V was a strange but attentive roommate. Each morning when Evey awoke it was to the smell of cooking breakfast. Bacon and eggs, pancakes, omelets, French toast. Even when their supplies were low and V would be absently planning his next 'shop', he always managed to have something ready for her. She wondered about this; how was it he managed to time things so well? With no pattern of day or night Evey sometimes awoke at odd hours, but no matter the time he was rarely more than a few minutes away from placing a plate of hot food and a cup of tea in front of her. She was grateful for this – it had been a long time since she'd eaten such meals, and eating breakfast with V seated thoughtfully across the table from her became a comforting and familiar routine.
He made it his habit to slip into her room each morning, especially when he'd been out for the night, telling himself it was merely to check on her, see if she was close to waking. He knew the subtle signs that moved across her gentle sleeping features, could tell the slight restlessness that touched her when she was slipping away from the world of dreams, and that signaled him to start breakfast. He never went more than two steps inside the door, and remained perfectly still and silent as he watched her. There was something even more lovely and peaceful about her when she slept, and he would find himself lingering, sweeping his gaze along the curve of her cheek or the line of her body curled tightly under the blanket, the way her tousled hair framed her lovely face. He was entranced by her, this graceful little creature he had brought into his home, the first person who looked at him as if he were not merely an idea, or repulsive, or an enemy. There were times, when those large hazel eyes of eyes burned with curiosity as she looked at him – perhaps even the hint of something more – when he was gladder of his mask than he ever had been.
She was beautiful, in a pure, simple way that he didn't think anyone could be anymore. And she was intelligent, eager to learn, which worked out well for he was eager to teach. More so he was eager to teach her, and she willing to learn, and so he lent her his books and movies, told her about his paintings and sculptures, and slowly they both adjusted to her place in the Shadow Gallery. Slowly, a dull loneliness that had smoldered away within V for so long he had forgotten its presence became to ebb, and, and he found each day he looked forward to her company more.
Evey was curled upon the couch with a book of V's in hand, a mug of tea gone long cold resting forgotten upon the wide armrest. She had picked a dusty volume of children's tales from the piles in her room, in need of a distraction on a night V had left on business. After three months she was used to his comings and goings and preferred not to think about where and what he was doing, but furthermore the gallery was a rather… well, shadowy place when one was alone. The smallest noises echoed out of proportion, contrasting with the silences that could so swiftly, when concentrated upon, become overwhelming. Not that it was scary, precisely, just… unnerving. This was after all V's home, and with his absence it seemed a desolate place, the many items within seeming so much more inconsequential when their owner was away. She knew he did what he felt was needed, but still – she preferred to have him there at nights, picturing him sleeping down the hall, ready at a moment's notice to protect his treasures… and her.
It was cold in the Shadow Gallery, and before too many more chapters she looked up with a start and glanced at the quietly ticking clock in one corner of the room. She was startled to find it almost two in the morning and after noting the page number quickly closed the book and left it upon the table beside the couch. She padded down the hall to her room, debating weather or not to have a bath before bed, rubbing her bare arms with a shiver. It was tempting to crawl straight under the covers and close her eyes, but the end she decided a bath might warm her a little and slipped into the bathroom to turn on the tap.
She nearly fell asleep in the pleasantly scorching water, dozing comfortably until the time it became merely tepid and could no longer keep the chill of the air away from her naked body. She grabbed for the bathrobe V and brought her some weeks ago and wrapped it tightly before letting herself out of the bathroom and all but running over V who was walking by outside the doorway.
"V!" She gasped, jumping. He was so light in step she hadn't the faintest idea he had returned, let alone was passing right by the door. He turned towards her with an anxious tilt of his head, the dark eyes of his mask regarding her with seeming concern as he gripped her elbow to steady her. "Evey, are you alright?"
She gulped slightly at the sudden warmth of his hand, even though the thick toweling of the robe, and had to force herself to reply in normal tones. "Yes… yes V, I'm fine, I'm sorry – I didn't know you were back."
"It is I who should apologize; it was not my intention to startle you."
