It was 3am, and Evey was making her way back to bed. Sleep for her was still an irregular companion since she'd emerged from her cell. She'd had remarkably few nightmares, but more corporeal matters still interfered. Her body seemed to be trying to make up for lost time since she'd been taking in more nourishment, and she frequently found herself awake from hunger.
Passing V's dressing area, she caught a glimpse of white floating in the darkness there. She turned to look and, yes, there he was again. His face was tilted up toward the Ophelia painting, arms slack and graceless at his side… just staring. She could just make out that he was rocking slightly to and fro, as one in a trance – or about to collapse.
Carefully Evey moved forward into his field of vision. He didn't move - there was no sign he'd noticed her at all. She shuffled one foot, deliberately making a slight noise against the flagstones.
His head twitch-tilted fractionally.
"V." She leaned toward him, looking for any hint that he'd heard her.
He jerked, suddenly seeing her. "Evey...my apologies." He seemed embarrassed at being seen in such a state and took a small step back, looking around. "I'm afraid I was... preoccupied."
"Mm. I can see that. You've been "preoccupied" quite a few times now."
The air between them tightened, and he drew himself up.
"Forgive me." His bow was curt, and he began to walk past her. "I'll not disturb you further."
"V, wait... please."
He did indeed stop, surprising them both.
She took a breath and tried beginning again. It was easier to talk to him this way, when he was facing away from her. She could keep her voice even as she spoke to his back, using a directness with him that would have been beyond her a mere few months ago. "You were doing it again. Staring. Not like you do when you're actually looking at something - you were lookng through that painting." Her head tilted a bit as she watched for a response. "This is the third time I've seen you like that in the middle of the night. Like you'd been left there, and forgotten how to do anything else."
The mask half-turned to her over his shoulder.
"V, will you tell me what's going on?"
A sigh escaped him, and the line of his shoulders sagged. "It's nothing that need trouble you, Evey. I have simply...not been sleeping of late."
Her lips pursed to stop the words she wanted to let fly in rebuttal. For a man like him, "simply" not sleeping could be deadly, both to himself and her if something happened to him. But she couldn't say that - not with things still so raw between them. She was still working out her own state of mind in the wake of his "lesson" to her, and she knew he was as well.
Instead she chose to step nearer, still behind him but in his field of view. It was a distance of only a few feet, but she could see the sudden tension it caused in him. She halted but did not yield. Her voice continued the pursuit, gentle yet relentless in the stillness around them. "What's stopping you from sleeping?"
His head lifted and the answer, when it came, was faint and faraway. " 'The repose of the night does not belong to us.'" He looked outward. "'It is not the possession of our being.' " His voice faded into silence and his demeanor threatened to disconnect once again.
"V." Her urgent whisper visibly pulled his awareness back to her.
He shook his head as though clearing it, stepping away to reclaim some of the distance that had lain between them. Wandering to an archway, he raised a hand to lean briefly against it and exhaled. "' Sleep opens within us an inn for phantoms.' "
It was the closest he would ever come, she suspected, to expressing anything like regret for his actions.
She wondered when - or if - they would ever truly be able to talk about it. Perhaps never. Perhaps there were no words that could ever sufficiently explain, dissect, or even begin to encompass everything that had happened. Perhaps that was the problem for V, for whom words were as important as breath itself.
Valerie's words had helped her to survive what V did, just as they had helped him before her. Evey had been able to turn to them as her guide, giving new meaning to her life. In giving that to Evey, though, V had surrendered the claim he had once had to them. Was she seeing the price of that now, she wondered? What had he brought out in himself to be the person - people - he had been in her prison?
She didn't hate him - she couldn't. Regardless of what he'd put her through - no, because of it - she'd been transformed beyond anything she'd thought possible. She was something more now. She didn't fear him, in spite of knowing what he had done and what he could do. But she could fear for him, and for his cause. There was very real danger here for everything V had planned, and for the two of them.
She had had Valerie when she needed someone, but now that he was in need, he had... only her.
She wanted to laugh - or cry - at the tragic irony of that. A small, bitter part of her wondered if even this had been a part of his plans for her. But no... he wouldn't have put his life's work in jeopardy like that, just for her sake. This was no lesson, and there was no riddle he was waiting for her to solve; he truly was lost.
Phantoms, V had said. How many had been resurrected within him? Evey thought of the hundreds of dead, both innocent and not, from the camp where V had been held and tortured. She thought of the thousands of dead, including her family, because of that place. She thought again of Valerie, the one who had saved them both. Looking at V where he listlessly stood, remembering his words to her on the roof, Valerie's last words suddenly came to her anew.
"I don't know who you are, or whether you're a man or a woman. I may never see you. I will never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you."
The words resonated eerily with this moment. Both a lament and a beacon, they had pulled Evey from despair in her cell. They were a miracle. Though Valerie had been imprisoned, tortured, and utterly dehumanized, her last words had been of unconditional, absolute love. It had been the one thing still under her control in that place and she had recognized it, choosing to share it with someone she didn't even know - because she could. Because it was still beyond everything that could be done to her. That love had once been the answer for V, Evey knew, just as it had been for her. As it must be for him again.
She closed the distance between them, daring to lay her fingertips on his arm. The mask turned to look at the point of contact, although she had the inexplicable feeling that his eyes were closed. Several seconds passed, and then she turned him to face her. Deliberately entering his personal space, feeling the same rush of freedom she had when she'd chosen her own fate in the prison, she looked up into the eyes of the mask. "I'm not in that cell anymore, V. Neither are you."
She heard his breath leave him as though he'd been struck. Placing one hand over his stuttering heartbeat, she anchored him in place. Before he could move, or speak, before she could falter, she closed her eyes and laid her head to rest against him.
