the gauze clear.
"What are you doing?"
The dresser's legs stuttered against the floor as Evey's hips knocked against it as she spun around. She resisted the urge to put her hands behind her back like she was a caught thief again, back in front of a steel-faced matron in the Reclamation Centre.
"I thought you went out?" she said, then cursed herself for making it sound like an excuse.
V nodded. 'I've only just returned." He didn't move from his position in the doorway, flanked between the timbers like an underworld archangel framed.
"Are the bandages coming loose?" he asked politely, when she only turned to sit, examining her throat in the mirror again.
Evey gave an irritable half-shrug, more concerned with why her wound appeared to be bleeding again. She felt it tentatively. "No, I thought I saw something. It's nothing."
She was so used to their unspoken arrangement that when the reflection behind her filled up with black, it was a shock. The mask grinned impassively above her head; in the clear, bright light of the room, with no shadows or warm colours to compliment V's theatric dressing, a grown man in a cloak and bizarre mask should have looked ridiculous. Instead, he looked like he belonged in the room of literature more than the shaven-head woman in the mirror.
He leaned down so the chin of the mask was level with her ear. "I see it," he murmured. Warmth flirted on her cheek. Then his fingers were pulling hers away, intent on uncovering the wound himself and it was instinctive – she could not help it: Evey flinched.
V was so still for a moment that she wondered if he had stopped breathing. Then there was a gaping chasm between them; V was suddenly a good arm's length from her, out of the mirror's stare, and the dark intensity that had been so close to her dissipated in the bright light.
"I apologize," he said with that controlled, bland tone. She was starting to despise it. Evey stared at him blankly, hand still half-raised under her collarbones as he continued, "You can, of course, treat your own wounds. I'll just get the—"
"Your gloves are damp, V," Evey interrupted bluntly. She could still smell the copper from here, unmistakable and sickly rich.
V stared at her for a moment, as if uncomprehending. For a moment, Evey wondered if he really wasn't aware of the blood on his hands, splattering his dark tunic and trailing on the fringes of his cloak like some morbid procession; that he'd gotten so used to it that he no longer saw anything different.
Then V seemed to look down and see himself: death in black and unseen scarlet, the dark handles of his personalized scythes lining his waist. The heavy scent of lives lost was starting to pervade the bedroom, lingering on the pastel bedsheets and curling around the stacks of happy endings; he was the only dark thing in the white-lit room.
He looked up and saw her face.
"It was an unusually busy evening," the murderer said shortly, as if it explained everything. "Allow me to change."
He was gone before Evey could answer. The rosewood of the floorboards had slight smudges of something darker, left by his cloak and boots; she had a feeling it wasn't rainwater.
She also had a feeling she should feel more repulsed by this, somehow. It wasn't normal, it wasn't right… There should be something more to knowing he was out slaughtering men who were in all probability just doing their jobs, more than this mild curiosity…
Evey stared at the calm-eyed woman in the mirror and started to feel sick, for all the wrong reasons.
When V returned, the feeling had suppressed into something darker, angrier, and she was starting to pull the gauze away. V made a sound of protest and came forward instantly, leaning down again as dry gloves brushed her uncertain fingers away. Experience made quick work of the gauze and cotton pad.
"It's clear," the mask exhaled, and there could have been a trace of relief in there. "Perhaps not quite the unkindest cut of all." He showed her the pinkish stain absorbed by the cotton in the mirror; from the line of her cut, a clear reddish fluid had seeped through.
"It means it remains uninfected, at least for now," he was explaining, but Evey's eyes were trained on the stitched slash on her neck. It stood out, a mottled red against pale skin. She touched the edges of the coloured skin lightly and thought of scars and monsters.
V watched her in the mirror. He straightened up as she winced, her fingers brushing against a tender spot.