Evey, having regained her dignity by this point nodded and wrapped the robe more tightly around her figure. Not that there was anything indecent about the garment, it was a size too large and reached almost to her feet, but the night was still frigid underground.
"Are you cold, Evey?" That slight tilt again, the note of concern. She nodded again. "A little – the nights get a bit chilly, and I didn't mean to stay up so late – I was reading a good book. Enid Blyton."
"Ah, yes. I do admit although her tales were intended for a much younger audience, there is something enthralling about many of them. Evey, you must be tired – but before you retire, could you spare me a few moments?"
"Of course, V." She agreed to the request automatically, taking the arm he offered with a gallant little bow. He escorted her to the main room of the Shadow Gallery, saying nothing, and she went along with his comfortable silence as they walked.
The first thing she noticed was a dark crimson box sitting upon the table she had left her book. It was maybe twice the size of a shoebox and adorned with a ribbon.
"A gift, dear Evey." He released her arm with another bow and a sweeping gesture to the box. Evey opened her mouth, startled – he had often brought her things, clothes and other practicalities, even granting a request for a particular brand of food or type of fruit from time to time. But these were matter of fact, fetched form the world above because Evey could not do so herself, and he had never brought her something special, never had the occasion to gift-wrap anything for her. "Oh, V…"
"Please, open it."
She dropped to her knees beside the table and untied the ribbon, pulled away the paper wrapping, and lifted the lid. Behind his mask V smiled. There was an eagerness to her that was reminiscent of a child at Christmas, and her expression had already lifted his spirits and made the idea of buying her the gift worthwhile.
Nestled in a bed of rose pink paper was an exquisite velvet jacket. Evey drew in her breath in amazement as she lifted it from the box, stroking the soft black material and already feeling warm from just looking at it. She turned to V, who stood behind her with his hands clasped behind his back, and she could almost imagine that his own, real smile matched that of his ever-smiling mask. At that moment she felt a surprising, sudden wave of affection for this man, the sweetness of it that he had noticed her goosebumps and shivers in the evenings and sought to look after her. If she'd had time to think, or even if her mind had not been fuzzy from the long day, she would never have dared to do it, but before either of them knew it she had risen and clasped him in a grateful hug.
He stiffened immediately, fighting not to gasp at the feel of her lithe little body pressing against him – how long had it been since anyone held him, reached for him in affection? For years, the only contact he had experienced was the cold touch of a bullet or blade, the harsh swipe of a fist or foot. To imagine that Evey, his beautifully Evey, would ever display such fondness for him…
Before he could force himself to react normally she released him and drew back a pace, looking slightly flushed and embarrassed. She dropped her eyes and he seized the moment to regain his composure, thanking the mask wordlessly for hiding the expression he knew she would have otherwise seen.
"It's beautiful, V. I'll wear it all the time."
"I am glad you like it."
She nodded, ducking her head again before she turned and lifted the box. "Anyway – it's very late. Very early, even. I should go to bed."
"Yes. Do sleep well, Evey." He couldn't pull his gaze away from her, couldn't make himself turn and step through the door first, too afraid he was that if he moved he would heave her back into the embrace, caress that lovely silk hair, lift her in his arms and carry her to her bedroom himself…
Her slight frame stepping back in front of him, still clasping the box, snapped him hastily from such thoughts, mentally cursing himself. She smiled tentatively up at him, then, once again before she had the chance to think about it, darted in and placed a swift fleeting kiss on his cold white cheek. "You too V." She replied softly, ducking around him and out the door. She almost fell through the door into her room, nearly dropping V's gift, torn between the incredible soft warm feeling that had brought her lips up to his porcelain cheek in the first place and an absurd desire to start giggling. Get a hold of yourself, Evey, she ordered sternly. You were thanking him. Nothing more.
But as she laid the box upon her bedside table in readiness for the next morning and tucked herself under the covers, she realized that since she felt the delicious warmth of his body against her through her robe and his black cloak, the play of very fit muscle under his clothes, she had not once noticed the cold.