Had V's mind not been so fogged with lack of sleep, had he not been so bone-numbingly weary from the physical and mental toll of the past months, he would have stopped her. He would have stepped away, deflected the contact somehow. As much as he'd secretly hungered for a touch from another in all his self-imposed cloistering, he also knew the danger of it. He couldn't afford such weakness. He couldn't afford to be merely a man.
But oh, her touch was so soft, and she rested against him as if she'd been made to fit there. He stood frozen, undone by her trust at a time he'd least expected it.
He was falling apart... he could feel it. Whatever the damage his charade had inflicted on Evey, it had been no less destructive to him. In stripping away her defenses, he'd destroyed his own as well. His periodic fugues through the Gallery were only the beginning... he was teetering on the edge of true madness - of failure.
This time he would not be able to ward off the darkness with his philosophers and poets. He had shunned them, and knowingly embraced everything he now lived to destroy. They would not forgive him for that. All he could do was rely on the inertia of plans already made to pull him forward, even though he knew it wasn't enough.
There was so much he wanted to communicate to Evey - so many things she needed to know. The Fifth was bearing down on them both, calling him to the end of a race he'd been running for a lifetime. But his eloquence had left him, lost in the prison he'd built. He no longer had the words he needed.
He felt her other hand slide around to his back, and it felt as though she was holding him together.
Please, he thought, not knowing for what he was asking.
A faint sound escaped him and he swayed. Evey felt it, and slowly leaned back to study him.
"You need to sleep."
It would not solve all the problems at hand, she knew, but it was the most immediate remedy they had. Her hands took his for a moment and she stepped back, beginning to lead him from the main gallery.
V moved forward with her, allowing himself to be led and then moving by his own volition with Evey at his side. In the hallway leading to their rooms, she surprised him by laying a hand at his elbow and steering him not to his room, but to hers. He halted, nearly stumbling, at the threshold.
"You didn't sleep here then, did you?" She didn't have to specify what "then" she referenced.
He frowned in confusion. "No."
"Then there won't be any memories here."
She was in front of him again, his hands in hers, tugging him gently into the room's dimness. She didn't bother with the lamp; she was familiar enough with the space, and she knew his vision in darkness was better than hers.
They halted at the bed and she released him. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
"What-?" He was shaking his head.
She put a hand up, accepting no argument. "You shouldn't be alone like this. I'll be back."
She turned and stepped out, leaving him staring after her.
Was this a dream? Had he never awakened from his fitful sleep, and was his subconscious now finding new ways to unravel? He'd been slowly losing his grip on coherent thought for some time now; it was entirely possible.
But he still felt so tired...
Pragmatism ultimately won out over his misgivings, and he seated himself on the bed. He would not be able to undress - not here. His boots were dispensable, however, and he removed them. He took the coverlet from the bed and folded it onto the chair nearby. The mask had to stay on, which meant he would need to remain lying on his back. He had done so before, and was accustomed to it. Drawing back the sheet, he eased himself under it and lay back.
Oh, god - he hadn't been prepared for this. The feel of the bed around him was familiar enough, as well as the warm, dusty smell of the books. But intermingled with the scents of antique paper, cotton and stone was her unmistakable presence. Her bath soap, the lotion she used, the tea she favored, her own unique scent that always reminded him of...
No, he hadn't slept here while he'd imprisoned her. It would have destroyed him.
Now, overcome, he convulsively gulped down a breath that tasted of everything he shouldn't want. It spread through him, easing past his defenses and holding back some small measure of the darkness. Another inhalation, and something knotted inside him began to give way. It was like re-learning how to breathe, and for one fleeting, terrifying moment he fought the urge to tear off the mask and bury himself in the sensation of being surrounded by Evey.
He clenched his hands in the bedclothes to still them and slowly, gradually regained control. As some degree of equilibrium returned, he became aware of the distant strains of a violin concerto drifting into the room. He turned his head toward the sound, and Evey's silhouette appeared in the doorway. They watched each other for a moment, and then her outline shrugged slightly.
"I didn't think silence would be the best idea right now."
"No." Belatedly he remembered to unclench his hands. "Probably not."
She moved into the room then, maneuvering around the furniture and books with practiced ease in the dimness. V heard her retrieve the coverlet from the chair and assumed she was seating herself there to keep watch over him. He jumped, then, when he felt the mattress shift under her weight. Before he could summon words she had settled next to him, curling slightly into his side as his face turned to hers in mute shock. Her small hand settled on his shoulder, surprising a gasp from him.
"Shh..." Her eyes were closed, peaceful... a damsel comforting a dragon. The sight stung his eyes and he turned his gaze ceilingward to escape. He felt rather than heard her yawn, an expression akin to pain crossing his features as her breath fluttered through the wig near his ear.
She was here with him, breathing with him, touching him. He was in her room, in her bed, feeling her warmth only inches away. In over two decades of existence, he had never experienced such a thing. He didn't want to think of having to live without it again.
A brief shudder rippled through him at the aching beauty of it, even as he knew he had no right to take such comfort. He had done monstrous things. Done them deliberately, and repeatedly, and he knew without doubt that he would not have changed one thing about it if given the chance. He had done what had to be done; there was no alternative. He had done it without expectation of forgiveness, with the solitary hope that whatever remained of him in the end would be sufficient to complete the plans he'd begun over twenty years ago. If not, then everything would be lost and Valerie's wish for the future would die.
But Valerie's gift had proven to have hidden depths; where it had given him the strength to destroy, he now saw it had given Evey the strength to heal. It was more than he ever could have hoped for. It was much more than he deserved.
The ghosts he'd resurrected still remained, glowering from the darkness that still seemed all-too-close... but now, at least he knew he wouldn't have to face it alone.
Gradually he drifted into a dreamless sleep, the tears still slipping from the corners of his eyes.