"If you keep picking at it, the stitches will come loose," he said, and for some reason, it was that blandness in the tone that did it. That damned unreadable mask. The way he touched her, quick as fear; the alternate thickness and indifference in his voice as if there were two people behind the mask and they were playing an idle game of Make-Evey-Guess.
The way he was impatient for her to leave, as if she was a once-amusing precocious student that had grown too old to be anything special when this was her life, this was her heart and not— some — goddamn — play script!
Evey smiled at the masked man in their reflection: a slow, sweet smile that held all the killing intent of a trust betrayed.
In the mirror, she could see V stiffen. The urge to wound him flared with the old hurt, quickly suppressed, and the anger grew.
He may have moved on, may have left her like a forgotten tangent in his vendetta; he may be the most brilliantly deadly idea in London but in the end, he was only a man and she had no illusions.
Evey held all the frustrated bewilderment of the past few days between her teeth and smiled like it didn't hurt. Then, with all the carefully deliberation of defusing her own bomb, she looked straight at the mask in the mirror and leaned back.
V froze immediately.
"I suppose I should thank you," she enunciated deliberately, an echo of his words from before. V was still against her, a statue; one of his gloved hands had been reaching for the antiseptic and was now clutching the edge of the table as if it was the only thing keeping him upright. With her shoulder blades resting against his chest and his arm pressing against her shoulder, he could've been cradling her.
A spurt of satisfaction, shame-hot. Evey watched as if from a distance as the gloved fingers curled tighter around the wood, a critical connoisseur to a temperamental performance piece. She could feel his tension like a held storm in his chest, thrumming even through the fabrics between.
She didn't care. "Not only for these few days, I mean," she continued, as if she hadn't turned her head to speak into his neck, as if her head wasn't brushing against the unclad skin just under his jaw. "For since the beginning."
V said nothing. The light in the room was too bright, shearing away all the soft blending that the amber lights of the main halls allowed. In the harsh exactness of the mirror, he looked exactly like what he was: a man, a mask. Nothing more.
"For saving me from the Fingermen the first time." Evey leant her head back against him, waiting for him to resist. He didn't.
"For saving me at Jordan Tower," she went on, patient as a grudge. "For— saving me outside Gordon's house."
V had not moved since she started, had not reacted in any way but tensing. The mask stared at her in the mirror, impassive.
"For the interrogation and after."
Still, V did not move. Save for his usual reluctance to intimacy, he did not seem to mind at all. A kind of dull incredulity was starting to seep through Evey, more hollow than angry.
She pressed on, unwilling to believe, "And now for this. I suppose my life really is more yours than mine."
He shook his head; she felt the movement against her back. "Your life has always been yours," he said, and his voice was neutral. "You just had to take it."
Evey couldn't help the smile that peeked through, crooked with irony. "Another thing to thank you for." How terrible ironic that the only time she'd really made her own choice was to slit her throat. There had to be something symbolic about that.
She should have straightened up, then. Pulled away, because it was clear there was no point now. Lust had been a fine game to play, but vengeance was still a new one to her and V had already let go.
He didn't care anymore. He'd actually let go.
Evey felt the warmth behind her, and thought bitterly on the things she wanted and the price of wishes coming true.
She might as well finish it.
"I want to say thank—" she started, hiding everything but honesty in her tone, when V interrupted:
"Don't," he said, and it was more a sound of pain than a word.
And then he was leaning into her, nothing more than a pressure of solid warmth, a shift in their equilibrium. A shock of desperation as he breathed her in shakily, as his mask tilted in the curve of her neck and shoulder; a rush of sudden, breaking movements and she had lost before it even started: she was already half-turning, going willingly—
He was at the door. She blinked; it might've been her imagination if not for the pounding under her ribs.
The chair scrapped as Evey stood unsteadily, a question in her eyes. He was not looking at her; he did not even want to look at her now, she realized. There was the old twist of bewildered hurt and frustration.
"What you need is on the table," V said at last, to the corridor outside the room. "You should know what to do by now."
