Clopin was waiting for her when she returned to the tent. He was standing quietly, arms folded, hat tipped down as if he was standing in a downpour.
"Hello, stranger," she said softly.
"All alone, mam'selle? It's dangerous at this early hour. There are ruffians everywhere."
"I can take care of myself, m'sieu."
"Is that so?"
"It is. And besides, who do I know that you're not a ruffian yourself?"
"I suppose," he leaned forward, "that you will have to trust me."
A grin edged onto one side of her face. "Well, I'll need some test of your loyalty, first."
"Do you have anything in mind?"
"Let's see. Give me a moment to think." He put a finger to his lips and struck an exaggerated, contemplative posture, one hip thrust to the side. "Ah, yes. But it's a very sensitive idea. You should come closer so I can whisper it to you." He smiled conspiratorially.
"Very well, m'sieu," she replied, and as she stepped forward her yanked her into his arms and sent her, laughing, hurtling into the tent.
She looked drowsily up into the high, dark ceiling of the tent. A flash of color made her start, and as her vision swam into focus an irregular shape emerged.
"Clopin," she whispered, shaking his shoulder.
"My god, woman," he muttered, "what more could you ask for?"
He blearily raised his head and squinted at the darkness. His frown deepened. "Let me get a light," he said, intrigued. He lifted a blanket from the corner and crept out of the tent. After a moment he returned, bearing a thin, dully glowing torch. He lifted it to the ceiling, his back blocking her view. She saw his ribs lift and then expand with quiet laughter.
"What? What is it?"
He stepped deftly to the side, holding back a grin.
The Rouen Bird glared priggishly down at her, an empty mask. "It won't come down unless the tent comes with it," Clopin added, drawing the torch away. The shadows shifted around the mask, and it appeared to swivel its gaze from her face to his and back again. "It's tied to the supports." Herlikin stared up at it for a moment in silence. The torch flickered, and the Bird winked at her.
"And to be honest," he added, "I'm not sure I have the courage to take it down."
The smug expression somehow found its way onto her face once more.
(c) Covielle and Harley Quinn 2000