"May I ask you a question?"


"Why Valentine?"

She had been calling him by another name almost since they first met. Valentine, sometimes Her Valentine. Sometimes she would sing to him, "My funny Valentine, sweet comic Valentine." At first it would slip out, but when he didn't object, she started to use it regularly. He trusted it was an inside joke… one of many. He never minded, but he often wondered.

"You remind me of someone I knew."

"Ah," he said. "Ah." And, in a bit, "I was hoping it was because you liked me."

"I do like you," she said, rather obviously.

He smiled his sideways smile to match her own straight one. "But I'm no Valentine."

"Only you are! Sort of... I've been trying to say…" She took his hand, picked up an eye pencil from the dressing table beside him, and started to draw as she told him.

"I once had a dream," she said, laying down soft lines. In between marks of the pencil, her breath brushed his fingertips. "And in the dream, I met a man named Valentine, who wore a mask." She added the mask, lightly smudging a grey line down his palm with her finger. "A very important man. He helped me on a quest, but sold me out to the dark queen for an armful of rubies."

"Some man," he interrupted.

"Hush." her brow creased as she sketched a mouth, a spiky chin. "But he came back, and he saved me."

The eyes came last, two small dots. "I loved him, and I miss him," she kissed the drawing on his palm, and looked up. "And he was you."

His mask had been on, still, so he took it off. "Would I sell you for an armful of rubies?"

"You might, but you would always come back."

He considered this, weighing the mask in one hand against the drawing in another.

"You're a rather strange girl." he said.

"I am."