Then the doorway framed only shadows and abrupt endings: he was gone, again. Evey knew better than to follow.
V did start to avoid her after that. It was nearly a relief, actually.
Evey continued to spend most of her time on the roof, away from V and in the solace of the peace there. Three nights after her ill-ended impulse, she woke briefly and heard a record playing. At least, she thought it was a record at first. When the harmony stopped in an abrupt place, she realized that V was playing the piano— softly, delicately, as if each note was a breath of a secret in the air.
She hadn't been sure he really knew how to play, or if the baby grand had just been there to add atmosphere. It would've been just like him to have a priceless piano brand as an incidental cultural piece. He had not picked up the melody, and she had fallen asleep with it going in incomplete, disjointed circles in her head: an anxious, low tune that rose and ebbed with strangely compelling volatility.
In the morning, the piano gleamed as untouched as ever and V was nowhere in sight. It was drizzling on the roof again, a drab shroud blanketing storm-grey across the sky.
She carried the memory of the promised rain in her head as she wandered the Gallery. There was a current in the air, like the electric anticipation before the breaking of the heavens. Evey thought she could almost here the thunder rolling, a crescendo rumbling in her ears…
Her forearms were prickling in instinctive response when she finally stepped into the last place of her underground life: the interrogation quarters.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, V murmured by her ear. Evey shook her head continued down the narrow corridor, the dark walls rising up alongside her as if a tide waiting to break. The overhead lights were off and only the soft light from the hall she'd come from gave guidance: it arched in a distinct, yellow curve at the start of the corridor and left the rest of the walk in outlines of varying shadows.
The cell was less horrifying than she'd remembered, but the interrogation room was a different matter. No artist, no lies, Evey chanted to herself. Only truth, only truth… but no matter how hard she tried, she could not see the steel table she knew there, welded to the middle of the room's floor.
Could only see: the fragments that made up the whole, roughly connected. That agonizing edge of the metal corner, the cold apathy of the flat surface that smelled of body fluids and paperwork, the immovable legs of the table where her ankles would always slam, the flashes of blinding white, the blackness that ate at her eyes. And if she stood long enough, stopped fighting hard enough: the stench of fear, of raw animal terror filling the room like air itself.
She could not stay long.
Evey turned to leave, flickering the table spotlight-lamp off and closing the door behind her. She was about to move off when she saw it: the room almost directly across the corridor. The power-showers.
Her throat closed up. From the lining under the door, there was a sliver of light escaping into the dimness of the corridor. It crept over her toes like a plea for help.
Evey stared at it for a heartbeat, numb and uncomprehending. Then, she drew the sliding-door open, a steel rumble under her cold fingers, and saw the corpse.
Strung up by the wrists to one of the shower-heads, the man must have died in gasping agony: only the flat of his toes touched the floor in a sickening mockery of a frozen pirouette. His clothes were stiff and dark with dried blood, and though there was evidence of someone stopping the blood-flow from the man's palms and thighs with tightly-bound bandages, it was clear it had been done to prolong the man's agony rather than save his life. Like a carcass in a butcher's shop— this man, V had treated this man like a sack of meat, left him to die—
Her stomach heaved once, twice, three times. Evey pressed her hands to her mouth, but the sound escaped anyway— a cry, strangled with horror, distorted with revulsion. A sickness stole her stomach, nearly stole the strength in her legs. A crescendo building, roaring in her ears, her throat-- steel table, bright light, water tortures; the truth behind the watersheds, if she had chosen wrongly, oh god, if…
Evey was going to throw up.
Then the corpse raised his head. It was the Fingerman from the alley.
"Help," the man whispered. She could not look away.
1. That is the unkindest cut of all—Shakespeare, adapted
2. The road to hell is paved with good intentions- Adage
A long-winded interlude which was unsatisfyingly difficult to write. Please do take a moment to leave a review; I'd really appreciate it :)